In deciding to voluntarily testify before Congress in 2008, Roger Clemens displayed little intelligence and insulted our own. Now everyone has to pay as baseball, yet again, is dragged through its Steroid Era.
The federal trial taking place at 333 Constitution Ave. would be totally unnecessary if Clemens had exercised a smidgen of common sense. He should’ve either clammed up or ‘fessed up when his name appeared in the Mitchell Report, baseball’s independent investigation into steroid use in the game.
But no, not the “Rocket,” not a mean and ornery Texan who couldn’t stand the thought of admitting he wasn’t as big and bad as his image suggested.
No one forced Clemens to file a defamation lawsuit against his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, who claims he injected ‘roids into Clemens‘ butt on multiple occasions. The seven-time Cy Young winner didn’t have to hold a news conference and play a secretly recorded phone call with McNamee that proved nothing. And Clemens wasn’t obligated to sit down with the venerable Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes” and vehemently deny ever using performance-enhancing drugs.
But those bonehead decisions were merely wild pitches, none of which led to Clemens‘ presence in U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton’s courtroom the past couple of days. The reason he’s facing possible jail time is the high and tight offerings to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, even though he was told he didn’t have to testify.
Under oath, Clemens essentially threw at their heads, telling one whopper after another.
Brushing back Congress is like begging the IRS for an audit; no one in their right mind does such a thing. Especially no one as rich and famous as Clemens, arguably baseball’s greatest pitcher ever.
He was never going to convince the majority of observers he was clean, so why bother at the risk of perjury charges? Benefit of the doubt was out of the question. He won three Cy Youngs in his first 13 seasons, followed by four more over his next eight seasons. He gained velocity on his pitches while growing bigger, thicker and stronger in his late 30s and early 40s, producing stats as good as ever.
All of this drama should’ve been tucked away in his past by now, like it is for Mark McGwire and Andy Pettitte. McGwire used a Fifth Amendment-type strategy when he testified on Capitol Hill in 2005, before admitting the obvious five years later. Pettitte came clean as soon as his name surfaced in the Mitchell Report and subsequently implicated Clemens in a sworn affidavit.
Not even Barry Bonds was bold enough to attempt Clemens‘ strategy of total denial. Bonds met federal prosecutors halfway, with a half-truth, admitting that he used steroids but didn’t know they were steroids. But he enjoyed an advantage that Clemens doesn’t have, a personal trainer willing to sit in jail rather than testify against him.
Like many, I question whether athletes’ steroid use is worth the government’s time and resources. The federal prosecutors who spent nearly a decade and millions of dollars in pursuit of Bonds should face criminal charges themselves. But the debate won’t end anytime soon.
Anthony Galea, a Canadian sports doctor whose high-profile clients included Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez, pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to using unapproved drugs — including human growth hormone — on pro athletes. Galea has agreed to cooperate with investigators and disclose the identities of his patients and their treatments, which surely must make some athletes nervous. And cycling legend Lance Armstrong still is being pursued in another federal investigation.
But Clemens‘ predicament is self-inflicted, a case of bad judgment with a series of poor choices. His defamation lawsuit against McNamee has been dismissed. McNamee’s defamation lawsuit still is alive. Clemens‘ legal strategy might blow up in his face: The judge ruled that accusing McNamee of fabricating evidence could lead to potentially damaging testimony from other players who worked with the trainer.
Whether Capitol Hill hearings are necessary, or criminal charges are appropriate, or stars are pursued while journeymen have nothing to fear, this fact remains true: The cover-up is worse than the crime.
Pettitte pitched three additional seasons and earned another World Series ring after his admission. McGwire is in his second season as the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting coach. That could’ve been Clemens, enjoying retirement or a second career in baseball.
Instead, he chose to drag himself and his sport through the muck again. And we all have to pay.