McNamee played starting catcher for Archbishop Molloy High School and then at St. John’s University in Queens. “He wanted to be the best,” says Christian Prestigiacomo, a teammate and high-school friend. “He wanted to be admired.” But when he graduated, he fell back on the family trade. His father had been a cop, and McNamee joined the academy in 1990, eventually becoming an undercover officer in the anti-crime unit.
But the force wasn’t right for him, and he left after three years. It was a friend from St. John’s who got him back into baseball. Tim McCleary, an assistant general manager with the Yankees, helped McNamee get a job as a bullpen catcher. “He was a quiet guy, but he was driven,” recalls Buck Showalter, the Yankees’ manager at the time. “You’re looking for a guy who catches in the bullpen and basically stays in his box, so to speak.”
McNamee had higher ambitions. He wanted to become a strength coach, a more respected and prominent position in the locker-room caste system. So he left the Yankees to go back to school, earned a degree in sports science from Long Island University, and worked for a while as a personal trainer before returning to baseball. In the meantime, McCleary had moved on to the Toronto Blue Jays, and he got McNamee a job with that club in 1998.
McNamee was hired to train all the players, but he and Clemens fixated on each other. They lived in apartments in a luxury hotel connected to the SkyDome, the stadium where the Blue Jays played. They were both single-minded, their workouts together the only focus during the ample downtime between games. Clemens has said that he liked McNamee’s intensity, the way the trainer would push his hulking, six-foot-four, 240-pound body so hard that Clemens could hardly keep up at first.
During the off-season, Clemens would invite McNamee to stay in the pool house at his lavish Houston estate. He and Clemens joked that McNamee was his Kato Kaelin.
McNamee had dreamed of being a major-league catcher, and now he was catching for one of the greats. As a trainee, Clemens wasn’t that complicated: He simply needed to keep his weight down, and his strength and agility up. A typical workout included brutal stop-start sprints and some special abdominal exercises McNamee developed in which he grabbed Clemens’s legs to create more resistance. They lifted free weights and did 245-pound squats. After three hours, both of them drenched with sweat, they’d rest. Then they’d lift more weights in the evening. (Clemens has since claimed that McNamee’s famous workout was his own creation, and that McNamee only added a few twists to it.)
According to McNamee, the training was going well, but perhaps not well enough for Clemens. On the road for a Florida Marlins game just two months into the season, Clemens allegedly asked McNamee about steroids. As the Mitchell Report tells it, McNamee saw Clemens talking with teammate Jose Canseco and an unknown third man at Canseco’s Miami home. Canseco, one of the kingpins of the steroid era who wrote Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big, denies meeting with Clemens that day but has admitted discussing the benefits of Deca-Durabolin and Winstrol with the pitcher. McNamee claims that Clemens procured the vials and the needles on his own but needed McNamee’s help with the injections. The disputed event—needle in the left buttock, a shot of Winstrol—is said to have taken place in Clemens’s apartment later that summer. There were no witnesses.
In Canseco’s book, he wrote about his former teammate’s relationship to steroids: “I’ve never seen Roger Clemens do steroids, and he never told me that he did. But we’ve talked about what steroids could do for you, in which combinations … A lot of pitchers did steroids to keep up with hitters … If you were a pitcher, and the hitters were all getting stronger, that made your job that much more difficult. Roger used to talk about that a lot. ‘You hitters are so darn strong from steroids,’ he’d say. ‘Yeah, but you pitchers are taking it, too. You’re just taking different types,’ I’d respond.”
For a pitcher, steroids weren’t about developing huge muscles; they were about making workouts more productive, improving strength, fending off the effects of aging. In the Mitchell Report McNamee claims that Clemens told him the steroids “had a pretty good effect.” “One of the classic signs of steroid use is when a player’s basic performance actually improves later in his career,” wrote Canseco. “[Roger] certainly stayed great far longer than most athletes could expect.”
The next year, Clemens, now 36, signed up with the Yankees. He brought McNamee with him, getting him on the payroll as an assistant strength-and-conditioning coach for the team even though he worked almost exclusively with Clemens. McNamee’s salary was paltry, but Clemens paid him extra and gave him a new suit. He was, as Canseco has said, “Roger’s personal guy.”