Skip to main content

Clemens' career took off in Boston, but defiance may land him in jail


I think Roger Clemens is going to go to prison. I think he lied his butt off when he appeared before Congress in February 2008. For me, there is no joy, no satisfaction, in watching this sad story unfold.

I was there at the beginning of Clemens' Major League career. Well, almost the beginning. He was drafted by the Red Sox in 1983 and first came to the big leagues in 1984, but his career didn't really take off until 1986, and that was the first year I covered the Red Sox full-time for The Boston Globe.

In Boston in 1986 we thought of Clemens almost the same way we thought of Larry Bird. They were both raised by strong women in Middle America, Bird in Indiana, Clemens in Ohio. They both grew up without many material possessions. They were fiercely competitive and uncomfortable with the media. And they were both great at their craft. Bird won championships early in his career with the Celtics. Clemens did not. But he was close. In 1986 he started the season 14-0 and finished 24-4. He won the American League Cy Young Award and was named AL MVP. He was MVP of the All-Star Game which was played in his adopted hometown of Houston. He won the seventh game of the ALCS against the California Angels, and he stood to be the winning pitcher in what would have been the clinching Game 6 of the World Series if the Sox hadn't blown the lead in the eighth inning before suffering a mind-bending collapse (culminating when the Mookie Wilson grounder slithered between the legs of Bill Buckner) in the infamous tenth.

Clemens pitched for the Red Sox from 1983-1996, winning 192 games which (appropriately) ties him with Cy Young for the franchise lead. He struck out 2,590 batters, tops in Sox history. He pitched 38 shutouts for the Red Sox, which (again) ties him with Cy Young for the franchise lead.

He pitched 100 complete games for the Red Sox, winning three Cy Young Awards.

Pedro Martinez followed Clemens to the Fenway mound at the end of the 20th century, and in 1999 and 2000 Pedro had a couple of years that superceded the Rocket, but it would be hard to argue against the case for Clemens as the greatest Red Sox pitcher of alltime.

Scroll to Continue

SI Recommends

The success was not achieved without controversy. It started in 1987 when a young Clemens walked out of spring training camp over a contract dispute. He came back to win his second consecutive Cy award in '87, but some Sox fans never forgave his holdout. After the 1988 season, Clemens reacted strongly when free-agent teammate Bruce Hurst left for San Diego. In an unfortunate pre-Christmas interview from his front lawn in Texas, Clemens attempted to explain his teammates' dissatisfaction with treatment by the Boston front office. The interview was a disaster as Clemens complained about the fact that he and his teammates "have to carry our own luggage.''

It was downhill after that. The Rocket kept putting up great numbers, but fans chided him for lack of postseason success (he won only one of nine playoff starts for the Red Sox) and harped on his off-field foibles. In 1992, Clemens sabotaged new manager Butch Hobson, failing to appear (or call) for the beginning of spring training. When Clemens finally arrived, Hobson ran a celebratory lap with the ace, but photographs showed Clemens wearing earphones while his new manager tried to talk to him as they ran in the outfield.

It was bad at the end in Boston. Clemens was a .500 pitcher over his last four seasons in Boston. Much of the mediocrity was owed to poor management and a brutal bullpen, but the Rocket was not in top shape and few tears were shed when he fled to Toronto after the 1996 season. Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette said Clemens was in the "twilight of his career" and Boston baseball moved forward toward Pedro, new ownership, Theo Epstein and (finally) World Series victories in 2004 and 2007.

Meanwhile, Clemens went Toronto and suddenly turned into Rambo.

Sox fans were somewhat miffed when the fighting-trim Rocket won back-to-back Cy Youngs in his first two seasons with the Jays, but Clemens made himself the ultimate enemy by getting himself traded to the Yankees and winning a World Series with the Bronx Bombers. He's been mud in Boston ever since.

Now it looks like he got dirty when he left Fenway. There is ample evidence that Clemens turned to performance-enhancers almost immediately after he left Boston for Toronto. No Red Sox player has worn jersey No. 21 since Clemens left the Red Sox, but he holds no place of honor in the hearts and minds of Boston baseball fans.

It's a shame. Clemens did a lot of tremendous work for the Red Sox. He did it on the level. But in those years of greatness, we saw the stubborn streak and the hardheaded nature that's going to take him to prison.