Day 20: 30 baseball books in 30 days of April, ’09: Clemens’ red glare, his legacy bursting in air, in two more books

The book: “The Rocket That Fell To Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality”

The author: Jeff Pearlman

How to find it: Harper, 368 pages, $26.99


Where we’d go looking for it: Amazon serves it up (linked here). Or at the author’s official website:

The scoop: The fact that the word “rage” is used in the title will automatically set off the steroid alert — and that famous clip of Roger Clemens throwing a broken bat back at Mike Piazza during a World Series confrontation. That’s probably more a marketing thing than anything else.

We go to the Roger Clemens’ profile on the Yankees’ site, which still lists him for the 2009 season — obviously with no information (linked here). Nothing under his “last 10 games.” Nothing under “quick splits.”

Has he effectively split from the scene after 24 seasons? His career marks: 354 wins, 184 losses, 3.12 ERA, 4,572 strike outs in 4,916 2/3 innings are there. But then, so are these list of latest “news” items about him:

February 03, 2009: Syringes test positive for Clemens’ DNA
January 30, 2009: Report: McNamee syringes at lab
July 03, 2008: McNamee: Dismiss Clemens suit
June 24, 2008: McNamee plans new motion to dismiss

And there we are. The seven-time Cy Young Award winner (coincidentally, that’s how many MVP awards Barry Bonds has won) last had a 6-6 mark with a 4.18 ERA in 17 starts (18 appearances) in 2007.

The real turning point in this warped tale of fame and fortune may have been 1996.
After 13 seasons in Boston, Clemens was washed up, according to Red Sox GM Dan Duquette. Clemens just finished a 10-13 season, with a league-high 257 strike outs. Yet, with Toronto in 1997 and 1998, when he was 34 and 35 years old, he won 20 and 21 games respectively and a couple of Cy honors.

How was Duquette to know that Clemens would somehow reinvent himself with a new workout regime — and, perhaps, silly steroids?

The Yankees took him after that. In 2001, as a 38-year-old, he was 20-3 with a league best 271 strike outs. In 2004, with Houston, as a 41-year-old, he won 18 games and struck out 218.

It’s all there in black and white. Famously stubborn, and not really the brightest guy with a live arm, Clemens’ foibles that come out in this latest Pearlman gem could probably be used by anyone who’s ever been wronged by the future Hall of Famer (?) over the years.

But how did it happen? Pearlman finds out about a family secret — his brother Randy, nine years older, who really couldn’t handle the success Roger had and resorted to drugs. That led to the 2000 shooting death of Randy’s ex-wife, Kathy, over continued drug use by their 19-year-old son, Marcus. Kathy had been a very influencial person in Roger’s life.

Clemens may be a hard nut to crack, but Pearlman, who in 2006 came out with “Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero” (linked here) does it here.

“I dug through eons of clips, interviewed hundreds upon hundreds of players, administrators, coaches, front-office executives, journalists, etc.,” Pearlman writes on his site about the process. “It was, to be honest, a friggin’ nightmare.”

But it paid off. Thanks.

A side excerpt: An already frequently excerpted book (here’s one on Deadspin), we also enjoyed Pearlman’s tangents such as this one on Mike Piazza, who became a Clemens’ antagonist over the years:

“As the hundreds of major league ballplayers who turned to performance-enhancing drugs throughout the 1990s did their absolute best to keep the media at arm’s length, Piazza took the opposite approach. According to several sources, when the subject of performance enhancing was broached with reporters he especially trusted, Piazza fessed up. “Sure, I use,” he told one. “But in limited doses, and not all that often.” (Piazza has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, but there has always been speculation.)
“Whether or not it was Piazza’s intent, the tactic was brilliant: By letting the media know, of the record, Piazza made the information that much harder to report. Writers saw his bulging muscles, his acne-covered back. They certainly heard the under-the-breath comments from other major league players, some who considered Piazza’s success to be 100 percent chemically delivered.
“He’s a guy who did it, and everybody knows it,” says Reggie Jefferson, the longtime major league first baseman. “It’s amazing how all these names, like Roger Clemens, are brought up, yet Mike Piazza goes untouched.”
“There was nothing more obvious than Mike on steroids,” says another major league veteran who played against Piazza for years. “Everyone talked about it, everyone knew it. Guys on my team, guys on the Mets. A lot of us came up playing against Mike, so we knew what he looked like back in the day. Frankly, he sucked on the field. Just sucked. After his body changed, he was entirely different. ‘Power from nowhere,’ we called it.”
When asked, on a scale of 1 to 10, to grade the odds that Piazza had used performance enhancers, the player doesn’t pause.
“A 12,” he says. “Maybe a 13.”

How it goes down in the scorebook: A must-read for anyone who once envisioned Clemens to be bigger than other Texas native Nolan Ryan.


More on Clemens “American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America’s Pastime” By Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O’Keeffe, and Christian Red of the New York Daily News (Knopf, 464 pages, $26.95, linked here) will be released May 12 but excerpts will be published on on Tuesday and in the April 27 SI issue that hits newsstands on Wednesday.)

Without having seen this book, we’ll go with the publisher’s press release information: This one paints Clemens as “both a compromised player and a person of questionable conduct, a man destroyed by his own pride, dishonesty, and judgment. … It explores Clemens’s use of banned substances, details his dalliances with women, and suggests that he may have perjured himself while testifying before Congress.”

“No player in baseball’s long and rich history has fallen from grace as fast and as far as Roger Clemens,” the authors write. “Clemens’s fall is straight out of Greek mythology: The very traits that made him dominant on the pitcher’s mound, his tenacity and mercilessness, contributed to and possibly even caused his downfall.”

“The reporting culminates with Clemens unraveling in the wake of the Mitchell Report, when a series of choices transformed him from a Cooperstown shoo-in to the subject of a Justice Department perjury investigation.”

This Daily News team of Thompson, Vinton, O’Keeffe and Red recently won an APSE Award for Best Investigative Reporting in 2008, for their Clemens coverage. Clemens declined to be interviewed for the book.

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