- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2010

The latest chapter in former pitcher Roger Clemens‘ precipitous fall from sure-fire Hall of Famer to baseball pariah unfolded Monday as he stood in front of a federal judge to answer charges that he lied to Congress about using performance-enhancing drugs.

“Not guilty, your honor,” Mr. Clemens, 48, said in a clear, loud voice during a roughly 15-minute arraignment in U.S. District Court in Washington.

A hulking man wearing khaki dress pants and a navy blue blazer over a white shirt and a floral patterned tie, Mr. Clemens appeared to have changed little physically since he last pitched in the big leagues in 2007. He still sported the short, spiky blond haircut he favored as a player.

Mr. Clemens left the courthouse quickly after the arraignment, followed by a trail of reporters that turned into a crush of television and still cameras as he and his lawyers entered a waiting black Cadillac SUV.

A gag order put in place by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton kept Mr. Clemens and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, from answering questions. Despite that, the throng of reporters was exceptional even for a Washington federal courthouse that is accustomed to high-profile defendants.

Then again, much about Mr. Clemens is exceptional.

Known as the “Rocket” during his 24-year major league career, the hard-throwing right-hander was revered by his hometown fans, hated by many others and consistently feared by big-league hitters. His more than 350 wins and 4,500 strikeouts made him a shoo-in for the baseball Hall of Fame.

Mr. Clemens‘ seven Cy Young awards — given annually to the best pitcher in each league — are the most in the history of the game.

Though always considered surly and somewhat disagreeable, Mr. Clemens reputation began to incur irreparable damage as the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball took center stage. Mr. Clemens and Barry Bonds, the best pitcher and hitter, respectively, of their generation became the poster boys for the illegal use of steroids and human-growth hormone.

Mr. Bonds, the game’s all-time home-run leader, is set to go on trial next year on charges he lied to a federal grand jury about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Suspicions about Mr. Clemens‘ use of those drugs were largely confirmed for many with the 2007 release of a bombshell report from former Sen. George Mitchell, Maine Democrat. The hurler’s former trainer, Brian McNamee, told investigators preparing the so-called Mitchell Report that he had injected Mr. Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs numerous times between 1998 and 2001.

Mr. Clemens has adamantly denied that allegation.

He voluntarily testified in 2008 before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as part of hearings held in the aftermath of the Mitchell Report.

“Let me be clear,” Mr. Clemens said at one point. “I have never taken steroids or HGH.”

But his testimony was far from convincing to members of the committee, which referred the matter to the Justice Department for investigation into whether Mr. Clemens‘ testimony amounted to criminal behavior.

The Justice Department decided it did and Mr. Clemens was indicted two weeks ago on charges of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements and two counts of perjury in connection with the case.

He could face decades in prison if convicted, though federal sentencing guidelines would likely call for a far more lenient sentence of no more than a prison term of a year or two.

Judge Walton has tentatively scheduled the trial to begin April 5.

“I don’t know if that’s viable,” the judge said, “but that’s my inclination.”

It also appears some of the case will turn on scientific evidence.

Mr. Hardin told Judge Walton during the hearing that he has received “a great deal of scientific evidence” from the government that will necessitate independent testing on behalf of the defense.

Mr. McNamee had previously given prosecutors syringes he said he used to inject Mr. Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs; the defense has dismissed the syringes as “unreliable” evidence.

Mr. Clemens remains free on his own recognizance pending trial, but he does have to call to check in with court officials every other week.

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