In another reminder that “innocent” and “not guilty” are terms with vastly different meanings, potential Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Roger Clemens will soon discover that the court of professional sports writers carries far more personal consequences than a jury of 12 honest men and a federal judge frustrated by prosecutorial misconduct.
This past week, the United States Justice Department lost its second perjury and obstruction of justice case against Clemens, who infamously appeared before Congress in 2008 to declare that he never took performance enhancing drugs on his way to seven Cy Young pitching awards, one Most Valuable Player award, and numerous World Series victories and All Star appearances. Although Major League Baseball banned PEDs in 1991, MLB only began enforcing the rules in 2003, the center of the sport’s “steroids era.”
First, two basics: one, using steroids is cheating. Two, our federal government has better things to do than pursue costly and time-consuming vanity cases against our country’s sports stars, even highly controversial and decorated sports stars such as Clemens, a stalwart of America's Pastime.
Although Clemens undoubtedly feels relief at his acquittal, he must now wait for the real jury’s verdict: the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, the body authorized by the Baseball Hall of Fame to elect retired players to Cooperstown.
While it remains to be seen whether or not the BBWAA will choose Clemens for its hallowed Hall, electing him opens up a can of worms for a variety of players who have been denied entry for ethical reasons despite inarguably stellar careers. While some decisions of ineligibility appear clear cut – Pete Rose, in this writer’s opinion – others, such as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, appear without merit.
Where does this leave Clemens, who even at the height of his career inspired disgust among the baseball-loving public? I recall clearly the shocked anger that Mets fans expressed following the thrown-broken-bat incident involving Mike Piazza during the 2000 World Series. As a die-hard Yankee fan, I felt dismayed that this potentially dangerous incident would overshadow his otherwise-brilliant pitching performance in that game, which the Yankees won; denying that he acted impulsively and unprofessionally proved impossible, however.
Baseball fans frequently point to the sport’s long history as a reflection of American times replete with heroes, anti-heroes and black marks of shame. Unlike football or basketball, the romance of baseball has always been its humanity, and its humanity, its players. Ty Cobb certainly shouldn’t win any popularity contests, and you probably won’t find any Red Sox fans who count “No, No Nanette” among their Broadway favorites, but the game’s twists and turns reflect the conscience of our country unlike any other uniquely American pastime.
Now, with Clemens tried and convicted in the court of public opinion but acquitted by the U.S. government, the BBWAA must decide whether or not to look past his once-unassailable but now-questionable record. Will any of the great players from the steroids era – Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez -- win admission to the Hall of Fame? And should we care?
In my view, the failed Clemens trial is a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with the federal government: far-reaching involvement into matters that don't really concern it, accompanied by posturing, grandstanding and a ton of wasted taxpayer money. The BBWAA shall determine his fate, whether ignominious or glorious; let our government use our tax dollars more wisely in the attempt to shape ours.