Mixed emotions about Clemens

Mixed emotions about Clemens

In the popular AT&T Wireless television ad, Roger Clemens is on a golf course contemplating yet another baseball season. He calls his wife, Debbie, at home to see what she thinks about the idea. She is less than enthused about it, but the call is dropped before she can express her feelings about the situation. Hearing nothing from her, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner raises both arms and tells teammates on the putting green: "Hey, guys -- I'm back! She's so happy, she's speechless."

A dropped call can ruin a conversation.

It might even ruin a career. Will it?

That is one of the biggest questions that looms now that former Sen. George Mitchell and his team have released the investigation into the illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. Of all the names listed in the massive report revealed on Thursday, it is Clemens' that perhaps most makes average baseball fans wrestle with what they now know.

There is the big picture of the investigation's findings and recommendations, and then there is the specific analysis of the players who were listed. That's mostly a Clemens story.

Is the lock of all Hall of Fame locks now even a likely choice? Even if you weren't surprised, are you shocked and disgusted? How do you feel if you're a parent who has held Clemens on high as a role model all this time?

"The fact that players are named," Commissioner Bud Selig said in his news conference following the report, "they're going to have to live with it."

Public reaction is easier to gauge than ever with today's technology, and it is pretty obvious that there is great mixed emotion, especially when it comes to a player many experts have considered one of the three or four greatest right-handers in the national pastime's history -- a list that probably starts with Walter Johnson and Nolan Ryan.

The Mitchell Report is just that, a "report," and thus the correct phrase is "reported steroid use by Roger Clemens." He is entitled to any due process, certainly to speak for himself, even to take legal action to preserve his good name.

"Roger has been repeatedly tested for these substances, and he has never tested positive. There has never been one shred of tangible evidence that he ever used these substances, and yet he is being slandered today," Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement, "vehemently" denying such use by his client.

"The use of steroids in sports is a serious problem, it is wrong and it should be stopped," Hardin continued. "However, I am extremely upset that Roger's name was in this report based on the allegations of a troubled and unreliable witness who only came up with names after being threatened with possible prison time."

Nevertheless, this was not a day in which there was a little smoke. This smoke practically blotted out the sky over Katy, Texas, absolutely riveting and shocking anyone who really read the details of the report, which everyone must do.

As a fan, it is pretty much impossible to feel the same way about a "legend" after seeing Clemens singled out in nearly nine pages, with 82 references by name, second only to Barry Bonds, who now becomes the comparison study.

Selig said that he is "going to take it case by case. [I] don't want to comment now, because I don't think that's fair. I have a lot of work to do ahead of me, and I will do that."

In the case of Clemens, though, it probably is not a matter of disciplining a player by forcing him to miss games. It is a longer shot than ever that Clemens will find a team in 2008. He turned 45 on Aug. 4, and despite being a midseason addition last season, had no effective endurance at the end. He finished the seventh inning just once in his last 11 starts, only pitched twice in September and generally seemed a shadow of himself. So it would be stunning to see yet another retirement delay under normal circumstances, and now more than ever.

Much of the information on Clemens came from former Yankees strength and conditioning coach Brian McNamee. It is brutal in detail. It is right there in the long PDF that any baseball fan can and probably will read.

"According to McNamee, from the time that McNamee injected Clemens with Winstrol through the end of the 1998 season, Clemens' performance showed remarkable improvement," the Report said. "During this period of improved performance, Clemens told McNamee that the steroids 'had a pretty good effect' on him."

McNamee also told investigators that "during the middle of the 2000 season, Clemens made it clear that he was ready to use steroids again. During the latter part of the regular season, McNamee injected Clemens in the buttocks four to six times with testosterone from a bottle labeled either Sustanon 250 or Deca-Durabolin."

McNamee reportedly worked for Clemens as well as the Yankees. The lasting image of this part of the report is of Clemens having a SkyDome apartment in Toronto and McNamee having to reportedly inject him there with a clearly labeled drug.

And it got worse from there if you're a Clemens fan. There were many other big names in the report, from Clemens' buddy and current Yankee Andy Pettitte to new Astro Miguel Tejada, new Brewers closer Eric Gagne and former All-Star Matt Williams. With the exception of Bonds, though, no other player comes close to Clemens for true shock value. That's because it has been a way of life in baseball to see Clemens dominate and hold fans captive over his annual pondering of whether to return and where to pitch.

Suddenly, there are two drastically different accounts of this superstar's past, and everything is now following the Bonds path, right down to the vehement denial despite seemingly strong evidence to the contrary. It apparently will be for the legal system to determine, but the court of public opinion is undeniably powerful, and that has been seen in recent years around this game. Clemens is now in that court, and like a dropped call, there is silence on the other end where once there was love.

To read every page and every word about him in the Mitchell Report is to see life differently today as a baseball fan. Just how differently is now to be determined, just like that annual suspense over whether to return and say, "Hey, guys -- I'm back!"

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.