In Defense of Roger Clemens

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To call Roger Clemens' federal indictment yesterday on charges of perjury and obstructing a congressional inquiry a fall from grace would not be entirely accurate. His high profile postseason dust-ups with umpires and opposing players made him one of baseball's preeminent heels. Allegedly lying to congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs would only cement his legacy as a less-than-great-guy. But is that fair to the once-vaunted pitcher? Today, the writers who covered Clemens attempt to put the man in context.

  • Unseen Generosity The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell argues there was a fundamental decency to Clemens:

I'd seen him do favors for people he'd never met before and would never meet again. I'd watched him stand in a polo shirt, teeth chattering, on a chilly evening for an extra hour so that a young magazine photographer who'd showed up unprepared for her first big assignment wouldn't get fired. "It's fine, no problem, I'm okay," he'd say. "I'll wait 'til she gets her shot."

Once, he'd been at a remote golf course in New England, just enjoying his day off, when an old man asked if he'd pose for a photo with a little boy. Clemens said, "Sure." The little boy was my son, visiting his grandparents, though Roger didn't know it. That's the only personal picture of a ballplayer I have in my house.

  • Overshadowed The indictment takes away any chance Clemens had of correcting his prickly public images, says the Houston Chronicle's Richard Justice.  "What's so sad," writes Justice, "is that he's probably never going to be remembered for his true greatness and his charitable heart. Instead, he's likely to be remembered as a liar and a cheat. Even an acquittal won't get his good name back. There's too much doubt."

  • Unique Agony Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal says the exile of baseball's PED generation is uniquely painful for Clemens. "He is a man who could never quite give it up, who always wanted another taste of the spotlight and adulation. Now the applause is muted." His isolation from the game he loves is "not as bad as a cell, but it can't be peaceful."

  • Self-Inflicted Sports Illustrated's Jeff Pearlman says self-obsession and a blinding focus on the game of baseball made Clemens ill-suited to deal with the realities of life off the diamond:

[Clemens] has four sons, and all of them--Koby, Kory, Kacy, and Kody--were proudly and purposefully named with a K, the baseball symbol for strikeout. Let's think about that for a second: The birth of a child. An amazing, blessed moment. A blank slate of a little person, staring up at you, warm and new, all full of wonder and splendor ... and you name the child after a strikeout? Four separate times? Really?

But that's who Roger Clemens is. The kind of guy who names his children after a strikeout. The kind of guy who, for holidays, presents teammates with signed photographs of himself. The kind of guy with vanity baseball-themed license plates (SOX-21 back during his Boston years, CY-MVP more recently) and the kind of guy who, sans humor or irony, refers to himself not in the first person or third person, but by a nickname.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.