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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.

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