‘I think about his smile, his laugh’: Roger Clemens reflects on Mel Stottlemyre

For a lot of the years Mel Stottlemyre served as pitching coach of the New York Yankees, he made it easy for everybody to forget he was in treatment for a life-threatening illness. Because he never mentioned it, and if not for the changing texture of his hair, he never gave off any clues about the cancer. Stottlemyre died Sunday almost two decades after his initial diagnosis.

“I got word today,” Roger Clemens said over the phone Monday evening. Clemens won the sixth of his seven Cy Young Awards while pitching for the Yankees and Stottlemyre,buy nike nfl jerseys cheap who himself had pitched 11 seasons for the Yankees in the 1960s and ’70s.

Stottlemyre’s smile was more wry than toothy, and he was understated and honest, a product of Missouri, free of the need to be the smartest guy in the room. Harry Truman in a baseball uniform. Clemens was traded to the Yankees after winning Cy Young Awards in 1997 and 1998, and he immediately noticed Stottlemyre never interjected instruction into his bullpen sessions or workouts. Rather, Stottlemyre watched quietly, and if everything went well, he’d clap his hands and say so and leave it at that. Sometimes he did have suggestions, Clemens recalled, and those thoughts, sometimes passed along while sitting in the bullpen, were constructed on that credibility. Clemens would listen and find himself saying, “I think I can use that, Mel.”1

Stottlemyre possessed the trait that distinguishes a lot of instructors from their peers: relentless empathy. “He was rooting for you,” said Clemens, well aware of the tendency of some coaches to turn on players. David Cone struggled terribly for the Yankees in his last season with the team, in 2000, and he once related the hurt he saw in Stottlemyre’s eyes when the pitching coach walked to the mound to talk to Cone during a bad inning; it bothered him to see somebody he cared about face failure.

The first time Clemens pitched in Fenway Park as a member of the Yankees was in July 1999 — in the second game of a three-game weekend series, on a Saturday. Clemens recalls this very specifically, and accurately, because after the first game, right fielder Paul O’Neill had jokingly complained to manager Joe Torre about how the Fenway Park crowd wore him out. Clemens overheard this. “Come out tomorrow if you think it’s hectic for you,” Clemens said, telling O’Neill he’d have no worries because of course the fans’ ire would be aimed at The Rocket.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

There was a group of well-soused football players hovering near the visitors’ bullpen when Clemens went out to warm up before that start, Clemens remembered with a laugh. Stottlemyre stood next to his pitcher, as always, a towel draped over his shoulder, a water bottle on the ground. The fans screamed insults at the former Red Sox ace as he threw his warm-up pitches, sweat pouring down his face, and after one particular verbal grenade from the stands, Clemens glanced over at Stottlemyre — and saw his pitching coach had a hand over his own mouth to cover up his laughter at what had just been yelled.