Rocketing Toward The Record Books

Yankees Pitcher Sits Down With <b>Mike Wallace</b>

Roger Clemens stands on the brink of making baseball history. When he pitches his next winning game, it will be his 300th, and he will become only the 21st pitcher to reach that extraordinary milestone.

His next chance will come next weekend in Chicago.

He already has won an unprecedented six Cy Young Awards as the American League's best pitcher. He still fires a vicious fastball at the doddering age of 40. "The Rocket" earns his keep the old-fashioned way. He works out harder than his younger teammates - for several hours every day.

When Mike Wallace sat down with Clemens two years ago, he had no notion that today Clemens still would be brushing batters back on their heels.

At that time, Clemens had just broken Walter Johnson's (of baseball's long-gone Washington Senators) American League record of striking out 3,508 batters during his career in the major leagues.

Clemens is still considered one of the most formidable – and perhaps controversial - pitchers in baseball. Remember the Clemens fast ball that hit the Mets' Mike Piazza? Some said it was deliberate.

"I felt horrible," Clemens said. "I could hear the sound of the helmet, so I was really worried that it got up in there." Right after that, he went to the clubhouse and tried to call Mike Piazza to apologize, but he said he "just got shut down."

And then in the World Series, the Piazza saga had one more weird scene. Piazza's bat shatters. A piece comes flying up at Clemens on the mound. Clemens picks it up and throws it off the field, in Piazza's path.

That shot across Piazza's bow cost Clemens a $50,000 fine, but he's not complaining, nor is he complaining about a new directive to umpires to throw a pitcher out of a game if just one pitch gets too close to a batter's head. Clemens vows he won't change the way he pitches. He'll continue to dominate batters, he says, by brushing them back from home plate.

"I need to pitch inside more," Clemens said. "I'm not pitching inside enough. I need to pitch inside for strikes, and I need to pitch inside even further to open up the outside part of the plate. And that's what power pitchers do."

But batters believe Clemens pitches too inside too often. Hitters who have to face The Rocket's red glare don't want to talk about it on camera for fear of retaliation. Clemens, he could care less.

His teammates are glad he's on their ball club because the Yankees did not enjoy batting against him when Clemens pitched for Boston and Toronto.

"Anytime someone throws the ball that hard, you know, it can be scary," said Derek Jeter. "And he tries to intimidate you. He's been doing it his entire career. We hated to face him. I think I used to get hit by Rocket at least once a game. "

Was it deliberate?

"Well, you ask Rock, he'll say no, you know, it got away from him," answers Jeter. "But, you know, at the time when you face him, you think it's on purpose."

Clemens insists he doesn't try to hit batters, just keep them off balance. And the fact is that over the last two years, more than 15 pitchers have hit more batters than he has. But if a batter has been getting too many hits off him (in this case, Scott Brosius), Clemens will retaliate.

You'll never get Clemens to admit that he intentionally throws at a batter, not even when Wallace showed him video of his pitch to Brosius. He won't even admit he tries to intimidate batters.

His Yankee manager, Joe Torre, told Wallace that pitchers have to intimidate batters to win. And Torre says another reason for his success is that Clemens rarely talks to opposing batters on or off the field. He stays as mysterious as possible.

"If hitters are too comfortable," Torre said, "they're going to have the edge on the—on the pitcher. I look at Pete Rose, who used to go around and try to talk to every young pitcher there was, just so if he happened to hit against them, he'd be a little more comfortable. And then I saw Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale never talk to the opposition. And Gibson even took it to an extreme, because we played together on an All-Star team in 1965, and I was the catcher, he was the pitcher. He wouldn't talk to me. There's always that mystery...if you don't know the pitcher and you don't know what makes him tick. And that—that's all part of the intimidation factor. "

Not talking to people comes naturally to Clemens. He's a very private person, speaks to reporters as little as possible, and to fans, he remains something of an enigma.

John Sterling, the radio voice of the Yankees, said New York fans respect him mightily, but they don't really warm up to him.

"Clemens is not a warm, schmoozy kind of guy," said Sterling. "He's a guy who just goes out and does his business. He doesn't have that unspoken rapport with the fans, but I don't think that bothers Roger at all. And believe me, when he—when Roger pitches well for the Yankees, the fans love it."

His biggest fans are his four sons. All of them have first names starting with K, the baseball scorekeeper's symbol for strikeout. There's Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody. And Roger's life revolves around them, perhaps, he told us, because every day he misses his dad who died when Roger was only 9.

When he sees his teammates' dads come into the clubhouse and give their boys a hug, he said, "It troubles me in a good sense. I see good, and—and I know what I was missing and I know what I've missed."

Clemens makes $10 million a year, so he can afford to live well, with a home outside Houston that is a virtual museum. It has dozens of bats from All-Star hitters and a memorabilia room to make a collector drool.

Center stage, of course, are his five Cy Young awards as the American League's best pitcher. No other pitcher has won five. His, he said, are going to each of his four sons and to his wife, Debbie.
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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