Although we have spoken by phone over the years, I last saw Hardin at a 1995 Southern Methodist University law-school reunion. Law school creates an esprit de corps born of the shared misery of professorial intimidation. But Hardin was not easily intimidated. Unlike other classmates, he came with more history: a schoolteacher, a Vietnam War veteran, a husband, a father. That didn’t mean he didn’t possess the same wide-eyed idealism that I did. We both wanted to practice criminal law.
As he enters the bar at the Willard, I see that his ever-present, jury-winning grin hasn’t faded. Nor has his homespun resolve to burrow into a companion’s background and make him the center of his attention. “I want to know all about what you’re doing,” he says, ordering a chardonnay. I offer up tokens of my past, about how I hung up my lawyerly vest when I realized I enjoyed writing about the law more than practicing it. I try to turn the conversation to the Clemens case, but Hardin tells me a judge’s gag order prevents him from discussing it. Nor would he handle the jeopardy motion.
“So why am I here again?” I ask. Although we’d arranged for a follow-up interview in Houston to discuss the secrets of his courtroom success, I wanted to get some color for the story by watching him chew on some government hide.
“How about dinner?” he offers. “Roger will be down any minute.”
“Roger,” I repeat. Maybe the trip won’t be such a washout after all.
Clemens’ infamous appearance before Congress never comes up at dinner. The Caesar salad and beef tenderloin at the Capital Grille are conducive to confession, but none is forthcoming.
Clemens is dressed more for the links than five-star dining, wearing khaki slacks, a blue golf shirt and a gimme cap that says “Rocket Man.” Nicknamed “the Rocket” when he dominated the sport, he played for four big-league teams in his 24-season career and retired with the third most strikeouts in MLB history. After dinner we move from the hotel restaurant to a nearby rooftop bar, drawing stares and parting crowds. Clemens is constantly wired to his cellphone, listening to reports from his son’s high-school football game in Houston.
He shows me photos on his phone; pictures of his wife, his kids, the family cat and several baseball shots from his days in uniform. Suddenly I turn into a shameless fan, asking him to sign an autograph for my 14-year-old son. He says he’ll get me something soon, and I wonder if he’s just brushing me off. But the next day Clemens remains true to his word and hands me a signed photo of himself when he pitched for the Houston Astros — the autograph made out to my son.