Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Clemens' Denial is a Play for the Future

Roger Clemens' denial seems like a pretty bold move given that it forces anyone who cares about the whole situation to decide whether he or Brian McNamee is the liar. If I had to guess I'd say that Clemens is. My opinion in this regard is not based on some moral judgment, though (I couldn't care less about Roger Clemens, good or bad). No, this is simply a matter of logic: McNamee's allegations against Andy Pettitte have been corroborated already -- by Pettitte himself -- and Pettitte is Clemens' close friend and workout buddy. While this obviously doesn't establish that Clemens took PEDs, it makes a story in which he didn't take PEDs far more complicated than one in which he did, and more often than not the simple story is the true story. Call if a gut feeling, then, but I think Clemens is full of it.

Not that we'll ever know for sure. The only way for it to be determined somewhat conclusively would be for Clemens to file a defamation lawsuit against McNamee, and that simply isn't going to happen. For one thing the standard is too high for a public figure like Clemens to ever prevail, and he simply doesn't strike me as the type who would roll the dice with those kinds of odds against him. For another thing, if he were to file a lawsuit against McNamee, the first name on the defense's witness list would be Andy Pettitte's. Is Clemens really going to unleash his lawyer to attack his good friend's credibility the way he'd have to in order to win? Is Clemens going to start the ball rolling on a case in which many other witnesses would be his and Pettitte's former Yankee, Blue Jay, and Astros teammates, all of whom would be questioned -- and this time forced to answer -- about what they knew regarding Clemens' steroid use? Of course he isn't.

No, Clemens is laying the groundwork for the future. True, five days post-Mitchell his denial lacks credibility, and there will no doubt be a firestorm of criticism coming his way in the next few days. But that will blow over as our memories of the Mitchell minutiae fades. Indeed, Clemens is counting on our memories fading, because with them, so too will our memories of Brian McNamee and the specifics of his allegations. But we will always remember Clemens' fastball and his strikeouts and his Cy Young Awards. And when the time comes to assess his Hall of Fame candidacy, we will remember that one time some trainer -- what's his name again? -- accused the Rocket of doing steroids. Unlike Mark McGwire, Rocket will be able to truthfully say that he denied the allegations at the time. Unlike Barry Bonds, he will be able to say truthfully that the allegations against him are a matter of he-said/he-said. Against that backdrop, even many of those who have strongly negative opinions about Clemens now will cave in the face of a six-year ambiguity.

Don't believe me? Think that no matter how much time passes, people will always have the Mitchell Report bookmarked and will scroll down to McNamee's allegations in all of their PDF glory? Think again, because the same thing could have been said about the Dowd Report on Pete Rose's gambling, and by the mid 90s, many if not most people had chosen to let their memories of the specifics of that scandal slip into history. Many of the same people who felt shock and shame at Rose's 1989 ban from baseball were prepared to live with him in the Hall of Fame a few short years later. True, it wasn't technically possible because he was banned from baseball, but the sentiment was swinging in his direction, at least until he reversed himself and admitted that he had been lying all along.

Clemens isn't going to be banned from baseball, and he is not going to reverse himself on this subject. As we sit here less than twelve hours after Clemens' denial, we have all of the evidence we will ever have on his PED use. McNamee certainly has nothing else, because if he did it would have been in the Mitchell Report. Clemens isn't going to provide anything. No other ballplayer will either unless Clemens stirs up a hornet's nest.

Based on that record, I think that Clemens's denial -- however incredible it seems this evening -- gives him the best chance he's ever going to get to make the Hall of Fame someday. Certainly a better chance than if he admitted using, and certainly a better chance than if he pulled a McGwire and said nothing.

Risky move? Sure, but so is pitching inside all the time.

The accompanying image is a painting by artist Stephan Holland, prints of which, and of other athletes, are available at Gallery319.com.


jnr98 said...

So what happens if/when he gets called to testify before Congress, with the cameras rolling? Is he willing to gamble that McNamee doesn't have any tangible evidence, other than his own claims? Then it becomes a "who do you believe more" contest, correct?

How difficult is it to prove a negative?

Shyster said...

Good point, jnr. Whoever is counseling Roger should probably have been mindful that Congress may very well call him as a witness. It's one thing to play the PR game. It's quite another to mess with Congress, as Mr. Palmeiro (and Mr. Gonzales, and Mr. North, etc. etc.) have learned.

jnr98 said...

Exactly! It's one thing to hurl the bravado across the AP wires. It's another entirely to do it to Waxman, et al, under subpoena power, with the cameras rolling. Most people seem the (mistakenly) think that the Gov't is prosecuting Bonds for steriod usage; it's because he lied to the Feds. He's being prosecuted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Is it such a stretch to see Clemens facing this same thing down the road? I think not.

And I really want to believe Clemens, but the Pettitte admission sealed it for me.


Anonymous said...

No other ballplayer will provide anything? You think he's Mr. Popularity? Wouldn't it be great if Piazza had something on him?

Shyster said...

I don't think his popularity has anything to do with it as much as I think that there is no reason to believe that the players will break their code of silence over this unless (a) forced; or (b) really provoked.

The forcing may come from Congress, though it's too early to see how closely they're going to take a look at this. The provoking would come from Clemens. If he shuts up now, they say quiet. If he starts suing people -- thereby causing subpoenas to get served and stuff -- people throw him under the bus so fast it would make your head spin.

And yes, it would be funny if Piazza was the guy who had the goods on Clemens, but that's obviously unlikely.

Pettitte though? Hmmmm . . .

marc in Tallahassee said...

I've never been a fan of an asterisk next to a baseball record, and I still don't like the asterisk. I've always agreed with Rob Neyer, as he has written many times over the years, that the record book is not the place to pass moral judgments. Rather, the record book should measure simply what happened in the many ballparks since the 1870s.

But, man, if I didn't hold that view, and I wanted to argue against it, the first thing I would point to is Shyster's post here about Clemens. The one thing an asterisk would accomplish is that people wouldn't forget about Clemens and McNamey. An asterisk would make it just that much harder for Clemens to play the waiting game, as he hopes that opinions solften and weaken over time. (On another note, I've always wondered what a Bonds asterisk would accomplish when most fans get their stats from baseball-reference.com or other online resources. Who would actually see the asterisk? ).

Again, I dont' think there should be any asterisk associated with Clemens of any ballplayer. When arguing about asterisks, I usually spout my mantra about keeping the records objective, but this post made me realize there is at least one good argument for an asterisk, though there are many better arguements against it.