OLD JOCKS AND OLD ROCKERS: WE TOO ARE ONE IN THE WINDY CITY

By Tom Semioli

This editorial was published on HUFFINGTON POST.COM (August 2013) 

Six years ago a dear friend and former band-mate of mine – who once slung a Gibson Les Paul waist low whilst brilliantly plying his craft in the music venues that formerly dominated the Greenwich Village New York City landscape – formed a tight knit group of simpatico retired rock ‘n’ rollers to engage on a bravura bucket list sojourn: to visit all thirty major league baseball parks before we pass on to that great Guitar Center in the sky.

Two stadiums per season spread out over fifteen years is our destiny. Commencing annually with a rejuvenating spring weekend in May and concluding with a delightful dog days of August weekend; we rocker baseball fans leave behind our beloved first (and second) wives and children to travel to these tax funded cathedrals that have hosted our Hall of Fame heroes: George Brett, Aerosmith, Nolan Ryan, Genesis, Cal Ripken, and the Rolling Stones, among many others.

To experience our national pastime from a perspective other than that of devout New York Yankee – New York Met fandom is a welcome respite from life in a city which no longer represents nor nurtures the spirit and noble work of our rock ‘n’ roll youth. That is, the new, New York City which has devolved into the gentrified terrain of upscale bars, luxury condos, designer boutiques, and foreign investors – to name a privileged few.

I weep not – it is the Big Apple’s loss that record stores, recording studios and rock clubs are now frozen yogurt joints and karaoke dungeons. No wonder the kids still listen to my music and copy my riffs while they try to play my guitars! And don’t get me started on the escalating costs of attending games at Yankee Stadium and Citi- Field. Baseball is the sport of kings, not Queens County, where Tom Terrific and the Beatles played Shea.

That we should compose a blue collar blues song documenting the fall of our once artistically vibrant and affordable sports metropolis would go against our indie rock fiber – we come from the school of concisely composed guitar solos and infectious melodic hooks- our misery does not need company longer than 3:50!

And does a baseball game need to run longer than three hours especially given the fact that television commercials and network promos have denied us the pageantry and ritual of the National Anthem, pitchers warming up, and local announcers pontificating during rain-delays? I’d rather engage in the pageantry and ritual to flip a record album from side one to side two than subject myself to needless bonus tracks and exclusive downloads. Did anybody really need a new Yankee Stadium? Shea was to CBGB what the House that Ruth Built was to Carnegie Hall.

Akin to the old jocks who wear the garb of their teams, we old rockers are still dressed to thrill – ourselves, mostly – in tight jeans, retro shades, defunct record-store and rock venue t-shirts, jangly chains and jewelry and the like- the uniform of our former trade. Do we notice the young waitresses rolling their eyes as we enter the local bistro? Not a chance. After all, though we did not fill their stadiums, we did traverse their cities and dive clubs in search of fame and fortune.

As such, we errantly consider ourselves more respectable than our burly beach-ball bellied jock counterparts in their authentic double-knit jersey threads. Do they notice the young waitresses rolling their eyes as they enter the local bistro? Of course not, it’s happy hour…every hour!

Frank Zappa taught us “you are what you is.” Former high-school and college jocks oft fall prey to the corresponding ravages of time as do their ex- rocker counterparts. Old jocks grow large from the lack of exercise borne of intense athletic competition: we remain rock star skinny by way of that reverb laden voice in the back of our hearing- impaired psyche that repeats “we still have one more tour left in us! Let’s book some studio time…” Proclaimed Yogi Berra; “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

We sit at the games side by side. Who was the faster, superior and most fluid all-around player? Mays? Blackmore? Clemete? Page? Old jocks bemoan the demise of the complete game pitcher; we old rockers do too, along with the forced extinction of the vinyl album. They miss the comfort of Forbes Field; we still lament the death of The Bottom Line. The Yankees were never the same after they let Reggie Jackson walk after four seasons; Joe Strummer destroyed The Clash much too soon when he fired Mick Jones. Score cards? Liner notes…the list goes on.

This past weekend we continued our merry middle-aged pilgrimage to witness the pitiful White Sox outlast the Minnesota Twins at Chicago’s cavernous, corporatized U.S. Cellular Field. A trio of us remaining rockers who had scheduled later flights back to New York celebrated a little longer with one last Chicago beer at one last Chicago sports bar. Surrounded by larger-than-life images of Bobby Hull, Mike Ditka, and Sid Luckman – the old New York rockers and the old Chicago jocks drew sides: glaring at each other from across the rectangular bar.

A few good natured-though- too-rude-to- be- repeated insults were hurled to see who would crack first. I turned down a several hundred dollar offer for my 1970s rocker hat, though I could use the cash. The old jocks spurned my offer of an accessory that I should have stopped wearing in 19…

Yet when vintage footage of sports stars of yore shone on the flat-screens accompanied by the din of an alt-rock classic: we all laughed together and hugged each other. The old Chicago jocks bought the old New York rockers one last round because they are the gracious home team and we were nearly broke. We saw our younger selves in each other.

Old jocks and old rockers: we too are one in the Windy City.

 

 

NEVER MIND THE ‘ROIDS OF SUMMER: THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT!

By Tom Semioli

This editorial appeared on HUFFINGTON POST.COM (July 2013)  

Question: What do baseball player Ryan Braun and rock singer Scott Weiland have in common? Answer: They are both entertainers who have lost their jobs at one time or another due to drug allegations!

Fortunately for Weiland, his chosen entertainment profession is that of a rock star, so he continues to ply his craft and earn money, even after he was fired from his regular gigs. The supposedly “Stoned” Temple Pilot and Velvet Revolver crooner is currently on a summer tour singing his former band’s iconic 1990s anthems with a new ensemble. Ryan Braun is professionally inactive: he cannot ply his craft nor earn money.

It is acceptable in America for rock stars to take drugs. Their tales of debauchery entertain us, along with the music. I have no idea if Scott Weiland is clean or not — I hope he is as I am entertained by his work and I wish him a long career and continued success. I have no idea if Ryan Braun is clean or not =- I hope he is as I am entertained by his work and I wish him a long career and continued success.

I can predict with reasonable accuracy that when Scott Weiland and his former colleagues require funds (or crave rock star adulation) after years of not selling albums (downloads) in significant numbers; these rock entertainers will consequently regroup and embark on a greatest hits reunion tour, record a new album with songs which replicate their glory years, release a repackaged catalog with bonus tracks, create yet another celebrity tell-all documentary — all to the delight of STP and Velvet Revolver fans — all in the name of entertainment.

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is not so fortunate, despite the fact that he is in the same business as Weiland and his cohorts: entertainment. Ryan Braun’s brand is damaged, probably for good. Unlike rock star entertainers, sports entertainers are deemed by American society to be role models who possess a hunger greater than the general population to play the game, even though many of their skills appear to be genetically inherited, and in some cases, chemically enriched. But it takes more than genetics and performance enhancing drugs to be a star athlete: they do require the dedication, passion, and determination — and luck — to realize their fields of dreams.

Ditto rock stars: for every light on Broadway… there’s a broken heart…and a Kinko’s employee. And if rock stars are not role models for young folks, explain to me the enduring popularity of American Idol, Rock Band, and The Voice. How many baby boomers have named their kids Dylan? Rock School camps in 21st century America have transformed rock ‘n’ roll into a wholesome family activity not unlike Little League Baseball.

If drugs augmented or inspired Scott Weiland’s performance and/or artistry at any point in his career as a rock entertainer; why shouldn’t baseball entertainers be afforded the same right? Why should sports entertainers be denied the chance to achieve stardom or to gain a competitive advantage?

Among the biggest sponsors of baseball entertainment and rock music entertainment are “drug” companies: alcohol, pharmaceuticals including drugs that enhance sexual performance, and food companies with sugar and other addictive additives. Everybody is in bed together. Everybody should have freedom of choice with regard to what they put into their bodies. Or choose not to.

Nevertheless, Braun is held to higher standards. In particular, Braun has garnered fame and fortune by hitting a small white ball with a stick, and occasionally by catching that small white ball with his oversized glove and throwing it to one of his fellow entertainers who also get paid exorbitant fees to hit the same small white ball with a stick and throw it back yet another entertainer.

Evidently, hitting a ball with a stick and throwing it is supposed to inspire us; it is thought to represent our national heritage and all that is noble in America with regard to equality, perseverance, and personal sacrifice. Are these people on drugs or what?! Ditto rock music: does anyone understand the lyrics to “Plush?” Are these people on drugs or what?!

We Americans are so enthralled with sticks and balls that we choose to reward baseball entertainers with an average salary of $3,440,000.00 by way of our patronage of Major League Baseball — which is a collection of privately owned entertainment companies which combine for the purpose of amusing folks who enjoy the above mentioned activities on what is considered to be an exceptional level. The top echelon of rock stars take in millions of dollars for singing songs and packaging their particular brand of self-indulgence to the obsession of their followers. I’ve interviewed many rock stars, and most have more in common with bank presidents than reckless bohemes. That’s entertainment.

In fact, not only do baseball fans and rock fans shell out billions for entertainment related product — we allow our elected officials to allocate our tax dollars so that these entertainers can display their skills in magnificent edifices, notwithstanding that the majority of Americans are not overly amused by men who hit a small white ball with a stick, nor are they enamored with the clatter of grunge rockers past their prime.

Sports fans wear the garb of their favorite baseball entertainers with whom they identify with; rock fans wear t-shirts with images of their favorite rock star entertainers with whom they identify with. What’s the difference?

The funds “we the people” have allocated, directly or indirectly, to sports entertainers with sticks and balls and rock entertainers could be re-directed to afford every child in this country a college education, pay for state-of-the-art universal health care for all citizens, forge advancements in green technology, create jobs, repair infrastructure, care for senior Americans, and essentially eliminate poverty, among other things. But that’s not entertainment.

Most American rock fans don’t take offense when their favorite rock entertainers use drugs. Baseball fans purchased product in record numbers during the “steroid era” of baseball entertainment. And when steroid use shortens the careers of certain baseball entertainers — new baseball entertainers, some of whom use drugs, take their place. Same deal with rock stars: when one dies or a career fades, another band comes along with songs and stories often fueled by drug experiences. The games and the gigs continue to thrive. And so do the drugs.

In America, that’s entertainment!

Note: Scott Weiland’s latest dismissal from STP has not been officially attributed to drug use.

RESPECT FOR NATIVE AMERICANS: SPORTS FANS SHOULD HEED SLY STONE’S ADVICE

By Tom Semioli

This editorial appeared on HUFFINGTON POST.COM (May 2013)

As a teen growing up in a white, working class suburban neighborhood during the 1970s, I distinctly recall that many of my high-school friends with older siblings inherited worn copies of Sly & the Family Stone’s most popular album Stand! The chart-topping hits on that particular record were “I Want To Take You Higher” and “Everyday People,” the latter track being the generational anthem with a thumping bass-line calling for racial tolerance, mutual respect, and celebration of diversity.

We who were too young to significantly participate in the 1960s civil rights movement clearly understood Sylvester Stewart’s timely message on side two of that scratchy vinyl platter. I’m sure those of the hip-hop generation who are wise enough to trace their roots have stumbled upon this seminal recording, much to their good fortune. However there are still some sports teams and their loyal fans who just don’t “get it” when it comes to the stark reality of blatantly racist sports mascots which depict Native Americans as tomahawk chopping savages, or cliché images of a cigar store Indian, or buffoonish old-Hollywood stereotypes with feathers sticking out of their heads, to cite a horrific few.

The landscape of college and professional sports is littered with team logos, chants and other cheerleading activities that have denigrated and grossly misrepresented a culture that oft practiced a greater reverence for the environment humanity, and the animal kingdom than did the European settlers who “discovered” America and the generations which have followed. Kudos to the universities who have respected the recommendations of indigenous rights organizations such as the National Congress of American Indians and the American Indian Movement. To my knowledge, college sports did not suffer any loss of popularity when the University of Stanford dropped “Indians” in favor of “Cardinal” or when St. John’s University’s “Redmen” became “Red Storm,” or the Warriors of Marquette University were re-named “Golden Eagles.”

The usual arguments in favor of Native American sports mascots and the subsequent “whoop-la” that supports these figures centers on the supposition that these practices honor Native American attributes including bravery, fighting skills, and rank. Nonsense! Which reminds me of the University of Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek: his celebrated tribal dance was intended to honor the Illini Confederacy — but was, in reality, a Lakota tribal ritual!

The status of “Chief” in Native American culture is one of great reverence — it is the highest political and social position attainable. I could only imagine the confusion and embarrassment endured by young Native Americans who see such an important part of their culture and religion acting as a circus clown before millions of spectators. How must the elders of these young Native Americans feel? I doubt Catholic Americans would be too thrilled to root for a team named the “Pittsburgh Pontiffs” whose mascot, let’s call him “Peter Pope,” balanced a cross on his nose like a sea-lion whilst juggling over-sized copies of the New Testament on the grid-iron. I’ll spare other fictional religious and racial analogies — but the possibilities are endless. And don’t get me started on the fans who paint their faces akin to Native American tribes — would Catholic Americans appreciate fans in the stands chugging beer whilst adorned in nun habits or wearing clerical collars? I think not.

One of the many important character traits that sports should instill in us is that of “respect” — for opponents, for teammates, for coaches, for the rules and rituals of the games, and for protocol on and off the playing field. Native Americans are sports fans; they are our teammates, our coaches, our neighbors, and our fellow citizens. Their spirituality and traditional beliefs should not be insulted by beating tom-toms, the wearing of a feather head-dress, nor ghastly attempts at singing Native American songs.

Unfortunately, Native American groups continue their losing streak in the courtroom as well as in the court of public opinion, likely due to the fact that such behavior has been part of the American sports fabric for so many years that we have fallen ignorant to its harmful effects. Maybe this is free speech – but it is hurtful speech. Witness a recent AP-GfK survey which reveals that 79 percent of those polled do not consider the name “Redskins” as offensive. As for validity of this aforementioned poll, Mark Twain noted that there are three kinds of lies: “lies, damned lies, and statistics…” Enough said. Noble attempts by Washington D.C. council members and Native Americans challenging the “Redskins” name before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board are either doomed to failure or will take years to resolve against their well-financed opponents.

What’s a sports fan of conscious to do? Certainly we can opt not to purchase tickets when those teams come to town. Certainly we can opt to not buy the merchandise, nor support the sponsors with our discretionary dollars. As Bob Dylan taught us “money doesn’t talk — it swears!”

Another option is to appropriate the commendable modus operandi of the Portland Oregoniannewspaper which refuses to acknowledge the names of sports teams that use Native American nicknames unless the tribe has given the paper permission. The next time you talk sports around the water cooler, online forum, talk radio, or local pub — refer to “the NFL from Washington D.C., or the major league baseball team from Atlanta … the major league baseball team from Cleveland,” and “the NFL team from Kansas City,” and so forth.

Keep repeating it over and over. Like Sly Stone & the Family Stone chanting “I dig everyday people!”

MEN IN SPORTS JERSEYS: SOME LIKE IT HAUTE?

By Tom Semioli

This editorial appeared on HUFFINGTON POST.COM (April 2013)

My wife, a career fashionista, has a name for grown men who actually appear attractive when adorned in a sports jersey. She calls them “professional athletes!”

Spring is in full swing, major league baseball is upon us, the NHL and NBA playoffs are on the horizon, and millions of American male adults are shedding their winter jackets to once again reveal their beloved authentic and replica sports jerseys.

It’s perfectly understandable when an adolescent wears the faux uniform of Robert Griffin III (currently the most popular NFL jersey according to NFLShop.com — followed by Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers garments), Derek Jeter (MLB’s top replica sales according to USA Today), Claude Giroux (currently the most vogue NHL player jersey as per the NHL Director of Communications), or Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James (the top two NBA garb grabbers says NBA Store).

After all, young folks have yet to develop their own identities, so they seize fashion cues (and miscues) from famous individuals who inspire them. However as I travel the country, and reside in America’s most populated and sports-crazed metropolis — New York City — I have duly noted that the majority of sports hero worshiping haberdashers are… grown men!

Oft times I have risked physical assault when asking my fellow male sports fans at drinking establishments why in the name of Chad Ochocinco do they insist on dressing up in clothing that, quite honestly, makes Lady Gaga’s sirloin and plastic wrap evening gown appear downright practical. The typical rejoinder from my boozed addled buddies: “I wear this to support my team!” Even prosperous dudes who can afford the finest clothing — namely Spike Lee, Jay-Z, and Russell Simmons among others — regularly appear in garish, ill-fitting Yankees attire in public. I dare not approach them as they too support their team — along with their armed body-guards.

Men wearing sports jerseys face numerous obstacles that cannot scientifically, structurally, and physiologically be overcome. Hockey and football jerseys are designed to accommodate padding, thereby rendering the casual wearer awash in extra material. This sartorial fact works to the advantage of beer bellied gents who need to mask their girth, but that leaves the rest of us looking akin to Ichiro Suzuki in a Chanel dress. Basketball jerseys are constructed to allow for intense sweating and ease of movement, hence the appearance of a pro hoopster’s toned, naked skin beneath the cotton dry-fit blend does not offend. However basketball jerseys on middle-aged fanatics are sartorially profane as our hair moves progressively downward whilst our musculature transforms into fat as the years progress. Dress shirts or crew necks under a basketball jersey scream varsity team sixth grader!

Baseball jerseys are the most practical — no pads, no overly exposed skin, the cut is fashionably relaxed, t-shirt support is visually acceptable, and the all-important presence of buttons signifies a semblance of maturity. The only downside is that without the rest of the uniform — cap, trousers, stirrups, and cleats — we essentially are adult males in pajamas. Intelligent women have yet another reason to avoid us.

Authentic jerseys are the most in-demand items and fetch a considerable amount of the sports memorabilia dollar. Here are your average prices: $250.00 for an MLB top, $329.00 for an NHL sweater, nearly $300.00 for an NBA jersey, and $284.00 for an NFL jersey. Add the names of the top players and the ducats you need to purchase such goods rise faster than a Roy Halladay fastball.

As we live in a society which glorifies celebrity — I doubt that the phenomenon of adult men in sports jerseys will ever subside. It’s a significant part of our American cultural fabric — pun intended. In the spirit of multi-tasking, another fact of life in these United States, wearing a sports jersey has the unique ability to afford recognition to causes near and dear to our progressive hearts. So, if you must wear a sports jersey for whatever reason , why not make a socio-political statement rather than simply “support your team?”

For those who wish to champion labor unions, I highly recommend Curt Flood, St. Louis Cardinals #21. If racial profiling of Latinos offends you, consider wearing Roberto Clemente’s Pittsburgh Pirates #21. Gay rights advocates will win friends and influence their progressive neighbors with a snazzy retro 1964 San Francisco 49ers Davy Kopay #43 jersey. Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers #42 or Willie O’Ree’s Boston Bruins # 22 are fine examples of fashion which express the ongoing struggle to achieve racial equality. And if you’re in favor of offensive speech, I’m sure you’ll garner attention aplenty with John Rocker’s Atlanta Braves #49 — just be advised to cover yourself on the 7 train to Citi Field.

SPORTS MARKETING & THE STRUGGLE FOR GAY RIGHTS: MADE FOR EACH OTHER!

By Tom Semioli

This editorial appeared on HUFFINGTON POST.COM (March 2013)

Sports, in particular – baseball, is about to give itself a huge, public pat on the back with the theatrical release of 42, a highly anticipated biographical film on the life of Jackie Robinson – the first African American to play Major League Baseball in the modern era, and, of course, one of the most important civil rights champions of the 20th Century.

In an American culture which primarily worships celebrity for the sake of celebrity – this is a good thing. Jackie Robinson changed America for the better through his actions on and off the field. Though we still live in a country plagued with racism, as evidenced by the undeniable vitriol spread on every conceivable communicative platform solely based on the skin color of President Barack Obama– Robinson’s heroics, along with those of his supportive teammates and fans, is a tale worth retelling. You do not have to give a hoot about baseball to have been affected by the courage, determination, and sacrifices made by Jack Roosevelt Robinson and his family.

Now we must turn our attention to the most important civil rights struggle in the present tense: gay rights. Akin to racial discrimination, progress is being made, albeit slowly, especially as we work and play in a digital world which also demands – and receives – instant gratification. I could opine that gay equality is proceeding at a “glacial pace,” but by way of climate change, gay rights is lagging behind the melting of Greenland and the North Pole in more ways than I’d care to document.

As a white male in a blissful interracial marriage, I look forward to the day when the idea that two adults of the same sex are legally prevented from engaging in matrimony is considered as absurd as a Caucasian and an African American being denied the same right as folks of identical skin pigmentation when professing “I do” before the county clerk or religious official of their choosing. Sports icons Billie Jean King and Maria Navratilova feel the same way. On that note, when someone drops the word “fag” or criticizes something / anything as being “gay” - it is just as insulting and offensive to heterosexuals of conscious as it is to gay Americans. Withholding rights from gay Americans is un-American, and unsportsmanlike! Sport is meant to be our national forum for tolerance and equality. Treating gay people differently implies that being gay is abnormal! Does anyone still believe that the earth is flat? Or that the Mets have a shot at the playoffs in 2013?

As such, a growing number of contemporary American athletes have come forth to show support of gay rights – and, more importantly, they have done something about it. Most notably Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who made a fool of Baltimore County Delegate Emmet Burns Jr.; retired hockey star Sean Avery who has teamed with All-American wrestler Hudson Taylor for Athlete Ally which encourages “all individuals involved in sports to respect every member of their communities regardless of perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo in his video for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, among many others. Even Charles Barkley’s benediction “God bless the gay people…they are great people” and his statement that he would have had no problems performing on the basketball court with an openly gay teammate resonated with millions of fans. These are the sports stars that are continuing the work of the great Jackie Robinson.

On the flipside, how foolish did retired baseball star Mike Piazza appear on recent his book tour to promote Long Shot as he uncomfortably answered questions about old, false rumors that he was gay? Or the San Francisco 49ers’ Chis Culliver, who’s gay bashing comments were so misinformed and rude that they actually elicited sympathy for his abject ignorance?

Like it or not, sports does, in many ways, reflect the values our society. As America has devolved from a functioning democracy to a dysfunctional corporatocracy [an economic and political system controlled by corporate interests – i.e. the all- powerful, omnipotent profit margin taking precedence over civic, social, and moral responsibilities], you’d think that the sports marketing industry would wake up to the tremendous profit potential of embracing gay rights – aside from the stark fact that it is the right thing to do!

With regard to the force that truly drives America – the almighty dollar: gay is cool, and therefore marketable. Glee, Will and Grace, and Modern Family are just three examples of television programming which, in addition to accurately portraying select aspects of gay life in America, have reaped massive advertising revenues. Their vast ratings are especially impressive in a television era dominated inane reality programming. Though the myth of gay affluence has been debunked by actual statistics (boring, I know), LGBT folks are a market force to be reckoned with.

For brevity’s sake, I’ll concentrate on men, especially since they’re the gender guilty of wearing replica sports jerseys the most in what I can only describe as an extreme and bizarre manifestation of “bro-mance.”

Follow the money. According to a recent Experian Simmons study on the topic of individual income: gay and straight men’s earning are on even keel, however married or partnered gay men’s take home paycheck averages $8,000 more than their heterosexual counterparts. The average household income of a married or partnered gay man is $116,000 as opposed to $94,500 for a straight married or partnered man. Experian also notes that gay males have more discretionary income for non-essentials than guys who dig girls. Gay dudes reside in households that fritter away $6,256 per capita annually stuff they don’t really need which is almost $1,000 more than what the households of heterosexual men spend per person.

That’s more money to buy sports product. And in an economy wherein the entertainment dollar is rapidly shrinking – every cent counts. Not only will sports marketers directly reap the benefits of catering to a gay market, the residual effects from citizens of conscious who support gay rights will also yield profits – do you really think my wife and I need all those PBS tote bags or ACLU, Democracy Now coffee cups? Of course not! But we support them because they further the progressive liberal agenda we believe in.

So, get on board with gay rights, sports marketers! We know you’re only in it for the money, but it’s the moral, patriotic, and profitable thing to do! It’s a marriage made in marketing heaven….

BARRY BONDS DESERVES HALL OF FAME HONOR

By Tom Semioli

The people have the power to redeem the work of fools, upon the meek the graces shower, it’s decreed the people rule … Patti Smith

Despite their often holier-than-thou behavior, the owners do not “own” the game known as Major League Baseball. Nor do the players “own” the game of baseball. Nor do the agents “own” baseball. The game of baseball, in particular the professional versions, are owned by “we the people.”

If the we the people, some of whom are actually baseball fans, do not pay the taxes to fund baseball stadiums, the games are not played. And, if we the people who are fans do not attend the games, listen to the games on radio or internet, witness the games on television or via the internet, or purchase billions of dollars worth of baseball merchandise from replica jerseys to hats to key chains and more– the games do not exist, period. Baseball would still be an amateur sandlot and scholastic level sport.

The greatest honor for any Major League Baseball player is induction to its Hall of Fame in Cooperstown – which, incidentally, is not the birthplace of baseball. Debates over who should be immortalized or who should be excluded are as entertaining and timeless as the action on the diamond. (Where is Marvin Miller? Jim Katt? Dale Murphy? Fred McGriff? Edgar Martinez? Pete Rose?)

Now the mighty winds of controversy are swirling over the eligibility of induction for the Major League Baseball lifetime home run record holder, Barry Bonds: heir to baseball icon Henry Aaron who achieved his home run record under the torrent of racism. In all of sports, there is no record more glamorous, more recognized, more widely acknowledged than the all-time home run record.

Though he has never been convicted, nor confessed to steroid use, Barry Bonds has become the de-facto “poster boy” of the Steroid Era of Baseball. Major League Baseball, along with its fawning press have all but erased Bonds from history. Yet now that he is officially eligible – Barry Bonds is back, sort of.

If you participate in most sports surveys to cast your informal, un-official citizen fan vote for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame – you’ll fast discover that the percentages of “no to Barry” far exceeds “yes to Barry” despite the fact that Barry Bonds never failed a steroid test. All the evidence against Bonds remains anecdotal.

The steroid era – usually gauged as 1990 to the time of the Congressional Hearings of 2008 – was not relegated to the baseball fields. Steroid use was evident at your local gym, in your office, and on your suburban and city streets from New York to San Francisco, from Dallas to Detroit. What marijuana use was to the Woodstock Generation, steroids were to the 1990s.

Yes, America was a nation of “juicers.” It still is. So how did baseball fans not know that their heroes were juiced? Scores of players in their late 30s – the age frame wherein a major league player’s skills naturally decline – were belting 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 home runs! Baseballs were routinely flying out of stadiums! Baseball players were twice the size of an average American human being! The anecdotal evidence of steroid use was everywhere.

For those of you too young to remember the 1990s, check archival video on YouTube.Com and compare the size of players in the Steroid Era to players in the 1980s. No amount of legitimate nutrition and exercise could achieve such super-human results.

I’ll give a pass (this time) to the media and teams which profited from the astronomical ratings (“Chicks Dig the Long Ball”) and box-office. But where were the fans who love the game more than life itself? Where were the fans that refer to their teams as “we?” Where were the fans that mark the most important days of their lives in correlation with World Series victories? Where were the fans which inspire their kids to follow the righteous path of baseball stars? Where were the adult fans who dress up as their favorite players  - even when it’s not Halloween? Where were the fans who spit vitriol at opposing players? Where were the fans who knew more about the minutia of the game more than they knew about their own government? Why did they not speak up?

The Steroids Era happened because the fans allowed it to happen. The fans took no action, the fans did not speak out, the fans did not demand “justice” -despite the fact that the fans are the most powerful players in the game of Major League Baseball. Since the fans – the true owners of the game – allowed it happen, the Steroid Era is therefore legitimate.

Enter Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmerio, and Jose Canseco, among the others who have been accused into the Hall of Fame. Need a scapegoat for steroids? You can start with baseball fans!

Addenda: Incidentally, performance enhancing drugs in baseball are not new. Players of previous generations routinely took amphetamines to survive the long grueling seasons. Read Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” or Jim Brosnan’s “The Long Season” for further education on the subject. Do we need to remove the Hall of Fame inductees who took uppers? And where is the competitive advantage when juiced pitchers, juiced batters, and juiced fielders all compete against each other?

A BLOWN CALL BY NFL REFEREES COULD SIGNAL THE START OF AN AMERICAN REVOLUTION.

By Tom Semioli

With all due respect to Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States,” in American lore we know of two shots heard ’round the world: one was a walk-off home run (though the term did not exist at the time) by Bobby Thompson from a Ralph Branca fastball to secure the National League pennant for the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1951. And the other earlier shot refers to a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” which commemorates the first battle of the Revolutionary War in 1775 wherein a skirmish erupted between British forces and a pesky local militia from Lexington.

Fast forward two-hundred and thirty seven years to a football contest between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. The controversy began when quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled for his life and somehow managed to fire a Hail Mary pass in the vicinity of Seahawks receiver Golden Tate who was surrounded by menacing Packers as the clock expired. Two officials – scabs called in to replace legitimately striking NFL referees, simultaneously ruled the pass to be a touchdown catch by Tate and an interception by Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings.

Rather than discuss the situation with the other officials – the logical action to take – the inexperienced substitutes declared the pass a touchdown: Seahawks win 14 – 12. Replays clearly indicated that the play should have been ruled pass interference and that Tate garnered joint possession of the ball only by wrestling it away after the play had concluded.

No big deal in the scheme of life. Or so I thought. Sports referees make mistakes all the time. Yet, this blunder in our beloved NFL became a bona fide national emergency.

As expected, the sports media justifiably a created a major story of the incident. However this incident went beyond sports news, erupting into a national dialogue in the  news media in all their respective formats as well. Talk about political football: President Obama, upon returning to the White House from an appearance at the U.N. General Assembly, told ABC News “I’ve been saying for months, we’ve got to get our refs back!” Other politicos expressed a similar sentiment.

Attention Mr. President – and most of Congress- I’ll guarantee those union folks and their families in Wisconsin, home of the Packers (the only non-profit, community owned major league sports team in the United States), would have appreciated such supportive words when they fought the 2011 Wisconsin Act 10 to keep collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Sure, collective bargaining rights are not as glamorous as the action on the field on any given Sunday, but the issue has far reaching ramifications. Especially with regard to the NFL’s almighty pursuit of profits. Blue collar is the NFL’s biggest market – less compensation and hard earned benefits for the working man and woman translates as less discretionary income to buy the product of NFL football. If I were a sports union president, or union athlete, I would be on the picket lines with my fellow union members. If I were President of the United States – also a public employee – I would have stood with Wisconsin public employees. But that’s another story for another website.

From Occupy Wall Street to the UAW, Americans have not been too sympathetic nor empathetic to their fellow Americans standing up for their rights in recent times. Not so when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s. I marched with my union dad in annual Labor Day parades in New York City. Thousands cheered us on. Labor was valued – and rightfully so.

These days I am sensing a change in the air. On Black Friday I was in a New York City football-centric sports bar as news video appeared on TV depicting the courageous striking Walmart employees on the picket lines. Those same pro-labor cheers I heard in the 1960s erupted once again! In my casual conversation with grown-ups dressed in replica NFL football jerseys, I found that my sartorially challenged colleagues unanimously opined that they were pleased that the real NFL refs emerged victorious in their labor dispute and were back on the job this season. (Editor’s note: I initiated the conversation on striking NFL refs.)

And now they were rooting for the Walmart workers. Maybe that third shot heard ’round the world was fired at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Mr. President, Congress, are you listening?

YANKEES VIOLATE REGGIE JACKSON’S FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS

By Tom Semioli

History, as history has taught us, repeats itself. In July 1978 during the Yankees’ tumultuous “Bronx Zoo” era, Billy Martin was, in essence “fired” (the official reason was given as “resignation”) for his infamous, yet accurate quote to baseball scribe Murray Chass in which he referred to the Bombers’ owner’s guilty plea on two charges of illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign, and slugger Reggie Jackson’s narcissistic tendencies with the great libretto: “One’s a born liar and the other one’s convicted.” To paraphrase a bard of the times, Paul Simon, that proclamation is still crazy, and still brilliant, after all these years.

Billy the Kid was correct. Even Mets fans back in the day applauded Martin’s witty words. Yet Martin was whacked by the worst sports owner in the history of New York – if not all of sports: George Michael Steinbrenner III. Many younger fans are woefully unaware of George’s cruel threats to move the beloved Yanks from the Bronx to New Jersey lest the taxpayers finance a new stadium. Or his incessant boasts of instilling fear in his employees, or his despicable $40,000 bribe to a gambler with ties to organized crime to smear star outfielder Dave Winfield. And his shameful, unsportsmanlike treatment of Yankee legend and all around nice-guys Yogi Berra and Dick Howser, to name a few. I do not believe in hell, but if there is one, George Steinbrenner is rotting in it. I feel sorry for the other inhabitants of Hades.

Now it is Mr. October who has incurred the wrath of the Mighty Lords of Baseball in New York. The Yankee organization has not changed much since those hazy days when the Bronx actually burned. Jackson’s comments in Sports Illustrated (July 9-16, 2012 “Still Swinging Away”) are not inflammatory, nor are they damaging to the brand of baseball. Jose Canseco’s confessional tome “Juiced,” along with Jim Bouton’s iconic “Ball Four” are the stuff of legend and controversy in comparison. But Jackson’s rant: no big deal.

Jackson simply states sentiments that many fans, and retired players such as his former teammate Goose Gossage readily agree with: i.e. players with steroid enhanced stats should not be in the Hall, including Alex Rodriquez. On the topic of A-Rod, Jackson opines “..there are real questions about his numbers…I like him, what he admitted about his usage does cloud some of his records.” Reggie also chimes in on the age old debate over which players should be in the Hall of Fame, and which should not. I disagree with Reggie on the latter: I maintain that Gary Carter, Kirby Puckett, and Bert Blyleven belong. But I respect Jackson’s opinion. What fun would sports be if everyone agreed?

I find it most ironic that Jackson gets banned by the Yankees – he serves as a special instructor and adviser - certainly not a high profile position. It is even more ironic that he gets banned for comments in a magazine issue that lauds outspoken athlete activists such as Wonman Joseph Williams, Tommy Smith, John Carlos, Bill Walton, Billie Jean King, and Muhammad Ali, among others.

I am also surprised by the lack of support from Reggie’s peer group. For one, where is ex-Yankee skipper, former player’s union rep (in the time of Curt Flood) and current MLB Vice President Joe Torre? The silence of MLB toadie commissioner Bud Selig does not surprise me, nor does the silence of the current crop of baseball performers who have been programmed to “shut up and play.” Banning Reggie is un-American.

Reggie may not have many friends in baseball, and some fans still revile him despite his stellar performances on the diamond – but he still has a First Amendment right of all Americans which reads: “the people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments.”

As the Yankees in many ways symbolize all that is unfair in these economically unbalanced and grossly un-democratic United States, I guess they believe that the laws of this land, as written in the Constitution, do not apply to them either. They have certainly proved it once again by banning the great Reginald Martinez Jackson.

WHAT IF ROGER CLEMENS HAD ALLEGEDLY LIED ABOUT WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION?

By Tom Semioli

All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it. – Woody Allen

The 43rd President of the United States allegedly lied about weapons of mass destruction. His successor leads this country as if those alleged lies were truth. The 46th Vice President of the United States allegedly lied about weapons of mass destruction. His successor supports those alleged lies with his silence. The 66th Secretary of State allegedly lied about weapons of mass destruction. And a New York Times reporter wrote a fabricated front page story about the existence of weapons of mass destruction, prompting our nation to engage in military action. The United States may never be the same, let alone survive the 21st Century. These people walk free in our society, nor are they required to testify as to what they knew and when they knew it. If they did, I might be able to remove the “alleged” adjectives. Or you could read the Downing Street Memos…

At what cost were these alleged lies? Last time I checked the Iraq War scoreboard; over $1 trillion US taxpayer dollars spent, 4,487 US heroic service men and women gone, 32,322 courageous US servicemen and women wounded, civilian casualties conservatively estimated at over 100,000, and more than 2.5 million civilians displaced. These numbers do not reflect the continuing “collateral damage” of tragic military and civilian suicides, needless deaths due to destroyed infrastructure and access to medical care, trade sanctions, and the unspeakable consequences of family upheaval, and resultant alcohol and drug addiction.

An entertainer, commonly referred to as a “major league baseball pitcher,” who threw baseballs for the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, and the Houston Astros to amuse American sports fans – may or may not have taken performance enhancing drugs in order afford him the strength to throw the ball even faster, hence amusing us even more. Many of this entertainer’s peers on the baseball diamond engaged in similar behavior during this time – the 1990s. Some of these entertainers “allegedly” lied about taking performance enhancing drugs.

In that decade, I downgraded from a fanatic to a casual baseball observer due to a busy time in my career. Occasionally I would catch a game on a small monitor TV in a local bar -this was in the days before the now ubiquitous flat screen. It was undeniably obvious from the corner of my eye that the players on television were juiced – just like the artificially bloated, vein popping members of my gym club, just like some of my clients who were bursting out of their clothing, just like the larger than normal folks you’d see in every day life on the street, at the beach, in a bar – anywhere and everywhere. It was the age of steroids. What was the big secret?

The slogan of the time was “chicks dig the long ball.” The owners profited greatly from the chemically enhanced scoring after the financial debacle that was the baseball strike. Scores of notable members of the sports media allegedly lied too. Many hold steadfast to this day that they didn’t know the players were juiced – regardless of the overwhelming evidence.

The didn’t know – despite the fact that these “reporters” hung out with the players in the locker rooms, in clubs, on planes, trains, buses and automobiles. Shortstops hitting 50 homers! Players in their late 30s jettisoning baseballs out of massive stadiums! Could training techniques have advanced the physical talents of these players to such ridiculous heights? The answer is no. Watch clips of old school sluggers such as Reggie Jackson, Henry Aaron, and Ritchie Allen – they could be mistaken for high-school athletes when compared to modern day players. No amount of training could distort the human body to such exaggerated proportions.

When reporters don’t report the truth, the public goes uninformed. How many lives of young adults – high-school and college players – were destroyed because they took steroids akin to their baseball heroes because they didn’t know better? Why aren’t these reporters on trial? Why aren’t they held responsible? What did they know and when did they know it?

The juice is still flowing, my fellow Americans. And those baseball fanatics who revile such “convicted” ballplayers as Rafael Palmero, Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire should wear a white, cone shaped hat so the rest of us can avoid them. How did you not know?

Aside from the athletes who harmed themselves, no one died because baseball players took steroids and allegedly lied about it. Nor was a nation plunged into war, debt, and self-doubt. Our brave soldiers, and the civilians they protect each and every day, were not put in harm’s way.

So Roger Clemens may or may not be convicted and serve time for allegedly lying to a bunch of elected officials who are not particularly inclined to tell the truth either – the United States Congress. Whatever a jury decides, Clemens could have saved himself – if only he had allegedly lied about weapons of mass destruction instead.

GET USED TO IT NEW YORK – THE GIANTS BELONG TO NEW JERSEY!

By Tom Semioli

Sports fans, how would you like to initiate a vein bulging, fist wielding, high blood pressure inducing debate in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, or Staten Island, or in such surrounding regions as Westchester and Long Island? It’s easy. Simply refer to the Super Bowl XLVI champion Giants as Jersey’s team. In my lifetime, the Garden State has existed primarily as the Big Apple’s punchline and punching bag. Google “New Jersey jokes,” sit back and let your browser runneth over. Moving to New Jersey is equated by many New Yorkers as outright punishment. Can anyone forget the merciless George Steinbrenner and his countless threats to uproot the beloved Yankees to NJ as an act of vengeance, more so than leverage, lest we the people agreed to finance the new and improved Yankee Stadium?

Don’t look now, New York City – but the metropolis of your dreams is happening west of the Hudson River. What was once the domain of iconic artists – from Allan Ginsberg to Alvin Ailey to Patti Smith to Keith Haring to Gil Scott Heron and scores of others, has devolved into a suburban like sprawl of shopping centers, frat-boy bars, pretentious boutiques, designer bohemia and luxury residences. New Jersey is the new cool. Just ask Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, or the multitude of rockers, rap stars, athletes, writers, actors, entrepreneurs, fashion designers, dentists, and business folk who call Jersey home.

Been to Broadway lately? Among the top grossing plays is…Jersey Boys. Is Jersey Shore any less ridiculous or less representative of its environs, than say, Sex In The City or Friends? The King of New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen, has instantly sold out his gigs at Harlem’s hallowed Apollo Theater, and the World’s Most Self-Important Arena, Madison Square Garden for his 2012 tour with the E Street Band (named after a road that intersects 10th Avenue in Belmar, New Jersey).

In sports, we live and die by statistics. In America we are obsessed by numbers from the 1% to the 99%. As American Sports Fans, let’s review a few simple facts about New Jersey’s rightful ownership of the Giants:

• In 1976 the Giants moved from Yankee Stadium (with a brief stop at the Yale Bowl in Connecticut the previous year) to the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, New Jersey – which is 13 miles west of Manhattan.
• In 2010 the Giants moved to Met Life Stadium, also in East Rutherford, New Jersey – which is still, oddly enough, 13 miles west of Manhattan.
• Met Life Stadium is owned by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority – a public entity financed by the taxpayers of the great state of…New Jersey.
• The Giants’ team offices and training facility – The Timex Performance Center, are located in…. New Jersey.
• None of the vendors which service the Times Performance Center (such as Pellerin Milner Corporation for washers and dryers, Mondo Flooring, Lithonia Lighting, etc.) are headquartered New York. Their satellite offices in New York to do not directly service the Giants.
• Since 2001, over 50% of Giants’ season ticket holders reside in …. New Jersey.
• In February 2012, the city of East Rutherford, New Jersey, contends that the Giants owe $1.5 million dollars in property taxes on their Garden State training facility. The Giants counter that they are exempt thanks to a deal with the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. This matter will soon be settled in court in….Bergen County, New Jersey by local judges, local jurors, and of course, lawyers who are licensed to practice in the state of…New Jersey.

In January 1987, then NYC Mayor Ed Koch rightfully refused to grant a permit for the Giants first Super Bowl victory parade in Manhattan, boldly proclaiming “if they want a parade, let them march in front of the oil drums of Moonachie!” I recall Hizzoner going as far as to either enact or consider legal action against the Giants to remove “New York” from their name – however the laws which govern such issues say that privately owned businesses can all themselves whatever they wish. I guess Mitt the Hoople is correct; corporations are people my friend!

It’s hard for me to suppress my laughter when my hard-nosed New York colleagues instantly assume the guise of New Age spiritualists when confronted with the reality that team belongs to New Jersey– opining that the Giants embody the “aura” of New York – or that the Giants’ city designation represents the New York “area.” Nonsense! Mention to a Queens or a Brooklyn lifer that their glorious boroughs are physically located on Long Island and you are flirting with death – at the very least. To paraphrase Bronx born Billy Joel (an artist reviled by New York City dwellers – as the Piano Man made his bones on ugh, “suburban” Long Island) – New York is a state of mind. But New Jersey is the state wherein the Giants reside, and are supposed to pay all their taxes. That is the state of reality!

New Yorkers, in general, consider themselves to be the world’s greatest, most erudite, intellectual, progressive minded citizens from bell hop to bass player to Wall Street banker. Prove it. Rethink those orders for Giants commemorative Super Bowl NY license plates and respectfully acknowledge that the Giants are New Jersey just as the 49ers are San Francisco just as the Bruins are Boston and so on.

It’s okay to root for a team from New Jersey. Or Dallas. Or Philadelphia. However if you insist on rooting for a New York based NFL team – you have one choice New York sports fan: the Buffalo Bills.