Roger Clemens was, for many years, my favorite baseball player. I wore No. 21 for one year in Little League. I had his posters littering my bedroom walls and still have one in my office. I saved every article I could find about him so that I could read them later.
Clemens, as far as I could tell, was not only the best righthander in the game, but he was also the hardest worker. I enjoyed watching Roger Clemens compete, even when he was with the Yankees.
I was at Fenway Park that September day Dan Duquette presided over a ceremony for Clemens which turned out to be one of the biggest backhanded compliments that I can recall in sports. This dog-and-pony show virtually assured Red Sox Nation that—by blaring Elton John's "Rocket Man" over the P.A. system in conjunction with a poorly-produced video medley and the unveiling of a FatHead-like collage of his 20 strikeout jerseys on the outfield wall—he would not be back in Boston for the 1997 season.
Cy Young Awards the next two seasons in Toronto, one more Cy with the Yankees and another with the Astros and he did nothing but shove it back in Duquette's face.
While the Duke did go on to sign Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, vital cogs of the 2004 World Champs, his Red Sox legacy will be forever mixed up with the way he botched the Clemens departure.
Here is where things get interesting and where the water muddies a bit. Clemens is alleged to have started with some sort of "performance enhancing drug" (PED) during his time in Toronto. This coincides with a dramatic career resurgence which he parlayed his success in Toronto into a trade to the Yankees and World Series titles in 1999 and 2000.
Though the story is an old one and has been hashed-over in nearly every manner possible, Duquette figured that a 34-year-old Clemens was all but washed up and never seriously went about signing him. Though there were gestures by Boston management, the Blue Jays, in 1997, paid market value for the reigning AL strikeout leader.
Clemens statistics were trending downward, in many respects, over the previous few seasons, but much of it was due to injuries, yet by the end of the 1996 season—which included tying his own major league record with a 20 strikeout game—he was virtually free of ailments.
It would make sense that if Clemens were to start juicing, it would have been around 1996 with the Red Sox and not sometime in 1997 or 1998 in Toronto (when he does according to chief accuser, Brian McNamee). He simply continued prior-season form in 1997 and was, for the fourth time in his career, considered the best pitcher in the American League.
Sometime after Clemens signed the rich deal with Toronto or after he got the Cy Young hardware, many in Red Sox Nation resented him. As a Clemens fan and a Red Sox fan, I never quite got this attitude. I started coming around a little more, though, when he jumped ship and demanded to go to the Bronx.
The Boston ball club, at the end of the Clemens era, was being run into the ground by poor management. I can't say, as a fan, I was ever truly on board with management during that tumult. The product on the field was average at best.
It made no sense to resign Clemens or for Clemens to want to resign with the Sox if they weren't going to supply him with more help for at least a crack at the title in the hardscrabble AL East, where the Yankees were at the height of their powers.
Nevertheless, Roger Clemens always maintained one of the best work ethics in the game.
Honestly, I'd always heard him speak ill of drugs and concerned with his health, but this also may have been a delusional and narcissistic fantasy, as his detractors are wont to say.
I believe he mentioned on The Jim Rome Show a couple years ago that he did use quite a bit of Vioxx—"ate them like Skittles" if I recall—before the drug was recalled. There was palpable fear in his voice that this might have damaged him in some way, unknowingly.
So, did he or did he not use steroids, HGH or "PEDs" of some sort? Who knows? The new book, American Icon, supposedly documents his slide from hard-worker to drug-assisted superstar. Clemens denies all the charges…vehemently.
I'd have to say I've gone back and forth on this one. I don't know the man, I only had a brief encounter with him near an elevator in a Seattle hotel lobby circa 1991—the day hero worship died for me.
His catcher, Tony Peña was a much more amiable bloke who sat down with my brother and I on the couches in the lobby and conversed for some time in broken English over his noontime Skoal mint lower. Even the salty DH Jack Clark stood in for a photo op with us.
Is Roger Clemens a good man? I don't know, but he is and/or was an incredibly driven man who also engages in a number of charitable endeavors. I guess it is up to each individual to decide who is good and who is not…the math is not so simple.
Would a good man use "PEDs"? Probably so, given the long roster of people and circumstances surrounding the "steroid age" of baseball. I can't be so precious as to think otherwise.
Ultimately, the question becomes, do we believe Clemens or McNamee? Aren't we too eager to label Clemens or McNamee as the bad guy and make our decisions on this issue based on who we like better?
That's no way to go about things.
McNamee's side has cobbled together some evidence—none of it 100 percent trustworthy, in my opinion. American Icon purports to have more damning evidence on Clemens.
Clemens denies all the charges.
Did Clemens use "PEDs"? I'll answer paradoxically in that I don't necessarily believe Clemens, nor do I necessarily believe his accusers.
I'm willing to give all the alleged steroid guys, including Clemens, the benefit of the doubt, considering the approach of the sports fan at-large tends to be dogmatically against any accused "PED" user.
It could be that I'm a contrarian or that I'm really waiting for the entire story to be unveiled.
Perhaps I'm simply overlooking the obvious, but I'll live with it for now. I'll only know I'm too far gone, I imagine, when I move and actively search out the soft sandy beaches that I can easily plunge my head into.