As trial nears, Clemens still defiant

Roger Clemens had participated in his final major league game a few months earlier, not that he didn’t have a final pitch in him.

"Let me be clear,” Clemens told a congressional subcommittee in February 2008, "I have never taken steroids or HGH.”

Such bold statements eventually led to perjury and obstruction charges against Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who will enter court this week in his latest — and most perilous — attempt to clear his sullied name. Jury selection begins Wednesday in Washington, D.C., in a trial that is expected to last up to six weeks.

Clemens became defiant when he was first linked to the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the 2007 Mitchell Report that detailed baseball’s steroid era. His continued contrariness all but guaranteed the 24-year major league veteran would end up in a courtroom, where he faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison under current sentencing guidelines and up to a $1.5 million fine if convicted of all six counts.

“Clemens was a loud, outspoken and aggressive player,” said Mac Mukasey, a former federal prosecutor. “It was clear he brought that same approach to this case. Clemens essentially challenged Congress to prove him wrong. He dared them.”

Former congressman Tom Davis, who headed the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he offered Clemens an opportunity to forgo his 2008 hearing.

Instead, Clemens put on a show where he famously said longtime friend and teammate Andy Pettitte “misremembered” a discussion about performance-enhancing drugs and disputed the claims made by his former friend and personal trainer, Brian McNamee, who sat two seats away.

Clemens also rebuffed a plea bargain that would have resulted in no jail time but would have forced him to admit he used banned substances.

Clemens, 48, has been quiet in recent months because a gag order was put in place in the case. However, he did tell a Las Vegas radio station in April “alls you have to do is know how to read” to see he’s innocent. Rusty Hardin, Clemens’ Houston-based attorney, has been similarly brash, filing a since-dismissed defamation suit against McNamee and by repeatedly berating him, whether in court or elsewhere.

“Hardin should have done whatever he could to keep Clemens’ mouth shut,” said Peter Keane, dean emeritus of the Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. “Clemens is the ultimate loose cannon, and unfortunately for Clemens, his lawyer is an enabler. When your client is driving himself off a cliff, you don’t push the accelerator down.”

It’s not yet clear whether Clemens will take the next step, logical or not — testifying in his own defense.

Experts believe Clemens is in a much more tenuous position than all-time home run king Barry Bonds, who went to trial for similar charges in March. (Bonds was found guilty of one count of obstruction, but jurors were deadlocked on three counts of perjury.)

Clemens made many of his statements, which will be dissected under oath, in public. Bonds testified behind closed doors to a grand jury investigating Bay Area Lab Co-Operative (BALCO), a company in Burlingame, Calif., that distributed performance-enhancing drugs.

Clemens also will be confronted with physical evidence and, arguably, a more formidable witness list headlined by Pettitte. As in the Bonds case, the government is expected to try to prove that perjury will not be tolerated and to use high-profile athletes to show youngsters the downside of performance-enhancing drugs.

The BALCO case, the Mitchell Report, exposes written by Jose Canseco and the trials of arguably the best slugger (Bonds) and pitcher (Clemens) of their era have left the public with “steroid fatigue,” as doping expert Gary Wadler calls it. The use of performance-enhancing drugs might not be as sexy a topic as it once was, but the man charged with policing drug use by U.S. Olympic athletes believes the Clemens case should still be pursued.

“Fraud, corruption and drug abuse are all important and should be exposed,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency. “Our research shows there are 165 million people in the U.S. who cite a deep, personal connection with sports. They see doping as its biggest threat. People get sick of the headlines, but doping remains a threat to one of the most important social institutions.”

The investigations, often spearheaded by federal agent Jeff Novitzky, have cost millions of dollars, and they likely won’t stop with Clemens. Seven-time Tour de France champ Lance Armstrong is under investigation by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles empanelled to examine whether he defrauded his team’s main sponsor, the US Postal Service, by using performance-enhancing drugs; Armstrong has denied using PEDs.

“I think the public has already formulated an opinion on both Clemens and Armstrong,” said Victor Conte, cofounder of BALCO. “I definitely don’t think it’s worth spending tens of millions of federal tax dollars to go after them. When is enough, enough?”