August 16, 2009
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image0032 The Sports Philosopher Takes a Scattershot View of the State of Sport at Summer’s Halfway Point….

 by Brad Eastland


      I always wanted to be like one of those beloved Sports scribes of my youth, who people got together on a Monday morning to talk about and hash over what he had to say.   


      You know.   Like around the coffee station at work.   You’re sleepy, you’re grumpy, you got a bad attitude, most people hate their jobs anyway, right?   You need that little something to jump-start your week, ‘make existence seem not quite so hopeless.   I bet you’re one of those people.   Right on.   Anyway, in the old days, I remember we always had the Sports Page to rip free from the rest of the Monday morning paper, to provide that entertainment, and to provide a window into the world of perpetual childhood that is lived by only the few, by only the fast the strong and the lucky.


      Let’s give it a shot:


*    First of all, I have a follow-up to last week’s column.   You may recall I stupidly mentioned to my girlfriend that Albert Pujols was the best player in baseball, only to have her toddle right up to eight different people at a restaurant and ask them if they’d heard of him and not one of them had.   Well, she’s still beating me over the head with it.   She’s a high school teacher, and last week she asked two of her classes who the best player in baseball was, and not one lousy kid mentioned “El Hombre”.   Their guesses were typically Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Manny Ramirez, “the guy with the dreadlocks” (not sure if they meant Manny or Bob Marley), or Barry Bonds, who has not hit a ball in two years and is 45 years old.   Worse than that, not only did none of these fine young minds guess Albert Pujols, none of them had even heard of Albert Pujols!   Seventy kids.   Poor Albert.   I swear, someone should write a folk song about this guy.   Maybe Bob Dylan could do it….is he still alive?   Is he busy?


*    Sticking with baseball.   I’ve decided that we should all get together and actively root against the Yankees.   Now I realize that many of you probably already do.   Good for you.    But as they sprinted to a 7-game lead this month in the American League East, it got me to thinking.     It’s a rigged game.   They simply went out in the off-season and overpaid for the two best pitchers available (C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett), and the best big-time slugger available (Mark Texeira), of course they have the best record!   How can anyone root for a team that seeks to buy its success year after year and then flaunts it?   It’s sort of like rooting for the Nazis.   Picture this: it’s Monday Morning Coffee, September 2nd, 1939.   Picture some guy going to work in New York City, picking up The Times, seeing the headline, and saying to his workmates, “Hey you bums, did’ja see what the Nazis did yesterday?   Boy, ‘dey really kicked the crap outa Poland, didn’t they?   God, the Nazis are great!   Best damn tanks in all of Europe!   Best damn troops totalitarianism can buy!   Tell ya what, I’ll take the Nazis and give anybody here eight-to-five who wants ta take France to survive past Valentine’s Day….any takers?   None a-yooze?   Ah, you bums.”   The Nazis are always good comedy.     


*    Final note, baseball.   My beloved San Francisco Giants, amazingly, have somehow stumbled their way into contention.   This is noteworthy because the Giants have a crummy team.   They are last in the league in home runs and runs scored.   (They do have the two best young pitchers in all of baseball, but I am not going to mention their names in print, because if you haven’t heard of Albert Pujols there’s no chance you’ve heard of these two fuzz-faced young cherubs, and I will no longer be the literary agent of my own depression.).   One of my goals in life is to be alive when next the Giants win the World Series.   You people know when was the last time the Giants won the World Series?   Eisenhower was president.   Bogie was starring in The Caine Mutiny.   Kids wore their bluejeans above their asses and over their underwear.   And I, your beloved correspondent, was not yet born nor yet conceived.   I wish I was born around 1920….

*    Tennis.   The U.S. Open is just around the corner.   Roger Federer in on top again, thanks to Rafael Nadal’s leg injuries, despite getting married and the new Mrs. Fed having twin girls.   The reason I say “despite” is that there is a history of all-time-great tennis champions falling to earth once they get a woman.   I remember Jimmy Connors marrying a Playboy centerfold, and for a couple years he couldn’t win anything.   John McEnroe was never the same player after he hooked up with Tatum O’Neal.   He never did win another major.   Anyway, I wish Roger luck with all that.   All that matters is if he can ever win another major final with Nadal on the other side of the net.   Anything short of that means nothing.   

*    Pro Football is also just around the corner!   Bet I got your attention now, huh.   I like the Chicago Bears…what’s your favorite team?   I don’t care, I like the Bears.   The only acceptable conclusion to any NFL season is one where the Bears have their paws around the Lombardi Trophy.   Okay, so there haven’t been many acceptable NFL seasons.   Okay, one.  (1985)

      Anyway, I just wanted to casually mention the Bears, for I’m sure I will be doing many a column on them during the next four months.   Brace yourselves.      

*    More football.   Michael Vick got a job.   He’s an Eagle now.   Thank god the Bears didn’t sign him, making the playoffs is tough enough without the media circus coming to town.   I do applaud Andy Reid, though.   The Eagles’ head coach.   Took guts to sign the convicted dog-abuser Vick, even if he does think the man can help his team win.   Perhaps it has something to do with Reid’s own troubles; you may recall that his sons have run afoul of the law in recent years.   Sounds like Andy Reid’s heart is as big as his gut, which is the biggest gut of any sports figure I can ever recall.   Anyway, he sounds like a helluva guy, Andy Reid.   I’d like to meet Andy Reid someday.

      One last thing about Michael Vick.   I think people need to lighten up a little bit about the dog fighting thing.   Don’t get me wrong; it was awful what he did, torturing and killing dogs and all that.   And I’m a dog guy.   My own pooch, the adorable Monte, might be the best dog in America.   If you’ve ever met him you realize as I do that no dog brings a higher degree of good-looks, brains, foot-speed, talent, athleticism, obedience, and sweetness of disposition to the table than does ‘Monte the magnificent’.   If Michael Vick or anyone else hurt my dog I’d probably kill him myself.    But seriously, it’s not the worst crime sports figures routinely commit.   What Donte Stallworth did (drove drunk, killed a man) was a far, far worse offense, and the outcry has been far less.   O.J. Simpson carved up two innocent people with a butcher knife, and there were legions of pathetic people who were actually happy on that bizarre day in ’95 when he was acquitted of the crime.   And remember, Vick did what precious few athletes are required to do when they error….HE SERVED HIS TIME.   Two years in the Big House is a steep price, and he paid it.   Is his recent humility and contrition genuine?   Is he repentant?   I don’t know.   Time will tell.   But at least he paid.

















*    Track & Field.   Usain Bolt—the man with the coolest last name in Sports—broke his own world record in the 100 meters on Sunday, running an insane 9.58 seconds at the same Berlin Olympic Stadium that Jesse Owens made famous 73 years ago.   I hope you saw it.   If not, trust me; Bolt is the most breathtaking athlete in the world.   He was facing the fastest field of runners ever assembled, and at 6 feet 5 inches tall with the stride of an antelope he looked, literally, like a grown man competing against 8th-graders.   Man, would he look great in a Chicago Bears uniform!   He left them in his wake as if he wasn’t even trying.   As usual he slowed up just slightly at the end, and still won by two yards.   If track & field were as sexy as basketball, football, or golf, I guarantee you he would be as heralded and famous a superstar as LeBron James, Tom Brady, or Tiger Woods.


*    Speaking of Tiger Woods, I conclude with The PGA Championship.   Wow.   Golf does it again.   And this time history was made not by Tiger Woods himself, but rather at his expense, as a Korean fellow called Y.E. Yang (no, I’m not kidding) won the 91st PGA Championship by three strokes over the World’s #1 player.   It was a stunning, sobering thing to watch.   Not just because it was obviously one of the biggest, most monumental upsets in golf history.   Not even because Yang becomes the 1st Asian man to ever win a major.   And not even because the Sports Philosopher had never heard of Yang until two days ago (I don’t even know what the Y and E stand for).   But rather because it was the first time Woods has ever displayed the basic elements of human frailty that plague the rest of us, at least on the golf course.   Oh sure, he’s lost tournaments before.   But never a major championship when he had the lead after Saturday’s 3rd round.   Or when he led after Friday’s 2nd round.   He led by four stokes after Friday’s round, by two strokes going into Sunday.   In the past, this has always, always spelled defeat for anyone chasing him.


      Until now.   To be accurate, Woods actually began to lose this tournament on Saturday, with uncharacteristically tentative play.   He was lucky to shoot 1-under on Saturday; all his challengers (like Yang) were 3 or 4-under.   He was far too conservative all week, and like the old saying goes, he was “playing not to lose” rather than playing to win.   All weekend he laid up, held back, hit 2-iron or 3-wood or even 5-wood off the tee while Yang was pounding the driver.   He played for the fat part of the green while Yang was firing at flags.   On the par-5 15th hole, as his collar was starting to get tight, he tried to reach the green in two but chunked a 3-wood dead fat like any nervous amateur would have done, and wound up a hundred yards short!   It was beyond explainable.   And he missed everything on the greens.   Missed a 3-foot putt on Saturday.   Missed a 4-footer on Sunday.   Things he had never, ever done down the stretch of a major until last week.   All in all, on Sunday, he had nine birdie or par-save putts of less than 15 feet….and missed eight of them.    


      In other words he choked.   I don’t mind being the one to say it.   Somebody has to.


      He probably wanted it too much.   He hadn’t won a major all year, after coming back from major reconstructive knee surgery.   He wanted to dominate so badly, so soon after missing the cut at The Open last month.   So yes, he probably wanted it too much.   And so he was too tentative, too conservative, too aggravated and edgy down the stretch.   He choked.   He’s human.   Who knew?


      One more thing: They played the PGA Championship this year in Minnesota, at the Hazeltine Golf Club, in a little town called Chaska just outside of Minneapolis.   Chaska.   My mother’s home town.   She grew up there, graduated from high school there in 1940.   What does this have to do with Tiger Woods choking away a major golf tournament for the only time in his life?   I don’t know.   Nothing, really.   I just thought I’d mention it.


      That’s enough for this week.   That was fun.   Wasn’t it?   Are your lives better yet?   If so, print out this column and take it to work for coffee and show-and-tell.   If not, quit your job.   It’s a start.



 The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, dog lover, and sports nut; in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below:







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