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Thursday, May 15, 2008
Updated: May 22, 9:33 AM ET
What if Clemens had taken a different approach?

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

Every day, his life seems to descend one gruesome headline deeper into a supermarket-tabloid parody of itself. So every day, we find ourselves looking at the mess that Roger Clemens has become and asking:

What if?

Roger Clemens
Roger Clemens' reputation has taken a huge hit since he was named in the Mitchell report.

What if he'd handled all of this differently? What if he hadn't been so determined to scorch the earth, to deny everything and anything?

What if he'd just done something remotely resembling what Andy Pettitte did, what Brian Roberts did? What if Clemens had just looked into the cameras last December and said: "I'm not a cheater. I didn't cheat my way to 354 wins. But here's what I did do..."?

How much better off would he be today?

"If he had," said one longtime agent, "I have no doubt that the perception of him would have been infinitely more favorable than it is now."

Think about it. What if?

Before we continue to examine that pivotal question, however, we need to make one thing clear. It's not our place to presume the guilt of any American who hasn't been convicted, no matter how the evidence may appear to the outside world, no matter how many inconsistencies may seem to be chipping holes in his side of the story.

So by asking, "what if," we're not pronouncing judgment. We're just asking a question that begs to be asked.

So we asked it this week -- to two agents whose common thread is this: (A) They're both attorneys; and (B) they've both represented players who have been connected to performance-enhancing drugs and decided to admit they took them.

And both agents said that if they'd been advising Roger Clemens, that's the advice they would have given him: Admit you made a mistake. A human mistake. Explain why you made it. Apologize for it. Then hope the world -- or at least some portion of the world -- would understand.

"I tell people all the time this is a very forgiving country," said one of those agents, whom we'll call Agent A. "Everyone has made mistakes. Everyone has done something they regret. Everyone is embarrassed by things they wish they hadn't done. So if you own up to your own mistakes, it resonates with everyone."

"It's clear," said Agent B, "that the public doesn't like this type of arrogance. But they appreciate it when people can just come out and be human, and acknowledge their mistakes. We've seen that time after time, in all walks of life, whether it's sports or politics or whatever. The public can be amazingly forgiving if you just come clean. It's not universal forgiveness. It's not everybody. But the reception won't be as venomous as it is toward somebody who acts arrogantly and continues to deny everything in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence."

In the interest of fairness, we're willing to concede that it's possible America is confusing arrogance with vehemence here. After all, if Roger Clemens really is innocent, no wonder he comes off so angry and stubborn.

Nevertheless, what he's selling, America isn't buying. So let's ask again:

What if?

What if he hadn't taken an approach that's known, in attorney-speak, as the classic scorched-earth defense? As in: "It's all lies. It's all a vendetta. No matter what you accuse me of, I'm innocent."

"I've told clients, 'You can only take the scorched-earth defense if you're 100 percent innocent,'" said Agent A. "Because if you're not, then the response is: 'Is he really being truthful?' And then that creates an investigation -- of everything."

And that, of course, is exactly the kind of volcano Clemens has unleashed. He may never be convicted of any offense related to taking performance-enhancing drugs, since ultimately, that case still comes down to his word versus the word of Brian McNamee, a shaky star witness in the eyes of the law. But now that he has opened his whole life to a federal examination, almost any of these hundreds of erupting side issues could eventually do him in.

"Remember, the feds didn't get Al Capone for murder. They got him for tax evasion," said Agent A. "And now they may get Roger Clemens for committing perjury over whether or not he went to a party. And they may get him even though we'll never know if he took HGH or steroids."

By going scorched-earth on us, Clemens has opened a window he now must wish he'd never opened -- a window into what attorneys refer to as "prior bad acts." A window that has allowed the Mindy McCreadys in his past to become way too relevant.

"What he's done with this approach," said Agent A, "is, he's made all his prior bad acts insurmountable. So the effect is that now, nobody believes him -- about anything. He's allowed the prior bad acts to overpower what should have been the sole issue, which is: Did he ever take performance-enhancing drugs?

"When you take this course, you put your veracity, your entire life, on stage for everyone to look at. But unless you're a choirboy and you've never made any mistakes, how can you take that position? … So the advice [he should have gotten] was: 'If you have anything you don't want the world to know about, don't go down this road.'"

TRIVIALITY

Roger Clemens won 20 games in a season six times. That used to be the most 20-win seasons of all active pitchers. Now that he's gone, of the right-handed starters he leaves behind only three who have been active this season have even won 20 more than once. Can you name them? (Answer later.)

But we're not just here to second-guess the road Clemens took. You don't need a degree from Harvard Law School to see that road has been a disaster. The real question is: What road could he have taken?

"If a player came to me," said Agent B, "and said, 'I did it. It's true. It was an injury situation,' or whatever, the issue wouldn't be whether to come clean. It would be how and when to do it."

So here is what Clemens could have said:

"I'm not a cheater. What I've done in my career, I've achieved through hard work and God-given talent. In the three seasons mentioned in the Mitchell report -- 1998, 2000 and 2001 -- my body was breaking down on me in the middle of the year. So I felt like I owed it to my teammates, to my owners -- Mr. Beeston and Mr. Steinbrenner -- who were paying me all that money, and to my fans to do everything I could to stay on the field, earn my paycheck and help my team. So I took the advice of my trainer, an employee of the club, a man who holds a Ph.D. That's the only reason I took it. He told me it would help.

"But I know now it was wrong. It was a mistake I never should have allowed myself to make. I'm embarrassed by it. I've embarrassed myself, my family and my sport. I regret it. I've been tormented by it ever since. I hope people understand why I did what I did. I'm a human being. I set high standards for myself. But that's not me. It's not who I am. It's not the reason I achieved what I achieved in my career. It was a mistake. And I'll do everything I can to make sure the kids of America know it was wrong and don't make the same mistake I made."

What if he'd just said that -- or something like that? It wouldn't have washed away the crime. But wouldn't it at least have placed him in essentially the same place, in the public eye, as, say, Andy Pettitte? Or Shawne Merriman? ("Shawne Merriman," said one agent. "Who even talks about him anymore?")

"If he'd just done that. why would he be any different than Andy Pettitte?" asked Agent B. "Why would he be perceived any different?"

Good question. But there is a reason. That reason can be summed up succinctly: 354 wins.

No one has to debate whether Andy Pettitte was The Greatest Pitcher Who Ever Lived. But that's a debate we were having about the Rocket until the Mitchell report so rudely interrupted us.

So in Clemens' case, legacy is involved. The Hall of Fame is involved. And if he'd admitted any guilt, in just about any context, it's possible -- even likely -- his Hall of Fame candidacy would have been irreparably obliterated.

Then again, that candidacy isn't going so hot now, either, is it? So how could that other approach not have been a better way to go?

"If he comes out and tells the truth -- or even a partial truth -- you know what that leads to?" asked Agent A. "It leads to a standing ovation in Yankee Stadium when he returns to throw out the first pitch. Isn't that what Andy Pettitte got -- a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium?"

But even if there had been no standing O in Clemens future, there wouldn't have been this, either. No Mindy McCready. No female bartenders. No golfers' wives. No Roger Soap Opera Headline of the Day in the New York Daily News. No reason to use a once-iconic figure as an excuse for regular tabloid target practice.

"At least when you hear Andy Pettitte's explanation, along with the apology and the seemingly deep regret, you say, 'I can understand it,'" said Agent B. "The reaction I sense, from a lot of people, has been: 'At least now I can understand why these guys did what they did. It wasn't right. They did cheat. But I understand why they did it.' And if Roger Clemens did the same thing, wouldn't a lot of people -- knowing how proud he is, knowing his reputation as a competitor, the ultimate teammate and the ultimate winner -- have accepted the idea that this guy just wanted to do everything he could to help his team win? I think they would."

We'll never know now, though. Will we? Let's say again here that, because this is America, we're willing to give this man some benefit of the doubt, that maybe he couldn't do that because he is innocent of the original crime he was accused of.

But if he is innocent, and that's why he took the course he did, then we've arrived at the ultimate irony:

The price he has paid for claiming he is innocent has been more painful and powerful than the price he undoubtedly would have paid for admitting guilt.

So is it because the world just refuses to believe him? Or is it merely the perfect symbol that the once-beautiful life of a fallen baseball hero has turned about as upside-down as anybody's life ever gets?

Rumbling Onward


ATTENTION, FREE-AGENT SHOPPERS: Will Rafael Furcal ever make it to the free-agent auction stand? Maybe not. There are indications his agent, Paul Kinzer, has told the Dodgers that he and Furcal have interest in talking in-season about an extension. And clearly, the Dodgers would share that interest, considering that Furcal leads their team in runs, hits, doubles, batting average and even homers. Furcal was also slugging .597 when he headed for the disabled list this week. The only Dodgers shortstop who ever even got within 140 points of that was Glenn Wright -- in 1930.

LEAGUE-SWITCHERS
OF THE WEEK

Uh-oh. Interleague play is back. So here's everything you need to know about the 2008 interleague schedule:

TOUGHEST SCHEDULE -- The Reds' 15 interleague games are against the Indians, Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays.

EASIEST SCHEDULE -- The Indians' 18 interleague games are against teams currently a combined 32 games under .500: the Reds, Rockies, Padres, Giants and Dodgers.

TEAMS WITH NO "RIVALS" -- Braves, Phillies, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers.

TEAMS WITH THE STRANGEST "RIVAL" -- Every interleague "rivalry" has a geographic connection except one. That's the Padres and Mariners, conveniently located 1,064 miles apart the last time we checked.

NL TEAMS THAT PLAY TEAMS FROM ALL 3 AL DIVISIONS -- Nationals, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Padres, Giants.

AL TEAMS THAT PLAY TEAMS FROM ALL 3 NL DIVISIONS -- Red Sox, Yankees, Twins, Royals.

MYSTERY WE'D LIKE CLEARED UP -- The AL East is matched up with the NL Central this year. So how come the Cubs don't play either the Red Sox or Yankees?

YANKEES-RED SOX INTERLEAGUE CONTROVERSY WAITING TO HAPPEN -- Instead of a matchup against the Cubs, the Yankees get three games against the Padres (currently 11 games under .500). The Red Sox, on the other hand, get three against the Diamondbacks (currently 10 games over .500).

BEST INTERLEAGUE ITINERARY -- Between June 2 and July 6, the White Sox have to play only three series on the road. One of them is the grueling journey up Lake Shore Drive to Wrigley.

TIME-ZONE TOURISTS -- Thanks to the joys of interleague play, the Indians get to play in all four time zones in just 15 days in June. They'll zigzag through Cleveland (ET), Denver (MT), L.A. (PT) and Chicago (CT).

MOST GEOGRAPHICALLY GOOFY INTERLEAGUE ROAD TRIP -- The Nationals go from Pittsburgh to Seattle to Minnesota next month. Hey, anybody in that schedule office got a map?

WHAT'S BREWING: In the wake of Yovani Gallardo's season-ending knee injury, the Brewers' hunt for pitching depth led them to make a run at Julian Tavarez this week -- as serious a run, in fact, as Colorado. But the Brewers aren't through looking. They have Jeff Weaver stashed at Triple-A (where he's 1-1, 5.40 after three starts). And other scouts report they've been investigating a variety of once-familiar names currently toiling in Triple-A -- a group we call the Bartolo Colon All-Stars.

OFF THE RADAR: Speaking of Colon, don't believe those reports that he was throwing 97 mph in his last Triple-A start. The buzz from scouts who cover the International League was that the only place Colon topped 93 was on the scoreboard in Pawtucket.

MIXING SOX: Julian Tavarez wasn't the only guy in the Red Sox bullpen that the Sox were shopping last week. Other clubs report they were also surveying interest in Javier Lopez and David Aardsma. The asking price -- a prospect or a left-handed reliever. Teams that spoke with them report they were willing to deal either Aardsma or Tavarez, but not both, to clear a roster spot. But they were telling clubs they would trade Aardsma only if they got enough back to make it worth their while. So clearly, they never got offered anything significant. And Lopez was just out there in case they were able to upgrade at that mid-game left-hander slot.

THE LUGO WATCH: Incidentally, those Julio Lugo rumors notwithstanding, teams that have talked to the Red Sox think it's extremely unlikely they'll look to deal Lugo in midseason. After the season is a whole 'nother story.

EXCESS IN TEXAS? Teams shopping for pitching this July are already getting nervous about how little figures to be available, since so many of the prospective non-contenders are so pitching-deprived themselves. Take a team like Texas. Kevin Millwood would be enticing, except he has $23 million coming in 2009-10. "Too pricey," said an official of one team. And Vicente Padilla has $12 million guaranteed for next year, plus either a $12-million option or $1.75-million buyout.

"The guy on that staff who drives me nuts is Padilla," said one scout who just crossed Padilla off his shopping list. "One start, he goes out there and pitches like he doesn't care if he wins or loses. The next time out, he pitches eight shutout innings because they scored some runs for him. Sorry, I'm not buying into a guy like that."

EYES ON SAN DIEGO: Here's one AL executive's nomination for a club that could go into early selling mode: The Padres. "The vibes we're getting is that they already know it's not happening for them this year," the exec said. "So they may be the first team that tries to be opportunistic." Among the Padres the shoppers figure to keep their eye on: Khalil Greene, Kevin Kouzmanoff (to open third base for Chase Headley), Randy Wolf and any bullpen arms the Padres would talk about.

WAITING FOR MR. BENSON: Teams that have spoken with the Phillies report they've stepped up efforts to find a rotation upgrade over the exasperating Adam Eaton. Kris Benson was supposed to be that upgrade, but he's stuck in rehab limbo. And with his June 1 opt-out deadline approaching, the Phillies may have to mull moving on if Benson doesn't start progressing.

BACK TO THE D-BACKS: We continue to hear talk that Arizona will look to move Chad Tracy once he comes off the disabled list and gets back in the big league flow. But one NL executive says he can't see why the Diamondbacks would trade a guy who helps fill one of their few needs.

"The one thing I think they're missing is a left-handed bat," the exec said. "To me, they miss Tony Clark. They need that left-handed bat off the bench who can play once or twice a week. And a guy who can play first and third is perfect."

THE KERSHAW COUNTDOWN: Despite massive buzz about 20-year-old left-handed phenom Clayton Kershaw's imminent arrival in L.A., his ETA might be later, not sooner. For one thing, it's easier to limit his innings in the minor leagues than the major leagues. And just as importantly, Kershaw just got knocked out in the fourth inning of a Double-A start last weekend. So not everyone is convinced he's ready.

"To succeed in the big leagues," said one baseball man who saw him recently, "you need a fastball you can command down and a breaking ball you can throw for a strike. Right now, he struggles to throw his breaking ball for strikes. And most of his fastballs are above the knees, mostly above the belt. If you do that in the big leagues, even at 94-95 [mph], you'll get hit."

WHO WANTS TO BE A $6-MILLIONAIRE: Two weeks ago in Rumblings, we wrote about the buzz building around 16-year-old Dominican pitcher Michel Inoa. One scouting director told us this week the Yankees and Mariners are already sending signals they're prepared to throw $3 million to $4 million at Inoa -- which would double the largest bonus ever for a Dominican pitcher -- "and it wouldn't surprise me if somebody eventually goes to $6 million." Whew. The bidding doesn't open until July 2, if you want to mark your calendars.

FEEL A DRAFT? One of the less-publicized developments at this week's owners meeting is a report from a blue-ribbon committee, headed by former Braves GM John Schuerholz, on ways to tweak the draft. Among areas that the committee has been examining -- trading draft picks, eliminating compensation picks for teams losing free agents, and (in honor of those Michel Inoa-type bidding wars) revisiting the feasibility of a worldwide draft. But none of that will be in place for this year's draft (if ever) -- and most, if not all, of those changes would have to be negotiated with the union, anyway.

FOR THE BIRDS: You often hear Chris Tillman, obtained by the Orioles in the Erik Bedard deal, referred to as a "future ace." But one scout who covers the Eastern League -- where Tillman is currently 3-0, with a 2.87 ERA and a .173 opponent batting average -- says the 20-year-old right-hander has been over-ballyhooed. (Imagine that.)

TRIVIA ANSWER

Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Roy Oswalt (two apiece). That list could expand to five if Curt Schilling (three) and Bartolo Colon (two) make it back.

"I don't see him as a front-of-the-rotation guy," the scout said. "I see him as more of a solid No. 4, No. 5 type guy. Don't get me wrong. He's got a good feel for pitching. He throws strikes. He's got a very good feel for what he's doing. But to me, he's kind of like an Ian Kennedy -- a guy who's advanced for his level, as far as knowing how to pitch. But his stuff isn't that dominating. I don't see enough power pitches to call him an ace."

CARVE THE TROPHY: Shouldn't there be a Pitching Coach of the Year Award? If there was, St. Louis' Dave Duncan might run away with it. But right behind is Florida's new pitching coach, Mark Wiley, whose miracle-working is beginning to stick out to scouts watching the Marlins.

"Mark Wiley has done a really nice job with that staff," said one scout. "He's smoothed out Andrew Miller's delivery. He's done a great job with Scott Olsen. And he's really helped that bullpen. Almost everybody in that bullpen has ordinary stuff. But they think they're going to get you out. They've got some swagger going on that team, and I like that."

TRANSACTIONS OF THE WEEK: Anybody remember a team putting both its catchers on the disabled list on the same day? Well, the Nationals did that Friday, DL-ing both Paul Lo Duca and Johnny Estrada. "You know the funny thing about that?" observed one scout. "How often does a team put two catchers on the DL and get better defensively? But it's true. [Wil] Nieves and [Jesus] Flores are better than both those guys."

HEADLINER OF THE WEEK: In the May issue of the brilliant Chicago sports-parody paper, The Heckler -- an issue that also contains an interview with the author of Rumblings and Grumblings -- you'll find this "retro" 1916 headline announcing the opening of the Cubs' new ballpark:

Cubs Move to New Stadium
Many Titles Sure to Follow Team to Clark and Addison
Club Hopes New Stadium Serves Them for At Least 40 or 50 Years"
'Any Longer and It Will Crumble'

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.