DC READY TO BID 2009 GOODBYE; CLEMENTE GAVE TILL THE END

December 29, 2009

Dick Heller of the DC Times isn’t unhappy seeing the New Year arrive. “Goodbyes of any sort can be painful, but not this one.
Get lost, 2009, and the sooner the better from a local sporting standpoint.
Pretty please.
This sicko year was almost an unmitigated disaster for those of us who pay attention, logically or otherwise, to the games people play.
The Redskins are 4-10 with two meaningless skirmishes left.
The Wizards were 19-63 for the 2008-09 season and stood, if that’s the word, at 10-17 through Christmas Day.
The Nationals, aka Gnats, were 59-103.
And I haven’t even mentioned Tiger Woods. I know he’s not local most of the time, but his “infidelities” could earn him a notorious seat alongside politicians in these parts who sometimes pay undue attention to voters of the opposite sex.
Sports journalists are supposed to be above such shenanigans – or so I thought until a columnist for another D.C. newspaper came clean, if that’s the word, this weekend about his past activities.
Hey, Wise guy, that’s more than we need to know.
The trend in print journalism these diminishing days runs toward analysis and commentary rather than the bare – oops, sorry – facts. But often the numbers themselves tell the story better than any amount of blathering.
So it is with Washington’s allegedly professional sports teams.
Failure, failure and more failure litter the landscape, which unfortunately is nothing new. Not hardly.
In regular-season play during the so-called oughts through Friday, the Redskins were 70-88 (a nonwinning percentage of .443), the Nationals 343-466 (.424) and the Wizards 318-447 (.416).
In other words, Loserville USA.
The Redskins haven’t won a Super Bowl since January 1992, the Senators/Nats a World Series since 1924 and the Bullets/Wizards an NBA championship since 1978.
OK, so the Capitals somehow have a winning regular-season record for the decade, but their total of Stanley Cup titles remains the same as Paris Hilton’s bag of Academy Awards. Besides, they play ice hockey, and if like me you didn’t grow up watching this sport, you’re not going to give a puck about it.
Or soccer, which means D.C. United’s collection of four Major League Soccer titles won’t exactly have you dancing in the streets.
So why bother to be a sports fan hereabouts?
Well, for one thing, it beats watching pols posture and lobbyists lobby – the other two major spectator sports in this capital of the western world.
And it’s more enjoyable than, say, paying taxes, visiting the dentist or watching businesses bite the dust.
In lieu of awaiting or expecting team success, we can always savor the exploits of our few superstars. It’s worth the price of admission, almost anyway, to see Ryan Zimmerman play third base, Alex Ovechkin skate toward a terrified goalkeeper or Gilbert Arenas drill a 3-pointer.
But what about the future? Well, we can always hope that…
Dan Snyder keeps his nose out of the way while Bruce Allen and possibly Mike Shanahan revive the Redskins.
The Lerners do the same while Nats president Stan Kasten, GM Mike Rizzo and Prospective Phenom Stephen Strasburg turn the Nats into a major league
contender.
Ted Leonsis, practically the prototype of an intelligent team owner, sees the Caps collect a Stanley Cup full of champagne and the Wizards return to
respectability.
Don’t hold your breath, but it’s OK to cross your fingers.
In fact, you’d better.
Political slogans come and go, but hope springs eternal for Washington fandom. That’s why we keep our eyes peeled, pathetic past be damned.”

Dick then remembered a good man in the DC Times. “At RFK Stadium, the Washington Redskins bashed the hated Dallas Cowboys 26-3 to win the NFC
championship. At Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, the Miami Dolphins whipped the Steelers 21-17 to take the AFC title and run their seasonal record to 16-0.
Yet neither of these football showdowns was the most significant sports-related story on Dec. 31, 1972, at least from a national standpoint. Not even close.
About 9:23 p.m., as Redskins fans were beginning celebrations throughout the area, a plane carrying relief supplies for thousands of hurricane victims from Puerto Rico to Nicaragua crashed into the Atlantic Ocean minutes after taking off from San Juan.
Among the victims was Roberto Clemente, 38, a great baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates and just as great a humanitarian.
The right fielder’s numbers were the stuff of legend and Cooperstown. Over 18 seasons, he hit .317 with exactly 3,000 hits, was selected for the National
League All-Star team 12 times, won 12 Gold Gloves with the help of an incredible throwing arm, played on two World Series winners (1960, 1971) and collected four batting titles.
But above and beyond his skills between the white lines, Clemente was an extremely proud man who valued his life and those of others. Thus it was that he sprang into action – and toward death – that miserable December after a temblor killed thousands and left many more homeless and starving in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua.
Long involved in charitable endeavors, the ballplayer learned that aid packages on the first three relief flights had been diverted by the corrupt regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza. Bobby Clemente, as he was still called by some old-fashioned baseball writers, decided to accompany the fourth flight, hoping his presence would deter the grafters. But the plane he chartered had a history of mechanical problems and was overloaded by 5,000 pounds. These bad omens proved tragically omniscient.
Others aboard included plane owner Arthur Rivera, pilot Jerry Hill and two friends of Clemente’s who volunteered to help. None survived, nor were their
bodies ever recovered.
At 9:20, the plane was cleared for takeoff and lumbered into the air. One eyewitness was Juan Reyes, a security official at the San Juan airport.
“The plane didn’t seem to have the necessary speed to take off,” Reyes was quoted in “Clemente,” a 2006 biography by David Mariniss. “By the sound of the engine, it looked like it was making much effort.”
As the DC-7 struggled aloft, airport controller Gary Cleaveland noticed that the craft was no more than 200 feet above water as it banked to the left and over the ocean.
“Tower, this is 500 alpha echo coming back around,” pilot Hill’s voice sputtered weakly in Cleaveland’s headset.
Failing to understand the transmission, Cleaveland replied, “Say again.”
There was only silence. Then the plane’s image disappeared from the tower’s radar screen.
In San Juan and elsewhere, people who knew Clemente or knew of him soon went into shock at the news. Atop Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington, lights blazed a sad message: “Adios, Amigo Roberto.” Mayor Peter Flaherty declared a week of mourning. In Puerto Rico, thousands of people clogged streets around the home of widow Vera Clemente and the couple’s three sons. Military police stood at attention near the doorway. Flags of the United States and Puerto Rico stood at half-staff.
The Hall of Fame subsequently waived its five-year waiting period for players whose careers had ended, and Clemente was inducted during the summer of
1974 – the first Latin American so honored. The Pirates retired his No. 21 uniform and erected a statue of him outside Three Rivers Stadium. Other honors accumulated for years to come.
“That night on which Roberto Clemente left us physically, his immortality began,” Puerto Rican writer Elliott Castro said, but thousands of countrymen refused to believe it. At the time, many waited on the shore of Pinones Beach near San Juan in the hours after the crash, expecting Roberto to come walking out of the sea.
It never happened, of course. A man so admired and revered by so many was gone forever.”

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