Inquirer sports columnist Phil Sheridan blogs on the congressional hearings being held in Washington, D.C., today regarding steroids in Major League Baseball:
Some quick thoughts and conclusions:
Andy Pettitte should have been there.
You can see why he wouldn't want to be, given that his truthful testimony was harmful to his friend and mentor. And you can see why the committee excused him: Several members made a point of praising Pettitte for being so candid, even though it was painful and embarrassing for him. They liked Pettitte and they decided to spare him the public spectacle. Ultimately, that left Clemens hanging, unable to clear up what was really said between them.
Of course, as chairman Henry Waxman pointed out at the top, this hearing was held mostly because of Clemens' vigorous public denials of the charges in the Mitchell report. Clemens wanted the forum, not Pettitte.
The Congresspersons' big problem: They wanted to believe and even trumpet the report by the very respected former Sen. George Mitchell, but many of them also wanted to cut out the unpleasant parts about Roger Clemens. And that's just not possible.
There was a fascinating sequence in the morning that focused, oddly enough, on Roger Clemens' backside.
McNamee told investigators that Clemens had an "abscess" on a buttock, near where McNamee said he'd injected Clemens with the steroid Winstrol. This was in 1998, when Clemens and McNamee were both with the Toronto Blue Jays. McNamee said the team's trainer told him there was an abscess. Later, McNamee said, he learned that Winstrol should be injected slowly, something he didn't know when he made the injection. So he believed his poor technique caused the abscess.
Everyone agrees Clemens had an injury of some kind on his backside in July, 1998. The team doctor ordered an MRI exam. The MRI showed a "palpable mass" on Clemens' buttock. Clemens characterized it as a "strained glute," meaning a pulled muscle in that area. But an independent doctor who viewed the report said the injury was more consistent with a reaction to an injection and that no muscle tear was evident.
Again, Clemens' side shifts its arguments, first saying it was a muscle tear, then saying it must have resulted from a B-12 injection given by the Jays' team doctors.
A lot of effort was expended trying to pin McNamee's inaccuracies down here, but it didn't work. McNamee's story is consistent: He was a team employee secretly injecting a player with steroids and something went wrong. Everyone involved had incentive to cover up the real source of the "abscess" - which might have been more like a bruise - from Clemens to any team medical personnel who might have been looking the other way on possible steroid use.
OK, that wasn't a quick comment.
That was something - fascinating theater if not exactly satisfying for those expecting a resolution of some kind.
Henry Waxman, chairman of the committee, had to bang his gavel to quiet Clemens down at the very end. Waxman was making his final statement and Clemens interjected that Andy Pettitte was "mistaken" and not either lying or undermining Clemens' version.
"This is not your time to argue with me," Waxman scolded Clemens as he brought the hammer down.
Clemens looked like he wanted to throw a four-seamer right at Waxman's noggin. But he was smart enough to shut up.
Then Waxman apologized to McNamee for some of the comments made by members of the committee as they competed to earn Clemens' favor during some of the weirder parts of the hearing.
Thing is, it was impossible for anyone on the committee to be much harder on McNamee than he was on himself from the start.
"I have helped to taint our national pastime," McNamee said in his opening statement.
That much, everyone can agree upon.
Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays seems to be the rare Congressman who remembers those 2005 hearings. That's what opened the door to all of this. Baseball's negligence made all it all happen.
Things get heated as people get tired and cranky.
"Mr. McNamee, you are a drug dealer," Shays says. "Tell me how it's legal to do illegal things. You were dealing in drugs, were you not?"
Then Waxman makes the counterpoint: The players who used the substances were using illegal drugs, too, right?
Darrell Issa jumps back in. Apparently someone on his staff pointed out that his crack about Ph.D's will not play well among those who have one. So Issa makes another comment about the difference between getting degrees "through the front door" instead of from a "diploma mill."
McNamee got his Ph.D through a corresponence program. What that has to do with whether he injected Roger Clemens with steroids and HGH, I have no idea.
Issa says McNamee deceived his clients. McNamee says he only did what his clients asked.
"He deceived me," Clemens says. He follows with an emotion speech about talking to students about the dangers of using illegal performance enhancers. It seems heartfelt, not merely a play to the Congressional hearts and minds. But is Clemens red-faced because he didn't use this stuff, or because he did and all those talks with student-athletes now look like lies?
It's the question at the bottom of this mess.
Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, blurts it right out. He didn't know coming in who to believe. Pettitte's testimony, he says, "swings the balance over to Mr. McNamee. I gotta tell you."
Cummings had Clemens stammering in the morning session, trying to get at the same fundamental issue. Why would Pettitte lie?
"I take you at your word, and your word is that Andy Pettitte is an honest man and his credibility is impeccable," Cummings tells Clemens. "It's hard to believe you, sir. You're one of my heroes, but it's hard to believe you."
It's impossible to watch this without wanting to throw up, no matter who you want to believe.
Back to the frustration thing: Clemens is asked about his workout regimen, as if it is some kind of proof he wouldn't use steroids or HGH. Clemens has said since 60 Minutes that his dominating performance is a result of hard work.
How can anyone, in Congress or out, be paying attention and not yet understand the nature of these substances? The whole point of steroid use for athletes is that they enable longer, more strenuous workouts and quicker recovery. So when some old player defends himself or a teammate from steroid allegations by saying they work hard, they aren't countering the accusation.
They are actually reinforcing it.
Debbie Clemens pops up again. This time, Roger reads a statement from her that he'd alluded to earlier. She admits to having the HGH injection in her bedroom while Roger was not at home. When Roger came home, she says, she told him about the shot and about some itching, which she describes as circulation trouble.
"I would never have instructed Brian McNamee to give my wife these shots," Clemens says. "I don't know anything about HGH."
Then: "It doesn't help you."
So he doesn't know about it, but he knows it doesn't help you.
He doesn't know about it, but he doesn't get medical attention for his wife when she has a bad reaction to HGH.
He doesn't know McNamee is in his bedroom injecting his wife with HGH, but he continues to employ McNamee for years - right up until McNamee tells investigators he injected Clemens himself with PEDs.
Here's another example of the double standard. Clemens' side has misrepresented that nature of McNamee's cooperation with federal agents and the Mitchell commission. Team Clemens said McNamee was coerced into implicating Clemens in order to avoid prosecution. There's no evidence of that. Team Clemens said the Mitchell investigators held a Soviet-style interrogation, simply holding up McNamee's deposition and asking him if he lied and then putting that version of events into the report. Charles Scheeler, a former federal prosecutor (and the guy stuck sitting between Clemens and McNamee today) who worked with the Mitchell commission, said that was completely untrue. McNamee was talked to three different times and questioned by Mitchell himself.
But Darrell Issa didn't say "shame on you" to Clemens for lying about these facts. He said it to McNamee. Why?
Here is the most frustrating thing about today's hearing, and perhaps about the entire political process.
This committee enjoyed itself in 2005, drawing attention to itself and its no-holds-barred, no-nonsense approach by roasting commissioner Bud Selig and players union executive director Donald Fehr for their negligence in allowing baseball's steroids era to happen. The representatives made pronouncements about the disgraceful behavior of the players and their enablers.
Now when they get a real peek into what was going on, they're grandstanding and doing precisely what they ripped Selig and Fehr for - at least some of them are bending over backwards to protect one of the game's biggest stars and punish and humiliate the man who admitted to providing that star with steroids and HGH.
It's impossible to listen to the tone of many of these questions without getting a strong sense that these representatives aren't really paying close attention. This is baseball. But if they're this oblivious and prone to missing the point on matters of national security, or the education of our children, then this is much more depressing. And frankly, it's hard to believe they're sharp as tacks in those matters and just plain tacky in these matters.
Illinois Democrat Danny Davis asks Clemens questions about his own investigators' (secretly) taped interview with McNamee. Clearly, McNamee told them the same things, with more details, he told the Mitchell report.
"I've told you more truth than I've told the federal government," McNamee said on the tape.
He doesn't know anything about what his own investigators learned. His attorneys dealt with that. That means Clemens was, in his view, slandered and betrayed by a lying former friend and employee, but wasn't interested in what that friend/employee said in a lengthy interview conducted on his behalf.
Earlier, Clemens agreed that his longtime agents, the Hendricks brothers, were probably to blame for his failure to meet with Sen. Mitchell and his staff. He has alternately said that his attorneys advised him not to talk to the Mitchell and that he had no idea why Mitchell wanted to talk to him.
Tom Davis is right. Republicans continually point out that McNamee is dishonest but seem to gloss right over Clemens' inconsistencies.
Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, takes a shot at McNamee, saying "Ph.D must stand for 'Piling it Higher and Deeper.' I don't think he means 'credentials.'"
Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from Washington, D.C., asked Clemens one of the things every reasonable person would wonder. If McNamee is the lying filthy scoundrel Clemens says he is, "Why did you keep him [as a trainer]?"
Clemens has no reasonable answer for this. He talks about his wife getting an HGH injection from McNamee (without his knowledge, says Clemens; at Clemens' urging, says McNamee) in 2003 and having "circulation" problems - but he didn't call a doctor or look into what possible side-effects of HGH might be.
Could be because he already knew firsthand, right?
Tom Davis opens the afternoon session by offering Clemens a life preserver on Nannygate. Having acknowledged the partisan nature of these proceedings (who knew?), Davis lists all the people who said Clemens was not at the Canseco "luncheon" - love that term; makes you picture cucumber sandwiches with crusts cut off - and then offers Clemens an explanation for briefing his nanny before she talked to the committee.
Maybe the most telling point, though, is when Clemens responds by saying that he "might" have dropped his wife off at Canseco's house after their golf game. Again, this whole Canseco party thing has been overdone, but it has been overdone by Clemens' side in an attempt to puncture McNamee's credibility. If Roger walked Debbie in and McNamee saw them, bam. End of conflict. Advantage McNamee.
Lunch break. Good time to review the highlights, and lowlights, of Roger Clemens' nightmarish morning on Capitol Hill.
Clearly, the honorables believed Andy Pettitte, who gave additional information in a sworn affidavit after his under-oath deposition. Pettitte said he recalled Clemens telling him that he used human growth hormone in 1999 or 2000. Laura Pettitte, in separate testimony, confirmed that her husband told her about that conversation. The Pettittes also talked about a 2005 conversation: Andy, nervous about the growing exposure of baseball's steroid era, asked Clemens what he would say if reporters asked him about. Clemens denied saying he'd told Pettitte about using HGH, according to the testimony, then said Pettitte must have misinterpreted Clemens telling him about Debbie Clemens' admitted 2003 usage.
But, as several representatives pointed out, Roger Clemens could not have referred to Debbie's 2003 use (she was injected by McNamee) back in '99 or 2000.
Indiana's Dan Burton attacked McNamee's credibility in a most outspoken way. Burton read a series of statements McNamee gave reporters over the years, then asked if they were lies. McNamee acknowledged they were lies.
"I know one thing I don't believe and that's you," Burton said.
But . . .
McNamee didn't talk to all those reporters under oath. At the time, he was on the inside of baseball's shameful culture of steroid and drug abuse. He was protecting himself and his clients.
Much is made that McNamee's story changed over the past year or so as he began to talk to federal investigators and the Mitchell commission. At the start, McNamee admitted a minimal amount of abuse. As time went on, McNamee told of more and more injections. That looks bad, but McNamee's explanation makes sense: He started out trying to contain the damage being done to his clients (and friends, at least at the time). As he "lived with it" (McNamee's term), he thought back on the cycles he'd had players on and realized the numbers of injections had to be higher. He didn't keep written records - unlike the Balco guys - so he was relying on memory.
That's a huge gap if you're inclined to believe McNamee is lying. True enough. But it's impossible to get past the fact that Pettitte and Knoblauch - and even Debbie Clemens! - all confirm McNamee's version of events.
If you didn't know this was a partisan issue, well, now you do. Tom Davis, the ranking Republican on the committee, referred to the "other side" attacking Clemens' credibility.
Come on, Mr. Davis. If we can't talk about this without bringing Republicans and Democrats into it, then things are much worse than I thought.
It's America's pastime, not the Dems' or the GOP's pastime.
Henry Waxman, the chair of the committee, reveals that the Clemens family's nanny confirms one of the points that several representatives have attacked McNamee's credibility on.
You can tell how big this is by the way Clemens' attorneys leap to their feet to try to control the damage. Not only did the committee finally find this nanny - who was vividly described by McNamee earlier - but they found out the Clemenses invited her to their home over the weekend. Waxman suggests there is possible "impropriety" in the Clemenses having the nanny over just before she talked to the committee.
Here's why this is key. No one can prove McNamee is lying about all the needles and injections. But in 1998, there was a Toronto Blue Jays team party at Canseco's Miami home. McNamee said Clemens was there, and that Clemens and noted steroid abuser Canseco talked about performance-enhancing substances at that party. Clemens denied being there.
Canseco testified Clemens wasn't there. Indiana Republican Dan Burton, in today's biggest grandstand so far, held up CDs containing broadcasts from that evening's game where announcers mentioned the party and noted Clemens' absence.
A lot of weight has been placed by Clemens' camp and his supporters on this discrepancy as proof of McNamee's fundamental dishonesty.
Early in the day, McNamee said he was eating a sandwich when he saw a small child running toward Canseco's pool. He saw a woman running after the child, then described the color and cut of her bikini. The woman, McNamee learned later, was the Clemens' nanny. McNamee said he looked up and saw Debbie Clemens with the nanny, and that he also saw Roger Clemens a bit later.
No matter how many people contradicted him, McNamee stood by his account.
And now, according to Waxman, the unnamed nanny confirmed that Clemens was at the party and that Debbie Clemens and her children all stayed overnight at Canseco's place.
Roger's story was that he was golfing that day - with his wife.
Plausible explanation: Most of the Blue Jays' traveling party could have been at Canseco's house before getting to the ballpark for that night's game. Clemens, who pitched the night before and was golfing in the morning and early afternoon, simply could have gotten to the party after most of the team - even Canseco - had departed.
Pretty simple, isn't it?
Waxman's set-up really said it all. This hearing isn't going to produce a verdict from the committee. We're not going to be able to time-travel to the various baseball clubhouses and Jose Canseco "luncheons" and gymnasiums to see what really happened. This hearing is Clemens' opportunity to address what he claims is a slander in baseball's Mitchell Report, and it will be up to the American people to decide who to believe.
Things don't go well for Clemens from the start. The defiance in his opening statement gives way to nervousness, evasion and confusion as he is questioned on discrepancies in his story.
McNamee is exactly what you'd expect from a guy who made his living helping famous baseball players cheat - he's a little creepy and unpleasant, but here's what jumps out at me. His stories are consistent with the glimpses of life in the major leagues that I've gotten over the past two decades. It is abundantly clear that McNamee was around, that he talked freely with players and trainers, that he supplied steroids and HGH to his clients.
Mark E. Souder just summed up Roger Clemens' morning in hell: "Very frustrating," the Republican Congressman from Indiana said as he began his five minutes of questioning. Then Souder proceeded to deepen that frustration with a convoluted question that seemed beside the main point of the day.
And the point, of course, is pretty straightforward: Is Clemens lying about using steroids and human growth hormone? Or is his longtime personal trainer, Brian McNamee, lying when he says he repeatedly injected Clemens with an array of illegal steroids and HGH.
Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee set up today's hearing in those simple terms. There's no way this is a misunderstanding, or two credible versions of the same truth.
The day opened badly for the Rocket. Waxman revealed that, in separate depositions and affidavits, Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch both substantially confirmed McNamee's testimony about each of them. It is clear that Clemens' camp acknowledges McNamee's contention that he injected HGH into Debbie Clemens, Roger's wife, in 2003.
The circle around Clemens was awfully small by the time he got a chance to talk.