PGA honchos to world: We're even bigger jerks than you thought!

Plus: Why aren't Gary Carter and Joe Torre in the Hall?

By Allen Barra
January 18, 2001 4:56AM (UTC)
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Fresh from its finest hour, the lucid and daring ruling on the Florida presidential vote, the United States Supreme Court now gets to hear a really interesting case. Casey Martin, a professional golfer who suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Webber syndrome -- this means that the blood flow to his right leg is hampered, which leads to nerve and muscle degeneration and makes walking a painful exercise -- is suing the PGA to be allowed to ride from hole to hole in a golf cart.

Yes, folks, that's where our tax dollars are going this week. The PGA, which apparently feels that the public is not completely aware that it is run by assholes, is choosing to advertise that fact in the most obvious way possible, by forcing a case all the way to the Supreme Court. What, I wonder, does the PGA hope to gain from this? Either it loses the right to make rules for its own members, or it spends a couple hundred thousand on legal fees to highlight its own meanspiritedness. Apparently the golf boom fueled by Tiger Woods has the game getting too popular, too quickly and the PGA was looking for a way of slowing it down.

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All of the arguments against allowing Martin to ride in a golf cart are an insult to the intelligence. (How in the world can a man who needs help walking around in a golf course gain an "unfair advantage" from being able to ride in a golf cart? How exactly does walking from hole to hole "fatigue" other players? What kind of athlete gets "fatigued" by walking around a golf course? It isn't, for God's sake, as if these guys were carrying their own clubs. Here the lords of professional golf are presented with a terrific public relations opportunity to soften the game's white-bread, cold-hearted, cutthroat image, and they go to the barricades in defense of petty rules and regulations. I'd love to see them trounced at the Supreme Court, but I have a sinking feeling the PGA may have carried this silly fight to the one legal entity in this country that is on its own intellectual level.

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I have no trouble with Dave Winfield in the Hall of Fame and I'll go along with Kirby Puckett if you push me, but it's time baseball fans everywhere raised a howl over one of baseball's greatest injustices. I'm referring not to the exclusion of Pete Rose, but to the exclusion of Gary Carter. Winfield was a 12-time All-Star in 19 full seasons, and Puckett made 10 All-Star teams in 12 years, but Gary Carter made 10 All-Star teams in 17 full seasons playing at a much more grueling defensive position. He drove in more than 100 runs four times -- Puckett did it three times -- and hit 324 home runs while winning five Gold Gloves while catching over 100 games a season 14 times. He finished second in one MVP voting, third in another, and sixth twice. Put it this way: He had one more season with 20-plus home runs in 19 major league seasons than Carlton Fisk had in 24.

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Gary Carter was one of the handful of great catchers in baseball history. Who was better? Mickey Cochrane, probably; Bill Dickey, maybe. Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk were probably as good. Anyway, Carter was one of the 10 best catchers ever. Doesn't being one of the 10 best-ever players at your position qualify you as a Hall of Famer? Everyone knows why Carter isn't in the Hall of Fame. He had a reputation as a suck-up with the New York press, which never warmed up to him and underrated him even in his peak years. But a Hall of Fame vote is supposed to be about something more than popularity.

But Gary Carter will eventually make it to the Hall of Fame. Much more puzzling is why, 23 years after his retirement as a player, and with his spectacular managerial success right under the noses of the New York sports machine, no one has made a strong case for ... Joe Torre! How does this man get passed up year after year -- or more to the point, how does he continue to escape consideration? Torre finished his career with a .297 batting average and a .367 on-base average, better marks than Fisk or Carter or, for that matter, better than Bench, Berra or Campanella. He drove in 100-plus runs five times; that's as many as Berra and only one less than Bench. He wasn't a great defensive catcher, but he was good enough to win a Gold Glove one year. He wasn't a great third baseman when they switched him there, but he was good enough to win an MVP award and a batting title while playing at third. He was good enough at both to make the All Star team nine times in 15 full seasons. I'd take him over Tony Perez, Luis Aparicio, Carlton Fisk, Phil Rizzuto, Jim Bunning, Kirby Puckett, Phil Niekro, Nellie Fox or several other players elected to the Hall of Fame in the last 10 years. I hope his bandwagon starts here.

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I love to watch Dick Schaap on ESPN's "The Sports Reporter" on Sunday mornings. He has the look of a bemused camp counselor keeping rein on a table full of loudmouthed know-it-all kids. It's usually worth sitting through the entire show just to hear Schaap's final comment, which invariably takes an angle no one else has thought of on a subject everyone else is talking about.

Schaap was one of the best sportswriters in the real "Golden Age of Sportswriting," the late '50s and '60s in which Sport magazine ruled. "Flashing Before My Eyes: 50 Years of Headlines, Deadlines and Punchlines" is a memoir covering half a century of journalism, mostly sports, some showbiz and politics, and whether you start reading it as a flip-through or cover-to-cover, you'll end up reading it all. Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Tom Seaver, Joe DiMaggio, Brigitte Bardot, Vince Lombardi, Don Imus, Reggie Jackson, Dustin Hoffman, Sandy Koufax, Malcom X, Norman Mailer, Howard Cosell, Yogi Berra, Thomas Pynchon, Bobby Fischer, Bob Dylan, Wilt Chamberlain, William F. Buckley, Bill Lee, Willie Morris, Candice Bergen and Sugar Ray Robinson, to pick just a few subjects from my notes, are all gathered together between hard covers for the first and probably only time. I can't wait for Vol. 2.


Allen Barra

Allen Barra is the author of "Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends."

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