07.15.11

Clemens Prosecutors Strike Out

The perjury case against pitcher Roger Clemens collapsed because of government prosecutors' stupidity, Buzz Bissinger says—and it was a travesty to begin with.

In a federal courtroom in Washington on Thursday, a judge openly exposed the farce that has been the criminal case against Roger Clemens since he was first indicted. Just like Barry Bonds, this has been not a prosecution but a persecution, not a pursuit of justice but a dog-and-pony show of self-interest and self-aggrandizement.

I have tried to figure out the reason why Clemens was even charged in the first place for supposedly lying under oath to Congress three years ago over the use of steroids and other performance-enhancers. If the tables were turned and members of Congress were subpoenaed to testify before a subcommittee made up of the public, every member of the House and Senate would be indicted for perjury on the basis of corrupt pandering for votes, or sneaking in special-interest legislation, or making decisions on the basis of campaign contributions, or the willingness to do anything to get reelected even if it means the kind of constipated gridlock we face now over the budget.

As for those who have testified before Congress, what about the top executives of the seven biggest tobacco companies, stating under oath in 1994 that nicotine was not addictive? Or the top executives of eight major banks who in 2009 took little responsibility for our economic ruin and also excused their sky-high compensation and private jets?

Yet none of them have been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.

Only Roger Clemens.

Why?

Because it’s malarkey when prosecutors say they represent We the People. They represent themselves, craving high-profile cases with high-profile names that with a guilty verdict can lead to a corner office at some white-shoe law firm and a great deal more money. They are like grandiose taxidermists mounting animals on the wall, and Roger Clemens might as well be a seven-point buck given his seven Cy Young awards and 354 wins over 24 seasons before his retirement at the end of the 2007 season.

There are probably a billion other things in the world more important than this overworked, overheated, overdone penny ante scandal of steroids that nobody cares about anymore except for naïfs who believe in the positive nature of mankind despite Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge, the genocide of the Armenians, the devastating natural disasters in Haiti and Japan and the fact that Ryan Seacrest makes millions upon millions a year for being a vapid idiot.

The sanctity of baseball?

How come in the amphetamine rush of the 1980s nobody worried about the sanctity of baseball? Where was the outrage when Gaylord Perry, whose best pitch was an illegal spitball, was still elected to the Hall of Fame? When wins and money and fame are at stake, every athlete has looked for an edge and will always look for one. For the millionth time, they are athletes, not angels.

Since you can assume that pretty much everyone in Major League Baseball either took steroids or other performance-enhancers at one point or another, the whole issue has always been a non-issue.

But it is Clemens who has gotten singled out, and the indictment alone has already sullied his career and reputation as the best pitcher of the modern era.

At least Thursday there was some vindication. It was federal prosecutors who looked like cheaters or buffoons or maybe both by causing a mistrial with a move that as presiding judge Reggie Walton put it, “a first-year law student” wouldn’t have made. It came on the second day of testimony, which must be some kind of prosecutorial record for early incompetence. Somehow ignoring a pre-trial ruling Walton had made, prosecutors Steve Durham and Daniel Butler introduced videotaped evidence to jurors that had been deemed inadmissible and hearsay.

The videotape was made during Clemens’ appearance before Congress in 2008; the deposition of Laura Pettitte, the wife of former Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte, was read during the hearing. She said her husband had told her that Clemens had admitted the use of human growth hormones. “I think that a first-year law student would know that you can’t bolster the credibility of one witness with clearly inadmissible evidence,” said Walton, particularly since Clemens has said that Pettitte’s recollection of their conversation was wrong.

Is it possible that Clemens did take illegal performance enhancers? Yes. Is it possible that Clemens, as he adamantly told Congress, did not take any illegal performance enhancers? Yes.

Does it matter?

No.

Since you can assume that pretty much everyone in Major League Baseball either took steroids or other performance-enhancers at one point or another (there was absolutely no deterrent until 2005, when real rules were put in), the whole issue has always been a non-issue. There was equal footing when it came to illegal substances, which means that Clemens’ remarkable performance as a pitcher was not due to some secret competitive edge but his own innate talent.

Plus steroids are not some magic form of pixie dust for pitchers. Studies show that they do more harm than good in many cases. As The Washington Post reported in a story by Amy Shipley in 2006, muscle growth caused by steroids can help hitters. But that muscle growth does not extend to the elaborate network of tendons and ligaments and connective tissue that are required for the incredibly violent motion of throwing a baseball. To the contrary, steroid use from 1998 to 2001 led to an increase in pitcher injuries rather than a decrease because of a weakening in the connective tissue.

Steroids could never teach Roger Clemens the competitive savagery that on one occasion, when he suspected a runner at second base was conveying signals to the batter on what Clemens was planning to throw because of the direct view of the catcher, caused him to tell the runner that somebody was going to get killed if he kept it up. Steroids could not teach him to have a work ethic like something out of Marine boot camp. They could not teach him his drop-dead splitter. They could not teach him to be fearless when it came to throwing inside and establishing the inside of the plate as his, even if it meant hitting a batter.

Clemens’ career was made by Clemens. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, although the damage already done will always create doubt among a considerable number of voting sportswriters who never liked him.

Judge Walton has set a date of Sept. 2nd to determine whether Clemens should be retried. My heart says no but my head says yes since federal prosecutors, in addition to being incomprehensibly sloppy and stupid in this instance, also tend to be self-righteous and stubborn.

Miracles do happen. Maybe, just maybe, United States Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. will have an epiphany. Perhaps he will decide to no longer harass Roger Clemens but pursue a far more salient public abuse: an investigation into how more than 100 law-enforcement officials were involved in this inexcusable waste of time in the first place.