Barry vs. Congress

By Gwen Knapp
Updated: February 17, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Wherever you stand on Roger Clemens’ visit to Capitol Hill last week, whether you considered his hearing a taxpayer rip-off or an effective drug-use deterrent, you have to admit it was great theater.

Clemens gave such a compelling performance, so full of contempt for the lesser beings questioning him, that he duplicated Jack Nicholson’s final scene in “A Few Good Men” without actually resorting to dialogue like, “I’m going to rip the eyes out of your head and piss in your dead skull.”

Like any dramatic piece, the hearing brought out the temptation to recast lead roles. Specifically, how would Barry Bonds have fared in the Clemens part? His federal perjury case could put him in a similar show, but in a very different venue and probably with heavy rewrites for the supporting roles.

We know that Bonds’ personal trainer, Greg Anderson, spent more than a year in prison trying to avoid becoming Brian McNamee, the fitness guru who spills his superstar client’s doping secrets. What we don’t know is whether Bonds has an Andy Pettitte moment in his future.

Bonds’ renowned aloofness makes it seem unlikely that he would take a teammate into his confidence, as Pettitte testified that his buddy Clemens did, and confess to using growth hormone or steroids.

But several Giants ended up working with Anderson and then testifying against the trainer when he was indicted for distributing steroids.

Did they seek out Anderson on their own during the time he spent tending to Bonds in the Giants’ clubhouse? Or did they get a referral from the slugger himself and, if so, how explicitly did Bonds word the recommendation?

We also don’t know whether Bonds will testify in his own defense, although if he does, he won’t be allowed the autobiographical musings that Clemens brought to the Hill.

The indulgences granted to the pitcher and the histrionic attacks on McNamee, his chief accuser, raised the most obvious questions about what would have happened to Bonds had he gone in front of Congress. In the same forum, would a black athlete without a hint of good ol’ boy in him have found so many staunch advocates?

It’s been widely noted that Republicans tended to give Clemens, the wealthy witness, a pass while throwing inside to McNamee, his ex-servant, and that Democrats favored tough questioning of the major-league icon. But the exceptions to that breakdown were notable.

Mark Souder, a Republican from Indiana, distinguished himself by refusing to let Clemens meet with him in advance of the hearing and chiding colleagues who welcomed the celebrity meet-and-greet. William Lacy Clay, a Democrat from Missouri, fawned shamelessly, asking Clemens which uniform he would wear into the Hall of Fame.

Clay is African American, so race can’t be an absolute dividing line here, either. But it’s hard to imagine a black athlete feeling as inside the system as Clemens apparently presumed himself to be last week.

His attorney, Rusty Hardin, said that Clemens had offered to cancel the hearing in favor of standing up alongside the chairman of the committee and denouncing the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Why didn’t the Enron execs think of that? They could have just taped a public-service announcement about securities fraud and moved on.

At one point in his testimony, Clemens said investigators for baseball’s Mitchell Report could have gotten his side of the story anytime because he was so accessible that an ex-president of the United States had been able to phone him in a duck blind and offer words of encouragement.

He meant George Herbert Walker Bush, a longtime Astros fan. This wasn’t the first time a president has lined up behind an athlete suspected of drug use. The current president has hosted Lance Armstrong at his ranch, and at the Atlanta Olympics, Bill Clinton supported the shady Michelle Smith, an Irish swimmer later banned for contaminating a drug test.

Bonds, for some reason, didn’t get that friendly “be strong” message from a chief executive. Jesse Jackson showed up for him, a fellow outsider.

So if Bonds had testified in front of Congress, it’s hard to imagine him going in with the scenery-chewing arrogance that Clemens brought to the occasion.

Bonds’ sense of entitlement is mammoth, and if he testifies in the perjury case, we should expect the same level of obnoxious petulance that characterized his grand-jury appearance in 2003.

But he will have to go a lot deeper than that to top Clemens, whose testimony created a milelong paper trail of inconsistencies, implausibilities and incomprehensible prevarications.

Perhaps Bonds’ aloofness and distrust of the media have protected him from reacting to steroid accusations as indiscreetly as Clemens has since the release of the Mitchell Report.

Bonds says some stupid things when confronted, but he has never gone looking for a fight. He doesn’t see the point in trying to protect his image, because he wasn’t born to play the same role as Clemens.