The Cincinnati writers, stuck with a 46-65 team, mired in fifth place in the Central, finally had something fun to write about. Bonds’ homer made him the fastest to 48 ever (113 games). Babe Ruth had gotten there in 114 games in 1921.
“So, Barry, talk to us.”
“…anybody who talks about home runs, I’m walking away,” Bonds told the professionals doing their jobs to feed their families.
What were they going to ask him about, the Intifada? Would Barry Bonds have the slightest clue what the Intifada is?
Watching Bonds deal with the press, I came to realize why I always felt uncomfortable working as a journalist around professional athletes. It was not just Bonds. No way. I had seen it for several years; baseball, basketball, football, tennis players. I had seen it in Los Angeles, where I had a magazine column, and had written for the L.A. Times. Now I was seeing it in San Francisco, where I wrote a column for the Examiner.
The professionals had it bad, but the college kids were working on it. There was even a select group of very talented high school athletes who had it. “It” was attitude. Arrogance. Everybody knows athletes have “it.” It gets spoken about regularly. But breaking down what it was, the dynamics of attitude and class structure in professional sports, that was something I had not seen written about. So, I will try to put my finger on it here.
I had felt from the beginning that pro athletes would never intimidate me because I had been one myself. True, I had only played a few years of minor league baseball, but you would be amazed how much minor league baseball players think of themselves. You have to be on the inside, where they drink, gamble, bum chewing tobacco, and screw their women to see it. They want to be like the big leaguers. Playing like the big boys is difficult. Emulating their chauvinistic attitudestowards women, or their arrogance towards the press, is easier.
Take a guy like Matt Williams. If Williams did not play baseball, he would be an accountant, a real estate guy, maybe the man who delivers your FedEx packages. He would be very normal, which is what he is. He would smile and be very nice, and he would be considered one of the most dependable, likeable people in your neighborhood.
“Where are the kids, honey?”
“Over at the Williams’s.”
Maybe he would still be married, instead of divorced, but that is not something I can say I know about. I just know what kind of guy he is. The media like Williams because he is accessible and gives good interviews.
Still, there are stories about Williams occasionally flying off the handle, yelling at people, and making himself hard to like. My point is, those aspects of his personality have a much better chance of publicly manifesting themselves because he is a high-priced, fawned-over, idolized big league baseball player than if he delivered for FedEx.
So, I had been one of those guys, kind of. I knew the drill and was ready for it. Still, I would walk in the clubhouse and not feel quite right. It was not just if I did not know people, those situations do not faze me. It was the social order.
A baseball team has a class structure, and it is not Democratic. It is more on the order of the (Eastern) Indian caste system. The players are the Untouchables. Within their class, superstars, stars, regulars, and scrubs occupied the rungs in that order. However, it is a free market class. Any player can get better, advance, and their earning power can reach the sky.
I have no problem with baseball salaries. They make what they make in a free market, just like actors, singers and others talented entertainers. My problem is with the baseball union. Admittedly, when Marvin Miller started the union, when the big league minimum was around $7,000 a year, the owners were taking advantage of them. Not exploiting them, because everybody was doing what they wanted to do and doing it of their own free will, but taking advantage of them.
The Yankees were notorious for “resting” pitchers for the World Series when they got close to 20 wins, then using the "failure" to be a 20-game winner as leverage in contract negotiations. They also told players what they did not make in salary would be made up in Series shares, which actually had some truth to it.
By 2001, however, the union had badly hurt the game. The players, spoiled children anyway, have come to believe it is their right, not a privilege, to be wealthy beyond the bounds of imagination. Many, many Major Leaguers are interchangeable with minor leaguers, and yet even mediocre players are paid exorbitant sums. Fine, the money apparently is there, but the union wants to codify these salaries, guaranteeing players’ monies far beyond what is reasonable.
The game is talking about contraction, by eliminating two money-losing franchises. Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota probably describes the union mindset better than anybody when he says that to eliminate two unsuccessful franchises is “just so that these business owners can keep from losing money.”
Lord in Heaven, what cloud does this guy live on? Baseball players, spurred on by greedy agents and union hacks, think owners do not have a right to avoid losing money. They exist in a profession - American sports - that is the only one (outside the government) that engages in this whacked-out way of thinking.
Operating on a strangely parallel plane is team ownership. Then there is the general manager and the manager. They, too, are free marketers. They have power, they make good money, and have the potential to earn excellent salaries. Still, they are lion tamers, of sorts, whose duty it is to keep the prima donnas from rebelling.
The GM and the manager probably could go out and make a good living doing something else. Not baseball money, but a good living. Most of the players are not at that level, so there is unspoken tension, especially with the GM. Think of the GM as the colonel, and the manager as the top sergeant.
After that, you have the announcers. They are still in the free market, but their situations vary tremendously. Some are free agents who have star power. Others are schills for their teams. Others are media celebrities who work for the cable stations and the news channels. They derive their status from their own careers, and the team is just a part of what they do. They dress better and lord about, in a manner that frustrates the writers, who have to wait until these electronic deadline dudes ask their post-game questions for the 11 o’clock news.
Next are the sports babes. Sports babes work on television. There are women who work for newspapers, and some of them fill a politically correct vacuum, but by and large the female writers are competent.
The TV sports babes are there for sex appeal. No complaints, but that is what they are there for.
When the women first started venturing into the clubhouse, there was a great deal of resentment. In “The Bronx Zoo,” former Yankee relief pitcher Sparky Lyle told about the time at Yankee Stadium when somebody baked a cake in the shape of fully erect male genitalia, just to embarrass some lady reporter. She figured the guilty party was Graig Nettles. She asked him if he was the one who brought the cake and he said, “Naw, I just modeled for it.” Today guys are buck-naked and nobody thinks twice about having women in the locker room.
One funny depiction is the "dropped mic" scene in Oliver Stone's excellent football epic, "Any Given Sunday." A female reporter bends down to pick up her equipment and has to twist her neck to avoid the enormous "equipment" of an African-American player, hanging in front of her at mouth level. Players seem to have no problem with it, but it has gotten kind of obvious that some women are there for sex appeal a lot more than for sports expertise.
Now, I know Lisa Guerrero at Fox. I worked with her at StreetZebra. Beautiful girl, and smart as a whip. She is a very nice lady. I respect her and am happy for her. But I know for a fact we ran her “One Sports Chick’s Opinion” column at StreetZebra magazine because we could put pictures of her, wearing a tube top, next to the column. If she were ordinary looking, she would not have gotten the gig.
If she were ordinary looking, she would be successful because she is intelligent and has drive. She would not be on TV.
There is a scene from a film called “Swimming With Sharks” that defines the difference between men and women in sports television. Kevin Spacey, playing a thinly disguised Scott Rudin, a leading producer, explains the meaning of life to Frank Whaley. He is talking about Hollywood, but the words apply to sports TV.
“You can’t sleep your way to the top," like a female producer who slept her way to the top, Spacey tells Whaley. “Noooo. Guys like us…we gotta fight, and scratch and claw our way up.”
I know a lot of women who have slept their way up the ladder. This is an unspoken fact among the media. Well, it is spoken by men to men, and women not only admit it to each other, they brag about it. But men and women do not talk about it to each other, except maybe in code after the man in power has slept with the woman seeking power, and there is some kind of acknowledgement that the act shall be rewarded.
Happens all the damn time. Like Howard Cosell said, it is “telling it like it is.”
So the men view the women in media with suspicion because they climb the ladder in ways men cannot. Now, the unfortunate aspect to all of this is that women do not benefit from this system, only good-looking women. Go to the grocery store and look around. Unless you live in Scottsdale, Arizona, a certain part of Beverly Hills, or it is spring break at Ft. Lauderdale, you will just see ordinary-looking women. Plus, ordinary-looking men. The reason is that people are ordinary looking. Attractive people are relatively rare.
Consequently, ordinary looking, yet talented women do not get the TV jobs they are qualified for. However, the talent pool for jobs in sports media, in general, is larger and more competitive because women are applying for positions they never used to dream of trying for.
Are women on TV more competent than the women who were on TV back when the Christine Craft lawsuit exposed the sex angle (as if anybody did not already know about it)? Take as an example Andrea Thompson.
Thompson was a decent actor on "NYPD Blue," and nice looking. She is abominable as a news anchor, but was placed there for looks and glitter. Thompson has the lips of a porn star, which makes her a great object of fantasy, but creates difficulties when it comes to reading big words off the TeleprompTer. While she is now the exception, brains are still secondary to looks among TV women. Any doubt that this premise rings of Truth can be dispelled by looking at what happened with Paula Zahn.
Zahn is the sexy blonde who was a star at Fox News, then moved over to CNN because CNN needed sex appeal. Now, Paula is no spring chicken, so at least "older" women are getting a chance to work in front of the camera. Of course, she spent $7,000 to highlight her hair and has zero body fat. She is competent, but would not be where she is if she was not still a hottie, whereas many (but not all) of her male associates are not "hunks."
CNN promoted her with an ad that stated she was "just a little sexy," along with the sound of a zipper being opened. The implication, for those of you in Rio Linda, California, is that a significant portion of the viewing audience was not watching her to find out if the Marines were closer to capturing bin Laden, but rather to stroke up some wood.
Zahn, preferring to live a myth, was outraged, so CNN went PC and took the ad off the air. Meanwhile, the men on television continue to often look like Larry King or Aaron Bown, Zahn's average-looking male counterpart.
There is a reality to which “men” get a lot of jobs in media these days, too, and it is not pretty. The corporations that run radio and cable TV stations, which proliferate the sports scene, eschew the experienced journalists in favor of Gen-X boys who will work for much less than the middle class. These people pander to a skateboard mentality that the programmers think sells. It involves, instead of insight, rock music and “shock jock,” lowest common denominator humor in the Howard Stern tradition. It is cheap and will not last in the sports genre.
So, around the ballpark, everybody is checking everybody else out, wondering how so-and-so landed such-and-such a gig. It is a real soap opera down there on the field before the game. Not surprisingly, sports babes in LA and New York are better looking than sports babes in San Francisco or other towns.
Then there are the writers. What a group of unshaven ragamuffins. First, you have to get past the characters at your own paper.
Every copy editor and assistant editor has his own little fiefdom, and if ever the term “no good deed goes unpunished” is apropos, it is at the sports desk. Some of these little people will offer their help, then when you take them up on the offer, they use it to stab you in the back, saying that you cannot carry your own weight.
Editors sometimes act like kings, taking exception to employees who know true things about them, or have the temerity to actually remember the words they say and the promises they fail to keep. Unfortunately, the true things about them are not always good things.
Beat guys treat new writers the way northern Yankee veterans on the Tigers treated the Confederate Ty Cobb, when the Georgia Peach came up to Detroit.
I approached one beat writer about membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America when I arrived in San Francisco from L.A. As God is my witness, I was as sweet as honey, and complimentary, too.
He looked at me like I had Ebola. Pure attitude. Then my assistant editor told me this guy, whom he had worked with a few years prior, told him I had attitude.
The thing about the writers, and the thing I discovered I did not like about it, was that we are the serf class of the “above-the-line” talent. “Above-the-line” is a movie term, meaning you are one of the people whose name is credited before the film starts - stars, director, producers, writer, cinematographer, etc. All the rest are “below-the-line” people - keygrips, wardrobe consultants, blah, blah, blah.
The writer is an interesting species in the baseball universe. They can hurt the players, or make them. Day-by-day, they have more local influence than anybody does. Still, the players occasionally treat writers like crap in ways they would never act with TV people. Bonds is as nice to Roy Firestone as a boy scout with a little old lady, but he does not give Henry Schulman that respect.
Sometimes race is an issue. Latin players favor Latin writers. A black writer might have a better chance with a black player. It is interesting to note that Bonds and Firestone get along famously, yet obviously Bonds and Tim McCarver did not.
Some columnists have a little star power, but you usually cannot tell one from the other. You might see some grommet walking around, and only when you see him sitting at his assigned seat in the press box, where the name tags are, do you realize it is a writer you always respected.
Bruce Macgowan of KNBR lives by this rule, “Be nice to everyone, and nicer to the people you don’t have to be nice to.” God bless him, but he is not average.
The problem with the writers, why I have a hard time with it and subconsciously so do the players, is they are not free marketers like the others. A working journalist makes a finite amount of money, even most columnists. They are limited. They are working stiffs, the proletariats of sport. In the framework of newspaper and most magazine careers, the best you can do is make editor and columnist. Neither will pay you what Julia Roberts or Alex Rodriguez make.
The players can make millions. The manager can make millions. So can the GM. The owner already has made his. A few of the TV stars can walk those golden stairs. There are writers who make big dough like George Will, but within the confines of a sports beat, they will not. You have a guy making $50,000 dealing with guys making $15 million.
So, writers being humans, sometimes feel resentment. At first they are just glad to be there, because they are fans and this is a dream job. Big league sportswriting is one of the best jobs you can have, no question. But over time the fantasy fades into reality.
Me, I am an entrepreneur. I never liked that claustrophobic economic feeling you get amongst the writers. The rabble. I have pursued the more lucrative areas of writing, such as screenwriting, political speechwriting, public relations, and obviously the book you are reading.
Then there is the “below-the-line” talent. These are the youngsters working in the club’s PR department, usually right out of college. It is a great job and a resume-builder, but they will have to decide between a lower-paying career in team sports media, or to move elsewhere. A lot of them put up with a ton of crap from the player’s, and unfortunately from everybody else, too.
After that there are the elevator operators, the stadium workers, the gatekeepers who make sure you have your pass. There are the cooks and the press dining room workers, and the clubhouse attendants.
These people are usually union, locked in to a certain wage that will rise only with cost-of-living adjustments, and they can be difficult. Every stadium has them, and you move through them with kid gloves. They are like the lifetime workers of socialism. Some "celebrity" in the media may treat these people with a big smile and a lot of love, but one cannot shake off the feeling they are being condescending. It looks like the king's advisors being kind to serfs.
Being locked in financially is not the sole irritant many writers have. In the old days, writers were guys who ran away from home, and instead of joining the circus, went to work at 16 as a copy boy for the newspaper. Read Budd Schulberg’s “What Makes Sammy Run.”
They eventually became writers. Fed all the free booze and food that clubs used to provide, they quickly became alcoholics, reprobates and freeloaders.
Nowadays, a writer majors in journalism at San Diego State, where they wrote for the student newspaper. They are erudite, well-educated people. They have a gym membership, not a pass to a speakeasy. However, because they live in the sports world, some of them dumb themselves down to their environment. Like so many of the athletes they cover, some writers tend to lose focus on events in politics and society. However, most of them maintain a good, working knowledge of issues and events. After all, they work for newspapers.
Now, here is the rub. A very large number of the athletes they cover are not very smart. In fact, a good percentage of them can be listed as being members of the Dumbellionite Class.
You know the Dumbellionites. In ancient times, there were the Canaanites, the Israelites and the Mennonites. Those tribes came and, for the most part, went. The Dumbellionites stayed to roam the plains of the Earth. They are immersed amongst us today in numbers greater than all other tribes. The Dumbellionites.
A lot of baseball players are Dumbellionites. Most do not read books or newspapers. Some cannot read. Their knowledge of things outside how to prepare for and play a boy’s game is often nil. The "jockocracy," as Cosell used to say. Many could have developed knowledge, but were slid through school to stay eligible for sports, never finding a need to educate themselves. The college guys usually are decent interviews, but few scholar athletes in college are scholars. They were the guys who chewed tobacco, spit in cups and left it in class, then got the girls at frat parties. Those guys.
Every writer knew those guys in high school and college. Most resented them, although it did not stop them from kissing their butts. Now, they are doing the same thing, only getting paid (a lot less than the jocks) for it.
Then there are the foreign players, who usually come from impoverished backgrounds. The Americans, being Americans, have enough moxie acquired through osmosis to make a living for themselves even if they were not baseball players. Of course, instead of being paid $7.2 million guaranteed for two years, they would be making $45,000 unguaranteed with no contract. The Latin players, particularly the Dominicans, might be able to make a living coaching and scouting in their home country, but outside of the game, their prospects are dim (outside being a player) if they are not born in the U.S.A.
The recently retired Stan Javier, a Dominican, played with me. He has some education because his father played in the Majors and raised him with prospects outside of the game, even though he signed with St. Louis at 15 or 16. Miguel Batista of Arizona admires Albert Einstein and quotes poetry, but he is as rare as rare can be.
Unfortunately, the writer lives in a one-bedroom flat with a Bunsen burner, if they can afford City rents at all. The player lives on a hill with 19 TV sets. On the road, the writers stay to themselves. In the old days, the scribes would drink with the players, and sometimes even get some of their “left over” women. Nowadays, the players go clubbing, but not with writers. The writer just looks on in envy while the players get all these porn star types. Then he goes back to his room and calls phone sex.
In every single walk of life in most civilized countries, the educated people make more money than uneducated people do. What a concept. This reminds me of the joint Harvard-Yale study that took two years and cost $1 million. All these academics determined that people with a college education who possessed specific job skills earned more money than people without a college education who did not possess specific job skills.
Except for pro athletes, and baseball players are the least of the species. Not that playing football at the University of Miami guarantees knowledge. Remember Jerome Brown? Prior to the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, an Army fatigues-clad Brown stood up at a banquet involving Miami and Penn State players, and said the following:
"Did the Japanee <sic> siddown to dinna with Pearl Harba before dey bombed him? No. Fellas, let's go." The Huricanes followed Brown out of the room. At least football and basketball players go to some kind of college, though. Baseball players often sign out of high school, sometimes before they finish high school if they went to high school. If they went to college, they usually sign after their junior year, or out of a community college. Basketball and football players rarely sign out of high school or JC. Football players are much more likely to go in the draft after their senior year than their junior year.
Of course, playing sports really well is a heck of a job skill. Still, the writers are placed in this position of cow-towing, sniveling around, and kissing up to these uneducated dudes who, in any other walk of life, would not likely be in their social or economic class. It is a real upside-down world. It goes a long, long way to determining the reason there is tension between athletes and writers. Writers do this knowing there is a complete ceiling, and this is no glass ceiling, but a thick, impenetrable one, that separates their lot in life from the players. This is their destiny, unless he makes a daring break for the land of David Halberstam, Tom Clancy or Aaron Sorkin.
If an athlete can complete a sentence, he is pronounced “articulate.” If he does not swear at the writers, he is spoken of in reverent tones as if he were Gandhi. There is this politically correct dance that everybody thinks about, but nobody comments on.
The writer, or the broadcaster, interviews the player. The media person asks intelligent questions, but is careful not to stray into territory that would show the player’s lack of smarts. At the same time, the interviewer tries not to be condescending.
The player opens his mouth. Sometimes you cannot tell what the hell they are saying. If this were a job interview, they would not get past the first round, because people do judge you by the words you use. They are likely to have no idea how to use the English language and have no grammatical structure.
It is changing. There are some refreshing interviewees, and Jim Rome is great at bringing the best out of them. Rome is tops because he has broken out of the mold and is “one of them” financially, so the players “get with him.” His big bucks bring him respect.
Mostly, though, the interview ends, the interviewer thanks the athlete profusely, and the athlete walks away. The interviewer then just sighs to himself.
Me? I am not concerned with the intelligence of the athletes. They are living the American Dream and God bless ‘em for it. What always bothered me, and I now can put my finger on, is that the baseball clubhouse is not free market enterprise. So, I have made that break for the land of Halberstam, Clancy and Sorkin.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism