06/14/2003 12:00 AM ET
Yanks glad Clemens is one of them
Teammates say he's tough competitor, friend
NEW YORK -- Mean. Nasty. Ornery. Intimidating.
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
These are some of the words used that Roger Clemens' Yankees teammates used to describe the Rocket -- before they knew him.
Now, after spending time in the same clubhouse with the future Hall of Famer, Clemens' teammates use words like "joker," "friend" and "family man" to describe the right-hander, one win away from joining the elite list of 300-game winners.
As the longtime ace of the Boston Red Sox, Clemens had his own special place in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. When Clemens moved north of the border to Toronto, he remained in the AL East, giving the Yankees further headaches (and black-and-blue marks) every time he took the mound.
"I hated him. He was intense, tried to intimidate you -- and was pretty successful doing it. He'd hit me a lot," said Derek Jeter, who has been a teammate of Clemens' since 1999. "I was curious to see what kind of person he was, what it was going to be like to have him on your team. Once you get to know him as a person, you know how good of a man he is."
Jeter wasn't the only Yankee who feared Clemens. Jorge Posada, with win No. 300 for Clemens tie Tony Peña for catching the most Clemens victories, said that he always had a hesitant feeling when he stepped into the batter's box against the Rocket.
"I was very intimidated by him," Posada said. "He has a large presence on the mound. I think I struck out all three times I faced him."
Posada actually went 1-for-6 against Clemens with four Ks, but he was much happier to have him wearing pinstripes than throwing at them. When Clemens was traded to the Yankees in February 1999 for David Wells and two others, Posada wasn't sure what kind of teammate the Rocket would be.
"I had heard a lot of things from Toronto players that he was into himself and didn't do much with the team. I have found him to be the exact opposite," Posada said. "He cares about all of his teammates. When he goes to the All-Star Game, he brought back T-shirts and hats for every player, he got these Rocket shirts made up and made sure everyone got one, down to the clubhouse guys. He cares about everyone here."
Cuddly and caring. Not exactly the images that jump into someone's mind when they talk about the six-time Cy Young Award winner.
"It's a product of the way he approaches the game and the way he pitches. Most people only see him out there, not in the clubhouse, so that's the only image they have of him," said Mike Mussina, who pitched in the same division as Clemens for 11 years as a member of the Baltimore Orioles before joining him on the Yankees' staff in 2001. "All the things that he is on the day he pitches, he's not on the other four days. He's as good a teammate as any I've had. He's out there every day, pulling for us every game. It's fun to have him around."
Most highlights of Clemens show him standing on the mound, a larger-than-life presence glaring at his catcher with his cap pulled down, covering all but a small portion of his eyes. Every baseball fan has seen Clemens throw inside, high and tight, even hitting batters in the head. The reputation of a head-hunter has followed Clemens through the years, though his teammates aren't sure why.
"It's funny, because you see the reputation that follows him, but when you watch him pitch on a day-to-day basis, it doesn't seem like the reputation suits him," said Sterling Hitchcock. "Maybe it did in his younger years. You see the intensity and the focus, but he doesn't buzz people's towers like everyone says he does. It's almost comical."
Then, of course, there's the broken-bat incident from the 2000 World Series, when Clemens threw a piece of a shattered bat in the direction of Mets catcher Mike Piazza. Todd Zeile, who was in the Mets' dugout when the bat incident took place, said he was surprised to find what an easygoing guy Clemens actually was when he joined the Yankees last winter.
"I don't know why I would be surprised, but he's been great," Zeile said. "You have some preconceived notions playing against someone for a lot of years, especially in the controversial context in which we've played each other, but I've been impressed with him.
"My impression from the other side was that he would be more self-centered and self-serving, not as team-focused as I have found him to be. When he's out there, he's out there to win. But when one of his other guys is out there pitching, he's out there supporting him, trying to rally the troops. That's a good teammate."
As far as Clemens' teammates are concerned, if there is a reputation that he does deserve, it's for being a hard-working perfectionist.
"For him, it's more of a mental edge than a physical edge. When you work and prepare as hard as he does, mentally, you think you have an edge over guys who aren't doing it," said Sterling Hitchcock. "Whatever he's discovered since he went to Toronto, it's working. He's been washed up for, what, six, seven years now? Yeah. You can tell from the three Cy Young Awards."
"Everyone sees how hard he works, and for a young guy like myself, it's a good example to follow. I understand what it takes to be around for 20 years," said Jeff Weaver, who was seven years old when Clemens began his Major League career in 1984. "It's amazing how long he's been around and he's still able to perform at such a high level. It shows his dedication to working out and the adjustments he's had to make over the years."
While his teammates have been excited to be a part of Clemens' historical chase, it is clear that his fellow pitchers have a better understanding of what it takes to reach 300 wins.
"Knowing that he may be one of the last guys to ever reach that milestone, I'm blessed to have the chance to be here," said Mussina, who has an outside chance to get to 300. "I've seen Eddie Murray hit his 500th home run, Cal Ripken get his 3,000th hit, Cal's 2,131st game -- I've seen some great events in my 12 years. This will just add to the list, and it may be more worthwhile because it's part of what I do for a living."
"To win 15 games a year is pretty good," Hitchcock said. "To do it for 20 years? That's ridiculous. It's mind boggling to me."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.