Jewish World Review June 8, 2000/ 5 Sivan, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- PARDON ME for a brief sojourn into Roger Angell-and George Will-ville. Maybe it's age that causes political pundits and poets to write about baseball in terms that the bleacher bums-unfairly denied their suds at Yankee Stadium-or box-seat fans, for that matter, don't really want to read. Highbrow sports prose is an oxymoron of the most obnoxious sort. I agree with most of Will's conservative views, but his columns can be tough sledding. The boorish and staff-researched references to Wordsworth, Homer and Dickens, to name just a few, are even worse than his pinch-faced appearances on the tube.
(Although I'm fully aware that it's their mutual love of the game that caused Will-who skewered President Bush-and Gov. George W. Bush to bond.)
But when he and The New Yorker's Angell ladle out pretentious essays about the Temple of Baseball, it's enough to make you a hockey fan.
That said, the pitching matchup two Sundays ago between the Bosox's Pedro Martinez and the Yanks' Roger Clemens was the most exciting I've ever seen, live or on tv. Clemens was the more dominant player, with 13 blazing strikeouts, while Martinez was steady as usual, picking up a modest number of Ks for him, nine over the course of the contest.
Clemens is about done as a power starter. His bust in Cooperstown is assured, and if the Yanks were smart, they'd do a Dennis Eckersley on the guy and make him their closer. He'd extend his career by perhaps six years. As it was-and this is where I get pretentious myself-the conflict between yesterday's greatest pitcher and today's was like the battle between the Merrimac and Monitor; in the end, you knew Clemens would make one bad pitch and blow the best game in his checkered career as a Yankee. And I thought it was pretty cool that Trot Nixon-now that's a throwback baseball name-hit the two-run homer that doomed Clemens, especially after the cocky pitcher taunted the 26-year-old in the first inning after striking him out.
The three-game series at the Stadium was swell if you root for the Sox; the only blight was Derek Jeter coming off the disabled list and punching out some hits during Saturday's 8-3 victory for the home team. That afternoon game happened to be the one that Mrs. M, Junior, MUGGER III and I attended. My youngest son, after the requisite cotton candy, soda and hotdog, got bored, and he and my wife departed early so he could ride his Razor scooter in Tribeca.
Junior, who's developed into a huge baseball fan, was disappointed when I said, "Let's beat the crowds," and took him home at the end of the seventh. My friend Rick, another Sox fan, was sitting near us in the same section, and just as the Yanks got up to bat in the sixth, I told him, "I'm smelling trouble." He agreed.
If you're a Sox fan you really do believe in the Curse of the Bambino, despite my seven-year-old's protestations that the hex has been wiped out because it's a new century. It was Smalltown New York that day, as we ran into one of Junior's classmates from school on the subway to the game, and then later, while we were waiting for a Coke vendor at the Stadium, a teammate from the New York Press Bears, Victor Biondolillo.
On Friday night, Mrs. M and I had just come back from another extraordinary dinner at Tribeca's new Roc, and Junior was transfixed in front of the 56-inch tv, watching that idiot who fell or jumped into the net behind home plate. He told me the essentials of the game up to that point. Soon he fell asleep, but Ramon Martinez had just about put the Yanks down, doing a fair imitation of his brother Pedro in leading the Sox to a 4-1 win.
Not to cut Will and Angell any slack, but there has to be a happy medium between writing that elevates baseball players to the status of Roman warriors and the stupid output of most beat sportswriters. For example, after the series was completed, Gordon Edes of The Boston Globe wrote on May 30: "(An aside to Mr. T. Kennedy, Hyannisport: Your excellency, with all due respect, your beloved clan is in danger of losing its status as First Family in the commonwealth. For all the celebrated accomplishments of you and your brothers, we humbly direct your attention to the weekend results from the Bronx: The Brothers Martinez 2, Yankees 1. Ask not what Red Sox Nation can do for you, ask what you can do for Red Sox Nation.)"
The Boston Herald's Howie Carr must've retched upon reading that tripe.
I didn't write about the three-game series last week because I thought I might jinx the Sox: another superstition bites the dust since they've-as of this dispatch-lost five in a row.
And my friend Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, might be advised to keep his written comments confined to why Tom Ridge will doom the GOP this fall, and not delve into the sociology of Yankee fans. Writing a short piece for NR's online site on May 30, Lowry did get one thing right-that Baltimore's absurdly overrated Camden Yards is "a yuppified bit of nostalgic fakery"-but in enthusing over Yankee Stadium, certainly the best baseball park in the country aside from Boston's Fenway, Lowry gets a little snooty himself.
He writes: "All this said, it would be nice to be able to bring your children, or parents, or girlfriend to the Stadium, without worrying about what slobbering foolishness they might witness. A compromise is in order. Let the rowdies in the bleachers-where few civilized people will want to venture anyway-keep their beer, but render some other significant chunk of the Stadium alcohol-free. Then, the House that Ruth Built will truly offer something for everyone."
That slur against people who sit in the bleachers, the cheapest seats at the Stadium, is beneath Lowry, who usually produces smart commentary. I don't suppose he grew up in the Tri-State area, but plenty of us remember baking in the outfield's sun, thrilled by what was then the $2 bleacher admission charge, happy to see the game from another perspective.
Besides, it's not only the "uncivilized" bleacher denizens who get rowdy. I've had beer spilled all over my Savile Row suit in the fifth row of the box seats behind the Yanks' dugout; as a kid, sat in rightfield by the foul pole during a New York-Cleveland doubleheader and saw four fat guys barf their guts out after drinking a cup of suds every inning; and was almost assaulted late in the season back in '86, when the Red Sox ruled and I was dumb enough to wear a Bosox cap. This was in the "civilized" loge section.
The author of the piece, Dennis Prager, eviscerates the reflexive media reaction to the relief pitcher's off-the-cuff, and dumb, comments to a clever Sports Illustrated reporter late last year. (Jeff Pearlman was the SI writer, and a chance meeting between him and his subject in Atlanta just this past Sunday caused a stir: Rocker told Pearlman, "Do you know what I can do to you?") Because the Braves pitcher made some nasty remarks about New York City and its "gorgeous mosaic" of citizens-and if you're from a rural town in the South, New York must seem like Mars-he was suspended by the cowardly commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, and forced to endure sensitivity counseling. Using the same logic, I have no idea why Al Sharpton or Pat Buchanan isn't similarly condemned.
Sure, they both have legions of detractors, but also loyal followings. Rocker's only friends are some Braves fans and teammates and any Major League Baseball owner who'd love to buy him from Atlanta to save games for his team.
Prager's is a splendid story, studded with examples of mindless thinking on the part of the media. He's especially derisive about Jay Leno, the late night talk-show comedian who attacks only "safe targets."
Here's one particularly smart excerpt from Prager's piece: "There is little question that a media mob set out after Rocker not for reasons of moral principle or damage to the sport but because, for all their talk against hatred, many liberals have a great deal of hate, and the liberal media frequently foment it. Had Rocker beaten his girlfriend or wife, he would have been ignored. Had he choked his coach as Latrell Sprewell, now a beloved New York Knicks player, did, he might have received a sympathetic 3,000 word profile in the New York Times Magazine. Had he sold heroin, he would have been punished, but no columnist or editorialist or comic would have humiliated him, no fans would have cursed him as tens of thousands did recently in Los Angeles and as packed stadiums no doubt will in New York when his team plays there at the end of June."
New York's dailies were all over the latest Rocker controversy on June 5. Talk about blowing a tiny incident out of proportion-the coverage made William Randolph Hearst's thump-a-thump jingoism look tame by comparison. George Vecsey, in the Times, was the worst offender: he claims that most of Rocker's teammates want him traded or sold. Maybe, maybe not. If his pitching continues to stink, I'd agree. The craziest part of Vecsey's idiotic and contradictory article comes early on, when he writes: "The Braves are one of the classy organizations in sports, and plan to remain so." Really? Having a bombastic fruitcake like Ted Turner, who names his own team's stadium after himself, is "class"? But then, Vecsey, soulmate to Hillary Clinton, slips: "What kind of signal is it that management permits the display of the Georgia flag with the Confederate emblem directly in front of the Braves' dugout while the national anthem is being played?"
So what is it, George: "class" or racism?
Shortly before this column was finished, Rocker, in another
incredible cave-in to rampant liberalism, was demoted to the Braves'
Triple-A team in Richmond-and fined a reported $5000-for his behavior