Sports Nut

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) 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.

Nothing that emerged from Clemens’ mouth, though, will serve as the lasting memory from this hearing. What we’ll all remember is the pitcher’s bleeding butt. In his deposition (PDF), McNamee talks about injecting Clemens’ backside with growth hormone in a Jacuzzi. (Wait a second—that might be the lasting image.) After the Jacuzzi injection, McNamee says, Clemens “bled through his designer pants.” When Yankee teammate Mike Stanton noticed the blood, McNamee said, Clemens decided that from then on he would carry “those little Band-Aids for his butt if it bled.” Clemens, of course, denied carrying around little Band-Aids for his butt if it bled.

In recent weeks, Clemens’ defenders and detractors have scrutinized the pitcher’s statistics for any sign that he used performance-enhancing drugs. On Wednesday, the committee found an asterisk—on Clemens’ backside. According to trainers’ reports from the pitcher’s tenure with the Blue Jays, Clemens had an MRI after getting a “palpable mass on his buttocks.” Clemens claims the mass arose because of a bad B-12 shot or a strained glute. Lynch, the Massachusetts Democrat, disagreed. He read from a report the committee commissioned from one of the “country’s leading experts on MRIs,” Dr. Mark D. Murphey. “[I]t is my opinion,” Murphey wrote, “that the history and MR imaging descriptions are more compatible with the Winstrol [steroids] injection.” As Waxman pounded the gavel to try to cut them off, Clemens’ lawyers jumped up to present a report from a Dr. O’Malley who “says there were no steroids.” In the steroids era, a pitcher’s butt is a Rorschach test.

While Clemens tried to cover his ass, the man sitting between him and McNamee—Mitchell report investigator Charles Scheeler—mostly twiddled his thumbs. When the report did come up, the committee focused on a single niggling detail: Clemens’ presence at or absence from a 1998 barbecue hosted by then-Blue Jays teammate Jose “Juiced” Canseco. In the context of the Mitchell report, the Canseco party is a minor narrative flourish—the report doesn’t say that Clemens and Canseco chatted about ‘roids at the party, much less that they injected each other in the pool house.

Still, the congressmen obsessed over the party: If McNamee was lying about Canseco’s guest list, perhaps he was lying about everything else. In his testimony, McNamee describes an idyllic-sounding afternoon spent “eating a sandwich next to Mr. Canseco’s pool” when he saw a woman with a “peach bikini with green in it and board shorts.” Struck by the woman, McNamee asked a fellow partygoer about her identity. He was told it was the Clemens’ nanny; moments later, he says, he saw Roger and Debbie Clemens go inside Canseco’s house. Jose Canseco, on the other hand, told the committee (PDF) that Clemens wasn’t at the barbecue. The Clemens camp also produced copies of a Blue Jays game broadcast in which the announcers noted that Clemens hadn’t attended the Canseco fete. (It is unclear why this came up during the telecast; perhaps there was an eight-hour rain delay, and the announcers needed to fill time.)

As dictated by congressional bylaw, the tiebreaker vote goes to the nanny. In an affidavit (PDF), the anonymous former Clemens employee said that she doesn’t recall any barbecue. She did, however, stay at the Canseco home overnight with Debbie Clemens and the couple’s children, and she remembers Roger going into the house to have a look around, as well. More damaging to Clemens is the appearance that he tampered with the witness. Last Friday, the committee asked Clemens’ attorneys for the nanny’s name and phone number. Before releasing that information, Clemens asked her to come meet with him in his Houston home. Such an invitation, noted Waxman, “sure raises an appearance of impropriety.” Ignoring Waxman’s plea to pipe down, Clemens’ attorney Rusty Hardin announced that it was his “idea to investigate what witnesses know, just like any other lawyer in the free world does.” For his part, Clemens argued that he “was doing y’all a favor. … I hadn’t seen this lady in a long time, she’s a sweet lady, and I wanted to get her to you.”

On this day, the only person Roger Clemens did any favors was Brian McNamee. By engaging in what looks a lot like witness tampering, Clemens and his camp may have opened themselves up to more legal trouble. And by surreptitiously taping a series of phone calls with McNamee, Clemens, et al. have done the impossible: turned the trainer/injector from a shady figure into a sympathetic one. McNamee lied to reporters and federal investigators about how much he knew about his clients’ drug use. He kept vials, syringes, and bloody gauze used by Clemens in his basement, he says, just in case his friend and employer ever turned on him. Last week, this all sounded completely insane. Now, after watching Roger Clemens and his team stumble through five hours of testimony, Brian McNamee looks like the smartest guy in the room.