The Rocket Gets Smoked

My piece today at Baseball Prospectus covering Wednesday’s Congressional hearing will have a familiar ring to anyone who’s been following along in this space. While there’s plenty to debate about the propriety of such a dog and pony show in Congress, not to mention the credibility of the Mitchell Report and of Brian McNamee, I focused on the hearings as a product of Roger Clemens’ public quest for vindication:

In any event, Wednesday’s hearings weren’t so much about the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform’s interest in the culpability of the commissioner, the union, or the owners as they were about Roger Clemens’ decision to challenge the findings in the Mitchell Report in an attempt to clear his name. Without Clemens’ vehement campaign to discredit the work of the Mitchell Commission while denying the charges that he used steroids and human growth hormone, there would have been no hearing. But given his goal of vindicating himself, it’s difficult to conclude that Clemens did anything but fail miserably on a grand stage.

…Clemens came into the hearings needing to cast doubt on the Mitchell Report, on Pettitte, and on McNamee, and at best, he went a weak one-for-three. The proceedings raised credibility questions about his former trainer, demonstrating that McNamee basically fits the profile of someone desperate who gets backed into corners like these — allusions to a Florida rape case where the charges didn’t stick, a fake diploma and some shady misrepresentation, a seriously ill son, and a sudden desire to set things right for the youth of America so as to avoid jail time. His accounts appear to be in a constant state of evolution, which opens him up to facile charges of lying but which are, as Souder pointed out, characteristic of people forced into such deals. For certain, McNamee is no prize pig, something we’ve known for months; Clemens and his allies on the committee didn’t get very far beyond that, and in fact Clemens created new problems for himself while dealing with the body blow of the other major revelations.

Indeed, experts suggest the probability of a Department of Justice perjury investigation versus Clemens, though I’m skeptical there’s enough evidence to convict him. Meanwhile, there’s much less to suggest McNamee is in danger of being proven as lying about the Mitchell-related allegations and thus in violation of his proffer agreement, or that Clemens’ defamation suit against McNamee will gain any traction. Had Clemens simply copped to using HGH (and only HGH) as Pettitte did after the report came out, this sordid saga would likely be over. Clemens and his legal team look foolish for not recognizing that unless the Rocket was absolutely spotless — and here, the unchallenged information about Debbie Clemens’ HGH use looks especially bad — he was going to be hung out to dry.

Roger Clemens was very good at intimidating batters for over 20 years, but his brawn and bravado simply don’t work in a legal or pseudo-legal setting. He’s gotten far more than he bargained for in his quest for vindication. Instead of throwing smoke, he’s simply been smoked.

Today’s headlines have brought some new information into the mix. According to this New York Times piece, committee chair Henry Waxman now regrets that the hearing took place, and reveals that on the Republican side, only Tom Davis and Mark Souder even bothered to read the depositions. It’s telling that Souder came off as one of the few Congressman on either side to cross the partisan divide:

Souder was also one of the few committee members who refused Clemens’s request for a private meeting before the hearing. And it was Souder who stood out from his Republican colleagues by stating during the hearing that the depositions were “fairly devastating” against Clemens.

“I don’t think, quite frankly, that they anticipated quite the solid wall on the Republican side, the defense of Clemens,” Souder said Wednesday of the Democratic members of the panel. Speaking of Clemens, he added, “It wasn’t an accident that word got to me that he’s a Republican, or he said that President Bush called him.”

Meanwhile, much more information about McNamee’s debriefing by investigators from the Clemens camp is coming to light. If you thought this saga was over, think again.

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