Monday, June 30, 2008

Dream of Glory on the Mound

With the Detroit Tigers finally playing better, the all-star game coming up, and because there's never a bad reason to share some George Plimpton, I wanted to include a link from the SI Vault (a treasure trove so vast that I've barely touched the season) to an article that Plimpton wrote almost 50 years ago about his experience pitching to a group of major league All-Stars during a pregame batting contest.

The article is typically hilarious Plimpton and serves as a perfect example of his much-celebrated form of "participatory journalism." What sports fan wouldn't love to try and pitch against a team of all-stars? Who wouldn't want to see if they could find a way to get through it? And, finally, who doesn't (even if they wouldn't admit to it) kind of want to see Plimpton fail miserably and have the order of the universe reaffirmed just a little?

The article moves briskly and is full of moments that will (or, at least, they should) make you laugh out loud. My particular favorite moment is near the end when the heat and the stress get to Plimpton on the mound and his inner voice stops trying to keep him calm and starts to crack a little under the pressure:

But during Banks 's tenure the inner voice refused to stay contained within my head. The lips began to move, and my mumbled voice, for some reason with a southern inflection which I have never used before or since, became increasingly audible on that lonely hill, moaning and squeaking like the fluttery breath of a tuckered hound.

"Lookit that thing go out theah!" it gasped when Banks had finally departed, and Frank Thomas ' long home run started for the depths of the upper deck. "Lawd almighty!"

What caused the voice to crack utterly was a string of seven balls I threw to Gil Hodges before he hit three fouls in a row and then his single, none of these first pitches close enough to the plate to get him to so much as twitch the bat off his shoulder. At first the voice offered its usual counsel not to push the ball and to take things easy. Presently, however, it got exasperated—"Hey, come on now, bear down, Ah say"—like a short-tempered farmer training a pup to come to heel. Then finally, as the control continued to flag, the panic surged in not by degrees but quickly, like a prowler's bulk suddenly filling a doorway, and it came in and throttled the voice so that all that came out was a thin high squeak.

And then this curious thing happened. The voice turned traitor. It went defeatist on me. It escaped and ran off, washing its hands of the whole miserable business. But it didn't desert me completely. Much worse, it capered around out there on the periphery, jeering and catcalling. "You po' fat fool, y'think y'all pretty fat and smart standing out theah pitching, hey? Well, lemme tell yo' sumpin. Y'all can't pitch yo' way out of a paper bag, that's what. Jes' try. Jes' le's see yo' try putting the ball ovah the plate."

So I would try—and when the ball missed the strike zone under Hodges ' watchful eye, the voice would cackle gleefully, "Y'all see that? Oh my! Y'all see that ball roll in the dust? Ladies an' gen'men, d'y'all observe that ball drop down theah in the dirt? Haw! Haw! Haw!" it would roar gustily in my head. "Haw! Haw! Haw!"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Sometimes life works out the way you actually thought it would. Case in point: I will be discussing (with my bookclub) P.G. Wodehouse in Prospect Park this July!

Not too much to add to that, other than to say that living in New York, lounging in my neighborhood park, and reading P.G. Wodehouse is pretty much exactly what I assumed (when I was in college), or hoped, that I'd be doing once I hit my twenties.

Hmm, I suppose it would have been possible for me to have aimed a little higher?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Joe Posnanski and Tiger Woods

I know I've mentioned him probably 3 times already, but if you're a sports fan and you aren't reading Joe Posnanski's blog regularly yet, what the heck's going on? Posnanski, ostensibly a sports columnist for the K.C. Star, has a near-daily blog that, in its mix of stats, commentary, and humor, constitutes just about the most entertaining sportswriting you'll ever read.

I particularly loved his post on Tiger Woods on Monday, which considered the unusual hold that Tiger Woods has over so many of us, especially seeing as how nobody really seems to know anything at all about the guy.

In the midst of the post, he talks about how almost every other athlete has has a few stories written or told about them that seem to open them up and get a sense of what makes them who they are. I particularly liked this Michael Jordan story:

It seems that he was practicing before a game, and arena people were going through all the scoreboard games to make sure they worked. “Hey,” Michael yelled out. “Who wins the dot game tonight?” They told him … say it was blue. That night, during a timeout, the dot game began. Jordan turned to Scottie Pippen: “Hey, bet you a thousand dollars blue wins.” Something about that gets me closer to Michael Jordan, his hunger for action, his need for control, his preparation, his desperation to win. Pippen agreed to the bet, which tells you plenty about him too.

Sometimes I seem like half of my posts on this blog are some sort of defense of the world of sports and the unshakable hold they seem to have over me. Maybe that's why I feel the need to champion my favorite sportswriters like Posnanski, Bill Simmons, etc. They remind me that's what's especially fun and addictive about sports are not so much the games themselves, as it is the endlessly entertaining (at least for me) conversations, arguments, and analysis that they inspire.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Yup, I Like Fleetwood Mac

Well, it's been a while since I've posted and even this one is going to be short! What have I been up to? To name a few...

Entertaining Canadians
Listening to the new David Sedaris audiobook
Not finishing the Sunday NYT Crossword
Busy working, etc. etc. etc.

So, why I am even posting at all? No good reason, other than to talk about Fleetwood Mac for a moment. That's right, it's summertime and I'm once again in the mood for the Mac!

Fleetwood Mac has become one of those bands that I went from sort of ironically liking (I mean, look at Lindsey Buckingham's white suit in the following clip and try tell me that it isn't cool on some level!) to honestly enjoying, to now being sort of in love with. Seriously, Rumours is one of the few albums I own that doesn't have a single song I dislike on it. And Tusk, even at double- album length, is pretty much the same way.

I know a lot of people don't give this band a chance and I can understand that. It's hard for them to escape the same category that The Eagles, Carole King, and every other sort of AOR from the 70's fall into. All I can say is that this band's music just cuts deeper than the others from that era. Lindsay Buckingham's guitar playing sets the tone, Mick Fleetwood holds everything together with his superb drumming, and what can you say about crazy gypsy Stevie Nicks? Her vocal delivery on Silver Springs is about as powerful and moving as you'll ever find in a pop song.

Anyway, my point isn't to convince the haters, but to share this clip in case people are looking for a quick midday break from work. Thus, here is a vintage performance of "Dreams" from the late 70's ...

Also, check out this Sandro Perri's amazing cover of Dreams. Definitely, definitely worth a download.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Obama Strategem

There's a must-read article this morning in the Washington Post on the strategy that Obama's team put in place in order to wrest the nomination from Hillary Clinton and, by extension, the Democratic Party establishment. It's an extremely insightful look into the level of planning and long-term thinking that the Obama team had, and, by extension, the lack of an equivalent response from the Clinton team. The article also gets into some of the brilliant packaging and branding that David Axelrod (who's background is in advertising) and his team used to frame Obama and make the election one that revolved around personality and iconography (like the now-famous image below) first and foremost.In the end, don't you want the same people who found a way to pull off an impossible win running this country more than the group that didn't bother (or didn't feel the need) to plan ahead for all the possibilities and twists that might arise in a campaign? I don't mean to pile it on, but why should I believe that a Clinton team, one that couldn't even come up with the right strategy to pull off what should have been a sure-fire nomination, would possibly be able to get something like, say, Health Care Reform through Congress?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Flip Saunders: Fired

Well, it may not be the most surprising decision of all time, but Flip Saunders has been fired as head coach of the Pistons. I guess it speaks to the level of numbness I still feel in the wake of last Friday's devastating loss that I can't even feel sufficiently happy about this news.

Flip Saunders is not a terrible coach by any means (though his unwillingness to play Amir Johnson more still nags at me) but this Pistons team only gets up when they are sufficiently inspired and he just isn't the guy to do that. Three years in a row (though the last two more than this one) the Pistons lost in the conference finals when they had an excellent chance to win and were favored by most to do so. Three years! What could possibly lead us to believe that Saunders us suddenly going the find the key that will make next year's team, which if nothing really changes will be nothing more than older and slower, any different? I will however, miss his perennial "white guy overbite" on the sidelines.

Even if you put the onus on the players and not on Saunders it doesn't really change much. I mean, if a coach isn't going to make the difference with this team than why not just bring in someone that will play the young guys more than Saunders was willing to? The East is nowhere near as deep as the West and the Pistons will almost certainly make at least the 2nd round of the playoffs no matter who they pick. The 2nd Round/the East Finals-is there really that big of a difference? It isn't the worst thing in the world to be the Atlanta Braves of basketball, but I suspect that Joe Dumars is willing to take some big risks this offseason to try and retool the Pistons no matter what sort of fall-off it might temporarily lead to.

Thus, my choice for the new head coach would be...Michael Curry.
Curry, a practically talentless player who nonetheless stuck around for 11 seasons, earned the respect of his teammates through hard work, defense, and leadership. Plus, he's got to be one of the only ex-NBA players with a Masters and, lest you think he might need more credibility in the locker room, he used to be the President of the NBA Player's Union. I think if nothing else, Curry (currently an assistant coach on the team) would bring an interesting perspective to the Pistons and might provide a boost to the sort of team that just doesn't play at their best unless there's something big to play for (and even that hasn't really made a difference the last 3 years). Certainly, his perspective would have to be quite a bit different than that of coaching lifers like Saunders and Larry Brown.

UPDATE: Wow, well I guess we might get a chance to see if it's the right move after all.