Monday, February 20, 2006

Cold February

It's been a while, as we tend to say around here. Normally, I'd have peeked my head in at the very least to plug my Notebook piece over at BP on Friday (it's on the Padres) but the President's Day weekend took on a life of its own, involving babysitting, keeping vigil at the hospital, and putting friends up overnight under bad circumstances.

In the face of real-world worries, writing about sports, and movies, and trifles of that sort takes on an air of the unreal. To be honest, I simply couldn't write--or rather, what I could write over the past few days wasn't too fit for my readership's eyes (regardless of how few eyes there may be).

After that cryptic downer of an intro, on to the trifles and trivialities I usually write about:

Big Mouth on the Ozzeroo -- Ozzie Guillen is one of the most mystifying sports figures, ever. I never liked him as a player. He was then, as he is now, a loudmouth with a very low signal-to-noise ratio; he had the quality of annoying performance to go with his annoying mouth--Guillen was just shy of the posterboy for anti-sabermetric play (overrated defense, bad stolen base percentages, and hold the walks and the power, now with bonus sac bunts!).

His first season with the White Sox he looked like a guy in way above his head, but in '05, he showed a deft touch with the pitching staff, en route to winning the Big Enchilada (as the World Series trophy shall henceforth be known) and the Manager of the Year Award. So now Ozzie has a bigger pulpit than ever from which to spout off...well, nonsense. We'd be busy burying him for a jackass, if only he didn't also give the impression of being a pretty decent human being, for all his bouts of logorrhea.

Case in point: Ozzie went out of his way to slam Alex Rodriguez as a fake last week, for wanting to play for the Dominican Team in the WBC. Now, we're not the biggest fans of A-Rod's WBC Hamlet act, and calling out Rodriguez in the press has apparently become as much of a Spring Training tradition as Pitchers and Catchers reporting a week early. But Ozzie was exceptionally nasty about it. Here's the quote "Alex was kissing Latino people's (butts). He knew he wasn't going to play for the Dominicans; he's not a Dominican! ... I hate hypocrites: He's full of ---. The Dominican team doesn't need his (butt). It's the same thing with (Nomar) Garciaparra playing for Mexico. Garciaparra only knows Cancun because he went to visit."

Anybody who knows my background probably has a fair idea how well the Ozzeroo's rant--particularly the "not a Dominican!" part--went over with me. To Ozzie's credit, he apologized for the verbal suckerpunch on Rodriguez almost as soon as it came out in print, which kind of took the fun out of Steinbrenner's day-late counterattack on Guillen. There's not much fun to be had piling on any side right now...which goes to show what a quiet week it's been in Yankeeland.

Pitchers and, Pitching and Catching -- So far, the talk in Tampa has been about Ron Guidry's survival chances as the Yanks' new pitching coach; the need for Posada and the Big Unit to get back in sync now that Randy's personal catcher, John Flaherty, is gone; and the fact that Carl Pavano still isn't back on the mound for the Yanks--this time his back hurts, after shoulder pain last season.

Not to call him a malingerer, but the whispers are that Pavano's pain tolerance is directly proportional to his desire to pitch in Pinstripes, which is reportedly non-existent. If that's the case, (HUGE "if") then Carl needs to realize that his only route off the Yanks' roster is through the pitching mound--he simply can't be dealt until he shows someone that he can pitch. This melodrama will probably play out all Spring, and perhaps through the summer.

Albert Belle and the Legend of Kirby Puckett -- Another baseball story from last week: Albert Belle, the baseball player once known as "Joey", was arrested for stalking an ex-girlfriend in Arizona. Belle reportedly used a hidden GPS device to track the woman's car, and would then show up wherever she was going. Apparently, Belle admitted using the tracking device in a answering machine message, and spent another answering machine message threatening the woman.

If so, then we've managed to finally establish that Belle isn't a rocket scientist, and that he's not a nice guy. For the 480 members of the BWAA who didn't give Belle their Hall of Fame votes, this probably serves as validation of their decision not to lend their support. That's rightfully so--violence against women shouldn't make you a better choice for Hall of Fame, after all. Still, before the "nay" voters hurt themselves while patting themselves on the back, I feel compelled to bring up Kirby Puckett.

Like Belle, Puckett was an American League All-Star outfielder, whose career was cut sadly short by injury. That's where the similarities end--Belle was a take-and-rake kind of player with big home run power, while Puckett was a line-drive hitter, reknowned for his doubles off the "baggie" in the Metrodome. Belle was a hulking big guy, while Pucket was short and round. Most importantly, Puckett was a great interview, a guy who was always shown with a smile on his face and a sunny disposition. Puckett was revered as a local icon in Minnesota with a personality made for politics and a persona fit for his own brand of teddy bear.

Belle, on the other hand, battled alcoholism early in his career (when he was known as "Joey Belle") and was never at ease around the press or the fans afterward. He had incidents where he threw balls at hecklers and photographers (hit the heckler, missed the shutterbug), and he took a high-profile suspension for going off on a reporter. He was also busted with a corked bat, once.

So it's not much of a surprise that Kirby, the good citizen, is in the Hall of Fame, and that Belle's 40 votes this winter (7.7% of the vote, about one-tenth of what's needed for induction) will probably be a high mark.

But here's the rub: after Kirby was inducted, we learned he wasn't really a good citizen. He, like Belle, had problems with the opposite sex, which warranted intervention by the law. The fourth estate thought for certain that they knew Kirby. They'd interviewed him several thousand times, and he always seemed to be a genuinely nice guy. They vouched for him to the fans, just as they made sure that the fans knew that Albert Belle was Bad News.

But in the end, they didn't know Kirby; this is one of the reasons why I've always been kind of tepid about the media's personal assesments of any celebrity. It's not an insult to someone's interviewing skills to say that hanging out with a person, in a semi-public area like a baseball clubhouse full of reporters, might not be the most effective way to learn what kind of person they are.

No comments: