No closer to truth

The Baltimore Sun

It started out as a full-court media press to clear Roger Clemens of the taint of the George Mitchell steroid investigation, but now the plot has thickened to Shakespearean proportions.

With apologies to the Queen in Act 3 (Scene 2) of Hamlet, methinks Roger might have protested too much.

Clemens and his lawyers probably thought there was no downside to his vigorous campaign to discredit the personal trainer who has alleged he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone on several occasions from 1998 to 2001. And, if the Rocket is 100 percent innocent of those allegations, there shouldn't be.

Still, when Clemens appeared on 60 Minutes last night to give his side of the story, he raised the stakes in what could be a very dangerous game.

Think about it. If he had not embarked on such a high-profile attempt to create an alternative scenario to the one presented by trainer Brian McNamee in the Mitchell Report, he might not have been invited to testify in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform next week and reportedly grabbed the attention of the Justice Department.

The interview with respected CBS newsman Mike Wallace last night was compelling, but Clemens was already on record with a generic denial and might have complicated a bad situation with his belated contention that the injections he received from McNamee were the local anesthetic lidocaine and vitamin B-12.

Newsday reported in yesterday's editions that the controversy has gotten the attention of Jeff Novitzky, the IRS special agent who hounded Barry Bonds all the way to a federal indictment on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges.

Citing an unnamed source familiar with the situation, the newspaper said Novitzky has turned his focus to Clemens. Who knows what that might mean, but if it's true, it can't be good.

Clemens handled the grilling by Wallace with equal parts defiance and outrage, directed mostly at McNamee, but also at the public and the media for not giving him the benefit of the doubt after "what I've done for the game of baseball and what I've done" outside the game.

There were times when he was convincing and times when he wasn't, in particular his waffling when Wallace asked him whether he would take a lie-detector test to prove he was telling the truth.

"Some say they're good and some say they're not," he replied, never really giving a firm yes-or-no answer.

Whether he was convincing probably depended on what you believed in the first place, but one thing is certain: The 60 Minutes interview - like the Mitchell Report - isn't likely to provide anyone any closure.

It all seemed pretty simple a couple of weeks ago. Clemens said he didn't do it and lawyer Rusty Hardin announced that he would hire private investigators to examine some of the findings in the Mitchell Report. They even got some help when the infamous Jason Grimsley affidavit was made public and discredited earlier reports of Clemens' involvement.

Everything was going just fine until Congress reversed field and decided it would question some players at next week's hearing. The original plan was only to give Mitchell a new platform to discuss the scandal and summon baseball commissioner Bud Selig and union director Donald Fehr for another in a long series of congressional tongue-lashings.

Now, Clemens might have to testify under oath, which will be fine if he's telling the truth, but becomes very problematic if he has even a minor steroid indiscretion that he wants to hide.

If that's the case, it's hard to imagine his high-priced counsel letting him get into a situation where he would be tempted to stretch the truth or forced to dissemble, so it will be interesting to see whether he agrees to show up at all. Clemens previously committed to play as a celebrity in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., starting Jan. 16, the day the House committee has invited him, former teammate Andy Pettitte and McNamee to testify.

Hardin said Friday that Clemens would be willing to answer questions under oath "if schedules and other commitments can accommodate the committee on that date."

Lest anyone forget, former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro tried to dodge the March 17, 2005, hearing because it was his wife's birthday but complied when the committee sent out subpoenas.

Clemens has not been subpoenaed, but that could change if he tells the committee he'll be playing golf that day.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.

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