Thursday, June 18, 2009

Beauty and the Beholder's Eye

Two stories caught my eye this morning - both of which arise from (but are not confined to) the world of professional sports. And given that they set forth a case study in contrasts, it seemed appropriate to discuss them as one.

This morning a whole slew of gentlemen that the good folks from ESPN and NBC shall tell us are "the greatest golfers in the world" shall commence hostilities in the United States Open Golf Championship. The tournament has captured more attention than usual in the New York media this week for a couple of reasons. First, because it is being contested again this year (as it was in 2002) at Bethpage Black, an infamous man-breaker of a golf course (and a public one to boot) on Long Island. Second, and perhaps even more so, because of Phil Mickelson and his wife Amy.

The Mickelsons announced only a few weeks ago that Amy has been diagnosed with breast cancer. I know not of any combination of two words that fills me with equal parts anger and apprehension than "breast cancer". My Mom has waged war against it and all of the other ancillary nonsense it sets loose upon its victims for a quarter-century now. And sadly, just about two weeks ago, Sue Bozzomo - Margaret's mom and emotional center - lost the valiant struggle she had spent the final four years of her life waging against the insidious disease. Breast cancer is a disease that shows itself to be non-discriminatory. It will attack with equal fervor women of all ages, all sizes, all social and economic classes and all races.

Phil Mickelson has long been a crowd favorite on the professional golf tour and his wife has been by his side for the entirety of the ride. They are a married couple in their late 30's; college sweethearts and parents of three young children, the oldest of whom is but on the cusp of "double digits". And they are in the throes of the fight of their life - cautiously optimistic but also terrified of all of the unknowns that lie ahead of them. As Mickelson said yesterday, "we're scared about what's going to come."

This weekend at Bethpage Black, Amy Mickelson will not be among the galleries following her husband's progress around the course. She is home, preparing for her own road ahead. While she will be out of her husband's field of vision this week, she will be foremost on his mind and in his heart. And she will be in the hearts and minds of many in attendance. Do not adjust your TV set if it looks as if the galleries along the course are awash in a sea of pink. For pink is the signature color of the battle against breast cancer and one expects to see pink ribbons, pink shirts and pink baseball caps as far as the camera's eye allows us to see.

Also in the news this morning was the story of former MLB outfielder Mel Hall. Hall was sentenced to forty-five years in prison by a court in Texas for raping a 12 year old girl who he coached on a basketball team. In the late 1980's/early 1990's, Hall occupied an outfield spot for some of the most awful New York Yankees teams who have ever donned the pinstripes. Hall, candidly, did little to improve the Yankees during the relatively short time he spent with the club. Indicative perhaps of the quality of Hall's character - even then - was his incessant and allegedly mean-spirited attacks on a youngster who the Yankees viewed (way back when in the dark days of the Stump Merrill regime) as a key part of their future: Bernie Williams.

I had the distinct pleasure during Hall's Yankees career of getting to interact with him. Prior to becoming a lawyer I had a job as a bill collector, trying to collect bills from folks for past due credit cards, car loans and any number of items. Among the retailers for whom our company did work was Bloomingdale's. One day, Mel Hall's file came across my desk. At the time, if memory serves correctly, the Yankees were paying him more than $1,000,000 to play baseball for them, which he did in a decidedly indifferent, nonchalant manner. The bill owed to Bloomingdale's was minuscule by comparison - something in the range of $2800 to $3000. Presuming that he had perhaps been unaware of it or that he thought one of his lawyers or business managers had taken care of it from him, Bloomingdale's was genuinely surprised when after months of chasing him themselves for the money, they had to hire our company to try to collect it.

In the pre-Tampa era for the Yankees, spring training was held in Fort Lauderdale. The surprise in Hall's voice was palpable when - during spring training in either 1990 or 1991 I telephoned him in his room to discuss the bill. I laughed out loud when he demanded to know how I found him - pointing out to him that the location of the Yankees spring training complex was not exactly a national security secret. It became obvious to me five minutes into our conversation that he had no intentions of ever paying this particular bill. But since we really wanted to collect the money for Bloomingdale's, I played along with his "Hey, give me your number and I'll call you back at a better time for me to talk to you" shtick.

Unfortunately for Hall, since I knew he would not call me back when he did not I was prepared. In short order I telephoned the Yankees' front office to make them aware of the fact that in the non-too-distant future they could anticipate receipt of a court's order permitting Hall's paycheck to be garnished to satisfy his debt and, thereafter, his attorney in Chicago to ask whether he would be authorized to accept service of the complaint on Hall's behalf. Finally, I called Hall back. His tone during our second conversation was initially one of ennui - until I told him the steps I took prior to calling him, which I reminded him I was doing because he had failed to live up to his promise that he had made to call me.

Once I told him what was going to happen, he became enraged. He cursed at me quite loudly and passionately for what seemed to be a minute or two. He threatened to come to New Jersey and physically injure me. I told him as long as he brought a check to satisfy his debt to Bloomingdale's, I would happily meet him at the office's front door. Finally, when he stopped hyperventilating into the receiver, I left him with a parting shot. I told him that as a devout Yankees fan, I was disappointed - but not surprised - to learn that he lived his personal life with the same nonchalant, careless and disinterested approach as he took to the game of baseball. I wished him a good day and hung up the phone, never talking to him again.

When considering the futures of these two American athletes and their families, I hope only that each gets what is deserved.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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