Clemens, Wrong or Wronged?

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.


Except for perhaps Hillary Clinton, Roger Clemens is the newsmaker of the week. Since the pitcher better known as the best right-hander ever to throw from the mound boiled to an irate indignation on 60 Minutes Sunday night, the flap has ratcheted up to a roar. A Congressional hearing is slated in about a month, which will prompt depositions and perhaps even eventual proof positive that Clemens did in fact use steroids. Proving his contention, that he never used, is a trickier proposition.

Chances are we will never know, by either science or law, whether Clemens unfairly juiced. The judgment on Clemens' character and his storied career will come down with the gavel of public opinion and there is no shortage of that flying around the country right now.

To my mind, Clemens has a point when he asks why he hasn't earned the benefit of the doubt. If his having taken steroids or not has come down to his word versus the word of a former trainer, Brian McNamee, why does two decades of All-Star performances and Cy Young Awards not gain Clemens the right to be believed? Pundits say McNamee has no motive to lie. But when promised immunity for information, who knows, he may have been promised an even fuller extent of immunity for snitching on big names. This is where timing is working heavily against Clemens. Five years ago, this he-said he-said scenario would have played to the champion, the people's hero. But the people have heard too many of these indignant proclamations and they've got nothing left to give the Rocket. Marion Jones stared doe-eyed into the nation's eyes, squared her jaw, and told us with fierce pride that she never, ever put an illegal substance into her body, that she achieved all her athletic glory through old-fashioned hard work. Rafael Palmeiro. The same steely gaze. Same square jaw. Same exact story. Floyd Landis. Same story. Clemens' vehement denial is falling on cynical, distrusting ears at this juncture.

Clemens says he was injected by McNamee, but not with steroids. He took shots of Vitamin B12 and the pain killer Lidocaine. Some medical experts say the Lidocain sounds fishy, that the drug is meant for a very specific area and an intermuscular shot wouldn't make sense. Clemens wins me over there. He has suffered pain in many parts of his body throughout his pitching career. I don't doubt that he turned to Lidocaine injections for pain management. So far, on these counts, I was prepared to give Clemens the respect he feels he's earned.

It was the phone call that threw me off. Clemens secretly recorded a phone call he had made to McNamee since all this came about and it is perplexing. I listened it to, all the way through, four times. And each time I came to a point that just couldn't explain Clemens' part in it. The call lasted 17 minutes and 17 times McNamee asked his old friend, exasperatedly, "What do you want me to do?" That means McNamee asked him once a minute, 17 times, what Clemens wanted him to do? You had that same feeling you have watching a horror film when the actor goes up to the attic where you know the monster is waiting. You grip the arms of your seat and say under your breath, "Don't go up those stairs! Don't open that door! Run! GET OUT!!!" The logic in listening to that call was so maddening, so simple. Every time McNamee asked what Clemens wanted him to do, you were dying to answer for Roger, "Just tell the truth. Just stand up like a man and tell the press, tell Major League Baseball, tell Congress, tell everybody the truth!" It was oh so odd …and damning….to hear that call and experience the void Clemens created each time McNamee put the question to him. That call pushed me, and will probably also push the Congressional committee, toward a conclusion that will not bode well for Roger Clemens.

Thud! Another hero falls from grace.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And that's The Score.


Photo: Dave Einsel/Getty Images



Diana Nyad