WASHINGTON – Now that the dead wood has been excused from the freak show about to commence on Capitol Hill, the voyeurs may celebrate. No longer is there any distraction from the center stage. On Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee will square off like a pair of swashbucklers, needle to bloody needle.
The snuff film will get a nice four-hour-long money shot: the Committee on Government and Oversight Reform trying to separate fact and fiction, Clemens sitting at the same table that ruined the careers of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, McNamee squirming amid the specter of his friend on whom he turned – or is it the other way around?
It could be high drama, it could be appalling grandstanding. It won't be the end, though, and that is the saddest part of this whole performance-enhancing drug mess.
Human growth hormone may be detectable in the blood for only 72 hours, but its effects linger for years.
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)
And that's where this Clemens-McNamee tête-à-tête seems headed, right down the same trail Barry Bonds blazed when he allegedly consumed a healthy diet of steroids, then denied it to the hilt. That Clemens and McNamee chose lawyers who make Johnnie Cochran look shy has turned things from a Bic flick to a five-alarm inferno.
Just look at the last two months since former Sen. George Mitchell released his report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball that centered on Clemens and triggered this whole thing.
Clemens went on "60 Minutes," said McNamee injected him with vitamin B12 and lidocaine but nothing else and wondered why the public didn't trust him. Perhaps because he does things like tape a private conversation with McNamee and play it for the media. It proved nothing other than Clemens' sleaziness.
From there we had the 18,000-word report drawn up by Clemens' agents that backed his innocence with statistics. It was summarily ripped apart by four Wharton professors.
Then, following Clemens' deposition to investigators, he paraded around the Rayburn House Office Building and glad-handed nearly half the 41 Congressmen in front of whom he'll sit. He posed for pictures and signed autographs.
He played Roger Clemens, superstar, while McNamee sat idle as the patsy he is.
Though he's done his part, too, to prolong the carnival. McNamee trotted out eight-year-old needles and gauze, stuffed into a beer can, and asked for investigators to compare the DNA to Clemens'. He said he injected Clemens' wife with HGH before her Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue shoot.
And there's more: Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin, threatening that his client would take on IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky, and Henry Waxman, the committee's leader, excoriating Hardin in a letter, and Hardin biting back by saying Waxman has no control over his committee.
Every day there's something new. Usually it's trivial. Always it's abhorrent.
Because in both sides' efforts to appeal to the public, they've engaged in a lowest-common-denominator war that continues to degenerate. Etiquette weeps.
And yet it's somewhat amusing to see Clemens, a man trying to salvage his pride, sinking to such levels that he wipes out whatever remains of his dignity in the process. There was a certain inevitability to this. Clemens spent his whole career fighting. To win, to stay in shape, to be the best. He won seven Cy Young Awards because of that drive. That it might lead him on a path to performance-enhancing drugs is no shock. That it might lead him on one to complete self-destruction is even less.
The likelihood of a shocking revelation at the hearings is minimal. Charlie Scheeler, the lead investigator for the Mitchell Report, will answer questions about the methods used to gather information and verify it. One of the Congressmen will ask about the party at Jose Canseco's house, where McNamee alleged that Clemens and the King of Juice himself spoke about steroids. Clemens denies he was there.
And, really, that's what the rest of the day should entail. Clemens sticking to his story, McNamee to his. One of them is a liar. And if the Justice Department is motivated enough, that liar will go to jail.
Hardin admitted recently that the Dept. of Justice is likely to investigate Clemens, and while he didn't exactly say bring it on – as Bonds made the mistake of doing before his perjury indictment – he didn't beg them off, either. It was simply fodder for another headline in a long line of them.
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training this week, and the baseball world – the sporting populace, really, and were it not for the Presidential race, perhaps the nation – nonetheless trains its eyes here, hundreds of miles from Florida, thousands from Arizona, rubberneckers all.
Though if you miss it, worry not. There's plenty more to come.