Roger & Him

Clemens and McNamee after a workout in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2006.Photo: Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated

What do you want me to do? I’ll go to jail, I’ll do whatever you want … Tell me what you want me to do. I’m firing my lawyers. I’m getting rid of everybody. I have nothing. What do you want me to do? My wife is gone. My kids are gone. What do you want me to do?

Brian McNamee is cracking up. He’s been harassed by the media for weeks—news helicopters flying overhead, Mike Wallace on the phone. To protect his family, he’s moved to a one-story brick bungalow in Long Beach, where he is living alone. When I reach him in early January, he is by turns combative and agitated, paranoid and oddly vulnerable. “I’m exhausted by this,” he tells me. “I’m beaten down. I don’t need it.”

This is not at all the way he thought his life would turn out when he met Roger Clemens ten years ago. Ever since, McNamee had been caretaker of the pitcher’s body, telling him what to eat and what to drink and how many squats and sprints and lifts to do. He trained Clemens’s mind not to quit even when his muscles were giving out. And, when Clemens asked him to, he allegedly injected him with the steroids and growth hormones that would allow the aging player to stave off the ravages of time. The goal, of course, was the Hall of Fame, and McNamee was along for the ride, thrilled with his proximity—dare he say, his friendship—with the baseball great. And maybe he would make a buck off it. Who wouldn’t want to buy training products from the man responsible for keeping Clemens’s physical machine running smoothly?

Now all those plans were in shambles. Under threat of prosecution for drug distribution, McNamee had accused his hero, benefactor, and friend of steroid use before the Major League Baseball commission led by former senator George Mitchell. When the commission’s report, naming 89 players, was released in December, Clemens attacked his former trainer, suing him for defamation, denying everything he’s said, calling him a liar.

“I’m not innocent on all counts,” McNamee confesses over the phone. “I made some mistakes. I don’t want to make excuses.”

It’s not clear which “counts” McNamee is referring to. Clemens’s legal team has highlighted every distortion and exaggeration McNamee has ever told, and there have been more than a few. At times, McNamee seems willing to take the blows to his reputation, a fitting punishment for turning on a friend. His lawyer admits that he cannot control McNamee, whom he calls “tormented.” The former trainer continues to reach out to Clemens against legal advice, leading to the release a few weeks ago of a pathetic seventeen-minute phone conversation between the two.

McNamee would love to be able to take it all back, to unsay the things he’s said, return to being Clemens’s friend. But under threat of a perjury charge, McNamee must soon testify before Congress about Clemens’s alleged steroid use—while the man who McNamee says made him sits in the same room, watching and listening.

Toward the end of our conversation, McNamee tries to summon some resolve. “There’s only one article you can write about me,” he says, “and it’s positive. I’m very confident in the truth.” Though his relationship with the truth has been as complicated as his relationship with Roger Clemens.

You treated me like family. You brought me into your house. I ate with your family. I helped you with school projects. I can’t deny that. And I’ve used how you were as a dad to your kids, I tried to be like you … Everything I have to this day I have because of you.

Brian McNamee met Roger Clemens back in 1998, when they were both recent arrivals to the Toronto Blue Jays. Clemens was 35, an aging pitcher from Texas who’d spent thirteen seasons with the Red Sox, earning the nickname “the Rocket” for his 98-mph fastball, but also the less flattering moniker “Pillsbury Doughboy” for his heft. After four Cy Young awards, he wasn’t the pitcher he once was. Biology and physics were conspiring to slow him down.

McNamee was 31, a trainer from Queens who had grown up wanting to be Johnny Bench or Thurman Munson or Pete Rose—tough, no-nonsense players—but had never been good enough to go pro. He was from a tight-knit beach community called Breezy Point, a gated neighborhood known locally as the “Irish Riviera” and populated largely by Irish-Catholic police officers, firemen, civil servants, and finance executives. “Those Breezy Point guys, when they get the sand in their shoes, they never leave,” says McNamee’s high-school baseball coach, Jack Curran. “They don’t let outsiders in there.”

Player and trainer running near Clemens’s house in Houston in 2004.Photo: Brett Coomer/Polaris

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.”

Clemens was making more than $8 million a season in New York, which translated into a portfolio of expensive body parts: As physics go, the first 50 miles per hour of a pitch comes from the power of his legs ($4 million); the back and the shoulder generate the next 20 miles per hour ($1.6 million); and finally, the arm, elbow, hand, and wrist, 30 miles per hour (for a combined $2.4 million). In effect, Clemens made McNamee the CEO of his body, anointing him with the power to scream at him during workouts (“Suck it up!”) and control his diet, from the contents of his power shakes to the dryness of his steaks. By then, according to the Mitchell Report, McNamee had become plugged in to a steroid-distribution circuit and was introducing human growth hormone (HGH) into Clemens’s diet. HGH would help Clemens recover more quickly after strenuous workouts and innings on the mound.

Other players, seeing how Clemens valued McNamee, sought him out. Soon, pitcher Andy Pettitte, who revered Clemens, too, became a regular workout partner with him and McNamee. “It was definitely a good relationship,” says C.J. Nitkowski, a former pitcher for the Houston Astros who went to St. John’s and was also invited to train with Clemens and McNamee. “Those guys loved him as a trainer.”

But McNamee’s growing sense of confidence—some would call it cockiness—as Clemens’s trainer put him into a heated dispute over training techniques with the Yankees’ pitching coach, Mel Stottlemyre, manager Joe Torre’s old friend. As time went on, McNamee’s intensity rubbed Torre the wrong way, too. It hardly mattered. Clemens wanted him around, and by 2001, McNamee was part of the Yankees’ traveling entourage.

During the off-season, Clemens would invite McNamee to stay in the pool house at his lavish Houston estate so that they could continue their training sessions. On breaks from their workouts, McNamee would bat and catch with Clemens’s sons. He and Clemens joked that McNamee was his Kato Kaelin.

McNamee was in awe of Clemens. “He saw Roger as this enormous figure,” says a friend. “He adored the guy. There was this extreme level of reverence.” And McNamee’s relationship to the pitcher made him important, too. “McNamee got off on being the guy that Clemens deferred to,” says Pat Jordan, a veteran sportswriter who spent time with the two men in 2001. “The ‘greatest pitcher of our generation blah blah blah’ would have to ask McNamee what he could have for dinner, and McNamee got off on it. He was officious about it. He was pissed off I was intruding on their intimacy.”

McNamee’s friends say the relationship wasn’t one-sided. Clemens was generous with McNamee, donating memorabilia to a charity auction for his diabetic son, Brian Jr. The boy, now 10, was obsessed with him, and Clemens would call him when he was feeling ill, or show up to have his picture taken with his Little League team.

By then, McNamee had begun to parlay his connection to Clemens into business opportunities, selling nutritional supplements, weight belts, and vitamins. In advertisements, he called himself Dr. Brian McNamee, Ph.D. (He’d earned a doctoral degree from a mail-order college to beef up his credentials as a trainer.) He bragged that his workouts were so intense that he paid for liability insurance in case Clemens was injured. Such was his need to take credit for Clemens’s success that he went out of his way to rebut an op-ed in the New York Times that called for baseball to come clean about steroid use among record-breaking players. The story didn’t mention Clemens, but McNamee responded with a letter titled “Don’t Be So Quick to Prejudge All That Power,” which called the article an “insult” to behind-the-scenes guys like him.

Back in Breezy Point, McNamee was a minor celebrity. His neighbors hit him up for autographs and free tickets. He was a guest on radio programs, and he developed relationships with reporters at Sports Illustrated and ESPN. He was a made man.

“There are status rewards to being loyal to them,” says Owen Kelly, a college friend who played ball with McNamee. “Put those in the corner with the type of person that Brian is and you have the culmination of what happened to him.”

It is what it is, and it’s not good. And I want it to go away. And I’m with you. I’m in your corner. I don’t want this to happen. But I’d also like not to go to jail, too.

There are strange events in McNamee’s history: ugly rumors, exaggerations, half-truths, gaps in the narrative. McNamee has claimed recently that he was hospitalized for stress and offered seven figures to appear on TV. Neither is true. When McNamee said George Mitchell hugged him after he finally told him he had injected Clemens, his own lawyer had to admit it “didn’t happen” that way.

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?”

McNamee had to work out his marital problems on his own, but Clemens came to the rescue as far as his career was concerned. As Clemens’s lawyers would later write in his defamation suit against McNamee, “McNamee pleaded with Clemens for work” and insisted the alleged rape was actually a “lifesaving attempt.” Clemens accepted McNamee’s version of what happened and agreed to help his trainer rehabilitate his reputation. For many, it was a sign of just how close the two men were. Says a friend of both Clemens and McNamee, “To Roger’s credit, he doesn’t say, ‘Mac, get the fuck out of here.’”

Clemens worked out with McNamee in a public gym in Manhattan to help him promote himself, and he praised McNamee in a profile in the New York Post just five months after the incident: “Secret to Rocket’s Power: Can You Keep Up With His Trainer’s Punishing Workout?”

Despite the public displays of loyalty, it was clear that something had changed in their relationship. One theory about why McNamee’s last alleged injection was in 2001 is that Clemens never really trusted McNamee again after the Florida incident, seeing him as a liability if ever the authorities cornered him. With McNamee now barred from the Yankees locker room, he and Clemens saw each other less and less. McNamee had taken a job at his old college, St. John’s, teaching sports management as an assistant professor.

It was around this time that Major League Baseball started to feel the heat over steroid use. In 2003, the league started testing players. A nervous McNamee sought out a meeting with a Clemens associate in a coffee shop in New York. McNamee described the meeting to Clemens in their notorious taped phone conversation: “I said Jimmy, I just wanted to give you guys a heads-up because you better have some information. I’d rather you be prepared than unprepared.”

Meanwhile, a federal investigation into steroid distribution in the Northern District of California was expanding, eventually nabbing onetime Mets staffer Kirk Radomski, a key steroid dealer to players and trainers—including McNamee. As the scrutiny intensified, McNamee remained loyal to Clemens, telling Sports Illustrated that the pitcher didn’t have anything to do with performance-enhancing drugs.

But authorities were closing in on McNamee. Investigators obtained a series of checks that McNamee had written to Radomski to pay for steroids, and soon he was facing prosecution for distribution of illegal drugs. When he met with federal agents this past June, they threatened him with jail time. The trainer hired a lawyer, and the lawyer brokered a deal: If he answered their questions truthfully, nothing he said would be held against him.

The decision to give them Clemens’s name must have been excruciating. According to McNamee’s version of his life, he is a fall guy. If he is to be believed, he has lied again and again—sometimes at personal peril—to protect his friends. Now he was being asked to sell out his most important friend, the guy who made him, the player his son worshipped. McNamee was working out with him in Kentucky when he first got the call to appear before investigators. In fact, he trained Clemens multiple times through the period of his questioning—putting the pitcher through his paces even as he wrestled with what to tell federal agents.

By December, after five months and three interviews with Mitchell, McNamee had told investigators all he knew—or at least all he remembered or was willing to say. Still, it was enough. All McNamee could hope for was that Mitchell wouldn’t name names in the report.

All I did was what I thought was right—and I never thought it was right, but I thought that I had no other choice, put it that way. And I think when I spoke with your guys, that I laid it out there.

McNamee knew things were going to get ugly. Before the Mitchell Report went public on December 13, he learned that Clemens would be named. He sent his wife and three kids to Disney World. At his wife’s request, he’d already moved out of his house to keep the press away from the children. Now he waited.

And then, the deluge. Suddenly, McNamee’s name was everywhere, on TV, in the local Queens press, on the lips of his neighbors and his son’s friends at school. They wanted to know if Brian’s father was the man who’d sold drugs to their idols. “How do I tell my kids what’s going on?” he asked his friend Piccione. “They worship Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. They’re up on their walls.” According to Piccione, McNamee took both their sons aside to tell them that Clemens and Pettitte were still heroes despite the drugs. “They did something stupid and that was that,” he told them. “If you’re a fan of Roger or Andy, continue to root for them.”

Clemens has said he was shocked to find his name in the report, but that was disingenuous. Wracked with guilt, McNamee had reached out to Clemens to warn him, prompting Clemens’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, to send two investigators to question him before the report landed. McNamee talked to them for two hours, confessing everything that he told Mitchell. The conversation was recorded, unbeknownst to McNamee. (The tape has not yet been made public, but Clemens’s lawyers have turned it over to the congressional committee.)

After the Mitchell Report was released, McNamee continued reaching out to Clemens, even though it potentially jeopardized his cooperation deal with federal agents. In late December or early January, he sent an e-mail to Clemens asking him to call Brian Jr., who had had a blood test that week that showed an abnormality. When Clemens called, he didn’t talk to Brian Jr. Surrounded by lawyers and agents, the phone hooked up to a tape recorder, he spoke only to McNamee. Three days later, Clemens held a press conference and released the tape of that conversation to announce his defamation suit against McNamee.

Despite all the hoopla surrounding its release, the recording itself was strangely inconclusive, demonstrating McNamee’s emotional state but not much about the truth. Even Clemens’s lawyer admitted the conversation was “really, really weird,” with Clemens questioning McNamee about “why [he] did it” and McNamee pleading desperately with Clemens to tell him what to do, offering to go to jail to make amends.

Clemens’s denials hadn’t bothered McNamee, but revealing his son’s illness on national TV crossed the line. When McNamee’s wife, Eileen, saw the press conference, she began crying, infuriated at Clemens: “I can’t believe that son of a bitch!” she screamed to a neighbor. Soon, reporters were invading Breezy Point, and Eileen had to send the kids to the basement so they wouldn’t hear people banging on the door. McNamee “felt horrible,” says Piccione. “It’s scary for the kids.”

The incident also left McNamee even more volatile and confused. Maybe Clemens didn’t care about him in the same way. “I’m sure he was under the illusion that he was a friend of Roger’s,” says Owen Kelly, who recently took McNamee out for dinner to cheer him up. “I don’t think the public really understands how closely Brian worked with these guys.”

Since then, things have gotten even uglier, with Clemens’s lawyers unearthing details about McNamee’s Florida incident and McNamee fighting back by suggesting Clemens engaged in unspecified “extracurricular activities.” The he-said-he-said will culminate on February 13, when both McNamee and Clemens will be asked to testify under oath before a congressional panel on steroid use in baseball. McNamee is expected to talk about the unsavory details of the sixteen injections of steroids and human growth hormone he allegedly gave Clemens in 1998, 2000, and 2001 along with an abscess McNamee says Clemens developed on his left buttock. Clemens is expected to maintain his claim that the injections McNamee gave him were vitamins and argue that McNamee simply gave investigators a big name to get himself off the hook.

McNamee’s credibility could be an issue, although Pettitte has admitted he received HGH injections from the trainer. And as Jon Heyman, the Sports Illustrated reporter to whom McNamee previously denied Clemens’s steroid involvement, puts it, “Nobody in their right mind would pick this precise moment [to say], ‘Now I’m going to start lying.’ ” But it might be enough for Clemens to create doubt, have it all end in a cloud of unprovable suspicion.

In the end, McNamee has come to think of his loyalty as his worst character flaw. The cognitive dissonance of trying to have it both ways—avoid jail and remain loyal to Clemens—has left him shattered. “I know this is killing him and he is not himself,” says a friend. “He’s trying to hold himself together.”

Roger & Him