Some people believe him. Most people don’t. Others simply don’t care.
But it’s beyond dispute that Roger Clemens is being kept out of the baseball Hall of Fame because a lot of voters think he cheated.
Clemens is the Barry Bonds of pitchers. He won 354 games. He won seven Cy Young Awards in 24 seasons. He ranks third on the all-time strikeout list. By any statistical measurement, he is one of the top 10 pitchers in the history of baseball, but he received only 37.6 percent of the votes (75 percent required for admission) when his name first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot last year. That has to hurt.
I asked Clemens about this Thursday when he came to Fenway Park for a day-night celebration in which he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Clemens was found “not guilty” on six counts of lying to Congress about the performance-enhancing drug issue in 2012, but clearly, a vast majority of folks think he is lying. What is this like?
“There’s a lot of people that believe me,’’ he said. “We just deal with facts and we proved it.’’
But if everybody believed you, you’d be in the Hall of Fame.
“I can’t . . . we proved it,’’ he stammered. “There’s nothing else to prove. So, we did it with the facts.’’
But growing up in Ohio (Clemens moved to Texas before high school), working your butt off, and dreaming of being a great pitcher, you wanted to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s why you did everything you did . . .
“No, that’s not why I did it,’’ he said. “I worked hard. All you got to do is look at facts and all that kind of stuff. I can’t control any of the other stuff.’’
OK. These are the facts. Clemens was the greatest pitcher in the history of the Red Sox. He won 192 games between 1984-96. He won three Cy Young Awards for the Red Sox. In 1986, he went 24-4, led the Sox to the seventh game of the World Series, and was named American League Most Valuable Player.
He took the Sox to the playoffs three more times before playing out his contract in 1996 and signing with the Toronto Blue Jays when Sox general manager Dan Duquette said he was in “the twilight of his career.’’
After leaving Boston, Clemens became baseball’s Rambo. He won back-to-back Cy Young trophies with Toronto in 1997 and 1998. He went 20-3 with the Yankees in 2001. In 2004, at the age of 42, he won his seventh Cy Young, going 18-4 for his hometown Houston Astros.
“I had a long twilight,’’ he said Thursday.
Clemens never tested positive for PEDs, but in December of 2007, his name surfaced 82 times in the Mitchell Report — the independent investigation into illegal use of steroids and PEDs by players in Major League Baseball.
After the Mitchell Report, Clemens volunteered to go to Washington. He testified in front of Congress and said he never used steroids. He submitted testimony that conflicted with the sworn testimony of his friend Andy Pettitte, who ultimately admitted that he had cheated.
Believing that Clemens had lied to them, the feds went after him hard. But he was never found guilty. His first trial ended in a mistrial. The second one yielded six “not guilty” verdicts.
But folks think he is dirty. They heard the testimony of former trainer Brian McNamee. How are we supposed to believe that McNamee was telling the truth about Pettitte but lying about Clemens? And why did Jose Canseco (a wacko who turned out to be right about a lot of things) and Pettitte finger Clemens as a cheater (Pettitte later developed Corleone-esque amnesia)? Why would Clemens let his wife admit that she was injected with human growth hormone by McNamee?
It stretches all believability, but Clemens will still look you in the eye and tell you he was clean the whole time.
He’s good. He looks and sounds like a guy who could pass a lie detector test. Maybe he’s one of those guys who has lied so many times he’s made it his new truth.
The Sox haven’t officially retired his number, but no player has been assigned No. 21 since Clemens left. Contrast that with Wade Boggs’s 26, which is handed out like Halloween candy (Lou Merloni, God bless him, is one of the men who wore 26 after Boggs).
Here’s Clemens on the Red Sox not retiring his number: “If it happens, it happens. It’s not going to change me as a person. That’s not why I played the game. When I was out there and I was doing it, I did it to the best of my ability and I worked my tail off.”
He said a lot of nice things about Boston and the Red Sox Thursday. He said he remembered teammate Bruce Hurst nicknaming him, “The Rocket.’’ He said he thinks of himself as a Red Sox player, above all other teams. He said if he is ever enshrined in Cooperstown, he would like his plaque to show him wearing a Red Sox cap.
But he cannot break free of the accusations and the perception that he cheated.
Regarding Cooperstown, Clemens said, “I have zero control over that. If that happens, it’d be great. I have my own thoughts on it, but I’ll save that one day for hopefully when I can get that and write that on paper, too.’’
Is it important to you?
“I don’t know that it’s that important,” he said. “It’s not going to change me as a person. I tell people that we’ve got bits and pieces of me there now.
“We go visit those people and they’re great to us, but it’s not something I sit up and worry about every day. I’m far too busy to worry about something like that.
“I know what I did in my career and how I did it. And I did it right. I can’t control what people think and people that don’t look at facts. I have no control over that.’’
Does it bother his sense of fairness to have 354 wins and seven Cy Youngs and not be in Cooperstown?
“Not at all,’’ he said.
“I have no control over whether it’s fair or not.’’
Anything you would do differently over the last 10-15 years that could have changed anything?
Same old Rocket. No retreat. No surrender. No admission of wrongdoing. And no Cooperstown. Despite one of the great mound résumés in baseball history.Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org