So many years and so much authenticity have fallen away since the days of Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Mark McGwire, et al, but there remains one person in this world who actually believes that steroids do not help athletic performance. I know this may shock you, but his name is Roger Clemens.
It might seem that major league owners also hold such an unsophisticated view, given the way they are still doling out millions of dollars to players as they age into their 30s – Giancarlo Stanton and Russell Martin will be followed by many others in the weeks to come; more on such apparent folly later. First, as the great writer Roger Angell would say, referring to how Clemens’ postgame explanations bore little semblance to the game we all had just watched, “We are about to get a visit from Planet Clemens.”
Last July 30, Clemens gave a lengthy deposition in the defamation suit filed by Brian McNamee, his former trainer. McNamee’s attorney, Richard Emery, last week made available to The New York Times the transcript of that deposition. “Squirrelly as hell,” is how Emery described Clemens' performance to the New York Daily News.
In 90 pages of testimony, Clemens gave versions of “I don’t know” 209 times, “I’m not sure” 102 times and “I don’t remember” 68 times. That’s 379 statements of uncertainty in the seven-hour deposition for those of you scoring at home, or about one waffle per minute. In fairness, too, Emery’s questioning often resembled a wayward fishing expedition.
At one point Clemens didn’t even know how many major league games he won (354). He said the Hall of Fame was unimportant to him, even though while he was still playing, in 2003, he said he would insist on being enshrined as a Yankee because “I became a Hall of Famer” in New York – only to say three months ago in Boston that he wanted to go in as Red Sox player.
There's more rambling from Clemens in the deposition. Important conversations with former teammate Andy Pettitte and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, inquiries from Mitchell Report investigators, why he never took a lie-detector test, when he trained with McNamee and so many other inquiries from the banal to the important all went fuzzy or missing in Clemens' mind. He was brilliant and consistent in his avoidance of simple declarative statements, the Nureyev of verbal dodgeball.
But there were two matters on which Clemens spoke more definitively: He never used steroids, and, as relayed in this exchange, steroids don’t help athletes.
Emery: So it is your testimony that steroids do not help performance?
Clemens: That is my belief, yes.
Emery then asked Clemens why, if steroids are so benign, should they not be used? That’s when things got fuzzy again. Clemens answered: "I think you’d have to ask the people that were using them. I don’t have a – an opinion on that."
It made no sense, of course. But then Clemens said, “I believe those types of drugs can hurt you. I think they make your body break down.”
So now Clemens was saying not only do steroids not help performance, but also they are bad for performance. How anybody, let alone a former pro athlete, could believe such nonsense in 2014 is near comical. Clemens goes even further, suggesting that one of the notorious steroid-enhanced athletes of all time was hurt by using steroids. Asked if steroids helped Jose Canseco play baseball – within six years of being a 15th-round draft pick and within four years of starting a steroid regimen, Canseco had hit 111 major league homers and was the first 40-40 player ever -- Clemens said, “I don’t think it helped him … I think it probably hurt him.”
Well, there you go. The whole Steroid Era in baseball? All those cartoonish numbers? All the anguish over what happened to the hallowed record book and the bastardization of baseball? Never mind. Steroids didn’t help ballplayers in the weird world of Roger Clemens. The poor guys actually were hurt by freakish anabolic muscle gains from testosterone, Deca Durabolin, Winstrol and other drugs favored by everybody from sprinters to weightlifters precisely to improve performance.
Clemens can repeat his silly claim along with his poor recall in court next June, when Emery expects to call him as his first witness if McNamee’s case goes to trial. Clemens was acquitted by a Washington jury in 2012 of charges that he lied to Congress about never having used performance-enhancing drugs. In that trial as well as the recent deposition, Clemens and his legal team offer no possible reason why McNamee would fully fabricate stories about Clemens using HGH and steroids, especially when Clemens was his meal ticket as a trainer and why fellow McNamee clients Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch confirmed McNamee was correct about their own PED use. Clemens attorney Michael Attanasio said at trial of McNamee, “We can’t prove why he did what he did, but we don’t have to.”
When Emery asked Clemens if he knew of “any reason whatsoever” why McNamee would tell the truth about Pettitte and Knoblauch but make up stories whole cloth about Clemens, the former pitcher replied, “I don’t.”
After Clemens won his 300th game, back in 2003, George King wrote this in the New York Post: “Clemens cleared his Manhattan apartment of friends and family at about 3:30 Saturday morning. Less than seven hours later, Clemens was out on a conditioning run with personal trainer Brian McNamee, a former St. John’s catcher whom Clemens credits for his ability to remain a power pitcher at 40.”
McNamee had been fired by the Yankees two years earlier, yet he remained Clemens’ personal fitness guru.
What does seem obvious is that the further we are removed from the Steroid Era the more that kind of ageless baseball and those who played it seem unrecognizable. Clemens, for instance, posted five qualified seasons from age 35 or older with an adjusted ERA of at least 120. Since 2006, when amphetamines joined steroids and other PEDs on baseball’s list of banned substances, all the 35+ pitchers in baseball combined have done it only 12 times.
We’ve played enough years now with amphetamines and steroids on the banned list that the baseball actuarial tables have been completely re-written. It should be obvious by now that you don’t want to rely on players to remain productive through their late 30s. Let’s consider all players 35 and older, and compare how many times they reached selected milestones in two nine-year windows: the nine seasons before amphetamines joined steroids on the banned list and in the nine seasons since then. First, the hitters:
30 Home Runs
And for the pitchers:
Now look around baseball this time of year, and when you see the way teams keep doling out huge sums of money that carry into a player’s mid- to late-30s, ask yourself if the clubs are as out of touch as Clemens. The Toronto Blue Jays just handed Martin a five-year contract that guarantees him $82 million. Martin will be 35 and 36 in the final two years of his contract. Do you know how many 35-and-older qualified catchers over the past seven years have been even mediocre (OPS+ of 100)?
One: A.J. Pierzynski for the 2012 White Sox.
The Marlins will guarantee Stanton $325 million through age 38. Do you know how many qualified National League players (without the escape hatch of a DH role) have been even average at age 37 or 38 over the past three years?
One: Marco Scutaro of the 2013 Giants.
Free agent pitchers Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields all are likely to sign contracts that will pay them elite money through age 36, at least. Do you know how many pitchers that old finished among the top 39 qualified pitchers in adjusted ERA last season?
One: Mark Buehrle, who came in 32nd at 115.
The length of contracts handed out in the Testing Era would indicate that owners have no clue about these re-configured aging patterns. In 2021, for instance, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols will be paid a combined $109 million at the respective ages of 37, 38, 38 and 42.
But owners, in fact, do understand that players can’t be expected to remain stars into their late 30s as they did in the Steroid Era. But they hand out such lengthy contracts for two key reasons:
1. Based on unchecked growth in the game, they bank on revenues continuing to rise so that today’s expensive bauble becomes more affordable over time. Those 2021 salaries for Votto, Cabrera, Cano and Pujols, for example? Keep this in mind: seven years ago only three players made $20 million a year. This year there were 22. So seven years from now perhaps those four aging stars will be among 60 or 70 players earning that much.
2. Adding years to offers is how to close a deal. It used to be that adding a million here or a million there separated offers. Now if a team believes a player is worth a four-year investment it takes adding to the length of the contract to win the bidding or to extend the player. Baseball has become Christie’s auction house, where logic loses out to desire.
It’s not that teams with their sophisticated metrics believe that players will outperform the actuarial tables. It’s that because they are enriched with so much money and so emboldened by the belief that it will continue to roll in that they don’t worry so much about tomorrow, let alone seven years from now.