Thursday, January 10, 2008

Clemens Saga Will Not End Well

Roger Clemens is a liar. No other conclusion can be drawn, unless you believe that the greatest pitcher of this generation does not give a "rat's (behind)" about being immortalized in the Hall of Fame. Clemens, like many great athletes, is a control freak and he realizes that in the wake of the Mitchell Report he no longer controls how many Hall of Fame votes he will receive; until recently, it seemed certain that number would be very high, based on Clemens' impressive on field numbers--but now the number of votes that Clemens eventually gets will likely be based on whether or not the baseball writers believe that the miraculous second act of Clemens' career was in fact a fraud created by performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

The Mitchell Report will probably be remembered as the Clemens Indictment, because just about everything else that was mentioned in it has been largely brushed aside--at least for now--as everyone from the casual fan to Congress evaluates the accusations against Clemens and his response to them. For anyone who somehow missed the story, Brian McNamee--Clemens' trainer for several years--provided the federal government with very specific descriptions of a number of occasions when he personally injected Clemens with PEDs. The timing of those injections coincides with Clemens' rejuvenation as a pitcher after several mediocre seasons. McNamee also testified that he injected Andy Pettitte with human growth hormone (HGH); Pettitte has subsequently admitted to receiving a few HGH injections, which he said were for rehabilitation purposes, not performance enhancement. Of course, Pettitte's excuse is garbage, because being able to come back quicker from an injury is in fact performance enhancement: you cannot perform at all when you are on the disabled list. Also, HGH use is legal when prescribed by a doctor and illegal when used as a performance enhancer, so why did Pettitte take HGH secretly if he was not using it improperly? Pettitte's admission casts Clemens in a bad light because it is very logical to wonder why McNamee would lie about Clemens if he told the truth about Pettitte. Remember that McNamee testified under oath and will go to jail if he committed perjury.

Clemens had an opportunity to talk with Mitchell's investigators before the report came out but declined to do so. That is why no one should feel sorry for Clemens or anyone else whose name popped up in the Mitchell Report. Most MLB players, at the instigation of the Players Association, refused to cooperate, in effect creating a Mafia-style omerta (code of silence) that could only possibly serve to shield the guilty; if most players are innocent then shouldn't the Players Association be protecting their interests--not to mention the greater interests of the sport--as opposed to helping the guilty to cover up their foul deeds? Clemens told Mike Wallace that he was blindsided by McNamee's testimony but we now know that this is a lie because McNamee called Clemens' agents a week before the report came out and representatives of Clemens met with McNamee a day before the report was released. Clemens initially responded to the Mitchell Report by issuing statements through his lawyers and his foundation but he quickly realized that the public was not at all impressed. Then he agreed to trot out Wallace, who has lost more speed off of his fastball then Clemens had lost by 1997, to toss some softball questions. Some of the things that Clemens said to Wallace are simply bizarre. Pettitte is his best friend and long time workout partner but Clemens claimed to have no idea that Pettitte took HGH. That hardly seems credible. Even more strange are Clemens' comments about the alleged side effects of PED use: taking PEDs will not make a third ear grow out of your forehead and it will not enable you to pull vehicles with your teeth--but it will speed up your recovery time between workouts and the androgenic properties of some of those substances will help you to build and retain muscle mass. That is why Clemens' statements about his work ethic are not only meaningless but actually are a backhanded confirmation of the extra help he received. How exactly can a person of his age continue to do such intense workouts without having his body break down? Clemens was an aging, mediocre pitcher for the four years prior to when McNamee claims to have started giving him PED injections. Then Clemens quickly returned to being an elite pitcher. Clemens also told Wallace that if he had taken PEDs then he would have suffered injuries to connective tissues, something that often happens to athletes whose muscles grow to the point that their ligaments and tendons are overworked. Could that be the reason why Clemens has drastically limited his pitching appearances in recent seasons, essentially becoming a part time player?

Clemens did not immediately file suit against McNamee, saying that this would be too expensive. Clemens has made more than $100 million during his career in base salaries alone, according to Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune. It defies logic that an innocent man would not be willing to spend a small fraction of that fortune to save his good name. Clemens--or his advisors--quickly realized this and eventually did file suit against McNamee. I strongly suspect that filing this lawsuit was strictly a public relations move and that it will eventually be dropped, like a similar action that Barry Bonds took against Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the authors of Game of Shadows, the book that made an overwhelming case that Bonds cheated his way to the single-season and career home runs records.

Most of you have probably heard or read about the 17 minute phone conversation with McNamee that Clemens recorded. Different interpretations have been offered for what both parties said. The bottom line is that Clemens never explicitly asked McNamee "Why did you lie?" and McNamee never said that he did in fact lie. McNamee sounded like someone who was pained that he had to blow the whistle on someone who had been very good to him and Clemens sounded like a desperate person who was trying to manipulate a broke, scared and desperate man whose son is dying. If I were Clemens and I were innocent, the first thing that I would say to McNamee is "Why did you lie about me using steroids?" The second thing that I would say to McNamee is, "You know that this is not true. I never used steroids." I understand that Clemens cannot put himself in a position where it can be said that he is trying to coerce a federal witness but it makes no sense for Clemens to spend the whole conversation essentially speaking in code. "Why did you lie about me using steroids?" is something that he simply had to ask--but maybe Clemens did not want the world to hear McNamee's answer to that question. Clemens has known McNamee a long time and realized that as long as he danced around the issue that McNamee would do so as well. McNamee comes across not as someone who lied to betray a friend but rather someone who is pained that he had to testify under oath about things that could damage Clemens. When McNamee keeps repeating, "What do you want me to do?", the subtext that I hear is this: "Roger, the feds were going to put me in jail if I didn't tell the truth. You and I both know that I injected you with steroids. I had to fess up. You're my friend and I'll do anything that I can to help you now. My son is dying and I am a wreck. What do you want me to do?"

Clemens played that 17 minute tape at a press conference he arranged. He pledged to answer any and all questions but only lasted a few minutes before he got very testy, made his obviously false statement about not caring about the Hall of Fame and stormed off the stage. The good news is that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will not only hold a hearing about the Mitchell Report on February 13 but Clemens, McNamee, Pettite and others will be deposed under oath prior to that day by attorneys of the committee members--and if you get caught lying to them, you go to jail. Clemens cannot bully them and he cannot storm off if he does not like a question that they ask him. It will be very interesting to see what everyone says in those circumstances. Track star Marion Jones was just as vociferous as Clemens in her initial denials before she eventually admitted that her whole career was a sham.

Most of the accused PED users seem to be reading off of the same script, one that includes some combination of these elements: I was only taking a B-12 shot (Jose Canseco, who seems to be the only person who is completely honest about what happened in the so-called Steroids Era, wrote in his book Juiced that PED users routinely used the phrase "B-12 shots" as a euphemism for steroid injections); I did not know that I was injected with a steroid; I only used steroids a few times to help me recover from an injury. The latter excuse has become really popular lately, a convenient way for Pettitte and others to try to avoid perjury but also try to maintain the facade of not being cheaters.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, Executive Director of the MLB Players Association Donald Fehr and the MLB players themselves all must share the blame for the permanent black mark that PEDs cast over an entire era of baseball history. Anyone who says that this is a victimless crime is wrong. The victims are the modern players who did not cheat and who lost individual honors, games and money to the cheaters. The victims are players from previous eras whose records were shattered--and some of these players are probably not in the Hall of Fame because their numbers were dwarfed by the statistics put up by PED users. Other than Frank Thomas and a select few players who put up Hall of Fame caliber numbers in the past 15 years without a hint of cheating, I would not mind if the Hall of Fame put up a moratorium on voting in players from this era in order to give long overdue recognition to Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and other neglected stars. The victims are the fans who loyally invested their money to root for cheaters--if McNamee's allegations are true, Clemens received tens of millions of dollars since 1997 as a result of cheating to prolong a career that otherwise was on its last legs; think of how many other players have also essentially stolen money not only from the fans but also from the honest ball players. Most of all, the victims are the young athletes who felt pressured to take PEDs to be like their "heroes" and to keep up with other young athletes who were getting ahead by cheating. That is the real legacy of Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmerio, Jason Giambi, Ken Caminiti and all of the other players who were involved in this scandal.

This story will not have a clean or happy ending. Lives have been lost due to PED abuse, the MLB record book has been turned into tawdry fiction and many of the most guilty parties will likely never be punished.

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