The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “I’m so sorry, Blame….now you know how Peter O’Toole feels.”

January 30, 2011
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      I was watching ESPN the other day, and at the bottom of the screen, where ESPN runs a little right-to-left ticker of headline news stories, there abruptly appeared (and since those right-to-left words were moving very quickly, it just as abruptly disappeared) an item which barely caught my eye.    Just a little ticker-tape news blurb.   I almost missed it. 

      Zenyatta voted 2010 Horse Of The Year, it said.   Blame finishes second.

      I was stunned.

      Zenyatta, you may recall, lost a heartbreaker last November in the Breeders Cup Classic to Blame, a 4-year-old colt who was considered—before that race—to be her only serious competition in the Classic.   The 6-year-old mare had been undefeated.   The Classic was her last race.   After she lost, she was immediately retired from racing.

I’m confused….did this race actually happen?   Or not?

I’m confused….did this race actually happen? Or not?

      The race had been hyped, quite correctly, as being a race literally for Horse Of The Year.   Any why not?   Blame had already won two important “Grade One” rated stakes races against his fellow rugged males; namely the Stephen Foster Handicap and the Whitney Handicap.   Zenyatta, being a female, had not faced fields anywhere near as talented, and in fact the fillies and mares she had defeated during the year were all “Grade Two” and “Grade Three” types—not one Grade One victory on her 2010 resume—but heck, it was opined that if she were somehow able to beat all the best male dirt-track horses in training in the Classic, defeating Blame in the process, she would have to be voted Top Horse for 2010.   Especially since she had won the Classic the previous year.   It was truly a race for all the marbles, all the pundits said so, to the victor would go all the spoils.   I agreed.   

      And after Zenyatta came up a head short and broke everyone’s heart, everyone agreed again.   Blame will now surely be Horse Of The Year, all the depressed TV announcers said.   So said all the depressed on-line sportswriters the same day.   So said all the depressed print sportswriters the next day.   Blame deserves it, we all agreed.   He’d had the best year going in, he won the biggest race, the showdown, he won, she lost, that’s that.

      But then, a couple months later, in that itty-bitty little story buried at the bottom of the TV screen, I find that everything has miraculously changed.   Apparently the race which had been trumpeted as meaning everything before the race began, meant nothing after it was over.

      And so I repeat.   I was stunned.

      Despite my shell-shocked indignation, I almost decided to allow Apathy to help me drop the whole thing.   But then I remembered I was a Sports columnist who specializes in sometimes pointing out ghastly flaws in the Human Condition, as a way of making sense of the World and at the same time trying to goad us into being a better-performing species.   So here we are.

      First of all, we must ask the question; why did this happen?   That’s easy.   Zenyatta is very, very popular.   Personally, I love Zenyatta.   The huge, attractive, charismatic daughter of Street Cry had always won, had always given her best, and had thrilled racing fans and non racing fans alike time and time again with her thrilling, come-from-behind finishes.   She had become a legend in her own time, a horse adored like no horse since….well, since I don’t know who.   Apparently the voters didn’t want to disappoint Zenyatta’s still-fervent, post-retirement fan base.   Even my own lovely girlfriend got caught up in the magic.   I casually began to tell her about my indignation over this entire sad affair, started to tell her I was about to write a column about how stupid, illogical, shameful, agenda-driven, and wrong the whole thing was, and she started to let me have it.   Started to remind me how popular Zenyatta was and how important it must be for horse racing (a sport in continual trouble for two decades) to create and perpetuate heroes with this kind of well-deserved tribute etc.   Stunned again, and always eager to avoid an unwinnable argument, I changed the subject.

      My son wasn’t fooled.   He was with me that day at the sports betting parlor in November, watching Zenyatta lose the Classic and hearing me and everyone else in the room affirm that Blame would now, no doubt, be deservedly voted Horse Of The Year.   When I told him last week what the voters had done Rob angrily declared, loosing his ever-improving high-school vocabulary in my direction, “That’s an abomination, Dad.   It’s appalling!”    (It should be pointed out that the irascible lad is the only person I have ever met who does not even like Zenyatta.   Can’t stand her.   He’s such an iconoclast….)

      So to sum up, Blame had had a better year before the big race and then he won the big race.   Zenyatta hadn’t faced a big-time horse or won a big-time race all year, and then she lost the only race that mattered, to the only horse that mattered.   Yet she is quietly voted Horse Of The Year over two months later?   Makes me ill.

      The other question we need to ask is; why does all this even matter?

      Lots of reasons.   The first reason has already been stated.   It made me ill.   But the most important reason is that if these year-end awards don’t mean anything, well, then they don’t mean anything….

      I’ve encountered—and been irritated by—this kind of irresponsible behavior by award voters before.   Take football.   In 1976 Bert Jones of the old Baltimore Colts was named NFL Most Valuable Player over my personal football hero, Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders, even though Stabler had better stats, played better, and led his team to a much better record.   I’m convinced Jones won the award not because he had a better year (for he most assuredly did not) but because he was more popular than Stabler and because Stabler had already won an MVP two years earlier and because just about all of the football award voters hate the Raiders.    That 2nd rightful MVP award would probably have been Stabler’s ticket into the NFL Hall Of Fame.   He deserved it anyway.   But he never got there.

      Take baseball.   In 1934 Lou Gehrig had one of the greatest years in baseball history.   He won the Triple Crown (that’s highest batting average, most home-runs, and most RBIs in the same season), and in fact drove in the most runs (165) of any batter who ever won the Triple Crown.   Lou had 49 home-runs, while American League MVP “winner” Mickey Cochrane of the Detroit Tigers had….2.   As in two.   One less than three.   Oh, by the way, Lou came in 5th for the MVP.   FIFTH!  

      Think that’s bad?   In 1947 the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio had a lousy year by his standards, while his arch rival, Boston’s Ted Williams, had a great year.   Like Gehrig 13 years earlier, Ted also won the Triple Crown, and bested DiMaggio by far in every offensive category.   Yet it was the closest vote in baseball MVP history, 202 to 201 points, with DiMaggio emerging the “winner”.   But what makes it awful, and inexcusable, is that one Boston sportswriter (Williams was hated by most of the press in his own home town, because he wouldn’t kiss up to them) left Williams off of his MVP ballot entirely.  Even a 10th-place vote from this slimy scribe would have tipped the scales in Ted’s favor.   Maybe ol’ Ted should have gone down to the guy’s office and roughed him up a little.

      Both of those baseball catastrophes happened long before I was born, but obviously I’m nonetheless upset by it….

      Take rock and roll.   Guitarist extraordinaire Rob points out that the wildly successful (50 million albums sold), innovative (first band to use extensive theatrical pyrotechnics and theatrical make-up), influential (got Van Halen their start), and talented (I suppose) rock band KISS is continually and habitually passed over for the Rock ‘N Roll Hall Of Fame, year after year, not because they don’t deserve it, but rather, says Rob (and he’s right), because the KISS bassist and lead singer, the charmingly opinionated Gene Simmons, just as continually and habitually tends to point out as loud and obnoxiously as he can in the press that the Rock Hall unduly favors artists from the pre-hard-rock era.   The whimsical Gene, who has a huge tongue, often uses that long and famous fat tongue to utter very bad words to make his points.   So the Hall keeps KISS out.   (Rob tells me that KISS wasn’t even on the Hall of Fame ballot last year.   Neither was Stabler.)

      Take the Academy Awards.   Did you know that John Wayne won the Oscar in 1969 for his performance in the original “True Grit”?   Well, he did.   Not because he was the best actor that year.   He was given moviedom’s highest honor as sort of a twisted lifetime achievement award, similar to how Zenyatta’s 2010 Horse Of The Year award can easily be viewed as sort of a lifetime achievement award for “almost” going undefeated.   Oh, and the guys who “The Duke” beat out for the Oscar that year?   How about Richard Burton in “Anne of the Thousand Days”.   How about Peter O’Toole in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”.   How about Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt in “Midnight Cowboy”.   Have y’all seen all four of these movies?   Maybe you should.

      But here’s my favorite Oscar snub.   In 1982, two of my favorite comic performances of all time, O’Toole’s Alan Swann in “My Favorite Year” and Hoffman’s Michael Dorsey in “Tootsie”, were both passed over for Best Actor, in favor of Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi in, you guessed it, “Gandhi”.   Was Kingsley better, or even as good that year, as Hoffman or O’Toole?   No!   No no no no!!!   But Hollywood ‘s Oscar voters have always preferred boring big blockbuster extravaganzas to good comedies.  Even brilliant comedies.   Just another flaw in the Human Condition….bottom line, though, is that both Hoffman and O’Toole got screwed.   Again.

      (Please, all you “Gandhi” and Ben Kingsley fans, please don’t get mad and write in.   I liked them both just fine.   And Ben, if you are reading this, you’re a fine actor blah blah blah….)

      Anyway, all these awards are supposed to be vehicles of excellence, instruments to ensure that in Sports and in The Arts we are rewarding those who have reached for the stars and succeeded in catching them.   But Zenyatta won her award because she is beloved and popular, not because she earned it in the arena.   Is this what we have come to?   Giving a horse a “people’s choice” Oscar via a stuffed ballot box, after she could not justly and nobly obtain it on the track?   Just to appease the fire-eaters?   Are we a nation that rewards excellence, or a nation that sanctions paper champions merely for the sake of pandering to the masses and using farce as its opiate?   What happened to pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, to reaping what we sow, to the “natural aristocracy” of performance over privilege?   What ever happened to workers of the world, unite!!!

      But seriously, folks.

      What the voters for Horse Of The Year did was act with full knowledge that they were conducting a glorified popularity contest.   A farcical, thinly-veiled lifetime achievement kiss-up, masquerading as a real award, as a means to sell and advertize their sport.   They knew what they were doing.   They knew.   What they did, therefore, was not just misguided or wrong.   It was shameful.

      It was shameful.

      Hey!   Hey, horse racing industry….shame on you.

meetThe Sports Philosopherimage0025

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered fictioneer, and just hates it when they give the big award to the wrong guy.   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 4 novels and over 20 short-stories.   



Brad Eastland, our “Dr. of Ancient Filmology”, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.  (If you want to hear about new-release films, ask somebody else!).   Special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels and over 20 short-stories.  Here are some samples of his best work:








One Response to “The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “I’m so sorry, Blame….now you know how Peter O’Toole feels.””

  1. Ah memories of Chip/John in KISS costume………….


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