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Was Roger Clemens the Greatest Pitcher in Major League Baseball history?


Roger Clemens had a breakout season in 1986

Some of my earliest memories of watching baseball on television involve the great Roger Clemens. He started for the American League in the All Star game the summer of 1986. I remember it well, and I know just where the vcr tape is where the game is recorded. The tape was watched hundreds of times by two young boys who dreamed of becoming Major League Baseball stars, just like Dwight Gooden and Roger Clemens, the two starting All Star pitchers.

I've nothing anywhere with which to view the old vcr tape. It's kinda doubtful the thing would play even were I to have a vcr player. The game was billed as the battle of the fastballs. Dwight Gooden threw more pitches over 95 miles per hour in his innings in the game than did Clemens. This was because Clemens was getting outs quickly. Doc Gooden struggled a little bit. When the game was over, the American League was victorious, and Roger Clemens won the All Star game MVP.

Roger Clemens had started the season at a tremendous pace. He had an unbelievable won/lost record at the All Star break, and he finished the second half of the season strong too. He'd win the first of his Cy Young awards, and win the American League MVP too. His Boston Red Sox faced off against the New York Mets in the World Series, so it was fitting that Gooden and Clemens started the All Star game, the two teams they played for met in the World Series to play one for the ages. Sadly, the thing most people remember the most is the ball going through the legs of the otherwise outstanding Boston first baseman, Bill Buckner.

Roger Clemens with the Boston Red Sox 20 Strikeouts Against Seattle In 1986!

Roger Clemens - power pitcher from Texas and the 20 strikeout games

Over the years the great state of Texas has become more and more synonymous with power pitchers. A power pitcher is someone who has the ability to throw the baseball in the mid to high 90 mile per hour range, and gets a lot of strikeouts. Nolan Ryan, of course, was always famous for throwing those 100 mile per hour fastballs, and Nolan is the all time strikeout king too.

But Roger Clemens did something Nolan Ryan never did do. He threw a game where he struck out 20 batters. Roger did that in 1986, and he did it twice. the second time being ten years later.Then Kerry Wood, another Texan matched it. So Nolan Ryan is the no hitter king and the strikeout king, but Roger Clemens did some damned special things too. He had a spectacular career. Clemens won a huge number of games at a time when the strike-zone was smaller than it should have been, and large numbers of batters were juiced up on steroids. Of course Roger got caught up in that too. You can't separate Clemens from the era he played in. All things considered, he may well have been the single best pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball.

But there is no proof Roger Clemens ever used steroids or any other performance enhancing drug. The thing was just someone's testimony against him. Someone's words. Words do not constitute proof against Clemens, especially when you consider some of the persons who claim Roger used the drugs.

BOS@DET: Clemens ties own record with 20 strikeouts

Roger Clemens with the University of Texas

Roger Clemens helped the Longhorns win the 1983 College World Series.

Roger Clemens helped the Longhorns win the 1983 College World Series.

Roger Clemens was actually born in Ohio, but he became famous as a Texan, and was a great player for the University of Texas

Roger Clemens is famously from Katy, Texas. I don't think I've ever been to Katy, but it is somewhere far south of where I live. Roger wasn't born there, he was born in Dayton, Ohio. I bet not too many people know that. Texas definitely claimed Roger for its own long long ago. Roger is of German descent. There are a lot of German towns and German descended folks here in Texas.

Roger was a large boy in high school. So he was scouted by MLB scouts from the time he was still a child. He went to college instead of thinking about pro-ball. He first attended San Jacinto College North, where he did very well as a pitcher, and was drafted by the Mets. He didn't sign with the Mets, but instead transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. He compiled a record for the Longhorns that looked about like some of his finest MLB seasons. Roger was on the mound when UT won the College World Series in 1983. His uniform and number were retired by the University of Texas in Austin. His was the first to have that done for him there.

Roger Clemens got back on top of the game in Toronto


Roger Clemens had some of his best years after leaving Boston

So Roger Clemens went from the college World Series in 1983 to pitching for the Boston Red Sox the next year. He'd get parts of the 84' and 85 seasons to come up to the big club and do a little dazzle. He showed flashes of the future king of the Cy Young award. Then in 1986 he showed the world he was a master craftsman of pitching.

Baseball is a team sport. When a pitcher wins it isn't always all on him. He can't win if no runs are scored. When a pitcher loses, it's not always all on him either. So Clemens put together some amazing seasons in Boston, but what was funny was they thought he was getting old after twelve years there. It's true that most power pitchers start losing velocity in their early 30s. Clemens went to Toronto and had the best season by a pitcher in a long long time, and probably his single best season. The year was 1997 and Roger the Rocket Clemens won the triple crown of pitching, but he did more than that. He also led the league in innings pitched, and a few other categories. You look at Roger Clemens career statistics on his baseball-reference page, and the highlighted numbers are everywhere.

So Clemens struggled with the Red Sox the last four years he was there. Roger is hardly the only person to see his career change for the better with a change of location. Jake Arrieta, in more recent years, is another power pitching Texan to change teams and suddenly improve drastically.

One theory of mine as to why Clemens is yet to be enshrined, as is his rightful honor, in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is - Clemens moved around a lot in his career. He went from Boston to Toronto, from Toronto to New York City, from there to Houston, and then back to the bright lights and the big city of NYC for the retirement finale. None of this was unusual, but Roger didn't seem to pick up enduring fans so much. For people like me who love the game for the game, and love the players for the thrills they got watching them, Clemens was among the greatest pitchers we're likely to ever see.

Roger Clemens - perfect drop and drive pitching mechanics allowed him to play so many years


Roger Clemens had a flawless pitching motion, and a stringent workout regimen

Roger Clemens is a huge man. Let me tell you something about the listings of player sizes on baseball cards, in baseball programs, or on the web. Most of it is lies. You get an accurate listing of how tall someone is. The listed weight for the player is almost 100 percent nonsense. Clemens is listed as weighing between 205 and 225 pounds. This is laughable. He likely weighed 260 some seasons. That's 260 very solid pounds. Was he using steroids? Maybe. You got people like Jose Canseco accusing him, and some nobody who was a trainer and likely had a grudge. If Jose Canseco didn't accuse you of doing steroids, you probably weren't even in Major League Baseball in the 1990s.

Roger being huge in size isn't proof he did steroids. If you look at the Clemens pitching motion, it is perfection. He had a, very literally, perfect delivery of the baseball. He was six foot four inches and over two hundred pounds as a rookie. Filling out is what men do as they get into their 30's, and Roger Clemens was a very highly paid professional athlete driven to stay on top of his game, and compete. He was as fierce a competitor as there ever was. All the great pitchers have to be, it is what makes them great pitchers instead of former prospects. When Nolan Ryan was still playing he reached out to Roger, and got with him on the conditioning program he believed was partly responsible for his long career. Clemens, already a very hard worker, incorporated Nolan's ideas into his own workout regimen.

Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling -both belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame

So far as comparing Roger Clemens to one of his contemporaries goes, there is nobody more directly comparable to Clemens than Curt Schilling. They are both about the same size, they both pitched long careers. Both deserve to be in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Clemens and Schilling were very similar pitchers. Both were big right handed flame throwers, power pitchers, and they had similar pitching styles. Both men were brought into baseball with the big fastballs, and the typical curve ball and slider and maybe a change-up. Both learned the split finger pitch mid way in their careers, and then went on to use it a hell of a lot of the time for a hell of a lot of success. Both men loved nothing more than to pitch deep into games, eat up innings for their teams, and strike out as many hitters as humanely possible.

While Rocket man Roger Clemens would ultimately out-do Curt Schilling in most categories. Schilling did what Clemens never did, he was a member of the 300 strikeout club on numerous occasions. Clemens got really close two different seasons, having over 290 strikeouts - but it is still no cigar, no membership in the 300 Ks club. Clemens did what Schilling never did, and won a Cy Young award. Except Roger did way more than that, he won 7 Cy Young awards. They ought to just re-name the award the Roger Clemens award. Seriously.

Roger Clemens testifies before the United States congress

Was Roger Clemens using steroids? There's no proof. There never was any proof

First of all, we need to dispense with the notion that Cy Young was the greatest pitcher of all time. The era in which Mr. Cy. Young played baseball is so far gone and so far removed from the current era, it may as well be a different sport.

Roger Clemens is someone we can relate to now, but Roger Clemens played in a time when being muscled up on steroids was perfectly okay with everyone right up until it suddenly wasn't any more. No sane person can act mad or surprised by the revelations, by how it all hit the fan. Everyone knew what was going on. Blind old men knew Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire were juiced, and even people who'd been dead for a while knew Jose Canseco was on steroids. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Everyone was fine with it. Then everyone acted like they were shocked to find out there was a big time drug use thing going on.

What was surprising was Roger Clemens getting into the mess. Pitching hadn't been thought of as something that would be beneficial should a pitcher be on steroids. But it was. Lots of pitchers have been caught juicing performance enhancing drugs. The thing is, they help your muscles recover from stress quicker. You could think of it as being like getting an extra day's rest between starts. Steroids help you recover from a high pitch count start.

But there is and never was any evidence that Clemens did steroids. Again, Jose Canseco isn't exactly a boy scout. His words and accusations were to sell his book. Clemens faced very serious charges of perjury. These charges were far more serious than the initial accusations of having used steroids. All the perjury charges were thrown out. So there is no evidence Clemens used drugs to enhance his performance. I find the whole affair dull. Nobody ever suspected or accused Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez - and a huge long list of other elite pitchers.

You have to ask yourself, why does Roger Clemens elicit such outrage and so many accusations? The answer is so simple. It's because he was so very dominating over Major League batting lineups for so many years.

Highlights from Roger Clemens long and amazing career

But was Roger Clemens the greatest pitcher ever?

The thought has crossed my mind, that Clemens was the best starting pitcher the Major Leagues has ever seen. The reasons I'd thought that were mostly because of his performance during the steroid era. The notion is not mine alone. I'm not sure Clemens was the best there ever was, but there are some people who for them, they are certain about it. Joe Posnanski wrote an article proclaiming Clemens the best. I have that for you right here, so you can read it yourself, and think about his reasoning.

Joe Posnanski is a big shot baseball writer. His article goes deep with the newfangled statistics I'm slow to adopt. I prefer things I grew up with. Wins and loses, earned run average, strikeouts, shutouts, complete games - these are statistics I can more readily assess. The point of all the new statistics is to show the older ones were inadequate. Nowadays the big one is wins above replacement. In today's game, it's Kershaw and Mike Trout, those are the players it would be the hardest to ever replace.

Sandy Koufax was only the dominant master pitcher for a short time. He had about 5 years of being the best in the world. It was well known the Dodgers cheated for Koufax, and had their home pitching mound higher than was legal. Nobody cares about that. But 5 years of being the best doesn't put you in the same category as Roger Clemens. What about Pedro Martinez? Well, again - Pedro Martinez may have been slightly better than Roger Clemens was in his prime. The problem is Pedro's prime didn't last long enough to rate him with Clemens.

Nolan Ryan? No shot. Ryan is the strikeouts king by a long shot, and the no-hitter king, probably forever. Nolan Ryan was also the longevity king. What's the problem? Nolan is closer to being the all time leader in games lost than he is to being the leader in games won.

Bob Feller could have had the numbers to compete with Roger Clemens, but Bob Feller had some damned important things to do during world war two. He fought in it. So he lost four of his prime years to war. Bob just can't be left out of these conversations. He only gets mentioned for having served the nation in its greatest need instead of serving his baseball statistical legacy. Hats off to rapid Robert in that.

Randy Johnson? If there is anyone who could have been or was better than Roger Clemens over the course of a career - it could only be Randy Johnson. Both played long careers where they maintained a top level of competition. Johnson is forever second best to Nolan Ryan in power numbers, and second best to Clemens in Cy Young Awards. Clemens won more games.

What about Greg Maddux? Greg won more games than Roger Clemens. Greg Maddux also had a lower winning percentage than Clemens. Greg Maddux lost a lot more games than did Roger Clemens. Baseball is a game of statistics. You can pore over statistics for days on end, and you'll always arrive at the conclusion that over the years Clemens dominates the game, and the conversation about just who was the greatest pitcher in Major League Baseball History.

Roger Clemens with The Sugar Land Skeeters

Roger Clemens loved baseball so much that when he retired he had to find someone to pitch for. He just kept playing, giving youngsters a chance to bat against the greatest there ever was.

Roger Clemens loved baseball so much that when he retired he had to find someone to pitch for. He just kept playing, giving youngsters a chance to bat against the greatest there ever was.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Wesman Todd Shaw


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on May 02, 2017:

I understand. And I too think Roger probably did do some PEDs, the thing is there isn't any proof of it though - the whole case against him is testimony of exactly one person. There is no hard proof.

Here is the thing though, at this point Pudge Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell have been elected to the HOF. Both of those were users, and nobody even questions whether either of them used. So to my way of thinking, they've simply got to let them all in now. Just write it off as one of those phases Baseball went through. Use an asterick or whatnot.

Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on May 02, 2017:

Roger Clemens was a great pitcher but that cloud of performance enhancing drugs plagues him. Everything he did in Boston is amazing already but afterward is the question whether it was natural performance. I'm more tolerant of an athlete taking prescription to heal faster than taking drugs to try and get better.

CJ Kelly from the PNW on November 28, 2016:

I'm in agreement. But I do believe he took PEDs. However, it does not matter to me in terms of the Hall of Fame. Longevity matters at the MLB level. He passed that test. High quality seasons in three decades. He has my vote. Any of these arrogant writers (i.e. Bill Madden, etc.) need to get a life. Clelmens, Bonds, et. al. belong in Cooperstown.

If they want to hold the perjury against him, okay. I believe he did perjure himself. But to hold the PED thing against him is ridiculous. Henry Waxman's over the top act at those hearings was just embarrassing. He never "hurt" the game. Silly argument. Didn't Babe Ruth hurt the game by not taking care of himself during his career? Didn't Ty Cobb disgrace himself by beating a fan and being an overt racist?

Sharing everywhere. This situation needs to change. Good job.