Ken Griffey Jr. is baseball's Mr. Right National pastime: GQ examines what's good and bad about baseball today. American Demographics says the sport needs help.


April 07, 1996|By Don Aucoin | Don Aucoin,BOSTON GLOBE

If you're a baseball fan, you might want to pick up a copy of this month's GQ. Peter Richmond's cover story on Ken Griffey Jr. pretty much encompasses everything that's right -- and wrong -- with the national pastime.

What's right is Mr. Griffey himself: The kid who scrambled into the Yankees dugout to watch his dad play is now, at 26, the sport's best player, blessed with a swing as flawless as the Hope diamond and a zest for the game.

"If baseball was all year round, I'd play all year round," Mr. Griffey tells Mr. Richmond, and I believe him.

What's wrong is that most of Mr. Griffey's time is taken up by marketing piranhas who swarm around the superstar as he attends to "the business of being Ken Griffey" -- autographed merchandise, a Chevy commercial, a Nike ad campaign.

On the way to meet Mr. Griffey, Mr. Richmond drops in on Mr. Cub, the legendary Ernie Banks.

"You played the game for love," a fan tells Mr. Banks.

"Is that wrong?" responds Mr. Banks with a smile.

Not wrong, Ernie, but rare.

More players like Banks

The April American Demographics suggests that baseball needs an infusion of Mr. Banks' spirit -- plus an iron-fisted commissioner -- or it faces "a decade of stagnation."

Senior editor Shannon Dortch reports that ballpark attendance plummeted 26 percent in 1995 and TV viewership of ballgames dropped almost 10 percent, even after adjusting for games swallowed by the strike.

Moreover, working-class fans are staying away in droves, priced out and alienated from rich-brat ballplayers who seem more suited to diapers than double-knits.

Will baseball become a sport for the affluent? Will Joe Sixpack be replaced by Joe Cappuccino?

Say it ain't so, Ken.

The Internet life

Wired is fast becoming my favorite magazine, and the April issue furnishes another reason. Pamela McCorduck offers a brilliant treatment of a brilliant subject: MIT professor Sherry Turkle, author of "Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet."

Ms. Turkle's argument is that as the Internet enables us to "cycle through multiple identities" via on-line personae, we have to find new ways of thinking about the self in the cyberspace era. Ms. McCorduck shows how thoroughly postmodern Ms. Turkle's thinking is, and how much it owes to Jacques Lacan, "the French Freud."

The piece contains one incredible detail: Ms. Turkle was denied tenure at MIT in 1984! (The powers that be later came to their senses and granted it to her.)

Bob Dole, how droll

Poor Bob Dole. Has there ever been a candidate who more exemplified the Impotence of Being Earnest?

First, his process-fixated, barely coherent muttering is lampooned every week on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Dana Carvey Show"; now, Walter Shapiro makes sport of the same traits in the April Esquire. Mr. Shapiro's conceit is that Anonymous, author of the Clinton roman a clef "Primary Colors," has gone inside the campaign of "Rob Droll" and produced "Primary Colonic: A Novel of Old Age." It is on target, and mercilessly funny.

A family chasm

Next, we turn to the Atlantic Monthly for April, where James Carroll has produced one of the most emotionally powerful pieces of writing I have ever read.

Mr. Carroll takes us back to February 1969, the height of the Vietnam War. He was a newly minted priest saying his first Mass before a group of generals that included his proud father, Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Carroll (who had himself forsaken a priestly vocation many years earlier, and may have hoped for redemption through his son). General Carroll was in charge of evaluating targets in Vietnam.

A single word spoken by James Carroll during his first sermon would cause a rupture between him and his father that would never heal. Mr. Carroll would eventually leave the priesthood and become a writer; his father would eventually develop Alzheimer's disease. This is a story of love and pain to crack the heart.

The issue of guns

For obvious reasons, gun control is an issue of personal importance to John F. Kennedy Jr. Considering that, Mr. Kennedy shows admirable restraint in this month's George in an interview with Marion Hammer, the grandmother who is the National Rifle Association's first woman president.

Family values, NRA style: "We believe the family that shoots together stays together," Ms. Hammer tells Mr. Kennedy.

Pub Date: 4/07/96

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