End Of The Remarkable Joe Torre Era

Aquarian Weekly 10/24/07 REALITY CHECK

END OF AN ERA Joe Torre Concludes The Most Successful Tenure In New York Sports

Joe TorreFor nearly ten consecutive days the biggest story in the biggest city on the planet involved the most celebrated and popular sports franchise in the world, the New York Yankees, and their long-time manager, Joe Torre. Would he stay or would he go? Fired? Retired? Retained? Replaced? It went on for long days of nationwide speculation, dwarfing what is left of baseball’s snooze-fest post season. Everyone weighed in from politicians to celebrities to figures from every sport: Great or overrated? Irreplaceable or a product of talent and payroll? Focal point of success or recipient of it?

Torre eventually decided to go, turning down the Yankees’ low-ball offer after his team, with the biggest stars and the largest payroll in the game, was bounced from the first round of the play-offs for a third consecutive year. I say lowball with tongue jammed firmly in cheek since the Yankees insanely paid Torre $7 million a year for the previous three when the next highest paid manager was getting 3.5 mil, and then after that good luck if you get one mil.

Then again, this is the big bad New York Yankees, richest, most famous team with the richest most famous players. When they play home they are the toast of the town, the hottest ticket and the best story. When they go on the road it is the Rolling Stones, as teams averaging just around 20,000 a game watch their attendance nearly triple. They have their own television network, posh Manhattan stores, and scouting battalions in countries all over the globe.

So maybe the Yankees never needed Joe Torre, despite the fact that only two teams owning the top 10 payrolls over his 12-year tenor, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox, have won a title, with the exception, of course, of Torre’s Yankees.

But before Joe Torre managed the Yankees he was a mediocre skipper with mostly mediocre records for three different franchises. Despite being a baseball lifer and a damned good player, Torre had gone decades in all kinds of jobs without ever participating in a World Series, while the Yankees pretty much invented the thing. Now, after reaching the Fall Classic half the time he was here, Torre has become the wealthiest man to ever manage baseball, a shoo-in Hall Of Famer, and a beloved New York icon with nationwide respect. Recently a Newsweek poll listed him number two behind Michael Jordan as the sports figure most capable to be president of the United States.

Maybe Torre just had good timing and fit the mold, much like another successful Yankees manager, Casey Stengel, who also went from mediocre to Hall of Famer by donning the pinstripes. But then maybe in an age of wild free agency, revenue sharing, luxury tax, three-tier play-off series, and increased competitiveness (no World Series Champion since Torre’s 2000 club has even won a post season game the following year, much less repeated) there is something remarkable about this guy. Simply put, for the 12 years Joe Torre held sway over the Yankees fortunes, no one in any business or holding any position of authority anywhere had a better run.

And don’t give me Bill Gates after that Vista disaster.

While presidents were lying under oath and presiding over an attack on our soil and then feeding us into Middle Eastern meat grinders, and doomed Fortune 500 companies were being run into financial oblivion by carney grifters, Joe Torre was presiding over an unprecedented streak of success, as the product he helmed soared into one of the most lucrative and unstoppable cash machines known to modern capitalism.

While presidents were lying under oath and presiding over an attack on our soil and then feeding us into Middle Eastern meat grinders, and doomed Fortune 500 companies were being run into financial oblivion by carney grifters, Joe Torre was presiding over an unprecedented streak of success, as the product he helmed soared into one of the most lucrative and unstoppable cash machines known to modern capitalism.

There has never been a better stretch of dominance in my lifetime, not in New York sports, and I dare say the likes of which will never be repeated.

Since the day Torre took command of the Yankees, who at that time had not won a division title in 15 seasons or a World Series for 18 – the longest such stretch for a franchise with 26 titles – the team reached the play-offs each season. Of those 12 winning campaigns Torre compiled 10 Division titles, including nine consecutive, six American League pennants, and four World Championships, including a three-peat from 1998 to 2000.

Pretty good, huh?

Just getting warmed up.

From 1996 through 2001 the Yankees won a ridiculous 54 post season games and lost only 19, including going 22-3 in ’98 and ’99, capping off the last decade of a century in which the franchise ended up winning a quarter of the World Series played. In 2000 the team won the first Subway Series in a generation and in 1998 posted an astounding 125-50 a record that will doubtless stand the test of time as the greatest ever.

Not bad, right? Hold on a second.

When Torre showed up in 1996 the Yankees had hired 13 different managers over a 23 year period, some of them twice and the famously soused Billy Martin five times. Most of those men were canned by loose-cannon owner, George Steinbrenner after mere weeks on the job. Torre lasted 12 seasons.

Despite decades of unrivaled success with some of the most legendary names to ever play the sport, by ’96 the team had never drawn three million fans during a season. The last eight seasons the Yankees have lead the entire league in attendance averaging well over three million and the last two well over four million.

And in the spring of 1996, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were highly prized prospects, which meant they were likely to languish in the minors behind high-priced has-beens before being traded for more over-priced dead weight. Now they are both multi-millionaires going to the Hall Of Fame possessing nearly half the post-season records worthy of owning.

But this is New York and these are the Yankees, and the glory days always seem so far away. The team still wins and occasionally challenges for a title, but there has not been one in seven years, and that apparently is enough to lose the most cherished on-field general gig in a city where the other head coaches and managers have had a much tougher decade. In fact, no other New York team has won a championship since Torre hit town.

In the end though, beyond the winning and money, for the past 12 years the Yankees achieved a level of admiration never reached before. Maybe in the past they were respected and feared and envied and definitely hated, but during the Torre Era the franchise became a brand again, a symbol of professionalism and grandeur, mystique and class, in victory and defeat. Beyond those who will always just hate the Yanks for being the Yanks, the previous smugness, rancor, condescension, and occasional turmoil of the Yankees turned almost lovably corporate, if there is such an animal.

So in the end both team and manager needed each other, because neither is likely to see this kind of crazy winning and cash windfall again.

It was an unlikely fairytale ride for Torre and the Yankees, and I will recall it fondly as a fan and a reporter, from inside the clubhouse to the upper deck, to late night champagne celebrations to dogged defeats, and my dad will always have the photograph Joe signed to him when they were both battling cancer at the same time. My father sure didn’t forget. Last week when I asked James V., a Bronx native and longtime rooter, to weigh in on the Torre proceedings, he said with no hesitation, “If the Yankees offer him a dime less he should walk.”

Thus, the end of an era.

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Trouble With The North County News

Aquarian Weekly 9/6/06 REALITY CHECK

HOOLIGANS IN THE PRESS ROOM The Systematic Assassination of a Westchester Institution

Disturbing news trickled into the Reality Check News & Information Desk last week. A good friend and colleague of mine, and one of my sports editors during the early 90s, Ray Gallagher was unceremoniously sacked from the North County News. After 17 years of tireless efforts over countless hours of shedding significant light on athletes, coaches, programs, and schools in the Westchester, NY area, he was asked to leave with no warning or vacation or sick time earned.

The company reason?

The conflict of a second job working for the Putnam Valley Parks & Recreation Department, a post Gallagher has held with pride and care for the past five years. A job he takes seriously to help the kids he will cover in the coming years achieve their dreams in athletics, and one, let’s face it, he had to get to supplement the atrociously low compensation accompanying a hard-working local sports editor.

The real reason?

Perhaps the ultimate demise of the small town weekly to save a buck or sate an ego.

Whatever the reason, seems the razing of the staff with little-to-no compensation is more the norm than the exception at the North County News these days.

Be that as it may, this unconscionable crime against not only quality sports journalism, (NY State award winner for best weekly sports section 15 of the 17 years Gallagher helmed it) but the toil and sweat of a dedicated community hero cannot stand. In my many years in sports journalism – a despicable trade inhabited by sub-mental sops and sad-sack gambling addicts – I never met a writer with more integrity and guts than Ray. I was proud to work for him, know him, and most importantly, read him.

Gallagher’s struggles to help bring high school sports to Putnam County and the selfless campaign to help make the high school a reality and making sure all the area kids were well-equipped and respected in and around the varied sections should have garnered him a statue, instead of this apparent dime-store flim-flammery perpetuated by cheap hacks and scurrilous purveyors of yellow schmaltz.

So if destroying a wonderful newspaper like the North County News is the goal, than the powers that be are accomplishing their mission with dizzying speed. But if the goal is to improve content by stomping out the talent, then these people are even stupider than they appear.

Admittedly, I consider Ray a friend, and I tend to view most publishers and other literary vipers as mutating forms of a bilious disease oozing over the damaged organism known as journalism. So I’m biased. But then I set out to interview another former member of the NCN staff on an unrelated subject. Before resigning from the paper this week, uber-scribe Rita J. King backed up Gallagher’s allegations of megalomaniacal bullying performed by new publisher, Bruce Apar.

“Every publication has room for improvement, and when I found out a publisher had been hired, I looked forward to the changes that would take place,” King recalls. “But Bruce Apar’s treatment of the North County News staff, supported by the company’s management, was dehumanizing, and resulted in a round of immediate terminations and resignations.”

According to other reliable sources within the paper’s staff – many of whom either fear for their jobs or have since abandoned ship – Apar, along with general manager Carla Chase, appear to be systematically, if not clumsily, attempting to “drag the paper into the ground as some kind of write-off.”

“Someone should write about this,” one source told me last week. “Because this is really about the death of the hometown newspaper.”

Okay, so maybe the paper is taking a financial beating and needs to clean house. I understand this. Business is business. Sometimes a fine magazine or newspaper is trashed for the bottom line. I’m a big boy. Ray’s a big boy. But why refuse to pay the man his due or take the low road by not allowing Gallagher to say goodbye to many of his faithful readers or demand he return his laptop and camera equipment as if he were a common thief? And why did they remove his archives from their web site as if he never existed?

We don’t know, because several calls to the paper, and specifically Mr.Apar, have gone unanswered. But Apar is apparently only a symptom of a greater problem inside a once proud local institution. According to several former employees, the spate of staff harassment has been an inherent part of working for the NCN in recent years.

“The PR director relishes firing people,” a high-ranking official at the paper told me this week. “Apar isn’t doing anything they don’t support in Human Resources and at the top levels of the company.”

Does this include dumping employees on flimsy grounds and withholding benefits?

“I might have better understood their actions if they had been professional about it, but they were just plain mean spirited,” Gallagher told me this week. “My dismissal couldn’t have been on economic grounds; I increased the circulation of that newspaper by the thousands when I decided to expand the coverage area from six high schools to 14 from 1996 to 2000, despite an increased workload for my staff.”

King also felt the flak she endured was of dubious merit.

“Apar didn’t want to run one my columns because he found it too ‘self-referential,’ and he made it clear that all writers will follow his editorial philosophy,” King told me. “Yet the newspaper that week was full of his own self-references, including in the editorial section and in the form of two large photographs. With such contradictions riddling his ‘editorial philosophy’, it was impossible to know what was expected of us.”

After extensive discussions with several present and former employees of the paper a rather odious string of events began to emerge, not the least of which are the alleged demotions from full-time to part-time positions and/or the outright firing of employees to avoid providing their health benefits.

Again, despite numerous inquires on these allegations to the North County News management, nary a response.

But no response is necessary, right? They can do whatever they want. It’s their paper. If anything illegal or unethical has been done, one hopes action will be taken and reparations would be in order. Otherwise you can make up any old reason to drop someone. No one is owed anything. No one is entitled to be treated fairly. Fairness is illusion. Lord knows I’ve earned a living in this miserable vocation long enough to realize that.

But if the business is news, and the enterprise is a media outlet, whether the NY Times or a hometown weekly, than the public needs to know how the business is being run. The public needs to know that the reporters, columnists, and photographers who work the community to the best of their ability are being treated shoddily and that the quality of the coverage and writing is taking a backseat to cutting costs or some base form of insane egomania.

So if destroying a wonderful newspaper like the North County News is the goal, than the powers that be are accomplishing their mission with dizzying speed. But if the goal is to improve content by stomping out the talent, then these people are even stupider than they appear. And that’s the problem with management types, they think they’re the paper because they sign the checks or make the rules. But there isn’t a publishing cretin on this planet that could turn a phrase or cover a story or capture an opinion with all the hissy office tantrums in the world – not without a dedicated staff.

I say let the NCN crumble. It wouldn’t be the first time the ham-fisted wannabees wrecked a good thing, and it won’t be the last.

Ray Gallagher may be out of a gig for now, but he’s still the best damn sportswriter in Westchester County. He just does it now from his new web site, www.yourdirectrays.com or a competing newspaper soon, instead of a doomed rag run by low-rent goons.

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Asterisk Nation – Dan Bern

Aquarian Weekly 3/15/06 REALITY CHECK Guest Columnist – Dan Bern

ASTERISK NATION Look In The Mirror, It’s Barry Bonds

Barry BondsHaving already beaten this particular lifeless steed into oblivion some 13 months ago, almost to the day, I decided to place a call into the badlands and rile up my brother-in-arms, Dan Bern. The man this space affectionately anointed The Admiral some years ago has become my favorite songwriter, author of a damn fine book I helped fashion to some degree, and an award-winning sports columnist. But I didn’t call on him for any of those reasons. The man loves Barry Bonds. True love. Unconditional amore. Sick. Unwavering. Enviable.

This week Sports Illustrated printed excerpts from a book due later this month by San Francisco Chronicle scribes that details Bonds jacking himself with every known steroid to modern man for some seven years. This has caused a furor among baseball purists who want his miraculous 2001 single-season home run record of 73 to be stricken from the record, or, if possible, place an asterisk next to his name in the all-time list, of which Bonds is fast approaching number two with a bullet.

But for Bern, the SF Giants are his team, and Bonds, his man. He will follow both into the bowels of hell, an offer he once proffered to me after a night of too many in the desert. I might take him up on it some day. For now, he gets the floor.

jc

 

So you want to put an asterisk after his name. Fine. Put an asterisk after his name. As long as his name’s still up there, put anything you want after it. Barry Bonds.* Or is it Barry Bonds*. Asterisk then period, or period then asterisk? I think the last one’s right. Asterisk then period.

Why does it have to be an asterisk? How about an ampersand? Barry Bonds&.

Barry Bonds%.

Barry Bonds@.

That looks pretty good. Barry Bonds@.

What did he do, really? Violate a drug policy that was never in effect? You know he looked at McGwire in ’98, with bovine calves, and figured, man. If that big ox can take whatever he’s taking and hit 70, what would a truly great player hit? Namely me? Barry Bonds^. Not bad.

Barry Bonds^, Rafael Palmeiro^ and Jose Canseco^.

How about the senators who led the grand inquisition? How about the Zoloft, Ativan, Prozac, Levitra in their veins when they’re legislating? Do they get asterisks, too?

John McCain*. Elizabeth Dole*. Tom Delay**:{&!

In fifteen years, when genetic engineering really gets going, steroids are going to look like Chicklets.

Where do we draw the line? What is not a performance-enhancing substance? Contact lenses? Double frappuccino? Viagra? Bee Pollen? Gatorade? One-a-Day? In fifteen years, when genetic engineering really gets going, steroids are going to look like Chicklets. And what about Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi’s kids? Isn’t that genetic engineering? Isn’t that a little unfair? Don’t those kids needs asterisks, too?

Barry Bonds#.

Barry Bonds$. Hmm. Maybe that’s too attractive. Everybody’s gonna want one. From here, the whole thing looks like Smoke Screen Central. War bad, economy bad, popularity numbers bad-how’s about a Steroid Scandal! Let’s get Bonds-no one likes him anyway! Let’s get him before he gets the home run record away from Ruth. What? Ruth doesn’t hold the record anymore? Who? Aaron? Well….at least he was a nice boy….

Barry Bonds+. Yeah. No kidding.

Barry Bonds=. Wow. Wonder what’s on the other side of that.

Barry Bonds;. Kinda cool. A semi-colon. You’re always stopping sentences, making them pause before they can continue. That Bonds;–he always makes you take a breath.

The Steroids Era. I can kinda buy it. Like the Dead Ball Era, the Ruth Era, the War Years.

The Steroids Era. 1986 (Canseco’s* Rookie Year) – 2004 (inclusive). The Steroids Era saw monstrous home run totals and equally monstrous physiques. The Steroids Era saw Brady Anderson* hit 50, Greg Vaughn* hit 50, Luis Gonzalez* hit 50. McGwire* hit 50 four years running, Sosa* hit 60 three out of four years. McGwire* hit 70 and Barry Bonds* hit 73. Ken Caminiti* died.

Maybe if I were trying to get the big guy out, I’d be more worked up about Bonds*. But from what I hear, a lot of the pitchers were juicing, too. The guys who were doing it invariably say, “It just maximizes my workouts. I recover faster.” Which is pretty much what the guys who take Vitamin C say. Of course, the guys who don’t take steroids (or who haven’t gotten caught) say other things: “He’s superhuman. His hat grew three sizes.”

Maximizing my workouts, assuming I’m working out, sounds pretty good to me. Heck, half the stuff, they advertise on the radio late at night. “Human growth hormone.” Wow. That sounds pretty good. Honey, can I get that? And The Cream and The Clear, can I get that too?

The Cream* and The Clear*. It sounds so, well, clear. They aren’t even pills. You just rub it on your skin. That sounds nice. Kind of like a nicotine patch. And how about that? Isn’t that cheating? Shouldn’t you have to quit smoking without artificial enhancements? Shouldn’t nicotine patch people have an asterisk, too?

Or if you’ve had a flu shot? Two hundred years ago they didn’t have flu shots. They just died. Without your flu shot, you’d be dead. Shouldn’t you have an asterisk, too? How are we supposed to compare actuarial tables from 1806 with actuarial tables from 2006*?

All right, kids. Enough. Have a great Cialis* weekend. Enjoy your asterisk-less existence while you can. Today they come for Barry Bonds*. Tomorrow they come for you*.

db

Dan Bern is the author of “World Cup – A Sort of Diary” and “Quitting Science by Cunliffe Merriwether”. Some of his recordings include “New American Language”, “Fifty Eggs” and “Fleeting Days”. He has a new one due out this year and will be performing at Carnegie Hall on 4/22.

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Steroids In Baseball

Aquarian Weekly 2/23/05 REALITY CHECK

EVERYTHING WE WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT STEROIDS…BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

Bloated BarryI’ve spent more time in Major League clubhouses than most people not garnering a full-time paycheck to either play the game or cover it. And I predominantly did so during what is fast being noted as the Golden Age of Steroids: 1988 to late 1994, before the great fiscal implosion when whiney owners cried poverty and greedy players harrumphed all the way to closing down the season. There was a lot of joking about “the juice” back then. Kind of a locker-room jock thing you sometimes overhear, because you’re there. That’s the nut of journalism, a professor once told me. “Half the battle is just being there,” he would say. And I was.

I talked City Lights bookstore with Will Clark, listened to Guns N’ Roses with Don Mattingly, and conversed on hitting, food, films, and fashion with George Brett, Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn. I chatted with Ken Griffey jr. about rap music and sports cars while Randy Johnson put his fist through a wall. I watched Lenny Dykstra nearly take a clubhouse boy’s head off with a nine iron. I did lunch with Rickey Henderson, whom I more than suspected had a crush on my girlfriend. I was even snubbed by Cal Ripken jr., David Justice and Nolan Ryan all in the same week.

Those were the fun moments in an otherwise highly competitive media circus. It wasn’t the good old days when sportswriters went “slumming” with athletes, as my friend Roger Kahn used to call it, but it seemed by the late 90s’ when I meandered back for a few seasons in the capacity of a radio reporter there was more of a lockdown on players. This was when the evolution of steroid and “performance enhancement” drugs had taken the game’s brightest talent and turned them into Greek gods, smashing baseballs and records all over the place. By then, no one joked anymore. And they sure ain’t joking now.

In the glaring light of the BLACO investigation, which provided evidence that Barry Bonds was a human chemical spill, leaked grand jury testimony from Jason Giambi, a grandstanding Senate hearing, recent FBI testimony from a decade-long investigation, spanking new revelations from Bonds’ chippy and a sensationalistic tell-all tome penned in part by recidivist goon, Jose Conseco, there has been an outcry from fans and the media to “clean up the game”.

Thing is everyone knew about steroids for a long time. The players damn well knew. The aforementioned Rickey Henderson told me the entire Oakland Athletics team laughingly dubbed the monstrous Conseco “The Bionic Cuban”, and in a more public display the late Ken Caminiti announced to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci that he won the National League MVP award jacked to the tits on steroids. The owners knew too. Of course they knew. They had plenty of inside information and a slew of photos of bars and girls and the other off-the-field recreations of their multi-million dollar investments. Why wouldn’t they know? And as much as they loathe admitting it, the media jock-sniffers knew as well. But they were too busy falling over themselves to either worship or slander these poor bastards they covered that they ignored the obvious signs. Ignored or chose to ignore for the paycheck.

These are facts, not paranoid rantings. Look at the recent unprecedented explosion of power hitting numbers since the mid-90s’, which rivals the “Live Ball Era” in the way that this is the “Live Player Era”

The last thing I need to read right now is another sanctimonious hack-job by that bleating dwarf Mike Lupica on sadness and outrage when he made a fortune on a book celebrating the McGuire/Sosa home run chase in ’98. What a hypocritical suck ass that moron is.

Unfortunately, for me, I haven’t made a bundle from MLB. I worked for a modest, but award-winning Westchester weekly called the North County News, did some radio and hosted a baseball interview show on local television. So I was more or less free to run around decrying the bloated statistics these freaks were putting up, while my colleagues in the sports media biz like that chickenshit Lupica were calling me a paranoid cynic.

What these people failed to equate was the game’s collective insecurity about failing to compete with the more popular NFL and Michael Jordan’s game. And all the mini-ballparks, jacked balls, and lousy diluted pitching talent seemed to conveniently mask the Herculean offensive numbers that were jumping off the bats of unnaturally huge athletes, the kind of human parade floats that forced pro football to change their policy on steroids a decade earlier.

Hey, when baseball hit its first monetary crisis after the 1919 Black Sox scandal when a mobster called Arnold Rothstein fixed the World Series, the game’s patriarchs, realizing the popular impact of the newly realized home run, livened the ball. This “Live Ball Era”, of which the last Herculean freak Babe Ruth hailed, produced some of the most ridiculous offensive numbers the game has ever seen. Even in the late ’60s’ when pro football began to knock baseball off the America’s Pastime pedestal, the game invented the Designated Hitter, a clamp down on the spitball and lowered the pitching mounds to promote more homers, more runs, more cheering, and bigger heroes.

These are facts, not paranoid rantings. Look at the recent unprecedented explosion of power hitting numbers since the mid-90s’, which rivals the “Live Ball Era” in the way that this is the “Live Player Era”

Only two men ever hit 60 home runs in a season before 1998. From 1927, when Ruth hit 60 homers in a season, to 1961, when a journeyman called Roger Maris hit 61, 37 seasons passed. During that time and until the mid-90s’ only a handful of guys ever hit 50. In fact, only two, maybe three guys hit 50 from ’61 to the mid-90s’. Since then, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and now Barry Bonds have hit 60 or more homers six times. McGuire hit 70 in ’98 and Bonds, who claims to not realize he was taking steroids – and this from a health nut I saw tell a reporter he doesn’t shake hands because of germs in 1991 – hit 73 a few years back. And although I will not pour over the minutia of baseball statistics, I can conservatively say the 50 mark has been reached three dozen or more times during this insane run.

Where was the outrage all along? From fans? From owners? From ESPN? From that lying sack of monkey dung Bud Selig – Commissioner of the Freak Show?

Was this detonation in offensive power all crappy pitching, juiced balls, enhanced workout regimens and advanced vitamin intake?

Consider the plainest testimony of all, believing your eyes. Just look at these men. Look at them in their prime, and look at them in their mid-to-late thirties, and now forties. Can humans gain uncharted muscle mass in months? Can a human being go from a lithe, muscular form to a hulking beast in a few years, while managing to age along the way?

It’s a ridiculous mockery of common sense.

Should a man’s hat size increase while lifting weights? His complexion?

It’s a pathetic joke.

Now everyone is getting righteous and giving speeches and whipping up investigations.

Home runs are fun. Who cares if players are drugged up?

I enjoy the fruits of industry. Who cares if my water supplies are contaminated?

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The NFL Stinks

Aquarian Weekly 1/12/05 REALITY CHECK

THE NFL STINKS What in the Name of Chuck Bednarik is Wrong with Pro Football?

Overrated Peyton ManningThree years ago former NY Giants quarterback Phil Simms told me the National Football League was “rule crazy”. He used those words more than once in an interview I did with him for a national magazine and was reminded of recently when a young woman writing a book needed permission to quote it. She wasn’t interested in the “rule crazy” part per se, but rereading the piece got me thinking about my love of pro football since childhood, then my love of gambling since later in childhood, and then my love of sports writing from my youthful reporter days. All of which has waned considerably.

Simms went on to say that this over-officious jostling of the NFL rulebook was more damaging than over-expansion or free agency or anything sports writers and gamblers are always whining about. I listened to him say it, and say it again, and when I transcribed the thing I more or less ignored it as the ravings of an ex-player, or more precisely an ex-quarterback who could not enjoy the advantages of the fascist penalty restrictions on defensive backs that make nice signal quarters like Peyton Manning get laughably compared to giants like Johnny Unitas or even an incorrigible madman like Injun Joe Kapp, both of whom would have thrown 70 touchdowns in this era.

As it is Manning broke Dan Marino’s single-season mark of 48 with 49 touchdown- passes this season, while his insane offensive brethren trashed half the NFL record book in the gaudy process.

All this complaining by Simms seemed silly in 2001, when defensive backs actually had a point of being on the field, and defensive ends and linebackers could still maim QBs as a job description. Even though when Marino was running amok in the early 80s’ the restrictions on defenses were a joke. Lord knows if Joe Namath’s receivers could run free with no fear of someone like say Jack Tatum paralyzing them for life, he would have thrown 100 TDs in 14 games in the mid-60s’.

Of course, I abstain from comparing Broadway Joe to these milquetoast wanna-be’s today. Namath was a god and the coolest man on the planet. A nerd like Peyton Manning and that Neanderthal behind center for Pittsburgh couldn’t shine Joe Willie’s white shoes or maintain his kind of Herculean liquor consumption while throwing for 4,000 yards in a wind tunnel like Shea Stadium with sadistic beasts like Ted Hendricks and Bubba Smith trying to gouge out his eyes and snap what tendons he had left in his knees after 40 or so operations.

I always promised my contemporaries that I wouldn’t end up being one of these old-timers that wax poetic about grid iron heroes like Frank Gifford, who was also once portrayed as the coolest guy on the planet. He was the 1950s’ All-American poster boy before his unceremonious beheading by a homicidal lunatic called Chuck Bednarik, who late one Sunday afternoon committed one of the most heinous crimes of assault on a playing field in American sports history at Yankee Stadium with my father in attendance, who swore with many of his friends that day a motionless Gifford lie dead on the frozen turf.

Lord knows if Joe Namath’s receivers could run free with no fear of someone like say Jack Tatum paralyzing them for life, he would have thrown 100 TDs in 14 games in the mid-60s’.

But Gifford was not dead. And neither is Peyton Manning the best quarterback ever, regardless of what these hipster comedians at ESPN’s Teenage Boy Central scream. And, by the way, apparently I lied about not complaining that “in my day” blah blah blah.

After awhile everyone who once loved the purity of sports learns that the blindness of point spreads is severe. Paying attention to the nuances of the game, the little things, this “game of inches” these vacuous suits are always wailing about in the television booths are lost on the hard-core gambler. For years I was one of them. I hardly noticed the quality decline of overall play. I paid attention to the numbers, the dollar signs. This year I decided to lay off the action. Be responsible with my money and spend it on booze and antique furniture.

This was a mistake.

It’s not unlike the Grateful Dead fan who had stopped doing acid long enough to realize the band sucked or people suddenly seeing Paris Hilton as an insufferable dummy.

Reality bites. I heard someone say that on a subway once. It wasn’t Phil Simms, and it damn sure wasn’t Joe Willie.

But the fact is the NFL is damn near unwatchable.

Did you know that defensive players could no longer hit another with their helmet? Or smack a quarterback in the head with any part of their appendages? Did you also know that covering a receiver downfield means merely running alongside of him until he burns past you with ungodly speed and scores another in a long series of touchdowns that break every record imaginable?

Americans love scoring, sex, violence, and fried food.

Sigmund Freud said that. It was either Freud or John Poindexter, who was Reagan’s national security adviser and a huge pro football gambler. He was well known for jacking off to Washington Redskins broadcasts. This was the 80s’; the Skins were good and rich guys masturbated hourly. Poindexter used football axioms to smear all sorts of trouble on The Gipper. But Reagan survived to play another down, because Poindexter was a team player and spent six months in prison for “defrauding the government”.

Poindexter and Freud were well aware of human nature and big-time pro sports. But they didn’t respect the game. The vile, pointless beauty of the game. Not this video game, flag-football, beer-keg version the suits on Park Avenue tell you is the NFL.

This is bullshit, like the replay rule or the two-point conversion, which has rendered NFL head coaches impotent and silly. They don’t have enough to worry about? They have to be mathemeticians and officals? Meanwhile we sit and listen to John Madden describe the same images over and over again like the denoument of Chinese Water Torture.

And what the fuck is this 8-8 teams winning divisions? I know we celebrate the mediocrity of our presidents in this country, but pro teams coming in at even get to call themselves winners? Total, umitigated bullshit. And I won’t accept it. I don’t have to accept it. Our boys are dying in Iraq for this?

I’ll wager on it.

But I don’t have to like it.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Pete Rose Damaged

Aquarian Weekly 1/14/04 REALITY CHECK

BY ANY OTHER NAME Pete Rose 14 Years Too Late

Pete RoseA brand new year rings in a spanking new Non-Story Story: Pete Rose publicly admits to something his signature admitted to 14 years ago; he placed bets on Major League Baseball games, many of which he managed. Regardless of his vehement denials since, it was that very same signature which effectively ended his association with the only profession he’d known. A more incriminating piece of evidence for his crime is hard to fathom.

But we needed to hear it from him, didn’t we. All the while it was “as long as Rose admits to it, he will be forgiven, allowed back into the game and eligible for the long-awaited trip to baseball’s Hall of Fame.”

Inexplicably we were supposed to believe that it was Rose’s obstinate claims of “innocent victim” that made him the game’s villain, not compromising the integrity of his sport by blatantly ignoring Rule 21 in the first place. Prominently displayed in both English and Spanish on every Major League Baseball clubhouse door, it states: “Any player, umpire or club or league official or employee who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball games in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

And so now 14 years later The Non-Story Story finally ends The Pete Rose Betting On Baseball Controversy, which was only a controversy for Rose, those on his payroll, the sycophantic nerds who chant “Charlie Hustle!” over reams of incriminating evidence, and hordes of sports media drones who despise baseball’s all-time hit king regardless.

Oh, and by the way, this latest Non-Revelation Revelation is presented in Rose’s new autobiography, “My Prison Without Bars”, (his third such attempt) excerpts of which now appears everywhere.

Only Pete Rose, the most pathetically unabashed self-promoting memorabilia monger alive would finally admit to something any clear-thinking human has known for nearly 15 years in a format you have to purchase.

To wit:

“Yes, sir, I did bet on baseball,” Rose told commissioner Bud Selig during a meeting in November 2002 about Rose’s lifetime ban.

“How often?” Selig asked.

“Four or five times a week,” Rose replied.

“But I never bet against my own team, and I never made any bets from the clubhouse.”

“Why?” Selig asked.

“I didn’t think I’d get caught.”

Only Pete Rose, the most pathetically unabashed self-promoting memorabilia monger alive would finally admit to something any clear-thinking human has known for nearly 15 years in a format you have to purchase.

Pete Rose bet on baseball.

Everyone knows this. Jesus, my mother knows this and when not completely ignoring it as a rule, considers baseball the pastime of slobbering Jackanapes.

Sports Illustrated, which plasters this Non-Story Story all over its cover this week printed betting slips next to dozens of witness testimonies in its 8/31/89 issue. I know this because I kept that issue anxiously waiting the inevitable day when this strutting ass would level his Clintonian mia culpa for profit and a smooth entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

And with two years left in his eligibility and a lucrative book deal to hawk, Rose now blurts out what everyone already knew. The white elephant lives!

At this point you would not be wrong to ask: “If this is such a Non-Story Story, why the hell are you writing about it?”

To which I might answer: “I assure you, the irony is not lost on me.”

First of all, the truth is I have always hated Pete Rose. From Ray Fosse to Buddy Harrelson to all that fabricated All-American go-getter tripe, the way he abused one of the finest writers of my generation, Roger Kahn in his last autobiographical swindle, “Pete Rose – My Story” and the way his recalcitrant front man Gary Spicer ducked me in an interview request with a series of parameters and time constraints that eventually cost me money and pissed me off to no end.

Also, this particular Non-Story Story has been a favorite of mine since embarking on my professional foray into sports reporting during the 1989 baseball season, during which I inadvertently uncovered that an alarming number of people corroborated Rose’s frenzied gambling and was more than eager to chat about it. It turns out, despite his recent literary conciliation, Rose indeed used the clubhouse phone to make bets on games in which he managed. And to a man (and woman) not one of these people could believe for half a second that his managing of those games was not affected by his having action on it, whether or not it was on his own team or not. The way he set up his pitching for the week, how he used his bullpen on “bet nights” and everything in between.

And this skewed idea that Rose floats in the book that “baseball had no fancy rehab for gamblers like they do for drug addicts” is specious simply because while drug abuse compromises an individual’s ability to play the game, gambling on a contest you have stake in and control over compromises the integrity of the game and cannot be ignored.

Gambling nearly destroyed professional baseball in 1919 and its no-toleration policy is not only non-debatable, but also paramount for the business’ survival. As my baseball guru Pedro B. recently reminded me, you can get away with just about anything in baseball, drug abuse, wife beating, overt racism, public drunkenness, pitching perfect games on acid, illegal campaign contributions and mob pay-offs, jacking yourself up on so much steroids as to reconstruct the statistical bell curve, but YOU CANNOT GAMBLE ON THE GAME.

But hey, I know the real story is that Rose is finally uttering the words he swore he would never utter, and made a boisterous point everywhere he could against uttering, trashing credible people like former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and his investigator John Down along the merry way. And I know as well as anyone that smug liars sublimating their considerable egos in front of talk-show hosts is the American orgasm. We can’t get enough of this shit.

So now commissioner, Bud Selig must decide if one of the all-time greats of the game gets a pass after pissing on its most sacred rule and then lying to anyone within earshot about it, because as pithy baseball columnist Bill Madden recently put it; “if this were some .220-hitting utility infielder who bet on baseball we wouldn’t be having this debate.”

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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50 Greatest Sports Moments of All Time

Genesis Magazine 10/31/03

50 GREATEST SPORTS MOMENTS OF ALL TIME

This list is comprised of moments, not necessarily moments in the field of play or during the competitive nature of sports, or particularly grand moments; but moments, either good or ill, where the times, the competition, the era changed in the face of the forever-changing world of sport. Absent due to obvious reasons, the significant, but otherwise boring moments when games and sports were invented or promoted for the first time. We begin in detail with the Top 10.

1980 USA Hockey Team1. 1980 USA Hockey Team Defeats Soviet Juggernaut 4-3 – 2/22/03

Rag tag assembly of mostly teenaged amateurs, barely together a few months and playing a sport invented and perfected elsewhere, take on the most polished, professional and seemingly unbeatable team in the history of international hockey and win; producing the greatest upset in the pantheon of sport in a time of international political tension smack dab in the middle of a Cold War that defined the parameters of the century. What makes the ultimate upset even more unbelievable is the fact that the same two teams played only a week earlier in an exhibition match and the Soviet Union cruised to a 10-3 victory, setting the stage for the expected American embarrassment that never came. Oh, yeah, and the U.S. went on to defeat Finland for the gold in one of the most anticlimactic championship rounds in Olympic history.

Muhammad Ali2. Cassius Clay Defeats Sonny Liston for Heavyweight Championship – 2/25/64

In one of the most amazing upsets in the annals of sport, the brash young, 22-year old Olympic champion speed-talker stood firm against the brooding and seemingly indestructible heavyweight champ, Sonny Liston. The event was more than a mere world championship bout due to Clay’s infectious taunting and media manipulation. It turned into white American conservative boxing circles against the proud, black athlete of his generation, Christianity against Islam, and in its wake the future of the modern celebrity athlete was born. In one night in Miami Florida, the Louisville Lip, Cassius Clay told the world he was the greatest, won in six rounds, despite the alleged cheating of Liston (the champ’s corner was said to have put a foreign substance on his gloves, effectively blinding Clay for the entire fifth round) and became Muhammad Ali, the greatest, and invented the American icon of latter 20th century sport.

Jackie Robinson3. Jackie Robinson Signs a Major League Contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers – 10/30/45

Breaking the color barrier and paving the way for modern American sport, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson becomes the first African American to garner a Major League Baseball paycheck. Thanks to the efforts of Brooklyn president Branch Rickey, and the indomitable spirit of Robinson, in less than two years the newest Dodger, after enduring trials and tribulations beyond comprehension, failed player boycotts and insidious fan outrage to become Rookie of the Year, while leading his team to the World Series and his race and countrymen into the next stratosphere of social emancipation.

Babe Ruth4. Babe Ruth is Sold from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees – 1/3/20

The greatest player in the history of the game is sold from the powerful Boston Red Sox to the burgeoning New York Yankees for $100,000 to finance a Broadway play produced by Boston owner Harry Frazee. At the time of the deal, the Red Sox had won five world championships and was the toast of American League baseball. The Yankees had only been around for 17 uneventful years and didn’t even have a ballpark to call their own. At the time of the trade, baseball was an inside game of bunts and steals and under media scrutiny and government investigation for gambling infractions when the 1919 White Sox were rightly accused of throwing the World Series. Since, the Red Sox have not won a title. The Yankees built a ballpark in Babe’s honor and on his financial back and have won 26 titles. Baseball became a home run barrage, and Babe its sultan, and was saved from extinction.

Jessie Owens5. Jesse Owens Debunks Aryan Myth – 8/9/36

Son of a sharecropper from Oakville Alabama, world class, black American athlete, Jesse Owens marched into Adolph Hitler’s great Berlin arena and spit in the face of the Third Reich’s claims of Aryan superiority by setting three world records and one Olympic record, earning four track and field gold medals in the same Summer Olympiad, a performance that would remain unmatched for 48 years. In front of the visibly infuriated German dictator and a stunned international audience, Owens won the 100 meters in an Olympic-record 10.3 seconds, the long jump, setting an Olympic record of 26-53/8 and the 200 meters in an Olympic-record 20.7 seconds. Owens won his fourth gold medal, leading off the 4×100-meter relay that would set a world record at 39.8 seconds.

Bob Beamon6. Bob Beamon Shatters Long Jump World Record – 10/18/68

In what is widely considered the greatest individual physical feat in human competition, 24 year-old, New Yorker Bob Beamon obliterated an Olympic/World Record in the long jump by a mind-bending two feet. Fellow American, Ralph Boston established the record years before at 27 feet, 43/4 inches, and it was Boston who coached Beamon through his record leap after he had failed to even qualify for a gold metal in two previous jumps. As the Mexico City crowd watched in stunned awe, Beamon tossed his 6-foot-3, 160-pound 8.90 meters — 29 feet, 21/2 inches for the most lopsided destruction of a world record ever; a record that stood until Mike Powell leaped 2 inches farther at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. Two inches, not two feet!

Roger Bannister7. Roger Bannister Breaks Four Minute Mile – 5/6/54

A 25-year-old British medical student becomes the first man to achieve the heretofore unthinkable; run a mile in less than four minutes. On a breezy afternoon on the Iffley Road track in Oxford, England, his miraculously close time of 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds was achieved during a 15mph crosswind with gusts of up to 25mph. Ironically, this nearly caused Bannister to call off the triumphant event witnessed by about 3,000 spectators and two hearty pacemakers by the names Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, both of whom heralded Bannister’s record sprint as a final 200-yard push for the finish line toward immortality.

Joe Namath8. Joe Namath Guarantees Victory as an 18-Point Underdog in Super Bowl and Wins – 1/12/69

In what is now considered the watershed moment for the pro football in the annals of pop culture and lore, brash and bold Broadway Joe Namath, the richest of athletes at the time, uttered the unthinkable and broke the code of centuries of competition, he guaranteed victory. Standing at a podium in downtown Miami, Florida, where he was to be given the upstart pro league, AFL Most Valuable Player, Namath vehemently predicted his team’s easy victory in a game two previous representative from his league had been embarrassed in and whose own team was an unprecedented 18 plus point dog in a championship contest. The New York Jets and Namath did convincingly defeat the 13-1 Baltimore Colts and the NFL’s best defense, 16-7 and helped merge both leagues into what is now the premiere professional sports franchise in America.

9. Tiger Woods Becomes Youngest Masters Champ in Record and Barrier Breaking Fashion – 4/13/97

Tiger WoodsIn what amounted to a sociological phenomenon as much as a sports event, the 21st century pop culture, social and international celebrity of Tiger Woods was both launched and cemented during a record 18-under Masters victory by 12 strokes over an awed field. At the tender age of 21, and only his fifteenth appearance as a pro, with the eyes of the world watching his every move, the highly touted Woods became the youngest player to win the Masters in the 61-year history of the tournament, winning an event that didn’t even invite a black player until the year he was born at a club that didn’t invite a black member to join until 1990. Woods finished at 270, slicing one stroke off the record Jack Nicklaus set in 1965 and Raymond Floyd matched in 1976. His cultural status as a young Asian/African American catapulted Woods career into media-frenzy mania and helped launch a new, sexy and provocative era in a sport once thought too high brow for most sports aficionados.

Lou Gehrig10. Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Farewell Speech – 7/4/39

In a moment forever held in time for every figure in sports history to heed, a dying man stood before over 60,000 people and the world to impart the genuine feeling that he was “the luckiest man in the world” for having the opportunity to endeavor through the love of his craft. Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse, who had not missed a game his entire 13-plus year career (spanning a mind-bending 2,130 consecutive games) lowered his head and became the symbol of what sports, and maybe all of life is about; accepting your destiny, giving it your all, and enjoying every moment, good or ill.

 

11. Michael Jordan is Drafted by the Chicago Bulls – 6/19/84The most famous sports celebrity of all time, and the best player in the history of his sport, becomes a professional as the third overall pick in the 1983 NBA draft.

12. Nadia Comaneci Becomes First Gymnast to Achieve Perfect 10 – 7/13/76 And the 14-year-old Romanian does it an unfathomable seven times.

13. The Greatest Game Ever Played – 12/28/58Baltimore Colts 23 best NY Giants 17 in an overtime thriller that birthed a television sport.

14. Reserve Clause Crumbles – Dec. 23, 1975 Free Agency in baseball and professional sports is born.

15. Bobby Thomson Hits Shot Heard ‘Round The World – 10/3/51The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

16. Ali vs. Frazier I – 3/8/71 Arguably the most anticipated and watched spots event ever goes to Frazier, but Ali got him twice more in remarkable rematches.

17. Wayne Gretzky Becomes NHL’s All-Time Leading Scorer – 10/15/89 The greatest team-sport superstar surpasses Gordie Howe’s total of 1,850 points in a remarkable third of the time played.

18. Notre Dame Rallies to Beat Favored Army 12-6 After Knute Rockne’s Famous Halftime Speech – 11/10/28 “Win won for the Gipper” becomes the anthem of motivational speakers.

19. Terrorists Murder Eleven Israeli Athletes at Munich Olympics – 9/5/72 Worst nightmares realized.

20. Joe Louis Annihilates Max Schmeling in 124 Seconds – 6/22/38 More bad news for Hitler and the Arian Race.

21. Henry Aarron Supplants Ruth as Home Run King with 715 – 4/8/74 And no supplements or drugs, imagine that.

22. Secretariat Wins Triple Crown and Becomes King of Horses – 6/10/73 One for the ages.

23. Eight Chicago White Sox Agree to Throw 1919 World Series – 9/18/19 Black Sox are born and baseball almost died.

24. Gertrude Ederle Becomes First Woman to Swim English Channel – 8/6/26 A record that would become the women’s standard for 35 years.

25. Wilt Chamberlain Scores 100 Points in a Single Game – 3/2/62 Who was playing defense for the Knicks that night?

26. Cleveland’s Ken Kelter Stops Joe DiMaggio’s Hit Streak at 56 – 7/17/41 Joltin’ Joe goes on to hit in 17 more. What if?

27. Mary Lou Retton is Perfect Under Extreme Pressure – 8/3/84 Needing a perfect 10 to win the gold in the floor exercise, the American gymnast nails it.

28. Jimmy V and NC State Stun Heavily Favored Houston for NCAA Title – 4/4/83 In one of the greatest upsets in college sports history, this buzzer beating 54-52 thriller invents March Madness.

29. Jack Nicklaus Wins Masters at Age 46 – 4/13/86 The greatest cements legend in his record sixth and final Masters title.

30. Mark McGwire is First Man to 70 Homers in One Season- 9/27/98 Freak show baseball on parade.

31. Billie Jean King Defeats Bobby Riggs in Astrodome – 9/20/73 Hyped Battle of the Sexes ends in a dud in front of record television audience.

32. Sports Most Prolific Coach Wins Tenth Consecutive NCAA Title – 3/29/75 John Wooden caps incredible .813 career winning percentage at the top of his game.

33. Jim Thorpe Becomes World’s Greatest Athlete – 7/15/12 Native American wins eight gold medals including the demanding Pentathlon and Decathlon.

34. Johnny Vander Meer Pitches 18 Innings with No Hits – 6/15/38 Cincy 22 year-old southpaw completes feat never duplicated.

35. Willis Reed Limps Onto Court And Into Legend – 5/8/70 Knicks with NBA Title after captain’s heroic entrance.

36. Monday Night Football is Born – 9/21/70 American phenomenon begins with Howard Cosell’s nasal intro.

37. Don Larson Pitches Perfect Game in World Series – 10/8/56 Perfection on the grandest stage against the best.

38. Magic Meet Larry – 3/26/79 Johnson and Bird begin basketball’s greatest and most lucrative rivalry in college finals.

39. O.J. Simpson Breaks 2,000 Yard Single Season Mark – 12/16/73 The impossible NFL goal goes down at snowy Shea Stadium on final day of the season.

40. Nolan Ryan Pitches Seventh No-Hitter at Age 44 – 5/1/91 Tall Texan rides high for the last time.

41. Mike Tyson Takes A Bite of Evander Holyfield’s Ear – 6/28/97 Do we need to explain?

42. Soviets Beat USA in Basketball on Controversial Third Try – 9/10/72 Cheating or destiny?

43. Miami Dolphins Complete NFL’s Only Undefeated Season – 1/14/73 Beat Washington Redskins 14-7 to achieve perfection.

44. Bud Selig and Baseball Owners Close Shop and Cancel World Series – 9/14/94 Lockout effectively achieves what two world wars, an earthquake, and the 1919 Chicago White Sox could not do.

45. Vince Lombardi Named Green Bay Packers Head Coach – 2/4/59 Six NFL titles and heaps of lore later, he is the quintessential sports leader.

46. Tennis’ Top Two Slug Out Marathon Final – 7/5/80 Number One ranked Bjorn Borg bests number two John McEnroe at Wimbledon’s center court after a gruelingly historic 3 hour and 53 minutes match for the ages.

47. Pete Rose is Banned From Baseball After Gambling Allegations – 8/23/89 The all-time hits leader is disgraced, and the feud continues to this day.

48. Rocky Marciano Retires As Heavyweight Champ Undefeated at 49-0 – 4/27/56 At the ripe old age of 31, The Rock leaves unblemished, never to return.

49. Doug Flutie and Boston College Defeat Miami on Last Desperate Play – 11/22/84 Down by four with 48 seconds left, the 5’9” quarterback heaves to glory.

50. Bucky (bleppin’) Dent Breaks BeanTown Hearts Again – 10/2/78 Hey, it’s the greatest sporting event I ever saw, give me a break.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Kobe Bryant is Not Going to Jail

Aquarian Weekly 7/30/03 REALITY CHECK

TWO-DIMENSIONAL KOBE

Kobe BryantKobe Bryant is not going to jail.

Innocent or guilty, matters not. The rich and famous don’t go to jail. Let that read the rich and famous who are worth a great deal of scratch to the not-so famous rich and their public concerns. Kobe Bryant falls into that category big time, thus he is not going to jail.

The merely rich, but not famous, who lord over doomed corporate malfeasance like Enron go to jail. Some of the rich and famous go to jail for short periods of time like Robert Downey Jr. and Mike Tyson, but that is usually when there isn’t too much more money that can be made to warrant keeping them free. Politicians don’t go to jail either. And even if they happen to stumble in there by mistake, they go to a country club with bars on the windows.

Then there is O.J. Simpson.

No use getting angry with Bryant over this. He is a two-dimensional test tube human. He does not deal with life as we do. He is a walking billboard, a public relations machine. He plays basketball and sells fast food and sneakers. He wears expensive suits and hangs with big celebrities. Everything that exists around Bryant is barely real, like a parallel universe, only with more fun.

Evidence of Bryant’s inability to understand our reality versus his own became apparent when he was first accused of raping a woman weeks ago. That is when he laughed at the ridiculous nature of doing such a thing. Not him. He was adamant about that. The whole thing didn’t compute for him.

Everything that exists around Bryant is barely real, like a parallel universe, only with more fun.

Then emerged the famous three letters that once had a president going from vehement denials to mia culpas in a Washington minute; DNA. With DNA involved, Bryant went from guffawing at the Espy Awards in an Italian suit to a conciliatory press conference in a Gap sweater and loafers in 24 hours. This kind of backtrack would give most humans whiplash. But not the two-dimensional test tube types. They’re pliable.

Alas, physical evidence is tough on the rich and famous, but it doesn’t mean jail.

However, it is always nice hearing the two-dimensional test tube person offering pangs of love in public displays of humility. This is their substitute for excusing all possibility of higher crimes by referring to reality fuck-ups as “mistakes”. This is what these people do. They talk about mistakes as if victims of circumstance, that by merely existing outside their two-dimensional pods they are vulnerable.

Take Michael Jackson for example. His is the mother of all two-dimensional test tube lives. Kobe Bryant has only been two-dimensional since the age of 18. Jackson has been at it since 7. He is so far gone on the parallel universe that a mountain of physical evidence and heinous crimes, financial misappropriations or irrational maneuvers with infants could not get him near a jail cell. We don’t even see Michael as human anymore.

But back to Bryant.

It’s important to point out that there is a good chance that the man, while guilty of the two-dimensional test tube “mistake”, is innocent of a crime. Impressionable youth around two-dimensional test tube lives can be heady. Things happen. Things us reality people wouldn’t understand. Mistakes.

But all that is window dressing, because Kobe Bryant is not going to jail. High-priced lawyers, media smear campaigns, well-orchestrated news events and quiet pay-offs, but jail?

That’s three-dimensional thinking.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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NJ Sports Heaven

Aquarian Weekly 6/4/03 REALITY CHECK

TITLE TOWN USA

For perhaps the first and last time in the history of forever East Rutherford, New Jersey is the center of the professional sports world. At least it is for two of the big four, basketball and hockey. Currently, the New Jersey Nets wait around for the deans of fourth quarter collapse, the San Antonio Spurs to dismiss what is left of the Dallas Mavericks, while the New Jersey Devils supply a healthy dose of their own reality check to the Mighty Ducks from Anaheim.

That’s right, East Rutherford, a factory town in Bergen County of a little over nine thousand residents is now Title Town USA.

If a sports team wins a title in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really win it?

Admittedly East Rutherford is no New York City or even Green Bay or no one will mistake the Nets or the Devils place of residence, the Continental Airlines Arena, as the Great Western Forum, Yankee Stadium or even the hallowed grounds of South Bend. There is no mass transit that connects it to a big town or any cultural distractions that pepper its landscape.

Maybe that’s why despite having the best teams in their respective sports for two years no one in the local media pays much attention nor do fans of other teams care enough to root against them.

In fact, if attendance numbers at the Meadowlands this season were any indication, a good number of Devils and Nets fans don’t really seem to care either.

The Devils, although not as successful as the Eastern Conference Champion Nets a season ago, are now three wins away from their third Stanley Cup championship run in the past decade. And this is after a season of listening to hockey people tell you the Detroit Red Wings were the greatest thing since Murder’s Row.

The Devils scored three goals in a Game One victory last night against a team that managed to give up one lousy goal in a four game white-washing of the conference finals, and on the back page of every New York paper this morning are photos of NY Yankees. The Yankees have over 110 games to go before seeing a first round post-season game.

And as for the Nets, who have won a ridiculous 10 consecutive post-season contests, the team’s attendance for a sport that is arguably the most popular in the land is horribly low. So much so that the only story that persisted throughout the year around here was whether the Nets star point guard, Jason Kidd would bolt for someplace where people could actually see his nightly All-Star performances.

Why, I am suddenly guilty of taking some of the glory away by beleaguering the same tired points about East Rutherford and New Jersey being secondary outposts of tri-state sports enthusiasts.

But really, who cares if East Rutherford isn’t a toddlin’ town or has a neat nickname or some historic figure to represent it? Unless anyone considers the possibility that Jimmy Hoffa’s remains may have been scattered below Giants Stadium, along with a host of other unnamed early 20th century criminals of note. Does that diminish the accomplishment?

If a sports team wins a title in the woods and nobody hears it, did it really win it?

This is a fine Zen riddle, but hardly a truism.

Granted, this has now become a culture where apparently nothing matters unless someone gets a weepy documentary on VH1 to commemorate it.

But that is the talk of the big city egoist. East Rutherford does not boast such an animal. It does not have a grand history or a personality, or certainly any ditties written for it. And for that matter, neither does Jersey.

What East Rutherford does have is the final games of two of this nation’s most covered sports.

And soon after these historic weeks are through those teams and their respective sports will go to Newark and East Rutherford will be left with factories and those nine thousand souls. And the Giants and the Jets.

You know, the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Will Baseball Shut Down in 2002?

Aquarian Weekly 8/14/02 REALITY CHECK

THE TOYS OF SUMMER (Musings on the Destruction of the 2002 Baseball Season)

This chic philosophy that Major League baseball has somehow been irrevocably ruined because the All-Star Game ended in a tie or the players are jacked up on all kinds of steroids or no one in the greater Kansas City area could not give half a shit about the Royals or the New York Yankees are run like a veracious corporate monstrosity or Ted Williams’ kids are currently carving up his frozen corpse for a QVC extravaganza begs argument.

Here’s mine:

Major League Baseball is already ruined. It happened long before this year, which hangs by a thread by the way – no matter what the loud, funny Sportscenter cretins say or the silly nicotine-stained sports writers send to copy. MLB is run like beer night at the Alabama Commerce Concern, complete with whooping truckers and a tipsy Jugs Larue. Its Commissioner is an overt lackey while its Players Association resembles Hitler’s third draft of the Blitzkrieg.

In 1994 this bawdy combination shut down a $9 billion industry. The owners couldn’t stop themselves from spending our money. The players couldn’t be helped taking it. The result: No World Series.

The trial for baseball will always be the have’s and have not’s. And that shall never die. Not as long as there are all these teams in cities that do not need, want or deserve baseball.

I was on the frontlines then. Inside the mayhem, bruised by the fallout. I hosted two sports talk shows, one on radio, one on local television in Westchester, NY. I was a sports columnist for a solid weekly and putting the finishing touches on the fourth season of an interview program celebrating the national pastime called “The X-TRA Inning.” To say the ’94 Baseball Lockout fucked me but good is an understatement of Biblical Proportions.

I had the goods on that bit of public relations propaganda. A lot of us grungy sports types did. The truth came hard and fast that summer, and none of it was pleasant. The results of my nightmare can be found in my second book, so I shan’t relive its massive wounds again.

The truth is, what we learned that dim autumn is that MLB is one of those strange American institutions like Fast Food Addiction or Puritanical Voyeurism. It’s both spectacle and business. But the business part keeps the spectacle part solvent, and like most businesses, money is the only line, bottom or otherwise.

For seventy odd years the owners held fast to the economic hammer. The past thirty-five or so, the players have kept a powerful grip on it. Throughout the money flowed, and still flows, regardless what dipshits like Larry Dolan or Bud Selig or that miserable jack-off who runs the Arizona Diamondbacks pass off as truth.

Selig, the aforementioned “lackey commissioner” comes out every few months to claim half the teams are going bankrupt. Then when the Boston Red Sox franchise was for sale this past winter he teamed with those floating the interesting notion that selling to the third highest bidder was “good for the game”. When the league spoke of contracting two teams a few months back – a sober choice considering these three-martini troglodytes added teams in a gluttonous rampage of avarice for twenty years to gain a sizable windfall, which nearly turned high-performance art into the first six minutes of Bull Durham – Selig suggested that the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins must go.

Montreal was an interesting choice for a baseball city in 1969, hardly the heartland of hardball, but a noteworthy attempt to reach out to our northern neighbors. But when American greed got the best of the game in 1994, not only did the paltry attendance numbers dive in Montreal, it plummeted in previously booming Toronto as well. Montreal was a no brainer to get axed.

Minnesota, however, had a deeper realm of reasoning for the commissioner. Seems not only does Selig’s family own the interest in the Milwaukee Brewers, a regional competitor of the Twins, but its owner, Carl Pohlad, is also a close buddy. Pohlad needed to get out of a nasty lease in the dome his team plays in, and Selig needed more hungry baseball fans to fill his own shiny new (mostly empty) ballpark.

This bit of fun loving insider trading was not unlike 1994 when Selig pulled a mass charade of “baseball is doomed” paranoia by using the relocating interest of California franchise owners and George Steinbrenner’s dangling legal troubles to kick-start the coup d’état that nearly destroyed the game.

Damn it! I tried to stay away from ’94, but it’s getting harder with every sentence. The mood is about the same these days, but something in the heart of the game says it’s not automatic that work another stoppage will lead to baseball’s nuclear winter. Speculation seems to point to the country’s mood approaching the anniversary of 9/11 and the resulting quagmire economy as reasons why clearer heads will prevail.

My own sources, paltry as they are since I do not skulk around with the big boys in the game any longer, tell me the horizon is actually brighter than I’m inclined to predict. At least the principles are agreeing that something needs to be fixed, just that they have no clue how to fix it.

No matter. The trial for baseball will always be the have’s and have not’s. And that shall never die. Not as long as there are all these teams in cities that do not need, want or deserve baseball. These people who whine incessantly about how certain teams cannot compete with New York and Los Angeles and Chicago do not realize that this is not going to change. And no amount of revenue sharing and luxury tax and salary caps are going to change that.

Why is it so important that there are teams in Florida or Texas or Ohio? Less teams means better players available, leading to less money for the mediocre players. Sane salaries. Liquid franchises. Competitive balance. Trash the atavistic antitrust exemption and force these owners to deal with competition in Washington DC, Charlotte or New Jersey, all lucrative sports areas.

Simple as that.

You see what these pro “small market team” shills will fail to tell you is if everything were hunky dory these owners would not take their profits and savings and lower ticket prices or tee shirt prices or hot dog prices. Nope. They’d turn around and buy other interests somewhere and ruin that too. It’s what they do. They can’t help it. It’s like watching dramatized documentary footage of dinosaurs trying to yank their enormous frames from a tar pit, painful, but intriguing in its self-destruction.

Here’s what’s going to happen. Somewhere along the line this mess is going to end up in court. It always seems to. Then the players will win, the owners will eat crow, open the gates and make boatloads of money. Those who are sick of it will sell their franchises for a huge profit and the next group will gladly hop aboard to bitch and moan. Then the Yankees will win the World Series, and everything will be right with the world; or at least in the Bronx and for those of us up at Fort Vernon.

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