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Mar. 2 2010 - 9:35 am | 259 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Roger Clemens Unplugged, Part III

New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens arrives...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

I asked an eclectic group of sports fans—from Vermont law professor/Sports Illustrated sports law columnist Mike McCann to former Balco owner Victor Conte for their take on Roger Clemens and the pitcher’s place in history for the story I wrote on the Rocket breaking his silence. Here’s what a handful of them had to say.

“I think the entire context has changed in the last couple of years. Clemens used to be thought of as a likely member among a few rotten apples in the baseball barrel. I believe many finally realized that most of the apples were likely rotten. It’s really more about the entire drug culture that developed over the years in baseball and what led so many players to make the decision to use drugs. I’ve always said the owners and union executives should accept a significant portion of the responsibility for knowingly harboring and even promoting baseball’s drug culture. Bud Selig seems to be of the opinion that baseball has effectively dealt with the problem. I simply disagree with him.”

—Victor Conte, former owner of Balco, current owner of SNAC

As a longtime baseball watcher and much-diminished Clemens fan, I have to offer up front that I have zero time for Roger or any others who cheat to get an advantage over those who didn’t. But I’m also deeply disgusted with the complicity of media people in the affair over the past decades—more so than even with the Bud Seligs and others who made a business decision to look away. That’s their game. The reporters and broadcasters, the producers and editors are supposed to be watching out for everyone’s interests and, flatly, did not. They/we failed most miserably.”

—Denis Horgan, magazine writer and author. His latest book is Dawn of Days

The legal case against Clemens is not as clear-cut as it seems. Perjury is more than merely “lying”—it’s knowingly lying. If the grand jury doesn’t believe Clemens knowingly lied before Congress, he won’t be indicted.

The public and the mainstream media clearly did not believe Clemens when he testified before Congress. did most members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. But widespread disbelief does not prove that he was lying, knowingly or unknowingly.  We don’t mete out justice by public opinion polls. Clemens probably doesn’t want his day in court, since that would mean he gets indicted, but if he were to prevail in a trial, it might help restore at least a small portion of the reputation he’s lost.”

—Mike McCann “professor at Vermont Law School and legal analyst for Sports Illustrated”.

Clemens achieved impossible, heroic feats that go so well with the baseball narrative. Then the steroids accusations and the revelations about his possible extramarital affair do much to sully that grand picture. Babe Ruth and Mantle had their faults, but they were faults that seemed only to add to their legend. Mantle was an alcoholic who was convinced that he’d be dead by the time he was 40. What’s more romantic than that? By contrast, Clemens’ flaws seem sad and pathetic. All that said, the larger issue seems to be the pressure we put on baseball to conjure up fallen gods from the cornfields. It is the puncturing of that myth more than any of Roger Clemens’ actions that explains my disappointment.”

—Jonathan Haagen, Beijing-based writer, entrepreneur

Roger Clemens’ current travails begin with the fact that he was not well liked even before the steroid accusations. He had a reputation as a hothead and a headhunter who never had to pick up a bat. There’s a perception that he quit on the Red Sox , and didn’t work hard again until he got to Toronto and then New York. His fall from grace is seen as “he-got-what-was-coming-to-him.”

Clemens’ reputation was further damaged by his perceived arrogance for the entire legal process. First, there’s the sense that Clemens received special treatment from the committee, meeting with individual members for personal chats prior to the hearing. No other witnesses were offered a similar privilege. Second, he insisted the committee hearings take place when both the Chair and Ranking Member, having heard the evidence, offered to call them off. We can infer that Clemens thought the force of his personality and fame—and the forcefulness of his denials—would see him through.

Third, he tried to sway the court of public opinion. He went on 60 Minutes to profess his innocence (which had the opposite effect). He was an awful witness (I tell my law school students this is how demeanor evidence works against a witness). Finally, he tried to seize control of the legal process by suing Brian McNamee for defamation, which has gone nowhere. The complaint was filed in Texas and was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, a decision Clemens now is appealing. And so he waits for the civil justice process to vindicate him—or to bring all sorts of bad stuff about him to public light.

The public is very forgiving and apologies usually work. An apology seems to have been enough to allow Mark McGwire to begin a new career as hitting coach for the Cardinals. Would an apology work for Clemens? It does not seem to be in his nature. And maybe feelings about him are just too hardened.”

—Howard M. Wasserman, Associate Professor of Law, the FIU College of Law, and co-editor of SportsLaw Blog.

Roger Clemens appears to be old news. I’m certain he is retired.  Fans have obviously soured on him. I think his chances for the Hall of Fame are similar to those of Barry Bonds. Bonds was the dominant hitter in the game at his peak, Clemens was the dominant pitcher.  I don’t think either will make it on the first ballot in 2013, but they will eventually make it. I’m not sure I will be alive to see it.”

—Bill Gilbert, Texas-base baseball analyst and writer

My sense is that using steroids—and even lying about it—isn’t enough to override everything Clemens did on the field. It hurts his image, but he’s not the first to break the law to be a better player. And he’s one of many who took steroids—he’s just one of the easier targets to punish. We don’t praise athletes for their moral achievements or their endearing personalities. Unless they cross certain absolute boundaries—like throwing games—our opinion of them vis a vis the Hall of Fame should be based on what they did on the field. And it’s not as though Clemens, McGwire, and Bonds, and others are escaping the consequences for using steroids.”

—Arne Christensen has a baseball history blog, Misc. Baseball. The first World Series he remembers watching was the Mets vs. Clemens and the Red Sox in 1986


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    About Me

    I’ve been a sports journalist for most of my 36 years in this profession. I’ve been a writer and an editor. I’ve covered little league games and Super Bowls, worked on a tiny paper in Manassas, Va. and helped start ESPN the Magazine. Now I’m writing for True/Slant, freelancing, writing a book, and teaching journalism at Stony Brook University. I’ve lived and died with the Jets, Knicks, and Yankees. That stage of life is pretty much over now, though what happens to all three teams still interest me. And the playoffs are still appointment television. I now see sports almost always as a metaphor for what is happening around me. I see college athletic programs exploiting poor minority athletes and wonder why it exists and what it says about us. I watch a former White House press secretary manage Mark McGwire’s return to baseball and wonder why we can’t have an intelligent conversation about performance enhancing drugs. I read about former NFL players committing suicide after years of playing with concussions, and wonder how the NFL owners, coaches, trainers—and fans—can sleep at night. This is pretty much the reason I continue to write about sports. You write what interests you, and reach a wide audience. Everyone read and heard about the Duke Lacrosse story. Everyone talks about the Super Bowl. Everyone has their take on steroids. Sports is a common denominator, second only to religion, and its closing in fast. For Tiger Woods, that was unfortunate. To those of us in the business, it’s amazing.

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