Brandon Smith, an apprentice trainer with the Yankees, describes Roger Clemens’ day as follows: “He’s one of the first players in every morning, does his program with Andy Pettitte, does the team program workout, goes to the weight room, leaves, plays 18 holes of golf and finally meets [trainer] Brian McNamee at 6 … and a few other players — for another workout. It’s incredible how much energy Roger has.”
This small excerpt, quoting ESPN’s Peter Gammons in a 2001 spring training report, found on page 171 of the Mitchell Report, efficiently paints a portrait of seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens that is almost identical to the portrait painted of seven-time MVP Barry Bonds in 300-plus pages of “Game of Shadows.” And yes, you can expect this brief summary of Clemens’ legendary work ethic, combined with the eyewitness accounts and other assorted details in George Mitchell’s report, to effectively destroy the Rocket’s legacy in much the same manner that Bonds’ federal indictment in the BALCO probe has destroyed his.
Both paintings depict iconic players of immense talent with a drive to succeed that surpassed almost all of their peers. Both had put together bodies of work worthy of Cooperstown long before exploring the potential benefits of performance-enhancing drugs; yet both decided that being among the game’s immortals wasn’t enough. They wanted to play long enough and well enough to be considered the very best at their crafts for history’s sake, and if today’s science was the means toward rewriting yesterday’s standards, well, what had to be done was what had to be done.
Yes, the parallels between Clemens’ and Bonds’ stories are many, and for some, the disclosure of Clemens’ misdeeds should mean an automatic vindication of Bonds. “Barry wasn’t the only one!” shouted numerous e-mails I received Friday morning. “Are you going to print an article apologizing to him?”
Towhich I respond: “For what?”
True, I’ve spent many words discussing Bonds’ alleged steroid use and his tainted home run records over the last four years, and to this day, I still acknowledge Hank Aaron as the all-time home run king. Likewise, I will continue to recognize Roger Maris’ 61 homers as the gold standard for single season excellence, considering that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire have also cheated the game, at least according to a preponderance of the evidence that they refuse to even address. However, after an entire weekend of pondering the issue of Bonds’ “vindication” at the disclosure of other steroid-using superstars, I remain at a loss.
To the logically-challenged Bonds fans who still don’t understand the magnitude of his offenses, I offer this query: Is Charles Manson, a convicted mass-murderer, any less of a criminal due to the existence of Jeffrey Dahmer?
And before you accuse me of comparing steroid use to murder on a criminal scale, let me phrase it another way, just to clarify the point: If you are ticketed for doing 79 MPH on a 65 MPH freeway, does your offense somehow become less of a crime if the same officer catches me at 81 MPH ten minutes later?
The way I see it, there is only one positive that can possibly come from the identification of RogeRoid Clemens as a cheater, and that is the elimination of the race card from the Bonds’ discussion. For nearly four years, Bonds’ supporters have accused white critics of targeting him because he’s black. “Trying to keep a successful black man down!” they’ve screamed, despite the fact that the man whose record was being stolen was black himself. That argument, lame as it was, will become even more impotent as Clemens’ Hall of Fame credentials are questioned and his career accomplishments deservedly dragged through the same mud as Barry’s. As I and others have said from Day 1: A cheat is a cheat is a cheat. There’s no gray area here — only black and white.