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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

"My personnel decisions made with the Red Sox were informed decisions made with the disposal of information I had at the time . . . guided by the best interests of the team and its fans," Duquette said recently. "These were not personal decisions, but economic decisions based on the information we had."

Clemens' earned-run average in his final four Red Sox seasons was more than a full run higher than the previous seven seasons before 1993, and the number of complete games he threw from 1993 to '96 (11) equaled what he had accomplished in one prior season alone, 1992.

"The beautiful thing about baseball is statistics," Duquette said. "They serve as a neat appraisal of a player's performance. They show very clear trend lines of players who are either improving or declining. Baseball executives look closely at that objective data."

Clemens opted to accept a free-agent offer from the Toronto Blue Jays -- three years guaranteed for $24.75 million -- that exceeded Duquette's best reported offer of four years for $22 million. And Duquette replied with a legendary quote in Boston: "We had hoped to keep him in Boston during the twilight of his career."

Some baseball veterans say Duquette's reputation was forever damaged by the loss of Clemens. He was fired when new ownership took over the team in 2002 and hasn't reemerged in the game since. He was recently passed over for a position as the Pittsburgh Pirates' chief executive.

"It's all speculation, but this [Mitchell] information certainly makes Duquette look better," said Bob Costas, a veteran broadcaster and longtime fan of the sport. "Roger was looking for an enormous contract while coming off a poor year. He was a power pitcher, and it could be theorized he was on the decline. It was not a crazy notion, and it doesn't look crazy now, either."

Although Duquette said, "It's not appropriate for me to comment on individual players in that [Mitchell] report," he chuckled when asked whether the revelations about Clemens would make those in Red Sox Nation who view him as a lifelong villain rethink their position.

Ultimately, several players Duquette acquired, including Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek, helped the Red Sox break their 86-year-old "curse" and win the 2004 World Series.

Clemens left the Red Sox motivated to prove Duquette wrong. In 1997, not only did he go 21-7, with 35 more strikeouts in the same number of starts as in 1996, he lowered his ERA from 3.63 in 1996 to 2.05.

"We'd had one of our top scouts on the [Clemens] evaluation process before we signed him, and he said he thought there was a lot left," then-Toronto general manager Gord Ash said last month. "Looking at his [1996] strikeouts-to-walks ratio [257-106], we didn't see it the way [Duquette] did.

"Now, we didn't see him winning two straight Cy Young Awards, either, but we didn't see him on a down slide."

Sammy Ellis, Clemens' pitching coach with Boston in 1996, said he "couldn't believe" the Red Sox would part with the pitcher. Ellis said he reported to Duquette that Clemens' velocity was 94 to 96 mph throughout all games and that he projected future success.

"It's been impressive to see someone pitch late into his career like Roger or Nolan Ryan -- I don't think anyone thinks Nolan Ryan was using steroids," Ellis said Monday. "These were good, hard workers who were gifted genetically, gifted with a delivery that doesn't beat up an arm, and a guy who works his . . . off. Was it because he was doing some juice? I don't think so. He weighed 240 pounds when I had him, and he weighs 240 pounds now. He's a big strong man."

In Toronto, Ash said the hiring of "aggressive personality" McNamee "pushed players to do stuff away from the field to keep them healthy, but I had no idea what was happening outside the ballpark."

Ash said Clemens' trade to the Yankees after the 1998 season was strictly part of a handshake deal the pitcher made with the Blue Jays' owner to land with a contender if Toronto was struggling.

"I didn't see any of [Clemens' steroid use alleged in the Mitchell report], and no one brought it to my attention," Ash said. "I just saw a guy with an unequaled work ethic"

Duquette won't gloat now. He remains out of the majors, working on his sports academies and an Israel baseball project.

He declined to comment when asked whether he believed Clemens was using steroids at the time of his Red Sox departure, or, if in knowing the pitcher, he was surprised by the Mitchell Report's findings.

He ended his interview saying only that past MLB drug-testing policies have complicated accurate talent evaluation of players, and "made it difficult for clubs. And executives."

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

CLEMENS

1993-1996 (last four years in Boston)

10 - Average wins per year

10 - Average losses per year

186 - Average innings per year

164 - Average hits given up per year

76 - Average walks per year

179 - Avg. strikeouts per year

3.77 - Earned-run average

0 - Cy Young Awards

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CLEMENS

1997-2001 (first five years after Boston)

18 - Average wins per year

7 - Average losses per year

222 - Average innings per year

189 - Average hits given up per year

80 - Average walks per year

225 - Avg. strikeouts per year

3.20 - Earned-run average

3 - Cy Young Awards

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The post-Boston years

Roger Clemens' major pitching statistics after leaving the Boston Red Sox following the 1996 season (with Cy Young seasons highlighted):

*--* Year Team W L IP SO ERA 1997 Toronto Blue Jays 21 7 264.0 292 2.05 1998 Toronto Blue Jays 20 6 234.7 271 2.65 1999 New York Yankees 14 10 187.7 163 4.60 2000 New York Yankees 13 8 204.3 188 3.70 2001 New York Yankees 20 3 220.3 213 3.51 2002 New York Yankees 13 6 180.0 192 4.35 2003 New York Yankees 17 9 211.7 190 3.91 2004 Houston Astros 18 4 214.3 218 2.98 2005 Houston Astros 13 8 211.3 185 1.87 2006 Houston Astros 7 6 113.3 102 2.30 2007 New York Yankees 6 6 99.0 68 4.18 *--*

Note: Clemens also won the Cy Young in 1986, 1987 and 1991 with the Red Sox.

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