Pardoner's Tale In an era of officially bestowed forgiveness, the sports world offers a lineup of likely excusees

March 12, 2001

Since the former president pardoned a cocaine kingpin and a
fugitive financier, I've been considering sportswriterly pardons
for our most notorious rogues--from Shoeless Joe Jackson
(granted!) to Pantsless Mark Chmura (denied!).

So I hereby pardon Pete Rose for having bet on baseball. (His
barber, on the other hand, will be arraigned before an
international tribunal in The Hague and made to pay for his
crimes against humanity.)

I hereby pardon Wilt Chamberlain for having slept with 20,000
women, which wasn't nearly as time-consuming as you would think.
(Turns out he merely had 9,996 three-ways, and one menage a
neuf.)

I hereby pardon myself. In a single regrettable night last
summer, I slept with 6,328 women. (Literally. I was in the stands
at a WNBA game.)

Charles Oakley says 60% of NBA players smoke marijuana. I hereby
pardon, for their appalling lack of judgment, the other 40%.
(Imagine enduring the indignities of NBA life--being chewed out by
Jeff Van Gundy, ogled by Dyan Cannon, "owned" by Donald
Sterling--without a buzz on.)

I hereby pardon Carlton Fisk for pretending not to see or hear me
when I stood 12 inches in front of him--on my first assignment as
a baseball writer--and asked him five times, in a squeaky voice,
for a three-minute interview, at his convenience, at any time in
the next three days. The sixth time I asked "Mr. Fisk," he simply
walked away, leaving me to stand there, in foul territory at
Comiskey Park, sniffing my armpits and checking my breath with my
hand.

I hereby pardon baseball's profligate owners, who have finally
shown remorse for their ruinous ways by exercising fiscal
restraint. This winter, when Derek Jeter asked for $19 million a
year, George Steinbrenner refused to give him a nickel more than
$18.9 million. When Mariano Rivera demanded $40 million for four
years, Big Stein drew the line at $39.99 million, take it or
leave it. Way to show 'em who's boss, Boss!

I hereby pardon Marty McSorley, but not until he serves 20 years
alone in a box. (That works out to 5,256,000 consecutive
two-minute sentences.)

I hereby pardon Rae Carruth, who movingly protested his innocence
in the shooting death of a Charlotte woman by saying that the
victim was not in fact his girlfriend, merely someone with whom
he fathered a child. "I didn't even know her last name," Carruth
said, memorably, to CNNSI, "until we went to Lamaze class."

I hereby pardon Bob Knight, who recently threatened to throw a
Playboy interviewer out of a moving car. For the General it was,
comparatively speaking, an enlightened act of conflict mediation,
considering he told that same inquisitor, "I would have enjoyed
living in the West from 1875 until the 1890s, where your
disagreements were settled by whoever had the fastest draw."

I hereby pardon Tonya Harding, who knows that "capping" people is
never the answer, unless you're kneecapping them (Nancy Kerrigan)
or hubcapping them (her own boyfriend).

I hereby pardon Vince McMahon, who figured out that all a
football fan really wants in a team is a rinky-dink logo, some
bush-league showboating, a camera-loving coach and an owner who's
beyond embarrassment. (Not his fault that the Ravens beat him to
it.)

I hereby pardon, out of pity, Gary Sheffield. He is now
considered to be such a malcontent that even such chronic
complainers as Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas have asked reporters
not to lump them in with the Dodgers slugger, whose perpetual
petulance begs for a new coinage in the sportswriters' lexicon:
Perpetulance?

Finally, I hereby grant a blanket pardon to Bonds, Thomas, Ryan
Leaf, Theoren Fleury and every other athlete whom scribes have
described--over the past year alone--as reformed, rehabbed, reborn,
redeemed or renewed, when in fact they proved recalcitrant,
recidivist, repellent, reprobative or released. The athletes
can't help that we can't help ourselves, that journalists feel a
pathological compulsion to fatten up athletes one week and feast
on their carcasses the next.

We beg your pardon.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO

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