Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Post

The Wildcat basketball season came to an abrupt end at the hands of Rhode Island, ending my plan to fill my home with Northwestern NIT champion merchandise. The Wildcats can now use the summer to get healthy and try to make next year's NCAA tournament in a race with New Hampshire and Bethune-Cookman to avoid being the last Wildcats left without a Dance appearance.

Welsh-Ryan auditorium spends the summers as the site of the
nationally renowned Bill Carmody Youth Gesture Camp

And as we turn slowly towards spring, or at least that teasing week of spring that inevitably ends in one of those freak April blizzards hanging like the cloud of Damocles over the Midwest, football season has begun in earnest, for what better harbinger of spring is more telling than no-necked men with crew-cuts yelling at teenagers to hit immobile objects. In order to get properly motivated for football season, why not head over Nusports.com and read what I am calling Myslenski/Fitzgerald I. The interview is surprisingly subdued and I think that we all agree that in the best of possible worlds it would look something like this:

Myslenski: The gruesome ballet of bloodthirsty brigands; the footwork of fullbacks flustering fearsome linemen; Spartans, Badgers, Commodores, all come pillaging, biting, ruining: What is best in life?

: Our young men are going to compete. We're going to accomplish goals.

Myslenski: But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !

Fitz: One game at a time

Myslenski: On a mountain of skulls in a castle of pain, I sat on a throne of blood. What was will be, what is will be no more. Now is the season of evil! Find me a child that I might live again!

Fitz: Fist pump


Though Fitz might not be the most exciting of interview subjects, he's handicapped by his choice of profession. After all, football coaches are all about diagramming the complex machinery of football plays, molding men, and the other sorts of serious life lessons involving coaxing young people to smash into each other at high speed in order to maintain possession of an oblong ball. They can't match the suit-wearing, modish machinations of the NBA coach or the mustachioed machinations of their counterparts in the NHL.

While the NHL and NBA share a strategy of debonairly
sending in the goon, the NHL is more of a Fop league
whereas the NBA is full of Dapper Dan men

The best interviews, of course, come from baseball managers; unlike their more animated counterparts, baseball managers tend to sit placidly, almost zen-like, amidst the sunflower seeds and spent Gatorade cups and dried saliva piling up around them. But when they spring into action, they are astounding, wobbling up the dugout steps on spindly legs propping up an ample belly made of chicken wings and tobacco juice, getting two inches from the umpire's face and jerking their heads around in an unnatural manner that looks more like a gesture from the mating dance of a tropical bird than anything a human being would ever do. Sure, there are animated coaches in every sport, such as Kansas State's Frank Martin, who looks like he's constantly gunning for a supporting role in this yell-based motion picture. But these coaches tend to look like normal, yet relatively angry men, while baseball managers look like red-faced, tweaking muppets.

The angry coach is part of the heightened theatricality of baseball. Possibly because of the relative lack of action compared to other inferior sports that feature boring concepts like contact, possession changes, and continuous running, baseball managers infuse their meltdowns with an epic level of buffoonery. Infamous minor league meltdowns by Phillip Wellman and the baseballically named Joe Mikulik are what happens in a sport where managers can clumsily charge the field to register their disgust and umpires can toss players with gestures that would be over the top when used by villains in gladiator movies. There's a quixotic grace to the baseball manager attempting to protect players from questionable calls and defend their honor against the opposition, then men in blue, and the dastardly Philly Phanatic.


It is difficult for Cubs fans to get too excited about this year's season after last year's disappointment and few predicting a playoff berth for the Cubs. The NL Central is expected to be dominated by the hated Cardinals, who are difficult to despise with an affable superstar, a group of generally bland players, and a Molina brother. Fortunately, fans can dependably direct their ire against Tony La Russa, who never seemed to disagree with his genius label, best described by the opening to this story by Joe Posnanski from Spring Training in 2009:
La Russa has been the Mozart of overmanagers. There has never been an eighth inning he could not grind into the ground with an endless series of gratuitous pitching changes. There has never been a lineup good enough for La Russa*, and he will use pinch hitters no matter the score. He loves the bunt beyond all reason. He moves runners on the pitch more than any other manager in the game. He likes to say that players win games, but he manages those players like he's their puppeteer.

La Russa in dugout repose

La Russa is a mass of contradictions. He plays up baseball's cerebral elements in a sport fueled by dopiness as evidenced by the prevalence of chin beards, the rather astounding collection of injuries, and the involvement of Jose Canseco, who was transported to and from games via circus train (my favorite injury example is the Jeff Kent truck washing incident, not because the injury itself was anything more fool-hardy than one could expect from other sports, but it's an example of double dopiness where the best excuse he could find for himself involved washing a truck and because no one was nonplussed that a baseball player would be injured while engaged in truck washing. Baseball players have a remarkable relationship to vehicles-- of the myriad tragic deaths that have killed athletes, only baseball has a player who died in a dune buggy accident.)

Roy Oswalt has no chance; that bulldozer is
skulking around his property like claw-wielding

La Russa simultaneously represents the scientific method and feudal concepts of honor. He rationalizes his pitcher use and player substitutions, but he adheres to a complex and ancient
code of honor in pitcher retaliation. This article by King Kaufman for Salon.com looking at Three Nights in August the Buzz Bissinger hagiography of La Russa makes it seem as though La Russa orders a ball throw at Luis Gonzalez only because his henchmen don't have access to a horse's head on the road. Compare that with how Tommy Lasorda manager uses mathematics to trump retaliation:
I have never, ever since I've managed, ever told a pitcher to throw at anybody, nor will I ever. And if I ever did, I certainly wouldn't make them throw at a fucking .130 hitter like [Joe] Lefebvre...or fucking [Kurt] Bevacqua who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a fucking boat. And I guaran-fucking-tee you this, that when I pitched and I was gonna pitch against a fucking team that had guys on it like Bevacqua, I'd send a fucking limousine to get the cocksucker to make sure he was in the motherfucking lineup because I'd kick that cocksucker's ass any fucking day of the week.
The thing that really ties that Lasorda rant together is the fact that he's railing against someone named Kurt Bevacqua, a shitty ballplayer name that could not be dreamed up in the laudanum haze of a thousand baseball poets.

Bring Your Champions, They're Our Meat will return in May.

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