Monday, February 11, 2008

Rocket Juice

After the Storm
I've been avoiding the baseball steroids stuff. For no other reason than it makes me feel dirty just to talk about it.

I have mixed feelings about steroids. I mean I understand the outrage by parents who don't want their kids to follow their "heroes" and juice up. But on the other hand, I've seen and heard and read enough to seriously wonder if steroids are as bad as they're made out to be. I mean last week even, the New York Times' George Vescey mentioned Lyle Alzado in a cautionary tale column about the downside of steroids. Alzado, for those of you don't remember that the Oakland Raiders were once in Oakland and that John Madden was once a coach, was the gregarious, hard-living face of the Just Win, Baby Raiders.

He is also one of the first professional athletes to publicly acknowledge steroid use. He claimed that his addiction to steroids, begun in the late 1960's, led to his contracting brain cancer, which killed him in 1992 at the age of 43. For many years, Alzado has been the poster athlete against steroid use -- use them and you will die. But the truth is more complicated and even though his personal physician repeatedly said that steroids had nothing to do with Alzado's illness, the myth lives on. Even, apparently, the mind at least one NY Times columnist.

The cheating part of steroids irks the hell of me which only serves to highlight my particular naiveté, one shared by many other sports fans and that is that sports is the last arena where competition is mostly fair, where character and heart are revealed in sometimes starkly simple ways. Don't sorry, I have that other, more cynical side of me too. I know that baseball tacitly approved steroid use at a time when it needed fans more than it needed to give players piss tests. I was happy, in fact, when the Mitchell Report, for the most part, did not take prisoners, particularly among the upper echelon of baseball officials. Names were named for better or worse, no matter who they were or how good they turned out to be for their cheating - or even if their uniform was a business suit.

One of those names is Roger Clemens, the fire-balling, hot-headed Texan who many consider to be among the top five pitchers ever to play in the big leagues. Like another famous accused steroid user, Clemens has vociferously denied using steroids. Indeed, he has mounted a relentless campaign to clear his name, which was muddied by the accusations of his one-time personal trainer who claims to have personally injected 'roids into Clemens' ass.

This coming Wednesday, Congress is getting involved as the House Oversight Committee is holding hearings on steroid use. I'd like to say right now that these hearings are a perfect example of an issue where Congress doesn't belong. It seriously boils me that my tax money is paying for a hearing that isn't necessary and in fact, is more likely to turn into a public relations photo-op for the Congressmen involved. I bet attendance will be 100 percent.

And yet, in the weeks leading up to this ridiculousness, has not been devoid of juicy details, if you'll pardon the pun.

I would argue that Clemens, who has assembled an expensive, high-class defense team, is not getting his money's worth. He's either a complete and utter egomaniac who is blind to reality or he is getting the worse legal advice in the history of the world.

After all, Clemens went on "60 Minutes" and denied steroid use even though right after the report was released his bestest baseball buddy, Andy Pettitte, was shared Clemens' trainer and was also accused by him, admitted to using steroids. Then last week, Clemens was one of several people subpoenaed by the House to give sworn depositions about this week's testimony. Which, by the way, he did. Can we all stop and spell stupid?

Giving a sworn deposition to Congress is the same as in a court of law. If you are caught lying under oath to Congress, it's a felony punishable by up to five years in jail. I mean, duh. When Clemens' accuser Brian McNamee produced used syringes (along with other alleged evidence) he claims have traces of both steroids and Clemens' DNA on them, it put the seven-time Cy Young Award winner in a serious, serious situation, one that could end up with him pitching in pinstripes.

(Let me talk for a moment about these alleged syringes. Lots of folks have wondered why the fuck McNamee held onto them years after he claimed he used them on Clemens. I mean it's not like he could sell them on eBay. I don't pretend to know why and a part of me thinks it's all too convenient to be The Smoking Gun, but if it's really true, I have a guess as to why he kept them. I think McNamee was close enough to understand who Clemens is and he was worried about his future. The general feeling about the Rocket around baseball is that he wasn't exactly the world's nicest guy. Ornery, tough, a little bit of an asshole at times and while loyal to a small group of his insiders, tended to be aloof, a guy who looked out for Number One. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's probably a pretty good self-defense mechanism for a guy as big and as great as Clemens. The way he pitched, living on chin music in an era when most pitchers shied away from throwing inside, you can understand his "me against the world" mentality.

It's possible few people really understood this part of Roger's ego, than McNamee, his long time trainer, confidante, friend. I mean who knows an athlete better than his trainer? A guy you see every day, who knows all your imperfections (literally), who has pushed you to the breaking point and held your hand beyond it?

Maybe McNamee was afraid that Clemens wouldn't protect him, if the shit ever hit the fan, that Clemens would not have his back, that in fact he might sell his ass down the river to protect his own legacy. Or maybe he didn't want to be his Greg Anderson. Maybe he thought that Clemens might have to be convinced to pay for his silence or that he would never be convinced to pay up or maybe he didn't think he could stomach the lies and was afraid his old friend and boss wouldn't understand. So maybe, just maybe he saved those syringes for that rainy day when he would he would be left twisting in the wind. I have no idea if this is true but don't tell me it's not a reasonable theory. )

Back to the present.

Tonight, word comes out that Pettitte, who also gave a sworn deposition last week, has asked to be excused from testifying. Speculation is that he may have implicated his old friend in the depo and doesn't want to make the situation worse by saying it in front of the world. And he won't have to testify according to reports which now say only Clemens and McNamee will be giving testimony at the Wednesday hearings. If y'all aren't feeling dirty yet, this ought to seal it.

Things are looking very dicey for Clemens about right now. Give the guy credit for facing the music but this all feels like he's protesting way too much. Everybody on his team is claiming he never took steroids, even as the evidence seems to be mounting with every vehement denial. It's been one public relations disaster after another. Can it all be unseen forces out to ruin a star's reputation?

Indeed, Clemens has a lot to protect. His legacy for one. His getting voted into the baseball Hall of Fame but now his reputation -- added to the mix by the Rocket himself. What if it comes out that he really did do steroids now? He might have been able to admit it two months ago and survive, but now that he's stuck with his story so vehemently, going back now seems like an impossible mountain to climb. I'm not sure even Checkers could save him now. It's possible the damage to his legacy might even be beyond repair.

I never thought I'd be watching these hearings but I admit I'm thinking about it now, especially now that Roger Clemens has turned himself into the tragic figure (or unrealistic egomaniac) at the center of this brewing storm.

One guy who must be okay with all this is Barry Bonds if only because nobody's been talking about him much lately.

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