Clemens needs Plan 'B' for Cooperstown

Roger Clemens wants to be a Yankee in the Hall of Fame. But to be historically correct, he's Boston blue-blood.

Originally Published: May 23, 2003
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

So Roger Clemens says he wants a Yankees cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, huh?

Well, at least he didn't say he wanted a Nike cap, a Katy (Texas) Golf & Country Club cap or a "This Space Available" cap.

Clemens

Clemens

We know the people at the Hall of Fame really appreciate Roger's input on this. And we know his favorite employer, George Steinbrenner, appreciates it even more. But if Clemens thinks he's going to get his way on this one, we sure do wish him luck.

"We're a history museum," Jeff Idelson, vice president of communications and education for the Hall of Fame, said last month. "So the logo on a player's cap is important to us from a historical-representation standpoint. We want the logo to be emblematic of where this player made his most indelible mark."

So where did Roger Clemens make his most indelible mark? Sorry, friends. Toronto, Ontario, and Austin, Texas, are not on the ballot. We all know the answer to that question, don't we? Even Clemens undoubtedly knows the answer.

It just isn't the answer he prefers -- because it happens to be a town in New England where he didn't exactly ride off on a parade float.

Oh, we'll grant that Clemens made a visible mark for himself as a Yankee. He has won two World Series and one Cy Young Award as a Yankee. He was wearing a Yankees cap when he joined the 300-Win Club and 4,000-Strikeout Club last week.

But did he make his most indelible mark as a Yankee? Be serious, will ya?

In Boston, Clemens is the all-time franchise leader in wins (tied with Cy Young), innings, strikeouts, shutouts, starts and double-figure strikeout games. He led the Red Sox in wins in more seasons (eight) than Ted Williams led the Red Sox in RBI (six).

On the other hand, he has led the Yankees in wins once -- or fewer times than Fritz Peterson. He's 33rd on the Yankees' all-time wins list, with 67 -- or fewer than Jack Warhop, Tiny Bonham and George Pipgras.

If you make the wrong decision, it would be like walking into the Hall now and seeing Ty Cobb in a Philadelphia A's cap ... or Babe Ruth in a Brooklyn Dodgers cap.
Jeff Idelson, Hall of Fame official

True, Clemens is just the second pitcher to win his 300th game as a Yankee. But the other was Phil Niekro -- and we're obliged to report that he didn't go into the Hall of Fame with an "NY" on his plaque. So if the magic words are "indelible mark," it's hard to think there could be any letter on Clemens' Hall of Fame cap besides a "B."

"What we don't want to end up with," Idelson said, "is a decision that doesn't make sense 50 years from now when someone walks into the Hall of Fame. Fifty years from now, the logo on the cap will have to represent where the player made his most indelible mark. If you make the wrong decision, it would be like walking into the Hall now and seeing Ty Cobb in a Philadelphia A's cap ... or Babe Ruth in a Brooklyn Dodgers cap."

So what constitutes the "right decision?" If history is any guide, Clemens won't want to read this history book.

We found 15 current franchises that have their all-time leading winner in the Hall of Fame. Only two aren't in there wearing that team's cap. One is Eddie Plank (Athletics), who went with the incognito no-logo look. The other, by a truly remarkable coincidence, is the pitcher tied with Clemens for most Red Sox wins -- Cy Young.

We're sure many people from Pawtucket to Orono are still bitter that Young headed into the hall wearing his Cleveland Naps cap instead of his Red Sox cap. But this is a different situation than Clemens' -- because Young actually won more games with the Naps (241) than he did for the Red Sox (191). So it ain't personal. It's pure mathematics.

At least the Hall is always willing to "take the player's views into account," Idelson said. So if Clemens knows any good speech writers, we suggest he hire one.

The Hall also carefully considers where a player won his awards, his contributions to each team he played for, and which teams he played for in the postseason. So obviously, Clemens' New York and Boston years will both be perused.

But whatever they decide, there's another factor to be considered here, too. Namely: WHO CARES?

It isn't as if the plaque will ignore the teams that aren't on Clemens' cap. Don Sutton pitched for five teams, and they're all in there. Eddie Murray's plaque will mention his glorious Mets years -- and even his not-so-glorious 160-at-bat Angels cameo.

In fact, Idelson said, "I'm willing to bet that if I gave you a list of 10 guys in the Hall, you probably couldn't even tell me what logo is on their cap."

Hey, try this game at home. Here are a few: Hoyt Wilhelm, Lefty Grove, Rod Carew, or even Nolan Ryan. Who knows? Who really cares?

Of course, maybe Clemens is different, because he's so tangled up in the great Red Sox-Yankees passions of his time. So this is clearly important to him, important to Steinbrenner, important to all those New Englanders with a lifelong Yankees inferiority complex. But does any New Yorker care that Gary Carter won't enter the Hall with a Mets cap on his plaque? We sure haven't met any.

"The bottom line," Idelson said, "is, we're a history museum. So we have to do what's historically correct."

And to determine what's historically correct here, they won't have to hire Doris Kearns Goodwin as a consultant. For no charge whatsoever, we'll be happy to inform Clemens he's going down in history as a Bostonian. Just like Yaz, the Kennedys and Commissioner Gammons. So we suggest he pop a cold Sam Adams and accept his fate.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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