Dick Hall of Fame, Entry #14: Roger Clemens

4 Feb

Much to my disappointment, Jeff Pearlman did not track me down, come to my apartment, and kill me with an axe.  Unfortunately, this means I have to write another late post, though at least this one was only due Monday.  It’s been a while since I’ve decided on a Dick Hall of Famer, so I’m going to induct someone for whom I have a very special dislike.  Yes, my Red Sox fan sensibilities tell me that, with Brian McNamee’s defamation suit against him finally moving forward, this is the week to finally nail the Rocket, Roger Clemens.

As a Boston fan, I have many childhood memories of Clemens’ dickish behavior towards the Red Sox.  And even if I didn’t, it’s nearly impossible to pick up a Bill Simmons column without him making some mention of it (this one, titled “Is Clemens the Antichrist?” is my personal favorite).  Certainly many baseball fans will contend that Boston’s gripe with Clemens is largely sour grapes, and there may be some truth to that.  Changing teams happens.  But there is a right and a wrong way to do it.  For all of his flaws, Nomar Garciaparra said the right things publicly when he was traded.  Hell, Bronson Arroyo still calls into Boston radio stations on a regular basis.  Clemens left the Red Sox for the division rival Blue Jays, and spent his introductory press conference heaping praise on the Blue Jays organization while steadfastly refusing to throw Boston fans a bone.  Is it evil?  No.  Does it make him a dick?  Sure.

But as Simmons points out in the aforementioned article, the real killer was when Clemens, who had slumped in his previous seasons with the Red Sox, put up breathtaking numbers and won back-to-back Cy Young awards in Toronto.  Alright, maybe he just wanted to stick it to his old team.  That’s understandable, right?  And hey, at least he wasn’t doing it for the Yankees.  Ah, the Yankees.  Yes, a mere two years into his lucrative deal with Toronto, Clemens forced a trade to the Bronx, where he began a campaign of destruction that few pitchers have ever matched.  Of course Simmons also points out that he wore a Yankees cap for his “Greatest Players of the 20th Century” introduction, despite the mere three months he had been there, thus forever cutting ties with the city of Boston.  That’s Grade-A dickishness, right there.

But one of my favorite examples of Clemens’ bad behavior has nothing to do with Boston at all.  Every baseball fan will remember the bat-throwing incident during the 2000 World Series.  Clemens and Mike Piazza had a particularly poor relationship, and when Piazza’s bat shattered during Game 2 of the World Series, Clemens picked it up and hurled it at Piazza as he jogged to first, prompting the benches to clear.  Clemens explained that he at first mistook the bat for the ball, and that he was pumped up with nervous energy.  Which I guess makes sense, if you think about it.  I mean, Clemens had spent the entire season throwing balls at Piazza’s head.  So if Clemens thought the bat was the ball, it only makes sense that he’d try to nail him one last time.

Obviously a complete accident.

Of course, none of this is why Clemens has been in the news lately.  Since his retirement, allegations have surfaced about Clemens and steroids.  Jose Canseco first suggested that Clemens may have used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), but never backed up his claim; however, the Mitchell Report on steroid use in Major League Baseball named Clemens among dozens of other steroid users.  Clemens’ personal trainer, Brian McNamee, came forward and provided further evidence.

This would certainly explain a lot, particularly Clemens’ meteoric rise to multiple-Cy-Young-winner after he seemed washed up upon leaving Boston.  It would explain the longevity of his career.  Hell, Roid Rage might even go a long way toward explaining the Piazza  incident.  Named in the same report was Clemens’ teammate and friend, Andy Pettitte, who admitted having used HGH to speed his recovery from injuries in the past, and testified that Roger had used performance enhancers as well.

Pettitte was widely praised for owning up to his usage and offering a reasonable explanation.  Even most Red Sox fans found it difficult to fault him.  However, rather than follow his teammate’s example, Clemens launched into PR overdrive, denying ever touching performance enhancing drugs, telling the world the Pettitte “misremembers,” and defaming the character of his former trainer and friend, McNamee.  Clemens made numerous public appearances to deny PED usage, and was even called to testify before Congress, where he again claimed to have never used performance enhancers.  During his appearance on 60 Minutes, Clemens made one of the stupidest statements that we here at Dick of the Week have ever heard:

“My body never changed. If he’s putting that stuff up in my body, if what he’s saying which is totally false, if he’s doing that to me, I should have a third ear coming out of my forehead. I should be pulling tractors with my teeth.”

Yeah, Roger might not be the brightest bulb in the box.  Clearly he has only a cursory understanding of what steroids do to your body.  He also clearly has only a cursory understanding of, say, mirrors, since the idea that his “body never changed” might actually be the most ridiculous part of that statement.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Clemens in the mid-1980's...

...and Clemens in the mid-2000's.

Holy fuck, is that even the same guy?

Clemens’ alleged steroid use isn’t really a surprise to anyone who looked at his numbers over the past 20 years, but it was a disappointing revelation.  Clemens was never an immensely popular guy around the league.  With his 7th all time ranking on the hit batsmen list, Clemens had a reputation as a hothead and a headhunter and either never had the desire or never had the charisma to correct that perception.  But Clemens’ already surly reputation would take a steep nosedive during his Congressional testimony, during which he threw literally everyone under the bus.

He threw Pettitte under the bus.  He threw McNamee under the bus.  He threw his own WIFE under the bus.  Said an appalled Howard Bryant, “He threw his entire team — family, friends, agent, team doctors, everyone — under the bus.” The wife bit is probably the hardest to stomach, as rather than admit to the steroids that he almost certainly took, he decided to drag her name through the mud.  Does anyone care that Debbie Clemens took HGH?  No.  Nobody.  But for Clemens, any distraction would do.

A reputation is a powerful thing, and most people will do anything to protect theirs.  But Clemens now faces perjury charges for lying to Congress, as well as a defamation suit from McNamee for attempting to disgrace him to save his own name.

And it’s really a shame.  Clemens could have saved face.  If he had simply admitted PED use, there wouldn’t be so much hatred for him.  “I was afraid of my career ending,” he could have said.  “It was a time in baseball when PEDs were the norm.  I apologize for using them, and I’m happy that baseball is moving past the steroid era.”  Had he said that, Clemens could probably kiss his Hall of Fame chances goodbye.  But let’s be honest–does anyone believe that Clemens is getting into the Hall of Fame as it stands now?  I think not.  The change would be that Clemens would be a tragic figure instead of a hated one.  He would be remembered as a great steroid-era pitcher.  Perhaps not what Clemens wants, but, steroids or no, his pitching prowess cannot be denied.  Instead, the only hall of fame the Clemens is likely to be enshrined in is our own Dick Hall of Fame.

I know, Roger. I know.

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