September 4, 2003

Paying Tribute to An Old Friend

Print More

Last Sunday, California fell into the sea, pigs everywhere started to fly, peace broke out in Jerusalem, Colin Farrell joined the priesthood, and Roger Clemens was given a standing ovation in Boston. I’m going to repeat that last part, because it bears repeating: Roger Clemens was given a standing ovation in Boston.

Just let those words sink in a bit.

Has the whole world gone insane? Clemens is one of the most hated men in New England or was, at least, until he walked off the mound in the seventh inning with a four-run lead. As a loyal and semi-delusional Red Sox fan (is that redundant?), I started booing and shouting “Raaahhh-geeerrrr” and yelling all other kinds of nasty things at the TV, as is the expected custom, because he’s a Yankee and the Sox were losing. It’s simple physics.

But then a funny thing happened. I realized that I was the only one giving Clemens the business; not only was the balance of the stadium crowd not jeering, they were (gasp) clapping. Clapping and standing. In Boston. For Roger Clemens, Yankee hero. The pain I felt was a cross between drinking way too much alcohol and running backwards through a cornfield while naked.

Just like Ivan Drago was taught from birth to hate America, Capitalism, and Talia Shire, so I was taught to hate the New York Yankees. Summers in Massachusetts and countless games at Fenway Pahk stoked my fiery dislike for all things pinstriped. As a kid in the 80s, I loved watching Clemens pitch, when he really was “The Rocket” and he threw his smoke for the Red Sox. The man was a total beast; I still remember the gunshot sound his fastball made when it hit the catcher’s mitt, and not even being able to see even a white blur from my seats on the first base line. Back then, Roger Clemens WAS the Boston Red Sox and he would have been the 1986 World Series MVP and winning pitcher in Game 6 if McNamara hadn’t replaced him for no good reason after seven innings (and with Calvin Freaking Schiraldi!!!). But that is another bitter story for another bitter column (you know who else pitched in that game for the Mets? Jesse Orosco, who is now 472 years old and until recently was coming out of the Yankee bullpen to throw one pitch a game to lefties. Ridiculous).

But then, The Rocket started to flame out. As years passed in the early 90s, Clemens couldn’t locate his fastball with a map and compass. He looked tired, old, and out of shape. He was like an octogenarian trying to open a jar of pickles; it was pitiable. I recall one game in particular where you could audibly hear the wheels fall off of his career. Clemens was pitching terribly against the Orioles, giving up several runs in the first two innings. He came out for the third, and after walking the leadoff batter on four pitches that tested the gymnastics skills of his catcher, complained of “shoulder stiffness” or some other clich