The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

JUNE  2004

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







Texas Heat II

by Jerry Keys

I remember flipping through the channels one evening and found nothing to watch.  It was late April, 1986.  So I flipped it to CNN Sports and Nick Charles was giving insight on a young hurler for the Boston Red Sox who racked up 20 strikeouts, a major league record.  I thought it had to be Bruce Hurst or Oil Can Boyd.  I was wrong.  It was some kid named Clemens.  Roger Clemens.  Hmmmm… I thought to myself, this kid may turn out to be a decent pitcher. 

Clemens went on to post the same mark as Dwight (DWI) Gooden had the year before, 24-4.  These two were expected to take the torch from future Hall of Famers Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton and blaze trails of glory until the end

Jerry Keys

of the century.

When Gooden retired in 2000, he was expected to have done so with 300 wins.  He didn't even make it to 200.  Clemens?  He is still around.  Seeking win #318.

Clemens has always been a throwback pitcher, a hard nosed gamer who did not hesitate to back you off the plate with some high heat.  Fellow flame-throwers Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez throw high 'n tight but those are due to their sporadic wildness. Clemens' is intentional.  He is ostracized by

opposing players and the media for doing so, but when Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson did the same thing 20 or 30 years earlier, it was considered good competition.

Over the years Clemens has maintained a workout regiment rivaled by very few.  Sometimes being a true competitor spills over.  After vehemently

disputing ball and strike calls by home plate umpire Terry Cooney, Clemens was ejected in the 2nd inning of a crucial ALCS playoff game in 1990 for cursing Cooney.

His career can be broken down into small pieces.  After getting a feel for the game in his first two seasons (1984-85, 16-9, 200 K's), he strung together seven incredible years (1986-92, 136-63, 1673), which included three (should have been four-see 1990) Cy Young Awards ('86, '87, '91).
Clemens proved mortal from 1993-96 (40-39, 717, downturn indeed but still finished 2nd in '94 ERA race) and caused tremendous friction between himself and the Red Sox GM Dan Duquette in terms of a contract extension past the 1996 season.

After suffering a loss on August 1st, Clemens '96 record stood at 4-11, he had just turned 34, and Duquette made a stark notion that Clemens was in the twilight of his career.  After having his three worst years in the last four, I hated to say it but I was beginning to think the same thing.  Even though he was termed as a hothead, if I was starting an expansion team in 1997, I would love to have him on my staff.  I just did not think he would go out with a whimper.

He gathered himself and posted a 6-2, 2.09 ERA in his last 10 starts and finished the year 10-13.  He capped the year off in mid-September by matching his '86 effort of striking out 20 batters in one game. Too little, too late.  After thirteen years, Clemens left Fenway Park.

His two-year stop in Toronto (1997-98, 41-13, 563) was what took him from being one of the best pitchers of his generation to one of the best ever.  Not only did he win his 4th and 5th Cy Young

Awards but '97 (will all due respect to his '86 and '90 campaigns) was his best all around year ever (21-7, 292, 2.05).  The most telling mark was that the average AL ERA for the year was 4.62, 2 ½ runs higher than his.

One thing that had eluded him was a World Series ring (see-1986 and Bill Buckner).  Clemens had attempted to work a deal with the Yankees before the '97 season to no avail but was successful two years later.  He got his ring in his first year with the Yankees and pitched seven scoreless innings before being lifted in the eighth in the deciding game of the World Series.

He posted respectable numbers in his next career period (1999-2000, 27-18, 351).  He got his ring(s), solidified his career and was a first ballet Hall of Famer.  He had just turned 38 and was 40 wins shy of the hallowed 300-win mark.  Most pundits gave him only an outside shot.  I felt he had a better shot than most thought but was also afraid that he would damage his overall career marks by chasing a record just as Carlton had done in his last five years.  In the back of Clemens' mind, he knew he still had something to prove.

We were all wrong, dead wrong.  He collected his 6th Cy Young in 2001 enroute to winning 20 of his first 21 decisions (20-3, 213).  For the second time in five years he was left for being a mere mortal and let everyone eat crow. 

Clemens reached the 300 mark in the seventh segment of his career (2002-03, 30-15, 382) and announced his retirement during the '03 season (albeit not a 100% guarantee).  I thought he posted a final year nearly comparable to Koufax's 1966 finale.

I remember looking up his all-time rankings this past November and thinking how lucky I was to have been able to see the entire career of one of the four or five best right-handers in the history of the game.

Fast forward six months and we are now watching Clemens possibly enter the eighth segment of his career and rewrite yet another part of history.  The two best pitchers beyond the age of 40 are Ryan and Warren Spahn, hands down.  As this year unfolds, Clemens is on the cusp of joining those two immortals.

At the time of this article, Clemens was 7-0, 62 (in 52.1 inn.), 1.72.  Some thought the move to Toronto in '97 was going to be his twilight years, most thought the move to the Yankees in '99 was that, and almost everyone thought Houston in '04 was the farewell tour.  Fool us once, shame on you.  Fool us twice, shame on us.  It looks like you're about to fool the baseball pundits a third time. 

He doesn't have Mariano Rivera or the legendary Yankees bashers to give him run support and a sure win in the ninth.  It gets pretty hot down in Texas during the dog days of summer.  Seven wins in the first fourth of the season.  Possible seventh 20-win season?  If he stays healthy this year he has about 26 starts left.  A win in half of those and he is at 20. 

He started the year at #17 on the all-time wins list.  20 wins will put him at #9.  Of the eight other players ahead of him, only Spahn was active since 1930.  20 wins would put Clemens at 330, 33 behind Spahn.  Another goal to shoot for?  Well, you know Roger!

Clemens will turn 42 this summer.  Ryan joined the Texas Rangers in 1989 when he was 42.  Ryan spent five years in Texas.  Clemens is roughly 1500 strikeouts behind Ryan.  In five years Clemens would…………  Gives you food for thought.

I am fully aware that Clemens was not the fan friendly and team oriented player that someone like Dale Murphy or Cal Ripken was.  But the one thing you have to love about him is that every time he was knocked down and thought to have seen better days, he came back fighting.  In the "show me the money" generation of sports, Clemens is the definite throwback.  And I thought he might be a decent pitcher 18 years ago.