Tag: Roger Clemens

My Obligatory HOF Post

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And I don’t mean the Christmas season (and I definitely mean this sarcastically):

That’s right, folks. It’s Baseball Hall of Fame season, the most tedious, pedantic time of the baseball year. And I can’t help but at least partially love it. I’ve been Extremely Online about baseball since about 2005 and a good portion of that time has been spent thinking about and discussing players making or not making the Baseball Hall of Fame. This style of writing and argument helped me get into thinking about the game in a more analytical, numbers-driven way, and for that, I’ll always be appreciative. My first statistical deep dives, way back when, were dissecting Craig Biggio’s career in my ‘he’s actually kind of overrated’ argument (before I got into/understood WAR. I still think there’s a touch of overrated there, but that’s a story for another day), then spilling a lot of digital ink over Bert Blyleven’s and Mike Mussina’s deserving HOF cases (and against those of Jack Morris, Jim Rice, etc.). For a long while, I was pretty passionate about it. Over the last few years, though, I’ve started to care less about it, but I can’t fully quit it.

To be honest, this discourse matters less and less as we move on in the baseball world. In this information/technology age, it’s much easier to find out who actually were the best players in a given time than before, making us much less reliant on the BBWAA’s interpretation (or whatever other committees are voting now) or the Hall of Fame’s plaques. Regardless, it’s obviously important and meaningful to both the players and the writers and I’m a sucker for that, so I can’t fully quit this stuff.

Before I reveal my hypothetical ballot, some thoughts on the voting process:

  1. I hate the ten-player limit. It’s less of a concern now that the logjam of the last ten years or so has cleared up, but there should be no limit.
  2. I don’t like that there’s some arbitrary eligibility standard to get on the ballot. If a player has played ten years and been retired for five, he should be on the ballot and stay on until his time’s up. The 5% barrier is fine, I suppose, but I think it should be expanded beyond one year.
  3. I hate blank ballots. Hate them. Absolutely hate them. Allow me to reproduce what I said on Twitter on Friday, prompted by this tweet from Jared Diamond: No, the reasoning is bad. There is at least one person on this ballot who is surely HOF worthy with no “baggage” or whatever. To act otherwise is foolish, or shows a complete lack of understanding of baseball beyond, like, 1993. There are going to be years when no one gets in; we experienced that recently. But there is almost never going to be a year when no one is worthy of a vote, by most any standard. Writers who turn in blank ballots are seeking attention above all else, whether directly or indirectly, so they can make some point informed by an incredibly narrow and (most often) outdated understanding of baseball. It also smacks wildly and loudly of the almost unrivaled self-seriousness of baseball writers, which I cannot stand.

Now on to my fake ballot, without paragraph upon paragraph of explanation because most of these are pretty self-evident.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Todd Helton, Jeff Kent (an offensive force at 2B when that wasn’t quite a thing yet), Andruw Jones (400+ homers; all time great CF), Manny Ramirez (PED suspensions or not, one of the top RHB ever), Scott Rolen (he crawled so Adrian Beltre could walk/run), Gary Sheffield (go look up his numbers if you haven’t lately), Sammy Sosa. I’m leaving Curt Schilling off, even if some of the guys on here are also bad. Craig Calcaterra does a nice job explaining why here, so I’m not going to drone on and on about it.

The only one I’m unsure about up there is Kent, but the rest are among the best hitters or pitchers in the game’s history, without whom the telling of the story of baseball is hard to do. Clearly, PED stuff doesn’t matter to me, either. If you want the HOF to put some PED acknowledgement on their plaques, go right ahead.

And that’s my HOF discourse for 2020-21 (don’t hold me to this; I’m sure I’ll offer a take or three when the results come in). Let’s do this again next year, shall we? Good luck to the candidates.

Which Yankees will follow Derek Jeter to Cooperstown?

Sabathia. (Arturo Pardavilla III – CC BY 2.0)

Official announcement of Derek Jeter’s induction to the Hall of Fame will occur later today. It’ll be the second straight year featuring a Yankee, with Mariano Rivera entering Cooperstown last summer. But after these two prominent Yankees, who’s next?

Returning to the ballot for 2021

There are a number of ex-Yankees already on the ballot that will return for the next round of voting. Some are more notable than others.

On numbers alone, Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall. The Rocket spent six of his 24 seasons with the Yankees, though his best seasons were elsewhere. But more important than performance, his case is marred by allegations of statutory rape of a minor and PED usage.

Andy Pettitte will return to the ballot for a third time, but will likely fall short again. He received a respectable 9.9 percent of the votes last year; we’ll see how that shifts this season. Pettitte was a great Yankee, but falls short of Hall-worthiness statistically speaking. His link to PEDs won’t help his case anyway.

Gary Sheffield spent three seasons in pinstripes but absolutely raked while doing so (135 OPS+). He hasn’t received any higher than 13.6 percent of the vote and next year will be his seventh try. Again, PED allegations hinder his electability in spite of 509 career homer runs.

As long as they get 5 percent of the vote, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu will return to the ballot for a second time next year. Giambi won’t make it, but he was fun to watch hit in the Bronx from 2002 through 2008. Similarly, Abreu is going to fall short.

Ballot newcomers

Here are some notable names coming to the ballot in future years:

2021AJ Burnett, Nick Swisher
2022Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
2023Carlos Beltrán

This is a pretty interesting group upcoming. Burnett, Swisher, and Teixeira all fall short by the numbers, though of that trio, Teix seemed to be on the track at one point. The switch-hitting first baseman really fell off after 2011, his age-31 season. Through that point, he had 314 homers, a 132 OPS+, and 44.1 bWAR. But he only rebounded for one more big season — 2015 — before he retired after his age-36 season a year later. Teixeira finished with 409 homers and just under 52 WAR. A very good career, no doubt, but he just didn’t have the longevity.

Things get much more intriguing when you consider A-Rod and Beltrán. The former’s lifetime numbers are historically great: he swatted 696 homers, recorded 3,115 hits, and accumulated 117.8 WAR. However, and this is a big one: he served a season-long PED suspension in 2014. And that wasn’t the first time he used PEDs, either. In 2009, he admitted to using back when he was with the Rangers. So, even though the numbers would make him a slam dunk, the drug usage almost assuredly will keep him out of Cooperstown.

Then there’s Beltrán. Before the recent news that has dominated the baseball world, I figured Beltrán would enter the Hall eventually. He’s got the sabermetric case with just under 70 WAR, though I’m not certain people thought of him as a shoe-in. Anyway, the decision to elect him may not be so difficult after all. His transgressions in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal will undoubtedly adversely affect his candidacy. He was explicitly called out in the Commissioner’s report which will do quite a bit of damage.

The next inductee: CC Sabathia

Bobby already wrote about why Sabathia belongs in Cooperstown, so no need to rehash here. We just have to play the waiting game now. Sabathia will be eligible in five years and hopefully will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. After Jeter, he’s clearly the next individual in line to don a Yankees cap in the Hall of Fame.

Down the road

Looking forward to being 50 years-old in 2040 when Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Gerrit Cole (among others) go into the Hall as Yankees, you guys. Anyway, for fun, allow me to power rank the top five current Yankees most likely to get a plaque:

  1. Gleyber Torres
  2. Giancarlo Stanton
  3. Gerrit Cole
  4. Aaron Judge
  5. Aroldis Chapman

Time for some rapid-fire thoughts on this. I feel like picking Gleyber is bold given some of the accomplishments others on this list have, but I’ll do it no less. Stanton already has 309 homers and is just 31 years-old. Cole has a chance to cement himself as the best pitcher of his generation. Judge has Hall of Fame talent but will need a strong late career considering he didn’t start until he was 25 and has missed time because of injuries. Lastly, Chapman could end his career with the highest strikeout rate of all-time and very high up on the all-time saves list. That said, his domestic violence suspension should give voters pause.

Remembering the 1999 Yankees: Part II

On Tuesday, I began a two-part series on the 1999 Yankees, remembering the 98-99 offseason and the regular season that followed. Now, here’s part II on the dominant postseason.

For most championship runs, there’s a moment of doubt. Time stands still as fans collectively hold their breath in a key moment, realizing that their team of destiny might be quite the opposite.

The 1996 Yankees had that in at least the first five games of the World Series. The ’98 Yankees, the best team in living memory, were down in the ALCS to the Indians.

Somehow, the ’99 Yankees never went through that. The Rangers were an afterthought within a few days. The ALCS was closer than the 4-1 finish would indicate and the Fall Classic had a few nailbiters.

However, in running roughshod to a repeat, the Yankees went 11-1 in the postseason with just a single loss to the league’s best pitcher.

A Forgettable Sweep

The 1999 Rangers exemplified the high-offense era; They had six players with at least 20 home runs and three with 35 (Pudge, Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro). At the same time, none of their five starters had an ERA below 4.79 (which was actually above-average). John Wetteland was their closer.

The Yankees took Game 1 of this ALDS in lopsided fashion as Orlando Herandez tossed eight two-hit innings. Ricky Ledee put the Yanks up with an RBI double in the second and the Bombers slowly extended the lead with Bernie Williams going deep.

Game 2 was the closest call with the Yankees trailing 1-0 through 4.5 innings. However, Scott Brosius and Ledee had RBI doubles over the next few innings to put the Yankees in front. Darryl Strawberry homered in the first inning of Game 1 as Roger Clemens shut down the Rangers in a 3-0 Game 3 win.

When I came up with ALDS MVPs at River Ave. Blues, I copped out and gave it to Royce Clayton for this series, as he went 0-for-10 for Texas. The Rangers had just three extra-base hits in 92 at-bats.

Rivalry Revived

Pedro Martinez pitched the Red Sox into the ALCS, which pitted the long-time rivals against each other for the first time in postseason history. With Martinez unavailable until Game 3, the Yankees worked to the early advantage at home.

Fitting the rivalry, Game 1 was a nailbiter as Boston put up three runs in the first two innings. The Yankees tied it up on a Derek Jeter single in the seventh. After El Duque completed eight innings, Rivera took the ball through the 10th inning, where Bernie Williams came through as the hero on Rod Beck’s second pitch.

Williams, of course, had nearly signed with the Sox in the offseason, making his walk-off shot even more crushing for Boston.

The Sox rebounded in Game 2 as Ramon Martinez went toe-to-toe with David Cone. A Tino Martinez homer broke the tie before Nomar Garciaparra responded with a two-run homer off Cone to put Boston up.

The Yankees trailed with two outs in the seventh when Chuck Knoblaugh doubled home Ledee. Two batters later, Paul O’Neill smacked an RBI single as New York held on for a 3-2 win.

Game 3 belonged to Pedro and only Pedro. Martinez struck out 12 over seven scoreless innings at Fenway Park while the Red Sox beat up on Clemens and Hideki Irabu for a 13-1 victory, the only Yankee loss of the postseason.

While the Yankees won Game 4 by seven runs, it was close enough that Rivera got a five-out save in relief on Andy Pettitte. The Yankees went ahead for good on an error by Bret Saberhagen early and an error late led to a six-run ninth, capped by a Ledee grand slam.

Derek Jeter homered two batters into Game 5 while Hernandez tossed seven one-run innings en route to ALCS MVP. Ramiro Mendoza got out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning and closed out the series, sending the Yankees to their second straight World Series.

Team of the Decade

For most of the 1990s, the Braves were the bandied-about dynasty. They reached back-to-back World Series and finally won in 1995. Up 2-1 in the ’96 Fall Classic, they had their grasp on the heart of a decade and, one Jim Leyritz homer later, it slipped from their hands.

Even with the 125-win ’98 Yankees, the Braves had a chance to wrest control back of the decade in the ’99 World Series. They had the same Big 3 in their rotation and had the NL MVP with Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.

Game 1 pitted Greg Maddux against Hernandez and the duo gave fans at Turner Field a duel to remember. Jones broke the ice with a solo shot in the fourth inning and Maddux made it stand up … until the eighth.

The series pivoted on that eighth inning with the Yankees putting two runners on right away. Knoblauch bunted, but defensive replacement Brian Jordan Brian Hunter misplayed the ball and loaded the bases for Jeter. Jeter singled and knocked Maddux out, tying the game.

Paul O’Neill then singled against John Rocker and a drawn-in infield as the Yankees went on to win, 4-1.

Hernandez struck out 10 and brought his postseason record to 5-0 at the time.

Six of the first seven batters reached against Kevin Millwood in Game 2 as the Yankees blew out the Braves, 7-2, behind a marvelous start from Cone.

Back at Yankee Stadium, Pettitte was shelled and the Braves took a 5-1 lead through four innings. The Bombers slowly chipped away against Tom Glavine with convicted awful human Chad Curtis, who didn’t even play Game 2, hitting a solo shot. Then Tino added one.

Bobby Cox allowed Glavine to start the eighth, which was a mistake. Joe Girardi singled and Knoblauch came through with a game-tying two-run shot to the short porch (Read: Our blog title) that snuffed out the Braves’ title hopes.

Rivera tossed two scoreless frames to bring back up Curtis, who led off the bottom of the 10th inning with a walk-off homer.

A forgotten performer in Game 3? Jason Grimsley. The right-hander relieved Pettitte and worked around four baserunners to keep the Braves at five through the sixth, paving the way for Jeff Nelson and Rivera. Without his sterling long relief, the comeback wouldn’t have been possible.

From there, it was simply a matter of whether it’d be another sweep. After a tough first season in pinstripes and a bad ALCS start, there were plenty of doubters for the 36-year-old Clemens. He put those doubts to rest when he touched Babe Ruth’s plaque before Game 4 and proceeded to shut down the Atlanta, providing the perfect culmination to his first title.

Rocket held Atlanta scoreless for the first seven innings. Meanwhile, the Yankees got all the runs they needed in the third inning. They loaded the bases off John Smoltz and brought up Tino Martinez with one down. Martinez hit a grounder which could have been double play fodder. Instead, it went off Ryan Klesko’s glove and into right field for a two-run single. A Jorge Posada single made it 3-0, which it’d stay until a lone run crossed in the eighth.

Aided by an insurance run, Rivera closed down a four-out save without issue. He forced Keith Lockhart to fly out to Curtis, and the celebration was on in the Bronx.

Rivera tossed 4.2 scoreless innings and had two saves to go with a win, earning MVP honors. For the unanimous Hall of Famer, it was a plaque-worthy accomplishment.

The 1999 Yankees remain mostly a footnote to the ’98 team for many, but I hope my long diatribes have shown some of the value hidden in remembering this great and worthy champion.

Remembering the 1999 Yankees 20 years later: Part 1

Embed from Getty Images

When we talk about the 1990s Yankees dynasty, we never mention the 1999 team.

By that, I mean we never formally mention them. They’re included when you talk about the three-peat of 1998-2000, but they’re in the middle somewhere. Their place becomes more nebulous in the 1996-2000 four-titles-in-five-years crew, just somewhere in the middle, but overshadowed still by ’98.

However, that 1999 team was special, just as any World Series champion has to be. They weren’t all-time special like the prior season, but they did something rare as well: Repeated. Growing up around that time, the Yankees’ championships were ubiquitous and repeating seemed simple. As evidenced by 19 years since any MLB team has pulled off the feat, it’s not.

Enough happened in ’99 that this will be a two-part article: One covering the 1998-99 offseason and subsequent regular season, and then another focusing on the 11-1 postseason run to the Yankees’ 25th title.

Let’s get into Part 1:

The Offseason

The 1998-99 offseason was the first full winter for Brian Cashman at the helm. The 31-year-old wunderkind wouldn’t have necessarily been wrong to just sit on his hands, reassemble the same team that has just won 114 of 162 and call it a day.

Instead, he was aggressive, not wanting to let himself or the team become complacent. The team’s lone major free agent was Bernie Williams, but Cashman sought a different outfielder, attempting to court Albert Belle. Belle was coming off a season where he had a league-leading 1.055 OPS with 49 home runs for the White Sox and was entering his age-32 season.

That led Bernie to consider the Red Sox. The unthinkable nearly happened as rumor has it Williams neared a seven-year deal with the Sox. However, Baltimore budged into negotiations with Belle and the Yankees snagged Williams at the last second.

“He was getting close to going to Boston,” Cashman told the New York Times. “We were getting close to losing him. At some point during today, both parties took a step backwards and reached out again one more time, and after that it just happened quickly.”

Still, the Yankees didn’t bring back the same team. Instead, they chose to trade the staff ace in 1998, David Wells, along with Homer Bush and Graeme Lloyd for the reigning Cy Young winner, Roger Clemens. Clemens was entering his age-36 season yet he had just won back-to-back Cy Youngs in Toronto, perhaps fueled by a little something extra.

The Clemens deal was a classic Yankees move harkening back to the 1980s, getting an older pitcher when he value was at its peak, but it gave the roster a star player hungry for a title.

Great from the Start

Like the 1998 edition, the 1999 Yankees lost their first game. This team, however, got rolling quicker than their predecessors, reeling off seven straight wins to go 7-1. They had two winning streaks of at least six games in April.

They slipped as much as 2.5 games back of Boston on May 25, but that’s the farthest the Bombers would go out of first place all season. By June 9, they were back in first place and would never relinquish the reigns of the AL East afterward.

The team’s best player was a future Hall of Famer, Derek Jeter. Jeter had his finest season at the plate and was especially dominant in the first half, batting .371 at the break. In April, the soon-to-be captain hit five home runs and four triples with more walks than strikeouts, posting a 1.217 OPS.

Meanwhile, Williams showed no ill-effects from the tense offseason negotiations. After an April with just one home run, he turned into high gear with a .367 average and five homers in May. He’d eventually smack seven homers in both June and August, hitting a remarkable .384 in the latter month.

On the mound, Mariano Rivera was his same dominant self. In an era where starters went deep into contests, the Sandman gave the Yankees all they needed in his third year as closer. Rivera led baseball with 45 saves while posting a 1.83 ERA in 69 innings. That was a 257 ERA+ as he earned an All-Star appearance and finished third in Cy Young voting.

In the rotation, the breakout player was Orlando Herandez, better known as El Duque. His first full season in the Bronx meant he was going full tilt and he (leg) kicked his game into high gear. He’d toss 214.1 innings with a 4.12 ERA (114 ERA+). More than his strong year or two complete games, Hernandez’s regular season was immortalized by his glove toss to save a run against the Mets.

Meanwhile, a 36-year-old David Cone was the team’s best pitcher. An All-Star that season, he had a staff leading 3.44 ERA and struck out a team-high 177 batters over 193.1 innings. Of course, he’d have a shining moment, but more on that soon…

(MLB Gifs)

Another AL East crown

Though the Yankees never fell out of first place in the second half, the Red Sox remained on their heels for much of the season. Boston had missed out on the top free agents — they also lost Mo Vaughn to Anaheim — but they were buoyed one of the finest pitched season in baseball history from Pedro Martinez.

In the highest offensive eras ever, Martinez won the Cy Young with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 213.1 innings. His FIP was a ridiculous 1.39. His best outing came against the Yankees that September when he struck out 17 pinstripers in a one-hit complete game. That was in the midst of an eight start stretch where he struck out 107 batters.

Despite his Cy Young, Martinez wouldn’t have the best start among AL East pitchers. That belonged to Cone, who tossed a perfect game in his first start after the All-Star break. Bending the hapless Expos to his will, the wily veteran struck out 10 and was in disbelief in the iconic finish to the contest.

Cone was the rotation’s stalwart, though the pair of Texas natives expected to front the rotation were merely average. Clemens and Andy Pettite each had ERAs above 4.5 and were barely league average. Cashman’s big gamble flopped in the regular season, failing to live up to his back-to-back Cy Young prowess.

Re-signed in the offseason, Scott Brosius couldn’t maintain his 1998 pace. Still, the World Series MVP maintained aptitude for the dramatic with a walk-off home run against Arthur Rhodes.

In that regard, even if they weren’t winning 114 games, the team had an innate sense to play the hits from the dynasty. Throw a perfecto game. Take Arthur Rhodes deep. Cruise to the division lead. This wasn’t a time to break from tradition.

As the season wound down, some now-familiar faces debuted, months after Tony Tarasco made an ill-fated one-month stint in the Bronx. Then-top prospect D’Angelo Jimenez played seven games in the Bronx. The championship whisperer Clay Bellinger played in 16 games in September, as many as he had played all season after debuting at age 30.

However, Alfonso Soriano had the most memorable debut. What, after all, can be more memorable than a walk-off homer for a future All-Star? Better yet, Soriano’s first career hit clinched the division title for the Yankees.

After 162 games, the Yankees came in at 98-64, four games clear of the Red Sox and one game ahead for the AL’s best record. Tino Martinez led the team with 28 home runs while Jeter posted a career-high 8.0 WAR, one of the seasons where he rightfully could have claimed the MVP.

The MVP would instead go to Ivan Rodriguez of the AL West champion Rangers, the Yankees’ ALDS opponent. More on that still to come …

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