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?

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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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 – 2/22/80

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 bested it by two inches 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 three 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 athlete 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 convincingly defeated 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 conglomerate 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 – 6/19/84
The most famous sports figure of his 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 achieves this an unfathomable seven times.

13. The Greatest Game Ever Played – 12/28/58
Baltimore 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 – 10/3/51
“The 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 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 an unfathomable 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 Aaron 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 NCAA 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 in Super Bowl VII 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. Cue the band.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Cablevision vs. YES Network ‘s ode to greed.

Aquarian Weekly 4/10/02 REALITY CHECK

THE SCIENCE OF GREED

1-2-3-4 cretins wanna hop some more. 4-5-6-7 All good cretins go to heaven. – The Ramones

The latest furor over Cablevision subscribers being bilked by the new YES Network and their cable provider, resulting in fans all over Westchester, New Jersey and New York City area being shut out of the New York Yankees television broadcasts, has brought to light many disturbing things about the rapacious participants in this passion play. Not the least of which is Cablevision CEO, Charles Dolan and Yankees principle owner, George Steinbrenner. What you are about to read may shock, even dismay you, but I must first preface its stirring truths by revealing that I no longer live in the Empire State and happily receive the YES Network quite clearly at my current post in Fort Vernon. I am also a Yankees booster, born and bread in the Bronx and good friends with the general manager of the team. I have been nothing if not a Steinbrenner apologist, even back in the dark days when he turned the most revered franchise in American sports history into a poor man’s Nixon administration and the laughing stock of baseball.

Rich men trolling in the same business or geographic proximity is a dangerous paradox. It is nature’s way of presenting extinction as a survival impetus. Thus two men of equal pomp cannot flourish in close quarters, if so, the results are often severe.

You see, for eight years before George, the Yankees sucked. After George, they began to win and spend money and win and spend money and then lose in record fashion; and it got ugly, believe me. But, for me, George Steinbrenner will always be the man who brought Reggie Jackson to New York, and aside from murdering my family in cold blood or siphoning money from my check account to bankroll third world oppression, the man could do no wrong. On the other hand, Charles Dolan, for whom I have peripherally worked in a freelance broadcast capacity, is the scum of the earth. And this is not simply a derogatory observation; he is literally borne from the slime that coagulates below the planet’s surface, a sort of mutated quagmire that takes shape in human form. This is not uncommon among corporate moguls and/or politicians, child molesters or theologians. It’s scientific fact. Casey Stengel, a good baseball man and a world-class loon, always said, “You can look it up.” And I suggest you do. With that, I present evidence that the gorging of your entertainment dollar is alive and well in the distended bellies of these gluttonous power mongers. For the past five years, prior to the launching of the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network, Steinbrenner sank $300 million of his billion-dollar enterprise into the Madison Square Garden Network, owned and operated by Dolan. For Dolan, this included principle ownership of both the Knicks and Rangers and anything swinging through the Garden, like the Circus or Billy Joel or whatever political rallies reared its miserable head. To say the two of these guys made tons of dough for their prospective stockholders is an understatement. And to say there is any love loss between them is an outward misunderstanding of how these men function below the surface. There are more scientific findings which back the theory of chemical endorphins routinely released in the rich man’s muscle tissue. This affects the glands and motor functions, and finally, the brain. Rich men trolling in the same business or geographic proximity is a dangerous paradox. It is nature’s way of presenting extinction as a survival impetus. Thus two men of equal pomp cannot flourish in close quarters, if so, the results are often severe. Steinbrenner has the most envied of all financial sports franchise cash cows. The old adage about the Yankees being like U.S. Steel is laughable now. The Yankees are sports merchandising and marketing. Most teams have regional value, unless they are lucky enough to have a few years of a Michael Jordan or a Wayne Gretsky, but the New York Yankees are national, and even global in reach. The team could win a total of six games this year and still earn Steinbrenner more than half of Major League Baseball’s gross income. But this is a team coming off its best six-year period in the last half-century, and the owner knows it all too well. Meanwhile, for over two decades Cablevision has monopolized the cable viewing area of three million subscribers throughout the tri-state area. Charging for set-up and dismantling fees, upgrades, pay channels, including at one-time Sports Channel, which is now FOX Sports for people interested in the rest of the areas pro teams, movie channels, HBO, etc. This subscriber monthly fee is also subsidized by advertising fees, both local and national, and fees paid by stations on the basic package, which includes MTV, ESPN, CNN, The Food Channel, etc. Despite living in such close proximity and having the combined wealth of two Roman Empires and a Microsoft beach party, Dolan and Steinbrenner, the Yankees Empire and the Cablevision Reich had coincided, even prospered in their dysfunctional wake. The irony is that if the natural order of things were not involved these two men could have owned half of the free world in one long power lunch, but instead they have decided to use your hard-earned money and rabid love for sports and “The Sopranos” to treat you like their jail-call bitch. Woe is man, MSG no longer has the mighty Yanks, or their revenue or their powerful moniker, and Steinbrenner no longer has to feed in the same feces-addled cage as his sworn enemy because he has his lovely YES Network. And Dolan doesn’t have to allow Steinbrenner’s little experiment to rake in the dough without the proper groveling reparations. So people living across the street from Yankees Stadium cannot watch the team on television, because there will only be twenty of 162 games broadcast over free TV this season. The YES Network people tell you to bag Cablevision and buy a satellite dish and sign contracts and chop down trees and get apartment ordinances so you can watch baseball. And the Cablevision people tell you that you have to pay even more money to view baseball games. And somewhere in a smoldering cauldron of sulfur and brimstone, MLB commissioner Bud Selig tells you the sport is doomed to poverty. Play ball!

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Elton Brand is Good People ‘s personal take on a young athlete.

Aquarian Weekly 2/13/02 REALITY CHECK

WHEN GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE

Oddly, this is the second consecutive column on sports; but not literally, since every profession, in and out of the spotlight of celebrity, harbors the good and the lousy. And since this space mostly concentrates — with some notable exceptions — on the lousy, I thought it a welcomed respite to laud the good.

Sadly, this is a society addicted to the perception that young, brash celebrities make for interesting press if they are angry, criminal or just plain annoying. So it is quite refreshing when a relevant story pertains to a subject with a level of intellect, pride and a compassionate respect rarely displayed by even those of considerable maturity.

On the fourth day of February, Peekskill High School, a sizable institution located in a struggling economic hamlet of northern Westchester, New York retired the jersey of its greatest basketball players, Elton Brand.

Governor, George Pataki, a Peekskill HS alum and former mayor of the town, its current mayor and dignitaries from the school district joined the crammed gym to share in the pomp.

It was a profound experience to witness the growth of a physical specimen gaining complete control over the detailed elements and challenges of his game. With each passing season, his talents became refined, as if adding bolder colors to a painting or gorgeous counter melodies to a symphony, until it seemed there could be no more bloom on the rose.

I was among the represented sporting press mainly due to a local broadcasting gig I’ve enjoyed since the late 80s’. But, admittedly, I attended the event with the same pride I’d felt when a kid I’d seen play the game at the tender age of thirteen was chosen first in the 1998 NBA draft.

Brand arrived dressed in a stylish tan suit, still exhibiting the same genuine, almost innocent smile he’d displayed in his adolescence. At first shielded by a modest entourage, he broke ranks to welcome many of the people who were instrumental in his success. He hugged, shook hands and intermingled with everyone in the press area, but did so with none of the disingenuous condescension of a grubbing politician or a petulant punk star allowing the sycophants a whiff of stardom.

And when he spoke of his recent triumphs, he exuded a keen instinct that his achievements were not merely for himself or even his family, but a town, a generation, a culture, a race and a sport.

“I think I do understand the impact,” he said when I asked him if he knew what it meant to a small, decaying urban town that one of their own flourished in its graying pall. “People know that it takes more than just one talent to truly succeed,” Brand continued. “My parents always stressed a good academic background, to be good at what you do, but be a good person also.”

He trailed off when he said, “good person”, as if it seemed ludicrous to him that it wasn’t a given that anyone who could dunk a basketball, split an atom or sweep the gym wouldn’t try to be the best person they could be.

Having called most of Brand’s televised games for his four stellar years as the center for two title squads, I was impressed at how he handled it all. Our conversations on and off the air were never strained, many times I learned something deeper about the human spirit from him, this precocious boy embracing a burgeoning gift, cradling its jewels, but never squeezing too tightly.

There was never a doubt about his considerable skills as an athlete, an almost pristine ballet of power and grace on a basketball court. It was a profound experience to witness the growth of a physical specimen gaining complete control over the detailed elements and challenges of his game. With each passing season, his talents became refined, as if adding bolder colors to a painting or gorgeous counter melodies to a symphony, until it seemed there could be no more bloom on the rose.

But instead of becoming detached, the bane of the modern athlete, Brand embraced the responsibility of his considerable talents. He was a straight A student, quiet, but never reserved. I never saw him brood or recoil from the ridiculous stampede of attention, accolade or criticism a wunderkind must endure. He was a source of great support to his team and schoolmates, whether troubled or scholarly.

“There were great players before me,” Brand told me hours before the ceremony. “Hey, and there will be great ones coming. I’m just glad to be a part of that group.”

And it’s a tough group, the “too good – to soon” set, from any era and any school. Elton Brand, and others like him, experience what can only be described as a world wind youth. Athletes have a short window. The journey from novice to expert spans a third of the normal lifetime. The pressures of time begin immediately, and the clock runs quickly.

By the age of 13, Brand was already touted as a “can’t miss”, a throwaway sports phrase that usually renders children to the level of lucrative product. Peekskill’s head coach, Lou Panzenaro told me on local radio that winter that a 6′ 9” kid was dunking on his varsity players. As a freshman he was the best player on the team and by his sophomore year, the best in the region.

By his senior year Brand was one of maybe five to ten of the best talents in the country. He was elevated to a McDonald’s All-American, became a significant player for Duke University, the premier basketball and academic institution in the nation, and the number one draft pick of the NBA in 1998 by the Chicago Bulls.

Traded this past off-season to the Los Angeles Clippers, Brand has raised his level of play to near All-Star status, and his new teammates root the hardest for him. Two of them, Corey Maggette and Darius Miles joined Brand for what they described as “the long trip” from NYC earlier in the day.

“My boy is the best teammate,” Miles told me, as the crowded gym chanted Brand’s name moments before the unveiling of his retired jersey. “I’ve learned a lot about the game and more from him. There was no question I would come up here to see him honored.”

The late, great Dick Schaap, who’d spent quality time with every significant athlete for the better part of the past century, once told me something I won’t soon forget, and something that came streaming back when a mountain of a young man in a tan suit gave me a bear hug and thanked me for sharing in his honor.

“Only the smallest percentage of people ever perfect anything,” Schaap said. “And athletes do it before they even know who the heck they are as people. Not to mention they do it with everyone counting on them, watching their every move and expecting them to carry the day all the time.”

Elton Brand is carrying the day just fine.

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Mike Tyson, Instant Replay and MLB Crimes – Essay on sports by James Campion

Aquarian Weekly 1/30/02 REALITY CHECK

GREMLINS IN THE TOY DEPARTMENT

I am no longer officially counted among the sporting press. It’s been almost a calendar year since my credentials in the sports world elapsed with the sudden halt of a Westchester radio gig, and aside from the occasional perusal of sports pages, rabid gambling on pro football and an impromptu sports trivia fest on New Year’s Eve, I have been woefully out of the loop. So in the interest of not allowing certain chickens to fly the proverbial coop, I shall use this week’s space to vent the foul odors emanating from the toy department.

Firstly, Mike Tyson should be shackled to a spinning platform in the middle of some designated town square like Hugo’s Hunchback. He is a freak of nature, a grunting slum ogre, whom the citizens of this nation apparently cannot get enough of; so the money boys keep parading his pathetic savagery out of moth balls every quarter for a taste.

Meanwhile, his raping and pillaging zooms merrily along under the radar. This is the same radar that saw fit to strip the great Muhammad Ali of his title for protesting an abomination halfway across the globe. Military fiascos over women’s rights; sounds about right for the boxing elite.

Boxing needs Tyson. Otherwise, it is a dead sport. The financial gluttony of pay-per-farce has rendered its faceless participants to fringe characters that only insiders and diseased gamblers have any use for. But Tyson is different. However tired his “angry street punk” act becomes, people still pay to see the madman implode under the weight of his own transparent sanity, or perhaps, there is the hope he might test the limits of an already sadistic exhibition.

Mike Tyson should be shackled to a spinning platform in the middle of some designated town square like Hugo’s Hunchback.

Every time Tyson turns a press conference into a prison riot, he titillates our darker side. Certainly, it is human nature to coddle a warped fascination of the villain. Tyson exploits this social malady quite well. We marvel at his anti-social, violent nature, and choose to blame it all on the brutality of his profession. All the while, Tyson serves our primal need for the grotesque, the sports version of the Elephant Man.

And it warms my heart to see the “boxing people”, the snuff pimps of sport, become self-righteous every time Tyson explodes, as evidenced earlier this week at another of their meaningless media events. Even though they know full well that as long as Tyson is the fire-breathing dragon to whatever dupe in shining armor they put in front of him, he will take the lowest road possible.

But mayhem makes good headlines and highlights, two things the realm of big-time sports must rely on for readers and ratings and sexy stories for smart-ass commentators and grizzled scribes to paint into instant calamity.

This makes it all the more curious that many of the same sensationalists who fill the quota of sports journalism do not spend more time carving up the evil empire known as Major League Baseball.

It seems defacto, commissioner, Bud Selig, architect of the assassination of the 1994 baseball season, with its convenient alliances, backroom payoffs and empty promises, has been at it again.

This glorified con man wants baseball fans to buy the idea that the contracting of teams from this miserably bloated league is some kind of charity solution to the drunken spree of spending that has gone on under the guise of an atavistic anti-trust exemption for a quarter century.

Who is swallowing this incredible sack of horseshit?

The owners expanded a league they claimed was careening toward bankruptcy time and again for two decades, diluting the talent and screwing up the competitive nature of a gorgeous game to pay for their self-inflicted wounds. Now entire franchises are being shifted around like plastic hotels on a monopoly board, while cities and politicians and judges and fans clamor and sue and lobby to save baseball from leaving their respective towns.

As a result, the 2002 season will begin with lame-duck teams, franchises with no ownership, glaring conflicts of interest and no concrete bargaining agreement. Only about six to ten teams have the funds to compete under the current structure, no one wants to play in Canada, Disney couldn’t turn a fucking profit in Hollywood and I could swear I heard some sick bastard suggest they put another team in the District of Columbia.

Finally, I need to get something straight about the National Football League’s stance on the arbitrary nature of this Instant Replay stuff.

Wasn’t this supposed remove controversy from the game?

CBS analyst, Phil Simms told me last year that he thought the whole thing was too ambiguous for its own good, that there are too many instances where no one understands its parameters; not the coaches, the fans, the media, or most importantly, the officials.

The league challenged the officials by ramming technology down their throats as a glaring second-guess machine, and then placated them with loopholes to circumvent its authority by coming up with new and exciting ways to void its use.

Despite the fact that this abomination saved me cash last week, what happened to the Oakland Raiders in New England last Saturday night is a tragic. The officials compromised the entire structure of the play-off system, and not a soul had a clue why, least of all my pal, Simms, who was standing in the frozen booth extolling the victorious Raiders while the anonymous Replay Official was changing the outcome.

The truth is the league is buoyed by the gambling culture; although anyone with any power would be loath to admit it. Hey, the league was tired of hearing that slow and incompetent officials were deciding the “integrity” of the game. There are photo finishes in horse racing, right? Instant Replay was supposed cure all of that.

Instead it has ground the game to a halt at key moments, put the already overwhelmed officials on the hot seat and sucked the life out of fairness by silly explanations, archaic rule interpretations and the always popular “inadvertent whistle”.

Makes you wish Vince Lombardi could be standing in the snow to listen to that dog crap. Now that would be worth the wait.

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