The Trial Of A Decade: Will Roger Clemens Be A Scapegoat For 90s Baseball?
Baseball has been damn good this year.
Jose Bautista is still stroking. We're at the All Star Break, and both the Cleveland Indians and the Pittsburgh Pirates are actually in a conversation for division leads. The rocket arms of the Philadelphia Phillies are doing exactly what we thought they would, and with some guy named Derek Jeter passing a decently impressive milestone, you can officially call 2011 a good year for the MLB.
Baseball, or, rather, baseball fans, deserve it. The '94 strike still hurts. But after 17 years, that ugliness is starting to get left behind.
If you go back to 2000, we've had nine different cities lift the trophy, and only two squads do it more than once (Yankees in '00, '09 and Red Sox in '04 and '07). It's been an exciting decade, made moreso by the fact that it came after a really dark time for the sport. We want to forget about the 90s, because something bad happened then.
So you'll have to forgive just about every media outlet that has a stake in baseball for over-focusing on the purity of Derek Jeter's 3,000th hit, and choosing to ignore the fact that pretty much an entire decade of unsightliness currently sits in a Washington court room.
My formative years as a Red Sox fan overlapped those of Roger "The Rocket" Clemens, to the point that I wanted to wear 21 and be nothing other than a little league pitcher. Like the rest of New England, the hero worship turned sour when he left. Clemens was public enemy number one in Boston from 1997 to the Patriots' surge in 2001, providing a convenient, smirking face with which to focus literally hundreds of years of vitriol.
Bill (his real name is William, not Roger) has been called many things over the last 25 years, since that April night that saw him strike out 20 Seattle Mariners. The gamut is wide: member of the 4,000 strikeout club. Anti-Christ. Liar. World Series Champion. Sellout. Hometown Hero. What I'm beginning to realize is that he also represents a lot more about that generation of baseball that he played in.
Perhaps in the rise and suspended fall of Bill Clemens, he may have turned into the maryr of the live ball era - "live ball" being one of those euphemisms that's code for "steroids," which we use when we talk about the heart of the 90s, when unnaturally powerful hitters and chemically enhanced pitchers made the game bigger than life.
When we look back on the 1990s and baseball now, we look around at the suddenly-larger men that populated the diamond, and look for people to blame. The problem with this is that those we want to hold accountable, nowadays, are far from visible. Barry Bonds, after his steroids trial, has fallen off the face of the earth. Mark McGwire is trying to redeem himself. Jose Canseco is, well, batshit crazy. Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmiero - except for a Miami Heat game here and there in Sosa's case - are off the radar. Even the pitchers we want to blame have burrowed far away from the spotlight (see: Rocker, John).
The most convenient place to lay blame is, of course, at the feet of Bonds. But his recent trial provided no real catharsis; a flaccid (sorry) obstruction of justice conviction meant no resolution to anything. We'll always assume Bonds cheated, but we'll never totally know.
If only we could exorcise the demon. If only someone big could go down in a very public display of guilt. If only The Rocket could fall in a giant fireball. He could be the last shot we - America's collective "we" of baseball fans, that is - have got at blaming someone, anyone, for a decade of asterisks.
Alas, he's a slippery fellow.
It's a bit of a technicality. Clemens isn't being tried by a federal court for taking any form of performance-enhancing drugs. He's on trial for what he said on February 13th, 2008 to Henry Waxman and the House Oversight Committee and whether or not it was in fact the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Lying under oath is bad; perjuring yourself before Congress is frowned upon slightly more. Let's focus on this exchange:
You don't need to study Clemens' facial expression, nor examine his words in great detail. He's not calling friend and former teammate Andy Pettite a liar. He's saying he misheard: Clemens never took HGH or anything of the type, he says. He certainly didn't tell his friend during a workout, he says. And when Roger is told about the additional times that Pettite - and Pettite's wife - signed in affidavits that they swear he said something about taking those things? Andy misremembered.
Over the next four weeks or so, it's possible we may hear about bacne, urine samples, wildly fluctuating emotions, and other highly personal things that would seem to point to PED use. Even so, a guilty verdict at the end of this doesn't mean that Clemens is on the hook for taking any performance enhancers. The only way we would ever be sure of that is if Clemens himself admitted it, which he would never do. A grand, sweeping resolution to the live ball era, it would seem, is a pipe dream.
This doesn't change the fact that Clemens is stuck in the middle of an autopsy of the entire steroid era, and is the last body we'll evaluate before moving on. This is the debrief. And when it's over, maybe we can bury that generation of MLB's past for good. One more nickname for the Rocket as he rides off into the sunset: the last body of 90s baseball. About to be zipped up in plastic.
Images via Getty and the AP.
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