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Vincent on Surratt

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

In case you missed it, there was a lovely piece by Fay Vincent in the WSJ last Saturday about the former Negro League baseball player Slick Surratt. Surratt died the previous Monday at the age of 87 (see the obituary in the Kansas City Star) and Vincent, one-time commissioner of baseball, writes with great affection about him and the friendship that developed between them years after his playing days.

Have a look at the article. I’ll include just one excerpt:

Once I asked why he and his teammates played so hard to win. “Well, Commissioner, there are two answers to that question—the public one and then the real one. Which do you want?” I asked for both.

“The public one is we wanted to do our best and to play the game the right way. But then the real answer, Commissioner, is the winning team got the best girls.”

Categories: Baseball

If Things Don’t Pick Up

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Jason Smith, US Olympic curler

The US men’s Olympic curling team did not do well, tying with Denmark and China for the worst record among the ten teams in the round robin (2 wins, 7 losses) and not going on to the medal round. But they’re a charming group, and the NYT had a great article about them four days ago. (See too the accompanying video.) As the article explains, two of them — John Shuster and Jason Smith — grew up together in Chisholm, Minnesota, with teammate Jeff Isaacson growing up a little out of town. Chisholm, by the way, is near Hibbing, some 75-80 miles to the northwest of Duluth. That’s pretty far out there, in extreme weather country.

The three of them spent the last year together in an apartment in Duluth (along with Shuster’s fiancée), preparing for Olympic qualification and, as it worked out, the Olympics. You can learn more about them in the article and by watching the video. I mention them only because I love the wisdom and cliché avoidance of the article’s ending.

After the Olympics, they will split up. Shuster will marry, Isaacson has already moved out, Smith will go to Florida, his current home. Musing about their time together, Smith observes, “Probably the best couple years of our lives — if things don’t pick up, I guess.”

Categories: Life, Sports

Olympics Coverage

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

I don’t seem to have written about sports in a long time. Not for lack of paying attention. I’ll make up for it tonight. Rather than watching NBC’s coverage of the Olympics, I’ll blog.

One thing I haven’t wanted to blog about is the Olympics, since I can hardly think of anything to say that hasn’t been said elsewhere. Plus, I feel silly sitting here in Seattle when they’re taking place just a little bit to the north. If I’m going to pay attention, I should be there rather than reading and blogging about it. Then again, I was away for a few days last week, and now Gail’s away. It wouldn’t have worked out.

What would I say if I did write about the Olympics? I’d start, of course, by complaining about the coverage. Let me touch on the few essential points that come to mind.

1. Yes, NBC’s coverage is inane. But it’s always inane. Why would this time be different? One reason might be that with each passing Olympics, availability of information increases, so their penchant for tape delaying and dramatizing gets sillier and sillier. The real problem for us, though, is that our usual antidote to NBC is gone. When we got sick of it, we would just switch to CBC. We’d get to see the major events live. We’d get a little less drama, though they did follow the NBCs script (or, really, Roone Arledge’s ABC script from long ago, to give credit where it’s due) of up close and personal background stories. Alas, the CBC did not win the contract for Canadian television coverage for this Olympics. Cable network TSN did, and they’re not available as part of our cable package. We are reduced to watching on NBC or not watching at all.

2. Given that we’re stuck with tape delay, what I find most annoying is how little of the major events NBC shows. Even if I know the results ahead of time, I might still like to see an event unfold in some semblance of real time. Package it as you wish, give us little bios and mini-dramas, but at least let us see the action. Especially for alpine skiing! Especially for the downhill!! How hard can that be? How about a little respect — for us and for the sport itself? What could be simpler than showing us every run of the first 30 or so downhillers, men and women? I know, it would take too much time. So show it later on another NBC-owned channel, after the NBC package treatment, and let me record it.

3. Second in my list of annoyances is the tape delay of the tape delay. We west-coasters are disrespected twice over. The east coast sees NBC’s package starting at 8:00 PM, but we have to wait until 8:00 PM arrives in our time zone, which just happens to be the time zone that the Olympics are happening in. Some events take place in prime time in the east, so eastern and central viewers get to see them live. Imagine that. Not us though. We wait 3 hours, ensuring that we will see no action on NBC live. The figure skating is an example. It happens to be an example I’m not overly interested in, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about it. The east coast is treated to skating as it happens. We wait three hours. Which is one reason I’m blogging now rather than watching the final six women in their silly costumes do their long programs. (I am, as it turns out, following the NYT live blog of the event. We seem to be down to Canadian Joannie Rochette and the genuine drama of how she’ll do in the wake of her mother’s death a few days ago.)

4. A variant of my last complaint: it’s bad enough that NBC is so east-coast-centric. But why must so many sports and media writers be as well? Whenever they write about NBC’s coverage and mention tape delay, they rarely point out the plight of the west coasters. Do they not realize that we see nothing live? Do they not care?

On the positive side, I love the NYT historical graphic in which one can follow the Winter Olympics from 1924 onwards, seeing how each country did in its medal count. Hit the play button. Or, better yet, use your mouse to click on the time bar, then use the left and right arrow keys to move through the years at your own pace. I fell in love with this feature two summers ago during the Beijing Olympics. (Hey, where did eighteen months go? Surely it was just the other day that I was studying Summer Olympics history.)

And speaking of history, at the top is my favorite Winter Olympics memory. Franz Klammer, the greatest skier of his time, skiing in his home country in the premier event of the Olympics, with enormous pressure, and winning. I went out to dinner that night on the way home from school. There was a department colloquium dinner that night, at the Chinese restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge that we often used for group math dinners. A modest place, but just a 15-minute walk from MIT, and especially convenient for me since my apartment was another 5 minutes down the road. After dinner, I headed home, turned on the TV, and watched the downhill coverage. Perhaps it’s an illusion, but I picture myself watching all the runs, just the way I wish I could now. Tape-delayed of course, but great nonetheless.

Categories: Sports, Television