2 April 2013
I'm afraid I don't have anything useful to say about Major League Baseball's opening day — if you want analysis more sophisticated than Go Mariners!, the man at the Centre to turn to is our CEO Bates Gill — but I can direct you to this montage of presidents tossing out first pitches. (Check out Taft in the top hat!) The object is to put names to faces — and if this should be your first introduction to the dreadful timesuck that is the quiz website Sporcle.com, I do apologise.
(OK brief analysis: for mine, the Kennedy cool came out to the pitcher's mound with him. Did the man do anything ungracefully? And though Gerald Ford has a reputation for clumsiness, which derives from Chevy Chase's parody of him on Saturday Night Live, he looks more like the athlete he really was in his pic.)
3 January 2013
New York Giants win the Super Bowl
History repeats itself. Just like the 2008 Super Bowl, the Giants come from behind to defeat the Patriots on a spectacular fourth quarter catch.
Jeremy Lin was a little used backup for the New York Knicks when injuries forced him into a more prominent role in early February. And the second year player out of Harvard responded; Lin averaged 22.5 points and 8.7 assists per game as Linsanity took over New York.
Baylor wins NCCA women's basketball championship
The Baylor Lady Bears become the first college basketball team to win forty games as junior Brittany Griner carried her squad to a perfect 40-0 season.
The Miami Heat are NBA champions
Lebron James silenced the doubters as his Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games, and brought the NBA championship trophy to South Beach.
Los Angeles Kings win first Stanley Cup
They nearly squandered a 3-0 series lead, but the Kings kept their composure in Game 6 to win their first NHL championship in the team's 45 year existence.
Felix Hernandez throws a perfect game
A careful reader might wonder why I'm singling out Hernandez's performance when there were several other perfectos thrown this year; including one against my beloved Seattle Mariners. Well, it's my list and I'll choose what I want to, and I'm going to pay homage to the Mariner's ace and his incredible achievement.
Michael Phelps: G.O.A.T.
Michael Phelps won four gold and two silver medals at the 2012 London Olympics, making him the most decorated Olympian of all time with more than twice as many gold medals as his next nearest competitor. And he might not be done yet. There’s been recent speculation that he might come out of retirement to race in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Running on a broken leg
Normally an Olympic track heat heat wouldn't qualify for the top ten sporting moments of the year. But normally athletes don't run the event on a broken leg. Despite shattering his fibula 200 metres into the opening leg of the 4x100 relay, American Manteo Mitchell managed to complete his lap in a remarkable 46.1 seconds. The US easily advanced to the next round and would go on to win gold in the finals."I pretty much figured it was broken, because every step I took, it got more painful," Manteo explained."But I was out there already. I just wanted to finish and do what I was called in to do."
US Women win Gold in Olympic Soccer
The US team lost in heartbreaking fashion to Japan in the 20011 World Cup and were looking for revenge when the two sides faced off again in the Olympic finals. This time the Americans wouldn't be denied, as Carli Lloyd scored twice to lead the US to a 2-1 victory at Wembley Stadium.
With the NFL referees on strike the league had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find replacements. Some of these substitute officials had apparently been let go by the Lingerie Football League, so it wasn't surprising that the first couple of weeks featured a number of questionable calls. The controversy reached a boiling point in a week three Monday Night Football game, with the Seahawks winning on a last second touchdown that should have been ruled an interception. Not surprisingly, the regular refs were back at work the next week.
Major League Baseball playoffs
The World Series was a bit of a bore but the rest of the playoffs sure weren't. All four of the Division Series match ups went to the maximum five games, and the Giants’ rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in the NLCS before going on to beat the Tigers in the World Series. And there was this crazy Cardinals comeback against the Cardinals:
Lance Armstrong stripped of Tour de France titles
I have fond memories of setting my alarm for six in the morning to get up and watch Lance Armstrong race in the Tour de France. And so while the longstanding rumours of his alleged drug use helped let me down easy, it was still disappointing to hear him announce that he would no longer be fighting doping charges and would hence be stripped of his seven Tour titles. Of course, as Deadspin points out, now we can all laugh hysterically at this Nike commercial:
27 October 2011
Not being an American, I don't have much patriotic affection for the "Star Spangled Banner," but as a song and a piece of poetry, I think it's pretty impressive. I enjoy, too, those rare occasions when I see it as an actual performed act of American patriotism. Mostly this happens at baseball games.
Natasha Vargas-Cooper and Jay Caspian Kang didn't think much of one performance of the anthem; a rather demure take by Zooey Deschanel before a World Series game earlier this week. NVC's reproachment:
Jesus Christ, what if this sort of pallid spectacle has come to represent our cultural arrested development? I’m not ready for this sexless sort of knock-kneed kiddie bullshit. I thought Fox would be our beachhead in unapologetic American bravado! The national anthem should be sung by someone with swagger, drama, a full-boom voice that stirs even the most numbed-out bro to take off his damn backwards hat.
Jason Heid (h/t Andrew Sullivan) disagreed: "What she gave us was unique and perfectly appropriate to lyrics that were, after all, written during an uncertain time of war." I don't think Deschanel's performance was great, though it did work as a perhaps unintentional piece of performance. The bellowing take on the song familiar to ballparks across the country usually ends with soaring, triumphant final note. There's a reason Jimi Hendrix's feedback-laden take on it at Woodstock sounded unexpectedly natural — particularly when he transitioned it into "Purple Haze" immediately after. But Deschanel's weak voice couldn't end the song on a crescendo, creating an anti-climax enhanced on the television broadcast by a shot of military helicopters swooping dark and low over the stadium. It was cold and a bit eerie; compelling, but perhaps not what a nation looks for in an anthem.
But in some sense, the "Star Spangled Banner" is cold and eerie. Erika Villani disagreed with Vargas-Cooper's take on the performance as well, and in doing so she describes marvellously why the song is more than just a synechdoche for national pride:
The national anthem was too sexless for you? You want the national anthem, a poem about crawling out of the darkness of a bloody all-night battle, where you stood sustained by glimpses of the American flag as illuminated by the bombs bursting all around it, to gaze at that battered but still standing symbol of the country you fought for, turned into lyrics and sung to the tune of the enemy’s most difficult drinking song, to turn you on a little more?
The "Star Spangled Banner" is quite a moving tune, and it's only through official adoption and the numbing force of repetition that is has become triumphant. Deschanel might not have been able to effectively realise its emotional qualities, but a talented performer can.
This is a take by Michigan singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. It may not have swagger and it may not be everyone's indie rock cup of tea, but it is dramatic and impassioned. The quaver in his voice on "O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave" properly conveys the fragility of a fledgling nation. It was this version that first made me notice the song's sentiment, rather than its pomp.
27 September 2011
I've mentioned before my low-key enthusiasm for the culture surrounding baseball — honestly, I enjoy the idea of baseball more than its actual reality. (Perhaps this is what Alfred Soto means when he refers to the game's "romance"?) So I'm kind of eager to check out the new Aaron Sorkin-penned Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill-starring film Moneyball, which, by the looks of the trailer, makes signing a baseball team something dramatic and thrilling.
The film was released this past Friday in the US, and the critical response has thus far been quite enthusiastic. Richard Florida explains the background, and why it's a story about Oakland, California as well as about baseball:
The movie, based on Michael Lewis’ bestseller of the same name, tells how Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s captured the American League West in 2002 utilizing a statistical technique known as sabermetrics. Beane was able to best bigger market teams that could attract major stars with higher salaries by focusing on sophisticated metrics such as on-base percentage, runs created, and linear weight, that maximize player success and help refine offensive tactics ...
Is there a reason this happened in Oakland instead of elsewhere? Maybe so. To start with the obvious, it’s a smaller market team with a limited budget. New York, Boston, L.A., and Atlanta are rich; they could care less about this approach, since they can and often do just go out and buy the players they need. But ... [a]long with San Francisco and San Jose, Oakland is one of the three major metros that make up the broad San Francisco Bay Area. And the prevailing culture of the region at the turn of the millennium – fueled by high tech industries from semiconductors and software to biotech and social media – was one that was based on innovative and commercially viable ideas. Engineering values were and continue to be deeply embedded in its DNA.
Running a baseball team like a tech start-up, perhaps? If so, it makes for a neat connection with Aaron Sorkin's movie about America from last year, The Social Network.
Sadly, we won't see Moneyball in Australia until November 10. In the meantime, anyone have any ideas as to the last great American sports movie? It's been a long while since I've seen Any Given Sunday, but I know I enjoyed that. Have I forgotten anything more recent?
17 June 2011
...not from me, thank god.
I'm not a big cricket fan, but I have a special fondness for reading about Americans encountering the game. A fantastic example of the form is up at Grantland, and features Michael Schur and Nate DiMeo struggling to wrap their heads around wickets, LBWs, and seam bowling. With the recent Pakistan vs India World Cup semi final as their guide, they try to find as many analoges to baseball as possible. A choice excerpt:
It quickly becomes clear that this is relatively extraordinary. It's early, but Umar Gul is already having a bad day, and the camera lingers on him like he's Rick Ankiel in the 2000 NLDS. We also get many shots of Gul's captain, Shahid Afridi, a handsomely bearded devil who right now looks like he would be thrilled if Umar Gul suddenly and irrevocably retired from international cricket. When Sehwag is awarded a free hit because of a foot fault by Gul — stepping fully over the line while bowling, which gives the batsman essentially a free chance to just whack away with minimal risk — Afridi can't even look at Gul he's so angry. The expressiveness with which Afridi displays his displeasure with his teammate, were it shown by Derek Jeter during a bad inning from CC Sabathia, would be the only thing the New York media would talk about for 11 weeks.
Well worth a read.
2 April 2011
Here's some reading for the weekend.
- Ari Berman profiles Jim Messina, the campaign manager for Obama's re-election bid and "the most powerful person in Washington that you haven't heard of."
- However, Messina is nothing for liberals to worry about, says Marc Armbinder.
- "Every single Senate Republican has endorsed a constitutional amendment that would’ve made Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policy unconstitutional."
- Former NSW Premier Bob Carr will channel Abraham Lincoln in a concert performance at the NSW Art Gallery tomorrow.
- President Obama gets locked out of the Oval Office.
Since baseball season opened yesterday, here's "Piazza, New York Catcher," by the not-actually-American Belle and Sebastian. (They're from Scotland.) It was an excellent opener; the Mariners beat the As, and, after one game, are undefeated in 2011. I suggest they avoid pushing their luck and end their season now.
1 April 2011
It was baseball opening day today, and though I can't usually get excited about the sport unless I'm in a bar or my reliably awful Seattle Mariners are playing, I watched the last couple innings of the Dodgers/Giants opener just to mark the occasion. (The Ms don't play their first game of the year until tomorrow, when they'll hopefully not lose in Oakland.)
More enoyable than most games of baseball, however, is the kind of literary musings that centre on baseball. It's probably just down to the languorous pace that leads it to attracting people who like a game they can watch while working on their latest novel, but the sport has a famed reputation as a game for nerds. I'm rather fond, for instance, of the cameo the sport has in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, and the majesty the teams attain when referred to as "the Reds of Cincinatti" or the "White Sox of Chicago."
I've been seeing a quote floating about the Internets lately from a former Major League Baseball commissioner, Bart Giamatti. It comes from his A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti:
"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops."
Baseball has never come close to breaking my heart, but I like that a lot. The vignette continues here.
23 July 2010
Last week I went to Safeco Field to watch the Seattle Mariners lose to the New York Yankees, and while wandering around in between innings, I spotted this advertisement for the local rail system.
In a country like Australia, which dodged the worst of the global financial crisis, it's easy not to see how deeply the recession has affected the United States. As advertisements like this show, the economic downturn has so throughly soaked itself into the nation's zeitgeist that it can be used as advertising fodder: everyone's poor — ride the train!
A similar impetus can be seen in this advertisement for BECU, a Washington-based credit union. Distance from the financial industry is here a point of distinction, one that informs potential customers that the service in question is clean of the taint of bailouts and subprime mortgages.
The unemployment rate in Washington as of June was 8.9 per cent, slightly below the national rate of 9.5 per cent. This is a relatively good circumstance compared with states like Michigan and Nevada, which have rates around 13 and 14 per cent. The good news isn't confined to government numbers, either: when I walk around town here I see a number of stores with Help Wanted signs in their windows. And yet even in a relatively prosperous area like Seattle, the reality of the recession is widespread enough in society that it has become a mere fact of life advertisers use to push products.
This is something to keep in mind when looking at the November midterms. America does not feel good about its economic situation right now, and this is going to influence how its citizens vote. If you're wondering why the Democrats are having such a tough time in the polls, don't consider esoteric questions of debt and deficit. Instead, remember that even in states doing better than average, people are scrimping and saving, and are worried about being out of work. The mood in America is improving, but when its citizens attends its national pastime, they still feel like they have to find ways to pinch pennies.
5 June 2010
Some big stories in America are big stories the world over. The millions of litres of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico is big news whether you're in Sydney or Seattle, as is Israel's storming of the flotilla headed for Gaza earlier this week. (Like it or not, stories about Israel almost always end up as stories about America as well.) But sometimes America will become gripped by an event the rest of the world could not care less about.
Such an event occurred earlier this week, when the nation took a time out from condemning its president for not suiting up in SCUBA gear to plug the oil leak himself. If the C.E.O. of BP wants to walk in to a bar right now in America, he should make sure he has Jim Joyce at his side.
Joyce? Probably the most loathed man in America right now, and no, the country has not developed a sudden distaste for Irish literature. Joyce was the first base umpire in a baseball game Wednesday night between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. Tigers' pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from pitching a perfect game, an extraordinarily rare baseball achievement in which a pitcher pitches for at least nine innings and allows no batter to make it to first base. In the game's 135 year history, with thousands of games being played a year, only twenty perfect games have been pitched.
As Galarraga sought his 27th out on Wednesday night, Cleveland's Jason Donald grounded the pitch and took off for first base. Detroit cleaned the ball up quickly, Donald looked to be certainly out and Galarraga looked to have made history. Joyce, however, judged the Cleveland batter to have made it to first successfully. The Detroit home crowd disagreed sharply with him, as did the video replay. (Major League Baseball does not review umpiring decisions with replays.) And after the game, Joyce recanted as well, apologizing to the Tigers' pitcher and admitting "I just cost that kid a perfect game."
The national pastime will go on, however, and America will return to the kind of news everyone the world over pays attention to - especially considering oil might go on leaking into the gulf until Christmas. And Joyce can count at least one supporter on his side. But the furore over this incident is a nice reminder that the United States, just like every other country, has its own odd little obsessions that do not come up on an outsider's radar.
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