HOUSTON – "Swear?" Mike Wallace asked, though it sounded more like an order than a question.
"Swear," Roger Clemens said.
In a week and a half, Clemens will have his chance.
"We swear in all our witnesses," Rep. Henry Waxman's staff chief said this week.
Seated not far from Clemens, presumably, will be Brian McNamee. He'll be under oath as well.
If they stick to their stories, McNamee will put Clemens in apartments in New York and Toronto with his pants rolled down, taking shots of steroids and HGH. And Clemens will claim these potions were pain killers and vitamins.
Then they could wrestle around on the carpet for a while.
In the course of a "60 Minutes" segment Sunday night, Clemens previewed his Monday afternoon news conference by challenging his alleged steroid supplier to come forward, hedging on submitting to a lie-detector test, pleading for the benefit of the doubt and saying he was "probably" retired.
CLEMENS AND STEROIDS
• Jonathan Littman: McNamee's puny credibility good for Clemens (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Clemens, McNamee takes hits in hearing (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Clemens shelled by Congress (Feb. 13, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Hearings: Untruth or consequences (Feb. 12, 2008)
• Steve Henson: Clemens drama worthy of "Sopranos" (Feb. 11, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Innocent or stupid (Feb. 11, 2008)
• Jonathan Littman: Clemens-McNamee duel has BALCO roots (Jan. 8, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Telephone tap dance is unpersuasive (Jan. 7, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Clemens drowns in hopelessness (Jan. 6, 2008)
• Jeff Passan: Clemens to testify under oath (Jan. 4, 2008)
• Tim Brown: Who to believe (Jan. 3, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Denials by proxy make Clemens look worse (Dec. 18, 2008)
• Dan Wetzel: Clemens is no different than Bonds (Dec. 13, 2008)
He told tales of consuming anti-inflammatories as though they were "Skittles" and routinely taking pain-killing shots to make starts, pulling back the curtain slightly on the rigors of a career that spanned more than 700 starts and nearly 5,000 innings. McNamee told George Mitchell there was more to it than sit-ups and Vioxx. Clemens said McNamee was wrong.
But, mostly, what he alluded to, what he exuded, what he leaked, was hopelessness.
Whether a guilty man caught or an innocent man framed, Clemens, behind a hard jaw and defiant eyes, was drowning in it.
"You’d think I'd get an inch of respect," he told Wallace. "An inch."
"I’m angry that what I've done for the game of baseball … I don't get the benefit of the doubt," he said.
Whether Clemens had this coming or not, whether McNamee merely emptied his conscience or sized up his deal with the feds and went fraudulently big, it appears this will serve as Clemens' retirement send-off. No fist pumps in Florida. No bows at Yankee Stadium. No cap-waving at Minute Maid Park.
Instead, a sit-down on "60 Minutes." A news conference in Houston. A hearing in Washington D.C.
All of it amounting to a drip-drip-drip referendum on his career.
It was B-12, a defense first made popular by Rafael Palmeiro. It was medication for aching parts, a la Barry Bonds. These sorts of conversations have come at a bad time for Clemens, in a game wracked by a decade-long steroid crisis, before a public weary of the excuses, amid media embarrassed by its failure to push harder years ago and emboldened by the work of law enforcement and Mitchell.
They come at a particularly bad time if Clemens was among those who warped the game, who sold their bodies and spirits for a few more years in the game, who deceived their teammates and their fans, as he stands accused.
"I don’t know if I can defend myself," he said. "A lot of people have already made their decisions."
"These accusations," he said, "are not going to change me as a person. I'll do everything I can to prove them wrong. And I don't know still if that's good enough.”
No, probably not.
Unless McNamee recants next week on Capitol Hill, unless there is a logical reason for why McNamee would have lied about Roger Clemens at the risk of jail time, then here we are.
- Brian McNamee