Former Sox assistant GM August defends 'innocent' Clemens


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.

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

Ortiz: 'A super honor' to have number retired by Red Sox

BOSTON —  The Red Sox have become well known for their ceremonies, for their pull-out-all-the-stops approach to pomp. The retirement of David Ortiz’s No. 34 on Friday evening was in one way, then, typical.

A red banner covered up Ortiz’s No. 34 in right field, on the facade of the grandstand, until it was dropped down as Ortiz, his family, Red Sox ownership and others who have been immortalized in Fenway lore looked on. Carl Yazstremski and Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Pedro Martinez. 

The half-hour long tribute further guaranteed permanence to a baseball icon whose permanence in the city and the sport was never in doubt. But the moments that made Friday actually feel special, rather than expected, were stripped down and quick. 

Dustin Pedroia’s not one to belabor many points, never been the most effusive guy around. (He’d probably do well on a newspaper deadline.) The second baseman spoke right before Ortiz took to the podium behind the mound.

“We want to thank you for not the clutch hits, the 500 home runs, we want to thank you for how you made us feel and it’s love,” Pedroia said, with No. 34 painted into both on-deck circles and cut into the grass in center field. “And you’re not our teammate, you’re not our friend, you’re our family. … Thank you, we love you.”

Those words were enough for Ortiz to have tears in his eyes.

“Little guy made me cry,” Ortiz said, wiping his hands across his face. “I feel so grateful. I thank God every day for giving me the opportunity to have the career that I have. But I thank God even more for giving me the family and what I came from, who teach me how to try to do everything the right way. Nothing — not money — nothing is better than socializing with the people that are around you, get familiar with, show them love, every single day. It’s honor to get to see my number …. I remember hitting batting practice on this field, I always was trying to hit those numbers.”

Now that’s a poignant image for a left-handed slugger at Fenway Park.

He did it once, he said — hit the numbers. He wasn’t sure when. Somewhere in 2011-13, he estimated — but he said he hit Bobby Doerr’s No. 1.

“It was a good day to hit during batting practice,” Ortiz remembered afterward in a press conference. “But to be honest with you, I never thought I’d have a chance to hit the ball out there. It’s pretty far. My comment based on those numbers was, like, I started just getting behind the history of this organization. Those guys, those numbers have a lot of good baseball in them. It takes special people to do special things and at the end of the day have their number retired up there, so that happening to me today, it’s a super honor to be up there, hanging with those guys.”

The day was all about his number, ultimately, and his number took inspiration from the late Kirby Puckett. Ortiz’s major league career began with the Twins in 1997. Puckett passed away in 2006, but the Red Sox brought his children to Fenway Park. They did not speak at the podium or throw a ceremonial first pitch, but their presence likely meant more than, say, Jason Varitek’s or Tim Wakefield’s.

“Oh man, that was very emotional,” Ortiz said. “I’m not going to lie to you, like, when I saw them coming toward me, I thought about Kirby. A lot. That was my man, you know. It was super nice to see his kids. Because I remember, when they were little guys, little kids. Once I got to join the Minnesota Twins, Kirby was already working in the front office. So they were, they used to come in and out. I used to get to see them. But their dad was a very special person for me and that’s why you saw me carry the No. 34 when I got here. It was very special to get to see them, to get kind of connected with Kirby somehow someway.”

Ortiz’s place in the row of 11 retired numbers comes in between Boggs’ No. 26 and Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.

Red Sox claim RHP Doug Fister off waivers, sign INF Jhonny Peralta

Red Sox claim RHP Doug Fister off waivers, sign INF Jhonny Peralta

BOSTON — They have the right idea, if not yet the right personnel.

Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has brought on a pair of former Tigers in an effort to help the Red Sox’ depth.

It’s hard to expect much from righty Doug Fister — who mostly throws in the 80s these days and is to start Sunday — or from Jhonny Peralta, who’s going to play some third base at Triple-A Pawtucket. Fister was claimed off waivers from the Angels, who coincidentally started a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday at Fenway Park. Peralta, meanwhile, was signed as a free agent to a minor league deal.

Neither may prove much help. Fister could move to the bullpen when Eduardo Rodriguez is ready to return, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. The Sox hope E-Rod is back in time for the All-Star break.

That’s assuming Fister is pitching well enough that the Sox want to keep him.

But at least the Sox are being proactive looking for help, and it’s not like either Peralta or Fister is high-risk.

"Doug has been an established major league pitcher," Dombrowski said. "We’ve been looking for starting pitching depth. Really traced an unusual situation, because coming into spring training at that time, [Fister was] looking for a bigger contract guarantee at the major league level, and we didn’t feel we could supply at the time because we didn’t have a guaranteed position. We continued to follow him. ... we sent people to watch him workout and throw batting practice in Fresno where he lived. We continued to stay in contact with him. 

"We finally felt we were going to be able to add him to our major league roster, we made a phone call and he had agreed the day before with the Angels on the contract. They said he was in a position where he had made the agreement and signed a major-league contract, agreed to go to the minor leagues, but he had an out on June 21 if they didn’t put him on the big league roster. We scouted him two outings ago. One of our scouts, Eddie Bane, had seen him pitch before, recommended him, felt he could pitch in the starting rotation at the major-league level, that we should be interested in him."

Fister, 33, threw 180 1/3 innings last year with the Astros, posting a 4.64 ERA. He hasn’t been in the big leagues yet this season.

Said one American League talent evaluator earlier this year about Fister’s 2016: “Had a nice first half. Then struggled vs. left-handed hitters and with finishing hitters. No real putaway pitch. Has ability to pitch around the zone, reliable dude.”