Before a packed congressional hearing room, Roger Clemens, one of the best pitchers in baseball history, fought to save his reputation yesterday as he angrily denied using steroids.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard nearly five hours of testimony about - and from - Clemens during a stormy hearing that ended with committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman slamming his gavel and ordering the pitcher not to interrupt his closing statements.
Several times, Waxman had to remind Clemens' lawyers that only their client could speak, not them.
Perhaps the most damaging evidence against Clemens came from a fellow pitcher and trusted friend, former New York Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte.
The Clemens case featured two people with divergent stories and lawmakers lining up behind the one they believed was telling the truth.
Waxman, a California Democrat, and Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the panel's ranking Republican, must now decide whether to recommend that the Justice Department open an investigation to untangle a web of conflicting stories to determine if Clemens or his former personal trainer, Brian McNamee, was lying. "This [committee] is not a court of law," Davis said. But he added: "Both can't be telling the truth."
The Justice Department, which had representatives at the hearing, could choose to investigate the matter even if the committee does not formally refer the case to it. Among those monitoring the hearing was Jeff Novitsky, the former college basketball player who has led the federal investigation of BALCO, a now-defunct lab in Northern California that sold steroids to high-profile athletes.
Clemens, wearing a dark pinstriped suit, often seemed indignant about having to defend himself against allegations made in the Mitchell Report on steroid use in major league baseball - that he was repeatedly injected with illegal performance-enhancing drugs by McNamee, his principal accuser.
A seven-time winner of the Cy Young Award as his league's best pitcher, Clemens, 45, was seated at one end of the oval witness table and didn't look up when McNamee was escorted to his seat at the other end. He continued to look down when McNamee called Clemens "one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball" and when McNamee said, "I injected him on numerous occasions with steroids and human growth hormone."
Clemens read his own statement loudly and resolutely, with a Texas twang. "I have chosen to live my life with a positive attitude," Clemens said. "Yet I am accused of being a criminal, and am I not supposed to be angry about that?"
He also reiterated that "I have never taken steroids or hGH."
Waxman had opened the hearing by saying, "We have found conflicts and inconsistencies" in Clemens' denials. He went on to describe how pitcher Pettitte, a longtime teammate of Clemens, had provided important evidence appearing to corroborate McNamee's account of Clemens using human growth hormone.
Pettitte, who did not attend the hearing, told the committee in an affidavit that he had a conversation in 1999 or 2000 in which Clemens "told me he had taken human growth hormone. He did not tell me where he got the hGH or from whom, but he did tell me that it helped the body recover."
Clemens said Pettitte must have misunderstood.
"Andy Pettitte is my friend. He was my friend before this, he will be my friend after this," Clemens said. "Again, I think Andy has misheard."
But Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, and other lawmakers seemed to be swayed by Pettitte.
Pettitte had previously told the committee: "I have to tell you all the truth. And one day I have to give an account to God and not to nobody else of what I've done in my life."
Said Cummings: "I think whenever you're trying to make a determination as to veracity and you feel like there's conflict, you look for somebody like Pettitte to sway you one way or another. I felt Pettitte had nothing to gain and nothing to lose."
McNamee was given less leeway by the committee members, particularly a handful of the Republican members who repeatedly challenged the credibility of the former New York City police officer.
Some members of the panel called McNamee "a liar" and a "drug dealer." McNamee was also Pettitte's personal fitness coach and has said he injected Pettitte with human growth hormone.
"I view you as a police officer who was a drug dealer," Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, told McNamee.
McNamee: "I only did what players asked, and it was wrong."
Shays: "Mr. McNamee, you are a drug dealer."
McNamee: "That's your opinion."
But McNamee added: "I have no reason to lie and every reason not to."
McNamee has provided federal law enforcement authorities with syringes and other medical evidence that his attorneys say is likely to link Clemens to steroids.
Richard Emery, a McNamee lawyer, said after the hearing that some members - he named Republicans Reps. Dan Burton of Indiana, Darrell Issa of California and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina - had seemed to be swayed by pre-hearing visits that Clemens had made to meet lawmakers and argue his case.
"God knows whose water they were carrying, but it's pretty clear the lobbying effort worked. Brian knows he told the truth here. He can stand tall," Emery said.
Elements of the day seemed surreal, as when Clemens emerged from the hearing and was handed a baseball to autograph by a fan waiting in the Rayburn House Office Building corridor. He signed it.
Foxx and other members wondered why Congress was devoting so much time to baseball. "This circus could only impress P.T. Barnum," said a statement by Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, a North Carolina Republican.
But Waxman said the committee held the hearing "to close the chapter on looking at baseball's past."
Waxman seemed skeptical of Clemens' repeated denials. He said Clemens had made conflicting statements about why he didn't cooperate with investigators for former Sen. George J. Mitchell, who released a report in December on steroids in baseball.
The committee also provided a doctor's statement that a soreness Clemens had once complained of on his buttocks could have been caused by steroids injections.
Said Waxman: "Someone isn't telling the truth. If Mr. McNamee is lying, then he has acted inexcusably and made Mr. Clemens an innocent victim. If Mr. Clemens isn't telling the truth, then he has acted shamefully and unconscionably smeared Mr. McNamee.