Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hope is Snake Oil: The 2014 Chicago Cubs

Spring training is winding to a close.  The baseball season started last weekend as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks opened play to a crowd of dozens of puzzled Australians who were not told that baseball is about throwing things at people's heads and delivering Shakespearean vengeance soliloquies about swimming pools.  

But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What swims he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Gibson the King, McGwire and Mattingly,
Puig and Kershaw, Montero and Trammel-
Be in their flowing pools freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;

The rest of baseballdom continues in its lolling Spring Training doldrums as prospects in high digit uniforms anonymously plug away against pitchers that have not yet destroyed their arm ligaments.  This includes the 2014 Chicago Cubs, where anonymous players and futility will continue over the course of 162 meaningless games, most of them losses, by design.

The 2014 Cubs are a postapocalyptic shanty town of a baseball team.  There are few players that we can expect to see contribute to the Hypothetical Future Cubs that wins more than 80 games, and any that show any semblance of value will be shipped out and sold for scraps: younger players referred to as "lottery tickets" by baseball bloggers, players to be named later, and the fan favorite Cash Considerations.  Only Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo, and (for some reason) Starlin Castro will be on the oil tanker when the Cubs ditch the rest of the team and are pursued by the motorcycle-riding, mohawked chap enthusiasts that make up the rest of NL Central in this overwrought Mad Max: The Road Warrior analogy.

I'm one Road Warrior shy of having each dude be a representative of an NL Central opponent, but
we can all agree that the jovial fat guy with the jaunty cap is a murderous Bernie Brewer

The Cubs will continue to lose, and fans are all aware that this is part of the master plan devised by the Cubs Brains Trust.  We're all waiting for Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler to be ready for the majors, and, in the meantime, the Cubs are going to play terrible baseball to allow them to draft the next Kris Bryants and Albert Almoras.  Nothing the Cubs do this season matters.  Ownership has magnanimously deigned to increase ticket prices, which according to some estimates are the third highest in baseball.  And you can't even drown your sorrows in Old Style anymore, which will no longer be sold in the ballpark for absurd prices.  This makes no sense because paying north of seven dollars for an Old Style is the exact beer equivalent of paying actual American currency to watch whatever it is Starlin Castro does when he flails futilely at baseballs or throws them at cracker jack vendors he has temporarily confused with Anthony Rizzo because they are both wearing hats.

The Cubs are selling hope and that is all well and good.  Major League baseball rewards managers approaching their teams the way the Russian army approached the advancing forces of Napoleon.  Free agents are harder to come by, draft slot money is enforced draconically, and the lawless dollar showers in the international market have been limited to the benefit of parsimonious owners.  But it's a false hope.  There is no guarantee that Bryant, Almora, Soler, and Baez will anchor the Hypothetical Future Winning Cubs-- the analytics movement has been clamping down on nonsense hokum like curses and clutch hitting and "Mickey Mantle" (a fictional baseball player invented in 1987 by Billy Crystal and Bob Costas), but I have no doubt that we can count on Four Separate Misfortunes to prevent any of them from being useful players as the Cubs will remain mired in purgatory for the rest of our short, miserable lives.
Felix Pie found himself in the Wrigleyville Mystery Spot, also known as Baltimore

It is tough to root for the Cubs this season.  College sports, for all the hypocrisy, exploitation, money-grubbing, and general sanctimonious bullshit they nourish, at least do not have a framework that rewards losing.  At the depths of Northwestern's futility, when it seemed unlikely for them to win a Big Ten game unless they convinced a team to forfeit by constructing a counterfeit Dyche Stadium dozens of miles away surrounded by a Potemkin Evanston, at least they'd give it their all.  The Cubs are intentionally terrible, and their awfulness will likely not lead to a World Series.  Yet, me and thousands of other dupes will continue to watch because baseball is as good of a waste of time as mankind has invented, and the Cubs have really sharp uniforms.  Here are some reasons why we can manage to suck it up and deal with Cubs baseball this year:

-Someone named "Rick Renteria" has been named the new manager, and I'm sure he will do all sorts of exciting managery things like point to his left arm and scowl.  The one hit I got for a google search for "rick renteria ejected" leads to an mlb.com article about how he got tossed as Padres first base coach for "engaging in a discussion" with an umpire.  This is pretty uninspired, and I'd prefer that any manager is at the very least a 7-Piniella Scale lunatic who is willing to use his bulbous belly as an umpire-seeking missile (in case you were wondering, Dale Sveum was a 4-Piniella manager for having neck veins that flared up like a Jurassic Park Dilophosaurus.  Mike Quade's Piniella reading is unavailable-- umpires could not figure out how angry he was because he has no eyebrows).

-Carlos Villanueva is still on the team and last year he had a spectacular curl mustache.  Maybe this year, he'll grow some nineteenth century presidential muttonchops.

-Jeff Samardzija still looks like a musketeer, and will probably blame his poor outings on the machinations of Cardinal Richelieu.  My prediction is that the Cubs will trade him before the deadline and then he ends up pitching a crucial playoff game against the Hypothetical Future Cubs, only this time he has gotten a sensible haircut and shave just when it would have had finally made sense for him to be sporting Early Modern Vengeance Facial Hair specifically to confound me.  

-There are 162 games in a baseball season and regular players will earn north of 500 plate appearances.  At some point, it is probable that Starlin Castro will earn a walk or Darwin Barney will hit a baseball with his bat.  No guarantees, though, fans.

-Len Casper will attempt to pretend that a shitty Cubs player is turning things around, while in his heart, he knows the sample size is small, the statistic is misleading, and a Ricketts is holding a binder full of spreadsheets hostage at Cubs headquarters.

-Why the watch the goddamn Cubs any year?

-Fuck it dude, let's go bowling.  

Cubs fans, we're stuck rooting for this team until the Terror Squirrel takes us to hell

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Old Hat

Well, they got the hat.

Northwestern's football season was plagued by misfortune and we spent a horrifying winter without the relief of a soothing, crappy bowl game.  But (and you know this because it happened apparently several months ago), the Wildcats somehow managed to outfox Beck Man, our Great Nemesis and retain possession of the most dapper football-related trophy in all of nineteenth-century fashion.  Equally importantly, I am pretty sure I ended up on some sort of list after sending a barrage of demented hat-tweets directly to whoever runs Tim Beckman's twitter feed:

Though I received no official response to these sophisticated and elegant tweets to the Illini Athletic Department, I would like to think that Beckman spent the evening prank calling everyone in Illinois named George McLellan and then ordering an absurd amount of hats off an internet haberdashery to hoard in his home's hat annex.

Rumors swirled in the treacherous college football offseason that Beckman might get fired.  Instead, the Illini will bring him and his absurd anti-Northwestern crusade back for another year because, according to highly-placed Illini sources, "someone playing up a football rivalry with Northwestern is the only thing we could think of that is funnier than Ron Zook."  I have no idea what Beckman has planned for next year.  For a small fee, however, I am officially making myself available to the University of Illinois to be their first Butkus Chair, Department of Northwestern Antagonism.  Together, we will rent orange blimps to constantly hover over Evanston, dropping anti-Fitzgerald propaganda; we will deploy larger and more aggressive tarps at Memorial Stadium; we will petition to ban Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and The Color Purple from all University of Illinois-affiliated libraries; we will put up billboards that say "Illinois's Big Ten Team and In Case You Noticed, That Includes the Entire Chicagoland Metropolitan Area, Checkmate Motherfuckers."

Anti-Northwestern Propaganda Leaflet

Hat or no hat, Northwestern football is past a disappointing season, and fans can look towards next year.  Venric Mark will return, along with several key players on defense.  Kain Colter, however, will be moving on, but not before attempting to organize a union of football players.  Colter and his supporters argue that football players are employees that should be allowed to collectively bargain with universities and challenge restrictions on transfers and loss of scholarships due to injury.  The Northwestern administration argues that the players remain in the nebulous "student athlete" category who play in exchange for a free education unrelated to the millions generated by television deals, merchandise sales, and other piles of money generated by college athletics.  After months of sophisticated legal analysis, the only way to resolve this is a strike by the nation's football players forcing university administrators to don helmets instead of canceling thousands of lucrative home games.  College football analysts will hastily reorganize their preseason rankings based on whether you can run the wishbone effectively in full academic regalia, which dean gets to be quarterback, and which university has the meanest, most bone-crunching vice provost.


What say you, Chris Collins?  Last year, Northwestern fired long-time basketball head coach Bill Carmody.  Carmody led the 'Cats to several NIT berths, but could never quite make it to the promised tournament.  I prefer to think that the methodical Princeton offense secretly irritated the brass, with high-ranking Northwestern administrators throwing things at their television every time they saw a backdoor layup developing or an opposing player working his way through the 1-3-1 zone to brutally dunk on a hapless defender.

Chris Collins was brought in to try to mold the Wildcats into a tournament team.  He brings youthful enthusiasm, a commitment to recruiting the Chicago area, and an association with the universally-loved Duke basketball program.

Chris Collins and Mike Krzyzewski are temporarily overwhelmed 
by visiting fans' awe and respect for Duke basketball, America's 

The transition to Chris Collins basketball has been bumpy.  The 'Cats are dead last in the Big Ten.  They will likely not play in a post-season tournament unless they somehow manage to win the Big Ten Tournament or every single other Big Ten team loses its eligibility because all of their players were replaced with doppelganger ringers that play professional basketball in the off-season in the secret European country that is ruled by Victor von Doom.

Despite these setbacks, there have been some positive things to take away from the season.  We got a full season of Drew Crawford, who was injured most of last year.  JerShon Cobb also returned to the team before succumbing to a broken foot.  There was a brief period of time when Northwestern turned into a defensive juggernaut and somehow beat Wisconsin at the Kohl Center for the first time and a fairly bad Indiana team on the road, and Big Ten teams occasionally had to cope with becoming Tre Demps victims.  Then they lost seven in a row, including one game where they scored 32 total points over 40 minutes of basketball.

Collins leads 'Cat Basketball into next season with some of his recruits joining the fold.  Big man Alex Olah showed some flashes this season, and Sanjay Lumpkin returns to play some defense and provide a really fun name to yell at people getting dunked upon.  No one expects Northwestern to crash the Dance any time soon, but that's part of being a Northwestern fan; anyone who is not prepared to die without seeing Northwestern lose the first match of an NCAA tournament, cheering the Cubs in the World Series, or proclaiming to a mortal enemy that you and me are not so different is setting him or herself up of a lifetime of cruel disappointments.


The early Victorian scandalous press was a nest of innuendo, bawdy suggestion, extortion, and feuds.  In other words, it was the best possible use of presses ever devised by human beings.  Donald J. Gray's "Early Victorian Scandalous Journalism: Renton Nicholson's The Town (1837-1842)" is available in the Joanne Shattock and Michael Wolff-edited collection of scholarly articles The Victorian Press: Samplings and Soundings, and it's a pretty good way to spend a half-hour.  Gray's study of The Town, a relatively cheap periodical that traded on scandal and innuendo, offers a number of trenchant insights into the early Victorian press, the transmission of ideas about social class amongst its working and lower-middle class readers, and how Victorian scandal challenges and reinforces scholarly understanding of Victorian mores in the 1830s and 40s.  Instead, however, BYCTOM will pillage this wonderful article for bawdy anecdotes and strip them of context and analysis for cheap laughs because this is a dumb internet blog about a football team.

Gray discusses The Town, as well as other scandalous periodicals including The Age, John Bull, and The Satirist.  John Bull initially targeted Queen Caroline, an enemy of her estranged husband, George IV.  George, a bloated, pickled, raffish king was repeatedly thwarted by his father's recoveries from mental illness and stubborn refusal to die.  He hated Caroline and attempted to divorce her using legislation based on allegations of infidelity (though George himself had been secretly and illegally married to a Catholic woman, Maria Fitzherbert).  The bill did not pass and the marriage remained a fraught battlefield.  As Gray relates, John Bull fanned the flames of her alleged affair, describing her as "mixed up with a disgraceful and criminal affection for a menial servant."  After the Queen's death in 1821, John Bull transitioned into a milder, less scandal-driven publication to my personal dismay.

George IV had the unfortunate luck to live at the same time as British cartoonist 
George Cruikshank, who delighted in drawing the despised, spherical monarch. 
Here, Cruikshank demonstrates how George successfully fended off radical 
petitioners  by becoming more buttocks than man

The Age, The Satirist, and The Town were all reliable factories of spectacular Victorian vitriol.  The Age, for example, dismissed the renowned essayist William Hazlitt as "Bill Pimple," "an old weather-beaten, pimple-snouted,  gin-smelling man, like a Pimlico tailor, with ink-dyed hands, a corrugated forehead, and a spirituous nose."  Yet, this gossip was not only directed at literary lions or axe-grinding aristocrats. The columns were filled with gossip about less luminous figures.  Those who wished to avoid a public humiliation about unthinkable indiscretions such as young women asking a man to dance could scrub the record for a modest fee.  Gray describes this kind of blackmail as an important revenue stream for these publications.

Gray's article, however, focuses mainly on The Town and its founder, Renton Nicholson.  Nicholson, a self-styled baron (invariably the best kind of baron), was a colorful figure who gained fame in the 1840s for holding mock trials satirizing infamous divorce cases.  Warrick Wroth, the author of a 1907 book called Cremorne and the Later London Gardens, described Nicholson as "a man who knew a thing or two" who had acquired a "remarkable knowledge of the 'flash life' of London in all its grades."

"After a minor experience of gambling-houses and doubtful premises of various 
kinds, he became (in 1841) proprietor of the Garrick’s Head in Bow Street, and here, 
in a room holding about 300 people, and fitted up like a law-court, he presided—as 
Lord Chief Baron Nicholson—over the judge and jury trials that were so attractive to 
the Londoner of the forties and fifties.  The causes that came before this tribunal 
 were chiefly matrimonial—the crim. con. cases of the time—and were such that 
their obscenity and heartlessness (mitigated, it is true, by flashes of wit) often made 
the most hardened sinner shudder."  Quotation and illustration from Warrick Wroth,  
Cremorne and the Later London Gardens

The Town was a monument to the seedy underbelly of the Victorian press.  It allowed Nicholson to attack his enemies.  In the late 1830s, he feuded with Barnard Gregory, the editor of The Age, whom he described as "a common extortioner, gaming-house keeper, and brothel spongee."  It contained bawdiness.  As Gray relates, "Often the Town was simply coarse in its unrelenting play on words like 'work,' 'thing,' 'getting up the linen,' 'working under the butler,' and [Prince] Albert's German sausage again (and again)."  More importantly, the Town, which avoided the official stamp duties and sold for a fraction of the cost of its rival publications, served as an instruction manual for its working and lower-middle-class readers with raffish aspirations.  Gray describes Nicholson's Town as "something of an enormous guide through a loose and well-populated network of places to drink, eat, smoke, sing, gamble, flirt with pretty women, and meet women of the town..."

 Alas, this golden age of scandalous journalism eventually was ground under the heel of Victorian moralism.  By the 1850s, the Town and its ilk became unfashionable, with proprietors open to libel suits and obscenity laws.  This had to be greatly disappointing to right-thinking people who needed clumsy double-entendres, fist-shaking vitriol, insinuations of social gaffes that are baffling in the twenty-first century, and descriptions of badger-baiting accidents or pheasant hunting chicanery.  According to Gray, imitators did spring up with incredible names like Sam Sly-- or, The Town; Paul Pry; Fast Life; Cheap John; and Peeping Tom.  I'm not entirely sure that Fast Life, Cheap John, and Peeping Tom are not currently the names of a Morning Zoo radio crew on Z108.5 GUYS, AM I RIGHT? 

Perhaps, though, there is nothing more useful I can do than to leave you with the opening paragraph of Renton Nicholson's autobiography, which is how I should start all BYCTOM posts:
Exquisite reader, I have a right to believe you perfection.  Let me shake hands with you at starting, for we are bound to travel together in sunlight and in shade, in lively day and dismal night-time; through narrow, devious passages and the mansions of wealth; with Lazarus and with Dives; o'er flowery meads and banks of wild roses; through cities, towns, and hamlets, where humanity dwells 'mid innocence and corruption, where base metal contrasts with unalloyed gold.

Exquisite reader, I have the right to believe you have wasted time and are now considerably misinformed about scandalous publications and Northwestern men's revenue sports.  Let us make fist-claws with you starting, for we are bound to travel in sunlight and in shade, in lively wins and dismal losses, through Wildcat alleys and Welsh-Ryan arenas; with Fitzes and with Collinses; o'er Victory Rights and wild option pitches, through Pizza cities, pizza towns, and pizza hamlets, where humanity sits 'mid legends and leaders, where base helmets contrast with unalloyed hat.