About Utah: Baseball should have been the judge for Roger Clemens

Published: Friday, June 22 2012 12:07 a.m. MDT

Former Major League Baseball pitcher Roger Clemens speaks to the media outside federal court in Washington, Monday, June 18, 2012, as his attorney Rusty Hardin listens, after Clemens was acquitted on all charges by a jury that decided that he didn't lie to Congress when he denied using performance -enhancing drugs.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

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In the wake of this week's verdict in the matter of the People vs. Roger Clemens, there is plenty of natural, non performance-enhanced outrage that another high-priced, cheating athlete got away with it.

First Barry Bonds, now Clemens. Thank goodness the government came to its senses and decided not to prosecute Lance Armstrong.

There is simply no percentage in turning sports figures into defendants in this country. Where's the upside, other than work and paydays for the lawyers?

Just as the American League was no match for Roger Clemens when he was in his 40s and pitched like he was in his 20s, the long arm of the attorney general's office is clearly no match for defense attorneys the likes of Rusty Hardin, who can throw the reasonable doubt fastball tight, high and inside pitch after pitch after pitch. And get every call.

By exposing Brian McNamee, Clemens' onetime trainer and his chief accuser, as a cheat and liar in other areas of his life, Hardin effectively shut the door on the prosecution's case that Clemens didn't speak the truth to the United States Congress, and others, by maintaining that he never used performance-enhancing drugs.

It was the tried and true "How can we be sure McNamee's not lying now?" game plan. And it worked like a charm. The guy on trial for lying got off because the guy who helped him cheat and then pointed the finger at him for cheating was not a saint. Talk about using offense (in this case someone else's) as your best defense.

Sorry, no more sports metaphors.

The problem with the Clemens prosecution, just as in the largely unsuccessful Bonds perjury prosecution, was where it was argued.

The case shouldn't have been heard in a federal court, it should have been heard in a baseball stadium.

Those testifying for the prosecution shouldn't have been sleaze-bag trainers who abused the system, it should have been batters who dug in against Clemens in the batters box through the various stages of his 24-year, 354-win career.

And the evidence shouldn't have been old used vials and syringes and medical waste kept in a beer can. It should have been the 150-year-old baseball record book.

Clemens wouldn't have had a chance.

You want overwhelming circumstantial evidence? How about the fact that Roger Clemens, through the age of 45, compiled a career trajectory that is not comparable with anyone else in baseball history?

A group of statistics professors at the Wharton School came up with this information. Eric T. Bradlow, Shane T. Jensen, Justin Wolfers and Abraham J. Wyner researched the "career trends" of pitchers with extraordinary longevity. Their report:

"While most pitchers with comparable longevity improve for the first half of their career, peaking just past the age of 30 and then declining, Roger Clemens' career statistics show a decrease into his early thirties followed by a marked improvement late in his career."

When Clemens' career is put on a graph alongside other pitchers who played well into their 40s, such as Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan, the difference is glaring. Everyone else's graph looks like a rainbow. Clemens' graph looks like a roller coaster — up, then down, then up.

Nobody got worse and then got better — other than Roger Clemens.

To avoid unwanted complications, such as being sued, the professors throw out a disclaimer. "Our report can neither prove nor disprove the use of PESs by any given player," they write. "However, our analyses clearly suggest that Roger Clemens' career pitching trajectory is atypical."

That's the kind of prosecution testimony the Clemens case needed — cold, hard stark numbers from a game that is all about numbers. The evidence is indelibly and impartially etched in the record book. Only a jury made up entirely of New York Yankees fans could look at it and see reasonable doubt.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.

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