Category Archives: Sports

For-Real Interviews: Craig Robinson

In America, baseball is, sadly, often seen as the brussels sprouts of sports: something that must be consumed because it’s good for you. Many people view the sport as obligation rather than entertainment, something you are required to take your kids to during the summer because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Those who wax poetic about the game’s virtues can sound a bit like enthusiasts of quaint hobbies, like scrimshaw or silhouetting. The game is so fraught history and tradition and baggage that it seems impossible to say anything new about it.

Or maybe it just someone with a fresh perspective to say them. Enter Craig Robinson, an English illustrator whose love affair with the game was kindled by a trip to Yankee Stadium while in New York on business back in 2005. Not long after that, as his baseball fandom grew, he began to ponder questions that may not have occurred to someone who grew up with the game. Like, what is the actual monetary value of all the bases “stolen” during a major league season? Or how would A-Rod’s salary look if dispensed in pennies and stacked on top of one another? Or how long did it take to assemble, then disassemble, the 1986 Mets? Or what would the box score look like in a playoff game between the Wu Tang Clan and the E Street Band?

Robinson decided to answer these questions and many more at his site, Flip Flop Fly Ball, in gorgeously streamlined infographics. They are elegantly simple, packing enormous amounts of information into their space while not appearing remotely cluttered. They are works of art that beg to be seen write large, and that’s just what’s happened with the release of Flip Flop Fly Ball, a fantastic book that collects some of Robinson’s best work from the site, along with new items and essays on his evolution as an unlikely baseball fan. It is the kind of book that justifies the invention of the coffee table.

The author was kind enough to answer a few of my queries about his path to baseball fandom, the Mexican League, and what he would do with his favorite team. Answers to those questions and more after the jump.

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Do the Fox Sports Robot!

Don’t you guys love Cleatus? You know, Cleatus, Fox NLF Sunday’s lovable robot mascot? Whatta ya mean you didn’t know he had a name? He was named by the winner of a fan contest four years ago, you philistines! There are a lot of robots out there–R2D2, VICI, Mitt Romney–but only one of them wears a football helmet and does things that vaguely resemble Ray Lewis after he’s knocked someone’s head off. I think we can all agree that’s pretty cool, you guys.

Haven’t you always wished that you could bring all the air guitarin’, finger pointin’, trash talkin’ fun of Cleatus home with you? No? Too bad. Now you have to. Because there is now a branded Cleatus action figure for 24 NFL teams and every football fan must buy one or face severe repercussions! You can pose him doing the Heisman or the Dougie or any of the many other hilarious antics that have brought this wacky robot into the hearts of millions of Americans.

What’s that? The NFL has 32 teams? You’re right! That means eight of them have a modicum of dignity! See if you can guess which ones opted out. I think you’ll be pleasantly annoyed with how much time you’ve wasted.

I think my favorite feature of this action figure is its list of features as seen here:

“Yeah, it comes with team logo and colors, Fox Sports logo, and choking hazard. We threw that in for free.”

Hat tip to @danielralston for tweeting this to my attention.

Schadenfreuders Unanimous: World Series Game 1

So just before the playoffs started, I announced my intentions to do some recaps of the games and whatnot. Before doing so, I did not remember/calculate exactly how effin’ busy I’d be over those weeks. And so I was forced to not deliver on my promise for the first two rounds. I regret not being able to do this for the LDSes, all of which turned out to be pretty amazing, though I’m a bit relieved I couldn’t make it up in the LCSes, which, apart from a few games, were snooze fests.

Am I excited about this World Series matchup? Not exactly. Or not at all, actually. I’d hoped for a Detroit-Milwaukee series, for reasons that escape me now. Rust versus Cheese! Alas, t’was not to be, and so I have to decide between my generalized dislike for Texas (or maybe just the idea of Texas) and my specific dislike of Tony LaRussa. The Cardinals’ unlikely road to the Fall Classic has more annoyed me than intrigued me, even if they picked off the Phillies along the way, while the Rangers are one of those teams I was once happy to go years without thinking about.

But, since I went through the trouble of announcing this dumb feature and even made a blog category for it and everything, I present to you my in-time observations of this historic game one (in that it is technically part of history). All of the carnage after the jump.

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Schadenfreuders Unanimous, Engage!

So this looks like it might be fun! As I’m sure you know, the MLB playoffs are starting very soon. According to my calculations (mashes hand against keyboard), on Friday, in fact. I love watching playoff baseball, even in those years when my favorite team is not participating. Which is good, because they so seldom make the cut. I love the drama, the idea that a team’s every hope can come down to one solitary pitch. I love the idea that a player who barely anyone had heard of yesterday can become a celebrated hero today.

But more than anything else, I love mocking announcers, umpires, players, and managers whose idiocy demands such treatment. Because baseball, more than any other sport, has a postseason in which all of these people bring The Stupid in great, heaping bushels. I don’t know why this is, to be honest, but I do know that it is true and that I love it, and because it is bitter and because it is my heart.

So then, I’ve decided to do some features on this here site involving them there playoffs under the umbrella title of Schadenfreuders Unanimous. What, you can come up with a better title? Oh, that is pretty good, actually. Dammit, I should have asked you first.

No matter! We shall proceed. And what we shall proceed with is a series of recaps and live chats of as many of these games as I can humanly manage, with some of the more cringe-worthy moments and quotes from each broadcast. I imagine I will lean heavily on the broadcasting foibles, as those are the kind of things that tend to get under my skin this time of year (even in non-Buck/McCarver games).

Live chattery will probably wait until the LCSes, unless we get to some thrilling elimination games in the division series. I wouldn’t rule out that possibility, but if recent history is any indication, I wouldn’t hold my breath for it either. I did these way back during the 2009 World Series and found them an excellent way to stave off the dull, throbbing pain caused by watching the Yankees play the Phillies for a championship.

So keep watching this space! More details as they develop! Buy war bonds!

Bart Giamatti Said It Best, 2011 Edition

From “The Green Fields of the Mind”

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.

* * *

Behold, the past! 2009 and 2010

Mets Block Yankees, Crush City’s Dreams

DOWN-TRODDEN NEWARK, NJ–It was revealed on Monday night that the Mets, an alleged major league franchise, had blocked the Yankees’ efforts to temporarily relocate their triple-A franchise to Newark. Critics have already labeled it the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of baseball.

Supporters of the move say the arrival of the team from Scranton-Wilkes Barre could have rejuvenated this benighted urban area and brought a brief glimmer of hope to the many forlorn widows and orphans of this fair metropolis fallen on hard times. Instead, their dreams are snuffed, as they are denied the only thing that could brighten a crime-ridden, drug-addled, gang-ruled hellhole: minor league baseball.

“I tried everything with those cold-hearted Mets,” said a Yankees official, who could not be identified as his face was too obscured by large, bitter tears. “I promised we wouldn’t make the move permanent. I promised we would okay any move they wanted to make with their own minor league teams. Wilpon was unmoved by my pleas. First he asked for my watch, which was a graduation gift from my mother. I gladly gave it over, thinking only of the poor children of Newark. Then he asked me to get on my knees and pay homage to The Dark Lord. That I simply could not do. So he threw me out on the curb. And he kept the watch.”

Newark has a grand tradition of Yankee minor league affiliates. However, the team has not had a farm team in the city since 1949. Some believe that the Mets may have traveled back in time and forced the legendary Newark Bears to go bankrupt, paving way for the regrettable National League expansion of 1962 that gave birth to their hellish form.

Critics of the Mets say that the Yankees never have and never would engage in such churlish, petty behavior. They also point out that the Yankees’ attitude toward their “crosstown rivals” has never been short of cordial, and they have never attempted to interfere with their operations. Unlike the Mets, the Yankees have always conducted themselves with the utmost class and grace. To have the Yankees’ ceaseless kindness to their lesser neighbors repaid in such fashion is the kind of brazen insult that, in times of yore, would have demanded a duel of honor. No jury would convict them of such a “crime,” and yet they will surely take the higher road, as they always have.

“They couldn’t have won all those championships without always being consummate gentlemen,” said some guy I met on line at Starbucks while writing this article. “Only good people win things.”

Fred Wilpon was unapologetic for his act of wanton cruelty. Speaking while seated in a gargoyle-topped throne, each leg of which sat on a freshly killed puppy, Wilpon told the assembled reporters (all of whom were forced to genuflect in his presence), “I hate children.” He then drank from a chalice that may or may not have contained human blood.

The Singularity of Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera is special.

On the surface, “special” seems a poor adjective to describe him, but it’s the only one that fits. I’m sure we’re all familiar with his greatness, but I don’t think people truly understand exactly how much of a singular figure he is, and how much he has influenced the way baseball is played–to its detriment, I think. That is not in any way a knock on Rivera. Rather, it’s a criticism of the rest of baseball, and their failure to recognize just how special he is.

For one thing, when he notched his record-breaking 602nd save, the praise and congrats came from everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. In contrast, Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit–or rather, the cloying media slurpage that followed it–prompted nearly as much eye-rolling as applause, particularly when Steiner Sports ads on YES for commemorative DJ3K memorabilia made it seem like Jeter’s feat was just one arm of a larger marketing campaign.

Rivera garnered no such cynical reactions, at least as far as I saw. I don’t believe I saw one negative, sarcastic, or even snarky comment online about Rivera, which may be a new internet record. He just seems like a genuinely good guy, in the purest sense: the kind of good guy who just is a good guy, who lets his goodness speak for itself, and who would never campaign with his buddies in the press to write columns about what a good guy he is. Some writers may have played up his faith as a reason for his success, but you can’t imagine Rivera, a quietly religious man, doing so beyond being grateful for the gifts he has been given.

That’s why even self professed “Yankee haters” (I prefer the term “Yankee agnostic”) feel compelled to tip their cap to him. He reflects the best aspects of Yankee Tradition and is untouched by the worst elements of it. YES aired memorabilia ads marking the record-breaking occasion that were not unlike Jeter’s, and yet in the public consciousness Rivera remained unsullied by his proximity to such crass commercialization.

After Rivera earned his save, Michael Kay–never one to let a moment like this breathe when he can yammer over it–proclaimed him “the Babe Ruth of his position.” This is not quite accurate, though probably not in the way some might think.

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