Special to Page 2
We gather today at Page 2 to meditate on that American sports figure who can be so brilliant and yet so sad, so incisive and yet so pathetic.
We cogitate on ... The Heckler.
Ah, The Heckler.
The topic is hot because at Sunday's Match Play Final between Tiger Woods and Davis Love III at La Costa, Love was not happy with a heckler.
The heckler in question heckled Love. Specifically, he heckled, "No Love! No Love!"
The heckler was not Bob Marley, who -- had he gravitated toward heckling in his day -- probably would have heckled: "One Love! One Love!"
(Which, of course, would not be, by definition, a heckle. It would be a kind thought, inspired by the ingesting of the smoke of natural herbs whilst listening to reggae -- a really cool idea, mon.)
Anyway, the thought here is: We like a good heckle.
We don't like a bad heckle.
The Heckle is an art form, isn't it?
And there is good art, and bad art.
At its best, it is pure, concise and beautiful.
At its worst, it is "GET IN THE HOLE" awful, the work of a small mind gone public, and embarrassing for all who hear it.
Once, at Candlestick Park, my buddy Matty leaned over a rail, just feet away from Tommy Lasorda, and shouted, "HEY, LASORDA, IS THAT YOUR BELT? OR THE EQUATOR?"
Also at Candlestick Park, my buddy Jay, delighted by a Norm Charlton meltdown against the Giants, leaned over a rail, pointed his fingers at the Reds' reliever as he was being removed from the game, and shouted, "YEAAAAAAAAHHHH! WHOOOOO! YEAAAAAAAAHHHH!"
Not a quality heckle.
But for some reason, that story always makes me laugh.
As does the very verb: To heckle.
Roll the word off your tongue. The syllables call to mind the name "Rickles", which is perfect, because Don Rickles, were he a beer-swilling sports fan, would be the Ultimate Heckler.
The Heckle is an American birthright. To me, The Heckle, at its best, is right up there with the lost art of The Roast.
The Roast is lost, and needs to be revived.
A few weeks ago, the golfer Peter Jacobsen was talking about how to bring back the luster of the PGA Tour event at Pebble Beach, formerly called "The Crosby." Jacobsen said that he'd like to institute a Roast as a new tradition.
"You know," Jacobsen said, "just get together one night and roast somebody."
Just get together one night and roast somebody.
God, I love that.
Anyway, my concern about Sunday's incident at the Match Play Final is that Love attributed part of his poor play to the heckler.
How can a millionaire athlete let one lousy heckler muck up his works?
We demand that our sports heroes have thicker skin than that. Otherwise, what sort of example do they set? What would a world without heckling be like?
There would be no reason for beer sales at sporting events, for one.
Ponder that one, dear reader.
I got to thinking: If heckling can be so potent as to derail Love from his mission to derail Tiger, how would the world look if heckling had always been so effective?
What if figures throughout sports and world history had buckled at the heckle, and let it ruin the mission at hand?
To wit, we ponder:
Site: Sistine Chapel, Rome
Event: Michelangelo, laboring to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Heckle from Bystander: "You call that a day's work? Get off your back, dude! I'm out here cleaning raw sewage from Rome's aqueducts; and you're lying down, napping when you aren't coloring in pictures of shirtless dudes with beards? Yo! Do an honest day's labor, Mikey!"
Michelangelo's post-heckle comments to the media: "I was focused on God, painting God, and was all ready to paint him touching Adam, but that heckler ... he broke my concentration. I apologize to the Vatican."
The History: Michelangelo never finishes the ceiling, but goes to work on his new magnum opus -- "Dogs Playing Poker With God."
Site: Writer's Study, Cambridge, Mass.
Event: Vladimir Nabokov, working on the final pages of his epic novel "Lolita."
Heckle from Bystander: "Yo, V-Man! Who raised you? You're disgusting, man. Where I come from, guys in the neighborhood would take you out to the back alley, show you what they think of your smut!"
Nabokov's post-heckle comments to the media: "I was pages away from finishing one of Western Civilization's finest novels, but the heckler ... he ruined me. I will never write again."
The History: Nabokov goes to work at his neighbor's bagel shop, and bakes bread for the rest of his life.
Site: Hershey, Pa.
Event: Wilt Chamberlain, with 98 points scored, going for 100.
Heckle from Fan: "Yo, Wilt! Where do you score more? The basketball court, or the hotel bar?"
Chamberlain's post-heckle comments to the media: "I was focused and ready to make NBA history, and score 100 points. But that heckler ... he made me lose focus."
The History: Wilt hits triple figures in 1962, all right. But in groupies, not points
Site: Bangor, Maine
Event: Cassius Clay, ready to defeat Sonny Liston and shock the sports world.
Heckle from Fan: "Yo, Cassius! What kind of name is that? Where's your toga, man? And what's with this "pretty" stuff? You ain't pretty! My girlfriend, she's pretty! And I'm witty! Yo, there's your rhyme, Mr. Poet!"
Clay's post-heckle comments to the media: "I was prepared to ride my massive talent and charisma to the top of the sports world, but that heckler ... he made me question my competence. Maybe he's right."
The History: Clay quits boxing and returns to Louisville, where he opens a haberdashery.
Site: Amsterdam, Holland
Event: Van Gogh, finishing up "Starry Night."
Heckle from Bystander: "Yo, V! Who can't paint a night sky? Throw a little black paint and some white stars on the canvas. What, you think you're some kind of Da Vinci for that? Bet you can't even hear me heckle, man! You got ONE EAR! What's up with that?"
Van Gogh's post-heckle comments to the media: "I thought my painting was beautiful, but that heckler ... perhaps he is right. My imagination is childish. A night sky -- how obvious!"
The History: Van Gogh retires from active painting and begins a search for his other ear, which has been sold on Ebay.
Site: Gettysburg, Pa.
Event: The Gettysburg Address, from President Abraham Lincoln.
Heckle from Bystander: "Yo, Abe! What the hell is 'four score'? What kind of nonsense is that? Who writes this stuff? And what does 'seven years' have to do with anything? It's probably been seven years since you had a shave, Big Man! You know why? Because U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi, you're ugly, you're ugly, Jefferson Davis says you're ugly!"
Lincoln's post-heckle comments to the media:: "I'm devastated. I thought 'Four score and seven years ago' was a killer opening line. Thought it would have them thinking I was smart, even though I don't know what the hell a score is. But that heckler ... he's made me question my entire thought process."
The History: Lincoln concedes the Civil War and allows the Confederate States to secede in peace.
See? The moral of the story: You have to overcome the Heckle, if you're going to be the Man.
Speaking of which: You Da Man! Now there's a great alternate option to the heckle!
Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes every Monday for Page 2.