Washington hits the Rocket

Star pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, disagreed under oath before a congressional committee about Clemens

What happened

Star pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, testified under oath before a congressional committee about Clemens’ alleged use of human growth hormone (HGH) and steroids. Clemens flatly denied having ever used the substances, while McNamee testified to having injected them into Clemens at his request. Teammate and friend Andy Pettitte submitted an affidavit in which he admitted to using HGH and said Clemens had told him he’d used it, too. And Clemens and McNamee agreed that the trainer had injected HGH into Clemens’ wife, Debbie. “You’re one of my heroes,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D, Md.) told Clemens. “But it’s hard to believe you.” (Reuters)

What the commentators said

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Clemens “never made it out of the first inning,” said Bill Plaschke in the Los Angeles Times. It was “likely the final appearance of his career,” and “the greatest pitcher in baseball history was shelled.” It was essentially a four-hour match-up between Clemens’s integrity and that “of an admitted drug pusher,” and “the drug pusher won.” Clemens was “knocked out of the park” by inconsistencies in his testimony, sworn statements from teammates, friends, “and even his former nanny.” The only time he told the truth was when he said that his reputation will never fully be restored.

McNamee was “the unquestioned winner” of the hearings, said Josh Levin in Slate. And that’s no mean feat for a “shady” admitted liar and drug injector. More than 90,000 people voted in “an (admittedly unscientific) ESPN.com poll,” and 69 percent said they believe McNamee over his former client. Clemens’ only “saving grace, if he had one,” was the “tongue bath” he got from fawning House members, who seem more interested in “touching the hem of his garment” than reading him the riot act. Oddly, the fawning mostly "split across party lines,” with “the Clemens-loving Republicans” apparently “backing the losing team.”

Yeah, it’s weird that the hearings would “turn into a partisan slugfest,” said Ryan Grim in Politico. It seems like investigating steroid use could be something pursued on a bipartisan basis, “even if that something is only a made-for-TV interrogation.” But no, “with a few exceptions,” you saw the House Democrats “hammer away at Clemens for the numerous contradictions in his story while Republicans sing Clemens’ praises and bang away at McNamee.”

Doesn’t Congress have anything better to do than investigate “Roger Clemens’s tush,” anyways? said Colman McCarthy in The Washington Post (free registration). Besides, the larger issue is that drug use, legal or illegal, is the real “American pastime, and it is far bigger than baseball.” Clemens should have polled the committee members “on their use of performance-enhancing drugs,” starting “with Viagra. Or Cialis.” Not to mention caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Steroids and drug use are “an issue of personal freedom,” and the only difference between baseball players “juiced on steroids” and their fans “stoned on alcohol” is that Congress and “the sanctimonious sports media” have “decreed a crackdown” on the former.

In the end, the hearing “ended pretty much where it began,” said Richard Justice in the Houston Chronicle’s SportsJustice blog. “We learned that Roger Clemens apparently had told some lies and that Brian McNamee lacks credibility.” Clemens is “unlikely” to face jail time, even if “everything McNamee said is true.” But “the really tough part is just beginning” for the Rocket. IRS and FBI agents were at the hearing, and that means that Clemens is in for a long federal criminal investigation. “He should ask Barry Bonds how it feels to get up each and every morning wondering" when the hammer will fall.

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