In season, off season and a dodge?


Are you too all atwitter waiting for all those heavily cleated shoes to drop in the annual mid-summer night's garage sale that baseball now annually features? Set your watches for 4:00 p.m. (EDT) the last day of July as you breathlessly brace for little or nothing to happen with coverage by ESPN "live," from dawn to dusk.

Or at least nothing meaningful, or correctly portrayed. Granted, there will always be the stray exchange of a swollen contract or simmering malcontent for prospects you little knew and may never hear from again. All-time examples being the memorably stormy departures of fallen local idols: Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez.

But all such deals -- the rare few that genuinely make a difference -- would have happened without the bogus fanfare and artificial stimulus of the non-waiver deadline. In last year's most memorable caper, the woe-begotten Mariners dumped impending free-agent Cliff Lee which they would have had to do with or without a dumb deadline, even if a bag of bats was all they could get back. Dismiss 95 percent of the speculation and every blockbuster deal you've heard is ''being discussed'' the last couple of months and you have a better grasp of what might be realistic when the gong goes off on the 31st.

New-breed sports reporters who traffic in idle rumor and run with baseless gossip and call it "journalism" are mainly responsible for this bogus non-event. Surprisingly, such ranks include some of the bigger names and loftier reputations in the dodge. One of the high priests of the dubious practice even got himself elected to the Hall of Fame which gives his fraudulent pontifications even more undeserved currency. As they say, there is no justice.

Once upon a time it was harder to get pure fiction into the newspapers or even uttered on air, although the broadcasting news-world was never as strictly policed. Nowadays, fanciful nonsense that is plainly invented and utterly unsourced is much easier to peddle because a significant percentage of the sports page readership -- that huge and valued chunk that spends the rest of the day listening to talk-radio -- loves it. So the excuse is, it sells papers. Defenders ask, "where's the harm?" Only to the profession, says I.

Okay, so this is nothing more than the idle rant of an old fuddy-duddy. If you so conclude, that's fair enough. But for those of you who are dreaming of Jose Reyes replacing Marco Scutaro at shortstop for the Olde Town Team no later than the first of August, I have but one slice of advice. Get a life!


Possibly the most significant move of the NHL's off-season -- maybe because hockey's free-agent scene is a bit of a joke -- was widely ignored. It was Tampa's re-signing of the superb Steven Stamkos to a lusty but hardly stunning five-year, $37.5 million deal. Only 21 and the NHL's top goal-scorer over the last two seasons with 96 markers (41 on the power play) while skating both ways with equal devotion, Stamkos is worth twice as much. The salary cap prevents that per se but it would hardly have prohibited a much more creative deal.

What a Bruin Steve Stamkos would have made. You may recall him taking a slap-shot between the eyes in that last unforgettable showdown with the Lightning in this year's Cup semi-finals and returning to the ice within minutes with undiminished ferocity. Barring some evil twist of fate, this lad will be a force in this game until about the year 2030 and I would rate him hockey's best all round value already. He's a better long-term bet than Washington's Alex Ovechkin. Stamkos has a better attitude. Or Pittsburgh's Sid "the Kid" Crosby. Stamkos is sturdier. That three centers -- all older, beaten up, and less talented -- received better deals this off-season is ridiculous.

It's not the Bruins style and never has been, but chasing Stamkos and offering him a blank check would have been a brilliant move. He is a tough, franchise sniper which is precisely what the Bruins need to parlay this spring's enchanting resurrection into something much more meaningful; the genuine makings of a legitimate dynasty.

What he signed in Tampa for is certainly manageable; precisely -- in money and years -- what they gave Zdeno Chara. It would doubtless have taken more to get him here. But how do you know unless you try? He professes deep loyalty to the Lightning and their charismatic GM, Stevie Yzerman. But gritty Canadian kids can be easily tempted by an Original Six team with a rich history currently in possession of the Stanley Cup. It's hard to imagine the Bruins not being able to outbid Tampa, had getting him become their determination.

As for the price? Under the system now in place the most you might have to pay for a restricted free agent is four, first-round picks which for a powerful team likely to be drafting low for years to come is chump change. The Bruins, you may recall, got substantially greater value for the relatively worthless Phil Kessel.

Still an archly traditionalist franchise even without Harry Sinden calling the shots, the Bruins rarely rock the boat and going after Stamkos would have been a seismic shock in the NHL's moribund free-agent scene making lots of waves. But he was worth it; hugely so. They should have at least -- as they say -- "kicked the tires" on such a caper, if only to assure us that they are indeed thinking big and not merely satisfied with having caught lightning in a bottle one lucky spring.

Roger dodges?

Hard to believe that only scant weeks ago the Conventional Wisdom had given up on Roger Clemens presuming him guilty of all charges -- especially rank stupidity -- while snickering that his country bumpkin lawyer would surely make an even bigger fool of the erstwhile Rocket before his humiliating court date was done. Now it is not too much of a stretch to wonder if Clemens has beaten the rap entirely with his lawyer suddenly looking more like Clarence Darrow, thereby casting doubts about his honor and legacy into an irresolvable muddle that in time will almost certainly fade, much to his advantage. What a great country.

There has been no apologizing for Clemens in this space over the many years. The limitations of his act were recognized here early on. We were never pals. But if this is the way Clemens' bitter brawl with the government and fight for his reputation must end there would be no grave injustice, in my opinion.

For sure, in the court of opinion formed by avid followers of the games, he's already been convicted of using performance enhancements and that won't change. This could be unfair. The evidence is circumstantial unless you totally buy the Mitchell report which is a badly flawed and woefully incomplete legal document that would have been torn to shreds -- I believe -- had Clemens' trial proceeded. For the sake of argument, let's just presume he's guilty of the PED charge. To which, it's increasingly clear, most people will say, "so what!"

But then it's his alleged lying to Congress that landed him in trouble with the government. To which increasingly ordinary people seem to be thinking that given the problems they have been lately having in Washington deciding what's true or not true any dissembling Mr. Clemens may have been guilty of committing is relatively inconsequential, or even -- to be blunt -- meaningless. Sometimes ordinary people simply have more common sense than the hotheads who work for the Justice Department.

A declaration of a mistrial is no acquittal. A retrial could be ordered when the matter is revived in September and many believe that will happen. But there are as many canny court-watchers who predict it won't. They sense the presiding judge is not only aggravated by the government's incompetence but convinced of the sheer folly of further pursuing what amounts to much ado about nothing. They sense others in the government -- all the way up to the man at the top -- agree.

If the government lusts to depict Mr. Clemens as a jerk they've already succeeded. But that's where it ends. Fair minded people will say, that's punishment enough.

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