Roger Clemens won his trial on the government’s charge against him that he lied to Congress about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, but Andy Pettitte, his old friend and teammate, got the much needed save.
It won’t show up in Pettitte’s 17-year career record, which includes no saves or save opportunities, but without it, Clemens would very likely not have gained his most vital victory. Pettitte’s role in the United States District Court trial had been expected to be critical but in the reverse way of what it turned out to be.
Going into the trial, it appeared that Pettitte would offer testimony that would hurt Clemens. Pettitte had told authorities that Clemens had told him he had used human growth hormone.
On the witness stand in Washington, D.C., that’s exactly what Pettitte said. Under cross-examination, however, he said something else that undermined his own testimony and put Clemens in the lead.
Asked if he might have misunderstood what Clemens had said to him, Pettitte said, “I could have.”
Asked if it was fair to say there was a 50-50 chance that he misunderstood, Pettitte responded, “I’d say that’s fair.”
The government’s case, which was already struggling, very likely died right then and there.
What happened with the government’s most believable witness?
“Pettitte gave a perfect answer for him,” said one of the former prosecutors I spoke with, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “It was an answer that couldn’t get him in perjury trouble. He didn’t deny what he said, but it weakened the government case. When he previously gave testimony, he seemed to be definite.”
With help or a suggestion from someone, obviously a lawyer, Pettitte came up with a solution to his predicament. An honest man, Pettitte wanted to tell the truth but was uncomfortable with the thought of testifying against his buddy.
He wasn’t about to move 180 degrees from his original comments to authorities, but a slight shift in emphasis might make it better for Clemens and therefore more palatable for Pettitte. He would not volunteer a new version of events, but he could answer a defense question about the certainty of his recollection.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” a former federal prosecutor said of the theory. He feels bad about it. He gets commended for respecting the system and testifying when asked. I’m sure there are plenty of people who had suggestions for him.”
A defense attorney who represents murderers and other major criminal types said the Clemens case hinged on Pettitte.
“He changed his testimony,” the lawyer said. “He gave a reasonable doubt answer. He said 50-50. That’s beyond reasonable doubt. He changed his answer. He told the truth, then changed enough to be helpful to Clemens and no one could say he perjured himself. God knows how much pressure he was under.”
Could someone have approached Pettitte with the idea of changing his testimony?
“I can see someone on Clemens’ side,” the lawyer replied, “saying you don’t have to answer the way you did before and you can help him.”
Before the first trial, the government tried to have entered as evidence an affidavit from Pettitte’s wife in which she related that her husband had come home from a workout with Clemens and told her what Clemens had said about using human growth hormone.
However, one of the former federal prosecutors said, “The evidence was not permitted because it would be prejudicial. But once they impeached Pettitte she should have been allowed to testify. She might have been relevant and I think it would have been relevant. They got Pettitte to say it was 50-50. She should have been allowed to testify.”
ON DECK FOR BONDS AND CLEMENS
Two Federal juries have had their say on the guilt or innocence of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds in the world of performance-enhancing drugs, but their status has yet to be determined in the world of public opinion and Hall of Fame voting. They are not expected to get off so easily in those critical venues.
Clemens, a seven-time Cy Young award winner, was acquitted last week in United States District Court in Washington, D.C., on all six charges linked to lying to Congress. His acquittal came 14 months after Barry Bonds, a seven-time winner of the most valuable player award, emerged from his perjury trial in United States District Court in San Francisco almost as unscathed.
Bonds, who was accused of lying to a Federal grand jury in 2003, was convicted on one count of obstruction of justice for impeding a grand jury investigation, but the judge declare a mistrial on three perjury counts. The former slugger was subsequently sentenced to 30 days house arrest, two years of probation and a $4,000 fine.
He has appealed the conviction, and it would be no surprise if he were to win the appeal. However, his standing in the eyes of the public will not depend on the outcome of the appeal; nor will his standing on the Hall of Fame ballot, although there may be some writers/voters who will base their decisions on the technicality of whether Bonds, and Clemens, for that matter, will escape legal consequences for use of steroids.
“My overriding feeling on both cases is they both lost,” said Sam Reich, a former federal prosecutor in Pittsburgh. “I don’t agree with CNN that the Clemens acquittal vindicates him. A jury decided it had a reasonable doubt. That’s the way juries decide.”
“In terms of history, both lost tremendously,” Reich added. “Up until the trial the public had only a lot of speculation to go on. In the trials there was a lot that came out.”
What came out wasn’t enough to convince juries to convict Clemens and Bonds, but Reich raised a telling analogy.
“When the 1919 Black Sox players were tried in court,” he said, “they were acquitted, but the verdict of history is unanimous. They were guilty. Most people will conclude both did it just like they have with the Black Sox and O.J. Simpson. I think the majority of people will find them guilty. Both lost by going to trial.”
Both, however, were driven by their egos their feeling that they were too big to be toppled.
The next verdict on Clemens and Bonds will come in January when the Hall of Fame announces the results of the voting by the Baseball Writers Association. Clemens and Bonds will be on the ballot for the first time, as will Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza.
Like Bonds and Clemens, Sosa has long been suspected of having used steroids, and his name was leaked from a 2003 list of about 100 players who tested positive in what was supposed to be an anonymous test.
Piazza has never been formally linked to steroids, and that’s what enrages his passionate fans whenever I write about my suspicions. In my most recent mention of Piazza, I wrote that his book is scheduled for publication next February and suggested that writers withhold their votes for him this time to wait and read what he writes about steroids.
If he is elected to the Hall in January and he admits in February that he used steroids, it will be too late for writers who oppose electing steroids users to do anything about it.
I do not know what to expect from the Clemens and Bonds voting. If the writers follow the precedent they have set in their voting on Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, the two won’t have a chance.
Needing 75 percent of the vote for election, McGwire has not gained 24 percent in any of his six years on the ballot while Palmeiro has failed to receive 13 percent in either of his two years.
Jeff Bagwell, on the other hand, may avoid the stain of steroids despite rumors about his use. He went up last year from 41.7 percent to 56 percent.
The difficulty of forecasting the Hall of Fame fate of Clemens is a feeling among some writers that he had Hall of Fame achievements before he began using P.E.D.’s. The same argument has been made on Bonds’ behalf, that he was Hall of Fame worthy before he collected 258 home runs in a chemically-aided five-season stretch (2000-04) late in his career (ages 35-40).
Some writers will buy into that idea; others will ignore their cheating altogether. One voter, Buster Olney of ESPN.com, offered a novel, if questionable rationalization, for voting for cheaters. He told The New York Tlmes, “The institution of baseball condoned the use of performance-enhancing drugs for almost two decades with inaction. To hold it against a handful of individuals now is, to me, retroactive morality.”
That reasoning may fall into the category of two wrongs not making a right.
Clemens could very likely have avoided the whole dirty business altogether. The noise he and his chief lawyer, Rusty Hardin, made about the pitcher’s name appearing in the George Mitchell report on steroids in baseball, prompted a Congressional committee to hold a hearing on steroids use in baseball.
Even then the committee gave Clemens the option of not appearing, but he insisted on testifying. He presumably wanted to clear his name, but all he did was call greater attention to his alleged use and set himself up for a spectacle of a trial.
“If I had represented Clemens he would not have testified before Congress,” said Sam Reich the federal prosecutor turned defense attorney.
LEE PERFECT IN CY RACE
Cliff Lee appears to be in good position to win his second Cy Young award. He has made it this far into the season without a win and with one of the lowest WHIPs in the National League, 1.12. What more can a voter ask?
It has taken me a while, but I have learned these things, especially where wins are concerned.
After spending a lifetime watching pitchers win games and thinking they were doing something good, I learned from some of the readers here that wins are a meaningless statistic for pitchers, that they have no control over the outcome of games so don’t pay attention to the column with the W at the top.
I used to think – silly me – that pitchers could control games by allowing the opposing team to score fewer runs than their team scored. But apparently that’s not how the game is played today.
Win 13 games, or 15 or 16, and you can win yourself one of those huge, good-looking trophies. Win the award with few enough wins, and you can etch the scores of all of the games on the trophy.
If the award were voted today, R.A. Dickey probably wouldn’t have a chance against Lee. In the meantime, since the award isn’t being voted today, I’m going to take a few minutes and look through one of the baseball encyclopedias and find names like Roberts and Jenkins and Hunter and Palmer and Gibson and try to figure out how bad they really were.