Jewish World Review June 7, 2002/ 27 Sivan 5762


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Consumer Reports

Seventh-inning stampede | The family went out to Yankee Stadium last Sunday and I can't remember a more delightful day in the Bronx. After the Red Sox bullpen implosion on Saturday, thanks to "Yankee killer" Darren Oliver and to Rich Garces (who serves up home run balls like hotdogs off the grill), my hopes weren't high for the Bosox winning the rubber game. That night, a buddy sent this e-mail summarizing the demoralizing defeat: "Now there's a pitching performance [referring to Garces]: #1. Hit batsman. #2. Strike. #3. Strike. #4. Grand-slam on an 0-2 count. How long is this frigging bell going to have to toll?"

The Times' worst baseball writer, Murray Chass, was exuberant in predicting the Sox's demise in Sunday's paper. "It was only one game," Chass merrily keypunched away, "but the Yankees and Red Sox demonstrated yesterday why they will almost certainly finish the season in that order... When a seldom-used-this was only [Enrique] Wilson's sixth start of the season-and light-hitting (.161) utility infielder employs the Yankees' weapon of choice this season and whacks a grand slam no less, and the Red Sox try to keep up with a sacrifice bunt, plus an unsuccessful double steal in the second inning, the outcome of the division race seems to be already written on the dugout wall."

After Frank Castillo, backed by the hitting of "seldom-used" Doug Mirabelli, Nomar Garciaparra, Rickey Henderson and Shea Hillenbrand, limited the Yanks to four singles in the Bosox 7-1 win on Sunday, Jason Giambi spoke to AP reporter Ben Walker and made a comment that Chass and George Steinbrenner must've choked on. "It seems like it's going to come down to these two teams battling all season long," the superstar said. "I just hope we don't look back at the end of the season and say, 'Oh, if we'd have won one more game.'" Needless to say, that last sentence wasn't printed in any New York newspaper on Monday morning.

It was gratifying to see Yankees fans (who, by and large, are polite and eager to talk baseball even with Sox devotees) leave the Stadium in droves by the seventh inning. We did have an ugly incident in the fourth inning while my wife was off on a Coke and pretzel run. Twenty feet behind us, a soused middle-aged man standing in a luxury box, who'd been yelling, "Boston s---s!" nonstop since the game's start, wouldn't let up, his volume increasing with each beer consumed. He glared at the Sox caps and t-shirts the boys were wearing; after an especially grating "Boston s---s!" MUGGER III turned around and countered with, "Yankees s---, mister!" So this dope, unhappy with his team's play on the field and probably his own life in general, decided to pick on a seven-year-old and responded with the witty one-liner, "So does your mother!"

I warn the boys to ignore drunks at the Stadium, but this was too much. Immediately, Junior and I stood up, faced the scumbag and while I pointed at him and said, "Watch your mouth, a--hole!" my older son gave him the finger. That shut the guy up for good. On the drive home, I told our sons that such tactics aren't generally smart, but when somebody attacks your family all bets are off. Junior just nodded and said, "Good thing Mom didn't hear that-she'd have strangled him."

Anyway, it was a terrific afternoon (aside from Henderson's scary-looking but not too serious injury), and while the Sox are in desperate need of bullpen help, I can't complain about the season so far. In fact, just as a reality check, on Sunday night I watched Bucky Dent's homer in the '78 playoff game that was rebroadcast on the awful YES cable station. Keeps a Boston fan honest.


Let us begin by stating the obvious: A baseball strike this August or October would be a kick in the pants to fans across the country. There are no white hats in the "labor" impasse. Bud Selig, the conflict-of-interest commissioner, is not fit for the job. His petty, pea-brained performance in matters from the public humiliation of John Rocker to announcing contraction plans just after the thrilling 2001 World Series to his utter nonsense that six to eight teams are on the verge of bankruptcy makes him the equivalent of a middle reliever who gives up a grand-slammer to a sub-.200 hitter. Yes, that's Boston's Rich Garces I'm referring to, but more on that later. Just as Garces is better suited as maitre d' at a Red Lobster restaurant, Selig must be immediately fired.

Selig uncorked his uncorroborated claim about so many teams facing bankruptcy at a May 16 luncheon with Los Angeles Times reporters and editors. According to an ESPN dispatch, Selig didn't even have the guts to name the clubs that might go out of business. Never mind that a baseball franchise hasn't folded in more than 100 years-although many have relocated-what's really insulting about Selig's hollow rhetoric is that even if one team were about to go belly up, there are, conservatively, about 100 billionaires who'd jump at the opportunity to own, say the Royals or Pirates, costs be damned. Sort of like developer Mort Zuckerman strutting his stuff in Manhattan and DC since his acquisition of the Daily News many years ago. If the Los Angeles Dodgers are losing money, I doubt that proprietor Rupert Murdoch is losing sleep over the red ink.

I loathe the thought of Mario Cuomo replacing Selig, but the situation really is that perilous. Another candidate who could bridge the gap between the two equally greedy sides would be Gene Michael, the longtime Yankees' man of all trades. As a former player, Michael ought to gain the confidence of the ballplayers; his years in management at the behest of George Steinbrenner qualify him on the management side. In a sport that isn't known for brainpower, Michael would be a winning choice.

New York Times columnist Dave Anderson was outraged in his May 19 assessment of the players' union threat to strike this October. Anderson, who also has no sympathy for the owners, wrote: "By putting that possibility out there so early, the union has never been so brazenly arrogant in its treatment of the fans who, one way or another, ultimately pay the players' multimillion-dollar contracts. With the treasure of the playoffs and the World Series in doubt, it's as if the union is:

"Telling Boston Red Sox fans not to bother rooting that this could be the year when the Red Sox not only finish ahead of the Yankees, but also win the World Series for the first time since 1918. Because there won't be a World Series.

"Telling Arizona Diamondbacks fans not to bother rooting for Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson to combine for 50 victories and for the Diamondbacks to win the World Series for the second straight year. Because there won't be a World Series.

"Telling Yankee fans not to bother rooting for Derek Jeter to earn his fifth World Series ring. Because there won't be a World Series... "Telling San Francisco Giants fans not to bother rooting for Barry Bonds to slug the Giants into the World Series. Because there won't be a World Series.

"Telling fans everywhere not to bother rooting for anything except a new collective bargaining agreement that would overpay most players."

One more wrinkle. If indeed the stalemate threatens the postseason, President Bush ought to intercede, summoning negotiators to the White House for an afternoon. Bush has no power legally to do so, but as the nation's number-one baseball fan (and a former owner) his stern words would, I think, save the season. In a few short hours Bush could explain to these out-of-touch businessmen and athletes that the only losers in a shutdown are Americans who cherish the game and lose themselves, and their day-to-day worries, by following their favorite teams. If labor or management were still to balk after meeting with the President, baseball would be doomed for several years at least.

A successful outcome from such a summit-the World Series goes on, maybe even the Expos are moved to San Juan instead of DC-has obvious political advantages for Bush. His popularity ratings would spike a few points and, if he could pull off the Puerto Rico plan, the GOP's continuing quest for Hispanic voters would be given a lift. But that's just a fleeting bonus for Bush: the more important result would be that baseball fans wouldn't be screwed once again, as in the travesty of 1994, by rich men (on both sides) who can't possibly identify with the people who flock to see them hit and catch balls.


It's been years since this old codger has seen a pop concert at Madison Square Garden, but there I was last Friday night with nine-year-old Junior and our buddy George Tabb for Green Day's stop in NYC on its "Pop Disaster Tour" with Blink-182 and Saves the Day. You'd guess correctly that it wasn't my idea, but when tickets went on sale two months ago, the date seemed far away, and besides, my son was so excited at the prospect of his first live show there was no turning back. This was combat duty, since I gave away seats for the Sox-Yanks game at the Stadium that night, but when Junior dyed his hair green, put on his Green Day t-shirt and ripped sweat pants, my enthusiasm swelled.

My, how things have changed at the Garden! Back in '72, for example, when I saw the Stones (with opening act Stevie Wonder), there was a halfhearted security check at the door for nickel bags of grass; in 2002, concertgoers-half of whom had cellphones-had their studs, bracelets, decorative chains and the like confiscated at the gate.

I also saw, from our nosebleed seats, a curious instance of racial profiling. A fellow in front of us, a young version of paleface Mike Doughty, lit up a cigarette (now forbidden, of course) and was instantly warned that he'd be ejected if the butt wasn't stamped out immediately. Not that the black official paid any attention to the youngster two seats away, a teenage Mo Vaughn lookalike, who was smoking reefer throughout the concert.

Of all the lightweight punk bands, Green Day's my favorite. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong is no dummy, and while his kiss-off song to old fans, "Good Riddance," isn't exactly "Positively Fourth Street," his lyrics are 100 percent more coherent than the bathroom repertoire of the odious Blink-182. (Blink had the nerve to make fun of the Penguins' classic "Earth Angel" at one point.) But it's a different era. Armstrong's just 30, which gives him another five or six years of serious songwriting; instead, Green Day's set was a Vegas oldies act, with no new material, stage props like a giant rabbit and chickens, pulling kids out of the crowd to play guitar and about 10 mentions of how terrific it was to be in New York City. Even more annoying, although predictable since it was a "greatest hits" playlist, was the youthful audience singing along to every number.

I'm being cranky, probably, and truth is, seeing Junior standing with the crowd and also shouting out the lyrics to "Welcome to Paradise," "When I Come Around" and "Minority," for example, softened me up, tickled that he was showing such passion for the music. I looked around the Garden and saw the ghosts of a younger MUGGER: There were the seats I sat in with Elena Seibert and Dave Cicale for the '72 Stones show; the section for Dylan's '75 "Night of the Hurricane" concert; the row where I puked after too much Jack Daniel's right in the middle of Elton John's "Love Lies Bleeding" in '76; and so many other shows I recounted that it left me dizzy.

My son, at first awed by the sheer volume of the bands, fit right in with the Clearasil crowd, and the only time he flinched was when a boozed-up gang started slam-dancing behind our seats, with one jerk tripping into me, almost causing whiplash to my geriatric neck.

Of course, this is just the beginning: Junior's already scanning ads for the next show he wants us to attend. Okay by me, although one thing's for certain: I just won't allow him a cellphone so he can call friends in the middle of a concert to tell them where he is.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith