Roger Clemens is 57 years old and has me rethinking my hard-line stance against PED users when it comes to the Hall of Fame ballot.
A Hall of Fame that includes Trevor Hoffman and Mike Mussina, but not Clemens, is something of a joke, is it not? The older Clemens gets, the more I want to look at his spectacular numbers (354 wins, seven Cy Youngs!) and forgive obvious, but unproven, evidence that he was using performance-enhancing drugs at the end of his illustrious career.
Clemens came to little St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge Thursday to pitch in the 26th annual Oldtime Baseball Game. Facing a raft of local collegiate talent, Clemens started the game and pitched two perfect innings, fanning three. He also played first base and drove in two runs.
The game was invented by sportswriter Steve Buckley during the baseball strike of 1994 and continues as one of our great, quaint local traditions, no less than L Street Brownies swimming in the ocean on New Year’s Day and the Boston Pops performing on the Esplanade on the Fourth of July.
Esteemed baseball stars such as Pedro Martinez, Jim Lonborg and Oil Can Boyd have lent the currency of their fame to the Oldtime Game through the years, and Clemens came to Cambridge to pitch to college kids for the benefit of Compassionate Care for ALS patients.
This is not a one-time thing for Clemens. He hasn’t lived here since he bolted for Toronto after the 1996 Sox season, but he has consistently returned to help The Jimmy Fund and other worthy causes over the last 23 summers.
“I hold things dear to my heart,’’ said Clemens. “I don’t forget my childhood and how hard my mom worked. My wife, Debbie, just found out that her aunt has ALS. I’m still working with The Jimmy Fund. The Sox allow me to go out and pitch batting practice for charity in a place where I made my name. You go to the hospital and see the stress on the families. I tip my hat to the parents.’’
Clemens joined Jerry Remy and Dave O’Brien in the NESN broadcast booth during Wednesday night’s Sox loss to the Phillies, once again pledging to throw batting practice at Fenway to a big donor willing to support The Jimmy Fund and the Roger Clemens Foundation. The Rocket was brilliant in his TV appearance. And I do not say this lightly.
Public commentary was never Clemens’s friend during his 13 seasons at Fenway, and he has routinely been thrashed by a local fandom still mad about him complaining about “carrying our own luggage” way back in 1988. Clemens bolted for the Jays after Dan Duquette said he was in the twilight of his career, and ultimately committed the sin of getting traded to the hated Yankees, with whom he won two World Series and regularly engaged in dustups against the Manny Ramirez/David Ortiz Red Sox.
Who was the Yankees’ starting pitcher the day Martinez threw Don Zimmer to the ground in the 2003 playoffs? Roger Clemens.
Who started for the Yankees the night Aaron Boone KO’d the Sox and got Grady Little fired in 2003? Roger Clemens.
The Rocket has never been treated fairly by the Boston fan base, even though he is the winningest pitcher (tied with Cy Young) in Red Sox history. From 1984 to 1996, Clemens won 192 games, led Boston to the seventh game of the World Series, won three Cy Youngs, and was named American League MVP in 1986 when he went 24-4.
Despite all this, the Red Sox have not retired his No. 21.
Imagine. Ortiz — The Chosen One — had his No. 34 retired on the final day of his Red Sox career. But Red Sox No. 21 is still at large, even though it has never been issued to another player.
“Josh Beckett called me and he wanted to wear it,” Clemens recalled. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’ But the Sox said no to him.’’
Does Clemens hope the Sox someday retire the digit?
“It’s not going to change how great I was here,’’ he said. “It was just meant to be that I’m tied with Cy Young for wins in Boston.’’
The Red Sox will tell you that Clemens’s number is not retired because Clemens is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Swell. But Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 is retired, and Pesky is not in Cooperstown. Ditto for Ortiz, who will not be eligible for the Hall for three more years (players have to be retired for five full seasons before they appear on the Hall ballot).
Clemens has been on the Hall ballot for seven years, but he gets insufficient love from voters. A player needs 75 percent of the votes in order to gain admission, and Clemens has never cracked 60 percent. A player gets only 10 chances on the writers’ ballot, which means that Clemens’s final year of Hall eligibility will be Ortiz’s first year on the ballot. Anointed as Father Christmas by MLB, Ortiz is likely to sail into Cooperstown unless something unexpected surfaces in the next three years.
The Ortiz-Clemens Hall ballot will be an odd collision of Sox stars. Clemens is not getting admission because he is perceived as a PED cheater. His name was mentioned 82 times in the George Mitchell report of 2007, and Clemens’s former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, made devastating accusations against him.
In his defense, Clemens will tell you that he was never found guilty when the feds came after him for lying to Congress. His first trial ended in a mistrial and the second one yielded six “not guilty” verdicts.
But Clemens never failed a drug test. Ortiz tested positive in 2003, but has received unanimous support from almost everyone in the game, including commissioner Rob Manfred.
“I never played to make the Hall of Fame,’’ Clemens said. “My first couple of years I played to make a good living for my family. And after that, to win championships, which I was able to do. As far as Cooperstown, there’s a bunch of cool stuff of mine that is in there, and if they look at facts and do all that, they would know exactly where I stood.’’
Is it painful not to be enshrined?
“No, not at all,’’ Clemens insisted. “It’s voted on, so I have zero control. I appreciate the guys that look at the facts that have a vote. It’s a shame that not everybody looks at facts. Somebody says something about you — I see you at a playground around a bunch of little kids, next thing you know, they say, ‘Is that dude a pedophile?’ Then it’s on Wikipedia and you’re a pedophile now. 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 [positive tests from 2003], but there are some other guys whose names were on it [including Ortiz]. But I guess it’s not a problem.”
Sounds painful to me.