When he stepped out of the clubhouse and into the sun on a
flawless spring training morning, he wore a strange new uniform,
a sight as shocking as a police car in the rearview mirror. His
number 21 jersey was as bright and blue as Windex, and it
appeared as if someone had put fresh batteries in his cap. It
was impossible to take your eyes off him--which, of course, was
From the pasty-white Canadian tourists behind the chain-link
fence to his new teammates on the practice diamond in Dunedin,
Fla., everyone had the same reaction to Roger Clemens's first
appearance in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform: They stopped dead and
stared. Can you believe we really got him?
"It's just so blue," Debbie Clemens said upon seeing her husband
in Toronto practice garb. "I guess it's going to take some
getting used to."
For 13 years Clemens wore the conventional grays and whites of
the Boston Red Sox, and most people had assumed he would finish
his career in a Boston uniform. In this era of major league
mercenaries, there was something different about Clemens,
something proudly permanent. He was a self-styled throwback
athlete in the ultimate throwback town, inspired by the
knee-buckling intensity of the Red Sox nation and undeterred by
the cumulative pressure of the team's past failures. For more
than a decade Clemens was Boston, and Boston was Clemens, and
until six weeks ago it was impossible to imagine him glaring out
from under an enemy cap.
March 31, 1997
But there he was on the first day of spring training, bouncing
out of a new clubhouse like a kid heading for the playground,
all tangled up in Blue Jay blue. He was tanned and trim, as fit
as he had ever been at the start of a season. He talked a blue
streak for the army of reporters and photographers who
chronicled his every step, and he signed autographs for tourists
and even some teammates. "I don't think anyone could have more
desire than Roger has every year," said righthander Erik Hanson,
who left the Red Sox for the Blue Jays as a free agent after the
1995 season. "But I think he's got a little more energy this
year. He's a little more fired up. He wants to live up to the
contract and to the billing."
Clemens has always come to camp with high expectations to fill,
but never more so than this year. When he marched across the
border to Toronto after last season, he did more than just upset
the competitive balance in the American League East. He lifted
the hopes of an entire franchise and knocked the rest of the
baseball world on its ear. He proved that a player's mere
presence can be as important as wins and losses, as valuable as
experience or ability. When Clemens signed with the Blue Jays,
he set the price of presence, and he set it high.
"If he had no arm or pitching ability left, we wouldn't have
signed him," says Blue Jays president Paul Beeston. "But the
fact is, this is a statement--to our fans, to our players, to
the rest of the league. We've got Roger Clemens now. We mean
They've got Roger Clemens now. Just try to look away.
Last Sept. 28, after the Red Sox lost to the New York Yankees in
their penultimate game of the season, Clemens pitched in a
Boston uniform for the last time. His five-year, $25.5 million
contract was about to expire, and he would be, for the first
time in his big league career, a free agent. The Red Sox
retained exclusive rights to negotiate with him until 15 days
after the World Series, but everyone knew Clemens intended to
test the market. Everyone knew there would be interest in his
services. No one had any idea the bidding would get so crazy.
"We knew Roger had value," says Boston general manager Dan
Duquette. "But it went way beyond what we thought the market
The Red Sox misread the market, but who could blame them?
Clemens went 10-13 last season. He was only one game over .500
(40-39) for the last four seasons combined, and on Aug. 4 he
will turn 35. He has been on the disabled list twice in the last
four years and four times in his career. He is one of the great
pitchers of his generation, but his prime is behind him.
Duquette, punching all of the above into his computer, offered
Clemens a four-year, $20 million contract, although only $10
million was guaranteed. Clemens laughed at the offer and headed
for the open market. He is laughing still.
"I thought we might have a chance to do something special when
he became a free agent," says Clemens's agent, Alan Hendricks.
"I think a number of teams recognized that Roger brings an awful
lot to the party. His market rate included an intrinsic value
for intangibles. As much as any player out there, Roger has
The bidding war began in mid-November and raged out of control
for weeks. According to Clemens, a dozen teams made multiyear
offers. Five of them wanted to send private jets to Houston,
where he lives in the off-season, to fly Roger and Debbie to
their cities for negotiations, but Roger stayed home and let the
money come to him. It came like rain. "I think he was taken
aback by how aggressively they went after him," says Mike Capel,
a former big league pitcher who has been a close friend of
Clemens's since they played together at the University of Texas.
"He said to me, 'Man, maybe they do understand what I bring to a
Beeston and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner each flew to
Houston and spoke with Clemens in his home. The Red Sox brass
wanted to make the trip in early December, but Clemens and his
agents told him not to bother. The game had gotten too rich for
Boston. The Red Sox increased their bid to $22 million, all
guaranteed, over four years, but it wasn't even close to being
enough. Clemens was the most-sought-after 10-game winner in
history. "Just about every team said the same thing," says
Clemens. "They said, 'We can't believe we have a chance to get
you.' The best word I can use to describe it is flattering."
On Friday, Dec. 13, Clemens stunned much of the baseball world
by choosing Toronto and stopping the other bidders before they
hurt themselves. Everyone wondered, Why Toronto? It wasn't all
that complicated. The Blue Jays offered a three-year contract
worth a guaranteed $24.75 million, with an easily attainable
incentive clause that would add a fourth year. Clemens only has
to pitch 200 innings in any of the first three years or 360
innings over the first two seasons, and the fourth year is
guaranteed, bringing the total deal to a staggering $31.1
million. His signing bonus: $9.75 million. Not bad for a guy who
hasn't won 20 games in a season since 1990.
Naturally Clemens says his decision "was not about money,"
which, with most professional athletes nowadays, is usually a
good indication that it was about money. When asked what gave
Toronto the edge, Hendricks says bluntly, "Guaranteed money and
guaranteed years." Says a Boston front-office man, "He took the
money--it's as simple as that."
Clemens's average annual salary of $8.25 million is the highest
ever for a pitcher, topping the deals signed after last season
by 29-year-old John Smoltz ($7.75 million per year), who stayed
with the Atlanta Braves, and 27-year-old Alex Fernandez ($7
million per season), who jumped from the Chicago White Sox to
the Florida Marlins. As outrageous as Clemens's price seems, it
might have been even greater. Steinbrenner said he would have
topped the Blue Jays' offer if Clemens had given him a chance.
Clemens says he might have gone to New York if he were single,
but he decided life would be easier for his wife and four sons
"Is [the money] nuts?" says Beeston. "Of course it's nuts. But
it's been nuts for 20 years now. If we didn't pay it, someone
else would have. I look at him in a Blue Jays uniform, and I
still can't believe we got Roger Clemens."
The $25 million man is crouching behind home plate, barking
orders to the young pitcher. The man commands the boy to toe the
slab before delivering a pitch. "Get your foot on the rubber,"
says Roger Clemens. "Come on, do it right."
The pitcher is Kacy Clemens. The rubber is a piece of paper.
Home plate is a stuffed Tazmanian Devil doll. The playing field
is the living room of a $350-per-night suite in a golf resort 15
minutes north of Dunedin. Kacy is two years old, but he toes the
rubber as instructed and fires strike after strike to Dad.
Now it is time for BP. With a plastic bat as big as he is, Kacy
drills line drives all over the living room and a couple that
bang off the chandelier in the adjacent dining area. Seeing this
is like watching those grainy home videos of Tiger Woods
stroking golf balls as a toddler. Can a kid this young really do
that? Roger not only pitches but also chases down the line
drives and provides a play-by-play narration. It's hard to say
which Clemens is having more fun. "Debbie's really got five
boys," says Capel. "Roger's the biggest. He's always playing
something: Nintendo, golf, basketball, you name it. He never
Or talking. Playing a round of golf with Clemens is like sitting
on Dick Vitale's lap at the Final Four. People run up to him on
the tee for autographs, his cell phone is ringing, and all the
while Clemens is talking. In his self-styled Texas lingo he is
analyzing each approach, reading each putt and saluting each
good shot from everyone in his foursome. He is talking about
football, Italian food, his Harley, roller hockey. When his
foursome gets backed up, he reels off a half-dozen jokes to fill
the time. (You can be sure the folks who pay to play with the
Rocket in charity tournaments never ask for a refund.) Then he
picks up the phone and places an order for helmets for a youth
baseball team he sponsors in Houston.
"More than a lot of people, Roger really enjoys who he is," says
Hanson. "Everyone thinks he would like to be as rich and famous
as Roger is, but I often wonder how many people could handle it.
I don't know if I could. So many people want a piece of Roger,
and most of the time he handles it remarkably well."
Clemens devours the afternoon as gleefully as a kid at Disney
World. Forget his arm. It's a miracle his voice has held up this
long. When the round of golf is over, no one has to ask Clemens
if he had a good time. Clemens always has a good time. He's
making $8 million a year to throw a baseball--why shouldn't each
new day be more fun than the last? "I see young guys who just go
from the hotel to the ballpark and back to the hotel, and I feel
bad for them," he says. "That's not living. You got to get out
there and see what it's all about."
"People see him on the mound, and they think he's some kind of
superintense maniac," Capel says of Clemens. "But when he's not
playing, he's a different person. He just wants to enjoy life.
He's a big teddy bear, and he'll do anything for anybody."
Capel is quick with an example: Last August, when Capel had to
have his father taken off life support in a Houston-area
hospital, Clemens showed up unannounced and spent the night with
him. Clemens told a grieving Capel the same thing he has been
telling friends and teammates for years: Be thankful for the
time you had with your dad. Clemens had very little of that
time, and the void did much to shape him. "Sometimes I see my
teammates' fathers come into the clubhouse and visit them, and
I'm just so jealous," he says. "Sometimes it hurts. To be 30
years old and still have a father by your side--man, I wish
these guys knew how lucky they are."
Clemens's father left his wife, Bessie Jane, and five children
when Roger was 3 1/2 months old, and Clemens's stepfather,
tool-and-die maker Woody Booher, died when Roger was nine. The
family was living in Dayton, Ohio, at the time, but after Woody
died, they moved to the Houston suburb of Katy, where Roger
blossomed into a high school football and baseball star. Clemens
says the loss of his father and stepfather is the reason he is
determined to be there for Kacy and his brothers, 10-year-old
Koby, eight-year-old Kory and 10-month-old Kody.
"My two oldest boys are about the same age I was [when Woody
died], and I can't tell you how painful it was for me," says
Clemens. "I remember he got up from the dinner table and kind of
made his way to the bedroom, and we called the ambulance. It was
his second heart attack, but this time I knew it was bad. My
older sister kind of shoved me down into the basement to keep me
away, but I stacked some books on a chair and looked out the
window until they carried him by. I knew he was gone. From that
day, from the cruelty of it all, I knew I had to grow up fast."
Roger was raised by his mother and grandmother Myrtle Lee. When
he is asked where his legendary drive and work ethic come from,
he does not hesitate. "My mom," he says. "I watched her stock
coolers, clean buildings, work all day and night to make sure
her kids had a good life. We were probably lower class growing
up, but no one knew it. I always had the best spikes, the best
gloves. People thought we had money."
He has money now, but it has done little to temper his drive.
Clemens has always found something to ignite a fire inside him,
to give him that edge on the field. Maybe his decision to join
Toronto wasn't about the money after all. Maybe his first
experience with free agency was, like everything else, a
showdown: Roger Clemens versus all the people who thought he was
over the hill. And maybe the result wasn't such a surprise.
He's a three-time Cy Young Award winner (1986, '87 and '91) and
was voted the American League MVP in '86, but Clemens is more
likely to impress his new teammates with his work habits off the
field and his bulldog determination on it. In a game full of
self-absorbed stars, few players cause their colleagues to step
back when they walk by. Clemens is one. The Blue Jays asked some
of their top pitching prospects to arrive early in Dunedin just
to share the clubhouse with Clemens.
"What Roger brings far exceeds pitching ability," says Toronto
third baseman Ed Sprague. "He's a leader, an icon--something
we've lacked the last two years. He commands respect around the
league, and it doesn't matter what his record is. If he's 0-20,
he's still Clemens."
When the Blue Jays signed Clemens, designated hitter Carlos
Delgado offered to turn over his number, 21, even though he had
worn it in honor of his hero, Roberto Clemente. Delgado asked
for nothing in return, but when he arrived in Dunedin two months
later, Clemens presented him with a Rolex watch worth more than
$20,000. "Do you want number 48 too?" pitcher Paul Quantrill
shouted across the clubhouse. When manager Cito Gaston asked
Clemens for his thoughts on who should be the Opening Day
starter, Clemens gave the nod to righthander Pat Hentgen, last
year's Cy Young winner.
"People keep asking me what Roger brings to the team," says
Quantrill, who was Clemens's teammate in Boston from 1992 to
'94. "First of all, he's an absolute stud on the mound. But I
guess the biggest thing he brings is the most incredible desire
to win I've ever seen. A lot of guys talk a good game, but he
means it. He wants to win a World Series. I think he'd trade all
his Cy Youngs for the chance to play in another World Series."
By his second day in the Blue Jays' camp Clemens had heard
enough about aura. It was all fine and flattering, he said, but
he didn't appreciate the suggestion that Toronto signed him as
some kind of honorary captain. "I keep hearing about presence
and all that," says Clemens. "But let me tell you something: I
can still pitch. I might not have my A game every night, but
like I tell the young guys, you've got to go and win when things
don't feel just right. I see some guys walking around the
clubhouse before a start, and they're afraid to lose. I tell
them, 'If you don't want them to beat you, they're not going to
beat you. It's all up to you.'"
Toronto made other bold moves in the off-season, doling out a
reported $67.5 million on player signings, but until they landed
Clemens, no one was betting on them to beat out the Yankees and
the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. Now, six
months after finishing in fourth place, 14 games below .500
(74-88), the Blue Jays are the trendy pick to win what is
arguably the toughest division in baseball. "Clemens puts them
into contention now," says Yankees starter David Cone.
The addition of Clemens gives Toronto the best starting staff
north of Georgia. With Hentgen and Juan Guzman already in place,
the Blue Jays appear to be almost incapable of a long losing
streak. Hanson, who started on Opening Day a year ago, is now
No. 4 in the rotation. Last season Clemens led the American
League in strikeouts, while Guzman was tops in ERA (2.93) and
Hentgen had a league-high 10 complete games. They were the best
three in the league at holding opponents to the lowest batting
average, slugging percentage and hits per nine innings pitched.
Clemens also led the league in average pitches per start, with
125, a statistic that might best illustrate his value to a staff.
Clemens was a star defensive end at Springs Woods (Texas) High,
and he still brings the tenacity of a 17-year-old pass rusher to
the mound. He has, at various times in his career, pitched while
wearing 1) eye black, 2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shoelaces
or 3) a rubber mouthguard that was custom-made to save his teeth
from incessant grinding during games. He still wears the
mouthguard on occasion. In Boston his name was once removed from
above his locker by some of his teammates and replaced by his
favorite nickname: Possessed Rebel. Anything to sharpen his edge
and fill hitters with fear and doubt. "He emulates Nolan
[Ryan]--that presence on the mound," says Boston catcher Mike
Stanley. "You can see it, you can sense it, and you can feel it.
It puts a lot of fear in some players."
"He's one of the more intimidating pitchers I've seen in the two
decades I've played," says Minnesota Twins designated hitter
Paul Molitor. "In certain games the mind-set of opposing hitters
is one of survival, not of trying to figure out a way to be
successful. Young players who face him for the first time feel a
little defeated before they go to the plate."
"He's not afraid to pitch you inside and knock you down," says
Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez. "But he's got enough
control to come right back with a pitch on the outside corner.
That's how he controls a game."
The Blue Jays may not possess the offensive firepower of the
Orioles or the Yankees, but Clemens is accustomed to receiving
scant support. Last year his Red Sox teammates averaged just
4.40 runs in each of his starts, the sixth lowest in the league.
His average run support over the last five years (4.19) is even
worse. "If he'd pitched for Atlanta last year," says Hendricks,
"he'd have been 18-8."
Perhaps the trait that most impresses baseball people is
Clemens's knack for stopping losing streaks. In his Red Sox
career he won 111 times after a team loss. In this age of
bandbox ballparks, annual threats to Roger Maris's home run
record and increasingly weak pitching, Clemens represents a
seawall against the tidal wave of celebrated young hitters. "If
Roger doesn't win 20 games this year, does that make it a stupid
signing? I don't think so," says Beeston. "The fact is, Roger
brings everyone in our organization up a bit."
Indeed, when Toronto backed up the Brinks truck to Clemens's
door, they were buying much more than just a No. 2 starter. Last
year the team's season-ticket base slipped to 22,000 (from
26,000 in the world-championship seasons of '92 and '93), and
the leases to the SkyDome's luxury boxes expire at the end of
the '99 season. The Blue Jays are also concerned about their
local broadcast-rights fees because their TV ratings have fallen
drastically since their last World Series appearance, in 1993.
Among men over 18, the television audience for Toronto games has
dropped 40%. After their five-year TV deal ended at the close of
last season, the Blue Jays could only come to terms on a
Since that five-year broadcast-rights agreement was reached, the
Blue Jays have lost second baseman Roberto Alomar, pitcher Jimmy
Key, centerfielder Devon White and general manager Pat Gillick,
among others, and over the last three years they have finished
no better than third in their division. Beeston knew he couldn't
return to the negotiating table without rearming himself with
star power, and Clemens was the best weapon available. So his
signing was big business. "There is a buzz about baseball in
Toronto again," says Beeston, "and I haven't heard one person
criticize the high cost."
The price the Blue Jays paid for Clemens may have defused any
uprising by irate Red Sox fans. They didn't want to lose the
Rocket, but they weren't wild about breaking the bank to keep
him, either. Duquette reports that Fenway Park ticket sales have
increased and that only three season-ticket holders bailed out
after Clemens departed. Boston, with a smaller ballpark and a
less fickle fan base than Toronto, could not justify the huge
investment that Clemens required.
In the off-season the Red Sox also traded designated hitter Jose
Canseco to the Oakland A's, cut loose leftfielder Mike Greenwell
and hired peppy manager Jimy Williams. Duquette appears intent
on rebuilding with younger, cheaper players. "For Toronto it was
a reasonable business decision," says Duquette. "But putting all
that money into Clemens didn't make sense for us. We offered
Roger a chance to finish his career in Boston and be well paid,
but he made his choice. We redirected the money to younger
players without the risk of multiyear deals."
Clemens, of course, wasn't about to slip out of town
unnoticed--during 13 years in Boston he had never done anything
quietly. So on his way out the door he unloaded on the front
office. He says Duquette got exactly what he wanted. "I don't
know what Dan's complaining about," says Clemens. "He wanted me
out of there, and I'm gone. He got his way. He should be happy."
Clemens sure is.
He laughs and then spits out the numbers as if they were bugs
that had flown into his mouth. "Four-three-two-one," Clemens
says. "That was the offer. I couldn't believe it. I told my
agent, 'Maybe they're looking for Aaron Sele or some other
pitcher.'" Those numbers, Clemens explains, were the guaranteed
millions of dollars that the Red Sox originally offered for the
next four years. They added up to $10 million, which was only
slightly more than the signing bonus the Jays later handed him.
Clemens insists he would have stayed in Boston for less money
than what Toronto gave him, but not that much less. Like many of
today's financially flush professional athletes, he sees the
dollars as numbers on a scorecard, and those always matter. "He
could have stayed in Boston," says Duquette. "Terry Steinbach
took less to go to Minnesota. Tim Naehring took less money to
stay with us. Why? Because Tim felt comfortable here."
While Clemens is elated with his contract, he says he is
disappointed that he had to leave Boston. On Sept. 18, when he
reached back in time and struck out 20 Detroit Tigers, matching
the major league record he set in 1986, he also tied the Red Sox
record for career wins (192) and shutouts (38). The coleader in
both categories is a guy named Cy Young. Any player with an
appreciation of baseball history would get a charge out of being
in such company. Now, of course, Clemens won't get his chance to
stand alone in the Boston record book, nor will he realize
another dream: to be standing on the mound when the Red Sox win
their first World Series since 1918.
"It was not easy for Roger to cut those ties," says Hendricks.
"He loved Boston, the fans, the city, the history, the whole
deal. He was like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: He was arguing
with himself for days before and after signing with the Blue
Clemens says that as much as he loved Boston, he didn't care for
the boss. The cold-blooded Duquette makes no excuses for his
style: If players want love, they can call a 900 number. He is
there to run a business. He likes to keep players on their toes
with short-term contracts and a busy shuttle back to Triple A.
The Red Sox used 53 players two years ago when they won their
division, and 55 last year. "I know of at least two veterans [on
the Red Sox] who are pretty good pitchers, but they're always on
pins and needles," says Clemens. "They're afraid to go out and
just pitch, because they think if they give up a home run,
they'll be back in the minors. You can't treat guys like that."
Clemens says one of the things that made Toronto attractive was
the opportunity to hit ground balls to his sons on the SkyDome
infield--a practice, he says, that was frowned upon at Fenway
Park. He adds that Toronto gave his two older sons Blue Jays
uniforms, their own trading cards and use of a locker in the
team's clubhouse in the SkyDome--still more roses in the
successful romancing of Roger Clemens. Duquette laughs aloud
when he hears the list of goodies that allegedly enticed Clemens
over the border. "Let's just say I think his choice speaks
volumes about what was important to him," says Duquette.
It also makes things a good deal quieter in Boston. The greatest
Red Sox pitcher since Cy Young has turned eyes toward Toronto
and put the Blue Jays back in contention. The buzz is coming
from north of the border now, and if Clemens has his way, the
retractable roof of the SkyDome will no longer have to be opened
and closed. The fans might just blow it off.
"That will be my first challenge when I get up there," says
Clemens. "I want to get the people all fired up and into the
action. I want them to go crazy. I hope we can make it feel like
it did in Boston."