Tuesday, May 5, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours; Jack Kemp, 1935-2009

I always get a thrill when I see the tarp getting taken off the field to end a rain delay. But last night they should have left it on.

Plate umpire Jerry Meals served a nice meal to Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester: A strike zone the size of The Bronx. And he gave Yankee starter Phil Hughes a strike zone the size of a nickel. Hughes said, "I couldn't throw to where the strike zone was" -- not "I couldn't throw to the strike zone." He knew. And manager Joe Girardi rightly argued, and got thrown out of the game.

Jorge Posada, off to a relief-inducing great start, hurt his hamstring. You know hamstrings: The most easily re-injured part of a baseball player's body.

Alfredo Aceves became the latest Yankee reliever to not get the job done.

And while Mark Teixeira hit 2 homers -- the 1st completing back-to-backs with Johnny Damon -- and looked like he was getting out of his slump, the Yanks again couldn't complete a comeback against that prick Jonathan Papelbon. Red Sox 6, Yankees 4. Now 0-4 against The Scum this season. (Yes, the Sox are The Scum, not the Mets.)

I know the reasoning behind trying to get the game in: A few times in the last few years, once resulting in that five-game series at Fenway in August 2006 that the Yanks ended up sweeping, early rainouts have led to day-night doubleheaders between the rivals. Those are a good way to seriously deplete pitching staffs, and both wanted to avoid it.

But last night's game never should have been played. Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Yankees did.

Mickey Rivers, the center fielder of the late 1970s dynasty, said, "Ain't no sense in worrying about things you got control over, 'cause if you got control, ain't no sense worrying. And there ain't no sense in worrying about things you got no control over, 'cause if you got no control, ain't no sense worrying."

I'm going to take a wild guess and say Mick the Quick didn't see last night's game, because the Yankees had no control, either over the Red Sox or the umpires.

And it's raining again as I type this. Another disaster?

Am I being overly dramatic? Can any loss to the Red Sox in April be a "disaster"? Uh, yes. Any loss to the Red Sox is a disaster.

Time for a little disaster relief. Shred the Sox!

*

Jack Kemp died this week. Born on July 13, 1935 in Los Angeles, he was a high school classmate of trumpeter and music producer Herb Alpert and future big-league pitcher Larry Sherry. He went to that city's Occidental College. (As did, briefly, a man who actually did go on to become President: Barack Obama.)

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed him in 1957, but cut him after the season. He was not the only quarterback cut by the Steelers in that decade: They also had, and cut, Johnny Unitas and Len Dawson. This is not a recommended way to run a football team.

Kemp was signed by the Giants, but never got into a game in 1958, sitting on the bench for every game, including their NFL Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Colts. He spent the 1959 season with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

The American Football League gave him his chance. In their founding year of 1960, he was signed by his hometown team, the Los Angeles Chargers. They moved to San Diego in 1961, and he remained with them through 1962. Then came his big change: The Buffalo Bills traded for him. In 1964 and 1965, he led the Bills to the AFL Championship -- each time, beating the Chargers in the Championship Game.

He remained with the Bills through the AFL's final year, 1969. He often joked, "I sustained 11 concussions while playing football. Nothing left to do but to go into politics!"

He also said, "Pro football gave me a good perspective: When I entered the political arena, I had already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy."

Although he has never been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has been elected to the Bills' Wall of Fame and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

*

In 1970, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from a district centered on Buffalo. He held that seat for 18 years, and became known as a conservative Republican seeking tax cuts, restrictions on abortion, and a decidedly anti-Communist foreign policy. He and Senator William Roth of Delaware submitted the Kemp-Roth Bill, a.k.a. "the Reagan Tax Cut," that President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1981.

But he differed from the rising Reagan wing of the party by embracing civil rights and legal immigration. Urban Enterprise Zones, city shopping districts where the local sales tax was cut in half to aid poor people to afford to buy things, were his idea, proposed in 1980, passed by Congress, and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

It may well be that his background, having gone to a mostly-Jewish high school and played alongside black players, made him, in his own words, a "bleeding-heart conservative." The joke was that, "Jack Kemp has showered with more black people than the other Republican Presidential candidates have met."

He did have 2 drawbacks, but he had enough of a sense of humor to joke about them. One was a perceived ego: "People say I'm arrogant. But I know better!" The other was a tendency to talk too much: In his 1996 debate with Al Gore, he was told he had 90 seconds to answer a question, and he said, "I can't clear my throat in 90 seconds!"

With his oft-cited good looks, his charm, his ability to win over what had been a Democratic district, and even his initials -- Jack French Kemp became known as "the Republican JFK" -- he was seen by many as the ideal successor to Reagan in the 1988 election. And he did run, but he finished 3rd in Republican delegates behind Vice President George Bush (we had no reason to use the "H.W." initials at the time) and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole.

Bush won the election, and named Kemp to be Secretary of Housing & Urban Development. "HUD" had been beset by scandal in the Reagan Administration, and Kemp won plaudits for cleaning the Department up. When Bill Clinton defeated Bush in 1992, a lot of conservatives hoped Kemp would run against him in 1996.

He didn't, but when Dole got the nomination, he chose Kemp to be the Vice Presidential nominee. As fate would have it, the Convention was in San Diego. And Dole was proud of his plan for a 15 percent across-the-board tax cut -- 15 having been Kemp's uniform number with the Chargers and Bills. They had a rally outside the San Diego Convention Center, wearing Chargers jerseys, Dole with Number 96, Kemp with Number 15.


The pair had been at odds before, with Dole a deficit hawk and Kemp a tax-cutter, and had, as I said, been primary competitors in 1988. But they smoothed over their differences (Dole, so often ridiculously cited as "not a true conservative," needed the kind of people who would have preferred that the Dole-Kemp ticket be the other way around), and campaigned hard. Kemp held his own in his debate with incumbent Vice President Al Gore, and it certainly wasn't his fault that Clinton-Gore overwhelmingly beat Dole-Kemp.

He enthusiastically endorsed George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and John McCain in 2008, but never ran for office again after 1996. Nor did the younger Bush, in spite of his admiration for him, appoint him to any post in his Administration. He was, however, regarded as an elder statesman of conservatism.

Jack married Joanne Main, his college sweetheart, and they were married for 51 years. They had 4 children: 2 sons, Jeff and Jimmy, both of whom followed their father as professional quarterbacks; and 2 daughters, Jennifer and Judith.

Jack developed cancer last year, and passed away 3 days ago. He was 73.

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