Gone bluefishin’

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Pete Rose, baseball’s immortal Charlie Hustle, played manager-for-a-day in Bridgeport, Conn., Monday night, calling the shots for the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League.

It’s a far cry from the Big Red Machine. And it’s as close as Pete should ever get to returning to baseball.

The “independent” in “independent Atlantic League” is important, because Petey has been banned for 25 years from all of Major League Baseball and all of its affiliate minor league teams. Among other things, this means that the man who had more base hits than any other player in the history of the game – the man who beat Ty Cobb’s unbeatable record of 4,191 and didn’t stop until he’d recorded 4,256, the man who was a thorn in every pitcher’s side and was the face of Cincinnati in the ’70s – is ineligible to to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Good. That’s how it should be. Rose, one of the greatest ever to lace up a pair of cleats, should never be allowed back in the game.

Rose is 73 now, and he’s always had a groundswell of support from fans who say the hit king belongs in the Hall.

On a side note, I’d be willing to bet that a majority of those same fans have no problem with excluding the home run king, Barry Bonds. Let’s just say the reasons are as clear as black and white.

But this isn’t about Barry, who also doesn’t belong. This is about Pete. And the reason Petey isn’t in the Hall is that he took himself out of it.

In 1989, after denying for months that he had never, ever, bet on a baseball game, Rose accepted a lifetime ban from the game — without admitting guilt — for, um . . . betting on baseball.

Now, before the baseball writers can elect or reject him for a plaque in Cooperstown, the commissioner of baseball must lift the ineligibility Pete accepted.

Let’s hope no commissioner is ever so forgiving.

It took years for Rose, in a desperate attempt to get reinstated, to admit that yes, in fact, he did bet on baseball games. What’s more, he admitted, he bet on his Reds … while he was the team’s manager.

Rose and his defenders argue that he never bet against the Reds. He only bet on his team to win. What’s wrong with that?

There’s a lot wrong with that.

Baseball, as we all know, is a marathon, not a sprint. There are 162 games, and even the really good teams lose 62 of them. Sometimes you have to be willing to lose because you have your eyes on the finish line.

Unless, of course, your eyes are clouded by a bet.

Did Petey ever keep a pitcher in the game longer than he should have, risking injury to the player, because he had money on the outcome?

Did he ever put a player who desperately needed a day of rest into the lineup because winning a bet was more important?

Even if the answer is no, he could have. A manager has to have his team – not his bet – foremost in his mind. And the bet opens the question of whether Petey did.

Baseball, the great American pastime, almost died 95 years ago when the Chicago “Black Sox” took money from gamblers and threw the 1919 World Series. It literally took a player of Ruthian stature to bring the game back from that scandal. Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest players ever, was one of eight ballplayers banned for life afterward. You’ll find Shoeless Joe in a wonderful book that was made into a wonderful movie, but you won’t find his plaque in Cooperstown.

Rose deserves nothing better.

Photo ops and autograph sessions are all Charlie Hustle has left now, and that’s the way it should be. According to the Savannah Morning News, “About 50 fans paid $250 each to get into a ‘meet and greet’ with Rose before this game and others paid $150 to have lunch with him. He did sign some free autographs as he took the field.”

Rose told the newspaper he “was trying to show he could be a good ambassador for the game.”

“If I’m ever reinstated,” he said, “I won’t need a third chance. Believe me.”

OK, I believe him. And I also know that he does not deserve a third chance. He shouldn’t even have gotten a second one.

Let everyone who plays this wonderful game know now and forever:

There’s no betting in baseball. Period. Not even if you get 4,256 hits.

– 30 –

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Here’s to you, Dr. Z


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Paul Zimmerman won an Emmy the other night.

He shoulda won a Pulitzer.

Grab a bottle of fine Bordeaux and pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about the greatest reporter I’ve ever known. You can call him Dr. Z, as they did at Sports Illustrated. Or you can call him Zim, as we did at The New York Post. But, with all due apologies to Bob Dylan, you may not call him Zimmy. You wouldn’t dare.

That’s because Paul was a big man, a bear of a man, a larger-than-life man with an insatiable appetite for great food, fine wine, expensive cigars and a shareable story. He loved combat. He played rugby. And he was the finest football writer in the country. Continue reading

Mazer and Maggie and why I flunked American History

Bill Mazer, The Amazin’, died last week at the age of 92.

Alberta Magzanian, the Toughest Teacher in the World, will be honored by her former colleagues and students somewhere in Maryland this weekend.

There is a connection.

Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you the story of how a radio sportscaster is the reason the Toughest Teacher in the World gave me an ‘F’ on my American History final in my senior year of high school. Continue reading

Cooperstown

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My kids have grown up. I know this because I’m banging away on a keyboard in Haverstraw, NY, right now, when I should be on the way home from Cooperstown.

Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about a grand tradition that began in October of 1987, when Josh was 8 and Ben was 2 and Josh and I decided to have a baseball weekend, just us guys, no mom, no baby brother.

The plan was simple:

We’d drive to Cooperstown on Friday night, when I got home from work, and check into a motel for a couple of nights. We’d spend all day Saturday at the Hall of Fame, then head to Brooks’ Diner in Oneonta for some chicken and ribs, and then return to our motel room to watch Game Six of the World Series. Just the two of us.

And there would be a brief but essential stop at a convenience store on the way back to motel from Brooks’, so we could pick up some essentials for watching the game. All involving excessive amounts of sugar and salt.

There was one ground rule: Anything goes. You want it, we’ll buy it. Chips, candy, soda, Twinkies, whatever. We’re guys. We snack till we’re sick.

The next morning, we’d have breakfast somewhere, then doughnuts at Snyder’s Bakery, and then we’d head back home, stopping en route to pick up a Halloween pumpkin or two.

Perfect. Continue reading

Exit Sandman

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Willie Mays, the greatest player ever to lace up a pair of cleats, was a shell of himself when he said goodbye to America. He was wearing a Mets uniform by then, and all you could do was celebrate the career of a man whose time had long since passed.

No so Mariano Rivera.

It’s so rare to see an athlete go out on top, especially a star baseball player, who will play until he’s 40-something and won’t take off the uniform until his final team tells him he can’t wear it anymore. Time’s up. You’re done.

Dodgers_Sandy_Koufax_2013-300x237The only other ballplayer I can remember leaving at the top was Sandy Koufax, who won 27 games for the Dodgers in 1966 and led the league in everything (his ERA was a ridiculous 1.73 and he struck out 317). Sandy collected his unprecedented third Cy Young Award that fall and walked away from the game. He was 30-years-old.

But Sandy retired because his doctors told him his gifted left arm was seriously arthritic, and it would become essentially useless if he continued pitching.

I reckon these days he’d have Tommy John surgery, or something, and come back and win 30 games two years later. But that wasn’t possible in 1966.

So Sandy called it quits.

But Sandy was the only one. All the other greats saw their skills erode before they retired.

All but Mo.

I’m a Mets fan, so I’m genetically wired to root for the Yankees lose 162 games every season.

But when Mo took the mound, even I had to root for him. You have to admire greatness.

The greatest closer in history — and one of the greatest pitchers ever — threw his last pitch in Yankee Stadium yesterday. And he did it in a Yankee uniform, the only one he ever wore. And his teammates through all those years, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, took him out of the game.

The Yanks have three more games to play, and they will be meaningless — the Pinstripes are gloriously out of the postseason. So I hope they don’t use Mo in any of them, unless they want to let him play centerfield for an inning.

He went out last night on top, where he belongs. Click the picture below and see for yourself.

— 30 —

Say it ain’t so, dad

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This is back in 1995, when my younger son, Ben, was 10 years old, and we sent him down to Florida to visit his grandparents.

His grandpa took him to a spring training game in Fort Myers — either the Twins or Red Sox vs. the visiting Yankees — and Ben did what all 10-year-olds do in those circumstances. He got as close as he could and begged for autographs.

One player in a Yankees uniform complied.

Ben came home with the autographed ball a week later and showed it to me.

I regarded the signature and said:

“Ben, I’ve never heard of him. He’s a minor leaguer. The ball isn’t worth anything.

And Ben sighed, and he decided the ball WAS worth something. It was worth what all baseballs are worth.

And he took it outside and played with it. And played with it. And we played catch and we hit it and it scuffed in the grass and it went in the mud and it scraped the pavement and before you knew it, the stitches were ripping and the signature was gone.

And that’s why Ben no longer has a baseball autographed by Andy Pettitte in his rookie year.

Today, 18 years later, Andy Pettitte announced his retirement.

My friend Zach swears he’s a future Hall of Famer. I don’t agree, but I’ll concede he comes close.

And Ben has no autographed baseball.

Sorry, son. My fault.

— 30 —

It’s 2013, time to bury ‘Redskins’

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Two pantheons of sports journalism, Slate and Mother Jones, took the bold move this week of announcing that they would no longer refer to the National Football League team that plays in Washington, D.C., as the “Redskins.”

The move was both silly and self-serving, because . . . well . . .

Slate? Mother Jones?

Yeah, they’re the first places I go when I want to bone up on my football.

But there’s one other thing worth mentioning here . . .

They were right.

So it’s time to press for a few other outlets – more important outlets – to take the same bold step. Are you listening, ESPN? Can you hear me, Sports Illustrated? Do I have your attention yet, NBC and Fox and CBS and ABC? How about it, Washington Post?

Listen up, guys . . . History be damned, it’s time to abandon what is, in fact, a horribly racist name.

On March 13, 1994, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Tim Giago, the founder of the Lakota Times, the first independently owned Native American newspaper in the U.S.

It was a wonderful, eye-opening op-ed . . . so much so that I stashed a photocopy in my briefcase. Nineteen years later, it’s still there.

Sadly, I can’t find it on the Times website, which is a shame because the link really should go to the original.

But Illinois Sen. Paul Simon found it as moving as I did, and he entered it into the Congressional Record, which appears to be pretty much the only place you can read it now. So read it:

Drop the Chop! Indian Nicknames Just Aren’t Right

“Redskins” is a word that should remind every American there was a time in our history when America paid bounties for human beings. There was a going rate for the scalps or hides of Indian men, women and children. These “redskins” trophies could be sold to most frontier trading posts. Along with coon skins, beaver skins and bear skins, the selling of “redskins” was also profitable.

On a recent radio talk show, I spoke with a young lady who had been a cheerleader for a team called the “Indians.” She said, “When I put on my feathers and war paint, donned my buckskins and beads, I felt I was honoring Indians.” I asked her, “If your team was called the African-Americans and you painted your face black, put on an Afro wig and donned a dashiki and then danced around singing songs and making noises you thought to be African, would you be honoring blacks?” Her answer was “No! Of course not! That would be insulting to them.” End of discussion.

That’s just a snippet. Read the whole piece. It speaks volumes, and it’s why I’ve been carrying that faded photocopy around for 19 years.

The key question Giago raised, which was brought up again this week, is:

If you were naming a team today, would you name it the Redskins?

If your answer is no, how can you tolerate keeping the name?

If your answer is yes, how would you feel about the Berlin Maccabees? The Birmingham Negroes?

This isn’t political correctness. It’s just correctness. It shouldn’t be so hard to do the right thing.

Change the damn name. Just do it. It’ll be OK.