April 21, 2005

New Pope Carries on Ty Cobb's Legacy

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Leo Durocher would be proud of Joseph Ratzinger.

Durocher, the legendary baseball Hall-of-Famer and manager of the New York Giants, said in 1946, “Nice guys finish last.”

Ratzinger, the new pope, has never been known to be a “nice guy.” He is a hard-line fundamentalist. His mind is made up, so don’t bother him with the facts. He and George W. Bush should get along famously.

They all seem to come from the Ty Cobb school of life. Cobb started playing big league baseball exactly 100 years ago. Sportswriters dubbed this Southerner the “Georgia Peach.” He dominated the game for 24 years and finished with a career batting average of .367 — still the best ever. When he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1936, he got more votes than any other ballplayer — including Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.

But Cobb was not what one might call “stable.” When he was 18, he saw his mother take a shotgun and blow his father’s head off. After that, civility was not his forte.

He came to hate everything and everybody. He was as racist as Woodrow Wilson. He not only hated blacks, but also Jews, Catholics and any other identifiable group.

He was rumored to sharpen his spikes for sliding into second basemen. He once referred to the gentlemanly Wagner as a “Krauthead.” He also explained that “the great American game should be an unrelenting war of nerves.”

Cobb liked to challenge people. In 1907, he got into a fight with a black groundskeeper about the condition of the Tigers’ field. When the black man was so “uppity” as to fight back, Cobb choked the man’s wife.

In 1912, Cobb stormed into the stands in New York and attacked and stomped on a disabled fan who had been heckling him.

Cobb’s legacy lives on today. Barry Bonds, for example, currently holds the major league records for most home runs in a single season, most performance-enhancing steroids taken in a single season, and the highest voice-pitch to body mass ratio since Chief Wiggum.

Milton Bradley of the Dodgers, now among the NL leaders in runs scored, RBIs, and home runs, is the notorious nitwit remembered for throwing full cups of soda at spectators in the stands — during a home game.

Admitted steroid freak Gary Sheffield charged into the stands at Fenway last week and attacked some fans. With Cobbian diplomacy, Sheffield said: “It could have been worse. I held my composure.” Unlike the Cobb incident, most of Sheff’s victims were able-bodied, but otherwise defenseless against his steroid-fueled rage. The Yankee outfielder’s ill-advised foray into the stands was a lot like George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq — both were illegal, yet both escaped punishment from the law.

Ratzinger was a member of Hitler Youth when he was 14 and later was held as a Nazi prisoner of war by the Americans. He now says he was not “enthusiastic” about being in Hitler Youth. That’s kind of like Bill Clinton saying he didn’t inhale or that oral sex is not “sex.”

But Ratzinger’s appalling inflexibility has served him well. Like Cobb, Ratzinger seems to hate gays and anybody else who would question his ideology.

Guys like Cobb, Bonds, Ratzinger and Bush make Durocher’s words ring true. In sports, as in life, the bad guys always seem to win. Allen Iverson, Ray Lewis, Michael Phelps, Jason Kidd, NASCAR and the Red Sox — the list is endless.

Society’s inherited glorification of athletic evil may stem from the Romans, whose prized champions wrote record books in the blood and limbs of their opponents. Or perhaps it is the exultation of Christopher Columbus — one of the most deplorable, genocidal fiends in recorded history — for his thrilling victory that inspires Americans to root for the criminal. Whatever the case, it is the miscreants, hellions, delinquents and eels of the world that prevail — and we can’t help but laugh at them.

Unfortunately for Sheff, the State of Utah still has a video showing R. Kelly having sex with his wife. And Cobb? When he died an agonizing death from cancer in 1961, a total of four people from baseball came to his funeral.

For while the gold medals, the career records, the international prestige and your tax money may all belong to the schnooks of the world, they will always be just that — laughable. As Soundgarden said in their 1996 song “Ty Cobb” — “another motherfucker goes down the drain.”

Nice guys finish last.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen