Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Baseball, bigots and the Hall of Fame

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

Curt Schilling ... never one to hide his feelings

Curt Schilling … never one to hide his feelings

It’s time for my annual turn from the front page to the back page (sports page) for some message on the meaning of life. Also, pitchers and catchers report any day now. 

  Typically, late January offers baseball fans an opportunity to argue (we don’t debate) about who got into the Hall of Fame and who didn’t and why. Last year was pretty mild, the only question being how one spiteful sports writer could’ve left Derek Jeter off his ballot, keeping the Yankee great from being named to the Hall unanimously of his first try. Baseball made up for that lack of drama when, in the same week, the Mets fired Carlos Beltran as their manager before he ever managed a game because he was part of a cheating scandal as a coach with the Houston Astros. Karma. So there was a lesson in good and evil on the back page.

     This year, the January controversy revolved around Curt Schilling, who wasn’t elected to the Hall of Fame, even though he and 71.1% of the 401 sports writers who voted thought he belonged. A player needs 75% of the ballots to get in. Schilling needed 16 more votes. A star pitcher for Arizona and Boston, he fancies himself as a bit of an outspoken character. As fate would have it, he seems to have run afoul of baseball’s “character” clause. That is, he probably didn’t get enough votes not because he wasn’t a good enough player, but rather, because his presence in the Hall of Fame would somehow tarnish the name of Major League Baseball. He wasn’t a good enough person.

      A little about Schilling: His pitching credentials, in my opinion, are borderline Hall of Fame. He was a star in postseason play. I wouldn’t be too put out if he got in. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of his human-being credentials. He has espoused far-right conspiracy theories, compared Muslims to Nazis, said Hillary Clinton should “be buried under a jail somewhere“ and has spoken out vigorously against transgender people, among other things. He also enthusiastically endorsed a suggestion posted on social media that sports writers be hanged. (Since that’s who votes on Hall of Fame candidates, this was also a stupid thing to do, in my opinion.)

       But should stupidity or bigotry be reasons for disqualification from the Hall of Fame? (History says no.) And should baseball writers be the ones making that decision? These are the questions to ponder while waiting for the impeachment trial.

       Schilling has asked that his name be taken off the list of next year’s candidates. It would be his tenth and final year of eligibility and there’s been a lot of speculation, based on the history of other players, that he probably would manage to eke out that 75%. Schilling said he’d rather put his fate in the hands of another committee, which considers umpires, managers and other non-players as well as those who did not make the hall during their eligibility period. Apparently, he feels this group wouldn’t care how much he mouthed off about hanging sports writers or how much he hates Hillary and loves Donald Trump. The Board of Directors of the Hall of Fame said they would consider Schilling’s request.

        Of course, Schilling isn’t the only one of current Hall-eligible players running up against the “character” issue. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two dominant players whose Hall of Fame credentials are beyond question, also did not receive enough votes. That’s because they were part of baseballs “juicing era,“ when many players used steroids and other substances to enhance their performances on the field. To me, this would come under the heading of cheating, which one would think would qualify as being harmful to the image of baseball. Being not of good character. But neither man was penalized by major league baseball for using performance enhancing drugs and both have been on the Hall of Fame eligibility list for nine years, just like Schilling.

     It would seem to me, if baseball wants to have a character clause in deciding who gets into the Hall of Fame, it should apply that clause beforehand and decide which players do not even belong on the annual list, rather than leaving it to sportswriters. (I can’t think of a more qualified group to do the actual voting, as has been suggested.) That makes the writers’ task much simpler. If he’s on the list, just judge him on his on-field performance and nothing else. His character is OK with us. In that case, Bonds and Clemens would be shoe-ins. 

      Schilling to me would still remain borderline, a man with far-right extremist views who was also a very good pitcher. Someone who, ironically, was removed by ESPN as its commentator on the 2015 Little League World Series because he posted something on social media comparing Muslims to Nazis and who the next year was fired by ESPN for an anti-transgender post on social media. In those cases, I think ESPN made the right decision, for the good name of baseball and for them as journalists.

      So, this year’s lesson from the sports pages: If you want to be fussy about what kind of people can come into your home, you set the rules and you make the decision. Don’t give some strangers that responsibility. Also, if you’re going to shoot your mouth off with hateful nonsense, be prepared for the consequences.

      For me, Schilling can go to Cooperstown or not, just don’t ask me to have lunch with that bigoted, loudmouth jerk.

rjgaydos@gmail,com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Good News, from Back to Front Page

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

 The newest Yankee pitcher, Gerritt Cole, pitches batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Spring training has been delayed.

The newest Yankee pitcher, Gerritt Cole, pitches batting practice at Yankee Stadium. Spring training has been delayed.

  The boys of summer are going to finally start playing baseball … in July. Better late than never. Basketball and hockey players will be busy, too. For them, it’s unfinished business.

    This falls in the category of good news, for the players and fans, not to mention team owners and all the ancillary employees. Sports may be considered a diversion by some, a trifle to others. But to millions, sports are a welcome, even healthful, escape. As citizens of an agitated world, we can all use something to, if only temporarily, take our minds off, you know, things. Something to at least start the day without anxiety and angst.

     I began following the late Earl Warren’s formula for starting the day in my late teens: Begin reading in the back of the paper with the sports pages. Warren said: “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.“

     For me, it was the New York Daily News. Look at the other stuff later; it’ll still be there. I figured if it was good enough for a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, it was good enough me. Who won? Who pitched? How many, how fast, how about that?

     Later, when I was a sports editor for a couple of years, I tried to make my pages entertaining enough for other followers of Warren‘s philosophy. Here’s your morning jolt, sports fans! I don’t know if I succeeded, but it was certainly fun for me.

      So when they stopped sports along with everything else four months ago, it was bad news. There was nowhere to go for diversion. Netflix has served a purpose, but it’s tough to start the real day with fantasy heroes. Who hit the buzzer beater? Did the Knicks actually win? Who’s playing shortstop for the Yankees this year?

       I know it won’t be the same for a while. Maybe ever. So it’ll be different. But it’s likely that there will be pro sports later this month and, more likely, pro football in the fall. Go Giants! That’s good news.

      If you’re wondering why I’m focusing on good news here, it’s because of a comment Emma Gonzalez-Laders, a faithful reader, made on my most recent column: “You’re not normally the bringer of good news. I like this twist.”

      The “twist” she was referring to was taking a week’s worth of events that didn’t go the way Donald Trump would have liked — Supreme Court rulings, botched firings, campaign rallies in empty stadiums, stuff like that — and reporting it as good news. It’s what one has had to do to find “good news” in an age of all-Trump, all-chaos, all the time. It can get exhausting.

       But, nothing is forever. Witness the results of a recent poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll, taken shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, reported that about half of American adults believe police violence against the public is a “very” or “extremely” serious problem. Last September, that same poll showed only about one-third of American adults felt that way.

       That is a significant change in a short period of time on a controversial social issue. The poll also revealed that 61 percent of Americans say police in most communities are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than a white person. That compares with 49 percent in 2015. And only about a third of Americans say the race of a person does not make a difference in the police use of deadly force. In 2015, half of Americans felt that way. Significantly, 65 percent said that police officers who cause injury or death in the course of their job are treated too leniently by the justice system, a 24-point increase over 2015.

        The poll results, along with the nationwide demonstrations protesting the way police took Floyd into custody — an officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes while three officers stood by and watched — suggest that Americans are finally ready to  rethink the role of police in their communities. Indeed, there has been a flurry of legislative action at city, state and federal levels to redefine the police mission, reduce police budgets, rethink training and recruiting, strip forces of military hardware, even eliminate police forces since Floyd’s much-viewed death.

         The fact that Floyd’s death was recorded and played millions of times on social media and that, subsequently, other examples of police violence against peaceful protesters were similarly recorded and played on social media for the world to see certainly had to play a role in this dramatic sea change in public opinion, as compared to the slow change in societal attitudes on other issues such as same sex marriage. It was finally hard to deny what people were seeing with their own eyes, over and over again. 

        The polltakers say the sudden, dramatic change suggests that this may be a permanent shifting in attitude, rather than the transitory flurry of outrage that has followed school shootings, for example.

        This is, to me, good news. Long-overdue, perhaps, but still good news. Like the long-overdue beginning of the baseball season.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

And So it Went: A Sports Fan Desperately in Need of a Back Page

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Usain Bolt, enjoying himself

Usain Bolt … enjoying himself

I started reading newspapers from back to front pretty much when I started reading newspapers regularly. Eleven. Twelve. Little League age. I should back up a bit here and explain that in our house having a half dozen or so daily papers stacked on a chair at the end of the kitchen table was routine. My mother was an avid reader of newspapers, a fact which baffles me to this day because she virtually never discussed current events. She had to be the best-informed, least-opinionated person I’ve ever known. Kind of the opposite of what we have today.

At any rate, among those daily papers were two New York City tabloids, The New York Daily News and The New York Daily Mirror. For a boy whose life revolved around sports, they were required reading and sports, of course, was the back of the paper, starting with the back page. The papers had great reporters, columnists, photos, everything necessary to keep a blossoming Yankee fan from noticing that other Yankees — American GIs — were fighting in a war in Korea. An uncle among them.

As I grew older, my interests broadened, as did my appreciation of good writing. The pile of papers at the end of the table grew taller proportionally. What once consisted of The Bayonne Times, The Jersey Journal, The Newark Star-Ledger, The News and The MIrror, gradually expanded to at varying times include The Herald Tribune (my favorite), the Journal-American, The New York Post and occasionally even the World Telegram & Sun. If there was a sports section, I found it. If it wasn’t the back page, it was still the back of the paper. Fun and games. Batting averages and touchdown passes.

No war. No politics. No crime. No scandal. Plenty of time to read about that other stuff later in the day. It helped me ease into my day even as I began to realize there were other supposedly more important topics to read about. Sports was always an escape valve from the petty annoyances and major disappointments of the rest of life.

Maybe that’s why sports reporters always seemed to be so content, regardless of what was happening in the world. They got to go to a sporting event free, write a story about and do it over again the next day. And get paid for it. Sweet. I had a brief taste of this in my journalism career as a sports editor in upstate New York for a year or so. The heaviest weight the world put on my shoulders was how to play Mark Spitz’s record haul of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics. As fate would have it, I worked for a tabloid, so I splashed a big picture of Spitz, his medals and the headline, “The Magnificent Seven.” I thought it was as good as any of the New York City tabs could do.

Later, as editorial page editor at a different upstate paper for 23 years, I wound up writing about all the other stuff. Stuff I still write about today when I feel the inspiration, which of late has been difficult to come by. All of which is a long way of saying that, while I still turn to the sports page to start my day today, it’s not nearly the same. First of all, on the Internet there is no back page. More to the point, the sports pages are no longer a sanctuary from the social problems of the day.

One of the biggest sports stories recently was the “retirement” of Alex Rodriguez from the New York Yankees. A-Rod got $27 million to go away. You don’t have to honor your contract for next year, Alex; take the money with our blessings. Rodriguez, of course, was a central figure in baseball’s steroids scandal. He was suspended for a year for cheating. Why he felt the need to cheat is beyond me since he was regarded as one of the best players in baseball without enhancing his performance with drugs. Instead of marveling at his skills, which is, after all, what sports is all about, fans are left to wonder how much his statistics were inflated by steroids.

I watched a movie recently, “The Program,” which details the lengths to which Lance Armstrong (If ever there was a name for a sports hero, that was it) went to win the Tour de France — seven times. Armstrong, who survived testicular cancer, apparently knew he was good, but not good enough, to win the legendary cycling race, so he signed on for a regimented doping program from the outset, recruiting teammates for the lying and cheating that brought him fame and fortune and ultimate disgrace. He made the front page.

It’s not just drugs. Last week, a kicker for the New York Giants was suspended for one game because of an old domestic violence complaint by his ex-wife. One game. The National Football League has been plagued with domestic violence complaints for several years and has yet to figure out a consistent policy on dealing with them. Then again, the NFL also had trouble figuring out how to penalize teams that deflate the footballs.

Of course, the biggest sporting event of the year has been the Olympics in beautiful Brazil, with its polluted waters, corrupt government, and economic problems. The event began with the Russian track team being banned because of a government-sponsored doping program. It featured a medal-winning American swimmer, Ryan Lochte, claiming he and some teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio, when they actually had gotten drunk and trashed a service station bathroom.

This was all back page stuff, but hardly a diversion from the travails of the day. Hardly uplifting of the human spirit, as the Olympics likes to present itself.

But then … there was also Michael Phelps, still swimming despite two DUI arrests, and his record haul of medals. Also: the other USA swimmers, male and female; the women gymnasts; the basketball team; Yusra Mardini, the Syrian refugee who swam as part of an Olympic Refugee team; the female runners who collided, fell down, helped each other up and finished the race. Literally uplifting.

Finally, there is the face of this Olympics, at least for me: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt blurring to victory for the third time in the 100-meter dash, permanently retiring the title of “Fastest Human Alive.” Bolt actually took the time in a qualifying race for the 100-meters to glance back to see if anyone was gaining on him. No one was. He smiled. Wow! Now that’s a back page.

Bolt won three golds. Of course, the Twitterverse could not avoid the question of the day: What drugs do you think he’s on?

And so it went.

Dedicated to: Jimmy Breslin, Jimmy Cannon and Jim Murray.

rjgaydos@gmail.com