An aging Roger Clemens was acquitted of perjury charges last month in a case that charged him with lying to Congress about his alleged use of steroids. Now 49 years old, a beleaguered Clemens is 5 years removed from his last season pitching in the Major Leagues, which would make him eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Only, with his innocence in federal court does not come innocence in the court of public opinion, and that’s what his lawyer, Rusty Hardin was trying to reclaim when he paid a visit with 106.7 The Fan’s Holden and Danny, Tuesday.

“This idea of the court of public opinion rules no matter what happens in the real courts is incredibly unfair to anybody accused of something.  All it takes for me to do is to go on ESPN right now and tell all the bad things that I believe about you. And that accusation is out there and it never goes away. The average citizen is totally powerless to fight unfair accusations.”

The fact of the matter remains, regardless of the outcome of the court proceedings, the majority of the public still does not believe that Roger was innocent, and that includes the sportswriters who hold the final verdict on his Hall of Fame status. To that, Hardin responded:

“Everybody says, what about the Hall of Fame? Will he get in now? Roger knows that he has no control over that. That’s totally up to sportswriters. But if they cast their ballot by this cynical view that says ‘well, the accusations were tested in a courtroom and twelve citizens, average people found them wanting’, and they even told the media, they didn’t believe the accuser about anything. In spite of that, if a person is still presumed to have done it and been guilty, you’re powerless.”

Taking us inside the courtroom walls, Rusty Hardin began describing how he planned to combat that prior knowledge of that case, and at the same time, was trying to convince the listeners of the program of his client’s innocence. He explained the character witnesses they called to the stand, what he was looking for them to prove, and how layer-by-layer, successfully they pieced together a winning argument that legally, found Roger Clemens innocent of the perjury charges.

“There was two and a half days of testimony when we started putting on our case, from different people of his entire career, that explained very articulately, the jury was fascinated, about how this guy from age 16 made himself what he was, and that he had the same habits at 16 that he had at 44.”

Presumably, character witnesses would have the decency to tell the truth in a federal court. But it wasn’t so much the earlier years that they were trying to corroborate, but rather the latter years of his career, typically when a power pitcher’s strikeout numbers and innings pitched begin to decline, as his arm begins to break down. Simply put, their stuff isn’t as good. Clemens never had that drop-off. His numbers seemed to defy all preconceived notions of the aging process. But Hardin was insistent there was an answer for that.

“Brian Cashman (Yankees GM) was an incredible witness, as he talked about why he wanted Roger and what he saw about Roger with the Yankees. And then you go to Phil Garner (Roger’s Manager during his years with the Astros) at the end of his career. And he’s describing the same work habits, the same manners. A lot of people don’t realize, Roger’s fastball went from 95 to 91 by the time he quit. It’s not like his performance went up. He found other ways to be a successful pitcher.”

It seems a consistent work ethic was the answer to Clemens’ remarkable, beyond-all-odds longevity. Nevertheless, the man was proven innocent in the court of law, and Rusty Hardin made an effective point. That should be enough give Roger Clemens the benefit of the doubt in the eyes of the public. Even the most ardent Clemens bashers have to see that. But does it?

Even if you attempt to break your subjectivity and examine Clemens’ situation from a different perspective, which was really the whole purpose of Hardin taking the interview – force you to reexamine – the numbers don’t lie. What Clemens was able to do at the end of his career, whether honestly or not, has to be viewed as anomaly. If nothing else, Hardin’s appearance with Holden & Danny painted Roger Clemens from a different perspective, and the fact remains, the courtroom thinks he’s innocent.

The question is, do you?


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