Roger Clemens could be pitching for a major-league team today. He could still have his friendship with Andy Pettitte. His wife wouldn’t have to answer questions about taking human grown hormone. He could even have most of his reputation. But it’s all hopelessly lost now, and the hits on his once-squeaky-clean image just keep on coming. Of all the reputations we’ve seen unravel over the years, the ongoing Clemens train wreck is turning into one that could end up matching the fall of Pete Rose.
The latest bomb to hit the Clemens’ bunker was dropped Monday by The New York Daily News, which ran a very detailed report about the Rocket’s long-term relationship with country music performer Mindy McCready. The newspaper suggests the two had an affair that began sometime after they met when she was a 15-year-old singing karaoke in a Florida bar. Through his lawyer, Clemens said she was just a friend.
We might have believed that once upon a time. But that was before Clemens was implicated in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs and before a performance before a Congressional subcommittee in which his defense was, “I’m the great Roger Clemens who visits little kids in hospitals and has a gorgeous wife and loves his children and wells up inside every time he sees the American flag go by.
“Also, everybody’s lying except me.”
The Daily News said McCready may be ready to tell her story as part of her efforts to revive a career that was derailed by drugs, an abusive husband, suicide attempts, a charge of assaulting her mother, and a year in jail. Nothing like a good tell-all to get the fans back on your side.
But even if she doesn’t say a word, nobody’s going to believe Clemens now when he says he flew her around on his jet, sent her bundles of cash via FedEx, and took her on trips to Las Vegas and parties with Michael Jordan just because he wanted to be her friend. Life doesn’t work that way.
I’m not sure that even now he understands how it all could have been different if he had just come clean about the steroids. The time to do that wasn’t when his feet were being held to the fire. It was long ago, when baseball first realized it had neglected to bother checking to see if any of the muscular heroes performing historic deeds were getting help from their local underground pharmacist.
It’s hard to blame Clemens for playing innocent. To do the right thing and resort to honesty would have required levels of moral fiber unattained not just by athletes, but also by corporate executives, entertainers and politicians.
From the beginning of time, the high and the mighty have always fallen back upon the “Who? Me?” defense. Many get away with it, because we prefer to believe the best about our heroes. But the risk of that strategy is being found out and destroyed.
If Clemens’ moral bravery had but equaled his physical courage, he’d have seen the wisdom long ago of saying he had been one of hundreds of players who experimented with performance enhancers, and that it was just to help recover from an injury. Or he would have at least told baseball’s investigators how he’d come to be named by his old trainer, Brian McNamee, just as his former pal Pettitte did.
Pettitte took some heat, but it blew over quickly, helped by his gutty pitching for the Yankees. And there haven’t been any campaigns to dig up some other dirt on him.
Clemens invited everything that has hit him. Once he stood up and declared the entire world to be lying except for him — he was under oath — and then filed a libel suit against McNamee, he became fair game. He should have known that it’s as hard for public figures to have truly private lives as it is for beef cattle to avoid becoming hamburgers.
What he has gotten for his truculence still may only be starting. Had he come clean to the Mitchell investigators, for instance, his wife would have been spared the embarrassment of having the world know she asked for a syringe of HGH in the hind quarters so she’d look good for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot.
And he wouldn’t have had to call Pettitte a liar, thus ending what had been a long and close friendship. He could also have gotten another half-season job as a pitcher for the Yankees or another team of his choosing.
And if he had come clean, even if McCready crawled out of the woodwork with her tales, we’d have been more willing to believe his preposterous yarn about “we were just friends.”
It’s too late now, of course. The perfect image Clemens worked so hard to craft for himself is already in more pieces than can ever be collected and reassembled. He won’t be banned from baseball like Rose, but it hardly matters. He has banned himself from our esteem, thrown himself on the trash heap of fallen heroes.
Don’t feel sorry for him. He’s brought it all on himself.