Seasons in Boston: 1984-1996
Honors: 1986 American League MVP, Seven Time Cy Young Award Winner, 11x All-Star, 1997 and 1998 Pitching Triple Crown, 7x ERA Title, 2x World Series Champ, 1986 All-Star Game MVP, 1986 Player of the Year Award Winner
Red Sox Numbers: 3.06 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 192 W, 100 CG, 38 ShO, 2590 K, 69 ERA-, 76.8 fWAR
Signature Season (1986): 254 IP, 238 K, 24 W, 10 CG, 1 ShO, 2.48 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 57 ERA-, 7.1 fWAR
Major League Baseball started giving out the Cy Young Award in 1956. Cy Young, arguably the greatest major league pitcher of all-time, had died the previous year and this was seen as a way to honor his legacy. In my previous entry I wrote about Young’s tenure with the Red Sox and how it was the most productive time of his career. Young finished his time in Boston with 192 wins, 38 shutouts, and a 69 ERA-. It just so happens that 88 years later, Roger Clemens would wrap up his time with the same franchise tied with Young in all of those categories. 88 years is also how old Young was when he passed away in 1955. It seems fitting, maybe even poetic, that Clemens would end up as the all-time leader in Cy Young Awards with seven.
Unlike Young, Clemens was not a man of moderation in all things. In fact he seemed to have little to no self-control at all. He was hell-bent on winning at any cost. During the course of his 24-year career, Clemens would put winning above himself, his teammates, his personal relationships, and ultimately his desire to win would taint the legacy he spent so much time building. Almost every time during his career it looked like things had gone bad for Clemens, he bounced back. This includes numerous times on the field and in numerous scandals he was embroiled in off of it. The baseball stuff is why we celebrate him, but the off the field stuff is why he still remains on the outside looking in at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Clemens and I both attend that museum in the same way: By purchasing a ticket.
Clemens was drafted by the Red Sox 19th overall in the 1983 MLB draft. He had been a star for a Texas Longhorn team that captured the College Baseball World Series that same year. The road for Clemens to reach this point was a long one though. Clemens was born in Ohio, just like Young, and was raised mostly by his mother Bess and his older brother Randy. Clemens’s father was not in the picture and his step dad passed away when he was eight. Clemens moved to Texas to live with his older brother when he was in high school and pitched well, but not well enough to get noticed. His high school coach helped him get a spot at San Jacinto Junior College. It was there, under the tutelage of Coach Wayne Graham, that Clemens began to throw with velocity and conviction. Graham said, “He started the year as one of the guys and he ended it as an ace.”
After excelling at San Jacinto, Clemens transferred to the University of Texas and did so without telling the man who had made him into the player that he was. As future manager Cito Gaston would say of Clemens, “It’s all about him, nobody else but him.” It seems that Clemens felt this way from a very early age and never really changed his tune. As long as Clemens kept advancing in his career and getting what he wanted, other people didn’t seem to matter.
It didn’t take long for Clemens to make his Red Sox debut in 1984, earning a no decision in a loss to the Indians. Clemens showed flashes of brilliance during his 1984 and 1985 campaigns, but injuries to both his forearm and shoulder prevented him from hitting his stride. In the spring of 1986, the 23-year-old Clemens was fully recovered from an offseason shoulder procedure and new workout routine. He would go on to have the most memorable season of his career with the Red Sox and perhaps of his entire career.
Things started out with a bang for Clemens, who on April 29th struck out a major-league record 20 batters during a complete game victory at Fenway Park. He was the first to ever strike out 20 batters in a game and remains one of four pitchers to ever accomplish the feat along with Randy Johnson, Max Scherzer, and Kerry Wood. Clemens, though, remains the only player to do it twice.The 20-strikeout effort by Clemens was good for a 97 game score, the fourth best of his career.
He kept this momentum going, starting the season 14-0 and eventually being named the All-Star game starter in Houston. Clemens sat down all nine batters he faced to win the All-Star game MVP award. He finished the year 24-4 and the Red Sox finished with 95 wins atop the AL East. In the playoffs Clemens again came up big with his two best postseason games of his Red Sox career, including a Game Seven, one-run performance over seven strong innings to defeat the Angels in the ALCS and a Game Six one earned run, eight-strikeout performance against the Mets in the World Series. Unfortunately his Game Six effort was squandered by Calvin Shiraldi and Bob Stanley and an error by some guy named Bill Buckner. But Clemens pitched well.
Between 1986 and 1992 Clemens firmly established himself as the ace of the Red Sox and put himself among the best pitchers in baseball. Over that time he won no fewer than 17 games in a season, winning 20 or more games three times to go along with Cy Young Awards in 1986, 1987, and 1991. In 1986, Clemens also captured the American League MVP, one of eleven pitchers to earn both awards in the same year. His record during those seven years was 136-63 with a 2.66 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and an MLB leading 1673 strikeouts. He was worth 54 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs. The next best pitcher was worth 33.6. I also believe he should have won the Cy Young in 1990 and 1992 with his 1990 season being perhaps his best statistical season with the Red Sox. 1989 was the only season during that stretch that Clemens did not lead the American League in FanGraphs WAR.
1993 through 1996 was a very different story for Clemens, who was entering his 30’s and seemed to be losing a step. Over those four seasons, which included the strike shortened 1994 season, Clemens went 40-39 with a pedestrian 3.77 ERA. He still had some great performances sprinkled in there, but as he started to decline his issues with management about his contract seemed to worsen as did his demeanor with the media. Clemens enjoyed a resurgent 1996 season right before hitting free agency, even if his 10-13 record and 3.63 ERA didn’t look great on the surface. He said, “I felt like this was one of my better years. Even though the wins and losses weren’t what I’d like, I felt I threw the ball bad only three or four times.’’ This season was punctuated by his second 20-strikeout game on September 18 against the Tigers. This was his final win in a Red Sox uniform, tying him with Young for the franchise lead and it also happened to be the best game score of his Red Sox career. If there was any doubt he had something left in the tank, this put it to rest.
Clemens signed with the Blue Jays in the offseason and went on to have the two best years of his career, winning back to back Cy Young awards and the pitching Triple Crown each of those years. He was then traded to the Yankees for the 1999 season where he went on to win two World Series and another Cy Young award. Clemens dominated in the postseason with the Yankees, posting seven of his top eight postseason game scores while with the Bombers. Over the course of his career Clemens made 34 postseason starts over 199 innings pitched while posting a 3.75 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. He did seem to improve as the stage got bigger, improving his statistics every round of the postseason culminating in a World Series line of 2.37 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 3-0 record over eight starts spanning 49 ⅓ innings pitched.
Clemens went on to pitch in the National League with the Astros, winning his seventh and final Cy Young Award in 2004, becoming one of just six players to win the award in both leagues, as well as leading them to the World Series in 2005. They would lose to the White Sox in a sweep.
By the end of his career, Clemens had led the league in ERA+ eight times, ERA seven times, shutouts six times, strikeouts five times, wins four times, and complete games and WHIP three times each. He is first according to FanGraphs among pitchers with 133.7 wins above replacement and ranks third behind Young and Walter Johnson according to Baseball-Reference. His 4,671 strikeouts are the third most in MLB history and he’s ninth best in wins with 354. Clemens ranks first in Red Sox team history in innings pitched, WAR, strikeouts, wins, and shutouts and highly in everything else.
This past year Clemens received votes on 61 percent of the Hall of Fame ballots, well shy of the 75 percent he needs to become an inductee. This is because the suspicion of performance enhancing drugs looms over his career like a black cloud. If Clemens had retired after the 1992 season with the Red Sox at 30 years old I believe he would’ve been a Hall of Famer. He instead had his best years with the Blue Jays at 34 and 35 and continued to dominate well into his 40’s. It certainly makes suspicion of PED usage easily understandable after a marked decline between ages 30-33. Former trainer Brian McNamee and teammate Andy Pettitte have both sworn to have either injected or seen Clemens injected with PEDs, something Clemens has vehemently denied. In 2008, before a congressional committee, he continued to deny it and was later tried and acquitted for lying to congress.
On August 14, 2014, Clemens was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame. While his numbers certainly say he deserves to be in Cooperstown as well, his actions to get there may prevent him from ever joining the game’s greats in enshrinement. What we can’t deny is that in his time with the Red Sox, where the cloud of suspicion was not hanging over his head, he was one of the best pitchers ever to call Fenway Park home. He has earned the second spot in the rotation for the All-Time Red Sox Roster and is as dominant a number two as any team could wish to have.