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

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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 ...

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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 YankeeStadium—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.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
“Pearlman’s book develops a stark, unsparing picture of Clemens’s life that surpasses anything that’s come before.”
Time magazine
“Bulldog effort, exceptional book.”
Time Magazine
"Bulldog effort, exceptional book."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616836009
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/24/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for, a former Sports Illustrated senior writer, and the critically acclaimed author of Boys Will Be Boys, The Bad Guys Won!, and Love Me, Hate Me.

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Read an Excerpt

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

Chapter One

High Heat

The candle is lit. It shouldn't be, but it is.

We are, after all, human. We walk out of the supermarket without remembering to pay for a mango. We jaywalk and run reds and bum cigarettes when we're six months into quitting.

We forget to extinguish candles.

It happens. In fact, it's literally happening, right here by the bedside of Jonathan Benoit, a 14-year-old Seekonk, Massachusets, resident and one of the world's biggest Red Sox fans. It is a warm May night in 1996, and as he drifts off to sleep, young Jonathan takes one last glance at the walls covered with images of his hero, Roger Clemens. Along with a few pictures of a half-naked Pamela Anderson, there are eight full-sized posters of Clemens—each one depicting the Boston ace in a different phase of his windup and release. You can't count the ways this boy loves Roger Clemens. His snarl. His intensity. His blue Red Sox cap pulled down over his eyes just so. His 97-mph fastball that causes opposing hitters to instinctively flinch. Clemens is the reason Jonathan wears uniform number 21 in youth ball, the reason he relishes brushing batters back. "The Rocket," he tells anyone who will listen, "is the man."

As the boy's eyelids grow heavy, the candle falls onto his blanket, and fire and smoke engulf Jonathan and those eight Roger Clemens posters. Jonathan's door is shut, so his parents don't hear the crackling of wood. But his dog, a husky named Tasha, wakes everyone up. As Jonathan's father rushes for the nearest fire extinguisher, his mother begs forthe boy to stay alive. "I don't want to die!" he screams. "I don't want to die!"

He never loses consciousness, even though burns cover more than 60 percent of his body. The paramedics arrive and strap him to a stretcher. Tasha barks wildly. His parents clasp hands. His walls, once covered by images of his idol, are now black.

"I eventually returned to my body," Jonathan says, "and fought to live."

When the eighth-graders at Seekonk Intermediate School learned of their classmate's accident, they were devastated. The details were sketchy: Jonathan was in a fire. Jonathan had been taken to the Shriners Burns Institute. Jonathan might live. Jonathan might die. "It was very hard," says Kathryn Dunlap, Jonathan's teacher. "As an educator, you're fairly powerless in that situation. But we came up with a plan."

One hundred and sixty-three of Jonathan's classmates wrote to Roger Clemens, telling him that his biggest fan was on the verge of death. "To be honest," says Dunlap, "I had no expectations. It was just something to do. I hoped he would see them." Two weeks after the fire, Clemens saw them. The Red Sox were in Seattle to play the Mariners when, before the fourth game of the series, a thick FedEx bundle was placed atop his clubhouse chair. In the midst of recovering from a knockout fever that sapped most of his strength, Clemens leaned back on a table in the trainer's room and started to read. Tears streamed down his cheeks. The man known as a cold, heartless baseball killer was speechless.

Within a month, Clemens was standing in the auditorium at Seekonk Intermediate School, addressing the eighth-graders as their classmate was swaddled in bandages, lying in a hospital bed. The baseball star insisted that no media be admitted, so the next day's newspapers carried no stories. "When Jon recovers—and he will recover—he'll need your love and strength and support," Clemens told the children. "There's nothing more powerful than friendship. Use that power."

Five weeks later, Clemens walked into Room 325 at Shriners Burns Institute wearing a blue Boston Red Sox jersey and cap and white pants, and armed with a slew of autographed items. It was Jonathan's 54th day in the hospital, and his hope had long ago been replaced by despair. Yet when Clemens arrived, everything changed. "I knew at that very moment that I would be OK," says Jonathan. "He represented something very powerful to me."

The pitcher took a long look at his young fan—arms layered in bandages, hands wrapped in blue gauze, neck coated with reddened scabs and scars—and asked that everyone leave the room. For the next one and a half hours, Clemens forcefully told Jonathan he would again wear number 21 and throw inside fastballs. "We all face obstacles in life—some harder than others," he said. "This is your big one."

One year to the day after the fire, Jonathan was back on the baseball field. He would go on to play two years of junior varsity baseball at Seekonk High before—late in his junior year—being called up to varsity. "That was a big day for me," he says. "Most of the people I knew thought I'd never play again, and I made it. I owed that to a lot of friends—beginning with Roger Clemens. He had a fan for life."

The years have passed. The photographs and memories have faded. The Roger Clemens who visited Jonathan Benoit on that July afternoon was a 33-year-old 185-game winner who hoped to finish his career with the Boston Red Sox. The Roger Clemens who exists today is a 46-year-old 354-game winner who turned himself into a baseball mercenary. The Roger Clemens who visited Shriners Burns Institute that day was known as a happily married father of three who refused to go more than a handful of days without seeing his wife, Debbie. The Roger Clemens who exists today is still battling bad press over his 10-year affair with a country singer named Mindy McCready—a woman he allegedly first had sex with when she was 17. She was only one of many women with whom he committed adultery over the past 15 years.

The Rocket That Fell to Earth
Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality
. Copyright (c) by Jeff Pearlman . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

1 High Heat 1

2 Fat Boy from Ohio 6

3 Houston Bound 20

4 College 32

5 A Legendary Longhorn 43

6 Going Pro 60

7 Rah-jah in Beantown 73

8 The Can 83

9 Dominance 92

10 A Legend in Bloom 116

11 Baggage 131

12 Unraveling 141

13 The Ladies' Man 161

14 The Devil and Dan Duquette 167

15 War 178

16 Twilight 188

17 Under the Influence 202

18 A (Not So) Yankee Doodle Dandy 214

19 Happiness 226

20 Subway Crash 236

21 Greatness by Any Means Necessary 247

22 Ignorance and Bliss 262

23 Retirement 275

24 Bess 286

25 Credibility Lost 296

26 Dead Pitcher Walking 303

Epilogue 316

Acknowledgments 321

Notes 325

Bibliography 347

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