WASHINGTON -- Addressing a group of 13 jurors who profess to have little interest in baseball, Major League Baseball lifer Phil Garner took them on a tour of baseball arcana on Thursday that any baseball fan would have paid to see.
It came as the Roger Clemens legal team continued to present its defense to charges that Clemens lied to a committee of the U.S. Congress when he said that he had never used steroids or HGH. With knowledge gained from nearly 15 seasons as a player, and more as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, the Detroit Tigers and the Houston Astros, Garner was an informed and occasionally entertaining docent.
His tour ranged from an explanation of the grips used to throw a fastball, a changeup and a splitter to an analysis of the importance of players with leadership on a winning team. It introduced the jurors to aspects of baseball that Clemens' lawyers believe to be vital to the jury's ultimate decision.
And it is part of an effort to highlight for the jury Clemens' remarkable achievements as a pitcher and to show that his success in the final years of his 24-year career was the result of his workout regimen and the development of a split-finger fastball.
Many of Garner's stories and details were enlightening even to a serious baseball fan. He used a vast knowledge of scouting reports to describe to the jury the pattern of Clemens' pitch selection. Relying on a study of 3,100 Clemens pitches, Garner said that 77 percent of Clemens' first pitches were fastballs and that no hitter should ever swing on a Clemens pitch when the count was 1 and 1. The sliders that Clemens threw on that count, Garner said, were unhittable, with opposing hitters averaging only .100.
He attributed Clemens' success early in his career to "overpowering the hitters" and his success late in his career to "outsmarting the hitter." Throughout his career, Garner said, Clemens' fastball had "great movement" and a "good finish." A good finish, Garner suggested to the jurors, meant that a Clemens fastball appeared to be moving faster as it crossed the plate than it was when it left Clemens' hand.
"Even though it may have been 94 mph on the radar gun, it appeared to be going 100 mph to the hitter," Garner said.
Garner also explained for the jury the importance of a pitcher's mechanics, the movements of two- and four-seam fastballs, and the meaning of "electric stuff." He defined the notion of "pitching around a hitter" in order to pitch to a lesser hitter. Striking out the lesser hitter, Garner said, was known in baseball as "stepping on his neck." He even described the importance of the slide step in holding runners at first base.
Explaining the importance of team leadership, Garner described his experiences with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor when he managed the Brewers, and Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell when he managed the Astros. When he managed the Tigers from 2000 to '03, Garner said, he had no team leaders. Clemens was also a powerful leadership presence in the Astros locker room when Garner managed them from 2004 to '07, including their appearance in the 2005 World Series.
Clemens' workouts were examples for other players to follow, Garner said. When Garner noticed that Wandy Rodriguez had little interest in conditioning and training, he asked the young pitcher to join Clemens in a workout. It led to Rodriguez's success since, Garner said. "He learned from Roger, and now he's the Astros' best pitcher."
Garner's testimony came after two of Clemens' former catchers began to take the jurors inside baseball. For example, Charlie O'Brien, who was Clemens' catcher in his first Cy Young season at Toronto, explained to the jury that a scuffed baseball would move 6 to 12 inches while a normal baseball would move only 4 to 6 inches. Just in case any of the jurors did not know how to scuff a baseball, he told them how he did it -- by brushing a ball on a sharpened buckle on his shin guard.
O'Brien, who was also the catcher for Greg Maddux in two Cy Young seasons and Pat Hentgen in another, also told the jury that he did not "call the game" from his position behind the plate, he "suggested the game." Darrin Fletcher, the catcher in Clemens' second Cy Young season in Toronto, detailed the three-sign procedure that Clemens insisted on even with no one on base.
There is little doubt that Garner, O'Brien and Fletcher and their stories would provide a memorable evening of entertainment for hard-core baseball fans. The question, however, is whether their baseball lore and their descriptions of Clemens' work ethic and his leadership will help persuade the jury that Clemens was truthful when he denied use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The ballplayers' testimony is central to a part of the multifaceted strategy of lead Clemens attorney Rusty Hardin. It is designed to show the jury the magnitude of Clemens' achievement in baseball and to show that his performance was steady for 24 years without any sudden bursts of success that could be attributed to PEDs. It's supposed to provide a dramatic alternative to the prosecutors' narrative of a pitcher who was aging and needed the boost that personal trainer Brian McNamee and PEDs could give him.
Will the Clemens-Hardin strategy succeed? As fascinating as the stories from Garner, O'Brien and Fletcher may have been, they were telling their stories to people who have mostly managed to ignore baseball their entire lives. But there is little doubt that Hardin presented three guys whose charm and apparent veracity will be powerful weapons in Hardin's effort to persuade the jury of Clemens' innocence. It's a strategy that might work.