"Seriously, was anybody editing this thing?"
The other day, I received an email from reader Todd K in which he crabbed at length about Jeff Pearlman's new book on Roger Clemens.I had just read in Sports Illustrated's baseball preview issue that the book is "well-written," a claim I greeted with an out-loud "I doubt it," given how much I hated the writing in Pearlman's book about the '86 Mets.
But I considered picking up the Clemens book anyway, just to see…and Todd talked me out of it.He's agreed to let me run his review below as a caveat lector.Thanks, Todd!If anyone else has read it, please do pile on in the comments.
Lord, this book about Clemens is dreadful. It's a leading candidate for the worst baseball book I've ever read, and yes, I have read one of Canseco's. I'm glad I bought it steeply discounted.
I am getting through it quickly, but that's only because (1) as a reader, I tend to Hoover up trash at double-speed, and (2) there aren't many words on the pages. It's a surprisingly thin skim, considering that the major-league career alone gives the author 20+ years of good material. Entire baseball seasons elapse within a few paragraphs.
It's difficult for me to imagine anyone finding this satisfactory writing at any level, no matter what his favorite team may be or what her take on Clemens is. It's not well researched; it's not all that juicy and revealing; it's not balanced; it's not thorough; it's not even clever, although it makes many painful efforts to be.
I never thought I would say Clemens deserves a better book, but this is a shame, actually — his is a hard story to entirely screw up, and except for getting the obvious events in more or less the right order between two covers, Pearlman does screw it up. This reads like one of those quickie jobs conceived, hacked out and rushed into print in hopes of capitalizing on some scandal before the next scandal has driven it too far into the "Who cares?" realm. (Arguably too late. A shame Pearlman didn't know that A-Rod would be singing the cabaletta to Clemens's steroid aria. We might have had a bad, rushed, but somewhat more timely book.)
The tone is unremittingly spiteful and petty, and it's just tiresome. Pearlman hits below the belt in little, annoying ways: he will quote "he said/he said" exchanges in which Clemens's statements from the 1980s alternate with seemingly new reminiscences on the same events by people who hate Clemens. If you aren't paying close attention to verb tenses (like, Clemens "said" and Umpire X "says"), and considering the circumstances under which the book was written (which is to say, Clemens likely never would have contributed a word, even if his cooperation were sought), you could get suckered into thinking it's a fair rhetorical fight.
The editing is also extremely lazy (I wish I could remember one particular grammatical train wreck earlier, when the author got tangled up between two similar words and went the wrong way; I should have jotted it down). And considering how much space Pearlman devotes to making the case that Clemens is intellectually limited, inept with the English language, and barely literate, I would have expected Pearlman's own writing not to lapse so often into the middle-school gaucherie of these examples:
"From the broadcast booth, Ned Martin and Bob Montgomery welcomed the audience to yet another New England Sports Network telecast with all the energy of a supermarket pudding sale." ["This is not as painfully rando as the 'spoiled scrod' reference in TBGW, but it's close." — SDB]
"The confounding factor in Clemens' persona was that, despite [marketing expert Brandon] Steiner's take [that Clemens was unattractive to advertisers], he wasn't a prototypically evil guy. This was no Barry Bonds, scowling his way through life."
"Yet much like the serial killer who cheerfully shows up for work each day at the post office, Clemens had (and still has) an uncanny ability to compartmentalize these parts of his life. He could hit three batters in the head and incite a massive brawl, then moments later praise the clubhouse pot roast and baked potatoes. [Second silly baseball scenario omitted. You're welcome.] He could sleep around while reaffirming his commitment to his beloved bride."
"To Clemens, the initial thought of becoming a Blue Jay offered the appeal of an airport toilet." (This kind of mind-reading is all over the book, and usually it is just this flatly declared — there is not even a pretense of a source.) ["Also: 'air-port toilet'? Typical Pearlman: the image is too much for the comparison, and on top of that, he botches the usage. Not that airport toilets are that great, but he means 'air-plane toilet,' no?" — SDB]
"Though McNamee exercised perspicacity when he surmised Clemens to be a typical superstar blowhard, he relished the feeling of sitting alongside baseball royalty."
"It wasn't that Clemens pitched poorly [in a 1998 Blue Jays/Marlins game]; what bothered him was that, as younger teammates seemed to glide through the thick air, he was a lumbering station wagon."
Re: the Yankees. "The loathing of the Rocket had started in 1991, when he nailed Yankees catcher Matt Nokes with a fastball to the body." (It took until 1991? And that was what did it?)
(With the '99 Yankees.) "For most of his career, Clemens had been treated royally. But now, surrounded by 10 players with All-Star résumés, and a handful who would one day be considered for the Hall of Fame, Clemens seemed to revert to the chunky kid from Butler Township."(A handful will only be "considered" for the Hall of Fame? Isn't pretty much everyone, after the requisite period of retirement? ["Yes." — SDB])
Having strongly emphasized that Clemens is a poser fake-Texan who was born in Ohio and did not move to Texas until well into his teenage years ("despite decades of selling the world a different tale," p. 7), and having taken many opportunities to remind us subsequently that Clemens was just a fat kid from Ohio, the first time Pearlman discusses Andy Pettitte (p. 276), he writes, "Having also grown up in Texas and attended San Jacinto, Pettitte would have jumped through fiery hoops to impress Clemens, his role model and mentor." Emphasis mine.Sheesh, Jeff, which is it?
"In a scathing interview with Playboy, Wells — pitching adeptly for the Blue Jays — turned the knife."
"The phone call came on the morning of May 18, 2000. The words hit Roger Clemens hard, like one of his very own 98-mph fastballs to the head." (I have not ruled out that Pearlman writes from experience. But I have a feeling he thinks this is a great, gripping line. I'm surprised he resisted the opportunity to use it as the book's opening, and then have everything prior to 2000 be a flashback. I'll bet he considered it.)
"Justin Gore, a 20-year-old wayward drug dealer, whipped out a gun and pointed it at the woman who had once been named Houston's Teacher of the Year. Kathy let out a terrified scream […] 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 seven-inning, two-run, nine-strikeout masterpiece."
Oh, God. That's enough. I find that last one not just poorly written but inexcusably distasteful, no matter how hard I try to see what "literary" "device" Pearlman was failing to bring off. You get the point. After a while, you start realizing that if you come across two consecutive sentences that are not painful to read, and they aren't a quote from the likes of Dave Stewart, they're an excerpt from some article by Shaughnessy, et al.
Mind you, this is only the style; let's not even get into the substance. Well, just one for-example, because the stinking thing is open to the page in question: we're told that the people of Toronto came to the Skydome early in 1997 "abuzz at seeing a real-life future Hall of Famer up close." Even if we concede that Clemens was the first such player ever to put on a Jays uniform, wouldn't they have had lots of opportunities to see future HOFers on visiting teams — including Clemens himself as a Red Sock, in the eleven previous starts Pearlman has just finished telling us Clemens had made at Skydome? ["And what's with acting like Toronto is the sticks? 'Gol-lee, a Hall of Famer, Maw!' Jesus." — SDB] Besides which: I'm fairly sure Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, and Paul Molitor were considered locks when they were on World Series-winning Jays clubs only a few years earlier. Seriously, was anybody editing this thing?
– Todd K
Tags: Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte bad baseball writing Barry Bonds books Dave Winfield David Wells Jose Canseco Matt Nokes our friend English Paul Molitor reader mailbag Rickey Henderson Roger Clemens shut up Jeff Pearlman