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a moment of madness

Nov. 26, 1990
Nov. 26, 1990

Table of Contents
Nov. 26, 1990

Design
Games
Sideline
Business
Spotlight
Viewpoint
Perspective
Denver Nuggets
The Slims
The 1990 Season
St. Louis Blues
Moe Gardner
John Madden
Golf
Roger Clemens
Focus
Books
Point After

a moment of madness

Who is Roger Clemens—a hothead who boiled over in the playoffs or an overgrown kid driven by obsession?

By Liegh Montville

Roger Clemens wanted to dominate. He wanted to come out with a doomsday sense of vengeance, throwing baseballs at unhittable speeds to unhittable places. There was a level of fear and wonder he wanted to establish early. He wanted the first three Oakland A's batters to blink at what they saw, to walk back to the dugout as if they had witnessed truth itself flying across home plate at 97 miles per hour. He wanted to plant the idea in their heads that however long the day might last, success was not a possibility. Total domination. Can't touch this. Roger Clemens wanted what he always wants on the day of a game. Only this day he wanted more.

This is an article from the Nov. 26, 1990 issue Original Layout

He had a plan. On Oct. 10 the Boston Red Sox were in trouble. They were not only trailing three games to none in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, they were being embarrassed. The A's were styling on the Red Sox. There were so many cheap moments, so many little struts and laughs. People coming to the Oakland Coliseum were bringing brooms, saying that worst of playoff words: sweep. Enough was enough. In the previous two games Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley had pointed and exulted after striking out the Sox's Dwight Evans. Enough.

Clemens would take care of this in full public view, in front of the national television cameras. Is this the way you want to play, boys? Every strikeout would be followed by a celebration. The first would be an Italian hand gesture. Clemens had worked it out with reserve catcher John Marzano. The right hand would go to the throat, fingers extended. Aaaaaah. Take a seat. Take a hike. The second strikeout would have a handgun finish. Maybe two. The right index finger would be extended toward the batter. Ka-chew. Pow. Dead and gone. Dirty Harry comes to baseball. Maybe Clemens would blow away smoke from his finger after the deed was done.

If this was to be the end of the season, then so be it. He would have some fun. He shaved the stubble he normally grows before a start into a satanic-looking Fu Manchu mustache and beard. His wife hated the Fu Manchu. No matter. He even played with the idea of shaving off one side of the Fu Manchu. What would the A's think if they saw a guy with half a Fu Manchu throwing heat at them? Could they tell which way the sliders would break from a man wearing half a Fu Manchu? Let them fret. They had made the Sox fret enough.

A night earlier, after Boston's third loss, a couple of Clemens's teammates had suggested that everyone come out of the dugout for the fourth game with a feeling of no-tomorrow determination. Everyone should wear eye black, painting on those carbon stripes that look so fearsome on football Sundays everywhere. Had a pitcher ever worn eye black? Probably never in the long history of the game. Clemens would. He would do just about anything. As he took the mound in the noontime California sun, he had a black streak under each eye. He had malice inside the eyes. Are you talking to me? The gray traveling uniform was stretched tight across his chest. The white baseball in his right hand seemed small and lethal.

On his feet—and this somehow never was noticed, not even when all the wild stuff happened—were the fluorescent green faces of two Ninja Turtles. One face was clamped to the shoestrings of each shoe. Clemens had started wearing the Turtles in Texas during the middle of the season to entertain his two young sons. Originally he had painted the faces black because he thought batters might object to the bright green. For the last two games he had worn the Turtles in their natural Day-Glo color. He had noticed that batters increasingly were wearing flashy phosphorescent-colored batting gloves. If the umpires made him remove the Turtles, he would argue that the batting gloves should also be removed. One distraction for another.

He was a Ninja Turtles fan. At home he staged little Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episodes with his sons. Everyone in the family had the name of a character from the movie. Koby, 3½, was Raphael. Kory, 2, was Donatello. Clemens's wife, Debbie, was April, the friendly news reporter who helps the turtles. Clemens was Shredder. Shredder is a character dressed in a coat and hat covered with outward-pointed knives. Come near Shredder and he puts himself into a lethal Cuisinart spin, slicing and dicing and turning all foes into julienned potatoes. Shredder is the villain.

On Oct. 10, Clemens was Shredder.

"If someone met me on a game day, he wouldn't like me," Clemens says. "The days in between, I'm the goodest guy you can find. On the day of a game? If I'm watching television with you, I'm not hearing you, and I'm not hearing the television. I go to the park.... I should just rent a car every time I pitch. That's how I drive on the day of the game."

It is August. There is going to be a story about Clemens in this magazine. His picture might be on the cover. He does not mind the idea. He invites the photographers to his in-season house in Framingham, Mass. Shots are taken of his two sons in their electric Jeeps in the driveway. Clemens poses in his full Red Sox uniform against a backyard wall of railroad tics he calls the Green Monster. The season is going great. He is in the middle of an 8-0 streak in which he has an 0.80 earned-run average. He is flying. He explains how he accomplishes the feat.

"They only put the ball in your locker 37 times a year," he says. "That's 37 starts. I don't want to waste any of 'em. I'm still mad about the game in 1986 when I was thrown out for bumping that guy, the umpire [Greg Kosc]. That was a wasted start. I don't want to waste anything."

He describes the schedule of a prizefighter preparing to defend a championship belt again and again and again. A shortstop can punch a time clock and field ground balls every night as if they were so many engine parts coming down a production line. A starting pitcher has to prepare for a challenge, the spotlight, an event that occurs only every fifth day. At least this pitcher does. He is not a right-armed deceiver on the mound, playing some kind of board-game baseball that relics on cunning and guile. Thirty-seven chances. He is a power pitcher. A toe-to-toe slugger. Fastballs and uppercuts. He cannot wait and simply go to work. He has to build and build. He has to be ready.

The photographers take a picture of him next to his locker. A sign on the locker says it belongs to POSSESSED REBEL. Possessed Rebel? The cycle begins at the end of each game he pitches, and it reaches its peak with the first windup of the next game he pitches. He will break himself down in nine innings or seven innings or whatever number of innings he works, saving nothing, cutting no corners, throwing the fastballs and uppercuts, wringing out all the ability and emotion he can muster. He will build himself up again in the next four days. He will prepare again for a personal, almost mystical war. Thirty-seven chances. Thirty-seven grudge battles.

"I've been here 10 years," Red Sox physical therapist Rich Zawacki says. "Clemens is the only pitcher we've had during that time who has to ice down his arm and shoulder between starts. I also have to give him a lot of deep massages. I've never seen a pitcher whose body breaks down the way his does in a game. He throws so many pitches. He throws so hard. Basically we wind up piecing him back together from game to game. He'll wind up with all these knots in his shoulder, every game, that have to be loosened."

"I want to be relentless," Clemens says. "I want to pound guys. Once you pound guys, everything is quicker. I know how it is. I know how I felt those times when I started out against Nolan Ryan or Tom Seaver or Dwight Gooden. I know how guys feel when they face me now. They're so intense. There's no one who comes to the plate who looks lazy or out of it. If I'm not on my game, I'm going to be embarrassed."

Pound guys. What does it take to pound guys in the major leagues? What does it take to not "N, be embarrassed? Clemens says he has six different exercise machines in the Framingham house. He has a freezer filled with bags of ice. He fills bowls with uncooked rice in which he exercises his fingers, makes them stronger. Pound guys. He has three separate notebooks filled with weaknesses. One details hitters' weaknesses. Another details umpires' weaknesses. Which umpire squeezes? Which gives the high strike? The third notebook details Clemens's weaknesses. What was his weight for this game or that? What were the exercises that seemed to work before a good game? What were the exercises that didn't seem to work? He has a shirt he has altered for sleeping, one long sleeve off and the other remaining to cover his right arm against the air conditioning. He has a routine for sleep, the emphasis on a good sleep two nights before the game. He has a diet. He has exercises he will describe to no one. Why should he? They are his exercises, his secret.

In the mornings he sometimes runs the streets of his neighborhood. His wife puts the two boys in the seats on the back of her bicycle and paces him. In the afternoons he sometimes runs the streets around Fenway Park. There is a trail through a nearby public park, the Fens, that he runs. Joggers will hear a thumping coming from behind. Roger? Could that be? He is a big man, 6'4", 225 pounds, but he runs several miles. What ballplayers run distances? He can't find many Red Sox who do.

"I had [pitcher] Al Nipper when he was here, but since then I can't find anyone," Clemens says. "I thought I had John Marzano this year. In spring training I had him doing most of my program with me. Then the games began, and he said, 'Roger, I'd like to do it, but I have to play the games now.' "

"I was tired," Marzano says. "He was wearing me out."

"Roger Clemens's commitment to personal conditioning is unmatched by anyone I've ever known in this business," says Dr. Arthur Pappas, the longtime Red Sox physician. "If I were to suggest anything to him that would help...he would do it exactly. That is not always the case with athletes I have known. Roger, if you told him that standing in the corner for 12 hours with a silly hat on his head would help, he'd stand in the corner for 12 hours with the hat. He'd stand on his head if you asked."

The fifth day is the release after four days of work. The energy has been packed into Clemens's body the way gourmet ice cream is packed by hand into a cardboard container. Overpacked. The energy rolls down the sides. Where will it be used? Here in the game. All of it. He will pound guys. Or at least he will try. A mask of malevolence descends over his face. He does not shave. His eyes switch to a Gary Gilmore jailhouse stare. He will spot injustice everywhere. What is there to battle today? The other team? The umpires? A nagging ache in the shoulder? The weather? The groundskeepers? The press? Immortality? He will take care of them all. He will pitch with an angry, adolescent heart. His team will be the good team. The other team will be the bad. His team might not have the most talent, might not have the best defense or hitting or certainly not the best bullpen, but it has the best people. His people. He will hang them across his back in a fireman's carry and take them through this burning house. Nine innings. Let the bullpen rest to help those other pitchers on other days. He will take care of this day. His day.

When he is pitching well, when the control is good, when the speed is up, he is almost untouchable. The best pitcher in baseball. No debate. The evening sports news will be a collage of strikeouts, batters swinging at air, batters frozen in place, looking at pitches they can't see. When he is pitching one grade lower, there will be more foul balls, longer battles. He will pitch and pitch and win a succession of gritty contests of will. When, on occasion, he is in trouble, the night will take a sudden turn. He will have all of this leftover energy to use.

"There was a game in '89," he says. "Against Cleveland. In the afternoon. At home. [Red Sox manager] Joe Morgan took me out in the first inning. He thought I had a knot in my arm. I hit [Indians outfielder] Joe Carter, gave up some hits...he took me out. I didn't think I was that bad. I left the park. I was still in uniform. Got fined, of course. I went home with Deb, got a bucket of balls. We went out to a Little League park. I pitched a simulated game against a chain-link fence. Just throwing against the fence, hard as I could. Deb called the balls and strikes. Nine innings, over 130 pitches. I had to know whether my arm was all right or not. It was fine."

On bad nights at Fenway, his wife will wait for him at the clubhouse door and drive him to the banks of the Charles River, where he will run his miles in the dark. She will read a book by the dome light in the car. On bad nights on the road, he simply runs back to the hotel from the park. A friend, Eddie Miller, once was late for a game in Anaheim, Calif. He was walking into the park when Clemens came running out in baseball pants and jogging shoes. Hi, Eddie. Hi, Roger. On the good nights, the bulk of the nights, there will be a final battle. The press.

"I was a good guy when I came to Boston. I was good to all of 'em [in the media]," he says. "I did a lot of things. I invited 'em into my home in Texas when I won the Cy Young. I talked all the time. Then some things happened, and some guys—six or seven guys—wrote and said some things I didn't think they should have said. Because they knew me. They knew the type of person I was. They took a picture of me in my car [a Porsche, license plates CY-MVP] listening to the news on the car phone that I won the Cy Young. They used the same picture one year later to show I was some pampered, overpaid athlete. Well, that wasn't fair. Just wasn't. I forgive 'em, but I don't forget."

Now he talks to the Boston media only after he pitches. Thirty-seven starts. The interviews have become part of that day, part of the everything-goes approach. The change happened in December 1988. Clemens was interviewed live, over a local television station from his home in Katy, Texas. He thought he was decrying the loss of teammate Bruce Hurst to free agency. He thought he was detailing things that Red Sox management should do for players and their families. The words came out wrong. He sounded as if all he were moaning about was having to carry his own luggage into hotels and not having an extra parking space for his wife. He tried to explain. The words still didn't sound right. He was portrayed as an overpaid ingrate who didn't want to play baseball in Boston. He was booed on Opening Day in 1989. He decided not to talk except on the day he pitches.

"I know it hurts some of the new reporters, who weren't involved, but that's the way it is," he says. "I figure the one day they really need me is the day I pitch, so that's the day I talk."

He is talking on one of the four quiet days. But this is different. This is a national magazine. He might be on the cover. He takes the photographers to a truck farm where he poses with his sons, feeding a cow. He takes the photographers to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where he poses with some sick children. He spends three days on the project, fitting in the interview and the photography sessions among his workouts. The story does not run because in Boston's next game, a 6-2 loss to Oakland on Sept. 4, Clemens hurts his shoulder. A story about his approach to pitching no longer seems to matter so much.

The afternoon of Oct. 10, somehow everything exploded. That is the best description. Clemens's plan, of course, never worked. There never was a strikeout, so there never was an Italian hand gesture, and there never was a smoking gun. The image that went out on television screens was the slowed-down, angry face of a man with a Fu Manchu. At least it was a full Fu Manchu.

What was he saying? The lips moved as if they were part of a curious dream sequence in a foreign film. What was that? The viewers at home became part of a national jury. The crime was...what? Swearing? Showing up an umpire? Overstepping traditional lines? Clemens was gone, ejected a third of the way through the second inning of a playoff game. Eyes were focused on him. His rage filled the screen.

He had picked up three outs, none by strikeout, in the first inning. In the second, he had given up a run on a couple of hits, an error and a fielder's choice. He had collected two outs. On a 3-0 count to A's second baseman Willie Randolph, Clemens threw a fastball high and inside. Randolph started to move to first. Umpire Terry Cooney called the pitch a strike. Randolph objected mildly but returned to the plate. The next pitch was virtually the same as the last one. Cooney called it a ball. Clemens objected. The one easily discernible comment he made to Cooney in the slow-motion sequence was, "I'm not [expletive] talking to you.... Just keep your [expletive] mask on." Clemens was ejected by Cooney. For a moment, only a few of the participants seemed to realize what had happened. Morgan knew. He tore onto the field, hat in hand, to argue. Red Sox catcher Tony Pena, walking to the mound, seemed to know because he argued with Cooney as he walked. Second baseman Jody Reed knew. He told Clemens he had just been thrown out.

"I told him, 'Let's just wait a minute. Let's just see,' " Clemens says now.

Two orange Gatorade containers and a white plastic trash bucket were thrown from the Red Sox dugout by reserve second baseman Marty Barrett. The bucket landed near first base umpire Vic Voltaggio, and white papers littered the perfect grass. Barrett was screaming from the top of the dugout and was pulled back by coach Dick Berardino. Barrett broke away and resumed screaming. Clemens finally joined in and was held back by coaches Rac Slider and Bill Fischer. More words followed for the lip readers at home.

The incident became major news, even bigger than the A's 3-1 win that followed, completing a four-game sweep. This is a video age. It was perfect video. Did Cooney act too quickly? Did Clemens move past boundaries that everyone else has to observe? Who does this Clemens think he is? The story gathered momentum over the next few days.

Dave Stewart, the Oakland pitcher, said Clemens thought he was bigger than baseball. Cooney said Clemens wasn't going to be treated differently from anyone else, that he had gone beyond well-defined limits. An unnamed Red Sox official said Clemens had been "stressed out" for weeks and ready to snap. There was a report that Clemens had thrown a baseball into the stands while he was warming up. A photographer said Clemens had shoved him in the runway before the game. A columnist said that Clemens was "wearing war paint" for the game. It was suggested that Clemens had wanted to be thrown out, that he knew he didn't have good stuff. A number of the A's reported that during other games Clemens had yelled at pitchers Bob Welch and Dennis Eckersley, that he told Welch, a recovering alcoholic, to "drink a beer like a real man, not any more of that milk." Two of the umpires reported that Clemens had told Cooney after he was ejected, "I'm going to find out where you live. I'm going to get you." The Boston Herald interviewed a Cambridge psychologist about Clemens's behavior.

The whole thing was a mess.

"Has it died down yet in Boston?" Clemens asks. "It must have died down. Thank goodness for [New England Patriot wide receiver] Irving Fryar. He had that fight in the nightclub in Providence and moved me off the front page."

This is now. There is going to be another story in the magazine. The blanks to be filled since the first story could stretch from Boston to Katy. The travails of the Patriots might have pushed the events of Oct. 10 to other pages, but they are far from forgotten. There is no need for pictures of the kids in their Jeeps this time. There are pictures enough. The Possessed Rebel took care of that. The character from the four quiet days has been left to explain the actions of the character from the noisy fifth.

"I was intense during that series, sure, I was intense," Clemens says. "I wanted to beat Oakland. They were a very cocky team, even before the Series started, styling around. It was, you know, David against Goliath. I was verbal during the Series, very verbal. Even before that game, I got caught on the bench on TV a couple of times being verbal. I wanted to win. One of their guys, I don't want to say who, came off the field once and said, 'Hey, what's the big deal?' The big deal, I told him, is that we haven't won this thing since 1918.1 wanted that monkey off our back."

The interview is held in an office in the home of Clemens's agent, Alan Hendricks, in a Houston suburb. Clemens sits in an overstuffed leather chair. He is wearing a pink golf shirt, gray jeans, boat shoes without socks. The Fu Manchu is gone. He is 28 years old, but he looks younger. He looks like a big kid. The big kid looks as if he has been called to the principal's office. The agent sits behind a desk. He could be the kid's father. He doesn't say much, but he is there if needed.

"You can talk to anyone you want," Hendricks says. "You can believe what Roger says or not. I do think you have to admit that the things he says are plausible."

So much happened. The end of the season was a prolonged buzz, a tempestuous time. Clemens hurt the shoulder...couldn't lift his arm to comb his hair...was going to come back to pitch...couldn't pitch...finally pitched...punched Morgan's office door with his right hand after an argument over media access to the locker room....

The Red Sox edged out the Toronto Blue Jays on the final day of the season. Tempestuous. Clemens says he punched the door for emphasis. An exclamation point! Don't a lot of people do that when they lose an argument? So much has happened. He pitched the opener of the playoffs...left at the end of six...wanted to pitch the seventh...was lifted...didn't talk because he didn't want to second-guess Morgan after only one game in the playoffs. Plausible.

The A's were better. That was the damnable thing. The Red Sox had to play perfect baseball to beat the A's. The Red Sox were not perfect. Arms were shot. Hitters couldn't hit. The final day in Oakland was mostly a chance to grab some respect. Throw a little sand in the gears of that machine in the other dugout. Why not? Hold back nothing. Take the challenge for what it was and try to respond. Have some fun. Pound guys. Pound Goliath.

"You know what?" Clemens says. "I'm still pissed off that I wasn't around long enough to punch out a few guys. To do the gestures."

How would that have been? The gestures—and maybe the half-shaved Fu Manchu—what would all the pop psychologists have said then? The stories are already out of control. The day has been picked apart as if so many birds were hipping at every little movement by Clemens. The story about the warmup pitch that went into the stands? Just fooling around, impersonating Cincinnati Reds reliever Rob Dibble...pitch got away...thumped into a pad...didn't go into the stands, Clemens claims. The story about the photographer? Just heading through the narrow passageway to the clubhouse to get some heat before the game...photographer in front with a long lens...brushed the photographer...just brushed him, Clemens says. The remarks to Welch and Eckersley? A lot of people were saying a lot of things. Hard things. That is the nature of dugout baseball. Clemens says he didn't say anything about drinking to Welch. He says he didn't hear anything that he remembers. Did you ever hear the baseball expression, "Drink some milk and eat some bananas"? Maybe that was what someone said. Baseball expression. It means calm down, idiot.

"Things that are being said down there are not being said to appear in the media," Clemens says. "They're just being said. It's different. You don't play that game through the media."

The idea that he wanted to get thrown out of the ball game? Crazy. He says he pitched one game this season in which he left in the seventh with the score tied 1-1. There was criticism, comments that he should have stayed. Then he worked a game in which he threw 165 pitches. There was criticism, comments that he was a dumbbell to keep pitching and risk his health. How can he win? Crazy. Stewart's comments? What does he know?

"Dave Stewart doesn't know me," Clemens says. "That's what bothers me, people talking about me who don't know anything about me. How can he say I think I'm bigger than the game? I don't think I am. I had to listen to Dave Stewart crying when I won the Cy Young and he didn't. I just said, 'Dave Stewart's a great pitcher, and maybe he should have won.' Well, look at his team. He's playing for a great team, too. It's great to be a sparrow and chirp when you're on top. I didn't hear Dave Stewart say very much when he was playing in Texas."

The day somehow seems so much bigger than it should have been. The television pictures, the coast-to-coast commentaries, the ejection. What was Clemens doing? He was doing what he always does, he says. He was shaking his head, perhaps, but he shakes his head a lot on the mound. Shakes it at himself. Shakes it at the umpire. Talks to himself. There is a steam that builds up in him and that he lets out when he pitches. A pressure. He is convinced that Cooney was waiting for him, that Cooney was mad about some remarks he thought Clemens made from the Sox dugout a day earlier in a big situation, when Cooney ruled that Sox shortstop Luis Rivera's checked swing was a third strike. But how could Cooney hear? How did everyone suddenly develop such wonderful hearing? Clemens admits that on the mound he used some words he shouldn't have used, but he is convinced that he shouldn't have been ejected. If warned, he says, he wouldn't have repeated the words.

"Of course I wouldn't," he says. "But I still don't think I said enough to get ejected. After I was ejected, I said some things—I was going to get my money's worth."

He talks for more than two hours. He does not raise his voice. He does not use the words from the television screen. He is the goodest guy you could find. This is his version of the story, told in familiar surroundings. A football game is being played on a television set in a corner of the room, the sound turned off. Every 30 seconds there are scenes of mayhem on the screen that are worse than anything allowed in baseball. The mayhem is fine because football is football, a game played entirely by possessed rebels and Ninja Turtle villains. In baseball there is only one of these, and he is in hibernation.

Clemens is beginning to negotiate a contract that probably will make him the highest-paid player in a high-paying game. In this very neighborhood he is having a house built that will include a theater, an art room, a weight room and a showcase trophy room that will be large enough to display all the current No. 21 uniforms in baseball, signed by their owners and encased in glass. A large circular driveway will lead to the house, with hedges arranged inside the circle to form a large Old English C. His kids are healthy. His wife is beautiful.

"Does he look stressed out to you?" Hendricks, the agent, asks. "Does he?"

Clemens looks, again, like a big kid. He could be filling out some accident report after a Saturday night when he planted the family four-door in an oak tree. Why was he going so fast? Didn't he see that STOP sign at the corner? He runs on a high-grade adolescent fuel, this best pitcher in baseball, and this time it got him in trouble. The analysis of what happened Oct. 10 probably should not run too deep. He hit the gas too hard. He went into a spin. Nobody got hurt. There can be attempts in the quiet to weave logic through all the things that happened, but they happened in a noisy, illogical time. Thirty-seven chances. A different person was at work with Ninja Turtles on his feet.

"When do you start getting ready for the next season?" Clemens is asked.

"I always start the day after the World Series ends," he says. "This year I want to lose a little weight. I want to pitch at about 215.1 was 205 in college, and I was 225 last year. I'm looking for something in between."

This is the day after the World Series ended. Clemens is quite pleased that the A's were swept. There has been a surprise rainstorm in Houston. Clemens says he ran three miles in the rain.

FOUR ILLUSTRATIONSJULIAN ALLEN
"Everyone in his family had the name of a Ninja Turtle. Clemens was Shredder."
"His eyes switch to a jailhouse stare. He will spot injustice everywhere."
"The big kid looks as if he has been called to the principal's office."