Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: Vick Saga Won’t End Even With Plea Deal

It’s not over. Even as his co-defendants prepare to plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges, and even as Michael Vick ponders the same plea deal, the story is not over. Even if, and it looks more and more like this will be the case, Vick goes to jail for a year, a year and a half, this saga will not be over in its entirety. At least it shouldn’t be.


 

For as much star power as Vick has, there has always been more to this dogfighting drama, namely the National Football League. Even as Vick’s court battle appears to be heading to an expedited conclusion, the question lingers as to how the league will handle players, like Vick, who step so grossly out of line. Under new commissioner Roger Goodell, this has been the year of the crackdown. Tank Johnson and Chris Henry: Suspended without pay for the first eight games of this season. Adam Jones: Suspended for the season. But what now for Vick?

It had been reported by Yahoo!, and denied by the NFL, that Goodell was set to suspend Vick for the year as well. True or not, a plea deal that involves jail time complicates that. Does the jail time count towards the suspension? Or would it begin after Vick is released? It seems to me that it would be the latter, as a suspension while in prison is clearly pointless, but now we’re getting into serious territory.

Suppose that Vick takes a plea deal and accepts a year in prison. Upon returning he’s still suspended to the year. That’s two full years out of professional football. Can anyone come back from two years absence to play quarterback at the highest level? Maybe, but Jamal Lewis fell off drastically after spending four months in prison and two months in a halfway house after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy charges. Take away two years from an NFL skill position player and you could very well be taking away the rest of his career. But again, you may not be and this story still isn’t over.

Let’s say Vick does return in 2009 from his hypothetical two years away. Does a team give him a shot? At quarterback, at wide receiver, wherever, does any team out there reopen this can of worms? And does Goodell let them?

None of this is to say that Vick, pending the resolution of his court case through either a guilty plea or verdict, doesn’t deserve to be barred from the league, but it will be an interesting litmus test of how far this new Lockdown NFL is willing to go to distance its own image from those that stray from the path. For me, that is when this story will truly come to an end.

***

I, like just about everyone else who grew up watching the Yankees on New York's WPIX, was saddened to hear of the death of shortstop and longtime broadcaster Phil Rizzuto. Rizzuto was a player that epitomized small ball, literally. At 5-foot-6, Rizzuto was turned away from a tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers because of his lack of size. Casey Stengel, then managing the Dodgers, even told him to “Go get a shoeshine box.”

But the determined “Scooter” stuck to it and in 1946 won the American League MVP award with the Yankees. Fundamentally sound, an accomplished bunter and an extraordinary fielder, Rizzuto was a guy that kids like me, who weighed about 50 pounds soaking wet in Little League, could model their game after.

Of course, since Rizzuto's final game came more than 20 years before I was born, his impact on me was more prominent in the broadcast booth. With his signature “Holy Cow” catchphrase and often wandering commentaries on everything, Rizzuto made the game fun to watch for fledgling fans like myself. When my dad would sit down to watch the Yankees, who were painfully bad in the mid-80s, it was Rizzuto who kept me watching. He was goofy. At five or six years old, I could get goofy. Intricate baseball stratagems? Not so much. But with exclamations like “gee whiz,” “huckleberries,” and “holy cow,” Rizzuto was speaking my language.

For all of the functions that baseball fills in my life — as a hobby, a form of entertainment and now part of my job — the game has first and foremost been about fun. And Phil Rizzuto was one of the first people that taught me that.