Jury cleared Clemens. Will history?
By Thomas Taschinger
Roger ClemensÂ has thrown many a pitch on the edge of the plate and then glared at the umpire, hoping to get the call he wanted. Since he was a good pitcher, he usually saw a strike rung up. Last week he got the call of his life when a jury cleared him of charges related to lying to Congress about taking steroids and other performance-enhancingÂ drugs.
You have to respect the verdict even if you don’t agree with it. The jury sat through the long trial and heard both sides. But remember they declared him “not guilty,” not “innocent.”
Some of them may have suspected he was a juicer or that he lied to Congress. But that wasn’t the issue. In their collective minds, the government didn’t prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, so ClemensÂ walked.
In fact, some jurors later said they didn’t like the government’s case at all, in part because they don’t like the federal government or Congress. Prosecutors were also described as dull and plodding, while Clemens’ lawyer was folksy and smooth. (That tends to happen when large amounts of money pay forÂ counsel.)
So in the eyes of the law, Clemens is not a felon. In the eyes of history, and those who vote on membership in theÂ Baseball Hall of Fame, the verdict may beÂ different.
Nothing can change the fact that Clemens enjoyed a late-career surge that almost never happens to clean athletes. Remember that when he was at his peak, he routinely ran out of gas at the end of the season and had a terrible record in theÂ playoffs.
Somewhere around his 40th birthday, that changed. And that happened to occur in the midst of what is aptly known as the Steroid Era ofÂ baseball.
Coincidence? Maybe. But studies of this unfortunate period show that at least a third and maybe more than half of all players were getting by with a little help from their friends in the pharmaceuticalÂ industry.
And like any crime, it wasn’t done in the open. You don’t have videotapes of players injecting themselves or receipts from dealers. (Hint: They don’t give them.) But in Clemens’ case, what you do have is testimony from some teammates and his personal trainer – and that’s a lot if you think aboutÂ it.
If you believe this is all a giant conspiracy designed to make poor Roger look like a bad guy, you’re pitching a shutout. Why haven’t these allegations been thrown at other great pitchers of Clemens’ time, likeÂ Nolan RyanÂ orÂ Randy Johnson? Here’s why: Because they didn’t get better as they got older, and they didn’t hang around shady characters who messed with theÂ stuff.
Now that baseball has finally cracked down on performance-enhancing drugs, a funny thing has happened. Baseball players are lean again, not pumped-up hulks like Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. The best sluggers can hit 40 or so home runs, not 60 or 70. When great pitchers likeÂ Curt SchillingÂ get old, they leave the game instead of winningÂ Cy YoungÂ awards.
Finally, consider another sports figure on trial last week, former Penn State coachÂ Jerry Sandusky. He and his wife and his lawyers and some of his friends swore he’s a standup guy who somehow got linked to a bunch of crazy charges. They said it with passion and conviction, looking for all the world as if they were telling the God’s honestÂ truth.
That’s their right, of course, but it doesn’t make them right. Good thing that this time, the jury didn’t fall forÂ it.
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