The Life and Trials of Roger Clemens: Baseball's Rocket Man and the Questionable Case Against Him by Hansen Alexander
Roger Clemens was among the game's best pitchers for more than two decades, and playing in the massive media markets of Boston and New York guaranteed him national visibility. Clemens was a perennial league leader in wins, strikeouts, and ERA, but longevity is what makes him a baseball legend. This [End Page 263] is a ballplayer who earned Cy Young awards at the ages of twenty-three and forty-one years old, and a pitcher who struck out nearly a batter per inning across the span of twenty-four big-league seasons. Instead of enjoying a reputation alongside Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver for his high peak performance over a long duration, Clemens is a baseball pariah. He is remembered as the steroid era pitching equivalent of Barry Bonds and is all but banished from Cooperstown.
Through "literary and logical analysis," New York lawyer Hansen Alexander seeks to restore credibility to Clemens's career and change his perception in the court of public opinion (211). Most of Alexander's research is based on trial transcripts and existing secondary material such as biographies and writings from espn.com. Because The Life and Trials of Roger Clemens focuses almost exclusively on Clemens's legal troubles in perjury trials that followed the Mitchell Report, readers seeking a longer view of Clemens's life and career may want to consult Pearlman's The Rocket that Fell to Earth (2010), a book that Alexander frequently cites in his own work.
Unlike Nathan Michael Corzine's Team Chemistry (2016), which details the pharmacopeia of drugs used through the game's history, Alexander dismisses the "steroids era" as "an invention of baseball writers desperate to make themselves relevant" (4). Alexander separates himself from other Clemens biographers in his conviction that "one-sided coverage by the press" (ix) and "the government's politically inspired prosecution" (195) unjustly destroyed Clemens's hard-earned reputation. By dismissing the "so-called Mitchell Report" as a "public relations charade" (2) comparable to a "grade school book report" (67) and through several chapters that question the credibility of the key witness against Clemens, Alexander argues that there is an astonishing lack of any substantial material evidence linking Clemens to steroid use. Alexander argues that Clemens's admirable longevity comes from consistent conditioning, and that his excellence on the mound in his later years is the result of learning how to throw a variety of pitches, thus compensating for a loss of velocity.
Alexander's intuitive legal wit and knowledge of courtroom procedure are undermined by underdeveloped prose and sloppy writing. In one awkward instance, Alexander attempts to locate Clemens's mother, Bess, within the "Texas tradition of strong, independent women" alongside singer Janis Joplin, historian Annette Gordon-Reed, and actress Renee Zellweger (13). This is likely the first time those disparate individuals have been mentioned in the same breath. The Life and Trials of Roger Clemens is marred by grammatical errors such as sentence fragments: "Yet it is also a celebration of baseball" (2). From a technical aspect, the citations range from weird characterizations of reporters as "baying hounds" (231, n. 5), irrelevant explanations of a college's [End Page 264] name (233, n. 1), and redundant references such as eleven consecutive ibid citations (100).
Historical inaccuracies and frequent non-sequiturs plague The Life and Times of Roger Clemens. Alexander faults the Red Sox for not signing Clemens to a long-term deal when the pitcher was thirty-four years old, and goes on to argue that the departures of Wade Boggs, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, and John Lester to explain that the team had an aversion to "anybody over 30" (9). However, players vital to recent Red Sox championship teams including David Ortiz, Manny Rameriz, Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Adrian Beltre, Bill Mueller, John Lackey, and Keith Foulke all had contracts that contradict Alexander's argument. In another example, Alexander diagnoses the Mets with an "identity crisis" because the team's orange and blue colors are "borrowed" from clubs that left the city, but this overlooks the fact that New York City's tricolor flag is the foundation for color schemes in the logos of the Mets, Dodgers, and Giants (21). Lastly, second baseman Marty Barrett's 1986 batting average is incorrectly recorded as .267, when in fact he hit .286 (33). This is a minor quibble if the statistic wasn't being used to compare Barrett to current second baseman Dustin Pedroia's career batting average or to imply that Barrett under-performed that season when, in fact, he had a better batting average than respected veterans at the position including Willie Randolph, Lou Whittaker, and Frank White. These are small individual quibbles that could be dismissed as petty nitpicking, but their persistence throughout the book detracts from the main argument.
Criticisms aside, The Life and Trials of Roger Clemens is a useful corrective that nudges the needle of PED guilt a bit towards reasonable doubt. Red Sox and Yankee fans, as well as anyone who followed "The Rocket" in his illustrious career, will read this book with interest. Alexander's work will undoubtedly inspire future biographical reassessments of tainted ballplayers whose reputations were tarnished during the steroid era, and this book should be referenced by all researchers who are exploring baseball's recent past. [End Page 265]