Commentary

With taped phone call, Clemens throws up and in at McNamee

Updated: January 7, 2008, 10:44 PM ET
By Shaun Assael | ESPN The Magazine

Roger Clemens tried to paint his ex-trainer, Brian McNamee, as a lying weasel in his news conference on Monday. But what really emerged was a picture of two men who are from completely different worlds, each trying to salvage what he can from a partnership that -- if you believe McNamee -- has always been built on lies and deceit.

At the news conference, Clemens had only one job: to destroy the credibility of the man who told the Mitchell Commission that he injected Clemens 16 times with testosterone and HGH between 1998 and 2001. The Rocket had a great warm-up act in lawyer Rusty Hardin, who treated the press like a jury, begging reporters to hear the evidence he'd come to show. The smoking gun was to be the tape that Clemens had made the prior Friday, after McNamee e-mailed him begging to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Clemens knew he was being taped; McNamee didn't.

On the tape, Clemens drew his old trainer out like a rookie hitter. The only reason Clemens was calling back, he insisted, was because McNamee had mentioned his son, Brian Jr., a diabetic who is also apparently suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder. Solemnly dipping his head as he put a sick child into a media op, Clemens joined the press in listening to McNamee say, "He's not doing good. It's real, man. Everything else is a joke."

McNamee described his life like a Martin Scorsese movie, saying he had to leave his home in the Breezy Point section of Brooklyn because more than two dozen reporters were camped out. He had to pay for security. His wife didn't know what to do. His son was taking a turn for the worse.

This is what the steroid era of baseball has come to. It is not pretty.

Clemens also invoked his own kids, Koby, Kory, Kacy and Kody.

"It's not good," he kept saying, referring to the effect of the publicity on them.

But Clemens had just come back from a hunting trip. McNamee was calling from a one-room apartment on Long Island with his broken-down car in the parking lot.

"I don't have any money. I have nothing," he said, "… all I have is because of you."

He added, "All I did was what I thought was right. And I never thought it was right. But I thought that I had no other choice, let's put it that way."

Whatever you might think of McNamee, there was something gut-wrenching about hearing him say he'd ended up vomiting in a hospital.

"My wife is gone, the kids are gone. What do you want me to do?"

Unlike Greg Anderson -- his West Coast doppelganger, who was willing to go to prison to help defend Barry Bonds -- McNamee sounded cornered, not courageous.

Clemens kept saying, "I treated you just like everybody else." But if he meant it as a term of endearment, it fell flat. McNamee kept insisting, "No, you treated me better. You treated me like family … I ate with your family. I helped your kids with school projects. I tried to be like you."

He said he learned to be a father by watching Clemens: "I used how you were as a dad to your kids. I tried to be like you."

As a piece of baseball theater, the tape was vintage Clemens -- a late-inning intimidation tactic. But in the real world, it smacked of something else -- a millionaire employer humiliating an uppity employee by putting his intimate personal life on public display. Whatever transpired between the men, whatever quiet war they are waging, this was a step the Rocket didn't have to take.

The whole thing fell flat as evidence, anyway. McNamee never recanted what he told IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky.

"I'm with you. I'm in your corner," he told Clemens. "I don't want this to happen. But I'd also like not to go to jail."

In the end, McNamee might have unwittingly written the epitaph of baseball's steroid era when he told his father figure, Clemens: "I tried to help you as much as I could, as late as I could, and it was too late, I guess, to help. What it comes down to is the way it affects our kids. They had nothing to do with this."

No, but they appear to be paying the price.

Shaun Assael, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, writes extensively about doping in baseball and other sports in his new book, "Steroid Nation," available here.

• Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine
• Author of "Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour"; the New York Times best-selling "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"; and "Steroid Nation"

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