Volume III, Issue II Summer 2004

From the Bleachers
Gone too soon

Ralph Wiley

Ralph Wiley was on our very short "must-read" list here at Turbula nation. A regular on ESPN.com's Page 2 and a longtime presence in Sports Illustrated, Wiley wrote with a wit of an edge not seen in American sportswriting since the heydays of Hunter S. Thompson and the late George Plimpton.

Only now Wiley has joined Plimpton at the great Toots Shor's in the sky – dead of a heart attack at age 52. It's not fair, it's not just, but he's dead, Jim, and what are you gonna do?

Fifty-two? The faithful among us will try and trust that God needed Ralph's wit at home; those of us with less faith will try to appreciate the words he left us in his time on Earth. (And if you weren't acquainted with his work, treat yourself to a couple hours perusing his archive at ESPN.com.)

Fifty-two? We should have had another quarter-century of reading Ralph Wiley, of hearing him opine on matters of sports and sportsmanship and, well, life.

The obits on Wiley all note that he was a famous African-American writer; that in addition to his splendid sportswriting, he also wrote books on race relations.

But to label Wiley an African-American writer is to put him in a pigeon-hole, to limit the scope of his impact, to diminish what he brought to American letters. Wiley was far closer to Hunter S. Thompson in his approach to writing than anyone else; he dove into a story, immersed himself in it. And he wrote with a power of observation that most of us ink-stained wretches only find in our dreams.

Ralph Wiley was a great American sportswriter, and while academics may pooh-pooh such a declaration, we get the feeling that Wiley would know what we're trying to get at ...

Bonds still has no class

Rickey Henderson
Gifted by the good Lord with talent most of us can't even imagine, Barry Bonds nevertheless shows all the grace and class of a playground bully.

After breaking Rickey Henderson's all-time career walks record, Bonds told the media that Rickey should give up his ongoing quest to make it back to the majors.

Last year, Rickey toiled in an independent minor league until the Dodgers called him up. He's back this year, too, still playing the game he loves, still in better shape than most kids half his age.

And if Henderson was early in his career guilty of the same arrogance and stand-offish behavior with fans that Bonds is, at least Henderson outgrew it – learned to appreciate what life had brought him.

If there's a little record-chasing to Henderson's continuing efforts to play baseball beyond age 40, there's a lot more joy of the game that he still plays very well.

And then there's this: As a lead-off hitter with speed, Henderson earned his walks. Nobody wanted him on first, because as the all-time steals leader, Henderson was a good bet to end up on second and then score. Unlike Bonds, who has had most of his walks handed to him of late, Henderson got his walks through plate discipline ...

The NHL's blind eye

Steve Moore
Steve Moore
If there's anything more disgusting than the kind of overt on-ice thuggery that Vancouver's Todd Bertuzzi showed in breaking Steve Moore's neck in March, it was watching Bertuzzi cry at a press conference after, expressing his remorse. Remorse at losing his fat paycheck maybe. Remorse at being arrested and getting a cellmate named Big Bubba, yes.

Of course, the NHL is complicit in the violence that's ruined a perfectly good game. Here at Turbula, we live for Olympic hockey – it's a beautiful, graceful sport combining speed and power into one of the best things going in the Winter Games. (And it made "Miracle" one of the best sports movies in recent memory.)

But pro hockey – at least in the U.S. and Canada – is so senselessly brutal that it sickens us to watch.

If the NHL is serious about broadening its fan base (and the TV ratings for the just-concluded Stanley Cup finals ought to make it serious), then it should follow NASCAR's lead and clean up its act.

For decades, word on the street was that it was the violent, often deadly crashes that filled the seats at NASCAR's tracks. And yet, NASCAR was always a poor second cousin to racing's elite open-wheel Indy cars and Formula One. It wasn't until the stock car racing circuit began instituting safety reforms in both equipment and rules that its ratings began their climb to total domination they now hold.

A lesson to be learned if anyone at the NHL is paying attention ...

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