Thursday, January 04, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Barry

Former A's pitcher Barry Zito has put my heart on a roller coaster today. I am an A's fan, Oakland resident, adept at ducking when I hear shots, etc., and naturally have always been fond of Zito -- for his success when he had it, for his oddity that filled in the spaces between his successes.

Because I do like odd in a ballplayer. Back in the day, I did enough locker room interviews to acquire the impression that a lot of ballplayers and perhaps most ballplayers are semi -educated, culturally inept millionaires or millionaires manque, a kind of marginally classier version of Donald Trump, devoid of surprise or contradiction. But one hoped for more from Barry, with his jazz daddy and his New Age mama. One hoped that behind that layer of SoCal gauze lay substance, maybe a social conscience, maybe a better-than-average B.S. detector.

This morning: Utter delight. Zito bought a full page in the Chronicle thanking Oakland, the fans, the press, his teammates as he bid farewell before exiting Stage West to cash his $126 million check with the Giants. The ad was touchy, feely, spacey, but kind of touching, since I have always suspected Zito is just weird enough to be sincere when indulging in his spasms of softer feeling. But then I read in the very same newspaper that Zito is -- oh lord -- a Bush-loving, Fox News-worshipping Republican, just another suddenly rich boy who likes to thump brown people in the head from a safe distance.

I recall when I learned that "Coach K" at Duke was not only a Republican but used Duke's good name to support Liddy Dole when she was running for senate in North Carolina. It suggested he should stick to his X's and O's and counting his millions (millions earned on the backs of his players, too few of whom ever earn millions of their own). Suddenly, I was thinking Bobby Knight was not so bad. Knight refuses to encourage us in our delusions about excellence as pervasive, manifesting itself in every area of life. It is clear how narrowly focused his areas of competence are, how specific his genius, which limitation is always good to remember about almost everyone, genius or not.

Thus, why this Zito revelation should matter is a puzzle. The disconnect between celebrity and sense is profound and it is obvious, and I say that even as I prize the good leftiness of George Clooney and even Barbra Streisand. I do not pretend to be consistent here. I do not indulge in hero worship -- I really do fight against it -- but I do enjoy a little hero less-than-absolute contempt.

It was the Fox News preference that got me, which when it comes to Iraq welcomes any Bush pitch, the wilder the better, and then paints a strike zone around it.

Postscript: Well, I didn't think this was possible, but by going to, I was able to see a page-by-page reproduction of the print edition of today's Chronicle. Here is Barry Zito's farewell to Oakland -- appearing in a *San Francisco* newspaper, and that strikes me as a very Republican thing to do.

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