WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON-- --OK, it's all becoming clear now.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform grilled Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee for nearly five hours yesterday, trying to determine who has been lying and who has been telling the truth in this latest episode of baseball's never-ending steroids soap opera.
And now that the "last" congressional steroids hearing is history, I think any reasonable human being would draw the same conclusion:
The committee members lectured McNamee on his history of misleading authorities and picked apart just about every fact Clemens presented in his own defense. They also took a few veiled shots at baseball commissioner Bud Selig and steroids investigator George Mitchell, further eroding the credibility of the Mitchell Report in a hearing that was widely viewed as an attempt to protect it.
Even the legislators were guilty of a little misdirection, turning the supposedly bipartisan search for answers into a political tug-of-war that seemed to break along party lines.
Frankly, they lost me when Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay ended his soapbox session by asking Clemens which team's jersey he plans to wear when he enters the Hall of Fame.
Clemens, of course, can no longer think that far ahead. He has been doggedly trying to salvage his reputation since McNamee told federal investigators and Mitchell that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone. Clemens went on 60 Minutes to tell his side of the story and has disputed McNamee's claims twice under oath, subjecting himself to the possibility of a perjury conviction if any of his sworn testimony can be proven false.
His attorneys reason he wouldn't have put himself in such a precarious position if he weren't being truthful, which might be a compelling argument if he and those same lawyers hadn't tripped over their own feet so many times in the weeks leading up to this supposedly climactic hearing.
They were tripped up again yesterday when committee chairman Henry Waxman revealed Clemens might have tried to influence a witness when the committee requested contact information on his former nanny to sort out conflicting testimony about a 1998 party at the Miami home of former teammate Jose Canseco.
McNamee claimed Clemens was at the party and Clemens insisted he was not, which wouldn't be that big a deal if everyone weren't grasping for any small shred of proof that one side or the other is more credible.
Waxman said the Clemens team was instructed not to contact the nanny ahead of the congressional investigators, but Clemens called her and invited her to his home to ask her what she remembered about the party.
The committee also got an affidavit from Canseco stating Clemens did not attend the party, which raises another relevant question about the quality of the characters in this passion play: Just how desperate do you have to be to need Jose Canseco to be one of your alibi witnesses in a steroids investigation?
Somebody (OK, it was me) asked attorney Rusty Hardin afterward if he grasped the irony of Canseco's being used as part of a steroids defense. He just laughed.
"I don't know if irony is the right word," he said. "We like Jose. I'll leave it at that."
Funny, nobody liked Jose the last time they had a hearing of this magnitude on Capitol Hill. That was in 2005 and Canseco was the guy challenging the integrity of some of baseball's biggest stars.
Now, he's trying to help Clemens, whose every attempt to protest his innocence makes him look more guilty.
Not that McNamee is the picture of sincerity. He was beaten up pretty good by several committee members - most notably Indiana Republican Dan Burton, who made him admit to a series of earlier false statements to impugn his believability.
"This is really disgusting," Burton said. "I don't know what to believe. But I know one thing I don't believe and that's you."
The star of the show, however, was Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, who used Clemens' own words to confirm the credibility of friend and teammate Andy Pettitte, then forced Clemens to respond to Pettitte's sworn testimony that disputed much of his own.
Cummings was pointed and determined to get answers, something he was prevented from doing at the 2005 hearings, during which then-chairman Tom Davis stifled his attempts to make Mark McGwire answer a direct question about his suspected steroid use.
The hard questions were asked this time, but the hearing ended with most of us still wondering - like Burton - what to believe.
If nothing else, Waxman announced it would be the last baseball steroids hearing for the foreseeable future.
We can only hope he was telling the truth.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon most Saturdays and Sundays.