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The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality

1 rating: 1.0
A book by Jeff Pearlman

The national sports media has had a much easier time pounding on Roger Clemens than opposing hitters ever did while he was on the pitcher's mound. The barrage continues with this tell-all from Jeff Pearlman, who has previously provided blow-by-snorted-blow … see full wiki

Author: Jeff Pearlman
Genre: Sports & Recreation, Biography & Autobiography
Publisher: Harpercollins
Date Published: April 01, 2009
1 review about The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens...

Blast Off

  • Oct 19, 2009
Pros: We're talking about Roger Clemens here!

Cons: Feels like Pearlman is getting revenge for believing in Clemens

The Bottom Line: It took Clemens several starts before he won game number 300. It took me several days to write review number 300.

Well, it certainly didn't take Jeff Pearlman very long to get to the newest face of baseball shame. Roger Clemens has officially replaced Barry Bonds atop the BALCO pole as the shamed face of America's pastime. The revelation that Clemens turned out to be a juicer after all was a true shocker to all of us who love baseball because here was one of the last great pure warriors of the game, a superhuman pitching monster who was good-natured, humble, and a perfect example of hard work and regimentation paying off at the tail end of his career. But, as was the sad and sorry case of Kirby Puckett, it turned out to be a charade. Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher ever and almost inarguably the greatest since Nolan Ryan, was a liar and a theoretical cheater. (I say theoretical because I'm for total drug legalization and that includes steroids.)

In 2006, Jeff Pearlman wrote an outstanding biography of Barry Bonds, Exhibit A after the books Game of Shadows and Juiced completely vaporized the locker room doors. But Bonds was a slightly different case because he was already one of the most hated ballplayers on the planet. Sour, moody, and irritable, we kept looking for reasons to hate Bonds and the steroids just cropped up at a convenient time to give people a politically correct cover excuse. Clemens is a guy people genuinely liked. Sportswriters all fawned over him. And when baseball great and notorious juicer Jose Canseco said he suspected Clemens of using 'roids, people everywhere intentionally tried to put their heads in the sand despite Canseco's claims having a lot of merit. They made excuses for Clemens and didn't want to believe it. 

In The Rocket That Fell to Earth, Jeff Pearlman comes off like one of those adulating sportswriters who tried not to believe it before just sucking it up and firing off a very long column from his high horse. The Rocket That Fell to Earth is a biography of the pitching giant. But while Love Me, Hate Me, Pearlman's Bonds biography, was meticulously researched and gave an objective side and a glance into the mindset of a hated ballplayer, The Rocket That Fell to Earth is almost a rant. Pearlman appears to have dashed it off in a fit of vengeful rage, as if Roger Clemens personally shot and killed his wife and mother. Maybe he was one of the excuse-makers for Clemens. 

From start to finish, Pearlman paints a picture of Roger Clemens as a practical liar and a roaring egotist. He offers up some occasional good sides or objective understanding, but The Rocket that Fell to Earth is venomous as hell. Even in the early going of the book, Pearlman is going mostly for the jugular. The Rocket that Fell to Earth starts out with a modicum of objectivity, with a chapter about a fire victim who Clemens visited in the hospital. Then it takes us to the Clemens family hometown in Ohio, where Pearlman is sympathetic to the young, awkward, and inept Roger Clemens and his family. But once the family ditches Ohio and moves to Texas, Pearlman begins to portray Clemens as a guy who built his legend with developed baseball talent as well as phony verbosity. 

Pearlman uses the trick of Clemens looking up to his big brother Randy to try to get us to sympathize, but that's about the only way in which he does that. Pearlman presents Roger's older brother Randy as the role model and tries to occasionally portray Roger as a guy who didn't receive the brotherly guidance he needed from Randy. But these segments are few and far between and after the halfway point of the book, they just fall out completely. It probably didn't help Randy's cause that he decided to refuse to talk to Pearlman. Despite this, it's hard to believe there wasn't more information about Randy. Randy was the star athlete of the family who fell into drugs, so there has to be more between him and Roger that Pearlman tells us.

Another reason I suspect Pearlman of being a former member of the Roger Clemens True Believer fan club is because the subject of steroids is in the backseat until the tail end. He mentions steroids every now and then but he doesn't give them a forefront and build half the story on them like he did in Love Me, Hate Me. However, he does use variations of the liar label in condescending contexts at many points in the book. At some point, the whole thing just drenches itself in a harsh cynicism, which is suited to Pearlman's regular style but is fairly defeated in tone, which is not part of Pearlman's style. The last couple of chapters are completely awash in angry cynicism, as if Pearlman was just fed up. (Though to be fair, I lost all my respect for Clemens after his announcement that he would be returning to the New York Yankees after "retiring" from the Houston Astros.)

I don't want to be that nasty on The Rocket that Fell to Earth because there is an interesting book here. It begins and ends abruptly but that's not a real problem. Pearlman tells us what many of us have probably long suspected: That Clemens gave all his kids K monikers as a tribute to his ability to throw strikes. He also gives us the real lowdown on the nature of the friendship between Clemens and Andy Pettitte, the bold truth of just how well Clemens performed in the playoffs even when he won, and the convincing facts used as evidence of Clemens's juicing long before fans got wise. It's told in a blazing and entertaining fashion. 

Pearlman went through his usual routine of tracking down and speaking with just about everyone who ever shook hands with Clemens in his research for the book. So The Rocket that Fell to Earth has some interesting viewpoints from some fairly obscure people. This adds some effective color to Clemens, and I'm not criticizing it in the least. But I wonder if there were views he left out. He doesn't use any quotes from Clemens's mistress, country singer Mindy McCready, though he does quote friends of hers. Roger had another older brother named Richard, apparently, who is barely even mentioned. What was his take? Why is Andy Pettitte not quoted? Like I said, there are no problems from the varying viewpoints, but a few more couldn't hurt.

This is Jeff Pearlman's fourth book, and he's making a case for himself as one of the best scribes to ever write about sports, baseball in particular. But The Rocket That Fell to Earth is a bit of a letdown, especially knowing that Pearlman is capable to doing so much more with the life of troubled baseball players (see Love Me, Hate Me). I'll recommend it, but this is far from Pearlman's best effort. It feels a lot like he angrily dashed it off as a method to let out some anger at Roger Clemens, oh, and also, to make some money off the fact that this all happened very recently. I don't care what you think Clemens is, but he pitched spectacularly for the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, and Houston Astros, won two World Series and broke a tone of major pitching records. He deserves a better treatment than this.
This is review will soon appear on Lit Bases, my new blog about baseball literature.


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