Mike Barnicle was run off as a cityside columnist at the Boston Globe 10 years ago, after it was discovered he had lifted a few one-liners and paragraphs from previously published material.

This was unfortunate, because Barnicle's combination of storytelling and sharp-edged opinion made him the East Coast version of Chicago's late, great Mike Royko.

Barnicle's demise at the Globe did not lessen the appreciation for an observation he offered on Roger Clemens in 1997, after The Rocket had departed for Toronto.

"If Clemens had not once been able to consistently throw a baseball 95 miles per hour past men with bats in their hands, he would be wearing bib overalls and sitting on a milk crate at the open end of a trailer somewhere, brushing his tooth, while shooing away flies from his head," Barnicle wrote. "The man is a complete dope."

Obviously, Barnicle was an observer ahead of his time, for it was impossible to follow Clemens' testimony at a congressional hearing without having a similar reaction to his brainpower.

Yet, it wasn't Clemens' dullness of thought that was the most distressing aspect of Wednesday's performance. It was his willingness to toss his wife under the stretch limo in the attempt to explain Andy Pettitte's testimony tying The Rocket to human growth hormone.

According to Pettitte, former friend and workout partner, Roger was talking about HGH back in 1999 or 2000. The Rocket wasn't willing to call Pettitte a liar, since it wouldn't be wise to motivate Andy to come out of hiding and hit the interview circuit.

So, the impressively lawyered-up Clemens offered this sham:

Clemens was asking about HGH not because he wanted to add to his collection of Cy Young Awards (final total: seven). He simply was curious because of wife Debbie's interest in those high-test vitamins.

Apparently, Debbie was tipped off three, four years early on wives being asked to participate in Sports Illustrated's 2003 swimsuit issue, and she was willing to do anything to look ship-shape.

Clemens' team of lawyers even provided an affidavit from Debbie confirming this preposterous yarn. The only thing missing Wednesday was for Roger to stare into the cameras and tell Henry Waxman: "I did not have HGH with that woman."

Debbie's loyalty could be based on the fact that she enjoys beating him in Scrabble, or perhaps that the hubby has been a pretty good provider, what with his $152 million in career earnings.

Another amazing fact in Wednesday's hearing was more proof that everything in American politics divides along party lines -- including whether you want to side with a rich guy from Texas, the reddest state of all, or an Irish ex-cop from the azure East.

Sure enough, most of the Democrats on the committee went after Clemens, and several of the Republicans went after accuser Brian McNamee.

OK, John McCain might have a problem with conservatives on campaign finance reform, immigration, tax cuts, a gay marriage amendment and global warming, but this could be the big chance for him to win over the Ann Coulter wing of his party:

Back Clemens. Call McNamee a liar and chastise that hardcore lefty, Waxman, for flatly stating that Roger "made statements that we know are untrue" in his deposition.

Then again, McCain was an original congressional voice demanding that baseball take on its steroids scandal. We love to complain that Congress must have something better to do than to hold hearings on steroids in baseball, but here's the bottom line:

Without McCain, Waxman and others, Don Fehr and his players union still would be fighting steroids testing and meaningful suspensions.

The House committee members messed up last month, when Selig and Fehr appeared and they didn't go after the union chief vigorously about drawing blood for possible HGH testing.

The underpublicized part of the Clemens mess is that few of those inside the game over the past decade were genuinely surprised when that name appeared in the Mitchell Report.

Through the years when muscles on sluggers were the focus of the performance enhancers, what you heard often from these dugout occupants was, "What about Clemens?"

I never would've guessed, until Wednesday, that they were talking about Debbie.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. • preusse@startribune.com