Roger Clemons is dirtier than Barry Bonds.
Roger Clemens is dirtier than Barry Bonds. Saying that is a bit like saying that Nickleback is more terrible than Creed. We're talking relative degrees of dirty here (or, alleged dirtiness if you prefer) and this isn't a defense of Bonds.
But the difference between the two guys is something subtle: Clemens allegedly used steroids to recover an amazing career. Bonds allegedly used them because he was infuriated that no one recognized his prowess as a baseball player. Subtle, I know, and certainly not a concrete argument.
Look at what they did before the juice allegedly started flowing, though. Clemens, an all-time great pitcher, dominated the American League through 1994, winning 172 games, three Cy Young Awards and an MVP.
Then his skills began to erode. The Red Sox cut him loose after less-than-amazing seasons at the age of 32 and 33. Don't get me wrong, these seasons were still above-average, but not Clemens-in-his-prime. Miraculously, Clemens joins the Blue Jays at age 32 and produces two of the best seasons of his career. A 2.33 ERA. Two Cy Young Awards. 563 strikeouts. And 498.2 innings pitched.
A bitter pitcher discarded by his original team working his ass off to ensure redemption? Yeah, maybe. Clemens would win two more Cy Youngs though, picking up one as a 41-year-old in Houston in 2004. And that was the year before he led the majors in ERA.
There's a clear-cut period of greatness, followed by a stretch of mortality and aging, followed by a rejuvenation. I'm drawing conclusions here, because Roger's "innocent" and whatnot and as of this moment hasn't done a tell-all biography. But there's enough circumstantial evidence to back up that notion.
Bonds, on the other hand, didn't fall apart. He won the MVP in 1992 (his final year with the Pirates and my God, look at him then) after he hit 34 home runs, stole 39 bases, walked an MLB-leading 127 times and posted an unholy .456 OBP.
Things only took off when he got to San Francisco, where Bonds, a caricature of the steroids era a decade after he arrived, would shatter records. Despite holding three MVP trophies -- the third won during his first season in San Francisco -- Bonds found himself becoming jealous that his peers (Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) were shattering records.
If you need proof of this, look no further than an excerpt from Jeff Pearlman's book published by ESPN in 2006, in which Ken Griffey, Jr. recounts eating dinner with an angry Bonds who swore he was "gonna start using some hard-core stuff" to "get paid" and, ostensibly, draw as much attention as McGwire and Sosa, who'd just finished the now-tarnished home-run derby of 1998.
Bonds that year hit 37 home runs, walked 145 times, posted a .446 OBP, drove in 122 runs, batted .303, won the Gold Glove ... and still finished eighth in the MVP race.
Prior to the 1998 season, Bonds had averaged 39 homers a year with the Giants. Beasty. In the six seasons after 1998? He averaged 49 homers (including 73 in 2001) and posted a total OBP of .517 (!!!). He won four-straight MVPs for crying out loud.
And all of that is dirty as hell. But Barry Bonds didn't start to struggle, like Clemens did, and (allegedly) use steroids in an attempt to revive his career. Bonds was on pace for one of the all-time great careers in baseball history. Clemens was an all-timer too.
Yeah, I know. It's a subtle difference. And you don't have to be pure of heart to cast judgment on both guys. They are both quite dirty.
And Bonds jealousy of other sluggers driving him to use (allegedly) steroids doesn't make him a better person. But it does make him just less dirty. And as far as I'm concerned, it's an important distinction.