Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Of Love and Sports

¡Hola! Everybody...
Today, I wax nostalgic... somewhat.

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-=[ Of Love and Sports, the Assassination of New York, and Blackouts ]=-

The two were meant for each other. One’s a born liar, and the other’s convicted.

-- Billy Martin on Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner

Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard Light is a song is about a teen-aged boy trying to convince a girl to have sex with him in a car. Baseball is used as a metaphor for sex. Sex would be the “Paradise” for him, but she holds out until he says he loves her and will stay with her forever. The young man almost “scores,” but is thrown out at the plate when the girl decides she won’t have sex with him. The voice of the sports announcer used in the song is none other than Phil Rizzuto, the long-time Yankee announcer.

It was only fitting that colorful Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, passed away on the day the baseball All Star classic was to be played, therefore overshadowing the game. It’s fitting because old George loved the limelight. But today I come here not to praise Steinbrenner, but to bury him...

Whenever I think of the 70s, the Yankees, and my beloved City, I always think back to those hectic horny days of an abandoned New York reeling from a massive white flight and in the in thrall of a series of Yankee teams that rewrote the way the game is played.

The “Bronx Zoo,” as one of the players would later call the team, was a collection of high-priced baseball stars with huge egos and a determination to win that was only outmatched by their owner’s. They would fight other teams and one another. Everyday, there was some kind of drama brewing about in the midst of the assassination of one of the greatest cities in the history of humankind. One day, their most famous and controversial manager, Billy Martin, woke up and, in a fit of frustration declared that one was a “convicted liar” (referring to Steinbrenner’s conviction stemming from the Watergate scandal) and the other a “born liar” (referring to the team’s volatile superstar of superstars, Reggie Jackson).

Martin was promptly fired for the first of many times... (officially, he resigned, but he would've been fired had he not)

Whole sectors of the city was burned down or literally aflame as the real estate and financial Elites slashed city services, spurring slum lords to burn their properties down in order to collect the insurance. Even so, we had the Yankees to distract us -- and what a team that was! Who can forget the year they came back from insurmountable odds to catch up to and then beat the hated Red Sox in dramatic fashion during a special playoff game? Ask any real New Yorker, and he or she can tell you in vivid detail what they were doing when Bucky dent hit that famous homerun.

There was also that summer of the infamous Son of Sam and “The Blackout.” I remember that summer well; a sweltering city was caught in the grips of the actions of a lunatic, culminating in a total blackout one hot, and sizzling city summer night. Already economically devastated, the looting that took place during that blackout destroyed whole sectors of business districts throughout the city. So many people were caught looting, that the police stopped arresting them and instead beat them down and sent them packing.

I remember there was a downpour in the middle of that night, and it was then, while I organized demands that bodega owners give out candles and milk to women with children, that I fell in love with “La Mora,” a cinnamon-skinned, dark-haired Taina princess -- the same one who would leave me overfucked, underfed, and heartbroken that same cold September.

GAWD! What a summer!

Nevertheless, no matter what, there were the Yankees, fighting everyone including themselves. I remember Billy Martin pushing up on Reggie Jackson and challenging him to a fight on national TV one hot summer night. Martin was a scrawny, scrappy man, known for fighting dirty, drinking with his ballplayers, and his self-destructive tendencies. In short, Martin was the quintessential New Yorker and we loved his crazy ass because he didn’t give a fuck. A brilliant manager, the only way he knew how to motivate people was through intimidation. And here he was, in the midst of a high-powered, high-priced, highly talented group of professionals. There was never a dull moment.

All the while, up front and center and adding fuel to the fire was Steinbrenner. He didn’t understand losing, didn’t understand patience. He wanted to win everyday. He was a mess, and more often than not, his rash decisions often cost the club. But he was a brilliant salesman, a modern-day Barnum, and he understood how the game was changing and he pushed that too. Let’s be clear: Steinbrenner was essentially a right-wing prick. He took hundreds of millions from the City in order to renovate the Stadium and he reneged on almost all his promises. As bad as the City was doing those days, we never really saw a real profit from all those subsidies. It was welfare for the greedy, for sure. The Stadium itself is a dichotomy: situated in the South Bronx, the symbol of urban decay -- Fort Apache.

Steinbrenner was an unmitigated pig who didn’t give a fuck about anything or anybody. Over the years, however, I learned to appreciate some things about him. For one, he gave people chances. He was a sucker for a redemption song, as illustrated by all the chances he offered to the drug addicted Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden, and Steve Howe, for example. So I guess Steinbrenner wasn’t all evil. He did give us the Yankees of the late 1970s, and the team’s antics served as the backdrop to my own hilarious crimes that have now grown to story-time delights and I guess for that I should be grateful. So today, I’ll bury old George, but I’ll do it while remembering Meatloaf, Phil Rizzutto, and, of course, Reggie Jackson (who was, after all, part Puerto Rican) hitting those back-to-back-to-back home runs during the playoffs.

Rest in peace, George...


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