Rocket Man: Burning out his Fuse?

January 08, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson

Sometimes it’s wiser to be quiet and thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. When it comes to Roger Clemens and his responses to the recent steroid allegations, maybe he should have taken that advice.
If the Mitchell report provided me with one revelation, it would have nothing to do with steroids and baseball. The lesson that I will take away from the Mitchell report is that as sports fans we are incapable of objectivity.
For years now baseball has been dealing with the public relations fallout of alleged steroid abuse in the game. Though many have tested positive in recent years, the name most commonly associated with the steroid era is one of a player who never, to our knowledge, tested positive for any performance enhancing drugs.
Fairly or unfairly, Barry Bonds has been the unofficial poster boy for steroid use in baseball. In fact, in addition to Bonds, the only other memorable names associated with steroids seem to be Jose Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and Ken Caminitti.
Steroids in sports have become an unfortunate part of the landscape. And for the most part, we as fans have been pretty forgiving. From Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon to Shawne Merriman and Rodney Harrison, with all of the Ben Johnson’s and Marion Jones’ in between, the public has been largely understanding and forgiving. In fact when it comes to guys like Lyle Alzado and John Matuszak, the public has felt mostly pity for these guys who gave their lives caving in to the peer pressure to compete.
Baseball and its record book are sacred though. Canseco, Giambi Caminitti and Bonds have all won at least one league MVP. And Palmeiro along with Bonds looked to be a lock for the hall of fame before his positive steroid test. Those who dare break the hallowed records of past legends of baseball, do so at their own risk, even when they earn it. See Roger Maris and Hank Aaron. But when they take their places in the record books while cheating to do so, well you see what happens then.
Enter Roger Clemens. Every other player named in that report, big named or small can thank the Rocket for taking the heat on this one. Maybe it’s fitting that the hurler known for intimidation and high hard ones, but who rarely had to dig into the batter’s box himself, is now dug in and taking high hard ones from the league, the media, congress and even his one time friends.
In addition to being the biggest new name mentioned in the Mitchell Report, Clemens delay in speaking out, in his own defense, has also helped to shield others from the controversy. While guys like Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Andy Pettitte have likely not heard the last of their involvement in this scandal; they are certainly enjoying some relative quiet time right now at the Rocket’s expense. Even Barry Bonds has to be enjoying this as much as someone could in Bonds’ current circumstances.
So the Rocket has finally decided to speak out against these allegations in recent days, and although most disagreed with his silence initially, maybe he should have kept his mouth shut perpetually and ridden off silently into the sunset a la Mark McGwire. Instead the Rocket has come out and vehemently denied the accusations against him, and in doing so probably came out looking even worse than he did before.
First came his “60 Minutes” interview. The anger that the Rocket seemed to have regarding the allegations seemed conjured up at best. Surely if he were really that angry it would have been impossible to hold his tongue as long as he did. He opened by saying that 25 years in the game should get him an inch of respect. Actually it’s probably the 25 years that starts to give credibility to the allegations I’d think.
Clemens goes on to say that his longevity was the result of hard work. True, hard work has to be part of the formula, but it certainly is a formula. He could have thrown in good genetics, or something else. If hard work were all it took to pitch well into your 40’s, surely Clemens wouldn’t be such an anomaly. There has to be more to it than just hard work. Clemens was just a pudgy kid throughout his 20’s; he hardly looked the part of the gym rat he reports himself to be today. It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to the Red Sox, most front offices around the majors believed Clemens to be on the way down in 1996.
I know that innocence is difficult to prove, and shouldn’t necessarily be the burden of the accused, but next Clemens basically asked why no one who supplied him with illegal drugs had come forward to say that they had done so. Is this supposed to be a convincing argument? I am supposed to believe that Clemens is innocent because no drug dealers have come forward to rat on him and themselves?
Next, Clemens asked us to logically reason why he only used in 1998, 2000, and 2001, since he is requesting speculation, I’ll take a shot. First, the fact that Clemens allegedly received injections from McNamee in those years does not mean that those are the only times he necessarily used performance enhancers. In fact, based on McNamee’s testimony to Mitchell, it sounds like Clemens had some knowledge about steroids already. He had at least determined somehow that he wasn’t able to inject himself according to the testimony. Next is the fact that in 2001, the Yankees and Clemens himself dismissed McNamee, after allegations of rape. Any logical person would have probably tried to keep McNamee out of the loop on anything compromising that they might do at that point, because of his loose cannon status.
Next comes some of the most damning evidence against him. First Clemens lies to Mike Wallace when he says that he had no idea he’d be named in the report. It has been reported that not only did Mitchell contact Clemens’ reps to give him a chance to refute, but also that Clemens himself had his own investigators talk with McNamee to find out exactly what he had told the Mitchell Commission. He went on to state that if he had known, than he would have defended himself on the record. Really?
Since Clemens wants us to consider the circumstantial evidence, what are we to make of Andy Pettitte’s admission to HGH use? Clemens claims to have no knowledge of Pettitte’s use even though their friendship was well documented before the scandal surfaced, and they followed one another around the country from team to team, all the while sharing the same personal trainer. The more he speaks, the higher the deck seems to stack against him.
The last and most subtle indictment of Clemens to come from the interview is his claim that performance enhancers are a quick fix and he wouldn’t compromise his long-term health for such a quick fix. Clemens then barely takes a breath before going on to say that he ate Vioxx like they were Skittles, and he took many injections over the course of a season. Lidocaine and B12 shots along with Torodol. He said that he fought with Joe Torre to pitch with a tear in his hamstring and a golf ball in his elbow. Are these the actions of a man not willing to sacrifice long-term health for short-term glory?
When asked if he’d be willing to take a polygraph, Clemens first said yes, then qualified it by saying that he didn’t know whether they were any good or not. His attorney said Monday that he’d advise against Clemens taking a polygraph.
As if the whole “60 Minutes” fiasco weren’t enough, Clemens came out for a Monday press conference and began it by playing a 15 minute plus long tape of a conversation that he secretly recorded with McNamee on Friday, calling because McNamee had reached out to him for help for his son who may be dieing according to the tape. In the tape, McNamee repeatedly expresses his desire to make things right for Clemens, but never indicates that he’d recant. In fact he never even hints at the fact that he’s lying, nor does Clemens ever simply ask, “Why did you lie to the Mitchell Commission?”
So far, Clemens has taken his good old time in calculating his strategy, yet his defense continues to come off as particularly inept. From here on out though, Clemens may be walking on very dangerous ground.
He is scheduled to testify before Congress this week, and presumably he’ll continue to stick to his story. Going on the Congressional record with his proclamation of innocence may come back to bite him worse than the court of public opinion ever could. If Clemens testimony is in direct conflict to a federal witness, whose whole deal is predicated on being honest, than someone has perjured himself and that’s an offense that the courts simply can’t take lightly.
In a defamation suit filed by Clemens he claims that the testimony from McNamee was coerced and that McNamee was threatened with jail if he wouldn’t implicate Clemens specifically. If Clemens were able to somehow prove that, than his position would improve substantially. Otherwise I’m guessing that we haven’t heard the last from Andy Pettitte on this matter. He’d probably be the most logical person that may have knowledge of Clemens’ use. And it appears that Pettitte will tell the truth if called on, he came clean in regard to his own dirty laundry. Perhaps he’ll be called on to air Clemens’ too.
My guess is that this one won’t be out of the headlines any time soon, and that by speaking out Clemens may have created more problems for himself than just possible exclusion from the hall of fame. Clemens claimed not to care about the hall on Monday anyway. That may be a good thing, because if this plays out like it appears it will, the Hall of Fame will be the least of his worries. Some things are better left unsaid. In Clemens case, it may be too late to turn back.
With 80+ names on the list, Clemens isn’t necessarily in bad company, but he has certainly moved to the forefront for the criticism and public scrutiny. His union brethren have scattered like the rats that they have always been amidst the confusion. And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time, for the Rocket Man burning out his fuse up there alone.