Sunday, October 24th, 1999
Excruciating. And how was your weekend?
Watching the Braves play in Atlanta on Saturday and Sunday was painful on all kinds of levels. First, of course, there was that losing thing, which, if disheartening, is at least comfortingly familiar to long-time Atlantans. But more, it was the tone of desperation that creeps into the Braves own announcers (who I praised, what, one, two columns ago as being far superior to NBC’s Costas and Morgan)-whenever the Braves plight seems so hopeless on the field that they (and all of us) want to don jerseys and get out there to dosomething, anything.
Caray and Company’s voices-the amplified, broadcast unspoken angst of true Braves fans around the Southeast-was just too agonizing to listen to, so I switched WSB radio off and turned up the NBC audio.
Admittedly I was also in full-TV mode before the game to hear the cheers of the crowd as they introduced the Team of the Century (brought to you, we were told nonstop, by MasterCard.) Here was a true television moment-a bunch of old legends-names muttered reverently by our fathers, for the most part, standing up, live, for the most part, on a platform together mid-infield on a cold Atlanta Sunday night. Koufax. Musial. Willie Mays. Henry Aaron-of course.
Some of these baseball heroes were simply before my time-I had no idea what they looked like-how they smiled, who was taller, who got along with whom. A couple survivors all but predated television. But now, I saw-we all saw them standing together, no longer just names or faded baseball card images. And there too were the more contemporary heroes of the seventies and eighties-the likes of Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, and, I’ll be damned, Pete Rose. The big Red machine ran roughshod through my baseball childhood, and I wasn’t surprised when Rose was accused of rampant sports betting-including wagers on his own team. The guy always seemed more than willing to plow anyone down to win. But there he was, like Nixon a decade or two post-Watergate, standing up to a thundering ovation for what he did accomplish when he played the game. Fitting enough, I suppose. And even I wouldn’t deny him a moment with his peers, flawed humans all.
And since this was a precisely-orchestrated piece of televised public relations choreography, I didn’t expect that anyone else would, either.
Which is to say, I didn’t count on Jim Gray, the weasely NBC sidelines announcer I think I’ve seen at one time or another on all three networks now.
There he was with Pete Rose, in full prosecutorial mode. Don’t you think this would be a good moment to admit the gambling charges, Pete? Rose looked stunned, sweaty, furious. Isn’t this your last chance to come clean with the American people? Rose looked like he would like to devour Gray as a ballpark snack and get the hell away from that camera. Pete, why won’t you just come out and say you did it? This isn’t the time, Rose tried to say.
Maybe I’m getting older. Maybe my journalism-school instincts have dulled with time. But anyone who could make me feel sorry for Pete Rose, an old, flawed ballplayer denied the warm afterglow from a century’s end round of applausewell, Jim Gray did just that.
And the rest of the evening continued downhill.