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25 JULY 2014

 

If Boxing Ruled Baseball


Lou DiBella (l) and Don King (pic Neil Abramson)
Lou DiBella (l) and Don King (pic Neil Abramson)

By Thomas Hauser
For the past two years, in addition to his involvement with boxing, Lou DiBella has been president and managing partner of the Connecticut Defenders (a Double-A minor league baseball team). His goal is to someday be managing partner of the New York Mets.

So, what would happen if the people who run boxing took over Major League Baseball? Here’s a sampling of what we could expect:

Each state (plus Toronto and Washington D.C.) would have its own commissioner, which would leave baseball with thirty teams and nineteen commissioners.

At least one of the state commissions would mandate the use of aluminum bats.

Another state commission would cut the length of games from nine innings to seven as a safety measure.

The son of the Texas commissioner would be the home plate umpire for most high-profile home games in Arlington and Houston.

The Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves would play on Native American reservations.

Mike Tyson would sing a profanity-laced rap version of the national anthem on opening day.

The schedule would be made up as the season progressed. But there would be no games between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox because Yankees owner Don King would only play the Red Sox if he received options on Boston slugger David Ortiz.

Players would openly bet on games, and the owners would use it to hype ticket sales.

Arnold Rothstein (the mastermind behind baseball’s 1919 “Black Sox Scandal”) would be admitted to the Hall of Fame.

Players would hurl ugly ethnic and sexual slurs at each other, and it would be treated as a marketing ploy.

Florida Marlins shortstop Roy Jones would refuse to travel north with the team to play the Phillies and would explain to reporters, “Roy doesn’t want to go to Philadelphia.”

The legendary Bernard Hopkins would take a called third strike in the All-Star Game and complain about it for the rest of the season.

The sport would have a continuing steroid scandal, but some of the users would actually be punished.

Instead of wild-card play-off teams, there would be “mandatory” playoff challengers. Thus, the Tampa Devil Rays would finish forty games under .500 and qualify for the playoffs.

HBO and Showtime would televise the American and National League Championship Series playoff games at the same time.

The St. Louis Cardinals would win the National League Playoffs and then accept step-aside money to let the Los Angeles Dodgers play in the World Series.

The World Series would be on pay-per-view, so as few fans as possible would see it.

After the season ended, Lou DiBella would hold a press conference and tell the world, “Baseball is a fucking miserable business.”

* * *

Showtime has received considerable praise for the fights it has offered recently on Showtime Championship Boxing, and deservedly so. But that doesn’t mean the network is entitled to a free pass.

Showtime has elected not to put a live fight opposite the May 5th pay-per-view telecast of Oscar De La Hoya versus Floyd Mayweather Jr. And on June 9th (the second Saturday of the month rather than the first), it’s presenting Antonio Tarver against Elvir Muriqi (a mismatch) and Chad Dawson vs. TBA.

The presumption-possibility-hope is that, someday, Tarver and Dawson will fight each other. But aren’t these precisely the sort of non-competitive set-up fights that HBO has been criticized for televising?

* * *

On April 6th, New York governor Eliot Spitzer nominated Melvina Lathan to serve as a commissioner of the New York State Athletic Commission. Ms. Lathan, according to a press release issued by the governor’s office, is an artist, photographer, costume designer, and sound designer. She is also an active ring judge, having worked 82 world championship fights.

In recent years, the NYSAC has become a leader in the effort to make boxing a safer, more honesty-run sport. One assumes that Ms. Lathan will follow that lead and refrain from judging further fights.

The Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act (in a section entitled “Conflicts of Interest”) states, “No member or employee of a boxing commission may belong to, contract with, or receive any compensation from any person who sanctions, arranges, or promotes professional boxing matches.”

The applicability of this provision to Ms. Lathan is obvious. Depending on the magnitude of a fight, ring judges receive as much as $7,500 for an evening’s work. That’s in addition to first-class travel and a pretty good seat on fight night. But these assignments are dependent upon the good will of promoters, world sanctioning bodies, and others whom Ms. Lathan will be expected to regulate.

It would be a clear violation of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act (to say nothing of New York law) for Ms. Lathan to judge fights in or out of the State of New York.

* * *

The death of Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam in an automobile accident last week brings back a flood of memories. Halberstam was best known for his work on politics and the war in Vietnam. But he was an avid sports fan with outstanding books about baseball and basketball to his credit.

Years ago, I had occasion to interview Halberstam about Muhammad Ali. Some of the thoughts he shared with me follow:

* “I remember being very nervous the night Cassius Clay fought Sonny Liston. Clay seemed so young and vulnerable. And I remember caring about what would happen to him, being frightened that a dark shadow would fall over him, because Liston seemed to be what he was supposed to be.”

* “There was so much intuitive grace in what Ali did. He had that touch. He knew how to play the role of champion, inside and outside the ring. God, he knew how to play that role.”

* “One of the great things about this country is that you can invent yourself and reinvent yourself many times. And Ali was a true American original in every aspect of his life. I mean, really; what other country in the world could have created Muhammad Ali? If you look at his childhood, his rise, his complexity and contradictions; he’s unmistakeably American. He might be a Muslim, but he’s a hell of an American too. And it speaks well for this country, not only that we created him, but also that we came to understand what he was about in time to admire him; that he’s not a prophet without honor in his own land.”

* * *

Something to think about . . .

Boxers carry a heavier psychological burden than other athletes. That burden is inherent in the nature of what they do and also the impact of a loss, physically and financially, upon them.

For the rest of the world, a prize fight is a sporting event, entertainment, a show. For fighters, each bout carries the potential to be a crucial turning point in their life. Yet there is negligible psychiatric support for fighters. Team athletes have it; Olympic athletes have it. Fighters don’t.

They should.


Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com








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