Roger Clemens is either completely innocent or completely stupid.
There really isn't another option, not after Clemens has so aggressively defended himself against performance-enhancing drug charges that he has, perhaps unwittingly, raised the stakes to felony levels.
On Wednesday he and his former trainer and chief accuser, Brian McNamee, will testify in front of a Congressional committee. It's a moment we may just find out what Rocket Roger really is – a man lashing out at false charges or a fool begging for a prison cell.
Clemens may be as guilty of doping as McNamee and a fair amount of common sense say. But he is, at the very least, acting like he is innocent, his lawyer all but daring federal agents to take him on.
Time will tell whether he regrets turning a sports controversy into a federal case.
Clemens' defense was slow to start, but now he's done everything imaginable to assert his innocence.
He's filed a defamation lawsuit. He's gone on "60 Minutes." He's held a news conference. He's taped a phone call. He's voluntarily testified under oath. He's welcomed his day in Washington. He's met privately with politicians. He's prepared statistical arguments. He's challenged the slightest of charges with evidence. He's had his lawyers make all sorts of crazy comments.
CLEMENS AND STEROIDS
• Jonathan Littman: McNamee's puny credibility good for Clemens (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Clemens, McNamee takes hits in hearing (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Clemens shelled by Congress (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Hearings: Untruth or consequences (Feb. 12, 2008)
• Steve Henson: Clemens drama worthy of "Sopranos" (Feb. 11, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Innocent or stupid (Feb. 11, 2008)
• Jonathan Littman: Clemens-McNamee duel has BALCO roots (Jan. 8, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Telephone tap dance is unpersuasive (Jan. 7, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Clemens drowns in hopelessness (Jan. 6, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Clemens to testify under oath (Jan. 4, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Who to believe (Jan. 3, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Denials by proxy make Clemens look worse (Dec. 18, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Clemens is no different than Bonds (Dec. 13, 2008)
He's showed how you attempt to prove a negative, with a full-bore attack.
It certainly hasn't been perfect and it certainly hasn't proven anything, but it's nonetheless been impressive for its scope and intensity.
The problem for Clemens is that, despite his complaints, the court of public opinion was a far better place for an iconic athlete like himself to fight than a pseudo court of law (and probably eventually a real one), which is where he's pushed this.
For all the outrageous back and forth in this cat fight – old beer cans, golf receipts, his wife in a bathing suit, allegedly enhanced by HGH – Clemens was perfectly capable of muddying the water enough to win support. He has plenty of willing apologists – from the press box to the box seats.
But they hardly matter now. Everything changed when he willingly swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help him God.
That's why his public relations and legal campaign is so compelling.
The natural reaction is to say Clemens might be innocent because he's acting innocent – forcing all the cards on the table like he has nothing to hide. It's everything we haven't seen out of baseball players, who usually just complain how unfair the accusations are and do nothing.
This isn't Mark McGwire refusing to talk about the past and then hiding out in a gated community in California. This isn't Barry Bonds, defiant in some circles and silent in others.
But we also know that perjury is a slow-forming crime, a witness so backed into a corner, so concerned about the damage the truth can bring, that he just continues to lie even as the risks grow greater.
It is what we saw out of sprinter Marion Jones, who loudly and boldly proclaimed her innocence until she was broke, humiliated and en route to six months in the federal clink.
We also know McNamee has been equally aggressive, that he's a former cop who had little to gain by risking prison time for lying, and that his stories are so detailed or over the top they don't sound like lies (you don't just bring Clemens' wife into it out of nowhere). We also know he told the truth about Clemens' friend Andy Pettitte taking HGH.
The smart play for Clemens, assuming he is guilty, might have been to do what Pettitte did – give an admission with qualifiers that will be accepted and excused by most.
But Clemens may not be capable of such clear thinking, no matter how carefully his high-powered legal and public relations team explained the consequences to him.
Or, indeed, he may be innocent.
Either way, here's Roger, aggressively attacking anyone in his way, with a series of brush-back pitches that sometimes seem ill-advised.
Was it really smart to have lawyer Rusty Hardin trash talk IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky, warning him not to show up Wednesday and claiming if he makes a move on Clemens, "Roger will eat his lunch"? That was enough for Rep. Henry Waxman to chastise Hardin for what could "be seen as an attempt to intimidate a federal law enforcement official."
Was it really a good idea to commission a statistical defense of his career resurgence, one that four Ivy League professors ripped to shreds in the New York Times, concluding that the numbers actually, "strongly hint that some unusual factors may have been at play in producing his excellent late-career statistics"?
And mostly, was it really a good idea to testify under oath about this, a move that could turn the scandal from embarrassing to criminal?
We'll see. At this point, the dice have been thrown, and someone is in a lot of trouble.
Clemens spent last week meeting individually with Congressional committee members, trying to use his star power, engaging personality and intimidating presence to gain favor with our easily dazzled and ethically challenged lawmakers. He did all but write campaign checks.
Unfortunately for Clemens, now that a perjury charge, either against McNamee or him, seems inevitable, winning over gushing lawmakers won't help much.
That's the chance he took in his all-out blitz; one more chip he pushed into the pile in his all-in gamble to prove his innocence.
If Clemens is clean, then he deserves credit for fighting this fight and proving it. If not, he'll have plenty of time in a prison cell to curse his reckless stupidity.
- Brian McNamee