“Gods do not answer letters.”
Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.”
Check out the footage - Williams did run out that home run exactly the way that Updike described. I can almost see the (metaphorical) storm.
“...really really bad words...”
Nick Hornby, writing (in 2006) about English footballer Wayne Rooney:
In a game against Arsenal last season, Rooney was estimated to have told the referee to fuck off more than twenty times in sixty seconds. As “foul and abusive language” is supposed to be a yellow-card offense, one can only presume that there are some really really bad words, words worse than the f-word and the c-word, that footballers know and we don’t.
"...one of the best contained dramas that American sports have ever told..."
The Guardian's Jonathan Bernhart on the Cubs, Aroldis Chapman and that dramatic, almost literary conclusion to Game 7.
This might sound like it’s intended as some form of either absolution or comeuppance for the domestic violence incident involving Chapman last December. It’s not and it never could be, but there’s a reason it sounds that way: a man with extraordinary abilities being humbled by hubris in a moment of triumph is a very, very old story. In the fictional version, the hubris would be the some moral imperfection on the pitcher’s part, and his fall would be delivered not by a bolt of lightning from the gods but through the pitcher’s manager, who over-relied on him and sapped his tremendous gifts when they were needed most. That fall is intensely personal – his team-mates go on to win the game and their place in history – and he is left with the symbolic scar of his “win” in the history books. This is a story of justice and punishment, and it feels right because everyone more or less got what the story thought they deserved in the end. And in that specific sense, the story of Chapman resolved in the best way possible.
"...war minus the shooting."
George Orwell, on sports and nationalism.
As soon as strong feelings of rivalry are aroused, the notion of playing the game according to the rules always vanishes. People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. Even when the spectators don't intervene physically they try to influence the game by cheering their own side and "rattling" opposing players with boos and insults. Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.
I'm guessing he wasn't a big fan.
The end of two baseball erasCubs leaving WGN-TV and Astrodome headed for likely demolition.
The Cubs have been on WGN since 1948, and their afternoon game broadcasts have been a daily staple for generations of Chicagoans, myself included. The Astrodome news is somewhat bittersweet for me. I always hated when the Cubs played there, because given Wrigley Field's small confines, Cub teams have almost always been built around slow-moving sluggers, and thus they lost most of their games in the spacious expanse of the 'Dome. Small-ball was always the name of the game there, and of course the Cubs have never been able to draw walks, steal bases or bunt to save their lives. Still, it will be sad to see such a revolutionary structure meet its demise.
Sad: former Bulls center Tom Boerwinkle has passed away, at age 67.
"He was a great teammate with a heart of gold," Love said. "And I always tell people: Half of my baskets came from him. He's one of the best-passing big men of all-time."Boerwinkle was a mainstay of the Bulls when I first became a fan, anchoring the middle for one of the greatest lineups to never win an NBA title: Boerwinkle, Bob Love, Chet Walker, Jerry Sloan and Norm Van Lier.
"The Beautiful Game in the Faroe Islands"Even in the bleak, cold, wind-whipped Faroe Islands, there is soccer. And also wonderfully crude chants:
I was able to recognise some of the Premier League best, such as the well-loved “you’re s**t, and you know you are” and “the referee’s a w****r” even though they were in the local Faroese language.I love the fact that fans are encouraged to come onto the field, at halftime and after matches, to play 5-on-5's of their own.
(Via Steve Himmer.)
College hoops in Chicago
Interesting confluence of lengthy pieces today on Chicago's top (but underachieving) college basketball programs: at ChicagoSide, Daniel Libit focuses on local guy Howard Moore at UIC, while at the Chicago Reader, Adam Doster takes a longer view of DePaul's infrequently-storied heritage. Two things of particular interest: Moore's struggle to keep local high schoolers at home (it seems that many can't wait to get out of town, even if only to Champaign), and the odd footnote that the George Mikan-era Blue Demons played their games at the DePaul Auditorium (aka The Barn), a former theater at Sheffield and Belden. That photo above shows Mikan playing in The Barn - those pillars made quite a dramatic backdrop.
News of the Weird
Okay, this has to be the weirdest baseball story I've ever heard: the home run that never came back down.
The right fielder, second baseman, and center fielder all ran toward where they thought the fly ball would come down. Upon each man losing sight of the ball, all ducked, covering their heads. They tried to follow the play from their cringes, and then came out of their cringes. No one saw the ball land. No one could find the ball. Joe Wallis hesitantly rounded the bases. The umpire upheld the notion that Wallis had hit a home run.And it was hit by none other than my childhood baseball antihero, Tarzan Joe Wallis. Despite it being a low-level Class A game in 1974, there were many still-familiar names involved: Garry Templeton, Bruce Sutter, Donnie Moore, and future top college basketball coach Lon Kruger.
(Via Cardboard Gods.)
Introducing...your 1914 Chicago Federals!
Just love this vintage flyer for the opening day of Weeghman Park, later known as Wrigley Field. The image is one of many accompanying Eric Lutz's interesting piece at Newcity on the Chicago Whales, the city's entry in the short-lived Federal League of 1914-15. The name "Whales" must have been a later development, as it appears nowhere in this flyer. And apparently "Chicago Ball Team Owned by Chicagoans" is some sort of precursor to "Made in America."
I love this photo, circa 1990-91: the Griffeys, Ken Jr. and Ken Sr., during their brief period as teammates for the Seattle Mariners. Though fathers bring their sons into the family business all the time, for a professional athlete father this had to be ultimate thrill: playing in the same major-league outfield as your son. The smile on Senior's face says it all. So cool.
Fever Pitch at 20
Nick Hornby laments the gentrification of the English Premier League.
"My impression is that most kids go now [to football matches] as they would go to the theatre, a treat, something they would see three or four times a year...Because of the way the Premiership is, you can sell out football grounds like that. Whether in 20 years' time these kids will still be keen to go, or whether they will want to go two or three times a year, or whether the habit will have gone, it feels as if it's going to be different."
Pretty much the same thing has happened with baseball here in the states. Gone are the days when the Cubs would draw only 10,000 fans on a Wednesday afternoon, half of whom were juvenile delinquents and truants, and even on weekends you could buy tickets at the booth fifteen minutes before the game, for less than ten bucks. Though I'm a big fan of Hornby, I still haven't read Fever Pitch, nor his most recent novel Juliet, Naked. Really need to get caught up.
When soccer ruled Chicago
Nice rememberance here at the Chicago News Cooperative about the Chicago Sting's 1981 NASL championship.
"We were a good show and fans liked that when they came to games, lots of them for the first time," said midfielder Rudy Glenn, who scored the winning goal against the Cosmos. "We always pushed for goals, showed that soccer doesn’t have to be dull. We came from behind so many times. Then you had Pato with that long, straight hair and I had long curly hair, and Davey Huson, with little hair, blowing kisses to the crowd when he scored."
I played soccer at Cary-Grove (and was even on the school's inaugural team, in 1980), and was at the 1981 semifinal game at Comiskey Park. It was a miserable, rainy night, but the fans' enthusiasm would not be deterred and old stadium was rocking. I still have a piece of netting from one of the goal cages, as a souvenir of that memorable event.
A hearty congratulations to the late Ron Santo, on his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. And shame to the Hall itself for taking so long to bestow this honor, and particularly in failing to do so during his lifetime and preventing him from basking in the glory he deserved. He was every bit the equal of Brooks Robinson as a third baseman, and yet Robinson was inducted decades ago. If there was a heaven, right now Santo would be clicking his heels.
Santo will become the fourth and final player to be inducted from the 1969 Cubs (the others were Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins - plus manager Leo Durocher), which makes that team's epic collapse even more inexplicable. Teams with four Hall of Fame players, and three of them still in their prime (Banks had 106 RBI in '69, in his last full season, but retired two years later) simply don't collapse like that.
Love this image of University of Pittsburgh students watching the 1960 World Series from high above Forbes Field, apparently atop the Cathedral of Learning. Several of the guys even appear to be wearing suits and ties. Truly a lost era.
(Via Big Other.)
A superstar in the making. A 21-year-old All Star. Five-tool player. Still physically maturing and growing into his frame. Plays the most important defensive position on the field.
How will the Cubs screw this up? Because, rest assured, it's not a matter of if they will screw this up, but how.
Maybe by surrounding him with overpaid, over-the-hill mediocrities for years and subjecting him to years of losing, thus driving him into free agency and a new team that knows what winning baseball actually is? Maybe by rashly responding to one off-year from him by trading him to the Yankees for several overhyped minor league prospects? Maybe by rushing him back from a rotator cuff strain too soon, leading to a complete muscle tear and lengthy rehab? Maybe by re-signing to a multiyear deal their perenially underachieving third baseman, who will prove to be a negative role model and toxic source of bad habits? Or will they do something more creative, such as an ill-advised publicity stunt involving a motorcycle, a jumping ramp and shark tank?
The fact that Castro will not be a superstar for the Cubs is beyond question. The only question is how they will manage to make it happen. I will be watching the impending trainwreck with perverse interest.
Leaves of (Outfield) Grass
I didn't think this was possible, but in Cubs outfield hopeful Fernando Perez, I've found a baseball player I might actually care about.
Perez studied creative writing at Columbia University and works on his craft in his spare time. Naturally, he doesn't have a whole lot of time in spring training, arriving at the ballpark around 7 a.m. and often staying after games for extra batting practice.
"I work on these things very, very slowly," he said. "I've got a job. Some days I am particularly motivated, where I get home and it's the first thing I work on. I'm going to put in a full few hours of work, fall asleep, wake up and it's baseball again."
But..."whole lot of time"? Nice grammar, Tribune reporter. Perez should give you some pointers.
Past lives on, sort of...
I'm loving this. After forwarding this 1910 photo of the old League Park in Cleveland to my buddy Fred, he sent back links that lead me to the vintage postcard above, which features the park's ticket office. The park is long gone, but the ticket office remains - the photo shown above is from Google Street View. I'm so used to old relics being completely obliterated that to find such a small but lovely piece of one still in existence is a wonderfully pleasant surprise. The entire League Park land parcel is currently vacant with most of it (at least as of 2009) owned by the city - which inspires, to an idealist like me, thoughts of the ballpark being rebuilt from scratch. But then reality sets in and I realized that a city park is infinitely more practical and affordable. But I can still dream.
Then again: you may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Okay, not an exact replica, but pretty close.
Pentathlon? Tetrathlon? Quadrathlon?After seeing this story (track and field officials are dropping one of the five events of the pentathlon in an attempt to keep the sport viable) I immediately began to imagine some other headlines...
DECATHLON TRIMMED TO EIGHT EVENTS; 20% COST SAVINGS CITED
MARATHON SHORTENED TO 5K FUN RUN; SAID TO FOSTER INCLUSIVITY, ATTRACT VIEWERS WITH SHORT ATTENTION SPANS
BIATHLON DROPPED; MARKET RESEARCH INDICATES THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT SNIPERS ON SKIS ARE MILITIAMEN WHO DON'T WATCH TV ANYWAY
Eliot Asinof has passed away. His most famous book, Eight Men Out, about the 1919 Black Sox scandal (in which eight White Sox players, all but one of whom Nelson Algren once famously called "seven of the finest athletes who ever hit into a double play", were permanently banned from baseball) is definitely worth your time, as is the John Sayles film of the same name which the book inspired. Intriguing cast - John Cusack, David Strathairn, Charlie Sheen, John Mahoney and D.B. Sweeney, plus a cameo by Studs Terkel! - and of course a compelling story. Check them both out.
I am a proud alumnus of the University of Illinois. My freshman year, way back in 1983, happened to blissfully coincide with the Fighting Illini's first Rose Bowl appearance in twenty long, parched, futile seasons. (They proceeded to get trounced by UCLA, but never mind that. At least they got there.) As it turns out, that twenty year drought was downright fecund compared to the years since 1983, when the Illini have had a few scattered moments of prominence but mostly disappointment (despite my occasional and somewhat desperate claim that "The sleeping giant wakes!"), and it's now been another 24 years since the last Rose Bowl berth.
Well, this latest drought has ended, and the Illini are once again Pasadena-bound. (True, thanks to the BCS silliness, the Rose Bowl is only a consolation prize, as Ohio State - whom the Illini beat, in Columbus - will be playing for the national title in some other bowl game.) Anyway, back in '83 a longtime Champaign bar band called Captain Rat and the Blind Rivets released a novelty single called "The Fighting Illini in Pasadena" (a shameless ripoff of the Beach Boys' "A Little Old Lady from Pasadena", of course) which saturated the local airwaves back then. Now, some enterprising chap has wedded the audio of that single to photo images of this year's valiant Illini squad and, yes, posted it on YouTube.
If you're among the Illini faithful, I fully expect you to watch the whole thing and savor all 173 seconds of it. And if your blood does not, alas, flow in a vivid shade of orange, or if you don't get choked up over memories of Kevin Hardy, Jack Trudeau and Johnny Johnson, then I'll understand if you click it off after a minute or so. (The music is a bit grating after one verse, I'll admit.) But either way, please humor one of my baser indulgences.
Obama on the Chicago Bears
See that? It's Obama that's a uniter and not a divider because, outside of the Grossman and Griese families, plus Lovie (The glass is not only half full, it's overflowing, in fact it's at least two glasses!) Smith, I think pretty much the entire country agrees with his politely blunt assessment.
SCARBOROUGH: I hate to ask you the tough question right off the top, but it has to be asked. What the hell is wrong with the Chicago Bears?
OBAMA: We've got a quarterback problem.
SCARBOROUGH: You do have it. You've got a Rex Grossman problem.
OBAMA: Don't you play quarterback? We're looking for one.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes. Well, Rex Grossman ain't it, is he?
OBAMA: Rex isn't it. And, you know, Griese is not proving to be the savior.
OBAMA: So, in fairness to them, you know, I think our offensive line isn't too great either, so we haven't given them much protection. But, you know, we're looking for our Tom Brady.
You really have to appreciate a presidential candidate who isn't afraid to get in an honest dig at his local football team.
Tinker to Evers to Chance
Over at Mr. Ron's Basement, Ron Evry reads Franklin P. Adams' "Baseball's Sad Lexicon" (4MB mp3, 3:25), better known as "Tinker to Evers to Chance." Follow this link to see lovely digital reproductions of the trading cards of the Cubs' legendary infielders.
Guilfoile Explains Cricket.
+ Percentage of the 4,000+ students who play Division 1 men’s basketball who will go on to professional sports careers: 0.8
+ Percentage of NCAA men’s basketball players who entered college in 1997 and had graduated by 2003: 44
+ Number of the teams in last year’s March Madness, out of 65, that would not have qualified to play for the national championship if a 50-percent graduation rate was required for players: 43
+ Approximate number of colleges that last year “asked the NCAA for leniency” when it began handing out penalties to teams that had not met the Academic Progress Rate standards: 400
+ Average salary of a worker with a bachelor’s degree in 2004, according the U.S. Census Bureau: $51,206, versus $27,915 for a high school graduate
+ Average revenues for a Division 1-A athletic program in 2003: $29.4 million, up 17.2 percent from 2001
Graduation Madness, indeed.
Farewell, Coach Ray
Ray Meyer joyfully devoted his life to his family, his players, DePaul University and the city of Chicago for over ninety years. He was one of a kind, and will be sorely missed. Current DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright put it very nicely:
"He was as vibrant a man as when I first met him. You can add up all his wins, but they pale in comparison to the lives he touched. He left a little bit of himself with everyone he met.''
The Sun-Times has an article of lovely remembrances from those whose lives he touched.
The First Hoops Superstar
Basketball legend George Mikan, the dominant basketball player of the NBA's early years, has passed away at age 80. He was literally a local hero, growing up in Crest Hill and starring at Joliet Township High before moving on to DePaul where he lead the Blue Demons to the 1945 NIT championship. He went on to a stellar pro career with the Minneapolis Lakers, with the Associated Press naming him the best basketball player of the first half of the 20th century. He dominated the game to such an extent that he directly caused three innovations: the widening of the three-second lane (which didn't stop him; he had a 61 point game under the first season of the wider lane); the 24-second shot clock and the goaltending rule.
That marquee at the Madison Square Garden in the photo above says it all: "Geo Mikan Vs. Knicks."
But by all accounts he was a humble, gracious man. This item, related today by the Joliet Herald-News, is particularly telling:
But despite the many accolades, Mikan in his later years considered his 2003 induction into the Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame to be his greatest honor.
"He told me, 'It's really nice to be remembered by your friends, even though I don't live in the area any longer,'" said Joe Mikan, his nephew and the former Will County executive.
His son Terry summed him up quite fondly.
"I've got one word that describes my dad, and that's kindness," Terry Mikan said. "Whenever he would make a toast at a family function, dad would ask us to raise our glass to kindness, and that's the type of man he was."
My Illini fought hard, and played harder than Carolina, but didn't play smarter. When you build your entire offense around the three-pointer, and have three quick guards who refuse to drive the lane and take the ball to the hole, then you had better hit at least fifty percent of your threes or you don't stand a chance. No matter how hard you play.
It's a real testament to the Illini's tenaciousness and effort--they outrebounded the much taller and stronger Tar Heels, 39-34--to be tied with two-and-a-half minutes left, and end up losing only by five points, despite shooting 39% from the field and going only 12-for-40 from three-point range. (One three-point attempt per minute. Think about that for a moment.) But the Illini lived this entire season by the three, and last night they died by the three. I, for one, will be glad to never again see Luther Head drive into the lane for the sole purpose of throwing a long kickout pass for yet another three attempt, with not a single thought of shooting the short running jumper that was available to him. And the 3-on-1 break in the first half, with Dee Brown kicking the ball back to Head for another missed three instead of attacking the basket, perfectly encapsulated the fallacy of the Illini offensive mindset.
The Illini are to be commended for a great season. They played the game the way it should be played--tenacious on defense, relentless on the boards, and always making the extra pass to get a little bit better shot attempt. It has to be one of the greatest seasons ever by a team that failed to win the championship. The fact that they failed to do so in no way diminishes the greatness of their season. The Illini faced a more talented team, and missed the clutch shots when they needed them the most. 37-2 is an absolutely tremendous season, no matter how the final game turned out.
W.P. Kinsella on the Steroids Scandal
In this week's Sports Illustrated, Gary Smith writes an article ("What Do We Do Now?"--registration req'd) which interviews a broad range of baseball fans for their views, positive and negative, on the steroids scandal that has rocked the game. The moral logic of those who remain loyal to the shameful likes of Bonds and McGwire is rather appalling; apart from the general attitude of "You'd do steroids too, if it would get you to the big leagues," I was most struck by the bar owner who vowed to get his customers to turn their backs to the TV screen every time Bonds steps to the plate. Admirable, until it's revealed that the owner is a rabid Yankees fan, and would never consider similarly shunning Jason Giambi, even though he's as hopped up on the stuff as anybody else.
The most thoughtful and lyrical response came, not surprisingly, from W.P. Kinsella, author of the timeless baseball novel Shoeless Joe:
"Baseball, to me, had a magical quality that no other sport did because of its open-endedness, its infinite possibility," says 69-year-old William Kinsella, whose novel Shoeless Joe became the basis for the movie Field of Dreams. "No confined boundaries, like other sports. Two foul lines diverging forever, eventually to take in the entire universe."
Possibility? Gone? Salvation? See ya. Something died inside William during baseball's work stoppage, and the steroids scandal is just one more kick in the crotch of a corpse. "People have grown too cynical to be outraged," he says. "Maybe that's what baseball's counting on...but to baseball that should be the scariest thing of all."
William, who used to attend 50 major league games a season, now enters Scrabble tournaments instead.
In these dark days for the (former) national pastime, jaded former fans (myself included) would be well-advised to turn to Kinsella's wonderful baseball novels, Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. These two books are just about the last things left that baseball fans can still believe in. Give your money to the worthy likes of Kinsella, Roger Kahn etc. (or maybe even badger Elysian Fields Quarterly to publish "Mighty Casey", the story I sent them last month) and not the juice-swollen pretenders who are presently soiling the game.
Or be like Kinsella and start playing Scrabble instead.
Hail To A Quiet Hero
(Photo is copyright of The Chicago Tribune.)
My spectator sport-watching days are mostly behind me, particularly the three hours a day I used to spend watching Cubs games, but I must pause to pay tribute to Ryne Sandberg, who was just elected to the Hall of Fame. He was an elegant, flawless second baseman, and a rare--for his era, anyway--combination of speed and power offensively. He played the game quietly and effectively, and though some faulted his clean uniform and lack of headfirst dives as somehow reflecting a lack of passion, Sandberg knew he was a lot more valuable to his team by playing every day rather than risking some stupid injury. He was out there every day, efficiently giving every ounce of effort to the Cubs--the only team he ever played for--and when he decided he had enough, he left the game on his own terms.
Today, when ballplayers' bodies are grotesquely inflated by steroids and their loyalty only goes as far as the next time they feel underappreciated and want to renegotiate their contract, and the game has become nothing more than a loud, highly-choreographed marketing vehicle, it's easy to forget it wasn't that long ago that players like Sandberg graced the diamond. His kind is not likely to come around again.