It’s Not About the Lie

This week’s sordid stories surrounding Lance Armstrong have already been well ploughed, but I can’t resist the chance to offer a few observations.

First, Lance’s carefully orchestrated “confession” to Oprah reminded me of the occasional chats I have with boys who are in trouble. During these heart to hearts, boys are ALWAYS earnest in expressing sorrow, but the challenge is trying to determine if they actually regret what they have done – have they actually learned anything from the experience — or are they simply sorry that they have been caught.

Lance’s sudden decision to come clean has a Machiavellian feel to it, and what makes his offence particularly galling was his deliberate, intentional, mean-spirited and systematic approach towards ruining those who had the courage to speak out — and to speak the truth against him. The Lance Armstrong case is about so much more than a lie about a bike ride.

Years ago we may have nodded in admiration when Michael Jordan announced he was retiring in order to spend more time with his family, or understood when Tiger explained that he loved the early bird specials at Denny’s. Today, though, we live in more cynical age. If our boys seem a tad more jaded by the latest celebrity misdeed, we can attribute some of this poisonous cynicism directly to Lance Armstrong.

Lost in the flood of pieces about Lance’s lies was the passing of Stan “the Man” Musial, the legendary star of the St. Louis Cardinals. Stan’s gentle demeanor and his ego-free approach to life in the big leagues stand in start contrast to the shameless self-promoters of today. Before Musial’s last game, Ford Frick, then baseball commissioner, offered this tribute: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”

Where have you gone Stan Musial?


6 thoughts on “It’s Not About the Lie

  1. I read this after Reading your blog! My boyhood heroes were Wilt Chamberlain, Carl Yaztrzemski and Bart Starr. I don’t think they did drugs although Wilt had his way with ladies!

    Warren Kozak: Lance Armstrong and Our Unheroic Age
    Forget about athletes as role models. It would just be nice if there were more fathers in the house.

    Who were your heroes growing up? That answer will depend on your age. But if you are male and over 50, the type of men you most wanted to emulate seem to be quickly disappearing. In their place we see a parade of diminished character.
    Consider the past two weeks in sports. Lance Armstrong has gone from cancer-stricken superman on two wheels to performance-enhancing confessor on Oprah. And for only the second time in 40 years, voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame elected not a single player. The steroid scandals apparently did in the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
    “After what has been written and said over the last few years,” tweeted Mr. Clemens, “I’m not overly surprised.”
    Neither are we. The would-be heroes of today seem to do an excellent job of knocking themselves off pedestals. For the stubborn few who don’t, there are armies of Hollywood writers, university professors and cultural commentators who have, since the 1960s, delighted in undermining the very idea of heroism, present or past. Call it putting heroes in their place, or social egalitarianism—the idea that nobody should be better than anyone else.
    It wasn’t always this way. Boys were encouraged to look up to heroes such as Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Edison. And they were encouraged to aspire to success themselves, no matter how modest their roots.
    In 1867, two years after the Civil War, a struggling writer published a book called “Ragged Dick.” It was the story of a poor shoeshine boy who, through hard work, honesty and perseverance, pulled himself up to respectability and a middle-class life. The book became a huge success with boys across the country. By today’s standards it would appear hokey, but its author, Horatio Alger, would go on to publish dozens of popular books with similar themes.

    Almost 200 years earlier, an English writer named John Bunyan wrote an allegory called “Pilgrim’s Progress” about the quest of a boy who travels through sin, despair and most of the evils known to man. Thanks to good fortune and guidance, he makes it to salvation on the other side. The religious metaphors would be chucked out by today’s standards, yet the book has been translated into 200 languages. Perseverance and good triumph over evil—a familiar story that has captivated generations of kids. Versions of it apparently still do, considering Harry Potter’s success.
    Even the fallen hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” had a boyhood filled with dreams of accomplishment. The daily schedule he set for himself reads like a Horatio Alger novel:
    “Rise from bed . . . 6.00 A.M.
    Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling . . . 6.15-6.30
    Study electricity, etc. . . . 7.15-8.15
    Work . . . 8.30-4.30 P.M.
    Baseball and sports . . . 4.30-5.00
    Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it . . . 5.00-6.00
    Study needed inventions . . . 7.00-9.00”
    Boys were fascinated by motivational stories not least because they watched them being played out every day. It was their fathers who drove home the point of these books by getting up every morning and coming home every night. And that is what has changed—the father once came home.
    The heroes of my own Midwest boyhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s weren’t all that different from those of the distant past. Television had arrived, but most of the shows back then centered on a wise and helpful father. Hollywood was still portraying American heroes drawn from World War II.
    That was fine, but the men we truly looked up to weren’t fictional versions like John Wayne playing Sgt. Stryker. The real heroes were all around us every day. They were the fathers of my classmates—my Boy Scout leader (Marine-Pacific), the grocer (Army-Philippines), my own Dad and uncle (Army-Europe), and the quietest and kindest teacher I ever had (second wave on D-Day). Not one of them walked with a swagger. They were the most understated men, who rarely, if ever, talked about their experiences. That reticence, and the constancy of their lives, taught us volumes.
    Today, out-of-wedlock births in America surpass 40%. In some quarters, this fact is not even lamented. But when the father is missing because he has left or was never there in the first place, a boy will fill that vacuum with whomever his young mind can latch on to. The hero possibilities these days give boys—and girls, for that matter—some pretty bleak choices to fill the void.
    Mr. Kozak is the author of “Presidential Courage: Three Speeches That Changed America,” an eBook published in October 2012.

  2. HBO Sports anchor Bryant Gumbel on Armstrong:

    “While I can’t think of any single athlete more undeserving of empathy, I’m sure many will note the money he raised for cancer research and see him as simply a flawed hero.

    But in light of his cited patterns of deceptions, intimidation, and coercion, it’s hard not to see even his charity work as simply part of his con act.

    If the accusations of investigators are true, and by now there’s no intelligent reason to doubt they are, Lance Armstrong threatened his friends, bribed his foes, cheated his fans, and deceived his sponsors — all of whom thought he was one of a kind. Turns out there were right, he was one of a kind — the worst kind.”

  3. JPP

    Who are the Canadian heroes and liars? Quit pickin’ on us Yanks, eh?

    How is Lance any different than Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, et al? The money is so big that the temptation and rationalization to cheat is too big, even after a fine education from McQuaid or UCC. Teach those boys that it is better to lose than cheat. Or teach them the myth of Icarus. Watch that sun, son.


  4. Musial deserves to be remembered as one of baseball’s best

    We took Stan Musial for granted. When he retired after the 1963 season, after 24 straight All-Star appearances, seven batting titles, three world championships, three National League Most Valuable Player awards and 11 other top-10 finishes in the MVP voting, he ranked in the top 10 all time in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, RBIs, walks, total bases and slugging percentage. His 6,134 total bases were a record (only Hank Aaron has passed him since), his 725 doubles were the second-most of all-time (only Pete Rose has since passed that mark), as were his 3,630 hits (with Rose and Aaron having since bumped him to fourth).

    He was also one of baseball’s great ambassadors and gentlemen, giving resonance to his nickname “The Man,” and a constant presence in St. Louis for seven decades from his rookie season in 1941 right up until his death at the age of 92 on Saturday.

    Despite all of that, Musial always seemed to be an afterthought when naming the greatest players in the game’s history. When Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team was named in 1999, he had to be added by the league after being left off the 25-man fan-selected roster. During his career, he was overshadowed by Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams in the 1940s and Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, among others, in the 1950s. Having bounced between the outfield and first base over the course of his career, he doesn’t come up when discussing the greatest players at a given position (which was one reason he failed to crack the All-Century Team vote).
    He was easily the greatest player St. Louis has ever had, and he was properly feted as a living legend in Cardinal country. To the rest of the United States however, his modest, jovial nature seemed to undermine his importance. In his later years he was seen as a kindly old man in a red blazer, always quick with a smile and his harmonica, but he never demanded the reverence of surly legends like Williams and DiMaggio, or tragic figures like Mantle and Clemente, or icons of struggle and defiance like Aaron and Mays. It probably didn’t help that the enduring image of Musial from his playing days was not one of power or grace but of his unusual, hunchbacked batting stance.

    Nonetheless, Musial was arguably one of the 10 greatest hitters in major league history. He hit .331/.417/.559 over the course of his career, good for a 159 OPS+. Those are MVP-quality numbers in any given season in any given era; Musial, who finished in the top two in the MVP voting seven times in his career, put them up over 22 seasons and 12,717 plate appearances, the eighth-most of all time.

    Born Stanislaw Franciszek Musial on Nov. 21, 1920 in Donora, Pa., the same mining town that would later produce Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr., Musial, the son of a Polish immigrant, signed with the Cardinals in 1937 at the age of 16 and made his professional debut as a pitcher the following spring. It wasn’t until 1940 that he started playing the outfield. The following season, having finally abandoned pitching, he hit .359 with 29 home runs in the minor leagues, prompting his major league debut that September at the age of 20.

    Musial hit .426 in his cup-of-coffee in 1941 and .315/.397/.490 as a rookie in 1942, helping the Cardinals to their first World Series title in eight years. The next year, he led the majors in all three slash stats with a .357/.425/.562 line as well as with 220 hits, 48 doubles, 20 triples, 347 total bases, all while striking out just 18 times. He also made his first All-Star game (he’d never miss one the rest of his career), and won his first MVP award. Musial led the St. Louis back to the World Series that year, where they lost to the Yankees, and the next, hitting .304/.360/.522 in the Cardinals’ six-game victory over the Browns before missing the 1945 season while in the Navy.
    If there were any suspicions that Musial had feasted on weak, war-time pitching in those early seasons, they were put to rest over the remainder of the decade. Musial hit .365/.424/.587 with 228 hits, 50 doubles and 20 triples in 1946, winning his second MVP, leading the majors in batting average, hits, triples and total bases (366), and the NL in runs (124), doubles and slugging percentage.

    Two years later, at the age of 27, he produced one of the greatest seasons in major league history, hitting .376/.450/.702, all career highs (and good for a 200 OPS+), with 230 hits, 39 home runs, 131 RBIs, 135 runs scored and 429 total bases. He led the majors in batting average, slugging percentage, hits, doubles, triples, and total bases, and the NL in runs, RBIs and on-base percentage. Between 1938 and 1994, only three men posted a single-season slugging percentage of .700 or better: Ted Williams (twice), Mickey Mantle in 1956, and Musial in 1948, and no one since has collected more total bases than Musial did that season, which resulted in his third and final MVP award.

    Musial never replicated that season, but he was nonetheless remarkably productive and consistent well into his late 30s. From 1946 to 1958, his age-37 season, he hit .339/.427/.586, averaging 195 hits, 28 home runs, 106 RBIs, 109 runs, 39 doubles, nine triples and just 34 strikeouts per season, and in 1957 was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. When he hit .255 at age 38 in 1959, he asked for a pay cut. In his penultimate season, 1962, he hit .330/.416/.508 over 505 plate appearances at the age of 41. More notably, during spring training of that year, he and third baseman Ken Boyer moved from their usual private beach-front condos into in an integrated motel as a show of solidarity with their African-American teammates.

    Musial retired after the 1963 season and moved into the Cardinals front office, later serving as their general manager for their world championship season of 1967. In 1969 he was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

    Musial married his high-school sweetheart, Lillian Labash on his 19th birthday, and his death follows hers by less than eight months. The Musials are survived by four children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Musial is also survived by the game of baseball and millions of fans who should never take his greatness for granted again.

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