Jewish World Review July 29, 2005/ 22 Tammuz 5765


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Sap's Still Running: You Take Merman, I'll Take Tejada | John Podhoretz, who writes often-sensible conservative columns for The New York Post (although his 2000 infatuation with John McCain—shared by the more intellectually gifted Bill Kristol—made him suspect in my book, as did his support of Michael Bloomberg's failed West Side stadium boondoggle) is, on balance, a plus in Manhattan's phalanx of print commentators. He's also, on the few occasions I've met him, a cordial and sometimes funny fellow.

However, his contributions to National Review Online's "The Corner" have dumbed down what was once, even six months ago, a reliable and informative blog on daily political events. Podhoretz, who along with Hollywood denizen Warren Bell, joined the posting party not long ago, has infused the site with far too many pop culture whimsies and, true to form, isn't adverse to bullying other contributors there with bombastic responses to criticism. He's like the bad drunk at a party that you can't shake.

Not that my opinion matters at NRO headquarters, but it's too bad that the gracious editor Kathryn Jean Lopez is far too charitable to send the Pod upstairs to his room without dinner and TV privileges. I think it's a correct assumption that most "Corner" readers don't care a whit about Podhoretz's preference of the original The Bad News Bears to Billy Bob Thornton's current remake now in theaters.

It was on July 14 that Podhoretz reached a nadir—and that's saying something since he's scraped the bottom of the rhetorical barrel many, many times before. I'll take the Pod's claim that he's been a "baseball fanatic" for "decades" at face value, although I've never read a word he's written on the subject. Actually, I withdraw that. It's possible that Podhoretz doesn't know Casey Stengel from Casey at the Bat, judging by his imbecilic posting on the state of the game.

He writes: "Anybody who cares one whit about this sport any longer is a sap—a lovable sap, a sentimental sap, maybe. But a sap. Look at the facts. The records of the last decade were all drug-inducedů Meanwhile, now that nobody's taking drugs any longer the league rankings and ratings have gone totally screwy, and basically, the biggest star in the majors is a 75-year-old loudmouth and one-time convicted felon who paid in excess of $200 million for a team that can barely tie its shoelaces without whining and kvetching and losing. Yeeech. Baseball stinks."

Who's on the juice now, Podhoretz or rookie sensation Robinson Cano, one of the Yanks' best stories of the year?

1. "Loudmouth" George Steinbrenner, 75 on July 4, hardly speaks in public anymore. He's not very popular—although you can bet that fans in Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Milwaukee wouldn't mind having an owner spending a bundle of his own money to field a winning team—but, like Donald Trump, has receded into American culture's remainder bin. Take 15 years off George's age and he'd probably be hosting a reality TV show just like the man some brain-dead writers still refer to as "The Donald."

2. So Podhoretz is in cahoots with mental short person Jose Canseco in claiming that the records of the "last decade were all drug-induced"? I guess that means Cal Ripken Jr.'s consecutive game feat is suspect, or Derek Jeter's unquestionable clutch hitting starting in 1996 along with Mariano Rivera's spectacular 9th inning dominance were performed under the haze of drugs. Pedro Martinez, never even gossiped about in regard to steroids, was for a period of five years the most dominant pitcher since Sandy Koufax in the 60s.

3. I don't like a lot about modern baseball—the boutique stadiums, $5.50 Cokes, scoreboards that instruct fans to cheer, the designated hitter, some bratty players like Randy Johnson and Kenny Rogers abusing camera men—but am I a sap, even a "lovable" or "sentimental" one for continuing to attend games and follow the fortunes of the Red Sox while cursing the Yanks? Could be, although I guess that puts me in the same company with Podhoretz's "Corner" mates Lopez and Rich Lowry, smart conservatives who grow misty when a replay of Jeter's out-of-nowhere play in the 2001 playoffs prevented Jeremy Giambi from scoring a run.

4. Baseball stinks, according to this alleged onetime "fanatic"? What's worse: Barry Bonds' performance-enhancing creams or Hall of Famer Tris Speaker's KKK membership? I think it's a given that fans don't like cheating in any sports, but steroids and the like are just the current way to get an edge. Has the Pod ever heard of the now-illegal spitball that so many legendary pitchers used to befuddle batters? Or the cocaine tooted in clubhouses in the 80s, the long tradition of players tossing a mouthful of uppers before an afternoon game, Pete Rose ruining catcher Ray Fosse's career with a gratuitous body slam at the plate during the 1970 All Star game?

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5. Baseball's "rankings and ratings" are now "screwy" because of new drug-testing rules? The Chicago White Sox's incredible year thus far doesn't seem "screwy" to me, but rather a calculated, and exciting, change of offensive strategy, augmenting the long ball with speed, base-running and pitching. When the season's through, it'll probably be Alex Rodriguez who wins the American League's MVP, but despite his remarkable year, I don't think any player is more "valuable" than the ChiSox's Scott Podsednik, the stolen base leader in MLB so far in 2005, a guy who hits no home runs but completely alters the tenor of the game when he gets on base. That's not "screwy," but just sound baseball.

6. Bonds, Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Mark McGwire and many others might be tainted by 'roids, but there's plenty to admire about today's players. The increasing influx of athletes from other countries is exhilarating, and one looks forward to the day Cuba is liberated and its stars can join MLB without having to leave families behind. There are stars, some in their prime, some early in their careers, in the current "stinky" era that probably would've excelled at any time in the game's history. Just off the top of my head, what about this group: Miguel Tejada, Derrek Lee, David Ortiz, David Eckstein, Billy Wagner, Brian Roberts, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Prior, Rich Harden, Roy Halladay, Johnny Damon, David Wright, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Mark Burleigh, Dontrelle Willis and Coco Crisp. (Okay, I included Crisp just because he has my favorite baseball name, but the man's a rising star.)

7. Decent sportswriters are rare, but even the crummy ones are commenting on a subject they know something about. The Post's Joel Sherman is a hack, which was amply demonstrated on July 24 in his column on the trading deadline. Sherman suggested that the Mets make a play for Boston's Manny Ramirez, who's leading the American League in RBIs, for ancient mariner Tom Glavine. The reasoning is that the Sox are "tired" of Ramirez's "act," meaning his occasional lapses of concentration playing right field and goofy clubhouse behavior. Sure, Joel. If the Pod still followed baseball, he'd probably agree with you.

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

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© 2005, Russ Smith