It’s been a fairly long time coming. On the one hand, there was the Mitchell Report and other leaked documents naming baseball players who had used banned or illegal substances; on the other hand, some of those players gave sworn Congressional testimony in which they claimed they had never used. So, in an announcement that likely brought few fans to tears, Roger Clemens was indicted today on charges of obstructing Congress, making false statements, and perjury.
Craig Calcaterra and David Pinto write that Clemens brought this on himself: by protesting the Mitchell Report too loudly, he practically dared Congress to subpoena him. Barry Bonds, of course, was already indicted in 2007, and his trial is scheduled for March; Clemens’s trial will likely have a similarly long wait.
Of course, this is what Congress wanted. An indictment was the inevitable result — and a likely goal — of Congress’s decision to subpoena testimony from athletes that George Mitchell accused of cheating. It was a circus in search of a gotcha. The Mitchell Report unearthed a number of names, but it neither revealed the full extent of steroid and PED use in baseball, nor the actual effect of steroid and PED use on a baseball player. The testimony made Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro look foolish, but it didn’t offer much more than an opportunity for members of Congress to indicate their disapproval.
Of course, there’s plenty of disapproval to go around. Thanks to Major League Baseball’s hypocritical approach to steroids, players had numerous incentives to use, while owners and media alike chose to ignore the actual fact of use. (Most media, at least. The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell fingered Jose Canseco as a steroid-user back in 1988.) George Mitchell somehow spent $20 million of the
taxpayers’ MLB’s money on a report that raised more questions than it answered. And the shrill, howling condemnation by talking heads and columnists is about as unlistenable as Roseanne Barr singing the National Anthem.
Calcaterra believes Clemens stands a good chance of getting off, because Brian McNamee has no credibility, and he also believes the indictment shouldn’t affect Clemens’s Hall of Fame chances, because after all it was the Steroid Era, and his success came against players who used too. Of course, that sort of rational argument would be a lot easier if the baseball community ever got around to having the conversation about steroids — what they are, what they do, and why people take them — that we’ve been avoiding since the 1980s.
Interestingly, if it takes as long to bring Clemens to trial as it has taken with Bonds, the Rocket could be Hall of Fame-eligible by the time he’s in court: this is the third season since his last game in 2007, and the Feds have taken more than three years to bring Bonds to trial. So the government’s competence in bringing the case could have a great deal to do with whether he gets in on the first ballot. But it’s hard to imagine that even a jail term could keep him out of the Hall completely.
So what did we learn? We learned that Congress believes that baseball is one of the most important issues of domestic policy in America. We learned that you shouldn’t thumb your nose at George Mitchell. And we learned that Clemens’s attorney, Rusty Hardin — who has been described as “slicker ‘n deer guts on a doorknob” — gave his client some really, really bad advice.
So here’s some good advice: don’t lie to Congress, and don’t bother holding your breath for the trial.
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.