Roger Clemens' denial seems like a pretty bold move given that it forces anyone who cares about the whole situation to decide whether he or Brian McNamee is the liar. If I had to guess I'd say that Clemens is. My opinion in this regard is not based on some moral judgment, though (I couldn't care less about Roger Clemens, good or bad). No, this is simply a matter of logic: McNamee's allegations against Andy Pettitte have been corroborated already -- by Pettitte himself -- and Pettitte is Clemens' close friend and workout buddy. While this obviously doesn't establish that Clemens took PEDs, it makes a story in which he didn't take PEDs far more complicated than one in which he did, and more often than not the simple story is the true story. Call if a gut feeling, then, but I think Clemens is full of it.
Not that we'll ever know for sure. The only way for it to be determined somewhat conclusively would be for Clemens to file a defamation lawsuit against McNamee, and that simply isn't going to happen. For one thing the standard is too high for a public figure like Clemens to ever prevail, and he simply doesn't strike me as the type who would roll the dice with those kinds of odds against him. For another thing, if he were to file a lawsuit against McNamee, the first name on the defense's witness list would be Andy Pettitte's. Is Clemens really going to unleash his lawyer to attack his good friend's credibility the way he'd have to in order to win? Is Clemens going to start the ball rolling on a case in which many other witnesses would be his and Pettitte's former Yankee, Blue Jay, and Astros teammates, all of whom would be questioned -- and this time forced to answer -- about what they knew regarding Clemens' steroid use? Of course he isn't.
No, Clemens is laying the groundwork for the future. True, five days post-Mitchell his denial lacks credibility, and there will no doubt be a firestorm of criticism coming his way in the next few days. But that will blow over as our memories of the Mitchell minutiae fades. Indeed, Clemens is counting on our memories fading, because with them, so too will our memories of Brian McNamee and the specifics of his allegations. But we will always remember Clemens' fastball and his strikeouts and his Cy Young Awards. And when the time comes to assess his Hall of Fame candidacy, we will remember that one time some trainer -- what's his name again? -- accused the Rocket of doing steroids. Unlike Mark McGwire, Rocket will be able to truthfully say that he denied the allegations at the time. Unlike Barry Bonds, he will be able to say truthfully that the allegations against him are a matter of he-said/he-said. Against that backdrop, even many of those who have strongly negative opinions about Clemens now will cave in the face of a six-year ambiguity.
Don't believe me? Think that no matter how much time passes, people will always have the Mitchell Report bookmarked and will scroll down to McNamee's allegations in all of their PDF glory? Think again, because the same thing could have been said about the Dowd Report on Pete Rose's gambling, and by the mid 90s, many if not most people had chosen to let their memories of the specifics of that scandal slip into history. Many of the same people who felt shock and shame at Rose's 1989 ban from baseball were prepared to live with him in the Hall of Fame a few short years later. True, it wasn't technically possible because he was banned from baseball, but the sentiment was swinging in his direction, at least until he reversed himself and admitted that he had been lying all along.
Clemens isn't going to be banned from baseball, and he is not going to reverse himself on this subject. As we sit here less than twelve hours after Clemens' denial, we have all of the evidence we will ever have on his PED use. McNamee certainly has nothing else, because if he did it would have been in the Mitchell Report. Clemens isn't going to provide anything. No other ballplayer will either unless Clemens stirs up a hornet's nest.
Based on that record, I think that Clemens's denial -- however incredible it seems this evening -- gives him the best chance he's ever going to get to make the Hall of Fame someday. Certainly a better chance than if he admitted using, and certainly a better chance than if he pulled a McGwire and said nothing.
Risky move? Sure, but so is pitching inside all the time.
The accompanying image is a painting by artist Stephan Holland, prints of which, and of other athletes, are available at Gallery319.com.