UPDATE: Game Brain

Monday  October 05, 2009
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For her story “This Is Your Brain on Football” (October 2009), GQ correspondent Jeanne Marie Laskas profiled a team of scientists who had made a startling discovery: Concussions in pro football players can lead to dementia (to read her story, go here). The NFL vehemently denied such findings and even refused to compensate some retired players suffering from the disease. But last week, a new study by the University of Michigan, commissioned by the NFL itself, was released, showing that dementia-related diseases are as much as nineteen times more commonly reported in retired football players than in the general population.

Spokesmen for the NFL, however, were quoted as saying that the findings are inconclusive. In reaction to these events, Congress announced that it will hold formal hearings on head injuries among NFL players.

Laskas recently contacted Julian Bailes—chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine and one of the scientists she originally profiled—to get his thoughts on the latest developments.

You told The New York Times that the Michigan study is a “game changer.” Did you expect Congress to become involved?
No—or certainly not this quickly. I hope this will help move the issue along so that we can begin to focus on prevention. The Michigan study is the first time any research performed or commissioned by the NFL has offered any contribution to the notion that banging heads with big fast guys thousands of times could even possibly affect your brain.

Which is exactly what you and a lot of other scientists have been saying for years.
Right. We knew all this already. We proved this already, and not just with phone surveys. In autopsy—Bennet Omalu first discovered the pathology, and he and I have studied numerous proven cases of football-related dementia. We’ve studied brains, we’ve studied players themselves, we’ve developed an experimental model in the lab, we’ve concussed rats. As you reported in your story, this has been out there for years. We’ve presented our research. The only difference now is that the NFL’s own study has found it. And yet you see in their comments they’re not exactly embracing it. They’re trying to minimize how the Michigan study was designed. Which is ironic considering that it was, you know, their own study. You have to wonder, if the study had found no dementia or Alzheimer’s, would they still be criticizing their own methodology?

Ira Casson, co-chairman of the NFL’s concussions committee, was quoted as saying: “What I take from this report is there’s a need for further studies to see whether or not this finding is going to pan out, if it’s really there or not. I can see that the respondents believe they have been diagnosed, but the next step is to determine whether that is so.”
He’s basically saying that we need to study the study to see if what the study said is true. How long is this going to go on—especially since these findings are in agreement with prior published research? If this were the first study of its kind, yeah, you’d have to get it corroborated. But this has been going on and on, similar findings, institution after institution. I don’t hear the NFL spokesmen indicating any change in their long-held and stated opinions that multiple brain injuries while playing football don’t lead to any problems later in life.

We’re not just talking about NFL players. The congressional hearings are possibly looking into the effects of head trauma on college and high school players, too.
Shockingly, we have found this even at the high school level. Bennet Omalu has examined the brains of three high school players who died as a result of injuries they sustained from playing football. In the brain of one of the players, he found incipient CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

CTE in a high school football player—the same sort of brain damage that led to the downfall of Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, and so many others?
Right. In a high school player. It gets back to the point you made in the GQ article: What is the NFL’s responsibility for the greater good? The greater good, meaning all the young men and women who desire to participate in football and other contact sports, the ones who aspire at a young age to emulate the NFL and their players and are fueled by their advertising and the incessant bombardment of our society. What is their responsibility to the greater good? I don’t know. They’re going to have to answer that.

Do you agree that it’s time for Congress to step in?
There is some historical precedent for this. Back in 1905, President Roosevelt was practically going to ban football when eighteen young men died and 149 were injured seriously that year. And that’s how the NCAA was formed. Here we are, 104 years later, and it’s come full circle. I think we have to make changes again. It has to be pretty significant changes. I really believe the velocity factor, the speed of the game, is what’s doing it. It’s not necessarily the hit; it’s your head movement. It’s what’s going on inside the cranium with the brain floating and moving and rotating. And a helmet, as you explain in your article, will never prevent rotational injury.

I can see the headlines: “Obama Wants to Ban Football.”
Look, Roosevelt loved football. He saved the sport. Guys were dying. There was no NFL yet, just college ball, and guys were dying playing it. He summoned people from Harvard, Yale, Princeton to the White House. He said let’s make the game less dangerous. The public was denouncing it as barbaric.

Well, the public is hardly doing that now. The reaction to the Michigan study and the GQ story on fan message boards has been interesting. People are saying things like: “Well, duh! Football players bash their heads for years and end up demented. That’s like saying if a girl has sex, she could end up pregnant.” They’re also saying: “Leave our game alone. We like football the way it is.” The fans love the hits.
I have seen and heard some of that, too. Okay, so maybe this is not that important, maybe this is not something that the players, their agents, their representatives, or any of the clubs or owners or the league should think is important. As a physician, as a researcher, as a brain scientist, my job is to alert what we see from a public-health perspective, and what we’re discovering is a new, previously unappreciated syndrome. It’s up to the people who are the stakeholders in this how to react. Dementia is the worst disease. This is worse than saying that football causes cancer, or football causes heart attacks. With this, you lose your mind and you lose your dignity.

You’ve seen the footage of the Tim Tebow hit?
It was a really bad hit, because it was a double impact. I thought when he hit the back of his head on the other player’s knee is when he really got it. It’s one of those hits that make you hurt to look at.

And yet we keep looking at it. It’s a YouTube sensation. People love this stuff. The more violent, the more thrilling. Never mind the damage to the players. Who cares? Give us more crashes. Is there a whole cultural shift that needs to happen here?
Ever read the book A Voice in the Wind? It’s one of my favorite books. It’s about the Roman Empire and the thirst for blood. In that book, when the gladiators were brought in, they had certain rules to kill so many in the arena. In Rome they fought to the death with tridents, nets, and short swords, and to gain their freedom they had to survive for three years. And that was okay back then. You know? That was okay. Maybe it’s time for us to look in the mirror.

Brett Favre: A Defense (Kind Of)

Tuesday  August 18, 2009

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We know: Enough already, Brett Favre. Nobody wants to hear any more about the jorts-wearing legend’s career vacillations, quasi retirements, hurt shoulder, bruised ego. The guy’s more desperate than Corey Feldman at a Michael Jackson tribute. He’s overexposed. Attention-craving. Can’t walk away. Favrugh.

But honestly, give him a break. Unless you toiled in a coal mine or picked stocks for Lenny Dykstra, you’ve probably quit a job you loved. And when you left, you wondered why. You wished you could go back. Maybe you did. (Maybe you’re Phil Jackson.) To quit, regret, and return isn’t just Brett Favre being nuts. It’s human nature.

What’s annoying about Favre is how he obfuscates his real motivations. Sure, if he retired, he’d probably miss football, and no TV job could give him professional fulfillment. (Not that one would be forthcoming. Have you seen Favre on TV? I’d rather watch The Warren Christopher Show.) Favre isn’t doing this because he loves football. He’s doing it because he’d like to stick it to his old employer, the Green Bay Packers, for pushing him out. He’d like to lead the Minnesota Vikings over the Pack and grab his nuts in the end zone and tell the whole of Wisconsin to suck it.

And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s normal. We all have revenge fantasies against former employers, girlfriends, gym teachers. We’ve all imagined the perfect scenario to show them they made a mistake. Unfortunately for Favre, that scenario did not involve the twenty-two interceptions he threw last season for the Jets. In Minnesota he might get closer to that perfect vengeance. And tired as you may be of Favre, you’d love to see it, because it’s a feeling we can all relate to.—jason gay

Not Much to Look At

Monday  July 20, 2009

It should’ve been obvious on Monday when David Beckham described his fitness for the press (he said he’d been riding a bike 10 miles a day—a workout that takes about half an hour—for 10 days; not exactly the kind of training required to whip oneself into peak aerobic shape) that he’d be a little slower than the rest of his Galaxy teammates in his ’09 MLS debut. But even though he was a step off the pace, and didn’t really make any flashy or notable plays, his impact on the game was unmistakable. Here’s how:

I’d missed the first half hour of the match due to some typical New Jersey-transit related delays (which only made me more eager for the opening of the easier to get to—for me, at least—Red Bulls Arena next year), but was really psyched for the second half: The Galaxy had been dominating the attacking play (it was already 2-0 when I arrived) and, since I’d be sitting behind the Red Bulls net for the second, I was looking forward to the onslaught coming straight on. Alas, it did not. Beckham trailed the play for the 25 minutes he remained in the game, and once he was out, the wheels pretty much came off. The Red Bulls had had nothing resembling a midfield for most of the match, and without Beckham directing traffic, the Galaxy’s shape also suffered. Call him a pretty boy all you like, but it must be said that he’s the kind of player—good at collecting, holding, and passing; accustomed to the European style of ball movement—that the MLS needs to make their game beautiful. There’s only one word for the Beckham-less final twenty minutes of last week's match: ugly.

And so, while I’d hoped to capture some video of a terrific Galaxy free kick, or corner, all I got was the Red Bulls fans, giving Beckham a not-so-friendly (F-U, Beck-ham) cheer as he left the pitch:

Welcome back, David!—mark kirby

Read This Book: 'The Beckham Experiment,' by Grant Wahl

Wednesday  July 15, 2009

The Beckham Experiment - 978-0-307-40787-0[1]

Starting today, I'll be blogging about the beautiful game here on The Q. I'll cover the US National Team, the Premier League, Champions League, MLS, World Cup qualifying, and—now that all the talent in the world is headed for La Liga—some Spanish soccer, too. The basic idea behind the blog is this: That there's never been a better time to be a soccer admirer in America. I say that as someone who grew up playing soccer in the '80s, not long after the NASL folded, and who's rediscovered the game as an adult—both as a player and, thanks to the fact that ESPN, FSC, and GolTV are now airing more matches than ever, a fan. For this first post, I'm reviewing Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl's new book, The Beckham Experiment, which hits shelves this week. Tomorrow, I'll blog Beckham's appearance in the Galaxy-Red Bulls match.—mark kirby

David Beckham was finally back for an MLS practice this week, his first appearance at the LA Galaxy training grounds since last October, and if there's one word to describe his return, it's got to be: Awkward. The last few weeks have seen a flurry of press about the bad blood between Beckham and his teammate Landon Donovan, who laid into Beckham in an interview with Grant Wahl, a veteran reporter for Sports Illustrated and one of few American sports reporters for a major national publication to have consistently followed soccer over the years.

Donovan's comments were published at the end of June in an SI excerpt of Wahl's excellent new book, The Beckham Experiment (which chronicles Beckham's tumultuous first two years as a Galaxy player), and they've thus far been the focus of most of the media attention Wahl's book has received. Interviewed last fall just a few days after Beckham had announced his departure for AC Milan (at a time when it seemed conceivable that Beckham would never set foot in the Galaxy locker room again), Donovan did not have kind things to say: He'd found the British superstar lazy, unprofessional, self-centered, and worst of all, cheap.

That's precisely the kind of stuff that'll set off a follow-blown transatlantic media shitstorm; ironically, Donovan received more publicity from those comments than he received for his stellar goal against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final. But the real news out of Wahl's book—and I've been surprised at the scarce attention it's gotten—is how Beckham's management company essentially took over the team.

Take this incident, from the book, concerning the introduction of former Chelsea manager Ruud Gullit as the Galaxy's new coach at the beginning of last season:

"In an introduction he had orchestrated for maximum effect, [Galaxy GM Alexis] Lalas brought Gullit in front of all the Galaxy players, held out his right arm, and announced to the team: "Guys, this is your new coach, Ruud Gullit." Gullit said a few words, and then, out of nowhere, another man suddenly stepped forward and took over the proceedings, stealing Lalas's thunder and speaking to the team as if he was in charge. Most of the players were confused. Who was this British guy who looked like the comedian Ricky Gervais? Who was that person whom nobody had bothered to introduce? When Landon Donovan asked a question—about whether the players would need to change their Thanksgiving plans—it was this guy, not Lalas or Gullit, who answered him. "That was weird for me," said Chris Klein. "Alexei Lalas is the general manager of this team, and then here's this other guy presenting our new coach… I was like, What is going on here?"

The mysterious figure was Terry Byrne, David Beckham's best friend and personal manager—and a business associate of Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment… Nobody would ever bother explaining to the players what had happened: that [Tim] Leiweke [President of Galaxy owners AEG] had hired Byrne as a paid consultant to the Galaxy, that Byrne (not Lalas) had conducted the coaching search, recommended Gullit, and made the first phone calls in the negotiating process, and that Byrne would now be a regular member of the Galaxy's management team.

This is astonishing. Imagine the scandal if it came out that A-Rod's agent had been working behind the scenes, pulling the Steinbrenners' strings (and even having final say) to select Joe Girardi as the Yankee's coach. Yes, the MLS is not MLB, but that's precisely the point. Wahl's book is at its most compelling when it shows how a high-stakes deal like the Beckham one can come to completely overwhelm a modest, but generally stable, professional sports organization.

Beckham's management did not cooperate with The Beckham Experiment (Wahl says that they wanted to be paid for involvement—a not uncommon request from agents accustomed to the pay-to-play European tabloid media), which, to my mind, was a mistake on their part. The result is that Wahl's primary sources are those (Lalas, Donovan) who feel burned by Beckham and his managers, and the story can feel one-sided at times. (I, for one, would've loved to hear the Brits describe what they thought of Lalas's clownish antics.) Ultimately—and here I'll disagree with Steven and Kenny's view on Monday's World Soccer Daily podcast (they're interviewing Wahl all week this week)—I find it hard to fault the intentions of Beckham's management. Their responsibility is to their client—a client who likely made more money last year than the entire MLS. Of course they're going to exert as much influence as they possibly can to do whatever they think is best for him—even if they have very little actual football management experience.

The question becomes: Did they know what's best?

Without their side of the story explicitly in the book, it's hard to know the exact reasoning behind their soccer and media strategies. But judging from the results—dismal seasons for both Beckham and the Galaxy, the high prospect of him being booed when he takes the pitch in the Home Depot Center—the answer has to be no. It seems that Team Beckham fundamentally misunderstood the kind of media exposure it would take to win over the American soccer fan. From his first appearance, Beckham was rammed down our throats. In glossy ads, hagiographic, 19-Entertainment produced TV segments, and tabloid spreads of Posh and the kids, we were meant to reckon with The Fact: This man is one of the biggest stars in world sports. Except for America—where fans value merit over aristocracy, where the greatest heroes in sport generally earn their recognition. Whether Beckham can salvage any success from the wreckage depends on his management team understanding that it is different here—and changing tactics accordingly.

Some advice: Feeding Beckham statements like this one—given over the weekend to an AP reporter who asked about Wahl's book—is not the way to go.

"This is an unofficial book that I have not participated in. I haven't sat down one to one or spoken about the book, so there is not comment where I have sat down with the journalist and gone through. There are many unofficial books that have been published about me, so this is just another one on the shelf."

It's hard to be convincingly "above it all" when it looks like you were never really in it in the first place.

The Really, God Awful, Bad News Bears

Monday  June 08, 2009

Are the Washington Nationals the worst franchise in history?

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In recent years, the only organization in D.C. more disastrously mismanaged than the federal government has been the Washington Nationals. Consider the evidence: in 2009 alone an early-season series sweep by Florida in which the Nats lost all three games in the ninth inning or later; a relief corps rebuilt wholesale, days afterward, from scratch (“It wasn’t fair to the fans,” explained the acting GM); a roster featuring more arrests than All-Stars; an overzealous manager who benched a player for tardiness after a Little League fundraiser; a farm system that has produced just one everyday player; and a GM recently forced to resign because of possible ties to Latin American scouting kickbacks. Then, on April 17th, the Nats’ two best players took the field wearing uniforms on which the club’s name was misspelled.

Hope for the future beckons in the June draft in the person of Stephen Strasburg, a once-in-a-generation pitcher with 103-mph heat and an equally spectacular curveball. Problem is, the club (which has the #1 pick this year) couldn’t meet the price of its first-round pick in ‘08—a crippling blow to its farm system. How will the Nats make themselves contenders, as the team’s president, Stan Kasten, has vowed to do? Will they draft Strasburg? And can they sign him? In a recent phone conversation, Mr. Kasten testily addressed these and other questions.—nate penn


The Nationals are near the bottom of the league in just about every pitching category, but rank 4th in OPS [a statistic that accounts for on-base percentage plus slugging percentage]. The team’s major flaw is its pitching. As you see it, do you simply need to develop the talent you already have in the farm system or will you have to go outside the organization for pitching?
I thought our Achilles heel this year would be our young rotation. They’re 22, 22, 24, 25, and 27, so they take bumps in the road. As I remind people. Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz’s first year combined in the big leagues was like 12 and 30. It just happens.

But the good news is the rotation’s kept us in games. The weak spot has been the bullpen; it’s been tougher than any of us expected. Bullpens are struggling throughout baseball but I don’t think any have struggled as much as ours. We have brought in some veterans, we’re trying to do it that way for now. I think in general our pitching looks like this: If we can get three major-league rotation starters out of the current crop in the majors and minors, then maybe add some more in this upcoming draft? Then I think we’re much, much closer than people realize.

The Nats were in the mix for Teixeira during the past offseason and also, reportedly, for Manny. Going forward, is the team going to continue to get involved in bidding for high-ticket free agents?
Teixeira was a unique commodity and he was from this area so we stretched, I think, to try to reach out to him. There was no truth to us pursuing Manny, at any time. We’ve said that a dozen times now but people won’t write that. We said it at the time: No. We. Are. Not. Interested. In. Manny. And yet people still write that we were.

When it’s an individual piece that we’re missing as kind of a last piece of the puzzle, that’s my preference as to when to go after a free agent. It’ll be on a case-by-case basis. It’s not the preferred way to go.

The blogs went a little crazy after Dunn and Zimmerman took the field on April 17th in jerseys on which the team’s name was misspelled. Bloggers said that moment seemed to crystallize something about the team’s troubles to that point in the season. Why were Dunn and Zimmerman allowed to take the field in those jerseys?
That’s happened before. There have been uniform mistakes before. I think it was piling on when everything for us was going bad. It was clearly a manufacturer’s error. It was corrected after three innings. End of story.

To what degree do you fault Bowden himself for the shortcomings of team during his tenure?
I don’t ascribe blame to anyone. I’ll take the hit for all of it.

You’re in the process of finding a new GM. Will the team be run markedly differently under that person?
I’m not gonna comment on anything relating to former or future. You and the world of bloggers have all the time in the world you need to do that kind of stuff. I know how we’re proceeding. I think we have a plan that is having pieces fall into place and I’m not gonna bother characterizing it. You all on the outside have plenty of time to do that.

Five years from now are we going to say that Bowden’s departure was the catalyst for some essential changes and?
Again, you’re trying to get me to talk about that and I’m just not going to do it. No matter how many different ways you ask me.

In their former incarnation as the Expos, the Nats had a spectacular draft in 2000. The drafts since 2001 haven’t produced much, though. Last year’s highly touted #1 pick didn’t get signed—
I hope you print that between #2 and #15 we spent more money than any team in baseball but the Red Sox. Now you know it, so I assume you’ll write it. We had five guys over slot last year that we paid in the draft. I assume you’ll write that as well.

Stephen Strasburg could do for the Nats what Lincecum has done for the Giants. Undoubtedly there’s a fair amount of pressure to draft him. Will you do it and can you sign him?
On June 9th we’re going to take the player we think is the best player. We know what #1 picks get; we expect to sign our guy. The system isn’t going to change for any one circumstance, for any one situation. We know how players get drafted, how they get paid, how long it takes them to develop, what steps are necessary. We’re gonna take the best player we can.

In terms of publicity, can the team sustain the fallout that would ensue if it didn’t draft Strasburg?
You want to ask me something different. You’d like me to negotiate this [in GQ], which I’m not gonna do. I just answered your question for you.

The Oldest Living Sports Blogger Tells All

Monday  May 18, 2009

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When Murray Chass was pushed out of The New York Times last year—he’d been a sports columnist, a baiter of Red Sox fans, a berater of stats analysts—he did what most unemployed journalists do: He started a blog. The only difference? He’s 70. Even more surprising was the entry he promptly wrote railing against his former employer for its ownership stake in the Red Sox: “There was no clearer conflict of interest I encountered in [my] 39 years [there].” In what may be the unlikeliest love story of the year, an aging curmudgeon embraces the Internet and does some of the best writing and reporting of his life. Chass’s off-season piece on the A-Rod scandal featured interviews with Gene Orza, Don Fehr, and Bud Selig—and showed some real teeth. Another report, on four-man pitching rotations, included the remarks of Hall of Fame pitchers Tom Seaver, Fergie Jenkins, and Robin Roberts. As for the haters—those critical of his blog, Murraychass.com, which some initially thought was a hoax—he offers this: “I’ll do what I do, and they’re entitled to do what they do, let’s put it that way.”—nate penn

The First Good Soccer Movie

Friday  May 01, 2009

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I’m not going to tell you that Rudo y Cursi isn’t a movie about soccer. It is one. Right about now, like the rest of Beautiful-Game-hating America, you’re probably wondering: Why the hell did Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal—for their first on-screen reunion since 2001’s Y Tu Mamá También—have to choose a soccer film? Well, my dear parochial friend (and I say this in the snobbiest, most condescending way you can imagine), that’s because everywhere else in the world, soccer is one of the primary ways in which grown men—fathers, sons, comrades, rivals—relate to one another. Rudo y Cursi is a collaboration between brothers, Alfonso Cuarón (who produces) and Carlos Cuarón (who directs), and their film is as much a revealing farce about the nature of sibling rivalry as it is a meditation on the life lessons learned from fandom. It’s a movie about coming up in the world, about fame, fortune, and the ways they fuck with you—and it also involves Bernal doing a hilariously campy goal-celebration dance. You don’t have to care about soccer to enjoy it. And if you do? You’ll laugh your ass off at Luna’s goalkeeping.—mark kirby*

*Editor’s note: Soccer sucks.

Locker-Room Confidential

Friday  May 01, 2009

Jeff Bennett is a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. Oh, and he also cuts Chipper Jones’s hair

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Twice a week, Jeff Bennett cuts hair in the Atlanta Braves’ locker room. And every once in a while, the hard-throwing righty takes the mound and does his real job, too.

When did you learn to cut hair?
Nine years ago, [current White Sox reliever] D. J. Carrasco showed me how to do a fade with clippers. Then [current Braves closer] Mike Gonzalez taught me to use the scissors. When players saw me cutting my own hair, they would want me to cut theirs—especially if we were playing a nationally televised game or coming home to our wives after a road trip. I’ve probably cut ten or eleven people in one day.

What’s the going rate?
I don’t ever ask anybody for payment. But they take care of me. Twenty or thirty dollars. Some guys will take you out to dinner. In Milwaukee some guys went in together and bought me some clippers.

Do a lot of major league players cut hair?
There’ll be one or two on every team. It’s kind of like the military. People play cards to take up time. I cut hair.

Do you cut with an audience? Do they heckle?
A crowd will be watching. And they’ll be saying, “Aw, man, you can’t put that back!” Or “Is that bald spot supposed to be there?”

Who is touchiest about his mop?
You’d be surprised how many marquee players just want to get it done and don’t really care. But Prince Fielder is kind of picky. I hate to give away a secret—and I wouldn’t do this myself—but I know players who, if they don’t want to cut a guy’s hair anymore, will mess it up just a little bit. Not enough to where the guy is mad about it, but just enough so that he won’t come back.

Seriously, how are your skills?
Guys have told me that I would be able to go into a shop in New York and cut with anybody. In fact, I’ve fixed a lot of guys’ hair after other places messed up.—nate penn

GQ's Crazyball Hall of Fame

Thursday  April 23, 2009

CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR THE CRAZIEST PLAYER OF 2009

All-Time Roster

CATCHER

Moe Berg, active 1923-39

Berg

Princeton (magna cum laude), Columbia Law (second in his class), and Sorbonne (linguistics) alum was said to “speak a dozen languages, and couldn’t hit in any of them.” Had subsequent career as OSS spy who chatted up Werner Heisenberg to assess state of German atomic program. (Assignment: If Nazis beating Allies, shoot scientist, swallow cyanide.) Once met with Einstein. Mysterious, neurotic pack-ratter of documents; if anyone else read his daily papers first, insisted on new ones. Nobody knows where he’s buried.

FIRST BASE

Joe Pepitone, active 1962-73

Pepitone

Yankee playboy never reached potential due to erratic focus on game (retired three times), off-field shenanigans, and, perhaps, obsession with own balding. Carried hair-products kit everywhere and wore incredible toupees, including what he called “game piece” (for use beneath cap) and street version that sportswriter once compared to “a shag toilet-seat cover.” Reportedly first player ever to bring hair dryer into clubhouse. In 1975 posed nude for Foxy Lady magazine, revealing impressively hirsute nether region.

Tony Horton, active 1964-70

Horton

Once, after popping out to catcher on tantalizingly slow “eephus” pitch, literally crawled back to dugout. Attempted suicide after being pulled, anxious and disoriented, from another game. So high-strung that doctors told him to cut himself off completely from baseball to save his life.

Steve Garvey, active 1969-87

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The Bing Crosby of baseball: “White Christmas” on the outside, “Blue Velvet” on the inside.

SECOND BASE

Johnny Evers, active 1902-29

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Member of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination immortalized in kitschy F. P. Adams poem. Didn’t actually speak to Tinker for thirty-five years, allegedly because of disagreement over taxi fare. Suffered nervous breakdown in 1911. Later, team had trouble trading him because his temper cost him so much playing time. MVP in 1914 but left baseball following season, saying he was on verge of another breakdown.

Chuck Knoblauch, active 1991-2002

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In 1999, Gold Glover and four-time All-Star playing for Yankees at height of dynasty suddenly experienced mental “blauch.” Couldn’t make routine throws to first. Openly contemplated seeing a hypnotist or psychologist. Struck Keith Olbermann’s mother in the face with wild throw. Never got his groove back.

SHORTSTOP

Phil Rizzuto, active 1941-56

Rizzuto

Technically, a wack job not as player but later on as play-by-play man cum unwitting Dadaist poet. In slim volume, O Holy Cow!, his on-air musings are transcribed as blank verse. For instance: “I think my head shrinks a little / In this indoor stadium. / I am… / The mike is getting bigger. / And I have to tighten it.” Once opened broadcast by inadvertently introducing self as partner, Bill White.  

THIRD BASE

Doug Rader, active 1967-77

Rader

Once, fishing without license, hid from game wardens underwater, breathing through reed; three days later reported to spring training from jail, never having changed wet clothes. Used Astros’ locker room as driving range, teeing up and blasting balls off walls while teammates dove for cover. Shat on teammate Jesus Alou’s birthday cake. As manager, one year drove rental car into same tree every day during spring training.

Wade Boggs, active 1982-99

Boggs

Ate chicken before every game, took BP at 5:17 p.m., ran sprints at 7:17 p.m., inscribed Hebrew word chai in dirt before every at-bat, followed same route to dugout after every inning, and had four-year extramarital affair with mortgage broker who subsequently blabbed about it in Penthouse and sued him for $12 million.

OUTFIELD

Ty Cobb, active 1905-28

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Turned psychotic, it’s believed, after mother shot father in 1905; later institutionalized following in-season nervous breakdown. Carried gun entire career to protect self from teammates, who despised him. Once fought off two muggers—in home city—and pistol-whipped third to death. (Next day, bandaged and bloody, got three hits.) Sharpened spikes to inflict maximal damage on basemen. Numerous episodes of racist rage. Courted and married 14-year-old heiress. After son flunked out of Princeton, flew to campus and beat him with whip. Terminally cancerous in his seventies, instigated brawls regularly.

Rickey Henderson, active 1979-2003

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Pre-game, would gaze naked into mirror, murmuring “Rickey’s the best.” Once missed three games with frostbite, reportedly because fell asleep on ice pack. After breaking Cobb’s runs-scored record with homer, ambled around bases, then slid into home. In late career, was offered desirable team-bus seat by teammate who said, “You’ve got tenure,” and replied, “Ten? Rickey’s got twenty years in the big leagues.” Seeking work, reportedly left off-season voice-mail message for Padres GM: “This is Rickey. Calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

Pete Reiser, active 1940-52

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In ten seasons, was carried off field eleven times. Five times knocked unconscious after smashing into walls. Three times sneaked out of hospitals to pinch-hit (respectively getting a home run, a triple, and, on broken ankle in ’47 Series, a walk). After breaking right arm, taught self to throw lefty. Was administered last rites after Ebbets Field wall collision, but recovered.

Joe Charboneau, active 1980-82

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As Indians rookie, won notice for twenty-three homers and for ability to open beer bottles with eye socket, drink beer through straw in nose, do own dental work, and fix own broken nose with Jack Daniel’s and pliers.

PITCHERS

Rube Waddell, active 1897-1910

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Walter Johnson said boozy lefty—Sporting News called him a “sousepaw”—“had more sheer pitching ability than any man I ever saw.” Game’s first great eccentric and first great drawing card. Rube being Rube: He’d run off the pitcher’s mound to chase fire trucks. If taunting fans held up shiny objects or puppies, he’d fall into trance. Lost track of how many women he’d married. Manager hired detective to prevent him from disappearing. Wrestled alligators. Once bitten by lion.

Bill “Spaceman” Lee, active 1969-82

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Possibly the only pro athlete ever to openly advocate legalizing marijuana; claimed he sprinkled it on his organic-buckwheat pancakes to make self “impervious to bus fumes.” A drinker, too; once said foreign object in X-ray of his foot was “an old Dewar’s cap.” After Red Sox traded him, declared, “Who wants to be with a team that will go down in history alongside the ’64 Phillies and the ’67 Arabs?” But gloried in Boston’s 2004 ALCS comeback over “Nazi” Yankees, suggesting Steinbrenner move stadium to Philippines and rename team Manila Folders.

Dock Ellis, active 1968-79

Ellis

Once responded to hecklers who called him “nigger” by joining them in stands, asking, “What happened to all those niggers up here? All those niggers calling me nigger?” When MLB officials griped about Ebony feature on his coif, defiantly took field in curlers. To revive spiritless club, once opened game by hitting three straight batters and doing damnedest to hit fourth. Claimed never to have played without first taking speed. Sometimes got high sniffing new Ping-Pong balls. Threw no-hitter under influence of Purple Haze acid. Drug counselor after baseball.

Satchel Paige, active 1948-65

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The Ali of baseball—its all-time greatest showman. Would gather his outfielders around pitcher’s mound and strike out side. Would ask right- and left-handed batters to stand six inches apart at home plate, then knock cigars out of their mouths. In 1941 reportedly pitched on thirty consecutive days. Said Bob Feller: “I’ve seen Satch walk a man deliberately to get to DiMaggio.” Autobiography contains maxims such as, “Avoid fried foods which angry up the blood.” Estimated he’d won 2,100 games and thrown fifty-five no-hitters, lifetime. At age 59, pitched three scoreless innings against Red Sox.

Mark Fidrych, active 1976-80

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Rookie would sprint to mound, groom it with “piano-ist’s hands” (his words), and murmur to ball. In 1977, in rage over career-ending injury, destroyed washer and dryer in Tigers clubhouse, then promptly repaired them. Once said, “I don’t think there’s been a time when I wasn’t confused.”

MANAGER

Billy Martin, active 1969-88

Martin

Legendary drinker, tactician, riler-upper. Briefly sought hit man to whack umpire he hated. Threatened to break knuckles of stadium organist he claimed distracted team. Brawled with: Reggie Jackson, two Yankees traveling secretaries, marshmallow salesman, sportswriter, bouncers at topless bar, etc. Once made a player switch-hit who wasn’t a switch-hitter; once drew lineup for struggling team out of hat. Refused ever again to let Larry Gura pitch after seeing him wearing tennis whites. Hired, fired five times by Yankees. Posed for ’82 Topps card with middle finger extended.

John McGraw, active 1899-1932

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Innovator set games-ejected record that lasted seventy-five years. Fought Wee Willie Keeler nude, D. H. Lawrence-style, on clubhouse floor. Knocked child lemonade vendor’s teeth loose. Got two black eyes tussling with Hopalong Cassidy.

OWNER

Bill Veeck, active 1946-81

Veeck

MLB’s Barnum. Innovations: AL’s first black player, exploding scoreboard, Wrigley ivy, gate prizes (orchids, pigeons, horse, 200-pound block of ice). Visited every bar in Cleveland to apologize to fans after nearly trading popular player. Hired circus clown to coach third. Signed midget; issued him elf slippers and uniform (#1/8); vowed to shoot him with rifle if he swung bat (midget walked on four pitches). Held “Grandstand Manager’s Day,” in which fans voted on strategy using yes and no signs. Wore wooden leg with built-in ashtray. In retirement, became shirtless habitué of Wrigley bleachers.

George Steinbrenner, active 1973-2008

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Shipping-company scion dwelled in own private nineteenth century. Changed managers twenty-one times, GMs eleven times. Made front-office people stay at desks all night after losses. Harassed managers with brainstorms during games. Suspended for illegal Nixon-campaign contributions. Picked fights with most popular players: Reggie, for slumping; Mattingly, for growing hair long; Jeter, for partying. Own sons quit Yankees jobs because of “verbal abuse”; he later King Leared them in SI (“I’m not sure Hank understands me…[but] Hal I’m very proud of”). During ’81 Series, flaunted injuries after claiming he decked two Dodgers fans in elevator while defending honor of Yankees. Once said, “I will never have a heart attack. I give them.”

The 2009 Team

CATCHER

A. J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox

01

Cheap-shot artist specializes in gratuitous collisions, spiking. In spring training, after ball hit him in groin, was asked by trainer, “How does it feel?” Exclaimed, “Like this!” and kneed trainer in nuts. Has bad-mouthed own teammates to opposing hitters. Is member of tag-team pro-wrestling duo. In Sports Illustrated Players Poll, voted number one player rivals hoped to see get beaned.

FIRST BASE

Dmitri Young, Washington Nationals

02

Nicknamed Da Meat Hook for ongoing flirtation with 300 pounds. Paints fingernails. Was asked to trim huge Afro for good of “team structure.” Celebrates doubles with “voodoo hands.” In 2006 attempted to choke girlfriend in hotel room; forced to perform community service trimming hedges while Tigers, who’d released him, won AL pennant. Of Da Hook’s appetite for sushi, Nats teammate remarked, “You should almost have to pay at the door to watch…the demolition.”

SECOND BASE

Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

03

A Chihuahua who’s convinced he’s a Great Dane. College coach described him as having “body of a sixth grader,” but in first meeting, 5’5”-ish Pedroia flexed biceps and asked, “How do you like these guns?” Before taking batting practice, announces, “Are you ready for the laser show?” After being denied entrance to visitors’ clubhouse during ’07 World Series because security doubted he was ballplayer, sputtered, “You don’t know who I am? Ask [opposing pitcher] Jeff fucking Francis who I am. I’m the guy who hit a bomb and just ended their fucking season.” In 2007 off-season dance contest, stripped off shirt to reveal daddy painted on chest.

SHORTSTOP

Nomar Garciaparra, Oakland Athletics

04

His every at-bat is a desperate cry for Dr. Oliver Sacks—a frenzy of Tourettic toe tapping, helmet touching, sign-of-crossing, glove yanking. (Observer swears Nomar never actually touches gloves, just pantomimes touching them.) “I’m just doing it to get everything tight,” he’s said. “I like everything tight.” En route to field, insists on stepping on each dugout step with both feet. Departing field mid-inning, removes glove to touch self fixed number of times. Has said, “If I do everything the same every day, I can’t blame a bad day…on the fact that I didn’t do the routine.”

THIRD BASE

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees

05

Wants desperately to be Jeter—effortlessly glamorous, clutch, in zone—but is precise opposite instead. As Yankee, has become a notorious postseason choker (ninety-four at-bats, .245 average, four home runs). Before every game, performance coach leads him in repeating mantra: “I hit solid with an accelerated bat head.” Greatest, richest player of his generation having midlife crisis at 32. Alleged affair with Madonna. Calculating yet graceless about image: recently seen at lunch with brunet, dabbing own mouth with (come on, now!) $100 bill.

OUTFIELD

Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

06

A mythical creature: half Gehrig, half towering nincompoop. In Cleveland, absconded with teammates’ bats and clothes, distributed unwanted nude hugs, carried half-dozen driver’s licenses. In Boston, blew off pennant race, alleging sickness (only to be seen drinking with rival player), injury (said knee was hurting, then allegedly forgot which knee), death of relative (when Manny missed White House reception, POTUS himself said, “I guess his grandmother died again”). Observed in outfield wearing MP3 player. Once vacated position to urinate behind left-field wall and missed first pitch of next inning. Defensive highlights: high-fiving fan, midplay, after leaping catch at wall; inexplicably diving to cut off fellow outfielder’s relay (result: inside-the-park HR).

Elijah Dukes, Washington Nationals

07

Indisputably, most terrifying player in MLB. Sent photo of handgun to then wife’s cell phone in 2007 and left this voice-mail message: “Hey, dawg. It’s on, dawg. You dead, dawg. I ain’t even bullshittin’. Your kids too, dawg. It don’t even matter to me who is in the car with you. Nigga, all I know is, nigga, when I see your motherfuckin’ ass riding, dawg, it’s on. As a matter of fact, I’m coming to your motherfuckin’ house.” When asked for comment, told reporters, “I’ve got a video game to finish.” Traded in 2007 to Nats, who hired ex-cop to supervise him full-time.

Gary Sheffield, New York Mets

08

Reminiscent of Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory: 99 percent of what he says makes hardly any sense, but you damn well better listen to that last 1 percent. First baseball suspension was in frickin’ Little League. Has been stalked, shot during attempted carjacking, slapped with restraining, implicated in BALCO scandal. Married gospel singer who appeared in R. Kelly sex tape. Has quarreled with Barry Bonds and sued Scott Boras (lost, unfortunately). Told GQ that if hadn’t made it as ballplayer, would have become accountant.

PITCHERS

Miguel Batista, Seattle Mariners

09

Describes self as “Dominican by birth, athlete by profession, poet by vocation.” First major leaguer ever to publish serial-killer novel (The Avenger of Blood, currently number 1,240,318 on Amazon). Devotee of paranormal; told GQ that ghostly “claw” tried to prevent him from writing book. Skin-crawlingly cheesy aphorist: “Ideas are like rabbits: Mingle them and in a week you have a bunch of them.” Lifetime record, 89-104: “People say that if I concentrated more on baseball, I would be a superstar.”

Scott Olsen, Washington Nationals

10

Teammates openly call Parliament-smoking lefty “selfish.” At least three have attacked him, among them Olsen’s best friend. Made headlines after 3:40 a.m. police pursuit in July ’07 in which he led cops to own home, sat down in plastic chair in front yard, started kicking, and was tased. After thuggish head shot was widely distributed, tried to persuade heavily inked teammate to tattoo it on own ass.

Carl Pavano, Cleveland Indians

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World’s highest-paid hypochondriac spent 90 percent of four-year, $40 million Yankee deal either rehabbing or on DL. Reportedly, showed face in clubhouse only to get massages, candy bars, and paychecks. Best injuries: broken ribs (totaled Porsche but didn’t tell team for eleven days), “bruised buttocks” (had MRI of left ass cheek), “hip cramp,” “heavy legs.” Joe Torre: “The players hated him.” When offered new contract for just below $10 million/year, fellow pitcher Mike Mussina declared, “I can’t be paid less than Pavano”; GM caved. In clubhouse Jeter once inquired, “Hey, Pav. You ever going to play? Ever?’”

Jonathan Papelbon, Boston Red Sox

Papelbon_ws

Dimness, cockiness, and 100-mph fastball evince comparisons to Charlie Sheen character in Major League. Says Curt Schilling: “He’s not exactly a charter member of Mensa.” Has been observed shooting craps in foul territory at Fenway. Refers to David Ortiz as “Big Papi, a.k.a. the Large Father.” Interviewing teammate for FSN TV broadcast, repeatedly seen adjusting…himself. After winning 2007 AL pennant, danced Irish jig in underwear in Fenway infield. Asked by Letterman about post-championship activities, replied, “Other than not sleeping? Partying.” At one time possessed baseball that made final out of 2007 World Series, but has said dog ate it.

Julian Tavarez, Washington Nationals

Julian

Has (respectively) “body-slammed,” “bumped,” and “inadvertently knocked over” umpires on three separate occasions. Suspended four times for brawling, including twice in spring training: In ’98 launched flying karate kick; in ’06 landed solid right cross. (Commented, “What do you mean, ‘regret?’…I’m not mad at myself. I love myself, bro.”) Had near breakdown after surrendering go-ahead HR in ’04 NLCS: threw ball behind head of next batter, wild pitch to next, hit third; after leaving field, punched out dugout phone, breaking two fingers. Says childhood nickname was Yo-Yo because of his emotional turbulence. Calls Manny “my best friend”; was observed in 2007 in Boston dugout quietly submitting to lengthy head-petting by him.

MANAGER

Ozzie Guillen

Ozzieguillenchoke2

Once boasted, “I like trouble.” After outfielder Magglio Ordóñez accused Guillen of making him play hurt, responded, “He’s my enemy.… He’s another Venezuelan motherfucker.… What the fuck did he ever do for me?” Reduced rookie pitcher who refused to bean batter to tears, then shipped him back to minors. Called critical sportswriter “a piece of shit… fucking fag,” then later added, “I apologize to the gay community, but to [the writer]? No chance.… He’s still garbage, going to die as garbage.”

OWNER

Hank Steinbrenner

Steinbrennerhank1_feature

As Yankee exec in ’80s, known for smoking on field, not picking up paychecks, and trying to replace closer who went on to set saves record. Clashed with and distanced self from father—once changed name on mailbox to “Stein”—only to transform self into “Boy George” upon becoming team’s co-owner. Said wouldn’t re-sign A-Rod if he opted out of contract (“If you don’t understand the magnitude of being a Yankee… No chance”), then did; shut down prospective Johan Santana trade, declaring, “The deadline is the deadline,” but six weeks later said, “We’re still discussing it.” Agent: “The guy’s a blowhard. But unlike his father, he’s an ineffectual blowhard.”

nate penn is a gq correspondent.

Jason Giambi Goes Home

Monday  April 20, 2009

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In April 2005, just weeks after he’d become the first professional baseball player ever to acknowledge using performance-enhancing drugs, GQ published a deeply reported and intimate profile of Jason Giambi. He was a New York Yankee then, the bewildered subject of the biggest controversy ever to hit his sport. This past January, the Yankees declined the $22 million option on his contract, cutting him loose after seven years. Two days later, Giambi signed a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics, where he’d spent the first seven years of his career and had won an MVP award.

The guy once known as baseball’s most exuberant partier is 38 now, but he’s still affable, off-the-cuff, and immensely likable (which is perhaps the underrecognized key to his survival). Two days before the opening of the 2009 season, he met with Nate Penn, the author of the original profile, at Barry Bonds’s former home field, AT&T Park in San Francisco. In a wide-ranging conversation, he candidly reflected on his years in the Bronx, on Joe Torre’s book and Alex Rodriguez’s press conference, and on the scandal that changed him forever.

Why did you decide to re-sign with Oakland?
It became apparent that the Yankees weren’t gonna pick up my option. I was out on the market, and there was Tampa and there was Oakland. Tampa had looked good for a little while, but I talked to [A's General Manager] Billy Beane and asked him what direction they were gonna go. They were young. He’d gone out and gotten Matt Holliday, and he had this whole plan: wanted to talk to Nomar, wanted to get Cabrera. That’s really what made me lean towards here. When I walked in, I felt like a rookie again, because other than Eric Chavez, I hadn’t played with anybody else. I’d been gone for seven years.

During your first stint with the A’s, you were noted for wearing a T-shirt in the clubhouse that read, “Party Like a Rock Star, Hammer Like a Porn Star, Rake Like an All-Star.” At 38, can you still pull off that shirt?
It’s gonna have to say dot-dot-dot in between. I need a couple days after each one of them. If I go out and party like a rock star, I don’t make it back to the game quite the same the next day.

You were a hairy beast in Oakland, but the Yankees, whose team policy prohibits facial hair below the lip, made you shave. How does it feel to be able to grow facial hair again?
Awesome. When I first went to New York, I don’t think my upper lip and chin had seen sun in like fifteen years. Guys have been asking me to bring back the ’stache. I’m gonna have to wait and see how the season starts out.

During your first season in New York, there was a lot of talk about you “pressing,” trying too hard because the right field wall was so close. Does being back in Oakland, in a more spacious ballpark, mean you’ll change your approach at the plate?
I hope so. Before I went to New York, I typically hit the ball from left-center to right-center because of the dimensions in Oakland. When I went to New York, my first month I was hitting a lot of balls the other way, but they were a can of shit. I mean, hitting the ball 400 feet the other way is a long way, especially when it’s freezing cold and you can’t feel your face, and then you’re getting booed and you’re like, “Well, shit, that right-field wall is only like 290 feet. Let’s try to start flipping a few that way.” So I hope to hit for a higher average this year rather than be one-dimensional, the way I was in New York.

The fact that you’re returning to Oakland reinforces the belief of many fans and sportswriters that you wish you’d never left this team, which you’ve compared to a frat, for the Yankees, which Gary Sheffield has called “the Corporation.”
No! I had the time of my life in New York. It was a dream of mine to play for the Yankees, and to play those seven years there was an honor. New York makes you really find out who you are as a person and an athlete. There are so many dynamics there—the media, the fans, the expectation level.

Do you feel a sense of relief at not having to deal with the New York media any more?
To be honest with you, it’s kind of addictive. You look at it and you say, “Oh, wow, it would be nice to go back home,” but now and then you wish it was a little more tilt mode.

Your numbers were excellent during your seven years in New York, even if your batting average wasn’t what it had been. The Yankees will be lucky if they get the same kind of production out of your successor at first base, Mark Teixeira. Is it your sense that people recognize how good your years in New York were?
I think yeah and no. I mean, I came up with some really big hits in New York. Of course, other things overshadowed that, there’s no doubt. I think people in New York got to see me grow as a human being. I reached fans in a different way than anybody else, and I think they identify with me. The fans know I came up with big hits. But I don’t know if they would ever recognize how well I played, because there were just so many other things that went on.

What would you say was your best moment as Yankee?
Well, definitely the coolest moment was hitting the grand slam against the Twins in the rain a month into my first season in New York. I wanted to do so well at the beginning. When you first go to New York and you struggle, everybody gets all fired up. But you just try too hard. You want to go in there and impress everybody, especially when you’re a free agent. Yankee fans remember the guy that used to come in and kill the Yankees. So they want you to do that every day. They’re like, “Why isn’t this guy hitting a fucking home run every day? Every time he plays the Yankees, he hits a home run!”

And your worst moment?
Ah, my worst moment. [long pause; sighs] What would it be? There were a ton of moments that I felt I grew from, whether it was getting up with the steroids or having to pull myself out of games, things like that. I don’t really know if there’s really a worst. That’s kind of how I think of things.

How do you feel that your public acknowledgment of steroid use helped you grow?
I mean, to step up and be able to go through the things that I had to. I was kind of the first guy, and I always tease people that sometimes the first doesn’t end up being the best. [laughs] Now you look and go, “Wow, he did it the right way.” But then it sucked. It really did. It sucked. Going through that every day? But it made me a lot stronger and, I guess, believe in myself a lot more than I could have ever hoped or wished for.

One thing a lot of people I spoke with told me is that you’re very sensitive to what people think of you. Did that experience make you less concerned with how people view you?
Yes and no. Yes in that it made me believe more in myself. But I still care about people the same—even more. Because now I get a sense of what it’s like to be down and out, too. You find out a lot about yourself as a person, but you also find out how you’ve treated other people, how they perceived you, and how they treat you back. Everybody always will tell you, “Oh, you’re a great guy,” but when the chips are down, you really find out, I guess, how good a guy you really were. You say, “Well, if I was really a good person and I’ve treated people right, they’re gonna be there.” I got a chance to see that. It was incredible. It was really kind of like a defining moment in my life, to be honest with you.

A-Rod famously wants badly to be liked, too. Why do you think it messes with his head on the field when it doesn’t seem to mess with yours?
You gotta learn how to compartmentalize what goes on, on and off the field. There’s also a big difference, I think, when you’re the best player in the game. There’s a different responsibility than getting to be the fun-loving Frank the Tank that I am. When you’re the best player in the game, they want you to be this person—like, the uniform fits perfectly, you say the right thing, you do the right thing. But when you’re Superman you gotta be not good at something, or else you’d be a robot. I guess that’s his little kryptonite, you know?

Did he call you to ask for advice about how to deal with publicly admitting that he used steroids?
He didn’t call me, but I think Al is gonna learn a lot about himself and come out of this great. I know it made me a lot better. Hopefully he’ll bounce out of this.

As you said, a lot of fans and reporters today look at you with admiration, even if they didn’t at the time. And evidently they see A-Rod as having done the opposite. In what way do you think he could have handled it better?
Such a tough question. The way I did it was best for me. In my opinion, he did the right thing. He did the hardest part, which is coming forward and saying he did it.

In their clubhouse exposé, The Yankee Years, Joe Torre and Tom Verducci report that you approached Torre at one point and told him, regarding A-Rod, “Skip, it’s time to stop coddling him.” What made you say that?
I don’t think anybody had ever been real with him. When you’re a superstar, everybody tells you what you want to hear. I know, in my life, sometimes it’s just nice for somebody to be honest with you, like, “Okay, you fuckin’ stink right now. Now what are we gonna do?” I know what it was like when I struggled that one year, and maybe that was my wake-up call. They said they were gonna send me to the minors. Somebody was fucking real with me and said, “Listen, you’re fucking struggling, you suck right now, let’s get it going!” And then I took off. So that’s why I said that.

In the same book, Andy Pettitte is quoted as saying that after the team lost the 2003 World Series, he stopped expecting to win every season. At the outset of every year you played with the Yankees, did you think you were going to a win a ring?
I did. I walked into that clubhouse every single year thinking we would, because they would go out and they’d sign a big free agent. You’d think, Well, that’s gonna get us over the top. But unfortunately you learn in this game that nothing guarantees you anything special.

Verducci and Torre also report that a trainer used to apply hot liniment to Roger Clemens’s testicles. Did you ever witness that?
I’ve seen some of it drip onto his balls. He lubes. I’ve never seen a guy wear more hot shit on the planet. The guy’s basically in a jock and a pair of socks and like head to toe in hot shit. That’s no bullshit.

Have you tried it yourself?
No, I would fucking cry. The stuff that he used to put on his body—even his hot tanks were like molten lava. He would get in the hot tank before the games, and it was like a cauldron. One time I put my foot in there, my skin almost fell off my foot, it was so hot.

People I spoke with for the GQ profile suggested that you tend to attach yourself to older men with strong personalities—your father; your agent, Arn Tellem; Mark McGwire; Barry Bonds; your trainer, Bob Alejo—and they speculated that this might be because you’re uncertain sometimes about whether you can stand on your own two feet. There’s that remark that Brian Cashman made about you when you and the Yankees were squabbling about clubhouse access for your trainer: “He doesn’t need someone to make him Jason Giambi.” And Torre told Verducci, “Obviously he needed somebody to push him, his father or somebody.” When, if ever, was it true that you needed somebody to help you be Jason Giambi?
[laughs] I think it’s fucking ridiculous. I’ll admit that I’m a very atypical person. I like my routine, and I like what I do every single day. I’m not a big fan of change. But at the same time, that’s what made me successful. Bob throwing me BP, that was something that was always a constant. I still was a great player when Bob left, so I find it kind of hilarious that people think that.

In The Yankee Years, Torre says, “Jason…didn’t always work hard enough. In spring training I would remind him, ‘To be a regular player you’ve got to take your regular complement of ground balls.’ And then I’d have to remind him two or three times during the year.” You’re known as a gregarious, good-natured guy who likes to party, a superstar who’s accessible and off-the-cuff. Is your work ethic everything it could be?
I get my work in, I get it done, and there’s another routine I’ve felt was good for me. If I took a hundred more ground balls, was that gonna make me better? I knew I was gonna get more tired; that’s about the only thing I figured out. It’s like taking a thousand swings. When is the point of no return, when actually it starts to be harmful?

David Wells has said that the Torre/Verducci book violates the clubhouse code of confidentiality. Do you agree?
I think it’s tough. I wouldn’t do it. But at the same time, it’s hard to pick which one is Verducci and which one is Torre, you know what I’m saying? They wrote it together. I think it would be very unfair to put a judgment on it until I definitely knew who said what. I have better things to worry about,

What about direct quotes from Torre, like the one I read you about how you could’ve worked more on your defense?
That shit doesn’t bother me.

The Yankees’ hatchet man, Randy Levine, tried to void your contract on the grounds that you’d confessed to using steroids, but he couldn’t. Then he tried to void your contract because you’d refused an assignment to the minors. How did it make you feel to know that there were people in your own organization actively working against you?
It definitely makes your job tougher, there’s no doubt about that. They leaked it to the media, and the media bum-rushed me with it, and that’s where I was a little fucking pissed. Rather than calling me in there and talking to me about it. But I went in there and sat down with Joe Torre and Brian Cashman, and I told them just, “No fuckin’ chance.” I knew I could hit, and I knew I was going in the right direction. I had a lot of confidence in myself, and I knew that I was gonna come out of it.

Why did you never say to the media, “Do you really think I’m the only guy who did steroids?”
Because that’s not me. I took full responsibility for what I did. It never even entered my mind that I was gonna say, “Well, it’s really not that bad.” I just always felt like, Hey, this is what I did. I apologized for it, and I was gonna leave it at that.

Why should the fans believe that you’ve been clean ever since you made your acknowledgment back in ’05?
I am. I mean, that’s all I can say. I’m taking all the tests. But that’s a tough question to really get into. All you can do is show everybody and do the right thing.

In the BALCO grand-jury testimony that was leaked, you specifically acknowledged having used steroids after 2001, the year after your MVP. How can we know that you didn’t use them before—
I can’t talk about, because of the thing—I can’t talk about anything past—for the grand jury testimony. Sorry about that.

Do A-Rod and Clemens and Barry Bonds all belong in the Hall of Fame?
Phenomenal players. I think what they accomplished on the field is incredible.

But do they belong in the Hall?
Yeah. I mean, as far as talking about dominating in an era—they were incredible.

What, if anything, do you feel you still have to prove?
I don’t know if “prove” is… I mean, I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs. I’ve been through everything in this game. I’ve been in the gutter, and I’ve pulled myself up; had Mustache Day at Yankee Stadium. So I don’t know if there’s anything to prove, other than just to play the game. Because I love it.—nate penn

Forward in the Gray Suit

Tuesday  February 17, 2009

Bosh_2

Chris Bosh may have sat out Sunday's NBA All-Star Game with a bum knee, but the Toronto Raptors forward suited up for more than just the sidelines. Wearing a trim gray suit and a narrow black tie fastened with a tie clip—and flashing a quarter-inch of white pocket square—he looked, well… straight out of our pages. We can't help but wonder if he was following LeBron James's sartorial lead on GQ's February cover. In any case, Project Upgrade NBA appears to be working.—sarah goldstein

Feb_cover

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Golden Boy Gets Clipped

Monday  October 20, 2008

Baron

Baron Davis returns to L.A. Too bad the only celebrity who cares is Frankie Muniz

interview by alex french

Last summer, Baron Davis—the 29-year-old South Central–born point guard—opted out of his contract with the Golden State Warriors- and signed a five-year, $65 million deal with the Clippers. The Bay Area mourned. Clippers fans (both of them!) rejoiced. Davis speaks.

Let’s talk about your decision to leave the Warriors. Chris Broussard on ESPN said it was about the money. True?
If it was about money, I would have played the last year of my contract and taken the $18 million due me. This year I’m gonna make twelve, so I took a $6 million pay cut. As a “star player,” or a go-to guy on the team, you want to feel that you’re wanted. The Warriors never put an offer on the table. Which sucks, because they offered everybody else the world.

Was it hard to leave the Bay?
It still hurts. It’s sorta like being with a girl and the parents break you up.

You signed with the Clippers thinking that you’d be playing with Elton Brand. But then he signed with Philly.
That was definitely disappointing. But I’m gonna bring a new generation, the new movement. For a long time, you never really saw the Clippers enjoy each other. With me leading, it’s gonna be fun basketball—play hard and play to win.

Okay... But playing for the Clippers has, historically speaking, had some drawbacks. The Lakers have Jack Nicholson. The Clippers have Frankie Muniz.
We all know this is Kobe’s city and the Lakers are kings in this town. I’ve always been considered an underdog in this league, so what better team to go to than one that’s always been an underdog?

You went to Crossroads, a progressive private school, with Kate Hudson and Zooey Deschanel. Couldn’t you look them up?
They’re Lakers fans! They’re all Lakers fans.

Any truth to the rumor that you’re making a movie with James Gandolfini?
Yes. It’s Sonny Vaccaro’s life story—about the ABCD Camp. 

Tony Soprano as Sonny Vaccaro? Really?
Watch, watch. He’s gonna kill it.

Why Obama Should Meet Baseball's Biggest Numbers Geek

Wednesday  September 24, 2008

Why_obama

How a hardball freak turned his calculator on politics—and beat the nation’s biggest pollsters at their own game

by nate penn

Last fall, when an Internet commentator calling himself “Poblano” began posting highly sophisticated primary-election predictions—first at DailyKos.com, then at his own site, FiveThirtyEight.com—you had to wonder: Why the pseudonym? Because the dude just kept getting things right. By the time his balls-out, stunningly accurate predictions for the North Carolina and Indiana Democratic primaries (based on an algorithm incorporating sixteen variables) hit the Web in early May, he’d become the most compelling anonymous Beltway observer since the Primary Colors guy.

“Poblano,” it turns out, is Nate Silver, creator of PECOTA, the revolutionary statistical tool for evaluating…baseball players. The 30-year-old wanted to keep his name out of the pollster mix until he was sure he had something legit to add, which he most certainly does. Chat with him for half an hour and he’ll explain how Obama is “the Billy Beane of politics” because “his campaign is clearly very data-driven. If you look at the cities he visited, you’ll find a lot of times he’d purposely straddle two congressional districts, to swing votes in both.” He’ll explain that certain beloved articles of faith in both baseball and politics ought to be reevaluated: For the former, it’s the value of stats like batting average and RBIs; for the latter, it’s “the whole notion of red states and blue states, which is conditioned solely on the last two elections.” Fans of his work include Obama-campaign operatives: After Silver suggested that the senator go to Alaska in the lead-up to the general election, they booked the flights. And in case you’re curious, his simulations currently have Barack winning the election more than 60 percent of the time, though “it’s not going to be a blowout victory.”

Come November, Silver will be crunching both 2009 PECOTA numbers and 2008 election returns. He won’t sleep much. “Alaska is a swing state this year,” he sighs, “and you can conjure scenarios where you wait for the results to be moosed in from Nome.

Hey, Boston, Shut the F#%* Up!

Wednesday  September 24, 2008

He_boston

Boston, I used to like you. I used to visit every couple of years, go for a long run along the Charles, eat some chowder down on the Fish Pier. But this year, something began to curdle inside me. The slobbery tears at midcourt (this was for Red!), the icy Papelbon glare (ooh, we’re scared!), the creepy cult of (the genius) Bill Belichick and (the golden) Theo Epstein and (the dashing) Tom Brady and (the extremely fucking annoying) Yoooooooook… Enough. We get it. You rule the universe. Yes, it’s quite an impressive run you’re on here. (For a small city.) But remember, fifteen years ago, your teams sucked large donkey balls (Pats: 5-11; Celtics: 32-50; Red Sox: 80-82). And because sports go in cycles, they will soon suck again. So relax. Try some humility. It becomes you.—bob finch

Me Got Game

Tuesday  May 13, 2008

Me Got Game

Like a lot of (deluded) guys who live for their weekly pickup games, Davy Rothbart has always dreamed of playing in the NBA. So when he—along with hundreds of top-flight college athletes—was offered a tryout for the NBA development league, he wasn't about to let anything stop him. Not even the fact that he's five feet ten and can hardly dribble with his left hand

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one summer evening, after tearing up the court at Virginia Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I check my voice mail and hear this: “Hey, Davy, this is Chris Wallace from the NBA. We’re having a tryout for the NBA’s D-League next month, and we’d love for you to come down. Give me a call.”

I play the message again, wondering if this is just one of my buddies fucking with me. It sounds like the real thing, but where could they have seen me play? Surely there aren’t any pro scouts checking out my spin moves at the YMCA.

Then it comes to me: It must have been that visit to New York a couple of months ago, when I jumped into my friend’s rec-league game at Hunter College and scored twenty-two points in the second half, in jeans and sandals. I guess somebody was watching.

At the bar that night, I play the message for my friends and, after a few beers, for strangers. Later, maybe 4 a.m., while shooting around at the park across the street from my house with my friend Jordan, I tell him, “These once-in-a-lifetime opportunities only happen in Disney movies starring Dennis Quaid and Mark Wahlberg.”

“Yeah,” Jordan says, “but those movies are based on true stories.”

The next day, I call Chris Wallace. Turns out he’s not a personnel guy. He’s a publicity director. My invitation to predraft camp is not, in fact, the real thing; it’s a stunt. I’ve been invited because I’m a magazine writer, and the NBA’s hoping to draw some attention to its kid-brother league. Wallace expects me to make an ass out of myself.

“Should be fun,” he says, chuckling. “You’ll be running with the big boys.”

“Count me in,” I say. I’m gonna show those fuckers what this little white boy can do.

damn, these guys are tall. I’m in the lobby at the Hilton in Arlington, Texas, on Friday afternoon, waiting for my turn at the registration table. Gym bags dangling off the shoulders of seven-footers force me to keep bobbing and weaving so I don’t get smacked in the face.

The NBA Development League is one of those weird pro-sports way stations, like hockey’s AHL or Double-A baseball. It rose up as the old Continental Basketball Association went bankrupt in 2001, and though its connection with the NBA lends it some legitimacy, it still has its bleak qualities: You play in front of sparse crowds in drafty arenas for teams like the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Salaries top out at $30,000. You’re constantly on the road and rarely get to see your family. But down-and-out as it may seem, the league has also become a bona fide pipeline to the NBA. Over the past seven years, thirty-six players have made the leap; the names of these players become a kind of mantra among D-League hopefuls—Jamario Moon, Matt Carroll, Mikki Moore. If they can make it, the thinking goes, so can I.

Once we register and get our team assignments, we’re corralled into a huge conference room for a welcome reception. At my table are two of my teammates for the weekend—Marcus Sloan, from Houston, and Anthony Moore, from Baltimore. Marcus, 24, a wiry six feet nine, shows a quiet confidence; he played four years of Div I ball at nearby Texas Christian University. He’s cautious about his expectations for the weekend. “I just want to play the best I can and have fun,” he says. “Everything else is out of my control.” Anthony, 28, has a round head and a booming laugh. He’s an inch shorter than Marcus but far outweighs him. Since his playing days at a community college outside Baltimore, he says, he’s let himself slip to 303 pounds, about thirty pounds heavier than his ideal playing weight. He looks nervously around the room.

“Got some ballers up in here,” he says.

He’s right. I’ve seen plenty of the guys in this room throwing down monster dunks or drilling buzzer beaters on SportsCenter—Cincinnati’s Melvin Levett, USC’s Dwayne Shackleford, even Ron Artest’s brother Daniel, who’s been playing pro ball in Germany. They’re all strangely somber—200 guys sipping from water bottles, peering around at one another, trying to gauge how they measure up.

Here’s how I measure up: I’m short. I suck at dribbling with my left hand. I graduated from college eleven years ago and never even played high school ball. Still, there’ve been games in my life when I could not miss: That intramural game in college when I nailed twelve of thirteen three-pointers to win the East Quad crown; that playground game on the South Side of Chicago when they started calling me White Chocolate, and guys draped along the chain-link fence were betting twenties on my shots—a huge dude named Lonnie won six bills on me and tipped me out fifty bucks. On days like that, it’s hard not to wonder what it would be like to play ball all the time—to make a living doing what I love best. For the other guys in the conference room—guys who played college ball but went undrafted—this tryout is one last chance to make that dream happen. For me, it’s a chance to see how my rec-league skills hold up.

Finally, in strides a smiling giant with long braids like Busta Rhymes’s. It’s NBA forward Mikki Moore, who takes the mike to welcome us. “My dream started with the D-League,” he says. “Now it’s your time to shine.” Moore has a gentle charisma and charm—he’s the perfect ambassador.

“Just ’cause you’re not in the NBA already doesn’t mean you don’t have NBA potential,” he goes on. “Every year thirty or forty guys jump from college to the NBA. A couple hundred others with the same amount of talent don’t make it. It’s guys like you—guys like me—that have to find an alternate route.” His voice gets soft. “A few years ago, I was playing in the D-League. But last week, I signed a contract with the Sacramento Kings for eighteen million dollars!

The room erupts with deafening applause. A few guys stand and pump their fists and give each other high fives.

“God bless the D-League!” shouts Moore. “God bless Miller Lite for sponsoring this weekend! Now lace up your shoes and show the world what you can do!”

we split off into smaller conference rooms for team meetings. Marcus, Anthony, and I are on Team 11. Our coach is Brian Walsh, assistant coach for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He’s a bulldog of a man, about five and a half feet tall, with that perfect coachly ratio of kindness and toughness. He gives us the lowdown: Our tryout won’t include timed sprints, bench presses, or vertical leap tests—everything will be decided on the court. We’ll play four games, two on -Saturday, two on Sunday, all under the watchful eyes of D-League coaches and scouts and Chris Alpert, the D-League’s personnel director. Out of 200 players, Alpert and his staff will offer contracts to ten to twenty of them, making them eligible for the D-League draft in the fall.

“It’s easier to shoot your way out of the running than to shoot your way in,” Coach Walsh warns us. “You’re as likely to get signed for your defense as your offense.”

I see Marcus smiling. In college, I later learn, he was known as a defensive stopper; he led TCU in blocked shots three years in a row. Coach Walsh asks us to form a circle and give our name, height, position, and basketball background. Most of my teammates played Div I ball—either they were the star of a school from a smaller conference, like Valdosta State, or they were the third- or fourth-best player at a school from a major conference—ACC, SEC, Big 12.

When it’s my turn, I pipe up in the huskiest voice I can muster: “Yeah, my name’s Davy. I’m five ten and three-quarters; I play the point. Basketball background—well, I’ve played at a thousand parks and gyms.”

Everyone laughs, and Walsh jumps in to save me. “What you’ve done up till now means nothing,” he tells us. “It’s what you do in four games this weekend that’s gonna determine your basketball future.” He grunts and smiles. “No pressure, though. Okay, let’s run through some plays.”

I follow along closely, and soon my notebook is filled with X’s and O’s. When Walsh is done, we’re all issued matching jerseys and shorts. Up in my hotel room, before crashing for the night, I decide to try them on—it’s the first real uniform I’ve ever worn. I pull on my ratty basketball shoes (nabbed for twelve bucks from Value Village in Ypsilanti, Michigan), stare at myself in the mirror, and—shit, I look like I should be delivering you hot wings to eat while you watch a game, not playing in one.

This could get ugly.

in the lobby, waiting for our bus to the UT Arlington athletic center, everyone’s occupying his own meditative space. Marcus sits on the floor stretching his legs, his eyes closed, head bowed to his knee as though deep in prayer. Only Anthony, a true underdog, seems relaxed. He’s eating crackers and reading an article in a film magazine about the making of Harry Potter.

When we get to the arena, we run our pregame warm-up. I feel good, and every shot I fling up is going down. Marcus whistles. “Dang,” he says. “If I get the rebound down low, look for me to kick it out to you. I want to rack up some assists.”

Once the game starts, its pace is relentless, a nonstop sprint. When I sub in, I’m matched against a six-foot-two guard who played at Southern Oregon. I decide to drape myself on him on the perimeter so he can’t get off a shot, even if it means surrendering the drive. My lungs are on fire; my vision feels fogged. Then the ball rotates to me on -offense, and I let loose a long-range jumper, six feet behind the three-point line.

Swish!

My teammates shout and wave Gatorade towels. I see a couple of the guys in the bleachers exchange a look. Did they just jot something down on their pads? Walsh subs me out, and I collapse into my seat.

“Beautiful shot,” says Marcus. I nod but can’t catch my breath to say anything.

The next time I enter the game, though, I’ve regained my wind. I’m defending the same player, whom I’ve managed to keep scoreless so far. With just a few minutes left in the half, he drives past me, heading for the rim, when Anthony steps up and sends his shot into the bleachers.

“Dang, I got to call my cousin in Amarillo, ask him to fedex that ball back!” I shout.

The opposing player glares at me, but apparently I look too ridiculous to deserve a response. We end up winning by twenty.

marcus was a standout at Eisenhower High School in Houston and played four solid though undistinguished years at TCU—he was a stellar rebounder and defender but averaged fewer than four points a game. He played his last college game in March ’05, and after graduation his coach hooked him up with a management-track position with Frito-Lay in Austin. “I was the lucky one,” he tells me over lunch in the cafeteria after our first game. “Most players don’t have that kind of opportunity.”

Frito-Lay had him start off in a delivery truck to get some experience. At 3 a.m., he’d be stocking shelves with chips and dip. “There’d be tears in my eyes,” he says. “It’s not that the job was miserable; it’s just that all my life I’d worked toward playing pro basketball, and night after night, driving the truck, I could feel it slipping away.”

Marcus knew that if he stayed with Frito-Lay, in a few years he could be making six figures as a regional manager. For a couple of months, he agonized over what to do. -Finally, after talking it over with his dad, he decided to quit. A pro team in Germany had invited him to try out. He went over, signed with the team, and after a week of terrible homesickness, blossomed into the league’s rookie of the year. Now he had other European teams clamoring for his services, with offers above $100,000. Still, if the weekend went well and he was offered a D-League contract, he said he’d sign on in a flash.

“I’d like to think I’m the only guy who scored four points a game in college who could play in the NBA,” he tells me.

We compare notes on our Game 1 showings. Marcus is a little bit down. He had ten points and eight rebounds but feels it’s not enough. “If they’re taking ten guys total, that’s one in twenty. I’ve got to be the best guy on the court at all times. I wasn’t.”

I feel both proud and despairing over my own performance. I’m clearly in way over my head, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I outplayed my opponent, a conference all-star. “You just need to shoot more,” says Marcus. “I saw you in warm-ups—you got the range. Don’t be gun-shy. Bombs away.”

He gives me a pound.

“Bombs away,” I say.

the opposing coach in Game 2 is Joey Meyer, who used to coach at DePaul University and now helms the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers. When I lived in Chicago, I would go to DePaul games and watch him stalk the sideline; it’s deeply weird to see him huddling with his assistants before the game and pointing my way, deciding which of his players to match against me.

Meyer has his team fired up, and this game is a battle. They keep beating us to every loose ball, and the whistles all seem to go their way. I look for my shot, but I can’t break free of my defender, who’s got six inches on me. At halftime I’m scoreless, and our team is down five points.

In the second half, we turn things around. Anthony bangs his 300-pound body down low and hustles some second-chance points. Since I can’t get a shot off, I put the ball on the floor, driving past the guy guarding me, slashing through the lane, and releasing a finger-roll over the outstretched hand of the other team’s center. The ball goes high off the glass and in. I hear Joey Meyer screaming at his players, “Whose man is that? Whose man is that?” This may be my proudest basketball moment ever.

Late in the game, the score tied, Marcus gets the ball in the lane and rises up for a dunk but misses—the ball clangs off the back of the rim and into the other team’s hands. He comes to the bench and buries his face in his hands. I can’t tell if he’s embarrassed, frustrated, or disconsolate. I think of him back in the potato-chip aisle and find myself shouting in his ear like a boxing trainer. “Shake it off, Marcus! Just forget about it. We’ve got a game to win!”

Marcus lifts his head and smiles. When we sub back in, he plays possessed. Three times in a row, he calls for the ball in the high post. The first two trips, he nails fifteen-foot jumpers. The third time down, he spins in the lane, skips toward the hoop, and throws down a wicked dunk in traffic. Mikki Moore, who has come over to check out our game, lets loose a mighty howl.

We finish the day unbeaten.

“my dream’s not to be in the NBA,” Anthony tells me as we ride in the bus to Sunday morning’s game. Huh?

“My dream is to be a filmmaker.”

Anthony explains: A former high school star, he was making a name for himself on his community college team and hoping to transfer to the University of Maryland to play Div I ball. But he was also working two jobs, going to school—something had to give. He started missing classes and ended up kicked off the team. “I was so broke,” he says. “All I wanted was not to be so broke anymore. But time works in a funny way once you get a job.”

He snaps his fingers. “Five years went by like that. If you want to play basketball, don’t get a job.” Plan A was basketball, he says. But five years after leaving school, he realized he wasn’t a basketball player moonlighting as a mechanic, a gas station attendant, a security guard—he was a mechanic, gas station attendant, and security guard who had once played ball. He’d always been interested in film and video and seemed to have a natural talent for it. Now all he needed was $110,000 to buy a professional Viper FilmStream Camera to film a hood action movie he’d written. That’s what had brought him here to Texas.

“The NBA needs big fellas like me,” he says. “I’ve got good hands. I know my footwork. So maybe I bang in the D-League for a minute. Maybe I get called up. One season in the NBA—that paycheck—that’s all I need to set my filmmaking career in motion.”

I suggest that Anthony may be the only player at the tryout who sees the NBA as a stepping-stone. He laughs, lifting his mammoth frame out of the seat as we arrive.

“Okay,” he says. “I make the league, I might decide to stick around for a while.”

for game 3, our undefeated team is playing another 2-0 squad, coached by former San Antonio Spurs forward Jaren Jackson. This guy knows what it takes—he’s wearing a championship ring that I watched him win from my couch. More important, Chris Alpert has parked himself at the scorer’s table, flanked by two assistants. When the weekend’s over, what he’s really going to remember is what he sees in the next sixty minutes. For Anthony and Marcus—and all of our teammates—this is it.

Right out of the gate, I know I’m in trouble. Yesterday’s games have sapped me of my juice, and the guy I’m D’ing up scores twice in a row. At the other end, I throw up an off-balance shot that barely glances the front rim. Coach Walsh yanks me. “Don’t force it, Davy,” he shouts. “Find your rhythm.” I nod, but when I sub back in, I can’t find shit. Walsh pulls me out again, and I take a seat at the end of the bench, sucking breaths, close to tears.

Anthony, too, seems to have run out of gas. He misses an easy layup and then gets his shot stuffed by a player six inches shorter than he is. We’re down a dozen points early, and Walsh is beside himself. He calls time-out and subs in Eric Dawson for Anthony. Anthony, looking dazed, puts a towel over his head and sags into his chair.

In the second half, Marcus goes berserk. He’s suddenly everywhere, wiping up rebounds, scoring on post moves, short jumpers, and fast breaks. It’s like someone’s moving him with a Nintendo controller. In one defensive series, he blocks shots by three separate players, then goes coast-to-coast and slams it down. Not until Jackson calls time-out and Marcus trots over to our bench does he even crack a smile.

We win by fifteen. Anthony and I don’t manage a single point, but Marcus scores twenty-four. Somehow, my disappointment is tempered by the knowledge that Marcus may have just earned himself a spot in the D-League. Once we’re out of the gym, he slumps against a brick wall and puts his head down, overwhelmed. When he looks up, his eyes are wet. “I want this so bad,” he says. “I didn’t even know how badly.”

two months later, I get an e-mail from Marcus: “I made the D-League!”

He’s writing from Switzerland, where he’s been playing with a European pro team called Benetton Fribourg Olympic. In Texas our final game had been our best of the weekend: We’d won by forty points (I’d scored seven and Marcus put up twenty-eight). Alpert and his scouting team wound up offering thirty players contracts, and five of those players were guys from my squad—Derrick Allen, Terrance Mouton, Eric Dawson, Andre Ingram, and Marcus.

Marcus is thrilled but conflicted. He likes his new team and his new coach, he’s had a strong preseason, and he’s making $120,000 to play basketball. What’s more, thanks to the proliferation of international players in the NBA, the league has begun to scout European teams. Should he stay in Switzerland or come back for the D-League? It’s not clear which path will give him the best chance of making the NBA.

“I’ve got a month or two, then I’ll have to make a decision,” he says in his e-mail. “Hey, you been ballin’ still?”

“Ballin’ outta control,” I write back. “Torched ’em last night at the Y.”

Yeah, I found out the hard way—I couldn’t hang. I was good enough only to keep from embarrassing myself. (I’d totaled fourteen points and fifteen assists.) Anthony, who scored three points in our final game, also came up short. But that’s kind of all right. There’s something about laying it all on the line that feels gutsy and noble.

“Plan A was the Viper FilmStream,” Anthony had told me as we spilled out of the gym at the end of camp. “But I can make my movie with a different camera. I’ll just go with plan B. You always gotta have a plan B, know what I’m saying?”

davy rothbart racked up a triple-double last night (over six games) at Slauson Middle School.

Old Rivalry, New Blood

Thursday  April 17, 2008

Old Rivalry, New Blood

Joba Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellsbury are both under 25. They both possess otherworldly talent. They both share a Native American heritage. Unfortunately, one plays for the Yankees and one plays for the Red Sox

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fact is, Red Sox versus Yankees jumped the shark in 2005. In 2003, Boston lost the ALCS to New York on a seventh-game, eleventh-inning walk-off home run—the most hyphenated and painful defeat imaginable, right? Wrong: In 2004, the Yankees lost the ALCS to Boston after leading three games to none—the worst choke in sports, ever. Even Stallone would hesitate to write a sequel to that, but the sports media didn't balk, furiously pimping the rivalry until even fans grew tired of their own players. But in 2007, two rookies, both Native American—Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, 24, who's half Navajo, and Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, 22, who's half Winnebago—made the rivalry vibrate again. In his third big-league game, Ellsbury, like some mad figure out of Negro League legend, scored from second base on a wild pitch. In thirty-three games, he'd bat .353; in the World Series, .438. And Chamberlain, who routinely lit up triple digits on the radar gun, didn't allow an earned run in his first twelve games and threw a slider that may be the game's most unhittable pitch. For once we weren't talking about Manny's wandering attention span or A-Rod's roving eye. To watch the two rookies is to be witness to something fresh, thrilling, and especially in Boston and New York, rare: baseball without baggage.

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Root for the Boys of March

Wednesday  February 27, 2008

Root for the Boys of March

by Dan Fierman

Spring training is big business now. Here's our argument for why it's even better than the regular season.

1. They ain’t screwing around down there. From the new Legends Field in Tampa to Phoenix’s Municipal Stadium, almost all the spring-training parks are new and nice. They have tiki bars and ocean views. They have fish tacos and sweet lawn seats. And you’ll still never get better baseball for the dough—about twenty bucks a ticket.

2. Florida isn’t your only option anymore. Hell, it’s not even your best option. The humidity, the rain delays, the octogenarian ticket takers doddering behind the turnstiles? No thanks. We’ll take Arizona, where it’s always eighty degrees and always sunny and there are golf courses as far as the eye can see.

3. Tampa finally has more than just world-class strip clubs. It has world-class gambling facilities, too! The Seminole Hard Rock—which used to be a sad bastion of simple slot machines—now has everything short of a sports book, craps, and roulette. Spring baseball and casinos: They go together like a late-career resurgence and a cycle of B12 shots.

4. You’ll never sound smarter at your fantasy draft. It’s the ninth round. You’re sitting on Francisco Liriano. Your buddy five picks ahead is toying with the idea of drafting your guy…and his surgically reconstructed elbow. Now memorize and repeat: “You know, I saw him down in Fort Myers against the Sox. Velocity was down. No tilt on the slider. I’m just sayin’.…”

5. It’s still the ultimate excuse for late-winter debauchery, ’cause somehow “Honey, me and the guys are going down to Florida to go on a five-day bender while you stay home and shovel snow” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “We’re going to spring training.”

Springtime For Hitters
5 Top Spring-Training Destinations

Dodgertown
Vero Beach, Florida

Dodgertown
Photograph courtesy of Dodgertown

You have one more chance to catch the Dodgers in the most history-rich park in Florida—hell, the Brooklyn squad played there—before they relocate to Arizona next year.

Hohokam Stadium
Mesa, Arizona

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Photograph courtesy of Hohokam Stadium

The stadium is picturesque; the town is more so. Plus, you get to enjoy it all with batshit Cubs fans. The only drawback: Replacement kidneys are easier to come by than tickets.

Legends Field
Tampa
Sure, it’s the Yankees. But the facilities are new and nifty—right down to a mini Monument Park—and it’s impossible to really appreciate the effects of steroids unless you see them up close.

Scottsdale Stadium
Scottsdale

Scottsdalenightstadiumaerial
Photograph courtesy of Scottsdale Stadium

Not only is the Giants’ spring-training home now Barry Bonds–free, it’s also a short drive from golf meccas, including the legendary TPC Scottsdale Champions Course.

Tigertown
Lakeland, Florida

Lakelandwide
Photograph courtesy of Tigertown

The Tigers have played in Lakeland since 1934—and despite some renovations, their park is still the best dump in spring training. Hmmm. Still smells like Hank Greenberg.

The Godfather, Part II

Tuesday  February 19, 2008

The Godfather, Part II

In his first major interview in twenty years, the elusive Hal Steinbrenner talks to GQ about Roger Clemens and steroids, life with his "overbearing" father, and who's really calling the shots at Yankee Stadium

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In February 2007, George Steinbrenner’s younger son, Hal, quietly took over the New York Yankees from Steve Swindal, whose marriage to Hal’s sister had come apart. A few weeks later, Hal’s brother Hank joined him. The ascent of the Steinbrenner sons, unrevealed for many months, was the surest possible indication that George—who spoke frequently of “letting the young elephants in the tent” but could never actually bring himself to surrender power—was unwell. “He wouldn’t have given anybody this opportunity,” says Darrell Gwynn, a former business partner.

But who were his sons? Little was known about them. Reportedly, both had done well in business, Hal managing the family’s hotels, Hank its thoroughbred farm. Neither had ever shown much interest in the Yankees, for reasons that were the cause of much speculation. “The father is not an easy man to work for, as we know,” says former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent. “I can’t imagine being George Steinbrenner’s son,” says Gwynn. “Shit, if you didn’t take the trash out, what would happen to you?”

During their first, busy off-season, Hank, 50, emerged as a sort of Sonny Corleone figure, impetuous and impudent, throwing down gauntlets left and right. “He wasn’t that way growing up,” says Yankee ex-COO Leonard Kleinman in surprise. (I’ll be told that at one point in his youth, rather than emulate his father, Hank had sought to distance himself from him, changing the name on his mailbox to read “Hank Stein.”) His outspokenness—on subjects ranging from A-Rod to Joe Torre to a possible trade for ace Johan Santana—led many to assume he was running the team, but behind the scenes the chain of command was a work in progress. “They indicated that now Hank is the baseball person,” a baffled Scott Boras tells me during the first, ill-fated round of A-Rod negotiations, “yet they had me talk with Hal.” The brothers handled major decisions tentatively, offering a controversial contract to Yankee manager Joe Torre only after days of deliberations (Torre would reject it) and angering superstar closer Mariano Rivera by delaying his inevitable re-signing. The absence of an enormous personality to blot out these mistakes made them appear more significant than they perhaps were. Throughout, Hal, 38, remained, like Michael Corleone, in the shadows—subtle, wary of media, a private family man.

So I’m shocked when it’s Hal and not his brother who consents to an exclusive interview with GQ. We meet in Tampa, at the team’s Legends Field spring-training complex, soon after archrival Boston’s second World Series victory in four years. (We’ll speak again in February.) He greets me at the reception desk on the executive floor of the complex, wearing khakis and an open-collared button-down. He’s surprisingly boyish looking. Though we’re nearly the same age, I call him “Mr. Steinbrenner,” and he doesn’t ask me to use his first name. As we sit down in a generically furnished conference room, I wonder why we’re not meeting in his office; turns out it’s adjacent to his father’s.

Hal proves to be cagey and prickly but also affable, modest, and disarming. (“If you’re going to use a photo in this article, let me know, will you?” he says. “As opposed to making me look like a dork. I’m hoping to get a date out of this, man.”) And so we begin what he informs me is his first major interview since his student days at Williams College some twenty years ago.

In the press, adjectives like reclusive, shy, and press-averse are often attached to your name. It’s your brother who’s been the face of the team.
I’m more introverted than extroverted, for sure, but I’m definitely not a recluse. Maybe we should have been a little more talkative at the beginning. I can’t speak for Hank, but for me, I had my hands full. I didn’t have time to sit down like I am with you. I’m glad I’m doing it now. But I’m a pretty private person. I don’t need to be seen; I definitely don’t ever want to be recognized or noticed. My dad is a wonderful promoter: He speaks his mind no matter who’s around. I tend to see myself as a little more political. That’s probably a word I shouldn’t use, ’cause there’s nobody more political than him. He’s good. But I’m a little more subtle, a little more calm. Hank has been talking to the press, and he’s taken a little heat off me.

Was there a distinct moment at which you and Hank took control of the Yankees?
No. I obviously became considerably more involved at a somewhat dramatic pace when Steve, my sister’s ex-husband, left [in February of 2007]. A couple months after that, I think Hank realized I could use some help.

Along with the adjectives I mentioned above, certain verbs have been associated with your name in the press.
Any of them good?

Not so much. Various sources say you “hate” and “avidly disdain” the media.
No truth to that. That was Bill Madden [of the New York Daily News]. Look, first of all, I don’t hate anybody. It’s a useless emotion. It accomplishes nothing. He even said I hate the players, which is certainly not true. We’ve all had issues with the media, okay, but at the same time, I understand, Hank understands, they’re in business just like we’re in business.

Am I comfortable dealing with the media? Probably not as comfortable as Hank is. Definitely not as comfortable as my dad was. Have I had disagreements with them in the past, disagreed with things they’ve written and the reasons they wrote them? Yes, of course. But again, I understand what the deal is.

If you really don’t feel any enmity toward the media, I would actually be surprised. Your family has been tabloid fodder almost since the day your dad bought the team.
Maybe I’m numb to it. Maybe I’m just used to it. Look, I care very much what my family thinks of me, my close friends, but I try not to pay attention to what strangers think of me. You could drive yourself crazy doing that, particularly if you’re reading the New York papers every day, which I tend not to do.

Was it always assumed during your childhood that you or Hank would one day take over the Yankees from your dad?
My dad would say, “Someday this is going to be yours.” “We’re counting on you, we’re counting on Hank.” “I’m not going to want to do this forever.” I don’t know [laughs] if that was true. George was very involved, and he loved it. He wanted us around, he wanted us here, but there was nothing that specific about duties. My background in grad school [Hal earned an MBA in 1994] led me to do certain things, like finance, that weren’t his strong points. Hank always loved the baseball operations and knew the statistics for every player. We each had our strengths. I know he saw that.

You call your father George?
That’s purely an office thing. I guess when you’re right out of college and working in the office, you don’t want to go around saying, [puts on little-boy voice] “Well, Daddy said this. Daddy—” Throughout the course of fifteen years, I think it took on a life of its own here, but certainly not at home.

You don’t call him George to his face?
No, of course not. That would be completely disrespectful.

In 1990, it came out that your dad had hired a gambler to try to smear a Yankee player, Dave Winfield, whom he was feuding with. The commissioner eventually banned your dad from baseball for two and half years. Were you angry at him for his behavior? Did you feel it was defensible?
I don’t remember the specifics, but I can certainly tell you I wasn’t upset with him, no. I make it a real good point not to judge people, and I don’t like judging situations that I haven’t been involved with and don’t know all the specifics about. Quite frankly, I had enough on my plate right then trying to get through college. I certainly felt bad for him. Baseball is his love, and to be out of it for a couple of years was really hard on him.

Just before serving his ban, your father tried to enlist your brother to succeed him. Why didn’t Hank want to take over?
My God, that was seventeen years ago. I’m afraid my long-term memory is not quite that good. We had some good people in place; I know Hank knew that. Maybe he felt he wasn’t completely needed, but I can’t really answer those questions for him. Down the line, somebody will ask him and you can get his take. George is a wonderful leader, and there was no need for me to be involved. I was focusing on my major, psychology, and geology and astronomy.

A decade or so ago, press accounts indicated that you and Hank had no interest in taking over the team. As recently as ’05, your PR guy issued a statement saying that your and your brother’s “interests lie in other areas.” Were you interested in assuming control of the team?
Well, yes and no. My kids are first for me, and I was very concerned about having to be out of town and miss a lot of their life. That was one of the things I took into consideration when I didn’t step up the way people thought I should. There’s no doubt that everybody, including George, felt that Steve [Swindal] would be the one to take over. I can’t speak for George, but that’s my take on it. There’s a lot of talk about everything. We had always had a hotel here in Tampa, and I started getting involved with that. But my office has always been here, and I’m here four or five days a week or more.

Ten years ago, George still was very involved. There were certainly times, because he was a very hands-on guy and very overbearing, that my services may not have been needed. I’m sure Hank felt the same way from time to time. But I think my dad has certainly settled down, and I think he’s willing to let other people make decisions more than he used to. He’s still here every day, and we run everything by him.

You observe that your dad was quite hands-on, could be overbearing—
Is that a big surprise?

I think it’s been reported elsewhere.
Phew! No breaking news here.

Is it true that after the 2003 season, your father, in a fit of pique, wanted to get rid of employee dental benefits? Is it true that you persuaded him not to?
Yes, that’s true. That was a disagreement. Look, there have been plenty of those. I don’t really believe he was ever going to do that, but I can’t get in his head.

Did you minimize your Yankee responsibilities because your dad was difficult to work with?
Like I said, at times I felt like my abilities just weren’t needed. No hard feelings, just weren’t needed. Like I said, he’s a hands-on guy, and he made all the decisions himself. He listened to our input, but he still had the final say. I never got the impression that he was trying to exert control over me, beat me down.

When you learned that a reporter had surprised your father in his own house and interviewed him there, what was your reaction? Did you find it invasive?
Evasive or invasive? It was invasive. I think the way it was done was evasive. I’m not going to get too much into it, but was I upset? Of course I was upset. I mean, so would you be if someone did that to your father. It wasn’t done well. It was just an evasive operation that was uncalled-for. Leave it at that.

Do you find the media’s ongoing attempts to interview your dad as he’s leaving his car to enter the stadium similarly inappropriate?
I don’t find that as inappropriate. That’s just a fact of life.

Why is it that the family has chosen not to make a definitive statement on your dad’s health?
Because it’s a private matter. This is a private corporation. I’m not going to comment about my health, ever. It’s the concern of my family and close friends, and as far as I’m concerned, it ends there.

Wouldn’t it put an end to the media’s intrusions into your family’s affairs if you just said, “Look, this is what’s going on, now leave us alone?”
I could probably flip a coin on that one. No, I’m not convinced. Family matters are family matters. That’s the way I view it, and you bet I’m gonna stick to it. There is no doubt our fans have a right to know what’s going on with our baseball operations’ decision-making, because without them we would not be in business. Do people have a right to know about anything having to do with family, my personal family, my extended family? No. No. And if that creates controversy, well, so be it. You cannot beat me into submission on that. Nobody can.

To what degree was your father involved with the A-Rod and Torre negotiations? To what degree was he involved in the selection of Joe Girardi as the new Yankee manager?
He met with all three [managerial] candidates. He was there for all the Torre things, including the meeting with Joe. He was involved with the initial meetings about A-Rod; he was not there for the meeting with A-Rod and [A-Rod’s wife] Cynthia. But he was involved with every aspect of that meeting and what happened before and what happened after. He’s here every day, and we run things by him all the time. And there’s no doubt in the organization of who still is in charge.

Are the young elephants finally in the tent?
I think we are finally in the tent. I think he’s listening to our wisdom, our intuition, and going with recommendations we have, but it’s not like we’re going to make those decisions without him. It’s not like we feel we could. He is the general managing partner.

So he’s still calling the shots.
Of course he’s calling the shots. You don’t think I’m crazy enough to make a decision without him, do you?

I have to ask this next question.
I’m sure.

On your dad’s rare appearances in public, some people, most famously Reggie Jackson, have said that he doesn’t seem like himself, that he doesn’t recognize them. Is he really able to participate constructively in baseball and business decisions?
I’m not getting into the health of my dad, my mom, anybody else. I’m just not going there.

Your dad had a council of advisers, all of whom were coequal, but he unilaterally set the team’s course. Do you think the team is going to be more hierarchical going forward?
I’m going to sound like a military-school guy, but I’m a big believer in chain of command. Under George, I think a lot of people felt like George was going to make the decision, no matter what, and they just didn’t make many decisions. The direction that we’re moving toward is more along the lines of how I think an efficient corporation should run. It doesn’t mean I’m right, but that’s my take. I don’t want to have to be here twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, analyzing every single piece of information that comes across the desk and feeling like I need to make decisions that other people are perfectly capable of making.

We understand this is New York. We understand winning is expected. We want to win. Even if that wasn’t the case, we would want to win; that’s just the way we are. But I think we’re both more introverted and more analytical. We tend to want to take time to come up with a solution to a problem, as opposed to making a seat-of-the-pants–type decision. And I think that showed in some of these off-season signings. Some people didn’t understand why we took so long to decide this or to decide that, but we want to get it right.

Who’s at the top of the chain of command?
What’s been determined is that this is a family business, and if we’re both gonna be involved, it has to be an equal thing, and we both need to be involved with all major decisions, whether it’s the stadium, big expenditures, or [the unconsummated trade for Johan] Santana, for instance. It’s well publicized in New York that we didn’t agree on that deal. My concerns were economical and financial, and I’m not gonna get into those, but I also had baseball concerns. I didn’t want to get rid of these kids! Boy, the last time we had three young pitchers like Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, I couldn’t even tell you.

The Super Bowl this year was unbelievable, and the one thought I took away really has a lot to do with us this year, with these three young pitchers. Eli struggled a bit his first couple years. I think New York fans might realize now that if you give a young kid time, great things can happen.

Is it true, as the media has suggested, that Brian Cashman’s job is on the line because the Yankees didn’t do the Santana deal?
No, it’s not. I don’t know where the media gets this stuff sometimes. They gotta sell papers, I understand that. You gotta sell magazines, right? The bottom line is Cashman is with us this year. In any given year for the past thirty years, you could probably say, “This year the general manager’s job’s on the line.” That’s par for the course for that job, but certainly not because of one trade, no.

The perception in the media is that Gene Michael, the architect of the great Yankee teams of the late ’90s, hasn’t wielded a great deal of influence in the organization for some years. Is that true? What will his role be going forward?
As far as I’m concerned, it’s absolutely not true. Cashman and Gene talk all the time. Gene was down here interviewing the potential manager candidates, and he’s always been close to George. The two of them sometimes are kind of like Billy Martin and George, but there was always a level of respect there, and that hasn’t changed. I mean, his take on things is as good as anybody’s. We value his input, which is why he was part of all those interviews.

The Yankees signed Roger Clemens twice to record-setting contracts. Did you ever have any questions about the source of his ability, in his forties, to throw ninety-plus miles an hour?
Not on my end, no. Look at Brett Favre in football. I mean, it’s unbelievable what he’s been able to accomplish. Certain guys work extremely hard in the off-season—and Roger always did that—and are able to play longer than other players. No, none of us—at least I never thought, nor was it even discussed, that steroids was the reason why. You’ll see these guys in different sports throughout the decades, and they’re just a step above the rest, being able to compete at an older age. It’s amazing. That’s just what I accepted it to be.

Do you and your brother feel that the organization needs to address the fact that three players from the ’99 and 2000 World Championship teams were named in the Mitchell Report?
I’m not really gonna comment on that. It’s up to them to comment for themselves. There were a lot of names in the Mitchell Report. You saw it. I didn’t read the report page to page, so I just don’t know what the evidence was or wasn’t, how strong the evidence was or wasn’t, or any of that.

It’s been suggested that you and your brother would sell the team after your dad passed away. Given your uneasiness with public life, are you exploring this option?
No, we’re absolutely not planning on selling the team.

Are you willing to concede that Boston, my favorite team, is the superior organization right now?
No, I will never concede. They’ve got a lot of talent, and you’ve done very well the past few years, but let me put it this way: I don’t think you guys wanted to play us in the ALCS. So I will concede nothing. I think we’re better than you.

nate penn is a gq staff writer.

Photographs: AP; Newscom/Splash.

Friday  May 18, 2007


Manny Being Mommy

Here, courtesy of Ian Bethune's Sox & Dawgs blog, is the tenderest moment we're likely to see in baseball this year. A moment of silence is in order, in recognition of the fact that Manny Ramirez has once again surpassed himself.

Thursday  May 03, 2007


The Hall of Could Have Been

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Bob Cerv during his brief, glorious Kansas City career

On his routinely excellent blog Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star examines the careers of several Major League players who for one reason or another never fulfilled their potential. My favorite is Bob Cerv, of whom Posnanski quotes Bill James as follows: "EVERYTHING went wrong for him. He didn't lose 40 percent of his Hall of Fame luster. He lost 95 percent of it, so people will never believe how good he could have been."

Cerv, a college football star, didn't sign a contract until he graduated at 24, then threw in his lot with the New York Yankees of the 1950s, the baseball dynasty to end all dynasties (during that decade, the team won the World Series six times). Promising through Cerv, an outfielder, might have been, New York's outfield would feature various configurations of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and the All-Stars Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling, and Elston Howard. If you had to summarize Cerv's Yankee career in just four words, they would be: We Appreciate Your Interest.

Traded to Kansas City and, in 1958, given 500 at-bats in a season for the first and only time, Cerv, now 32 years old, hit 38 home runs, knocked in 104 RBIs, and batted .305. And then Kansas City traded him back to the Yankees. He'd never be a full-time player again.

You can read about Cerv and numerous other Hall of Fame Not Quites here.