Thursday, February 5, 2009

Jail? Maybe not. Cooperstown? No way!

EL HOMBRE KNOWS SPORTS

When we last saw Rusty Hardin, he was standing behind Roger Clemens as the former fireballer tried to convince a Congressional committee that he did not inject steroids, use them or blame them for his rage against Mike Piazza. And he had no plans to join Alyssa Milano as a spokesperson for Proactiv, thanks to the product’s amazing ability to clear up his back acne.

There were several compelling moments during the hearing, but one that stood out was when Hardin was twanging away in defense of his client while being shouted at to shut his trap by chairman Henry Waxman. It had to be a little humbling for the cocky Houston mouthpiece to be chastised like that.

Well, we’re hearing from Hardin again, and thankfully we’re not paying him the $500 an hour Clemens is, although some of us would gladly surrender that much to keep him off the airwaves. Hardin is blustering away about how the mounting evidence against his client won’t be admissible or will be easily refuted by a heater delivered under the prosecution’s chin. With pitchers and catchers due to report for duty in fewer than two weeks, this – and the Manny Ramirez/Scott Boras delusional contract circus – passes for baseball news.

Hardin may well keep Clemens out of the pokey, but if the evidence continues to surface in the court of pubic opinion, his Hall of Fame chances are shot. That’s what we should be after, because if Clemens was indeed juicing throughout the late ‘90s and early part of this decade, his whole hard-working fa├žade and everyman devotion to the ideals That Made This Country Great will be as meaningless as a Pirates post-season ticket application. He’ll be toast, and HOF voters will consign him to the same purgatory where Mark McGwire sits, waiting for everyone to stop “talking about the past.”

As delicious as it is to see the further tearing down of Clemens, the unsealed evidence presented Wednesday against BALCO Bonds is a flat-out feast. Like Hardin, Bonds’ attorneys are claiming that the government case won’t be sufficient to put Bonds in pinstripes – and we ain’t talking the kind worn in the Bronx. Who cares? If the positive drug tests are valid, and the transcript of the conversation between Bonds’ former trainer Greg Anderson and Bonds’ former business manager was not obtained by coercion, then the Thanksgiving Day parade float won’t be admiring his bust in Cooperstown until some short-memoried veterans committee stooges deem his time right for rehabilitation. By then, Bonds will be seen as a sad reminder of an ugly era of baseball and (hopefully) will regard his enshrinement with none of the hubristic bile he has spewed for nearly a decade while pronouncing his innocence.

It doesn’t matter whether a court of law deems Bonds’ testimony in front of a federal grand jury to be riddled with lies, because, as we all know, prosecutorial incompetence and the velvet tongues of defense lawyers can make cases that seem airtight appear shakier than last year’s Mets bullpen. If there are positive drug tests, then he is guilty, at least in the baseball world. And that should be enough. Bonds’ overwhelming arrogance throughout the situation has eradicated any sympathy one might conjure for him. Were he not so emphatic in his denials, were he not so nasty to those who had the right to ask very appropriate questions, and were he not prone to holding anyone who dare challenge him with contempt usually reserved for the Yankees, it might be possible to summon some compassion for him. Because of his steadfast arrogance, Bonds deserves everything he gets, and Wednesday’s unsealing of the evidence is an indication that he is up against some formidable opposition. Remember the golden rule of federal prosecution: The gubment doesn’t take on cases it can’t win. Consider it the legal equivalent of Texas Tech’s non-conference football schedule.

Still, there will be those who try to make Bonds a victim, whether of unfair media scrutiny or federal harassment. To those lost souls, El Hombre has a message: smarten up! This is a guy who has his former trainer – Anderson – sitting in jail in order to prevent him from testifying about the steroid regimen he concocted for and administered to Bonds. Granted, Anderson’s probably being paid seven figure for his adherence to the performance-enhancing Omerta, but that doesn’t mean he still isn’t rotting away, while his wife faces IRS scrutiny. At what point will Anderson get his freedom back, and how much must this man know for Bonds to come up with enough cheddar to keep him incarcerated in the name of silence? This is stuff from mob trials, not baseball. All that’s missing is a jailhouse visit from Tom Hagen for a cigar and talk about the ancient Romans’ suicide practices.

The legal machinations in the cases of both Bonds and Clemens will drag on, potentially for years. But with each new revelation of bloody steroid-laced syringes and positive drug tests, the reputations of these two steroid-era titans will erode further, until it will be impossible to look at them as anything other than laboratory rats whose baseball prowess was soiled by their vain attempt at securing immortality. For that, they don’t deserve jail. But they don’t deserve Cooperstown, either.

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EL HOMBRE SEZ: If Michael Phelps is hitting the bong, he’s no cannabis rookie. That said; he doesn’t deserve criminal prosecution. Some of his endorsement dough might dry up, but there’s no reason he can’t recoup the money from Doritos and Hostess…Tiger Woods is readying himself for a return to the PGA Tour and reports he is practicing full bore. That’s good news, although it’s been hard to find evidence there is still competitive golf being played, just another argument in the case against Woods’ relative greatness compared to legends like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. His level of competition isn’t close to theirs…Congratulations to those who are putting pressure on Citibank to cancel its $400 million naming contract for the Letsgoes’ new stadium. Although the team says the deal is binding, let’s hope the Treasury Department forces the cancellation of the pact. Twenty mil a year may be but a small part of the $45 billion Citi is getting, but the idea of that kind of spending amidst a bailout climate is disgraceful…Times must be getting tough for Italian soccer. AC Milan wants to keep David Beckham full-time, now that his three-month loan period is over. Guess the economy is forcing everybody to consider using re-treads and discards…Others might disagree, but El Hombre loved the “barber pole” unis the Canadiens wore earlier this week. That kind of horizontal striping wouldn’t work with, say, NFL linemen or Prince Fielder, but it suited the Habs just fine.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? It is becoming more and more clear that the Sixers have a problem in situations where the expectations grow. At the start of each of the last three seasons, they have faltered, and while it’s possible to blame injury or other problems, the team put itself in an early hole at each point, and it’s no coincidence the expectations for success were high each year, especially this season. As long as the team doesn’t have to perform, it can win, and its up-and-down style preference bears that out. When it’s loose and fun, the team thrives. When things tighten, they can’t get it done. Tuesday’s loss to the Celtics was the perfect microcosm of the season. The Sixers rode the crowd’s energy to a late lead but fell into a tie when Boston fought back. With time running out and no real pressure, since overtime was still possible, Andre Iguodala hit a jumper for a two-point lead. Then, with the clock leaking toward zeroes, the Sixers allowed Ray Allen, of all people, to get a clean look from the corner to bury a three and win the game. The Sixers have talent, but they don’t have winners right now.

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AND ANOTHER THING: If Georgia even interviews Generalissimo Knight for its open men’s hoops job, the entire administration should be fired. Knight is a dinosaur who has zero relevance to today’s athletes. He wasn’t all that successful during his tenure at Texas Tech and didn’t recruit a single big-name player. He is a bully whose arrogance and desire for the spotlight are so great that he actually became a member of the media, despite his considerable contempt for the profession and its practitioners over the years. Now, his good buddy and apologist, Dookie V, is trying to insert Knight’s tired backside into the coaching conversations at Georgia and Mississippi State. Neither school should consider hiring him, despite his knowledge of the game. Knight can’t accept that his actions doomed his coaching career, and he’s trying to get a spot in the game again through appearing charming on TV. Those of us who have charted his boorish antics over the years realize how disingenuous he is and how bad it would be for college basketball to have him back abusing players, berating officials and throwing chairs.

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