It's All About The Power In his final season, Roger Clemens stalks his landmark 300th win by making certain that his 40-year-old body can still bring the heat

June 02, 2003
June 02, 2003

Table of Contents
June 2, 2003

Inside Lacrosse

It's All About The Power In his final season, Roger Clemens stalks his landmark 300th win by making certain that his 40-year-old body can still bring the heat

The hard rectangular case is black, with silver steel
reinforcements at its edges and a silver steel handle on top. It
is the size of a small suitcase. It stands, seemingly obedient,
at home and away, day and night, at the foot of the locker of New
York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens. Stenciled in large white
figures on the side is the code E-22. On each corner are smaller
letters, also stenciled in white: M.I.B.

This is an article from the June 2, 2003 issue Original Layout

For four days the case remains shut, serving as an occasional
table on which to rest mail, a bottle of water, a baseball cap or
some other accoutrement of the mostly mundane life of a starting
pitcher. Everything changes on the fifth day. This is Clemens's
day to pitch. Like a soldier wearing camouflage paint into
combat, he sports two days of prickly stubble on his face. He
puts on his number 22 game jersey, which he does only on days
that he pitches. The jersey is kept under lock and key the rest
of the year.

Clack-clack! Clemens throws open the metal clasps to the case.
"Everybody look away!" he says. "You'll get blinded! Y'all
hitters, you'll forget everything you know about hittin' if you
look in."

He sets the case down on its side and pulls it open. What's
inside? Opponents want to know. "Do me a favor," Texas Rangers
shortstop Alex Rodriguez tells a reporter. "Ask him what drives

Teammates also want to know. "There's got to be something in his
inner being," says centerfielder Bernie Williams, who recently
asked him how he maintained his intensity throughout two decades
in the majors. "There's got to be something driving him that's
bigger than the game itself."

What's inside a man who turns 41 in two months and who after more
than 60,000 pitches still can throw a baseball with a ferocity
that even 95 mph fails pitifully to measure? What's inside the
greatest pitcher alive? Blasphemy be damned: Maybe his career has
been better than those of the dead, too--the communion of diamond
saints who never knew integration or the shock-and-awe slugging
of today's players.

Clemens's next win will be the 300th of his career, a milestone
that only 20 other men have reached. One of them, Tom Seaver,
once said he was proudest that he could have finished his career
with a 100-game losing streak and still have a winning record.
Seaver was 106 games over .500. Clemens (299-154) is 145 games
over .500, better than every 300-game winner but six, all of whom
have been dead for more than a quarter century: Cy Young, Christy
Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Kid Nichols, John Clarkson
and Lefty Grove. Clemens's .660 winning percentage is better than
that of every 300-game winner except the long-departed Mathewson
and Grove. His relative ERA, which measures a pitcher against his
league while considering ballpark factors, is better than those
of all 300-game winners except Grove and Walter Johnson.

Clemens's greatest accomplishment, however, is that he is leaving
the game exactly as he entered it 19 seasons ago. More than 4,000
innings after his first throw, he remains the consummate power
pitcher. He is Dick Clark with a nasty heater. "It's not fair,"
Mike Borzello, the Yankees' bullpen catcher, tells Clemens.

"What?" Clemens says.

"When you leave, you should be able to give your stuff to
somebody else."

The Upper East Side of Manhattan on a Thursday morning is a good
place to begin to understand what's inside a man Hollywood would
call a stock Texan. Raw, rainy and bleak, its blacktop shimmering
wet under a low ceiling of gunmetal gray clouds, this is the New
York of antique-silver gelatin prints. The weather is perfect for
cabbies, awful for nannies pushing plastic-hooded strollers and
of no consequence whatever to aging aces with the stuff young
pitchers dream about.

Clemens has gotten his 299th win by beating the Red Sox 4-2 in
Boston the previous night. The last of his 100 pitches was a
dive-bombing 89-mph splitter to strike out Doug Mirabelli with
the tie-breaking run at third base in the sixth inning. That was
four pitches after Clemens took a line drive off the back of his
pitching hand that ripped the skin off a knuckle, turned his
middle finger numb and made the hand swell. Not once did Clemens
rub or examine the back of the hand, which already sported a
month-old burn mark from an iron. ("What can I say? I'm
domesticated," he says.)

Upon striking out Mirabelli, Clemens pumped his fist, let loose a
shout, marched into the dugout and yelled, "They're going to have
to hit me in the head to get me out!"

Only 13 hours later he is out in the cold rain on an
artificial-turf field working on No. 300 with his trainer, Brian
McNamee, and his buddy and training partner, Ken Jowdy. Sherpas
are slackers compared with Clemens between starts, when he grinds
through what he calls his Navy SEALs workouts. ("The easiest day
I have," he says, "is the day I pitch.") They begin with this
"recovery day," he says, when he "flushes" from his body any
poststart soreness, typically in his pitching shoulder, lower
back, hamstrings and calves.

Over the next hour, with his pitching hand still swollen and
bandaged, Clemens zips through a series of exercises that
includes 130 abdominal crunches, runs totaling 1 1/2 miles at a
6:40 pace, several sets of jumps with a four-pound jump rope,
several football-style agility drills, ball-pickup drills and
basketball-style line drills.

From the field Clemens briskly walks four blocks to a gym where
he spends another hour doing rack-rattling lower-body weight
training, such as squats and leg curls, and more cardio work on
some combination of the treadmill, stationary bike and elliptical
trainer. There is a reason why almost none of the moms or
lobster-shift gym members gawk at the only six-time Cy Young
Award winner in their midst: He is here almost every day. "I'm
gonna break this thing!" Clemens says, straining atop the
stationary bike. He's already broken one bike, and there is a
glint in his eye as this one begins to emit the mechanical
warning gasps of surrender. "Hear it? You hear it?" he says. "I'm
gonna break it!"

The bike lives another day, which may not be true for Jowdy's
confidence on the golf course. Working out is a social activity
for Clemens. He craves partners, most of whom can't keep up with
him or his needling, so he's devised a sort of rotation to keep
him company. Fellow Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte is one partner.
Former teammate Ted Lilly enlisted once but lost his lunch about
halfway through the cardio portion. "I ate two sandwiches before
I went out with Roger," said Lilly, now with the Oakland A's.
"One stayed down. One didn't."

Today Clemens is calling Jowdy "Van de Velde," in honor of their
golf match three days earlier. On the par-5 18th hole Jowdy was
in the fairway in two, needing only a bogey to win. He took an 8.

"Hey, Van de Velde, you know how people get a brain freeze from a
Slurpee?" says Clemens, who plays to a six handicap. "You looked
like you had a head freeze in the car coming back. Wow, I thought
you were goin' down. I was fixin' to hit the OnStar to get you
some emergency help."

Clemens is especially excited today because, with 299 in hand, it
is the first day he can concentrate on 300. His wife, Debbie, and
four boys--Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody--are flying in the next day.
His mother, Bess, who has emphysema and is recovering from a
recent bout of pneumonia, will follow on the weekend. Fifty or so
former teammates and friends will also be arriving.

No matter what his victory total, however, Clemens never acts his
age. He is the high school jock who, $100 million later, still
doesn't call anybody by his given name--Yankees shortstop Derek
Jeter is "Jeet," catcher Jorge Posada is "Georgie," manager Joe
Torre is "Skip" and Jim Murray, one of Clemens's agents, is "Taco
Neck," after his habitual head-tilt to cradle his cellphone while
writing notes, which resembles the universal taco-eating

His pitches have nicknames too. Clemens throws, for instance, a
"splittie" (splitter), a "Hook 'em, Horns" (curveball) and a
"Racer X" (a fastball that rides back on the inside corner
against lefties) but tries to avoid the dreaded "cement mixer" (a
slider that spins too slowly). Even his truck has a nickname:
Mean Machine. Befitting his outsized image, Clemens drives a
Hummer H2. "The Mean Machine's great," he says from behind the
wheel while mounting an offensive on Second Avenue. "People get
out of your way."

Clemens drops off Jowdy at a diner and tells him to order
Clemens's usual lunch while he parks the Mean Machine. Not long
after Clemens sits down, he is served his Rocket fuel: a platter
with a breast of chicken and a bacon cheeseburger nearly the size
of a Manhattan studio apartment.

Somehow the conversation gets around to a hearing in the baseball
commissioner's office over Clemens's famous ejection by umpire
Terry Cooney in the 1990 American League Championship Series.
Clemens remembers that all parties were carefully editing their
recollections of the on-field language until commissioner Fay
Vincent finally implored them not to, saying, "We're all grown
men here."

"The stenographer was a little lady straight out of Little House
on the Prairie," Clemens says. "She couldn't believe what she
heard after that. The poor old woman's hands were shaking. I'm
thinking, I hope Little House on the Prairie makes it."

His recovery-day work isn't done yet. Clemens works out again
after he arrives at the ballpark at 3:30 p.m., usually strapping
weights on his ankles for exercises designed to maintain strength
in his groin area.

Day Two begins back on the artificial-turf field, as early as 7
a.m. The conditioning drills closely mirror those of Day One. At
the gym Clemens substitutes upper-body weight work for the
previous day's lower-body weight work. He moves through 12
different curls, lifts and pull-downs. "People who don't know get
put off by lifting," Clemens says, "but I never lift more than 25
pounds above my head."

He follows the weight work with another 20 minutes of cardio on
the treadmill and bike. Then he works out again at the stadium.
He does a series of light-weight exercises for strength and
flexibility in his pitching shoulder. He also throws for 12
minutes in the bullpen, using all his pitches: four-seam and
two-seam fastballs, slider, curve and splitter.

On Day Three, Clemens runs through another full morning of
crunches, agility drills and cardio, though his weight work is
scaled back to a few exercises at the ballpark. He throws again
in the bullpen, though this time he moves Borzello up to 55 feet,
not the standard 60 feet, six inches. For this, too, he has a
nickname: Williamsport. "I'm not looking for full extension," he
says. "I just want to concentrate on staying on top of the ball,
keeping my hand behind it. It helps you repeat your delivery."

When Clemens is satisfied with the muscle memory in his body, and
especially his right hand, he tells pitching coach Mel
Stottlemyre, "That's it." It's like tuning a piano. One day last
month Clemens threw only 12 pitches before stopping his

Day Four, the day before he pitches, is a light day. Clemens
plays catch in the outfield. He might jog lightly in the outfield
if his body is sluggish. He may do light weight work for his
shoulders. The hard part comes that night. "I don't sleep sound,"
he says of the eve of his starts. "I'll take Tylenol PM or
something, and it doesn't help. I don't care if it's the seventh
game of the World Series or a Sunday game in May--you don't sleep
sound if you care about your work, because you have a lot of
things going through your mind. I can relax [on Day Three].
That's my night to rest soundly.

"It's like when you're anxious before [pitching] a game in high
school. You've got to take the rubber and control the frame.
You're going to be the hero or the dog. You can't afford to have
a bad performance."

Game day. This is what the sweat equity of the past days has been
about. Monday marked Clemens's 584th start in the majors, and it
did not give him his 300th win. He has fewer than two dozen
starts left. There is no place for nicknames and levity now.

"Roger is a great teammate," Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi
says, "but on the mound? He's one badass mother."

In the first inning of Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS, in Seattle,
Clemens buzzed a fastball near the whiskers of Alex Rodriguez.
And then he did it again. Rodriguez wheeled and yelled at
Clemens, "Throw the ball over the f------plate!"

"I never heard him say anything," Clemens says.

Seattle manager Lou Piniella was furious. Rodriguez's mother
later complained that Clemens was trying to hurt her baby.

"Another big misconception," Clemens says, shaking his head.
"They don't understand: When you face a hitter and you're trying
to get him off the plate, you throw at his hands. Say, like
A-Rod. I'm trying to get a ball at his hands."

Clemens typically takes aim at a piece of his catcher: the mitt
mostly but sometimes a shoulder or a knee. To get a pitch under
the hands of a hitter he must aim toward the empty space between
the catcher and the hitter. "So you're visualizing throwing in
that open area," Clemens says of the brushback pitch. "And if you
let that ball go off the fingertips one or two inches in the
wrong spot, it's going to be up and in, heads-up, all that stuff.
But I'm not going to miss over [the plate]. Because I've done
that before. And with [Greg] Luzinski and [Dave] Kingman and
those monsters, that's gone. I learned that when I was 21."

Says Rodriguez, "I knew he was trying to set a tone." Clemens
threw a one-hitter that day against Seattle, striking out 15
batters. A few days later he sent Rodriguez's mother one of the
gift baskets the Yankees' wives had given the Mariners' wives. "I
really wasn't trying to hurt her baby," he says.

"Best game I've seen in my life," Rodriguez says. "I've probably
watched on TV and played in 5,000 games, and it's easily the best
I've ever seen. His 140th pitch in the ninth inning was 98 miles
an hour. His splitter was 95 and nasty.

"Roger Clemens is a role model for me. He is where I want to be:
the financial rewards, the family happiness, the Hall of Fame
career, the work ethic. He climbed the mountain, and he's stayed

Tony Gwynn liked to distill his hitting style to one word:
carving. That was his expression for allowing the ball to get
deep into the hitting zone and then slicing it through "the 5.5
hole," between the third baseman and shortstop. For Clemens, the
operative word is downhill.

"Perfect," he says. "I work downhill. Stay tall. Stay back. Work
downhill." In his windup he does a deliberate two-step: a drop
step with his left foot and a step in front of the slab with his
right. He can no longer see the catcher as his chin drops--he is
soft-focused on the third base side of the mound--but he
visualizes the target. "When I try to pick up the target too
early, my chin drifts," he says. "That causes the [left] shoulder
to fly open. You pick up the target as you're going home."

The mound never seems so damn high as when Clemens is erect over
the rubber with his left knee up, the ball still in his right
hand inside his glove. Imagine the last ominous click you hear
from the chain drive of a roller coaster as it crests that first
hill. At that moment the maximum amount of energy is stored. What
comes next is pure downhill fury. "I'm six-four, so I have
leverage," Clemens says. "Use your leverage and reach out there
and get somebody."

Down, down, down the slope of the hill he roars, the stored
energy released in an explosion of 237 pounds of power while he
keeps his huge, meaty right hand behind the ball, his fingers on
top--not on the sides--and his arm extended toward the target.
Nothing is wasted. The speeding coaster stays straight on its

"Roger is massive across the back and shoulders," Stottlemyre
says, "but much of his power comes through his great lower-body
strength and pushing off properly." This is why he invests four
days of sweat in every start, a program he tapers after the
All-Star break to stay strong for the rest of the season. He is,
body and soul, a power pitcher.

"I know why I'm able to keep my fastball at the pace it is right
now: It's because of the work that I do," he says. "If I was a
control freak as far as location and movement go, I could ride a
stationary bike and do a little whirlpool and stretch and
probably be fine. I wouldn't have to worry about getting sore.
For me to do this it's a four-or five-day recovery time."

He weighed 212 pounds when he made his big league debut in 1984.
In '88, after "melting at the 200-inning mark in August," he
says, he decided to reinforce his foundation. "I put almost two
inches on my legs and booty," he says. He has trained fanatically
over the years, though in different ways. With the Red Sox, for
instance, he ripped off four-or five-mile runs two or three times
so often between starts, he says, that "I knew every crack in the
path along the Charles River." When he left Boston for the
Toronto Blue Jays after the 1996 season--with Red Sox G.M. Dan
Duquette famously writing him off as being in the "twilight" of
his career--he met McNamee, who tweaked his workout. In seven
years, McNamee recalls, Clemens has showed up late for only one
workout and missed none. "I'm glad I still enjoy running and
doing the stuff I do," he says. "It's not work. I enjoy it
because I know it gives me results."

There is more to it than that, which is apparent when he is told
that Rodriguez wants to know what drives him. "A-Rod doesn't have
to look any farther than to his left and his right," Clemens
says. "He has a kid at second to his left and a kid at third to
his right, and he's setting the perfect example for them: that
you don't just come in and pick up your paycheck every 15 days.
It takes a lot of work. I'm doing it because ... I want Andy
[Pettitte] to know."

He is packing his bags. His three-bedroom Manhattan apartment
seems bare when you consider that it's been his in-season
residence for three years. A framed picture of Clemens with Cal
Ripken Jr. by the Babe Ruth monument at Yankee Stadium does not
hang on a wall but leans against a window on the sill. A few
boxes are scattered about. "I'm sending stuff home now," he says.
"It's getting emptier because I don't want it to be the end of
October, hopefully, and then a big transition."

Two years ago Debbie figured that when Roger won his 300th, he'd
find another pitcher or record to chase down. This winter,
though, a certainty settled over him like the warmth of the
spring sun. This would be his last season. "They're ready for me
to come home," he says, "and I'm ready."

He found in that decision--a twilight of his own
choosing--tremendous peace and comfort. Never has he been more
playful, never has he so enjoyed the brotherhood of baseball. One
day he's telling teammate Mike Mussina, whose flesh tone may
actually be deepening beyond its usual pallor, to up his SPF
factor. Another day he's yelling to a smiling Pettitte, "First
time I've seen your teeth in a month. I was ready to hang a
cryin' towel in your locker." He is allowing a crew from MLB
Productions to film him behind the scenes this season for a sort
of video scrapbook, including a planned trip next week to his
father's grave in Ohio. "The neatest thing about shutting it down
this year," Clemens says, "is that more guys, even from other
teams, are coming up to me to ask questions before I go."

"Roger, from Day One of spring training, has never had a down
day," says Stottlemyre. "You see a little extra spark every day
at the ballpark. It's almost like, 'I know this is my last
go-round.' He's always had a lot of energy. This year he's
stepped it up." Iduna, the Norse goddess of youth and beauty,
also kept a box close by. Hers was filled with golden apples.
Whenever the gods felt old age creeping up on them, Iduna opened
the box--Clack-clack!--and gave them a golden apple. They took a
bite and were filled with the magic of youth.

Inside his hard case, Clemens keeps the tools and totems of his
craft. His steel protective cup. Old game balls. His game hats. A
nameplate from his spring training locker in 2001, on which
former teammate Allen Watson wrote that Clemens would go 22-6 and
win the Cy Young. (Clemens went 20-3 and won the Cy.) Four
game-ready black fielding gloves. Four mouthpieces in a
lime-green plastic case.

"I bite down when I pitch," Clemens says. "My jaws and temples
used to be real sore after games. I used a football mouthpiece
until my dentist said, 'I can make you a thinner one that's more
durable.' I go through about four a year."

And then there's a Men in Black visor. "It's the Men in Black
case," Clemens says, finally explaining the stenciled acronym (if
not the E-22, which, it turns out, is the equipment manager's
code for Clemens's gear). "I got the visor at Universal Studios."

Torre says, "Roger takes me back to what Roy Campanella said:
'You have to have a lot of little boy in you to play this game.'"

There are no golden apples inside Clemens's case, so he labors
lovingly at keeping the ravages of age at bay. The work allows
him to stand tall on the mound and reach back to his youth for a
young man's fastball. The baseball will resonate like a sweet
memory in the mitt of Borzello. The two of them have a running
gag about it. Borzello will shake his head over the quality of
Clemens's stuff, the stuff that cannot be bequeathed, and Clemens
will bark, "What are you shakin' your head about?"

"I've already told you," Borzello will say.

And at that moment of affirmation Clemens feels serene in the
knowledge that all this work has brought him to the brink of 300
and will soon bring him home to his family, with almost no
compromise. That is what's inside.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. [COVER] THE ROCKET ROGER CLEMENS AND THE QUEST FOR 300 By Tom VerducciCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHUCK SOLOMON BEARING DOWN Clemens's explosive push off the mound brings to mind a roller coaster thundering downhill.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID KENNEDY, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN/AP (LEFT) He is the only Longhorn to have had his baseball number retired.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO By '86 he is the majors' dominant pitcher.COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. GETTING A LIFT On his off days Clemens is such a fixture in his neighborhood gym that nobody pays him any special attention.B/W PHOTO: MIKE KULLEN/AP (LEFT) In his record 20-K outing--the first of two--he allows only three hits.COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Clemens, with Buckner (6), lasts seven innings in Game 6 in '86.COLOR PHOTO: RICK MCFARLAND/AP (FAMILY) Debbie and son Koby are as pleased as Roger with his second Cy Young.COLOR PHOTO: PAUL SAKUMA/AP Jawboning the ump earns Clemens an early shower during the '90 ALCS.COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. JUST PASSING THROUGH For Clemens, Manhattan is a place to work out and sleep.COLOR PHOTO: KEVIN FRAYER/AP As a Blue Jay, Clemens gets no shortage of fan letters at Toronto's SkyDome.COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER (BLUE JAYS) He wins his fifth Cy Young, in 1998, with the Blue Jays.COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES Traded for Wells, Lloyd and Bush after the '98 season, Clemens joins his third big-league team.COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES (CLEMENS) The Rocket finally gets that elusive first World Series ring, in the Bronx in 1999.COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Clemens's beaning of Piazza in July 2000 sets off a media frenzy.COLOR PHOTO: BARTON SILVERMAN/NEW YORK TIMES The bat incident in the Subway Series is Clemens's worst throw of the year.COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Thanks to his workout ethic, Clemens throws as hard today as he did 20 years ago.

Percentage PLAYERS

With one more victory, Clemens will join Tom Seaver as the only
300-game winners since 1941 to have won more than 60% of their
decisions. Here, with Clemens, are the 300 Club members, ranked
by winning percentage.

Lefty Grove 1925-41 300-141 .680
Christy Mathewson 1900-16 373-188 .665
Roger Clemens 1984-present 299-154 .660
John Clarkson 1882-94 327-177 .649
Grover Cleveland Alexander 1911-30 373-208 .642
Kid Nichols 1890-1906 360-205 .635
Eddie Plank 1901-17 326-194 .627
Cy Young 1890-1911 511-315 .619
Old Hoss Radbourn 1881-91 310-196 .613
Tim Keefe 1880-93 341-223 .605
Tom Seaver 1967-86 311-205 .603
Walter Johnson 1907-27 417-279 .599
Warren Spahn 1942-65 363-245 .597
Mickey Welch 1880-92 309-212 .593
Steve Carlton 1965-88 329-244 .574
Don Sutton 1966-88 324-256 .559
Early Wynn 1939-63 300-244 .551
Pud Galvin 1879-92 361-302 .544
Gaylord Perry 1962-83 314-265 .542
Phil Niekro 1964-87 318-274 .537
Nolan Ryan 1966, 1968-93 324-292 .526

"It's not fair," the catcher tells Clemens. "When you leave, you
should be able to GIVE YOUR STUFF to somebody else."
"Roger Clemens is a role model for me," says A-Rod. "HE CLIMBED
THE MOUNTAIN, and he's stayed there."
This winter a certainty settled over Clemens. "They're ready for
me to come home," he says of his family, "AND I'M READY."