What If Clemens Had Apologized in 2007?

Roger Clemens Testifying Before Congress in 2008

Former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens was indicted last week for obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury based on testimony he gave to the U.S. Congress in February 2008.  Clemens had appeared voluntarily to answer questions about his possible use of illegal steroids and human growth hormone.  If found guilty, Clemens could face up to five years in prison per perjury charge.

I’ve wondered for some time whether admitting drug use and apologizing makes any difference at all in the perceptions of the fans, the baseball community, and the Hall-of-Fame voters.  I think it can, but for Clemens it’s too late now.

Imagine if, in December 2007, Clemens had held a press conference, surrounded by his family, and said this:

I am embarrassed by the facts released in the Mitchell Report, but they are true.  In order to compete against stronger batters in my career and to stave off the effects of age, I knowingly took steroids and human growth hormone.  I have no one to blame but myself.  I wish it had never happened.  I respect the opinions of the fans and the baseball community.  I honestly did what I felt was necessary to compete.  I now understand this was very wrong.  For all the young kids and baseball players, I urge you not to follow my example.  Let your natural talent take you where it will.  For other players named in the Mitchell Report, I urge you to step forward and admit what you’ve done, if you are guilty.  Let’s not continue the sins of the past.

Had Clemens taken this course of action, it might have changed things.  Clemens could have been viewed as a sympathetic figure.  He could have been given further opportunities to rehabilitate himself through speaking engagements and interactions with baseball players.  Clemens could have started down the path towards improving public opinion and, possibly, a spot in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.

At the same time, it might not have mattered at all.  Pundits would have vilified Clemens for his actions.  He would have been ostracized from baseball for at least a short time.  But, at least the issue would have been put to rest once and for all, opening the door for longer-term rehabilitation.

Timing is critical in the apologies.  Mark McGwire apologized in 2009, eight years after his career ended.  Too late.  The anger built up over the years by fans and writers is too great.  His chances of getting into the Hall-of-Fame are generally believed to be zero.

Had Clemens Listened to One Republic's Lyrics, History May Have Changed

Andy Pettite and Alex Rodriguez apologized during their career, and the issue became a non-story, coming back up only on occasions of milestones or Hall-of-Fame discussions.  No longer can a reporter ask either whether they did steroids.  Question asked and answered.

Clemens, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa have let the denials go on too long for apologies.  Unless exonerated by a higher court, they have no opportunity to undo sins of the past.

Ironically, One Republic had a massive global hit in 2007 with “Apologize.”  The chorus of that song?  “It’s too late to apologize.  It’s too late.”  It’s a shame Clemens wasn’t listening.

Lance Armstrong — Do you have One Republic on your iPod?

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