It’s funny how some insignificant little details of your life stick with you years later.
I recall a long, long time ago watching a spring training baseball game in Clearwater, Fla., the Philadelphia Phillies against, I think, the Cincinnati Reds.
Seated on the first base side of the ball park, I, like many other youngsters, was near the Philadelphia dugout looking for autographs. I recall that a Phillies’ coach, chap by the name of Bobby Wine, emerged from the dugout. Now, Wine wasn’t much a ball player in his day, a career .215 hitter. But he was wearing a Phillies uniform, so people were calling for him to sign.
Wine didn’t pay much attention to the pleading of “Bobby?! Bobby?!”
And I also remember — swear to God — a crotchety old codger in the stands chiding the autograph seekers for calling the coach by his first name.
“His name is Mr. Wine.”
Years later, I wonder now if the old guy would have paid the same homage to Wine if he was, say, the groundskeeper?
You see, the amount of bootlicking accorded to athletes because they are very good at their craft never ceases to befuddle me, frankly.
Now, Ron MacLean, by all accounts, seems to be a pretty decent chap. Met him on a couple of occasions and he was quite affable, anything but arrogant. He’s intelligent and very good at what he does.
But his comparison — thin as it was — of National Hockey League players and 9/11 first responders was, frankly, preposterous.
I don’t think MacLean had any intentions of diminishing the efforts of police officers and firefighters in those days and weeks after the attacks. No one’s that stupid.
But to even go down that road was an ill-advised move.
What surprises me, however, is — 9/11 aside — that MacLean would even think of comparing hockey players to cops and firemen.
The NYPD officers face a daily threat of some crackhead pulling a gun on them. Firemen run into 10-storey buildings that are on fire.
Hockey players play hockey. For a million bucks a year.
I’m not saying professional athletes should not be admired. I grew up applauding Guy Lafleur and Reggie Jackson and a host of others. I got a kick out of picking up Lafleur at the airport a few years back, strolling through the ball park with Jackson, having a smoke with Mario Lemieux back in 1987, at a Canada Cup exhibition game.
But let’s not unravel and suggest two hockey teams are going to “war.”
No, war is getting shot at and blown up in Afghanistan or Vietnam or some other hole on the earth.
Yes, we all know of the rigours of a hockey and football schedule, and the bumps, bruises, muscle pulls and shoulder separations that are part and parcel with the playoffs.
But you know what? Working construction — not that I’ve ever done it — can’t be a picnic, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., every day, six days a week, for months on end. Or working in a daycare — you want to talk about heroes? — where you’re a mental vegetable by the end of the day, the youngsters having worn you out.
I do not dislike pro sports — indirectly, it’s provided me a decent living. Like anyone else, there are players I like and those I dislike, the same with teams. I like the Canadiens and the Yankees, I hate the Leafs and the Red Sox.
But I also understand sports is but a game. Dealing with death and anguish? That’s real life. Trying to kill someone before he kills you? Real.
Hockey? Football? Basketball? And the ensuing Rolexes, Cadillacs and big homes?
Come on. That’s a cakewalk.
He’s probably a decent chap, though I doubt it. So I echo my Telegram colleague Kenn Oliver’s thoughts: here’s hoping anyone other than John Tortorella’s Rangers win the Stanley Cup ... Why don’t goalies standup anymore? ... If I’m the Edmonton Oilers, I’m seriously considering Ryan Murray with the No. 1 overall pick ...
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org