Mugger: Roger Clemency

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The collective uproar from the nation’s scolds would be deafening, at least until another pop-culture extravaganza captured the public’s attention; but when you think about it, what exactly is the downside of President Bush issuing a blanket amnesty to all the baseball players who’ve been implicated, or suspected, in what is now referred to as the “steroid era” of the sport? It’s not likely his popularity ratings can slide much more. Besides, it’d be entertaining to see Barack Obama and John McCain field questions on the subject—and, more importantly, it would put an end to this ultimately inconsequential sideshow.

There is precedent for such an edict: On his first day as president in 1977, Jimmy Carter made the sensible (and more serious than this sports nonsense) decision to pardon nearly all Vietnam War draft evaders, an action that was met, rather quickly, with an “it’s about time” shrug of the shoulders.

A week ago, at the same time it was announced that Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was passing along its recommendation to the Justice Dept. that bad, bad Roger Clemens be further investigated—perhaps resulting in perjury charges and a stretch behind bars—the World Champion Boston Red Sox were feted at the White House for their Series victory over the Colorado Rockies last fall. It was a jolly affair, not only for former Texas Rangers owner Bush but for Washington politicians as well—as many were eager to see David Ortiz up close and maybe get an autograph for the kids.

I especially enjoyed The Boston Globe’s description of Vermont’s Sen. Patrick Leahy—talk about a morals cop!—who, “camera in tow, pressed his way through a throng of reporters lined up in the West Wing driveway before the event to get to his front-row seat” next to his New England colleagues.

Why Congress has devoted even a minute to the use of PEDs among baseball players in the past decade and a half is a bipartisan disgrace, as was retrieving former Sen. George Mitchell from mothballs to head a committee charged with poring over medical records, dirty syringes, gossip and conflicting testimony all for the purpose of “cleaning” up the game. Clemens, never one to shy from creating a narcissistic spectacle, is guilty of ginning up the ruckus (as if any sports fans really needed to know that his former trainer allegedly injected chemicals into his butt). But even if the charges are justified, should the legendary pitcher—or Barry Bonds or Miguel Tejada—do time for a victimless crime? It could be he’s forfeited his once-automatic entrance into the Hall of Fame—and if so, big deal—yet the notion he needs to be incarcerated for perjuring himself before a congressional hearing that should’ve never even taken place, is just dumb.

The Times’ Murray Chass is without question New York’s worst sportswriter, and he’s predictably dogged Bonds and Clemens on the steroids/HGH farce, but The Daily News’ Mike Lupica owns this story. I’ve always liked Lupica’s take on sports—even if his mixing anti-GOP barbs into an article about spring training is irritating—but his relentless attack on Clemens and other “cheaters” has, at least to this reader, soiled his reputation just as badly as the athletes he judges. There was a great comment on The News’ website last week after another Lupica holier-than-thou diatribe, from someone with the handle of “pag.” “Who is [Lupica] anyway? The King of Siam? He thinks he’s the head of the Thought Police. No one is allowed to disagree with him [referring to the fact that unlike many News sports articles, Lupica’s columns have no option for reader comments].”

You’d think, even by skimming Lupica’s repetitive bleats about Clemens’ perfidy, that the Texan stood accused of waterboarding Grady Sizemore or conspiring with financial companies to dole out subprime loans to potential homeowners who apparently didn’t realize that something was fishy when told that no down payment was necessary.

Lupica, of course, doesn’t have a monopoly on self-righteous screeds. The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell, the longtime sportswriter who’s now the equivalent of his colleague David Broder for issuing the mushy opinions that cling to “conventional wisdom,” is aggrieved that in this late winter “a time of year when [baseball] is usually praised rhapsodically,” the sport is poisoned by “embarrassing headlines and abject apologies from its infamous players.” Boswell, noting that the Washington Nationals haven’t sold as many season tickets to their new Nationals Park, frets that “scandals and scoundrels” have, in addition to the sluggish economy, dampened enthusiasm among fans. What baloney. While it’s true that many corporations are cutting back on their travel and entertainment budgets—fewer skybox seats for bigwigs who haven’t sufficiently contributed to the bottom line—does Boswell really believe that MLB attendance will take the same kind of hit as The New York Times’ stock?

Almost alone amidst all the doomsayers in New York’s sports media, The New York Sun’s Tim Marchman is a baseball writer who has mercifully directed his attention to the game itself rather than the asinine concentration over who popped what pill and who injected who in the past decade. Taking an almost heretical stand, Marchman last week fully embraced the rumor that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays may sign Barry Bonds to a one-year contract. Although Marchman agrees that the home-run king is a creep, he says that the team, stocked with talent that could make it a long-shot contender, shouldn’t have any compunction about “bringing on the best hitter in baseball history for one last stand.” He concludes: “[I]t’s not at all hard to imagine a scenario where the Yankees’ young pitchers struggle, the Rays’ young pitchers blossom, Bonds rakes, and the wild card spot comes down to the last week of the season. That, not IRS probes and tales of dirty needles, is what baseball is all about.”

Finally, Lewis Lapham, the misanthropic former Harper’s editor, who may or may not give a toss about baseball, put the steroids scandal (if perhaps satirically) in perspective, writing, “Deny an aging outfielder the right to inject himself with human-growth hormone, and what does one say to the elderly philanthropist who steps out on an evening with a penile implant and a flower in his lapel?”

Bush, a feverish baseball fan, has nothing to lose by doing the right thing and ending this non-issue by pardoning all involved. An opening day proclamation would be just right, with the added bonus of leaving poor Mike Lupica sputtering and spewing in his Daily News office.

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