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Roger Clemens trial: Yankees GM Brian Cashman testifies favorably on pitcher’s work ethic

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, right, who held the job when Roger Clemens was with the franchise, leaves federal court with attorney Christopher Duffy after testifying in the Clemens trial. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman testified in federal court Thursday that he never suspected Roger Clemens had used performance-enhancing drugs, calling him a fierce competitor and hard worker who was determined to win.

Cashman, the team’s GM during Clemens’s time with the Yankees, was the latest prosecution witness to testify favorably about the pitcher’s character and work ethic during his trial on charges he lied to Congress in 2008 when he denied using steroids or human growth hormone (HGH).

“No one worked harder than Roger Clemens,” Cashman told jurors on cross-examination by Clemens’s lead defense attorney, Rusty Hardin. “He was determined to win. He was off the charts in work ethic and desire.”

“He was the kind of player who could put a team on his shoulders and say ‘follow me,’ ” Cashman added, explaining why he traded for Clemens in 1999 even though the Yankees had just won the World Series.

Prosecutors summoned Cashman to testify about why he hired one of Clemens’s former strength coaches to join the Yankees a year after “The Rocket” signed with the New York ball club. Federal prosecutors allege that the coach, Brian McNamee, injected Clemens with steroids and HGH in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Cashman, who played baseball at Georgetown Prep and Catholic University, testified that he saw Clemens in the clubhouse after a poor performance against the Yankees’ rival Boston Red Sox in the 1999 playoffs. Clemens didn’t last three innings in giving up five runs on six hits, and Cashman conceded the pitcher had gotten “bombed” on the mound.

In the locker room, Cashman spotted Clemens with the pitcher’s leg wrapped in ice because he had aggravated a nagging hamstring injury. After Cashman asked how he felt, Clemens asked the GM to hire McNamee, who had worked with Clemens on his previous team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

“He broached the subject of McNamee,” Cashman said. “He clicked with McNamee; he knew his body, knew how to train him, how to push the right buttons.” McNamee, who could testify as early as Monday, joined the Yankees the next season, Cashman said.

Prosecutors have assiduously attempted to craft a narrative of Clemens as an aging star who needed steroids and growth hormone to recover from injuries and workouts to keep pitching at a competitive level. And they believe that moment in the Fenway Park locker room was evidence of a broken Clemens seeking help from an old friend who had injected him with steroids a year earlier.

But Cashman and other prosecution witnesses — including Clemens’s former doctors, trainers and even a steroid dealer — have all testified that Clemens was the hardest-working baseball player they knew.

Defense lawyers say that Clemens never took steroids or growth hormones and was a success on the field because he toiled to improve his strength and fitness. During cross-examination, they pointed out that Clemens won the deciding game of the 1999 World Series about a week after the loss in Boston.

“He gutted it out,” Cashman said, explaining that the pitcher took the mound despite an injury that would have sidelined others.

Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young awards, would go on to pitch successfully through the 2007 season.

But Cashman expressed reservations about McNamee and the hiring arrangement.

Cashman said it was unusual for the Yankees to hire a strength coach to work specifically with one player, and that he was uneasy about hiring McNamee. As part of the arrangement, Cashman said, McNamee’s $30,000 salary — or a portion of it — was supposed to be reimbursed by Clemens.

Clemens is charged with committing perjury, making false statements and obstructing Congress in 2008 when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs during a nationally televised hearing. The hearing was sparked by a 2007 report by former senator George Mitchell that exposed rampant steroid use in Major League Baseball.

As part of their case, prosecutors allege that Clemens obstructed Congress when he told House investigators in a deposition that he was routinely injected with the vitamin B-12 by his strength coach and that syringes of the liquid vitamin were “lined up ready to go” after games.

Cashman and a doctor for another one of Clemens’s teams, the Houston Astros, testified Thursday that McNamee and other strength coaches would not have had access to or the authority to give such injections. And they testified that they never saw pre-loaded needles in the clubhouses of their respective teams.

Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.

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