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Review: The Rocket that Fell to Earth

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

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.

These days, 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.

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Related: The needle and the damage done, Review: Sugar, Post-steroid baseball, More more >
  Topics: Books , AL East Division, American League (Baseball), Barry Bonds,  More more >
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  •   REVIEW: THE ROCKET THAT FELL TO EARTH  |  April 01, 2009
    Roger Clemens's fall and rise and fall
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 See all articles by: GEORGE KIMBALL

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