22 May 2003

Rocket Redux

On the cusp of his 300th career win, Roger Clemens evidently sat down with the New York Times for an interview, which ran in Sunday's papers, regarding his career and the prospect of his entering the Hall of Fame as a New York Yankee. Clemens was quoted as saying,

"It's pretty simple, the way I look at it. I became a Hall of Famer here [NY], with my numbers here and what I've done here, and hopefully 300 will be another big part of that. When Duquette said that I was done, if I'd have taken his advice and went home, I wouldn't have been a Hall of Famer. So it's a no-brainer. It's definitely pretty easy. Reggie spent five years here, and this will be five for me."

He's referring to Reggie Jackson, who bears the similarities to Clemens of having played only 5 seasons of his 20+ year H-O-F career with the Yankees, and being responsible for a LOT of strikeouts. Of course, Reggie was 'the staraw that stirs the drink' but technically only one of his five seasons in Yankee pinstripes ranks among his best five seasons of his career: 1980, when he hit .300 for the only time in his career and led the AL with 41 homers, but finished 2nd in the MVP voting to George Brett, who happened to hit .390 that year. BBWAA always did like batting average. Reggie probably should have gone into the Hall in an Oakland A's cap, too, but then they never ask me for advice.

Clemens' contention that he "became a Hall of Famer here" is almost laughable. HA! Well, I guess it is laughable. Take a look:
Yrs  TM   GS    CG  CG%  SHO   IP     IP/GS  BB/9    SO   K/9   W    L   W/Yr   W%   ERA  *ERA+

13   BOS  382  100  26.2  38  2776.00  7.27  2.78  2590   8.4  192  111  14.8  63.4  3.06   151

 2   TOR   67   14  20.9   6   498.67  7.44  2.82   563  10.2   41   13  20.5  75.9  2.33   203

 5   NYY  133    2   1.5   1   851.00  6.39  3.47   816   8.6   65   29  13.0  69.1  3.94   119

20   ---  582  116  19.9  45  4125.67  7.09  2.92  3969   8.7  298  153  14.9  66.1  3.15   142

*NOTE: *ERA+ is park adjusted, relative ERA. That 142 means that Clemens' career ERA is 42% better than the park adjusted league averages for that span of time.

When the Rocket blew out of Beantown after 1996, he had 192 career wins, 2500+ innings, 2500+ strikeouts, had won more than 60% of his decisions, and had an MVP and three Cy Young Awards to boot. He had led the league in shutouts and adjusted ERA five times each, in ERA four times, in strikeouts three times (including 1996, after which then- Boston GM Dan Duquette said that he was in 'the twilight of his career'), in Wins and Complete Games twice each, and in starts, innings, and winning percentage once each.

Want to know how many other pitchers had the wins/innings/strikeouts/winning percentage stats like that as of 1996?

Five, all Hall of Famers: Bob Feller, Christy Matthewson, Tim Keefe, Tom Seaver, and Cy-Freaking-Young. [Currently Randy Johnson, David Cone and Greg Maddux also meet those statistical criteria, and only Cone has a marginal case for Cooperstown. The other two are locks.] In case you've never heard of him, Tim Keefe was a 19th cantury pitcher who won 342 career games over 14 seasons with five different teams. I hear that girl Christy was pretty good too.

Want to know how many other pitchers had garnered at least three Cy Young Awards at the time?

Five, four current, and one future, Hall of Famers: Steve Carlton (4), Greg Maddux (4) Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, and Sandy-Freakin-Koufax. (Big Unit and Pedro Martinez meet these criteria now as well, and will also be in Cooperstown when their time comes.) Of course Clemens has added three more of these to his display case in the den, but only one of them came with the Yankees.

So it's ridiculous to think that he somehow had not earned his ticket to Cooperstown on the merits of his first 13 years in the Majors. Maybe Clemens meant that he just hadn't pitched enough? 13 years was plenty of time for Amos Rusie, Dizzy Dean, Sandy Koufax, John Clarkson, Bob Lemon, and others, but now the baseball writers are gonna start counting "only 13 years" as a mark against you? No.

I don't think so, but then we've already established that my opinion doesn't count for much. But let's say that this is what Roger believes. What happens? He pitches two more years as a (yuk) Toronto Blue Jay, with those bright blue uniforms and fluorescent lights in the SkyDome and that fluorescent green turf as a backdrop. Not exactly the classic, nostalgic baseball of lore, but hey, he becomes the first right-hander to win pitching's triple crown (Wins, ERA and Strikeouts) in like fifty years, and he wins two more Cy Young Awards.

Now with fifteen years of pitching, 233 Wins, six ERA titles, five Strikeout titles, and a then-record five Cy Young Awards, Clemens has definitely paid his dues. There could be no arguing about his Cooperstown Credentials now. So by Clemens' own logic, if he didn't become a Hall of Famer in Boston, then he absolutely became one as a (fluorescent) Blue Jay. Right?

Except that

A) He only pitched two seasons there, and

2) The uniform's kinda tacky. So no dice.

So now Rocket's gotta convince himself that the last five seasons of his career, the span in which he has the highest ERA, the highest walk rate, the lowest innings/start average, the fewest complete games, the fewest wins per season, and one lousy shutout, is what made him a bonafide Hall of Famer? Just because he was on a few teams that won the World Series and he amassed some career numbers that look nice but wouldn't have been possible if he hadn't been so awesome the first 15 years? Just doesn't make any sense.

On the other hand, if you attribute Clemens desire to go into the Hall as a Yankee, and his meandering logic to support said contention, to his grudge against the Red Sox for how he was treated, it all makes perfect sense.

Hey, maybe we can get Wade Boggs to go into the Hall as a Yankee too?

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