The Hall of Fame of Apathy

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It’s a byproduct of the times we live in that not only does the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame have to be counted, but we have to endure the detailing of the vote like the slaughtering and cleaning of a chicken before it winds up on our plate, grilled and placed over salad with a nice vinaigrette.

Or like a sausage. Sausage is a good analogy. The Hall of Fame voting exemplifies why, prior to choosing to eat it, we don’t want to see how sausage is made because if we did, we wouldn’t be able to take a bite. But combine the sausagemaker and the chef being careless about hygiene—disgusting even—and showing the world step-by-step why and how they’re coming to the conclusion that being filthy is the logical progression and for the diner, the response degenerates into an immense powerlessness and disinterest that, in the final analysis, will make us sick.

The noxious process of voting for the Hall of Fame might always have been as it is now, but we didn’t get to watch it and hear it ad nauseam until reaching this inevitable end.

I used to care about the Hall of Fame. As a kid, I wanted Phil Rizzuto to be inducted. It was mostly because others told me he should be inducted without providing viable reasons for this position, but what was the difference? Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese were contemporaries and inter-city rivals of New York, it suited the narrative if they went into the Hall together. They didn’t and that served the clashing of civilizations even more. Ted Williams supported Rizzuto’s candidacy. Writers didn’t. Eventually, the Rizzuto supporters—many of them friends on the Veterans Committee—let him in. Whether or not he “belongs” became irrelevant. Today would either Rizzuto or Reese have a chance of getting into the Hall? No. But that argument was part of what once made the debate interesting. It’s no longer so.

The dirtiest aspect of a conspiracy are those who are left to take the punishment after the fact while others walk away and join the chorus to punish the “guilty” for acts they made possible and participated in by direct involvement or by looking the other way. There are the disposable minions whose job it was to run interference for their charges (Greg Anderson for Barry Bonds; Brian McNamee for Roger Clemens) and take the legal consequences while the people they worked for walk away free.

And there are the players. The players who allegedly used the drugs or are suspected of using the drugs are serving the sentences for the people who were running baseball, allowed and cultivated the performance enhancing drug culture in the interests of making themselves more money and reviving a game that was on life-support after the canceled World Series of 1994 and evident avarice that led to that cancelation.

The media voting for the potential inductees? They’re showing a combination of righteous indignation and contemptuous dismissal of dissent that can only stem from an out-of-control egomania. As self-appointing “protectors” of the game, there’s an unstated similarity to what Max Mercy said in The Natural that his job as a reporter is not to tell the story of the game, but by creating an image that he—in an unabashed treatise of omnipotence—deems as proper and salable. We’re now getting a Hunter S. Thompson, “gonzo” voting bloc. Every reporter feels as though he not only has has to cast his ballot, but get in on the action and make public his choices, explaining why he did or didn’t select a certain player.

Mike Piazza didn’t get votes not because he was caught in a PED drug test in any context other than rumor, but because of the era in which he played and that he had acne on his back. This is presented as a reason. Not “feeling” that Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, or that Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio don’t pass the smell test as PED suspects (Bagwell) and stat-compilers (Biggio) is equated as an excuse of why they’re not garnering support.

There’s no more conversation. No altering of hearts and minds. Perhaps there never was. But today, there are battle-lines and no hope for settlement, so the fight rages on without end in an immovable object vs. irresistible force aura of uselessness.

Like a Tim Tebow pro-life ad, each side sees it their way and takes it as a worthwhile cause to promote or an infringement on the liberty of others to behave in accordance to the laws of the land. Rather than accept it for what it actually is, a commercial, and understand that because Tebow took part in the ad and it was shown during a football game that it’s not an insult to the beliefs nor a threat to the freedoms of those who disagree, there’s a lunatic stimulus reaction. All this while no one says a word if they don’t have the money or the inclination to run out and purchase a Lexus when those commercials run non-stop during the NFL playoffs. There’s truly no difference.

Until a Hall of Fame voter has the supposed epiphany that George A. King of the New York Post claims to have had when he decided that Pedro Martinez wasn’t a worthy candidate for MVP in 1999 and hears from “people he respects” justifying the exclusion with the argument that pitchers have their award and the MVP should go to an everyday player, this will not stop. And that’s the point. As much as we can argue that King, as a Yankees beat writer and resident apologist, was simply punishing a reviled member of the arch-rival Red Sox, nothing can stop it from happening. The votes are what they are; the voters are who they are.

There’s not going to be a Skull and Bones society of enlightened and objective stat people with impressive degrees from Ivy League Universities, meeting in far off lands to determine the fate of the baseball universe, deciding that the logic of keeping Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and anyone else from the Hall of Fame is a travesty considering who’s in the Hall of Fame and what they did to get there. Nor will there be a return to the old-school and how things were before Twitter, Facebook, blogging, glory-hunting, attention-seeking, and making a name for oneself by being outrageous as per the mandate like Rob Parker did with Robert Griffin III and lost his job at ESPN because of it.

There’s no going back.

Gaylord Perry cheated and everyone knew he was cheating. He admitted it. He wallowed in it. As a journeyman whose stuff wasn’t quite good enough, he extended his career by 20 years because of it. He’s in the Hall of Fame and there’s a smirk, wink and nod as to how he accomplished the feat of gaining enshrinement. There are drunks, recreational drug users and wife-beaters in the Hall of Fame. There are racists, gamblers and individuals who would accurately be described as sociopaths in the Hall of Fame.

None of that waned my interest in the proceedings as much as having to view the sausage being made; to endure the media throwing themselves into the fray as if they were just as important to the process as the process itself.

I paid attention to the election results in a vacuum of neutrality. That is not attached to an affiliation or deep-seated belief as to whether the players should or shouldn’t be elected, but because of pure apathy that has accumulated over a number of years as a side effect of the arrogance inherent with the doling, reporting and counting of the Hall of Fame vote. It grows exponentially with each writer who not only feels he has to vote, but feels the need to explain the vote as he makes it in the me-me-me self-involvement that’s become prevalent. It spreads with every player whose public agenda and lies insult my intelligence; with every owner or baseball official who crusades against that which they allowed and encouraged to happen.

No one was voted into the Hall of Fame for 2013. And I just don’t care.

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An RG III Win for the Redskins Renders Rob Parker an Irrelevant Footnote

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Rob Parker’s ridiculous query as to whether Robert Griffin III was a “cornball brother” is evidence of the inherent stupidity of Parker himself. Anyone who’d seen Parker on ESPN’s First Take or read his writing before knew what he was prior to his insipid comments about Griffin. Now that stupidity is known to the masses. Parker became a national name through the cheapest of means and the attention he coveted has resulted in widespread awareness that he’s clueless about sports and uses controversy to stand out from the crowd. That he’s doing so as one black man questioning the racial bona fides of another black man is made worse by Griffin being a worthy role model for the community on and off the field even if he might be considered a “cornball brother” by Parker or anyone else.

The NFL rules of today are designed to protect the quarterback and prevent the “lessons” that went on years ago and had to be endured by Troy Aikman, Steve Young, John Elway and Hall of Famers from 10 years ago and beyond. They have also served to let rookies like Griffin and Andrew Luck enter the league and produce rather than struggle and be benched as they failed to learn quickly enough or took too brutal a beating.

For Griffin to be diminished by someone like Parker and have loyalty to his background called into question because he might or might not have a white fiancée; because he might or might not be a Republican; because there’s a lot Parker doesn’t know, is more despicable than what Parker actually said. Parker, if he wanted answers to his questions, should’ve had the courage to ask Griffin directly rather than use it as a topic for a show. But then he might’ve gotten an actual answer and that’s the last thing he wanted because he doesn’t care about Griffin’s personal life or his politics. He was using him.

Let’s say all of Parker’s questions (presented in the tone of accusation) received a response in the affirmative. Would it be reason to criticize someone who graduated from Baylor University in three years and may or may not be a Republican and may or may not have a white fiancée? What would he have to do to not be a “cornball brother?”

Griffin’s story, unlike that of another Washington phenom Bryce Harper, doesn’t have the phoniness crafted to sell it as someone “special” in every aspect of his life. Harper’s tale, including having passed the GED without studying, strikes of creative public relations nonsense. Griffin, in opposition to Parker’s passive aggressive insinuations and the faux storyline surrounding Harper, appears real. The Harper story is destructive because it puts readers and influential youngsters into a position of feeling unworthy because they couldn’t pass the test in similar fashion and fail to see the reality that it’s likely not even true. Griffin should be held up as an example and not used for selfish reasons by a hack seeking notoriety.

Griffin’s brilliant season and star presence is singlehandedly changing the culture of the Washington Redskins. Whereas they were a dysfunctional mess with accompanying coaching changes, front office restructurings, past-their-prime star players signed to outrageous contracts by owner Dan Snyder to piece together a winner without a payoff, they’ve turned into a place where players will want to go specifically to play with Griffin.

Parker asserting that Griffin is not “down with the cause,” or “not one of us,” or “he’s kind of black, but he’s not really like the kind of guy you really want to hang out with,” and the firestorm that followed is missing the true point of contention that Parker was denigrating someone he should’ve been crediting. Parker was indulging in inaccurate armchair sociology. Would it be negative for Griffin to use his own mind and beliefs to come to a political affiliation? To decide whom to marry? To shun going with the crowd to fit in due to skin color or other factors of birth that are only relevant because someone like Parker brings them up?

On the field, players looking at the Redskins as a destination aren’t going there to hang out with Griffin away from the football field. If they’re looking for someone with whom to party or to go where the girls are, they can go to play with the annual team that signs the useless journeyman Matt Leinart.

Griffin can lead the Redskins to the playoffs on Sunday. That will go further in garnering positive perception than being “down with the cause.” Winning and leading can attract other players to want to join him in Washington. None of his teammates or the Redskins fans will care about his personal life or politics. They’ll be riding along with him and not using him as the equivalent of a promotional gimmick as Parker did. It will also quiet the footnote to Griffin’s season overtly referencing Parker’s incendiary and unnecessary attack on one who should be celebrated for what he is and not ridiculed for what, in the view of one talentless face in the crowd with a forum like Parker, says he is or should be.

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ESPN’s Rob Parker is “Sincerely Sorry,” and “Completely Understands”

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On Twitter, ESPN’s Rob Parker apologized for his comments about Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III. He expressed “sincerity” and “understanding” and completely contradicted the defiant tone he took on that same forum in the immediate aftermath of his intentionally controversial implications about Griffin as a person.

Parker has been suspended for 30 days by ESPN and is, for the moment, keeping his job. Much like Parker, ESPN’s reaction came after the fact when the response was so profoundly and universally negative that they had to do something, so they suspended him and made a flamboyant show of “deciding” what to do with him. This suspension presumably includes the time already served, which means that Parker will be suspended for two more weeks and then be back doing whatever it is he does. Maybe. Judging by ESPN’s usual conduct, they’ll wait and see whether the suspension and apology are enough to quell the anger. If it’s not, then they’ll fire him. His place at the network is still not completely secure.

He says he’s sorry, but I don’t know how sorry he is. There are levels of sorry. When you have someone tied to a chair and are towering over the helpless figure, holding their life in your hands, then yes, they’ll be sorry for whatever they think they’re supposed to be sorry for. In Parker’s situation, it was either be sorry or be fired, so of course he’ll say he’s sorry.

Making it worse is the pure lack of conviction behind Parker’s critique of Griffin. If Parker had a foundation for his criticisms, he’d have the ability to make a cogent argument and defend it rather than using it for selfish purposes. Considering Parker’s replies to those who challenged him on the same platform in which he posted his apology—Twitter—he’s not actually sorry. From start to finish, it’s been a farce. It’s staged. And that typifies ESPN’s conundrum.

Parker wasn’t hired to deliver intelligent analysis on sports. He was hired to do exactly what he did with Griffin—draw attention to himself by any methods necessary. Then it blew out of control. At first he stood behind his statements, then backtracked on them when he got into trouble. I find it difficult accept Parker’s reflection over this episode or that he had a sudden epiphany and realized he was wrong; he apologized because it was either apologize or lose his job.

The underpinning for being truly regretful is to have a set of belief systems to begin with and that is not, nor has it ever been the case with Parker. What does he believe? Does he believe that Griffin’s validity in the black community is in question due to what amounted to accusations because Griffin is reportedly a Republican and has a white fiancée? Or was he stirring things up on ESPN because that’s why they hired him?

That’s the key point: why they hired him.

ESPN didn’t hire Parker for his writing skills because he doesn’t have any. They didn’t hire him because of his sports knowledge because he doesn’t have any of that either. They hired him to garner ratings, webhits and attention by doing exactly what he did. Once the negativity exploded, he was suspended. When a disposable underling has a wide range of freedoms to achieve the ends mandated by his bosses, he can say or do what he wants…until it boomerangs on the bosses and they have to deal with it as ESPN did. Then the empty vessel, in this instance Parker, is on his own.

The only circumstance under which Parker should be fired is if ESPN chooses to abandon the rhetoric that Parker was hired to provide. If they decided to take that route and say, “we’re not indulging in this type of lowest common denominator programming anymore,” and wanted to hammer that fact home by using Parker as an example of what would no longer be tolerated, then yes, Parker should have been fired. But they haven’t done that, nor does it appear that they intend to. They’re still putting forth the pretense of a genuine debate between their personalities when the programming they present is anything but. It’s a show. With that in mind, what’s the difference if it’s Parker or Random Guy or Girl X who would replace Parker if they fired him? There is none.

For the sake of public consumption and the perception of taking a stand, ESPN suspended Parker, Parker accepted the suspension as part of the clear terms of clemency from his employer, and he apologized. But just like Parker’s coerced apology rife with contrite terminology, I doubt its legitimacy because, judging from history and the way this tragicomedy played out for both Parker and ESPN, it’s not legitimate at all.

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ESPN Is To Blame For Rob Parker

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Rob Parker is a symptom, not the disease. In spite of ESPN’s decision to suspend him for his absurd comments about Robert Griffin III, Parker’s presence or absence from the network is not going to cure the malady that infects any sports fan who has no choice but to use ESPN because it has such a wide-ranging hand in every sport.

Is Parker to blame for pushing the envelope with comments that were designed to provoke? Isn’t that the ESPN mandate? To get people to pay attention to them not with legitimate sports news and analysis, but by doing the equivalent of screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater with impunity? So entwined with every aspect of sports, there’s no escaping ESPN. This makes Parker and his inept ilk in their employ all the more galling. They get away with this silliness, so why couldn’t they get away with deciding not to partake in this fire-stoking, and chose to provide quality and substance instead of resorting to antics like a bad Madonna outfit?

Parker maintains the inexplicable combination of knowing nothing about sports and writing in an amateurish, clumsy fashion. Yet he’s employed by ESPN and treated as one of their “signature” voices with a prominent platform. It’s just easier to find a stable of Rob Parkers than it is to find people who will be able to express themselves in a manner befitting such a pulpit.

Of course Parker’s responsible for what he says, but those claiming he should be fired for his offensive and borderline incoherent statements are missing the point of the entire Parker package: Why is he employed by ESPN in the first place? How can it be that the self-proclaimed “worldwide leader in sports” is so incapable of hiring talented, intelligent, knowledgeable people who can draw an audience without having the content secondary to numbers they’re able to accumulate through cheap tactics.

ESPN need only look at the foundation of today’s NFL to understand the narrow difference between “look at me!!!” to accrue a brief burst of activity like staring at a train crash, and attracting a consistent viewer/readership.

The late Hall of Fame NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was a public relations man and knew how to create a business that would provide thrills and watchable sports action without turning it into a circularly ridiculous entity doomed to fail. Tex Schramm was also in publicity (in fact, he hired Rozelle with the Rams) and knew that in order to succeed, he also had to sell. With the Cowboys, that’s what he did: he sold an image. Tom Landry was the football guru; Gil Brandt the personnel “genius”; the Cowboys, with their space-age uniforms, unique style implemented by the religious, stoic Landry and moniker of “America’s Team” wouldn’t have gone anywhere if the product wasn’t high quality. In addition to creating an image and making money, the team won, so Schramm wasn’t tricking anyone with trash. There’s a fine line between sale and scam and ESPN crossed that line long ago. Whether or not they’re aware of it is the important question.

ESPN could learn the separation between entertainment and rubbernecking by examining how the NFL became what it is today in large part because of Schramm and Rozelle.

Rather than emulate the NFL, ESPN has chosen to copy the doomed Vince McMahon project the XFL in which pro wrestling announcers were shoved into a “professional” football broadcast booth and Jesse “The Body” Ventura (then Governor of Minnesota) tried to start a pro wrestling style feud with Rusty Tillman, one of the head coaches who wanted to coach football and not undertake a starring role in McMahon’s carnival. It didn’t work. There has to be something to cling to for the fans to stay and watch. Like McMahon’s main moneymaking venture, the WWE, you know what it is when watching it and if the viewer chooses to suspend disbelief and become invested in the canned nature of professional wrestling, it’s a wink-and-a-nod contract made with the show itself. There’s something dirtier about ESPN when they’re hiring the likes of Parker and encouraging these types of comments, then hanging Parker out to dry when the comments are deemed as “offensive.”

The difference between what Schramm and Rozelle built in the NFL is that if you pull back the curtain behind all the hype, there’s substance for the old-school football fan to still watch the game if they’re not interested in the sideshow. Is that the case with ESPN? Do they have anything substantive—from their intentions to their implementation—left? What is their long-term purpose apart from ratings, webhits, and the higher advertising rates that come along with it?

For every quality person ESPN has working for them, there are ten who shouldn’t be allowed to write a personal blog, let along have a forum on ESPN. Parker is one of those people. The only time people care about what he says is when he says what he said yesterday; they’re certainly not going to him for sports insight because he doesn’t have any, nor does he have the skills to present his non-existent knowledge in an engaging way. If he was able to do that, he’d be due a certain begrudging credit for being able to write. But he can’t, so there’s no reason whatsoever for him to be there.

Firing him will placate the masses who are calling for his dismissal as if it would accomplish something, but Parker isn’t the problem. ESPN is. If they fire Parker, they’ll simply replace him with someone else. I’d say whomever it is that replaces Parker couldn’t possibly be worse, but this is ESPN and if any company has the skills and history of discovering the newest-latest in lowest common denominator, it’s them.

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