The Page 2 Vault: Ralph Wiley
In 2004, sports journalism lost an influential and respected voice when the great Ralph Wiley died suddenly of heart failure at age 52. But the wisdom in his words endures, and his insights into universal themes will never lose their edge. He was an ESPN Page 2 columnist since the site began in 2000, and we remain humbled by the parts of his legacy that can be found among his columns in our online vault.
Sports greatness is achieved when competitors go out to prove who is the best of the best. Sports hilarity is achieved when competitors get a little too full of themselves. Then, it's Hello, prima donna.
"Prima donnas I've known" (Dec. 20, 2000)
Deion also once said he was so fast only he could catch himself. I found out later Deion was one of the shrewdest and most effective of the sporting prima donnas. The reason he affected and eventually assumed a prima donna identity is DBs weren't getting paid much, and by Deion's accounting, giving himself the image of the bling-blinging, rap-singing, dancing swashbuckler of the secondary, he drove up his market value. Can't argue with the man.
The best sports writers never get their best material at the ballpark. Case in point: After studying Derek Jeter in a Yankees-Mets doubleheader from the Queens to the Bronx, the real research came in Manhattan at Jeter's 26th birthday party.
"It's Jeet's world; we just live in it (Nov. 8, 2000)
"Hey, you know my birthday party's tonight." He named a club in midtown Manhattan, and handed me and Road Dog two invites.
"You're hooked up," Jeet said. "Come join me. You'll find it very interesting."
Now if, say, Paulie O'Neill got punched out three times looking in a doubleheader at age 26, he would have turned over every table at his own birthday party. And we've all seen what New York can do to, say, an Ed Whitson, or Knobby's throwing. We've seen what the Big Tent can do to mortal man.
But Jeet is something else, He warms to the enormity of it all. I was thinking that as we drove up to the club where Jeet's birthday party was held. A line of fine honeys snaked around the block, all heights, sizes, colors, their commonality being (1) they were all 9s, and (2) they were all there for Jeet. If a woman wasn't a 9, she knew better than to get on that line. Each was there on the off-chance Jeet might look her way, nod at her, give her the high sign, crook a finger, lift an eyebrow, and she might get a two-day pass into Jeet's world, or perhaps even become Mrs. Jeet. No harm in dreaming.
Modern baseball players do plenty of things for observers to de-value their character. But true baseball fans, no matter the circumstances, should ever de-valued the effort that goes into hitting 500 homers in the bigs.
"Welcome to Club 500" (April 3, 2003)
You can trust a home run -- 500 of them, you can. The home run, along with the long touchdown play (and in football, they even call that play a "Home Run"), remains the American sporting accomplishment and expression, combining nearly everything we admire -- lightning-quick strike, power, and, above all, great spectacle, a sustained visual effect (it takes roughly 3.5 seconds for most HRs to go from launch off bat to landing in some bleacher rugby scrum) in one beautiful arc of life. It is, well, a Home Run. ...
If merely hitting a pitched baseball is the hardest thing to do in sport (which it isn't) then it follows that hitting 500 HRs must be the greatest achievement in sport. The only comparable acts of skill I can think of right offhand to be even close to it, are to score 125 touchdowns in the NFL, or to win 10 major titles in golf, or to average 30 career for the NBA playoffs, or to kiss Halle Berry in front of her crazed hubby in front of all of Hollywood ... and to get away with it.
Nobody ever wants to think too closely about the ingredients of the hot dogs at the concession stand. So when commentators and spectators accuse a group of 12-year-old kids from Harlem of being too enthusiastic against their paler competition in the national semifinals of the Little League World Series, what exactly is filling the accusations that the kids are "hot-dogging"?
"Lay off the hot dogs" (Aug. 23, 2002)
If you want to hate, hate, don't hide about the skirts of "the right way" or "integrity of the game," trying to be all moral about your fear disguised as good taste. I've watched Rickey Henderson. I watched the Harlem Little Leaguers. And after covering a thousand or so big-league games, having the Baseball Writers Association of America card for three or four years, after having done ball covers for the Illy, done books about it, coached in the county leagues, observed the Babe Ruth leagues, and seen the issue of the minor-leaguers, I recognize the game of baseball when I see it (and the foul racial delineation that goes down in the game, I see that too, and I've seen plenty along these lines), and, all jerks aside, the game they were all playing, from Harlem Little Leaguers to Reggie to Rickey Henderson, I'm pretty sure, was baseball.
Greg Hardy is a Page 2 contributor. It's all pop culture all the time at Twitter.com/HardyVision.