Year of the BAT Woman

Although other women embedded their names in the legendry of sport–names like Little Mo and Flo Jo, and Olga and Wilma and Babe–there’s no denying that these women triumphed on separate, not necessarily equal playing fields.

Which makes the triumph of Toni Ginnetti in the 1993 BAT competition so historic. There was no gender-norming here, no women’s tee or five-pound weight allowance. Ginnetti took on the best boys in the business–several of them former BAT champions–even up and outprognosticated every one.

Aside from her Sun-Times colleague Jay Mariotti, it wasn’t even close. You’ll recall that the BAT (for Baseball Acumen Test) seeks the scribe who the previous spring best predicted the subsequent pennant gallops. In normal years the kindest tribute that can be paid the laureate garnering the coveted Cupronickel BAT (downgraded in 1992 from the Golden BAT in deference to national austerity) is that the competition did even worse. But last year Ginnetti brushed perfection. She correctly tabbed Oakland, Toronto, and Atlanta as division champions and put the Pirates second (behind the Phils, who eventually finished sixth, her one big mistake). Ginnetti went on to project the Braves correctly as NL champions who’d drop the series, though she was wrong in believing they’d drop it to the A’s. If the ethos of the BAT permitted serious research, we’re sure this research would find her performance unprecedented.

Jay Mariotti did virtually as well by naming the Blue Jays, Braves, and Pirates. In the AL West he penciled in Oakland fourth. Where Mariotti went fatally astray–along with six of the other eight contestants–was in picking the White Sox to win their division. (They were third.) The overestimation of Chicago’s nines is a chronic failing among BAT entrants and the judges simply won’t put up with it. Consider the fate of the Tribune’s Andrew Bagnato. In 1991 he received the Golden BAT. Last year we gave him the Whiffle BAT (aka booby prize). Besides calling every division race wrong he’d hallucinated a Boston-Cubs World Series.

Although no one calling the ’92 season took the collar, only Ginnetti and Mariotti could name more than one division champ. The hands-down winner of the Whiffle Bat is the Tribune’s Joey Reaves. Reaves got Oakland right, but in the other divisions picked Boston, which finished seventh, and Philadelphia and the Dodgers, both of which finished sixth. These three teams ended 1992 a total of 74 games below .500.

We found Ginnetti humble in triumph. “It’s so difficult sometimes to figure out who’s going to win the divisions. There are injury factors, and you never know about the rookie phenoms and who pans out and who doesn’t.” Her humility is appropriate. No title in sports is harder to defend than the Cupronickel BAT. We told you what happened to Bagnato. And last year’s champion, Alan Solomon, finished next to last this time around.

Ginnetti almost missed a chance to defend; she sat out “Baseball 1993,” last Sunday’s special section in the Sun-Times. “They didn’t ask me for my picks because I was doing basketball up until a week ago,” she told us late last week. “I called them and said, ‘Do you need me?’ They said, oh, they didn’t have too much space in the special section and they had everything done.”

Or was this just the usual treatment for a triumphant woman? We let Ginnetti make her picks in Hot Type: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minnesota, and Toronto, with the Braves taking the Twins in the Fall Classic.

Systems Abuse at the Sun-Times

Remember how Spartacus ended? The Roman legions surrounded the rebellious slaves and demanded their leader. “I am Spartacus,” one slave declared. “I am Spartacus,” shouted another. Every slave took up the call. Everyone was crucified.

Last month we told you about Bob Black, the Sun-Times photographer fired for making private use of certain company services. Last week executive editor Mark Nadler posted the following memorandum:

“I was informed that last week, [Newspaper] Guild officials met with some members of our photo department. Following that meeting, I’m told, Shane Gericke and Jerry Minkkinen [respectively chair of the guild’s Sun-Times unit and executive director of the Chicago chapter] stated to our labor relations manager that all the photo staffers at the meeting said they had abused company services just as Bob had, and each one would be willing to testify to that fact. Consequently, the union said, Bob’s dismissal should be revoked because he had been singled out for punishment.

“Frankly, I find the union’s assertion somewhat hard to believe. . . . Yet their claim is so alarming that it cannot be ignored. In fairness to both Bob and the Sun-Times, we must get to the bottom of it.

“Accordingly, I have asked Labor Relations to reopen its investigation of this entire matter. . . . Labor Relations will conduct on-the-record interviews with each photo department staff member . . . and will check any new information against purchasing records to determine whether there have been systematic abuses of company services.”

Unlike the Romans, Nadler offered not draconian punishment but amnesty: “Our main interest at this point is getting to the heart of the matter.” The guild further shattered the Spartacus analogy by arguing that management had misunderstood what Gericke and Minkkinen were trying to say.

“We’re trying to avoid doing all the interrogations by saying there’s nothing out there to interrogate,” Gericke told us Monday afternoon after a long Guild session with Nadler and other Sun-Times officials. “They believe we said the rest of the photo staff has been abusing all these systems all along. What we said is that the photo staff uses various systems available–the mail, Fed Ex, the color photo lab–and that they’re trusted to make these judgments without getting permission every time. It’s an open atmosphere of trust–or should be. And they believe Jerry and I told them everybody abuses this stuff. But we said everybody uses the system, nobody abuses it, and Bob didn’t abuse it enough to get fired for it.”

Management was not headed off. The “interviews”–Nadler’s word–began Tuesday afternoon.

Navy Men

We joined the Navy because the recruiter promised no surprises. You won’t have to bunk with anybody you don’t feel completely comfortable with, he said. No one who’s not on your wavelength, if you catch my drift.

What a relief! College had been a nightmare–four turbulent years at a state university among men and women, jocks and grinds, Marxists and Young Republicans, engineers and poets. There was the upper middle class, the middle middle class, the lower middle class, the urban, suburban, exurban, and rural middle classes, and bizarre combinations of the above. We longed for a simple life among kindred spirits.

Sexual orthodoxy made our ship a magnificent fighting machine. It was an ammunition ship, stuffed to the gills with shells, heat-seeking missiles, and atomic warheads, and the crew stood as one before God, urging Him not to blow us up. After the elaborate rituals of college orientation week, joining the crew was simple as joining a church: we stumbled up the gangway as a foghorn blew one clammy night, our seabag on our shoulder, and a petty officer huddled in a pea coat said stow your gear and grab a broom. Like that, we were accepted. The next morning at 0600 the bosun crowed, “Drop your cocks and grab your socks! Next time around I’m taking names,” and in 15 minutes’ time we were all out on deck manning swabs and buckets, keeping America free.

This was true fraternity and we’ve known nothing like it before or since. The bosun was a wiry, inspiring aesthete who collected patriotic tattoos. He leaned against the rail, coffee steaming at his lips, urging idlers not to just fuckin’ stand there holding their fuckin’ dicks. “Fuckin’ asshole,” muttered a seaman, a youth who’d also triumphed over grade nine but hadn’t had the same breaks since. Then all the deckhands joined in the colorful badinage, which made that first dawn on a naval warship everything we’d thought it might be and more. College days seemed very distant. The bosun had a dry wit. Now and then he’d tease some porcine newcomer to the desk force with the warning that he might sneak up on his bunk one night and cornhole him, and our compartment rang with laughter.

Try to imagine our discomfort if we’d been assigned to live on that ship with people who were different. Those same days could have been a nightmare! But everyone concurred on matters of the heart. It’s why the less poetic crewmen had us ghostwrite their letters to fiancees who hadn’t been heard from in six months. It’s why a jubilant son of Georgia with whom we confidently shared a shower bellowed in our direction one night in Sasebo, “I’m goin’ over to get some fuckin’ peehole! You wanna come with me to get some fuckin’ peehole?”

When our tour of duty was over we wiped away a tear and went home. These days we find ourself pondering with concern the delicate mechanism that is esprit de corps. Should military standards be adjusted and personnel admitted who quite frankly don’t fit in? Although the crew of our ammunition ship contained individuals of all IQs, physiognomies, and theories of racial, ethnic, cultural, and regional dominance, gays were not allowed unless they carefully kept their homosexuality an open secret. Because the line was drawn at sodomy God did not sink our ship.

Quality Time

A brief mystery of time–

“For more than a decade during the 1980s, Prince Rogers Nelson dominated popular music . . . ” Sun-Times, April 4.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/courtesy Chicago Sun-Times.