If you believe that Roger Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs, I seriously doubt that the “not guilty” verdict on Monday is going to persuade you he was clean. It’s sure not going to persuade me.
Whether I vote for Clemens for the Hall of Fame, though, is another question entirely. And frankly, I’m not sure that even a conviction would have influenced my thinking, which is conflicted at best.
Clemens was found not guilty of obstructing and lying to Congress by denying that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Doesn’t mean that he never used PEDs. Just means that the government couldn’t prove that he lied about it.
No surprise there: Perjury convictions are difficult to obtain, and one became even more difficult in this case with the federal prosecutors performing like the legal equivalent of the “Bad News Bears.”
The money that the government spent trying to convict Clemens and Barry Bonds in separate trials makes a free-agent bust such as Alfonso Soriano look like a bargain, but I’ll leave others at FOX to comment on the government’s fine work.
The relevant baseball question now is Clemens’ legacy, and the initial judgment will be rendered when he appears on the Hall ballot for the first time in 2013, joining Bonds and Sammy Sosa, two others who have been connected to PEDs.
Those who support Clemens, starting with his oh-so-sincere attorney, Rusty Hardin, will continue to portray the pitcher as an innocent, hard-working embodiment of the American dream.
Those tired of all the lies of the steroid era will take a more cynical view, knowing that Clemens’ tireless work ethic and late-career surge possibly were the result of more than just his powerful will.
I’m in the latter group, and as a Hall voter, I am not bound by the standards of a federal juror. The Hall does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt for those who wish to withhold support for alleged users of PEDs. Voters can apply almost any standard they want.
Still, I’m not quite sure what to do with Clemens.
The primary eyewitness against Clemens — and the principal source of the allegations against him in baseball’s Mitchell Report — was the pitcher’s former trainer, Brian McNamee. And Clemens’ attorneys had as much fun attacking McNamee’s credibility as Clemens did facing light-hitting infielders with the bases loaded.
The Mitchell Report, never all that convincing to begin with, now is damaged beyond repair. Still, that’s a long way from saying that Clemens is exonerated, complicating his candidacy for Cooperstown.
Hall voters are instructed not only to consider a player’s record, playing ability and contributions to his team(s), but also his “character, integrity and sportsmanship” — words that can be interpreted in any number of ways.
A player must receive 75 percent of the vote for induction. Mark McGwire, an admitted user of PEDs, has yet to receive more than 23.7 percent of the vote. Rafael Palmeiro, a candidate who tested positive, has yet to receive more than 12.6 percent. I have yet to vote for either.
There is less hard evidence against Clemens than there is against McGwire and Palmeiro. In fact, there is very little hard evidence at all unless you believe McNamee — which I do, at least to a degree.
Clemens never tested positive for PEDs. He sure did not admit to using them. No, he forcefully denied each allegation — as did many others who later were found to be users.
So, which way will I vote?
“No” on the first ballot — as I’ve written before, I vote “no” on virtually every player from the steroid era as a way of distinguishing them from the greats of the past. Is that an unfair penalty for candidates thought to be non-users? Yes, but all of the players were part of a union that had the power to implement change.
After that is where it gets tricky.
My general rule after the first year is that mere suspicion is not enough for me to withhold a vote; one should only consider the facts at hand. I voted last year for Jeff Bagwell, knowing that some of my colleagues would refrain, suspecting that Bagwell used PEDs. Bagwell jumped from 41.7 percent of the vote his first year to 56 percent in his second.
Clemens, in some ways, is not much different than Bagwell. The evidence against Bonds from the BALCO trial, including positive tests, is stronger. A federal jury convicted Bonds on one charge of obstructing justice for impeding a grand jury investigation into illegal steroid distribution. The judge in the case declared a mistrial on three other counts.
Guilty, not guilty, positive, negative, alleged, confirmed.
It can drive you nuts, no?
As a voter, I try to approach each candidate, each year, with an open mind. But as I’ve written before, virtually every argument, for or against, is full of holes. In the end, all a voter can do is vote his or her conscience. And worry, as I do, about the meaning of keeping some of the generation’s biggest names out of the Hall of Fame.