Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Book Excerpts That Don't Suck: "The Rocket That Fell To Earth"

Illustration for article titled Book Excerpts That Dont Suck: The Rocket That Fell To Earth

Jeff Pearlman's "The Rocket That Fell To Earth" comes out today. It's an unflinching look at how Roger Clemens became one of the most dominating pitchers before and after his alleged steroid use.


The following excerpt talks about Roger's former sister-in-law, Kathy Huston Clemens, who was killed in a drug-related shooting incident at her home in 1999. Even though they were only bonded by Clemens' drug-addicted brother Randy, her former husband, Kathy was one of the most influential people in Roger's life growing up.

This is when the happiness is supposed to begin.

Roger Clemens was, at long last, a world champion. On October 29, 1999, he rode in the Yankees' confetti­ coated victory parade down Manhattan's Canyon of Heroes. He looked up at the tall buildings that lined Broadway and marveled at his good fortune. He was fitted for a three­ carat diamond ring, featuring a blue stone shaped in the interlocking NY symbol in the middle and a 14­ carat white gold NY covered with round diamonds on top. He was lauded for his "gutsy" performance in game four of the World Series, when he had finally pitched like the Rocket of old.

Clemens reported to spring training in the best shape of his career, aided by Brian McNamee, whom the Yankees had hired as an assistant strength and conditioning coach. He pitched relatively well to open the season, helping the Yankees jump out to a 22­12 start. He had his trainer, he had his fastball and he had his ring.

And, then, silence.

The phone call came on May 18, 2000. The words hit Roger Clemens hard, like one of his very own 98­ mph fastballs to the head.

"Roger, Kathy has been killed."

"Kathy" was Katherine Huston Clemens, Roger's former sister­-in­-law and the woman largely responsible for turning the baseball player from an awkward, uncomfortable boy into a confident, successful man. When Roger had moved from Ohio to Houston as a teenager to live with Kathy and Randy, his older brother and childhood hero, she had been the one who made certain he did his homework; who talked to him about everything, from girls to college to careers; who saw him as more than a vehicle to fortune and fame.

"She loved Roger," says Carolyn Gray, Kathy's sister. "And Roger really loved her."

The once­ upon­ a­ time Vandalia­ Butler High School prom king and queen had been divorced for more than a decade, yet Kathy was still tormented by Randy and his alleged drug abuse. He often asked her for money and had been in and out of rehab oh, how many times? Two? Three? "It hurt Kathy so bad," says Gray. "You could have no idea." A popular third­ grade teacher at Holmsley Elementary School in Houston, "Mrs. Clemens" was known for making up stories about the cursive letters and arriving at school with rollers in her hair.

In short, Kathy wanted nothing to do with the world her ex­husband had subjected the family to. Yes, she was once married to a junkie. But why should that ruin her life? Why did it have to haunt her all these years later? Most troubling was what Randy's addiction had done to their two children, Marcus and Jessica. In particular, it was her 19­ year­ old son who warranted the concern. Coated in tattoos and piercings, Marcus- like Randy- turned to dealing and using drugs in his late teenage years. Once, Marcus had come to visit his uncle in Houston, only to be stopped at the front door. "Son, you can come in," Roger said. "But first you've gotta take all those metal things out of your body. I don't want my kids seeing you looking like that."

On the night of May 17, Marcus Clemens, now 19, was sick in bed with the flu, and his mother had stayed home at their apartment to care for him. There was a knock on the back door. Kathy looked through the peephole and, not recognizing the men standing there, returned upstairs to her boy. Marcus asked his mother for some Sprite, and as Kathy walked back down to the kitchen, she heard another knock. This time, for a reason that has never been determined, she opened the door.

Five men, ranging in age from 18 to 26, barged into the apartment, demanding to see Marcus. They had come to steal what they were certain would be a large amount of money and Marcus' stash of Ecstacy. Her son still upstairs, Kathy ordered the intruders to leave.

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.

Then Gore squeezed the trigger.

"I jumped up as fast as I could and went to the top of the stairs," Marcus later said. "There were two more shots, and I saw her fall." As the intruders ran off, Marcus dashed downstairs, dragging his mother's body into the living room. She had been hit in the head, neck and chest and wasn't breathing. Blood streamed across the floor. The ambulance came within minutes but nothing could be done. Kathy died en route by Life Flight to Memorial Hermann Hospital.

She was 46 years old.

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. 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.

But this was Kathy.

The next day, Roger spoke with Carolyn Gray and her husband, John, who lived in Vandalia, Ohio, near his boyhood home. "Listen, you don't worry about paying for anything involving the funeral or burial," Roger told them. "If it hadn't been for Kathy, I have no idea where I'd be today."

"No," said Carolyn, "she was my sister, and I should . . ."

"Yes," Roger said firmly. "I'm going to handle this. She was your sister, but she was like a mother to me. You have so much to worry about. Let me worry about this."

"As far as I'm concerned," says Carolyn, "Roger can do no wrong in my eyes. I'll always remember the way he was at that time. Always."

On the morning of the viewing, Kathy's family was asked to come to Holmsley Elementary School. Upon arriving, Carolyn began to sob. The sidewalks were coated with farewell messages written in chalk. A banner stretched across a hallway read WE LOVE YOU MRS. CLEMENS and was signed by every student. Carolyn was handed an envelope filled with letters from Kathy's third­ graders.

Dear Mrs. Clemens:
I'm very, very sad that you have a new address. But one good thing is I know where it is- heaven. I'm very, very sorry that your wonderful and beautiful life had to end in pain. I guess God couldn't wait to get you in his arms. Maybe he wants to start a school, up in heaven for the younger angels, and he knew you would be the best. Though I can never see you in this lifetime, I can always have you in my hart [sic] and mind. There are also great memories I wouldn't change a bit. I miss you very much.

PS: See you in heaven.

The funeral was held in the chapel at Waltrip Funeral Directors in Houston. An overflowing crowd of family members, friends and coworkers bid farewell to a woman described by her sister as "loving, adventurous, daring, full of life."

Outside the building, a handful of police officers lined the front steps. They were there at the behest of Roger, with one primary directive: If you see Randy Clemens, do not allow him inside.

Somehow, New York's rapacious press corps missed the news about Kathy Huston Clemens. Not a single article appeared in the local newspapers. Clemens kept the information mostly to himself, confiding only in manager Joe Torre and a handful of teammates when he left for the funeral.

As far as Roger was concerned, the relationship with his brother was irreparably harmed. Though it was Kathy who had passed, Randy Clemens- the man largely responsible for creating the Rocket- was dead to him, too.

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