Clemens already in a jam before start
Roger Clemens goes on trial at a federal courthouse in Washington today. He could wind up in prison.
It’s a sad situation for the Rocket. Against the advice of just about everyone, stubborn Clemens insisted on going before Congress (in February 2008) to defend his name after he showed up 82 times in the Mitchell Report, which investigated the use of steroids in baseball.
Clemens’s appearance on Capitol Hill was preposterous. He told one whopper after another. In the face of considerable evidence, he told his delusional version of the truth, and now the feds are hitting him with a bunch of perjury raps.
This didn’t have to happen. No one demanded Clemens take the oath and submit his version of events. This was Roger being Roger. This was the same intransigent Clemens who never could admit a mistake. He never could take the blame. He couldn’t have an off day and tell us that he just didn’t have it. It was always, “I guess I hit his bat,’’ or “My hamstring was a little tight.’’
It’s part of what made him so great. Clemens never could concede that the other guy was better. He never could confront failure. He’d make his own truth. And now this attitude is threatening to put him behind bars.
We can dispute the necessity of this trial. Clemens is not a danger, nor a menace to society, but clearly the feds want to make an example of the once-great pitcher. They want to remind us that it’s not OK to lie under oath. And they want to discourage all athletes from using performance enhancing drugs.
The Rocket has done everything wrong since his name turned up in the Mitchell Report at the end of 2007. Instead of fessing up and saying, “You got me,’’ like Andy Pettitte, he has looked us straight in the eye and told us that two plus two equals five.
This is not as simple as Clemens’s word against the word of nefarious ex-trainer Brian McNamee. Clemens might be able to win that one, even with McNamee’s disgusting old bags of bloody gauze and syringes. Unfortunately for Clemens, he’s also up against the exhaustive research of the Mitchell Report and his own words on “60 Minutes.’’ He’ll be pitted against the credible Pettitte. Why would Pettite, already caught, make up stuff about Clemens? And what about Roger’s confused version about the infamous Jose Canseco party?
The feds didn’t get what they were looking for in the Barry Bonds trial. They have a better chance this time. Bonds said almost nothing. Clemens said a lot. Like E.T. with the Reese’s Pieces, Roger left a trail. He just couldn’t help himself.
With Clemens stepping into the ring of fire in Washington, this seems like a good time to remind Red Sox fans what Clemens was when he pitched here.
Certainly a lot of foolishness went down. It’s hard to forget Clemens and John McNamara arguing about who took him out of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (It was Mac; check out video of Clemens in the on-deck circle with his warmup jacket on when he was lifted for a pinch hitter).
There was the infamous 1987 spring training walkout (which happily yielded the late Lou Gorman’s epic “The sun will rise, the sun will set, and I’ll have lunch’’ remark), the 1990 playoff meltdown in Oakland, and Clemens wearing headphones while running with Butch Hobson after blowing up Daddy Butch’s first spring training in 1992.
There also was the unfortunate interview in which Rocket talked about players having to “carry our own luggage,’’ Clemens’s 40-39 record over his last four Sox seasons, and his one victory in nine playoff starts in Boston. He cleaned out his locker before the final game of his final (1996) season. Then there was the curious decision to play in Toronto after telling us he wanted to pitch closer to his Texas home.
But there was a lot of good. Clemens won three Cy Young Awards in Boston. He won 192 games for the Sox, same as Cy Young (a record Tim Wakefield hopes to top). He was American League MVP in 1986 when he started 14-0 and finished 24-4.
Even in his last four seasons at Fenway, he was not terrible. Those Sox teams were bad. Clemens had legitimate injuries and no bullpen help. In the four seasons in which he supposedly mailed it in, he won a strikeout title and had another season in which his ERA was 2.85. In his final month as a Red Sox, he pitched a 20-strikeout, no-walk game against the Tigers. Kerry Wood is the only other major league pitcher with a nine-inning 20-strikeout game; Clemens did it twice.
There’s more. Clemens did a ton of community and charity work (far more than his wildly popular contemporary, Larry Bird) and was a regular visitor to the Jimmy Fund clinic down the street. He didn’t call news conferences to announce his good deeds.
He could have used some media training, but probably he would not have listened. That’s his nature, and that’s what has gotten him into trouble today.
Clemens just couldn’t lighten up. He never poked fun at himself. He didn’t show us any sense of humor. I can only remember one time when he said something funny. It was after his 20-strikeout game in Detroit in ’96. The late Larry Whiteside, a Hall of Fame Globe scribe, covered the 20-K game in Tiger Stadium. Whiteside also had been at Roger’s 20-strikeout game in 1986 (Larry was enjoying a day off), but he left that game after a couple of innings to go watch the Celtics and Hawks in a playoff game at the Garden.
Twelve years later, when Clemens fanned 20 again, he remembered Whiteside’s early departure in ’86. Finishing his postgame interview at Tiger Stadium, the Rocket nudged Whiteside and said, “Thanks for sticking around this time, Larry.’’
It was humble, honest, smart, and funny.
Clemens brought none of that to Congress in February of 2008. And now he’s in big trouble.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.