NEW YORK -- Cleared in court, Roger Clemens will now take his case before a larger jury: some 600 Hall of Fame voters.
Twelve jurors acquitted him Monday on charges of lying to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. Come December, the voters will decide whether Clemens - one of the best pitchers in baseball history - should be granted or denied the game's highest honor.
"I think everybody believes he was guilty in some form or fashion," said John Harper of the New York Daily News, who doesn't plan to vote for Clemens. "I think that's the real issue as far as voters go. I know that's an issue for me."
ESPN reporter/analyst Tim Kurkjian, a Hall voter for more than two decades, said: "It doesn't change how I view him. I think he did something and they just couldn't prove it. I think most rational people look at it that way. I was going to vote for him anyway."
Clemens, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa all will be first-timers on the ballot, which in some ways will be a referendum for the Steroids Era. Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio also will be making their initial appearances.
"To me, Roger Clemens was a Hall of Famer from the moment he retired, just like Barry Bonds," San Francisco Chronicle columnist Bruce Jenkins said. "I don't much care for them as people, but that's irrelevant, and I've never believed in the Hall of Fame's `character' clause. It never seemed to apply to a number of shady characters who made the Hall of Fame over the years, so I simply ignore it. I base my vote on the best players during their time. Cheating has been part of the game since its inception, whether it was gambling, doctored balls or pre-steroid drugs. It's as essential to the game's fabric as the sacrifice fly."
Asked about Clemens' chances for making the Hall, NBC's Bob Costas said: "A guilty verdict would have damaged his reputation. It remains to be seen how much or if this verdict helps it.
Costas doesn't cast a ballot; Hall of Fame voters are veteran members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"I think some people will assume that he may very well have lied, but that the government couldn't prove it," former baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said. "They may have real reservations about his record in light of those questions. But I think it modestly improves his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame."
Clemens spent 4 1/2 years proclaiming his innocence after Brian McNamee, his former personal trainer, told baseball investigator George Mitchell that he injected the pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone about 16 to 21 times during 1998, 2000 and 2001.
On Monday, a jury of eight women and four men agreed with Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner.
"I think it's great for the game because we can stop talking about it now," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "I'm pretty sure baseball fans are happy it's over."
Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, a longtime friend of Clemens and a key witness in the case, wouldn't give his opinion on the verdict, saying only: "I don't even care to talk about that." Pettitte was believed to have given Clemens a boost when he testified there was a 50-50 chance he might have misunderstood a conversation during the 1999-00 offseason that the government claimed was proof Clemens admitted using HGH.
"We get all these trials out of the way, we can move on," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a former Clemens teammate. "Now, it seems like we're beyond it."
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig declined comment on the verdict, announced in U.S. District Court in Washington.
Union head Michael Weiner said Clemens was "vindicated."
"We look forward to him taking his rightful place in the Hall of Fame," Weiner said.
Vincent called it a "big win" for Clemens and his lawyer. "It's a major defeat for the Justice Department - one of a series," he said. "I think the government is at a huge disadvantage against really good outside lawyers."
Clemens is the latest sports figure to frustrate the federal government's efforts to nab suspected steroid cheats despite prosecution costs of tens of millions of dollars.
Bonds, a seven-time NL MVP, was convicted of a single obstruction of justice count that he gave an evasive answer to a grand jury in 2003, and charges were dropped last year that he made false statements when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs.
A grand jury investigation of Lance Armstrong was dropped last winter without charges being filed, though the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency filed formal accusations last week that could strip the seven-time Tour de France winner of his victories in that storied race. Armstrong denies any doping.
Jeff Novitzky and his teams of investigators have obtained only two guilty pleas from athletes (Olympic track star Marion Jones and former NFL defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield); and two convictions (Bonds and sprint cyclist Tammy Thomas). Jones, who also pleaded guilty to making false statements about her association with a check-fraud scheme, was the only targeted athlete to serve a day in prison.
Bonds' conviction still must survive an appeal.
Clemens has no such worries. With a 354-184 record, 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, he would have been a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer when the votes are totaled in January. But since the day the Mitchell Report was released, his reputation has been tainted by suspicion.
Still, Cleveland Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin was thrilled for Clemens, one of his boyhood heroes growing up in Texas.
"If a case goes on that long and the jury decides he's not guilty, then obviously he's telling the truth," he said.
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Mike Fitzpatrick, Janie McCauley, Ben Walker and Tom Withers and Associated Press writer Fred Frommer contributed to this report.