Albert Pujols needs to come through in the clutch, and we're not talking home runs or RBIs here.
Pujols needs to pursue his lawsuit against Jack Clark. Call it slander. Call it defamation of character. But don't call it off.
Last week, Pujols was accused by Clark, on a radio show in St. Louis, of having been a juicer, of taking performance-enhancing drugs during a major league career that has already included three most-valuable-player awards and will, barring shocking proof that Clark was accurate, be celebrated with first-ballot inclusion in the Hall of Fame.
Clark, in his first week on the show on WGNU in St. Louis, was fired by the station. That action seemed to give backing to Pujols' adamant denials. Do you think that, had Clark shown documented evidence to the station manager, that he would have lost his job? He'd be the new Woodward and Bernstein of sports journalism.
There is much at stake here. If Pujols now thinks that Clark's firing ends this, he is mistaken. This is bigger on several fronts, and if Pujols doesn't see the significance, his lawyers, friends and family need to open his eyes.
This is the ultimate put your money where your mouth is.
To be clear, this is not meant as a defense of Pujols or a vendetta against Clark. The real truth is known by few. If Pujols did, indeed, take PEDs and proof of that turns up, then we might all just turn off the TV forever and take up knitting. But Pujols' angry and immediate reaction and denial provide the foundation for a key moment in our current world of cheating jocks.
We live in the Lance Armstrong/A-Rod era, and it ain't pretty. Deny and lie until you are caught. And when you are, be proud that all those lies have still left you with a hefty balance in your Swiss bank account.
A case such as Clark-Pujols is more opportunity than scandal.
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Baseball in particular and sports in general need victories in this game. In the past, even when there seemed to be a chance, we ended up with something like a Roger Clemens trial, where government lawyers fumbled and struck out, Clemens misremembered but still won, and most of us felt the need to take a shower.
Sports fans need a public exposure, a legal case with discovery and depositions, an unraveling of facts and testimony that logically slaps down all the naysayers and Internet experts (all anonymous, of course).
Here are samples, both on the mark, in reaction to Clark-Pujols, from a website called Just One Minute:
• "History doesn't inspire confidence in adamant big league denials."
• "I hope Pujols wasn't using PEDs; unfortunately, that is like hoping a Chicago politician isn't a crook."
Pujols is in a position to change that tone. He needs to push ahead with the lawsuit, make sure it is very public, and that it becomes an answer to the current universal shrug of sarcasm by all sports fans that says: "They all cheat."
Pujols may have a bad foot, but he certainly can afford good lawyers. Arte Moreno made sure of that, and probably would be proud if Pujols used some of his cash that way. It could turn out to be the only meaningful victory Angels fans will get this year.
Clark is a 57-year-old guy who played 18 years in the majors, hit 340 home runs, and nearly sent Tom Lasorda to an early grave when his homer in Game 6 of the 1985 National League Championship Series beat the Dodgers and sent the Cardinals to the World Series.
There were runners on second and third base. First was open. Lasorda decided to let Tom Niedenfuer pitch to Clark. To this day, if you bring up Clark and Niedenfuer within earshot of Lasorda, you might as well be asking him what he thought of Kingman's performance.
Clark once went bankrupt by owning 18 exotic cars at one time and making monthly payments on all of them. One was a $700,000 Ferrari. When he was with the Padres, he criticized popular teammate Tony Gwynn for protecting his batting average by bunting with runners in scoring position. He is about as qualified to understand the broadcast principles of fairness, balance, proper reporting and documentation as Forrest Gump.
Still, a media outlet put him in front of a microphone. Mindless noise, celebrity and attention-getting are the main goals in much of sports talk radio now, and Clark certainly didn't take long to deliver.
If Pujols took PEDs, his reputation should be ruined. With Clark's statement, it already is, somewhat. If Pujols didn't take any, he should fight with every ounce of energy and all the resources he has. Anything less leaves us wondering.
The benefit is that the public gets to see the fight and the conclusions. No private monetary settlements, please, Albert. Make it go to court. Make Clark squirm. Make his bosses squirm. If they want to opt out before jurors take seats, make them read statements of wrongdoing in front of ESPN's cameras.
A few years back, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. accused Manny Pacquiao, clearly without documented basis, of enhancing his size and performance with drugs. Pacquiao sued for slander and Mayweather eventually had to pay him $3 million. The only mistake was that Pacquiao didn't make the entire proceeding public.
Were Pujols to do so, we could pause over the next drug-cheat story amid our everybody-does-it shrug, and think:
Everybody but Albert.