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American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America's Pastime Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 12, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In a definitive examination of illegal drug use in America's pastime, "sports investigative team" Thompson, Vinton, O'Keeffe and Red (of New York's Daily News) focus on one-time Hall of Fame-bound pitcher Roger Clemens and his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who accused Clemens of relying on steroids and human growth hormone to prolong his lucrative career. (Clemens, upon this book's publication, continued to deny the allegations.) Both men were featured prominently in 2007's 409-page Mitchell Report investigation; in this decade-spanning account, they're surrounded by a motley cast that includes sports execs, drug dealers, lawyers, mistresses, elected officials, and former and current players such as Jose Canseco, Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez. Richly detailed, the muscular narrative often reads like a thriller, though numerous subplots don't always connect. Relying on hundreds of on- and off-the-record interviews and access to public and private documents, this is an intricate and compelling case in which there are no heroes, but a notable villain-the League itself-whose lax approach to the issue ensures baseball's steroids era isn't over.
“A definitive examination of illegal drug use in America's pastime . . . Richly detailed, the muscular narrative often reads like a thriller . . . this is an intricate and compelling case in which there are no heroes, but a notable villain—the League itself—whose lax approach to the issue ensures baseball’s steroids era isn't over.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“Of all the books I’ve ever read about baseball, I’d say this is as thoroughly researched as can be and right now it stands as the definitive book about the steroid era.” —Mike Pesca, NPR: Morning Edition
“Gripping . . . nimble . . . the authors have turned the sprawling story of steroid-use into a sleek narrative that reads like an investigative thriller, peopled by a Dickensian cast of characters, from big-name ball players and their high-powered lawyers to small time bodybuilders and gym owners, from federal investigators and members of Congress to denizens of “the violent criminal underworld of muscle-building drug distribution. As in Bob Woodward’s inside-Washington books, the narrative of ‘American Icon’ draws upon lots of official documents—in this case sworn depositions, medical records, courtroom transcripts, records from criminal investigations, as well as the groundbreaking articles these reporters did for The Daily News, and hundreds of interviews, both on the record and off.” —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“Graphic . . . damning.” —David M. Shribman, Bloomberg
“The account often reads like a detective novel, with the authors revealing the underbelly of professional baseball—the furtive injections, “gravy trainers” (sports hangers on), secret mistresses, drug transactions, and smarmy agents that pervade the sport. Things turn ugly when federal authorities put the squeeze on McNamee, and Clemens self destructs by lashing out at McNamee and demanding a congressional hearing. The journalism demonstrated here hits the bar set by another baseball/steroids book, Game of Shadows (2006), and it builds a daunting case against Clemens.” —Jerry Eberle, Booklist (starred)
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What sets this book above the truck load full of previous books in the baseball-steroid genre is the meticulous accounting of not only every step taken by drug dealers... ballplayers... trainers... and management... but every half-step between each step... of not only the previously mentioned participants... but a "fly-on-the-wall" readers-eye-view of the maneuvering of all the lawyers hired by all the participants. Extremely interesting is the additional detail the author's unfurl that follows each public mea-culpa's such as when Andy Pettitte admitted using HGH for only two days- "TWO DAYS OF PERHAPS BAD JUDGMENT AS HE PUT IT-IN 2002. WELL HE'D USED THE SAME BAD JUDGMENT TWO YEARS LATER. HIS 2002 DECISION WAS COMING BACK TO HAUNT HIM. HE DIDN'T KNOW WHAT THE RESULT OF HIS 2004 TRANSGRESSION WOULD BE."
The showdown of all showdowns is what will happen as the federal government goes after Roger Clemens... because the most powerful parts of the Mitchell report were based on sworn testimony by two trainers and providers of performance enhancing drugs... Brian McNamee and Kirk Radomski... Kirk sold the drugs to Brian... and Brian injected them in Clemens and Pettitte. Pettitte admitted that Brian injected him with HGH... but Clemens denies it... despite the fact that any logical person would say... Why would Brian be telling the truth about Andy and lying about Roger? This is in addition to the syringes, gauze and blood that Brian accumulated from use on Clemens and turned over to the government. So Clemens is trying to use his celebrity and wealth to discredit Brian... while the government led by federal agent Jeff Novitzky... the same agent who spearheaded the infamous Balco case... has pressured Brian with threats of jail if he lies on *ANYTHING*... thus leading to the conundrum that the authors state so eloquently: "CLEMENS AND NOVITZKY WERE HEADED FOR A COLLISION, AND BOTH OF THEM HAD VASTLY MORE RESOURCES TO DRAW UPON THAN THE MAN (BRIAN) CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE."
If the potential reader hasn't read all the previous sports/steroid books leading up to this one... I can give you a thumb nail synopsis of the main ones... since I have. In no particular order nor ranking: A&B) The two Canseco books... though accurate in the names named... artistically are clownish due to the egotistical love fest that Canseco has with himself. C) Kirk Radomski's is similar to Canseco in egotism as he tries to "break his arm patting himself on the back" as he (according to himself) is tied with Canseco for being the most brilliant man in the history of steroids. D) Bill Romonowski's is a crowing bully till he gets on Sixty Minutes and then he cries like a baby. E) Game Of Shadows is the seminal book on steroids based on facts without the author's sullying the process with self-love. F) Jeff Pearlman's is well written and his satirical comments interspersed with the facts, comes across like you're talking with one of your buddies over a beer. G) A-Rod is based on fact... but sullied by the author's personal salvos of "Good Alex"-"Bad Alex", etc. H) American Icon is so well researched that at times it may be almost too much detail... but it lays out every situation from every angle. It also has the advantage of being the most recent. Between these eight books... I don't think the reading public needs another steroid dissertation until there's a trial whether it's Clemens... Bonds... or who knows??
I found it very interesting in the beginning, and then found it to become very lengthy toward the latter half of the book, with this part mostly dealing with Clemens, McNamee and Petittes' appearances before congress in 2008. The writers judge Clemens to be guilty right from the beginning, and say so in the first few pages of the book. I don't know how anyone could believe anything Clemens says about the matter after carefully reviewing what is in this book.
Overall very interesting for baseball fanatics, but probably not for for the casual fan or non-sports reader.
To begin with, American Icon is a terrible and misleading title, for it suggests a subject so clean and popular and good and sanctified that his fall from grace is all the more dramatic. A Colin Powell, for example. Roger Clemens, on the other hand, has always been a controversial, emotional figure, as widely disliked as much as he was admired. In short, hardly an icon.
Secondly, this is not really Roger Clemens's story, but rather that of his accuser, Brian McNamee. As Clemens's attorney Rusty Hardin put it so accurately, so many times, "The Daily News is Brian McNamee's mouthpiece." In fact, McNamee's attorneys worked very closely with the paper, so closely, that even a journalist who wrote a book against Clemens has called the relationship "unethical."
To put it another way, The Daily News is Brian McNamee's biographer here. And what is disappointing about that is that while the book attempts to exonerate McNamee at every turn when it helps to incriminate Clemens, it does not spend enough time portraying McNamee in his sympathetic light: a man caught in the middle. For it now seems likely, particularly after McNamee got caught inventing stories whole cloth during trial testimony last year, that he invented much if not all of the allegations that he injected Clemens with anabolic steroids and HGH. While making passing mention of McNamee's divorce in process and loss of work, the book could have done a lot more to substantiate McNamee's dire financial circumstances and desperate emotional state. The book mentions only in passing that McNamee was hospitalized for depression. Furthermore, McNamee clearly relied on promises Clemens made him regarding future work and benefits, promises Clemens either breached or ignored. Much more of that should have been explored.
Rather than check out McNamee's improbable story, which was totally destroyed at trial, the Daily News accepted it as gospel. Rather than check out the allegation that the Boston Red Sox felt Roger Clemens was finished in 1996 and therefore let him go, they accepted it at face value. In fact, at the trial the assistant GM of the Sox at the time, testified that he felt Clemens could still pitch at his high level and recommended he be resigned. Yet sticking with a long standing policy of not giving long term contracts to aging stars, the Red Sox did not offer Clemens a contract. The Daily News accepted anecdotal claims that Roger Clemens was fat and out of shape in his last years in Boston and first year in Toronto. Yet subsequent query revealed Clemens never stopped his workout routine and was never out of shape. The Daily News repeats the fairy tale that Clemens no longer had a fast ball by the time he left Boston and found it again only after using steroids. Testimony by managers, coaches, and Hall of Fame hitter Cal Ripken, reveals that although Clemens lost something off his fastball in his late 30s, he didn't lose much. Clemens added an unhittable split finger changeup, to go with his fastball, in 1997, according to Ripken. Despite his prowess with added pitches in the second half of his career, Clemens's durability was affected by age and he averaged 1 inning less per game throughout the second half of his 24 year old career.
While taking at face value the circumstantial evidence against Clemens in the form of purported saved evidence of steroids and Brian McNamee's unbelievable tale of injecting Clemens in major league locker rooms, which was originally denied by Jose Canseco, who was supposed to be present at the first occasion, and which was disproved at trial, the authors ignore critical evidence in Clemens's favor.
The News, like the other New York dailies, The New York Times and the New York Post, apparently considered it their civic duty to defend Brian McNamee, the local guy from Queens, against the big bully of baseball from Texas, Roger Clemens.
Like most of the media accounts, this book does not even mention that Clemens made his complete medical history available to the Baylor College of Medicine and it concluded that there was absolutely no evidence in these records to suggest Clemens ever took anabolic steroids. Clemens waived his rights to confidentiality regarding the results of his 2003 random drug test by Major League Baseball and gave the results to Congress. More than 100 players reportedly failed the test. Clemens did not. That was a critical issue in Brian McNamee's credibility as he claimed that Clemens would fail that test, and tried to contact his agents about the crisis, since McNamee's claimed he had injected Clemens with steroids.
Like most of the media, the Daily News scoffed in this book concerning the idea that Clemens took B-12 instead of steroids. Witnesses at trial testified that Clemens did take B-12, including his Manager in Houston, Phil Gardner. His catcher in Toronto, where he was supposed to have started taking steroids and cheating, Charlie O'Brien, testified that Clemens was so honest he would not even use a scuffed up baseball, a common practice by Major League pitchers.
The Daily News reporters repeat the insistence by Congressman Tom Davis and Henry Waxman that Clemens's lawyer Rusty Hardin was told that Clemens did not have to testify before a televised hearing of their House Committee. Other than the obvious fact that there would have been no television coverage had Clemens not testified, Hardin erupted with an unusual and unlawyerly outburst, calling Davis a "son of a bitch" and revealing that to the contrary, Davis urged him to have Clemens testify.
Despite the Daily News attempt to downplay the so-called "Belk Deposition," McNamee's interview given to Hardin investigators hours before the release of the Mitchell Report in December 2007, McNamee in fact admitted that Clemens "would not remember" any of the alleged injections he gave him, calling into question any perjury on Clemens's part, for which he was in fact tried by a federal district court. In that same interview, McNamee said the feds "put a gun to my head," pressured him, to change his original contention, made to the press over several years, that he had never given Clemens performance enhancing drugs. In addition, McNamee said he asked Senator Mitchell to take out of his report any mention of a pool party in Miami at Jose Canseco's house because he did not witness any drug deal, as the whole episode implied. Mitchell kept the story in the report and it created no end of attention, controversy, and even testimony at the trial.
Whatever turns out to be the truth of this case, and we will probably really never know the complete story, one major issue which the News and other hunters of Clemens attempt to brush under the table is Brian McNamee's work history. The jury was treated to a sample of it last year and it was not a pretty sight. Despite enthusiastic endorsements of McNamee as a strength and conditioning coach (he was not a trainer) by Clemens and pitcher Andy Pettitte, he could not keep a job. He worked for three years as a New York City cop before being tossed out of the force, not an easy thing to do with its strong union, appeals process, and the fact that McNamee's father was a former cop. A college catcher at St. Johns, McNamee reinvented himself as a conditioning coach although he earned a business degree. And he would continue to pursue various get rich schemes over the years. His college roommate helped him get a job as bullpen catcher for the Yankees and later as an assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he first met Roger Clemens. Although he came in and out of Clemens's life over the years as a strength coach, McNamee had trouble keeping other clients, even those acquired for him by Clemens.
One of the pathetic occurrences of the trial was to witness a parade of pro prosecution witnesses, nominally testifying to buttress McNamee's contentions about Clemens, only to have them turn on him and call him a lousy, untrustworthy employee. One example was Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, called by Federal Prosecutors to confirm their contention that Clemens had asked him to bring McNamee to New York because he knew Clemens's body. Cashman confirmed Clemens's request, but stated other factors figured into the hiring as well, and totally trashed McNamee as an employee.
The Daily News spin on McNamee's work history is that he is a man of loyalty who falls on his sword for other people. Unfortunately, that spin does not equate with McNamee changing his story about never injecting Clemens when squeezed by the feds, or about accusing Yankees player Chuck Knoblach of putting a date rape drug in a woman's drink, when he himself was accused of that, and of allegedly raping the woman in a Florida hotel room.
Indeed the alleged rape does play a part in this book and played a huge, if only hinted at role, in Clemens's trial, in which prosecutors maneuvered successfully to keep the story out, which involved perjury by McNamee, and usually allowed to impeach the reputation of a witness when he is not the defendant. The book does contortions to try to explain away the whole case, including McNamee's denying he knew his St. John's roommate, who was in the pool with him when the incident occurred. The book notes that the woman refused to press charges but does not explain that she did so to protect an affair with a married baseball player.
Written after all by four reporters, not editorial writers, the major failure of this book is to apply even a modicum of objectivity to the case. It merely swallows the allegations against Clemens completely, rooting for his conviction and demise. Its attempt to paint Clemens as the man in the black hat, and evil, and the herd against him, Congress, George Mitchell, Major League Baseball, the baseball press, as wearing white hats, and thus good, is laughable. All these parties had vested interests. Major League Baseball was paying Mitchell to do a report about steroids to get Congress off its back. In fact, Congressman Waxman, who presided over Clemens's "Show Trial" that masqueraded as a congressional hearing, told Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig none too subtly in 2005 that if he could not deal with baseball's steroids problem maybe Major League Baseball should get somebody who could. Congress was most anxious to get credit for fighting illegal drugs of any kind. Mitchell wanted his half-hearted. Multi-million dollar investigation validated. Baseball writers wanted their old adversary Roger Clemens destroyed. Many baseball fans wanted to see Clemens punished for well, being Roger Clemens, scowling as he struck out their favorite batters.
There is also a reason that law-educated reporters should write about high profile legal cases. And this book is Exhibit A. Rather than trying to objectively analyze the evidence, and the stories, as then known, the authors engage in a murder mystery quest to find any and all evidence to find Clemens guilty.
One thing this book does not do, in contradiction to the rest of the media, is idolize Andy Petitte, the religious teammate of Clemens on both the Yankees and Houston Astros. Yet the book makes wild accusations about Petitte and Clemens and a connection to a Houston gym that it claims was a supplier to them of steroids. In fact, Pettitte's father acquired HGH for him from a Houston gym, not steroids. A subsequent two year investigation by the FBI did not validate the book's claim about such a supplier.
Although this book was first published in 2009, two years after most of the events reported, very little new information emerged despite a massive FBI investigation, in the U.S. and Canada, at tax payer's expense.
The reporters who wrote this book therefore had access to the big picture ---and they chose to ignore it. The story they desperately wanted to believe was told by a witness who had lied often in the past and who could not hold a job. This witness continued to give conflicting versions of how Clemens paid him for anabolic steroids and HGH, and where the drugs came from, hypothesizing as late as 2010 that maybe Clemens paid him through a Houston Foundation. The witness could not identity the brand of anabolic steroids that he had supposedly saved for a decade as his salvation. Andy Pettitte declared in his first congressional deposition that he had only the vaguest recollection that he thought Clemens admitted to taking HGH and could remember no details, or even the incident, as the years went by. Perhaps he was reminded of it by Brian McNamee. McNamee's account of first being approached by Clemens to help him inject steroids, in the locker room of the Toronto Blue Jays, was contradicted completely by Jose Canseco in a sworn affidavit.
What we did learn at trial was one of those personal facts that you would think his biographers at the News would have told up but did not in their book. Brian McNamee himself used steroids and HGH.
From a journalism standpoint, the authors of this book thought they were on to another Watergate. As it turned out, they were victims of a similar hoax to the Tawana Brawley story, when an upstate New York teenager falsely accused several adult men of rape.
[Hansen Alexander is an attorney and author. His most recent book is "An Introduction to the Laws of the United States in the 21rst Century," an Amazon e-book exclusive.]