Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hardball by Steve Oney

When senior writer Steve Oney proposed to write an article about former Angels pitcher Bo Belinsky I hesitated. Nobody will know who he is, I said. He might have pitched the first major league no-hitter in California. For a year or two he might have been one of the most celebrated athletes in Los Angeles, but he was a flash in the pan who was all about style and not much else. That's exactly the point, Steve responded, and he was right. His piece, "Fallen Angel," about Belinsky's brief rise and long descent into alcoholism, violence, and drugs and then his shaky years of sobriety, is a quintessentially Hollywood story not because he rose as high as he did and fell as hard but because he gained stardom for doing so little. During five-and-a-half years in the major leagues, Belinsky won only 28 games, fewer than six wins a year. At the end of his career, he proclaimed he got more out of those 28 games than men who had won 300. It was a glib comment, but on one level Belinsky was correct. He had parlayed a no-hitter and good looks into instant celebrity He drove a candy apple red Cadillac; he had a bachelor's pad in the Hollywood Hills; he could walk into any club or restaurant and get a table; and in the perverse way that fame works, the more he could afford to pay, the more he got for free. On the other hand, he was dead wrong. Thirty-five years after he retired, Belinsky is remembered for squandering his talent, and no serious baseball fan mentions him in the same breath as 300-game winners like Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, or Roger Clemens.
So why write about him? Why not write about, say, Sandy Koufax, who like Belinsky was an early'60s LA icon, Jewish (a rarity in baseball), had an abbreviated career, but otherwise was opposite in almost everyway? He stayed with one team, hated celebrity, devoted himself to his craft, and for four years may have been the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball. Koufax was proud, always doing the right thing (he refused to pitch a play-off game Yom Kippur), and tragic (his arm gave out when he was 30). He is what we're supposed to be. Belinsky is what we fear we're going to be. Not blessed with Koufax's talent, he still had the chance to have a solid career, but he wanted more. He wanted fame and the illusion fame offers: that you can do anything, that there are no boundaries. Belinsky threw himself into the mythic LA life, and even though he was a tough street kid from New Jersey, the myth ate him alive. Los Angeles has always attracted the Bo Belinskys. They're part of the landscape — the actor or rock and roll star who scores a hit, experiences a couple of years when every bouncer and waiter knows him by his first name, and then the bottom falls out. In Belinsky's case, it took him more than 25 years to recover, and when he did, he was living alone in a Las Vegas rental, working on a car lot.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

IF by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;
If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!