Review: The Rocket that Fell to Earth

Roger Clemens's fall and rise and fall
By GEORGE KIMBALL  |  April 1, 2009

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HE CHEATED: A career once on a par with those of Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, and Sandy Koufax now rests with Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe.

The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality | By Jeff Pearlman | Harper Books | 364 pages | $26.99

Post-steroid baseball: Nine questions that will shape the upcoming season. By Mike Miliard.

On July 18, 1992, in a celebrated post-game meltdown at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, the pitcher formerly known as the Rocket expressed his displeasure over a column I had written (but that he had not actually read). After calling me "a horseshit lowlife," Roger Clemens attempted to pelt me with the contents of the post-game buffet that had been laid out on a table in the visiting-team clubhouse.

When people bring up the "hamburger buns" episode — and it still happens, at least once a year — I usually find myself explaining, "Yeah, that was me, but no, they weren't hamburger buns."

Think about it for a minute. How far and how accurately could you throw a hamburger bun? And if you did hit somebody, would he even feel it? This is not to suggest that the hard rolls Clemens used for ammunition that day were any more lethal, but they were a bit easier to control. Even in his sputtering rage, he managed to hit his target — me — once in three tries. (Alas, The Rocket That Fell to Earth perpetuates the inaccuracy: in what appears to be one of his few certifiable errors, Pearlman has me being struck by "a Wonder Bread hamburger bun.")

The episode was not the high point of his career, or of mine, and in 17 years since, this aspect of the Clemens legend has doubtless been more resonant in my life than in his. I don't imagine that many people ask Roger, "Aren't you the guy who threw food at George Kimball?"

Four years later, when the three-time Cy Young Award winner signed what was announced as a four-year, $34 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, Sox general manager Dan Duquette was roundly excoriated for his observation that Clemens was "in the twilight of his career." I wrote one of those "don't let the door hit you in the ass" columns offering empirical evidence that Duquette might have been right in his estimate — and that, widespread public opinion to the contrary, the pitcher was not, in 1996, a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

In particular, I noted that Clemens had 165 wins and 2611 strikeouts — not exactly Cooperstown numbers — and that, on the eve of his 35th birthday, he had just completed a four-season run in which he had gone 40-39. How was I supposed to know Roger would devote the next dozen years to trying to prove me — and Dan Duquette — wrong? Almost anything Clemens says should be taken with a grain of salt, but when he stated that he "didn't give a rat's ass" about the Hall of Fame, I, for one, was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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