Friday, August 20, 2010

Roger Clemens

I’m a pretty dedicated fan of baseball in general, and the New York Yankees in particular. The fact that Roger Clemens had a Hall-of-Fame career entitles him to every fan’s respect, even if the admiration is qualified a little by the knowledge that he probably had a little chemical assistance. Given the psychology of a baseball fan, the fact that he helped my team win two World Series championships ought to have earned him my affection as well. But I’m not the only Yankees fan who never warmed to Clemens. Although we couldn’t quite put our finger on what it was, we always sensed that there was something inauthentic about him as a baseball player.

A warrior mentality usually endears a player to his team’s fans, but there was always something narcissistic about Clemens’s competitive zeal. It’s hard, for example, to think of another player who would have risked getting thrown out of a crucial World Series game for throwing a broken bat at a player of Mike Piazza’s stature, apparently because Piazza had the audacity not to be permanently disabled by the beaning he’d suffered at Clemens’s hands during the regular season. Yes, Clemens had gotten carried away, but by something other than his determination to win the game.

Now that it looks like he'll be going to jail for perjury, it’s easier to see what was always bothersome about him. Ruthless prosecutors set perjury traps for defendants by presenting them with an incentive and an occasion to give provably false testimony. Clemens set one, and then willfully sprang it, on himself. He was under no legal compulsion to testify before Congress about his alleged steroid use. He was the one who pressured Congress into taking his (apparently provably false) testimony.

The only comparable case I can think of off hand is Alger Hiss’s ending up in jail for perjury after suing Whittaker Chambers for defamation in the 1950s after Chambers told a congressional committee that Hiss had been a Soviet spy. Hiss and Clemens were both willing to put themselves in legal jeopardy to satisfy other people’s expectations that they’d publicly vindicate their good names. They cared more about the image of themselves that they saw reflected in other people’s eyes than their own liberty, more about how they looked, than about what they'd really done.

That’s how Clemens played baseball. He always cared more about looking like a warrior than about winning baseball wars. That didn’t keep him from winning a lot of games, including crucial Yankees games. But baseball fans could tell the difference.


Anonymous said...

Yankee fans could tell the difference?
You're full of shit. If there was any skepticism about Clemens by Yankee fans, it may have been because he was a former Red Sox player.
Anything else you are describing is revisionist history.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Damon was a former Red Sox player before he became a Yankee. And Yankee fans (including me) fell in love with him as soon as he cut his hair and joined the team. So I don't think Commenter is correct. Everyone respected Clemens abilities (juice or no juice), but I agree he was hard to warm up to.