Roger Clemens's indictment continues baseball's sorry saga

A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens for allegedly lying to Congress about using steroids.
By John Feinstein
Thursday, August 19, 2010; 6:19 PM

The indictment of Roger Clemens on Thursday for lying to Congress about alleged steroid use isn't the end of this saga. It's just another sad chapter.

Every few weeks, it seems, baseball is embarrassed yet again by news that a superstar cheated the game and lied about cheating the game. The news emerges in different ways: Alex Rodriguez, who recently became the seventh player in major-league history to hit 600 home runs, was outed in a book in the winter of 2009, then went on television to explain. Mark McGwire, the first player to hit 70 home runs in a season, tearfully admitted his drug use this past winter because he wanted to work again in Major League Baseball (as the St. Louis Cardinals hitting instructor). Pitcher Andy Pettitte, winner of 240 games in the major leagues, fessed up before spring training in 2008 after being named in the Mitchell Report on steroid use.

And so the list goes on.

Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history, was also named in the Mitchell Report. Released in December 2007, the report followed an exhaustive -- though belated -- investigation into steroid use in Major League Baseball. Even then, after the embarrassments of the 2005 congressional hearings had finally made evident to Commissioner Bud Selig that steroids had become a pox on his sport, baseball's union stonewalled, telling players not to cooperate with former U.S. senator George Mitchell, who headed the investigation.

Clemens was nailed by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who named names to the FBI to avoid prison time. Clemens categorically denied that he had ever taken steroids of any kind, then went before Congress in February 2008 and swore under oath he had never taken steroids. McNamee, he said, was lying. So was his old pal Pettitte, who had testified that Clemens told him he had used the performance-enhancing drug human growth hormone (HGH). (Clemens said he thought Pettitte had "misremembered" their conversation.)

Clemens won 354 games as a major-league pitcher -- ranking ninth on the all-time wins list. He won seven Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in his league -- an all-time record. The summer he turned 43, he pitched in Houston to an earned run average of 1.87 -- an unheard-of number for someone his age, especially given that an ERA under 3.00 is considered outstanding. Such statistics, and the fact that he was a better pitcher in his 40s than he had been in his mid-30s, raised a lot of questions in major-league clubhouses.

McNamee, whom Clemens met after signing with Toronto in 1997, answered many of those questions. He testified that he began injecting Clemens with HGH in 1998, just before Clemens went on a hot streak. The injections stopped in 1999, when Clemens was traded to New York (and had a mediocre year), and started again in 2000, when Clemens persuaded the Yankees to hire McNamee.

An indictment is far cry from a conviction, but in the court of public opinion Clemens has long been guilty, as has former slugger Barry Bonds, whose perjury trial -- he is accused of lying to a grand jury -- has been pushed back to next March. Bonds is baseball's all-time leader in home runs -- 762 -- a number almost everyone involved with the game considers tainted. Sadly, the person most likely to surpass that number is Rodriguez, who is tainted by his confession last year. Other great players who might be branded with the "S": Sammy Sosa, the only player to hit more than 60 home runs in four different seasons, and Rafael Palmeiro, who retired with more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. There are many others who aren't quite as distinguished and still others who haven't been caught.

As Tom Glavine, one of the just 24 pitchers who have won more than 300 games, said when the Mitchell Report came out: "To be honest, I'm more surprised by some of the names not on the list than the names on it."

Even before McGwire admitted his guilt, his name had appeared twice on a ballot for the Hall of Fame. He never received more than 25 percent support, much less the 75 percent needed to gain entry. The same fate almost certainly awaits Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Palmeiro and even Rodriguez.

If you throw in Pete Rose, who had more hits than any player but is ineligible for the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds (and lied about it for almost 20 years before admitting it in a book), the sport's all-time home run leader, its all-time hits leader, its most dominant pitcher of the past 50 years (Clemens) and its probable next all-time home runs leader (Rodriguez) are likely to be locked out of its Hall of Fame.

That's not a black eye. That's an out-and-out disaster.

John Feinstein, a contributor to The Post who blogs at, has written 26 books on sports. His latest, "The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game," will be published next month.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company