As most of you may have heard, Roger Clemens was acquitted of all charges of perjury in the federal government’s case earlier this week. Despite some overwhelming evidence that made it appear Clemens was guilty, the case was fraught with inconsistencies and flaws. The biggest issue was the credibility of the prosecution’s primary witness, Brian McNamee. In the end, it was reasonable doubt, not lack of evidence, that “freed” Clemens from his charges.
Not surprisingly, the recent court decision has re-opened the giant can of worms that is Clemens’s Hall of Fame case. If one were to purely base his case off of record of performance and completely ignore narrative, he’s a slam dunk case. Unfortunately, the cloud of steroids and doubt, combined with the over-the-top sanctimony of certain baseball writers, make his case that much more complex. It’s something that’s both frustrating and fascinating at the same time.
The first perspective I’d like to share comes from Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.
“Did Clemens take performance-enhancing drugs? He probably did. For how long? We can only go by the evidence in the Mitchell Report, which indicated that during his time in Toronto after four subpar seasons with the Red Sox, there was evidence he engaged in that activity.
He certainly wasn’t alone in taking those enhancements, and obviously, so many players got away with it with their names never sullied.
You can love or hate Clemens, but one thing was undeniable – he was a great pitcher. You can joke and smirk about his claim to being a workout warrior – but he was. Those of us who witnessed it first hand for many years understand how hard he worked at being the best. Later in his career he crossed the line.”
While I’m on record as enjoying Cafardo’s reporting and disliking his editorial remarks, I have to admit that I’m pretty much in love with his stance on Clemens. Unlike most writers, Nick seems to get it. Clemens neither admitted to using, nor tested positive for using PEDs. While we can certainly assume he did so, it’s a bit unfair to make assumptions; especially since it’s impossible to tell a user from a non-user by looking at them.
Furthermore, we don’t know to what extent these substances helped his career. We can point to his twilight years in Boston (1993-1996) as proof of his decline, but even during that stretch, he was a solid pitcher. According to Baseball-Reference‘s Play Index, he was 19th in ERA (out of 66 pitchers), sixth in ERA+, and fifth in strikeouts among starting pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched. Those are some pretty solid numbers. In fact, it’s entirely plausible he could have bounced back in Toronto even without some pharmaceutical help.
Lastly, this idea that we should negate someone’s entire career because of a transgression seems crazy. Clemens was a Hall of Fame caliber player prior to leaving for Toronto and theoretically starting a PED regimen. Why should we ignore that stretch when making a decision? Additionally, is it fair to assume he consistently did PEDs from 1997 until the end of his career in 2005? If not, can we really ignore the entirety of his performance post-Boston?
Another Globe columnist, Eric Wilber, seems to be pretty skeptical about some BBWAA members’ reasoning behind the whole “should-we-shouldn’t-we elect him” saga surrounding Clemens.
“Foxsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal has already come out and opined how he’ll approach the Clemens situation, admitting that he won’t vote for him the first year of eligibility. That’s likely how many of his colleagues will go about their votes as well, a petty approach that speaks to the overwhelming arrogance of the BBWAA. What, Clemens’ stats are going to get better over another year of retirement, or is that how long it takes to forget about the steroid business? “OK, it’s a year later, all good, fellas. Here’s the key.”
The one-year abstinence thing drives me nuts, especially when it comes to players like Clemens and Bonds, a pair of controversial figures that test the BBWAA’s morality clause, but it’s not like the rest of the Hall’s members all went on Red Cross relief missions during the offseason. Prove to me that every single member of Cooperstown was clean of performance-enhancing drugs and we can debate whether or not Clemens or Bonds gets in. Heck, prove to me that Clemens took steroids. We all know he probably did, but the government just spent millions trying to prove the same and failed miserably. You think the bumbling members of the BBWAA can present a better case as to why he shouldn’t be elected?”
I respect Rosenthal a great deal, but I come down strongly on the side of Wilber in this case. The whole idea behind first ballot Hall of Famers being more deserving than second, fifth, or fifteenth is pretty silly. Sure, there are definitely “inner circle” Hall of Famers. Guys like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, etc., are certainly special players. All that said, not all first ballot HoFers are worthy of that same “inner circle” distinction. The truth of the matter is that when a voter changes his vote from a “no” to a “yes,” he’s admitting he was wrong. Maybe it took him a little longer to come around on a specific player, but he did. In the end, that’s all that matters.
Additionally, this idea that steroid users should be kept from the Hall of Fame because of the “character clause” is pretty ridiculous. Certain members of the BBWAA are envoking the “character clause” in the same way members of the religious right envokes certain Biblical passages while ignoring others. It’s all a convenient excuse. If “character” was really the reason for keeping guys like Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, etc. out of the Hall of Fame, these same people would be protesting the inclusion of Ty Cobb (rabid racist), Gaylord Perry (spitball king), and Babe Ruth (noted womanizer), and countless others. Unfortunately, I think there’s something more sinister at play.
This, from Lakeland, FL’s Ledger.
“Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, who hold the keys to Cooperstown, are a discerning bunch, for the most part. Fooled for a long time by players who turned to modern chemistry to make the game look like child’s play, they’re done playing the dupes who glorify them without question.”
The BBWAA members were duped? Do you really expect me to believe that? Ok, I’m sure some members didnt’ know, but it’s a concept I have difficulty wrapping my head around. Many of the writers in question are the same people who are supposed to have the pulse of the team. They’re in the clubhouse. They’re asking questions. They’re talking to public and anonymous sources, and gaining insider information. Do you really expect me to believe that no one knew, heard whispers, or suspected players of using steroids? Because this is essentially what this paragraph states, and it comes off as being incredibly naive.
Buster Olney, among others, has admitted that he was just as complicit in the steroid scandal as the players and management. He knew or heard rumblings, and did little to break the story. He’s contrite regarding his mishandling of the situation, and has publicly stated he will not hold steroid suspicion (pre-testing) against players during Hall of Fame elections. That’s a pretty respectable thing to do.
Others have chosen a different path, and that’s fine. While I don’t want to assume anyone’s motivation for speaking or acting in a specific way, I do wonder if much of the outrage behind steroids is mostly a cover. I don’t doubt that many are and were against players using steroids for ethical reasons. In fact, I support them in that respect. All of that said, if they suspected and had ethical objections, why didn’t they do what they could to break the story sooner? Furthermore, by not saying anything, were they breaking their own journalistic ethics code?
I’m not sure I’m the appopriate person to answer these questions. Still, I thought I’d pose them to get a discussion rolling? Where do you stand on the Clemens Hall of Fame situation? Are you for it? Against it? Unbelievably biased because he left Boston and later played for the Yankees? (Kidding) Feel free to post your opinions in the comments section below. All are welcome.