: June 26, 2007
Roger Clemens, The Best Righty?
As a rapid sports fan, I love watching sports on television, listening on the radio, and participating when my creaking-middle-aged body allows. When that is not possible, I enjoy listening to or watching people talk about sports. Most of the sports analysts and panelists on radio and television know far more about sports then I do and their opinions influence my own judgment. Two of the most knowledgeable and well-informed are Chris Russo and Mike Francesa of the “Mike and The Mad Dog Show” on WFAN in New York. These two have been talking about sports for centuries and have an encyclopedic memory of historic sports moments. They can seem egotistical at times, but they have earned that right.
In the many years I have listened to their show, I have never felt the need to call in and argue with these sports talk-show gods. While listening last week, however, I was seized for the first time by a desperate urge to call in and tell the founders of sports-talk radio how wrong they were. Unfortunately, I was stuck in a traffic jam and my cell phone was sitting in the back of my car.
The reason for my sudden, building rage, was a discussion of the best right-handed pitcher of all-time. Over the course of the discussion, Francesa and Russo imperiously declared that Roger Clemens not only was not the best of all-time, but that he did not even belong in the discussion. The limited the field to Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Pedro Martinez and a few others, even mentioning John Smoltz and Curt Schilling as better big-game pitchers than Clemens.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I am a die-hard Yankee fan. That being said, I am not a Clemens fan and was against the Yankees capitulation to his financial demands and perk requests. However, his performance over 23 years cannot be easily dismissed.
Russo and Francesa based their pronouncement on the premise that if you had to win one game, Clemens was not one of the guys you would want on the mound. They seemed to settle on Gibson being the one right-hander who would be the sure thing. This would certainly be true if you were talking about the 1968 Gibson with his microscopic 1.12 E.R.A. and 13 shutouts. However, would you want the 1971 Gibson who went 16-13 with a 3.05 ER over the 1998 Rocket who was 20-6 with a 2.65 E.R.A. when both were 35 years old. That is the problem with their premise. If you are talking about one game to win, then you could include the 1985 Dwight Gooden with his 24-4 record, 1.43 E.RA. and 8 shutouts or Denny McClain’s 1968 31-6, 1.96 season. Would you include McClain or Gooden in the discussion of the best righthanders of all time?
Part of their discussion also centered around relative E.R.A and how good pitchers were, relative to their time. Gibson has one season in the all-time top 30 relative E.R.A. marks (#7), while Clemens has three (#12,16 and 27). Seaver’s best season is tied for 45th.
Another part of their rationale for eliminating Clemens was postseason performance. Overall in the playoffs, Clemens is 12-8 with a 3.66 E.R.A., including 3-0, 2.37 in 8 World Series games, good, but not great. Pedro Martinez, who they mentioned as being a post-season stud, is 6-2 with a 3.40 E.R.A. Also this type of argument would have to knock both Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez out of consideration for best hitter of all-time discussions, considering their lame post season history.
My proposition for deciding the best of all time is if you had to have that player on your team from the start of his career to its end, who would you want. This takes a player’s entire body of work into account rather than romanticizing a few superior years. Clemens has been far and away the best pitcher in baseball during individual seasons, but he has also maintained a level of performance throughout his career. When you use this criteria, Clemens has to be in the mix
Mike and the Mad Dog scoffed at any arguments presented by callers regarding Clemens. This superiority complex allows them to make opinions sound like fact. In this case, they are flat-out wrong. While Clemens may or may not be the best righthanded pitcher in baseball history, it is a fact that he has to be included in the discussion.