A victory for Albert Pujols today was a loss for Major League Baseball’s quest to understand PED use.
Pujols dropped a defamation lawsuit against former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Jack Clark, who told a St. Louis radio station last summer that he “knew for a fact” Pujols was a “juicer” and PED user.
The step by the Los Angeles Angels first baseman to go to court was a historic one because it meant Pujols would potentially, and more importantly, voluntarily go before the court under oath. Instead, we’re now left with a series of prepared remarks from Pujols and Clark rather than a digging investigation into the two sides defending themselves.
For the two men, personally, it was probably the best decision to retract, apologize and accept said apology. For baseball, however, it once again lost the chance for a major step forward in PED accusations and investigations. Pujols had the chance to help change the culture among players who claim to be wrongfully accused.
Why it took Clark this long to retract his statement is still not clear. He was adamant in August when he made the comments and again in October when Pujols filed suit. Clark even went as far to propose a polygraph test for himself and Pujols. Clark’s claims were dismissed by the trainer who allegedly injected Pujols.
Today’s resolution to the matter makes things go away fairly quickly, but fans should be disappointed.
It is rare that a player is accused of taking PEDs and actually takes the legal steps to defend their name. Pujols did exactly that and looked as if he would be a progressive new slugger in the “post-steroid” era. In a time where Ryan Braun defrauded baseball with his legal defense, Pujols was prepared to risk self-inflicted perjury by suing Clark, taking the stand and telling the court he didn’t use PEDs.
The decision to drop the suit shouldn’t be viewed as Pujols avoiding taking the stand, nor should it be viewed as either side being right or wrong. Likely, Clark was advised by his legal team that he indeed had nothing concrete enough to prove Pujols took PEDs. Pujols knew that much when he filed the suit.
The suit never seeing a courtroom is a highly disappointing development for the players and the chance for a potentially random accusation to be punished beyond losing his radio show. But there’s still a lesson the public and fans can learn. Skepticism is natural in the baseball world now, but without any actual proof players shouldn’t be subjected to what is basically a witch hunt.
It is not OK for media members, fan blogs or anything of nature to publicly accuse a player of taking PEDs without concrete evidence. At the same time, when that player takes to the public or legal system to defend their name, we shouldn’t be taking them at face value either.
Pujols should have continued with the suit, not to further demean and punish Clark for his apparent misstep, but to take a needed progressive step that baseball’s accused have never followed through on. Let the evidence and all parties have their say, and in the end let a jury or judge decide.
For Pujols, losing a defamation case wouldn’t have meant he took PEDs, but taking the stand and winning would have been a huge step forward for players seeking to clear their names.