The sports world can shut up now.

It can shut up the second the next athlete reminds us that humility is neither a part of his vernacular nor a part of his lifestyle. It can hush whenever the next athlete illustrates a departure from established tradition, upgrading things to suit his wishes.

Roger Clemens may be about three months removed from 45 years of age, en route to Cooperstown and possibly a parade down Broadway this fall, but the new pitcher for the New York Yankees also could give lessons on how to accumulate riches and the perks that come along with his job.

Heck, maybe he'll even enlighten us on how he's done it with Major League Baseball's approval, too.

Terrell Owens looks pretty darn good today. So does Allen Iverson. Say what you will about their bravado, their penchant for trying to get their way, but they work under the same rules and regulations as their contemporaries. Neither had the audacity to contractually circumvent basic team etiquette - with league consent.

And never mind getting into what would have happened if they even had tried.

The fact that the Yankees surrendered a reported $28 million to a pitcher who is depreciating before our eyes is their business. If they want to give about $750,000 per start to a pitcher whose ERA was 4.35 and 3.91 in his last two seasons in New York, who gets bigger and better with age, who was last seen hobbling off the mound for the Houston Astros.

Literally.

But when any pitcher is contractually allowed to show up only on the days he is scheduled to pitch, playing golf or showing up at movie premieres in between, marketing himself to the highest bidder while feigning retirement, then prepare for the day when Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera say, "Hey, what about me?"

Yeah! What about them?

Just the other day, David Wells, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres and Clemens' former teammate with the Yankees, said, "I don't think I would ever do it because of the fact I personally think it would disrespect the team and your teammates."

Wells also implied that Clemens' actions disrespect the game, which is something few are paying attention to.

If this had been football, basketball, boxing or hockey, the pundits would have been chirping.

They would have harped about the lack of respect today's professional athlete has for the game, how these athletes should be more appreciative of the status they enjoy.

The thing is, baseball should have been the first in line. Commissioner Bud Selig should have stepped up to the plate and reminded the players' union and the Yankees that while there isn't a rule against such deals, they are highly inappropriate and in violation of professional ethics. Specifically when it comes to our national pastime.

Except it is baseball we're talking about - the land of steroids, alcohol and, evidently, privilege. The same place where a manager (Tony La Russa) could muster the temerity to lecture Josh Hancock on alcohol abuse after his own arrest on drunken-driving charges.

Hancock died a few days later in a crash linked to alcohol.

The hypocrites are everywhere.

They are the same people who will dump on Barry Bonds about alleged steroid use, or perks aimed at Michael Jordan during his heyday.

Practices may have been adjusted for Jordan, just like a few perks were accorded to Bonds. But there were no contractual obligations placed on a team to capitulate to a player's AWOL status, nothing that validated in writing for any player to appear above the team.

If you didn't practice, you at least had to show up to practice.

And since Clemens' good friend Andy Pettitte can be seen in the Yankees' dugout on off-days, the same conceivably applies to the games, as well.

It doesn't apply to Clemens anymore, because he is a hired gun. Clemens is a mercenary in the age of mercenaries.

He'll never admit as much, but he doesn't have to anymore.

Now other athletes don't need to make excuses anymore.

Clemens handed one to them. A fastball right down the middle.

Strike three! Welcome to a new era.

Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or ssmith@phillnews.com.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stephensmith.