Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

This famous lyric from the Simon and Garfunkel song Mrs. Robinson, laments the loss of the relative innocence and simplicity of days gone by, for which ironically the Yankee Clipper threatened to sue, not understanding that he was being held up as an icon of virtue, not as he apparently thought, being lampooned.  His name came up today in a column by David Brooks in The New York Times, who observed in another context that “Joe DiMaggio didn’t ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves …”.

It is indeed disgusting to watch the likes of Alex Rodriguez flip his bat in the air and smirk toward the Yankee dugout as he begins his home-run trot toward first base.  At least he doesn’t stand in the batter’s box and watch the ball head toward the stands as some others do.  Much as I think pitchers who throw at batters intentionally should be ejected from the game, I would offer an exception to anyone who would “stick it in his ear” next time a hitter like that came to bat.

And how ridiculous is it to see NFL players, after making a routine play for which they are paid millions of dollars, explode into self-adulation, raising their arms, usually after pounding themselves on the chest, and screaming their greatness to the skies?  Yes, football is an emotional game, but a defensive lineman who makes a tackle or a wide receiver who catches a pass is usually not doing anything more exceptional than a professional golfer making par.  Can you imagine Phil Mickelson hurling his putter in the air, beating his chest and howling at the gallery every time that happened?  Where have you gone, Bronco Nagurski?

It may have all started with Muhammad Ali unabashedly telling the world, “I am the greatest.”  In his case, it was far more a calculated program of self-promotion than self-demented ego and eventually there was much to admire about the man.  But at the time, I’m sure many of us can remember our instinctive feeling that it would be nice if someone would knock his block off.  Today, he probably wouldn’t even bother with this act since the ball fields are littered with delusional self-pronouncements of greatness in almost every game.

As for us spectators, I’m afraid our lives have become so bereft of personal excitement generated by our own activities and commitments that we now revel in the self-admiration by those we watch in the sports world.  What a pity that these are the jerks to whom “our nation turns its lonely eyes.”

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