By Ken Hart
As longtime friends know, I love baseball. It's far and away my favorite sport and, aside from the noble art of fencing, the only sport I've ever really played. (OK, that was T-ball when I was 8 years old, and my defense was so bad that I was made the team's catcher and you have to know that your defense truly sucks when they make you the catcher in a league where no one pitches. But I digress.)
The long-awaited Mitchell Report came out two days ago, detailing George Mitchell's investigation into steroid and HGH abuse in baseball and offering recommendations on how to clean up the sport. But that's not what folks are focusing on right now. It's all about the 85 names of professional players, active and retired, who are accused of taking these illegal substances.
Contrary to rumors earlier in the day, it didn't shatter the industry; that is, there were only a few top-level names in the report, and most of them had already been under suspicion. No Albert Pujols, no A-Rod, no Vladimir Guerrero. But there was one really big name in there, truly the pitching counterpart to mutant slugger Barry Bonds, and that was Roger Clemens.
First off, I really don't like Clemens. He's an arrogant, opportunistic, self-obsessed blowhard (which probably describes half of professional athletes). That said, he's also one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. When steroids first crept into the public consciousness years ago, Clemens was one of those guys I put in the "Nah, not him" category. His "fitness regimen" and devotion to training were near-legendary in baseball circles. But when the news first broke about his inclusion in the Mitchell Report, I was surprised that I wasn't surprised. On some level, I guess I had suspected the truth for years. Baseball players simply don't get better as they reach and surpass the age of 40, and that's doubly true for pitchers.
The documentation about Clemens in the report is pretty damning. After the Red Sox let him walk away after the 1996 season (remember former GM Dan Duquette's infamous quote about Clemens being in "the twilight of his career"?), Clemens sought out trainer Brian McNamee, who has now admitted to having personally injected Clemens with steroids a number of times. Clemens won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 1997 and '98, at least the second of which was under McNamee's care. Without McNamee in '99 with the Yankees, Clemens' numbers went south. Once he convinced the Yankees to hire McNamee as his own trainer in 2000, Clemens' pitching power returned -- surprise! -- and he (along with other steroid-boosted players like choir boy Andy Pettitte) guided the Yankees to their third World Series victory in a row.
Now the honesty of the "Yankee Dynasty" of the late 1990s has to come into question, and Clemens and Pettitte have to be considered cheaters just as much as Barry Bonds.
A good question that many people have raised: Did George Mitchell have to list the names? To me, no doubt about it: Yes, he had to. As Mitchell indicated (and as we all know), this problem is deep, going far beyond the players mentioned in the report. The one fact that apologists for these players seem to forget is that they are, by definition, cheaters. That is, they have resorted to illegal, unethical means to gain a competitive edge over other players. And oh yeah, they're risking long-term damage to their health and making their heads look like cantaloupes in the process. They've sent a terrible signal to kids seeking to enter sports at any level.
You know what's also terrible? Clemens, like Bonds, was a guaranteed Hall of Famer before he started cheating. His accomplishments during his years in Boston were stunning -- and all natural. And now he might not get into the Hall at all. As much as I dislike him, that's tragic. So why cheat? Was he really so absorbed with himself and his image that he couldn't bear the thought of, gasp!, getting weaker in his forties? (To which I say, "Suck it up, Bozo!") Then again, this is a man so self-obsessed that he named his sons after the "K" for strikeouts: Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody.
Krazy. And now Kondemned.
END OF POST
Sunday, December 16, 2007
By Ken Hart