The Rocket Under Fire
Congress investigates Jose Canseco's barbecue, a nanny in a peach bikini, and Roger Clemens' bloody butt.
On Wednesday, Brian McNamee admitted to lying to federal authorities and confessed that he got his Ph.D. from a diploma mill. He was called "disgusting" by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and a "drug dealer" by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. And he was the unquestioned winner of today's congressional steroids hearing. McNamee spoke in short, declarative sentences, never wavering on his allegations that he repeatedly injected Roger Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone. Clemens spoke haltingly, answered evasively, contradicted himself, and whispered with his lawyers when asked to explain these contradictions. Perhaps, like Sammy Sosa in 2005, he would've been better off claiming he didn't speak English.
Clemens' saving grace, if he had one, was his whistle-stop tour of Capitol Hill. Before Wednesday's public hearing, the baseball legend spent several days chatting up two dozen members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It's hard to imagine it's a coincidence that, in the aftermath of this meet-and-greet, some congressmen seemed less interested in weighing Clemens' testimony than in touching the hem of his garment. Indiana's Burton called him "a baseball titan." After producing a four-section poster board of Clemens action shots, North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx asked him to "talk a little bit about your regime. How hard do you work?" Missouri Democrat William Lacy Clay asked what uniform the pitcher would wear when elected to the Hall of Fame.
Clay's tongue-bath notwithstanding, it was mostly Republicans backing Clemens. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising, considering that the pitcher is a close friend of George H.W. Bush, "even building a horseshoe pit at his home for the former president," according to a 2006 USA Today article. While it's a commonly held notion that most jocks—and almost all jock politicians—lean Republican, it was still odd to see a hearing on steroids split across party lines. Foxx, Burton, Shays, and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., attacked McNamee's credibility relentlessly, while their colleagues across the aisle—most notably committee Chairman Henry Waxman, Massachusetts' Stephen Lynch, and Maryland's Elijah Cummings—laid off McNamee and grilled Clemens.
The Republicans scored points when they focused on how Clemens shouldn't have been singled out. "If you had 89 players here," Shays said, referring to the number of players named in the Mitchell report, "I'd feel a lot better about this hearing.'' Mostly, though, Clemens' GOP rooting section harped on McNamee's past transgressions. From my seat, at least, it looked like they were backing the losing team. And this wasn't a 3-to-2 ballgame; the score was more like 28 to 2. It's not just me; the Clemens-loving Republicans are out of step with the rest of America as well. According to an (admittedly unscientific) ESPN.com poll, 69 percent of more than 90,000 respondents believe Brian McNamee over Roger Clemens.
Things would've been even worse for Clemens if former teammates Chuck Knoblauch and Andy Pettitte had been in the room. (Both got a last-minute reprieve from testifying.) Knoblauch and Pettitte each told the committee that McNamee spoke the truth about injecting them with human growth hormone. "One day I have to give an account to God and not to nobody else of what I've done in my life," Pettitte said in a portion of his desposition (PDF) that was read aloud during the hearing. "And that's why I've said and shared the stuff with y'all ... that I wouldn't like to share with y'all." Knoblauch sounded a similar note in his interview (PDF): "You know ... my son was here today. And I am trying not to get emotional about this, but I mean, I am trying to teach him a lesson that you need to do things in life that you are going to be willing to talk about openly and to tell the truth." More than anything else on Wednesday, his teammates' candor pointed up the suspiciousness of Clemens' feints and dodges; if Pettitte and Knoblauch had been in the room, the pitcher would've been cooked.
Clemens' squirreliest moment came when he tried to bat away sworn affidavits from Pettitte (PDF) and Pettitte's wife, Laura (PDF). Both of the Pettittes said that Clemens admitted taking HGH in 1999 or 2000. In a subsequent conversation in 2005, Pettitte says, the pitcher denied this, throwing his wife under the bus instead. "I told you that [my wife] Debbie used HGH," Pettitte recalls Clemens saying. In his deposition, Pettitte also says that McNamee told him in 2003 or 2004—long before the Mitchell inquiry—that Clemens had taken steroids. "If I walked in here even-steven ... the person I believe most is Andy Pettitte," Rep. Cummings said near the end of the hearing. He's right—Pettitte, who Clemens still calls "a good friend," had no incentive to rat out his buddy. When asked why his best pal (and his best pal's wife) would swear that he took HGH, Clemens said, repeatedly, "I believe he misremembers"—perhaps not as catchy as Mark McGwire's "I'm not here to talk about the past" but just as destructive to his reputation.