Clemens drama worthy of 'Sopranos'

Steve Henson

Thank you, Roger Clemens, for tiding us over until pitchers and catchers report.

You and nearly the entire cast of characters who created this thoroughly entertaining saga of steroids and swimsuits, 10-year-old gauze and daily finger-pointing, will get the television time you richly deserve Wednesday during those long-awaited Congressional hearings.

Former Sen. George Mitchell, who all but started this runaway blame train, won't likely be in attendance, and everyone will be tip-toeing around his supposedly impeccable standing when in fact they probably ought to be demanding that he return with some real answers to some real questions.

Which are not necessarily what follows here.


Jeff Passan: Depositions paint a complex portrait of McNamee (Feb. 14, 2008)

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)

Instead, I teed up 10 questions, placed them in reverse order to better the chances of your continued reading, and swung away. Comparing Clemens and ex-trainer Brian McNamee to Tony Soprano and his cousin Tony Blundetto is in this story somewhere.

As Mike Wallace asked Clemens: "Swear?"

Me: "Swear."

10. What did Clemens' attorney, Rusty Hardin, mean when he told the New York Times that if IRS special agent Jeff Novitzky "ever messes with Roger, Roger will eat his lunch."?

It's a sure sign that Clemens has thrown his last pitch. Everyone knows that ballplayers let their bodies go after retirement, and Clemens is well-known for his enormous appetite. Any shenanigans by Novitzky would give Clemens the moral high ground to take the agent's lunch, eat it, and not feel any pangs of guilt – or hunger.

9. Why did Clemens say, "I learned a lot about the bowels of the buildings I was in and out of," after he went door-to-door visiting Congressmen in their offices?

Clemens has long valued intestinal fortitude. So by studying bowels – which, after all, are nothing more than intestines – he could gauge whether the publicly elected folks who will question him under oath have any. Sometimes, of course, Congress can be as difficult as a bowel movement, especially when lawmakers are asked to digest a whopper like the one Clemens might be serving up. Maybe that's why someone spotted the pitcher handing out rocket-shaped laxatives during his office visits as a token of appreciation.

8. Why were lawmakers and their lackeys asking Clemens for his autograph while he traipsed through the halls on Capitol Hill?

It was all a clever ruse to obtain samples of Clemens' penmanship. According to "Sex, Lies, and Handwriting," by Michelle Dresbold, clues to whether a person will fib to a Congressional committee can be found in their handwriting. Clemens might not have helped himself by penning a signature line from his "60 Minutes" interview along with his name: "The higher you get up on the flagpole, the more your butt shows."

And shame on anyone who would suggest that members of Congress and their underlings behaved like hero-worshipping adolescents in Clemens' presence for any other reason.

7. Why did Clemens go office-to-office on Capitol Hill in the first place?

Because he knew that members of Congress and their underlings would behave like hero-worshipping adolescents in his presence.

Now they might be more likely to take it easy on him during the hearings than before he delivered the personal touch.

6. Why did McNamee, his longtime trainer, keep gauze, syringes, vials and an empty beer can that possibly contains Clemens' DNA all these years? Was he planning to someday blackmail Clemens?

Don't be silly. McNamee developed and implemented inventive, rigorous workouts for Clemens, playing a small yet crucial part in the pitcher's incredible production late in his career. And if McNamee indeed injected Clemens with performance-enhancing drugs, he played an even larger part. Clemens was paid $171 million during his career, including $118 million after McNamee says he began the injections.

Clemens, by his own admission, treated McNamee "like I treat anybody else in the world." No way would McNamee have preferred being treated slightly better than anybody else, given his contribution. No way McNamee would have schemed ways to force Clemens to pay him long after both of their careers were over. No way McNamee ratted out Clemens to the Mitchell Commission because he felt Clemens owed him.

No way McNamee was baiting Clemens during the secretly recorded phone conversation when he asked 354 times, "What do you want me to do?" No way he was praying that Clemens would step into a witness-tampering charge by replying, "I want you to recant your testimony and tell everyone you never injected me with steroids!"

5. Why would Clemens' wife, Debbie, allow herself to be injected with HGH before a 2003 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition photo shoot, as McNamee claims?

Any mother of four approaching 40 would do the same. I mean, check out the competition.

Debbie even said on her Web site, "I had major anxiety! … Once I realized this was going to be a reality, I decided I had to give it everything I had. My mind was set. I am not a risk-taker, but have since learned that with great risk, sometimes comes great reward."

Women routinely shoot a botulism-based drug into their faces to temporarily eliminate wrinkles. They get nips, tucks and lifts of all sorts simply to summon the courage to attend the local PTA meeting. A little HGH to add a youthful glow, come to think of it, would be a thoughtful gift for the little woman this Valentine's Day.

4. Why does it matter if Clemens attended a party thrown by Jose Canseco in 1998? McNamee says Clemens was there with his family and nanny; Clemens says he wasn't, that he was playing golf instead and can prove it.

McNamee says Clemens and Canseco talked about steroids at the party. Also, in a bizarre Freudian slip, Clemens unwittingly repeated several things allegedly said at the party during his "60 Minutes" interview.

When the party bowl full of Vioxx was empty because Clemens and other guests had gobbled them up, Clemens said, "I was eating them like they was Skittles."

Canseco then supposedly whispered to Clemens, "Let me show some better stuff. You'll have a third ear coming out of your forehead." They then repaired to the backyard, where Canseco began pulling tractors with his teeth.

3. Hardin characterizes McNamee as a "troubled man" and a "liar," saying this could be "the second edition of the Duke case." What did he mean by that?

It's an obvious reference to the Cameron Crazies, the student section at Duke basketball games. Crass, insensitive and rowdy, the Crazies make life miserable for visiting players and coaches. Hardin has repeatedly made thinly veiled threats to McNamee, his lawyers and even Novitzky, the IRS special agent. He wants McNamee to lie in bed imagining how difficult it must be for Roy Williams and his North Carolina team when they visit Duke.

Hardin's comment couldn't possibly have been a reference to the Duke lacrosse case, in which three players in 2006 were falsely accused of rape and other crimes. The man who brought the charges, Durham district attorney Mike Nifong, was disgraced and permanently disbarred. Hardin has already described Mitchell, who brought charges against Clemens, as "a man of impeccable integrity." So, no, Hardin couldn't possibly have been referring to the Duke lacrosse fiasco.

2. If Clemens indeed took performance-enhancing drugs, why is he risking a federal perjury charge by denying his use under oath?

Call it a hunch, and here's where the jokes take a temporary respite, but I believe Clemens is less concerned about the court of public opinion, about getting into the Hall of Fame, about the sanctity of his 354 victories and 4,672 strikeouts than he is about the faces at his dinner table.

He has four reasons to fight for his good name and pray McNamee or anyone else lacks proof that he took steroids, four reasons to take his denials into reckless territory, risking a conviction and jail time.

Koby Aaron, Kory Allen, Kacy Austin and Kody Alec.

They are Roger and Debbie Clemens' sons. They are ballplayers. The oldest, Koby, 21, is a struggling minor leaguer.

Like so many dads, Roger created an idealized persona for his sons. If he took steroids, he can't admit it to them, can't look them in the eyes and say so. It would push the old "Do as I say, not as I do," tact, to unprecedented lengths.

Their approval, and his fatherly infallibility, is the most important aspect of Clemens' life, and he's willing to risk jail time to preserve it. He admitted as much during his creepy, tape-recorded phone conversation with McNamee that was played during Clemens' news conference several weeks ago, when he said of his sons, "It's killing them. Right now, Kacy's just like, they're all, they're all in just a state, and it's, it's just, it's, it's, you know, like I said."

OK, so Clemens didn't make much sense on that call. Almost like he was afraid to come right out and ask McNamee why he accused him of something he didn't do. Because he might have been afraid of the answer.

Which brings us to the last question. And "The Sopranos."

1. Didn't that telephone conversation sound eerily familiar?

Glad you mentioned it. Boy, did it ever. Clemens and McNamee speaking in code, lying through their teeth, sparring with disjointed sentences, repetitive declarations and no small amount of whimpering.

Their roles were clearly defined, Clemens the multi-millionaire, record-setting Alpha dog and McNamee the groveling, subservient nonentity.

Yes, I'd heard a conversation like that before. Not verbatim, of course, but the same regretful tone, betrayal, feigned friendship, a focus on family, and the penance to come. It was on "The Sopranos," the 12th episode of Season 5. Tony Soprano was talking to his cousin, Tony Blundetto (played by Steve Buscemi), who'd caused irreparable damage to the family and was hiding out in a farmhouse.

Clemens is Soprano with a drawl and without the overt violence. He has star power. He makes veiled threats, over the phone, on TV and through his attorney. His word is his currency, or so he thinks. He's betting his freedom on it. All that's missing is the shrink.

McNamee is Blundetto, pathetically feeble in body and mind. By the end of the call, McNamee, like Blundetto, must have realized that playing the sympathy card with his formidable benefactor after double-crossing him was useless. And McNamee will need a syringe-full of whoop ass to have any chance of standing up to Clemens before Congress.

Both phone calls seemingly ended without resolution. They did, however, set up intriguing plot twists.

Viewers had to wait a week for the next episode of "The Sopranos." But the next installment of the Clemens saga is scheduled Wednesday before a live audience. Tune in.