Allen Barra — with the help of J.C. Bradbury, David Ezra, and even Bob Costas — explains why, whatever we may think of Roger Clemens, there is no denying that he was a Hall of Famer before his alleged PED use:
The numbers support both Ezra and Bradbury. McNamee claims that Clemens’ use of HGH began in 1998, a season in which he won the American League Cy Young award with a 20-6 record, a 2.65 ERA, and led the league with 271 strikeouts. The problem is that Clemens was even better the year before, when McNamee doesn’t claim to have supplied him with HGH. In 1997, Clemens was 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA; he actually had more strikeouts, 292 to 271, and pitched 30 more innings, 264 to 234.7, in 1997 than in 1998.
Costas points out that discussions of Clemens’ Hall of Fame worthiness should at least begin by acknowledging that he was a legitimate candidate before McNamee became his personal trainer. “I’m really amazed,” he says, “that anyone would question that Clemens was Hall of Fame worthy before 1998. He won more than twenty games four times and eighteen games in three other seasons. Nearly all his best years were from 1984 through 1997.”
By any objective yardstick, Costas is right.
I can’t argue with any of that. I do, however, take slight issue with the headline/framing of the piece as one distinguishing Clemens’ career pattern from that of Barry Bonds. True, Bonds’ PED spike was far more dramatic than that of Clemens (or anyone else for that matter). But is there any denying that Bonds was a Hall of Famer even before his PED use is alleged to have begun in 1999? By the close of 1998 he had already won three MVP awards, had hit over 400 home runs, had stolen 445 bases, had won eight gold gloves, and was being credited with saving baseball in San Francisco. And he was still only in his mid-30s! Maybe that doesn’t put him in Ruth-Williams territory, but even a Dale Murphyesque decline beginning in 1999 wouldn’t have kept him out of Cooperstown.
Not that I think the Hall of Fame voters will give him credit for it when he comes eligible.