Telephone tap dance is unpersuasive

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

HOUSTON – Roger Clemens' eyes went red. His face flushed. His right hand, the one he used to stress the salient points of his innocence, shook.

All that was missing was the bat barrel.

Having no shard to hurl, Clemens' anger, frustration, whatever it was, chased him from the podium late Monday afternoon, past his lawyer, out the door, through hallways carved only a couple blocks from the pitchers' mound at Minute Maid Park.

"I've said enough," he spat, seething over the accusations, suspicion, whatever it was.

For just under an hour, Team Clemens had advanced its defensive strategy against the claims of trainer Brian McNamee, the findings of George Mitchell, and the meddling on Capitol Hill. The lawyer, country-smooth Rusty Hardin, had filed a defamation lawsuit against McNamee the night before, moments before his client's ballyhooed appearance on "60 Minutes." Hardin had surreptitiously taped two conversations with McNamee, one an interview with his law firm's investigators before the release of the Mitchell Report and the other a stilted, 17-minute telephone call with Clemens on Friday night.

The coming weeks and months will be about McNamee's credibility and Clemens' word, McNamee’s conscience and Clemens' strength. They said it's about the search for truth, but, for now, it'll be about the stamina in the fight. The truth, maybe, will be the last one standing, or it will go out with them.

As Hardin himself said, "Roger Clemens is either the world's greatest actor or he didn't do that."

Before he'd succumbed to his flight instincts, Clemens had leaned on his legendary command.

"This is not about records and heroes and numbers," he said. "I could give a rat's ass about that. This is about my health. I've always been concerned about my health, what I put into my body."

And, just before he stormed away: "I got another asinine question the other day about the Hall of Fame. You think that I played my career because I'm worried about the damn Hall of Fame? I could give a rat's ass about that, also. If you have a vote and it's because of this, you keep your vote. I don't need the Hall of Fame to justify that I put my butt on the line and I worked my tail off. And I defy anybody to say I did it by cheating or taking any shortcuts. OK? I made a statement through this man (Hardin) when it first happened. I made a statement through my foundation, that wasn't good enough. And now I'm here doing this. I cannot wait to go into the private sector and hopefully never have to answer it again."

McNamee, not that long ago, said Clemens did it by cheating and taking shortcuts. And while this might be the man that plaintiff William Roger Clemens is attempting to discredit as a liar and former rape suspect, this is also the man that Rocket Roger Clemens trusted enough to put in charge of his body for going on a decade.

And, this is a guy – "Mac," Clemens called him – who didn't absorb nearly the amount of contempt from Clemens during that telephone call that reporters did during that Monday afternoon news conference.

Hardin said the taped conversation was the first time Clemens and his formerly loyal trainer had spoken since the release of the Mitchell Report. He said McNamee was not told the conversation was being recorded.

So, if Hardin's version is accurate, the very first "private" conversation between a lying McNamee and a betrayed Clemens.

Yet, if he had been bullied by feds into portraying a clean Clemens as a steroid user, McNamee did not apologize for it and offered no explanation for it. If he was outraged, Clemens did not demand to know from McNamee why he had been sacrificed, or how he could do this to his friend and benefactor.

Clemens did not insist McNamee recant his account. McNamee did not offer.

"It is what it is and it's not good," McNamee said at one point in the conversation. "I want it to go away… I'd also like not to go to jail, too."

"So much of it is untrue," Clemens responded. "It's just tearing everybody apart."

"I know, man," McNamee said.

Instead, Clemens mused, "I just don't know why you did it," adding a few seconds later, "I just need you to come out and tell the truth."

"All I did was what I thought was right," McNamee said. "What I had to."

They went around like that through the entire conversation, the only two people who know the entire truth, Clemens sounding dismayed and annoyed but not irate, McNamee sounding like a small, distraught man, anguishing over the poor health of his son, the condition of his life, the disrepair of his weight set.

"My son is dying," McNamee almost screamed. "He’s 10!"

It was sad, really.

When McNamee offered to attend Monday's news conference, Clemens did not send a limousine. When Clemens said he needed "somebody" to come forward with the truth, McNamee did not jump.

The conversation played like two men reading a script for the first time, the emotion revealed only at the end of the lines, too late for impact.

Hardin offered an explanation. He said he believed McNamee knew the conversation was being recorded. Asked then, if he thought McNamee was being guarded, he said, "I think they both were, absolutely."

In his effort to educate Clemens on the difference between drawing a confession from McNamee and bribing or influencing a potential federal witness, Hardin said, it was possible he'd over-coached Clemens.

"There is more that Roger could have said," Hardin admitted.

But, didn't.

So, we know no more than when the day began, or from the moment George Mitchell's pale-blue reports were unbundled and passed around the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan.

There is a defiant Clemens. There is a pathetic McNamee.

Together still. They've done baseball. They've done the Mitchell Report. Now they've got Congress and a hearing on the Hill.

As Clemens greeted McNamee at the very start of that telephone question, "What's up, buddy?"