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Hey, this game doesn't look a whole lot different

CHICAGO — CHICAGO - It was one and done for Replacement Roger, after all that. So what's so different about Bud's Fan-tastic All-Star Game?

As soon as Roger Clemens was announced to pitch the third inning of the 74th midsummer classic last night at U.S. Cellular Field, fellow American Leaguer Jamie Moyer was warming in the bullpen, ready to take over in the fourth. Then it was another Mariner, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, whom the National League feasted upon in the fifth, raising the questions:

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So where was Roger for three innings, or Mike Mussina or Pedro Martinez for that matter, if this time it counts?

And this is the brave new world ordered up by baseball? Let's trace the need for this so-called revolution.

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A distant cousin of the popular Home Run Derby, there used to be a not-so-secret All-Star Game contest called "Jet on the Tarmac." The game pitted baseball's wealthiest stars in a battle to see "Who Could Get Out of Dodge Faster."

Like a guilty choir boy, Alex Rodriguez explained.

"One time when the All-Star Game was in Atlanta, I actually made it to my house in Miami and watched the final out on TV in my living room," Rodriguez said.

It was a short flight, Rodriguez said.

"I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I got out of there, took a shower and was home in time watch it. I remember. I had a Sprite and some Doritos."

Even if he sounded like a born pitchman, A-Rod was letting us in on an All-Star's happy, little secret: The former exhibition game known as the midsummer classic was what it was. A chance to show up. A chance to laugh and pose. A chance for the best to face the best, to take one or two at-bats, to throw an inning or two, then go home for a quick rest before the start of the second half.

Some people say "Jet on the Tarmac" was a bad symptom of the modern All-Star Game. Some argued that "Jet on the Tarmac" showed how the game had lost its heart and soul from the days when guys like Ted Williams played every inning and Pete Rose plowed down anyone covering a base, especially home plate.

Money, jets and too much fraternization had gone a long way toward predisposing fans to think major leaguers had grown soft, didn't care about winning.

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No doubt that last July, more than a few All-Stars boarded their Lear jets and were home, clicker in hand, in plenty of time to watch stupefied (like the rest of us) as commissioner Bud Selig called the game after 11 innings, the score tied 7-7.

Yesterday, the full effect of baseball's knee-jerk reaction to turn a perfectly fine exhibition game into "This Time It Counts" ratings booster became clear. The "Jet on the Tarmac" game was turned 180 degrees as baseball scrambled (yet again) to reverse yet another blunder.

This time, a jet game wasn't played to whisk away All-Stars. Instead, a plane was used to get Clemens to U.S. Cellular Field in time to save baseball's face.

Clemens landed in Chicago just in time to part a media throng like Moses at the Red Sea. A savior, fittingly being honored, Clemens arrived in time for Fox Sports producers to tape video-game-like promos.

You could almost hear the backroom negotiating between Fox and Selig about the possibility of saving Clemens for the later innings, to "hold the audience," to break out our TV lingo.

If Fox officials didn't directly ask, you know they were thinking it, even if Fox executive Ed Goren was adamant last night that not even the network's $2 billion contract with major league baseball was enough to buy that kind of influence.

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"If only it was that easy," Goren said.

In other words, what baseball does most times makes little or no sense.

It's tough to know what's worse. The fact that baseball did not get Clemens on the All-Star roster to begin with, or that his eventual addition on Monday resulted in a major slap in the pretty face for a genuinely confused Barry Zito, the Oakland A's pitcher who didn't know he was booted off Selig's All-Star island in favor of Clemens.

Then, the kicker:

In the furious, final 24 hours in which baseball finally did scramble to get Clemens on board, Clemens and his entire family were put in harm's way as a hurricane came bearing down on their home in Houston. Instead, the jet pilots told Clemens they could get out of Houston, but meet them in College Station, an hour and half away.

"It was a little stressful this morning getting a phone call that you can't [get to Chicago] because it's too dangerous," Clemens said.

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How fast was Clemens driving?

"Fast. About as fast as I throw tonight. Hopefully, I can get it in there," he said.

To quote another former Boston sports figure, Nancy Kerrigan, Clemens could have just as easily wailed: "Why me? Why me?" Instead, Clemens was happy to accept the last-minute invitation.

"They said someone went down and they needed an arm," he said.

"Even though I've heard every unlikely scenario [about why he was finally chosen] for the American League, it's important to kind of steal one. I think it's really the National League's turn to have the home field, so we can really swipe it from under their feet," Clemens said.

Of course, after Clemens retired the side, blowing away the Expos' Jose Vidro and the Cardinals' Edgar Renteria with two strikeouts, Clemens' jet was on the tarmac. Only a hurricane could keep the Rocket from getting out of Dodge, back to Houston, lickety-split, for a day of fishing and jet-skiing with his boys.

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"I don't know what the weather is back home, so I don't know if we're going to spend the night," Clemens said.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


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