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Steroid Hearing an Awkward Affair

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/09/clemens.jpgBaseball star Roger Clemens testifies at a House oversight hearing on steroids. (WDCPix)

The congressional hearing on whether Brian McNamee injected Roger Clemens with steroids, as the Mitchell Report said he did, was an awkward affair.

Awkward for members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who alternately defended and denounced the hearing’s merits. Awkward for Clemens’ former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, who faced nasty character attacks. And most awkward for Clemens, who may have committed perjury.

The committee brought this on by turning former Sen. George Mitchell’s report on illegal steroids in Major League Baseball into a he-said, he-said confrontation between Clemens and McNamee.

Now the committee members their most awkward moment yet: Either request that the Justice Department investigate Clemens, prolonging the probe into the contested legacy of an era-defining sports star; or focus on more pressing oversight matters, and act like a five-hour hearing, televised nationally on CNN and ESPN, never took place.

If we held a hearing for every athlete accused of taking performance enhancing drugs we would shut this place down

“If we held a hearing for every athlete accused of taking performance enhancing drugs we would shut this place down,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), “Oversight has much more important things to deal with than bad behavior of individuals.”

Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) gave the case for the hearing in his opening remarks. “We have no interest in making baseball a central part of our committee’s agenda,” he said. “But if the Mitchell Report is to be the last word on baseball’s past, we believed we had a responsibility to investigate a serious claim on inaccuracy.”

Clemens, in fact, is the only one of the 89 players the report implicates for steroid use who has publicly disputed the charge. The committee does deserve credit for making his version of events sound flimsier than ever.

Waxman detailed how Clemens’s sworn deposition directly conflicted with that of his Yankee teammate and close friend, Andy Petite. Petite confirmed everything related to him in the report — including a conversation he had with Clemens in 1999 or 2000, where Clemens told him he was getting Human Growth Hormone from McNamee.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) followed Waxman by asking Clemens if Petite had ever lied to him. Clemens vouched for Petite’s honesty, and answered that Petite would have no motivation to lie. So, Cummings asked, what about his deposition? “I think he misremembered the conversation,” Clemens managed.

Shortly thereafter, Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) asked Clemens about McNamee injecting his wife, Debbie Clemens, with HGH. Clemens claims he had no knowledge of this. Yet Petite’s deposition described a 2005 conversation when Clemens told Petite his wife was taking HGH.

Clemens replied not only he had never used HGH, not only had his wife never used HGH with his knowledge, but, “I couldn’t have told you the first thing about human growth hormone until about a month ago.”

It was nothing more than Clemens v. McNamee, with the respective partisan allegiances a strange subtext.

Cummings took another turn questioning Clemens. He emphasized that Clemens’ Yankee teammates Petite and Chuck Knoblauch agreed with everything McNamee told Mitchell about their own steroid use and Clemens’ use. “It’s hard to believe you, sir,” Cummings told Clemens, “You’re one of my heroes, but it’s hard to believe you.”

None of the 21 committee members speaking Wednesday questioned the truth of Petite’s and Knoblauch’s depositions. Instead, Clemens’ defenders were reduced to embarrassing McNamee.

Rep. Tom Davis, (R-Va.), the ranking minority member, delivered a series of questions about McNamee’s Ph.D. from a mail-order college. “What was your dissertation on?” Davis asked. McNamee said it was on baseball training and developing stamina in pitchers. “Hmm, interesting one to read,” Davis replied. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.) later added, “Ph.D must mean piled higher and deeper.”

Almost all these broadsides against McNamee came from Republicans. And nearly all the hardest hits against Clemens came from Democrats. In his closing remarks, Waxman said the public health issue of steroids was an issue that “doesn’t separate us Democrats and Republicans.”

Maybe not, but the hearing wasn’t about educating the public about steroids or even rescuing the national pastime. It was nothing more than Clemens v. McNamee, with the respective partisan allegiances a strange subtext.

Neither man emerged as especially deserving of the nation’s attention. “I did not want to cooperate ,” McNamee testified, “because I knew that if I told the truth, I would be providing damaging information against people who I worked for. In the end, I cooperated with federal investigators and with Sen. Mitchell.”

But why did he cooperate? McNamee never made clear, though he denied it was a plea bargain with federal investigators to avoid jail time.

Clemens, meanwhile, vigorously denied that McNamee had injected steroids into him, yet he was willfully ignorant about the effects of vitamin supplements he testified that McNamee did give him. “He had a Ph.D. — I trusted him,” Clemens said.

Now Waxman and the committee must decide whether it is worth their time to investigate these men further. Or, if this is indeed the final chapter in Major League Baseball’s “steroids era,” it cements the story as one few will care to read.

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