Why They Got It Wrong: Roger Clemens’ Hall of Fame Argument
When I was growing up, I always hated Roger Clemens. I loathed him. He ranked up there with “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Magneto, and Kobe Bryant as the world’s greatest villains in the universe as far as 15-year-old Dan was concerned, and it was because of one single, isolated moment during the 2000 World Series.
It was the perfect storm. Clemens pitched for the New York Yankees, who were constantly battling my Cleveland Indians for American League supremacy throughout the ’90s, therefore my angst-riddled teenage brain definitely viewed them as a Hydra-like Evil Empire. He was (sort of) attacking Mike Piazza, who was one of the most likable players of all time and one of my favorite players. It cleared the benches and felt at the time like a bully throwing his weight around.
Clemens became a real villain in my mind. Yet since then, my views have softened, have become much more objective, and when viewed through that lens it is hard to deny that Clemens is a surefire Hall of Famer and might even be the greatest pitcher of all time. I honestly don’t even know if it is close. It’s pretty obvious that those who vote on the Hall of Fame got this one wrong.
Usually, I start with the candidate’s overall stats and rankings, but this time, I think you really need to start with his accolades to really get a sense of just how dominant Clemens was. First, the big one: Over his 24-year career, Clemens won a record seven Cy Young awards, two more than Hall of Famer Randy Johnson and double several other HOF residents including Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver, and Pedro Martinez. If we’re being honest, he likely got screwed out of a couple more where win totals and voter fatigue gave the award to inferior performances such as in 1990, when Clemens put up a sub 2.00 ERA and still didn’t get the Cy Young.
In retrospect, the idea that Clemens was good enough to win double-digit Cy Young awards really isn’t that far fetched.
Those aren’t the only awards he won though. In 1986, he won a Most Valuable Player award to go along with his Cy Young, a feat that has only been accomplished by 10 pitchers in MLB history.
Now let’s talk about the stats, and let me tell you they are eye-popping statistics to be sure. Feast your eyes on these ridiculous numbers:
Great googa-mooga. You’ve got both longevity and dominance in there. He’s top 10 in two of the three triple crown categories, and if you look at things post-1960, that changes to top three.
In case you are looking for excellence beyond traditional statistics let the fact that he finished third all time in WAR with 139.6, which is the best since the Invasion of Normandy. As for that third leg of the triple crown? Clemens led the league in ERA seven different times, which means that in 24 seasons, he literally lead the league in ERA a full quarter of the time. That’s nearly a decade of leading the league in ERA in the most prolific offensive era in baseball history. That’s incredible.
This is before we even get to the 11 different All-Star appearances or the All-Star MVP he won in 1986. Or his spellbinding 20 strikeout game against the Seattle Mariners in 1986. By the way, Clemens was so good he did that again 10 years later. Heck, Clemens’ career was so prolific he probably could have made the Hall just based on his years with the Boston Red Sox alone.
I think it is without question that Clemens deserves to be a Hall of Famer on the merit of his numbers alone. He’s the pitching version of Barry Bonds. There are once-in-a-generation players, and then there are once-in-baseball-history players. Clemens is the latter. Yet that may not be enough to get him into the Hall. Let’s talk about the dubious Mitchell Report and the ramifications that it had on Clemens’ legacy.
The first and most important thing to me is that Clemens never once actually failed a drug test. As stated by Hall of Fame expert Jay Jaffe in his write-up on Clemens’ Hall of Fame worthiness, everything the Mitchell Report accuses Clemens of dates to before MLB began testing and punishing for steroid use (circa 2003) and there is no testimony claiming that he ever used steroids after that date. It is also worth stating, again per Jaffe’s article, that once the Mitchell Report came out, Clemens challenged the findings in front of Congress, and even though it landed him in a bit of hot water when he was accused of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying in front of Congress, not only was Clemens cleared of all charges, the actual substance of the Mitchell Report wasn’t able to stand up in court.
So why are we holding Clemens accountable for a report that a court of law has found to be, along with its key witness, dubious? I can’t get behind punishing someone for something he never actually got caught doing, especially in light of how poorly the Mitchell Report has aged in terms of its credibility and legitimacy.
I understand it is hard to judge the many talented baseball writers who make these decisions every single year. Most of them have forgotten more about baseball than I will ever know, therefore I don’t do so lightly. With that being said, here I go: They got this one wrong.
A Hall without its greatest pitcher isn’t really a Hall of Fame at all. To punish someone retroactively for something the league didn’t even enforce at the time and has never actually been proven seems both shortsighted and puritanical.
The Hall is meant for the best of the best. Look again at those numbers. That’s Clemens, and at the end of the day, he should be remembered that way. He should be remembered as a member of Hall of Fame.
Graphic by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)