Steroid-era remnant

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Roger Clemens' legal saga isn't over yet, and while the perjury charges against the former Major League pitching star are serious, the outrage triggered by baseball's steroid era has dissipated. The sport has moved on, the nation has more pressing problems, and Mr. Clemens' guilt or innocence is less relevant the longer his case lingers.

It was back in 2008 when the former Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees ace went before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which was investigating the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball, and categorically denied that he had ever used them. Mr. Clemens' former trainer, Brian McNamee, went public with his claims that he procured and assisted Mr. Clemens in the use of performance-enhancing drugs, leading to the federal perjury charges against the pitcher. Also weighing against Mr. Clemens was the reported assertion by his former teammate Andy Pettitte in a conversation with his wife Laura that Mr. Clemens had admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH).

However, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton declared the Pettitte statement off-limits as hearsay, and when the prosecution showed a video clip mentioning the Pettitte conversation early in Mr. Clemens' July 14 trial, the judge immediately declared a mistrial. Friday, the same judge found that the prosecution did not intentionally force a mistrial but mistakenly caused one, and Mr. Clemens is now scheduled to be tried again next April.

Much has happened in baseball since that House hearing three years ago. This April, San Francisco Giants' slugger Barry Bonds, perhaps the leading symbol of the steroids era, was found guilty only of obstruction of justice in a case whose roots were a grand jury investigation into Mr. Bonds' purported use of performance-enhancing drugs that began in 2003. After all the time and money spent on the federal prosecution of Mr. Bonds, the sole conviction on a lesser charge took a lot of the air out of the pursuit of those whose actions tarnished the sport.

Not surprisingly, home run production in baseball declined dramatically once Commissioner Bud Selig and the Players Association belatedly got serious about cracking down on the game's drug culture. The game is better for it, as the fixation on home runs detracted from the appreciation of the subtler joys of baseball.

Last month, minor league ballplayer Mike Jacobs became the first player of any North American sport to fail a test for HGH. Performance-enhancing drugs are still a problem in baseball and HGH will be the next challenge.

As for the convicted Mr. Bonds and the still-to-be-tried Mr. Clemens, it is unlikely that either will go to jail. It is also unlikely that either will go to the Hall of Fame. That may be their ultimate punishment.



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