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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Yes, I want to see Roger Clemens pitch

By David Schoenfield

I know Roger Clemens is as beloved as an infected wart. But how can you not get a kick out of a 50-year-old guy who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2007 but says stuff like this: Clemens said that to Houston TV station KRIV on Monday, leading Astros owner Jim Crane to comment that "We're just going to sit tight. We'll wait and see if he calls us, but we might call him, who knows?"

Hmm, that certainly sounds like Clemens will pitch for the Astros. Yes, we can question Clemens' motivation, that all he really wants to do is postpone his appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot -- he's due to appear for the first time this winter but if he pitches again it gets pushed back another five years.

You know what? I can't I blame him. Considering that Mark McGwire has been treated like a leper, it's likely that Clemens won't muster enough Hall of Fame support, even though he has an argument as the greatest pitcher of all time. In another five years, maybe the mind-set of voters will have changed.

I view Clemens the same way I do Barry Bonds: a no-doubt Hall of Famer, and whatever he may have used should be viewed as a product of his era.

You often read or hear -- especially in Boston -- that Clemens was washed up when he left the Red Sox after the 1996 season and suddenly re-emerged as the best pitcher in baseball. He may have been fat and out of shape, but he was definitely not washed up. He'd led the American League in strikeouts and strikeout rate in 1996 and ranked seventh in ERA and second in WAR among pitchers. He was clearly still one of the best pitchers in the league.

Did leaving Boston motivate him to get in better shape? Perhaps. Did he develop that devastating splitter? Yes. What did he do and when did he do it? That, we don't exactly know. (There’s long been speculation that he used PEDs, but we have no concrete proof and he was acquitted of obstruction of justice this past June.)

But even if that isn’t good enough for you and you speculate that Clemens started using PEDs when he joined the Blue Jays in 1997, you can cancel everything he did after that and he still had a Hall of Fame career.

Through 1996, Clemens was already 192-111. He'd won three Cy Young Awards (and should have won another in 1990), an MVP Award and had thrown 38 shutouts. He already had a Hall of Fame résumé. His Baseball-Reference WAR, through 1996 was 77.7, which would rank 21st of all time -- higher than Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, Tom Glavine, Carl Hubbell, Jim Palmer and ... well, just about everyone. The only post-World War II pitchers with a higher WAR would be Tom Seaver, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Phil Niekro, Bert Blyleven, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn, Pedro Martinez, Steve Carlton and (surprisingly) Mike Mussina.

Look, I'd respect Clemens a little more if he just came out and admitted his true reasons for wanting to pitch again. But I'm not sure Roger Clemens can analyze Roger Clemens. So if he does pitch for the Astros, I'm ready to enjoy it. In this season of crazy -- the A's, Orioles and Pirates all contending; a 21-year-old rookie having a season for the ages; Jamie Moyer becoming the oldest pitcher to win a game; Ichiro traded to the Yankees! -- I'm willing to accept a little bit more crazy.

Why not?