These days, SI.com columnist Jeff Pearlman sees it differently. In The Rocket That Fell to Earth, he writes, "In Major League Baseball's long history, few players have craved induction into the Hall of Fame with greater intensity than Clemens."
Clemens spent just two years in Toronto before opting out of his contract, but that sojourn did produce a relationship that would be the most significant of his post-Boston career. It was there that he engaged the services of a personal trainer named Brian McNamee, whose principal function over most of the next decade would involve injecting the Rocket's ample buttocks with Sustanon 250 and Deca-Durabolin, in alternating doses.
The results speak for themselves. At the time he took his leave of Fenway, in December of '96, Clemens's career chart mirrored the trajectory of just about every middle-aged pitcher who had come before him. Yet over a decade spent with the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Astros, in total defiance of human physiology, the Rocket proceeded to have a second career that was in many ways superior to his first. In nine full seasons, and two more spent as a part-time pitcher in Houston and New York, Clemens won 162 more games, struck out 2275 more batters, and won four more Cy Young Awards. In the absence of the Mitchell Report, he might have gone down in history not only as a physiological miracle but as the greatest pitcher in the history of the game.
Pearlman, whose Dallas Cowboys exposé Boys Will Be Boys was still riding high on the non-fiction charts when he contracted to write his book on Clemens, has painstakingly deconstructed his subject. Rocket includes a shot-by-shot chronicle of Clemens's chemically enhanced revival — and a juicy if relatively non-judgmental account of his long-time relationship with country singer Mindy McReady, an affair that commenced when Roger was a 30-year-old father of two and Mindy was, well, jailbait.
The book also provides a scathing indictment of the nation's sports media's fawning coverage of Part II of Clemens's career. Despite a multitude of red-flag indicators clearly ascribable to 'roid rage, Sports Illustrated and ESPN kowtowed to Clemens in pieces betraying not a hint of skepticism. The New York Times served up a worshipful profile, "A Wonder of the Pitching World," in which Buster Olney ascribed Clemens's unprecedented revival to "mechanics, genetics, and training."
In line with a host of former teammates interviewed for the book, Pearlman seems to feel that Clemens's legacy, since it was obviously so important to him, might have been better served had he simply swallowed hard and acknowledged the Mitchell Report's findings head-on. Instead, he opened the door for his own fall from grace with his denial and concomitant frontal assault on McNamee, whose lawyers knew where many of the bodies were buried and were only too happy to spoon-feed the salacious details to the New York tabloids.
The result, notes Pearlman, is that Clemens, who "once upon a time . . . stood beside men like Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, and Sandy Koufax as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history . . . will be shackled to a group that includes not merely McGwire, Sosa and Bonds but also Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. The legacy of each of those players can be summed in two words: He cheated."