Pitching a New Game

by Gregory Pratt, Special to BaseballEvolution.com
January 8, 2008

Don't be shocked if Brian McNamee recants his allegations of Roger Clemens' steroid use. Don't be moved by it, either.

Following the Mitchell Report, baseball writers wondered whether or not Roger Clemens' Hall of Fame bust had been destroyed or merely sullied. Fans who had never given any thought to Roger Clemens being a steroid user were shocked by the notion. If Clemens is to be believed, his wife and children have become distraught by the media onslaught. Unlike others named who apologized and "confessed," like his good friend Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens decided to go on the offensive against the Report, and his intentions are clear. No waiting for the news to settle down and go away before he attempts to rebuild in the aftermath of the aftermath -- no, Roger Clemens wants to field a winning team now and on paper, he has reached that goal, hiring an ace celebrity attorney for the frontline, hard-hitting private investigators to solidify his lineup, a cool manager in Mike Wallace, and, perhaps, the love-children of Richard Nixon and Meyer Wolfsheim to set the table.

Just thinking about The Rocket's Amazing Spinning Circus makes me dizzy, and that is how I felt during yesterday's press conference, when he played a tape of his private conversation with Brian McNamee over the weekend. McNamee, in case you have been living in an abandoned dugout somewhere, sent Clemens an email telling him that his son was sick and dying. That is how the conversation began, but it soon became two men talking to themselves with the other listening. It is my suspicion that they were both attempting to entrap the other. Roger Clemens said, several times, "I just want someone to tell the truth" and McNamee screamed, "Tell me what you want me to do!" He also stated that he wished they could talk face-to-face and told Clemens he'd be willing to go to prison for him, if only Roger would give the word. A couple more excerpts:

McNamee: It is what it is, and it's not good. And I want it to go away. And I'm with you. I'm in your corner. I don't want this to happen. But I'd also like not to go to jail, too. But it has nothing to do with you. But I would like to sit down with you in person and talk with you.
McNamee: I reached out to you because -- I mean, I tried to help as much as I could, as late as I could. And it was too late, I guess, to help. But what it comes down to is the way it affects our kids. They got nothing to do with this. They've got nothing to do with any of this.

Here are my thoughts on the McNamee/Clemens dynamic. McNamee, like any trainer and friend worth a damn, did not want to turn Roger Clemens in to the Mitchell Investigation.  He resisted and only relented when it became apparent that he had to to avoid going to prison. Nobody wants to go to prison, especially not a man with children, which was why he had to turn Roger Clemens in. Now he is having regrets, partly because of the pressures this puts on himself and his family (don't kid yourself -- there might not be anything more exhausting than a media storm), partly because of his friendship and hero worship of Roger Clemens, and partly because he is distraught. He has likely lost a great friend for life, and he is on the verge of losing his son. Now he is all choked up facing situations he never imagined he'd have to face and is likely unprepared for.

I'd hate to be his attorney, who today declared war against Roger Clemens for manipulating McNamee, because I wouldn't be sure whether or not I could trust McNamee to keep his mouth shut and his heart hard.

It is clear to me, and always has been, that Roger Clemens was using steroids for as long as I remember (I am, after all, eighteen, so I only really remember his steroid peak). I didn't need McNamee to tell me that, although others have, and I am not the only one who heard the whispers. Steve Phillips mentioned it the night the report broke. But I am disturbed by the McNamee situation for numerous reasons because of the effect it could have on his "legacy." Let's say McNamee cracks somehow and recants, which is unlikely but possible, and not altogether mind-boggling to consider -- then what happens in the world of public perception? Roger Clemens is no longer a steroid user, because his buddy was too weak to stand by himself? Clemens versus McNamee is a brutal mismatch: a tough-as-nails Texan (on steroids) fighting a patsy behind-the-scenes fanboy who idolizes him. Who will stick to his script longer? I have no doubt that McNamee's script is accurate, but will he continue to read from it, or will his admiration take him back?

All I know for sure besides Roger Clemens' guilt is that Clemens is playing a dangerous game that only one other man in the history of baseball has played before (and lost). He has decided to attack McNamee and Mitchell and the charge, throwing at its head as if it were Mike Piazza. Will his strategy of intimidation, Spinning Circus, and adamance work? Is Brian McNamee more like Mike Piazza (a shrinking flower) or more like Manny Ramirez (a bat-wielding, hard-charger)? If McNamee is Piazza and backs down, will Clemens be vindicated? Maybe, but it's a stretch. It is out in the open now, and there is no place to go when your reputation has been destroyed. It is worse when you come away "innocent" but still appear guilty and almost certainly are guilty, like with OJ Simpson.

Still, Roger Clemens denies using steroids, and who knows how long it'll take him to say, "We were all using, and I'm hypercompetitive -- I had to," or if he'll ever say it. But if he does come clean someday, before he makes the Hall of Fame, he might be in for a life of exile. Does that sound far-fetched or ridiculous? It should, because it's far too soon to talk about that.  But if he continues down his path of denialdenialdenial and nobody believes him, and eventually he comes out and says "Yeah so I was lying all those years," he might wind up like Pete Rose, the only other man to play this game at this level. Yes, at this point some sort of banishment and almost-universal scorn is unlikely, but the same could've been said for Rose when the rumors first surfaced. Look at him now, and tell me you don't see a little bit of Roger Clemens in him.

Gregory Pratt is a student at UIC who also runs a political weblog.
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