Beast of the Month - May 2008
Roger Clemens, Cooperstown Caliber Major League Pitcher
"I yam an anti-Christ... "
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
"There is no joy in Mudville."
Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “Casey at the Bat”
Okay, fine, we get it. It's no longer just about unconvincing performances before Congress by Sammy or Mac, nor is it about Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro or even Barry Bonds. Steroids is no longer the exception to the rule in baseball, it is the rule. And sorry Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.
That would be lesson after the release of the Mitchell Report, the investigative report commissioned by Major League Baseball that named at least some of the names of the steroid era, a list that still is likely the tip of the iceberg. Iceberg tip or not, the names of drug dopers could field a team of All-Stars that would hold their own against the '27 Yankees. Among the roster, besides Giambi and Bonds: 200-Game winner Kevin Brown, former Philadelphia Phillies hero Lenny Dykstra, 2003 NL Cy Young winner reliever Eric Gagne, 2002 World Series MVP Troy Glaus, two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez, one-time rookie sensation Wally Joyner, 1990 Rookie of the Year and postseason hero David Justice, 1987 Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove catcher Benito Santiago, 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada, 1995 AL MVP Mo Vaughn and 1994 home run champion Matt Williams. And though many of these revelations came with the predictable denials and no comments, the general impression is that despite it being a tad politically compromised (tellingly, the report only named players who roided up and not executives or league officials who had knowledge of the widespread abuse) Senator George Mitchell did a solid job in his investigation, and all claims could be backed up in court.
Winners in the latest juicer revelations are few and far between. One could be Mark McGwire, who, after a number of doping indictments all related to perjury, seems all the more wiser for his infamous 2005 Congressional clam-up. The other would be Barry Bonds, whose defenders can repeat their insistence he was hardly some lone wolf and that his prosecution appears to be a politically motivated vendetta. The biggest winner, however, would have to be Jose Canseco once again. Even more so than the Mitchell Report and Game of Shadows, it is Canseco who has written the definitive account of the steroid era in baseball. In 2005, when Juiced was released, he became widely reviled in the sports press as a liar and shameless opportunist for pointing the finger at other dopers and making stunning claims along the way. Three years later, nothing in his book has been disproved and much has been found to be shockingly accurate. Despite this proven track record of reporting history, the publication of his recent sequel (cleverly titled Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball) led to a repeat of attacks on Canseco's honesty and character.
Meanwhile, there is little question who is the biggest loser from the Mitchell Report. That would be Roger Clemens, The Konformist Beast of the Month, who has replaced Bonds as the poster boy for steroid cheaters.
Clemens, like Bonds was for batters, is no mere pitcher. With all due respect to Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton (or even his current competitors Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez) The Rocket was named, in a 2006 ESPN poll of baseball experts, the greatest living pitcher by an overwhelming margin. He has won a record seven Cy Young Awards (two more than Randy Johnson, his closest competitor) and is the last starting pitcher to win an MVP trophy (after he went 24-4 for the Boston Red Sox in 1986.) His career record is 354-184 (nearly a 2 to 1 won-loss ratio) and is second only to Nolan Ryan in career strikeouts. He is also one of only three pitchers to strike out 20 batters in 9 innings (the others being Randy Johnson and Cubs one-time rookie flamethrower Kerry Wood) and he's done it twice.
(Granted, this has nothing to do with the rest of the article, but all these mentions of Randy Johnson bring up a good question: does a guy named Randy Johnson really need "The Big Unit" as a nickname?)
On a personal level, members of The Konformist staff have long admired Clemens for his tenacity, even if sometimes it has gone a tad psychotic. Of special infamy was his twin encounters with Mike Piazza of the New York Mets in 2000. After Piazza hit a grand slam off The Rocket a month earlier, Clemens beaned him on the hand and head with a single pitch during a July game. Then, in Game 2 of the World Series, Clemens threw a shard of Mikey's shattered bat at Piazza, leading to a bench-clearing on both sides. Even in this bizarre moment his greatness shines through: in that game he pitched a two-hitter with 9 strikeouts in eight innings of shutout ball, a performance that effectively silenced the Mets and led to Clemens' second World Series ring with the Yankees. This followed his one-hit shutout with 15 Ks in the ALCS, in the greatest postseason pitching performance besides Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Clearly, he was the true Yankee hero of their last World Championship.
And so it is this background that makes his inclusion on the Mitchell Report so tragic. What makes it even worse is his sad and sorry response. He could've owed up to his cheating (cheating that is apparent in evidence detailed below) in a tearful confession, a move that would've earned him long-term sympathy for honesty. Or he could've simply declared "no comment" and disappeared from public view for awhile. Instead, Clemens demanded a Congressional hearing to deny his usage of steroids. And, as Oscar Wilde would warn, when the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.
At first, it actually seemed like a good strategy: pit Roger Clemens word and character mano a mano against his former trainer, Brian McNamee. After all, if Canseco is, for all the accuracy of his books, a dubious character, he's got nothing on the shadiness of McNamee, a man who has since admitted lying even on the testimony that implicated Clemens. It seemed likely that, given the choice between believing McNamee against the word of Clemens, Clemens would win. He even tested this strategy somewhat successfully on 60 Minutes in an embarrassing suck-up fest "interview" by Mike Wallace.
The problem with this strategy, it turned out, is it wasn't just Clemens V. McNamee. It was Clemens V. McNamee, Andy Pettitte, and Chuck Knoblauch, two other players who McNamee outed as drug dopers. Both of them have since confirmed under oath what McNamee told Senator Mitchell. Pettitte added Clemens had admitted to him in 1999-2000 that he had received HGH injections. Clemens insists that Pettitte "misremembered" the quotes.
Not only was it Clemens V. McNamee, Pettitte and Knoblauch, it was literally Clemens V. Clemens. It was revealed by McNamee (in a rather sleazy moment) that he had injected Clemens wife Debbie with HGH for a Sports Illustrated pictorial, a claim she would later confirm. So according to Roger Clemens, Pettitte, Knoblauch and even his own wife were injected with performance enhancing drugs by his own trainer, but Clemens himself, despite his own deserved reputation for being ultra-competitive, wouldn't even dream of the doing the same.
Besides the testimony, there was physical evidence to back the charges against Clemens. McNamee may be a weasel, but he sure is a sharp weasel, saving vials, syringes and gauze pads involving his injections of Clemens, evidence McNamee handed over to prosecutors in February.
It is interesting to note how the actual Congressional hearings went. The Democrats on the committee, almost to a man and woman, pounced on Clemens' admittedly flimsy defense with glee. Perhaps it was because the case Clemens made was so beyond dubious. It certainly didn't hurt that, after Kobe, Bonds and Michael Vick, finally there was a sports scandal this decade where liberals could proclaim outrage without politically correct fears of being called a racist. But perhaps the biggest reason for the Democratic Party pounding of Clemens was due to him being a friend of the Bush family, most notably Bush Senior. As it turned out, GOP members at the hearing not-so-coincidentally seemed to go out of the way to defend Clemens and bash McNamee, making this into a partisan battle. Of course, this only inflated the circus-like nature of the hearings. In the end, neither party really won: the GOP looked like shameless defenders of outwardly deceitful testimony, while the Dems looked like a sniveling group of cowards who could only press a case in the most frivolous of causes. (Perhaps the hearings are a perfect metaphor for the last eight years on the Capitol.)
Frivolous or not, the Democrat's conclusions seem pretty solid: that Clemens did indeed take performance enhancing drugs and then perjured himself repeatedly on the issue. Despite this, it seems unlikely there will be any prosecution of Clemens over this, and even if there is, rumors are floating that Bush Jr. would pardon him at the request of his daddy. (Of course, this pardon would hardly match Scooter Libby's on the Outrage-o-meter.) In any case, it is telling to contrast the Clemens saga results with the vendetta against Bonds, and wonder, politically correct or not, if race is indeed a factor for the discrepancy.
Clemens may not face the long arm of the law, but in the court of public opinion, he has suffered the biggest loss of his career. He may be the greatest living pitcher, but five years from now (when the recently retired Clemens first becomes eligible for Cooperstown) he will likely be snubbed from Baseball's Hall of Fame over the scandal. That may the least of his worries: after filing a defamation lawsuit against McNamee, claiming his stellar reputation had been tarnished by his former trainer's allegations, reporters uncovered evidence of multiple adulterous affairs by the Rocket, including one with former country music star Mindy McCready. (When asked about the news allegation, McCready replied: "I cannot refute anything in the story.") Needless to say, besides putting obvious strain on his marriage, such revelations undercut his claim that his family man image has been unfairly tarnished by the steroid scandal.
It appears the fallout of the recent steroid revelations will soon go beyond Clemens, Bonds and others. Of special note: in Vindicated, Canseco outs current New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez as someone who asked for help in finding a trainer that would supply steroids. Rodriguez, a three-time AL MVP and a likely candidate to surpass Bonds in the career home run derby, has been hyped as a player who could supposedly restore the integrity of the game. While the charge has been hysterically denounced in the sports media in a repeat of the Juiced controversy, it is important to repeat that Canseco has a proven track record of telling the ugly truths that are eventually admitted as such.
But hopefully the steroid scandal will go beyond the current scapegoating of ballplayers. Of special note: in February, former relief ace (and infamous racist ranter) John Rocker claimed MLB commissioner Bud Selig knew he failed a drug test for steroids in 2000, and that doctors for both management and the players' association advised him and other Texas Rangers on how to effectively use steroids. (Among the other players were Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and, of course, Alex Rodriguez.) But the real issue here isn't if A-Rod, Rocker and others were drug cheats: it's that it was known and sanctioned from the highest levels of the team, the players' union and even the league itself. This is the kind of scandalous conclusions that George Mitchell, for all his meticulous work, evaded in his report. Hopefully, this complicity in the doping scandal will soon no longer be ignored.
In any case, we salute Roger Clemens as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Roger!!!
Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, ESPN.com, MLB.com, SportingNews.com and SportsIllustrated.com for help on this article
Canseco, Jose. Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.
Canseco, Jose. Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
Fainaru-Wada, Mark and Williams, Lance. Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports. New York: Gotham Books, 2006.
Gammons, Peter. "Ample Living Proof of Clemens' Greatness." ESPN.com 1 May 2006 <http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=gammons_peter&id=2426053>.
Mitchell, George. Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball. 13 December 2007.