It's nice to have friends, especially friends one makes during the course of business. It's even nicer if those new friends are celebrities. Take Mike Wallace, for example. At 89, Mr. Wallace has made a lot of celebrity friends during the 40 years he has been a reporter for CBS's "60 Minutes." Not friends like Yassir Arafat, maybe, but friends like George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees, of whom Mr. Wallace says, "I like Steinbrenner, he likes me, we became good friends." It was through his friendship with Steinbrenner that Mr. Wallace made friends with one of Steinbrenner's celebrity hirelings, Roger Clemens, of whom Mr. Wallace says, "He became my friend. He trusts me." Which is no doubt why, when Mr. Clemens' name appeared prominently in the Mitchell Report, he turned to Mr. Wallace to help clear his name from accusations by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, that Clemens took steroids and Human Growth Hormone in his late 30s and 40s to enhance his pitching career.
Tonight on "60 Minutes," Mr. Clemens will sit for an interview with Mr. Wallace, because, Mr. Wallace says, "He trusts me." Hopefully, Mr. Wallace can be, as he says, "objective." Tomorrow, according to Rusty Hardin, Mr. Clemens' lawyer, Clemens will submit to questions from a host of reporters, the first time he will speak off-the-cuff so to speak, to a roomful of reporters, some of whom may not be his friends. Previously, Mr. Clemens has denied Mr. McNamee's allegations that he injected Mr. Clemens with steroids and HGH through press releases emitted by his lawyer and his agent, and through a staged video in which Mr. Clemens denies McNamee's allegations directly to a camera.
I had a chance to become friends with Mr. Clemens in 2001, when I interviewed him for a profile in the New York Times Sunday magazine. But, alas, our friendship did not take. Despite the fact that I, like Mr. Wallace, felt I too had been objective in my profile, Mr. Clemens did not concur. In fact, he called me up after the story appeared and berated me over the telephone. When I asked him what he didn't like about the story, he said, "I didn't read it." I responded, "Then how do you know you don't like it?" He said he was told by his "friend," and the co-author of one of Mr. Clemens' books, Peter Gammons, the ESPN-TV analyst, that he should hate it. In fact, Mr. Clemens hated my profile so fervently that he had me banned from the Yankees' clubhouse during the years he remained with the team.
I would later learn that one of the many things Mr. Clemens hated about my profile of him was my description of his fawning relationship at the time with his friend Mr. McNamee, who lived in the pool house of Mr. Clemens' Houston estate. On the first day I interviewed Mr. Clemens in Houston I had dinner with him and Mr. McNamee at the most exclusive steak house in Houston. The bill was for over $400, which I paid. Mr. Clemens said, "I’ll get you tomorrow." The next day he bought me a taco at a Mexican Restaurant. But the point of my profile of Mr. Clemens was less about his parsimoniousness than it was his strange relationship with Mr. McNamee. During the dinner at the steakhouse Mr. Clemens asked Mr. McNamee for his permission to have a steak (McNamee nodded) and a baked potato (McNamee nodded again, but added a caveat, "Only dry."). The same scenario played itself out at the Mexican Restaurant. Clemens pointed to an item on the menu and Mr. McNamee either nodded, or shook his head, no.
During the three days I followed Mr. Clemens around Houston, he seemed like a child beholden to the whims of the sour, suspicious, and taciturn McNamee. It seemed as if Mr. Clemens would not do anything to his body, or ingest anything into it that Mr. McNamee hadn't approved. I found it strange that, at 38, Mr. Clemens still had to have someone dictate his diet and workout regimen down to the minutest detail at this late stage of his illustrious career. In fact, Mr. Clemens' devotion to Mr. McNamee's diet and workout routine seemed almost like a spiritual quest that must not be impeded. When Mr. Clemens and Mr. McNamee went on a long run one day and they came across another runner, lying on the ground, in the throes of a heart attack, they called for help. When Mr. Clemens related that story to me, he ended it by saying, "We were having a good run, too."
I also found it strange that, at 38, Clemens had the energy of a teenager. Clemens' workouts lasted 10 hours a day with only breaks for lunch and dinner. They began at 9 a.m. under McNamee's watchful eyes, with light weight-lifting for an hour, then an hour run, then a trip into Clemens' own personal gym, where he did a few hours of calisthenics, wind sprints, and throwing before going to lunch. After lunch, Clemens and McNamee went to an exclusive Houston men's gym (Clemens told me that President Bush worked out there), where Clemens pedaled a stationary bike for an hour and then performed a heavy weight-lifting routine for another hour. Then after dinner at home, Clemens worked out again until 9 or 10 in the evening.
Just watching Clemens work out over a day exhausted me. I wondered where he found the energy to sustain such a maniacal pace when I, at a similar age 20 years before, had been unable to work out for more than a few hours a day without being drained. At the time I interviewed Clemens, I was training for an amateur body building contest and, like Clemens, I adhered to a strict diet and a strenuous weight-lifting and calisthenics routine. But nothing I did at 41 compared to the 10 hours-a-day routine McNamee put Clemens through.
This brings me by a circuitous route to Tom Seaver, the Hall of Fame pitcher from the 1960s to the 1980s. Now Seaver and I were friends. Not the best of friends. Not intimate friends. Just friends. In the early 70s we lived only a few miles from each other in Connecticut. On the weekends we played one-on-one basketball games against each other at the Greenwich YMCA. They were rough, no-holds-barred games marked by a lot of uncalled fouls, bruises, and bloody noses. I always let Seaver win those games; after all, he was Tom Seaver, but he denies this.
Whenever Seaver pitched badly I'd call him every so often to give him advice.
"Tom, you're throwing too many breaking balls."
"You really think so?"
"What the hell do you know?"
Seaver and I had a lot in common. We were both big men in our playing days. Six-one, 200 pounds. We were both pitchers. Bonus babies. Tom signed with the Mets for a $50,000 bonus and I signed with the then Milwaukee Braves in 1959 for a $50,000 bonus. We both threw hard. I threw harder than Seaver, of course, but he will never admit that. He had better control than I did (at least I will admit that). And a longer career. His lasted 20 years. In the major leagues. Mine lasted three years, in the minor leagues. And then out. Back home, at 21, lugging bricks and mortar up a rickety scaffold for a Lithuanian mason.
Over the 40 years of our friendship, I still call Seaver every now and then, mostly to remind him that I threw harder than him. His response is always the same, "In your dreams." My response is always the same. "But I did, Tom, I did!" Then he will say, "Yeah, and between us we won 311 major league games." I say, "Precisely!"
Like Clemens today, Seaver in his day was considered the most dominating pitcher of modern times. He did win 311 games over a 20-year career, and would have won another 50 or so if he had pitched into his mid-40s like Clemens has. But he didn't. He lost his fastball at 38, pitched without it for several more seasons with varying results, and retired. During his career, Seaver, too, was famous for his strict diet and strenuous workout routine. In fact, he was one of the first baseball players to begin lifting weights to enhance his performance. It had been considered taboo, particularly for pitchers, likely to make them feel too muscle-bound and inflexible.
I visited Seaver once at his home in Greenwich, Conn., in the dead of a cold winter. Seaver lives in Calistoga, Calif., today. Seaver took me down into his basement where he had set up a net to catch baseballs. There, with a bucket of balls beside him, and his breath billowing in front of him, Seaver grunted and sweated for 30 minutes as he pitched baseballs into that net.
I was so impressed with his diligence that I asked him why he bothered to throw on such a cold, January day. He gave me a little sideways look as if I'd asked the stupidest question, and said, "Because it's my day to throw."
After the Mitchell Report on the use of performance-enhancing drugs was published, I checked the records of Seaver and Clemens. In his first 12 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, Clemens posted a 192-111 record. In his first 12 years with the Mets, and the Cincinnati Reds, Seaver posted a 219-117 record. Over Seaver's last eight years with the Reds, Red Sox, and Chicago White Sox, he posted a 92-78 record. Over Clemens' last 11 years with the Toronto Blue Jays, Yankees and Houston Astros and then the Yankees again, he posted a 162-73 record, a winning percentage appreciably better than in his younger years.
While Seaver struggled with that declining fastball in the latter stage of his career, Clemens kept throwing hard. Seaver's decline in those final seasons was the normal drop-off for a pitcher who had relied on an exceptional fastball for a good part of his success. Clemens' improved record in his later years was an anomaly for a fastball pitcher. (Knuckleball pitchers like Phil Niekro, and junk ball pitchers like Jamie Moyer have pitched successfully into their 40s because they rely on finesse, not strength.)
A fastball pitcher still throwing in the mid-90s after the age of 40, as Clemens did, is a true rarity, except if his name is Nolan Ryan, who was blessed by God. It goes against the laws of nature, although I suspect that a case can be made that Clemens' incredible late career success could be attributed to the strict diet and fabled workout routine of his former trainer and friend, now his adversary, Brian McNamee. Which I also suspect is the case Clemens will make to his friend, Mr. Wallace, when Mr. Wallace interviews him tonight on "60 Minutes."
Pat Jordan, author of "A False Spring," and "A Nice Tuesday," is a freelance writer. His latest book, "The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan" (Persea Books), which features profiles of both Roger Clemens ("Roger Clemens Refuses to Grow Up") and Tom Seaver ("The Best of Friends"), will be released next month.