Clemens: The Greatest of All Time

It’s Not a Popularity Contest. It’s a Fact.

ERA? Grove's was 3.06 for 17 seasons; Clemens's was 3.06 after 17 seasons, with both pitching to about the same level of hitters. (The highest league ERA during Grove's career was 5.04 in 1936, the second-highest 4.79 in 1938. American League ERAs have been over 4.80 four times in the past eight seasons.) Dominance? A dead heat. Grove's ERA was lower than the league's 14 times in 17 seasons; Clemens's was lower 15 times in his first 17 seasons. Control? Grove walked 1187 batters in 17 seasons; Clemens walked 1186 in 17. Amazing.

The differences between their career stats seem to be the differences in the times in which they played. In 17 years Grove started 54 fewer games than Clemens, but relieved in 150 more. Grove allowed 781 more hits, but batting averages are lower today; Clemens struck out more than 1300 more batters, but strikeouts are more common today. Clemens, who led the league in complete games three times, had 115 before this season; Grove, who led the league in complete games three times, had 298 in his career. The difference is not, as old-timers insist, that modern pitchers can't go nine innings anymore, but that they have to work much harder to get a complete game. In a game increasingly dominated by walks and strikeouts, the modern pitcher has thrown as many pitches by the seventh inning as pitchers in Grove's time did in nine. Today's pitchers get far more no-decisions; hence Clemens leads all current pitchers but, after 17 seasons, trailed Grove in victories, 260 to 300 (actually, 280 to 300 as I write this). My guess is that if he had played in Grove's era, he'd have 310 or 320 by now.

My guess is also that if he leads just one more Yankee surge—and this one against the toughest post-season foes the Yankees of this era have faced—then all the early ambivalence will be forgotten. They may even give him a plaque out in center field. He's an asshole, but he's your—well, our—asshole.

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