“Even a guy who commits murder gets pardoned after 20 years…”

Ralph Branca died and my first thought was of a Frenchman.

But we’ll get back to that.

So a 25-year-old Ralph Branca, wearing a dusty white and blue uniform, threw a pitch up in Harlem on a cloudy day in early October in front of a half empty ballpark. One of, let’s say, 100,000 baseballs he threw toward a plate in his life. (No, I’m not doing the math to ballpark this.)

While we’re at it, how long does it take a ball traveling 88 mph to go 60 feet 6 inches? Half a second? (I’m not doing the math here either.)

Half a second, the batter connects, and 4 or so seconds later… your life begins.

And effectively ends.

What is it like to live another 65 years unable to escape a half second? This is not a new question. Larry King and his Brooklyn cohorts have been debating it publicly for, well, 65 years.

But lest we forget, this half second took place during a game. A pastime, actually, which Webster calls,“something that serves to make the time pass agreeably.” We’re not talking about a split-second decision on the beaches of Normandy here.

The optimist, the American, has a quick rejoinder to all of this. That half second granted Branca, the 15th of 17 children, access to the world. He was feted on TV and radio and the guest of honor in perpetuity among a certain demographic of NY society. For 65 years, he could attend any sporting event in the greater NY area and would immediately be recognized and treated as royalty.

Indeed, that half second granted Branca an audience with multiple Presidents. The Emperor of Japan likely knew his name.

The American too, preternaturally sunny, would emphasize the graciousness with which Mr. Branca handled this absurdity. For sure, every one of his obituaries did. The always pleasant disposition. His long and enduring friendship with the perpetrator of his misfortune, the Scottish highlander, Bobby Thomson. Never bitter, the very definition of grace. Branca understood, intuitively, that the moment wasn’t even his. It was the city’s, the country’s. He’d blanche at describing any of it, the pitch or its aftermath, as an “absurdity.” Indeed, this is the very tact DeLillo takes, if I’m recalling that 900 page monstrosity of his correctly.

Of course, I am not, and have never been, an optimist. I’m not sure I’m even an American. So I see it differently.


Decades ago, one of the golf publications printed an interview with Gerald Ford, at the time safely ensconced in Palms Springs, enjoying the fruits of a hard-earned life. Ford’s life was now about golf, sun, and friends, and he carried himself with the dignity of an ex-President, steeled by the knowledge that he had led the country through a difficult period, even if his triumph was too opaque, and controversial, to be fully appreciated by the masses. Ford, like Branca, took the arrows well. Ford, like Branca, was a prisoner of circumstance. And Ford, like Branca, accepted his fate with grace.

But the interview ended on a discordant note, upended by a solitary throwaway comment from a friend, a secret service officer, or some other acquaintance of sorts at the end of the story.

“Sure, he takes it well. But you should see the teethmarks on his pipes.”

Unlike Ford, Branca did not need a surrogate to betray his true feelings; toward the end he himself began bearing his teeth, the public narrative be damned. For one thing, there’s the title quote of this post, from Branca, which even if taken out of context and made in jest throws a different light on the public’s Capra-esque view of his life.

Later, the furious tempest over the cheating allegations involving those dastardly Giants, with Branca, in his 80s, changing his tune, impugning Thomson, and expressing, with a strange but sad aggressiveness, the injustice of it all.

Then, the off-the-record comments and whispers after Thomson’s passing that Branca, perhaps understandably, sort of found the guy to be a nuisance after awhile.

Finally, there’s the ultimate indignity of the obituary. All but six of the 35 paragraphs The Washington Post gave Branca focused on that half second. The New York Times took it to another level, spending more time transcribing DeLillo than discussing any other aspect of Branca’s 90 year life.

And a Thanksgiving Day phone call to my 86 year old uncle on the Island? I expected some emotion, but not vitriol. How many others of Branca’s generation responded to his passing this way?


So about that Frenchman…

The Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner, after spending the bulk of a recent interview with Jean Van de Velde trying to make the Frenchman’s life following his own half second—it was more like 30 minutes for poor Jean; even while watching live one had the feeling that 72nd hole would never end—more palatable for the American audience, gave up.

Lerner, evidently auditioning for 60 Minutes, in the end tried hectoring Jean into admitting that he not only doesn’t sleep, it’s a small wonder he can function. Lerner, for whatever reason, needed Van de Velde to say that his life, at least the important part, ended on that summer day in Scotland.

Van de Velde—if nothing else, God is an expert casting agent, because no man better looks or speaks the part he’s been fated to play—offered a forced laugh and tried to explain to this much too earnest provincial fellow in front of him that Carnoustie was but a solitary moment in a long and winding life…

Alas, Ralph Branca could have told him. Sometimes a moment is all you’re given.


The Underground Detective

Thomas Boswell’s baseball columns might be close to unreadable now, but he’s excellent when writing about the human condition. Obituaries. Retirements. Hiring decisions. He’s insightful in a way others aren’t. Sure he’s no Gary Smith, but even Smith lost his fastball long before leaving Sports Illustrated. Hacks might be able to churn out the same drivel forever (see Lupica, Mike) but the most talented writers, it seems, burn out relatively quickly.

Not Boswell, who’s been at it since the tail end of the 60s. Boswell out wrote everyone not named Jaime Diaz regarding Seve’s fall and was Diaz’s equal in explaining Tiger’s frailties, nudged out only by Tom Callahan, who had the advantage, if you’d call it that, of being friends with Earl. Heck, after long leaving golf behind Boswell even wrote the best piece out there on the denuding of Oakmont, primarily by looking at the issue as a human and not a golf snob. Similarly, Boswell did a better job on Bud after his passing than any of the tennis elite.

After Arnold Palmer died, Boswell, in his weekly online chat, told a story of Arnold’s genuine excitement after scoring a hole-in-one on consecutive days on the same hole at some entirely forgettable senior tour event. And Boswell recounted his own excitement covering it. He used the story to get across the point that everyone else emphasized in their Arnold biopics — the man truly loved the game of golf. It was no act.

But Boswell then explained that he wouldn’t be touching Arnold in the newspaper. He said he didn’t really know Arnold. He never pilgrimaged to Latrobe, or walked through Arnold’s legendary barn. Boswell never did a one-on-one interview with him.

Boswell, in effect, said he’d be a fraud if he attempted to take on the topic, and further called out anyone who would deign to write about a subject they’d never met. “You can’t fake it,” he wrote.

And this is where I spit the bit.

For one thing, you can bet Boswell never interviewed Seve. And even if he had during a Kemper Open drive by, Seve certainly wouldn’t have opened up in any meaningful way. At best, Boswell likely talked to Dean Beman about how exasperating Seve was, and perhaps got a few quotes from Crenshaw types about Seve’s “genius.”

But this would have been nothing more than box-checking; Crenshaw and Beman had nothing to say about the man that wasn’t already well known. Yet, years later Boswell was able to get at Seve in a way that others covering golf for a living weren’t.

What’s more interesting, and telling, is that the one subject Boswell has flubbed is the athlete he’s known better than any. I stopped being a baseball guy in 1986 or so, but the game’s mid-Atlantic hero, Cal Ripken, is of that time, so I’d pay attention when the DC papers covered him. And Boswell was the dean of the sport in this very non-baseball city, so he was one of the few to read on the matter.

But all Boswell could muster on Cal was mush, hero-worshipping fluff. I recall a paragraph or two about “roughhousing” in the clubhouse — which I translated to mean acting like an ass — and a ridiculous reflection on the moment Boswell realized Cal had lost a step. The rest, platitudes.

A few lines I came across recently in a book on Cuba’s ‘el Duque’ (which touched on Cal’s “leadership” or lack thereof, during a playoff game against the Yankees) and some stories that surfaced in the New York papers after an Orioles infield prospect was traded to the Mets (add “selfish” and “ego” to the jackass theme above) were much more instructive.

Let’s get back to Arnold. You wouldn’t know it from reading most of the gibberish published lately, but the guy was a human being. And, actually, his flaws are entirely uninteresting. He had a weakness for the flesh? Set him next to every other rich and powerful man in history. What’s only interesting here is the length that “journalists” have gone over the years to cover up, or even excuse Arnold’s behavior.

Some books on Arnold late in his life gently addressed this stuff, but the recent obits skirted it entirely or covered it with the old “sex is on my face” trope (and you can be sure that Arnold made this comment the way Yogi Berra said the 47,000 quips attributed to him). Callahan’s writeup on Arnold was the most blunt, but even he sugarcoats it with a “boys will be boys” story.

Some journalists, and my revered Dan Jenkins is the absolute worst on this score, barely even hide their intention to use the pen to protect friends and to take on others they doesn’t like. Or those who wouldn’t cooperate over the years. How else to explain Jenkins never touching the issue in all the words he’s spilled on Palmer but lambasting, with unabashed glee, Tiger for similar transgressions?

I came across an interview Michael Bamberger gave to NPR a day or two after Arnold passed. It entirely uninteresting, until Bamberger responded to a throw away line from the host at the end.

“And what else is there to say about the life of this genuinely happy man?”

“Happy? “Arnold was not happy. He had a deep darkness, emanating from some of his notable failures on the course, that he carried with him to the end.”

Now this isn’t entirely news to those paying close attention, but never had I heard it in such stark terms. And one wonders where this theme was in the 1,500 words Bamberger had just written for Sports Illustrated. Bamberger, and everyone else who did know Arnold in the way that Boswell claims is necessary to write on a subject, didn’t just bury the lead. The ignored it.


Professional self preservation, I presume. How else to explain why it took Richard Ben Cramer, a man who didn’t make a living on sports, to finally explain DiMaggio. And someone like Mark Kram, on the eve of checking out of the game entirely, to put out the only honest profile on Ali. Something, it should be noted, that even Gary Smith, while still in the employ of the machine, hadn’t been able to do.

What this all proves is that Boswell’s throw away in the chat was 180 degrees off. Outsiders, particularly those disconnected from the subject at hand, are always the most insightful.

So, if you care at all about the people playing these games, discard the traditional fare and look for a detective. Best, an underground one.

Everything would be his…

Most call it his best book, a few even the best on golf, but it still took me about 25 years to find Dan Jenkins’s The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate. What an odd title, I never could quite make it out, and the fact that it was based on a Bobby Jones quote only further muddled the plot. I guess I assumed the book, if not the quote, was about a bunch of half-drunk Texans betting their mortgages on who could clear the local saloon with a one-iron.

And, of course, there is a section in there on that.

But the book, it turns out, is really nothing more than a reiteration of the same stories Jenkins has been telling for 50 years now, a compilation of his best, pre-1970, hits.

Regardless, it’s still worth reading, if only for the last 4 or 5 pages. He ends by describing the final afternoon of the 1960 US Open, a story I’ve read so many times I could tell it verbatim, and the sole tale Jenkins uses in the eulogy he published immediately after the death of Arnold Palmer.

Somehow though the version Jenkins recounts in Dogged is far and away the best, and in less than 500 words he better explains the man than any of the other tomes written about him.

Now I’m not going to waste time setting up that particular Open. If you don’t know about the pre-round banter in the grill room, Arnold subsequently driving the first green, the front nine 30, Hogan rinsing a wedge on 17, and a pudgy 20-year-old amateur named Jack something or other 3-putting away the championship, well, you know now.

Two things come across in the account in Dogged of that day.

First, you can stuff your Masters revisionism in a sack. The King was crowned on that front nine outside Denver, and defined, later, by his losses at Oakmont and Olympic. Arnold Palmer probably played more than a thousand tournaments, but only 3 or 4, all United States Open Championships, really mattered. And 1960 mattered most. Sometime late on that back nine out West, far from a certain course on the Georgia – South Carolina border, Jenkins recognized: Everything would be his now.

This point is muffed by most of the obits floating around, with many continuing to propel the myth that a limited invitation-only event, on a wholly unnatural made-for-TV course, held a couple of months too early in the season is an arbiter of anything.

More interestingly, in Dogged you learn what drove Arnold Palmer on the golf course. Late that afternoon the man had all but ascended Everest — similar to Tiger at, yes, Augusta in 1997. The world was about to be handed to him, he was about to recognize his life’s dream, and yet he remained fixated on an ultimately irrelevant putt that lipped out and cost him a 29 on the front nine.

And this is the crux of being a fan. The human beings in the arena are infinitely more interesting than the results of these silly events. Does anyone with any depth really care how Arnold, or anyone else for that matter, got or gets the clubface back to square? The carnival barkers on the Golf Channel, apparently, but they can stuff their fatwas on Tiger’s swing in a sack too.

Lee Trevino said he would have bet his mortgage there wasn’t a soul with greater love for the game than his own, until he got to know Arnold Palmer. Jack confirms this, sadly observing that Arnold became a bit lost, a few years ago, after his body finally gave way and golf, of any kind, fell out of reach.

Michael Bamberger, recovering from a misguided, or perhaps obligatory, Masters genuflection in Sports Illustrated’s Arnold obit, gets to the heart of the matter by recounting a tale of the once great man, well past his prime, shaking his putter with glee after a birdie brought him back into a friendly match with a 15 handicapper.

Now, the rank-and-file professional golfer, even those that make it to the top of the game, hang on to the bitter end. The senior tour, the corporate circuit, and the very nature of golf, make this possible in a way that’s out of reach for any other athlete.

There’s a different dynamic at play though for the best of the best. Their biographies are remarkably consistent, and they all end the same. The alpha loses a step, then another. And, the thought of being proven diminished is too heavy a burden. The clubs are hung up. When you were number 1, number 30 is an embarrassment. Heck, number 2 is. Jack liked to say that he had no interest in becoming a “ceremonial golfer.” The lure of the dollar might be the only thing that keeps Tiger from all but joining Mickey Wright in seclusion.

Not Arnold. He didn’t care if he was shooting 60 or 80. He was just trying to hit the ball on the center of the club and ram home a birdie.

Well, that’s the myth anyway. And even if there are less appealing sides to Arnold, as there are to any human being, there is no reason to think it doesn’t approximate the truth.


An element of the bourgeoisie in post-DiMaggio New York, the types that drank bourbon while basking in the refracted glory of Frank Gifford and, I don’t know, Woody Allen, in places like Toots Shor’s and Elaine’s, liked to tell a little joke. In between patting themselves on the back for their very own wit and wisdom—the masters of the universe may be in finance now, but in the early 1960s, writers, even those calling themselves journalists, knew where the sun rose and set—they’d inevitably bring up, “the topic”. It’d start with some variation on the theme of the three most vile people of the 20th century. Or since the dawn of the country. Or perhaps since Christ.

The assembled wise men — if there were women present, they certainly weren’t there to be heard — would quickly agree on the first two, before, well, agreeing that the third was the worst of all. Hitler? Yes. Stalin? Of course. And… well, how could we have forgotten Walter O’Malley??

well, he got a Time cover too…


Funny? Perhaps if you were an Italian or a Jew who grew up east of Manhattan in the mid-1930s. For the rest of us, self-indulgent is probably a better adjective.

My grandfather, from Flatbush, was a Dodgers fan of course. Maybe he’d chuckle at the joke, but I doubt that many members of his generation, the Jackie Gleason generation, the Depression generation, were shedding many tears when the team left for LA. No, the bellyaching came instead from those 20+ years younger, the Pete Hamills, the Larry Kings, and the, well, Woody Allens of the world. Somehow my father, who was of that time, rooted for the Yankees, despite growing up on Long Island, and I imagine O’Malley’s betrayal was met more with glee, an additional bludgeon to use against the enemy, one which certainly made up for, and more, the shock of Sandy Amoros and 1955

it didn’t get late early in left field on this day…


Nevertheless, 30 or so years later, as a boy, mad about the game, in the summer, during family parties by the pool, we’d sit and talk about baseball… I’d ask questions. And, while I can’t say I recall ever specifically discussing the ‘57 exodus, the overall theme of our conversations was unmistakeable. They would end the same way. “We are sorry. The game is different. We can’t explain it. But it’s never coming back. You’re stuck…”

Stuck, that is, with night games, three (if only!)-hour marathons, the designated hitter, perennial “playoffs” for the pennant, 4 divisions, day-night double headers, and a 162 game season that starts and finishes in the snow. (As an aside, it’s clear that if Bob Costas and Bush 43 have one redeeming quality between them, it’s that they both opposed, virtually alone, the wild card. It’s almost enough to make up for the rest.)

And the beginning of the end, actually, the end of the end — it was that abrupt — came when an owner deigned to put his own interests ahead of the community, the elite and the proletariat alike. For generations, cities defined themselves as big league or bush. A baseball team is a public trust, is it not? No, O’Malley proved otherwise, crossed the rubicon, and we’ve yet to look back. You can bet that any idea in sports (in life?), no matter how bad, will be put into practice, if it improves the bottom line…


I got the magazine Boys Life delivered to the house for a short period of time as a kid. Perhaps from my grandmother; she was good about giving me interesting subscriptions as gifts. The Classics in comic form. National Geographic. Some sort of index card encyclopedia. Things of that nature.

In any event, I must have been in the third or fourth grade when an edition of Boys Life showed up with a few articles on the coming Olympiad. I recall some words about cycling, possibly the velodrome. Some comments from an athlete on how long he’d been training to get there. That was enough for me. The colors, the flags, the medals, the exotic countries and sports. I was going to be an Olympian.

Well that wasn’t in the cards, but I was certainly hooked as a fan. A well-read one at that; I learned about the greats, boxers and the track stars mostly, but also the four-timers, like Al Oerter, from the town next door.

And Barcelona was the pinnacle. It may have been standard for his“Excellency” to declare each version of the games the greatest ever (well, at least until Atlanta) but Samaranch had every reason to say it in 1992. If you were born before 1980 and don’t recall Fermin Cacho winning the 1,500 m, then I don’t think you can call yourself a sports fan.

Already though, trouble was brewing.

When the peacocks wrested the games from the alphabet crowd, Bob Costas, hailing only a few miles down the road from Oerter, became the face of the Olympics. But that was a rouse; Costas quickly evolved into nothing but a shill. Whether you find his style grating or not is a matter of taste; even Costas’s critics must concede that the man had the chops to take over from Jim McKay and the rest of the giants at ABC. But if we’ve learned anything this century, it is that the old saw about television — everyone would do anything to get on it — is indeed true. Still, one could have hoped that Costas would have used his intelligence to take a stand against the circumcision of the games. His talent made the capitulation all the worse. At best, he became a latter day Wodehouse, writing radiograms from Berlin during the Nazi era. At worst, an enabler of the highest order.

Now of course, of course, this is not fair. Dick Ebersol, the man almost exclusively responsible for the mess the presentation of the games in this country has become, is no Stalin. And Costas is no Goebbels.

But Ebersol is more than just an executive who chased the buck. It would have been hard even for the Soviets to manipulate time and space in such a brazen way. No, Ebersol took his cues, and this is not an exaggeration, from Orwell. ‘We are at war with Eastasia, and it’s always been thus’, indeed. The truth is what I decide to tell you.

Ebersol, like Big Brother in the end, won. He pulled off the coup. Generations now believe the Olympics are made up solely of Americans swimming, sprinting, and diving, and the ratings for the games are monstrous. BMX biking is in and wrestling is out. No matter that no-one’s watching the denouement of these events at 11 pm or whenever the hell NBC decides to show them. They’re watching Costas play the country for fools at 8 pm, that’s for sure.


I don’t know if any of the Toots Shor crowd ever came across Walter O’Malley. But the other day, driving around the Oaks Bluff section of Martha’s Vineyard, I saw Dick Ebersol. I did a quick loop in the car to confirm the sighting.

What to do? Jump out and thank him for destroying your personal Super Bowl? Ask why on Earth he thought it was a good idea to show Usain Bolt run 9.69 eight hours after the rest of the world celebrated? Drug and drag him back to a certain backyard on the number streets in Bethpage, the site where I found out about Linford Christie’s triumph in Barcelona (via a 1-900 scores number, of all things) hours before Americans were given the privilege of watching for a hastily conducted kangaroo court?bolt

Well, no. You let him go. He was a bit pitiable anyway, looking older than expected, slightly stooped, a bit disheveled. Money and power are no superpowers; he’d already suffered the greatest of tragedies, losing a teenage son. Besides, he’d been pushed aside himself, shuffling around an idyllic playground 5,000 miles away from the epicenter in Rio.

But still, it would have been nice to tell him what he’d wrought. After all, I’m a male between 18 and 49, lucky enough to make 6 figures. And I haven’t watched NBC, Johnny Miller exempted, in 20 years.

DJ Rules

I’m just going to assume that you’ve read Bamberger and Diaz by now and get right to the point, because if I wait any longer London might go and tell, I don’t know, Canada to find its own Head of State already, sending the Internet into yet another tizzy and pushing an arcane rules debate in a little played or watched sport further into oblivion.


Now as good as these journalists are — and they’re certainly the only two left wasting their talents on this golf thing that understand nuance — they both leave out a critical point regarding the latest US Open at the once venerable, but now diminished, Oakmont Country Club. Or, are at least unable to come out and say what they want to directly, perhaps because of the personal and professional obligations that go along with working for esteemed, but similarly decimated, media conglomerates.

Before we get to that, let’s just accept that there’s really only one controversy here, and that’s over the timing of the penalty. Even the millennial crowd, which proved constitutionally unable to resist the urge to wail loudly and publicly about the injustice of it all, were more taken aback by the uncertainty of the matter than the possibility of Dustin Johnson losing a stroke. Actually, that sentence is a bit unfair to the hipster set, because the lauded (for not being Greg Norman) 50-somethings fronting Fox’s telecast too became increasingly cranky over the lingering indecision. For that matter, even Big Jack zeroed in on this point.

And at first blush, this reaction seems reasonable. This was no Kent Island Invitational; they were contesting the US freaking Open here. A tournament that has antagonized the greatest of players, regardless of their records. Ben (how did I not win more?) Arnold (how did I only win one??) and Sam (how did I not win any???) all brooded on the event to the end. In what other sport are referees, or their equivalents, paralyzed? Make a call. Penalize the leader for the ball’s rotation and move on. A stupid rule, perhaps, but no worse than a dozen others in the book. What’s all this nonsense about waiting to look at the video at the end of the round?

Well, there was a time when honor meant more than score.

Players have been ostracized, for life, for questionable rules incidents. Gary Player has won 9 majors (he’d be the first to tell you) but, among those in the know, he’s remembered more as a guy you had to watch like hawk lest he fluff up a ball in the rough. Vijay Singh is a legitimate Hall of Famer but will never shake the fact that he once put a 3 instead of a 4 (or whatever it was) on his card at an obscure Asian Tour event in the 1980s. Bob Toski is bitter to this day because of accusations that he better positioned his ball while re-marking it on the green. To some, Ernie Els’s first US Open will always have an asterisk. And Tiger lost the game’s elite not over infidelity but after he big-shotted his way to an entitled drop en route to his second Players Championship.

Now, as Bamberger says more directly than Diaz, the USGA, by issuing the penalty, would have been calling Johnson out. Golf is a game of honor, yes, but we don’t trust yours. You moved the ball. Or most likely did. We can’t let you get away with it. And, frankly, it’s disconcerting that you’re not coming to this conclusion on your own.

At the same time, the USGA knew very well the implications of overruling DJ and calling the penalty. It would have meant adding him to the list above. It would have meant writing the second line of his obituary. You scoff? It doesn’t take much to sully a guy’s honor in the absurd world of professional golf. God only knows whether Toski moved his ball forward or if Gary Player improved his lie a few times over the course of 10,000 rounds. It doesn’t matter. In golf, the accusation itself is the scarlet letter. You don’t overcome it. Guilt is secondary. Actually, it’s irrelevant.

Perhaps alone in knowing the gravity of the situation—DJ and the whingers fleeing western Pennsylvania in their private jets with their iPhones at the ready, certainly didn’t—the USGA was not going to contradict the dullard’s explanation and impose the penalty on the spot. No, they were going to give the honorable Mr. Johnson every opportunity to make the right call on his own. After the round, away from the heat of the moment. Ironically, the USGA was trying to protect him. How quaint of the blue coats to judge a competitor’s reputation to be more important, say, than playing a few holes of one round not knowing if you’re leading by two strokes or one.

In effect the USGA, by delaying the penalty, decided to put Johnson’s integrity over the integrity of the championship.

Well, that is, if you’re in the camp that finds it inconceivable to even consider playing a round of golf not knowing the exact score of the other 144 guys in the field at every moment. In fact, I think such a stipulation might be in the rules. Or at least the Hadith. Thou shalt knoweth the leader’s position in relation to par at ALL TIMES (emphasis added by Sam Snead.)

Is 14 > 18?

Some baseball player currently in Toronto — he hits 50 or so home runs a year and I couldn’t come up with his name if you gave me 100 guesses — recently complained that Major League Baseball neglects its current crop of stars in favor of lionizing its past. What kind of idiotic for profit organization, he was in effect saying, tells its customers the product they’re paying to see cannot possibly compare to its gilded age?

Well, golf — the Masters Tournament in particular — for one. Perhaps it’s a function of my age, but I no longer need to see the tournament commence with Arnold Palmer struggling to stand or Gary Player flexing in triumph after a drive a 15 handicapper might shrug at.

More disturbing though is the thought that media coverage in the lead up to every major golf tournament for at least the next seven years will center around… el Tigre. “Is he playing?” “Can he win?”

And, increasingly, “my god, how is he going to get through the rest of his life knowing that he threw away the chance to catch Jack Nicklaus?”

Implicit in all of this is the obvious understanding that 18 is greater than 14, ending any need for debate. Jack is the greatest, Babe Ruth and Cy Young rolled into one, his record being, the record. Worse, Tiger appears destined to be painted as the golf world’s Mickey Mantle, one whose appetites and insecurities kept him from surmounting Rushmore.

This is lazy thinking, touted even by those in and near the game that should know better — and that’s after putting aside the absurdity of trying to rank players from different eras, playing different opponents, with different equipment, on different courses, in what are, really, different games.

Yes, some events count more than others — “majors” certainly exist. This has always been thus, and is true for any game played. But the makeup of those tournaments has changed significantly over the years, and even among the now agreed upon “4” there is a distinct hierarchy.

For one thing, if you’re over the age of 50 there really only is one major. Sam Snead beat Ben Hogan repeatedly head-to-head, including at the Masters, has many more wins, and was a relevant player for a much greater period of time. Yet, he is never mentioned as an equal of Hogan’s, at best just a rival, and barely comes up in discussions of the greatest player. Why? Easy. He never won the US Open. And he took it to his grave.

Jack let his guard down once and after being asked for the thousandth time about Tiger muttered (to the astonishment, I’m sure, of the 25-year-old blogger set) that he went through much of his career not even knowing how many “majors” he’d won. Of course, he always knew his US Open record, and, for that matter, how many US Amateurs he’d won.

Bamberger’s book “Men in Green” recounts a recent conversation with Arnold, who laments that he lost his edge after winning the legendary 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills, failing to win a thing of note thereafter. Um, Arnold, you went on to win 43 times, not to mention twice apiece at the Masters and British Open…

They may as well be Andy Williams Invitationals to the King. Even at 87, I’m sure he gets sick whenever the USGA returns to Oakmont, and must still lie awake at times brooding about the final nine on Olympic. Augusta? I doubt he’d even remember his double on 18 there that gave the 1961 edition to Player if he wasn’t asked about it every year by a media more interested in myth than history.

Now, you might think the Union Jack or Boer War crowd would have their hackles up at this point, but even that is questionable. Yes, the British Open is storied and even Hogan and Snead, openly contemptuous of the tournament, felt compelled to sail over there on their own dime as a nod to its history. And yes, Bobby Jones, and Hogan later, were feted with ticker tape in lower Manhattan after winning it, an honor inconceivable for a golfer today.

But the tournament was not a particularly competitive affair for much of the last century; the world wars made sure of that. Tom Watson’s British Open record, now revered, was dismissed as an interesting footnote until he proved capable on higher ground, and the authoritative Peter Alliss has marveled at the marketing genius behind the recent rebranding of the event, calling it more or less irrelevant until Arnold swooped over to St. Andrews in 1960. Still, the British remained plagued by a weakened field at least until Seve and his friends re-jiggered the golfing universe in the 1980s.

I’m too fatigued to take on the PGA today, but let’s just accept it lost its considerable relevance soon after bowing to television and dropping its match play format. It’s also instructive that I can’t remember the last time I watched more than a few holes of the event. Probably that year Payne Stewart embarrassed himself on national TV outside Chicago.


Now the Masters is… much more complicated. Of course it is as prestigious as any tournament in the world today, and it has been for some time. Certainly for anyone under, say 40, this article has a discordant feel to it. The pressure on the players to win at Augusta is undoubtedly as high as anywhere. Jordan Spieth’s second shot at 12 on Sunday proved that for those who can’t remember 1996, let alone 1986.

The question is, should it be?

Well, my answer to that should be obvious by now, but the details will have to wait until next time.

And tonight on CBS…

A hundred thousand words, it seems, have sung the praises of the man in the weeks since he’s passed, but the obits and tributes have avoided a cold truth: Bud Collins was hard to listen to. I mean, really hard. Like, turn off the TV hard.

Bud did not announce a tennis match; he screeched, reveled, and pruned throughout, showing off in a way that, frankly, raised questions about his knowledge and even, at least a little bit, his sanity.

“Net cord!” he’d exclaim, without fail, a half dozen or so times a match, leaving the viewer to wonder, as the two Spaniards in question hauled away on the red clay for another 30 shots, what he was getting at. I recall thinking that even I, at the age of 12, could handle a decently hit ball redirected slightly off the tape, so why was Bud grinning wickedly every time one occurred?

Why? Because Bud called matches for an exclusive audience of, well, one. Himself.

His interviews were intolerable as well, designed to prove to the player — the viewer remained immaterial to Bud in these settings — that he was preeminent. He’d start with some tortured phrase in the native language of his interviewee, before launching into an historical anecdote of questionable relevance.“Lil’ Mo!” and “Big Bill!” were frequent drop-ins.

He’d invariably shift to strategy, raising further doubts about his competence. “Why not throw a few more moon balls in there?” he once asked Michael Chang, after failing in the final of the French.

Perhaps the only thing I approved of was his jihad against calling major championships ‘Slams’.

Yet I loved him. Bud, for all his faults, was tennis, and he was so during my formative years. Bud on TV meant we had somehow gotten through Winter, Spring was here, and all of the joys of Summer awaited (the Golf and Tennis majors, the Triple Crown, at least one big fight, the Tour de France, perhaps the Olympics or, at least, the Track and Field World Championships.) From the Masters in April until the US Tennis Association crowned a champion in early September, there was an event underway or on the horizon to get excited about, and Bud was more often than not at the forefront.

Pat Summerall was everywhere as well. The anti-Bud, the voice of reason, the sports world’s Walter Cronkite, Pat narrated for CBS throughout the summer, and if Bud proved that a writer could succeed on TV (and this might be his most damning legacy, as you’ll understand if you’ve seen any number of Mike Lupica-types bloviating the day away on ESPN) Pat paved the way for every athlete in the booth unable to resist the urge to explain holding each of the 12 times it’s called in a game. Pat was rightly eulogized as a giant in broadcasting, but no giant has ever had less of an impact on his craft. If Bud gave rise to a generation of sycophants eager to be heard and recognized, Pat spawned no-one. His style, quite simply, was of another time.

And with its passing has gone my interest.

Yes, the announcers matter. The networks matter; even the theme music is critical. And not because of any difference in quality, my god no. The belly-aching that took place on the Internet over Fox taking on the US Open was as misguided as it was pretentious.

No, they matter, because one’s youth matters. Graham Greene, or someone of that ilk, had it right: a writer is forged by his or her youth. So too, the sports fan. The sports world will never be greater than it was at the age of 12, and one can never get beyond it. No matter how delusional, anyone with an IQ over 70 soon recognizes sport as circus, and after that the only thing compelling one to watch is nostalgia. Or inertia.

So today I mourn Bud Collins, by all accounts a good man and, perhaps, a very good writer, stuck with the misfortune of being miscast as a television personality by his era. Who knows; perhaps Murakami is on to something and some day I’ll again hear Bud call a match, or interview some Slav, preferably with the old HBO Wimbledon theme music in the background. Until then I’ll continue my extended break from tennis on TV. Shouldn’t be too hard.

Ps. And yes, some soul felt the need to post this on youtube. 27 seconds in…