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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Jays: #25 Roger Clemens

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Toronto Blue Jays Photo by SPX/Diamond Images via Getty Images

William Roger Clemens | SP | 1997-1998

We might as well get the bad stuff out of the way right off the start; Clemens is mentioned 82 times in the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball. Did he start using in Toronto? Roger did have a jump in performance when he hit Toronto. Clemens met his soon-to-be personal trainer and later-to-be accuser Brian McNamee in Toronto. McNamee is known to be a supplier of steroids and human growth hormones. Clemens hired McNamee as a personal trainer in 1997, his first year in Toronto. McNamee has stated that he injected Clemens with steroids. It seems beyond the standard suspension of disbelief that Clemens would hire a trainer who supplied steroids to others without using himself. I guess it is worth noting that Roger denies that he used steroids or human growth hormones. Of course, Roger has denied many things over the years, and often those denials have rung more than a little false.

Early in Clemens career, he was a little soft, he wasn’t in the greatest shape, but he had strong legs that gave the power to his pitches. When he got to Toronto, he wasn’t soft, and the stories about his fitness regiment started to appear in the papers. I’m starting to get the idea that news stories talking about workout regimens were the writer’s code for juicing. Anyway, you can make your conclusions.

On with the regularly scheduled profile, Rocket Roger Clemens was born August 4, 1962, in Dayton, Ohio. Roger moved to Texas in for time high school and starred in football, basketball, and baseball. He went to the University of Texas and had 2 All-American seasons, and helped the Longhorns win the College World Series. The Red Sox drafted Clemens in the 1st round of the 1983 amateur draft. Tim Belcher went first that year, and the Jays picked Matt Stark with the 9th pick, but then 18 teams would have done much better had they decided on Roger before the Red Sox had a shot at him.

Roger debuted with the Red Sox in 1984. He went 9-4 that season in 20 starts. In his third last start, Roger struck out 15 Royals without walking any in a complete-game win. He was an outstanding pitcher for 13 years, with the Red Sox winning 3 Cy Young awards and an MVP. Clemens won 192 games tying the Red Sox franchise record for wins. But in his last four seasons with the Sox, he was just 40-39, and Sox GM Dan Duquette said that he was in the twilight of his career. And while he wasn’t, it did seem like a typical power pitcher hitting his early 30’s and maybe losing a little of his stuff. Many power pitchers go through the same thing about the same age, and some of them learn to pitch with less stuff and continue to have an effective career. But Roger seemed to turn back the hands of time and re-established himself as a power pitcher.

After the 1996 season, the Red Sox weren’t overly interested in resigning Roger. The Jays signed him for $40 million for four years to add to a rotation that already included 1996 Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen and Juan Guzman. We did have a heck of a starting staff, but offensively we weren’t all that great. GM Gord Ash traded John Olerud to the Mets because Cito Gaston thought that an aging Joe Carter would be better at first. Thankfully, Carlos Delgado took over the job, but Cito used Carter and Orlando Merced to block Shawn Green from the outfield. Add in Otis Nixon playing center field instead of a young Shannon Stewart, and we weren’t the team we should have been.

But Roger was excellent, going 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA with 292 strikeouts, the first pitcher in 52 years to lead the AL league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. He also led the league in innings pitched with 264. Clemens started the season 11-0, had 14 games with 10 or more strikeouts, had the league’s best WHIP at 1.030, and led the league in complete games with 9. He won the Cy Young award and finished 10th in the MVP voting.

In 1998 the team had a much better season finishing 88-74 in 3rd place in the AL East, and Roger once again had an almost unbelievable season winning the Cy Young again, becoming the first pitcher to win it five times, and he came in 11th in the MVP voting. He led the league in wins, 20-6, ERA (2.65), and strikeouts (271) for the second year in a row, only the fourth to win the pitchers Triple Crown two years in a row in the history of baseball. Grover Alexander (1915-16), Lefty Grove (1930-31), and Sandy Koufax (1965-66) are the only others to do that. He finished the season with a 15 game win streak setting a Blue Jay team record and set another team record going 30 straight scoreless innings. He also got his 3000th strikeout this season.

His first start, for the Jays, was against the Red Sox, in Fenway. He went 8 innings, allowed 4 hits, and 1 earned, with 16 strikeouts. Leaving the mound he glared up at the Box where GM Duquette was sitting.

In his two seasons with us, he was 41-13, but after the 1998 season, Roger, wanting to get a World Series ring, asked to be traded. After some efforts to deal him home to Houston, we traded Clemens to the Yankees for David Wells, Graeme Lloyd, and Homer Bush. The trade worked out for Roger, getting World Series rings in 1999 and 2000 with the Yankees. But it wasn’t a bad trade for the Jays. David Wells pitched two seasons with us and won 17 games in 1999 and 20 in 2000 for a total of 37. Those two seasons Clemens won only 27 games for the Yankees. Bush had a couple of good seasons for us, and Lloyd was an effective lefty out of the pen for us in 1999.

After leaving the Jays, Roger continued to a great pitcher, perhaps at a slightly lesser level of greatness. He won two more Cy Young awards and had a 121-60 record in the nine seasons after we traded him, but he never had a season with more than one complete game.

Clemens has had one of the most incredible careers in the history of baseball. He finished with a 354-184 record. He is 9th all-time in wins, 3rd in strikeouts with 4672, 8th in bWAR (3rd among pitchers), and 7th in games started with 707. Bill James had him listed as the 11th best pitcher of all-time, but that was in 2000. He’d be up a few spots since then. He would have been a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer if he wasn’t for the steroid issue.

Clemens has never been a favorite of mine. He comes off as a jerk. The denials of steroid use while pointing the finger at his wife for using HGH seem arrogant. He had a reputation as a head hunter. He is 14th all-time on the hit batsmen list. Add in the feuds with various players, including Mike Piazza’s beaning in 2000 and then the rather bizarre moment in the playoffs that season where he threw a broken-bat towards Piazza. On top of all that is the affair with a very young Mindy McCready (among others), well, let’s say he’s a creep and leave it at that. There was also his claim that Roy Halladay used amphetamines.

All that said, he is one of the ten best pitchers ever to play in the major leagues and any discussion of who the best pitcher of the last 30 years would have to include Roger. His two seasons in Toronto were as good as any in his career. His 1997 season was one of the handful of best seasons in the last 40 years.

Clemens is married and has four sons. His son Koby was in the Blue Jays system for a season. There is a story about Roger pitching in an exhibition game against his son’s team and that Koby hit a home run in his first at-bat. In his second at-bat, his dad threw a pitch inside that almost hit Koby.

One of the stranger stories about Clemens and performance-enhancing drugs had to do with his claim that his wife ordered human growth hormones and got injected so she would look better for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoot.

Roger has a charitable foundation, the Roger Clemens Foundation, that raises money for several children’s charities.

Roger Clemens place among Jay pitching leaders:

Single Season:

bWAR: 1st (1997) 11.9) and 3rd (1998) 8.1

ERA 1st (1997) 2.05 and 5th (1998) 2.65

Wins tied 2nd (1997) 21 and tied 4th (1998) 20

Strikeouts 1st (1997) 292 and 2nd (1998) 271

Career:

bWAR: 7th, 20.1

Wins: 18th, 41

Win %: 1st, .759

Innings: 36th, 498.2

Strikeouts 19th 563

Games Started: 34th, 67