By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Roger Clemens now has a new performance to fit in among all the others, the pair of 20-strikeout games, the tips of his cap after each of his three retirements, the wins in the playoffs and World Series. Added to that legacy yesterday were 4 1/2 hours of Clemens defending himself -- sometimes uneasily, sometimes ferociously -- against accusations that he repeatedly used performance-enhancing drugs and then lied about it.
Over the course of a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Clemens's reputation quite possibly was altered forever, several observers said afterward. His 354 regular season wins, his record seven Cy Young awards, his 4,672 strikeouts all could be overshadowed by doubts that his testimony -- in which he said, "Let me be clear: I have never taken steroids or HGH" -- was truthful. He was directly contradicted in person by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, and the testimony of former teammates Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch, some of which was read by committee members during the hearing.
"I didn't find Clemens believable," Fay Vincent, the commissioner of baseball from 1989 to '92, said by telephone. "To believe Clemens, you have to disbelieve Pettitte and Knoblauch. You have to disbelieve McNamee as well. You have to believe a lot of people are lying and he's the only one telling the truth. That's too big a conspiracy for me. That's very hard for me to do."
Clemens was well aware of the potential impact on his reputation that testifying might bring, but he chose to appear. Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) said he had intended to cancel the hearing and issue a report on the committee's findings. But because of the report by former Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell on the abuses of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, a report in which McNamee fingered Clemens, Clemens believed he had to forcefully attempt to clear his name, even as he risked sullying it.
"I don't think he had any choice if he wanted to rehabilitate his reputation," Rusty Hardin, one of Clemens's attorneys, said in an interview after the hearing. "That was all he did. His choice was protecting his legal position -- which would have meant he doesn't come over here -- or trying to protect his reputation. He always chose the second course."
Many legal experts, however, found problems with that strategy. Waxman and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the ranking minority member of the committee, said they hadn't decided whether they would refer the case to the Department of Justice to investigate whether McNamee or Clemens perjured themselves. But the possibility of further legal action exists. The committee already has referred former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Justice Department because of inconsistent testimony Tejada gave to congressional staffers in 2005.
"For the sake of his name, his reputation, I hope it cannot be proved that he committed perjury," William R. "Billy" Martin, a Washington defense attorney who has worked with high-profile athletes such as Michael Vick, said in a telephone interview. "But I think he's now subjected himself to a very intense investigation to see if he or McNamee was lying."
The differences between the testimony of McNamee and Clemens led to several exchanges that were awkward for both participants. Clemens was confronted with the serious tone of the hearing right from Waxman's opening statement, which highlighted apparent inconsistencies in Clemens's testimony to lawyers for the committee.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) was particularly aggressive in his grilling of Clemens, saying at one point that he didn't find the pitcher believable. Even as Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) asked Clemens which team's hat he would wear when he entered the Hall of Fame -- an induction that is by no means automatic, given the current proceedings -- Clemens dealt with doubters. Waxman, near the end of the hearing, admonished Clemens for speaking out of turn, banging his gavel.
"We know that some of the things you told us with great earnestness appear to not be accurate," Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.) said to Clemens during the hearing, "and this raises questions about your own credibility."
Those questions about Clemens's credibility -- and how the public decides they should be answered -- will help shape how Clemens is viewed going forward, said Richard Lapchick, a sports ethicist at the University of Central Florida. Lapchick often speaks to groups of amateur athletes and asks them what they want their legacies to be. He said that unless Clemens somehow clears his name completely, he likely never will regain his stature in the American consciousness.
"I think we have an enormously forgiving public in America," Lapchick said in a telephone interview. "I think the one time they pretty much, both in sports and society, don't forgive people is when they feel like they're lying. My gut tells me that the American public thinks he's lying. . . . I think -- unless his accusers suddenly say they were lying -- that his legacy is probably permanently damaged."
Throughout the hearing, Clemens rebutted the testimony of McNamee, seated at the same table, to Clemens's right. He also told committee members -- as well as a national television audience -- that he was a diligent, self-made man who had "shared my talents God gave me with children."
"I've always believed that hard work and determination were the only ways to be successful and to reach goals," Clemens said. "Shortcuts were not an option."
Those arguments -- as well as the inconsistencies in McNamee's story over time -- clearly resonated with some committee members. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) particularly appeared to defend Clemens, attacking McNamee because, as Burton said, he "lied and lied and lied." Burton, though, understood the potential change in Clemens's image.
"A guy like Clemens, even if he is completely cleared, he's been tarred and feathered by a lot of these people," Burton said in an interview during a break in the hearings. "And I think that's unfortunate."
Vincent watched the hearings at his Florida home. Even as he lamented the idea that the focus on Clemens detracted from the stated mission of the hearings -- to rid baseball specifically and society in general of performance-enhancing drugs -- he thought back to the time when all-time hits leader Pete Rose applied for reinstatement to the game following a gambling scandal. Rose later admitted to betting on baseball.
"For 15 years or so, he was claming he didn't do it," Vincent said. "I knew he was wrong. Other people knew he was wrong. But he was lying. . . . I think Clemens hurt himself enormously today. When that many people are against you and have information that goes against what you say, it's naive to think you can beat it."
Clemens tried to beat it yesterday. His attorneys said he would try to beat it going forward. The impact on his legacy hangs in the balance.
"We don't know what it will be," Hardin said. "We won't know for months -- or maybe years."
Ben Pershing of washingtonpost.com contributed to this report.