Pedro Vs. Clemens: Who Was Better?
American Grit & Latino Machismo
Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens are polar opposite characters. On one hand you have a jovial native son of the Dominican Republic that tipped the scales at a paltry 160 lbs during his playing career. On the other hand, you have an austere 240 lb juggernaut from the heartland of America. Their approaches couldn’t have been more different, but their successes on the mound are strikingly similar. Both Clemens and Pedro were power pitchers—intimidators that wouldn’t think twice about brushing batters off the plate with some sweet chin music. The ballparks were electric and became almost like an event each time these two men were slated to start. Most of their duels with sluggers across baseball were won before they started. These two guys had an unmatched presence on the hill that would scare the daylights out of guys before they stepped in the box; the aura of intimidation exuding from these two pitchers was like that of heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. The combination of power, velocity, and attitude was what made palms sweaty and breathing shallow for the poor souls that were sent to slaughter.
Tale of the Tape
Wins = 219
Wins = 354
E.R.A. = 3.12
Strikeouts = 3154
Strikeouts = 4,672
Seasons = 17
Seasons = 24
Cy Young's = 3
Cy Young's = 7
All Star Games = 8
All Star Games = 11
Triple Crowns = 1
Triple Crowns = 2
Height = '5 "10
Height = '6 "4
Weight = 160 lbs
Weight = 240 lbs
Pedro Martinez comes from a place where baseballs were considered unaffordable—oranges were a resourceful substitute that helped Pedro improve his skills. Luckily, Pedro’s older brother Ramon was a pitcher for an LA Dodgers affiliate camp in the DR. Carrying Ramon’s bags as a teenager, Pedro gained valuable experience by just watching and observing other professionals--he showed promise at an early age with his fastball being clocked at 80 mph when he was just 14! Early in his career, while with his first year with the Dodgers, it looked as if Pedro’s stature would be a big roadblock to his his success. Manager Tommy Lasorda felt that Pedro was to small in stature to be an effective starting pitcher in the big leagues. It wasn’t just Lasorda who expressed concern--his coach in the minor leagues threatened a $500 fine if the 135 lb pitcher was caught running!
Roger Clemens never had a problem making the weight. This was a tall and stocky young man who played three sports in high school. Unlike Pedro, Roger was a blue chip prospect who’s upside was never in doubt. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Clemens spent his high school years in Houston, Texas where he was scouted by Philadelphia and Minnesota during his senior year. He chose to play college ball for the Texas Longhorns instead, where he posted one of the greatest collegiate careers of all-time. He won a College World Series, set a record for 35 straight scoreless innings, and subsequently had the award for college baseball’s best pitcher named after him. The Red Sox drafted him in the first round of the ‘83 draft and off went his stellar career. It’s truly remarkable when you juxtapose the path to the majors for both pitchers.
Our exposure to one of the game’s greatest, happened in the most unlikely of places...Montreal. It was in Montreal where Pedro changed his fastball grip at the advice of bullpen coach Felipe Alou, and developed near impeccable control of his already formidable fastball. The grip change yielded immediate results, with Pedro throwing 9 perfect innings in a win against San Diego—7 perfect innings against the Reds(until he beaned Reggie Sanders)—and winning his first Cy Young. Pedro was fanning batters left & right throwing 13 complete games in one season and also became the first right-handed hurler to reach 300 strikeouts while having an ERA under 2.00 since Walter Johnson in 1912! The stellar numbers posted by Pedro awarded him a fat free-agent contract from the Boston Red Sox, and the rest is history.
Roger Clemens’ career in the majors took off like a rocket! Two years after his first appearance for Boston, Clemens turned in of the best seasons a pitcher’s ever had. In 1986, Rocket Roger: won 24 games--facilitated a World Series berth for the Sox--was awarded the AL MVP--collected his first of seven Cy Youngs--and was named All Star Game starter & MVP. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the game against Seattle in April of ‘86 where he became the first pitcher in league history to strike out 20 batters in a nine inning game. Similar to what happened with Pedro, Clemens credits teammate and hall-of-famer Tom Seaver for helping him become more of a “pitcher” as opposed to a “thrower”. It seemed to have worked, as Roger would go on to win 2 more Cy Youngs and throw another 20 strikeout game wearing the Sox uniform.
Pedro in Boston
Pedro Martinez also started his Red Sox career like a bat out of hell. Dan Duquette, the general manager of the Red Sox, gave Pedro an unprecedented $75 million contract--and it was worth every penny. The 1999 season was a magical one and is not forgotten by Sox fans to this day. Being nine years old at the time, I remember attending my first game in which this “Pedro” guy was pitching. It was like being in Azteca Stadium amongst a bunch of soccer hooligans. Dominican flags were splattered across the beautiful Fenway landscape. Cheers of “tachar” or “strike out” could be heard throughout the park. As mentioned before, watching Pedro pitch was an event. So much so, that I was introduced to this strange and exuberant cultural expression, that was fun and exciting. Pedro really brought the city together and the cherry on top was that the All Star Game was being held in Fenway.
There would be no doubt as to who would be the American League’s starting pitcher. This was no magnanimous gesture or favor to the host city; Pedro earned it. The prime Pedro that took the hill at the All Star Game and struck out the side of Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, and Sammy Sosa--is the greatest pitcher of all-time. Sound like hyperbole? Consider this: Martinez wound up earning the pitching triple crown in 1999, leading the league in strikeouts, ERA, and wins. He unanimously won his second Cy Young and finished second in MVP voting(he received more first place votes than any player but was left completely off the ballot by two sportswriters). He became just the ninth pitcher in modern history to have a ‘second’ 300 strikeout season. Also, during the ‘99 season he set the record for most consecutive innings pitched with a strikeout(40). Furthering adding to the legend of that season, Pedro threw six no hit innings of relief in a playoff game against Cleveland, with a bad back and nothing to throw but a curveball. Pedro then capped off the magical year by throwing seven shutout innings to beat rival Roger Clemens and the New York Yankees--handing that Yankee team their only loss in the entire postseason that year.
Before Pedro, there was “The Rocket”. I still have a small placard that I’ve kept since 1996 with him in his pitching motion. It was handed to me during my one and only experience of seeing Roger Clemens pitching for the Boston Red Sox. I was very young, but I vaguely remember...that unlike a game I had attended earlier in the year, the excitement in the ballpark was palpable. I knew fans had their favorites, but aren’t we supposed to be cheering the team as a whole? I realize now, that the focus of attention was right where it should’ve been...on Roger Clemens. Cheers of Roger, Roger, Roger filled the stadium and I remember being enthralled with this one guy. But I wasn’t alone, as the adulation lasted the entirety of the dominating performance by the baseball maestro. I wish i had more personal anecdotes to share about Clemens but he was gone from the Sox by the time I was at an age in which I really started to pay attention. I will say this: in terms of production, Clemens is right up there with Pedro if not beyond.
By the Numbers
It was fun going down memory lane, but lets get to brass tacks. How do these baseball giants stack up? First of all, Roger Clemens played 7 more seasons than Pedro. With that said: Roger has 354 wins to Pedro’s 219--Pedro has only 3,154 strikeouts compared to 4,672 for Clemens--Pedro edges Clemens in ERA with 2.93 compared to 3.12--Clemens 11 All Star appearances edges Pedro’s 8--Pedro comes up short with 3 Cy Young awards as opposed to 7 for Clemens...As you might imagine, the guy that played more seasons is going to have better numbers (go figure). Numbers never lie, but they often don’t tell the whole story. Does Clemens have better numbers? Yes, but should stats alone give Rocket Roger the edge over Pedro? Well, that brings me to my next point.
Roger Clemens name was mentioned 82 times in the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball. For clarity, the Mitchell Report was a 20-month independent investigation into the use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone in major league baseball. If you sift through all the hearsay, accusations, denials and details you’re left with the feeling that, “where there’s smoke there’s fire.” The fact that there was hardly any drop off in production after leaving the Red Sox in what was supposed to be the “twilight” of his career, raised a few eyebrows. As a matter of fact, his body seemed to be more densely muscled than ever before at an age where starting pitchers tend to break down. Taking HGH can reverse the aging process: building muscle, burning fat, increasing libido, preventing injury, and shortening recovery time. Is it coincidence that Clemens was able to play 24 years of professional baseball, as a power pitcher, with no significant drop off in production towards the latter part of his career? I’ll let the court of public opinion be the judge. My feeling is that he did in fact cheat.
Pe-dro, Pe-dro, Pe-dro!
The fact that Roger Clemens most likely used performance enhancers is the reason why I’m taking Pedro over him, among other things. Doesn’t that raise Pedro Martinez stock even higher? Dominating during the height of the “Steroid Era” against guys that were juiced to the gills? Don’t get me wrong, Roger was a horse on the mound (steroids or not) but Pedro had more heart. To do what he did at that size during that time, is nothing short of incredible. Another factor that influenced my decision is that when these two went head to head, Pedro usually won the duel. A scenario that popped in my head is what sealed the deal for my choice. Imagine, it’s game 7 and bottom of the ninth--you need three outs to win the game, however you can get them. Pedro and Roger are warming in the pen side by side. Who are you taking? I’m taking the guy that will galvanize a clubhouse, play through pain, flourish in the big moment, pinpoint his pitches, and exude more confidence. That man is the always affable Pedro Jaime Martinez.
Forget what I think
Who do YOU think was the better pitcher?