Fall From Grace
An adapted excerpt from a new book detailing Roger Clemens' alleged steroid use
Reporters from the N.Y. Daily News reviewed thousands of pages of documents
In 1998, a struggling Clemens asked Brian McNamee to inject him with steroids
This story appears in the April 27, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Excerpted from AMERICAN ICON: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America's Pastime, by Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O'Keeffe and Christian Red. Copyright © by Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O'Keeffe and Christian Red. To be published May 12, 2009, by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
In their reporting for American Icon, the book from which this article was adapted, the New York Daily News investigative team of Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O'Keeffe and Christian Red reviewed thousands of pages of court documents, congressional depositions, police reports, medical files and transcripts of secretly recorded phone calls. They interviewed MLB players and executives, players' association officials, U.S. congressional leaders, law enforcement agents, attorneys, steroid suppliers, trainers, doctors and doping experts. Their repeated requests to speak to Roger Clemens were refused. The team's original reporting for the Daily News won the Associated Press Sports Editors award for Best Investigative Reporting in 2008.
Even to a former New York City cop, the question was jarring. "Can you help me?" Roger Clemens asked. "I can't inject in my booty."
This is how Brian McNamee, then the Toronto Blue Jays' new strength and conditioning coordinator, remembers it all starting. He glanced up at Clemens, whose broad frame blocked most of McNamee's view of the rest of the SkyDome clubhouse. A few other players milled about the room, preparing for the upcoming series against the Baltimore Orioles. Toronto designated hitter and occasional outfielder Jose Canseco was picking through his stall nearby, his back to Clemens and McNamee.
The trainer, who had come to baseball from the NYPD, was slumped in his own stall. Why, he wondered, was arguably the greatest pitcher of his era asking for help in sticking a hypodermic needle in his ass?
Clemens handed McNamee a small, white, opaque container resembling an aspirin bottle without a label. "What do you think of these?" Clemens asked. McNamee took the container and poured some white pills into his hand. They looked like oral testosterone, a substance he had only recently researched. "That looks like Anadrol-50," said Canseco, suddenly barging into the conversation. Before McNamee or Clemens could object, the burly Canseco took a couple of the pills and shoved them into his mouth.
McNamee wheeled around to face Clemens. "Don't take that," he told the pitcher. "That's really bad for you." Clemens then gave McNamee a bag filled with 50 to 100 glassine bottles and told him to get rid of them. McNamee later suspected that the bottles contained cypionate or enanthate: straight testosterone.
At 35, Clemens was Toronto's staff ace and highest-paid player, pulling in a cool $8.55 million. Two-and-a-half months into the 1998 season, however, his record was a pedestrian 6-6. He was less than a year removed from going 21-7 and winning his fourth Cy Young Award, but something was off, and his club was suffering as a result. Toronto was fading fast in the American League East standings.
During spring training McNamee had taken stock of Clemens's flabby physique. He didn't think the pitcher would continue to be successful without a change in his conditioning routine, even though Clemens maintained that his workout regimen was unequaled in professional sports. Now the Rocket wanted someone to help him with needle injections?
Clemens was aware of the recent strains in McNamee's personal life. At the end of spring training, a family emergency had called the trainer home to Queens. His one-year-old son, Brian Jr., was diabetic. McNamee and his wife, Eileen, spent the better part of a week being taught how to prick their infant's finger for a drop of blood, test it for hyperglycemia and then inject him with the appropriate doses of short-acting and long-acting insulin. McNamee learned to mix the insulin and draw it into needles for subcutaneous shots. It was a delicate process, getting the exact amount of the hormone into a pinch of fat so it could be released gradually into the bloodstream. The Toronto players and staff felt sympathy for McNamee. Clemens was among those who had expressed concern for Brian Jr., but now his motives seemed decidedly personal.
McNamee looked back at Clemens. "Yeah," the trainer said. "I think I can handle that."
"All right," Clemens said. "I'll let you know."
One of the perks of playing for Toronto was living in the luxury hotel attached to the stadium. Only five minutes after a hard game, an exhausted player could crash in one of the 70 rooms beyond the outfield. When the team was at home, Clemens lived in a SkyDome apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the diamond.
Shortly after their clubhouse conversation that day in June, Clemens summoned McNamee to the apartment, and by the time the trainer arrived, the pitcher had already laid out some clear glass vials containing a cloudy white liquid. The labels identified the substance as Winstrol, an anabolic steroid. There were some large needles, too, and sterilizing alcohol.
There was one problem. McNamee had experience only with the small-bore subcutaneous needles he used to inject his son. He was now looking at wide-bore needles meant to puncture dense muscle and inject a thick fluid deep into tissue. His mind began racing. He had no authority to give injections to players, let alone to the face of the franchise. But Clemens had asked, and McNamee had agreed. There was no turning back. Anyway, McNamee figured, Clemens was more prone to hurt himself if he stuck needles into his own ass.
The pitcher bent over. McNamee dabbed Clemens's skin with alcohol so as not to cause an infection. Then he stuck the needle into the pitcher's buttocks and depressed the plunger of the syringe. Now they were accomplices.
From that moment McNamee and Clemens had the kind of relationship that can create the tightest bonds of loyalty -- and pave the way for a painful falling out. When they had first met, at that season's spring training in Dunedin, Fla., Clemens still felt remnants of the bitterness that had consumed him after his dismissal from the Boston Red Sox following the 1996 season. He'd poured his guts into that team for 13 years, only to be sent off with what he perceived as an insult: Boston general manager Dan Duquette said Clemens had reached "the twilight of his career." After signing a three-year, $24.75 million contract to play for the Blue Jays in 1997, Clemens shot back, "I could pitch till I'm 45 because of the conditioning I do, especially with my legs."
MLB Truth & Rumors