I can safely say – now that it has come to fruition, of course –I was the very first person in the world to predict Roger Clemens would be acquitted.
I was there that day. I was the director of communications for the Republican staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I was with Clemens and his lawyers in the staff lounge before the hearing. I thanked him for finally getting my beloved Houston Astros into the World Series. He politely thanked me. His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, let out a big, “There ya go.”
I was there when Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., made a rare visit to the Republican staff lounge to make sure Clemens understood Waxman could call off the hearing – moments before it was to begin – if Clemens wished. “Sir, I have to clear my name,” Clemens said. “Make sure you do not lie,” Waxman responded.
And Clemens didn’t lie – or didn’t seem to. He sat ramrod straight in his chair. He answered each question forthrightly, directly and clearly. He never evaded, double-talked or squirmed. Brian McNamee, his former trainer-turned-accuser, seemed to shrink further and further into his chair as the hearing progressed. His answers were indirect, wordy, unclear, evasive. Several times, the committee members had to ask him to speak up. It was as if the producers had ordered up a dodgy slimeball for the role of accuser, and the casting director had said, “I have just the guy.”
When it was over, I called my wife. She’s a big baseball fan and was dying to know how it all went. “There is no way Clemens is lying,” I told her. “And there is no way anyone will ever believe Brian McNamee about anything.”
“Umm …” she said in that voice that tells me I’ve overlooked some sun-sets-in-the-west-level detail. “The entirety of the New York media begs to differ.”
“They think Clemens did it?” I asked. “Yeah … the other guy said so, and they all believe him.”
I read their stories now, and they are sliming away from their certainty to various degrees. They’re writing about how unnecessary it all was and how the government can’t seem to convict anybody of steroid crimes. But that day, she was right; the entirety of the New York media thought Clemens had lied spectacularly.
I’ve never understood that. One guy says one thing. One guy with an equal amount to gain or lose says the other. Why was one believable and one not? Moreover, why is the guy who looks and seems so believable not the one they believe?
A related mystery is why the hearing devolved into such a bitter partisan bickering session. Republicans took Clemens’ side – Dan Burton of Indiana told McNamee at one point he didn’t believe anything he’d said. Democrats backed McNamee and jabbed menacingly at Clemens.
But why? It’s not as if Clemens was known as some big-time conservative. Yes, he was squired around Washington by Rep. Ted Poe, a Republican. But Poe is the pitcher’s congressman, and he was far from the only member of the Houston-area congressional delegation to find his way into Clemens’ orbit that week. Even Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, extremely D-Texas, visited the pitcher in the Republican cloakroom that morning.
At least part of it, I think, has to do with how conservatives and liberals view people such as Clemens. Conservatives revere success. They admire self-sacrifice and discipline, and they don’t begrudge the man who parlays these into professional and financial success. They want to be like him and find ways for others to replicate his methods.
Liberals believe the Roger Clemenses of the world benefit from a random and thus inherently unfair assignment of talent. They think he’s rich and famous solely because he’s big enough and strong enough to throw a baseball 95 miles per hour.
Never mind that not everyone who throws 95 miles per hour has anywhere near the success of Clemens. Never mind lots of people are big enough and strong enough to throw that hard but don’t put in the work to learn the skills it takes to actually do so. Never mind the extraordinary inner strength that even Clemens’ worst detractors admit propelled him throughout his career.
This explanation absolves them of all responsibility for the fact they are not Roger Clemens. It’s all luck. He’s just a guy who got wildly rich because of the random assignment of genes. Nobody can have all that ill-gotten gain and any character, so he must have done whatever they say he’s done. And since he did nothing to earn his money, we all deserve a share of it.
And wouldn’t it be nice to knock a guy like that down a few pegs?
Sadly, acquittal or not, they did take him down a few pegs. His major-league record seven Cy Young awards will not be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. He is ninth in history with 354 wins and third all-time in strikeouts. He won an MVP, which is extremely hard for a pitcher. He also was MVP of an all-star game. He is the only pitcher ever to strike out 20 batters in a game on two different occasions. But if he wants to get into Cooperstown, thanks to this and the increasingly questionable Mitchell Report, he will have to buy a ticket like the rest of us.
His detractors say his acquittal doesn’t mean he didn’t do steroids, just that the government and its slimeball witness could not convict. But the truth never mattered to them anyway. They were just trying to take the guy down a few pegs. Good thing the justice system at least didn’t cooperate.