Book Review: "Facing Clemens"

I know that many of you check out BCB first thing in the morning waiting for my posts, and were probably wondering where today's was. Here's what happened. First, I have the flu, and a particularly nasty strain of it. You don't want the grimy details; suffice to say I have been home sick from work for the last two days, the first time I have ever done that.

Second, my computer is sick. I've somehow contracted some malware called, cheekily enough, "MalwareAlarm". I've spent the last two hours trying to remove this stuff, with no success -- if anyone out there has any ideas on how to get rid of this, please let me know. (I really don't want to have to call the Geek Squad!)

All of that is off-topic.

On to Roger Clemens. There's a new headline this morning in the Tribune reporting that Congress may ask the Justice Department to investigate Clemens for making false statements in his testimony a couple of weeks ago.

I'm sure Jonathan Mayo had no idea that Clemens would have taken such a fall from grace when he was researching and writing "Facing Clemens", a compilation of thoughts from a number of hitters, good and great, who faced Roger Clemens over the course of his 24-year career. (I'm assuming that Clemens' playing career is over, even though he is going to be in the Astros' spring camp today, throwing batting practice to Houston minor leaguers, including his son, Koby.)

Anyway, the book goes over in great detail the personal reports by many hitters, from Dave Magadan (included because he faced Clemens in the 1983 College World Series, and of course then often during their respective major league careers), four reports from players facing him in the World Series (Chipper Jones, 1999; Darryl Hamilton, 2000; Luis Gonzalez, 2001; and Juan Pierre, 2003 -- incidentally, the light-hitting Pierre was 8-for-23 lifetime vs. Clemens, .348, with a double and two triples giving him .565 SLG vs. Roger), and from John Drennen, an Indians minor leaguer who faced Clemens in a rehab start that he made in A ball in 2006, and a final chapter from Roger's son Koby, who is in the Astros organization.

It's impossible to read a book like this without thinking of what's happened to Roger Clemens over the last couple of months, his amazing fall from grace. There are a couple of clues in the book, coming in quotes from Cal Ripken Jr. (who hit .257 lifetime vs. Clemens in 109 AB) and Torii Hunter (who never got a hit off him in 28 AB).

From Ripken:

I remember the last few years when he was with the Red Sox, and I don't know if he had some arm problems or what, his fastball came back a little bit to more of a hittable speed. So his control had to be more on. He couldn't rely on just rearing back and throwing the ball past you as he did before. Maybe he went through a little bit of a dead-arm period, maybe the innings he logged started to wear on him a little bit. I did notice in Boston toward the end, his fastball did come back a little bit to a normal range. Then, when he was in Toronto, he came back with his fastball a little and he maintained it for the rest of his career. I don't know what the situation was, but when he got to Toronto, his fastball was back. And also, he came up with the split-fingered. Maybe it was the combination of the two that made his fastball better. But I think the miles per hour came back.

From Torii Hunter, after Clemens got him again in the 2002 playoffs:

This guy, at the time, was forty. He was supposed to go down. He didn't go down. He actually went up. He got better as he got older. Most pitchers go down, their velocity goes down. Roger was still pumping 94, 95, 96, maybe 97 sometimes. Nobody could figure out how he was throwing like that, but I heard he was a hard worker and he tries to stay in shape. He tries to keep up with these young guys.

I don't think either of those statements were intended as accusations, and I'm sure Jonathan Mayo didn't put them in the book to cause them to be so -- but to me, they stood out. If one solid major league regular and one Hall of Famer were questioning how Roger Clemens could throw harder as he got older, how many others might have been asking themselves but not been quoted anywhere?

It's too bad, really, that a book like this can't be viewed on its own merits, and it has many -- there's detailed analysis by several of these hitters of game situations, how they approached Clemens as the intimidating presence he often had on the mound, etc. Unfortunately, with the cloud surrounding Clemens at this time, everything in his later career years has to be viewed with something of a taint. The book, in any case, is well worth reading, both for those merits and to get more perspective on the current situation.

I have invited Jonathan Mayo, once this review is posted, to post a diary responding to some of these concerns. When he does I'll move that diary to the front page.

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