Friday, August 20, 2010

More insights on Clemens, the steroids issue; Follow-up on the comments on the PGA Championship

Tom Boswell’s column in this morning’s Washington Post is worth reading because he makes important points about great athletes believing they will always be believed—no matter what they say—and about how often he saw Roger Clemens do good things during his long (too long as it turns out) Major League career.

I didn’t know Clemens as long or as well as Boz did but my experiences with him were similar. The very first time I met him was in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1992. I was working on my first baseball book and I was on crutches because I had torn my Achilles heel. A few minutes before Clemens showed up in the clubhouse, I’d been sitting on a chair up against a wall so I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way while I waited for Clemens to arrive—I’d been told he was coming on the team bus, unusual in itself for a superstar—with my crutches standing against the wall next to me.

Jody Reed, then the Red Sox second baseman, walked by, glanced at me and the crutches, and said, “You better make sure those things don’t fall and trip someone.”

Feeling fine Jody, thanks for your concern.

A few minutes later Clemens arrived and walked to his locker. I stood up, grabbed the crutches—which somehow had not fallen and created the havoc Reed envisioned—and hobbled over to introduce myself to Clemens.

“What happened to you?” he asked as we shook hands.

I told him it had been one of those fluke old guy injuries—I wasn’t THAT old at the time but what the heck—and he nodded, took a few steps to his right and grabbed an extra chair. “Sit down and tell me what you need,” he said. As I did, he took the crutches and put them behind him in his locker.

When I told him I was doing a book on baseball and wanted to chat with him at some point he shrugged and said, “sure, no problem.”

To make this long story a little shorter, we talked for a couple of hours the next day, then resumed the conversation in Boston a couple of weeks later. On that day, when it was time for the clubhouse to be close to the media, Clemens walked me outside the clubhouse and sat on the back steps for another 45 minutes so we could finish up. (I was off the crutches by then, much to Jody Reed’s relief no doubt).

I never once encountered him over the next 15 years when he wasn’t cordial or available if I asked. When he came back to the Yankees in 2007, I was working on my book on Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina and he jokingly asked if I’d chosen Mussina because he knew so many big words.

In short, like Boswell, I like Roger Clemens.

But I wasn’t the least bit surprised—nor was anyone else in baseball—when his name showed up in The Mitchell Report in 2007. To quote one of his former teammates, “if he’s not taking steroids then he must be from another planet.”

His numbers were just too outrageous to be believed—not unlike Barry Bonds, except for this: Clemens was in decline when he left Boston in 1996 at the age of 34. He’d thrown a lot of innings and dealt with a lot of injuries. That’s one reason the Red Sox let him leave. Then, as we all know, Brian McNamee came into his life and he miraculously turned his year around in 1998. In 1999—without McNamee—he had a mediocre year in New York. After that, McNamee was hired by the Yankees and the miracles began—a 20-3 record in 2001 at the age of 39 and then, most unbelievably an ERA of 1.87 in 2005 in Houston the summer he turned 43.

I watched, like everyone else, in awe and wonder. As usual, there were people who used the, “no one works out like Roger Clemens,” excuse—the same one heard about Bonds and Sosa and McGwire and other miracles of human nature. No one doubts that. But there’s a REASON why players approaching 40 can continue to push their bodies so hard and, unfortunately, it isn’t Gatorade.

The day Clemens testified before Congress along with McNamee in 2008 was painful. As committee chairman Henry Waxman said in conclusion: SOMEONE was lying. And, while you might have chosen Clemens over McNamee given McNamee’s sleazy background and the fact that he’d provided information only to stay out of jail, you weren’t going to choose Clemens over his pal Andy Pettitte. If Pettitte was ever going to lie it would have been to protect Clemens. But he didn’t. He told the committee Clemens had told him he had taken HGH.

Game, set, match.

I don’t believe Clemens will go to jail. Neither will Bonds, who seems to have found his way to a judge in San Francisco who is going to rule out any testimony that might convict him. But in the big picture it doesn’t matter. They’re both disgraced forever in the eyes of the public. In all likelihood, neither will ever be in the Hall of Fame and they will always be looked upon as cheaters. The sad thing is both had Hall of Fame careers before they got involved with steroids. They just wanted more.

In the grand scheme of things, baseball’s nightmare just goes on and on. Bud Selig and the players’ union (and the media—we aren’t innocent in this either) buried their head in the mid and late 90s when it started to become abundantly clear that players were growing at alarming rates and singles hitters were hitting opposite field home runs on a regular basis. It’s smaller ballparks, better workout regimens, better lights, lousy relief pitching. There were enough theories to fill Yankee Stadium.

None were true. Here’s what was true and I know I’ve told this story before but it is so apt it bears repeating. Ron Darling remembers arriving in Oakland after a trade in 1991 and being struck by how different the clubhouse was after games there than it had been during his Mets days in the mid-80s.

“With the Mets we came into the clubhouse after a game and went right to the food,” he said. “Then we showered, got dressed and went out for the night. In Oakland, guys came in, changed into shorts and a T-shirt and went to the weight room. Every night. After a while it occurred to me that it was just about impossible to work out that hard, that often in-season without some kind of help.”

We all know now what kind of help those A’s, led by McGwire and Jose Canseco, were getting.

I like Roger Clemens. I like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro—and no doubt plenty of other steroid users. But they cheated the game. They damaged themselves. And they have left a taint on the sport that won’t go away anytime soon.


I try to read the posts on the blog at least a couple of times a week because they are often smart, informative and funny. Sometimes I disagree with them but that’s fine too.

That said there were a few posts in response to the blog Tuesday about the fiasco at The PGA Championship that simply made no sense to me. To begin with, some people clearly didn’t READ what I wrote. I didn’t exonerate Dustin Johnson at all, I said he was ultimately responsible (for those of you who need help with vocabulary that means final) for his fate. I also said that AFTER TALKING TO OTHER RULES OFFICIALS it was clear to me that David Price should have said something to Johnson about being in a bunker. His defenders say he was not OBLIGATED to do so. They’re right.

There are two kinds of officials in sports—pro-active ones who try to prevent athletes from committing penalties or violations—simple example as mentioned by one poster when a basketball referee tells a player, “you can’t move,” before an inbounds play. Does the player know that 99 times out of 100? Of course. The official is trying to avoid the 100th time. The same is true when football officials warn players they’re close to getting called for holding. Or even when a good official—unlike short-tempered baseball umpires—says to a coach or manager, “that’s enough,” before he tees him up or tosses him from a game.

Price chose not to be pro-active as every rules official I spoke to told me they would have been: “Dustin, you know under local rule you’re in a bunker.” That simple. As one very experienced official said: “there was nothing bad that could come from him saying that.” Plenty of bad, as we know, could come from not saying it, from saying, ‘I’m not obligated to say anything.’

To the guy who wanted to lecture me on the job of USGA officials: those were PGA of America officials out there. To the guy who has played in ‘high-level,’ competition and thus knows more golf than I do—call me when you’re in the last group of a major. In the meantime, ask real rules officials what they would have done in that situation. They’ve done it in a lot higher competition than you’ve played in. And finally to the guy who says I’m a ‘disgrace to sportswriting,’ for taking Price to task—really? Are you his brother, dad, son—or wife? If thinking David Price screwed up Sunday is the most disgraceful thing I ever do as a sportswriter I will have had one hell of a career.

And for those who want to write in today and say, ‘gee John, aren’t you being sensitive today,’—maybe. I have no problem with anyone disagreeing with me or with pointing out when I’m wrong—which is often. But at least read what I’ve written before you go off.


JeffW said...

As a lifelong White Sox fan, 2005 might possibly be a once-in-a-lifetime season. Your comment about Clemens' ERA struck me...what if the Astros would have won the WS. Ugh.

Max said...

Numerous White Sox players probably used steroids as well, so I don't think that is a very good argument. Baseball will not be taking World Series title away from anyone, even if they have confirmed cheaters.

Mark said...

When I played college basketball, I definitely appreciated a pro-active referee, who would mention I could run the baseline or I had to stay in place.

I look at it this way - only good can come from something like that. And in the heat of a game, a player CAN forget. I think it is good officiating

keith clearny said...

Feinstein continues to compare golf, where participants police themselves, with other sports where infractions are called by referees. Big difference.

To compare golf referees with football referees is ludicrous. Using John's analogy, since the walking officials were only with the top groups on Sunday, it would be the equivalent of the NFL referees only telling certain premier players they were getting close to a holding penalty while ignoring the rest. Most of the field didn't have the benefit of these walking observers, so if they were aggressive as Feinstein wanted them to be it would have created an unfair advantage to those on top of the leaderboard.

I always thought those officials were there for consultations with players and not for barking out suggestions on a shot by shot basis as Feinstein and the many PGA professionals he spoke with seem to think.

Tim said...

Kieth – I believe all groups at the PGA Championships have/had officials with them, not just a few. In addition, if golfer really just policed themselves, then we wouldn’t have this hubbub. Its really no different than other sports (other than there is no time limit for reviews, people sitting on their couch can call in with rules violations, and a couple other idiocies) who have officials, there are just different amounts of times an official and his call really comes into play.

And on the Clemens there a more idiotic athlete, or person, on earth who ASKS to go under oath about a touchy subject, who has not reason to do so?

Gordon said...

John John John

Don't see yourself short! Your support of David Price is not the most disgraceful thing you've ever done or written. You have done and will do far more disgraceful things in your career.

And you flying home after the French Open did NOT kill The National..... IT KILLED THE CONCORDE.

Rays is better than Johns' Pizza in NYC.

And far be it from me to not admit when I'm wrong. Yes Dustin Johnson was primarily responsible but after thought David Price should have informed him of his situation.

Gunnar said...

If I was baking a blame pie, and slicing it up, I would do the following. Dustin Johnson is 80%, he is responsible for all decisions, and he ultimately was the guy that grounded the club in sand. He could have sought out the rules official to double check his initial thought. It sounds like he might not be the sharpest tool in the shed.

Dustin's caddie, he has to be about 10%. It is the 72nd hole of a major, and your guy's head is obviously in the clouds. Be 10 yards ahead of your guy and have all of the information he needs, lie, distance, rules, etc. This is even more true if your player is a bit of a Forrest Gump.

6% of the blame pie goes to the rules official. He absolutely should have hustled over there, cleared the entire bunker of fans, and advised DJ of his situation. I like the basketball comparison of the referee warning someone they cannot run up and down the baseline, this was a very good comparison from other commenters and John. The referee needs to literally officiate the competition, and the competitors should be the story.

Lastly, 2% each to Herb Kohler and Pete Dye. Pete, I really liked Harbour Towne. I know you are a great and noted architect, but that golf course didn't look championship worthy. Herb, enough already with the bunkers. I read about how the Erin Hills guy went broke trying to out-bunker you. Neither one of you are winning.

Finally, if you want to go to the most natural, fun, challenging links golf course....Bandon Dunes, in the middle of bloody nowhere, is fantastic. Pacific Dunes is above Pebble for me, Bandon is just below Pebble, Old MacDonald I haven't played yet. Bandon Trails is really special, although not as inspiring a piece of land as the other three courses. John, I think you should invite yourself to Paul Goydos' annual Bandon trip.

bevo said...

How come no one questions Nolan Ryan? No one worked out like Ryan, who pitched well beyond any expected limit.

Is Ryan really anomaly or is he from another planet?

I am going with the juice explanation.

Alan in San Antonio said...

Mr. Clearny is correct in that the leaders have an unfair advantage by having rules officials immediately available. I believe that advantage offsets the unfair disadvantage of having camera crews standing 20 feet behind them for every shot. These are the players whose every action is under the scrutiny of every self-appointed Rules Official.

deepvalue said...

John, you are the best sportswriter that I know of. However, if you ever use the word pro-active again i will reduce my daily visits to your blog from two to one. The word is active. No need for "pro".

Proactive is an awful non-word that is allowed only through common usage. Viktor Frankl invented the word for his great book, "Man's Search for Meaning." But proactive does not belong in sports or business, and I want to punch myself in the face when I see someone of your quality using it.

PS - You're totally right about the PGA. Blame is shared by DJ, the official, the course owner, the course designer, the crowd control, etc. The PGA should not be immediately forgiven for trapping a young star into missing his chance to win a major.

Anonymous said...

I'm still convinced Price realized that DJ was in a bunker. Has anyone heard him come out and say he knew it was bunker or did he get a call on the radio after CBS got calls from viewers?
Secondly, I agree with other commenters last week who said it was difficult to define whether or not he was in a bunker or in rough where sand had been tracked out of the bunker by fans. How do they draw a line when there is no lip there?