Commentary Magazine


Topic: Roger Clemens

Arbitary Misuse of Government Power Struck Out in Clemens Case

The ability of the federal government to put an individual in peril of the law is virtually unlimited. Congress can force a celebrity to testify on matters that are of no material interest to the nation’s legislature. If the individual refuses to play along with the morality play narrative desired by the politicians who seize the spotlight, they can be charged with obstruction of justice or perjury and then paraded before a federal court and jailed. But sometimes the egregious nature of this charade is so great that the process is exposed as a sham. That is what happened on Monday when the Justice Department’s second attempt to imprison former baseball great Roger Clemens collapsed as he was acquitted on all six counts relating to his testimony before Congress on steroid use.

The Clemens farce was perhaps the worst example of a series of recent federal prosecutions of celebrities, including a few relating to steroids. As was the case with Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and John Edwards, the only reason Clemens found himself in the crosshairs of the government was because he was rich and personally unpopular, a formula that has always presented an irresistible target to prosecutors. The case against Clemens was particularly flimsy, a point that was amply demonstrated last summer when the first attempt to try him ended in a mistrial. It was obvious then that the only sensible course was to abandon the prosecution, but instead, the Justice Department doubled down on the insanity, and the result was another go round that took nine full weeks and wasted millions more of the people’s money. But the problem here isn’t just that they failed, but that there was no real underlying crime in question, rendering the entire exercise an embarrassment.

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The ability of the federal government to put an individual in peril of the law is virtually unlimited. Congress can force a celebrity to testify on matters that are of no material interest to the nation’s legislature. If the individual refuses to play along with the morality play narrative desired by the politicians who seize the spotlight, they can be charged with obstruction of justice or perjury and then paraded before a federal court and jailed. But sometimes the egregious nature of this charade is so great that the process is exposed as a sham. That is what happened on Monday when the Justice Department’s second attempt to imprison former baseball great Roger Clemens collapsed as he was acquitted on all six counts relating to his testimony before Congress on steroid use.

The Clemens farce was perhaps the worst example of a series of recent federal prosecutions of celebrities, including a few relating to steroids. As was the case with Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds and John Edwards, the only reason Clemens found himself in the crosshairs of the government was because he was rich and personally unpopular, a formula that has always presented an irresistible target to prosecutors. The case against Clemens was particularly flimsy, a point that was amply demonstrated last summer when the first attempt to try him ended in a mistrial. It was obvious then that the only sensible course was to abandon the prosecution, but instead, the Justice Department doubled down on the insanity, and the result was another go round that took nine full weeks and wasted millions more of the people’s money. But the problem here isn’t just that they failed, but that there was no real underlying crime in question, rendering the entire exercise an embarrassment.

Let us specify once again that if Clemens did indeed use performance-enhancing drugs while playing ball that is not a good thing. Steroid use was illegal without a prescription though not necessarily against the rules during most of his career. Clemens was the most prominent figure named when former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell issued a report on the matter. The evidence against Clemens was hardly conclusive as it depended on the willingness of his former trainer Brian McNamee to give him up in exchange for having various criminal charges dropped. Nevertheless, most people assumed that Clemens, like many players of the era, both stars and mediocrities, used the drugs. But when Congress decided to hold a hearing on the issue, Clemens was called and subjected to what was an obvious perjury trap. His refusal to admit his guilt is what triggered the decision of the vindictive congressional grandstanders to ask that he be indicted.

While the question before the jury was the narrow one of whether he lied, it is worth restating that the notion that preventing professional baseball players from taking steroids is something the government should get involved in is absurd. The majority of those nabbed by drug tests were lousy ballplayers whose abuse did not magically transform them into stars–much less hall-of-famers. The idea, promoted by Congress, that there is some sort of national epidemic of steroid use is a myth. The threat posed to teenaged athletes from steroids is miniscule when compared to hundreds of other dangers to young adults in this country.

Though he was just one of probably hundreds of major leaguers against whom the allegation of steroid use could credibly be made, it was only the arrogant, obnoxious Clemens who was hauled into court. This was doubly bizarre because as I have noted previously, in drug cases it is always the sellers who are considered targets for prosecution, not the users. But because Clemens was a celebrity with a bad reputation, the full power of the U.S. Attorney’s office was arrayed against him in what turned out to be a futile effort to cash in on his notoriety and to collect a famous scalp.

Perhaps the most interesting result of this massive waste of scarce federal resources is that when subjected to the intense scrutiny of a trial, the case against Clemens was revealed to be a thin tissue of unsubstantiated allegations. McNamee wasn’t credible and the other witnesses against Clemens, including former teammates, helped the defense more than the prosecution. It is unlikely that after all the mud that has been thrown at him that Clemens will get back his reputation or gain election to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, something that was certain prior to the Mitchell Report. The prejudice against anyone suspected of being a steroid user on the part of the writers who can vote to send a player to Cooperstown is so great that Clemens will likely not gain admittance to baseball’s shrine. If so, few will mourn the unpopular Clemens’ fate.

But that is a separate issue from the question of whether it was right for Congress and the Justice Department to embark on a vendetta against Clemens. The government had no business involving itself in what was essentially an internal industry issue.

Even worse than that, the Clemens case illustrated as well as any of the recent celebrity prosecutions the perils of the arbitrary use of federal power against an individual citizen. Though it is difficult for most of us to identify with a snarling millionaire whose arrogance made him tough to root for even as he won 354 games and struck out 4,672 batters during his career, Clemens was the victim here, not the villain. The point is not whether he took certain drugs but that if the government can single out a Roger Clemens and devote its efforts to finding a pretext to putting him in jail simply because he is famous and unpopular, then it can do the same to anyone, including those without the ability to hire high-priced legal help. Let’s hope the government learns its lesson from this circus and never repeats this egregious misuse of prosecutorial power.

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The Roger Clemens Farce Recommences

What do you do after committing a horrendous legal error that causes a mistrial while attempting to prosecute a case in which it is far from clear there was any actual crime? If you’re the federal government, there’s only one answer. Re-try the famous defendant you’ve targeted in the first place simply because he was wealthy, obnoxious and unpopular. That’s the short explanation of the federal government’s decision to take another crack at sending baseball great Roger Clemens to jail for allegedly lying about taking performance enhancing drugs when called to testify at a show trial congressional hearing.

Even fans of the teams for whom he played found it hard to root for him. Now that the mud of the steroids scandal has been splattered over a career in which he won a staggering 354 games and struck out an amazing 4,672 batters (achievements that rank as, respectively, the ninth and the third highest totals in the history of baseball), he’s even less likable than ever. But that is no excuse for the government to waste more of its time and resources attempting to prove he lied when he denied using PEDs. There was no excuse, other than a congressional desire to grandstand in front of the cameras, for the hearings during which he allegedly made false statements. And there’s no excuse, other than the Justice Department’s desire to hang a famous scalp on their door, for a retrial of Clemens, especially after the first ended in a disastrous prosecutorial error that created a mistrial last summer.

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What do you do after committing a horrendous legal error that causes a mistrial while attempting to prosecute a case in which it is far from clear there was any actual crime? If you’re the federal government, there’s only one answer. Re-try the famous defendant you’ve targeted in the first place simply because he was wealthy, obnoxious and unpopular. That’s the short explanation of the federal government’s decision to take another crack at sending baseball great Roger Clemens to jail for allegedly lying about taking performance enhancing drugs when called to testify at a show trial congressional hearing.

Even fans of the teams for whom he played found it hard to root for him. Now that the mud of the steroids scandal has been splattered over a career in which he won a staggering 354 games and struck out an amazing 4,672 batters (achievements that rank as, respectively, the ninth and the third highest totals in the history of baseball), he’s even less likable than ever. But that is no excuse for the government to waste more of its time and resources attempting to prove he lied when he denied using PEDs. There was no excuse, other than a congressional desire to grandstand in front of the cameras, for the hearings during which he allegedly made false statements. And there’s no excuse, other than the Justice Department’s desire to hang a famous scalp on their door, for a retrial of Clemens, especially after the first ended in a disastrous prosecutorial error that created a mistrial last summer.

Let’s once again specify that breaking the rules of the sport to use PEDs is wrong (though, to be accurate, steroids were not specifically banned by baseball for most of Clemens’ career though it was always illegal to use them without a prescription) and if he gained an unfair competitive advantage, that ought to be held against him when his career achievements are assessed. Clemens was just one of hundreds of players who appear to have gone this route. The majority of those nabbed by drug tests were mediocre ballplayers whose abuse did not magically transform them into stars–much less hall-of-famers. But because Clemens would have been a first ballot candidate for Cooperstown had he not been identified as a user, he has been given special treatment first by Congress and now by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Clemens’ real sin appears to be not so much his using PEDs, but his failure to admit he was a user. Clemens’ personal trainer Brian McNamee dropped the dime on his former friend and boss in order to avoid prison on other charges and cooperated with baseball’s special investigative committee headed by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. When Congress called McNamee to testify about steroids in baseball, Clemens denied the charges under oath.

It may well be that Clemens is as dirty as McNamee says he is, but the hearing during which he was said to have lied was a public farce with no possible purpose relating to government issues or the public good. The government claims that evidence of steroid use preserved by McNamee proves that this is more than a case of conflicting testimony, but even if they can back that claim up, there is still no real underlying crime in this case.

As I wrote last summer after the last trial collapsed, there is something bizarre about a government drug prosecution in which the peddlers of illegal goods are spared prison in order to entrap and then imprison drug users for perjury. There is no public policy benefit to shaming Clemens any further. Nor is there any conceivable justification for the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars on dubious investigations of famous athletes such as Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong and now Clemens that have more to do with ambitious prosecutors that may be every bit as big as those of their prey.

The only proper venue for a debate about Clemens’ baseball misbehavior is in forums devoted to whether he and others similarly accused ought to be excluded from baseball’s Hall of Fame. But those who wish to moralize about steroid use should cease trying to make this a federal crime. Judge Reggie Walton, who presided over Clemens’ mistrial last year, expressed well-grounded skepticism about the case against the former player and the wisdom of further pursuing this issue. Now that this parody of justice is back in his courtroom, he ought to act on those instincts and throw it out before any more of the government’s time and money is wasted on this sad business.

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Government Steroids Crusade Collapses

It ended quietly on a Friday afternoon as embarrassing moments for the government often do so as to minimize press attention. The announcement that the federal investigation of former cycling great Lance Armstrong over allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs had collapsed was largely ignored. It came in the form of a statement from the office of the United States Attorney for the Central District of California. No reason was cited for the decision. Neither the U.S. Attorney nor other government figures, such as investigator Jeff Novitzky, who were not shy about publicizing their pursuit of Armstrong in recent years, bothered to comment. Thus, the employees of several federal agencies who were involved in pursuing the vendetta against the seven-time Tour de France champion will perhaps now return to more useful work that will be a better way to spend the taxpayers’ money. Armstrong will continue his charity work on behalf of cancer research without the distraction of being sent to jail hanging over his head.

But this should not pass without comment.

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It ended quietly on a Friday afternoon as embarrassing moments for the government often do so as to minimize press attention. The announcement that the federal investigation of former cycling great Lance Armstrong over allegations of using performance-enhancing drugs had collapsed was largely ignored. It came in the form of a statement from the office of the United States Attorney for the Central District of California. No reason was cited for the decision. Neither the U.S. Attorney nor other government figures, such as investigator Jeff Novitzky, who were not shy about publicizing their pursuit of Armstrong in recent years, bothered to comment. Thus, the employees of several federal agencies who were involved in pursuing the vendetta against the seven-time Tour de France champion will perhaps now return to more useful work that will be a better way to spend the taxpayers’ money. Armstrong will continue his charity work on behalf of cancer research without the distraction of being sent to jail hanging over his head.

But this should not pass without comment.

Like the other prosecutions stemming from the federal government’s decision a few years ago to treat the possible use of steroids and other drugs by athletes as if it were a major criminal offense if not a threat to public health, the Armstrong investigation was an absurd diversion from the Justice Department’s proper job of pursuing criminals. Armstrong was luckier than previous targets of the federal steroid zealot posse like baseball legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. The legal house of cards upon which the case against him was predicated collapsed even before an indictment could be coaxed out of a pliant grand jury. Yet the hounding of Armstrong showed what could happen when a trophy hunting prosecutor sets off to punish the supposed sins of a rich, famous person whose imprisonment can be made into a public spectacle.

It should be stipulated that the use of performance enhancing drugs is wrong as is all cheating in sports. Just as in the case of some baseball players who have been hauled into court on steroid use, if it can be proved that Armstrong broke the rules of competition, he deserves censure by his sport. The effects of PEDs in cycling are probably far more decisive than in a skill sport like baseball. Nevertheless, the notion that such drugs can create a champion is nonsense. Most of those who have been caught using PEDs are mediocrities who remained mediocre even after taking the drugs. As Steven Goldman wrote in an incisive takedown of the zealots in COMMENTARY back in 2009, “These drugs are neither Peter Parker’s radioactive spider nor Popeye’s can of spinach.” The line between advanced medical procedures and treatment and the chemistry of PEDs is also getting blurrier.

But even if we assume the worst about the steroids users and the impact of drugs on the games they play, that still leaves us with a far more important question with reference to the congressional investigations and federal prosecutions that emanated from President Bush’s ill-advised reference to the issue in his 2004 State of the Union address. Why is this is a federal or even a government issue?

It is true that use of these drugs without a prescription is illegal. But since when has that sort of minor offense been treated as a government priority that required several U.S. attorneys and their staffs and an army of federal investigators to devote themselves to the enforcement of prescription laws? It was only the lure of the publicity attaching to the prosecution of famous baseball players or a figure of international standing like Armstrong that generated the government’s interest in these cases.

The pretexts for the federal anti-steroids crusade were ludicrous. The idea put forward that there was an epidemic of steroids use among high school athletes was unsupported by any evidence. On the list of afflictions of America’s youth, PED use was near the bottom. Other charges, such as the one that Armstrong had somehow defrauded the government because the U.S. Post Office sponsored his team, were equally ridiculous. Armstrong delivered excellent value for his sponsor even if he did so while bending or breaking the rules of his sport. Actually a better question to be asked about that relationship was what was a government agency doing spending taxpayer money sponsoring a bicycle team competing in France?

And what did the government produce for the millions spent on the pursuit of these athletes and the lengthy investigations and trials they produced? In the end, the answer was very little. After years of effort the best Bay Area prosecutors could do to Bonds was to convict him on one dubious count of obstructing justice for which he will serve no time in prison even if the conviction is not overturned on appeal. Clemens faces a re-trial after prosecutors forced a mistrial in order to cover up a legal blunder. A few other athletes were humiliated and some were even jailed for short periods. Armstrong, who may never have failed a certified drug test and always maintained his innocence, had his reputation destroyed. But none of this did the public any good, let alone provide a justification for the enormous sums spent on this athletic witch-hunt.

Let us hope Barack Obama’s Justice Department is at last putting this foolishness to rest. Let the various sports officials police their games in any way they think fit, but this is an issue that both Congress and the Justice Department should avoid in the future.

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The Coming Hall of Fame Disaster

John Feinstein makes a depressing observation in his recent column on the indictment of Roger Clemens:

Even before [Mark] McGwire admitted his guilt, his name had appeared twice on a ballot for the Hall of Fame. He never received more than 25 percent support, much less the 75 percent needed to gain entry. The same fate almost certainly awaits Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Palmeiro and even Rodriguez.

If you throw in Pete Rose, who had more hits than any player but is ineligible for the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds (and lied about it for almost 20 years before admitting it in a book), the sport’s all-time home run leader, its all-time hits leader, its most dominant pitcher of the past 50 years (Clemens) and its probable next all-time home runs leader (Rodriguez) are likely to be locked out of its Hall of Fame.

That’s not a black eye. That’s an out-and-out disaster.

John Feinstein makes a depressing observation in his recent column on the indictment of Roger Clemens:

Even before [Mark] McGwire admitted his guilt, his name had appeared twice on a ballot for the Hall of Fame. He never received more than 25 percent support, much less the 75 percent needed to gain entry. The same fate almost certainly awaits Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Palmeiro and even Rodriguez.

If you throw in Pete Rose, who had more hits than any player but is ineligible for the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds (and lied about it for almost 20 years before admitting it in a book), the sport’s all-time home run leader, its all-time hits leader, its most dominant pitcher of the past 50 years (Clemens) and its probable next all-time home runs leader (Rodriguez) are likely to be locked out of its Hall of Fame.

That’s not a black eye. That’s an out-and-out disaster.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: The Federal Government’s Steroids Problem

The news today that former baseball great Roger Clemens has been indicted on federal perjury charges will, no doubt, serve as the catalyst for another outpouring of moral outrage about the use of steroids or other so-called “performance enhancing drugs” in sports. Clemens, like Barry Bonds, another superlative player who has also been indicted for perjury about his steroid use, is exactly the sort of person the authorities love to single out for prosecution: wealthy and arrogant, and thus extremely unpopular.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

The news today that former baseball great Roger Clemens has been indicted on federal perjury charges will, no doubt, serve as the catalyst for another outpouring of moral outrage about the use of steroids or other so-called “performance enhancing drugs” in sports. Clemens, like Barry Bonds, another superlative player who has also been indicted for perjury about his steroid use, is exactly the sort of person the authorities love to single out for prosecution: wealthy and arrogant, and thus extremely unpopular.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Clemens Borrows from Obama

The big news on Capitol Hill today is Roger Clemens’ sworn testimony before the House Oversight Committee regarding his alleged steroids use.

Clemens faces an uphill battle if he hopes to restore his credibility in the aftermath of the damning Mitchell Report, in which he was named 82 times. Beyond the testimony of his former trainer, Brian McNamee, former teammate Andy Pettitte has reportedly testified that Clemens admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH) almost ten years ago. To make matters worse for Clemens, Pettitte’s wife has substantiated this claim in a separate affidavit. The Clemens steroids story has thus quickly morphed into Clemens’ word against Pettitte’s, with Pettitte appearing more believable for having admitted to using HGH in 2002 and 2004.

So, what was Clemens’ strategy for presenting himself as compelling? Apparently, stealing a line from Barack Obama! Consider Clemens’ statement:

Andy Pettitte is my friend, he was my friend before this and he will be my friend after this. I think he misheard. … I think he misremembers our conversation.

Now, compare this to Obama’s statement in reference to Hillary Clinton during a recent debate. While trying to convince voters that the vitriol of the Democratic primary would not divide the party indefinitely, Obama remarked:

… I was friends with Hillary Clinton before we started this campaign; I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after this campaign is over.

Shortly after making his conciliatory statement, Obama earned a Super Tuesday split with Hillary, and has since taken off with an impressive eight-state winning streak. In the process, he has claimed an unambiguous lead in delegates and front-runner status.

Unfortunately for Clemens, the future doesn’t appear quite as bright. Whereas Obama comes off like a gentleman, Clemens is known to have a nasty streak. Indeed, if he aims to promote his credibility on the basis of his loyalty, Clemens is likely to come up short.

The big news on Capitol Hill today is Roger Clemens’ sworn testimony before the House Oversight Committee regarding his alleged steroids use.

Clemens faces an uphill battle if he hopes to restore his credibility in the aftermath of the damning Mitchell Report, in which he was named 82 times. Beyond the testimony of his former trainer, Brian McNamee, former teammate Andy Pettitte has reportedly testified that Clemens admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH) almost ten years ago. To make matters worse for Clemens, Pettitte’s wife has substantiated this claim in a separate affidavit. The Clemens steroids story has thus quickly morphed into Clemens’ word against Pettitte’s, with Pettitte appearing more believable for having admitted to using HGH in 2002 and 2004.

So, what was Clemens’ strategy for presenting himself as compelling? Apparently, stealing a line from Barack Obama! Consider Clemens’ statement:

Andy Pettitte is my friend, he was my friend before this and he will be my friend after this. I think he misheard. … I think he misremembers our conversation.

Now, compare this to Obama’s statement in reference to Hillary Clinton during a recent debate. While trying to convince voters that the vitriol of the Democratic primary would not divide the party indefinitely, Obama remarked:

… I was friends with Hillary Clinton before we started this campaign; I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after this campaign is over.

Shortly after making his conciliatory statement, Obama earned a Super Tuesday split with Hillary, and has since taken off with an impressive eight-state winning streak. In the process, he has claimed an unambiguous lead in delegates and front-runner status.

Unfortunately for Clemens, the future doesn’t appear quite as bright. Whereas Obama comes off like a gentleman, Clemens is known to have a nasty streak. Indeed, if he aims to promote his credibility on the basis of his loyalty, Clemens is likely to come up short.

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Roger Clemens

Among the many baseball players named in last month’s Mitchell Report as steroid users, one name stood out in particular: Roger Clemens. According to the report, sports trainer Brian McNamee first injected Clemens with Winstrol in 1998, and later injected him with testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and either Sustanon or Deca-Durabolin in 2000 and 2001. In Clemens’ career, these seasons stand out statistically. After the alleged 1998 injections, Clemens won his next fourteen decisions, blossoming from a middling 6-6 record to a 20-6 Cy Young Award-winning finish. Meanwhile, during the 2001 season, Clemens won 20 of his first 21 decisions, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to do so and locking up another Cy Young Award at the ripe-for-professional-sports age of 39.

Following the release of the Mitchell Report, Clemens played the denial game on multiple fronts, releasing statements through his lawyer and on YouTube; sitting for an interview with 60 Minutes; and holding a special press conference in Texas this afternoon. In a country that prizes an innocent-until-proven-guilty mentality, these unremarkable denials were sufficient for the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, which moved to retain Clemens as the keynote speaker for its upcoming convention; Clemens will discuss—of all topics—physical fitness. “Unless there is some concrete evidence he is guilty or if the media circus would keep him from coming . . . it would be unfair of us not to let him come,” said Association President Jim Long.

Short of a leaking syringe, it’s hard to imagine any evidence against Clemens being more “concrete” that the details contained in the Mitchell Report; these include the type of steroids Clemens used, the time frame in which they were used, the means through which they were acquired, and the means through which they were injected. Moreover, Clemens’ alibi reeks: Clemens claims that McNamee injected him with vitamin B-12 and painkillers, not steroids—an assertion that sounds awfully similar to Barry Bonds’ claim that his own trainer gave him flaxseed oil, not “the cream.” Finally, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte—Clemens’ workout buddy whom McNamee also named in the Mitchell Report—conceded that McNamee injected him with HGH, thus boosting McNamee’s credibility.

The true urgency of the steroids issue in baseball arises from youngsters’ propensity to idolize star athletes by wearing their heroes’ uniform numbers, mimicking their pitching motions, and aspiring to their physiques. For this reason, it is unconscionable that Texas’ high school baseball coaches would continue heralding Roger Clemens in light of the Mitchell Report’s findings. Perhaps recognizing the dangerous message this sends to young baseball players, Congress’ House Oversight Committee wisely intervened on Friday, inviting Clemens, Pettitte, and McNamee to testify under oath on January 16th. Before Texas coaches relay Clemens’ keynote address on fitness to their players, let’s hope they gather their team to watch Clemens squirm on C-Span. When he sits before Congress, Clemens’ status as a baseball god will likely die. These coaches must ensure that Clemens’ rapid fall from grace is purposeful.

Among the many baseball players named in last month’s Mitchell Report as steroid users, one name stood out in particular: Roger Clemens. According to the report, sports trainer Brian McNamee first injected Clemens with Winstrol in 1998, and later injected him with testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and either Sustanon or Deca-Durabolin in 2000 and 2001. In Clemens’ career, these seasons stand out statistically. After the alleged 1998 injections, Clemens won his next fourteen decisions, blossoming from a middling 6-6 record to a 20-6 Cy Young Award-winning finish. Meanwhile, during the 2001 season, Clemens won 20 of his first 21 decisions, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to do so and locking up another Cy Young Award at the ripe-for-professional-sports age of 39.

Following the release of the Mitchell Report, Clemens played the denial game on multiple fronts, releasing statements through his lawyer and on YouTube; sitting for an interview with 60 Minutes; and holding a special press conference in Texas this afternoon. In a country that prizes an innocent-until-proven-guilty mentality, these unremarkable denials were sufficient for the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, which moved to retain Clemens as the keynote speaker for its upcoming convention; Clemens will discuss—of all topics—physical fitness. “Unless there is some concrete evidence he is guilty or if the media circus would keep him from coming . . . it would be unfair of us not to let him come,” said Association President Jim Long.

Short of a leaking syringe, it’s hard to imagine any evidence against Clemens being more “concrete” that the details contained in the Mitchell Report; these include the type of steroids Clemens used, the time frame in which they were used, the means through which they were acquired, and the means through which they were injected. Moreover, Clemens’ alibi reeks: Clemens claims that McNamee injected him with vitamin B-12 and painkillers, not steroids—an assertion that sounds awfully similar to Barry Bonds’ claim that his own trainer gave him flaxseed oil, not “the cream.” Finally, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte—Clemens’ workout buddy whom McNamee also named in the Mitchell Report—conceded that McNamee injected him with HGH, thus boosting McNamee’s credibility.

The true urgency of the steroids issue in baseball arises from youngsters’ propensity to idolize star athletes by wearing their heroes’ uniform numbers, mimicking their pitching motions, and aspiring to their physiques. For this reason, it is unconscionable that Texas’ high school baseball coaches would continue heralding Roger Clemens in light of the Mitchell Report’s findings. Perhaps recognizing the dangerous message this sends to young baseball players, Congress’ House Oversight Committee wisely intervened on Friday, inviting Clemens, Pettitte, and McNamee to testify under oath on January 16th. Before Texas coaches relay Clemens’ keynote address on fitness to their players, let’s hope they gather their team to watch Clemens squirm on C-Span. When he sits before Congress, Clemens’ status as a baseball god will likely die. These coaches must ensure that Clemens’ rapid fall from grace is purposeful.

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The Best Interests of the Game?

It’s official: With yesterday’s steroid report making front page news, George Mitchell has become a brand name, the investigatory equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal. A story in today’s New York Times encapsulates the credulous, even ceremonial treatment the press has, for the most part, afforded Mitchell’s findings. Which would be fine, if only Mitchell wasn’t up to his ears in conflicts of interest, and hadn’t produced a document that reported almost nothing new, save for empty rhetoric (“hundreds of thousands of our children are using [steroids]”) and the often uncorroborated claims of two sources ensnared in the legal system and looking to cut a deal, spiced up with a good dose of hearsay.

Conducting some 700 interviews and going over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, Mitchell turns up considerably less than can be found in the book that exposes Barry Bonds’s steroid use, Game of Shadows, or in Howard Bryant’s excellent Juicing The Game. We could have found out more, and at least as credibly, simply by compiling a list of the players whose statistics improved by an order of magnitude after the age of 32, something nearly unheard of prior to the steroid era.

Clearly aware of how little he’d turned up, Mitchell released his 409-page document just an hour before holding a press conference, ensuring that reporters had no time to read, let alone absorb, the document before asking him questions. When tough questions did come up, he stonewalled with endless variations of “it’s in the report.” It was a smart way to control the story, given that few new names were unearthed—much of the report reads like a detailed summary of the better news reporting of the last decade—and the big ones that were, most notably Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada, were, to anyone who’d been paying attention, among the most obvious abusers.

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It’s official: With yesterday’s steroid report making front page news, George Mitchell has become a brand name, the investigatory equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal. A story in today’s New York Times encapsulates the credulous, even ceremonial treatment the press has, for the most part, afforded Mitchell’s findings. Which would be fine, if only Mitchell wasn’t up to his ears in conflicts of interest, and hadn’t produced a document that reported almost nothing new, save for empty rhetoric (“hundreds of thousands of our children are using [steroids]”) and the often uncorroborated claims of two sources ensnared in the legal system and looking to cut a deal, spiced up with a good dose of hearsay.

Conducting some 700 interviews and going over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, Mitchell turns up considerably less than can be found in the book that exposes Barry Bonds’s steroid use, Game of Shadows, or in Howard Bryant’s excellent Juicing The Game. We could have found out more, and at least as credibly, simply by compiling a list of the players whose statistics improved by an order of magnitude after the age of 32, something nearly unheard of prior to the steroid era.

Clearly aware of how little he’d turned up, Mitchell released his 409-page document just an hour before holding a press conference, ensuring that reporters had no time to read, let alone absorb, the document before asking him questions. When tough questions did come up, he stonewalled with endless variations of “it’s in the report.” It was a smart way to control the story, given that few new names were unearthed—much of the report reads like a detailed summary of the better news reporting of the last decade—and the big ones that were, most notably Roger Clemens and Miguel Tejada, were, to anyone who’d been paying attention, among the most obvious abusers.

In place of significant new revelations, Mitchell continuously blamed the players for their lack of cooperation with his investigation. Why the players should have cooperated with what was effectively an attack on labor by management remains unclear. After all, it was no secret on whose behalf Mitchell was working.

New York writers have concentrated on Mitchell’s ties to the Red Sox. Conspiracy theories about this focus on the New York-centric quality of the report; the outing of Indians pitcher Paul Byrd, in the middle of a postseason series between the Sox and the Indians, as a human growth hormone user; and the decision not to tender a contract to reliever Brendan Donnelly, just a few hours before the report, with Donnelly’s name in it, was released. However, the bigger, more open, conspiracy is that of the former Senator’s relationship to management.

Tim Marchman of the New York Sun, evidently one of the few writers who bothered to read the report before reporting on it, lists these conflicts in what should be considered the definitive dispatch thus far on the report. Suffice it to say that Mitchell, who presently serves as a minority owner of the Boston Red Sox, is, in Marchman’s words, “a member of baseball management as surely as anyone now living.”

This is the only light in which to understand a report that breaks just enough ground to fool lazy reporters, while allowing Commissioner Bud Selig to declare an end to the steroid era, by pushing through the new rules and regulations Mitchell proposes, and using these changes to keep Congress at bay. As Marchman puts it, Selig’s appointing Mitchell is akin to “President Bush’s charging Karl Rove with a blue ribbon inquiry into the war in Iraq, and Rove’s brushing away the appearance of impropriety by assuring the world that the White House political operation would get no special favor.”

All of this befits a league that expects us to believe that a commissioner who’s a former owner, and who serves at the mercy of ownership, is acting “in the best interests of the game.”

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