Jimmy Connors' Writing Is True To His Character
By Phil Jackman
From the first time you observed Jimmy Connors, both on and off the tennis court, it was tough -- better make that impossible -- to like him. The one thing he had going for him, though, was his youth. The immaturity, petulance and nastiness, you assumed, would soon fade away. Unfortunately, they never did.
The best excuse I ever heard for Connors' behavior came from the late Arthur Ashe, one of the classiest and most intelligent people ever in the game.
"Bill Riordan manages Jimmy and he handles him like a prize fighter," Ashe said.
Riordan was a tennis impresario working out of Salisbury on the Eastern Shore.
His baby for years was the National Indoor Championship, staged at the Wicomico Civic Center. Later, he conducted a small pro tour designed to get Connors a tournament victory every weekend during the winter. How else do you think Connors came by the all-time record of 108 tournament victories?
Despite facing a series of softies and pushovers for most of the year, Connors more than held his own whenever he met the best players the game had to offer at the major tournaments -- Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. He owned New York. He didn't join in with the Rod Lavers, Ken Rosewalls, Stan Smiths, etc., preferring to go his own way.
Now he has written a book titled "The Outsider: A Memoir," due out May 14, and Connors, true to his character, has decided to take a swipe at Chris Evert for some unknown reason. Evert wrote the book on class, and stands among the five greatest female players of all time. She and Martina Navratilova carried the women's tour on their backs for years.
When Evert was 19 and Connors was 22, they dated and became known as the "Lovebirds." At the majors, you could get a price on the two of them coming through and winning the tournament. But soon enough, the pair split, and Connors' book provides a pretty good reason why.
In the book, Connors wrote, "Chrissie called to say she was coming out to Los Angeles to take care of that 'issue.' " That issue, it turns out, was a pregnancy. Evert was 19 at the time and from a fiercely religious Catholic family.
Connors, ever the noble character that he is, continued: "I was perfectly happy to let nature take its course and accept responsibility for what was to come. Chrissie, however, had already made up her mind [to have an abortion]."
Evert has said about the abortion story: "I am extremely disappointed that [Connors] used the book to misrepresent a private matter that took place 40 years ago and made it public without my knowledge. It was a time in our relationship that was very personal and emotionally painful."
One more Connors story: He was a member of the famed Baltimore Banners in the old World Team Tennis league. One night in Philadelphia, during Connors' singles match, a leather-lunged Philly fan yelled something at Connors, he made a move toward the stands and three beefy guys stood up.
Ushers calmed the situation. Afterward, Connors was asked what he would have done if cooler heads hadn't prevailed.
"I would have got the first guy with a forehand swing [with his T-2000 racquet], the second with a backhand swing, and the third guy would have kicked hell out of me," he said.
The kid always had a ton of guts.
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times -- today's players (no matter the sport) are bigger, faster, stronger, etc. If that's the case, I invite you to look at the latest disabled list for baseball teams. At one point in May, Miami had eight players on the DL; Milwaukee, Toronto and Cleveland had seven each; and the Angels, Yankees, Rangers, Diamondbacks, Cubs and Padres had six apiece. Four other teams had five. The question is, are today's players smarter?
There was a time when the statistic sheet they passed out in the press box at baseball games was two sheets -- one for each team. Nowadays, the handout reminds of the federal tax code. For example, where else would you learn that Manny Machado's recent 11-game hitting streak set an Orioles franchise record for a player younger than 21 years old?
The NHL is planning to have six outdoor games during the 2013-14 season, and the first venue to sign up is Dodger Stadium (Kings versus Ducks). The only problem is it's usually around 80 degrees in Los Angeles in late January, and that's not conducive to suitable ice. The previous games have been popular in places that have a winter, so what's with LA? The next thing you know, Miami, Phoenix and Tampa Bay will be signed up. Supposedly, outdoor games are worth $30 million apiece, but it's unclear where that figure comes from.
Shades of the Poulan Weed-Eater Independance Bowl. The Atlantic Coast Conference has announced that its teams will compete in at least eight college football bowls this fall, so wouldn't it be nice if Maryland celebrated its departure from the conference with an appearance in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl or the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (they flow off the tongue, don't they)?
In touting Nationals manager Davey Johnson, a former Orioles player and manager, as the next commissioner of baseball, a writer penned: "Here's a man who was savvy enough to create a computer program that allowed him to generate more successful lineup options based on percentage baseball theories as a player for the Baltimore Orioles." I recall Johnson submitting a lineup to then-Orioles manager Earl Weaver that had him hitting third in the lineup. The manager looked at it, laughed and asked, "OK, where do I bat Frank Robinson, ninth?"
You have to love the diversity of opinion springing forth from Ravens village sometimes. While assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said of offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, "I think he's looking forward to kind of building on that momentum of how he played last year," The Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston indicated that he expected McKinnie to come into camp (late) on the back of a flatbed truck (eating potato chips).
Issue 185: May 2013