Before any of Roger Clemens’ recent travails, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston considered Clemens a hall of fame jerk.

Gaston’s feelings surfaced yesterday when asked what he thought of a new book The Rocket That Fell to Earth, in which author Jeff Pearlman hints that Clemens, who arrived in Toronto the same season the Jays replaced Gaston as manager, influenced the club to fire Gaston in 1997.

“He’s an a--hole himself. A complete a--hole,” Gaston said with a chuckle. For the next five minutes, Gaston, who is starting his first full season in his second stint as Jays’ manager, detailed the strained relationship with the star pitcher, who had signed with the Jays before the 1997 season.

Clemens arrived in Toronto after burning out with the Boston Red Sox. The move to Toronto seemed to rejuvenate him.

Away from Boston for the first time in his pro career, Clemens went 21-7 in 1997. His ERA plummeted to 2.05 from 3.63, and his 292 strikeouts were a career high for a pitcher already known for his power, and that season he won his fourth Cy Young award.

Clemens’ former personal trainer Brian McNamee has alleged repeatedly that Clemens began taking steroids while with the Jays, and the drug use led to his two stellar seasons here.

The Jays asked Gaston to resign with five games remaining in the 1997 season. Pearlman’s book charges that Clemens persuaded the team to hire Tim Johnson, who lost his job after one season after it was revealed that he lied about having fought in the Vietnam War.

“He wouldn’t (confront me),” Gaston said.

“One of us would have had an ass whuppin’ that day. It might have been me, but he still would have known I was there.”

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