A-Rod facing the fight of his life

A legendary body of work had been smashed apart by a report. A post-baseball life expected to be filled with gala receptions instead couldn't even earn him an invite to an Old Timer's Day. So an iconic player with his reputation shattered decided to fight.

Roger Clemens fought and fought, all the way to the Supreme Court. He put his freedom on the line to assert he did not use performance-enhancing drugs. Whether you believe him or not, he tried everything to prove his 4,672 strikeouts had nothing to do with PEDs.

"If you did it, you do what Andy Pettitte did," Roger Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin, told ESPNNewYork.com from his Houston office Wednesday. "He did absolutely the right thing. Jump out in front and admit it and accept your responsibility. If you didn't do it, nobody is going to believe you until you go to the judicial system. Roger denied until the cows came home, but no one believed him until 12 independent people heard evidence."

Alex Rodriguez has a choice: to come clean or fight to prove his innocence.

Based on his opening denial to the Miami New Times story, he looks ready to take the gloves off, with jabs and upper cuts coming from all sides -- from his team, from its fans, from MLB, from the media. There doesn't seem to be many out there wearing No. 13 jerseys, cheering on A-Rod.

The Clemens-A-Rod comparison is not perfect. A-Rod already had one steroid strike against him before anyone had ever heard of the New Times. Clemens' name had no blemishes before Sen. George Mitchell wrote it down.

The hard truth is that even risking jail time is not always enough to return a ballplayer his good name. You can hear it in the voice of Hardin, a jovial fellow, as he recounts the toll of 4½ years on the Rocket. Hardin nearly refused to speak, remembering all the armchair lawyers on TV who once questioned him. So he made it clear he wasn't offering Rodriguez's counsel any unsolicited advice.

"Both the lawyer, his advisors and the accused person are convicted and ridiculed if they deny it," Hardin said. "The only reason you would deny is if you didn't do it. It doesn't work or help you to deny, if you did it."

It was exhausting and, while ultimately rewarding on some levels, the fight did not return the Rocket to Dec. 12, 2007, the day before the Mitchell report was released. Hardin laments a starting pitcher with 354 lifetime wins could still muster only 37.6 percent of the vote in his first time on the Hall of Fame ballot.

"Roger is very comfortable with himself, and he knows he did the right thing," Hardin said. "He won in a sense in that he had the courage to deny something that he didn't do no matter what the consequences were."

On Wednesday, Rodriguez's side declined to answer questions. With their total denial of the New Times story, they basically were accusing the paper and/or its sources of fabricating Rodriguez's connection to Anthony Bosch, the South Florida-based nutritionist accused of selling PEDs to athletes.

"The news report about a purported relationship between Alex Rodriguez and Anthony Bosch are not true," a statement from A-Rod's publicist read. "Alex Rodriguez was not Mr. Bosch's patient, he was never treated by him and he was never advised by him. The purported documents referenced in the story -- at least as they relate to Alex Rodriguez -- are not legitimate."

Those are fighting words. Will A-Rod sue to try to save his name? Will he start his own investigation? How will far will he go?

It is true the public is all Lance Armstrong-ed out, tired of denials, and Rodriguez long ago lost the benefit of any doubts. He lied about steroids before -- the most famous being to Katie Couric on "60 Minutes" shortly after the Mitchell report was released -- only to come (somewhat?) clean after Sports Illustrated had the goods on him two years later.

Now, A-Rod has hired Roy Black to try to clear his name. Black has been in the spotlight before, representing and winning an acquittal for William Kennedy Smith in his rape case in 1991.

Rodriguez had the forum Clemens never did. Even after his 2009 admission, he presumably had the next eight years to write a new narrative of who he was and what he stood for on the field.

He joined the Taylor Hooton Foundation, a group begun by a father who attributed the death of his son to steroids.

If that doesn't make you want to fight to clear your name, what will? It can't be about the five years and the $114 million left on his contract. It can't be about the up to $30 million in home run bonuses with the next one just around the corner, just 13 round-trippers away in the name of Willie Mays' 660 and a cool $6 million.

No, it has got to be for A-Rod's reputation. It might be an impossible fight. Still, he must follow Clemens to have a chance.

Clemens' win wasn't a complete-game shutout. It has more of a five-inning, four-runs-on-eight-hits in a 7-6 victory feel. But it has provided Clemens a more public life -- be it taking in a game as a fan at Fenway to an expanded role with the Houston Astros, where he will be a spring training instructor.

It wouldn't be surprising if someday Clemens is invited back to Old Timer's Day in the Bronx. Can you imagine that for A-Rod? Not with this reputation.

So if he is really going to claim he is innocent, then he has no choice. He has to fight for what is left.