Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
C'MMMMMOONNNNN (That's a Terrible Call)
2008-01-29 09:23
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

The Pat Jordan pick of the week is a profile he did on the ol' red-headed Deadhead for the New York Times Magazine back in 2001. Here's Bill Walton's Inside Game:

Back at the house, Walton goes to practice his piano while his sons go outside to play one of their fierce two-on-two basketball games. Nate and Bruk Vandeweghe, who has lived with the family for 20 years, team up against Chris and a friend. Luke, limping from an ankle sprain he suffered in one of the boys' recent games, sits in a chair and mimics his father broadcasting the game that is filled with rough play and profanity.

Nate fakes under the basket and tosses in a hook shot. "Nice utilization of the body," Luke intones. Chris immediately hits a long jumper. "But Chris will not go away," Luke says.

Chris drives toward the basket and tosses a pass behind his back that goes out of bounds. "A good look," Luke says, "but a little too fancy."

Nate and Chris dive for a loose ball and bang heads. Chris screams a profanity at Nate, and Nate curses back. As play resumes, Walton hobbles out on his crutches to watch. "What are you doing here?" Nate says. The boys' game is deflated. They continue to play, but without their previous fury; no more curses, just a lot of uncontested jump shots until the game expires.

After the game, Vandeweghe sits by the pool and talks about his life with the Waltons. He acts as their unofficial manservant, serving drinks, giving the boys massages on the living-room table and running errands. "This house is in a time warp," he says. "Like a monastery. Still, there's a lot going on here you don't know." He smiles. "Bill wants everyone to have a good time. At his parties, there are three girls to every guy. Bill lets you do anything with girls as long as you don't talk about it in front of Lori. She's subservient, like a geisha. She serves her purpose for Bill. She's thrilled to be with a star." He says that the Waltons' divorce was hard on Susie. "She was like my second mom. She can't lie. Bill can't talk about her because he knows she's right."

At that moment, Nate, furious, comes out of the house toward Vandeweghe. "Same old garbage!" he snaps. "I told Bill I was gonna see Mom, and he says he wants to talk to me for five minutes, and it goes on and on, nowhere."

Not everybody loved Jordan's story. Here is a letter the Times published on November 25, 2001:

In the 20 years since I wrote about the Portland Trail Blazers in an earlier book, Bill Walton and I have become good friends, and I have spent a good deal of time with him and with his sons (Pat Jordan, Oct. 28). The relationship between father and sons has always struck me as loving, supportive and mutually generous; I think it is not unimportant that in a home where the father let all of his sons follow their own stars, all four wanted to play basketball. More important, what Pat Jordan missed was the story right in front of him: the rarest kind of courage and exuberance on the part of an athlete, once gifted, whose ability to maximize the uses of his body is so critical to his psyche but is now so seriously jeopardized by the cruelest kind of injuries to both feet.

David Halberstam
New York

Clearly, Pat never read How to Wins Friends and Influence People.

2008-01-29 10:42:50
1.   Josh Wilker
Thanks for passing that story along, Alex. The last line, in which Jordan wonders if Walton is joking or serious (or, it is implied, perhaps just nuts), is actually perfectly orthodox Deadhead lore. The Dead typically "blew" the big shows (e.g., Woodstock, Monterrey Pop Fest), then hit legendary (among Deadheads) peaks at smaller, "out of the way" shows, such as a nowhere town in a snowstorm. (He probably has the fantastic 5/8/77 show at a snowy Cornell in mind.)
2008-01-29 11:40:57
2.   Max
Great story that I somehow missed when it came out.

I idolized Walton as a basketball player, both when he played with UCLA, and on that championship TrailBlazer team... his subsequent injuries were heartbreaking to me, because I loved watching him at his peak. When he joined the Celtics, it felt like a betrayal, because I grew up hating the Celtics even more than the Red Sox. It was a nice comeback for him, but I took no joy watching him in a diminished state.

The only equivalent I can come up with now would be Mo being hurt and let go by the Yankees, then reinventing himself as a soft-tossing knuckleballer for the Red Sox at 42 and playing a key role in relief as they won another World Series.

Walton's "evolution" to annoying basketball announcer is one of those things I just chalk up to life's funny twists, but I appreciated Jordan's perspective on how he had to overcome his stuttering, and what makes him project the way he does.

2008-01-29 12:15:40
3.   Alex Belth
Walton used to crack me up as an announcer. Now, he's boring. I did like the Halberstam book. I especially like the charming story Walton tells about building a shower with two shower heads--one for him and the other for his wife--or as he said, (I'm paraphrasing), "One to wash my hair and the other the wash the soap off my balls."
2008-01-29 13:22:18
4.   vockins
usa today says santana to mets
2008-01-29 13:54:40
5.   Zack
Wow, Santana to the Mets for Humber, Gomez, Mulvey, and Guerra. What a great great deal for the Mets and what a terrible deal for the Twins. They trade the best pitcher in baseball for 4 prospects, none of whom are remotely close to sure things or even stars.

Bill Smith really really messed this up.

2008-01-29 14:00:19
6.   JoeInRI
I'm a happy man. Betcha Santana blows out his elbow in May.
2008-01-29 16:49:45
7.   williamnyy23
5 I agree...the Twins would have almost been better keeping Johan, trying to win this season and then pocketing two draft picks (which, considering the Twins scouting ability, might actually yield better prospects than the quartet acquired by the Mets). The fact that the Twins didn't get Martinez makes the deal even worse. At least he stands out as a blue chip prospect (Guerra might emerge as one, but again, is he better than a number pick right now)?

From the Mets standpoint, this deal is a no brainer. They desperately needed to erase the misery of last season and Santana catapults them to the top of the NL. Now, 3-4 years into the deal, the picture might not be as rosey, but the Mets are a now team.

What makes Smith look worse is that either of the packages originally offered by the Yankees and Red Sox would have been superior. Assuming both teams would have been willing to part with the rumor names when they first surfaced, then Smith bluffed...and lost.

Apparently, the Yankees and Red Sox each decided to pull back from their original offers. So, I'd imagine both Cashman and Epstein are pretty happy today. The Santana anvil is no longer hanging over their heads, so now each man can put the final touches on their 2008 rosters.

At some point, I am sure we'll all question failing to get Johan (especially if he has a great season, while Hughes struggles to gain his footing), but ultimately I believe this decision sets the Yankees up better for the future.

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