Book Review: The Rocket That Fell To Earth

Ever since his interview with John Rocker for Sports Illustrated in 1999, Jeff Pearlman has been assured of more notoriety than the average author.

Some writers might have disappeared after the scrutiny that followed the Rocker story. The Braves lefthander clearly blamed Pearlman for his subsequent suspension, even if later events seemed to prove that it was Rocker, not Pearlman, who had a screw loose. But the story also was assured of being the first line of Pearlman’s obituary, no matter what he wrote or did afterward.

But instead of disappearing into obscurity, Pearlman’s career seems to have found direction from that one interview 10 years ago. He has found his niche as the author of anti-hero books. Others can spend their times telling the stories of the athletes we all love, Pearlman spends his time explaining the lives of athletes many fans have grown to loathe.

So he’s extensively researched Barry Bonds life, the story of the 1986 Mets, and the wild lives of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. Fittingly, he’s now turned his attention to Roger Clemens, the one-time superstar who has now slunk into retirement with steroid rumors following his every move.

Pearlman picks subjects that many people would have no interest in reading about, but because of his ability to dig up every last detail combined with an easy-to-read style, he turns them into compelling subjects.

“The Rocket That Fell To Earth” is no different, it manages to explain Clemens in ways that he’s never been explained before. Pearlman explains the complexities of his anti-heroes, which is why Clemens can be both incredibly self-absorbed and prone to occasional acts of great kindness. He’s a dedicated family man who at the same time was having long-running affairs, and a hard worker who was, according to Pearlman, also willing to use illegal performance enhancing drugs.

Pearlman doesn’t demonize Clemens or try to put him on a pedestal. He simply puts the facts out there and lets the reader put them together. It’s a simple approach, but because the reporting is so good, it works well. You won’t be likely to want to have Clemens at your next cookout after reading this book, but you may understand a little better why the same fire that made him one of baseball’s greatest pitcher also led to his downfall.