Clemens: Hall-bound?

point/counterpoint

Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz
Mike Woods
Mike Woods

The recently released report on steroids in baseball by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell contains detailed assertions that Roger Clemens used steroids. The assertions are substantial enough to suggest that he should be permanently barred from the Hall of Fame. The report uses sworn testimony given to federal agents by Brian McNamee, Clemens’s former personal trainer, stating that he repeatedly injected Clemens with anabolic steroids between 1998 and 2001.

McNamee has no reason to lie here, as his immunity from prosecution is invalidated if any of his claims turn out to be false. Clemens’ own feeble attempts to deny the accusations have backfired horrendously thus far, making him look even guiltier. He claims McNamee injected him with the local anesthetic lidocaine and Vitamin B12, but this has been roundly rejected by medical experts.

ESPN.com’s Patrick Hruby asked Dr. John F. Dombrowski, director of pain medicine at the Washington Pain Center, if injecting lidocaine into one’s rear would give relief from the joint pain Clemens said he used it for.

“No. Never,” Dombrowski said. “You use big deep muscles for injecting steroids. But you would never treat shoulder or elbow pain in that way. If what he was injected with was truly lidocaine, his butt cheek would be numb. And that’s it.”

The courts haven’t determined Clemens’s ultimate innocence or guilt yet, but unless some new plausible evidence comes forward to vindicate him, it seems pretty evident he used steroids. Baseball has banned talented athletes for life for less: all-time hits leader Pete Rose, whose crime was merely betting on his team to win baseball games, is among them.

As Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford recently pointed out, Clemens’s actions are closer to those of athletes who purposefully lost games (such as Shoeless Joe Jackson and the “Black Sox” who threw the 1919 World Series, and received lifetime bans, or college basketball’s Ralph Beard, who admitted to taking money from gamblers to alter the outcome of games and was banned for life as a result).

“Even after he told the truth, Ralph Beard spent more than 50 years of his life in shame,” Deford argued. “If Roger Clemens is guilty, then he deserves no better. Let’s put the right word on it. Any player who took steroids is a fixer. He fixed games.”

Deford is absolutely right here. Cheating to win is equivalent to fixing games: both result in an unfair outcome, and thus undermine the entire sport’s credibility. Therefore, both Clemens and everyone else who used steroids should be denied admission into the Hall of Fame.

--Andrew Bucholtz

As the Roger Clemens scandal deepens, with lawsuits, countersuits, taped phone calls and defiant press conferences, it’s easy to label Clemens as a cheater and deny his previously guaranteed entry into the Hall of Fame.

I’m the first to say I’ve never been a Clemens fan—I find him arrogant and obnoxious, and given his longevity it wasn’t surprising to hear his name mentioned so prominently in the Mitchell Report.

But when examining the big picture, and regardless of how his current saga unfolds, Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame.

The criteria for entry into Cooperstown have always been slightly unclear. Is it just a numbers game? Does degree of “fame” come into play, as the Hall’s name suggests? Voters are now forced to evaluate more than on-field performance – they must become members of the steroid police and decide if certain players cheated.

Clemens’s numbers are staggering. He racked up 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, seven Cy Young awards and a 3.12 ERA during a career in which the league average was more than a point higher.

Even before 1997, when Clemens’s steroid use allegedly began, he still had 187 wins and four Cy Youngs—Hall of Fame numbers in themselves.

Clemens’s case is by no means isolated. Hall of Fame voters are grappling with similar situations with greats such as Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds—players who never tested positive for steroids but have strong circumstantial links to their use.

The Clemens situation is yet another reminder of baseball’s dark ages. After the players’ strike of 1994, the game spent years trying to rebuild its fan base, and its elites turned a blind eye to the rampant steroid use that occurred.

Clemens has been singled out due to his status as arguably the most dominant pitcher of his era. But it is impossible for the Hall of Fame to determine who was “on something” and who was not.

Voter Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News said he’d vote for Clemens.

“I would vote for him,” he said. “I think what this report shows is that baseball, like other sports, went through a period of time that will be forever blemished, but it also shows this was an industry-wide situation, not isolated cases.”

Roger Clemens’s steroid problems are the product of a tarnished era for his sport, but his amazing career was largely a product of consistency and hard work. For this reason, Clemens remains an all-time great and should take his place in Cooperstown, in part to acknowledge his remarkable statistics but also to serve as a reminder of baseball’s darkest days, so that they do not repeat themselves.

--Mike Woods

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