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Clemens hearing delayed

by Matt Smith

The announcement that Roger Clemens’s date with Congress has been put back to 13 February is great news for sports writers and columnists. It’s another month to drag this story out; another month to publish more sensationalist opinions from the great and not-so good. For everyone else, it’s immensely frustrating. Whichever side of the fence you are sitting on, or if you are perched on top with a leg dangling down on each, the delay leaves you left in a state of flux. And that’s just us on the outside looking in.

After his “60 minute” interview, his personal press conference, and the news that he has started legal proceedings against Brian McNamee, we’ve finally seen the reaction from Clemens that many were calling for as soon as the Mitchell report landed on the Internet like a bag of venomous snakes being released back into the wild. The Rocket has made his position clear: McNamee’s claims are untrue and he has never taken steroids or HGH.

So, with the posturing out of the way, we now have to sit back and let the realities of the legal process take precedence. It’s very easy to let your emotions get the better of you with a situation like this and certainly my initial reaction was of the straightforward “if it’s not true, why not sue?” variety. Yet, even with a truckload of money at your disposal, it’s not as simple as that position makes you believe.

Derek Jacques has published an insightful article on Baseball Prospectus about the ins and outs of a defamation suit. The important part to remember is that, as he is the one bringing the case to court, the onus is on Clemens to prove that McNamee’s comments are false. Jacques states:

“Clemens will face an uphill climb making his case, both because he bears the burden of proof and because he has to prove a negative—that an event that McNamee doesn’t tie to a specific date and time didn’t happen”.

With that being accepted, suddenly the decision to sue doesn’t look quite the easy choice that it originally appeared.

With this law suit hanging over proceedings, the hearing at Congress takes on even more significance. Maybe what unravels on 13 February will bring a full stop to the story? More likely, it will make round two (coming to you live from a court room in Houston) even more bitter and dramatic.

You do have to question why Congress are getting involved with this. I know all about the age-old argument that baseball is held to higher standards than other sports, but there are many other channels down which these issues can be addressed (private legal actions among them). It smacks of grandstanding rather than a genuine desire to make a positive contribution to tackling the problems involved. However, some would say that is fitting when you consider that MLB has created this (hardly unexpected) problem by commissioning the Mitchell report in the first place.

Is MLB a better place for having all of this out in the open? I’ll let you answer that question, but Jacques provides some support to my initial thoughts on who would be the winners out of this:

“Before this matter reaches trial, there would likely be months, perhaps years, of preparation, discovery, and depositions. If you give skilled litigators enough time to dig through someone’s life and financial records, all sorts of interesting and unexpected things can happen.”

Sounds like a few legal firms are looking forward to a considerable amount of expensive work coming their way.

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