Roger Clemens Discovers Limits of Celebrity


Wonder what it was like for Roger Clemens to sit in a Washington, D.C. courtroom and hear three prospective jurors say they had never heard of him. Maybe it was a blow to the ego, as well as a boost to the prosecution. Certainly that trio of humans sitting in judgment of the big fella wasn’t going to be bowled over by the ex-pitcher’s celebrity. Whatever happened to the days when baseball was the National Pastime and a player of Clemens’ star magnitude had about the same name recognition as the president?

No doubt if I had been sitting in the gallery I would have snickered upon hearing those innocents proclaim their innocence of Roger’s name as he pleaded his innocence to charges his statements misled a Congressional committee in 2008 that was investigating Major League baseball’s drug addiction.

But I also would have giggled quietly when it was mentioned a few times by other prospective jurors that they thought it was a waste of time and money for taxpayers to fund this dogged pursuit of Clemens when Congress would have been better occupied solving the larger problems facing the nation than whether Clemens stuck a needle in his butt.

Celebrity and name recognition is always an issue in the court system when someone famous goes before a jury. Is there such thing as a jury of his peers? There aren’t going to be 12 superstar baseball players on the panel. Did law enforcement chase a “name” too hard to show it plays no favorites? Or did law enforcement show too much zeal because it was after a name? There is usually more nuance than hardcore proof on those fronts.

This is the second time around for the government on Clemens’ case. The first time there was a near-immediate mistrial when prosecutors introduced evidence that had previously been deemed inadmissable. A Perry Mason move it was not. So that scrapped things last July. There was a bit of a debate about whether or not it was worthwhile to give it another go, but here we are.

As far as the public being enthralled by this trial of the century, I think it falls a little short on the excitement meter of the Lindbergh baby case. Clemens is in this position because he was a blabbermouth. There is no passion in the public about whether he walks or gets nailed in this trial. I’m betting that members of the Baseball Writers Association of America care more than anyone else how this turns out. If there is an official taint slapped on Clemens, a sort of stamp on charges that he took steroids to increase his performance during the waning days of his 354-victory career, then they can in good conscience deny him a Hall of Fame vote.

Simon Bruty/SI

If Clemens beats the rap it will seem like a complete vindication to him that he did nothing wrong during his heyday as a fireballing strikeout pitcher with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. And then what do the writers hold against him besides their own suspicions when it comes time to cast that Hall ballot? The situation has more layers of complexity, but in its simplest reading of consequences stemming from the result, that’s how it seems to me.

I’ve got a feeling this will be a dirty laundry type of trial and it could smudge the big picture even more. We might hear all sorts of testimony that leads us to believe that Clemens is guilty of violationg baseball’s substance rules, the spirit of the rules, and yet isn’t convicted of a thing. I’ve got to believe most passionate baseball fans just want the whole thing to go away. We’ve got a season to play.

Once, I was a huge Clemens fan. Then I drifted to the role of long-distance admirer. Once all of this Congress/drugs/courtroom stuff surfaced and dragged on, my enthusiasm waned. But for all of that, I still think it will be hard to keep seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame.

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Tags: Baseball Hall Of Fame Boston Red Sox Congress Cy Young Award New York Yankees Roger Clemens Steroids