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Roger Clemens, Innocence, and The HallPosted on June 19, 2012 at 06:57 AM.
Weíve always wanted someone to step up and shout that they didnít do it. With each name made public either by the Mitchell Report or a leak within Major League Baseball, we heard the passive denials and the promises of justice. Those small little denials would fade, either prompting a mea culpa or just a glossing over as the player continued to play. Fans and analysts alike believed that if they, personally, were the ones falsely accused, they would vigorously fight to prove innocence. Nothing--not cost, not public perception--would stop the fight to prove that everyone was wrong.
Roger Clemens gave us all exactly what we wanted. When first accused of HGH use, he immediately said he didnít do it. Then, he mounted a legal fight. He told Congress that he didnít do it. Congress charged him with perjury because of perceived evidence, even though most legal experts saw a very flimsy case. And, it took years. Clips of Clemens using phrases like ďmisrememberĒ played on loop. Pictures of a tired Clemens were used. We rarely saw a picture of him in his prime. The best pitcher of his generation was guilt in the court of public opinion because, well, he looked guilty. Everyone else has been guilty so why wouldnít he be? So many players had duped us; Clemens wasnít going to do that even though he was fighting just like we wanted him to.
On Monday, the Federal Court announced that Clemens had been acquitted of all charges. Semantics aside, Clemens is innocent of perjury. There was not enough evidence to show that he lied to Congress about HGH use. On public record, Roger Clemens told the truth. That should end that.
Now, Clemens should be preparing his Hall of Fame speech as the headlining member of next yearís Hall of Fame class. After all, his career (now an afterthought) is most definitely worthy of enshrinement. He pitched 24 years, compiling a 354-184 record with a 3.13 ERA. There are the 4,672 strikeouts, the 143 ERA+, the seven Cy Young Awards, and the two World Series titles. His resume is one of the most complete in Major League Baseball history.
And, legally, he is cleared of lying about HGH use.
Cooperstown should be a given. But, it is not. Clemens is now entering a process that is clouded by Baseball writers who feel the need to be the moral police. Clemens, even though he is legally cleared of charges that he fought, will now enter a world even more unclear than the legal system. It is a world where performance doesnít matter. It is a world where, even if you are just suspected of wrong doing, you are guilty.
The Hall of Fame voting process is always good fodder for discussion. For the past few years, the names of Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris have had a monopoly on the headlines. Their discussion has been limited to their careers and their Hall worthiness. Both cases are compelling for many reasons, including the evolution of the surrounding debate. Both have been impacted by a better understanding of statistics and the advancement of sabermetrics. But, another wrinkle was added six years ago when Mark McGwire was placed on the ballot. The steroids era has turned the Hall of Fame voting into some warped, combined story containing elements from 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and The Crucible.
It is a natural occurrence for writers to protect the sport. Since Baseball took its place in a young Americaís consciousness, it has been the writer who has protected the integrity of the game. It was a writer who exposed the Chicago White Sox in 1919. It was the writer who made heroes, tore down legends, and connected the sport and the fan in a way that created an emotion and the sort of relationship that only Baseball shares with its fans. The writer has helped create all of that. Because of that, writers are the ones whose duties include to safeguard the sport.
But, the writer failed during the 1990′s. The writer failed to bring the truth to the public as the game grew, both figuratively and literally. As the sport morphed into a bastardized version of Atari baseball, the writer praised the long homeruns, the power of the game, and wrote long prose opining how much better the current athlete was compared to the Marisís, the Mantleís, and the Maysís. But, we all sat silent. We all were amazed. We all fell for it, writers and fans alike. But, as the truth slowly leaked out and then exploded, the protective writers saw that their guard was let down. They looked bad. It wasnít the first time in Baseball history that the writers looked bad, but in an age with a growing outlet where instant opinions can be anonymously posted, the oversight on the steroids era looks and feels terrible. That oversight has caused a renewed vigor in protecting the sport. There has been investigations, scathing columns, and a hardline set on Hall of Fame voting.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is the most prestigious collection of all-time great players in all of sports. There should be scrutiny when it comes to admitting any person to Cooperstown. The exclusivity is what makes the Hall so special. But, this era has complicated things. As the writers deal with the embarrassment of the era, their dealings with the Hall of Fame have become complicated. As more players become eligible, it is only going to get worse. Mark McGwire is on the ballot for a fifth season. Ordinarily, he wouldíve been a first ballot Hall of Famer, especially with his magical, yet now tainted, summer of 1998. McGwire is being punished for his steroids use. He probably deserves it.
But, it is time to move on. Cheating the game is terrible and should never be tolerated. But, with a lack of knowledge, the witch hunt has begun. Jeff Bagwell is the first to feel the effects. Bagwell is in his first year of eligibility and certainly has the credentials to be a member of the Hall. His .297/.408/.540 line with 449 homeruns, 1,529 RBI, and 202 stolen bases spell Hall of Famer in every sense of the title. But, Bagwell played during the tainted era. Although he has never been linked, named, or even remotely associated with steroids, many feel that he was a user. His detractors will point to his rookie pictures and then his later pictures in the way that they didnít with McGwire or Bonds. In an effort to make up for the sins of the past, many are scrutinizing Bagwellís physique and coming up with a conclusion that they think he did steroids. Without proof, Bagwellís name is stained; heís not getting into the Hall.
America went through a time like this during the early 1940′s when Senator Joseph McCarthy accused countless of Americans of being a communist. The trials led to the blacklisting of many people who would forever lose their careers and, in many cases, their lives. Of course, McCarthy was finally stopped, but the lesson seems to have been lost. Now, the Baseball world is on its own witch hunt. Some are taking the McCarthy-esque stance that anyone suspected of it, did it, and will be punished appropriately. Barring Mark McGwire because of cheating is one thing; there was proof and eventually a confession. But, barring Jeff Bagwell because of a suspicion is what Orwell, Bradbury, and Miller were trying to warn us about in their literature. Exclusion without proof is dangerous in the real world. It oppresses people, gives power to the wrong people. Exclusion without proof in sport is damaging to the credibility to the sport.
And, this practice is not limited to the mainstream. BBWAA voters are not the only ones who feel the need to overprotect the Hall. Bloggers and other writers all hold the same opinion. It is not a matter of the mainstream playing a role. There are strident feelings on both sides and in both camps. The Hall of Fame evokes that emotion in any writer and fan.
Jeff Bagwell was just the beginning. Roger Clemens, with the acquittal on his legal record, is now the latest test. Soon, other players who played in the era, without the proof of cheating, will be excluded from their deserving place in history. Perhaps Jeff Bagwell and Roger Clemens did cheat; I donít know. You donít know. None of us know anything. Thatís the point. Writers can all justify their exclusion because of their feelings of being duped for so long, but without proof, they are no better than McCarthy. They can compare photos, link them to Bonds and McGwire all they want. Without proof, they are making up their own truth. Perhaps that truth makes them feel better about being tricked, but it only makes them look more foolish. We can all suspect. But, this country wasnít founded on suspicion. It was founded on actually proving someoneís guilt. This sort of practice is the exact thing writers would rally against. Orwell and Miller did.
Yes, there is always the potential for someone who did cheat to gain admittance to the Hall. But, isnít it worse if someone is excluded when they did nothing wrong? Jeff Bagwell has never been mentioned save for a few irrational columns. To deny him based on the era he played and a voterís suspicions that are based on the embarrassment felt for the lack of coverage during the actual era is not only wrong, but criminal. It is exactly the practice that journalism was made to counteract and criticize.
The voters donít have to be responsible for policing the era. Baseball fans are the smartest fans in sports. The Baseball fan already knows how to pass down the legacy of the sport. Shoeless Joe Jackson isnít in the Hall of Fame because he was a part of the 1919 White Sox. But, we all know that Jackson didnít take the money and performed well in the Series. He isnít in the Hall, but the true Baseball fan knows he belongs. The fan also knows that Ty Cobb was a racist and that there are multiple gamblers, racists, wife beaters, criminals, and other cheaters in the Hall. The fan knows this and passes the truth down from generation to generation. It is a part of the fabric of the game. Stories are passed down. Some become legend and romanticized, but for the most part, the Baseball fan passes down the truth. Bagwellís era would be the same.
And, now Roger Clemens gets added to this. Reality is that he likely doesnít get in to the Hall based on what the voters think they know. They will ignore his fight, his acquittal, and even the character of his accuser because they think they know. Despite being the only player to ever fight this and win, Roger Clemens will be lumped with the rest of the players. Heíll have to defend himself even more. If there is one thing learned from this whole process, it is that Clemens will fight. Hopefully, he has one more fight in him. The Hall of Fame is about play on the field. And, without any discernible, legal proof to the contrary, players like Clemens should be in the Hall. But, Clemens likely knows that it isnít going to be so easy. He just has took at his ex-teammate Jeff Bagwell and see just how convoluted this all is.
It has been said that Baseball mirrors society in many ways. It should mirror current society, not the one in the 1940ís and 50ís.
BORN: April 17, 1975 (38)
JOINED: Oct 26, 2003 (9 years, 212 days ago)
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JOINED: Oct 26, 2003 (9 years, 212 days ago)
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