Column: Clemens has to like chances so far
They might have been tempted to quit when Andy Pettitte brushed back the government’s case against Roger Clemens with a high, hard one out of nowhere. Could have just bagged it all about the time one juror fell asleep, and another wondered just what Clemens was on trial for anyway.
No one on the government’s team of lawyers is going to win prosecutor of the year for the way the Clemens trial has been handled. They’ve stumbled at every turn, and are lucky to still be in the game as the proceedings drag on at an interminable pace in a Washington, D.C., courtroom.
Lying to Congress, though, is a serious thing. That’s especially true if you happen to be one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball and the subject you’re charged with lying about is performance-enhancing drugs.
By now, most fans have probably already made up their minds about Clemens. He conceded as much when he told Congress at the 2008 hearing that got him in so much trouble that, ”no matter what we discuss here today, I’m never going to have my name restored.”
Next year, baseball writers get to weigh in on the subject as they vote whether to induct the seven-time Cy Young winner into the Hall of Fame. Undoubtedly, they will look at some numbers, like the 218 batters Clemens struck out at 42, an age when most pitchers are long since retired, and balance it against his claim that he never used human growth hormone or steroids.
Right now, though, getting in the Hall of Fame isn’t the Rocket’s major concern. Staying out of a federal prison is, and that will be up to a group of jurors who for the most part don’t know who Cy Young is.
So far, the prosecution has been a disaster. Government lawyers were lucky to get a new trial after botching the first one last year, and this one hasn’t gone much better. The judge himself scolded them this week for putting on a slow and ”boring” trial.
They can’t afford any more mistakes, because the pressure is on. Get a Clemens conviction, and the government can declare its campaign against steroids a success. Strike out, and baseball’s steroid era fizzles to a close without anyone being able to claim victory.
Sure, Barry Bonds may have to spend 30 days at his Beverly Hills estate. But he’s appealing that, and it took government investigators and prosecutors more than seven years and a ton of money to get even an obstruction of justice count to stick against baseball’s home run king.
So far, Clemens has to like his chances, too.
His good friend Pettitte was supposed to bolster the case against him by saying Clemens told him during a workout 12 years ago that he used HGH to help recover from injuries. Pettitte did that, only to turn around and say under cross examination that there was a 50-50 chance he misunderstood the conversation.
In other words, he may have heard what he thought he heard, or he may not. Take your pick.
No help there, and not much out of convicted drug dealer Kirk Radomski, either. Radomski took the stand and immediately lightened up the trial this week when talking about a package of HGH he sent to Clemens’ home, but it remains to be seen if jurors find him as believable as they did entertaining.
At one point in his testimony Wednesday he was asked by the defense why his story differed from the book he had, er, written about life as a steroids dealer.
”Did you ever write a book?” Radomski answered. ”Write a book! See how they turn things.”
The only real hope for the prosecution seems to rest in the testimony of Brian McNamee, who testified before Congress that he personally injected Clemens with HGH. The pitcher’s former trainer was always going to be the key to the trial, but even more so now that the government’s case seems to be cracking along the edges. If McNamee delivers his testimony as expected and doesn’t get discredited under cross examination, he could yet salvage a conviction for the bungling prosecution.
That’s assuming McNamee takes the stand sometime this decade. The trial has already stretched on longer than a Yankees-Red Sox game, a glacial pace that irritated the judge and led one juror to ask to be reminded once again what the charges against Clemens actually are.
Clemens surely knows what they are, because his life hasn’t been the same since McNamee exposed him as a juicer before Congress and he denied it all. He also knows that he’s in the courtroom of a judge known for his toughness, a judge who said when ruling on the first mistrial last year that there would likely be prison time for any felony conviction.
That means we could eventually see the greatest hitter of his era serving house arrest, and the greatest pitcher of his time in an actual prison. Hard to imagine right now, but perhaps a fitting conclusion to an era that scarred baseball, defrauded fans, and made us all wonder whether anything was really real.
Justice served in the courtroom even if it was never served on the field.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg