Articles by

<Timothy Bracy>

Certain historic impasses defy explanation through the usual cold metrics of the hard “sciences.” These events are too mystifying, too terrifying and too tragic to metabolize through strictly rational means. At instances like this we turn to the gypsy, the oracle, the soothsayer—one who can perceive time in a sweeping existential context, and bring comfort by reminding us of the suffering endured throughout the ages. Certainly, it is fair to say that the New York Mets 2009 season is the single worst confluence of circumstances in the history of the planet Earth. The deprivations and Promethean punishments are endlessly cruel. Madness and evil irony lurks at every turn—it’s as if “Moneyball” had been set in Dante’s Hell.

And so, we turn to a wise man—the celebrated novelist Rick Moody, who has lived as a Mets fan for a long time and understands many things. The better that we might find courage from his calming insights, rather then losing control completely and tying Omar Minaya to a grizzly bear.

The L Magazine: What is the pre-history and derivation of your Mets fandom? Were you shanghaied or willfully indoctrinated? Did you have childhood favorites? Any reflections on Ed Kranepool?

Rick Moody: My grandfather happened to be the publisher of a newspaper, The New York Daily News, that was, during my childhood, America’s bestselling daily. It was also extremely popular in Queens. Thus, when the Mets appeared in Queens, in the early 60s, the News was very partisan. Even more so during the pennant run of 1969. I was eight then. My grandfather always sent us whatever promotional stuff they were giving away, and that year they were giving away a lot of Mets stuff. I therefore went with the winners because it was easy. Fair-weather child! Little did I know how much losing would follow that summer of improbable victory. Anyway, I remember Seaver and Nolan Ryan from that year, and Cleon Jones, et al. But I was more into it in 1972, when the “Amazin’s” ground to a halt against the Oakland A’s—as I recall it. Then I liked Tug McGraw a lot. I liked pitchers, I guess. But I did like Ed Kranepool, because how could you not like a guy named Kranepool. And Dave Kingman. And Rusty Staub. Oh, and later I really liked George Foster. What an elegant guy. And Al Leiter, even though he’s a Republican.

The L: Most Mets seasons are trying, but this one has been a Russian Novel. The unassisted triple play, the Tony Bernazard imbroglio. Twenty men on the DL and counting. They could scarcely have suffered greater casualties had they invaded Petersburg in Winter. As a Mets fan, are you temperamentally disposed to accept this kind of outcome as a cruel fact of nature, or do you feel that there is actual agency in man to change the fate of this franchise?

RM: All Mets fans, I suspect, know and cherish failure. I once wrote a piece about the theology of the Mets, in which I argued that the Mets were truly like Christianity, because you have to WORK to believe in them. Yankee fans secretly know that their own love is indefensible, because it’s too easy. There’s nothing complex about it. It’s like evangelical belief. Or Calvinism. But Mets fans know that they have to believe in the darkest of dark hours, against all hope, and this season is just such a time. This part of why the Davey Johnson-era Mets were so transcendent, because they snatched victory from the gaping maw of failure. With much bravado. They were failures as human beings, but as a team they were awesome. Whether this propensity to failure in the Mets clubhouse is FATED is a deep question, but I perhaps prefer to think that it is historically bound, owing to the failure of the city to really be able to back a second team effectively—what with the Yankees around.

The Mets in this formulation are like the White Sox, or like Tampa Bay. They are one team too many. Once the New York teams went off to California in the expansion (the Dodgers, the Giants), New York was too ashamed to believe in a second team. It tries. But its attempts are enfeebled.

Finally, into my fourth decade of life and I have a government advocating the values I stand for: mandatory abortions, shoddy, dirty, decrepit medical facilities, and most of all — at long last — death panels! How eagerly, how urgently, those of us leaning towards the political left have longed for this day, when the fate of elderly and infirm could be voted on by sinister group of shadowy bureaucrats. As everyone who has spent the requisite time studying the voluminous literature provided us by Minister Mentor Obama, newly formed panels such as the CEAC, or Continued Existence Allowance Committee, are the best way to adjudicate the difficult matters facing our civil society. What an exciting time for all Children of the Glorious Revolution! The cleansing has begun. Now, in the spirit of these happy times, let us convene and decide which sports careers should be allowed to… expire.

Tom Watson

I invested four days in the Tom Watson drama at the British Open last month. For a 59-year-old man to win the British Open would certainly have comprised one of the greatest athletic accomplishments in recent memory. I wanted to be watching when it happened. Of course it didn’t happen. Instead Watson shanked an eight footer on the final hole and then was inhumanely savaged by the thoroughly underwhelming Stewart Cink in four miserable playoff holes, during which Watson suddenly appeared to be positively senile. What began and nearly ended as a fountain of youth story, evolved rapidly and without warning into a public service announcement for dementia. For the Rush Limbaugh-loving Watson, the appropriate course of action seems only too clear: time to cancel his subscription.

John Smoltz

I’ve always liked John Smoltz, from the time when I took my first job as a 20-year-old columnist living in Georgia and he was a veteran star of the Atlanta Braves staff. Therein lies the trouble — he was a veteran pitcher on the Atlanta Braves when I was 20 years old. That is an amusement, but not a reason to still be pitching. When Smoltz flamed out recently with the Boston Red Sox, it seemed that every last fastball he threw was being launched out of Yankee stadium with one of those T-shirt guns. The Death Panel seeks only to arrive at humane solutions for nuanced impasses such as these. Good night sweet prince.

The Washington Nationals

Major League Baseball left Washington, DC in 1973, after the hapless Senators relocated to Texas and became the hapless Rangers. Following three decades of deprivation, professional baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005. Unfortunately, that was only the visiting teams. For this fine sports town, long starved, it feels like an unnecessarily vindictive prank to send not a baseball team but instead a 25-man clown car, driven by perhaps the most insanely feckless front office east of the Cincinnati Bengals. In addition to rapidly establishing themselves as prodigious losers (following a recent spate of quality play, they are currently 40-83) the Nationals have managed to assemble the league’s consensus worst farm team, misspell the team name on their uniforms and see their (since resigned) General Manager Jim Bowden investigated by the FBI on suspicion of embezzling from the team. Is it time to euthanize baseball in Washington? We like to think of it as proactive compassion.

In his three full seasons as head coach of the New York Jets, Eric Mangini was a remarkably consistent presence. He never did or said a single interesting thing. If you were to cut open Mangini, there is every reason to believe he would be filled head to toe with corkwood. Now that he has been replaced by Rex Ryan, things are going to get weird for the Jets. In fact they already have.

Rex Ryan is a funny, even absurd man. He has promptly done some amusing, ill considered things, such as mock the brilliant Bill Belichick and his Patriots (“How many people are intimidated by that defense?”), pilloried former Ravens head coach Brian Billick, who gave him his first job as a professional coordinator, for not giving him his first job sooner (“Basically, I got fucked. Brian never knew me. It was a crock of shit”) and even engaged in an inane back and forth with Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, a public dispute which will not soon be mistaken for the Lincoln-Douglas debates (“I’ve walked over tougher guys going to a fight than Channing Crowder.”)

If there is a strategic purpose or rationale for engaging in this sort of unfiltered ranting, it is not immediately apparent. In fact, I am sure it has no purpose at all, except to elucidate two certainties regarding Rex Ryan and the new look Jets:

1) It’s going to be uproarious.


2) They will never, ever win anything of significance as long as he is coach.

In his memoir Chronicles, Bob Dylan muses about learning the advantages of legacy at an early age. “Family connections were legitimate. You couldn’t blame anyone for having them.” Rex Ryan is a legacy coach if ever there was one. His father Buddy Ryan was an inimitable figure in professional football for decades: an innovative defensive mastermind, a sharpie, a charlatan, a goofball and a world historic prick. It seemed that everyone who ever came to work with Buddy Ryan — save for the personnel of his prized defenses — came quickly to despise him. He alienated owners, fellow coaches and executives. He placed injury bounties on the heads of opposing players. Essentially he behaved like the NFL’s very own answer to a James Bond villain. As head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals during the 80s and 90s, Ryan’s massive arrogance was always — ALWAYS — a lock to undermine his considerable strategic and motivational acumen. Ultimately, Buddy Ryan never won anything that mattered as a head coach, and what makes Rex Ryan so intriguing is that he seems determined, or perhaps condemned, to follow in his father’s ruinous path.

Things got a little weird at the Proven System offices last week, as they will in the heat of summer. A few internal memos were misplaced, some wires were crossed, and at least one key staffer was found unconscious on a park bench in Staten Island, wearing only a mall-purchased tee shirt with the inscription “Bye Hater!” emblazoned across the front.

It was obviously a strange situation — one which left us with our guard down — with the ultimate result that the System was briefly infiltrated by a dissident Yankee sympathizer, anxious to spread his particularly persuasive brand of propaganda. This development was followed by a rigorous “scrubbing” or debugging of the entire campus, which was closed to all but those possessing the highest possible clearance levels. Even those personnel were thoroughly frisked and interrogated. The situation is now under control, and as a corrective, equal-time oriented measure, we now provide the expert Yankees commentary of the brilliant Phil Sheridan, the long-time, highly distinguished sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In the interest of total fairness — always a benchmark for the Proven System ethic — I will ask him to respond to the exact same questions so adroitly massaged by Comrade Nelson last week.

Proven System: Are the Yankees, as some have suggested, emblematic of all that is sinister, bloated and excessive in American life? How do we grade the achievements of a team with their payroll and resources, against those of say, the Twins or Angels?

Phil Sheridan: I recently started a column thus: “The New York Yankees are everything that’s wrong with America.” (Or close to that). So you can guess where I come down on the first issue. I was writing in response to the enormous, market-busting contracts for Sabathia and Teixeira. I received a lot of unpleasant correspondence from fans of the Yankees. The more coherent of them argued that the Yankees had cleared a lot of salary from their payroll and weren’t adding that much in total, and/or that the Yankees had an obligation to use all their considerable resources to try to win. Both of these arguments have merits but were beside the point I was trying to make.

For all of us who are excited to a vaguely disturbing extent by the misfortune of the Yankees, 2009 began with immense promise. The A-Rod scandal and injury was followed by poor play and a general malaise at the new stadium, which was gimmicky and frequently not filled to capacity. As they hemorrhaged game after game to the rival Red Sox, it appeared that the franchise was indeed in a kind of serious spiral — misjudgment after misjudgment finally catching up with them, a pending purgatory of ten years or more out of contention seemed plausible. And then… it all turned around. A-Rod came back and began pounding home runs with impunity. The annual “can’t miss” free agent bonanza consisting of pitcher CC Sabathia and slugging first basemen Mark Teixeira came around following a poor start, and suddenly it seemed they couldn’t lose.

The Yankees have, as of this writing, won nine of their last ten games and established a 2 1/2 game lead in the AL East. It would seem that they cannot be simply wished away. And so, in the burnished spirit of community and tolerance which is the very hallmark of the Proven System, we will now engage in a journey of mutual understanding. For the remainder of the season, Yankees fans will be periodically invited to explain their strange proclivities, the better that we can understand, and perhaps, eventually, accept them. First up: Michael Patrick Nelson, Managing Editor of the Long Island Press and perversely devoted Yankees obsessive. Behold, with wonderment, his unorthodox reality:

Proven System: Are the Yankees, as some have suggested, emblematic of all that is sinister, bloated and excessive in American life? How do we grade the achievements of a team with their payroll and resources, against those of say, the Twins or Angels?

Mike Nelson: You know, I’m not sure the two parts of this question are really directly related. However, rather than get tangled in semantics or intent, I’ll address both halves separately. With regard to (A), I don’t believe that’s entirely accurate; when I think of America’s bloated excess, I think of suburban sprawl, fast food, junk culture, SUVs lined up in morning traffic… in short, I think of the Dallas Cowboys. However, I do like the image of the Yankees as “sinister:” sly, dashing villains with unholy might and devilish powers of persuasion and seduction. As far as (B) goes, the only scale on which we can grade the Yankees is the same scale on which we grade every other Major League club, i.e., the standings. The common misconception is that money should buy the best players, but in today’s baseball landscape, that’s not necessarily true: Money buys the best free agents, but once players have reached free agency, they are typically either at their exact peak or past their peak, and therefore, should have nowhere to go but down. The Yankees’ money primarily allows them the following advantages: (1) it gives them freedom to take on other teams’ unwieldy contracts (think Bobby Abreu from a few years back) and eat their own bad contracts (e.g., Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano); (2) it permits them to keep their own stars and attract the top free agents, and then, (3) it gives them some leeway to eat THOSE contracts once they go bad. At best, the Yankees’ money helps to keep them competitive on a consistent basis, and should result in a greater win-loss record over multiple seasons (which it has), but it doesn’t make them prohibitive favorites in any individual season.

Suddenly, sportswriting is like the funeral beat. Every time I look up, another athlete I used to love has gone and left the building. It’s a queasy feeling. Alexis Arguello, Arturo Gatti and Steve McNair — all departed under startling, sudden, noir-ish circumstances. All were performers of exceptional, almost irrational, courage. Maybe if I can get through the obituaries, an actual game will break out somewhere, and I can write about that.

So here goes:

Arguello was a rare specimen of athletic beauty and elegance — a kind of junior lightweight Clark Gable. During the 70s and 80s he was a dominant presence in boxing, a brilliant and subtle tactician who is nevertheless best known for some of the most violent brawls in the history of the sport. Arguello’s late-round knockouts over Rubén Olivares, Alfredo Esclara and Boom Boom Mancini are a part of the fight game’s poetic lore, commemorated in song by the likes of Warren Zevon. When Arguello finally bit off more than he could chew against the bigger, younger Aaron Pryor in 1982, he nevertheless fought magnificently, succumbing in the 14th round only after Pryor battered him unconscious with a terrifying fuselage of unanswered punches. Following the fight — which is widely acknowledged as one of the best in history — Arguello lay unconscious for several minutes. Doctors and cornermen worked frantically to revive him. Had Arguello never regained consciousness — the knockout was amongst the most brutal in recorded history — the final images of him would have been as an astonishingly beautiful man, laying in resolutely dignified repose. He was one of those people that could collapse like a demolished building and make it appear intentional. He was effortlessly artful.

Artful, on the other hand, is not a term anyone would ever think to ascribe to Arturo Gatti.

Gatti was a fighter of significant physical gifts, who simply could not resist a Pyrrhic bloodbath. Many times he would willfully neglect his own advantages in speed and size in order to trade the maximum number of punches with lesser athletes that he could have easily outboxed. He never appeared angry. It always seemed like he enjoyed being punched.

This fearful compulsion manifested itself most famously during Gatti’s three legendarily savage brawls with the club fighter Micky Ward in the early 2000s. The contests were maniacal acts of mutual abuse, which occurred only because Gatti allowed them to happen. By far the faster and more skilled fighter, he could have easily beaten Ward from a distance. Instead, Gatti walked right towards him time and again. What evolved over the course of the three fights was a strangely intimate pairing between two kindred warriors. In fact, something weird began to occur, a vaguely S&M vibe. As they pounded one another mercilessly, Gatti and Ward stopped to grin and hug between — and even during — rounds. The ringside crowds were understandably driven to pandemonium by the spectacle. It was exhilarating, unseemly, and almost impossible to turn away from.

Most of Gatti’s fights provided action on this scale and his reliable penchant for in-ring mayhem earned him a large and fiercely devoted cult following. For better or worse, his career can be seen as a portent of the Mixed Martial Arts phenomenon, in which any fight that does not end in a spectacular act of violence is considered a failure.

Steve McNair was not the best quarterback of his generation, but he was pretty great — a near Hall Of Famer who could beat you singlehandedly running or throwing. But what McNair was best known for was his stoicism in the face of extreme pain and even serious injury. The reaction to his death by close friends like long time fellow Tennessee Titan Derek Mason was, “What I have seen him play through on the field, and what he dealt with during the week to get ready for a game, I have never known a better teammate.” And this is what you heard constantly from his former coaches and teammates in the time following McNair’s startling demise. The stalwart way in which he would suffer through anything short of a crippling or even life-threatening injury is what defined him as a leader. McNair was praised as other things as well — polite, generous, intelligent and community-oriented. But should one ever forget that the coin of the realm for NFL greatness consists of a willingness to suffer through nearly unimaginable, lifelong physical hardships — well, you couldn’t forget it after reading about McNair.

As regards the startlingly strange and disturbing cases that put all three to rest, I haven’t much to offer. In Arguello’s case, his iconic status in his native Nicaragua led to his being elected to political office as both a right-wing apparatchik and later a socialist Sandinista. He was an apparent suicide, shot through the heart, although he was currently serving as mayor of Managua, and some have intimated rumors of political assassination or other foul play.
McNair, we now know, was the victim of a terrible murder/suicide perpetrated by his too-young mistress, who had apparently interpreted McNair’s unwillingness to leave his wife as the final straw of existence. This seems particularly sad and avoidable to me. We’ve all been 20 years old and in love, which essentially equates to psychopathy. Something should probably be said about the ability of this clearly unstable woman to attain a handgun two days after she had just been arrested for DWI, but that political argument is now over in this country. Everyone gets a gun.

Gatti’s case is, perhaps appropriately, strangest of all. Strangled apparently, by the purse strings of his tempestuous wife in a Brazilian hotel, although of course no definitive explanation has yet been found.

These gifted men could be described without insult, as individuals for whom brinksmanship was a way of life. Did the frequent recklessness they displayed in their respective sports — that recklessness for which they were cheered and compensated — somehow portend their early demise? Is it fair to even consider such an extrapolation?

Maybe it is more interesting to ask what we as fans expect. For years we have gloried in the small deaths and illusory imperviousness of these athletes who laugh in the face of the fiercest abuse. Now they are all gone. I have no answers. Maybe it is all a terrible coincidence. So, I guess, let’s get back to sports.

Like many suburban American youths growing up in the 1980s, I played a great deal of league soccer. I didn’t play especially well, but I did so adamantly and for many years. During this era, the always embarrassing notion of American Exceptionalism had metastasized into something like an implacable psychosis. This was Reagan’s “Morning in America.” Real life events like the “Miracle on Ice” co-mingled with anti-Soviet Hollywood propaganda like Red Dawn and Rocky IV. Robust jingoism lurched towards incoherent madness. Soon we were all pretty well convinced that our country would never be defeated in anything again, ever. Alongside this attitude evolved a belief that the ever expanding popularity of youth soccer in America portended an imminent emergence as the sport’s major global force.

The problem, however, was that America really did suck at soccer. The sport was always (at best) fourth choice for the most elite homegrown athletes, behind baseball, football and basketball. Resultantly, we found ourselves decades behind nearly every developed nation from Belarus to the Sudan. We had no tradition and no professional infrastructure. Nascent attempts at homegrown leagues like the NASL floundered and failed. Fine players emerged from US colleges and then left to compete in Europe. There was no continuity or culture to American soccer, and the hoped-for emergence as perennial world power never occurred. Instead the up-and-down, crazy-quilt performance of the US Men’s soccer team over the past two decades has been hard to read, both enigmatic and chimerical. Every time they seem close, they are far off again.

To wit, our World Cup results the past twenty years:

1990: We are blitzkrieged. Humiliated. Three matches lost by an aggregate 9-2 score. In the opening match, we lose 5-1 to Czechoslovakia, a country which will soon cease to even exist as a global entity.

1994: Matters improv” dramatically. We stun the 4th-ranked Colombian team and advance for the first time ever to the so called ‘Knockout round.” The run is ended by an eminently defensible 1-0 loss to eventual champion Brazil, but the promise of future domination is in evidence.

1998: Mortification on a nearly unparalleled scale. Cringing losses to Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia reveal the team to be feckless, toothless and non-competitive. We finish 32nd out of 32 teams.

2002: Another swing towards excellence. Spectacular wins over Portugal and Mexico, and a tie with host South Korea propel the US into the quarterfinals. Although eliminated 1-0 by traditional power Germany, there is general unanimity that we have arrived.

2006: Disaster anew. Slapped down with impunity by the now Czech Republic 3-0, a white-knuckle 1-1 draw with eventual champ Italy, and then a jaw-slackening knockout loss to Ghana.

Anyway, this is not the sort of immediate gratification I have been conditioned to expect and enjoy. I can accept losing, but I don’t want to finish 32nd out of 32. I think I have one more World Cup in me, but if we are non-competitive, then I will rededicate that portion of my emotional bandwidth to various rooting interests I have developed in the sport of professional lumberjacking.

However, the results of last month’s Confederations Cup — a kind of World Cup preview — have thickened the plot once again. The US team made the finals, defeating world #1 Spain in the process, and then very nearly stunned Brazil in the final, squandering a two-goal lead in the second half. The second half collapse was disappointing, but overall the display of American prowess set the soccer establishment abuzz. Once again, it appears possible that a full scale breakthrough is imminent. On the other hand, maybe we will just immediately be stomped 11-1 by some iteration of Czechoslovakia. Is one to look forward to the 2010 World Cup with dread skepticism or inflated self-regard?

It was not a golf tournament, it was a whaling expedition. For the bulk of three days we simply watched a pitiless June rain piss on 156 brave and understandably cheerless mariners as they slogged through a fascistic, endlessly recycling weather apparatus. With clockwork efficiency, the precipitation seemed to know just when to commence in order to wash away every real moment of drama and momentum from the proceedings. Memorable storylines threatened to manifest themselves right up until the very conclusion, but none ever really did. Sad to say, the much-hyped US Open 2009 at Bethpage was a literal and metaphorical washout. Some reflections on major principles, and what might have been.

Tiger Woods

Although he played, by and large, exceptionally well from tee to green, Woods never really recovered from his first-day 74, in which he played the last four holes in four over par. But he never quit, continuing to play every shot as though engaged in a one-hole playoff for the very fate of mankind. This unwavering commitment to seeing every tournament through is one of the most undersold aspects of Woods’ greatness. Golfers just don’t fight this hard when they are 13 shots off the lead.

For evidence of this fact, look no further then Woods’s playing partner for the first two rounds, the Irishman Padraig Harrington. Harrington is a near-great golfer (and by all accounts a good guy) who at one point at the end of last year had won three of six majors. However, waterlogged, frustrated, and fighting both his swing and a seemingly insurmountable deficit, Harrington did what pro golfers do: he mailed in his final nine, missed the cut by a mile and flew home to get ready for the British Open. It’s not a capital crime, and arguably it’s even the smart play. But in this context it served to cast into even more bold relief Woods’ seemingly metabolic inability to believe he’s ever actually been beaten. In the end Tiger never solved the deluged greens. Had he made even half of the makeable putts he missed, he’d have won the tournament going away. In spite of it, there remains the palpable sense that he was still the greatest force of nature at Bethpage — except, of course, for nature itself.

Lucas Glover

So there is a Lucas Glover now? I did not know that. I am an avid PGA watcher, and will be the first to tell you that up until 72 hours ago I thought that Lucas Glover was once the Deputy Secretary of Defense under Casper Weinberger. Or something. Certainly I had not prefigured him as a serious contender for the US Open title. But win it he did. To his credit, the world’s 72nd ranked player outdueled some of most storied players in the game, and also another guy who I wasn’t aware played golf.

That is the thing about professional golf, for better or worse: that sometimes an absolutely anonymous and pedestrian-seeming individual triumphs in a major championship. And then, in most cases, they fade directly back into obscurity. There have been countless examples in recent memory: Todd Hamilton, Michael Campbell, Rich Beem. All have all won majors and then evaporated into the ether like a confusing dream. This really doesn’t happen in other major sports. The Toronto Argonauts, or, say, a semi-pro team from Twin Falls, Idaho NEVER win the Super Bowl. A D-League or AA Team never somehow pulls off a miracle run to the NBA or World Series championships. In golf, we get this. It’s weird, but it happens.

Phil Mickelson

The week’s emotional pulse famously centered on the perennial US Open also-ran Phil Mickelson, playing in the sad wake of his wife’s diagnosis with breast cancer. If the 2009 US Open was a whaling expedition, then Mickelson was its Ahab: an aging, scattered and slightly batty stalwart seeking the chimerical title which has long eluded him, while performing in a justifiably fraught state of mind.

Always a fan favorite, Mickelson competed amidst an overwhelming tide of sentiment from his galleries as well as the cheerful hopes of NBC’s announcing crew (presumably a display of genuine sympathy in addition to the desire for a ratings-inflating human interest story). The cameras followed Lefty’s every movement meticulously, even obsessively. We watched as he patiently glad handed passers-by and was praised as the “Arnold Palmer of his generation,” a tireless and fan-friendly ambassador to the game of golf.

Given the distractions, it was difficult to know how Mickelson would perform. And perhaps it is ultimately comforting to discover that he performed like he always does: with a dazzling array of astonishing, wizardly-shot making, befuddling strategy, and ill-timed driving and putting misadventures. Mickelson’s uniquely bi-polar game may well one day interest researchers in the field of psychiatry. Why a player so imminently capable of making consistent pars elects to dot his hieroglyphic scorecard with eagles, birdies, bogies and double bogeys seems a veritable case study in the absence of impulse control. As do the brown and white pinstripe pants he wore on Monday.

He has now finished 2nd in this tournament a record five times, and in achieving this feat, has had to take some strange measures over time in order not to win. Some of the things he’s done might cause the Doctors Freud and Jung to wonder if Mickelson does not, ultimately, feel more comfortable finishing second.

Certainly, going into the last four holes, tied for the lead against relative nobodies, Mickelson seemed to have the title well in hand. Entering into the 15th hole, the acerbic and self-aggrandizing, but inarguably expert commentator Johnny Miller remarked, “I think if Mickelson somehow pars this hole, he is the US Open champion.” Miller’s calculation seemed right, but Mickelson promptly made an ill-judged bogey. Again, on 17, a bad miss on a short par save dropped him back another stroke, to the groans of his devoted cheering section. From his expression, Mickelson knew he had just handed the tournament to a far lesser player, and not for the first time.

But Mickelson was still the best thing about the week that wasn’t. He seems, at times, more Action Painter then golfer. And lonely, heartsick and sequestered on Jackson Pollock’s island, his artful failure provided a modicum of catharsis, in what was otherwise a Weather Channel program posing as sports: Golfus Interruptus.

I have, over a period of many years, developed a devastatingly well honed and impeccably reasoned bias against certainly athletes. In some ways my ‘enemies list’ is equally or even more important then my passionate rooting interests. The Robespierre-like fear that is engendered in major athletes when they get on my bad side (I assume they feel this) is only too understandable.

When, for instance, I inveigh against Brett Favre or A-Rod, I detonate truth bombs of massive strategic scale and ordinance. All the casual observer can do is grab a hardhat and duck — maybe the courageous might glance cautiously out of the corner of their eye in order to catch a glimpse of the rhetorical pyrotechnics. You could say, I guess, that I am the most feared man in sports.

The only trouble occurs when I turn out to be wrong. That happens roughly 40 to 70 percent of the time depending on your reading and occasionally requires a kind of ignoble backtracking.

This was such a week. I have never cared for Kobe Bryant. The charges are many: I’ve always hated his constant scowling. I was suspicious of his role in breaking up the Lakers championship triumvirate of himself, O’Neil and Phil Jackson. After winning three titles in four years, it all seemed terribly hubristic. I didn’t like scoring 80 points in a regular season game. What, precisely, did that prove? I didn’t like the abuse of teammates in a public forum. I thought they folded in the last year‘s finals against the Celtics. I felt he was very much incapable of winning a championship without the help of a legendary player along the lines of Shaquille O’Neil at his side.

Yes, I have always pegged Kobe for a numbers hanger and megalomaniac.

Turns out that he is a megalomaniac and a prodigious winner. Many great athletes have a strain of pathological vanity — but not until this championship run has it ever been clear that Kobe’s less attractive attributes had any direct relationship to winning. Now this link has been indisputably established and I have been demonstrated to be that much dumber. Everything is as it should be and nature continues apace.

But what of the Phil Mickelson Problem?

Phil Mickelson has always represented to me the apex of everything I loathe — a privileged country club kid who grows up to be a massive but underachieving talent in the sport of golf. A man who, despite the relatively mediocre return on his staggering physical ability, has accrued a ridiculously loyal fan base of similarly entitled rich, white people. During the rise of George W. Bush and its attendant global debacle, Mickelson’s very presence on a television screen was enough to move me to apoplexy. He seemed the perfect sporting analog to the president who had been born into a position of power, and failed upwards ever since. The faux ‘every man’ populism with which Mickelson cloaked his occasional successes and more frequent failures felt veritably interchangeable with that of Bush.

There was a period, as recent as the last eight or ten years, when more than a whiff of “Great White Hope”-style sentiment emanated from the huge and boisterous galleries which routinely mobbed Mickelson. In many corners of the golf establishment, a near desperate hope emerged that Mickelson could somehow seriously challenge Tiger Woods’ preeminence. In too many instances, this was tinged with an unpleasant subtext, suggesting that Mickelson and not Woods best represented golf’s true constituencies and traditions.

But Bush is gone now and Mickelson somehow seems different too. There is no longer any serious comparison between the two players. As Woods raced to an astonishing fourteen career majors by age 33, his legend grew from titanic to world historic. His professional genius and impeccable public demeanor became harbingers of the multi-cultural wave about to sweep the country.

Mickelson, in the meantime, evolved into a sort of amusing and feckless foil. And that is something he is really good at! He is really feckless and really funny. Poor decision making in big spots has become a kind of personal trademark. Mickelson’s penchant for high pressure melt downs reached a cringe-worthy apotheosis at the 2006 US Open, when an incomprehensible double bogey on the final hole cost him a sure victory. For whatever reason, he wears this sort of screw up extremely well.

“I still am in shock that I did that. I just can’t believe that I did that. I am such an idiot,” Mickelson mused candidly at the press conference following the Winged Foot catastrophe. The quote was strangely charming — it struck an appealing balance between understandable disappointment and genuine wonderment at his lack of mental acuity. He has in subsequent circumstances taken to shortening his explanations to “I am dumb.” Soon he will begin every press conference by breaking into “If I Only Had A Brain”. During the last day of the Masters, Mickelson’s standard array of comically avoidable mental errors — which cost him the tournament amidst the round of his life on Sunday — struck me as downright endearing. This sympathy was perhaps a pre-cognition of the terrible news of his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis, which is something that no man would ever wish on another.

Now, as Mickelson competes at the US Open this weekend, he is, for once, a justified sentimental favorite. I am given to thoughts of how much fundamental diversion he has brought into my life in both of his incarnations, and how happy I am that he will be out there making jaw droppingly insane decisions at all the perfectly ill-timed moments. It seems wrong to root against him with anything like my customary vigor, and I wouldn‘t even be that sad if he won. In 2003, Mickelson winning the US Open would have driven me to a Nietzsche-ian despair.

In a sense, they are oppositional stories. Kobe remade his legacy by winning big, while Mickelson has never seemed more appealing in the role of a dopey, loopy loser.

Randall David Johnson. The great, dominant left hander who just became what might be the last 300 game winner in Major League Baseball for decades to come. A genuine wonder of weird nature, physically and temperamentally. How to put a fine point on his uniqueness? He is the Hall Of Fame ace on a pitching staff curated by David Lynch. A 6’10” living, breathing Tom Waits song. At age 45 it is hard to know how much more we will ever see of this incredibly strange force, and so we should all take a moment to consider just what we’ve beheld.

A man does not enter causally into a willful and accepting relationship with the nickname ‘The Big Unit’. It’s an odd thing to call yourself. Vaguely threatening, slightly lascivious. To quote the classic film: “That’s a name no man would self-apply where I come from.” Should you assume this nickname, you should be a big man, and a tough one. You should have a mustache and a mullet and throw a hundred miles an hour. The Big Unit has done all that, and more.

But consider the layers! ‘Randy Johnson’ ITSELF is a strong name. Let’s not kid ourselves: it’s a porn name. If you are born Randall Johnson, you can go a couple of different ways. You can STAY Randall Johnson, which sounds like a Promise Keeper. Or you can take it up a notch and become Randy Johnson, filed in the Book of Life someplace between Harry Reams and Haywood Jablomi. The Big Unit made the correct decision, and we can all be grateful for it.

My first happy memories of the Big Unit date to his early days in the league when he couldn’t find home plate with a GPS and a Predator Drone. His wildness was both comedic and frightening. Power pitchers like Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan have long wielded menace and intimidation as tools of the trade, but none has ever conferred quite the sense of full-scale Russian Roulette as the early Unit. In those days, a penchant for walks and wild pitches meant he was not especially effective in the sense of winning games. He would do things like give up four runs on one hit with ten walks. But the spectacle was already dazzling. In any context other than baseball, a man hurling a hard projectile so carelessly at lethal speed in the direction of another would be charged with felony assault. In baseball this made him a most an intriguing project.

And what a finished product he became! When the behemoth finally found his control, it was as though a mythic terror had shook the very foundations of the cosmos. He was a Grendel-like figure, especially notable for his meanness. He threw over John Kruk’s head in the 1993 All-Star Game. Kruk responded by offering meagerly at three additional fastballs and then running away. He evolved a cruel and malevolent manner on the mound — seeming at times nearly bi-polar crazy in his rage-tinged celebrations. He inadvertently (apparently inadvertently) murdered a bird which flew regrettably into the pathway of an oncoming fastball, emphatically answering the seeming imponderable, “I wonder what would happen if a bird flew into Randy Johnson’s fastball?”

As he awed follow competitors and scared little children into screaming night terrors, he also won at a tremendous rate. Along with Ken Griffey Jr., Johnson elevated the tragic Seattle Mariners to contender status. He was awarded five Cy Youngs and pitched a perfect game. His four-year run with the Arizona Diamondbacks, including a World Series title, deserve clear consideration alongside the best of Sandy Koufax.

When, inevitably, he was brought in as the latest ransomed savior of the New York Yankees, the Big Unit seemed to have no conception of the media hellscape to which he was consigning himself. New York is not Phoenix or Seattle, but somehow he seemed to be caught unaware and emphasized his ignorance on by roughing up a particularly officious Daily News cameraman photographer as he ambled down Madison Avenue. The incident cast a dour pall over his year in New York, and though he pitched well, both sides were happy to part company by season’s end. Always there was the sense that maybe it wasn’t quite safe to loose the man on the metropolis.

It is, I suppose, inevitable in the case of a pitcher who won more games in his forties then in his twenties to raise the question of performance enhancing drugs. I have no idea if Johnson ever did steroids. In a recent Sports Illustrated profile, he was amusingly coy: “I dabbled in all kinds of powders and tried to put weight on” and “I’m not denying that I went to GNC and all that stuff. I took a lot of different things that, you know, maybe at that time, maybe early enough, if I would have been tested, who knows?” Not what one would call an iron-clad denial, but anyway it makes no difference to me.

In the 80s and 90s, baseball was overrun with pharmaceutically enhanced circus freaks. In his preposterously inflated heyday, Mark McGwire looked like a grotesque Macy’s Day balloon. But it was all an illusion — just smoke and mirrors, special effects. Before McGwire got batshit on chemicals, he was just another power hitter breaking down professionally at the same rate as Gorman Thomas — a bad back and failing bat speed. Randy Johnson was never a character like that. He was always a genuine marvel even when he didn‘t have any idea what he was doing.

I don’t know if Johnson is a good guy or a great villain. I don’t know if he’s the kind of person you’d want to have over for dinner — he seems like he might snort ants and bite your dog. All I know is that he has been more fun to watch then nearly every one of his contemporaries and I will miss him when he’s gone. The entire thing has been creepy and awesome, and we won’t see the like of it again.