Did Clemens overrule his lawyers to make his Washington pitch?

February 19, 2008 5:53 AM
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Everywhere, it seems, Roger Clemens was on people’s minds.

In bars and barbers shops, beauty shops and bordellos (I’m told), his in-your-face disastrous tussle with congressmen was the subject of conversation last week.

I ran into Brent Musberger at the airport in Tucson after Stanford beat Arizona, and after briefly discussing the sudden retirement of Lute Olson, one of college basketball’s legendary figures, the conversation turned to Clemens, and with it a question: Roger’s legal advice. Was it sound, or can’t you tame a cantankerous old lion?

Watching that glare and set clenched jaw, you almost waited for the next pitch. Unfortunately for Clemens, most of what he threw were balls, not strikes, thrown high or low and wide.

It might have been less repetitive if Andy Pettitte had not been allowed to speak from the bullpen. He was recused and sent an affidavit instead, which is somewhat akin to proposing by mail. What a pitching duel if he and Roger had gone head-to-head for the nine full innings and more it took to let all the Congressmen get their shot at national television.

Clemens at one point tried to dust off Congressional Oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman, pitching hard and high for the helmet, but Waxman slammed his own bat down on home plate hard enough to make Clemens’s lawyers call for relief. Obviously, Henry Waxman knows when he has the pitcher’s number, and he did not back off, but made Roger do so, letting him know this was not his inning. This is one game that will not go in Roger’s scrapbook.

While all of this was going on in Washington, racetrack executives from around the country were packing their bags heading for St. Petersburg — Florida, not Russia — to discuss their problems, not Roger Clemens’.

They have enough of them, of course, drug store cowboys high among them, but there will be one interesting twist to their discussions this week.

Normally, the conversation usually gets around to letters from constituents that start, "Why doesn’t horseracing market like NASCAR?" The answer goes back a century, to the time the automobile was taking over from the horse and carriage.

In those days everyone’s old man had a horse in the barn out back, and it was great sport to see who had the fastest.

Critics of horse race marketing do not take into account the vicarious thrill of watching the fastest car in action, just as when Dan Patch was king and the thrill was seeing him beat everyone else’s horse.

If you don’t believe this, go to the Indianapolis or Daytona 500 and then take your life in your hands and drive home after the races.

I did it as a kid in Pennsylvania when, the first year I had a driver’s license, I headed to Langhorne to see Henry Banks, then king of the stock car drivers, race in his Buick. My folks had a Buick, and I was Henry Banks for the hour or two it took me to drive home from Langhorne.

I encountered it again years later when I went to Indianapolis, and saw life and death both on the racetrack in front of me and the road ahead of me leaving the race.

Horse racing today, thoroughbred and harness, still is a thrill, but everyone doesn’t have a horse in the garage. Like it or not, the potential for doom and the American passion for violence are part of the appeal of automobile racing.

This week the horse race guys have a new statistic to consider and ponder. NASCAR, despite its mighty marketing skills, is down in attendance and urging its drivers to "put more emotion" in their driving.

To think that with the proliferation of sports seasons and the advent of round-the-clock, round-the-week, round-the-year sports television, live sports can maintain their onsite numbers, particularly in horse racing where the grind is daily and without surcease, is kidding oneself.

The racetrack guys can chew on that this week, and may conclude too much of a good thing can be just that.

And of course talk about Roger Clemens, and be thankful it was baseball and not racing in the spotlight’s merciless glare.