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Easy 'Roider

I got an e-mail the other day gently criticizing my decision to “have a little fun” with the ongoing steroid and HGH debacle, with the reader quite fairly noting that the devastation that ensues for both the game of baseball and the individuals touched by the scandal doesn’t seem appropriate for even subdued hilarity.

Fair enough, but part of what I was trying to do with the Roger Clemens piece that dreamed up a Col. Nathan R. Jessup-like testimony was to offer my belief that athletes at that level didn’t really think using steroids or HGH was all that big of a deal, at least until the public uproar developed.

I don’t think you could have so many players involved if the private attitudes about such use truly mirrored what is now politically correct condemnation of same. The enforced rigidity of political correctness annoys me big time, so I tend to push against it whenever I can, even in instances where my own opinion might substantially differ from what I appear to be defending.

I don’t know if it’s clear or not, but I have a good deal of sympathy for Clemens, and to a lesser degree, even Barry Bonds. Regardless of the widespread condemnation that attaches itself to the idea of “cheating,” I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that the pair is being ganged up on.

My favorite newspaper, The New York Times, has pretty clearly got Clemens outfitted for some kind of “Sombrero of Disgrace.” I don’t think anybody can look at the paper’s relentless coverage of the Clemens Saga without concluding that they want his scalp (Oops, even more politically incorrect). Heck, I’ve never been a Clemens fan, in part because I liked Doc Gooden instead, but I’m not sure what he’s done to warrant the avalanche that seems to be headed his way, aside from perhaps quite thoroughly bungling the public relations effort in the weeks after the Mitchell Report was released.

There are only two possibilities: 1. Clemens is telling the truth, in which case he has been the victim of one of the great travesties of justice in our lifetime, with his reputation left in tatters right alongside his legacy in the game itself; or 2. Clemens is lying, in which case I could still suggest that the punishment already incurred and likely to follow is grossly disproportinate to the offense. Even if you decide that he must be flogged for perjury, it’s worth noting that if we are going to come down that hard on Americans who lie to Congress, it would at least seem less hypocritical if we were even remotely as outraged when the lying goes in the opposite direction.

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And speaking of political correctness, several weeks back, there was a thankfully brief media stir when a video made the Internet rounds showing Pedro Martinez and Juan Marichal at a cockfighting match in the Dominican Republic. The outcry was mercifully muted, in part because while the distaste for the enterprise is fairly uniform in this country, there was apparently some allowance made for the realization that it might hold a different sway in another culture.

Still, it got me to thinking about my own checkered past, and thus prompted a bit of long-overdue confession. I am pretty sure the statute of limitations has long since expired, but I was present at a cockfighting match nearly 40 years ago in the jungles of the Philippines.

It was Thanksgiving Day 1969, and at 19 years old I was prone to go along with whatever adventures were proposed, within limits. I had been in the Philippines all of six months or so, with another year to go. There had been a rather pronounced resurgence of violence against American sailors from the Communist Huks, a group that had originally resisted the occupation of the Japanese in World War II and had grew into a genuine insurrection from 1946-54. The Huks had re-formed as the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1968, and posed enough of a threat to unwary sailors on liberty in Olangapo City outside the Subic Bay Naval Base that the Navy had designated virtually anywhere outside the city as “out of bounds.”

Thus our foray into the jungle that Thanksgiving held the potential of getting us into a good deal of trouble regardless of our role in the local sporting events. The final spot in the jungle was a good 20-30 miles beyond the narrow strip of seedy bars and hotels that served as perhaps the ultimate liberty destination for sailors of the 7th Fleet and GI’s on R and R from in-country duty in Viet Nam.

It wasn’t anything fancy like the chaotic arenas in the videos, but merely a cleared area of the jungle. As I recall, there were maybe a couple of dozen spectators, no more than that, but I concede that copious quantities of San Miguel beer may have clouded the memory. It only lasted a few minutes, and was such a tumultuous affair with all of the screaming and shouting from the local enthusiasts that I can’t even recall whether I had bet on the winner or not.

I do recall that we ate the loser, cooked right there in the jungle over an open fire. Tasted like chicken ... really tough chicken.