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Twilight Revisited

Report to explain Clemens' longevity is released as Duquette's once-maligned decision to let Red Sox pitcher leave is reconsidered

January 29, 2008|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Dan Duquette's decision to let Roger Clemens leave the Boston Red Sox after the 1996 season still generates ridicule. The studious general manager inspected Clemens' 40-39 record over four seasons, and concluded the then-34-year-old "Rocket" had only so much life left.

Duquette watched Clemens sign with the Toronto Blue Jays, wishing him well in the "twilight of his career."

Some twilight. Clemens responded with consecutive Cy Young Awards in 1997 and 1998, then helped the rival New York Yankees win the World Series in 1999 and 2000. He won his sixth and seventh Cy Youngs in 2001 (with the Yankees) and in 2004 (with his hometown Houston Astros), and compiled a 162-73 post-Red Sox record that has netted him a reported $128.15 million in salary since leaving Boston.

Last month, however, the report of performance-enhancing drug use in major league baseball by former Sen. George Mitchell included claims that Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone to help fuel his success during the last decade, creating an alleged boost Duquette never could have forecast.

But Clemens' agent, Randy Hendricks, answered back Monday with a 49-page statistical report that concluded Clemens' numbers compare favorably to those of other accomplished veteran pitchers, including Nolan Ryan's.

Clemens "was far from being in the 'twilight or his career,' or 'washed up,' . . . as some have speculated," the Hendricks report stated.

"Clemens' longevity was due to his ability to adjust his style of pitching as he got older, incorporating his very effective split-finger fastball to offset the decrease in the speed of his regular fastball caused by aging."

Yet, Brian McNamee, the former strength and conditioning coach of the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees during periods when Clemens pitched for the teams, said in last month's Mitchell Report that he injected the pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone at least 16 times in 1998, 1999 and 2001. McNamee later became a personal trainer for Clemens.

The pitcher has denied the allegations, suing McNamee for defamation, and is preparing to give sworn statements in a deposition and an appearance before a House committee Feb. 13. McNamee also will appear before the committee.

Hendricks' report is loaded with more than three dozen charts, illustrating Clemens' career excellence and drawing comparisons to Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Ryan -- powerful pitchers who threw into their 40s without the clouds of steroid allegations.

In Clemens' defense, Hendricks notes Johnson averaged 7 1/3 innings or more in four seasons between the age of 35 and 38, while showing Clemens averaged more than seven innings only once during that same age span. In another comparison, Ryan's strikeouts-per-nine-inning average was 11.5 at age 40, 11.3 at age 42 and 10.6 at age 44, while Clemens was shown to have peaked at 9.6 (in 2002) after turning 36 in 1999.

What helped the pitcher beyond the development of the split-finger fastball, the report claimed, was the late-career assistance he received from shorter pitch counts, contractual agreements to "avoid fatigue" by not traveling on all trips, and his shortened seasons in 2006 and 2007.

"While Clemens maintained high performance quality throughout his career, the quantity of his pitching declined as he aged," Hendricks' report said in its conclusion.

By also referring to Duquette, Hendricks unearthed reminders of how the general manager emerged as a steady target of ridicule among New England's impassioned fans.

Clemens had won three Cy Young Awards, becoming a local legend with his brand of country hardball pitching that was still evident in his final victory for the team: a record-tying 20-strikeout masterpiece against the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 18, 1996, that tied Cy Young's team records for wins (192) and shutouts (38).

Now, the past vitriol toward Duquette is being reconsidered.

In one Mitchell Report passage, McNamee tells of his first discussion with Clemens about steroids, with the pitcher asking during a June 8-10, 1998, trip to Florida "for McNamee's help" with injections.

After that discussion, Clemens was 14-0 to close the season, and reportedly told McNamee the drugs "had a pretty good effect" on him.

"The one person who comes out the best from the Mitchell Report is Dan Duquette," said John Brian Quinn, 45, a self-described "hard-core" member of Red Sox Nation who writes for the fan website bornintoit.com. "It seems clear now that Roger Clemens was a big-time juicer. Now, the fact is, we're thinking, 'Thank God we didn't bring him back, and that he's not associated with the Red Sox anymore.'

"Steroids will follow this guy to his grave."

At the end of the 1996 season, Duquette had to decide what kind of contract offer to make Clemens. Sentiment had its monetary limits for Duquette as he inspected the 13-year veteran's 40-39 record from 1993 through 1996.

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