Tuesday, March 17, 2009

IIATMS Exclusive: 20 Questions with Jeff Pearlman

A few weeks ago, I learned that author Jeff Pearlman was finishing a book about Roger Clemens, deftly titled "The Rocket That Fell to Earth: Roger Clemens and the Rage for Baseball Immortality". I emailed Jeff, requesting an interview via a 20 questions email. Jeff was kind enough to give it a whirl. Presented below are Jeff's answers to my questions.

[I do want to note that I do not and did not have an advance copy of the book so my questions reflect this fact. I asked questions without knowing if they were addressed in the book and without insight into any particular stories, like the Giambi story that came out last week.]

  1. It's About The Money (IIATMS): Why Roger Clemens? Haven’t you had enough of mucking around in the PED pool after your Bonds book?

    Jeff Pearlman (JP): Good question. People always think—and understandably so—that I selected subjects because they're "bad" guys who cause controversy. That's not the case. What I see in Roger Clemens is the same thing I saw in Barry Bonds—an iconic sports figure who we know almost nothing about, beyond surface information. I know Clemens was a great pitcher who used drugs and was from Texas and never said much. But what makes him tick? How did he reach this point? What led him to make the decisions he made? That's what fascinates me, but it's hard to find icons (nobody's buying a Roberto Kelly biography) who haven't been revealed. Clemens, for the most part, is a mysterious figure.

  2. IIATMS: Was Clemens’ PED usage similar in psychology to Bonds (“Yes I am already a legend, but I want more”) or was it related to him fading in Boston (with Duquette’s famed “in the twilight” comment looming)?

    JP: Sort of both. He was already a legend, but the spark was the Boston fade, and Dan Duquette sort of calling him out and saying publicly what everyone else was thinking: The guy is a shot pitcher.

    Clemens has a lot of pride and even more ego, and the idea of some pencil-necked geek ending his career never sat well. So he did what he had to do to revive a fading fastball and a fading baseball existence: He cheated.

  3. IIATMS: Did Clemens lure Pettitte or did Pettitte seek out Clemens?

    JP: Really, neither. They were friends, and Pettitte, understandably, saw Clemens as a the ideal mentor—a Texan and a legend who knew how to survive in a profession that eats its middled-aged. I don't think either man was the villain or victim, when it comes to one another. They just ... were.

  4. IIATMS: Was Pettitte the lapdog that the media portrayed him? Do you think Pettitte used more than he admitted to?

    JP: I actually think Pettitte is a lapdog—sorta simple, gosh, golly, OK, that sounds good, just try my best, love God, play to the best of my abilities. And do I think he used more than twice? Of course I do, because it doesn't make sense. Something makes you recover quickly and gives you more oomph and energy—and you only used twice? Hard to fathom. That's actually what angers me, a bit about the Pettitte thing: There was very little follow-up to his "confession." Twice? Really? Only twice, Andy?

  5. IIATMS: How elaborate was Clemens’ PED usage?

    JP: In a sense, very elaborate, and in a sense, no very. He used myriad PED, from HGH to different steroids, and he had it set up so Brian McNamee would provide and inject in the privacy of his own home. But, on the other hand, it was pretty basic in the grand scheme of cheaters. Unless you're injecting elephant blood and road spit, steroids and steroids and HGH is HGH. There are different varieties, different potencies—but, come day's end—it's a performance enhancer.

  6. IIATMS: Much has been made about Clemens’ workouts. What did you learn that surprised you? Was it the liniment on the testicles?

    JP: Actually, I'd say the liniment is pretty crazy. I can't imagine how he stomached that. But also, I was sorta blown away by the lie of it all, and the scheming. Toward the end of his career, Clemens worked really hard to make sure everyone knew he worked really hard. There are endless newspaper articles about Clemens' work ethic; reporters tagging along and watching. It was sort of the classic bait and switch—the more you think I'm busting ass, the less you'd think I'm cheating behind the scenes to do so. Sort of cleaver, in a pathetic way.

  7. IIATMS: Who did you interview for this book?

    JP: Approximately 420 people, ranging from teammates to coaches to classmates from elementary school on up. My goal here, to be honest, wasn't to write "Game of Shadows: Clemens Version." As I noted earlier, I wanted a detailed, in-depth bipography of who Roger Clemens is, and how he became this person; what led him down the path.

  8. IIATMS: For those of us who have never considered what goes into writing a book like this, can you tell us about the process? What goes into it? Research? Timing? Editing?

    JP: Hell. Pure hell. This was the hardest book I ever wrote, because the publisher wanted it faster than usual. So basically, the first thing I do is get copies of every media guide Clemens has appeared in, from college to this final seasons in the big leagues. I make files for every teammate, coach, etc—and reach out to them, one by one. I find his old yearbooks and track down classmates, coaches, administrators. I'll travel for big reasons—visit his hometown, go to Houston, etc. But much of it is over the phone. Then, on a newspaper database program, I'll go through every Roger Clemens clip from the early 1980s through today—that'd be about 10,000 articles. It's nightmarish and hard, and when you write, you can easily get lost beneath a mountain of paper. But I also enjoy the detective-ness of it all.

  9. IIATMS: How does the publishing process work? Did you seek a publisher or do they seek you?

    JP: Well, I've had a relationship with Harper for four books now, so I pitch them my ideas first. But for my first book, "The Bad Guys Won!" I had an agent contact me, ask if I ever wanted to get into books. We talked it over, and came up with the '86 Mets as an idea. We pitched the book to different publishing houses, and Harper was interested. That's how it started ...

  10. IIATMS: What surprised you the most about your research?

    JP: Clemens' youth. Growing up, Bonds was this stud athlete who kicked ass everywhere. Clemens was the opposite—fat, schlumpy, unimpressive. Very, very mediocre. In Little League, he split starts with Kelly Krzan—a girl. And she had better stuff. Also, the lies. If you look at Clemens' life, he has lied about major things throughout: He's not from Texas, he's from Ohio. He wasn't drafted by the Twins, wasn't offered a football scholarship from Georgia, didn't have a basketball tryout with the Sonics. Those are just a few of the things he's said over the years—none true. And the list is endless. It's odd—he has spent a lifetime writing a narrative that doesn't ring true.

  11. IIATMS: How pervasive was PED usage during the ‘90’s? At its height?

    JP: This is a guesstimate, but I'd say 70% of major leaguers were using something more than Andro. That's pretty damn pervasive. It was part of the culture of the game. But as I always say, if 70% of my daughter's class cheats on a test, I'm still pissed beyond belief if she does, too. It's easy to go along; difficult—but righteous—to buck the trend.

  12. IIATMS: How much PED usage is still going on? What %?

    JP: I couldn't give a % at this point; it'd be a pure guess. But I still believe it to be very high. You know HGH was widely used before the so-called crackdown, and there remains no test for it. I look at a guy like Jason Giambi, and think, "He was a pretty mediocre prospect, then he takes, presumably, roids and HGH and is great. He gets caught, supposedly stops taking ... and is still great? Hard to believe. Not impossible, I guess. But hard.

  13. IIATMS: Was this part of the Yankees locker room culture? Between Giambi, ARod, Sheffield, Clemens, Pettitte, and the Mitchell Report, there’s an awful lot of pinstriped heroes who have been shamed. Not all were Yanks while they used or got caught using, but there’s a link.

    JP: Truthfully, it was a part of baseball culture, period. But I do think the Yankees allowed it to flower, and never, ever questioned it. I mean, this is the team that brought in Giambi, Jose Canseco and Kevin Brown. This was a don't-ask-don't-tell team. You don't think Brian Cashman or Joe Torre had any suspicions? None? That'd be very odd. It doesn't make the Yanks any different than the Padres or Mets or Cubs—but the whole blame-the-players approach of baseball is wrong.

  14. IIATMS: How would you allocate the “blame” for this Era: Media, Union leadership, clean players, dirty players, ownership, Selig?

    JP: Ownership: 20%
    Selig: 10%
    Dirty players: 30%
    Union leadership: 30%
    Media: 5%
    Clean players: 5%

  15. IIATMS: Was Clemens regarded as a good teammate, unlike Bonds?

    JP: For the most part, yes. He could be very selfish, and his no-show act grew very old in Toronto and Houston. But, unlike Barry, he wasn't a purely bad and selfish human being. Clemens wanted to be nice and helpful, and he would answer teammates' questions, take them out for dinner, treat rookies well. Overall, he was liked, and some guys—Oil Can, Al Nipper—swear by him.

  16. IIATMS: How is Clemens’ life these days? Is he in seclusion or is he still embraced by the Houston community?

    JP: Well, he's not overly embraced. Still plays golf, attends his kids' events, lives an OK life. But this is a man whose goal was to become an immortalized legend; a superhero for eternity; the greatest blah, blah, blah. He desperately wanted to Hall of Fame; even demanded he be inducted as a Yankee, or not at all. So now here he is, no legacy, no hope. It's sad, in the fallen-hero-is-pathetic way. But it's largely self-induced.

  17. IIATMS: Does Clemens’ much care about the Hall of Fame? It’s been noted that McGwire doesn’t care all that much.

    JP: Yes. More than breathing, he wanted to be alongside the all-time greats. This kills him.

  18. IIATMS: Does Clemens regret:
    a. Using?
    b. His defense?
    c. Anything?

    JP: Roger Clemens doesn't do regret.

  19. IIATMS: If you could go back 10, 15 years and become the whistleblower, would you know that it might have resulted in your being blackballed from the inside of the game? Or would you have been pressured to keep quiet (either due to editors, lack of evidence, etc.)?

    : If I had the information, and it was sound, of course I'd do it. It'd be the sports equivalent of Woodward turning down Watergate because he was worried about future White House access ...Without question.

  20. IIATMS: Tell us about the Giambi/Cashman fallout that surfaced last week:

    JP: [This is canned as the answer comes directly from Jeff's blog and came out after I had sent him my initial list of questions.]

    I’ve never been one to shy away from difficult subjects. I try and tackle issues/people head-on, and can’t remember a time when I’ve decided to not write something because the fallout would be too difficult.

    I’d be lying, however, if I said I enjoy the fallout. I hate it—truly hate it. I want people to read my books, and it’s certainly the way I feed my family and afford and house. I also enjoy the PR that comes with promoting a book—it’s fun emerging from the light for a month or two to do TV and radio. But when the spotlight is negative, or confrontational, or awkward … well, it’s no fun. I don’t hide from it—but enjoyable? No.

    A final thought on this matter, and I’ll move on: Cashman was 100-percent right, in that I should have called him for comment, and it was mediocre journalism that I didn’t. I truly regret that. My explanation—admittedly, not a very good one—is that, in my mind, I knew he’d deny, and I could always get it during spring training, when I’d see him in person in Tampa. When the book deadline was moved up, I lost that chance—but forgot about it. Not a good excuse, obviously, and all rips are fair game.

A huge thanks to Jeff for making himself available in the height of his pre-launch activities. [I don't make a nickel on any referral or anything like that, but if you want to pre-order a book at Amazon, click here.] Also, Jeff has a pretty interesting "Cast Of Characters" that appear in the book. Great stuff.

The Clemens saga is tragic and I hope that these Q&A's are helpful in scratching the surface on his persona.


tHeMARksMiTh said...

Nice interview.

lar said...

Great stuff, Jason.

I'm not sure I agree with Pearlman on a lot of things, or even that I agree with everything he says in this interview (wasn't Giambi on Team USA and a #1 draft pick, or am I remembering wrong?), but I think it's a solid interview. I actually get the feeling that he spent a little bit of time answering the questions, instead of just saying "yes" or "no" or whatever.

Good job.

Ron Rollins said...

I'm happy you got a big-time interview, but I don't think I can bring myself to say anything positive about any of Pearlman's comments.

But it will sell plenty of copies and make lots of money off of the steriod issue.

Just like Major League baseball did, even though it was wrong for them to do so.

I guess it is all about the money.

e-5 said...

HIM is supprised by nothing any more...good work BOY

Ben said...

I'm not sure I agree with Pearlman on a lot of things, or even that I agree with everything he says in this interview (wasn't Giambi on Team USA and a #1 draft pick, or am I remembering wrong?), but I think it's a solid interview.

Aaron said...

Nice interview.

I just wish Pearlman would end his ignorance re: HGH.