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Clemens still a Red Sox icon
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06/14/2003 12:52 AM ET 
Clemens still a Red Sox icon
By Ian Browne / Vote now for the 2003 All-Star game
Roger Clemens logged 192 wins with the Red Sox -- tied with Cy Young for the franchise lead. (Tim Sharp/AP)
BOSTON -- He never wanted to leave Boston. Roger Clemens made that clear many times during his years of brilliance with the Red Sox. Even today, he will tell you that.

For 13 years, Clemens was the face of the Red Sox. He was the franchise. And he fell in love with a city that has the same passion for baseball that Clemens has for pitching and competing.

But yes, he did leave as a free agent after the 1996 season. By now, it is well-documented that he didn't see eye to eye with former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette.

As his career winds down and his legendary stature becomes more apparent by the day, it's pointless to take sides or point fingers as to why Clemens did flee for Toronto.

But yes, many Bostonians are still plenty bitter that Clemens -- two years and two Cy Young awards into his stay with the Blue Jays -- lobbied for a trade to the Yankees (gulp). They are bitter that he went 40-39 in his final four seasons in Boston, perhaps overlooking that his infield defense and bullpens were largely shaky over that time period.

It happened, and there's nothing that can be done about it now. There is a business side of baseball. It is why players like Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn -- one-stop legends -- are now so much more the exception than the rule.

So Clemens didn't end up a Red Sox for life. But guess what? He is still a Red Sox icon. That can never be taken away from him.

Rocket launched in Boston

Clemens cemented his Hall of Fame foundation with the Blue Jays and Yankees. But it is in Boston where the bricks were laid. That is where the legend was built.

In case Red Sox fans feel scorned by Clemens, they should know that Boston will always be a part of him.

"It's never in the past," Clemens said a couple of days before registering victory No. 299 of his career at Fenway. "This town and this ballpark are always going to be a part of me. I worked here, I gave my all here, so that will never change."

Nor should it.

It was with the Red Sox that he became "The Rocket." It was with the Red Sox he won his only MVP. It was with the Red Sox he established a Major League record with 20 strikeouts against the Mariners on April 29, 1986. And a decade later, as it turned out, winding down his Boston days, he tied his own strikeout record against the Tigers.

And it was with the Red Sox he won three of his six AL Cy Young awards.

Greatest pitcher in Red Sox history?

Pedro Martinez may some day surpass Clemens as the greatest Red Sox pitcher of them all. But right now, when you look at the entire body of work, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that Clemens was the greatest pitcher in the history of the Red Sox.

The numbers are there for everyone to see. His 192 wins for the Sox are tied with Cy Young for the most in franchise history. His 38 shutouts also equal Young for the franchise record. Clemens leads by himself in strikeouts (2,590), innings (2,776) and games started (382).

Johnny Pesky has been in baseball for more than 60 years, starting with his days as a shortstop on the Boston teams of Ted Williams. He has worked in virtually every capacity for the Red Sox. He has perspective few others can match when it comes to the last half-century of Red Sox baseball.

"I've been here 60 years and I think Clemens was the best pitcher we ever had," Pesky said. "He was a hell of a talent. Great talent. He hasn't changed one bit. He's the same kid. You had to admire him and his makeup. He had confidence too."

That 40-year-old "kid" Pesky speaks of still throws in the low to mid 90s. He still has a nasty splitter. And a burning desire to beat anyone or anything that comes in his path.

Those aren't things he built through time as he developed into veteran status. Clemens had that the day he first showed up as a Red Sox rookie in 1984.

Maniacal work habits were there from Day One

Consider former teammate Bruce Hurst is not the least bit surprised that Clemens reached the 300-win plateau, something that has become nearly impossible to reach in an age of smaller ballparks and more muscular sluggers.

"It comes as no surprise to me," said Hurst, the left-hander who pitched for the Sox from 1980-88. "He was preparing for this day 20 years. That's what all the work was for, it was for today. He knew there would come a time he would be knocking on the door to the Hall of Fame, and winning 300 games. He did everything he could to get better."

And then some.

"He had all the intangibles," Hurst said. "I use him as an example all the time when I teach young kids, especially my own boys, about work ethic and being conscientious and being a good teammate."

In Boston's last pennant-winning season of 1986, Clemens was so utterly dominant (24-4) that he robbed teammate Jim Rice (.324, 200 hits, 110 RBIs) of a second MVP award that year. Rice never complained.

"I never did go to the service, but he almost reminds you of the Marines," Rice said. "I don't think any pitcher could have kept up with him. He's a workaholic. What does it tell you that the man built a mound and a weight room at his house?"

Wonderment every fifth day

During Clemens' prime years in Boston, there was a buzz leading up to every one of his starts. This is because nobody -- not teammates, opponents or fans -- knew what Clemens might be on the verge of accomplishing on that particular night.

As the years have gone on, he has developed more into a thinking man's power pitcher. Back then, he could simply wind up and blow everyone away, demonstrated most emphatically in that first 20-K game against the Mariners.

"When Roger was pitching the fans came out to the ballpark knowing they could see anywhere from one to 20 strikeouts," Rice said. "That's what they were counting for (with K cards in back of bleachers). When you have a guy like that throwing 90-plus, there's no doubt about it, you're going to see a good game."

He lit up radar guns and stymied opposing hitters.

"I remember when I first saw him. It was like, 'where did this guy come from?' It was like a gift from heaven," Pesky said. "He threw so well."

The bottom line was that when it came time for Clemens to take the ball during his peak Boston years (1986-92) the Red Sox and their fans all but penciled in a victory.

"Every time you sent him out there, you felt you were going to win," said former Sox manager Joe Morgan. "It was as simple as that."

Big game failures a myth

Fact: Clemens won just one of his nine postseason starts for the Red Sox.

Fiction: Clemens was a failure in postseason games for the Red Sox.

Clemens ended up with no decisions in six of those nine starts. His Boston postseason ERA of 3.88 isn't great, but it doesn't speak of a pitcher getting knocked out of the box.

He left Game 4 of the ALCS with a 3-1 lead in the ninth, only to have former college teammate Calvin Schiraldi salt that one away. He left Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with a 3-2 lead after seven innings, leaving the Sox on the cusp of their first world championship since 1918.

Former Sox manager John McNamara said at the time, and several times since, that Clemens claimed he couldn't go any further because of a blister. Clemens has fiercely denied it for 17 years now. The bottom line is that Clemens left his team in position to win the game, and Schiraldi again couldn't hold on, with assists from Bob Stanley and Bill Buckner.

As the Red Sox and A's developed a strong rivalry -- albeit a one-sided one for Oakland -- in the late '80s and early '90s, Clemens consistently lost to Dave Stewart in regular-season and playoff action.

However, Morgan places the blame for that on his hitters.

"We couldn't beat Stewart, it wasn't Roger," said Morgan, who managed the Red Sox from July 1988 until the end of the 1991 season. "We had Stewart on the ropes so many times in the first three innings and nobody could get that key hit."

In his time with the Yankees, Clemens has won several key games in October, proving that big games were something he was more than capable of handling.

Should 21 be retired at Fenway?

The Red Sox, now under new ownership, are in the process of re-defining the standards for retiring numbers. Currently, the only players in team history to have their numbers on the right-field facade are Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr and Carlton Fisk.

Under the old rules, a player had to be in the Hall of Fame, play at least 10 years for the Red Sox and finish their career with the Sox. The rules were bent under previous ownership for Fisk, who retired with the White Sox.

It's hard to believe anyone will ever wear 21 for the Red Sox again. Nobody has since Clemens departed.

"I don't know the new guys (in ownership) here," said Clemens. "I've been hearing great things about all the things happening here. I know some things have changed and that's great but (retiring number 21) is not my decision.

"I think (it would be) great because the history that's here is similar to the history in New York, as far as the retired numbers. If they get some hot shot out of school and he's tearing it up, give it (no. 21) to him."

Just don't expect that hot shot to be the next Roger Clemens. That would be an unfair and unrealistic expectation for anyone.

"When I think of Clemens," said Morgan, "I think of the Red Sox. I don't think of the other teams. What he did with the Red Sox is enough to think of."

"I tried to be (in Boston) for my entire stay, but it didn't work out," said Clemens.

Still, his staying power in Red Sox history is obvious.

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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