By Bob Gaydos
Back page stuff: Last week, I wrote about my need in this time of negative news to find a feel-good sports story, one worthy of the back page in a tabloid newspaper. The baseball gods must have read my plea and felt my angst.
They delivered Gary Sanchez, a gift to Yankee fans like myself, in particular, and baseball fans in general. Sanchez, 22, was liberated from the Yankees’ minor league affiliate in Scranton, Pa., as part of the major league’s club purge of aging veterans and infusion of young, potential stars.
Sanchez has been with the Yankees for two weeks and has been named American League player of the year both weeks. No rookie has ever earned that honor back-to-back, never mind in his first two weeks. In fact, the last time an American League player won the award in consecutive weeks was 18 years ago and that was an established star, Albert Belle of the Chicago White Sox.
Sanchez was installed as the Yankees’ starting catcher and immediately started hitting home runs, a Yankee tradition. He has not stopped hitting them yet. He has 11 home runs in 23 career games. No Yankee slugger got to that number that quickly and the Yankees’ roster of sluggers boasts such names as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.
That’s not all. Sanchez is batting .398, driving in runs and throwing out would-be base stealers routinely with a cannon of an arm. He has energized a slumbering Yankee offense. His at bats have become must-see TV, or, in my case, must-hear radio. The other day, listening to the Yankee game on the car radio, I parked in the driveway at home as the Yankees were batting. Sanchez was due up next. I waited to hear what he would do. No way I was going to miss his at bat. He walked. He has been walked a lot, too, a sign of respect from pitchers who haven’t yet figured out how to get him out.
That will come, of course. The pace he has been on is impossible to maintain, but that’s what makes it back-page material. That’s what is at the heart of the appeal of sports — the wholly unexpected happening. Will he do it again? Oh my god, he did it again! The drama, the amazement, the shared joy of fan and player. The lure that first made me want to start the day by reading the paper from back to front,
The Yankees’ obviously had high hopes for Sanchez when they signed him to a $3 million bonus as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic. But no one could have predicted what his first two full weeks as a major league player would be like. The hope, of course, is that he doesn’t flame out just as quickly as he ignited, but that he settles in and becomes maybe another one of those legendary Yankee catchers. The ones who provided plenty of back page material themselves. Yogi, Thurman, Elston, Jorge. … Gary?
Meanwhile, back in the front of the paper:
When I read that the rapper 50 Cent was coming to Newburgh, a small city on the Hudson River that is struggling to regain its former glory, I had the same reaction as many other residents of the area: Newburgh? Really? He’s big time. Why’s he coming to Newburgh?
When I got the answer to that question, I had another question. Vodka? Really? He’s coming to Newburgh to shill vodka?
I have since asked myself numerous times whether my reaction to this appearance was somehow exaggerated or misplaced or unfair or even old-fashioned. I have decided that, in fact, my reaction was entirely appropriate and I can’t believe no one else has voiced it.
So … The idea that a world-famous black performer would come to Newburgh, a minority majority city that has had to battle drugs, gangs, drug-related shootings, crime in general, poverty, a sullied reputation and a revival effort that at times smells strongly of gentrification to sell, of all things, vodka in a company in which he is a shareholder struck me as ludicrous and incredibly tone deaf.
And talk about crass marketing. For a $40 bottle of vodka, a fan (more than 100 showed up at the liquor store) could get a bottle with 50 Cent’s signature. (I don’t know if he signs 50 in cursive.) For $240 — the price of a six-bottle case — one could get a photo with Mr. Cent. As far as I can tell, all the money stayed with 50. There were plenty of smiling faces. After two hours, he left, presumably to hawk his vodka at another liquor store.
This left a really bad taste in my mouth. Did he not know anything about Newburgh? Does he not remember his past in Queens? The drug-dealing as a teen. Being raised by his grandparents. Serving time in a juvenile detention facility. Being shot. Did he not have the sense even to say that any money collected from his appearance would go to efforts to fight drugs and alcoholism, to help after-school programs for children, to buy computers for the schools, to fund neighborhood cleanup programs, to promote cultural awareness programs, to help a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, to fund scholarships for talented students who might want to pursue a career in music? Pick one.
He doesn’t need the money. His appearance helped only the liquor store owner and the company that sells the vodka. They’re entitled to want to succeed. And 50 Cent is entitled to want to help make his shares in the company appreciate. But Newburgh deserved better. Be a source of inspiration for Pete’s sake, not a liquor salesman. You’re a star; act like one. Give a performance; raise money to promote revival of Newburgh beyond the waterfront.
On the same day as Mr. Cent hawked vodka, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also visited Newburgh to “unveil a new affordable housing program in which residents can take over properties at little to no cost and get money for renovations,” according to the local paper. Unfortunately, more people were aware of the vodka event than the housing event.
By the way, the name of the booze 50 Cent is pushing? Effen Vodka. Yeah, it’s not funny.
And so it went …