Roger Clemens: Honor, scorn, or both?

Roger Clemens in 1986
Roger Clemens in 1986

By the specific mandate of the committee of team executives, historians, booster-club representatives, and media who choose inductees to the Red Sox Hall of Fame — a mandate that stresses candidates’ importance to the team, not baseball at large — Roger Clemens was an easy choice. He, like fellow inductee Pedro Martinez, is among the best pitchers in franchise history, if not the very best. And Clemens, unlike Martinez, was drafted by the Red Sox and emerged, almost godlike, onto a team that had suffered from “not enough pitching” for decades. His first 20-strikeout game, on April 29, 1986, the first in baseball history, made it clear: The Red Sox finally had an immortal of their own.

But it wasn’t an easy journey to his second 20-strikeout game, 10 years later, when a bulked-up Clemens dispatched the Detroit Tigers. No one thought it at the time, but Clemens’s later-career accomplishments became clouded by allegations that, after leaving the Red Sox, he regularly used steroids to keep pumping fastballs well into his 40s. He beat a perjury rap, but his denials never sounded all that convincing, either.

This is why his ascent to the Red Sox Hall of Fame is, like all subsequent accolades, bittersweet — an occasion for celebration and regret. The Roger of ’86 was a hero who stepped out of the mists of Red Sox history. The Roger of later years, including his New York Yankees career, was a symbol of just how far baseball lost its way in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Bloated, pampered, and quite possibly cheating, that Clemens was a sad character. It’s still hard to remember one without the other.