By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
Thirty-five years ago Roger Clemens played for the Pawtucket Red Sox before being
called up to Boston to launch a major league career that was filled with more twists and
turns and dramatic story lines than he or anyone else could ever have imagined.
His time with the PawSox, only two months, was brief because he was already on the
fast-track to the majors, but it was enough to earn him induction last week into the
PawSox Hall of Fame. He and his wife Debbie made the trip up from Texas for the
ceremony at which he was given a hero’s reception. He, in turn, was open, affable and
easily approachable before, during, and after the ceremony at McCoy Stadium prior to a
PawSox versus Indianapolis Indians game. He signed every autograph, shook every hand,
and answered every question from those who were crowded around him.
It was a marked contrast from the atmosphere around him on days when he pitched. His
jaw was set and his eyes had the steely glare of a man on a mission. It was intimidating
just to look at him, one can only imagine what it must have been like to step into the
batter’s box against him. Oh, how we loved him for it when he wore a Red Sox uniform
and how we resented him, especially when he wore the detested pinstripes of the
How did he ever get away from Boston in the first place? It all amounted to a personality
clash between him and then general manager Dan Duquette. Instead of locking him up
with an early offer, the Red Sox let his contract expire and the Toronto Blue Jays were
ready with open purse strings. The rest is history. When he left, Duquette famously, or to
be more precise, infamously, described him as being “in the twilight” of his career.
Eleven years and 162 wins later (he already had 192 with the Red Sox) Duquette was
right. The sun finally set on Clemens’ career, but not before he had won a total of 354
games, struck out 4,672 batters, and won seven Cy Young Awards. He was inducted into
the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2014.
But that was all in the past when Clemens was honored in Pawtucket. In his acceptance
remarks he was exceedingly generous, devoting a good portion of his speech to honor the
late Bill Buckner, who had died shortly before the ceremony. He offered encouraging
words to the players in both dugouts, reminding them of ”how hard” the game is. When
he was presented with two shadow boxes, each containing twenty baseballs labeled with
the name of each of his strikeout victims during his two twenty-strikeout games, he
beckoned to PawSox hitting coach Rich Gedman, who was the catcher in the history
making first twenty-strikeout game back in 1986, and together they reminisced about that
cold night in April thirty-three years ago.
Gedman, by the way, has remained steadfastly loyal to his friend, even in the darkest
days, when the federal government tried to convict Clemens of perjury for testifying
before congress that he had never used performance enhancing drugs. Gedman insisted –
and still insists - that Clemens was not only the best pitcher that he ever played either
with or against, but he was also the best teammate he ever had. At the weeks-long trial, in
case you’ve forgotten, Clemens was acquitted on all counts, making him the only player
of the steroids era who is certified not guilty. Still, the powers-that-be have held back on
voting him into Cooperstown. There is absolutely no one who doesn’t agree that Roger
Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers in the long history of the game, but they haven’t
voted him into the Hall. Go figure.
When he was asked to throw out the first ball following the induction ceremony, instead
of lobbing one in from in front the mound, as is the usual practice, Clemens had all the
tables and chairs that had been set up moved aside, retreated to the mound, wound up,
and delivered, if not a blinding fastball, one with plenty of zip on it, to his old catcher,
He, in fact, throws on a regular basis at his home in Texas to keep in shape. Every year he
makes a trip to Fenway Park to throw batting practice to contributors to the Jimmy Fund.
What a thrill it must be, to step up to bat against the great Rocketman, confident that he’s
not going to throw a fastball high and inside to keep you off the plate. In his days with the
Red Sox he made regular visits to the children who were patients of the Jimmy Fund.
One day a little girl refused to believe he was actually the real Roger Clemens, so he went
back to the park, changed into his uniform, and returned to show her he was, indeed,
Roger Clemens. After that, he always showed up at the Jimmy Fund wearing his uniform.
One can just imagine how many people must have almost driven off the road at the sight
of him jogging the mile or so up Boylston Street between Fenway Park to the Jimmy
Fund Hospital in full uniform.
He’s almost fifty-seven years old now, but looks much younger, still more like a football
tight end than a baseball pitcher. He and Debbie have been married for thirty-five years,
their children are grown, and they have been to the top of the mountain and in the deepest
valley, and still, they were genuinely excited to be in Pawtucket to relive some of the
early days of their baseball journey. It was endearing to see Debbie snapping pictures and
taking videos of him with her cell phone as the ceremony progressed.
Pawtucket, Rhode Island is ahead of Cooperstown, New York. It’s put Roger Clemens
where he belongs, in the Hall of Fame.