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Cold-Button Issues

Sept. 29, 2003
Sept. 29, 2003

Table of Contents
Sept. 29, 2003

Cold-Button Issues

I cannot look at a story on Phil Mickelson's failure to win a
major golf tournament without wanting to pluck out my eyes,
plunge them repeatedly into a tee box ball washer and screw them,
squeaking, back into their sockets, in the hope that something
new and exciting will have been brought to this stale tale. But
the story is always the same.

This is an article from the Sept. 29, 2003 issue Original Layout

Likewise, the mere mention of the Montreal Expos--and the
uncertain fate of that travel-weary franchise--bores me literally
to tears, so that whenever I read a headline like EXPOS' FUTURE
REALLY IS "UP IN THE AIR" my eyes develop the kind of
double-glazing recommended by window salesmen for energy
efficiency.

Such stories--think violence in the Middle East or flooding in
the Middle West--never change. Yet they pop up maddeningly often,
like a New York Met with two outs and runners on the corners.
They are, in short, the stories we are sick of hearing but will
continue to hear as long as we live. Or longer, in the case of
Ted Williams, whose own postmodern postmortem is in danger of
becoming one of these nevergreens.

The question "Does Pete Rose belong in the Baseball Hall of
Fame?" is as persistent as crabgrass but less interesting. Simply
seeing it, here on the page, now fills me with an existential
ennui, the boredom-induced despair common to long-haul Greyhound
passengers.

What we need is a 12-month moratorium--a Jim Moratorium--on the
most repetitive stories in sports, named for the former Saints
and Colts coach whose shouting jags in postgame press conferences
became a weekly staple of SportsCenter.

Accordingly, I propose a one-year ban on reporting anything that
happens during the week of the Super Bowl--excluding, of course,
the Super Bowl itself, on which I'd impose a two-year ban.

My spirit momentarily flees my body, and hovers specterlike above
my head, when I read about the Los Angeles Clippers' chronic
reluctance to retain their free agents. Owner Donald Sterling's
two decades of skinflintery instills in me the same kind of
catatonia I get from extended exposure to public-access
television.

Is there a New Englander over age 25 who hasn't appeared, bathed
in sepia tones, in one documentary or another about the Curse of
the Bambino? In Boston citizens summoned to jury duty are
likewise legally compelled to recall for reporters their memories
of Game 6.

This is the real Curse of the Bambino: that those with no
interest in the Red Sox will never stop hearing about the team's
inability to win the World Series. Bill Buckner moved to Idaho to
escape Bill Buckner stories. Pity that the Potato State doesn't
have room for the rest of us.

In Groundhog Day the weatherman played by Cubs fan Bill Murray is
condemned to a lifetime of identical days. So too, in a way, are
all sports fans, sentenced to hear on a near-daily basis about
the Cubs' centurylong streak of futility, a story frequently
twinned with the White Sox' own epic of ineptitude. As a result
we can read every morning--just before falling facedown in our
Froot Loops--that North Side yuppies sip chardonnay while South
Side teamsters take a shot and a beer.

If you think that soccer is a boring sport played by pantywaist
Argentines with ridiculous haircuts, I no longer want to hear it.
If you think that soccer is the beautiful game and deserves a
wide American audience if only we'd give it a chance, I no longer
want to hear that, though I've written exactly that, many times.

Too many times. Similarly, years of typing "Florida State" and
"arrest" in close proximity to each other have left me with a
repetitive-stress injury. The appearance of those words in a
single headline now serves as a sort of journalistic bouncer,
mentally barring me from entering that article. Been there, read
that.

But so many other stories also leave me raccoon-eyed, staring
into the abyss of the sports section. Anna Kournikova is an
attractive young woman with modest tennis skills and a leering
fan base of web-surfing shut-ins. Beyond that, what remains to be
said? We've beaten every piece of candy out of that particular
pinata. Enough already. Too much already.

Will Augusta National ever admit a female member? Here's a more
compelling question: How long does it take my toenails to grow,
and can I watch them while they do so?

The human spirit is remarkably resilient, except when confronted
by a televised interview with Mike Tyson. In every such instance
something inside me dies--a little piece of my soul--as Tyson
natters on, less grotesque than he is tedious. Perhaps boxing
should be abolished. Has that ever been written?

As a matter of fact it has, several thousand times. And that's
fine. As it turns out, we are well-served each time a story is
published on such cold-button questions as "Whither baseball
contraction?" or "Should college athletes be paid?" or "Does
anyone understand the BCS?"

It's a good thing. In this eco-friendly age, we've invented the
ultimate planet-saver: newspapers that recycle themselves.

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

Certain stories pop up maddeningly often, like a New York Met
with two outs and runners on the corners.