This is a standalone version of the essay that Updike wrote on Ted Williams last game in Fenway Park that appeared in the New Yorker in October 1960....moreThis is a standalone version of the essay that Updike wrote on Ted Williams last game in Fenway Park that appeared in the New Yorker in October 1960. I read this in the New Yorker Baseball Digital Anthology a couple years back. This essay might be the Sgt. Peppers of sportswriting. It was the announcement that a previously trivialized form of popular culture (sportswriting/rock music) had to be taken seriously as a medium for works which could be seen as pieces of art. I'm not dismissing sports journalism written before that, some of which is quite fine. But even the greatest sportswriters, while they may not have written down to the genre, at least let the expected forms of the genre dictate their writing. Here, Updike trims the fat. There's none of that Grantland Rice style of inserting artificial poignancy through flowery rhetoric and overbearing metaphor. This was just a great writer writing about baseball, as that was all the embellishment you needed. It's not really surprising that Roger Angell, perhaps the dean of modern sportswriting, has acknowledged this essays influence on his own career.
The essay also has one of my favorite paragraphs in nonfiction prose. Near the end of the article, Updike describes how Williams homers in what is surely his last at bat.
Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of the bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs - hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were some sort of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we humped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hit the dugout, he did not come bac. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement, into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortally is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now.
And then the money line:
Gods do not answer letters.
Great stuff. One of my five favorite essays. Highly recommended.
There is a curious attitude among a certain sect of basketball fans that frequently is voiced around this time of year. Many passionate basketball fans actively disdain the college variety. Since I am guilty of this prejudice, I feel like I can lay out the thoughts behind it. I don't think it's a reaction to the product of college hoop itself, but a reaction to others' reaction. Call it The King's Speech effect. College basketball represents a perfectly entertaining display of hoops, but when others over value the merely good at the expense of the great, somehow, in the eyes of the connoisseur, the once good becomes mediocre or less. The following sentence, for me, is not opinion but incontrovertible fact. In terms of basketball viewing experience, the NBA is a far superior product to college hoops. Expressing a dissenting opinion to a NBA fanatic produces a reaction that isn't like anything else in sports. For a similar paralel I have to go back to my jam-band phase. NBA fans feel about college fans the same way Phish fans feel about Widespread Panic fans. There's a feeling that they are so close to understanding something, but they settle for this shit.
Since these are pretty strong opinions, let me try to anticipate any dissenting points:
NBA players don't try hard until the playoffs: This argument drives NBA fans, including myself, bonkers, but there is a small degree of in it. The NBA season is an 82 game season followed by up to 28 postseason games. If every guy went 100% throughout the regular season they would be exhausted by the time the playoffs started. The NBA is much more of a marathon than the NCAA. But here's the thing, even if they're not going 100%, they're going 80-95%. People who make this argument are basically penalizing NBA players for making the remarkable look effortless. I contend that what makes college players look like they're trying harder is that they are nowhere near as good. So what's actually looks like hard work is actually sloppy work.
They don't play defense in the NBA:This makes sense because once a player leaves college he forgets how to play defense. I would argue the opposite of the above statement. It looks like there's less defense, but maybe it has something to do with NBA players being able to hit jump shots. People are misled because good defense gets beat by great offense.
The college game is more exiting and has a better atmosphere: There's not a lot to be said to the latter claim. However, I think the atmosphere at college games is marred by a lot of tacky party enthusiasm, or TPE. TPE is a term that my 12th grade Government teacher came up with to describe a situation where the anticipation of the subsidiary aspects of an event overwhelm and eventually detract from the actual event. For example, the girls who went to Beatles concerts in the '60s solely to scream so loud that you couldn't here the band were displaying tacky party enthusiasm. Their sense of obligation to engage in supplemental activity detracted from the actual experience of going to a rock concert. The degree may not as bad in college hoops, but tacky party enthusiasm is still prevalent. Jumping around, being loud, yelling at the refs, and other activities detracts from the actual experience of watching a basketball game. The bands, dance teams, and student spirit make for an entertaining event, but are aspects that is supplementary to the supposed purpose of the actual event, a basketball game. Of course the NBA does not offer a pristine, virginal, viewing experience. In fact, the subsidiary aspects of NBA games such as obnoxious announcers, t-shirt cannons, jumbotrons telling the crowd to cheer, blaring in-game music, are much worse than what is offered at the average college game. But for the purpose of this argument, that doesn't matter. I'll grant that college hoops may offer the better spectacle, but the NBA offers by far a more entertaining basketball-watching experience, whether in person or on television.
There is another argument used by those who don't habitually watch basketball on tv that can be applied to both varieties: Why watch the whole game when you can watch the last five minutes? While I don't see why this is usually applied to basketball it can be answered easily. Because I get an aesthetic pleasure from watching the game. Basketball is much more than 10 tall men trying to put a ball into a hoop. Instead, it's a combination of thousands of other hidden aspects. While this is true of all sports, in basketball it's easier to not appreciate the small things.
The Art of a Beautiful Game is the best exploration of such small things I've ever read. From the strange psychology of free throws to lost art of shot blocking, Chris Ballard gives a tour of the professional basketball game. The book is structured as a series of articles focused on different aspects of the game, that often focus on a specific player. Ballard isn't content with simply saying that Kobe Bryant is dominant because he is relentlessly dedicated. Instead he tries to figure out why and how he is so relentlessly dedicated. Reading the book gives the reader a greater appreciation of the easy to miss aspects of the game. You notice the particular movements a player makes when they are attempting to contest a jump shot, the approach a big man selects when attempting to snare a rebound, the exact form a shooter follows when taking a three.
Basketball is arguably the sport that provides the best exhibition for athleticism. The NBA features the world's best athletes at the peak of their skills. Ballard's book can give either the casual or die hard fan a better understanding and appreciation of the sport most able to provide moments of visual transcendence.
I was worried about reading this book eight years after the season that Lewis followed. I thought a lot of the arguments presented would seem not as e...moreI was worried about reading this book eight years after the season that Lewis followed. I thought a lot of the arguments presented would seem not as earth shaking as they did on publication. However, I found Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game to be extremely entertaining and its changed the way I approach following the game of baseball.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game isn't strictly a book about sports. I think it's more about the power of unorthodox means of evaluation. The Oakland Athletics were able to maintain a successful baseball team with years despite being handicapped by a limited budget. What they accomplished changed the game. Billy Beane is no longer the only GM in baseball who uses SABRmetrics. On ESPN broadcasts, OPS has taken a spot in the statistical bar along with batting average, home runs, and RBI.
While the book isn't unbelievably dated, things have turned out to make Beane look foolish in certain circumstances. Jeremy Brown, who Lewis uses as a poster boy of Beane's evaluation techniques, never had success as a pro and retired from the sport last year. Prince Fielder, who Beane passed on drafting because he was too fat, is a perennial MVP candidate and became the youngest player to ever hit 50 home runs. Eric Chavez, who Beane compares with Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, hasn't played more than 100 games since 2006 and is now generally seen as being grossly overpaid. Paul DePodesta, Beane's whiz assistant GM, was fired as GM of the Dodgers after one of the worse seasons in teams history. The A's haven't won a playoff game since 2003 and haven't had a winning season since 2006
Despite this, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game gives the reader an inside look on how baseball has changed in the past ten years. Anybody who thinks the best way to measure players is by looking at their RBI, errors, and wins should read this book. (less)
I'm a huge fan of Simmons, have been one for nearly 10 years. I read the articles, listen to the podcasts, and I owe him a tremendous debt of gratitu...more I'm a huge fan of Simmons, have been one for nearly 10 years. I read the articles, listen to the podcasts, and I owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for introducing me to The Wire. Also the NBA is my favorite sports league, and I'm fascinated by the league's history. I had anticipated this books release for months, I even bought a copy at Barnes and Noble so I could start reading on the day the NBA season tipped off, and returned the copy I received from Amazon later. It was mostly worth the wait.Simmons, by his own admission, doesn't have the writing talents that David Halberstam showed in Breaks of the Game, my favorite sports book. However, Simmons obviously knows his stuff and did a huge amount of research. The man knows his topic. All the same, I got really sick of all the pop-culture references, dick jokes, and obnoxious self-references. It's obvious that he inserted this stuff to satisfy his fans who may not be as "die-hard" NBA fans. This obviously worked, I think more people bought this book than watched the 2004 Finals. However, the 90210 and Ron Jeremy jokes did not only seem to be purposeless, it detracted from his really solid basketball analysis. By the end, for the first time in 10 years of following the guy, I was sick of his writing style. However, the analysis is solid enough to make up for the books shortcomings. Simmons isn't a great editor, but this might be the best thing about his writing. Halberstam would never list the biggest what ifs in the NBA history. The idea for the Hall of Fame pyramid is intriguing and a conversation starter. People often accuse Simmons of homerism to Boston teams. I think he made a conscious effort to keep this out of the book, but it definitely seeps in a litte. I really don't have a problem with this, it's what makes Simmons Simmons. With all of its flaws, and there are flaws, I can't give this book lower than 4 stars. I was profoundly entertained for most of the reading, and I feel that my knowledge of the NBA has been greatly expanded. I would advise any prospective readers not to try to fly through it, try to take small it in small doses. This may reduce the levels of annoyance at all the superflous quips and allow you to greater enjoy the profound basketball analysis.(less)