Hellhound on his trail (prosecutors, too)


Roger Clemens’s deal with the devil blows up in his face

Question, sports fans: What does big clunky bully-boy Roger Clemens, the former New York Yankees pitching ace, have in common with blues artist Robert Johnson?

Answer: Both men, after realizing the limits of mortal achievement, sold their souls to the devil in return for magical powers. Legend has it that Johnson went to hell, but not before writing and recording a bunch of immortal songs, including “Hellhound On My Trail.” Clemens might go to jail, a better deal than going to hell if you land in the right jail, but he has lost his bid for immortality.

Testifying before Congress in 2008, Clemens said, “I have never taken steroids or [human growth hormone].” Last week an unconvinced federal grand jury indicted the seven-time Cy Young Award winner for perjury. This is how the situation was summed up on Friday by ESPN.com:

Robert Johnson, circa 1937

“What once seemed to be a he-said vs. he-said dispute between Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, once the New York Yankees’ strength and conditioning coach, escalated into a federal case. The grand jury heard testimony from McNamee, who gave federal authorities syringes he said were used to inject Clemens with drugs.”

I’d feel sorry for Clemens if he wasn’t such a nasty piece of work. He did what many other athletes do — cheated, that is — because the potential rewards seemed to outweigh the risks. Because he knew he could make many more millions of dollars if he kept winning ballgames in apparent defiance of the aging process. Because he knew the Yankees and Major League Baseball and the TV networks and sportswriters and most fans didn’t care what he and other “superstars” were swallowing or shooting up, so long as they continued to win.

This was obvious in 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in their fraudulent duel to break Roger Maris’s single-season home run record. Both were grotesquely beefed up and hitting moonshots on a regular basis. They looked like pro wrestlers masquerading as baseball players, but everyone kept cheering them on.

In the end, both broke Maris’s record and neither did. In 2009, it was revealed that Sosa had tested positive for steroids in 2003. Early this year, McGwire confessed to using steroids at various times in his career, including the ’98 season. Record keepers don’t really know how to categorize their bogus achievements and they won’t know what to do with Clemens’s stats either.

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