The Court of Public Opinion has been in session for years over Roger Clemens and steroids, but today marks the start of the Clemens defense in a court of law.
Clemens, a 7-time Cy Young Award winner during his 23-year professional career, is on trial accused of lying to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in 2008, which was investigating the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Clemens had been named in a 2007 report by former senator George Mitchell as having used steroids and HGH during his career.
The trial is expected to last at least a month, and Clemens, the most decorated pitcher of this past 50 years, could face jail time if convicted of perjury. The trial promises to be filled with fireworks as the prosecution will try to build its case around Clemens’ chief accuser – his one-time friend and trainer Brian McNamee.
McNamee testified before congress that he injected steroids into Roger Clemens at his direction.
Prosecutors have filed court papers indicating that they plan a "Show and Tell" portion of their case to include syringes used by McNamee to inject Clemens. McNamee is a former New York City police officer turned personal trainer and has had a couple of run ins with the law himself. He was questioned in 2001 in Florida in an alleged sexual assault case, and while he was never charged with a crime, he has admitted to lying to law enforcement. The defense team headed by Rusty Hardin is expected to have a field day attacking his credibility.
While McNamee is the only person to come forward and say he actually witnessed Clemens using banned substances, he might not be the most damaging prosecution witness. That may be Clemens best friend on the Yankees – Andy Pettitte
Andy Pettitte worked out under Brian McNamee with Roger Clemens.
Pettitte, known as a straight-arrow and loyal teammate, submitted a sworn affidavit to congress in which he claimed that Clemens told him he had used HGH as far back at 1999. Clemens maintains that Pettitte "misremembers" the conversation and that it was Clemens wife, Debbie, not Clemens himself who had used the drug.
The prosecution wants to call Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton and have them testify that they knew former Yankee trainer Brian McNamee was a source of performance-enhancing drugs who never misled them about what he was injecting them with.
But it is Pettitte as a reluctant yet powerful witness for the prosecution that could do the most damage to Clemens. A court room setting with Pettitte hesitant about testifying and yet not able to lie under oath for his close friend would be a scene straight out of Law & Order.
The defense may receive a key win early in this case. U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton said Tuesday that his "tentative position" was to block testimony from the ex-players because it would be unfair for jurors to infer that Clemens' experience was the same as his teammates'.
Even if the ex-players do testify, legal experts tend to believe that the prosecution will have a difficult time proving that Clemens "knowingly" took steroids and didn’t simply think that he was getting a shot of vitamins. Since the perjury charge involves a congressional hearing, the prosecution must also prove that the alleged lies were "material" to congressional action.
Baseball is after all just a game. Getting a jury to buy into the idea that Roger Clemens' denials of using performance enhancing drugs is material to anything other than his legacy as one of the greatest pitcher of all time will be tough to do.
But for Clemens this has been all about his legacy. It’s why he demanded to speak before congress, and it’s why he finds himself in court today.