WASHINGTON — Phil Garner told one great Roger Clemens story after another.
Clemens working out in a flak jacket with 60 pounds of weights. Clemens yelling at himself. Clemens yelling at others. Clemens noticing that home plate was a little bit out of line.
Garner was sitting on a witness stand, but he sounded at times as if he were again a major league baseball manager, spinning yarns in a casual pregame dugout chat.
None of those stories involved Clemens using performance-enhancing drugs.
“Scrap Iron,” the nickname Garner earned as a player, gave “The Rocket” a boost Thursday as he testified for the defense in the perjury trial of the seven-time Cy Young Award winner.
Garner, the longtime infielder and Clemens’ manager for 2½ years with the Houston Astros, became the latest in a string of witnesses to speak glowingly of Clemens’ leadership and work ethic. The testimony is part of an effort to portray the former pitching star as an athlete who achieved great success late in his career through hard work, intelligence and unrivaled intensity.
“Did Roger Clemens ever cut corners?” Clemens’ lawyer Rusty Hardin asked Garner.
“Cut corners?” Garner replied with a taken-aback look and a smile. “No.”
Prosecutors say Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone to help prolong his career. That claim is supported firsthand by only one witness, Clemens’ former strength coach, Brian McNamee. Clemens is charged with lying when he told Congress in 2008 that he never used either substance.
To counter McNamee, the defense has called friends and associates of Clemens from high school, college and his years with the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and now the Astros.
Garner regaled the court with insider baseball tales that any fan would enjoy, including the time that players’ wives danced on the dugout when the Pittsburgh Pirates were on the way to winning the 1979 World Series. It’s uncertain how such talk was received by a jury consisting mostly of Washingtonians who don’t follow the sport.
During Garner’s first spring training with the Astros in 2005, he recalled seeing Clemens at the ballpark at 7:30 a.m. working out in a heavy flak jacket, then going for a run before returning outside after lunch for some “PFP” (pitchers’ fielding practice). Garner thought it all “totally weird” because Clemens was supposed to pitch that day.
“Rocket, what in the world are you doing?” Garner asked.
“Skip, I’m trying to get my legs as tired as possible so it’s like it’s the ninth inning when I’m out there today,” Clemens replied, according to Garner.
Garner also spoke about an area at the end of the Astros dugout called “Rocket Hole,” where Clemens kept bananas and Gatorade to recover between innings. During one game, Garner said he turned and saw Clemens pacing and yelling at himself: “What is going on?! Are you going to pitch tonight or are you not going to pitch tonight?! Are you going to get anybody out tonight?”
Garner also said Clemens threw a tantrum and berated Astros coach Doug Mansolino for not hitting practice grounders hard enough on a “steamy hot” afternoon in Cincinnati when everyone was tired from an overnight flight.
“Is that all you got?!” Garner yelled, imitating the Clemens outburst.
“It became a war” between Clemens and Mansolino, Garner said.
Clemens was in his 40s by the time he was playing for the Astros. Garner said Clemens’ fastball wasn’t as fast as it used to be, but the pitcher made up for it by pitching smarter. Clemens won his seventh Cy Young Award with Houston in 2004.
“He continued to have great success, but for different reasons,” Garner said. “He didn’t just overpower teams; he outsmarted teams. … He wasn’t as domineering as he was earlier.”
Prosecutors have yet to make much of a dent in cross-examining any defense witness. In fact, prosecutor Steven Durham, in a line of questioning apparently designed to show that Clemens would do anything to succeed, got another fascinating story volunteered by Garner about an incident from 2005 spring training.
“Roger walked up on the mound and said, ‘Home plate’s turned a little bit,'” Garner testified.
Garner was puzzled. So was the grounds crew. After all, the field had been laid out using a laser.
Nevertheless, the plate was checked again.
“Sure enough,” Garner said, “it was turned one-quarter inch off.”
Another defense witness, Houston orthopedic surgeon Larry Likeover, a longtime friend of the Clemens family, testified he used to give the painkiller Vioxx to Clemens. Clemens has said he used to eat “Vioxx like it was Skittles,” a statement the government has used to imply that Clemens would have no aversion to abusing drugs to remain competitive.
Reinforcing that point, Durham asked Likeover if the doctor would ever put “eat like Skittles” on a Vioxx prescription. Likeover said no.
Also called by the defense was the woman who used to clean Clemens’ New York apartment when he played for the Yankees — she happened to be there on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The woman said she never saw needles or vials in the apartment during the half-dozen or so times she cleaned the place, but, under cross-examination, she said she didn’t look through Clemens’ personal things and was never there at night. McNamee has testified that he injected Clemens with steroids at the apartment during the 2001 baseball season.
Next was massage therapist Cheryl Redfern, who said she gave Clemens massages from 1995-2003. Redfern said she never saw acne on Clemens’ body or noticed any changes in his upper body. The jury has heard that both are possible by-products of steroid use.
Finally, in an unusual display of efficiency in a trial that’s been going on for seven weeks, both sides rushed through the testimony of FBI expert Richard Vorder Bruegge.
Vorder Bruegge said he determined that a June 9, 1998, photo of Clemens and a boy in a pool at Blue Jays teammate Jose Canseco’s house in Florida was taken between 2:55 p.m. and 4:20 p.m. The boy in the photo, Alexander Lowrey, testified he thought the photo was taken around 3 p.m. One of the lesser allegations against Clemens is that he lied when he said in his congressional deposition that he wasn’t at Canseco’s house at all that day, but U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton indicated Thursday that the allegation might be dismissed because it’s not material to the overall case.
A more intriguing name on the defense witness list is McNamee’s estranged wife, Eileen McNamee. The McNamees are in the midst of a contentious divorce, and the defense wants to call her to continue its attack on Brian McNamee’s integrity.
But first there are legal entanglements to sort out.
Eileen McNamee had been granted immunity as a possible government witness, although she never took the stand, and her lawyer wants assurances that the immunity remains intact if she testifies on behalf of Clemens. That’s because Brian McNamee, during his testimony, may have implicated her in a number of criminal matters, such as possible mail fraud.
At the judge’s urging, Eileen McNamee’s lawyer planned to speak with prosecutors to discuss the matter on Friday, when the trial will be in recess because of a juror’s schedule conflict. While the jury won’t return until Tuesday, Walton intends to deal with some pending motions, like the one involving McNamee’s wife, on Monday afternoon.