The sad story of Steinbrenner-scarred Hideki Irabu, and a paper’s caricature of itself

Today's tabloids, July 29, 2011. ()
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Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?

The New York Post: Leading the Post today is the sad story of Hideki Irabu, the Japanese pitcher who had a notably unsuccessful stint with the Yankees in the late '90s after having arrived in New York with great fanfare. He reportedly hanged himself in his home in the L.A. suburb Rancho Palos Verdes, where his body was discovered yesterday. He had two children, and his marriage had recently fallen apart. He was 42.

It's a compelling story and, really, a local one, despite the fact that Irabu ended his disappointing baseball career, and his life, on the West Coast. The angle is that New York broke Hideki Irabu. Or more particularly, that George Steinbrenner did.

The hed is "YANKS TRAGEDY." The dek is "Shock death of Boss' whipping boy Irabu," and the teaser text is,"Hideki Irabu, the Japanese pitching great who became a Yankee—only to be humiliated and run out of town by Boss George Steinbrenner—was found hanged in his home yesterday."

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In the story inside (dek: "Boss' punching bag dead at home"), it is explained that Steinbrenner, disappointed by his team's expensive acquisition, made a widely reported comment that "Irabu looks like a fat, pussy toad out there," and that Irabu, whose dream had been to play for the Yankees, had been "devastated by his employer's rant."

It's academic, but I wonder whether the Post would have laid Irabu's suicide at Steinbrenner's feet like this if he had hanged himself before Steinbrenner's own death last year, by which time The Boss had been transformed into a sort of sure-sometimes-he-was-blustery-but-who-among-us-is-perfect patron saint of New York baseball.

The story of Governor Chris Christie's asthma-related visit to a New Jersey emergency room yesterday gets appopriately straightforward treatment: "Health scare for NJ's Christie," and a headshot of Christie. (On the cover, at least. The dek on the article inside the paper is a fat joke: "Asthma attack 'pounds' home message.")

The whole top of the page, below the flag, is taken up by something I would not even notice on a day I didn't happen to be subbing for Tom McGeveran on this column. It's a picture of James Bond dressed as Indiana Jones wearing something from "Tron" on his wrist. The big red text over the picture (which is of actor Daniel Craig) says "How the West was fun!" and the little white text beneath it says "Cowboys & Aliens review: Pulse."

"How the West Was Fun" is the name of a movie starring the Olsen twins.

Daily News: The News cover today is an Ed Murawinski illustration showing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner as whiney babies in diapers fighting over a pacifier that says "DEBT CEILING" on it. The hed is "GROW UP!" This takes up the whole front of the paper, other than the Daily News flag at the top and a New York Lottery ad at the bottom.

The cover is an attempt by the editors of the paper to tap into public anger about the fact that Washington is at an impasse on the debt ceiling, putting the country in danger of defaulting on its financial obligations and doing damage to its credit rating.

Is it the best way for them to sell their paper today? I'm guessing no.

It's not a useful position in any other sense, either. Calling congressional leaders babies and leaving it at that is a pander to public opinion rather than an attempt to inform or lead it.

People who do not follow politics for a living may be forgiven if their position on the debt-ceiling issue is general frustration, and wonderment that the adults who are supposed to be serving us there can't figure out a way not to drive the country off a cliff. But if you are a newspaper, and you are still going to the trouble of paying for a Washington bureau that has smart, experienced reporters in it, might it not be better to distinguish yourself by showing that you actually know more than the average person about what's happening in our nation's capital?

It is a matter of fact that the House Republicans brought this situation to a head in order to wring far-reaching concessions from the president and the Senate Democrats, and that it was Boehner who backed out of a potential deal with Barack Obama, most likely for fear that he wouldn't be able to weather the anger of the revolutionaries in his own conference.

And, by the way, what the House Republicans are doing may yet turn out to be a tactical master-stroke, if they get what they want out of Barack Obama without triggering economic catastrophe and an attendant backlash in the polls. They will have won by being more reckless about the possibility of default than anyone else was willing to be.

But ignoring all that in favor of a generic and unoriginal Doesn't Congress Suck? cover—particularly if that cover is packaged as a big, bold comment from the institution—is just a way of punting.

Also: the Post did a cover like this two days ago, without the baby drawing.

Observations: The Irabu story will be of interest even to readers who aren't baseball fans, I think. And people will be curious about what happened to Christie, if they didn't already know, because he's a person of interest and, well, he just kind of looks like he's overdue for a "health scare" anyway.

As for the News: "a pox on both their houses," as an editorial statement, isn't distinctive, or brave, or helpful. Here, it's mostly just condescending.

Winner: The New York Post.