Searching for meaning in the Clemens mistrial ruling

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It takes a pretty unique intellect to look at what happened with the Roger Clemens case yesterday — a mistrial ending the thing before it began — and consider it anything other than awesome news from Roger Clemens’ perspective.  No, he may not be 100% out of the woods yet, but when you get your criminal trial stopped on a mistrial due to the government screwing up royally on Day Two, that’s a pretty darn good thing.

But Mike Lupica wants Roger Clemens to know that he has no reason to celebrate at the moment, noting that most legal experts don’t think that the potential knockout punch of the case — an argument that a retrial would be double jeopardy — is likely to be successful. That much may be true. I agree that it’s a stretch that the judge will say double jeopardy attaches and thus prevent a re-trial. But how Lupica can look at this as anything other than a good development for Clemens is somewhat mystifying to me.  Take this quote:

“If (Clemens) is convicted,” Reggie Walton said, “knowing how I sentence, he goes to jail. He is entitled to a fair trial. He cannot get that now.”  In that moment, it was as if Walton was coming at Clemens and his lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, with high, hard stuff of his own.

Lupica goes on to quote an attorney who believes that the judge was sending a message to Clemens as well, with that message being “you had better make a deal now.” Never mind that there is no deal on the table available to Clemens at the moment.

Contrary to Lupica and his source’s view, all I see is a judge who has a reputation for giving out harsh sentences acknowledging how serious the government’s error was.  He’s saying Clemens faced real consequences if he lost — which he did — thus making the prosecution’s error all the worse. His comment had nothing to do with his assessment of the merits of Clemens’ defense. Indeed, it would be improper for the judge to actually say something which signals his opinion as to whether Clemens was truly in deep doo-doo because, at least potentially, there’s going to be another jury seated in a few months and he can’t be in the business of prejudicing them. He’s saying that the gravity of the government’s mistake was huge. Nothing more.

Or maybe something a little more, but not what Lupica is thinking. At least one legal observer thinks that the mistrial ruling — in action, if not in the judge’s words — gave insight into the judge being not particularly impressed with the government’s case:

Artur Davis, a former federal prosecutor and former United States representative from Alabama, said that the swift decision revealed Walton’s underlying opinion of the case.

“The judge could have just admonished the prosecution and embarrassed them enough to undermine their credibility with the jury, but he purposely chose not to do that,” Davis said. “For him to take the very extreme step of stopping the trial says he was fundamentally skeptical of the case.”

That may be a stretch too. And of course, you know what they say about opinions and how everyone got one.  But I see Lupica’s view of this thing being colored by some measure of dissatisfaction that Clemens is getting away with something, causing him and his source to stretch to find some sort of negative here.  And I get that because, man, I’m not a big fan of Roger Clemens or Rusty Hardin myself.

But when you wake up in the morning on trial for your freedom, and you go to bed that night with that trial gone and your prosecutors humiliated, that’s a pretty damn good day. That Lupica can’t acknowledge that is rather curious.

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak ended 78 years ago today

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There’s nothing special about a 78-year anniversary. It’s not a round number or anything and we tend to like round numbers. But (a) I was reminded of this today; and (b) we have no idea if the Martians will have invaded and taken over the planet come 2021, so I feel like it’s best to run this now than wait for the 80th anniversary. Cool? Cool.

Anyway: on this day in 1941, Joe DiMaggio’s still-unbroken and possibly unbreakable (see below) 56-game hitting streak came to end. The game took place in Cleveland in front of a staggering 67,468 fans. Not bad for a Thursday night. The way the streak ended, courtesy of an ESPN Classic post from Larry Scwartz back in 2003:

Third baseman Ken Keltner makes two outstanding plays, grabbing DiMaggio smashes down the line in the first and seventh innings and throwing him out at first base. In between these at-bats, left-hander Al Smith walks DiMaggio in the fourth.

The Yankee Clipper has one more chance to extend his streak when he bats in the eighth with the bases full against Jim Bagby, a young right-hander who just enters the game. DiMaggio hits the ball sharply, but shortstop Lou Boudreau plays a bad hop perfectly and turns the grounder into a double play.

Stuff happens.

To be clear: 56 may not be broken in my lifetime or yours. It’s obviously a SUPER difficult task to string together a hitting streak of considerable length. As we saw when guys like Pete Rose or Paul Molitor or whoever have come within spitting distance of DiMaggio’s record — long spitting distance — the pressure ramps up and it’s hard to do you job with a lot of pressure. Add in the fact that simple base hits are harder to come by in today’s game than they used to be due to prevalent hitting, pitching and defensive trends, and it’d be no shocker whatsoever if no one ever does it.

But I draw the line at “unbreakable,” simply because, as noted above, stuff does happen. And because there’s nothing structural preventing it from happening. It’s not like Cy Young’s 511 wins or something which fundamental changes in the game have made basically impossible. No one is going to win 26 games a year for 20 years straight or what have you. Heck, CC Sabathia is baseball’s current gray hair among pitchers and only has a few dozen more career starts than that. It’s just a different game.

Hitters do play in 150-160 games now, though, and the good ones do average more than one hit per game. Putting them in the right arrangement may never be likely, but doing so is only a matter of stars aligning, not breaking the fundamental rules of engagement. It could happen. Maybe. Because, unlike some other records, it did before under broadly similar circumstances.

OK, that aside, I’ll offer up my favorite and most maddening DiMaggio hitting streak fact.

During his streak, which lasted from May 15-July 17, DiMaggio went 91-of-223, which is a .408 average. Between April 15-September 28 (i.e. the whole dang season) Ted Williams hit .406. And when it was all said and done he was substantially better in virtually every other batting category as well.

Joe DiMaggio won the MVP Award.