(Formerly entitled "What's Our Vector, Victor?")
So the Mitchell Report, dismissed many moons ago as an impotent, meaningless investigation, has the baseball world turned on its ear today. Good for it.
The fans among us who take baseball a little too seriously -- not as just another channel to flip to between "Deal or No Deal" and "Quilting with the Stars" but as summertime fabric more intrinsic than madras cotton or boardshorts polyblend -- have been bemoaning the steroids skew at various volume levels for quite some time. That MLB finally, at long last, implemented a policy with some teeth was a start. Somewhere in the collective gut of the sport's most avid sentimental stakeholders, however, there continued to be a gnawing feeling every time an extended press conference was held to honor a (seemingly) steroid-addled player who'd just broken an age-old record or reached some lofty milestone.
We all have to blame the Cerberean beast that is baseball's front office, the player's union, and the owners for paving the way for just another concern to become this widespread plague on the game. And only the purest and least grounded among us can honestly condemn any baseball player of the last twenty years for falling prey to the temptation of performance-enhancing drugs. That said, there was still something unsettling about watching athletes accept accolades with big smiles, then fire glowering "How dare you, sir?" retorts to even the faintest suggestion of their use of illegal supplements -- when we all sort of knew deep down that it was probably an enormous, disgusting lie. Now that we know better, it takes every bit of internal strength not to fall into high-horse condescension and hypocritical aspersion casting.
I'm not sure I have enough of that internal strength.
The greatest revelation in the Mitchell Report is inarguably paragraph after paragraph of damning testimony about William Roger Clemens. The Rocket and his reputation, if not his Hall of Fame chances, suffered a serious kick in the ass yesterday, and if you believe the text of the report, that's a spot where he's undoubtedly already sore from syringe stickings.
[As an aside, I should have prefaced this post with one point. Obviously there could be misinformation in the Mitchell Report, but rather than make me follow the ESPN suit of attaching disclaimers at every possible turn ("allegedly he allegedly injected alleged steroids into his alleged buttocks"), I'm going with my opinion that most of what was printed is fact. We at Gheorghe will not be afraid to issue public apologies where they are warranted at a later date -- that's how we do things here.]
So Clemens gets tagged with perhaps the most damaging of the investigation's findings. And if you've followed his career on and off the field even a little bit, you'd have to say that his reflexive rebuttal was utterly predictable. Stern denial, an attempt to cast shadows on the other guy, even using the word "slander" to depict what's happening to him, and a clear portrayal of himself as the victim. At this point, you almost can't blame him. Like Bonds, he's way too far down that road to offer a mea culpa. Only someone of sinewy strong moral character could rebound from this extended misstep, and I'm reasonably sure he's not that guy.
Do yourself a favor: go back and re-read Bill Simmons' worthy piece from 6 or 7 years ago entitled "Is Clemens the Antichrist?" I've busted SportGuy's chops a bit over the years, but this a biased but brilliant article (one that had to have ESPN thinking, "That's precisely why we brought him on board") that offers a whole lot of fan's insight into who Roger Clemens really is. From what I think I know about Roger Clemens -- after rooting against him in October 1986 to watching college buddy Rob urge him on in the '88 and '90 playoffs to following along closely in the Cape summers of '91 and '93 to watching him bean Mike Piazza and the ensuing bat-throwing jackassery to reading the SportsGuy's take on him to just being a baseball fan and following the career of one of its biggest stars -- I simply cannot imagine who outside of Clemens' family and close friends actually believes one word of his denial. If you do, I tend to think you're not paying attention.
Roger, meet Barry. Barry, welcome Roger to the club. You two are peas in a pod from here on out.We're going to find out how much water the accusation of racism behind the public's hammering of Barry Bonds really holds. Roger Clemens deserves no less vilification than Barry; he's an unapologetic, self-serving prick by most accounts, and now he's a fellow cheater by at least one account. That's the thing about controversies like this: when you're an asshole for 20 years, it only takes one strand of purported evidence -- not even the kind that would hold up in any court of law -- for the masses to buy into it.
A lot of folks felt like Mark McGwire was one of the "good guys," the type of fellow that wouldn't betray the institution of baseball and its fans like that. That's why we went along with the preposterous notion that a bit of weight-lifting and some legal GNC supplements morphed him from that beanpole of 1987 into that gargantuan comic book beast of 1998. McGwire did Bonds & Clemens no favors. After his undoing before Congress, we felt burned and stupid, and a real cynicism crept into our heads. Plus, if SuperMac was doing it, instinctively we're sure that less savory characters in the game are doing the same thing, right? If a personality as enjoyable as McGwire was cast aside by Hall voters and general fans of the sport alike, what chance does a player who's largely disliked have?
As Simmons chronicles, Roger Clemens was slipping into an out-of-shape, vague facsimile of his former All-Star self in the early to mid-90's. DL stints were more frequent, his stats were ordinary, and there was reason for concern for the future. Then, after leaving the Sox, like Bonds -- and maybe even to a greater degree -- the Rocket had the parabola that soon became a wave with a serious late-career uptick. His numbers shot through the roof, the awards and acclaim came rushing back, and we're left with two concurrent thoughts:
1. It'd be hard to blame him but so much -- even the most selfless among us has an ego and a desire for increased financial comfort.
2. It seems to fit the pattern for performance-enhancing drug users. He probably did it.
If only there were an injectable form of "crunch time proficiency" or "shining in the clutch," it would've been even more drastic. As it was . . . not so much, Rajah. Oh, he still has his remarkable stats. Of course, another famous Clemens said that the three kinds of lies were "lies, damn lies, and statistics"; for this Clemens, I guess you can now put all three together to conclude his legacy.
It's almost a recipe for a tragic figure, except that as an unsympathetic one, Clemens doesn't qualify. Michael Eisner's best screenwriters could actually build a story around Mark McGwire: he's starting to fade from the stardom of that 49-HR rookie season, getting hurt more, going through a tough divorce, and the deadly combination of intense pressure and the utter availability of the easy way out appears . . . so he sells his soul, never to reclaim it until now, after the bombshell of the Mitchell Report, he comes out, tells all, and tearily begs forgiveness not from baseball's caretakers, they themselves culpable (if not sinister) forces, but by the legions of baseball's truest fans -- people who search, often in vain, for a humanity 'twixt the lines, both of the boxscore and the chalk. Fade to black, that's a wrap.
There's no such script for Clemens. We the writers can't possibly develop that character into one who resonates. As with Bonds, it's partly the fault of genes or upbringing -- he just isn't that likable a guy, which isn't his fault. The adulation of the fans and the millions upon millions of bucks don't help shrink swelled heads, either. But somewhere in everyone is the ability to give back, to offer gestures of gratitude and humility and think about the guy on the other side of things, and Roger Clemens seems incapable or unwilling to go to these lengths. Rajah, if you're wondering why you're getting the same bitter treatment that Barry Bonds got, don't. Just go on denying it and play out the lame string exactly as your harshest critics would have predicted.
All of this -- and it's gone on a bit, I apologize -- is to explain why this one-man jury has already, not 24 hours into post-Mitchell America, come back with a seemingly snap judgment of Guilty On All Charges for Roger Clemens. And done so almost gleefully. We talk about "karma" ad infinitum around here -- hell, we can't get through a VCU-W&M hoops game recap without invoking its use -- but this is a Family Size serving of its retribution. You're gonna starve the lion, you'd better keep the cage locked, and Brian McNamee just opened the cage while Roger wasn't looking. And I'll admit that I can't help feeling satisfied with the result, as inappropriate as it may be at this early juncture.