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Rocket Science Ignited by his twin passions for family and fitness, the Yankees' ageless Roger Clemens has lifted off to an 18-1 record--and toward a sixth Cy Young award

Sept. 10, 2001
Sept. 10, 2001

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Sept. 10, 2001

Rocket Science Ignited by his twin passions for family and fitness, the Yankees' ageless Roger Clemens has lifted off to an 18-1 record--and toward a sixth Cy Young award

Roger Clemens's last memory of his stepfather, the man he calls
"my father," is of the spinning red lights and wail of the siren
as the ambulance pulled away. Nine-year-old Roger watched
through a basement window while standing on a table he'd hauled
atop an old couch. His older sisters, Brenda and Janet, had
rushed him to the basement just after their stepfather, Woody
Booher, had dropped to the floor of their Vandalia, Texas, home
with a heart attack. Roger would never see him alive again.

This is an article from the Sept. 10, 2001 issue Original Layout

Thirty years later only a few other memories of Woody remain,
like assorted snapshots in an old shoe box. The gallon of Blue
Bell ice cream he would bring home every other day after his
shift at the tool-and-die company. The sultry evenings when Roger
and Woody would curl up together on the floor to watch Bonanza
and, during commercial breaks, the way Woody would tickle Roger's
face with his five o'clock stubble. The rides Woody gave Roger to
Roger's ball games--always an hour early, never trusting Bess and
the girls to be done fixin' their hair and such soon enough to
get his son there on time. The horse Roger would tie to a tree in
the front yard, knowing Woody insisted that the family's five
steeds be kept out back, and the subsequent cleanup job that
would be imposed on him.

There's not much more. Two fathers by nine--his mother left his
biological father, Bill, when Roger was 3 1/2 months old--and then
suddenly none. Nine years are nothing. Maybe they're crueler than
nothing. They're long enough for a few isolated images to form in
the darkroom of the mind. Dots that can't be connected. "Ever
since I got to the big leagues, I've noticed fathers of players
waiting outside the clubhouse for their sons," says Clemens, the
New York Yankees' ace righthander. "I remember Mo Vaughn's dad in
Boston. Andy Pettitte's dad has been around here. I always
thought how special that would be."

Today Woody Booher's son is as close to an unbeatable pitcher as
there has ever been in baseball. With career victory 278 last
Friday, a 3-1 conquest of the Boston Red Sox in which he
scattered seven hits while striking out 10 in seven innings,
Clemens became the first man in the 101-year history of the
American League to start a season 18-1. (National Leaguers Rube
Marquard, Don Newcombe and Elroy Face did so in 1912, '55 and
'59, respectively; Face finished the '59 season with that mark
and a .947 winning percentage--the major league record.) Through
Sunday his 186 strikeouts led the American League, and his 3.48
ERA ranked sixth. Clemens's victory set the tone for New York's
suffocating three-game sweep, which was capped by righty Mike
Mussina's 1-0 Sunday win, in which a two-strike single by the Red
Sox' Carl Everett broke up a perfect game with two outs in the
ninth.

Clemens turned 39 years old on Aug. 4 and is the father of four
sons, the oldest of whom just started high school. Fathers of
teenagers aren't supposed to be blowing 96-mph heaters past Gen X
batters and taking Wite-Out to the record book. They're supposed
to be standing on the sideline at their kid's first high school
football practice. Clemens, by his will and his wealth (he's in
the first season of a two-year, $30.9 million deal with New
York), can do both. One day last month he was home in Katy, Texas
(about 30 miles from Houston), thanks to the time-share jet he
owns with golfer Justin Leonard and two businessmen, watching his
14-year-old son, Koby, a defensive end, go through his first
drills with the Memorial High squad. Two days later Roger was
mowing down the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium for win
number 16.

"The best investment I ever made," Clemens calls the jet, his
share of which he bought last year, his second with New York. He
uses the aircraft to fly home the night before every Yankees off
day, no matter where the club is playing. Roger's family uses it
to visit him. His sons have served as batboys for some New York
road games, and they and his wife, Debbie, occasionally join him
in the Big Apple. If Debbie and the kids aren't with him, Roger
calls home at least three times a day, so often that when Debbie
saw the Yankee Stadium switchboard number pop up on her caller ID
during Roger's aforementioned win over Tampa Bay, she picked up
the phone and cooed, "Oh, honey, are you thinking about us?" It
turned out to be a front office employee checking to see if she
needed help getting the satellite television feed of the game.

"Last year he invited the team to his house for a barbecue," says
New York manager Joe Torre, "and while there I got a sense of how
he's been able to keep going. With most guys his age or even
younger, they get, I don't want to say pressure, but influence
from home, with [wives and children] asking a lot, 'When is Daddy
coming home?' But he's made his family a big part of his career."

Says Clemens, "I have a great team here with the Yankees. And
it's like I have another great team at home. There's no way I
could be doing what I'm doing without both of them."

True, the three-time defending world champs are a pitcher's
dream. New York travels with two strength coaches, a massage
therapist, two trainers, a sports psychologist and the richest
collection of ballplayers ever assembled, including the game's
best closer, Mariano Rivera. Through Sunday the Yankees had
averaged 6.39 runs for Clemens, fifth most among American League
starters. Six times this year Clemens had left a game trailing,
but only once, on May 20 against the Seattle Mariners, had his
teammates failed to get him off the hook. Clemens had left with a
lead 19 times (he had no complete games), and only once had his
bullpen not locked down his W. The bottom line: The Yankees were
25-3 when they gave him the ball (and 56-53 when they gave it to
anyone else).

Says Fran Pirazolla, a sports psychologist who works with the
Yankees, "Mentally, Roger is one of the strongest athletes I've
ever been around. When children lose a parent, they can go in two
directions. Roger has made it a source of strength. He's always
looking after the people around the team, trainers, batboys,
whomever, asking if he can do anything for them. He has this
sense of responsibility that's fatherly in a way, even among his
teammates."

Clemens has introduced Pettitte, a fellow Texan, to his famously
grueling conditioning program. (Lefthander Pettitte, who relied
on 89-mph sinkers and cutters, now can fire 94-mph four-seam
fastballs past hitters.) Clemens also let rookie lefties Randy
Keisler and Ted Lilly join him during a workout in Baltimore in
July. Lilly grew dizzy and nearly passed out, and Keisler
vomited. "Or maybe it was the other way around," Clemens says,
laughing.

Throughout almost 18 major league seasons (the first 13 with the
Red Sox and the next two with the Toronto Blue Jays), Clemens has
been a fitness fanatic. He so refined his training sessions with
Blue Jays strength coach Brian McNamee that Toronto catcher
Darrin Fletcher nicknamed them "Navy SEAL workouts." Clemens won
his fourth and record fifth Cy Young Awards with the Blue Jays
and then was traded to New York following the 1998 season for
lefthander David Wells, lefty setup man Graeme Lloyd and second
baseman Homer Bush. After Clemens slipped to 14-10 with the
Yankees in 1999, New York hired McNamee as its assistant strength
coach. From July 2, 2000 (when Clemens returned to action after
straining his right groin muscle), through Sunday, he'd gone 27-3
over 46 starts.

Between outings Clemens religiously adheres to McNamee's tightly
choreographed program of distance running, agility drills, weight
training, 600 daily abdominal crunches and assorted other
tortures. "One time he wanted me to ride a stationary bike, and I
told him I never thought it gave you much of a workout," Clemens
says. "He told me, 'Give me 17 minutes.' After 17 minutes I
thought my legs would explode."

Clemens takes great pride in having stopped his baseball
biological clock. He will tell you that he still runs three miles
in 19 to 20 1/2 minutes, that he still weighs 232 pounds, that he
still wears slacks with a 36-inch waist (though they must be
tailored to allow for his massive thighs) and that he can still
reach for a mid-90s fastball at will--the same specs he had at
least 10 years ago. "He's a freak of nature, the kind of pitcher
who comes along once in a generation, maybe every 25 to 30
years," says Devil Rays pitching coach Bill Fischer, Clemens's
pitching coach from 1985 to '91 in Boston. "He's like Tom Seaver
or Nolan Ryan. At 39 the s.o.b. is as good as when I had him. To
go 18-1, I don't care if you're pitching for God's All-America
team, that's mighty hard to do. He can pitch as long as he
wants."

There's another benefit to the maniacal training besides staying
fit. Clemens says all that sweat equity gives him a high comfort
level when he takes the mound. How prepared is he? Through Sunday
he had not permitted a first-inning earned run in 21 of his 28
starts. "I know I've done everything I could to be ready for that
fifth day," he says. "Sometimes you hear a guy when he retires
talk about regrets. You won't hear that from me. I know I haven't
left anything in the bag. I enjoy the work. I enjoy being the guy
people count on to carry the mail. I admit there are times when
my body might feel sluggish, but then I'll go out to the mound
and hear a kid yell my nickname, and that will pump me up."

Clemens is keenly aware of baseball history and his place in it.
(Referring to Pettitte, for instance, he says, "I told him he can
chase down Whitey Ford's Yankees records, if he wants.") He reads
books on the sport's greats, such as one on Walter Johnson given
to him by a descendant of the Big Train, and taps into the
Internet to brush up on legends he's passing in the record book.
Rube Marquard? "I'll have to look him up," Clemens says. For the
record, Marquard was 25 when he started an unequaled 19-1 for the
1912 Giants. He retired at 38.

How long can Clemens last? He so tightly knits his family and
career that he answers the question with we, as in, "We thought
for a long time we were going to call it quits in 2000." Instead,
he signed an extension last August that includes an option year
in 2003. He likes the fact that Koby and second son Kory, 13, are
old enough now to understand the dedication it takes to be a
professional athlete, and that Kacy, 7, and Kody, 5, have fun
running around the clubhouse. "We signed a contract with the
Yankees, so we intend to honor that," he says, "but I can't
predict anything. I don't know how my body will feel next year or
the year after that."

Says Debbie, "He's at a very comfortable point in his life. I
know getting 300 wins is important to him. But after 300, what
else is there?"

There are always more names to learn about in the record book.
There are more abdominal crunches to do, more sub-seven-minute
miles to run, more days to keep a 36-inch waist and a 96-mph
fastball in his armament against age. There are, too, more
flights home for Woody Booher's son to make it all work. That's
Rocket science, the kind even a teenager understands.

One day last year Roger turned to Koby and said, "Son, the day I
win my 300th game, I'm going to leave my glove on the mound and
come on home."

Koby laughed. "Who are you kidding?" he said. "The day you win
your 300th, you'll be thinking about 305."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAMIAN STROHMEYER COVER ROCK OF AGES AT 39 YEARS OLD ROGER CLEMENS IS MAKING HISTORYCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIERCOLOR PHOTO: TONY TRIOLO Boston, less mass In '85 a callow Clemens displayed the same mechanics but not as much muscle as he went 7-5 for the Red Sox.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN MABANGLO/AFP Pops is tops Having Kody and Kacy (right) at the All-Star Game in Seattle thrilled Dad as much as being named the American League starter.
"He's a freak of nature, the kind who comes along once a
generation," says Fischer.
If Debbie and the kids aren't with him, Roger calls home at
least three times a day.