Friday  September 22, 2006


Nomar Garciaparra

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One baseball story that hasn't gotten much attention this year—possibly because its subject is painfully media-averse—is the resurgence of Nomar Garciaparra. Of all the amazing developments in the Dodgers' four-homers-in-the-ninth comeback win the other night, the most amazing might have been Nomar's open celebration of the walk-off homer he hit in the tenth. He circled first base pumping his arms and shouting; for a moment, it looked like he might do a series of vertical leaps a la Joe Carter. I'd never seen him so emotional before.

Jason Gay, an editor here at GQ, describes Nomar in his prime as the best contact hitter he's ever seen, and I think that's about right. Nomar would swing at anything—pitches a foot outside the zone, pitches in the dirt—but his bat was so fast and his coordination so good that he'd almost always hit screaming line drives. Four seasons into his career, people were talking Hall of Fame. Ted Williams, who was close to him, predicted he'd someday hit .400.

Then he was struck on the wrist by a pitch. The Nomar who returned in 2002, after a year's rehabilitation, was no longer capable of hitting .372, as he'd done in his last full season. But he stubbornly kept swinging at everything, refusing to acknowledge his new physical limitations. It was painful and frustrating to watch. Red Sox fans started complaining about his approach at the plate—this, while he batted .310 and .301. That's how great he'd been before his injury.

Boston traded him to Chicago in 2004 and went on to win the World Series without him. The next year, having accepted a humiliating demotion from shortstop to first base, he had the worst full season of his career. He signed with the Dodgers after that; people said he "could still be a valuable role player."

At midseason of this year, to my delight, he'd emerged as a viable MVP candidate. Then he got hurt again. Now he's back, though, and hitting walk-off homers, and the Dodgers are strong contenders for the postseason. I'm really, really hoping to see him there. For Nomar, the playoffs are an opportunity to vindicate himself in front of the entire baseball world, and don't think he doesn't know it.

Thursday  September 21, 2006

Michaelhsu
Guitars and Furniture

When I'm not obsessing over furniture, I'm obsessing over guitars.  My guess is that there are 829 of you out there who feel the same way.  If so, let us collectively rejoice that there exists as perfect a shop as Karlsson Gitarrer & Möbler.  I stumbled upon it last week while wandering Stockholm's southernmost island:

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In the front of the store, you'll find a nice assortment of mid-century furniture and knick knacks…

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…and equally gorgeous vintage guitars (they complement each other in a way that is supremely satisfying).

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Everything in the store is hand-picked by its owner, Mikael Karlsson.  You may know him as Vigilante Carlstroem—the guitarist of the impeccably dressed Swedish punk band, The Hives.

Because this is a guitar shop run by an actual musician, you're allowed to play any guitar as long as you like—and sit in a respectable old chair while you do.  They have both electrics and acoustics, old and new.

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Did I mention that this is my favorite store ever?  It's located at 3 St. Paul's Gatan, just a few blocks from the Slussen subway stop.

Related: The GQ 100: Our continually updated archive of the best stores for men in America.

Wednesday  September 20, 2006

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You've Been O'Reilly'd!

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Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly take the Ali-Frazier approach to cable news: They simply beat the crap out of one another. O'Reilly slams Olbermann on The Factor, calling for his immediate dismissal; Olbermann hits back on MSNBC's Countdown, regularly naming his higher-rated rival, "The Worst Person in the World." It's time-slot warfare of the first order. Off-air, however, Olbermann's take on O'Reilly is less hyperbolic. In fact, it's downright clinical. According to Olbermann, O'Reilly's ineptitude has a good explanation. Sheer lunacy.

Olbermann delivers his diagnosis exclusively to GQ:

When you're attacked by someone or criticized by somebody who's beneath you on the food chain, you don't respond at all. All you're doing is publicizing what they're doing. And instead of doing that, he threatened to send the cops to the house of somebody who mentioned my name on his show. It's insane.

We've been covering him kind of as a cultural freak show for about 2 years. We did a lot on the little [sex] tape scandal from 2004, but it was only when we started to quote him that he started to respond in a strange way—like when he said, "Let Al Qaeda bomb San Francisco" after they passed a non-binding resolution saying there couldn't be military recruiters on high school campuses. He doesn't like having his stuff quoted on another show, so he'll call the president of NBC, or have his agent call, 4 times in 4 weeks, demanding that the show be taken off the air. He'll start a petition to fire the host of the show. His reptilian brain is not serving him well.

In terms of bullying or baiting, he's jumped the shark. It was the moment he told the listener that he would send Fox security to their house and said to them, "We have your phone number. We have your information and we'll turn it over to Fox security and you'll get a little visit from your local authorities." At that point it became clear that he thought that if you disagreed with him, he could somehow send the police after you.

It's a McCarthyesque kind of moment. Joe McCarthy destroyed Joe McCarthy by smearing some guy who had done nothing wrong. He kept insisting that this guy needed to be fired or whatever and he just went on and on with this and people were essentially moving their chairs away from McCarthy so they wouldn't be seen sitting next to him on TV. He didn't realize how psychotic he looked and I think that was sort of mirrored with the night Bill did that to the caller. I mean, you think you have police powers? Do you have magic powers, too? What else can you do? What else do you think you can do? I think that's a moment when, outside of the body of support that watches that show every night, anybody who would have taken him seriously as a threat suddenly realized that the guy is essentially delusional. It's abnormal psychology in one way or another.

*****

The O'Reilly Factor has been one of the most contentious—and entertaining—shows on television. To many, it doesn't matter that the host spews venom, cuts mikes, and rarely gives a guest a fair shake. But pity the person who finds himself on the wrong end of Bill's bile. We rounded up some of the show's most memorable guests to hear their tales from inside the No Spin Zone. Pick up the October issue of GQ—on newsstands now—to read more.

Saturday  September 09, 2006


Cracking the Code

In the current issue of GQ, my article on the science of performance applied to baseball ("Building the Perfect Batter") describes the work of Dave Ritterpusch, former director of baseball information of the Baltimore Orioles. What the piece doesn't account for is the word "former" in Ritterpusch's job title. That's a story that vividly illuminates the anxiety baseball front offices experience when they encounter new methods of… well, of practically anything.

On October 12, 2005, the same day that Mike Flanagan became GM of the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Post published a confidential memo the Orioles front office had distributed fifteen months earlier to its baseball-operations staff: "Effective immediately no player is to be signed to [a…] minor-league contract without an acceptable ISAM profile on hand," the memo read. "No position player will be signed who scores less than a 3 on a valid, accurate ISAM; nor will any pitcher be signed who scores less than a 4 on a valid, accurate ISAM."

It was a bizarre document. What the hell was an ISAM and why was it controlling the team's player-acquisition policy? (If you've read "Building the Perfect Batter," you already know the answer to this question.) On other teams, scouts evaluated players; in Baltimore, had some sort of test replaced them? On Flanagan's first day as GM, the publication of a memo suggesting that the tail in Baltimore had been wagging the dog jeopardized his authority—just as the person who'd leaked it knew it would. The target here, it seemed, was Ritterpusch. Baseball's most vocal and knowledgeable proponent of psychometrics, or psychological profiling, he had alienated much of the front office with an approach to talent evaluation that made many people uneasy. Some one of them had now seized the opportunity to make a power play. "I think it's a little unfair how much attention [the memo] has gotten," Flanagan protested, defending his friend of more than three decades. (It had been Ritterpusch who originally drafted Flanagan in 1973.) Flanagan added, "You're not doing your due diligence if you're not accumulating as much data as you can." A little over a week later, though, Ritterpusch was gone, a casualty of the game's implacable status-quo-ism.

But beginning of the end for Ritterpusch had probably been nearly two years earlier, in February of 2004, when he'd boasted to a Baltimore Sun reporter that he'd "cracked the code" of player evaluation. This remark, from a man who'd dedicated thirty years to the science of psychological evaluation, may have represented a lapse in his judgment of human nature—at least as it's exemplified in ultra-conservative baseball circles. Immediately after Ritterpusch's statement was published, players who weren't getting in games began questioning whether weak Profiles might be why. Of course this wasn't the case, but scouting is mostly about what's visible and psychometrics is mostly about what isn't, and this is why baseball alternately ridicules and fears it.

(At this link, you can take a sample psychometric test produced by the same company that test Major League Baseball players.)

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Mike Flanagan: Drafted by Ritterpusch in 1973, he was forced to fire him thirty-two years later.

Friday  September 08, 2006

Michaelhsu
The Good Book

As a general rule, I avoid whimsical objects. I have nothing against humor in design, per se—it's just that owning a manufactured or crafted object should be a longish-term commitment (what with the environment and all), and I've yet to come across a joke that stays funny after repeated tellings.

That said, the products from the irreverent British design company SUCK UK have such an unabashedly male sensibility that they deserve mention here. They introduced a slew of new products at the Gift Fair, among them:

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"Good Book," a flask disguised as a Bible, designed by SUCK UK's founders, Sam and Jude (who go by their first names only).

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Alexander Garnett's "Fruit Balls" (actually, this name does get funnier the more I think about it), a glazed ceramic bowl that comes in two flavors: basketball and soccer.

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And Anthony Chrisp's stainless steel Dart Coat Hooks.

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Sam tells me the products are launching in September, which means they should be available in stores this fall. You can see the full range of SUCK UK's products—which are usually clever, sometimes brash, and consistently well made—at suck.uk.com.