Coming Up Short

Oct. 3, 1951, New York Giants baseball player Bobby Thomson, center, being hugged by New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham, left, and manager Leo Durocher in the dressing room after their championship playoff victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds in New York.
Oct. 3, 1951, New York Giants baseball player Bobby Thomson, center, being hugged by New York Giants owner Horace Stoneham, left, and manager Leo Durocher in the dressing room after their championship playoff victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds in New York.

It was, using Edward De Vere’s words, much ado about nothing. The media didn’t think so, called it “Deflategate,” and one of America’s great sporting heroes, Tom Brady, was pilloried as if he had inflated the beautiful model Giselle Bunchen, his wife, against her wishes. If any of you Quest readers missed it while on holiday in Albania, Brady and the New England Patriots supposedly deflated the footballs used in the championship game against the Colts so Tom could better find his receivers. The NFL, needless to say, was shocked—shocked that anyone playing professional football in America might bend the rules in their favor—and suspended Brady for four games, fined the Patriots one million big ones, and took away some draft choices. If Captain Renault was around, he’d be winking at Rick and telling him these NFL people make us look like hicks.

For cheat’s sake, everyone in professional and college sports in America cheats, starting with the fact that college athletes graduate after four years but are illiterate. Back in 1951, during the good old days of baseball, they even made a wonderful baseball movie, It Happens Every Spring. It celebrated cheating, the hero being an absentminded professor who accidentally discovers a potion that once applied to a baseball makes it avoid wood. He takes a leave of absence and wins 30 major league games. Mind you, it’s only a movie, but that very same year, “The Shot Heard Round The World” took place in October. Bobby Thompson’s home run against Ralph Branca won the pennant for the Giants, but then manager Leo Durocher proudly announced how the team had been stealing the signals of their opponents for years by having installed a powerful telescope-like contraption in their locker room at the old Polo Grounds in New York. The locker was situated in center field, rather conveniently. Everyone cheered the cheaters and booed the chumps. They don’t call it the land of opportunity for nothing.

Former Senator Bill Bradley has admitted that when playing for the Knicks he used to deflate basketballs in order to gain a competitive edge, and the great Gaylord Perry got into the Hall of Fame by throwing spitballs. Perry never revealed how he got the spit on the ball, but did say that he used to line his baseball cap with Vaseline. The Colorado Rockies openly keep their baseballs inside humidors, like cigars, to keep them from drying out and flying off the face of the earth. Colorado is high enough as it is. My favorite cheater was that woman who won the New York Marathon by taking the subway for most of the way.

Better yet, the Yankees didn’t mind when Andy Petitte and Roger Clemens used steroids, and the baseball commissioner said nothing when Barry Bonds broke Babe Ruth’s and Hank Aaron’s homer record by quite a lot, almost as much as his head grew from extreme use of steroids. Seeking an edge is nothing new in sports. But punishing Brady smells more of hypocrisy than righteousness. Unlike many pro football players, Brady has not been caught driving drunk, beating his wife, or involved in multiple homicides. Yet he’s been suspended for doing what comes naturally in pro sports. The NFL regularly drafts so-called college graduates whose talents are more likely to land them in jail than on the football field. Ray Lewis, the Baltimore linebacker and future Hall of Famer, was involved in a double homicide, pleaded nolo contendere, and is now the face of the NFL on ESPN. Adrian Peterson hit his four-year-old with a branch, was suspended with pay, and will play again this year. Ray Rice infamously knocked his wife out in an elevator and was caught on camera. Otherwise he’d still be playing. Brady had one thing going against him. He was white, intelligent, and had a beautiful wife. Let’s throw the book at him.

It seems a very long time ago, but I witnessed a match involving my Davis Cup doubles partner, Niko Kalogeropoulos. It was on the center court of Roland Garros, during the French Open. Niko was playing French player Pierre Darmon and had point for match point when Darmon hit an approach shot down the line that Niko covered well but missed. Yet the linesman called Darmon’s shot out. Match point for the Greek. That’s when Niko gave the signal that the approach shot was on the line. The French cheered, the score became deuce, and Darmon eventually won the match. “Apollo Cried,” was the headline in a French newspaper the next day. Lacoste gave him three free shirts. Niko now lives in reduced circumstances in Costa Rica.

But times change. The number one draft pick of the NFL this year, Jameis Winston (yes, that’s how he spells his first name), has been accused of rape a couple of times, has been arrested for shop lifting, and has been suspended from school for threatening behavior and other such normal activities of football players. But he got drafted number one anyway, while Brady will remain on the sidelines for awhile. Go figure.