Saturday’s Start Was the Next Step in The Clemens Cooperstown Enshrinement Plan

Roger Clemens

Roger Clemens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With his frosted tips shimmering in the moonlight, Roger Clemens tipped his cap to a crowd of over 7,700 as he exited the mound to a standing ovation after throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters on Saturday night.  And so began Clemens’s latest step in his Hall of Fame rehabilitation plan.

Clemens would probably be the first one to admit that it has taken longer than expected, but it should be clear that Saturday’s start was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.  Rather, it was part of a deliberate plan that began almost five years ago.

When Jose Canseco named Clemens in his 2005 book Juiced:  Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big, Clemens – like most individuals named in the book – simply shrugged off the allegations as being the rantings of a disgruntled ex-ballplayer.  However, after his former teammate Jason Grimsley named him as a PED user and Brian McNamee’s statements in the Mitchell Report, Clemens was required to formulate a plan to rehabilitate his image and ensure his enshrinement in Cooperstown.  This plan was well-developed and based on lessons learned from how other athletes handled previous situations.

Step One:  Go on the Offensive.

When Rafael Palmeiro failed a drug test and was suspended on August 1, 2005, he remained silent for four months in the hopes that the issue would fade away.  When he finally chose to speak on the issue, his lawyer read a prepared statement in which Palmeiro stated that “I have never intentionally taken steroids.”   Palmeiro was subsequently lambasted by the media and crucified by the fans.  Watching all this, Clemens, who was still pitching for the Astros at that point, learned that the public wants an explanation and, more importantly, needs that explanation to come directly from the horse’s mouth.  Staying silent or even preparing an artfully worded written statement is insufficient to combat the stain a failed drug test has on a hall of fame career.

The Mitchell Report was released in December 2007.  Prior to publishing his report, George Mitchell provided each athlete named in the report with a chance to formally respond to the allegations.  Clemens chose not to.  Why would he?  The statements from McNamee would be published anyway, and, from a legal perspective, only bad things can arise from providing written statements.  Instead, as soon as the Mitchell Report was published, Clemens went on the offensive and focused his attention on discrediting his main accuser, Brian McNamee.  Clemens went on 60 Minutes, held a bizarre press conference where he played a recorded telephone conversation with McNamee, and filed a defamation lawsuit against McNamee.

Step Two:  Swear Under Oath.

In March 2005, Clemens watched Palmeiro, Curt Schilling, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Thomas appear at a Congressional hearing about steroids in baseball.  He saw first-hand how the public reacted to the testimony provided by the players.  The public applauded Schilling, Palmeiro, and Thomas, who all vehemently denied using any PEDs.  Conversely, the public vilified McGwire, who refused to talk about the past, and Sosa, who suddenly forgot how to speak English.  Although Palmeiro’s reputation was destroyed when he tested positive for steroids later that summer, the legacies of Schilling and Thomas have remained intact.  Clemens also took note that, despite having been caught in a lie, the government chose not to pursue perjury charges against Palmeiro.

Clemens learned three lessons from the 2005 hearing:  (1) the public sided with the players who swore under oath that they did not use PEDs; (2) since Clemens was retired and, therefore, not subject to MLB’s drug testing policy, he could not fail a drug test like Palmeiro; and (3) even if a player lied during a hearing, Congress may (Bonds) or may not (Palmeiro) pursue perjury charges.

Armed with these lessons, Clemens appeared before a Congressional committee in 2008.  Prior to the hearing, he went around signing autographs, taking photographs, and shaking hands.  The scene was eerily reminiscent of the episode of the Simpsons called “Brother’s Little Helper.”  In that episode, after being prescribed Focusyn for ADD, Bart becomes convinced that Major League Baseball is spying on the citizens of Springfield.  Bart ultimately shoots down a satellite owned by MLB, proving that his claims are true.  However, Mark McGwire shows up and asks, “Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do want to see me sock a few dingers?”  Of course, the denizens of Springfield choose the latter and forget all about the satellite.  Clearly, Clemens hoped that his hand-shaking and picture-taking would distract Congress in the same manner.

Step 2.5:  Defeat the Government’s Perjury Charges.

Clemens’s plan took a slight detour at this juncture.  Due to Andy Pettite’s statements and other evidence, Congress ultimately determined that Clemens’s testimony contained inconsistencies and recommended that the Department of Justice investigate.

By the time Clemens was indicted on perjury charges, however, the landscape had changed.  When Barry Bonds was indicted on perjury charges in November 2007, the public was strongly against the ego-driven star athlete who acted as though he was above the law.  At that time, the book Game of Shadows was still on the New York Times best seller list and PED use in baseball was a daily discussion as the Mitchell Report was about to be released.  Due to the protracted discovery phase and the revelation that the government was spending millions prosecuting Bonds ($6 million in total), the public sentiment eventually turned.  When Clemens was indicted in August 2010, the public was no longer in favor of the government spending tax payer money to prove that a millionaire athlete lied.

Although the perjury charge leveled against Clemens was clearly not part of his original plan, he cannot complain about the results.  True, the multiple trials delayed Clemens’s plan by at least three years.  But Clemens was ultimately found not guilty on all six counts of lying to Congress and can now utilize the not-guilty verdict as further proof of his innocence.  Clemens also learned an important lesson:  let Bonds go first.

Step 3:  Reset His Hall of Fame Clock.

Clemens realizes that the best friend his Hall of Fame candidacy has is time.  As of today, Clemens will be listed on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot alongside two posterboys of the steroid era, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa.  Removing his name from that list has the obvious benefit of separating Clemens from Bonds and Sosa.  An added benefit is that Clemens will be afforded the chance to see how the baseball writers treat Bonds, who actually stands in a similar position to Clemens as both players certainly possess the requisite statistics to be first ballot hall-of-famers and neither ever officially failed a drug test.  Just like with his perjury trial, Clemens can benefit from having Bonds go through the process first.

Getting off the 2013 ballot was always a priority for Clemens.  Unfortunately, he could not get to this step in the plan as quickly as intended as no team would employ him while his perjury trial was ongoing.  Once he was acquitted in June of this year, Clemens was able to get back on course.  Pitching for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters will not reset his clock, but pitching for the Astros in September will.  His start on Saturday lays the groundwork for his ultimate reintroduction to the MLB.

Step 4:  Let Time Heal All Wounds.

An additional benefit to resetting his Hall of Fame clock is that Clemens will give himself five additional years to get back in the good graces of both Major League Baseball and the public.  Shortly after Clemens pitches for the Astros this season, do not be surprised to hear Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow announce that Clemens will be hired as a special advisor to the team or even as the team’s pitching coach.   Aside from tutoring the young players on the Astros, Clemens will continue his good will crusade by becoming much more visible in the baseball community.

Step 5:  Receive a Gold Plaque in 2017.

After five years of serving in some capacity with the Astros and having sufficiently disconnected himself from the steroid era, Clemens will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2017.  If all goes according to his plan, Clemens will be standing alongside Chipper Jones in Cooperstown.

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Hopefully no one is buying into Clemens’s “aw-shucks” mannerisms or his claims that pitching for the Skeeters was just a chance “to go out and have fun.”  Make no mistake about it – Clemens’s start on Saturday was merely the next step in a designed plan to gain enshrinement in Cooperstown.  Will it work?  Only time will tell, but so far, so good for Clemens.