Zachary Klein

zachThis was going to be a column that reviewed the Red Sox’s tumultuous season. But Boston’s—no, New England’s sports scene—is obsessed with something much more important than the Sox.

Deflategate. We’ve got a brand-spanking new word for letting air out of footballs during a game, aka, cheating by the New England Patriots before the first half of pro football’s AFC Championship. Given the constant drumbeat on sports talk radio, in daily newspaper articles, the evening news, Twitter, et al, it’s impossible to lead with any other story—even for your intrepid, gonzo columnist. Since last January this lunacy has become the Keeping up with the Kardashians of the sports world. And just like with the Kardashians, who really gives a shit?

I guess Tom Brady does. He has 1,882,352 reasons. (The amount of money he’ll lose if the four-game suspension sticks.) Robert Kraft, the team’s owner, not so much. Since he already agreed to the NFL’s discipline, I gotta wonder whether he’s conflicted about Brady’s federal case to overturn the Commish’s (who also served as arbiter for the initial appeal) ruling. Although fined $1,000,000 and docked two draft picks–a first-rounder in 2016 and a fourth-rounder in 2017–if Brady’s punishment holds, Kraft actually saves $882K. Ahh, but Tommy is a fine lad.

As for the merits of the punishment and the court case, Brady’s complete denial about knowing or caring about ball pressure just doesn’t pass the sniff test—especially given his testimony about the amount of time he actually spends getting game day footballs to “feel right.” But worse than a sniff test fail is the absurdity of the National Football League’s desire to ram it to the Pats over what amounts to an equipment violation. I’ve read the transcripts that have been made public and the NFL’s punishment processes are fucked up and horrifically unfair. (Truth is, when I worked as a trial and jury consultant I loved poring through transcripts. Yeah, I know. “Seriously deranged” would be my own diagnosis.) I don’t know who will win the case and I don’t care. All I know is how deflated I feel every time the subject comes up.

And while local sports talk radio hosts often cite their own deflategate fatigue, they lie. With 24/7 to fill, this sure helps.

Of course, once summer began, they could have used all that extra time to trash Hanley Ramirez even more. He was one of the “big name” players signed by former Red Sox General Manager, Ben Cherington, to a long-term contract before the season (4 yrs. @ $88M & a 2019 vesting option). I’ve been disappointed in Ramirez’s play this season too, but the degree of hate vomited by these commentators is frankly disgusting. They constantly call him a dog, a cancer, and they haven’t let up all season long.

The “anything for ratings” game encourages these jock-sniffer’s spewings and the cement-headed callers aren’t much better. I don’t know what it’s like in other cities, but in Boston, the two stations that carry local sports talk personalities have exactly one person of color as a regular host. Sadly when a town has a racial history like mine, you gotta wonder why they all rag on Ramirez and never our venerated quarterback. That Tommy surely is a fine lad.

Perhaps I’m making more out of this than I should, so do me a favor? Let me know whether your city’s sports talk hosts are as White as mine. And as targeted in their hate-mongering.

So How ’bout them Sawwks?

Well, it’s been one hell of a season. Hitters who made a career hitting haven’t hit. Pitchers haven’t been able to get anyone out and, about five times this season, fielders haven’t known the number of outs, including one player who generously threw the ball to the fans when there were only two away in the inning. Team management has been abysmal from the owners to the ex-general manager right down to the field skipper and pitching coach. Actually, what pitching coach? There’s been absolutely no sign that anyone knew anything about pitching. Plus, the team has done little to stabilize its young talent—a fine fix for the future. To top it off, the Red Sox manager, John Farrell, was diagnosed with Stage I Lymphoma during a routine hernia operation.

This entire season eventually reminded me of The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.,J. Henry Waugh, Prop., a 1968 novel by Robert Coover, whose protagonist, Henry Waugh, runs an intricate one-person fantasy season as a way to distract from his crummy life. Problem with Henry’s game is that it runs off the rails when his favorite player is killed by a bean-ball in accordance with the governing rules that Henry created.

Call me crazy, but the self-destructive decision making that produced one Red Sox Championship (i.e. lightening in a bottle) surrounded by three last place finishes sure looks like a train wreck to me.

Coover’s world is fiction but the Red Sox are real life (ha!). So in real life, then came Dombrowski.

Recently hired as President of Baseball Operations, Dave D. has a reasonable track record in his stewardships of the Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins, and Detroit Tigers. The prior Red Sox regime was loath to trade prospects, whatever the Red Sox record, but not so Dombrowski, if his history is predictive. The real question will be whether he can clearly identify the team’s needs and find players to solve those needs. Sit tight Red Sox Nation. Gonna be an interesting off-season.

But why am I writing about baseball? Deflategate is blaring from my radio speaker.

“It’s not even a lesson. It’s just what it is.” Damon holds the baseball up between them. “It is hard and white and alive in the sun.” ~ Robert Coover, The Universal Baseball Association


It’s right before the quarter-finals of the World Cup and I’m shaking my head while staring at the remaining teams. Most of the time, it’s pretty easy to be a sports fan. People I know generally root for their hometown teams past or present—sometimes both. Those are almost always long-term relationships that usually last a lifetime whether the team does well or, in the case of the hapless and hopeless, Chicago Cubs’ fans—need I say more?

World Cup soccer isn’t as simple. I’m a sports fan and where I do appreciate the beauty of play, I gotta root for someone. That’s the fun. When I’ve got no personal loyalty I usually find out who the underdog is and take its back. I just can’t imagine being neutral watching sports. I’ve never watched any game as a dispassionate observer.

This isn’t my first head shake since the tournament began. We’re talking country against country here, which trumps my underdog fallback policy. Most Americans who follow the Cup simply root for the US unless they had a different country of origin. Even then I’d guess most root for both. And while I love a whole lot of stuff about this country, it’s too difficult to tease out my nation’s team from the horror our government (both Republican and Democrat) has inflicted upon the Iraqis, Afghans, and every country against which it has waged outright and covert war since World War Two.

Yeah, I’m the same guy who has argued it’s okay to separate a person’s achievements from his or her personal life. Never had a problem enjoying Picasso paintings despite his misogyny. Or laughing out loud during Woody Allen films despite his controversial marriage. So why not do the same thing here?

Because I just couldn’t. I know the team had no hand in our ugly. But I still couldn’t stop cringing every time I heard the chant, “USA! USA! USA!

Since I was watching a lot of Cup games and gotta root, I began my quest to find a country in each match to support. And, while I have no doubt that Mexico’s corrupt government has committed egregious acts of injustice and violence, I’d just spent a terrific couple of weeks there (see my last two posts). Hypocritical perhaps, but that experience allowed me to inexplicably push their crimes out of my mind and cheer. I had a team. For a little while, anyway. Unfortunately they didn’t get out of the Round of 16, but I did and wasn’t done with the Cup.

So, as I write this, I’m left with the following teams to root for: Brazil, that spent billions to host the tournament while just out of sight from tourists there are people who live in shacks without running water and about 15% of the country’s deaths are due to transportation accidents, violence, or suicide.

Gonna pass on Brazil.

And so it goes. No full face public burkas in France despite a Social Democratic government. Germany, well, I have historical problems there. Argentina, whose government slaughtered 15,000 to 30,000 political dissidents including trade unionists, students, and journalists in its “Dirty War” (Guerra Sucia).

I don’t think so.

That leaves me Columbia, Netherlands, Belgium, and Costa Rica.

I could probably find historical or contemporary fault with each of these countries but I have a personal connection with one. My older son Matthew spent a high-school summer with a Costa Rican family learning Spanish. Plus, Costa Rica has no military. So, for the time being (at least until they play the Netherlands, the clear cut favorite) I have an underdog team to root for.

Ain’t I the lucky one?

Truth is, I’ve learned something important writing this. There was a guy, a regular customer in my father’s tavern, who had a jones for betting on horses. His method?  Spread The Racing Form on the bar in front of him, take a needle, close his eyes, and dot the day’s races with pinpricks. He’d note the horses he’d hit, go to the telephone booth and call his bookie. I could do the same with the world map and find that every country I touched would leave me feeling sick. Some more than others, but very few without some quease. Even the ones I’ve never heard of.

Maybe that USA chant isn’t as bad as I first thought.

“This may not be the best of all possible worlds, but to say that it is the worst is mere petulant nonsense.” Thomas Henry Huxley


This is the time of year where every major sports league has something exciting either taking place or about to. A kaleidoscope of starting times, match-ups, rival networks, and television stations bursting into sports bloom.

For me, it just doesn’t get any better.

We’re hours away from discovering who will be this year’s men’s and women’s college basketball champions. It’s exciting even though I have no dog in the games. Actually, I might be the dog myself, salivating at the excitement of a final contest. Like my cousin Hank says, we’d watch any final of any championship including sports we know nothing about. Badminton, anyone?

Football’s free agency has slowed to a crawl, but when it was hot there was a great deal of player movement, something that fans love. Trades in any sport often remind me of slavery—only these slaves usually end up with millions in their pockets after the musical chair game is finished. The team owners always end up with more, but hey, that’s capitalism for you.

And here come the N.B.A. playoffs where I do have a dog. A real underdog. The Boston Celtics are limping (literally our two stars, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on ankle injuries) into the final regular season games hoping to cling to the seventh spot so they don’t see the Miami Heat in the first round. Although the Celts have been amazingly resilient throughout the course of this injury-plagued season, losing eight out of your last eleven games with nine to go doesn’t bode well for playoff momentum. (But the games won’t be decided before there are the jump balls so the Celts still have a chance for another banner. Just don’t bet the rent. I sure ain’t.

I’m not much of a hockey fan until their playoffs, which, in this strike-shortened season, is almost upon us. I follow the Bruins enough to know a couple of trades brought the eventual Hall of Famer who is on the downside of his career, Jaomir Jager, to the team. Since I really don’t know too much about the sport I’ll have to watch some games just to see what he looks like. Of course, those games will be in the Championship Series.

Now, the absolute best! Baseball season has begun. Yeah, April is the cruelest month and playing ball with knit facemasks leaves a lot to be desired. But opening day (this year ESPN jumped the gun and turned it into opening night) is always the harbinger of spring and the hope that comes with it.

I know, I know, the Red Sox aren’t supposed to be very good this season. After a huge salary dump to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of last year, the Sox bought themselves a few second tier dirt-dog players in the hope of a better clubhouse attitude and a bridge to potential star minor league players. Not exactly a catbird seat situation. But virtually all 162 games have yet to be played so forgive me for not quitting on my team. I like our starting pitching despite potentially losing one to an injury during the first game he pitched (John Lackey). Love our bullpen big time, and one of our budding stars, (would be two except the Sox spent 9.5 million for a one year shortstop so Jose Iglesias will be sent down as soon as nine and a half is ready to play), Jackie Bradley Jr., a twenty year old outfielder, has started every game and held his own—especially in the field. I don’t know if they’ll keep him in the majors all season or send him down for more seasoning, but he sure looks like the real deal.

I’m certain that in every major league city, fans are doing what I do—thinking, hoping to find rationales for why their team will be in the race. You know what? That’s what spring is for—no matter the temperature. The thought makes me smile.

But it’s not just the rooting that grabs my chops when baseball season begins. It is, as I’ve written in other posts, the game itself. Which is why, when people rightfully complain about ticket prices, ballpark signage, refreshment costs, parking, and steroids, I frankly don’t give a shit. Truth is, I’ve been priced out of Fenway for a decade. Which is why for a buck twenty I buy, which allows me to watch every team outside my home area for the entire season.

What I care about is how the catcher calls the game, how the pitcher is spotting the ball, the small adjustments the defense makes batter to batter. The game as a whole and the games within the game. I just love it.

So that’s it from this spring’s sports desk. I understand that what I’ve written isn’t for everyone—hell, Sue’s out there in the yard looking for a hint of green and searching for buds. But if Detroit plays in the World Series (her home town), she’ll be watching.

Heywood Broun: “The tragedy of life is not that man loses but that he almost wins.”


Or do we?

Last week during the N.C.A.A. Men’s basketball play-offs, Florida Gulf Coast University became the first 15th seed in the history of the Men’s N.C.A.A. to eliminate a #2 seeded team in the history of the basketball tournament.

Major media eruption! Not simply sports stations, but national news, local news, and talk shows. You couldn’t turn on the television or radio without hearing about the “Cinderella” story. Florida Gulf became America’s darlings—despite annihilating most of the betting pools throughout the country. No matter, they were the little school that could and did. And when F.G.C.U. clawed their way to the Sweet Sixteen, the media frenzy was overwhelming. Which actually made me begin to think.

Why when it comes to sports do people really enjoy and support underdogs, but seem to despise them in real life? (Sorry my sports’ fan friends—games are only real life to those who play them or work for or own teams.)

Perhaps ‘despise’ is too strong a word. Ignore works and might be a better term. How much attention has any specific family whose house has been repossessed received from the media—other than the very few who have made a huge public stink? No water cooler conversations about the hard working underdog who was the victim of mortgage manipulations by banks and companies who are apparently “too big to fail.”

In fact, where is the public outcry about the term “too big to fail or too big to jail?” Those institutions are over-dogs and I’m not hearing much anger about their oppression of our fellow citizens, much less their slice and dice of the economy which affected us all. Hell, that makes us the underdogs and we aren’t even rooting for ourselves. (Senator Bernie Sanders excepted.)

How often do people sit around the dinner table chatting excitedly about the pay differential between white males as opposed to women and Blacks who work at the exact same job for the exact same number of years? Yes, there are organizations that raise the issue, but it’s a long spit between an organization’s agenda and public fervor.

Unemployment. From where I sit, the only time that receives much attention is when it’s tied to a politician’s aspirations. Unless someone has a friend or relative out of work, I haven’t heard much support for those millions of underdogs. In fact, despite the absolutely clear evidence with regard to the lack of available jobs, I keep listening to bullshit about “If someone really wants to work, there are jobs out there.” Only jobs I ever hear about are “Welcome to Wall-Mart” and just try to make a living doing that. Even the Federal Reserve talks about 6.5% unemployment as acceptable. Acceptable to whom? Surely not one of those 6.5% underdogs.

Homelessness? People to step over, around, and avoid. Yes, here too there are organizations and shelters. Which have to constantly beg for funds. Where’s the hue and cry for these folks? And there’s sure no outpouring of bequests from the over-dogs about this either. Indeed, what I hear is pretty much “fuck ’em.”

Hell, we even have a ‘fuck ’em’ attitude toward those who can’t afford healthcare. Even the minor reforms that Obama initiated which added coverage for three million people was met with hatred. And some states are even refusing federal funds to extend their Medicaid program for their own poor.

Truth is, there are no end of examples where we don’t root for underdogs, but cheer those who make life miserable for most of our population—to say nothing about the way our country bombs foreign villages in order to save them. (See Iraq). This, along with no complaints about our support of dictators whose feet have been stomping on the necks of their people—for decades or longer. We support underdogs?

The only sense I can make out of all this has to do with a huge number of our people who actually identify with the overlords. A belief that they too can wind up on the top of the pyramid, though all evidence is to the contrary. An inability to get their heads around the reality that 5% of our population owns or controls 90% of our wealth (give or take a few % points). I guess we believe the club is still open. Ha!

So Florida Gulf Coast’s run gave all of us our collective misconception that we actually love underdogs. And we do—just not in the real world.