For a traditional (read: old) sports fan such as myself, this is the absolute worst sports day of the year. Oh, there are a couple days in July during the Major League Baseball All-Star break in which there is absolutely nothing (which is what war is good for). The NBA playoffs are over, it's way too early for football, and there's not even any (ugh!) baseball on. But ESPN uses its resources to raise money for the Jimmy V(alvano) Foundation in its fight against cancer and you might be able to catch an Australian Rules Football game on somewhere late at night.
I've always been an industrial-strength sports fan. Growing up where and when I did, sports were important. The Lakers had Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, the Dodgers had Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, and the Rams had Roman Gabriel, who was—and probably remains to this day—quasi-Hispanic, which made him kind of cool in my neighborhood. (He's actually part-Filipino, but back then, anybody who didn't look like a member of the Brady Bunch was celebrated as a beacon of diversity.)
Bryant Gumbel was the local sports guy on Channel 4 and the Los Angeles Times had columnist Jim Murray, who won the Pulitzer Prize. Murray once wrote of Rickey Henderson, a rather short-in-stature baseball player whose batting stance featured a severe crouch, that "(Henderson) has a strike zone the size of Hitler's heart."
And it wasn't just about being a fan. When and where I grew up, young males pretty much had to choose between being a jock and being a knucklehead. Actually, there was a third option, a subset of the first one. A guy could be a jock wannabe and have to expend all kinds of extra energy and discipline just to get up to the level of sort of good, perchance to participate in the games people played. That made it even less likely to find any time to dabble in knucklehead-ery.
My love of sports has always been huge. It is definitely one of the biggest circles in the Venn diagram of my life. I can't imagine what it would like not to be a sports fan. How would I spend those hours?
In fact, I've always wondered how anybody could grow up in Southern California and NOT be a sports fan. It turns out that my good friend, Emil Franzi, somehow managed to do so. He grew up in the '50s in the Caucasian Enclave of Glendale. He was kind of a greaser and loved fast cars, but instead of sports, he became an aficionado of opera. Can you imagine standing around on the street corner, arguing with your homies over the merits of Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto to "Don Giovanni?"
(And yes, I had to look up Lorenzo Da Ponte.)
You'd figure that a guy who grew up an opera fan in the suburbs of L.A. would never actually reproduce. But he found somebody to marry and have kids with. Isn't America wonderful?!
So anyway, I've been a sports fan my entire life and I love just about everything about sports (but not what's going on today). Over the years (and decades), there have been changes. Sports-talk radio and cable TV satisfied (and often fueled) the demand for ever-more content.
But at the same time, some things should never change. The pitcher's mound should always be 60' 6" from home plate. An NFL football should always be inflated to whatever Tom Brady says it should. And the plural of RBI should always and forever be RBIs, with an "s" at the end. I know that some of you went to Journalism school and probably had teachers who said that, when writing about the guy who broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game streak, you had to write "Calvin Edwin Ripken, Jr." and not "Cal." And technically, RBI stands for "runs batted in," but the plural of RBI has been RBIs since before the time that Wyatt Earp strode the streets of Tombstone.
I used to think that the World Series-cancelling strike of 1994 is what turned me off to major-league baseball. But now I'm thinking that it might have coincided with the first time that I heard somebody claim that the plural of RBI is RBI. It's not "moose," for crying out loud.
Finally, to the subject at hand, the one that I've been avoiding for 700 words. Tonight is the NFL Draft, a fake event on which far, far too much time and attention is lavished. Do you know that ESPN has not one, but two, guys whose sole job is to predict which guys will get drafted by which teams. And both guys—who make huge amounts of money—are wrong about as often as they are right. Can you imagine how long you'd last in your job if you were effective about 50 percent of the time?
The NFL Draft is the worst. There's no pre-game anticipation or post-game letdown and analysis. It's just the calling of names of guys whose lives, statistically speaking, aren't going to pan the way that they thought. And the calling of each name is met by wild cheers and/or boos by an on-site throng of guys whose lives very obviously didn't pan out the way they had hoped.
It's an abomination. I can't take it.