"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: charles pierce

Full of Malarky


Charlie Pierce on the Rodriguez-Selig slapstick:

That The Greatest Scandal That Absolutely Ever Was has come down to a faceoff between Rodriguez and Selig is proof enough of what a comic opera the whole escapade has been from the beginning. The hysteria over PEDs in baseball — and, thus, in every sport — has unfolded the way in which all drug hysterias in the history of this country have unfolded. It has been fueled by misplaced moral panic, anecdotal evidence, anonymous slander, and a fundamental disregard for legal and constitutional safeguards — all in the service of what has been sold as a greater good by executives and media members who became famous or wealthy in the pursuit. It has been an exercise in simplistic moralism, so why shouldn’t it come down to one villain and one hero? The whole thing has been a scary story for children right from the jump.

Rodriguez seems to have very few friends in baseball, and probably deserves to have even fewer than he does. His image has been leaking hot air ever since he joined the Yankees. And yes, he is floundering in a vain attempt to rescue the reputation he personally fed into the wood chipper. But, in his battle with Selig, it’s important to remember that — while Rodriguez is fighting for his reputation, and Selig for his legacy — they’re also both fighting just as hard to avoid something else. Neither one wants to be the lasting face of the steroid era. The commissioner would like to fit Rodriguez for the role, because that’s the only way to save Selig’s legacy; this makes his pursuit of Rodriguez look less like an attempt to rescue the game and more like an elaborate attempt to cover his own historical ass.

Corporate Casual

Charlie Pierce on the stupidity and sexism of baseball’s media dress codes:

MLB and the BBWAA have decided to step in with both feet to address a problem I never really noticed. Have there been battalions of reporters walking into clubhouses wearing flip-flops? (Except in spring training, I mean, where everyone dresses like a German tourist at Disneyland.) Have there been legions of my colleagues showing up for a three-game set between the Cubs and the Cardinals having packed nothing but ripped jeans and muscle shirts? God, I sincerely hope not.

“We just thought it was time to get a little organized, to put it in place before there was an incident,” committee member Phyllis Merhige, an MLB senior vice president, told the AP. “There’s no one who expects reporters to wear a suit and tie. But with the advent of different media, there are now individuals who are not part of a bigger organization that may have a dress code.”


It is an exercise of control, of course. The baseball press box is an odd beast. It is owned by the team, but regulated by the local BBWAA, which is why you get that announcement before every game to the effect that “This is a working press box. No laughing or cheering, etc.” Which is good as far as it goes, which is occasionally too far. (I was once nearly removed from the press box at Fenway for the capital offense of laughing too loudly at the Cleveland Indians.) Occasionally, MLB feels compelled to yank the leash so the BBWAA knows who’s really in charge. Generally, the BBWAA comes to heel. This is one of those times.

Being There

My grandmother on my mother’s side had dementia and spent the last years of her life in a home. I was told that she liked to bite people. I never saw her during that time–she was in Belgium, I was here in New York–but hers is the only experience I have with Alzheimer’s. I got to thinking about her as I read Charlie Pierce’s beautiful memoir about the disease, his family curse, which claimed his father and four uncles, and which may eventually claim  him, as well.

Here is an excerpt:

The waking dream is of a dead city.

There was a great fire and the city died in it. I am sure of that. I can see the smoldering skyline, smoke rising from faceless buildings, flattening into dark and lowering clouds. I can hear the sharp keening of the scavenger birds. I can smell fire on damp wood, far away. I can feel the gritty wind in my eyes. I can taste the sour rain.

The waking dream comes upon me when I forget where the car is parked, or when I buy milk but forget the bread, or when I call my son by my daughter’s name. Wide awake but dreaming still, I walk through the ruined city.

When it happens, I remember. I remember everything. I remember anything. For years, I have been a walking trove of random knowledge, but I’ve come not to believe in the concept of trivia. I do not believe that anything you remember can be truly useless because I have seen memory go cold and dead.

“Why do you know stuff like that? people ask.

I smile and shrug. I do not tell them about the relief I find in remembering that Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley. Not to remember Leon Czolgosz is to realize that one day you may not remember your son.  Leon Czolgosz goes first, and then your children. Not to remember is to realize that the day will come when you cannot find your way back home, that the day will come when you cannot find the way back to yourself. Not to remember is to begin to die, piecemeal, one fact at a time. It is to drift, aimlessly, deep into the ruined city, and never return.

…There’s a game I play now, when the waking dream comes. I make a deal with the disease. All right, I say. I will allow you to have some of my memories. You can have my first polio shot, all the lyrics to “American Woman,” two votes for Bill Clinton, and both Reagan administrations.

Leave me my children’s names.

Let me know them, and you can have all four Marx Brothers.

This is not clinical. I know the disease does not work this way. But sometimes, when the waking dream comes and I can feel the wind all gritty on my skin, I play this game anyway, and I am very good at it. I was born to play it. I was raised to believe that truth is malleable, and that you can bend it so that even its darkest part can be shaped into the familiar and the commonplace. I can play this game. I can play it well.

Makes you appreciate the moment, this moment, for what we have.

You can order Hard to Forget: An Alzheimer’s Story, here.

[Photo Credit: Best of Rally Live and  Jason Langer]

Game Changer

Over at Grantland, there is a long, entertaining oral history piece compiled by Alex French and Howie Kahn on “The National,” Frank Deford’s influential, short-lived sports newspaper:

Peter Richmond (Main Event Writer): I had a Nieman fellowship at Harvard when I heard about The National. You’re obliged, if you get a Nieman, to go back to the newspaper you were working at. I worked at the Miami Herald as the national sports correspondent. I’d go to the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NBA Finals. I’d go to prize fights. I had a column. Then I got a free ride at Harvard for a year. In the middle of it, I had heard in the New York Daily News that Frank Deford was rounding up this all-star team for The National. I thought, “Oh my god. I’ve got to get there.”

Charles P. Pierce (Main Event Writer): As soon as I heard about it, I basically hurled myself out a window.

Frank Deford: What was my sales pitch like? It wasn’t a reach, and I wasn’t blowing smoke. I’d say, “This paper is going to be the first of its kind. We’ve got this extraordinary staff and we’ve got a lot of money behind it. Go look up anything you want about Emilio Azcárraga. He’s into this, and these sorts of things have worked all over the world, so why can’t they work in the United States? Then I’d pause and say, “I understand it’s risky. We all know this is new territory. But you’re a sports guy. Don’t you want to be part of this?”

Rob Fleder (Main Event Editor): Here was this great adventure and chance to invent something new. It was clear even before it started, and certainly long before it failed, that you were going to get one chance to try this in your life. This was as close to a frontier as we had.

Pierce: Rob Fleder, who was one of the original founding members of Rotisserie baseball, literally in the Rotisserie restaurant, had seen some of my stuff in New England Monthly. He called and said, “Would you like to come down and talk about this thing we have?” So I went down to New York. They didn’t even have real offices yet. They were in some space with pieces of paper hanging on the door.

For all their fine work, somebody at Grantland should have known how to spell Glenn Stout’s name. Otherwise, this is a terrific read.

And while you are at it, dig Charles Pierce’s memories of “The National”:

Oh, money. Yeah, wait. I should tell this story about money, first. In the spring of 1991, the last spring of our newspaper’s life, I got a call from New York. Mike Lupica was leaving the paper to return to the New York Daily News, a development that surprised approximately nobody. He was taking with him his “Shooting From The Lip” column, the three-dot bullet template invented by the great Jimmy Cannon and subsequently appropriated by almost everyone else in the history of newspapers, including, most notably, in USA Today by Larry — “If it’s Wheatena, I’m all in!” — King. The column had been running in The National every Friday, and it had developed an audience. They wanted to keep the idea under a different name, and someone had mentioned that I’d done a similar kind of thing when I was writing a column at the Boston Herald. So they asked me if I’d do it.

Of course, I told them, but I’d need more money to do it.

How much, they asked.

I had no idea, so I quoted them a figure that I thought probably indicated I was on mushrooms at the time.

They didn’t even blink.

You start this week, they said.

Fun stuff.

The Man, Amen

Charles Pierce is the latest in Chris Jones’ compelling Five for Writing series:

At one point in one of the stories, Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that he is related to a famous French painter named Vernet. Watson expresses surprise that Holmes is not a painter himself. “Art in the blood,” Holmes tells him, “takes the strangest forms.” My grandfather was a sign-painter and a landscape artist. One of his best hangs in my living room. His daughter, my mother, played piano in a saloon. I do what I do. Art in the blood takes the strangest forms.

Shouldn’t we find the art, or love, or whatever you want to call it, in everything that we do? From they way we look, and see things to how we treat people? From the work that we do–no matter what it is–to the way we cut an onion and prepare a meal. That’s why life is art and vice versa.

Final Days

Charles Pierce and Steven Goldman on Sparky Anderson.

Magnum Force

Sad news from the world of basketball: Maurice Lucas is dead.

Charles Pierce remembers Lucas in the Boston Globe:

Thirty-nine years ago this fall, I moved into the 11th floor of a 12-story dormitory at the corner of 16th Street and Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was a freshman at Marquette University. (The dorm, McCormick Hall, is round and shaped like a beer can, which is remarkably appropriate in more than the metaphorical sense, and the building has been rumored for almost 40 years to be sinking into middle Earth.) Not long after I moved in, I found myself intrigued by the music coming out from under the door of the room next to mine — music which I now know to have been “Eurydice,” the closing track from Weather Report’s astounding debut album. (Mmmmmm. Wayne Shorter!) As I was listening, an extremely large man came out of the room and introduced himself. “Pretty cool, isn’t it?’ he said.

And that was how I met Maurice Lucas.

For the next couple of years, we talked about music, at least as much as Luke talked to anyone, him being what you call your campus celebrity and all during the glory days of Warrior basketball and the high-sun period of Al McGuire Era. Whatever I know about any jazz recorded after the big band records to which my father listened — Mmmmmmm. Basie! — I learned from Luke, with whom I don’t believe I ever exchanged four words about basketball.

Later that same year, when I was practicing with the fencing team in the basement of the old gymnasium while the basketball team practiced upstairs, Luke came out of the shower wearing only a towel. “Hey,” he said, “show me how to do that.” I handed him a foil and we squared off, I in my full regalia with a mask and Luke in a towel. I touched him once, lightly, in the ribs. He slapped my blade out of my hand and about 20 feet back down the hallway, hitched up his towel, and went off chuckling.

Lucas was one of the memorable characters on the Blazers’ championship team in the ’70s. I remember him later in his career–he was a professional tough guy and a fine player.

If you’ve never read David Halberstam’s “The Breaks of the Game,” you should. There’s some good stuff on Lucas in there. Did I mention that he was tough?

Before the NBA, Lucas played with the infamous Marvin “Bad News” Barnes for the St. Louis Spirits in the ABA. Spirits announcer Bob Costas told Terry Pluto in Loose Balls:

It was interesting to watch Lucas develop. Early in his rookie year, he was coming off the bench. One night the Spirits were playing Kentucky in Freedom Hall and Lucas was trading elbows with Artis Gilmore. At 7-foot-2 and 240 pounds, Gilmore just towered over Maurice. Lucas’s only chance was to beat Gilmore to a spot on the floor and then try to hold off Artis. Despite his enormous size and strength, Gilmore was never known as a ferocious player and he seldom was in a fight. But all of a sudden, Artis just got sick of Lucas’s bodying him and you could see that the big guy was really hot. Gilmore took a swipe at Lucas and missed. Lucas put up his fists, but he was backpedaling like any sane man would when confronted by Gilmore. It was almost slow motion–Gilmore would take a step, then Lucas would take a step back. It was obvious that Lucas didn’t want to fight and was trying to figure out where he could go. Finally, he was trapped in the corner; he had run out of court. He didn’t know what else to do, so he planted his feet and threw this tremendous punch at Gilmore, and it caught Artis square on the jaw. It was a frightening sight. Artis hit the deck. Lucas was going crazy. Now he really wanted a piece of Artis. Guys were holding Lucas back and Artis was still down. For whatever reason, from that point on Lucas developed into a helluva player.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Lucas.

Spreadsheet Overload

Number, numbers, and more numbers.

In New York Magazine, Will Leitch examines fielding metrics; in the Boston Globe, Charles Pierce tells your statistics to shut up.

The Write Stuff

Roger Angell was the first baseball writer I can remember. Actually, it was the two Rogers–Angell and Kahn–whose books were in my father’s collection, and sometimes–I’m sure I’m not alone here–I confused them. But when it came time to actually reading them and not just noticing the jacket cover of their books, Angell was my guy. Years later, when I started this blog, Angell served as a role model. Not because I wanted to copy his style or his sensibility, but because he was an example of fan who wrote well and loved the game.

So long as I was authentic and wrote with dedication and sincerity, I knew I’d be okay. Angell came to mind recently when I read a blog post by the veteran sports writer, David Kindred:

Bill Simmons is America’s hottest sportswriter. Fortunately, at the same time I came up with an explanation that enabled me to continue calling myself a sportswriter. Bill Simmons has succeeded because he is not, has never been, and will never be a sportswriter. He’s a fan.

Lord knows, there’s nothing wrong with being a fan. I love sports fans. Without the painted-face people, I’d be writing ad copy for weedeaters. But I have I ever been a sports fan. A fan of reporting, yes. Of journalism. Of newspapers. A fan of reading and writing, you bet. I am a fan of sports, which is different from being a sports fan of the Simmons stripe.
The art and craft of competition fascinates me. Sports gives us, on a daily basis, ordinary people doing extraordinary things and extraordinary people doing unimagined things. I love it.

But I have never cared who wins. I am a disciple of the Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Dave Anderson, whose gospel is: “I root for the column.” We don’t care what happens as long as there’s a story.

My readings of Simmons now suggest he is past caring only about the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots winning (though if they all won championships in the same year, the book would be an Everest of Will Durant proportions). He now engages, however timidly, in actual reporting of actual events; he even has allowed that interviewing people might give him insights otherwise unavailable on his flat-screen TV. Clearly, though, he is most comfortable in his persona as just a guy talking sports with other guys between commercials – which is fine if, unlike me, you go for that guys-being-guys/beer-and-wings nonsense and have infinite patience for The Sports Guy’s bloviation, blather, and balderdash.

Even though Bill James has written almost exclusively about baseball, for traditional newspaper and magazine guys, I doubt that he’d qualify as a sports writer. Not without reporting, or going into the locker rooms. Then where does that leave guys like Joe Sheehan, Tim Marchman, Jonah Keri and Rob Neyer (to name, just a few)? They aren’t fans like Simmons, but they write soley about sports.

The definition of what it is to be a sports writer is changing.

I have done some freelance writing for SI.com, gone into the locker rooms and filed stories. I’ve also worked on longer bonus pieces too. I enjoyed both experiences because it gave me an appreciation for the rigors of journalism. I also came to realize that being a beat writer, for instance, is not a job for me–I’m too old and I don’t have that kind of hustle and I don’t care enough about where being a good beat writer would take me.

Nobody grows up dreaming of beinga  columnist anymore do they? I suspect they dream of growing up and writing, or blogging, so that they can be on TV.

Here at the Banter, I’m more like Simmons or Angell. I’m not a reporter or a columnist or an analyst, and I’m certainly no expert (I’m lucky to have a sharp mind like Cliff writing analytical pieces in this space). I think of myself as an observer. More than a strict seamhead, I write about what it is like to live in New York City and root for the Yankees. Often, I’m just as interested in writing about my subway ride home or the latest Jeff Bridges movie as I am about who the Yankees left fielder will be next year. Which makes the Banter more of a lifestyle blog than just a Yankee site, for better or worse.

So I’m no sports writer and that’s cool but I’m not sure what a sports writer is anymore.

…Oh, and along with Kindred, the inimitable Charlie Pierce has started a blog at Boston.com. Pierce is a welcome addition to the landscape. Be sure to check him out.

Diamond in the Ruff


It has clearly been a tough week for Tiger Woods. Over at Esquire, Charles Pierce weighs in with his take:

Tiger Woods and I go back a long ways. A little bit over twelve years, truth be told. Back then, I wrote a profile of him just prior to his winning the 1997 Masters, the first major accomplishment of his professional career. Over the course of a day’s worth of interviews, which were themselves the result of negotiations with his People at the International Management Group that were so protracted they should have been moved to Panmunjom, Tiger made some distasteful remarks and told some puerile and sexist jokes. Seeing as how they occurred during my limited interview time, I included them in my story, along with some not-overly-subtle intimations that Tiger had a reputation even among golfers as something of a chaser. The quotes were a Media Thing for a brief time, and the ensuing dust storm looks positively charming compared to what’s certainly coming after the events of this past weekend, which already appears to be something between Al Cowlings on the highway and an episode of The Real Housewives of Gated Communities. Back then, all that happened was that Tiger’s People at the International Management Group accused me of wiretapping a limo driver. (Me and Gordon Liddy!) And that Tiger’s father, Earl, whom I still miss, told Charlie Rose he hoped my story wouldn’t do permanent damage to his son’s career, and that Charlie Rose waved a copy of the magazine and told Earl he intended never to read the story. This is why Earl was an entertaining con man and Charlie Rose is a salon-sniffing Beltway yahoo.

Better still, Esquire has reprinted Pierce’s classic 1997 profile, “The Man. Amen.”

Well worth checking out.

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