By Bill Campbell
Roger Clemens’ initial trial on charges of lying to Congress in 2008, when he insisted he never had used steroid or human growth hormones during his long and scintillating career, was greeted with much surprise. But the reaction was nothing compared to the latest result of the second trial.
A jury of eight women and four men rendered an acquittal which came on the second full day of deliberations in Washington, D.C. That the decision comes as a surprise can be indeed rated, at least on the minds of most baseball fans, as the great shocker of the year, to be surpassed only if Jerry Sandusky receives a similar acquittal in his trial now in progress in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. We are, however, a nation of laws, which will outweigh public opinion no matter how strong every time. There is undoubtedly a school of thought that will call this decision a major defeat for the government — its second defeat in its attempt to convict a baseball player. It’s strange that legal problems are major highlights in sports especially concerning baseball.
Last spring, Clemens’ first trial ended on its second day on the charge that the prosecution had bungled by showing the jury some evidence which had been ruled to be inadmissible. Critics claimed the prosecution of a star athlete was a waste of the government’s time and money. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington pressed forward anyway and this time put on a much longer trial. Clemens faced one count of obstructing Congress, three counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury. 46 witnesses were called over a period of eight weeks and jury deliberations began on a Tuesday and continued on into the following Monday. The verdict came as a blow to prosecutors after four years and untold millions in time and dollars were spent in its case against Clemens only to see him acquitted on all charges. His name will now appear on the baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. He must get the vote of seventy-five percent of the baseball writers for admission to the coveted Hall. That would be another unpredictable process.
You will recall federal prosecutors in San Francisco achieved only one conviction in four counts against slugger Barry Bonds last year. He was sentenced to thirty days of house arrest but is appealing his conviction. Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles didn’t even get that far. They spent more than two years investigating cyclist Lance Armstrong on fraud and other charges before the U.S. Attorney in L.A. dropped the case without any public explanation. It was Senator George Mitchell who brought his investigation’s findings to Congress and Clemens and other players testified there. Clemens said then, “Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH.” Prosecutors did not believe him. He was indicted two years ago. His attorney, Rusty Hardin, said repeatedly that the case should not have happened in the first place, “because Congress had overstepped its bounds. What happened was a horrible over-reach of the government and everyone involved.”
The final development was Clemens’ word against that of his trainer, Brian McNamee. The prosecution knew that McNamee was a flawed witness but, in their opinion, they had enough corroboration of his story to get a conviction. They were wrong.
Now let’s see what happens in the Sandusky trial which appears to be moving to a conclusion sooner than anticipated.
No-Hitters, Umpires – But a Little Hitting Too
Don’t be surprised if major league pitchers refuse to work in games in which the umpiring crew does not include Ted Barrett and Bruce Runge.
Barrett was the home plate umpire when San Francisco’s Matt Cain hurled that perfect game a week or so ago on a Wednesday night in Houston. Runge was working at third base. On April 21st, Runge was calling balls and strikes and Barrett was at third when Philip Humber of the White Sox recorded his gem against Minnesota. It was the second perfect game for Barrett. He was at the plate on July 18, 1999 when David Cone was perfect against the Montreal Expos, who aren’t even in the major leagues anymore. Runge was calling the pitches and Barrett was at first last Friday when six Seattle Mariner pitchers combined on a no-hitter against the Dodgers. Imagine if these guys had been working in the days of Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan and their colleagues. There have been three no-hitters already this season and we still have many games to be played before the All Star break, a hundred or so before the season is complete. There have been only twenty-two perfect games pitched in the long history of baseball – one by Jim Bunning when he worked for the Phillies. Not to mention Roy Halladay.
Conversely, the 2012 season has produced more than its share of notable hitting performances – one of them in New York recently when the Yankees played the Mets in an inner-city series. The Mets’ pitcher was Johan Santana, the author of a recent no-hitter. With two outs in the third inning, Robinson Cano of the Yankees hit a home run to deep right field. The next batter was Nick Swisher and he followed with a long blast to left field. While he was celebrating, taking and giving fist bumps in the dugout, Andrew Jones also went deep. Swisher received some criticism for what some thought was mocking Santana but Swisher said, “I meant no disrespect but three home runs in a row in a subway series, that’s pretty cool.” So in a season that has produced three no-hitters so far and some solid hitting in the same half-season, we are reminded what has made baseball the Great American Game.
Jerry Coleman Still Waiting
Speaking of no-hitters, former major league infielder Jerry Coleman has been involved in baseball practically all his life. After he concluded his playing career with the Yankees, he turned to broadcasting and has spent the last forty years with the San Diego Padres. He is now 87 years old and the last no-hitter he had seen was Don Larson’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series when Coleman was still a player. “Frankly,” said Coleman, “the only thing that ever interested me was winning the game.” After Johan Santana pitched his recent no-hitter, San Diego became the only franchise in baseball without one. The Padres have won no championships and have had only one World Series appearance since their debut in 1969. They’re having their troubles trying to escape last place this season and have never produced a pitcher to win more than one hundred games in a career. Yet three of their starters – Randy Jones in 1976, Gaylord Perry in 1978 and Jake Peevey in 2007 – have won Cy Young Awards. Standout pitchers like Kevin Brown and Greg Maddux have pitched for San Diego but no one has had a no-hitter. Jerry Coleman made an interesting point when he said, “There are a lot of great pitchers who have never thrown a no-hitter and some who have thrown no-hitters were not the greatest pitchers.” One San Diego pitcher who came close was Steve Arlen and it was against the Phillies. He went into the ninth inning with Denny Doyle at bat in 1972. San Diego manager, Don Zimmer, brought the infield in, guarding against the bunt. Doyle bounced a base hit over the third baseman’s head. The Padres didn’t come close to a no-hitter again until 1997. Jerry Coleman, a nice, easy-going guy, is still waiting to broadcast a no-hitter.
By contrast, his colleague in Southern California, my good friend Vin Scully of the Dodgers, has broadcast thirteen no-hitters. Both Coleman and Scully are in their eighties and no longer work a full schedule. Of course, as I always tell Vin, he had people like Koufax and Drysdale and others working for him. But Jerry Coleman makes a good point when he says, “Winning is the important thing.”
Really, it’s the only thing.
The United States Open
When the U.S. Open golf tournament is held, particularly on a world-renowned course like the Olympic Club in San Francisco, you just assume that a well-known golf star will win. Hardly someone named Webb Simpson. Playing in only his fourth career major, in a tournament played in cloudy, cool, foggy, drizzly weather, Simpson made a spectacular finish. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who were in the event’s first threesome, were hardly in the running at the finish – particularly Mickelson who got off to a terrible start. The stretch run on the final day featured names like McDowell, Peterson, Dufner and Hossler. Tiger finished at seven strokes off the pace and Mickelson at +16. The highlight of this year’s tournament was Michael Thompson who finished a roaring second but who led the tournament for most of the back nine. Thompson and McDowell finished in a tie for second. I guess it was the fog.
But golf fans are indeed loyal. Next year’s Open will be held here at the fabled Merion Golf Club and tickets already are hot. All championship round tickets are sold out – some for Thursday remain but only for a short time: $110 for Thursday and $385 for the other days with a limit of four tickets per buyer. Sign me up.