Ladies and Gentlemen of the Baseball Hall of Fame Jury, I stand before you to argue the case for a man who played two massive parts in my baseball fandom. First, as a pitcher who made me proud to don the crimson “B” on my hat, who made fans everywhere drop their jaws in amazement. And secondly, as a villain fighting to take down everything he had built, as those who took his place fought to keep it standing. That man is Roger Clemens.
While the bulk of the conversation surrounding Clemens and his Hall of Fame candidacy leans toward steroid use, specifically in the latter parts of his career, I would like to instead focus not on the reason he should be kept out. If there’s just one reason to keep a prolific game-changing pitcher such as Clemens out, how can you discount the many reasons he deserves to be in?
Simply put, we’re going to be asking a simple question: does Roger Clemens belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame? In the opinion of this non-voting writer, it’s simple. Yes, he does and he should be in already. But don’t take our word for it, we’re going over the 14 pieces of evidence as to why the Rocket has earned the right to a plaque in Cooperstown.
Exhibit A: Roger Clemens wins the 1986 AL MVP and Cy Young Awards.
In the history of the game, there have been 10 pitchers who have won a Cy Young and an MVP award in the same season. Most recently, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw have completed the task, as both of them added more accolades to their Cooperstown careers. Verlander won his Cy Young/MVP combo in 2011, as he absolutely torched the AL Central and helped the Detroit Tigers get to the ALCS. Kershaw is the most recent pitcher to win both awards in the same year. He finished his 2014 season with an astounding 21-3 record, 1.77 ERA, and 0.857 WHIP, solidifying him as the heir apparent to Sandy Koufax‘s throne as greatest Dodgers pitcher.
Koufax himself is also on this list, as he completed this nearly impossible side quest in 1964. It would be remiss to not mention the fact that Koufax came dangerously close to completing this feat in both 1965 and 1966, the final two years of his insanely potent career.
Sandy Koufax was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, making him the youngest player to enter Cooperstown.
Following chronologically, Bob Gibson‘s 1968 season is next up, and what a season it was. Looked at as one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) season ever pitched, Gibson’s ’68 season was unmatched. With a statline that will never exist again, Gibson put up a record 1.12 ERA in 35 starts. In those 35 games, Gibson went the distance 28 times, shutting out opposing teams 13 times. When Gibby took the mound in ’68, you might as well wave the white flag. But in the 1968 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals opponent, the Detroit Tigers, had an equally menacing Ace in Denny McClain.
McClain’s 1968 season has been eclipsed by Gibson’s in the history books, and that’s a shame because it’s equally as exquisite. The only difference? McClain’s Tigers didn’t beat the Cardinals in the World Series. However, while a ring immortalizes you in more ways than one, McClain’s 31-6 record in 41 starts, tossing complete games in two-thirds of those starts, still holds up as a historic achievement.
Between the Year of Gibson and McClain to the rise of Kershaw and Verlander, were five pitchers. Three of them were relievers, as Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez, and Dennis Eckersley won their dual honors out of the bullpen. A closer winning the Cy Young is a rarity nowadays, but there’s no doubt these men were the top arms of their respective seasons.
That leaves two starting pitchers. Vida Blue, the Oakland Ace, became the youngest player to win both awards, doing so at the age of 21. Blue’s MVP win was the first for the Athletics since they moved to Oakland, and with Fingers and Eckersley’s wins on the horizon, he was not going to be the last.
And the final member of this illustrious club is Roger Clemens.
Roger Clemens was 23 years old in 1986 and represented hope for the Fenway Faithful. The Red Sox looked to bounce back from an 81-81 season the year prior. Baseball in Boston is like religion, and when a Messiah enters the picture, parishioners tend to throw all of the hopes on top of them. The 1984 and 85 seasons were odd for the Red Sox. Two middle-of-the-pack seasons after Carl Yastrzemski‘s retirement signaled a downturn. With no real leader stepping up to find a way out of the middle of the American League East, the Red Sox needed some magic.
Six months after Opening Day, Clemens took the mound for what could have been a historic game in World Series, and Red Sox, history. With the Red Sox owning a 3-2 lead against the New York Mets, Clemens took the mound against one of the most powerful offenses in baseball history.
And although the Red Sox failed to win the game and the series, nullifying Clemens’ 8 strikeouts over seven innings, the bigger story was clear. The Boston Red Sox had found their newest Messiah, and he came with a Rocket for an arm.
Roger Clemens was the clear choice for the 1986 AL MVP Award, and the unanimous AL Cy Young winner.
Clemens followed up his 24-4, 2.48 ERA, 0.969 WHIP, and 169 ERA+ ’86 season with an exemplary 1987 season, where he also won AL Cy Young. It was the second one for his trophy case, but that’s a story for another time. At the end of the voting period, despite having the highest WAR in the league, Clemens finished 19th in MVP voting, missing out on the chance to repeat his achievement.
When you step back and look at this list of pitchers, it’s easy to see which ones stand out. Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw are first ballot hall of famers. There are few players you can say this about, but these two are top of the list. Of the three relievers, two are in the Hall of Fame, as Willie Hernandez failed to maintain that level of dominance throughout his career. For the four pitchers who have passed through their Hall of Fame eligibility, only Vida Blue failed to earn himself a plaque, possibly due to revelations made in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials, and possibly due to performance.
And then there’s Clemens.
Of the 9 remaining players, including Verlander and Kershaw as Hall of Famers, 6 pitchers made the cut and were immortalized in Cooperstown. The three on the outside, McClain, Hernandez and Blue, missed out on the larger career achievements, despite hitting this outstanding double-whammy.
And maybe that’s the key to Clemens’ Cooperstown case. While we can look at the small pieces, it’s the sum of all its parts that make the whole. One thing doesn’t define a player’s career, and one event doesn’t qualify or disqualify them either. It’s about the larger picture.
And that’s what we’re attempting to present in “The Hall of Fame Case for Clemens.”
- / 1 year ago
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