During his eminent existence, Babe Ruth, The Sultan of Swat, lived life to the fullest while emerging as baseball’s first great idol and home run king.
What also was true, especially while the man was sprinting through the 1920s, was he had what are generally considered major character flaws. He ate, gambled and drank too much. He had an explosive temper, didn’t take criticism well and was argumentative to the point of being of a real irritant to management and managers.
He also had a thing for women, of all social standing, and they for him. And from all accounts, he took great advantage of his popularity during long road trips, often disappearing for hours into the dark of the night.
But here was the thing: In those days, even though there were 10 newspapers in New York covering the Yankees, the sportswriters made a conscious effort to look the other way.
Remember, reporters traveled with the team on trains, played cards and drank with the players. They knew everything that was going on and probably slapped the Babe on the back more than a few times to congratulate the big lug.
The preferred course of action in those days was to glorify the stars in print, ignoring the whatever else that was going on that might sully the reputation of the man whose exploits with the bat helped sell papers.
Now here we are, nearly a century later, and it’s quite clear the attitude about covering for and coddling star athletes is a thing of the past. The more money they make, the clearer they appear in the crosshairs of the ever-expanding number of media outlets itching for sensationalism and scandal.
We were thinking about this again the other day when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was standing at the podium trying to explain his decision to take an adult actress out for dinner.
In the hours following the first video and Twitter posts about Garoppolo’s night on the town, a great number of national pundits took him to task, questioning his common sense, pointing to his lack of class.
Jason Whitlock of FS1, hung the name “Jimmy G-String” on the kid, then warned him that his choice of dinner dates would come back to haunt him if the 49ers suddenly take a nosedive this season after winning their last five games under his command in 2017.
“He’s got a freaky side. A real freaky side,” Whitlock chortled. “It’s going to be like: Is he distracted? Does he have some kind of addiction issue? Is he Tiger Woods? If he doesn’t play well, all these questions are going to be asked.”
Why is that? What specifically about the night, and the profession of his date, makes Garoppolo a potential liability to his team?
Over the years, a number of professional athletes have been linked to adult actresses, including Barry Bonds, Tiger Woods, the NBA’s Nate Robinson and the NHL’s Michael Del Zotto. It is what it is.
Seems like Garoppolo is entitled to live his life the way he chooses, and if that means subjecting himself to criticism and assumption, it’s ultimately his choice to make. Maybe he doesn’t care to be perceived as the next Tom Brady.
And since he’s set to make $137 million, maybe he doesn’t care whether his decision costs him endorsement money or how the gun-shy NFL plans to explain it to its ultra-conservative constituents already riled up over the national anthem debate.
Still, here was Garoppolo after it became clear that he was being publicly chastened.
“My life is looked at differently,” he said. “I’m under a microscope. Like (49ers coach) Kyle (Shanahan) said, it is a good learning experience.
“Life is different now. My life off the field, I’ve never really been big on being very public with things. Even social media, I’m not out there a ton.”
When asked about it, Shanahan referred to the bizarre new world celebrities, even those without fame, must now live.
“I’ve never in my life commented on a player’s date in July, so I’m not going to start today,” he said. “I don’t think it really pertains or matters to us.
“Jimmy came from a place (New England) where he saw a lot of people handle that spotlight and everything. So I think Jimmy does have an idea.
“I think everybody has an idea of how you should handle that spotlight, but not everyone’s in that spotlight. …You know, sometimes you have to learn how under the microscope we all are under. It’s not just the quarterback, it’s all players, (although) the quarterback definitely gets more than anyone else. But I think that’s a good learning experience for him. He’s got to know what comes with that stuff.”
One can only imagine the publicity backlash The Babe would have endured if he played in this generation.