THE CLEMENS VERDICT: BOTH CAN’T BE RIGHT

Somebody’s lying. The question is who?

And who cares?

Let’s face it, The Roger Clemens Story has turned into a witch hunt, and what most everyone wants is to prove Clemens used steroids and human growth hormone, because there is almost a sense of obligation now in sports – if not a perverse thrill – to pop the biggest balloon.

And Clemens, with his puffy jaw set and his big belly stretching those three-piece suits, has indeed appeared balloon-like as he shouts his innocence all over the country, in news conferences, on “60 Minutes,” all the way to the closing statement of a televised congressional hearing Wednesday, when Clemens interrupted the chairman after four hours of testimony to again insist his accusers were lying.

“Excuse me, but this is not your time,” Henry Waxman admonished the All-Star pitcher, banging his gavel, “to argue with me.”

Clemens stared him down so intensely, you swore if he’d had a baseball, it would have been headed for Waxman’s eyeballs.

But so what? In the end, you have Brian McNamee, a personal trainer who has told a lot of lies in his life, who may or may not be lying about this.

And you have Clemens, with an amazing 24-year pitching career, who may or may not be lying about his past.

Then you have guys like Waxman, who don’t know squat about baseball, but seem intent on defending the Mitchell Report, perhaps because it was done by a former senator.

As they say in gangster movies, you watch out for your own.

But somebody’s lying.

An incredible credibility gap

McNamee told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that “I was wrong” for injecting players with banned substances, as if that makes him sympathetic. But remember, it’s in his best interest to say that now. He already has confessed. He’s trying to save his neck from jail.

Meanwhile, you wonder why a guy with a history of lying suddenly becomes George Washington. Or as Tom Davis, the co-chair of Wednesday’s hearings, told the media afterward, “Mr. McNamee is obviously not the most credible witness.”

On the other hand, if he told the truth about injecting Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblach – and their statements suggest he did – then why would McNamee make all this up about Clemens? Which led Waxman to declare, “Mr. McNamee was very credible.”

You see why this is so insane. (By the way, even if McNamee told the truth about Pettitte and Knoblach, it doesn’t mean he DIDN’T lie about Clemens. Maybe he hates the guy. Maybe he’s jealous. Who knows?)

Meanwhile, here are the hardest things to believe about Clemens’ testimony Wednesday: that he didn’t know what his investigators were asking McNamee privately, that he never got a call to talk to George Mitchell (oh, please), and that he suddenly felt a need to reconnect with a nanny he hadn’t seen in years – who may have been at a party where HGH was discussed.

Still, the hardest thing to believe is this: If he really did use this stuff, why would he risk perjury? Is he that belligerent? Is his strategy to simply shoot down his accusers’ credibility? Is he that sure of his own?

Lights, cameras, chatter

I think he is. I think if Clemens is guilty, he is treating it like an injury the other team can’t know about. Just get out there, look tough and pitch your butt off. He may figure nobody will believe a creep like McNamee, and Pettitte will never turn hard on him, he can just say Andy “misremembered” their conversations. In other words, in pitching terms, he can retire the side.

A big risk? You bet. But Clemens is nothing if not self-assured.

Meanwhile, what’s the big picture here? What changes if Clemens is proven a liar? We already have plenty of big fish admitting steroids. One more changes nothing. If he did it, he did it years ago, when there was no testing.

Sure, you have to be tough on him – because we certainly have been tough on Barry Bonds and others. But in the end, I think this is more about the thrill of the hunt than anything else. That, and congressmen getting face time on ESPN, which, unlike C-SPAN, is a station their constituents actually watch.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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