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Monday, July 28, 2003
Updated: January 20, 4:19 PM ET
Sports fans can only Hope to be like Bob

By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: The following column first appeared on ESPN.com in late July, after the passing of Bob Hope. The PGA Tour's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic will be contested this week for the first time since his death.

It is probably a stretch to say that Bob Hope was the P. Diddy of his day.

After all, Our Dear Puffy is unlikely to ever own a professional sports franchise, no matter what he tells Howard Stern.

It's hard to think of Bob Hope without thinking about his love for golf.
Hope, on the other hand, did own one team, the Cleveland Indians. He nearly bought the Los Angeles Rams. He was a mediocre amateur boxer with the improbable name Packy East. He organized and was host of the golf tournament that bears his name, and he was with Tiger Woods when he made his first national television appearance, on the syndicated Mike Douglas Show.

In other words, his comedy was just something to fill in breaks between sporting events.

Hope, who joined the feathered choir in late July at the age of 100, did have the advantage of buying into things when it didn't take a nine-figure annual income and the backing of GigantoCorp to run a celebrity tennis weekend. That, more than anything else, will keep P. Diddy from ever owning the New York Knicks.

But the point remains that Hope did it. He scratched what was clearly an itch for sports while it was still possible to reach that itch without heavy corporate backing.

That alone makes him a better owner than, say, most of the owners you come upon these days. For one, he didn't move the Indians out of Cleveland. He didn't demand a new stadium as part of his deal to get the Rams, he didn't take his golf tournament to the highest bidder every few years, and he didn't try to choke the San Diego County budget out of San Diego County to get what he wanted for the tournament.

The Woods thing? Well, sometimes glory reflects both ways.

Elsewhere, you will find thorough and probing analyses of his art. He could make the people of his time laugh, which is about all anyone can hope for, whether you're Rodney Dangerfield or Wanda Sykes.

But his sporting loves were less eclectic. Spike Lee is mostly a basketball fan (well, worse -- a Knick fan), and many of your modern actors are fight fans when the fight is between two heavyweights and the seats cost $1,500 a pop. Baseball? Well, let's put it this way -- they usually turn up in the really good seats if they have a show about to premiere on Fox.

And in fairness, let's not even discuss the ESPYs, the ultimate in log-rolling for the young and athletically gifted.

But Hope was a man of his time -- it's just that his time was a long time ago, well before, say, "Doggy Fizzle Televizzle."

His lack of contemporary bang, though, doesn't change what he was and did as a sportsman. He put his money where his mouth was, whether his mouth was at the business end of someone else's six-ounce Everlast or in the business end of a microphone introducing Craig Stadler at the first tee.

He helped keep the Indians a hopping part of the Cleveland landscape after the glory days of 1948, and the wide sweep of Bill Veeck. Plus, can you imagine how different the history of the Rams might have been had he actually bought them?

Given today's prices, nobody would be able to match him, save perhaps Bill Gates. Just owning a ball team would run you a good $200 million, and that's without a park. An NFL franchise would run you around $800 million, just going on the price Dan Snyder paid for the Redskins.

Plus, you'd have to have all this money after having been a boxer, which means having all this money after your manager swindled you out of most of your purses and the tax man took what was left, plus interest.

And then, you'd still have to be able to get a PGA tournament together that would induce The Eldrick to come and play.

What we have here, then, is a prodigious catalog of sporting achievement for a guy who told jokes and jollied up soldiers and ... well, was the pre-eminent show business figure of his era. And since he lived to see 100 candles, that era lasted a good long time.

Thus, even those of you who were born after he stopped making people laugh must acknowledge Hope for what he was, and that nobody with his background can ever be again.

I mean, unless P. Diddy plans to quintuple his personal wealth and start letting mediocre lightweights hit him in the face.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com