Ample living proof of Clemens' greatness

Originally Published: May 1, 2006
By Peter Gammons | Special to ESPN.com

No one knows what Roger Clemens is going to be doing come July 4. Not Roger. Not Debbie. Not Randy or Alan Hendricks.

POLL RESULTS
• Here are the results of ESPN.com's poll, asking 32 of ESPN's baseball experts (named below) to list the top 10 greatest living pitchers. Points were awarded on a 1-10 scale (10 for a first-place vote down to a 1 for a 10th-place vote).
NO. PITCHER PTS.
1 Roger Clemens 278
2 Tom Seaver 196
3 Sandy Koufax 192
4 Bob Gibson 186
5 Greg Maddux 177
6 Bob Feller 126
7 Randy Johnson 123
8 Pedro Martinez 119
9 Steve Carlton 101
10 Juan Marichal 71
Others receiving votes: Nolan Ryan 67, Mariano Rivera 41, Whitey Ford 35, Jim Palmer 33, Fergie Jenkins 6, Dennis Eckersley 6, Robin Roberts 2, Goose Gossage 2 Dave Stewart 2.
THE VOTERS
Dave Barnett, Jim Callis, Jim Caple, Dave Campbell, Jerry Crasnick, Orestes Destrade, Peter Gammons, Gary Gillette, Pedro Gomez, Orel Hershiser, Eric Karabell, Eric Karros, Bob Klapisch, Tim Kurkjian, Michael Knisley, Buck Martinez, Sean McAdam, Sean McDonough, Jon Miller, Rob Neyer, Steve Phillips, Karl Ravech, Phil Rogers, Enrique Rojas, David Schoenfield, Alan Schwarz, Jon Sciambi, John Shea, Dan Shulman, Jayson Stark, Rick Sutcliffe, Gary Thorne
Astros owner Drayton McLane may be hesitant to pay Clemens what he can command, but he knows Roger's ties to the community, to the Astros, to Andy Pettitte and Brad Ausmus. Rangers owner Tom Hicks knows how deep that Longhorns tie binds them. George Steinbrenner knows Clemens reveres Joe Torre and Derek Jeter.

And John Henry knows only the Red Sox can bring Clemens' career full circle, have his close friend Al Nipper as pitching coach and, since he will likely go into the Hall of Fame in a Boston cap, can retire his uniform No. 21 while he is wearing it.

However, none of them even know if he's going to come back and play, much less when.

But they, we and most everyone else hold one truth to be self-evident: Roger Clemens is the greatest living pitcher.

Now that is a broad statement when one begins to consider the credentials of Tom Seaver, Sandy Koufax, Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal, et al. But not only is Clemens the winningest modern pitcher with 341 victories, but he has done it (and compiled a 3.12 ERA) entirely in the era of the five-man rotation and in three offensive-oriented ballparks: Fenway Park, SkyDome, Minute Maid Park.

Clemens learned a lesson when he was a freshman at San Jacinto Junior College, after going undrafted out of high school. His coach, Wayne Graham, now the head coach at Rice, insisted that Clemens would never be a power pitcher unless he built up his legs and became a workout warrior. Twenty-five years later, it is obvious that Roger listened, because the warrior king is still in premium condition. All these years, you never heard Clemens talk about his arm or shoulder being tired -- only, when he did tire, that "my legs started to go."

Once he signed as Boston's first-round selection in 1983, the makeup was always there. Roger was slated to be the second pitcher in the first spring training game the next spring, and on the Tigers' bus ride across Florida's Polk County, from Lakeland to Winter Haven, one Detroit minor leaguer told his Clemens story.

In a Florida State League game after Clemens signed, a Lakeland first baseman named Jim Morris took out and injured Clemens' Texas teammate Mike Brumley. Morris, it seems, had played at Oklahoma State, a team Texas had had some scuffles with. And when Lakeland went to Winter Haven the next week, Clemens started and struck out the first six batters, then beaned Morris in the head.

"Sparky [Anderson] told the kid to shut up," says Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, who was on the bus. Yeah, and this spring, when Roger's son Koby homered off him in a simulated game, the next time he came up, Roger brushed back his own kid.

When Clemens needed shoulder surgery in 1985, Dr. James Andrews said, "He was the first athlete I ever operated on who'd started his rehab before the operation." A year later, Clemens had the first of two 20 strikeout/no-walk games, finished 24-4 and won both the MVP and Cy Young.

He has won six more Cy Young Awards (with one second- and two third-place finishes), led his league in ERA six times and in wins five times, won 12 more postseason games and at the age of 43 compiled a 1.87 ERA. And oh yes, he pinch-hit in the NLCS.

And at 44, he may hold the key to three divisional races.

Peter Gammons is an ESPN baseball reporter and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.