Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Day After

There's lots of follow-up in today's papers to yesterday's big baseball stories, concerning Pete Rose's non-apology apology and Tug McGraw's death.

In the Daily News, reporter Dan Geringer talks with an interesting collection of local folks -- two noted defense attorneys, a pair of clergy, and a psychologist -- to gain their perspective on why Rose waited 14 years to stop telling whoppers.

On the McGraw front, feature writer Rose DeWolf checks in with a look at Tugger's much-noted optimism, Marcus Hayes provides a chronicle of his final months, and Paul Vigna compiles reader reaction.

In the Inquirer, Jim Salisbury reports on Hall of Fame selections Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor (check out the great anecdote at the end of the story), while Frank Fitzpatrick files a nicely worded appreciation of McGraw.

Additionally, Salisbury and Stephen A. Smith offer varying views of the Rose situation. As usual, Smith obscures an interesting take -- give Rose another a chance; he's paid his price, and, besides, it's the American way -- with a dreadful writing style (exclamation points and condescending references to his readers, as in "The man has lied for 14 years, folks"). Salisbury predicts that Rose will eventually reach the Hall of Fame, but notes that the blatant cash grab that his new book represents may delay that a bit, and he concludes:

It's kind of sad that yesterday was one of the best days on the baseball calendar -- two new Hall of Famers, Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley, were announced -- and here we are dealing with Pete Rose's sordid tale. But maybe there's a message in the timing. Molitor and Eckersley both had their problems, Molitor with illegal drugs and Eckersley with alcohol. They both faced their problems, truthfully, and triumphed.

Pete Rose is finally facing his problems with some truth, but this hardly feels like a triumph.

Providing lovely, if sad, overviews are the Inky's Phil Sheridan and the DN's Sam Donnellon, who lament much of what has happened over the last few weeks.

Donnellon's elegiac piece links McGraw's passing with that of Veterans Stadium, whose stripping is complete and whose demolition begins today:

It still must amaze those who were around for its debut that it will come and go while older structures like Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and even Shea continue on with no end in sight.

It's another thing the old lady shares with the player who gave her his heart. McGraw would have made a great, salty old baseball man, the kind of entertaining storyteller we used to take for granted in this sport. For sure, he did a whole lot of living in his 59 1/2 years on Earth, a whole lot of entertaining. There were some messy parts, of course, but the end came, as it too often does to people, when the rest of his life had fallen so nicely into place.

That never happened for the old lady. She was loved most by the family-oriented Phillies, and it is fitting they were the ones to close her doors officially in September. It is fitting that they will be the last ones out tomorrow, too. And then the old lady will wait alone for the inevitable switch to be pulled. The new date for that is sometime in late March, but the Vet is already a comatose skeleton, stripped of its seats, its famous bell, even its infamous railings. The bunting that appeared in its final season and featured the stars that played here -- Schmidt, Luzinski, Carlton, etc. -- is gone too, save one strip. The strip with McGraw on it, the one freezing that 1980 championship moment, is still attached to the old lady like, well, a vital organ.

"I've asked around and nobody seems to know why,'' [Phillies spokesman Greg] Casterioto said. "But I don't think there are any plans to take it down. It was our greatest moment. And it's going down with the ship.''

Sheridan, who has developed into the city's best sports columnist, focuses on the 1980 World Series clips that have run virtually nonstop on local and national sportscasts in the wake of yesterday's news:

Our televisions have shown us the highlights over and over, as if they weren't burned into our memories already. And why? Not because of an anniversary, or because there is another championship to celebrate. No, we are reliving 1980 because of a run of cruel, cruel events.

Paul Owens, the man who built that team, died late last month.

Tug McGraw, the man who completed the journey with an unforgettable pitch, died Monday.

And Pete Rose, the man whose warrior heart pumped fresh blood into a previously suspect group of underachievers, has dragged his personal disgrace back into the headlines. . . .

There is a message, a hidden truth, in those images from 1980: That's the end of the story. For McGraw, the tragedy was his death. For Rose, the tragedy is his life. For those of us who were touched by both men, and by the championship they won together, there is something to be learned from each.


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