Christine Baker, whose son Dusty manages the Chicago Cubs, once gently chided me for the sins of all sportswriters. "In all these stories," she said, "the fathers get the credit for their children's success, as if the mothers had nothing to do with it." And I thought: Jack Elway, Earl Woods, Press Maravich, Richard Williams, Cal Ripken Sr.... she's right.
But then Mom is always right--and not just on Mother's Day. When Christine's three-year-old grandson, Darren, was nearly pancaked at home plate as the Giants batbaby in the 2002 World Series, it was Dusty who looked like the chastened child. "As I saw the play unfold," he said, "I was thinking of what my mom told me: 'He shouldn't be out there. He's going to get hurt.'"
Even when Mom's wrong, she's right. Celeste do Nascimento begged her son to forsake soccer for his studies. Just because Pelé ignored the advice and turned Celeste into the mother of all soccer moms doesn't make it less wise.
To get the blessing of his devout Methodist mom before embarking on a baseball career, Branch Rickey had to promise her that he'd never enter a ballpark on a Sunday. And in eight years as a manager of the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals, he almost never did, because nothing hurts like a mother's disappointment.
Unless it's a mother's right cross. When boxer Egerton Marcus announced his comeback in February, the Canadian light heavyweight wore his '88 Olympic silver medal because his mother told him to. "I'm not going to argue with my mom," he explained. "She's got a great right hand."
Likewise, after heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis was pondering an unretirement in January, his mum, Violet, forbade him to box again. Within 36 hours Lewis called off the comeback. Each of us, after all, is forever our mother's child, a sentiment the London Mirror captured perfectly in its headline, IF I CATCH YOU FIGHTING AGAIN YOU'RE IN TROUBLE.
A mother just wants to protect her cubs. And Mites. And Pee Wees. That's why Sherry Young sprinted from the sideline in a youth football game and accosted the kid who had just tackled her son Steve. (Sadly, she never bum-rushed All-Pro pass rusher Bruce Smith when Steve quarterbacked the 49ers.)
Moms didn't just give us us. A mom put the red in Tiger Woods's Sunday wardrobe. ("My mom thinks it's some kind of power color for Capricorn," Eldrick once said of Tida.) A mom helped popularize the two-handed tennis backhand. (It was the only way her toddler, Jimmy, could hold the racket when Gloria Connors fired tennis balls at him.) Without his mom, the last cutoff man Mickey Mantle would have seen is the doctor who suggested amputating his diseased left leg in high school. (Lovell Mantle sought treatment elsewhere.)
Moms are as relentless as the tides, which is why Blanche Rudolph kept telling her polio-stricken daughter she would one day walk without braces. Overdoing it a tad, Wilma Rudolph became the fastest woman in the world, proving that moms don't just drive us to practice, they drive us to greatness.
And so, at a long-ago Little League game, Charlyn Aikman chewed out her youngest son for belittling a teammate to the coach. Years later, when her son was the quarterback in Dallas, she said, "To this day, Troy respects other players." Mamas don't let their Cowboys grow up to be babies.
Moms support the NAR: The National Association of Realtors would collapse without all those houses jocks buy for their mothers. And moms support the NRA: When the Vice Lords came knocking at her Chicago door, Mary Thomas, Isiah's mom, greeted them with a sawed-off shotgun. "Get off my porch," she said, "or I'll blow you across the Expressway."
Jermaine O'Neal's mom, Angela, worked two jobs as a single parent while raising the future NBA prodigy, proving that you needn't go to college to have an alma mater, Latin for "nourishing mother."
Moms can sense trouble like roosters sense earthquakes. Former Twins slugger Kent Hrbek once explained the end of a slump by saying, "My mom told me to get my stinking elbows up higher, and Mom's always right."
And moms can sense impending triumph, which is why in 1986, after a 27-year absence, Helen Nicklaus abruptly decided to attend only her second Masters, which, against all reason, was won by her 46-year-old son. After his mom died at age 90, Jack Nicklaus said, "Mothers are always there for you."
And just last month a 12-year-old recovering cancer patient realized his dream of circling the bases at Safeco Field in Seattle, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. A Tacoma News Tribune reporter asked Christopher Theus if he'd been given any words of wisdom before touching 'em all, and his answer may be the best motherly advice ever given, as true in life as it is on the base paths. He said, "My mom told me to run slow and wave." ‚ñ†
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Moms are as relentless as the tides. They don't just drive us to practice, they drive us to greatness.