WASHINGTON — Knowledgeable baseball fans can argue all day whether it was the split-finger fastball — and not performance-enhancing drugs — that kept Roger Clemens on top of his game well into his 30s and beyond. His lawyers are trying to make that point at a trial where basic baseball terms require an explanation for a jury of nonfans.
Former journeyman catcher Charlie O'Brien was on the stand Wednesday for the defense at the Clemens perjury trial. He was fuzzy about lots of details, couldn't come up with a real name for the player known as "El Duque" and totally dissed the 1997 Toronto Blue Jays medical staff. But there was no doubt in his mind about two things: Clemens was not a cheater, and the weapon Clemens mastered at age 34 was the chief reason the 11-time All-Star was able to pitch for another decade.
"That pitch right there — the split-finger fastball," O'Brien said.
O'Brien caught Clemens' games for much of the 1997 Blue Jays season, a crucial time period as prosecutors attempt to prove that Clemens lied when he told Congress in 2008 that he never took steroids and human growth hormone.
O'Brien also said he would sometimes see multiple needles of vitamin B12 "lined up ready to go" in the Toronto clubhouse, supporting another statement made by Clemens the government has sought to disprove.
As a sidelight, O'Brien said the Blue Jays' medical services at the time were "very poor" and that former Blue Jays head athletic trainer Tommy Craig was a nice guy but "might have been one of the worst trainers."