To say baseball suffers from a case of steroids fatigue would be an understatement. League officials would rather trumpet the success of their current testing program and the relative absence (Manny Ramirez notwithstanding) of recent, high-profile flare-ups than confront, once again, the sins of the past or the new, unseen challenges of the future.
Players and team executives, if they don’t run from steroids questions, answer by talking in circles, so as not to say anything controversial. Off the record? This is the response: A roll of the eyes, a shrug of the shoulders.
When will it ever go away?
But with the perjury trial of pitching legend Roger Clemens, currently in the jury-selection phase at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, baseball faces yet another flashpoint in the steroids saga. And even for a sport grown numb to the sting of peformance-enhancing-drug-related scandal, this one could be different. The Clemens case matters, and here are three reasons why:
l The most decorated pitcher in baseball history could very well go to jail. The twin trials this year of Bonds and Clemens could not have been more convenient for future historians.
“There’s a certain sad symmetry to it,” said Bob Costas, television host for NBC Sports and the MLB Network. “Clemens and Bonds are the bookends of the steroids story.”
Here you had the greatest player of his generation, if not all time, and the pitching version of the same — Bonds won a record seven most valuable player awards, Clemens a record seven Cy Youngs — on trial almost simultaneously for lying about alleged steroids use.
“The unfortunate part for me, when I look back on this, [is that] the best hitter of my generation and arguably the best pitcher . . . are cheaters and are trying to stay out of jail,” former pitcher Curt Schilling, an outspoken anti-steroids voice as a player and now a part-time analyst on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” said in a recent radio interview.
Bonds, for the most part, beat his rap, gaining acquittal on the most serious perjury charges and losing on only an obstruction of justice charge. But the legal community perceives the government’s case against Clemens as being far stronger than the one it brought against Bonds, largely because Clemens’s alleged supplier, former personal trainer Brian McNamee, is testifying against him, while Bonds’s refused.
“I think [most] baseball fans have concluded that not only Roger Clemens, but also Barry Bonds and hundreds of others, used steroids,” said former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent. “It was a terrible time in the history of baseball. So, even if Clemens is acquitted, no one is going to think he didn’t do steroids. They’re going to think the government couldn’t prove its case.”