Tag Archives: Ken Griffey Jr.

A post I hate writing: The sad, slow decline of Sports Illustrated. A powerful new ad about texting and driving. And a Red Sox outfielder makes the catch of the year.

Most of the posts I write on here, I think about for a day or two, then write them. If it’s a political rant, sometimes there’s not as much thought that goes into it because I’m mad about something. But rarely do I let a post marinate in my head for weeks at a time like this one.

I’ve really, really not wanted to write about the decline of my favorite magazine of all time, Sports Illustrated. I’ve been in complete denial about it for years, but thanks to a few recent events which I’ll get to in a minute, I have to stop lying to myself.
SI is dying. It was dying slowly, and now it seems to be happening more quickly. And it makes me so, so sad. If you’ll indulge me, a short love story to one of my first-ever loves.

The first issue of Sports Illustrated I ever received was the Dec. 24-31, 1984 Sportsman of the Year issue, with Mary Lou Retton and Edwin Moses on the cover. I turned 9 in 1984, and my grandpa Don, knowing how much I loved sports, got me a gift subscription.

I’ve been a subscriber ever since. For 33 years now. When my grandfather died in 1995, I took over paying for the subscription, and never once have I let it lapse. I grew up worshiping, studying, memorizing SI. I saved every issue for years, can still recite some stories from the 1987 “One Day in Baseball” issue, and a 1996 profile of troubled basketball star Richie Parker by Gary Smith is still the best magazine piece I’ve ever read.

I looked up and tried to pattern myself after so many SI writers; people like Rick Reilly, Smith, Leigh Montville, Steve Rushin, Jack McCallum… these men were my idols. Once I wrote a letter to the editor and it got published; I didn’t stop smiling for days. One day early in my journalism career I submitted a “They Said It” for the Scorecard section, it got published, and I got a check for $75. No payment I’ve ever received has meant more to me.

So, yeah… I was obsessed with Sports Illustrated. My dream, always, was to work there one day, but I never was quite able to summit that personal Everest.
Still, even though I didn’t make it there, I still enjoyed and devoured every issue. It was the Bible for this Jewish kid from New York.

In recent years, though, the magazine has fallen. First, they made tons of layoffs, getting rid of super-talented writers. Then, the quality began to drop; major articles weren’t written by established, seasoned scribes, but by young writers not quite as good. There was, and still is, some tremendous talent at SI; writers like Lee Jenkins and Chris Ballard are as good as any writers SI has ever had.

But the issues are fewer every year, the magazine gets thinner and thinner, and they’re clearly searching for the magic again. I’m writing this post now, finally, because of three things:

This article says that after publishing only 38 issues in 2017, it’s possible there’ll be a reduction to 24 issues in 2018. SI used to publish 52 issues a year.

— Lately the magazine has been getting into bed with a lot of corporate sponsors, doing “branded content” and partnering with sponsors. This led to this week’s cover (above), which was completely done for Gatorade, as SI put Gatorade’s High School Athletes of the Year on the cover.

I absolutely understand it’s an economic reality forced upon Sports Illustrated by other market forces. I do. But this bastion of journalistic integrity, a home of independent journalism for 60 years, now takes money from sponsors, and in return, puts two high school kids on the cover. It makes me sad.

— And finally, most painful of all, the errors in stories, once almost impossible to find, now show up in every issue. Not trying to embarrass anyone, but in the most recent issue, a coach whose last name is “Harwood” is called “Hammond.” Twice.

That never, never used to happen. It’s happening now because SI has far fewer copy-editors and fact checkers looking at what goes into the magazine. There are legendary stories of bleary-eyed young SI reporters having to call football coaches to verify that they drove a 1987 blue Chevy Nova, not a brown one.

Now, not so much.

I know SI will limp along for a few more years, and I still read many of their writers on its website. But seeing SI struggle this much, and change, is like losing a little beloved piece of my life.

I know it’ll never go back to its glory days. But it’s a damn shame what my Bible has become.

**Next up today, every once in a while you see an ad so powerful that it leaves your mouth agape. Almost all of us are guilty of texting while driving, or walking. I try very hard not to do it anymore, but occasionally at a red light, I’m guilty.

Watch this short ad, produced by South Africa’s Western Cape government, all the way until the end, and you’ll think twice before reaching for the phone when behind the wheel.

**And finally today, posting a positive highlight of a Boston Red Sox player goes against everything I believe in, normally, but sometimes, greatness must be acknowledged.

Check out this ridiculous catch by Boston’s Jackie Bradley Jr., robbing the Yankees’ Aaron Judge on Sunday. Bradley knew he had it like five steps before making the leap. Pretty amazing.

Still, for my money, this is the greatest catch I’ve ever seen. Ken Griffey Jr., man, was he amazing.

After last week’s debacle, Hillary and Kaine get their shot. The Rio Olympics are already a disaster. And remembering the biggest moment of Hall of Famer Mike Piazza’s career

clintonkaine_072016getty

There’s always something to be said for going last in a two-person competition. You get to leave the final impression, you can see what the other person did and NOT do that, and maybe most importantly with this week’s Democratic National Convention, the bar for “being better than your opponent” has never been lower.

I mean, is it possible for Hillary Clinton and Co. to make a worse impression, to come off more disorganized, racist, plagiarizing and lying through their teeth than the GOP? I honestly don’t think it’s possible.

Lots of things I’ll be watching for in the next days, some quick-hit thoughts on what should be a pretty good show in Philadelphia:

— Tim Kaine in his national spotlight audition. I didn’t love Hillary’s choice of the Va. Senator as veep; he’s a bland, moderate white guy, when so many more appealing choices were available (Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, hell even Tom Perez would’ve gotten people more excited). But after a few days of reading up on Kaine’s background (dude’s never lost an election, that has to be encouraging), voting record, etc., I think he’s probably a decent choice. I don’t love that he loves Wall Street and banking deregulation so much, but otherwise he checks most liberal boxes. And he’ll help in Virginia. I’m anxious to see what kind of performer he is under the huge spotlight this week.

— Bernie Sanders speaks Monday night, and boy will he have a lot to say. The DNC email leaks scandal is one thing, and happily, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the maestro of the incredibly tilted Democratic primary this year, has resigned. But I really want to hear how Bernie speaks about his core issues, since he did so much better than anyone thought he would, and what he says about Hillary, after months and months of attacking her.

— Michelle Obama speaks tonight, too; will she make me and millions of others happy by starting with “When I was a young girl growing up in Slovenia…”? That would be so awesome.

— The Big Dog, Bill Clinton, talks Wednesday: Will he talk about Hillary as her husband, or as a future President, and how many great one-liners about Trump will he get off?

— Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday; he and Hillary have some history together as rivals and then partners, and he, too, is in supreme position to push back on all the lies Trump told last week. I hope he calls out every one of them.

Should be a fascinating four nights.

View of an athlete's room at the Olympic and Paralympic Village for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on July 23, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBAYASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images ORIG FILE ID: AFP_DI6ZI

**Next up today, rarely has an Olympics looked more like a shitshow than these Rio Games appear to be. So many problems in Brazil right now, from the economy, to the uncertain political leadership, and the nation looks completely unprepared to host an Olympics, who oh by the way, start in 10 days.

I don’t know, you think THIS is a bad sign? Sunday the Australian delegation announced that upon arrival at the Olympic Village, where thousands of athletes will be staying, the place was “uninhabitable.”

The toilets wouldn’t work, there was a rank smell, and all sorts of exposed wiring. Again, this is TEN DAYS before the Olympics.

Man oh man, I know lots of Olympics have looked like they’d be disasters before they started, and everything then ran smooth, but I don’t see how that happens here.

**Finally today, one of the few baseball things I pay attention to each year happened Sunday, the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

I was incredibly fortunate, when I worked in upstate New York for the Glens Falls Post-Star, to get to cover two HOF inductions, and they were awesome, some of the best things I’ve ever covered. Cooperstown is such a special place, the people are incredibly friendly, and Otsego Lake is spectacular.

Anyway, Sunday was this year’s ceremony, with Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. being enshrined. Griffey Jr., was a no-doubt pick, and it’s still incredible to me that he didn’t get 100 percent of the vote (No one ever has.)

Piazza’s a more iffy case, because rumors of steroids (very, very strong rumors) have dogged him for a long time. But as a New Yorker, what I’ll always remember Piazza for, beyond the whole “Roger Clemens throwing the bat at him in the World Series thing, is that he gave me one of the most indelible sports memories I’ll ever have.

On Sept. 21, 2001, the Mets and Atlanta Braves played the first professional sporting event in New York City since 9/11. The whole city had been feeling so awful for 10 days, and sports seemed even less important than usual. Nobody was smiling, for any reason.

In the bottom of the eighth, with the Mets down a run, Piazza pummeled a pitch over the center field wall for a go-ahead home run. Shea Stadium went nuts. I remember going nuts, too, and I’m a Yankees fan. As Piazza rounded the bases, the sound from the crowd just kept growing and growing, and the TV cameras flashed to a bunch of FDNY firefighters in the crowd, and I get goosebumps right now just watching the above video.

An incredible night I’ll never forget. After so much horror, for two minutes, millions of New Yorkers got to feel just a little bit of joy.

So I’ll always be grateful to Mike Piazza for that.