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Clemens should enter Hall with '$$$' on cap

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003

Roger Clemens didn't make any new friends by demanding a say about which hat he wears into the Hall of Fame.

Never mind Clemens isn't even eligible for induction until 2009. Most baseball fans' sense of outrage has been doused so often that anything short of a Bud Selig fright wig would win approval. Fortunately, the people at the Hall are more discerning than that.

In order to keep any more ''this-space-for-sale'' signs from sprouting on the foreheads of the game's most recognizable faces, museum curators decided a year ago to reserve the last word for themselves.

According to the edict, ''Every team for whom an inductee played is listed on the plaque; however, the logo selection is based on where that player makes his most indelible mark.''

We'll get to the ''indelible mark'' later, but first some history.

The idea of drawing up guidelines had been kicked around ever since members of baseball's first free-agent wave became eligible. For years, rumors circulated that cash, cars and cushy jobs changed hands to ensure certain players entered the Hall in certain hats. The best and biggest payoff rumors always involved former Yankees naturally both those they nabbed (Reggie Jackson) and those who got away (Dave Winfield).

What finally forced the curators' hand was when Wade Boggs coyly auctioned off his plaque in Cooperstown, hinting it would be topped off with the lid of whatever former organization Red Sox, Yankees or Tampa Bay Devil Rays treated him best.

Since Boggs also said his secret for getting so many hits was eating chicken before every game, maybe Hall historians worried he'd try to sneak in wearing a chef's toque with ''KFC'' emblazoned on the front.

That same rule was on Clemens' mind soon after he nailed down his 300th win.

''They're not going to tell me what hat I'm wearing,'' he said. ''I became a Hall of Famer here.''

Clemens was also wearing a Yankees cap when he got his 4,000th strikeout, picked up the last of six Cy Young awards, pocketed both of his World Series championship rings and received his first paycheck with George Steinbrenner's signature on the bottom right.

The flip side is that most of those wins, strikeouts and Cy Youngs came while Clemens was with the Red Sox. But former Boston general manager Dan Duquette let him go in 1996, after 13 seasons there, adding his now-famous assessment that Clemens was in the ''twilight'' of his career.

The pitcher and town have had it in for each other ever since. It didn't help that Clemens tried to pass off his move to Toronto for two seasons as his best chance to win a World Series.

Clemens seems less motivated by money than spite, and he threatened to boycott his own induction ceremony unless he gets to stroll in wearing a Yankees cap.

''There might be a vacant seat there,'' he said. ''I'll take my mother and we'll go to Palm Springs and invite y'all, and we'll have our own celebration.''

The threat calls to mind Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas explaining a day later that he skipped his own news conference early in Super Bowl week to protest a lack of media attention. The league's MVP then got more attention than he ever wanted for misplacing his helmet just before kickoff and missing the opening series.

The funny thing is that if Thomas gets into the NFL's Hall of Fame, he won't have to choose between the Bills' hardhat he wore for a dozen seasons or the Dolphins' helmet he used during a brief comeback as a third-down specialist. Pro football doesn't require inductees to pick a team helmet for their plaques. Neither does the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Baseball let in Catfish Hunter and a few others wearing caps without any logo at all. Clemens brushed back that possibility.

''That would be disrespectful to what Mr. Steinbrenner has given me: an opportunity to come here and continue my career, to be able to achieve these moments and become a Hall of Famer,'' he said.

But spokesman Jeff Idelson said the Hall will continue to make decisions based on the long view. ''We have to look ahead 50 years to make sure that it still makes sense.''

That wasn't a problem in 1936, when the Hall inducted its first class of five ballplayers. At the time, only Babe Ruth had played more than a season or two with more than one club six with Boston, followed by 15 with the Yankees and one with the Boston Braves. It's hard to imagine a Hall of Fame class like that ever again.

Other than the owners, few people would argue baseball was better off when ballplayers were bound to a team for their entire careers.

Still, if the idea is to determine where a ballpayer made an ''indelible mark,'' then the correct logo for Clemens and the first generation of free agents in the Hall should be clear.

The only real question is how many $$$ are necessary.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org.



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