The Rocket Must Dock in the Hall of Fame

I spy the neon glow of self-appointed sports writer "saints" like Jeff Passan.

In 1919, a jury acquitted “Shoeless” Joe Jackson of conspiring to throw the World Series. Nonetheless, the following year Major League Baseball’s first commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, banned Jackson from the game and he remains ineligible for the Hall of Fame. Both decisions rankle diehard baseball fans and the second is considered a travesty. Why bring up ancient history? Because we may see something akin to it next year when Roger Clemens becomes eligible for induction to Cooperstown.

On June 18, a criminal trial jury handed down not-guilty verdicts on six counts relating to Clemens’ alleged use of steroids. Already, sportswriters such as Lew Carpenter, Jeff Passan, Wally Matthews, and Tom Verducci have insinuated that they and their peers hold higher standards of innocence than the jury. In their minds, Clemens’ name in the discredited Mitchell report trumps the findings of the jury. In other words, they’re prepared to play the modern-day Landis role and deny Clemens election to the Hall of Fame. To this I reply, who died and made you guys Pharisees? By what objective standard can they deny him? To mangle a phrase form the O. J. Simpson trial, if the jury acquits you must elect.   

Is Clemens worthy? Well, if 354 wins, 7 Cy Youngs, a MVP award, an ERA of 3.12, election to the All-Century team, and 4,672 strikeouts aren’t enough, nothing is. No one will ever get the warm fuzzies when they think of Clemens, but the man’s practically a saint when compared to his chief accuser, Brian (“The Juice”) McNamee. Besides, if being a nice person was a criterion for the Hall of Fame, they could clear the joint and rent the space to U-Haul. There is far less reason to deny Clemens than Shoeless Joe, who actually admitted he took money from gamblers (though he didn’t throw the World Series). The goods on Clemens are even shoddier than those attached to Pete Rose (who should also be in the Hall of Fame).

It’s beyond risible that a group of sportswriters would set itself up as moralists and judges. I double-checked; there are no baseball writers–an aggregate known to contain quite a few substance abusers–who have attained sainthood. If there are any former Eagle Scouts among them, they outgrew those virtues long ago. Want to talk about being morally compromised? Every sportscaster attached to an affiliated network swallows truth on an everyday basis because he (or the occasional she) knows that being overly critical will result in dismissal. Beat writers covering teams also follow restraints, lest they be denied easy access to the players and other sources necessary for them to file stories. Are we to believe, for instance, that no New York sportswriter ever saw Mickey Mantle or Whitey Ford drunk? Would Jeff Passan, in his Kansas City days, have written a slam piece on George Brett? Do you expect the Boston press to spill the beans on how thoroughly unlikable Ted Williams or Carl Yaztremski were? What passes for “tough” reporting is a shadow of what is actually witnessed.

So spare me all that “integrity of the game” nonsense, and stuff that “Clemens is a cheater” mantra. No–he’s not; a jury has ruled on that. You may have your private suspicions, even your deep-seated certainties, but there is no objective basis upon which Clemens can be denied entry into the Hall of Fame. Maybe the dude did steroids; maybe he’s as pure as Snow White. All we know for certain is that a lot of guys did use steroids between the 1980s and 2002. Most of them were hitters. Only one pitcher, Clemens, won 354 games. Sounds like an even match to me. Like it or not, a jury says that though his name appeared among the 47 steroid users listed in the Mitchell Report, Roger Clemens is an innocent man. The Rocket must go to the Hall of Fame. To keep him out would be worse than Shoeless Joe’s ban; it would be ideological- and innuendo-based persecution analogous to McCarthyism.


Get it right said...

Wow, really Rob? The jury found that 1. McNamie was a dirt-bag whose testimony could not be trusted and therefore 2. It was not beyond a reasonable doubt that Clemens lied and perjured himself. The jury DID NOT find him innocent of using steroids. This article sounds more like sour grapes aimed at the sports writers you have issue with than a review of the facts surrounding the case. Perhaps it is little more than the usual bluster from a Yankees fan overly defensive from having settled in Red Sox country. As an academic, we'd expect more,

Anonymous said...

I stand by my comments. If Clemens didn't perjure himself--and a jury acquitted him of that--then, ipso facto, from a LEGAL standpoint he isn't guilty of the charges; that is, there is no standard by which we can definitely say he used steroids. Last I checked, the only standards we have is guilt or innocence. One could not (legally) discriminate in, say, a job interview or a housing application against a person charged with a crime that was dismissed. A teacher her could not be fired for an allegation made by an administrator or student form which that teacher was acquitted. So Clemens has to be given the benefit of law, not doubt. I do admit to holding a grudge against sportswriters, many of whom I think go for sensationalism rather than facts (ask Kevin Youkilis). I'm not Roger Clemens fan, but the man's record speaks for itself. So, by the way, does Barry Bonds's records. (And I personally like him even less than Clemens.) Lots of guys (apparently) were using 'roids, but only one swatted 73 homers. No matter how strong you are (or by what means), you must be extraordinary to win 354 games or hit the ball the way Bonds did.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember you confusing truth with a "LEGAL standpoint"