Sports

Roger Clemens, Bias and How Fans View Steroids in Baseball

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Here at SportsChump.net, we like to consider ourselves an interactive website.  This time around, my dearest uncle and lifelong baseball fanatic, has graciously agreed to partake in our latest Q&A and perhaps shed some light, or at least his opinions, on Roger Clemens’ innocence, Major League Baseball’s guilt and the steroids era. 

SportsChump: Unc, I know you’ve commented on the website in the past but please give my readers a little more insight, some sort of indication that you’re baseball-talk worthy and not just some bum off the street I chose to discuss the game with.  You don’t have to go into detail about your Bill James summer camp or your Bob Apodaca pajamas but do tell us all how long you’ve been a fan of the sport, your allegiances, likes, dislikes, turn-ons, etc.

Uncle Alex: Actually, they’re Ed Kranepool pajamas, but I digress.  I grew up in NYC, and since my mother was a Brooklyn Dodger fan, I (naturally) became a Mets fan at an early age.  I was hooked in ’69, when the Amazins won that improbable World Series, and I’ve been a baseball fan ever since.  I moved to Boston for college, and became a turncoat in ’86, following the Sox instead of the Mets.  The furthest I’ll go to justify it is by pointing out that the Mets had sucked for a very long time, while the Sox were electrifying early that year.  Clemens’ 20K performance against the Mariners was the specific event, and I think it was so important to me because I was a huge Tom Seaver fan.  Seaver held the previous record of 19, and of course it didn’t hurt when Seaver was traded to the Sox later that year.

Now I follow baseball in general and the Sox in particular.  My rant do jour is the silliness of the Boston media and its habit of trying to manufacture rather than follow the news.  The biggest culprit, IMHO, is Nick Cafardo, who proudly thumps his chest that he was the first to advocate Bobby Valentine as the new Sox manager (See his latest ‘objective’ story). Let’s see how that works out.

BTW SC, I know that your site has gone viral, so if Mila Kunis is one of your followers, my wife has given me a hall pass.

SC: Here are my memories of 1986.  I had just come back from living overseas, spent a tumultuous summer on Martha’s Vineyard and read the Globe’s sports page religiously to see how many Clemens had struck out the evening before.  That Sox team, as you mentioned, was pretty stout, Boggs, Greenwell, Barrett, Hurst, Gedman, Hendu, Rice and Dewey at the end of their careers, but Clemens was the star of that team.  The numbers don’t lie: 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA, CY Young Award and MVP to boot.

Without rehashing memories of how that season ended, what was your take on Clemens then, obviously pre-steroid era and how has your opinion of him changed afterward?

Unc:  He was a stud then and he was treated like royalty.  Until 1993, he lived up to the billing.  However, after several years of mediocre performances and his subsequent departure from Boston in 1997 (Remember Dan Duquette’s famous “Twilight of his career” comment?), I think a lot of people – myself included – wrote him off as another aging pitcher.   So when he became a stud again in Toronto and then the dreaded Yankees, I thought he might have been dogging it in Boston because he didn’t like management, the press, whatever.  Plus, the more press he got, the more unlikable he became (he doesn’t exactly make love to the mike).

Now it’s apparent how he resurrected his career.  Brian McNamee may be one of the only people in baseball with less credibility than Clemens, but there aren’t many people who believe he didn’t partake in PEDs.  I think he’s a person of low integrity who has sullied the game.  I also think that his former godlike status is a press invention – anyone who ever saw Pedro Martinez throw knows that Clemens is not the best pitcher ever – and that using PEDs to keep your fastball at 95 does not prove anything.  You may also remember that Clemens did not come to the majors with that split-fingered fastball he featured in the latter half of his career; he was strictly a fastball/slider pitcher at that point.  If he didn’t have the big fastball, the splitter wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.  Bottom line:  he was a great pitcher for about eight years, a mediocre one for another four, and then a chemistry experiment for the rest.  The credit he deserved for those eight years is more-than-offset by what he did from then on.

What do you think?  How does a guy like Clemens – who never owned up to it – compare with Jose Canseco, who was at least honest about it?

SC: I think Clemens-Bonds comparisons are fairest.  Those two dominated their positions and their trophy cases show it.  Fifteen combined Cy Young and MVP awards!  Both also denied and lied… allegedly.  But the issue here isn’t the lying, is it?  It’s the cheating in the first place.  Are we letting guys like Pettitte, Canseco and A-Rod into the Hall because they cheated but told the truth about it?  I don’t think so.  Would we have let Pete Rose into the Hall had he come clean about his gambling from the very beginning?  Probably not either.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a time (the Blue Jays-Yankees years) when I hated Clemens.  I hated Duquette just as much for not keeping him on the roster.  Sure, Rocket had his struggles in the mid-90s but how was Duquette to know Clemens was going to ingest a needle, er….work his ass off to get back in shape?

That being said, where does Clemens rank on your own personal, all-time hated athletes list?  And how long would it have taken you to be thrown out of the Clemens jury selection process?  I keep having this visual of one of the attorneys calling your name, you standing up, angrily pointing a finger at Clemens and shouting “GUILTY!!!” at the top of your lungs.  Then Gene Hackman and John Cusack would fight for you to remain a juror to tilt the trial, or perhaps I’ve just been watching too many John Grisham movies.  In all seriousness, there’s no way you could have sat on that jury and fairly judged the man for his innocence or guilt, right?

Unc: I don’t think that the use of PEDs removes someone from the Hall.  And Pete Rose would have gone eventually if he ever owned up to his little problem.  If Pettitte were better, he’d go.  Ryan Braun might go (although I think he never did ‘em).  What do they have in common?  They’re likable or (in Rose’s case) worthy of respect.

Barry Bonds is the most hated man in baseball because he’s smart, calculated and smug.  He was already great but he wanted to be the greatest.  He weighed the odds and did what he did.  Clemens is not in his category because he’s a moron.  Clemens is more like Tonya Harding than Barry Bonds.  I mean, couldn’t you see him jumping in the ring with Tonya in a Jell-O-wrestling death match?  Barry would be sitting in the stands, wearing a fur coat, and holding his wager on Tonya.  Barry demonstrated hubris, while Clemens thinks hubris is a new Toyota model.

As for jury selection, I’d be the guy wearing the Red Sox cap, so I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t even call me up.

Back to the Hall for a second:  Many sportswriters think Clemens belongs anyway. Does this say something about baseball, or the fourth estate?

SC:  So then if you don’t think PED use excludes someone from the Hall, Clemens and Bonds are in?  In your mind, objectively speaking, you get a vote, are you putting them in and if so, or not, what’s your rationale?

Unc:  No, neither of them get in.  They used PEDs, and irrespective of the fact that they denied it, PEDs are the reason why they have Hall of Fame numbers.  If Pettitte managed to win 60 more games, I’d vote him in because his use of PEDs defined only a small portion of his career and, according to him, were used primarily to help him recover from injuries.  Same with, say, Brian Roberts. I’d be inclined to vote in A-Rod as well, because if you looked at the three-year period in which he claims to have used them, his numbers were not drastically different from the periods before or after the transgressions.  I suppose he could be taking HGH or another boutique steroid, but I’m inclined to say no.

But guys whose success was so dependent on steroids – Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Canseco, Juan Gonzalez, and Palmeiro come to mind – no way.

SC: I guess that’s where I’m torn, not to mention numb, about it all at this point.  How do we know who took what when?  How do we know Pettitte only did it when he said he did, or A-Rod, or any of them?  Pre-steroid allegation Bonds and Clemens numbers may have been enough to put them in anyway.  And what of the players that used that we never found out about?

The sport failed to police itself so, at this point, I could give a flying leap whether they’re in or out.  It’s all the same to me.  I’m not planning a trip to Cooperstown any time soon.  I honestly feel that Major League Baseball used guys like McGwire and Sosa to regenerate fan interest that had disappeared since the cancelled World Series of 1994.  They reaped the benefits and now the players are paying the price.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t feel sorry for them.  The only ones I feel sorry for are the fans left to decide what’s right and what’s wrong for themselves.  At least it makes for good debate.

Let me ask you this.  What do you think is fair and just punishment for these guys?  Is Hall exclusion enough or perhaps something further?  Would you prefer a public hanging or just an apology?  And IF they apologized and admitted to absolutely everything they did or didn’t do, would you find it in your heart to forgive them?

Unc: They were deceitful in a form of entertainment, not in providing me my mortgage, so forgiveness is not really the right word.  Maybe respect is more like it, and I don’t think so.  As far as further punishment is concerned, I’m ambivalent.  I suppose Hall exclusion is reasonable from here on out, but are we also supposed to clog the courts with criminal proceedings?  Look how that turned out for Clemens.  I think the enactment of very tough enforcement guidelines is the most important thing, and both the owners and the players association have to be willing to keep it up.  I laughed when the players objected to having their blood drawn for an HGH test.  So you can shoot cortisone into their toe-knuckles at will, but extract blood?  How dare you!

BTW – the sport will not police itself, just like big banks won’t police themselves.  They’ll take providing the perception of a squeaky-clean game if they can get away with fixing it behind the scenes, because that makes them more money (Case in point:  Sosa/McGwire).  I think it’s foolish to hold baseball or any other big-time sport accountable in this way.

SC: In the end, I guess we’re all left disillusioned.  There was a time in my life where I ate, slept and drank baseball.  Baseball cards, baseball stats, baseball everything.  That’s all gone.  I don’t know if it’s just that I became older and other things became more important in my life or whether the strike and impending drug scandal sealed the deal for me.  Do you still watch baseball like you used to?

If professional sports can’t manage themselves, whether it’s college football determining it’s national champion or professional basketball ensuring it’s officials aren’t fixing games, if we fans can’t believe that things are legit, real, then why should any of us bother watching?

Unc: I think that’s a little more cynical than necessary.  I mean, how do you know your corner grocer isn’t ripping you off for your gallon of milk, or your best friend isn’t sleeping with your wife?  You take a risk waking up every day, and believing in something – regardless of whether it’s pure as the driven snow – is still worth it.

And yes, I still watch a lot of baseball.  Why? Because Daniel Nava, who couldn’t make his college team, didn’t get drafted, and ended up getting bought for $1 (according to the article I read)  from an independent league team, has an OPS of over .900 while hitting lead-off for the Boston Red Sox.  It’s fun to watch, and there are still plenty of good things to root for in baseball and other sports.  All the other stuff is just white noise once the game begins.

SC: Therein lies the fundamental hypocrisy of your argument and where we continue to disagree.  You suspect Joe Pathmark is ripping you off, yet you still shop there.  You think your best bud is banging your girl, yet you remain friends.  You think baseball players are using illegal methods to enhance their performance and continue to watch.  If none of that matters, then who cares whether they get into the Hall of Fame or not?  By that logic, let ‘em all in.

Look, I’m not naïve enough to expect purity from everything, however, I do expect the same commitment from friends, lovers and sports that I give in return.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.  If not, I don’t shop there, I break up with the girl and stop watching the sport altogether.  I’ve already done that with boxing and several ex-girlfriends that shall remain nameless.

I could easily switch this whole ‘sincerity’ argument to include instant replay, another topic on which we disagree, you being against it and me being for it.  What’s to say an umpire didn’t intentionally blow a call to sway the outcome of a game?

Unc: I didn’t say Joe and somebody’s best friend were on the sly; rather, it happens and it doesn’t stop me from going to the supermarket or having friends.

Back to baseball…  Bonds is Pettitte?  I see a difference.  Does Ryan Braun go to the Hall?  He got off on a technicality, so I guess your rules say no.  But by the same token, Clemens gets in because he was exonerated.  How about Whitey Ford, Gaylord Perry and Ty Cobb?  All cheaters.  Umpires? Out, because sometimes they get it wrong.

Bottom line: I’ll err on the side of hypocrisy over dogma any time.

SC: I feel like an old married couple, going round in circles on this, neither of us making any progress or reaching a middle ground.  That is what old married couples do, right?

It’s too early to tell on Braun.  He’s only been in the league six years.  He’s certainly on pace but once again, even though exonerated, he’ll be judged in the court of public opinion for even being associated with PEDs, just as the others have.

I guess the point I’ve been trying to make is this… I don’t care who gets in and who doesn’t.  As opinionated as I might be about a number of things sports-related, the whole Hall of Fame debate when it comes to these guys has me squarely straddling the fence, or at least ambivalent.  I’m not sure which is worse.

I think that if you have the all-time hit leader, the all-time home run leader and the all-time Cy Young award winner, three historical figures of the game in their own right, on the outside of the Hall of Fame looking in, well then, baseball’s got some ‘splaining to do, or at least a “cheaters wing” it should construct to allow them entry.  You also can’t convince me the sport can’t, or at least shouldn’t, monitor itself and hold itself accountable for the actions of its employees.  I don’t think we should leave that responsibility to our government or judicial system.  Ideally, they have better things to do with their time.

I’m not sure what we’ve accomplished here, other than perhaps bore the hell out of our readers… er, provide some healthy insight for debate, but it’s been real.

Is there anything else you’d care to add?  Oh, and I’ll tell Mila Kunis you said hello.

Unc: Actually, I don’t care much about the Hall, either.   Unless, of course, Mila wants to take a road trip.

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