As executive director of the ACLU for two decades, Brooklyn-born
Ira Glasser has dedicated his life to fighting for freedom. He
says he chose that path largely because he grew up watching
I was nine when Robinson broke in. My friends and I had a
passionate, personal relationship with the Dodgers. Into that
relationship came Robinson, who captured our hearts so
thoroughly that it became difficult to remember a time without
him. On a team filled with heroes, he was the one most of us
emulated. We tried to incorporate everything about him into our
own styles--his intense competitiveness, his exquisite sense of
timing and surprise, his slashing disruption of the other side.
Decades after Robinson retired, you could go to a batting range
in New York City and find grown men, bats held high, right hands
nervously wiping at hips, toes pointing slightly inward.
Growing up in Brooklyn, few of us knew about Jim Crow laws. But
we knew about the death threats to Robinson; we knew about the
resistance of some teammates to taking the field with him, and
we knew about the race-baiting from opposition dugouts.
Robinson's response gave us a stance with which to confront an
unjust world. Seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court struck
down school segregation, eight years before Rosa Parks sat in
the wrong seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, Robinson taught us to
be reckless when recklessness was least expected, to be intense
when others relaxed, to resist adversity and come back to win.
Before 1947 the crowd at Ebbets Field was virtually all white.
In my East Flatbush neighborhood, there were no black families.
Though New York had no Jim Crow laws, racial separation was
nearly total. But after '47 things began to change at the
ballpark. By '49 I sat in integrated bleachers, and it felt
natural. We would scream, together, when rightfielder Carl
Furillo fired a strike to third. We were ecstatic, together,
when Robinson, with his feints from third, forced the opposing
pitcher to balk home a run. We were delirious, together, when
Duke Snider hit one over the scoreboard and onto Bedford Avenue.
I remember Robinson winning a game with a drive to left center.
I found myself, an 11-year-old white boy, embracing a
middle-aged black man. There was a sense of community between
black and white at Ebbets Field, a meeting ground in a society
that had banished most other meeting grounds.
It has become justly fashionable to celebrate what Robinson did
a half century ago. But if he were alive today, Robinson would
be reminding us--and not gently--that racial inequities still
limit the opportunities and stifle the dreams of black children.
He would be talking to us about the unfinished struggle for
justice, in and out of baseball. And for many of us who continue
the struggle, Robinson remains among us, pushing us to go
further, stutter-stepping off third, eyes flashing, heading home.
CLEVELAND: THE FINAL FRONTIER
Astronaut Donald Thomas, who this week was to begin a 16-day
mission aboard the space shuttle Columbia, may have his head in
the stars, but his heart is in Cleveland. Thomas is a diehard
Browns fan who, like many of his brethren, is literally counting
the days until the NFL returns to Cleveland.
In addition to carrying a Browns team flag and wearing a Browns
patch on his space suit, Thomas was scheduled to blast off
wearing a Browns watch, which ticks off the days until Aug. 21,
1999, when, according to a promise from NFL commissioner Paul
Tagliabue, a franchise called the Browns will play in a new
Cleveland Stadium. Upon his return, Thomas will present the flag
and the watch to Cleveland, along with a certificate
commemorating his flight. Oh, yeah, while he's in space, he'll
also be doing research into microgravity or something.
In recent years numerous state and local governments have bent
over backward to attract or keep pro sports franchises, mainly
through promising to build them new playing facilities. That
trend took a 180 last week when stadium-funding proposals in
Texas and Tampa hit roadblocks. The setback to Tampa's
stadium-building efforts has more immediate ramifications--for
both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who two years ago had their bags
packed before they reached an agreement with local government to
build a new stadium for the 1998 season, and the NFL, which has
chosen the Tampa stadium as the site of the 2001 Super Bowl. But
the situation in Texas could be a bellwether for how governments
will deal with pushy franchises.
In Tampa, Circuit Court Judge Sam Pendino invalidated the deal
between the Bucs and Tampa, which would float $204.5 million in
municipal construction bonds, because of a lease provision that
allows the Bucs to keep the first $2 million in yearly revenue
from parking and concessions from non-Buccaneers events. The
opposition, headed by former Tampa mayor Bill Poe, argued that
using public money to enrich Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer was
unconstitutional; Pendino agreed.
In Texas, where there are eight pro franchises (including the
NFL Oilers, who will play in Nashville by '98), teams in Dallas,
Houston and San Antonio have sought a collective $1 billion
either in tax breaks or in public funds to build new homes or
renovate their current ones. Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, a
Democrat, has crusaded against teams turning to government for
handouts; he would prefer they sell shares to the public as a
way of raising funds. Bullock has taken to describing the
subsidizing of franchises as "corporate welfare" and is
unconcerned by threats that teams will move if they don't get
what they want. "Tell you the truth," says Bullock, "I haven't
lost a single night's sleep over the prospect of a sports team
leaving Texas." Bullock, who has weathered four divorces, a
well-publicized bout with alcoholism and a drunken-driving
arrest, without losing an election, is not alone in believing
that teams should pay their own freight. He recently received
support from Governor George Bush, a part owner of the Texas
Rangers, who said teams "ought to consider Bullock's option."
Poe, who as mayor was instrumental in getting the Bucs expansion
franchise for Tampa in the mid-1970s, might now be instrumental
in driving it away. "If he's going to continue with this," said
Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, "he'll probably
effectively kill the deal."
And if government officials continue standing up to franchise
owners' gimme-gimme attitude, that attitude may soon be dead
WHITHER THE WHALERS?
Eulogizing a franchise like the Hartford Whalers, who announced
last week that they will relocate (to points unknown) at the end
of the season, is like eulogizing the crazy uncle who lived in
the attic. The only things to talk about are the eccentricities.
The Whalers are the sole major league franchise to play its home
games in a mall. This is the only NHL team for whom legends
Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull skated together; alas, they were a
combined 93 years old at the time. This is a club that had a
downtown parade thrown for it in 1986--for advancing to the
second round of the playoffs, still its furthest postseason
progression. And then there was the night in '78 when the roof
of the Hartford Civic Center collapsed. The fact that nobody was
hurt might qualify as the Whalers' epochal victory.
No, Hartford hasn't been a rich franchise (owners say they have
lost $33 million in two years). And the Whalers certainly
haven't been successful on the ice; they've struggled through
four straight playoffless seasons and, with a 29-36-10 record at
week's end, may be on their way to a fifth. But like that crazy
uncle, they've been an interesting companion, good for a few
laughs, and Hartford won't be as colorful without them.
NEW RECORD, MY BASS
The 22-pound, four-ounce largemouth bass landed in 1932 by
George Perry in Montgomery Lake, Ga., has long been fishing's
great white whale, the storied record chased by bass anglers.
Now, according to the March-April issue of Sporting Classics,
Perry's fish appears at last to have been surpassed. The
six-page story, complete with a photo of a truly monstrous bass,
recounts how a peg-legged, 68-year-old South Carolinian named
Roy Greer walked into the magazine's offices last month with a
largemouth that when slapped on the scales at the local Piggly
Wiggly weighed 22 pounds, eight ounces. Sporting Classics
reports that record certification is under way at the
International Game Fish Association in Florida.
But before readers go for this story hook, line and sinker, they
may want to take a closer look, for there's clearly something
fishy here. Consider that the issue date of the magazine is
March-April and that according to the article Greer's homemade
lure has been copied by a manufacturer that gave it the catalog
number 4197 (4/1/97?) and that Greer reportedly worked for a
railroad called the Macon B&S (try just plain B.S.). It turns
out that this fish story is an elaborate April Fool's hoax
dreamed up by Sporting Classics editor Chuck Wechsler. "I tried
to poke fun at Americans for their preoccupation with bigger is
better," says Wechsler. "Everybody is just waiting for this old
record to fall."
Perry's record remains safe. Meanwhile, however, at a tournament
in Corsicana, Texas, on March 18, Mark Menendez of Paducah, Ky.,
caught the biggest bass ever landed in 30 years of BASSMaster
events--a 13-pound, nine-ounce largemouth. No foolin'.
A CLASSIC ACE
Visitors to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art have been
emerging from a blockbuster show of paintings by Tiepolo
marveling at the 18th-century Venetian master's vast canvases
filled with graceful mythological scenes. A few have also been
wondering, What's up with the tennis racket?
The Death of Hyacinth, a 9 1/2-by-7 1/2-foot canvas painted
circa 1752, is based on an episode from Ovid's Metamorphoses in
which Apollo and his lover, the Spartan prince Hyacinth, engage
in a discus-throwing contest. Apollo's toss accidentally strikes
Hyacinth, mortally wounding him. The scene had been depicted by
Cellini and Rubens, but Tiepolo's version is, in the words of
the Met's catalog, "singular, for it transforms Ovid's discus
contest into a modern game of tennis." Sure enough, there in the
foreground sit a racket and three balls. It seems that Tiepolo
based his work not on Ovid's original but on a 1561 translation
that substituted jeu de paume--the forerunner of tennis and a
favorite among Renaissance nobles--for the more classic discus.
Well, that may satisfy the art historians, but tennis buffs have
one more question: How did Apollo develop that killer serve?
Value, in dollars, of rented earrings that Oscar-winner Jessica
Yu (documentary short subject) wore to the Academy Awards.
Value, in dollars, of fencing gear that Yu, an All-America at
Yale in 1986 and a member of the NCAA's All-Decade team, used
during her career.
Fine, in dollars, levied by NBA against New Jersey Nets coach
John Calipari for reportedly threatening to punch reporter Dan
Garcia in the face and calling him a "Mexican idiot."
Fine, in dollars, levied by the Istanbul soccer club Besiktas
against midfielder Sergen Yalcin for criticizing a club official.
Value, in dollars, of gift certificates offered by the Boston
Trading Co., a sports memorabilia store, to customers who, in a
show of "resentment" toward "traitor" Roger Clemens, turn in a
Clemens baseball card.
NICE START, BUT...
The Kansas City Royals last week released first
baseman-designated hitter Bob (the Hammer) Hamelin, the 1994
American League Rookie of the Year, who, like several past top
rookies, including Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych ('76) and
Cleveland Indians outfielder Joe Charboneau ('80), never
fulfilled the potential he showed in his debut season. Here are
others for whom first-year fame didn't portend a productive
Negro leagues outfielder finally made it to the majors with
Boston Braves in 1950, at 32, and was named National League
Rookie of the Year after batting .273, with 18 home runs and 35
steals. Poor fielding, exacerbated by vision problems, drove him
out of the majors in '54.
The 1979 American League co-Rookie of the Year (with Toronto
Blue Jay Alfredo Griffin) hit .285 and .302 in first two seasons
and made seamless switch from third base to second to
accommodate Gary Gaetti. But back surgery ended his career in '84.
Six-foot-six righty, former Oklahoma basketball star, went 15-7
for Boston Red Sox in 1961 to win American League rookie honors.
Biggest claim to fame thereafter: traded to Pittsburgh Pirates
for first baseman Dick (Doctor Strangeglove) Stuart.
Brushback specialist was American League's top rookie in 1952,
despite going a mediocre 15-15 with a decent Philadelphia A's
team. Mediocre describes rest of career too: He retired after
'57 season with a 46-54 record.
When Cincinnati's lineup was announced at an exhibition game
last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, fans may have thought
they were flashing back to the 1970s, the era of the Big Red
In the '97 lineup (bottom), Rose is perennial minor leaguer
Pete, 27-year-old son of alltime hit leader Pete; Concepcion is
David, 21, son of Cincinnati's nine-time All-Star shortstop
Dave; and Perez is Eduardo, 27, son of RBI machine Tony.
George Bush's parachute jump last week in Yuma, Ariz., was his
first since he exited a burning bomber in 1944. Much has
happened in the intervening years, including a most famous leap.
Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First?" debuts; two years later at
Yale, the answer is Bush.
Dan Quayle born; World Series debuts on TV, launching, as Quayle
might put it, the era of the couch potatoe.
Clay beats Liston, changes name.
Bush elected to Congress, remains George.
Neil Armstrong takes one giant leap for mankind.
Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally achieve free agency; Bush
heads up the agency, the CIA.
In Lake Placid, N.Y., they believe in miracles; in Washington,
D.C., they do, too: An ex-actor wins the White House, with Bush
As lights go on at Wrigley, soon-to-be President Bush asks
Americans to read his lips.
Bush routed by Clinton, revives his dream of jumping out of a
With Clinton grounded by knee injury, Bush takes second leap and
calls it "wonderful."
THIS WEEK'S SIGN THAT THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US
On March 26 dozens of high school students in Cincinnati skipped
classes, with their parents' consent, so they could queue up to
buy Nike's new Michael Jordan basketball sneakers, at $140 a pair.
Houston Astros manager, on his move from the team's broadcast
booth to the dugout: "In broadcasting, I was an analyst. By the
time I finish managing, I might need one."