Thursday, December 13, 2007

Baseball's 'Mitchell Report' relies on uncorroborated, coerced informant testimony to accuse "Rocket" Roger Clemens

The nation may soon get an up-close and personal look at the pressure the criminal justice system places on witnesses/informants whose testimony is coerced through threat of prosecution thanks to the steroid investigation in Major League Baseball.

Texas baseball great and seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens was the biggest star and most often mentioned player named besides home-run king Barry Bonds in the "Mitchell Report." Clemens' lawyer said the pitcher's name was included based on uncorroborated testimony from a "troubled" informant, who himself faced federal charges and was seeking leniency from federal prosecutors. The informant apparently is "Brian McNamee, a former undercover police officer who worked with Clemens while he was the Toronto Blue Jays strength and conditioning coach and later with the Yankees. McNamee allegedly injected "the Rocket" with steroids he said Clemens obtained from some unknown source in 1998.

Having just looked through the massive 400+ page Mitchell Report (pdf) looking to ascertain McNamee's role, it really does seem as though his testimony is the only accusing voice against Roger Clemens. Unlike several other players named, the report provided no canceled checks or other documents linking Clemens. McNamee previously denied to the press and, at first, to investigators, that Clemens used steroids, then changed his story after he was repeatedly threatened with prison.

I saw no corroboration for McNamee's claims accusing Clemens in the report, just his testimony. Is that enough to destroy the pitcher's reputation, to taint a lifetime of athletic achievement? Can he now be dismissed as "just another cheat"? The allegations could be true, but repeatedly threatening a witness if he doesn't give investigators names makes me think his uncorroborated testimony shouldn't be enough to draw a firm conclusion. Certainly the witness has never faced cross-examination related to these claims.

Was McNamee telling the truth before prosecutors threatened him with prison, or after? One just can't tell from the report.

I've written before that under Mosaic Law, no one could be accused without testimony from two or three witnesses. By that standard, the allegations against Clemens would not withstand scrutiny, and I'll be quite surprised if it's enough to convince an MLB arbitrator that Clemens is definitively guilty.

It will likely be enough, though, to convict Clemens in the court of public opinion. As with Barry Bonds, for the Rocket this bell cannot be unrung - the public will forever associate the best major league pitcher I've ever seen with steroid use, whether or not he is really guilty.

Perhaps the Clemens case will spur a wider discussion about snitching and whether pressure on witnesses may coerce false testimony.

Meanwhile, I continue to wait for the day when we'll see a "Mitchell Report" aimed at steroid use among law enforcement. Why is it, I wonder, that a bunch of millionaire ballplayers merit this kind of massive, expensive investigation, but similar resources aren't aimed at preventing abuse and corruption among those charged with enforcing public safety?

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Anonymous said...

I agree with you, I've been following this and the reports allegations seem pretty irresponsible.

When these same athletes refused to cooperate, the Mitchell group should have sought subpoena power, and there should have been drug testing to elicit other forms of evidence.

Too much of this seems to be based on hearsay, even though circumstantially it seems possible that Clemens and others used.

And I still don't get how Mitchell could remain as a director of the BoSox while accusing a bunch of Yankees (but no Sox)... that seems fishy.


Anonymous said...

Whatever, but clearly the Diamondbacks need a higher dosage.

Anonymous said...

based on uncorroborated testimony from a "troubled" informant,

Well then there are the hundreds that have witnessed these guys go from 98 lb. weaklings to massively bulked overnight. Naah, just more troubled snitches.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yeah, Celtic, I know - in your world, if you're accused, you're guilty. If you were the Celtic Tarheel I might think your handle was a nom de plume for Mike Nifong.

Anonymous said...

Here's the deal. Professional baseball is a beatdown since the 80's. Player strikes, corruption hearings and artifically pumped up players. It's a dead sport as attendance consistently drops year after year. It's a beatdown sport the owners and the unfair players made it that way.

All the great players in the past did it on beer and hotdogs. Bonds and Clements and the others are simply cowards.

Anonymous said...

You mention several times that the witness made these accusations only after being "repeatedly threatened". What is the source of your information? Just an inference?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Ken, both the Mitchell report and the linked press accounts (especially an extensive Sports Illustrated piece about him) say he denied it, then the Mitchell Report says the feds held repeated interrogations with McNamee where they told him he faced prison time if he didn't name names. Finally he did.

Anonymous said...

Any possibility that Major League Baseball could be sued for defamation of character for putting out this report? Admittedly I haven't read the tome, but I don't understand how they can make these public allegations against all these players on what seems like flimsy evidence and when none of them have been convicted of a crime.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Bill, 2 members of the '07 Champs were mentioned: Donnelly and Gagne. It also showed that the GM of the Sox was made aware by his scouts that both of these guys were strongly suspected of being juicers, yet he signed them anyway. So, Theo's hands were not clean, and Mitchell pointed it out.

Of course, if Gagne had been using and quit, it might explain his breakdown after he went to Boston.

While I do not impugn the integrity of Senator Mitchell, I do agree that by remaining a director of the Red Sox organization, he did leave the door open for such suspicions. He should have resigned from his position with the Red Sox.

On the other side of the coin, I think the position of the players' association, actively encouraging (pressuring) players not to cooperate with the investigation, puts a bunch of suspicion back on the players.

Anonymous said...

If you were the Celtic Tarheel I might think your handle was a nom de plume for Mike Nifong.

Ouch! You called me a liberal, that really hurts! Seriously there is no russh by these guys to the drug lab to prove their innocence. There has always been overwhelming pressure from both unions and owners to keep drug testing out. Pro sports is a mess and you know it. From the tour de france to pro everything performance enhancing is the name of the game