Even McNamee’s tenure at the NYPD is contested and mysterious: His former partner has described McNamee as a great cop, but his record was marred by a 30-day suspension for allowing a prisoner to escape while in his custody. McNamee claims that it was another officer who let the prisoner escape; he just took the punishment—“the hit,” he’s said—for the other officer, a sergeant on probation who would have lost his rank.
But the most egregious incident, which Clemens has used to impugn McNamee’s credibility, happened in 2001, when McNamee was in Florida with the Yankees for a series of games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Having started the 2001 season with a history-breaking 20-1 pitching record, Clemens was on top of the world, and so was McNamee. The team was headed for yet another World Series, the impact of 9/11 adding emotional weight to the season.
In October, at a palatial Spanish-style hotel overlooking Tampa Bay, McNamee and a group of Yankees players and staffers were partying with left-fielder Chuck Knoblauch, who occasionally trained with McNamee and allegedly procured HGH from him. After Knoblauch retired for the evening, McNamee and another Yankees staffer went skinny-dipping in the pool with a woman from the party. McNamee was married, but there were always women around when the team was on the road—one of the perks of working in the major leagues. But what might have been a typical night of ballplayers and their entourages blowing off steam quickly turned into a nightmare.
According to the police report, a hotel employee saw McNamee apparently having sex with the woman in the shallow end of the pool while the other man stood watching, naked, six feet away. When the three were asked to leave, the employee claimed, McNamee continued having sex, asking, “You mean now?” That was when the employee noticed that the woman was unable to get out of the pool on her own, stand up, or speak coherently, and instructed a co-worker to call the police. A medical report later determined she’d taken a massive dose of GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyrate, a sports drug used for recovery from strenuous workouts but also known as the “date rape” drug because in larger doses it can incapacitate.
“McNamee got off on being the guy Clemens deferred to. The ‘greatest pitcher of our generation’ would have to ask McNamee what he could have for dinner.”
We may never know exactly what happened that night. McNamee told a detective he was kissing the woman and “moving around” in the pool with her, but not having sex (although he admitted he’d hoped to, “if she allowed me to”). He also told police he didn’t know the other man very well when, in fact, it was Charles Wonsowicz, a Yankees staffer who had played baseball at St. John’s.
The victim could not recall having sex in the pool, but she identified McNamee as the man she’d been socializing with earlier. They laughed, had drinks, talked about 9/11 and baseball. She also recalled McNamee asking her if she wanted to try GHB, saying it would “just make you relax and kind of mellow you out.” She had said she wasn’t interested. The case eventually fell apart because the victim refused a rape kit and lied to police, damaging her credibility as a witness: Later she claimed she had lied in an effort to hide the fact that she’d had sex earlier that evening with a married veteran Yankees staffer.
To this day, McNamee claims he is innocent, telling friends that he was misidentified by the hotel employee and that he lied to police to cover up for others involved. In this version of events, Wonsowicz ran away and McNamee stayed behind to help the woman out of the pool and back into her Spandex clothing. (Wonsowicz still works for the Yankees, and a spokesperson for the team had no comment on the incident.) “If Brian wasn’t there, the girl would have drowned,” says Matthew Piccione, a friend of McNamee’s from Breezy Point. “He was the one who jumped in the water and saved the girl.”
Regardless, it was all too tawdry for the Yankees brass, and McNamee was let go a few months later. For a while, even Clemens stopped working with him.
You know, I’m glad to hear your voice. I just—you know, I don’t believe that, you know, it is, whatever. I just—the bottom line is, I’m glad to hear your voice. I’m sorry that your family is going through this. And I’ll do whatever I can do to help.
It looked like McNamee’s career, not to mention his marriage, was over. A lurid story about the Florida incident appeared in the New York Post, and everyone in Breezy Point was clucking about the scandal. Neighbors asked his wife, Eileen, “How could you stay with that guy?”