Did Clemens use steroids? There's smoke but no proof
Posted: Wednesday November 1, 2006 2:40PM; Updated: Thursday November 2, 2006 11:52AM
Roger Clemens' numbers have improved as he's gotten older, but he's never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
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E.M. Swift will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
I recently mentioned to a colleague that Roger Clemens' extraordinary record since turning 35 -- the 44-year-old Clemens has gone 156-58 since 1997 and has won four Cy Young Awards -- was every bit as suspicious as Barry Bonds' power surge.
My colleague, a Clemens fan, pointed out that Clemens never tested positive for any performance-enhancing drugs (neither has Bonds), and that Hank Aaron, too, enjoyed great success late in his career. "Was he juiced too?" he asked.
I suppose the question was rhetorical. No one really believes that Aaron took steroids, but I did some research anyway. Anabolic steroids have been around since the 1930s, so it's at least conceivable that Aaron had access to them. But it wasn't until East German scientists started surreptitiously supplying anabolic steroids to their Olympic athletes in the late 1960s that it was discovered that steroids in large doses significantly improved athletic performance in sports beside weightlifting.
It's not clear when steroids first made their way into baseball, which didn't test for performance-enhancing drugs until 2003. But it's reasonably safe to conclude that it wasn't until the mid-1980s. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Aaron, who retired in 1976, was clean. In terms of pure numbers, Aaron hit 245 of his 755 home runs after his 35th birthday -- 32 percent of his record total. Bonds has hit 289 of his 734 homers since turning 35 -- 39 percent, a rate that will rise since he's still active. Clemens, who between 1993-96 was only 40-39 for a Red Sox team that went 305-278 over the same span, has picked up a stunning 43.5 percent of his wins since turning 35. That's quite something for a power pitcher.
Is it proof he took steroids? Of course not. But two questionable characters crossed paths with Clemens around the time of the remarkable turnaround in his career. The first was Jose Canseco, the Johnny Appleseed of steroids in Major League Baseball, who spread word of their magic wherever he went and was a teammate of Clemens' on the Red Sox in '96. Here's what Canseco wrote in his tell-all steroid-ography Juiced:
"One of the benefits of steroids is that they're especially helpful in countering the effects of aging. So in Roger's case, around the time he was leaving the Boston Red Sox -- and Dan Duquette, the general manager there, was saying he was 'past his prime' -- Roger decided to make some changes. He started working out harder. And whatever else he may have been doing to get stronger, he saw results."
The second person who came into Clemens' life in that period was the strength and conditioning coach of the Toronto Blue Jays, a young man named Brian McNamee, whohas been his personal trainer ever since.
George Mitchell, who's investigating drug use in major league baseball for commissioner Bud Selig, will, I assume, be talking to both Clemens and McNamee. That's because Clemens was one of six players who were linked to performance-enhancing drugs in a lengthy search-warrant affidavit signed by IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky, summarizing an interview federal agents had conducted with former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jason Grimsley, as reported by the Los Angeles Times last month. Novitzky was also the lead agent in the BALCO investigation.
Grimsley was cooperating with investigators after they had allegedly intercepted a shipment of human growth hormone, HGH, that was sent to his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., in April. A 15-year veteran, Grimsley also identified, according to the Times, Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons as former teammates who had used steroids. (Though it should be pointed out that the Feds responded to the Times story with this statement from San Francisco U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan: "In view of the recent news reports purporting to identify certain athletes whose names had been redacted from the government's search warrant filings in the Grimsley matter, and in the interests of justice, please be advised that these reports contain significant inaccuracies.") Grimsley admitted using HGH, steroids and amphetamines -- he credited McNamee for pointing him to an amphetamine supplier -- and said that before last season, amphetamines ("greenies") were widely available in major league clubhouses.
"Grimsley stated that until last year, Major League clubhouses had coffee pots labeled 'leaded' and 'unleaded' for the players, indicating coffee with amphetamines and without," Novitzky wrote in his sworn affidavit.
Since the well-traveled Grimsley, who has since hired a lawyer and stopped cooperating with investigators, played for seven teams in his career -- the Phillies, Indians, Angels, Yankees, Royals, Orioles and Diamondbacks -- that should give Senator Mitchell plenty of people to interview. Amphetamines, of course, are a controlled substance, and to distribute them in coffee pots, or by any other method without a doctor's prescription, is illegal.
Is Grimsley a credible source, and where is Novitzky's investigation heading? Well, to me the Grimsley affidavit is credible. (You can read the redacted version in its entirety, with names removed, here.) He had not yet lawyered up, and was cooperating in order to avoid being embarrassed at his home in front of his family and houseguests. Since that interview, the search warrant has been served on Grimsley. Separately, according to a source who used to work with McNamee, federal investigators have pursued a money trail through computer files that have led them directly back to Clemens and teammate Andy Pettitte, who also employed McNamee as his personal trainer. The noose has tightened, according to the source, and it will all come out before long. (Clemens and Pettitte couldn't be reached for comment.)
We'll see. Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe I'm unnecessarily suspicious of a future Hall of Famer and an entire generation of Major League Baseball players. This is the great price the sport will pay for not testing for drugs all those years. Clemens never tested positive for a drug test? Of course he didn't. Neither did Canseco, for heaven's sake, who freely admits to having used them. Or Mark McGwire. Or Sammy Sosa. Or Bonds.
So which among them truly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame?