Bruce Hurst called from Arizona Thursday to talk about Roger Clemens and the Hall of Fame. Hurst and Clemens almost won the World Series for the Red Sox when they were the young aces way back in 1986.
“I’m defending Roger,” Hurst said while driving to a cattle and alfalfa farm he bought five years ago. “I played with Roger the first five years of his career, from 1984 to ‘88. He changed the environment around our team and he changed me.
“I never saw anything but the most thorough, consistent, reasoned worker I’ve ever seen. He was unbelievable. He was immensely uncommon in his efforts, in everything he did. If he’s lying to me, I’d be crushed. I know that sounds Pollyanna-ish of me, but I believe in this cat.”
It was nice to hear from Hurst. Frankly, these days anything beats checking my Twitter feed or the comments under my Globe columns. I’m hoping I’ll be able to dismiss my food taster and bodyguards after the big snowstorm clears out of here.
Like Barry Bonds, Clemens failed to gain entry to Cooperstown on his 10th and final appearance on the writers’ ballot while David Ortiz was whisked into the Hall Tuesday night. Clemens received 65.2 percent of the votes — the best he’s ever done — but still shy of the 75 percent required for admission to the hardball shrine. Bonds received 66 percent of votes cast.
“I don’t understand the double standard with the voters,” said Hurst. “I don’t understand the people that can vote for Ortiz and then turn their back on Clem and even Barry. Barry made a huge mistake. He’s not the greatest home run hitter of all time. Not even close, but in my opinion, he’d be in the conversation of greatest players of all time.
“Roger’s body never changed. From the day he walked into our clubhouse, he was the hardest worker ever. And he was a great teammate.
“When you are in a clubhouse, you have 25 guys who think they are great and are full of testosterone and you are going to have certain conflicts. Clem was revered by his teammates. He’s the greatest teammate I ever had. Roger changed the culture of our team.”
Numerically, Clemens is one of the top 10 pitchers of all time. He won seven Cy Young Awards, seven ERA titles, and 354 games. He was MVP of the American League when he went 24-4 with the ‘86 Red Sox. He led his teams to six pennants and two World Series wins. He won 192 games for the Red Sox, tied for most in club history with Cy Young.
Clemens didn’t look suspicious until after he left Boston for Toronto. After going 40-39 over the last four years of his Sox career, he went to the Blue Jays and won back-to-back Cy Young Awards. He pitched ridiculously well into his 40s. Too well, maybe. Clemens went 18-4 with Houston at the age of 41, then compiled a 1.87 ERA when he was 42.
Everything went south for Clemens when his onetime trainer Brian McNamee cooperated with Senator George Mitchell’s investigation into baseball. Clemens’s name appeared 82 times in the infamous Mitchell Report. Former teammate Andy Pettitte also flipped on Clemens.
After Clemens appeared before Congress and insisted he never used performance-enhancing drugs, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on six counts of perjury, contempt, and making false statements to Congress. His first trial ended in a mistrial. Clemens was acquitted on all counts in a second trial.
Still, Hurst knows it’s almost impossible to make a case that Clemens was clean late in his career. (For the record, I didn’t vote for Ortiz, and have never voted for Clemens or Bonds.)
“I know steroids became rampant in the game and I’m sure the temptation was immense,” said Hurst.
Here’s some of what Clemens said in a statement he released after the Hall of Fame vote:
“Hey y’all! I figured I’d give y’all a statement since it’s that time of year again. My family and I put the HOF in the rear view mirror ten years ago. I didn’t play baseball to get into the HOF. I played to make a generational difference in the lives of my family. Then focus on winning championships while giving back to my community and the fans as well … I would like to thank those who took the time to look at the facts and vote for me. Hopefully, everyone can now close this book and keep their eyes forward focusing on what is really important in life. All love!”
In the summer of 2019, after Clemens made a charity appearance at St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge, I asked him if it pains him to be locked out of Cooperstown.
“No, not at all,” he insisted. “It’s voted on, so I have zero control.
“In my case, you’ve got one guy running around the country [McNamee] saying he made me, and we buried him in court, but that don’t count. And my name’s not on that list of 104 [positives from 2003], but there are some other guys whose names were on it. But I guess it’s not a problem.”
No joy in Mudville on this one. None in Katy, Texas, either.