First; baseball. The bearded Boston Red-Sox became the hairiest team to ever win the World Series, and the hairiest team period since the fabled House Of David squad, a century ago. If my mother were alive, she’d say, “It doesn’t mean a thing until they get their hair cut!” So I guess, for me, the Red-Sox winning the World Series is significant because it reminds me of my mother. What a hoot she was….
Speaking of baseball, did you know that they are finally going to blow up Candlestick Park? It’s about time. The 49ers play their final game there on Monday. Maybe the worst sports stadium of all time.
But also a source of great memories. The San Francisco Giants (my favorite baseball team) played their games there for 40 years, ending in 2000. It was a baseball park so cold that the great Yankees right fielder Roger Maris once remarked that if he had to play there every day, he’d retire. Ironically, Maris had one of his greatest moments in Candlestick’s right field, when his throw to the cut-off man in the 7th game of the 1962 World Series held Matty Alou at third base, leading directly to the Yankees winning the game and the series a minute or two later, when Willie McCovey’s liner nestled into Bobby Richardson’s glove. I myself went to two baseball games there in my life. The first one was in 1976, and it was an epic. I was in college up there at the time, and my cousin Bobby invited me to go to a Cubs/Giants game with a bunch of his fellow transplanted Chicago stockbrokers. During the game a full scale on-field riot broke out, when Jim Barr hit the Cubbies’ star 3rd baseman Bill Madlock with a pitch. Maybe the greatest baseball brawl ever. And I was right there. Twenty years old, in college, on my own (sort of), with my whole damn life before me. God, I miss being young…..
Basketball. I need to say a few words about Kobe Bean Bryant. First of all, I love that a famous guy’s middle name is Bean. Beyond funny. But things haven’t been so funny for the Black Mamba lately. He tore his Achilles tendon at the end of last season, and now, just after he finally returned to the court, he broke a bone in his leg. Out six weeks. Oh sure, he can take solace in the $48 Million dollar contract extension he just signed. But I don’t think he’ll ever be a basketball superstar again. I really don’t. He might be good, but he’ll never again be great. Not after those two serious injuries back-to-back. Plus pretty soon he’ll figure out that the Lakers are no good and that he’ll, therefore, never win another title. Which will sap whatever enthusiasm to be great he has left in the tank. And there’s one more reason Kobe will never again be great….Kobe is OLD! He’s a 35-year-old man trying to play basketball. This year is shot. Next year he’ll be 36 when the season starts. You know what Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Bill Walton, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson all had in common when they were 36? They were already retired.
But as Kobe fades from greatness, when I think of him in years to come the first thing that will pop into my mind will be his admitted sexual encounter (be it rape or otherwise) with the pudgy 19-year-old desk clerk in Colorado in 2003. Which makes Kobe the basketball Bill Clinton. In this world you are what you do. You can’t un-ring the scandal bell. Kobe will always be the guy who did the pudgy desk clerk in Colorado. Clinton will always be the guy who got hummers from the pudgy intern in the Oval Office. Period.
Speaking of U.S. Presidents, ‘ya know who Richard Nixon suddenly reminds me of?
No, the Sports Philosopher hasn’t been dipping into the sacramental wine.
Think about it. In 1972, our 37th president was on the verge of all-time greatness. He’d opened the door to Red China. He was about to end the Vietnam War. America was going through a period of decent prosperity. And he was about to be elected as president for the 2nd time, in a landslide. The same man who a decade earlier had lost elections for both president and governor. He was on the verge of immortality. But no, rather than turn in the Watergate burglars and take responsibility for it and say right away it was wrong and he didn’t know about it (which would have made him downright beloved), he decided to “stonewall” it and try simply not to get caught. Well, he got caught. And he had to resign in disgrace. What a boob.
Same with Bonds. He was already one of the greatest players of all time. But then rather than just accept that, and waltz into the Hall Of Fame, he gulped Steroids, became maybe thee greatest player of all time….but like Nixon, he got caught. So in 2007 he went from earning $15 million a year to not a single major league team offering him a contract for the major league minimum salary. And the writers will never let him in the Hall. Just as they refused him admittance this year. It is one of the saddest and strangest sagas in recent baseball history…. What a boob.
Golf in 2013 (and every year) was about Tiger Woods. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m starting to feel sorry for the guy. It’s been almost 6 years since he won his last major. Unthinkable. And do you suppose his girlfriend, skier Lindsay Vonn, quizzes him from time to time on whether he’s backslid and gone back to hookers, waitresses, and porn stars? And have you noticed how much Vonn looks like a couple of Tiger’s old mistresses?
Tennis 2013 was all about Rafael Nadal. He is a living metaphor for all of us, regarding the overcoming of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And if I had to pick a “2013 Athlete Of The Year”, Rafa would be it.
Speaking of awards, it’s time to hand out the Sports Philosopher’s cherished annual PLAXICO BURRESS I’M SO STUPID IT’S IMPOSSIBLE FOR EVEN SMART PEOPLE TO FIGURE ME OUT AWARD for 2013. It goes to the year’s dumbest athlete. We call it “The Plaxico” for short. Plaxico Burress, the man the award is named after, was of course the inaugural winner of the award in 2009, for shooting himself in the leg at a New York City nightclub. Which of course is really dumb on its face, but which also led directly to his going to prison for two years for carrying a gun. Other annual winners include Gilbert Arenas, Chad Ochocinco, and Manny Ramirez. And this year’s winner of The Plaxico….roll of the drums please….goes to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil. The reason Elvis is even on the Ravens is why he won the award. Y’see, Elvis spent the first 7 seasons of his career with the Denver Broncos. And he wanted to stay on the Broncos. He even agreed to a minor restructuring of his contract so that the Broncos could keep him and still save a little money. Furthermore, his $12 Million dollar salary for 2013 was guaranteed. Guaranteed provided, that is, that he got the proper paperwork for the restructure deal into the Broncos’ office by 2:00 p.m. MT (4:00 p.m. EST) on March 15th 2013. Well, Elvis and his agent must have gotten a little confused along the way, because the paperwork was faxed in at 2:06 p.m. Six minutes late. The Broncos used this convenient loophole to void Dumervil’s contract, they released him immediately, and saved themselves millions of dollars of salary cap room. It all happened quicker than you can say Elvis has left the Broncos’ building. Dumervil promptly fired his agent, and signed a contract with Baltimore a couple weeks later for far less money. Worse than that, he’s not on the team he wanted to be on. Baltimore is having an off year. Denver is favored to go to the Super Bowl. Enough said.
Anyway, congratulations, Elvis.
Finally, a final word about NFL football. And it’s about the aforementioned Denver Broncos. Because in football, for me, 2013 comes down to one guy, Peyton Manning. Denver’s quarterback. Manning is the greatest regular-season NFL quarterback ever. For instance, he just broke the record for touchdown passes in a season. But of the great QBs, he’s also the worst playoff performer ever. The worst! EIGHT 1st-round exits. Several mind-numbing interceptions. Last year, with the season on the line, he meekly took a knee in regulation….and then threw the season-blowing interception in overtime. In the payoffs, Peyton sucks. It’s the NFL’s dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. It’s the elephant in the room. So, looking ahead to 2014, I’ll be watching to see if he can overcome 15 years of perplexing failure in the post-season. The Broncos are a powerhouse. They are favored to win it all. If Manning plays great they will win. But if he doesn’t and they don’t….
Okay, big picture. It can be the same with you and me. We all have things about ourselves and our lives we’d like to change. The question is can we—you, me, and Peyton Manning—all make 2014 the year we finally do so? Can we improve and break through? Can we all practice what I’m preaching?
Who knows? Just do your best. Happy Holidays, everybody.
meet….The Sports Philosopher!
Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, a film buff, an undiscovered literary savant, and a lover of sports for both its own sake and the sake of history. Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’. His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’. Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.
*Brad has a new book out. It’s called “L.A. JOURNAL”, a collection of stories about Los Angeles. To pick up a copy simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com. And then order it. And then READ it. And then tell everyone about it. And then read it again. And then post your praise on Facebook. For all this and all your support he thanks you…..