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Greater and lesser frauds in sport


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Somewhere the late, great Willie McDonough, the long-time last word of the Globe, is howling with glee. It was Willie who branded Roger Clemens as “the Texas con-man.” Early on, he decided that the Rocket was a fraud and he never budged from that viewpoint.

Of the genuine news gathering sports’ journalists -- of which there are too few -- Willie was the best. Yet while sharing his skepticism about Roger’s authenticity, especially in the early years, I long felt he was too harsh on the man. Will’s rejection of Clemens was total. He believed nothing he said, doubted everything he stood for, scorned his claims, and minimized his achievements. I thought that was a bit much. But I was wrong. And Willie was right. Roger is indeed a fraud; a total fraud.

This is the only possible conclusion from the torrent of revelations pouring forth on Clemens since he mounted his ridiculously stubborn and dumb defense of his hopelessly indefensible position on the steroid issue. It’s an argument he has completely lost but he’s too far-gone to see it. It was all about his ego; the supremacy of his personal whims and pleasures. And now he has brought his own family down as well by engulfing his wife and children in the scandal of his lies and betrayals spread over his quarter of a century career.

It is never wise to get into the sticky business of trying to judge a ballplayer’s personal behavior. Moreover, their morals have little to do with it. It’s whether or not they can hit or pitch that only matters. “They are what they do,” Roger Angell has always maintained. And he’s absolutely right. It’s best to assume that a fair number of them are scalawags once the game ends and there is little to do but roam the streets until the next game begins. It is not God’s work. It’s a vagabond existence. Only the very strong and disciplined avoid the pitfalls. And little of that is relevant in the box score.

And yet the fact that Clemens has always had a fine reputation and has commanded respect as a decent family man seemed to matter when he got into trouble this winter. It is why so many in the dodge tried to cut him some slack and give him the benefit of the doubt. The recent revelations multiplying daily about his petty deceits and monumental hypocrisies sure make us look like suckers. That’s what Willie would say, and he’d be right.

Still, it’s possible to have sympathy for this poor fool. He’s taking an “awful pummeling” in the words of his own lawyer. “Everything he has done so far is geared to self-destruction,” remarked a law professor. “It’s a human meltdown,” said another learned observer.

It is not a pretty sight. Clemens is literally drowning in his own pitiful pride. Willie would say, “I told you so!”

NFL

One of the most hopelessly banal exercises indulged by sports journalists is the annual rush to analyze and judge the NFL’s college draft. Yet even the best and brightest succumb because it’s such fun. But face it. All the critiques are nonsense. No one in our business, not even those loony, get-a-lifers at ESPN, has the competence to rank the 10 best offensive tackles in all of college football, let alone tell us how smart a given team is to draft a given cornerback on a given round.

Having uttered the requisite caveat, may I draw attention to the grades that the Patriots are receiving for their performance in this year’s draft, for whatever it may be worth? Those grades are at best middling, averaging out to about a low “C.” The Sporting News, which relies heavily on panels of coaches and scouts and seems to do the best job gives them a flat-out “D.” Several “experts” have asserted that every one of the Pats picks two weeks ago was “a reach;” that is, a player who might easily have been obtained with a lower pick and that includes their first round pick, linebacker Jerod Mayo.

It’s easy to sneer at such judgments on the grounds that the historic alliance of Brothers Belichick and Pioli speaks for itself. But it’s also true that the brilliant draft performances came in the alliance’s early years whereas their record in recent years -- as verified not by the experts but results on the field -- has been average and slipping. They had better hope the experts are wrong this year. Based on Super Bowl criteria they have holes to fill and gaps to plug and that was before the linebackers got older and the offensive line became suspect, and the secondary was decimated by free-agent defections.

As for my opinion, I have none. No idea. I know nothing. Honest! You heard it here first.

Celtics

The Celtics stomping of the Hawks in the oddly inappropriate seventh game of their match-up with Atlanta doubtless soothed their bruised egos but it impressed only the cheerleaders among us while being an emphatic turn-off for longtime students of this once illustrious franchise. Nor do I wish to hear again that Paul Pierce ranks with their all-time greats.

That was a mighty messy opening round, at best. Slam dunking an inferior upstart of an opponent with a lot of false bravura and needless strutting after frittering away three games suggests only that they keenly sense their own vulnerability and are thankful for having mercifully escaped a dreadful embarrassment. The possibilities of such easy redemption are much slimmer in the next round, need they be reminded, let alone the rounds that follow.

Bruins

Memo to local hockey fans. Somewhere they are still playing this beautiful game that you completely tuned out on once the Bruins had achieved their inevitable and predictable denouement at the hands of Les Habitants. It’s called the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it doesn’t get any better. But if local ratings are to be believed, the playoffs would lose to a test pattern if they still had them. I don’t get it.

More fraud?

Pete Carroll, ex of the Pats, has to be the crummiest coach in college football. Somehow he managed to lose two games last fall with a team that graduated seven players to the pros in the first two rounds of the draft. Who says Los Angeles doesn’t have a professional football team?

And, more

Pass the hat. Jose Canseco, ex-slugger turned hack writer, is facing bankruptcy. He had to dump his $2.5 million Los Angeles pad rather than swallow the mounting monthly payments with swelling interest and fees. He says his two ex-wives cleaned him out. It might not be wise for him to turn to his former big league baseball colleagues for help. The response would be neither pretty nor printable. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Farewells

On the other hand, it has been lately obliged to say goodbye to a couple of truly fine men of sport, both of whom came from a gentler time and place.

Buzzy Bavasi, the last link with the old Brooklyn Dodgers, was 93. Guiding force of a half dozen teams, Buzzy personified the game. Next to the term ‘‘Baseball Man’’ in the dictionary they should have Buzzy’s picture.

Don Gillis never set out to be a pathfinder. It just happened and he handled the role of being the prototypical sportscaster with ease and grace. He spoke softly, moved quietly, never made waves and was pleased to be, ‘‘the Original.’’ ‘‘Dag,’’ as we called him, was 85.

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