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Opinion
Around and about

By Clark Booth
Posted: 2/29/2008

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Here’s a little of this and a little of that -- the late, great, Bud Gillooly used to term such stuff “disa and data” -- to smooth the transition from the dark and gritty fall and winter games to the bright and lyric summer game.

Sure! Have another torrid headline, mate.

And while it might be a bit of a leap, check out the first-time eligibles likely to grace the Hall of Fame ballot in January, of 2013. For starters you could have the tainted trio of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa vying with the allegedly “clean” likes of Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and that eminent man of the people, Curt Schilling, with lingering suspects including Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro still yearning for redemption. That’s assuming none of them plays another big league game, which at the dawn of another season seems increasingly probable. Nor is it a stretch to include Schilling on that list given his “sudden” arm problems.

Do you think that might inspire a spirited debate? Can we even begin to imagine the florid promotions the holier-than-thou Schilling will conjure in his behalf as he goes head-to-head with the fallen Rocket? It’s guaranteed to be a spectacle. Sadly, such prospects also guarantee that baseball’s national nightmare will rage well on into the indefinite future. There will be no let-up.

The crisis over steroids, HGH and all the performance-enhancing junk is grave. But you’ll never convince me it’s been handled properly, let alone with fairness and impartiality. Hank Steinbrenner, son of Boss, may be an oaf but he was well within his rights to complain. On the other hand, only Larry Lucchino could have smeared Steinbrenner and exalted George Mitchell while declaring -- in the very same statement -- that he was offering “no comment.” You’ll not hear them acknowledge it, but in this matter the Red Sox have been very, very lucky.

“Page Two,” as the fella on the radio likes to say.

This season’s television ratings have added serious insult to the egregious injuries the National Hockey League has been sustaining steadily for the last decade. The ratings are frightful and the damage to the league’s diminishing prestige is huge.

At the most recent reading, NBC’s ratings for this season were down 18 percent which is remarkable when you consider that last season’s ratings were the lowest in the history of that network. If it can’t seem to get worse, it does. Ratings for a January game were the lowest in the history of all four major network’s sport’s productions. Hockey lags behind such nonsense as logrolling and skateboarding. It gets clobbered by poker and humiliated by the utterly bogus X-Games. On Madison Avenue and in the network boardrooms it is no longer considered a “major.”

You can wonder -- and I do -- if too much is made of American TV ratings, but for better or worse the hucksters who define everything by such data are the people who determine stature and consequence in the culture and, in the end, who effectively decide who succeeds or fails, thrives or even survives. The game does well internationally and flourishes when presented smartly, as in the Olympics context. It is inherently great and worthy and, at its best, no game is more brilliant.

So there’s no way around the conclusion that the number one reason for the NHL’s deplorable state in the sporting market place is the abysmal leadership that it gets from the Gary Bettman regime and Bettman ain’t going nowhere, chums.

A soaring Eagle

A word on Mike Holovak (BC ’43) who slipped away peacefully at the age of 88 during the run-up to the Super Bowl, which meant that this very good man didn’t get anywhere near the acknowledgement he richly deserved. Mike Holovak, noble son of Boston College, not only came from another time but another state of mind; one we find hard to fathom in our present sporting times.

It is often argued, as we are putting up with the latest antics of the tin-horn despots who run NFL teams, that “they are all like that” and you can’t possibly succeed if you are not a twisted tyrant obsessed with winning at all costs and willing to skin a louse to gain a yard. Mike Holovak belied that spurious notion. He was a gentleman who came from hard times to become a superior athlete and then topped it all off with a marvelous war record. He had perspective. I never heard him raise his voice.

He got run off as coach of the Patriots largely because his calmness, civility, and grace were perceived as signs of weakness, evidence he lacked sufficient fire in the belly. And that was 40 years ago before the games got really goofy. It was unfair, of course. But I never heard him complain about it. He remains the second winningest coach in Patriots’ history, albeit a very distant second to you know who. But if I ever got stuck in a foxhole I know which of them I would want to have next to me. And it wouldn’t be “you-know-who.”

Simple ‘ritmetic

The tumultuous baseball off-season we’ve just experienced got launched on an appropriately raucous note when Joe Torre got greased in New York. You’ll recall the Yankees didn’t exactly fire him, rather enticed him to leave by extending him an offer that he said he couldn’t possibly accept. There was much gnashing of teeth in behalf of the aggrieved Torre, who pronounced himself ‘insulted’ and it was widely seen as another glorious example of the callousness of the House of Steinbrenner. But was that fair?

Consider these facts: In his last five years, Torre’s Yankee teams were paid $945 million and incurred an additional $121.6 million in luxury tax assessments. That’s a grand total of $1,066,600,000 for the uniformed player personnel alone, a runaway professional sports record. Additionally, in his last three years as manager, Torre was paid $19.2 million; the most a manager has ever been paid, by far.

In return the House of Steinbrenner got one losing trip to the World Series, one historic meltdown, and three consecutive brutish, first-round trouncings in the playoffs. How do you define the term “callousness”? What truly constitutes an ‘‘insult?’’ Sometimes in this business you have to let a couple of months pass to see things a little more clearly.

From another Eagle

Lastly, Tom Burke (BC ’73), ex-president of the Gridiron Club and longtime patron of fine sporting works in our region, writes to tell us of a nice moment that will be featured at this year’s Boston Marathon. Tom is from the fabled Brown Family that boasted the legendary Walter of Celtics, Bruins and Boston Garden fame. The Browns, it could be argued, are the first family of New England sport.

And in April, George Brown -- Walter’s dad and Tom’s grandfather -- will be honored posthumously with the unveiling of a statue in Hopkinton. He’ll be etched in bronze forever, locked in that familiar pose firing the gun at the marathon’s starting line, dispatching his beloved long distance hoofers for an eternity. Dead now 70 long years, George was a giant of the sporting world when it was coming of age. He was a patron saint of the old BAA, a huge force in the Olympic movement, a friend and guide to the likes of Jim Thorpe.

His family has carried on in the tradition shaped by George. He fired the starter’s gun for 33 marathons (1905-37). Only a Brown has fired it since. That’s a century and counting. Institutional memory is precious and the battle to preserve it failing. More such moments are needed and more such statues will help.