03.18.14

CSTBracket VIII: Two Terms of Intermittent Competence

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts, Internal Affairs at 6:42 pm by

(we are not awarding the winner of the 2014 CSTBracket a copy of College Slam for the Sega Genesis because a basketball biting a rim is thoroughly unreleastic)

Eight years is a long time to be wrong. Most humans have been wrong about at least one thing for at least that long, with the exception of people under the age of eight and Mike Francesa. But still. This is the eighth year of the CSTBracket’s existence, which means that it’s old enough that someone — I’m not going to say who this person is or what his role is in writing this blog post — almost certainly picked a bracket in this contest based in part on reasoning that involved an abiding belief in Acie Law IV. It worked out as well as might have been expected.

That is: I was wrong LAMF, and I have mostly stayed wrong in varying degrees of likeness to a MF about college basketball for these eight years. And yet it all just sort of rolls off and rolls by, this near-decade of not knowing what the hell I’m talking about more or less ever. Time passes — 2010 winner Hot Shit College Student could be done with medical school at this point, for all we know — and it doesn’t ever quite seem to matter that much.

It’s a happy, safe sort of incompetence, and I am in no hurry to stop believing what is probably not true, being shown that I was wrong to believe it, briefly being frustrated, and then opening a beer. I am, in fact, in a hurry to do all that again, and trust that I’m not alone in this. And so: for the VIIIth year, here is the CSTBracket: a chance to be wrong about Aaron Craft and the Mountain West and a bunch of other mostly insignificant stuff, as per tradition, and with people who share a similar taste in sports blogs.

Or it’s here, rather, with the password being cstbracket and the stakes, as ever, being fairly low. It is, as ever, free to enter. It will, most likely, entitle the winner to a gift bucket of 12XU goodies courtesy of our gracious host. (A photograph of me in my Corliss Williamson Arkansas jersey has been a part of the prize package for years now, and has inexplicably not once been claimed.) Enjoy it. We may never get to be wrong this way again, although honestly we probably will.

03.19.13

CSTBracket VII: Dream Warriors

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts at 2:49 pm by

(not only is the above ad deeply sexist, but it also suggests a vasectomy reversal might be the best way to watch the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight in relative peace and quiet)

It seems strange and a little contradictory, the way that college basketball’s image-makers gloss over its teenage churn and general feudo-corporate sketchiness in selling the college game as the tradition-friendly True Basketball alternative to the flashy, for-the-money and otherwise code-worded NBA. Sure, college basketball has plenty of history behind it, many dusty decades and all flavors of dated dominance and boxer-brief shorts and Lorenzo Charles-ian random instances of grace, but in the present it is pure chaos. None of this is a bad thing, really; it’s just that the thing as marketed is different than the thing as consumed.

But there is room for tradition within college basketball’s familiar anarchy. There are things that endure from year to year, graduating class to graduating class, consistent and persistent and true. There is the observation that Mike Krzyzewski looks like the puppet from the popular Saw series, which grows only more true with the years. And there is also the CSTBracket, which returns for its seventh year. That’s a feat matched in the NCAA Tournament field only by Minnesota big man Trevor Mbakwe, who played in his first college game when Bill Clinton was President. Time flies, in other words, but what endures, endures.

As in the past, there will probably be a prize of some sort, and as in the past I don’t really know what it will be yet. In the past, GC has generously offered an amusingly outdated basketball-related video game — I’m pretty sure last year’s grand champion received a copy of Eric Montross’s Know Your Limitations Hoops ’97 for TurboGrafx 16 — and I suppose my (oddly still-unredeemed) offer from a few years back to send a photo of myself wearing my Corliss Williamson jersey to the winner still stands. But the important thing is not the prize: the important thing is participating in a tradition that now stretches back years, and which offers all of us an opportunity not just to participate in a living part of college basketball history, but to be totally wrong about Belmont’s bracket-busting abilities in the exact same way we were last year.

This is what it’s all about, and what it has always been about. To join the bracket, go here. The League ID is 101646, the password is cstbracket, and history will be there with you, as you pick a hugely flawed bracket that will, more or less inevitably, still be more correct than mine.

03.13.12

CSTBracket VI: Where The Elite Meet To Overestimate The ACC

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts, Internal Affairs at 8:00 am by

(WRONG BRACKET! GODDAMN ART DEPT.)

Things change. Six years ago, when the CSTBracket started, John Calipari was a coach with a talented roster and some Shout-proof gravy stains on his reputation, Michigan State was a topsoil-dull title contender defined by a feels-like-getting-a-headache style and a bunch of chunky elbow-tossing 6-8 forwards, and Duke was regarded as both typically loathsome and unusually flawed. But look at us now, living in a future in which which CSTBracket VI now officially a thing, wondering how things such as those described above could ever have been true. Funny old world and so on.

But yes. Yes, because it is March and because one of the internet’s most storied sporting traditions isn’t going to go away just because Colorado somehow won the Pac-12, CSTBracket VI is here, and if it’s not quite better than ever, it’s at least worth mentioning that you will no longer have to try not to win because you don’t want me to send you a photograph of myself in a Corliss Williamson jersey or some gross shorts. This year, this time, please feel free to pick without fear, because the actual prize — a selection of premium-grade 12XU swag, courtesy of GC — is an actual prize, in the sense that it consists of things that are actually desirable. As opposed to the Turbo Grafx16 “Vernon Maxwell’s Howling Mad Hoopz” cartridges and Patrick O’Bryant rookie cards that have traditionally been our prizes. This year, in other words, you’ll win more than bragging rights if you win. Although anyone bragging about finishing ahead of GC or me in a NCAA bracket contest hasn’t paid much attention to previous CSTBracket outcomes.

So: your window to enjoyable frustration and predictive inadequacy is here; it’s a public league, and as such there’s no password. I will be the person overrating Belmont for reasons I can’t explain without drugs or alcohol. You will be a few slots ahead of me. In that sense, not much has changed.

08.07.11

The Man Who Was Atlanta: SB Nation’s Kirk Hands Deion Sanders Keys To The ATL

Posted in Baseball, Gridiron, Sports Journalism, The Internet at 3:09 pm by

One of the signal pursuits on the baseball side of SB Nation — and it’s one I endorse all the way, despite/because of how subjective and fundamentally impossible it is — is determining which player is “The Most [Team Name Goes Here] Of All Time.” This sort of arbitrary thing-ranking is a very (the most?) sports internet thing to do, of course. What elevates SB’s efforts in this area above the hilariously windy, dead-serious list-maintenance at Grantland or the endless, brainless inna-slideshow-stylee ranking of the universally loathed Bleacher Report is that 1) SB Nation, unlike the gasbaggy tryhards at Grantland or the wince-induction specialists at B/R, is that SB’s actually mining some intentional (if very specific) comedy, and has savvy, funny enough writers to pull it off and 2) that everyone involved actually takes the pseudoscientific endeavor seriously in the right way. (The same was true of the much more serious ’90s First Baseman Week project at Pitchers and Poets) It makes a difference, although taking yourself less seriously than Grantland or quality control more seriously than Bleacher Report aren’t really huge accomplishments.

And while the whole endeavor is admittedly kind of a joke — the (great) Jon Bois’s methodology in determining the Most Expansion Team Player of All-Time, for instance, is not something that’s going to wind up in a peer-reviewed journal — there’s also something about it that resonates when the question concerns a team you care about. I was a part of Bois’s Twitter survey of various Mets-fan types on the Most Mets Player of All-Time (I somehow got quoted endorsing Charlie Puleo, who seemed like a reasonable-enough pick for the pre-Keith Hernandez team), but that wasn’t the first time I’d considered the question — at the risk of it sounding like bragging, I do have some friends, and they are dork enough to go over the specific ratio of likability-to-loathability-to-ineptitude-to-inspirational-attributes that it takes to comprise The Ur-Met. (It is Butch Huskey, by the way)

In an essay at SB Nation Atlanta, Jason Kirk tackles the question of whether Deion Sanders is The Most Atlanta Athlete on record that gets at the best (and funniest) aspects of SB Nation’s official question. It’s pretty good on the intermittently beloved and consistently hilarious Prime Time, too, but it’s best at examining the two-way transference and multi-level projection of identity, personality and performance between players and fans, and about the complicated/ridiculous depth of the relationships that creates. “Whatever Atlanta is, drawing a dollar sign in the dirt on Yankee Stadium’s home plate is … I mean, that’s too Atlanta for words,” Kirk writes. “Kinda think having a rap career managed by Evander Holyfield tops even that, though. Let’s move on.” He does, and it’s good stuff:

If we’re talking the most Georgia athlete ever, the discussion beyond Herschel Walker would probably center around Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Chipper Jones and Jessie Tuggle.

Deion wouldn’t qualify for the finals in that conversation. Turning down a scholarship offer from Vince Dooley isn’t Georgia at all — doing so over redshirting is so very Atlanta. Though he’s country — his favorite meal is Golden Corral, his only arrest was for fishing on private property, I say again he was friends with Travis Tritt, and he used to set up rasslin’ matches in Atlanta’s locker room — he’s still big city.

Big, black, southern city that’s obsessed with football, has bizarre and complicated sporting allegiances, attends church and the club with equal measure, cannot simply go to a baseball game without mocking the other team via threats of scalping, will never stop surprising you and will never stop telling you how great it is.

05.13.11

Boston (Sports Guy) Is Burning: Hard Words For Grantland’s Soft Launch

Posted in Blogged Down, General, Sports Journalism at 1:50 pm by

Bill Simmons is many things — a partial list would include “well-compensated,” “hugely popular,” “owner of a surprisingly high-pitched voice,” “an unintentionally crypto-Borgesian accidental avant-gardist.” And there are also many things that he is not, which things are generally better covered here at CSTB than the other. “Intellectually curious” would seem to rank pretty high among these things-Simmons-is-not.

It’s not even clear to me that Simmons would object to that assessment, which he does little to conceal. He has his half-dozen film touchstones — the first two Godfathers, the first three Karate Kids and The Shawshank Redemption — and all the music he has ever copped to caring about in his decade-plus of writing would leave space in a five-disc changer. Book-wise, he reads about sports and is a fan of Chuck Klosterman and Malcolm Gladwell; if he has ever mentioned a novel, I missed it. Simmo watches about the TV shows that you’d expect, and while he is reliably caught up on whatever meatish Real World/Road Rules Challenge is currently airing, he watches your more blue-chip dramas at his own pace, which explains the oddness of him writing a 9,000-word (seriously) two-part column on The Wire and the NBA Playoffs last week. He doesn’t seem to have any politics, really. Again, these aren’t judgments of the guy: this, proudly, is the entirety of what he is working with in terms of non-sports referents, and I guess it’s to his credit that he has never tried to conceal any of that. It’s hard to argue that it hasn’t worked, both for his career and as often as not (if with decreasing frequency) in his columns. If his last few years have been peevy and thoroughly half-assed, his first few years were also legitimately new-seeming and often insightful. You already know all this. And you probably also know about Grantland, the (maybe a little grandiosely named) literary online sports magazine that Simmons is starting up at ESPN. Where it gets confusing for me, and maybe for you, is how or why the guy described above even comes to want his own literary magazine.

The ambition, of course, is both laudable and understandable — Simmons co-created ESPN’s eminently excellent 30 for 30 documentaries, and the idea behind Grantland may just be a literary version of that, in which writer types would have the room to stretch out and write long, interesting pieces. Whether he wants it to be The Awl or N+1 or Vanity Fair For Him isn’t clear yet, but that he wants it at all is kind of remarkable. The obvious problem with actually doing it, though, would be that while we know that Simmons watches plenty of television and (just in terms of Karate Kid re-watches) many hours of movies, it’s not at all apparent from Simmo’s work that the guy actually reads anything not written by 1) Bob Ryan or 2) Bill Simmons. But while Simmons regularly confuses length for depth in his own writing — and I know I’ve dropped some MF’ers, word count-wise, here and elsewhere, but also: 9,000 words on how the NBA is like a TV show that ended in ’08 — there’s also nothing that says that Grantland can’t work. Personally, I am not checking for middlebrow heavyweights such as Klosterman and Gladwell, who will contribute to the site, but other people are, and some of Grantland’s other hires are notably more interesting. And while the two pieces released last month as part of Grantland’s soft launch — a passionate but severely under-edited 5,000-word piece on the Knicks by the very excellent Katie Baker and a replacement-level summer movie thing by Molly Lambert, whose stuff is new to me — were not rapturously received, it’s still tough not to pull for Grantland. It might seem sky-high on its own supply — Dig the disclaimer, which reads in part “Before you read, remember: This will be a free-flowing narrative that occasionally touches on mature subjects” — but if Simmo creates a market for (paid) long-form sportswriting, then… well, it would be good for me, and also probably good for anyone who likes to write or read.

So, yeah: it’s too early — being that we’ve seen two pieces and one very unfinished-looking page design, and given that the site isn’t even supposed to launch until June — to judge Grantland. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t doing it anyway. In a meticulous, merciless and Shermanesque razing of Simmons and his biggish idea, the pseudonymous (unless…) blogger Mobutu Sese Seko reduces Grantland to rubble and calls the whole enterprise into question, at the (aptly named) blog Mr. Destructo:

If at any moment either [ESPN or Simmons] had walked away from their relationship, it would have given the lie to ESPN’s claims to print things more subversive than “SportsCenter You Can Read” and Simmons’ claims that he had any ideas to be held back in the first place. Thus the need to create something like Grantland, which allows ESPN to pretend it’s breaking new ground by printing Gawker content from 2005, while Simmons gets to play the bad-boy who replaced his short woven corporate dog leash with the open-road freedom one of those really long clicky-handled corporate dog leashes.

…Bill Simmons has a perspective problem, and yet another vanity project like Grantland seems only to add to the evidence of it. A good argument against that conclusion could be made if the site had any kind of purposeful coherence. Allegedly it’s a serious sports website maintained by a man whose critical rigorousness about sports can often be measured by going to the IMDB “memorable quotes” page for a movie and trying to apply it to some random category like “interceptions made by New England Patriots, 2001-2010.” Allegedly it’s a serious cultural website maintained by a man whose cultural mind looks like one of those spooky MRIs of “ecstasy brains,” with all the black dead spots, and a bit where someone burned “SWEEP THE LEG” into it with a laser scalpel. Its celebrity contributors list reads like a Who’s Who of people whose only metric for understanding the human experience is the singular preciousness of themselves or the nauseating insipidity of corporate-retreat science. Then there’s the preposterousness of the name. Bill Simmons is to Grantland Rice what Tucker Max is to Hunter Thompson.

The piece is not always fair and I don’t agree with some sizable-ish portions of it, but the Taibbi-an scope and scale of its bile-spray is impressive. It won’t happen — ESPN is nearly as thin-skinned as Simmons, and neither is treated very kindly in the essay — but if Simmons really wanted to surprise people, he should hire Mobutu. Mature subjects, mature approach, all that.

05.03.11

Schilling: What’s Up With Not Desecrating Bin Laden’s Corpse?

Posted in Baseball, Blogged Down, politics at 3:15 pm by

It’s not like our political press is exactly hanging up triple-doubles every night, but there’s a reason why we have not entrusted political commentary to our nation’s sportpundits. As depressing as it is to see the more objectively meaningful end of our discourse tilt and topple into an idiotic, backhandedly postmodern disputatiousness — a big dumb culture war with a million fronts, two-sided facts, you know all this — it is at least heartening that the discussion of, say, health-care reform has not been handed over to Bill Plaschke or (gasp) Gregg F. Doyel. Yes, your TV news types do tend towards the pompously underinformed certainty of a Plaschke or the gleefully imbecilic yeah-I-said-it self-satisfcation of a Doyel. BUT at least no one asks Doyel how he feels about Medicaid. Small blessings, there. (That said, Mike Florio’s hilariously tacky ability to turn everything back to the NFL would make him a great fit at Politico)

The magic of Twitter, in part, is that no one needs to ask you about anything — you just assume everyone wants to hear whatever’s on your mind, and then tell them. (That’s how I use it, at least) Sometimes this can work in interesting ways, and sometimes — most times, almost every time — it results in a lesson in wince-induction. When Milwaukee Bucks small forward Chris Douglas-Roberts popped off, skeptically but far from ignorantly, about the death of Osama Bin Laden on Twitter, he faced a ton of typically Twitterish criticism and handled it fairly well; as SB Nation’s Andrew Sharp writes, the whole thing was even a little inspiring in its way. When Rashard Mendenhall brought his less-informed Bin Laden opinions to the TweetDeck, though — and especially when he leavened them with some 9/11 Truthery — the outcome was a little less impressive. Mendenhall is now a trending topic and, secondarily, has revealed himself to be every bit as well-informed and worth listening to on issues of major national import as you’d expect.

But, in a sense, this is Twitter for you — disposable thoughts that quickly dispose of themselves, flushed down your feed and out into the e-ether. For your really pompous idiocies, print sports radio is still your best value. Ask sickly-looking dittohead and former big league ace Curt Schilling about that. Actually, you don’t need to ask, he’s already on line two:

Curt Schilling is an outspoken man, a staunch Republican and a dedicated supporter of the United States military. Put it all together on the day the world learned of the death of Osama bin Laden, and you have a guy who couldn’t wait to call The Dennis and Callahan Show.

While Schilling was ecstatic that bin Laden was finally caught, he was upset with the fact that the terrorist was given a proper Muslim burial at seas. “I’m pissed because I can’t fathom why we would honor the Muslim traditions for a guy who Muslims have been telling us for 10 years doesn’t represent the true Muslim faith,” Schilling said. “And our government has been telling us the same thing. Who were they worried about offending? Radical Muslims?”

Who indeed? Among many other questions! Luckily for those of us wondering just what’s going on inside Schilling’s protein-shake of a brain, the great Matthew Callan is there to do some soothsaying in a world-exclusive post direct from Curt Schilling’s unconscious:

From all the reports I’ve read so far, not one mentions any of these operatives delivering a “kicker” line before sending Osama to kingdom come. Not even a “Message from Uncle Sam” or “Special delivery courtesy of the red, white, and blue!” If anyone had consulted me, I’ve got a 300-page Word document filled with such phrases, ranging from punny to ironic to righteously indignant. I have one for any conceivable scenario. If we found him on the moon, I would’ve said “The Eagle has landed–on your motherfucking face!”

Another failure of imagination: They didn’t booby trap his house, Death Wish 3 style, so when he tried to flee the scene he could be whacked in the face with a board filled with nails. At the very least, his demise could have been far more humiliating. For all their skills with the deadly arts, these Navy SEALs didn’t think to shove a hand grenade up his poop chute? Is this where our tax dollars are going?

…And don’t get me started on the Muslim burial thing. Honoring other people’s religious traditions, ugh, it makes me sick. I think we should have desecrated the body. And when I say we, I mean me. I think America owed it to me, a millionaire athlete who was nowhere near New York or Washington DC on September 11th, to exact my own personal revenge on someone who once made me nervous to fly.

Remember when Schilling was going to run for Senate? That could probably still happen.

04.22.11

SB Nation’s Bois on Andy Van Slyke’s Author Photo and Other Cardboard Highlights

Posted in Baseball, Blogged Down, consumer affairs at 3:30 pm by

With the exception of investment banking and high-end financial services and maybe the macro-scale music business, it’s difficult to think of an industry that had less idea what it was doing during the time of its greatest success than the baseball card business. By the time the baseball card business finally got around to paying (some of) my bills, it was well into its eclipse years, and while the industry has been right-sized by those infallible market forces you’ve heard so much about, it’s still capable of breaking out the odd baffling product decision. But while the market for baseball cards has shrunk significantly since its heyday — which would be the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was not-coincidentally also when I shoplifted most vigorously — that’s not all bad news.

The crucially not-ready-for-prime-time mistake of the card industry during its glory days was the assumption that because more people suddenly wanted baseball cards, the card-makers should simply print more baseball cards, as quickly and haphazardly as possible. This wasn’t the entire reason why the bottom fell out of the business — Dave Jamieson, whom I interviewed here, wrote a good book explaining that — but given that scarcity drove value, the industry-wide decision to eliminate the very idea of scarcity doesn’t look so good in retrospect. That said, it still looks better than the clubfooted artsy-fartsy Studio Sets that companies put out in an attempt to… I don’t know, reach the people who wanted to open a pack of cards and have a Sears Photo Studio-esque image of Tom Henke staring back at them? Who always wondered what Pete O’Brien would look like in black-and-white against a gray backdrop?

At SB Nation, the great Jon Bois takes a look at these weird golden age leftovers and finds a medium that ranges from baffling Rickey Henderson beefcake to thriller book-jacket photos of Dennis Eckersley. It’s tough to excerpt, because the text is largely tied to the (hilarious) images, but here’s his breakdown of Randy Myers’ Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer-esque 1991 Score Dream Team card (number 885 in that year’s Score set!).

huh? oh uh hey kiddos, my name is randy and welcome to my baseball card, i uh, i think i might have some Squeez-Its in the fridge, also might could be some graham crackers in the kitchen, go an get ya some grahams if ya hungry

On the back of the card, they finally get around to telling us which team Randy Myers actually plays for, and they also describe him as an “effervescent type of guy.” So what’s with the long face here? What the hell happened, y’all? “Hey, bad news, Randy. Desert Storm is over already. They didn’t even get to use all the F-16s. I know, right?” [takes picture]

They’re all that good. Market forces stink.

04.14.11

The Woman Who Loved Craig Carton (Yes, In That Way)

Posted in Blogged Down, Hate Fuck Radio, Sports Radio, The Woah at 5:07 pm by

Say this much for WFAN’s Craig Carton: day after day, week after week, he is able to get up far earlier in the morning than the average sports fan. And not only that, but Carton is then able to sit in a radio studio with the anthropomorphized havarti-wedge that is Boomer Esiason and talk — loudly and confidently, if not necessarily knowledgeably — about the sports issues of the day. Also, when there’s time, Carton tosses in some off-the-rack bigotry or things that are just obviously not true. On the plus side of the ledger for Carton is that he makes Phil Mushnick mad. On the negative side is that he makes me agree with Phil Mushnick, which I hate.

But that’s just me, and I’m aware that I’m not Craig Carton’s target audience. I mean, I enjoy talking about sports and care about the Mets and so on. But I also have no interest in trying to see if my ears can commit suicide, so I generally avoid the dude. That said, I know that there are others who enjoy Carton, and for whatever reason find his loudest-guy-on-the-LIRR routine stimulating. What I did not know, until I found this pyrotechnically squirm-inducing blog post by Bonnie Bernstein at Salon.com, is that there are people who find Carton’s loudest-guy-on-the-LIRR routing stimulating. Like that. Down there. I know!

I have given up on real men. But before I go to bed alone, I make sure the AM/FM alarm clock is set to Sports Radio 66 WFAN NY at 5:55 a.m. As I slumber, I dream of my cowboy. It has become my obsession to quiet my dogs each morning, so that Craig Carton’s voice will be the first I hear when I wake.

It’s a love hate relationship. My radio lover does not tell me I need to lose weight. I do not tell him to stop looking at other women. Sometimes I do get a bit miffed when he talks about his “tournament of babes.” Out of jealousy, I change the station. I know he is married, and I am trying to learn to share him with another woman. Though, like a good airwaves companion should, I always come back to Craig…

I don’t think about what my voiceover husband looks like; I’ve never seen him on television. It’s Craigy’s voice that gets my heart intoxicated. I don’t know if another man can do for me what his wild vocal musings do. I just want to run my fingers through his voice.

After calling the station way too many times for a sane person, I got through to my radio hubby. On hold for 20 minutes, I was going to have a boom box interlude, my version of phone sex. Shaking, phone to my ear, I smacked my lips with gloss in anticipation. It was Craig, me and millions of listeners, my very own public booty call. He pegged me a “dopey Phillies fan.” By waiting so long to speak with my radio husband, I deserved that commentary on my life. He demanded I blow him a kiss. I obliged.

Like they say, different strokes for different barf-yourself-unconscious-es.

03.29.11

Jortscenter Is Next: Josh Harrellson’s Wide World of Fashion

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts, Firearms at 10:55 am by

I’ve watched a lot of University of Kentucky basketball, due in part to my just watching a lot of every-team basketball in general and in larger part to having some friends who are Kentucky alums and serious fans. (Not to name drop but, yes haters, I build with Lukasz Obrzut) Which means that I’ve seen a lot of senior center Josh Harrellson over the years, usually in frustrating two- or three-minute stretches punctuated by the profanities of my dear friends. Recruited as an inside-outside big man by Billy Gillispie, Harrellson spent his first three seasons at Kentucky just not playing very well. He was never as bad as Eloy Vargas — the ultra-baffled Kentucky backup center who plays like he’s wearing roller skates, and whom people I respect describe as the worst player in Division I — but Harrellson was frustratingly vague, drifty, and contact-averse; not, in short, the sort of player that gets minutes on a good team, and clearly not a favorite of John Calipari. And then, this year, he suddenly became a very solid frontcourt contributor.

During the tournament, Harrellson (above) is scoring nearly 16 points per game and averaging just under 10 rebounds per, and he played very well against the very good Jared Sullinger in Kentucky’s upset of Ohio State. While he’s still limited in a lot of ways, Harrellson has belatedly emerged as a Jon Brockman-ian garbage man with a good attitude and more skills than anyone would expect. All of that, plus the fact that everyone else is writing about Brandon Knight’s dagger-tossing brilliance, probably explains why Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel wrote a nice story about the likable Harrellson’s late-onset competence. In a classic example of burying the lede, though, Wetzel waits a few hundred words to get to the thing that is truly shocking about Harrellson — his unabashed fondness for, and impressive collection of, one of America’s more controversial male clothing items.

Before this run, Harrellson claim to fame was earning the nickname “Jorts” in honor of his devotion to the rural fashion of jeans shorts. He said he owns 10 pairs.

“A lot of people think of jeans shorts like I cut my jeans off and made them shorts,” Harrellson explained. “I actually buy them. [I wear them every day] when it gets to jorts season.”

Jorts season?

“When it’s spring time,” he said. “It’s a fashion statement. They’re easy to put on. I can wear my basketball shorts underneath them. You can wear them out to the courts. They’re easy to take off, and then slip back on and wear home.”

He claims he has made jorts so popular in Lexington he even got teammate Darius Miller to start wearing them.

“That’s a lie,” Miller countered, shaking his head and playfully wondering what the heck is wrong with his teammate.

03.28.11

Jose and Ozzie Canseco Remake “The Parent Trap,” In Purgatory

Posted in Baseball, Boxing, consumer affairs at 1:18 pm by

It’s worth pointing out, just off the top, that nothing that could conceivably have occurred at the recent celebrity boxing event held in the Passion nightclub at the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida — from an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease to a two-plus-hour performance by a heavily medicated Matchbox 20 to a long speech from retired Senator Fred Thompson about hard work — could possibly have been as depressing as the words “the recent celebrity boxing event held in the Passion nightclub at the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida.” That is the bottom — table seating and inert central Florida humidity; the faint ambient ching and whir of slot machines and obesity scooters audible in the background; the 65000 block of some endless four-lane boulevard of mega-retail and Astrodome-size Cheesecake Factories and Houston’ses; inside the Hard Rock, a bunch of crummy rock and roll paraphernalia (Eddie Money’s mustard-stained slacks from the “Two Tickets To Paradise” video, Joe Perry’s hairdryer from the Honkin’ On Bobo tour) stuck up on the walls behind smudgy glass. That is the worst, and the fact that someone is punching Danny Bonaduce or being punched by Danny Bonaduce in a ring in the middle of it all doesn’t really appreciably damage or improve the whole thing. It’s very bad. And so of course Jose Canseco would be there.

Or would be supposed to be there. In the Orlando Sentinel, Dave Hyde recounts Jose Canseco’s typically masterful attempt to execute a standard Sweet Valley High switcheroo in order to escape from (sorry) a recent celebrity boxing event held in the Passion nightclub at the Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Florida, by sending Newark Bears co-legend and identical twin Ozzie Canseco to fight in his place. That Jose’s plan was somewhat less carefully wrought than his widely praised poetry is maybe not that surprising, given that, brainpower-wise, Canseco is essentially the human equivalent of the Fast and the Furious franchise. That any of the patrons at the celebrity boxing event held in the Passion nightclub at the Hollywood (FL) Hard Rock Casino were able to tear themselves away from suicidal ideation long enough to notice the switch, though, is maybe a bit more surprising. Anyway, here’s how it went down:

The tattoos, Jose! You forgot about your tattoos!

They were the first giveaway that made people alert Celebrity Boxing promoter Damon Feldman that Jose Canseco wasn’t really Jose Canseco just minutes before a scheduled event at a Hard Rock nightclub on Saturday night. Instead, it was his clean-armed, identical twin brother, Ozzie, the promoter said. “A bait-and-switch,” Feldman said. “I’m disgusted.”

… Jose missed his flight early Friday night from Los Angeles. But when “Jose” showed up for the Friday night weigh-in, Feldman said he figured all was good. The problems began Saturday night before the fight at Passion nightclub in the Hard Rock.

“The guy I thought was Jose kept asking me to pay him in cash before [the fight],” Feldman said. “I told him I had to pay him by check for business reasons. He said he needed cash. We went back and forth.”

Feldman said he also got a text message before the fight from Jose Canseco’s phone that read: “You have to pay him.”

“I was confused by why he wrote ‘him,’ ” Feldman said. “Who would’ve thought he would’ve sent someone else?”

Maybe Canseco isn’t so dumb. He was knocked out in a bout with former NFL player Vai Sikahema. He lost to a 60-year-old assistant athletic director from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. He fought to a draw with Danny Bonaduce, for Ali’s sake. Why not see if Ozzie could do better?

I am leaving stuff out, and you should read the whole (brief) piece, if you want to see how Michael Lohan and a nicely existentialist final line fit in. I think this might be both my favorite and least favorite story I’ve ever written about here at CSTB, so I guess I can pop some champagne/Wellbutrin to that.

03.23.11

Chipper Finally Breaks His Silence on the JFK Assassination

Posted in Baseball, History's Not Happening at 11:34 am by

At this point in his career, we know who “Larry” “Wayne” Chipper Jones (above, left) is. We know what he’s about as a professional baseball player, we know what kind of exotic entertainment he enjoys, and we might even know about “Buck Commander,” the Outdoor Channel show in which he and Ryan Langerhans hunt and hijink about and play wiffle-ball with heavily bearded hunter dudes. And thanks to Jones’ admirable recent forthrightness on the problem of nerds blogging bad things about him from their mothers’ basements, we know how Chipper believes computers should be used. Namely, they should have their browsers pointed at Prison Planet, and they should be used to discover the HIDDEN TRUTH about President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

No doubt “they” encouraged him to keep his mouth shut on what he knows, but Chipper will keep quiet no longer. He finally broke his long silence on the issue to Yahoo’s Dan Schlossberg:

“Having shot a hunting rifle all my life, I personally believe there was more than one shooter,” the six-time All Star said before an exhibition game at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. “The conspiracy behind it is what really intrigues me. I’m sure it went pretty high but I don’t know how high. Let’s just say somebody had to put it into motion — and it was somebody high-ranking in the U.S. government.”

Although Jones was born in 1972, nine years after Kennedy was assassinated during a Dallas motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, he heard about the event from his father, Larry Wayne Jones, when they lived in DeLand, Fla.

“It interests my dad,” Jones said. “He always said it was one of the five biggest defining moments of his life. And I did numerous reports on it when I was in school.”

No word, yet, on the other four biggest defining moments of Larry Wayne Jones Sr.’s life, but I’ll obviously watch the skies for the TRUTH. Or, failing that, rely on Craig Calcaterra — Hardball Talk’s basement-blogging conspiratologist in chief — for pithy commentary on Jones’ next Oliver Stone-ism.

03.21.11

The Passion of the Sisk: Pearlman, in WSJ, on D. Original Ollie Perez

Posted in Baseball, New York, New York at 11:27 am by

On Friday, the Mets mercifully cut loose the hobbling shade of Luis Castillo. Which makes it sound like the most boring exorcism ever, which is in turn maybe not totally inaccurate. When the team finally dropped Oliver Perez on Monday morning — with the parting gift of $12 million in what GC rightly described as possibly bouncy severance checks — the reaction was somewhat more muted.

The move had been anticipated (and richly, richly earned) for so long that most of what was left was relief. Ted Berg pondered the sadness of the whole thing (which is sort of my gig, man), and Amazin Avenue’s Rob Castellano wallows a bit in that sadness. There’s not much else to do, besides be happy that his salary isn’t coming out of your personal bank account. Perez went 3-9 over two seasons and averaged 8.0 walks-per-game while earning $24 million. There is not too much to feel about all this that is good, or even all that complicated.

But while the estimable Mr. Berg ponders Ollie’s next act, Jeff Pearlman offers something of a best-case scenario in a Wall Street Journal piece on Doug Sisk (above). I was too young to understand why everyone hated Sisk when I was a kid — a glimpse at the Scum Bunch ombudsman’s Baseball Reference page reveals a few very good seasons wrapped around one horrible one; I can only blame the ease and relatively low cost of cocaine at the time, as well as a general NYC-in-the-’80s aggro-osity for the vitriol that Sisk’s one poor year engendered. But if Castillo never quite deserved all the shit he got and even Perez seems to think that he got more or less what he deserved ($12 million in walking-around/just-walking-dudes money makes for a nice, level path to self-assessment), Sisk is something else entirely. Perhaps, though, he could serve as an example to Ollie P. of how to be cool with life as a fan base’s speed bag. Sisk, if you were wondering, lives in the Pacific Northwest, works as a commentator for Tacoma’s Triple-A team, and is happy to report that ostensible fan-types aren’t trying to kill him anymore because he sucked in 1985.

Whenever Sisk walked to the Shea Stadium mound, boos accompanied him. The narrative was a predictable one: Sisk would walk two, strike out one, walk another, allow two or three runs then exit with his head down and his reputation increasingly tattered.

Before long, something in New York fans changed. Sisk wasn’t merely disliked—he was loathed. Mets loyalists took to scratching the paint off his car with their keys and snapping his antennae and windshield wipers.

One time, while driving out of the players’ parking lot following a game, Sisk was shocked to see someone jump in front of his car, pull out a gun and point it at his head. “[Reliever] Jesse Orosco was with me, and we swerved out of the way,” Sisk says. “That scared the absolute hell out of me.”

Shortly thereafter, Sisk was returning to his home in Port Washington when he noticed a suspicious car trailing him all the way from the stadium. Sisk turned, the car turned. Sisk sped up, the car sped up. “There was no way I was going to drive home to my wife and child with these guys behind me,” he says. “So I pulled into [the parking lot of] a bar I used to frequent and walked in. I told the bouncers to look out for these guys, and when they walked to the door the bouncers wouldn’t let them in. Clearly, they were there to rough me up.”

So yeah, Ollie: it gets better. And sorry about your car’s antenna.

03.18.11

Luis Castillo Limps Into The Sunset

Posted in Baseball, Racism Corner, Sports Journalism at 1:00 pm by

The Mets, more than perhaps any other team, have bigger problems than finding the right eight-hole hitter. But because the Wilpon family’s adventures in alleged malfeasance don’t involve any actual baseball (and are depressing), Mets fans have had little choice but to turn the uninspiring four-man race for the team’s second base spot into a biggish deal. And it sort of is, in the sense that the Mets will be using a second baseman of some sort in at least 150 games next year. (There’s a good chance that they use a second baseman in every game, but I want to be conservative about this) But it’s also a race between some (s)crappy-ish minor league free agent types — red-haired Twitter fanatic Justin Turner, the overtly Luis Hernandez-ian Luis Hernandez, off-brand Uggla impersonator Brad Emaus — and a couple of familiar faces. One belongs to Daniel Murphy, who is a pretty good hitter and not at all a second baseman. The inexplicably loathed one belongs to Luis Castillo (above), who has (rather embarrassingly) outplayed his competition this spring, albeit in a Castillo-ian way — playing the only competent defense in the bunch and hitting a respectable-ish .286 while slugging a less-respectable .286. We can only hope that Ol’ Slappy will get some comfort from his solid spring showing as he goes about finding or not finding a new gig. The Mets released Castillo on Friday morning.

In a certain sense, this closes the book on a bummer-y chapter in recent Mets history. Castillo played hard and played hurt for the Mets, but he was overpaid and much-diminished even in the first year of the too-long, too-rich $24 million deal to which he was signed by Omar Minaya. By last year, he was a limping, shuffling shade of his former self, and fans got on him for it. Castillo was booed on Opening Day. That sort of thing. In the New York Daily News, Andy Martino wonders if the fact Castillo is named Luis Castillo, as opposed to Lou Castle or something, might have had something to do with Castillo’s loathing issues.

Yes, he dropped a popup in 2009 that cost the Mets a game against the Yankees, and missed a voluntary visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2010. Those events aside, Castillo’s mentoring of Reyes, willingness to play hurt and his cerebral approach at the plate have long earned him praise from teammates. The public’s perception is often different. Castillo is jeered at Citi Field and at the Mets’ spring home, Digital Domain Park, and abused on the Internet. In a sampling of recent Twitter posts, he is described as “lazy” and “hated.”

It is difficult not to explore Castillo’s plight through the prism of race, because that subject has defined much of the discussion around the recent Mets. Under former general manager Omar Minaya, the team constructed a heavily Hispanic roster, and created the website LosMets.com.

The comments section below Martino’s piece is exactly the Staten Island-inflected crypto-dittohead shitshow you’d expect, but for me the bigger problem with Martino’s piece is a lack of depth, both in terms of examining Castillo’s specific case and addressing the broader dynamics and shape of the ways in which Slappy was unfairly criticized. Which, considering daily newspaper deadlines and stylistic limitations and so on, is probably not all that surprising. But, in the same way that I kind of had to give it up for Dan Le Batard’s sloppyish-but-bold dictator parallels in his recent column about David Stern, I’m inclined to tip my hat to Martino for even trying. At Amazin Avenue, the reliably good Matthew Callan offers a qualified attaboy/correction of his own.

Martino gets points for reminding us of the resentment some Mets fans felt when Omar Minaya was still the GM. While Minaya certainly deserved criticism for many of his moves, the tenor of that criticism occasionally manifested itself in borderline racist comments. WFAN programs seriously debated if Minaya “favored” Latin players when assembling the roster. In Martino’s own paper, Bill Madden accused the team of being “only interested in signing low-budget Latin players.”

Unfortunately, Martino undermines a valid point by using a weak example. You don’t have to look very far to find a Met whose reception is colored by race issues, and Castillo was fairly low on this list. Carlos Beltran has been maligned time and time again for being selfish and not playing hard enough, a charge made against Latin superstars since the days of Roberto Clemente. Jose Reyes is maligned for displaying the “wrong” kind of enthusiasm, even though other players who are just as demonstrative but not as “foreign” are praised for their “fire.”

I’m a little baffled by the deep and personal nature of some fans’ hatred for him, but I honestly don’t believe race is a large factor in that hatred. Beltran and Reyes are disliked mostly for how they are perceived, which at times has racial overtones. Castillo was disliked for how he performed.

03.15.11

Le Batard: Commissioner Stern’s Littlest Dictator Act Is Getting Old

Posted in Basketball, Free Expression, Sports Journalism at 2:01 pm by

This has been a sadly great year for terrible rhetorical comparisons. At a time when our nation’s political conversation is being refereed by sleepy elites and conducted by fuming, over-fervid exurban Chamber of Commerce fucks, it’s easy to drag that into stories about sports. (I know, because I’ve done it recently myself) And with dictators toppling in Egypt and Tunisia, teetering in Yemen and Libya (although the latter is looking nervous), the temptation to draw parallels that ought not be drawn is near-overwhelming. It’s easy to see why this would be, and simple enough to sympathize with the impulse. With the old Yiddish curse of “living in interesting times” unfolding in a dozen way-too-real ways at the moment, strictly writing about sports-as-sports does have kind of a strange, itchy sense of irresponsibility about it — not acknowledging the basic meaninglessness of the topic, or at least not endeavoring to connect it to the increasingly urgent context of the actual world, seems like a bad look. Not for Gregg Doyel, who is going to say what you weren’t thinking about the SEC just as fervidly and dimly and loudly as ever, but certainly for actual humans who care about things other than SHOCKING you with their bold n’ provocative opinions on the SEC.

And yet there’s nothing that says these comparisons are always wrong, either. When NBA Commissioner David Stern takes a passive-aggressive, nice-X-you-got-there-shame-if-anything-happened-to-it approach to dissent, he is behaving in a maybe-sorta autocratic way, and there’s no shame in acknowledging that, or rolling out a more of-the-moment synonym for autocrat. In a solid column for the Miami Herald on Stern’s high-handed approach to Stan Van Gundy’s criticism of the league’s less-than-liberal approach to public criticism (and slightly less-nuanced comparison of Stern to a Mubarak-y dictator type), Dan Le Batard shows how this is done. In short, by leaving out the “Stern is the NBA’s Gaddafi, and Van Gundy is like the opposition in Benghazi, and Ryan Anderson is like Said Gaddafi and J.J. Redick is like…” goofery and generally letting Stern’s subtle-ish bullying speak for itself.

I can see how someone else might look at [Van Gundy's comments] and see simply a misbehaving employee taking a ridiculous public shot at the head of the company, which isn’t allowed in most workplaces. I can also see why Stern wouldn’t like it and might even try to punish it, though Van Gundy doesn’t seem to much mind financial consequences when he thinks he is right… So this is what Stern did instead: He reminded everyone that he was the boss.

“I would venture a guess that we’re not going to be hearing from [Van Gundy] for the rest of the season,” Stern told radio host Colin Cowherd in that way of his. “I think when he stops and reads what he said, realizes what he did, he will say no more. I have whatever influence the bylaws and constitution give me, and they’re substantial, but I have a feeling some modicum of self-restraint will cause Stan, and the team for which he works, to rein in his aberrant behavior.” In other words, Stern objected to being called a dictator by behaving like one. He reminded everyone of his powers. He spread the gospel of fear. He suggested dire consequences if future behavior displeased him.

… “Because he tried to make it so personal, I’m not going to do anything about it this time,” Stern said.

Huh? Well, actually, Stern then did do something. In fact, he did something I don’t think I’ve ever seen any commissioner of any league ever do. He objected to how personal Van Gundy made it by making it even more personal. “I see somebody whose team isn’t performing, whose star player is suspended, who seems to be fraying,” he said. This sound like a commissioner talking? A calm and impartial leader? Or a wounded child?

Would it have been better without the references to firing squads (oops) and guillotines (come on)? Absolutely, yes. But there’s a point worth making and a parallel worth drawing here, and fear of making a comparison in bad taste shouldn’t keep Le Batard or anyone else from making that point or drawing that parallel. You know Doyel isn’t worrying about that shit.

03.14.11

CSTBracket V: In Search Of Predictive Adequacy

Posted in Basketball, College Spurts, Internal Affairs at 9:42 am by

Over four years of sporadically adequate predictions and relentlessly pun-tacular bracket names, Can’t Stop The Bleeding’s CSTBracket has become one of the internet’s most treasured traditions — which is doubly impressive given that the internet doesn’t really have other traditions, besides writing incorrect things in comment sections, excruciating Sheen-related hashtags and watching videos of corgis playing tetherball. While it’s probably unwise to mess with such spectacular success, we’ve made some changes to the CSTBracket in its fifth year.

For instance, we have finally expanded the field of entrants in this year’s tournament to 68, which culminates a years-long, very expensive lobbying campaign aimed at the NCAA. We have also included the University of Georgia in this year’s field of teams, just because we thought it was funny and wanted to see what would happen. And, for the first time ever, we have a repeat prize — since last year’s winner, Hot Shit College Student, decided not to claim the (very short, very not-that-breathable) game-worn Norfolk State basketball shorts that I put up as my end of the prize last year, they’re up for grabs once again this year. Also, as is the custom, GC is going to purchase some ridiculous old Turbo Grafx 16-era video game with, like, Todd Day or Acie Earl or Jim Harrick on its cover offer a Cosloy family heirloom as a grand prize — a 1992-93 Upper Deck rookie card of Christian Laettner. “There are few basketball cards that portend greatness quite like one that shows the former Dookie wearing a bomber jacket,” GC writes, and it’s hard to argue that the repurposed photo from Laettner’s Chess King catalog shoot wasn’t an astonishingly apt reflection of what awaited in his career. So the winner will get that, if s/he wants. Come to think of it, no one ever claimed the prize from a few years ago that was a picture of me wearing my Corliss Williamson jersey. I guess that’s still available. And I suppose if Gerard’s going to throw in a priceless card, I can offer up some selection of Patrick O’Bryant rookie cards as well? This is shaping up to be the greatest collection of prizes in CSTBracket history, is what I’m saying. You’d be foolish not to put a bracket together, honestly. You’d be a fool.

So: to join, simply direct your browser here, and join private league 87795. The password is “cstb” (without quotes). It is, as ever, free of charge. Although if you want me to hand-deliver those Norfolk State game shorts — and you don’t — I might have to hit you up for bus fare. Good luck, GodShammgodspeed, and leave any questions or comments in the comment section.

02.22.11

Buzz Bissinger Wrote A Terrible Piece About The NBA, But It’s Only Kind Of His Fault

Posted in Basketball, Buzz Bissinger Is Out To Lunch, Sports Journalism at 3:31 pm by

I wrote multiple NFL-related columns during the football season, for a few different venues, and it was exhausting. Not just because I feel ambivalent-to-grossed-out about the NFL in general, although there was that, but because cranking up the dudgeon when I’d really have preferred to write about something else (or take a nap) was not as easy as it seemed before I actually had to do it. It’s much, much better than not having work, of course, and there are of course a near-infinite number of harder jobs in the world than pretending to care about the Jets. But I mention it because having experienced that enervating, gnawing combination of lack-of-interest and impending deadline is about as close as I can get to sympathy for Buzz Bissinger in his sportswriting dotage.

The guy obviously does not much care about sports anymore, which makes it kind of a shame that he has to keep writing about them. Everyone has to eat, I guess, and while Buzz would obviously rather be in a steakhouse, listening to Tony LaRussa bitch about illegal aliens and taxes, or just kicking back and screaming at young people in an A&P parking lot than writing columns about sports, no one’s paying him to do what he’d rather be doing. (Although they already paid him for the LaRussa bit, kind of) So he’s still out there, banging out his played-out curmudgeonhoods about the sports topic of the moment. It must suck, in a way.

But that’s about as far as I can go, honestly. Buzz, who now writes for The Daily Beast’s sports section, delivered himself of a pretty embarrassing column on the NBA over the weekend. Bissinger’s thesis was that the NBA’s problem connecting with fans owed to the fact that the league was “too black” — aesthetically and in terms of, you know, how many black people it employs — and that some people, though not Buzz, were turned off by that. The column itself is pretty much indefensible, but not necessarily because Bissinger managed to be more or less totally wrong in an utterly out-of-touch way. Here’s how it starts:

My editor thinks I should write something about professional basketball. The timing is certainly right—the National Basketball Association’s All-Star extravaganza starts today in Los Angeles, culminating in the All-Star game on Sunday night. The problem is, I don’t really know what to say about the NBA other than I almost never watch it anymore. I am not a basketball junkie and I have no desire to be one. There are maybe three players I would pay to watch.

And we could stop right there, some five sentences after Buzz should’ve stopped. Not just because leading with an admission of ignorance and some mushy contrarianism sure is one Bleacher Report-y ass way to start a column (except for the part about editors, which is obviously not a Bleacher Report thing), but because Bissinger is copping, up top, to an inability to 1) want to or 2) be able to write the column that he then (of course) proceeds to write. Everything that Bissinger goes on to be wrong about — why the NBA “is in trouble, and I don’t think there’s much dispute about that,” that attendance is down, that the game is suffocatingly one-on-one, as well as some really dicey stuff about how black players’ body language scans to white fans, though not to Buzz, who is not a racist but a truth-teller — is explained by a lede in which he allows that there is absolutely no reason why he should be writing this column. Which is effectively the same thing as admitting that there’s no reason why anyone should be reading it.

That Bissinger is wrong about a great deal in his column might not be surprising, given all that, but it’s still worth pointing out. At The Score’s Basketball Jones blog, Scott Carefoot does a good job of that:

I contacted the NBA league office and they confirmed David Stern’s recent claim that attendance is actually up “just shy of 1 percent” this season. That’s not a massive increase, but it’s certainly not a decline. Where you will see a significant increase in the NBA’s popularity if you bother to do the research — which Bissinger didn’t, and I did — is in the TV ratings for this season. Multiple sources have confirmed that ratings have been way up throughout the season, but here are the latest numbers provided by the NBA as of this past weekend:

* Viewership for the NBA’s network partners is up double-digits across the board.
* TNT viewership of NBA games is up 30 percent, ESPN viewership is up 20 percent, and ABC viewership is up 34 percent compared to this point last season.
* NBA games have reached over 86.5 million unique viewers this season, nearly 20 percent ahead of last year’s regular season pace to date.

Carefoot proceeds to dissect the maybe-sorta racial problems in Bissinger’s “too black” thesis, and while he does so well enough, it’s also not really worth the time. “I have no hard-core evidence,” Bissinger allows early in the piece (again) on that thesis, and he later admits that his proof that the NBA “has a problem… beyond dispute” comes from conversations he has had with friends who no longer watch the league. Buzz’s friends, of course, being a demographic that, given Bissinger’s age (56) and wealth (above-average) and friends (Tony LaRussa, other people who curse at young people in A&P parking lots) is not really representative of much — and certainly not representative of the demo that appeals most to the companies buying ads during NBA games. Instead, the admission is representative only of the thing that Bissinger is semaphoring wildly from the article’s opening words — that he is not qualified to write this piece, and shouldn’t have written it, and that it shouldn’t have run, period.

And so all this really collapses on the editor, for me — the one who told Bissinger to write a piece he shouldn’t have written, and who then read that piece and waved it into print despite the fact that it came out every bit as badly as one could have (easily) predicted it would. Bissinger has a job to do, and as long as he’s getting paid (well) to do it, he should of course try to do it better. (Another option would be getting out of the game altogether and stick to writing about things he actually cares about, like what a nice guy Don Imus is) This sort of hacky, half-assed pundi-trolling isn’t new for Bissinger, and in its way does considerably more damage to his bruised rep than did his unhinged HBO assault on Will Leitch or its slightly less crazed aftermath.

That televised shrieking suggests why an editor — someone almost certainly younger, certainly less well-paid, and presumably not any more keen to get screeched at by Crazy Eyes Buzz than those skateboarders in the A&P parking lot — might not want to put a spike through a Bissinger column. But everything in Bissinger’s embarrassing piece suggests that he might not have been all that unhappy with an editor canning this particular column, a column that scans as one long argument against itself/plea for the wastebasket. Nightmarish post-literate dystopia though it may be, the Bleacher Report guys at least seem to be having fun with their sports-underboob slideshows and malaprop-laden MMA sermonizing. Buzz just wants to be left alone, it seems, and his editor would’ve done both Buzz and the Daily Beast a service by doing just that in this case.

02.20.11

“Sauron and Voldemort Joining Forces To Complete The Death Star,” or What Dolan and Zeke Reuniting Above The Penn Station Houlihan’s Feels Like

Posted in Basketball at 4:26 pm by

There are exceptions, because there are always exceptions, but this is by and large a pretty good time for the NBA. The NBA’s pre-All-Star broadcasting pulled in record ratings, the Rookie Challenge game was hilariously loose — the screaming “OH BABY” dude from the And1 Tour was all that was missing — and while Blake Griffin’s winning effort in the slam dunk contest was basically a sledge-o-matic away from total prop overload, it’s always and everywhere kind of hard to argue with Blake Griffin. (If admittedly harder to argue with this) There are a bunch of good teams in the NBA, and they are for the most part fun to watch and interesting to ponder. So, looming labor strife and other bumouts notwithstanding, it’s a good time for the NBA. But there are exceptions, because there are always exceptions.

Among the most glaring being that James Dolan (above) — mock turtleneck aficionado, revenge-blues artist, embodiment of loathsome entitlement’s most loathsome aspects and general toxic idiot — still owns the New York Knicks. When the Knicks are playing well, or even just playing the hyperactive pick-and-roll offense and kind-of-playing the whatever-that-was defense for which Coach Mike D’Antoni is known, they’re a very likable team — one comprised of a legitimately fascinating philo-Semitic power forward, a few long-shot reclamation projects made good, a comic Russian, and a host of players enjoying the sort of statistical and reputational boost that playing in D’Antoni’s system offers. (Raymond Felton and Boris Diaw have something to talk about next time they get beers, is what I’m saying) And when they’re playing badly, as they sometimes will, the Knicks are — and this may be even more important — also pretty likable. They always play hard and at times play very well and are largely free of the sad, extravagantly compensated and thoroughly past-it veteran washouts that be-shat the stat sheets during Isiah Thomas’s implausibly long tenure as the team’s GM last decade.

Given that Dolan is Dolan, and that he abetted and co-piloted Thomas’s trashing of one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, there’s a sense in which the looming, if not already extant, reunion between the two is unsurprising. While I feel for GC and other Knicks fans as they face down this reunion between Titanic and Iceberg, I also don’t really care all that much about the Knicks. The team I grew up caring about has its own clownish/offensive owner and wince-induction issues, and while the Knicks are exponentially more fun to watch than the Nets at this point, I don’t really watch either all that much. (The one Knicks game I’ve been to this year was for work, and I’ve been to maybe two others in the past three years) But as a Mets fan, I know the unpleasantness of watching a dim-but-loyal ownership group defer to a defective chief executive who manages to consistently underperform his worst-in-class reputation. I know that it sucks, a lot. I just don’t feel it as acutely in this case.

But I’m getting there. The blamelessness of walked-over team president Donnie Walsh — who turned the league’s most fucked franchise around in impressive time — is beyond debate, which makes the way in which he has been treated pretty gross. And given just how bad the two parties at the center of all this are — Dolan is Dolan, and Isiah, who has done literally nothing to warrant a job in basketball since retiring as a player, is both an unctuous creep and terrible at everything that could conceivably fall under his job description as a team-runner — the possibility of Dolan-Thomas Part Two is kind of a challenge to any basketball fan’s gag reflex.

Swapping three of the team’s best players and a valuable draft pick for Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony — terrific players both, neither of them a fit for the style that has belatedly made the Knicks a non-joke — looks like a classic Isiah Thomas deal, but whether the trade happens or not, it’s hard not to feel for Knicks fans seemingly consigned to cheer for a team that’s a laughingstock even when the on-court product isn’t a joke. At Straight Bangin, the indispensable Joey Litman addresses the sorry state of a Knicks fan facing “a miscarriage of reason” that he compares to “the basketball equivalent of Sauron and Voldemort joining forces to complete the Death Star.” The prospect of entrusting Thomas to create a Big Three based around Anthony, Stoudemire and a star PG TBD, Litman writes,

… Takes for granted that Isiah Thomas will find the right complementary players, that Isiah Thomas will successfully navigate the salary cap, and that Isiah Thomas can preside over a functional organization. He has never demonstrated an ability to do any of these things, though, and that is why today’s news is so distressing. Allowing Isiah Thomas to return, even as some Machiavellian puppeteer, is an insult to reason, to history, and to decency. It’s an affront to fans, to professionals, and to the entire NBA. His initial tenure with the Knicks was a cautionary tale of epic ineptitude, unapologetic petulance, and even lurid inhumanity. Rewarding him with another opportunity is just an insult all around.

We expect nothing more from James Dolan–who deserves more run in conversations about the worst owners, and millionaires, in the world–but all the same, this feels gross and terrible. Setting aside a fan’s righteous indignation and debilitating lack of control, restoring Isiah’s power, in the shadows or elsewhere, also is a legal, moral, and ethical crime. He is employed by Florida International University as its basketball coach, yet he is currently working on basketball projects for another organization. I am sure his employer, his players, his recruits, and the parents to whom he must answer all are pleased to read how little they mean to him. So, too, must Donnie Walsh, who twists in the wind as the cuckolded Knicks president, love that his hard work and tireless commitment to prudence and propriety has been rewarded with such indifference, if not casual disdain. Were Isiah returning not inherently so awful, allowing him to run the Knicks and wage war against Walsh with the owner’s approval would make this entire story distasteful, anyway. There are few constants in the universe, but one of them remains that nothing involving Dolan and Isiah will ever be done appropriately, respectfully, or rationally.

02.11.11

The Internet, Where Bubba Crosby and Chuck Knoblauch Totally Make Out

Posted in Baseball, Free Expression, Reading Is Fundamental, The Internet, The Woah at 12:21 pm by

(this probably isn’t how the gentleman above saw himself returning to prominence)

The world is changing, and it is changing quickly. Youth revolutions have unseated long-tenured autocrats in Cairo and Salt Lake City in the last 24 hours alone. It’s natural to feel alien in this new place, this familiar and unfamiliar environment — the streets are the same, but the air is different, the people are different. Glenn Beck’s teary, dunderheaded fantasy of a caliphate that stretches from Moscow to Dayton is no less floridly retarded for the events of the last few days, but it is, perhaps, easier to feel a sort of distant empathy for it — we do not know this world anymore, and as exciting as that can be, a very human and very reasonable terror cuts the exhilaration. We are running in the dark.

But then… relax. This world is still this world, and there are some things that have not changed, even as the pillars shake and the structures fissure and strain. People are still writing erotic slash-fiction online about pretty much any pairing you can imagine — Lemmy Kilmister and Laura Ingraham; Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Adlai Stevenson; Leisure Suit Larry and Verne Lundquist. Everything and anything can change, but that will not. And as Emma Span reports at Baseball Prospectus, these brave literary guardians of the permanent are writing erotic fiction about guys last seen on your (non-sexual) fantasy league’s waiver wire four years ago:

I thought that over the years I’d seen most of the dark corners of sports fandom, but as it turns out, I still was not fully prepared for baseball fan fiction. If you’ve thought about it at all, you might expect to find quite a few tales of Jeter and A-Rod, and those are certainly there. But I was less braced for just how prominently players like, for example, Doug Mirabelli feature. You just do not ever expect to encounter the phrase, to quote one story, “Doug Mirabelli’s huge, unlubed…”

Well—Doug Mirabelli’s huge, unlubed anything, really. Let’s leave it at that.

Equally unexpected were the following slash fiction subjects, which I found on sites like “The Boys of Summer” and the “Baseball Fanfiction Archive”: Kyle Farnsworth and Pudge Rodriguez; Jason Varitek and Nomar Garciaparra; Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff; Bubba Crosby and Chuck Knoblauch (posted in November 2010, so someone was thinking about this one for a while); and Melky Cabrera cheating with, of all people, Jaret Wright:

Jaret licked the cheekbone closest to him. “Melky?”

“Yes?”

“I … I don’t …”

“Yes.”

“What about Robinson?”

02.04.11

La Pettitte Mort: Marchman’s Goodbye To Yankees Demi-Ace/Anti-JO Activist

Posted in Baseball, onanism at 1:41 pm by

When Andy Pettitte announced his retirement on Thursday, it occasioned about the response you’d expect. Yankee fan types will effuse over his ineffable Yankees-ian class and mettle and whatever, national columnists praised his drive, Sabermetric types reminded everyone that he doesn’t really have a Hall of Fame case, and everyone else speculated about whether or not the 38-year-old 203-game winner and anti-masturbation activist was really (um) finished.

At his blog, Tim Marchman doesn’t exactly advocate for Pettitte as a Hall of Famer — “The only reason anyone thinks he is one is because of the blind moral squalor of the population of New York City,” Marchman writes. “Which has convinced itself that it lives in a finer place than any other, much as any number of Turkmen were doubtless convinced in 1985 that they lived in the grandest and most technologically advanced of all democratic empires.” Which I guess is pretty resounding. But Marchman does make something like the case-for-the-case-for-Andy-Pettitte, which is interesting:

The sound criticisms of Pettitte are that he was no better than Billy Pierce, who is remembered by nearly no one outside of Chicago; that as nice a career as he had there were only two or three seasons where he was ever much more than serviceable, and that even in those he was guilty of the hideous crime of lending his slightly wall eyed visage to the manufacturers of Power for Living, a creepy Christian pamphlet masquerading as a ‘self-help’ book that was advertised on every other inch of the New York subway system for a period of years. His unsettling and apparently drug fueled friendship with Roger Clemens also serves as something of an antitangible. Still I would hope that saberists don’t treat that part of the public that recognizes his 260 or so playoff innings were of great consequence and surprisingly close to being enough to make the difference between a fondly remembered dude and a barrel scraping Hall of Famer as some great unlettered mass and fit subject for derision.

Pettitte’s career will be survived by the creepy picture Marchman discusses, which will (and with good reason) almost certainly be used on every Pettitte-related post at CSTB until the sun goes out.

02.01.11

“You Don’t Love My Children The Way I Love Your Children,” or A Close Read of Professional Sports Wives Magazine

Posted in non-sporting journalism, Reading Is Fundamental, The Marketplace at 4:18 pm by

Lord knows what kind of dodgy real or virtual magazine rack David Williams was browsing when he discovered Professional Sports Wives Magazine, but he has unearthed something authentically strange — what appears to be a trade publication of sorts for the wives of, yes, professional athletes. Liberally padded with ads for law firms with imposing logos, financial planners and private aviation concerns, PSWM is kind of the old-media answer to the questions posed by VH1′s Basketball Wives. The latter is probably your best value when it comes to actually watching Michael Olowokandi’s girlfriend get in a Pinot Grigio-powered argument at a South Florida bistro, but PSWM has more credibility: they’ve been doing this thing for (an astonishing 27) years, and they’ve been doing it in print. Below, David W. and I examine the most recent issue of the original (and still best) source for wifing pro-tips from the (wives of) the pros:

David Williams: Can we talk about Professional Sports Wives Magazine?
David Roth: Holy shit. Yeah, I guess so. Still kind of absorbing the cover. Denise Austin, still doing her thing. (Her thing is aerobics)
DR: “Ask A Veteran Wife” is the name of my next novel. Man, I want to write features for these guys.
DW: I want to DO INTERVIEWS.
DR: Play your cards right and you can start a magazine called “Pro Sport Wife Husband.”
DW: they just haven’t met the right, intelligent, nerdy guy yet
DR: You’re competing with the Frank Franciscos and Brian Cardinals of the world for these ladies’ attention, man, so good luck.
DR: This magazine started in 1984! Did NOT expect that at all.
DW: so this is the house organ, so to speak, of the PSWAH association. The wives are virtually UNIONIZED themselves. The hell with the NFL Player’s Union, I’m thinking we’re in Lysistrata territory here. It’s pronounced “piss-wah,” I imagine.
DW: I quote: “Complete quality resources and information are at your finger tips to assist with common challenges in marriage, family, childcare, personal development, and consumer science. Who better knows ‘your world’ and understand your challenges, than your peers.” [sic sic sic + lack of ? = sic]
DR: So, a lot of the content is sadly not online.
DW: The lack of Brooklyn Decker coverage, advice, or even a little how-to is striking. A procedural, if you will. Brooklyn Decker’s Aquarium Cleaning Tips
DW: YOU NEED WATER. Lots of it. They are missing a HUGE crossover audience.
DR: If I were the editor, I would commission a cyberstalking column from Jackie Christie.
DW: Certainly. It would be timely and relevant to their interests.
DR: Like pro tips on it.
DW: How about that comedian who is the new host? of a web show? His countenance is…
DR: Yeah, his faces in that banner ad make me nervous. It’s like Kenan Thompson playing Martin Lawrence doing a Ludacris imitation. Love that skeptical comedian look on his face. Total “Are you really trying to tell me women don’t be shopping?” face.
DW: More or less nervous-making than the official accountant? He looks like he’d do the Wilpon’s books.
DR: So, before we shit on Akintunde The Comedian, we should recognize game — dude was 2006 Comedian of the Year, per the Urban Gospel Alliance.
DR: Don’t know who one beats out, there.
DW: You have to understand, the Urban Gospel Alliance has never been the same since the schism that resulted in the Rural Gospel Alliance.
DR: I remember reading about the Jefferson City, Missouri Statement. Prop comic against prop comic. Many were lost to gentle observational jokes about “kids today.”
DW: Why can’t we all just get along?
DR: So, checking the mag preview now. Makes a page-turning sound when you click the right-arrow.
DW: THE FUTURE. This is the future that Our President promised that we’d win.
DR: The future of grammar. The future of syntax.
DW: It here is. The future is at your finger. Tips.
DW: How much do you think these full page placements are costing the vulture-like financial professionals? I turn the first page and: criminal attorneys. Criminal and personal injury. They have represented many high-profile clients, including athletes.
DR: Okay, let’s play Headline or Niche Pornography: “Trina Harris: Versatile In Many Holes From A To Z.”
DW: I’m going with niche porn. That I might glance at.
DW: OH NO THERE IS MUSIC (in the Flash Player version of the magazine).
DR: It’s okay, it goes away. Page forward. Also, the Trina Harris piece is an unbylined feature and not at all about pornography. She’s married to NFL cornerback Walt Harris, who should probably beat someone up for the “versatile in many holes” headline.
DW: The masthead sports as contributing writers two PhD’s and a Dr. I didn’t know diploma mills conferred higher degrees. I was expecting something about art collecting from perhaps Hilton Kramer or Clement Greenburg. Granted, they are both dead but still.
DW: “Agent vs Lawyer: who do you really need?” IT IS FOR THE WIVES
DR: Oh neat, a piece from Paul Byrd’s wife about his retirement. Her name is spelled Kym Byrd, naturally.
DW: How has she dealt with reduced social status after Paul’s retirement? Do you become a pariah at that point? A sin-eater for the tribe of wives of still-active players?
DR: “One of my favorite quotes is from Horatio on the show CSI: Miami, ‘Trust and then verify.’” — Kym Byrd
DW: Uh, Kim, that’s actually about the START I treaty.
DR: It is, and another stiff, possibly neurologically impaired actor said it first.
DR: Oh hey, the poor Haitian dude that got eliminated from Top Chef really fast a few years ago is in here with some braising tips.
DW: We may have found the fulcrum upon which Western Culture rests. Apres them, le deluge.
DR: Or it’s just VH1′s Basketball Wives in print form.
DR: Could be both.

01.24.11

Faint Praise, Strong Defense: Yahoo’s MJD Sticks Up For Cutler

Posted in Gridiron at 12:21 pm by

The ashes of all those burned Jay Cutler jerseys — I thought Rick Reilly reported that no one owned those — are barely cold. The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board hasn’t made Sunday’s Bears loss in the NFC Championship about Obama yet. And there’s finally a diagnosis on the knee injury that knocked Cutler out of the game, which led to (in no particular order) what must be the 54-year-old Todd Collins’s last professional snaps, the ascent of Caleb Hanie to Clint Stoerner/Charlie Batch Respected Third Stringer status, and — arguably — a Bears loss.

The saturnine surl-beast Rick Reilly loves to hate has a torn MCL in his left knee, it turns out, which is the sort of injury that knocks people out of games. And while those of us who make hay on easy Todd Collins jokes will certainly feel his loss acutely, the most interesting larger-scale development this Monday is the way in which the narrative has seemingly turned in favor of the generally unlovable but wildly over-maligned Cutler. Shredded on Twitter by ex-players and armchair Urlachers alike, doubted on-air by blandly odious Bush Family golf buddy Jim Nantz and subjected to a few instant-reaction rip jobs — I read a bunch for today’s Daily Fix, but only used one — Cutler at last seems to be benefiting from a late-awakening sense of shame. Perhaps not so much among the anonymous comment set — although they can presumably expect calls from Jeff Pearlman on this — as from the bylined sideline types who suddenly realized that they were eviscerating a professional football player for imagined wimpiness while themselves dealing with no more serious football-related injury than a brief twinge of “nacho wrist” in the second half.

Or maybe the shame thing wasn’t it. But in what’s probably the most concise and amusingly undermine-y column I’ve read in Cutler’s defense thus far, Yahoo’s Matthew Darnell argues that everything in Cutler’s checkered track record — the wild-eyed back-footed picks, the smirky self-centeredness, the ineffably Cutlerian Cutlerness of Cutler — argues against the “Cutler is a quitter” angle.

The notion that he quit yesterday doesn’t make sense. Cutler was playing poorly, so he wanted out of the game? He was taking a beating, so he didn’t want to play anymore?

Like Jay Cutler has never played poorly or taken a beating before. As a matter of fact, if there’s anything that Jay Cutler has proven in his career, it’s that when he’s throwing interceptions, he is absolutely willing to stay on the field and keep throwing interceptions. It’s his defining trait.

Never once has Jay Cutler gotten gun shy. He has never been accused of not believing in his own ability, as evidenced by his constant willingness to make low-percentage throws into tight windows. No one ever said before yesterday, “Boy, playing poorly really seems to embarrass and affect Jay Cutler.”

01.15.11

Rick Reilly In Competent Column Shock: ESPN’s Premier Dad-Joke Purveyor Goes Deep On Cutler

Posted in Gridiron, Sports Journalism at 6:21 pm by

I’m sure that, at some point, I’ve written at least one CSTB post complaining about Rick Reilly. It was then, and it would be now, a waste of time. Not just because Rick Reilly is going to keep making a lot of money — A-Rod money by sportswriting standards, and something like Chris Capuano money by actual-world standards — no matter how corny his stuff is or how eloquently blogger types criticize it, but also because a responsible critique of Reilly’s signature blend of golf-related dad jokes and general soporific nuttiness would involve actually reading said dad jokes/soporific nuttiness. And I’m not going to do that. I don’t have health insurance, and the risk of facepalm-related injury is unacceptably high.

There’s a funny thing about Reilly, though, and it has nothing to do with the Wouldn’t It Be Crazy If columns he burps up on the weekly or his proud features on his sons’ beer-pong prowess. (I actually read that one, because I needed proof that such a thing could really exist). That funny thing is that, if you mention Reilly to anyone who has been reading about sports for any period of time, that person will say something like, “Yeah, but he used to be great. Have you read…” and then they’ll name a Reagan-era Sports Illustrated feature that they still remember. Which, honestly, is not a bad thing for a writer to aspire to — not the well-compensated, phoned-in sinecure at a high-profile publication (although I wouldn’t turn that down), but writing something that people remember a couple decades later. That Reilly inhabits the same body as This Reilly, of course, but it’s very difficult to see one in the other.

For the most part. While Reilly’s most recent ESPN column isn’t the sort of thing anyone will tell their kids/callow writer types about decades hence, and while it still is a bit on the quip-heavy side, it’s the first reminder I’ve seen in awhile that the guy might still have some heat on his fastball. That Reilly resolutely refuses to pitch overhand in most of his work conceals that pretty well, but Reilly’s dissection of Jay Cutler’s singular approach to jerkery is both good and clearly written by someone who is trying to write something good. It helps to have a subject that’s this intriguing and this ripe for a ripping, of course.

Cutler could own Chicago if he wanted. In a city that has had as many good quarterbacks as Omaha has had good surfers, Cutler could have his name on half the billboards and all the jerseys. My God, the kid grew up a Bears fan! But he doesn’t even try. He has zero endorsements and doesn’t want any. If there is such a thing as a Jay Cutler Fan Club, Cutler is having a membership drive — to drive them out…

So why is Cutler as popular as gout? Is it because he never makes eye contact? Is it his seeming inability to answer a question without using “y’know”? (He once used it 57 times in a five-minute interview with the NFL Network.) Is it his penchant for making things difficult?

Reporter (after a game): What happened on that first interception, Jay?

Cutler: I threw the ball.

Reporter: Right, but what did you see developing there? Take us through it.

Cutler (archly): It seemed like a good place to throw the ball.

Then there was this:

Reporter: When you were a kid, which quarterback did you look up to?

Cutler: Nobody.

Reporter: Nobody? You didn’t look up to anybody?

Cutler: No.

If he’s lying, it makes him a miscreant. If he’s telling the truth, it makes him a miscreant.

Thanks to David Williams for the link, and thanks to Reilly for giving a shit for once.

11.29.10

Atlantic City’s House That Chuck Carr Built, In Disrepair

Posted in Baseball at 4:21 pm by

New Jersey is deceptively vast. Geographically, of course, it’s not. But in terms of the number of disagreeable, hyper-verbose human beings crammed into those square miles, it is frankly yooge. And, of course, it’s more diverse than it gets credit for — New Jersey residents elect forward-thinking former physics professors to Congress and nightmare animate pork roasts to the governorship, and generally live in the long shadows of a thousand weird contradictions, some notably less charming than others. I don’t live there anymore, and the four days I spent in the state over the holiday marked the longest time in-state in I don’t know how long. This is a long way of saying that I probably shouldn’t be making great big statements about New Jersey does and doesn’t like. But if New Jersey doesn’t love a good ruin, it sure has a funny way of showing it.

The state where I grew up often seems to be half ruin, from the gap-toothed factories and sludgy post-industrial inertia of the cities to the weirdly chipper empty storefronts lining the main street of my ultra-bourgeois hometown. I don’t know too much about South Jersey, honestly, and my impression of Atlantic City is based entirely on two drunken nights of not-so-productive gambling there — my only really positive memory of the place was GBV’s “A Salty Salute” coming on someone’s shuffled iPod as we crossed the causeway into town, a moment which suggested a promise that evaporated once we finally made it onto the ruined streets and into the glitzily bummerific casino. I did come out like $60 up on that trip, but Atlantic City struck me as no kind of place for a decent person to spend time. Mostly, though, Atlantic City is just a gambling-enhanced (?) version of Jersey’s other big cities — crumbling under the weight of generations-long corruption and misgovernance and disregard, as well as just plain crumbling. A.C. was also like Jersey’s other Bartertown-y burgs in that it had an entry in the independent Atlantic League — the Atlantic City Surf, winners of the Atlantic League’s first title back in 1998, and hosts of the league’s first All-Star Game .

Operative word there being “had.” Where Newark and (freaking) Camden have managed to keep their Atlantic League teams alive, the Atlantic City Surf finally went out of business a month before the 2009 season, after leaving the AL for the even more down-market Can-Am League. Like all Atlantic League teams, the Surf extended the careers of a host of tri-state baseball washouts — The 1999 Surf featured both Rey and Luis Quinones, but the Surf also employed Mitch Williams, Chuck Carr, and a pre-comeback Ruben Sierra, as well as endearingly weird Atlantic League vagabond-masher types like Juan “The Large Human” Thomas, who I used to love writing about during my first job, at AOL’s DigitalCity listings site. (I kind of took the initiative on the Atlantic League beat, there; here’s more on The Large Human)

That the Surf were unable to stay in business while the Newark Bears and Camden Riversharks have — while the ultra-blighted city of Bridgeport, CT, which is surely one of the crappiest places I’ve ever been, has managed to keep the Bluefish in operation for over a decade — is a testament, primarily, to how tough it is to get people to do things other than gamble in a town whose entire economy (and arguably very existence) is based on gambling.

But what has happened to Atlantic City’s Bernie Robbins Stadium (above) in the year-plus period of its desertion is a testament to… well, why you should weatherize buildings, for one thing, but also to New Jersey’s weird knack with ruins. The perennially, perpetually cash-strapped city — which owns the stadium — did virtually nothing to secure, weatherize or otherwise keep-up the place. As a result, Atlantic City has an insta-ruin on its hands, just blocks from the casinos, complete with interiors that have been stripped in pursuit of copper wire, graffiti-tagged outfield walls, piles of uncollected garbage all over the freaking place, and saplings growing in the infield. Dan Good and Michael Clark’s piece on the deserted stadium in the Press of Atlantic City is full of weird malapropery — is it really “a monument to a gone moment?” — and some dubious newspaper-y stylistics, but it’s also kind of gripping because of the myriad interlocking derelictions it describes.

Yes, this looks familiar. This is the view fans used to see when entering the stadium, with the Atlantic City skyline in the background.

But the playing field is faded and dull. Ducks graze in what used to be right field. The infield, covered in crabgrass, in need of a groundskeeper, resembles one of the city™s dozens of barren lots. A half foot of water pools in the dugouts, where cleats used to rest. Empty cans of Goya coconut juice are in the dugout corners, near the bat racks.

Branches poke through the outfield walls ” the sections of the wall that haven™t disappeared or that have been covered with graffiti sprayings of male genitals. Graffiti also covers the stadium™s bricks, the doors, the walls ” any vertical surface, really. Some entranceways are boarded-up. In the stands where fans used to sit, caution tape winds across exposed, crumbling brick. Upstairs, 12-year-old concrete is filled with fault lines.

And those are the stadium™s nicer parts.

In a decade, maybe all this will be profound — something for humpo literarily-inclined expats like myself to muse on, something that hints at the tragedy or pride or strange strength of our blighted, beloved home state. For now, though, it’s just a bummer. This sort of collapse isn’t supposed to happen so quickly.

11.04.10

Weird Afternoon, Everybody: WSJ’s Cohen Joins Mad Dog Russo World Series Celebration Broadcast In Progress

Posted in Baseball, Sports Radio at 1:31 pm by

For the most part, I’m opposed to things that make Mike Francesa happy. Increasingly, it’s difficult to imagine just what those happy-making things might be — A backrub from Bill Parcells? Something bad happening to Carlos Beltran? But I suppose, since I must take a position on this critical issue, that I’m okay with whatever makes “Chris” Mad Dog Russo happy. I don’t know the extent to which Russo is capable of experiencing basic human emotions, or expressing any emotion beyond frantic, caffeinated bafflement. But given that Russo has long been on record as one of the nation’s foremost San Francisco Giants fans — or most insistent and nervous-making Giants fans, at least — it seemed safe to assume that he was pretty psyched by the Giants’ first World Series victory since 1954. Which is six years before Russo was born, but which the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen reports did nothing to diminish Russo’s maniacal glee in his first post-victory broadcast. For a vivid depiction of what is basically a happier-than-average crazy person at work, you can’t do much better than this.

Two minutes before he took the air Monday afternoon, Christopher Russo calmly walked into the studio of his Sirius XM show, “Mad Dog Unleashed,” carrying a tuna sandwich on rye bread. Not long after, he started to scream, uncoiling his body so violently that his hands ended up above his head, convulsing in tremors. A twisted smile plastered his face. “Ahhhhhh”good afternoon everybody!” he squealed, getting louder and higher-pitched as he made four words last seven seconds.

Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowhere” filled the studio. Dog strutted five paces back and forth, performing the riffs with an air guitar, as if he were on stage at the Stone Pony. “Are you alive?” he bellowed, leaning into the microphone. “Are you alive!” He rolled up his white shirtsleeves and gripped the table in front of him, palms up…

More than two years into his new show, Mr. Russo hasn’t become any less Mr. Russo, even if he’s not saying, “Good job, Mikey,” every hour. He can’t rely on Mr. Francesa’s counterpoint, but on Monday, for example, he was still full of questions. Had anyone seen “The Town”? Mr. Russo had just come from a 10:25 a.m. screening, where he was the only one in the movie theater. How many teams had lost the World Series after leading 3-1 with home-field advantage”was it two, or three?

… And, most important, will he live and die with every Giants score now that they’ve finally given him some satisfaction? He has talked to Red Sox fans whose obsessions dwindled when Boston snapped its championship drought. “That little rant I did in ’03, when I said ‘One time!’ about nine million times, loudly”I wonder if I’ll do that,” Mr. Russo wondered aloud. “Do something else with my life. Be an air-traffic controller. Go schedule passenger planes. I love that stuff. Here’s Jeff in Philly.”

Try not to think too much about Russo as an air-traffic controller, especially if you’re planning on traveling by plane. But if you’re bored, by all means feel free to think of him joining GC onstage with The Air Traffic Controllers. I’m picturing Doggie as a stand-up drummer, but feel free to let your own imagination go on that one.

10.21.10

His Name Is Gus Johnson, And He Gets Pink-Slipped: Knicks Part Ways With Shouty, Beloved Broadcaster

Posted in Basketball, Sports TV at 10:01 am by

I don’t want to put words in GC’s mouth, but I think it’s fair to say that we’re generally pretty pro-Gus Johnson here at CSTB. When some American hero creates a soundboard of Gus’s greatest/loudest sounds, we unhesitatingly link to it. When he drops an effortless “Pause” on a nonplussed Spike Lee, we are startled and kind of delighted. When he delivers a stylized laugh during games for (um?) emphasis, we are amused by it.

Or at least I am. Doing radio play-by-play and occasional MSG sub gigs for the Knicks over the past few years has no doubt been a depressing gig — “I’m Jared Jeffries, and I get buckets” doesn’t work for at least one very obvious reason — but Johnson has remained generally ebullient and reliably more excitable than average. Johnson’s many side gigs, which have ranged from bummerific MMA matches to a boatload of college hoops games, have probably had a lot to do with that good attitude, but they apparently also led to the bad news that Johnson has been fired as the Knicks’ play-by-play announcer. His MSG bosses were unhappy about all the days off he took to ice his larynx work other broadcasts.

Phil Mushnick, who predictably dislikes Johnson every bit as much as he likes finding old bits of icing in his beard, shows everyone how to write objective news copy in breaking the story at the New York Post:

Gus Johnson, the shouts-a-lot, play-by-play radio voice of the Knicks since the 1997-98 season — and a frequent fill- in for Mike Breen on MSG Network’s Knicks’ telecasts — is out at the Garden, The Post has learned… Johnson’s hype-reliant play-by-play style — he’s easily excited — seems to make him more attractive to broadcasting executives than popular among genuine sports fans.

Genuine sports fans, as Mushnick knows, prefer fearlessly bearded race-baiting know-nothings who evince all the personality of a perforated ulcer to people who actually seem to enjoy their jobs. Good luck to Gus in his future endeavors. Possibly even now, he is laughing this off in a highly stylized fashion.