Thursday, June 21, 2007

Don't take me out to the Brawl Game

MAJOR-LEAGUE BASEBALL still lives in the twilight zone. Or, perhaps, the 1900s. A period when the "sins" surrounding the heroes of the diamond were wine, women and song.
When this Ol' Columnist exposed professional wrestling as a mire of steroids and pill-poppers in a documentary entitled "Counterfeit Hero," it wasn't surprising. After all what normal behaviour could boost a mild-mannered grappler into a mountain of exaggerated muscle, seemingly overnight?
However, the veneer shielding America's national pasttime was still intact.
That was until 2003 when Jason Giambi admitted before a federal grand jury that he had, indeed, taken steroids and human growth hormone in the BALCO investigation.
However, four years later, Giambi, the New York Yankees' designated hitter, has been reluctant to come forward and "spill the beans," before steroids investigator George Mitchell. He's been given a Thursday deadline to do so or be whacked over the knuckles by baseball commish Bud Selig.
But such a possibility for any ultra-severe disciplinary action is about a remote as yours truly hitting a grand slam against the likes of Curt Schilling. Slim and none and Slim just got out of town.
When researching the latest episode in the steroids fiasco, I went back to files from April 14, 1977 to a much more innocent times in which the headline read: A very civilized game.

Baseball is the only civilized game in the universe.
During what other game could you read a newspaper and follow the action on the field at the same time?
Baseball doesn't even have the harsh terminology used in football. You can curl your tongue around baseball terms. In football you can spit them out.
In baseball, you play in a park, not a battlefield.
Baseball is played on a diamond, not on a gridiron.
Even the players' positions have a genteel ring. A pitcher. A catcher. A first, second and third baseman. A shortstop (is he really that short?). A left, a right, and a centre fielder?
In football, it's a guard, a tackle (oomph!), linebackers (ouch), defensive backs, safeties, halfbacks and a quarterback, also commonly known as a FIELD GENERAL.
In football, there's always a game plan, strategy, on the attack, on the defence. It's the bomb, the blitz, the red dog, the hit men. And they buried him.
In baseball, it's the nice play. Around the horn. A little bingo. The squeeze play. And, of course, a favourite -- the pop fly.
Baseball players wear caps and gloves. Football players wear helmets and face guards, shoulder and hip pads.
Baseball players never lose their teeth. Football players always do. It's their mark of honour.
In baseball, the ball, which is always seen, is white -- bridal white.
In football, it's a menacing brown and ALWAYS hidden.
In football, it's a fight for inches. In baseball, it's a game of yards.
In baseball, it's called a pasture. In football, it's the END zone.
And the teams' names.
In football, it's the Eagles, the Bears, the Lions, the Broncos, the Cowboys, the Rams, the Bombers, the Roughriders.
In baseball, it's the Orioles, the Red Sox, the Cardinals, the Blue Jays. Chirp. Chirp.

As I said that was written some 30 years with contributions from George Carlin and the late Jim Murray, and so much has changed concerning baseball.
It truly has become diamonds in the rough with the steroids controversy and now major-league brawls.
Just Monday, Cubs' first baseman Derrek Lee and San Diego pitcher Chris Young were suspended for flying fists.
And a week or more ago, two Chicago teammates, Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett, scuffled in the dugout.
Now, disillusionment has set in. So, please, don't take me out to the Brawl Game.
FAMILIAR NAMES: R.J. Lechmere Guppy. A clergyman living in Trinidad. He send several species of tropical fish to the British Museum, including a tiny specimen that now bears his name ... Tom Collins. A 19th-century English bartender at Limmer's Old House in London.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Remembering the very best of fathers

WITH FATHER's DAY on Sunday, OK Corbett remembers his own Dad -- Angus Willard Corbett -- in the following column about "a wonderful, simple man and the best of fathers," who died in Calgary on Sunday, July 30, 1989. Although it's been almost 18 years since his death, this condensed "letter," which has appeared in numerous publications in North America and beyond, was "my way of remembering and honouring the most gentle of men."
Dear Dad:
It's only a short time since I heard the word.
Mom called at 2 a.m. on that Sunday afternoon and said you were slipping fast and then she called back at 4, crying.
It didn't quite register that I wouldn't see your smiling face or that twinkle in your eye. That my UNO partner wouldn't be around any more.
How did it feel dying, Dad? Was it painful as you crossed over to the Other Side? Remember when your Mom and my grandmother died of a broken heart after Grandpa passed on? Didn't she ask you, 'Willard, can you you see the Rock of Ages?' And you replied, 'Yes, Mom, I can see Him.' I know you couldn't, but you were always the devoted son.
Mom said you passed on with a smile on your face. She misses you, after all you were together 52 years. Oh, more than that. 'Remember, she used to keep house for Grandma and Grandpa. She couldn't stand you at first, you were conceited and a real fancy Dan, then, weren't you, Dad?'
But somehow love entered the picture and as a result you and Mom raised me and my brother, Garry, and we didn't turn out that bad.
Dad, you didn't give us boys much notice. Garry was up near the fire line near Lynn Lake, Manitoba for nine straight days, handing out cheques to those poor Indians. He had been sleeping on the floor of a government building. Me, I was just getting ready to go to The Sun. I still work those strange hours, but I love my job.
Well, after Mom's call, Garry up in Lynn Lake and me in Mississauga, grabbed the first flights out to Calgary. He actually got there three minutes before me.
Larry Dahl picked us up. You know, Larry? He's the preacher at the North Hill Church of the Nazarene, the young fellow with the holes in his socks. You were like a father to him. He always called you Dad!
Sunday night and Monday were like old times at home. Garry and I were forever teasing Mom, saying things that made her blush. Tickling her neck. My, you would have joined right in. It was almost like you were still down at the Fanning Centre and we hadn't visited you yet, except for writing your obit Monday night. The obit went in to the Calgary Herald and the Truro Daily News.
I meant it when I wrote that never has one come through life with such caring and compassion as you, Dad. Always quick with a smile and a twinkle in your eye, you enriched all those whose lives you touched. No one said an unkind word of you or you they.
During your last 20 years, your health failed, but your spirit never waned.
Please stop crying, Dad. You even wept at Lassie reruns.
Reality really set in Tuesday when we had to go to Foster's to make arrangements.
At night, Larry Dahl came over and he wanted to know the real Willard Corbett, the man behind the smiling face. He'd learn of your skill as a fine furniture finisher in Bass River, Nova Scotia, and being a janitorial supervisor at Gulf Oil. I'm sorry that in my immaturity I tried to impress some of my football and wrestling pals by telling them you were an oilman. Of course, I finally grew up and accepted you for being you -- a simple, gentle and unsophisticated man, who worked so hard to keep his family together.
Thursday. At the church, your family sat in the front pew. Your casket was closed, at your request. I remember, you saying, "I don't want anyone looking at me."
Of course, you know that we sang two of your favorites -- "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Amazing Grace" -- and there was a solo: "How Great Thou Art." Rev. Dahl preached about your love for people and your love for your family. And you were always there for your boys.
I know how happy you were that day, when your hulking sons, picked you up, bodily, and carried you along a Calgary street. How did you, being so short, ever have two sons as large as Garry and me?
You know that Garry and I were pallbearers and as we struggled with the casket down the church steps, I'm sure I heard you say: "Two hands, boys, two hands."
At the Queen's Park Cemetery, it was so difficult to say goodbye to one who had taught us so well. Even later that night, your boys wanted to visit you on the hill. Garry said, "I bet Dad's lonely." But the cemetery gates were locked for the night.
I know I'm lonely. So is Garry. And so is Mom. We'll survive, but the memories of the best father in this world and the world beyond, will remain.
I love you, Dad!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Dementia taking its toll on memory

TED JOHNSON has all the symptoms: Depression, dizziness, excessive drowsiness, fatigue, irritability, memory loss, poor concentration, ringing in the ears, acute sensitivity to noise. And he's only 34 years old and slowly the memory and the mind of the former New England Patriots' linebacker may be vanishing.
He's almost a poster boy for an oft-dismissed disease and its advanced stage known as Alzheimer's, which can claim not only the young, as Johnson happens to be, but stretches into those in advanced years, often blatantly tagged as "the Golden Years."
One of the most searing articles about "dementia," was written by Washington Post staff writer Les Carpenter concerning the recent work of forensic pathologist Bennet Omahu, who has examined the brains of recently deceased football players such as former Philadelphia Eagles DB Andre Waters, Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive linemen Mike Webster and Terry Long and former Denver RB Damien Nash.
Referring to himself as a "brain chaser," Omahu surmises that repeated concussions in football "lead to early-onset dementia, very similar to the boxing ailment known as 'punch-drunk syndrome,'" according to the Washington Post article.
Of course, dementia can affect more than football players, but it seemingly has inroads among those who have been in heavy-contact sports, and Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press has explored the connection between concussions and permanent brain damage.
Dahlberg also brought up the case of Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who had been "dinged" twice (meaning two concussions) within a four-month period and then was given the a-ok signal to resume playing.
As Dahlberg wrote, "concussions, it seems, are the NFL's dirty little secret."
Two prime examples, according to the AP writer, were star quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Steve Young, who both went into early retirement due to concussions.
Then there's former New York Giants' linebacker Harry Carson, who had a dozen or more "bellringers" (another word for concussions) and now in retirement he has memory loss.
However, the NFL and other football affiliates aren't the only domain for concussions. Dahlberg pointed out that former Philadelphia Flyers' Keith Primeau retired because concussions prevented him from completing even simple skating drills.
According to a website blurb, "the NHL has mandated baseline neuropsychological testing since 1997." This means players, who are suspected to have a concussion, have to undergo tests and there's even an "informal rule" that those with serious concussions have to sit out a week.
But those "dings" take their toll as Johnson and others have found out, including John Mackey, the Hall of Fame tight end with the NFL Baltimore Colts, who has dementia at age 65.
Mackey is still a solid specimen and can converse with his "fans," however, his mental decline can become pronounced within minutes.
Mackey's deteriorating condition as well as at least 35 other retired players with dementia or related brain problems have come to the forefront and are now being helped by the "88" plan. Of course, "88" was Mackey's number when he was playing.
According to another AP article, it provides $50,000 a year for home care and up to $88,000 if they are institutionized.
However, Johnson, who has been silent about his dilemma until February of this year, came forward after Waters' suicide and told Boston Globe's Jackie MacMullan: "I want people to realize that you don't have to 'black out' to have a concussion. Most times, the symptoms of a concussion don't show up for hours, sometimes days. And this isn't just happening in the NFL. High school kids get concussions, and aren't properly monitored ... I don't want anyone to end up like me."
Johnson also told MacMullan that he had been "dinged" about 30 times or "so many times I've lost count."
There are an estimated 100,000 head injuries in amateur and professional football each year and according to USA TODAY, 61 per cent of game concussions result from helmet-to-helmet hits.
New York Jets team physician Elliott Pellman has been quoted as saying, "I always tell players and players' parents, especially, they need to respect this injury ... A concussion should be treated as a serious matter and not just written off as a 'ding.'"
Just the other day, a former athlete, who has had at least four head-rattling concussions, repeated his doctor's words: "You're in the early stages of dementia." He shook his head and muttered out loud: "Dementia, what the heck, I'm still only a young man."
WELL-KNOWN ALZHEIMER PATIENTS: Ronald Reagan, Rita Hayworth, Sugar Ray Robinson, Winston Churchill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ford, Arlene Francis.