Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Bleachers' Brew #95 The Dishonest Season

by rick olivares

(This appears in the Monday, February 18, 2008 edition of the Business Mirror. I'll be in Thailand from Sunday to Thursday for work but I'll try to post stuff.)

In the dystopian Kingdom Come, the graphic novel masterpiece of Mark Waid and Alex Ross told of a world of super-heroes gone wrong. With more and more people finding themselves with powers beyond belief, the concept of human achievement in venues such as the Olympics and the Nobel Prizes were condemned to the dustbins of history. Who could tell if athletes, scientists, or ordinary people had the advantage of the meta-gene that set them apart from ordinary people?

The story has since become one of the milestones in the comic book medium and a runaway best-seller. Now if you take away the fantastical setting and premise, the world in which we live in is no different.

Time was I‘d skip the front page for the sports section for I could have sworn that the nation’s leaders were actually a rogues’ gallery of glory hounds, thieves, and even bigger thieves. Now the sports page features among others a rogues’ gallery of thieves, cheats, and even bigger cheats. It’s the fall season for professional and amateur (is there any difference) sports.

Sports is said to be a metaphor for life. It’s become a cliché to say that it’s a test of character that brings out the best and the worst in people. Sports’ achievers have been feted as royalty as they’ve become icons and millionaires. Yet in their quest for immortality, some have become denial kings aghast, angry, and even belligerent in their protests of any wrong doing. And following a fall from grace after they’ve been outted as cheats they whimper and ask for forgiveness. Even if their awards and medals are returned, their records taken down, and their time in jail eventually served, where does that leave everyone? I personally feel cheated because I rooted for some of them. Paid good money to watch them live when I could have stayed home tuned to Comcast. And what’s worse is the recognition that should have been rightfully another’s has long since passed. If there was an opportunity for their own 15 minutes of fame, it’s all yesterday.

I followed the great home run chase of the late 1990’s by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and a couple of years later by Barry Bonds. It was just one of those feats in sport that seemed so unreachable and unattainable. When Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle embarked on their own journey to break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 slams in 1961, Maris was called out as a nuisance and a malingerer; an unworthy heir as opposed to Mantle who despite his Oklahoma roots was the All-American poster boy for power and grace. Such was the pressure on Maris that his hair was falling out in clumps. Of the 26 names and numbers of various pinstriped personnel honored in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park, perhaps aside from Billy Martin, Maris’ tenure in pinstripes is actually a sad story. I believe that he seemed more relaxed and appreciated when he played his final season with the St. Louis Cardinals where he won his last World Series.

McGwire and Sosa and to an extent Bonds weren’t treated this way. People came out to watch them. An increase in home runs in just about every major league ballpark saw a huge influx of fans into the game so baseball looked the other way in spite of the whispers of doped up players. And now people like Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco, and Paul Lo Duca -- sluggers all -- have all been called out for using performance enhancing drugs. I watched Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Troy Glaus, Miguel Tejada, and Lo Duca among many others. Now, rather than “Let’s go, Yankees” I feel like chanting, “Clean up, baseball. Clean up, baseball.” These rascals have created a league of their own and with apologies to Tom Hanks, there should be crying for baseball.

Unfortunately, the diamond isn’t the only one afflicted by controversy. Even the links haven’t exactly been safe. Golf legend Gary Player sometime last year admitted to knowing of one player who admitted to steroid use. He even hinted of even others making use of these performance enhancing drugs. In the wake of the Mitchell Report and the new US Congressional hearings on baseball (a real joke in my opinion when they should be putting an end to that stupid war in Iraq instead), it has been rather too quiet in the fairways.

And there’s tennis where Martina Hingis career is broken for a second time (the first was when she took her sabbatical after being mercilessly booed for being a boor) after testing positive for cocaine use. To compound matters, Nikolay Davydenko is being investigated for game fixing and some fans were thrown out the other week from a tournament in Belgium for on-site betting.

The Indiana Hoosiers’ coach Kelvin Sampson is ironically under investigation for recruiting violations by an ethics committee he put together a few years ago to address the ills of US college basketball. This is definitely one case of not practicing what you preach.

There’s Marion Jones and Dwain Chambers the latest in a long line of speedsters who have left a track of tears for athletics. In Europe, UEFA is investigating allegations of game fixing in football. There’s the Tour De France and the Olympics… the dopesters paradise. And there’s the home front with its myriad of problems that are of front page material.

And now I’m thinking of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower and the lines that go… “There must be some way out of here, said the joker to the thief. There’s so much confusion here, I can’t get no relief.”

So the sports page that used to be my source of good news (even if my teams lost) is no longer a refuge for its become the front page with its rogues in sneakers.

The Extra Point:
I’m not a fan of the New England Patriots. While it might have been cool for them to go 19-0 and once and for all lash those boorish 1972 Miami Dolphins to an anchor and drop them off at sea, the fact that Spygate won’t go away is largely upsetting. The widening of the probe, the alleged collusion of former Patriots employees in the videotaping of opponent’s training, and the $100 million class action suit casts the Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins in bad light. Makes me relieved that 19-0 did not enter the lexicon of champions.

But no worries, there are some 580 people in Managua, Nicaragua who are happy to be the unlikely beneficiaries of discarded t-shirts and hats that proclaim the Patriots as Super Bowl XLII champions.

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