Clemens not guilty in court of law, but jury’s still out on whether he should head to the Hall

Pitcher Roger Clemens has seven Cy Young Awards and six not-guilty counts in regards to perjury and performance-enhancing drugs.

Those charges once threatened to derail his chances to make the Hall of Fame, but the prediction here is that the jury’s unanimous verdict, issued Monday in Washington, D.C., will help him get to Cooperstown.

Maybe not on the first ballot, but eventually Clemens will be there. The 500-plus voters of the Baseball Writers Association of America have given little chance to players like Mark McGwire, who has admitted to steroid use, and Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, to make the Hall. But how can writers go against a court decision that says Clemens is not guilty?

Plenty will say that Clemens used steroids and got away with lying to Congress about it. But there will be a fair number of voters that will say Clemens was found not guilty in a court of law, so they can’t withhold a Cooperstown vote on suspicion.

Hall of Fame voting used to be a breeze. Ballots would come in late November, and voters would spend five weeks analyzing.

But now, with steroids, voters are examining a new layer of evidence that, like it or not, they need to consider. The questions: Should voters determine if a player is cheating? Should voters hold a player accountable on suspicion? Should voters ignore steroids altogether and vote on the numbers and the best players of the era?

McGwire has never come close to getting the 75 percent needed to make the Hall of Fame, even though he had 583 home runs and 1,414 RBIs. He hit 49 home runs as a rookie, but admitted steroid use so he could return to baseball to be St. Louis’ batting coach. That admission likely did him in for good, although many voters didn’t think he was a Hall of Famer anyway.

Palmeiro had 569 home runs, 1,835 RBIs and 3,020 hits, but he got into trouble when he tested positive in 2005 as an Orioles first baseman. He said the positive test was a result of a tainted vitamin B-12 shot.

Then, the first year he was on the ballot, he asked voters via the media to forgive his positive test.

“Throw out one or two years, and my numbers were still good enough to be in the Hall of Fame,” Palmeiro says.

He’s not getting traction in the voting.

Outfielder Barry Bonds will be an interesting case. He hit 762 home runs, but did he strip the home-run record of its integrity by using steroids to start hitting homers in his later years, including 73 at age 36?

Like Clemens, Bonds ended up in court fighting charges. Unlike Clemens, Bonds wasn’t completely cleared.

Bonds was convicted last year of obstruction of justice, but a jury in California failed to reach a verdict on three other counts accusing him of lying to a grand jury when he testified that he knowingly didn’t take illegal substances.

None of these issues are clear-cut.

In a court of law, Clemens is not guilty. The court of public opinion might be different.

But, as far as Cooperstown enshrinement goes, all that matters is how the BBWAA members think.

And, it appears we are heading for a long debate on that one.