Fear, loathing and whining

Baseball and precedent

When in 1946 the baseball commissioner at the time, wily old Happy Chandler, first informed the major league owners of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ plan to sign black ballplayers the owners responded with an angry 14-2 vote against the idea. Whereupon Chandler informed them, “Ain’t no way, Boys,” then set to work cajoling and brow-beating them until he finally hammered out their reluctant consent.

Chandler, by the way, was a southern politician and inveterate good old boy from Kentucky steeped in the traditions and accents of Dixie who loved to wax and wane on Civil War lore. But he would later say he got to thinking and finally concluded that when his time came he didn’t think “The Big Guy” would be very happy with him if he didn’t find a way to let Jackie Robinson and his soulmates play baseball in the major leagues. For some reason, Chandler’s heroic and principled stand is one of the least celebrated of baseball’s truly gallant moments.

Compare all that with Bud Selig’s craven performance on steroids. He now tells us that he wanted to be more aggressive on the issue early on, but he knew the players association wouldn’t like it and “feared” (his word) it would lead to a work stoppage. So from 1995 through 2002, Bud fretted while the union stonewalled and the problem spiraled into the fiasco now upon us.

Had Chandler behaved in the same way the integration of baseball would have been stalled well into the mid-fifties and you would never have heard of Jackie Robinson. For both the instruction and inspiration on how to take a bold and courageous stand Czar Selig need only have reviewed the history of his own office. Instead, he capitulated to “fear.”

That is what makes entirely ludicrous Bud’s furious indignation with the mere suggestion that he should now share in the blame for the present mess. Who does he think should be held responsible; the tooth fairy?

When an injury is more than an injury

If the lately sputtering Bruins fade in the stretch -- increasingly a possibility -- injuries will be the excuse and it will be valid. Problem is almost every team in the league can make the same claim. Injuries are the great equalizer; true in every game but all the more so in the festivals of hard knocks and triage featured in football and hockey. Which is why the regulation of these games with rules that are well defined, fully understood, and wisely enforced is absolutely vital.

It remains infuriating that the “new look” NHL with its loathing of fighting and abhorrence of the pesky little infractions that mar the game’s pace and flow continue to tolerate and even minimize the infractions that can end a man’s career.

Last season it was the brutal, blindside, boardings that so blighted the Bruins season. In a single vicious and needless shot, Andrew Alberts got reduced from a promising young defenseman to a borderline NHL journeyman. He won’t be back. You can bet on that. Even more galling was the Flyers’ mugging of potential star Patrice Bergeron. It almost cost him his career. Will he ever be the same? School is still out on that.

In both instances the hits were cheap, dirty, pointless and only lightly punished. Alberts and Bergeron missed entire seasons with consequences that linger. The pair of Flyer’s bushwhackers sat out three games.

This year it’s the ever popular high-stick hijinks that threaten to both sidetrack a Bruins’ season and hobble promising young performers. High stickings that result in injury are usually severely punished. But with everyone on the ice decked out in space age helmets replete with chin guards and eye visors it becomes acceptable for players to spin about with their sticks at high port and so they do, even though it is dumb, and apparently the officials are less vigilant about the possible consequences.

In consecutive games the Bruins lost Michael Ryder and Petteri Nokelainen with both players but barely escaping serious eye injuries by mere centimeters. In the first instance, Ryder who was the Bruins hottest scorer at the time took a frisky shot across the bridge of his nose from the stick of Ottawa’s Antoine Vermette. A penalty was called and in the ensuing power-play the Bruins got the goal that beat the Senators although Ryder had the right to feel that being nearly blinded was a hefty price to pay for a win. Poor Nokelainen was denied even such meager satisfaction. When he took the stick of San Jose’s Dan Boyle in the face leaving an eye bloodied, no penalty was called.

Ryder will end up missing about a month after having to endure delicate facial surgery. Who knows when the young Finn will return. Since Ryder went down, the Bruins have lost six out of seven and are now reportedly muttering about doing something foolhardy, like trading Phil Kessel, to get back on track. It’s a lousy way for a nice season to go awry.

Any high sticking incident that results in an injury to the head or face let alone eyes of a player -- no matter how unintentional or inadvertent -- should result in an automatic suspension. The stick belongs on the ice. Period! And any boarding resulting in the injuring of a player that is ruled to have been motivated by “an intent to injure” must be punished by having the player who made the hit sit out for as many games (or seasons) as the player who took the hit. That would end the nonsense.

There has to be more consistency in the way they deal with the really serious infractions in this game. Ah, but they never miss the holding, hooking and interference calls. Nor can I ever recall a player losing an eye or missing a season as the result of waltzing fisticuffs. End of sermon.

What price literary glory?

A word on Joe Torre’s book about his Yankee years which had promised to be the hot topic of spring training until the A-Rod follies took the entire subject hostage robbing us of the satisfaction of reveling in baseball’s annual rebirth in the pristine climes. It is all further proof -- if such be needed -- that nothing is sacred anymore.

Doubtless Torre welcomes the Rodriguez distraction as it diverts attention from his ill-advised rant. He was beginning to look uncomfortable defending the indefensible. Have I read it? No! But I’ve never been to Australia either, yet I know it exists and can tell you a lot about it. Such as has been extensively revealed about this book’s contents is enough to affirm that Torre crossed the line. Nor do I need any more double-talk about ‘‘context,’’ even from men of letters like Joe Torre and his ghostwriter from Sports Illustrated. There are Marquis of Queensbury rules that apply to every dodge in life and Torre violated his.

In his book-plugging rap with the estimable Bob Costas, Torre declared: “I don’t regret what I did because I didn’t do it with any malice in mind.” Sorry, Joe, but that doesn’t wash. Some of the grosser felonies and calumnies in all of recorded history have been justified by such simplistic reasoning. Not that your silly book rates with all of that. But it is no less disappointing.

Insiders say it was all about the money and as a guy who grew up poor Joe has always cared too much about it. Which doesn’t adequately explain why a guy making about seven million per season would risk priceless stature and esteem for another two? When a Jim Bouton or Jose Canseco pull such kiss and tell tricks people merely groan. But this is Joe Torre we are talking about. He is supposed to be above such stuff. But he wasn’t.