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While the grapefruit league is served


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Here are several things to kick around while waiting for the Red Sox and Twins to get down to business in the annual tribal wars of the Fort Myers Park League. Ah, spring training. I can remember when a ticket to a Florida exhibition game was a buck.

-- We begin with the question, class: “Who profited least from the tricky business of abandoning oneself to the court of public opinion’s tender mercies with teary confessions selectively drafted by assorted lawyers, therapists, PR gurus, and gofers? Was it Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, A-Rod, or Tiger Woods?”

Sorry, Tiger, but you lose again. Although getting beaten in a battle for credibility by the likes of Clemens is admittedly not easy. But then Woods’ task was hopeless. Still in the eye of the storm with interest in his woes almost perverse, he has no chance of extricating himself with mere apologia even if it’s brilliantly crafted. And it wasn’t.

Time is his ally; maybe, his only one. Lots of time. That is, if he uses it well.

With any luck we could have a siege -- make that an avalanche -- of sports labor disputes all descending within a year or so. The NFL players’ contract runs out after next season and the NBA pact soon thereafter. The following year both the baseball and hockey boys, hardly strangers to labor madness, get to go back to the mattress. Happy days are here again.

Both the football and basketball unions are headed by new, young, highly energized, and apparently angry stewards anxious to make a vivid impression. That’s very bad news for the NFL and NBA, the two fattest cats on the sporting block. You’d think the NHL, almost destroyed by a labor fracas just four years ago, would be the last subject of this discussion. But hockey has the thorniest issues and most aggravated workforce, an ominous combination.

Most likely to end up walking the line are the long impervious football boys. Young Turk owners are much aroused. The degrees of preparation for the very worst that are already in place in the NFL are scary. The least likely is baseball. After all, everyone is making decent dough even in hard times. They wouldn’t mess with that, would they? They aren’t that stupid, are they?

Stop the presses time. After failing for about a half century, your host has finally found a way to say something nice about Avery Brundage, the egregious despot who bullied the Olympic movement most of the 20th Century. Old Avery had plenty of faults but you can say this for him. He never would have allowed such contrived and artificial business as snowboarding into the Winter Games.

And while on the subject of Vancouver’s grand sporting spectacle, let’s make this much perfectly clear. Apolo Ohno may now own more medals than the ultimate standard of speed-skating, Eric Heiden. But if he’d been privileged to race Heiden 100 times he’d still be looking for his first win. Keep in mind Ohno’s seven medals (a record) were achieved in three Olympiads (’02, ’06 and ’10) whereas the legendary Heiden won his five -- all Gold -- in but one, the 1980 Games.

NBC’s determination to oversell its product is understandable, if but faintly tolerable. Their costs are humongous. But spurious comparisons of the likes of Ohno and Heiden are too much to take. Blasphemy is blasphemy, whatever the excuse.

On the other hand, if they can allow snowboarding in the winter games why can’t they have surfing in the summer games? Riding the waves is a more complex and arduous challenge backed with a lot more tradition, is it not?

-- Banner headline in one of the world’s half dozen most heavily circulated newspapers, the New York Post, 18 Feb 2010, trumpeting Tiger Woods’ impending and staged mea culpa: “Lock up the waitresses! Sorry serial Tomcat is on the loose!” As we were earlier noting, Woods will have to get past all the fierce ragtime before he can even begin to atone with his public. It’s almost enough to make you have sympathy for the wretch; ‘‘almost.’’

-- The tale of Grant Desme is wonderful but don’t hold your breath waiting for a feature film. Desme is the 22 year old Oakland A’s prospect who suddenly and quietly slipped away last month to prepare for the priesthood. Who knows how genuine his baseball promise might have been. But in “A Ball” last season, only a couple of rungs from the top, Grant hit over .300 with 31 homers and 40 stolen bases. Hundreds have excelled at that level and never gotten a whiff of a cup of coffee in “the Bigs.” On the other hand, such a combination of power and speed suggest depths of athleticism uncommon at any level. We’ll never know for sure.

Admirably, Desme walked away with little fanfare reporting directly to a seminary at roughly the time he would otherwise be reporting to spring training. With class he declined to make much of his choice or seek attention. But he did say this: “I aspire to higher things.” If there’s a dictionary of sporting quotations out there somewhere, that belongs.

-- Johnny Damon, held hostage in baseball’s quirky free agent wars all winter, has finally been rescued. Jim Leyland, who knows a thing or two about the importance of “character” on a major league ballclub, made a wise choice. With Damon on the premises last season there’s no way Jim’s Tigers would have missed the playoffs in the last inning of the last game with character lapses proving the difference. If Damon is truly the player good baseball men believe him to be, he will be a caged Tiger this season, raging to prove to the Yankees that spurning him as callously as they did was dumb.

Interestingly, after he finally accepted Detroit’s bailout, word leaked that Tampa had pursued Damon avidly offering almost as much money. If so, he may have blundered a second time. The Rays would have been perfect for him and he for them; precisely what that lineup needs to become lethal. Moreover, he’d have been playing in his own back yard. For a few bucks more Agent Scott Boras plants him in Detroit. You wonder what players are thinking, let alone agents.

-- Hockey, which at its best can be the most dazzling of the games, has rarely been rendered more brilliantly than in the USA-Canada Olympic tilt that, alas, was buried on an obscure cable channel.

-- Lastly, you’re forgiven if you didn’t notice, so scant was the attention it received. But they finished another America’s Cup yachting festival the other day, almost in secrecy. One recalls with a certain joy the days when America’s Cup summers, then staged every three or four years out of Newport, were epic events not to be missed.

Old hands warned that the Cup’s magic was largely linked with the timeless New England moods and passion for tradition that Newport and its frothing waters so dramatically represented. Sure enough, when the Aussies finally captured the Cup in the early ’80s, the party was over. Nowadays it’s more than ever a rootless, aimless, unfocused international gig roaming every few years from sea to sea and dominated too much by spoiled rich playboys with nothing else to do and no common touch.

For the record, this year’s race, held oddly in February in the not always challenging Mediterranean waters off the coast of Spain, was won by a San Francisco software tycoon skippering what was politely described as “a remarkable space-age trimaran”; technology having fully eclipsed the age of sail. In the finale, Larry Ellison, the fabulously wealthy computer titan, beat the defending champion Swiss boat Alinghi two-zip, bringing the Cup home after it had been 15 years in so-called “foreign hands.”

When back in “American hands,” it is no longer bolted to a pedestal in the New York Yacht Club as was the case for near a century and a half. The New York Times did a short feature. The Globe ran a wire story. Few noticed.

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