Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rooting For The Mets, Yankees, and Red Sox (Concurrently)

Now you have me thinking about spectatorship and fandom, Musa D.

As I see it, this world has limiters and it has enablers. The person at Motts who decided that an applesauce jar should be sealed so tightly that only the strongest of humans, using every ounce of his strength, should be allowed to get at the mashed fruit-water inside the jar has to be considered a limiter. TiVo? Enabler. Diapers? Enabler. A hat can sometimes be an enabler for a man with a bald spot. You get the idea.

As a fan, I try to be more enabler and less limiter. This means that I spend the majority of my sports-viewing time rooting for a particular player or team. I do not, with very few exceptions, root against players or teams. At worst, I simply don't care.

To do this successfully I have had to undergo a transformation that many fans would consider to be blasphemous: I have taught myself to care less about teams and more about the individual players. I like Derek Jeter. I like Jose Reyes. And I also like Wily Mo Pena. And I LOVE the potential of Baltimore’s, Daniel Cabrera, all 6’7” 260 pounds of him. In a start this past spring, he walked 9 guys in five innings but his 10 strikeouts helped minimize the damage to one run. The guy is both unhittable and unable to throw strikes. I argue that he is the most interesting pitcher in all of baseball to watch because in the back of your mind you know that you are either watching the baseball equivalent of Michael Jordan (incredible NBA player and star of the flick Space Jam) or Harold “Baby Jordan” Minor (his nickname aside, his NBA career had very little in common with Adult Jordan).

Some fans have the Boston Fan Who Actively Roots Against The Yankees disease. This disease, which I call BFWARATY (phonetically: BF War-A-Tee) for short, is a quiet rage against a particular team or player that becomes vocal in direct proportion to alcohol consumption. This rage is often most severely directed at the best teams or athletes: Tiger Woods has his fair share of closet haters, for example, as did/does Jordan. Other examples include Notre Dame football, the Yanks, Jeter, Microsoft, Pfizer, and hot dogs.

A true sports fan, a pure fan, is one who does not succumb to the urge to belittle everyone who is not currently wearing a Red Sox uniform. These are the fans that started hating the heretofore loved Johnny Damon on December 23rd, 2005 at 3:57pm EST. Which is rediculous. I am a Yanks fan (and a Mets fan) but I also like Wily Mo Pena because I think he has the potential—if he learns how to take a pitch—to become a David Ortiz-like player. I enjoy watching him play because each at bat is another sentence in the story of his career, a story I'm interested in (will he be a star or won't he?).

The trick is to realize that fans everywhere are really rooting for characters in a story where sports happen to be played. And sometimes the players who play for the team located in the city nearest to where you happened to have spent your childhood aren’t writing the best stories.

The Work of Athletics in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

The good Dr.’s last post, coupled with my attendance at the Wizards-Pistons game last Saturday, has gotten me thinking about spectatorship.

The first half was high-scoring and competitive (thanks largely to The Black President), the cheerleaders were more bare than not, an amateur Jumbotron star collided scrotum-first with a railing, and yet the rest of us seemed drowsy and disinterested as if from overeating. Meanwhile, far below us, the season-ticket and corporate strata of the “sell-out” crowd were thinned by the holiday weekend.

Part of the lethargy of regular-season professional indoor major sporting events is proximity. Like it's impossible to board a plane and not think at least once about a terrorist hijacking, it’s impossible to watch an NBA game from the upper deck and not think to oneself, I’d have a better view if I were home watching the action on television. The 400 level at an NBA game isn’t like baseball bleachers; these people aren’t out to drink, tan, and bellow. There’s no pride in sitting in Section 403. We squinted down at the show, out of range of the cameras and t-shirt cannons. We found it difficult to appreciate the authenticity of the moment.

In fact, even as I mumbled Flip Murray analysis to my sister, I felt more have-not at that game than I have in a while. At least on an airplane I know most of the rest of the plane is taken up by coach-class schlubs like myself. At least in my five-year-old sedan sometimes I make the light and the Jag doesn’t. Sitting in 403 is like going to a fancy restaurant when you know you’ll have to order pasta marinara and ice water.

Not so, I’d guess, at the cyclo-cross race. David Stern’s pro product bummed me out in a way cold mud and BYOB never could. Plus, there’s a chance to see your friend lose to a nine-year-old.

(On the other hand, if Anson got to see Predators and Wings, I think he enjoyed it no matter where he was sitting.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cyclo-cross, Sport of the Future


"Cyclo-cross. You heard of cyclo-cross, sport of the future? Ryan Trebon, one of the champions of the sport? I can
see by your face, no."

I participated in my first-ever cyclo-cross race this weekend. The sport is very similar to Super Mario Kart, only instead of animals and plumbers and princesses made of pixels riding go-carts the sport features humans made of cells riding bikes. The course, located on the grass playing fields of a middle school, had a 50-foot mud hill that required riders to shoulder their bike and run, a section of small man-made knee-high wooden walls to climb over, and numerous muddy switchbacks. One loop took about ten minutes, and the race was 40 minutes long. I was in the "C" race--the slow race. There were almost a dozen total races on the day, with nearly 1,000 riders participating.

Seventy riders were in my race. At the start line, bikers nervously clipped in and out of their pedals. I was surrounded on all sides by men on bikes. It was at this moment that I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. Sure, I had done my research. I had looked up "cyclo-cross" on Wikipedia. I had gone to a grass field and practiced jumping on and off my bike. I had lubed my undercarriage to prevent chaffing. Still, crashing twice during my warm-up lap didn't help my confidence. The race started when a woman with a clipboard shouted "go." How old school, I thought.

I started in too low a gear and struggled to get my shoes clipped into my pedals. Riders went around me like a stream flows around a rock. When I was good and clipped in, I took a glance over my shoulder and saw only one rider behind me. That left sixty-eight riders in front of me.

I crashed three times during the first lap, the worst one being when I rode down a long muddy hill on my top tube, my feet splayed out to each side. The crashed caused my handlebars to slide out of alignment with my front wheel. After squeezing my front wheel with my thighs, I was able to twist my handlebars back into place and continue.

During the second lap, I began to move up through the field. I especially made up ground on the flat section of the course that circumnavigated a cinder track--the only section where technical riding didn't enter the equation. When the race finished, I was in 39th place. I had specks of mud on every inch of my body, including my teeth.

In what was probably a coincidence but might have been celestially motivated, the same day I raced my first-ever cyclo-cross race, the NYTimes published an article about the sport, which can be read by clicking here.

There is nothing stopping cyclo-cross racing from becoming the sport of the future, except maybe a latent American distrust of non-football-playing men in padded tights (although Lance Armstrong has begun to make the tights practice more acceptable, if those yellow rubber bracelets are any indication). The course is perfect for spectators, as the entire course can be seen from any one spot. Crashes are frequent, even among elite riders. Cowbells are the noisemaker of choice. Concession stands sell hot chocolate, hot dogs, and fries. And beer. Mud is involved.

And plus, the sport has an element of freak to it: In my race, a 9 year-old boy and a 51 year-old woman bested me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving

I just read Roger Angell’s annual baseball article in The New Yorker. Every November he sums up the season, and there’s really no baseball writing I look forward to more. His write-up of the Yankees-Diamondbacks Series a few years ago was a classic. His tone can be a little Alistair Cooke-in-his-armchair, but he pulls it off. The guy has perspective. This year, in an aside about Barry Bonds going for 755, he writes:

“Once the unlovable Bonds—still perhaps the greatest and most consistent long-range hitter I have ever seen, including Ruth—has done the deed, I trust that, like other habitu├ęs of the game, I will be able to find the right place for his record in my baseball consciousness, with whatever asterisks are needed, just the way I did with Roger Maris’s sixty-one homers (struck in a longer season than Babe’s sixty), and with the jumped-up rabbit-ball averages of the early nineteen-thirties, and even with the rare dead-ball home runs knocked out in the sunlit, bribe-prone, alcoholic, and racist baseball times of my father.”

First of all, the guy (born in 1920) remembers watching Babe Ruth play. Second, that sentence, overlong as it may be, covers a stretch of twentieth-century history rather beautifully, or at least in a way that no other living baseball writer would cover it. Third, he doesn’t feel the need to pronounce his opinion on Bonds as if he were handing down a judgment. He understands what Bonds is about, and he doesn’t want the ugliness of it to ruin his experience of the Bonds’s greatness, and you get the feeling that it won’t. He’s never been invited to fill in for Mariotti on Around The Horn, I’m pretty sure.

Angell wanted a better Series from the Tigers than he got, and I feel a little sad that my team disappointed him. He once wrote that the best seat in any major-league ballpark was in the second deck in Tiger Stadium, just behind and above the plate, a spot that was so close you could hear the pitches. He describes watching Gossage on the mound from that vantage. He wanted the 2006 Tigers to step up, I think, to say something about leadership, redemption, and crusty old managers, but they didn’t quite pull it off.

But reading Roger Angell on baseball was a good reminder of some things to be thankful for: old writers; and an everyday game that will be around as long we will; and Wait Til Next Year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

F. Scott Holiday Feast

F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said, "Baseball is a game played by idiots for morons," offers up some post-Thanksgiving turkey recipes.

Turkey a la Francaise: Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat. Proceed as with cottage pudding.

Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.

Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn't noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg - well, anyhow, beat it.

Turkey Hash: This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster, it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomse bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around. Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or, if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose - and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.

Turkey with Whiskey Sauce: This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest. The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.

Any of these recipes will help ease the pain of watching the Tivo'ed Dolphins-Lions game the day after Thanksgiving. F. Scott also said, "There are no second acts in American lives," but he obviously had never anticipated Joey Harrington.

Sinkhole Superstars: Drew Henson

Until A-Rod joined the Yanks, their 3B of the future was Drew Henson, the former Michigan QB. In NYC, there was contradictory pressure on the poor kid to be as good as A-Rod someday, and to do it now. Even A-Rod gets busted on non-stop for not being A-Rod enough. He won an MVP. He had a solid year last year. Of all players in baseball history at age 30, he is 1st all-time in both home runs and runs, 2nd in total bases and extra base hits, 3rd in RBIs, and 4th in hits. Leave him alone! Tangent. Sorry. So after some medium-hitting minor league years, Drew left the Yanks to join Big Tuna football, which may be the most pressure-filled football in the universe. His first NFL start was on Thanksgiving day. He threw for 34 yards in the first half and was pulled with the score tied 7-7. Last year he played in NFL Europe, but the Cowboys retained his rights. He was cut by the Cowboys on August 24th, 2006.

He briefly regained consciousness when he was picked up by the Vikes, but on Oct. 10th, 2006, Drew Henson left the professional sports world when he was cut by the Vikes. The time of cut was 4:37pm. He was 26 years old. He is survived by his pet fish Jake.

If I were a baseball team, I'd stash him in my minor leagues and pray for the pinocchio-muppet to become a real boy. The least-used parts of my soul, the wizened dusty parts, believe he will return to glory.

12/22/06 update:

source: http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/16296513.htm

Quarterback Drew Henson is in his second tour on the Vikings' practice squad. He was with the team for two weeks early in the season, got cut and returned when Brooks Bollinger injured his shoulder. A former member of the Dallas Cowboys, Henson spent three seasons in the New York Yankees organization and played college football at Michigan. Here is Henson …

On how he views his role with the Vikings: "First off, it's better to be working than not. You end up practicing and keep working and throwing. Whether it's just four weeks, that's four weeks I might not have had. I'll see what this offseason brings. I like the atmosphere here. Everyone has been great to me. Right now, I'll do everything I can to help and try to get caught up on the fly on the philosophy here."

On whether he's done playing baseball: "Most definitely."

On whether he regrets giving baseball a try and not concentrating on football: "Honestly, I feel like I've been playing catch-up since the day I left school, no matter what sport it was. It's the path I chose. I had the fortunate problem of having multiple opportunities. It would have been simpler if I hadn't grown up playing baseball as much as I did. But I had some great experiences. I'm still young. Before it's all said and done, I think it will be a pretty good story to tell."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Muliple Choice and Michelle Wie

Fill in the blank: After Michelle Wie retires, people will look back and most frequently compare her career trajectory to the career trajectory of ________ .

A) Shawn Kemp
B) Serena Williams
C) Tiger Woods
D) Jennifer Capriati
E) John Daly
F) Jeong Jang
G) Anna Kournikova
H) Harold Minor
I) Rob Deer

Human Development Index Summary!

The UNDP has recently released its 2006 Human Development Index. For people throughout the developing world, HDI release day is always exciting. My family and I are from Mali, and there’s nothing better than scanning down to the bottom of the list and finding that we beat out Mauritania on the HDI. Some highlights of this year’s Index:

Norway finished first at .965. Congratulations, Norway! Although the thin Scandinavian air is known to inflate child-welfare statistics, we're not taking anything away from you.

The US came in 8th at .948, tying it with Nick Johnson, macrocephalic first baseman of the Washington Nationals. Johnson, however, isn’t much of a defensive player, and he missed 15 games due to injury.

The big surprise of the Top 10 was Ireland, which climbed to No. 4, thanks to an off-season spent in the weight room. Ireland is a front-runner for the Most Improved Nation of the Year Award.

Bosnia and Herzegovina snuck into the High Development category by finishing at .800, earning a bonus of 750,000 Euros. Herzegovina doesn’t expect to see a dime.

Mali, unfortunately, came in 175th, ahead of only Sierra Leone, Niger, and Neifi Perez. Oh well.

Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia were not ranked.

Would Derek Jeter Be A Hall Of Famer If He Were To Retire Today?

Let’s apply the LPGA Hall rules to Derek Jeter’s career and see if he’s like Annika and Vijay and has already qualified for the Hall of Fame:

1. He has been an "Active" MLB player for 10 years;
2. Must have won/been awarded at least one of the following - an MVP (0), Cy Young (0), or a World Series MVP (1); and
3. Must have accumulated a total of 27 points, which are awarded as follows - one point for leading a major statistical category (and ½ point for being second), one point for each All Star appearance, one point for each ROY, Gold Glove or AS MVP award won, one point for each career milestone attained (3,000 hits, 300 wins, career .300 hitter, 300 saves, or 3,000K), and five points for each MVP, Cy Young, and WS MVP award won.

Jeter’s stats:
1996: ROY
1999: AL hits leader (2nd in BA and Runs)
2000: All Star MVP, WS MVP
2004: AL Gold Glove
2005: AL Gold Glove (2nd in AL in runs)
2006: AL Gold Glove (2nd in AL in BA, RS)
Career .300 hitter
7-time All Star
4-time WS winner

Jeter has played ten years, he’s won a WS MVP, and he currently has 25.5 points. To gain entry into the HOF (using a format inspired by the LPGA format) he’d need to get 1.5 additional points over the course of his career. And so no, he would not currently be a member of the HOF.

Out of curiosity, I also did the same monkey dance for Randy Johnson, who, if he were to retire today, would probably qualify for the hall of fame with ease. Randy easily hits the 10-year mark (he’s played 17 years), and his five Cy Youngs and one WS MVP breeze him by qualification #2. As for his points:

1 no hitter
1 perfect game
4,544 career K’s
9-time K leader
2002 Wins leader, Triple crown winner
4-time ERA winner
2001 WS MVP
5-time Cy Young
10-time All Star
1-time WS winner
(plus all the times he was second in stat categories)

By my rough tally, this gives him about 59+ points.

Sure, this system has some drawbacks, such as the ample slippery slope-ish wiggle room (should a Rolaids Relief award be a point? Should WS rings count? Should the cut-off be 50 points?) and the fact that the system is hard to weight properly (closers and catchers are undervalued, for example. And should a WS MVP really be valued as much as an MVP?). But perhaps Bill James or someone related to him could figure out a way to eliminate the wiggle and even out the weight. The real test to see if it works is to take a borderline hall of famer and see if he hits the 27 point mark. Got any borderline hall of famers in mind?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Is The LPGA Tour Hall of Fame Qualification Process Better Than The MLB One?

Musa D. might think it blasphemy to compare the LPGA Hall with the MLB one. I'm going to do it anyway:

I used to think that gaining entrance to a Hall of Fame before being a retired player was like having a funeral before dying. It seemed to me that if I ever went to a pre-death funeral, I'd feel awkward and sad around the Should-be-deceased-because-we-had-a-large-get-together-celebrating-your-death-and-yet-here-you-are-recommending-that-I-put-back-my-cantaloupe-and-select-a-better,-more-ripe-one when I bump into him at the, say, grocery store. And whenever I see the Should-be-deceased-etc. some part of my brain will be thinking, "die already!"

When seeing Vijay or Annika (two hall of famers) on TV, I couldn't help but think that they should just retire already!

After looking at the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame qualifying guidelines, however, I think I might favor their straight numbers approach over the more nebulous baseball hall requirements. Certainly the fact that pitchers and hitters have different skill sets (and the fact that there are sub-skill sets like RP, SP, or Catcher) makes it more difficult to have a straight numbers selection process, not to mention a million other difficulties and complications (rule changes, "live" baseballs, etc.). I'm not saying that the MLB should adopt a Hall criteria like the LPGA. Rather, I'd prefer to be selected by a process like the LPGA one over the MLB one.

To gain entrance to the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame:

1. "Active" LPGA Tour member for 10 years;
2. Must have won/been awarded at least one of the following - an LPGA major championship, the Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honors; and
3. Must have accumulated a total of 27 points, which are awarded as follows - one point for each LPGA official tournament win, two points for each LPGA major tournament win and one point for each Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honor earned.

There is also a "Bob Hope" rule, whereby someone can gain entrance to the Hall if they have "had an extraordinary career that significantly impacted the growth of the LPGA Tour."

There is the argument that the MLB HOF essentially follows the Bob Hope rule for all its selections (at least the "extraordinary career" part).

BCS Rankings: Number of U.S. Towns Named After Planets

1. Venus (7) (AR, FL, KY, MO, NE, OR, PA)
2. Earth + Earth-name variations (7) (TX, WI, MN x2, MO, MD x2) ***
3. Neptune (6) (IA, OH, TN, WV, WI) **CA
4. (tie) Jupiter (3) (CA, FL, NC)
4. (tie) Mercury (3) (AL, NV, TX)
4. (tie) Pluto (3)* (MS, TX, WV)
4. (tie) Mars (3) (CA, PA, TX)
8. Saturn (2) (IN, TX)
9. Uranus (1) (Technically a topographic feature in ID)

*Due to recent non-planetlike activity, Pluto is ineligible for post-season play
**Update: I have added Neptune, CA, which A.M. noticed I was missing
***There is the argument (made eloquently by A.M. in the comments) that Earth's six Earth-name variations, such as "Black Earth," should count as a Division I-AA victories and that Neptune should claim the second spot based on SOS (Strength of Schedule).

Source: U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System

Commentary: Barry Sanders' planet needs at least one more U.S. town named after it to qualify for the Bowl Championship game.

RB from another planet

I agree that LT's jog to the sidelines is intimidating. He didn't come up with it, but it works. I grew up watching Barry Sanders, and part of the spectacle of his touchdown runs was the juxtaposition of his elusive skittering and the conclusive casual flip of the ball to the ref. It was a physical statement (most athletes' favorite kind), just like a celebratory dance is. He wasn't doing it because his coach told him to, he was doing it because that's who he was. It was individual expression.

Perhaps the problem here is that I don't like the way football favors the lockstepped. I'd rather watch Barry Sanders be the only guy on the team cool enough to flip the ball to the ref after a touchdown. Trust me, I wasn't watching the Lions for the teamwork. I was watching Barry, and would still be watching him now if he hadn't left for Neptune.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Organized" Sports

I’m not a particularly neat person. My apartment is not tidy. Yet there is something about cleaning that I find very satisfying. This is a simple observation. But watch me take it world-widely: There is a certain part of me that wants to clean the entire world, especially those places that do not really belong to anyone, like highway the grass strip between highways (although prisoners sometimes clean these), or the grass growing in sidewalks.

A large part of my childhood was waiting for my mother to pick me up. After a game or a practice, I’d wait in the parking lot for my mother to arrive in her wood-panel station wagon. The waiting-for-mom places often had imperfections: A wood fence with a whole section missing and a worn path through the gap, a building’s foundation that had raised several feet above the earth, an edge of a parking lot that had become a collection of asphalt puzzle pieces. Being a kid and not understanding how ownership of public places worked, the decay of these areas left me feeling helpless. Who was responsible for the necessary repairs and improvements? Where was the accountability?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was starting quarterback for the second-best team in the state of Connecticut. The best team was a school named Xavier, and they wore all-black uniforms with a simple white “X” on their helmets. They didn’t have names on the backs of their jerseys. When the team arrived before a game, they exited the bus soundlessly. They each wore the hood on their black hooded sweatshirts up. All the teams that I’d been on had stragglers and jokesters and disorganization. I was always amazed and a little intimidated by Xavier. I knew their coach was in control of his team. His players had bought into his message. And I knew that they would be tougher to beat because of it.

The most intimidating fans are the ones that are organized. When thousands of people are shouting something in unison, it can be very convincing. Although I am not a fan of anything Duke, I did go to a Duke v. Davidson basketball game a few years ago and left amazed by how organized their fan-base was. As has been well reported, they stand the entire game and the crowd chants "clever" cheers in unison. I felt like someone must feel when they go to a Catholic mass for the first time. And this was against Davidson, not exactly a basketball powerhouse.

Tangentially, I disapprove of all in-game post-accomplishment celebration. When I see a post-touchdown/post-dunk/post-sack celebration, I can’t help but think that the coach of the offending athlete is not completely in control of his team. If I were a coach, I think to myself as Warren Sapp waggles his body in some absurd way after a sack, I wouldn’t allow these sorts of celebrations. Sapp-like celebrations communicate to the other team that your team is not on the same page. Your team is not the sort of team that repairs its broken asphalt or mends its fences, so to speak. Your team doesn’t believe in collective accountability. Your team is disorganized. And as a direct result, your team is not as intimidating or as good as it could be.

In Quotes

The important thing about saying "Test" into a microphone is the phoneme /t/, which, because it involves a quick explusion of air, tests where the sound system will top out. Quasi-onomatopoeia, let's call it, since "Test" tests.

The phoneme /p/ would also work. "Perp," for instance.

World-widely Appeal

In many ways your post was successful: It was grammatically correct, it was concise, and it did what a test posting should do. It tested. Still, I wonder if walking up to a microphone and coughing and saying, "test, 1-2-3 test" has become a cliche.

All this is to say, your post, being so narrow in its focus, lacked a message that can be used to appeal world-widely.

Test. 1-2-3. Test.

Examination

This is a test. How did I do?