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TWILIGHT REVISITED

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“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.”

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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

--

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

----

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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