William Roger Clemens (August 4, 1962), better known by his nickname “Rocket,” is an American former professional baseball pitcher who spent most of his career with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. With 354 victories, a 3.12 ERA, and 4,672 strikeouts, Clemens ranks third all-time in major league history as one of the game’s most dominant pitchers. He was the only pitcher in history to win seven Cy Young Awards during his career. He was selected for the All-Star game 11 times and won the World Series twice. With his fierce competitiveness and hard-throwing pitching style, Clemens was able to intimidate batters.
Clemens enrolled at San Jacinto Junior College instead of the Twins because he thought he could outperform them and build the body he needed to succeed. Despite being 6’2″ and 220 pounds, he was out of shape at age 18 and unable to run at a competitive speed. Clemens lost fifteen pounds after committing to a rigorous fitness regimen that included both cardio and weight training. It was the conditioning program that helped him increase the velocity of his fastball from 86% to over 90%, which he needed to succeed in the pros.
As a freshman in 1981, he had a 9-2 record with a signing bonus of $30,000 from the New York Mets, who drafted him in the 12th round. Clemens’ scholarship offer from the University of Texas came just as he was considering the New York deal. Clemens, who was close to signing a contract with the Mets, decided that playing for the Longhorns was the better option. Coach Cliff Gustafson, the legendary Longhorns pitching guru, would be there to help him further his development during his time there.
The Longhorns were the team of choice for this wager. Clemens had a win-loss record of 25-7 in his first two seasons with the Longhorns, while also walking just 56 batters in 275 innings of work. After pitching a complete game, he led Texas to a College World Series championship in June 1983.
Spike Owen, a former college and professional teammate, tells Sports Illustrated that “he was an excellent pitcher in college, improving every year.” I don’t think anyone could have seen what was coming when they first saw him, however.
MVP and Cy Young Award
View this post on Instagram
In 1986, he came back with a vengeance, leading the American League in victories (24 wins, 4 losses), winning percentage (.857), and earned run average (ERA) (2.48). In the All-Star game, he started and won. Clemens once struck out twenty batters in a row in a game against the Seattle Mariners in May of that year. Before that, no pitcher had ever done so in the 111-year history of major league baseball. He told the Boston Globe, “It puts me in the Hall of Fame, at least in one sense.” “That’s something I’ll always have. Hope no one thinks it was a typo.” As the American League’s top pitcher, he won the Cy Young Award and was named MVP as the Red Sox won their first pennant in eleven years. In October of that year, he took the mound for two World Series games, both of which he lost.
Despite the jinx that has always followed Cy Young winners, Clemens was able to break the curse in 1987, winning his second straight Cy Young Award, joining Sandy Koufax, Denny McLain, Jim Palmer, and Greg Maddux as the only other pitchers to accomplish this feat.
Clemens has always been a leader in the arena of controversy, and he’s done so throughout his career. In 1988, Clemens walked out of training camp because of a pay dispute. Complaints about New England and its baseball fans were seen as criticism of the team management’s treatment of the players and their families. For the first time, Clemens was booed by Red Sox fans.
A Fresh Start on the Canadian Side
When Clemens played poorly in 1992, he didn’t help his team’s fortunes. The Red Sox finished last in the American League East with a win total of just 73. The following year, Clemens had his first losing season after being plagued by shoulder and arm injuries once more (11-14). Boston was still floundering in 1994, despite the strike-shortened campaign, and Clemens had a 9-7 record. Clemens’ situation was dire. Injuries to his groin and tendonitis plagued him for the remainder of the next two seasons, and he was aware that the Red Sox were no closer to winning the World Series than they had been at the start of his career. As the Red Sox struggled and Clemens became a free agent, the big market, big league rumor mill began. Would the Red Sox be willing to part with Clemens in exchange for new blood or keep him? For the chance to win a World Series, would Clemens leave the Yankees for another team?
The answer came in the form of a three-year, $24.75 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, who beat out the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees. Clemens was now the highest-paid pitcher in the game at the time of this deal. The Blue Jays had their hopes set on Clemens reversing his recent trend of underwhelming performances and turning the team into a contender. When it came time to deliver in 1997, Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball, going 21-7 with a 2.05 earned run average and a career-high 297 strikeouts. The Rocket had returned! His fourth Cy Young Award was also given to Clemens this year. Athletes like Michael Jordan, Pete Sampras, Martina Hingis and Tiger Woods were included in Sports Magazine’s list of the ten most dominant athletes of 1997.
Hall of Fame
View this post on Instagram
Clemens, who grew up in Houston and still resides there, clearly has Hall of Fame stats and on the list of top baseball players. Additionally, he won an MVP award and was named to 11 All-Star teams in addition to his record seven Cy Young Awards. Clemens also has 354 career wins to his name, 4,672 career strikeouts to his name, and seven ERA titles to his name, as well as two World Series championships.
Clemens’ name will be forever linked to the steroid scandal, as it was for Barry Bonds, who narrowly missed induction in his final year on the ballot with 66 percent of the vote. At the time, former pitcher Brian McNamee accused Clemens’ trainer of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Perjury, contempt, and making false statements to Congress were all charges Clemens faced after being indicted, but Clemens successfully defended himself in court and was acquitted on all counts.
Former Red Sox, Blue Jays and Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens briefly retired after the 2003 season before returning to baseball the following year as an Astros starter. In three seasons with the Astros, Clemens went 38-18 with a 2.40 ERA, winning his seventh Cy Young Award in 2004 and helping the Astros win their first World Series in 2005.
After the 2006 season, Clemens announced his retirement yet again, but he returned for the Yankees for half a season before calling it a day at 44 years old.