Commentary

Clemens has made his case, but logic asks for more

Updated: January 8, 2008, 2:58 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Despite the official attorney-issued statements, the Web site-controlled video denial, the "60 Minutes" interview and Monday's weird, defiant and wholly unsatisfying news conference with reporters, Roger Clemens' version of the truth still has more holes than a batting cage net.

Let me see if I understand the latest Clemens defense stance:

The Clemens logic: He never, ever has taken steroids or performance enhancers because the short-term benefits ("It's a quick fix," he told CBS' Mike Wallace) don't outweigh the long-term health risks.

Reality: He'll take a painkilling injection 15 minutes before a 2001 World Series game to help mask debilitating discomfort created by a golf ball-sized knot in his elbow and a tear in his hamstring. He'll pop prescription painkillers such as Vioxx "like they were Skittles." He'll regularly allow himself to be a syringe cushion for shots of lidocaine, a numbing agent used, in his case, to dull joint pain.

Maybe it's just me, but doesn't that sound like a player willing to do whatever was necessary to win, to play, to survive, to prolong a career?


The Clemens logic: On advice of counsel (and with them listening in), he secretly taped a Jan. 4 phone conversation between himself and former trainer Brian McNamee -- the same McNamee who told government and Mitchell investigators that he injected the seven-time Cy Young winner with steroids and human growth hormone. The tape, which was played to reporters Monday afternoon, supposedly would move the truth needle in Clemens' favor.

Reality: It didn't. The 17-minute phone call resulted in more questions than answers.

Why, when McNamee repeatedly asked, "Roger, what do you want me to do?" didn't Clemens tell his former trainer to appear at the Monday news conference? After all, McNamee offered several times to fly to the Houston area to meet with Clemens.

Why, if McNamee's testimony to the feds was tainted, didn't he say so to Clemens? Why hasn't he said so publicly (McNamee told Clemens he had been offered "seven figures" to tell his story on TV)?

Why, if McNamee was trying to frame Clemens (as Clemens' attorney Rusty Hardin suggested as a possibility), did McNamee tell the pitcher, "I'll go to jail. I'll do whatever you want me to do"?

Hardin reminded reporters Monday that McNamee never "corrected" Clemens when the pitcher told the trainer he was telling "the truth." So? McNamee also never confirmed Clemens was telling the truth, either.


The Clemens logic: On the advice of counsel, Clemens said he didn't meet with former Sen. George Mitchell or Mitchell's investigators to discuss any allegations or information brought against him. Had he known his former trainer Brian McNamee was going to accuse him of taking performance-enhancing drugs, "I would have been down there in a heartbeat to take care of it."

[+] EnlargeRoger Clemens
Michael Heiman/Getty ImagesRoger Clemens has won seven Cy Youngs over a 24-year career.

Reality: According to Hardin, Clemens and his agents were aware of some of McNamee's allegations eight days before the Mitchell report was issued. Plus, if Mitchell report investigators wanted to talk to him -- and they did, of course -- chances are they weren't going to ask Clemens how to throw a circle change.

Clemens chose not to meet with Mitchell. He chose not to break ranks with other players who had declined similar invitations. You can't have it both ways. You can't turn down a chance to explain yourself for the record and posterity -- in this case, the Mitchell report -- but then say you would have taken a mulligan if only you had known the details.


The Clemens logic: If he was taking illegal PEDs, said Clemens to CBS, "Where did I get them? Where is the person out there [who] gave them to me? Please, please come forward."

Reality: Uh, Roger, why would anyone who supplied you with illegal drugs want to be subjected to possible criminal prosecution? There's no reason for a supplier to come forward, unless, of course, he's interested in jail cuisine.


The Clemens logic: He's angry that a 24-year major league career didn't earn him the benefit of the doubt. "You'd think I'd get an inch of respect," he whined to Wallace. "An inch. How can you prove your innocence?"

Reality: He got more than the benefit of the doubt. He probably got a free pass as we piled on Barry Bonds for essentially the same thing. Clemens is accused of having his trainer oversee a program that featured performance-enhancing drugs.

The free pass disappeared the nanosecond Clemens' name appeared in the Mitchell report. For Clemens to think 354 career wins and seven Cy Young Awards should protect him from the scrutiny raised by a Major League Baseball-commissioned investigation is the height of naivete or arrogance. His records and his reputation are fair game.


The Clemens logic: "Hard work" is Clemens' explanation for experiencing a pitching renaissance after leaving the Boston Red Sox after the 1996 season and signing with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Reality: I talked to a baseball executive whose team had considered signing Clemens after that 1996 season. Five different scouts were dispatched to assess what the then-34-year-old Clemens had left. The consensus: He was all but done.

Clemens' resurgence mirrors the approximate time he began working closely with McNamee. It also generally corresponds to the years McNamee said he injected Clemens with steroids (1998) and steroids and human growth hormone (2000, 2001). Clemens won the American League Cy Young in 1997, 1998 and 2001. And by the way, Clemens did say he let McNamee inject him with lidocaine for lower back pain.


The Clemens logic: If he were taking PEDs, said Clemens to Wallace, "Why didn't I keep doing it if it was so good for me? Why didn't I break down?"

Reality: Well, first of all, Clemens has suffered injuries, especially in recent years. His reluctance not to subject his body to a full season's worth of demands might partly explain why he signed prorated contracts.

[+] EnlargeRoger Clemens
Dave Einsel/Getty ImagesRoger Clemens, left, and his lawyer Rusty Hardin listen to the taped conversation.

As for a possible explanation why Clemens, or any player, might have been more discriminating in his use of PEDs, how about this: MLB began testing for those drugs beginning in 2003 and began naming and penalizing players for such detected use beginning in 2004. In Clemens' defense, he did win a Cy Young in 2004.


The Clemens logic: McNamee defamed him. That's why he filed a lawsuit against McNamee Monday.

Reality: This officially has become a he said-he said case. Plaintiff Clemens and his Hall of Fame (maybe) career versus defendant McNamee and his deal with the government to provide truthful information -- or risk going to prison.

The lawsuit adds another layer of intrigue because now McNamee, Clemens and Andy Pettitte, a longtime Clemens friend, teammate, McNamee client, workout partner and admitted HGH user, can be deposed, along with others, for the case.


The Clemens logic: Clemens said he had "no knowledge" of Pettitte's HGH use or that McNamee had injected Pettitte two times with the drug.

Reality: Maybe Pettitte didn't confide in Clemens about HGH. But Clemens still can't adequately answer a central question: Why would McNamee tell the truth about Pettitte's HGH use (Pettitte confirmed the Mitchell report allegation) but lie about injecting Clemens with PEDs?

Clemens said Monday, "Andy's situation is separate from mine." But it isn't. They shared the same trainer. They worked out together. They have a long-standing friendship. Like it or not, Pettitte's admission (and the credibility it provides McNamee) is a key issue.


The Clemens logic: He will voluntarily testify before a congressional hearing next Wednesday.

Reality: Pettitte has been asked to testify under oath at the same hearing. What will Pettitte do if asked: "Are you aware of Mr. Clemens ever using such drugs?" … "Did Mr. McNamee ever discuss Mr. Clemens' use of such drugs?" … "You confirmed Mr. McNamee's previous testimony regarding your own use of HGH. Do you have any reason to believe Mr. McNamee would lie about injecting drugs into Mr. Clemens?"

My guess is that if Pettitte does agree to testify, he'll decline to answer any direct questions about his buddy Clemens. Too much history together. But if he does talk, someone's repuation -- Clemens' or McNamee's -- will never recover.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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