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Baseball Hall of Fame debates 2013: Roger Clemens

Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens throws during

Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens throws during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. (April 1, 1996) Credit: AP

Part 2 of a 10-part series that looks at prominent potential Hall of Famers for the Class of 2013 and the reasons to vote them in - or keep them out.

While there might not be any managers to scream at through your television or umpires to "boo" from the stands, the offseason provides one of the most hotly debated topics of the entire baseball season: who gets into the Hall of Fame?

This is the first in a 10-part series that will look at some of the most prominent potential Hall of Famers for the Class of 2013 and the reasons to vote them in - or keep them out.

The first case is that of Roger Clemens, who's in his first year on the ballot. The former Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Astros right-hander had a blazing fastball and a penchant for letting hitters know just how hot it was. Since his final retirement following the 2007 season, Clemens has been tainted with allegations of cheating which may prove fatal to his chances of induction.


Keeping Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame might be more of a humanitarian effort: his plaque's engraver is likely to get carpel tunnel listing all of his accomplishments.

Even for those who grew up watching "The Rocket" dominate baseball, regularly watching his surly sneer staring down another soon-to-be strikeout victim, getting used to greatness on a start-by-start basis, his career is truly awe-inspiring in retrospect:

-- Seven Cy Young awards and three other top-three finishes

-- 1986 AL MVP (24-4, 2.48 ERA, 238 Ks)

-- 11-time All-Star

-- 354 wins, ninth all-time

-- 4,672 strikeouts, third all-time

-- Two-time World Series winner (1999, 2000)

-- Led baseball in ERA seven times

-- Led the league in wins four times

-- Led the league in strikeouts five times

-- Won the pitching Triple Crown in 1997 (21-7, 2.05 ERA, 292 strikeouts)

-- Twice struck out 20 batters in a game

That resume, on numbers alone, is beyond debate.

But it's never that simple with Clemens.

For one thing, the guy with the surly sneer wasn't always so well-liked. He hit 159 batters with a pitch, 14th all-time, and threw countless others high-and-tight to make a point. Clemens famously sparred with Mets catcher Mike Piazza -- also on the Hall of Fame ballot -- and during a World Series game threw part of a shattered bat at him. After the game, Clemens claimed he thought it was the baseball. As if that made things better. He was the original Brett Favre, constantly retiring and unretiring, lured back to baseball by his love for the game - and, of course, a hefty payday.

But all of that would have been overlooked and Clemens would have been celebrated if not for his one-time trainer, Brian McNamee. McNamee said he injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs, a charge Clemens vociferously denied, fighting the accusation first in the court of public opinion, then in front of Congress and finally in federal court, while on trial for perjury. Clemens won his federal case, but his image was never the same. Though he still denies ever taking PEDs, it's widely believed that Clemens used a chemical boost to sustain his 24-season career that ended at the age of 44.

McNamee said he first injected Clemens with steroids in 1998, by which time Clemens had already won 213 games, claimed four Cy Young awards, been an MVP and Triple Crown winner and held five ERA titles. Even if his career ended at that moment, Clemens would be in the Hall of Fame conversation. No matter how you look at his career, Clemens belongs in Cooperstown.

So what do you get the man who has everything for Christmas? You let him get a plaque by voting him into the Hall of Fame.


But he cheated.

That's the simple response to any statistic you can bring up about Clemens. Yes, the numbers are impressive. Astounding, even. Almost unbelievable.

Posting a 2.98 ERA at the age of 41 is pretty difficult to do. Leading baseball with a 1.87 ERA the following year is even harder. Then "declining" to a 2.30 ERA the year after that. As a 43-year-old.

During the 14 seasons of his career during which time we're to believe Clemens assuredly played clean, the pitcher averaged 15 wins, 205.8 strikeouts and a 2.97 ERA from age 21-34.

He regressed the final 10 seasons of his career, but not by normal standards. He averaged 14 wins, 179 strikeouts and a 3.38 ERA from age 35-44. Oh, and he won three more Cy Young awards, two World Series and twice led baseball in ERA.

Even without McNamee's testimony, those numbers don't pass the smell test.

But there is McNamee's testimony. Believable testimony of repeated injections, even if McNamee himself wasn't the purest witness, backed up by evidence that bore Clemens' DNA.

There is the time during which Clemens played, commonly called "the steroid era.".

The courts may have partially vindicated Clemens, but now it's time for the court of public opinion to have its say. Not bound by legal complexities or influenced by lawyers. Simply using common sense.


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