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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Defending "The Texas Con Man"

Some said that winning the World Series would take away our identity, the heart and soul of what made us Red Sox fans, and perhaps Puritanical New Englanders. Well, it is with mixed feelings, and yet a perverse comfort that I can report that all is dysfunctional. We, the citizens of Red Sox Nation, continue to punish ourselves with a rich mix of guilt, fear, insecurity, and an overwhelming inferiority complex. Why else would we want to sabotage what should be a storybook ending. The greatest pitcher in franchise history left the ball club in 1996. As is usually the case with the Olde Towne Team, it ended very badly. Now, the Rocket has expressed interest in coming home. This is a great opportunity for for the franchise, the player, and the fans, to make things right. Instead, those ingrained Puritan traits are rearing their ugly heads, trashing the Rocket for his performance, and his work ethic as a Red Sox, now a decade into history. And, of course, all is not forgiven for his departure as a free agent, regardless of whether the facts actually point to a Damonesque situation back in 1996. We all remember the late Wil McDonough dubbing Roger "The Texas Con Man", claiming that he appeared out of shape in his final 4 seasons in Boston. Well, as we know, appearances can be deceiving, and by all accounts,(which will be discussed later), this was the classic Boston media treatment, based more on guesses than on fact, for another star that didn't exactly have a love fest with the local scribes.

Like the current Sox regime and Pedro, Damon etc., the Duquette regime misread the marketplace, blundered by not locking Clemens up before 1996, and paid dearly. As is always the case with the departure of all stars from the Red Sox, it ended badly for the player. Believe it or not, Lucchino an Dr. Charles didn't actually invent the art of the spin; It was alive and well in Red Sox Nation a decade ago.

The Duke and the Caretaker's offer to Clemens was of a strategic, face saving nature; Enough for the average fan and a certain columnist to point to and blame another greedy player on the way out("The Texas Con-Man" moniker was clever, i'll give you that), but not enough to really ever be considered signable. Like Damon, Clemens tried to get the Sox to play ball, but they had already made a decision to moved on. As usual, honesty would have been a better policy.

Roger was never the sharpest tool in the shed, but by most accounts from players and managers he was always one of the hardest working players on his team. His offseason workout routines are legendary. He has a Ryan/Seaver-like delivery, relying on tremendous leg strength and mechanics that takes the stress off of the arm and results in durability and longevity. Actually, it was fairly easy to predict that Clemens was far from finished. Management teams in Toronto, New York, and California made offers that prove they saw not a pitcher in decline, but a durable ace on the market.

Clemens is a "freak of nature", but at age 43 he "gets his freak on" by putting himself through grueling workout regimens that players half his age simply can't, or won't dedicate themselves to. His old Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy talks about this all the time. Hardest working pitcher he has ever seen. Schilling credits Clemens for turning his career path around, getting him to dedicate himself to working hard all year long, when Schill was a Young Astro and worked out with Clemens in Houston during the 1990 offseason.

I agree that, towards the end, Clemens was bitter towards Sox management and appeared rejuvenated and in even better shape when he signed with Toronto. As I mentioned in my last column, he battled injuries in 1994 and 1995, which affected his velocity and training intensity and contributed to his mortal performances in those 2 seasons. But why, before the 1996 season, would he take it easy before a salary drive season? The numbers, personal performance, and common sense, simply don't support this premise. Clemens was a staff ace in 1996 on a bad team; 214 innings and 257 K's. There was definitely a con going on, but it was executed by the Red Sox and the Boston media, not the Rocket. This hot stove season should be one of positivity and promise, as the curse is debunked and the pitching, led by the acquisition of Josh Beckett and a deep bullpen, may be the best Sox staff ever. This is supposed to be the new Red Sox Nation, self confident and still basking, barely into February of 2006, in the warm New England embers still glowing of a 2004 World Series Championship. It is time to make things right. Clemens is 8 Wins away from 200 in a Sox uniform. A retirement ceremony for #21 would now meet club criteria (Players must finish their career as a Red Sox and be in the Baseball Hall Of Fame). The Rocket belongs in Boston.

-Red Sox Hot Stove Trade Rumor Hub
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