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The Waxman Cometh

Congressional hearings on Roger Clemens's alleged steroid use? Seriously?

By 2.14.08

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Imagine sitting in front of Henry Waxman and explaining that the man who accuses you of taking an illicit substance -- a demonstrably creepy man who was your trainer for years -- is lying.

Furthermore, imagine explaining that you didn't really know anything about his drug promotion, even though you admit that he was sticking a needle into your best friend and your wife. Imagine that Congress was deeply interested in whether or not you attended a party at Jose Canseco's house in 1998. Imagine that at forty two years old you hit the third peak of your major-league pitching career with a 1.87 ERA.

Wait, you can't imagine that. It's too unbelievable. You'd have to be on drugs or something.

The latest round of congressional hearings, on the problem of anabolic steroids and HGH use in baseball, was justified as a follow-up to former senator Mitchell's report on player drug use. In reality it was a spectacle that allowed Congress to become the backdrop for the ongoing public fight between Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee -- two men who don't deserve the limelight our tax dollars affords them.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Waxman seemed aware of the farce. He indicating in his opening statement that he'd thought of canceling the hearings and merely issuing an outline of the Committee's findings. Instead, he chose to endure a few extra hours of simultaneous CSPAN and ESPN coverage.

ROGER CLEMENS'S ACCOUNT, that he never took steroids or HGH, even though two of the people closest to him in his life took them under the direction of his trainer, and that said trainer has every legal reason to tell the truth, beggars belief.

During the hearings, when Clemens was asked whether his friend Andy Pettitte was telling the truth when he testified that he and Clemens had discussed steroid and HGH use, Clemens said that Andy was an honest person. Clemens then lamely claimed that Pettitte had "misheard" Clemens while he (Clemens) talked about how older people "improved their quality of life" by using HGH. That's one hanging curve any competent prosecutor would hit out of the park.

Yet it is easy to impugn the credibility of his accuser. Brian McNamee, in his opening statement, baldly declared, "I told the investigators I injected three people -- two of whom I know confirmed my account. The third is sitting at this table." He has not always been known for straight shooting.

McNamee received his Ph.D. from a diploma mill. Though he is former NYPD officer with a record of making many big-time arrests, he lied to Florida detectives during a 2001 rape investigation and subsequently ducked his legal bills. As recently as 2006, he told reporters at Sports Illustrated that he was not involved with steroids in baseball.

Republican members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform embarrassed themselves, putting up heroic action shots of Clemens pitching, and gingerly asking, "How hard do you work?" (Anyone know an anabolic steroid user who isn't always in the gym?) And Democrats, following Wexler were so pompous in their questioning that they almost made the pitcher look sympathetic. "I want kids to know there are no shortcuts," Clemens piously said in his own defense.

The only person who came away looking good was the absent Andy Pettitte, whom everyone praised as an honest, decent, and forthright man. An admitted-cheater, of course, but like most caught-out politicians, he had "taken responsibility" for his mistakes.

ONE OF THE oddest aspects this story is the media's junior-high-like focus on the friendship between Clemens and Pettitte. On ESPN radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning," Mike Greenburg commented on the "Shakesperean" quality of the drama between the two pitchers, before inaptly referencing Iago and Othello.

Before anyone could poison Pettitte's wife or steal a beloved handkerchief, Clemens stated (again probably falsely) that "Andy Pettitte is my friend. He was my friend before this. He'll be my friend after this. And again, I think he has misheard."

Unfortunately for baseball, fans and reporters are talking about Jose Canseco's tasty barbecue and needles pricking the belly-button of the most famous pitcher of the last generation rather than the fact that pitchers and catchers have reported for spring training, or that every team in the exciting National League East has improved, or that baseball's playoffs recently enjoyed their highest ever national television ratings.

Every major player will have to field at least one question about this during their warmup season in Florida and Arizona. Neither the Mitchell Report nor the latest hearings will close the door on the Steroids Era in baseball.

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About the Author

Michael Brendan Dougherty is a contributing editor of the American Conservative.