King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Roger Clemens makes public a strange phone conversation with his accuser. Plus: LSU beats Ohio State for BCS title.


King Kaufman
January 8, 2008 5:00PM (UTC)

At his news conference in Houston Monday, Roger Clemens played a recording of a phone conversation he'd had Friday with his accuser, Brian McNamee. McNamee is the personal trainer who told former Sen. George Mitchell that he'd injected both Clemens and his teammate Andy Pettitte with performance-enhancing drugs.

It was a deeply strange moment, mostly because it was a deeply strange phone call. Clemens recorded it, and he said attorney Rusty Hardin and two investigators from Hardin's office were with him when he made the call. It's unclear if McNamee knew the call, which he'd solicited, was being recorded, but he mentioned the possibility that somebody else might be listening, and said he couldn't open up to Clemens the way he wanted to.

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What Clemens and McNamee did not sound like were a man wrongfully accused of using illegal drugs and the fellow who'd sold him out. Clemens kept referring to how upset everybody in his family is and saying somebody needed to tell the truth. McNamee kept talking about how bad he felt for Clemens and how the whole situation had devastated McNamee and his family, including a seriously ill 10-year-old son. He repeatedly asked Clemens, "What do you want me to do?"

They sounded like they were commiserating over some natural disaster that had befallen them, like a flood.

Hardin, Clemens' attorney, presented the tape as pointing to Clemens' innocence. After it played, he said, "You notice all during this tape, when Roger says he didn't do it, McNamee never says, 'Yes you did.' When Roger says, 'I just want the truth to come out,' McNamee never corrects that. McNamee never says to him on this tape, 'Yes you did, Roger. You did.' When Roger says he didn't use steroids 'and you know it,' McNamee never says, 'Yes you did.'"

That's true. Then again, as visibly angry as Clemens was at the assembled media for reporting what McNamee said -- he eventually cut the session short and stormed off -- he never sounded angry at McNamee for saying it in the first place.

McNamee kept asking that question, "What do you want me to do?" Clemens, in roundabout fashion, answered that he wanted McNamee to tell the truth. But while McNamee said, "I'll do whatever I can do to help," he never clearly came close to saying he'd recant his statement in the Mitchell Report that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone, although he did offer at one point to go to jail for Clemens. That may have been an overture toward a recant.

After Clemens said, "I just want the truth out there" and that his family is hurting, McNamee said, "The pain this is causing you and me and everybody is nonsense. You know, Brian [Jr., McNamee's ailing son], your kids, my kids, they have nothing to do with this. The truth is the truth. It is what it is."

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McNamee also said, "I'm in your corner. I don't want this to happen. But I'd also like not to go to jail, too." At another point in the conversation, though, McNamee said, "What do you want me to do? I'll go to jail, I'll do whatever you want."

It sounds like McNamee is saying he's sorry about the whole thing, but that he had no choice but to tell the truth, which was that he'd shot Clemens up. It also sounds like he might have at least entertained the idea of recanting his story, which would have put him at risk of arrest. But Clemens didn't bite, and now that the offer, if that's what it was, has been made public, it's no good anymore.

But it's hard to be sure. It's frustrating to listen to the conversation. It could be that both men were being cagey. Hardin mentioned that he'd warned Clemens not to say anything that could be interpreted as tampering with a witness, and he also suggested that McNamee's drumbeat question -- "What do you want me to do?" -- was an attempt to "set up" Clemens.

On the other hand, it might be that these are just two guys who don't communicate well. Clemens has a well-deserved reputation as being something less than a straight shooter. You'll recall his performance in the 2000 World Series, when he preposterously tried to explain away throwing a bat at Mike Piazza by saying he thought the bat was a ball, and then strangely kept repeating, "There was no intent" at the post-game press conference.

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So maybe Clemens didn't say, "Mac, you lied when you said you shot me up with steroids, you know you lied, and I want you to tell the truth now and clear my name" because he's just not that kind of guy. For all his bravado, he doesn't like conflict. Remember that subtle move he made to slide behind his catcher and the umpire while jawing with Piazza?

And maybe McNamee didn't say, "Roger, I'm sorry I had to say you did steroids, but goddamit, you did do them" for much the same reason. Clemens is his hero and longtime benefactor, and he sounded desperate to get back into the great pitcher's good graces.

In the end, despite the protestations of Clemens' lawyer, that strange tape didn't tell us much about Clemens' innocence or guilt, which at this point is mostly a religious question. You believe either one way or another.

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What it did tell us is that Clemens is engaged in a scorched-earth policy against McNamee, suing him for defamation and releasing this tape, which had to have embarrassed McNamee, who sounded pathetic on it. Clemens said on Monday that he would appear before Congress next week and tell everything he knows.

Either Clemens is innocent or he has the chutzpah -- or the capacity for denial -- of a hundred men. That recording he played Monday didn't tell us which. What it did tell us is that McNamee, desperate as he sounded, isn't likely to take back what he said.

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Ohio State: Your absence is requested [PERMALINK]

How about a moratorium on Ohio State playing for the national championship? Of anything. Just a year or two.

With LSU's 38-24 victory at the Superdome in New Orleans Monday night, the Buckeyes have now lost the last two Bowl Championship Series games, defeats sandwiched around their loss in the NCAA men's basketball Tournament Championship Game.

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Maybe not a moratorium. That wouldn't be sporting. I mean, just imagine, a Division I football team starting a season with literally no chance to win the championship! That's crazy talk.

So how about this: When any one of about half a dozen teams has a legitimate claim to a berth in the title game -- such as, just to pull an example out of nowhere, this football season -- let's not have that berth go to Ohio State for a while.

That 14-point defeat looks a lot better than the 41-14 pounding Florida administered to Ohio State a year ago, but the games weren't all that different. LSU looked jittery and out of sorts in the opening minutes, giving the Buckeyes an opening to build a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter. But the Tigers settled down on their second possession, which resulted in a field goal, and LSU was on its way.

Late in the first quarter LSU punt returner Chad Jones fumbled at his own 15, but the Tigers recovered. Had Ohio State fallen on that ball, things might have been different. Instead the Tigers dominated the second quarter, outhitting, outrunning and outthinking the Buckeyes.

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For the second straight year, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was pantsed by the opposing coach in the title game. Last year it was Urban Meyer. This time it was Les Miles of LSU. On several occasions, LSU's formations and play calls baffled the Buckeyes.

LSU wrested control of the line of scrimmage from Ohio State in the second quarter. A roughing the punter penalty kept an LSU touchdown drive going, merely the worst in a series of personal foul penalties that hurt the Buckeyes. By the third quarter the Tigers had scored 31 unanswered points and were cruising. Just like Florida last year.

An interception by Malcolm Jenkins set up a short touchdown drive for Ohio State that threatened to make things interesting, but Ohio State got no closer than 31-17. The teams traded garbage-time touchdowns for the final score.

Bowl Championship Series officials say they're ready to discuss a "plus one" system for deciding the championship, which would essentially set up two BCS bowls as a semifinal round, a Final Four, with the winners playing in the "plus one" game. On the theory that anything's better than the current system, this column's for it. It's also for a "minus one" system.

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The one being Ohio State. Just for a while.

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On the radio [PERMALINK]

I'll be talking sports with Bob Edwards on "The Bob Edwards Show" Wednesday. The show airs live at 8 a.m. EST on XM Radio Channel 133, then repeats at 9 and 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. EST. You can also listen live online, where the show repeats hourly throughout the day.

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Previous column: Roger Clemens comes out swinging

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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