The Legacy and Legend of Howard Cosell ‘s eulogy to an American broadcasting icon.

North County 4/26/95

“TELL IT LIKE IT IS” – THE LEGACY AND LEGEND OF HOWARD COSELL

Howard CosellThis country has not known a more influential journalist than Howard Cosell. His innate ability to dissect an event, infiltrate a personality and offer honest analysis at the point of attack made him a unique voice in an otherwise antiseptic profession. The resonance of his talent is an echo in the world of reporting today, but it is a faint reminder of the man whose voice served as a sonic boom that shook the walls and shattered the windows of broadcasting.

Ironically, Cosell died quietly this past weekend after a private three-year battle with cancer at the age of 77. The doctor’s report told the world it was a heart embolism, but anyone who knew anything about the attorney with a microphone and the massive chip on his hunched shoulder was convinced that he was too stubborn to succumb to anything, much less a deadly disease.

His staccato delivery was immediate legend, his hawkish looks an instant caricature and his powerful ego a massive hammer swung sometimes with little control, if not definite, direction. These were the odd attributes that combined to make Cosell a superstar among faceless haircuts and scribbling notepads. But his greatest asset was that he was utterly fearless. There was no crusade too big, no injustice too imposing, and no human power too intimidating for his prodding sarcasm and razor-sharp wit. “I tell it like it is,” was his catch-phrase.

“I did what I believed in,” he reflected to a reporter a few years ago. “I saw myself as a person who wanted to bring to public attention that which I thought was wrong. No more. No less.”

Throughout the 60s’ and 70s’ the appearance of Cosell at a sporting event signified its importance. If there was ever a question of its relevance, it was answered by his presence alone.

He was the living embodiment of the first amendment and the shining example of what truths can be uncovered by the oft-challenged “freedom of press”.

Not unlike John F. Kennedy and the Beatles, Howard Cosell was a figure perfectly fit for the times in which he found himself. Ten years earlier, or perhaps, even ten years later, an editorial voice like Cosell’s might have been shoved aside as too assertive, or worse yet, ignored altogether. But in the age following McCarthyism and the Red Scare, a country swirling in the tornado of events from Vietnam to Watergate we were just cynical and thick-skinned enough to handle him.

He could have covered any corner of the news, but chose sports because of the immediacy and likelihood of the impossible to explode at anytime. Moreover, he precociously knew sports needed him. “If ever a broadcaster sought to bring sports out of the banal,” he once mused, “this, you see, is my mission.”

Throughout the 60s’ and 70s’ the appearance of Cosell at a sporting event signified its importance. If there was ever a question of its relevance, it was answered by his presence alone. In one predictably pompous moment, he once compared his celebrity to Walter Cronkite. But unlike the security and warmth of Uncle Walty at the time of breaking news or crisis, Cosell exuded the fastidious tension of a literate watch dog that needed not only an answer, but the answer.

If there was no Howard Cosell, Muhammad Ali would have still been an icon for a generation locked in turbulence, people would’ve still crowded into bars on Monday nights to watch prime time football, the tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympics would’ve had the same impact on a stunned and riveted television audience, Joe Willie Namath would still have his middle name, Chris Chambliss would’ve probably hit that homer to win the pennant for the Yankees, and Joe Frazier still would have tumbled to the canvas under the thunderous blow of the brooding force of young George Foreman.

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The difference is that Cosell was there, and for some strange reason, we remember that. Cosell and the event seemed to take on an inseparable quality as time passed. Yet, despite his propensity to find a space in the spotlight of a sporting event, like an annoying relative trying to squeeze into a family snapshot, Cosell never usurped the game itself. He somehow joined its magnitude by riding along, often times actually becoming the only voice that mattered when the dust settled.

He could sense a story as it unfolded and enlarge its aura as if it were a moment already recorded, digested and reflected in history.

In this way, Cosell clung to the light and fury that was Muhammad Ali, arguably the largest sports figure of the 20th century. When the young heavyweight, Cassius Clay embraced the Muslim faith and changed his name, only Cosell would honor it by calling him Ali during interviews. When Ali fought the draft because of his religious beliefs, and was stripped of his championship belt, Cosell was there beside him.

Cosell’s interviews with the always poetic and vociferous Ali were masterpieces in entertainment. “I’ll take you out Cosell,” Ali would pronounce with that ever-present smile biting down on his bottom lip. “I’ll knock you out and take that rug off your head.”

“You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me,” Cosell would quip in his laconic drone.

His powerful radio show, “Speaking of Sports” lasted the longest of any of his projects. Probably because he didn’t have to share the spotlight with anyone else. And when I was a kid, it punched its way through the mono speaker on my little portable every Sunday morning. He took on racism, the wrongful treatment of pro athletes by monolithic leagues, the absence of a commissioner for prize fighting; but it what made those shows special, was those priceless moments when a unsuspecting guest would need to wiggle out of a finger-pointing diatribe on the hypocrisy of something somewhere.

Cosell’s best-known pulpit was the crowded booth on of the most popular experiments in network history. Monday Night Football was the perfect place for his pedantry and bluster, and he made it his stage. A man who had never played the sport, offering strong commentary, most of it derisive, led to a TV Guide poll that during the mid 70s’ had him the most hated and most loved sportscaster of all.

After denouncing boxing as a “disgusting mess” and pro football as a “stagnant bore”, Howard Cosell rode off into the sunset, leaving a 35-year body of work in his indignant wake. His last public jab came in the form of his fourth book, What’s Wrong with Sports, a truculent attack on everything he ever encountered along the way. Cosell went out the way he came in–swinging.

Howard Cosell never received a big sendoff like Johnny Carson of Cronkite, but one would have to wonder if he would’ve either expected or embraced it. But every one of us who have ever offered an opinion or covered an event, or tried to procure a quote from a newsworthy subject have a debt to pay to Howard Cosell. Because in the end, reporting is the search for truth, and as a reporter, you’d hope a little justice prevails. Right or wrong, the reporter strives to, at the very least, make people think. That is Howard Cosell’s legacy.

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Yorktown Football – Undefeated NY State Champs reviews one of the most exciting high school championship games ever.

North County 11/30/94

YORKTOWN STILL UNCONQUERED AND UNBEATEN

“My head is bloody, but unbowed… I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
– from the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

When Mr. Henley sat down to write his poem on the strength of an individual against all adversity, it was hardly the turn of the century, and chances are old Willie never saw an American football game; but if he could have made it to the Syracuse Carrier Dome last Saturday night, he would have witnessed his words come to life in the form of the young men that make up the 1994 Yorktown Cornhuskers.

For four quarters, the defending Class B state champs put a perfect season, a 20-game win streak and another title on the line. All night the line was precariously thin. It was not a blowout like last year. In fact their biggest lead of the evening was eight points. The smallest lead was all of one point three different times. It was the first time all year the strength of the team’s soul was tested, and there’s a plaque sitting somewhere at the High School that says the Yorktown soul passed with flying colors.

The final was Yorktown 25, William South 24, and at crucial times during the contest it felt even closer. The Section 6 champs brought their own soul on the arm of a terrific quarterback named Mike Lester, who kept coming at the brick-hard Huskers defense like some wild-eyed Gunga Din in a helmet. When the evening was done he would accumulate some gaudy passing stats (10 of 17 for 190 yards and three touchdowns), including a wild third-and-27 heave that put an apple into the throat of everyone waving a green pom pom.

It was the first time all year the strength of the team’s soul was tested, and there’s a plaque sitting somewhere at the High School that says the Yorktown soul passed with flying colors.

But the black and silver blur with a #13 on his back nullified these considerable feats time and time again. Don Weese, the game’s MVP-with-the-ball would unveil the Yorktown soul before anyone had both cheeks planted into a Dome seat. His opening kickoff return made short work of 85 yards, and the team that had not trailed a single football game for 44 quarters had a 7-0 lead. Every touchdown the boy wonder QB from Williamsville South could muster, Weese had some answer; a 15-yard pass reception for a score followed by a 20-yard touchdown run.

All season long the vaunted Yorktown defense (number one in the league with six shutouts) did not allow a team to force a deficit on them, and the only team to so much as manage a tie-game into the fourth quarter, the Somers Tuskers, never scored at all. But throughout the game both offenses seemed locked in a trance-like dance of death, running up and down the field with reckless abandon.

However, Williamsville South was unable to attach the extra point to any of their four touchdowns. The Cornhuskers missed the kick on their second. In fact, with all the yards amassed by both teams (350 for South and 240 for ‘Town) the defining moments of the game were played within ten feet of the Yorktown goal line.

It was 13-12 Cornhuskers with one minute left in the first half, and the only thing standing between Williamsville South and the lead were four downs, four yards, and the Yorktown defense. They ran four plays, gained three yards, and went into the locker room down by one. Forty-six quarters without trailing.

The second half featured more of the same. Yorktown would score and back came the other guys, neither team able to buy the point-after. A football version of Ali-Frqazier in Manilla hitting and taking hits and standing for the next round. The winner would earn it, the loser would be disappointed, but proud to have played.

With less than 40 seconds remaining in the game, and faced with their last down from the Yorktown 16, the Williamsville South offense stepped to the line of scrimmage. The Huskers dug deep on defense. A fired up Adam Lodewick, who would earn Defensive Player of the Game honors for his relentless pursuit of anything that moved in this game, screamed to his teammates to make a stand.

Lester faded back from center and tossed the ball out to the left about two yards deep in the end zone to his receiver, Doug Goeckil, who would beat out his quarterback for Offensive Player of the Game. Touchdown. Williamsville South would go for two points. Two points they could not get three times before. Yorktown’s perfect season of leading all the way was three yards from becoming a one point deficit with 15 seconds left.

The fans stood on both sides of the field and cheered wildly. Both coaches bellowed instructions. Ten feet for the championship.

Once again Lester pulled out from center, rolled right, looked at the front line of the Huskers breaking through the wall, cocked his arm, and threw into the corner of the end zone. It was there the ball found the thrusting arm of Pete Cariello and fell to the ground.

The 1994 Yorktown Cornhuskers, state champs again. Twelve games played, twelve wins. Unconquered. Invictus. Amen.

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The Face of Yorktown Football is Smiling – Author James Campion covers the 1994 NY State Champions

North County 11/23/94

THE FACE OF YORKTOWN FOOTBALL IS SMILING

A chilly northern wind was blowing sharply across the illuminated artificial surface of Dietz Stadium on this November night in Kingston, New York. A bus carrying the Yorktown Cornhuskers football team quietly rolled into the parking lot. After a few hours the 42 young men who step off it will board on the happy side of a 22-0 score. They will have defeated Massena High School for their 20th consecutive victory dating back to last season, earning them a chance to defend their title as Class B State Champions.

It was nearly one year ago to the day that they stood victorious on this very field. There had previously been no such thing as a State Championship then, and no one outside of the team understood how good they could be. It was as if they had taken a riverboat up the Nile searching for the unknown. This season has been different. Everyone knew how good the Cornhuskers could be. On this night nothing short of another trip to Syracuse and the Carrier Dome would do.

Faces from the graduating class of 1993 filtered into the picture to lend their support. There was the leader from last season’s foray into glory, James “Bumper” Robeson, clad in black and tugging on his old familiar #60 jersey. He began clapping vigorously an hour before kickoff. He was joined by the infectious laugh of Vinnie D’Andraia, the silent confidence of John Benardi, and the piercing screams of Mike Myers. They were all here a year ago when a play-off game seemed like something out of a crazy dream. They were ones who paved the way for this night, and now the rest of us believed in the dream.

They are all talented athletes individually, but together they are champions, and champions they would stay…together.

I caught up with head coach, Ron Santavicca as his Cornhuskers waited for the Class C game to conclude. Sipping on a steaming cup of coffee, he extended his hand as he had done many times before on game day, in a television studio, or in the muddled comfort of his office at Yorktown High School. But this time the hand shake seemed to have a purpose. It was firmer than usual, like his expression–eyes widened, bottom lip tight. This was a man whom I’’d covered for the better part of the last two Autumns, and although he always made me feel like a friend, it was at that moment I felt I knew what motivated him to lead this team. Right then I knew this game had been played a hundred times or more inside his head, and Yorktown had won every time.

“”It’’s all about the kids,”” he said a few weeks ago on the occasion of his first regular season title at the school. Fighting back tears of joy, he wrapped his arms tightly around the neck of #13, Don Weese. “”They listen to the game plan,” he praised unabashedly. “They play hard on every down.””

Weese, celebrated weekly in these pages for his incredible feats of athleticism and sportsmanship, is one of those who play hard on every down. As the Class C game ended and the beaten Nanuet team marched in a line slowly by him, I could read the look in his eyes. “This will not be us,” they said. “We will not know that walk. Not tonight. Not this year.”

Later in the third quarter, after already having gobbled up a touchdown pass from quarterback, Matt Caione, he will be pounded to the turf and arise groggy. He will have to be dragged from the game, but for just two plays.

Phil Settembrino, who plays on every down on both lines, now walked by and faced the emptying field. For two seasons he and his line mates have dug deep into the trenches and anchored every yard both gained and given up, but his expression was that of a boy waiting to see his first Pop Warner action. ““’I’m nervous,”” he tells me. “”If you can believe it.”” I can believe it.

Later he will be pulled from the game for a few plays to get a breather from the constant pummeling a 200-pound Massena running back lays on him. But in the fourth quarter, after a Yorktown turnover deep in their own territory, he would push the very same back away from paydirt to preserve the precious shutout.

As the team headed for the locker room to pull on the uniform one more time, the eventual victory of this night would reflect in their expressions. A’Rhema Leach, MVP of the last two games, donned a smile as I wished him luck and told him to save a trophy for someone else. Before the game would be decided, his punishing inside runs would extend key drives and leave the Section One judges no choice but to hand him another. Pete Cariello, the fresh-faced sophomore defensive back, who alone has personally outscored most of Yorktown’s opponents this year, looked relaxed. He would play an important role in defending the Massena sweep, and twice end an opponent possession a yard short. Robbie Anderson, whose game face is usually fully loaded by Wednesday, did not look relaxed nor did he so much as crack a smile. In fact, he failed to utter a word to anyone. His jolting hits would speak volumes between the lines.

Soon all the faces disappeared into their helmets for pre-game warm-ups and last-minute instructions from the ever-prepared coaches. The next time I saw them together they were all standing on the field holding hands and waiting for the game to begin; their tightening grips told another story of this night and this team. They are all talented athletes individually, but together they are champions, and champions they would stay…together.

Two hours and four quarters later the result would illustrate the point clearly. The faces were all smiles. Now that the northern winds had died down, I could hear every one of them saying in unison: “One more to go

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1994 Baseball Lockout ‘s humored analysis of game’s implosion.

North County 8/24/94

A VIEW OF THE STRIKE FROM THE FRONT LINES

“The ways by which you get money almost without exception lead downward. To have done anything by which you earn money merely is to have been truly idle or worse. If the laborer gets no more than his employer pays him, he is cheated, he cheats himself.” – Henry David Thoreau from “Life Without Principle” 1854

It is the second full week of the Major League Baseball Strike of ’94 and I’m hunkered down in the bowels of my home trying to piece together the hordes of ugly information seeping into my reluctant subconscious.

There are only so many pre-season football and minor league baseball games, and golf highlights that any self-respecting sports fan can endure before contemplating true acts of random communication with the outside world.

At my last official count there have been only three meetings between the players’ union and management lackey, Richard Ravitch since August 12 (or what is now being referred to in the inner circles of the Big Leagues as the day the money machine came to a screeching halt).

The owners, who up until the deal went down were decrying the end of civilization as we know it, have yet to show up at one of them. Union mouthpiece, Donald Fehr has been on everything from CNN’s “Crossfire” to the “Geraldo Show” and has presently taken the art of whining to its highest level to date. Still there is no real grit.

If nobody shows up at your games, and you have no sweet TV deal, and the market is dry…then get out.

Sources from the owner’s camp are leaking that the war is really between the HAVES and HAVE NOTS.

The richer franchises like the Yankees and Dodgers, Cubs, and Blue Jays want no part of this salary cap stuff. The troubles in places like Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Montreal secretly don’t concern them.

If nobody shows up at your games, and you have no sweet TV deal, and the market is dry…then get out.

They feel Bud Selig, owner of another painful franchise in Milwaukee, and acting commissioner, has painted them into a corner by trying to equal the social order. Evil words like socialism are sometimes heard in corner offices of large buildings somewhere in the heartland.

Braves owner, Ted Turner has started to perk up, and underground reports have revealed that even Jane Fonda can no longer control him. “We have a legal monopoly and we still screw it up,” he has recently told his fellow owners.

Billions of dollars lost in less than two weeks, and in two more weeks the NFL will blow their product off the scale.

“The greed always outweighs the cause!” they chant around our nation’s capital when filibusters drag on and connections fade. It is a well-known fact (and one not lost on Mr. Ravitch) that if there is no settlement by Labor Day, or soon thereafter, the idea of selling the post-season to media outlets will be gone.

And with no guaranteed network revenue from ABC and NBC it will be doomsday for the small market teams anyway.

Fehr is putting out feelers now that indicate the owners will crack again, just like they always do. The players know there will be a game. There has always been a game; since high school, and in some cases college, and the minors, too.

The players are not only the employees, but the product as well. A product that has been pummeled in the last few years by the likes of Shaq and Messier, and the resurrection of the Dallas Cowboys hype machine.

The AP and UPI lines are quiet. The parks and stadiums are empty.

The pastime is passing into oblivion, and there is little that a federal mediator, or Bill (I can’t pass a bill through Congress on a sled) Clinton, or the poor lonely baseball fan can do about it. The ball, as it has been from the beginning, is in the owners’ court; simply because they own the court.

The clock runs, and the cash slips through the grating.

Ravitch and the owners have to know that even today under the new bargaining agreement a good deal of their actions would not be the least bit legal out in the private sector of the business world. When the dust settles all the owners really want if for that nasty ARBITRATION to go away. Maybe then the wheels will turn fast enough to have a baseball fan. Maybe not.

The players union is strong. The owners alliance is not. And the real fight may be between themselves for such things as properties, revenue sharing, and equal rights under the baseball money law.

A billion-dollar business that is untouchable by antitrust laws is at stake. Lines are being drawn in the sand, and the heavy stuff is yet to come. Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” has become audible and the view from the front line is becoming ever more frightening with each passing day.

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Don Mattingly’s Last Stand James Campion’s tribute to an injury-riddled Mattingly’s fight to stay on top.

North County 7/27/94

DONNIE BASEBALL’S LAST STAND

Don MattinglyDon Mattingly, the tenth New York Yankee captain this century, stood on first base Saturday night. He touched the bill of his cap and waved his right hand, a small wry smile twisted his face. The few remaining fans at Anaheim Stadium stood to salute him. It was the occasion of his 2,000th career hit. The Yankees won the game 7-2.

“It’s nice to know I did it in the context of winning,” he said later. “We’re playing well now as a team, and that makes me feel that much better about it.”

The next day Mattingly stepped to the plate in a pinch-hit role with the Yankees down by two runs and blasted a three-run homer. His face exploded with an excitement rarely seen on a 33 year-old man; his home-run trot turning into a sprint. Rounding third base, he threw his open palm into third-base coach, Willie Randolph’s outstretched hand and reached his awaiting teammates with a bellow of triumph. The Yankees won the game, 6-4.

Two at-bat’s, with noticeably different reactions. The simple fact is (and for anyone lucky enough to follow his career) Don Mattingly would rather win one pennant than pick up 10,000 hits. And for the first time since he has put on pinstripes the Yankees have a solid lead in the American League East.

“I have to work hard just to be average,” he told reporters after the game.

After 11 years of good teams with no pitching to bad teams with no pitching, Mattingly’s Yankees are close to a dream season. But the reality of no longer being the best he can be — which used to mean the best in the game — is killing him.

Chronic back pain and nagging injuries changed his baseball life. For four years he was voted the best player in the game by his peers. Winning a batting-title race with teammate, Dave Winfield in 1984 and an MVP the next year; he was not only the most feared bat around, he was the league’s defensive standout at first base.

Every year the Yankees would make noise, then George Steinbrenner or Billy Martin or some other team in the East would make a louder noise and drown out the season. Yet, Mattingly remained in New York when everyone else seemed to leave around him. His contemporaries in the Big Apple who’ve won, Dwight Gooden (second drug suspension), Lawrence Taylor (retired) and Phil Simms (retired) are gone now. Mattingly has not won. He’s still around.

It was painful to watch him shuffle down the hall toward the Yankee clubhouse. And this was four seasons ago and a man who is only a year older than me. I saw him play minor league ball, his first game in the bigs, his All-Star rise. Now he pained to merely sit in front of his locker and tug a tee shirt over his head.

I met him in the summer of his decline in 1990, deep in the bowels of the Stadium where the pipes and wires above your head run to be hidden from the beauty of the green grass and looming white facade above. He agreed to an interview after a difficult night at the plate. But as was the tradition of the year, I had to wait until his “post-game workout” was done. “My back,” he told me, “will not wait.”

After a half hour, Mattingly emerged from a steamy room covered in towels and walking like a man 40 years his elder. He peered out from the one on his head, recognizing me with a nod. “I don’t think anyone knows how hard you work,” I told him.

It was painful to watch him shuffle down the hall toward the Yankee clubhouse, and this was four seasons ago and a man who is only a year older than me. I saw him play minor league ball, his first game in the bigs, his All-Star rise; now he pained to merely sit in front of his locker and tug a tee shirt over his head.

“Part of my game these days,” he whispered.

Long hours after games, between games, between seasons; working harder for lesser results. But the Yankees cannot win a pennant without him. The only losing stretch the team has endured all season occurred when Mattingly was on the disabled list. Since his return the Yankees don’t seem to lose.

“This is not as good a team without Donnie in there,” manager Buck Showalter said recently. “Not even close.”

Now he is two months and a player’s strike away from his first post-season. The Yankees organization spent two thirds of a century in the post-season. The Yankees with Don Mattingly have never had a good September with a pennant on the line.

In my lifetime there has been only one other Yankee to stand beside Mattingly for continued excellence in pinstripes; Thurman Munson. As Yankee captain, Munson presided over three pennants and two World Championships. He died in his ninth season. Two fewer years than Mattingly.

The man whose peers have dubbed Donnie Baseball has one more year on his present contract. He says he’ll decide on signing another then. There was a time when you’d volunteer to dust off a place for his plaque in Cooperstown, and now you wonder. There are a few other guys that played in the Bronx with 2,000 hits that reside in the Hall of Fame; Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Yogi Berra. These are men who made a living playing in October, and now after years of frustration Don Mattingly hopes to get that chance.

Last weekend there were two at-bats, and two very different smiles. One remembers the personal triumph. One draws closer to the October dream.

Part of his game these days.

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1994 Baeball Lockout lampoons the villians who shut down the game

North County 7/20/94

A MAJOR LEAGUE MESS IS BREWING

There is going to be a Major League Baseball strike. It is no longer a matter of IF, but WHEN; and perhaps if you’d like to throw a HOW LONG? in there, feel free. The Lords of Baseball have laid down the gauntlet. The boys with the number on their backs are expected to walk. And the word I’m getting from those in the know is that for the first time since 1904 there won’t be a World Series.

Believe it.

As in the past, the players will take most of the heat from the press and fans. The average salary in The Show these days is $1.5 million, and there is little else that the average middle-class American baseball fan finds more abhorrent than a spoiled brat jock with tons of money and a grudge to bear. But just as in the past, it’s those lovable owners and their incredible practice of shooting themselves in the foot and turning around to wonder about the perpetrator, that have some explaining to do. If you choose to throw blame, there is plenty of places it will stick.

There was always a prevailing fear among the owners that Vincent might side with his crazy, “Integrity of the Game” rant instead of pushing their money-grubbing agenda. So, off he went shaking his head in disbelief like the last sane man leaving Captain Bligh’s ship after the mutiny.

“There are two axioms that have run though the history of professional baseball,” my friend, Donald Dewey once told me. “You never have enough pitching, and no owner ever makes money.” Dewey, co-author of The Encyclopedia of Major League Baseball Teams, finished his diatribe by assuring me that the whole history of the game has been low-lighted by owners continually trying to concoct new and exciting ways to drive down players salaries.

Now the owners want to take away arbitration. This was something they originally shoved at the players to get those greedy bloodsuckers in a small room with a naked light and jam their stats down their throats to prove they are a worthless lot. But the bell curve of big dollar free agency and the emergence of the evil agents turned the hardball dagger right back at them.

The owners want a salary cap. “It’s time we share the burden of our game’s ills,” they say. “We’re paying you guys too much!” Not unlike the President of the United States trying to keep a straight face while asking Americans to help knock down a national debt the government ran up like a bar tab.

Let’s face it folks, it’s easier squeezing that camel through a needle’s eye than it is to get employees to say they’re earning more than their worth. So the players are putting the proverbial thumb to nose and telling the bosses to take their game and shove it. This could happen by Labor Day; but it make no mistake, it will happen.

“Do not be surprised if the players don’t come back at all,” Baseball Weekly’s Rob Rains told me just yesterday. And it’s this type of wild hyperbole that has already effected every facet of the game. Teams are afraid to make trades for a stretch drive that may never come.

Major League Baseball has taken hits from every direction since Fay Vincent was sent packing by the owners two years ago. They scoffed at the former commissioner’s suggestion that they consider revenue-sharing to rescue some of the struggling franchises like the ones in Pittsburgh and Seattle. There was always a prevailing fear among the owners that Vincent might side with his crazy, “Integrity of the Game” rant instead of pushing their money-grubbing agenda. So, off he went shaking his head in disbelief like the last sane man leaving Captain Bligh’s ship after the mutiny.

Milwaukee Brewers owner, Bud Selig and his band of cronies have run things into the ground quite well since then. Television ratings are at an all-time low, the realignment of divisions continues to be an embarrassment with losing teams in first place, and public perception of this mess has driven down a brand new avenue of bad. And it will be a sure bet that closing the game down right now before football season will murder any interest the fans may have if the matter is settled at all.

The looming talk of work stoppage has made this a lame duck season. Nobody is going to watch a long distance run with no finish line. The real shame of it all is that Ken Griffey jr. and Matt Williams will never get a shot at Roger Maris’ single-season home run record. Kirby Puckett and Joe Carter won’t get a shot at Hack Wilson’s single-season RBI mark. And we’ll never know if Lee Smith could surpass the single-season save record.

But I’m sure those pompous, sanctimonious creeps that run this game we have all grown up loving, will believe that we’ll come running back eventually. And you know what? We will. Because all the low-rent disingenuous prattle that spews from this band of apathetic business whores could never wipe away the feeling of sitting in a ball park and watching the beauty of baseball unfold.

They just can’t help trying.

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O.J. Simpson: Superstar Images Die Hard

North County 6/22/94

O.J. SIMPSON: SUPERSTAR IMAGES DIE HARD

OJ SimpsonI’m a child of the 70s’. Most of the sporting events and the personalities that shaped the decade have since become the yardstick to which I’ve measured everything, and everyone else. When you’re a kid, sports heroes can make the difference in your entire outlook on life. When you’re an adult, especially one who takes the sports world on as a career, your perspective on fun and games and its participants changes dramatically.

Then a hero from your time becomes a tragic figure, a murder suspect, a suicidal fugitive. You’re sitting at home watching what you thought was a meaningful basketball game, and then O.J. Simpson is in the back seat of a Ford Bronco with a gun to his head chased by a fleet of L.A. police cars. You try and put together the images of a man who streaked through your past across fields of green, and the man fleeing the law on primetime television.

As cynical as you can become in this life, as hardened a realist as you think you are, if you ever saw O.J. run with a football, it is what you think of first. There is a generation of sports fans who know Simpson from commercials, television, and movies; but for those of us who saw him play the game those long-ago Sundays, the image dies hard.

Twenty years later O.J. Simpson is bobbing and weaving through the secondary, reaching the end zone and slowly letting the ball drop behind him. Then, immediately, he is in a courtroom staring into space. The line is painstakingly drawn. You wonder if twenty years hence, the images may not conjur up the latter.

You can’t get around 2,003 yards on a snowy December day ay Shea Stadium. Close your eyes and there he is on the shoulders of giants; a legend of memory.

If Orenthal James Simpson murdered his wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, then he is a monster. History will tell you it’s not a difficult transition to make, going from hero to monster. But the sports world is, as they say, the toy department. Often we witness the real world come crashing into sports like the terrorist tragedy at the ’72 Olympics, or more recently, the assault on Monica Seles, and the murder of Michael Jordan’s father. But nothing like this. O.J. Simpson is not the victim, but possibly the villain.

Richard Nixon’s passing, with its pomp and plaudits, could not wipe the image of him boarding that helicopter heading for oblivion. All of his accomplishments as a public servant, and his six years as the most powerful man in the free world, sank behind the frozen picture of him resigning in disgrace.

Twenty years later O.J. Simpson is bobbing and weaving through the secondary, reaching the end zone and slowly letting the ball drop behind him. Then, immediately, he is in a courtroom staring into space. The line is painstakingly drawn. You wonder if twenty years hence, the images may not conjur up the latter.

Even writing this, I’m having a problem placing it all into perspective. There is certainly no place in my heart for a murderer. And if O.J. Simpson killed those people, then somewhere along the line he placed his good name somewhere else. Perhaps we 70s’ kids are afraid to look for it.

One thing is for sure, there is little place for the fragile human spirit in distant memories. Just a hero running a football across the end zone.

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Mike Tyson Sits While Boxing Waits ‘s report on the state of boxing with Mike Tyson in jail.

North County 6/15/94

TYSON SITS WHILE BOXING WAITS

Mike TysonLast Monday a court in Indiana denied former Heavyweight Champion, Mike Tyson a year reprieve on his six-year sentence for rape. Rumors from the Hoosier state had a deal worked out to pay accuser, Desiree Washington a cool $1.5 million, sealed with the obligatory apology for the fiesty pugilist’s actions. These rumors died hard under the stoic jurisdiction of judge, Patricia Gifford, who told Mr. Tyson under no circumstances will he walk until after his time is up in May of 1995.

According to a blurb in the June 13 issue of Sports Illustrated, Tyson’s considerable fortunes have dwindled so much under the mismanagement of promoter, Don King that he would’ve had to pay Washington in installments.

Things have gotten so bad between King and Tyson you can hear every promoter in boxing fumbling for their bloated check books now. The future of the game may just rest on the shoulders of an ex-con.

Tyson’s name hangs like a dark cloud over the world of professional boxing. The heavyweight division has not been the same without him. Not unlike when Muhammed Ali was stripped of his title in the 1960s’, every current champ hears the inevitable: “Tyson would kill this guy.” Before losing his title recently, Evander Holyfield said he would hold off retirement to shut the critics up. He would wait until, “the man gets out.”

This is either a legitimate discussion on the legend of Tyson or a knock on the weakness of the heavies in this age of prize fighting. You’d have to go with the latter. Although Iron Mike was one of the most feared men to ever enter the square circle, his decline began a half-decade ago with a startling defeat to Buster Douglas. Douglas got fat and complacent. Holyfield sent him away. And Tyson found big trouble outside the ring.

Before the rape charges, there were alleged wife beatings, car crashes, and fist fights in the streets of New York at all hours of the night. Tyson was a combustible case, and his involvement with the maniacal publicity machine that is Don King did not help. It became the chic analysis to blame Tyson’s troubles on King and the lack of discipline in his camp; but it was merely a smoke screen for a man out of control. Sooner or later the buck stops at the source. See the Kurt Cobain suicide or Jennifer Capriati drug arrest for more recent examples of the young, rich, and lost.

As long as Mike Tyson sits, so does the sport. No one clamoring for the incarcerated ex-champ have a thing to do with his irreparable behavior, but they’re doing the time along with him.

A case could be made that Tyson’s life was saved the night he refused Desiree Washington’s cries for him to stop. He was a street kid with a raw talent being exploited by people he hardly knew. People who would not allow their meal ticket to see the reality of his brutish existence, the same people who currently fight to set him free in order to crank up the ol’ gravy train again. And as much as they hate to admit it, the lords of boxing are counting the days.

Tyson embodies everything that is good, bad, and ugly about the brutal sport of boxing. He thrives in it because he’s not only a fearless punching machine in the ring, but the essence of terror outside of it. Many compare him to the late Sonny Liston, who was once the most feared man in the game. Even the greasy scum commissioners were afraid of Liston, of what he might do while holding their championship belt. Years after losing the title, with hints of foul play and mob connections, Liston was found lying in his apartment stone dead. Drugs? Angry enemies? There are still questions. The same questions they could be asking about Mike Tyson.

Boxing has been the sanctuary for the social fringe and angry street thugs. It has also helped many to overcome a life of crime and self-loathing. The Italian and Irish ghettos of the first half of this century, and the Black and Hispanic ghettos of the past 40 years, have produced men who rose above their plight. The names are not as important as the sport they helped create.

My grandfather, Bartolomeo Martignetti, built an identity as an American through boxing in the late-twenties. It was an identity he could not escape until his death. He was lucky to live as long as he did. Most men with the guts and angst of the street burn fast.

The Heavyweight Champion of the World is some guy named Michael Moorer. He out-boxed Holyfield, and then turned around to wonder if he would quit. This is not the attitude that the sport needs to sell tickets or create excitement.

Once, not too long ago, there was a man who held the belts with a ferocity of an evil warrior. That man was one cash deal and a court decision away from becoming a boxing reality. As long as Mike Tyson sits, so does the sport. No one clamoring for the incarcerated ex-champ have a thing to do with his irreparable behavior, but they’re doing the time along with him.

There are several scenes in Spike Lee’s monumental film, Do The Right Thing in which the side of a building looms over the action. Under the fading image of Iron Mike is an inscription that reads: “Brooklyn’s own Mike Tyson.” It is that faded image that looms over the future of heavyweight boxing now. Last Monday the world at large spoke in a small courtroom in Indiana.

Boxing must wait.

Mike Tyson is not done paying for his sins.

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N.Y. Rangers Win the Stanley Cup!

North County 6/8/94

ZEN OF THE PUCK – RANGERS ON THE BRINK OF LOST GLORY

Mark MessierThe New York Rangers are not just a professional hockey team. To their fastidious and undying fandom, it is a way of life. Not even the nomadic Dead Heads could claim such maniacal allegiance. And now, with only mere days to erase 53 curse-filled years of treachery and despair, there will be no reining them in. That suck of air you hear is the collective buildup to the eventual outpouring of breath in a sigh of unified relief. The Broadway Blueshirts are about to win Lord’s Stanley Cup.

This phenomenon cannot be explained in a short newspaper column by a novice sports sufferer. But it is my folly to try.

“A way of life” for most people outside of the improbable world of sports is defined by the delicate attempt to understand their existence on earth. The Ranger fan never asks why their considerable hearts have been subjected to countless seasons on the brink. In some cases it is handed down through generations, or perhaps culled from a sense of empathy for the underdog. Some people root for the Rangers the same way we grew up rooting for Ralph Kramden to finally make his first million on one of his hair-brained schemes. It is a normal human condition to hope for the impossible. Pray for the improbable.

Eastern philosophies deal in the simplicity of nature, as in Taoism or Confucius. But there is nothing simple about being a fan of a team that has dropped more shoes than Buster Brown on his worst day. In fact, only the cynicism of Nietzsche could begin to contemplate the intricacies of the Ranger fan. But not even good ol’ Plato could grasp the ramblings of the guy I saw praying before a lit candle, while gripping Rosary beads, balancing himself atop an abandoned pool table during the first overtime of Game 7 against the feisty New Jersey Devils at the End Zone Sports Bar.

Mere seconds before a trip to the finals. Overtime for a chance at all the marbles. It had not been a series for the weak-kneed or faint of heart. There was a revolving door on the bandwagon throughout; and when the Rangers were down by two goals, trailing three games to two, the grim memory of play-off’s past began to surface. To the untrained eye, this was a minor annoyance on the road to greater things for the team with the best overall regular-season record. But to that guy, sequestered on the pool table with a fist full of beads, it was HERE WE GO AGAIN.

But captain, Mark Messier had promised a win and delivered. Shades of Joe Namath in Miami, he rang the bell in hat trick fashion and forced a final game. He was rightfully lauded as the hero of the moment, but only the moment. Messier was summoned from the cup-happy Edmonton Oilers for this very reason; bring home the hardware to Madison Square Garden. He’s been here for four years, but he might as well have been here a week; because a Ranger fan’s memory is long, and there have been false saviors before.

Suffering is not a right of passage or badge of honor for the Ranger fan, it’s about being there when the suffering stops.

For more than half a century there have been promises broken and miracles unfulfilled. Those who have spent any part of it have been reminded through song, story and signs displaying those four hollow digits that ring true and hollow: 1940. That was the last time the Rangers won a Stanley Cup. For those with a loose grip on history, that’s eleven presidents, a World War and a Baby Boomer generation ago. Hockey was not a big thing then. The Rangers played no home games in that series. The circus was in town.

In fact, the last time a New York hockey team from the island of Manhattan had gotten close to the elusive prize was in 1979. It was the year of the Fonz on the tube and John Davidson in goal. The Rangers lead the finals 1-0, and built a two goal lead in game two. Those faithful still able to muster the courage to recall say their heroes did not win another shift. The Montreal Canadiens won yet another Stanley Cup. For Ranger fans, the wait painfully continued.

But the fans kept plodding on, throughout several declines and rebuildings. Two years ago the Rangers had the best record in the NHL, and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two of the post season. The Penguins, like the ’79 Canadiens, or the ’72 Boston Bruins for that matter, were the better team; but this year’s model is the best chance this century can offer. After all, this is a team that quit down the stretch of last season and failed to even make the play-offs. However, when the hockey year commenced, the fans were cheering as if the future of mankind hung in the balance.

Baseball’s Boston Red Sox have not won a World Series in 76 years, but their fans seem to revel in the disappointment. There have been books and films exonerating the utter torment and resiliency of the Beantown faithful. No such fanfare surrounding Ranger fans. You get the feeling if the Red Sox ever win, their fans will no longer be on the map. Ranger fans would be happy to leave that map. Suffering is not a right of passage or badge of honor for the Ranger fan, it’s about being there when the suffering stops.

Perhaps this week it finally does. Maybe the demons under the ice are felled and sent crawling back to wherever they came from. It’s always been about the glory of BELIEF. It is the life blood of the Ranger fan; a whole separate way of life. I call it the Zen of the Puck; a combination of hockey and Buddhist philosophy centered around the enlightenment of intuition. Webster’s dictionary defines intuition as “ a direct perception of truth or fact, independent of any reasoning process.”

There is no reason to believe the improbable, except when you’re a Rangers fan with a dream of having your heroes sipping from the Stanley Cup. It’s been a long time between drinks. Fill it up for the faithful.

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Violence in Sports ‘s hard-hitting demand to clean up sportsmanship.

North County 5/25/94

VIOLENCE IN SPORTS

The violent nature in sports today must stop. It has reached the saturation point, and is getting uglier by the incident. The chance for those in charge to quell the rise of this behavior is fleeting; and the only way to prevent serious injury, irreversible damage, or even a law suit that could shake the foundation of a league, is to stop it completely.

There is hardly a day that goes by without a disgusting display of poor sportsmanship and childish machismo that results in a rampageous fight or all-out brawl. The evening highlight shows are filled with these incidents; and although the well-meaning talking heads tell you how awful it all is, their attention inadvertently sanctions this behavior.

Toughness and heart is one thing; but it’s beyond that now, and there is an underlying fear among league officials of amateur and pro sports that this spreading disease is incurable. Fines and suspensions are tantamount to putting a band aid on a gaping wound. It’s time to stop the bleeding for good.

It’s time for the leagues, the NCAA, and even the Athletic Directors at High Schools everywhere to step in and stop it now. At some point, before it’s too late, some player committing a violent act during a game must be punished severally. Someone must become an example.

College and pro football defensive backs standing over the prone body of a felled opponent, wagging their fingers down at him. Hockey defensemen swinging their sticks at the back of an unsuspecting winger’s head. Major League pitchers using the baseball as a weapon, promoting mound-rushing mayhem. Useless trash talking and taunting after nearly every foul and basket in the NBA. This has got to come to an abrupt halt. Something bad is going to happen soon. Real bad.

Two rounds of NBA play-offs, and every game has some sort of altercation. Some have led to bench-clearing brawls like in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, and most recently in the always vicious Bulls/Knicks rivalry in Chicago. The sight of benches-clearing bodies flailing into the crowd with security guards and police rushing in is all too familiar.

If the league wants to let play-off basketball run its course and sanction a “let ‘em play” attitude, then they can expect this problem to escalate. Watching a good, rough-and-tumble pro basketball game used to be fun. But slowly it has become a series of personal battles for manhood and territory. The league calls it a “heated reaction to big-game pressure,” but in reality it is a drop in the quality of play. There is simply too many players with big egos, and bigger mouths, pushing each other over the edge.

The NHL once reached that edge, but within the last couple of years the league has taken a tougher stance on stick work and “third man in” fights. In fact, there have been twice as many embarrassing incidents in basketball, a proposed “non-contact sport,” than in the world’s most violent one. Twenty years ago, hockey had deteriorated into a bloody fight fest where only the biggest and meanest could survive. It wasn’t until the league realized that a star like Wayne Gretzky had to be protected. Only then did the slow cleanup begin. It may have saved the sport.

The most inexcusable trend in bench-clearing brawls these days occurs too often in baseball. During the last two seasons the amount of fights on the diamond have been unprecedented. The art of pitching inside is dead, because even a close call ends up causing a mass of bodies piled up in the middle of the field. Baseball itself has its share of taunting, with hitters admiring their home runs and trotting slowly around the bases. Pitchers retaliate by knocking batters down or staring down their strikeout victims. More macho garbage.

The participants can no longer carry the burden of controlling themselves. The policies and officiating have given them enough rope, and they continue to hang themselves with it. The coaches and managers are no help. They will take the rules as they are, and try to exploit them. During the Bulls/Knicks series, New York head coach, Pat Riley, a man who ten years ago cried foul when the Boston Celtics were pushing his team around, sent his muscle men onto the court to intimidate Phil Jackson, who had four different centers use six fouls to bang Patrick Ewing all over the place. The Bulls coach then spent the entire series whining that the Knicks were too physical. Finding a way to bend the rules is part of coaching. To expect these men to take a stand is laughable.

It’s time for the leagues, the NCAA, and even the Athletic Directors at High Schools everywhere to step in and stop it now. At some point, before it’s too late, some player committing a violent act during a game must be punished severally. Someone must become an example.

Books by James Campion are available on this web site or at Amazon & Barnes & Nobleclick to order

Any player leaving the bench must be penalized, and not just with a huge fine, but a lengthy suspension and a warning of expulsion. Nobody wants to lose a job, or scholarship, or current standing on the team. Owners of franchises must pay through the nose as well. Slap a monster fine on an organization for one of these riots, and just watch things calm down.

It is a violent society in which we live; and the world of sports sometimes reflects it all too clearly. It is a frightening picture coming into focus. The time has come to put the brakes on, before it’s too late.

Sports may have always been about toughness and heart. Being tough and being stupid is the difference here. And allowing stupidity to stand in the place of toughness is the problem.

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