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  . . Off Base

It's Tee Time, Let's Discuss

Rooting for Annika Sorenstam was easy, wasn’t it? I mean, you had Vijay Singh leading a chorus of weakly stated complaints and a bunch of big old boys bullying sassy and talented Annika.

Pulling for the lady golfer was a no-brainer, and since Singh showed such a complete lack of smarts to begin with, why not. After Sorenstam’s performance in the first round, you just had to get with the program. I sure did.

Reminded me a little of Jim Bouton’s comeback with Atlanta in 1978. (Everything reminds me of baseball in one way or another, OK, so cut me some slack please.)

Bouton returned to baseball as a Braves’ knuckleballer, figuring perhaps that with the skill of batters being what it was at the time, he could win a few games.

Dodgers second baseman Davey Lopes looked a lot like Singh with his pre-contest protestations, saying Bouton had no business being out there, and that it was an outrage to have to play against him, etc, etc, bla, bla, bla. Bouton went out and threw a three-hit shutout.

Like Annika’s association with the men’s golf tour, Bouton’s success was short-lived. He never won another game. In both cases it didn’t matter, the point was made.

And then there’s the Jackie Robinson angle. Far from a perfect comparison, but a comparison nonetheless. Look, what Jackie did was monumental. His achievements should be appreciated forever.

Breaking the gender line in 2003 is a walk in the park next to breaking the color line in 1947. That one was all about equality and leadership and courage and winning, while this one was more about business and individualism and just being out there.

But still an important moment in sports. Still something to be discussed now and recalled later.

A black baseball player’s time had to come someday, but only at the right time, with the right man. Jackie Robinson fit the bill perfectly, and Branch Rickey knew an opportunity when he saw one.

Rickey didn’t need the best player necessarily, the guy with the most home runs or the broadest shoulders. Jackie was educated and articulate and fierce and had a certain quality about him. He was clearly the man for job.

Annika was just right too. She was the best player in the women’s ranks, but there had been stars before her. Annika’s certain something was obvious, and the time was right for her to step up. And while it wasn’t a Branch Rickey with as important a task at hand, the Colonial and Bank of America execs knew precisely what they were doing.

Instead of an in-your-face steal of home it was a great quote. Instead of breaking up a double play by knocking a second baseman into left field it was a smile and a shrug and another great quote. And an absolutely brilliant, throw-out-the-old-textbook example of public relations.

So what does Annika Sorenstam’s playing in the men’s golf tournament mean in the grand scheme of things?

It wasn’t really Jackie Robinson, not nearly, and certainly not Jim Bouton, but an important moment and a welcome slap of aftershave to a sport which unlike baseball, can just generally use one…

The usual baseball sign-off works for golf too. Remember, glove conquers all....


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