Friday, August 24, 2001

Rijo, Schippers

Two heroes get too little due

        My hometown likes to worship local heroes. But the worshipping must be subdued. Don't go to any trouble and — pleeeease! — don't draw a big crowd.

        To me, such stunted thinking is born out of a fear of failure or its flip side, the fear of success. In Cincinnati, these fears have raised a bumper crop of missed opportunities.

        The latest batch features two prize picks, Jose Rijo and Thomas Schippers.

        Jose Rijo is the Reds' comeback kid. A miracle worker.

        He's pitching again for the home team after six years of arm trouble and operations put him on the sidelines.

        Working himself into shape, he told The Enquirer's John Erardi: “A lot of people are going to believe in God when I come back.” He repeatedly calls his return to baseball “a miracle.”

        The Reds should have played up the miracle angle. Blare The Full Monty tune — the Hot Chocolate number with the refrain “I believe in miracles” — throughout the stadium at the mention of the pitcher's name.

        Jose Rijo should have started a Sunday game. Free admission to members of the clergy. Half-price to parishioners clutching church bulletins.

        This was a chance for the Reds to show some imagination. Have fun. Believe in miracles. Sell out the joint.

        Instead, Rijo pitched two middle innings in relief on a Friday night. Attendance was 29,214, including 4,746 walk-ups. Good business. But no full house. The Most Valuable Player of the Reds' sweep of the 1990 World Series deserved better.

        Thomas Schippers died in 1977 at age 47. Handsome, dynamic and arguably the best in his business, he was the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's Leonard Bernstein.

        During his all too brief, seven-year tenure, Thomas Schippers brought fame to the orchestra. And Cincinnati.

        He thought so much of the CSO, he willed his musical treasures — tapes of performances, symphonic scores, autographed works, scrapbooks — to the orchestra. Too bad the CSO did not think enough of its late maestro to take better care of his belongings.

        Over the weekend, Enquirer music critic Janelle Gelfand reported that his artifacts were stored for decades in boxes. She told me certain items she saw were exposed to the damaging effects of moisture. Some pieces are watermarked. Some crumbling. Some missing.

        The Schippers archives have never been cared for or cataloged. Nor have they been properly displayed.

        They should be in a CSO museum at Music Hall. Visitors could tour the site and see evidence of how the Schippers years compare to those of the charismatically challenged baton wavers who immediately followed him.

        There's a reason the names Jose Rijo and Thomas Schippers stand among the city's heroes.

        Through their time, talents and determination, they attracted attention and drew crowds.

        Given the chance to seize an opportunity, they didn't miss.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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