If the original release of the infamous Jason Grimsley affidavit - with the names of the alleged steroid and amphetamine users blacked out for public nonconsumption - helped pull the cover off baseball's performance-enhancement scandal, the release of the unredacted version Thursday might have been an even bigger blow to the integrity of the sport.
Think about it. When the feds decided to throw those last few names into the public arena, they probably never considered how the surprising absence of several well-known players might undermine the credibility of the Mitchell Report and create a new layer of uncertainty about the steroid era.
Of course, it isn't the job of federal investigators to worry about the effect of their work on a private enterprise, even one that is considered to be the national pastime. And, don't misunderstand, the blame for this new credibility gap rests entirely on the people who leaked bad information about the affidavit and the media outlet that disseminated it, but that was yesterday's news. Now, all that matters is the overall impact on the game, and it won't be good.
When the Los Angeles Times last year quoted two unnamed sources claiming that Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and - among others - were among the blacked-out names on the affidavit, and then they turned out not to be, it opened a new avenue for suspected users of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to maintain what the politicians like to call "plausible deniability."
That should be self-evident, but anyone who needs further proof need only look up to the supposed moral high ground and see the lawyer for Clemens talking down to the media, the government and George Mitchell about the dangers of rushing to judgment with the reputations of so many people hanging in the balance.
"When this grossly inaccurate story broke in October 2006, Roger said it was untrue and the Los Angeles Times chose not to believe him," attorney Rusty Hardin said in a statement released Thursday night. "As the record now clearly proves, Roger was telling the truth then, just as he continues to tell the truth today. Roger Clemens did not take steroids, and anybody who says he did had better start looking for a hell of a good lawyer."
Obviously, the best defense is a good offense, and Clemens has decided to move aggressively to protect his reputation while some of the other players mentioned in the Mitchell Report - most notably Pettitte and Roberts - have chosen to make qualified confessions and apologize for their part in the scandal.
Clemens' denials rang hollow when everyone assumed he also was named in the Grimsley affidavit, but what are you supposed to think now?
The charges against Clemens in the Mitchell Report are based entirely on the testimony of former personal trainer Brian McNamee, who was compelled to cooperate with the Mitchell investigation as part of a deal to avoid prosecution in the federal steroid distribution case against New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski.
It's hard to imagine McNamee lying about a player who had been such a close friend, but Clemens can now connect the dots to the erroneous speculation about the Grimsley affidavit and, if he wants, construct a hypothetical scenario in which McNamee could have been pressured to name him based on the assumption that he already had been implicated in another investigation.
That might seem far-fetched, but how much doubt do you need to deconstruct an accusation that is based on a single witness statement, especially when this is more of a public relations battle than a legal one?
The same concept could apply to the inclusion of Roberts in the Mitchell Report. He was named by former teammate Larry Bigbie under similar circumstances, except that there was no eyewitness testimony confirming he had tried steroids. Roberts chose to admit to a brief experiment with steroids and apologize to the Orioles and their fans for his indiscretion.
Maybe Roberts would have gone public regardless of the Grimsley revelations, but he would have had little problem weathering Bigbie's hearsay-based claim once his alleged connection to the Grimsley affidavit was debunked.
His admission and that of Pettitte seemed to add credibility to the Mitchell Report, even as the investigation faced some criticism for depending too heavily on Radomski and McNamee to build its long list of steroid offenders. Now, the legitimacy of the report has been thrown open to debate at a time when Major League Baseball was hoping to close the book on this sad chapter in its history.
Pardon the cliche, but the latest Grimsley revelation - with an assist from the media - might well allow the biggest fish in the Mitchell Report to get off the hook.
That's too bad, because Mitchell succeeded in making the case that a widespread culture of illegal performance enhancement existed in Major League Baseball for many years, not that anyone really suspected otherwise.
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