Santa wants a trade

December 18, 2006|By RICK MAESE

In 1897, The New York Sun published perhaps the most famous letter to the editor ever. Still today, 109 years later, Virginia O'Hanlon's query is reprinted in newspapers across the country during the holiday season. The innocence is unchanged; the response, however, has sadly decayed over time.

Dear editor: I am 8 years old.

Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.

Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun it's so." Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon

115 West Ninety-Fifth Street

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. I know this because I saw him being interviewed by Stephen A. Smith last night on ESPN.

"How could YOU! ExPLAIN!! YOURself! to America!!!!" Smith calmly asked.

I know there's a Santa because he's been telling anyone who will listen that he wants a trade. Tired of the North Pole, complaining of lazy elves and their lack of commitment to giving, he phoned Jim Gray over the weekend. Apparently, he wants to work and play somewhere in Florida, where he'll be better appreciated and won't have to worry about paying state income tax.

I know there's a Santa because I can hardly turn on the television these days without seeing his face. That's him in the FedEx commercial; they sponsor his sleigh. In the MasterCard commercial, he tells us he shops for all of his toys now and hasn't made one in years. Priceless!

And every article of clothing he owns is tagged with a Nike swoosh, from his hat to his belt to his boots. Nike even had the big guy shave a swoosh into his beard a couple of years ago. (And don't we all blame Nike for introducing those black road Santa outfits? Yuck!)

And - gulp! - I'll never forget how uncomfortable I felt the first time I saw him in a Levitra ad, letting out a big belly laugh and giving Mrs. Claus a wink. Too much info, Santa!

So now he's demanding a trade, which means he has officially made it to the big time. In this game, you're no one until you identify that the real problem lies with everyone and everything that surrounds you.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa, but I'm not sure who is going to be willing to take a chance on him, not after several years' worth of bad headlines. You do remember that he missed the entire 2002 Christmas season with an "ankle injury." (About two seconds after the New York media spotted Santa jogging through Central Park, the gambling rumors began to swirl.)

Who knows - maybe he was really hurt. His health has always been a concern, because it's been apparent for at least a century or so that Santa adheres to a terrible diet and does no offseason training whatsoever.

In the late 1990s, when he was still performing like a much younger Santa, we heard all those whispers about performance-enhancing drugs (and no, Virginia, I'm not talking about Levitra!). They started dragging out old photographs, and even I have to admit his hat size seemed to have changed a bit.

Then, when the world was anticipating his comeback the next season, we learned his ego had grown even bigger than his belly. Some people say the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 NHL season was a low point. Others say the strike that forced the cancellation of the 1994 World Series was man at his worst. Me? I'll never forget 2003, when the entire Christmas season was postponed until June because of Santa's contract holdout.

And in the middle of the whole thing, when we should have been watching Santa performing at his very best, we saw him at his worst. Court TV cameras beamed all of the action to every television. Chris Berman even stopped talking long enough for us to hear the judge.

I can understand a high-profile celeb like Santa (or S-Claus, as he was calling himself at the time) getting slapped with a paternity case - but three in the same year?!

The judge, of course, combined the cases because the TV networks agreed it'd make for better ratings. And, boy, did it! More people tuned in to see Santa take the stand than watched the three previous Super Bowls combined - and the big guy didn't even say anything. Well, almost nothing.

"Ho, ho, ho!" he barked, casting a scornful look at his accusers.

The judge slammed his gavel and was about to hold Santa in contempt of court, until his lawyer and agent, Scott Boras, explained this was merely Santa's way of pleading the Fifth Amendment.

We never knew how the case was resolved, because some agreement was struck outside the courtroom behind the sleigh and everyone involved promised not to talk.

(It's worth noting, though, that Mrs. Claus has been seen lately sporting a diamond ring the size of an ice sculpture.)

It has been a tough few years for old St. Nick, and as he told Stephen A. Smith last night, he's just looking for a fresh start. The weapons charge, the locker room squabbles, the elf-choking - all ancient history, he said, and a change of scenery is the best thing that can happen now - preferably to a bigger media market.

So, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He isn't quite like he used to be, but who is?

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