Mugger: Joba Rules

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It’s the last day of August as this column is written and my, what a smorgasbord of recent events to consider.

Let’s dispense with this Larry Craig bit of nastiness at the outset. Of course the GOP moral crusader is a hypocrite, snarling about gays when he’s allegedly soliciting some sort of satisfaction in a Minneapolis bathroom stall. How quaint: Maybe the Idaho senator had just rented Prick Up Your Ears and was trying out for the part of Joe Orton. You got the time, Senator? And of course Republican leaders booted Craig out of Washington as fast as possible. And who can blame them?

After all, last year’s tumultuous midterm elections were largely decided on September 29, when word leaked out about Rep. Mark Foley’s unsavory emails and come-ons to male Congressional pages. (Not that such dalliances harmed the late Gerry Studds’ career, but then he was a Democrat from Massachusetts.) After the Democrats took power last November, the bleat bleat bleat from the media—mainstream, netroots, elite, downscale—was that Iraq was the last straw for American voters, which, while not entirely incorrect, was certainly exaggerated. It was Foley’s indiscretions, known but ignored by a complacent GOP leadership, that repulsed voters, many of whom have children and are scared silly over Internet predators. Absent the Foley story, which was gleefully laid out in newspapers for days on end, it’s likely that at least the Senate would’ve remained under Republican control.

So the timing of Sen. Craig’s arrest was fortunate for Rudy, Mitt and Fred, since by Christmas the toilet episode will be long forgotten and supplanted by numerous other examples of tawdry Beltway behavior. I do think that Mitt Romney’s a real scumbag for immediately calling Craig, who’d endorsed the former governor “disgusting” instead of being a gentleman and issuing a benign statement saying he was thinking (or praying, given Mitt’s shtick) of the Senator’s family and what a difficult time it was for him.

Oh, and then there’s The New York Times laughing out loud at this latest Republican predicament, running an August 31 editorial (“Disowning Senator Craig”) that was just as repulsive as many people believe public sex, of any kind, is. “To the extent Senator Craig, a stalwart in the family values caucus, might morph into a blatant hypocrite before the voters’ eyes,” the writer preached, “he reflects on the party’s record in demonizing homosexuality. The rush to cast him out betrays the party’s intolerance, which is on display for the public in all of its ugliness.”

I appreciated the diligence of Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, on the same day, in digging up a Times chestnut from 1964, after LBJ aide Walter Jenkins was tossed in the gutter after the fuzz busted him in a D.C. john for having Brokeback sex. The Times of that era—and remember this is the same paper that endorsed Republican incumbent Kenneth Keating over Bobby Kennedy in that year’s senate race—sniffed that “[T]here can be no place on the White House staff or in the upper echelons of government for a person of markedly deviant behavior.”

Of far more interest, at least to baseball fans in the Northeast (and really, does any other region in the country matter when it comes to this sport?), was the emergence of the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain as the new Bob Gibson. I’m not referring to the youngster’s astonishing debut in the past few weeks—and if GM Brian Cashman is really considering Joba as starter next year instead of Mariano Rivera’s 2009 replacement, maybe he needs to get thee to a Penn Station restroom pronto—but rather the two head-buzzing pitches he fired at the Red Sox’s Kevin Youkilis at the conclusion of the Bombers’ sweep of Boston last Thursday.

Joba, on cue, said that the two consecutive 98 M.P.H. fastballs just got away from him—“I’m sorry that I slipped, but there was no intent there… I wouldn’t ever want to do anything to disrespect [the] game.”—but he must’ve been trying to suppress a grin. This kid, barely out of his teens, has already created such as sensation that, like Ichiro, he’ll be known only by his first name, was sending a message to his teammates and sold-out Stadium crowd. It’s not much different, really, from when then-minor leaguer Jonathan Papelbon plunked a batter in a spring training game two years ago and instantly shot up on the Boston team’s radar. I’m not a proponent of pitchers who intentionally try to bean hitters, but Major League Baseball has become so namby-pamby about hit batsmen that given a tense situation if, say Carlos Zambrano grazes the uniform of a Milwaukee Brewer he’s liable to be tossed by the ump.

Roger Clemens has plenty of issues, including his callous disregard for Mike Piazza in 2000 after hitting the Mets catcher in the head, but in general he plays the game right. After Daisuke Matsuzaka hit Alex Rodriguez in the first game of the series, the next night Clemens didn’t waste any time in retaliating against possible rookie of the year Dustin Pedroia. Boston’s second baseman trotted to first, with no glare at the mound, and got on with the game.

As a Sox fan, I never believed the Yanks would go away, even during the nadir of their early season when Damon, Abreu, Cano and even Rivera looked so miserable. The Yanks are going to the playoffs, and, given history that can’t be ignored—’04 Sox comeback notwithstanding—probably by virtue of winning the A.L. East. Maybe the Bosox will win the division, maybe they’ll walk off with the wild card, but if the Yanks can get past the Angels, then Joba will be the man of October.

Supporters gush about John Edwards taking on the persona of Bobby Kennedy in the mid-1960s in his current campaign, as the North Carolina phony walks picket lines, makes New Orleans his third home (after Iowa), calls for Americans to give up their SUVs and promises to tax the stuffing out of people who, like him, belong to the more advantaged of his “Two Americas.” But Edwards is no throwback to the politics of anger and compassion—he’s just a pissed-off politician who knows that all the consultants and trial-lawyer contributions can’t put a dent into the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Joba’s the retro man of the moment, unmasking a guy like Edwards for the pretender that he is.

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