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February 14, 2008

What We Learned

The Clemens-McNamee Hearing

by Will Carroll

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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:

  • Pettitte admits that he'd been diagnosed with "fraying of the elbow" as early as 1996. I've long said that a player like Pettitte probably never played at 100 percent health, and now there's some evidence to back that theory up.
  • Clemens was felled by leg injuries in the later stages of his career, but the information in his medical records and as stated by Dr. Taylor indicate that this problem had its roots in injuries that occurred much earlier than previously noted.
  • Twice, the Congressional records note "Dr. Jove" in California. I volunteer the BP.com editorial team the next time Congress needs an assist.
  • I wish Congress would use a more readable font.
  • Steve Phillips noted during the "pre-game" that Congress had held hearings on HGH the previous day. He then, without pause, began spouting about the regenerative effects and visual benefits of HGH. Unfortunately, Phillips failed to read the testimony given at those hearings, where some of the most respected endocrinologists in the world stated that there was no scientific basis for either of his claims. At some point, someone at ESPN is going to turn to Phillips and ask him about why Kirk Radomski was allowed to visit players in his clubhouse, much the same way that Greg Anderson visited the Giants. I can't wait for that answer.
  • Jeff Novitzky, the IRS agent at the heart of the BALCO case and the man who gift-wrapped McNamee and Kirk Radomski for the Mitchell Report, was at the hearing. He could clearly be picked out, due to his bald head and tall stature; he was sitting to the left of Brian McNamee from the perspective of the Committee, and appeared to be signaling at one point to someone in the Committee's seats. Cameras did not show him much. Reports were that several agents from the BALCO task force were in attendance. There was no report on whether Rusty Hardin had any interaction with Novitzky or his lunch.
  • McNamee tells Jim Murray, an employee of Hendricks Sports, that he would "NEVER BETRAY MY CLIENTS." Another lie, as Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) might say.
  • I know Tommy Craig, the former Athletic Trainer for the Jays. There are two things that anyone that knows or has worked with Craig would tell you about him. First, he tells a great story. Second, he is one of the most meticulous record-keepers in the game. I've actually seen Craig take notes while I spoke, which means he takes notes about everything. If Craig didn't think much of the problem, it wasn't much of a problem.
  • Much has been made of the Debbie Clemens's use of HGH. What's more interesting to me is that it appears that McNamee had HGH on hand. McNamee states that Debbie Clemens spoke to him about it, and that he then immediately provided the injection, a story corroborated by Debbie Clemens's statement. It speaks to McNamee's keeping of such substances around, even at a time where he was living in the Clemens's guest house. It's more worrisome knowing that at the same time that he was under investigation and facing charges, McNamee was also working with college athletes, including one that was drafted in 2007.
  • I remember seeing Jim Murray a couple times at the Winter Meetings, always in a rush, and always on his phone. I'd assumed that he was dealing with Andy Pettitte's contract situation, but now I wonder when he received the call from Brian McNamee, and whether I might have actually witnessed the conversation; it's pretty unlikely. As I read Murray's interview, a fascinating picture into what agents actually do, I tried to remember where exactly I had seen him in Nashville, trying to recall this fact from just a few months ago and comparing it to Murray's attempts at recalling when he met with McNamee. I'm pretty sure I saw him at dinner one night, but like Murray, I don't think I could say for sure if I was being interrogated.
  • I hope Henry Waxman was right when he says this is the last of Congress' involvement. There's about twelve hours of my life I've spent watching the three major hearings, and double that reading documents, time spent that I'll never get back. Then again, the next step in this is the eventual civil case of Clemens v. McNamee. Luckily for me, that's more in Derek Jacques' beat than mine.

Related Content:  DR,  Andy Pettitte,  Roger Clemens,  A's,  The Who,  Jim Murray,  Hearings,  D.j. Mitchell

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