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January 07, 2016

'Rocket' Roger Clemens misfires in shot at 'Doc' Halladay

What exactly does it take for a baseball player to wear the label of “cheater” for the rest of his life?

A failed drug test? Being named in a 409-page report published by the office of the commissioner of baseball? Going before congress in an attempt to clear your name only to be proven a liar months later?

Perhaps it also depends on the drug of choice. Was it an anabolic steroid? Was it HGH (human growth hormone)? Maybe it wasn’t even a steroid, but instead a stimulant, like amphetamines, more commonly referred to as “greenies” in baseball jargon for, oh, I don’t know, the last half century?

The discussion of drugs and baseball is back in the public eye - did it ever leave? - because this is Hall of Fame election week and an overcrowded crop of candidates includes a Who’s Who of players who fall under some category of “cheater” as identified above.

You know the names: seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, seven-time MVP Barry Bonds, and the home runs heroes of the infamous 1998 season, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Two of those players have gained more support for Hall of Fame induction in recent years.

Roger Clemens, in his fourth year on the ballot, appeared on 45.2 percent of ballots, up from 37.5 the previous year. Bonds, also in his fourth year on the ballot, appeared on 44.3 percent of ballots, up from 36.8 in 2015. (It takes 75 percent to gain induction to Cooperstown).

While they have gained some momentum, these players certainly have their fair share of detractors, too … including a certain two-time Cy Young Award winner who finished a possible-Hall of Fame career in Philadelphia.

Roy Halladay certainly isn’t afraid to have a little fun on social media. For a guy who never steered from a business-like demeanor as a player, Halladay sure is opening up to the public since his retirement.

Of course, it’s not “fun” if you’re the one being labeled a cheater by a peer. Asked to comment about his latest round of coming up short in the election process, Clemens used the forum instead to fire back at Halladay.

Some background info: Clemens and Halladay were major league teammates for about a month, in September of 1998 with Toronto. According to the New York Post, the trainer Clemens is referring to in his comments to FOX-26 in Houston is Brian McNamee, who became a household baseball name when he was identified in the aforementioned Mitchell Report for allegedly supplying Clemens and other players with anabolic steroids, amphetamines, and HGH.

After apparently getting word of the Rocket’s reply, Doc provided the last word of the battle of former Cy Young Award winners.

A brief, post-tweet analysis of the heavyweight cyber fight? Clemens’ comeback was a little weak.

Like one school kid accusing another of stealing another’s homework and the other responding by saying his accuser chews gum in class? Not quite.

How about a college student accusing a classmate of cheating on an exam and the cheater answering back by saying his accuser used Ritalin prior to said exam in order to stay alert after pulling an all-nighter study session. Still not quite there, but it’s closer.

First off, Clemens’ accusations really amount to nothing more than a “he said, he said” debate. They carry little weight without more research or evidence. Second, amphetamines/greenies are still performance enhancers, even if they aren’t looked at in the same negative light as steroids or HGH.

But, greenies, which were banned from the game 10 years ago, have been a part of baseball long before the Bash Brothers and Slammin' Sammy made a mockery of home run records. A stimulant and not a steroid, greenies have long been used to sharpen focus and gain energy during the course of a physically and mentally challenging schedule that requires athletes to be on top of their games nightly for six months.

Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt detailed the wide usage of greenies in his 2007 book, “Clearing the Bases,” saying that greenies have “been around the game forever” and were “widely available in major league clubhouses” when he played (from 1972-89). But the usage of greenies in baseball surely precedes Schmidt’s era: Jim Bouton famously wrote about them (among other things) in his colorful memoir “Ball Four” and even Hall of Famer Willie Mays alluded to them in his 2010 autobiography.

An excerpt:

“Asked now about his use of amphetamines or any illegal drugs, Mays says, “I really didn’t need anything. . . . My problem was if I could stay on the field. I would go to the doctor and I would say to the doctor, ‘Hey, I need something to keep me going. Could you give me some sort of vitamin?’ I don’t know what they put in there, and I never asked a question about anything.”

And were they still as readily available to players in the 1990s and early 2000s, after Schmidt’s era and during the time both Clemens and Halladay dominated on the mound? Were they as prevalent as chewing tobacco, sunflower seeds, and bubble gum?

“No doubt about it,” said one former player, whose time as a big leaguer coincided with Clemens and Halladay.

So greenies/amphetamines were prevalent in the 50s and 60s, 70s and 80s, and 90s into the early 2000s. If many players were regularly using them, though, that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

But it does mean the Rocket could use a little better fuel power for his next ace-on-ace debate.