I don't know if Albert Pujols has ever taken performance-enhancing drugs. Frankly, I don't care. The Steroid Era in baseball, which rather seamlessly morphed into the PED Era, has become so much more about defending one's innocence that it could ever be about actually, you know, being innocent.
Baseball moralists—many of whom consistently looked the other way as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were saving the sport in the 1990s yet seem to revel in the demise of today's cheaters with perverted delight—have a difficult conundrum on their hands: Should they believe Pujols when he defends his Hall of Fame-caliber career, or believe former St. Louis Cardinal All-Star Jack Clark, who recently accused Pujols of cheating?
Facts, in this particular drug allegation, are hard to come by. The only facts we know are that Clark went on his new radio show and accused Pujols of taking steroids early in his career, Pujols denied those claims, and Clark was removed from his radio job. That's the black and white in this story, with the rest, like everything in this era in Major League Baseball, swathed in a sea of gray.
Clark claimed that Chris Mihlfeld, a former trainer for Pujols, told Clark in 2000—when both worked in the Dodgers organization—that the trainer "shot Pujols up" with drugs earlier in his career. Clark said that he didn't know who Pujols was at the time, but Mihlfeld told him the slugger would soon be a star. Pujols debuted in the majors in 2001 and has been a star ever since.
Clark could have been seen as a former player outing one of this generation's greats in an effort to clean up the game. Some in the moralizing media might love that. At the same time, Clark waited a decade to out Pujols, in the first week as host on a St. Louis sports talk radio show that, clearly, got him national attention. It also got him fired.
The moralists might have issue with that.
It's easy to take the side of Pujols here, if you were inclined to take sides in public debates about players accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs with very little facts. There would be no reason not to believe him, especially after Clark was professionally exposed.
This all stems back to the Pujols denial. That glorious denial.
Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, here is the Pujols denial, broken into paragraphs with an explanation as to why this is, unequivocally, the greatest denial in PED history. The moralists should want to build a statue out of this denial.
I've said time and time again that I would never take, or even consider taking, anything illegal. I've been tested hundreds of times throughout my career and never once have I tested positive. It is irresponsible and reckless for Jack Clark to have falsely accused me of using PEDs.
First, Pujols isn't just denying the claims by Clark, he's reiterating his previous denials. This is subtle but smart in that he immediately reminds people that this is not the first time accusations have been levied against him and, per his defense, wrongfully so.
Not only would Pujols never take PEDs, he makes the case that he wouldn't even consider it. He wouldn't even consider considering it, really. And like all former cheaters in baseball—not suggesting Pujols is, but this part of his statement is something the former cheaters always say—he reminded everyone he's never failed a test, which is a false argument anyway, considering that failing a drug test is barely even the way MLB catches cheaters in the game these days.
My faith in Jesus Christ, and my respect for this game are too important to me. I would never be able to look my wife or kids in the eye if I had done what this man is accusing me of.
Respecting the game is great, but nothing and nobody trumps Jesus Christ. By invoking Jesus, Pujols effectively ends the entire conversation. Referencing faith as the reason he would never cheat—as if faith precludes people from any moral impropriety—is a moralist's dream. Adding in the notion that he wouldn't be able to look at his wife and kids is the syrup on this faith-and-family-values sundae.
I know people are tired of athletes saying they are innocent, asking for the public to believe in them, only to have their sins exposed later down the road. But I am not one of those athletes, and I will not stand to have my name and my family’s name, dragged through the mud. I am currently in the process of taking legal action against Jack Clark and his employers at WGNU (920 AM).
This is where the Pujols denial separates itself from other denials. His agent, or whoever wrote this statement, deserves a raise.
The statement reminds people that known cheaters like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez have publicly professed innocence—without using their names, everyone knows who this statement is referencing—which makes the public skeptical when players who are actually clean say they are clean. By acknowledging that fact, the Pujols statement expertly separates him from the other unbelievable denials of the past, thereby doubling down on his own veracity. (This is so wonderfully meta.)
In addition, Pujols invokes his family into the conversation for the second time. It's one thing to sully his name, but HOW DARE YOU sully the name of his family, Jack Clark.
And then, the denial coup de grace: the threat of legal action.
In today's society, you don't even have to take legal action on anyone, so long as you publicly and angrily announce that you plan to take legal action.
In this situation, the threat was enough for the radio station that sub-contracted Clark to terminate the relationship after a week. Now, in theory, Pujols won't even have to sue Clark or the radio station because getting the public to think he will serves the same purpose. It's brilliant, really.
I am going to send a message that you cannot act in a reckless manner, like they have, and get away with it. If I have to be the athlete to carry the torch and pave the way for other innocent players to see that you can do something about it, I am proud to be that person.
Message sent and received.
I have five young children and I take being a role model very seriously. The last thing I want is for the fans, and especially the kids out there, to question my reputation and character.
It's about the kids, folks. And not just his kids, but all of our kids, too. Thanks, Albert, for defending your name in such a way that my kids know, once and for all, you are not a cheater.
OK, fine. That part I'm mocking a bit because somewhere along the way, baseball hand-wringers have convinced players that cheating is about a message it sends to the kids. Jumping to conclusions and making decisions about players based on how good a quote they are might send a worse message to kids, but we never really talk much about that, do we?
Three references to family aside, the brilliance of combining family, society, religion, respect for the game and his past history of never failing a test is, truly, the greatest anti-drug statement of all time. This is better than Braun's claims of innocence in 2011, which fans now look back on with rolled eyes. This is better than Rafael Palmiero's finger wagging to Congress, too.
It's the best. This is the holy grail of denials. Anytime a player is accused of taking PEDs in the future, his agent should copy and paste this statement and just change a few words to make it sound fresh.
For what it's worth, I don't want anyone to think I don't believe Pujols. Frankly, the statement was so expertly ironclad it would be incredibly cynical for anyone to not believe it. In a way, it was too good.
Does Jack Clark's 13-year-old story really deserve such a vehement statement? If anything, the level of defiance in this statement is the only thing that has me wondering if there's some validity to the accusations. I've been on record that I've never cared if a player takes a substance to enhance his performance. It would be a much bigger issue if the rumors floated by Dan Le Batard in 2011—that Pujols is older than he claims—were true. That would show less respect for the game and personal integrity than taking a few drugs to help him hit a ball better.
And yet for those who care about a player's drug-related cleanliness, this Pujols denial is manna to be devoured and regurgitated with all those other statements from players who want the game to be cleaned up for good.
It's perfect, really. Almost too perfect.
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