Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mack'd Out

Back from a weekend on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, the highlight of the National Association of Sports Officals (NASO) conference, for me anyway, was a research project that started in Cleveland's Renaissance Hotel, took Chad Clark and I out to beautiful Avon Lake along the banks of Lake Erie and finally, back to Detroit with successful procurement of some essential archives.

Don't get me wrong, we met some amazing people from within the officiating industry in Cleveland, including Bill Carollo, Violet Palmer, Ron Foxcroft and Monty McCutchen, to name a select few. The annual NASO convention convenes some outstanding people, but rare is the opportunity to delve headfirst into the 10-Year War between Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines -- that school 'Up North' -- and the Ohio State Buckeyes under Woody Hayes. Even more amazing is to listen to recants of train trips between American League cities, tenuous contract negotiations that bumped salary from $8,000 to $10,000 and busting Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak before becoming a teammate of the Yankee Clipper.

I'm talking about the Mack family from Cleveland's suburban University Heights, Ohio. I'm talking about Cleveland Indian Ray Mack (pictured above) and sons Tom and Dick, but there was nothing harry about the family's Cleveland heritage and lineage.

In spending the weekend immersed in one family's significant sporting history, I was immediately awakened to an undeniable fact: We've lost something in American sports. We've lost our history, our pride and dignity as it relates to professional sports in this country. Today's professional athletics are littered with the 'me' and the 'now' before the 'we' and 'how' gets addressed in the team sports scene. In today's game, I comes before team and respect is paid with a comma on a paycheck instead of the natural respect and admiration of a teammate or a town.

Don't misunderstand -- I'm not a hopeless romantic for the days of top hats and pinstripe suits, of coal-burning locomotives, Nash Ramblers and such. Pro athletes have made some amazing and necessary strides, but with the opportunity to see the actual contracts Ray Mack signed with the Indians and Chicago Cubs (Mack's year with the Yankees was an original Cleveland contract purchased by the Bronx Bombers), it reminded both of us of the merit and hard work one was required to put into their craft as a pro athlete within the team structure in the 1940s and 50s.

It stood out even more when we were invited to join NASO at Progressive Field as the present day Indians hosted their longtime rival, the Detroit Tigers. The Bengals didn't do their long history proud in dropping a 5-0 decision to the Tribe with equal parts of listless precision and lifeless execution. In giving away at-bats and hacking at pitches for no rhyme or reason, the Tigers were held scoreless for the 11th time this season, a season that is the most expensive in team history at nearly $140 million in player payroll.

Not exactly the rivalry the two junior circuit stalwarts had in the 1940s when Mack joined Bob Feller, Lou Boudreau and Bob Lemon while facing Detroit Tigers like Hal Newhouser, Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer almost 70 years ago.

Times changes, that's life. But there's something timeless about the 'old days' that today's athletes don't seem to identify with.

(Ray Mack photo courtesy Mack family archives)

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th from Arcadia Publishing

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