Last Thursday, the Red Sox retired No. 26 at Fenway Park. It was worn by Wade Boggs for 11 years in Boston.
But as it was unveiled in right field last week, there was another number that I just couldn’t stop thinking about, leading to the same question I asked last summer, as the Red Sox retired Pedro Martinez’ No. 45.
“Where is No. 21?”
That’s right, I said it. I’m talking about Roger Clemens. Why haven’t the Red Sox retired his “21” yet?
Since Clemens left Boston to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997, nobody in a Red Sox uniform has worn No. 21. The most recent example that it’s no coincidence would be Rick Porcello, who currently wears No. 22 with the Red Sox, after wearing No. 21 with his previous team, the Detroit Tigers.
It would seem there’s a reason the number has never been given out since Clemens left. So we might as well call it an “unofficially” retired number in the organization.
A few weeks ago, I caught up with Red Sox president Sam Kennedy at Fenway and recorded an hour-long podcast with him. Boggs’ ceremony came up, so I then asked about Clemens, and if they ever have any discussions about officially retiring “21.”
“Yeah, we do,” said Kennedy. “We have discussions all the time, internally, formal, informal. These are really, really important decisions for the franchise and the organization. And given the Clemens era and our familiarity with that — obviously, it’s more recent history — he’s someone that is certainly deserving of consideration, worthy of consideration.
“There’s a lot that goes into it,” he added. “Cooperstown usually is sort of that first measurement. The second is length of service with the organization, community involvement, time with the franchise.”
Clemens spent 13 of his 24 Major-League seasons in Boston. From 1984-1996, he was as dominant as they come, winning three Cy Young awards in his 13 years with the Red Sox. In 1986, he also won the American League MVP.
You can make the argument that Clemens had already built his Hall-of-Fame resume in Boston alone. But he went on to win four more Cy Young awards — two with the Blue Jays and two with the Yankees. He also won two World Series championships with New York, in 1999 and 2000.
Clemens’ numbers are, without a doubt, Cooperstown-worthy. However, the cloud that hangs over his head are the steroid accusations made by former trainer Brian McNamee.
Right now, guilty or not, Clemens is paying the price for even being linked to performance-enhancing drugs. And who knows if the voters will ever end up putting him in the Hall. But right now, it’s not looking good.
Still, Kennedy added one interesting note when discussing Clemens’ No. 21 and the possibility of one day having it officially retired at Fenway.
“There’s no hard-and-fast set rule or policy or corporate mandate that we have around it,” he said. “Like the Boggs thing. That was pretty organic. The conversation started late last fall, and I think we got it right.”
Boggs is in Cooperstown. Clemens is not. But Kennedy implies that it isn’t mandatory. And in Clemens’ case, it shouldn’t be.
He’s already a member of the Red Sox Hall of Fame. And the only reason he still hasn’t been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is because of the steroid allegations.
Believe it or not, there are some close to Clemens who are adamant that his accuser, McNamee, is full of you-know-what.
“McNamee says Clemens started taking steroids in 1998, so how do you explain 1997?” asked former Red Sox assistant general manager Steve August on my podcast several years ago.
Clemens was accused of using steroids because he needed an edge. But in 1997, as August so adamantly points out, Clemens went 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA while leading the American League in strikeouts with 292 during his first year in Toronto. McNamee claims Clemens didn’t start using performance-enhancing drugs until the following season with the Blue Jays in 1998.
Perhaps we’ll never know the whole truth. Still, that shouldn’t prevent the Red Sox from doing what’s right.
And that would be to officially retire No. 21 once and for all.