Roger Clemency. That's the end game here. That's how the greatest pitcher of a generation will be remembered. As leaning on a presidential pardon to avoid jail time.
He already has been stamped a shameless liar. And a habitual drug cheat. And a pig-headed egomaniac who would bring humiliation on his wife, blame everyone around him and expect the public to swallow his ludicrous denials.
Too harsh? John McCain doubts Clemens. So do Yahoo! Sports readers, 81 percent of whom indicated in an online poll the day after the Congressional hearings two weeks ago that he took performance-enhancing drugs.
It is obvious Clemens believes himself untouchable. It's the bedrock of his legal strategy. It's why he willingly stepped into a perjury trap thinly disguised as a Congressional truth-seeking exercise two weeks ago.
And it's why he unblinkingly anticipated the development that the FBI has launched an investigation, one day after the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform asked the U.S. Attorney General to look into the matter. Charges were laid out in an 18-page document that lists "seven sets of assertions made by Mr. Clemens in his testimony that appear to be contradicted by other evidence before the Committee or implausible."
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 and 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)
Clemens, remember, didn't just dodge questions and deflect evidence that contradicted his claims. Early in the hearings he made a point of saying, unsolicited, that he "never used anabolic steroids or human growth hormone."
Implausible testimony by an untouchable witness. Shades of Scooter Libby.
Clemens appears to be counting on friends in the highest places to grant him clemency should the truth not mesh with his version of events. Richard Emery, an attorney for accuser Brian McNamee, predicted as much after the hearings, saying Clemens could get "a prospective pardon. They are perfectly legal, and it would be typical of the George Bush White House. We'd expect Bush to call Clemens 'a historic figure' who has done so much for this country and then let him off."
No wonder the hearings devolved into a partisan sideshow, with Democrats castigating Clemens and Republicans rebuking McNamee. It was an odd reversal of party stereotypes: Law-and-order Republicans gave Clemens every benefit of the doubt, while bleeding-heart liberals scoffed at his claims of innocence.
Principles, clearly, would not cloud politics. Not after Clemens slyly mentioned his Bush ties early in the proceedings.
Former president George H.W. Bush telephoned the pitcher soon after the release of the Mitchell Report to pledge his support. Bush and his wife, Barbara, sat behind home plate during Clemens' starts for the Houston Astros from 2004-2006, dutifully singing "Deep in the Heart of Texas," during the seventh-inning stretch.
Clemens and George W. Bush are friendly. Bush has the authority to grant pardons for any federal crime and even could grant Clemens a preemptive pardon, shielding him before an indictment is handed down, should the investigation drag on beyond the end of Bush's term in office. The only hiccup could be a Barry Bonds perjury conviction, which would make a Clemens pardon particularly odorous unless Bonds received the same consideration.
Fine. Prisons are crowded enough without clearing cells for Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. Same goes for Miguel Tejada and any other athlete whose lies about steroids or HGH plunked them into legal hot water. Free Marion Jones!
I understand that prosecutors and other federal officials, elected or otherwise, can't tolerate folks lying under oath. But steroid users don't endanger society – Arnold Schwarzenegger and his budget woes in California notwithstanding. Back off and find some real criminals to investigate, interrogate and prosecute.
For athletes, the damage is done even before the lies pile up. Their reputations are in shambles, their records forever tainted. Their stain has seeped throughout sport, through more than a decade of dubious achievement. And nobody believes the denials anymore. Prison is overkill.
Yahoo! Sports conducted three polls since the Mitchell Report, each asking the identical Yes or No question: Do you believe Roger Clemens took performance-enhancing drugs?
Poll No. 1: The day after the Mitchell Report was released, 81 percent of the more than 102,000 respondents voted "Yes."
Poll No. 2: The day after Clemens made forceful denials on "60 Minutes," 66 percent of the more than 40,000 respondents voted "Yes."
Poll No. 3: The day after the Congressional hearings, 81 percent of the more than 70,000 respondents voted "Yes."
Any gains in the court of public opinion gained by appearing on "60 Minutes" were washed away by his unconvincing testimony before Congress. Clemens never will gain back his credibility, barring a complete McNamee retraction.
The powers that be are as unconvinced of Clemens' claims as our readers, leading to the request for a perjury investigation.
So let it begin. Let it grind through painstaking evidence-gathering and interviews. The conclusions may or may not result in charges. It's a tough case to prove, given the evidence in the public record.
Clemens knows that, too. If the investigation does not result in an indictment, there is no doubt he will pronounce victory. He's not one for nuance. Or shame. He will attempt to twist any conclusion other than an indictment into vindication.
And should an indictment come down, followed by a trial and a guilty verdict, Clemens apparently believes his bases are covered. If he just continues to be a bulldog, fire enough fastballs and stay the course, the outcome will be favorable to him.
You could almost hear his voice through his son Koby, a Houston Astros minor leaguer, who said a couple of days ago, "It's going to be a long process, but once we get through it, all will be back in order."
The words had the same ring as Clemens' explanation why he hadn't spoken to the Mitchell Commission before the report came out. Had he known what was in the report, he'd have "been down there in a heartbeat to take care of it." (Never mind that he actually did know what was in the report.)
Show up. Take care of it. Restore order. And if directness fails to deliver, the fallback plan is clear: Roger Clemens will become Roger Clemency.
- Roger Clemens