October 10, 1968 is the greatest day I ever enjoyed as a sports fan. Just shy of my 12th birthday, I had been raised to be a Detroit Tiger fan. My Mom was born in Detroit and had always followed the team. She was the one who taught me to throw a baseball and catch horny-toads and ride bikes. A boy could not have asked for a better Mom and on that October day in 1968 we were both rooting for the Tigers. Mickey Lolich was pitching on two days rest against the legendary Bob Gibson with the series tied at 3 and the final game being played in St Louis. I took a small transistor radio to school and had one of those ear pieces in and when teachers didn’t look I turned the volume up. That day Lolich did something that no pitcher had ever done, or has done since, he pitched his third complete game in the Series and the Tigers won 4-1. I couldn’t wait to get home and share the details with Mom, riding my bike like a maniac to get there!!
Sports represented to me all that was good in the world. I would spend fall and winter playing football in the front yards of our house and the Martinez’s next door for hours on end. First I was the great #35 of the Dallas Cowboys, Calvin Hill, then I was George Blanda, before I became a Broncos fan. In the 70’s we had Broncos season tickets and we were there when the team won the AFC Championship and I painted my entire basement orange in honor of the team. To this day when I see Red Miller, the coach of the Orange Crush Broncos, I thank him. For so many years I lived and breathed sports and the names still come easily to me. Al Kaline, Yaz, Mickey Mantle, Len Dawson, Cassius Clay. My personal sports hero to this day is the legendary Arnold Palmer and I was a devoted member of Arnie’s Army. I still hold out hope of meeting him some day which would be the greatest thrill of my life. Lew Alcindor and John Havlicek and Wilt Chamberlain introduced me to basketball and I even rooted for lefty Earl Anthony on the Pro Bowlers Tour!! There may be better athletes today but there are no better sportsmen on the whole than when I grew up. And I find myself in the uneasy position of losing my interest in the sports I loved so much because of that.
I really don’t need to make a list of athletes who have been caught cheating or abusing the law lately to make my point. In fact, there have been cheaters in sports since sports started. Things like pitchers marking up and doctoring baseballs, football players using stick-em to hold on to the ball better, players throwing games, stuff like that. But today not only are the rules of sport being violated, the responsibility of athletes as law abiding citizens and role models has been disregarded as if rules and law don’t apply to them. And the price for getting caught is small in a nation that often overlooks character flaws in our heroes, and what’s a few games suspension when you’re making millions. It’s that lack of respect for law, and the complete disregard for good sportsmanship if it means winning that has brought me to the point of being unable to get passionate about the people and games I’ve loved for so long. And I honestly believe no Commissioner can fine or suspend his sport back into being a model for people to respect. It has to come from within, from the athletes themselves who must self-govern and say this isn’t right, this has to stop. As long as athletes say to one of their own, “we’re behind you 100%” when they’ve been caught cheating or breaking the law that needs to come with the understanding that we’re behind you unless it continues to be a problem. It amazes me when an athlete says, “I only did it because everyone else does”. You only did it because the consequences for being caught are small in most cases. With priviledge comes responsibility. Whose teaching that lesson these days?
Enough of me going on and on. I just said this out loud because I can’t believe I’m the only one that feels this way. There’s no doubt I’ll still cheer for the home team, it just won’t be with the same love I’ve had all my life. I won’t likely carry a transistor with an earphone so I don’t miss a play and I may not see the end of many night games. I just don’t have the passion for sports whose athletes don’t have the passion for playing, and living right. Yep, I’m getting crotchety J