Roger Clemens made baseball history Monday, becoming the first pitcher to win four American League Cy Young awards and matching Gaylord Perry’s record of six years between awards.
Clemens (21-7), who led the A.L. in wins, earned run average (2.05) and strikeouts (292), received 25 of 28 first-place votes and three seconds for 134 points from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Seattle’s Randy Johnson was second with two first-place votes and 77 points. Minnesota’s Brad Radke was third and Baltimore reliever Randy Myers received the other first-place vote, finishing fourth.
“Each one of them is real special,” said Clemens, who’s vacationing in Maui. “I feel very thankful to all the guys who thought I was deserving. I don’t know that I’m still not in my prime right now. I still have the same fire, the same dedication to the game and the same respect for the game.”
The 35-year-old right-hander won three previous Cy Young awards (1986, 87, 1991) with the Boston Red Sox. But his fourth award was the exclamation point to a phenomenal first season with the Toronto Blue Jays, who signed Clemens to a three-year, $24.75 million contract in December after his bitter falling-out with Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette.
Clemens set an American League record for biggest differential between his ERA (2.05) and his league’s (4.56), a 2.51 difference that nearly beat Greg Maddux’s major league record (2.65 in 1994).
Clemens started last season with an 11-game winning streak, tied teammate Pat Hentgen for the A.L. lead in innings pitched (264), shutouts (three) and complete games (nine), and held opponents to a .213 batting average. Among A.L. pitchers, only Johnson held opponents to a lower batting average (.194) last season.
“Not bad for the twilight of my career,” Clemens said, paraphrasing Duquette’s dismissal of him that proved to be a season-long inspiration. “Certain things motivate you, and it pays off for you. Only one person doubted me.”
Determined to prove Duquette wrong, Clemens took his conditioning to a new level last spring. He opened the year with renewed zip on his fastball and a forkball that was one of baseball’s most devastating pitches.
“You can’t hit it,” Minnesota manager Tom Kelly marveled. “It looks like a sinker and you’ve got to take a whack, and then there it goes. You’ve got no chance. Impossible. The only time people hit that pitch is when it hangs.”
The former University of Texas star, who resides in the Houston suburb of Katy, held opponents to two runs or fewer in 24 of his 34 starts. But for personal satisfaction, no game topped his July 12 return to Boston’s Fenway Park, when Clemens allowed just four hits and struck out a season-high 16 in a 3-1 victory.
“He came to make a point, and he did,” former Boston teammate Mo Vaughn said.
Clemens went to Toronto having compiled only a 40-39 record his last four seasons in Boston. He finished his first year with the Blue Jays as baseball’s winningest active pitcher (career record of 213-118). If he can average 12 wins a season through age 42, Clemens could retire as the 21st 300-game winner in major league history. Nolan Ryan won his 300th game at age 43; Don Sutton at 41.
Clemens’ last Cy Young season was 1991, when he was 18-10 for the Red Sox.
Only Maddux and Steve Carlton also won four Cy Young Awards, both accomplishing the feat in the National League.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: A.L. Cy Young voting Voting for the 1997 American League Cy Young Award, with pitchers receiving five points for each first-place vote, three points for second and one point for third: Player 1st 2nd 3rd Tot Roger Clemens, Tor 25 3 - 134 Randy Johnson, Sea 2 21 4 77 Brad Radke, Min - 2 11 17 Randy Myers, Bal 1 1 6 14 Andy Pettitte, NY - 1 6 9 Mike Mussina, Bal - - 1 1