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Rocket fizzles in self-defense

In a 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace Sunday night, seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens said he may retire... for the fourth time. He also admitted he could unretire again. That was perhaps the most interesting thing from the story, in which an aging TV star who happens to be a Yankees fan interviewed an aging baseball star who happened to have great success with the Yankees. In other words, did you really think Wallace was gonna pepper Clemens with a lot of tough questions and get the pitcher to admit the allegations of him using performance-enhancing drugs in the Mitchell Report were true? Come on!

I watched the interview last night and saw exactly what I expected. It was ironic to see one of the hardest-throwing pitchers of all-time be lobbed softball after softball. For the most part, all Wallace did was read sections of the Mitchell Report and let Clemens say, "Never happened." Wow. That's the way to convince people the allegations are false. Clemens even blamed you and me for his problems just because we may believe the allegations are true. "That's our country, isn't it?" he said. "Guilty before innocent."

A classic moment was when he tried to refute the claims by his former personal trainer Brian McNamee that McNamee injected him with steroids by saying, ""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."

Geez, Roger. Do you really think we're that dumb? Do you really think at this point we don't have a working understanding about how steroids work? Look, anybody who knows anything about baseball in the last quarter-century will admit that Roger Clemens is one of the hardest working guys in the game with one of the most vigorous workout regimens. But we also know that he went through a tremendous slump in the middle of his career followed by a Lazarus-like recovery.

If my math is correct, and I'd like to think it is, through his first nine seasons, including limited action in his first two, Clemens averaged 17 wins, eight losses, 208 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.80 in 226 innings pitched. He also won three Cy Young Awards. But starting in 1993, the first full season after Clemens turned 30, things changed. In his last four seasons with the Boston Red Sox (1993-1996), Clemens averaged a 10-10 record with 179 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.92 in 249 innings. He did not win any Cy Youngs, but did earn his ticket out of Beantown and a free agent deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Clemens started to turn things around in 1997, having arguably his best season ever: a 21-7 record with a career high 292 strikeouts and a 2.05 ERA. The next season, the Blue Jays hired McNamee as a strength coach. He's followed Clemens ever since until the Rocket fired the trainer last spring as Clemens prepared for a mid-season comeback with the Yankees. In the 11 seasons since he left Boston, Clemens averaged 14 wins, six losses, 189 strikeouts and a 3.16 ERA in 195 innings. But those numbers are dragged down with his pedestrian 2007 season.

Of course, numbers alone may not be enough to prove Clemens did or did not get a shot in the arm by getting shots in the butt from McNamee. But there are other telling signs from the 60 Minutes interview. If you watched it, did you noticed how nervous Clemens looked? He repeatedly drank from a bottle of water, yet continually licked his lips and swallowed hard. He also blinked his eyes a lot; often considered a sign someone is lying. And let's not chalk this up to nerves. The man has won 354 games in the Major Leagues and has given countless interviews. This isn't some gangly teenager on TV for the first time.

What else is not to like about Clemens's denials? Clemens, like other players who have tested positive for steroids or have been accused of using them, claimed McNamee injected him with lidocaine and vitamin B12. Recently a doctor I know made an interesting point. "B12 is red," the doctor said. "You can't mistake it. I don't know what Winstrol looks like, but I'll bet it's not red." At least Clemens' Yankees and Astros teammate and workout partner Andy Pettitte admitted using Human Growth Hormone while rehabbing from an elbow injury, just as McNamee told George Mitchell and his investigators. When Wallace asked Clemens why McNamee would tell the truth about Pettitte but lie about Clemens, the Rocket's answer was specious at best. "Andy's case is totally separate," he said. "I was shocked to learn about Andy's situation. I had no idea about it." Umm... Roger? Where's your answer to the question?

And here's my favorite part of the interview and a reason why it might be hard to believe Clemens: "Should I sue? Well yeah, let me exhaust ... let me just spend. Let me just keep spending. I'm going to explore what I can do and I want to see if it's going to be worth it, worth all the headache."

First of all, lemme cry for you and your back account. Now, I'm not saying anyone should have to spend money and sue to prove their innocence, but I can think of greater crimes against humanity than a guy who earned $18 million to pitch 18 games last year having to sue someone who supposedly defamed him. And by the way, that's exactly what Clemens did last night.

The bottom line is that the fall-out of the steroids era in baseball is a lot of he said-she said. Unless guys admit to what they did, we'll never know for sure who's telling the truth and who is lying, who cheated and who played the game cleanly. And whether he did it or not, many of us in the court of public opinion will at least believe there is a strong case that players like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds may have had some chemical help to reach their lofty goals.

By: Kevin Wuzzardo

Your winnings, sir....

One of my favorite scenes in cinema history is from Casablanca when Claude Raines, ordered by the Nazi major to shut down Ric's cafe, explains why he is closing it. "I am shocked, SHOCKED to find out that there is gambling going on!" As the scene dissolves, a dealer walks up to him amid all the confusion, hands him a wad of cash and says, "Your winnings, sir." I'm not sure that we can find enough Vichy police inspector uniforms for every sports fan in America, but we have certainly mastered the necessary hypocrisy. We're shocked, SHOCKED to find out that our athletes are using steroids, when it is what we have been thirsting for, indeed demanding, for decades. We don't want mediocre athletes playing mediocre games, and we don't want a superstar using nothing but pure talent to emerge only every five or ten years in any given sport. 250 pound linemen are too small to provide the excitement we want in that Monday night viewer. They just don't provide that wow effect. Had Marion Jones not used steroids, she would have been a national disappointment seven years earlier. We demand a constant supply of superstars. If a pitcher can't win twenty games in one season, we lose interest. He becomes just another player. His salary reflects that. That gives him an incentive to be all that he can be, even if it comes in a syringe. This country sat spellbound as Berry Bond chased home run records. According to fans it was baseball at its finest! Sure, it was freakishly disturbing to look at pictures of Bonds over his career, and realize that for some reason he existed in some eternal puberty, wherein his feet kept growing, his hands kept growing, and every year there was another inch of muscle piled onto his arms, chest, and shoulders. But he was the man! As he neared various records, the games were sellouts with standing room only, both at home and away. Then, the accusations of steroid use surfaced, and we were shocked, SHOCKED to find out that he might have had some help along the way. Give me a break! Our national outrage at steroid use may be the biggest load of bovine droppings to come along in many years. It ranks right up there with the House Un-American Activity Committee hearings of the Fifties ("Are you now or have you ever been a steroid abuser?") and the Salem Witch Trials ("I saw McGuire getting a shot of something. That night he hit two home runs, just as Bessie Preston's goat predicted the night before when I passed his pen.") One has to wonder why we needed a new War on Drugs, when the first one has been such an abysmal failure. It's rather silly to be concerned about steroids' health effects, when the very nature of many sports places an athlete in far greater danger of serious bodily injury or death. It's downright idiotic to wring our hands over "roid rage" when far more deaths and injuries result from a non-steroidal compound we can buy legally from the state at any ABC store. Oh, but when we talk about alcohol, we immediately know that prohibition doesn't work. Too bad we're too blind to see that it doesn't work with drugs or steroids, either. Yes, I'm sure that the whole "hero image" is important, and you don't want to see your little Timmy using steroids in high school....but when he makes it to the majors and is pulling in two million a year, you'll be so proud of him that you'll help him roll up his sleeve over those eighteen-inch biceps while the trainer preps the shot. Gotta go! My bursitis has been flaring up, and you'll never guess what the doctor plans to inject into my shoulder....again. When they come around for the big Senior-Citizen Steroid Abuse Investigation of 2020, feel free to mention my name.