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Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008

The Splendid Splinter

Jim Cryns on Sports

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I recently finished a book on Ted Williams, one of the purest hitters in Major League history. The book, Reflections on a Splendid Life, was written by Lawrence Baldassaro, a local professor and baseball wordsmith. Williams ended up with a .344 career batting average and remains the only player to hit more than .400 in a single season. In a scenario Hollywood couldn't plausibly create, Williams was offered the chance to sit out the last home games with Red Sox in 1941 to preserve the average. He refused, not wanting to compromise the significance of the achievement and played both games of the double-header, going 6 for 8 on the day. This balls-out effort earned him a .406 average for the season.

In the midst of his stellar career Williams took a break to serve in two wars as a pilot. Between World War II and the Korean War, Williams flew 38 combat missions before being pulled from flight status in June of 1953 after an old ear infection acted up.

Baldassaro's book prompted me to think of the extra demands not inflicted on the career of a ballplayer. I tried to imagine Prince Fielder in Iraq, flying missions and returning to the Brewers lineup the following season. Can you imagine Brett Favre piloting a tank on the desert and returning in time to take the Jets to a Super Bowl? How about Michael Redd storming an Afghanistan cave in search of Bin Laden, taking enemy fire as he hides behind a rock?

This is as fathomable as Thompson and Favre admitting equal culpability in their recent fiasco.

Today's athletes are pampered from an early age, offered privilege normally reserved for royalty. When was the last time you bumped into Corey Hart at Sentry picking up some bologna? Or Ryan Braun filling up a Hummer at your local Citgo? I'm not naive and know it's not the same world, but it's something to think about, if for no other reason to remind us sports isn't the only thing that matters. Some would argue sports is a diversion to keep us from avoiding real issues like the crumbling economy, the bleak future for our kids, trivial stuff. Perhaps we would be well-served to read a book like this biography once in a while. How many regular ESPN watchers have cracked a book within the last five years, with the exception of a media guide or a compilation of the best of Hustler magazine?

Why Not Bubble Wrap

The shooting of Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Tackle Richard Collier has security folks seeking additional ways to protect their investments. Representatives of professional athletes have commissioned the Texas Armoring Corporation to provide them with custom bulletproof car solutions. Their products feature high-tech gadgets and ballistically protected, Hummer shaped vehicles. Always the skeptic and not wanting to talk about a bogus rumor, I called the Texas Armoring Corporation to make sure this report was legitimate, and it turns out to be so.

I can understand the need to protect athletes with so many screwballs running around, but this seems a bit excessive. One option would be to increase the numbers in their posses, taking the guys around on late night carousing and letting them take the hit, like secret service. What about knight outfits complete with face protectors. It's a bit ironic some of the most steroid-injected, muscle-bound behemoths in the world have to reach out to others for their own protection. It's as incomprehensible as Ted Williams asking Ricky Weeks for batting tips.

Oprah Off The Bench

Coming off their Olympic success, Team USA members Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Jason Kidd, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Tayshaun Prince, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh and Michael Redd made an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." It was an interesting departure for Oprah, who spends most of her time on social issues. Oprah Winfrey has so much money she makes Bill Gates seem like he's middle class. Why is she wasting time with these jocks, unless one of them has gone homeless or the team is serving food at a soup kitche? It would have been a nice touch to have an Olympic gold medal under the seats of all the audience members-or at the very least an autographed Kobe basketball.

Guess who said this the other day.

"We're playing like we're waiting to get beat," "You don't have a big enough lead in September to play ball like that. Teams who play baseball like that invariably get caught, no matter how big the lead." "You have to stay aggressive, you have to do the things you've done all year," "We're not executing, we're making mistakes and we're getting beat. I'm getting tired of watching it, to be quite honest with you. That's not the way we played all year to get to where we are now."

"If we had played ball like this all year, we wouldn't be here playing for a championship. We'd be playing the spoiler role for somebody else. "I know we're trying," "I've got no complaints with the effort. You've got to get the job done. We can talk about having fun, we can talk about relaxing. You've got to get your shirts rolled up and go out and kick somebody's [butt]. That's what you have to do, period. Period. That's all I've got to say."

You think it was Ned Yost to the Brewers? No, Lou Pinella to the Cubs. Same sentiment, different team.