Despite verdict, Clemens doesn't belong in player development
Well, that didn't take long.
Less than 24 hours after the United States government wrapped up its failed four-year, millions-and-millions-and-millions-of-dollars perjury case against Roger Clemens, the Houston Astros came calling.
Well, not quite calling. But when Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow was asked by MLB.com whether he'd like the Rocket to be part of the organization, he didn't mince words. "It's great to have former players, who've had a great deal of success in the major league level, involved in the organization," he said yesterday. "Everybody has a certain level of expertise, and in Roger's case, a lot of what we're trying to teach the pitchers, with respect to the delivery, the approach to the game and the work ethic, he's excelled at all that."
We should take a moment to note that Luhnow has a duel degree in business and engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Northwestern. He is an intelligent person with, no doubt, good intentions and a big heart and ...
No remote clue.
There are, in this world, at least four people who believe Roger Clemens' career accomplishments were completely clean and proper. Three of those are my mother, my Aunt Barbara and my Uncle Marty -- none of whom would recognize Clemens were he to knock on their doors wearing an I'M ROGER CLEMENS T-shirt. The fourth is Clemens himself, who is either somehow telling the truth (which means: a. Andy Pettitte lied under oath; b. Debbie Clemens received HGH injections without her husband knowing; c. Brian McNamee is both a liar and a man who relished the idea of flushing his reputation and career down the toilet in exchange for the joy of fibbing; and d. 45-year-old men can still let loose fastballs in the low-to-mid 90s -- for seven-inning stretches) or completely and utterly delusional (I vote for the latter).
Not that any of this matters. Should the Astros follow through on employing Clemens, they'll actually help complete a wonderfully delicious cycle. If you believe the Rocket prolonged his career by using PEDs (and, again, the evidence is pretty damn strong), then he's been working in player development for quite a long time. Actually, scratch that -- anti-player development. Back in 2004, when he made his "miraculous" (in the words of far too many members of the fawning Houston media) return to baseball with the Astros, the Triple A New Orleans Zephers and Double A Round Rock Express, both Astros affiliates, combined to employ 43 pitchers. These were, in many cases, young men fighting to fulfill their major league dreams. These were, in at many cases, men whose paths were blocked by a 41-year-old egomaniac.
That's the thing that people like Luhnow refuse to acknowledge. By using performance enhancing drugs, ballplayers weren't merely cheating -- they were cheating their peers. For every Mark McGwire, still holding on as the Cardinals' 37-year-old first baseman in 2001, there was a Troy Farnsworth, a St. Louis infield prospect who, at the time, was waiting for his opportunity (which never came) in Double A. For every Barry Bonds, 42 years old and slugging away in 2007, there was a Clay Timpner, Triple A star left without a roster spot in San Francisco. It's an unspoken evil of the PED Era -- the Players' Union looking the other way as many players juiced. As a result, its clean members suffered the consequences.
When major league teams employ known cheaters (even through he was found not guilty of perjury, Clemens' reputation within the game is that of a cheater), they are not merely offering up a second chance. No, what they're doing is saying that breaking the rules doesn't really matter; that even those who used drugs to erase the record books (Trivia: What's the all-time home run record?) and deny others opportunities have a place within the game's inner-circle. "If you hire someone like Roger, you just have to hope that everything he's gone through kicks in," said one major league executive. "Hopefully he's been humiliated enough that he would never encourage kids to try any sort of performance enhancer. You'd like to think he'd be under the microscope so much that he'd never even consider it."
Yes, you'd like to think. Over the course of his 24-year career, Clemens did anything -- absolutely anything -- to win. He threw inside. He threw really inside. He launched a splintered bat at Mike Piazza's leg. On the one hand, that sort of intensity is desperately needed in today's game -- "too many rich kids with no fire," says the executive. "There's a part of Roger you'd love to rub off on them." And yet, if Clemens did, in fact, resort to using PEDs, why wouldn't he offer similar wisdom to others? Would you hire Rosie Ruiz to teach your kids how to run? Would you hire Stephen Glass to lead a college writing course? Would you bring in Fab Morvan to offer vocal instruction?
As much as we like to move forward, we also need to look back.
Or at least it should.