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On Clemens and more

Back in the office after the final two weeks of offseason vacation, and feeling a bit like it’s the first day of school. Time to catch up on some things I missed, as well as looking ahead:

— The Roger Clemens/Brian McNamee “debate” on Capitol Hill basically revealed nothing. We learned that 1) Clemens is a scumbag. 2) McNamee is a scumbag, and 3) Congress has many buffoons representing it. Honestly, didn’t we already know all those things?

—  Meantime, let’s stop the “Andy Pettitte is a saint”  summations. The man lied on numerous occasions himself, up to and including the tale he put forth in the aftermath of the Mitchell Report. Good for Andy for not lying under oath, but is that what passes for being a forthright person these days?

— Speaking of Pettitte, it seems his congregation is praying for him. He’ll need them, because he faces the New York media today.

— So, the Giants are giving Barry Zito another Opening Day start. Giants fans, if you didn’t figure this out last season, let’s repeat: The best chance Zito has to succeed is to get outside his head. Handing him the ball for the opener, in my humble opinion, is not an effective way to start that process.

— I’m not even in Arizona yet, and I can already smell the fresh air created by the absence of Barry Bonds’ scent.

— Meantime, A’s starter Joe Blanton is a hot commodity, but unless the Reds are ready to part with Jay Bruce or Homer Bailey, among others, and the Dodgers are set to give up a bounty, bet on Billy Beane holding onto Blanton at least until the July 31 trade deadline.

— Eager to see how Jack Cust’s season unfolds for the A’s. True, he seems to have a job nailed down entering the spring, and that’s a first for him. But you wonder how much rope he’ll get. Cust, a career minor-league journeyman before 2007, hit only 11 home runs after the All-Star break, and finished at .217 with 7 HR and 26 RBI vs. lefties. With Mike Sweeney in camp, and the Daric Barton era about to start, Cust may wind up expendable.

More to come after we hear what “Saint Andy” has to say. 

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A Giant nothing

A few baseball thoughts while lamenting how the Chargers upset try against the Patriots in the AFC title game was Norv’d (terrible play-calling inside the 10-yard line) , and wondering what happened to the Packers’ Brett Favre in the second half vs. the Giants.

— Slightly less than a month until the Giants report for spring training, and Aaron Rowand remains their only major move. How disappointing is that? Obviously, the Giants will be laying a lot on the line with their dynamite starting staff, but Rowand (while a great clubhouse addition) is not a panacea for the offense. The Giants may be trying to position themselves to win a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games, but if no more moves are made, they’ll find themselves losing more games by those scores than they win.

— The A’s signings of Huston Street and Joe Blanton to one-year deals last week mean nothing in terms of their long-term future in Oakland. But the hunch here is that both will start the season and that both could stick around for a rebuilding effort if the A’s perform better than expected in 2008. We’ll know where they are by the trading deadline, when Blanton, in particular, could really net a lot.

— Had an hour-long conversation with an A’s executive last week, and what I can reveal is that one very interesting question was raised. Of all the A’s who have departed as free agents or been traded since Jason Giambi walked away in 2001, which one or two would you still like to have in 2008? My somewhat-lame answer was Miguel Tejada, but you know what, right now, today, I wouldn’t want him. He’s going to make $18 million this season, he’s lost a ton of range at shortstop, and his best days as a hitter are behind him. Still, I would’ve loved to have seen what the A’s could’ve done in 2004, ’05 and ’06 had they signed Tejada to an extension.

— On that subject, the A’s are promoting their annual FanFest hard, with the key attraction being a tour of the team’s clubhouse. Can just hear it now: “This is where Nick Swisher used to locker. This is where Dan Haren used to locker. This is where Miguel Tejada injected steroids ….”

— On the steroids topic, the back-and-forth between the camps of Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee keeps getting more and more interesting. Can’t wait to find out which one purges himself in front of Congress on Feb. 16. Then again, anybody think Clemens is actually going to show up?

— Meantime, it seems as if Andy Pettitte is doing some spin control of his own, regarding his friendship with Roger Clemens.

Finally, a Super Bowl prediction, because it’s never too early:

Patriots 52, Giants 10. 

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Roger that

Had some time to digest that bizarre press conference involving Roger Clemens on Monday, and a couple of other thoughts came to mind that I didn’t mention in yesterday’s blogs.

1) Clemens’ willingness to put Brian McNamee’s personal life on public display — in particular, the state of health for McNamee’s 10-year-old son — was disgusting. A lot of that phone conversation was pertinent in Clemens’ apparent goal of destroying McNamee’s credibility, but there was really no reason to involve McNamee’s son in the conversation. I understand McNamee contacted Clemens and used his son’s sickness as a reaching-out point. But that part of the conversation has nothing to do with the mess to which Clemens and McNamee are linked, and should’ve been bleeped out when played in front of reporters. Bottom line, Clemens was trying to portray himself as a sympathetic friend by using a former friend’s sick child as a media op. Gross.

2) McNamee had some seriously brass gonads in reaching out to Clemens. Let’s imagine what McNamee was thinking. OK, I gave you up to the feds. I permanently stained your career. I probably should’ve kept quiet and gone to jail. But, oh, my son is sick, can you help me? Now granted, watching your own child fall ill will drive a man to do anything to change things. But, to paraphrase Tom Cruise in “The Color of Money,” he’s got brass, man. He’s got brass.”

Other news from the Clemens fallout:

1) Andy Pettitte is undecided whether he’ll testify in front of Congress. Big stunner there. Pettitte has absolutely nothing to gain by going to Congress. He’d be asked about Clemens, his friend and McNamee, also his former trainer. Thus, he would a) have to beg out of answering questions about the two of them or b) paint one of them as a liar. Nice choices.

Of course, Pettitte could help the game by telling Congress all he knew about the use of performance-enhancing drugs. But as much as they say otherwise, few of these players truly care about the health of the game. Otherwise, more objections about the rise of PED’s would’ve been made by members of the players’ union.

— Baseball has decided to ramp up security in its clubhouses. Among the changes: Teams no longer will be notified the night before drug testers arrive. Gee, what a novel concept.

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Roger Clemens’ Press Conference

Well, Roger Clemens has now aired his story to a room full of reporters, and his lawyer aired a conversation between the Rocket and his former personal trainer Brian McNamee. And if you’re more confused than ever about what to believe, join the crowd.

About the only thing definitive  you can say is that Clemens’ legal side should inform him to stay quiet after his appearance in front of Congress, because the more Clemens talks, the more he creates doubt about the his version of the truth.

Take this phone conversation he had with McNamee. McNamee, on at nearly two dozen occasions, asked Clemens, “What do you want me to do?” At no point, does Clemens respond by telling him to recant his story. Granted I’m not a guy with a lawyer telling me what to do, but I’d guess my instinct, were I in Clemens’ position, would be to tell McNamee to do just that.

Clemens also hurt himself when he stammered and gave a weak explanation when asked why he didn’t have a doctor inject him with the Vitamin B-12 and lidocaine — the substances Clemens acknowledges to have used. He said initally, ”I didn’t know” McNamee wasn’t licensed to give some shots. That’s akin to, “Gee officer, I didn’t know the speed limit here was only 35 mph.”

One other point. When McNamee asked Clemens if he (McNamee) should show up at the press conference, Clemens seemed to ignore him. 

But here’s why confusion reigns. When Clemens  mentioned the report to McNamee and that “for the life of me, I’m trying to figure out why you told those guys I did steroids,” McNamee responded by saying, “I understand that.”

Not exactly the same as saying, “Because you did!”

In other words, who knows what to believe at this point. At the least, these are two very sketchy individuals. Clemens has never been forthcoming about injections he’s received; if there was nothing to hide, he surely could’ve volunteered that information any number of times he talked about his training regimen. McNamee clearly had a direct hand in baseball’s steroid epidemic, which calls into question his character and credibility, and by whistling his clients — even if compelled to do so by federal authorities — he branded himself a rat. At one point in the conversation, McNamee told Clemens he’d “go to jail for you,” which is an odd thing to say considering the reason he’s supposed to be believed is because he was trying to avoid jail.

Next up in this saga, Clemens’ appearance in front of Congress on Jan. 16. Clemens can be as angry as he wants, but it’s worth wondering if he’ll be as defiant. It’s one thing to conduct a press conference; it’s another to testify under oath.

Two  questions I’d like to hear: Roger, do you think it’s possible that McNamee injected you with steroids and HGH, and told you it was Vitamin B-12 and lidocaine? If so, why weren’t you more careful about what you put in your body?

If nothing else, one incontrovertible fact has emerged from the Mitchell Report and Clemens’ part in it. Simply put, if athletes really are serious that they want a PED-free sport, they need to be much more vigilant about what’s being given to them. If they’re not, then they should be seen as accomplices to an era that’s not going away anytime soon.

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The Rocket’s Red Glare

I do not believe Roger Clemens. Not after watching him on “60 Minutes” with Mike Wallace on Sunday. Not after seeing that he has filed a defamation suit against former personal trainer Brian McNamee. Probably not ever.

Hey, I realize I’m more cyncial than most. But really, wouldn’t you be a fool to believe anything that comes out of this guy’s mouth? If he was so innocent, why didn’t he issue some kind of statement, without any lawyering, on the day the Mitchell Report was released? An interesting article on ESPN.com over the weekend by the network’s interview coach stated the obvious when it said, “the instinct of the innocent is to talk and the instinct of the guilty is to run to a lawyer.” Exactly.

Here’s another problem I have with Clemens: In the video he released proclaiming his innocence, he insisted that McNamee had not injected him with steroids or HGH, but he conveniently left out that McNamee had injected him with lidocaine and Vitamin B-12, a fact that came out only during his intervew with Wallace. Clemens has done several interviews regarding his conditioning over the years, and never once mentioned that he was being injected with anything. If there was nothing shady about that, then why not volunteer it?

Clemens’ admission about the lidocaine and Vitamin B12 also seemed a little too rehearsed for me. Watch the interview and see how he spits out the answer, the smugness in his voice. A little too smug for me.

It was also comical to hear how he doesn’t understand why 24 or 25 years in the public spotlight doesn’t buy him “an inch of respect,” or any “benefit of the doubt.” Sometimes, the absolute inability of some star athletes to grip reality is unbelievable. If Clemens wants to complain about that, then he should take it up with Donald Fehr and his fellow union members, who a) long have resisted drug testing and b) have been caught in more lies than the boy who cried wolf. 

The bottom line regarding this whole thing, as colleague Gary Peterson wrote today, is that the Clemens spin job is in speed cycle right now. Let’s see how he answers some really difficult questions that could come in a press conference today (Uh, Roger, why didn’t you lobby the union and your fellow baseball teammates to pine for the elimination of performance-enhancing drugs?) and how he performs in front of Congress, if he chooses to show up.

Speaking of Congress, let’s keep one thing in mind. It’s entirely possible that the Clemens lawsuit was filed not with complete vindication in mind but rather to give Clemens an excuse to either skip the Congressional hearings (he was invited, not subpoenaed) or be choosy with the questions he answers. It’s difficult to win a defamation suit, especially when one is a public figure, so Clemens deserves credit for going full bore with a lawsuit, because it will expose him to sworn testimony in a court of law. Well, it’s hard for me to imagine, anyway, but again, maybe I’m more cynical than most.

In the final analysis, my feelings about Clemens haven’t really changed. Yes, I think he’s a Hall of Famer, because he was one of the best pitchers of his era, and if he used, he certainly wasn’t alone. But he’s absolutely NOT a guy I’d ever have pitch a huge game for me. All you need to know about that are the games he pitched and lost against Dave Stewart in the late 1980s and early 90s. 

In the meantime, he’s not a guy to be trusted at his word.

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On Leyritz and more

The holidays are generally a slow time, but darn if there isn’t some dolt to provide material. Jim Leyritz, step up and face the music.

Leyritz’s incident is no joking matter, obviously. A family has been left in mourning, and the former New York Yankees World Series hero has seen his life altered forever. It’s tragic on all ends.

That said, Leyritz’s car accident two nights ago serves to show just what the professional baseball is up against in its bid to ban the sport of all things ill. Perhaps I’m off base on the analogy, but it seems that if ballplayers are still loading up on alcohol and then driving home (as Leyritz was alleged to do), then there’s simply no way to prevent any of them from sticking the odd needle in their behind.

Think about it. The campaign to curtail drinking and driving in this country goes back to 1980. I was in junior high school when Cari Lightner was killed by a drunk driver, the result of which caused her mother, Candy to form Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The formation of MADD created a fundamental change in how we viewed drinking and driving; the evils of it were preached in the classroom as early as elementary school, and the societal view of it gradually changed.

And yet, the problem still persists. And it’s unlikely ever to be eradicated completely.

So it will be with performance-enhancing drugs at all levels. Three decades worth of education might stem the tide, but it won’t ever be stopped completely. In my experience, professional athletes have a unique sense of self-confidence; it’s likely one of the key traits that gets them to that level in the first place. It’s that trait that seems to give them a sense of invincibility. We all have it when we’re in our teens, but most of us grow out of it. I’d argue that most professional athletes do not.

Anyway, it’s this trait that leads one not to call a cab but rather to hop in a car and defy the odds, just as it leads one to ignore the health hazards and stick a needle in his behind. Which is why we’ll probably be unearthing players as performance-enhancing drug users from now until forever.

Meantime, some other quick thoughts:

Interesting comments by Rep. Christopher Shays regarding Bud Selig’s responsibility for the rise of the Steroid Era. I agree with Shays completely, but I think his comments could be extended to any number of corporate CEO’s. The almighty dollar trumps all else, and our country has suffered for it.

— So now Roger Clemens’ lawyer has hired private investigators to discredit Brian McNamee? That’s it, blame the messenger.

— Got the following e-mail from a Cubs fan labeled mjtracy1226@comcast.com, regarding the last two lines of of my column Friday. “You can go to hell for your remark about the Cubs. … I hope something terrible happens to you this year.” Two things about that: 1) Shame when you can’t laugh at yourself or your team (and if you can’t laugh at the Cubs’ futility, then you might as well cry). 2) Wishing ill upon others is, in a word, sick.