Tuesday  October 31, 2006

The GQ Design Spooktacular

I know how crazy life gets this time of year. You're so busy dabbing fake blood on your chin and pulling apart cotton balls to make fake cobwebs that, quite frankly, you forget all about Design and the important role it plays in your life. That's why I've taken it upon myself to present the first (and probably last) ever "GQ Design Spooktacular."

The design aficionados among you may scoff—maybe even snort—at the very idea of holiday-themed design. But cut me some slack today and I promise I'll go easy on all things pilgrim-inspired during Thanksgiving, okay? Besides, I may never get another chance to show you these dark, disquieting objects. And to use such terrible puns while doing so.

At the top of my creepy list: a cuckoo clock that designer Michael Sans fashioned from a digital clock, chrome nails, and a chain. Oh, and a once-live cuckoo (which, Sans assures us, died of natural causes).


It's a one-off and isn't for sale. And if it were, I'd urge you not to buy one.

Those looking to infuse their bathing experience with morbid humor should consider Alessi's Mr. Suicide drain plug, designed by Massimo Giacon.


By the way, that little blue dead guy? He floats.

On a similar note, Raffaele Iannello's knife block gives new meaning to the word "painstaking."


In Italy, it's sold as the Voodoo knife block; in the US, it's marketed under a less ambiguous name: the Ex (which, I suppose, says something about our respective cultures).

Last but not least, no haunt-worthy home would be complete without one of Harry Allen's white resin "hand hooks." Use them to hold coats, keys, loose change, et al. Shown here are C'Mere and Grab.



They're part of Allen's sometimes disturbing, sometimes sublime (and oftentimes both) Reality series.

Monday  October 30, 2006



Virtually every time St. Louis tested Detroit in this World Series--by putting men on base with two outs, by hitting double-play balls, by lofting the ball into the gap late in games--Detroit collapsed.  In Game 5, Jeff Weaver left a lot of floaty stuff over the plate; not once did the Tigers seize the advantage.  That's what made this such a crappy championship.  We saw neither team pushed to its limit.

During the on-field interviews following Game 5, various Cardinal players and execs remarked that no one had believed in their team this year.  To say this while standing in front of 50,000 of baseball's most steadfast and forgiving fans, as Albert Pujols did, struck me as strangely ungrateful.  But Pujols' comments were beside the point, because Detroit gave away this World Series.  In all, the Tigers allowed eight unearned runs, essentially spotting the Cardinals nearly two runs in every game.

Granted, I watched the games mostly with the volume muted, but not once did I hear Fox's broadcast team pose this provocative question:  What has happened to Ivan Rodriguez?  In this World Series, he was decidedly, as they say, "a non factor."  Is there a power hitter more diminished since baseball's institution of tougher drug-testing standards?  Between 1999 and 2002, I-Rod averaged 26 home runs (including 27 in only 91 games in 2000); in the four years since, he's averaged 15. 

This offseason, Detroit's looking for offense, of course, and will reportedly put Jeremy Bonderman, who's only 24 and an ace in the making, on the market.  The Tigers want to acquire A-grade prospects to succeed Rodriguez at catcher and Guillen (who will be an expensive free agent after 2007) at shortstop.

Friday  October 27, 2006

The Game That Almost Was

By the top of the fifth, Jeff Suppan had already given up six hits to a revivified Tigers offense.  Craig Monroe began the inning by grounding out to third.  Then Carlos Guillen singled to right field.  With the best part of Detroit's batting order due, St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa must have been preparing to replace Suppan.

Or not.

He let Suppan pitch to Magglio Ordonez, who holds a lifetime OPS of 1.051 against him (which is to say that Ordonez, against Suppan, metamorphoses into a near-perfect copy of David Ortiz.)  But Ordonez flew out to center.  Next came Sean Casey, who was already 2-for-2 in the game, with a home run.  Even Tim McCarver observed that LaRussa needed to relieve his starter at this point.  LaRussa left Suppan in the game, however, and Casey singled to center field on the first pitch.  With two outs and two men on base, Ivan Rodriguez, 6-for-12 against Suppan during his career, came to bat.  He swung at the first pitch and grounded out to shortstop.

Detroit led at the time by one run; the game would be decided by the same margin. At the postgame press conference, we heard the Cardinals manager talk about his team's "heart" and "guts." Three times last night Tony LaRussa made an indefensible decision--a decision that actually favored his opponent--and three times he got away with it.  He is newly confirmed in his belief in his own gut instinct.  A school of baseball thought is ratified.  Somewhere in North Carolina, Grady Little is tipping his cap to LaRussa.

Friday  October 27, 2006

Mark McGwire Is Not Here (To Talk About the Past)


Disconnected observations from an initially promising, ultimately ugly Game 4:

Detroit's starting pitcher Jeremy Bonderman should tour spring-training camps next February to demonstrate proper bunting mechanics to every American League position player.  Bunting is a lost art, but Bonderman's sacrifice in the 6th to move Inge to second was lovely.

In this game we saw this World Series' first stolen bases, and with them a glimpse of the amazing arm strength of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.  In the 7th inning, Molina snatched up a low-and-inside Josh Kinney curveball and gunned it to second from his knees.  The throw was perfect but missed the baserunner, Carlos Guillen, by a millisecond.  To repeat:  Molina nearly threw a guy out from his knees--i.e., using only his upper body--off a curveball.  It might have been the most remarkable throw I've ever seen a catcher make.

Can Detroit win this World Series?  We now have to make predictions on a game-by-game basis, which in baseball is impossible.  So the best we can do, I think, is to observe that the Tigers did win three straight ALDS games against the Yankees.  And to hope the Series does go seven, and that the elusive Mark McGwire, the most celebrated Cardinal of the past twenty-five years, throws out the first pitch before the ultimate game.  That would be interesting.

Thursday  October 26, 2006

Anything Good on YouTube Tonight?

The TV ratings for this World Series are the lowest ever. An exchange last night at Cards' fansite Viva El Birdos goes a ways toward explaining why. These comments were posted about ten minutes before the game was called off:

There's no way they play this game. They've lost the East Coast.

by brock on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 10:04:31 PM EST

I think they lost the East Coast when we beat the Mets.

by DimitroffVodka on Wed Oct 25, 2006 at 10:10:16 PM EST

Thursday  October 26, 2006

The Gathering Storm


Last night's rainout helps Detroit, I think, if only because it doesn't help St. Louis. In the past decade, we have come to regard baseball as a game governed by percentages, which in a broad sense it is. But teams can catch fire in the postseason (think of Boston and Chicago winning eight in a row in 2004 and 2005, respectively). In limited sample sizes—and what else is the postseason if not a limited sample size?—you can't disregard the element of momentum.

The Tigers won seven games in a row in this postseason, only to have to endure a week-long layoff when the NLCS went seven games and was delayed by two rainouts. Having averaged more than 5 runs per game in the ALDS and ALCS, they have now scored a total of 5 runs in the first three games of the World Series. Detroit had the fourth-worst on-base percentage in all of baseball this year, so they're all about momentum.

The Cardinals began the World Series two days after their dramatic (for Cardinals fans) Game 7 victory over the Mets. They've now won two of the first three games, with the next two to be played in St. Louis. They're gathering speed, so if you're a Tigers fan, you should be happy about last night's rainout and hoping for one tonight, too.

Wednesday  October 25, 2006

Front Design

While in Stockholm, I met up with Anna Lindgren, a member of the four-woman design team called Front (which the Swedes pronounce froont). Here she is on the terrace of the Hotel Rival:


She and her design partners met while studying at Konstfack, Stockholm's premier design school. The other members of Front are Sofia Lagerkvist, Katja Sävström, and Charlotte von der Lancken.


Front has been generating a lot of buzz lately, not because (as some of you might be thinking) it's comprised of four twenty-something Swedish women, but because they take such a lovely route to get where they're going: their process can be just as interesting as the objects they create.

The decorative element of their modestly named "Insect Table," for example, is based on the paths taken by live beetles meandering across its surface:


The table is part of a series called "Design by Animals," for which Front enlisted a motley assortment of critters (a snake, a rabbit, a rat, a fly, a dog) to play an integral part of the design process. (As Anna explains, every design project is influenced by random factors; their use of wild animals was an attempt to enhance that randomness.)

Taking the animal theme to new heights, Front introduced a floor lamp (of sorts) for the forward-thinking Dutch design company moooi this year. It's basically a life-sized cast of a horse with a lampshade on its head.


According to Anna, Front was given a simple brief by moooi's art director, Marcel Wanders: create a lamp "that your grandmother would like." This is what they came up with. (For an earlier project, Front had interviewed people all over Stockholm about their favorite objects, and figurines consistently topped the list.) The preposterousness of their proposal is not lost on them; they admit the line is "furniture to fall in love with at first sight, or hate forever."

Front's designs range from mass-produced objects for the home to one-off art pieces aimed at galleries—and sometimes a combination of the two. They made interesting use of everyday objects in their interior for the Tensta Konsthall, an art gallery on the outskirts of Stockholm.

In the gallery's coat room, Front unleashed a ridiculous number of generic, self-adhesive plastic hooks and invite visitors to stick more up wherever they see fit. The result: an object that you usually don't notice becomes one that you can't ignore.


In a similar vein, all of the seating in the gallery is derived from the anonymous, ubiquitous lawn chairs sold in hardware stores everywhere. Front upholstered the chairs in leather and, for the office, added wheels to wring novelty from the everyday. (The leather version is available from vlaemesch() and is sold under the name "Leather and Plastic Chair.")


My favorite, though, is the seemingly non-descript mug they created for the gallery cafe. Where you usually find a funny saying or a rainbow, Front imprinted an image of the gallery space reflected in the mug itself:


This results in a double-exposure effect: you end up seeing the actual reflection of the gallery in the mug, as well as the image of the reflection of the gallery in the mug. And to make sure your mind is completely blown before you've had your morning coffee, the imprint is heat sensitive, so it only appears when the mug is full of hot liquid.

On a slightly less heady level, Front has designed some nice home goods for Materia, including "Bin," a wastebasket that changes shape as it gets filled. (I mention to Anna that I'd read that the inspiration for Bin came from the trashcan icon on Macintosh computers; she says she read it, too, and that it is untrue. She wonders herself where this story came from.)


There's also "Peg," their contribution to the world of plastic, self-adhesive wall hooks.


Like many industrial designers, Anna has a fascination with mass production. (When I called her earlier in the week, she was at Ikea was shopping for officey stuff.) She points out: Even though mass-produced objects are made to be exactly alike, they never look the same once they leave the store—maybe they end up being used for an unintended purpose; maybe they're broken; they all wear in different ways. As a result, an object that is generic becomes, through use, unique.

With this in mind, Anna hopes people will find ways to use the wall hook, which is intentionally unremarkable, in a way that makes it their own.

Wednesday  October 25, 2006

The Spirit of St. Louis

Larry Borowsky, of the estimable "Viva El Birdos" blog, tries today in Slate to answer the question, "Why is everyone so annoyed that St. Louis is in the World Series?" His answer: Because the Cardinals "are two wins away from becoming baseball's weakest World Champions ever."

I disagree. The problem, it seems to me, is that the Cardinals simply aren't fun to watch. The team's staff, Carpenter and Wainwright aside, chiefly consists of slow-working, yawn-inducing finesse guys. Its lineup features a bunch of aging and/or unlikeable stars. Sure, Jim Edmonds plays a flashy center field, but there's a kind of sullenness to his demeanor that repels me. Pujols ranks as the best hitter in baseball (though not of this postseason), but we're discovering he's upholding the Bonds legacy in more ways than one. You might enjoy watching David Eckstein, I suppose, but the media's infatuation with him—McCarver et al. have hyped him as the ultimate overachiever, a designation they typically reserve for scrappy white guys—has distorted the actual value of his contributions to the team. Here's some perspective: Baseball Prospectus calls him "basically filler with a great narrative."

Where is this team's Reyes, its Wright, its Swisher or Mauer or Morneau? In all, the Cardinals are playing this national championship with a kind of joylessness. Whereas the young Tigers love being in the World Series—you could practically see them go saucer-eyed in Game 1—and that's why I'm rooting for them.

Wednesday  October 25, 2006

Chris Carpenter's Classical Antecedents

Last night's game was boring. Some cheating would really have livened it up.

Before the Series started, I said Tigers in five, or possibly six, and I'm sticking to it. Après Chris Carpenter, le deluge.

Tuesday  October 24, 2006

Smoke Is Coming Out of Bob Gibson's Ears

When I see David Eckstein square to bunt, then suddenly feint at taking a full swing—as he does leading off the bottom of the fifth—I can only think: Bring back the beanball. No pitcher should have to tolerate mind games from a hitter who stands 5'6" and weighs 165 pounds.

I feel the same irritation when Gary Sheffield swings so hard he practically does a 360, or when Barry Bonds leans over the plate so that his elbow's in the strike zone. Sure, steroids have boosted offensive numbers in baseball, but so has the sense of invulnerability hitters feel knowing the pitcher's not going to hurt them.

I'm not in favor of injuring players, I'm just in favor of levelling the psychological playing field. The pitcher should be feared.

Tuesday  October 24, 2006

Putting the "Ass" in "Broadcaster"

Normally when Tim McCarver and Joe Buck call a ballgame, I watch with the sound muted. Tonight, for the sake of an immersive experience in the color and excitement of the World Series, I relented. But I have un-relented. I just can't take it. When are the networks going to hire intelligent commentators? By which I mean: guys who don't involuntarily clutch their testes when they hear the word "moneyball." McCarver and Buck are precisely the TV equivalent of the old-time baseball scouts who detest and fear stats analysis.

Well, maybe I should take that back. They did just impart some valuable information to the viewing public; namely, that Chris Carpenter's favorite cartoon is "Tom & Jerry." Honestly, I think Tom and Jerry would do a better job of calling this game.

In honor of Detroit starter Nate Robertson, who wears glasses, Fox just paused its game coverage to screen a montage of spectacles-wearing baseball pitchers through history. Of course the segment was accompanied by McCarver's idiotically assured, condescending voice. He sounds like an attendant at a nursing home.

Tuesday  October 24, 2006

Gambler, Indeed

Much as it hushes up its players' performance-enhancing drug use, Major League Baseball now is hushing up an even more widespread form of cheating. Or so the sports columns have it today. Where is the outrage? they want to know. Or more precisely: Where is Tony LaRussa's outrage?

In case you haven't heard, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Kenny Rogers apparently doctored the baseball with pine tar during Game 2 of the World Series. Early on, Fox's TV cameras spotted a suspicious-looking brown spot on the meaty part of Rogers' thumb; they also captured him repeatedly touching his fingers to the bill of his cap. Yet LaRussa, the opposing manager, refused to press the issue, even though doing so would have helped his team (had the umpires confirmed that Rogers was indeed cheating, they would have ejected him from the game). Various reasons have been proposed for LaRussa's odd passivity here: That he was acting (or rather not acting) out of respect for his friend, the Detroit manager Jim Leyland. That he wanted to spare baseball yet another scandal. That he's a crappy manager.

LaRussa may have simply been protecting his own players. Though the spitball was outlawed after the 1919 season, some pitchers—St. Louis pitchers among them—continue to tamper with the baseball whenever possible. In the 1988 NLCS, umps booted Jay Howell from a game after they found pine tar on his glove. In September 2004, LaRussa's own pitcher Julian Tavarez served an eight-day suspension when he was revealed to be stockpiling the same substance under the brim of his cap. In June 1995, Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly served a 10-day pine-tar suspension. And pine tar ranks as only one among many materials pitchers use to influence the ball's flight. For instance, David Wells regularly wears unscented shaving cream and/or suntan lotion on his forearms, the one because it can't be detected except by taste (nobody wants to lick David Wells), the other, presumably, because it can't—except during night games—be gainsaid.

As a kid, I used to love watching the great spitballer Gaylord Perry. You knew he was cheating, but you couldn't catch him in the act. Even opposing teams' play-by-play guys were tickled by him; you could hear the bemused admiration in their voices. Like some sort of card shark shuffling the deck in eight different ways, Perry had perfected an intricate series of pre-pitch tics among which you couldn't pick out the incriminating touch. A line on his Hall of Fame plaque discreetly pays tribute to his illicit expertise: PLAYING MIND GAMES WITH HITTERS THROUGH ARRAY OF RITUALS ON MOUND WAS PART OF HIS ARSENAL.

Sportswriters compare throwing the spitball to juicing, but they're not at all alike. One you do privately, in shame and fear. The other you do boldly and artfully, in front of an audience of millions. If you can get away with that, as Gaylord Perry did, I salute you.

Thursday  October 19, 2006

The Most Boring Game 7 in Sports History?

Watching this NLCS is like watching the finals of the WNBA or a professional tennis tournament in, say, Binghamton. Sure, the sides are closely matched, but in the larger context of their sport, neither is much more than mediocre. At full strength—which is to say, with all their starters healthy—the following American League teams would defeat either NL pennant contender in a seven-game series:

Red Sox
White Sox
Blue Jays

So the Mets and Cardinals are, at best, the 9th and 10th best teams in Major League Baseball. This is partly because of the DH, but mostly because the NL sucks, which this year has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. It's hard to know what accounts for this—offense-deflating ballparks? the unequal distribution of talent and/or PEDs?—but the disparity grows more and more pronounced.

Wednesday  October 18, 2006

Swedish Stroller Ramps

Another reason to love Sweden, especially if you have kids: Most of its public stairways are fitted with these clever tracks for baby strollers.


Two skinny tracks offer a distinct advantage over a single wide one: You can walk on the steps between them, which means they can be used on really long stairways without risk of baby and parent accidentally rolling down in one tragic mess. Here's one in a subway station that might be mistaken for a ski-jump ramp:


Basically, you're getting all the benefits of a stairway plus the convenience you've come to expect from a ramp.

They're also a personal-injury lawyer's dream come true, so I doubt we'll see anything like it in the States soon.

Monday  October 16, 2006

This One's for You, Spiezio

This is the paradox of the modern baseball player: On the one hand, he messes endlessly with his hair (he's got a lot of free time during a 162-game season); on the other, he doesn't want anyone else to—like, say, someone who actually knows what he or she is doing. When, shortly after winning the 2004 World Series, five members of the Boston Red Sox took part in a Queer Eye for the Straight Guy episode, they reacted to the stylist's scissors with the apprehensiveness of men about to be castrated.

Like Christian rockers, ballplayers affect rebellious hairstyles which long ago lost their rebelliousness. Think of the Oakland A's of the early '70s, who were late to their long hair by half a decade, or the Red Sox, above, whose goatees—almost every player on the 2004 team had one—recalled a trend that had been laughably passé for two years.

The five worst offenders, hair-wise, of the past two decades:


5. Oscar Gamble
So ridiculous it's borderline cool. Snoop briefly adopted a similarly Mouseketeer-influenced look, but he doesn't make his living by sweating. For reasons of impracticality alone, to be eschewed; it's male hair at its most high-maintenance.


4. Sammy Sosa
Evidently something in the Kid 'N Play vehicle House Party really resonated with Sammy. Either that, or he just loves popovers.


3. Randy Johnson
His Swamp Thing co-star was Adrienne Barbeau, of course.


2. Manny Ramirez
A 'do this complicated bespeaks a stylist's participation. You have to wonder, though, whose inspiration this was. Was the stylist brushing off the player's shoulders and dusting his neck with fragrant powder when Manny suddenly exclaimed, "Hold on! What if you made the tentacles… golden?"


1. Scott Spiezio
Spiezio has been exploring the possibilities of the soul patch for some years, and now, in 2006, he has brought it to its apotheosis. He's created a flying soul patch—anchored only at the underlip—and carefully dyed it an obscene, dashboard-devil red. Here is the color Brandon Davis was thinking of when he coined the word "firecrotch." Just the same, the hair's simultaneous sprouting and downward-curling movement evokes not so much the pubic region as its inverse. This is ass hair for the face.

Monday  October 16, 2006

Jeter Choked


As the playoffs began this year, I felt that the only way the Yankees could become interesting was by losing. They were so loaded with talent they were going to ruin the entire postseason. The only suspense would come in seeing who would hit that day's three-run homer. And then they lost and became a compelling story.

Joel Lovell, GQ's features editor, assessed the team, following its ALDS loss to Detroit, as follows: "They're just one slugger away…" It's a funny remark, given George Steinbrenner's propensity for overcompensating (in the Detroit series, the lineup couldn't even accommodate all of the club's big hitters). Now there's talk of blowing the team up; until late last week, Joe Torre's job was apparently in jeopardy. How do you improve on what some people regard as the greatest offense of all time?

The answer is that you don't. The outcome of a five-game series is ridiculously difficult to predict (how many times during a 162-game season do good teams lose 3 of 5 games to lesser ones? Lots), as are the postseason performances of great players:

Willie Mays: .302 career batting average; .247 postseason batting average
Joe Morgan: .271 career B.A.; .182 postseason B.A.
Frank Robinson: .294 career B.A.; .238 postseason B.A.
Mickey Mantle: .298 career B.A.; .257 postseason B.A.
Joe DiMaggio: .325 career B.A.; .271 postseason B.A.
Stan Musial: .331 career B.A.; .256 postseason B.A.
Ted Williams: .344 career B.A.; .200 postseason B.A.
Jackie Robinson: .311 career B.A.; .234 postseason B.A.

Of course, Derek Jeter has performed well in the postseason—a .314 batting average—but under the expanded playoff system he's had nearly a season's worth of at-bats (478, versus, say, Babe Ruth, who had 129), which makes his stats reasonably reflective of his talent and obscures the occasions on which he flopped (the 1998 ALCS, the 2001 World Series, the 2004 ALCS, etc.).

The Yankees' loss to Detroit does lead us to two conclusions, though:

1. What the Yankees need to do during the offseason is sign or trade for some high-priced pitching talent. Hitting will get you into the playoffs, but pitching wins the World Series.

2. It turns out that Jeter, New York's captain, isn't much of an emotional leader—he's no Paul O'Neill. For one reason or another, his Yankees tend to lose momentum in the postseason. This, I think, may account in large measure for fans' intense hostility to Alex Rodriguez: His failures, against huge expectations, are consonant with his team's. Which brings us to last September's Sports Illustrated piece in which Jeter failed to support the beleaguered A-Rod—surely the bare-minimum obligation of a team captain. If A-Rod is indeed traded during the offseason, it will be for that reason, I think: because Jeter doesn't want him in New York. It's shockingly petty. Jeter must know how psychologically fragile A-Rod is, yet he knowingly undermines him, and thus the entire team. A month ago, I thought Jeter deserved to win the AL MVP award. I don't believe that any more. If that Sports Illustrated article is accurate, Jeter didn't come through for his team when it needed him. He choked.