No clear 'winner' in House hearing

No clear 'winner' in House hearing

WASHINGTON -- Early in the hearing heard 'round the baseball world, Tom Davis tried to clarify the timeline surrounding a pivotal luncheon party at Jose Canseco's Miami house.

Davis, the ranking minority member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Report, peered down at Roger Clemens from his lofty seat and said:

"The night before, you pitched seven innings, and your team lost, 4-3, in a game that went 17 innings."

Clemens nodded: "Yes, I guess I got a no-decision."

About three hours later, this generation's greatest pitcher -- and, until recently, most admired testament to longevity through hard work -- got another.

At 9:50 a.m. ET, Clemens strolled into Room 2154 of the Rayburn Building to pitch a story he couldn't win.

Yet he did not lose. Had this been a boxing match, he could have even been awarded a split decision over Brian McNamee.

Clemens spent much of the 4 1/2 hours on the defensive. But at least he wasn't dismissively called a liar and a drug dealer -- as McNamee was.

The Rocket's denials of the use of steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) traveled in such a different orbit from his former trainer's detailed accusations, no clear verdict could possibly emerge from this congressional hearing into "The Mitchell Report: The Illegal Use of Steroids in Major League Baseball, Day 2."

The committee's leaders quickly came to that conclusion.

Soon after the hearing broke up, Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the committee, who had spent much of the day throwing hard, new testimony at Clemens, said, "I haven't reached any conclusions at this point."

In the post-hearing media conference, Davis said, "Both can't be telling the truth."

There was closure for Congress. Its confidence in the Mitchell Report was restored, with both of Wednesday's key witnesses vouching for the 360-plus pages that do not deal with their conflict.

But there was no vindication for Clemens, no downfall for McNamee -- or anything in between.

In the eyes of public jurors paying as much attention to how he spoke as to what he said, Clemens did not come off as very convincing.

Clemens often failed to directly respond to questions, couching his answers in repetitions of his mantras: "I'm a trusting person," "I worked my butt off," "I've always told young people there are no shortcuts to hard work."

He frequently paused for his attorneys, Rusty Hardin or Lanny Breuer, to whisper advice in his ear. He often misspoke, at one point saying Andy Pettitte "misremembers" their conversation about HGH, another time saying he was "implemented," when he meant to say implicated, by the Mitchell Report.

And, of course, he came off as most cornered when pushed to explain the "Pettitte Pages." The deposition by his teammate and friend not only confirmed the McNamee revelations that applied to him, it also gave clear recollections of Clemens' admission of his own use of HGH.

Whereas McNamee spent most of the proceedings with his arms folded, elbows resting on the table, Clemens appeared stiffer and spoke more animatedly, occasionally punctuating a statement by pointing at McNamee.

When it ended -- badly for Clemens, who was scolded for trying to interrupt Waxman's closing remarks -- all the rhetoric merely perpetuated a confused state, for members of Congress as well as for fans.

Rep. Diane E. Watson (D-Calif.) may have echoed everyone's frustration when, more than four hours into it, she said, "I don't really know where this hearing is going."

It is well known where it came from, even before it spawned numerous sideshows. McNamee told authors of the Mitchell Report that he injected Clemens at least 16 times with steroids and HGH from 1998 to 2001, and Clemens' flat denials challenged the validity of the Report and compelled Congress to revisit an issue it had considered closed.

Throughout a rather redundant morning and early afternoon -- understandable, given the constant traffic of committee members, who would return from other business on the Senate floor to repeat questions already raised during their absences -- both Clemens and McNamee stuck to their stories.

Yankees outfielder Shelley Duncan, a brief teammate of Clemens' during his rookie season in 2007, noted while watching the hearings, "When Roger speaks, you believe him. When McNamee speaks, you start believing him."

Whom to believe also depended on who was asking the questions.

Although Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) later rejected the notion that this had become a bipartisan battlefield ("We all care about getting professional and collegiate sports to get clean and stay clean"), the sides were quite stark.

Hardest on Clemens were Waxman (Calif.), Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), John F. Tierney (Mass.), Stephen F. Lynch (Mass.), Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.) and Bruce L. Braley (Iowa) -- Democrats all.

Tearing heaviest into McNamee, while doing little to hide their scorn for him, were Dan Burton (Ind.), John J. Duncan Jr. (Tenn.), Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) and Christopher Shays (Conn.) -- all Republicans.

Clemens' stock rose or dipped depending on whose turn it was to interrogate, and on what topic he or she chose to use in the allotted 10 minutes (for the first go-around) or five.

As would any pitcher, Clemens had his good stuff and his bad.

He was ahead of the count when the conversation turned to:

• Canseco, who, in an irony even Hardin had to smile at, submitted an affidavit acknowledging Clemens' absence from the 1998 house party in question

• Dr. McNamee, with the validity and source of the trainer's Ph.D cited as a sign of his overall lack of credibility

• Burton, the Indiana legislator who couldn't have done more to smear McNamee, telling him, "You're here under oath, and yet we have lie after lie after lie after lie, of where you've told this committee and the people of this country that Roger Clemens did things -- I don't know what to believe. I know one thing I don't believe, and that's you."

• Debbie Clemens' own statement trying to clear up doubts about her husband's role in her own admitted HGH episode

And Clemens fell into a deep hole when the topic on the floor was:

• The Mitchell Report, and his unresponsiveness to invitations to discuss the charges against him before they became public

• The Pettitte-Chuck Knoblauch connection, and the conflict between their admissions and his denial of McNamee's charges

• Debbie Clemens' adverse reaction to an HGH shot administered by McNamee, and his negligence to seek medical attention

Clearly most damaging to Clemens was the testimony of Pettitte, and Clemens' repeated attempts to explain his version of events as all a big misunderstanding.

In absentia, Pettitte, whose character was vouched for even by Clemens, obviously was the day's most honorable baseball player.

"The person I believe most is Mr. Pettitte," Cummings said the second time he had the floor. "Everyone agrees he's a good guy, and he swings the balance to McNamee.

"Part of it comes from your own words," Cummings added, addressing Clemens. "It's hard to believe you, sir. It's hard for me to say that. You're one of my heroes."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.