A 10-week trial.
A 7-year investigation.
500 drug tests.
Countless millions spent.
And in the end, what sort of bang has the U.S. government gotten for its buck? Zilch.
Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong and Roger Clemens are free men, never found guilty as charged despite unlimited resources and a legendary witch hunt to finally frame a famous face with sports’ dirty era of performance enhancing drugs. After seven years, Bonds was found guilty of only count of obstruction of justice. After two years of digging through Armstrong’s trash on multiple continents, the government failed to even bring formal charges. And now comes Clemens, found not guilty Monday of all charges that he cheated on baseball and then lied to Congress about it.
If U.S. government prosecutors were baseball players, they’d be shamefully sent to the minors. After all, they’ve struck out three times against some of the biggest boys of American sport.
Armstrong is the 7-time Tour de France champ. Bonds is baseball’s all-time home run king. Clemens is a 7-time Cy Young Award winner, the biggest, baddest fastball pitcher of his era. All stained by rumors and reputations, they now reside in that slimy sliver of perpetual Purgatory between being innocent and being acquitted.
In the world of fantasy unattainables there is Bigfoot, true love on a reality show, weapons of mass destruction and a government drug case against a high-profile athlete with as much bite as bark.
Clemens’ prosecutors declined to comment as they left the courthouse. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a written statement, “The jury has spoken in this matter, and we thank them for their service. We respect the judicial process and the jury’s verdict.”
Somewhere, former Cowboys’ receiver and alleged drug king pin Sam Hurd sleeps a little more comfortably. Right, Ryan Braun? Right, Aqib Talib?
Because, let’s face it, the government hasn’t yet learned how to win a high-profile case against a big-time athlete. For all the Congressional grandstanding and Senate subcommittees, it’s been a colossal waste of time, energy and, yes, taxpayer money.
Ask 100 baseball fans whether Clemens juiced and 90 will say yes. Despite that, the government couldn’t even force a jury to deliberate more than 10 hours after 10 weeks of trial and testimony.
The flimsy case against Clemens centered on Brian McNamee, who said he injected the pitcher with human growth hormone three times. It was the only first-hand witness. He was a drug dealer. And, in the end, even prosecutors referred to their star witness as “a flawed man” whose recollections of events “evolved over time.” Embarrassing.
Think about it, the Feds got their collective ass kicked by Clemens and lawyer Rusty Hardin, who initially denied the pitcher’s steroid use because of the lack of a third ear growing out of his forehead. During the trial jurors repeatedly fell asleep. Once the lead prosecutor actually said to a witness, “I want to ask you some questions about pus.” The government did such a bang-up job in the court that pulled off a trick that would make even Criss Angel blush: They transformed Roger Clemens into a sympathetic figure.
“When a man says he didn’t do it,” Hardin said, “let’s at least start out giving him the benefit of the doubt.”
Fair enough. But you know the truth: We don’t know if Clemens used performance enhancing drugs and with each day we care a little less. Fatigue. Disgust. 500 channels. Kids. Tires that need rotating. Yu Darvish. Life. We’re pretty sure steroids are gone from baseball and it’s just not that important that they were ever there in the first place.
While Bonds, Armstrong and Clemens will never spend a day behind bars, they are aware that they’ll never get their good name back, either. Because turns out that “reasonable doubt” is transferable from the court of law to the court of public opinion.
Said Clemens, “I’m never going to have my name restored.”
Nor will he or Bonds ever get into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Why? Reasonable doubt. There it is again. Not guilty doesn’t equal clean. Nor does being acquitted mean you’re vindicated.
During his 24-year career Clemens won 354 games and recorded more strikeouts than anyone not named Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson. But he flourished after turning 40, something no pitcher has done before or since. The Boston Red Sox let Clemens go at age 33, after three years of him winning 11, 9 and 10 games. Then he was mysteriously rejuvenated, winning 21 and 20 with the Toronto Blue Jays, posting five winning seasons with the New York Yankees and, finally, after his 39th birthday, going 79-41 with a 3.29 ERA for the Houston Astros. Bonds didn’t just magically surge from 49 homers to 73 after turning 35, and power pitchers don’t flourish with age.
Is there a smoking gun? Perhaps even a dirty needle? Nope. But there is doubt, and it is reasonable.
Same with Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire and Pudge Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez and, yes, Bonds. Until more time passes and more outrage melts, those stars won’t get into the Hall of Fame.
This much is clear after the Clemens case: Baseball has dirty players. But the U.S. Government has rotten lawyers.
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