One hundred years from now, baseball fans will debate whether Roger Clemens used steroids to pitch into his 40s as if he were still in his 20s. The debate did not end Monday with a Washington jury any more than it did for Joe Jackson and his involvement with the Black Sox scandal with a Chicago jury in 1921.
The acquittal for Clemens changes almost nothing about his baseball legacy other than to keep the taint from worsening. He won a fair and almost predictable legal victory, given the prosecution's difficulty of trying to prove perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Their case rested mostly with Brian McNamee, a witness with a checkered past who was not a fair fight for Rusty Hardin, one of Clemens' lawyers, who plays the kind of smart-aleck attorney jurors are accustomed to seeing on television.
The feds used 93 agents to interview 179 people over 4 ½ years and came up with the forlorn McNamee and little else. It goes in the boxscore as a waste of time and money, the legal version of the 1993 Mets.
"My God," said Hardin in closing at a time when he wasn't pounding some table or giving a Cheshire smile, "if you're going to go to his kind of effort to prove this man lied to Congress, you'd better come home with some kind of bacon. Not a zilch!"
It's easy to imagine that if Hardin worked for Mark McGwire he could have drawn the same legal doubt and inconsistencies from Jose Canseco, another checkered whistleblower who was to McGwire what McNamee was to Clemens in the realm of baseball reputations. And time has shown Canseco to be a truthteller when it came to steroids.
Clemens picked up the win, but it was Clemens' legal standing, not his baseball reputation, that was decided. After all, the people who rendered the verdict had to be informed that the Red Sox play in Boston at Fenway Park, and that major league baseball is played indoors and outdoors. These are the people who are going to decide your Hall of Fame ballot? I don't think so.
Clemens is not going into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, which will be mailed to baseball writers in about five months. Look at it this way: If he gets twice as much support as those who voted for McGwire (even the pre-admission McGwire), Clemens still is far short of being voted in -- about 50 percent, far below the required 75 percent threshold. There is a possibility he may never get in on the writers' ballot. Perhaps it's best, anyway, that Clemens, Barry Bonds and the like be passed to a Hall of Fame veterans committee 15 to 20 years from now -- a veritable jury of their peers, with many of those selectors being Hall of Famers.
As for the jurors in Washington, it's reasonable to believe they were swayed by Hardin carving up McNamee and were left with enough reasonable doubt to let Clemens go. But no one has explained this well: Why would McNamee invent this elaborate story about Clemens using steroids, including saving medical waste? Book and movie deals and the lavish life? Clemens was his meal ticket. His business dried up. He appears to be a broken man.
In astonishingly wrongheaded comments that makes you cringe to think about the jury system, one juror, Joyce Robinson-Paul, told the New York Daily News that she figured out McNamee's motivation: She said it was because McNamee grew angry that Clemens played in public a tape of a secretly recorded conversation with McNamee that included a mention of McNamee's ill son. "There was the motive," Robinson-Paul said to the Daily News. "Roger Clemens had gone overboard for him, and this is how he repaid him." She said, "We felt there was something here. It was vengeance probably."
Are you kidding me? Clemens recorded the conversation on January 4, 2008 -- six months after McNamee already gave lawyers for the Mitchell Report chapter and verse about shooting up Clemens with steroids. The first of three such interviews with the Mitchell investigators took place July 9, 2007. So we have a juror assigning motivation to McNamee to an event that occurred after he already told the world through the Mitchell Report that Clemens used steroids. I'm surprised such an admission by a juror has not created more noise, especially from the prosecutors.
As for the trial itself, one of the most telling scenes took place with Clemens at one of his career lows: in the visitors clubhouse at Fenway after getting crushed by the Boston Red Sox in the 1999 ALCS, while the crowd taunted him with chants of "Where is Roger?" And when Yankees GM Brian Cashman ambled through the clubhouse during that game and found a beaten Clemens, this is what came to Clemens in his moment of despair: Get me Mac. He convinced the Yankees to hire McNamee, with Clemens footing the bill. McNamee was that important and trustworthy to Clemens.
The two of them were inseparable, typically with Andy Pettitte close by. We know that Pettitte, Clemens' close friend and workout partner, used HGH and used McNamee as his supplier and facilitator. We know that Debbie Clemens, Roger's wife, used HGH and used McNamee as her supplier and facilitator. Other Yankees obtained their drugs and the how-tos of using them from McNamee. But we are left to believe that Clemens, while forging a closer bond with McNamee than anyone else, found a second stage to his career only on the magic of hard work and a split-finger fastball, as if he were the only baseball player to "work hard." I once worked out with Clemens and McNamee to experience the famous Clemens work ethic, after which he repaired to a Manhattan diner for a bacon cheeseburger the size of a Buick.
I attended a business luncheon once with Clemens, who, as the guest speaker, went out of his way to praise my 2002 story on steroids in baseball and to speak up about the need to clean up the game.
In an era with no testing, with a known PED supplier as his trainer, with many stars of the game juicing, Clemens insists he remained as good or better than any of them into his 40s without any dropoff in stuff while pitching clean in a dirty game.
From age 21 to 33, Clemens won 63 percent of his games with a 3.06 ERA, a 144 ERA+ and a 1.185 WHIP. And from age 34 to 43, he won 70 percent of his games with a 3.17 ERA, a 142 ERA+ and a 1.158 WHIP. There was no evidence of aging whatsoever. He continued to "work hard."
In 2007 when investigators for the Mitchell Report came calling to interview him -- with his professional reputation on the line -- the self-proclaimed innocent man did nothing. He just may have been playing the role of good union man; the players association wanted nothing to do with the investigation. But the lawyers called Frank Thomas, too, and that self-proclaimed innocent man said, "Sure, I'll talk." He had nothing to hide.
When the Mitchell Report blew up and Congress wanted answers, that's when Clemens went on the offensive. To his credit, he did what he should have done with Mitchell: He shouted out his innocence and fought. He fought hard. But it was too late to clean up his reputation and too late to stay out of the crosshairs of the feds.
The trial of Roger Clemens put jurors to sleep and lasted almost 10 weeks. You couldn't blame them for wanting to be done with it and wondering why anybody cared about this silly game of baseball and the name-calling between an athlete and a trainer. Clemens had the resources to wage a full-scale legal fight and won by knockout.
While the trial was dragging, I was talking to Dan Naulty, a pitcher on the world championship 1999 Yankees and a subject of my cover story about 10 years after the dirty, unspoken business of steroids in baseball finally became fully known. Among the hundreds and hundreds of ballplayers who used steroids, Naulty is one of the very few to this day who admit to having used them. The 1999 Yankees' clubhouse had its share of drug users who cheated the game and the clean players, but that made them no different than any other team in baseball. I asked Naulty about Clemens.
"Roger, I didn't know him very well, even though I played with him for a year," Naulty said. "For me, he wasn't the most personable guy, but I was just a mop-up guy.
"But if you're guilty, you're certainly a lot better off just saying you're guilty. That's been proven one time after another -- if you're guilty. I don't know if he is. [But] you don't do yourself any service by trying to hide it. These guys are going after us with a vengeance and they know everybody was cheating and they say, 'I didn't do anything.' And when they get caught in that corner, man, that's yucky stuff."