Softballs for Pettitte; Beanballs for Clemens


Andy Pettitte’s February 18 press conference was an afternoon of softball questions from a friendly home-crowd press. Sample: “If you had to do it all over again, how would you deal with the issue of HGH [human growth hormone]?” Answer: “If I could do it over, I probably wouldn’t do it.”

Then came a fastball down the middle: “Have you heard from Major League Baseball, and do you have any idea that you might get suspended?” Pettitte took a half-swing: “I have not heard from Major League Baseball, and I don’t think I’ll be suspended.”

So far, the media have taken that response with their bats on their shoulders.

It’s a good question: Why hasn’t Andy Pettitte heard from MLB, and why hasn’t there been talk of a suspension? In his deposition to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Pettitte admitted that his father injected him with HGH in 2004. (And surely the most bizarre single piece of evidence to emerge during the entire hearing process is that Pettitte’s dad stuck a needle in his son’s ass.) In admitting this, Pettitte was in effect also admitting that he had lied to the Mitchell Commission—and thus to Major League Baseball—about the extent of his drug use.

Moreover, Pettitte was admitting to a crime. Though HGH wasn’t banned from baseball under the Basic Agreement existing at the time—it wouldn’t be added to the list of prohibited substances until 2005—it was and remains illegal unless prescribed for one of three rare diseases. Pettitte has clarified that he used HGH without a prescription. This means that he has admitted to the illegal use of HGH not once but twice, in 2002 and 2004. So where are MLB, the FDA, and the FBI?

It’s easy to see who doesn’t want to have this issue delved into: Pettitte, who stands to lose a one-year, $16 million contract with the Yankees, and the Yankees themselves. Having been snookered by Omar Minaya and the Mets in the Johan Santana deal, the pitching-hungry Yankees are desperate to hold onto Pettitte, the only capable left-hander on the staff. And there are other parties anxious for closure on the Pettitte story, namely commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball.

As everyone noticed, the February 13 Congressional hearings quickly broke down along partisan lines, with the Republicans, almost to a man and woman, backing Clemens’s credibility while the Democrats tried to undermine him. This is because those partisan lines had been drawn well before the hearings began. Selig, determined to preserve MLB’s exemption from antitrust laws—and thus its status as a self-governing body—needed what appeared to be solid evidence that baseball was dealing with its drug problem. Congress, anxious to get away from questions about the war, immigration, and the recession, welcomed the distraction. Selig’s genius was in putting a former Democratic senator, George Mitchell, in charge of the league’s investigation. Senator Mitchell is a close friend of Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, who was adamant, as anyone could see, about protecting Mitchell’s reputation.

Unless it fingered a superstar, the Mitchell Report would be punchless, and it was obvious that it would take more than the word of Brian McNamee—a former cop turned steroid dealer—to nail Clemens. Or as ESPN’s astute legal analyst Roger Cossack put it, in a summation largely ignored by the New York media (and, for that matter, by Cossack’s colleagues at ESPN): “If you take out Andy Pettitte, is there any reason here you would believe McNamee any more than you would believe Clemens? McNamee has been shown to be a guy who lies for convenience. He lied when he first started talking to the Mitchell Commission . . . . Clemens has his own problems . . . . Obviously, his biggest problem is Andy Pettitte.”

When the Mitchell Report revealed that McNamee said he injected Pettitte with HGH in 2002, Pettitte was reviled as a cheat and a liar. In a short time, he was transformed into a sympathetic figure (despite withholding information on further HGH use) for one reason: He was the tool that could be used to get Roger Clemens.

That Pettitte would not appear as a witness at the February 13 public hearing wasn’t known until just before midnight on Monday, February 11. The next morning, most headlines read like‘s “Pettitte’s Affidavit Supports McNamee’s Version of Events.” This, it seemed, was damning—irrefutable proof that Clemens had lied in his own deposition to the committee (not to mention to Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes). It was speculated that the reason that Pettitte would not be appearing in person was that he didn’t want to hurt and embarrass his close friend and former teammate—an explanation highly favorable to Mitchell and Waxman, as well as to Pettitte’s reputation.

Another version of Pettitte’s reasons to skip the hearing appeared in numerous stories that also appeared on February 12: As ESPN’s T.J. Quinn reported, sources had told him that “Pettitte was not a good witness when he appeared before Congressional lawyers during sworn deposition . . . . Pettitte often contradicted himself, so the committee agreed to his request not to appear before the committee.” If that’s true, one must wonder if Waxman wasn’t relieved that Pettitte wouldn’t be grilled in person about the vague and often contradictory statements in his deposition. If so, Roger Clemens, whether innocent or guilty, was denied the fundamental right of facing his accuser.

Predictably enough, those local sportswriters who have long since declared Clemens guilty haven’t gone back to Pettitte’s deposition, though it is now on the public record. If they did, they might agree with Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, who, in a thoughtful February 14 piece on the BP website, found that “Pettitte’s testimony is hardly the slam-dunk takedown of Clemens that it was made out to be. Pettitte, in many places, actually corroborates Clemens’s version. . . . What is interesting is that the differences between Pettitte’s statement and Clemens’s statement are so easily reconciled.”

Clemens probably won’t, as many are speculating, be indicted for perjury. For one thing, his deposition, whatever lies it may contain, has nothing to do with a public-health issue, only whether he or Brian McNamee is telling the truth. The real issue, as Clemens pursues his defamation lawsuit against McNamee, is whether Pettitte will be called in to testify.

Clemens is an arrogant asshole with high-ranking Republican friends, and thus it’s not surprising that he has no support in the New York media. Andy Pettitte, humble and earthy, is the guy who just made a mistake and has repented his sins—an older version of Opie Taylor caught smoking behind the barbershop. But this story is far from over, and before it is, Cossack’s point may well be reversed: Clemens may turn out to be Andy Pettitte’s biggest problem.