ONE AFTERNOON in April 2003 a group of advertising executives gathered for a luncheon at the 21 Club in New York City to hear Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens speak. There was slight alarm that Clemens might not attend because, it turned out, he was scheduled to pitch that night against the Seattle Mariners, and on the days they take the mound, starters are known to be as edgy and unsociable as thoroughbreds on race day. � But Clemens did show, and broader and larger in person than on television, he moved through the doorways and hallways of the historic 19th-century brownstone like a piano under the care of a moving company. With each turn you worried about the fit. It was Clemens's personality, though, that filled the wood-paneled dining room. The greatest pitcher of his generation connected with people, looked them in the eye, laughed and genuinely seemed to enjoy himself. He was 4--0 at the time with 297 career wins; the Yankees were 20--5; and this was going to be his last season in baseball—the first of five such seasons as it happened.
I thought of what Clemens said that day as I watched him roast on a skewer in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., where selected baseball legends go to die dressed in mortuary-appropriate suit and tie.
I had introduced Clemens at the 21 luncheon, which came 11 months after I wrote Totally Juiced, the SI special report that detailed steroid use in baseball. (The major leagues' first steroid testing agreement came three months later.)
Clemens thanked me for the introduction, in which I had made statistical references to his prolific career. Then he raised the issue of steroids himself. He thanked me for writing the story and told the executives how "important" he regarded such reporting. "There is no place in the game for steroids," Clemens said, "and we need to make sure the game is clean."
Clemens gave up three home runs that night and lost 6--0. I had forgotten the score of the game and had to look it up. I have never forgotten what he said—wholly unsolicited—about steroids, not now especially.
Somebody could walk into this room
And say your life is on fire
It's all over the evening news
—PAUL SIMON, Crazy Love, Vol. II
THE LIFE of William Roger Clemens is on fire. Film at 11. And 12 and 1 and ... well, the evening news is only one slice of a perpetual, multimedia cycle in the Britneyfication of events. Coverage of the fire ran live on Feb. 13 when Clemens appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to refute accusations in the Mitchell Report by his trainer, Brian McNamee, that Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone in 1998, 2000 and 2001. Both men stuck to their wildly divergent accounts of the truth. Five hours of testimony proved nothing for certain. What the hearing revealed more than the truth was Clemens himself.
In charcoal suit and red tie Clemens was the same as the Clemens in spikes: cocksure and, but for not knowing whether to be insulted or humored by the unfamiliar word vegan, incapable of the slightest concession. Clemens the pitcher, even on his worst days, never allowed his belief in himself or his stuff to waver. If he got hit, it was because the hitters did their job. "Or," said one former teammate last Thursday, "you'd get word from the trainers' room that he was getting treated for something. Back, groin, whatever."
"You know Roger," another teammate said shortly after the Mitchell Report was released on Dec. 13. "He surrounds himself with his own people and has his own world."
Introspection is not his game. Doubt and those who dare raise it are not permitted. It is a doctrine that helped make him great. And it is still true that if Clemens is getting hit—and he got roughed up by chunks of testimony, especially the friendly-fire deposition from former teammate Andy Pettitte—then it can't be because he didn't have good stuff. He is Rocket, once and for all.