Clemens' late success makes drug claims worth close look

Other Voices

October 03, 2006|By John Smallwood | John Smallwood,Philadelphia Daily News.

OK, so now Barry Bonds has some Hall of Fame company in the hot seat of public scrutiny - or, at least, he should.

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that surefire Hall of Fame pitcher Roger Clemens is among the ex-teammates former major league pitcher Jason Grimsley accused of using performance-enhancing drugs in an affidavit filed with federal agents.

Grimsley is the former reliever who has been out of baseball since June, when federal agents raided his home after he admitted using human growth hormone, steroids and amphetamines. Grimsley had gotten on the bad side of the feds when he stopped cooperating with their investigation.

During his time in the good grace of the authorities, Grimsley apparently had broken the "Thin Blue Line of Baseball" when he accused some former teammates in a sworn statement to the government. The 20-page search-warrant affidavit in June had the names of the players Grismley accused of using drugs blacked out. The Times was allowed to see the uncensored document by an anonymous source with access to it.

It reported that Clemens, fellow Houston Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte and Orioles teammates Jay Gibbons, Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada are the players Grimsley dimed out to the government. Grimsley played with Clemens and Pettitte on the Yankees; he played in Baltimore with the three Orioles.

Each player has denied the accusations. The question is: Will these accusations, especially the ones against Clemens, be as vigorously researched as the ones against Bonds?

Bonds, like Clemens, never has failed a drug test, but the large amount of circumstantial evidence against him, plus a leaked grand jury statement that he unknowingly used a performance drug supplied by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, has many people - including me - believing he indeed has cheated.

I understand the ducks against Clemens don't line up as neatly in a row; still, considering today's climate, shouldn't Clemens' denial be viewed with as much skepticism as Bonds'?

Maybe the current culture of "guilty until proven innocent" concerning performance-enhancing drug use in baseball is wrong, but it does exist.

Right now, Clemens' denial should be given as much credence as those of Bonds, Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa. The root of the belief against Bonds basically comes from the fact that he has done things that no other player at the advanced stage of his career has done. So why shouldn't that be the same starting point for a critical analysis of Clemens?

Clemens, 44, has just completed his 23rd major league season. In 19 starts, he finished 7-6 with a 2.30 ERA. He had 102 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings.

In 2005, Clemens was 13-8 and led the majors with a 1.87 ERA. It was the first time he led the majors in ERA since 1990, when he was 28. In 2004, Clemens, then 42, won his seventh Cy Young Award, becoming the oldest player to win it.

Since the 2003 season, after he had turned 40, Clemens is 55-27 with a 2.83 ERA. The Rocket's career ERA is 3.10.

In the past two seasons, during which he turned 43 and 44, Clemens posted the lowest and fourth-lowest ERAs of his career.

The accepted law of sports is that athletes in their 40s aren't supposed to be able to dominate like that.

Those who back Clemens, who is the active major league leader with 348 victories, will say his post-40 success is due to his freakish commitment to keep his body physically fit.

They'll say that's why he still can throw consistently at speeds clocked in the low- to mid-90s.

That's a similar explanation offered by Bonds' defenders for how he has hit 39 percent of his 734 home runs in seasons after he turned 35.

The issue isn't whether older athletes can maintain the type of fitness that would allow them to dominate others who are younger, sometimes far younger.

Clemens and Bonds already have proved that.

The question is whether they needed the aid of illegal performance-enhancing drugs to maintain those levels.

In the case of Bonds, a lot of us have concluded, yes.

There is no logical reason why Clemens shouldn't be held to the same standards of skepticism as Bonds.

John Smallwood writes for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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