“I am proud of getting this (Cy Young) award for the New York Mets, following in the footsteps of Tom Seaver and my own teammate, Dwight Gooden. I hope this is the first of many for Doc and me.”
- Roger Clemens – 11/1986
What? Yes, it could have happened. Roger Clemens could have been a Met and joined the great pitching staff of the 1980s.
When he was first drafted out of High School, he was selected by the Mets in the 12th round of the 1981 June free agent amateur draft. Credit those Mets scouts of that era for recognizing his tremendous potential and putting them on the Mets’ radar. True, they didn’t bite until the 12th round, but then again, neither did any other team.
Obviously, the baby Rocket didn’t sign. He chose to go to the University of Texas instead, where he won the College World Series and was later drafted 19th overall by the Boston Red Sox.
The rest, as we say, is history.
Yet, now, after his career has ended and he recently got acquitted in the perjury trial, you have to wonder if Clemens’ career would have taken a different turn if he chose to forgo his Longhorn years and became a New York Met instead. How much different would life have been for the Rocket if he was weaned in New York, instead of closing his career here.
What If Roger Clemens signed with the Mets Out of High School?
Clemens would have probably had the same type of rise out of the Mets system as he had in Boston, a short stay in the minors. It could have been the Rocket coming to the Mets in early 1984 instead of Gooden, since because he had a couple of years on Doc.
Can you imagine the conversation then-manager Davey Johnson would have had with then-GM Frank Cashen by the close of spring training in 1984?
“Yeah, Frank, I like my guy, Gooden, had him last year and I think he’s ready, but this kid, Clemens, he’s really ready. Let’s start with the kid from Texas and we’ll have Gooden to bring up after a little more time in Triple-A.”
Remember, since Johnson was managing in the minors, he would have had the choice to take who he wanted. Clemens may have been his guy. A young, somewhat cocky fireball at the age of 21 would have given Frank Cashen an easier choice and promoted the Rocket over Doc.
However, you shouldn’t worry about No. 16. A few months, maybe weeks, in Triple-A and he would have been called up to the majors. And his history wouldn’t have changed.
That being said, Cashen may not have pulled the trigger on the trade for Sid Fernandez, who was acquired as a front of the line pitching prospect in 1983 from the Dodgers. Rather, he may have used his chips to get an everyday type of player.
With Gooden and Clemens manning the front of the rotation, the Mets probably would have had enough to beat the Cardinals in 1985 and even 1987, since there was another front line pitcher in the staff. Clemens and Gooden could have combined for almost 40 wins per years, maybe more, which is just too much for other teams to match.
And since he was not on the Red Sox, Boston would not have been in the 1986 World Series. You figure you take off 10 of those 24 wins and you can crown the Yankees the AL East Champions. Bill Buckner would have just been a nice player who was on the Cubs for most of his career.
In 1986, Clemens did credit Tom Seaver for helping him with his pitching. Unless Tom Terrific was acquired by the Mets, it would not have happened. But with the pitching rich background and a former 20 game winner in Mel Stottlemyre as pitching coach, you figure the Mets would have given him good advice.
Even with a strong top of the rotation, the Mets still would have probably wanted that change of pace lefty and acquired Bobby Ojeda after the 1985 season. They also would have gotten David Cone before 1987 – since you can’t have too much pitching, but would have probably held off on acquiring Frank Viola in 1989, leaving the Mets with players like Kevin Tapani and Rick Aguilera, who could have gone elsewhere to acquire everyday players replacing Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter when they went on to other teams.
That would have given the Mets a chance to keep the core together. After 1991, the Mets tore the team apart and bought the worst team money could buy. They may not have signed Bobby Bonilla, or Eddie Murray in the offseason, since the team would have had other chips to trade. Vince Coleman may still be on the Cardinals.
Clemens may have been more popular with the fans than even Gooden. Even though most forgave Doc for his drug addiction, you have to wonder if there was another guy racking up wins, would No. 16 have been moved since he was considered a risk.
And back in the 1980s, Clemens was considered a model citizen, who stayed clean and liked to work out. Only in the late 1990s did the Rocket have his revival and started – allegedly – taking steroids to prolong what he hoped to be a Hall of Fame career.
Ultimately though he wouldn’t have done that with the Mets. By the mid 1990s when he was becoming mortal, Clemens would have either been traded or left as a free agent, much like the rest of the 1980s staff.
And you can be certain the Rocket would have ended up on the Yankees, one way or another, as you know how George Steinbrenner loved ragging the Mets by acquiring their former stars. So throwing the bat at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series, essentially still becoming the Pariah of Queens and one of the most vilified villains in Mets history, still would have occured.
Over time though, Clemens would have been welcomed back. A Cy Young winner and a man who helped the Mets to multiple championships would have been forgiven. Much like Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, he would have eventually found his way back home.
His legacy still would have been set, as Clemens would still be remembered as a (possible) steroids user who beat the rap on perjury charges. His Hall of Fame place would still be in doubt. Yet much like his time in Boston, his time at Shea would have been a memorable one.