Monday, August 14, 2006


There's a Simpsons episode where Mayor Quimby raises a birthday toast to his nephew, Freddie: "And may all your embarrassments be private!"

Would that you could extend that blessing to New York Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca, who's caught in an only-in-the-Big-Apple tabloid feeding frenzy over adultery and gambling allegations that one local columnist, Ian O'Connor, sums sums up as "the younger the woman, the bigger the type size."

The Yankees and Mets are in first place, so the tabs needs something to write about. If it's any consolation to Mr. Lo Duca, he's not the first New York ballplayer to get caught with his pants down and he probably won't be the last.

It all comes with the territory of playing in the world's media capital. Observe:

This may have been when air quotes were invented. In '25, the Babe played only 98 games due to a mysterious malady that at the time was described in print only as a "bellyache." It wasn't that people were simpler 80 years ago. In a sense, they were sophisticated enough that they didn't need to waste their beautiful minds wondering why the Babe wasn't playing.

Perhaps it was the impurities in Prohibition era booze that turned the Babe's stomach, but there was strong speculation it was gonorrhea. As sportswriter Glenn Dickey put it decades later: "Certainly the Babe gave the women of America every chance to infect him."

STRANGEST. TRADE. EVER. (spring 1973)
Yankees left-handed pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson weren't the first, nor the last, visionaries who had to do some fast talking to avoid being burned at the stake, metaphorically speaking.

Their March 1973 announcement that they were trading wives, kids and dogs not only explains so, so much about the 1970s for those of us who are too young to remember it, but it planted the seed for at least a dozen sleazy reality shows. You could say that Spike TV wouldn't exist without Kekich and Peterson's stroke of brilliance. They should get stock options, wherever they are.

With Watergate and Vietnam going on, America needed a sideshow, and a wife swap between two ballplayers on baseball's most storied franchise was just the ticket to distract Middle America. Kekich, however made for a lousy general manager, since Marilyn Peterson soured on her new "team" after a few months. Fritz Peterson (133 career wins) was not only the superior pitcher, but the trade worked out for him: he and Susan Kekich-Peterson, far as anyone knows, remain together until this day.

This was not a stroke of brilliance. Poor David Cone. Guy wins 194 games in the majors, wins two strikeout titles, a Cy Young Award and earns five World Series rings in a career that is borderline Cooperstown-worthy, but thanks to some ink-stained wretch whose name will never be known, he'll always be dogged by that immortal tabloid headline WEIRD SEX ACT IN BULLPEN.

It wasn't weird at all. Every guy does that. It's just that few will do what Cone allegedly did in the Shea Stadium bullpen in 1989, giving Little David some air and a thorough massage in front of three female fans. The incident led to the women filing an $8.1 million US sexual harassment suit against the right-hander.

(One hesitates to say right-hander in this case, given how much we know about how pitchers try to limit use of their throwing hand for non-baseball activities.)

Perhaps this shouldn't even make the list, since Yankees outfielder Luis Polonia's conviction and subsequent jail term for having sex with an underaged girl got lost in the shuffle in '89, what with Pete Rose being banned for life and the World Series being interrupted by an earthquake that very same year.

Plus, it was the late '80s-early '90s Yankees, who were not exactly a glamour team. Their lineup, with the likes of Alvaro Espinoza, Deion Sanders, Oscar Azocar and Mel Hall, tended to leave the impression that the real Yankees team was stuck in traffic somewhere. Even their good players -- Roberto Kelly and even Don Mattingly -- weren't nearly as good as the media made them out to be.

Polonia, a speedy outfielder whose erratic fielding sometimes suggested that he was less than fully engaged with the cosmos, fit the tenor of that team perfectly. In the middle of the '89 season, he was charged with having sex with a 15-year-old girl in a Milwaukee hotel room, a crime that landed him 60 days in jail.

How embarrassing it must have been for Polonia. Not that he had to go to jail. That it happened in Milwaukee. That said, his career continued, long enough for him to earn one man's nod as one of the most useless Baltimore Orioles ever.

METS VS. THE MEDIA (spring 1992)
It's an unwritten rule that at any time, one pro sports team in the greater NYC metropolitan area must be doing its utmost to be a complete and utter gong show. The New York Knicks are doing an admirable job of that these days.

In the early '90s, the Mets were dutifully performing that dubious duty, particularly as management brought in players who helped making the clubhouse environment about as welcoming for visitors as North Korea: Bret Saberhagen, Vince Coleman, Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla.

Then in March '92, shortly after the Mike Tyson and William Kennedy Smith rape trials, it came to light that Florida authorities were investigating a sexual assault complaint involving three Mets: Coleman, Daryl Boston and Dwight Gooden. (And to think the Mets were often accused of failing to work together on the field.) Just to give the journalistic dynamite a little added oomph, the incident occurred on the same night in 1991 as the complaint against Kennedy Smith. Nice.

The media swooped in, but soon became divided between the (mostly female) hard news reporters who wanted to get all the juicy dirt and the (mostly male) baseball writers who were interested in protecting the status quo. Ultimately, the Mets had to resort to a media boycott, and the investigation into the incident was eventually dropped.

One would like to say that the principals all learned a valuable lesson, and every ballplayer learned not to embark on the folly of carousing and fooling around with a woman-not-his-wife ever again. Thanks to On The DL, we know better.

Is that five? Thankfully, it is. However, at the behest of a reader, there's one more:

Jones was one of many superbly talented major-leaguer outfielders who came up in the late '60s and '70s and never lived up to their vast potential, partially due to emotional instability. (See, Allen, Dick, Johnson, Alex, and Harrelson, Ken, among others.)

Jones hit .340 during the regular season for the 1969 Miracle Mets, but as Bill James noted in his Historical Baseball Abstract (2001 edition), he did not handle success well in subsequent seasons. He was later caught sleeping naked in a van in Florida with a woman who was not his wife. This was Florida, it was the '70s, Jones was African-American and the woman, well, she was not, so you can imagine what a firestorm that sparked.

That's more than enough, Thankfully, the Seinfeld episode when Elaine shuts out Keith Hernandez didn't have to be included, since it was fiction. That said, the theory here is that 14 years later, Mex still thinks he's got a shot.

In A Way, We All Played First Base (June 21)

That's all for now. Send your thoughts to


Anonymous said...

A post on New York Baseball sex scandals and no mentioned of Cleon Jones being caught in the back of a van with a white woman on the streets of St. Petersburg, FL during spring training 1975. That must be on this list.

sager said...

To be totally honest, this started out as a Top 10, and Jones was on the list, but then my computer crashed and I lost the post.

I am aware of the Jones imbroglio and will add it later.

Anonymous said...

Your readers should know about the follow up to this "scandal:" First of all, all charges were dropped. But despite that, Mr. Jones knew he had done something wrong, to his family and his fans, and he faced the problem like a man. In front of his team mates, and all of New York's sports writers, with his lovely wife Angela standing by his side, Mr. Jones apologized for the incident in front of the TV cameras to all the fans during a press conference in the Mets clubhouse. As one of his young fans, I remember thinking that must have taken guts. Owning up to a mistake is something good for anyone to learn -- especially an impressionable kid. I accepted his apology. I still do. Think about it: When was the last time you saw a major league athlete -- or even a President -- actually admit he did something wrong in a so called "scandal" and ask for forgiveness? I admired Mr. Jones before the incident, and admired him more for the apology. Over the years, I have had the great fortune of getting to know him, I can tell you, Mr. Jones is everything you hope for in a baseball hero. Kind to my kids, respectful to my parents, and just a prince to his family, Mr. Jones is one of the most eloquent and inspiring of the surviving Miracle Mets. He and Mrs. Jones have been blessed with a terrific family, with wonderful children and grandchildren and a great life in Mobile, Alabama. I will continue to honor his contributions to the game I love, on the team I will always cherish. I'm sure we all have memories of things we wish we hadn't done when we were young. If this is how you wish to remember Mr. Jones, I hope you also remember him for the way he handled it. It took dignity, courage and class to face the music, apologize, and move on. And I respect him for it. Plus, Mr. Jones name remains high on the lists of many Mets batting records, even though it's been 30 years since he played for the team. In the final analysis, I hope you choose to remember him for his accomplishments on the field. That's what the man deserves. -- TBC

sager said...

Thanks for your input. Please note that there was no reference made to any criminal charges made against Cleon Jones. This post was more about how some small-minded people overreacted when he made a very public error in judgement.

Good on him for being a stand-up guy about it.

Anonymous said...

Old bad joke:

Q: Why is Luis Polonia like the tortoise?

A: Because he gets there before the hare.

Not funny if you read it, funnier if you say it out loud.