Thursday, April 02, 2009

Clemens and Cito: Fascinating reading, or misreading ...

Toronto will never be a true sports city until it learns to laugh stuff like this off.

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston making an unflattering anatomical comparison with Roger Clemens over decade-old events got a lot of play today. The funny part, if you read the Jeff Pearlman book a certain way, the author did not say flat-out that Clemens got Gaston fired in 1997. Gaston is mentioned by name only twice in the entire book. It's not even the most scandalous thing Pearlman says about Toronto as a sports city.

(Pearlman addresses it: "What my book says is that Clemens had a heavy hand in the hiring of Tim Johnson, Gaston's eventual replacement. But that didn’t take place until well after Gaston was gone.")

It's a good thing for Cito and the friendlies in the press corps to run with. Ripping a disgraced drug cheat a new cornhole is the ultimate in low-hanging fruit, but it's damn entertaining:
"Author Jeff Pearlman made the allegation in his new book The Rocket That Fell to Earth and adds that Clemens pushed for the hiring of Tim Johnson, who was fired after one season for lying about his military service." — The Canadian Press

"Pearlman says Clemens vetoed qualified men such as Davey Johnson, Paul Molitor, Willie Randolph and Larry Bowa. Instead, he backed the hiring of Tim Johnson, who was fired after one season for lying about his fictional military service record."
— Sun Media
Here's what it actually says in the book, on pgs. 204-205:

Pearlman notes that Clemens approached the Jays about signing Jose Canseco before 1998 season, which they did, even knowing, as then-GM Gord Ash said, "what the history was been there." At the time, people would have taken that to mean Canseco was injury-prone and that he had played for the Oakland Athletics when they were one of the Jays' rivals:

Pearlman adds:
"That wasn't Clemens' only tinkering. Having fired manager Cito Gaston with five remaining in the 1997 season, the Blue Jays held an extensive search for a replacement, interviewing such Grade-A candidates as Davey Johnson, Larry Bowa, Paul Molitor and Willie Randolph. But who did Ash and Co. end up hiring? Tim Johnson, an unexceptional yet bubbly man who had just finished guiding the Triple-A Iowa Cubs to a 74-69 mark. Rarely considered big-league managerial timber, Johnson possessed three major attributes:
  1. Gobs of boyish enthusiasm. 'I'll communicate with each of players every day,' he vowed upon being hired, 'Even if it's just to say, Hi, how's the family?'
  2. He had been a coach with the Red Sox when Roger Clemens was there
  3. Clemens really liked him."
It sounds more like the front office made its choice knowing what would make their highest-paid player the happiest, like that has never happened before in pro sports. Reality sandwich, people, sorry it doesn't jibe with What Should Be.

It doesn't say Clemens tried to get Cito Gaston fired, it just says he was fired. Pearlman's books are exhaustively reported, so if that did happen, chances are he and the reporters he had helping him might have flipped over that rock.

The only other mention of Gaston comes a few earlier, it notes that Clemens knew the manager was "a strategic lightweight" before he decided to join the Jays. That's an opinion that many people would have agreed with before Toronto's baseball clock became permanently stuck at 11:39 p.m., Oct. 23, 1993.

Pearlman is pretty smart. Reading between the lines, saying, "That wasn't Clemens' only tinkering," which seems like a direct accusation, could also just be a a transition to a new paragraph. Either way, it seems like it was put it out there like a bucket of fresh fish for a bunch of baying seals and let the reporters in Toronto connect the dots, you know, the way they didn't 11 years ago when Tim Johnson was telling people he fought in Vietnam and half the Blue Jays team was goosed up on steroids.

The biggest takeaways from the two chapters on Clemens' Jays years was that he found an absence of celebrity and tabloid culture in Toronto. He got annoyed when National Golf Club actually expected him to pay his green fees ($1,000 for a foursome) and just wouldn't take 10 Red Sox-Jays tickets in lieu, like a lot of posh courses in the U.S might have.

More tellingly, Pearlman also notes that playing in Toronto meant he had no reason to worry about people unearthing the skeletons in the closet.
"Clemens had found the right place for a guy trying to keep his personal life off the radar. He certainly didn't have to worry about the Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail digging up dirt about Mindy McCready or any of the other women he was involved with. He also didn't have to worry about the second major scandal (for lack of a better word) in his life — the rapid decline of his brother, Randy, whose drug addiction was a tightly guarded secret restricted to family members." — pgs. 192-93
Granted, that is not Sportscentre-sexy. Taken one way, it makes Toronto sound less like a world-class city than a hockey-obsessed Hooterville, so that's why you're not hearing it repeated breathlessly.

The bottom line is Pearlman is an awesome writer and the Clemens book compares favourably with his other three efforts. Here is hoping this juices his Canadian sales, as it were, since there's a lot more to it than recounting all the nasty things he's done. He is supposed to be appearing on Drunk Jays Fans podcast in the next little while, so there will be a chance for discussion.

Think about, though: It's well-established that in 1998 the Blue Jays had about half the team on steroids, had two of baseball's most disgraced drug cheats in their lineup, one of whom was nailing a Woman Not His Wife who was also a chart-topping country singer. However, Cito Gaston is saying Roger Clemens tried to get him fired when he was presiding over a fourth straight losing season and it's a bloody outrage.

Oh, well, it makes Ottawa seem less parochial by comparison, which takes some doing. (The bar has been raised awfully high, or low, in the last little while.)

Some of us younger old fogeys still maintain there's a value to actually reading an entire book from start to finish and in that order. I'll try to have a review up in the next couple days.

Gaston has foul memories of Rocket (Sun Media)
Cito launches Rocket (Globe & Mail)
Cito Gaston has sharp words for Roger Clemens; Book on Clemens says he pushed Jays to fire Gaston in '97 (Morgan Campbell, Toronto Star)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pearlman blogs about the Cito/Clemans issue, and sets the record straight, not that the reporters in Canada will let that get in the way of this story.

Pearlman said he was happy to get the publicity, but unfortunately it came because of a misreporting of the facts.