PAWTUCKET — Roger Clemens tipped his cap to members of the Pawtucket Red Sox and to the Indianapolis Indians Friday night at McCoy Stadium.
“This game is not easy, it takes a lot of work, a lot of focus — keep chasing your dream,” Clemens said, praising his brethren baseball family upon being inducted into the PawSox Hall of Fame during a pre-game ceremony as he saluted both dugouts.
For Clemens, it was the memory of a pro baseball career that began with his first journey up Route 95 to Boston in 1984 while with the PawSox. As a member of Pawtucket’s starting rotation that season, Clemens pitched in seven games, going 2-3 with an admirable 1.93 ERA during his short stint with the PawSox. By early May, he was summoned to Fenway Park, where he would be a fixture for the next 13 seasons.
During his near quarter-century at the major league level, Clemens amassed 354 wins with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts — the third-most in MLB history — over a span of 709 MLB games. He is the only pitcher in major league history to record over 350 wins and strike out over 4,500 batters.
“Fortunately for me, it worked out, I had a wonderful career,” Clemens said. “My friends, they know the work I put in.”
The now 57-year old Clemens returned to the PawSox twice, both for rehab assignments, in 1993 and again in 1995.
Clemens became the ninth member of the PawSox Hall of Fame as the lone selection chosen by a 14-person panel for the fourth class of inductees.
Late long-time PawSox owner Ben Mondor, along with former Pawtucket Red Sox and Boston Red Sox legends Wade Boggs and Jim Rice, both National Baseball Hall of Fame players, comprised the inaugural 2016 PawSox Hall of Fame inductees.
The class of 2017 included another Baseball Hall of Famer, Carlton Fisk, and a pair of fellow Boston Red Sox Hall of Famers in Mo Vaughn and manager Joe Morgan of Walpole.
Boggs, Rice and Fisk are all members of the MLB Hall of Fame, but not Clemens. To some extent, that irritates PawSox hitting coach Rich Gedman of Shrewsbury, who caught Clemens’ 20-strikeout game in 1986 and was primarily his catcher with Boston for seven seasons from 1984-90.
“He’s one of the greatest pitchers in Red Sox history, certainly one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history,” Gedman said in the McCoy Stadium clubhouse. However, since Clemens was implicated — without any proven use of performance enhancing drugs dating back to 2004. Ever since the Mitchell Report on usage in MLB became public in 2007, Clemens’ name has not been well received on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot among voters.
“He’s a special guy,” Gedman said, treasuring his long-standing friendship with Clemens. “He’s very generous, someone who is good to his friends. People can accuse him of cheating, but he did other things (baseball records) that people didn’t do.”
Last season, outfielder Fred Lynn, another Red Sox Hall of Famer, joined long-time PawSox executive Mike Tamburro as the 2018 PawSox Hall of Fame inductees.
Clemens played with the PawSox for less than two months to begin the 1984 season before embarking on a stellar 24-year major league career that saw him become one of the most dominant pitchers in MLB history.
“I was taught my winning ways at Texas,” Clemens said. “We carried those on here. I had a bunch of fantastic teammates when I got here to Pawtucket. I was reminiscing about the passing of Billy Buckner, he will always be a winner in our hearts. Bruce Hurst, Marty Barrett, Dwight Evans, (Jim) Rice, Geddy (Gedman), I was lucky — I had some great leadership. When I got called up to the big leagues, I never looked back.”
Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards and one American League MVP Award, as well as being an 11-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion.
Clemens pitched for the Red Sox (1984-1996), Toronto Blue Jays (1997-98), New York Yankees (1999-2003 and again in 2007), and the Houston Astros (2004-06).
“This guy is going to be a big boy in the big leagues,” Morgan recalled saying of Clemens at his first viewing. “He had a great fastball — he had a knee-high fastball that was un-hittable. And he had a slider that I had never seen.
“I said to myself, ‘Buddy, he’s going to make you a lot of money.’ ”
Clemens was a first-round selection (19th overall) by Boston during the 1983 MLB Draft after leading the University of Texas to the 1983 College World Series championship. Clemens was on the mound when the Longhorns clinched the NCAA title. He reported to Single-A Winter Haven that summer (3-1, 1.24 in four games) and quickly earned a promotion to Double-A New Britain to finish the ’83 season (4-1, 1.38 in seven games).
“I came from the College World Series to Winter Haven (Florida, for spring training), I didn’t know where I was at,” Clemens recalled. “My teammates, my coaches throughout the years, what a special journey it was.”
Clemens concluded his Red Sox career tied with the immortal Cy Young for most victories in franchise-history (192). Clemens is still Boston’s all-time strikeout leader with 2,590. He was inducted in the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2014.
“The PawSox Hall of Fame celebrates our franchise’s most legendary figures,” PawSox Executive VP Dan Rea said in introducing Clemens. “We’re pleased to congratulate and welcome one of the best pitchers in baseball history to our Hall of Fame.”
In 1986, “The Rocket” launched himself into the stratosphere of baseball players. In 1986, Clemens had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history when he went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 33 starts along with 238 strikeouts in 254 innings.
That year, he led the majors in wins for the first of four occasions. Clemens also led both leagues in ERA (an accomplishment he would do seven times). In addition, on April 29, 1986, he became the first pitcher in history to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game when he beat the Seattle Mariners, 3-1 at Fenway Park. Clemens duplicated the feat in 1996 when he struck out 20 Tiger batters in a game at Detroit.
Clemens’ historic 1986 season earned him a host of honors, including the All-Star Game MVP, the American League MVP, and the first of his Cy Young Awards while leading the Red Sox to the World Series where they lost to the New York Mets in seven games.
After the 1996 season, Clemens signed with the Blue Jays and stayed with Toronto for the 1997-98 seasons, earning the Cy Young award in both of his seasons above the border.
Clemens was traded to the New York Yankees before the 1999 season and he won World Series titles with the Yankees in both 1999 and 2000. In 2001, he became the first pitcher in MLB history to start a season 20-1. He would finish 20-3 for the Yankees and earn his sixth Cy Young.
Clemens announced his retirement early in the 2003 season, but returned in January of 2004 when he signed with his adopted hometown Houston Astros. Amazingly, at the age of 42, he became the oldest pitcher to ever win the Cy Young, going 18-4 with a 2.98 for the 2004 Astros.
Nearing the end of his incredible career he posted the lowest ERA in his 22 years in the big leagues at the time when he finished with a 1.87 in 32 starts for Houston in 2005.
Clemens unexpectedly returned from his second retirement following the 2006 season with Houston when he rejoined the Yankees in June of 2007. On July 2, 2007 he notched his 350th win to become one of only three pitchers to pitch his entire career in the live-ball era and reach 350 wins.
“I’ve been back to Pawtucket a handful of times, they do a great job,” Clemens said. “I was pretty excited, coming back seeing a lot of familiar faces. This (pitching for the PawSox) is one of the thoughts I had on my way to Boston.”