Monthly Archive for December, 2010

I Don’t Care About Steroids

Yes, I am entertained.

It is the question of our age, and the philosophical dilemma that has defined how my generation of baseball fans have come of age: how do you feel about steroids?

Well, it’s official. I, Ted Walker, no longer care about performance enhancing drugs, steroid or any other.

I don’t have any new knowledge about the debate, or any cutting insight that will change the way that you perceive the issue. Nothing has changed today that makes the facts or the suspicions different from yesterday. I just made a decision. It was spurred on by a viewing of the mediocre documentary Bigger Faster Stronger, which follows some dudes who are into getting big and try to be pro wrestlers and whatnot. They juiced and lifted, obsessed about strength and bodybuilding, and there were a few attempts to shed some doubt on the idea that steroids are universally bad, which I buy to some degree. The film spent a lot of time discussing steroid-jockies Ah-nold and Hulk Hogan, and the American dreams that they sold to kids which–Spoiler Alert!–proved fleeting and deceptive in the end. (The film failed to note the oddity and awkwardness of caring about pro wrestling past age 10.)

The film revealed to me, more than anything, that I do not enjoy thinking, talking, hearing about, or learning about the folks that are into steroids, or weight-lifting, or working out, or bodybuilding, or any of that business. I just don’t care about them, and frankly it all makes me queasy. It’s off my list of subject matter I want to discuss or pursue.

What I do like is baseball, and if I am to enjoy baseball, it can no longer involve conversation about steroids.

What enables me to just ignore PEDs and all talk related to them is that their goal is to enhance the chances of success. Steroid use could even be perceived as a noble pursuit, navigating, as all sports do, the narrow strait between personal desire and the communal experience.

I’ve accepted that professional athletes are willing to take physical excellence to places that I find distasteful or awe-inspiring in order to play their sport extra-well, and that the lengths that they go to to do so are not connected to my enjoyment of the game. And frankly, even the perfectly legal and acceptable buckets of Creatine and Muscle Milk and other such products that all these guys guzzle are as creepy to me as steroids, which doesn’t mean that pro ballplayers should stop using them, too. I don’t have to consume that melange of weirdness to enjoy baseball, and I don’t have to like the people who choose to use them.

I’m not somehow in favor of steroid use. I think it’s a strange and obsessive undertaking that probably isn’t so good for you. I would prefer that they didn’t exist. But I’ve also accepted the complexity of the situation, and judged that against my enjoyment of the sport. My self-analysis has led to the conclusion that my life is better if I don’t care. I am happy to appreciate the wonders of the sport, juice or no juice. Barry Bonds was an amazing baseball player, and he should be in the Hall of Fame. Mark Mcgwire should be, too, and Rafael Palmeiro, and Roger Clemens. They did amazing things on a baseball field, that triggered widespread euphoria among baseball fans. They created wonder out of nothing.

And Jeff Bagwell. Regardless of whatever juice he was on, Jeff Bagwell brought me great joy. He became famous, ie. filled with fame, by making me feel great about watching him play. Therefore he should be enshrined in a place that acknowledges fame, like some sort of entryway, for example, or a celebratory hall.

The steroid conversation requires that I pass judgment on the person. I choose to pass judgment on the game.

A Christmas Tune

Ted and I sing this every year at the P&P holiday karaoke extraveganza. Guess who sings which part.

Vin Scully: Bacon Historian

Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts is listening to old ballgames. Here’s Vin Scully in 1980 with a tour de force on America’s zeitgeistiest meat:

So what’s new? Not bacon. Bacon is almost as ancient as time itself. It was mentioned by Aesop in the sixth century B.C. It was a staple in medieval Europe. And in Norman England, bacon was so universally accepted, it was sometimes used as money. And monastery monks awarded bacon to husbands for not quarreling with their wives. Indeed, bacon is no Johnny-come-lately. Through the years, it has survived the competition of thousands of new products, and the bacon bin continues to be a popular spot in our modern supermarkets. One reason is the quick energy it survives, and another its matchless flavor. Which brings up the most flavorsome bacon of all: Farmer John. For this is a bacon with a sweet, savory goodness from hush-hush secrets in the curing, plus a much heartier Western flavor from Farmer John’s old-time Western way of doing the smoking. No other bacon like it — if you haven’t tried it, why delay any longer? The next time you shop, take home the bacon from Farmer John.

Visual Mixtape: Bid Thee Alou

Clockwise: Moises, Jesus, Matty, Felipe (h/t Pat Truby on the Moises pic).

Visual Mixtape: The Legend of Baggy Pants

JoePos’d, from the Rogue’s Baseball Index

The Rogue’s Baseball Index is back with another term, reminding you of the time-sucking virtues of the Kerouac of the Keyboard, the belovedly bellicose Joe Posnanski.

In the two minutes of free time you have to catch up on baseball news, it is inevitable that your baseball-obsessed friend with weird amounts of free time will sense a weakness in your defenses and take the opportunity to send you a link to the densest, longest, most intricate baseball blog post on the internet.

Along with the link, he will send several direct questions pertaining to paragraphs eight and fourteen of this blog post, essentially demanding a detailed, nuanced response to the already detailed and nuanced blog post. You will feel obliged by the bond of comradeship to carefully read through the lengthy diatribe, tracking the cyclonic language and the crescendo of logic asserting with admirable equivocation the importance of Jeff Nelson’s role on the 2000 Yankees and the fluctuating role of the set-up man throughout the course of human history from Pompeii to 9/11.

45 minutes later, you have completed a thoughtful, well-reasoned response to your friend’s, and when you see him at the bar the next night, he will have no idea what you are talking about.

You have been JoePos’d.

The term is derived from the well-reasoned, professional-grade and incredibly long blog posts of sportswriter Joe Posnanski, whose capacity to argue vehemently for the Hall of Fame credentials of one player or another knows no bounds.

JoePos’d in the RBI Wiki

Actually, Cliff Lee Did Sign With the Yankees

Exactly one year ago today, I wrote about the trade that brought Roy Halladay to Philadelphia. I argued that trading a franchise player is difficult but sometimes necessary; for a franchise to remain healthy, it must at times redefine itself in catastrophic ways. For Toronto, the Halladay trade was like a forest fire. It caused harm, but also cleared the way for rebirth. It would allow the ecosystem that surrounds the Blue Jays to evolve and regenerate.

But I was focusing on the wrong ecosystem. History has recently proven that I should have been thinking about the team that acquired Halladay, not the one that traded him. It was the Phillies all along. Their place in the enclosed world order of baseball –itself a sort of ecosystem, defined as much by fan and media perception as by success on the field of play* – has changed as much as any team’s in the last five years.

Somehow, the Phillies have become the Yankees. And not the current Yankees whom they just bested in the Lee sweepstakes either, but the Yankees of a decade ago who were not only loaded with homegrown talent, but seemed to operate in their own fantastical marketplace – unencumbered by competing interests, financial limitations, karma, and gravity.

Ted observed that the Philadelphia starting rotation is the kind you achieve in video game franchise modes after seasons of simulating and savvy maneuvering. This seems accurate. But to me what they most resemble is a rock supergroup. Whether or not the music sucks, they are sure to sell a million records.

For the Phillies, this amounts to a luxury. Say all four have bad years. Even at their worst, they are still four relatively good pitchers. If one gets hurt, the rotation is still among the best in baseball. And if the offense struggles for an extended period like it did last year, then at least there are the Traveling Philburies (couldn’t help myself) to fall back on.  With the return of Cliff Lee, the departure of Jayson Werth has been rendered trivial. The Phillies can play below expectations and suffer a rash of injuries but still win. This is what it means to be the new Yankees.

Still one can’t help but wonder how the quality of their coworkers will affect these four pitchers. God knows Kris Kristofferson didn’t do his best work with the Highwaymen. And great pitchers, like great songwriters, are lonesome figures. They thrive on the pressure of our expectations. What happens to the psychology of an ace – say Lee – when that burden is considerably lightened? Will he still be able to muster the same easy brilliance? Or will complacency be his downfall?

*For instance, despite a World Series victory, nobody is putting the Giants at the top of any baseball franchise food chain.

Visual Mixtape: Legs Aloft

Our Current Trappings: Hipsters and Baseball

from The Selby. Click through for many lovely photos of homes

In a New York Times article, Mark Greif of n+1 (a journal that I always stumble on coincidentally but that I always come away from a little smarter or a little more something I can’t explain) discusses hipsters, and the general idea of taste-making.

Greif cites a philosopher called Pierre Bourdieu who, in a nutshell, determined through sociological study that taste was determined by economic status more than other more aesthetic terms. He worked, the article says, to “debunk the powerful classes’ pretensions that they were more deserving of authority or wealth than those below.” You’re not special, ie., just because you can afford something that you think is cool but that poor people don’t actually give a shit about because they’re off enjoying the things that poor people enjoy.

So basically taste is arbitrary. It’s not earned. For us baseball fans, taste=wins. Are you listening, Yankees fans? You did not earn your wins. You inherited them. We justify the teams we follow the way a hipster (which certain elements deny even exist or ever existed, like some kind of cultural Tea Party members debunking the president’s right to the office) describes where s/he found a cardigan sweater for 2 bucks, and how long they’ve been a regular at the bar that’s a real dive not a fake dive (in my experience, specifically at Leon’s Lounge in Houston, Texas, you don’t ever want to be at an actual dive bar. It’s awful and soul-wrenching.). You say something like, “I lived in Baltimore for two years when I was a kid and Brooks Robinson once passed me on the highway,” or “I was there when the White Sox won it and my neighbors were all shooting their guns off,” and these are ways to establish the lineage of your taste, to place it in the hierarchy of respectability. Think of the last person who said to you, “I don’t know, I just like them,” about a team from a city that they aren’t from. It’s awkward, and sad. It holds no water.

That story is a pair of pleated Dockers.

You should read the piece, but what I get from it is that you are probably a hipster, especially if you give a shit whether you are a hipster or not:

The attempt to analyze the hipster provokes such universal anxiety because it calls everyone’s bluff. And hipsters aren’t the only ones unnerved. Many of us try to justify our privileges by pretending that our superb tastes and intellect prove we deserve them, reflecting our inner superiority. Those below us economically, the reasoning goes, don’t appreciate what we do; similarly, they couldn’t fill our jobs, handle our wealth or survive our difficulties.

Newsflash, but that’s you. And me, and probably anyone who’s read a word of this blog and many of the other blogs I enjoy and we enjoy. This is the great artifice of the day, the sense that we can build a career in front of a laptop, that the audiences will find us and that we won’t have to hustle our way to a living.

I’d have liked it if Greif discussed the reasons behind the hipster movement, though I’m guessing he does so in his book about hipsters. To me, it’s a reaction to the evaporation of stability even among non-hipsters (if they even exist). There is so little now to cling to even if you didn’t mind working for GM for 30 years and hanging it up that the consequences of an extreme taste go out the window. Tattoos, for example. There isn’t a boss left out there who is protecting the white-shirted virtues of the steadfast scions of the business world. Those fuckers watched their retirement funds circle the bowl, and the only people left who feel remotely comfortable in a world of such fiscal and cultural uncertainty are the ones who realize that some ink on a bicep doesn’t mean shit about keeping or losing a job, because there are barely any jobs to keep or lose to begin with, and if you get a job there’s about an alcoholic’s chance in Leon’s Lounge that you’re gonna leave there on your own two feet.

The above rant may give some indication as to why I can no longer muster any bonafide hatred for another baseball team. My days of Yankee-hating are well behind me, if only because the sort of turmoil and tremored lip that plague the rest of the world are at work on each baseball team, too. In an industry where the staid thinkers, the old dogs, the young powerful analysts all believe they are entitled to a voice in the fray, well they didn’t see it coming that the Giants would win the World Series. The Giants whose lineup was a mixed bag of crap on toast and unproven youth. Them who put together some of the worst signings in the modern era, and whose icon is the runner up for the age’s most notorious villain? This team won it? Everything that everyone thought they knew about success was supplanted by the Giants. The hipsters among us are forced to stare at our shoes and admit that it’s a funny old world and well whatever they won’t be back next year, this was an anomaly. The joke of course being that it’s all an anomaly.

So in a way maybe baseball has a leg up on the rest of the world because there is a very well-defined way to determine who won it. It’s right there on the trophy. The remainder of human existence, sadly, offers no such clarity, and we have to choose whether we’ve won or lost pretty much arbitrarily, on a scale of “people actually believe Glenn Beck” to “well at least I wasn’t physically tortured today” and all that you survey in between. We have simultaneously been trained to lust after cash to do the very stylish and gauche things that we enjoy and to abhor the concept that money equals happiness. The contradiction becomes unbearable, and tattoos at that point seem quaint and simple, a little ink on the skin, nothing special. No, it doesn’t mean anything, I just like it.

I don’t have a tattoo. I like the idea, but I’m stuck in that spiritual limbo in which I enjoy the idea more than the practice. That means that I don’t know what tattoo I would get (even the word “get” has a consumerist bent to it). The design would be secondary to the practice. Hold on, though. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe the practice is the ends. Not in terms of practice makes perfect, or even in terms of the journey and not the destination, because the tattoo is a destination. It’s a permanent mark on a transient body, in a transient world full of transients and transplants.

Maybe I’m being too sensitive. I did go to a talk by the Stuff White People Like guy last night. The site has a way of putting a white people like me on edge, though I wasn’t too edgy to laugh a lot about it all. The guy, Christian Lander, is an odd character who is guilty of the cultural crimes that he’s indexed in depth, while also offering sustenance for the very myths of the generation. He is the figure who got famous and made some money for starting a blog for no reason, based on a meme-level idea that has stuck around just long enough so far for a second book. It’s the new American dream, to make some scratch by making something good outside of the existing corporate structure. But even the guy fell prey to the buzzards, as he told a story about Hollywood agents and TV deals that fell through. He flew too close to the sun on wings of expensive sandwiches. Funny guy, though, and far more entertaining than I had any right to expect.

The hipster (or White Person) is not like the sports fan, in that the sports fan is happy to be labeled a Cubs fan or a BlueJays fan, whereas the hipster doesn’t see such when he looks in the mirror. The hipster prefers to think of himself as an amalgam of attributes built around a sound aesthetic sensibility. The fan doesn’t mind the teal because everyone else is wearing teal. But behind this complacency there is a darker thread of experience, the sort of hypercritical micro-analysis that was once reserved for music and sci-fi nerds. Baseball’s conversations have gone micro, from the water cooler to the Excel spreadsheet. The mainstream is sucked into the specialized world of the misunderstood but envied taste-maker, who decries the mainstream model while building his own model from the ground-up, recruiting a new army until even those once adventurous troops get fat on the gristle of acceptance and burst once again.

No matter what the current trappings, the thing about culture that keeps us held so tight is that it will crumble back into the earth and germinate the next dormant seed. It always does, and sometimes you gotta stop thinking, set on your haunches, and wait to see what comes up.

Visual Mixtape: Lefty Lip Sweaters

visual mixtape left-handed lip sweater wearers