Selfishly, Clemens rockets to the top

The Baltimore Sun

Roger Clemens continues to unnecessarily complicate things. Along with everything else, now he's thrown the competition for America's Most Selfish Athlete into dispute.

Kobe Bryant's crown no longer rests so easily.

A little less than a year and a half ago, it was proposed in this space that Bryant was the most selfish athlete ever. Clemens was only an honorable mention.

What a climb he's made in a short time. And this in a field just as crowded now as it was then. Think about who got left behind - perennials Terrell Owens, Barry Bonds and Pete Rose, not to mention recent up-and-comers such as Adam "Pacman" Jones, Ricky Williams and Curt Schilling.

Nope, it's the Rocket against Black Mamba, for the nickname only one can have: El Cerdo Mas Grande. The Biggest Pig.

Granted, Clemens and Bryant are selfish in different ways, which makes the choice tougher. Bryant's candidacy, for instance, is handicapped by the NBA's salary cap, so we really don't know if he's capable of being as much of a sellout as Clemens. On the other hand, by working only every fifth day (and for only three or four months, at that), Clemens' capacity to be a consummate ballhog is uncertain.

They do share this trait: the ability to get people to enable them and their whims, from fans to teammates to coaches to owners to sycophants who give them a pass because they're sooooo talented.

Anyway ... the case for Clemens:

Because of him, baseball at every level will never again be able to claim that it's a team sport. He will always be the example of how pitchers can claim special status with salaries, reporting time and time spent with teammates.

He can't decide whether he wants to play or retire, to earn his paycheck through the grind of a season or watch his kids grow up - so he's doing both. Athletes who have accomplished more, won more and melted down in big situations less have never had the nerve to even try that.

His demands, in a nutshell: Pay me the most, let me work the least, allow me the least accountability to my team and organization and give me the most glory if we do win.

The extra $22 he's tagged onto his last couple of contracts in honor of his jersey number. A package, with his starting his children's names with "K." Some people get vanity license plates, and some use their offspring and avoid the Motor Vehicle Administration fees.

The annual tease, the cameos at spring training, the leaks and hints about whom he's talking to and when, creating a false market for an overpriced part-time player.

His insistence that he either wants to be close to his home and family or he wants the best chance to win, depending on his mood that day or that season. Either sounds better than the truth: He wants to get paid.

The grandstanding in George Steinbrenner's box, the speech, the big scoreboard display, the sly finger in the Astros' eye ("They came and got me out of Texas!"). It was hard to tell who was more desperate for the attention, the Yankees or the Rocket.

And, the case for Kobe ...

Because of him, certain segments of the public will forever believe that the NBA is packed end-to-end with me-first, team-last, two-faced social deviants. He's been trying to be the next Michael Jordan for a decade, but the very sight of him sickens many.

He gives himself nicknames, such as the aforementioned Black Mamba. Tacky enough, even more so considering he did it not long after beating a sexual assault rap.

The sexual assault rap from 2003-04, and everything surrounding it, which is too much to detail.

The very next summer, he petulantly strung the Lakers along about re-signing, passive-aggressively forcing them to trade Shaquille O'Neal and dump coach Phil Jackson.

Occasionally refuses to shoot to prove a point about how dependent they are on him (most notably in last season's seventh game of the first-round series against the Phoenix Suns), then goes back to hoisting it to prove some other petty point. Yet earlier this season, he accused a player who had just schooled him (Gilbert Arenas) of having poor shot selection.

After the Lakers failed to win a playoff series for the third time since his hostile takeover of the franchise, he demanded wholesale changes in the roster to give him the help he needs to win. And did it with a straight face.

Remains a rarity in the history of the NBA, a supreme talent of whom practically nobody wants any part of being a teammate.

Readers are welcome to make their choice, at the e-mail address below, or at the Steele Press blog on The Sun's Web site (baltimoresun.com/steelepress).

I say ... Roger Clemens.

It's Clemens' surge at such a late stage of his career that seals it. All the events of this past week, including the $25 million prorated contract, completed a meteoric rise to the top.

Rocketlike, in fact.

david.steele@baltsun.com

David Steele -- Points after

Put yourself in the Orioles' shoes. Three offseasons ago, you refused to overpay for Carl Pavano and got roasted. A year later you refused to overpay to keep B.J. Ryan and got roasted. Both pitchers are now done for at least a year and dragging their team's payrolls down. But you can't smile, because you've also been preaching, "Wait for our young pitchers; you'll see." Now those pitchers, Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn, are hurt, too. The moral of this story is ... uh, there is no moral.

The way the Eastern Conference playoffs are unfolding, the worst thing that has happened to the NBA this season was Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler getting injured when they did.

Just noting, without comment: At the Leslie Moore scholarship dinner two weeks ago (named for the late son of Lenny Moore), a painting of Moore being carried off the field and a montage of Colts legends were auctioned off. Both got lower bids than a painting of Harlem Globetrotter (and dinner attendee) Meadowlark Lemon.

So if the ratings for the Kentucky Derby went up, and the Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya fight set a record for pay-per-view buys, are both sports still dying? And how do the Stanley Cup ratings (or lack thereof) fit into this?

Correction: In last week's column, one candidate for the title of the most selfish athlete in sports was inadvertently omitted. The competition should have been between Roger Clemens, Kobe Bryant and Brett Favre.
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