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

By Jeff Pearlman

He was supposed to be the next Nolan Ryan: Roger Clemens, the fearless, hard-nosed Texan with a 98-mph fastball and a propensity to throw at the heads of opposing hitters. Yet shortly after his arrival in the major leagues in 1984, it became apparent that the Ryan comparisons were simply unfair-Roger Clemens was significantly better.

Over 24 seasons, the Rocket would go on to win 354 games, an unprecedented seven Cy Young Awards and two World Series trophies. In 1986 he set the major league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, then matched it a decade later. He would be routinely praised for representing the game in a just and righteous manner-a living, breathing example of the power of determination and hard work. "Roger Clemens," a teammate once said, "is an American hero."

But the statistics and hoopla obscure a far darker story. Along with myriad playoff chokes, womanizing (including a 10-year affair with then-teenage country singer Mindy McCready), a violent streak (most famously triggered by former Mets star Mike Piazza) and his use of steroids and human growth hormones, Clemens has spent years trying to hide his darkest secret-a family tragedy involving drugs and, ultimately, death.

The author of the New York Times bestsellers Boys Will Be Boys and The Bad Guys Won!, Jeff Pearlman conducted nearly 500 interviews with Clemens' family, friends and teammates to present a portrait that goes beyond the familiar newspaper stories and magazine profiles. Reconstructing the pitcher's life-from his childhood in Ohio to college ball in Texas and on to the mounds of Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium-Pearlman reveals the real Roger Clemens: a flawed and troubled man whose rage for baseball immortality took him to superhuman heights but ultimately brought him crashing to earth.

Excerpts

On Clemens Sister-in-law, Kathy Clemens

At approximately the same time Kathy's life was ending, Roger Clemens' night was thriving. As she was staring down a gunman, he was facing the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium. As she was being pronounced dead, he was being pronounced alive, having won his fourth game with a beautiful seven­inning, two­run, nine­strikeout masterpiece. As Marcus was describing to Houston police what had transpired in his apartment, Clemens was describing to the Times, the News and the Post what had transpired on his home field. "When we're right as a team swinging the bats, there are not too many holes in our lineup," he said. "That was evident tonight."

In hindsight, it all seemed so . . . vapid. Bernie Williams hit two home runs for New York, Chuck Knoblauch tripled, Jorge Posada stole a base- blah, blah, blah. Who the hell cared? Certainly not Clemens, who was shocked, dismayed, heartbroken by the news.

And furious.

Not merely at the killers, whom police described as transients who "float from one rave party to another rave party." No, he was furious with his older brother, Randy. When Roger learned the details of the case- the drugs, the violence- he blamed Randy. His brother was the one who had made drugs a part of the family's life. Had Randy died in a drug deal gone bad, well, Roger would have been devastated but not surprised. His life had been heading in that direction for many years.

On Clemens' Fastball and Jose Canseco

Roger Clemens worked hard. But over the course of the 1995 and '96 seasons, his fastball was topping out at 91, 92 mph, and his torso was slowly morphing into that of beer-league bowler. "Roger wasn't throwing the ball quite like he used to," says Mike Greenwell, a Red Sox outfielder. "He still had great stuff, but the velocity was off." Now, less than a year later, the 34-year-old Clemens was built like a sculpted heavyweight and throwing as hard as he had in the mid-1980s. "He got his velocity back," Carlos Baerga, the Mets second baseman, explained in September 1997 when questioned about Clemens' inexplicable revival. Had it been noticeable in the past that Clemens' fastball wasn't up to snuff? Murray Chass of The New York Times asked. "Oh yeah," Baerga said. "He might have had a great conditioning program in the off-season. Maybe he was determined to show everybody that he hadn't lost anything."

Despite the overwhelming evidence now available that Roger Clemens was chemically enhanced, he has never admitted to using steroids or growth hormone, and no one knows, exactly, when he first picked up a needle. But here is what we do know: In his final two seasons with Boston, Clemens had engaged in regular conversations with Canseco - his close friend, golfing buddy and teammate - about the benefits of Deca-Durabolin and Winstrol (the drug for which Ben Johnson tested positive at the 1988 Summer Olympics), as well as the methodology of "cycling" and "stacking" steroids.

In late January 1998, Clemens approached Gord Ash, Toronto's general manager, about signing a certain needle-loving slugger to the team's payroll.

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See All Steroids In Baseball Books »

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The List
« 129 »
Mitchell Report - 47
Admitted - 16
Implicated By Others - 34
MLB Suspensions - 27
Other - 4
Suspended for non-analytical evidence that player violated MLB drug policy.


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