and the Rage
for Baseball Immortality
By Jeff Pearlman
Harper. 368 pp. $26.99
nolead ends nolead begins American Icon
nolead ends nolead begins The Fall of Roger Clemens
and the Rise of Steroids
in America's Pastime
nolead ends nolead begins By Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O'Keeffe, and Christian Red
Alfred A. Knopf. 464 pp. $26.95
nolead ends nolead begins
Reviewed by Frank Fitzpatrick
There is a reason why so many took delight as Roger Clemens was pulled - kicking and screaming, of course - into the eye of baseball's steroid maelstrom.
Unlike the bulk of the sport's drug-tainted hulks, Clemens had been a pain in the butt long before he allegedly had Brian McNamee inject him there.
As a pair of fascinating new books make clear, regardless of whether or not the superstar pitcher ever used performance-enhancing substances - and the evidence he did is overwhelming - he remains an irritating egomaniac whose astounding athletic ascension was marked by lying, bullying, and cheating.
Ultimately, the story of Clemens' demise is so complex and so tragic that it seems as if the God who gifted him with a golden arm must have forgotten to provide him with a conscience.
He threw at hitters' heads without remorse. He was provoked to angry outbursts by the merest slight. He obsessed so much on his own goals that his teams' were often obscured.
He pitched on the days his son was born and his mother died. He had little use for loyalty or sentiment. And he clung to his family even as he canoodled with a famous mistress.
By the time he inexplicably hurled the jagged half of a broken bat at Mike Piazza during the 1999 World Series, Clemens' public persona was so tarnished that despite all his record-setting accomplishments, he had trouble landing lucrative endorsement contracts.
"Turning his demeanor around would help," Brandon Steiner, a sports-marketing expert, told author Jeff Pearlman.
It didn't happen. It would have been easier for him to start pitching like Jamie Moyer.
In Pearlman's The Rocket That Fell to Earth and American Icon, by the New York Daily News sports investigative team, the story of what the latter book calls the most profound fall from grace in baseball history is told from two perspectives.
While Pearlman's is a true biography, tracing Clemens' saga from his birth in Ohio to his crash on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame, the Daily News writers focused instead on the details of the still-unfinished steroid chapter.
The four writers - Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O'Keefe, and Christian Red - avidly chronicled the tumultuous decade that began in 1998 when, according to McNamee, Clemens asked him for assistance ("Can you help me? I can't inject in my bootie") and ended in the messy aftermath of his now infamous 2008 appearance before a congressional committee.
Pearlman, a University of Delaware graduate who also authored the insightful examination of the Dallas Cowboys' troubled image Boys Will Be Boys, has written a book that is more human and, as a result, more damning.
Even if you were willing to forgive Clemens' apparent drug use as the logical outgrowth of an era dominated by illegal substances, it is virtually impossible to excuse a Clemens who all too often was as unlikable as he was unhittable.
For those who seek the psychological roots of aberrant behavior, Pearlman makes it tempting to see Clemens as someone whose problems may have evolved from several ill-fated relationships with male authority figures.
His real father, a bad-tempered Ohio truck driver, played almost no part in his life. The last words they spoke came when Roger was 10. Seeing how agitated his mother was during a conversation with Bill Clemens, the boy took the phone from her, said to his father, "There is no need for you to call here anymore," and hung up.
Bess Clemens, who would later move the family from Ohio to Houston, married a kindly mechanic who loved her children and was loved in return. His death, when Clemens was 8, devastated the boy.
Maybe most significantly, he grew up idolizing his older brother, Randy, a superb athlete but one who also couldn't control his temper. Randy mentored Roger and, as his own athletic dreams flagged, mapped out the younger boy's future.
"Roger would go to Texas," Pearlman wrote in describing Randy's master plan. "He would dominate. He would make the majors. He would stomp anyone who dared stand in his way."
Randy's life began to spiral downward in nearly inverse proportion to his sibling's rise. His angry outbursts cost him coaching jobs and a marriage. Eventually, he descended into hopelessness, a crack addict who lived beneath a Mississippi bridge and whose ex-wife was murdered by drug dealers.
Fortunately for Clemens, he possessed his mother's drive, one that was as lively and direct as his fastball. The chubby teen who'd been a mediocre athlete hardened his body and honed an arrogance that helped obscure self-doubts. It got him into a junior college, to the University of Texas, and eventually into professional baseball.
Along the way, teammates and opponents were awed by his talents and too often dismayed by his flaws.
"His ego was very, very big," ex-Red Sox pitcher Joe Hesketh told Pearlman. "I love Roger but I can't lie about it. He could be a pain."
But on the mound he could be awesome. He would strike out a major-league record 20 Seattle Mariners in 1986, the day his legend was born. He would win 20 games several times and a couple of Cy Youngs in Boston, but he would always be dogged by doubts about his ability to win the big games.
Those doubts - and his bad relationship with Boston's fans and sportswriters - only grew when he was removed from the pivotal Game 6 of the '86 World Series and when he went berserk on umpire Terry Cooney in the early innings of a '90 American League Championship Series start.
"Roger did everything he could to get thrown out," Oakland's Dave Stewart said of Clemens' ejection. "To me, it was obvious. He didn't have good stuff, he was getting hit, there was a lot of pressure. So he found a way out of the situation."
When his career seemed to wane in mid-'90s Boston, he signed a free-agent deal in Toronto where, almost certainly not coincidentally, he encountered McNamee. It was there, with Jose Canseco as a teammate, that his curiosity about steroids was piqued, his affair with country singer Mindy McCready blossomed, and his fastball regained its hop.
He rode that redemption into what would be record-breaking contracts with the Yankees and Astros. And then, in 2004, the rumors about his possible use of performance-enhancing substances began to surface.
That's the point where the Daily News book, rich with depositions, testimony, and the insights of private investigators, becomes the more flavorful work.
After the Mitchell Report cited him in 2007, and McNamee came forward with his accusations, Clemens reverted to his worst mound behavior. He decided he was going to confront his accuser in the halls of Congress, staring him down with his version of the truth, firing one at his head, daring him to prove he'd ever cheated with drugs.
Instead the pitcher was sent to the showers early.
"It's hard to believe you, sir," U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) told Clemens during the televised hearing. "I hate to say that, as you're one of my heroes. But it's hard to believe."
The four Daily News journalists agreed. They write that their lengthy investigation led them to a unanimous conclusion:
"We believe the evidence strongly suggests that Brian McNamee told the truth when he said he injected his longtime friend and employer with steroids and human growth hormone. That evidence also leads us to conclude that Clemens lied when he testified under oath that he never used performance-enhancing drugs."
Pearlman came to the same verdict.
"Once upon a time, Roger Clemens stood beside men like Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn and Sandy Koufax as one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. He was a hero, an icon. Now, however, it appears that he will be grouped with others, shackled to a group that includes not merely McGwire, Sosa and Bonds but also Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. The legacy of each player can be summed up in two words: He cheated."
It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.