The whole issue of booze and professional sport has become a touchy one in these righteous times, as Bode Miller found out. Apparently, a person who dives headfirst down an icy cliff wearing a spandex jumpsuit is supposed to celebrate with a nice glass of tea. We all know when one drinks tea, one must extend one’s pinky finger. Bode drank the Long Island version and extended the wrong finger, that’s all. Personally, I thought he was refreshingly brisk, eccentric, and just plain different. But these days a jock with a tendency to celebrate needs to be doing post-career laps on the media circuit before he pulls the trigger of truth. That way he’s not a bad person, just a colorful character. Sorry, but that’s bollocks — and this is one of those rare occasions when I know what I’m talking about, trust me.
Why do many people believe that today’s athletes have less character than those of the past? Think Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Wilt Chamberlain. Answer: It’s not the jocks — it’s the journalists. In those days writers traveled, stayed and frequently got wrecked with the players. They had a vested interest in each other’s occupations. There was an unspoken code: The pencil-squeezer didn’t rat the player out, period. The scoop was never worth the price of the relationship with an athlete. I don’t know when it started to change, but journalists today face much greater pressure from editors, who in turn answer to media moguls hellbent on satiating our appetite for scandal. Upside: Juiced ball players and ‘roidally enraged wife beaters are exposed. Downside: We’ve traded in the chance to know what the rest of the characters really think, and who they really are.
Mind you, I was one of your golfers with a tendency to celebrate. I never knew Jimmy Demaret, but I bet I would have loved him. In 1962 he was playing the Crosby at Pebble Beach when he flung open the drapes to find a blanket of snow on the ground, at which point Demaret said, “I know I got loaded last night, but how the hell did I end up in Squaw Valley?” Imagine Ernie Els going with that line today? One of my favorite people, Tom Weiskop-with-a-lowercase-f, is a founding member of the hangover hall of fame. (The fact Tom isn’t in the real one indicates the wrong people vote.)
In his waaay-heyday, Saint Tom of Columbus would have a few (hundred) drinks and go to bed feeling fine, but of course he’d feel like a bag of crap when he woke up. The big T concluded his problem wasn’t the electric soup, it was the sleep, so with beautifully simple logic rivaled only by his swing, he chose to stop sleeping. Bert Yancey once said that the greatest rounds of golf he ever witnessed were 71s and 72s from Tom Weiskopf. But one year at the Tournament Players Championship in the 1970s, Tom went drinking with Edgar Sneed and the great writer Dan Jenkins, both of who baled out around two o’clock in the morning. Tom forged on through the night. Early next morning he blundered through the first two holes with a pair of 6s. Before he hit his tee shot on the third, he called for a ruling. PGA Tour official Eddie Griffiths was stunned when Tom claimed he couldn’t go on unless Eddie brought him an egg sandwich, a vanilla milkshake and three aspirin. Eddie, stout man that he was, had the remedy by the time Tom reached the green, and Tom went on to make nine birdies in the last 15 to shoot 66. When Dan and Ed went to the scoreboard to see what Tom had shot, Jenkins declared that it was “the greatest round of golf ever played by a dead man.”
We’re talking about trying to get a ball in a hole, or sliding down an icy hill on a pair of planks — games. And people who like games often like a drink afterward. For Tom Weiskopf, the only life or death involved was his own, and he hasn’t had a drink since Jan. 2, 2000.
How many times has an innocent man been sent down because Jack Daniel’s was a witness that only a hungover judge could hear? Call me oldfashioned, but that judge is the real bad example. If Bode Miller and Tom Weiskopf, are bad influences too, then I’m registering as an offender at the nearest police station. Keep your kids away from me, neighbor, because I was a bad example to those guys you think are bad examples today.