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Say It Ain’t So, Tiger

His image was based on lies. Illustration: Adbusters

His image was based on lies. Illustration: Adbusters

I was your biggest fan. Now I say to your wife Elin, ‘Sue the bastard!’

He was one of the best ballplayers of all time. He played in the 1919 World Series for the Chicago White Sox and had 12 hits and a .375 batting average — in both cases leading both teams. The 12 hits was a World Series record. He hit the series’ only home run (this was the day of the “dead ball”), committed no errors and even threw out a runner at the plate.

Still, when a number of White Sox players were indicted for “throwing” the series to the Cincinnati Reds in what became known as the “Black Sox Scandal,” Joe Jackson was one of them. Even though he was acquitted by the jury, the new commissioner for baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned him for life.

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson became the subject for local writer Bill Kinsella’s book Shoeless Joe, the first book ever serialized by Sports Illustrated which morphed into the wonderful movie Field of Dreams.

When Jackson was arraigned in a Chicago courthouse, the story says that when he came out, a young fan came up to him with tears in his eyes and said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” Joe evidently acknowledged to his young hero worshipper that it was so, though in later years Jackson denied the entire incident.

I, an aging hero worshipper, say it now. “Say it ain’t so, Tiger.”

In my youth, which is to say until I reached 50, my unqualified heroes were the Montreal Canadiens. I despised the Toronto Maple Leafs, and on those rare occasions when they beat the Habs, I became doubtful of the Almighty since surely a just God would never allow this to happen. I happened to be in Toronto for the last game of the 1967 series between the Maple Leafs and the Habs, which the former won.

I was inconsolable. All the way home on the subway I felt sure people were staring at me in a combination of contempt and pity. Big Jean, Pocket Rocket, Dickie and Doug ‘arvee (as the Montreal announcer called him), how could this have happened? Don’t you understand the consequences?

Fallen Rocket

My personal hero was the “Rocket” of course, and when he hit a linesman and was suspended for the 1955 series, won by Detroit in seven, which would not have happened if Richard had been there, the injustice was beyond my comprehension — just as it was to the thousands who rioted on March 17. Dammit, it was Hal Laycoe’s fault as the Boston player who had incurred the Rocket’s ire. And when the Rocket said he thought the linesman, Cliff Armstrong, was in fact Laycoe, why not believe him?

One of my low points was the 1972 Russia-Canada Series when the winning goal was scored by a Maple Leaf, Paul Henderson. Wasn’t it Yvan Cournoyer who scored the tying goal and set up Henderson for the winner with a pass my grandmother could have popped in, even though she was dead at the time?

I became a Tiger fan early and solidly. I had never seen anyone quite like this — a man who radically changed the ancient game beyond recognition. He won a Masters by 12 strokes and a U.S. Open by 15. He stared down his opponents and his dad Earl was right when he said, “Tiger, you’ll never play against anyone as mentally tough as you.”

I grieved with Tiger when he lost his dad. I was mesmerized by the 2008 U.S. Open when he won after 91 holes with a broken bone in his leg against a journeyman who thrilled everyone with his grit and guts. While I was sad he didn’t win a major in 2009, I felt personally responsible for his great year as I cheered on every shot of it.

It’s not about mere adultery

I’m not concerned with the morals of the issue which has brought him to his knees and may cripple his career. I would not want my meanderings when I was 33 brought out nor do I need reminding that I’ve been twice divorced. All of you out there who have never committed adultery or never wished the opportunity are better, so please leave the room! Ah, I see there’s still standing room only.

No, this is no time for hypocrisy. This is a time to wonder why we all put Tiger on the biggest pedestal of all time. Why would we think that he was any better a person than the rest of us?

Years ago I played golf with two former battery mates on the Boston Red Sox — Frank Sullivan and Sammy White. They told stories of how when the train came in to the city of their game (teams traveled by train then) there would be a flock of young ladies from which the great hitter Ted Williams would take his pick. They say that Maurice Richard was as good a stick man off ice as on, and that Arnold Palmer was a good “swordsman.” But there was a big difference in the goings-on of a few decades ago and those of today — if only because there wasn’t a “sex alert” media ready to pounce, in living colour, on a wayward athlete.

Back then, reporters who found out about extra-curricular activity rather admired the adulterer. If a sinner were caught, his wife did not become a worldwide, never-ending victim. Of course it hurt — badly — but it wasn’t global humiliation.

Tiger has played the role of the perfect athlete, the perfect golfer, the perfect mate and the perfect dad. His commercial contracts played off that image. And the image was huge — larger than anything before by far. And the pay-off for Woods was immense.

Why Tiger must now pay

My point is not that carefully committed adultery somehow deserves to be criticized less than careless adultery. But there comes a point when the careless philandering is so flagrant that one is tempted to conclude that Woods wanted his wife to find out. How else can one explain the text messages and the giving out of his phone number?

Had he convinced himself that normal rules of conduct don’t apply? Did he become, in his mind, shielded from consequences because he really had become a sort of god above all others and above all rules?

We’re not talking about a little nookie on the side here. These aren’t casual flips in the hay. These are long relationships — and they amount to one of the most impressive traplines of all time. Woods, with casual abandon, placed his wife and children into the position of being shamed before the entire world.

He’s no longer my hero. I may have been able to retain some of my affection if he had, from the beginning, been honest with not only his wife Elin, but all his fans too. Fame devolves responsibility on heroes that others don’t have.

Golfers will know what I mean when I say I hope he develops the shanks and the yips on short putts and embarrasses himself in the only way, evidently, he can be embarrassed.

Elin, as we say in my old profession — the second oldest, that is — sue the bastard!

Knocked senseless

I’m going to end on another sports note. Last week’s London Guardian had a sports story talking about the comeback of boxing, especially amongst kids.

I was a boxing fan until June 20, 1960, when I watched Floyd Patterson knock out Ingemar Johansson with a left hook to the chin. Johansson hit the canvas with a thud, out cold. With blood trickling from his mouth, his glazed eyes staring up at the ring lights, and his left foot twitching, the Swede was counted out, and lay unconscious on the canvas for five more minutes. He was still dazed and unsteady 15 minutes after the knockout and had to be helped out of the ring.

It dawned on me that the object of this “sport” was to concuss your opponent — in other words, to damage his brain. When a hockey player or a football player gets concussed twice, he is urged by his doctor to retire. Boxers keep on boxing and become, as the old term put it, “punch drunk.” Or like Muhammad Ali, by an amazing coincidence, a victim of Parkinson’s disease.

As a society, we have banned pit fights amongst dogs and cockfights because they are cruel to animals, yet we encourage young people to damage the brains of other young people as part of the “manly art of self defence.”

What a sad, hypocrisy-reeking “civilization” we’ve become — myself, I’m embarrassed to say, very much included.

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