While you’re off on the beach for a couple of weeks, stuff keeps happening on the relentless merry-go-round of contemporary sport. The games never sleep. No sense trying to catch up, let alone the need. But here are a couple of highlights, or lowlights, as the case may be.
The America’s Cup: It’s over; it has come and gone already, which will shock the countless who hadn’t realized it was a Cup year. Once high among the crown jewels on the sporting calendar on the odd years it graced us, the erstwhile fabulous yachting festival is now a ridiculously kept secret and one wonders if anyone – in the Western Hemisphere, at least – cares anymore. One recalls the old salts down in Newport back in the 1980s warning this would happen once “We’ lost the Cup.” They were absolutely right.
For the record, it was staged off idyllic Bermuda, far from the irascible waters off Newport. It climaxed in balmy June, spurning the caprices and tempests of early fall. The winner was New Zealand’s Emirates Team aboard Kiwi, thrashing America’s Oracle, 8-1, in the final humiliating round. Adding further insult, most of the American crewmen were Australians. As for the boats, they were weird catamarans looking more like spaceships; the wonderfully elegant 16-meter beauties that rolled over the oceans full sail having been officially consigned to the dustbin of history, alongside Noah’s Ark.
One wonders why we bother anymore. But I’m here to tell you it’s a loss well worth lamenting. Had the pleasure of covering seven of them, back when an America’s Cup summer was long, thrilling, and glorious. They race again in 2020. Off Auckland!
Gambling: Support for legislation that would legalize sports betting quietly took a giant leap forward when Basketball Czar Adam Silver vigorously endorsed the proposal – virtually demanding it be adopted – and then had his motion warmly seconded by relatively new Baseball Czar Ron Manfred, who, it is becoming clear, loves to tinker with everything. This is crazy!
These are the two sports that have been historically most tarnished by gambling abuses and the creeps who orchestrate them. Why would they be so eager to cast wide open this of all doors? Of all the games, basketball, once pushed to the edge of extinction by gamblers and fixers, and baseball, having infamously featured the most bitter scandal in sports history, should know better.
Silver, Manfred, and other naïve proponents argue that legalizing the business would regulate it. Nonsense! It would only multiply the action and, thereby, the stakes while swelling the ranks of the suckers. How much success has law enforcement had in bringing about regulation? Nothing short of converting the mob to monastic life would begin to make a dent. And that ain’t happening on Adam Silver’s watch.
All-star nonsense: At the risk of seeming a venerable bore and hopeless Luddite may I suggest to you that the notion of presenting the home run derby that now precedes with so much fanfare baseball’s thoroughly pointless all-star game as a genuine athletic competition is idiotic.
The Bruins: The NHL Off-season is about over. Such machinations as may be feasible let alone productive have either happened by now or aren’t going to happen. And what have the Bruins done?
Nothing! All their arch competitors have shuffled their decks if only to exhibit signs of life. But not the Bruins, other than to boast of their drafting and how promising are their prospects. But such talk is cheap, especially in hockey where so many of the hopefuls are just kids.
What you’d like to see from the Bruins are signs of a strategy, a game plan. But there’s none evident nor a hint of one evolving. Mark Methot, a defenseman they allegedly coveted, got traded for peanuts and Marcus Johansson, a high-impact winger, for even less. Did they make bids, even edge into the discussions? No sign of it. The great fear here is that the Bruins have done nothing this off-season because they have no idea what to do.
Roger Federer: Almost 40, he picks where and when he plays carefully, deploying his remaining brilliance wisely. He’s the most remarkably focused and disciplined athlete of his era, and maybe of any era. No one ever played tennis better, nor did so with greater grace, style, or manners more impeccable. And now he has won Wimbledon, the ultimate event and a near incomparably grueling challenge, for an eighth time. Take a moment and salute the Swiss Knight.
Gene Conley: The tributes accorded Gene on his passing at 86 have been terrific because they’re so richly deserved. A nicer man never played any game in this town and he simultaneously played two of them –baseball & basketball – with degrees of brilliance and never once stopped smiling or making others smile. The best of his humor was delightfully self-effacing, the following being a superb example:
According to Gene, he was at the end of the road in sports and knew it when one day he found himself sitting in a pew and weeping uncontrollably in a little chapel in the Carolinas. An aroused resident parson approached him and said, “I’m so sorry, son. Did you lose your mother?” Gene replied, “Not my mother, reverend; I lost my fastball.”
Do I believe it happened? Why, of course, Old Sport. Gene said so and Gene Conley was sui generis.