By West Coast Craig
“When a sportswriter stops making heroes out of athletes, itâ€™s time to get out of the businessâ€ — Grantland Rice
PRESS ROW — Fortunately for Grantland Rice, he got out of the business a long time ago. It would be unrecognizable to him here in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, TMZ, the internets on your portable phone, YouTube, MLB TV, and ESPN â€œthe Ocho.â€ On this (hopefully) dry Monday, a lot of news, rightfully, will go to the red hosed villains from Beantown making their first visit to the New Yankee Workshop. And yet, the Alex Rodriguez story keeps lingering on, like the smell of a pile of dead fish you almost forget is there until the wind changes back your way.
Selena Roberts seems like a nice person and a thoughtful journalist, but she wouldnâ€™t have lasted ten minutes in the golden age of the 1920s, when writers like Grant knew all the dirt on the players they followedâ€”and by followed, I mean traveling on the long train rides with, quaffing in the pub, showeringâ€”they had a different agenda. The country was still reeling from the losses of WWI, was worried about a deadly flu pandemic, was trying to do the jitterbug on top of a flag pole. Rice and the writers of the era needed to establish sports as the ultimate escapism, and purple prose full of colorful adjectives and nicknames gave rise to bigger than life heroes. A guy like Babe Ruth totally accommodatedâ€¦ But even Rice called him out when he faltered on the diamond, prompting the Babe to head up to his secluded farmhouse to avoid booze, chop wood, lose weight, and wonder how he married some waitress met on his first weekend in Boston.
So what does it say about our constant need now not for heroes, but for taking heroes downâ€¦ And, if weâ€™re lucky, their getting back up with a little humility and grace. If this third part happens, then the real heroism has happened, the warriorâ€™s arc is made sincere and authentic and completeâ€¦if given a little push by the journalist with the vendetta. According to Roberts, she just wanted to write a book about â€œcleanâ€ Alex, and the other story emerged. Just so happens it emerged just before the season, and now, with A-Rod so close to returning, the book is set for release. Nobody can blame her, even Joe Girardi can see the logic in how these dates line up, and sheâ€™s just following the standards of the times…and as she said in an interview last night, she would like nothing better than that third part to happen. So would a nation of Yankee fans, who need A-Rod to become that guyâ€¦ Who need him to find redemption in the crack of the bat, so that they may forgive and enjoy on a more resonant level of fandom.
Sports are simply different now than they were eighty years ago, when they did hold up a more meaningful metaphor for life. Writers like Grantland Rice used this to their advantage, and delivered gorgeous prose of heroes and fates and the forces of nature. You donâ€™t get that stuff much anymoreâ€¦who needs The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse when you can simply watch a reel of highlights? Is it unfortunate that all weâ€™re left with is our cynicism, our secret glee when we hear of the cracks in our knightsâ€™ armor?
Itâ€™s probably not fortunate or unfortunate one way or the other, itâ€™s just the way it is, the same way I still get a thrill when the player in question is able to dust himself off and keep going. So, yes, I know Iâ€™m adding fuel to the fire here and imagine thereâ€™ll be some strong opinions one way or the other. On that note, Iâ€™ll leave you with another Grantland Rice quote, that still works today, and eighty more years from now:
“I wise man makes his own decisions. An ignorant man follows public opinion.â€