Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs
Monday, September 29, 2008
I hadn't realized this, but apparently they play out the Major League baseball season even after the Yankees have been mathematically eliminated. What's more, there's even a playoffs and World Series and everything. I'd always thought everyone just lost interest.
Update: Hah! I just checked the Hoops, Hardball and Fisticuffs archives and realized I wrote a variant of this post last year! Funny, every year it surprises me.
Friday, December 21, 2007
In Defense Of The Asterisk
Everyone seems to be reading the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball as a reason to call into question various players' stats. And it's true that if you compare a guy like Barry Bonds to a guy like Babe Ruth, it's fair to point out that Bonds had the advantage of performance enhancing drugs.
It's also fair to point out that he had the advantage of a ton of other things, too, including scientific weight training, video analysis of his swing, detailed scouting reports of opposing pitchers, vastly improved diet and nutrition, chartered planes and luxury accomodations. To say nothing about the actual changes in the equipment and rules of the game, including, among other things, the small detail that black ballplayers were excluded from the Majors when Ruth played the game. All of which is to say, it's simply not possible to compare two players from two different eras, with or without steroids tossed into the bargain.
On the other hand, if you compare a guy like Bonds to his contemporaries, who are all just as juiced as Bonds is, the only logical conclusion is that Bonds really is better than them for some reason that has to do with his talent, skill, discipline, strength, concentration, and all the other positive qualities that we like to think athletic accomplishment reflects. Steroids aren't magic pills that turns a talent-less slob into a champion. Even less so when you get into the rarefied atmosphere of professional athletics, where the difference between journeyman and star can be measured in milliseconds. So if Bonds has stood out as dramatically as he has in his juiced years, it's because beneath the steroids there's a gifted athlete.
Is he a cheater? Sure. A criminal? Time (and a jury) will tell. But he's still the greatest player of all-time, with or without the asterisk.
Monday, October 29, 2007
It turns out that for some reason they played the World Series this year, even though the Yankees had already been eliminated. And here, I'd always assumed people just lost interest at that point. As for this nonsense that the Curse is over, nothing doing. It's just a Y2K bug that still needs to be worked out.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
There's something extraordinary going on here in France during the World Cup of Rugby, a convergence of the athletic with the political in a way that happens only rarely in the history of nations. Against all odds, France just defeated the All Blacks of New Zealand, 20-18. And in case you're like me and you know nothing about the sport, the All Blacks are to rugby what Brazil is to soccer, only without the occasional lapses in concentration. France has got a solid, competitive team that deserves plenty of respect. It remains, nonetheless, a major upset.
Now to give a little context, Bernard Laporte, the coach of the French national team, is set to enter the government of Nicolas Sarkozy as a vice-minister of athletics at the tournament's conclusion. Sarkozy was in Cardiff for the match tonight, and has been known to visit the team's dressing room before matches.
Laporte was widely criticized for using the famous last letter of Guy Moquet, a 17 year-old French communist executed by the Nazis during WWII, to motivate the team before their first match against Argentina. The tactic was blamed for the team's emotional tightness that ultimately resulted in a sloppy defeat. But more than that, it was considered bad judgment and bad taste to appropriate Moquet's sacrifice for something as profane as a sporting match.
The stunt also drew attention because it echoed a proposal Nicolas Sarkozy had made during this year's presidential election requiring French students to collectively read the young martyr's letter as part of their education. He later went on to put the measure in effect as one of his first acts upon taking office.
Anyone who has ever watched a rugby match would probably agree that it's about as brutal a sport as exists. I don't think I'd get much argument if I suggested that it doesn't exactly fit the stereotype commonly used to portray the French, either. Like American football, despite flourishes of individual skill and grace, the game is principally decided by controlling territory through brute force and team discipline. Cheese eating surrender monkeys need not apply.
It's a sport traditionally associated with the political right, played in "la France profonde" (the heartland), "la France d'en bas" (the little people). In other words, Sarkozy's France. Tonight's victory is along the lines of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. Not in the significance of the symbolic narrative of the two teams playing, but in what it means for the narrative of France as a nation.
Of course, it hasn't been that long since France tasted the joy of victory. Winning the 1998 soccer World Cup followed by the European championship two years later defined a historic moment in the country's identity. France, like its national soccer team, was no longer bleu, blanc et rouge (blue, white and red) but black, blanc et beur (black, white and Arab). And contrary to American opinion, its defiance of the American invasion of Iraq, so eloquently expressed by Dominique de Villepin at the UN Security Council, was here considered a point of pride. (In fact, I'm convinced that the World Cup victory played a role in France finding the confidence necessary to stand up to US and England on the world stage.)
Nevertheless, since 2003 (and even before, if you include Le Pen's second round finish in the 2002 presidential election) it's been a pretty bad dry spell. So to see the country back in the running, and for a title that symbolically represents all the values of the new direction Sarkozy would like to take it in, resonates with a particular signifance.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
All is right in the world.
Friday, September 7, 2007
Live Rugby Blogging
Yo, these guys are gnarly!! Probably not any more than American football players, but you notice it more without the pads. Half of them have got ears that look like cauliflower bulbs, and there's not a whole lot of neck on display. As the announcer said, "Rugby, c'est une histoire d'Homme, avec un grand 'h'." (Rugby is about being a Man, with a big 'M'.) That said, they're all super-emotional. A bunch of them were holding back tears during the national anthems. Don't see that a lot on an NFL sideline.
Update 1: Halftime. Argentina's up 17-9. For anyone interested, I just found this simplified Rules of Rugby. It's really a brutal sport. Head's snapped back, people getting stomped on, and one guy left the field looking like Sissie Spacek in the last scene in Carrie. But somehow very sportsmanlike.
Update 2: Final score, Argentina 17, France 12. Pretty exciting match, but the French kept giving the ball away. This dude here came in for France as a replacement at the end of the match. Only in addition to looking like that, he had his game face on. That's where I'd be like, "Okay, guys, which one of you's gonna cover the caveman? Cuz it sure ain't gonna be me."
Friday, September 7, 2007
World Cup Of Rugby!!
Well, maybe this makes up for all the Super Bowls I've missed. Tonight's the opener, France vs. Argentina. The Cup is taking place here, and there's been an enormous promotional campaign all week. So along with the rest of the country, I'm stoked!!
France has a pretty strong team, but apparently Argentina has had their number in qualifiers. I'll have to brush up on the rules (what the hell's up with those scrums?), but it still ought to be a blast.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Stephon Marbury deserves some credit for his Starbury line of sneakers, which delivers a contemporary sneaker (meaning one that you'd never catch me wearing in a million years but that the kids seem to like) for an affordable $14.95.
There's just one problem. Unless I'm badly mistaken, no matter how good the kicks look, if their principal selling point is how cheap they are, they will ultimately become known as the "poor kid's kicks". As in:
Kid #1: "Oh, dip. You seen Billy's new Starburyz? Them shitz is fly. I guess his daddy still ain't got no job."
Kidz #2, 3, 4 & 5: "Oh, snap. That shitz cold!"
On the other hand, pricing them at $135 in the store, but offering them for $15 through various outreach programs like the PAL, Boys Club and Big Brothers/Big Sisters would have achieved the same goal of getting fashionable sneakers into the hands of needy kids, without the stigmatizing jokes. Another method would be to offer one pair for $135, and a virtually indistinguishable pair for $15.
Still, much as I've never liked the on-court Marbury, the off-court version gets props.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Tour de France
In a major cycling development, the Lil' Feller pedaled his first twenty or so meters without the training wheels this afternoon. What a quintessential moment of fatherhood: Standing still, calling out, "I've gotcha, I've gotcha," watching him pedal off in the distance. It's that slight turn of his head -- when he realized that I couldn't possibly be holding on while standing fifteen feet behind him -- that I'll always remember. That and the look of gleeful wonder when he realized that he'd done it all by himself.
Saturday, June 2, 2007
Pride Of The Yankees
My first hero as a child, outside of cartoon characters with superpowers, was the legendary Yankees first baseman, Lou Gehrig. First captain in franchise history, Gehrig was known as the Iron Horse because of his 2,130 consecutive game streak that stood as a record for fifty-six years following his career. His work ethic and dependability were surpassed only by his incredible production. Despite being overshadowed throughout his career, first by Babe Ruth and later by Joe DiMaggio, Gehrig remained the heart and soul of what's since become an immortal club.
Gehrig succumbed to ALS sixty-six years ago today. Two years before his death, he stood on the field at Yankee Stadium surrounded by the 1927 and 1939 Yankees, and delivered the following farewell speech to his fans:
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.
Friday, June 1, 2007
The Fine Line
A friend asked me today if I think A-Rod is a dirty player. My answer was that I don't think he's dirty in the sense that he intentionally cheats. I just think he's got poor impulse control. For whatever it's worth, as great a player as he is, I don't consider him a true Yankee. Posada, Rivera, and of course Jeter, those guys are Yankees. But A-Rod and Clemens and guys like that are just hired guns. (Check back in tomorrow for a guest appearance by the greatest Yankee of all-time. Extra credit if you can tell me who that is and why he'll be featured tomorrow.)
Anyway, all that by way of saying that the Times has got a great article on the latest in the long line of A-Rodisms.
Thursday, May 31, 2007
I'll always remember the day Rafael Nadal won the French Open tennis tournament at the age of seventeen. Because watching him celebrate his victory, I was surprised to catch myself wondering not what it feels like to win Roland Garros at seventeen, but what it feels like to be a father whose son has just won Roland Garros at seventeen. It was, needless to say, something of a turningpoint in my life.
All of which is just to say that after two years of solid effort, the Lil' Feller earned his yellow belt in Judo this evening. And watching him kneel on the mat and tie that belt around his waist, I sure was one proud Poppa. Even better was how thrilled he was himself.
Six years old sure is grand!
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
It's a detail buried in this story about Kobe Bryant asking to be traded, but one that made me do a double-take. Kobe's been in the NBA eleven years. And of course, that makes him... 28 years old.
I remember seeing the Lakers play at the Forum before the three-peat championship run. Some girl was working her way down from the nosebleed seats to courtside, talking about how she just had to get next to Kobe. And, yup, that must've been about ten years ago now. Damn.
Monday, April 2, 2007
Have We Won Yet?
It's Opening Day, the start of another season. Which, as I explained to a friend, is not such a big deal when you're a Yankee fan. Because whereas other teams still strain in the muck and mire of the baseball season, the Yankees have long since transcended into the rarified atmosphere of baseball history. Other teams may bask in the ephemeral glory of last season's success, and their fans hold out hope for the one to come. A Yankee fan barely notices them passing, so tuned in is he to the longterm narrative of the game. There's a reason why Hemingway's Old Man talks about the Mighty Yankees as he chases his mythic shark. What other team could hold up the weight of such an adjective?
But there's something else that keeps me from getting geared up for baseball season, or basketball season, or the NCAA Tournament. And J.C. Bradbury nails it in his NY Times op-ed titled "What Really Ruined Baseball": Expansion.
Between the deflation in the quality of the performances, the increase in the number of players, teams and playoff formulas to follow, and the bi-polar media coverage veering from pitch-by-pitch analysis to highlight reel hysteria, I don't even start paying attention until late August.
To me, baseball has always been about a certain kind of nostalgia, in its imagery if not always in its reality. So you can dismiss it as just the grumpy complaints of a purist. I just don't see how a town like Tampa Bay has a Major League franchise. Or Jacksonville an NFL football team. That's what Triple-A ball and the NCAA is for.
Monday, March 26, 2007
That Was Then, This Is Now
From reader RGM, a NY Times story about how O.J. Mayo, a high school basketball star, wound up committing to USC, a school known more for football than hoops:
A stranger walked into the University of Southern California basketball office one day last summer and asked to speak to the head coach. The stranger did not make an appointment. He did not call ahead. Tim Floyd, the U.S.C. head coach, cannot explain why he agreed to see him...
“Have you heard of O. J. Mayo?” the man asked.
Of course Floyd had heard of him. Everyone in basketball had heard of him. Mayo was first mentioned in Sports Illustrated when he was in the seventh grade. He was considered a future lottery pick by the time he entered high school. He once talked trash to Michael Jordan during a pickup game at Jordan’s camp...
“O. J. wanted me to come here today,” the man told Floyd. “He wanted me to figure out who you are.”
...“Why aren’t you at Arizona or Connecticut?” Floyd recalled asking.
The man explained that Mayo wanted to market himself before going to the N.B.A., and that Los Angeles would give him the best possible platform.
“Then why aren’t you at U.C.L.A.?” Floyd asked.
The man shook his head. U.C.L.A. had already won 11 national championships. It had already produced many N.B.A. stars. Mayo wanted to be a pioneer for a new era.
“Let me call him,” Floyd said.
The man shook his head again. “O. J. doesn’t give out his cell,” he said. “He’ll call you.”
As RGM put it, "The new era of high school has arrived." Indeed. Compare this with Robert Lipsyte's article in the Nation about the underbelly of college hoops:
My first exposure to college basketball took place on May 4, 1965, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr., barely eighteen years old and slightly taller than seven feet, held his first press conference in the gym of his Catholic high school, Power Memorial, in Manhattan. Several hundred journalists were there to hear him announce his choice of college: U.C.L.A. (#2 West).
We didn't know much about Lew. His high-school coach had never allowed him to be interviewed. He was just a black guy expected to dominate in college the way he had in high school...
As it turned out, he seemed like a sweet, thoughtful young man. I cringed when a colleague asked, "Are there any liabilities in being tall in basketball?"--and kindly, without irony, Lew replied, "None that I can think of." And I was delighted--after a few of us stayed on to talk with him--to learn that he was sports editor of a neighborhood newspaper and was considering a career in journalism. We urged him to take as many courses in television as he could. He thanked us politely and excused himself to go to his Russian history class.
Damn, sh*t done changed.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Kobe's Got Issues
I think he needs an Anger Management Program.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Sir Charles Goes Up Strong
Charles Barkley on Scottie Pippen's comeback pipedream:
Barkley: Scottie... I don't know what he's thinking. That's not a good idea. Not a good idea at all.
Interviewer: Why not?
Barkley: Cuz he cain't play. He retired cuz he couldn't play. He hasn't gotten better in the last couple years... You retire cuz you can't play anymore. So, you don't get better sitting at home. You might feel better. But you don't get better.
In other words, get off the cri-zack, Scottie. Check out the video interview here.
Saturday, March 3, 2007
Now That's A Quote
Say what you want about Shaq's game, his heart, his work ethic. Just don't question his mouth. Cuz the Big Aristotle is still the most quote-worthy big man in the history of the game:
“I take it personal when people don’t double me,” O’Neal said. “It’s against my religion not to double me.”
Shaq: The religion. Classic.
Friday, March 2, 2007
Buck O'Neil Interview
This one isn't a headline, but it's definitely worth a read for all the baseball lovers who check in with the site. In honor of spring training, here's Buck O'Neil on his life in baseball.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Death Of A Champion
I always hated Dennis Johnson. Which was only natural, seeing as I was a Knicks fan and he was the Boston Celtics point guard. But still, there was something a little maddening about the way he always seemed to nail the clutch jumper, seal off the crucial defensive stop, and most importantly make the right decisions that meant that more often than not, Ray Williams or Bernard King might finish the game with a half-century, but the Celtics walked away with the "W".
DJ collapsed yesterday after a practice for the NBA development team he coached in Austin, TX. He was pronounced dead not long thereafter. He was only 52, survived by his wife and three kids.
Funny, now that I think about it, I always liked Dennis Johnson. I just wished he played for the Knicks.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
So if the Knicks are admittedly a source of embarrassment for anyone who's ever proudly staunched a nosebleed beneath the rafters of Madison Square Garden, what does this make the Lakers?
Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah...