Roger Clemens's Long, Expensive, and Probably Useless Trial

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Federal prosecutors want to convict someone—anyone—for using performance-enhancing drugs.

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If you're puzzled as to what the ongoing soap opera of the Federal Government vs. Rogers Clemens is all about, try thinking of it this way: So far federal prosecutors have spent more than $120 million of your hard-earned tax money—and the meter is still ticking—in an effort to nail at least one major league baseball star for using performance-enhancing drugs.

They didn't exactly strike out on Barry Bonds, but for Bonds' conviction—for obstructing justice by giving an evasive answer under oath, the only one of four counts he was convicted of—the sentence was 30 days house arrest and two yearsprobation. If that's not a strike out, it's certainly no better than an infield pop-up.

Getting Clemens is the feds' last shot, and after all the huffing and puffing and finger-pointing, it's going to come down to exactly what it was from the start: Roger Clemens' word versus that of his longtime strength and conditioning trainer, Brian McNamee. This is Clemens' second perjury trial for lying to Congress under oath during the 2008 hearings by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's investigation into drug use in baseball; the first trial was declared a mistrial last summer on a prosecutorial error.

The jury will either believe Clemens or McNamee, who has testified he provided human growth hormones to three other MLB players and put one in touch with drug dealer Kirk Radomski. McNamee has even produced used syringes and cotton balls thatwere stored in a beer can in a FedEx box for years, which he claims he used to inject Clemens with HGH. But McNamee'sestranged wife, who testified Wednesday, creditably contradicted his testimony in nearly every way, according to ESPN's legal analyst Lester Munson, even mentioning that she saw a Bud Light can with syringes, not Miller Lite, as McNamee had specified.

Oh, and lest we forget, back in 2000 McNamee denied, in a letter to the New York Times, that he had ever seen Clemens take PEDs. What jogged his memory? Maybe the possibility of doing prison time for drug dealing.

What of the possible testimony of former pitcher C.J. Nitkowski? C.J. claims toremember a workout session where Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte told him that Clemens had told Pettitte that he used human growth hormones. But Nitkowski never saw Clemens using any banned substance or actually heard Clemens admitting to such, so it would seem Nitkowski proves useless to the prosecution.

What about Jose Canseco, former major league slugger, admitted steroid user, and best-selling author? Prosecutors have tried to establish a link between Clemens and Canseco by placing Clemens at Canseco's house during a party where drugs were supposedly used. Clemens says he does not remember being at the party; Canseco says he does not remember Clemens being there. Prosecutors have hinted they have witnesses who can place Clemens at the party. So what? Who cares who was at the party if no one saw Clemens using banned substances?

What, then, of Andy Pettitte? For years now Pettitte has been built up by writers who followed the case as the prosecution's big gun, the only first-hand witness besides McNamee. In fact, Pettitte never claimed to be any such thing, and when he testified in early May, he essentially repeated what he had told the committee four years ago. During the 2008 hearings he testified in a sworn affidavit that Clemens told him about his wife using human growth hormones, but his statements were found to be confusing, and the committee decided not to call him as a witness.

So, why has the government persisted in its attempt to convict Clemens?

Let's backtrack to the late 1990s, when home run totals were exploding in both leagues and old long-standing records were either obliterated or under assault. Egged on by the sports press, fans began to pepper their Congressmen with complaints about the proliferation of steroids and other PEDs in baseball at both the pro and amateur levels, including high schools.

The first response of baseball commissioner Bud Selig to complaints from Congress was one of almost ridiculous arrogance. After stalling for years on requests for an investigation into drug use in the major leagues, in 2005 Seligsent the Congressional Committee a letter telling them they had no jurisdiction in the matter. The hearings, Selig informed them, were "an absolutely excessive and unprecedented misuse of Congressional power."

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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