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Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Kid Chocolate

June 19, 2015 | by

Cuba’s boxing culture.

At the Rafael Trejo boxing gym. Photo: Brandon Downey, Monster in the Ring, 2013.

In Old Havana, the names of the streets before the revolution provided a glimpse into the city’s state of mind. You might have known someone who lived on the corner of Soul and Bitterness, Solitude and Hope, or Light and Avocado. After the revolution, they changed the names and put up new signs, but if you asked directions from a local today you’d get the old names. They all meant something personal to the people who lived on those streets. That avocado grew in the garden of a convent. That hope was for a door in the city wall before it was torn down. That soul refers to the loneliness of the street’s position in the city. Sometimes these streets lead you to dead ends and other times you stumble onto cathedrals, structures built with the intention of creating music from stone. The sore heart Havana offers never makes you choose between the kind of beauty that gives rather than the kind that takes something from you: it does both simultaneously.

While guidebooks might tell you that time collapsed here, another theory says that in Latin America, all of history coexists at once. Just before the triumph of the revolution, progress took shape in ambitious proposals made by American architects to erect grand skyscrapers all along the Malecón seawall offering a fine view and convenient access to a newly constructed multicasino island built in the bay. To accommodate the gamblers, vast areas of Old Havana were to be demolished and leveled for parking access. In 1958, Graham Greene wrote, “To live in Havana was to live in a factory that turned out human beauty on a conveyor belt.” Yet this beauty the people of Cuba unquestionably possess walks hand in hand with their pain. Whoever you might encounter in this place lacking the ability to walk or even to stand for whatever reason will inevitably remain convinced they can dance. When Castro was put on trial in 1953 by Batista’s government and asked who was intellectually responsible for his first attempt at insurrection, he dropped the name of the poet José Martí. From the little I’d learned of it, the revolution’s hold on Cubans resembled not so much poetry as the chess term zugzwang: you’re forced to move, but the only moves you can make will put you in a worse position. Cuba had become an entire population of eleven million people with every iron in the fire doubling as a finger in a dike. Read More »

Future Eligibles

October 29, 2014 | by

Finding a Hall of Fame for Dock Ellis.

Dock Ellis getting a manicure in a Detroit barbershop on July 13, 1971. He was starting pitcher later that day for the National League in tonight’s All-Star game with the American League.

Dock Ellis getting a manicure in a Detroit barbershop on July 13, 1971. He was starting pitcher later that day for the National League in the All-Star Game with the American League.

Let’s get Dock Ellis into the Hall of Fame. Oh, not really, of course—by the Hall’s statistical criteria, he isn’t even close. But after a visit to Cooperstown in September, I found myself imagining a Hall of Fame that would enshrine him.

Ellis is unquestionably famous, after all—infamous, too. He is the subject of No No: A Dockumentary, which headlined the Hall of Fame Film Festival I attended last month; a Society for American Baseball Research panel event a few weeks later; a psychedelic song, recorded in 1993, by Barbara Manning; and, especially, an excellent book, published in 1976, by The Paris Review’s own Donald Hall, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball. Evidence keeps mounting that Dock—always flamboyant, often controversial—was the emblematic player of his era, the seventies, with its dubious introduction of such artificialities as the designated hitter and Astroturf; the acrimonious battle for free agency; and all those drugs.

Ah, yes, drugs. Ellis, who died in 2008, is best known as the pitcher who, in 1970, threw a no-hitter while tripping on acid—appropriately, his name in a box score reads, “Ellis, D.”—but that freak feat is a red herring, and it’s not even his most freakish. On May 1, 1974, Dock decided to send a message to the Pirates’ archrivals, the intimidating Cincinnati Reds, who had cowed Pittsburgh into competitive docility. “We gonna get down,” Dock decided. “We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherfuckers.” Donald Hall recounts Ellis’s plan and its execution. The first guy Dock hit was Pete Rose (who should also be in the Hall of Fame, though for very different and far more genuine reasons). After he hit three batters, walked another who ducked and dodged four pitches, and threw two beanballs at future Hall of Famer Johnny Bench, Ellis was mercifully removed from the game with this remarkable stat line: zero innings pitched, no hits, no strikes thrown, three hit batsmen, one walk, one run allowed. “Dock Ellis faced four batters in the first inning,” the box score decorously explains. Dock’s own explanation of himself in No No says more: “It’s not that you’ve got to watch how I pitch,” he insists. “You’ve got to watch how I play.” Read More »

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Bad Call

August 4, 2014 | by

The growing redundancy of sports commentary.

James_Boyd_microphones_2

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

You’re gonna have to learn your clichés. You’re gonna have to study them, you’re gonna have to know them. They’re your friends. Write this down: ‘We gotta play it one day at a time.’
Bull Durham

They smelled the jugular.
—Sportscaster Chris Berman, during the 2002 NFL playoffs

In 1945, George Orwell’s “The Sporting Spirit” appeared in the leftist weekly Tribune. The essay argued that large-scale athletic competition, rather than creating a “healthy rivalry” between opponents, is more likely to rouse humanity’s “savage passions.” Thus: “There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism—that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”

To a contemporary reader, Orwell’s assessment of the “sporting spirit” may feel exaggerated, if not slightly paranoid. Then again, in an age of rampant merchandising, zealous fandom feels more pervasive than ever. Not long ago, riding the subway, I saw an infant with a San Francisco 49ers pacifier; in the same car, there was a man wearing an Ohio State football sweater bearing the laconic slogan, “Fuck Michigan.” What Orwell might have thought of such displays of allegiance is anyone’s guess.

But what he would find troublesome is sports culture’s continued abasement of the English language. Professional sports jargon has become so vacuous that TV interviews with athletes are increasingly farcical—and tremendously boring. An interview with LeBron James, after a botched play at the end of a quarter:

INTERVIEWER: Lebron, what happened with you and Norris on that inbounds pass?
JAMES: We didn’t execute.
INTERVIEWER: You were talking to him as you guys walked off the floor. What did you say?
JAMES: That we need to execute better.

Perhaps such vagueness is intentional: if LeBron James had, in fact, just told his teammate that if he makes the same mistake again he’s going to rip his face off, he’d be disinclined to share it with a national audience. For similar reasons, a coach interviewed at halftime isn’t going to be too forthcoming when asked to reveal his strategy for the remainder of the game: “Well, Chris, we’ve just gotta keep pressuring their quarterback and not make any unnecessary mistakes.” Read More »

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A Glorious Figure of Young Manhood

July 8, 2014 | by

Baseball Joe on the School Nine
HE WAS A GLORIOUS FIGURE OF YOUNG MANHOOD

“HE WAS A GLORIOUS FIGURE OF YOUNG MANHOOD”

Baseball Joe of the Silver Stars

“IT DARTED TOWARD THE PLATE, BREAKING INTO A WIDE OUTCURVE”

Baseball Joe on the Giants
IT WAS THE LONGEST HIT THAT EVER HAD BEEN MADE ON THE POLO GROUNDS

“IT WAS THE LONGEST HIT THAT EVER HAD BEEN MADE ON THE POLO GROUNDS”

Baseball Joe Home Run King
JOE CAUGHT IT SQUARE ON THE END OF THE BAT

“JOE CAUGHT IT SQUARE ON THE END OF THE BAT”

JOE WAS DOING GOOD WORK

“JOE WAS DOING GOOD WORK”

THE NEXT MOMENT THE HORSEHIDE WENT SPEEDING TOWARD THE PLATE

“THE NEXT MOMENT THE HORSEHIDE WENT SPEEDING TOWARD THE PLATE”

If baseball remains, however tenuously, our national pastime, then Joe Matson, the eponymous hero of Lester Chadwick’s Baseball Joe series, remains our all-American man: an “everyday country-boy” with a can-do attitude, an unimpeachable sense of right and wrong, and a fucking cannon-arm. Chadwick’s sequence of boys’ novels, published from 1912 to 1928, follows Joe on a Horatio Alger–esque journey from small-town schoolyard star to World Series slugger. Spoiler alert: Joe wins. Joe always wins.

With their cheery illustrations and gee-whiz spirit, the Baseball Joe novels emblematize a brand of wish fulfillment that stands at a far remove from the young-adult fiction of today: there’s no dystopia here, nor even a whiff of the supernatural, unless you count Joe’s otherworldly batting average. What we have instead is the distillate of dozens of summers spent dreaming in baseball diamonds, redolent not of beer and nuts but of Wonder Bread and whole milk and Jerry Mathers as the Beaver.

Or so it seems. Turns out the Baseball Joe books had some dark subplots, though you’d never know it to look at their publisher’s catalog, which supplies breathless titles with curiously terse synopses: Read More »

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Kickoff

June 12, 2014 | by

The World Cup begins now. Jonathan Wilson and Rowan Ricardo Phillips will write dispatches for The Daily; here, they introduce themselves and the games.

image

Jonathan Wilson, from London:

“All the new thinking is about loss. In this it resembles all the old thinking.” That’s Robert Hass, in the opening of his great poem “Meditation at Lagunitas.” The lines resonate: earlier this week, before departing for the World Cup in Brazil, the U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who is German, asserted, “We cannot win the World Cup,” and it didn’t go down well. At least one pundit suggested that he should “get out of America.”

In soccer-saturated London, where I arrived last week, Klinsmann’s remarks might have elicited a more sympathetic response. England hasn’t won the World Cup since 1966, and this year’s team is generally considered transitional, unformed, untested. However, with the kind of twisted logic that applies to soccer supporters worldwide, the dominant “not a hope” take on England’s chances has subtly transformed in recent days to a “well, there are no expectations, so the pressure’s off, so in fact that could translate into improved performance, so hmm, well maybe, just maybe…”

England’s manager, Roy Hodgson—who’s a bit grumpy, has interesting hair, is undoubtedly the most literary figure England has ever employed (The Guardian reported that he read Laurent Binet’s novel HHhH on the flight to Rio), and likes to rib the press about their obsessions with certain players and the hysterical pressure they exert on him to play them—recently succumbed to the dangerous new optimism. He announced that England was indeed capable of winning. Even so, (almost) all the new thinking is still about loss, and in this it resembles the thinking of populations in participating countries worldwide, unless you happen to be from Brazil or Argentina, or maybe Germany— although not so much now that their star midfielder, Marco Reus, has torn his ankle ligaments and is out for the duration.

This isn’t to say that Brazil or Argentina must triumph, although no team from outside South America has ever won the World Cup when it has been played there, but simply that when it comes to international soccer, American over-optimism is rarely in evidence except for, as you might expect, in the minds and hearts of Americans. Nobody, of course, who knows anything at all about soccer, thinks that the U.S. can win the World Cup, and to compound matters the team is in a group of death with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. In the furor over Klinsmann’s remarks and his subsequent refusal to back down, I was reminded of the time that Ronald Reagan came on TV after he’d traded arms for hostages and announced that even though it looked like he’d done exactly that, in his heart he knew that he hadn’t. American hearts can be frequently, powerfully, and touchingly resistant to reality. Read More »

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Malamud Lookin’ Good, and Other News

April 28, 2014 | by

malamuds_72dpi_flat_blacklogos

Charlotte Strick’s new designs for the Bernard Malamud centenary. Image via FSG Work in Progress

  • Here’s our Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, on the art of preservation—not in the sense of manly survivalism but in the sense of making jam. His essay was recently nominated for a James Beard Award.
  • And here’s Charlotte Strick, our art editor, interviewed about her sharp new designs for the Bernard Malamud centenary.
  • While we’re at it, Daily contributor Caleb Crain has asked, “how much gay sex should a novel have?” (“The half answer, half protest that immediately springs to mind is, It depends. Many are the conditions that it depends upon.”)
  • And Daily contributor Willie Osterweil found that today’s sports movies have comparatively few feats of athleticism in them. “There’s a new breed of sports movie in town, one that does away with all that pesky team-building and ersatz democracy. These films celebrate the real heroes of sports, the real heroes of any workplace: the bosses.”
  • The lost art of memorizing poetry: “Many of today’s prominent poets seem to be writing poems that actively resist memorization. Take John Ashbery, for example … As I walked uphill, repeating Ashbery’s lines to myself, I found them as slippery as an eel.”
  • Why do we tend to place painful episodes in parentheses? A variety of literature has “windows in a wall of verse or prose that suddenly open on an expanse of personal pain. Masquerading as mere asides, they might hold more punch than parentheses are usually expected to hold, more even than the surrounding sentences, and have all the more impact for their disguise as throwaways.”

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