The not guilty verdict in Roger Clemens’s perjury case is unlikely to sway baseball’s Hall of Fame voters who’ve spent years deciding whether accusations of steroid use should keep the seven-time Cy Young Award winner from being enshrined.
Clemens, 49, was acquitted by a federal court jury in Washington yesterday on all charges of obstructing a congressional investigation, three counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury after telling a U.S. House panel in 2008 that he hadn’t used performance-enhancing drugs.
In December, a different jury -- comprised of more than 550 Baseball Writers Association of America members -- also will rule on Clemens, deciding if the 354-game winner is worthy of the sport’s highest honor. Clemens will become eligible for Hall of Fame induction for the first time, in a class that includes Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio.
“Nothing that happens in this trial is going to change my perception,” Ken Rosenthal, a reporter for Foxsports.com who also works baseball games on News Corp.’s Fox network, said in an interview prior to the verdict. “I just believe there’s enough smoke to say that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Do I have legal proof? No. Do I need legal proof to vote one way or another? No.”
Clemens gave an almost three-minute statement following his acquittal, though declined to comment about his Hall of Fame prospects.
“Nothing for now,” he said. “We’re just trying to make plans to get people back to work.”
Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young Awards as the best pitcher in his league, was mentioned 82 times in a December 2007 report by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell that concluded a 20-month investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball.
Clemens’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said after the Mitchell report’s release that his client was forever tarnished by the findings.
“He is left with no meaningful way to combat what he strongly contends are totally false allegations,” Hardin said at the time.
It’s been 4 1/2 years since the report was released, giving members of the BBWAA plenty of time to debate Clemens’s career. His trial was a non-factor in weighing the pitcher’s credentials, said Richard Justice, a columnist for MLB.com who has a Hall vote.
“Roger has a great attorney who has managed to put everybody on trial except for Roger,” Justice said in a telephone interview prior to the verdict. “I trust the Mitchell report.”
Justice, who covered Clemens extensively during the right-hander’s stint with the Houston Astros, is among the writers who’ve said they won’t vote for players they believe cheated the game with drug use.
“I just can’t vote for him,” Justice said. “He was unbelievable as a teammate and a competitor when I was around him, but I have this naïve notion of the Hall of Fame. Does he deserve to stand up there with Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron?”
Bob Nightengale, a columnist for USA Today, is among the writers who have decided to disregard steroid use in judging players’ Hall worthiness. He said he’ll vote for Clemens every year he’s eligible.
“There’s a lot of guys whose names have never been made public that I’m convinced were juiced,” Nightengale said. “Why keep a guy like a Bonds or Clemens out and let these other guys in just because they weren’t caught?”
Bonds, the seven-time National League Most Valuable Player who hit a record 762 home runs, was convicted in April 2010 by a federal jury in San Francisco of obstructing a U.S. probe of steroid use by professional athletes. Jurors were unable to agree on whether Bonds lied when he told a grand jury in 2003 that he didn’t knowingly take steroids, didn’t take human growth hormone and didn’t receive injections from his trainer. A mistrial was declared on those counts. He was sentenced to two years probation and 30 days of house arrest, and appealed the ruling in December.
The Mitchell report identified Bonds, a former outfielder, as a steroid user.
Rosenthal said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll vote for Clemens, though he refuses to disregard steroid concerns just because of the complexity of the issue and uncertainties about who was a user.
“To not consider these things and simply vote on the numbers, in my view, is a copout,” Rosenthal said.
The first player to come up for Hall election whose statistics and steroid ties each merited consideration was Mark McGwire, whose 583 home runs are 10th all time and who held the single-season record at 70 before Bonds hit 73 in 2001. McGwire, who acknowledged in 2010 that he used steroids, has been eligible for the Hall for six years, never gaining more than 23.5 percent of the vote. With 75 percent needed for induction, he received 19.5 percent in 2012.
The Hall of Fame ballot includes the sentence: “Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”
That creates a complex equation for voters to solve in judging any player, let alone those who might have cheated by using steroids, which were banned by baseball in 1991.
Visitors entering the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, see an exhibit called “Today’s Game” that covers the sport’s recent history. The display includes a sign that says steroids and other drugs have affected all of sports and baseball is no exception. There are no labels tying performance-enhancers to specific athletes or achievements.
“Over time, the story of drug use and the impact on the game will probably be a larger story to tell, but for now we believe visitors to the museum can make their own decision,” Brad Horn, a spokesman for the Hall, said in a telephone interview.
The Hall has entrusted its main voting to the BBWAA since it opened in 1936, “regardless of any scenario,” Horn said. Candidates must have played at least 10 major-league seasons and been retired for five. Players named on 5 percent of ballots remain eligible the following year and eligibility expires after 15 years on the ballot.
Active and past BBWAA members who have been baseball writers for at least 10 years may vote. Several news organizations, including Bloomberg News, do not permit their employees to participate. Voting concludes Dec. 31 and the year’s Hall of Fame class is announced in early January.
Clemens, who made $150.6 million during his career, according to Baseball-Reference.com, would have faced as much as 21 months in prison had he been found guilty. Asked how the Hall would have handled a possible Clemens induction ceremony in July 2013 with its guest of honor absent, Horn said the museum would have respected the writers’ wishes and honored Clemens “without regard to circumstance.”
Clemens retired after the 2007 season with a 354-184 record, a 3.12 earned run average and 4,672 strikeouts, a total that ranks third in major-league history behind Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.
“Winning seven Cy Young Awards would put him head and shoulders above everybody else,” Peter Golenbock, a baseball historian and author, said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know about all-time but certainly of his generation.”
Clemens broke into the majors with the Boston Red Sox in 1984 and won the American League Cy Young in 1986 at 23, going 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA while setting a record by striking out 20 batters in a single game.
His play declined during his final four seasons in Boston, when he went 40-39 with an ERA over 4.00. Playing for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1997 and 1998, Clemens went 41-13 to lead the AL in ERA and wins.
It’s in 1998 that Clemens’s former trainer, Brian McNamee, told jurors that he began giving Clemens injections of steroids and HGH. Clemens also received the banned drugs in 2000 and 2001 while pitching for the New York Yankees, McNamee alleged.
McNamee’s testimony didn’t convince the jury, nor did the syringe he provided that had both steroids and Clemens’s DNA on it. Andy Pettitte, a former teammate with the Yankees and Houston Astros who has acknowledged using HGH, also testified to the jury that Clemens told him about his own use of performance-enhancing drugs.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Golenbock, who doesn’t have a Hall vote. “His trainer is telling people that he took them. Other people are telling people that he took them. People who took them are saying he took them. It’s the situation for the Hall of Fame that you are guilty unless somehow you can prove yourself innocent.”