The perils of being bigger than life   

Updated: January 8, 2008, 12:27 PM ET

  • Comment
  • Email
  • Print
  • Share

Roger Clemens has been told he's bigger than life so many times he apparently believes it. If you're wondering what happens at the confluence of money, adulation and extreme scrutiny, this is it. So far, it ain't pretty.

I don't know whether Clemens did steroids, and I don't much care. The idea that he didn't seems more far-fetched than the idea that he did, given his late-career resurrection, his routinely odd behavior and the changes his body has undergone. Besides, the childish conceit that these guys wouldn't take performance-enhancing drugs because of some outdated loyalty to the purity of the game is laughable.

Arguments for taking performance-enhancers before Major League Baseball instituted limited testing: more money; longer career; increased status; little or no risk of getting caught; tacit approval from team and league executives.

Arguments against steroids: possible harm to body; possible shame of being caught.

And since Clemens readily admits he has treated his body as a pharmacological experiment -- B12 injections, lidocaine and the now-infamous Vioxx-as-Skittles routine -- it's understandable if you think Brian McNamee was telling the truth. Your call.

Before Monday, however, it was possible to believe all that and still retain a shred of compassion for Clemens. This steroid thing was already a bizarre game of gotcha before the Mitchell report made bizarre seem normal. Nobody is taking a hit but the players named in the report, and they were just the ones unlucky enough to be caught in the three-sided crossfire among the feds, Major League Baseball and bad guys McNamee and Kirk Radomski.

None of which absolves or excuses the players, but you've got to admit it's a pretty random sampling.

A lot of people want Clemens to be subject to the same scorn as Barry Bonds, since they're both accused of doing the same thing. This would assuage some of the racial stuff hanging around the edges of the treatment of Bonds, and maybe provide some sort of moral-relativity nod to the number of non-Bonds' big leaguers who did the same thing.

Clemens seems more than capable of holding up his end of that deal. I can see the media and fans warming up to the idea of savaging Clemens with the same fervor they savage Bonds. Certainly Roger's performances during his "60 Minutes" interview and Monday's press conference were right up there with Barry's best and weirdest.

(The more Clemens talks, the more brilliant Mark McGwire looks for deciding to crawl in a hole and hope to be forgotten.)

Clemens is accusing former trainer Brian McNamee of character assassination, and what we saw Monday was character suicide. If you're trying to dispel steroid charges, you might want to comport yourself in a manner that doesn't make everyone watching think about 'roid rage.

Even now there are writers describing Clemens as "the ultimate competitor" and suggesting his treatment of these allegations is yet another example. Ridiculous. From what we've seen the past couple of days, it's simply another example of his petulance and inability to behave as a rational human being. He's the worst kind of bully -- ignorant and condescending.

He's great when he's being idolized -- McNamee's sycophantic behavior on that phone call was beyond sad -- but his response to legitimate scrutiny is to insult everybody's intelligence. It's not surprising, really, since his real life consists of saying anything he wants and having the people around him nod vigorously and tell him he's right. The disease is not unique to him, but he seems to have contracted a pretty severe strain.

Three examples, from the "60 Minutes" interview (really, the press conference shouldn't even be dignified with a response, however tempting):

1. "If I have these needles and these steroids and all these drugs, where did I get them from? Where's the person that gave them to me? Please come forward."

In other words, would someone please step forward and say, "Officer, arrest me." Come on, Roger, if it wasn't McNamee who supplied you with the drugs, it's probably pretty safe to dare the person to come forward.

2. "I should have a third ear coming out of my forehead."

This, presumably, is Clemens' attempt to come across as so far out of the loop that he doesn't even reside in the same world as steroids. Steroids create gross deformities and Roger wouldn't even consider taking them, because he doesn't want a third ear or a second nose or an 11th finger.

Jose Canseco doesn't have a third ear. None of the ballplayers who have tested positive or admitted use has three ears. Can you imagine anyone watching this and thinking, "Good point, Rog. I never thought of it that way." I mean, "a third ear"? Where did this come from? It sounds like something your grandmother might say.

3. "He e-mails me and asks where all the good fishing equipment is down in Cabo that I bought so he can go fishing. Thank you very much, I said have a good time, go fishing. Doesn't say a word, that, you know, I'm fixing to bury you ... all these accusations, what do we do about it."

Ah, the unguarded moment. Did you catch it? This is the only time Clemens got irritated enough to veer from the script and let his mouth motor ahead of his brain. Note the choice of words -- I'm fixing to bury you. Not lie about you but bury you.

This statement is a nice little companion to the phone call Clemens and his lawyer (oh, God, will he ever shut up?) played on Monday. Whenever Clemens expresses his disbelief that McNamee would say what he did, McNamee responds with "I understand" or some variation that speaks to the concept of "burying" Clemens, not lying about him.

The saddest part is, Clemens probably believes the last couple of days actually do prove his contentions, if not his innocence. There's a good chance there are enough people around him telling him as much.

Bigger than life. It's just a saying, Roger. Just a saying.

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?