Career Statistics: 4916.2 IP, 707 GS, 8.55 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 3.09 FIP, 139.5 fWAR (First among pitchers all-time)
Years Active: 1984 - 2007
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher
Time on the Ballot: Third (35.4% of the vote in 2014)
Continuing the series on the historically deep 2015 Hall of Fame ballot and their connections to the New York Yankees, we look back at the career of Roger Clemens. The Rocket is making his third appearance on the ballot, two more than he was expected to need when he retired in 2007.
Clemens was drafted in the first round by the Boston Red Sox in 1983, and was in the major leagues by 1984. The young Rocket was by his own words a 'thrower', relying on a 98 mile-per-hour fastball and hard slider to blow away batters. Clemens credited hall of fame bound Tom Seaver, whom the Red Sox traded for in the second half of 1986, for helping him develop into more of a pitcher. By the end of that year Clemens was a Cy Young winner, Most Valuable Player and ace of an American League pennant-winning Red Sox.
Those same pennant-winning Red Sox were very nearly Curse of the Bambino-breaking Red Sox, with a 3-2 World Series lead over the New York Mets, and a 3-2 Game 6 lead after seven innings. Their ace Roger Clemens was on the mound, but was pinch-hit for ahead of the eighth by manager John McNamara; a move where both Clemens and McNamara would later pin the decision on the other other party. Boston went on to blow the lead, and lose in extras in one of the most famous finales to a World Series game ever. The Mets went on to win the championship in seven games.
Clemens continued to pitch as an ace for the Red Sox over the next decade, but would never win another postseason game with Boston. By the end of the 1996 season, Roger Clemens had pitched his way to a 192-111 record, 3 Cy Young awards, the only two 20-strikeout games in the major leagues at that point, and 82.8 fWAR - already 14th all time among pitchers. Then Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette famously suggested that Clemens would be offered a franchise record contract to spend the twilight of his career in Boston.
Despite, or perhaps because of Duquette's comment, Clemens appeared to want out of Boston at that point, ultimately choosing to sign a 4 year $40 million contract with division rivals the Toronto Blue Jays ahead of the 1997 season. In Canada, the Rocket put all talk of a career twilight to an end, posting a combined 19.3 fWAR in just two seasons as he won back to back Cy Young awards and established himself once again as the best pitcher in the American League.
"Once I got traded to the Yankees, the fans were unbelievable"
Roger Clemens - 2003
After their legendary 1998 season, with 114 regular seasons wins and another 11 in the postseason on the way to the World Series; the New York Yankees traded David Wells, Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd to the Blue Jays for then five-time Cy Young winner Clemens. The Rocket didn't quite match his Blue Jay heights in 1999 or 2000 but served as ace of back-to-back title winning squads. 2001 was the Rocket's best year in pinstripes, pitching his way to his sixth Cy Young, still the last Yankee to win the Cy Young. Clemens did his part in the postseason once again, dueling Curt Schilling through six innings in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. The Yankees went on to lose that game of course, as Roger Clemens went on to be a part of three of the next five losing World Series squads.
In 2003, Roger Clemens announced his impending retirement at the start of the season, going on a first ballot Hall of Famer farewell tour that rivalled the ones the Yankees saw a decade later with Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. The key difference of course being that in 2003 the Yankees were a championship calibre squad as they went on to win their sixth pennant in eight tries, but ultimately fell short to the Florida Marlins. Still, as he left what was to be his final start, in the World Series, even the opposing Marlins gave him a standing ovation. It seemed the ultimate high note to say farewell to one of the greatest pitchers ever.
As teammate, close friend and fellow Texan Andy Pettitte was allowed to leave the Yankees and sign with the Houston Astros in free agency, Clemens chose to come out of retirement and join him. Clemens continued to pitch at an exceptional level, winning his record seventh Cy Young award, and becoming only the fourth pitcher ever to win the award in both the American and the National League. Clemens might have been even better in 2005, and was a big part of the Houston Astros winning their first pennant. Houston went on to be swept by the Chicago White Sox as Clemens was knocked out after just two innings in Game 1. The Rocket retired for a second time after the 2005 World Series, but once again was lured out of it by the Astros, this time for a half season in 2006. Clemens was once again a solid pitcher, this time on a middling Astros team that fell short of the postseason.
"Well they came and got me out of Texas and I can tell you it's a privilege to be back"
Roger Clemens - May 2007
Roger Clemens put off retirement one last time for the 2007 season, as he was lured back to the New York Yankees for a pro-rated $28 million, one year contract. Clemens started 17 games for a Yankee team that dug its way out last place, at one point 13.5 games behind the Red Sox. They ultimately finished 2 games back of the Sox, losing the American League East for the first time in 10 seasons but managing to extend their extraordinary postseason streak to 13 years. Clemens injured his hamstring in his final ever start, in the 2007 American League Division Series, and was pulled for Phil Hughes. The Rocket then retired for the final time, closing the book on what might have been the greatest career any pitcher has ever had. The only question seemed to be if his share of the Hall of Fame vote on his first ballot would exceed Tom Seaver's record.
Of course, the final twist was yet to play out at that point, the rumours of performance enhancing drugs that had begun to dog Clemens since his Toronto revival came to a head with the Mitchell Report and his ensuing testimony to Congress. Alongside fellow member of the 2015 Ballot, and fellow inner circle statistical great of the sport Barry Bonds, Clemens was forever tarnished by the steroid allegations in the eyes of many baseball fans and Hall of Fame voters alike.
Clemens could potentially never be inducted into the Hall due to the stand the voters have taken on performance enhancing drugs. A discussion on that particular topic could easily fill a post far longer than this already lengthy one, so allow me to leave it at this. Roger Clemens had a body of work greater than any pitcher of the generation I grew up watching, a generation that featured some of the most extraordinary pitchers ever in Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez. For better or worse, the Hall of Fame will be a lesser place should the BBWAA continue to exclude Roger Clemens in an attempt to paper over an entire era of the sport.
Congratulations on an incredible career Roger Clemens
Likely Cap if Elected: Boston Red Sox