Yesterday, I took a trip across town to the U.S. District Courthouse here in Washington, DC to see the show. What show, you ask? Roger Clemens—“The Rocket,” as he’s known in baseball circles—is on trial for perjury. Yesterday was the opening act: jury selection and some evidentiary issues in the morning, supposedly followed by both opening arguments in the afternoon. As it turned out, some evidentiary questions took quite a while to answer. (e.g. To what extent should Andy Pettitte be allowed to testify? What will Brian Cashman say? Did Clemens’ wife use steroids?) Add in the fact that the prosecution’s opening argument ran about an hour and a half, and the defense did not have an opportunity to speak yesterday.
Still, what an opening act it was! Steven Durham, giving the opening statement for the government, regaled jurors with stories of Clemens’ on-field greatness. Durham told jurors that Clemens “never backed down” on the pitching mound before explaining when, why, and how Clemens began using illegal steroids to supplement his performance (more specifically, to aid in his recovery from nagging injuries typical of aging ballplayers). And then, most importantly, Durham said that Roger Clemens “raised his right hand, his pitching hand, that hand that won him all those championships and awards” and swore to tell the truth before Congress.
Did Roger Clemens lie before Congress? Probably. The prosecution has Clemens’ DNA on cotton swabs and needles used for injecting anabolic steroids. That doesn’t look very good. The government will also show testimony from Clemens’ friends, teammates, and coworkers showing that he used steroids and had a motive to lie—namely, the allure of Cooperstown, baseball’s hall of fame.
Nevertheless, from the focus of the preliminary questions and issues, the defense seems focused on proving that Clemens did not lie about a matter material to Congress’ investigation—a point which, if won, could seal the deal in Clemens’ favor. It isn’t as if Brian McNamee, a former trainer and admitted steroid dealer for the Yankees and Clemens, conveys trustworthiness as the government’s primary witness. Andy Pettitte, another key witness as a former teammate, mentee, and best friend of Clemens, initially lied about his steroid use before coming clean—again, not exactly the paragon of candor. You can bet the defense will be all over those two witnesses during cross examination.
All in all, we won’t have a verdict for weeks to come. Judge Reggie Walton discussed personal travel plans and scheduling all the way through Memorial Day. But, in the meantime, we can look forward to quite the show. In his opening statement, Mr. Durham promised a parade of baseball greats; a parade of World Series champions and titans of the sports world testifying as to where exactly “the Rocket” got all that “fuel.”
Lying to congress is a big deal, and we can’t allow someone to get away with it. That’s what the prosecution’s case is about. However, thanks to all the juicy details of the Clemens saga, that simple point risks getting lost in the wind. Stay tuned because it’s sure to be a tantalizing affair.