December 16, 2007
Their names should be forever linked. Bonds and Clemens. Baseball's Bonnie and Clyde. Barnstorming American cities, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens robbed fans, plundered our pastime and cheated their fellow ballplayers, both past and present.
In time, I suspect, they'll be judged as equals. But right now, fresh off the Mitchell Report and its juicy details of steroids and syringes and Clemens' buttocks, the rocket reaction has not come close to approaching the anger and fury we've collectively flung at Bonds the past four years.
Unlike the slugger, the pitcher is being afforded the benefit of the doubt by many, and there's no reasonable explanation for the discrepancy. True, they enjoyed different types of relationships with the media - Clemens authored the foreword of a book by Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci - and true, they have different personalities. But are their crimes against the game different enough to warrant such inconsistent reactions, to immediately cast Bonds as a criminal and Clemens as merely a suspect?
While there are certainly many commentators and columnists these past few days willing to challenge Clemens' career, there are others who have shown a reluctance to accept Mitchell's evidence as truth. Even Jose Canseco, who seems to take a perverse pleasure in the ongoing controversy, told Dan Patrick, "With Roger, it's a tossup."
And Bob Costas, among the most reliable moral compasses a sports fan could ask for, was careful with his words, speaking Friday on ESPN Radio: "Everybody wants to make pat, easy conclusions," he said. "I am not defending Roger Clemens here, but I will say this: Everyone wants to equate Roger Clemens with Barry Bonds, and it's very tempting to do. Clemens is arguably the greatest pitcher of the modern era, and Bonds is clearly the greatest player of the modern era. ... You want to draw parallels between them, but at this point, there is much less evidence against Roger Clemens than there is [against] Barry Bonds."
Really? Is there?
Look, no one's taken the time to write the book on Clemens, so if you pile it all on a table, the case against Bonds might reach the ceiling. That said, the case against Clemens weighs the same. The evidence laid out in pages 167-175 of the Mitchell Report is as damning as anything I've read about Bonds since the BALCO scandal erupted in 2003.
"But it's just the word of one guy," I keep hearing about the accusations Clemens faces. Yeah, and so? A witness statement carries as much weight as copies of checks or shipping labels, if not more. And it's not just the statement of some schmo who swept the clubhouse floor. Brian McNamee is the perfect witness.
The witnesses against Bonds: a jilted ex-lover and a bitter ex-business partner. The witness against Clemens, the personal trainer, a man Clemens respected and praised time after time.
And McNamee didn't just see Clemens take steroids - he did it for him. That's your smoking gun. That carries more weight than a paper trail. Barring video footage or a first-person admission, there's not a single piece of evidence that can be more incriminating in this type of investigation than a guy saying: "I was there. I watched. I helped."
When it comes to steroids, I don't expect a player's wife to know. I don't expect his pitching coach to know. I don't even expect the teammate sitting across the locker room to know. But you know who does know? The personal trainer.
Why do you think the Bonds investigation dragged on so long? The feds wanted testimony from Greg Anderson, Bonds' personal trainer. They put him in prison three times because he wouldn't talk. His eyewitness testimony was considered that valuable to their case.
Well, Mitchell got Clemens' Greg Anderson. He got the guy who knows.
Union head Donald Fehr warned us last week to consider the "nature of the evidence" and the "reliability of the source." He intended that as a defense of the accused. Instead, at least in Clemens' case, it's lending credence to Mitchell's report.
Barring some unfathomable plot twist, history will judge Bonds and Clemens the same. As time passes, they'll stand as symbols for an era; they'll forever remind us that baseball's very best were also baseball's very worst.
In the meantime, Clemens shouldn't get a free pass. The case against him is as clear as black and white. In fact, I fear he's benefiting from that.
See, there's one other difference between Bonds and Clemens that I wish I didn't have to point out. If we can agree that both have sufficient evidence stacked against them, then is there any reason other than race to explain the disproportionate ire each has faced?
When the black slugger violated our code of virtue, we were offended and angry.
And when the white pitcher did the same, we're merely saddened and bemused?
Bonds and Clemens stand accused of the same offense. They defrauded a nation of fans. In my book, a white-collar crime is just as deserving of punishment, and as one half of baseball's Bonnie and Clyde, Clemens shouldn't receive any type of free pass.
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