Andy Pettitte, at times looking deflated and pained, took the witness stand reluctantly Tuesday to testify in the federal perjury trial of baseball legend Roger Clemens, saying that his close friend and mentor once confided in him that he had used performance-enhancing drugs.
Answering most questions with single-word responses, Pettitte never made eye contact with Clemens until asked to identify baseball’s most decorated pitcher near the end of his questioning by prosecutors.
Pettitte’s testimony is considered key to the government’s case that “The Rocket” lied to Congress in 2008 when he denied ever having taken steroids or Human Growth Hormone (HGH). As he previously told congressional investigators, Pettitte testified in the District’s federal court that Clemens told him in 1999 or 2000 that he had used HGH to help him recover from injuries and intense workouts.
“Roger had mentioned to me that he’d taken HGH and that it could help with recovery,” Pettitte testified, describing a conversation that took place at Clemens’s home gym during an intense workout.
Pettitte would later admit that a few years later he also tried HGH to help him heal from elbow injuries — acts he told jurors he deeply regretted.
“If I never would have done it, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said. The appearance marked the first time the 39-year-old Texan had seen Clemens in several years because they were told not to speak during the long-running criminal investigation.
“Is it difficult to be here?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Durham.
“Because he’s a good friend,” Pettitte replied.
Even so, Pettitte testified about another conversation he had with Clemens about performance-enhancing drugs in the kitchen of a Houston Astros training facility in 2005.
It was a year after Pettitte had last used HGH and steroids were in the news. Pettitte, worried that reporters might query him about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, asked Clemens what he would say if questioned about his own drug use.
“What are you talking about?” Pettitte said Clemens replied.
When Pettitte said he pressed for more information, Clemens denied having taken the drugs: “I told you that my wife Debbie used it.”
Prosecutors believe that that conversation shows that Clemens was creating a cover story to deflect suspicions about having taking HGH. His wife, in fact, had taken the same substance in preparation for a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue photo shoot.
Pettitte, a star pitcher in his own right, retired in 2010 from the Astros but is making a comeback with the New York Yankees this season.
The hard-throwing lefty testified that Clemens, 10 years his elder, was one of his boyhood heroes. Pettitte and Clemens would later pitch with each other on the Yankees and Astros and become extremely close off the field — playing golf and working out together, often with their strength coach, Brian McNamee. It was McNamee whom prosecutors allege injected Clemens with steroids and HGH in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
McNamee told investigators for former senator George Mitchell, who issued a 2008 report about steroid use in baseball, that he injected Clemens with those substances. The report sparked a congressional hearing that pitted McNamee against Clemens, who denied the allegations.
Those denials became the basis of the government’s prosecution of Clemens on charges of perjury, making false statements and obstruction of Congress.
Although Pettitte told congressional investigators that McNamee injected him with HGH, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton blocked similar testimony at the trial, ruling it might be too prejudicial to Clemens’s defense. Pettitte was permitted to testify that he received injections but did not specify who gave them.
Pettitte added that he received injections of the vitamin B-12 and pain-killers; Clemens testified before Congress that McNamee gave him shots of those substances. Pettitte testified, however, that he only received those types of shots from team doctors or training personnel — and never from McNamee.
The strength coach, who is expected to testify, has a checkered past, and his character has already been attacked by defense lawyers. That is why Pettitte’s testimony is considered critical to the government’s case — he has nothing to gain by testifying against his close friend and has not wavered about what Clemens allegedly told him.
On cross-examination, one of Clemens’s lawyers tried to establish that it was hard work and the practiced mechanics of pitching — not drugs — that made Clemens a standout on the mound.
The defense team showed Pettitte a series of photos of Clemens in mid-pitch for each of the four teams he played for during the course of his 24-year career to suggest that the pitcher’s “country big” physique had not changed over time.
Defense attorney Michael Attanasio then asked Pettitte to help him demonstrate for jurors how Clemens would intimidate hitters by throwing pitches on the inside of the plate and how he later developed a “devastating” split-finger fastball.
“As he got older, his fastball didn’t get faster,” Attanasio said. “He developed other types of pitches.”