It doesn’t take a lot to ruin a Super Bowl for me, and it usually happens well before game day. I recognize this is not the normal American’s experience, but I try, usually half-heartedly, to enter a game wishing it were already over. This time, though, there was a new level of “Can you please stop doing this?” and it wasn’t only because the game was over at halftime, but because of the news that flashed that ESPN’s elegant and unpretentious baseball correspondent Pedro Gomez had died at 58 of what remain unspecified causes.
He was a friend of long standing, 35 or so years to be more precise, but everyone has those in their lives, or should. He was a man who was incapable of self-promotion in an industry that demands it almost as much as it does literacy, and he much preferred family time to air time. He led with kindness as well as knowledge, and he was part of what made ESPN indispensable when it was indeed that. When it was by face or byline, he brought the straight stuff, contextualized without self-aggrandizement, reverential to the sport but with a properly healthy skepticism toward the business. If all he’d ever done was his work on BALCO 20 years ago, he’d have been an important pillar in the history of the network when the network and the business were better at news gathering and interpretation than they are now. In a world that has been course-correcting toward cruelty and chaos, he represented balance both in private and in public.
He was, in sum, the essence of the overused and undervalued phrase, “a good guy” who with his family deserved more time than this, as a husband, a father and as a quietly essential professional. And that’s allowing for the fact that nobody actually gets what they deserve unless they make the effort of deserving it. He did the work of being a human being not so you’d see him doing it, but because the work was what mattered.
So when news of his death intruded on the day, the day essentially stopped. The football, which had stopped mattering competitively, stopped mattering entirely. Tom Brady blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah, and with him the overemotive cringefest of a day devoted to industrialized excess. A good and elegant man had died without warning, and the game became much less of a thing worth caring about. He performed a valuable service even at the end, making a game that was monstrously overhyped become irrelevant and eventually intrusive. It stopped mattering on an all-too-real level, at least to me, someone who doesn’t normally have to travel far to reach that point and with far less internal provocation.
To say his kind won’t be seen again is trite, and false. Lots of people even in the preen machine of television do the job without becoming the reason for doing it; by definition those people become relied upon without becoming part of the service-to-self elements of the business. Pedro Gomez was an intelligent, clever, dignified, and helpful man, providing the elements of what makes a work ethic and style worth remembering and a life worth honoring on a day that usually muscles everything else to the side of the road. He left footprints that won’t be erased easily.
As for yesterday’s Super Bowl, it was unremarkable and it won’t be missed. It wasn’t missed even while it was still happening. The same cannot be said for Pedro Gomez.