The Mitchell Report Stands, but the Truth Is Elusive

The time for deciding if Roger Clemens should be voted into the baseball Hall of Fame isn´t today but five years from today, if not 20 years or more. Of course, that doesn´t stop us from

Dec 19, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Jerry Dowling

The time for deciding if Roger Clemens should be voted into the baseball Hall of Fame isn´t today but five years from today, if not 20 years or more. Of course, that doesn´t stop us from asking the question right now.

Bud Selig´s spotlight on steroids lit up about 80 present and former players, some of whom might even be innocent. Selig commissioned former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to go wherever the evidence would lead. The evidence often led to hearsay, which Mitchell didn´t hesitate to report in his Dec. 13 presentation.

But direct, personal, eyewitness testimony isn´t hearsay, and neither is a description of personal involvement. On the way to Barry Bonds and with help from the feds, Mitchell took the path of direct testimony to the best pitcher of our time.

Clemens can´t hide behind the indignation of baseball lifers no matter how vituperatively they confuse the degrees of evidence. Unless we hear a lot more and a lot different, he´s sunk. Bonds is sunk with him, everybody who played during those years is at least under suspicion and the post-historical era has become the steroid era.

Judging from polls of Hall of Fame voters in the days following Mitchell´s report, Clemens lost about half of his support for entering the shrine. Before the report, he lined up somewhere near 100 percent of the votes. By various straw polls late last week, he was down to about 50 percent, which gives him only two-thirds of the 75 percent he needs for induction.

We can´t predict the future unless we can visualize the absurd, and the absurd already is outrunning the imagination. Maybe we´ll view the steroid era differently and with less contempt in the next 10 years and 125 or so voters will change their minds to put Clemens in the Hall.

It could also be that MLB´s late-arriving vigilance will crack down hard so hard on performance enhancing drug (PED) use that we´ll even more clearly see that period for what it truly is — a grave injustice against the overwhelming majority of players who see a life beyond money and achievement. In that case, Clemens would lose much of his remaining support long after he´s lost his prestige and endorsement potential.

Hoping the evidence would lead to Bonds, Selig was willing to live with the collateral damage. Events worked out even better than Selig could have dreamed, except for the timing. The feds got to Bonds, though not before the San Francisco slugger´s historic moment of passage to the top of baseball´s home run list this past summer.

Once a federal grand jury indicted Bonds on perjury charges (the feds say he lied about not knowing he used steroids), baseball´s investigation no longer had a purpose to serve, so Mitchell wrapped it up. Christmas arrived about two weeks early to those of us who have despised players for forcing their contemporaries to contemplate juicing for survival. When Mitchell unwrapped his present for us, we saw some measure of the truth.

That´s all we really wanted: some measure of the truth. We know we´ll never hear all of it, but just hearing some of it clears the air.

We get the picture that players at least considered performance enhancing drugs, even if it´s not enough to tell us who did it. To the extent that it´s the word of a PED dealer who´s pleaded guilty as such and he´s also producing copies of checks in four figures from big league players, we know a little more.

To the further extent that a personal trainer with every legal incentive to tell the truth describes putting needles into the posterior of a seven-time Cy Young Award winner, well, how much more do we need?

Any doubt about whether Mitchell was the right man to conduct the investigation went away on reading through the report and noting the cooperation of federal authorities. As a former U.S. Senator, federal judge and prosecutor, Mitchell´s connections in the legal system run pretty deep. Any less depth might have produced much less of a report.

The feds cheerfully handed Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee over to Mitchell. Without them, Mitchell basically had nothing. With them, Mitchell wrote a bombshell, a report that actually was worth doing even if it failed with respect to Bonds.

A U.S. Attorneys Office in northern California made a deal with McNamee, Clemens´ former personal trainer. If he told the truth, no truthful statements could be used against him. If he lied, he could face felony charges for making false statements. As part of his cooperation with the feds, McNamee talked with Mitchell under the same conditions.

So McNamee talked, saying he injected Clemens a couple dozen times from 1998 to 2001. If McNamee is telling it straight, then Clemens has earned more than $100 million in baseball contracts alone since he began juicing.

At least one high-profile commentator wants to call McNamee a ¨sewer rat.¨ Remarks of that sort tell us much about how deeply the evidence against Clemens cuts but little about the veracity of the evidence. Basically, it boils down to whether you believe McNamee or Clemens — to who has more to gain or lose by telling the truth or telling lies.

At stake for McNamee is freedom on the upside and prison on the downside. At stake for Clemens is baseball immortality on the upside and a broken reputation soothed by well more than $100 million in ill-gotten gains on the downside.

At stake for the rest of us is some measure of the truth. We don´t have to like it, but we must hear it.

We watch this game. We should know what we´re seeing.