Sports Nut

The Poetry of Jeanne Zelasko


I didn’t spend the evening in a rocking chair. My daughter and I spent the evening in simulated Yankee Stadium bleacher seats at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, N.J., watching the game with Yogi, his wife Carmen, and about 100 other guests.

I don’t know what it looked like from where you were, but on a large screen it looked like eight innings of a tense, tight game, a pitcher’s duel on a par with Clemens-Schilling in Game 7 of 2001. If Karim Garcia doesn’t muff a soft liner in the first inning and if the ump doesn’t blow a call in the fourth, we have a scoreless tie up until the moment when Matsui goes to left field on Dontrelle Willis in the eighth.

I know, in the box score the next day, it always seems like Yankee wins were inevitable, but—damn—the games were excruciatingly close on the playing field. The Yankees lost the first game in the playoffs to Minnesota, and several commentators agreed with Bob Costas’evaluation that, “Frankly, the Twins look like the better team.” They lost the first game to the Red Sox and then had to face Pedro Martinez twice in the remaining six games. They lost the opening game of the World Series to the best team in the National League and had come back to win the next two. However, if they win the Series, all you’ll read is how they dominated or how they “bought” the title, even though the core of stars that has brought them through the seven-year stretch—Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada—are all products of the Yankees’ system.

Yes, I’ve had about enough of the seventh-inning patriotism, even when it pours forth from the golden throat of David Cassidy—couldn’t they get Pavarotti for last night’s game?—and football halftime shows that look like they were staged for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I think everyone’s afraid to be the first person to suggest pulling the plug on this nonsense.

Told you about Josh Beckett. Jeter was the only one with the brains to figure out that he wasn’t going to try to finish him off with a heater the second time around. No, I don’t think Beckett did entirely recover from the rain delay, but what’s amazing is that Mike Mussina did. Mussina is one of those near Hall of Famers who never quite seems to win the big game; last night he was overmatched physically and earned the win through smarts and doggedness, not to mention his fielding.

Though no one remarked on it afterwards, what in the world was Pudge Rodriguez doing wandering off third base in the sixth on that come-backer to Mussina? If the ball goes past the pitcher’s mound and up the middle for a hit, Pudge can crawl home on his hands and knees. What need was there for him to lean so far off third base that he got caught in a rundown? That was a back breaker.

Regarding the matter of this latest steroid revelation, I don’t really know what to say, and so, like everyone else, I’ll say something anyway. First, I think we’re getting into far murkier waters on the subject of steroids than any of us know. How are we to know what the side effects of any drug are until after it’s been around for many years? Second, if the definition of performance-enhancing drugs isn’t made clear very soon and their use either banned or strictly regulated, sports could go haywire.

I don’t know what has happened to Barry Bonds since he turned 36, but something sure happened to him. No player in baseball history turned his career around from age 36 on like Bonds did. Let me state that a different way: No one in baseball history has ever performed anything like the way Barry Bonds has performed after passing age 35.No, let me say it still a different way: No athlete in the history of American sports has ever done what Bonds has done at a similar age. (OK, maybe I can think of someone: Y.A. Tittle, when he came to the New York Giants at age 36, threw 86 touchdown passes in 40 games over three seasons. But that was largely the result of a great player finally getting a chance to play on a great team. Bonds’ situation is a whole different matter.)

Now, of course, the argument can be thrown back, “Well, if Bonds’ performance is due to steroids, why hasn’t someone else been able to upgrade their game like he has?” And my answer is—I don’t know. I don’t even want to speculate because it’s not fair to Bonds, particularly since we know so little about these drugs. We don’t really even have any solid proof that he’s using drugs. But I’m telling you, as long as this stuff is out there and remains an unknown quantity, it’s going to be a cancer eating away at the integrity of sports.

Did I also mention that giving professional athletes drugs which drastically increase their muscle mass could be hugely dangerous to other athletes, especially the ones who have chosen not to experiment with their bodies?

I wish I had something more incisive to say about this topic, but I probably won’t until I do some heavy research into it. Of course, by that time some evil scientist will have concocted something entirely new, and I’ll have to start researching this all over again.

But let me leave you with some bits of prose—nay, poetry—from Fox’s postseason baseball broadcast host Jeanne Zelasko. “At the ultimate October theater, magic and mystique collide.” And: “The House That Ruth Built—and Boone rededicated.” And this, as a lead in for tonight’s game: “Now that the heat’s been turned up on this Series, have the Yankees gotten into the Marlins’ kitchen? Or will the Fish rain on the Rocket’s parade?”* People, we do a lot of complaining about sports commentators, but Ms. Zelasko is truly something special. I’m not quite sure how to say this, but she seems to be the rare sports commentator capable of inventinga cliché. And she does it at least three or four times a night. I’m going to start following her around with a pencil. I hope to God this Series goes seven games.


Correction, Oct. 23, 2003: Allen Barra misattributed the following quote to Fox’s Jeanne Zelasko: “Now that the heat’s been turned up on this Series, have the Yankees gotten into the Marlins’ kitchen? Or will the Fish rain on the Rocket’s parade?” Zelasko did not say that. In fact, the quote appeared in this column, by King Kaufman, which was parodying Zelasko.