Roger Clemens fought the law and Roger Clemens won. That's what we can conclude from yesterday's verdict. But what happens now?
The next question facing Clemens is the Baseball Hall of Fame. Up to this point, anyone who has had any association with the steroids scandal has had great difficulty getting any votes. I think it's safe to say that unless there's a significant change of heart among the baseball writers, you'll never see Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro in the HOF. That's understandable, as both McGwire and Palmeiro certainly enhanced their careers quite a lot through steroid use.
Roger Clemens is a different matter, as is Barry Bonds. At this point neither has faced the voters, but both will soon. Clemens will be able to argue, as he has from the outset, that he is innocent. He also has a verdict to prove his point. Bonds was found guilty of obstruction of justice, but not of the underlying claim of steroid use. The other issue for both players is this -- both may have used steroids to extend careers that were likely good enough to make the Hall of Fame before they are alleged to have begun using the substances.
So what do you do about these things? It depends, I suppose, on how much the Hall of Fame means to you. I've long believed that the HOF is, like baseball itself, morally compromised in various ways. Anyone who claims to worry about performance enhancing drugs has to come to terms with the nearly universal use of amphetamines in baseball in the postwar era, well into the 1970s. Certainly players used greenies to help enhance their performance. Baseball has always been about getting an edge.
A blogger whose opinion I respect quite a lot said this on Facebook:
Roger Clemens almost certainly did steroids, we can be 99% sure of it. The result of using PEDs was an extenuation of Clemens' career. That extenuation cost someone a Major League job. No conundrum, Clemens should never get in the HOF. Nor should anyone from the steroids era.
When I questioned this, the blogger responded:
No one who played from 1988 to 2002 should be elected to the HOF. Even if they did not do it themselves, through their silence they allowed others to cheat with impunity.
As a practical matter, using that 14-year period really means that nearly every modern player whose career began after 1980 should be ineligible for the HOF. For that matter, there are a great number of players already in the HOF who ought to be ineligible under this standard. Do you want to tell Cal Ripken that he needs to forfeit his membership? How about Ryne Sandberg, or Tony Gwynn?
We need to deal with the larger meaning of the steroid era in sports, but we're still too close to see things clearly. And yesterday's verdict only makes things less clear.
UPDATE: My friend Brad Carlson, ace blogger and talk show host, also wrote about the case here. As always, his thoughts are worth your time. He makes an especially good point about Clemens and Bonds, who are both eligible for the first time in 2013.