You have to love the Clemens report   

Updated: January 29, 2008, 12:19 PM ET

  • Comment
  • Email
  • Print
  • Share

It's difficult to figure out the target audience for the Roger Clemens report, a lengthy, numbers-laden rundown of the pitcher's 24-year career with or without steroids. The report, apparently titled to put it in direct competition with the Mitchell report -- side by side at Barnes and Noble, maybe? -- is intended to disprove the charge that Clemens took steroids and HGH allegedly provided by trainer Brian McNamee.

One thing is for sure: This Clemens saga is the gift that keeps on giving.

The Roger Clemens report is an exhaustive piece of scholarship, documenting just about every aspect of Clemens' career. It is written with a mixture of the arcane and the simplistic, as if a Bill James impostor and Dr. Seuss took turns on the keyboard.

The bulk of the report is a skull-crushing dissection of nearly every start the man ever made. It is placed in the context of run support and other factors I think are supposed to make you believe Clemens is just a guy trying to make his way in the world, through the good and the bad, just like you and me.

And, therefore, not a steroid user.

In other words, A+B=Clemensisnotasteroiduserandneverhasbeensoleavehimalone.

Much of the evidence is established through the analysis of several statistical factors. The one leaned on most heavily is something called ERA margin, which might be a wonderful statistic to determine the worth of a starting pitcher, but it falls somewhat short in the area of proving or disproving steroid use.

Which makes it just like Clemens' "60 Minutes" interview, and just like his recorded conversation with McNamee, and just like the question-and-answer session at his press conference. All of this proof is nothing if not consistent -- consistently unable to prove anything.

But since Clemens and his agents must have been seeking attention when they released the report -- and since nobody really seems to have taken much notice -- I'll oblige and pay it some attention.

Comparisons with Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan are central to the report. They all had abnormal strikeout seasons at ages when even the greatest pitchers are retired, which proves … what, exactly?

The above charts (showing strikeout rates per nine innings) demonstrate that three of the most accomplished power pitchers in the active major league population, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, registered all but two of their highest strikeout rates between the ages of 31 and 37. And the pitcher with the highest strikeout total in history, Nolan Ryan, did not attain his top three rates until after he turned 40.

Understand, most everything being said in this report is being said indirectly. So break this down: Since Johnson, Schilling and Ryan were really not that different from Clemens, and since Johnson, Schilling and Ryan weren't named in the Mitchell report, you can't prove Clemens is a steroid user, either.

(Either that, or it is saying someone ought to look into their medicine cabinets, too. But that might defeat the purpose of the exercise.)

This roundabout theory ignores several steroid-based realities, not the least of which is the large number of average or below-average big leaguers who have admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs. Players use for different reasons -- to get in the game, to stay in the game, to become legendary in the game. It is illogical to say that Player A's career is similar to Player B's career, therefore steroid allegations against Player A are wrong because Player B has never been ratted out by a steroid dealer. This gets decent marks for its potential to misdirect, but its Steroid Relevance Factor is 2.2

While the best years of Clemens' career occurred at different times throughout his career, so did his worst seasons.

Yes. Indisputable. This sentence is tied for the truest sentence in the entire report. It is probably true of thousands of ballplayers. Good seasons and bad seasons always happen at different times, since it would be difficult for them to happen simultaneously. Steroid Relevance Factor: Zero.

Observers of baseball are aware that pitchers and hitters have relatively good years and relatively bad years. They also know that players can experience extreme hot streaks and extreme cold spells during a major league season.

I would go even further with this concept. I would say that non-observers of baseball could tell you the same thing. Here, Clemens' guys are trying to tell you that swings in performance are naturally occurring and not indicative of anything else, especially the time periods in which McNamee told Mitchell he injected Clemens with steroids and HGH. Steroid Relevance Factor: Inconclusive.

According to the report, there are many reasons Clemens had a late-career surge, none of them steroids. One of the most unique concerns his move to the Astros and the National League, which gave his career added longevity and production because the Astros reduced his travel schedule by allowing him to shorten or skip road trips. Imagine how long Ryan would have been able to pitch had the Rangers had the foresight to do that?

Nowhere, of course, is there a direct refutation of performance-enhancing drug use. In fact, it isn't even mentioned.

Conclusion: over the course of his career, Roger Clemens was able to maintain a high quality of pitching by continuing to work on his technique and adjusting his style of pitching to his physical abilities.

Again, true -- great pitcher, great work ethic. The split-finger, the two-seam fastball, it's all documented in the report.

But don't go mistaking him for a freak of nature. Don't get that idea, unless you decide to take a few other guys with you.

After all, the report ends with a list of 31 Hall of Fame pitchers who played into their 40s, which leads to another question: Why didn't George Mitchell interview Satchel Paige?

Tim Keown is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Sound off to Tim here.



You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?