Friday Q&A, pt. 2: Other sports stuff

I don’t hate the Yankees the way most Mets fans do. Because I’m typically drawn to the underdog and the Yankees are never that, I rarely root for them, but I don’t surround myself with the type of Yankees fans who make it difficult to like Yankees fans. I owe a lot of that to the two Yankees fans with whom I most frequently chat online these days, Tom Boorstein and Alex Belth, both of whom are generally reasonable and not at all entitled.

That said, I am partial to Alex Rodriguez in part because he’s great and hilarious and in part because of the way the worst Yankee fans seem to hate him so much despite how great and hilarious he is.

My favorite Yankee ever, though, is easily Rickey Henderson. And I know Rickey spent way more time with the A’s and later played for the Mets, but he was a Yankee when I first became conscious of baseball. Henderson was, in fact, the man on the first baseball card I ever got for myself, at card show at the Holiday Inn in Rockville Centre before the 1987 season. There was a lottery at the show, where for a couple of bucks you could pick from a pile of envelopes featuring nine cards apiece, each envelope containing a different team’s starting lineup. My brother got the Brewers. I got the Yankees, with Rickey in front. (I also took home the grand prize from that same lottery, by the way: A coveted Kevin Seitzer rookie card.) I suspect I would have ultimately liked Rickey anyway, because Rickey.

I rarely watch them. I’ve got nothing against college football and if I’m someplace where people are watching, I’ll tune in and enjoy all the particulars of football at that level that don’t exist in the NFL. I’ve always loved offensive strategy in football, dating back to afternoons spent drawing up formations and plays with my friend Bill in perhaps the nerdiest jock activity ever. So I like watching the replays of successful plays and trying to figure out how everything worked and why it worked, identifying who made key blocks, and which players who probably aren’t getting credit for the play on the broadcast that will definitely get credit for the play in the team’s film review.

But I’ve never had any rooting interest in a college football team, and since I spend so many of my waking hours watching baseball, the NFL and college basketball, I rarely feel the desire to take on new sports at this point. I’ve watched a lot more NBA this season than I have in the past, but I still prefer the college game even if the players are clearly nowhere near as good.

Pretty sure it’s the media. Sad thing is, I’m not even kidding. And that’s not to diminish Tebow’s desire or anything.

Ben! Don’t let Ben’s humble egg-avatar fool you, he’s as triumphant a guitar shredder as you’re ever going to play in a band with for several years, provided you are me. No joke: One time I went to see him play at Carnegie Hall only to be turned away because it was sold out.

Also, that’s awesome. I claim no exclusive dominion over fake mustaches, and Blake Griffin wears his well. I’d ask for context, but I think I prefer to dream on it.

Novak Djokovic buys all the donkey cheese

I don’t know much about tennis beyond how to eat at tennis events, and I don’t know a damned thing about world No. 1 ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic. But I’ve got a newfound appreciation for the man this morning after learning he secured the entire global supply of the world’s most expensive cheese:

Novak_Djokovic_AO_win_2011Tennis great Novak Djokovic has purchased the entire global supply of a rare cheese produced from donkey milk that can cost over $500 per pound….

The cheese, which recently set the record for the world’s most expensive cheese, is reportedly so pricey because 2.2 lbs of the delicacy requires 6 gallons of donkey milk.

Djokovic reportedly bought the annual output of Pule from the world’s sole producer, a donkey farm 50 miles west of the Serbian capital Belgrade.

Supposedly it’s for a chain of restaurants he’s opening, but I prefer to think he just really, really likes the cheese and wants to be the only person in the world who gets to enjoy it. Novak Djokovic is my new favorite tennis player.

Also, I guess I need to taste this cheese. Unfortunately, Novak Djokovic controls all of it.

Via Moses.

Shaqichnaya?

Shaquille O’Neal is launching his own line of vodka — sensationally titled “Luv Shaq.”… We’re told Luv Shaq comes in coconut flavor, and the bottle features an image of O’Neal with giant wings.

- New York Post.

I could care less about the coconut flavored vodka. It’s the “image of O’Neal with giant wings” I’m going to need. Preferably blown up and framed, hanging across from Vin Diesel and Usher Riding Into Battle on a Chariot Pulled by White Tigers.

Man, I love Shaq.

Via Catsmeat.

Rocky das Musical in production

Recruited by a very determined Sylvester Stallone, the original Rocky himself, Mr. Flaherty and his collaborators never tried to go the fashionable route of a winking sendup, like the musical “Xanadu.” But the chilly reception from Broadway backers knocked out “Rocky” until, the lyricist Lynn Ahrens said, “these crazy German people showed up.”

They were executives from Stage Entertainment, the leading European presenter of musical spectacles like “The Lion King” “Mamma Mia!” and “Tarzan.” And they came eager to grow their multimillion-dollar empire — which specializes in retrofitting Broadway musicals (even flops) for audiences in Hamburg, Madrid, Paris and elsewhere into their native languages — and to develop more shows on their own. If “Rocky the Musical” struck some as the dumbest movie-to-musical yet, following recent Broadway flops like “Ghost” and “Leap of Faith,” “Rocky das Musical” held promise as the sort of testosterone-fueled event that can whip German audiences into a lather….

Whether Broadway-caliber tastemakers will emerge along the red-light district of the Reeperbahn here, where “Rocky” is playing across from sex-and-kino parlors, is among the questions facing the show.

- Patrick Healy, N.Y. Times.

I could have excerpted basically any paragraph in the article. Click through and read it.

It sounds like the Rocky musical might actually be good, which is the most hilarious possible turn of events. I hope they bring it to Broadway and it kills, not just for the tourist crowd but for the snobby old Broadway lot that has been reeling since Sunday in the Park with George closed. And I’m obviously rooting for them to call it “Rocky das Musical” even when it’s produced in English, because it sounds both way sillier and way artsier that way.

Of the German production, Sylvester Stallone says: “All I understand is when Rocky says ‘Yo.'” In that way, his experience watching the German musical of Rocky is pretty similar to everyone else’s while watching Stallone in the original Rocky.

Via Meredith.

Marathon madness

The following post will eventually go to some dark and very personal places. For years after my brother’s death, I could not bear speaking about it or him or that time to my closest friends and family without choking up or shutting down. Now it seems to come up once every six months in this very public forum. So it goes. It’s therapeutic, I guess.

I should say before I set out that beyond my boilerplate interest in the local sporting scene, I could hardly care less about the New York City Marathon. Its course happens to travel down 1st Ave. on the Upper East Side, a half block from my apartment, and the event produces a lot of hoopla and foot traffic in the neighborhood. During last year’s event, my wife and I walked down to the corner and watched the leaders speed by before we continued on our typical Sunday morning trek to get bagels and coffee. She found the race inspiring, I found the festivities vaguely exciting but mildly inconvenient.

This past Sunday, after our plans to use our car to volunteer in the hurricane relief efforts were thwarted by a dead battery, my wife went for a run in Central Park. She returned to report a scene she found striking: Marathoners from around the world endeavoring the race despite its cancellation, with pockets of locals cheering them on. She thought it seemed like something worth noting here, and I thought it sounded like a good show by some New Yorkers to welcome those who went on with it — many of whom were running for charity. So I thought about writing some very qualified post about it here.

Before I did, I read some of the local papers and saw the bitter vitriol being spewed at New York Road Runners CEO Mary Wittenberg, who initially wanted the marathon to continue as planned despite the disaster. And I saw the vicious response to Chris Jones at ESPN when he argued that the event should not have been canceled, and I decided that I simply did not care nearly enough about the existence of the New York City Marathon to suffer any headaches defending anyone involved in any way.

To cover myself: I do not think sporting events should take precedence over disaster recovery. Obviously. I suspect — though I do not know for certain — that the length of time after the hurricane that Mayor Bloomberg maintained the race would go on unimpeded suggests he thought the city could have benefited from its business in a very trying time, but I realize it was not and is still not the hour to be concerned about money. I think also that there might be some rational media criticism to be undertaken to examine why the marathon incurred such a disproportionate amount of hostility in comparison with the local games that took place on the same day, though I understand that its execution required a different amount of participation and resources from the city. But this is not about any of that.

What I know is this: Mary Wittenberg is not your enemy. Chris Jones is not your enemy. Anyone else who might say something you find insensitive, or who dares effort something close to normalcy at a time like this, is probably not your enemy.

A 29-year-old man dying from cancer over a decade ago is nothing like last week’s devastating hurricane that killed scores of people and left thousands more without homes. I only associate the two here because my brother’s death is the one very sad thing I’ve endured in an otherwise lucky life, and it is the experience that informed the way I understand and respond to unplanned tragedy.

When I returned to college in September of 2002, with my brother at home on his deathbed, I arrived to a room trashed by my summer sub-letters. I hadn’t thought to collect any sort of security deposit, thinking a couple of college girls interning on Capitol Hill would at least keep my furniture intact. They didn’t. They broke every drawer of my cheap Wal-Mart dresser and the futon I used for a bed. They left clothes and papers and garbage covering every inch of the carpeting. They even killed my plant, Robert Plant.

I never even met them in person, but I hate them. To this day, I remember their names, and in dark times I even imagine life someday affording me an opportunity for some payback. That year, I would sometimes lay awake in the dark on the displaced futon cushion, on the floor full of their trash that I never fully cleaned up, plotting trips to their colleges to break into their dorm rooms to destroy all their stuff.

And they didn’t even know! What they did was stupid, but they would have had no way of understanding what I was going through at the time. I should have realized even then that, logically, a couple of college girls behaving irresponsibly did not merit anything near the degree of hatred I harbored, and that I should have just taken a couple of hours to clean up the room and move on. But thinking logically was not exactly my strong point in that station of life.

It didn’t stop there, either. For more than a year after my brother died, I fantasized about violence. I remember cutting people off with my car and hoping they’d get out and start a fight so I could beat them to a bloody pulp. Stuff like that. It never happened, thankfully. Only after a good deal of time spent working things out did those daydreams ultimately subside.

Which is all to say that I understand the type of seething, omnidirectional rage that can follow such a traumatic event, especially one with no obvious culprit. I know how overwhelming some awfulness can be, how helpless it can make you feel, and the way seizing on a target for your anger can provide some odd, soothing comfort. But — though I could not manage it myself — I would urge anyone ready to lash out at the insensitive or the merely oblivious to at least consider what it is they’re so mad about before they call for jobs or heads.

Should the NYC Marathon have been run a few days after a massive storm ravaged most of the city? No, probably not. Were there more productive ways the runners who carried on with it and those that cheered for them could have spent their Sunday mornings, considering the circumstances? Certainly.

But there’s nothing terribly productive about haphazard hostility, either, nor in writing 1,200-word examinations thereof. What happened — and what’s still happening — in the Rockaways and Red Hook and on the Jersey Shore requires immediate help, and I believe those of us fortunate enough to be able to do so should. And I definitely haven’t done my part yet. I mean, holy hell, it’s snowing in New York as I write this, and there are thousands of hard-working, law-abiding, downright decent people facing nights without heat, without homes, without adequate clothes. If that’s not enough to make you crazy, we’ve got nothing in common.

It’s no one’s fault, though — at least no single person. We love to identify bugaboos, whipping boys and scapegoats when things go so horribly wrong, but often there’s no demon more damning than pure, agonizing circumstance. That may be the most enraging conclusion of all, I know. But I think — from my experience, at least — grasping it can be the first step toward composure and toward turning the anger and grief into an awareness that can benefit those around us, rather than agents of hostility at a time when it is absolutely not necessary or helpful.

Math rates poorly with the Nielsens

I like to think that relative sanity from all sides has helped sports fans (particularly web-savvy sports fans) understand and embrace math to a solid degree. Like I said, there’s some grousing. There are plenty of “watch the game!” comments. But it’s nothing like on the political stage. The abuse Nate Silver has received this election cycle for having the temerity to average polls based on a previously successful regression model is astounding. This is pretty straightforward math. It’s actually quite similar to Hollinger’s Power Rankings. Hollinger takes efficiency differential (which is a more precise indication of team win-loss record) and adjusts for schedule strength (including home-road split) and emphasizes recent play. Silver’s Five Thirty Eight model averages the polls, adjusting for house effects and timing. Like I said, basic math.

Hollinger hears it from math-denying fans, but no columnists, analysts or talking heads rip him openly. Silver is getting challenged by one of the highest-rated political commentators on television. And many others. It’s all a bit crazy, especially when Silver plainly says his work produces probabilities of outcomes, not certainties. Are the anti-Silver commentators really that … for lack of a better word, dumb? (Note: this isn’t to say anything of those who seek to discredit the mechanics of Silver’s model, with the arguments that he overemphasizes state polls or that his house effects adjustments are off. This is about the math deniers that have popped up as the math has told a story that doesn’t agree with their partisan sensibilities.)

- Tom Ziller, SBNation.com.

Good reading from Ziller on the bizarre turn the political punditry has taken against Nate Silver’s probabilities this election cycle.

I avoid politics here, as you’ve likely realized. But if you’ve somehow missed all the backlash to Silver’s analysis this month, it’s worth investigating. Lots of silliness.