|Roger Clemens pitching at Fenway Park in September 2007. (JOHN BOHN/GLOBE STAFF/FILE)|
Sifting through Rocket's debris
Roger Clemens was the pudgiest kid on his Little League team, more than a little irritated that his partner in the team's two-pitcher rotation was a girl. A fanatic, ferocious competitor, "he always seems ready to detonate," warily observed one of his Red Sox teammates. These days, as he awaits possible indictment by a federal grand jury, biographer Jeff Pearlman characterizes Clemens in his own hometown as "Houston's baseball version of
It's quite a comedown for an unprecedented seven-time Cy Young Award winner who was a lock for baseball's Hall of Fame as recently as 18 months ago. It was his bulldog, take-no-prisoners approach to baseball that brought him down, and Pearlman's book develops a stark, unsparing picture of Clemens's life that surpasses anything that's come before.
Pearlman, a former senior writer at Sports Illustrated, talked to more than 400 people to help tell the story, and he does it with flair and readability. No slapdash effort, he has documented his work with 314 footnotes. He has fully bought into former trainer Brian McNamee's account of injecting Clemens with steroids. Pearlman doesn't waffle; he's prepared to call Clemens "obtuse," a "cyborg," and never pulls a punch. Delving deeply into Roger's early life and the relentless drive his brother Randy instilled, we better understand - and possibly admire, with caution - the way the Rocket doggedly bulled his way to baseball greatness.
This is one comprehensive book, and those most familiar with the many controversies and accomplishments of Clemens's career - his first 20-strikeout game for the Red Sox, the question of whether he asked out of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, his early ejection in Game 4 of the 1990 ALCS, and the incident where he threw a broken bat shard at the Mets' Mike Piazza (and then excused his act by saying he thought it was a baseball) - will find new and illuminating material.
There is tragedy on a personal level. The author says Randy Clemens seems to have descended into self-destructive drug abuse, ruining his life and that of his family. Roger's alleged affair with 17-year-old country music singer Mindy McCready puts the lie to his pose of family rectitude. And yet Pearlman finds in Clemens someone perhaps so driven by a compulsion to triumph that he may fail to grasp when he's crossed the line, in this and other matters.
After all, he's the star, and the guy who believes he means well. What folks at the Jimmy Fund have quietly said for years is noted here: that Clemens would often leave Fenway Park for one of his runs around the city, and drop in several times during a homestand to visit ill kids at the clinic. He knew he had a good side, but he himself may have been taken in by the mythic figure he created, may have blinded himself to his own shortcomings to the point that he truly didn't think they were real. Amped on steroids or not, he may not have realized on some level that he was throwing that bat at Piazza.
Despite 354 major-league wins to his credit, the debate about what cap Clemens should wear on his Hall of Fame plaque more likely than not has become moot. Red Sox fans will probably be relieved to know that Clemens sports a New York Yankees cap on the cover of this book.
Bill Nowlin is the author of "Day by Day With the Boston Red Sox" and " Ted Williams at War."