Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sad to say, Castro not new situation, brings back memories of “Jungle” Jim

I’m curious to see how the fate of Starlin Castro – the Chicago Cubs shortstop whom some think could become the ball club’s next big star – plays out.

For there is a woman who is accusing the 21-year-old Dominican of rape – claiming she came to consciousness and found Castro on top of her.

AS OF FRIDAY afternoon, Castro had not been charged with anything – although the news reports indicate he spent his Thursday night into the early hours of Friday being questioned by police trying to figure out what really happened.

What has complicated this investigation is that the woman’s claim didn’t come out until after the 2011 baseball season was over and Castro had already returned home to the Dominican Republic.

So police had to wait until Castro voluntarily returned to Chicago before they could question him. For what it’s worth, Castro is back in town for this weekend so he can be on hand for the Cubs Convention – that annual winter gathering of Cubs fans that is taking place at the Chicago Hilton & Towers, 720 S. Michigan Ave.

In short, Castro isn’t behaving like a man who thinks he’s about  to get whacked with criminal charges. If he did, I’d think he’d have found an excuse to get out of returning here this week – even if it is to be surrounded by the most delusional of Cubs fans who will adore him.

AND WHO ARE the people who most likely are having feelings of resentment that this issue is even coming up this week. They’re the ones who probably wish it could have been now-former pitcher Carlos Zambrano who got hit with such an accusation so it could have been used as justification for getting rid of him without having to pay him $15 million more (the amount of his 2012 salary that the Cubs will pay, compared to $3 million paid by the Miami Marlins).

I’m wondering to what degree people are going to feel willing to look the other way at bad behavior by a ball player, just because of what he could do on the field.

For this isn’t exactly a new experience for Chicago baseball. In fact, Castro (even if he ultimately is hit with criminal charges and is someday found “guilty”) isn’t even the first local ballplayer to have such accusations made against him.

For all those people who want to claim that the “good ol’ days” were somehow more innocent, I say “Nonsense!”

BECAUSE ALL WE have to do is remember the tale of one-time Chicago White Sox outfielder Jim Rivera – who was the regular right fielder on that “Go Go” team that won the American League championship for 1959.

Being able to lead the American League in stolen bases in 1955, along with being runner up in several other seasons to teammates Minnie Miñoso and Luis Aparicio and playing with a certain ferocity is all that many people want to remember of the ballplayer known as “Jungle Jim.”

Many are more than willing to forget the fact that while serving in the U.S. Army, he was court martialed after an officer’s daughter accused him of rape. Those charges ultimately got knocked down to attempted rape, but he still did some time incarcerated.

It was only his athletic skills that ultimately got him out early, as a minor league ballclub in Gainesville, Fla., negotiated his early release so he could play professionally.

HE ULTIMATELY ROSE through the minor leagues to join the St. Louis Browns, and was traded to the White Sox in July 1952. Just a couple of months later, he got arrested in the White Sox clubhouse at Comiskey Park when the wife of an Army statistician stationed in Chicago claimed he raped her in her apartment.

Rivera claimed, at the time, that their contact was consensual, and in October of that year, a grand jury voted against an indictment. He was free and clear of criminal charges. I don’t have any evidence that a 60-year-old grand jury got it wrong.

But then-baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ultimately put Rivera on probation (within the context of baseball, not the law) for one year, with the White Sox being required to report any incidents involving their new outfielder and also being forbidden from trading him to any other team during that probationary period.

Not that it mattered much, from a baseball perspective. For Rivera wound up living up to team expectations and performing well for those teams that perennially finished behind the New York Yankees in the standings in the 1950s.

BY THE TIME Rivera finally was traded away in 1961 (to the Kansas City Athletics, where he played one season before retiring as a ballplayer), the fact that these allegations ever came up were made to seem like ancient history – so long ago that perhaps it was just our faulty memory and that they really didn’t happen.

Which, I’m sure, is exactly what Castro is hoping becomes the outcome of his own case. Considering that much of the rhetoric I have read surrounding this case focuses on how much this incident will distract from the ability of new baseball boss Theo Epstein to rebuild the Cubs into a serious ball club, he's not alone.

Some things just never change.


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