Role Models and Vaseline

English: May 1977 photograph of Texas Rangers ...
English: May 1977 photograph of Texas Rangers pitcher Gaylord Perry, taken at Arlington Stadium prior to a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. This image has been cropped slightly from the original. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was watching a bit of the Little League World Series today—not something I normally do, but it was the only sport on television while I was at the gym—and during the game they cut to a brief clip from the opening ceremony. Including the ceremonial first pitch (one of America’s greatest traditions) thrown out by Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry. Continue reading “Role Models and Vaseline”

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Charles Bradley is Kick-ass!

After my somewhat dark rumination on people and media from Monday, I thought I should post something a bit more upbeat today. Upbeat, but not altogether different. Namely, I’m thinking about Charles Bradley’s performance at Lollapalooza on August 3.

Now, I don’t know Charles Bradley personally. I’ve never met him, and I likely never will meet him. I’ve listened eagerly and often to the two records he’s issued in the last few years, and they are fantastic. Victim of Love, this year’s effort, is a truly superb album, showcasing Bradley’s voice and backing him with the none-too-shabby Menahan Street Band.

So when I saw him perform at Lolla, I had no way to judge the performance other than as a performance. And as a performance, it was riveting. 

In person his voice has all the grit and nuance as on the records (which, despite the persistent James Brown comparisons, still strikes me as closer to Otis Redding). He interacted with his band mostly in the aural realm, generally ignoring them in his movements and gestures. And holy crap, the man can dance. His set was a thoroughly physical affair, with dancing spanning the gap between Saturday night’s soul music and Sunday morning’s gospel. He trudged across the stage with the microphone stand, slung cross style, on his back. He shook his hips and thrust his pelvis while singing about love. He threw down the microphone stand, only to grab it back by the chord at the last moment and caress it lovingly as he repented his forceful ways and shifted to a sensitive crooning.

But what really got me was the end of his set. During his last song, Bradley got off the stage and sang to the audience on the ground in the front row. Then he began walking back through the crowd towards the sound booth, stopping every couple of paces to shake someone’s hand or give someone a hug. He held several audience members in a long embrace, and he kissed a few women on the cheek. Bradley walked all the way through the narrow path, and then he turned around and walked back, still greeting the dense throng of fans that had crowded the central path.

His band had long since stopped playing and retreated from the stage, but Bradley held the remaining audience enthralled. I was not particularly close to Bradley, and yet I felt the power of that moment as if I was right alongside him. He communicated such happiness at being received by this crowd, such unmitigated joy in being able to sing to us. I don’t know how “real” that joy was; as I said, I have never and likely will never meet Bradley. But for that brief moment on a sunny Saturday, Charles Bradley brought us to the club, where we danced and swayed and sang; and he brought us to church, where we danced and sang some more; and he brought us together.

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On Taking the Field

A few days ago, ESPN posted a poll on its website in anticipation of the US Open. The poll asked who was going to win, and respondent were given two choices: Tiger Woods and The Field. A similar poll had been posted before the Memorial Tournament a few weeks earlier. In the earlier poll, about 55% of readers picked Woods; that number was inverted before the Open. (I don’t recall the exact figures; these are just ballpark numbers.)

Now, first of all, from a probability perspective, there is never any justification for taking a single player over the field. It doesn’t matter if the player is Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, or Jesus returned to Earth to play doubles at Wimbledon. In a multi-round individual tournament, there are simply too many any-given-Sunday sort of events that can transpire to keep even a unanimous pre-tournament favorite from emerging a champion. Sure, Woods may be the top-ranked golfer in the world and a once-in-a-generation talent. He was also the odds-on favorite to win the Open; but still not favored over the entire rest of the field.

If someone ever wants to bet on a tournament, and offers to give you the field while he takes a single player, you should take that bet in a heartbeat. (Well, actually, if a professional gambler offers to give you “the field” in such a bet, you should probably run very quickly in the other direction, because the thing is probably fixed. But you get the point.)

But watching the second round of the Open this morning, I wondered if there was also another reason why such a disproportionate portion of ESPN’s readership would pick Woods over the entire rest of the PGA: you simply don’t get to see any other golfers. Watching ESPN, you would think that Woods was playing the best golf of his life and the outcome of a tournament was already in the bag. Why else devote so much screen time to a single player in a tournament that features over 150 golfers in the field?

It turns out that Woods had a thoroughly mediocre first two rounds, shooting a +3 73 on day 1, and a marginally better even par on day 2. But if you just paid attention to the screen time given to each player, you’d never know that there were several players playing much more interesting, exciting, and skillful rounds that Woods. ESPN showed us Tiger mulling over every shot, walking around the ball on the greens, taking practice swings in the fairways and the rough (where he found himself frequently late in his second round). They cut quickly to other players just long enough to show someone strike the ball and to wait until it stopped rolling; then right back to Woods. It’s skillful television editing, true, but not particularly compelling tournament coverage.

Does Woods really need or deserve such dedicated coverage? He’s a master of maintaining his brand as a golfer and a public figure—he even recovered nicely from the scandal that engulfed him a few years ago—but to watch the Open coverage, you’d think that ESPN had invested in Woods. Maybe Chris Berman has money on the tournament, but I can’t really think of any other reason why we should stick so closely to a player who has played so consistently mediocre golf in this tournament. Why not show us more of Justin Rose’s round, or Ian Poulter, or Billy Horschel? All three had some of the handful of under par rounds today—far better than Woods—and who is going to be invested in someone like Horschel (hardly a household name) if we can’t see him play?

Yes, Woods is a remarkably talented golfer, and certainly we can expect to see coverage of him at the major tournaments. But should this idolatrous devotion to Woods really trump all other stories and players in the tournament? Is there any reason why we need to watch Woods take 45 seconds to think over a 15-foot putt while other players are hitting terrific chips and drives? ESPN can take Tiger Woods, if they want; I’m taking the field.

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Welcome to my blog!

Thanks for checking this out! I’ve never been much for “social media”–blogging, facebooking, and so on. But I figured I’d give it a shot, and see how it goes. I’m mostly going to write about the things I spend my time thinking about: music and baseball. (One is my job, the other is a lifelong enthusiasm; you can try to guess which is which.) These might intersect from time to time, but mostly I’m just going to write about things I think or important, or that I want to say. 

And away we go…

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