Commentary

commentary noun anything serving to illustrate a point, or prompt a realization.


On the Nose

When I see an old black and white photograph of Roberto Clemente at the plate in Three Rivers Stadium, I want to read what it’s about. I saw him play at the Astrodome when I was a kid. For 50ยข a ticket my dad would take me and my brother to sit in the bleachers on Sunday afternoons to watch the games. Clemente was one of my childhood sports heroes, along with Johnny Bench and my favorite Astro, Cesar Cedeno. Everything Clemente did just seemed so perfect, so cool. It was how he moved, how he did things. And when he was at the plate, I could see the sharp, angular lines of his face all the way from center field. So, when I saw that photo on ESPN.com the other day, I clicked through to the story. It was an excerpt from a memoir Kevin Guilfoile has written about his dad. Bill Guilfoile was the public relations director for the Pittsburgh Pirates when Clemente got his 3000th hit in 1972. I’ve always thought there was some sort of cosmic justice in him getting that hit, late in the season. And whether there was anything cosmic in it or not, it’s always been linked in my memory with the story of the plane crash that killed Clemente on New Year’s Eve of that same year. I can always see the pictures of the burning wreckage of the plane (or maybe that was burning rubble in Managua where Clemente was headed) in my mind and hear the voice of Dave Ward, one of Houston’s local news anchors at the time, reporting that the plane had been full of supplies for the earthquake victims in Nicaragua. The story Guilfoile is writing is not about how Clemente died. This is about the other part of Clemente’s story, the 3000th hit part and the bat he used to get it. But I read something early on in the piece that was the heart of the story for me. It’s just a couple of paragraphs about Bill Guilfoile and Roberto Clemente and about Kevin Guilfoile and another famous Pirate, Barry Bonds. I think it explains what it means to be in the Hall of Fame. This first story showed me what it meant to be Roberto Clemente:
As my father arrived for his first day on the job with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he had been intercepted by Dick Stockton in the parking lot of McKechnie Field, the Bucs’ spring training home in Bradenton, Fla. Stockton is a first-tier play-by-play announcer now, but in 1970 he was a Pittsburgh television sports anchor, and he asked whether Dad was the team’s new public relations director. When my father said he was, Stockton said he would like an interview with Roberto Clemente. My father explained that he’d been on the job only a few minutes and that he hadn’t even met Clemente yet. Nevertheless, he would see what he could do. My dad has Alzheimer’s, so I can’t ask him what happened next, but when his memories were still present, he took out a yellow legal pad and wrote down many of his baseball stories. In these pages, he describes his first encounter with Roberto. Dad introduced himself as the new PR guy, and in the next breath asked whether Clemente would do an interview with the sports director from KDKA-TV. Roberto reacted with a three or four minute outburst, combining English and Spanish, to let me know exactly how he felt about Stockton. Apparently he and Dick had had a falling-out some time ago over something Stockton had said on the air. Then Roberto paused, regained his composure, and looked at me with a little smile. “Would it help you if I did the interview?” he asked. “Well, it’s my first day on the job and I’m trying to get off on the right foot,” I said. “Yes, it would help me if you would talk to him.” Clemente nodded and said, “Ok. For you I will do it, my friend.” He finished dressing, walked out on the field, and gave an interview to Dick Stockton for the first time in years. — Bill Guilfoile
Roberto Clemente had 3000 hits, on the nose. He died December 31, 1972 on his way to help people he’d never met. He never came to the plate again, but he used baseball as a platform to help anyone who needed it, even unto death. Guilfoile’s story about Barry Bonds, however, showed me something different:
I was a 20-year-old American studies major making $500 a month as an intern in the Pirates’ media relations department. Barry Bonds was a 24-year-old leadoff hitter, a player with huge potential, but he wasn’t yet the superstar he would be a few years later. In the season I spent with him, Barry had a respectable 19 home runs and an impressive 32 stolen bases, but he batted just .248. No one was calling him a future Hall of Famer yet. On a typical day at Three Rivers Stadium, I did research and helped with media inquiries and wrote articles for various in-house publications. During games I worked in the press box, basically as a gofer. And every morning I would get a list of names from the community relations department — sick kids in hospitals, mostly, or other charity and management requests — and I would walk down to the clubhouse with a folder of glossy photos to get autographs. Most of the ballplayers treated me with kindness, or at least respect. A few probably even hoped their name would be on one of my Post-its — the fact that some kid had asked for their autograph being a good sign for their careers. Others thought of me as a minor nuisance that could be disposed of with a few seconds of effortless Sharpie wielding. And then there was Barry Bonds. Barry wasn’t the kind of jerk who was nice to people only when he needed something from them. As far as I could tell, Barry was pretty much an ass to everybody all the time. Instead of berating me directly or just ignoring me, Barry would sometimes talk about me like I wasn’t there. Sometimes he would tell Bobby Bonilla, who had the locker next to him, that I was lying to them and these autographs weren’t for fans and that I was just selling these pictures to professional dealers, that I was another no-talent white man exploiting black men who possessed real ability.
There are many statistics that say Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame, all the home runs and the seven MVP awards. There’s also the conviction in 2011 on obstruction of justice charges in a case dealing with his use of performance enhancing drugs. We haven’t seen Barry hit a baseball lately, either, but unfortunately hitting a baseball is all he’s got. Some things matter more than any statistic, and it’s those things, those non-baseball things, that reveal why Barry Bonds should never have a place alongside Roberto Clemente. Because one of these men is a hall of famer. The other one isn’t.

The Football Team

I like Rick Reilly. He’s a sportswriter, if you were wondering. He can make me laugh, and he even turns a phrase, sometimes, that sticks with me. (I can’t think of any of them now, but I did remember. For a little while, anyway. Promise.) I don’t always read his stuff, but I did today. My wife told me about it. She knew it would make me mad. Reilly expressed a seemingly prevalent point of view, at least in the sportswriting community. At least in the northeast. Apparently this group thinks Penn State should be honored because they are playing football. The team is a monument to the power of football beyond the field, or some other grandiose nonsense. He even waxes quite eloquently about it to make his case for Bill O’Brien, the Penn State football coach, as the National College Coach of the Year.
“Into the teeth of the worst college football scandal in American history, into a sex-scandal mess the National Guard couldn’t have cleaned up, Bill O’Brien pulled off a football miracle: He made you forget Penn State was radioactive. O’Brien went 8-4 in the middle of nuclear winter. He kept popping open umbrellas while it rained bowling balls. He made a numb town feel again. That’s why he’s either the coach of the year in college football this season or you melt down the trophy.”
As if any of that matters. But if you live in Reilly’s world it does. Every Penn State football game this season has been on national TV (ABC/ESPN). The only other team that can boast that is Notre Dame, and that’s because they have their own network (NBC). Every week there is some feel good story about a Penn State student or athlete on one of the sports shows. But I don’t know if Penn State wins or loses, or what the stories are about. Because in this house Penn State football games are never on the TV. Because when there are highlights or stories about Penn State football we change the channel. Because Penn State shouldn’t have any football players. Because Penn State shouldn’t have a football coach. BECAUSE PENN STATE SHOULD NOT HAVE A FOOTBALL TEAM. And I’ll tell you why. Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s defensive coordinator and heir apparent to Joe Paterno, was suspected of sexually abusing children through his The Second Mile football camps over 20 years ago. Everybody in the administration at Penn State knew about it. He lost his status as heir apparent, but he stayed at the school. Twenty years later, when another coach saw Sandusky sodomizing a young boy in the Penn State athletic facilities shower, everybody knew about that, too. The head football coach knew. The athletic director knew. The head of the university knew. And they covered it up, again. Because of the football team. What a member of the Penn State fraternity was doing to young boys, and had been doing for over 20 years, was deemed less important than the football team. So, how do we punish such a school when all of this becomes public? Take away what was most precious to them. The football team. No, not the football team. What about the kids, the football players? These are the same kids that were living under a regime that condoned the sexual abuse of children, right? The same kids whose parents found out about what was happening and still let them stay in that environment. The same kids who would have been welcomed to any other university in the country if Penn State no longer had a football team. No. Instead, according to Reilly, we honor them.
“Last week, just before that final game versus Wisconsin, Penn State did something chilling and emotional and real. It put the 2012 Nittany Lions on the ring at Beaver Stadium that honors Penn State’s greatest teams.”
I guess in this strange, sad, sick world, what was most precious to Penn State is more important after all. The football team.

National Coming Out Day

Yesterday the Congress of the United States held over 4 hours of hearings to investigate the assassination of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. citizens during a terrorist attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. The President of the United States and other members of his administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, and Press Secretary Jay Carney all indicated in the days following the attack that the violence was caused by a 15 minute YouTube video defaming Muhammed, the Muslim prophet. The following information was uncovered during the hearings. 1. Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, head of a 16-member military team assigned to protect the Ambassador in Libya, requested additional security personnel on several occasions but was denied additional support directly by the deputy assistant secretary for international programs, Charlene Lamb. In fact, even the 16-member team was removed from the field in August. That’s August, the month before September which include the 11th day of September, a day most Americans will never forget. 2. In the year preceding the attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, there were upwards of 250 incidents of violence against foreign diplomatic personnel in Libya. Two attempts were made to kidnap or assassinate the British Ambassador to Libya, and there were two IED explosions at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Perhaps Colonel Wood’s request for additional security was warranted. 3. The State Department knew, in real time, that the attack on the consulate was a coordinated terrorist attack. Video surveillance at 8:30 p.m. on the evening of September 11, 2012 shows the consulate to be calm and secure. No mob, no crowd, no spontaneous gathering to protest a video or anything else. The same surveillance shows a hundreds man fighting force with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades attacking the consulate at 9:30 p.m. Armed with all these facts, at the ceremony to honor the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others upon the return of their remains to the United States, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still bemoaned the tragic deaths caused by an amateur video on YouTube. Five days after the attack, Susan Rice, The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, talked on four separate Sunday news shows about the spontaneous protest caused by the video that turned to violence. The President of the United States, fully two weeks after the attack, told the ladies of The View on national, network TV that they were still investigating the attack and the video certainly had something to do with it. All of these, and many other statements by administration officials, are in direct conflict with the facts known by all of them at the times of their statements. None of this, however, is what this post is about. This morning, I wanted to see how the national media was addressing this tragic story and the reaction of our government in the face of these revealed facts. Nothing. There was no mention of the hearings on the front page of any online network news site (except FoxNews.com), The Washington Post online or The New York Times online. Our government failed to protect a U.S. Ambassador despite repeated requests for more security and this administration blamed his death on a video that dissed Muhammed which had nothing to do with the coordinated Al Queada terrorist attack that led to his capture and assassination, and it was not news. Instead, some Chinese author named Mo Yan winning the Nobel Prize for literature seemed to be the most important news of the day. And on ABCNews.com, the first thing you see, the first headline under the Good Morning America banner is. Are you ready for this? National Coming Out Day: Moments in LGBT History. WOW, that is news. Certainly more important than the murder of a U.S. Ambassador and the government’s attempts to obscure his death’s cause.

See more Commentary HERE.