As I cover college baseball games this weekend in Waco, Texas, my attention is drawn away from the 10 players on the field. The Texas Longhorns are in town, which means, for the only time all season, I am more focused on the parents section. I’m looking for a certain number 21.
Penciled in the Longhorn lineup at both DH and First Base is a familiar name: Clemens. With the potential to meet their dad, Roger, this weekend, it got me thinking about one of the most tumultuous careers in baseball history. Roger Clemens will always go down as a Red Sox legend, but would you guess that his number is retired?
No, you wouldn’t. Nestled on the facade in Fenway Park’s right field lies 10 retired numbers, but not number 21. What you might not know, however, is that 30 Red Sox wore that number before the Rocket, but none since. Are the Red Sox hiding behind their own tradition?
For over a decade, Clemens was revered in Boston. From 1984-1996, the Rocket racked up 192 wins, tying him for the franchise record. Whom is he tied with? A guy by the name of Cy Young—you may have heard of him. Clemens knows him well, winning the Cy Young award three times in Boston as well as an American League MVP award in 1986. He was the unequivocal ace who led the Red Sox to the World Series that year as well. Before he came to Boston, no one had struck out 20 batters in a game. By the time he left, he had done it twice. It wasn’t Clemens’ time in Boston that made him a villain, it was his time away.
After Dan Duquette’s prognostication of his demise, Clemens went to division rival Toronto. It was his time north of the border where things became fishy. After injuries wore down his final few sub-par years in Boston, Clemens began to defy logic. Even as he aged, he was recovering even faster from these injuries and was pitching as well as ever. In two seasons with Toronto, he won the Cy Young Award both years and earned the elusive pitching Triple Crown each season.
To further push the buttons of Red Sox fans, Clemens traded in his Jays uniform for pinstripes. As a Yankee, he won four AL Pennants, two World Series titles, and the Cy Young yet again in 2001. After a combined record of 27-18 in his first two seasons in New York, he went 20-3 in 2001. Coincidentally enough, it was revealed his trainer Brian McNamee was injecting him with anabolic steroids at the time. Now, it’s no wonder Clemens was always butt hurt.
Why The Fans Don’t Want To See The Number 21
The final middle finger to Red Sox Nation came in the winter of 2005. Upon Curt Schilling’s endorsement, the Red Sox were in the sweepstakes to sign Clemens as a free agent. In a little-known attempt to bring him back, a third grade class in Rockland, MA, made a video for the Clemens family. In it, the kids begged him to “come home, Roger”, apparently bringing his wife to tears. At the end of the video, a number 21 was glowing on that right field facade, if the Rocket were to re-enter Boston’s atmosphere. Instead, Clemens re-signed with Houston and in 2007, ended his career with a return to New York.
Once revered in Boston, Clemens is now reviled. His number 21 is retired only at Disch-Faulk Field at the University of Texas. While there, Clemens was the ace for their 1983 National Championship team. No, I think it’s gonna be a long, long time till we see Clemens’ number up there with Williams and Yastrzemski. It won’t take touchdown to bring us round again to find he most certainly is the man he is at home. Sir Elton John will not be doing any serenading over the Fenway speakers any time soon. For all the things Clemens has done to Boston fans on and off the field has certainly made the Rocket public enemy number 21.