Even diehard baseball fans are feeling cynical these days. Despite the good news that spring training has arrived, they find themselves cringing over the state of the great American pastime.
They are, of course, carnival rubes mesmerized by the increasingly pathetic patter echoing from Major League Baseball. I know most fans are hopeless saps for the game because I am one of those ditzy diehards who gets all warm and fuzzy at the first news report heralding the reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training.
But even the most devoted fanatic’s addled reverie was broken up by the Feb. 13 appearance of the great Roger Clemens before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in which he attempted to counter accusations by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, that he had taken steroids and human growth hormones.
Mr. Big League came away looking like a rookie caught in a rundown play. He was not only difficult to believe, in my opinion he flashed a side of his character — the side that was willing to use his wife as a half-baked alibi — that will never recover no matter the final outcome of the accusations against him. He made himself look like a big, strapping sleazeball.
Clemens was such a poor storyteller that even some veteran members of Congress, men and women well-practiced at the art of prevarication, appeared to sigh at his lame responses.
“It’s hard to believe you, sir,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., told Clemens. “I hate to say that. You’re one of my heroes. But it’s hard to believe.”
Let’s see if we read that on the back of the Rocket’s next baseball card.
Although the pitcher had his defenders in the form of several influential Republican congressmen, their battering of McNamee couldn’t offset Clemens’ self-inflicted wounds.
McNamee has his detractors, but admitted illegal performance-enhancing drug users Chuck Knoblauch and Andy Pettitte appear to swear by his veracity. Pettitte’s own contrite, believable congressional deposition tripped up his friend Clemens by corroborating McNamee’s damning statement.
“Because I just — I live my life and the truth, you know, and I just — I have to tell you all the truth,” Pettitte said under oath. “… And one day I have to give an account to God and not to nobody else of what I’ve done in my life.”
Pettitte and his wife might have buried their friend’s story, but it was Clemens who dug the hole by insisting on appearing before the committee and continuing to shout about being a victim. Clemens’ sorry response to the Pettitte deposition was that his pal had “misremembered” their conversation and that the wife, Debbie Clemens, was the one who had taken the growth hormones.
When in doubt, blame the spouse. Where is it written that this is a good defense strategy?
McNamee, meanwhile, stated that he saved syringes with which, he contends, he injected Clemens. And the only thing harder to dispute than Clemens’ ERA will be his DNA.
On his way to spring training, Clemens should take a detour and make an appearance on Fox’s “The Moment of Truth” lie detector show. I’ll bet the seven-time Cy Young Award winner makes that machine do the jitterbug.
Clemens’ problem is simple. For all his bravado, there are too many damning facts in dispute to let this issue rest. In an age that finds home-run slugger Barry Bonds indicted for lying about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, authorities must know that failing to see the Clemens’ fiasco through to the end will appear racist. The Rev. Al Sharpton said on his weekly talk show, “When I see a contrast between how you treat a Clemens and how you treat a Bonds, that is a civil rights issue.”
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told William C. Rhoden of The New York Times, “I think in the opinion of those who have been following this issue and have heard about it, Roger Clemens is going to be looked at as someone who pressed his case to the point where many, if not most, people, no longer believed him.”
Meanwhile, a couple of successful prosecutions could help salvage the game’s wobbly credibility and lead to something really big.
Clemens vs. Bonds! Live! From the Big House!
It’s a hall-of-fame matchup this jaded baseball fan would pay to watch.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.