Opinion

In the meantime, locally....

byClark Booth
3/2/2007

Clark Booth

Here are some bones to chew on while awaiting the inevitable, annual disappointment that will come when the Veterans Hall of Fame Committee reveals its vote this week and draws another blank. And if that happens -- and the churlish old guard again refuses to anoint new Cooperstown lodge brothers -- can we expect action on reforming this process? Somebody wake up Czar Bud and see if he deigns to deal with it.

... Halls of Fame are much on ones mind and its hard to fathom how or why the basketball version snubbed Dennis Johnson for so long. Theres no pantheon easier to crack. They routinely elevate seven to 10 people a year at their Springfield museum, half of them strangers. Nor have many of them been in DJs league. Oddly, with Johnson, they played hardball. And now it is too late. Watch them scramble and enshrine him with much fanfare ASAP. It will be aggravating. But Johnson, a confident man who precisely understood his own worth, would have been amused.

... The Tom Brady flap having to do with the intimacies of his private life proves only that Sir Galahad can morph into Sir Lancelot at the drop of an eyelash. And it further verifies that you bark up the wrong tree when you ascribe virtues to a professional athlete that are rarely on display outside of the communion of saints. In other words, the fault lies not so much with Brady, who is merely a football player, as with all of us who have expected more from him than hes capable of giving. It happens every fall.

... On the other hand, it should be noted that Brady has rescued his boss yet again. Toms lapse from grace chases Coach Belichick and his ongoing ordeal off the gossip pages. Good of Tom. Doubtless Bill is grateful. Though it probably wont last.

... The tabloid frenzy over the allegedly bruised relationship of poor little A-Rod and darling Derek, which has been all the rage in New York, is classic chipmunk fodder. Pop-shrinks at heart, the munks of the media love to probe the inner secrets of the ballplayers psyche and personality finding all of that much more interesting than batting or earned run averages. When it reaches ludicrous extremes as is the case with the Rodriguez-Jeter issue it is more worthy of the Romance of Helen Trent than the New York Yankees. A soap opera by any other name remains a soap opera.

... But then the Yankees havent been the same since Paul ONeill retired.

... Meanwhile, over in relatively blissful Fort Myers, the now-generation Red Sox management which seems to know every trick in the book did a smart thing when they showered David Ortiz with some nice perks including a new, six-figure chariot. Last spring, they low-balled Ortiz with a long-term $12.5 per year pact. Then over the winter, they handed the relatively questionable and undeserving J.D. Drew a $14 million per year deal.

Now to the rational person a $1.5 million distinction among the idle super-rich shouldnt be that big a deal. But these are baseball players we are talking about and they measure every ounce of their moral, ethical and physical worth by the size of their paycheck. On most teams the insult would have been palpable and the offended party would now be sulking on some Caribbean beach searching out antique car shows. But not Ortiz. Ever gracious, the jovial slugger wisely chose to ignore it. And management wisely made it clear they recognize such classy behavior.

This doesnt happen every day in this game anymore.

... A reasonable tolerance for the vagaries of political correctness is not unreasonable. Sensitivities are tough to measure and deeply personal. There are no broad and objective standards for good taste. When in doubt, one should defer. But even by that yardstick the contretemps over Chief Illiniwek, long the mascot of the University of Illinois, was way over the line.

Illiniwek was never portrayed as a buffoon or a savage. Rather he was rendered as classy, sagacious, and proud. Indeed -- and I think this is the main point -- he represented a people, the Illini Indian Nation, that was wiped out by neighboring Indian tribes (NOT the white man) a full quarter of a century before the Declaration of Independence was promulgated. Illiniwek perpetuated with style and grace an historical note of substance. Wheres the harm in that? Moreover, polls consistently show that native-Americans by an overwhelming margin are not offended by such characterizations.

But a small and vocal minority of activists declines to let up. Goaded on by the bureaucratic bullies of the otherwise inept NCAA, they managed to get the Illinois Legislature to threaten to cut off state aid if the university refused to surrender. The tail wags the dog; the center no longer holds.

Maybe it is not a big deal. Whats in a nickname? But its a big deal if you are a Fighting Illini alum. When Illiniwek cavorted for the last time at a basketball game a month ago the field house was awash in tears.

... Raise your hand if you agree that Jonathan Papelbon will be closing for the Town Team by Memorial Day. After less than a week of spring camp you sensed a certain ambiguity developing in the notion that the health of Papelbons arm will be better served if he is a starter. They are going to talk themselves into the bullpen role and the kid -- a genuine warrior -- will go along. Just watch!

... What a marvelous job Reporter Kevin Cullen -- a South Boston lad who has long covered Ireland and her troubles for the Globe -- did on the epic and historic meeting of Ireland and England on a rugby field in Dublin. The Lads, God love em, won in a match that was glorified by the fabulous conduct of both teams and the 86,000 people in the stands. It was True Sport at its very finest and Cullen conveyed it brilliantly.

... Isnt it time for Danny Ainge to peddle Paul Pierce? He doesnt appear to have many other options left. It might be amusing to see what he would do with, say, four first round draft picks. Yet Teflon Danny continues to escape the wrath of the masses even as the glorious legacy he mismanages racks up its 22nd loss in the last 24 games (and counting), most of them -- increasingly -- by blowout margins.

Alongside the atrocity of Ainges works, the Bruins -- who have recently managed at least a puckish hint of grit -- should get a little respect. But, no way! Youd think it was the Bruins who were 12 games out of the playoffs and 32 games behind the league-leader. Perhaps its the bereavement factor. Celtic legions may be allowing their once fabled franchise a little space in the wake of the loss of Red. Thats touching to be sure. But woe be to Ainge when that sweet sentiment expires. And it will!

... Lastly, a word on two crusty characters who long graced the sports beat in this town and departed on the Long Goodbye last week. Bob Monahan toiled for both the Herald and the Globe. He was a rare character in this dodge, much preferring to cover the kids, the amateurs, and the collegians rather than the big-money, high-on-their horse, pros. The term is too lightly used but Dick Raphael was a genuine legend among sports photogs. Much of his work was done for Sports Illustrated. You can find some smashing examples at the Basketball Hall of Fame. A huge, lumbering, Falstaffian character Dick was of the elite handful who covered every Super Bowl, all XLI of them. The distinction meant so much to him that he graced the last one a month ago even as the clock was ticking down.

Monahan and Raphael! They came from another time, another place when very few of the gang came out of the Ivy League and fools were not suffered gladly and that was the first thing you learned. I say it every time because every time its true. They dont make them like these chaps anymore.