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In court, on links, at the Heights


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In court in DC

Come along, please, as we round the bases of the sporting scene. Beginning in Washington, DC where the circus is returning to town although to the consternation of certain wise guys that has nothing to do with the sitting of the Congress.

Rather it's all about the federal government's unfathomable obsession with sending Roger Clemens to the slammer for behavior that -- while legitimately bone-headed -- should hardly rank him among the more serious threats to the Republic since John Dillinger's act got retired. But given their frenzy in the matter that's what the government seems to believe.

Others believe it has more to do with pride and ego. You'll recall the government's two prosecutors got laughed out of court last August. The lofty Department of Justice was not amused. This time they're taking no chances. A team of five lawyers is handling the prosecution; something one observer at the opening session termed "highly unusual for such a simple case." They have to get Clemens. Otherwise their entire long and costly campaign against drug abuse in sport goes down the drain amidst, no doubt, great derision.

While a hard-nosed and no-nonsense jurist, Federal Judge Reggie Walton makes it clear he's skeptical of the entire business and has even raised the option of the government folding its hand. But in their odd obstinacy the Feds have declined. When Walton abruptly ended the first round in a mistrial while scolding the prosecutors as if they were playground bullies he considered tossing out the entire case.

Would-be jurors have since said they believe the government was "wasting the tax-payers money" in what amounts to a wild-goose chase. That doesn't sound like they might have been willing to convict. Yet, here we go again. Meanwhile, the wild goose himself, the erstwhile "Rocket," wallows in his bloated ruin. Before it's over he may have required a parade of his fellow baseball luminaries to have the chilling experience of marching through Walton's court. What a guy! I'll bet Commissioner Bud Selig can't wait to get his chance to testify, which now appears certain.

If there's not another mistrial or comparable fiasco observers expect the proceedings to last four to six weeks, all of it focusing gravely unwelcome attention on baseball's miserable steroid era. Yikes!

Lord Stanley's Cup search

It took only the first few utterances of the first round with passions soaring in every contest and sheer madness unloosed in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to re-assert hockey's Stanley Cup chase as the premier post-season festival in all of sport.

In less than a week, Pittsburgh and Vancouver who had been odds-on choices to meet in the Finals, are at the brink of elimination. In these playoffs all teams are equal. The tempo is incomparable. It's marvelous.

Toothless Tiger

Few golf people will come right out and say it although reading between the lines the sentiment is clearly rising. But how many do you think were privately delighted to see Tiger Woods flop at the Masters? After he won the minor tune-up to the game's signature event there was a stampede to proclaim, ''He's back!'' But not only did he fail ingloriously at Augusta but he embarrassed himself again en route with yet more bratty behavior. It led Paul Azinger, his old Ryder Cup coach and buddy, to declare, "He looks lost." Agreement is widespread with most verdicts even less charitable.

Golf no longer needs Woods to play an emblematic role nor does he deserve the distinction. The TV networks won't agree although it's not clear to what degree the audiences he still attracts are composed of people rooting for him to fail. The entire business has become uncomfortably messy. The sooner it's recognized that he's just another middle of the pack guy, having faintly a chance but no longer ordained, the better for everyone including maybe Woods himself.

The Drama Team

Say this for unsinkable Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox resident CEO and de facto point-man. The fellow never lacks for chutzpah. It's but one of the qualities that's so endeared him to his colleagues over the score of years he's been big-footing around the game. His friends say it's the measure of his strength and skills. His enemies, who are in rather larger supply, offer a very different spin. The man has a positive genius for the abrasive gaffe.

Hence it's no surprise Lucchino should be revealed on the eve of Fenway's lavish centennial observance to have added insult to injury in his dealings with fallen Red Sox Manager Terry Francona. As reported by the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, Lucchino actually expected Francona to crawl back to Fenway hat in hand and dutifully take part in the celebrating of the old ball yard; the owners having invested heavily in this shtick. Francona was understandably astounded. After the way he got smeared by still unidentified franchise-insiders last fall it took gall of epic proportions for Lucchino to make such a request, let alone get angry at Francona when he politely declined.

There's no evidence Lucchino orchestrated the smear campaign, nor evidence others in the ranks of this particularly pompous ownership group did. But someone is guilty and no one has done anything about it or even apologized. Francona has every right to reject such colossal presumption. To whatever degree this ridiculous incident blights the merry 100th shebang it is only what Lucchino and his grasping buddies quite deserve.

Sport and politics

It's hard to know how to take Ozzie Guillen, the volatile Marlins' Manager now in deep trouble for having much too loudly pronounced his affection for Fidel Castro deep in the heart of anti-Castro Country. Is he an inveterate trouble-maker, for he does seemingly evince an occasional mean streak? Is he simply a pop-off and ultimately a boor? Or is he just a colorful rascal, quite amiable beneath all the goofy bluster? I lean toward the third option and hope I'm right.

It's always unwise of an athlete to mess with politics. They aren't supposed to know what they are talking about and they usually don't. But in the end, was Ozzie's silly rant all that outrageous? Who cares what any of them think about anything other than what happens between the lines. It's only surprising that Time Magazine, which cleverly elicited his inflammatory quotes, apparently does.

Only a few weeks ago our hitherto beloved goalie -- the very same chap who deeply inspired the Bruins to their Cup a year ago -- shamefully took advantage of a precious and very non-political occasion to vent his private political agenda. Yet aside from some questioning his manners, who made a federal case out of the indiscretions of Tim Thomas?

Has it reached the point in this country's politically twisted times that ludicrously praising a faded old foreign despot is a graver breach of political correctness than pointedly insulting the sitting president of the United States? Apparently the answer is, "Yes!"

Boston College win

Lastly, however belatedly, congratulations are in order to Coach Jerry York and his champion Boston College hockey team. Three national titles in five years is a magnificent achievement; quite matchless in the modern era. York is to college hockey what John Wooden was to college basketball or what the legendary likes of Knute Rockne was to college football which is to say, quite simply, the very best.

Much more importantly York is -- like a Wooden or Rockne -- the whole package; superb both at coaching and teaching. To Jerry York, the field of play is a genuine lyceum where, as a professor in the classical tradition, he teaches the game of life and how to play it. His kids behave themselves. Play with class. Attend classes. And graduate.

There is much fuss over the rampant scandal, ethical deterioration, and flat-out deceit running wild in college sport. The thoroughly bogus NCAA, which purports to police the scene, is deservedly under fire and doth protest. But if the Poobahs from Kansas sincerely wish to reform their sullied domain let them come and observe Coach York at work. They could learn a lot.

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