Roger That

New Site Update: Them YouTube clips below will totally not work. Not sure who’s to blame, MLB or the Rocket. In either case, this post is provided for historical purposes  only.

When I was an MFA student, one of my workshop leaders, a writer of some renown (brag), told me that villains must be understood. Our class was wondering out loud if there could ever be a Great Bush Era Novel. He said that if such a novel were ever written, it couldn’t be an angry screed or political tract.

Even if you were no fan of George W. Bush (which I doubt anyone in the room was), your book couldn’t succeed on blind hatred. You could not portray Bush as a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash-type, or an incurious dolt. For such a book to work, he said, you would have to find some way to sympathize with him. Anything less would both fail as fiction and
trivialize an entire administration.

That doesn’t mean pardoning or condoning The Evil That Men Do. But villains in black hats are boring. Gray is much better, if scarier, because it makes us realize that given the right circumstances, virtually anyone can find themselves doing unspeakable things.

I dredge this up in the wake of the Roger Clemens debacle. Anyone who reads this site should know my feelings on the Rocket. I’ve poked him with a stick once or twice. Several times, in fact. In my mental Hall of Infamy, he’s one of a very select group of people I’d like to go away and never see again. If he became a hermit and lived out the rest of his days in a cave somewhere, I wouldn’t shed a tear.

But while watching the Capitol steroid hearings, something struck me–other than the fact that Clemens must have shelled out some serious deaux to purchase his House Republican Knob Polishing. Watching him assert his innocence when the overwhelming evidence asserted otherwise, I thought He truly believes himself.

That kind of stubborn self-delusion makes Clemens sad. It’s hard to sympathize too much with a multimillionaire who throws his wife under the bus. But it does give a glimpse of the bulldog persecution complex that must lurk under his thorny, ultracompetitive surface. It’s the kind of thing that drove men like Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy–and ultimately drove them into the ground.

In my attempt to understand this man, I’d like to present a find from the Vast and Dusty Scratchbomb VHS Archives. Last year, while rewatching some 1989 spring training previews, I discovered another program on the same tape. I have no memory of this show whatsoever. In all likelihood, I taped it, forgot about it, and never watched it.

The show was a one-shot special called “Grand Slam,” hosted by legendary sportswriter Dick Schaap. It was little more than a collection of Hall of Famers talking about how awesome baseball was in their heyday, with a few then-current players like Ozzie Smith along for the ride. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of Good Old Days-Ism, but it’s kinda neat to see people like Duke Snider and Mickey Mantle talk about their careers.

Because this show was produced circa 1989, these great recollections of baseball’s Golden Days were accompanied by some horrid, inappropriate music. The theme song is a prime example. When you watch vintage footage of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, what kind of tunes do you expect to hear? Why, third-rate Reagan Synth-Funk, of course!

However, I digress. I mention this show because it features three separate segments with Dick Schaap interviewing Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens together. In the clips below, try and look past Roger’s late-80s spike haircut. And try, if you can, to ignore Nolan Ryan’s weird sweater/polo shirt combo (it makes him look like someone who’s really into stamps; I’m not sure why). And neither hurler says anything particularly enlightening.

If you can get beyond these roadblocks, you will discover two things. One: Clemens is clearly in awe of Nolan Ryan, of simply being in the same room as him. Two: Clemens seems to actually enjoy the game of baseball. I don’t know if both these facts are due to Roger still being young and unjaded. But I don’t think he’s faking or kidding himself, as he was in Washington last week. Here, he seems very real.

It’s not much, but it’s the only thing I’ve seen Clemens do in the last 20 years that didn’t make me want to vomit. So in the spirit of fair play and equal time, I share it with you.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3