Baseball Great Clemens Goes On Trial For Perjury

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The trial of Roger Clemens, one of baseball's most dominating pitchers, begins Wednesday in Washington, D.C. He is charged with perjury and obstruction of Congress. In 2008, during testimony on Capitol Hill, Clemens denied ever using performance enhancing drugs.


The trial of former baseball superstar Roger Clemens begins today in Washington, D.C. The issue is whether Clemens lied to Congress in 2008 when he said this:

(Soundbite of Congressional Hearing)

Mr. ROGER CLEMENS (Former Pitcher, Major League Baseball): Let me be clear, I have never taken steroids or HGH.

MONTAGNE: Rogers Clemens, one of the greatest power pitchers in the game's history, is charged with six felony counts, including perjury and obstruction of Congress.

NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Good morning, Tom.


MONTAGNE: I think it would be good to start with you reminding us how the Clemens' trial came about.

GOLDMAN: You know, it's ironic that Clemens has only himself to blame. In 2007, he was the most prominent player named in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball. Clemens denied using banned drugs. He asked to testify before Congress to deny it. And before the hearing, he was told he didn't have to testify.

But if you remember the way he was on the mound, tough and snarly. And if someone crowded the plate, the next Clemens' pitch was coming at their chin. So figuratively speaking, Who then are some of the key people involved in the trial?

GOLDMAN: Brian McNamee is Clemens former personal trainer, and he'll be the star witness for the prosecution. He says he injected Clemens with banned performance-enhancing drugs. McNamee also has turned over what he says is physical evidence of Clemens' drug use; syringes, bloody gauze that allegedly has Clemens' DNA on it.

Now, the Clemens defense team will attack McNamee's credibility. There were allegations back in 2001 that McNamee raped a woman. He was never charged, but the judge is leaning towards not allowing the rape allegation to be part of the trial - it's too prejudicial.

Now, other key testimony is expected from Clemens' former teammate and buddy, pitcher Andy Pettitte, who says Clemens admitted to him that he, Clemens, had used the banned human growth hormone. Pettitte admitted using that drug. But partly because of his admission, he's perceived publicly - and the government hopes by the jury, as well - as an honest guy.

MONTAGNE: And another character in court is Clemens' lead attorney, Rusty Hardin, who has a reputation as quite a colorful personality.


MONTAGNE: What kind of impact could he have on the trial?

GOLDMAN: He could have a big one. He's a highly-respected and successful lawyer from Texas who's well-known for his theatrics, and reportedly so engaging that juries have sent him thank you notes after rendering a verdict.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOLDMAN: And a magazine profile on Hardin quoted a rival attorney as saying, Hardin's charisma is slicker than deer guts on a doorknob. So he'll put on a show.

The question is how much he can charm a D.C. jury that may not have as much tolerance as juries elsewhere in the country, for someone accused of lying to Congress.

MONTAGNE: And Tom, this is the second trial in the past few months of a star player from what you might call baseball's steroids era. How would you compare the Roger Clemens case to the one involving Barry Bonds?

GOLDMAN: This one feels bigger. It's higher profile. Clemens is accused of lying to Congress. Bonds allegedly lied to a grand jury behind closed doors. The trial is in D.C. before a renowned judge, Reggie Walton, who's handled other celebrity cases including the trial of former vice presidential advisor Scooter Libby.

Clemens has been big and bold in his defense, as we've talked about, while Bonds' comparatively has been quiet.

In both cases though, Renee, it's not the kind of career-ending images surrounded by lawyers and juries and judges that these guys probably envisioned.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: We've been speaking with NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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