Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Cy Cy again

Roger Clemens now has as many Cy Young Awards as Nolan Ryan has no-hitters: 7. And if this past season's 18-win, staff-anchoring, sub-3.00 ERA performance at age 41-42 (his birthday is during the season) doesn't cement Clemens' status as the best righty pitcher ever, nothing can. Clemens won the CYA in 1986, 1987, 1991, 1997, 1998, 2001. He should have won in 1990 (compare his numbers to winner Bob Welch -- no contest, but Welch won 27 games on a better team), although Randy Johnson arguably should have won in '97 (close race and Johnson was on a division champ).

There are a lot of sports talking-heads who said Randy Johnson should have won this year. Johnson's ERA was slightly better, his WHIP ratio and K numbers were higher and he won 16 games on a team that won only 51 -- after all, some said, the CYA is for the best pitcher and is not an MVP for pitchers.

That's bunk on two levels. First, the prejudice against starting pitchers for MVP honors because "they have their own award" makes the CYA the surrogate MVP award for pitchers. Second, the best pitcher does not necessarily put up the absolute best numbers (yeah, this cuts against my 1990 argument until you look at the '90 A's and realize that Welch wasn't even the best pitcher on his own team). Clemens came out of retirement to pitch close to home with his good friend Andy Pettitte and to be a contributor/mentor to a staff that had Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller and Pettitte leading it. Instead, Miller went down early; Pettitte's foreseen (by the Yanks) elbow problems killed his season less than halfway through and Clemens had to anchor the staff (Oswalt struggled early, recovered). Clemens led the Astros' pitching staff and helped an undermanned team net a wild card berth that led to a tough loss in the NLCS.

I've seen Clemens pitch many times -- sometimes as a frustrated Yankees fan as he baffled the Bombers, sometimes as a happy Yankees' fan as he honked against the pinstripers (a more rare occurrence; I was at a game in 1987 when he had a 9-0 lead after two, and the Yanks rallied for 11 runs in the third, eventually winning 12-11); and as a happy Yanks' fan when Rocket whacked the competition. I was present at two of his best playoff starts, including the game 4 clincher in the 1999 WS. So, to that end, I've been fortunate.

Congratulations Rocket.

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