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A Yankee Bat Boy's Insider Tale of Wild Nights, Gambling, and Good Times with Modern Baseball's Greatest Team
By Luis "Squeegee" Castillo, William Cane
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Luis Castillo and William Cane
All rights reserved.
Clash of the Titans Roger Clemens
What is wrong with this guy! A giant of a man stands pressing his face up against the New York Yankees' clubhouse mirror, cheeks puffed out until they look like they're about to explode. When he leans back there's a smudge of oil where his nose touched the glass. Baseball cap in hand, he's breathing like he just walked up a flight of stairs, but the game hasn't even started.
He steps back and I see it's Roger Clemens. He's pitching today. He screws his cap tight onto his head. His eyes rake over the clubhouse and he begins pacing back and forth. Roger is massive through the chest, nearly the size of two average men, his legs cut and muscular as he turns and exits through the tunnel leading up to the field. I can hear him breathing, the echo of each breath magnified in the runway.
At first I was worried about him, but then I started worrying about them — the batters going up against him. For it dawned on me that this was a new side of Clemens, one I hadn't seen yet. This was a side of Clemens that you see only if you happen to be in the clubhouse during the minutes before he goes out to take the mound. He had been getting ready, in his own unique way, going through a personal ritual in preparation for the ordeal of pitching. He had been working himself up into a state ... and I felt sorry for the batters who would face him.
Part of my job at Yankee Stadium included picking up bats and balls for players. During games I was responsible for patrolling the area between home plate and first base. Even now I remember how I hustled to get upstairs, eager to see what Clemens would do after that warm-up.
By the time he took the mound on July 8, 2000, the fans were buzzing and the air was tense with anticipation. It was over eighty degrees in the sun, but the sweat drizzling down Clemens's face didn't seem to bother him. Longtime interleague rivals were facing one another: Yankees vs. Mets. The fans roared with each pitch and each swing of the bat. Still, Clemens never let the roar of the crowd distract him. No, he had that focus going, and I knew why. He had psyched himself up for it. His fastballs popped into the catcher's mitt with a sound like gunshots. Bang! ... Bang! ... Bang! He was pacing himself, breathing hard, but pacing himself for the big confrontation to come.
Everyone was looking forward to it, too. Because Mets catcher Mike Piazza had racked up an impressive record against Clemens. In fact, he came to the plate that night with an intimidating score of .583 against the Rocket — including three home runs and a double. People in the know said Clemens resented Piazza's success against him.
When Piazza approached home plate, he swung the bat a few times and the crowd came alive. Then there was the windup and the pitch — a high fastball headed directly at the batter's face! You could hear a sharp gasp from the crowd. Piazza had no more than a fraction of a second to react. His right foot was already off the ground because he had launched into the swing, preventing him from getting enough twisting force to turn his body away. He only had time to move his head a few inches to avoid a direct blow between the eyes. The baseball — unleashed, some said, with an intention to hit him — smashed into the upper crown of Piazza's blue helmet, directly above his left ear.
For a moment the massive body of the Mets catcher shook, as if uncertain what to do. The echo of the Craaaaaackkkkkkkkkkkkk! that the ball made upon impact with his batting helmet could be heard all the way down in the Yankees' dugout. The Yankees players and coaches leaped to their feet to see what had happened. A few seconds later, the powerhouse who had faced Clemens with such confidence and dignity crumpled and fell, collapsing over home plate.
A hush fell over the crowd and for a few scary minutes all 50,000 spectators seemed to be thinking the same thing: this is a hell of a dangerous sport. Then, as the fallen player was helped off the field, the mood changed. The buzz of conversation spread in waves. Everybody was talking about it! The legendary Mets catcher had suffered a concussion and had to be taken out of the game.
The Mets players were on top of the dugout yelling at Clemens.
"You're an asshole!"
"You're fucked up!"
Players were upset and reacting. The Yankees were jabbering back at the Mets, too. It was a free-for-all where everybody wanted to put in his two cents.
Roger Clemens was saying, "I didn't mean to do it," and backing away from the Mets players. Before you knew what had happened, the inning was over and he disappeared back into the shelter of the clubhouse. A few minutes later, he sent over Brian McNamee to tell the Mets and Mike Piazza "I didn't mean to do it." Brian McNamee was the Yankees personal trainer who later submitted sworn testimony that he injected Clemens with steroids over a dozen times. That may seem like an odd choice for a personal messenger from Clemens to Piazza, but it shows how close Clemens and McNamee were in 2000.
The response from the Mets was predictable: Tell that asshole that he's a complete jerk. He meant to do that. He's a headhunter.
But in reality I thought that Clemens felt bad, and I was convinced that he knew that he had made a mistake. I was in the players' lounge and I saw how upset he was when he came inside. The media wasn't there to cover this behind-the-scenes part of the story. He was walking around in the clubhouse and talking to himself out loud, cursing at himself, telling Mel Stottlemyre what had happened, wringing his hands, acting moody, and looking like a man who had just made a major error. The Yankees used to feel the same way the Mets felt when Clemens was pitching against us and hitting our players. We were annoyed because he seemed to be running away from his responsibility by going into hiding in the clubhouse after his inning of pitching. When he's out of sight you don't know what he's thinking because you can't observe how he's reacting, and naturally the Yankees had been upset when he hit one of our guys. But when we saw his reaction — in the Yankees' clubhouse, when he was finally on our side — we realized that he was acting like a nervous man. He was muttering sorry comments like, "I didn't mean to do it!"
Three months later things got even worse. It was Game 2 of the World Series between the Yankees and the Mets. More than anything else, what fans had come to see that October night was the rematch between Clemens and Piazza. By now these two had a history between them that went deeper than statistics and numbers. It was a history of blood and violence, and fans came to the arena to see how it would unfold.
In quick succession, Clemens struck out the first two Mets batters, Timo Perez and Edgardo Alfonzo, which brought up the main event: Mike Piazza. When he stepped up to the plate — the future Hall of Fame Mets catcher facing the future Hall of Fame Yankees pitcher — I happened to be on bat boy duties that day and was in the dugout. Piazza looked relaxed and ready for business, swinging the bat around to show off his massive arm and neck muscles. The Rocket was looking intense and focused on the mound, psyched and ready to rumble. Roger's face was red, the muscles of his arms clearly visible in the lights. He was concentrating and breathing hard, just as he had done on that day three months before, when he had psyched himself up in the clubhouse. He was here to face his rival and finish this business between them.
The Mets catcher took a few warm-up swings and stepped into the batter's box. An air of excitement and anticipation snapped through the crowd, and you knew what they were thinking. There wasn't one man, woman, or child whose eyes weren't trained on the green diamond. The chatter wasn't the usual noise you hear at Yankee Stadium; tonight it was mixed with hope ... and a real sense of fear.
After three sizzling pitches by Clemens — and two missed swings by Piazza — the count stood at one ball, two strikes. There was a brief pause. A cool breeze ruffled the long brown hair visible behind Piazza's helmet. Clemens got set, nodded at the catcher, and wound up for the pitch. Piazza raised his bat a few inches higher and got ready to swing. In the next instant, Clemens unleashed an inside fastball and Piazza swung hard and connected, the ball striking the bat close to his hands. Smuuuuuuuunk! I looked up. What in the name of Babe Ruth was that! It wasn't the typical sound of ball hitting bat, which I knew so well I could hear it in my sleep. Pop! It's supposed to sound like a goddamn Pop! This was something entirely different.
The ball was hit foul, but upon impact Piazza's bat splintered into three pieces of different length. He had already started running toward first. While he was on the move, a small piece of bat landed behind home plate and a second piece flew out toward foul territory. But the largest fragment, the barrel, tumbled end over end toward the pitcher's mound, where Roger Clemens was standing. It moved so fast that it looked like a white blur. Roger's reaction was instantaneous. He actually fielded the bat, picking up the piece of barrel, which he apparently thought was the ball, and then — upon realizing his mistake — flung it into foul territory ... almost hitting Mike Piazza in the process!
In the next moment, all hell broke loose.
But before I tell you about that, I have to add a comment from my perspective down on the field. None of the fans could see Clemens as clearly as I could. I had never noticed an expression like that on his face. In fact, he looked disgusted, and to me that was one of the most telling things about the whole incident — that look of disgust, as if he had been dragged down into some kind of dirty business by having come in contact with the bat.
Piazza, who had also been confused by the splintering bat, couldn't believe what had just happened. He was convinced that Clemens had thrown the bat at him! He slowed and moved off course, approaching Clemens, saying, "What's your problem?" A gentleman through and through, restraining himself from harsher words, Piazza must have been thinking, What the fuck's going on? First you hit me with a baseball and now you throw a bat at me!
Not acknowledging Piazza, Clemens walked toward the home plate umpire and said, "Give me a ball."
But there was no way Clemens could walk away from this one. That carelessly flung piece of bat had started a big to-do that would have an impact on Roger and the rest of the team for months afterward. Both benches poured onto the field, cleared of all players. Everyone was fussing and cursing. Umpire Charlie Reliford stepped forward to keep Clemens and Piazza apart.
With noticeable control of his emotions, Piazza returned to the batter's box and the game continued. But as soon as the inning was over, some spectators booed, and Clemens did a speed walk toward his dugout, apparently eager to escape all the commotion.
From an insider perspective, having worked with Roger, I can tell you what really happened — and why. The whole thing was the result of his competitiveness. It was his intimidation factor against other teams. As if he were saying, "If you step into that batter's box you're going against Roger Clemens ... You're not going against an average Joe." But there's another side to it also, in addition to his competitiveness and his desire to win. Everybody knows the facts about what happened that day on the field, but nobody in the media knows what happened when Clemens went downstairs into the clubhouse and felt guilty. He was nervous backstage. You could see it. He was holding his head, he was on his chair in the locker room, he was in the trainer's room, he was back and forth all over the place, as if he couldn't find a spot where he could get away from himself and what he had done. He was walking around and he wasn't acting like himself. Those incidents — when he hit Piazza in the head, and when he threw the bat — put him off his game. Suddenly, Roger wasn't acting like a warrior anymore, he was acting like a little girl, and he was moaning, "Oh, my God, what did I do!"
It's never as black and white with Roger Clemens as the media might lead you to believe. He's more than an aggressive headhunter who thinks only of himself and his reputation. You can't understand him unless you consider both sides of his personality — the raw aggression as well as the contrition and guilt. This combination of opposites is what makes the real Roger Clemens.
* * *
Before every game the Yankees air the national anthem, and all the players stand on the field. Sometimes, though, a player is late getting to the ball park. To remedy this problem, Joe Torre made up a rule:
IF YOU'RE LATE FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM YOU PAY A FINE OF $100
It was the manager's way of creating unity and making sure that everyone was on time and responsible. He would use this money at the end of the year to take the coaches out to dinner.
On off days, when he wasn't pitching, Roger might get a massage and order something to eat. So when he came back to work he was still in a relaxed frame of mind. Sometimes there would be a memo posted up on the door of the clubhouse to let players know what time they had to report in front of the dugout for the national anthem. Roger Clemens would be late a good 80 percent of the time.
When he arrived late, he would go into Torre's office in full uniform like a schoolboy reporting to the principal's office. He would leave three hundred-dollar bills on the manager's desk, and then he would take his time walking up to the dugout. After the national anthem was over he would approach Torre.
"Hey, Mr. T, I left three hundred bucks on top of your table. I know a couple of other guys were late so I'll pay for them, too."
Joe Torre would give him a sour look.
"Don't make that a habit."
But the funny thing is that having to pay these big fines never seemed to teach Clemens a lesson. He was like a lot of the athletes I've known: they're late more often than the average person. I don't know why that might be, unless maybe it's because they're so confident of their physical stamina that they think they can get to places faster than they really can. Clemens's lateness might be a sign of arrogance, but it might just as easily be a sign of overconfidence. One thing I know for sure is that it was this kind of confidence that made Clemens such a menace on the field.
Torre would shake his head.
"I'll let you off this time," he would say. "But next time you have to be here. Don't make this a regular thing because then everybody will get used to it and just leave money on top of my desk and won't take the rule seriously."
Forget the impression you may have of Roger Clemens as an aggressive, inconsiderate person. Not only was he considerate enough to pay for teammates who were late, but if you were in the same room with him, like I was hundreds of times, you'd see that he was a friendly guy with an almost sweet disposition. Yes, he was competitive during games, but when he was off the field he was like your fun-loving kid brother. That's the best description I can give of him. Like your little brother. You'd have loved him.
There's no question that inside Clemens lives a little kid just waiting to come out and have fun. Take, for example, what happened one fall day in September 2003. It's always a tradition in baseball on each team where the rookies — guys playing their first full season in Major League Baseball — get hazed during their first year. It's called Rookie Dress-Up Day. This practical joke is scheduled for the last road trip in September. Rob Cucuzza, the Yankees' equipment manager, searches the Internet weeks in advance and orders costumes. I would see Robbie sitting at his desk, hair uncombed, sleeves rolled up, focusing on the task of finding something crazy-looking. People thought he was working. He would spend hours setting up this prank, and Clemens would take a more active role in the planning than other players. He used to walk into the office sometimes when I was in there, and say, "How's the costumes coming along? Did you guys get them yet?" Robbie would show Clemens a couple of pictures of what he was considering.
"Yeah," Clemens would say. "Let's get this one! I like that! It's awesome." This would go on for weeks until finally the costumes were ordered.
On this particular day the costumes were ready, hidden in Rob Cucuzza's office. The rookies didn't know anything about it. They were playing the game, unaware of what was in store for them. During the seventh inning, the other players told the bat boys to hide the rookies' street clothes.
Hideki Matsui had a weird-looking outfit waiting for him — a full-length leopard-skin coat. There was also a cane, a wide-brimmed hat, and a gold cap for his tooth.
When the game was over, Matsui returned to the clubhouse and took his shower. Then he started looking for his clothes. He was frowning because he couldn't find them. That's when he noticed the costume on his chair. His eyebrows went up and his lips twisted into a frown.
His interpreter approached and put a hand on his shoulder.
Excerpted from Clubhouse Confidential by Luis "Squeegee" Castillo, William Cane. Copyright © 2011 Luis Castillo and William Cane. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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