Usually in this country, baseball partisans are paying customers who shell out for peanuts and hot dogs, move the turnstile, crack open the Cracker Jack and root, root, root for the home team.
They are not, traditionally speaking, members of Congress batting around the issue of Roger Clemens and steroids as if their party affiliation was a logo emblazoned across a cap and jersey.
Wednesday’s congressional hearing on the Mitchell Report introduced us to two new influential political action groups:
Republicans for Roger Clemens.
Democrats for Brian McNamee.
You could hear in their voices and see it in their demeanor as representatives from both sides of the aisle took turns at firing/lobbing questions at Clemens, embattled baseball legend, and McNamee, former personal trainer for the legend and the man who claims he injected Clemens with steroids.
Rep. Dan Burton, Republican from Indiana, called Clemens “a titan in baseball. All these lies, if they’re not true, destroy his reputation.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, Democrat from Maryland, told Clemens, “You’re one of my heroes, but it’s hard to believe you.”
Burton told McNamee, “This is really disgusting. You are here, under oath, yet you have told lie after lie.”
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Democrat from California, said, “I think McNamee has a lot of credibility.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx, Republican from North Carolina, looked at photos of Clemens taken at various stages in his career and told the pitcher, “You appear to me to be about the same size. It doesn’t appear to me that your size has changed.”
On and on it went. Now batting for McNamee, a Democrat. Coming in to pitch for Clemens, a Republican.
The battle lines were so obviously and outrageously drawn according to party affiliation, Rep. Tom Davis, Republican from Virginia, revealed some true colors as he posed a question for McNamee while alluding to the grilling Clemens was taking: “Since the other side seems to be focusing on Mr. Clemens, I will direct my questions to you.”
Political stereotypes had a field day at the hearing.
Clemens is rich, arrogant and throws right. Of course the Republicans have his back.
McNamee is a working stiff. He drew a paycheck from Clemens. He doesn’t have anything close to Clemens’ fame or clout. He’s an underdog. Of course that’s a cause the Democrats will support.
Rooting for the New York Yankees has been likened to rooting for U.S. Steel or owning a yacht. Clemens has pitched for U.S. Steel. Twice. He won two World Series with the Yankees, in 1999 and 2000. He returned for a second, less pleasant stint in 2007. In between spins on the yacht, he led the Houston Astros to the World Series in 2005, for the first and only time.
Houston is GOP territory. Houston has an airport named after George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president and a longtime friend of Clemens. In 1991, while still pitching for the Boston Red Sox, Clemens visited Bush’s home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and pitched horseshoes with the president. They were paired on the same side, to borrow a phrase, two against two. No surprise there: They won.
Clemens testified that after his name was mentioned in the Mitchell Report, Bush phoned him while Clemens was hunting to offer support.
George Mitchell: a prominent figure within the Democratic Party.
Hunting: a popular leisure-time activity among Republicans. (Although not necessarily an altogether healthy one if you go hunting with a Republican named Dick Cheney.)
George W. Bush is also a Clemens friend. Bush used to serve as Texas governor. Clemens’ governor. In 2006, USA Today reported Clemens has a standing invitation to dine at the White House. On Thursday, one of McNamee’s attorneys predicted Clemens will be pardoned by Bush, if and when such a bullpen call is needed.
“It would be the easiest thing in the world for George W. Bush, given the corrupt proclivities of his administration, to say Roger Clemens is an American hero, Roger Clemens helped children,” Richard Emery told the Associated Press.
“It’s my belief they have some reason to believe they can get a pardon.”
Rusty Hardin, Clemens’ lawyer, shot back with, “Richard Emery just has to quit smoking his own dope.”
Emery told The Times’ Lance Pugmire that he was shocked to hear of Bush’s phone call to Clemens.
“Clearly, someone OK’d letting the dogs out of the kennel,” said Emery. “There was a palpable difference in tone along party lines. I thought it was a disgraceful display.”
Once, Clemens was an unassailable folk hero in Boston. Then, after the 1996 season, he bolted the Red Sox and signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Many New England Democrats will never pardon him for that.