Another Baseball Hall of Fame vote has come and gone, and former Red Sox righty fireballer Roger Clemens is still on the outside looking in.
The eighth time was not the charm for former Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Roger Clemens. As announced by the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Clemens again fell short of being voted into the Hall in his eighth year on the BBWAA ballot. He was named on 242 ballots (61 percent), when 298 votes of the 397 submitted were needed to reach the 75-percent mark required for Hall admission.
Two former players made it past the Hall’s 75-percent barrier, led by former New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter (99.7 percent). Jeter was joined by outfielder Larry Walker (76.6 percent), the long-time underappreciated five-tool player whose career stops included Montreal, Colorado and St. Louis.
Clemens now has two years of eligibility remaining on the BBWAA ballot. If there is any consolation and encouragement to be offered ‘the Rocket’ – other than the fact his 61 percent was an improvement, as slight as it was, over last year’s 59.5 percent – it’s that as recently as 2018, Walker was at a measly 34.1 percent before jumping to a respectable 54.6 percent in 2019 and then 76.6 this time. There might be hope for Clemens, after all.
In his final year of BBWAA eligibility, Walker cleared the 75-percent threshold by merely six votes, with 304. Another former Red Sox pitcher, Curt Schilling, was third in this year’s Hall voting, his 278 votes (70 percent) leaving him only 20 shy of Cooperstown induction. The 2020 Hall ceremony is scheduled for July 26, when Jeter and Walker will be joined by catcher Ted Simmons and former players’ association head Marvin Miller, both of whom were chosen by the Modern Era Committee.
Whether Clemens can cobble together at least another 14 percent of votes in 2021 or 2022 remains a sticky proposition. While his Hall vote totals continue to creep up, widespread belief among voters that Clemens juiced to give his career a second wind continues to drag down his chances of reaching Cooperstown.
Like it has long been with forever(?)-MLB-banned Pete Rose with his 2,165 runs, career .303 batting average, 10 top-10 MVP finishes (including the 1973 NL MVP) and all-time best 4,256 hits, I look at Clemens and wonder, still, how in the world do you keep 354 career victories and .658 career winning percentage, seven Cy Young Awards, and 4,672 strikeouts (third best all-time) out of the Hall?
This is how: most Hall voters believe that Clemens is a cheater, via his alleged PED use, even though a growing number of voters are relenting and voting for Clemens. They know he was already Hall-worthy before his career had advanced to the point of rumored alleged pharmaceutical boosting. Ditto former slugging superstar Barry Bonds, who finished one vote behind Clemens this time, good for 60.7 percent.
While 61 worked for Roger Maris, it doesn’t cut the mustard for either Clemens or Bonds (he gets rounded up to 61 percent, OK?).
Although I covered MLB for several years in my previous life as a sportswriter – including parts of two Texas Rangers seasons while working for The National – I didn’t stick around covering baseball long enough to warrant joining the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).
If I had joined the association and eventually become a Hall voter, I would have voted in Clemens and Bonds third or fourth time around, delaying it just enough to make a point about sportsmanship and ethics, but not so long as to be stubborn and self-righteous about it. Both had locked up enshrinement at Cooperstown within their first eight to 10 years in the majors, well before their hat sizes appeared to start expanding.
I’d have been iffy on Rafael Palmeiro and no-go on Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa; McGwire mostly because I didn’t think he was that good an all-around player, at least not sustained (sort of like Maris himself some 35-40 years earlier) and Sosa because his before/after was so dramatic (you know what I mean), even if not quite a PeeWee Herman-turned-Bane freak show.
But while I was never a Hall voter, I had several years earlier worked with a news reporter (and, coincidentally, a big Red Sox fan, even in Texas) to dig out a newspaper series about steroid use among local athletes. Our focus was on high school football players (remember, this was Texas, where everything grows big – Clemens’ home state, no less) and local bodybuilders, male and female.
One premise I took away from the investigative series came from interviewing physicians and others familiar with steroid use among athletes (the phrase PEDs didn’t exist then). It’s not the juice itself that gives you the big muscles and the easy-on-the-eyes cut/definition – it’s the relentlessly intense workouts made possible by injections of the endurance-enhancing juice that works the wonders.
Until June 2003, it never really dawned on me that Clemens – a PITCHER!! – might be a juicer, even with his remarkable resurrection starting in his mid-30s after he had departed the Red Sox. A decade or so earlier, in the early 1990s, there had been rumblings and rumors that players – including some of the Rangers, whom I was covering at the time – were juicing, but it was more joke than journalism, and it was more a muscle thing linked to sluggers and slugging wannabe’s, NOT so much pitchers.
That June 2003 epiphany for me, regarding Clemens, came as I was lying on my bed – long since departed from the sportswriters ranks – my head propped up on a stack of pillows, reading a Sports Illustrated cover story on Clemens. It was titled “It’s All About the Power,” written by the now-renowned and always respected Tom Verducci. That 2003 SI issue was dated June 2 – the same day that my mom and older sister share a birthday; easy for me to remember.
What struck me about the story, like a 50-pound dumbbell dropped on my foot, was Verducci’s detailed description of a 40-year-old man’s brutal workout regimen; it was nothing like anything I had heard of, especially a baseball pitcher only six years younger than me.
Here’s part of what Verducci reported:
“Sherpas are slackers compared with Clemens between starts, when he grinds through what he calls his Navy SEALs workouts. (“The easiest day I have,” he says, “is the day I pitch.”) . . . Over the next hour, with his pitching hand still swollen and bandaged, Clemens zips through a series of exercises that includes 130 abdominal crunches, runs totaling 1 1/2 miles at a 6:40 pace, several sets of jumps with a four-pound jump rope, several football-style agility drills, ball-pickup drills and basketball-style line drills.
“From the field Clemens briskly walks four blocks to a gym where he spends another hour doing rack-rattling lower-body weight training, such as squats and leg curls, and more cardio work on some combination of the treadmill, stationary bike and elliptical trainer. . . . ‘I’m gonna break this thing!’ Clemens says, straining atop the stationary bike. He’s already broken one bike, and there is a glint in his eye as this one begins to emit the mechanical warning gasps of surrender. ‘Hear it? You hear it?’ he says. ‘I’m gonna break it!’
That day, nearly 17 years ago, it dawned on me that Clemens must be juicing – I need to say “allegedly” here, because I don’t know for certain. It fit to a T what doctors had told me relative to what I described above about the premise I took away from the newspaper series in 1986 (another 17 years earlier).
For the fun of it, I copied Verducci’s story this past Monday and pasted it into a Word file. This was so I could do a word search to make absolutely sure there was no definitive mention in the 2003 story linking Roger to ’roids. One by one I went through my list: ‘steroid,’ ‘anabolic,’ ‘PED,’ ‘performance’ (for spelled-out version of PED), ‘HGH,’ ‘hormone’ (for spelled-out version of HGH), ‘juice,’ ‘drug.’ Nothing. I again read the story start to finish. Nada. I just became the Rocket’s 4,673rd strikeout victim.
Verducci, a fabulous writer and reporter, apparently never made the connection: aging athlete (a guy in his 40s!!), bigger than he’s ever been, grinding through a workout that would put a 25-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger to shame . . . and you mean to say he’s not getting any help?
Something in Clemens’ past isn’t giving him any help in his HOF chances, either. And we all know what that is. Is it truth or misplaced assumption? Fair or unfair?
Final word: It’s time to move on. Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame (and so does Pete Rose).