Carroll County Times

Commentary: Better to let 10 steroid users in ...

Our legal system often leaves me shaking my head. Probably you, too. It's hard for a lot of us to fathom many of the "not guilty" verdicts and it does sometimes seem juries are holding out for incontrovertible "Law and Order" or "CSI" evidence to convict.

But a key tenet of the system is that it's better to let 10 guilty men go free than to imprison one innocent man. Especially if you are the one.

This also applies to baseball and its steroids scandal - and not just in the D.C. courtroom where Roger Clemens was found not guilty of lying to congress when he insisted he had never taken performance-enhancing drugs.

I believe Clemens used steroids or other PEDs. I believe Brian McNamee was telling the truth. I believe Andy Pettitte was telling the truth (at least until he decided his memory of events was just a 50-50 proposition).

I believe them because of the most circumstantial of evidence: From 1997, when he turned 35, through the end of his career, during the Steroid Era when offense ruled the game, Clemens went 162-73 with a 3.21 ERA, striking out 2,082 batters in 2,140 innings.

Those are unbelievable numbers for anyone, let alone for a guy old enough to be retired who had gone 40-39 the previous four seasons. So I believe Clemens used PEDs just as I believe Barry Bonds and so many others did. You probably do, too.

But I've been wrong before. And so have you. And what if we're wrong about one of them?

Clemens will be vociferously denying he ever had any chemical help in winning his record seven Cy Young Awards until he's a very old Rocket indeed. Bonds, with his record seven MVPs in tow, will be doing the same. They'll be able to say they never flunked a drug test and emerged largely victorious even as the government spared no expense in trying to send them to prison.

Clemens did, his lawyer says, turn down a plea bargain and risk a lengthy prison term in an effort to clear his name.

Is it possible Clemens never used PEDs? Not "is it likely?" but is it possible? Baseball history is filled with pitchers who did amazing things at advanced ages.

Warren Spahn had 23 wins at 42. Nolan Ryan fanned 301 batters at the same age. Also at the same age (at least) Satchel Paige went 6-1 in half a season to help the Indians to their last World Series title. And Jamie Moyer and Phil Niekro each won 16 games - at age 45.

Maybe there will be just enough doubt for Clemens to be voted into the Hall of Fame? And if Clemens gets in, what about Bonds? And if Bonds and Clemens get in, how can anyone be excluded?

Even those who have admitted their use (Alex Rodriguez) or tested positive (Rafael Palmeiro) must go in, too, because, let's face it, erring on the side of caution with Clemens and Bonds is probably still erring.

It'd be great to keep the Hall clean, but the inverse of not knowing for an absolute fact that Clemens and Bonds are dirty is that we don't know for an absolute fact that the likes of Greg Maddux or Ken Griffey aren't.

I believe those two did it the right way, but again, I've been wrong before. So have you.

And, it seems to me, it really is better that 10 steroid users are enshrined than one clean player is kept out, left to live out his life as a pariah. Especially if you are the one.