Page 2 columnist
When yesterday's Red Sox-Yankees game was delayed by rain, I called my buddy Hench to discuss the gleeful turn of events. Both of us were praying that Clemens wouldn't notch No. 300 against the Sox. After everything that happened over the past few years, watching that traitor's teammates carry him off the field at Yankee Stadium -- while he held the historic baseball in his greedy fingers, while the Boston players looked on wistfully, while the evil Yankee fans cheered him on -- would have ruined our holiday weekend.
There are many gray areas in sports where you can see both sides of a debate, but this isn't one of them. Clemens sold out an entire city. He didn't care about us. We supported him for 13 seasons, and when the time came for him to cash in, he headed to Canada and never looked back. There are many ways to figure out true Sox fans -- like when someone calls Bill Mueller "Mule-er" (it's pronounced like "Miller") -- but the Clemens Debate remains the ultimate test. Either root against him or root for another team. There's no middle ground.
Hench was especially pissy about it. He's my only friend who truly understands this whole Clemens thing. "My wife asked if part of me was cheering for him to get 300," Hench said. "I told her that I'm rooting for his arm to fall off so that his career ends and he's stuck on 299 for the rest of his life. She thought I was kidding."
He wasn't alone. During his 299th victory at Fenway last week, one of the Boston players belted a line drive off Clemens's right hand in the sixth inning. Clemens winced in pain and held his hand out, examining it the same way he would examine a piece of barbecued chicken that fell on the floor. The Yankee coaches and trainers sprinted out to make sure he was okay. And watching the game at work, I was muttering under my breath, "I hope it's broken in eight places."
|Clemens as the Antichrist|
Bill Simmons penned one of his most memorable Page 2 columns back in May of 2001, when he suggested Roger Clemens may be the Antichrist.
I shouldn't dislike someone this much, right? Here's someone I don't even know, someone with a wife and kids, someone who wouldn't know me if I walked right by him. And I'm rooting for his hand to shatter like a watermelon. This isn't good. None of this makes me feel good. Then again, until Clemens apologizes to the city of Boston and admits that he committed the most heinous crime that an athlete can commit -- complete and utter apathy -- I will always root against Roger Clemens. And I will never be entirely rational about it.
You might remember me writing about him two years ago, one of my first pieces for Page 2, a rambling manifesto titled "Is Clemens The Anti-Christ?" It's way too long, and I repeat myself a few times, and some of the information isn't even completely accurate because I was so determined to make my point. For instance, Clemens didn't entirely roll over during his final four-year contract in Boston. As a recent Boston Globe piece pointed out, his bullpen squandered a bunch of games, he suffered some injuries, and there were times when Boston's defense was so horrendous (anyone remember Wil Cordero trying to turn a double play?) that Clemens had to get three to four extra outs per game.
Of course, he wasn't in the greatest shape for much of that final contract, either. The '93 season was a disaster -- 11-14, 191 innings, 4.46 ERA, three chins. I still remember seeing him at the lockout-shortened spring training in '95, when Clemens looked like the lead singer for the Blues Traveler. He spent much of that season pitching himself into shape, even though he was one of the highest-paid players in the league. In his defense, nobody expects baseball players to work out during the winter when they could be doing important things, like renting movies and eating.
As luck would have it, that particular Sox team turned out to be pretty good -- the only team during the latter half of Clemens's Boston career that made the playoffs -- winning 95 games despite the staff ace's crummy season. How would that Sox season have turned out if he submitted a typical Clemens year (17-10, 2.60 ERA, 220 IP) instead of his actual contribution (10-5, 4.18 ERA, 140 IP)? We will never know. On the other hand, Clemens would have pitched just well enough to lose in the playoffs, regardless of his conditioning. So maybe it's a moot point.
Whatever the case, there are three smoking guns against Clemens which are indisputable. I covered this ground before, but I'm doing it again. It's important. You need to know this stuff.
1. After signing with Toronto -- and let there be no doubt, Clemens grabbed the highest offer -- he didn't spend more than five seconds thanking the Boston fans in the "I'm fleeing for Canada even though I always said I would only play for Boston or Texas" press conference. Contrast that to Drew Bledsoe's departure last spring, when the former Pats QB (headed to Buffalo) took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe thanking New England fans for their support. It's the little things, right? When you spend years of our life cheering for somebody, it's nice to know that they appreciated it. Maybe I'm crazy.
Well, Clemens never threw us a bone. Thirteen years cheering for the guy, following every start, making excuses for him every time he choked in the playoffs or Dave Stewart kicked his rear end ... and in that (bleeping) press conference, he seemed like an office temp finishing out a two-week stint and moving on to a better job. Worst thing an athlete ever did to me. I haven't liked sports quite as much since.
2. The following spring, Mr. Ungrateful arrived in Toronto in the best shape of his career. Why? As he kept telling reporters, he wanted to prove to Boston management that they were wrong about him. Yup, they should have forked over $30 million to keep him, even though he went 40-39 with a 3.90 ERA and averaged just 186 innings per season in his previous contract. I always enjoyed how Clemens was "motivated" to prove the Sox wrong in '97, yet that $20 million contract he signed in '93 didn't provide him with similar motivation.
Anyway, here's what Clemens does over the next two seasons: 41-13, 2.39 ERA, 498.2 innings, 563 K's, 156 walks, two straight Cy Youngs. All on a crappy team, of course (God forbid this ever happened on a good team). As I wrote two years ago, watching Clemens light it up in Canada was like breaking up with your girlfriend, then watching her hire a personal trainer, shed 15 pounds, spend 10 Gs on a boob job and join the cast of "Baywatch." But worse.
3. Frustrated by the losing in Toronto, Clemens orchestrates a shady trade to our archrivals -- the Yankees, a little like switching over from the Bloods to the Crips -- with help from an illegal "You can ask for a trade if you're not happy after two years" clause in his contract. If this didn't work out, here was Plan B: Sneak into Fenway Park, pee on the wall, take tons of pictures.
Short of blowing up the Citgo sign or beaning Nomar in the head, this was the worst thing he possibly could have done to Sox fans. This was like watching that same "Baywatch" girlfriend marry your archenemy from high school -- the guy who graduated from an Ivy League school, made millions and gives you that sardonic smirk every time you see him -- then send you dirty pictures from the wedding night.
You know the rest. We hated him. He was too dumb to understand why. We watched him piggy-back on the Yankee mini-dynasty for two rings, breaking pitching records along the way ... and we hated him some more. He still didn't understand why.
Now he's almost 41 years old, and the Kareem Corollary is suddenly in overdrive: No matter how loathsome an athlete was during his prime, once he hits his twilight years, everything's water under the bridge. During his latest Boston trip, local media coverage seemed more favorable than usual, and the fans weren't quite as vicious. Even Benedict Arn--, er, Roger was saying things like, "This town and this ballpark is part of me. I worked here. I gave my all here. That's the bottom line. That will never change.''
The whole thing made me want to puke. One thing about Boston fans -- there isn't a bigger group of suckers on the planet. In the waning months of his career, Clemens only needs to give one interview -- just one! -- admitting his mistakes in that '97 press conference, which was the Munich Plan of this whole saga. He could say stuff like, "Looking back, I don't know what I was thinking," and "I was so wounded that Boston management lowballed me, I lost sight of what was really important, and that was my relationship with Red Sox fans," and even, "There isn't a day that passes where I don't wish I had let the Boston fans know how I really feel." Maybe he could even work up a few crocodile tears.
This would work. I guarantee it would work. Hell, he could even win me back with the right performance. But he just doesn't give a crap. And that's the root of the problem here. That's why Roger Clemens is the only modern-day superstar who doesn't belong to a single city. That's why he became a hired gun. That's why his Hall Of Fame plaque should feature him wearing a a cap with a dollar sign on it. And that's why Clemens' departure from Boston, and everything that happened after, remains my most disappointing experience as a sports fan.
One more thing: During yesterday's rain delay, the Boston station started running Clemens's 20-strikeout game from 1986, nine innings that put him on the map, the night he arrived as a Boston superstar. There was a Celtics playoff game that night. Only 10,000 people were at Fenway. Years later, 300,000 people would claim they were there. The night Clemens stole the spotlight from Bird in his prime. I remember watching ESPN when they flashed the graphic on the screen -- Roger Clemens has just set a major league record with 20 strikeouts against Seattle -- and feeling my entire body go numb. Twenty strikeouts? Twenty?
That was April 29, 1986. I was still in high school. Clemens's career was just taking off. Baseball experts were comparing him to Seaver and Ryan, Boston fans were comparing him to Orr and Bird. And I was ready for all of it. This was going to be my pitcher -- the guy whose career I followed from beginning to end. I never imagined it could end like this: Clemens pitching against the Red Sox for his 300th victory, wearing a Yankee uniform in Yankee Stadium, the ultimate sellout. And me rooting against him.
After it stopped raining, the Sox and Yankees played nine innings ... and Clemens ended up getting shelled. No 300th victory for him. At least not yet. And not against Boston.
Red Sox 8, Yankees 4. There is a God.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.