A Simple Act Of Major League Kindness

We live in a world in which sometimes a good deed done with honorable motives is subject to suspicion and even ridicule.

Be nice to an elderly person with no family and you must be trying to finesse yourself into the will. Contribute significant money to a worthy cause and you're obviously engaged in self-aggrandizement.

That's why an obscure occurrence during this week's All-Star baseball game in Denver was such a welcome and signal event.

All-Star shortstop Walt Weiss of the Atlanta Braves, formerly with the Colorado Rockies, was voted into the game for the first time since he started playing professional baseball in 1985.

At what should have been the zenith of his career, his three-year-old son, Brody, was in a coma in an Atlanta hospital. Life and death scenarios eventually tipped to the life side. Better, Brody might even be able to come to Denver and see his dad play.

At which time, Rockies president Jerry McMorris promptly dispatched a private plane to Atlanta to pick up Walt, Brody, and the rest of the family. Said Mr. McMorris, "We thought it would be better for Brody to not go through terminals and commercial airlines."

OK, so what's the catch? What's McMorris's angle? What's the hidden agenda?

Answer: There is no catch, angle, or agenda.

Jerry McMorris did it to be nice. Stunning.

This is the kind of gesture that makes us shake our heads in wonderment. It wasn't about posturing or money. After all, Weiss left for Atlanta so he could make $9 million for three years rather than $4 million for two in Colorado. So he could travel back to Denver without worrying about a Saturday night stay-over to reduce plane fares.

And McMorris, who is president of NationsWay Transport Services (a company he and his father founded in 1959 and which now has more than 13,000 trucks and trailers and employs more than 6,000 people), can dispatch as many jets to Atlanta every day as his heart desires.

But what makes this situation special is it was all about human beings and human kindness. Too often the two don't go hand in hand. Sadly, people routinely take kindness as a show of weakness. Try holding a door open in a public place in New York for one person and see how many people rush through with nary a nod or glance.

Weiss is one of the truly nice guys in a game that could use a lot more. It would take a terribly cold heart not to cheer for a player whose big league hitting average is a blazingly average .258 but who this season - inexplicably - is hitting .312. This is a player who six summers ago hit .212 for Oakland, which earned him the right to show off his skills briefly in the minor leagues.

And since McMorris is rich and owns a baseball team, he is fair game for sharp tongues and pencils. And some of the vitriol makes perfect sense.

After all, it's his team and he allowed Weiss to get away, replacing him with a player named Neifi Perez. Perez may be worthy in the future but for now he could start his quest for excellence by running hard to first base. It was also McMorris who didn't decree that star first baseman Andres Galarraga be re-signed. Galarraga was back as an All-Star, of course, in another uniform. And there's pitcher Andy Ashby, of San Diego. He's a former Rockie. He was in town this week, well, you know why.

Too, McMorris has been a leader in the interminable and botched search for a new baseball commissioner. And let's not even get into the fact that the Rockies are a textbook example this year of a good team transformed into a miserable one, all during McMorris's watch.

But in the Weiss situation, McMorris easily could have done nothing and not been skewered for it. It's not his problem how Weiss gets to the game. Greyhound would be fine.

And Weiss could have ducked the game ("My son is sick," he could have said) or the plane ("If McMorris wants me back so bad, how come he sent me away in the first place?").

What we had were two men behaving beautifully, odd though that may be. Marveled Weiss, "It's something I won't forget." McMorris dismissed the event and said of Weiss: "He's still special to us and if we can make his life easier, we will."


* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is looneyd@csps.com

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