WASHINGTON — Roger Clemens’ former catcher with the Toronto Blue Jays testified Wednesday that 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.
Clemens is charged with obstruction of Congress, perjury and making false statements for denying to Congress in 2008 that he ever used steroids or human growth hormone. The obstruction count contains 13 allegedly false statements, including Clemens’ assertion in his congressional deposition that “four or five needles” of vitamin B12 would be “already lined up ready to go” in the trainers’ room after games. The government maintains that Clemens concocted the B12 account as a cover for steroid injections.
During the 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 on Thursday, the first full day of defense witnesses, former catcher Charlie O’Brien replied “yes sir” when defense lawyer Rusty Hardin posed that question.
O’Brien, who played with Clemens in 1997, also testified that the secret to the pitcher’s longevity was a split-fingered fastball. That was testimony designed to counter the government’s theory that Clemens was able to pitch into his mid-40s because of performance-enhancing drugs.
Like other defense witnesses, the former catcher also praised Clemens’ work ethic, which defense lawyers have also been stressing as an explanation for his success. O’Brien recalled seeing Clemens working on his fielding at the ballpark at 7 a.m. on the first day of spring training.
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. Clemens won the Cy Young Award the two next seasons for Toronto.
Boston’s assistant general manager at the time, Steven August, testified he recommended that 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. His career turned around when he joined the Blue Jays.
August, who said he was good friends with Clemens, called the pitcher “extremely hard working,” and said that younger players couldn’t keep up during runs. He said that Clemens was in the top echelon of pitchers.
On cross examination, prosecutor Gil Guerrero told August, “You understand he’s not on trial for how great” a baseball player he was, perhaps out of exasperation of all of the testimonials that Clemens was receiving.
The defense began its case Tuesday with one of Clemens’ former high school teammates in Texas. Todd Howey said he and his friends would see Clemens jogging on Friday nights while they were out “looking for trouble.” Clemens did so many runs in the outfield that he dug a trail that looked like it had been carved by a cow in a pasture, the witness testified.
“I’ve yet to see anybody work like Roger Clemens,” Howey said. Despite the dedication, Clemens was not an exceptional pitcher back then, he said, reaching only 83-84 mph on his fastball. But when Howey played against him in college — Howey for Texas Tech and Clemens for the University of Texas — Clemens was throwing a lot harder.
“He proved us all wrong,” Howey said, who talked so fast he had to be slowed down by the court reporter and Clemens lawyer Hardin.
“You’re one of those unusual things — a fast-talking Southerner,” Hardin quipped.
Mike Capel, a former major league pitcher and longtime friend of Clemens, had played against him in high school and was a teammate in college. He made a similar observation about Clemens’ transformation in college into a harder throwing, more athletic and trimmed down pitcher compared with high school. He said Clemens had a “very, very, very good” work ethic.
Capel said Clemens made a point of taking care of his body. During cross-examination Wednesday, Guerrero asked Capel if in coming to that conclusion, he took into consideration some substances that Clemens has admitted taking. The pitcher has said that he took the stimulant ephedra, before it was banned by Major League Baseball, and that he used to eat “Vioxx like it was Skittles.” Vioxx, an arthritis medication, was withdrawn from the market in 2004 because a clinical trial revealed increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Capel said he didn’t know what Vioxx was, and that he did not take Clemens’ use of ephedra into account in his previous comment.
Prosecutors tried to exclude the glowing testimony on grounds that seven government witnesses already testified during cross-examination how hard Clemens worked. They wrote in a filing late Monday that it invited jurors to infer that because Clemens didn’t use performance-enhancing drugs early on, he must not have later in his career.
Prosecutors argued that if the testimony were to be allowed, the judge should let them rebut it with evidence from other players who also worked hard but still used steroids or HGH.
But U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton ruled against them on both counts.
“Athletes who are hard workers tend to last longer and perform better,” said Walton, a former athlete himself who went to college on a football scholarship.