Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sporting the Zeitgeist

"But this suggests that there is some future in which the sport can return to its earlier cultural dominance—some series of decisions that will rewire the contemporary American fan’s brain to prefer its intermittent grace to football’s dynamic cruelty."  So writes Ian Crouch in the New Yorker, as MLB gets a new commissioner.  Good piece, but that sentence in particular (and I'm even more a fan of sentences than of baseball) really describes the difference : baseball's "intermittent grace" versus football's "dynamic cruelty," at least as it is played today.  This popular preference in turns says a lot about the American Zeitgeist.

Which reminds me, may as well add to this blog a link to the best basketball piece I've read in awhile, by Bill Simmons on the occasion of LeBron James returning to Cleveland, but it's about basketball genius, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird etc. as well as James.  Haven't read a better piece about basketball since one I flagged here several years ago, about Phil Jackson.  It's also by Bill Simmons.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Speaking of Sports: The Injuries of August

Well, hello again.  I'm back here to post for two reasons.  First, I want to keep this blog active because of its back list--there are some post of real interest from the Bush years here.  I don't want them to disappear if google/blogger decides to purge old blogs.

Second I'm going to write about sports, which I've been doing lately at one of my other blogs, Dreaming Up Daily, but it's a bit embarrassing because I doubt that anybody is actually interested.  I'm doing this for myself mostly.  I mean, I'm following a fairly unique set of teams: namely the Pgh Pirates and SF Giants in baseball, with some interest in the NBA, following the gloomy fortunes of the Lakers for instance.  I note that the last post here was kind of down on following the NFL and the Steelers, but the Steelers are such a part of my backstory that I'll have to follow them, even from afar.  And again, I am in far northern CA now, and there's the Niners.

But I finally did carry through on my "threat" and dumped cable TV.  I was one of the last men in America to get a cell phone, and I'll be one of the last to get a smart phone and their neat sports apps.  So these days I listen to the Giants on radio, and otherwise follow sports online.

So on to baseball...

Right now I'm listening to the Giants first game back home after a so-so road trip, playing a fairly weak team (Philadelphia), and having lost their 3-1 lead in the 8th, the Phillies have scored twice in the 10th.  I can hear the depression in the announcer's voice--they don't believe they can win this one. (And they didn't.) The only bright spot: Michael Morse broke out of his home run slump with a three-run homer, the only scoring the Giants did.

The Giants just haven't bounced back after their disastrous late June and early July.  Once 8 games in first they are 5.5 back to the Dodgers (who fortunately for them lost tonight.)  Injuries have been and remain important.   The ones that hurt were Angel Pagan and Brandon Belt, and Belt is still out.  His hitting has turned out to be crucial. (The top photo is Hunter Pence, who has been one of the bright spots for much of the season, though he's had long dry spells too.)  Losing Matt Cain for the season is probably less important, for the remaining starters are brilliant or terrible for any given game.  But the bullpen exploding started their losing streak in July, and that's recurring.  This game tonight tells the tale.  The Giants are toast.  Unless they unaccountably catch fire immediately, they aren't going to win the division, and it will be a struggle to get a wild card.  (Now I see the SF Chron comes to the same conclusion.)

Right now the Pirates are even more wounded.  They lost Marte for many games, now their best hitter, the MVP Andrew McCutchen is out indefinitely, and Neil Walker has been in and out of the lineup.  They are now losing one run games they used to win.  But they are in better shape than the Giants, and look to remain competitive for at least awhile longer.

So the news isn't good for either team.  That they are both at least theoretically in pennant races makes rooting complicated--for example, that Dodger game tonight with the Brewers.  The Dodgers lead the Giants' division, and the Brewers lead the Pirates' division.  So when it came down to it tonight, I was rooting for the Brewers to lose.  It didn't work out that way, so the Pirates lost a game in the standings tonight.

No news in the NBA except the Clippers ownership seems to be resolved, which means the team and the coach will remain on the job.  I have been following the fortunes of both the Lakers and the Knicks because of the connections to back in the day: Phil Jackson prez of the Knicks with Derek Fisher the new coach,  the Lakers with Kobe and Byron Scott the new coach.  Come to that I guess I'll be checking out Golden State with Steve Kerr the new coach.

I've commented on Dreaming Up Daily on the disastrous decisions the Lakers have made in the years after losing Phil Jackson--one of which was failing to hire him back when they had a chance.  D'Antoni or whoever he was really blew the Dwight Howard possibility.  What a waste, all because Jerry Buss died and his son wanted to make his own mark.  Now he's hired an honored Laker to coach and the season will start with at least the good will of Lakers fans.

What I've actually been watching are tapes of the Shaq and Kobie Lakers of 00-03.  What a team they were!  The last glory game of that era turned out to be the end of the 1st round of the playoffs in 2003, game 6 against Minneapolis.

This was also Michael Jordan's final year as a player, his second for the Washington Wizards.  I was surprised that my memory wasn't quite correct--he was much better than I remembered, and became the oldest player to score 40 pts in a game. I saw the game he did some amazing things, including hitting his chin hard on the floor as he scrambled for the loose ball, only to lose by one point.  And afterwards he went after his team for not playing hard enough.  So when the Wizards dropped back beyond playoff contention, the team abandoned him.  I couldn't watch his last game--I just remember how the rest of the players ignored him, wouldn't pass him the ball, until he took himself out.  And that wasn't the end--he lost his ownership stake and presidency of the team as soon as he quit playing. Painful.

Any good new news?  Well, there's the Little League World Series. The first day gave us the victory of Jackie Robinson West of Chicago in their first game, sparked by three--count 'em, three--home runs (plus a triple) by leadoff batter Pierce Jones. Representing Great Lakes Region as the Illinois state champs, Jackie Robinson West from the South Side of Chicago is the first all-black team to make it to the LLWS in "over a decade" (according to this ESPN report) and the first Chicago team since the 80s. The team is part of the league's urban initiative program begun 15 years ago.  And Chicago is in love with this team.

On the second day of the Little League World Series, Pennsylvania team pitcher Mo'Ne Davis threw a two-hitter to become the first female pitcher to win a LLWS game. She's also black. Apart from the extra-sports significance, these stories are big deals for baseball because the proportion of African American MLB players has been diminishing.  So great sports news and more.