Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sports Update for a Sports Website

It's a slow time for Northwestern football news. If you are really desperate, you can follow Coach Fitz on Twitter, although it doesn't give me the Coach Fitz news I really need such as him getting fired up about an optimal oat to water ratio in a bowl of instant oatmeal or whether or not he chest-bumps his barber after another successful crew cut.

Coach Fitz successfully comes in under the
140-character limit

In other NU football news, The Bears signed linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa. While this is potentially good news for the Bears' linebacker depth, Tinoisamoa will probably get the starting nod over NU alumn Nick Roach who will compete with Hunter Hillenmeyer for a roster spot. Meanwhile, Tyrell Sutton, John Gill, and Eric Peterman are all competing to secure roster spots for NFL teams.

Peterman tries on a Bears helmet while Sutton dons the hated green
and gold


The Cubs are just starting to crawl out of a disastrous eight-game slide where the entire team has been beset by injuries and the complete inability to hit. Fortunately, the Cubs have responded not with complacency or quiet determination, but demonstrative tantrums and the occasionally brouhaha with umpires. Milton Bradley has been, as expected, a clubhouse leader in arguing balls and strikes and getting ejected and suspended. In this article, Bradley claims that the umpires have it out for him, summing the umps' dastardly plan up as "let's try to ruin Milton Bradley." By dipping into the third person when describing a league-wide umpire vendetta, Bradley has gained BYCTOM Most Favored Cub status. The pitching staff, however, has gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to mixing it up with umpires and punching inanimate objects.

The stage was already set for the Cubs' Memorial Day Massacre with the MLB-wide mandated wearing of red hats and the fact that this actually happened:

The presence of Mr. T ensured the prediction
of pain for the Cubs and their gatorade

Mr. T actually joined the broadcast booth for the bottom of the seventh inning (MLB.TV users are not only encouraged but divinely mandated to watch the broadcast available here) during which Mr. T rambled on about being a Dean's List scholar at Prairie View A&M, growled at the Pirates, displayed a surprising amount of expertise on the Cubs' disabled list, shockingly declined to use the phrase "I pity the fool" for upwards of ten minutes, and, most surprisingly, laughed, a hoarse throaty chuckle reminiscent of Muttley from "Wacky Races" and a completely unexpected development from a man who spent his entire career, choosing only to express the emotion "I ain't gettin' on no plane, sucka."

Mr. T displays his range

Earlier in the game, Ryan Dempster erupted after lasting only 4 innings and giving up six earned runs and promptly pummeled the Gatorade dispenser with his left non-pitching hand in a savvy veteran move. In the fifth, Ted Lilly came sprinting out of the dugout like Mel Gibson going over the top at the end of Gallipoli in order to protest Bob Davidson's strike zone, needing to be restrained by two Cubs coaches. This was perhaps most surprising because Lilly usually has the placid composure and painted-on eyebrows of a bored action figure.

Firebrand Theodore Roosevelt Lilly in action

The Cubs ended up losing 10-8 to the Pirates, cementing an eight game losing streak. In response, the Trib wonders: is it time for Lou Piniella to do something drastic? The article recalls his great dirt and hat kicking exhibition from 2007. There are few things in baseball more satisfying than a Lou Piniella ejection largely because of his build resembling a spindly man that is inexplicably carrying a fetal hippopotamus to term, and the sight of a manager getting in an umps' face is always hilarious because he tends to jerk his head in a way that normal people never do, giving the effect of the slightly sped-up footage of old newsreels.


On Wednesday, a wild pitch from Carlos Zambrano got away from Geovany Soto. Zambrano rushed to cover the plate and seemed to get Nyjer Morgan speeding in from third apparently on the way to check his birth certificate and confirm that he's actually named "Nyjer Morgan." Then, fireworks. You have all probably seen the video by now, but here's the blow-by-blow as part of a BYCTOM official Zambrano meltdown recap:

Zambrano immediately rushes over to the ump to protest the call in a dignified manner by standing less than three inches from the ump's face and showering him with a mixture of spittle, sunflower seed casings, and miscellaneous eyebrow detritus. The umpire takes in the tirade for upwards of seven seconds and then, after making some sort of barely perceptible incidental contact, tosses Zambrano with the "you're outta here" gesture. Zambrano whirls around. "No YOU'RE out of here," yells Zambrano who then throws the ump out; this gesture is unsuccessful, largely because of a little-known baseball rule that rampaging players cannot under any circumstances eject umpires from games. If Zambrano was a detective, he would have at this point turned in his badge and service revolver in order to get to the bottom of the case by playing by his own rules because he'll be damned if lets another killer slip through the system because his unorthodox and violent investigative techniques caused the case to get thrown out of court. Piniella gets between the ump and Zambrano, who is visibly restrained by Lou's superhuman belly, a force so powerful that he occasionally lends it out to third world nations in order to quell corruption riots. Zambrano picks up the ball and hurls it towards the bleachers, displaying his warning track power, and then stalks over towards the dugout, escorted by an embarrassed Larry Rothschild who has the look of someone either escorting a screaming child or an agitated senile relative from a place of business. Zambrano rips off his glove and spikes it into the ground before alighting into the dugout. Immediately upon entering the dugout steps, he grabs a bat, which means that at some point before entering the dugout, probably just after throwing his glove but possibly from the very minute he got tossed from the game, Zambrano had made the premeditated decision to whale on the Gatorade dispenser in the a display of berserker rage. He hits the machine a couple of times then appears to either stumble or be carried by his angry momentum down a series of stairs towards the clubhouse. Undaunted, he regains his footing and finishes the dispenser off, as Rothschild half-heartedly attempts to stop him while cautiously deciding to not get in between a bat-wielding Zambrano and a gatorade-dispensing product. Zambrano exits.

This is not the first time Zambrano's temper has flared, which is why instead of the insipid and uninspired "Big Z" nickname (he's big and his last name starts with Z, how appropriate), he should be known as "El Bombástico" or at the very least, "El Toro," which is apparently what he calls himself in calmer moments. The Trib's Paul Sullivan, their Cubs beat writer, prepared a surprisingly amusing Five Greatest Big Z Explosions, including him throwing at the contemptible Cardinal Jim Edmonds twice ("This is not a baby's game. This is a man's game," yells Zambrano while wearing his pajama-like baseball uniform), destroying water coolers by hoisting them over his head and throwing them like Donkey Kong as his teammates adopt the blank stares into the distance favored by figures on Soviet socialist-realist posters, and memorably beating up catcher Michael Barrett in the dugout and in the clubhouse. I had actually forgotten about the Michael Barrett incident, but Barrett had the distinction of having a Forrest Gump-like presence in Major League face punching incidents over his career.
Michael Barrett's career makes me really disappointed that I used up a Kumite joke
in the last post


The movie Bloodsport starring Jean-Claude van Damme, that bearded guy from Revenge of the Nerds, and that enormous Chinese guy with pecs the size of dinner plates (Bolo Yeong, who evidently has played characters named Thunder, Moon, and Ice) is both likely to be on Spike TV sometime within the next 3 hours and based on the supposed true story of Frank Dux (as was The Quest, another Kumite movie starring Van Damme that was basically the same as Bloodsport, except that Van Damme for some reason spent the beginning of the movie as some sort of French clown) .

Bloodsport: practically a documentary

Dux claimed that he entered the Kumite, a secret no-holds-barred fighting tournament sometime in the late 1970s and won it. He is a controversial figure in the martial arts world, claiming to be a Kumite champ, an expert in ninjitsu, and a CIA operative.

Frank Dux, self-proclaimed superspy
and Van Damme muse, phrases that often
appear on my personal resumé.

Since the 1980s, however, a number of publications have questioned the veracity of his claims, setting off a long chain of questions about his age, military record, and ability to break through bulletproof glass with his bare hands. One of the most bizarre accusations came from the L.A. Times, which alleged that he had purchased his Kumite trophy from a trophy shop in Southern California. The allegations go back and forth between Dux and his detractors; Dux is evidently not shy about suing people or writing interminable rebuttals to websites questioning or supporting his claims and the amount of nonsense generated by a shady character like Dux, and the martial arts enthusiast/soldier of fortune types that go after him is grimly tiresome enough to take the fun out of a guy living out some sort of Ninja Gaiden fantasy. All that matters is that hopefully, somewhere there is a secret underground fighting tournament where people shake money, and some guy adopts a monkey fighting style, and Chong Li has secreted some secret powder in his shorts that allows him to blind an opponent but does absolutely no harm to his sweaty genitals.

And if somewhere there is a Kumite involving gatorade dispensers, the CIA needs to get on the Cubs' bullpen phone immediately.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Orson Welles vs. Ernest Hemingway: Who was the greatest bearded inebriate?

Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles stood at the top of their respective mediums. Revered as geniuses in their lifetimes, they lived at a time where artistic accomplishment mingled with celebrity in a nascent age of mass media as evidenced by these fantastic Salvador Dalí commercials. Both responded in the only reasonable way: by growing beards and lashing out upon the world through heroic acts of drunken derring-do. But which man can truly be called the twentieth century's greatest bearded inebriate?


Hemingway moved around an awful lot, including stops in Paris, Toronto, Key West, and Cuba, occasionally returning to the U.S. to punch somebody in the face. His time in Paris is of course chronicled wonderfully in A Moveable Feast where he delves into the Paris literary expatriate community including the acerbic Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, whose relationship can best be described as a grandiose celebration of dysfunction, Ezra Pound, and gaping-mouthed gadfly Ford Madox Ford, who Hemingway describes as "breathing heavily through a heavy, stained mustache and holding himself upright as an ambulatory, well clothed, up-ended hogshead."

Ford Madox Ford, in fact, seemed be photographed only with his mouth agape, not unlike a muppet or the type of fish that sucks the muck off of aquarium walls. This posture fascinates me, since it did not appear to stop him from having a somewhat rakish reputation. I've done some cursory searching to see if Ford Madox Ford suffered from some sort of condition that gave him this unique expression or if he wore it as a sort of bizarre affectation of perennial mouth-breathing surprise. Barbara Bedford, author of A Female Rake, a biography of his lover Violet Hunter with whom he had a ten-year affair, describes him as "tall and thin and fair-haired, with a blond mustache that failed to conceal defective front teeth and a mouth that always hung open," and contemporary Wyndham Lewis flatteringly called him a "flabby lemon and pink giant, who hung his mouth open as though he were an animal at a zoo inviting buns - especially when ladies were present," but neither offered a reason.

The slackened jaw of Ford Madox Ford remained a staple of the Paris literary world

The greatest hagiography of Hemingway comes from his close friend and acolyte A.E. Hotchner in Papa Hemingway. Hotchner befriended Hemingway in the late 1940s on an assignment from Cosmopolitan magazine when it aspired to literary ambition instead of serving as a glossy clearinghouse for makeup tips and an apparently inexhaustible number of ways to bring out the animal in your man. Hotchner quickly joined Hemingway's intimate circles and fell under his drunken, bearded spell as the author regaled him with his considerable macho resumé and introduced him to the pre-Castro Cuban world of fishing, drinking, and a large array of bloodsports. My favorite passage involves Hotchner's trip with Hemingway to the circus:

We went around to a side entrance on Fiftieth Street and Ernest banged on the door until an attendant appeared. He tried to turn us away but Ernest had a card signed by his old friend John Ringling North, which stated that the bearer was to be admitted to the circus at any time, any place...

Ernest became fascinated with the gorilla; although the keeper was nervous as hell and warned him not to stand too close, Ernest wanted to make friends with the animal. He stood close to the cage and talked to the gorilla in a staccato cadence and kept talking, and finally the gorilla, who appeared to be listening, was so moved he pickedup his plate of carrots and dumped it on top of its head; then he started to wimper; sure signs, the keeper said, of his affection...

"I should get through to him," Ernest said, staying with the polar bear, "but I haven't talked bear talk for some time and I may be rusty."...He began to speak to the bear in a soft muscial voice totally unlike his gorilla language, and the bear stopped pacing. Ernest kept on talking amd the words, or should I say sounds, were unlike any I had ever heard. The bear backed up a little and grunted, and then it sat on its haunches and, looking straight at Ernest, it began to make a series of noises through its nose, which made it sound like an elderly gentleman with severe catarrh.

"I'll be goddamned!" the keeper said.
In fact, Hemingway's prowess with bears becomes almost a minor theme in the book. Earlier, Hotchner refers to an incident where Hemingway got out of his car and confronted a snarling black bear by calling it a "miserable-son-of-a-bitch" and insulting its place on the grand bear pecking order and instilled in it a fear of cars. Later on, he describes an anecdote where Hemingway claimed to have killed three grizzlies single-handedly with a rifle, ostensibly because he did not want to wash bear blood off of his knuckles.

Unlike modern Grizzly Man Timothy Treadwell who saw nature as
benign and harmonious, Hemingway saw the common character of the
universe as not harmony, but hostility, chaos, and murder


Hotchner's book is full of Hemingway's accounts of his past heroics some of which do not specifically involve bears, including his famous claim that he led the liberation of Paris while serving as a journalist in the Second World War and that he had narrowly avoided a duel with General Modesto during the Spanish Civil War over his wife because the republican partisans did not have enough money for a monument customarily given to all dead generals.

Hotchner and Hemingway at a bullfight (Hotchner is on the right) and after
hunting where undoubtedly those son-of-a-bitch pheasants planned to show
them the business end of their beaks and claws until Hemingway shot them in
the nick of time except for the big one, the smart one, that he hunted down and
clubbed to death with the butt of his shotgun for its goddamn impudence

Naturally, being a Hemingway book, Hotchner describes in great detail a 1954 trip to Spain where Hemingway could soak up as much bullfighting and booze as he could handle, having developed a considerable tolerance for both. Bullfighting was Hemingway's favorite bloodsport, although in Cuba he settled for cockfighting, and presumably in Hong Kong he would go to the Kumite to see a vicious battle featuring nature's greatest predator: man. I do not recommend reading Death in the Afternoon before attending a bullfight unless you are fully prepared to accept that the courage and artistry that Hemingway so painstakingly describes in the matadorical arts on closer inspection turns out to be a bunch of guys in Liberace costumes slowly stabbing a bull to death and ramming it with armored horses and then parading the carcass around the ring while accompanied by jaunty bullfighting music serving as a festive counterpoint to the gruesome spectacle.

Hemingway favorite Antonio Ordoñez doin' work in the 1950s. Ordoñez had a rivalry
with Luis Miguel Dominguin and they squared off in series of what Hotchner
describes as "deadly combats" known as mano a manos where two bullfighters attempt
to one-up each other. The mano a manos ended somwhat anticlimactically as Dominguin
got badly gored in the groin and soon after Ordoñez was wounded which, as Hotchner
mournfully reflects, "really put the quietus on our bullfight plans, and the intricately
worked-0ut itinerary had to be discaded."

Hotchner's account gives us everything you'd want in a literary lion: world-traveling bloodsport tourism, rambling violent anecodotes of questionable veracity, constant dropping of pithy epigrams, all fueled by a mainline of wine, whiskey, and anything else on hand.


Welles, much like Hemingway, spent much time abroad in Europe. Of course, while Hemingway chose the life of the expatriate, Welles found himself blacklisted from the Hollywood establishment, mainly thanks to the steely-eyed vengeance of William Randolph Hearst, establishing a good rule of thumb in Hollywood not to make movies satirizing powerful media magnates with a penchant for declaring enemies as communists and sending a number of governmental goons to prevent them from working and forcing them to assert specifically why they are against communism in HUAC meetings.

Hearst did not shy away from attacking his enemies with his contacts in the
FBI and the secret of the ooze

One of Welles's projects abroad was a BBC travel show entitled Around the World with Orson Welles, a series of documentaries highlighting quirky aspects of Europe including, in a particularly Hemingway-esque touch, Spanish bullfighting. Here, for example, is a clip from the show, with Welles giving a short speech about the joys of train travel that starts out scripted but then rambles off into his own stream-of-consciousness narrative about trains without attempting to short-change the venerable airlines, an effect not unlike a far more articulate James Brown rattling off dance moves as they come to him in a bout of inspiration from the James Brown song that he is dancing to.

Thanks to the internet, there is also a portion of his documentary on Basque country available here, which is put together more effectively, although it is somewhat disappointing that the entire series is not just him ruminating on whatever mode of transportation happens to be available to him including fan boats, monorails, and zeppelins, mules, and Ferris wheels.


Of course, Around the World with Orson Welles does not really count in the standings for greatest bearded inebriate. Welles in the above clips is entirely clean shaven and at least apparently sober. Welles's greatest period of bearded inebriety came with his return to the U.S. in the late 1960s.

Much like Hotchner and Hemingway, Joseph McBride fell in with Welles during his older years and became a member of his circle. And, like Hotchner, McBride published a celebratory defense of Welles entitled Whatever Happened to Orson Welles, although his account is less personal than Hotchner's and written with a clearer agenda of showing Welles as a viable filmmaker through his later years despite his unfinished projects.

McBride became involved with Welles playing Mister Pister, a satire of a nerdy film critic in his epically unfinished The Other Side of the Wind. This film rivals his Don Quixote for his greatest abandoned project spanning years, although the impossibility of finishing a Don Quixote film has essentially become an iron law of Hollywood.

Joseph McBride and Orson Welles, with Peter Bogdanovich on the set of The
Other Side of
the Wind (right). Welles is wearing a linen suit stolen from the
set of Fantasy Island originally designed to hold upwards to two Ricardo

McBride is up against a lot of Welles ridicule as he blearily starred in terrible movies, made guest appearances on ridiculous seventies television shows, and, of course, appeared in countless ads. Unlike Hemingway, Welles's body of embarrassing work was filmed and is now readily available on the internet. For example, his wobbly Long John Silver from a Spanish version of Treasure Island can be seen here, although it is missing Welles's dubbing into a voice that McBride describes as "mumbled into his beard in a strange pseudo-Cockney accent that sounds like Falstaff with a terrible hangover" because he "dubbed the entire part in a Roman studio one night while guzzling through a bottle of white wine."

Welles's commercial disasters are already legendary including the frozen peas spot and the "mwah-ha the French" outtakes from a Paul Maisson wine commercial in which Welles is comically blotted into oblivion past the point of coherence. My favorite Welles moment is his appearance at a roast of Dean Martin notable for him emerging from behind the dais like a tuxedoed mountain of humanity and then taking a number of highbrow potshots at Don Rickles.

Probably the most ridiculous role of Welles's career was his last, playing the voice of Unicron in the 1986 Transformers movie as a planet-sized transformer that devours other heavenly bodies possibly in search of their liquor cabinet or as Welles describes: "I played the voice of a toy. Some terrible robot toys from Japan that change from one thing to anther...all bad outer-space stuff. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then, I'm destroyed...I tear myself apart on the screen." On the other hand, McBride relates in the same paragraph that Welles thankfully turned down a part in Caligula.

McBride gives various portraits of working with Welles, who stemmed from playful to wrathful on his actors. For example, he quotes John Houseman, who described Welles's Mercury Radio rehearsals:

Sweating, howling, disheveled, and singlehanded, he wrestled with chaos and time--always conveying an effect of being alone, traduced by his collaborators, surrounded by treachery, ignorance, sloth, indifference, incompetence, and--more often than not--downright sabotage.
This image gets only funnier if you read it in a John Houseman voice that you can get a flavor of in this inexplicable commercial featuring him squaring off with an impudent Teddy Ruxpin. By the 1970s, Welles had mellowed a bit, as McBride describes him as "often in a playful mood. He liked to direct in a purple or white bathrobe that gave him a regal air, waving his cigar like a sceptre, with a can of Fresca always nearby."


Let us summarize already in this already interminable post what we have already learned in order to determine an outcome:

BEARS: Hemingway gets the edge because as far as I can tell, Welles never lifted a hand against any bear whereas Hemingway basically lived with them and spent his life battling them in deadly ursine combat.

BLOODSPORT: Again, Hemingway leads in this category, although Welles did make a documentary on Spanish bullfighting. We need more information on his predilection for cockfights.

FISTICUFFS: Hemingway gets this one as well because of his record against literary antagonists.

BEARD: Welles is identifiable beardless, his unbalanced Old Testament prophet look defeats Hemingway's grizzled prospector with a lexicon of authentic frontier gibberish.

DRUNKENNESS: Hemingway was more consistently drunk, almost drunk enough to qualify for a British imperial post where men were essentially hooked up to IVs of gin, but Welles occasionally rises to the occasion, promising us no wine before its time.

Result: I'll allow this anecdote from McBride to settle the score:

Welles recorded the narration Hemingway wrote for Joris Ivens's documentary feature on the Spanish Civil War, The Spanish Earth. When Welles and Hemingway met at a preliminary screening, Welles suggested eliminating some lines and letting the pictures speak for themselves. Hemingway snarled "Some damn faggot who runs an art theater thinks he can tell me how to write narration." Welles put on a mocking swish act ("Oh, Mr. Hemingway, you think because you're so big and strong and havae hair on your chest..."), and they had a fistfight in front of the images of people fighting and dying on-screen...

Welles and Hemingway were able to laugh about their fight over a bottle whiskey after the screening, beginning a long if sometimes strained friendship.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fist-Pumping and Gentlemanly Etiquette

The baseball world was abuzz last weekend about a crucial baseball issue-- not the banned-substance-related suspension of one of baseball's best hitters, not the concern over the financial crisis and its effects on small-market teams, but of course the vile and corrupt act of fist-pumping celebrations by relief pitchers.

Sunday afternoon, Oriole Aubrey Huff uncorked a three-run shot to right field in Camden Yards off of notorious fist-pumper Joba Chamberlain, then reacted with an over-the-top Tiger Woods-style display at both first place and home plate. Obviously, such an egregious affront to the decency of the game could not go unreported;, in fact, devoted an entire article to the affair. The whole thing falls within the confines of showing up a hitter and the unwritten rules of baseball that grizzled baseball lifers with the creased leathery skin that comes from a lifetime exposure to sun, tobacco juice, and amphetamines dictate that pitchers should retaliate the next the batter comes up by hitting him in the ribs with a fastball to show him what it's like.

Chamberlain's antics naturally led to
retaliation by Orioles attempting to
close the AL East fists gap

Of course, Joba Chamberlain is not the only pitcher who tends to over-do mound celebrations to the consternation of people who demand that baseball players adopt the stoicism of terra-cotta warriors or R&B bass players. Francisco Rodriguez is probably the pitching world's most notorious celebrator, for example, honking off the As by garishly "double-pumping his arms toward the ground and then thrusting them toward the sky" last year and prompting a column from ESPN's Bob Klapisch about the degree to which K-Rod's sky-pointing will effect the Mets and, one presumes, the whole of Western civilization. K-Rod, of course, has joined the National League's elite fist-pumpers, none more ridiculous than Astros closer Jose Valverde, whose bug-eyed screaming and gesticulations give him the appearance of a paunchy, jheri-curled hungry hungry hippo.

Jose Valverde's accidental ingestion of muppet hormones requires him
to keep his mouth open during all forms of locomotion

Rodriguez's celebration falls into a different genus. His sky-pointing histrionics more closely resemble an eighteenth century tent-revival patron writhing in the unexpected convulsions of divine inspiration.

George Whitefield, the eighteenth century's greatest cross-eyed Methodist, is
depicted almost exclusively in the midst of a raised arm exhortation, occasionally
switching it to mesmerize a crowd with a Lon Chaney impression

Of course, all of this talk about the unwritten rules of baseball naturally leads to a question of the written rules of baseball. And according to Henry Chadwick's Haney's Base Ball Book, published in 1867, players should exercise a gentlemanly and sporting ethic in regards to their baseballmanship:

The principal rule of action of our model base ball player is, to comport himself like a gentleman on all occasions, but especially on match days, and in doing so he abstains from profanity and its twin and vile brother obscenity, leaving these vices to be alone cultivated by graduates of our penitentiaries.
Of course, by 1886, Mike "King" Kelly had moved to Boston as a result of clashes with Albert Spaulding, the teetolating owner of the Chicago White Stockings who had enough of Kelly's Palmer House boozing. This move allowed him to comport himself like an eccentric minor European aristocrat that had come out on the wrong end of an incestuous marriage designed to secure the baroncy of a backwater Holy Roman imperial province or suffered from a tragic falconry accident. According to his Wikipedia page, "he was rarely seen without his pet monkey on his shoulder and his Japanese valet at his side and he opened a saloon with some drinking buddies. When Cap Anson was quoted in the papers that he preferred his new young team to the old veterans Chicago had sold, Kelly got his theater friends to make up the entire Boston team as old men for a game against the White Stockings."

King Kelly served as inspiration
for Thayer's
Casey at the Bat, and
gave readings changing it to "Kelly
at the Bar" where we can imagine
him restraining patrons from
killing the barkeep, attempting to
get his inebriated buddies home, and
ending with mighty Kelly passing
out and waking up in the back of
Mudville's horse-drawn paddy-wagon.


The fact of the matter is that golden-age chivalry never existed in baseball or any other sport, and getting upset over enthusiastic fist-pumping should be the least of the worries of today's multi-millionaire big-leaguers. In the late nineteenth century, British soccer players, for example, had to deal with the indignity of playing a rougher version of the beautiful game without recompense from injury from a wayward cleat or elbow or back alley pugilist gang upset about the effect of last week's game on their legitimate book-making operation along with dealing with Preston North End's Nick Ross, who, as historian Keith Hoppen describes, was "famed for his discoloured teeth-- 'almost green near the gums'-- through which he unnervingly hissed as he played."

In fact, much as baseball transitioned from the healthful sporting jaunt that Chadwick describes to a professional outfit where the Chicago Cubs temporarily stood a chance of winning championships, British professional sports made similar transitions. At this time, these leagues both in the U.S. and Britain were essentially inventing the concept of modern professional sports. In Pay up and play the game: professional sports in Britain 1875-1914, Wray Vamplew describes how British sports transitioned into professional leagues by piggy-backing more traditional pastimes of drinking and gambling. Professional sports in Britain, of course, had an added layer of social complexity because of the difference between amateur sporting pursuits of gentlemen who trained by thrashing their footmen and invading Southeast Asia versus the working class professionals. Cricket got through these concerns by essentially finding crooked ways to pay so-called amateurs, such as all-time great W.G. Grace, who Vamplew calls the "greatest shamateur of all" for pocketing thousands for playing in cricket matches, far beyond his expenses and the locum for his medical practice.

Nick Ross, left, disguising his rotten, malodorous gums before
unleashing them upon the unwitting opposition. W.G. Grace used his
questionably-attained cricket gains in order to bolster his beard

Professionalization in Britain did lead to a curb in some excesses in the almost heroically dirty game of horse-racing. As Vamplew points out, according to Alfred Watson, by the 1890s the press and Jockey Club had gotten racing to the point where "a few rogues are still to the fore, sometimes in prominent places, and not a few others have elastic consciences, together with excessively liberal ideas about what is permissible, but I do believe there is far less rascality on the turf than there used to be."


Another factor in the rise of sports spectatorship was the simultaneous rise of the unruly mob, frustrated by a team's inadequate play or incompetent officiating. If Casey at the Bat truly represented the times, there is a decent chance that the crowd would have taken to the streets of Mudville, throwing up the barricades, looting the tanneries, starting fights by threateningly circling their fists around their faces, and senselessly punching horses. In Britain at the time, sporting events turned to riots fairly quickly, occasionally escalating out of control. Vamplew describes a tied match between Celtic and Rangers in 1909 that did not go into extra time:

Rioters tore out the goalposts, ripped up the nets, and smashed down fencing. Bonfires were made out of the broken barricading, and the uprooted goalposts were used as battering rams against the turnstiles and payboxes, which were also then set on fire. The arrival of the fire brigade signalled further trouble and the firemen were attacked and their hoses slashed.

Poorly struck, sir, says a displeased crowd

Of course, the nineteenth century was a perfect century for those who enjoy an unruly mob. For example, in Norman McCord's classic account of the Anti-Corn Law League, he describes one unfortunate anti-corn law agitator who was welcomed in Suffolk by being soaked with a fire hose, drowned out by a brass band as he attempted to give his speech, suffering an overthrown speaking platform, and getting tossed over an inn banister. Another anti-corn law leaguer reported that a spokesman had his speech interrupted by "a gang of unfledged ruffians in caps and gowns who, after exhausting their obscene and blasphemous vocabulary, exhibited themselves in the characteristics of prize fighters with the rest of the audience."

Donald Richter published a book entitled Riotous Victorians mainly to chronicle the violent public social unrest of the nineteenth century. One particularly violent outburst involved the followers of an Ulster lecturer named William Murphy whose bombastic anti-Catholicism drew continuing attacks from Irish Catholics in Britain who were somehow incensed by his claims that "your wives and daughters are exposed to debauch in the confessional, and are betrayed and kidnapped into convent prisons, and there keep the dupes or slaves of priestly lust." On one occasion, his followers managed to prevail in a riot, and Richter notes that "the Irish had been driven away and the orangemen greeted their man with wild cheers, three groans for popery, and the national anthem." Murphy himself did not escape a different riot that he had provoked in 1871, and died from those wounds.


Modern baseball largely enjoys docile crowds unlikely to purchase souvenir torches or pitchforks. One can imagine the 2002 All-Star game being played in 1902 resulting in at least one racing sausage fatality while Bud Selig held off crowds with his small gang of toughs and an umbrella. Nevertheless, crowds are fickle and no one can be sure what can provoke them to violence.

Baseball watchdogs keep a lookout for instigators of baseball-related crowd

With all of the problems of low pay, potential riots, and intimidation via poor dental hygiene largely dispatched from baseball, players should be able to absorb a fist-pump or two without feeling the need to go headhunting. And if they cannot, they should be exposed to the three Ms of the nineteenth century spirit of the game: monkeys, moustaches, and moonshine.

Monday, May 4, 2009

NBA Playoffs

The Bulls ended their epic seven game series against Boston last Saturday night in a disappointing conclusion to a series featuring overtime in four games and only two games that did not end in the final seconds. The most ridiculous game was Game 6, featuring three overtimes, Ray Allen's 51 points in a losing effort, and Noah's insane coast to coast dunk over Pierce with the requisite Joakim Noah banshee shriek. For a recap of Game 6, turned the game over to its ace Foley artists Gary Payton and Chris Webber.

The Passion and Redemption of Brad Miller

The Bulls played well against a Celtics squad that had lost their defensive anchor and emotional leader Kevin Garnett, who was reduced to launching into hysterics on the sidelines and practicing his Street Fighter II victory poses. They also showed that they were a young team on the rise, with a nucleus featuring Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, and first year head coach Lloyd Braun.

Vinny Del Negro's coaching strategy
depends on the twin prongs of serenity
and insanity


Basketball is one sport where playoff basketball actually attracts playoff-caliber national announcers. Locally, things do not often work out as well, such as the time the Bulls brought in Scottie Pippen as an analyst despite the fact that his low-timbred mush-mouthed delivery occasionally ventures into Sling Blade levels of incoherence (although nothing will ever top the time that Shannon Sharpe went into battle against the phrase "Billy Volek" during one of his spittle-drenched scat solo highlight narrations). The greatest Scottie Pippen moment of all time, however, is this astounding Mr. Submarine commercial from 1991, where evidently someone swapped out Pippen's script with a Christopher Walken version that had all of the punctuation removed.

this is one six footer I can't handle one on one ladies let's
have a party

For one of the games, I found myself subjected to Tommy Heinsohn's commentary from the Boston feed. Home team announcers are by definition homers at varying levels of obnoxiousness, but Heinsohn was maddening to the point that he would only accecpt a Boston foul if a scythe was prominently involved, a practice that can be best assessed using the BYCTOM Homer Announcer Tolerability Scale.

Heinsohn is highlighted on the scale, which becomes more untolerable towards the business
end of the pitchfork

Heinsohn's infuriating ranting at least resonates with Boston fans, which is much more important to his job than not rankling Chicago fans watching on any illegal stream available, even if it is pro-Celtics or broadcast in one of several possible Slavic languages. And no matter what he does, he probably will not inspire the universal ire of Tommy Smyth, who is, according to this Guardian article, "possibly the most hated football commentator in history." Smyth, whose hoary bald pate has become the face of ESPN's soccer coverage, evidently spends most broadcasts buzzing around a match like a buzzard ready to pounce in with his despised "bulge in the old onion bag" catch-phrase every time a goal or goal-like situation has occurred. For this, he receives letters wishing his mother had had him aborted and even a death threat from a particularly vengeful Australian.

Smyth's over-the-top Irish accent has also made him few friends with Irish ex-patriates who take exception to his brogue, such as Cass Crockett, a co-founder of an anti-Smyth site, who claims that "In each of the years that he's left County Louth, his accent has gotten stronger to such an extent that he's now 94% angry leprechaun." Another Irish critic claims that his accent is "more embarrassing to expats than either Riverdance or the Celtic Woman show."

Other US soccer bloggers have called Smyth "Beelzebub's handmaid", a "pathetic and insulting blight", a "garbage commentator", a "ridiculous clown" and "the biggest tit on the air" who talks "incessant drivel" and "utters inanity after absurdity after stupidity". Others also opined that Smyth commentates as "if he is watching the game through an aquarium" and that he "needs to be tied to a goal post for Juninho to practise his free-kicks on".

Jubilant crowds celebrate the firing of Tommy Smyth. Incidentally, there's an excellent story
by Boston Globe reporter Brian Rogers investigating Hasselhoff's role in the fall of the Berlin Wall


Although TNT has paid proper tribute to playoff basketball by allowing the husky histrionics of Marv Albert to resonate in 5.1 stereo, the playoffs do not feel right without an over-dramatic story narrated by Bob Costas followed by Roundball Rock and then an overhead shot of the arena accompanied by a Marv monologue about Jazz fans wondering if Karl Malone will come through in the clutch. TNT made an attempt with a highlight package using the ubiquitous orchestrated version of the theme from Requiem for a Dream that has spread like a plague across the sports highlight landscape, but it is bereft of overwrought narration and therefore unacceptable. Here, for example, is how NBC brought us Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Chicago and New York that not only rips Enter the Sandman, but also the phrases "Call it the Knicks worst nightmare" and "Headlines like these make it more than a game--it's personal" out of the Stallone movie trailer handbook.

My favorite of these is from before Game 1 of the 1996 Finals against Seattle, where Pippen and Kemp's showdown to determine the best hi-top fade in the NBA was so dramatic that an NBC producer picked up a red phone and dialed up the most dramatic theme music possible.

NBC took its musical cues from Detlef
Schrempf's haircut and his menacing demand for
Dick Bavetta's pants, jacket, and motorcycle

Do NBA broadcasts deserve a modicum of restraint and taste, or do they benefit from going into Adam West Batman territory from time to time when a series demands it? Can the overdramatic NBC style work in the twenty-first century or does it belong in the dustbin with pump sneakers, snap bracelets, and movies where the fate of the world rests in the curly locks of Jeff Goldblum? Perhaps mid-1990s basketball broadcasting can only work on mid-1990s basketball issues.

This summer, NBA on NBC presents
Carr vs. Robinson: This Dog is Only
Big Enough for One of Us
((in stereo where available))

The answer to these questions is perhaps unknowable, but the path to enlightenment surely involves an unholy combination of Nicolas Cage's maniacally vacant intensity, a series of increasingly hilarious clips from what is apparently a real movie, and a British interviewer's intrepid dedication to A Flock of Seagulls.