Saturday, February 16, 2008

Roger Clemens

There is much that can be said about whether and why we should even care whether any ballplayer used any PED ("performance-enhancing drug"), and most of it already appears on my Baseball, Steroids, and other "Drugs" web site. Right now, let's just look at the Clemens hGH-usage question as a demonstration of how the media and the Congress are handling this entire subject. I hope you have a strong stomach.

The matter is being presented as a "he said/she said" controversy between Clemens and Designated Sleazester Brian McNamee. Those who dislike Clemens--and he is not, by consensus, an innately likeable person--are crying out that Andy Pettitte's testimony clearly supports Mcnamee and damns Clemens. This has been repeated so very many times in the press--just Google on Pettitte affidavit--that anyone could be excused for believeing it to be fact. But is it?

Why don't we look at Pettitte's own actual words as they appear in his sworn affidavit? I have yet to locate a copy of it on line, but here are three verbatim extracts:

  • Well, obviously I was a little confused and flustered. But after that, I was like, well, obviously I must have misunderstood him.

  • I'm saying that I was under the impression that he told me that he had taken it. And then when Roger told me that he didn't take it, and I misunderstood him, I took it for that, that I misunderstood him.

  • I don't think I misunderstood him. Just to answer that question for you when it was brought up to me, I don't think I misunderstood him. I went to Mac immediately after that. But then, 6 years later when he told me that I did misunderstand him, you know, since '05 to this day, you know, I kind of felt that I might have misunderstood him.
Pettitte says that at the time the subject first came up, he understood Clemens to have said that he himself had used hGH; but his impression from that occasion was not so definite that he had any problem when Clemens told him at a later time that he, Pettitte, had misunderstood what Clemens had originally told him.

Is that proof that Clemens had not originally said he had used hGH? No. But is it, as it is being almost universally blared out, proof that Clemens did tell Pettitte that he, Clemens, had used hGH? No, of course not. In fact, it is probative of exactly nothing save that the two men had a couple of apparently rather casual and brief chats on the topic.

(For more discussion of what Pettitte did or didn't say, and the significance thereof, see also the Sabernomics site, the Baseball Prospectus site, and AOL's "Fanhouse".)

Another datum not getting much ink (or electrons) is the letter from Dr. Bert O'Malley, the Tom Thompson Professor and chairman of molecular and cellular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, who was given Clemens medical records for review:
"I have examined a large series of records provided to me by your office and which relate to Mr. Roger Clemens . . . .

"I have not found any of the above listed [in the letter] positive indications of steroid abuse during this period of time for Mr. Clemens. The record is remarkably uniform and devoid of suspicious indications. In short, my examination of the records provided to me by the Hardin office is completely negative and remarkably within normal limits for an athlete of his physique and age."
Speaking of doctors, what about McNamee's assertions that Clemens had abscesses on his buttocks from steroid shots? From ESPN:

The [New York] Times reported that in interviews, former Blue Jays trainer Tom Craig, former team general manager Gord Ash, and team physician Dr. Ron Taylor all said they did not remember Clemens being treated for an abscess. Taylor said he believed if Clemens had been treated, it would have been noted in Clemens' medical records.

Hardin said Craig and Scott Shannon, the other team trainer in 1998, told his investigators that they did not recall Clemens being treated for an abscess, according to the Times.

The abscess is not mentioned in the Mitchell report.

Then, of course, there is all the medical trash that McNamee has suddenly--after not once even hinting about it to the Mitchell gang, meaning also to the Federal investigators-- remembered (picture slap of forehead, "Oh, gee, I almost forgot . . . .") he had stashed in his attic or whatever. McNamee claims he kept all that stuff owing to some sort of mystic prescience that he would someday need to validate testimony against a then good friend and client. Hey, wouldn't anyone? And, of course, as a trained expert in evidence (former NYPD), he did such a marvellous job of preserving it all, in, uh, like cofee cans and the like. Oh, yes: very good, very solid, very, very plausible. (Take a look at the SI article "Burden of Proof", especially point #3.)

But I've saved the best for the last. Baseball Prospectus, an excellent team at the forefront of baseball analysis, has, under the guidance of analyst Nate Silver, developed a remarkable piece of analytic software they call PECOTA; it is essentially a sophisticated performance predictor--you can read the details at the Wikipedia link I just gave--and on the evidence a pretty good one. Recently Silver used PECOTA with ten-year-old stats to "project" Roger Clemens' career; that is, what he did was effectively travel back in time 10 years bringing along the PECOTA system (which did not exist then) and use it to look at Clemens as of that time to see what his probable "future" (our past) would be.
"Specifically, we will step back in time exactly ten seasons, and analyze what we might have expected out of Clemens from 1998-2001—the period during which he’s accused by the Mitchell Report of using PEDs—based on his performance through the 1997 season. . . .

"In fact, if we analyze Clemens’s performance over the four-year period, we see that the retrospective PECOTA projection comes quite close to the reality . . .

there is nothing particularly unusual about Clemens’s performance over this four-year window [emphasis in original]—pitchers of Clemens’s caliber quite often do remain successful late into their thirties. . . .

"But where his statistical record is concerned, there is no smoking gun."
Got that? His achievements are entirely reasonable given his career history. Where his statistical record is concerned, there is no smoking gun.

Does any or all of this prove that Roger Clemens did not take any PEDs ever? No, of course not. What it does prove, to anyone with an IQ bigger than a Congressman or a brick (but there, as Mark Twain once said, I repeat myself), is that there is no evidence whatever that he did use such substances besides the word of a proven and admitted lying sleazeball.
(Twain's actual comment: Suppose you were an idiot. Suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.)
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dbvader said...

First, you quoted from Pettitte's deposition testimony, not his affidavit. The language he used should tell you as much. A deposition is a questioning while an affidavit is written.

Second, it takes about 3 minutes on to find Pettitte's affidavit, deposition, the affidavit of Mrs. Pettitte and other relevant information.

Eric Walker said...

First is correct. I really do know better, but I am not at my keenest when fighting a bad cold.

Second, all I can say is that I Googled and couldn't readily find it; perhaps more sheer muzziheadedness on my part.

At any rate, though, I think that the words are correct, no matter the context, and are significant.

Anonymous said...

Eric, cold or no cold, you are one of the few intellectuals talking about this situation with any thought.
Also, don't give in too easily to dbvader. The 'testimony' of a witness is what they 'really' have said, the deposition is what some committee adjunct 'writes' and asks one to sign so they will let them alone and not press them further. Prosecutorial prejudice comes into play here. As a lawyer, I know that a deposition can be reworded in any fashion, independent of the verbal testimony, and merely has to be finally signed by the witness to be valid. It can say anything as long as it is signed. Think about it. I believe you know how the government and any of the other law authorities work?