Commentary Magazine


Topic: baseball

Don’t Make Excuses for A-Rod

It is hard to work up much sympathy for Alex Rodriguez, one of the highest-paid athletes on the planet (his 10-year contract with the Yankees is worth $275 million), who is now contesting a suspension because of charges that he engaged in doping to boost his performance. There is really no excuse for a baseball player this gifted breaking the rules to gain an edge he didn’t really need.

But somehow New York Times columnist George Vecsey manages to provide an excuse in the fact that A-Rod’s father abandoned the family when the little slugger was just nine years old. Vecsey quotes an old interview in which A-Rod lamented his father’s departure: “After a while, I lied to myself,” Rodriguez said. “I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people.”

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It is hard to work up much sympathy for Alex Rodriguez, one of the highest-paid athletes on the planet (his 10-year contract with the Yankees is worth $275 million), who is now contesting a suspension because of charges that he engaged in doping to boost his performance. There is really no excuse for a baseball player this gifted breaking the rules to gain an edge he didn’t really need.

But somehow New York Times columnist George Vecsey manages to provide an excuse in the fact that A-Rod’s father abandoned the family when the little slugger was just nine years old. Vecsey quotes an old interview in which A-Rod lamented his father’s departure: “After a while, I lied to myself,” Rodriguez said. “I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter, that I didn’t care. But times I was alone, I often cried. Where was my father? To this day, I still can’t get close to people.”

A-Rod’s abandonment is then contrasted with Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ most beloved player, who “has a father, Charles, who was a drug counselor, and a mother, Dorothy, who was an accountant, as well as a sister. The family seems to have sent him a message: Derek, whatever you do, don’t be a jerk. Which he never has been.”

Granted, it is better for any youngster to grow up with a father than without one. The literature on this subject is copious. But it is quite a stretch to suggest that a fatherless lad is destined to become a wrongdoer of some kind.

A-Rod himself disproves this fallacy: Throughout his life he has shown almost superhuman drive to become the best baseball player in the game. It is unthinkable that anyone without copious quantities of discipline could wrack up achievements like his–as Wikipedia notes: “He is the youngest player ever to hit 500 home runs, breaking the record Jimmie Foxx set in 1939, and the youngest to hit 600, besting Babe Ruth’s record by over a year. Rodriguez has 14 100-RBI seasons in his career, more than any other player in history”–without monumental discipline and hard work, doping or no doping.

For further proof of what fatherless men can accomplish, look at our current president, whose father left his mother shortly after his birth and met him only once. Barack Obama didn’t turn out too badly. Or see a preceding president–Bill Clinton–whose father died before he was born and whose stepfather was a violent alcoholic and gambler. Or look back a little further at Ronald Reagan whose father was an irresponsible alcoholic. One could even make the case that having father-abandonment issues has driven these men to stratospheric achievement.

Perhaps it was different with A-Rod. Perhaps his rule breaking really does stem from the loss of his father, undoubtedly a traumatic moment. But that was a long time ago and he has been shaped by many experiences in the intervening decades. It is a cop-out–almost a parody, in fact, of America’s therapeutic culture–to ascribe this superstar’s transgressions to the lack of a father figure in his life. For most of his life A-Rod did just fine fatherless. Now he must take responsibility for what he has done wrong, assuming, as the bulk of the evidence indicates, that he is guilty as charged.

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Baseball Springs Eternal

This week marks the opening of another baseball season, the long wait ’til this year finally over for the 29 teams that didn’t win the World Series last year.

Baseball is the only sport that produces great writing every year, as new books come out and new essays are written to mark the beginning of the season. They always tell a story extending beyond the game itself.

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This week marks the opening of another baseball season, the long wait ’til this year finally over for the 29 teams that didn’t win the World Series last year.

Baseball is the only sport that produces great writing every year, as new books come out and new essays are written to mark the beginning of the season. They always tell a story extending beyond the game itself.

There is nothing in any other sport quite like a Vin Scully conversation, or a Roger Angell essay, or a George Will book. Bill Kristol linked some Opening Day reading, including Clark Griffith’s beautifully-written piece on the timeless appeal of baseball, a game Griffith says “tells a story that relates to the human condition.” Here is his description of a home run:

Baseball’s most prestigious feat is the home run … The home run derives its prestige from the act of driving the hostile pitch out of the field of play in a showing of complete victory. It is the ultimate show of dominance, like Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot. A home run allows the batter to trot regally, with impunity, in an ostentatiously slow, plodding, sometimes taunting pace, while the fielders must stand and watch, incapable of action, mute.     

Perhaps the most remarkable description of a home run in Jewish literature comes in Ehud Havazelet’s extraordinary short story collection, Like Never Before, in a story entitled “Six Days.” Birnbaum, a Holocaust survivor lost in America in the Sixties, takes his young son David to Yankee Stadium during Passover, in a scene that captured a Jewish generational divide:

[Birnbaum] was not much interested in the game, barely understood its rules, and it was with some effort that he responded to the boy’s enthusiasm when a favorite – Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson – came up to hit, or when something exciting had just occurred and he had missed it, his nose buried in a book, but about which he needed, for the boy’s sake, to be surprised, willing on a moment’s read of his son’s face to be crestfallen or delighted…

The boy kept score, as he called it, leaned over to tell him Maris was due … Birnbaum would nod, smile, look out at the costumed men on the field and see nothing. He would make an effort, remark of a towering fly ball caught near the outfield fence that that was some hit … But his son would look baffled at him, might say, It was an out, Abba, and Birnbaum would nod, edified, and return to his book …

They sat far back in the reserved section, eating egg salad and tuna on matzoh … Suddenly there was commotion all around them. Birnbaum was alarmed, looked to see everyone standing, moving at once … They were in a mob. Birnbaum’s heart pushed into his throat as he reached for his boy to take him and run. Then, above their heads, a white streak, the ball, a few rows behind them with a man with a hair-covered stomach bulging from an unbuttoned shirt catching it easily with an outstretched hand …

“Are you all right?” Birnbaum wanted to ask his son, but the boy was already turned to him, all smiles, an American boy pounding his mitt. “Jeez, did you see that?” he said. “I almost had it. A home run by Norm Cash!”

Mantle wins it with a home run in the ninth, but throughout the game “Birnbaum could not relax, kept looking from his book to David to the people around them, thinking it would be dark when they left the stadium, then two hours on the subway, and the long walk home.”

Griffith writes that baseball’s appeal “is the story of players alone in the wilderness, relying on friends for help, and being alert to dangers, while focusing on the single goal of reaching home safely … The story played out is like life itself.” In a review of this year’s new baseball books, L.A. Times book critic David Ulin argues that “we live through the long season, the long careers of our heroes; in their victories, but more often in their travails, we see some reflection of ourselves.”

So play ball; never give up; run out every ground ball; and be a mensch

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The Mensches of Baseball

The lead story today at Jewish Ideas Daily is “Covering the Bases,” by Michael Arkush–a report on the February 27 “Night of Jewish Baseball” at the American Jewish Historical Society. At the event, Jane Leavy, author of the highly acclaimed biography of Sandy Koufax, spoke about Koufax as a player and a person, calling him “not just the greatest left-handed pitcher I ever saw” but “the greatest mensch I’ve ever met in my life.” Arkush noted that:

[T]here is no doubt his decision not to pitch in the opening game of the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins because it fell on Yom Kippur has had a profound, and lasting, impact on Jews in this country. “It was OK to stand up and say, ‘I am a Jew,’ and Jews don’t work on Yom Kippur,” Leavy said.

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The lead story today at Jewish Ideas Daily is “Covering the Bases,” by Michael Arkush–a report on the February 27 “Night of Jewish Baseball” at the American Jewish Historical Society. At the event, Jane Leavy, author of the highly acclaimed biography of Sandy Koufax, spoke about Koufax as a player and a person, calling him “not just the greatest left-handed pitcher I ever saw” but “the greatest mensch I’ve ever met in my life.” Arkush noted that:

[T]here is no doubt his decision not to pitch in the opening game of the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins because it fell on Yom Kippur has had a profound, and lasting, impact on Jews in this country. “It was OK to stand up and say, ‘I am a Jew,’ and Jews don’t work on Yom Kippur,” Leavy said.

Because the pennant races and High Holidays frequently occur during the World Series, the Series have not infrequently presented moral dilemmas for the star Jewish players involved in them. See Baseball and Redemption for the stories involving Hank Greenberg (the Detroit Tigers slugger who sat out Yom Kippur in 1934 during their pennant race), Ron Blomberg (The Sundown Kid), and Shawn Green (who faced the dilemma three times). In the case of Koufax, it is less remembered what happened after he decided not to play in the first game:

Koufax attended synagogue in Minnesota instead of pitching in Game 1 of the ‘65 Series against the Twins. Don Drysdale pitched that day and gave up seven runs in 2 2-3 innings. When manager Walter Alston came out to pull him from the game, Drysdale cracked, “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too.”

The Dodgers had won the National League pennant by one game, with a 12-game winning streak at the end of the season, during which Koufax pitched five times in 15 days. He had won four times (with three shutouts), including 13 strikeouts in the pennant-winning game. After he sat out the first game of the 1965 World Series, the Dodgers lost it 8-2. Koufax returned and pitched Game 2–and lost. Then he won Game 5, and then he returned for the deciding Game 7–and pitched a three-hit shutout, giving the Dodgers the Series.

The list of baseball mensches would be incomplete without a lesser-known player: Adam Greenberg, 5’ 9”, who grew up in a religious family and went to the University of North Carolina to play baseball. After three years in the minors, he became the lead-off hitter for the Chicago Cubs. In 2005, in his first major league at-bat, on the first pitch–with his parents and family watching proudly in the stands–he was hit in the head by a fastball traveling more than 90 miles an hour. He crumpled at the plate in front of the stunned crowd. His season was over, and he never returned to the Cubs.

His next major league at-bat did not occur until seven years later. The story of his return is told in this remarkable short video; if you watch it, you will understand why he belongs on the mensch list with the above baseball greats.

As we approach another baseball season–the season of new beginnings and second chances, leading eventually to the challenges of the fall–it is good to be reminded of the stories of baseball players who taught us lessons only mensches can teach, by example.

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Thanks for Proving the Obvious

Nate Silver, the liberal political blogger, has built a reputation as a valuable writer who has successfully transferred to politics the research and analysis skills he learned in the field of baseball statistics. Among the many disciples of the seminal baseball stat genius Bill James, Silver now seeks to apply the same sort of rigorous dissecting of data to polls and voting results, albeit with the sort of liberal twist that readers of the New York Times, which now hosts his FiveThirty Eight blog, appreciate.

And just as Silver and his fellow SABRmetric geeks have gradually taught the baseball world to stop ignoring the obvious truth that on-base percentage is more important than batting average, he sometimes has the task of convincing his fellow liberals of equally obvious, if inconvenient, facts. It is in that spirit that his long post today proves statistically that Democratic members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare suffered at the polls. If such a thesis seems so obvious that it doesn’t even require statistical proof, the decision of House Democrats to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as their leader and the liberal push for Obama to double down on his hyper-liberal expansion of government power illustrates the left’s instinctual desire to prove that the verdict of the voters should on no account be seen as a rejection of liberalism. So as pedantic and painfully obvious as his essay on the subject may seem, it is not without educational value for those on the left who may be susceptible to reason.

Those who enjoyed Silver’s work on baseball could also appreciate his piece this past weekend on the presidential prospects of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Employing the SABRmetric term of art, “league average,” which references a theoretical player against whom a real athlete’s production may be judged as either above or below “replacement level,” Silver seems right on target when he characterizes the presentable but unremarkable Minnesotan as the sort of player who never amounts to anything special: “Mr. Pawlenty is in danger of becoming the Gregg Jefferies of politics: the perpetual prospect who never blossoms into more than a league-average politician. And — although there are a few exceptions (Mr. Kerry might be one) — league-average politicians do not usually become their party’s Presidential nominees.”

Nate Silver, the liberal political blogger, has built a reputation as a valuable writer who has successfully transferred to politics the research and analysis skills he learned in the field of baseball statistics. Among the many disciples of the seminal baseball stat genius Bill James, Silver now seeks to apply the same sort of rigorous dissecting of data to polls and voting results, albeit with the sort of liberal twist that readers of the New York Times, which now hosts his FiveThirty Eight blog, appreciate.

And just as Silver and his fellow SABRmetric geeks have gradually taught the baseball world to stop ignoring the obvious truth that on-base percentage is more important than batting average, he sometimes has the task of convincing his fellow liberals of equally obvious, if inconvenient, facts. It is in that spirit that his long post today proves statistically that Democratic members of Congress who voted for ObamaCare suffered at the polls. If such a thesis seems so obvious that it doesn’t even require statistical proof, the decision of House Democrats to re-elect Nancy Pelosi as their leader and the liberal push for Obama to double down on his hyper-liberal expansion of government power illustrates the left’s instinctual desire to prove that the verdict of the voters should on no account be seen as a rejection of liberalism. So as pedantic and painfully obvious as his essay on the subject may seem, it is not without educational value for those on the left who may be susceptible to reason.

Those who enjoyed Silver’s work on baseball could also appreciate his piece this past weekend on the presidential prospects of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Employing the SABRmetric term of art, “league average,” which references a theoretical player against whom a real athlete’s production may be judged as either above or below “replacement level,” Silver seems right on target when he characterizes the presentable but unremarkable Minnesotan as the sort of player who never amounts to anything special: “Mr. Pawlenty is in danger of becoming the Gregg Jefferies of politics: the perpetual prospect who never blossoms into more than a league-average politician. And — although there are a few exceptions (Mr. Kerry might be one) — league-average politicians do not usually become their party’s Presidential nominees.”

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RE: RE: Obama from the Oval Office

Peter Robinson, who certainly knows how to write a presidential speech, goes through Obama’s Oval Office address, grouping it into general categories. A sample from each:

Incoherent: … The president wants to have it both ways, associating himself with the victory we achieved in Iraq while distancing himself from the costs. As argument, this is incoherent. But of course it isn’t argument. It’s cheap manipulation.

Grudging: … Why [did we win]? Because in 2007, when many, including then senators Obama and Clinton, insisted that the United States should simply withdraw from Iraq, leaving behind a nation reduced to chaos, George W. Bush instead insisted on a new strategy, the surge. Let me repeat that. We won because President Bush insisted on the surge.

Did President Obama extend the courtesy to his predecessor of saying as much? He most certainly did not. … President Obama could bring himself to credit President Bush with nothing more than mere well-intentioned haplessness. How shabby. How tawdry.

Disgraceful: After having added $1 trillion to the deficit since taking office, President Obama suggested that somehow the $1 trillion the nation has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade “short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits.” Take just a moment to do the math—something of which our chief executive apparently believes most Americans incapable.

Read the whole thing — the rest is just as perceptive and smart as these extracts.

As with all things Obama, the gap is always between expectations and performance. Peter sums up: “[T]onight the President of United States used what should have been a straightforward, big-hearted celebration of a remarkable feat of American force and diplomacy to pursue instead his own narrow and, it must be said, increasingly desperate, political ends.”

There were, as I pointed out, some things to be thankful for — the commitment to Iraq being the principal one. But Obama remains paralyzed by his own ego, leftist inclinations, and poor political judgment. So he can never get it right, or nearly right. Unfortunately, unlike baseball, a presidential speech that hits .400 means he’s done more harm than good — and missed an important opportunity.

And that brings us to the speech’s most important failing. In this interview, John McCain seems resigned to the fact that a lack of graciousness is in this president’s “DNA.” But the senator also emphasizes that the most damaging part of the speech was on Afghanistan. Just like at West Point, Obama neither relinquished the escape route nor comforted our allies. He insisted, instead, on reiterating the withdrawal — it’ll be conditions-based, but he’s going to guarantee it will begin. Even if conditions don’t allow?

It’s upsetting to see a president so lacking in class, but it’s scary to see one so unwilling to lead in war. When brave young men and women are risking their lives for a stable and terror-free Afghanistan, the least Obama can do is give them, yes, an open-ended commitment to achieve victory. Otherwise, he is, as a Marine commandant noted recently, simply giving encouragement to the enemy.

Peter Robinson, who certainly knows how to write a presidential speech, goes through Obama’s Oval Office address, grouping it into general categories. A sample from each:

Incoherent: … The president wants to have it both ways, associating himself with the victory we achieved in Iraq while distancing himself from the costs. As argument, this is incoherent. But of course it isn’t argument. It’s cheap manipulation.

Grudging: … Why [did we win]? Because in 2007, when many, including then senators Obama and Clinton, insisted that the United States should simply withdraw from Iraq, leaving behind a nation reduced to chaos, George W. Bush instead insisted on a new strategy, the surge. Let me repeat that. We won because President Bush insisted on the surge.

Did President Obama extend the courtesy to his predecessor of saying as much? He most certainly did not. … President Obama could bring himself to credit President Bush with nothing more than mere well-intentioned haplessness. How shabby. How tawdry.

Disgraceful: After having added $1 trillion to the deficit since taking office, President Obama suggested that somehow the $1 trillion the nation has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade “short-changed investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits.” Take just a moment to do the math—something of which our chief executive apparently believes most Americans incapable.

Read the whole thing — the rest is just as perceptive and smart as these extracts.

As with all things Obama, the gap is always between expectations and performance. Peter sums up: “[T]onight the President of United States used what should have been a straightforward, big-hearted celebration of a remarkable feat of American force and diplomacy to pursue instead his own narrow and, it must be said, increasingly desperate, political ends.”

There were, as I pointed out, some things to be thankful for — the commitment to Iraq being the principal one. But Obama remains paralyzed by his own ego, leftist inclinations, and poor political judgment. So he can never get it right, or nearly right. Unfortunately, unlike baseball, a presidential speech that hits .400 means he’s done more harm than good — and missed an important opportunity.

And that brings us to the speech’s most important failing. In this interview, John McCain seems resigned to the fact that a lack of graciousness is in this president’s “DNA.” But the senator also emphasizes that the most damaging part of the speech was on Afghanistan. Just like at West Point, Obama neither relinquished the escape route nor comforted our allies. He insisted, instead, on reiterating the withdrawal — it’ll be conditions-based, but he’s going to guarantee it will begin. Even if conditions don’t allow?

It’s upsetting to see a president so lacking in class, but it’s scary to see one so unwilling to lead in war. When brave young men and women are risking their lives for a stable and terror-free Afghanistan, the least Obama can do is give them, yes, an open-ended commitment to achieve victory. Otherwise, he is, as a Marine commandant noted recently, simply giving encouragement to the enemy.

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Bobby Thomson

As a historian, I have always been fascinated by fame and how unfairly the gods of chance bestow it. Andy Warhol said that in this media age, everyone is famous for 15 minutes. But some people, the great and the not-so-great, are famous forever, and it is not clear why they make it into the nightclub of immortality and others, apparently equally worthy, do not.

Take two brothers who lived in the 19th century. One served as a  congressman and senator from Ohio for many years, was secretary of the Treasury and secretary of State, was a major power in the Republican Party, and a perennial possibility for the presidential nomination. Yet he is completely forgotten today except by historians. His older brother, however, rode through Georgia at the head of an army in the fall of 1864 and is known to every schoolboy. To be sure, John Sherman is the eponym for the Sherman Antitrust Act (and coined the term “mending fences” in its political sense). But William Sherman gave his name to a clear refusal to seek the presidency (“If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve”), that has been known ever since as a Sherman.

Or consider Bobby Thomson, who died Monday at age 86. He was a journeyman fielder in the major leagues from 1946 to 1960. While a solid fielder and hitter, he came nowhere close to being considered for the Hall of Fame — a very restrictive club to be sure. He would, today, be completely forgotten except by keen students of baseball history. That is, he would be except for one at-bat, one hit, one incandescent moment of glory that caused his death, 59 years later, to be front-page news across the country.

It was the third game of a three-game playoff between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers to determine the National League Pennant. It was the bottom of the 9th, one out, two men on base, the Giants down 4-2. The count was 0-and-1. As radio announcer Russ Hodges described it, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca “throws … [audible sound of bat meeting ball]. There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be, I believe …THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!” [10-second pause for crowd noise] I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it!”

The home run was quickly dubbed, with the braggadocio so typical of baseball, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. It will be part of any history of this strange, boring, sublime, exhilarating, and utterly American game for as long as wooden bats hit leather-clad balls.

You can see that immortal moment here (and hear Russ Hodges). But perhaps Red Smith — the Shakespeare of sportswriters — said it best when he wrote the next day, “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

As a historian, I have always been fascinated by fame and how unfairly the gods of chance bestow it. Andy Warhol said that in this media age, everyone is famous for 15 minutes. But some people, the great and the not-so-great, are famous forever, and it is not clear why they make it into the nightclub of immortality and others, apparently equally worthy, do not.

Take two brothers who lived in the 19th century. One served as a  congressman and senator from Ohio for many years, was secretary of the Treasury and secretary of State, was a major power in the Republican Party, and a perennial possibility for the presidential nomination. Yet he is completely forgotten today except by historians. His older brother, however, rode through Georgia at the head of an army in the fall of 1864 and is known to every schoolboy. To be sure, John Sherman is the eponym for the Sherman Antitrust Act (and coined the term “mending fences” in its political sense). But William Sherman gave his name to a clear refusal to seek the presidency (“If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve”), that has been known ever since as a Sherman.

Or consider Bobby Thomson, who died Monday at age 86. He was a journeyman fielder in the major leagues from 1946 to 1960. While a solid fielder and hitter, he came nowhere close to being considered for the Hall of Fame — a very restrictive club to be sure. He would, today, be completely forgotten except by keen students of baseball history. That is, he would be except for one at-bat, one hit, one incandescent moment of glory that caused his death, 59 years later, to be front-page news across the country.

It was the third game of a three-game playoff between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers to determine the National League Pennant. It was the bottom of the 9th, one out, two men on base, the Giants down 4-2. The count was 0-and-1. As radio announcer Russ Hodges described it, Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca “throws … [audible sound of bat meeting ball]. There’s a long drive … it’s gonna be, I believe …THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT!! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! THE GIANTS WIN THE PENNANT! Bobby Thomson hits into the lower deck of the left-field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re goin’ crazy, they’re goin’ crazy! HEEEY-OH!!!” [10-second pause for crowd noise] I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it!”

The home run was quickly dubbed, with the braggadocio so typical of baseball, the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. It will be part of any history of this strange, boring, sublime, exhilarating, and utterly American game for as long as wooden bats hit leather-clad balls.

You can see that immortal moment here (and hear Russ Hodges). But perhaps Red Smith — the Shakespeare of sportswriters — said it best when he wrote the next day, “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

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Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

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High Taxes Drive Away Industries … and Boxers

The lesson that high taxes hurt business and, by definition, the communities in which those businesses reside is one that is proved every day by high-tax states like New York. That this applies not just to the financial industry and other victims of confiscatory fiscal policy but to all sorts of citizens as well is an issue rarely explored in the mainstream press. So it was fascinating to note that in the follow-up coverage to the first boxing match held at Yankee Stadium in 34 years this past weekend, the reason why promoters said a follow-up was unlikely was rooted not in technical difficulties or whether the sport (which was once, along with baseball, one of the only two truly national sports in the country) no longer had the sort of following that could routinely fill large outdoor stadiums.

Instead, according to Yankees executive Lonn Trost, the real problem is taxes. As the New York Post reported today, “the tax on a fighter’s purse is significantly higher for non-residents of New York than it is in other states, which would make it difficult to bring a match like the proposed superfight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny Pacquiao to Yankee Stadium.”

Trost went on to state that “Cotto-Foreman [the fight that took place this past weekend] could come here because the boxers felt they wouldn’t be overtaxed because they’re residents. We’d love to do [Mayweather-Pacquiao], but I believe both of them are non-residents and the tax could be as much as 13 percent on the purse, where the tax out in Vegas is zero. That’s a big difference.”

Personally, I’m not much of a boxing fan (and my pride in being Jewish was not enhanced by the prospect of Israeli rabbinical student Yuri Foreman punching out Puerto Rico’s Henry Cotto, who won the fight). But while liberal advocates for higher taxes routinely claim they are doing so to help ordinary New Yorkers, they ought to consider that in making it unattractive for fighters to perform here, they are actually robbing the people from the South Bronx and elsewhere in the city who work in the many jobs created every night Yankee Stadium is open. The failure to bring more such exhibitions to the city illustrates the simple truth that, once again, liberal economics has scored a technical knockout on the economic well-being of working-class New Yorkers.

The lesson that high taxes hurt business and, by definition, the communities in which those businesses reside is one that is proved every day by high-tax states like New York. That this applies not just to the financial industry and other victims of confiscatory fiscal policy but to all sorts of citizens as well is an issue rarely explored in the mainstream press. So it was fascinating to note that in the follow-up coverage to the first boxing match held at Yankee Stadium in 34 years this past weekend, the reason why promoters said a follow-up was unlikely was rooted not in technical difficulties or whether the sport (which was once, along with baseball, one of the only two truly national sports in the country) no longer had the sort of following that could routinely fill large outdoor stadiums.

Instead, according to Yankees executive Lonn Trost, the real problem is taxes. As the New York Post reported today, “the tax on a fighter’s purse is significantly higher for non-residents of New York than it is in other states, which would make it difficult to bring a match like the proposed superfight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny Pacquiao to Yankee Stadium.”

Trost went on to state that “Cotto-Foreman [the fight that took place this past weekend] could come here because the boxers felt they wouldn’t be overtaxed because they’re residents. We’d love to do [Mayweather-Pacquiao], but I believe both of them are non-residents and the tax could be as much as 13 percent on the purse, where the tax out in Vegas is zero. That’s a big difference.”

Personally, I’m not much of a boxing fan (and my pride in being Jewish was not enhanced by the prospect of Israeli rabbinical student Yuri Foreman punching out Puerto Rico’s Henry Cotto, who won the fight). But while liberal advocates for higher taxes routinely claim they are doing so to help ordinary New Yorkers, they ought to consider that in making it unattractive for fighters to perform here, they are actually robbing the people from the South Bronx and elsewhere in the city who work in the many jobs created every night Yankee Stadium is open. The failure to bring more such exhibitions to the city illustrates the simple truth that, once again, liberal economics has scored a technical knockout on the economic well-being of working-class New Yorkers.

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Sic Transit Dodd

The decision of Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd to avoid the humiliation of being defeated for re-election later this year may well help the Democrats hold his seat. It was more than likely that either of his Republican opponents — former Congressman Rob Simmons or pro-wrestling tycoon Linda McMahon — would have beaten the five-term incumbent handily. However, if the Democrats nominate Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s attorney general, the odds may shift back in favor of the Democrats. Once the rising star of Connecticut Democratic politics, Blumenthal has held that office since 1990. However the timorous though ambitious Blumenthal passed on every opportunity since then to run for higher office because he feared defeat. At 66, Blumenthal is no longer a boy wonder, but his reputation is spotless. Yesterday, Dodd’s seat was a likely GOP pickup in 2010. Today it must be considered an open seat that the Democrats will probably hold.

As for the demise of Dodd, the fact that his political career comes to an end as a result of ethical scandals is a sad irony. Prior to his recent difficulties, Dodd was best remembered as Ted Kennedy’s favorite drinking buddy or as the leading voice of liberal opposition to the Reagan administration’s efforts to stop the spread of communism in Central America in the 1980s – the same timeframe when Dodd was dating Bianca Jagger.

But the animating spirit of the career of this liberal party animal (Dodd used to joke that the only reason he had accepted President Clinton’s request that he assume the chairmanship of the Democratic Party’s National Committee was that the question had come up while they were on a bad phone connection and the only word he heard clearly was “party,” so of course he agreed.) was his desire to honor the memory of his father Thomas, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1958 to 1970. In 1967, the Senate formally censured the elder Dodd for transferring campaign funds to his personal accounts. The spectacle of the Senate humiliating one of its own in this fashion doomed Tom Dodd’s re-election chances in 1970, and he died of a heart attack soon after leaving office. But the pain of this incident never left his son, who launched his own career a few years later in no small measure as an effort to vindicate the family name. While Tom Dodd was a fervent anti-Communist who at one time was a paid lobbyist for the dictator of Guatemala, Chris became the scourge of those seeking to prop up Latin American governments against leftist revolutionaries. But despite this difference, the younger Dodd sought every possible opportunity to burnish his late father’s tattered reputation. He never missed an opportunity to claim that his father had been ill-used by the press and his colleagues. Though many at the time thought the campaign funds charge was just the tip of the iceberg of Tom Dodd’s corruption, Chris was vocal in claiming that his father was innocent. It was at Dodd’s insistence that the University of Connecticut established a special research center named for his father. He also fought to have a minor league baseball stadium in Norwich named for Tom Dodd.

Thus, it is no small irony that a man who spent his life trying to clear the name of his father wound up being sunk by the same sort of charges. Dodd’s crooked Irish real estate deal, his notorious membership in the “Friends of Angelo” VIP mortgage club at Countrywide Financial while chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and his legislative efforts to clear the way for bonuses to be paid to AIG executives marked him as a symbol of a new generation of corrupt Washington politicians. The son repeated the sins of the father.

Also ironic is the fact that despite Dodd’s efforts to help defeat his Connecticut colleague Joe Lieberman in 2006 for his apostasy in supporting the war in Iraq, one year from now Lieberman will still be in the Senate and Dodd will not.

The decision of Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd to avoid the humiliation of being defeated for re-election later this year may well help the Democrats hold his seat. It was more than likely that either of his Republican opponents — former Congressman Rob Simmons or pro-wrestling tycoon Linda McMahon — would have beaten the five-term incumbent handily. However, if the Democrats nominate Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s attorney general, the odds may shift back in favor of the Democrats. Once the rising star of Connecticut Democratic politics, Blumenthal has held that office since 1990. However the timorous though ambitious Blumenthal passed on every opportunity since then to run for higher office because he feared defeat. At 66, Blumenthal is no longer a boy wonder, but his reputation is spotless. Yesterday, Dodd’s seat was a likely GOP pickup in 2010. Today it must be considered an open seat that the Democrats will probably hold.

As for the demise of Dodd, the fact that his political career comes to an end as a result of ethical scandals is a sad irony. Prior to his recent difficulties, Dodd was best remembered as Ted Kennedy’s favorite drinking buddy or as the leading voice of liberal opposition to the Reagan administration’s efforts to stop the spread of communism in Central America in the 1980s – the same timeframe when Dodd was dating Bianca Jagger.

But the animating spirit of the career of this liberal party animal (Dodd used to joke that the only reason he had accepted President Clinton’s request that he assume the chairmanship of the Democratic Party’s National Committee was that the question had come up while they were on a bad phone connection and the only word he heard clearly was “party,” so of course he agreed.) was his desire to honor the memory of his father Thomas, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1958 to 1970. In 1967, the Senate formally censured the elder Dodd for transferring campaign funds to his personal accounts. The spectacle of the Senate humiliating one of its own in this fashion doomed Tom Dodd’s re-election chances in 1970, and he died of a heart attack soon after leaving office. But the pain of this incident never left his son, who launched his own career a few years later in no small measure as an effort to vindicate the family name. While Tom Dodd was a fervent anti-Communist who at one time was a paid lobbyist for the dictator of Guatemala, Chris became the scourge of those seeking to prop up Latin American governments against leftist revolutionaries. But despite this difference, the younger Dodd sought every possible opportunity to burnish his late father’s tattered reputation. He never missed an opportunity to claim that his father had been ill-used by the press and his colleagues. Though many at the time thought the campaign funds charge was just the tip of the iceberg of Tom Dodd’s corruption, Chris was vocal in claiming that his father was innocent. It was at Dodd’s insistence that the University of Connecticut established a special research center named for his father. He also fought to have a minor league baseball stadium in Norwich named for Tom Dodd.

Thus, it is no small irony that a man who spent his life trying to clear the name of his father wound up being sunk by the same sort of charges. Dodd’s crooked Irish real estate deal, his notorious membership in the “Friends of Angelo” VIP mortgage club at Countrywide Financial while chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and his legislative efforts to clear the way for bonuses to be paid to AIG executives marked him as a symbol of a new generation of corrupt Washington politicians. The son repeated the sins of the father.

Also ironic is the fact that despite Dodd’s efforts to help defeat his Connecticut colleague Joe Lieberman in 2006 for his apostasy in supporting the war in Iraq, one year from now Lieberman will still be in the Senate and Dodd will not.

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It Matters Not Who Won Or Lost

George Will distainfully observes: “Women, or at least those whose consciousnesses have been properly raised, supposedly think that the impatience being expressed about the protracted futility of Hillary Clinton’s campaign is disrespectful.” He goes on to conclude that they and Hillary Clinton should get over it–she lost fair and square. This misses the point.

Devotees of baseball should know something of sportsmanship. It usually involves eschewing trash talk both by the announcers and the victorious team. And it requires that the announcers–despite a large or even insurmountable lead by one team–not wander out of the stadium to follow another game before the last out.

It is not the winning but the style, grace and decency shown to the loser that is at issue with many of Clinton’s aggrieved fans. (I think even Barack Obama has figured this out. Several weeks ago he personally stopped suggesting Clinton bug out.) None of all that changes the results of the primary race–the votes, like the score in a game, settle everything eventually.

But unlike sports, primary politics depends on keeping the other candidate’s fans on your side and not sulking away. Or worse yet, joining the next round’s opponent out of spite.

George Will distainfully observes: “Women, or at least those whose consciousnesses have been properly raised, supposedly think that the impatience being expressed about the protracted futility of Hillary Clinton’s campaign is disrespectful.” He goes on to conclude that they and Hillary Clinton should get over it–she lost fair and square. This misses the point.

Devotees of baseball should know something of sportsmanship. It usually involves eschewing trash talk both by the announcers and the victorious team. And it requires that the announcers–despite a large or even insurmountable lead by one team–not wander out of the stadium to follow another game before the last out.

It is not the winning but the style, grace and decency shown to the loser that is at issue with many of Clinton’s aggrieved fans. (I think even Barack Obama has figured this out. Several weeks ago he personally stopped suggesting Clinton bug out.) None of all that changes the results of the primary race–the votes, like the score in a game, settle everything eventually.

But unlike sports, primary politics depends on keeping the other candidate’s fans on your side and not sulking away. Or worse yet, joining the next round’s opponent out of spite.

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Some Thoughts on Last Night

1. John McCain has ended up where, at the start of this process, he was supposed to be: as the presumptive nominee of his party. But what a wild, strange journey it’s been. He was the frontrunner in late 2006 and early 2007 — and then lost altitude at a speed that could induce the bends. Broke and with his campaign barely on life support, McCain headed to New Hampshire, the site of his greatest political moment in 2000. He won the New Hampshire primary on January 8 — and that was enough to propel him to where he is today.

2. McCain’s victory is a tribute to his grit and skill — but his wins have not been overwhelming. According to the Washington Post, exit polling showed that among self-described conservatives voting yesterday, McCain lost to Romney or Huckabee in many states. And McCain didn’t do well in the South, which underscores his continuing weakness with the GOP base.

McCain benefited enormously from a fractured field which generated little enthusiasm. No conservative alternative to McCain ever emerged. Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson tried to rewrite the rules of politics and flamed out. Mike Huckabee received strong support from evangelical Christians–but his support, while intense, was also narrow. Mitt Romney never caught on. An impressive man in many ways, he presented himself in a manner that seemed contrived and artificial–and the support he did receive seemed tepid and qualified. Out of all this John McCain emerged. He was able to cobble together the support he needed–just barely.

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1. John McCain has ended up where, at the start of this process, he was supposed to be: as the presumptive nominee of his party. But what a wild, strange journey it’s been. He was the frontrunner in late 2006 and early 2007 — and then lost altitude at a speed that could induce the bends. Broke and with his campaign barely on life support, McCain headed to New Hampshire, the site of his greatest political moment in 2000. He won the New Hampshire primary on January 8 — and that was enough to propel him to where he is today.

2. McCain’s victory is a tribute to his grit and skill — but his wins have not been overwhelming. According to the Washington Post, exit polling showed that among self-described conservatives voting yesterday, McCain lost to Romney or Huckabee in many states. And McCain didn’t do well in the South, which underscores his continuing weakness with the GOP base.

McCain benefited enormously from a fractured field which generated little enthusiasm. No conservative alternative to McCain ever emerged. Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson tried to rewrite the rules of politics and flamed out. Mike Huckabee received strong support from evangelical Christians–but his support, while intense, was also narrow. Mitt Romney never caught on. An impressive man in many ways, he presented himself in a manner that seemed contrived and artificial–and the support he did receive seemed tepid and qualified. Out of all this John McCain emerged. He was able to cobble together the support he needed–just barely.

3. If McCain becomes the nominee of the party, as it appears he will, the burden is on him to unite it. We’ll see how well he does. Some conservatives are very wary or outright hostile to him. This is due not simply to his stand on the issues, from opposing the Bush tax cuts to McCain-Feingold to federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to illegal immigration to conferring constitutional rights to terrorists. It is that over the years McCain has seemed to take great delight in antagonizing conservatives. He seemed more taken with his image as a maverick than his loyalty to his party or the conservative movement. The fact that he seriously considered bolting the party after his loss to George W. Bush in 2000 and that a top aide reportedly spoke to John Kerry about the possibility of McCain running as Kerry’s vice presidential running mate tells one a great deal.

McCain’s voting record and American Conservative Union rating look good on paper — but his passions and energy have often been directed in ways that did not advance conservatism, and sometimes impeded it. He often showed a graciousness toward liberals and Democrats that he didn’t demonstrate to fellow Republicans and conservatives. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were good friends who would make fine presidents – while leaders of the religious right were “agents of intolerance.” And so, not surprisingly, there is considerable opposition to him from some important quarters.

4. The overwhelming thing McCain has in his favor is that he was both principled and right on the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq — and he took his stand when it was deeply unpopular. In a match-up between McCain and either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton, we know this: if he is elected president, we have a good shot at a decent outcome in Iraq. And if Obama or Clinton is elected president, the war will almost surely be lost. Both Democratic candidates have made is perfectly clear that their goal is to end America’s involvement in Iraq rather than to prevail there. The Iraq war and its broader implications remain the most important issue before us — and McCain is the best our side can offer.

5. Illegal immigration remains a puzzling political issue. It is clearly near the top of concerns for many conservatives – and fierce opposition to illegal immigration defeated immigration reform legislation last year. There is a passion surrounding this issue that cannot be denied; its advocates see it in terms of upholding the law and assimilation. On the other hand, those who carry high the Tancredo banner on illegal immigration don’t do well in congressional or presidential primary elections. The GOP candidates who made illegal immigration a cornerstone of their campaign, including Romney and Thompson, never took flight. And the two candidates in this year’s GOP race whose governing records were most sympathetic to illegal immigration have done the best. The issue of illegal immigration isn’t as potent as some believe – but it’s not as irrelevant as some insist.

6. The Republican race is nearing its denouement; the Democratic contest is not. And a bitter race between Obama and Clinton, now essentially tied for the lead, is almost guaranteed. The love-fest we witnessed during last week’s debate will soon be a distant memory; because this contest involves the Clintons, baseball bats and billy clubs will soon be swinging. This will help Republicans in a year that looks very challenging.

Democrats are better positioned by many metrics: voter turnout and enthusiasm, fundraising for the presidential candidates (Obama hauled in more than $30 million in January alone), party identification, public support on key issues, and much else.

I’ve been struck in my conversations with Republicans over the months by how dispirited and unenthusiastic they have been — about the candidates specifically and politics more generally. That has to change, and quickly, if Republicans hope to retain the presidency.

It’s a long way to November and America remains, in important respects, a center-right country. Senators Obama and Clinton are completely conventional liberals – and Mrs. Clinton is radioactive when it comes to Republicans. Nevertheless John McCain, who continues to win but in a manner that does not inspire much love or loyalty, has his work cut out for him.

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Roger Clemens

Among the many baseball players named in last month’s Mitchell Report as steroid users, one name stood out in particular: Roger Clemens. According to the report, sports trainer Brian McNamee first injected Clemens with Winstrol in 1998, and later injected him with testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and either Sustanon or Deca-Durabolin in 2000 and 2001. In Clemens’ career, these seasons stand out statistically. After the alleged 1998 injections, Clemens won his next fourteen decisions, blossoming from a middling 6-6 record to a 20-6 Cy Young Award-winning finish. Meanwhile, during the 2001 season, Clemens won 20 of his first 21 decisions, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to do so and locking up another Cy Young Award at the ripe-for-professional-sports age of 39.

Following the release of the Mitchell Report, Clemens played the denial game on multiple fronts, releasing statements through his lawyer and on YouTube; sitting for an interview with 60 Minutes; and holding a special press conference in Texas this afternoon. In a country that prizes an innocent-until-proven-guilty mentality, these unremarkable denials were sufficient for the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, which moved to retain Clemens as the keynote speaker for its upcoming convention; Clemens will discuss—of all topics—physical fitness. “Unless there is some concrete evidence he is guilty or if the media circus would keep him from coming . . . it would be unfair of us not to let him come,” said Association President Jim Long.

Short of a leaking syringe, it’s hard to imagine any evidence against Clemens being more “concrete” that the details contained in the Mitchell Report; these include the type of steroids Clemens used, the time frame in which they were used, the means through which they were acquired, and the means through which they were injected. Moreover, Clemens’ alibi reeks: Clemens claims that McNamee injected him with vitamin B-12 and painkillers, not steroids—an assertion that sounds awfully similar to Barry Bonds’ claim that his own trainer gave him flaxseed oil, not “the cream.” Finally, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte—Clemens’ workout buddy whom McNamee also named in the Mitchell Report—conceded that McNamee injected him with HGH, thus boosting McNamee’s credibility.

The true urgency of the steroids issue in baseball arises from youngsters’ propensity to idolize star athletes by wearing their heroes’ uniform numbers, mimicking their pitching motions, and aspiring to their physiques. For this reason, it is unconscionable that Texas’ high school baseball coaches would continue heralding Roger Clemens in light of the Mitchell Report’s findings. Perhaps recognizing the dangerous message this sends to young baseball players, Congress’ House Oversight Committee wisely intervened on Friday, inviting Clemens, Pettitte, and McNamee to testify under oath on January 16th. Before Texas coaches relay Clemens’ keynote address on fitness to their players, let’s hope they gather their team to watch Clemens squirm on C-Span. When he sits before Congress, Clemens’ status as a baseball god will likely die. These coaches must ensure that Clemens’ rapid fall from grace is purposeful.

Among the many baseball players named in last month’s Mitchell Report as steroid users, one name stood out in particular: Roger Clemens. According to the report, sports trainer Brian McNamee first injected Clemens with Winstrol in 1998, and later injected him with testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), and either Sustanon or Deca-Durabolin in 2000 and 2001. In Clemens’ career, these seasons stand out statistically. After the alleged 1998 injections, Clemens won his next fourteen decisions, blossoming from a middling 6-6 record to a 20-6 Cy Young Award-winning finish. Meanwhile, during the 2001 season, Clemens won 20 of his first 21 decisions, becoming the first pitcher in baseball history to do so and locking up another Cy Young Award at the ripe-for-professional-sports age of 39.

Following the release of the Mitchell Report, Clemens played the denial game on multiple fronts, releasing statements through his lawyer and on YouTube; sitting for an interview with 60 Minutes; and holding a special press conference in Texas this afternoon. In a country that prizes an innocent-until-proven-guilty mentality, these unremarkable denials were sufficient for the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association, which moved to retain Clemens as the keynote speaker for its upcoming convention; Clemens will discuss—of all topics—physical fitness. “Unless there is some concrete evidence he is guilty or if the media circus would keep him from coming . . . it would be unfair of us not to let him come,” said Association President Jim Long.

Short of a leaking syringe, it’s hard to imagine any evidence against Clemens being more “concrete” that the details contained in the Mitchell Report; these include the type of steroids Clemens used, the time frame in which they were used, the means through which they were acquired, and the means through which they were injected. Moreover, Clemens’ alibi reeks: Clemens claims that McNamee injected him with vitamin B-12 and painkillers, not steroids—an assertion that sounds awfully similar to Barry Bonds’ claim that his own trainer gave him flaxseed oil, not “the cream.” Finally, Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte—Clemens’ workout buddy whom McNamee also named in the Mitchell Report—conceded that McNamee injected him with HGH, thus boosting McNamee’s credibility.

The true urgency of the steroids issue in baseball arises from youngsters’ propensity to idolize star athletes by wearing their heroes’ uniform numbers, mimicking their pitching motions, and aspiring to their physiques. For this reason, it is unconscionable that Texas’ high school baseball coaches would continue heralding Roger Clemens in light of the Mitchell Report’s findings. Perhaps recognizing the dangerous message this sends to young baseball players, Congress’ House Oversight Committee wisely intervened on Friday, inviting Clemens, Pettitte, and McNamee to testify under oath on January 16th. Before Texas coaches relay Clemens’ keynote address on fitness to their players, let’s hope they gather their team to watch Clemens squirm on C-Span. When he sits before Congress, Clemens’ status as a baseball god will likely die. These coaches must ensure that Clemens’ rapid fall from grace is purposeful.

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A-Rod Nation

Max Boot, contentions contributor, told us on Saturday that his unfulfilled passion is sports writing. So is mine.

In his post he revealed his devotion to an inferior sport, football. I, on the other hand, follow the national pastime. Max might disagree about the relative merits of our two sports, but he has to admit that this past Saturday, the baseball news was far more interesting than whatever may have happened in the gridiron world.

Saturday night, in my old hometown of San Diego, Barry Bonds launched a 91-mile-an-hour fastball into the left-center stands of Petco Park. By doing so, the left fielder of the San Francisco Giants tied Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs, the most hallowed mark in American sport. As he rounded the bases, fans booed and held up uncomplimentary signs. The commissioner of baseball, in the stands at the time, stood grim-faced with his hands in his pockets.

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Max Boot, contentions contributor, told us on Saturday that his unfulfilled passion is sports writing. So is mine.

In his post he revealed his devotion to an inferior sport, football. I, on the other hand, follow the national pastime. Max might disagree about the relative merits of our two sports, but he has to admit that this past Saturday, the baseball news was far more interesting than whatever may have happened in the gridiron world.

Saturday night, in my old hometown of San Diego, Barry Bonds launched a 91-mile-an-hour fastball into the left-center stands of Petco Park. By doing so, the left fielder of the San Francisco Giants tied Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s record for most career home runs, the most hallowed mark in American sport. As he rounded the bases, fans booed and held up uncomplimentary signs. The commissioner of baseball, in the stands at the time, stood grim-faced with his hands in his pockets.

The unenthusiastic crowd reaction was both predictable and understandable. Allegations of steroid use have dogged the slugger. Barry Bonds will never outlive the perception that he cheated his way into the record book, and except in the Bay Area, he is considered an embarrassment to baseball.

Because this is contentions, let me put Bonds’s disgrace into broader perspective. On the same day that Bonds tied Aaron, A-Rod, sometimes known as Alex Rodriguez, became the youngest player in major league history to hit 500 homers. When the Yankee third baseman breaks Bonds’s mark—some say he will even surpass 800 home runs—he will help rub out the stain of steroid use that has tainted his sport. In these times when many think our global position is in decline, let’s not forget that America’s greatest attribute is not its strength, but its capacity for self-renewal. We are a nation of A-Rods.

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Ball Three

What is the Scooter Libby trial really about?

In announcing the indictment of the vice-presidential aide in October 2005, the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald attempted to make it all perfectly clear, using a baseball analogy:

If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fast ball and hit a batter right smack in the head and it really, really hurt them, you’d want to know why the pitcher did that. And you’d wonder whether or not the person just reared back and decided, “I’ve got bad blood with this batter, he hit two home runs off me, I’m just going to hit him in the head as hard as I can.”

You also might wonder whether or not the pitcher just let go of the ball, or his foot slipped, and he had no idea to throw the ball anywhere near the batter’s head. And there’s a lots of shades of gray in between. You might learn that you wanted to hit the batter in the back, it hit him in the head because he moved; you might want to throw it under his chin but ended up hitting on the head.

And what you’d want to do is have as much information as you could. You’d want to know what happened in the dugout. Was this guy complaining about the person he threw at? Did he talk to anyone else? What was he thinking? How does he react? All those things you’d want to know. And then you’d make a decision as to whether this person should be banned from baseball, whether he should be suspended, whether you should do nothing at all and just say, “Hey, the person threw a bad pitch; get over it.”

After nearly a week of testimony the case is not much clearer than this botched analogy, the forensic equivalent of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

The Washington Post described Judith Miller’s testimony yesterday as “potentially damaging” to Libby. And this is surely accurate if one focuses on the word “potentially.” But her testimony was also even more potentially helpful to the defense.

Libby’s lawyers are expected to maintain that his “false” statements to the FBI and to a grand jury were the product of a faulty memory. So far, a number of prosecution witnesses have given testimony that differs significantly from what Libby told FBI investigators and the grand jury. But more importantly they have been shown to have strikingly deficient memories themselves.

Judith Miller had 85 days in the Alexandria jail in which to refresh her recollections about the sequence of events that brought her there. But no sooner was she released and brought before the grand jury, than she was compelled to acknowledge that she had entirely forgotten a critical meeting with Libby in June of 2003. If she could forget such a vital detail, will the jury convict Libby for lying, when the possibility that he simply forgot has been powerfully sketched by Miller and others in the witness parade?

It is possible that Scooter Libby is lying through his catcher’s mask. But my bet is that, if the jury takes seriously the meaning of the words “reasonable doubt,” Patrick Fitzgerald will have been judged to have pitched four balls, and Scooter, now up at bat, will get to walk.

To see key exhibits in the Scooter Libby case, click here.

To see key exhibits in the Baseball Hall of Fame, click here.

What is the Scooter Libby trial really about?

In announcing the indictment of the vice-presidential aide in October 2005, the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald attempted to make it all perfectly clear, using a baseball analogy:

If you saw a baseball game and you saw a pitcher wind up and throw a fast ball and hit a batter right smack in the head and it really, really hurt them, you’d want to know why the pitcher did that. And you’d wonder whether or not the person just reared back and decided, “I’ve got bad blood with this batter, he hit two home runs off me, I’m just going to hit him in the head as hard as I can.”

You also might wonder whether or not the pitcher just let go of the ball, or his foot slipped, and he had no idea to throw the ball anywhere near the batter’s head. And there’s a lots of shades of gray in between. You might learn that you wanted to hit the batter in the back, it hit him in the head because he moved; you might want to throw it under his chin but ended up hitting on the head.

And what you’d want to do is have as much information as you could. You’d want to know what happened in the dugout. Was this guy complaining about the person he threw at? Did he talk to anyone else? What was he thinking? How does he react? All those things you’d want to know. And then you’d make a decision as to whether this person should be banned from baseball, whether he should be suspended, whether you should do nothing at all and just say, “Hey, the person threw a bad pitch; get over it.”

After nearly a week of testimony the case is not much clearer than this botched analogy, the forensic equivalent of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

The Washington Post described Judith Miller’s testimony yesterday as “potentially damaging” to Libby. And this is surely accurate if one focuses on the word “potentially.” But her testimony was also even more potentially helpful to the defense.

Libby’s lawyers are expected to maintain that his “false” statements to the FBI and to a grand jury were the product of a faulty memory. So far, a number of prosecution witnesses have given testimony that differs significantly from what Libby told FBI investigators and the grand jury. But more importantly they have been shown to have strikingly deficient memories themselves.

Judith Miller had 85 days in the Alexandria jail in which to refresh her recollections about the sequence of events that brought her there. But no sooner was she released and brought before the grand jury, than she was compelled to acknowledge that she had entirely forgotten a critical meeting with Libby in June of 2003. If she could forget such a vital detail, will the jury convict Libby for lying, when the possibility that he simply forgot has been powerfully sketched by Miller and others in the witness parade?

It is possible that Scooter Libby is lying through his catcher’s mask. But my bet is that, if the jury takes seriously the meaning of the words “reasonable doubt,” Patrick Fitzgerald will have been judged to have pitched four balls, and Scooter, now up at bat, will get to walk.

To see key exhibits in the Scooter Libby case, click here.

To see key exhibits in the Baseball Hall of Fame, click here.

Read Less




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