Commentary

Roger Clemens made the wrong pitch

The Rocket had his chance to come clean but chose arrogance over honesty

Updated: August 22, 2010, 9:47 AM ET
By Shaun Powell | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

Any day now, you expect Roger Clemens to emerge from the cave he's been hiding in and defend himself against allegations of performance-enhancing drug use once again. He'll stand in front of cameras and say he didn't lie to Congress; he merely misremembered the truth.

That's because, even when they're surrounded by suspicious smoke, even when logic is lined up against them like the '27 Yankees and even when a federal grand jury bops them upside the head with a 19-page, we-think-he's-a-phony indictment, liars gotta lie.

They never consider the alternative, the idea that the cover-up is always worse than the crime.

And because Clemens has defiantly stuck with his trademark arrogance, the personality trait that helped him win seven Cy Youngs and made him throw 95 mph fastballs at the idea of him juicing, his reputation and career and possible Hall of Fame induction are all in serious question today. And he could be fitted for a different kind of pinstripes tomorrow, if the feds get their way.

Roger Clemens
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireRoger Clemens' trademark bluster served him well on the field -- but not in front of Congress.

Was all that worth it?

Wouldn't a simple "my bad" have spared him a fidgety appearance at a 2008 congressional hearing that was both sad and hilarious, where he used awkward words ("misremembered" being my favorite) and a variety of silly replies to charges made by Brian McNamee, his former trainer? Wouldn't Clemens have been better served by taking the road followed by Andy Pettitte, his close friend and training partner, who 'fessed up and still enjoys hero status in the Bronx? Would Clemens be facing the same disgraceful fate as Marion Jones, the Olympic sprint queen, who was locked up for nearly six months?

Yes, it was arrogance that doomed Clemens, nothing more or less, and exposed him as a fraud. You can understand why. For years, that attitude served him well. It allowed him to intimidate hitters with those strike zone-seeking missiles he threw with amazing consistency for 24 years and two tours of duty with the Yankees. It encouraged him to famously fire some high heat at Mike Piazza's head and then grab a broken bat and hurl it at Piazza's feet. It made him do whatever possible, even if it were illegal, to strike back at then-Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, who dismissed "The Rocket" as being finished when Clemens left Boston.

And arrogance told Clemens he was a better man and would cut a more believable figure at that hearing than McNamee, who in the big picture was a complete nobody. At least the Republicans on the panel thought so, anyway.

Clemens figured Rocket versus McNamee was no different than Rocket versus the Braves in the 1999 World Series. He would dismiss McNamee, too, as easily as he did Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones and anyone else who stood between him and a place in Yankees history, which he grabbed one evening with a masterful performance. A performance that, perhaps, was helped by some chemical form of cheating.

Those players who were exposed by the Mitchell report had two choices: come clean or be arrogant. And their choices, in most cases, were a direct result of personality. Jason Giambi, fun-loving party guy, sang like Lady Gaga when questioned by the feds. Pettitte, the aw-shucks country boy who stays true to his strong faith, was not about to follow Clemens down a dark road to nowhere. It simply wasn't Pettitte's nature to deceive or deny, and because of that, he got a pass from Yankees fans and, for the most part, the baseball world. When Pettitte's obit is written, where will his alleged HGH usage appear? My guess: well below his career ERA and strikeout totals.

Alex Rodriguez? Well, he was arrogant until he simply didn't have any choice. Only then, after giving one story to Katie Couric, did A-Rod turn into Pettitte.

Mark McGwire? He had little McGwires on his shoulders pulling him in opposite directions, so he went neutral, neglecting to talk about the past until a desire to make a living in baseball finally made him tear up about the past.

Rafael Palmeiro? Owner of the most famous finger wag in sports since Dikembe Mutombo? Yes, arrogant and angry, one of baseball's best and most consistent hitters is a ghost these days, an appropriate sentence.

Otherwise, only Barry Bonds has displayed the same atmospheric level of arrogance as Clemens, and Bonds might get his in March, when he could be tossed on his asterisk in the next high-profile baseball PED trial.

There are many questions regarding Clemens today, questions that time will eventually answer. The Hall. The Cy Youngs: tarnished? The money he made (stole?) from the Yankees and whether it was clean or dirty. The big numbers he compiled and whether some or all were a big lie. The player himself and whether he was mainly fantastic or fake or a combination of both. And those two championships the Yankees won with Clemens' help. No matter if Clemens was on something, they were legit ... weren't they?

But this is really about coming clean or deciding to stay dirty. Roger Clemens had a choice. He went with a curveball. And it was a pitch we all saw coming.

Shaun Powell is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

More from ESPNNewYork.com ».

Shaun Powell

ESPNNewYork.com
Shaun Powell is a former sports general columnist and NBA beat columnist for Newsday. He will contribute to ESPNNewYork.com with commentary related to NY area sports.

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