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Ex-Astro Pettitte Retires, But Clemens Continues To Face Gremlins

Debates on PEDs and the Hall of Fame are misdirecting writers from what they should be talking about: the performances themselves.

On June 11th 2010 Andy Pettitte wins his 200th game as a Yankee, against the team he played for between 2004 and 2006, the Astros (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
On June 11th 2010 Andy Pettitte wins his 200th game as a Yankee, against the team he played for between 2004 and 2006, the Astros (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Getty Images

This week offers a rather neat baseball parallel. I like parallels. As Andy Pettitte formally announced his retirement,  Brian McNamee's defamation suit against Roger Clemens continued unabated. And then there is the fact that Pettitte will turn witness against Clemens in the summer in the latter's perjury trail. 

There seems to be a vein of instant gratification that seems to run through baseball and does it little credit, and considering that the guy only just retired, does the conversation immediately need to shift to a debate about whether he is Hall of Fame worthy or not?

My colleague David Coleman posted an open question at TCB asking "What is Roger Clemens' Legacy with the Astros?" It's odd because once upon a time when I was trying to make it as a writer for Dugout Central, my second piece was on this exact subject, right after the Roger Clemens steroid accusations broke. I fought my corner and tried to argue that Clemens' little niche in Astros' history was secure despite the steroids allegations (as they were at the time. Now that Pettitte has come out, it seems far more likely Clemens did in fact use). 

I got well and truly battered on the subject and never really engaged properly on the topic again.

But as I noted when discussing Jeff Pearlman's steroid hobby-horsing, it is far easier to go with the tide than against it. It isn't that I disagree with those who are unhappy about Clemens for cheating, it is that his [more than possible] steroid abuse really does not affect how I continue to view his three year tenure with the Astros (or Pettitte's for that matter). 

Nowhere have I read that Pettitte's stay in Houston has been marred by the subsequent revelation of PED use, but that is what many seem to be implying about Clemens, and today Brian McTaggart described the Deer Park resident as having left an "indelible mark" during his time in Houston. Peter Gammons gushes about the left-handers' honesty and integrity. But he still used. 

The baseball writers out there may say they are being consistent, but I don't think they are, and if you pick Clemens and Pettitte as an example, and even if they do not perfectly line up, I would suggest some people are just using PEDs as an issue to reinforce what they originally thought about player X or player Y. Pettitte fits the absurd label of a "true-Yankee", while Clemens was viewed by many as a mercenary even in New York. 

Clemens was brash, in your face, feisty and in possession of an indomitable will to win. Pettitte is courteous, more soft-spoken, far more introverted. The former has created his fair share of controversies the latter, none. 

At this point it might be best for Clemens to cut his losses and come clean, but he looks like a man marching to the mound, fired up as Linkin' Park's "Faint" plays in the background, rather than a man alone on the deck of a sinking ship. Knowing their contrasting temperaments you wonder who will have more bile in their throat if Petttite does end up testifying against his long-time colleague and friend. 

It is a mess, and this years' Hall of Fame voting would suggest it is going to get messier. It is the Serbonian Bog of our times, and while Pettitte and Rodriguez seemed to have gained from confessions Mark McGwire has not. Maybe you have to take these things as they come, but you have guys who try to argue that you can differentiate steroids' users by their motivations for taking PEDs. Craig Calcattera deals with such arguments when discussing Buster Olney's stance here. McGwire tried to claim that he had only taken steroids to overcome injuries, but his excuses failed to gain traction with most of the mainstream media. 

More than anything else this problem is down to baseball's inability to disconnect a players performance on the field with his activities and misdemeanour's off it. In this case these two are partly blurred because of PED use, but let me approach this from a different tack. I support Manchester United, and before we sold him to Real Madrid, we had one of the most talented, but also one of the cockiest and unlike-able players in Cristiano Ronaldo. Did I disagree with his demeanour, attitude and behaviour? Of course. Did this stop me enjoying his sublime play on the pitch? Not a jot. 

Part of me does not buy this moral indignation some people purport. Recently the Astros' number one pick in the 2010 draft Delino DeShields was clipped for DUI, and the reaction was lukewarm. Nobody was too critical, and it was mostly shrugged off as poor judgement from a kid (he is 18) who is bound to make one or two bad decisions. 

And this is when baseball has already suffered two high profile deaths as a result of drink-driving in the past four years (Josh Hancock and Nick Adenhart). It is a tragic loss of life, especially for those so young, and it is worth recalling this article by then-Houston Chronicle writer Jose De Jesus Ortiz, written in March 2007, a month before Hancock's death, where the beat-writer scythed into Tony LaRussa for drinking and driving. 

This is not just a simple case of poor judgement, this is failing to obey the law. While the thinking behind some laws might be daft, there is a perfectly good reason this one is in place. DeSheilds and others who similarly break the law are chancing their own lives and the lives of others. Compare this to the number of deaths relating to 'possible' needle stabbing of Roger Clemens' buttock. Zero. Steroid use is trivial compared to it. But you wouldn't know it by the way some writers talked about both topics. 

As Dr. Melfi says poignantly in the mob-drama The Sopranos when discussing her ex-husband's work on the Italian Anti-Defamation League (as an Italian American):

...with all the poverty, starvation, ethnic-cleansing and generally horrible shit going on in this world, you devote your energies to the protection of the dignity of Connie Francis. - Season 1 Episode 9 The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti

The message is to pick your battles. The time for righteous moral indignation is over in the realm of steroids and baseball. I'd rather talk about the two former-Yankees' short but memorable stay in Houston. 

For those who say that Clemens isn't in the realm of a Scott or a Dierker, they probably had the privilege of seeing the last two on a regular basis. For those who were too young/not born/not conceived the last time the Astros were on the cusp of a World Series appearance (1986) 2004 was a big deal. I personally think they created an unforgettable buzz around the team, guaranteeing packed crowds and decent media coverage.  

Possible steroid use doesn't cheapen the memories I have of Pettitte and Clemens in Astros uniforms and I have a hard time believing it does for the majority of other Astros fans. Where were these people questioning Clemens' character or moral fibre when he pitched hours after his mother passed away in a crucial mid-September matinee with the Marlins? Or when he fanned Barry Bonds twice in his first start as an Astro? Or after his game 3 performance in the 2004 NLCS? Or when he started the All-Star Game, held in Houston for the first time? Or his three-inning relief effort to set up Chris Burke's memorable walk-off home run? 

Remember that 10-year personal services contract that Clemens signed with the Astros? Hasn't started yet. As he showed numerous times in his three years with the Astros, he can be a real asset in nurturing young pitching talent. Whatever Clemens has hanging over his head, as an organisation they would be foolish to waste the experience in the Rocket's head. 

Were they hired guns? Absolutely. But you loved every minute of it. I know I did. 

Like Russ Springer (who retired earlier in the week, but to a fuller extent), Andy should be remembered for a solid three years in Astros' pinstripes. He helped guide us to a first World Series appearance. If he and Wade Miller had not gone down with season ending injuries in 2004 who knows what might have happened. His second stint in New York spanning four years demonstrated that Purpura was foolish not to go hard for him before the 2007 season. Letting him slip back to the East Coast left a gaping hole in the rotation that has only just been rectified. 

The fundamental question remains: Why do players need a legacy anyway? Is it really helpful to talk about players' careers in those terms? Can't showing up and playing be enough? For me, it is. 

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.