The other night while I was watching the Cubs—minus Lou Piniella—maul the Nationals—minus Stephen Strasburg—my wife walked in, glanced at the television set and said to me: “Is there ever a day in your life where you say to yourself, ‘I just don’t want anything to do with sports?’
The question was semi-rhetorical but I got the point. Here’s the answer: No. Some might call it an addiction. Others might point out—correctly—that I need to track sports on a daily basis because of my job. But that’s really not it. In fact, in my 20s when I didn’t cover sports, I probably went to more games and watched more games than I do now. (Children are a factor in that too).
Sports, for me and I suspect many others, is a companion. On almost any day, regardless of the time of year, no matter what else might be going on in your life, sports is there. Sometimes just checking scores can provide escape from either the dullness of everyday life or the pressures of everyday life. As I’ve written before, I still vividly remember how happy I was to be able to watch Mets-Brewers highlights on the day of my heart surgery (even though the Mets lost) in part because I was alive to watch them but in part because they were a reminder that there were going to be games to watch during my recovery period at home.
I needed to know that. So perhaps I am addicted.
If so, there can be worse addictions. I don’t gamble on sports; never have and never wanted to. I get emotional about sports but not so much about who wins and who loses but who has a story worth telling. I guess in that sense, given what I do, I am different than a lot of people. That’s not to say I don’t care at all about ‘my,’ teams anymore. I still roll my eyes at the mediocrity of the Mets (not to mention their doctors) and, as history has proven, I can get wound up about Navy football. Army football too, as a matter of fact.
More often though, it is about individuals. That’s why I laugh when others in my business claim to be ‘objective.’ I make no such claims. Those posters who rip me every time I criticize Tiger Woods are right about one thing: I don’t like him. What they’re wrong about is when they speculate that it has something to do with him not talking to me (he doesn’t talk to anyone one-on-one except on TV to promote himself in some way or if he’s being paid—as Golf Digest does—for the time). Tiger has a perfect right not to speak to me. I was the first guy to criticize his dad publicly and he took that personally. As I’ve told him, I get that. What I don’t like about him is the way he treats people—whether it is kids seeking autographs; my colleagues asking reasonable questions or anyone NOT doing something FOR him. (That’s an Earl lesson by the way, do nothing for free).
That said, I almost gagged yesterday when a gossip columnist from The New York Post asked him TWICE if he still loved Elin. First of all, the question is irrelevant. Second, when he clearly ducked it (legitimately) the first time why the hell ask it a second time?
He started out this morning in his first round—first guy on the tee at 7:10 am because of his FedEx Cup ranking—by birdieing four of his first seven holes. That will start the, ‘Tiger’s back,’ stories again. He might very well win this week. Heck, he might even win the FedEx Cup. But it will still be a lost year in his mind because he didn’t win a major.
Anyway, back to individuals I’ve liked and disliked. Tonight, I’m having dinner with Ivan Lendl, who I covered extensively when I was The Washington Post’s tennis writer and when I wrote, ‘Hard Courts,’ back in 1991. I’m starting research on a book that will be keyed to the 25th anniversary of ‘A Season on the Brink,’ and I’m going back to talk to a lot of the people I’ve met along the way who I found either interesting or fun or challenging. The number one test for me in deciding who to track down is simple: How many times have people said to me, ‘so what became of ------.’ (If anyone has ideas or suggestions I’d love to hear them).
That means Chris Spitler, the unofficial hero of, ‘The Last Amateurs,’ will be in the book and so will quite a few players from ‘A Civil War,’—among, I hope, many others.
Lendl certainly qualifies. We had a very combustible relationship. I was very hard on him at times. He had a tendency to lose from ahead in big matches early in his career—particularly against John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. He turned that around completely when he came from two sets down against McEnroe in The French Open final in 1984 (McEnroe got into a fracas with the umpire in the third set and let it get to him) to win. From that point on he became a great competitor in big matches.
We battled often. When George Bush (the first) was pushing as Vice President to waive the five-year waiting period for citizenship so Lendl could play Davis Cup for the U.S. I was very much against it and said (wrote) so. Lendl saw it as a shot—which it really wasn’t, I just didn’t think you pushed aside the law in the name of winning a tennis competition—and we had it out a few times.
One night, after he had won a tight match from Connors in Washington, he was asked about a third set incident in which he had slammed his racquet.
“Well,” he said. “I figure no matter what I do John Feinstein is going to rip me so why not slam my racquet?”
It was a funny line but he wasn’t being funny. Eventually, because Lendl is at heart a good guy, we talked things out, agreed to disagree and, if you read, ‘Hard Courts,’ you can tell he cooperated with me on the book. When I tracked him down (with the help of one of the blog’s regular posters, so who says doing this is a waste of time?) for this book he said: “I just have one question. If you want to write about the most interesting people you’ve met, why are you calling me?”
I look forward to catching up with him tonight. Maybe someday I’ll do the same thing with Tiger. Then again, maybe not.
A brief note to a couple of angry posters: I didn’t rip Tiger for criticizing the greens at The PGA—it was at the U.S. Open. Hard to tell those two events apart I guess. Here’s a quote from that tournament after he called the greens, ‘ridiculous,’ the first day when he failed to make a birdie: “He’s whining. He needs to stop blaming the greens for his failures and go out and play golf.”
Pretty harsh, huh? There I went, Tiger-bashing again, huh? One problem: That line came from Tiger’s good friend Notah Begay. I was sitting next to him when he said it. Yes, other players were frustrated during the week as the greens got worse in dry weather. But they all said the same thing: this is what you get with poa annua greens. That’s what Tom Watson was saying on Sunday talking about how tough they were to putt.
And to the person who posted in regard to my referencing my own mistakes: “Um, the Duke soccer players?” Um, I believe you’re talking about LACROSSE players?