WASHINGTON — Injured and defeated in a playoff game against the Boston Red Sox, Roger Clemens asked the general manager of the New York Yankees for the man who could “push his buttons.” He asked for Brian McNamee.
Two years later, the Yankees didn’t want McNamee around anymore. They found him to be insubordinate, and they had concerns about a couple of incidents, one in Florida and one in Seattle.
A central figure in the Clemens perjury trial moved closer to center stage Thursday. The jury heard tantalizing facts about the strength coach who says he injected the 11-time All-Star pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone — with details awkwardly omitted because they’ve been ruled as not relevant to the case.
McNamee is expected to take the stand when testimony resumes on Monday, the start of the fifth week of the trial that is meant to determine whether Clemens lied to Congress in 2008 when he said he had never used steroids or HGH.
But McNamee was also the focus Thursday when New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman took the stand. Prosecutors used Cashman to show how close Clemens and McNamee had become; the defense used Cashman to attack McNamee’s integrity and praise Clemens. In fact, the government to date has put together a case based in part on a string of witnesses who have lauded Clemens’ work ethic while testifying that they had no evidence whatsoever that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
“One of the greatest players that I’ve ever seen. He worked harder than everybody and led by example,” said Cashman, who went on to add that Clemens has “something, pitchability, something else that’s inside him” that puts his competitiveness at 100 on a scale of 1 to 10.
When it came to McNamee, Cashman’s words were less kind.
“This particular individual, Mr. McNamee, did not get along with people,” Cashman said.
Cashman recalled how McNamee came to work for the Yankees. It was Game 3 of the American League championship series at Boston in 1999. Clemens had allowed five runs before leaving after two innings with a bum hamstring. He had struggled through what would be the worst of his 24 seasons, at least when it came to his earned run average.
Cashman said he went to the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park and found Clemens with ice on his leg and frustration on his face.
“He talked about how he clicked with Brian McNamee,” Cashman said. “He knew his body. Brian knew how to train him, push the right buttons on him.”
McNamee was hired by the Yankees — a decision made by then-owner George Steinbrenner — the following year at a salary of $30,000. The title was assistant strength and conditioning coach, but as Cashman put it: “His duties were to train Roger Clemens.”
McNamee had previously worked with Clemens when both were with the Toronto Blue Jays. McNamee has said he injected Clemens with steroids and HGH during the 1998, 2000 and 2001 major league seasons.
Cashman related — primarily under cross-examination — how McNamee’s tenure with the club went sour. He was luring players away from the head strength and conditioning coach. He was instructing pitchers about their throwing motions, a job meant for the pitching coach.
Then there were misadventures in Florida and Seattle in 2001. The jury heard about them mostly in general terms, but it was enough to cast aspersions.
They didn’t hear that McNamee was investigated, but never charged, over an incident at a St. Petersburg hotel involving a woman was found to have a date rape drug in her system. They did hear Cashman talk around the edges about an incident in which McNamee seemed out of sorts in a Seattle hotel room and that it had something to do with something that had happened at a bar, but that was about it.
By the end of 2001, Cashman decided he’d had enough. McNamee’s contract was not renewed.
“I was certainly having to react and deal with the toes he was stepping on,” Cashman said.
Under further questioning from the government, Cashman did acknowledge that Clemens kept using McNamee as a personal strength coach after 2001 and as late as 2007, when Clemens returned to the Yankees after three years with the Houston Astros.
Earlier Thursday, the court heard from Dr. David Lintner, the Astros’ head team doctor, who was there during Clemens’ three years with the team from 2004-2006. Lintner testified that he treated Clemens in 2005 for an irritation on the back that was an early sign of possible acne, one of the known side effects of steroid use.
However, Lintner said he never saw any evidence that the pitcher had used steroids or HGH. Clemens lawyer Rusty Hardin told the 49-year-old Clemens to stand and asked the doctor to compare how the ex-pitcher looked now versus his days with the Astros.
“He looks pretty similar, actually,” Lintner said. “He’s aged well.”
The trial’s slow pace is making all sides snarkier. Things got especially testy during a debate over an expert witness: At one point, Hardin cried out “This is silly stuff” and added that the trial was going to take “two weeks longer than it should.”
Cashman provided a light moment when he mistakenly told the jury, as he recounted his career, that he has won five World Series as GM of the Yankees. He quickly corrected it to four. “I wish it was five,” he said in the hallway during the lunch break.
Cashman does have five World Series rings, but the first came when he was the Yankees’ assistant GM.