Maybe it was the heat wave that's been cooking most of the country. Maybe it was the baleful influence of El Niño or that Mexican volcano or Halley's Comet, which is heading our way again. Whatever it was, things have gone a little crazy in sports lately....
Nothing was nuttier than the tremendous foofaraw that arose last week over George Brett's bat and the amount of pine tar thereon (page 60). That eminent moralist, Manager Billy Martin of the Yankees, was offended by Brett's violation of a minor baseball rule and more or less spooked the umpires into agreeing with him, thus throwing the entire country into a turmoil—not to forget Brett, who, after the umpires called his home run null and void, looked for a few minutes as though he were going to explode like an M-80.
Newspapers throughout the country hopped on the story, and TV stations ran and reran tapes of the home run, the umpires' strange decision and Brett's fury. In provincial New York City, surely the most small-townish of all the great cities in the world, nothing else seemed to matter. When American League President Lee MacPhail handed down his decision reversing the umpires' call and wounding Martin's sense of righteousness, even the staid New York Times went a little wacko, running the story under a three-column headline on the front page, right there with news stories on the fighting in Central America, the crisis in the Middle East, Soviet purchases of American grain and President Reagan's crime commission. The next day the Times, still tingling with the excitement of it all, ran a column of commentary on the incident on its Op-Ed page.
The two New York tabloids, the Daily News and the Post, trotted out their big, black, end-of-the-world headline type to trumpet the earthshaking news to their readers, and a Daily News sports columnist, disagreeing with MacPhail's decision, wrote sternly, "I'm afraid...that Lee MacPhail let his sense of decency and fair play cloud his judgment," a statement that bears thinking about.
Television, fascinated as always by the trivial, was particularly interested in the bat, and at MacPhail's press conference, the biggest and most tumultuous one ever held at the league office, cameramen vied with one another for shots of the league president with the notorious weapon. A Detroit TV station even wanted to send a camera crew to New York in order to follow the bat on its journey back to Brett, whose team was playing in Detroit. Collectors besieged Brett with offers for it, one supposedly bidding $10,000. Brett, restored to commendable sanity after his initial explosion, said the bat wasn't for sale and, after carefully cleaning off the excess pine tar that triggered the trouble, used it against the Tigers.
A middle-aged woman seeking Brett's autograph found herself swept into one of the many impromptu press conferences Brett was subjected to during the week. She held up a copy of The Kansas City Star and asked him if he had seen the story about him in it.
"I don't read the papers, ma'am," Brett said. "Did you hear all these stupid questions? You think I want to read my stupid answers?"
A letter from the Kansas City Kings, one of the NBA's most financially troubled franchises, arrived in our office the other day with the envelope stamped: "Postage Due—17¢."
HELLO, VICTOR. GOODBY, VICTOR