The Rocket's Red Glare

By Starr, Mark | Newsweek, July 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

The Rocket's Red Glare


Starr, Mark, Newsweek


For Clemens, pitching well is the best revenge

THE GLOWER, THE GOATEE AND THE gas on the 97-mile-per-hour fast ball are all the same. Yet Roger Clemens is not easily recognizable on the mound of Toronto's SkyDome, having traded in his red sox for Blue Jays royal blue. Once baseball's dominant pitcher with the Red Sox, Roger "the Rocket" had appeared, in recent years, badly in need of a booster. So when his contract expired last fall, Boston bid adieu to its former ace. The Blue Jays bid him up--$31.5 million for four years--making Clemens, at 34, the highest-paid pitcher in the game. Toronto's reward has been a familiar sight: Clemens once again atop the American League both in wins (12) and earned-run average (1.79). "His stuff is phenomenal," says Toronto catcher Charlie O'Brien. "Now it maims sense to me why I could never hit him."

Next week Clemens will likely be the starting AL pitcher in the all-star game. Then he'll return to Boston's Fenway Park for his debut as a visiting player. Clemens says he expects the fans, as always, to be "wonderful." But he hasn't forgiven his former employers for letting him leave town. "The Red Sox," he says, "have gone from a team that stood for tradition and loyalty to one that's strictly cold business." Such resentment, Toronto general manager Gord Ash believes, may have fueled one of baseball's great comebacks. "Every athlete, no matter how much they earn, needs a personal motivation," Ash says. "And if one thing motivates Roger, it's being challenged that he's no longer what he once was."

Clemens is not a man given to much public introspection. "I'm exactly the same pitcher I always was," he says, ignoring how he no longer relies on just his fast ball. Roger also insists his weight has remained constant, though he is visibly slimmer than in recent years. (Boston Globe columnist win McDonough called him the "Pillsbury Doughboy" at last year's spring training.) And Clemens won't even consider the notion that Toronto may be an easier place to perform than Boston, where baseball is the civic lifeblood. Erik Hanson, a teammate in both cities, knows better: "Pitch a good game in Boston, it's like you found a cure for cancer. But I've never seen a town so quick to turn on its stars."

Clemens admits to noticing how the Canadian public seems "very, very polite and very respectful of me when I'm with my family. …

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