I refused to believe this. There was no way no way the Red Sox front office would ever, EVER let Roger Clemens leave Boston. He was The Franchise. He was The Guy. They'd never be able to explain that to the fans.
Of course, I immediately turned on ESPN, just to check. And there he was, Dan Duquette, robotic general manager of the Boston Red Sox and borderline sociopath.
""The Red Sox and our fans were fortunate to see Roger Clemens play in his prime and we had hoped to keep him in Boston during the twilight of his career," he delivered in his trademark deadpan monotone think Steven Wright with even less lilt. ""Unfortunately, we just couldn't get together...
I called Dad immediately.
"He's gone, Dad." "I know... I know..."
That was the first time that had ever happened to me. Losing my favorite player from my favorite team. Up til that point, I dunno. Marriages were supposed to last. Your family doesn't leave you. Some things are forever.
He was my Roger. My #21. He burst onto the scene with the Red Sox in 1986 when I was 8 years old the year I truly became a baseball fan. It was Roger that did it for me. I remember the exact moment. It was April 29th against the Seattle Mariners. I was putzing around the house in the early going, doing homework and snacking and things, and I noticed my dad just staring intently at the TV.
"Another one! He just keeps going! That's five in a row!"
Roger Clemens was just mowing down Seattle's hitters. K after K after K.
"Are you watching this, Chris? It's unbelievable."
This goes on for a few hours, my dad rising and pumping his fist with ever K. I didn't quite know what was going on, but with each fist-pump my dad gave, I'd follow somewhat half-heartedly at first. But as they just kept coming, I found I actually cared. I didn't know what I was watching, but I knew it was something rare, something I'd never seen before and just might not again.
"He's going to do it. He's going to break the record."
Twenty strikeouts. One nine inning game. A new record. Red Sox fans hadn't had a lot to celebrate back then, and this, as I found out, was the closest thing to a World Championship a lot of us had ever experienced. I was hooked.
Then he was gone. Without so much as a "Thank you, Boston." I still rooted for him, a little, when he was with Toronto. After all, I had no particular hatred for the Blue Jays. And he fared well, winning two Cy Young Awards up there across the border. I was happy for him, because even though he wasn't a Red Sox, he was still my Roger.
Til two years later when he demanded a trade to gasp the New York Yankees.
Oh, I hated him for that. How could you... how could you! The Yankees! Oh, I hated him. He was right up there with Duke on my hate list. You don't do that... You just don't. And I wasn't alone. That day, he turned his back on all of us, spat in our face, and fucked our wives in front of us on the kitchen table.
Forward to October, 2002. Red Sox vs. Yankees in the American League Championship series. Roger Clemens vs. Pedro Martinez, live from Fenway Park.
The Sox beat the snot out of him that day, scoring seven runs off him in less than four innings. He walked off the mound embarrassed and humiliated while the sold-out Fenway Faithful pelted him with "WHERE IS RAH-JUH? (stomp stomp stompstompstomp) IN THE SHOW-UH!"
I chanted that all day and all night. It was beautiful.
Forward again to September, 2003 the end of what was supposed to be Roger Clemens' final year as a player. His last start at Fenway. He stymied the Sox that day... I can't remember the final score, but I think we only notched two hits off him or something like that. The Sox were losing to the Yankees in Fenway. Clemens had beaten us, and beaten us bad. Sox fans... we don't like that. And we certainly didn't like him.
But as he walked off that Fenway mound for what we all thought was the last time, something remarkable happened. 35,000 screaming Red Sox fans and Yankee haters stood up, clapped, and cheered for a New York Yankee. A New York Yankee we hated.
I didn't expect that. I really didn't. Sox fans... we're known as a vitriolic bunch. We hang on to grudges. We don't forgive.
But we also never forget. Roger, he was one of us, whether he liked it or not. And goddammit, we were gonna let him know.
Clemens didn't retire that year. He signed on to pitch with his hometown Houston Astros for two more seasons, so he could be closer to his family. And last year, at the age of 43, Roger Clemens was once again the most dominant pitcher in baseball.
The anger Sox fans felt towards him has mellowed now. In retrospect, the front office under the Dan Duquette regime had lost a lot of face with Sox fans. They've alienated lots of former Sox greats and removed the team from lots of its community involvements. Fans turned on Duquette in droves, until finally forcing his removal in 2002. In earnest, we couldn't entirely blame Roger for leaving. It was the Yankee turn that really pissed us off. But hey, he was getting up there in years and just wanted a shot at a championship.
He's a free agent now, Roger. At the age of 44. Last anybody heard, he couldn't decide whether or not to keep playing. Because he rejected salary arbitration, he can't return to the Astros until May, missing an entire month of the season.
And the Red Sox front office, they're trying to do what was once unthinkable. Bring the boy back home.
"They went out to Framingham where I used to live." Clemens told the Boston Globe. Deb (Clemens' wife) got pretty teary-eyed about it. She loved being there in those years and we still have friends there, of course, and it was great to see the effort they put into it."
"''Theo spoke to me afterward and he was explaining to me how things have changed and everything. I cut him off at one point and told him, 'You don't have to explain that to me. I know that.'
For me, I don't know. It's hard to let go of some of those old feelings, all that animosity. That man took away a lot of my sports innocence. But man, when he was around, those were good times. I remember seeing him once at Fenway... the designated hitter was removed for a pinch-runner, which meant that the pitcher would have to bat. We thought there'd be no way the manager would let him. Surely, they'd lift him for a pinch-hitter. But no. There he stood, in the on deck circle, swinging a bat. His first-ever regular season at bat. And the Son of a bitch hit a single to centerfield. My dad and I, we exploded.
I'm still angry, just a little. I want to let the past be the past and that's that. It's over. Move on. But there's still an 8 year old down there inside of my crying "Come back, Roger. Come back!"
I'm trying to picture it. Standing in the bleachers looking down, and seeing old #21 warming up in the Red Sox bullpen. Roger and his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles laces. He of the 20 strikeout game. My Roger. My boy, back in town.
It's gettin' a little dusty in here, to steal a phrase.