The final shot from the defense attorney came on the front steps of a federal courthouse in Washington on Monday when Rusty Hardin stood before the assembled media, Roger Clemens at his side, and said, “He was not only a seven-time Cy Young winner, he’s a hell of a man” – and suffice to say, Mindy McCready was not standing anywhere nearby.
This is the way it ends for the guilty winners. They cheer. They hug. They cry. It doesn’t make them any more believable, it’s just the expected gloating that comes after the litigation finish line. O.J. Simpson cried, too. Then he held a party for jurors on a yacht.
The jurors in the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” trial celebrated, too. They acquitted eight players on charges of fixing a World Series following only three hours of deliberation — and you think the Clemens’ jury was fast — and then they threw their hats and confetti in the courtroom and lifted the defendants on their shoulders. Did that make the players innocent?
How about every other athlete who used – excuse me: whom we strongly suspect of using – performance-enhancing drugs? Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez, etc. Other than one trivial obstruction-of-justice verdict against Bonds, have any of the suspected cheaters in baseball been hammered legally?
Doesn’t matter. This changes nothing.
Legacies for athletes generally are not shaped in courtrooms. Had Clemens been found guilty of perjury and/or obstruction of justice for lying to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, it merely would have rubber stamped what most already believe/know. He cheated. Of course he cheated. Just like Bonds, McGwire and almost any other player who had almost cartoonish feats abnormally late in their careers.
If federal prosecutors were baseball players, they would be batting eighth in Single A. The BALCO case should’ve been a monster. But Victor Conte, the founder of the laboratory and mastermind of steroids programs employed by some of the world’s more famous athletes, spent only four months in prison. A case against Lance Armstrong was pursued for two years until being dropped last February. Bonds was slapped on the wrist. Clemens went to court and won in humiliating fashion.
The government’s two best witnesses against Clemens: trainer Brian McNamee, who carefully stored used syringes in a crushed beer can (Miller Lite, at that), and Andy Pettitte, who told prosecutors Clemens used steroids, then made a U-turn on cross-examination and said it’s quite possible he misinterpreted his former teammates’ remarks.
Organized crime families should bid for Pettitte’s services.
The prosecution put on such a compelling case that two jurors were dismissed for falling asleep.
It follows that many believe Congress should get out of the sports business. I disagree. 1) There would be next to zero drug testing in baseball if Congress did not get involved; 2) Remember that really isn’t about athletes breaking records but rather illegal drug use. Dealers and corrupt doctors and pharmacists need to be exposed. Kids, trying to emulate their heroes, have died as a result of steroids use. Yes, died. These are not victimless crimes. Ask Don Hooton, who testified at the Congressional hearings on drug use in baseball about his son’s suicide following extensive steroids use; 3) Nobody, under any circumstances, should ever be allowed to lie to Congress.
The problem is determining what’s a winnable case. Prosecutors either overestimated the strength of their case or completely botched the one they had. Clemens’ name was listed 82 times in the Mitchell report. Congress failed anyway — not because the mission was wrong, but because the government failed to present solid evidence or a witness with an ounce of credibility. Also because at times attorneys acted like buffoons (see: mistrial).
About legacy: Clemens is dead. So are all record breakers from the steroids era. It would be surprising if any get into the Hall of Fame, short of a confession and an image makeover. There is enough anti-drug sentiment among Hall voters to keep the perceived juicers out. Even Henry Aaron has spoken out, saying cheaters should be exposed and banned from Cooperstown.
The words “not guilty” don’t change what we think, what we remember. Clemens and Bonds will be on next year’s Hall of Fame ballot, but many voters will leave the boxes next to their names unchecked. It won’t be about what can be proved in a courtroom. It’s about logic and our belief system. And when the vote comes out, Clemens won’t celebrate.
By Jeff Schultz