Friday, December 12, 2008

Get me Vaughn

The Jake Peavy trade has just fallen through for the Cubs after days of rampant speculation, which has shed a spotlight on the baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas. Unique to baseball, team executives gather around in order to provoke intrigue and double-dealing. The meetings are shrouded in secrecy as baseball writers leap to follow false trails, executives practice their dissumlation, and the players are moved around like risk armies as increasingly desperate GMs talk themselves into overpaying for journeyman middle relievers. The whole scene resembles the secret dealings of nineteenth century European diplomats, whose correspondence, betrayals, and secret alliances restitched the map of Europe, with less of an emphasis on epaulettes, points of honor, and occasional literal saber rattling as a senile aristocrat may unsheath his Mensurschläger and rattle it menacingly at a younger colleague whom he believed to be a conniving agent of the Pope.

Clemens von Metternich, left, whose machinations reset the balance of power in
Europe after the fall of Bonaparte. Brian Sabean, right, whose machinations may
well lead him to offer a $30 million contract to Ron Villone.


I recently came across this excellent treatment of cockfighting in a 1966 magazine devoted to the fine and gentlemanly sport. The magazine offers catalogs of fighting cocks delivered straight to your sweaty basement cockfighting den, reviews of cockfighting accessories, stories of cocks successfully fought, and editorials denouncing Lyndon Johnson. As the magazine puts it, "If you expect to fight coopwalked cocks against fresh farm walked cocks, you are kidding only one person - yourself."

A full catalog of fine fighting birds. You can
click on the picture for the full size for increased
legibility and so that anyone walking by who sees
the giant "POWER COCKS" in the picture can be
reassured that you are merely looking at
purchasing birds to tear each other asunder for
your own amusement while you shake money as
part of an incomprehensible betting system

The baseball link in all of this is, of course, Chicago Cub Aramis Ramirez who so enjoys a good cockfight that he found himself prominently featured in a Dominican cockfighting magazine. The issue came out during the fallout from the Vick trial, which drew a predictable pile of outrage. The New York Times found the idea appealing enough to send a reporter to the Dominican Republic to attend a cockfight who promptly began showing the restraint of a veteran J. Peterman writer:

At the Club Gallistico de San Martín, two armed policemen stand at the arena entrance and ask spectators to leave their guns in a locked chest. As the men file in to take their seats, the scene looks straight out of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” the 1980s dystopian classic.

Four rows of cascading seats surround the ring, which is bathed in flickering fluorescent light. Ceiling fans rattle. Those who could not afford the entry fee of 300 pesos, about $9, cling to metal bars that surround the arena. The fight starts when the birds arrive in plexiglass elevators that creak and lurch on a track above the crowd. Then they descend into the ring.

Two birds will enter, one bird will leave.

I'd like to think that immediately after writing that, the journalist quit his job, bought a shack by the ocean, a closet full of unbuttoned white shirts and linen pants , a panama hat, and a Dominican manservant while spending his days downing whiskey in the type of sweaty bar with a slowly rotating ceiling fan before becoming drawn into an anti-government intrigue by a beautiful woman and her mysterious connections to a leftist organization.

Aramis Ramirez direct from the pages
of a Dominican cockfight enthusiast
magazine preparing to enter his rooster
against the armored rooster denizens of

Personally, I find the sport of cockfighting a bit blasé and demand a return to the grand English tradition of bear baiting. As we all know, many of England's greatest theaters that served as the canvas for Shakespeare, Marlowe, and other Elizabethan luminaries to reshape the direction of modern drama also served as places to go to watch a bear reduce a pack of snarling dogs into a pulpy residue. In the seventeenth century, Bear Gardens became a popular, although controversial form of entertainment. An article from the PMLA journal from 1925 by J. Leslie Hotson contains a passage written in the 1630s by a man known only as "Honest William" describing the bear-baiting experience:

But, the bear-baiters had their critics as well, as D. Lupton from 1632 attests:

Perhaps D. Lupton would enjoy his bear-bait more if the Bears had a chance to take their righteous bear fury out on the humans who captured them and baited them for their own amusement. They could do so using Troy Hurtubise's anti-bear assault suit that he constructs in the film Project Grizzly. Project Grizzly is hands-down the greatest film ever made about a man who single-mindedly endeavors to build suit resistant to grizzly bear assault for some reason. The suit resists pummeling, mauling, biting, gashing, and all other manner of potential grizzly attacks including anti-flame insulation in case he runs into any firebreathing or torch-wielding bears. The movie itself is slow moving unless you're a fan of Canadians gathering in bleak poolhalls and shabby diners, and it never really answers the fundamental question of how Hurtubise intends to use the suit. In fact, the second half of the movie involves him stalking a grizzly for no apparent reason since his mobility in the suit makes a shambling Romero zombie look like an agile, mustachioed trapeze-man, and once he inevitably falls over he remains trapped on his back with no way out of the suit except with the potential assistance of the rampaging bear. There is, however, his dedication to buckskin, knives (used not for defense, but apparently to impress wayward mountain men that he may encounter) and comical methods of testing his suit. The following clip from the movie may be one of the most wonderful things ever put to film.

Note: The clip here has saberdance clumsily edited over it, but I'm pretty sure that the original movie featured the Robocop theme, which makes it infinitely more awesome.

No comments: