WASHINGTON (AP) — Roger Clemens lost something off his fastball in his 40s but still succeeded by pitching smarter, his former manager testified Thursday.
“He continued to have great success, but for different reasons,” said defense witness Phil Garner, who managed Clemens with the Houston Astros from 2004-2006. “He didn’t just overpower teams; he outsmarted teams … He wasn’t as domineering as he was earlier.”
Clemens is on trial for allegedly lying to Congress in 2008 when he denied using steroids or human growth hormone. Defense lawyers are trying to demonstrate that Clemens used smarts and hard work — not performance-enhancing drugs — to post exceptional numbers at an age when most players are retired.
In Clemens’ first year with Houston, in 2004, he won his seventh Cy Young Award and posted an excellent 2.98 earned run average, nearly a full run better than the previous season, though most pitchers making that switch from the American to National league improve their ERAs by some fraction of a run. In his second year with Houston, when Clemens turned 43, his ERA dropped even further, to an extraordinarily good 1.87.
Garner said that one way Clemens got smarter was by pitching around really good hitters, then going after weaker ones. Garner said the pitcher’s speed dropped from 95-97 mph in his early 30s to 90-92 mph.
“There’s no question he had aged,” said Garner, who sometimes referred to the pitcher by his nickname, Rocket.
Supporting the defense contention that Clemens succeeded through hard work, Garner recalled seeing the pitcher at the ballpark in spring training at 7:30 a.m. Clemens worked out in a flak jacket with 60 pounds of weights, then went for a run, Garner said.
A couple of times, Garner shouted as he imitated Clemens’ competitive outbursts.
“What is going on?!” Garner recalled Clemens yelling at himself as he paced back and forth at the end of the dugout. “Are you going to pitch tonight or are you not going to pitch tonight?! Are you going to get anybody out tonight?!”
On Wednesday, two catchers who were teammates of 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 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 says it will call McNamee’s estranged wife, Eileen, to testify, but her lawyer said Thursday that he wanted to make sure that her previously granted immunity remains intact. That’s because McNamee, during his testimony, may have implicated her in a number of areas, such as possible mail fraud. The government had at one point planned to call her as a witness, but decided not to for tactical reasons. Clemens’ lawyers want her testimony to help them try to discredit McNamee’s credibility. At U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton’s urging, Eileen McNamee’s lawyer will meet with government prosecutors Friday to discuss the immunity issue.
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