There was a time when I actually liked Roger Clemens. Or maybe there was not. I suppose I could be misremembering.
No, no, I know my memories, unlike so many of his proclamations, are true. There were days when it was easy to root for the Rocket — many days over many seasons, actually. His 13-year run with the Red Sox (1984-96) was marked by many milestones as well as occasional sirens warning us of his lunkheaded nature.
Maybe we have to squint to see the best of times in the mind’s eye, but they are there, narrated by Ned Martin and Bob Montgomery.
The accomplishments — start with those two 20-strikeout games a decade apart, then commence filling in all the feats of brilliance in between — made it easier to ignore that the ace legitimately thought of himself as a superhero (hey, “The Rocket” was always so generous with his time to children’s charities) and was laced up way too tight with those Ninja Turtle shoelaces during his most public big-game meltdown.
If we’re being honest about his place in Boston sports lore — and I’m trying, man — Clemens’s run of individual accomplishment and longevity probably allows him to remain in the top spot on the short list of the all-time greatest Red Sox pitchers.
No one has ever had a higher peak than Pedro Martinez. But Clemens was brilliant — not as brilliant, but brilliant still — for longer.
His induction last week into the Red Sox Hall of Fame was probably overdue, and if management decides it will sell a few extra tickets if they put his No. 21 on the right-field facade, well, hell, go ahead and do that, too.
Just don’t expect me to like the guy. And you sure as hell better not try to tell me that I do.
My problem with Clemens is not that he left the Red Sox for Toronto, or that he pitched for the Yankees, or that he heaved his wife and his best baseball friend under the proverbial Greyhound in pathetically attempting to cover his own presumably needle-pocked butt after his name showed up in the Mitchell Report 20-something times.
No, my problem with Clemens is this: He’s the fool who is constantly trying to play us for the fool. He lies effortlessly whenever there’s even the possibility of a benefit for him, but I’m not sure there’s anything disingenuous about it. He has the manipulative powers of a 6-year-old, and he may well believe his superpowers include making anything he says the gospel.
Evaluating The Truth According To Roger from a more cynical perch, I can’t tell if he’s simply a moron who honestly thinks he’s duping you or a moron who has told the same lie so many times that he’s forgotten the truth.
It would be a fascinating study if he weren’t so exasperating — and that particularly applies to how he expects to be viewed by Red Sox fans now that he needs Boston again.
And he does need Boston. Clemens’s alleged dalliances with performance-enhancing drugs have left him locked out of the Cooperstown and stripped of all of the adulation that mattered so much to him. Of course, he’s not capable of admitting to any of this. Candor has never been part of his repertoire.
Which is fine — I imagine the blinders he wears now help him cope with a post-playing-days existence that has to be so much more desolate than he expected. He seems like someone who would have actually looked forward to the card-show-and-golf-tournament circuit. I’d feel bad for him if it weren’t perpetually self-inflicted.
But it does not require great skills of perception to recognize that he’s trying to get something back. And he’s starting where it began, where the Rocket’s legend (the real one and the one in his own mind) was first constructed.
He’s kissing up to Boston with predictable transparency, saying he’d want a Red Sox cap on his Hall of Fame plaque and all of that accompanying pandering. It might be cool if the ulterior motive wasn’t so obvious — he needs someone in baseball to adore him again, and so he’s starting where that adulation blossomed. It’s based more on chronology than any particular nostalgia.
How can I be so confident in this assessment? Simple. Look how Clemens treated Boston when he didn’t need anything from us. No one, save for perhaps David Wells, rubbed it in our faces more after Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Remember those two swollen meatheads, kissing the Babe Ruth monument in the immediate aftermath?
Yeah, sure, that was a guy who had a lot of respect for what Sox fans had endured. He was here 13 years, failed to put an end to the curse nonsense himself, then reveled in it when he was riding the coattails of the Red Sox’ pinstriped conquerors. Talk about showing your true colors.
He wanted you to suffer. If there’s anything that could have possibly made 2004 even sweeter than it actually was, it would have been walloping Clemens along the way. But by then he had finally made his way to Texas, putting up a not-suspicious-at-all 38-18 record and 2.40 ERA from 2004-06, his ages-41-to-43 seasons.
You’ll recall that when the time came at midseason 2007 to decide between the Red Sox and Yankees, he passed on Boston’s pandering offer (can you imagine the how groan-worthy the come-home-Rogah video the Red Sox presented him must have been?) and, oh my goodness gracious, showed up in George Steinbrenner’s box.
Clemens loyalty was foremost to the cash, and then somewhere down the list, the Yankees cachet. His loyalty to the Red Sox? Not even worthy of an honorable mention.
If the Red Sox want to appease him — out of sympathy for the pathetic more than anything else — fine. I’m OK with forgiving him. But forgetting is another matter.
Clemens was a tremendous pitcher here. That’s worth remembering. So is this: He hasn’t cared about you or the Red Sox until he needed you and the Red Sox.
Don’t be surprised when he shows up at an Old-Timers’ Day in the Bronx one of these years — in his desperate quest for redemption, he’s going to need them, too — and claims that in his heart, he’s always been a true Yankee.
In a sense, they’ll be the truest words he’s ever spoken.