Rookie Cards of “Rocket” Roger Clemens

 

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The rookie hype in 1984 centered around Dwight Gooden, he dominated baseball and ranked in every statistical pitching category there was. But after his fourth year in the league things started to spiral for Doc. Within that same rookie class, there was Roger Clemens and by his fourth year in the league, he was soaring like a Rocket and so were his rookie cards.

The Accomplishments

I thought about starting an excel spreadsheet for these but decided to just give you the highlights instead. Roger Clemens is a 2x World Series Champion, 2x Triple Crown Winner, 1x MVP, 11x All-Star, 7x ERA Title, and 7x Cy Young Award Winner!

Roger is perhaps the best pitcher who never threw a no-hitter, but he does have a single one-hitter and thirteen two-hit games in his career. What he does have is the exclusive 20 strikeout game on April 29, 1986, versus the Seattle Mariners. He recorded his second 20 strikeout game on September 18, 1996, versus the Detroit Tigers! Amazing!

For Us Nerds

His 24-year career stat line reads. Wins 354 | Losses 184 | ERA 3.12 | Innings Pitched 4962.2 | Strikeouts 4672 | WAR 139.2

He ranks third all-time in Career Leaders for Strikeouts behind only Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. He ranks 1st in Cy Young Award Leaders winning a grand total of seven.

His key pitches were the splitter and the fastball. In fact, his nickname “Rocket” was given to describe his fastball.

The Elephant in the Room

Okay. So why does a man with these kinds of accomplishments and statistical numbers not be a Hall of Famer? Because of accusations of PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs).

Keep this in mind as I proceed. In his 24 years as an MLB pitcher Roger Clemens never failed a drug screen and he never had to serve any kind of suspension for using any kind of PED. Also, it is well documented by the testimony of many and video that Roger Clemens had a reputation of being the hardest trainer in the weight room. It was hard if not impossible to keep up with his focused high-intensity workouts. Let’s begin.

The Gig is Up!

In 2005 Jose Canseco wrote a book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. No need to get into the details of this book the title says it all. However, at the time Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig found himself with his back up against the wall and so he called for a full-on investigation.

On December 13, 2007, U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell released a 409-page report which investigated the illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing substances by players in Major League Baseball. This report later became affectionately known as “The Mitchell Report.” At one point in this investigation, Brian McNamee, former strength coach of Andy Petitte and Roger Clemens testified that he injected Clemens with steroids starting in 1998.

Making a Long Story Short

On January 6, 2008, just 3 weeks after The Mitchell report was released, Clemens interviewed with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. Clemens expressed that he was angry because he wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt, instantly guilty, he said.

About Brian McNamee’s claims? Clemens said, “it never happened!”  The only injections he received from McNamee were Lidocaine and B12 which are common practice. Clemens feels he’s “done everything I can to prove his accusers wrong and it’s still not good enough.” 

In June 2008, six months after his 60 Minutes interview Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee appeared before a Congressional Committee. Clemens under oath denied steroid use. Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence stacked against Clemens was the multiple depositions of teammate Andy Petitte. Of the accusers, Clemens claimed they “misheard” or “misunderstood” what was said. It became, my word versus their word scenario.

It gets worse. In July 2011 Clemens is charged with perjury for obstruction of justice and lying about steroid use. Clemens faced an 18-month jail sentence for it but the judge called a mistrial because the Prosecution did not follow directives. He was charged again the following year and in his second trial, he was found not guilty on all six counts.

 


OFFICIAL ROOKIE CARDS OF SHOULD BE GREAT

ROGER CLEMENS

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1984 Fleer Update, #U-27

Leading us off is this lone XRC (extended rookie card) of our featured HOFer. The Rocket debuted in the MLB on May 15, 1984. That season he went on to pitch 133 innings in 21 games, a 9-4 record with a 4.32 ERA, respectively. He finished 6th in Rookie of the Year voting.

Card manufacturer Fleer was a step ahead of the game of their competitors and noticed the young Clemens season. So they included him in their Fleer Update set. It was distributed exclusively through Hobby shops in a 132 card factory set. You should know these factory sets were not sealed upon distribution, so purchasing a set that hasn’t been searched may need to be pursued with caution. However, cases were sealed and packaged 50 factory sets per case. Because of this intel sealed cases carry a premium.

Among collectors, this is the most desired of Roger Clemens rookie cards but because of its off-centered issues, it is also the set that most frustrates collectors. There are no parallels.


1985 Donruss, #273

The card design of the 1984 Donruss baseball set caused an eruption within the hobby. This 1985 Donruss was its encore set and boy did they deliver again. This black and white tuxedo design with red cummerbund makes this a memorable card indeed. Great action photo capturing Roger in his delivery. The angle of the sun and the bill of his cap make it hard to see his face, but there’s enough there to verify it’s him.

This is a 660 card set but be cautious when handling, these black borders, and card stock quality causes this one to chip the edges and corners very easily. There are no parallels for this set.


1985 Leaf, #99

An abridged version of the Donruss flagship set is the best way to describe the Leaf brand, with some differences of course. Card design at first glance mimics the American Donruss version quite a bit. But the primary difference is in the number of cards in the set. This one has 264 cards as opposed to 660 cards in the Donruss set.

Leaf was the Canadian version of Donruss and primarily depicted full 25 man rosters of the late Toronto Blue Jays and Montreal Expos because they were Canadian MLB franchises at the time. The other teams only had partial rosters within the set. As of the date of this post, this is the rarest of Clemens rookie cards, there has only been 1,429 of these graded by PSA and only 46 have received a GM-MT 10 grade.


1985 Fleer, #155

I don’t know why but every time I see a gray bordered baseball card I think of 1970 Topps. Thankfully this one has a red border and helps the card stand out from the gray and another white border to frame out the photo, this creates a matte finish in my opinion. The card back is decent for its day. There is a black and white portrait photo that Fleer used for the third year in a row. Perhaps a sign of things to come.

This is a 660 card set and its believed that there is less of these than its competitors. PSAs Population Reports prove that rumor showing only 5,958 of these being graded by them. Far less than Donruss and Topps. There are no parallels for this set.


1985 Topps, #181

The dawn of the junk wax era can arguably be this 1985 Topps set, demand was high mainly because of the Mark McGwire RC that was also available within the set. Card manufacturers kept printing and kept meeting the demands of collectors. They not only met the demands but exceeded the demand. The result. Diminished card values.

Another draw to this set was its design. Classic vintage design front and back made this a collector favorite too. As of the date of this post, PSA has graded 25,288 of these Clemens rookie cards!

Closing Remarks

Regardless of how one may personally feel about the character and integrity of Roger Clemens, I will say he’s been consistent. I will also say you can’t argue with statistics the math doesn’t lie. And the math is saying, he’s the third greatest pitcher, hear me now, of ALL-TIME. He’s been found guilty of nothing but has his reputation been tainted somehow? Has he lost credibility? Will he be a Hall of Famer? Time will tell.

As far as his rookie cards? There is a lot of nostalgia for me. I watched his entire career. If or when he makes it to the Hall of Fame, Roger Clemens rookie cards will be highly sought after and as of the date of this post these are still fairly affordable.

Happy Collecting, Collectors

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Sources:
Roger Clemens Stats | Baseball-Reference.com https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/clemero02.shtml (accessed March 30, 2020).
Wikipedia contributors, “Mitchell Report,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mitchell_Report&oldid=917218529 (accessed April 5, 2020).
Wall Street Journal, “Final Argument In Roger Clemens Steroid Trial” YouTube Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKVBuAHM-p8 (accessed April 4, 2020).
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