The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: ‘Happy belated birthday, Old Pete….’

February 12, 2012
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     It’s official.   The dog days of Sport are here.

     In other words, February.image0011

     Indeed, as I have so often declared in print, this is the one month of the year where sports takes a holiday.   The Super Bowl is over, baseball has yet to start, basketball is going through it’s own endless dog-days lull prior to the playoffs and let’s face it only the playoffs provide any genuine hoops entertainment anyway, tennis is invisible until its next ‘major’, golf waits patiently for the Masters, track & field only counts during the Olympics and soccer and hockey don’t count at all.

     So then what do we do about it?

     That was my very own conundrum this week, as I labored to come up with something entertaining for you.   So I did the only thing I could do.   I climbed down into my endless mental vault of Sports history and jock strap minutiae and came up with one of American pop culture’s leading athletic figures.

     Ronald Reagan.

     Relax.   I have no political axes to grind.   Politicians to me are merely players, the people’s puppets, put upon this Earth to entertain and amuse us and hopefully do no lasting damage.

     The thing about Reagan is he’s timely.   Last week we celebrated our Reagan Centennial Plus One; “The Gipper” would have been 101 years old on February 6th.   Man.   Seems like only yesterday he was….I don’t know, only eighty….

     Like him or not, our 40th president is a fascinating combination of what we do know and don’t know.   For instance, you all know that Mr. Reagan is the father of modern conservatism.   But I’ll be you didn’t know he started out a New Deal Democrat.   That’s right, a Roosevelt Democrat!   How ‘bout that!   Furthermore, while I’m sure you all know Reagan was an actor and a long-time Hollywood movie star—albeit mainly in “B” pictures—I’ll bet scant few of you are aware he started out as a broadcaster, a sports announcer to be exact.   During the Depression he broadcast the University of Iowa’s home football games in Iowa City, a mere 31 miles from where I myself grew up, and got paid $10 bucks a game for his trouble.   Did you know that Reagan is the only president to ever get a divorce?   Both his wives were actresses.   The first won an Oscar.   The second won Reagan’s heart forever….

     And finally, we all know that Reagan’s most famous and most iconic film role was that of the legendary and ill-fated Notre Dame halfback George Gipp, in the 1940 screen classic “Knute Rockne, All American”.   Even Reagan’s nickname, which he wore proudly throughout his whole political life, “The Gipper”, comes from his character in this movie.   Heck, I already mentioned it once before in this column out of reflex, I couldn’t help it.   Reagan is The Gipper!   And always will be.   And whenever I reflect upon his immortal, dying speech in the film, where he counsels Pat O’Brien by hoarse-whispering his final words, “Rock, some day when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they’ve got, and win just one for The Gipper….I don’t know where I’ll be, Rock….but I’ll know about it….and I’ll be happy.”, well, I start to cry.   I’m crying right now. 

     Here.   Check it out for yourself:

     Yes, we all know all about Reagan the football hero.   But I’ll bet you didn’t know that Reagan also portrayed one of baseball’s greatest pitchers on film.   It was in the 1952 less-than-classic “The Winning Team”, co-starring Doris Day.   The prez plays Grover Cleveland Alexander, “Old Pete”, who won 373 games for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, and St. Louis Cardinals, that’s the third most wins all-time, despite being a hopeless drunk and an epileptic as a result of wounds suffered in World War One.   (When you think about it, Old Pete accomplished something quite by accident which nobody ever did before or will ever do again: He was named after one president, and was portrayed on screen by another….I love stuff like that.)

     The Winning Team” is a lousy movie, but the personable, charismatic, quip-spewing Reagan does a good job in it.  (Reagan, in my opinion, was a very underrated actor.   Which isn’t surprising, since pretty much everyone thought that as an actor he pretty much sucked.)   The film does take a few liberties with the truth, however.   Whenever Old Pete has a meltdown they blame it on the epilepsy (which even then they euphemize into just “headaches”, the word epilepsy never being used), rather than blame the booze, which he never really did get a handle on.   Fact is, it was both.   Plus a little shell-shock residue from his WWI service.   He died a burned-out old drunk in 1950, at the age of 63, less than two years before the movie honoring his life hit the silver screen.  (The ever-young Reagan looked younger at ninety-three, when he died, than Old Pete did at sixty-three, when he died.   Life is funny.)image0021

     Anyway, sports were obviously a big, big part of the actor Reagan’s life.   And as a lover of both sports and old movies, I can tell you it’s those two things which got our 40th president into this column, nearly eight years after his death.   What a pity The Gipper couldn’t have lived to see this day.

     So happy belated birthday, Mr. President.   Thanks for making this planet a more interesting place on which to live….and thanks for helping us to praise the indefatigable glory of Sport, your contributions preserved for all time in your films.  

     Now if only you hadn’t fallen asleep in all those cabinet meetings….

meet….The Sports Philosopher!

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered literary giant, and lover of old sports movies; even if they stink.   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.   

image003*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of utter despair, called WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it on,, or   And then order it.   And then READ it.   And then tell everyone about it.   He thanks you.








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