Friday, August 02, 2002

The day Bowden lost all perspective


Ill-chosen metaphor defies explanation

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        Astounding. “If the players go on strike, they ought to just pick Sept. 11,” Jim Bowden decided.

        He was talking to sports writers before the game Thursday. The pens were out. The tape was rolling. He knew what he was doing. “Because that's what it's going to do to the game.”

        It will do no such thing, of course. Baseball will go on, which is more than can be said for the lives of 3,000 people dead 11 months. But never mind. Bowden wasn't done. Heaven help him, he needed to be. But he wasn't.

        “If they do walk out, I encourage all of them — make sure it's Sept. 11. Be symbolic about it.”

        Maybe he didn't realize the weight of his words, in hearts and stomachs from here to there. Maybe his passion on the subject overcame his common sense. Maybe he's just incredibly thick. Heaven help him, he still wasn't done.

        “Donald Fehr should drive the plane right into the building, if that's what they want to do,” Bowden said.

        Astounding.

        What do we call this? Crass? Callous? Mindless? Pathetic? What?

        It doesn't matter much the Reds general manager didn't mean it literally.

        Who could mean it literally? It matters only a little that Bowden later amended his sentiments.

        “I don't think the game can handle a strike,” he said. “That was my only point. I certainly didn't mean it to be offensive.”

        Too late. If Bowden didn't drive a nail into the center of his career coffin, he did manage to offend an entire country in a few short seconds.

        Astounding.

        I spoke to Bowden late in the game Thursday. Maybe he'd thought about what he'd said. A strike on 9-11? Symbolic? Of what?

        Donald Fehr? Airplane? Oh, Jim.

        Maybe he'd had a change of heart. Maybe not. Bowden discussed his statements calmly. I could have been asking him if the Reds still needed pitching help.

        “In retrospect, do you think what you said this morning about a possible strike was inappropriate?” I asked.

        “What do you mean?”

        “The analogy.”

        “My point, which a lot of players have made, is the game can't handle a work stoppage,” Bowden said. Oh.

        Later, the Reds issued a statement from Bowden. It made him sound a lot more contrite. Believe what you want.

        Word travels fast. At Wrigley Field, reporters were talking about Bowden's opinions a few hours after he uttered them. It'll be worse this morning. Words are more powerful in print than they are in thin air. Printed words are permanent. As permanent as the stain on Bowden's career.

        In the current war for hearts and minds, the consensus has been that the players were winning the self-importance game over management, hands down.

        Fantasy Island was the exclusive province of jocks who talked about protecting their rights, while normal people took pink slips and saw their life savings disappear. We might have to reassess.

        How out of touch must one be to say such a thing? How completely removed from the everyday fabric?

        For all the Jim Bowdens out there, thinking privately what Bowden said aloud: Baseball means not much. The game could end tomorrow and the only people who'd suffer would be the folks directly involved. It wouldn't be Sept. 11. Nothing could be that. Not ever again.

        Bowden is subject to Baseball's gag order. The Reds could be fined as much as $1 million for his words. Baseball shouldn't do that. What Baseball should do is send Jim Bowden to a house in New York or New Jersey and explain to the fatherless kid who answers the front door what he meant on Thursday morning.

        “If I had to say it over, I would not have used that date,” Bowden said.

        If only he hadn't said it at all.

       



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