Rocket Man: Doofus, We Have a Problem
I'm so glad, in hindsight, that Roger Clemens didn't like me at all by the time he orchestrated his way out of Toronto following the '98 season. Cito and I have something in common.
Roger’s act of being a super-patriot and all-American boy helped him out the first time he went up Capitol Hill to deny allegations of steroid use. Politicians were fawning all over him and asking for autographs. It was unseemly. By the next time he appeared before Congress, facing former Jays’ strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee in the court of public opinion, it was over.
How hypocritical does all of this Clemens stuff unfolding now make him look? Dan Duquette was right. Without artificial help, Clemens may very well have been in the twilight of his career by the time he left Boston following the ’96 season. But his ego wouldn’t allow someone else to be right about him.
Last summer in Boston as the Mindy McCready saga was unfolding about his relationship with the Fort Myers karaoke star turned country singer, the Boston Globe recounted in their city column how Clemens, when he entered the Hard Rock Café in Beantown with his wife Debbie, insisted that they stop the music and play Elton John’s Rocket Man. They clearly make things bigger in Texas…including a**holes.
Remember in ’98 when he dumps all over then Jays’ manager Tim Johnson for lying about service in Vietnam in clubhouse speeches. Experts suggest that the tales of Johnson's combat experience may have been, in fact, a traumatic reaction to his mortar training of young soldiers at Camp Pendleton, sending them off to active duty in Vietnam only to return in body bags, or not at all. Those lies are tragic. Clemens’ lies are pathetic.
There is no possible medical excuse for any of Clemens' apparent lies and misrepresentations. He just did not tell the truth and attempted to manipulate others because, in most cases, he could. Yet 12 years later, Johnson is the one that was fired in disgrace and blackballed from getting any other coaching job since, while at the same time the Rocket was allegedly sticking needles into his ass to extend his prime by another half decade, earning countless millions.
My favourite personal Clemens story involves a late February '97 round of golf that I had organized with Rocket, Erik Hanson and Pat Hentgen the purpose of which was a feature for the Star's golf magazine. The round was at the fabulous Innisbrook Resort after a morning workout (for them not me). I took my then 13-year-old son Matt with me to walk around the course with a couple of his sports heroes. It seemed easy enough. The Star was paying for the foursome and Clemens was living at Innisbrook. Simple. I was playing golf, riding with Hentgen and taking mental notes, figuring to talk to those other guys, before we teed off, on tees and greens.
Right away, it became a struggle. Our tee time had passed and Clemens, even though his condo was three minutes from the first tee, had not arrived. Maybe it was karaoke day somewhere. We let a couple of groups tee off ahead of us and finally the Rocket showed, like a heavyweight champ emerging from his dressing room. Star-struck, a foursome of bandy-legged Bostonians greeted him on the tee like a Greek god, fawning all over him and telling him how great he was and why did he leave Boston for a baseball backwater like Toronto.
Hentgen, Matthew (my son) and I stood on the back of the first tee patiently waiting while Rocket went through his stretching and signing. Hentgen was clearly amused.
Finally one of the New England enablers came back to stand with us as Roger planted his tee and took a couple of practice swings. “And what do you do?” he asked Pat. “I’m just last year’s Cy Young winner,” he smiled. Game on.
The round wasn’t at all what I imagined. It was like we were playing separate twosomes. While Pat and I were playing from rough and traps and scrambling for bogey, Rocket and Hanson were playing fairway to green, out-driving our cart by 30 yards, putting out and driving off to the next tee while we finished up. The only time I likely attracted their attention was after three-putting the 17th hole (my 10th three-putt), I dropped a healthy F-bomb and helicoptered the offending club, glinting wildly in the late afternoon sun, out into the middle of a nearby pond. After a stunned 10-second pause in their conversation, they resumed and sped off to the 18th tee.
On the final hole, Hanson from the middle of the fairway airmailed a six-iron directly over the flag, rattling around halfway up a stand of giant trees behind the green. He thinned it. He looked over at Roger and said, “That yardage marker is wrong.” Rocket agreed. No, it couldn’t have been the wrong club or swing. That year, Hanson appeared in three games for the Jays, while bringing his golf clubs on every road trip. In fact, it turns out he made $3 million more for playing golf than Tiger Woods in that, his sophomore year. Tiger only played three fewer major-league games.
To cap the day off, Matt had brought a baseball with him to get the autographs of the two Cy Young Award winners, together. Nice souvenir. First he got Hentgen to sign, then while we stood by the golf carts waiting for Rocket to finish schmoozing in the pro shop, probably setting up his next free round, Hanson spotted the ball grasped tightly in Matt’s hand. He grabbed it and signed it on the sweet spot. D-ohh! The value of a Hanson, Hentgen and Clemens ball? That’s like finding out your house is built over a nuclear waste site.
In any case, something good happened that day. My son realized that he wanted to be like Pat Hentgen and that was only a good thing.