WASHINGTON — Known for his blazing fastball, "the Rocket" faced heat of a different kind Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
In a much-anticipated appearance, baseball great Roger Clemens swore under oath that never in his 23-year-career has he used performance-enhancing drugs.
Seated a few feet away from his chief accuser and former trainer, Brian McNamee, the legendary pitcher said: "Let me be clear. I did not."
But McNamee refused to back down from the allegations he made last year to a blue-ribbon commission that was investigating steroid use in baseball. McNamee said he'd injected Clemens with drugs several times in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
"During the time I worked with Rogers Clemens, I injected him on numerous occasions with steroids and human growth hormone," McNamee said. "I am not proud of what I have done, and I am not proud to testify against a man I once admired."
It was left to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to sort through their conflicting stories. It was a tall order, because the testimony of both men was saddled with inconsistencies, members said.
"Someone isn't telling the truth," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the committee's chairman. "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. I don't think there's anything in between."
McNamee's allegations against Clemens and other players first surfaced in the report from an investigation headed by former Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine, for Major League Baseball. The report, which has roiled baseball, linked more than 80 current and former players to illegal performance-enhancing drugs and called for extensive reforms.
Baseball, for all its astronomical salaries and increasing competition from faster, more-violent sports, still holds a special place in American culture. It's part of the American myth, a metaphor for our heritage.
But Clemens, one of the game's most illustrious figures, became the latest in a lengthening line of players to appear on Capitol Hill since the steroid scandal began with his fabled career now under a cloud of drug suspicion.
The 45-year-old athlete has played for four teams — the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Houston Astros — over a 23-year record-setting career.
Born in Dayton, Ohio, he grew up in Houston and was the winning pitcher for the University of Texas in the 1983 college world series.
"I took no shortcuts," Clemens told the committee. "Somebody's trying to break my spirit in this room. They're not going to break my spirit. I did it the right way and I worked my butt off to do it."
After more than four hours of testimony, doubts remained about whether performance-enhancing drugs helped Clemens accomplish his feats.
McNamee had been his trainer. But he'd lied to federal investigators and withheld evidence about steroid use in the past.
After ticking off several of those instances — "Is that a lie?" — and having McNamee confirm each one, Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana threw up his hands in frustration and said, "Gee whiz! Are you kidding me?"
McNamee's case got a boost from Clemens' friend and fellow pitcher Andy Pettitte and former player Chuck Knoblauch. In depositions to the committee, they confirmed McNamee's accounts that he'd injected them with performance-enhancing drugs.
Both had been scheduled to testify at the hearing, but were released.
Pettitte said that Clemens, during a conversation in 1999 or 2000, told him that ``he had taken human growth hormone. This conversation occurred at his gym in Memorial, Texas. He did not tell me where he got the HGH or from whom, but he did tell me that it helped the body recover.''
Pushed by Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., to account for Pettitte's remarks, Clemens said: "Andy Pettitte is my friend. He was my friend before this. He will be my friend after this. I think Andy has mis-remembered our conversation."
Pettitte also said in his deposition that in 2005 when Congress was preparing to investigate drug use in baseball, he asked Clemens what he'd say if reporters asked him whether he'd ever used performance-enhancing drugs.
``When he asked what I meant, I reminded him that he had told me he had used HGH,'' Pettitte said. ``Roger responded by telling me that I must have misunderstood him; he claimed that it was his wife, Debbie, who used HGH.''
She apparently did, but how that occurred was in dispute. McNamee said that Clemens had asked him to inject his wife with human growth hormone. Clemens said that his wife had asked McNamee to inject her with HGH on her own.
Debbie Clemens sat behind her husband, clutching a yellow rose and occasionally scribbling notes. Her husband read a statement from her that said that she'd read about the "benefits" of HGH and taking it was a "harmless act on my part."
Another point of contention was over Clemens' alleged appearance at a lunch party at former player Jose Canseco's Florida home during the 1998 baseball season. Canseco, who's publicly admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens played for the Toronto Blue Jays at the time.
McNamee said that Clemens attended the party. But Clemens produced golf receipts and other evidence to bolster his statements that he didn't.
Waxman provoked an outburst from Clemens' attorneys by suggesting that the pitcher may have attempted to coach a witness when he invited a former nanny to his home to tell her that the committee wanted to contact her.
Clemens' attorney Rusty Hardin erupted from his seat behind his client, snapping: "This is unfair!"
The nanny, who wasn't named, told committee investigators by phone that Clemens, as well his wife and children, were at the house but that she didn't remember a party.
Waxman told Clemens that inviting the nanny to his house after not seeing her for seven years ``sure raises the appearance of impropriety.'' Clemens denied any effort to help her with testimony.
After the hearing, Hardin said: "Whether anybody won is in the eye of the beholder."