About Billy Sullivan, Brett Favre, Usain Bolt, Jim Rice and Ted and Yaz

Here are five thoughts looking for a place to land.

So, Billy Sullivan and Jim Nance have been selected for the Patriots’ own cozy Hall of Fame. Leading only to the question, how in the name of common sense could it have taken so long? They’ve had the thing the better part of 20 years now. Sullivan should have been one of the first anointed, with Nance following not too far behind.

The diminishing of Billy and the failure to appreciate what he did for pro football in this region – however quirky it may have sometimes seemed – is appalling. The NFL would have flourished here without him; maybe sooner, some would argue. The world-class business barons who run this league of veritable tycoons would never have allowed this plush market to escape its all-consuming claims. But the fact remains that it was Billy who did do it and against considerable odds, much of them unfair. As for Bo Nance, he was a dominant player who brought legitimacy to the franchise at a time when the need for it was precious.

The Pats’ Hall of Fame process is complicated by the role the fans play and on these issues they are hardly infallible. It took the special intercession of owner Bob Kraft to at last bring Billy Sullivan his due. Back in the old days Kraft and Sullivan went toe to toe, clashing memorably. So it was gracious of Kraft to intercede. But it was no less long and gravely overdue.

***

Quarterback syndrome plagues the thinking of many on the subject of football. It ascribes too much credit to the QB when his team wins and too much blame when he loses. In its ultimate extension, it makes every signal-caller in the NFL another Sammy Baugh until proven otherwise. Hence, every QB in the game is de facto over-rated, at least to some degree.

Where Bret Favre fits into this odd equation remains unclear even after almost 20 years, mind you. But it’s certain he’s not as good as the madcap followers of the game believe, nor as Favre himself thinks. This much is for sure. The preening, grossly self-centered, classically prima-donna antics that Favre has featured to his greater acclaim and profit the last couple of years would never be tolerated from a wideout or defensive end, let alone a cornerback. More to the point, why would a smart pro football team like the Minnesota Vikings fall for it?

Fran Tarkenton, merely the noblest Vike of them all, had the smartest perspective and it dripped with contempt. Said Tark on a radio interview: “I think Favre has been a great and flamboyant quarterback, but he has made more stupid plays than any quarterback I have ever seen.” And Fran has seen them all over the last half century.

Tarkenton continues: “We have responsibilities. We’re not just athletes who are all in it for ourselves. Is it not a team game? And here comes Bret Favre riding in on his white horse. He doesn’t go to training camp, doesn’t come to off-season workouts, and he’s going to arrive on his white horse and bond with all these players? It’s an absolute circus and I have no interest in it!” The Tark can still scramble with the best of them.

In his astonishing caper, Favre, in defiance of all common sense, landed a $25 million, two-year deal from the Vikes. Old, beaten-up gun-slingers approaching 40 don’t cut it in this dodge. If Unitas couldn’t do it and Namath couldn’t do it and Montana, Graham, Waterfield, Conerly and Layne couldn’t do it, either, then neither will Brett Favre. The Vikes can expect a return of about ten cents on the dollar.

***

Once upon a time huge distinction was accorded the person who held the record for the fastest sprints in the 100 and 200 meter events. The chap was thereby deemed ‘the fastest man in the world’ with the implicit acknowledgement that he was probably also the world’s finest athlete at the given moment.

By that solid standard, might the electrifying Usain Bolt be the finest athlete of all time? In just the latest of his astonishing works, the 22-year-old, six-foot-five Jamaican shattered his own record in the 200 meters, finishing in 19.19 at the world games in Berlin. It marked the fifth straight time he had lowered his own record time, which is almost inconceivable in his sport. There are those who believe he can break nineteen seconds which would be about like running a three- minute mile.

Track and field people hold the effortlessly merry and ever exuberant Bolt in near total awe and regard him as nearly divine. But here is the question. How many other people who claim to know and love sports even recognize the name?

***

Apparently, Jim Rice equates canonization at Cooperstown with elder statesman status. This may account for his impromptu and rather scathing address on the subject of ‘what’s wrong with contemporary baseball’ which he delivered to an audience mainly composed of befuddled 11 and 12 year olds at the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.

Ever reluctant over a period of more than 30 years to emote on much of anything, the new Rice was quite pointed in his rebuke of modern players, with complaints ranging over such familiar issues as drugs and greed all the way to more arcane stuff like the way the guys today wear their socks. En route he singled out a couple of players for specific reproach, including Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.
It is, of course, open season on A-Rod. He’s fair game. But where and how Jeter ran afoul of Rice’s lofty principles is unclear. Most observers tend to regard Jeter as representing the gold standard for proper deportment in the contemporary game. Nor will it go unnoticed that while finding Jeter lacking, Rice managed to spare Manny Ramirez, a comrade in the Red Sox’ stable of folk heroes, from his indictment.

It’s just the latest example of what’s becoming a familiar double standard associated with the Red Sox. And you wonder why they wonder about us out there in the rest of ‘the nation’.

***

Lastly, a further word is in order regarding last week’s diatribe in this space concerning the relative merits of Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams, the two other members of the Red Sox exclusive club of immortal left-fielders. Your host made the point that he firmly believes a team of eight Yazes would soundly whip a team of eight Teddie Ballgames. It struck a nerve, to put it mildly. Objection was fierce.

This has much to do with the worship of Williams, which borders on the idolatrous. Ted can do no wrong, especially in the eyes of those who never saw him play and therefore must believe everything they read about him, most of which is hopelessly sentimental and written by people who never saw him play.

But clearly my argument is vested in the sound (if unpopular in these parts) thesis that defense is just as important as offense in the winning of baseball games. Indeed some of the best baseball men argue it is more important. It’s a point I should have made more forcefully last week.

Quite simply, Yastrzemski’s defensive skills were vastly superior to those of Williams. While Ted’s edge in hitting is substantial, it does not come close to overwhelming the edge Yastrzemski had over him in the field, on the bases, and in other subtle aspects of the game. The young Ted had defensive skills but was indifferent to the task – sometimes maddeningly so – whereas the older Ted, after he broke his collarbone in the 1950 all-star game ,was just plain awful in the field.

In today’s game, Williams would have been strictly a D.H those last 10 seasons, mate. Sorry!

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