Now that Roger Clemens is one of the most reviled people in sports and the subject of a new book, American Icon (an excerpt of which was just released to the Daily News and Sports Illustrated), detailing his steroid abuse, it’s important to remember that when Clemens signed his one-year, prorated $28 million Yankees contract two years ago, he was greeted as a savior. The team was off to a wretched start, and rotation “phenom” Phil Hughes was hurt. Clemens made a “surprise” visit to Yankee Stadium during a game, whereupon he made an epic announcement over the intercom between innings: “Thank y’all! Well, they came and got me out of Texas, and I can tell you it’s a privilege to be back. I’ll be talking to y’all soon!”
And with that, team and player were linked forever, which is why American Icon focuses on Clemens as a Yankee. Written by the Daily News’ intrepid “iTeam,” which has been doggedly pursuing every steroid story for years, the book adds detail, shading, and narrative to everything that’s happened to the former hero over the last year and a half.
The book excerpt uncovers no major new facts, but certainly provides some juicy details. It’s told from the perspective of Brian McNamee, Clemens’s former “trainer” and the man whose testimony to the Mitchell Report started this whole mess. McNamee clearly cooperated with the authors, and if the rest of the book is anything like the excerpt, is treated awfully well. (Little-known fact: McNamee, a former cop, was the first responder when Eric Clapton’s son died.) He’s painted as a beleaguered family man just trying to break his way into baseball, and when Roger Clemens asks him to inject steroids into his ass, we’re supposed to think, hey, everybody’s gotta make a living, right? The highlight of the excerpt involves Jose Canseco randomly grabbing whatever pills he can find, even if he’s not sure what they are, and popping them into his mouth.
The book is unlikely to hurt Clemens’s reputation too much, if only because it can’t go a whole lot lower. But it’s a reminder of just how expensive the Yankees’ desperation of May 2007 really was. Clemens had pitched three seasons with the Astros and had retired twice. He wasn’t very good (6–6 with a 4.18 ERA, and hammered in his lone postseason appearance) and was shockingly expensive (even for the Yankees), but the team needed pitching immediately. Now the whole steroid mess that has haunted his retirement haunts the Yankees as well.