The name Roger Clemens will only appear on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot two more times. This year, Clemens showed a notable gain alongside fellow controversial entrant Barry Bonds. But time is running out.
Clemens bumped his way up to 61% this time around. It’s enough to keep him in contention, but still far enough from the required 75% to have his supporters worried.
Why is a rare pitching phenom like Clemens having such trouble finding his way into Cooperstown? Taking the long view on his career, as well as his post-MLB controversies, paints the complex picture that Hall of Fame voters see.
How many teams did Roger Clemens play for?
Roger Clemens played for four different MLB teams during his 24 seasons in the league: the Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees, and the Houston Astros. He ended his career with a farewell tour with the Yankees in 2007.
He has a solid argument for being one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Twice, he led his contemporaries in the Triple Crown categories (wins, strikeouts, and ERA). His career era, over nearly a quarter-century of play, was just 3.12. He won 354 games.
And how he won was what made Clemens games appointment television. He amassed a whopping 4,672 strikeouts, including two 20 strikeout games 10 years apart. This was a man who showed few signs of falling off his game, until essentially the final minutes of his career.
He spent that final run with the Yankees. It’s not much of a mystery why he decided to hang up his glove in NYC.
How Roger Clemens’ solidified the Yankees’ return to World Series dominance
The tragedy that so often befalls great baseball players is how team-oriented the sport is. Some of the greatest players simply don’t have the pieces around them to dominate the league. Thankfully, Clemens didn’t exactly toil away in anonymity.
Clemens landed with the Yankees in 1999. It was the perfect time: the pinstriped squad was fresh off a 4-0 World Series drubbing of the San Diego Padres. It was the organizations’ return to championship quality after years of erratic front office decisions.
Clemens was instrumental in bringing another one-sided result to the Bronx in the 1999 World Series. The team repeated the feat in 2001, this time dropping a single game to the otherwise hapless New York Mets.
Yet, because this is baseball, there’s a quirk to be explored here. Clemens’ true return to form was in his third year with the Yankees. Curt Schilling and the Arizona Diamondbacks came out ahead four games to three. But it was a renewed Clemens who won his sixth Cy Young Award that year.
The controversy that might keep Roger Clemens out of Cooperstown
Clemens’ personal life was largely without controversy. His professional troubles began in 2005, when Jose Canseco released a book accusing many notable players of steroid abuse. Clemens was one of the players named.
Things heated up to fever pitch in 2007. An independent investigation into steroid abuse in baseball, the Mitchell Report, also pointed the finger at Clemens.
A senate committee formed in reaction to the reports. They invited Clemens to testify but informed him he was not compelled to show up. He did anyway, leading to an awkward grilling that seemed mostly to harm Clemens’ standing in fans’ eyes.
Clemens refuted the evidence in the Mitchell Report, but there was little to sway the conversation one way or the other on his actual innocence. He got caught up in a perjury case over his testimony. It resulted in an acquittal, but the damage was done. It became a black mark, affixed prominently on his otherwise incredible career.
If the Hall of Fame won’t have Roger Clemens, fans of the four MLB teams he played for will nonetheless keep the good memories of his contributions to the game alive.