Thursday, July 16, 2009

What is to be done?

First off, a note that the New York Times preview of Northwestern is up at their college football blog, The Quad. They have Northwestern ranked #47 going into the 2009 season, above #105 Indiana, #62 Minnesota, and #57 Michigan. Paul Myerberg's preview is excellent and accurately assesses the 'Cats strengths and weaknesses going into next season. Although Northwestern does not play Michigan this year, the home games against Indiana and Minnesota will be vengeance games: Northwestern will be looking to reconcile its disappointing loss in Bloomington, and Minnesota will try to avenge the Wildcat walk-off and walk-out interception that saw that the Gophers would never win in the Metrodome again.

Alexandre Dumas, literary patron saint of
vengeance, vows revenge on Henri Meyer for
this
unflattering caricature

SECOND HALF CUBS PREVIEW

Instead of running away with a flawed division as predicted by most media outlets and at least three of Milwaukee's racing sausages, the Cubs are desperately fighting for third place in a miserable division behind Milwaukee and a St. Louis team that is winning because Albert Pujols is playing like Bugs Bunny against the Gashouse Gorillas. As they would say in the title of three-fifths of everything published in nineteenth century Russia, what is to be done?

Chernyshevsky, Lenin, and Tolstoy, all authors of works
entitled
What is to be done presented here in beardal order

The Cubs' struggles on offense this season have been well-publicized without a good explanation; should a Cub manage to safely reach base, his teammates immediately begin striking out, popping up, waving their bat around like they are trying to put out some sort of broom fire, and suffering Jose Cardenal-like problems with depth perception.

Cardenal had problems in his Cubs
career with mysteriously shut eyes,
renegade grasshoppers, and inferior
baseball cap technology


The amazing thing about the Cubs has been the curious synchronization of slumps. Both Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley are having their worst years since 2001 and 2002, their first full seasons in the bigs (considering that Bradley has only played in more than 100 games three times in his ten year career, I'm counting 98 games as a full Milton Bradley season, much like a full Milton Bradley injury does not count unless he's being restrained or surreptitiously sedated for plane travel). Bradley, at least, is getting on base, whereas Soriano's OPS is currently identical to utility man Geoff Blum and backup catchers Chris Coste and Gregg Zaun, who at least has an amazing webpage combining Rush with a searing hatred of unjust commandantes.

Mike Fontenot, who put up a .909 OPS in limited duty last year has become nearly useless, and Geovany Soto has been unable to stand up to the pressure of his rookie of the year season and the WBC's reefer madness witch hunt. Of the healthy Cub regulars, only Derrek Lee is producing at almost his exactly his career average. By OPS+, only Lee, Theriot, and Fukudome are producing at league average (and Fukudome only because of his insanely hot April and May is balancing out a terrible June and fumbling July). So what is to be done?

The only logical solution is that the bats, they are very sick. The Cubs should call in a professional. Facing a similar crisis in 2001, rookie Julio Zuleta grabbed an armload of apples, oranges, sunflower seeds, and Flexall and attempted to cleanse the bats using a dark art he invented called "zoodoo." According to this SI story, Zuleta explained his thought process combining his mastery of alchemy, sorcery, and occult books with ornate yet sinister cover designs: "I thought that maybe the bats were hungry, so I gave them some fruit. I put them in the sun so we could get hot." Fortunately, blasphemy does not appear to be a part of the zoodoo process: "I don't practice voodoo. I am Catholic, and I believe 100 percent in God. But the way we were losing, something had to be done," he said as he ordered his manservant to attack Indiana Jones.

Zuleta is currently a free agent after a successful career in Japan with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and the Chiba Lotte Marines, earning three all-star appearances, his own supporter song, and the nickname "Samurai." Zuleta was last seen playing for Panama at the WBC where he went 0 for 8 with 3 Ks, which fits him in perfectly with the Cubs' team concept.

Zuleta bats for Panama at the WBC adespite also qualifying to play for an army of
the undead that he raised by his reckless use of incantations from the
Necromonicon to try to change the clubhouse sunflower seeds from regular to
barbecue flavor


TRACKING DOWN THE APOCRYPHAL

I recently came across this odd article for the New Statesman written in 2000 by Nina Khrushchev about her grandfather's famous shoe-wielding outburst at the UN. In it, she claims never to have seen evidence of the incident and wonders whether it might be a too-perfect story designed to inflame cold war tensions:

The shoe banging, it seemed likely, was an anecdote created by public demand, consistent with the political needs of the socialist-capitalist division. In short, I was almost sure it had never happened. My grandfather was innocent, and I had no reason to be ashamed.
Khrushchev sought to test out the process of historical myth-making in an age of mass-media, where apocryphal stories continue to flourish. After all, apocryphal attribution seems to be the source of 99% of material related to Winston Churchill, very possibly including the phenomenal dick joke found at the bottom of this page (an entire web page, for example, exists to debunk the famous "up with which I shall not put" quote, displaying the sort of pedantry, oddly enough, that Churchill would probably not put up with after consulting with his gin cabinet). Khrushchev's search, however, came less from a duty to historical accuracy and more from an understandable desire not to see her grandfather as a shoe-waving maniac, a view with which I cannot empathize.

Mr. K: You ain't tough enough for me

The Khrushchev article did lead me to examine the news coverage of the incident, which happened at the U.N. on October 12, 1960. Khrushchev was already on edge, having confronted an uppity Spaniard the day before who had refused to applaud him. The New York Times described Khrushchev's outburst as "a brief but vivid display of finger-shaking and recrimination," noting that he "indicated his disapproval of the Spanish delegation with a series of vigorous arm gestures." The same day, he threatened delegates by claiming that Soviet factories were producing rockets "like sausages," a combination of factors resulting in an all-time great article subheading:


The shoe incident itself earned another ace headline from our friends at the Times:

Benjamin Welles described the scene: "Mr. Khrushchev thereupon pulled off his right shoe, stood up and brandished the shoe at the Philippine delegate at the other side of the hall. He then banged the shoe on his desk." The story continues, under the subheadline "KHRUSHCHEV ADDS SHOE-WAVING TO HIS HECKLING ANTICS AT U.N.": "Later...Mr. Khrushchev alternately shouted, waved a brawny right arm, shook his finger and removed his shoe a second time." I'm grateful for the attention to detail that indicates Khrushchev goes to his right for all shoe and arm-waving as well as the author's robust vocabulary for describing Soviet outbursts.

Was Khrushchev a madman or did he have another purpose? The article provides further analysis to his motivations: "Serious observers here believe Mr. Khrushchev has a deadly serious purpose in his histrionic excesses. They noted that a standard Communist practice, whenever the Communists believe they cannot win in a court of law, is to destroy the prestige and sanctity of the court."

One thing that Khrushchev did not do at the U.N. is threaten to bury the West or declare that anybody's grandchildren will live under communism. The burial threat occurred in 1956 at the Polish embassy in Moscow as the Western delegates retreated under a hail of abuse, as chronicled in this excerpt from Time, although the New York Times comes through again with the headline "KHRUSHCHEV TIRADE AGAIN IRKS ENVOYS." The idea of grandchildren living under communism comes from an exchange that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson claims he had with Khrushchev. Here's the anecdote in his own words that is apparently being played during what appears to be a 2008 Republican primary debate as the delegates stand silently demonstrating their displeasure with the Soviet Union, a hot-button issue in the 2008 election.

Perhaps if Zuleta's bat rituals fail, the Cubs can turn to some godless communists to cook up a five year plan for getting some hits or they will be forced to endure vivid displays of finger shaking a recrimination and histrionic excesses from disappointed fans.

1 comment:

John said...

Your concern over the Cubs is justified but I think you've got a better shot at a decent second half than the poor Rangers. I sense another abject second half collapse.

I've always liked the "up with this I shall not put" stuff, although I think William Whitelaw's contention that Harold Wilson had been travelling around the nation "stirring up apathy" will always take the cake.

And, that Gregg Zaun website? Dude. Whoa.