Roger Clemens may or may not have committed perjury. But he surely committed stupidity. With no one requesting his appearance, Clemens demanded to testify under oath before Congress in 2008 just so he could publicly deny any steroid use and shake his finger at people who dared call him a cheater.
Bad choice with the finger, as it turns out.
You see, former teammate Andy Pettitte already had spoken to government investigators about his knowledge of Clemens' performance-enhancing drug use. This backed up claims by Clemens' trainer of the same thing. As a result, the feds are putting Clemens on trial for being a big, fat liar. Allegedly. Jury selection is under way in Washington D.C.
And if this all sounds vaguely familiar to Bay Area residents, that's because it is. The Clemens trial is basically the East Coast version of Barry Bonds' perjury trial that unfolded in San Francisco earlier this year -- with a few key twists:
1. Imagine what the Bonds trial would have been like if his steroid-distributing trainer, Greg Anderson, had decided to testify instead of refusing to talk. That's what will happen when Brian McNamee takes the stand in D.C.
2. Imagine how the Bonds trial would have gone if one of his former clubhouse buddies had told jurors that, sure, Bonds had often talked about how he filled up his tank with performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). That's what will happen when Pettitte appears in court. It never happened in Bonds' case, although several ballplayers did testify that Anderson had provided them -- if not Bonds -- with PEDs.
3. Imagine if the Bonds trial had included many more witnesses from all segments of the baseball world, including Giants general manager Brian Sabean, Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, plus former home run chasers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. The D.C. trial could be quite a spectacle, because the potential witness list submitted by attorneys includes Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, former Yankees (and Giants) broadcaster Joe Angel, and "... yup, McGwire and Sosa. Not sure why.
As we keep learning, it is total folly to predict what a jury will decide after seeing the evidence. But on the surface, Clemens looks to be in big trouble. The Bonds case had much less compelling evidence. But he still was found guilty of obstructing justice -- and was nearly convicted of a perjury charge, with one holdout juror resulting in a hung jury.
It would be interesting to watch Bonds next week as he sits in his reclining chair at home and watches the television reports of Clemens' trial. You would have to think that Barry would be screaming at the television: "Take a plea deal, Rocket! Take a plea deal!"
Or maybe not. Bonds could be rooting for Clemens to fight the charges every inch of the way, just so that Bonds' decision to do the same won't look so foolish. His lawyers have appealed and asked the judge to set aside Bonds' obstruction conviction. Meanwhile, prosecutors are deciding whether to retry the perjury charge. The next court hearing is in August. It must be costing Bonds a fortune.
Of course, the feds also are spending heavily. But just as with the Bonds trial, the question is: At what point does our country give up on enforcing the fundamental principle on which our system is based -- that people under oath have to tell the truth? Should charges be dropped just because a defendant can afford to keep throwing attorneys at the government for months (or years) on end?
Nope. They shouldn't. Thus, be prepared for another few weeks of Major League Baseball's worst nightmare, as the game's sleazy side is dragged through the courtroom for the second time in five months. The Clemens trial ought to be more incisive and gritty than the Bonds trial, if not as entertaining or salacious. For instance, no former Clemens mistresses will be questioned about testicular atrophy. Instead, the Clemens case probably will ride on the testimony of his fellow former Yankees. This should include Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch and Mike Stanton.
The defense strategy, apparently, will be to portray McNamee as a weasel who was desperate to hold onto Clemens as a client and therefore tried to blackmail the Rocket by planting steroid-tainted evidence against him. But if the other Yankees testify that they were using drugs from McNamee, why wouldn't the trainer have tried to blackmail them rather than Clemens? Why target a guy who supposedly never used them?
In this respect, the Clemens trial and the Bonds trial are exactly the same: The government likes to ask questions. Answering them won't be easy. In the Bay Area, we've been there before. It wasn't pretty.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5092.