02/26/2010 1:18 PM |

I was fortunate enough to visit Montreal on my honeymoon, which happened to coincide with ‘Canada Day’, an event I had previously been unaware of. I’ll tell you that whatever that event was, it charmed me in the extreme. The common jingoism which I have come to associate with July 4th in this country was displaced by a cheerful, friendly air of civility and civic pride. More then one newspaper editorial I read on that day was headlined something like “Canada: Inferiority Complex No More.” Can you imagine this kind of headline in the Wall Street Journal?

The US hockey team’s upset win over Canada in the preliminary rounds of the Vancouver Olympics is an impressive achievement to be certain, and absolutely inappropriate in every way. How exactly to characterize this transgression?

Well, did you ever have a close friend who was interested in dating the same person as you? Except you were sort of ambivalent, and they really wanted to date this person? What do you do then? I guess it depends on what kind of friend you are.

The United States would like to win the gold medal in hockey. They would enjoy it. It would register as something pretty cool, like Apolo Ohno’s name and Johnny Weir’s… comportment. It would constitute, in short, one of the more memorable moments of the 2010 Winter Olympics for most Americans.

Canada would also like to win the gold medal in hockey. Also, they HAVE to win the gold medal. If they don’t, all throughout the Great White North, they will have to put sedatives in the water. There will be fistfuls of hair pulled from Halifax to Lethbridge. It is not impossible that they will disband the country into colonnades of isolated personal despair, filled with reckless displays of self-injury. This is why the United States must not repeat this mad act against their friends.

Here at the L Magazine, things have already gotten a little strained. Ex-pat publisher Jonny Diamond, a dear man by any terms, has shown obvious signs of mental anguish.

Comparisons to the American team’s success in this Olympics have been drawn to the “Miracle on Ice’ in 1980… This is not like the “Miracle on Ice.” That was a handful of college students stunning the collected professional all-stars of the Soviet Bloc in the midst of the Cold War. That was a magnificent surprise.

This is diabolical. This is running up behind your buddy and kicking him square in the balls. There is no reason for us to do this to Canada, in Canada. Should the Slovakians croak the Canadian hockey team (tonight) before they get another shot at us—well so be it. These things happen. And if the US were to be upset by Finland in the semi-final round, then we are absolved of this unpleasant difficulty.

However, a looming US-Canada meeting in the finals requires, by every measure if decency, absolute fealty. For God sake, let the Canadians win. That won’t be difficult to do—they are obviously better in the first place—all we have to do is lay down our swords and make a half-assed effort. If we seem on the verge of pulling off another upset win by dint of another extraordinary effort by hot goaltender Ryan Miller, then get the man out of net.

The United States rarely concedes defeat at any juncture. It has become common, for instance, to declare victory in every war we have ever fought, even though we essentially lost the War of 1812, the Korean War and Vietnam, amongst others.

I say, let us now claim defeat. Let’s do everything in our power to do the right thing, and make sure Sunday is Canada Day.

01/29/2010 4:00 PM |

Like many suburban youths, I grew up playing organized sports. During those years, I was always taught that ‘The Coach’ was a trusted, even sacrosanct entity to be esteemed at the caliber of those other bulwarks of the community—the teacher, the policeman, the priest. These were authority figures that would be a first recourse and safe harbor should things have ever gotten really ‘Twin Peaks’ weird on me.

Over time, of course, I came to discover that each of these professions is more than fully staffed with reprobates, degenerates and cretins of every possible description. If it is less than a majority that fall into this category, then it is more than a small sampling. And during the past year, sports coaches may well have established themselves as the non-pareil bad example for all of America’s youth. Let’s begin with the misdemeanors and work up from there:

Coaches Take Terrible Care Of Themselves

God bless the New York tabloids, those fonts of delightful, unfortunate puns, surreal misinformation and sheer creative invective. The New York Post might be part and parcel of a media empire which is distorting American politics to the point of full-scale demolition, but god damn if their concerns are not often my concerns. I have been waiting half a year to get to address the issue of Rex Ryan’s colossal waistline, and yet could never quite convince myself that it was a sports topic. Because it’s NOT a sports topic! It’s a carnie game: Guess the Madman’s Weight.

Recent speculation in the form of this ingenious article holds that Rex ingests 7,000 calories a day, and hints that his weight may currently be in the neighborhood of four bills. Ryan has reacted to this reporting with his customary good cheer, making genial light of the situation and seeming at times to be vying for the time-honored title of ‘America’s Best Loved Comic Big Man,’ held at various junctures by the storied likes of John Belushi, William Howard Taft, and Meatloaf.

It seems a fair question to ponder the paradox of enormous men with questionable attitudes towards nutrition motivating and instructing elite athletes. Just as it seems that Sarah Palin would be a poor choice to lead a civics seminar at Yale, 300-plus pound Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid feels like an unusual architect for the downfield exploits for a human bullet train like DeSean Jackson. However, appearances aside, Rex and Reid are big, affable and accomplished. Whatever alchemy they have achieved between the playbook and the pancake house seems to suit them fine. More worryingly…

Some of the Coaching Fat Men Are EVIL

Ryan and Reid are not by any outwardly objective standard bad men. They are good guys, good coaches… they just happen to hold the shape of silos. Recently dismissed University of Kansas coach Mark Mangino is both big and bad. The adage holds that it is always unwise to judge a book by its evil-looking cover, but Mangino appears to be a rare case in which central casting has captured the very essence of a corpulent super-villain. Half evil Southern sheriff and half Mr. Creosote from ‘The Meaning Of Life,’ he is reprehensible in appearance and temperament alike. The monstrous Mangino managed to bring an abrupt end to a successful run at UK by cruelly browbeating players, dropping such bon mots as this one to Raymond Brown, whose brother had recently been shot in the arm: “If you don’t shut up, I’m going to send you back to St. Louis so you can get shot with your homies.”

Charmless vitriol such as this is by all accounts the stock and trade of Mangino’s motivational arsenal. Amazing to think that a world-class motherfucker of this vintage would be put in charge of very young people, for any reason, even if he is the obese reincarnation of Knute Rockney.

More Bullying!

Mike Leach from Texas Tech—he of the celebrated spread offense and generally officious manner—was recently fired from his position for locking a student athlete in a small shed after he begged out of practice following post-concussion syndrome. Leach is suing to recover his last lost salary, but really, what explanation is there for this sort of thing? Why in the wide world of sports would you incarcerate a child with a head injury? What does that gain the team? Yet another blow to the Geneva Conventions struck by the great state of Texas.

Jim Leavitt was recently dismissed from the University of South Florida job for repeatedly slugging a player and then covering it up. What is with hitting these kids? All they do is make money for the colleges for free. What ‘lessons’ are you imparting to them by beating the mortal hell out of them? Leavitt wants his job back, naturally. Wretched behavior like this has not been tolerated since… Dickensian Britain? Nevertheless, Leavitt wants his job back.

And Mostly

When new USC coach Lane Kiffin bolted from the University of Tennessee following one mediocre season, he left a distraught fan base, a batch of disappointed recruits and a general litany of broken promises long enough to populate your average film noir. Setting aside the ongoing perplex of what it is that makes Kiffin such an attractive coaching candidate, one cannot help but be struck by the bald, shameless, shrugging manner in which he cheerfully asserts his own best interest as first and last in every instance.

As we all know, perhaps the most important job of a college coach at a major university is to trap a supremely gifted 16-year-old athlete in a room and promise him an education, an opportunity to develop as a player, and all of the worldly pleasures that life can possibly offer in order to recruit him. This process is frequently coercive to the point of browbeating, certainly unsavory, and possibly illegal—but anyway, you would like to think that these coaches are not absolutely LYING about their intentions. You would like to think that they actually do intend to spend three or four years with these players, developing their skills, providing them course work and sating their appetites. Frequently these athletes are entrusting their future and the future of their extended family to these coaches and recruiters. Kiffin represents a recent trend in college coaching which shows positively no compunction in exploiting very young people in this way—a hard sell, followed by a quick exit and a veritable “fuck you” on the way to their next paycheck.

Student athletes can’t transfer without losing years of eligibility and frequently can’t backtrack from letters of intent or enrollment. They are essentially sold a bill of goods and then trapped.

So what gives? What evil lurks in the hearts of men with whistles? As a society, we are almost always very quick to land with two feet on immature young athletes who make misjudgments with respect to personal decorum or public discourse. Given the recent track record of their supposed mentors, this feels like a pernicious hypocrisy.

01/15/2010 4:00 AM |

Most NFL fans are very familiar with the frequently cited, dueling archetypes: the ‘Player’s Coach’ versus ‘The Disciplinarian.’ The Player’s Coach is affable and easygoing, approachable and well liked by the media. In post-game interviews his players usually address him by his first name, as in “Well, Donny put in a good game plan and we executed it, and it worked just like Donny said it would.” The Player’s Coach often has a short run of success followed by a massive franchise-wide implosion when things start going squirrelly. Once a protracted losing streak occurs, the players realize that they are still going to be paid and aren’t going to get yelled at. Then the genie is out of the bottle, and the jig is up.

The ‘Disciplinarian’, on the other hand, is typically despised by his players. He has a fetish for sadistically long practices, and bizarre team rules like always having to style your hair in the manner of a National Socialist. The Disciplinarian has a habit of cutting problem players and wearing teams out with injury over the course of a full season. Their relationship to the media is usually astonishingly bland and monosyllabic, and on the rare occasion that they crack a smile or joke it is treated as a geo-hemispheric shock.

The Disciplinarian may make for a sub-optimal dinner guest, but in recent years, there has been little question that this coaching archetype has excelled. Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick, two men who put together do not quite add up to one personality, have combined to win multiple Super Bowls. And while Mike Tomlin surely possesses a certain charisma in his authority, he is hardly unintimidating—the sort of man who calmly invokes the most violent passages of gladiator movies in order to elucidate his team’s late-season strategy.

What makes this season peculiar is the number of soft touch, discipline-light Player’s Coaches who have taken their teams deep into the postseason. Whether this represents an anomaly or a genuine trend remains to be seen, but it certainly is curious. Consider a few of those now vying for the big ring:

Norv Turner

In seven long seasons as head coach of the Washington Redskins and two more with the Oakland Raiders, Norv Turner—a certified offensive wizard with the reputation as a very nice man—always appeared absolutely overwhelmed as a leader. His teams were radically undisciplined, with the trademark of pouting superstars and losing records. For some reason, perhaps simply because he is very agreeable, Turner kept getting more and more chances. Finally by virtue of some bizarre wrinkle in time, space and logic, Turner was handed the keys to a profoundly talented San Diego Chargers team in 2006. The Chargers were loaded, coming off a 14-2 season, and a very fluky loss in the playoffs. Having parted ways with the prickly but always effective Marty Schottenheimer—a sort of ultimate disciplinarian figure—they hired the feckless, twice failed Turner.

Cynics like myself assumed he would immediately run this team into the ground. He has not done so. So talented is the Chargers roster that Turner was handed that he has managed to achieve solid post-season runs the last two years, and heads into this weekend’s contest with an 11-game winning streak. I remain relatively certain that Turner is not a good coach, and that some enormous system failure of game management will demonstrate this fact in the playoffs. But I’m no longer sure. What if he wins the whole thing? Norv Turner, world champion…? The dizzy spells are returning…

Wade Phillips

Philips is Norv Turner’s contemporary and counterpart as a defensive mastermind—a respected coordinator who has been handed head coaching jobs in five different cities, with middling success at every stop. Even for a devoted Cowboy hater, the man is hard to dislike. Unfailingly easy going and laconic, during post-game press conferences Phillips can often seem to have forgotten what the occasion is. With his soft drawl and gentle sense of humor, he deflects withering criticism with an easy shrug. He’s fun to watch—a sample media session might find him reposting to an animated critique with something like:

“Well, I mean I don’t know… I don’t know. I guess that was a screw up. It was all happening a little fast. I guess I’m not really sure…”

One of these weeks you half expect him to go ahead and break out the old ‘Fuck it, Dude, let’s go bowling.”

But again, in Phillips case, form has not held. Never having won a playoff game previously as a head coach, his Cowboys rolled through the last three weeks of the regular season and right over the Philadelphia Eagles last week. You could scarcely imagine this man running a Boy Scout troop, but whatever he’s doing, or not doing, currently seems to be working.

Rex Ryan

Of course the strangest case of all is Jets coach Rex Ryan, who is always the weirdest part of any story he is involved in. No one will ever accuse Ryan of being laidback or quiet, but he certainly is a player’s coach, and in an utterly novel way at that.

In the typical dichotomy of disciplinarian versus player’s coach, the disciplinarian is a remote, demanding father figure to his team, while the player’s coach is ‘one of the guys’ and ‘treats his team like men.’

Ryan has discovered a previously unexplored third way to negotiate this dynamic: by being hands down the most infantile person in the locker room. By assuming the ranting, bragging, crying manner of a hyper-active 8 year old, Ryan seems to have truly startled his team. Surely he is the first coach that many of these players have ever observed to openly sob following a loss. This is a completely new level of identification—Ryan is not ‘one of the guys’—he’s one of the guy’s children. And I’ll be damned if the team isn’t genuinely protective of him. You probably never saw this in the George Halas handbook, but for one season it has been enough to make Rex’s Jets the NFL story in New York. Somewhere Tom Coughlin is polishing his medals and muttering darkly…

12/08/2009 12:23 PM |

Now that the Yankee ticker tape has been swept into the sewers, it is past time for something corrective.

Because, Yankees fans have been wandering the streets with nitrous oxide grins; you people all look like you just walked out of a hash house. Some action simply must be taken. This is no kind of winter posture for the cold, mean streets of New York. Time for some mean drug to alter the consciousness before this place lapses utterly into a lurid pleasuredome.

Luckily, for all involved, there is the delightful, reverse Midas touch New Jersey Nets.

As has so frequently been the case throughout history, something magical is happening in the air over Newark. As of this writing, the Nets are now 1-19, the single worst start in NBA history. They have fired their long time coach Lawrence Frank, by all accounts a nice man, and very fine coach who won more games than any other in franchise history. This is like expelling a dissident from a gulag, with a cash settlement. (It will seem even more like this at the end of next month, if the NBA approves the sale of the Nets to a Russian tycoon named Mikhail Prokhorov, who by the accepted logic of stereotype, can only be acquiring the franchise for the most disturbing of pretexts.) In any event, we should all be exactly as lucky as Lawrence Frank.

To area fans the Nets have always been a non-descript afterthought. Even during their runs to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, they were not an easy team to become invested in. Those teams were helmed by roughnecks like Kenyon Martin and the admittedly brilliant but thoroughly unlovable Jason Kidd. They were plainly built to be the best team in a weak East, but never really stood a shot at a championship against Western Conference powers like the Lakers and Spurs. They were good teams with an expiration date built into the finals. And they weren’t all that much fun to watch.

This Nets team is different: this is the most exciting moment in franchise history. They stand on the verge of accomplishing something so distinguished that this metropolis must do nothing more or less then hoist them on their shoulders and declare them their team of the winter, spring and summer: their dark heroes of oblivion.

Consider the special course that they have taken. They have not gone through the inadequate, piecemeal rebuilding which characterizes the Knicks long, slow climb back to mediocrity. To the contrary: this organization has laid it on the line. With arduous commitment, they have decided to lose every single game.

There are generally two schools of thought on the Nets. One is that they are young, injured to the point of triage and building for the future. Devin Harris and Brooks Lopez are commodities with the potential to grow into the cornerstones of a serious, long running Eastern Conference contender. Were they eventually able to add a superstar along the lines of Lebron James or even Chris Bosh, this train wreck could shortly manifest itself into an outright championship threat for years to follow.

The other propagated notion is that this cursed franchise has only a dark and unsettling future. The long rumored move to Brooklyn remains an ephemera, and as likely as not will never take place. Some believe the team will remain in an extended purgatory of losing seasons and low attendance, until eventually they are contracted, quietly moved to St. Louis, or simply forgotten to be added to the 2012 schedule entirely.

The correct answer to this question is: who cares? The time is now! The moment is upon us. We are 1-19, and we are clearly in a position to challenge the ’72-’73 Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in NBA history. That team went a daunting 9-73. Like DiMaggio’s hit streak, it is a record which may never be broken. But god love the Nets, they do have that chance.

This is absolutely crucial. Following this year’s World Series, what better reprisal of the never ending New York and Philadelphia rivalry could exist then this: our best is better than your best, and our WORST is so degraded that we can render your view of failure mere paltry? You can’t beat us in ANYTHING.

New Yorkers now need to think of this Nets team the same way they once did the 1995 Yankees who won 114 games. The hallowed passages of greatness achieved by that team, in the likes of Jeter, O’Neil, Rivera and Williams are in some ways not so different from what we now require from Rafer Alston, Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes. Having started something, we need to finish it. All hands must be on deck. Cheering for the Nets to fulfill their destiny, that is now our bailiwick. We can do 8-74.

No one remembers the 20-win team, but my word, if we could somehow only win 8. Eight is enough to fill our lives with love.

10/29/2009 12:30 PM |

Steve Wynn‘s three highly distinguished decades in the ornery field of rock and roll have established him as master songwriter and musician. His work in the Dream Syndicate, Miracle 3, and most recently with the Baseball Project (a group which includes Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck) has delighted and inspired generations. You would think these honorariums would be sufficient to keep him from talking baseball—but you’d be wrong! Steve, a devoted Yankees obsessive (friends have expressed concern) weighs in here with his feelings about the 2009 Yankees and what we can expect from a truly intriguing series.

The L: Well, you’re Yankees have gone and done it. The team with the NASA like budget has finally commingled massive talents, enormous egos and various ancillary components into a bona fide juggernaut. [Ed. Last night’s game notwithstanding.] In particular A-Rod has excelled this post season. Given how his year began, with injury, the steroids controversy and attendant scrutiny, did you see this coming? How do Yankees fans feel about A-Rod now?

Steve Wynn: I’ve said from the start that this is the make-or-break year for A-Rod in terms of his legacy. You might remember that when the season began it was almost a given that he had thrown away his chances to make the Hall of Fame. I said then and still say now that a strong season, a good attitude and—most of all—a World Series ring just might make people think less about the steroid story. And sure enough it has almost been forgotten. I’ve really enjoyed watching him this post-season. He has been very serious, not hot-dogging in any way and has become a leader. I’m most certainly down with A-Rod these days.

The L: In addition to A-Rod, this post-season, and in many ways the entire year, has been about CC Sabathia. Sabathia stabilized the front of the Yankees rotation and has been a dominant stopper in the playoffs. He justified Girardi’s decision to start him on three days rest against the Angels in what might have been the pivotal decision of the post-season to date. What is it about Sabathia that has allowed him to excel as a Yankee, when so many other high priced saviors have failed to in this capacity? Is it too soon to talk about him as a potential Hall of Famer?

SW: He’s the only active pitcher right now that has a shot at 300 wins. He has the stamina and the right offense behind him. He just might do it. And that would get him in the Hall of Fame (don’t get me started about Blyleven, Jack Morris, Tommy John, Jim Kaat and maybe Mike Mussina—I think they all should be in the Hall). I wanted to lynch Cashman when he didn’t go for Johan Santana but he’s looking pretty smart right now. I think CC vs. Johan might be the big rivalry for the coming years. And I’d love to see him win three games in the series—when’s the last time THAT happened (I’m guessing Lolich but I’m too lazy to look it up)? [Ed. Yeah, well, good luck with that happening.]

The L: Even a non-Yankees fan like myself can reflect upon the significance of a final World Series adventure for the great Mariano Rivera. Rivera has always struck me as having the temperament and ability of an artist. It’s also interesting that he essentially throws only one pitch. Supposing this is Mariano’s final chance to close out the World Series, are there singular artists who come to mind by comparison? I think somehow of Leonard Cohen—stolid and unimpeachable in his brilliance over a seemingly endless term. Your thoughts on Mariano?

SW: Ha ha. I love questions like these. I try to think of someone who basically does one thing, does it flawlessly and with little or no fanfare. It wouldn’t be Dylan or Lou or Neil, that’s for sure. I guess it wouldn’t even be ME. Maybe you’re right. Maybe Cohen is the one and Mariano just might be entering his “Dear Heather” phase. Uh oh.

The L: The Phils are no walkover. As defending champs with a great deal of character, do they worry you? Or is this current iteration of Yankees feel like a sure thing? You must like Rollins, Howard and Charlie Manuel—everyone does. Remarkable to see Pedro pitching at Yankee Stadium again, although it is the new, 2/3 sized ‘model home’ Yankee Stadium. Anyway, thoughts on your opponents?

SW: How did Pedro become a “sure thing,” number-two man in the rotation? He was out of baseball. He was finished. The Phillies were seen as insane for picking him up. He will get by on guts but he could just as easily get knocked out in the first inning. It will be exciting though. The Phillies lineup is terrifying. I’m especially worried about Werth. That guy killed the Dodgers. The pressure is mostly on Burnett. He can’t go and walk five or six guys and expect to win against these guys.

The L: Finally, a prediction?

SW: Yankees in six—although I’d love to see it go seven with CC winning three. And lay off the payroll. Money alone does not a champion make.

10/19/2009 1:30 PM |

If New York City currently possesses a greater, more storied man of letters then Mr. Larry “Ratso” Sloman, it is not known to the staff of the Proven System. Ratso’s career is too far reaching, accomplished and diverse to condense into short form. His seminal account of the Rolling Thunder Review, On the Road with Bob Dylan, moved none other then Dylan himself to characterize the achievement as “The ‘War and Peace’ of rock and roll.” Ratso currently hosts the indispensable KGB Radio Hour with cohort and fellow traveler Marc Jacobson of New York Magazine. Rats is also a hockey enthusiast, and in 1982 published Thin Ice: A Season In Hell With The New York Rangers. It takes a man of this stature to step into the fire and make the case for why any of us should be watching hockey now, rather then the MLB postseason or the NFL. Damned if he doesn’t make a pretty persuasive case of it…

The L: Rats, everyone knows that following a kind of nadir in the public consciousness, the NHL experienced a renaissance last year. Great young stars like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin stepped to the fore and the entirety of the playoffs were vibrant and exciting. But… wasn’t that like several days ago? Is it really time to expect anyone to pay attention at this point with the baseball playoffs beginning and the NFL season in full swing?

Ratso: The average Joe on the street doesn’t care about hockey, doesn’t understand it, and can’t follow the game, so what difference does it make if he’s tailgating in a parking lot in subzero weather on any given Sunday morning or if he’s wearing three layers of thermals and watching a baseball game close to midnight in the Rocky Mountains instead of chomping on a hot dog at the Nassau Coliseum taking in the hapless Islanders home opener? Hockey’s a deviant sport. Its cognoscenti get off on a feeling of exclusivity, like foodies who’ve just discovered the newest Asian fusion restaurant in Flushing. First of all, it’s hard to watch and comprehend a hockey game unless you’ve actually played the sport. And to play hockey means a substantial investment in equipment: skates, helmets, shoulder pads, shin guards, garter belts…

The L: In our private discussions, you have suggested with customary subtlety that you have slightly diverse opinions regarding the young NHL flagship stars Crosby and Ovechkin. Would you, for the benefit of out readership, elucidate your views on both and what we might expect for the remainder of their careers?

Ratso: Crosby is a whiner. He’s been anointed by the NHL brain trust (and I’m using that word extremely loosely) as the “face” of the game, so I guess he feels that that designation mandates that every referee’s call should go in favor of the alpha Penguin and his arctic brood. He’s also a sourpuss who seems to go about his business on the ice like a robot, devoid of emotion. Contrast that with Alexander Ovechkin, a much more dynamic and complete player who can bowl you over, strip the puck and deposit it behind your goalie before you can raise your 32 ounce Bud Light to your lips. And Ovechkin is extremely lovable, each goal occasions an outpouring of emotion, frenzied leaps up against the glass, chest bumps with linemates, etc. He’s been criticized for his outlandish celebrations by none other than the Prince of Xenophobia, loudmouth Canadian sportscaster Don Cherry, whose own sartorial excesses would make Iceberg Slim blush, so it’s obvious that Alexander’s on the right track.

I was actually expounding on my distaste for Crosby and my preference for Ovechkin at the opening night party for my friend Sean Avery’s new sports bar, Warren 77 in Tribeca. It was near the end of the night and I was pretty soused as I regaled Hank Lundqvist, Aves, and Avery’s close friend from the Dallas Stars, Brad Richards, expressing my disappointment that the Penguins had ousted Ovechkin’s Capitals from the Stanley Cup quest. I was going on and on about Crosby’s whiny nature and contrasting it with Ovechkin’s joyfulness when I registered a pained expression on Richards’ face that was independent of the bar food and alcohol that he had consumed. “Wait, don’t tell me that Crosby’s your best friend?” I suddenly surmised. “We grew up with each other,” Richards confessed. Just my luck, I was trashing one of the two Nova Scotians to play professional ice hockey to the
other! The Dallas pivot then informed me that Crosby was really a swell guy, that he had taken on the mantle of being hockey’s messiah since he was a teenager and that he was doing a great job as the sports ambassador to who-knows-what important audience. I didn’t buy any of it but Richards is a lot bigger than me so I humbly retreated off my soapbox. I have to admit that Crosby did come up big in game seven of the Cup finals last year. Maybe having his name embossed on the cup will make him a little more personable this year.

10/13/2009 12:33 PM |

For those of us who grew up on the remarkable Buffalo Tom, a band which wedded the passion and energy of the best punk rock with a sweeping appreciation of great songwriting throughout the entire history of the rock idiom, it will come as little surprise that frontman Bill Janovitz is 1) consumed by baseball and 2) enraptured by the Boston Red Sox. We see this only too often with great writers: the bleachers at Fenway are a veritable colloquium of literary and musical exemplars. What gives? It’s a very particular alchemy. Phillies fans, for instance, are loyal and vocal but most of them are probably out on parole. For elucidation and his fondest hopes for a playoff outcome, we turn now to the wit and pathos of Mr. Janovitz. NB: This interview was conducted before the Red Sox were eliminated by the Angels.

The L: Bill, you are not a native Bostonian… how and when did it transpire that you came to identify so closely with the Red Sox? Can you describe the circumstances of your indoctrination? My own childhood consciousness was inexplicably dotted with a peculiar, non-regional affection for characters like Eckersley, Fisk, Mike Torrez, Jerry Remy, Rice and Lynn. I felt, on some level, that they seemed sort of insane, but in a fashion which I found oddly relatable. That is to say, not insane in the agro, macho, self-aggrandizing manner of the Bronx Zoo: Munson, Jackson, Nettles, et al. Even as a five year old, I could tell that the Yankees were not for me. In any event, do you have a theory on the strange, persistent attraction of this franchise to the arts community?

Bill Janovitz
: I grew up in Huntington, NY. My father was only 24 when I was born in 1966. The guy grew up as a die-hard Brooklyn Dodgers fan. He was at the tender age of 15, I believe, when they left for LA. Like most in the same situation, he halfheartedly migrated to the Mets and was finally taken by the 1969 Miracle Mets. But before that, he was a kid/man without a team. Never would he root for the Yankees, and the Giants left as well in 1957.

So, that’s how I grew up. Kingman, Kranepool, McGraw, Cleon Jones, Rusty Staub, Tom Seaver, even Willy Mays, these are the names I grew up with. But my memory is so bad for sports. I have very little recollection of those games. But I remember going many times to Shea, and of course, the first time. I remember my father pointing out Mays’ pink El Dorado in the lot. I got Ron Swoboda’s and Lyndsey Nelson’s autographs. Mr. Met, banner day, “Meet the Mets,” “Kiner’s Korner,” “the one beer when you’re having more than one,” and losing while the Yankees were always winning. I recall being very young and thinking that fandom could be completely arbitrary, that I could therefore simply declare myself a fan of the Cowboys or, god forbid, the Yankees. I was just tossing such ideas around, but not committing. It was one of those life lessons when my wise father told me, basically, sure, I could. But that the character of a person is their loyalty, even loyalty to something as silly as sports teams. So if I wanted to be a fan of the Yankees, that was my choice (those words came hard for him, I am sure. He probably threw up in his mouth) but if I made that choice, he didn’t want me changing my allegiances later on. No fair-weather fans in his house. It was not an outright ban on Yankee fandom; it was something much larger and more important.

My family and I left New York for Massachusetts when I was 16, but these are my memories. I have friends from the same era who remember more details of the actual games. And they remember baseball as a whole way more than I do. I only recall random names and details. Ron Cey, for example. Mark Fidrych, of course. Fisk, Munson, Nolan Ryan. Rollie Fingers. Vida Blue. But they were mostly baseball cards of guys I might see once in a while. So the Sox had not registered for me much beyond that. And by the time I left, I was pretty much over sports. I had posters of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (the one with the bulge in the jeans), Jagger/Richards at one mic; and hairy old sepia-toned Skynyrd on my walls. My father walked in once, looked around, shook his head smiling and said, “So these are your heroes, eh?” It is a memory that inspired a line in a BT song, “Summer”: “Where’ve my heroes gone today?/Mick and Keith and Willie Mays?”

09/08/2009 4:00 AM |

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.

08/25/2009 11:53 AM |

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.

08/12/2009 6:10 PM |

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.