Roger Clemens Lacked Fastball to Back Denials: Scott Soshnick

Roger Clemens, who faces federal charges of lying to Congress over the use of performance- enhancing drugs, always had trouble differentiating between the pitcher and the person.

Clemens, on the baseball field, reveled in taking command and showing who’s boss. His game and fame were predicated on intimidation.

And, oh, that glare, which in itself was enough to give even the most cocksure opponent happy feet in the batter’s box.

I was on the receiving end of that glare once, having shown the temerity to approach a pacing Clemens in the clubhouse before a spring-training start. Spring training! If looks could kill.

And, oh, that fastball, the one with a comet trail that often found its way near the noggin. Or between the shoulder blades.

It was Clemens who served notice that he was in control. This was his mound, his stage. Clemens made sure everyone knew that. It was integral to his success, which, by any measure applicable to pitchers, is extraordinary.

Clemens thought he could argue balls and strikes during a playoff game because, well, he was who he was. He was ejected, which should’ve served as a lesson learned. Clemens even fired a broken bat at Mike Piazza during the 2000 World Series. Hypercompetitive zeal or ‘roid rage? Hmm.

No ‘Off’ Switch

The biggest problem confronting Clemens, who faces a six- count indictment that includes charges of obstruction of Congress, making false statements and perjury, is that the pitching persona didn’t have an “off” switch or governor. Not even two years ago when he and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, sat before lawmakers intent on shedding light on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports.

Clemens wore a suit, not a uniform. But it was Clemens, the pitcher, not the person, sitting there, daring anyone to challenge him.

You have to wonder if Clemens ever watched the question- and-answer session on videotape, the way Clemens, the pitcher, would have studied hitters’ tendencies.

It was the scrawny, just-the-facts McNamee who was intimidating and not Clemens, whose fire and brimstone fell flat.

“In the end his arrogance got the best of him,” Earl Ward, one of McNamee’s lawyers, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “Most people under these circumstances would look to resolve it in a non-adversarial way. I don’t think Roger will do that. He’s going to take the position that it’s the ninth inning and the bases are loaded and he’s going after the hitter.”

Gambling Man

Notice he said most people, not most pitchers. And we’re still dealing with Clemens, the pitcher. It’s a gamble.

Speaking of which, I’ll never forget what Sacramento Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, whose family owns a Las Vegas casino, said about athletes and gambling -- that they always think they can win.

The great ones are the worst, Maloof said. It’s as if they really think that odds don’t apply to them.

That, in a nutshell, was Clemens, on the mound in Boston, Toronto, Houston or New York, where more than a few Yankees have admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Jason Giambi copped to it. Alex Rodriguez did, too. And, most damning to Clemens, was the testimony of his good friend, Andy Pettitte, who admitted to using human growth hormone and who in an affidavit submitted to lawmakers said Clemens had admitted to using it, too.

Pal Pettitte

Even the most ardent Clemens supporter had to find that damning.

Even so, Clemens denied, denied, denied. Never used the stuff. Clemens told Congress that his pal Pettitte, who is still with the Yankees, “misremembers” a conversation they had about HGH.

Clemens in a statement on his Twitter page said he never took HGH or steroids and that he looked forward to challenging the government’s accusations. “I am happy to finally have my day in court,” he wrote.

Surely, Clemens knows that former Olympic champion Marion Jones spent six months in federal prison for lying about steroid use and her knowledge of a check-fraud scam involving her ex- boyfriend, sprinter Tim Montgomery.

Surely he’s watched as one by one, former teammates admitted their use, apologized for being stupid or desperate, and resumed their careers.

The defining moment of the Congressional hearing occurred during closing remarks delivered by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, who was making it clear that he found McNamee’s version of events most believable.

It was then that Clemens, ever the pitcher, interrupted, hell-bent on having his say. Waxman pounded his gavel and cut off the famous athlete.

“Excuse me,” Waxman said, “but this is not your time to argue with me.”

Clemens had intimidated no one.

To contact the writer of this column: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

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