Fall From Grace
Even to a former New York City cop, the question was jarring. "Can you help me?"
This is how
The trainer, who had come to baseball from the NYPD, was slumped in his own stall. Why, he wondered, was arguably the greatest pitcher of his era asking for help in sticking a hypodermic needle in his ass?
Clemens handed McNamee a small, white, opaque container resembling an aspirin bottle without a label. "What do you think of these?" Clemens asked. McNamee took the container and poured some white pills into his hand. They looked like oral testosterone, a substance he had only recently researched. "That looks like Anadrol-50," said Canseco, suddenly barging into the conversation. Before McNamee or Clemens could object, the burly Canseco took a couple of the pills and shoved them into his mouth.
McNamee wheeled around to face Clemens. "Don't take that," he told the pitcher. "That's really bad for you." Clemens then gave McNamee a bag filled with 50 to 100 glassine bottles and told him to get rid of them. McNamee later suspected that the bottles contained cypionate or enanthate: straight testosterone.
At 35, Clemens was Toronto's staff ace and highest-paid player, pulling in a cool $8.55 million. Two-and-a-half months into the 1998 season, however, his record was a pedestrian 6-6. He was less than a year removed from going 21-7 and winning his fourth Cy Young Award, but something was off, and his club was suffering as a result. Toronto was fading fast in the American League East standings.
During spring training McNamee had taken stock of Clemens's flabby physique. He didn't think the pitcher would continue to be successful without a change in his conditioning routine, even though Clemens maintained that his workout regimen was unequaled in professional sports. Now the Rocket wanted someone to help him with needle injections?
Clemens was aware of the recent strains in McNamee's personal life. At the end of spring training, a family emergency had called the trainer home to Queens. His one-year-old son,
McNamee looked back at Clemens. "Yeah," the trainer said. "I think I can handle that."
"All right," Clemens said. "I'll let you know."
One of the perks of playing for Toronto was living in the luxury hotel attached to the stadium. Only five minutes after a hard game, an exhausted player could crash in one of the 70 rooms beyond the outfield. When the team was at home, Clemens lived in a SkyDome apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the diamond.
Shortly after their clubhouse conversation that day in June, Clemens summoned McNamee to the apartment, and by the time the trainer arrived, the pitcher had already laid out some clear glass vials containing a cloudy white liquid. The labels identified the substance as Winstrol, an anabolic steroid. There were some large needles, too, and sterilizing alcohol.
There was one problem. McNamee had experience only with the small-bore subcutaneous needles he used to inject his son. He was now looking at wide-bore needles meant to puncture dense muscle and inject a thick fluid deep into tissue. His mind began racing. He had no authority to give injections to players, let alone to the face of the franchise. But Clemens had asked, and McNamee had agreed. There was no turning back. Anyway, McNamee figured, Clemens was more prone to hurt himself if he stuck needles into his own ass.
The pitcher bent over. McNamee dabbed Clemens's skin with alcohol so as not to cause an infection. Then he stuck the needle into the pitcher's buttocks and depressed the plunger of the syringe. Now they were accomplices.
From that moment McNamee and Clemens had the kind of relationship that can create the tightest bonds of loyalty -- and pave the way for a painful falling out. When they had first met, at that season's spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Clemens still felt remnants of the bitterness that had consumed him after his dismissal from the Boston Red Sox following the 1996 season. He'd poured his guts into that team for 13 years, only to be sent off with what he perceived as an insult: Boston general manager
Police work was the McNamee family business, and Brian had had his share of big moments during his three years and four months on the force. Working undercover, he had patrolled Manhattan in a Yellow Cab; he locked up 77 people and won numerous commendations. One day in 1991, while on foot patrol, he got a call to head to a five-story walk-up near Lexington Avenue. What he found there would remain vivid in his memory: the body of four-year-old
Now McNamee's gig with the Blue Jays was his foothold in the glamorous world of professional sports. He was 31 and not getting paid much, but he was close to fame and glory. He'd played baseball for Archbishop Molloy High in Queens and had been a good enough catcher to play for St. John's University, helping his team upset defending national champion Stanford in the 1988 NCAA tournament. After college McNamee had played a little semipro ball in the New York area, and after leaving the police department in 1993 he had worked briefly as a bullpen catcher for the Yankees.
Despite their differences in accent and income, Clemens, the swaggering jock from Texas, and McNamee, the sardonic ex-cop from New York, shared a passion for baseball. Clemens was determined to prove he wasn't fading, and McNamee, having just arrived at the Show, was committed to staying there. So there would be other injections, but with the first one the two men crossed a stark line into territory they would never escape: Clemens became a cheater, and McNamee became his enabler.
Only days before the release of the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, Clemens sat on the patio of a casita in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, after receiving a phone call from his agents,
In the weeks to come Clemens would attack McNamee on
In Cabo, Clemens tried to absorb the news, but to friends who were with him there -- ballplayers and businessmen -- he didn't seem panicked. He'd spent a lifetime cultivating an ability to control his world. In Clemens's mind this situation was just like any other game in which he had gotten behind in the count. He could gut his way through it. He just needed to throw his opponents a little chin music.
With the confident stride of a baseball legend, Roger Clemens arrived at Capitol Hill on the morning of Feb. 5 for his deposition before investigators for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. He wore a gray pin-striped suit buttoned tightly across his wide chest. He carried a small vinyl briefcase in his left hand, and in his right hand -- the one with which he collected 354 big league wins -- he carried a large paper cup with a tea bag label hanging out.
Flanked by his lawyers,
These were probably the most important sentences Clemens had ever uttered. The sworn statements were direct and unequivocal, and they were recorded verbatim. From that moment forward, if it were ever proved that Clemens had used steroids or HGH, he could be prosecuted for lying to Congress. For much of the deposition he sat silently while his lawyers spoke to the investigators, clarifying the pitcher's answers and bashing the methodology of the Mitchell Report. Clemens had eagerly looked forward to testifying. It was his chance to demonstrate resolve and, it seemed, to blow off steam.
"Brian McNamee did not make me as an athlete, despite his ongoing claims," Clemens said. "I had a great workout ethic before I met him." Clemens's legacy was at stake. For nearly two months people had been wondering what drove him to deny McNamee's stories, even after his longtime friend and teammate
"I have never smoked a cigarette, I have never smoked dope, I have never done cocaine," Clemens said about halfway into the five-hour deposition. "I would not put anything -- allow anybody to put anything -- in my body that's going to be harmful to me. That's who I am as a person."
Clemens claimed it had been "shocking" to learn that Pettitte had used growth hormone. "I would think that we were close enough to know that if he was thinking of doing it, or did it, that I would have known," the Texan said. He could not explain why McNamee might have lied about him yet told the truth about Pettitte. "This man has me being a drug dealer," Clemens said. "Very upsetting...if you have seen my interviews. Very upsetting."
The committee's investigative staff had, in fact, seen Clemens's interviews. They had watched his denials on YouTube,
A week after his deposition Clemens returned to Capitol Hill for the Feb. 13 hearing that laid waste to his legacy. Ten minutes before the hearing the ranking Republican on the House committee,
Two weeks after the hearing the committee referred Clemens's testimony to the Justice Department for a possible perjury investigation that has since led the FBI into the darkest corners of the pitcher's life. McNamee had seen it all coming; during the hearing he sketched a game of hangman on his notepad.
Roger Clemens has been keeping a low profile, like a soldier caught behind enemy lines. Charities once proud to feel his embrace have cut their ties. At the final game at Yankee Stadium last fall, Clemens's accomplishments were not recognized, while Pettitte had the honor of starting the game. Clemens's defamation suit against McNamee was all but gutted by the presiding federal judge on Feb. 12. In the course of their perjury investigation, FBI agents
While Clemens has put himself on the verge of a federal indictment, McNamee is trying to pick up the pieces of a broken life. He contributes to a website started by some friends in Boston, SportsImproper.com, and is rebuilding his training business. He is preparing to sue Clemens for defamation. He has met with prosecutors in Washington, D.C., and been told to be prepared to testify before a grand jury. Members of Congress -- including ones who once defended Clemens and attacked McNamee -- now say they expect to see the Texan indicted.