King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Readers write: The sequel. This time, it's personal. Especially for Roger Clemens, Muhammad Ali, Shaquille O'Neal and Scooter the talking baseball.

Published July 19, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

I promised Friday that I'd get to your thoughts soonest on Roger Clemens and the All-Star Game, Bob Feller's rant against Muhammad Ali, and the Lakers trading Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat.

Can't get anymore soonest than the very next column, so here we go.

Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, a World War II veteran, criticizes baseball's choice of Muhammad Ali to help throw out the first pitch in the All-Star Game because Ali avoided the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector

Bomani Jones: Had Ali been asked to throw out the first pitch 30 years ago, would he have done it? The revolutionary Ali hasn't been around for a long, long time. The one thing about Ali that doesn't get much play is that he follows fairly closely to those who advise him. I see no problem with Ali being asked to aid in the ceremonies. It's just hard to fathom that he does such things.

Note: Jones has written for Salon.

Steve Dube: I like Ali as much as the next guy and that's part of the problem. He's too safe and iconic. His whole conscientious objector, Olympic medal-throwing persona has been retracted in favor of a a public image that's slightly more dangerous than a Care Bear. [Ali has claimed he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River after experiencing racism.] Muhammad Ali's inspirational capacity is two miles wile but about an inch deep these days. Of course, that's why he was at the All-Star Game.

Peter Short: I feel a certain frustration with the recent canonization of Ali. It's not that he doesn't deserve the accolades, but does anybody think it strange that all this praise comes at a time in his life when he can't really speak. I mean, there's something unnerving about our white-dominated society's sunset affection for a man who can't disagree with anyone anymore.

I feel like we, as a nation, can project some reflection of greatness on Ali because he is incapable of pissing us off. It's a weird narcissism. In other words, is he the most beloved black public figure in America because he can't speak? Just a thought.

King replies: The thing is, he can speak. From all reports, his mind is OK, his troubles are physical. It's difficult and tiring for him to talk and be understood, but he's capable. That's how I understand it, anyway.

But I think there's a grain of truth to what you say. Ali is sort of cuddly and nonthreatening these days, and it's only since that's been the case that he's been lionized for the acts that, in their day, made him a much-hated figure. On the other hand, some of that is just generational. The old guys who fought with Bob Feller in World War II aren't filling a lot of column inches these days, and while I fell in love with Muhammad Ali in 1970, I wasn't writing a column in those days. I was 7.

And its not unusual for iconic public figures to have the rough edges buffed off of them in the popular imagination as time goes by.

Roger Clemens and the All-Star Game

Jay Jaffe: While I don't consider myself much of a Roger Clemens fan -- I've screamed myself hoarse at him on more than one occasion -- I do feel compelled to defend him against your charges of him coming up short in big games.

First of all, Bud's Game 7 gambit to the contrary, Tuesday's exhibition does not count as a big game despite the eyeballs and the fact that ex-presidents and heavyweight champions were on hand. I don't take it seriously, you don't take it seriously, and most importantly, the players don't take it seriously. It's a great opportunity to market the game, a moneymaker for the network and its sponsors, and an exhibit for fans, nothing more. Throw it out the window as far as the Rocket was concerned.

Second, while Clemens had a reputation for big-game disaster in Boston, he did a considerable job of shedding that tag in New York: 7-4 with a 3.21 ERA in his pinstriped postseasons, including 3-0, 1.50 ERA in five World Series starts. Yes, there are a few meltdowns in there, but there are also some stellar performances.

Note: Jaffe is the author of the excellent Futility Infielder site.

King replies: The All-Star Game is an exhibition not to be taken seriously, but that doesn't mean Clemens didn't consider it a big game, in the sense of wanting very badly to do well. It was his night, his coronation. Anyone would want very badly to do well on a night when he's the center of attention. It's a challenge similar to any other big game, even though it doesn't count in the standings. It was an occasion to be risen to, and Clemens didn't rise.

And while I stand by my assessment of Clemens as underperforming in the postseason and in big games generally given his greatness overall, you're right that he has, indeed, had some great performances in the postseason.

On the day the column knocking Clemens appeared, Wednesday, I got an amen chorus from Clemens haters, and the next day my in box was filled with a pro-Clemens backlash. Funny how it goes sometimes.

But not nearly as funny as "Roger and Me," Seth Stevenson's hilariously nasty letter to Clemens -- "You ruined my childhood, fatty" -- in Slate.

Several readers: You think Mike Piazza might have exacted a bit of revenge on Roger Clemens Tuesday night by tipping off hitters to what pitch was coming?

King replies: No. And I also don't buy the conspiracy theory that Clemens, anticipating a trade to an American League contender, was helping the A.L. win and thus gain home-field advantage in the World Series.

Melody Blass: What, no comments on Scooter the animated baseball? I thought you'd jump on the crazy camera angles, but Scooter was even more irresistible.

King replies: Scooter the talking baseball, explaining what a curveball does (it curves), is beneath both contempt and comment, an insult to the intelligence and baseball knowledge of even the youngest of the kids he's presumably aimed at -- even though he tends to appear after most of this nation's young children have gone to bed.

But the crazy camera angles, those were cool. Seriously. You refer, I believe, to the lipstick-size cameras that Fox embedded in front of home plate and near the mound. Baseball's version of "Floor Cam," which would be better named "Let's See What's Up This Guy's Shorts Cam."

Only as dumb as Floor Cam is, those ground cams offered a different and interesting way to study a batter's swing and a pitcher's delivery. Good stuff. Another Fox innovation, used very sparingly and only during postseason broadcasts, and I'm guessing very expensive, is the super slow-motion camera that gives an eerily detailed look at a hitter or a pitcher. If you've ever doubted what a violent act pitching a baseball is to the human arm, that view will convince you.

When Fox concentrates its considerable resources and brainpower on giving us a closer, more detailed look at the game, it's brilliant. When it concentrates on dressing up the game to try to interest nonfans into clicking over from the other networks, it's beyond awful.

The Lakers trade Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a draft pick

Jason Owens: I can't disagree with you more on the Shaq trade, King. The bottom line is that you don't trade Hall of Fame players who still have at least two years of Hall of Fame play left in them for a bunch of question marks. A Shaq trade should yield two All-Star players in return. Period. What the Lakers got were two small forwards [their deepest position] and a power forward with among the worst contracts in league history. NBA history is littered with similarly bad trades.

As for the Heat, well, the Heat have an excellent chance of making the Finals next year. And probably a 50-50 shot of winning said Finals if they get the right opponent. As far as gambles go, this is a great one.

King replies: The Lakers had to choose between Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. With Bryant a free agent, he forced their hand. He wasn't going to play with O'Neal anymore. Bryant is 25 and probably not even at his peak yet, and Shaq is 32 and leaking oil. There's no way you keep Shaq. Even if Kobe has to go to prison for a few years, which seems unlikely, he's still the guy you keep.

The rest of the league knows this. It was thus a buyer's market for Shaq. Why would I, an NBA team, give up two All-Stars -- how many teams even have two All-Stars? -- for a guy I know you have to get rid of? I think the Lakers did remarkably well to get ambulatory players. The way to look at the trade is that they did get an All-Star for Shaq. His name is Kobe Bryant.

I agree the trade was a terrific gamble for the Heat. They weren't going to win a championship with the players they traded, and while I don't think they'll win one just because they've got O'Neal, they're certainly going to sell more tickets and gear, get higher ratings and generally create more buzz. And there's always the chance that Shaq will rejuvenate and take them all the way, though as I wrote I'm not lining up to put that bet down.

It only becomes a bad deal for the Heat if they give Shaq that big extension he wants, and end up buying him cheeseburgers until he's pushing 40 and 400.

Edward Tarkington: OK, first you call Roger Clemens a punk, and now you're calling Shaq washed up? Is somebody pissing in your Wheaties?

King replies: I didn't say Shaq was washed up. I said he's in decline. He's still very good, but he's on his way to being washed up.

And I've been saying Clemens is a punk for almost 20 years, which is not as long as it's been since my last bowl of Wheaties. So the answer to your question, I'm happy to say, is no. I think.

Previous column: The readers write: Part I

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