Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Clemens and Bonds: Together Forever

When George Mitchell’s report on his investigation into the use of illicit performance-enhancing substances by major league players revealed extensive steroid use by Roger Clemens and many other stars, an astounding number of commentators, both published and informal, reacted by saying this was good news for Barry Bonds. The idiocy of this conclusion is impressive, but reflects the same brain-dead, ethically-blotto logic that has followed this story from the beginning.

The report is good news for Barry, supposedly, because now it is clear that lots and lots of baseball players, and a contemporary superstar, were also cheating, so that makes Bonds’ long-term, defiant, immensely damaging use of banned chemicals to extend his career and warp baseballs records somehow more acceptable. This is the “everybody does it” argument that parents routinely reject from their 7th grade children, turned around to suggest that when more people in your position engage in a type of misconduct, the less offensive your unethical act becomes. Does that make sense to you? You were a better person if you lynched blacks in Mississippi in 1935 than you would be if you did it in Connecticut? Having and extra-marital affair that devastates your family is OK in Hollywood, but you are real scum if you do it in Salt Lake City?

The truth is that the Mitchell report was terrible news for Bonds and his shameless defenders. It took many of his already dubious excuses away for all time, and guaranteed that the foundation of his defense, that he has been persecuted because he is black, will crumble soon. You see, Roger Clemens is white. Unlike Barry, he has regularly pandered to the media, who usually chose to ignore or minimize his less attractive features, such as his blatant hypocrisy, his habitual disloyalty, his greed, his disproportionate percentage of failure in critical games, and his frequent episodes of boorishness on the field. Many writers were in awe of Clemens: you could see the anguish on ESPN’s baseball guru Peter Gammons’ face as he tried to dismiss Clemens’ accuser as a “gutter rat.” But Gammons is a smart and fair man, and will soon get back on track. The extremely credible testimony of Clemens’ own trainer (taken in the presence of federal law enforcement officials, so he knew that a lie could put him in prison) reveals the Rocket as a great but aging pitcher on the downward slide to mediocrity until he started shooting up in 1998. Then, like Bonds, he began a late career surge that vaulted him into the record books. As with Bonds, we now know how and why he was able to defy Father Time and biology while so many of his contemporaries aged gracefully and honestly out of the game. Clemens is about to be reviled, condemned and disgraced, not because of his race, but because he cheated. Bonds can no longer claim that he is being singled out, persecuted, victimized, or being made the scapegoat. Now he has company.

So far, Clemens is emulating Bonds by denying what is increasingly obvious. Luckily for Roger, he is only lying through his lawyer, to the press and public, and not under oath to a grand jury, which is why Bonds is facing prison while Clemens only faces infamy. But in most other ways, Clemens and Bonds are remarkably similar: great players clean, astounding players dirty. Bonds used steroids to win more MVP awards than anyone else; Clemens used them to win more Cy Young awards. Bonds used drugs to become the greatest over-35 hitter in the history of the game; Clemens did likewise to become the greatest over-35 pitcher.

The two cheating superstars are similar enough that the Scoreboard does not need to enumerate in any detail the many reasons why it is wholly fair and appropriate to discount Clemens’ performance as well as relegate him to the pantheon of baseball’s biggest villains. It has done that already relating to Bonds. (See last months Easy Calls for the most recent list.) Baseball does not need to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to take action, any more than any employer has to prove that an employee has hurt the company beyond a reasonable doubt before firing him. Nor must anyone show, prove or even speculate how many fewer wins and strikeouts an honest Roger Clemens might have amassed than the juiced version: it doesn’t matter. If there was one misbegotten thought the Scoreboard would like to siphon out of every sports commentator’s brain, it is the one that says if we don’t know how many homers the steroids helped Bonds hit, we can’t make judgements about his cheating ways. Look: when it is discovered that college presidents, lawyers, doctors and executives got their jobs using fake degrees and credentials on their resumes, they get fired. It doesn’t matter how good a job they have done in the meantime, or whether they would have been hired without the lies on their resumes, or whether the fake credentials made any difference at all. They are fired because they cheated. If it is discovered that a law student has cheated to pass her bar exam, nobody checks to determine if she would have passed anyway, or insists that it has to be shown that she benefited from the cheating. She fails, and may not get a chance to ever be a lawyer. Why? Because the cheating itself is bad enough.

And in the cases of Bonds and Clemens, the evidence of their careers shows that while we don’t know exactly how much better they did because of the drugs, it is logical to conclude that the drugs did help them perform better because none of the thousands of players who came before them ever could do as well without drugs.

What should Major League Baseball do about Bonds and Clemens? It can’t suspend them, first, because neither is likely to play again, and second, because neither tested positive in drug tests, the only trigger for suspension sanctioned by the steroid-use- enabling Player’s Association. It can’t change the records, because the ledger of baseball’s statistics then won’t balance: Bonds’ steroid-fueled home runs resulted in runs scored and team wins and pitcher wins and losses; Clemens strikeouts affected batting averages and his wins changed pennant races. They can’t be expunged.

But MLB can do the equivalent of what the Olympic Committee did to Marion Jones after her steroid use was revealed. It took away her medals. Baseball can do the same by taking away the MVP and Cy Young awards won by Bonds, Clemens and every other player who won one of these honors after breaking the laws of the U.S. and the principles of sportsmanship and fairness by taking performance-enhancing drugs. That the awards were retroactively stripped away would become part of each player’s legacy, and will remind Hall of Fame voters in years to come that if they really want to vote for a Mark McGwire, a Rafael Palmeiro, a Bonds or a Clemens, they will be voting for a blackened and diminished record. Nothing stops the Commissioner of Baseball from doing this—nothing, that is except the current Commissioner’s aversion to taking any action at all until there is a figurative gun at his head.

Forget the silly argument that it is unfair to punish Clemens and Bonds when other great players have probably used steroids without exposure and thus won’t receive the same treatment, except perhaps to berate any of your acquaintances who adopt it. Do the same dolts who say this also advocate never punishing the criminals who are caught because some miscreants get away with their crimes? As for the Hall of Fame: to some ethically-retarded sportswriters this is a hard issue, but it really isn’t. Nobody who on balance clearly did more damage to baseball than good should ever be admitted to the Hall of Fame. Bonds, and Clemens, like Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox, and also Mark McGwire, have polluted baseball’s records and shaken its fans’ faith in the sport’s integrity. They should never be honored by the sport they defiled.

And at least one more name should never see the inside of Cooperstown’s Hall. Bud Selig, whose willful neglect of the steroids plague during his tenure allowed cheats like Bonds and Clemens to prosper and multiply, was the prime enabler and must be given a major part of the blame for baseball’s disgrace. But it is Clemens and Bonds who deserve top billing in this ethics tragedy. Barry Bonds isn’t alone any more.

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