Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The problems with Roger Clemens' defense on 60 Minutes, and the problem with this whole charade

I'll say upfront that it could be that Roger Clemens never used steroids. He sure seems to believe it, and the possibility of this being true has not escaped me. And too will I give credit where it's due: it took a while, but Clemens has gotten proactive with his defense (lawsuit, even though he has positively zero chance of winning as a celebrity trying to prove malice; news conference).

But now I'll echo what's been said by columnists across the country: I don't believe it. Far from sounding like an innocent adult, Clemens has acted like a petulant adolescent, lashing out with fake anger, making faces that say, "This is my aghast face. Do I look aghast enough?"

And lest you think I'm speaking from my gut, or that I have it out against the guy, let's go quote-by-quote from his recent 60 Minutes interview, using logic. The esteemed 89-year-old Mike Wallace reporting:

Clemens: "I'm angry that -- what I've done for the game of baseball and as a person, in my private life, what I've done -- that I don't get the benefit of the doubt. It's hogwash for people to even assume this. Twenty-four, twenty-five years, Mike, you'd think I'd get an inch of respect. An inch. How can you prove your innocence?"

How one can prove his innocence: Part One, Subpoint A: Don't wait a day, then issue a lawyer-fashioned press release; call up your favorite beat reporter or ally in the media and give a few quotes. Subpoint B: Be completely upfront from the very beginning, and vehement, like David Justice on Colin Cowherd's show. Subpoint C: Be absolutely frank and specific. Mention lidocaine and vitamin B-12 on the first day. When you do it later, people begin suspecting you had time to pull this detail out of your ass (no pun intended).

MW: "Apparently you haven't done it yet. People I talk to say, 'Come on, 45 years old? How does he still throw a ball and compete?' and so forth. It's impossible."

Clemens: "It's not impossible. You do it with hard work. Ask any of my teammates. Ask anybody that's come here and done the work with me."

Wallace, conveniently, talks to zero of Clemens's teammates. The obvious follow-up question would have been, "Couldn't one say the very reason you're able to train so hard is because you're on performance enhancers?" This is what we get instead:

MW: "I was down here in 2001, and you were pitching to a guy by the name of..."

Clemens: "Brian McNamee, that's right."

MW: "He gave very specific examples of times he says that he injected you with steroids. During the '98 season, you were pitching for the Blue Jays, McNamee was their strength and conditioning coach. From the Mitchell Report: 'Clemens approached McNamee and for the first time brought up the subject of using steroids. Clemens said that he was not able to inject himself and he asked for McNamee's help. McNamee injected Clemens approximately four times in the buttocks over a several week period, with needles that Clemens provided. Each incident took place in Clemens' apartment.'"

Clemens: "It never happened. Never happened. And if I have these needles and these steroids and all these drugs, where did I get 'em?", perhaps? Or, you know, that guy McNamee. Or maybe another shadowy, Radomski type. The point is, if Clemens thinks this is a valid point -- that there is no smoking gun -- he should pursue this line of reasoning, not just leave it as is. Not say, in a snooty tone...

"Where's the person out there gave 'em to me? Please, please come forward."

Um. He has, and now look.

MW: "Mitchell Report: 'According to McNamee, from the time McNamee injected Clemens with Winstrol, a steroid, through the end of the '98 season, Clemens's performance showed remarkable improvement. Clemens told McNamee that the steroids "had a pretty good effect on him." McNamee said Clemens was also training harder and dieting better during this time.'"

Clemens: "Never. I've trained hard my entire career. It just didn’t happen."

Actually, Dan Duquette doesn't think he trained hard his entire career.

MW: "Why would Brian McNamee want to betray you?"


Clemens: "Y'know, I don't know. I'm still upset about it, how I treated this man and took care of him."

MW: "I imagine he's watching the two of us right now, wouldn't you?"

Clemens: "I hope he is."

He is.

MW: "Okay. Anything you want to tell him?"

Clemens: "Yeah. I treated him fairly. I treated him great as anybody else. I helped him out."

So, tell us again, Roger, why would he lie injecting you?

Wallace: "Again, from the Mitchell Report: 'According to McNamee, during the middle of the 2000 season, Clemens made it clear he was ready to use steroids again. And during the latter part of the season, McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks four to six times with testosterone. Also injected Clemens four to six times with human growth hormone.'"

Specificity, Roger. This is the stuff that convinces average Americans. This is why -- despite Jose Canseco's supposed looniness -- he deserves an audience. You want to know why people think you're guilty? Maybe it's because you answer these specific accusations with irrelevant answers like...

Clemens: "My body never changed."

It wouldn't change if you've done it only a dozen times.

"If he's putting that stuff up in my body, if what he's saying -- which is totally false -- if he's doing that to me, I should have a third ear coming out of my forehead."

Excuse me?

"I should be pulling tractors with my teeth."

Apparently Clemens has steroids and HGH confused with a blast from a gamma bomb.

MW: "The next season, 2001. From the Mitchell Report: 'According to McNamee, Clemens advised him in August of 2001 that he was again ready to use steroids, and shortly thereafter, McNamee injected Clemens with a steroid on four to five occasions at Clemens's apartment.'"

Clemens: "Yeah. Never happened."

MW: "In two of the three years that McNamee claims that he injected you -- ’98 and 2001 -- you won 20 games and the Cy Young Awards as the American League's best pitcher."

Ugh. This conversation is going nowhere fast.

Clemens: "I won in 1997, I won the Cy Young Award. 2004, when he supposedly, I wasn't doing it."

Mike knew that, he had to have. He probably just wanted to lob Clemens a softball.

MW: "Yeah, but these are the years in which McNamee claims that he injected you."

Clemens: "Didn't happen. It didn't happen. It just didn't happen."

I'll point out here that steroids are not a wonder drug, as Fernando Vina and Jason Grimsley, among others, can tell you. And that both Wallace and Clemens seem to think steroids is a wonder drug shows remarkable ignorance on their parts. It's telling, too -- for Wallace, it shows he's lost his edge, or curiosity; for Clemens, it shows, or strongly implies, that he sat in a room by himself and concocted this line of defense, which is most easily defensible in his mind.

Clemens: "Why didn't I keep doing it if it was so good for me?"

Because it was illegal? Or because you were afraid you would break down?

"Why didn't I break down?"

Because you didn't abuse them, just used.

"Why didn't my tendons turn to dust?"

Yeah, that doesn't happen.

"That's all it's good for."


"It's a quick fix. I don't believe in that. I don't do it."

MW: "What was your first reaction when you heard what McNamee had said?"

Clemens: "I was shocked. I was angry. A lot of emotions."

MW: "You're still shocked? You're still angry?"

Clemens: "Oh, definitely."

MW: "Did you know ahead of time what was going to be in George Mitchell's report?"

Clemens: "I did not."

MW: "Did Brian McNamee tell you he was going to say it to Mitchell?"

Clemens: "Didn't tell me a word... He e-mails me and asks me where all the good fishing equipment is down at Cabo that I bought so he can go fishing. Thank you very much. I said, 'Have a good time, go fishing.' Doesn't say a word that you, that you know, I'm fixing to bury you with all these accusations and what do we do about it. Didn't say a word about it. That's what pisses me off."

I'm not sure what to make of this.

MW: Why didn't you say a word to George Mitchell's investigators?"

Clemens: "I listened to my counsel. I was advised not to. A lot of baseball players didn't go down and talk to him."

Where is the logic here? Imagine this: George Mitchell gives you a call and asks for you to come down and possibly expunge your name from his report, or to at least present your side of the story. And you, what? Reject him because of what reason, exactly? To stand by your "fellow players"? For the Union? This is why all the players were asked not to talk, right? To preserve this idiotic, socialist way of thinking among the baseball fraternity that nothing is more important than standing together against the greed of owners and evil machinations of Bud Selig, even at the expense of doing the right thing, or at least the thing that might save you public embarrassment. This whole "no snitching" dictum from the Union has been taken past the appropriate endpoint, don't you think?

Clemens: "But if I would have known what this man, Brian McNamee, was going to say, I would have been down there in a heartbeat to take care of it."

I can't imagine Clemens didn't at least suspect something of grave import to his career was going to be said.

MW: "George Mitchell says he believes McNamee and this is why: McNamee got caught up in a federal steroids investigation, and the federal prosecutors agreed not to charge him if he told the truth about his involvement with steroids. But they would charge him if he gave any false information. So Mitchell says McNamee had strong incentives to tell the truth. What did McNamee gain by lying?"

Now we come to the single most damning point against Clemens. Let's see how he handles this.

Clemens: "Evidently not going to jail."

Uh... by flipping the script? Implying that federal authorities are so hung up on you that they'd throw someone in jail for not implicating you? This is so backward I cant even think up a joke.

Wallace: "Jail time for what?"

A good follow-up question.

Clemens: "Well, I think he's been buying and movin' steroids."

That would make you -- what's the word? -- complicit.

(By the way, the point that's almost completely lost in this next segue, when we see B-roll of Andy Pettitte throwing a football with Clemens, is that McNamee named several players, and that even without mentioning Clemens, the authorities would have known he had bought and moved steroids. This exchange, incidentally, is why those who are guilty never, ever testify: because it'd take a prosecutor with half a brain to point this out to the jury, and then it's all over except the crying.)

MW: "When Andy [Pettitte] confirmed that McNamee had indeed told the truth about injecting him, that gave McNamee credibility, made his claims about injecting you seem more believable."

Clemens: "I had no knowledge of what Andy was doing."

The point is not what you knew about Pettitte. In fact, that's completely irrelevant. The point is: McNamee is credible.

MW: "Why would Brian McNamee tell the truth about Andy Pettitte and lie about you?"

And you are not.

Clemens: "Andy's case is totally separate."

Again, you've missed the point completely.

"I was shocked to learn about Andy's situation. Had no idea about it."

Hey, it's not like you and Andy are best friends or anything. Not only that, but nice job sidestepping the question.

MW: "Did your former trainer, Brian McNamee, ever inject you anything?"

Clemens: "Yes he did."

MW: "What?"

Clemens: "Lidocaine and B-12. It's for my joints, and B-12 I take still today."

MW: "And that's all?"

Clemens: "That's it."

MW: "Never never a human growth hormone?"

Clemens: "Never."

MW: "Never testosterone?"

Clemens: "Never."

MW: "And never anabolic steroids?"

Clemens: "Never."

MW: "Swear?"

Clemens: "Swear."

He had his fingers crossed.

Clemens: "The number of shots that you get over the course of a season, which was many for me. Whether they be vitamins or for pain, Toradol. Pain shots. To go out and perform. I had one of my biggest arguments with Joe Torre. He's wanting to scratch me on one of the biggest starts of the season. Had a small tear in my hamstring and a golf ball in my elbow..." Blah blah blah... "That's the things I put my body through, and I'm not ashamed of that, because I get paid a lot of money to go out there and perform, and I appreciate they put that kind of trust in me."

"That night he threw a three-hitter and won the game," Wallace tells us.

Clemens: "I was eating Vioxx like it was Skittles. And now these people who are supposedly regulating it tell me it’s bad for my heart. I don't know what the future holds because of the medicine that I've eatin', but I trusted that it was not harmful. That I didn't wanna put anything in my body that was harmful."

Wait a minute... you can withstand handfuls of Vioxx but don't think your body can hold up after a few injections of steroids? This Vioxx defense... it's supposed to be a defense? It's supposed to prove, what, that you're willing to compromise your health (said so yourself a little earlier) and jeopardize your career for the sake of victory, but that you'd never, ever cross that line? Vioxx is the shining example of your incorruptibility?

Clemens: "Why would I want to get tight or lose my flexibility, put something harmful in my system that’s gonna cause me to break down when I've had a 24-year career?"

Is this a rhetorical question?

MW: "Look, because you're at the end of your career, and because you don't want to give up the career and give up the fame and so forth. So if it's necessary to stick something into you…"

Nope, too logical!

Clemens: "I didn't play my career to get fame or go to the Hall of Fame or worry about all that. That's nice. All that's nice. Again, it's not who I am. I've worked my tail off to get where I'm at. I'm not gonna put something in my body for a quick fix that's gonna tear me down."

Just to get this straight: Wallace's answer to Clemens's question was, "You took steroids to prolong your career." And Clemens replied, "I never started playing so I can have a Hall of Fame -- i.e. long -- career." Then he says in the next breath, "I don't want a quick fix because I want to play a long time." This is supposed to make sense to your adoring public, Roger?

The question becomes: What if you couldn't get to where you are without the extra help?
Would you not have turned to steroids, which could have prolonged your career?

MW: "What kind of penalty should be handed down to someone who takes performance enhancing drugs?"

Clemens: "I think it's a self-inflicted penalty. They break down quick. It's a quick fix. They're in and out of the game."

Again, false. See: Bonds, Barry Lamar.

MW: "If you were to testify before the Congress under oath, would you tell 'em exactly what you told me today?"

Clemens: "And even probably more about the Vioxx question."

That's not a yes.

Clemens: "I don’t know if I can defend myself."

Just tell the truth like an adult who knows he's innocent.

"I think people, a lot of people, have already made their decisions. And that's our country, isn't it? Guilty before innocent. That's the way our country works now."

People think you're guilty because your explanations suck.

"And then everybody's talking about sue, sue, sue. Should I sue? Well, let me exhaust.... let me just spend. How about, let's keep spending."


"But I’m gonna explore what I can do and then I want to see if it’s gonna be worth it, worth all the headache."

Ah, you open the window of opportunity on yourself. If you, a multimillionaire with a great lawyer, choose not to sue, it's because you don't want the headache, never mind that it should probably be the first step to rebuilding your reputation.

MW: "How about a lie detector test?"

Clemens: "Some say they're good. Some say they're not. I'll do whatever."

MW: "So as far as you're concerned, you would conceivably?"

Clemens: "Yeah. I don't know if they're good or bad."

Christ, just say yes... no one's actually going to give you a lie detector test.

MW: "Were you to pass a lie detector test, wouldn't that help prove that you’re telling the truth and help restore...?"

This line of questioning should have stopped a minute ago.

Clemens: "Would it?"

MW: "I don't know."

Clemens: "I don't either."

Wallace tells us in a voiceover that Clemens doesn't know whether he'll pitch again.

Clemens: "I understand that as a public person, you're gonna take some shots. The higher you get up on the flagpole, the more your butt shows."

Roommate: "Poor choice of wording."

Downright Freudian.

Clemens: "And I understand all that. But I’m tired of answering to 'em. That's why I will not ever play again. I don't want to answer to it. I want to slide off and be just a citizen."

MW: "You're retiring. Period."

Clemens: "Probably."

MW: "Oh. Not for sure..."

Clemens: "I would say, yeah. If I sit here and tell you right now, I would say yes."

Not surprisingly, ESPN didn't play this sound bite in any teasers, either because they'd assumed Clemens would retire anyway or because they've been fooled before (thrice).

Wallace: "After listening to you in this interview, do you think people are gonna believe you? Believe that you, Roger Clemens, never took steroids?"

Clemens: "I think the people that know me believe me and understand what I’m about. The people that are out there that have been saying the things that they’ve been sayin’, I don’t know if I’ll ever swing their opinion. These accusations are not gonna change me as a person. I'll do everything I can to prove 'em wrong. And I still don't know if that's good enough."


Now for my two cents. We can call this WHAT I THINK, or something equally trite: I don't think Roger Clemens abused steroids. I think, as McNamee told Mitchell, Clemens used maybe a dozen times. In any other universe, injecting some imperfect drug a dozen times over a 24-year career is forgivable, and maybe even nothing to lose sleep over. But in this universe, where we've built sports up into an institution that stands on bedrock marked with these ideals of "cleanliness" and "purity" and "innocence" (the children, think of the children!), using just once is akin to taking a pickax to this wonderful lie. The zeitgeist of baseball's steroids era is filled with anger and disappointment and this weird collective sense of betrayal. And in this world -- where even if there's no proof of your steroid use, the powers-that-be will make an unspoken pact to keep you from the shrine -- Clemens can't afford to tell the truth.

I don't begrudge the guy for proclaiming his innocence, even though I don't believe him. If he did use only a dozen times, then in his mind, the drugs weren't pivotal to his success (I'll easily believe that), and in the public's black-and-white treatment of steroids -- where you're either a knight or a fool errant -- who in Clemens's position wouldn't start wielding broadswords at the establishment? Clemens really has worked hard. He really is a gifted pitcher. He really even might be a freak of nature. He absolutely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. But what I have a much tougher time accepting is the way he's approaching all this. The charade with the taped conversation makes me sick, as much because of the content on the tape (nothing) and the apparent front Clemens used to get McNamee on the phone (McNamee's ailing kid) as Clemens's motivation for sharing it -- as if writers might be duped into writing, "McNamee is a lapdog, therefore he's unreliable." If anything, McNamee came off as sympathetic and more believable, not less.

Who's the loser in all this? Again, it's we the sports fan who must endure this infantile McNamee/Clemens he-said/he-said. If we had sense enough, we'd all politely move on to something else.

POSTSCRIPT: Everything David Segui has to say makes a lot of sense. It's worth checking out.

Elsewhere on IDWT: So, about this Mitchell Report


  1. Great post and thanks for the link to the Segui article. Keep up the good work and go ROYALS.

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