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DICK HELLER: Rocket’s red glare not needed at the Stadium

- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hunkered down in his hurricane-battered Houston mansion this week, Roger Clemens told the New York Post he was "heartbroken" not to be included in those closing ceremonies at Yankee Stadium the other night.

Poor baby.

The Yankees were perfectly right not to invite Clemens - and not because, according to a source, the club was afraid fans might boo this fizzled Rocket.

For one thing, he wasn't really a Yankee in the true meaning of the word. Clemens spent just six of his 24 seasons, earned only 83 of his 354 victories and collected exactly one of his seven Cy Young Awards in pinstripes.

He also beat the Yankees 18 times on behalf of the Red Sox, his original club, and the Blue Jays. Over the decades, few others have licked the erstwhile Bronx Bombers that often.

The biggest reason Clemens should have been excluded from Sunday's sentimental festivities in the Bronx is that he has emerged in recent years as a pretty rotten guy.

Great pitcher? Sure. Great role model and teammate? Forget it.

For one thing, Roger the dodger is facing possible federal perjury charges for lying to the Mitchell Committee during its investigation into the use of illegal steroids in baseball. Like anyone else, he's innocent until proven guilty. But the odds are he didn't pitch effectively into his mid-40s strictly because of intensity and a bionic bod.

Plus, the New York Daily News reported earlier this year that Clemens, a married man with four sons, had a lengthy affair with country singer Mindy McCready and relationships with other women.

Not that Rog ignored his wife, Debbie. The newspaper also reported that Brian McNamee, the trainer who reportedly fired up the Rocket with those illegal substances, also injected Deb with human growth hormone.

It's unclear whether that's true either - except that Debbie looked awfully, er, fit for a woman of 39 when she posed in a bathing suit with Roger in Sports Illustrated's 2003 swimsuit issue.

As far as being a desirable teammate goes, Clemens left his hometown Astros in the lurch in his last seasons by retiring and unretiring almost as often as Sugar Ray Leonard.

Spring training? Who needs it? April and May? Heck, that's good fishin' weather. Take a spot on the roster that could be filled by a younger player who needs innings? Tough luck, kid.

This arrogant attitude paid off in 2004, when Clemens went 18-4 and picked up his seventh Cy as the Astros finished second in the National League Central. Over the next two seasons, though, he was a pedestrian 13-12. Age, it seems, overtakes you eventually no matter how you choose to delay deterioration.

Other Yankees players linked to the drug scandal were present and accounted for at the Yankee Stadium closing. Clemens' buddy Andy Pettitte and Jason Giambi were in the starting lineup, and former second baseman Chuck Knoblauch took a bow. The difference was that all three have acknowledged and apologized for using illegal substances.

Assuming he doesn't make yet another comeback, Clemens will be elected to the Hall of Fame in January 2012. And assuming, too, that drug suspicions don't leave him on the outside looking in along with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro - baseball's Unholy Three.

In fairness to Clemens, he has denied all the allegations mentioned in the Mitchell Report and filed a lawsuit against McNamee. If he wants his day in court, Roger undoubtedly will get it - with reporters jotting down his every word and cameras clicking even more furiously than they did the other night at Yankee Stadium.

Asked why Clemens wasn't invited back, club general manager Brian Cashman did an executive bob and weave, saying, "I wasn't part of any meetings."

Translated, that means the Yankees didn't want their big night sullied by the presence of a man whose honesty is in serious doubt.

Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, once famously said, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." But as far as his namesake is concerned, they might not be - at least in the court of public opinion.