Denials by proxy make Clemens look worse

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  • Roger Clemens
    Roger Clemens
    American baseball player

George Mitchell essentially called the second half of Roger Clemens' career a steroid-fueled fraud Thursday, devastating his legacy, Hall of Fame credentials and personal reputation.

Rather than responding like the Rocket Roger we knew on the mound – sending the figurative 95 mph retaliatory fastball at Mitchell's chin – we've gotten days of silence, the only official word from Clemens' camp being a brief denial on the pitcher's behalf from his agent Tuesday and an earlier circular, emotion-based, fact-devoid denial from his lawyer.

The latest statement said: "I want to state clearly and without qualification: I did not take steroids, human growth hormone or any other banned substances at any time in my baseball career or, in fact, my entire life. Those substances represent a dangerous and destructive shortcut that no athlete should ever take."

The earlier denial was equally short on detail.

"Roger Clemens adamantly, vehemently and whatever other adjectives can be used, denies that he has ever used steroids," said attorney Rusty Hardin, apparently unaware that adamantly and vehemently are adverbs, not adjectives.


Jeff Passan: Depositions paint a complex portrait of McNamee (Feb. 14, 2008)

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)

Hardin went on, but the broad-based denial did nothing to attack the heart of nine pages of detailed charges, based mostly from the sworn testimony of Clemens' former trainer Brian McNamee.

Lacking anything substantive, Hardin was left to play on emotions – "that's not right, folks."

There was no counter to McNamee's charge, to name just one, that he repeatedly injected Clemens with Winstrol that Clemens supplied during the summer of 1998. There was no comment on the fact that before McNamee claims he began the injections, Clemens was 8-6 with a 3.77 ERA. After the injections, Clemens finished the season on a 12-0, 1.77 ERA tear.

There was no comment on any of the other charges through the years, either.

Meanwhile, Clemens' training partner and friend Andy Pettitte admitted that what McNamee told investigators about him using HGH was correct. So if Clemens is to be believed, McNamee was lying about him, yet telling the truth about Pettitte.

As bad as Clemens looked initially, it gets worse as each day goes by.

Apologists at ESPN have taken up Clemens' cause, calling McNamee a "sewer rat," claiming Clemens is nothing like Barry Bonds and even maintaining he might be the greatest pitcher of all time due to his 354 victories and seven Cy Young awards, even if the legitimacy of many of them are now in doubt.

The attack-the-accuser and muddy-the-water bit can be effective, if dishonest. But with Clemens mum, that's all there is – a four-point defense that's as weak as Clemens' reputation at this point.

1. McNamee is a criminal and therefore can't be trusted.

His crime is distributing steroids, which kind of comes with the territory in a steroids investigation. This doesn't hurt his credibility, it increases it.

Would you find this story more believable if it came from, say, a Franciscan nun who claims she happened to be walking down the street en route to Vespers when Clemens suddenly stopped her and asked if she'd inject him in the rear with Deca-Durabolin?

McNamee is perfectly believable, in part because he's a former New York cop who worked for the Toronto Blue Jays when he met Clemens. The Rocket liked him so much professionally and personally he brought him to the New York Yankees. Later, Clemens hired him privately and hailed him as the nation's finest trainer and a friend.

2. Clemens is the victim of "hearsay."

Hearsay is unverified, unofficial information gained or acquired from another and not part of one's direct knowledge. There is plenty of hearsay in the Mitchell report, but not concerning Clemens.

McNamee's charges are direct, first-person accounts. It's the opposite of hearsay. The allegation of Clemens willingly and knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs is actually more detailed and credible than anything directed at Bonds.

3. When the feds busted McNamee, the only way he could avoid prison was to agree to cooperate with authorities. As a result, he made up stories about Clemens to save himself.

McNamee did agree to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney's Office of Northern California. However, he was warned that if "he should be untruthful in any statements made pursuant to that agreement, he may be charged with criminal violations, including making false statements, which is a felony."

If McNamee is lying about Clemens, he risks going to prison. If anything, lying would have been the dumbest and most unlikely thing he would have done.

Hardin comically pointed out that McNamee once told Sports Illustrated that he and Clemens had nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs. The lawyer seemed to claim that was the trainer's most truthful statement on the issue.

It isn't a felony to lie to a magazine. It is, in this case, to lie to a federal agent. But in Hardin's world, we are to believe McNamee told the truth to a reporter but lied to the feds, even at the risk of the prison term he was desperate to avoid.

McNamee would have to be a fool to admit to a reporter that he was illegally distributing steroids and an even bigger fool to not admit it to federal agents after he scored a plea deal.

4. Clemens has no way to prove he is innocent. "He has not been charged with anything, he will not be charged with anything and yet he is being tried in the court of public opinion with no recourse," Hardin said.

Clemens is hardly some hapless victim. He's enjoyed decades of victories in this same court of public opinion, and as a result, few Americans could wage a stronger defense against bogus charges.

Clemens' agents, marketers, image consultants, spokespeople and so on have crafted a powerful perception of him. He's been the center of national advertising and marketing campaigns, written the autobiography "Rocket Man" (with Peter Gammons) and done lengthy behind-the-scenes television specials addressing his rigorous training methods. Most media stories about him have been overwhelmingly positive.

The guy has so dominated the court of public opinion that he would enter this fight with a long-standing perception of a good, hard-working athlete. He is an icon to some.

It is that well-cultivated image, perhaps as much as his career numbers, which made the charges against Clemens one of the few parts of the Mitchell Report fans actually cared about.

Wednesday's brief statement from Clemens, through his agent, said in part, "I plan to publicly answer all of those questions at the appropriate time in the appropriate way. I only ask that in the meantime people not rush to judgment."

Clemens and his people are way too savvy to think that is realistic. They've certainly encouraged everyone to rush to a negative judgment of McNamee. By not making a detailed denial now, they are conceding the initial assumptions and almost admitting they have no counterproof at hand. In a crisis like this, if you have a defense, you hit back immediately.

Clemens' plan appears to be to wait until the public forgets the details and he turns to the emotional defense, assisted by top spin masters, in an interview with a sympathetic media outlet. With some media still defending him, he can probably choose the outlet and the conditions.

The court of public opinion might sound ominous and unfair, but it's not a bad place for someone such as Clemens to fight.

Of course, there is only so much that can be done unless he has clear, detailed arguments to counter the clear, detailed testimony of McNamee.

As we approach a week since his legacy collapsed around him, as the lies and syringes finally took him down, the continuing silence makes that seem less and less likely.