SI Flashback: It's All About The Power
In his final season, Roger Clemens stalks his landmark 300th win by making certain that his 40-year-old body can still bring the heat
Posted: Friday December 14, 2007 12:33PM; Updated: Friday December 14, 2007 12:33PM
The hard rectangular case is black, with silver steel reinforcements at its edges and a silver steel handle on top. It is the size of a small suitcase. It stands, seemingly obedient, at home and away, day and night, at the foot of the locker of New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens. Stenciled in large white figures on the side is the code E-22. On each corner are smaller letters, also stenciled in white: M.I.B.
For four days the case remains shut, serving as an occasional table on which to rest mail, a bottle of water, a baseball cap or some other accoutrement of the mostly mundane life of a starting pitcher.
Everything changes on the fifth day. This is Clemens's day to pitch. Like a soldier wearing camou-flage paint into combat, he sports two days of prickly stubble on his face. He puts on his number 22 game jersey, which he does only on days that he pitches. The jersey is kept under lock and key the rest of the year.
Clack-clack! Clemens throws open the metal clasps to the case. "Everybody look away!" he says. "You'll get blinded! Y'all hitters, you'll forget everything you know about hittin' if you look in."
He sets the case down on its side and pulls it open. What's inside? Opponents want to know. "Do me a favor," Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez tells a reporter. "Ask him what drives him."
Teammates also want to know. "There's got to be something in his inner being," says centerfielder Bernie Williams, who recently asked him how he maintained his intensity throughout two decades in the majors. "There's got to be something driving him that's bigger than the game itself."
What's inside a man who turns 41 in two months and who after more than 60,000 pitches still can throw a baseball with a ferocity that even 95 mph fails pitifully to measure? What's inside the greatest pitcher alive? Blasphemy be damned: Maybe his career has been better than those of the dead, too--the communion of diamond saints who never knew integration or the shock-and-awe slugging of today's players.
Clemens's next win will be the 300th of his career, a milestone that only 20 other men have reached. One of them, Tom Seaver, once said he was proudest that he could have finished his career with a 100-game losing streak and still have a winning record.
Seaver was 106 games over .500. Clemens (299-154) is 145 games over .500, better than every 300-game winner but six, all of whom have been dead for more than a quarter century: Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Kid Nichols, John Clarkson and Lefty Grove. Clemens's .660 winning percentage is better than that of every 300-game winner except the long-departed Mathewson and Grove. His relative ERA, which measures a pitcher against his league while considering ballpark factors, is better than those of all 300-game winners except Grove and Walter Johnson.
Clemens's greatest accomplishment, however, is that he is leaving the game exactly as he entered it 19 seasons ago. More than 4,000 innings after his first throw, he remains the consummate power pitcher. He is Dick Clark with a nasty heater. "It's not fair," Mike Borzello, the Yankees' bullpen catcher, tells Clemens.
"What?" Clemens says.
"When you leave, you should be able to give your stuff to somebody else."