Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On the Great Biographical Narratives of 2030

I've never seen the movie Ali in its entirety. If ever there were a biopic that seemed unnecessarily redundant, it was this one, for not only is Ali the subject of perhaps the greatest sports documentary of all time, not only is Ali is the subject of one of the greatest sports books ever written* ... but even his opponents and contemporaries have been the subjects of transcendent literature, from Nick Tosches' intense biography of Sonny Liston to Gay Talese's sympathetic magazine profiles of Floyd Patterson. There was no need for an Ali biopic because Ali pulled into his wake some of the greatest non-fiction chroniclers of the 20th century. Fiction could not compare to the truth, especially when Jamie Foxx was involved.

In this age of miniscule attention spans, I find myself thinking about these kinds of things quite often. What are the stories that serve as metaphorical proxies for their era?** Will we still be discussing the sexual vagaries Tiger Woods in ten years, or will he slink back into a protective shell? Is this a truly meaningful moment in the national narrative, as Bill Simmons hypothesizes? Or did the shock of it all simply amplify its importance? It's too early to tell (though I'd probably lean toward Simmons at this point).

Anyway, here's my point: Certain athletes of this era seem representative of some larger issue, of an evolutionary or technological or societal tipping point. And it's not always the obvious people. So yes, in ten or twenty years, there are many excellent biographies I expect to read (or write) that might capture the Zeitgeist of the early 21st century. But here are the underdogs--if I were forced to sign a contract right now to write a biography in 2030 of an active athlete/coach who isn't Tiger Woods, LeBron James, or Kobe Bryant, these are some of the people I might choose:

1. Allen Iverson. Has there been a more polarizing moment in recent sports history than The Practice Speech? Iverson is the progenitor of a new era in the NBA, of the narrowing authoritarian boundaries between player and coach, of the age of personal expression. That he seems headed for the inevitable tragic fall only makes him that much more compelling.***

2. Donovan McNabb. Not just because of Rush Limbaugh, and not just because he possesses the most famously sensitive digestive system in NFL history--in a city with a checkered racial history, McNabb has come to represent the tribulations of the black quarterback in the modern age. He is an undeniably great player, and yet he is never quite good enough.

3. Peyton Manning/Tom Brady. It would have to be a dual biography, because it is already virtually impossible to separate the legacy of one from the legacy of the other. There is no better rivalry in the modern era. This is essentially Magic/Bird without the racial undertones.

4. Mark McGwire. Jeff Pearlman made a valiant effort to capture the soul of Barry Bonds a few years ago, but the problem is, Bonds doesn't appear to possess a soul. Of all the principles in the steroid era, McGwire still seems like the most sympathetic figure to me, more rent with guilt than any of the others. His return to baseball could prove either triumphant or tragic--I really don't know where it's going.

5. Rick Pitino. Because no one embodies the role of coach as slicked-up mercenary quite like Pitino. He was a trendsetter. Not to mention there's plenty of sex involved.

*I'm currently reading David Remnick's King of the World, which is also predictably excellent.
**One of the reasons I chose to write Bigger Than the Game (now available for pre-order!) is because Bo Jackson always felt, to me, like one of those people who transcended his era.
***I expect Steve James' 30 for 30 documentary on Iverson will be one of the highlights of the series.

Monday, March 29, 2010

On Duke and Irrational Animus

Eighteen years ago, a 23-year-old Buffalo native with a Patrick Bateman coiffure sunk a turnaround jump shot from the top of the key that changed college basketball forever. I don't remember harboring any ill feeling to Duke before then; to tell the truth, I'm not sure if I really dislike them now, or I have just bought into some sort of Reichstagian mass delusion fanned by the blogosphere.

Like most people, I cannot articulate any concrete reason for my periodic vitriol toward Duke; the only Duke graduate I really know is a friend from high school. (I've always liked Carolina more, largely because that shade of powder blue is the greatest color ever invented.) I never engaged much with the Duke lacrosse story. I was indifferent toward Laettner--if anything, I found his hubris kind of amusing. I liked Grant Hill (though, of course, he is generally regarded as the exception to the rule); I have no beef with Alaskan basketball prodigies or the offspring of Doug Collins. I believe Jay Bilas is an excellent color commentator, even when I disagree with him, and while I believe J.J. Redick was wildly overrated as a collegian, I never harbored any vitriol toward him. I thought Coach K's American Express ad ("I am leader who happens to coach basketball") was perhaps the most embarrassing moment in the program's history, but I also recognize that his teams regularly have graduation rates in the 90th percentile. In this way, the lazy comparison of Duke to the New York Yankees is ridiculous; if anything, Duke is the opposite of the Yankees. They are working in opposition to a system that has almost completely de-emphasized academic performance; in truth, Kentucky is far more the equivalent of the Yankees than Duke.

In fact, the only legitimate complaint I can muster about Duke is that they are on television far too often, and that when they are television, certain follically challenged broadcasters (ahem!) tend to latch on to a cult of personality that renders their games almost unwatchable. But if the worst thing about Duke is that they are overexposed, this is not really a good reason for wanting them to fail. Is it?

Of course, I'm not going to deny that there are other factors at work here, complicated issues that are almost impossible to discuss without saying something that can be misconceived or taken out of context. There is the underlying question of race, though it seems this has far more to do with class than with race; if the NCAA tournament is the epitomal populist sporting event, Duke has been branded as the perennial "elitist" candidate. It doesn't matter that Cornell is likely home to just as many elitists as Duke; by succeeding in opposition to the system for such a long period of time, Duke has essentially branded itself as a self-righteous ascetic among the sinners. Still, why should this bother me? I am a fan of Penn State football. For years, opposing coaches have dismissed Joe Paterno as preachy and self-righteous and even blatantly racist. Should I feel differently because Duke is a private school? Should I feel differently because of a perception of arrogance that cannot be rationally pinpointed, and that I have never actually experienced?

I shouldn't, I know. And yet I do feel that way. I do. I don't hate Duke all the time, but I've chosen to hate them this year, because they seem overrated, because in a year when the NCAA tournament has swung back toward unpredictable populism, Duke doesn't really belong in this moment. They aren't that good. They can't be that good. And those sentiments may be entirely irrational, but this is the beauty of sports--they allow us to embrace irrationality without explanation. Maybe I should be pulling for Duke, but I won't. And I don't have to tell you why.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Doctor K

I still recall from memory Dwight Gooden's pitching numbers from the 1985 baseball season: 24 wins, four losses, a 1.53 ERA. I should clarify here: I was not a Mets fan at all. Never have been, never will be. Back then, I pulled for the Phillies, and I saw Mets' games only periodically, on the channel then known as WOR (Channel 9), where Tim McCarver would regularly unveil his self-righteous declarations of certitude while Ralph Kiner would impart his foggy wisdom ("Solo homers usually come with no one on base") before segueing into advertisements for Manufacturer's Hangover.

Even so, those Mets were the most intriguing baseball team of the decade, and largely because of Dwight Gooden. In 1985, he threw 16 complete games. In 1985, he struck out 268 batters. I remember his numbers because at the time they seemed as if they couldn't possibly be real; no pitcher in the brief era during which I'd watched baseball had ever approached Gooden's abilities. Everything about him seemed inherently flawless: The high leg kick, the hat pulled down just so, the BB of a fastball, the curveball that dangled like an overinflated zeppelin before flopping into Gary Carter's mitt. His was the first curveball I ever heard referred to as "Uncle Charlie," and while I still have no idea what this means, it was a pitch that seemed deserving of many nicknames. I remember spending hours of Little League practice attempting to replicate his wind-up and delivery--ball dipping down beneath the hip, arm pushing straight forward, chest bursting toward home plate; there was no hitch, no hesitation, only a steady rhythm that seemed to emanate from someone other than the kid who was hardly more than a few years out of Little League himself, hardly older than the 16 he wore on his jersey. Dwight Gooden in 1985 was the prototype of what I imagined a pitcher to be, and he always will be.

Anyway, Dwight Gooden is in trouble again, and this is terribly sad, but this is not what caught my attention. What caught my attention is that Bill James is now (seemingly) advocating for Dwight Gooden's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. And I'm not going to fall into a discussion of numbers here, because that's not my territory, but on a sentimental level, I'd obviously like to see this happen. Because for me, Dwight Gooden defined what might be the last truly great era in baseball history. For me, despite the numbers, Dwight Gooden deserves election to the Hall of Fame before Roger Clemens.

It will never happen, of course. And it will never happen because Dwight Gooden was so unbelievably great in 1985 that anything he did afterward could only be seen as a disappointment. Gooden was too good for his own good; even if he hadn't fallen into a decades-long spiral of substance abuse, it would have been virtually impossible for him to live up to what he'd accomplished in the summer of '85. Therefore, Dwight Gooden will not be a Hall of Famer because Dwight Gooden is not as good as we imagine he could have been. We see Dwight Gooden, and we cannot see past the failed potential engendered by 1985; we project an inherent personal weakness onto what is essentially the genetic defect that killed his career.* Dwight Gooden killed Dwight Gooden, we say, and that's the end of it.

Now perhaps this is a perfectly fair way of determining eternal transcendence; but what if it's not? Isn't Dwight Gooden's fall from grace more noble than Roger Clemens' craven determination to erase the ravages of time? Isn't there something more beautiful about a single youthful memory, coated in amber? In some ways, Dwight Gooden represents both the beauty and the tragedy of baseball in the era before steroids and Bud Selig ravaged the game's insides. In some ways, Dwight Gooden in 1985 represents the last purely brilliant moment in baseball history. And if not the Hall of Fame, that ought to be worth something.

*Chuck writes similar things about Ralph Sampson in his book: "His superiority seemed natural and therefore unearned. And while people don't necessarily hate that kind of greatness, they inevitably find it annoying." I'm not sure if there's a direct comparison--Gooden is probably a slightly more sympathetic figure, because of his drug problems--but there are definite parallels.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On Inconsequential Things That Matter To Me (Turtle Edition)

1. How To Make It In America

I have no cogent explanation as to why I am still watching this show; with the exception of Martha Plimpton, it is a manifestation of everything I despise about A.) New York, and B.) television itself. Victor Rasuk's performance is so inherently terrible, he makes Jerry Ferrara seem emotionally nuanced by comparison. (Here's an idea: Let's create a version of Entourage for metrosexual pseudo-artistic bozos!) And yet this is the best proof yet that I am a serial television watcher; I cannot watch shows starting in the middle of their run, and if I start from the beginning, I have trouble stopping. It's as if I'm afraid I might miss some crucial scene where New Yorkers I cannot stand engage in a series of quasi-hipster activities that make me want to ram a taxicab through a Barney's warehouse sale. Anyway, the theme song's kind of awesome.

2. Slow Play

Here's the thing about this New York Times story on end-of-game tedium: Nobody's ever going to stop fouling when trailing in the final minutes of a game, no matter what rules changes are applied. And in fact, I don't see why they should--if anything, the double bonus should be repealed, the shot clock shortened, the game extended as much as possible.* It should be a challenge to finish off a basketball game; why shouldn't a team have to make free throws to finish off a game? The thing that bores people about the final minute of the game is not that it goes too slow; the thing that bores people is that with the double bonus, and the 35-second shot clock, the deck is stacked against a comeback.

3. Biden!

I love that we've advanced from an imperialistic vice president who reeked of sulfur and fired shotguns at his friends' probosci and swore profane vengeance on senators, to a vice president who utilizes profanity like a great uncle at a family barbecue.

*Except the time-outs. Each team should be allowed zero full time-outs in the final two minutes, and two 30-second time-outs; the rest should be used only to stop the clock.

(Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Monday, March 22, 2010

On 16 Unsolicited Observations About the NCAA Tournament So Far

1. Here's something I don't understand: Every one of us spends the entirety of our day shuttling between six different applications, fourteen browser windows, twelve thousand ITunes songs, four Skype phone calls, and three Blackberries. We own three-hundred inch super Ultravox (TM) high-definition televisions, and we watch them while Googling Tom Penders' lifetime record and Twittering about Gus Johnson and commenting on our former college roommate's Facebook status. And yet CBS believes we are incapable of comprehending split-screen technology? That somehow, displaying two games at once, if only for seconds at a time, might somehow induce seizures in small children? Forgive me, but if there are two games coming down to the wire, I would like to see them both. And it boggles my mind that CBS purchased an entire channel (College Sports Network) only to stock it, during the two busiest college sports days of the year, with mid-major coaches sitting in a studio discussing visits to the Yale Club.

2. Two teams I mistakenly overestimate or underestimate in my bracket, year after year: Villanova and Wisconsin.

3. This is the first time in several years that I didn't pick a Mid-American Conference team to win a first-round game.

4. The Big Ten is a hit-and-miss conference, but Tom Izzo and Matt Painter might be two of the five best coaches in America.

5. Glen Rice could not possibly have a son playing college basketball, unless there is some sort of Dharma time loop involved. Or unless I am aging at a depressingly fast rate.

6. I refuse to believe that Duke is "peaking."

7. When and why did Bob Huggins start dressing like Turtle from Entourage? The guy loses his job, abandons another, and now he gets to dress down? I would like to have his agent.

8. A year ago, Penn State defeated Baylor to win the NIT Championship. Now, Baylor is potentially a Final Four team, and Penn State is plugging the holes on a sinking vessel.

9. I doubt that Cornell can beat Kentucky, but that game will at least become a proxy for a discussion that no one ever really wants to have, which is: Do we care whether college athletes actually graduate? At Maryland, Gary Williams was forced to defend the school's graduation rate of eight percent. This, at a school that was enveloped in academic scandal two decades earlier--and back then, Lefty Driesell made many of the same arguments.* Nothing ever really changes here; the question is whether we even want the system to change. If you don't, you should probably be pulling for the Wildcats.

10. Syracuse and Kentucky are clearly the two best teams remaining, but given the way this tournament has gone, I will be surprised if they meet in the final.

11. I never really liked Kansas that much, and I can't say why, except that in a midseason game, I saw Sherron Collins miss a clutch free throw. That pretty much shaped my entire perception of that team.

12. So at this point, Gonzaga is no longer even the best team in its own conference. I have no idea if they're a massive disappointment or if the fact that they even make the tournament every year is a miracle in itself.

13. It's hard for me to root against Steve Alford (for some reason, I have a vivid memory of this story about Alford proposing to his wife), especially when he's wearing a bright red sportjacket.

14. Most underrated CBS announcing team: Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel.

15. My original Final Four: Kansas, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Syracuse.

16. My revised Final Four: Syracuse, Michigan State, Kentucky, Baylor

*If only someone would write a book about that era in American sports. And if only that book were currently available for pre-order...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Unconventional Methods of Filling Out One's Bracket

A couple of years back, I wrote a story about the basketball team at Quinnipiac University. There is at least an 82 percent chance that if you live outside the state of Connecticut,* you have never heard of Quinnipiac. And if you have heard of Quinnipiac, there is a 78 percent you know this school exists because they also have an institute that conducts political polls. However, this year, Quinnipiac came oh-so-close to qualifying for the NCAA tournament, which would have brought unprecedented recognition to a school that is otherwise a blank slate. In fact, this is the whole reason Quinnipiac threw all kinds of money into basketball in the first place--it was a way for an otherwise nondescript school to establish its identity. It was a way for people to recognize Quinnipiac for something other than Chris Dodd's approval ratings.

This happens all the time now. College sports have essentially evolved into a PR gambit, and so, with that in mind, I have decided to choose each of the first-round games in my NCAA pool based entirely on my shallow and uninformed first impressions of each university--in other words, the first image that leaps into my head.**I call it the Gladwell Method.


1. Kentucky (Ashley Judd) over 16. E. Tenn. St. Before he became the coach at Penn State, Ed DeChellis led East Tennessee State to the NCAA tournament. Which leads me to a pair of conclusions: 1. East Tennessee State has a better basketball program than Penn State, and 2. Ed DeChellis is no Ashley Judd.

8. Texas (Bevo) over 9. Wake Forest Did you know that Tim Duncan apparently cut short his swimming career because a fear of sharks? An 1,800 pound steer would never give up on its dreams.

12. Cornell over 5. Temple. Because my dad and my friend's wife went to Cornell, and I never liked Mark Macon.

4. Wisconsin (Ron Dayne) over 13. Wofford (Because this is a school that sounds like it should be a breakfast special at Denny's).

6. Marquette over 11. Washington. Because sad clowns are more melancholy than rain.

3. New Mexico over 14. Montana. Because I just watched Breaking Bad, and because this appears to be the only television show ever set in Montana.

10. Missouri (home of copious sportswriters) over 7. Clemson (Donald Igwebuike).

15. Morgan State (The Wire) over. 2. West Virginia (Deliverance).


16. Ark. Pine-Bluff over 1. Duke. Because Pine Bluff's marching band is known as the Marching Musical Machine. And Duke is Duke.

8. Cal over 9. Louisville. Because I like hippies more than horses.

12. Utah State over 5. Texas A & M. Because Jackie Sherill once castrated a bull, while the dude who helped found Utah State looks like he could castrate Jackie Sherill.

4. Purdue (Glenn Robinson) over 13. Siena (Albany).

11. Old Dominion over 6. Notre Dame. Because I respect Old Dominion's women's basketball tradition far more than I respect Notre Dame's football tradition.

14. Sam Houston State over 3. Baylor (cult members, unscrupulous coaches). Because Sam Houston just seems like the kind of guy who could strangle a coyote with his bare hands.

10. St. Mary's over 7. Richmond (Johnny Newman). Because at St. Mary's, it appears they actually read.

15. Robert Morris over 2. Villanova. See here.


16. Lehigh (Nerds) over 1. Kansas (Munchkins).

8. UNLV (Moses Scurry) over 9. Northern Iowa. Because I was in Barbados the past few days, and while touring a rum factory I saw a hefty dude wearing a Northern Iowa T-shirt. He did not instill confidence.

5. Michigan State (Bubba Smith) over 12. New Mexico State (Southwestern art).

4. Maryland (Len Bias) over 13. Houston (Andre Ware).

11. San Diego State (Dude!) over 6. Tennessee. Because Phish regularly played a cover of "Rocky Top."

14. Ohio over 3. Georgetown. Because Halloween at Ohio University is perhaps the most decadent party atmosphere I have ever witnessed outside a Dean Cameron film. And because all the John Thompsons are excellent coaches, but none of them seem like very fun guys.

10. Georgia Tech over 7. Oklahoma State. Because I have a friend who likes Georgia Tech, and I like this friend far more than I like T. Boone Pickens.

15. UCSB over 2. Ohio State. Because Santa Barbara is one of the nicest places I have ever been. And Columbus is not.


16. Vermont over 1. Syracuse. Because while I believe Syracuse has approximately a 48 percent chance of winning this tournament, I like maple syrup more than most sportscasters.

8. Gonzaga over 9. Florida State. Because everything I know about Gonazaga relates to basketball. They are the patient zero of the Quinnipiac philosophy. And Deion Sanders is a freak.

5. Butler (Hoosiers) over 12. UTEP (Glory Road).

13. Murray State (Popeye Jones) over 4. Vanderbilt (Al Gore).

6. Xavier (X!) over 11. Minnesota. Because there are no Xes in Bronko Nagurski.

3. Pitt over 14. Oakland. Because there is an Oakland in Pittsburgh, but there is no Pittsburgh in Oakland.

10. Florida over 7. BYU. Because our Tebow trumps your Mormons.

15. N. Texas (Mean Joe Greene) over 2. Kansas State (Kirstie Alley).

*And for your sake, I hope you do.
**Or the first obscure fact culled from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Inconsequential Things That Matter To Me (Coreys Edition)

1. Hudson

Oh, even though I have never actually heard her croon anything before, I have no doubt that this Hudson woman will perform a perfectly acceptable version of "One Shining Moment," the paean to meteors that punctuates the NCAA tournament each year. And this is exactly my fear. I don't want Idol-esque performance art when it comes to "One Shining Moment";* I want to revel in the raw brilliance of the song itself. The reason "One Shining Moment" exists is the same reason sitcom theme songs existed in the 1980s; this is why I prefer the original Shining Moment, as sung by the irrepressibly demented man who dreamed big enough to actually write it.** Bring back David Barrett, I say! NO ONE KNOWS HOW HARD HE WORKED!***

2. Haim

Before I disappear from cyberspace for a few days, here is the definitive, indisputable, inarguable list of the top five Corey Haim films of all time, in order:

5. Dream a Little Dream 2****
4. License to Drive (mostly for the girl with the crimped hair who may or may not have been in Meet the Parents)
3. Goonies*****
2. Lucas (though that whole football storyline always makes me unbelievably sad.)
1. The Lost Boys (because I never regarded lo mein the same way again.)

 *By the way, I turned on American Idol for the first time in my recent existence last night, only to find an earnest teenage girl belting out a version of Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" while rocking a Cindy Brady wig. It was, for those three minutes, as if I were stranded amid the detritus of a Carnival Cruise show gone horribly wrong. Even that unstable female judge groping Simon's collarbone seemed perplexed.
**In twenty minutes.
***For twenty minutes.
****This is the one where Haim puts a bullet in Fredo, yes?
*****I realize he was not in Goonies, but I honestly thought he was. And at this point, he might as well have been.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On The Imminent Return of the World's Best Golfer

OK, so here's a trivia question: Who was the winner of the 1996 PGA Championship? And here's a hint: You do not know the answer.

Here's another hint: He's the man in this picture, and you still do not know the answer.

The only reason I know the answer is because the 1996 PGA Championship was the first major golf tournament I ever covered as a journalist. It was held in Louisville, and it was won by Mark Brooks, who defeated Kenny Perry in a playoff. Mark Brooks, of course, was champion of the 1979 Trans-Mississippi Amateur, the 1991 Greater Milwaukee Open, and 1991 KMart Greater Greensboro Open. And let me tell you, Mark Brooks was a font of charisma like none I had ever seen. In fact, Mark Brooks, upon winning the 1996 PGA Championship, upon reaching this life-changing watershed moment in his existence, popped open a can of diet soda and uttered these immortal words: "I don't know what you want me to do."

This was golf before Tiger Woods. (A few years later, I wrote a story about a pro named Jeff Maggert, who was once mistaken for Mark Brooks by a waitress.) I covered the game for about four years, both pre-Tiger and post-Tiger, and I cannot emphasize enough the impact Tiger had not just on golf, but on the perception of the PGA Tour. Pre-Tiger, professional golf was the dominion of decent humans with little to no interest in anything outside the trajectory of a 7-iron. The game was insular, the writers who covered the game were often insular--I sometimes sat next to a longtime golf writer from a rival market, who never engaged in a single conversation with me, presumably because I did not dress like a golfer myself--and everyone seemed happy to let it lie that way.

Then came Tiger, who managed to radiate charisma while saying nothing interesting, and I found myself writing idiotic stories with leads like "Golf is cool."* Then came Tiger, and for a time, you could feel the divide, the resentment among the those who felt their sport was being infringed upon by casual fans who did not feign interest in the trajectory of a 7-iron. And I will readily admit that I am one of those casual fans: The only time I tune in to a golf tournament is on a Sunday afternoon, four times a year, if Tiger Woods is within five shots of the lead.

I have no idea what professional golf is like now--the general lack of diversity, more than a decade after Tiger's ascendance, still shocks me a little--but I get the feeling that Tiger came on tour as an isolated entity, and nothing ever really changed. He was the golfer who represented all of us who didn't really like golf. His friends on Tour were his friends on Tour, but even they existed outside the bubble--at least, that's what this Mark Calcavecchia quote leads me to believe. It makes me think that most professional golfers never really accepted the Tiger Woods phenomenon, even as the Tiger Woods phenomenon (powered by Nike, Inc.) purposely set itself apart from the rest of the game. And I'm not going to get into the Ali comparisons,** but I'm not sure if many of those people who tiptoed around him all these years, who felt that he had shattered their serene little world in the first place, are going to be eager to welcome him back, especially with Ringling Brothers in tow. Which could make it far more difficult for him to do what he once did, but might also provide him with the only motivation he really needs to completely alter the game of golf for the second time in his life.

*This is an actual lead, written by me, a professional journalist. Sometimes I hate myself.
**I can see both sides here, though mostly I just appreciate Bill Simmons' speed chess metaphor. In fact, I wish he wrote about chess more often.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

On Inconsequential Things That Matter To Me (Mash-Up Edition)

1. You Are Not a Gadget

"The cumulative result is that online culture is fixated on the world as it was before the web was born."

I'm going to keep on pimping this book, and pulling out-of-context quotations, because I think it's tapped into something essential about technology, and about the development of the Internet, and about how many of the "open-source" developments we think are broadening our culture are, in fact, stifling it. Think about it--how much time have you spent in the past year combing YouTube for mash-ups of Muppets lip-syching Hold Steady songs? Now, don't get me wrong--this is great, and it brought me a great deal of enjoyment the thirty-seven times I watched it, but there is nothing inherently original about it. In essence, modern technology encourages us to repeat ourselves, to embrace was essentially schlock. And you know, maybe this is why I still love basketball and football as much as I ever have--because even in the face of an increasingly recycled culture, both of these games continue to evolve.* Sports are one of the few things that continue to breed originality.

2. Bunning!

I love it when athletes-turned-politicans lose their minds, because it reminds me of one of the inherent absurdities of our political system, which is that we're all really trapped in the seventh grade. I mean, isn't the fact that an athletic career makes one more amenable to a large segment of the voting population proof enough that we never really evolve beyond junior high school? Why was the fact that Bunning retired twenty-seven batters in a row considered an advantage in forming complex social policy?**Sometimes I wonder if the Congressional cafeteria isn't like something out of Freaks and Geeks. In which case, I'll bet Waxman gets wedgied on a daily basis.

3. Lost

Yeah. At this point, I have no f-ing clue what's going on.

UPDATE: I should clarify--this is not a complaint. In fact, I find myself growing increasingly annoyed with the people who seem compelled to complain about Lost, but refuse to stop watching. I've just given up on trying to figure it out, which is actually something of a relief.

*Interestingly, baseball's recent evolution appears to have occurred almost entirely A.) On paper, and B.) In a test tube. Which may explain why some people love it more than they ever have, and some people have turned away from it completely.
**The only supremely influential professional athletes-turned-politicians I can recall in the past generation are A.) Jack Kemp, and B.) Bill Bradley. Though I expect the Sarah Palin-Jay Feely ticket will be a formidable one.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

On The Most Intriguing Book I've Read In Recent Months

"Without an independent press, composed of heroic voices, the collective becomes stupid and unreliable..."

"Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks, and lightweight mashups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, interpersonal communication has demeaned interpersonal interaction."

I could quote several more passages from Jaron Lanier's You Are Not A Gadget (and maybe, at some point, I will), but I implore you to read it instead; I am halfway through, and I find it is the kind of cogent and rational and humane and hyperknowledgeable treatise about a subject--the Internet, and specifically, the hive mentality of Web 2.0--that might actually be able to transcend the knee-jerk criticism and inhumanity generated the medium itself. I don't know if it will become a seminal text of this era--though Lanier's credentials as a computer scientist/programmer/thinker certainly give it added weight--but I hope it does, because I agree with pretty much everything he says. And just for having said that, I presume my entire life will be hacked and the comments section of this entry overrun by anonymous commenters calling me a Luddite Communist homosexual.

Monday, March 1, 2010

On The Fantasy Baseball Experiment

Long ago, when I was a desperate and unpopular adolescent, I wandered into a bookstore and happened upon a curious tome called Rotisserie League Baseball. This was in (approximately) 1986, and the first fantasy league I curated included four teams, with the statistics calculated on notepaper and diligently stored inside a Trapper Keeper, most likely with a Def Leppard logo outlined by Exacto knife on the front cover.

I've written a number of times on this forum about my subsequent disillusionment with the game of baseball, and I won't bore you again with the details. But today, I began my engagement in what I believe is an unprecedented experiment: For the first time in years, I have joined a "serious" fantasy baseball league. I did this largely for the camaraderie, because the participants in this league are some of my best friends from college, and the commissioner of this league is an enigmatic and detail-oriented savant who treats the league with the kind of reverence that belies its paltry entry fee.* Therefore, the banter of the league itself will be unavoidably joyous. But my opinion of baseball itself has not changed; I find it staid and tiresome. Any romance it clung to has been subsumed by two decades of hypocrisy. Therefore, my experiment is this: I am going to attempt to remain competitive in a fantasy baseball league without watching a full inning of Major League Baseball all season long.

Now, there will likely be some unavoidable exceptions to this rule: I may be required to attend a game or two as part of my work duties, or I may be courted by a friend in possession of Yankees tickets. But for the most part, my goal is to avoid watching more than six outs in any particular contest. I will base my fantasy strategy entirely on facts and figures, which is the way it should be, anyway, even though I apparently have little to no grasp of how many these statistics are now calculated.**I will not be colored by appearances, or by allegiances, or by emotionality, or by news/gossip, or by team standings (which I will check as rarely as possible); in fact, in the first round--it's a ten-team, five-player keeper league--I deliberately chose someone I had actively never heard of until this morning: Adam Lind, of the Toronto Blue Jays, who apparently hit 35 home runs and drove in 114 runs last year and was most definitely not in my kitchen this morning. Other than that, I can tell you nothing about him. In fact, I can tell you nothing at all about the Toronto Blue Jays, except that (I presume) they still play in the SkyDome, which was once the subject of this utterly outstanding Steve Rushin piece...19 years ago.

In that spirit, I plan on choosing Terry Pendleton with my next pick.

*A few days ago, he sent out several pages of pre-draft "News and Notes." Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we could somehow channel all the energy exerted on fantasy sports into neuroscience. And then I spend twelve minutes contemplating Mike Dunleavy's 3-point percentage, and I am jarred back to reality.
**Today I read this sentence, in the $7.99 fantasy baseball magazine I scooped up at a local bodega: "He's regressed in the counting and rate stats two consecutive years." I was worried, for a moment, that I had mistakenly purchased a copy of Institutional Investor.