They are playing baseball for real now, but all minds are not on the diamond. Many still are pondering the biggest show of the off-season, the one that pitted the word of Roger Clemens, a pitcher of note, against that of his erstwhile personal trainer, Brian McNamee.
In several venues, including the Congress of these United States, McNamee swore that he stuck needles containing steroids and HGH, a banned, steroid-like substance for which there is no test, into the buttocks of Clemens in years past, thus giving the pitcher supernatural powers.
Clemens denied taking anything illegal. McNamee did shoot him up on occasion, he averred, but only with vitamin B12, a legal substance generally favored by the elderly as a pick-me-up. He has threatened to sue McNamee for besmirching his good name, although from accounts of the current state of the trainer’s business, he’d have a hard time collecting much if he won.
Other evidence is involved. Weirdly, McNamee produced needles, vials and gauze that he said he used in the Clemens injections. This material presumably contained the pitcher’s DNA, although the whats, whens and wheres of the procedures still would be in doubt. Andy Pettitte, Clemens’ one-time pitching partner and pal, said he took HGH shots from McNamee (for purely therapeutic reasons, naturally) and understood that Clemens had, too. But Pettitte admitted he never was present when the Clemens’ hide was pierced, so he didn’t know for sure.
So it’s pretty much a he said-he said, and you can take your pick. Interestingly, most of Democrats on the Congressional committee that heard the two men testify last month sided with McNamee and most of the Republicans took Clemens’ part. While that’s in keeping with the two parties’ general stances (the Dems usually side with little guy publicly, the GOP with the fat cats), it also might reflect seven years of reflexive Republican head nodding to the babble of their leader, Mr. Bush.
Whatever, my take is that Roger ain’t telling the truth. Not only does he come across as a rich, blustery jock used to having his version of things accepted uncritically, but some of his on-field actions tipped off the pissed-off persona of a steroids user. I refer specifically to the incident in the 2000 World Series when the New York Mets’ Mike Piazza splintered his bat fouling off a Clemens pitch and a jagged segment rolled toward the mound. Clemens picked it up and flung it at Piazza. A few feet to the right and he might have speared the poor guy.
In the back-and-forth over McNamee’s claims the pitcher’s wife, Debbie, fessed up that she once took HGH so she’d look better for a 2003 photo shoot in which she was to wear a bikini. Do you think Debbie took it to enhance her looks while Roger didn’t to advance his (and her) livlihood? C’mon. I stopped believing the sprinter Marion Jones’s denials of steroid use when her then-husband, the massive shot putter C.J. Hunter, was busted for taking the stuff in a test announced just before the 2000 Olympics, in which Jones was to star. What did the two of them discuss at the dinner table—the price of sweat socks?
The clincher for me, though, was provided by a Chicago Tribune column written by the estimable Bob Verdi. When Clemens said he didn’t attend a party at Jose Canseco’s house that figured in the drug-use allegations because he was playing golf that day, and produced a green-fee receipt to prove it, Verdi guffawed mightily in print. No big-time jock ever pays for his own golf, declared Verdi, who has hung around more than his share of courses.
In baseball lore, a kid asked the Black Sox wrongdoer “Shoeless” Joe Jackson to “Say it isn’t so, Joe.” Clemens is all too ready to say that, but it’s tough to believe him.
April 1, 2008