Monday, October 29, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joe

Seems like I am home less and less these days.

Contrary to popular belief, the life of an airline pilot is not as glamorous as it once was. I frequently spend fours days out of seven living out of a suitcase, shuttling between one airport hotel to another.

I'm not complaining, mind you, just stating a fact.

The vaunted contracts of the pre-9/11 industry are a thing of the past. Though the airlines are beginning to pull out of their long slump, (most are even hiring, after years of layoffs), it will be a long time before wages and working conditions approach pre-9/11 levels again -if ever.

As I was spending some quality time with my sons the other night watching Boston wrap up the fourth game of the World Series, I was reminded of an earlier Series. The legacy of that Series impacts Major League Baseball (and other sports) to this day.

Does anyone remember the movie Eight Men Out?

Starring John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, D.B. Sweeney, David Srathairn, (recently starring in Good Night, and Good Luck), and a near All-Star cast of others, it told the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary of its release.

If you haven't seen it, The Flying Curmudgeon highly recommends renting it, or it may be purchased through

As the astute reader of The Flying Curmudgeon surely knows, in collusion with local mobsters and gamblers, the White Sox agreed to "throw" the Series, in an effort to get back at their penny-pinching owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James).

As it turned out, for all their trouble, most of the conspirators wound up getting stiffed by their mob co-conspirators.

Imagine that. No honor amongst thieves.

With the exception of Buck Weaver (Cusack) and "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, (Sweeney), (if Weaver and Jacksons' testimony is to be believed), the entire team decided to put personal gain ahead of the integrity of the sport.

According to Weaver and Jackson, at the last minute they decided to break with the scheme, and played the rest of the Series straight, nearly coming back from a 3-1 deficit, in spite of their teammates' efforts to the contrary.

Though they were found Not Guilty at trial, the commissioner of Baseball at the time, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, (don't you just LOVE that name?) banned the entire team from the sport for life, including Weaver and Jackson.

For the rest of HIS life, Buck Weaver tried to clear his name.

This case set the legal precedent that, to this day, keeps Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame.

Okay, so what? Why is The Flying Curmudgeon bringing this up now?

Glad you asked that question.

Over the last several years, there have been numerous incidents involving professional athletes representing a variety of sports: the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal from this summer, the Ray Lewis incident a few years back, the steroid scandal involving Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others, the (fill-in-the-blank-with-an-NFL-football-player's name) felony case of assault/battery from the last ten years or so, the Kobe Bryant affair.

The Flying Curmudgeon has had a number of these individuals on his aircraft over the years.

Lewis is not nearly as big in real life as he appears on television. Old school linebackers were MONSTERS.

Remember Ray Nietzchke, Jack Lambert, Dick Butkus? They all seemed huge to TFC when he was a kid.

Without pads on, Lewis seems kind of ordinary, though admittedly, he has blazing speed.

Vick has a little brother named Marcus that could be his twin - in appearance, as well as in the common sense department.

After a night in Atlanta of post-Super Bowl partying a few years back, two men lay dead from knife wounds in the street outside a Buckhead nightclub. Ray Lewis and two of his "homies" from Miami, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, were implicated in the deaths.

After much back and forth between the defense and the prosecution, Lewis was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.

My how times have changed.

Unlike the precedent set by Judge Landis, not only did Paul Tagliabue, NFL Commissioner at the time let Lewis return to football, the following year Lewis helped his team, the Baltimore Ravens, go on to win the Super Bowl and was named Most Valuable Player.

Though Lewis testified he had seen his friends brandishing knives the day before, and that he saw Oakley kicking one of the victims while someone else held him down, even Oakley and Sweeting were eventually found Not Guilty.

Amazing. Two people lay dead and nobody went to jail.

Kind of reminiscent of another double murder involving a former professional football player, don't you think?

Now, TFC is not suggesting Lewis struck the blows that killed those poor men, one Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. However, he was certainly an accessory after the fact. From all reports, he encouraged a number of witnesses not to cooperate with authorities.

Without the testimony of eyewitnesses, along with some prosecutorial missteps, the jury was unable to find any of the defendants culpable for the killings.

Lewis' case is merely one of the more serious examples of sports figures involved in unseemly circumstances in recent years.

The list goes on and on. Fortunately, there are exceptions to this sad litany.

For every Ray Lewis, there is an Emmit Smith. For every Jason Giambi, there is a Derek Jeter.

The Flying Curmudgeon would say most professional athletes try to live up to their responsibilities as role models. Whether they want to be or not, (Charles Barkley), when you are paid millions of dollars a year to play a game, you ARE a role model.

In addition to players, like Smith and Jeter, there have been some notables on the sidelines and in dugouts, as well.

Tom Landry, in his trademark fedora, for a generation defined the word "gentleman" as the head coach of Dallas. Dick Vermeil always struck TFC as being a class act. Tony Dungee is a tremendous human being.

And now, after 12 years and 4 World Series titles, Joe Torre is out as Yankees manager. Few men in baseball, either on or off the field, have defined class like Joe Torre.

In 1971, while playing for St. Louis, Torre won the Batting Title and was named the National League's Most Valuable Player.

TFC can still remember his older brother's picture of Torre hanging on his bedroom wall.

A versatile player, during his career Torre wound up playing more than 500 games - as a catcher, at first base, and at third.

In 1977, he retired as a player and became manager of the New York Mets, but was unable to find much success at Shea, and the Amazin's weren't so amazing, finishing last place in his first three seasons.

Finding more success in Atlanta, he led the Braves to a division title in his first season as their manager in 1982. The good times in Hotlanta didn't last, however. After being fired, Torre went back to his beloved St. Louis, replacing Whitey Herzog in 1990.

After posting three winning seasons, the next two were disappointing and he was let go in '95.

The following year would be Torre's year.

In 1996, he replaced Buck Showalter as Yankees manager and in his first season led the Bronx Bombers to a World Series championship, his first trip to the fall classic in his entire career.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Three straight World Series victories ('98-'00), seven straight division titles (through 2004), while juggling a roster of baseball's biggest names (and egos) and dealing with the mercurial George Steinbrenner.

There are few personalities that have made a more positive impact on baseball, and set a better example for our nation's youth, than Joseph Paul Torre.

From The Flying Curmudgeon, thanks for the memories, Joe.

Hopefully, he won't go too far away. You won't, will you Joe?

Say it ain't so.



Anonymous said...

Hey Little bro! I believe Joe hit .363 that year. If he didn't run like a catcher he'd have broken .400. I remember being asked early that season in high school, "Who's your favorite 'ball player?". When I answered , "Joe Torre.", the question, "Who?" always followed. That year he won the battle title and I was redeemed!
I still have a Joe Torre plastic 7-11 slurpee cup from those days. It's prbably the only one left in the world! I've always be proud of Joe. Still am.

TFC said...

Let's see what he can do for LA.

Whatever happened to your Stan Musial pic?

See you this weekend.