For a recent 13-month span, my goal in life was to figure out Roger Clemens. I was in the midst of researching and writing a biography of the man, which meant leaving no stone unturned. I dug through some 10,000 pages of clips. I watched hours of old tapes. I contacted every friend, every teammate, every coach, every relative.
The most important person not to respond? The Rocket himself.
Oh, I tried. Called his home, called his old agent, called his lawyer, called the Houston Astros. Finally, after repeatedly having the door slammed in my face, I gave up. The book went to print sans Clemens' personal viewpoint. Such is life.
Then, in an odd twist, this past Saturday evening -- more than a year since The Rocket That Fell to Earth was released -- I finally heard from the man. Via Twitter.
Reacting to a blog post written by his cousin Kirbie Johnson about a column I wrote for SI.com, Clemens tweeted: "You go Kirb! He's a low life wanna-b. By his looks he could star on the Adams (sic) Family."
At first, I didn't know how to take this. The Addams Family boasted a pretty wide-ranging cast. Some of the actors, particularly John Astin and Anthony Magro, were quite handsome. Maybe Clemens was paying me a compliment, taking note of my granite features and sparkling blue eyes.
Upon further contemplation, though, I began to think that perhaps he was comparing me, a mumbling goon played by Jeff Pearlman, to Lurch, a mumbling goon played by Ted Cassidy. Though far from an unmasked Jason Voorhees in terms of pure ugliness, Lurch was no Tom Cruise.
After I tweeted to Clemens that it was odd taking physical insults from a man sporting my boyhood haircut (OK, not entirely righteous of me), he wrote back: "Ouch ... Come get ya some. (YOU RANG). No need to get in a piss-n contest with a skunk."
With that, my suspicions were confirmed: "You rang?" was an Addams Family staple.
Roger Clemens was, indeed, comparing me to Lurch.
The more I thought about our dialogue, the sadder I became. Here is a man who has been indicted; a man with a tattered reputation and a victim's pout. He is the Pete Rose of pitchers -- a baseball leper with a future almost certainly involving an endless loop of $10 Holiday Inn autograph sessions alongside Burt Ward and Rob Wilfong.
And yet, even with everything on the line and with his words closely monitored, Clemens ... just ... can't ... stop ... tweeting. About anything. Clemens uses Twitter to defend himself ("I never took HGH or Steroids. And I did not lie to Congress.") and slam others ("It must be a slow media day when you have a loser like that on. Another person looking for their 5 min.") He uses it to talk golf ("played woodland up there. Then out to Pebble Beach to raise some $ for MS.") and make profound statements ("I am deeply saddened to hear of Mr. Steinbrenner's passing today."). At times, he is incredibly kind to well-wishers. At other moments, he's all but asking for an additional lawsuit ("Btw ... the dude they sent from the times that did that so-called write up ... he reeked of liquor both days."). If you're Clemens' attorney (paging Mr. Hardin. Mr. Rusty Hardin), you order him to stop tweeting. Now. Like, right now. Immediately. Not because he insulted some second-rate columnist with a third-rate Addams Family insult, but because Clemens at the laptop is like Moe Szyslak at the wheel -- unpredictable and erratic.
Mostly, the Rocket comes off as a lost child, desperate for approval but -- at this point in his life -- not quite sure how to get it. Do I mock writers? Do I talk up my charitable work? Kirbie Johnson, an aspiring television host and (understandably) devoted defender of her uncle, followed up her post about my column with another one that included this poignant passage: "Uncle Rog is not an idiot. I cannot, with a sound mind, believe that he would take this to federal court with a denial -- knowing that he actually did take any banned substances. I really can't. My grandmother would be rolling around in her grave if that were the case. And given our family history and what Uncle Rog (and our entire family) has promoted, drugs are not something to be messed with. We've dealt with that type of thing before and we've seen how it can turn out."
If Clemens reads his niece's blog, these words must keep him up nights. He did, by too many accounts to ignore and too many signs to deny, take banned substances -- then lie about it before Congress under oath. Before initially testifying, he had an easy escape route: Step up, tell the truth, apologize and move on. But no longer. The greatest righthander of our times is trapped like a fly in amber. He has nowhere to go. He has nowhere to hide.
All he can do is sit, hope ...
... and tweet.