Thursday, July 14, 2011
Clemens free for now; Cooperstown next?
By David Schoenfield
I have a friend who is completely obsessed with the Roger Clemens perjury trial. He reads every story, every column, all the transcripts. I think he even volunteered to quit his job, move away from his wife and kids and help the prosecution.
My friend is not happy today. The judge declared a mistrial and the defense will now argue that Clemens can't be tried under double jeopardy. So unless the federal government decides to spend more millions attempting to put Clemens in the slammer -- a hearing for another trial will be held Sept. 2 -- the Rocket can finally walk off into the Texas sunset, his gun in his holster, his hat sitting low over his eyes, making it impossible to read what's really going on in his mind.
The important thing to remember about this case: It wasn't about PEDs. It was about lying while under oath. But certainly the two issues are inescapably intertwined.
I think many observers have come to the same conclusion: Clemens used PEDs and he didn't tell the truth about using PEDs.
Where they may differ:
1. Whether Clemens believes he's telling the truth.
Isn't it entirely possible that Clemens has convinced himself that he's not lying? I once knew somebody who was a pathological liar. He would tell you something that you knew was a lie, and that he knew you would know. He did it anyway, to the extent that he must have believed what he was saying. I absolutely think Clemens may fit that mode. There's no rational explanation otherwise; his legacy and reputation are already stained, if that's what he cares about. Being exonerated by a jury wasn't going to change that.
2. Whether the government should be spending money going after Clemens in the first place.
In 1994, before a congressional hearing under chairman Henry Waxman (yes, the same Henry Waxman who chaired the steroids hearing), the CEOs of seven tobacco companies all declared that they believed nicotine wasn't addictive. None were later charged with lying under oath. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States."
3. How this affects Clemens' ultimate legacy, namely: Should he be elected to the Hall of Fame?
Sportswriters and fans have drawn their lines in the sand on this one, of course. Clemens will clearly have a difficult time making the Hall of Fame under current rules of election. Hall of Fame voters have become moral arbiters even though (A) we don't know what Clemens took; (B) how much he took; (C) when he started taking it; or (D) how much it even helped. In my opinion, that's too much gray area to assume declarative judgments on a player's performance.
Here's what we do know about Clemens' performance: He won 354 games and seven Cy Young Awards. Even if you knock off the last 10 years of his career, his record would be Hall of Fame-caliber: 213-118, 2.97 ERA, four Cy Youngs and five ERA titles. The fact that a guy who already was one of the greatest pitchers of all time before he allegedly starting using PEDs pitched until he was 44 isn't a freakish feat in itself. Nolan Ryan led his league four times in strikeouts after turning 40. Randy Johnson had one of his best seasons at 40. Tom Seaver was great at 40 and only retired at 41 after an injury. Warren Spahn won 23 games at 42.
I'm not saying Clemens didn't use; I'm saying if he did use, nobody knows the effects. Maybe they made him 3 percent better. Maybe 1 percent. They didn't make him 20 or 30 or 40 percent better -- if PEDs were that effective, most players would still be using.
Anyway, as for the government spending more money going after Clemens, I think the judicial process is important; let's not underestimate that. But I also think there are more pressing concerns than trying to put Roger Clemens in prison.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.