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Everybody Hates Roger

First things first: The Mets beat the Pirates without particularly breaking a sweat, and in Pittsburgh, no less. Unlike Greg, I’ve never been to PNC. I’d love to go someday. Last summer, I was even fantasizing about going this summer. And I would, except for not having enough money or time, and the fact that horrible things tend to happen to the Mets when they’re there. (Here’s an anguished post [1] to that effect from last summer.) For a night, though, it was all good [2]. The Mets hit early and often, Mike Pelfrey was pretty good despite throwing up between innings, and the kids not only got to play but played pretty damn well, with Ike Davis and Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell and semi-kid Chris Carter all contributing. Doesn’t mean we won’t all be boarding the Retread Express again tomorrow (Destination: Nowhere!) but we can always hope.

Anyway, that was tonight. But during the day, I was walking around with a smile on my face for a different reason.

Let’s pause here a moment.

One of the many great things about baseball is it’s a way to teach my kid about values. Not the on-the-field variety, though that’s important too, but how to be a decent fan. Why you applaud, albeit reluctantly, when the other guys make a great play. Why you don’t cheer injuries, or say you want So and So to die or get a D-cell to the head or have anything else injurious befall them just because they’re a member of Team X. You know, basic civilizing stuff. Sometimes that spirit even gets communicated in a blog post. Which is a good thing.

This, however, isn’t going to be one of those blog posts.

I have hated Roger Clemens for a long time, even before that thing happened that you’re also thinking of. I hated him for spray-painting his initials in our bullpen (after asking out of Game 6). I hated him for his ludicrous, unprofessional tantrum on the mound back in 1990. I hated him for being the embodiment of the modern mercenary athlete. I hated him for being a headhunter who hid behind the skirts of the designated hitter. I hated him for the relentless cloud of self-aggrandizement that he generated around himself. I hated him for his basic douchiness — who the fuck names all his children after a scorebook notation for a strikeout? I hated him for his elemental phoniness — Clemens lived in Ohio until he was a teenager, and his Ornery Texan act is bullshit. I hated him for his uniquely awful combination of painful stupidity and enormous self-absorption. (Though I don’t hate him as much as Bill Simmons does — witness this epic takedown [3], one of my favorite pieces of sportswriting.)

And then, well, you remember. Mike Piazza owned Clemens so thoroughly he deserved to have his name tattooed on the Rocket’s ass. In June 2000, he’d blasted a grand slam to dead center at Yankee Stadium off Clemens, part of a no-doubt-about-it ass-kicking (nine runs over five innings) that ended with Clemens getting booed off the mound by whatever was left of Mook Nation. The next time they saw each other was a month later, for the nightcap of a split doubleheader, one game at Shea and one at Yankee Stadium. (The day game wasn’t fun either: The Yankees won behind Dwight Gooden, and Yankees coach Lee Mazzilli coaxed an interference call on Todd Zeile out of some rookie ump. All that was missing to make our sense of betrayal complete was Tom Seaver making his way through the stands personally slapping each Mets fan across the face.)

Anyway, Clemens’ first pitch to Piazza in the nightcap hit Mike square in the NY on his helmet. It wasn’t a fastball between the numbers, or one meant to send a hitter stumbling backwards. It was a head shot fueled by embarrassment and animal rage, one that could have ended Piazza’s career if it had been a couple of inches lower. The sight of Piazza lying in the dirt, semi-conscious, remains one of the most horrifying things I can remember as a Mets fan. And the aftermath was infuriating, starting with Glendon Rusch’s pattycake payback off Tino Martinez’s rear end. The Mets did win the next night, with Todd Pratt playing the entire game red-faced with rage, but Piazza didn’t go to the All-Star Game, Joe Torre made fatuous excuses for his pitcher, and all of us were left dreaming of payback.

And so of course they faced each other in the World Series — and Clemens, having seemingly gone insane, fielded Piazza’s broken bat and fired it into the catcher’s path. Being upright this time, Piazza was able to take umbrage at that, asking Clemens repeatedly what his problem was. He didn’t get much of an answer, and Clemens didn’t offer one in postgame interviews either, babbling about competitiveness and emotions. Joe Posnanski uses that as the opening of a great examination [4] of how Clemens’ brain works, if I may stretch the definition of “brain” and “works.” This was John Franco’s take: “I think he knew what he was doing all along, but I’m sure he’s going to come up with an excuse again. Just like last time.” (By the way, God bless John Franco.)

Clemens wasn’t ejected. With the Mets down 1-0 in the World Series, fisticuffs were ill-advised. And karma stayed her hand. The Mets lost the World Series to the fucking Yankees, with Piazza making the final out. Two years later, Clemens came to Shea Stadium and the Mets beat him. In fact, he pitched horribly — Piazza took him deep, as did Shawn Estes, and Rey Ordonez scampered home with a run when Clemens neglected to cover home. But our exaction of vengeance turned into a bag-on-the-head moment. The assignment of hitting Clemens with a pitch fell to the luckless, hapless Estes, who looked like he might cry by the 25,000th time he was asked what he would do. At the big moment, Estes wound up, threw, and … well, the ball went behind Clemens. Clemens looked angry but also faintly amused, and Bobby Valentine made a fool out of himself in the dugout demanding another shot at vengeance until Franco told him to knock it off. As victories go, it was weirdly hollow.

If you’ve been around these parts a while, you know all this. I’m just trying to get you back in the right frame of mind. If you’re agitated, seething, maybe have some spit flecks on the monitor, then I’ve done my job.

Anyway, Clemens pitched for the Yankees through the end of 2003 and was all but fellated by fans everywhere (including, to my disgust, in Fenway Park) on his hideous retirement tour. Then he unretired to pitch for the Astros through a series of craven, ludicrous pro-rated deals that included not having to go on road trips when he wasn’t going to pitch. Piazza, ironically, was his catcher in the 2004 All-Star Game, and on some level I remain deeply disappointed that Mike didn’t sucker-punch him on the mound. Clemens retired again after 2006, then showed up in George Steinbrenner’s box in May 2007 and told Yankee Stadium he was coming back, with Suzyn Waldman practically having an orgasm [5]. Happily, he was pedestrian in 2007 and finally retired for good. He’d proved mortal in the end, with his legs no longer able to stand up to the demands of being a power pitcher, but he walked away with 354 wins, seven Cy Young awards, two World Series rings, a date with Cooperstown and my fuming that he’d never paid a price for any of the vile things he’d done or been. I knew I’d have to hear about him for the rest of my life as the embodiment of the tough pitcher, intense competitor, gamer, winner, etc. It was all completely sickening and awful and it made me want to scream.

I am capable of being remarkably vindictive, and if in October 2007 you’d asked me to arrange a three-year plan in which terrible things would happen to Roger Clemens, I’m sure I would have been very creative. But even if you’d allowed me my wildest flights of fantasy, I doubt I would have come up with this:

* Clemens gets named 82 times in the Mitchell Report, thanks mainly to interviews with Brian McNamee, a former Yankees trainer and “strength coach” with a decidedly checkered past. Among the tidbits: McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks at the pitcher’s SkyDome apartment, Clemens referred to his buttocks as his “booty,” and he developed an abscess on the aforementioned booty from a bad injection. (Yeah, I know there are PED accusations about Piazza, too. This isn’t one of those Being Logical posts.)

* Clemens hires a lawyer, the noxious Rusty Hardin, and begins a ludicrous tour of media outlets denying everything. He makes a fool of himself with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, then files a defamation suit against McNamee. Every furious denial and tongue-twister explanation does more to connect “steroids” and “Roger Clemens” in everybody’s mind.

* Emails between Clemens and McNamee reveal, to nobody’s particular surprise, that Clemens can’t spell [6] (“my sister are pissed about this dumb ass arcticle”). Besides referring to a Los Angeles Times reporter as a “dushbag,” he signs his emails “22.”

* Clemens holds a mildly insane press conference in which he and Hardin play a tape recording of a rambling phone conversation between Clemens and McNamee. Clemens looks pleased with himself while the recording plays, obviously thinking he’s some kind of simian Nancy Drew, and completely misses the fact that McNamee isn’t backing away from his story in the least. The tape doesn’t convince any listeners, but it apparently convinces McNamee that the Rocket isn’t to be trusted. He decides it time to hand the authorities syringes and gauze he claims to have saved from injecting Clemens.

* Clemens, after being repeatedly given the chance to reconsider, appears before a Congressional committee with McNamee and denies everything [7]. To say he isn’t particularly convincing is an understatement; it’s downright amusing to watch him stumble through testimony, throw his own wife and late mother under the bus, and sort of realize — to the extent that Roger Clemens is capable of realizing anything — that you can’t intimidate members of Congress by throwing baseballs at their heads.

* In his big day before the Congressmen, Clemens is deep-sixed by testimony offered by no less than Andy Pettitte, who testified under oath that Clemens told him about being injected by McNamee with HGH. Pettitte admits his own PED use, corroborating a big chunk of McNamee’s story. He seems genuinely agonized about what he did, telling investigators that he doesn’t want to talk about it, but “I have to live with myself. And one day, I have to give an account to God — and not to nobody else — of what I’ve done in my life.” Clemens is left to stammer that Pettitte “misremembers.”

* Clemens’ testimony is so convincing that Congress recommends that the Justice Department investigate whether he lied under oath.

* The Roger Clemens Institute for Sports Medicine decides it needs a new name.

* The Daily News reports that Clemens had an affair with country-music singer Mindy McCready, whose biggest hit was “Guys Do It All the Time.” But wait — the affair began when she was 15 and Clemens saw her singing in a karaoke contest in a Florida bar. As Hardin screams about another defamation suit, McCready is asked about the story and says she can’t refute any of it. The only good news for Clemens is McCready later says they met when she was 16, not 15, and the relationship didn’t become sexual until she was 21, thus elevating Clemens’ conduct from criminal to just really, really creepy. The McCready revelations are followed by a string of reports of other extramarital affairs that’s not quite Tiger Woods-worthy, but still pretty jaw-dropping.

* McNamee wins round after round against Clemens in court, with the Rocket continuing his hysterical jihad despite looking more and more stupid and spending more and more money.

* A federal grand jury indicts Clemens for making false statements to Congress.

Wow. I suppose I might have wished for Clemens to also be revealed as an Al Qaeda supporter, but other than that, I really couldn’t have asked for a more complete humiliation, with the added bonus that a lot of the damage has been self-inflicted. Clemens could have fessed up to, say, a mistake in coming back from injury. He could have told a carefully selected 10% of the story. He would have been briefly chided, forgiven, and then lauded again. Instead, he has aimed both barrels at his own feet over and over again, blasting his own reputation to bits. He’s become the crazy uncle of the steroid era, the tinfoil-hat relative everyone’s embarrassed by and doesn’t want to have over to the house.

Clemens left baseball as a Hall of Famer in waiting; while I’m sure he’ll get in one day, it won’t be for a long time, and when it happens it’ll be with an invisible but endlessly debated asterisk. He left baseball as a combination of John Wayne and Walter Johnson; now, he’s that guy who got infatuated with an underage country singer and made a fool out of himself denying a mountain of evidence and suing people. Will people remember that he was a great pitcher? Sure — and, much as I hate to admit it, they should. But they’ll also remember the rest, thanks in large part to Clemens’ own crazy behavior.

And they’ll think, “Man, was that guy ever a dushbag.”