Sleaze and Sleazier: The Clemens Saga

It's a good thing that accused steroids star Roger Clemens' public appearance before a House committee has been delayed for a month. If it had gone off as scheduled next week, it would have reduced the presidential election (never mind the CIA Tapegate fiasco) to a crawl on the bottom of the cable TV screens of America.

I am grateful for the delay -- the Justice Department asked the House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform to push back the Clemens and Co. show so that some of the underlying legal issues could be clarified -- because it is sad to see the angry and often bizarre unraveling of one of my former heroes. Monday's press conference, at which Clemens unveiled to the world the contents of a creepy audiotape of a conversation between him and his accuser, was my final breaking point with a man whose career in Boston started in the fall of 1984, almost precisely when mine did. (Yes, I admit, he went a little further than me).

I watched the conference Monday, my jaw on the floor, and I saw one of the top pitchers of all time -- a man whose authentic Red Sox jersey hangs in my closet -- stand in front of a camera and play a tape (surreptitiously made, natch) that made him sound like a mob snitch trying to lure a Wise Guy. On one end of the phone was the former Hall of Fame shoo-in, and on the other end was his former trainer, a man named Brian McNamee.

Two men with different stories to tell about Clemens' history with steroids. Two men who cannot both be telling the truth. Two men who were once close friends. Two men whose lawyers surely knew this call was taking place. Two men who are locked in such a war that they spent -- what? 17 minutes? -- in a telephone call trying to trap the other into committing some sort of crime.

Clemens was hoping McNamee would confess to lying (to prosecutors, when he accused Clemens of steroid-use). McNamee was perhaps hoping that Clemens would try to coerce him into changing testimony -- that is your garden-variety witness tampering element. As your attorney, I am here to tell you that neither party succeeded. McNamee didn't recant. Clemens didn't coerce. Clemens didn't prove his innocence; McNamee didn't establish his credibility.

On the tape, which ESPN hyped as if it were a "Books on Tape" of the Bible read by the original author, McNamee sounds like the greasy sycophant he surely was for all those years when he was giving players steroids. "It is what it is, and it's not good," he says. "And I want it to go away. And I'm with you. I'm in your corner. I don't want this to happen. But I'd also like not to go to jail, too. But it has nothing to do with you. But I would like to sit down with you in person and talk with you."

Here is another excerpt from McNamee: "No, you treated me better. You treated me like family. From day one I was family to you, and you treated me like that. You know, I'm glad to hear your voice. I just - you know, I don't believe that, you know, it is, whatever. I just -- the bottom line is I'm glad to hear your voice. I'm sorry that your family is going through this. And I'll do whatever I can do to help.'

Got it? Clemens wants you to think that McNamee's audio kowtow is proof that the trainer lied to prosecutors when he declared that he had injected Clemens with steroids. But all I heard was one manipulative jock trying to outmaneuver another manipulative jock. There is no dispositive moment on the tape when a reasonable person -- say, a judge or jury -- would exclaim: Ah ha! I have solved the mystery! Indeed, all I could think about during the replay of the tape was the movie "Dumb and Dumber"-- a movie about two guys who talk about nothing.

In the end, it's at best a wash for the Rocket. Yes, he gets to create for potential jurors (and the court of public opinion) the perception that McNamee may be a desperate idiot. But we now know some stuff that doesn't make Clemens look so hot, either. For example, could a guy who admits he was "eating Vioxx like lt was Skittles"-- Vioxx now being a banned drug-- really be as careful about his body as he now claims?

I'm just asking. And don't call me on the phone to give me your answers. I don't want my voice on ESPN unless I say so.

By Andrew Cohen |  January 11, 2008; 8:00 AM ET
Previous: No Way Jose Makes the Right Call | Next: English Professors Bare Arms


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Machiavelli, a third century philosopher, said that the triad of seducers are Wealth, Fame, and Power. Witness Michael Vick, "W", The Little Prince we have as our current President, and now Roger Clements, Baseball's almost finest. What a shame, the seduced are!! Baseball, will recover, but not in my eyes with the latest scandal. Like basketball and football, the seduced follow the path of Narcissism. It is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game. Yea, Sure!!

Posted by: | January 11, 2008 12:31 PM

By the way, the only counter to Machiavelli's Triad of Seducers, that is,Wealth, Fame and Power, are Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, the mark of the proud liberal and liberally educated.

Fight the good fight for the salvation of our sports.

Posted by: | January 11, 2008 12:35 PM

It's tough enough being 538 years old. Don't go adding another 1,200 to 1,300 years on top of that.

Posted by: Niccolò | January 11, 2008 01:45 PM

1469? Martin Luther?

Posted by: CuriousWestCoaster | January 11, 2008 03:36 PM

The late Boston Globe (CBS) sportswriter Will McDonough used to refer to Clemens as The Texas Con Man.

The Pillsbury Doughboy was an other as Clemens took the Red Sox money his last couple of years and was noticeably heftier. That was of course before he got into post Twilight of the Career shape.

The Texas Con man seems most appropriate.

[It pains me to think that Dan Duquette may have been right. Without steroids would Clemens' career have gone any further at the top level?]

Posted by: DC | January 11, 2008 06:06 PM

Mi compleanno es 3 Maggio 1469.

Posted by: Niccolò | January 11, 2008 06:54 PM

The hearings on Clemens will be inconclusive.

A man earning the multi-millions that he does in sports and endorsements has the wherewithal to find and use the drugs needed to thwart the medical toxicology tests used to determine whether or not someone is doping.

Since American atheletes compete with video games and in fantasy leagues for fans' attention, they will continue to require performance enhancing drugs to gain the strength, durability and speed needed to compete.

It is preposterous to think that Congress or any other institution can stem the tide of doping in baseball.

Posted by: robert chapman | January 12, 2008 03:27 PM

Why waste any more time on this? Baseball is a multi-billion dollar business, making a few owners and a number of players very wealthy at the expense of dupes who pay hefty season ticket prices to watch puffed-up jocks swing a stick at a ball. If fans are willing to be fooled by drug-addled players, then let it be so.

Posted by: hartman_john | January 13, 2008 09:09 AM

Bravo Niccolo!!

Posted by: Barbarossa | January 14, 2008 09:43 AM

I would think that baseball must be very happy with what is going on with Clemens, it is all the rage. No one really talks about any other players named in the report, doing anything about the problem of steroids (and other drugs), and (as Mitchell said) having a plan for the future. The focus is on Clemens, it needs to be on the drugs.

Posted by: Roy B | January 14, 2008 10:34 AM

Yes, big names in baseball, not to mention track and field.

But what about football, at both the college and professional levels? Maybe even in high school? Does anyone care?

Does it happen in tennis or soccer or NASCAR? How about golf, the gentleman's game?

Isn't it time that the players' groups start to realize the cheaters are endangering the futures of those who don't cheat?

Posted by: pacman | January 15, 2008 03:50 PM

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.


©   The Washington Post Company