Yesterday my friend Yakut emailed me the article “Federer as Religious Experience” by David Foster Wallace, which appeared in the New York Times’ Play Magazine on August 20, 2006 (available here). Wallace penned an immaculate piece on Roger Federer, who also happens to be my favorite tennis player these days. As per his custom, Wallace resorts to 17 footnotes, provides detailed accounts of what he terms “Federer Moments” from the Nadal v. Federer Wimbledon Final of 2006, comments – in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, of course – on the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and the tournament’s rules. It is a great ode to Federer, and contains a healthy rebuke of Nadal – who happens to be my least favorite pro these days. If you’re a tennis – and DFW – fan, enjoyed his essays in Consider the Lobster, and do not have the guts to restart Infinite Jest just yet, but would like to continue reading some brilliant prose, you should definitely check it out.
Three and a half years ago in some brief comments on Michael Lewis' seminal memoir of Wall Street in the 1980s, Liar's Poker, I noted,While the period that Lewis chronicles is interesting in its own right, its impact is somewhat diminished by the many corporate scandals and Wall Street improprieties that have occurred since the book was first published. Against this backdrop, Liar's Poker is no longer an exceptional story that defined an era, it is merely another moment in the cycle of Wall Street corruption and ensuing retribution that continues today.In a remarkable piece for Portfolio magazine this week, Lewis revisits Liar's Poker amid the wreckage of Wall Street and readily admits that the book now seems "quaint," tragically so:I thought I was writing a period piece about the 1980s in America. Not for a moment did I suspect that the financial 1980s would last two full decades longer or that the difference in degree between Wall Street and ordinary life would swell into a difference in kind. I expected readers of the future to be outraged that back in 1986, the C.E.O. of Salomon Brothers, John Gutfreund, was paid $3.1 million; I expected them to gape in horror when I reported that one of our traders, Howie Rubin, had moved to Merrill Lynch, where he lost $250 million; I assumed they'd be shocked to learn that a Wall Street C.E.O. had only the vaguest idea of the risks his traders were running. What I didn't expect was that any future reader would look on my experience and say, "How quaint."And:In the two decades since then, I had been waiting for the end of Wall Street. The outrageous bonuses, the slender returns to shareholders, the never-ending scandals, the bursting of the internet bubble, the crisis following the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management: Over and over again, the big Wall Street investment banks would be, in some narrow way, discredited. Yet they just kept on growing, along with the sums of money that they doled out to 26-year-olds to perform tasks of no obvious social utility. The rebellion by American youth against the money culture never happened. Why bother to overturn your parents' world when you can buy it, slice it up into tranches, and sell off the pieces?In the long piece, Lewis posits, convincingly, that the obit for Wall Street that he wrote more than twenty years prematurely is finally relevant, though rendered absurd by the cataclysmic collapse.The essay is a must read. In it he profiles a few who will, when the dust eventually settles, be known as - not the heroes; there are no heroes - the ones who saw it coming. And at the end he sits down with the legendary Gutfreund, whose career Liar's Poker ruined, for the first time since Lewis left Solomon Brothers back in the 1980s.Kottke also highlighted the Lewis article today and he points out that this essay is likely material (along with several others Kottke points to) for a forthcoming book that Lewis intends to write about the death of Wall Street as we knew it. There's little doubt that this new book will be the obit that Liar's Poker was meant to be.
I read with interest D.T. Max's article in the recent Summer Fiction Issue of the New Yorker covering the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which is, by the sound of it, one of the world's most important literary archives. The piece mostly covered the library's director Thomas Staley, and his impressive skill in locking down the papers of some of history's greatest writers, but it also delved into descriptions of the papers themselves.I suppose I'd never really thought of it before reading this article, but I was surprised at the sheer mass that these collections represent. For example, Norman Mailer's "archive - weighing twenty thousand pounds in all - came to the center in a tractor trailer." And that's just one of many, many archives. In all, the collection "contains thirty-six million manuscript pages, five million photographs, a million books, and ten thousand objects, including a lock of Byron's curly brown hair." The Texas is also old school in the way it approaches its collection.Staley's conservatism extends beyond his literary taste. He does not want to place the Ransom's archives online. He believes, quoting Matthew Arnold, that "the object as in itself it really is" can never be replaced by a digital reproduction. "Smell this," he told me one time when I was in his office, as he picked up a manuscript box from the Edwardian British publisher Cecil Palmer. We inhaled the scent: tobacco, mold, dust. "See, there’s information in the smell, too," he said.Be that as it may, the objects that Staley covets for the Texas collection may not be as plentiful in the coming years.I was fascinated, for example, by Don Delillo's papers as described by D.T. Max in the New Yorker: Delillio's manuscripts "were eerily immaculate - embalmed in acid-free manila folders inside blue legal-sized boxes, each about the size of an accordion folder."Compare this to a recent article in the New York Times discussing the increasing use of technology and software in crafting fiction. The article's centerpiece is Richard Powers, whose affinity for technology is well known. Instead of piles of paper, Powerspoured the background research into hyperlinked notebooks using Microsoft OneNote, a program more commonly used by businesses, which allows you to combine text documents, e-mail, images, spreadsheets and video and audio material into one searchable document. He then mapped out possible changing interactions between characters. "These notebook sections gradually grew into the kernels of individual dramatic scenes, which I could then work up in parallel," Powers said. "The combination of software programs (each of which links seamlessly into the other) allowed for simultaneous top-down and bottom-up composition."I would guess that some archivists might find it upsetting that, increasingly, modern day authors won't leave dusty boxes of paper to sift through. Correspondence will be collected in email form, and background research will include hyperlinks and spreadsheets, images and video. This doesn't jibe with the classic notion of doing literary research, but it will also open dazzling opportunities, as notable writers' papers will exist in digital form from the outset, and won't be physically limited to certain institutions. In this way we may trace the links and paths set down by writers as they crafted their work. We will be able to sift through the "dusty boxes" from our desks, wherever we are.
It would be difficult to overstate the ambivalence I felt toward the looming release of Bennett Miller's Moneyball, the new movie about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane. Take whatever it is that’s important to you – knitting, perhaps, or mountain biking – and then imagine waiting for a feature windows10explained film about it. Would you be excited or nervous? Or a mix of both? Or would you simplymoncler black friday salebe dreading how Hollywood would manage to fuck up your passion? I’d wondered what an adaptation of Michael Lewis' Moneyball would be like ever since the film went into development…eight years ago. Would they be able to translate the plot, in so far as there is one, to the screen? Or would Moneyball be based on the book in the same way that Syriana was “inspired by” Robert Baer’s See No Evil, an adaptation in name only (So much so that Syriana was nominated for 300-206 Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars)? By the time of the film’s release, I had overcome enough of my anxiety to be firmly in the excited camp. No matter how bad the movie was, at least I’d get to laugh at idiots like Joe Morgan for two hours, right? Before the screening, when my wife and I were standing 70-494 in the concessions line, she asked me what kind of Windows 10 Professional product Key sale candy I wanted. “Are you kidding?” I said. “We’re about to watch a movie about advanced statistical analysis in baseball. Get whatever you want.” We weren’t, of course, about to watch a movie about sabrmetrics -- the use of advanced statistical analysis to evaluate baseball players and teams -- and how the cash-strapped Oakland A's used it to remain competitive with free-spending teams like the New York Yankees. A part of me knew that going in; such a movie fridaysboutiquewould bore 99.9 percent of the audience and probably infuriate the remaining tenth of a percent. No, the filmmakers ADM-201 had to do something to make a more cinematic story of Lewis’s 2003 book. The question was not would the movie differ from the book, but how. Moneyball is the story of an idea. The thesis of the book is that major 300-208 league baseball teams had long ignored valuable statistical information about their players, relying instead on eye-witness evaluation by seasoned scouts. These scouts used observation and intuition to identify the best players (For example, one scout in the film claims a player is no good because his girlfriend isn't attractive enough. “He’s got an ugly girlfriend. An ugly girlfriend means no confidence.”). As one might expect from such an unscientific method, it produced variable results. One of the players traditional scouting misidentified as a future star was none other than Billy Beane, who fizzled out after a mediocre major league career. All of this led to an inefficient Windows 10 Professional product Key Oem sale market in baseball talent. Some players were radically undervalued, while others earned much more money than they deserved. Operating from a position of financial weakness, Billy Beane and his Oakland A's bucked traditional scouting methods and employed deep statistical analysis to find the undervalued players they could afford. To build a movie out of a book Windows 10 Professional OEM Key about an idea, the filmmakers made several important compromises. First, they decided to narrow the scope of their film to Billy Beane. Interlacing Beane’s backstory with the primary narrative of building a team from the scrap heap of unwanted players was a brilliant choice, as it provided a psychological motivation for his skepticism of traditional baseball scouting. From the very beginning, we see Beane’s doubt come to the fore. “If he’s such a good hitter, how come he doesn’t hit good?” he asks his scouts. “You keep giving me the same 'good face' nonsense like we’re selling jeans here.” He challenges Peter Brand (the stand-in for A's Assistant GM Paul DePodesta, who refused to allow his name to be used in the film): “Would you have drafted me in the first round?” It’s obvious what answer Beane’s hoping for, and when he gets it, an odd couple is created -- the athletic Beane (played by demigod Brad Pitt) and the, well, not-so-athletic Brand (a not-yet-thin Jonah Hill). Beane plays Galileo -- the lone voice of rationality in a world that worships superstition-- and Hill is, I don’t know…Galileo’s assistant? The pairing works because it plays to each actor’s strengths -- Pitt’s arrogance is tempered by his sense of humor and creates a fairly convincing portrait of a man obsessed with being right. Hill, for his part, stammers and blinks his way through awkward scene after awkward scene, his 300-320 comedic timing stealing many of them. Good casting also helps the film eke every ounce of goodness out of the story of Scott Hatteberg, the one-time catcher whose career CISSP appears to be over after a freak nerve injury. Hatteberg, played by loveable oaf Chris Pratt (of Parks and Recreation), sees his career resurrected by Beane and Brand, who value his innate ability to do the single most important thing in baseball -- get on base. Pratt isn’t given much screen-time to work with, but he makes the most of it, giving soul to a character who might have easily been overlooked. The other major compromise the filmmakers settled on is significantly 700-039 less successful. A major reason for Oakland’s success in the early 2000s was their dominant starting pitching. Blessed with “The Big Three” -- Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito -- three of the best pitchers in the game, Oakland was able to count on a solid performance from its starting pitching three out of every five games. For instance, during the 2002 season depicted in the film, the A's got roughly 685 innings of all star-caliber 300-070 pitching from The Big Three alone, including 230 innings from Cy Young-winner and singer-songwriter Barry Zito (The late Cory Lidle was no slouch himself, contributing nearly 200 above-average innings, as well). Without these contributions, no number of walks would’ve mattered. Leaving these players out of the film is a bit like filming the New Testament and never mentioning that Jesus fellow. And yet, the words “Hudson,” “Mulder,” and “Zito” are never uttered in the film. The only pitchers given any screen-time are relievers Chad Bradford and Ricardo Rincon. Bradford, whose bizarre throwing motion was so off-putting it disguised his extraordinary abilities as a relief pitcher, is a central part of Lewis’s book. In the film, he gets a 10 second mention early in the film, and then a condescending scene that plays his religiosity for laughs. It seems that the filmmakers feared the audience might not be able to handle more stats, and so they chose simply to focus on the offensive side of things, and hammer home the mantra of “get on base.” This might very well have been necessary for storytelling’s sake, but it means providing a skewed version of events. Scott Hatteberg had a fine year, especially when judged against his salary, but his 136 games of 116 OPS+ play was hardly the reason Oakland challenged for the pennant in 2002. Ironically, Moneyball may have succumbed to the casual baseball fan’s long-standing bias in favor of offense and position players. More troubling, in my opinion, is the lack of depth with which the film explores the various “moneyball” principles that Beane employs. It’s all well and good to talk about getting on base, but why? Why is it important to get on base? Sure, you score more runs, and yes, you burn out the other team’s pitching staff, but the real reason is that you simply aren’t making outs. As Beane says at one point, “Why bother attacking? There’s no clock in this game.” Outs are the clock in baseball, and if you don’t make them, you can live forever. Likewise, if your pitchers get people out, you don’t much care whether they are throwing 100 miles per hour or using a herky-jerky delivery to do so. The reason Chad Bradford, with his funky underhanded pitching motion, got batters out was because he made the batter hit the ball on the ground. It’s very difficult to hit the ball over the fence when you’re hitting it on the ground (In fact, it’s impossible). But you’d never know that from watching the movie. Moneyball gets at the why of Oakland’s success without ever really examining the how. Of course, from the average moviegoer’s perspective, I don’t think it makes much of a difference. The basic tenets of the sabrmetric philosophy are clearly presented in the film, and while it’s sometimes a bit broad, the movie does a remarkable job of dramatizing the concepts. The sins of the film – such as giving Beane too much credit for his strategy (Other GMs, including Sandy Alderson and even Branch Rickey, the legendary GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, studied statistics as part of their evaluation methods) --are often those of the book, as well (and I would argue that Pitt’s performance does more to show Beane’s arrogance than Lewis’s somewhat rose-colored portrait does). The major argument against Moneyball has always been that Beane failed to win the World Series (or any other post-season series, for that matter). This is where the film truly shines, in my opinion, as the drama is not so much whether the A's will win the World Series, but whether Beane and Brand’s crazy idea will work. The idea does work, as demonstrated in the chapter of the book called "The Speed of the Idea." This chapter produced my favorite scene in the film. Beane, after a remarkable season, is summoned to Boston to meet with the new owner of the Red Sox, billionaire hedge fund manager John Henry. Henry is enamored with Beane’s strategies and wants to hire him. Oakland has offered Beane a new contract, though, one Beane would be happy to accept. Henry asks Beane why he even bothered to come to the meeting then. “Because you hired Bill James, for one thing,” he replies. James, the patron saint of statistical baseball study, had never had a job in the game before Henry decided to give him one; he was too hated. This gives Henry an excuse to explain to Beane that whenever a new idea threatens the status quo -- whether that’s in government, business, or sports -- those in power fight it tooth and nail. What choice do they have? Their livelihoods are at stake. “Anybody not out there right now remaking their team with your principles is done. They’re dinosaurs,” Henry says. Watching this scene in the theater, I found myself thinking not of baseball, but of another spectacularly inefficient industry that’s close to my heart -- the publishing business. For the past two centuries, publishers have relied primarily on that most ephemeral and unscientific of qualities, editors’ taste, to decide which books to spend their money on and which books to decline. Their results are not much better than the scouts Beane summarily dismisses in Moneyball (Though, presumably, with less chewing tobacco). In a recent Vanity Fair article about the publishing industry, Keith Gessen writes: “If it is the writer’s first book, and she has no sales track, you can come up with similar-seeming books (“comp titles”) and see how many copies those sold. But this is precision masquerading as insight. No two books are the same book, and no two authors are the same author. The fact is: no one has any idea how many copies of a book will sell.” With that in mind, how long will it be before the Billy Beane of the publishing world finds a better way? After all, “We’re not selling jeans here.” Selling jeans or not, if you pay to see a sports movie you expect to see some sweat. It’s telling that the most physical exertion we see is not on the field but in the weight room, as Billy Beane prefers to pump iron in the bowels of the Oakland Coliseum rather than watch his team play. I found myself wondering at one point whether this was much of a sports movie at all. In the end, I decided it must be, since it looked a lot like Friday Night Lights -- tortured close-ups, jittery hand-held camerawork, sports talk radio overlays, silenced crowd shots, and Explosions in the Sky-esque soundtrack. If Hoosiers were remade today (Note to Hollywood: Don’t get any funny ideas.), it would look a lot like this. In the end, Moneyball isn’t Syriana. In fact, it has more in common with another adaptation of recent years -- The Social Network. Both are compelling dramas about recent history that are probably better considered fiction than nonfiction. Still, I must admit that I felt something special while watching Moneyball. True, it didn’t cover everything I wanted it to (There wasn’t, for instance, any mention of Beane’s Ahab-like quest to acquire Mexican on-base machine Erubiel Durazo, and there was apparently no time to work in a vignette about the great challenge trade of Billy Koch for Keith Foulke), but it was still a rare thrill to watch a movie about a subject I cared about and to see it rendered with love and humor. We should all be so lucky.
Its laudatory impulses notwithstanding, Louis Menand's worthwhile essay in the current New Yorker on Mark McGurl's The Program Era - an account of the rise of the creative writing program - doesn't quite save the book from sounding depressing. For those with ambitions to write fiction, Menand offers a whirlwind tour of a sausage factory. Except that in this case you're not the guy who likes to eat sausage, but the guy (or gal) who raises the hogs. Or maybe you are the hog itself. Reading Menand reading McGurl, you get the very same sense of a vast, tentacular, and mildly deterministic academic-industrial complex you might get in... well, a creative writing program. Which speaks to the characteristic thoroughness of Menand's writing. And, presumably, of McGurl's book.Largely absent from Menand's account (and Mark Grief's review in Bookforum), however, is the question of money. Even for those who agree emphatically with Menand that "there is no 'craft of fiction' as such," the value of two or three years of subsidized writing time is hard to understate. Rilke had the Princess of Thurn and Taxis; we have AWP. And though the rise of the M.F.A. program may well exert a systemic pressure on the writer, it need not, as Menand is at pains to point out, vitiate the visionary. By far my favorite nugget in the Menand piece is his mention of two workshops filled with idiosyncratic talent:Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, Larry McMurtry, Ernest Gaines, Tillie Olsen, and Wendell Berry taught by Wallace Stegner at StanfordJohn Irving, Andre Dubus, Gail Godwin, and John Casey taught by Kurt Vonnegut at Iowa.I've also heard tell of a workshop that includedJhumpa Lahiri, Ha Jin, Peter Ho Davies, and Marshall Klimasewiski taught by our guest contributor (and National Book Award finalist) Joan Silber at Boston University.If any of you out there have taken, or know of, similarly stacked workshops, we'd be curious to hear about them, if only as a way of letting M.F.A. applicants cling to a little of the glamor McGurl and Menand have done the rest of us the great favor of dispelling. Somehow the prospect of participating in an aesthetic of "class-based self-consciousness" pales next to the thought of getting drunk with Richard Ford and ripping on Jay McInerney... and hasn't that always been (along with the financial assistance, of course) the most compelling reason to apply to a writing program?
Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. — Janet Malcolm Writers are always selling someone out. — Joan Didion Don’t ever make a friend in this business, you’re only going to have to fuck somebody in the end. — Jim Murray 1. The open secret about Grantland Rice, America’s ur-sportswriter and the namesake of Bill Simmons’s omnibus sports/pop culture website, is this: he wasn’t a very good writer. He wrote a lot, and so was ubiquitous. His personal record, as recorded in Frank Deford’s Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter, amounted to 50,000 words over the nine days of the 1912 World Series. Rice labored, Deford tells us, under a 3,500-word daily quota over his 53-year career. With some 17 million words to choose from, it’s not really possible to say whether the lead to his story on the 1924 Army-Notre Dame football game is the “best” thing Rice ever wrote, only that it’s the most quoted: Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, and Layden. As a young sportswriter aiming at literature, I was under the impression that Rice had a bead on the target. He was the first capital-S Sportswriter, the first commentator-as-personality. He was popular, but not because he was a good writer. As Deford puts it in his memoir: Perhaps the idea was to make mere games seem more important or artistic, but for whatever reason the writing grew more florid and rococo... Jonathan Yardley... wrote that old-time sportswriting was "like a bad dream by Sir Walter Scott." In Rice’s defense, it’s probably not possible to publish 17 million words and not engage in a certain amount of linguistic inflation. But that inflation has plagued the profession ever since, and it’s evident in each of the books considered here. In fact, I will now posit a corollary to Godwin’s Law, which holds that: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” Stockman’s Corollary: as a sportswriter’s career progresses, the probability that he will needlessly invoke Nazis also approaches one. The “needlessly” goes without saying, or should. But each of the three writers here — Jim Murray, the daily journalist; Frank Deford, the magazine feature writer; and John Feinstein, the bestelling author — eventually invokes some aspect of the Hitler war machine. Jim Murray was 4F in World War II and so spent the war scrambling up the ladder in his early newspaper gigs. As Ted Geltner assures us in Last King of the Sports Page: The Life and Career of Jim Murray — his biography of the Los Angeles Times columnist who, at the peak of his popularity, was syndicated in more than 200 newspapers — Murray tried more than once to sign up, but Uncle Sam wouldn’t let him. In 1963, in advance of the first Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay fight, Murray predicted that the bout would “be the most popular fight since Hitler and Stalin — 180 million Americans rooting for a double knockout.” OK, pretty mild and pretty funny. And, Geltner argues, a representation of the two fighters’ general unpopularity with the establishment. But, after Clay’s conversion to Islam — and name-change to Muhammad Ali, which Murray waited more than a decade to honor in print — Murray compared Ali’s Fruit of Islam bodyguards to “the Gestapo in blackface.” Which is pretty gratuitous, and not a little racist. But let’s give Murray the old “man-of-his-time” pass — his was a jauntily jingoistic generation, one that for all its faults produced the indisputably good outcome of stopping Hitler — and move on to Frank Deford. You may best recognize the genteel Deford as the honeyed voice behind more than 1,500 sports commentaries on NPR’s Morning Edition. Throughout Over Time, his memoir of working for Sports Illustrated and other national outlets, he manages to keep a healthy perspective. “I can’t for the life of me, for example, imagine that any run-of-the-mill young person will want to read the old stuff I’m writing about now.” This he tells us once we’re more than a third of the way through a bunch of the old stuff. Deford, too, falls victim to Stockman’s Corollary, with a throwaway line in a paragraph about how he works best by himself: “I just can’t grasp how two people could write something well together — collaboration, they call it, which always makes me think of weasels collaborating with the Nazis. I guess you have to have the right personality to be collaborative.” That’s right, you have to be Lieber/Stoller or Marshal Petain. But among the writers under review, John Feinstein — avatar of conventional wisdom, perpetrator of sub-competent prose — takes the cake (as he might say) for not only fulfilling the corollary, but being the biggest hypocrite. Early in One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game, the author’s bloated account of his various publishing successes, Feinstein shows himself standing up to Bobby Knight. This was during Feinstein’s reporting of his book A Season on the Brink, for which he spent the 1985-1986 season as an embedded reporter with Knight’s Indiana University men’s basketball team. That book was a wild success — and Feinstein dedicates a full 150 pages or more to its development and publication. Feinstein was about three weeks into his “Bloomington sojourn” when Knight fired off a quintessentially crass crack at the reporter in front of his team: “‘You know, John,’ Knight said. ‘There are times when I’m not sure that Hitler wasn’t right about you people.’” Not funny at all, but then Knight is a dirtbag who choked his players, so this sort of crack seems entirely in character. Feinstein explains that he didn’t confront Knight in front of his team, because the coach would only have escalated things and refused to back down. So Feinstein waited until later than night: ...Knight and I were again in the car en route to a speech, and it was just the two of us. “I gotta say something to you,” I finally said. “Because if I don’t I won’t be able to sleep tonight.” “What is it?” he asked. “I think you know I have no problem with you making jokes about me being Jewish or liberal or whatever,” I said. “In fact, you’re really good about it,” Knight said. “I think so,” I went on. “But I gotta tell you, Bob. Hitler wasn’t funny. Not on any level.” Fair enough, and true enough, and Knight backs down and comes as close as a solipsistic asshole can come to apologizing. But the reason I quote that scene at length is not to show that Feinstein was a man of principle — possibly endangering his unprecedented access to this hothead basketball coach to rebuke him for a crass remark — but to show instead that he can be breathtakingly un-self-aware, not to mention a hypocrite. In this case, 350 pages after he’s admonished Knight, he tells us about an incident at the Los Angeles Open golf tournament in which “the people in charge of security had tried to tell Larry Dorman of the New York Times and I that we couldn’t walk inside the ropes without a camera, even though we were wearing armbands that said, ‘media—inside the ropes access.’” This was eventually sorted out, but Feinstein “ended up telling the guy in charge that he and his men were a bunch of ‘brown-shirted Gestapo stormtroopers.” You know, to smooth things over. In light of this newly-discovered corollary, every sportswriter would do well to read the letter Jackie Robinson sent Jim Murray. They were friends, and, despite his early animosity toward Ali, Murray had lobbied to get Satchel Paige (who spent most of his career in the Negro Leagues) into baseball’s Hall of Fame and the PGA player Charlie Sifford into the Masters golf tournament. But, when Murray invoked Robinson’s name in a column that derided the efforts of some civil rights activists to get African American Olympians to boycott the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City — and compared the boycott, in passing, to Hitler’s insults of black athletes in 1936 — Robinson wrote an eloquent rebuke, the final clause of which should be stamped on every sportswriter’s laptop: “Olympics occur periodically. Justice must be practiced every day, and none of this has the faintest relationship to Hitler.” 2. The most infuriating thing about Feinstein’s book, aside from its reading like a first draft (he tells us of someone’s disease that was “degenerative and kept getting worse,” or of the 1986 World Series: “People forget that the score was tied at that moment. ...Buckner did not lose the World Series for the Red Sox, a fact many, many people forget.”), is his utter lack of perspective. This is a sportswriter’s problem generally — great ones like Deford and Murray often transcend it. Feinstein almost never does. It’s not coincidental that Feinstein dropped the “brown-shirted Gestapo” line on a security guard (which is not even accurate: the Brown Shirts and the Gestapo were two different groups), he loathes security guards. There are no fewer than six instances in this book of Feinstein’s confrontation with gatekeepers at various venues. An example, taken almost at random, emphasis mine: I’ve had bad experiences with security guards around the world, but never more so than in Chapel Hill. Once, when I walked over before a game to say hello to Dean Smith, one of them started pushing me away until Dean saw what was going on and waved the guard off. Rather than just let me go as he had been instructed to do, the guard — who had to be a hundred — said, “You’re lucky Coach Smith was here.” To which I replied — always calm when confronted — “You’re lucky I didn’t knock you into the fifth row.” It’s a stunning failure of empathy. It doesn’t occur to Feinstein that this low-paid senior citizen was just doing his job — keeping people off the court. Furthermore, there’s a tincture of “don’t you know who I am?” in this reaction, and that’s what really grates. Because, consider: what if Tiger Woods had done that? Or Kobe Bryant? Feinstein would be one of the first baying hounds on Charlie Rose to tell us that these athletes don’t know how good they’ve got it and they don’t care how many little people they step on, and that if it weren’t for the fans they’d be nobodies. Someone might remind Feinstein that if it weren’t for the security guards keeping everyone else out while he gets unrestricted access to players and coaches, he might not have a career. In his way, Feinstein is a sort of modern Grantland Rice. He’s prolific (Deford calls him “‘the Woody Allen of sportswriting,’ because, just as Allen annually produces a new movie, so too does John somehow manage to write a major book almost every year,” which is a backhanded compliment if I’ve ever seen one). He’s also a hypocrite. Rice admitted that he wanted to build his subjects into heroes (see, for instance, the aforementioned “four horsemen” of Notre Dame’s backfield). And yet Rice also decried the perverting influence of money on athletics — money which had entered the game thanks in no small part to his mythmaking. Late in this book — perhaps he figures no one will read this far; I didn’t want to — Feinstein admits to outright hypocrisy: “Since eleven years have passed, I can now reveal that for all the complaining I’ve done... about game times being changed for TV, I was responsible for a game time being changed...” Feinstein was researching his book The Last Amateurs, on The Patriot League, a scholarship-free, NCAA Division I athletic conference. Basically, he wanted to attend two games on a certain Saturday, one was at noon, one was at two p.m., and the venues were two-and-a-half hours apart. So, he asked the Holy Cross athletic director to change the time of its game with Lehigh. And, because Feinstein was by this time a perennial bestselling author whose book was sure to give the Patriot League and its schools unpurchasable publicity, the two teams acquiesced, and Feinstein — the reporter who was observing a typical season in the Patriot League — got his way. “You should be ashamed of what you did,” an assistant women’s basketball coach tells him. “I wasn’t ashamed and it was well worth the effort.” Worth it for whom? I wonder. This is the heart of Feinstein’s hypocrisy. On one hand, he tells us that a young Andre Agassi reminded him of a “young Tiger Woods... everything he did was with one thing in mind: how will this affect my ability to make money.” On the other hand, the use of his heavyweight reputation to push around a couple of small-conference athletics programs leaves his conscience undisturbed. I wonder if that schedule change affected his ability to make money? Deford, who left Sports Illustrated in the early ‘90s to head up the all-sports newspaper The National (an oral history of which can be found at Grantland), made Feinstein his first hire in that ill-fated endeavor. And yet, he has a refreshing candor about certain aspects of his profession: “Besides, everybody genially accepts that a considerable portion of popular American sports — college football and men’s basketball — is an outright fraud...” It’s unfortunate that this passes for a bracing assertion in sportswriting, but it does. Deford qualifies this by referring to himself in another context as “the piano player in the whorehouse.” In this he’s more in line with Jim Murray — who, Geltner claims, was Deford’s first target hire for The National; Murray turned him down. Murray admitted near the end of his career: “I covered the circus. I felt privileged to have done so. ...Sure, I helped keep the hype going, the calliope playing. I can live with that. It’s what I am.” Both Deford and Geltner tell of that calliope player at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, when Magic Johnson interrupted a brusque official to say “The great Jim Murray is here, and he didn’t get to ask a question.” John Feinstein would kill for that kind of recognition. Literally, I mean. He would kill seven security guards. But no, Murray and Deford possess a self-awareness about their professions that Feinstein does not. That is, that the most interesting stuff in the sports world has to do with its stories, not its scores. I would like to say that all sports fans know that, but we do not. For evidence, I turn to the letters page of the July 30 Sports Illustrated. One C. Fred Bergsten from Annandale, Va. has written in to respond to a book excerpt the magazine ran on that 1992 Dream Team. Here’s the letter: With all the hype of the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team... most fans are forgetting that there were two squads, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, that could have given the Dream Team a run for its money had their countries not dissolved just before the Barcelona Games. The Soviets were the defending gold medalist from the 1988 Games, and Yugoslavia was the ’90 FIBA world champion. It is a tragedy that colossal matchups among the three basketball superpowers never occurred in ’92. Yes, the tragedy of the Yugoslavian civil war was not Srebrenica, it was that the reigning FIBA champs didn’t get a shot at the Dream Team. Let’s close with a proper world-historical perspective. As Danny Boyle’s History of Britain tableau unfolded at the Opening Ceremonies of our present Olympics, as the workers of the Industrial Revolution literally rolled up the sod of pastoral England, I was put in mind of lines the truly great columnist Red Smith wrote the last time London hosted the games, in 1948 — and in the aftermath of, y’know, actual Nazis. But, writing of those Opening Ceremonies 64 years ago, Red Smith both described them and put them in perspective: The torchbearer dashed up into the stands, brandished his torch on high and dropped it into a tall concrete bird bath... The crowd made with the tonsils. It was hokum. It was pure Hollywood. But it was good. You had to like it. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Bonus Link: The Best Sports Journalism Ever (According to Bill Simmons)