Why We Care About Tiger Woods

Aquarian Weekly 12/9/09 REALITY CHECK

WHY WE CARE ABOUT TIGER WOODS

Salad DaysI was sitting sipping Bahamian beer with my wife at Rum Runners and listening to an ominous storm front move across Pelican Bay when I first heard the news of Tiger Woods’ “car accident”. I had my back to a dusty television jammed precariously between what looked to me like a 1950s loud speaker and an over-sized pool cue rack, but the sound of my wife bellowing over the charmingly bad seventies rock and a tall ebony barkeep racing for the jukebox volume hushed the revelry for a moment. Suddenly the tinny echo of the CNN reporter’s solemn announcement filled the void. It was “serious”; he said over and over, prompting a corpulent woman from Tampa to gasp, “He’s dead!” Her companion, a gangly, mustachioed hippie with a cheap Hawaiian shirt removed the ragged straw hat from his sweaty head and sighed, “First Michael Jackson, now this.”

Indeed, my wife agreed, Jackson was dead, murdered by a quack with nerve gas and a secret celebrity code; his whereabouts unknown, because apparently no one cares anymore who or what killed the King of Pop, and soon, when they dredged Tiger’s remains from the Florida everglades, likely masticated beyond recognition from a surge of ravenous crocodiles, there will be little anyone will care about — troop levels in Afghanistan, National Health Care Reform, or the all-important Black Friday retail numbers, which would doubtless decide the immediate economic future of the Western world.

No, everyone within earshot agreed: even the slightest injury to Tiger Woods would be beyond devastating news.

Why?

For starters, Woods, as the skinny brunette twenty-something from Nashville reminded us, easily rates in the top five of planet earth’s most famous people; certainly its most recognized athlete. He is this generation’s Babe Ruth or Muhammad Ali, transcending his sport, his race, his culture, his very humanity. Hell, as the panting barkeep offered, “Anyone that has a goddamned logo with his initials on every type of clothing and has the balls to constantly wear the thing in public is like some kind of Superman.”

Yes, Tiger, the man for whom only one name may suffice, does wear a logo of his initials upon his head and emblazoned on his form-fitting golf shirts, making him without debate our latest Nietchzian Ubermensch; an almost pristine caricature of the modern American Adonis; a multi-racial, youth-driven, handsomely slender master performer of his craft, obsessed with victory and perfection and cashing in. Tiger, with his $100 million a year endorsements, his gorgeous blonde Viking wife and two adorable kids, GQ cover style and jet-setter decorum, seems so likable he can comfortably straddle the most difficult of dualities: Lovably unapproachable.

It was beginning to look like a feeding frenzy would not only be unleashed, but this time, for a change, merited.

Could a rare profitable commodity so utterly indestructible truly be dead? Could he actually be unable to continue to set impossible standards of performance in the highbrow, country-club caste-crazy game he dominates with apparent ease?

The entire episode and its barely decipherable details seemed to set a pall on the whole island for the entire next day, which would have kept any normal couple from setting aside a three-day marathon of substance abuse, but I am happy to report, hardly curtailed us. My wife despises golf, which she has more than once dubbed “an elitist self-flagellation” in sober moments and far lengthier and even less comprehensible mockery under the influence. I have little use for the sport, as I have not played since high school, but do recall more than a decade ago predicting on a local television panel of sports journalists run by my friend Michael Miner, now a major player in almost every New York area sports media outlet, along with the gentleman currently running Westchester County, that Tiger would be the most celebrated athlete of his time. My esteemed colleagues differed on their prognostications since at the time Woods had not yet hit a golf ball for a dime.

Needless to say Woods eclipsed even my loftiest expectations, as he did for everyone else paying attention, as we all were on Saturday morning; the wife and I, half-asleep and ornery from an extended stopover at Miami International Airport. Every television and newspaper was busy arousing suspicions and offering half-cocked commentary. Now it seemed the Thanksgiving 2:30 am “car accident” happened between his driveway and the adjacent curbside, with smashed windows and his wife “hovering” over his “barely conscious” body with (gulp!) a golf club.

It was beginning to look like a feeding frenzy would not only be unleashed, but this time, for a change, merited. This was no imaginary boy in a balloon or anonymous kid trapped down a well or sold into slavery by dog-fighting trainers, or rich gargoyles suckering other rich gargoyles out of their land-raping money, or the delicate nuances of drunken teenage pop stars exposing their genitalia. No. This was serious business, and it would not be ending soon.

Before long back in the States and at the control center here at The Desk, the information poured in fast and furious, some refuting and contradicting the earlier ones, others expounding on what could best be described as the most mishandled philandering and subsequent publicity fallout in recent memory.

Not one, but two major stories in the National Enquirer and Us Magazine surfaced with hardcore dates and voicemails and text messages between our beloved Tiger and some Las Vegas floozy. Then another sex kitten emerged, then retracted, then re-emerged, and all the while nothing from Tiger or his considerable “camp”. Soon the police would downplay the case as a “weird mishap” and voices from the other side of reason began defending the poor guy’s right to privacy, which by all measures of logic is usually sold down the proverbial river with the type of ridiculous celebrity attributed to the few and the brave and the stack of cash accompanying it.

My favorite comments came from athletes who claim that somehow explaining oneself to the press or to the fans is a “professional courtesy” and not an impetrative, as my long-lost sportswriter pal, Barry Stanton once mused to a coked-out Lawrence Taylor during a charity golf event, “No one pays top dollar to see you play football in the park with your pals.” Ironically, this exchange of intellectual lobbing was met with the wielding of a golf club fairly close to Stanton’s head. He escaped unharmed, but his point hit home.

Humans tend to be attracted to the subtext of almost every innocuous and banal subject, especially when it contains salacious details or dark secrets of the famous. But this is far different. And although Tiger eventually released a “statement of apology” and had come to accept his “transgressions” there is something infinitely intriguing about the indestructible reduced to indefensible. That is not just an American phenomenon, but mostly a human one.

I believe Tiger would have a better “Leave me alone, this is a private matter” defense if he didn’t revel in his Master Of The Universe persona and didn’t profit immensely from it, just as the case could not be defended seriously when the president of the United States used the people’s property and time to diddle on his spouse.

But no president, not even the current Super Cool one — also a multi-racial handsome, youth figure, who is constantly on public as well as political trial — has been as popular as Tiger Woods for the past decade-plus. Only he, perhaps the amiable Peyton Manning in football and certainly the smooth Derek Jeter in baseball approach his level of sports persona earning power. In another ironic twist the multi-racial Jeter, fresh from a renaissance season and a fifth World Series title, was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year this week.

Hey, if Jeter’s teammate, the enigmatic Alex Rodriguez can go from tar-and-feathered steroid cheat, choker outcast, to World Champion hero class-act teammate in six months, what can Tiger Woods do with this nugget of personal “self-flagellation”? You see, in the end, there will always be someone somewhere who will offer the argument that we just love to build ’em up and knock ’em down, but then they ignore the fundamental beauty of a free society; that it provides a platform to which those can build themselves up with the always thorny opportunity to come down easy or hard.

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Phelps/A-Rod Railroaded

Aquarian Weekly 2/18/09 REALITY CHECK

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE MUHAMMAD ALI?

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. – Aldous Huxley

A-Rod shamed the game. – Bud Selig, Commissioner of Baseball and architect of the shutting down of the entire sport and eventual cancellation of the World Series in 1994

Breakfast of ChampionsWhenever the shit hits the fan in the arena of sport, I miss Muhammad Ali. I miss his defiance, elegance and grit. Mostly, I miss his balls, those massive steel things he would wave in the face of opponents, the press, Howard Cosell, or the United States government, as in 1966 when Ali refused what was likely to be a pathetic dog-and-pony sideshow for the Pentagon in South East Asia, tantamount to an Elvis tour of American celebrity. That’s how Ali saw his 1960 Gold Medal. It was how he shed his Christian moniker for queer religious fervor. Ali told the U.S. Army and its soon-to-be disastrous Viet Nam campaign to walk. It cost him his title, four years of his prime, and what all ego-mad jocks crave, mass love and admiration.

What do you think Ali would think now of the vilification of Alex Rodriquez and Michael Phelps in the shadow of so much corruption, greed and hyperbole? These incoherent rambling apologies for drug use; one to enhance performance in a sport drenched in chemical experimentation for more than thirty years, the other to get high like nearly every other twenty-something kid. You think maybe Ali would have pointed out the hypocrisy of it all, more than half a century of drug use in every professional and amateur sport both diminishing and enhancing performances. You think Ali may have pointed out that the drug laws in this country are wrong-headed and atavistic? Or you think maybe he might have shed light on the millions of dollars earned on the blood and sweat of young men, many of whom never asked to be gods?

My guess is yes to all of the above. Ali would not have gone down quietly, like a docile performing seal bowing to the disingenuous moral outrage from a braying fan base, which cares only about winning no matter how it gets done. He certainly wouldn’t take it from those who clamor for Herculean athletic achievement even when its fabrications are patently obvious. And then there is the predictably brain numbing sports media that loves to shake the collective head and wag an accusing finger while enticing us with images of savage violence, self-promoting theatrics and juvenile behavior over and over and over and over again. And of course there is, as always, the sometimes faceless but always bottom line bankrollers of these fiascos who dare to engender sympathy for being “duped”.

I think Ali would have found the ironical humor in words like “cheat”, “fraud”, “behavior”, and “besmirching” tumbling forth from the holier-than-thou keepers of high-tech showbiz that has long been tarnished by decades of illegal and unconscionable activities. How in the world does the Olympic Committee, one of the most corrupt and disastrously run institutions in the world, get off suspending a kid for smoking pot? Where does anyone from Major League Baseball, proud abusers of civil rights and openly celebrated indentured servitude for half a century, get off judging its players for steroid use?

You would think these guys raped puppies or planned the overthrow of the free world.

Ali would have been thrilled to tell you that the ones who cry the loudest are the guiltiest. They are all too willing to cast shame as far as they can to avoid the collateral damage. This is how things go in the American sport landscape, where boys become millionaires playing a goofy sport we’re all supposed to worship as religion, hand over our money and attention to as if robots so we can claim dominion over its history and ownership of its participants.

You would think these guys raped puppies or planned the overthrow of the free world. It’s goddamned jocks doing jockey things like bending rules to get an edge or blowing off steam: Gaylord Perry spit-balling his way into the Hall of Fame or the 1951 N.Y. Giants using telescopes to spy on opposing team’s signs or Doc Gooden and Lawrence Taylor jacked up on mountains of blow. Many wonder what a keg of beer and a pound of bratwurst could have done to assist the Bambino’s home run orgy in 1927 or if Doc Ellis’ famous acid-drenched no-hitter would add to the annals of baseball lore.

You know if Ali had been any of those guys, let alone Michael Phelps, he would have said, “Shit yeah, I smoke dope, and guess what? I have more gold medals than any human. Fuck Weaties, get a hold of some Master Afghani Kush and you too can achieve greatness!”

Lord knows Ali would not have let the powers that be trample all over his civil rights, leaking anonymous tests used by the most powerful union in the nation to keep the richest sport on the planet from its lab rats. He may have been inclined to look one of those locker room groupies with a pen and pad right in the eye and ask them, “What would you do without me and the New York fucking Yankees sad sack? My guess is you’d be bagging groceries in a beer fog wishing your parents would add a separate heat zone to the basement.”

People always ask me why I name Ali and Joe Namath as my lasting sports heroes. Ali is well documented, and Namath will forever have a place in my heart for all he accomplished on and off the field evolving the landscape of pro sport, its celebrity and its transcendence in pop culture, but also because he refused to eat shit. After almost single-handedly achieving the merger of two gigantic money-printing leagues by his sheer greatness and unmatched star power, the newly forged conglomerate demanded he sell his bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan because known mobsters allegedly frequented it. Namath told the National Football League to go fuck itself and retired at the pinnacle of his career. Of course the league came begging for his return, because like A-Rod, it was nothing but a bunch of slobbering brutes ramming themselves together in Neanderthal scrums without him.

I guess it is too much to ask for titans like Ali and Namath to be around when the next round of petty bullshit is blown up to symbolize the end of civilization, but the saddest part of it all is this slave-like mentality to trade truth for the almighty buck and another fifteen minutes of fame.

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The Total Eclipse Of McCain

Aquarian Weekly 9/24/08 REALITY CHECK

ADDIO STADIABronx Boy Bids Farewell To The Haunts Of Youth

One need not be a chamber to be haunted; One need not be a house; The brain has corridors surpassing Material place. – Emily DickinsonTime and Eternity

Maybe, if you’re lucky, there are a few places you can say you’ve frequented for a lifetime; places experienced through the eyes of a child to young adult to adulthood and so on. For someone, such as myself, who has called numerous and Yankee Stadiumvaried locales home and lived several lives throughout, those places are fleeting. When pressed, I could always recall two: Radio City Music Hall and two stadiums – Yankee and Shea. In a few weeks the latter two will go dark and be torn down to make way for new state-of-the-art 21st Century models. One in Queens and one in the Bronx, one closes 44 years and the other 84. One a symbol of the modern metropolis, erected in the wake of America’s excessive post-war boom, the other a monolithic outpost at the dawn of the Jazz age; both institutions going where most institutions in the greatest city in the world go, into the past to make way for profit of progress.

Yankee Stadium is hallowed sports ground. It has been called a cathedral, the home office for the most successful and renowned franchise in the history of team competition, whose prominent members have one time or another held or currently hold every pertinent regular season, post season, or career baseball record known. It has also hosted Popes, championship bouts, and what is still called The Greatest Game Ever Played by pro football historians, the 1958 NFL Championship.

Shea Stadium is the home of miracles, begun by Joe Willie Namath and the upstart AFL Jets in the winter of 1968 and completed by the unbelievable summer of ’69 when the lovable loser Mets became lovable champions. Then again seventeen years later when one of the most improbable victories in World Series history rolled through the legs of a hobbled firstbagger from Beantown. Oh, and along the way, there were the Beatles, the Stones, The Who, and most recently, Long Islander, Billy Joel.

But all of that means little for me. I humbly wish to bid farewell to the structures that housed those magical days and nights spent beside my dad, my family, my friends, and my media colleagues. I bid farewell to the wonders of youthful revelry at the end of those long trips of anticipation and drudgery into the realm of pressured deadlines and effusive ovations – the psychic manifestation of collective memory born in the shadow of brick and mortar surrounding a few hundred yards of dirt and grass. I bid farewell to a measure of my identity.

The first time I entered Yankee Stadium, I am told, it was in the belly of my mother; who is always happy to recount in one of the many stories used to illustrate my father’s obsession with what she dubs People Running Around With Numbers On Their Backs, a tale of sitting in the bleachers six-months pregnant. By then my father had been twenty years into a love affair with the place, begun in late afternoons when his school chum, the Yankees batboy, would sneak them into games after the sixth inning.

I was born soon thereafter in Northern Manhattan during a Red Sox/Yankees double-header in the Bronx, the same year New York got their National League team back; the year the Mets were simultaneously the most putrid and beloved team of a generation. Two years after that they christened their own stadium near Flushing Meadows during the World’s Fair, which I proudly attended by way of stroller. Two years after the Beatles showed up too.

By the time I was old enough to breath, eat, and even walk on my own, I entered both places during two disparate seasons; one awash in the glow of summer, the other beneath the frigid gale of winter. Through the imposing Yankee Stadium gates I strode, clutching eagerly to my father’s hand, up the dark tunnel into an explosion of greens, blues and the incredible white of the famed façade. For a city kid, it had the pastoral grandeur of Dorothy emerging from her black and white farmhouse into the glaringly multihued trip of Oz. Then it was onto the clamor and pomp of an AFL Sunday in the windswept cavern dressed as a miniature Nanook sweating with the anticipation of seeing the great Namath warm up.

There were the raucous Yankee Stadium trips of my pre-teen years when my family moved from the Bronx to New Jersey, Bat Day and Cap Day and sitting up in the left field upper deck sort-of near my idol Roy White. Then behind the dugout the time my Uncle Johnny scored the rare box seat and my cousin Michelle dumped a beverage on an unsuspecting patron who was merrily doused during a key Thurman Munson late-inning double to beat Boston.

The two Campion boys, just a couple of neighborhood kids visiting the Grand Old Lady one last time. We scored the game. Shared some stories. Cheered the home team. Said good-bye.

Onto my teenaged years with my friends, Roland, Bob, Chris and my little brother PJ sitting in the Stadium bleachers getting ripped on watered down beer and screeching obscenities at multi-million dollar athletes as we endured the squelching heat of endless double-headers. Across town we hatched the bright idea to parade around the entirety of Shea, a community replete with banners of all shapes and sizes, with a blank one. There is something abjectly satisfying in proudly displaying a completely stark sign to scores of dumbfounded fans as Dave Kingman uncorks one of his patented moonshots.

And then into my twenties and early thirties when I worked the stadia press boxes and clubhouses culling interviews for rat-faced producers, penning columns for fun loving sports editors, and phoning in reports to Westchester radio stations. I met my journalistic and broadcasting heroes, smoked my first cigar, picked the brains of grizzled pen-jockeys and veteran photogs, and stomped the terra with my pal, Mike, the best cameraman I have ever known.

From balmy late-summer evenings amidst eight thousand disgruntled fans to crisp autumn nights basking in the din of 56 thousand bellowing hordes cheering pennant winners. Waltzing through the grumpy army of press geeks with my dear friend and colleague, Rob during the World Series, fending off the jeers of beat lifers as we wrestled over boxed dinners during stifling press conferences. I watched from the main press box as the ball settled into the left fielder’s glove to win the last game of the 20th century and give the Yanks the 25th of their incredible 26 titles, jotting into my scorecard “For Vinnie” my great uncle, who had seen the Babe and Gehrig and DiMaggio there, before passing away only a few months before. Later, squeezing among the showering champagne celebrants, I was accosted into a bear hug by the general manager of the best team on the planet, who’d become my friend during the summer of my marriage.

The last time I saw Shea, it was from the darkened parking lot on a misty autumn evening during the late innings of Game 4 of the Subway Series in 2000; the roar of the crowd causing me to turn my head and peer through the opening in right-centerfield. The lights of October illuminated my solitary stroll to file my report.

I would spend only one more day at Yankee Stadium as a reporter; opening day 2001. Soon after I left sports reporting as a profession, but not as a passion. I had before, during since spent many games in the company of cherished friends during countless games and finally an annual trip with my wife, who last season sat next to me with my daughter in her belly.

Earlier this month I took her grandpa, returning a 40-plus year favor. The two Campion boys, just a couple of neighborhood kids visiting the Grand Old Lady one last time. We scored the game. Shared some stories. Cheered the home team. Said good-bye.

There’s always Radio City.

 

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Truth On Mitchell Report

Aquarian Weekly 12/17/07 REALITY CHECK

BASEBALL THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS Hypocrisy & Incongruities In The Mitchell Report

After twenty years of reportedly ten percent of its players’ steroid, speed, drug, and hormone abuse, Major League Baseball’s $40 to 60 million non-legally-binding, no-retribution band-aid to keep the United States government from removing its atavistic, monopolistic Anti-Trust Exemption came down today (12/13/07). Named for its author and lead investigative council, former Maine Senator George Mitchell, who was hired by the commissioner’s office (on the payroll of the collective ownership of baseball) and Puppet Manwho currently sits on the board of directors of the Boston Red Sox, and did not include the co-operation of the Players Association, including having no subpoena power or, incredibly, access to positive drug tests, is one of the most extraordinarily useless endeavors undertaken by a business policing itself.

Known for its unabashed mismanagement by power-mad greedheads and ridiculously paid pampered athletes, MLB took what the Mitchell Report decried as a widespread drug frenzy on all 30 teams and narrowed it down to the already exhausted BALCO investigation results and the hazy recollections of highly motivated middlemen into a mere, to quote Mitchell himself, “tip of the iceberg”.

If baseball fans thought they were getting the full story on two decades of steroid and human growth hormone use they were sadly mistaken. Mitchell’s hands were tied. Evidence was spotty. The Union stonewalled him. The league had to protect itself. He was left to grab and claw for scraps, and scraps are what we got.

The report accuses, primarily on the strength of testimony provided by a convicted criminal and an FBI-threatened drug dealer, some 90 players of using illegal substances to enhance their performances. Some of the claims are arbitrary and the evidence flat out circumstantial. Most remarkably its results levees no penalty beyond salacious rendering of mostly player names that have been more or less celebrated as world-class juicers for a decade anyway. It also omits players who have not only already failed drug tests but have all but admitted through their actions, after displaying as much through off-the-charts performance, that they are guilty.

If there is such a thing as guilt, since many of these players juiced before it was banned, enforced, or even acknowledged as technically cheating.

So in the end, this expensive exercise in innuendo and he said/he said is at best incomplete and at worse a sloppy exaggeration or outright fabrication. Begun with the best of intentions: Clean up the game, like the Kenneth Starr investigation once attempted to “nail” Bill Clinton on illegal land deals but ended with cum stains, the Mitchell fiasco ends with half-assed insinuations by two guys who worked in only two clubhouses in one city.

By all accounts inside and outside the game, the list’s compilation of infractions is something like one to two percent of a sport that only four years ago reported the failure of nearly 300 of 1,500 players tested for some kind of illegal substance. There were still around 2,000 players not tested. And these tests were previously announced! These guys knew it was coming and still failed!

Oh, and none of the guys who failed were allowed to be included in this “thorough” investigation.

Ninety players fingered for steroid and HGH use in modern baseball is like saying a couple of hundred people died in the Civil War.

If baseball fans thought they were getting the full story on two decades of steroid and human growth hormone use they were sadly mistaken. Mitchell’s hands were tied. Evidence was spotty. The Union stonewalled him. The league had to protect itself. He was left to grab and claw for scraps, and scraps are what we got.

The wounded integrity of MLB takes another hit when it was revealed that its offices were allowed to peruse the report three days prior to its release, leaving more doubts as to whether a sport that turned its back on years of performance enhancement mania, and in any sane observation even encouraged it, has the balls to come clean on its product.

And by the way, the player’s union did not have the same courtesy. Player’s Association head, Donald Fehr, who tried to block what he deemed a disregard for fair disclosure, claimed later that day he had less than an hour before the report was made public to skim it.

Anyone who even cares about baseball has to admit this was not a big deal. If anything, this charade by Selig and the league, conducted unilaterally and beyond the parameters of the collective bargaining agreement with the Player’s Association, could actually damage the bottom line: Ending the Steroid Era. Lord knows it is not concentrated over 90 players in a few cities unlucky enough to be subjected to the hearsay of jock-sniffers, but endemic of the national sports scene and a mockery on the history of the game’s records and legacy.

This would be like paying someone a shitload of money to build you a boat with no tools or materials and being surprised when it sinks.

A band-aid.

As covered in this space two years ago (Everything You Wanted To Know About Steroids But Were Afraid To Ask 2/23/05) the problem was well known by everyone associated with baseball, and really, all sports, including players, owners, front office personnel, journalists, and networks covering the sport for a long time. Occasionally, articles in prominent periodicals like Sport Illustrated and other scattered journalistic investigations shed light on a culture of steroid abuse from high school through professional sports. But in 1994 when the issue came up in the collective bargaining farce run by commissioner Bud Selig, (much of which is covered in my second book, Fear No Art), after the owners, under the direction of Selig, staged a lock-out and closed down the sport, canceling the World Series, it was not only ignored but thrown out as a possible deterrent to “figuring financial concerns”.

Those concerns were again addressed in the late nineties as players jacked on steroids and other forms of doping began to obliterate records and enthrall the nation with home run chases. Yet glowing books were written. Sonnets of heroism were penned. Statues of immortals were erected.

Baseball, prior in 1994, went from a distant third in popularity among professional sports and probably fifth or sixth overall. Its resurgence in what is now reported to be a $6 billion industry is not because of integrity, jack, but players doing amazing things. A preponderance of which were enhanced by some kind of substance.

Now the sport, its questionably credible commissioner, and a private council paid for by the owners, who have a $6 billion interest invested in this business, ask us to look to the future and put it all behind us?

Fuck that.

Aside from burying that jackass Roger Clemens, all this report did was give you the smallest glimpse into an impregnable landscape of sordid details and complicated mazes of systematic paranoia that exists in the modern professional athlete. A manic rage to achieve greatness no matter the consequence, no matter the cost is reviewed nicely.

By day’s end there were rumblings of more names coming from further investigations and new evidence on the horizon. And Roger Clemens, the era’s greatest pitcher joining the era’s greatest hitter, Barry Bonds in infamy is now calling the report “slanderous”.

Name calling. Vague recommendations. Wasted time. Money pissed away. Just to get down on paper the smallest percentage of the ultimate goal, a goal that is ambiguous and self-serving, leaving room to continue business as usual.

Yes, well, a congressman was in charge and a multi-billion dollar industry bankrolled it. That’s sounds about right.

Carry on.

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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.

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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.”

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