No Connection Between Baseball and the Clemens Verdict

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You can read the news details here on NYTimes.com.

For our purposes, let’s look at the Roger Clemens trial and its aftermath.

Not guilty doesn’t mean innocent.

If Clemens or his defenders are going to take the not guilty verdict as a proof of innocence of having used performance enhancing drugs, they’d better think again. The standard of proof in a criminal trial has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. This case was shaky from the start relying on testimony from a witness, Brian McNamee, who didn’t have the greatest credibility and, if the allegations were true, was a participant in the use of the drugs by Clemens. When McNamee’s own ex-wife contradicted his testimony and Andy Pettitte backtracked on having knowledge of Clemens’s drug use, the case was doomed.

Did Clemens lie under oath in front of congress? Of course.

Did the government prove that case? Did they ever have a chance at convicting him? And was it worth it to spend the amount of money, time and other resources they did for a case that wasn’t likely to result in any significant jail time—if he had to serve time at all?

No.

In a strange way justice was done in the court of reality.

Does Clemens deserve to get into the Hall of Fame? Will he?

It’s obvious that Clemens did use PEDs to rejuvenate his career. But anecdotal evidence and the leaked findings of the Mitchell Report don’t constitute enough to warrant his exclusion from the Hall of Fame. The writers—many of whom have their own biases and look for reasons to keep players out—could keep any player from Babe Ruth onward out of the Hall of Fame.

Because there are no ironclad rules for induction based on statistics or anything else, there are no rules for exclusion either. We can debate it, but when egos and self-important gatekeeping is involved, few minds will be swayed.

Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame because he was not a creation of PEDs as certain players like Rafael Palmeiro were. Clemens was a Hall of Famer before he was accused, therefore he’s a Hall of Famer after he was accused.

It’s too soon to say whether or not he’ll get in. I don’t think it’s as easy to determine one way or the other until there’s a vote. For a player like Mark McGwire, he was a creation of the drugs. The same goes for Sammy Sosa. They’re not getting in.

For players like Clemens and Barry Bonds, they were great without the PEDs and they used them to lengthen their careers or maintain competitiveness by doing something that the majority of baseball was doing with the tacit approval of baseball itself.

If the drugs weren’t banned, how can they be punished for doing something they weren’t officially caught doing and that no one said they shouldn’t have done until after the fact?

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The Hall of Fame Debate Has Grown Tiresome

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Barry Larkin was the only player elected by the writers.

Jack Morris’s percentage has risen to 66.7%.

With two years left on the writers’ ballot, Morris might get enough support to make it in by conventional vote. If not, he’s got a great shot on the Veterans Committee.

The debate will rage on until then.

You can make an argument for Morris (post-season hero; innings-eating winner and one of the dominant pitchers of the 1980s) or against him (high ERA; stat compiler).

Nothing’s going to change the minds of those who are for or against him.

Tim Raines received 48.7%.

Raines is seen as a no-brainer by stat people; others think he became a part-time player from his early 30s through the end of his career and he’s a “floodgate opener” whose election would necessitate the serious consideration of the likes of Johnny Damon and Kenny Lofton which would diminish the specialness of the Hall.

Lee Smith received 50.6% of the vote.

I don’t think anyone with an in-depth knowledge of baseball and from either faction whether it’s stat-based or old school thinks Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame.

No matter how convincing or passionate an argument made for the supported players, the other side is unlikely to put their prejudices, personal feelings, stereotypes or ego aside to acknowledge that they may be wrong; and they’re certainly not going to change their votes.

So what’s the point?

What’s made it worse is the proliferation of the younger analysts who may or may not know much of anything about actual baseball, but think they do based on calculations and mathematical formulas who are so adamant that they’re right, it’s impossible to even debate with them.

Bert Blyleven made it to the Hall of Fame, in part, because of the work by stat people clarifying how he deserved the honor and wasn’t at fault for a mediocre won/lost record because of the teams he played for. Another part of his induction, I’m convinced, is that a large chunk of the voters were tired of hearing about him and from him—Blyleven was an outspoken self-advocate and it worked.

I’m wondering what’s going to happen with a borderline candidate like Curt Schilling. Blyleven had likability on his side; Schilling doesn’t; and it’s going to be hard for Schilling to keep his mouth shut if he doesn’t feel he’s getting his due in the voting process. He’s not going to get in on the first shot.

Short of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Ty Cobb and the other luminaries, you can make a case against any player no matter how great he was; on the same token, you can make a case for a player like Bobby Abreu, who is not a Hall of Famer.

Even Greg Maddux went from being a dominating pitcher from age 22-32 and became a durable compiler with a high ERA who begged out of games after a finite number of pitches and benefited from pitching for a great Braves team to accrue wins.

Of course Maddux is a first ballot, 95+% vote getter when he becomes eligible, but could a motivated person come up with a case against him? How about “he only struck out 200 batters once; he had superior luck with amazingly low BAbip rates; he only won 20 games twice; his Cy Young Awards all came in a row and he never won another; and he pitched for a great team in a friendly pitchers’ park for most of his career.”

It can be done for and against anyone.

Does Tommy John deserve recognition for the surgery that bears his name? I think he does. Others don’t.

Then there are the PED cases like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—Hall of Famers both—who are going to have trouble getting in because of the writers’ judgments that they “cheated”.

At least they were implicated. Jeff Bagwell never was and he’s on the outside looking in with 56% of the vote this season. (He’s going to get in eventually.)

So which is it?

What makes a Hall of Famer?

Is it being “famous”? (Reggie Jackson)

Is it a long and notable career? (Don Sutton)

Is it the big moment? (Bill Mazeroski)

Is it being great at a particular part of the game? (Ozzie Smith)

Is it numbers? (Hank Aaron)

Is it propaganda? (Blyleven, Phil Rizzuto)

Is it the perception of cleanliness? (Al Kaline)

Is it on-field performance? (Carlton)

Is it overall comportment? (Stan Musial)

Is it domination over a time period? (Sandy Koufax)

There’s no specific criteria, so there’s no single thing to put someone in or keep them out.

But the back-and-forth has become vitriolic and dismissive with eye-rolling and condescension. If you even dare to suggest that Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, your case is automatically ignored regardless of how organized and intelligent it is.

That’s not debating. That’s waiting to talk.

Simply because you disagree with someone doesn’t make the other side “wrong” especially in a judgment call like the Hall of Fame.

But there’s not much hope because few—especially in sports—are willing to listen to the other side, let alone allow themselves to be persuaded.

This is where we are and there’s no use in fighting it.

So why try?

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