For over four years, Roger Clemens has been fighting to clear his name of any wrongdoing. For someone who was on the fast track to Cooperstown, the Rocket capped off his career with a mighty hard fall as his former trainer Brian McNamee made it public that he had injected his former client with human growth hormones on multiple occasions, beginning in 1997. Clemens was eventually accused of perjury and the case went to trail where, earlier this week, the former pitcher was found not guilty. So, there you have it: Roger Clemens’ name is cleared — or is it?
With the weight of the world now lifted off the shoulders of the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, the next question on most minds is whether or not Clemens will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. After all, if a jury found him not guilty on perjury charges, then the only colour light showing is green.
Like it or not, Major League Baseball is not the United States Judicial System and for that, you need to look no further than the infamous Black Sox Scandal of 1919. That year, the Chicago White Sox were notoriously the best team in baseball. Unfortunately, they were also notorious for their penny-pinching owner, Charles Comiskey. Preparing for their World Series matchup with the Cincinnati Reds, many of the White Sox players were offered large sums of money to throw the series. Players accepted, and the series was fixed. One player involved was Chicago’s best, outfielder ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson.
Aside from Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe was arguably the greatest hitter of his era. In 13 Major League seasons, Jackson amassed 873 runs, 1, 772 hits, 307 doubles and a .356 batting average. Yet, he and his teammates were taken to court as the infamous scandal went to trail. The final verdict: not guilty. For baseball authorities, however, it didn’t matter. Until Pete Rose was banned from baseball in 1989, Shoeless Joe Jackson went down in infamy as the greatest player never to be inducted baseball’s ultimate shrine. Jackson disappeared and was barely mentioned again until his death in 1951.
This one verdict certainly cannot erase what Roger Clemens did — or allegedly did. For 13 seasons, Roger Clemens was the greatest thing to happen to the Boston Red Sox since the great Ted Williams. Clemens called Fenway Park home and the Red Sox fans adored him. Three Cy Youngs, one MVP, five All-Star appearances and on two separate occasions, he struck out an unprecedented 20 batters in a single game. Yet, when his contract expired following the 1996 season, Clemens was told by then-Boston general manager Dan Duquette that he was, for all intents and purposes, finished. At 34, the Rocket knew he had a lot left in the tank and he was willing to do whatever it took to prove Duquette, as well as any other doubters he had, wrong.
Clemens signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and won Cy Young Awards for the next two seasons, before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1999. That fall, he won his first World Series crown, followed by his second the next October. The Rocket would spend three more seasons with the Yankees before going to Houston and, then, coming back for one final season with the Yanks.
In his first 13 seasons in the Majors, Roger Clemens amassed a record of 192-111 and a 3.17 earned-run average while recording 2,590 strikeouts. In his next 11 seasons, Clemens compiled a 162-73 record with a 3.28 ERA to go along with 2,082 strikeouts. It’s one thing to prove your former General Manager wrong for a season or two. It’s quite another to put up superstar numbers while throwing near-100-mile-per-hour pitches in your forties. As an amazing a performer as Roger Clemens was on the mound, his numbers after he left Boston just didn’t make sense. He was in his mid-thirties when the Red Sox let him go and at the time of his retirement following the 2007 season, he was 45. The only pitcher in the modern era who was older as an active player was Jesse Orosco and, as a relief pitcher, he pitched an average of one inning every three or four nights. I’m not comparing Orosco to Clemens in terms of career performance but if an active pitcher is essentially pushing 50, it’s unfathomable that they can throw 100+ pitches during every outing.
What Shoeless Joe Jackson allegedly did lasted one series. What Roger Clemens allegedly lasted a little over a decade. I don’t care who was right, who was wrong, if and when the aforementioned McNamee injected Clemens where the sun don’t shine, the legacy of this once-beloved pitcher cannot be restored because of one simple verdict. Is it fair? Probably not, but if Shoeless Joe Jackson can be tarred and feathered for his alleged involvement in a forgettable scandal that lasted a week, why should Roger Clemens receive a mere slap on the wrist for his alleged involvement in a scandal that lasted 11 years?
From 1984 to 1996, Roger Clemens was arguably the greatest pitcher in baseball, miles ahead of Dwight Gooden, Jack Morris, Dave Stewart and the great Nolan Ryan. From 1997 on, he may have put up similar numbers but it wasn’t the same Roger Clemens. The post-1996 Clemens was one who needed help, even if that meant shaking the integral foundation of baseball. Sure, he won his pitching awards, his World Series, achieved those great pitching milestones from his 300th career win to his 4,000th career strikeout. But what was it worth?
I’m sorry, Roger, but you broke too much trust, put your hand in the cookie jar a little too often and, worst of all, cheated all those fans who spent so much money to watch you pitch only so they could discover that barely any of it was legitimate. It would take a whole lot more than two words to erase all of that.
Not guilty? Not buying it.