Seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens pleaded not guilty Monday in Washington, D.C., to charges of lying to Congress about whether he used steroids or human growth hormone.
Clemens entered his plea in U.S. District Court, just a few blocks away from where the retired pitcher swore under oath that he had not used performance-enhancing drugs.
Federal prosecutors didn't believe him, and they charged him with making false statements, perjury and obstruction of Congress.
Clemens, 48, has said he will fight the charges.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton set an April 5 date for choosing a jury after Clemens entered his plea.
If convicted, Clemens could face up to 30 years in prison and a $1.5-million US fine. However, a conviction could cause catastrophic damage to his reputation, future earning potential and chances of getting into baseball's Hall of Fame.
Pete Rose, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Denny McLain are among former baseball stars to have spent time in jail. Clemens and Barry Bonds, who chased history on the field throughout their careers, now could be chasing history off it.
They are both in jeopardy of becoming the first baseball star jailed because of a conviction related to the performance-enhancing-drug imbroglio that has sullied their sport for much of the past 15 years.
Clemens was being arraigned on three counts of making false statements, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of Congress.
He entered the courthouse well before his hearing, which was scheduled for a ceremonial courtroom that seats about 300 people.
Looking for quit exit?
After spending the morning in the back rooms of the courthouse, where defendants often go to get their fingerprints and mug shots taken, Clemens and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, went to the main cafeteria, where the pitcher sat at a corner table and had a salad and a bottle of water for lunch.
Clemens was friendly, but declined comment when approached by an Associated Press reporter. Hardin said plans hadn't changed for the hearing, but he wanted to honour the gag order imposed by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton. Last week, Walton ordered interested participants to refrain from making public comments that could have a material effect on the case.
Clemens's early arrival may have been because he wanted to make a quick exit after his hearing is over. The New York Daily News reports that Clemens and his wife, Debbie, planned to fly to Myrtle Beach, S.C., later Monday to play in the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship.
He arrived at The Pearl golf course in Calabash, N.C., shortly after 5 p.m. and shot a 12-over 84, matching his wife's first-day score.
Clemens declined to answer questions about his court appearance, but did thank tournament organizers for allowing him to compete in the event under the circumstances.
Despite the possibility of 30 years in prison and a $1.5-million fine for a conviction, under U.S. sentencing guidelines, he would probably face no more than 15 to 21 months in prison.
Turns down plea deal
All signs point toward him fighting. He came to Congress after being mentioned repeatedly in the Mitchell Report — the damning breakdown of the sport's steroid problem released in 2007.
In front of a House committee the next year, Clemens said: "Let me be clear. I have never taken steroids or HGH." Before his indictment was handed down Aug. 19, Clemens was offered a plea deal that he turned down, and afterward, he showed no signs of backing down.
"I look forward to challenging the governments accusations, and hope people will keep an open mind until trial," Clemens wrote on Twitter after the indictment. "I appreciate all the support I have been getting. I am happy to finally have my day in court."
His day in court figures to be one of many in the near future for some of baseball's biggest names — now sullied by steroid-related accusations. Bonds, the all-time home run king, is scheduled to go on trial in March on charges of lying to a federal grand jury when he said he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs.
At the hearing in front of the House committee on oversight and government reform, Clemens's former trainer, Brian McNamee, said the pitcher did, in fact, use steroids and HGH. Former teammate Andy Pettitte also told congressional investigators that Clemens told him he had used HGH.
Clemens told Congress that Pettitte "misremembers" the conversation.
All that testimony figures to be rehashed in a trial that could irrevocably tarnish the reputation of one of the most dominant pitchers in history.
Over 23 seasons, Clemens recorded 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.12.