Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rocket Flame Out

Today is the day that the Mitchell Report gets released. The report is the exhaustive findings of George J. Mitchell's 20 month investigation into drug use in Major League Baseball. Let me tell you this thing has taken on a life of it's own. The internet tubes are popping and sizzling, buzzing with leaks and speculations, hints and allegations. It's sweeping across the sports blogs like a prairie fire. It's as if George Mitchell threw a party and everyone in baseball was invited. But the guest of honor seems to be none other than the mighty Roger Clemens whose lawyers are, at this very moment, no doubt trying to mitigate the damage being done by having their client fingered in the investigation.

Clemens, the surly, megalomaniacal, fire-balling New York Yankees pitcher, nicknamed "The Rocket," has been a singularly unlikeable figure for some time. One could start just about anywhere with him, from his churlish attitude to his penchant for throwing at batters and being labeled as a headhunter. But for me, his problem is he just wont go away. He retires after every season and then, around spring time, he begins his diva-like dance where he begins to murmur about coming out of retirement, causing a stir among teams. Picture Roger with a fruit basket on his head, shaking some maracas, and you'll have an idea of how distasteful this all is. He then fields offers and by May he is once again pitching for a contender. He always signs huge one-year deals so that he can do the dance again the next season. Plus, the deals he gets entitle him to special treatment. (For example, when pitching for the Houston Astros he did not have to travel with the team for road games.) Roger doesn't have to travel with the team. The other teams travel to him.

On the baseball field, Clemens trajectory seems to have mirrored Barry Bonds's in many ways. By 1996 his career was faltering, having gone 10-13 with the Boston Red Sox. Notoriously, Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette said Clemens was in the "twilight of his career" following four consecutive seasons, 1993-96, in which the pitcher was a mediocre 40-39 with few of the eye-popping statistics that had become his norm.

Duquette traded the ailing Clemens to the Toronto Blue Jays and things magically turned around. Well, most of that "magic" came in the form of enhancing drugs which were injected into Clemen's ass via personal trainer Brian McNamee. Clemens career turned around from that point and he averaged 17 wins and 6 losses over the next ten seasons, capped off with a 2005 in-which he went 13-8 with a godlike 1.87 ERA, at the age of 42. Like Bonds, as Clemens got older he got better. But, like Bonds, he also got larger. Gone are the early days of his career when he clocked in at 190 lbs. Now he packs on 220 lbs and throws bats at people who upset him. He once threw at a batter during an All-Star game. And once threw at his son during a minor league game after his son homered off him in a previous at-bat.

Clemens has always loved the attention. From his awkward re-signings to his patented post season flame outs. Most recently, in the 2007 ALDS game three, he gave up two runs on four hits in the first two innings and by the third inning he pulled up lame and had to leave the game. Clemens put in similar post-season antics in 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001, 1999, and got himself ejected in 1990. He's the Barbara Streisand of pitchers.

Well now Clemens will receive all the attention he desires. The Rocket was singled out in nearly nine pages of the Mitchell Report, with much of the information on the seven-time Cy Young Award winner coming from McNamee himself. More than a dozen Yankees, past and present, were among the 75-plus players identified.

"According to McNamee, from the time that McNamee injected Clemens with Winstrol through the end of the 1998 season, Clemens' performance showed remarkable improvement," the report said. "During this period of improved performance, Clemens told McNamee that the steroids 'had a pretty good effect' on him."

McNamee also told investigators that "during the middle of the 2000 season, Clemens made it clear that he was ready to use steroids again. During the latter part of the regular season, McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks four to six times with testosterone from a bottle labeled either Sustanon 250 or Deca-Durabolin."

And, incredibly enough, ex-baseball player turned hatchet-man Jose Canseco was right all along. In his book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big Canseco alleges that Roger Clemens had expert knowledge about steroids and suggested that he probably used steroids, based on the improvement in his performance after leaving the Red Sox. While not addressing the allegations directly, Clemens was dismissive of Canseco stating "I could care less" and "I've talked to some friends of his and I've teased them that when you're under house arrest and have ankle bracelets on, you have a lot of time to write a book."

Good one, Roger.

Update: By the way I would be remiss in my duties if I didn't predict that Sport's Illustrated's steroids-in-baseball watchdog Tom Verducci is no-doubt currently churning the froth on his latest venom filled anti-doping article for the magazine. Verducci relentlessly dogged Barry Bonds for well over a year during his pursuit of Hank Arron's home run title. He seems to have turned a blind eye to the obvious in Roger Clemens of whom he wrote in 2003, "Clemens' feats in the late stage of his career are remarkable."

Almost magical, isn't it Tom? If you can stomach the whole article it's here.

Which brings me to this, an excellent piece by Jeff Pearlman of Slate, written in 2006.

Likewise, when I look at Roger Clemens, I wonder: Where's the investigative digging? Like Bonds, Clemens is a larger-than-life athletic specimen. Like Bonds, Clemens is producing at an age when most of his peers are knitting. Unlike Bonds, Clemens does not have journalists breathing down his neck. Instead, the hometown Houston Chronicle has covered his recent re-signing with the Astros as a time for unmitigated celebration. Forget combing through his garbage for vials—I just want the Chronicle to ask Clemens whether he's used. Is the Rocket cheating? Again, I don't know. But doesn't someone have to at least try and find out?

"A lot of baseball writers are drunks or cheat on their wives," says Jose de Jesus Ortiz, the Chronicle's Astros beat writer. "I would never question anybody unless I have evidence. It's unfair to feel that just because of Bonds now we're required to question everyone about their methods."

Is it unfair to pester individual athletes about steroids? Maybe. Is it the right thing to do journalistically? Without a doubt.
My sentiments exactly. Now all the writers, like Verducci, who butter their bread with anti-doping columns, who ridiculed Canseco and his book, can act stunned about the great Roger Clemens.

And, finally, I dug this quote up from Hank Aaron himself. "A guy can take steroids, drugs, whatever. He still has to be able to hit that Roger Clemens 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Steroids don't help you hit that fastball."

No one imagined the fastball could be hopped up on 'roids too?

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