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by Mark Andel

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A Home Run Press Conference

A Real Olympics Style Hero

A  Tale of Two Cities

Arnie’s Army Hopeful of a Last Assault

Breathing Without Air

Call Him No-Show Sosa

Five Circles of Shame

The Big Hurt Is Only Hurting Himself

The Masters a True Harbinger of Spring

The Rock and Me

World Champions? Bull!

Wrigley Field Bar Exam


Easy Mark Column Archive
by Mark Andel

A Home Run Press Conference


THERE IS A DECIDED DIFFERENCE in the way Cardinal slugger Mark McGwire and Cub long-baller Sammy Sosa field a post-game press conference. McGwire is actually warming up to his new stature as home run champ and icon of all time, instead of chastising fans with comments such as, “There are more important things going on in the world” and has begun to indulge the press, occasionally acknowledging that, yes, history is in fact being made. Sammy Sosa, of course, has sharpened his “What a Country!” and “He’s the man!” spin that’s plain hard to resist.

Roger Maris, legend has it, began losing his hair in clumps when he approached Babe Ruth’s record. The same thing happens to me when I enter the Dan Ryan on-ramp at Madison Street. The question is, how do these guys all stack up to Babe Ruth (press conference-wise), the Amazing Bambino, who set the collective American attention span on fire in 1927 and could ignite instant affection from journalists? Let’s compare a few typical questions and provide a few hypothetical responses from each player.

Q: What did it feel like putting one out in the seventh?

McGWIRE: It was an awesome blast and a significant achievement, good for me, and for the game of baseball.

SOSA: I caught it good, but that’s just the Flintstone vitamins doing their thing. McGwire, he’s the man!

MARIS: Do you need to put the microphone so close? (Scratching his head, distracted) What was the question?

RUTH: Well, boys, I sure enough gave it a ride, didn’t I? I’m glad I did, too, because I sure didn’t feel like running all those base paths.

Q: Will anyone come close to the record again?

McGWIRE: It’s very doubtful. It’s just too difficult to accomplish, but I accomplished it.

SOSA: If anyone will, it will be McGwire. He’s the man! I’m just trying to help the team win a few ballgames.

MARIS: I can only hope. They they can be berated and have cups of beer thrown at them. Is my head bleeding? Can you see my scalp?

RUTH: Maybe so, maybe not. The point is coming out to the park in the middle of the day, soaking up the sunshine, having a few hot dogs, and playing the game. I’m not a bookkeeper. I don’t even have a pencil. You fellows can keep track of all that.

Q: How do you handle the pressure?

 McGWIRE: It’s tremendous these days, because it means so much historically. I’m a part of history now, and I have to accept that. It’s a historical feat, but you have to keep centered.

 SOSA: Hey, my idea of pressure is waking up next to fifteen brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic, wondering how many shoes I’ll have to shine before I can get something to eat. This isn’t pressure. This is America. What a country!

 MARIS: Weeping men have asked me, “How can you do this to the Babe?” And they really expect me to answer. It’s enough to make you rip your hair out. (Rips out a hank of hair) Here. Put this in your scrapbook. This is what the game really takes out of you.

 RUTH: Pressure? What do you mean? Now, if any of you fellows have time for a cold one at McCuddy’s, I’m buying. ~

©Mark Andel 2001


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A Real Olympics-Style Hero


MY FAVORITE HERO to emerge from the Olympics this year is a world-renown athlete who decided to blow it off.

Half-pipe snowboarder Terje Haakonsen, acknowledged by snowboarders across the land as the best around, compared the Olympics Committee to the Mafia, and said he wanted no part of their regimentation and rules. What the Committee wanted went against his grain: uniform wearing and a formatted judging system. Here’s what he said: “Snowboarding is about fresh tracks and carving powder and being yourself and not being judged by others. It’s not about Nationalism and politics and money.”

 And so he just said no.

 Probably a wise choice. In a sport overflowing with free spirits, Haakonsen is the freest. The joyful exuberance he brings to the sport, away from the glare of television cameras and lights and elaborate scaffolding and million dollar sponsorships, is a thing of beauty.

 He represents what the Olympics used to be about: before businessmen staked their claim on a fat vein of gold ore and began carting away wheelbarrows of cash – luring the athletes with glimmering medals containing some real gold. One can almost picture them sifting gold medals between their itchy fingers in a classic pantomime of “The Miser.” I hope they all take a bath on their investment – just like the Nagano countryside seems to be doing. Raindrops keep falling on their heads. 

 Do you know what Haakonsen won at the Mount Baker Slalom – the last snowboarding contest he won? A roll of gold duct tape on a string. He was overjoyed. He also received a goody bag, containing ski lift tickets, gift certificates, and other snowboarding items. When they gave it to him, he promptly hurled it into the throng of teenagers who had come to cheer him on. Imagine figure skaters Lupinski or Kwan or Bobek handing off their Olympic medals to a fan upon leaving the ice. Fat chance.

And yet, here’s a guy who cheated Olympic gold medalist Ross Rebagliati of his best competition, doing what he loves “for the love of the game.” When was the last time a celebrity sports figure did that? Ross had his own problems, of course, what with officious Olympics hounds sniffing around outside his dorm room for whiffs of reefer smoke. Haakonsen would have hit them on the snout with a newspaper, and then made a suggestion about where they could stuff their gold.

 Do you know what the first Olympians won in Greece, when the world was young? A crown of laurels (hence the term, “resting on your laurels”). Leaves, to be worn in their hair. The equivalent of a roll of duct tape. By all accounts, the early Olympians were overjoyed at the honor.

So who’s the real Olympics champion today? ~

©Mark Andel 2001


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A Tale of Two Cities


TY COBB WOULD have loved it.

But then, he was one mean son of a gun.

When a guy named Moe retrieved Sammy Sosa's home run ball number 62 at Wrigley Field, he was set upon by a mass of hooligans that resembled a rugby scrum. He has piled on top of, scratched, gouged, beaten, and savagely bitten until he couldn't hold onto the ball any longer. They showed the bite marks on his hand on the ten o'clock news.

Let some mild-mannered groundskeeper in St. Louis offer up McGwire's ball number 62 to the guy who hit it, saying to McGwire a line so full of dry martini polish and sophistication that it would have done Nick Charles from "The Thin Man" proud: "I believe I have something that you lost," the groundskeeper said, and forked the ball over to the big man.

Not here, boy. Not in the City of Big Shoulders and Massive Mandibles. Since the players themselves have routinely taken huge chomps out of the big cash pie that is baseball, well Chicago fans outside the park figured they would try to get a big chunk, too. And if there's not plenty to go around, well, they won't have an aversion to cutting in line. Friendly confines? Forget about it.

So what happens now? Will the guy who ended up with the Sosa ball offer it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, so that it can take up its rightful place next to McGwire's 62nd? Will he offer it to a charitable organization? Will he donate the proceeds to Little League of America, and make a speech about the young players there being the hope of the game's future?

Nope. Not in this town, with its engines of commerce pulsating and pushing out steam like an old locomotive. This ball is going to the highest bidder. That's it. End of story.

It's a little difficult to compare the St. Louis response to their homer number 62 with Chicago's response to their own. McGwire's line-shot homer barely cleared the fence. It almost looked ashamed of itself as it appeared for an instant, incredibly white against the dark backdrop, coming to rest near the bullpen. No fans had access to the area where it had lit. Sammy, on the other hand, knocked his out the park, turning Sheffield into a scene that resembled the running of the bulls in Pamplona (make that, "da bulls" if you must). The baseball bounced off the street, the crowd in hot pursuit, beefy grown men trampling small children and old ladies on the North Side, who still remember the good old days when the Cubs lost all the time and it was a freak if someone hit half as many homers as the Babe.

The world has changed a bit. I'm reminded of another night in Chicago, when protesters at the Democratic National Convention were beaten bloody. There was a guy there who knew the cameras were rolling. It was the same guy who threw up a handful of dollar bills on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and watched traders scramble for them, nothing but a shark's hunger and malevolent greed in their eyes.

He name was Abbie Hoffman, and what he said was this: "The whole world is watching."

Somewhere Ty Cobb is smiling.~

 ©Mark Andel 2001


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Arnie’s Army Hopeful of a Last Assault


“Hit it hard. Find it.

Hit it hard again.”

- Arnold Palmer’s golf advice


            When Arnold Palmer announced this week that he was quits with the PGA after shooting an 87 in his own Bay Hill Tournament, that it was time to throw the clubs in the trunk and call it a career, you could almost hear the hearts breaking in country club locker rooms across the land.

            He wanted to go out without embarrassing himself, with the memory of his legendary low, wind-boring drives intact, with his beaming, wizened face (one of the most recognizable on the planet) still held high. He gave us much over the years. I would like to give something back to him, even if it is just another moment in an incredible career of moments. I am putting in a request for Arnie to hold off a little longer. The Masters is only a few weeks away. Arnie, let us say good-bye to you there. Give us the opportunity to stand up and cheer you on the 18th green at August one more time.

            He was a skinny, muscular kid from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, whose swing was full of effort and not the easy grace of a Bobby Jones or a Sam Sneed. He grunted and sweated out there, and attacked the golf ball with wild lurches that sent the ball screaming down the fairway. He made us believe that even with our own wonky swings, we might achieve wonderful things on occasion, if only we gave off the right positive vibe, and swung like we meant it.

            Golf has always been a gentleman’s game, and Arnie represented the game with grace and humility for more than fifty years. He was tickled when a putt dropped, and might even be given to running toward the cup a little with a look of amused astonishment on his face when it happened. These days, some of the new cats out there (are you listening, Tiger?) will sink a putt and jam a fist in the air, scowling an in-your-face scowl that is more at home on an NBA court or an NFL line of scrimmage than on the manicured surface of a PGA course. That stuff never belonged in golf. When Arnie goes, a piece of that grace will go with him.

It doesn’t take much to realize that golf etiquette is not what it once was. Newcomers to the game don’t bring the respect and sense of awe to the endeavor that it deserves. My father instilled in me the rules of behavior on the golf course as much as he drilled on the fundamentals of the grip and swing. And now? The most common courtesies are ignored, like repairing ball marks and letting faster players “play through.” It all seems to be a part of a self-centeredness of America that is crippling what was once civilized and decent and good.

Arnie knows. His dad was a well-liked greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club, whose manners and sense of decorum were impeccable. He treated people courteously, even deferentially, and instructed his boy Arnie to do the same. And what a breath of fresh air it was to have someone with the skill level of Arnold Palmer be self-effacing rather than self-aggrandizing. I spoke with Arnie once, and what stands out is the way he just talked to you as though you were two fellows getting paired up for a round. When we shook hands, the grip was firm, and his hands were huge and calloused. Working hands.

Even if it’s only in my living room, I’d like to see Arnie say good-bye to the game in perhaps the most civilized setting of golf in this country: Augusta National and the Masters. And if I shed a tear or two, it will be for Arnie and for the game, which will be losing something magical and fine that can never be replenished.


 ©Mark Andel 2002

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Breathing Without Air


THE CLEAN EXIT is rare, Jordan.

You won your town the championship by sinking the last basket in the last game of the play-offs. And in that perfect, frozen moment, you ended your career. As you followed through with the shot, it looked like a freeze-frame. The world stopped for a moment.

You stopped it again last week when you announced that there would be no more games inside the very building that you created  -- like the ball park in New York that Ruth built. In front of that building is your likeness, forever going to the hoop, forever soaring upward, cast in bronze. It's appropriate, because with your decision to leave now, there will be no coming down. Your feet won't ever have to touch the earth to shatter like clay in front of everyone.

You've given us enough. So what's with all the sadness in town? What's with all this wanting more? What is it about seeing perfection, and wanting to change it somehow, to mess with it? Do we want a different smile on the Mona Lisa? Do we want to paint over the Pieta? Do we want "King Lear" to have a happy ending? Well, the fact is, some folks at the turn of the Century did -- and someone named Nahum Tate accommodated them by rewriting Shakespeare's ending. In Tate's version, the misguided king lived to a ripe old age, and his one good daughter Cordelia also lived to give the him some grandchildren: classic theater made television sitcom due to popular demand. We wanted Elvis to come back too, and look what happened.

I went to see Elvis at the old Chicago Stadium in October of 1976, about ten months before he died. That's where Jordan played before he brought in so much revenue with his basketball prowess that the crumbling structure could no longer contain the powerful Bulls. Elvis was up on that stage because we had all kind of forced him to  be there, all of us who bought tickets, and he obliged us by parroting out some lyrics from his frayed hit list. Did the people there love him? Yes. Was their love mixed with pity? Yes. Were there some who looked away in red-faced shame when he forgot the words to "Hound Dog" for a moment?  Yes.

But there he was -- the great Elvis -- playing for us a long as he could. He moved around the stage like a wounded bull, waiting for another blade to be shoved between his shoulders, while the audience screamed. He was an immensely gifted, charismatic figure, who inspired more genuine love than he knew what to do with.

He just didn't know when to leave the building. Michael did.

Now we'll never see some hot-shot beat Michael in the paint. We'll never see some center stuff one of his attempted jams back in his face. We'll never see him do the "old man lean," hands on hips, bent at the waist, trying to catch his breath. We'll never hear an announcer say something innocuous like, "The Michael of ten years ago could have saved that ball before it went out of bounds," or 'The point guard was open for a pass -- but the vision is not what it once was."

Michael cheated those guys out of their chance at seeing him as a man with human foibles. What we all saw instead was transcendent.

Walking over the hardwood floor of the United Center on his way out the door last week was the best move Jordan ever made.~

 ©Mark Andel 2001 


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Call Him No-Show Sosa

“I remember when I was back home in the streets.

People helped me and gave me money to give to my

mother. Now I have the opportunity to give back.”

- Sammy Sosa


FOR THE THIRD straight year, Sammy Sosa won't be attending the Cubs Convention going on this weekend at the Chicago Hilton.

The spin doctors are working hard to tell folks that its all due to a conflict in his schedule, that he's got serious business back home in the Dominican Republic that couldn't have been handled during the six months out of the year that ballplayers have off. Maybe he's got a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud down there that is scheduled for detailing this week and he has to make sure they use the right chamois cloth on the chrome.

Sammy's refusal is like telling your boss that you can't make the Monday management meeting because you've got to stay home to mow your lawn. And then having your boss say, "That's perfectly fine, no problem at all. And meantime we'll consider adding several goose eggs to your bonus this year for letting us know. Have a wonderful, wonderful day."

Sammy can't make the convention, but the spin doctors (most notably Sosa PR guy Adam Katz) are saying that it doesn't have anything to do with his salary negotiations which have become an annual headache. Sammy has turned up his nose at an offer of $68 million to play for the Cubs four more years. He wanted six years at a cool $20 million per year, and not getting that, he said, "Fine then I won't go to your little party."

Nobody should be fooled by all these childish games or by the obscene dance of contract negotiation. And nobody should be happy when a ballplayer announces that he has signed with a particular club and then stands up at a press conference for a fake-smile photo with the team owner. Because this is simply professional baseball as usual, where green is the predominant color, and those smiles are bought and paid for by fans whose blood runs Cubby blue and whose blood-alcohol levels are chart-topping.

And with that, for this upcoming season, I am happy to announce a solution to Cubs owner Andy MacPhail to the recent Sammy situation.

The Cubs organization needs to begin a "Help Sammy" fund in the form of a slight increase in the price of beer. Instead of the bargain price of $4.50 per plastic cup of beer that the Cubs now charge, the price should be $7.00 per beer, with the extra $2 going right into the tight pin-stripe trousers of our lovable, finger-kissing, heart-thumping superstar.

After all, he's about the last one we've got in this town, isn't he? Do you want to see him pack up and move, leaving us with only the cherished memories of all those championship seasons? Wait a minute that's my speech for Jerry Krause on the former Bulls players. "Championship season" and "Cubs" in the same sentence presents a bit of an oxymoron.

And the fans won't mind the increase in beer prices.(They might be upset at Comiskey, but that park is pretty much a shopping mall now anyway and long past caring.) These are Cubs fans were talking about! It seems the only folks around who can afford to go to the games and who have afternoons off are yuppie stock salesmen and traders anyway, and it's not even like real money to them. They throw a fifty-dollar bill at a beer vendor, and they get seven beers instead of ten: big deal! By that time they're so sloshed anyway it doesn't matter, and best of all, Sammy's kept happy.
            Besides, all those multi-million dollar salaries are floated to the players on the big frothy head of beer foam anyway, aren't they, Mr. MacPhail? Might as well really exploit it for all its worth. You with me, buddy?

We've got to help this poor guy out. How can you be expected to set your table on just $17 million a year?You could even run a message on the scoreboard: "Have a beer or two for Sammy's Sake!"

After all, we don't want the guy to have to return to his old job as a janitor in a shoe factory, do we? Have a heart, people! Drink up!

And don't look for Mark Grace at this years Cubs Convention. He wanted to come, was looking forward to it, in fact, but since he will be suiting up for another team this year, Cubs Management told him to go jump in a lake.

This is a great sports town. ~

©Mark Andel 2001 


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Five Circles of Shame


 ONE OF THE most famous logos in the world is five multi-colored circles joined together: the symbol of the Olympics. The circles are said to represent the five participating nations in the Olympic games. But now, at the end of the century, we're seeing the true color of those circles: they're the color of money.

Tales of unabashed greed and corruption and selfishness are coming to light faster than a bobsled -- and the tales aren’t even about the athletes, who make no pretense about their self-centeredness and greed. It's about the International Olympics Committee, the body that decides where the games will be held.

On the whole, Olympic athletes are pampered, elitist, brats, with starry-eyed parents who have the resources to hire teams of personal trainers and allow their wünderkind offspring to spend upwards of eight hours a day focusing on their sport. Other kids their age are too busy sweeping up kernels of popcorn and tearing tickets in movie theaters or bagging groceries or asking people if they "want fries with that" to hone any kind if innate talent they might have for ski-jumping.  Is it thrilling what some of these young people accomplish? Yes. But what price, gold?

            International Olympic Committee Chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch has made a big show of ferreting out some of "the crooks" who have been the recipients of lavish gifts offered by host cities in return for the committee considering their home town to host the Olympics.

Make no mistake. These cities know what kind of magic dust gets spread around when the Olympics brings their particular circus to town. Things get built, tourist with fat wallets book every hotel room within a hundred-mile radius, and city coffers get filled with more gold than any athlete ever carried home, including Mark Spitz. So, the idea of payola is a natural. It's like an ad agency sending along a bottle of champagne to a marketing V.P. at a big company. At what point, though, do these "little gifts" become completely outrageous pay-offs?

That's what Juan Samaranch is trying to figure out, as he polishes the $14,000 sword hanging in his office from the good folks in Nagano, Japan, another of those so-called "gifts" for keeping the city in mind as a possible Olympics site. Samaranch acting as a watchdog for wrongdoing is like having Hitler saying that he'll do his best to keep Goering and Himmler  in line. The henhouse is full of foxes, and they're all rummaging through the nests looking for golden eggs.

The whole Committee needs to be ousted. The corruption runs as deep as the temptations, and those are considerable. Or how about recognizing that the Olympics is a politics-infested exercise whose time is past, and do away with the whole shooting match, including that one medal sport where guys ski around and stop at various locations, pull a rifle off their backs, and do target practice. I wonder what country came up with adding that sport to the list of Olympics events. Chances are, whoever did it probably offered a lot of money to the decision-makers. The same goes for the ones who added bowling to the list of Olympics events this time around. I like bowling, but nobody should be awarded a medal for it. An order of hot wings and a Golden Draft, maybe, but no gold medal.

A half-pipe snow-boarder acknowledged as the best around eschewed the Olympics in favor of a small homegrown event at which he received a handful of gift certificates for winning and a roll of gold duct tape on a piece of twine to wear around his neck. He promptly threw the certificates into the crowd. That's a champion with some of the feel of the Olympians of old, who were awarded a crown of laurels for their victories.

The Olympic games have been resting on their laurels too long. And with the stench of politics and greed edging in like uninvited guests over time, the laurels that were once so glorious have gone to wither and rot.~

 ©Mark Andel 2001


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“The Big Hurt” Is Only Hurting Himself


`Nobody puts a gun to your head to sign a long-term deal.''

-- St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire


For a while, I thought that the Frank Thomas sobriquet “The Big Hurt” was based on what he did to a baseball with his bat.

I’ve been wrong all along. The nickname comes from the deeply wounded feeling that Thomas is forced to carry around with him because he is not among the top ten highest paid baseball players in the game. The man is clearly wounded and has to scrape by on just $10 million a year for the next six years while traveling around the country playing baseball. Imagine what that must feel like.  No wonder he’s “hurt.” He’s an open sore, for Pete’s sake. Now it’s up to the fans to ask what we can do to assuage his pain.

We should all be more understanding when “The Big Hurt” is reluctant to sign an autograph for a kid and scowls at him for even asking. After all, those autographs are commercial goods available on E-Bay for only $10 each. You want a signed bat, it’ll cost you over a hundred. How can we expect him to just sign something for free? You try living with adoring people clamoring for your signature on a scrap of paper so they can treasure it all their days. It must be exhausting. The poor man!

And why should Thomas be expected to act all happy and content when the White Sox organization is clearing slapping him in the face with such a lowball offer? Alex Rodriguez might smile and treat the fans and management right, but why wouldn’t he? He makes twice what Thomas is making per season. Throw another ten million per year at the Big Hurt, and you just might see some pearly whites for a while – at least until some other player came along and made more. Then the scowls would start up again. And why shouldn’t they? It hurts to be treated like that.

He said it best himself last week. ``You see the pay scale is getting out of whack. You can't have A-Rod making 25 million and we're coming in at 7, 8, 9 million. It's a business. It's just likeHollywood. You can't have the top actor making 25 million and the rest making 10 million.''

There may be some actors out there who make even less than ten million, but you get his point, don’t you?

And let’s clear the air about that team meeting that Thomas walked away from. Why should “The Big Hurt” have to stick around with all those chumps and rookies while the manager drums up some “team spirit?” Isn’t he way beyond that kind of beginning-of-the-season cheerleading stuff? The Big Hurt knows that it’s not about the team anyway. It’s individual stats that get you those big paychecks. Now kindly move out of his way, or you might feel the custom wheels of his detailed S-Class Mercedes on those stupid sports reporter Hush Puppies of yours. If you want him to go to team meetings, then pay him a flat rate for it. $500,000 per meeting sounds fair, doesn’t it? Otherwise, choke on that Arizona dust coming out from behind the Mercedes. Got it?

And here’s a little advice for all you crybabies out there who complain that it costs at least $100 to take your kid to a Sox game when you add in the concessions and parking and tickets. You are witnessing the chance of seeing something really great: a big guy hitting a baseball and getting on base. And it happens almost three times out of every ten times he comes to the plate!

You fans have to learn to show your appreciation better. I mean, your attitude really hurts.

©Mark Andel 2001


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The Masters: A True Harbinger of Spring


People tend to have their own personal harbingers of spring.

For some, it’s the first sighting of a corpulent robin pulling an earthworm from the thawed ground. For others, it’s sharp-edged tulip leaves beginning to knife their way out of the soil. For the sports-minded, it’s the wrap-up of college basketball in the Final Four. But for me, there is no louder clarion call to welcome the spring season than the Masters golf tournament in Augusta Georgia.

It’s perfection itself that the reward for winning this tournament is a green jacket. What greater symbol of life is there than to be enrobed in the color of growing things in early April, surrounded by blossoming magnolias and dogwoods and well-wishers? It is the best that golf has to offer – perhaps that best that sport has to offer, especially now that boxing has descended in stature to a kind of World Wrestling Federation with sneakier business managers and bums. And baseball? Well, okay, but only if you’re talking about Little League kids and coaches tuning up for the new season out of pure joy of the game and not arguing about money before deciding to take the field. Pro baseball is a case of a beautiful thing gone terribly wrong, like a blight on a flowering tree, or an infestation of hungry Asian beetles on a beautiful elm branch.

It is fitting, of course, that the 365-acre grounds that play host to The Masters used to be a commercial nursery, purchased by the legendary Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and a few friends in 1931. The holes are named for trees to this day. And what can be a more apt symbol of spring than a heavenly variety of trees wearing their own spring wardrobe to coordinate with the green jacket? It’s a sanctuary.

Bobby Jones, who conceived of The Masters, was the most gentlemanly golfer of all time, a lawyer who elected not to become professional although he certainly possessed the game. In one year, he won the U.S. Open, the U.S Amateur, the British Open, and the British Amateur, the legendary “Grand Slam,” which remains an unequalled achievement. Gene Sarazen, who won the 1935 Masters tournament after holing out a 235-yard shot on the 15th hole, called Bobby Jones “the Tiger Woods of his time” in terms of popularity. In terms of behavior, it would be difficult to imagine Jones ever pumping his fist in the air after a birdie or cursing himself after an errant shot. Jones was gracious to his opponents and more forgiving of himself, not given to “in-your-face” histrionics. However, that’s the game now. That’s a lot of games now, come to think of it.

But The Masters is always The Masters, and to give Tiger Woods his due, no one has ever shot a better score there than his 1997 performance over 72 holes, beating the previous lowest score set by Jack Nicklaus in 1965 by one stroke. The players change, the game goes on – and gets renewed every year, when the fragrance of magnolias is in the air, and the awesome hush of history is in every blade of green, manicured grass at Augusta.

Welcome to spring. Let the real game begin.

©Mark Andel 2001


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The Rock and Me


"What makes the Hottentot so hot?

Who puts the ape in apricot?”

               - The Cowardly Lion


 WHEN TONY “The Rock” LaRosa peered into the room at the Downtown Marriott where the fighters were preparing to go into the ring, he stage-whispered, “Hey, that guy’s smokin’ … that ain’t good.”

It was true. One of the amateur boxers (who is actually a trader from the Chicago Board of Trade) had lit up a Marlboro in a last-ditch  attempt to calm his nerves before going into his charity bout at last week’s RingSide event to benefit the children at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls. By the end of the first round, he’d be choking for air – that was The Rock’s guess, anyway.

LaRosa is the former Cruiserweight Champion of the World, and he was on hand for the obligatory “walk-and-wave” that pro fighters do at certain boxing matches between bouts  to lend an air of authenticity to things. He thought he’d go up and give the guys a pep talk of sorts – how the night was “all for the kids” and so on, and that they should “have some fun out there.” Easy for him to say.

The Rock is the Real Thing, with his boiled ham of a face and credentials that read like a Greatest Hits retrospective of the Heavyweight Division over the past twenty years. LaRosa wears the bouts on his face like a roadmap. A gash over one eye where Trevor Burbick caught him with a short right. A small knot where “Bonecrusher” Smith once got lucky with a hook. And maybe there will be another autograph to be had when LaRosa meets former Heavyweight Champion of the World Larry Holmes in a few weeks in San Juan, Puerto Rico. LaRosa thinks he can finish Holmes off easily with the right strategy– “Just stick and move,” is the way he puts it.

Many of the tuxedo-clad guests at the RingSide event for Mercy Home would have difficulty placing LaRosa in boxing’s grand scheme of things. I had seen him win a decisive victory at a Golden Gloves match in 1987, and could attest to the detonating power in his right hand, which appeared to stun his opponent like as beef. A few years later, when he was a regular pro fighter, I saw him take on a strapping, mustachioed fighter at Park West. I was covering the local fight scene for “The Ring” Magazine at the time, and clicked a few pictures to go along with my story. The Rock’s focus was pretty incredible, and the way he set up his opponent for a barrage of combinations was  apparently merciless – the way a cat will bat around a grasshopper. He won easily, much to the delight of the local fan base.

Nine years later, I never thought I’d be introducing him around to people at a benefit. It’s strange to contemplate the life of a professional fighter. LaRosa and I talked a little about some of the older fighters who used to box at the old Divinci Manor on North Avenue – club fights that were right out of the opening scene in the first “Rocky” movie: sweaty, bloody brawls where cigar smoke hung in blue layers around the ring, mixing with the pungent smell of beer. There was the time Danny Blakes knocked out Lenny LaPaglia in ten seconds, right after LaPaglia had made a big show of blowing kisses to the females in attendance. He was roundly booed, and you could see money changing hands. And there was “Joltin’” Jeff Lanas, who always could be counted on for a tough, stand-up bout. He wound up fighting Roberto Duran eventually, and lost in a much-disputed decision.

Boxing (probably ironically) has always seemed to me to be the purest of sports. No padding (except in the gloves), no team to worry about, nothing but the goal of defeating the opponent directly before you. In amateur boxing, the instructions are to make an effort to accumulate points, because the highest point total wins. In professional boxing, the goal is more plain: incapacitate your opponent so that he can no longer fight.

It is somewhat difficult to describe the feeling of getting into a boxing ring to square off against an opponent. In the last fight of my (extremely) amateur career, I went against a Golden Gloves contender named Jerry Swinkle at Brooks Park on Harlem Avenue. The man who ran the boxing program there was Chris Sacco, who was helped out by a fireman named Jack Cerny. Both men knew the boxing trade pretty well, and fit the description of boxing trainers to a tee.  Sacco asked me my age, and when I said “thirty-five” he asked me if I wanted to “work” with Jerry – that’s the word that’s used more often than “sparring.” Swinkle was preparing for his Golden Gloves bout the next week, and had been eating his Wheaties with astonishing diligence.

The first short right-hand that caught me sent what felt like a current of electricity through my chin that went down both arms. The only thing that felt like that outside the ring was the time I had licked the beater on the electric mixer when it was still plugged in. And no, the taste of the chocolate cake wasn’t worth the pain. Next thing I knew I saw an opening and cork-screwed an uppercut under Swinkle’s chin. He looked infuriated.  Then it felt as if someone had entered outside the ring and struck me on the head with a two-by-four. I saw purple and white lights and tasted rust. I used my glove to wipe my face, and it came back damp with blood. Sacco looked me over, and asked me if I knew where I was – which, looking back, could be seen as something of an insult, as in “Don’t you realize you are fighting toe-to-toe with a Golden Gloves Heavyweight?” In any event, we continued. The bell rang. And in the second round, Swinkle fractured my nose with a crushing blow that sent my blood flying over our shirts, but I was still standing. I wanted to go on some more.

Sacco picked up a bloody shirt and threw it to Swinkle. “Go put that in your trophy case,” he said. And the next week, Swinkle had a Chicago Golden Gloves trophy to put in there, too. I always wonder what it would have been like if Swinkle went up against Tony “The Rock” LaRosa for his match-up.

But I don’t wonder  much about what it would be like going against either one of them myself anymore.

Too much Ben and Jerry’s under the Bridge.~

 ©Mark Andel 2001 


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World Champions? Bull!


AS LUCK WOULD have it, I was in the audience at a history-making Bulls basketball game.

One where they brought back a victory in a World Championship? One where Jordan scored sixty-eight points all by himself? Nope. One where the reigning World Champions got beat worse than any other time in franchise history, and the whole team scored sixty-eight points?


I said “as luck would have it,” I didn’t say anything about good luck.

Last Friday, the Orlando Magic, led by Penny Hardaway, stampeded over the Bulls, beating them by forty-seven points, the biggest loss in NBA history. My tickets, which had a face value of eighty-five dollars each, were a gift from a well-meaning colleague. I took my daughter Jillian, who is fourteen years old and for some reason calls herself “Jil, with one ‘L.’ ”

There was a time in this town when you couldn’t purchase Bulls tickets unless you were willing to offer your local scalper your signed-over IRA and keys to your safe deposit box and your car, provided it was a late model with low mileage. Now the holders of these expensive tickets are being much more, uh, “charita-Bull.”

On Friday night, I could see why.

After shelling out ten dollars for a parking space three blocks from the United Center, Jil and I approached the Michael Jordan statue. The sensation of history was acute. Cast in bronze like the flag raisers at the Iwo Jima monument, was the resplendent Jordan, all twenty-something feet of him, captured in flight. He now has to endure forever an audience of chubby men in red shirts speculating on his shoe size, which, come to think of it, he had to do when he played. But at least there was not the indignity of bird droppings inside the United Center back then. 

There should have been on Friday night, to make the humiliation complete. After picking up a cold beer which cost me my annual beer budget and getting a small handful of those health-conscious deep-fried and breaded mozzarella cheese sticks for five dollars, Jil and I took our seats.

On a mammoth scoreboard, just before the players were introduced, a computer graphic of the running of the bulls through the streets of Chicago played. It was hilarious – or so I thought. The real hilarity ensued after the tip-off. It was comical, and tragic at the same time, Shakespearean almost, if Shakespeare ever were to write anything uninspired and trivial.

I looked around. Every seat appeared to be filled. I wondered how many of the people here tonight were in the same leaky boat Jil and I were in – recipients of free tickets from a fed-up fan – folks who would never dream of shelling out one hundred and seventy dollars to watch the equivalent of a pick-up game at the YMCA. Even those games typically generate more heat and interest among the participants.

Which leads me to the dilemma I always feel when I’m at a professional sporting event of any kind. The arrogance of the players is unsettling. I couldn’t help but remember the NBA strike and the lockout, as I sat there and chomped on those soggy pieces of overpriced fat. It all began to feel like a traveling Carnival, where the whole object of the game is to separate the suckers or the “marks” from their dough. I may as well have had the word “sucker” on my forehead to go along with the word “Mark” I had on my driver’s license.

These lethargic guys out on the floor had battled big-time for our money this past year, a lot harder than they were battling each other under the boards this night. When we left at the beginning of the fourth quarter, I felt disrespected, embarrassed. I told Jil we could listen to the finish on the radio on the way home.

She said she’s rather listen to B-96.

That’s fine, I told her.

I can imagine how I would have felt if I had paid for the tickets.~

 ©Mark Andel 2001


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Wrigley Field's Bar Exam


“Let's play two."

-   Ernie Banks, Cub


"Let's drink two."

-   Unknown Cubs fan last weekend


 THIS PAST SATURDAY, as a chilly lake breeze blew across Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs took on the Detroit Tigers. I took it upon myself to do a little research to see if that new policy was standing up, you know, the one about the Cubs organization stopping beer sales after the top of the fifth inning. Well, it wasn't, and I barely was either, as the late innings stretched on, and I was still forking over five dollars apiece for flimsy plastic cups of Budweiser.

This research stuff is demanding, but if Stephen Crane could lash himself to a tree during a typhoon just to be able to report accurately what the experience felt like, I figured I could take one (or seven)  for the team. I felt like Aldous Huxley describing the doors of perception.

 I went with my wife Linda, the designated hitter at the steering wheel later, and a pretty good sport. The only reason I didn't paint my face true Cubby blue was because the "Let's Learn" store didn't have greasepaint. They did, however, have a tremendously huge cardboard baseball, which I had to purchase. With a Sharpie marker, I made a sandwich board setup over my chest with the baseball and turned myself into "The Human Scoreboard." I drew boxes for each team for each inning. At the end of an inning, I would rise ceremoniously from my seat and my wife would record the score on me. There were goose eggs all the way for the Cubs until the eighth inning, when Sammy put one out of the park. When that happened, The Human Scoreboard was compelled to order another round, and he wasn't alone, believe me.

And the Human Scoreboard couldn't help thinking as Sammy rounded those bases and ten thousand lusty throats roared their approval , that this was a most excellent experience. A baseball game without a few beers and a hot dogs would turn this - the world's biggest beer garden - into a domain for geeks who write down "K's" on those score sheets and calculate batting averages in their heads as they complain about the price of parking.

Stop beer sales, and see how many people come out to the park to watch the losingest ball club the world has ever known. With beer sales, every seat is filled. Without beer sales, imagine the tough time players would have trying to negotiate multi-million dollar salaries. With beer sales, there's plenty of dough to go around. Without beer sales, people might actually pay attention to the game being played out there. With beer sales, who cares? The Cubs better never hope that rule gets enforced for all the obvious reasons.

It didn't even phase people that the opponents were an American League team. That isn't supposed to happen until World Series time. But (pop a top here) who cares? Go Cubbies!

And that is probably why the beer sales continued as the evening waned, and the Cubs went down to defeat. In the late-going, a group of four sanguine yuppies told the Human Scoreboard how awesome he was and offered to buy him a beer. Complete strangers, willing to shell out five bucks to someone who made them smile, expecting nothing more in return.

Paying blithely for a mild entertainment.

That's the Wrigley experience.

Ahh, the power of beer. ~

©Mark Andel 2001 


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