During the course of one of the greatest careers in baseball history, Roger Clemens pitched in baseball's landmark ballpark, Yankee Stadium. Before taking the mound in the Bronx, he would visit Babe Ruth's plaque in Monument Park, sluice the sweat from his brow and wipe it onto the Babe's.

Thursday, Clemens, fairly or not, became known as someone who cheated the game he so obviously revered. The Mitchell Report, baseball's investigation into performance-enhancing drugs, linked Clemens to steroids.

We've been hearing for months that the Mitchell Report would produce an incomplete and debatable result, and it did. Former Sen. George Mitchell, a member of Red Sox management, received little cooperation from players or the Players Association, and received little useful information from teams.

He was forced to rely largely on hearsay, media reports and the testimonies of underlings, resulting in a flawed document that fairly or unfairly defines a generation of ballplayers.

The cases made by Mitchell would not stand much chance in court, but this process has nothing to do with legal guilt. What Mitchell has done is paint a portrait of modern baseball that rings true regardless of whether his individual allegations prove to be accurate.

Clemens quickly issued a denial that he had used steroids, but he will be unable to wash the stains from his hands. If he used steroids, and it would surprise few people in the game if he did, he deserves as much ridicule as Barry Bonds. If Clemens did not, Mitchell has wronged a great player as a means to an end.

By outing Clemens, Mitchell told us what the average fan should know and what people in the game have long whispered: That the Steroids Era was not just about record-breaking sluggers; it was about dominant pitchers. It was not just about hat sizes, arrogance and perjury; it was about longevity and popular players. It was not just about scrubs trying to stay in the bigs or Latin players trying to make a new life in the United States; it was about the game becoming consumed by a culture of drugs and cheating.

Bonds may forever remain the symbol of The Steroids Era, but he no longer stands alone in the cross hairs of public opinion. Clemens will forever be his bookend.

He can thank Brian McNamee, Mitchell's star snitch. McNamee was a Yankees' strength and conditioning coach. Mitchell interviewed McNamee three times. In the report, Clemens is named 82 times over nine pages, based largely on McNamee's information.

The report reads: "According to McNamee, from the time that McNamee injected Clemens with Winstrol through the end of the 1998 season, Clemens' performance showed remarkable improvement. During this period of improved performance, Clemens told McNamee that the steroids 'had a pretty good effect' on him.''

McNamee told investigators that he injected Clemens with steroids four to six times during the 2000 season. This is why players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs should not be excluded from the Hall of Fame. Not only do reporters and fans lack the wherewithal to discern who truly cheated, even Mitchell was forced to rely on a questionable body of evidence to even levy accusations.

Hall of Fame voters have two logical choices: Bar everyone from the era, unless a worthy player can somehow prove he didn't cheat; or treat the modern ballplayer the way past voters treated players who used corked bats, spitballs and amphetamines in the past, and judge them on the context of their era.

We now suspect virtually every dominant power hitter of the past 20 years of steroid use. Clemens' inclusion in the Mitchell Report gives us further reason to suspect many of the dominant pitchers of the era.

The disparity of names in the report -- from reliever Eric Gagne to shortstop Miguel Tejada to diminutive infielder Brian Roberts -- confirms what realists have accepted for years: Cheating in baseball has always been widespread, and performance-enhancing drugs became the latest and most dramatic example of players seeking an illicit edge.

If Clemens has been fairly accused, the next time he visits Monument Park, he might consider leaving behind a syringe instead of a little sweat.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com