The Soul of Tim Tebow

In 1951 Bill Veeck, the madman-genius owner of the St. Louis Browns, hired the 3’7” Eddie Gaedel to bat. To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Falstaff Brewery, the major sponsor of the St. Louis Browns, Veeck paid Gaedel the going to rate for a “midget” (as Veeck refers to him) and a pro-rated MLB contract. In his grandiose, highly exaggerated, and wildly entertaining autobiography, Veeck–as in Wreck, Veeck recounts showing Gaedel how to properly crouch so that his strike zone was, as Veeck measured it, an inch and a half. But in their top secret practice…

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Stadium Split

In most ways, my last Atlanta Braves home game was like all the others I’d attended there.  On a hot and humid Sunday afternoon in July 2016, my dad and I drove to Turner Field, which is located about ten minutes from my childhood house. We parked at his office downtown and walked our ritualistic mile to the ballpark, past the state capital, the interstate overpass and the seat of the 1996 Olympic torch. We bought tickets at the window, picked up burgers and beers, scored the game from our seats, cheered, chatted, and went home. But,…

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Setting Aside the Script

Whenever I’m feeling a bit lost in the woods, a scene from Conan the Barbarian pops into my head. In it, Conan is receiving the brief philosophical portion of his Barbarian training program. He’s sitting around the dinner table with some other would-be warriors. One of them (a philosopher-king?) asks a simple question: “What is best in life?” Some half-wit with a Fu Manchu pipes up, saying something about riding a horse with the wind in his hair. “Wrong!” yells the wise man. He turns to his star pupil. Conan will know the right answer (even if…

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Last Call

Brent Musburger was an excellent play-by-play announcer. He had a knack for making games seem somehow bigger than they were–even big games–with his familiar opening “You are looking live at [insert stadium or coliseum name here].” He could also joke during a broadcast without making the game lose any dramatic flair. In short, he seemed to know how to imbue broadcasts with his own personality without having that personality overwhelm the game (about which more later). So when Musburger announced his last game in late January, after 50 years of sports broadcasting as a play-by-play announcer and…

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How George Karl Broke My Heart

Book Discussed: Furious George by George Karl with Curt Sampson. Harper, 228 pages. January 10, 2017. Here are some recent headlines concerning former NBA head coach George Karl and his autobiography, Furious George: “Former players trash George Karl over new tell-all book” Sports Illustrated “George Karl sounds more deranged every day” New York Post “George Karl will not rest until EVERYONE hates him” SB Nation “Compared to vending machine by George Karl, Derrick Williams sitting out latest fray” South Florida Sun Sentinel In the era of Trump(ism), this kind of publicity probably augurs well. Yes, Furious George is an…

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Passing Fancy

Book discussed: The Perfect Pass: American Genius and the Reinvention of Football by S.C. Gwynne. Scribner, 2016. 308 pages.   Few sports innovations possess the magnitude of the forward pass in football. It saved lives. Between 1901 and 1905, sixty-one players died (by some accounts, even more) either on the field or because of injuries sustained on the field—usually the result of being crushed on the bottom of a pig pile. But just because a player survived being crushed to death, doesn’t mean he escaped unscathed: intra-pile eye gougings and bone breakings were commonplace. Rather than take the…

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Rooting for the Cubs in the Anthropocene

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. Today, October 2, a Sunday of…

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Passed Out in Paradise

America takes drugs in psychic defense. –Iggy Pop, “Neon Forest”   Doug Schneider lives in Green Bay and only rarely attends Packers games. Instead, as “watchdog reporter” for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Schneider monitors the games from some undisclosed location where he listens to the police scanner and posts what he hears on Twitter, using the hashtag #scannersquawk. Watching the Packers game and following Schneider’s tweets at the same time offers a fascinating glimpse at to what goes on inside Lambeau Field — not just on the field but in stands. As might be predicted, the police…

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End Times

For many years now we’ve been enduring the Postseason. Capital “P” Postseason (™). That’s the official brand name for Major League Baseball’s sequence of elimination games culminating in the World Series. The Postseason has its own logo, which is constantly displayed on broadcasts and promos, and these days when commentators or players talk about October or November (or someday December) baseball, they don’t call it the Playoffs or the Gauntlet or the Shitstorm, they call it the Postseason. The brand is strong. Players, managers, and umps sport the Postseason logo; the MLB app on my phone has…

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Enabling Narratives, or How Sports Writing Authorizes Rape Culture

So, Olympic hopeful turned rapist Brock Turner is a free man. Setting aside for the moment the fact that he’s being harassed by gun-toting protesters, I’d like to take this opportunity to interrogate the narrative habits that result in a convicted rapist (yes, I’ll call him that) getting a minor county jail sentence instead of the two- to fourteen-year prison sentence his charges carried. Following, too, the hoopla over Ryan Lochte’s ‘immature over-exaggeration’ in Rio—because, you know, boys will be boys—I wonder how far we might be willing to connect our broader attitudes toward male athletes with a willingness…

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