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A Baseball Blog - Scientific and Speculative Thoughts from Third Base

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Roger Clemens Verdict, Steroids, and the Hall of Fame

Roger Clemens was found not guilty of perjury the other day. I guess it’s big legal news, although I don’t follow the legal news circuit nearly as closely as I follow the baseball news circuit. It’s kind of big baseball news, so I feel like it’s worth mentioning here.

Really, it’s kind of interesting, for the sake of the Hall, even if I can’t quite determine what it means. Literally, it means there isn’t enough evidence present at the moment to prove Roger Clemens used steroids in a court of law. You can say that about a lot of guys, though; Jeff Bagwell has been Hall worthy since he hit the ballot, yet angry plagerists/voters don’t seem to care other than to use him as the test “we’ll just wait-and-see” case for players.

I guess you can continue believing Clemens used steroids, too, if you want. I can’t stop you or anything. But I would like to point out:

In retrospect, there wasn’t really a need for the Mitchell Report to name names, other than to generate outrage. MLB still hasn’t released the results of their 2003 testing program (although there have been some leaks).The Mitchell Report, as far as I’m aware, didn’t use any testing; just the testimony of a few people. Personal testimonies can be flawed, particularly if the events are based on secondhand information, or if there are ulterior motives at stake.

Really, I care about the results more for a different reason. Back in the mid 2000s, people wanted athletes to say they didn’t use steroids, and they did. And then everyone decided that wasn’t enough, they had take random tests or go to court to defend their name when someone indicated they used (never mind that, in most cases, there isn’t really a defense against someone making a claim against you as a public figure unless you can prove they were speaking with the intent of damaging your reputation). You were supposed to do it because the public demanded that you do everything possible to clear your name.

And so, after being named in the Mitchell Report, Clemens requested to speak in front of Congress and testify that he had never used steroids in order to clear his name. There was little reason to; no one else named in the Mitchell Report felt the need to go before Congress and contradict the findings, thereby opening themselves up to a perjury investigation. Even if you are found not guilty of perjury, you still put countless time and money into it. Yet Clemens did, to protect his name. And he was found not guilty.

Now, not guilty isn’t the same as innocent. But, as people have have been saying with Bagwell, you can’t prove a negative. All Clemens can do is argue the claims against him.

And what about the Hall voting? Well, as mentioned, I would bet that few voters give Clemens any benefit of the doubt, even after this trial. Which is really a shame. The fact that Clemens has actually fought off accusations of steroid use should put him above other candidates, suspicion-wise. But no, it would appear that most sportswriters who have a say on this stopped forming their opinion on this back in 2007. For instance, Danny Knobler:

“In the court of public opinion, we don't need witnesses. We don't need testimony.
We don't even need to be fair...

It's hard to prove perjury, and it should be.
But you can trust our system of justice while still trusting what your eyes and your instincts tell you about Roger Clemens...

As Keith Olbermann said on Twitter Monday afternoon, "Ask Shoeless Joe Jackson how that acquittal stuff worked out."

As a starting point, I would like to say that, when you are supposed to be an unbiased judge of something, like, say, the Hall of Fame, it would probably be beneficial to be “fair” when forming your opinion. You know, the whole "Justice is blind" thing.

Also, contrary to his trust in his eyes, many people have pointed out that there is no definite sign of a steroid user that you can just pick up on by looking. Go ahead, look. Unless you can honestly say your eyes told you Manny Alexander or Armando Rios were steroids users.

With regards to the Joe Jackson thing, I would like to point out that most people side with Jackson now. Also, Kenesaw Mountain Landis and his actions are not exactly a standard of reason we should be looking to.

Similar thoughts come from Bill Madden:

“The problem Clemens is going to have with that, however, is that the crimes for which he was acquitted Monday had nothing to do with whether he did or didn’t use steroids...

I suspect a prime reason for the jurors – many of whom had to jar themselves to stay awake during the tedious nine-week trial — reaching their verdict so quickly was because they concluded this was a baseball issue and not a federal case...
If nothing else, the jury’s action further muddies this whole steroids/Hall of Fame controversy. A guilty verdict would have made it a whole lot easier for the baseball writers and would have given some needed credence to the Mitchell Report. Its only value was its recommendation that baseball adopt a comprehensive drug-testing program. For that, you have to credit the commissioner, Bud Selig, who wasn’t interested in whether steroids cheats should or should not be in the Hall of Fame, but rather how to get steroids out of his game..." 

And really, this may be how some of you readers may feel. But first, I would like to point out that this perjury trial was over whether Clemens lied to Congress about using steroids. So, yes Bill Madden (and any readers who feel this way), this trial was defintely about whether he used steroids.

Also, Madden promptly throws out the court’s verdict, which was based on hours and hours of time spent hearing testimonies and reviewing evidence, in favor on his own pet theory that this is ONLY a case of jury nullification. That should sound silly to you, and there is a reason.

He then complains about how this verdict only makes the Baseball Writers’ jobs harder in voting for the Hall of Fame. I would like to point out how silly that is to complain about. You are voting about a museum for a game. Yes, it is an interesting and fun game and museum, but you are also complaining about it while writing how it would be easier if a man who just sunk months of his life into clearing his name, in part because you wanted him to, went to jail, because that would have cleared up how you should have voted for in said museum’s election. That is more than a little ridiculous.

And what is the appropriate response to steroids users and the Hall of Fame? Let them in. No, really. Yes, even the proven ones. There are almost definitely steroid users in the Hall of Fame. There are definitely amphetamine users, ball-doctorers, and other cheaters in the Hall. Why arbitrarily start deciding now what is and isn’t cheating and deserves to be in the Hall? Besides, depending on your take, a majority of the league was using them, especially since there was no rule against them.* So a) they were competing at similarly-enabled peers**; and b) there’s no way we’ll know everyone who used.

*Don’t bring up Fay Vincent’s memo about them. As I said last time
“As nice as it was to see Vincent trying to be somewhat proactive and all, his memos mean nothing without approval from the players’ union. He could have passed memos requiring players to play under the reserve clause again and teams to hold every fourth game on the moon and it wouldn’t have had any effect unless he got it approved. The memo just wasn’t anything that could actually be enforced, realistically or legally, without MLBPA’s consent.”

**And this isn’t even going into the discussion of what effect steroids actually had.


Any way, now that I’ve gone through all of that, what exactly do I think about Clemens? My thoughts are more or less the same as they were about Ryan Braun.

“My end conclusion is: I am no closer to knowing that Braun is definitely a steroid user than I was before this whole incident. He may be a steroid user, to the same degree that Albert Pujols or Derek Jeter or Darnell McDonald or John Buck or David Eckstein or really anyone else may be. They’re all ballplayers, they all played after steroids and HGH and such entered the game, and they all have never tested positive. They cannot prove a negative, so it’s stupid to expect them to prove that they didn’t take steroids. We can’t conclusively call anyone innocent, so we stick with not calling them guilty without proof.”

I know we like to have clear black-and-white answers to questions like who should be in the Hall of Fame or whether an accused man is innocent or guilty, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. We just have to learn to accept it.

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