I sometimes wonder why I don't just change the channel.As I was drinking my coffee Thursday morning and flipping through the dial, something caught my eye: Tony LaRussa's mug shot.
I put the remote down and listened to Jay Crawford from Cold Pizza explain that one of the greatest managers in baseball history had been arrested for drunk driving in Jupiter, Florida. A police officer was then invited onto the show to flesh out the sticky details of the event, from the .093 percent BAC to the fact that LaRussa was cooperative with the Jupiter Police Department.
A second later, my television set was covered in hot Folgers, and my coffee mug was scattered on the floor in a million pieces.
How do these bastards continue to get away with this crap? Is there no decency left in the world of sports?
I realize it's 2007, and that ESPN sold their soul long ago to the greedy corporate managers and swift-talking marketing executives who continue to run this country into the ground on a daily basis. I know that in this day in age, Americans want the truth—at any cost—delivered to their doorstep, faster than a speeding bullet.
I can acknowledge that nowadays ratings mean everything and quality means nothing, so much so that it's often hard to make the honest decision. But Tony LaRussa's mugshot sitting there on national television, for everyone in America to see, was simply too much for any sane man to handle.
Tony LaRussa, four-time Manager of the Year for three different clubs.
Tony LaRussa, architect of two convincing World Series victories—by two different teams, in two different leagues, spread 16 years apart.
Tony LaRussa, the coach who perhaps permanently shut the lid on the tragedy that is Moneyball last season by leading the St. Louis Cardinals to the promised land with good old fashioned baseball.
Now his picture is on America's Most Wanted—or should I say, Cold Pizza.
How do the people at ESPN sleep at night? How do they look themselves in the mirror when they wake up each morning?
How do they comfort their children and tell them that although the world is falling apart, everything is going to be OK—when they themselves are helping to unravel society one stitch at a time?
ESPN took a true class act—a coach, a player, a baseball legend—and hung him out to dry.
A man who has never been afraid to attempt a double steal, a hit-and-run, or a squeeze play—despite criticism from the brainy modern wizards who have deemed such plays "inefficient" and "no longer necessary."
A man who has coached with all his heart since he was brought on as a manager for the White Sox in 1979.
Simply put, a man who represents everything that used to be right about the game, and perhaps still could be if the mainstream sports media would just let the boys play ball.
But they won't—even though Tony LaRussa and his knowledge of the game give the people at ESPN their jobs. Even though the people at ESPN make a living off the talent of hard-working athletes trying to make an honest day's living.
ESPN could not exist without coaches and athletes, and they know it. They just don't care.
Remember the days when a cop would give you a ride home if you had too much to drink?
Remember when the media respected the very men who gave them a source of livelihood?
Remember the old adage "what you don't know won't hurt you?"
All out the window now—because the sports media establishment decided that this opportunity for ratings was just too juicy to pass up.
And for what?
So the youth of America can learn that their role models get hammered before taking the wheel?
So the people of our country can know whole-heartedly that nobody is perfect, and feel good that they aren't in Tony LaRussa's position?
Or, perhaps, so a man who has always stood for dignity, respect and professionalism in sports can now be seen as nothing more than a low-life drunk?
Here comes the retort from the do-gooders at ESPN: "The people have a right to know. And as for the children—perhaps they can learn from this story the dangers of drunk driving."
Or perhaps, Mr. Crawford, Mr. Gammons, Mr. Scott—they can learn what you really want them to learn:
That you are all saints, and that Tony LaRussa is a villain.
Because that's the message that needs to get through, right? The people in the mainstream sports media are the honest ones, doing a hard day's work—and the men who actually play the game are the lying pigs.After all: What would happen to baseball without the media?
Steroid use could be rampant. Fans might actually have to watch games in order to see that Alex Rodriguez has a pretty swing or that Carl Crawford can run like the wind. Perhaps Pete Rose would still be managing the Reds today, betting on the outcome of games in his free time.
But let's take a step back for a moment and ponder this question: Where would baseball be without professional ballplayers and managers?
Scabs would fill the starting lineups. Fans would stop coming to the stadiums. Blackouts would ensue throughout the nation, and eventually team organizations would fold.
Stuart Scott and Rich Eisen would soon find themselves out of work. There would be no Yankee Stadium, no Wrigley Field; no singles through the hole and no balls flying out of the park.
Yes my friends—while ESPN is following their honest-to-goodness agenda in filling us in with Tony LaRussa's drunken antics, what they are trying to hide from us is the most important truth about Major League Baseball: that the game is only possible because of the work that players and managers put in for 162 games a year.
Let me say that again: Major League Baseball cannot exist without ball players and managers. And if there is no Major League Baseball, there's nothing for Karl Ravech to report or Peter Gammons to analyze.
Who did ESPN interview after the A's swept the Giants in the 1989 World Series?
Dave Stewart, Rickey Henderson, and Tony LaRussa.
Who did they interview when the A's then got their asses kicked by the Reds the following season?
Jose Rijo, Chris Sabo, and Tony LaRussa.
What about last year, when the Cards stunned the baseball world and put the Tigers to shame?
That's right: Albert Pujols, David Eckstein, and Tony LaRussa.
The point is that without guys like Tony LaRussa pouring their sweat into the game of baseball, the mainstream sports media wouldn't exist and the fans of America wouldn't be able to watch the national pastime.The powers-that-be at ESPN realize this, but choose to shit all over Tony LaRussa's image anyway.
ESPN and the other sports networks that regularly attempt to destroy the very men who pay their salary need to learn some class. They need to realize that their responsibilities are indeed twofold: one, to report the news to the public, and two, to protect the athletes who make the games possible in the first place.
When these responsibilities butt heads, they need to carefully analyze the costs and benefits of their actions before carrying them through. In the case of Tony LaRussa, it seems clear that the benefits of exposing his drunk driving incident to the public are outweighed by the costs of embarrassing a legendary coach and soiling his reputation.
The sports fans of America treat the guys at Cold Pizza with respect—by refraining from prying into their personal lives and recognizing that their primary responsibility to the baseball world is to analyze the game and report the scores.
It's time that the people at ESPN start treating the coaches and players of Major League Baseball with equal respect, and allow them to freely perform the jobs they're paid to do.