Tarnished Goods: Will Clemens Be Selected to Hall?
Acquitted by a jury of lying to Congress, Roger Clemens avoided a possible 30-year jail term and is free to go anywhere he wishes with the possible exception of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
While the hard-throwing pitcher, known as “The Rocket,” convinced eight women and four men that he did not lie to a Congressional committee in 2008 when he said he never used performance enhancing drugs during his 24-year Major League Baseball career, Clemens may have fallen far short of convincing the court of public opinion that he was free of PED while winning 354 games and striking out 4,672 batters, 1984-2007.
In particular, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner probably did not convince enough members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, who are the people who say whether or not a retired MLB player gets into the Hall of Fame.
Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, three stars during the steroid era of MLB whose careers were tainted by suspicions of PED use, will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this coming November. They must be approved for admission to the Hall by 75 percent of the writers voting. Last year, 573 BWAA members cast ballots.
It seems unlikely that Clemens, Bonds or Sosa will get anywhere near the approximately 430 “yes” votes necessary.
So far baseball journalists have shown little desire to put those suspected of PED use into the Hall of Fame. Mark McGwire, an admitted PED user, received only 19.5 percent approval on last year’s ballot for the Hall of Fame, while Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive for drugs, received only 12.6 percent. McGwire and Palmeiro were record-breaking home run sluggers worthy of the Hall of Fame if they had not used PED.
Tagged by Mitchell
An ironic contrast exists between last Monday’s verdict in the Clemens case and the highly publicized Mitchell Report of December 2007, which listed 89 MLB players who used anabolic steroids, human growth hormones or other PED. That report was the culmination of a 21-month investigation conducted by former Sen. George Mitchell at the request of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
Clemens and his teammate and pitcher, Andy Pettitte, were among the 89 PED users named in the Mitchell Report. They were so tagged by Sen. Mitchell because of testimony from a former New York Yankee strength coach and trainer, Brian McNamee, who claimed to have provided the two pitchers with drugs and that he injected Clemens with steroids.
During Clemens’ trial, both McNamee and Pettitte were lead witnesses for the federal prosecutors. But during cross examination by Clemens’ attorney, McNamee’s testimony was somewhat shredded, and it became obvious that the jury was not buying his word.
The jury also questioned the validity of needles that McNamee claimed he had used to inject Clemens with steroids. Too much time had gone by so that anyone might have been able to tamper with the syringes by placing Clemens’ DNA in them.
Thus McNamee’s word was accepted by former Sen. George Mitchell as sufficient to put a couple of Yankee star pitchers on his hit list of PED users, and five years later a federal jury totally rejected the testimony of that witness.
The 49-year-old Clemens has claimed for years that he never used any form of drug to enhance his pitching performances and remains adamant in that regard. Yet he was charged two years ago with one count of obstructing Congress, three counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury stemming from his testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
A first trial last July ended after two days when Federal Judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial because the two prosecuting attorneys, Steve Durham and Daniel Butler, showed evidence to the jury that the judge had specifically told them was inadmissible.
The second trial began in mid-April in Washington, D.C., Federal Court and concluded favorably for Clemens after less than two full days of jury deliberation.
This is the third very lame and very costly federal attempt in recent years to prosecute a star athlete for lying about or covering up possible use of PED.
Barry Bonds, the MLB career home run record holder, was under investigation for years by federal attorneys and a federal grand jury. Finally, after lengthy and expensive court actions, he was indicted for perjury and brought to trial in San Francisco on a number of charges but was convicted of only one, a minor offense of giving false and misleading statements to the grand jury. He was sentenced to 30 days of home confinement last December, a verdict and sentence that are currently being appealed by Bonds.
The Bonds case came out of a federal pursuit of possible criminal drug activities by BALCO (the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative), which may have supplied athletes with PED.
Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France bicycle race, was long under investigation by federal authorities for illicit drug use. He, like Clemens, has always denied it and finally, after much expense and time, the investigation was dropped.
However, the United States Anti-Doping Agency is threatening to take away Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles. This is a quasi-government organization that has no authority to carry out criminal investigations or prosecutions. But it can punish athletes for PED use by stripping them of any honors they have won and banishing them from further competitions.
Egg on Their Faces
Clemens was cleared of perjury charges as the jury seemed reluctant to punish a well-known athlete for lying before Congress, whose members include many of the most accomplished prevaricators in the country.
Also, the Clemens and Bonds cases have led to the feeling that federal authorities and Congress in particular should stay out of the sports business. These federal authorities and members of Congress appear to be most interested in getting headlines for themselves by dealing with well-known celebrity athletes. And they end up with egg on their faces.
Clemens appeared before Congress in February 2008. The House committee had no intention whatsoever of using that hearing as a basis for future legislation on the subject of drug use in MLB. So why hold hearings other than to garner headlines?
Committee members made sure they had their pictures taken with Clemens. Such a photo goes well in the hometown newspapers. And we, the taxpayers, shell out buckets of money for those theatrics with celebrities.
Clemens was already tarnished goods insofar as the Baseball Hall of Fame is concerned. The Mitchell Report took care of that despite the big right-hander’s constant denials.
But there are some writers who will vote to put Clemens, Bonds, Sosa and other PED suspected players in the Hall of Fame.
One of these writers said after the trial, “So if Clemens was juiced when he pitched, he was probably pitching to a batter who was also juiced. Some have been caught, and we know well enough that they aren’t the only ones who used.”
No matter, it is doubtful that Clemens will get into the Baseball Hall of Fame before a whole new generation of writers comes along that does not care about the “Steroid Era” in MLB, but pays attention only to statistics that are very impressive in Clemens’ case.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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