Thursday, February 28, 2008

Two of the greatest and most celebrated athletes in baseball, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, now have Justice Department lawyers and investigators assigned to their cases.

How many more before the Justice Department opens a baseball division something like The Untouchables? (The Untouchables, by the way, enforced laws banning alcohol, seemingly a quaint notion compared with steroids).

Call them “The Unbelievers.”

Congress has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Clemens lied under oath in testimony before a House committee two weeks ago, when the pitcher testified he never used performance-enhancing substances as charged by former trainer Brian McNamee in the Mitchell Report.

Now, really, Congress is not asking the Justice Department to determine whether Clemens lied. He lied.

Everyone knows he lied.

Andy Pettitte, one of Clemens’ closest friends, testified privately before committee investigators not once or twice but in three separate sessions that Clemens talked to Pettitte about his use of such substances. Pettitte knows Clemens lied.

Even Rep. Tom Davis, who did his best to run interference for Clemens at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing two weeks ago, must believe Clemens is lying. Both Davis and the committee chairman who had admonished Clemens during the hearing, Henry Waxman, signed the letter requesting the Justice Department probe. That makes the request bipartisan.

But the request is not really to determine whether Clemens lied. Investigators will not come back with a finding that says Roger Clemens is telling the truth. The next time someone implicated in a steroid scandal is proven innocent will be the first time.

The only thing to be determined is whether there exists enough evidence to bring a perjury case against Clemens — in other words, whether they can prove he lied.

Even if he were convicted in a court of law and put behind bars, Clemens still would be the only one who believes he is telling the truth.

Some great athletes can limit their arrogance to the playing field. Others let it consume their entire lives, believing they can beat anything simply because of who they are.

That’s why both Bonds, who has been indicted by a grand jury for perjury, and Clemens find themselves in this fix. In Bonds’ mind, there is no pitcher who can beat him. In Clemens’ mind, no hitter can beat him. They have operated throughout their professional lives above the rest of the game, let alone the rest of the population. They were made from the same arrogant mold.

Now a couple of lawyers in suits are going to beat them? Guys who would sit in the stands and pay to watch them perform? Guys who would come up to them at dinner and ask them for an autograph?

No, no. Neither Clemens nor Bonds could have considered the notion that he could indeed lose to a couple of civilians and wind up in prison. No rational person would play this game of chicken so needlessly, considering the consequences of losing.

Over the years, Bonds dared investigators to come after him. Now Clemens is putting on his show. He appeared at the Astros’ camp in Florida yesterday and worked out with minor leaguers, giving the appearance not of an innocent man but of one so deluded by his own stature that he is convinced he is bulletproof, that nothing can happen to him.

When asked by reporters whether he was aware of the congressional call for an investigation, Clemens said, “See y’all tomorrow,” got into his Hummer and drove away.

An innocent man, even one with the steel nerves of a great athlete like Clemens, would never be so cavalier on the day the United States Congress asked the Justice Department to investigate him.

The investigation, according to the Congressional letter, centers not only on Clemens’ testimony that he did not use steroids or human growth hormone but also his insistence that he was not at a party at the home of then teammate Jose Canseco in June 1998.

Talk about arrogance and delusion.

Clemens relied on a sworn affidavit by Canseco that he was not at the party despite a photo that has surfaced that purports to show him there, despite closed-door testimony by the Clemens’ nanny that the family not only went to the party but also stayed overnight at Canseco’s house.

This is what Clemens said three years ago when Canseco’s book on steroids came out: “When you’re under house arrest and you have ankle bracelets on, you have a lot of time to write a book.”

Now he uses Canseco as his sworn alibi before Congress.

That is Hall of Fame arrogance. It is time to call in “The Unbelievers.”

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