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Up All Night

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Sorry for the late game thread you guys. That’s my bad.

Never mind being tardy:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Ron Salas. 

Afternoon Art

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“In Bed” by Federico Zandomeneghi

Taster’s Cherce

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Oh, good lord, yes. 

Blume in Love

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I didn’t read Judy Blume when I was growing up but my twin sister sure did. I have a clear memory of her worn paperback covers for Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Blubber.

Susan Dominus recently profiled Blume for The New York Times Magazine.

I like this passage:

“I’m a storyteller — you know what I mean — an inventor of people,” Blume said. “And their relationships. It’s not that I love the words — that’s not the kind of writer I am. So I’m not” — she made a furious scribbling motion with her right hand — “I’m not a great writer. But maybe I’m a really good storyteller.”

All writers are not created equal.

Phantom Punch

Guest Columnist

Allen Barra

Of all the ledes in all the stories inspired by the Ali-Liston “Phantom Punch” fight, I liked best the one by my late friend Barbara Long wrote for The Village Voice fifty years ago this week, “I loved the minute of it!”

Her timing, though, was a little off. It was at precisely 1:44 that the Phantom Punch either did or didn’t land and Sonny Liston went down. At 1:56 he got up, at which point Ali began bombarding him with punches, and it was 2:12 when the referee, former heavyweight champ Jersey Joe Walcott, stepped in to inform the participants that the fight was actually over 16 or 17 seconds earlier.

If you think that’s confusing, then you know how everyone in the crowd of 4,000 (the smallest ever to witness a heavyweight title fight) felt. Watch the fight and judge for yourself.

Three days after the fight, the cover of Life magazine hit the stands with Neil Leifer’s famous photograph on the cover. A defiant Ali stands over a down and dazed Liston. It’s probably the most instantly recognizable photo in boxing history and may well be the most famous single shot in all of sports.

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For many, Ali’s pose seemed staged, adding fuel to the rampant rumors that the fight was fixed. Liston had been one of the most fearsome champions the heavyweight division had ever seen; he had never been knocked down and most members of the old boxing establishment simply refused to believe that Ali could have knocked him out so easily.

Leifer’s picture, therefore, came to symbolize the fight itself. Or as Kelefa Sanneh wrote in last week’s (May 25) New Yorker: “The famous 1965 photograph of Muhammad Ali shouting at the limp body of Sonny Liston records not a great triumph but a great fiasco: the fight, hurriedly staged in a hockey rink in Lewiston, Maine, ended with a first round knockout that many still believe was fraudulent – the result of a ‘phantom punch’ and evidence, purportedly, that Liston had been paid to lose.”

Indeed, there were many rumors that Sonny was paid to take a dive, though everyone seemed to have a different theory as to who paid him and why. (You can hear several of the conspiracy theories on YouTube.) But no one has ever been able to explain why it would be worth a lot of money for anyone to pay Liston to lose, or, if he was intimidated by some of the angry black Muslims that surrounded Ali, why he couldn’t have used his well-known mob connections for protections.

In their first fight, Liston was a huge favorite, and anyone who bet on Cassius Clay cleaned up. But in the second fight, the odds were a slim 6-to-5 favor Liston, so there was no big money to be made betting. The real money was in having the heavyweight title or in owning the man who held it. How much money could Liston possibly been paid to throw away the most valuable prize in sports? And who would have paid him since what the mob surely wanted was for Liston to win back the title?

At the risk of destroying boxing’s most cherished conspiracy theories, it’s time to put to rest the notion that either fight represented anything but total domination by Muhammad Ali. Ali went on to become the greatest heavyweight of all time, and Sonny Liston, who was likely much older than the 31 years he claimed – some said as old as 38 — suddenly got much older when facing the fastest heavyweight who ever lived. As the late, great Ring and Boxing Illustrated editor Burt Randolph Sugar put it, “At his best, Sonny couldn’t have hit Clay with a handful of stones.”

What happened in their second fight is that Liston walked right into a punch – two punches really. And the recent spate of Phantom Punch anniversary stories have left out one key fact: not everyone who saw the fight agreed that there was no punch.

In a story in Slate on May 22, Dave Mondy wrote that Leifer’s photo “was actually preceded by the puniest of blows, a ‘phantom punch’ as it would later be known – a wispy, theoretical mini-hook that none in attendance even observed.”

A piece I wrote for The New York Times in 2000 on the 35th anniversary of the fight has been quoted by writers on several sites, but, interestingly, no one has the people I talked who did see the Punch. For instance, the Village Voice’s Barbara Long, who was seated behind Ali’s corner and told me that Liston, when hit, had reacted “Like a man on a bicycle hitting a low-lying branch.”

In a column printed two days after the fight, The Los Angeles Times’ Jim Murray, probably the most respected sportswriter in the country at the time, wrote, “I’ll tell you what happened. Sonny Liston got the hell beat out of him is what happened. This time I was looking for it and I saw it: an old man groping his way into a speedy insolent reckless kid … Cassius could have beaten him in high heels.”

Former heavyweight champ and future New York State Athletic Commissioner Floyd Patterson was the man Liston had beat to win the title. Like Long and Murray, he was seated to Ali’s back when the punch was thrown. In an interview for a book several years later, he told me, “Liston got hit hard … Liston was leaning toward him and about to throw a left jab. Suddenly Clay threw a short right hand that I thought hit Liston on the chin. Liston was rocked. And when he started to get up, he was bewildered. I could see it in his eyes.”

The best analysis of the knockout was offered by Tex Maule in the June 7, 1965, issue of Sports Illustrated: “Muhammad Ali, born Cassius Clay, retained the heavyweight championship of the world by knocking out Sonny Liston with a perfectly valid, stunning, right-hand punch to the side of the head. And he won without benefit of a fix.

“Although it is impossible ever to discount the possibility of a fix because of boxing’s still-too intimate connection with the underworld, there is no shred of evidence or plausibility to support the suggestion that this was anything but an honest fight, as was the previous Clay-Liston fight in Miami Beach …

“The knockout punch itself was thrown with the amazing speed that differentiates Clay” – interesting that both Murray and Maule, two of the leading sportswriters of their day, were still referring to Ali by the name he had discarded – “from any other heavyweight. He leaned away from one of Liston’s ponderous, pawing left jabs, planted his left foot solidly and whipped his right hand over Liston’s left arm and into the side of Liston’s jaw.”

Let’s do a forensic examination of the evidence and see if, fifty years after the fact, we can reach a conclusion.

If you watched the fight at regular speed, try looking at the knockout in slow motion.

In slow-mo, it’s easy to see the impact of the punch: Liston’s head shakes like a bobble head doll’s. So much for the “wispy, theoretical mini-hook.”

In their fight issue, SI ran a four picture sequence of the punch, noting that “The blow had so much force it lifted Liston’s left foot, upon which most of his weight was resting, well off the canvas.” You can even see the shadow of Liston’s left shoe on the canvas.

Simply put, Liston walked – lunged, actually – right into it, doubling the force of the blow.

And yet, that might not have been the punch responsible for Liston’s destruction. Watch the fight one more time. At a little more than a minute, 1:07 after the bell by my count, Ali connects a short chopping right directly to Sonny’s jaw. The punch is almost identical to the “Phantom Punch,” which comes about thirty seconds later. If that first punch doesn’t look so hard, look at it from another angle, the one on the cover of the June 7 SI:

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From this angle, Liston looks as if he’s just taken a two-by-four to the face. Such blows landed early in a bout, before a boxer gets untracked, can scramble his senses, leaving him dazed though still standing. The first right was a set-up; you can see it because of the angle it’s thrown. The second was the coup de gras which couldn’t be seen clearly because Liston’s body obstructed the only camera angle.

Today, there would be three or four different angles and no mystery about the punch. Ali’s right was on target, but even The Greatest couldn’t KO a myth. No doubt we’ll be going all this again in another fifty years.

[Photo Credit: Neil Leifer]

Get Out of Town

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I don’t think Alex Rodriguez is going to stay healthy all year. But that constant worry aside, he’s been fun to watch, huh? Passing the greats on the RBI list, approaching 3,000 hits. I know I’m enjoying the hell out of it.

The other night, David Cone said he spoke with Rodriguez who told him how much of a relief it was not to play the field. We often hear hitters complain that they don’t like DH’ing because it takes them out of the game. But at Rodriguez’s age, he’s played the field enough. Standing on the hard infield in spikes is murder on your back., not to mention the mental focus playing the field takes. Now, Rodriguez’s job is to concentrate on getting a few good swings each game. Yes, he guesses. (Recently, he’s gone down to one knee, Reggie-Beltre-style, on some of his big hacks.)

I wonder how much he thinks about Edgar Martinez, the wonderful DH he played with early in his career.

Rodriguez slapped a 3-run home run yesterday which was enough to give Michael Pineda (nice bounce back start) and the bullpen all the runs they’d need as the Yanks completed a 3-game sweep of the Royals, 4-2.

Next stop, late night’s out west in Oakland and then Seattle.

Picture by Bags

Wednesday Matinee

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Dear Yankees,

Please do not let that chump Chris Young stifle you again. And how ’bout our pal Pineda righting himself while you’re at it?

Thank you,

Bronx Banter

Brett Gardner LF

Chase Headley 3B

Alex Rodriguez DH

Mark Teixeira 1B

Brian McCann C

Carlos Beltran RF

Stephen Drew 2B

Slade Heathcott CF

Didi Gregorius SS

Never mind those rain clouds:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Picture by Bags

Taster’s Cherce

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Houba.

Beat of the Day

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More…in focus.

[Photo Credit: Jason Nocito]

Morning Art

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“Lipsticks” by Wayne Thiebaud (1964)

New York Minute

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The Wife and I were away for a few days up in Vermont. Big sky country. Green, such a bright, fresh green, too. All that space is pleasing to the eye.

We got back last night and I looked out of our window and saw the lights from apartment buildings near us. So dense, so different. And that was comforting too. This morning, the subways were delayed and I sat in a crowded subway car with half of mind mind still in the country.

This picture reminds me that above all of this humanity, the sky is still big.

Million Dollar Movie

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This one goes to eleven.

Remember the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where the airplane is plummeting to the earth and we see the numbers on the speedometer getting higher and higher, faster and faster and finally it says: “Silly, isn’t it?”

I kept waiting for a cutaway to that line as I watched Mad Max: Fury Road. There were moments that I laughed out loud because there’s a Looney Tunes quality to the movies’ craziness–I don’t know what other response you can have. I didn’t find the movie thrilling or suspenseful or even tense. There are some scary moments, but nothing that freaked me out. I felt excited in an over-caffeinated way, but it’s so over-the-top, so fantastic, I almost immediately felt detached and after about 15, 20 minutes, bored. It’s magnificent but not for me.

I was talking to a friend recently about appetites and he called himself a pathological maximalist. Forgive the pun, but I kept thinking about that as I watched Fury Road.

The ads boast that the movie was made by “Mastermind” George Miller and that’s no stretch. This isn’t the work of a director. This is a finely tuned, well-realized orchestration from a mastermind. It’s not pure chaos. There is a keen sense of pacing, there are quiet scenes, with breaks in the action, but really I thought the whole thing was akin to watching two-plus hours of slam dunk highlights. It’s an extended guitar solo, an orgy of technical virtuosity, one stunt more improbable than the next. The technique is formidable and some of the images are captivating–though I dare you to recall any specific images after being bombarded by so many. But the story–which at times suggests Thunderdome as much as The Road Warrior–is corny despite its admirable political sensibility. The dialogue is so sparse that it is easy to laugh at–B-movie fromage. The early movies had that quality too but they also had more of a low budget vibe, a punk vibe. This is Cirque du Soliel, this is Vegas, Grand Theft Auto. Miller’s left punk behind. This is rock opera video game for the hyper modern age.

I’ve read Tom Hardy, who plays Max, say that he had no idea what Miller wanted him to do during filming and I think that comes across. Not that it matters–Max is just an action figure who is playing the role of second banana (the lead is played by Charlize Theron). But it’s too bad because I liked Mel Gibson’s tortured hero of the early movies. (And I liked his dog.) There is nothing of the immediacy and realism of the first two movies here. Even if they were cartoons, there was a semblance of credibility, too Here, Max is captured, chained, and when he breaks free, instead of collapsing from fatigue, he springs to life like the Hulk.

I suppose this movie is in step with the times. Maybe that’s why the critics have fallen all over themselves writing about it. How can you ignore not admire such technical brilliance? But this is the kind of roller coaster that doesn’t appeal to me. It’s remarkable and if you like your thrills and spills larger than life you’ll dig it.

The rest of you can spare yourself the pounding.

 

Twice as Nice

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Adam Warren pitched his best game of the year, Mark Teixeira drove in the runs, and The Twin Towers closed things out as the Yanks beat the Royals, 5-1.

A tidy, satisfying win if there ever was one.

Picture by Bags

Going Back for Seconds

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It’s the Warren Report as the Yanks look to extend their winning streak to 2.

Brett Gardner LF

Chris Young CF

Alex Rodriguez DH

Mark Teixeira 1B

Chase Headley 3B

Carlos Beltran RF

Stephen Drew 2B

John Ryan Murphy C

Didi Gregorius SS

Never mind the moisture:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Taster’s Cherce

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Food 52 gives a lovely-looking recipe for Shaved Asparagus and Arugula Salad.

Morning Art

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Picture by Bernard Deschamps via MPD.

BGS: The Writer as Detective Hero

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Last weekend at the Beast, I had the pleasure to reprint Ross MacDonald’s 1965 essay for Show magazine, “The Writer As Detective Hero”.

Dig in:

A producer who last year was toying with the idea of making a television series featuring my private detective Lew Archer asked me over lunch at Perino’s if Archer was based on any actual person. “Yes,” I said. “Myself.” He gave me a semi-pitying Hollywood look. I tried to explain that while I had known some excellent detectives and watched them work, Archer was created from the inside out. I wasn’t Archer, exactly, but Archer was me.

The conversation went downhill from there, as if I had made a damaging admission. But I believe most detective-story writers would give the same answer. A close paternal or fraternal relationship between writer and detective is a marked peculiarity of the form. Throughout its history, from Poe to Chandler and beyond, the detective hero has represented his creator and carried his values into action in society.

True Indeed

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At long last, the Yanks win a game. And not only did they win it, well, they put a beatin’ on the Royals to the tune of 14-1.

The Yanks sored early and often, launching a trio of 3-run singers. Nathan Eovaldi was terrific, and a couple of youngters–Mr. Heathcott and Mr. Lindren–pitched in to make this a happy, worry-free afternoon of baseball for the home town team.

Wunnerful, wunnerful.

[Photo Credit: Chris Heads]

Mind The Gap

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The Yanks turn to none other than Nathan Eovaldi to put an end to this losing nonsense.

Feel better?

Right.

Brett Gardner LF

Chase Headley 3B

Alex Rodriguez DH

Mark Teixeira 1B

Brian McCann C

Garrett Jones RF

Stephen Drew 2B

Didi Gregorius SS

Slade Heathcott CF

Never mind no negative thinking:

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

[Image Via Markmcevoy]

Down Bring Me Down

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Goodness.

At least the best team in the league isn’t coming into town. Oh–wait.

Picture by Bags

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver