Guilty By Reason of Inanity

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, February 11, 2008

There are no hung juries in the court of public opinion.  Only clear and decisive verdicts.

The current case in the docket: Brian McNamee v. Roger Clemens, a battle to determine the enduring legacy of contemporary baseball’s greatest pitcher.

When Clemens was named as an illegal performance-enhancing drugs user in the Mitchell Report, a huge “Aha!” arose from fans and non-fans alike across the country.  On a petty level, here was a man currently wearing the much-despised pinstripes of the New York Yankees.  Drunk with schadenfreude, Yanks haters toasted the Report.  On a racial level, here was a white baseball legend extolled by the national media over the last decade exposed as a cheater.  Would the consequences for Clemens be the same as those suffered by Barry Bonds, a black superstar of equal luminosity?

But many folks waited before jumping to conclusions.  It was the logical step.  Why not see how Clemens responded to the accusations before jumping to conclusions?

Unfortunately, the court of public opinion reaches loud, emotional verdicts.  Thoughtful jurists are never heard from.  What is there to hear, after all, from someone who is too busy listening and ruminating to bother bellowing, “Guilty!”

And so it was that Clemens stuck his head out of the window, took a listen to gleeful condemnations being hurled his way, and did something utterly unbefitting a pitcher.  He went on the offensive.

What has followed?

An interview with “60 Minutes,” multiple intense press conferences avowals, one of which included the sharing of a taped phone conversation between Clemens and McNamee, an 18,000-word statistical report comparing Clemens to similar pitchers, and numerous one-on-one meetings between Clemens and members of the United States Congress.

Meanwhile, Brian McNamee fought back with his own taped phone conversation, claims that he has kept syringes and bloody pieces of Gauze from Clemens, and the declaration that he also injected Roger’s wife with HGH.

I think I speak for all of the jurists in the court of public opinion when I say:  Gentlemen, please.  Enough is enough.

Look, all of us thought that this was going to be an important case worth paying close attention to, even in the midst of terrific races for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.  We were especially intrigued when Congress became involved, although some of us protested that Congress should be confronting more ‘important’ issues, like Iraq or homelessness or global warming.

(These are the same folks who get upset every time a government decides to use taxpayer money to build stadiums, protesting that the money would be better served going to help schools and hospitals.  Don’t worry about them, gentlemen.  Given a week, they’ll find some other problem to attract their indignation.)

Really, you had our interests piqued.  Yes, I suppose we were still in favor of a guilty verdict for Mr. Clemens, but our confidence was starting to waver.

Then you started with all of your ridiculousness, the 18,000-word reports and the syringes, the taped phone conversations and the HGH-injected-into-the-missus accusations….

You lost us.  It was all too much.  Too blustery.  Too inane.  Too ridiculous.  Too unethical.

And, as it turned out, too misleading.

The top McNamee/Clemens story on Sunday came from a four-professor team from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who analyzed the Clemens Statistical Report and found flaws in its methodology.  Eric Bradlow, Shane Jensen, Justin Wolfers, and Adi Wyner pointed out the use of selection bias in the report and observed that Clemens’ career statistics peaked much earlier in his career – in his late-20s – than the men he was being compared to, followed by an abnormal second peaking in his late-30s.

But for every reason that arises to distrust Clemens, there arises an equal reason to distrust McNamee.  How is it that the former personal trainer only recently remembered that he had syringes and gauze used by Clemens, after completely bypassing this potentially devastating evidence when he was interviewed by George Mitchell?  What was the point of dragging Debbie Clemens into the fray, a dirty move that had no bearing on the he said/he said dispute?

The whole thing stinks, and it’s not getting any better as we approach Clemens’ and McNamee’s Wednesday’s hearing before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  Consider these words, spoken last week by Clemens’ lawyer, Rusty Hardin, about IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky and his plans to attend the hearing.  (Novitzky led the investigation against the infamous Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, interviewing Brian McNamee in the process.)  “I can tell you this.  If he ever messes with Roger, Roger will eat his lunch.”  Lovely stuff, so lovely that it provoked an open letter from Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-California) implicitly reprimanding Hardin.  Bravo.

We’d rather not know what you each plan to do next to smear one another (while smearing yourselves in the process).  Leave us out of this.  We’d rather watch the NFL Pro Bowl than your hearing.

Here’s our clear and decisive verdict:  you’re both guilty.

Now go away.

2008 PER Sports, Inc.

Have a comment on this article. Send an email to us via
Articles by Jesse Goldberg-Strassler

Judging a Season by its Cover

What’s Not to Love about Spring Training

Death of the Devil

Guilty By Reason of Inanity

Hypothetical Situations and the Super-Natural

From Bud to Buck, 10 Baseball Trailblazers

Baseball Tested Again

Baseball's Five Tools of the Trade

Articles by Keith Thompson

Does the NFL's first-round playoff bye benefit the top teams?

The Limitations of the current  Quarterback rating System

What’s wrong with the OPS analysis in baseball

A Critique of the Amateur Player Draft in Professional Sports

Critiquing the Playoff Selection and seeding process in pro sports

Time for a new ‘Super’ League in European Soccer

Europe's best football teams

Which Soccer League is tops in the World

A Big East - Big Ten College Football Realignment Proposal

Time to Fix College Football's Flawed Championship Structure (Again)

The 2004 Baseball MVP Race

Baseball's Greatest Hitters of the 1990s

The 1998 Baseball MVP Race

Democracy for the Famous: Critiquing Baseball's '98 All-Star selection process

Will Wilt Chamberlain Be Denied Number 3, Again?