NEW YORK -- When Bucky Dent was booted this week after 89 games as manager of the New York Yankees, he joined a hallowed list of once-revered heroes suddenly transformed into bums.
Dent's unceremonious ouster by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was the biggest case of crass ingratitude since, well, since the New York Mets gave manager Davey Johnson the thumb eight days earlier.
This is a city of Steinbrenners, of impatient, whaddya-done-for-me-lately types who relish in kicking the high and mighty when they're down.
It is hardly a coincidence that just as both New York baseball teams were staging their ritual firings, Donald Trump, former financial genius, was being pilloried as a greedy, egomaniacal hype artist. A few short weeks ago, reporters genuflected before his yacht, elbowed their way into his Taj Mahal and chronicled each breathless development in his love life. Now, one small cash-flow squeeze later, The Donald is being savaged by every two-bit prognosticator with a word processor.
Thinking of sports as a metaphor for the Big Apple helps everything to come into focus. In a tabloid town where yesterday's triumphs are used to wrap fish, you either make the big play or you're outta here. Just as the myth-making machinery of the sports world turns ordinary athletes into larger-than-life figures, so, too, does New York send its celebrities into the journalistic stratosphere, giving them that much farther to fall. You build 'em up, then eat 'em for breakfast.
Dent, after all, was a journeyman shortstop who became a legend with one swing -- his home run in the 1978 sudden-death playoff game against the Boston Red Sox. A decade later, he barely settled into the Bronx dugout before being pushed off Steinbrenner's managerial carousel, which has claimed its 18th victim in 18 years.
Over at Shea Stadium, Mets strikeout king Dwight Gooden was lionized by the media until he admitted several years ago having a cocaine problem and having fathered a son out of wedlock. Bad-boy outfielder Darryl Strawberry won rave reviews until he was arrested for allegedly hitting his wife and threatening to shoot her. He then checked into an alcohol-rehabilitation clinic.
The lineup extends well beyond sports:
Leona Helmsley was queen of the New York hotel world, a doyenne of Park Avenue society, before being painted as a penny-pinching, tax-evading witch.
Bess Myerson was the glamorous Miss America-turned-consumer affairs commissioner whose stock plummeted when she started carrying on with a sewer contractor.
Michael Milken, the junk-bond impresario with an income greater than that of some Third World countries, was reduced to a teary-eyed plea for mercy at his recent sentencing. "TYCOON TEARS," the Daily News scoffed.
"Crazy Eddie" Antar, whose "insa-a-a-a-a-ne" commercials once dominated the airwaves, spends his days dodging court hearings involving his collapsed electronics empire.
Politics has always been a game of winners and losers, but the New York version more closely resembles a blood sport.
Mario Biaggi was beloved as a wounded cop-become-congressman, but he was caught twice -- once in the Wedtech defense-contracting scam and again on a freebie junket with a woman not his wife. Rudy Giuliani was a fearless, Eliot Ness-style prosecutor who went after mobsters and crooked pols but seemed a stiff-necked clod when he ran for mayor. Even three-time champion Ed Koch was sent to the sidelines when voters tired of his shtick.
If one person in New York seemed to offer spiritual leadership, it was the Rev. Bruce Ritter. Widely admired for his pioneering work in founding Covenant House, a sanctuary for young runaways, Ritter was singled out for praise by President Ronald Reagan. But Ritter proved all too mortal, resigning in disgrace after allegations of sexual improprieties and financial shenanigans.
Perhaps the fastest rise-and-fall on record involved Fred McCray, a teacher at Brooklyn's Erasmus High School. After leading his students on a shopping trip to a Korean grocery that was the scene of an ugly boycott by black activists, McCray was hailed on the New York Post's front page as the "BRAVEST MAN IN NEW YORK."
A day later, he admitted on Joan Rivers's television show that he had once been a heroin addict and burglar and did a stretch in state prison. McCray quickly transferred to another school after what he described as threats against his life.
This is a tough town when the cheering stops.