Wallace should throw high and tight with Clemens interview
And so it comes to this: An 89-year-old "correspondent emeritus" who adores the New York Yankees, spends quality time in owner George Steinbrenner's stadium suite and considers latest interviewee Roger Clemens "my friend," becomes our best hope to arm wrestle the truth out of the accused pitcher.
No wonder Clemens' reps were hoping that Mike Wallace would be asking the questions for Sunday's "60 Minutes" segment. Clemens got a familiar face (Wallace first interviewed him in 2001), a self-admitted admirer and gobs of prep time for the make-or-break interview.
Now I get it. This is what Clemens meant when he said he'd talk "at the appropriate time in the appropriate way." In Clemens' damage-control world, that means his first interview will air a full 24 days after the Dec. 13 Mitchell report named him as a steroids and HGH user.
Not too much is at stake. Only Clemens' reputation, his baseball legacy, his place in the Hall of Fame, his records and his word. A 24-season body of often jaw-dropping major league work is under siege.
Through issued statements and a video on his Web site -- all conveniently done from his Texas bunker and without having to deal with any of those annoying reporters -- Clemens has denied the accusations made by former personal trainer Brian McNamee in the Mitchell report. The nutshell version of McNamee's claims: that he injected Clemens with steroids and/or HGH during the 1998, 2000 and 2001 seasons.
Now it's up to CBS's Wallace to try to separate fact from fiction. In essence, the interview becomes Clemens' personal anti-Mitchell report. But even then you have to question Clemens' actions: He declined to discuss the allegations with former Sen. George Mitchell, but he's more than willing to discuss them with Wallace? On national television? And afterward, he's scheduled to conduct a news conference with other reporters? Interesting.
I'm hoping for the best from the interview, which is to say I'm hoping for Wallace's best.
The man has won 21 Emmys and enough journalism awards and honorary degrees to fill half a Wal-Mart. He has a history of fearlessness, and his interview doctrine -- as described in his memoir, "Between You and Me" -- is direct and confrontational. Writes Wallace: "There is no such thing as an indiscreet question."
Wallace once dared to ask Louis Farrakhan if the Nation of Islam leader was responsible for the assassination of Malcolm X. He told Lyndon Johnson that "Vietnam f---ed you, Mr. President, and so, I'm afraid, you f---ed the country." He suggested to Menachem Begin that the Israeli prime minister had much in common with blood enemy Yasir Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Begin raged at the comparison.
Wallace had the nerve to tell the Ayatollah Khomeini that Egypt's Anwar Sadat described the Iranian cleric as "a lunatic." He has sat across from the likes of Panama dictator Manuel Noriega and Watergate dictator H.R. Haldeman. And in February 2005 he interviewed a one-time big league star who had sold his baseball soul for the narcissistic power of steroids.
His name was Jose Canseco.
The symmetry is unavoidable. Wallace and the whistle-blowing/mercenary Canseco in 2005 ... Wallace and the outraged Clemens defending himself against the likes of Canseco in 2008.
For the fans' sake, baseball's sake and even Clemens' sake, we need Wallace to be indiscreet in the interview. We need him to be unrelenting. We need him to park his friendship with the seven-time Cy Young winner at the front door.
What we don't need is a touchy-feely version of Oprah, or worse yet, The Chris Farley Show.
- Wallace: "Remember that time in 1998, when you were pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays, and you started 6-6, and then all of a sudden you finished 14-0 for the rest of the season, and your ERA dropped from 3.27 to 2.29, and that guy McNamee was your trainer?"
Clemens: "Yeah. So what?"
Wallace: "That was awwwwwwsome."
A look at Roger Clemens' statistics, from 1993-96 (his last four seasons with the Boston Red Sox), and 1997-2005.
|IP per season||186.3||214.3|
|K per season||179.3||212.4|
|K per 9 IP||8.66||8.92|
Instead, it would be nice to see vintage Wallace on Sunday night. Not ruthless, but skeptical, dogged, willing to chip away at the outer shell of responses no doubt prepared for Clemens by his handlers.
I'd like to hear him ask why Clemens, if the pitcher has nothing to hide, refused to discuss the steroid and HGH allegations with Mitchell.
I'd like to know why Clemens thinks McNamee would supposedly lie about him in such damning and stunning detail, but tell investigators the absolute truth about Clemens' teammate and workout partner Andy Pettitte.
I'd like to know why Clemens once trusted McNamee so completely, but now lets his lawyer refer to the personal trainer as "a troubled man."
I'd like to know if he thinks Pettitte (and others who have admitted to using performance enhancers) is a cheater.
I'd like to hear Clemens explain what he would do if asked to testify under oath at an upcoming congressional hearing. Or why no lawsuit has been filed if, in fact, Canseco, McNamee or the MLB-commissioned Mitchell report defamed him. Or why Canseco, who has been outing steroid and performance-enhancer users for years, would lie about discussing steroids with Clemens 10 seasons ago.
And, of course, I'd like to know if his team of private investigators will also be working with O.J. Simpson's people.
"60 Minutes" wanted Clemens, and Clemens apparently wanted Wallace. Now that they have each other, let's hope we get something more than a Yankees group hug.
The truth would be a nice start.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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