Hypocrisy

06.21.12

Roger Clemens Deserves a Place in Baseball’s Hall of Fame

Newly acquitted of perjury, the veteran pitcher now faces judgmental baseball writers who decide on the Hall of Fame. Clemens almost certainly would have been a Hall of Famer before his suspected steroid use—and should be voted into Cooperstown.

Now that the interminable Roger Clemens trial is finally over, and a jury of eight women and four men stayed awake long enough to clear him of all six counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, the former star pitcher’s case moves on to the next group that will pass judgment. This group will be far less sympathetic, will not be influenced by a blatant case of government overreach, nor be swayed by the silver tongue of defense lawyer Rusty Hardin.

This group is highly conflicted, suffers from a terrible case of double standards, and perhaps also the lingering embarrassment of missing the rampant steroid use in baseball that happened on its watch.

I’m talking about the 550 or so baseball writers who will decide this winter whether Clemens should be enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame. Many of these men (and a handful of women) in the Baseball Writers Association of America take their ballot about as seriously as the cardinals who vote for a pope. And early indications are that Clemens, who is on the ballot for the first time, will not get the required 75 percent of the vote needed to gain entry to Cooperstown.

The writers have already turned down borderline candidates like Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell. At least McGwire admitted he used steroids; Bagwell hasn’t made the cut the past two years based primarily on the suspicion that he took performance-enhancing drugs. Both, the feeling goes, would not have put up Hall of Fame numbers without the undeniable help of chemicals.

That surely is not the case with Clemens, who was almost certain to be a Hall of Famer well before his suspected use of steroids. The same is true of Barry Bonds, perhaps the best hitter of his generation. Some of the writers have said they will vote for both. Some will split the baby and punish both by making them wait for their second—or third—year of eligibility before adding them to their ballot. 

And some say they will never vote either of them—nor anyone else known to have used steroids. 

Why?

Well, the writers say, they cheated.  

Which is an interesting thing to assert, since Clemens never failed a drug test. Nor has anyone proved that Clemens took steroids. Certainly not the government, which presented a weak case in such excruciating fashion that two jurors were dismissed for falling asleep. Nor did it help that Brian McNamee, the star witness who claims he injected Clemens with steroids, testified that his story “evolved.” The trial took 10 weeks in all; the jury took less than 10 hours to find Clemens not guilty.

So, did Roger Clemens take performance-enhancing drugs? He told Congress he didn’t, and a jury of his peers decided that wasn’t a lie. But as with Bagwell, many baseball writers will now vote against Clemens based on what they think they know.

You have to wonder if any of these writers looked into whether a player was taking amphetamines—“greenies” in baseball vernacular, and illegal without a prescription since the 1970s—before voting him into the Hall. How prevalent were greenies? Players going as far back as Jim Bouton in the 1960s and Johnny Bench in the 1970s wrote about them in their books. Players caught using cocaine in the 1980s—yes, baseball has the same problem with drugs as the rest of America—testified they received greenies from Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Willie Mays. 

More recently, Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn told the New York Times in 2003 that he thought 50 percent of the players used greenies. That same year, former Yankees star David Wells wrote in his book that players would stockpile hundreds of pills for the season and share them with teammates. Players have talked openly about trainers putting them in bowls placed at the clubhouse door leading out to the field. 

When former major-league pitcher Jason Grimsley, who played for six teams in his 15-year career, was busted for using performance-enhancing drugs in 2006, he told investigators that most baseball clubhouses have two different coffee pots: one leaded, one unleaded. The “leaded” pot was laced with amphetamines.

If Roger Clemens used steroids, all he was doing was playing by the rules of the game.

Indeed, many managers and general managers say the reason home runs are down the last few years has much more to do with testing for amphetamines than steroids, which figures: Amphetamines sharpen the focus needed to pick up the seams of a 95-mph fastball. As one Hall of Famer said to me recently, how else was he supposed to maintain his energy over the six-to-eight-month season?

Still, this former player, tired of seeing his records broken, thinks steroid users should be punished. A Hall voter recently told me he would take steroid use into consideration if it occurred before punitive testing was implemented in 2004. He gives a pass to those, like A-Rod, whose 2003 test results were leaked. The reason: those tests were used to gauge the depth of the problem and were supposed to remain confidential.

Other voters have their own ideas when it comes to steroids. The bottom line is that there are no rules that say players should be judged for what they did on and off the field.

Understand, too, that this is not simply an honorary award. Candidates for the Hall have been known to hire professional consultants and lobbyists to work on their behalf. Why? Entry to the Hall of Fame translates into higher speaking fees, endorsements, prices for memorabilia, and other on- and off-field opportunities. In the case of Clemens and Bonds—who were never on great terms with the media—it would also begin what is sure to be a long and arduous rehabilitation of their image.

Should Clemens be voted into the Hall of Fame? Absolutely. It is now clear that steroids were as much a part of the game the last two decades as all the new publicly-financed stadiums and exorbitant tickets prices. One former general manager told me he knew players were taking steroids, but his job was to win, so he put those players on his team and on the field.

A star player told me everyone knew what was going on, but no one was ever going to rat out one of their teammates and hurt their chances of winning.

Besides, he said, we were all making too much money.

If Roger Clemens used steroids, all he was doing was playing by the rules of the game.  

The Hall of Fame is full of men who are certain to have committed some offense to get ahead in the game. Clemens is no different. Is it really fair to change the rules after the fact?