This evening I did a segment on BBC World News about today's announcement that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will play a two-game series in London next year. They allowed me on the air even though I spent most of the day trafficking in the silliest British stereotypes and mocking the monarchy.
Come for me talking about baseball, stay for the Shrek Funko Pop! figurine I had forgotten that my children put on my mantlepiece.
Are you watching the World Series? Oh, I'm sorry, "The World Series Presented by YouTube TV?" If you are, than you're well aware of just how intrusive the ads are this year. Some distract the viewer from in-game action. Others make one question whether the media covering the Series is bought and paid for.
I wrote about it all this morning over at the baseball site.
In the past week President Trump, first through a spokesperson, and then personally, demanded that United States citizens lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views.
We can disagree about the underlying issues which led to him saying this. We can debate the nature of protest and the mode and manner of expression of views with which he takes offense. We can discuss the propriety of sports figures wading into non-sports topics. No matter where you come down on any of that, however, we are left with the President of the United States saying people should lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views.
No one, no matter their views about the protests or comments of athletes, should find this acceptable. Whether one holds far right or far left views, every last American should find it abhorrent that a government official, let alone the most powerful government official, is demanding people's jobs because he does not like what they believe.
This is not a controversial assertion. It is not a close issue. It is, perhaps, the most basic and fundamental issue there can be when it comes to our rights and our liberties as Americans under the Constitution. It is the entire goddamn point.
I’m an Ohio State graduate who, for close to 20 years, watched and obsessed over Ohio State football. I dropped Ohio State — and college football entirely — cold turkey in the fall of 2011, however, and I’ve never looked back.
There are a lot of reasons for that, some of them personal and some professional, but the biggest one was seeing how truly exploited college players are. It’s especially easy to see when you live in Columbus, worked with the university at times, and see how big a business college football truly is at its highest levels.
This month Baseball Writers Association of America members with ten years or more of tenure will cast their ballots for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Many already make their ballots public with some writing columns explaining their choices. Next year they will be required to make their ballots public. Fans and non-voting writers like me lap all of this up. As a result, in baseball, December is the month for Hall of Fame arguments.
For some voters, however, it is the month for complaints. Complaints about the process for voting for the Hall of Fame and complaints about the arguments their very own votes set off
There has been a lot said lately about fake news, echo chambers and bubbles. A big part of that involves how, rather than obtaining information, people consume news a source of confirmation of their ideological biases, which in turn leads to polarization and things like people believing that a New York real estate developer who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth is the savior of The Common Man.
It’s hard to identify let alone stop this pernicious pattern, but today I got a great view of how it starts. In my little world of baseball news of all places
I was quoted extensively in a story in the Columbia Journalism Review about sports writers who do not, as a rule “stick to sports."
Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein, talking about why he decided not to be a sportswriter:
“I realized I didn’t want to be a sportswriter when I was interning with the Orioles back in ’92, ’93, ’94. I did do a lot of media-relations stuff, and I saw that the life of a sportswriter is pretty lonely. You kind of work by yourself, sit there by yourself in the press box, go back to the hotel bar.”
The best parts of being a sportswriter – not having to work with anyone else and getting to drink on an expense account – is what made him not want to be one? Weird.
Alex Rodriguez played his final game last night.
I’ve always been drawn to the controversial and unpopular players. I’ve written about A-Rod and Bonds and Clemens and all of those guys a lot and I defend them more than almost anyone in my line of work does. It’s not about really liking them. I love watching them play, but I don’t really think much about them personally. When I do I often don’t think too terribly much of them. Some of them did some pretty bad things off the field separate and apart from baseball and that all counts too. Believing that great athletes are great people will steer you wrong more often than it will steer you right.
I think I write about them a lot out of a desire to defend and advocate that never really left me even after I left the law. It’s not reflexive or contrarian — I believe what I say when I defend them and their records — it’s more about overreach. It’s not enough for an athlete’s critics to say he cheated or was a dubious character. They have to paint him as truly evil. Same goes for someone they like. If what a player does on the field is good there is a tendency to say, implicitly or explicitly, that he’s a good and admirable person.
That’s ridiculous. I don’t believe that baseball accomplishments or baseball transgressions make a person good or evil. Good and evil is for real life. Sports are just a small part of it.
Mickey Kaus – who, yes, I realize is now kind of crackpot, but let’s forget that for a moment – wrote a book many years ago called “The End of Equality.” The thesis of the book was that America’s status as a relatively classless society – socially speaking anyway – was breaking down. We had always had rich and poor here, obviously, but until recently money couldn’t buy someone out of being a citizen like everyone else all too easily. Sure, you could buy your luxury goods and, if you were very rich, you could have servants do your dirty work, but most people – including the professional and educated classes – still had to go to the train station or the post office or to hospitals or to libraries or to public schools or any number of other places where the stuff of society happens and interact with people as rough equals irrespective of financial means. It was this very coming together in the public sphere, Kaus observed, that made America America.
Kaus worried that, while the very rich could always keep themselves separate and apart, larger and larger numbers of people were using money to increasingly insulate themselves from everyday life. Elite status, VIP sections, priority lines, “Cadillac” healthcare plans, private schools and all manner of other luxuries created a situation in which there was becoming “routine acceptance of professionals as a class apart” and created some implicit and insidious assumption that the affluent and educated were demographically superior to the poor. Kaus wrote the book in the early 90s so it didn’t deal much with the Internet and technology, but I would argue that the ability to shop and socialize apart from your actual physical community – not to mention the fact that the more money you have, the more access to all of the conveniences of the digital age you have – has exacerbated this dynamic, perhaps exponentially.
I took and still take issue with many of Kaus’ suggestions on how to counteract the dynamic he observed. A lot of those he offered ended up in the misguided and counterproductive welfare reform initiatives of the late Clinton Administration. In addition to being punitive with respect to the poor, they did nothing to solve the problems with which he was concerned. Far more significantly, his discussion of race and of racial divisions and discrimination as a social destabilizer was superficial to the point of being non-existent. Even today, as is evidenced by the Clinton-Sanders primary race and the writings of each side’s supporters, people on the left can’t agree on how economics, race and class should be properly weighed and approached when it comes to addressing societal problems, so I suppose one idiosyncratic center-left (now all over the place) dude like Mickey Kaus couldn’t have been expected to do any better in this regard. It’s all still kind of a mess, really. That aside, Kaus’ prescriptions look less desirable or even plausible with each passing year and I would not recommend the book to anyone for its practical ideas.
Nevertheless, the book’s central observation still sticks with me. I think it’s true that the public sphere of life has broken down in many important ways. I don’t believe we come together as a society, across economic classes, in anything approaching the way we did even when I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, let alone the way we did in previous decades (again, with the acknowledgment that in those previous decades race made this civic coming together a decidedly whites-only affair). We drive too much and live in isolated and increasingly cloistered communities of like-minded people. Indeed, “success” is increasingly equated with being able to buy one’s way out of the public sphere altogether. This is bad for democracy and social health. It takes us out of the role of stakeholder and, at best, puts us in the role of voyeur when it comes to the challenges we face as a nation. In many cases it causes us to simply turn away altogether and to believe the entire country is doing as well as we are in our little economically and technologically homogenous cocoon.
I write about baseball for a living. Baseball takes place in stadiums with tens of thousands of people coming together in a single place, focused on a single purpose, all with an overlay of something approaching civic pride. Even if you only consume baseball via TV or online there is a communal aspect to it. If you watch it on TV you can share the experience of the game with people at work the next day. If, like me, you’re a multi-screen baseball consumer who is plugged in to social media as games go on, you are sharing, however virtually, some sort of public experience. Each evening there are only perhaps nine or ten and never more than 15 games going on at any one time and a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds are talking about it. For many years, even after reading “The End of Equality” and worrying about Kaus’ observations, I felt like sports was a bulwark against the degradation of the public sphere. Not a perfect substitute, but better than nothing. I mean, look at this for cryin’ out loud.
Increasingly, however, I don’t believe that to be the case. Indeed, in the past two days I’ve written baseball stories at NBC which remind me that the world of baseball is no different in this regard than anything else. It’s a world in which money is a great insulator and divider. Indeed, if the Lords of the Realm aren’t careful, it could very well become a world that has little if any use for anyone other than the rich.
Yesterday I wrote a longish piece about baseball’s post-cable future. Currently, baseball owners are raking in money from extraordinarily large cable television deals built on the back of some extraordinarily large cable television bills for viewers at home. Until recently the demand for cable in general and sports on TV in particular was relatively inelastic and the prices could go up, up, up with very little risk to the providers and, in turn, baseball teams. Streaming services like NetFlix and Hulu are changing that equation to some extent for non-sports programming and more people are cutting the cable cord as a result, but baseball does not seem anywhere close to allowing people to consume large swaths of it without also subscribing to cable. Especially those who want to follow the team located in their very own city and who are blacked out from their local nine on MLB’s streaming service. Between the need to pay hundreds a month for cable and the obvious fact that the price to attend games has gone way, way up, baseball has become a sport most easily consumed by the rich over the past 20 years. Its fan demographics – mostly older, whiter and wealthier – bear this out.
In another story, one I just wrote this evening, we see evidence that it’s not simply a matter of the rich being passively favored by the economic dynamics of the game. They’re now actively favored and catered to by team management, which has simultaneously developed actual disdain for the less-wealthy baseball fan. Hyperbole? Not really. Here’s Lonn Trost, COO of the New York Yankees, answering a question about why the Yankees have pursued a secondary market ticket policy which they own and which, unlike Stubhub, puts a hard floor on the price of tickets:
“The problem below market at a certain point is that if you buy a ticket in a very premium location and pay a substantial amount of money. It’s not that we don’t want that fan to sell it, but that fan is sitting there having paid a substantial amount of money for a ticket and [another] fan picks it up for a buck-and-a-half and sits there, and it’s frustrating to the purchaser of the full amount … And quite frankly, the fan may be someone who has never sat in a premium location. So that’s a frustration to our existing fan base.”
That’s right. He’s worried that wealthy Yankees season ticket holders will be “frustrated” by having to sit with common people. And that, like some stockholder, their investment will be diluted by virtue of the presence of people who found a way to see a game at a cheaper price. I presume that in the next 24 hours Trost and the Yankees’ PR staff will find a way to walk those words back or shine them up a bit, but they strike me as a Kinsley Gaffe, which is not a lie or a misstatement but, rather, the revelation of some truth the speaker did not intend to admit. Indeed, I would bet my life on the fact that the swells in the luxury sections have told Trost that they really don’t like it when the hoi pilloi are near them. They’re not just paying for good sightlines, you know. They’re paying to be separated from the common fans. I mean, after all, Yankee Stadium has a literal moat built into it for just such purposes. How did these barbarians storm the gates anyway? Have you seen some of these people?
Maybe I’m willfully blind for not having seen baseball reflecting society in this way, as it reflects society in most other ways, until now. Maybe the fact that, increasingly, I attend games with press passes and thus don’t have to buy tickets and wait in long lines quite as much as I used to has caused me to overlook this stuff going on in he ballpark. Maybe the fact that, because I don’t live in the same town as the team I root for, I can watch most of their games with a relatively inexpensive streaming service rather than have to pay for a big cable package (coincidentally, I just cut the cable cord myself in the past week). The social insulation which Kaus described is not necessarily a function of an active choice or malice on the part of anyone, after all. It’s a thing that happens, often without its participants realizing it. I’m no different than any other member of the professional class this regard.
I don’t have any better ideas about how to fix the problem of social stratification in society at large than Kaus or anyone else. But Major League Baseball is a pretty bite-sized portion of that society. It can, if it so chooses, try to reverse the trend as it manifests itself inside its own relatively small world. It can seek out ways to democratize the fan experience and make the sport more accessible for people who don’t happen to be wealthy. It can find ways for people to watch games, at home, on mobile devices or at the ballpark, that do not require a six figure income or hard budgetary choices on the part of fans. It can make a choice between punting away the young and the poor in favor of older and wealthier fans or it can punt the Lonn Trosts within its ranks to the sidelines and begin to look at its game as something for everyone, not just those folks in the Legends Suites.
I don’t know if it’s too late to restore civil society. But I don’t feel like trying to restore baseball to its status as game for the common people is an unreasonable thing to ask.
Over in Baseball Land I recently wrote about how I was getting out of the business of mocking the Hall of Fame ballots of other baseball writers. There’s no real point in it and I find myself not really caring much about it anymore. I made an exception, however: I won’t mock ballots just because I disagree with them, but I reserve the right to comment on vile, petty and borderline defamatory reasoning in the course of columns explaining a given writer’s Hall of Fame votes. We’ve seen a lot of that over the years and, upon reflection, that has always bothered me more than the actual votes with which I disagreed.
A great example of this can be seen in today’s Washington Times. There, columnist Thom Loverro dives into the messy politics involved in the candidacy of players who took performance enhancing drugs such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Like many voters, Loverro will not vote for them. Which, while I disagree, is not really a problem. Roughly two-thirds of Hall of Fame voters don’t vote for those guys. There is a legitimate ethical debate about their careers to be had and if that’s where Loverro falls, that’s where he falls. Battling over those particular ethical considerations is that business I decided to get out of when it comes to the Hall of Fame.
Loverro’s column, however, goes beyond merely reasserting his position regarding drug cheats. He goes after Bonds and Clemens’ supporters, including fellow Hall of Fame voters, and equates them to the Black Lives Matter movement and mocks them as the “No Justice/No Peace Wing of the Baseball Writers Association of America.”
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will not get in. But don’t worry about them — they’ve got the No Justice/No Peace wing of the Baseball Writers Association of America fighting for them.
The Black Lives Matter movement on which Loverro thoughtlessly plays was born in 2012 following the murder of Trayvon Martin. It campaigns against violence against black people, particularly killings of black people by law enforcement officers, which typically go unpunished and, sadly, unnoticed. It works to combat racial profiling, police brutality, and racial inequality in the United States criminal justice system. In short, it concerns itself with serious business. Matters of literal life and death, justice and tyranny. Matters every bit as significant in the grand scheme of things as someone’s Hall of Fame ballot is insignificant in the grand scheme.
That Loverro applies a variation on that label – and “No Justice, No Peace,” which is a venerable slogan of the civil rights movement and other protests throughout history – in his typical mocking manner is pathetic and, frankly, disgusting. In so doing he simultaneously belittles and insults serious people with serious and legitimate concerns by equating them with those who, in his mind, are unethical and feckless crusaders for cheaters who should not be taken seriously in any way whatsoever. Based on the context it would appear that, to him, the criticism goes both ways. He takes neither the Black Lives Matter movement seriously nor those who disagree with him about baseball things.
Of course Loverro has always been like this. He’s a poor writer, a poor thinker and an attention-seeking troll who writes inflammatory columns so he can have fodder for his bad radio show and vice-versa. Nothing I say here will change that. Indeed, I am certain he will use this post and similar disapproval of his column as a launching pad for his radio show on Monday. Good for him.
But I’m not really aiming this post at Loverro. I am aiming it at his peers in the Baseball Writers Association of America in the hopes that, eventually, its members stop tolerating this kind of garbage and that, eventually, they’ll start calling out their peers who engage in it.
We rarely see that sort of thing, of course. “Takedowns” of other members of the baseball press are seen as impolite. It’s simply not done. You do not criticize a fellow credentialed writer. It’s mean. It’s an “attack.” In sportswriting, at least among the upper echelon and at least publicly, every opinion is good and valid and calling out your colleagues is considered rude. It’s the ultimate sin in the world of sportswriting. You can make up stories from whole cloth and be considered an institution, but don’t even think about criticizing another writer where anyone can hear you doing it. Many sports outlets specifically forbid their writers from criticizing other members of the media as a matter of policy.
This is why you see so much bad sportswriting. While no one likes to be criticized, it’s undeniably the case that criticism – even sharp criticism, as long as it’s aimed at the work and not the person – leads to a better product. This is the case in just about any field. Whether it’s doctors being put to the test in morbidity and mortality conferences, lawyers’ arguments being challenged by opponents and judges in appellate practice, academic peer review, competing columns and editorials of political and business writers or even through the application of generalized media criticism, the act of pointing out the flaws in the logic or the practice of one’s fellow professionals works to raise the discourse and improve the work. That a line is drawn with respect to this practice at sports writing makes little sense and it’s why sports writing is considered by some to be trivial. The “toy department” of journalism, as they say.
It shouldn’t be that way. Sports writing can be – and in the hands of solid professionals often is – vital and important and illuminative of both the world of sports and the world at large. We’ve all seen great sports journalism. We know how edifying and enjoyable and uplifting it can be. We know how, at times, it can even enhance our enjoyment of the game itself by its very existence. In some rare cases topics with importance and implications to life and society in general are better-handled by sportswriters and in a sports context than they are if they were set in a different, real-world milieu.
I will never stop wanting sportswriting to be better and, for that reason, I will never stop critiquing bad writing. I simply won’t surrender to the notion that sports are so unimportant that there’s no harm in sports journalism being bad. I talk to sports fans every day and it’s clear how many of them base their opinions on bad sportswriting and commentary. It’s easy for them to do this because that bad writing and commentary goes almost wholly unexamined and unremarked upon. I love to talk about sports with people and I want that discourse to be elevated as much as possible. As is the case in every other walk of life, the way to elevate the work is to critique it and seek its improvement.
But I’m just an uncredentialed blogger, easily dismissed by the Thom Loverros of the world as “the Internet mob.” How nice it would be if he and others who traffic in his sort of garbage were called out by people he actually respects in the industry. By the people he considers his peers. Maybe not in lengthy columns or posts like this one – they’re sportswriters after all and have sportswriting to do – but how about on Twitter? How about on radio shows and podcasts where the subject matter opens up a bit? How about, instead of merely presenting the bad work with a hands-off, “no judgments here” tweet, the giants in the industry call out the garbage for what it is?
I’m not holding my breath until that happens. But I sure as hell would like to see more of it.
The other day, a day before a Yankees playoff game, pitcher CC Sabathia left his team and checked into alcohol rehab.
If this had happened in, say, 2009, I am 100% certain that someone – a columnist, a radio host or a TV talking head, and maybe several of them – would’ve talked about Sabathia’s timing being wrong and about how he was quitting on his team or letting them down. And, of course, we would’ve no doubt heard some ignorant things about the nature of alcoholism and Sabathia’s weakness and toughness and stuff.
But generally, the opinion was this:
Good for CC. Glad he’s getting the help he needs. Baseball is not as important as one’s health and family. Thoughts, prayers and hope for him in these no doubt trying times.
This is a very good thing. Good perspective and evidence of an admirable empathy on the part of the commentariat. Empathy and perspective that, when I started writing about sports professionally six years ago, I don’t think would be anything close to uniform. Indeed, I question whether it would’ve been even a couple of years ago. We’ve come a long way.
Of course, even if the bulk of the professional commentariat has evolved on points like these, there are always going to be some sports fans who treat athletes like gladiators and get all pissed if they actually show human qualities. So in the wake of the Sabathia news I, not surprisingly, heard and read several people saying things about his bad timing or his weakness and who otherwise saw this only through the lens of their entitlement as sports fans as opposed to a lens of empathy for a human being going thorough a rough patch.
This sentiment came in the form of tweets and comments on blog posts. There weren’t a lot, but there were a decent enough number to where it can’t be said that only fringe loonies feel this way. I’ve been in the internet sports business long enough to tell the difference between fringe whackos and the merely misguided. This was the latter. And, as I often do when I encounter some misguided sports sentiment, I engaged with it. I responded to some. Tweeted in general about it a bit. Retweeted some of it to put the speaker on display and open them up to a wider audience so they’ll be forced to either defend or reconsider their views. A pretty standard practice in the world of internet sports arglebargle.
In response to this have come two columns taking issue with me and others who do this. One from Tom Hitchner, a reader and follower of mine and a blogger in his own right. Another from Dan Brooks, who followed on Hitchner’s. The upshot of both of their essays was that it’s wrong for professional writers with big followings like me to call out unpopular or misguided sentiment from random people on the Internet. Tom characterizes it as me “punching below [my] weight,” and asks “[d]o we need someone with Calcaterra’s credentials, audience, and power of expression to step in and crush [the commenter] like a bug? Whose side does that elevate, Calcaterra’s or [the commenter’s]?”
Brooks is more pointed in his distaste for calling out the arguments of the non-professional and non-widely-followed Twitter account or internet commenter. He says that to do so encourages judgmental sentiment and is an exercise in “the worst kind of piety:”
There’s value in refuting popular, wrong arguments. It’s not to my taste, but I’m willing to concede there might be moral strength in calling out people for believing wrong stuff. But looking for unpopular immoral arguments—the kind of arguments that need a search bar to find—so you can publicly rebuke them is the worst kind of piety. It’s the intellectual equivalent of being a pharisee. Punch your weight, as Hitchner says.
Each of their essays have a lot of good points to consider. But each of them presents something of a paradox as well. They tell us that (a) the practice of highlighting arguments advanced by non-professional types with few followers is illegitimate; because (b) It’s judgmental. But is that not itself elitist and exclusionary? If you take the substance of the argument out of the equation, are you not saying “you’re not worth listening to unless you have a certain status or a certain set of credentials?”
I won’t put too fine a point on that because I have a more important point to make here, but suffice it to say that getting into the business of deciding who is and who isn’t worth listening to based on their platform or follower counts can be a pernicious business. A business that, if everyone took to, would’ve kept me and many, many others from ever becoming sportswriters in the first place.
But there’s more to this than merely taking a democratic approach to internet and social media commentary. This goes to the nature of that commentary itself and the understanding that these seemingly random and bad opinions do not exist in a vacuum.
One thing I agree with Tom and Dan about is that there is a certain groupthink that exists these days, particularly on sports Twitter. There is in-group signaling and some thought-policing that happens. I don’t think it’s some toxic, “politically correct” sort of business in the way it is often described – if you don’t care about losing some followers you can say a lot of gonzo shit – but it’s certainly the case that the platform’s dynamic pretty quickly singles out and disapproves of less-than-widely-accepted sentiment, to put it as neutrally as possible.
But just because that sentiment is singled out and disapproved of among a certain class of Twitter users doesn’t mean that sentiment is refuted, diminished or let alone eliminated. Indeed, all that dynamic really does is cow people who are in the media business and who are more sensitive to public opinion than most. People like Twitter-savvy writers, TV folks, radio hosts and the like. Inasmuch as those folks are influencers of opinion, yes, it likely means that their, um, suddenly more enlightened commentary causes readers and listeners to follow their lead to some extent and, for lack of a better term, think smarter about stuff. But to believe that the Twitter-savvy media’s greater sensitivity to stuff like Sabathia’s alcoholism means that people in general are is to greatly overstate the influence of the Twitter-based sports commentariat.
Tom and Dan characterize the seeking out of unpopular opinion like some sort of archeological expedition, but it’s nothing of the sort. One need not dig down deeply to find people who think Sabathia is some worthless drunk who quit on the Yankees. They’re all over the place. My comment section at HBT is full of ‘em. Just because the folks saying these things don’t have little blue checkmarks by their name doesn’t mean they’re buried under the dirt. These are people echoing the sorts of sports opinions you hear at every bar, every office water cooler and on every call-in radio show in the country. And, even if they aren’t as immediately visible on Twitter, there are WAY WAY more of these people than there are of well-followed and allegedly influential sports bloggers like me.
Look at the most popular sports shows and personalities in the country, and who do you see? Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless spouting 95% garbage at “First Take.” Collin Cowherd doing, well, Collin Cowherd things at Fox. Mike Francesa at WFAN and the scores and scores of talk radio hosts who followed his lead into the business trading, for the most part, on the lowest common denominator. These people dominate the non-Twitter, non-blog portion of the sports discourse. And that’s the vast majority of the sports discourse.
These guys aren’t popular and highly paid because no one listens to them. They’re popular and highly paid because LOTS of people listen to them. People who don’t have a lot of followers on Twitter but who spend a ton of time consuming sports and sports commentary. Each of these personalities have orders of magnitude more influence than the allegedly right-thinking folks on sports Twitter do, and all of them together render the notion that someone like me is squashing anyone like a bug – to use Tom’s phrase – laughable.
In our little Internet/Twitter bubble, we don’t see a lot of them. They may comment on the occasional blog post but generally do not. They may respond to the occasional tweet, but generally do not. But they are out there. In great numbers. And no matter how far sports discourse has come in the past several years, they still dictate the shape of sports discourse as a whole. They’re the ones who allow the Stephan A. Smith’s and Skip Baylesses of the world to make the nice living that they do and who continue to make sports a safe place for bros and neanderthals who, even if they didn’t slam CC Sabathia all that much this week, spend a lot of time spewing misogyny about Jessica Mendoza. Or offering thinly-veiled racial critiques of Latino ballplayers. Or when a domestic abusing football player is suspended immediately worry what it means for their fantasy team as opposed to the human beings affected.
When someone like me challenges those folks it may seem like I’m punching below my weight. But I prefer to see it as taking on a far larger, far more formidable fighter and working the body a bit before going for the head. And as a wise man once said: kill the body and the head will die.
Everyone used to bowl. Blue collar Michigan in the 1970s was the most bowlingest time and place in the history of the world. More kids were on bowling leagues than baseball leagues. Everyone’s parents and grandparents bowled. Everyone knew how to keep score (10 x 12 = 300).
Whether it was Southland or Galaxy or Town and Country, everyone had their lanes and where you bowled said something about you. The rich kids from Grand Blanc bowled at Galaxy with their fancy computerized scoring machines. Tough kids from Flint bowled at Town and Country and scored with pencils on paper. The Flint Township kids like us bowled at Southland – 76 lanes! – scoring with grease pencils on the transparent sheets projected overhead. But no matter where you bowled, everyone had their Saturday morning leagues – ”the Alley Cats” when you were young, the “Junior Strikers” when you were older – their towels, their rosin bags, their wrist braces and, eventually, their own ball.
I started bowling on leagues when I was five. As I got older fewer and fewer kept it up. Girls or football or some other things would distract them eventually. But I didn’t stop until I graduated high school, even though there were girls and and football and other things for me too. I just made time because I liked it and I was pretty good at it so I always wanted to do it. Once I moved to West Virginia it was even better because down there nowhere near as many people bowled and it was way easier to be a big fish in that small pond. Not gonna lie: my 170s-ish average and I were a pretty big deal around Emerson Lanes in Parkersburg and, later, Leisure Lanes and Acculanes in Beckley.
But beyond just liking it, there was a psychological and emotional element to bowling that I valued and, at times, even needed. I didn’t realize it then, but I see it now. When I started bowling I wasn’t that good. Certainly not as good as my brother and his friends were, all of whom were older and more naturally athletic than me. When I was five or six I’d bowl badly and I cry and whine and sometimes it would get so bad that my mom, who would be keeping score, would take me aside and tell me that if I was going to get so upset about it that I shouldn’t be bowling in the first place.
Even if I was upset I liked bowling so I eventually figured out that no matter how much the game frustrated me it wasn’t worth losing my shit over it because to do so would defeat the purpose. I figured out pretty quickly how to keep the setbacks in perspective or at least suppress my anger and sadness at them. I figured out that being derailed by unproductive emotion was nothing I wanted any part of because it’d keep me from doing what I wanted to do and accomplishing what I wanted to accomplish.
And so I bowled. I bowled quite happily, in fact, until I graduated from high school and found better and more important things to do.
I’ve not been doing particularly well lately. I’ve had some personal and professional setbacks that have sent me into something of a depression. It’s not unprecedented. A lot has happened in my life over the past four years. I’ve been in and out of therapy and on and off medication and I have grappled with a lot of things I used to just bulldoze over when I was younger and cockier and richer and more confident. I don’t want to be the man I used to be – he was awful and oblivious about so many things so much of the time and I like myself a lot better now than I liked that man – but I do wish I could slough off the things like he used to be able to do. I wish things didn’t linger and prey on me and keep me up at night like they do now.
But they do and, because they do, I’ve learned that sometimes I need help to deal with things. So after a long time off I went to a therapist this morning to talk through it.
I don’t know what I think of this guy. I had seen him before so it’s not like we had to introduce ourselves to one another, but I really don’t know if he’s the right guy for me. Maybe the biggest problem is that he’s a sports fan and he had a vague idea of who I was when I first came into his office, having heard me doing segments on the local sports talk radio station he has constantly pumping through his office. Both times I’ve seen him I’ve spent 40 minutes spilling my guts and the last five telling him that the Reds are gonna be OK eventually and that at least some of these young arms they keep running out there might pan out. I assume it’s possible he knows I’m lying about that. The Reds are a mess. Either way, the baseball conversation sort of undermines everything we talk about before that because it forces me to be confident in ways I don’t necessarily feel. And makes him think that I’m feeling better than I do.
As today’s visit was premised on me being fairly close to losing my shit altogether, the baseball talk was at a minimum and he sent me off with a bunch of worksheets and listicles for arresting depression and desperation:
So I went bowling.
Since I quit bowling regularly at age 18 I’ve only been back on the lanes, six or seven times. I think the last time I bowled was six or seven years ago. Why I decided to go tonight I’m not sure but I had an impulse to do it just as I was getting ready to knock of work. I went out to the garage and found my bag and opened it up. Inside:
Jesus Christ, what did I used to be?
I got to the alley a bit after 8pm. The Wednesday night leagues were still going on a few lanes down but I had some nice space to myself. I also had the exact soundtrack I remembered from back when I bowled on the regular pumping over the loudspeakers: “Too Young to Fall in Love” by Motley Crue, “Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top and all manner of late period Whitesnake and Heart. I looked to my left down the lanes and saw the same sorts of people I remember from Southland and Emerson and Leisure and Acculanes going about their business. The only difference between then and now is that tonight they had to step outside to smoke and tonight I was old enough to have a beer or two while I rolled.
I did OK. My wrist hurt more than it did when I was 17, but the results were more or less the same. A 171 to kick things off. A 165 in Game 2. A not-so-great 153 in Game 3 as a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons and 25 years on the odometer took their toll.
That aside, it was all the same. I still get more strikes from the Brooklyn side than I should. I still struggle with picking up the six and ten pins on spares, having all manner of trouble shooting to my right. I still find myself overthrowing in the middle frames. I still get that weird little blood blister on the tip of my right thumb like I used to every Saturday as a result of popping and snapping the Yellow Dot out of my grip and onto the lanes over and over again.
As I type this I’m looking at that blood blister and it’s reminding me of the thousands of frames I laid down back when Ronald Reagan ruled the world, everything in my life seemed much more simple and straightforward and bowling was just a thing I did instead of some therapy cum nostalgia trip I impulsively took this evening.
Did it work? I dunno. I’ve learned to stop making pronouncements about my mental health because you never know what tomorrow is going to bring and your life and your psyche can go sideways at any moment. I do know, however, that I feel better this evening than I did when I woke up this morning and that’s better than nothing.
I also know that I got two PBR tallboys, a cheeseburger and three games worth of something approaching catharsis for less than $25 bucks, and that’s not too fuckin’ bad.
I love baseball so much that I turned it into my job. I love bourbon so much that I drink it like it’s my job. The drinking parts of baseball are pretty much owned by beer, so the two of those things don’t come together very often, but when they do I am about the happiest camper there can be.
I am midway through a fantastic new book by Reid Mitenbuler called “Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey.” It’s a bourbon history, basically. And so far a good one. My favorite part of it is that it is, in essence, a debunking. A debunking of the myriad myths surrounding bourbon, its history and its culture. About how those old frontiersman named on the bottle of your favorite whiskey had little if anything to do with it. About how hardly any of the stories about bourbon and its provenance are really true, even if you hear these tales on an actual distillery tour. Maybe especially if you hear them on a distillery tour.
“Bourbon Empire” is not a mean-spirited debunking by any stretch, however. Mitenbuler clearly has affection for his subject and the demystification of bourbon has led me to enjoy the two or three glasses of bourbon I’ve drank since I opened this book the other night even more than usual. There’s something uplifting about knowing the mess of history whence those glasses came. I’m a big fan of messes and chaos. Such things are far more amenable to the creation of great things than a neat and tidy order.
A lot of my baseball writing involves debunking the news and narratives of the day and a lot of my favorite baseball writing of others involves debunking baseball history, so this all has a natural appeal to me. Like bourbon’s origin stories, baseball’s origins were, for years, presented in as neat and tidy a manner as you could imagine. Baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday one fine afternoon. Or, if you don’t believe that, its rules were laid down by Alexander Cartwright. Or would you believe Henry Chadwick? OK, maybe we can’t agree on who the “father of baseball” is, but the idea that baseball was simply invented one day by some father figure is true, right?
Well, of course not. Baseball developed from any number of stick-and-ball games like rounders, bat and trap, and stool ball. The games which, over time, meshed together in important ways to form what we now know of as baseball. It’s a fascinating history, featured in a great documentary a few years back, which reveals that baseball wasn’t truly invented. Rather, it evolved like many other games, from some primordial common ancestor, probably in England, often due to pragmatism and random chance.
Modern baseball is likewise filled with neat and tidy tales. We don’t identify them as tales that often because they come to us in the form of news reports or commentary. But they’re tales. Whenever something can’t be sufficiently explained, fantasy is sprinkled on top of it in order to make it make sense. Sometimes that fantasy is old, unfalsifiable conventional wisdom. Things like a player’s “will to win” or “hunger” for success. Or his lack of fire, motivation or respect for the game. Sometimes people attempt to fill those empty spaces from another direction altogether. Analytics and sabermetrics which, though I am clearly partial to them, have their limits and are probably in need of some cosmic-level rethinking.
Such is the case with bourbon. It was born of a similar pragmatism. The availability of corn as opposed to other grains. The practicality of shipping it in barrels, which led to the serendipitous discovery of some interesting new flavors. The borrowing of distilling and aging concepts from other spirits like brandy and consumption and criticism habits regarding it from things like wine, even as the entire macho frontiersman gestalt of bourbon encourages a rejection of fancy-pants things like brandy and wine.
On page 52 of “Bourbon Empire” Mitenbuler quotes the author Julien Barnes in identifying everything you need to know about the marketing of bourbon. Specifically, that it can be characterized as:
“ … that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”
And so it is with so much that is written about baseball. Most people in my industry are content to fill up that empty intersection with bullshit or false, tidy narratives. Hey, if you don’t buy it, prove them wrong! If they’ll stop appealing to their place of perceived authority long enough to even listen to you.
The longer I write about baseball, the more I prefer to allow that intersection to remain empty. And, at times, messy. The world is sometimes empty and messy, after all. Why should baseball, bourbon or anything else be an exception?
There was a little dustup this morning in the baseball blogosphere. Background: outfielder Josh Hamilton, a drug addict who has authored an amazing story of personal and professional redemption, recently relapsed. It was minor and his playing career will now resume, but it created a rift with this team, the Los Angeles Angeles. Yesterday the rift was resolved when the Angels traded Hamilton back to his old team, the Texas Rangers. You can read the background of it all here if you care.
Last night an Angels blog called Halos Heaven wrote an ignorant and hateful good-bye to Hamilton. It was vile, even by the standards of worst parts of the Internet, essentially predicting and almost wishing for, it seemed, Hamilton’s decline and death due to drugs. The company which hosts Halos Heaven – SB Nation – removed the blog post this morning, but you can see it preserved for posterity here. UPDATE: SB Nation and the guy who wrote that blog have “parted ways.”
This all interests me from the perspective of someone who, like the Halos Heaven guy, writes a baseball blog at a larger media company. A “vertical,” to use the parlance of the business. Just as that guy runs the Los Angeles Angels “vertical” for SB Nation, I run the baseball “vertical” for NBC. The biggest difference is that SB Nation’s entire model is verticals, essentially – they have hundreds of them across multiple sports – whereas NBC has a small number under the “Talk” brand like ProFootballTalk, HardballTalk, ProBasketballTalk, etc. while still doing lots of other things. Still, not terribly dissimilar in theory. And not uncommon in online media today. It’s been around quite a while.
The vertical model is useful. And robust. With it, a large media company can cover a lot of ground it wasn’t otherwise covering. People who use words like “scaleable” call this a “scaleable” model. (note: limit your interaction with people who use words like “scaleable” a lot). As opposed to having some central editor back at corporate actively managing and gatekeeping coverage in a zillion different disciplines, you get some “experts,” for lack of a better term, delegate and let them do their thing with much less day-to-day supervision.
But there are tradeoffs, of course. When you delegate you take risks. A big risk of the vertical model is that one of your vertical mangers may be a freakin’ loon who writes hot mess content like that fellow at Halos Heaven did. When that happens, it doesn’t just reflect poorly on the vertical. It reflects poorly on the entire company. In this case, SB Nation. The same scalability that works to the media company’s benefit comes back to bite it when things go sideways.
Of course, there’s a good way to protect against this. Not by having some editor look everything over first, for that defeats the purpose and kills the robustness of the vertical model. The protection comes from hiring adults to run your verticals.
You’d think this is obvious. I mean, who in any business would delegate responsibility to someone irresponsible or with no accountability? No one, really, except for companies which publish stuff on the Internet. There you still see this a lot. Companies getting contractors or even unpaid folks to provide content. Attracting writers who, quite understandably, are looking for any break they can get. Often media companies sell this to them as “providing exposure,” but let’s be clear about it: it’s just a way for a company to get someone’s labor on the cheap.
Sometimes it’s young people who, however talented and promising they may be, might not have the market cornered on good judgment just yet. It’s not just an age thing. Indeed, I’ve seen better work from younger people overall than I have from older people, at least in sports. And the Halos Heaven guy, I understand, is at least my age and may be older. But there is a certain risk in delegating to someone so green.
The far bigger reason you get questionable content, I think, is because a lot of it in this day and age is being produced by people who are not being paid a living wage or for whom the internet content biz is not their day job. These people, young and old, may be talented, but they can’t really be expected to have the same level of accountability as an experienced, dedicated and full-time person. If you have a term paper due or a end-of-year accounting to be done at the company which supplies your health insurance, it’s not hard to understand why that bit of sports analysis came up half-assed. People prioritize in life. And, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
I realize this is self-serving and/or ass-kissing given that they employ me, but there’s a reason why NBC’s sports verticals work. And why they rarely if ever have stepped on it with questionable content: NBC hired grownups. Guys like Mike Florio, Kurt Helin and me. Adults who take our jobs seriously because they are, you know, our jobs, not our hobbies. Because we have been tasked with some responsibility and strive to demonstrate it in equal measure. Not because we’re better or more professional people or anything like that, but because that’s just how the basic social contract works when it comes to employment in our society.
The other “Talk” guys and I may write stuff that people disagree with. Heck, we do it often. But based on my experience in the real world back in the day, I know that an employer can deal just fine with an employee simply being wrong about something. I lost cases as a lawyer and I’ve blown bits of analysis as a blogger. It happens and will happen again. But what an employer does not like is having to answer constant questions about what the hell you just did from people who normally wouldn’t be paying attention. And what an employee can’t come back from is being an agenda item at a meeting to which he or she is not invited. These are the measures by which a model based on delegation is judged internally. And these are the things that happen when you delegate to people who aren’t as invested in your company’s mission and future as you are.
So: scale away, media companies. Achieve efficiencies and synergies with robust models until your heart and bank accounts are content. But understand that when you do so, you’re handing someone the keys to a truck with your name on the side. Make sure you give those keys to someone you trust and make sure you incentivize them to be just as careful with your truck as you would be.
The LeBron James news dominated sports media for the past several days. Everyone – even people who don’t much care about basketball – was interested in it at least on some level. Even if it was only to joke, snark and/or join in some fun collective happening.
And then the news came – bam! – straight from the horse’s mouth, in the form of a first person essay from James “as told to Lee Jenkins” of Sports Illustrated. We had the story and now the important business of analyzing it – or, if you don’t much care about basketball, the important business of making Twitter jokes about it – was at hand.
But there are some who weren’t as interested in analyzing it, joking about it or just reveling in the fun collective happening. There are some who are using all of this as an occasion to wring their hands about journalistic integrity.
Here’s Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, who takes issue with Sports Illustrated and Jenkins allowing James to publish a brief essay about going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers:
News value aside, the approach cast Sports Illustrated more as a public-relations ally of James than as the strong journalistic standard-bearer it has been for decades.
And while James’s words may have been all that the sports world wanted to hear, the magazine should have pressed for a story that carried more journalistic heft.
Sandomir spoke with Jenkins, who explained that this wasn’t a press release. Rather, it became an essay when Jenkins stitched together James’ words from a lengthy interview into this statement. That doesn’t satisfy him:
But Jenkins has proved quite deft — at Sports Illustrated and before that at The New York Times — at stitching quotes into a broader third-person narrative that serves the reader even better … why not let Jenkins tell the story without handing James the platform for his unfiltered statement?
This is crazy. It’s an instance where Sandomir and the Times – who I think are fantastic most of the time, by the way – are fetishizing the business of Serious Journalism at the expense of understanding what sports fans actually care about, appreciating how informed sports fans already are and asserting that the reporter’s highest and best function is to get between fans and the news as opposed to delivering it to them.
Question: what, apart from the name of the team LeBron James chose and his reason for choosing it, do people interested in this story either not know or actually care about? What sort of “journalistic heft” does Sandomir think should have been added to this to “serve the reader” better? Jenkins prefacing the actual news with “James, 29, from Akron, has played for Miami since the 2010-11 season,” would not have added journalistic integrity here. It would have been byline-justifying filler.
Everyone tuning in to this story knows what’s happening. Sports Illustrated and Jenkins provided them with the one thing they didn’t know: where James was going and why. If there is any concern about larger context here, it can and will be addressed by SI sidebars, bullet-pointed, fact-based graphics and, most importantly, an in-depth story from Jenkins about his conversations with James which provides deeper context. All of which, I assume, have either already been published or will soon be.
But Sandomir here is missing more than just the value Sports Illustrated provided by putting out a direct and immediate first-person account of this story. He’s missing the way in which modern sports news breaks and the manner in which readers consume news in this day and age. He’s missing the difference between the dissemination of basic information and the product of actual journalism.
News – especially sports news – has long revolved around the scoop. Yes, all reporters and editors will tell you that it’s important to get it right, not to just get it first, but getting it first is an obsession that drives reporting. Cultivating your sources and becoming that guy who everyone expects to break the news. To be Adrian Wojnarowski for basketball news. Jay Glazer for football. Ken Rosenthal for baseball. These dudes are brands of their own, quite famous and, I assume, quite wealthy as a result.
But, as I have been saying for three years now, readers don’t care who got this news. They just care about the news itself. The Wojnarowskis of the world will tweet it out and, within minutes, it’s retweeted and blogged halfway around the world. Good retweeters and bloggers will credit the Wojnarowskis, but not everyone does. In very short order, that scoop has become a simple commodity – a fact in the ether – not a unique journalistic product. At least not in the minds of the people consuming it.
No, not all stories are like this. In-depth reporting about institutions, changing dynamics and trends or substantive interviews with newsmakers cannot be easily gutted and commodified like this. Those sorts of stories – stories like Sandomir’s New York Times’ colleague Tyler Kepner often writes – stand on their own and contain reader-serving journalistic heft, the sort of which Sandomir wants to see.
But the LeBron James story doesn’t. It’s a big event, sure, but at bottom it’s functionally equivalent to a team issuing a statement that it placed a player on the disabled list. That day’s starting lineup. A simple bit of data. A commodity. And just as sports teams and leagues are increasingly bypassing the press in order to release that sort of commodity news directly to fans via their Twitter feeds or in-house news operations, LeBron James could have very easily tweeted that he was heading back to Cleveland to his 13.6 million followers. Or, like he did back in 2010, could’ve said it on some TV show cum P.R. festival he created for himself. Indeed, it’s amazing to me that Sports Illustrated even got what it got here and they should be credited for getting that much. I didn’t need more than that yesterday. I’m more than happy – hell, very, very eager – to wait for Jenkins’ in-depth followup to all of this. I bet it’ll be incredible.
Sports Illustrated gets it. They know that, no matter how much “journalistic heft” they had put in to this story, it would not have mattered too much to them due to everyone taking what they’re dropping and running with it. I mean, just look where we are now, less than 24 hours after the story broke. Here’s the top Google result for “Sports Illustrated LeBron James”:
Yup, that’s Sandomir’s story criticizing SI’s story in the top slot. Which, it’s probably worth noting, doesn’t even link back to Sports Illustrated.
Good thing Lee Jenkins didn’t waste too much time weaving third-person narratives and serving readers in that piece. No one would’ve seen it.
UPDATE: Seems like whoever puts together the New York Times’ very own sports front is making my point for me: it’s nothing but a blown-up agate transactions blurb. It’s beautiful. No need for more “journalistic heft.” It says all it needs to say.
I had some aches, a mild fever and a cough over the weekend. It felt better by Monday night and I felt as right as rain on Tuesday, so I figured I had shaken whatever crud I was harboring. It came roaring back at me during the game last night, however, and as I stumbled back to my hotel room, I nearly dropped, my body wracked with violent coughing and awfulness. I took a shot from my Batman flask — yes, that’s it in the picture — and hoped that frontier medicine and a night’s sleep would do the trick. Alas, it did not, so at midnight I called the front desk to see if there was an urgent care in the area. Instead, they hooked me up with a doctor they keep on call and we talked.
Doc: What are you in town for?
Me: Covering the World Series.
Doc: Hey, I was at the game tonight! Great stuff, wasn’t it?
Me: I suppose so. So, here’s what’s –
Doc: Three home runs! How about that Panda! [and many more minutes of baseball talk as I neared death]
We talked about my symptoms, he gave me a couple of things I could do in the meantime, and then said the best bet would be for me to come by his office in the morning.
“Is it walking distance from the hotel?” I asked
“Depends how sick you are,” he said.
I tried to sleep but did a poor job of it. When I finally woke up my fever seemed to have spiked and my cough had gotten so bad that I was tasting blood. If this were a 19th century novel there would be “telltale flecks of crimson on his handkerchief, his consumptive doom foretold!” As it was, I sent emails to all of the NBC people I could find to tell them how useless I’d be today and/or what my last wishes were if I died before I was able to talk to them again.
The only thing that had made me feel moderately better the night before was a little warm food, so I sought out breakfast. I walked towards Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, which is a couple blocks south of where I’m staying and which many have recommended. There was a line of people out the door so I moved on — I’ll get it next time – turning the wrong way down Market Street where things start to get a bit sketchy. There I witnessed a deranged woman in her late 40s wildly swinging two garbage bags full of what looked to be pillows at another women while yelling at her to commit anatomical impossibilities. The other woman, who looked a bit less troubled, was dodging the blows but wouldn’t retreat. Instead, she kept trying to take pictures of her attacker with her cell phone. Not sure who was crazier.
Realizing I was heading the wrong way, I turned around and walked back north on Market. I walked by a group of three guys, one of which asked me if I wanted to buy some pot. I have been on this Earth for over 39 years and, at one time, knew a lot of people who partook in such things. But never have I literally had a stranger bark out a sales pitch like that. I wanted to look around for cameras to see if it was some kind of joke, but I kept walking.
I found a little cafe where I ordered some coffee and some eggs. An older couple sat down at the table near me and I heard the husband ask the wife if she happened to see the score of the game last night. When she said she didn’t know I said “8-3.” They thanked me and asked me if I went to the game. I said yep. They asked me if I’m going again tonight. I said yep. Then they asked me if I’d be willing to sell my tickets. I explained my situation and the man said “Oh well. I can’t find a pair for under $500 so I’m asking anyone I can.”
After I ate I made it up to the doctor’s office. It’s just off Union Square. I had a minute so I walked around the Square a bit because “The Conversation” may be my favorite movie of all time. I pretended that Cindy Williams and I were planning Robert Duvall’s murder, that Gene Hackman was listening to us and then I hummed a few bars of “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob Bobbing Along.” There were no mimes to be seen.
It turns out that the whole practice is devoted to hotel guests and tourists and stuff, which is something that makes sense in such a hotel-and-tourist-heavy area, but is the sort of thing I never considered. Seems like something they’d invent in a Charlie Kaufman film. The doctor saw me right away. He’s a short Chinese-American guy, probably in his late 40s or early 50s, but dressed like he’s 25. A smile on his face at all times. I instantly liked him. Even when he creeped me out a bit by saying that he Googled me before I came in and was happy to see that I had lost some weight in the past few years based on older pictures. That’s … not weird.
Most of the visit was spent with him asking me baseball questions — he was really concerned about Bruce Bochy’s bullpen choices last night despite the victory because he thinks that an 8-0 Giants win would have “sent a stronger message.” Then we talked about PEDs at his prompting. Let the record reflect that if this guy had his way everything would be legal, blood spinning with added HGH would be mandatory and Barry Bonds would be canonized. “Just wait ten years and see what they have available,” he said. “The stuff everyone frets about now will seem like throat lozenges.” Did I mention I really like this guy?
But it wasn’t all juice-talk. Another huge chunk of the visit was him giving me a vaguely new-agey lecture about balance — this included him taking pictures of my face with his iPhone to show me how I was “unbalanced on [my] right side” — and him explaining the need to excrete all of the bad things from our bodies lest we have no room for the good. He then demonstrated the proper way to clear one’s sinuses and to inhale hot steam in the shower — it’s all about being upside down — and it all sounded rather like Annie telling Nuke how to breathe through his eyelids.
That was all nice, but what I was really there for was some weapons-grade pharmaceuticals. Thankfully the Good Doctor had the hookup. After the new age talk ended, he told me I either had a severe sinus infection or strep and that there was no use doing the strep test because either way he’s giving me the same treatment. He had his nurse inject me with an antibiotic/anti-inflammatory cocktail (although based on the earlier conversation it may have also had some HGH and metabolites of Stanozolol), and then he loaded up a bag full of all manner of drugs for me to take with me. Come to San Francisco: EVERYONE will give you drugs if you want them.
I took a big swig of the codeine cough syrup and walked down the street past Union Square. As I passed the Westin Hotel I saw a crowd of people with cameras and baseballs surrounding the entrance. Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry was standing there with an attractive young woman. He stopped to sign autographs. The only question for him that came to mind was “why on Earth are they starting Delmon Young in left when your legs aren’t broken?” but I didn’t think I could ask it with the nuance it required what with the cough syrup and all, so I moved along and eventually back to my hotel room.
Here I sit. The game starts in about three and a half hours, but (a) I still feel like utter garbage; and (b) I have this feeling that my Baseball Writers Association of America application will meet with strong resistance this winter if I cough up blood and mucus all over the membership in the cramped confines of the press facilities at AT&T Park tonight. Doctor Feelgood told that it would be about 24 hours of taking the antibiotics and stuff before I’d really be OK be active and not, you know, be Typhoid Mary. As such, I’m leaning strongly toward bagging tonight and coming back strong for Game 3 in Detroit on Saturday.
If that is what I ultimately decide to do, I will still be posting and tweeting and generally covering World Series business this evening from the comfort of my sick/deathbed, and of course Matthew and D.J. will have all kinds of coverage tonight as well.
See what happens when you leave your mother’s basement? Bad things.
I’m often asked how I got a job writing about baseball for a living. How I managed to turn a legal career and life in an office tower to blogging in my pajamas. The people who ask me that do so in the same way that they might ask a magician how he guessed the card they picked. As if there were some simple trick to it all that, were I so moved, I’d be willing to divulge.
I don’t have an answer for them. There was a lot of luck involved. Some of that luck was the residue of design. It wasn’t good design. Indeed, looking back I’m struck by how reckless I was to make many of the decisions I made while crossing over from the real working world to however you’d describe the world in which I’m more or less paid to argue with people on the Internet all day.
I write a daily recap of the previous night’s events in baseball called “And That Happened.” It doesn’t seek to explain all that much. It merely sets forth what occurred and tries its best to place those events into some kind of understandable context. That’s the best I can do with my career path as well.
I wrote it all up in late 2011. This is it. It's long.