Brian McNamee

Will there be sordidness in the Roger Clemens trial? Oh yeah, there will be

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I’ve been pretty clear about not being a big Roger Clemens fan. I’ve also been pretty clear in thinking that the case against him is going to be stronger than the case against Barry Bonds for the simple reason that, unlike in the Bonds case, the jury will hear from someone who claims to have direct knowledge of the situation that Roger Clemens did, in fact, take steroids.  That person is his former trainer, Brian McNamee.

What I haven’t said a lot about lately, but which I wrote about extensively three years ago when all of this was first bubbling to the surface, is that Brian McNamee has his own problems as a witness and will be subject to a pretty rigorous cross-examination. Cross-examination on the most fundamental and potentially damning basis on which any witness can be crossed: his credibility.

The facts are these: McNamee is an admitted liar.  He lied for years about Clemens steroid use, protecting his position as Clemens’ personal trainer and protecting his neck as an illicit drug distributor. In that process he famously wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he denied Clemens ever took steroids.  Prosecutors will have no choice but to deal with that from the get-go, establishing that, yes, he was once untruthful regarding the matters on which he will testify in this case, but now he is being honest. The defense, of course, gets to ask the best question any lawyer can ever ask any witness: “so, were you lying then or are you lying now?”

But there’s another matter which touches on McNamee’s credibility. It’s far more complicated and potentially explosive, however, and late last night it exploded into this case when Clements’ lawyers filed a motion on the subject: McNamee was once suspected of and questioned about drugging and raping a woman in a Florida hotel pool when he worked for the Yankees in 2001. No charges ever resulted from the incident. But the critical takeaway was that the police suspected — and noted in their reports — that they believed McNamee lied to them during questioning.

Clemens’ lawyers want that stuff admitted into evidence during Clemens’ trial. Prosecutors, of course, want no part of it in there. Clemens’ lawyers likely want to paint with a broad brush, touching on the credibility angles, but wouldn’t mind a bit if it all gave the jury the impression that McNamee is a rapist who somehow slithered free. Prosecutors would like it all avoided, because it “could become a ‘sideshow’ that would unfairly prejudice the jury against their leading witness.”

It strikes me that the incident has to come into evidence in at least some limited fashion due to that credibility angle. That Clemens’ lawyers should be able to establish that, when questioned by law enforcement in 2001, McNamee was believed to have lied, thus suggesting the possibility that, when questioned by law enforcement during the course of the Mitchell Report, he lied once again. How much latitude Clemens lawyers should get in bringing up the underlying facts of the investigation (i.e. the alleged rape) as opposed to bringing up the lying stuff is the line the judge will have to walk. And it won’t be an easy line.

So no, the Clemens trial will not be solely about illicit drugs, hotel room injections and abscesses on Clemens’ buttocks. There will be some ugliness in there too.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.