By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Down in the dirt with Roger Clemens

The New York Daily News’ story that Roger Clemens may or may not have had sex with a 15-year-old country singer doesn’t seem to have much legs. But, I observe in my latest for the Guardian, that’s really the least of the Rocket’s problems these days.

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  1. Larz

    I don’t like RC either, but he’s an incredible survivor, still pitching in his 40’s. (a) The human arm is not designed to deliver an overhand fastball. Most pitchers never make it to the majors, due to arm problems. (b) The pitcher is hardest working guy on the field. All right, the catcher has as many throws and he has to squat, but he’s not throwing pitches. (c) It bothers me to see any respectable journalist giving legs to a rumor-based story. Even discussing a rumor helps it spread. Prof. Speers would use up some yellow chalk on this one.— Larz

  2. Anonymous

    Blah, blah, blah. Nothing’s gonna stick. Waste of taxpayers’ money. Prison? Right. We really need to lock up Roger Clemens.Meanwhile, please note – greatest pitcher in the history of the game? Uh, that’d be Mr. Nolan Ryan, sir.

  3. Neil

    What larz said, in his (c).For a story that doesn’t seem to have much legs, you’ve certainly done your part to keep it toddling along. Fully half of your article is about McCready. Joan Venocchi did a similar article a couple of weeks ago about Monica Lewinski, using Chelsea Clinton’s unwillingness to answer questions about her as an excuse for another exercise in finger-wagging. Fox News has a similar approach–clucking disapproval of various lewd activities while making sure to show plenty of skin in the process. There’s a video on youtube about it, which I can’t look for while at work. But, for somebody so ethically fussy about say, Gitlin’s disclosure, this is rather a tawdry effort I think.

  4. Don, American

    Clemens is the “greatest pitcher in the history of the game?” What about Stubby Overmire — Tigers in the 40s? He pitched the first game I ever saw. Actually, Hal Newhouser was better, because many of the others were fighting the war. Back to Clemens — What about Koufax, Ryan or many others?

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Statistically, at least, it’s very hard to top Clemens and his seven Cy Youngs. I don’t think we’d even be arguing about his “greatest” status if he’d had even a few dominating performances when everything was on the line. I’d take Beckett or a vintage Schilling or Martínez over Clemens if it was Game Seven. I think most baseball fans would.I’m surprised at the sentiment for Nolan Ryan, who, to me, was kind of the Carl Yastrzemski of pitchers — a great pitcher, but not really an immortal, impressive more for his longevity (and his strikeout totals) than anything else.Uh, Mike? You out there?

  6. mike_b1

    First, forget the Cy Youngs, which really aren’t based on any modern assessment of one’s performance. That said, Clemens is likely right there among the greatest of all time, if not The Greatest, based on his performance relative to the league during his era. He’s just ahead of guys like Walter Johnson in WARP3, an adjusted measure showing one’s contributions to wins, and way ahead of such all-time greats as Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, etc.Re the postseasons, it’s all about sample size, Dan. And besides, in 6 WS games he K’d 49 in 49.3 innings and had a 2.37 ERA. That’s about as good as you can get.

  7. mike_b1

    Btw, adjusted for all-time, Nolan Ryan doesn’t come out so well. He simply walked way too many guys.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: I’ll concede that Clemens got more reliable in the post-season as he got older and more mature. (Not that he ever got very mature.) I’m not looking at stats so much as the McNamara controversy and, of course, 1990. That wasn’t bad pitching – it was a nervous breakdown on the mound.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: I really want to pick a bone with you about your constant invocation of “sample size.” Do you or do you not subscribe to the idea that the truly great ones (and those with great hearts) find a way to rise to the occasion, regardless of physical ailments or recent slumps?I give you an injured Pedro Martínez in the ’99 playoffs. Curt Schilling, not just in the ’04 bloody-sock appearances, but in the ’07 post-season following a regular season that had been mediocre at best. (And look at him now.) Derek Lowe in ’04 following a pretty crappy season.Clemens has always been a guy that you just cross your fingers and hope for the best when it’s a big game.

  10. mike_b1

    Dan, sample size is very simple. When you have 100% of the data universe, you know exactly what it is you are looking at. When you don’t have 100%, you are making assumptions. The obvious response to your question about big game performance is this: Don Larsen. His career postseason: 4-2, 2.75 ERA (and of course, one very special game). So was he a great big-game pitcher? No, just very, very lucky, as evidence by his career regular season: 81-91, and an ERA (3.78) that was 0.05 above the league average during his career. So, no, I don’t subscribe to that “rise to the occasion” thinking, and the reason is, there are no data I’m aware of that support that it happens. (If someone develops a sound study that shows otherwise, I reserve the right to change my mind.)On to your other points. Schilling wasn’t great in 2007. But he was hurt, and it showed in his regular season performance. He lost his fastball. But he did throw 151 IP of 3.87 ball in league where the average was 4.74. That’s almost a run lower than the average, or in other words, pretty damn good. And here’s where perception overrides reality. Statistically, his 2007 postseason was mixed: He threw 7 shutout innings against LA, then allowed 7 earned runs in 11.6 IP against Cleveland, then allowed just run in 5.3 IP against Colorado. So which series was the real Schilling? The answer is all of them. In the 2003 ACLS against NY, Derek Lowe was 0-2 with a 6.43 ERA and 7 walks in 14 innings. In 2004, he happened to have the best 19 innings of his career during the playoffs. In 2006, he was tagged for 4 runs in 5 innings in the NLDS. That’s how luck goes: good and bad. Here’s a quiz. Match the pitcher with the post-season record:A. Lifetime postseason (answers at bottom):1. 6-2, 3.40 ERA, 79.3 IP 80 Ks2. 12-8, 3.75 ERA, 199 IP, 173 K3. 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 133.3 IP, 120 KsB. Career LCS (answers at bottom):1. 1-2, 4.72 ERA, 34.3 IP, 40 K 2. 3-1, 3.47 ERA, 46.6 IP, 44 K 3. 5-4, 3.87 ERA, 81.3 IP, 71 K Regarding Clemens, the data show your assertion about “crossing your fingers” is again more perception than reality. In any one game, anything can happen. In any two games, anything can happen (Johnny vander Meer, Mr. Double No-Hit, was 119-121 lifetime). You can’t assess the true performance without accepting all the data.Don’t take my word for any of this, of course. The beef I have, not so much with you but with journalists in general, is they try to draw conclusions from numbers that they themselves don’t understand, while also ignoring the wealth of experts who could set them straight. Northeastern, for example, has a good engineering program, and presumably some decent stats guys as well. Take a walk over there and talk to their stats experts. And once enlightened, show your colleagues the way.Answers:1. Pedro 2. Clemens 3. Schilling.1. Pedro 2. Schilling 3. Clemens.

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