Friday, April 18, 2008

Feelin' Kinda (tentatively) Not Without a Scrap of Hope

"I'ma miss you, sweater-wearin' New Yorker fag." - Patton Oswalt, "Gay Pride Parade", Feelin' Kinda Patton

Ben McGrath's year of magical sportswriting has passed into the annals of journalistic feistyness, and not, it shouldn't need to be said, given the profile of the celebrated organ that employs him, without some considerable notice. Not the least of which notice recently came from the Boston straightedge veterans over at The Medicine Agency, whose quick recap of the three subjects McGrath and his editors (what up, D. Remnick) saw fit to take down a notch (or three) is as mercifully brief as their forgivable Red Sox bias is plain to see. Among the more egregious of the blogosphere's crimes (and there are many) is its tendency towards redundancy, and it's in recognition of this that I'm not going to spend any time excerpting or repeating what it was that McGrath actually wrote about Manny Ramirez, Scott Boras and Lenny Dykstra. The internet's got that work. Read it, son.

What I will spend a second to say is that it feels like I-don't-even-know-what to have good sports copy lying around. Lloyd and I have had several meetings of the tex-mex-clogged mind on the subject of what is asked of a self-respecting man that he might subject himself to printed baseball news. Putting aside what one deals with on the radio and TV (notwithstanding the yeoman's work this hero puts in on behalf on that OTHER game), one nevertheless is, and has long been, reading either the roteness of any one of the interchangeable dailies, the post-Seinfeldian/post-Olbermann&Patrick-Big-Show snark of so many Bill Simmonses, (genuine and counterfeit alike), the vague but off-putting insiderism of SI, or, if one is a pencilneck armchair intellectual like me, one is wolfing down one's fill of "literary" baseball writing (LBW). The latter is to be found in greatest abundance in the aforementioned New Yorker before it is inevitably collected in books of poignantly austere jacket design. Many of LBW's canonical works were produced by moonlighting middlebrow authors (I'm pretty sure that reciting John Updike's account of Ted Wiliams' final at-bat is a prerequisite for securing tenure at all New England universities), so it's not surprising that the genre is an exercise in fetishizing things like "the laconic rhythm of the game, which allows for minute observance and philosophical reflection" (I made that quote up). Roger Angell made a storied career out of getting lost in his doddering thoughts while sitting next to his wife at Class-A and spring training games. Onetime Esquire/TIME/NYTimes editor and widely reviled asshole Daniel Okrent — the man who invented the rotisserie league (!) — positively oozes the LBW vibe in the lengthy interview he did for Ken Burns' Baseball PBS miniseries.

Guys like me inhale this stuff because it affords the prestige of being a true-blue litman, without requiring any of the work. It's The Official Sub-Genre of Stuff White People Like. But just because I'm addicted to it doesn't mean it won't occasionally make me feel like I just came from a swing-dancing lesson in the summer of 1998. It's got literally nothing to do with being a man. And that is why each new dispatch from youngbuck McGrath is being welcomed like an Age of Reason strongman general just back from his latest campaign. It's because there it is in the New Yorker, but instead of allegory, you get swearing. Instead of a finely honed, three-dimensional character sketch of Dizzy Dean, you get Lenny Dykstra answering a cellphone that rings to the tune of "Stuck on You" by Lionel Richie. Instead of patronizing white-guilt-laden reminiscences about Satchell Paige's "down-home personality," you get Dominican-ass Manny dealing with traffic violations and smoking cess in the Green Monster cubbyhole. McGrath specializes in the passive-aggressive undermining of the rich California asshole, but it's obvious, not just from his choice of subjects but from the sheer length of Persnickety Scribe Signature Series-brand rope with which each of them so far has gamely hung himself, that he's got no shortage of that fratboy dogg blood in his own damn veins and he's not afraid or apologetic about letting the boorish manners of the Yaley that he is shine through. He is what every self-styled smarter-than-the-average-bear sports fan thinks he is. He is, for the moment, my favourite American.


Send forth the witticisms from on high