Fredo: I’m your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!
Michael: That’s how Pop wanted it …
Fredo: It ain’t how I wanted it!
Part of the reason so many people were so moved by what Jalen Hurts did last Monday night, reacting as he did when he was abruptly benched and stepped over in favor of freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, is that our prevailing notion of athletes is this:
Selfish is the norm.
Selfless is the outlier.
There’s probably some truth to that, sure. But this is also true: Selfishness, oftentimes, is in the eye of the beholder.
The Yankees were always a franchise, in their glory days, where selflessness was supposed to be the company mantra. We all know the story of Frank Crosetti showing up for spring training in 1941 and being told, in no uncertain terms, that not only was the kid, Rizzuto, going to take his job, but it was Crosetti’s responsibility to get him ready for the gig.
Crosetti’s response: “Get your glove, kid. Let’s go.”
Jerry Coleman, of course, had that happen to him twice. First he was told to groom Billy Martin. Then, after spending a few prime baseball seasons fighting a war in Korea, he was asked to do the same with Bobby Richardson. Both times, he did so without complaint.
“That’s how we were taught,” Coleman often said. “That’s how we were raised.”
Of course, nobody ever really uses the word “selfless” to describe two other Yankees of other eras, Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez. It’s not a trait either man was ever known for. It’s not a trait for which both were paid king’s ransoms of their time.
Yet Reggie was benched in what, to that moment, was his biggest game as a Yankee — Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS. Billy Martin did this, and he explained it away by saying Jackson had long struggled against Royals’ starter Paul Splittorff, but think about this for a moment: THE MAN WHOSE NICKNAME, FOR CRIPES’ SAKE, WOULD BECOME “MR. OCTOBER” (and had already won a World Series MVP four years earlier) WAS BENCHED IN A DO-OR-DIE GAME.
Please remember this whenever the mood strikes you to anoint Martin one of the best managers of all time.
You know what Reggie did that night? He contributed a key single in a season-saving, eighth-inning rally. You know what he didn’t do? Complain even a little bit, and this at a time when it didn’t take a whole lot for any Yankee of that era to moan endlessly in the papers.
Rodriguez? Look, he earned $441,285,184 as a baseball player. It’s hard to overcome that, or to overcome what he became late in his career. But he was also willing to go to Boston and have his first enormous contract restructured, until the players’ union refused to let him. And it’s worth remembering he was a better shortstop than Derek Jeter, yet voluntarily switched positions in order to join the Yankees, without ever once offering a syllable of regret.
Oh, and remember that time when Joe Torre (possibly channeling Billy Martin) batted A-Rod eighth in a deciding playoff game? Yeah. He didn’t exactly break a water cooler over that one. How many players before and after him would have reacted worse?
Selfish versus selfless is a hard one to debate, honestly. Take Eli Manning: He’s made it plainly clear he has little interest in mentoring his replacement for the Giants — is that selfish? And yet, when his playing streak was ignominiously (and, it turns out, ridiculously and randomly) halted this year, he did so with a proper mixture of emotion and acceptance. Isn’t that selfless?
Coleman may have said it best, remembering his time as an accidental groomer: “It’s strange. A team can’t win without players being willing to sacrifice. But it also can’t win if those players aren’t ambitious enough to want to be a hero every day.”
It’s hard to be both. But it happens more than we think.
One of the best basketball coaches many of you may have never heard of won his 1,000th game for my hometown Pascack Valley High Indians this week, first coach of girls’ hoops to ever reach that number in New Jersey. Jeff Jasper survived Vietnam and vowed he’d devote his life to making a difference in kids’ lives. That is a job well done, and a life well lived.
Would it be such a terrible thing if it turns out Drew Brees has one more run in him?
I do love watching Kristaps Porzingis play, even as he struggles with his learning curve, but I’ll say this: At some point, his fourth-quarter offensive game has to move on from fall-down-and-hope-for-a-whistle.
Put it this way: I’m a lot more excited when I hear that Squeeze is getting the band back together than to watch the ’17 Mets getting the band back together.
Alicia Barker: I watched in awe and cried with Alabama’s Jalen Hurts out of the devotion of a diehard fan when Bama won. What he did, for the world to see, and for my children to see, will be held higher to me than 17 championships.
Vac: Covering college sports can feel so dirty sometimes. And yet it can also deliver a moment, and a theme, like Hurts’. It’s why we keep coming back.
Alan Hirschberg: As they used to say about Ray Williams, Michael Beasley keeps both teams in the game.
Vac: Sure, that’s two weeks in a row with zingers from Alan aimed at Beasley. But as the song goes: He ain’t lying, is he?
@SJLeff: Since the Mets only seem to want to bring back former players, can we at least look at the good ones to fill some holes? Maybe pick up the phone and call Mo Vaughn or Kaz Matsui?
@Mike Vacc: I’ll say this: I’d rather have Keith Hernandez return to play first base next year than Lucas Duda.
Gary Kestenbaum: Replay is absolutely ruining football and baseball. They’ve all forgotten that the intent was to reverse egregious errors and omissions, not disrupt the game. Now it’s an out-of-control monster.
Vac: And I think umpires and referees have gotten substantially worse at their jobs because they have replay as a crutch now. Lots of bugs in the system.