Just days away from the airing of what should be one of the sports highlights of a weekend filled with first-round NFL playoff games—Roger Clemens’ interview with legendary journalist Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes—inane sports talk radio debate about the veteran pitcher’s alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs is at an all-time high. According to a small sneak peak of the interview released Thursday, Clemens says his former friend and personal trainer, Brian McNamee, injected him with “lidocaine and B-12,” not human growth hormone or steroids. In addition, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner, currently vacationing in the Bahamas, referred to Mcnamee’s claims in former Senator George Mitchell’s investigation as “ridiculous.” McNamee’s credibility (or lack there of) has come into question, too, lately. Largely due to a fairly shady past, which includes a rape allegation that occurred on a road trip when he was still employed by the New York Yankees, he’s also currently on the defense. Earlier this week, his lawyers provided us with his best Charlie Wilson impersonation, pulling out the big guns for a legal war that should rage on for some time. Richard Emery, a high-profile New York attorney representing McNamee, has threatened to sue Clemens for defamation, depending on what the perennial All-Star pitchers said in his interview with 60 Minutes, recorded at his home in Texas last week.The ultimate “he said, he said” battle appears to be imminent, unless concrete proof arises out of thin air. And the odds of that happening are slightly less than Bobby Petrino remaining on as Arkansas head football coach through 2010. What puzzles me, however, is determining why McNamee would be the one to inject Clemens with anything. With a licensed training staff readily available for all players in every big league organization, Clemens’ fresh new claim fails to pass my personal smell test. Even worse, according to one-time steroids poster boy Jose Canseco in his controversial book Juiced, B-12 was used as slang for steroids when players discussed them in a clubhouse environment.As his lawyers also indicated, why would McNamee, who clearly has quite a bit of knowledge about sports medicine, not know the exact types of drugs he was injecting into his prized client and personal pal? One of his attorneys, Earl Ward, said yesterday, “Brian has a master's degree in sports medicine.” He knows the difference between lidocaine, B-12 and testosterone. What he injected into Roger Clemens wasn't lidocaine or B-12. It was testosterone.” The verdict on Clemens is already out in the public opinion, of course, and regardless of what information surfaces in the future, the Mitchell cloud will always hang over his legacy. Perhaps he is truly an innocent victim, making this such a touchy subject, especially for those who held “The Rocket” on such a pedestal when he was mowing down batters for decades. As we learned in the Duke Lacrosse Case last year, the presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle of the criminal justice system in the United States, not just a concept discussed in law school, and cannot be ignored. This is why I gave Clemens the initial benefit of the doubt, strongly criticizing the report for some of the questionable evidence used to out certain players and for its failure to provide any real closure or new information on the steroid era. To me, though, it seems with every passing day, Clemens is dealt with another blow to his once-invincible armor. First, Clemens’ workout buddy and teammate in Houston and New York, Andy Pettitte, admitted his brief experimentation with HGH while he was on the disabled list in 2002. Through his admission, Pettitte, also implicated in Mitchell’s findings by McNamee, clearly pushes more credibility into the trainer’s corner. This leads to the lingering, frequently asked question, one which will be asked for some time: Why would McNamee lie about Clemens but tell the truth about Pettitte?Several ardent Clemens’ supporters, including myself in the immediate aftermath of the release of the report, are quick to point out that McNamee was forced into a corner by the government, possibly facing prison time. Picking and choosing between fact and fiction in plea arraignments with the government is a slippery slope to walk, however. And if it’s proven that McNamee is, in fact, lying, the government will bring up perjury charges quicker than a Clemens’ fastball, high and tight. The motive for McNamee to not tell the truth, once a slam dunk argument for the Clemens’ defense team, appears to be dwindling, in my honest opinion. Claiming to inject Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone on just under 20 different occasions between 1998 and 2001, if false, was a one-way ticket disaster for McNamee—perhaps lengthening any possible prison time, while ruining a buddy’s reputation in the process. If McNamee, once a police officer in New York City, truly wanted to avoid or reduce potential prison time, rolling the dice in an expected “he said, he said” game was an unwise decision, any way you slice it.
And with Clemens’ new spin on what McNamee injected into his body, which he failed to conveniently leave out of his YouTube debut, I now wonder, is the Clemens’ defense team contemplating using the Flaxseed oil denial strategy, if need be? Barry Bonds, Clemens’ new sidekick as the face of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball (justly or not), brought fame to this tactic, frequently used by the majority of athletes who test positive for PEDs in all sports today. Bonds, of course, told a federal grand jury that he used undetectable steroids—“the cream,” and “the clear”—after his trainer, the steadfastly loyal Greg Anderson, said the supplements were actually flaxseed oil. (The popularity and revenues in the flaxseed oil business, quite astonishingly, have benefited because of Bonds’ testimony, on a side note.) Assuming new evidence does actually arise, and it’s not in Clemens’ favor, will he use a similar strategy? (The flaxseed oil companies probably hope so.) If this does occur, Clemens, perhaps, faces a prison sentence without bars, a la Pete Rose. The American public is pretty lenient when it comes to forgiving celebrities and professional athletes, regardless of the sin. Repeatedly lying, however, is a clear-cut exception. I truly want Clemens to clear his name. But his window for the benefit of the doubt is definitely closing fast.
My Steroid Era Disclaimer: Whether he used PEDs or not, Clemens is still one of (if not the) greatest pitchers of his era, one in which baseball historians will look back through a steroid lens. All time periods throughout baseball history—from the Dead Ball Era to the pre-Jackie Robinson days where several of the most talented athletes in history, minority players such as Josh Gibson, were disgracefully shut out of participating—should be judged based on all factors that inflate or deflate statistics. From the late ’80s on, PEDs are tragically one of those factors.
To listen to Rays Digest columnists Ted Fleming and Tyler Hissey discuss the Clemens situation on TBSN Radio 510, use the media player below.
You can reach Tyler Hissey by sending an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com.