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Dan Shaughnessy

Don’t forget, Rocket soared before the fall

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 24, 2010

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Let me tell you the story of Clementine.

Clementine is a 6-foot-tall white teddy bear that sits in a shed behind my house. Clementine is 16 years old and a little worn around the edges. The big bear is dirty, moth-ridden, and has duct tape covering holes where stuffing would come out.

Clementine came to our house in a giant cardboard box delivered in a UPS truck in the winter of 1993-94. When the driver and I discovered that the return address was “Katy, Texas,’’ we checked to see if the thing was ticking. Roger Clemens was no friend of mine, and I was concerned the box might contain a Trojan Horse or some other mayhem maker.

No. It contained a get-well gift for 8-year-old Kate Shaughnessy, who’d just been diagnosed with leukemia. There was an autographed baseball from Clemens and the big white bear. Kate smiled and named him/her Clementine. And Clementine stayed in her room until she graduated from college.

I thought of Clementine last week when the news broke that Clemens was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he lied to Congress when he testified that he never used performance-enhancing drugs.

Clemens is probably going to prison and that’s his own fault. It’s obvious that he won’t get much sympathy from Red Sox Nation, but I am here to tell you that the Rocket was not the face of evil when he pitched at Fenway Park from 1984-96.

Things ended badly for Clemens in Boston (where have we heard that one before?). He was barely more than a .500 pitcher over his last four seasons with the Sox and it stung when he went to Toronto and won back-to-back Cy Young Awards after Sox GM Dan Duquette announced that the pitcher was in the twilight of his career.

In a final act of Boston betrayal, Clemens became a member of the hated Yankees and won a championship in the Bronx. That’s one of the reasons one could hear so much local cheering when the feds came after the Rocket last week.

I think Clemens used PEDs. I think he lied his butt off when he went before Congress in February of 2008. And I think he’s going down, just like Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, and Marion Jones.

But I don’t think he was the worst thing that ever happened to the Red Sox. And he was not always hated around here.

I was there for the good days at the beginning. In 1986 Clemens rescued the moribund John McNamara Sox (81-81 in ’85), winning his first 14 decisions en route to a 24-4 Most Valuable Player season. He was 23 when he struck out 20 Mariners in a game at Fenway April 29. In August of that season, I wrote a column comparing him favorably to Larry Bird. It seems hideous now, but nobody complained then.

When Bird picked up his third MVP trophy in 1986, he said, “I see the guy who’s going to take the spotlight away from me. His name is Roger Clemens. He’ll become big, and then I’ll be able to go out in public again.’’

Sounds odd, no? Bird forever will be bathed in love and adulation when he comes to Boston. Clemens, meanwhile, is scorned. When he pitched against the Sox at Fenway in the 1999 playoffs, fans made his mother cry. She said they treated her son “like Hitler.’’

It was rough. And it only got rougher as Clemens became increasingly wealthy, self-important, and boorish.

His reputation in Boston took its first hit in the spring of 1987 when he walked out of camp over a contract dispute. That was when GM Lou Gorman famously stated, “The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I’ll have lunch.’’ In 1992, the first day of the Butch Hobson regime, Clemens failed to show and did not call his new skipper. While the Sox went through their workouts, the Rocket appeared at a Houston bar called “The Velvet Elvis.’’ Clemens’s response was, “Why should I go down there and stand around spitting sunflower seeds?’’ When Clemens finally arrived in Florida, Daddy Butch joined Roger for a bonding lap around Chain O’ Lakes Park. Clemens wore headphones the entire time they ran.

There were plenty of other bad moments here. McNamara accused Clemens of “asking out’’ of the sixth game of the World Series in ’86, a charge Clemens vehemently denied. There was the famous “luggage’’ interview with Channel 5’s Mike Dowling after Bruce Hurst bolted for San Diego in 1988, when Clemens complained about players having to carry their own bags. There was the public carping with Wade Boggs. There was the Ninja Turtle scene in Oakland when he got himself thrown out of a playoff game (Clemens won only one of nine postseason starts for the Sox). There was the time he threw hamburger buns at a sports columnist and the time he shoved Globe photographer Jim Davis — a moment that no doubt prepared Davis for getting shoved by Bill Belichick.

But it wasn’t all bad. Clemens and Cy Young are the winningest pitchers in Sox history, each with 192 victories, including 38 shutouts. Clemens won three Cy Young Awards for the Sox. His No. 21 Sox jersey has been unofficially retired since he left the Hub and equipment czar Joe Cochran has no intention of re-issuing the digit.

Clemens did good things off the field while he was here. He did more for local charities than Bird ever did. He was a friend of the Jimmy Fund. He went to the clinic, sometimes in uniform, without sending out press releases. He didn’t do it for publicity. He just did it.

Clemens might be going to prison. Clementine is staying in the shed and has nothing to say about the plight of the Rocket.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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