Anyone else catch The Rocket on CBS tonight? I did just moments ago, and as you might expect, came away less than impressed. Lots of forceful denials, but not so graceful a handling of the tougher questions asked of him by interviewer Mike Wallace. In his defense, the one thing Roger Clemens did note that’s hard to refute is that he is being considered “Guilty until proven innocent.” Can’t argue with that one. Unfortunately, you flip that logic around and you’ve got the answer to why this whole steroids mess took over a decade to play itself out. In the steroids game, it’s always been innocent until proven guilty and the proving part is next to impossible unless you were in the room with the player shooting up.
Well, former trainer Brian McNamee says he was there. It’s about as close to a smoking gun as you’re ever going to get in these cases, for those of you still demanding that journalists do better “investigative journalism” with respect to steroids. So, how did Clemens answer the two toughest questions from Wallace about McNamee’s accusations? In my humble opinion, terribly.
The first question was why McNamee would lie about drug use by Clemens, but tell the truth about giving human growth hormone to the pitcher’s friend, training partner, fellow Texan and longtime teammate (in New York and Houston), Andy Pettitte. Two different cases, Clemens said, adding that he was “shocked” to hear about Pettitte taking HGH, but insisting it had nothing to do with him.
In other words, a fancy way of not giving an answer. Yes, we know they are two separate cases. But why lie about one and tell the truth about the other? Especially when McNamee faces possible jail time for lying? Clemens wouldn’t touch that one. But it’s a darn good question.
The second issue that Clemens looked weak on, in regards to McNamee, was why he wasn’t suing him for libel or slander. After all, if McNamee is indeed lying and causing untold damage to the pitcher’s reputation, proving the malice part would seem a slam dunk. Clemens seemed well aware that this question is on people’s mind and — obviously annoyed by it — suggested that it would be a costly venture.
“Everybody’s talking about sue, sue, sue. Should I sue? Well, yeah, let me exhaust — let me, let me just spend,” he said. “Let me keep spending. But I’m going to explore what I can do, and then I want to see if it’s going to be worth it, worth all the headache.”
Uh, excuse me? This, from a guy who just got paid $20 million to pitch half a season for the Yankees? I mean, heck, there are still enough diehard Clemens fans hovering around Texas that I’m sure they could take up a church collection next Sunday and raise enough funds for him to at least issue a writ or two.
Hey, no skin off my nose. It’s his reputatation on the line. I can tell you, though, that if a guy came forth with a lie that was about to leave my entire 20-year career in pro journalism in tatters, I would be on the phone to a lawyer and firing off a legal letter demanding a retraction from the offender. If you don’t protect yourself, you can’t expect others to take up the cause for you. But I’m not Clemens. It’s his call.
It was also his call not to talk to Sen. George Mitchell or his representatives. Clemens says he got legal advice not to. Also said: “If I would’ve known what this man, what Brian McNamee [had] said in this report, I would have been down there in a heartbeat to take care of it.”
Um, OK. But right there on Page 223 of the Mitchell Report, in black and white, the senator writes that: “In order to provide Clemens with information about these allegations and to give
him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me; he declined.”
There you go. Sort of a Catch 22. You can’t know about the allegations if you won’t meet with the guy inviting you over to tell you about them. Maybe that’s not a Catch 22. Maybe it’s just willful ignorance.
In closing, Clemens said, for the second time in the segment, that anyone who knows him will attest to the hard work he’s done and that he didn’t use steroids. Well, I guess that would be anyone who knows him except Brian McNamee, the guy who spent more time training with Clemens than anyone else in baseball.
As far as ex-teammates go, what about Jose Canseco? Just to be clear, Canseco stated in his “Juiced” book in 2005 that he never saw Clemens take steroids, nor did he hear him talk directly about using them. But Canseco didn’t exactly do Clemens any favors either when he wrote, on Page 211 of the book, about how “B-12 shots” was actually a code phrase for steroids. Remember, Clemens just told 60 Minutes that the only injections McNamee ever gave him were for Vitamin B-12 and lidocaine.
Here’s what Canseco wrote about B-12 and steroids three years ago:
“It was so open, the trainers would jokingly call the steroid injections “B12 shots” and soon the players had picked up on that little code name, too. You’d hear them saying it out loud in front of each other: “I need to go in and get a B12 shot,” a player would say, and everyone would laugh. (Of course, that was the kind of joke you really only made around other steroid users, because obviously they were in the same boat as you. What were they going to do, tell on you? Not hardly.)”
There’s more on Page 211 and 212 that mentions Clemens by name.
“It was the pitchers that kept the “B12” joke going. For example, I’ve never seen Roger Clemens do steroids, and he never told me that he did. But we’ve talked about what steroids could do for you, in which combinations, and I’ve heard him use the phrase “B12 shot” with respect to others.
A lot of pitchers did steroids to keep up with hitters. If everyone else was getting stronger and faster, then you wanted to get stronger and faster, too. If you were a pitcher, and the hitters were all getting stronger, that made your job that much more difficult. Roger used to talk about that a lot.
“You hitters are so darn strong from steroids,” he’d say.
“Yeah, but you pitchers are taking it, too. You’re just taking different types,” I’d respond.
And sometimes Roger would vent his frustration over the hits even the lesser players were starting to get off good pitchers. “Damn, that little guy hit it odd the end of the bat and almost drove it to the wall,” he would say. He would complain about guys who were hitting fifty homers when they had no business hitting thirty. It was becoming more difficult for pitchers all the time, he would complain.
I can’t give chapter and verse on Roger’s training regimen. But I’ll tell you what I was thinking at the time:
One of the classic signs of steroid use is when a player’s basic performance actually improves later in his career. One of the benefits of steroids is that they’re especially helpful in countering the effects of aging. So in Roger’s case, around the time that he was leaving Boston — and Dan Duquette, the general manager there, was saying he was “past his prime” — Roger decided to make some changes. He started working out harder. And whatever else he may have been doing to get stronger, he saw results. His fastball improved by a few miles per hour. He was a great pitcher long before then; it wasn’t his late-career surge that made him great. But he certainly stayed great far longer than most athletes could expect. There’s no question about that.”
Here’s what I say. Get Clemens up in front of that congressional committee in 10 days and ask him direct questions under oath and under threat of perjury sanctions. It might not get to the bottom of anything, but there will certainly be much higher stakes involved and much more on the line for anyone — be it Clemens, Andy Pettitte or Brian McNamee — who decides to not tell the truth. Far more on the line than there was in tonight’s television interview that, for me, raised more questions than it answered.