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Brian Hamilton: Baseball’s heroes are lousy

Remember Saturday mornings with Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola?

NBC’s baseball “Game of the Week” was real must see TV, mainly because back then – living in the rural reaches of northern Indiana – the game was the only thing worth watching among the four channels of our choosing.

Vin and Joe were a regular with me and brothers each week, as were Mel Allen asking “How about that?” on “This Week in Baseball” and the San Diego Chicken giving Johnny Bench trouble on “The Baseball Bunch.”



It seemed those Saturdays would last forever.

And now my own children are at the age when my brothers and I were more often found with a Wiffle ball or bat in hand than not.




We do play ball in the backyard from time to time. And our oldest is about to embark on her rookie season of recreation softball. But, at least for now, it seems my kids just aren’t really down with the pastime.

They don’t know about looking at a fastball on a 2-0 count. They wouldn’t know about double-cuts or the risk of bunting with two strikes. Mention the word “pickle” and they simply wrinkle their noses into “Ewwwwww!”

And there’s absolutely, positively no connection between them and the ballplayers. They wouldn’t know them if asked.

Of course, it could just be that my girls are more interested in Hannah Montana, High School Musical and Junie B. Jones books.

But a guy can dream can’t he?

It’s sad on so many levels, but looking at the game I grew up loving … baseball’s “best” actually aren’t worthy of my daughters’ adoration anymore.

Look at the best hitter and second-best pitcher (right behind Nolan Ryan) I’ve ever seen play the game. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

There is no doubt in my mind that both of these ballplayers – Bonds, a multiple MVP award winner; Clemens, owner of several Cy Young awards -were bona fide first-ballot Hall of Famers before they ever, knowingly or not, juiced up.

But the sad thing is now they don’t belong.

Yes, I know how much many of us disagree on Bonds (I seemed to have somehow earned the nickname “Asterisk!” at a pick-up softball game last summer). And if you read my column, when Bonds blasted number 756, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of where I stand on the Rocket, too.

During this week’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, while several congressmen kicked Brian McNamee when he was down -and almost ignored the actual allegations against Clemens – I couldn’t shake the chin music Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) fired the Rocket’s way.

He pointed out that it wasn’t only McNamee – the former trainer now cast as a drug dealer, a fraud and a liar by congressmen on the right side of the aisle -who was accusing Roger Clemens of using steroids.

Clemens’ own best buddy – Andy Pettitte – has suggested the very same thing under sworn oath.

Of course until a perjury case is filed against him, Clemens’ claims to have never used HGH or steroids will only be judged in the court of public opinion. But considering that Pettitte has already admitted his own use, and apparently left the committee believing him to be a credible witness, I have to agree with Cummings when he told Clemens “You’re one of my heroes, but it is hard to believe you, sir.”

Just like Barry Bonds, he’s chosen the path of outright denial of responsibility in the ruse he’s pulled on the national pastime and it’s worshipping fans.

Americans don’t mind mistakes, mind you. Fully familiar with our own humanity, we’re always willing to offer a second chance – or seven, if you’re Steve Howe or Darryl Strawberry.

We don’t, however, like being lied to – something both ends of our country’s political spectrum have railed against with our past two presidents.

But if you need further proof that an act of contrition can grant a second life to apologetic athletes, look no further than Jason Giambi, Marion Jones and Shawne Merriman. Though it’s wrong for so many reasons that they decided to use performance-enhancing drugs – whether serving as a role model or just being a stand-up sportsman – it seems as these folks are going to get that second chance.

Giambi and Merriman were back in action soon after spilling the beans; and Jones – after being stripped of her Olympic gold – certainly seemed genuinely sick about what she had done when she shared her misdeeds in a heart-wrenching public apology.

At least I couldn’t help but feel for her.

But Bonds and Clemens have instead chosen another path, one also chosen long ago by another of baseball’s best. For years, the Hall of Fame voters said that if only Charlie Hustle would turn Honest Abe, he’d finally have his shot at the Hall.

With or without the approval of Bud Selig, the voters likely would have been willing to finally put Pete Rose in his rightful place as all-time hits leader, if he would have just fessed up to betting on baseball.

For nearly 20 years, Rose held firm in denial.

Eventually, though, whether motivated by sheer money or by his rightful Hall of Fame immortality, Pete came clean.

Yet it seems too late – or maybe just too much of a marketing plan for his best-selling memoir?

Either way, Rose remains, at best, in baseball purgatory.

Bonds and Clemens?

Perjury charges or not, they so sadly appear to be headed in the same damning direction, ex-communicated outcasts from our national pastime and those who dare to still love it.

By the way, didja know pitchers and catchers reported this week?

ooo

Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears Saturdays. Contact him via e-mail at bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.


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