Say It Ain't So

Joe Torre, the new Dodger manager, former Yankee skipper during the recent run of New York World Series champs, was looking tired, before the baseball season has even started.

"It's just sad," he was saying about Roger Clemens on Capitol Hill trying to stare down Congress like he's done to opposing hitters for his entire career.

"I know what kind of competitor he was when he played for me. . . I'd just like to see baseball move on."

Say it ain't so, Joe. Torre managed Clemens for several years when Rocket pitched for the Yankees in his desperate attempt to get the tri-fecta; Cy Youngs, sure Hall of Fame entrance on the first ballot, and a World Series ring.

Joe knows. He won't say anything to anyone. He's too classy for that. But he knows.

The truth is somewhere in the murky shadows of a forgotten sandlot where kids throw pitches to batters in ripped up batting cages when the sun's going down after a hot summer day. 'Just one more pitch,' someone will yell out and a ball streaks into the zone and a kid swings a wooden bat at an old scuffed up ball. Maybe someone's dog is roving out in right field shagging balls, somebody's little brother banging on an old glove.

So there was Roger demanding the final word like he was looking for a final out to end the game, Rep. Henry Waxman calling balls and strikes. They should'a pulled the pitcher. We all wish Joe Torre could have made that famous stride to the mound to pat Roger on his butt and take the ball and watch the Rocket cross the foul lines, tip his cap and walk into the dugout.

That's not Roger. One more pitch, he demanded to Congress, one final chance to clear his name even though in his opening statement he said he knew his name could never be restored. It must be hell to believe that a group of forty or so members of Congress have to convene in order for you to save your name.

We expect a lot of our heroes. Perform for us on the field, win, against the odds and in brilliant fashion while we watch on our big screens and in our luxury boxes and sports bars. Win, beat the spread, build up fantasy points. And when they're down, exposed, in trouble, it's like Joe Torre said, it's sad.

The kid that takes that last swing, throws that last pitch far into the darkening evening is the same guy who refuses to give in to contrary testimony, who battles on against the odds of public opinion. We see it as a fatal flaw, but it's in their genes to play on past dark, keep going until the buzzer goes off and there's no hope of winning.

On the field it looks noble. In a suit and tie it looks sad.

O J Simpson, Mike Tyson, Roger Clemons. Pete Rose. Marion Jones. Some of the greatest athletes of our time had these flaws that work brilliantly to their advantage when playing, and bring them down with thudding humility when their character is questioned.

Waxman has it right, we're all much too invested in sports and heroes and winning to the point of risking way beyond normal healthy expectations. Kids lives are at stake. Gambling and sports bars and authentic licensed team gear and billions of dollars are riding on athletes and teams and sponsorships.

And some kid plays on after dark when dinner's getting cold, looking for that extra zip on the fastball to take him to the next level. Come on in, kid, get some dinner. The sun comes up tomorrow, take some BP, a little infield, live on to play another day. Sports is great but it's not the only game in town.

Right Joe? Say it ain't so.

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