Commentary

Acquittal doesn't mean he was clean

Clemens' numbers still don't pass the sniff test, so he won't get my Hall vote

Updated: June 21, 2012, 8:34 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Let's get two things straight right off the bat: Acquitted is not the same as vindicated.

And not guilty does not mean clean.

Roger Clemens was acquitted of six counts of perjury and obstruction of justice on Monday, and all it means is that the federal government, wasting its time and your money, couldn't prove a case that was a bad idea to begin with.

There was no basis for it -- if you're going to try someone for lying under oath, you'd better have a concrete piece of evidence that proves he or she was lying, like a positive drug test, not the word of a "witness" who was a bigger sleazebag than the defendant.

And even if the government hadn't proven its case, does it really serve anyone's purposes to send Clemens to jail for 30 days, let alone 30 years, for a lie told to Congress regarding some alleged misdoings in a little boy's game?

This is not to say that I condone lying under oath. It's a serious offense that should result in serious consequences.

But the government had nothing on Clemens but the word of Brian McNamee, a jammed-up former cop whose past was a lot dirtier than Clemens', and some biological detritus he had (creepily) collected over the years.

I've seen worse prosecutions than this -- I covered the Marv Albert sex trial nearly 20 years ago, in which a small-town prosecutor tried to make a name for himself by bringing charges against a prominent person on the word of a woman who was caught on tape trying to bribe a cabbie into making lurid and false sexual allegations about the defendant.

This prosecutor, whose name has faded into obscurity and will not be resurrected here, knew he had a bad witness and went forward anyway. He wound up bullying a plea out of his defendant because what was coming out at trial, while not criminal behavior, was certainly mortifying.

This was not nearly as bad as that, although if we believe Clemens, it means he condoned the injection of Mrs. Clemens with HGH by McNamee in Clemens' master bathroom without the presence of Mr. Clemens.

[+] EnlargeRoger Clemens
Rick Stewart/Allsport Roger Clemens was on the Boston Red Sox scrap heap after 1996. Then he went to Toronto -- and never looked back.

That should be mortifying enough to a guy as quasi-macho as Clemens, but when merely being publicly cuckolded stands between you and a jail cell, I suppose some guys will submit to anything.

But a form of justice was done in a Washington, D.C, federal courthouse Monday; like Barry Bonds, Clemens should not serve time because of so flimsy a case or the word of so repugnant a cooperating witness.

Like Bonds, Clemens' real punishment will come next year, in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame, when he discovers that being acquitted of a frivolous charge is not the same as being truly innocent of a serious one.

And if the standard is reasonable doubt in a court of law, so should it be when it comes time to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot.

And as a Hall of Fame voter, I have more than reasonable doubt about every statistical accomplishment of Clemens after 1996.

In the four previous seasons, Clemens posted the following numbers: 11-14. 4.46 ERA; 9-7, 2.85; 10-5, 4.18 and 10-13, 3.63. Thinking he was past his prime at 33, the Red Sox let him go.

After that, something happened to Clemens. In 1997 and 1998, he won 21 and 20 games, respectively, for the Toronto Blue Jays and won the Cy Young both years. Then began his Yankee Era, in which he posted five straight winning seasons and another Cy Young. Then, at age 41, he went to Houston, and over three seasons went 38-18, all with sub-3.00 ERAs, and one year posted a 1.87.

In fact, no pitcher in history has had the kind of success Clemens had after his 39th birthday, a period in which he went 79-41 with a 3.24 ERA.

Check out the records after the 39th birthdays of the pitchers whose final career numbers most closely mirror Clemens': Greg Maddux, 50-52, 4.00-plus ERA; Tom Seaver, 38-35, 4.00-plus ERA; Steve Carlton, 29-44, 5.00-plus ERA; Randy Johnson, 79-60, 4.00-plus ERA.

Even Cy Young, who won 511 games, was barely a .500 pitcher after his 39th birthday (88-81).

Only Warren Spahn, who went 96-73 with a 3.52 ERA, even comes close, but he was a 5-foot-11, 175-pound screwballer, not the power pitcher Clemens remained till the end of his career.

Simply put, Clemens' late-career performance simply doesn't pass the sniff test any more than Bonds suddenly going from 49 home runs as a 35-year-old to 73 the following year smells awfully funny, positive drug test or not.

If I can't trust the numbers, I can't vote for the guy -- and I can't trust Clemens' numbers.

To believe them is to believe that Clemens just naturally worked harder and was a better pitcher than Seaver, Carlton, Maddux, Johnson and Young.

That, to me, is the definition of reasonable doubt, and I've got plenty of it.

Unlike the ladies and gentlemen of the U.S. Congress, I'm not looking to waste my time or your money, and I'm certainly not looking to put anyone in jail.

But I will cast my vote against sending Clemens to Cooperstown. As far as I'm concerned, that is punishment enough.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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