"The last passion of those lives of which the first part has been squandered in pleasure, and the second devoted to ambition." – Samuel Johnson, English essayist and critic, on ‘greed'
FORT GRATIOT, Mich. – Well, sports fans, this filthy and oppressive summer heat has just about fried my brains to sizzling goo. It's hard to think, much less construct coherent sentences, when the merciless sun is pounding on you. Even the nighttime is blistering and searing.
All you can think about is that next cold drink, the liquid reprieve from a scorching month.
In my case, a nice glass of bourbon. Actually, I have my sights set upon a cool tumbler of absinthe, but that's illegal in this country. And it's a story for another day.
In the meantime, here's a selection of recent musings as I prepare the BerniesInsiders.com Southeast Michigan Bureau for yet another season of bad craziness.
WHY BASEBALL SUCKS:
The boys of summer will never grow up.
Instead, men paid millions to play a game are engaged in a pathetic, pouty junior high drama with their even richer bosses.
Major League Baseball is the Ottoman Empire of pro sports. It's a sickly backwater, a shell of long since faded glory.
Baseball is dead. At least the kind of baseball Hollywood would have us believe was so pure as to be a mystical religion.
The NFL is America's pastime while hockey and basketball tread water and look nervously over their shoulders at baseball's festering corpse.
Baseball players and owners are blinded by an obscene, shameful money-lust. They utter silly swill about strikes and lockouts, as if their little game holds any more worldly significance than the Backstreet Boys or Power Puff Girls.
We're the stupid ones for clinging so tightly to a soulless league whose image is built on its former glories. Take away the dog-eared snapshots, fuzzy newsreels and Field of Dreams nonsense, baseball today is all smoke and mirrors, a house of cards built on a financial and ethical foundation of quicksand.
When the headlines aren't full of labor strife, it's steroids, doctored balls and corked bats. Even the All Star game is befouled.
And then New York wins it all. Again.
The Yankees are both a source and symptom of baseball's ills. The pinstripes continue to dominate the game because of George Steinbrenner's bottomless war chest. Meanwhile, Detroit and Milwaukee and a dozen other cities field teams that are out of contention before Opening Day.
Baseball's illuminati are too ignorant or stubborn to submit to the only solution that can save the game: a salary cap and profit sharing.
That plan saved the NFL, where small market teams like Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Denver win Super Bowls. Think the Pirates, Brewers or Rockies have a shot at anything but mediocrity?
Meanwhile, baseball is ensnared in a litigation jungle over which teams will have to fold because the sport has managed itself with all the efficiency and honesty of a third world dictatorship. Either the books are Enron cooked or owners are so staggeringly inept at basic economics that the entire league should be immediately disbanded.
Baseball's imperial overstretch of the 1990s cemented its fate. Franchises in Miami, Tampa Bay, Denver and Arizona mean the talent pool is stretched too thin. And that means only the deep-pocket teams can afford to buy the elite players required to win championships.
And when small-market franchises do spend the money to win, they can't sustain it. Remember the Marlins? Even the Indians have raised the white flag on their efforts to overtake the Yankees.
Unless the owners and players agree to the NFL formula then the sport is doomed to collapse.
Can the patient be saved?
Pull the plug, and let's get to football season.
TICKETMASTER OF THE UNIVERSE: It started as a serene Saturday morning. The sun was shining, Lake Huron gently lapped at its shores and all seemed right with the world.
But before long, there was swearing, flared tempers and frayed nerves.
Family row? Paying taxes? Programming the VCR?
Nope. Trying to deal with Ticketmaster.
What started as a simple quest to purchase Browns tickets quickly degenerated into a frustrating boondoggle.
The objective was simple: tickets to a pair of football games this fall at Cleveland Browns Stadium against Baltimore and the expansion Texans. With only a few thousand tickets available Saturday morning, there was an excited sense of urgency.
At 9 a.m., I was online at ticketmaster.com, and my girlfriend was on the phone with them. A good plan to ensure we got the seats we wanted, right? Of course not.
The Web site refused to work correctly, telling me over and over that my settings didn't allow it to complete the transaction. I tried with both AOL and Netscape browsers. All the while, the seats were being eaten up by other fans.
Meanwhile, my girlfriend was trying to deal with the Neanderthal woman on the other end of the phone, who didn't know where Cleveland was, or who the Browns are. Grrr.
The operator managed to lose the tickets she was holding for us while checking for better seats. In the background, we could hear other Browns fans going through the same nightmare.
My girlfriend had to use her cell phone to call because I was online. Naturally, her phone began to lose its charge, so she had to run out to her car to plug it in while talking.
Eventually, through no fault of my own, I got the Web site to work, so Melissa and I switched places. While finishing the telephone order, I had to give the operator all my billing information. The woman on the other end found her butchering of my street name funny. I was not amused. The best repartee I could muster was asking her how "TicketBastard" managed to stay in business. Weak, but it was early. No bourbon in the Gonzo house before 11 a.m.
In the end, we got our seats, which will require mountain climbing gear to reach. Perhaps will
plant a flag once we ascend the thin-aired heights.
Ticketmaster has a monopoly on the industry, and the company should be dealt with by Congress. Break ‘em up. Give ‘em the Ma Bell treatment.
Congress vs. Ticketmaster? Now there's a game worth getting seats for.
Football season is drawing near. Whaddya s'pose the Lions' Marty and Matt are up to right now?
Is Detroit's dynamic duo huddled together in some secret bunker in the bowels of pristine new Ford Field, scheming and plotting the Lions' meteoric rise to glory?
For fans, we can only hope so. Last season's 2-14 catastrophe was an inauspicious start for West Coast Offense guru Marty Mornhinweg and linebacker/sportscaster /general manager Matt Millen. The year was best memorable for Ty Detmer's seven-interception performance at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
M&M need to engage in whatever Machiavellian machinations and maneuvers they can to right the foundering ship.
One can just imagine the intense all-night strategy sessions as M&M prepare to unveil the new and "improved" Lions.
Let's listen in …
MARTY: OK, here's my plan. We throw the ball every down. We can do that. I'm a guru. It said so three sentences above.
MATT: But all we have is Ty Detmer, who stinks and is old, Mike McMahon, who is young and looks like a stinker so far, and Joey Harrington, who's a Duck. I mean a rookie.
MARTY: Hmmm. How ‘bout we run the ball every play?
MATT: Can't. James Stewart stinks. Plus, the line can't block.
MARTY: Geez. I thought James Stewart was great in It's A Wonderful Life. What do we do?
MATT: Punt. Every time we get the ball, we punt on first down. That way, we don't run the risk of turnovers.
MARTY: Yeah, turnovers. I like apple turnovers.
MATT: I meant interceptions and fumbles, you dunce. Pay attention!
MARTY: Oh, right, boss. Interceptions and fumbles, we can do that.
MATT: No, you fool, we need to avoid turnovers!
MARTY: Turnovers? I like apple turnovers.
On second thought, let's not listen in. No reason to spoil the hopes of Lions fans just yet.
Here's a few parting thoughts as Detroit gets ready for training camp on July 26 at Allen Park.
n Is it me, or did every game last season have at least one priceless moment where Marty looked completely befuddled? This Website has a classic shot available for your viewing pleasure in the Game Recap.
There's no truth to the rumor that Marty plans to start author George "Paper Lion" Plimpton at quarterback. They wanted him, but Plimpton, 75, is going to hit clean up for the Tigers. On the other hand, Alan Alda, who played Plimpton in the 1968 movie, is a distinct possibility.
Cleveland signed Detmer in 1999 to mentor Tim Couch, and start until the rookie was ready. That lasted three and a half quarters of the first game. Odds are history repeats itself in Detroit.
That's when Motown becomes Joetown.
Doc Gonzo is a former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor. He now lives in Michigan's Thumb, safe from fools, knaves and Ratbirds. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.