Roger “The Rocket” Clemens captivated baseball fans far and wide when he burst onto the national scene in the early 1980’s as a star collegiate pitcher for the University of Texas, eventually leading the Longhorns to the 1983 College World Series Championship. 

Clemens also possessed Hall of Fame appeal from the first day he stepped onto the mound for the Boston Red Sox as a rookie in 1984, and would have been a Hall of Famer if he had retired at the end of the 1996 season, his thirteenth and last season in Boston. 

“The Rocket” tallied 192 total wins and three Cy Young awards while pitching for Boston, including not one, but two twenty strike out games!  (Interesting sidenote:  The second twenty strikeout game occurred in Clemens’ third to last pitching start for Boston in 1996.)

According to the Boston Red Sox general manager at the time, Dan Duquette, Roger Clemens had entered the “twilight” of an illustrious career at the end of 1996 as Clemens posted more losses (13) thans wins (10) for the second time in a four year period (1993-1996.)

In fact, from 1993 (10 – 13 record)  through 1996 (11-14), 1994 (9-7) and 1995 (10 -5) Clemens looked rather average compared to his previous years and one could reasonably assume that his decline had begun.

Although the Red Sox had hoped to retain Clemens’ services until his retirement, a fresh start seemed inevitable.

Clemens ended up signing with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The questions remained, did Clemens have anything left in the tank?  Could he prove the naysayers wrong?

The addition of four Cy Young Awards (two consecutive in Toronto, 1997-1998) and two World Series rings with the Yankees (1999-2000) would seem to end that discussion rather abruptly.

Clemens continued to command respect as he fireballed his way to 354 victories over a twenty-four year career which ended with the Yankees in 2007.   

Like all great competitors, Clemens always looked for the competitive advantage, that edge, the equalizer. 

Regarding performance enhancing drugs, Clemens understood opposing players injected steroids, and as a fierce competitor himself, he probably felt disadvantaged by not taking them as well.

Therefore, if Clemens chose to inject steroids in order to level the playing field, he must have understood the risks of over enhancing his performance, especially in the “twilight” of his career.

Folks would start asking questions, right?

And ask, we did.  

Without stating the obvious, many of us scratched our heads and shrugged our shoulders.  How could he continue to be so productive so late in his career?  There must have been honest explanations for this continued success.

We compared Clemens workout to Nolan Ryan’s ferocious workout routine.  

That must have been it.

We pointed to his healthy diet, a great trainer, an undying will and desire to consistently perform at the highest levels.

Failure was clearly not an option here, at any cost. 

Ultimately, The Icarus-like failure for Clemens was not that he appeared to have cheated by taking PED’s, as evidence from the Mitchell Report strongly suggested, but that he appeared to have arrogantly lied under oath to the American public about it.  We would still have forgiven him, many of us concluded, if he had just come clean.  

As a result of this digression and potential criminal act, Clemens now faces the prospect of jail time after being indicted and charged with lying under oath in front of a Congressional inquiry.  

At the inquiry, Clemens came off as being jaded, thinking he had become untouchable. After all, Roger held friends in high places, such as the Bush family, who he apparantly assumed, would keep him out of harms way.  (this point may still hold validity)

We mercilessly watched Clemens stammer, struggle, and sulk his way through the Congressional inquiry. Even the haters couldn’t help but to be floored by watching this sports icon blow up his career right in front of our eyes.  Something went wrong here, something didn’t add up.

Even his best friend and teammate, Andy Pettitte, admitted wrongdoing and contradicted Clemens’ claims of innocence.  Surely, Clemens never felt that he would be duped by his best friend. What Clemens did not realize is that not even best friends will lie at Congressional inquiries to cover one’s sins.

The stakes just got too high, the potential punishments too severe.

And what about the fans who believed in him all those years?  The fans who sat out in the cold to cheer him on, who brought their children to watch him, who spent their hard-earned money to support him.  What about them?  

I suppose a few of Roger’s hardcore fans will follow Roger no matter what happens. The cultish types, the ones in denial, the conspiracy theorists.

For the die hard followers, I wish ’em well, because as the saying goes, “you reap what you sow” and “the truth always comes out in the end.”  

The problem remains that many can’t stomach the truth, for the truth can be a bitter pill to swallow. The truth has a way of shattering illusions of grandeur, wrecking false images of honor, and dismantling fake auras of supremacy.

On that note, I hope Roger can find peace within himself and reach out to those he touched in this life, and make it better for them, too.  Then, in some way, he will become a true champion once again, perhaps a champion of the highest order.

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