Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why Character Still Counts in Sports

For decades, professional sports franchises chose players solely, or at least primarily, by their raw talent. If you could hit, pitch, run, tackle or dunk better than everyone else, that was generally enough. In more recent years, successful owners, general managers and coaches have learned that it takes more--that character counts too (the San Antonio Spurs come to mind in this context). Some players are cancers in the clubhouse, and it can't help but spread to the rest of the team.

I thought of all that last night as I scanned ESPN.com (not too surprisingly, my teenage sons have set this as the default browser on our home computer) and read this interesting update on the Manny Ramirez situation by the veteran sportswriter Peter Gammons. He rightfully lays into baseball's leading prima donna (who spent his formative years in Cleveland), concluding with this: "buyer beware of a man who chooses to be judged by numbers and salary, with no regard for character or integrity." Amen, we say. If you care to dig more deeply into this story, the New Yorker ran this excellent profile of "mystery man" Ramirez last year. It serves as a nice companion piece to Gammons' column.
UPDATE: The Boston Globe glumly reports that "Manny Mania" is sweeping L.A.


At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The delightfully written Gammons' article brought to mind the days that Albert Bell held Cleveland hostage to his mood swings at the same time he earned our gratitude. Far from a life whose primary wellspring is anger and frustration, McGrath opens a window on a man who sees baseball as "a game to be played rather than analyzed." For someone whose hitting is the stuff of legend, analysis has hardly been needed, but maybe age and field weakness might temper that tendency. I wouldn't bet on it though.

Lou Gehrig also spent his formative years practicing in Manhattan’s Highbridge Park. Obviously there is a huge attitudinal gap between the men, a gap that as parents I hope we can note and help to build stronger foundations for our children to act more with inspirational strength and dignity in whatever field of life they choose to play on. The tough part of that is that they learn best by learning from our examples.

Back to batting practice . . .

At 4:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't know if you would find this of interest, but I did. A Willoughby resident and Solon Fire Department Battalion Chief invented a handheld compass that is "being championed by the U.S. Department of homeland Security. . . It will help first responders get out of thick black smoke in structure fires and wildfires." I spoke with a company representative (based in Chagrin Falls) and 90% of product is made in U.S. and will be assembled fully in U.S.


I know you have your ear to the ground for local stories and thought this might be a positive business to check into. :)

At 5:08 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

This doesn't really have anything to do with the subject you commented on, but since it is a local company we gave you the benefit of the doubt, even if your interest might well be more as a spammer to get the word out about this product. It's the dog days of summer, so we're in a forgiving mood around here.

At 5:23 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Anon #1: you make some nice points that I hadn't thought of. Interesting that you bring up Albert Belle, that glowering presence in the Tribe lineup during their glory years (I'll never forget seeing Belle working out at the John Carroll weight room about 10 years ago. I called my wife and told her to bring our Belle-worshipping boys down to see him and perhaps get his autograph. In retrospect, it was a little obnoxious of us to do that, but it's not every day you can see your sports hero up close when you're a kid, so I figured what the hell). Anyway, his being the main man in the lineup then allowed Manny to stay more in the background, where he's clearly tempermentally more comfortable. Thanks for reminding me of that.

Your comment also reminds me of a story my NY-centric friend Bill always used to like to tell about Willie Mays, whom he admired. He loved how Willie always deflected sportswriters' questions about where he ranked himself among the game's greatest players. His response was that that was for them and others to decide. His only task was to play as well as he could, and let the chips fall as they may. Another way of saying what you just said about Manny's attitude toward the game.

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Mike Q said...

Contrast Ramirez with C.C. Sabathia, who has taken out a $12,000-plus advertisement to thank Clevelanders for their friendship and support. One more reason to regret losing him.

Also one more reason to pay less attention to pro sports. I'm a lifelong fan and former sportswriter but the obscene $ numbers -- including salaries, stadium costs and ticket prices -- have all but erased my interest outside of an occasional telecast. Add to that the fact that players of any note are only passing through en route to larger markets.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Mike, how our minds work alike! You beat me to the punch in linking those two obviously related stories. I thought of that very connection this morning when I read of the ad and then saw it. Good for C.C. and his family. A class act all around. May that approach of thankfullness spread far and wide. And I completely agree with you that the salaries and the outrageous prices have spoiled much of the fun in pro sports. As with so much in contemporary America, TV bears much of the blame. How nice it would be to go back to 50 cent Indians tickets in the bleachers at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which is not really all that long ago. Having said that, I'm sure I'll remain a reasonably rabid Browns and Cavs fan. But I somehow seem to have completely lost interest in the Indians and MLBaseball since the Tribe's glory years in the '90s. I don't think it'll ever come back, either.

At 1:28 PM, Anonymous stan said...

"Reasonably rabid," now there are two word I don't see together too often!

In the "glory years," we all seemed to have an understanding of and even an affection for the unique personalities that comprised "our Tribe." As the team went into rebuilding mode, that odd family was torn apart, and most of us really haven't had as much reason to warm up to the new inhabitants. The fond tribute to C.C. brings us back to the feelings we all seemed to share.

I think this process began when the boating accident occurred and we lost the promising, personality-laden talents that we had already pinned our hopes on. It is still hard to think about.

p.s. Make mine Barq's

At 1:40 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Nicely said, Stan. And of course you're right that "reasonably" and "rabid" don't easily or naturally co-exist. Bad usage on my part, but I gather you caught my drift.

You make a good point about the warm feelings we had for the Tribe. You choose to go back to the early '90s and the boating deaths, which I had almost forgotten about. But there just is no replacing those teams and the individual players of the last half of the '90s. They were a thing of beauty, and of course there was no separating the reaction they prompted in the fan base from the dynamic of Gabe Paul's oft-quoted "sleeping giant" comment, meaning Cleveland as a baseball town just craving a winner for almost 50 years. When it finally came, it had a once-in-a-lifetime feel that won't ever be duplicated.

But oddly enough, I think the ownership also played and plays a big part. While Dick Jacobs as a developer wasn't known to inculcate warm and fuzzy feelings in most people (least of all me), as a baseball franchise owner he sure looks pretty visionary today. Most of all, he had the right GM in place and trusted him to make the right moves. To me, current GM Mark Shapiro has always tried too hard to live up to his predecessor, and has always come up way short. And the Dolans of course have been a complete disaster.

I don't think I've ever tried Barq's, come to think of it, so by all means let's try sipping some together soon.

At 11:38 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Pro baseball completely lost my support during the last players' strike, when I occurred to me that these were millionaires on strike because they were being prevented from becoming multi-millionaires, while I was struggling to make ends meet. I lost all my sympathy for all pro sports after that. (I far prefer the minors in baseball anyway, which seems to still care about the game, not just the salaries.)

Granted, some of these athletes have no other life skills, and once their sports careers are over, they have no other skills or abilities. Some of them really do fail, when their sports careers are over. I have some empathy for that, and some understanding for the argument that they need to earn lots now so they have it later. But you couple that up with the bling lifestyles, the out of control attitudes off the playing field, the corruption, the drugs, and the general inability to use their heads and invest in their own futures (far too many blow it all away Right Now), and my empathy erodes away again.

And there are some pro athletes who ARE responsible parents and husbands and wives, and do think about their futures. Bless those who do. We need to hear more about THEM, as role models, and less continuous scandal reporting.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good point about the corruption and drugs, which I should have included among the factors that have helped at least begin to turn me off to major league sports. But I wouldn't hold my breath, unfortunately, for a major turn away from reporting on scandal and bad news. That's just the nature of the animal. But those of us who look for some positive stories for balance will also find plenty of those too.

At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw that Manny will not be dodging a move to L.A.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Pun no doubt intended. Yes, he'll have one more team and city to wear out his welcome in. I'd give him about two seasons, max.


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