Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Beyond Baseball?

Major league baseball has launched a new ad campaign featuring Tim Lincecum and Ryan Howard that begins with images of them when they were young and transitions to them playing in the majors. It concludes with the tagline: "This is beyond inspiration/dedication; This is beyond baseball." Here's the Lincecum spot:

Besides the fact that every player in the majors trained hard to get there, the message "beyond baseball" confirms that major league execs feel the game itself is bankrupt, that fans won't come just to watch a game. The rally monkey, loud music between innings, slides in the bleachers, etc. all underscore this philosophy. But MLB can only continue to sell baseball if the game itself is at the center of their marketing strategy. Light shows and mascot races are short sighted. To be successful long term, MLB should not draw attention to what is "beyond baseball," it should focus on, well, "baseball."

Monday, May 25, 2009

More Biking Magic

Unbelievable stuff, again sent to me by Scott.

If you liked that, look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7anDq7jK_Wg
(volume down if kids around)--gets amazing at about 2:40 in, and the last rider is astounding.

If you look at the venue of the rides in the link, you'll notice the "sport" has already been coopted by corporate interests. Maybe I should allow this blog be coopted by corporate interests....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Cycling Priest

This cycling jersey, for sale at BikeRadar.com, is supposed to be "the Swedish national champion jersey but with a change of colour." What? It looks to me like a cycling jersey for priests. I know that some consider cycling a religious experience... but isn't this taking that idea a step too far?

Would using Holy Water before a big mountain stage be considered doping, or merely a way to reach new spiritual heights?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Biking Across Town (literally, across it)

Here is a video of Danny MacAskill doing things that one should not be able to humanly do on a bike. Crazy and beautiful.

Thanks to Scott for sending the link.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Violence and Sports

I recently reread the introduction of Quest for Excitement by Norbert Elias (pictured) and Eric Dunning. In this introduction Elias theorizes (among other things) that sports grow out of regulated societies where violence is reduced to a minimum because disagreements are resolved politically. Sports function, in these societies, as a "relief-institution," a "mimetic battle" that allows people to achieve fulfillment and catharsis without "acts of violence . . . the infliction of physical injuries or of death upon other human beings."

Since sports are close to violence, however, it is also in the context of sporting events that violence tends to manifest itself first when society (because of unemployment, poverty, discrimination, etc.) begins to break down. Hooliganism is one example Elias gives of this phenomenon.

Of course, when social structures break down even further, sporting events sometimes cease all together. But sporting sites continue to be associated with violence. Soccer stadiums were used for public executions by the Taliban in Afghanistan (Khaled Hosseini describes the stoning to death of an adulterous couple at halftime of a soccer match in his novel The Kite Runner). The French used a velodrome as a rounding up spot for Jews being deported to concentration camps during World War II. Frank Foer, in his book How Soccer Explains the World, details how the fans of Red Star Belgrade became "Milosevic's shock troops, the most active agents of ethnic cleansing, highly effectient practitioners of genocide." Perhaps you can think of other examples.

The point is that sports, consciously or not, stand at the limit of socially acceptable violence. And when that limit shifts in society, the shift may first be manifest in sports or at sporting locales.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

... worth a thousand words.

Actual photo from a press conference last week at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills where Jose Canseco addressed a group some dude about Manny and steroids (and he, a journalist from CNBC, was forced to be there). No one from the LA Times, the LA Daily News, LA Weekly …not even La OpiniĆ³n. Final count: one attendee, four cameramen, Canseco and his lawyer. So, tell me again--just how much do we care about steroids? Scott’s right: the only one making a fuss is the self-righteous zealot pounding hot-dogs in right field.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On Baseball's Latest Witch Hunt: Shame of the Game

Usually, I look forward to reading the weekend papers, catching up on how the Lakers, Dodgers, Galaxy, and Bruins did, while trying to find time to squeeze in a few columns. Today was an exception. The latest installment of baseball’s witch hunt, which has affixed a scarlet letter (*) to my favorite player, sickens me. Now that it has hit home, I feel the need to respond to a sampling of today’s columns:

Yesterday, Bill Plaschke of the LA Times virulently banished Manny from Dodgertown adopting the voice of the Pied Piper of Hamlin and, when, the Dodger’s faithful still showed their support of Manny, he turned his vituperation on them. Plaschke, who is generally-speaking a respectable journalist, sunk as low as to compare us to SF Giants fans for their continued support of Bonds. A low blow though it was, I’ll take it for reasons to be explained below. Kurt Streeter of the Times was dismayed by the lack of outrage on the part of Dodger’s fans. What he doesn’t get is WE GET IT. Jack Curry of the NY TIMES wants to ban him from the HOF—as absurd an idea as banning Pete Rose or Barry Bonds. (By the way, how can we even argue for Jim Rice while Charlie Hustle is still on the outs???) And, Jayson Stark of ESPN brazenly, and prematurely, declared the end of Mannywood, suggesting we “forget, not forgive”!

What we get and self-proclaimed baseball purists don’t is that baseball is a game, entertainment, a diversion. It is a game of heroes and all of Western culture—from Homer to Rabelais to Hemingway—has shown us that our gods are more effective when they are flawed—or in other terms, when they are human . We prefer a demi-god to an unknowable almighty. Baseball is a game of heroes… and a game of scandals. In fact, baseball’s biggest stars are often it’s most scandalous: Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe, Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg, Daryl Strawberry, etc.—and we rally around them.

In past posts, I’ve compared this witch hunt to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; however, in the Steroid Era, I think that maybe a classic film is just as befitting: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s post-Vichy era (France’s equivalent of McCarthyism) “Le Corbeau” (The Raven). As a series of poison-pen letters violently divide a small French community, casting doubt on everyone, the most likeable character of the film reveals to the central protagonist that he shoots up (“Je me drogue. Je me pique.”) At the same time of his confession, he demonstrates that life is not as Manichean as many would like—that light and dark are more variable than they seem. [SPOILER ALERT] Even when he proves to be the Raven (the letter writer), we still are affected by his sociological experiment of what happens to a society when it tries to pit the morality of individuals against the community. Where is light? Where is truth? How does knowing truth effect us?

Maybe San Franciscans are right: live and let live. Get behind your heroes when they’re down. (Even as a Dodgers fan, I still admitted Barry was one of the greatest ever.) Mannywood is on hold for 48 more games; but, I will be there, arms wide open, to greet my—now more human—hero when Manny jogs out to left on July 3rd!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tyler Hamilton, Doping, and Depression

Tyler Hamilton tested positive for a steroid a few weeks ago and has since announced his retirement from cycling. He maintains the steroid was in a supplement he was taking to help him in his fight against depression and was not taken to help improve performance. The media coverage of the event, as Ophir pointed out to me, tends to fall into two categories: 1) he has always been a cheat, should have sought more responsible help for his depression, and deserves to be out--good riddance; 2) he has suffered seriously from mental illness, it should be taken into account when judging him, and his case should bring more attention to the problem.

Ophir, who rode professionally in Europe for a time, wrote me the following: "High profile athletes are often the most vulnerable to not getting proper diagnosis or help precisely because their job description demands they project an image of invincibility. Additionally, one could argue they have less opportunities for mental health care or for a mental illness diagnosis as 'team' doctor's are not expected nor encouraged to look for signs of an athletes deteriorating mental state. Athletes don't want to rock the boat or be seen as a liability to the team."

I have a lot of sympathy for Hamilton and have rooted for him over the years. I watched him in the Tour of Utah last summer and was happy when he won the U.S. road title. Whether he was taking steroids to enhance his performance or not, it's clear that since cyclists are in such a loose organization (compared with the Major League Baseball Players' Association, for example) there probably is no counseling service at all to help them cope not only with depression, but with anything else... There is precious little protection for cyclists and they likely feel they are always hanging by a thread with no safety net.

Should race organizers, teams, sporsors, even fans be held partly responsible for the situation? Do we unfairly expect athletes to be invincible? Or should Hamilton be dismissed as a cheat?