With the upcoming Hall of Fame class being inducted into Cooperstown this July, pending any coronavirus setbacks, It gives us a chance to reflect on the storied careers of the best athletes in baseball. Each inductee is judged on their performances with many of the voters split one way or another on their decisions. Some of the former players in question are more controversial than others. I’d like to take the time to give my opinion on one former New York Yankees player who I believe has earned a right to be considered one of the best of the best. Look no further than the man they call Rocket. I’m talking about Roger Clemens.
Growing up as a kid in the 90’s and 2000’s, I idolized Roger Clemens. I thought he was the greatest pitcher in baseball. His statistics definitely backed me up on that as well. Who else could say they won 7 Cy Young awards, 11 All-star game selections, 2 World Series Championships, 2 pitching Triple Crowns, and an American League MVP award? He demanded the attention every time he stepped on the mound. He had a bulldog mentality on the mound where he was going to attack every hitter right from his first pitch. He pitched with a fire in him that made him a fierce competitor. Win or Lose, he put it all out on the table. Watching him pitch is what made me want to be a pitcher myself. I wanted to emulate his pitching style in every way possible from the brim of his hat coming in just above his eyes with my glove held up high enough to just peer over, to the chest-high leg kick that allowed him to reach back and blow a fastball by someone. I loved how fearless he was. If a batter was crowding the plate, he would throw a blazing fastball high and tight to back them off. Hitters knew he had no problem giving them a little “chin music”, a phrase long forgotten now. In the back of their minds, they knew he wouldn’t back down, giving way to the idea that many of them were “out” before they came to the plate. It was a mental game as well as a physical one.
As we all know, when the Mitchell Report came out with their list of performance-enhancing drug users, Clemens’ name was high on that list. Allegedly, he started taking PEDs during the 1998 season. After a lengthy trial, he was acquitted of all charges. I know this doesn’t prove one way or another of his prior transgressions, the justice system has ruled that there was not sufficient enough evidence to decide on the matter. But if you look at his career prior to 1998, he still has a Hall of Fame-caliber resume.
While pitching for the dreaded Boston Red Sox, he managed to win the previously mentioned MVP award, 3 of his Cy Young awards, and five of his all-star selections. To top it all off, he also became the first pitcher ever to record a 20 strikeout game. He is currently still the Red Sox all-time leader in strikeouts with 2,590. A brilliant 12-year career with the Red Sox before making his way to the New York Yankees in 1999 and then again in 2007.
I have a theory on the steroid accusations. Most players who take steroids use them to elevate their game to another level ala Barry Bonds and his enormous head. They want to become one of the best in their respective fields and have all the fame and money and stardom that comes along with it. Roger Clemens was already a star and one of the best pitchers in the game prior to his alleged use of PED’s. What if Clemens took PED’s to give him more longevity in the prime of his career? Most pitchers, and all players for that matter, enjoy their career highs around ages 27-32 roughly before starting to decline usually gradually. Maybe Clemens wanted to enjoy that prime for a longer period of time? Maybe the competitor in him knew that Father time would be calling his name and he wouldn’t be able to compete to the best of his abilities anymore. In this case, I find my theory more plausible given that he was already one of the best in the game. If this really was the case, I find myself more understanding of those actions.
Now I’m not trying to say that taking steroids, or HGH or any performance-enhancing drugs is okay. What I believe, is that Roger Clemens, whether someone likes him or not, deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame. If you look at his career in separate chapters “pre-PED’s” and “post-PED’s” it paints a picture of a pitcher at the top of his game that achieved various awards that some players can only dream of. Neither the court’s rulings or my own opinion is enough to change how others may feel about Clemens as a player but hopefully, some light has been shed on his incredible career.