Jeff Pearlman's new book on Roger Clemens, "The Rocket That Fell to Earth," succeeds in doing the impossible. He manages to make Clemens seem a little bit likeable. Or at least understandable. That's no small achievement.
Longtime Squawker readers know how much I can't stand Clemens. I consider him an embarrassment not just to the pinstripes, but to our shared alma mater, the University of Texas. I was furious when he was spotted on the UT sidelines with Derek Jeter last fall - I'm still wondering why the heck Jeter was posing for pictures with him, and why the Longhorns even let Clemens in the stadium!
Yet despite my distaste for Clemens, I found myself so engrossed by "The Rocket That Fell to Earth" that I stayed up late three nights in a row reading the book. At times I even (shudder) found myself impressed with Clemens. And I would think to myself, maybe he wasn't as terrible as I thought. Then I'd read something dopey Roger did, and be reminded of what a jerk he could be. But after reading this book, I felt like I "got" Clemens in a way I didn't before.
I knew that Clemens wasn't a native Texan, but I didn't realize that, as Pearlman reveals, he lived in Ohio for most of his childhood, and wasn't exactly a born superstar (he split starts with a girl on his Little league team!) I also didn't know the sad saga of Clemens' brother Randy, who, for better or worse, made Roger into the Rocket.
There's also the salacious stuff, like Clemens' affair with Mindy McCready (although Pearlman says that she was 17, not 15, when she hooked up with Roger, and that she lied to him about her age.) Not-so-shockingly, it was Brian McNamee who instigated revealing the story. The book also shows that contrary to what Clemens claimed before Congress, he had a long-standing friendship with Jose Canseco.
And I knew from Roger's appearance on Michael Kay's "CenterStage" that he liked Charlize Theron. But I didn't realize how much of a thing Clemens had for her until this book - he reportedly tried to hit on her, to no avail.
But "The Rocket That Fell to Earth," is more about figuring out what makes Clemens tick than being a scandalfest.
It also is a balanced book. For example, Pearlman talks about how many good things Clemens did, without any fanfare, to help sick children. (Clemens was a Hall of Famer when it came to compassion for such situations).
I think Clemens saw himself as a Texas gunslinger type, but the person he ended up reminding me of after reading this book is somebody a bit more neurotic:
* Clemens frequently said dopey things to the media, was reckless with his personal life, often seemed clueless in the clubhouse, was completely self-absorbed, and had a reputation for choking when the pressure was on. He also did irrational things on the field, like throwing a bat at Mike Piazza (the book, of course, talks about Piazza's other issues.)
* On a more positive note, Clemens was known for his work ethic right from the beginning. And he would have been a Hall of Famer on his clean numbers, but may have ruined his chances for good by reportedly using performance-enhancing drugs.
Yeah, believe it or not, Clemens reminded me a lot of Alex Rodriguez!
If there is any flaw in "The Rocket That Fell to Earth," it's that it's unfortunate that Clemens' recent teammates were unwilling to share anecdotes about him, the way his '80s Red Sox teammates were. But that's the way these things work; in 10-15 years, I'm sure these players will be flapping their gums about the Rocket!
Pearlman, known to Mets fans as author of "The Bad Guys Won," is a very entertaining writer. Put it this way - I hated the Dallas Cowboys with a passion when I lived in Texas, yet I found Pearlman's "Boys Will Be Boys" book on the '90s Cowboys to be one of the top five sports books I ever read. And my Cowboy fan brother enjoyed it just as much as I did.
While "The Rocket That Fell to Earth" isn't as much of a page-turner as "Boys Will Be Boys" was, it's still a fascinating read, even if you don't care about Roger Clemens.
For more info on the book, click here.