Story rocketing to a TV near you

Special to The Times

Pitchers and catchers are slated to report to major league training camps Thursday, but Roger Clemens returns to Capitol Hill in Washington today in a continuation of the drug-related circus in which many of the characters have behaved shamefully, or is it shamelessly?

It’s back to the national television spotlight before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which lost a measure of its own credibility when some of its members and staff turned into photo-snapping, autograph-seeking fans during private, preparatory meetings with Clemens last week.

The 41-member committee will try to relocate its purpose today, taking on the serious tone of investigators trying to determine if the insistent Clemens has been lying in denying allegations by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, that he injected Clemens with steroids and human growth hormone.


The accusations and denials, the dueling lawyers, the sudden appearance of blood-stained gauze and syringes from McNamee’s memorabilia collection, the allegation that even Clemens’ wife Debbie used a performance-enhancing substance preparing for a Sports Illustrated photo layout, the likelihood that Andy Pettitte, a close Clemens friend, has been caught in the middle by his bottom-line acknowledgment that McNamee’s claims in regard to himself and Clemens are valid . . . all of that leads to a question:

Would Hollywood portray these events as tragedy, drama or slapstick comedy?

“All of the above,” Ron Shelton said. “An absurd comedy and tragedy rolled into one. A soap opera with tragic implications. The horrible result of a lie that went on too long.”

No one in Hollywood has more of a sports-oriented resume.

Shelton’s list of credits as writer and/or director includes “Bull Durham,” “Cobb,” “Tin Cup,” “White Men Can’t Jump” and “Play It to the Bone”.

Now he is closely watching what he calls the “grotesque stage show in Washington” because it may play into his next major project.

He and longtime associate John Norville are turning the book “Game of Shadows” into an HBO movie script, which Shelton will then direct.

“Game of Shadows,” written by Lance Williams and his former San Francisco Chronicle colleague Mark Fainaru-Wada (now with ESPN), is the thoroughly documented study of Barry Bonds, the drug clearinghouse that was the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and the baseball steroids scandal in general.

How does Shelton see “Game of Shadows” as film?

“It’s not really about Bonds and it’s not really about Clemens,” he said, although how the Clemens situation plays out may enter into it just as Bonds is certain to be a part of it. “It’s more about the uncovering of the details, more like ‘All the President’s Men’, which wasn’t really about [Richard] Nixon specifically.

“ ‘Game of Shadows’ was really about the recognition and uncovering of this culture of drugs that had existed in baseball and other sports and everybody was lying about. I’m not out to get Bonds or Clemens or anybody. It’s the history of a culture that tolerated the use of steroids.”

He added that Commissioner Bud Selig and players union leader Donald Fehr “are largely responsible for what’s become a train wreck” by ignoring for their purposes and those of their constituents the 800-pound gorilla that probably roamed the room for more than two decades.

“It’s the old Dick Gregory joke, ‘How come everybody knows who’s dealing drugs on the corner except the cops?’ ” Shelton said, adding that the cops in this case, Selig and Fehr, seem to have just turned their heads for way too long.

That hesitant approach to the 800-pound gorilla has been chronicled and re-chronicled and is certain to receive new illumination in Shelton’s screen version of “Game of Shadows.” In 1988’s “Bull Durham,” when Annie Savoy asks Crash Davis, the indomitable catcher, what he believes in, he cited the need for a constitutional amendment outlawing both AstroTurf and the designated hitter. Davis was old school and also would have called for outlawing steroids if he had been aware of the problem and its severity.

Instead, we are left with the mess in Washington, which today focuses on Clemens and McNamee, and which many of us believe boils down to a central point:

Why would McNamee tell the truth about injecting Pettitte, which Pettitte has confirmed, and lie about Clemens, which Clemens insists he is doing, and why would McNamee lie at all when he faces imprisonment if it is proven that he is lying?

Shelton, for one, doesn’t know whom to believe. He knows Clemens, likes him, used him in a pitching sequence in “Cobb.” He said his hope is that the hearing proves to be another step in what has become the difficult process of baseball working its way clean. The clock is ticking, he said. The steroids fallout can be fatal.

He cited as one of the “moving aspects” of “Game of Shadows” the tracking of a Northern California high school hitter who was determined to beef up, traveled often to Tijuana for steroids and became a star at USC only to kill himself at 22 when he had no professional offers. Denise and Ray Garibaldi now have a foundation in their son Rob’s name, but his story is not unique.

“It’s been repeated over and over across the country,” Shelton said, “and so it’s not just grown men making deals with the devil. It’s kids killing themselves.”

The shadow of shame, of course, has been all-encompassing for all too long.