Dennis Byrd: Faithfulness (Sports Virtues Book 16)
We feel disappointed, disillusioned, and unforgiving, and we are disinclined to consider our contribution to the stress that can lead a hero astray. Thus we are apt to underestimate the burden of stardom—of constantly living up to the performance standard of fans who feed off their success. Both Gooden and Strawberry had outstanding early success, earmarking them as potential Hall of Famers.
Neither one could handle his success and the pressure to surpass enduring records. They were going to be the second coming of Koufax and Williams, until they rejected our mythology and sought solace in the dark safety of their own self8 The Need For Heroes , 8 Lines: 68 ——— 0.
Gooden bounced back somewhat, showing that in some cases disciplinary action does serve as a wake-up call and may deter future self-destructive behavior.
For the time being Darryl is, too. And we are! A young man gets into trouble and because of the [media] coverage it gets a lot of publicity. It may not conform to the image of the heroes of yesteryear. Media attention forces us to deal with the reality that many of our heroes have feet of clay. As novelist R. Sooner or later our idols must fade, and we must face our disappointment and turn to new heroes as the keepers of our flame of hope.
The loss of the blissful and perfect connection we create in our minds is inevitable. Star athletes face enormous pressure to maintain a positive image in the public eye. Fans eternally seek validation for their devoted worship, so a high-profile athlete is wise to cultivate a positive relationship with the media lest he be depicted as an antihero.
Hyping an athlete with praise, or even with relentless criticism, brings attention to a sportswriter and builds a following for the writer himself as well as for the player. Many fans rooted against him, and at times even his teammates seemed unsupportive.
In his defense Bonds maintained that his bad-guy image as unresponsive to the fans was an inaccurate invention of the media. If Bonds is correct, it reinforces the common belief that the media have enormous influence over the way fans perceive their sports stars. This argument can be applied to two superstars of the golden era of baseball. Joe DiMaggio played the media game, gave the press good copy, and was adored as a graceful gazelle. Ted Williams, in contrast, was indifferent to cultivating this aspect of being a famous athlete, so he was often vilified by the press and chronically felt misunderstood and misrepresented.
Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams may have been the two greatest sports heroes in the middle of the twentieth century, when baseball was the king of sports.
DiMaggio and Williams were the dominant stars of Major League Baseball in the s, and they played a large role in the dominance of the American League over the National League. The junior circuit, as it was called, won thirteen of the first seventeen All-Star Games played between the two leagues.
DiMaggio came to the Yankees in , was heralded as the next Babe Ruth Ruth had left the Yankees in and retired in , and was an immediate sensation. Williams broke in three years later with the Red Sox; he was less prone to injury than DiMaggio and played for nine years after DiMaggio retired in The press fell in love with DiMaggio and pumped him up as a superstar. In fact, he became the first to play on World Series championship teams in his first four years in the majors.
Joe DiMaggio—even his name became lyrical. He could do no wrong on the field; he was considered the best all-around baseball player of his time; and his private life was unsmirched. He was raised in a close-knit family of poor fishermen in San Francisco, the next-to-last of nine children born to Italian immigrants Giuseppe and Rosalie DiMaggio.
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He grew up without much ambition or direction, did poorly in school, and was expected to follow his father and his older brothers as fishermen. Instead, he followed his brother Vince, who had pursued baseball and hooked up with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. His most remarkable feat was his hitting streak of fifty-six consecutive games in , a record that is unlikely ever to be challenged. He won legendary fame, reflected in three popular songs that embraced his lyrical name.
These lyrics, written more than fifteen years after his retirement, also reflected the yearning for times perceived as happier. On only two occasions during his playing days did the fans turn against DiMaggio. His first taste of extended boos and jeers occurred after his prolonged holdout past opening day in Such a hero would not put a salary squabble ahead of his obligation to his adoring public, especially when the country was still reeling from an economic depression.
Up to that point he had been viewed primarily as a magnificent player who was unselfish and unblemished. The second episode occurred in , when he was having a subpar season at the plate.
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After that season, in which he did contribute to winning yet another pennant, he enlisted in the army, at age twenty-eight, and he served for three years, until the end of the war. On his return he led the Yankees to four more World Series championships and resumed his status as the premier baseball hero. He was always trying to live up to that image. He knew he was Joe DiMaggio, and he knew what that meant to the country.
For it was always about how we felt. It was always about us. Alas, it was his destiny to know that, as well. After he left the game he was still venerated for decades. Remarkably, fans continued to more or less unambivalently revere the image of our hero as we needed to see him.
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Cramer depicts DiMaggio as self-centered, emotionally cut off and insensitive to the needs and feelings of others, and obsessed with money. But these personality characteristics were not exposed by a favorable press during his career. According to Cramer, writing about Joe sold newspapers. The public needed him to be larger than life, and he knew instinctively how to perpetuate his image.
DiMaggio fell from grace posthumously, whereas early on Williams struggled with a lack of hero-worship from a significant segment of the hometown fans. At times he was disdainful of the fans as well as the press, which deprived him of the total admiration he felt was his due. When he produced on the field he was a giant and was elevated to the throne. His mother appears to have neglected her two sons in favor of her devotion to the Salvation Army, a passionate commitment that absorbed her time and energy.
In his autobiography Williams describes how he and his brother would wait on the porch after dark for one of their parents to come home and let them in. He had little interest in school and was ill prepared for a career after high school. Although he was a scrawny adolescent, he was most comfortable hitting baseballs on the nearby playground. After high school he fulfilled his dream of becoming a ballplayer by signing with the San Diego Padres, the local Pacific Coast League team, and he worked his way up to the major leagues by age twenty. He was an instant success, hitting thirty-one home runs and batting.
At the time, hitting. A few players have flirted with this level, including Williams himself again in , but none have achieved it. Soon after arriving in Boston, Williams became the new hope of many Red Sox fans. However, he was distressed by the demands for even greater performance being placed on him by a hero-hungry public. I ended up hitting. It hurt. It is likely that the emotional scars of growing up neglected created a deep-seated sensitivity to criticism and a lack of appreciation even when he had made it as a star.
He understandably overreacted to rejection and disapproval.
When he was criticized or unfairly booed he felt misunderstood and angrily fought back against his disloyal attackers, a thin-skinned and unprofessional response. There had been several similar outbursts earlier in the season. He often felt beleaguered and was too proud to promote himself as a hero. He came to hate the sportswriters, sometimes treating them accordingly, and they repaid him by overlooking him time and again when voting for the Most Valuable Player Award. Dave Egan, who wrote a sports column for a Boston newspaper, was often critical of Williams, and Ted came to hate Egan most of all.
Egan accused Ted of being completely selfish, jealous of the success of various teammates, more interested in fishing than in baseball, and greedy for money. He went so far as to accuse Ted of contributing to juvenile delinquency because he refused to wear a tie or tip his hat, thereby encouraging the youth of the city to rebel against the established rules of society. When he appealed to retain his 3a draft listing in , Ted was roundly derided. This was an unpopular decision in a national atmosphere of patriotism, and Williams did join the service from through , three years of his prime, and again during the Korean War.
The second crisis occurred in when he was found fishing in the Everglades while his wife prematurely gave birth to their daughter. The Need For Heroes 15 , 15 Lines: ——— 0. I do believe that baseball and sports pages would be better off without you. When, oh, when, will you thick headed athletes catch on that the public is your darling, that you may not disillusion us, that you cannot live as other men but dwell in glass houses and that this is the price you pay for wealth and success?
Bernie Parrish, They Call It a Game [First Pag Sports heroes frequently develop unrealistic views of themselves that are encouraged and reinforced when an adoring world treats them as elite. For many players a sense of specialness is central to their identity, strongly influencing their expectations from the world and their treatment of others.