Chicago Cubs: Remembering the overlooked career of Matt Clement

Matt Clement / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Matt Clement / Chicago Cubs (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Unless you were a Chicago Cubs fan during his three-year run, this may very well be one of the first times you’ve heard the name Matt Clement.

Ah, yes. Early-2000s facial hair. There’s nothing quite like it. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a little trip down memory lane to appreciate the career – and squirrel-like facial hair – of former Chicago Cubs right-hander Matt Clement.

A former third-round pick out of high school, Clement made his big league debut in 1998 at the age of 23. In 2001, the San Diego Padres sent him to the Marlins in a trade. He lasted just one year in Miami before the Fish flipped him to Chicago in the deal that netted Antonio Alfonseca and sent the likes of Dontrelle Willis to the Marlins.

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That trade would come back to haunt the Cubs sooner rather than later. The very next season, of course, Willis won National League Rookie of the Year honors and played a critical role in Florida toppling Chicago in the NLCS en route to the second World Series championship in team history.

But we’ll come back to that.

Clement’s inaugural campaign with Chicago was in 2002. He turned in a solid body of work, establishing himself as a quality piece of the rotation. The Butler, PA native tied a career-best, tossing 205 innings while working to a 3.34 FIP and 1.205 WHIP. The Cubs struggled in the standings, going 67-95 in an altogether forgettable campaign – but Clement looked like a key piece of the puzzle.

Of course, he garnered very little attention in 2003 behind the Cubs’ three-headed monster of Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. That being said, Clement was a reliable presence for manager Dusty Baker. For the second consecutive season, he eclipsed the 200-inning mark and was particularly tough at Wrigley Field.

In 17 home starts that year, Clement turned in a 3.14 ERA – a mark that stood in stark contrast to his unsightly 5.46 mark away from the Friendly Confines. More often than not, he seemed to get stronger as he worked his way through the lineup a second or third time, a rarity in the game even today.

Baker turned to the righty twice in the 2003 postseason. His first start came in the NL Division Series at home against Atlanta, and it was a forgettable one. Lasting just 4 2/3 innings, Clement allowed four runs on eight hits and four walks in a 6-4 Cubs loss. But he redeemed himself in the League Championship Series against Florida.

In Game 4, Clement was nothing short of masterful, pitching into the eighth against the Marlins. He allowed just three runs on five scattered hits, walking just two. Control was always the bugaboo for him – and when he kept the ball over the plate and hit his spots, it bode well more often than not.

That marked the high-water mark in his brief Cubs career. Clement returned in 2004 but, despite another solid showing (30 starts, 3.68 ERA) – the Chicago front office opted to let him walk in free agency at season’s end. He wound up inking a deal with the Boston Red Sox, earning an All-Star nod in 2005 after going 10-2 in the first half.

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After finishing that two-year deal with Boston, Clement never threw another pitch in the big leagues. He spent a year in the Cardinals system, but never quite got over the hump in his comeback attempt. Like so many players on that 2003 Chicago Cubs team, that was the highlight of his career – a campaign that ended tantalizingly close to hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy and ending generations of despair on the North Side.