Thursday, March 09, 2006

Roger Clemens, the Best of the Best

by Scott Silversten

When I think of Roger Clemens, two quotes come to mind. One is real, the other...well, it's sort of real.

The first quote came following the 1996 season that then-Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette said of the future-Hall of Fame righthander, "He's in the twilight of his career." Since that infamous remark, Clemens has put together...a career!

Think about it. With stops in Toronto (1997-98), New York (1999-2003), Houston (2004-05) and his upcoming start for the United States in Friday's World Baseball Classic game with South Africa, it can be argued that what Clemens has done since leaving Boston would alone be enough to get him to Cooperstown.

Want proof? How about four Cy Young Awards, 149 regular-season victories, seven postseason appearances, five trips to the World Series and two championship rings since 1997. And even including his two 20-strikeout games as a member of the Red Sox, it wasn’t until 2000 that Clemens pitched the defining game of his career. With a one-hit shutout of the Seattle Mariners in Game Four of that season's ALCS, Clemens forever ended the cries that he was a mediocre postseason pitcher who had just ridden the coattails of the other Yankees to the 1999 World Series title.

Oh, and did we mention leading his home-state Astros to their first ever Fall Classic appearance last year?

As for that second quote, it comes from one of the great scenes in the movie Bull Durham. Crash Davis said to Nuke LaLoosh, "You got a gift. When you were a baby, the gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt."

With all that has been said and written about Clemens' unmatched work ethic, there are those who argue that it's not lunges or sprints that matter, it's the simple fact that Clemens was given a gift from the heavens. This is not to imply he doesn't work at his craft - or the fact that he has worked to maintain his body - but the truth is, no amount of heavy lifting can make just any pitcher a legend.

It has often been argued that Babe Ruth can be considered the greatest hitter of all-time- he played in an era where he would not only outhomer entire teams, he would double some teams' home run output. Well then, what about Clemens? He has pitched so well and so long - not in the Dead Ball Era and not pre-Jackie Robinson- but rather in the times of juiced baseballs, juiced players and shrunken ballparks. Ruth hit unbelievably well when no one else was hitting- that's his baseball legacy. Clemens pitched unbelievably well when everyone else was hitting- and that's his baseball legacy.

To steal one more quote - this time from The Natural - when Clemens walks down the street in the years to follow, fathers should turn to their sons and proudly proclaim, "There goes the best there ever was in this game."

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday

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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
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