At the end of Zev Chafet’s incisive Cooperstown Confidential, he points out that there is “No proof at all that steroids … improve baseball performance in a way that challenges the competitive balance of the game …. I didn’t say there were not anecdotes, urban legends, theories, supposition or accusations. I’m taking about actual empirical data.”
The four New York Daily News reporters who wrote American Icon, The Fall of Roger Clemens and The Rise of Steroids in America’s Pastime — Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O’Keeffe, and Chrsitian Red — should have read Chafets’s book first, because those things — suppositions and accusations — are just about all that comprise this book.
If you don’t like Roger Clemens — and there’s always been enough who have never liked the intimidating right-handed fireballer to make one
question why the authors would call him an “icon” — the book is a treasure trove of unflattering innuendoes. (For instance: He once threw
a pitch high and inside to his own son, a minor league prospect, and “Clemens may not have publicly identified himself as a Republican …
[but] the GOP was the team he rooted for” , it being assumed that this was something evil. )
Beyond this kind of gossip-mongering, the reader will find little evidence that Clemens took any kind of performance enhancing drugs beyond what we already knew, i.e., that his accuser is his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who is described by the Daily News
writers as “not a perfect witness,” rather an understatement for a former drug dealer who lied about his 2001 sexual assault case. That’s
more evidence than the authors can present that any kind of drug use actually boosted Clemens’s performance. Much space is devoted to
Clemens’s “freakish, late career surge,” when, as numerous analysts, including myself and J.C. Bradbury have pointed out, there wasn’t any.
Typical of the level of investigative reporting in American Icon is the citing of a Gallup Poll that only 31 percent of those surveyed
believed that Clemens was telling the truth when he testified at a Congressional hearing that he had never used performance enhancing
drugs. In a news world that increasingly accepts trial-by-tabloid, this kind of lazy reporting is accepted as journalism. Just take a poll and
convince readers of what they already think. Never mind that what they think is based in large part on what the tabloids have already written.
One justifies the other, and so the anecdotes and urban legends are transformed into fact.