Red Sox

Former Sox assistant GM August defends 'innocent' Clemens

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Former Sox assistant GM August defends 'innocent' Clemens

In the court of public opinion, Roger Clemens is guilty.

His 37.6 percent of the vote on Wednesday makes that official.

Clemens will not be going into the Hall of Fame this year. In fact, nobody will be making the trip to Cooperstown. To get elected, you must earn 75 percent of the vote. Craig Biggio came closer than anybody, receiving 68.2 percent. But even that's not enough.

Step outside that court of public opinion, and you'll find some impressive numbers on this year's Hall of Fame ballot.

Perhaps no numbers more impressive than those of Clemens.

In 24 seasons, he tallied 354 wins, 118 complete games, 46 complete-game shutouts, and struck out 4,672 batters, which ranks third-most all-time. Those numbers, along with a career 3.12 ERA in 4,916 innings, earned him two World Series titles, seven Cy Young awards, one MVP, and 11 All-Star appearances.

For sure, those numbers scream "First-ballot Hall of Famer."

But Clemens' first year on the ballot will no longer reflect that notion.

And you know why.

Mitchell Report links Clemens to performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens visits Congress. Then goes to trial for perjury. Public assumes guilt-by-association with the mere thought that he may have been "one of the juicers."

That guilt in the court of public opinion has officially leaked over to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was assumed and expected that Clemens would not get in on his first try. Mainly because it is assumed that Clemens "cheated."

And in the court of public opinion -- most of the time -- you have to prove your innocence. Especially when most are convinced that all accusations are true and every piece of evidence against you reveals the facts.

But there's at least one thing we know to be a fact. In a court of law, Clemens is innocent. Because in a court of law, you're innocent until proven guilty.

And in June, Clemens was found not guilty on all six counts of perjury that he was charged with, during an investigation of steroid use among Major League Baseball players.

In that second perjury trial -- the first was a mistrial -- the prosecution had to prove to a federal jury that Clemens lied to Congress. The only real way to do that was to prove Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs.

One of the prosecution's strongest arguments to prove such, was that Clemens' performance was declining during the end of his days in Boston, and that he needed a boost, so he turned to steroids and HGH in 1998 while with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Wednesday on my daily I'm Just Sayin' sports-talk webcast, I talked with Steve August, who testified at Clemens' second perjury trial. And his testimony opened the door to some facts: that Clemens' career was not in decline during his final years with the Boston Red Sox.

August worked for the Red Sox from 1990-98. He was the team's traveling secretary from '90-'95, and then served under Dan Duquette as the assistant general manager from '96-'98.

During that time, August was a major part of the negotiations to try and keep the upcoming-free-agent Clemens in a Red Sox uniform after the 1996 season.

If anybody knew about Clemens' "decline" during his final years in Boston, it would be August.

So the prosecution thought they had him right where they wanted him. And they began to try and prove that Clemens' performance had declined during those final years in Boston.

"As a person ages, it becomes more difficult to endure those 162 games, correct?" asked prosecutor Gilberto Guerrero Jr.

Guerrero's point was that Clemens' innings suffered a significant drop in 1994 and 1995. It was a major point they tried to make, to convince the jury that Clemens' performance was declining, and that he needed a "boost" to get those innings back up.

"I didn't really know what direction the testimony was going to go," said August on my show Wednesday. "And like I said, when they started that line of questioning, and talked about the drop-off, I mean, it's not like I argued back. I just told them the truth as I know it."

The truth was that Clemens' number of innings pitched did in fact decrease significantly in 1994 and 1995. The prosecution was correct. And August told them they had the numbers right.

There was just one pretty big problem.

"When I was the assistant GM in '96, I was assigned to do some of the background work, in preparation for the upcoming free-agent negotiations with Roger, to keep him in Boston," said August on Wednesday. "And the prosecution, like many people -- and this has been fanned by the media, I think it's totally inaccurate because I did the work on it -- argued that his production and his performance had declined from '93 to '96. And in their cross-examination of me, they asked me how a pitcher who averaged 225 innings a year, prior to 1993, would fall off to 140 innings in '95, or 170 innings in '94. And my response was, 'Those were two strike-shortened years.'

"And the prosecutor's reaction was like I shot his puppy dog."

From 1986 to 1992, Clemens averaged 257 innings pitched per season. In 1994, Clemens' innings dipped down to just 170.2. And in 1995, he pitched only 140 innings.

But as August pointed out to the prosecution, every starting pitcher's innings totals decreased in 1994 and 1995. Those were both strike-shortened seasons.

So as they tried to pinpoint Clemens' decline, the prosecution found themselves not seeming to realize that the '94 season was canceled in August, and that the '95 season began late, with an abbreviated spring training.

When describing his testimony, and this crucial part that made the prosecution look foolish, August continued to point out that even in those shortened seasons, there was no decline in Clemens' game.

"And even among the innings pitched, it was a strike-shortened year," said August on Wednesday's show. "On August 12, the players walked out. The top five pitchers of 1994, the top pitcher was Chuck Finley. He threw 183 innings. And Mike Mussina was in fifth place with 176. Well, Roger threw 170. So that basically puts him smack dab in and among the most durable pitchers."

Clemens only pitched one less inning than the American League Cy Young award winner that year, in David Cone. Clemens' 168 strikeouts ranked second in the AL only behind Randy Johnson. His 2.85 ERA ranked second in the AL.

And his batting-average against was .204, which ranked first in Major League Baseball.

"Which means he was the hardest guy to get a hit off of in the league," said August.

Clemens finished the shortened '94 season with a 9-7 record in 24 starts. It marked the first time he had a single-digit win total since 1985, when he finished with a 7-5 record in just his second season.

But by the time the '94 season was canceled, the Red Sox were the fourth-place team in the American League East with a 54-61 record. August was adamant that wins and losses for a starting pitcher are deceiving, and combined with a not-so-good Red Sox team that season, Clemens' 9-7 record is no big deal.

He'll tell you to look at the rest of the numbers.

"I mean, the public perception and the spin that was out there, largely by the local media, quite frankly, at the time he left -- and it took root in the minds of the fan base in Boston -- was that he was sloppy in the last four years with the Red Sox," said August. "But the facts just don't support that. And '94 is a perfect example.

"So what, he was 9-7. Wins and losses is the one pitching statistic that is reflective of the team performance, not necessarily the pitcher's performance. And all a pitcher can do is go out there, deliver the ball, execute his job, and do the best he can. And the rest is still a team game. the team wins or the team loses."

Clemens had 10 wins in 1995, but still, he pitched better in '94. The Red Sox won the '95 division title in a 144-game season. A new CBA was agreed to late, and in a shortened spring training, the 32-year-old Clemens got injured, forcing him to make only 23 starts and throw only 140 innings.

The most starts a pitcher made on the '95 Sox was 29, by Erik Hanson, who finished pitching 186.2 innings.

The injury set Clemens back and he didn't re-gain his usual form until the final two months of the season. August recalled the situation and described the injury as "Roger's stubbornness catching up to him."

"He definitely wasn't out of shape," said August. "He came to camp like everybody else, and he was a proud, kind of warrior guy, and just jumped out there. Call Kevin Kennedy. I recall the start in spring training where he just went out there and he just went too hard, too fast, and he tweaked something in his shoulder. It was a shortened spring training as you know, when they came back. And I think everybody felt it was in everybody's best interest to keep him down in spring training, just to get himself ready."

Clemens started off slow and struggled to put it together consistently through July. But that's where he turned it on and finished strong.

Entering the final two months of the regular season with a 5.81 ERA, Clemens finished 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA in his last 12 starts.

"Guys do get hurt," said August. "And if the public perception is, if they want to think that Roger got hurt because he was fat and out of shape, go for it. But guys do get hurt.

"He comes back in the stretch run, and he was the usual Roger."

In his final season in Boston, Clemens finished 1996 with a 10-13 record and a 3.63 ERA in 34 starts. His 242 innings pitched ranked fifth in the American League and his 257 strikeouts ranked second in Major League Baseball and first in the AL. The AL Cy Young award winner that year -- Pat Hentgen -- had only 177 strikeouts and just a 3.22 ERA.

And as August stressed the importance of opponents batting average, Clemens' .237 batting-average against in '96 ranked second in the AL. Al Leiter ranked first in the majors in that category at .202.

"The prosecution in that case would lead you to believe, 'Ah, he was a 10-13 pitcher, three games under .500,'" said August. "But again, if you look at the numbers, his numbers were really comparable to the very next year when he went to Toronto and won the Cy Young."

Clemens went to Toronto in 1997. In the Mitchell Report, it says that Brian McNamee didn't begin injecting Clemens with steroids until 1998. And by looking at the numbers, again, there seems to be an issue.

"They were trying to establish that Roger Clemens had been on the decline in his last four years in Boston," recalled August. "And because he was a proud, vain athlete, that he needed help to recapture his old form, after he left Boston at the end of '96, '97, '98 and on. Of course, the years in which he's accused of doing that, starts in '98. So you have a little bit of a problem explaining 1997 up in Toronto."

Like his final year in Boston, Clemens' batting-average against of .213 ranked second in the American League. His 292 strikeouts were the most of his career, and he did finish with 21 wins with a 2.05 ERA and win the AL Cy Young. But still, all evidence alleges that Clemens didn't begin taking steroids until 1998, not 1997.

There's also nothing -- other than assumption --that suggests Clemens took performance-enhancing drugs after 2001. And August points to Clemens' three years with the Houston Astros -- from 2004-2006 to support his argument.

"There's no evidence that was introduced to even suggest that anybody supplied him with or did anything for him after 2001," said August. "So how do you explain 2004 to 2007, when the guy went on to Houston and won another Cy Young? I mean, there's not a shred of evidence, and no one's talking about him cheating during that period."

Also, because a testing survey in 2003 surpassed the threshold of five-percent positive results, Major League Baseball made all players -- in 2004 -- subject to two unannounced tests during the course of the season.

In 2004, with no actual evidence of performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens won his seventh Cy Young by going 18-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 214.1 innings pitched, while recording 218 strikeouts.

"Maybe it's because he's good," said August. "And if you ask Phil Garner (which I did in Thursday's podcast), who was his manager at that time, Phil will tell you his fastball was not as good in those years. But, as an experienced, great pitcher, he learned how to pitch and set guys up in a manner that was consistent as anybody at the top of his craft. And he had really mastered the split-finger fastball, so that he didn't rely on the old 1986 or even early 90's Roger Clemens power fastball. He just messed with your head."

August is adamant that only 37.6 percent of the Hall of Fame won't mess with Clemens' head. It might sting him, August said, but Clemens won't let it define his life.

August did his best to bring forth the numbers that prove Clemens never truly did decline. And if there was no decline, then why would he need a "boost"?

"He's too stubborn to cheat," said August.

So stubborn, that August recalled stories of Clemens throwing away -- and not using -- scuffed baseballs, which were purposely scuffed by his catchers and given to him on the mound.

Regardless, August didn't expect to see Clemens go into the Hall of Fame on his first try. He knows and hears what people are saying, especially the people who didn't put him in on his first year of eligibility.

"This Hall of Fame voting comes down to writers who vote on these guys, saying -- about a man who was found innocent in a federal trial -- they're saying, 'We're going to hold him to a higher standard. We're going to discount the fact that he's innocent because we think he cheated.' That just doesn't make sense," said August. "This guy, in this particular case, of all those people under the 'cloud of suspicion,' nobody endured two federal trials in five years -- one was a mistrial. So they got two shots at him. I mean, the jury says he's innocent. So why are voters to the Hall of Fame standing above the jury in our system, and saying, 'We're not going to vote for him.' That's not how any of those people would want to be treated."

August does believe that Clemens will get into the Hall of Fame one day, because, "It's going to be difficult to ignore a pitcher of his caliber over a period of time."

And as he continued to re-iterate on Wednesday's show, a pitcher of his caliber who has now been found "not guilty" in a court of law.

But right now at least, the court of public opinion is the only thing keeping Clemens out of Cooperstown.

The numbers that August points out, show that Clemens' "decline" is more of an opinion than a fact. And out of all the evidence thrown at Clemens in the prosecution's attempt to prove that he lied to Congress, and that he actually did use performance-enhancing drugs to "boost" his "declining" career, perhaps those numbers are . . . the only facts.

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


YOUR GOOD HEALTH

We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.

MOOKIE, JACKIE, XANDER, BENINTENDI, DEVERS

The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.

INSANELY GOOD PITCHERS IN CHRIS SALE AND CRAIG KIMBREL

Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.

ALEX CORA'S NEW DIRECTION

A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.

A CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE MAY BE AROUND THE CORNER

We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

MORE RED SOX:

Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.