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Albert Pujols probably shouldn’t bother suing Jack Clark, even if Clark is lying

Aug 12, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT

Albert Pujols AP AP

Following Jack Clark’s claim that Albert Pujols used performance-enhancing drugs last week, Pujols told reporters that he planned to take legal action against Clark, presumably for defamation. He shouldn’t. And it has nothing to with whether he, in fact, took PEDs or not. It has everything to do with the nature of defamation cases.

There is a lot to lose when you sue for defamation, even if you are telling the truth and the person you are suing did, in fact, lie.  For one thing, defamation cases are hard to win.  This is especially true when the plaintiff is a public figure as Pujols is. That’s because Pujols would have to prove that Clark’s statements were made with “actual malice”. That means that Pujols would have to prove that Clark either knew his comments to be false or said them with reckless disregard as to their truth. Proving that Clark had the requisite malice when mistake, stupidity or mere attention-seeking is so much simpler an explanation for a guy in Clark’s place is an insanely tall order, the sort of which usually requires some sort of documented knowledge on the part of the person in Clark’s position. You can’t win these on a he-said, he-said basis, and so far that’s what this all sounds like.  No matter the case, actual malice is an extraordinary barrier to hurdle. While it does happen occasionally, it truly is newsworthy when a celebrity like Pujols prevails on a defamation claim.

A second problem for Pujols is more of a practical one than a legal one and that’s the inescapable fact that defamation lawsuits often create bigger audiences for the false statements than the false statements enjoyed in the first place. We who follow baseball closely all know what happened with Clark and Pujols last week. If there is a lawsuit wider sports media and possibly even general news and entertainment media will begin to cover it. People who had no idea that there was even a question about Pujols and PEDs will suddenly be reading news reports that — in the interests of appearing to be balanced — will lead with “Did the former MVP take steroids? One man says he did!” It’s totally unfair to a wronged person, but if the matter truly is about the subject’s reputation with the public, the subject is usually better served by letting the story die than he is by trying to vindicate his legal rights. This was the most common advice I’d give potential clients back when I used to handle defamation cases and it was the most common reason for them to decide not to sue.

Finally, there is what I feel is the biggest problem with a lawsuit: the possibility of, perversely, making the world believe Clark’s statements are true even if they aren’t.

Say Pujols sues. And say he loses the case, not because he fails to prove that Clark lied maliciously, but for the reason a lot of cases are lost: technicalities. Failures having to do with something other than the main issue. He can’t prove damages, say. Or it gets dismissed for some other reason, the possibilities of which are several. The savvy and the legally-trained among us may appreciate that the loss was on something other than the merits but most people will merely see “Pujols sued Clark, Clark won the case, ergo Clark was telling the truth.”  Lost in all of that will be the fact that there are a lot of ways someone can lie about another without being successfully sued for it. The history of this little story will always end with “Pujols was unsuccessful in his lawsuit against Clark.”

Reputation is everything. When one damages another’s reputation it can hurt like nothing else. Unfortunately, especially for the famous, there is very little upside to actually filing a lawsuit when one is truly defamed. Even worse than that is that there’s a no-win angle to all of this: if Pujols agrees there is no upside and decides not to sue Clark, many will say “See, he didn’t sue! Clark must be telling the truth!”

That would stink. But it stinks way less than the other options in front of him.

  1. reds37win - Aug 12, 2013 at 3:54 PM

    I do find it interesting that Clark chose to bring up the subject just a few days after his show debut. Guess he doesn’t have the shock-jock thing all figured out just yet.

    I don’t know if Pujols took PEDs or didn’t. But as time passes, I think I would be more surprised to hear that he did not than to find out that he did. My optimism died a little with Lance Armstrong.

    • albertfan - Aug 12, 2013 at 6:29 PM

      Your optimism died with Lance Armstrong? Really? What did Lance Armstrong ever do to instill such reverence?

      Anyone with any kind of sense could read between the lines with this guy. Always bad mouthing anyone who didn’t kiss his a–. The French had his number all along. He had a strategic plan to cheat with chemists, doctors on staff.

      Part of his fortune and staus werea earned with funding by US taxpayers through the US Postal Service(who have defaulted on current pension fund obligations). USPS subsidized his team and their training expenses. There’s more to the USPS story. I must write a few blaring, almost criminal facts. Criminal because we are talking about taxpayers paying 32 million for Lance Armstrong’s Tailwind cycling team for sponsorship from 2001-2004.

      To give a perspective on the endorsement deal, Callaway reportedly pays Phil M. 4 million per year. He has played in almost every nationally televised golf tournament this year which numbers, so far, 17 events. Armstrong’s team had one event a year of interest to USPS customers — the Tour de France.

      Armstrong is a very very bad man. Actually is not a real man, he is a cheater.
      He cheated on his wives and publicly humiliated his children,his fans;anyone who ever was close to him or believed in him. It is hard to feel sorry for his wives and girlfriends. Who would want to be around such an arrogant guy.

      Makes me very mad when Armstrong is even mentioned along side Pujols.

      Pujols is a MAN, an example, a loving husband and father. A loving teammate.

      Livestrong made a quarter of it’s revenue from Nike. NIke quit Livestrong this year.

      And then he threw all his team mates under the bus. He threatened his teammates.

      Lance Armstrong ain’t no Albert, you big dope. Drives me nuts just to hear Lance A even compared to a Albert P. who is first ballot HOF’er.

      I think many of these comments are clouded by jealousy. Why be jealous of a great athlete, a great man like Pujols.

      Ever watch him in the dugout? He loves his teammates. He believes in them. He loves to talk to the younger guys. Watch Trouty and Pujols sometime. Trouty loves the guy. They are sportsmen.

      • schrutebeetfarms - Aug 12, 2013 at 8:51 PM

        So albertfan, do you think he juiced or not?

  2. nudeman - Aug 12, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    Definite juicer

  3. psunick - Aug 12, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    Great post, Craig. You are at your best when you explain these sorts of things to us. Not lecture…explain.
    Maybe it didn’t give you the hits that a piece on A-Rod would, but many of us enjoy reading this side of you.

  4. tfoz5150 - Aug 12, 2013 at 10:25 PM

    I think we’re almost to a point where we need to stop going after the individuals anymore and more to the game itself. To sit here and act like MLB, the owner’s, mangers, coaches, players, reporters, and down the line didn’t know that steroids had become prevalent is pretty ludicrous. As more and more of the stars are outed it begs the question of how deep was this problem. Especially in the wake of the strike of ’94 and the resurgence in ’98. MLB absolutely had to know what was taking place and went along with it in order to save the game. Now that the hen is coming home to roost it’s time to lay all of the cards on the table and just call it what it is. Start the game anew with stiffer penalties and let the sport play out the way it will. If it can’t survive without astronomical numbers then the die hards will stay and the fringe fans will go elsewhere, but you can’t have a sport that’s propped up by lies stick around too long without major cracks in the foundation. That’s what we’re seeing now.

  5. jdillydawg - Aug 12, 2013 at 11:35 PM

    Ok, I said that Pujols would have been better off if he had just ignored Clark when this whole thing happened. I just want to go on record as saying that although I’ll never be as eloquent as Calcaterra, I did have this opinion before he wrote it!

    Ah, that feels better…

  6. pastabelly - Aug 13, 2013 at 12:41 AM

    nobody would be surprised if claek was right

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