The phrase “Senator Strom Thurmond” notwithstanding, democracy works. Case in point: baseball’s All-Century Team. Sure there were a couple of howlers addressed by the postballoting review process—Nolan Ryan over Lefty Grove (and for that matter Tom Seaver) on the mound, and Cal Ripken over Honus Wagner (and for that matter Alex Rodriguez) at short—but all in all the fans showed a remarkable grasp of the big picture. They realized that active players like Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens shouldn’t have to be fossilized (or 50-years dead) to get their historical props. And they showed a wicked sense of humor—listening, Jim Gray?—in tabbing everyone’s favorite outcast, Pete Rose. (Our ninth outfielder? Shoeless Joe Jackson, right after our equally unpopular choices, Met vet Rickey Henderson and Barry Bonds.)
The team’s single true anachronism—what, no relief pitchers?—was a vestige of the ballot structure, not the voter’s wisdom. The huddled masses balanced the old and new (World Series Game 4 starter Clemens and dead-ball dominator Walter Johnson), the sentimental and the stat-driven (the crusading Jackie Robinson and the sociopathic Rogers Hornsby), the underrated and the iconic (the great forgotten shortstop Ernie Banks and the tragic first baseman Lou Gehrig) better than a lot of guys who put Occupation: Baseball Writer on their tax returns. After all, it’s not the fans who keep giving MVP awards to Juan Gonzalez.
Pro sports and health care—they go together, right? Sure they do: Injury reports and medical opinions are as much a part of the game as slam dunks and power plays. Except now, they’re more akin to sideline rotating ads and rinkboard signage. The Knicks and Rangers gained an “official health and hospital system” last week…which sounds legit, and even kinda impressive, until you parse out what it actually means.
Beth Israel Hospital has been providing the Knicks with team physicians for 18 years now—Norman Scott, head of Beth Israel’s Institute for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, is the longtime team doctor—and recently the Liberty added Norman’s wife, Susan Craig Scott (also based at BI), to its staff. So an “official” partnership would mean…what? That the Rangers add one of the Scotts to their roster? That the next time Patrick Ewing tears a ligament in his lower extremities he can be rushed to only one specific hospital?
Well, no. It means that Beth Israel and its sibling institutions in Continuum Health Partners are now Madison Square Garden’s “predominant health sponsor from a marketing perspective,” according to Continuum’s vice president for public affairs, Kathleen McGovern. Huh? In plain English, it means Continuum paid MSG millions of dollars to put little Knicks and Rangers logos on the doors of its buildings—and maybe even on the sides of its ambulances. It also means that Continuum (which includes St. Lukes–Roosevelt and Long Island College Hospitals) will paste its own blue-triangle logos throughout the pedestrian walkways of the midtown arena and on its Jumbotron scoreboard. Doctors have nothing to do with it.
It’s marketing of the most rarefied variety. It boils down to the all-importance of branding. In paying the huge (undisclosed) sum, Continuum is purchasing the right to have its name tied to a crucial site for reaching the lucrative male market. At least that’s what Continuum is banking on. “There are more mechanisms to reach women,” says McGovern. Men, on the other hand, seem to gather at sporting venues, where they are captive audiences for corporate messages…when they’re not ogling the Knick City Dancers.
Just Following Orders
Perhaps all the Giants needed was a little instruction. On the game-day schedule board in the locker room, Big Blue’s coaching staff wrote “Kick someone’s ass” next to 1:02 p.m., the scheduled kickoff time for the team’s matchup with New Orleans. New York won 31-3.
Contributors: Allen St. John, Sharon Lerner, Brian P. Dunleavy
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 26, 1999