Considering everything that has happened in recent weeks, this is probably the last thing on Roger Clemens' mind but he owes Greg Maddux an apology. Why? Simple: Clemens stole from Maddux the title of greatest pitcher of the post-World War II era. Clemens ranks eighth all-time on the career wins list (354) but he is first among players whose careers started after 1942; Clemens also holds the record for most Cy Young Awards--seven--two more than Randy Johnson and three more than Maddux and Steve Carlton. Clemens' career began a couple years before Maddux' did and Clemens has always been more of a headliner than Maddux because of his hard throwing style that generated 4672 strikeouts, second on the all-time list and almost 1400 more than Maddux, whose 3298 strikeouts rank 11th all-time.
However, it is entirely possible--and seems likely--that the second half of Clemens' career was fraudulent. After the 1996 season, Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette said that Clemens was "in the twilight of his career." At the time that certainly seemed to be a reasonable statement: Clemens had gone 40-39 with an ERA of 3.78 in the previous four seasons after never having a losing season and only once having an ERA higher than 3.29 in the first nine seasons of his career. Clemens left the Red Sox and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays and he instantly became a great pitcher again, going 21-7 and winning his fourth Cy Young Award six years after he captured his third such honor.
Is is possible that good, old fashioned hard work resurrected Clemens' career? Well, there is no doubt that he worked hard but the very idea behind performance-enhancing drugs is that they enhance your performance: they enable you to work harder than you otherwise would be able to and thus build more muscle than you could naturally. That muscle in turn enables a power pitcher to continue to throw hard, though the resulting strain on connective tissues can lead to injury. Remember how Clemens spent his last few seasons as a very effective part time player? That fits into exactly what one would expect from an older power pitcher who is juicing. Clemens hired Brian McNamee as his trainer in 1997 and McNamee has since testified that he began giving Clemens PEDs in 1998. Did Clemens regain his lost youth naturally and then need artificial help to keep it or did he actually begin cheating even earlier than McNamee said? We may never know the answer to that but what Clemens did after leaving the Red Sox is quite remarkable. Clemens had a career record of 192-111 (.634) in 1996 and in the next 11 years--at ages 34-44--he went 162-73 (.689), winning four Cy Youngs. Randy Johnson finished second to Clemens in two of Clemens' late career Cy Youngs ('97, '04), so perhaps Clemens owes Johnson an apology as well; strip Clemens of those honors and Johnson holds the record with six Cy Youngs.
We will probably never know for sure exactly what Clemens did and exactly how many of his wins and Cy Youngs should be attributed to cheating--and that is one of the most despicable things about his actions. Clemens is only five wins ahead of Maddux now, so Maddux may surpass him this season but historians and students of the game should not even wait for that to happen before they grant Maddux the recognition that he deserves. In case you are wondering, Maddux' game has never depended on power and neither his body size nor his numbers have undergone any sudden, unusual changes. Maddux is the ultimate craftsman who gets hitters out based on his knowledge of their tendencies and his ability to work the strike zone. He probably could not care less about who holds the mythical title of greatest post-WWII pitcher but--based on the body of his work--he certainly is more deserving of that honor than Clemens (how the truncated but brilliant career of Sandy Koufax ranks among post-WWII pitchers is a different issue but what I am talking about here is who had the "largest" post-WWII pitching career in terms of wins, Cy Youngs and dominance over an extended period).