The seven current and former major league baseball players who testified here during the cocaine-trafficking trial of a Philadelphia caterer "disgraced themselves . . . and their profession," the U.S. attorney for this region said today in his closing arguments.
But, as the case of Curtis Strong went to the jury this afternoon, the prosecutor called the defendant "a traveling salesman" who "sold the substance we now know was cocaine." Strong has been charged with 14 counts of selling cocaine to baseball players between 1980 and 1984.
The jury deliberated for 4 1/2 hours, then retired for the night and was sequestered.
In a court room down the hall, Dale Berra of the New York Yankees took the stand as the first government witness in another cocaine-trafficking case.
Berra, who also was a witness against Strong, testified that former Pirates teammate Rod Scurry used cocaine during games. He also said he bought cocaine from former Pirates player John Milner three or four times, in addition to three times from the defendant, Robert McCue.
McCue is charged with 13 counts of cocaine trafficking between June 1983 and January 1985. Each count against both McCue and Strong is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine.
The government's case against Strong is built primarily on the testimony of seven players: Berra, Milner, Lonnie Smith, Keith Hernandez, Enos Cabell, Jeff Leonard and Dave Parker. Much of the closing arguments was focused on the credibility of the players and the immunity from prosecution granted them and others.
Defense attorney Adam Renfroe Jr. continually tried to show that his client was a scapegoat and that the players were the real dealers. "The government seeks to have you as jurors legalize the use and distribution of cocaine by baseball players," Renfroe told the jury.
"Don't be so naive to think the baseball players are born-again addicts who have suddenly seen the light," Renfroe said. "Don't let them spit in your face and tell you it is raining."
Later, in emotional words frequently interrupted by objections from U.S. Attorney J. Alan Johnson -- and sustained by Judge Gustave Diamond -- Renfroe said he felt sorry for the players.
That gave Johnson a lead-in for his rebuttal, and he blistered the actions of his witnesses.
"(Renfroe's) argument is to divert your attention," Johnson told the jury. "Mr. Renfroe says he feels sorry for them. I don't. They're not going to ask me to throw the ball out at the first game. What they did is not right. They owed more to the profession they're in."
Earlier in his closing arguments, Johnson took the players to task, while making his point against Strong.
"If you think the government will stand here and tell you what Enos Cabell did was right, it won't," Johnson said. "What Cabell did was not right. Mr. Renfroe tries to make him out to look like a cocaine trafficker. Strong was the source and he was the trafficker.
"The defendant was Enos' source. Cabell bought for other people. He wasn't a trafficker in the sense we think of a drug trafficker."
Johnson said of Strong's relationship with the players who testified, "Curtis Strong didn't casually share cocaine with them. He was a drug dealer who had the best clientele he knew a drug dealer could have -- young men with money, young men on the road, professional baseball players. (But) they are far from pillars of the community. They disgraced themselves and they disgraced their profession."
Renfroe frequently was admonished by Diamond for asking the jury to consider the government's decision to grant immunity to the players.
He also emphasized and played upon the large salaries of the players, using a blackboard, with each player's name written on it in large block letters, and showing their collective salaries ranging from $1 million (for Milner) to $12 million (for Parker).
"They've all been to Venezuela and Florida, and Curtis has never been to Venezuela. I don't even think that Curtis would even know where it is on the map," Renfroe said.
Johnson painted another picture of Strong.
"Mr. Renfroe says his client is a poor Philadelphia chef. Is this a poor man? He traveled to Pittsburgh, Atlanta and New York. He stayed in the best hotels. He had about $2,000 in toll calls in 1982 alone. From the witnesses called, he had no visible means of support until 1984. Even his witnesses couldn't tell you what he did then.
"Curtis Strong is not a poor Philadelphia chef. Curtis Strong did not book hotel rooms for baseball players as he told Woodrow Nolan. He sold cocaine, and he did it in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and New York from 1980 to 1984."
In the McCue trial, Berra was the only player called as the trial was recessed until Monday. The son of Yogi Berra, the Hall of Fame catcher, Dale Berra testified to buying cocaine from McCue three times. Once, he said, he and his then-fiance celebrated her birthday on May 4, 1984, by sharing a gram of cocaine at Michael J's, a Pittsburgh bar.
"I didn't buy her a gift, and she was upset," Berra testified. "So we went to Michael J's. I bought a gram of cocaine. We used it in the bar."
Under cross-examination by John Nickoloff, Berra was asked if he had ever used cocaine during a game.
"No," Berra answered.
"Did Scurry do it during games?" Nickoloff asked.
Berra said yes.
"In the bullpen?"
"I don't know," Berra replied.
There was no testimony in what year this occurred. Nor was there specific testimony as to when Berra bought cocaine from Milner, if it was before or after Milner was released by the Pirates during spring training of 1983.