Quite the send-off for the late Michael Jackson in L.A. the other day, and it made this space wonder if there's an athlete who would generate a similar arena-sized event replete with 20,000 celebrity-studded mourners and performers, condolences from world leaders, a touching tribute fromRon Artest, a gold-plated casket, a 32-Rolls Royce motorcade with police escort on a closed freeway, a gold-covered commemorative program, scalpers hawking tickets for upwards of $1,000 a pop (a few enterprising souls briefly shot for $25,000), grief-stricken fans pouring in from all corners of the globe, and the rest of the planet re-enacting The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Michael Jordan? Pele? Muhammad Ali? Tiger Woods? Wayne Gretzky? Tom Brady? Manny Ramirez?
Not to dwell on the morbid, but we human beans do love our iconic entertainers, no matter how flawed or controvesial they are or how long ago they did their significant work. And athletes are entertainers, but they often inspire a fiery partisanship that limits their ability to make fans everywhere reach for the kleenex box upon departure. And one suspects that the names mentioned above would likely go out a little more discreetly than the Gloved One. But at least one sports titan was sent up in Jackson-esque style: Babe Ruth.
On Aug. 16, 1948 at the age of 53, the legendary Bambino "touched 'em all" as we say in the hack sportswriter biz. In a farewell fit for a King Tut, he lay in state for two days at Yankee Stadium (the house he built) while more than 200,000 people filed through to pay their respects to the notoriously hard-drinking, hard-partying slugger. Ruth's funeral was held at famed St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan with Cardinal Spellman presiding over a congregation of 6,000 that included New York's governor and the city's mayor while an estimated 75,000 milled in the streets outside. Among the lump-in-your-throat moments, this exchange between pallbearers Joe Dugan and Waite Hoyt, Ruth's former Yankees teammates who were wilting in the summer heat:
Dugan: "I'd give a hundred bucks for a cold beer."
Hoyt (nodding at coffin): "So would the Babe."
Media coverage included columnist Westbrook Pegler tastefully referring to Ruth as "a burly oaf [who] could suck half a pound of tobacco and spit through his ears." The New York Daily News reported that as soon as Ruth's family departed the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven, packs of pie-eyed souvenir hunters busted in and began carting off the floral arrangements. We may never see the likes of that tearful mass goodbye in the sports world again. Herewith, some old news footage.
Hockey season may be over, but the NHL is still on the mind of at least one notable individual: President Barack Obama, who took time the other day to thank Russia for Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin, although his lengthy, spine-tingling pause between A.O.'s first and last names suggests that the Prez's teleprompter froze or he was just being extra careful to pronounce "Ovechkin" correctly. If the latter is the case, he can give dewy thanks that he's wasn't trying to hail Guillaume Latendresse, Antero Niittymaki,Dustin Byfuglien or Simeon Varlamov.
Couldn't help but notice that former University of Tennessee QB Jim Bob Cooterwas arrested for aggravated burglary. This space got to wondering about the "aggravated" part of the rap and assumed that Cooter must have been greatly annoyed by something at the time of the break-in. (Maybe his burglar tools weren't working properly). Turns out we were close to the pin. Cooter allegedly climbed through a window into a woman's apartment, stripped down to his skivvies, and got into bed with her, which no doubt led to some kind of aggravation. Cooter, it should be noted, is the proud owner of one of the great sports names of all time. A more recent entry: Phillies hurler Antonio Bastardo, currently cooling his shoulder on the DL, who is apparently a favorite of the band Primus.
Continuing with colorful names, Dan Bent, 30, and his sister Natalie Bent, 26, won the men's and women's divisions of the Bog Snorkelling Triathlon in Llanwrtyd, Wales this past weekend. The male portion of the Bent siblings completed the grueling course in a world record time of 2 hours 21 minutes 5 seconds after running 7.5 miles, snorkelling two lengths of a 135-foot long bog, and riding a bike over 19 miles of mountainous terrain. Bog Snorkelling was recently saluted by SI.com in this little gallery of offbeat sports, and in our never-ending search for fresh competitions to pitch to the Olympics, we are proud to present bathtub skiing, which can apparently be done with or without water or snow.
If you're groaning under the weight of those 4,000-calorie ballpark burgers and all-you-can-eat seats at the ballpark, perhaps you should try your own variation of the Chicago Crash Diet. Apparently, a 53-year-old Cubs fan named Daniel Kamenhas vowed to subsist on 500 calories a day until his beloved team rattles off five wins in a row. He plans to begin after the All-Star Break but won't starve himself beyond the end of the season. Sounds like this plan would get fans in most cities down to fighting trim, especially those in Washington although the hapless Nats did come painfully close to sending everyone rushing for the cuban sandwiches, shrimp burgers, Quasi-dillas, meatball subs, chili dog nachos, buffalo chicken sandwiches, footlong Crab Louie sandwiches, and turkey burgers by winning four in a row from June 17-20.
Back in 1972, comedian George Carlin got in all kinds of boiling H2O for his "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine. Lately, Formula One poobah Bernie Ecclestonehas discovered the one name you can never say in jest or in an even remotely positive sense. You'd think by now that the notion of invoking a lunatic responsible for more than 50 million deaths in the world's most horrendous war and genocide would raise a red flag or two and that Adolf Hitler is a subject best left to trained professionals like Mel Brooks and Charlie Chaplin. But no. Old Bernie couldn't find a more savory figure to laud for the ability to "get things done" and then he put his foot in it again while attempting to explain himself to the justifiably outraged.
Back in May, Australian Rules Football radio announcer Ken Judge found himself in a similar bog when he referred to broadcaster John Dorotich as "bigger than Hitler's last gas bill" and had to issue the standard "I apologize if I have offended anyone..." proclamation. Gotta love that IF. As IF there might be any question that anyone was offended. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that Ecclestone and Judge still have their gigs. Don Imus, Jimmy The Greek Snyder and Al Campanis got their posteriors canned for offensive public utterances.
With Lance Armstrong in second place in the Tour de France by a mere fraction of a second (as of this scribbling), you can hear race officials grinding their molars down to little nubbins. Our reliable sauce in Perpignan, where Le Tour riders wheezed to the conclusion of the fifth stage, reports that French authorities who have been gunning for Armstrong for years are determined to torpedo the suspected doper once and for all. "They'd rather spend eternity listening to bagpipe music than see him win for the eighth time," says our sauce, who insists that an army of sly saboteurs outfitted in tree suits are lying in wait along the rest of the course to roll marbles into Armstrong's parth, replace his bicycle tires with cheese wheels while he sleeps, and secretly lace his food with flaxseed oil and other substances that will create a damning positive wee-wee test.
Don't say we didn't warn you . . . and Armstrong.
Thanks to the handy space-time mail delivery portal on your right, this space regularly receives thought-provoking missives like the following:
From reader Dr. Garrett Kenneth: This is to notify you again for the last time that you have been listed as an Heir to the total sum of 'Ten Million Six Hundred Thousand Great British Pounds' in the codicil and last testament of the deceased (Name now withheld since this is our second letter to you). Our contact to you is based on the legal fact that you bear the same last name identity with the deceased therefore we can present you as the heir to the inheritance. All legal papers will be processed on your acceptance of this deal. We request that you kindly forward to us your letter of acceptance; your current telephone and fax numbers and a forwarding address to enable us file necessary documents at our high court probate division for the release of this sum of money. Please indicate your interest immediately via my private email for us to proceed. I shall feed you with full details of this transaction upon receipt of your reply towards this proposal.
Now you know why we got into this enriching business. So while we rustle up our bank account and credit card numbers for the good doctor and prepare to retire to the Cayman Islands, we heartily encourage you to make use of the Epistle Portal. Remember to give, and give generously. Thank you.