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June 16, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Hat Trick

Roger Clemens finally won his 300th game Friday night, after his first three attempts were thwarted by Boston's batters' fouling off his pitches, lousy defense against Detroit, and a three-run home run launched off Juan Aceve-DOH! in Chicago (though it was a small sample size, so he may not have really given it up). In the process, he recorded his 4000th career strikeout, and was able to accomplish both at Yankee Stadium.

eric, who does not own a television, emailed me yesterday and asked what I thought about 300. Really, I don't feel any different about 300 than I did about 299. Numbers like 300 wins, 3000 hits, 500 Home Runs, have no inherent significance beyond being one better than 299, 2999, or 499. They are aesthetically pleasing numbers, and if we didn't use the decimal system, they would have no special significance.

But all that aside, congratulations to Roger Clemens on reaching these two somewhat arbitrary milestones. He is truly one of the greatest pitchers that has ever lived.

Of course, that's not all Clemens has been getting press for this past weekend. On Saturday, Rocket restated his desire to enter the Hall of Fame with a Yankees cap on his plaque, rather than a Red Sox cap. He then said that if the Hall refused, he just wouldn't show up for his induction.

Before I go any further, I'll have to make a disclaimer. I'm a Yankees fan, and thus inherently biased. Red Sox fans are also inherently biased on this issue. Actually, because it's Roger Clemens, everyone has a bias, because a lot of people really hate him. So keep that in mind, but I will try to be objective.

Roger Clemens absolutely should go into the Hall of Fame with a Red Sox cap on. It's where he had his best years, he won 3 Cy Young Awards there and an MVP. He won nearly two-thirds of his games there, and recorded nearly two-thirds of his strikeouts there. His ERA was nearly a run and a half lower there than when he was with New York. His two 20 strikeout games were with Boston. Clemens said that he became a Hall of Famer in New York. Bullshit. He could have retired after the '96 season and would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

But Clemens shouldn't be forced to go into the Hall of Fame with a Red Sox cap on. If he wants to go in as a Yankee, let him go in as a Yankee. Nobody's going to look at his plaque and say, "Wow, I didn't know Clemens played for the Yankees." If he wanted to go in as a Blue Jay, that would be a different matter, but he's played five seasons in New York, won a Cy Young, three pennants, two World Series, and pitched one of the greatest games in postseason history as a Yankee. It's not an unreasonable request. And let's not overlook the most important aspect:

It's just a cap. It's not like he's asking to have "Boston (1984-1996)" removed from the plaque, or dictating what the plaque says. It's just a logo. Yes, Clemens is going overboard with his threat to not attend the ceremony, but for the Hall of Fame, it's not really a fight worth fighting. Keeping Rose out is the right decision, keeping Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon out was the wrong one. Forcing Clemens to wear a cap he doesn't want on principle is a justified decision, but not one worth the trouble it causes. Yes, it sets a dangerous precedent, future inductees might boycott their ceremony in order to be able to auction off their cap, but that could be avoided by changing the rules of how the cap is chosen, perhaps giving the player a choice if he's played at least five seasons with two or more teams. The Hall can't risk Clemens being the only inductee in five years, and not attending the ceremony. Let him have his Yankees cap, if it's really that big a deal to him, and get over it. It's just a freaking cap.