Thursday, March 26, 2009

Scholar Disapproves of the Manner in Which You Spend Your Leisure Time

All those hours you spent watching Ryno and the Cubbies on WGN, or Fergie Oliver and Don Chevrier on Labatt Blue Jays Baseball, were not only wasted hours, but they prove you’re an idiot.

“Sports fans,” writes David P. Barash, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, “may simply be the comic sidekicks of nationalists.”


Mr. Barash seems certain that the impulse to watch others engage in sport is an evolutionary remnant of the very real notion of safety in numbers, but that a truly evolved human being, a civilized person, has no need to engage in such nonsense. So if you do it, you’re a Neanderthal. This is basically Mr. Barash’s take on things. Or, to cite his example, you are essentially on par, intellectually, with an oystercatcher.

It’s supremely tempting to place the nub, the locus of Mr. Barash’s argument in the schoolyard, to call it the residual animosity of a 98 lb weakling habitually victimized by bigger, more agile, more sports-oriented boys. It is, we might reason, the classic nerd-vs-jock tension, and in that scenario this article – published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, no less – is his grand revenge. By debunking the ridiculous myth of spectator sports, he’s pointing out the absurdity of the very core of those bullies’ beings. As I say, it’s tempting to do that, but I’ll abstain (or did I just go ahead and do it anyway?). I will hasten to add that he does take pains to point out that it is not the act of sport that irks him or seems to him pointless, but the act of watching others do it:

Thanks to spectator sports, each of us can know fame for most of our lives, so long as we are satisfied with the ever-shifting, warmed-over shadow of someone else's.

Do you see the problem here? A straight line from that reasoning leads to this: why watch the play when you could write it or act in it yourself? Why read the book when you could write it instead?

It’s also worth noting, according to Mr. Barash, that professional athletes are, by and large, louts. Gamblers, womanizers, cheats. To that I say this: Hate the artist, love the art. I dig me some Miles Davis. Does the fact that he was known to treat women like punching bags diminish the power of Filles de Kilimanjaro? Or his heroin habit; does it negate the beauty of In a Silent Way? Do VS Naipaul’s less-than-exemplary personal habits obscure the literary merit of a book like A Bend in the River?

Well, likewise Pete Rose.

But the soft, indefensible heart of his argument, the creamy centre of his ultimately bitter concoction, the most jagged clavicle nestled among his many bones of contention, is this. Are you are ready for it? Instead of wasting your time watching sports, Mr. Barash posits,

You might try reading a book, talking with your family, going for a walk, wrestling with the dog, listening to some music, smelling a flower, making love…

Germane points, all. But here’s the thing, Mr. Barash: I do all of those things. Every damn last one of them, and I expect I’m not the only sports fan who does. Because sports fans are not cardboard cut-outs, they’re not two-dimensional space fillers, and they’re not simple-minded rubes devoid of attention spans who would rather suckle at the mollifying teat of The Great Distraction than actually question, engage with or otherwise give a damn about the world, any more than academics are.

I read (and write!). I walk. I wrestle with (and get bitten by) the family dog. I’m obsessive about music, from punk to jazz to, yes, even classical. I garden. I have sired a child in blessed wedlock. I even like theatre, especially if written by the man probably not pictured here (and for the record, though I do love a good conspiracy theory, I’m a Stratfordian).

And I also love sports. Love them. Baseball in particular, but sports in general. I love watching sports for a number of very visceral reasons – the motion! the colour! the noise! I know that when I turn on a game, or go to see one in person, I’m going to see a sequence of events that are both unpredictable and unique, and that’s a rare thing. Sport is not merely the rehearsed movement of automatons, but a human drama; to watch a game is to find yourself in the presence of genuine narrative, the intertwining of untold number of stories, like a vast social history being enacted on a playing field. Read David Maraniss’ biography of Roberto Clemente, or the stories of Ring Lardner, or You Gotta Have Wa, Robert Whiting’s look at Japanese baseball, and try to tell me that there’s nothing more involved than a “children’s game.” Sport is an intersection of humanity, at once a communal celebration and an individual test.

I am also drawn to watching sport, I think, for a lot of the same reasons I love to read literature, to listen to music and to watch films, and to engage in any number of other manifestations of humanity’s fondness for (and utter need of) the arts, and that is the pleasure I garner from watching individuals succeed utterly, to watch someone push the limits of what it is possible to do with the human body.

It’s rare that a scholarly article gets my back up like this one did, but Mr. Barash’s argument seems untenable, paper-thin, reactionary. All of us move in several circles during the coarse of the day, and at times you find yourself in the company of those who you know don’t share your passion for sports, and if you’re like me you wonder what it would take to convince these people of the merits of spectatorship. I’m grateful for the chance to carefully consider the question, so I guess I owe the author thanks for that. But I can’t help but feel that the argument which inspired this post wasn’t so much carefully considered as it was spit out. The genteel forum doesn’t alter the fact that David Barash felt something in his gut and then went about constructing a spurious (and almost spiteful) argument to support it. It's fine if you're not a fan. I support that. But don't ridicule fandom because you don't understand what it means to love to watch.


  • Oil Can Boyd, 49, wants to pitch in Ottawa? I think that’s amazing, and perfectly harmonious with the amicably hucksterish tone that low-level minor league ball should strive to attain. Seek the balance between competitiveness and fun. I know I’ll try to make it to the park for one of his starts.
  • Oh, Tao. As if I didn’t love you enough already, now you go and tell of your fondness for Joe Pernice? I am, truth be told, a tad obsessive about Pernice, the Scud Mountain Boys, Chappaquiddick Skyline, the Pernice Bros., and just about everything else he’s had his hand in. I already dug the Friday Rock Out feature, but then you go and do this? If I weren’t already married… And straight…
  • One of the upsides to the Griffey signing for the Mariners is one I hadn’t considered: his elder statesman persona taking the pressure off of Ichiro to be the presumed leader of the team, and putting to rest all that clubhouse chatter from last season. This might just work out after all. Does Ichiro do the things necessary to win? If you mean being a leadoff hitter who collects 200 hits every year and plays stellar defense too, then yes. If you mean giving rousing locker room speeches or coddling the youngsters, then I guess he totally does suck. Now Junior can give the speeches.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Somnambulism, etc.

Today proved a handy day-long refresher in reasons I don't regularly stay up to watch West Coast games that go to extra innings. NEVERTHELESS, if you didn't find yourself completely engrossed in that final, not only do you not love baseball, but I daresay you hate the world and everything in it.

But don't take my word for it; the real baseball cognoscenti have weighed in. Witness!

  • SI's Tom Verducci posits that Japan is great for not hitting home runs, and that Americans are foolish (for not caring about the WBC)
  • Larry Stone sheds light on Yu Darvish's Seahawk-lovin' dad, and wonders if that admittedly skimpy connection might one day land Yu with the M's
  • Lloyd runs down the hard lessons to be gleaned from Korea's loss
  • Even Parkes of the usually jaded and disdainful Drunkards felt the excitement (see Item 4)

(Also: Ichiro is incredible. I love Ichiro. I'm renaming my daughter Ichiro.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Go Japan!

S. Korean - Japan gets my vote for best international baseball rivalry. My vast fortune and all of my considerable street cred. if Ichiro doesn't collect at least a base hit tonight.

Yeah, safe to say that the '09 WBC succeeded in capturing my attention.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I know they issued a retaliatory spanking to the Dutch last night, but let's talk about Saturday night for just a moment, shall we? What's more "embarrassing" (Adam Dunn's term): losing by more than 10 runs, or having the game ended by the Mercy Rule?

Hear that, Jetes? "Mercy Rule!" Like Little Leaguers, the umps felt so sorry for you that they ended the game early.

Friday, March 13, 2009

No Excuse Necessary

I've been waiting for an excuse to use this photo, but I can't wait any longer, so here it is. How about: because it's Friday, and The Tao already has your TGIF dose of rock all cued up. I used to use this pic as a desktop on my work PC. My friend and cubicle mate called it "Al Oliver's Hammer," for reasons I don't think I need to explain.

Al's keeping a healthy distance from the vials in Rock's back pocket.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


This WBC is one crazy tournament.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Empty Hands and the Long Walk Home

After all that basebally goodness on Saturday, last night's 6-2 pasting at the hands of the Italians before largely empty seats was a hell of a letdown. Similarly, Sunday night's US-Venezuela tilt (the only game I was able to make the trip into the city for) wasn't exactly the epic battle I had envisioned. There were Venezuelans in abundance (and a distinct lack of Venezuela caps for sale -- you must anticipate, Jays Shop people!). If I hadn't watched Saturday night's game, I'd have said that a few thousand scattered Venezuela fans can generate more noise than a full house of Canadians (especially when booing a representative of Chavez's government tagged with first-pitch honours). There were a few Americans, too (dude next to me drove 19 hours from Kansas). Guys in full Yanks regalia cheering YOUK! is a strange thing to behold.

Best moment of the US-Ven game for me took place in the American bullpen (I was sitting in RF). Some kid leans over from the stands in the corner and yells at LaTroy Hawkins, who's minding his own business, leaning back in his folding chair and watching the game, and the kid yells, "LaTroy, YOU SUCK!"

Hawkins: "I'm rich." That seems to shut the kid up.

Then Rogers Centre security zeroes in on the culprit and has a long, serious talk with him, presumably about how best to straighten out his life. I tried to imagine a similar conversation in New York, Boston, Detroit, Chicago or Cleveland, and I couldn't, because it wouldn't happen. Only in Toronto would a heckle involving no profanity draw the attention of a member of stadium security (who looked a lot like Sidney Pollack, incidentally).

Still, good things to come out of the WBC for Canada include Votto's hometown performance, and Phillippe Aumont setting them up and then mowing them down in the seventh. Holy shit, that was awesome. It was like we were able to watch the kid mature in the middle of an inning. That's what's great about the tournament, I think: how else could a kid at his level have a chance to face the likes of Wright, Youk and Granderson in a game that actually (sort of) means something? All of which is to say: where do I get my Aumont jersey? I think we see now what the M's (and Mariners fans) like about him. I see Lloyd approves, too.

Reality returned Sunday, of course (and again last night -- 12,000 on hand for a home squad elimination game?) when Toronto showed its true stripes. It's a hockey town. Here's your rabid fanbase enjoying a high scoring affair between a pair of teams stacked with high quality major leaguers:

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hustle (The B.o.t.O. Link Dump - March Edition)

There's no real reason for me to post that picture (via the always excellent Uniwatch, from a few days ago) except its sheer beauty. I was talking with a friend recently about the A-Rod noise, and I told him my theory: Rose got the shaft because Giamiatti thought baseball still had a pristine image which it couldn't afford to see sullied. That shit happens today, people shrug their shoulders and forget about it the next day. Especially now, times being what they are. Most likely reaction: "I could use the coin, too. Excellent idea, Pete!" Now imagine Rodriguez coming out with his admission twenty or thirty years ago. You think he'd still have a job? Nevermind, of course, the ethics of all this attention being paid to the results of an anonymous test... Buh.

Anyway, forgive me while I discharge all the stuff I haven't had time to mention for the last week or so...

Props Where Due

Ridiculously overdue respect to Lloyd for the abundant science he dropped on the manner in which we're being played. I know they have me over a barrel, and yet I do nothing to free myself from these chains. So who's really to blame?

What Is Not But Could Be If

I don't want to give the impression that I was in favour of the rumoured pursuit of Orlando Cabrera, because I wudn't, no sir. But I was already looking at potential upsides: it would've given me a chance to run another post in my "series" (if one post does a series make, that is) entitled My Brush With a Blue Jay, for you see I once spent an overlong rain delay in the Ottawa Lynx dugout with Orlando and his brother Jolbert Cabrera. Orlando borrowed my raincoat to make a point. He put it on and shouted in the direction of the owner, "I'm ready to play!" Unfortunately for you, the Oakland A's have robbed you of your chance to hear that story. So sad.

Amateur Night at Uniwatch

So yeah, like I said up there, I like me some Uniwatch. And I love me some baseball jerseys. So a couple of things here. One, I dig the new O's road jerseys, but look closely there... the inset image of the sleeve patch clearly says BALTIMORE ORIOLES, while the patch actually on the sleeve says ORIOLES BASEBALL. What gives? This was probably covered on Uniwatch one day that I didn't read (and really, who can be bothered searching?), but I'm curious to see which one will actually grace the onfield unis. Second, I've made no secret of my fascination with the ill-fated Seattle Pilots (1969-1969), and I love this graphic (via Uniwatch, of course) which shows how the Pilots' uniforms were quickly re-purposed when they suddenly became the Brewers in 1970. I've got a replica (actually a Mariners throwback) of the cream home jersey in the upper-left corner, and I'd always wondered if the ball-with-wings patch was actually white on the originals (as it is on mine), or if somebody at Majestic simply screwed up. Nice to finally know.

Uh, yeah. You still awake?

Like a Contagion

The Tao's got it, and yeah, alright, so do I. I'm actually into the WBC. I was up early for an unrelated reason this morning and I watched China-Japan from about the fourth inning on (Ichiro, 0-for-5: what?). And here's the thing: I truly wished I'd been up earlier to see the start of the game. I've got tickets to Sunday night's game (winner of US-CAN vs. winner of Venezuela vs. Italy, but let's be honest here, I'll be seeing the US vs. Venezuela) at Rogers Centre, and I'm a little bit giddy. What'll I wear?

Related: Yu Darvish looks like an anime character made flesh. I mean, you know, actual flesh, not drawn or rendered flesh.

Related (2): Is there any doubt that China will be mopping the floor with all of us in a couple of decades' time? Their future baseball domination will result from the same stuff as their near complete control of the global manufacturing game: desire to prove they can do it, and limitless resources. They look a bit sloppy now, but I don't think anybody will be laughing for very long.

Unrelated: Fantasy draft day tomorrow. Anybody have an opinion on how high to draft a catcher?