- Last Updated: 10:45 AM, June 19, 2012
- Posted: 3:54 AM, June 19, 2012
One by one the counts were read, one by one the verdicts came back:
Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty.
Not guilty. Not guilty.
So Roger Clemens beats the rap, beats the case clean, treats the government like he once struck out a record number of 1986 Seattle Mariners and 1996 Detroit Tigers. Clemens won 354 games in the major leagues, but these were his six biggest victories ever, the ones that assure he never will see the inside of a federal jail cell.
Do they guarantee he ever will see the inside of the National Baseball Hall of Fame without buying a ticket? That’s a murkier question — but no murkier than it was yesterday afternoon at around quarter to five, in the moments before Clemens the pitcher celebrated a 6-for-6 day from his spot at the defense table.
“Mr. Clemens,” U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said not long after, “you are free to go.”
Free to go to Cooperstown?
Understand one thing: What Clemens skated on were six charges related to perjury. In the eyes of the jury, he did not lie when he stood before Congress and declared himself a clean baseball player. He was not specifically cleared of using steroids. That was beside the point, outside the case. In almost every instance of a player using steroids, or not using them, we are talking about an unindicted crime.
Really, it was hard to engender any kind of emotion about Roger Clemens going to jail. This isn’t the Jerry Sandusky trial. This isn’t the O.J. Simpson trial. Nobody was murdered. No innocence was stolen from children. If the proliferation of steroids in baseball in the 1990s wasn’t entirely a victimless crime — ask any truly clean player whose career stalled in Double- or Triple-A about that — it was an intramural racket.
Baseball suffered. Our belief in the game’s purity was battered.
Society? Put it this way: Who is going to feel badly that Brian McNamee will now return to his sad life as a nobody?
But this trial, while a supreme waste of taxpayer money and the judicial system’s time, barely will have a ripple effect on the voting body that will judge whether Clemens will ever walk through the gates at Cooperstown or slip a Hall of Fame ring on his finger. We are not bound by legal precedent or federal verdict. We vote our consciences.
And the truth is some of us think 300-game winners are automatic entrants, some don’t. Some of us think Bert Blyleven was a worthy inductee because of his career body of work, some of us didn’t. Jack Morris? We’re split, and needles never enter into the debate.
And this is one more point of contention: Did he or didn’t he? Does it matter or doesn’t it?
I voted for Mark McGwire one year. I haven’t voted for him the years since. I changed my mind because I could. I might do so again. I voted for Jeff Bagwell because I never have been persuaded he was a cheater; maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong. Next year, I’ll make my mind up all over again.
And I’ll do the same thing about Clemens when my ballot arrives next December, the first one with a shadowed box next to his name on it. And it won’t matter to me that six times he heard the words “not guilty” at the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington yesterday, same as it wouldn’t if the government had gone 6-for-6. Short of someone like McGwire, who copped to using, we’re never going to know the truth in black-and-white clarity.
Will I vote for him? If I had to decide right now, today, I wouldn’t. I think he used. I think he cheated the game. And at bare minimum, I think it should cost him a first-ballot ticket.
Will I feel differently in December? Possibly. In 2016? Maybe. In 2022? Ask me then. I suspect I will, in the context of my one vote, eventually want to separate, for history’s sake, those who I believe were Hall of Famers without help — Clemens and Barry Bonds are on that short list — from others who needed the boost. Or maybe I won’t.
I felt that way yesterday morning, and a year ago, and three years ago. I feel that way now. The verdict won’t affect that, and wouldn’t have if it went the other way. Only my conscience will.