Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Is there a Fish on this court?" Stanley Fish writes on basketball

Famed literary theorist Stanley Fish appears to now have a gig writing sports opinion columns for the LA Times. Check it out here:

- On the NBA Draft
- On Basketball

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Montreal Expos: Je me souviens…

As an enthusiast for the French-speaking world and lover of the city of Montreal, with an admittedly romanticized sentimental attachment to the game of baseball, when I found myself in Montreal last week, I simply had to make the trek over to The Big O, the concrete ruin that is Olympic Stadium, where the Montreal Expos both lived and died. Growing up, I had an affinity for the team with the tricolored caps and the highlights with announcers that called games in a language I didn’t know. Passing beneath the imposing observation tower of the Parc Olympique, nestled in the seedy, working-class district of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve in north-east Montreal, looking down on the chipped cement below and to the botanical garden ahead, I pondered the fate of this unfortunate québécoise franchise—one that could have seemingly been avoided in so many ways.

Borrowing the motto of the province of Quebec, I realize this post might read a bit like a memoir. I’m okay with that. I will, however, provide some historical justification for this post. In my lifetime (and near the end of the life of the Expos), three major events in the team’s final decade might beg to question if there is something to the fatalism--at least where baseball is concerned--adopted by the city since the failed separatist referendum of 1995. 1) The 1994 season: with a 6-game lead on Atlanta and on pace to win 105 games, the MLBPA called a strike in mid-August that would cancel the World Series and eliminate the Expos only viable chance at a title. 2) Following the 1994 heartbreak, team president Claude Brochu (an avid supporter of the team who gave 2 million of his own dollars to keep them in Montreal in 1991) inexplicably advised a “fire sale” and sold nearly all the talent behind the team’s recent success: Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, John Wetteland, etc. (also getting rid of Moises Alou, Mel Rojas, and Pedro Martinez in subsequent seasons). And, 3) Lucien Bouchard, Premier of Quebec and voice of the separatist movement, with the opportunity to save a floundering team, refused to act on proposals to build Labatt Field in downtown Montreal, moving the team from the decrepit dome in shady northeast Montreal to an open air haven not far from the Bell (then Molson) Centre where the Habs play. A potential stab at “the Anglos” whose Non! vote had prevailed in the 1995 referendum, Bouchard’s refusal to act on the plan, in the eyes the of many Montrealers, essentially doomed the team. Unable to fill the massive eyesore that was Big O, the team lost its morale, fans stopped coming, home games were relocated to Puerto Rico, and, ultimately, the franchise moved to Washington D.C., where the Nationals’ bland mediocrity does no justice to the former uniqueness of the Expos

The “Bouchard Theory” is but one conspiracy as to why the team failed. True to French-Canadian form, most still point to fatalism. Could baseball, an American game ever hope to exist—really exist—in a Canadian city, of which 75% of the population speaks French? In an excellent and engaging novel treating the uneasiness in Montreal following the 1995 fracas, Last Days of Montreal, John Brooke dedicates one chapter to a discussion between estranged former broadcasters for the Expos, where one character Harve Doody describes the game as “a Protestant pursuit […] the American Dream,” describing Montreal as a “purgatory of a Catholic city where baseball shouldn’t be at all.” Maybe he’s right. History and the fate of the Expos would suggest as much. Still, the Expos live on in memory; and, I fondly reflect on them each time I don my three-paneled—blue, white, and red—cap with the Montreal “M” that also contains the “E” and “B” for Expos Baseball. While one can no longer chant “Les expos sont là,” nothing precludes idealistic baseball history buffs from nostalgically uttering “Il était une fois...”

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Surprise" Anti-Doping Test During Tour de France

Le Monde reports that a "surprise" test will go into effect on samples collected during this year's Tour de France. The test, still being developed, will test for a drug that riders currently believe to be "undetectable." The announcement was made by Pierre Bordry (pictured), the head of the French anti-doping agency. Irony of ironies, he is standing in front of a graphic that depicts cyclists climbing a hill so steep it could only possibly be climbed with the aid of whatever new drug he is planning to test for... The photo encapsulates the paradox of the Tour: superhuman exploits are required of mere humans who need performance enhancing drugs to complete (let alone compete in) the humanly impossible Tour.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Next Year the Tour Will be Clean

The Tour de France and cycling have suffered a lot of negative press of late because of the numerous doping scandals. Each year, it seems, several riders (usually high-profile) test positive for blood doping, CERA, steroids, amphetamines, etc., etc. And each year we hear that given this new test or this new rule, "next year the Tour will be clean." In fact, last year the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo ran a cartoon mocking that oft repeated hope. It reads: "This year the Tour will be clean," and crossing the finish line is a bike tire with no rider. (See the cartoon here).

In reading Gaboriau's chapter (cited in my last post), I was reminded that people have been saying "Next year the Tour will be clean" since the very beginning of the Tour. Gaboriau notes that in 1904 the top four riders were disqualified for cheating (for getting rides in cars or strewing nails on the road behind them). One journalist, Jacques Miral, lauded the Tour organizers for disqualifying the cheaters and concluded, "Next year [1905] we may have honest riders" (66). In Louis Malle's 1962 film Vive le Tour (thanks for loaning it to me Scott), riders claim that "Some people dope when they play cards," implying that many cyclists were using then. After Tom Simpson's death and the introduction of testing in the pro peleton, many thought "Next year, we will have a clean Tour" (even though Anquetil called testing "idiotic"). After the Festina affair in 1998 and the numerous pledges from the cycling community to clean up its act, many then thought, "Next year, we will have a clean Tour."

With the Tour fast approaching once again, let me be the first to say that with the new biological passport, this year we will finally have a clean Tour.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hooligans and the Tour de France in 1904

In a chapter written for Dauncey and Hare's The Tour de France: A Century of Sporting Structures, Meanings and Values, Philippe Gaboriau notes that hooliganism was a frequent problem of the early Tour. As an example, he describes an incident from the 1904 Tour that took place near Saint-Etienne.
According to the riders' own statements, it was 3 am and the night was dark, and, "Suddenly, towards the summit of the climb, Faure accelerates briskly and takes a lead of two or three lengths. We look up and notice about 50m in front a group of about 100 people making a tunnel on either side of the road. They're armed with cudgels and stones. Faure bravely went forwards and passed through, and then the cudgels came down on those following." Several riders were inured, some seriously, and faced with repeated violent incidents, the much worried competitors "promise to ride equipped with revolvers." (65-66)

We have discussed in previous posts the link between soccer hooligans and regional identity and have theorized that their hooliganism may be a form of resistance to globalization. It appears that this same mentality was shared by early hooligans in the Tour de France who let their local hero (Faure) pass through before beating up the other riders. Instead of resisting globalization, however, these hooligans were attempting to assure that their region's rider was at the top of the standings, and they perhaps on some level feared losing their regional autonomy and being assimilated into the French Republic. After all, the Tour de France always ends in Paris and reinforces the dominance of the capital and the Republic on all of France. Best then to have someone from Saint-Etienne win and show Parisians that inhabitants of le Dauphiné are still autonomous and deserve respect.

Fortunately for today's riders, the regional hooligans have largely been replaced by regional flags along the route of the Tour.