February 14, 2008
What We Learned
The Clemens-McNamee Hearing
All documents referred to in this piece are available at this link. I will try to be as detailed as possible in referring to the documents when possible.
Ignore, if you can, the hearings themselves. For that, you could use the phrase that some Congressmen found so inexplicable: "It is what it is." There was what appeared to be a clear, partisan divide on the Oversight Committee, with the Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) tending to side with Brian McNamee, and with the Republicans tending to side with Roger Clemens. While the questions tended to be focused on credibility rather than policy, about divining truth rather than evidence, the documents that the Oversight Committee collected between their last hearing and this one are stunning in their breadth and openness. In direct opposition to the Mitchell Report, the Congressional collection comes with such a degree of transparency that it's almost startling. At one point, C.J. Nitkowski is promised that they would attempt to keep his conversation confidential; it wasn't much of an attempt, because his statement in full is available without even the slightest redaction. Whether it was the relatively predictable and unenlightening statements, questions, and answers that are now part of the record, the documents published after the hearing are anything but.
A potential key to yesterday's proceedings was the inexplicable absence of Andy Pettitte. Several Congressmen, most notably Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), pointed to Andy Pettitte's testimony in sworn affidavits as the tipping point for their divinations. However, Pettitte's testimony is hardly the slam-dunk takedown of Clemens that it was made out to be. Pettitte, in many places, actually corroborates Clemens's version. Pettitte himself says that after discussing the use of PEDs with Clemens, he felt that "when Roger told me that he didn't take it [HGH] and I misunderstood him, I took it for that, that I misunderstood him" (Pettitte, p. 28). Pettitte barely recalls the initial conversation, but states that it was in passing-that Clemens "heard that it worked." At no point-no point-does Pettitte ever state, even in passing, that he knew or saw the use of any substance by Clemens. There are certainly elements of Pettitte's testimony that are problematic for Clemens, but I think as much as anything, the opportunity to hear Pettitte in person could have made or broken yesterday's hearings.
As far as Clemens's statements go, one of the points that Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) pushed the pitcher on what was a seeming contradiction, in that he had said twice that he had never discussed HGH with McNamee, then later pointedly discussing the injection that McNamee had given to Debbie Clemens. Reading the statement offers a far different context, as the questions were more pointed than the excerpts given, and in the context of Roger Clemens' use. If you follow the chain of questioning, there's a pattern that goes like "Did you use steroids? Did you use HGH? Did you buy HGH? Did you get HGH from McNamee? Did you talk about HGH with McNamee?" and then fifty pages later, "What about your wife's use?" This is semantics, of course, and certainly remains a point of legal question, one I'll gladly leave to the lawyers.
What is interesting is that the differences between Pettitte's statement and Clemens' statement are so easily reconciled. It's not without problems, but it's hardly the diametrically-opposed case that was presented. Instead, it's McNamee's case that is far harder to corroborate. McNamee's story rests on three points: the Jose Canseco party, the abscess on Clemens' backside, and his truthful account of two other athletes' usage of similar substances. The third is certainly the most troubling and compelling; there's simply no good reason here that doesn't involve some sort of conspiracy theory, but McNamee invites that sort of thinking by planning his defense so far ahead that he says he kept syringes for seven years. As far as the party, there's some issue with whether or not Clemens was at Canseco's house at all, but there is no issue with whether Clemens met with Canseco, as stated by McNamee both in the Mitchell Report and in his deposition for the Committee. Clemens's nanny placed him at the Canseco home later, but Canseco himself states that Clemens was not at the party nor does he mention any later meeting. In direct contradiction to his book, Juiced, Canseco states that he never discussed the use of steroids with Clemens in any way other than his general chemical proselytizing that he states was "done openly."
The matter of the abscess is something that I can contribute something to. Team Athletic Trainer Tommy Craig, Team Assistant Athletic Trainer Scott Shannon, and Team Physicians Dr. Ron Taylor and Dr. Allan Gross were all interviewed regarding the treatment of the abscess. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) took provided medical records and had an independent, blind analysis done, as well as making much ado about the difficulty in getting a copy of a ten-year-old MRI. That analysis is in direct contradiction to the testimony of all three members of the Jays' medical staff as well as in direct contradiction to the medical records themselves. It does not take a doctor to check the document on page one of the "Roger Clemens Injury Report" and note that the SIMTRAC code for Clemens' injury was "Hip Gluteus Maximus Str 1 Deg." Just a page later, a test result says "negative for abscess." From the time Clemens was noted with the injury after his start to the time he was cleared for "full activity," he was treated normally for a gluteal strain, while an abscess was ruled out. Notably, Clemens was able to pitch before being fully cleared, and on that date, his records note another small, similar mass on the opposite buttock. Not only did he pitch, Clemens was able to rack up 14 strikeouts despite his bilateral butt problem. That Clemens was able to pitch at a high level truly minimizes the effect of the accusation made by McNamee.
It should be noted here that Dr. Taylor knows a bit about pitching. The lack of curiosity about the bilateral mass is interesting, but in the interviews with Dr's. Taylor and Gross, they were barely noting the first mass as anything more than a hematoma, a trivial side effect of the physician-administered B12 injection. Gross specifically objected to the idea that the mass had anything to do with "repeated injections," as stated by Lynch's independent consultation. The trouble that the Committee had in receiving the MRI may explain why they never followed up Dr. Gross' interview with one with the Jays' radiologist who performed and read the MRI at the time, but again, his report seems to indicate that there was not much going on with Clemens' glute.
At the end of four hours, the sound of Henry Waxman's angry voice and sharp gavel ended the hearing. There wasn't as much fact-finding as there was theater. Roger Clemens was noted not to have changed much from four pictures, a false exercise that tells us nothing. Sure Clemens as a Longhorn looks a bit different than he did as a Yankee, but I'd wager it's not as drastic a change as some other players, ones who we'd never think of subjecting to a steroid accusation, made over the course of their long career. (I could go on like this all day.) We're left with the same choice of believing one person or another without any clear evidence that tips it. It's a judgment call, and we're left not knowing much more than we did going in: the statements of McNamee and Clemens do not jibe, and one of them is lying. Among the stacks of documents and hours of answers, we're left in much the same state of not knowing today.
Other small tidbits of note, perhaps only interesting to me: