Memorial Tournament

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The Loop

Of Ted Williams and Tiger Woods

February 26, 2009

Christopher Clarey of the International Herald Tribune has an interesting essay today on the deification of athletes by comparing the era of Ted Williams to that of Tiger Woods through the prism of the prose of the late John Updike.

There to record Williams' homer in his final at-bat in his final game, Updike wrote: "Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters."

"Immortality? Gods? Letters?" Clarey writes. "This is the language of a different era; of a more trusting, happily benighted place. Coming from the mind of a supremely literate, clear-eyed man, it is a reminder of the sway great athletes once held over their public, from the commoners to the Brahmins."

Today, noting the example of Alex Rodriguez, he cautions, "Any columnist or blogger who uses language that deifies an athlete at this stage had better be in an ironic state of mind. Gods and immortals are out; drug testers and whereabouts rules are in."

With Woods, "there is a lingering pocket of the old atmosphere, of Updike's inner kid," but Clarey concedes that there are fewer risks when the sport is golf, hence the breathless and widespread anticipation of Woods' imminent return to golf.

"Gods," he concludes, "apparently, do answer television executives' prayers."

-- John Strege