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Q&a With Roger Clemens

He's Not Planning to Retire Soon but Has an Idea What Cap He'll Wear in the Hall of Fame

January 23, 2002|Mike Hiserman | Times Senior Assistant Sports Editor

Next season will be Roger Clemens' 19th in the big leagues, but even as he approaches 40 "The Rocket" shows few signs of slowing down. With a fastball that's still routinely clocked in the 95-mph range, he was 20-3 and averaged about a strikeout per inning for the Yankees last season in winning his sixth American League Cy Young Award.

Clemens keeps a fast pace during the off-season, too. Last weekend, he played in the pro-am at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, and on Monday he was in Las Vegas making an appearance for major league baseball.

Part of his Las Vegas gig was to "pitch" to a group of businessmen, tossing easy fastballs over the plate so the "batters" could say they got a hit off a future Hall of Famer.

Easier said than done. Clemens said one of the executives kept inching closer to the plate with each swing and miss. "I kept telling him to step back away from the plate a little, but he just kept moving in," Clemens recalled. I told [one of the organizers], 'I really don't want to hit this guy!'"

On Tuesday, Clemens was in Carson, shooting a television commercial for DirecTV--with the proceeds from his appearance going to the Roger Clemens Foundation, an organization he and his wife, Debbie, established in 1992 to support several children's charities. Before the shoot, he took a few minutes to talk to Times Senior Assistant Sports Editor Mike Hiserman about the state of baseball, the Yankees and his career. The only taboo subject: Mike Piazza.

Q: Baseball was on a high coming off a great World Series, but since then fans have been subjected to talk about contraction, Senate hearings, lawsuits and labor issues. What are your thoughts?

A: We all need to get on the same page, there's no question about it. The game is just too good right now. [Even so] everyone knows it couldn't handle another stoppage. I don't think that's going to happen, but we can't solve [ownership's] problems. Contraction? Well, I think about the guys that are going to lose jobs and I think about the people behind the scenes that are going to lose jobs. I dislike even talking about it. I think everybody saw what was going on in the Senate, what was going on on TV. We've [asked] many times for [owners] to give us their books and let's get this thing on the right page. It's never happened.

Q: Critics who say money buys championships are quick to take their shots at the Yankees because of the big payroll. How should baseball level the competitive playing field?

A: As soon as you say that, you have a Minnesota Twins' team leading its division halfway through the season. A $110-$115 million payroll doesn't guarantee you success. Obviously [Yankee owner] George Steinbrenner built his empire in New York and he'd probably tell other owners to move if they can't run their business properly.

Q: What's it like playing for an organization that can afford players like Jason Giambi, Rondell White, Robin Ventura and Steve Karsay to help fill any perceived voids in the lineup?

A: It makes me excited to get busy again and start working because I know I have a lot of guys counting on me to be successful. Obviously, it'd be different if I thought I was on a club that was going to lose 100 games. I continue to tell some of these guys who were [Yankee] farmhands--[Andy] Pettitte, [Derek] Jeter and [Mariano] Rivera--just how spoiled they are because they don't know the other side. I've been in the situation that Pedro Martinez is in over there [in Boston]. You have to win every five days. They're going to wear him out. He's been hurt the last four years. He doesn't have the body style I have, that I tried to build because of all that. Here, it's the opposite. I know if I have a hiccup I got [Andy] Pettitte and I got [Mike] Mussina and El Duque and now even [David] Wells.

Q: When you left Boston after the 1996 season, Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette was quoted as saying you were in the twilight of your career. In the six seasons since, you've won 20 or more games four times. Were his comments motivation?

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