WASHINGTON (AP) – Two catchers who were teammates of pitcher Roger Clemens said he played with integrity and refused to cut corners, the opposite of the image painted by prosecutors of a man who cheated to gain an edge and then lied about it to Congress.
“I don’t think he’d cheat,” said former journeyman catcher Charlie O’Brien, who caught Clemens’ games for much of the 1997 season with the Toronto Blue Jays. O’Brien portrayed Clemens as such a stickler that he’d refuse to throw scuffed baseballs because he considered it cheating.
The former catcher testified Wednesday he once approached Clemens on the mound during a game with a scuffed ball and said, “This is a great ball to use.” He said Clemens responded, “I don’t need that.”
O’Brien also said he had seen vitamin B12 “shots lined up ready to go” for players, a claim also made by Clemens and for which he was charged with obstructing Congress. The government maintains that Clemens concocted the B12 account as a cover for steroid injections.
During Clemens’ trial, prosecutors have asked several government witnesses associated with major league teams whether they’ve ever seen B12 shots lined up, and all of them have said no. But O’Brien replied “Yes, sir” when defense lawyer Rusty Hardin posed that question.
Prosecutor Steven Durham quizzed him in an incredulous tone about that statement, but the burly O’Brien stuck to his story in a calm, matter-of-fact manner.
In a trial with that’s had its share of dry, scientific witnesses, the two ex-catchers provided colorful relief.
O’Brien said the Blue Jays’ medical services at the time were very poor and said former Blue Jays head athletic trainer Tommy Craig was a nice guy but “might have been one of the worst trainers.” O’Brien also had trouble recognizing Clemens in a Blue Jays team photo and couldn’t supply the proper name to the jury for the former New York Yankees pitcher known widely as El Duque. “What’s his name, Roger?” O’Brien blurted out toward the defense table, but Hardin laughingly waved Clemens off before he could respond that the player was Orlando Hernandez.
The other backstop was Darrin Fletcher, Clemens’ catcher with the Jays in 1998. When Hardin said good afternoon, Fletcher replied, “How we doing?” and frequently called the lawyer by his first name.
He said Clemens was a “big strong man” who set the standard for work ethic.
“Did Roger Clemens ever cut corners?” Hardin asked.
“Cut corners?” he replied with a taken-aback look and a smile. “No.”
He gave up some of Clemens’ trade secrets as a pitcher. Clemens, for example, would purse his lips on the mound to ask for curveballs.
“You’re not making a comeback any time are you, Roger?” Fletcher said. “I’m not giving anything away, am I?” Clemens laughed.
Fletcher said it was important to make sure that batters didn’t steal signs, because “the whole integrity of the game is ruined if the hitter knows what’s coming.”
He also testified that he didn’t see Clemens at a pool party at teammate Jose Canseco’s house in Florida in June of that season, but Fletcher also said he left the party around 1:30 p.m. A government witness recalled seeing Clemens at the party later in the day. One of the charges against Clemens is that he lied when he told Congress that he wasn’t at the party at all.
Fletcher drew more laughter when he said it would have left an impression if he had seen Clemens.
“I’ve always wanted to see Roger in a bathing suit,” he said, and Clemens chuckled again.
Clemens joined the Blue Jays at the age of 34 as a free agent after the Boston Red Sox did not re-sign him following the 1996 season. Boston’s then-general manager, Dan Duquette, said at the time that Clemens was in the twilight of his career, but Clemens won the Cy Young Award the two next seasons for the Blue Jays.
In that second season in Toronto, Clemens met strength coach Brian McNamee, who says he injected the pitcher with steroids and HGH and testified that he had the impression the Clemens had used steroids previously. The government used its cross-examination of witnesses Wednesday to reinforce its claim that Clemens turned to performance-enhancing drugs to help his aging body recover more quickly during the physically demanding major league seasons.
The defense called Boston’s assistant general manager at the time of Clemens’ departure, Steven August, who testified he had recommended the team re-sign Clemens.
“I told Mr. Duquette that Roger was at the top of his game,” August said. But in fact, Clemens had gone only 40-39 in his last four seasons with Boston, and had mediocre earned run averages over 4.00 in two of those years. August, who said he was good friends with Clemens, called the pitcher “extremely hardworking,” and said younger players couldn’t keep up with him during runs.
Amid the flood of testimonials to Clemens from defense witnesses, prosecutor Gil Guerrero at one point told August, “You understand he’s not on trial for how great he was in baseball.”
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