No Substance to Allegations Against Clemens

In one way, the Roger Clemens PED controversy has outstripped even Barry Bonds. That is in the amount of ugly bulls**t being strewn around it.

Once the Mitchell Report (man I hate that name) hit, there was no doubt Clemens would be in the center of a maelstrom. He was the only really big name in it, other than those who were already deeply implicated in the steroid scandal, like Bonds.

Since then, both Clemens’ and his accuser, Brian McNamee’s legal teams have turned the whole thing into a traveling circus, featuring the clowns in the House Oversight Committee, who apparently think that with the country’s economy collapsing,

American troops getting killed for no good reason in Iraq and a presidential campaign underway they have nothing better to do than determine whether Clemens or McNamee is telling the truth.

After a 60 Minutes appearance and a completely surreal press conference by Clemens did nothing to dissuade an almost universal consensus in the media that he was guilty, Clemens’ team issued a 45-page report purporting to show, via statistics, that Clemens was not guilty.

It didn’t work, and it never had a shot to.

Clemens did, in fact, have an amazing renaissance at an advanced age, one that is nearly unprecedented in baseball history. Showing that other pitchers have performed exceptionally well into their forties doesn’t really address that. But it’s a public relations war, and phony statistics are the theme of the day. There is no shortage of such on the anti-Clemens side, not by a long shot, as we’ll examine shortly.

So I can forgive Clemens this brazen attempt at manipulation. What really amazes me is the certainty with which most of the media is framing Clemens’ “guilt.” All the articles are about why Clemens is lying, how he can’t be believed, how he should just come clean.

I was listening to one sports talk crew who just said they didn’t buy Clemens’ story for no other reason than they didn’t buy it. Apparently the only way for Clemens to clear his name is to admit his guilt, even if he’s innocent.

Look, I realize that the court of public opinion does not have the same standards as a court of law. But what does it say about us if the standards of public opinion are so low that we are willing to convict a man based on nothing more than the word of an obviously unreliable source?

Just how unreliable is McNamee? The man has a long history of lying to both the police and the press. In 2001, McNamee was investigated for an alleged rape. What is known is that he was in a swimming pool at a St. Petersburg, FL hotel, naked and holding a naked woman, the victim, who had been given so much of a date-rape drug that she nearly died. Though McNamee was a suspect, he was never charged. However, according to this ESPN report, the police report does show that McNamee lied to the police numerous times.

Trying to curry favor after he was accused of being named in Jason Grimsley’s affidavit by the LA Times (a story which was later proven to be unsubstantiated, though whether or not McNamee was actually named in that affidavit remains unknown), McNamee whined to the press that he had lost jobs, including a professorship at St. John’s University. But the university says his appointment was for one year and had expired long before the LA Times story, or any other new allegations against McNamee, had appeared.

Folks, this is not a man who tells the truth as a matter of habit.

Now, let’s look at McNamee’s allegations. He claims to have injected Clemens with PEDs in the second half of 1998, and then again, regularly, in 2000 and 2001. Because sportswriters are neither critical thinkers nor the brightest bulbs in the chandelier in general, they simply generalize that Clemens’ resurgence in Toronto and then his later high points in his senior years must be due to steroids.

The problem is that Clemens was rejuvenated in Toronto long before McNamee allegedly injected him. This is important because according to McNamee’s (likely fictional) version of events, Clemens only got into the whole PED craze after attending a party at Jose Canseco’s home in June of 1998. According to McNamee, Clemens was clean before that, and the conversation with Canseco is what brought him into the PED world.

From 1993-1996, Clemens seemed to be declining. Nagging injuries were part of the issue, and so was some bad luck. Foolish writers, and a few not too clued in front office folks, saw his 40-39 record over those years as proof that Clemens’ career was heading toward a premature end at the age of 33. In fact, Clemens had a poor year for him in ’93, one where he was basically a league-average pitcher. He bounced back considerably in 1994, with a park-adjusted ERA that was 77% better than league average, leading the league at the time of the strike, and a 10-5 record in the shortened season. In ’95, that adjusted ERA was only 16% better than average, and he battled some injuries. In 1996, he went 10-13 for a Red Sox team that was fair at the plate but awful afield, and not one of their better offerings of the period. That record masked an adjusted ERA that was 39% better than league average, which is a pretty normal year for Clemens (his lifetime adjusted ERA is 43% better than league average). In fact that was good for fifth in the AL that year, but Boston GM Dan Duquette was convinced that Clemens was heading for the last roundup.

The Blue Jays signed him as a free agent and Clemens responded by going 21-7 with a 2.05 ERA which, after adjustment was 121% better than league average. Keep in mind that this was BEFORE anyone claims that Clemens was using PEDs. That adjusted ERA stood as Clemens’ best until 2004.

In 1998, Clemens did start off relatively slowly, and exploded in the second half, right after McNamee alleges Clemens started getting steroid injections. But was it really all that suspicious?

On the most basic level, such splits between half-seasons are very common. Just to throw an example out there, in 1957, Ted Williams batted .343 with a .476 OBP and .645 SLG for the first half of the season, a massive output for any hitter. The second half, he went completely nuts and hit .453/.594/.855. Was Williams juicing in 1957? I picked Williams ’57 season completely at random, just wanting to look at a later year but any baseball fan knows examples like this are legion.

Perhaps more to the point, Clemens first half ERA of 3.55, if he had stayed there for the rest of the year, would have ranked in a tie with David Cone for eighth in the AL. This is hardly the sort of thing that would send a sure Hall of Famer scurrying to the gutter that McNamee lives in.

Clemens spent the next five years with the Yankees, fluctuating between league average performances and nicely above average seasons, but despite winning the Cy Young award in 2001 (an award he didn’t deserve—he went 20-3 largely thanks to tremendous run support. He was a mere 9th in raw ERA in the AL and 6th in adjusted ERA, well behind teammate Mike Mussina in both categories, who should have won the award but didn’t get remotely the same run support Clemens did), nothing about his performance on the Yankees indicates much of anything. None of his best seasons came in the Bronx, and a couple of those years he was downright ordinary. But that’s when McNamee says he was doping. Hmmmm….

Clemens’ real explosion came when he went to the NL. The disparity between the two leagues in recent years is very well documented, and this could explain a good deal of it. This is particularly plausible because Clemens’ strikeout numbers, the place you would be most likely to see a jump from steroids, did not make any gains of note. They were up a tick in ’04 and down a tick from his Yankee days in ’05, the two best seasons.

Most important, though, is that all of that happened well after McNamee alleges Clemens was using PEDs and after MLB had instituted the most stringent testing program in team sports.

McNamee’s allegations don’t stand up to a serious examination. Moreover, the whole issue of steroids is blown way out of proportion. PEDs simply can’t do what people imagine they can. Look here for a lot more information.

But still people hold on to McNamee as if he has even an iota of credibility. His revelation last week that he has been keeping evidence on Clemens for the past seven years seems not to bother anyone. But this is the last nail in the coffin of McNamee’s believability, if only folks were not so blinded by this steroid hysteria to see it.

The initial argument in favor of McNamee was that, since he was already being indicted for drug trafficking and would only escape imprisonment by fully cooperating, and most importantly NOT LYING to law enforcement, people believed he had no incentive to lie. Further, he had obviously told the truth about Andy Pettitte, since Pettitte had confessed and confirmed McNamee’s story about him.

But in fact, we now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that McNAMEE DID LIE!!! By definition, he lied by withholding the evidence that he suddenly decided to present to federal investigators last week. Assuming that the “evidence” was not manufactured recently (no sure thing by any stretch, that), then McNamee withheld it from the investigators and the Mitchell commission. If the evidence is real, he lied to the Feds and Mitchell. If it’s fake, well, then he’s lying now.

McNamee is swimming in slime. Just to make the whole matter even tawdrier, he now claims to have also injected Clemens’ wife with HGH.

WAKE UP, PEOPLE! This man is desperately trying to save his own skin, and if all he had was Andy Pettitte, no one would have given him the kind of deal he seems to have gotten. That is a perfectly plausible explanation as to why McNamee would lie in implicating Clemens.

Look, I have no idea what Roger Clemens did or didn’t do. For all I know, Clemens was taking steroids since he came up with the Red Sox in 1984. What I do know is that Brian McNamee is as trustworthy as a politician on the take. We know he’s dishonest, we know he’s a felon. People may have suspicions of Roger Clemens, but they know of not one incident where he lied or broke the rules. They may suspect it, but, unlike with McNamee, they don’t have any proof.

Yet people continue to believe Clemens did something wrong based on nothing more than McNamee’s say-so. Never has there been better proof of PT Barnum’s old axiom, “there’s a sucker born every minute.” If anything, Barnum was understating the case when it comes to the court of public opinion and the media regarding Roger Clemens. And Brian McNamee is trying to take full advantage of the widespread stupidity.


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