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Part 2: Can Bonds and Clemens pave the way for A-Rod?

With the announcement that Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman have been selected as the class of 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, it’s time for the second part of our two-part series on the influence a Barry Bonds/Roger Clemens vote can have on Alex Rodriguez’s chances. Both players’ vote totals increased slightly from last year’s vote, with Clemens at 57.3% and Bonds at 56.4%.

In Part 1, we took a look at Bonds’ alleged pre- and post-PED career. In Part 2, I delve into Clemens’ career or more specifically, the four life stages of Clemens’ professional career. And then we take a closer look at A-Rod’s career and Hall chances.

Rocketman – Career Stage 1

Roger Clemens broke into the Major Leagues in 1984, just one year after the Boston Red Sox selected him with the 19th overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft. The University of Texas product became the best pitcher in the game over the period from 1986 – 1992.

Roger Clemens 1986 World Series

He won both the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards in the ’86 season after he had won 24 of 28 decisions, posted a 2.48 ERA and had allowed less than one hit and one walk per inning. Clemens followed up by grabbing the Cy Young Award in 1987, as well. He had a league-high 18 complete games and seven shutouts over 281.2 innings pitched. Then, he added a third Cy Young Award to his trophy case for his performance during the 1991 season.

In that seven-year stretch, he led the AL in ERA four times, averaged 257 IP, 239 strikeouts, and allowed less than one home run / 9 IP in each year. Clemens also topped the AL in WAR four times and struck out 20 Seattle Mariners in an ’86 game. In six of the seven years, he led the league in Fielding Independent Pitch (FIP), which measures a pitchers ability to not allow home runs, walks, and hit batters, while striking out batters.

Rocketman – Career Stage 2

The 1993 season was a completely different one for Clemens, as were the two years that followed. It began with right elbow problems and a trip to the DL in June, due to a groin strain. Some would say he was snakebit in ’93, but in actuality, Clemens got bitten by a dog.

Driving in Baltimore early one Sunday morning, Clemens noticed an injured dog lying in the road. In trying to be a Good Samaritan, Clemens got bitten as he attempted to move the dog to the side of the road. Thankfully, the wound wasn’t serious, but it epitomized the type of year he was having.

For the period 1993 – 1995, Clemens threw less than 200 innings per year and recorded less than 200 strikeouts. Twice his ERA rose above 4.00. In ’95, he hit a career-high 18 batters, gave up one home run /9 IP, walked a career-worst 3.9 batters/9 IP and allowed more hits than innings pitched.

Though he again struggled with his control in 1996, the old Rocket was showing signs of life. He got healthy – whether it was strictly on the up and up remains to be seen – and the numbers showed it. He threw over 240 innings, struck out 257 hitters, and allowed just 0.3 home runs/9 IP.

Rocketman – Career Stage 3

With questions about his health and the amount of money Clemens’ was looking for, a rift grew between the Red Sox front office and their star pitcher. That led to Clemens signing a four-year, $40 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. $10 million per season sounds like nothing by today’s standards, but it was plenty in 1997.

Beginning with the 1997 season, Clemens pitched like he had taken a dip in the Fountain of Youth (or something man-made). Clemens’ 2.05 ERA was the lowest in the American League since Clemens himself pitched to a 1.93 ERA in 1990 and was 35% lower than the ’96 leader, Juan Guzman (2.93). An ERA that low is even more amazing when you consider he accomplished the feat in the highly-competitive AL East, and many hitters were taking illegal shortcuts to strengthen their games.

The 1997 version of Roger Clemens

Clemens led the league in innings pitched (264), strikeouts (292), WHIP (1.030), and wins (21). He set a personal best with 10 K /9 IP and easily scooped up his fourth Cy Young Award. The following season in Toronto was much the same.

He had a league-best 20 wins, 2.65 ERA, and 271 strikeouts (10.4/9 IP). He received all 28 first-place votes for the Cy Young Award to finish ahead of his replacement in Boston (Pedro Martinez) and Yankees David Wells and David Cone.

After the ’98 season, Toronto traded Clemens to the Yankees for a deal that included Wells. Clemens spent five seasons in the Bronx, picking up another Cy Young Award and won his first two World Series rings. Like Bonds, his numbers were unnatural for a 37-year old, whether it was a regular diet of 450-foot home runs or 97-MPH fastballs.

Clemens won another Cy Young Award with the Yankees in 2000 and the Astros in 2004. He also captured another ERA title with the Astros in 2005 (1.86).

After the 2003 season, Clemens signed a free agent deal with the Houston Astros. He helped the Astros to their first NL pennant, won another Cy Young Award and captured the 2005 ERA title when he posted a minuscule 1.86 earned runs per game.

Roger Clemens, 2000

Rocketman – Career Stage 4

Clemens, who publicly stated that he intended to retire after the 2003 season, had a second short-lived retirement when he returned to pitch for the Astros in June 2006. He physically broke down a little more, but still managed to make 19 starts and pitch to a 2.30 ERA. In 2007, he decided he would pitch again, this time back in New York and at the age of 44.

The 2007 version of Clemens was not the same as his prior stint in New York, or even the prior year he had spent with Houston. He hung up his cleats for good at the end of the season, but his time in the spotlight was far from over.

In 2007, Clemens’ name appeared in “The Mitchell Report”, an investigation commissioned by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. Former US Senator George Mitchell was appointed to run the investigation into baseball’s PED problem. Clemens’ former trainer, Brian McNamee, implicated the native Texan to investigators.

While there have been civil suits over the years, Clemens, like Bonds, never failed a drug test and there has never been definitive proof that Clemens used PEDs.

The New and Improved A-Rod

Since his one season suspension in 2014, Alex Rodriguez has immersed himself in a full-time image makeover. He’s been a good dad, has a stable relationship (with Jennifer Lopez), and has shown his broadcasting chops on Fox and (soon-to-be) ESPN as well. He’s taken to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to help put his new image out to the public. And, so far, it is working.

But even if A-Rod wins the Nobel Peace Prize, his chance for induction into Cooperstown is sketchy. First though, a look at his career.

If you didn’t know about the controversy surrounding A-Rod, one look at his numbers would convince you that he is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. One who would receive a vote of over 95%. A-Rod is one of only nine players with more than 600 career home runs and fell just four home runs short of becoming the fourth Major Leaguer with 700 career home runs. He collected over 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBI, and 2,000 runs scored.

A-Rod captured three AL MVP Awards, won two Gold Glove Awards as a shortstop, was a 14-time All-Star, and a 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner.

The Mariners’ shortstop didn’t qualify as a rookie in 1996, but his first full season in the Major Leagues was one for the ages – 36 HR 54 doubles and a league-best .358 batting average. In 1998, A-Rod became the third player to record 40 or more home runs and 40 or more stolen bags in a single season. The sky was the limit for A-Rod, and so was the amount of money in his bank account after he signed a 10-year, $252 million free-agent deal with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2001 season.

The pressure of living up to the contract, A-Rod would later say, was why he began to “dabble” in PEDs. Had there not been a leak to the press about a failed 2003 confidential drug test, A-Rod’s early PED use might never have come to light. In a 2009 interview with ESPN’s Peter Gammons, A-Rod, then a Yankee third baseman, admitted the use of steroids during his three years in Texas. It was during that period that A-Rod averaged 52 home runs per season. He told Gammons that he regretted his actions and apologized to the Texas Rangers organization and fans. He seemed genuinely remorseful.

It was a crushing blow to baseball fans, though. Those who had hoped A-Rod would break Bonds’ (allegedly) tainted career home run record. Though he claimed to be playing cleanly since those early Texas years, it was impossible for fans not to look at his 2007 MVP season, one in which he hit 54 HR and drove in 156 runs, without suspicion.

But, the Yankees went on a tear in their new home park and won the 2009 World Series – 0ne they would not have won without A-Rod. He came up with one big hit after another in the postseason and redeemed himself to the Yankees’ fans (including those who had unfairly blamed him for the Yankees’ 2004 ALCS collapse).

The 2010 season saw A-Rod hit 30+ home runs for the 13th straight season, but his body was starting to break down more and more. It’s likely what led him to go down the wrong path with Biogenesis, which in turn led to his 2014 suspension. The bad feelings between him and the Yankees, that emerged out of that period, likely led to his early forced retirement in the Summer of 2016. And the whole matter will not lead him to the tiny burg in upstate New York that houses baseball’s greatest.

After an initial uptick in voting for Bonds and Clemens for the Hall this year, they each only moved up 3% from last year and are still below 60%. If Bonds and Clemens, two players who were never actually caught cheating, don’t make it to the Hall of Fame, A-Rod has no shot at all.

 

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