The Rocket, as he was so lovingly referred to by fans of the Red Sox and loathingly by those of the opposition, had a fastball that would make hitters quiver at the plate and the type of "screw you" attitude on the mound that would make Josh Beckett seem like a tamed lion.
Throughout the majority of his 24-year career, the conversation of major league pitching both began and ended with Clemens. He was not only in the class of elites, he just about redefined the term. But as Clemens grew older and entered what some seemed to refer to as the "twilight" of his career, the dominance continued.
Fans and foes alike were astounded by the pitcher's ability to defy the laws of physics and logic. His age may have been creeping high into the 30's and even 40's, indicating he was on the downside of his career, but Clemens arm continued to produce mid-90 mph fastballs and his breaking pitches still buckled the knees of even the best hitters in baseball.
But just as Clemens finally retired from the game in 2007 — at the age of 44 — questions began to arise about Clemens ability to produce at this high level well into his 40s and how he was able to keep up the extraordinary pace. Was Clemens simply the bionic man, merely unaffected by the deteriorating physical abilities of other aging veterans, or was his dominance more directly linked with the questioned successes of the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds?
The question was actually a whole lot simpler but it remained one without any real truth. Even after the events of the now concluded perjury trial, the conjecture remains but the reality is as cloudy as ever. A jury decided innocence, but the facts still seem to point at some level of guilt.
Brian McNamee, Clemens' former trainer and ultimate accuser in the trial, may seem like an even bigger scumbag than Jose Canseco but his story did seem to have some underlying of credibility. Even one of Clemens closest confidante's Andy Pettitte, another McNamee client, admitted to using HGH and even said he's at least "50 percent sure" that Clemens used the substance as well.
It may not be enough evidence for a conviction in the court of law, but the court of public opinion bought the accusations and has the iron hot and ready for branding.
A legendary career and a verbal seal of approval from a jury under the laws and legislation of the United States would appear to alleviate any perception of guilt for Clemens. Yet his image is likely beyond repair, much like his chances at induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Clemens' career included 11 All Star appearances, seven Cy Young awards — four after the age of 35, including one at the ripe age of 41 (2004), two World Series titles and an MVP. His trophy case is stocked with just about any award imaginable and his legacy left on the rubber unmatched by just about any other pitcher in history. But the blackened blemish left on Clemens legacy over the past few years — as allegations about the use of steroids and HGH continued to emerge — is a taint that no list of accolades or acquittal from any jury could wipe clean.
The numbers and awards indicate an almost certain first-ballot enshrinement, but given the circumstances and the brutal beating his reputation has suffered, the thought of a trip to Cooperstown seems unrealistic.
So, don't be surprised when Clemens isn't voted into the Hall when his name first hits the ballot next spring. His achievements warrant the honor, but if McGwire, likely Bonds and even Pete Rose are left with the doors shut on their face, then Clemens deserves to be left out in the cold as well.
A jury may put their stamp of acquittal on the charges, but in the mind of this judge of one: innocence can only be proven by innocence, not a formality.
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