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Clemens could have pitched out of mess

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 30, 2008

Roger Clemens and his people underestimated personal trainer Brian McNamee's power and impact, but the tidal wave hitting the former ace could have been avoided with a simple confirmation of the facts detailed in the Mitchell Report.

Does he know this now?

This reporter admired Clemens's talent and his competitive will. His first 20-strikeout game, at Fenway Park against Seattle 22 years ago last night, was one of the greatest individual performances I'd ever witnessed. It was a career filled with greatness.

An "I did it" would have been shocking for a few days. It would have outraged Hall of Fame voters who think anybody who took steroids does not belong in Cooperstown. The Clemens bashers who thought of him as the "Texas Con Man" - as dubbed by the late Globe columnist Will McDonough - would have reveled.

But Clemens would have accepted that criticism and weathered the storm, especially in light of the things he's hearing now - all a result of pursuing a defamation of character suit against McNamee. The latest controversy concerns a report in the New York Daily News that Clemens had a decade-long relationship with country star Mindy McCready that began when she was 15 years old and he was pitching for the Red Sox.

This isn't going to end any time soon. There'll likely be more dirt and other assorted stories that will damage Clemens's reputation and call his character into question. All so he could make a point to his children that he didn't take performance-enhancing drugs rather than look them in the eye and say he made a mistake?

Clemens's mistake was that he fought to save his name; what he should have known is his life isn't defined by his profession. He felt defending his baseball reputation was more important than keeping his family and loved ones out of harm's way. The fact he won 354 games has nothing to do with him as a father and husband. Now, based on the latest sordid allegations, he must explain all of this to his family.

He can keep denying everything, but the damage he's doing to his family and his reputation simply can't be worth his stubbornness on steroids and human growth hormone. At a time when, depending on whom you believe, a majority of major league players were dabbling in performance-enhancing drugs, Clemens could have explained and begged the public and Hall of Fame voters for forgiveness.

If only Clemens had made the same choice as his close friend and fellow Hendricks Brothers client Andy Pettitte, who also was implicated in the Mitchell Report and admitted his use of HGH. Certainly Pettitte's revelation always will cloud his career, but by coming clean, his family was spared, and his private life didn't have to become an open book.

For Clemens, it seems that admitting steroid use over a three- or four-year period in a 24-year-career is small potatoes now. Clemens's career really needs no defense; he was a great pitcher who accomplished great things. He worked harder than anyone in the game, and his teammates vouch for that time and again.

Clemens is also up against a desperate man in McNamee, who has nothing to lose and is going to tell everything in the interest of self-preservation.

McNamee's own career is shot. While an incredibly sad figure, everything McNamee has thrown out there has stuck.

George Mitchell bought it. Most of Congress bought it. The public buys it. This is a game that Clemens can't win.

McNamee is making Clemens look bad and making his famed attorney, Rusty Hardin, look silly. A few hours after Hardin denied that Clemens had any sexual relationship with McCready, the singer admitted the affair. Then there's the whole issue of him meeting her in a bar in Fort Myers when she was 15 and he was 28 and a father of two, even though McCready and her father denied there was any physical contact until after she moved to Nashville when she was 18 and became a country star.

But all of this has raised doubts.

Clemens couldn't possibly have thought it could have come to this, unless he knew it would all come out and that his wife, Debbie, knew all about it.

It's just such a far cry from that night 22 years ago, when there were 20 "K" signs posted at the back of the center-field bleachers and a young righthanded superstar would go on to take Boston by storm.

Would that guy have handled things so badly?

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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