Tag Archives: sports

This Week’s Best Profile – The Trophy Son

Among the thanks I can offer to my father this week, not putting any sporting pressure on my young body is among the top. Perhaps my will-o’-the-wisp frame led him to make the right decision, but point is, the rewards are minimal. See this, from 1998:

The injustice of it all finally brought Mr. Rutherford to express himself again. Mrs. Rutherford, because of her work with the football programs, had been asked to help organize a farewell book for the graduating seniors. There would be ads from parents wishing their children the best — Kyle’s would be one of the few full-page ads — and there would be “wills,” in which seniors would take parting shots at those they were leaving behind.

The wills were supposed to be exclusively from seniors, but Mr. Rutherford later confessed to authoring two anonymous bequests. One, “to all football parents,” offered the number of a good real estate agent: “Call 444-MOVE!!!” Another left Coach Hooks “a new set of earplugs so you can’t hear the other coaches in the district laughing at you.”

Mr. Rutherford also had a suggestion for Kyle’s will. As Mrs. Rutherford recalled, Kyle said, “But Coach Hooks will get mad, won’t he?”

“Well, what can he do to you?” asked Mr. Rutherford. “You’re out of school. You’ll never see him again.”

“Well, okay,” Kyle said, and he sat down to write the will that would change his life. To one comrade, he left “some of my blazing speed”; to another, “some of my smarts I don’t use”; and to a third, a can of Skoal. And just as his daddy told him, Kyle wrote, “To Coach Hooks, I leave a $40,000 debt. I figure you cost me that much with your 37 season.”

Parents going off the deep end, and ruining a kid’s childhood, here.

This Week’s Best Profile – Messi

He’s the best soccer player in the world. His coach is one of the best players, ever. Joy and tension have ensued:

Lionel Messi is not happy. Why is not clear at first, because, as all Spain knows on this cool, sparkling November day, the 22-year-old Argentine soccer god should be ecstatic. Last night his club team, Barcelona, beat archrival Real Madrid before a home crowd of 90,000, and tomorrow looks to be even better: Word has leaked that Messi will be awarded the Golden Ball as 2009 European Footballer of the Year. His annual income, including endorsements, is $46 million. His team is dominating La Liga, the Spanish first division. His game is rounding into breathtaking form.

Still, look at him: hunched in a chair like a kid hauled into the principal’s office, pausing after each question to glance at his manager-brother, Rodrigo, as if to say, Can you get me out of here? Now? The clock is ticking: This is shaping up to be the worst Q and A in history.

Adidas had offered up its soccer show pony for a 30-minute chat, but once it became clear that the discussion would touch on the Argentine national team and its tempestuous coach, Diego Maradona, a coolness set in. The 30 minutes were abruptly slashed to 15, and Messi spent the first 5½ giving clipped and preemptively bland replies. Now Maradona’s name pops up, tucked into the idea that it must be both tiresome and flattering to be compared with perhaps the greatest player in history. Messi’s face hardens: Here’s the ball he’s been waiting to boot out-of-bounds.

“What’s tiresome,” he says in Spanish, “is always being asked the same question.”

S.L. Price delivers this good primer for the World Cup. For some historical context, try these articles from The New Yorker archive. Also, this video didn’t blow me away at first. But it repays repeated viewings:

The Killer Bees

We’ve touted Pitchers and Poets here before, but we must do so even more heartily now. It’s the domain of Eric Nusbaum, King of the Political Baseball Essay. We’ve expressed our relative disinterest for the sport elsewhere, and some of the site’s dissertations on sabermetrics will bamboozle the casual fan. But his dispatches about the Killer Bees, a Little League team he’s coaching, are the site’s most accessible and enjoyable posts to date. A recent sample:

It was a tremendously exciting game in chilly, slightly drizzly weather. The parents were on the edges of their lawn chairs and bleachers. The kids were up against the fence screaming their one, extremely obnoxious cheer through the chain links.  Young John Kruk, who normally asks for the time twice every inning –aware that the game will finally end for him at three — only asked once. And I won’t lie, even the coaches were competitive. Our word of the day was not focus, or defense, or aggressiveness. Rather, it was victory. And because in Little League, the moral victory is a very real thing, the Killer Bees achieved their goal.

Check out all the Killer Bees posts here. Leave coaching tips in the comments.

Surviving a 40-Mile Bike Ride

This is what it’s like at the end of a 40-mile bike race:

Rounding the bend at Owl’s Head Park, on Leif Ericson Drive, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, yesterday, a miraculous meteorological event occurred. Or, at least, it felt miraculous to the thirty-two thousand riders, myself included, in yesterday’s forty-two-mile Five Boro Bike Tour. The temperature had wafted above eighty-five as we entered the southbound half of the Gowanus Expressway in the early afternoon, and the line of smoggy cars rolling in the other direction did little to help. None of us smelled pleasant.

The rest of my account of said race is here.

This Week’s Best Profile – Manny Ramirez

I think this excerpt from Ben McGrath’s 2007 profile of Manny Ramirez captures both Manny and how much less fun sports, in some ways, are today:

He is perhaps the closest thing in contemporary professional sports to a folk hero, an unpredictable public figure about whom relatively little is actually known but whose exploits, on and off the field, are recounted endlessly, with each addition punctuated by a shrug and the observation that it’s just “Manny being Manny.” When I asked his teammate David Ortiz, himself a borderline folk hero, how he would describe Ramirez, he replied, “As a crazy motherfucker.” Then he pointed at my notebook and said, “You can write it down just like that: ‘David Ortiz says Manny is a crazy motherfucker.’ That guy, he’s in his own world, on his own planet. Totally different human being than everyone else.” Ortiz is not alone in emphasizing that Ramirez’s originality resonates at the level of species. Another teammate, Julian Tavarez, recently told a reporter from the Boston Herald, “There’s a bunch of humans out here, but to Manny, he’s the only human.”

Wouldn’t it be great if more athletes were kinda crazy? No shortage of anecdotes in this story.

A Small Fix to College Athletics

Or, at least, to how we measure the success of college athletics programs. There’s no getting around the fact that winning is Number One in college sports. Which is actually OK, I think. But whenever anyone does try to get pious about the sanctity of amateur athletics (for our purposes, we’re talking football and men’s basketball), they rank schools by graduation rates.

I’m not sure this is the best measure of an athletic program. All collegiate extracurriculars exist, ostensibly, to promote the growth of young individuals. But practically, campus newspapers exist to train professional journalists, the jazz band to train professional musicians, the left-wing protest cabal to train professional anarchists. Of course, not all graduates of these activities go on to careers in these professions. But if we accept the fact that a) many top college athletes arrive woefully unprepared to take advantage of the academic opportunities a four-year college offers, and b) aim primarily to pursue a career in their chosen sport, a better measure would be how many are able to successfully pursue such a career.

Very few will make careers as players. But a good many could make careers as coaches, trainers, athletic administrators, etc. If college coaches made it a point to prepare their athletes for these careers, college athletics suddenly becomes much less of a scam. Is this measurable? Probably not. Almost certainly not. But I’d be interested to find out.

Of course, you could also just pay them.

On Baseball

Adam Gopnik has written about his falling out with baseball. I don’t care for the sport much, either. But I do have a few thoughts, corresponding to the reasons for his disdain:

1. “First, there is the utter cynicism in the relation of team to player…the sense that these guys arrive, execute, and leave is now too strong to lead me on.”

I have cried exactly twice in my life as a sports fan. One followed a University of Kansas loss to Duke University in the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the other came when I opened the Kansas City Star to find that my Royals had traded Brian McRae and David Cone. My two favorite players. On back to back days. I was eight years old.

But, I do not think it soured me on baseball, specifically. In some ways, the sport does more to keep players with their original teams than any other (in some ways, it doesn’t). My favorite sport, college basketball, rotates players at an ever-increasing rate.

If anything, this incident made me understand that these professional games, all of them, were professional sports.

2. “The length of games and their boredom.”

Baseball doesn’t translate well to television. But there isn’t a more enjoyable sport to watch in person. Also, things like this happen, sometimes (like, yesterday; seriously, watch the video). I have, however, written previously on exactly why baseball is more boring than other sports.

3. “The steroids era, and the failure to amend it.”

I suppose there is an off-color contrast to be made between Bud Selig’s cover-up of the steroids era and the Pope’s apparent cover-up of sexual abuse cases. But the steroid issue has never particularly bugged me. Shoes have gotten better, but no one thinks Usain Bolt’s times should carry an asterisks above Jesse Owens’; no one seriously wants to ban the equipment used by today’s golfers and tennis players. Steroids weren’t illegal; now they are. We move on.

4. “And the steroids scandals, beyond being rotten in themselves, disrupted history, and what is baseball without a sense of how yesterday’s game relates to today’s?”

See above. Also, I don’t really know what this means.

But Adam should have stopped after the second paragraph, when he got to the real reason for his bad break up with the sport: “I certainly miss my team, the Montreal Expos, whose reincarnation as the Washington Nationals has perpetuated their futility while surrendering their circus-cap charm.” [Bolding is mine]

Over the past decade, Adam’s team started to get really, really bad. Then they ceased to exist. The Royals won the World Series the year before I was born. In my lifetime, they have not yet returned to the playoffs. My allegiance to the perennially contending University of Kansas men’s basketball team has been strong and lasting; I couldn’t give two licks about the University of Kansas’s woeful football team. Ditto for the Royals, to a lesser degree.

So, this is all to say that fandom depends – along with such factors as, well, liking “sports” – overwhelmingly on being able to root for teams that are good, or at least competitive. This, I believe, is why Adam Gopnik and I no longer like baseball. Our teams are just bad.

[Postscript: I cannot explain my affinity for tennis within this theory, other than to say I admired Pete Sampras. And Pete Sampras was very good when I was growing up.]

New Dodge ad, same as the old BMW ad

I read through Herbert Warren Wind’s New Yorker account of the very first Super Bowl, “Super Sunday” (perhaps the first use of that phrase to describe the big game. Maybe?) in a fit of post-football withdrawal. Much is different: back then, NBC and CBS each paid $1 million for the rights, and received about $700k per ad minute. This year, the rights were part of CBS’ multi-billion dollar contract with the NFL, and 30 second spots ran for around $3 million.

But one thing has not changed, apparently: the connection between male identity and rad cars. This was the full-page ad that ran across from Wind’s story, on Feb. 4, 1967:

If you can’t make out the text, here are a few a translated excerpts:

“Why is BMW a man’s car?

Because it was designed to suit a man’s taste. Fast, lean, tough. No frills, no nonsense. Just a handsome totally dependable car that gets you there with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of driving pleasure.”

[Translation: That wife of yours: dull, bloated, fragile. Full of so much fucking nonsense. Her frilly dresses, her mood swings, and GOD, the fuss! Always with the fussing! She is a gigantic source of exponentially increasing fuss and exponentially decreasing pleasure! Unlike me, a BMW.]

“It rarely needs attention, let alone repairs, and it gets better than 25 miles to a gallon of gas.”

[Translation: She complains when you watch football while ‘listening’ to her, wastes all your hard-earned money at Saks, and lost the cheerleader physique you married shortly after bearing your second child. Unlike me, a BMW.]

To be fair, the ad does end on this note, in the name of gender equality:

“Funny thing, though. The one complaint we get from BMW owners is that their wives like it too. The only solution we can think of is two BMW’s. His and Hers.”

And if you didn’t watch this year’s Big Game, here are the relevant 60 seconds:

Fish shootin’

John McPhee wrote about pickerel fishing – and his father’s death – for The New Yorker this week (subscriber’s only, sorry):

I have laid a fly on the water and seen three wakes converge upon it. Where Genio C. Scott, in “Fishing in American Waters” (1869), describes chain pickerel at such a moment, he says, “You will find cause for surprise that will force you to ejaculate.” For my part, I’ll admit, I damned near fell out of the canoe.

Heh. But I was always struck by the line:

“There are people who hunt pickerel with shotguns. In Vermont, that is legal.”

“Really?” I asked a very nice man at the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. He gave a half-sigh, half-chuckle, and said, “Yup.” This is apparently a phenomenon that has been well-covered by numerous outlets. I could find no video evidence, but could confirm that elsewhere, crazy people do it.

Scott Brown: She would kick their butts

Eighteen months ago, I interviewed newly-elected United State Senator Scott Brown. This is what he had to say:

“She would kick their butts all over the field,” says Scott, a Massachusetts state congressman. “After the games she’d take off her helmet and her long, brown hair would come flying out. The other boys would literally start crying.”

He was talking about one of his (available) daughters, Ayla Brown, whom I was profiling for SI.com. Read the whole thing here.