HOUSTON: We will soon learn how the acquittal of Rogers Clemens on all counts of lying to Congress affects his standing with sportswriters who elect players to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Clemens and Barry Bonds will be eligible for selection to the hall this winter, and my guess is that neither player will come close to being named on 75 percent of the ballots, the minimum needed to qualify for entrance.
I doubt that the outcome of the case against Clemens will have much impact on the opinions of the voters. Convictions in criminal prosecutions are difficult because of the possibility that defendants will go to jail, but whereas the absence of reasonable doubt is the level of proof needed in a criminal trial, it is not the standard imposed on voters of the hall of fame. Common-sense reasoning is good enough.
Clemens prevailed in court for a couple of reasons: He was able to hire a top attorney, and the government’s evidence was easily picked apart.
Moreover, as the case dragged on for five years before it came to trial, the Justice Department was seen by many as a bully trying to convict a beloved sports figure of charges that much of the public views as trivial.
“Shouldn’t the feds be using all those millions to go after real crooks?” was the attitude, an opinion that arguably has merit. That was even the belief of many in the jury pool, including one person who was impaneled.
The government’s case was based mostly on the testimony of one witness, Clemens’ longtime strength coach, Brian McNamee, and chief defense attorney Rusty Hardin poked enough holes in his story to ensure that reasonable doubt would win the day.
I don’t know that the jury was looking for an excuse to let Clemens off the hook, but celebrity defendants get two breaks: They can hire the best attorneys, and their stature in the eyes of the public gives them a head start toward acquittal.
As one of several hundred writers who vote for hall of fame candidates, I remain convinced that Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs, which is cheating, plain and simple.
Besides the evidence of McNamee, whom I believe, Clemens apparently told his former teammate Andy Pettitte that he was a juicer, but when Pettitte was called to the witness stand, he wimped out, saying there was a 50-50 chance he misunderstood Clemens. Sure he did.
There also is the common-sense judgment that players whose careers begin to fade in their mid-30s don’t suddenly become dominating when they turn 40 unless they’re getting some help.
As a 36-year-old starter for the Yankees in 1999, Clemens posted a 14-10 record and 4.60 earned-run average. After he moved on to Houston, where he also lives, Clemens posted a cumulative record of 38-18 with a 2.40 ERA between the ages of 41 and 43.
If someone can give me a rational explanation how that kind of revival is possible without the use of performance-enhancing substances, I would like to hear it.
There are two bogus justifications for letting juicers into the hall of fame that I hear often on national television and radio.
The first: Since so many players were cheating, nobody should be called to account. Inasmuch as we cannot identify all the players who skirted the rules or remained clean throughout their careers, let them all in.
That’s like arguing that if 20 percent of convenience-store robberies are solved, the guys who were convicted should be let out of jail because the cops couldn’t catch the other 80 percent.
Sorry, but Clemens, Bonds and several others are the players who were called out. If some have slipped through without detection, that’s their good fortune. If a miscreant who holds up a 7-Eleven store inadvertently leaves his credit card behind, he has nobody to blame but himself.
Moreover, of the scores of players who used steroids or synthetic testosterone or HGH, a tiny fraction amassed the kinds of numbers that would qualify them for hall of fame consideration. How many players will this affect? Probably fewer than 10.
The second phony reason to let these guys into the hall of fame: Bonds and Clemens, for example, had hall-worthy careers before they cheated. Or at least before we think they cheated.
That being the case, why don’t we ignore the period in which they used performance enhancers and elect them on the basis of the seasons in which they were clean?
David Justice had a meritorious 14-year career, part of it spent with the Indians. He batted .300 or better four times, hit 24 home runs or more five times and three times accumulated at least 100 RBI. He also was an impact player for the Braves in the World Series.
Why not elect him to the hall of fame on the basis of his best seasons and his foremost accomplishments and forget the rest of his career, like the year he batted .241 with 18 homers and 51 RBI?
It doesn’t work, because every season is part of a single career. That’s what is under consideration, a player’s career in its entirety. You can’t break it into pieces because it suits your argument.
So for me, guys whose numbers are inflated out of all proportion because they used performance-enhancing drugs don’t qualify for the hall of fame. I’m not trying to punish them retroactively. But neither do I see a reason to award them with the highest honor a player can receive.
Would I ever make an exception? Maybe. Because a testing program is now in place, if a current player were caught and served his time, I might consider him a hall of fame candidate if I had reason to believe his use of drugs was so brief that it didn’t have much affect on his career statistics.
But that’s something I’m still trying to work out in my mind. For now, Bonds and Clemens will have to get elected to the hall of fame without my vote.
Of course, they can always buy a ticket and see where they would have been had they not used performance-enhancing drugs. Keep in mind that these were among the last players on earth who needed to cheat.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.