Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Take Me Out to the Cold Rain

Mother Nature spoiled Game 5 of the World Series last night with a chilly downpour from an early nor'easter. Commissioner Bud Selig suspended the game after 5½ innings—marking the first time a World Series contest has ever been suspended. Heavy snow fell in parts of the Philadelphia metropolitan area this morning, and tonight's continuation of Game 5 has already been rescheduled for tomorrow evening.

Whereas Commissioner Selig has seen fit to preserve what little is left of Major League Baseball's integrity—as well as make Philadelphians wait agonizingly for their first major-sports championship in a quarter-century—by not permitting adverse weather to influence a World Series game's outcome, we should remind ourselves that baseball used to be played and administrated by real men. Just look at the photo above: Opening Day, 1911, in Detroit. Blizzard conditions. The White Sox catcher eschews a squat, lest he be buried in drifting snow. Leadoff man Davy Jones' hands are stuck to the bat.* And the umpire needed two days stuffed inside a hot dog cart to be thawed out. Yet the wintry assault couldn't keep Ty Cobb from going 3-for-4 and spiking a vociferous spectator with a flying drop-kick in near-whiteout conditions.

*This is not the Davy Jones of The Monkees—although this Davy Jones did live long enough to hear "Daydream Believer" and subsequently drive himself to the morgue.

Sure, last night's inclement weather caused atrocious playing conditions and perhaps even posed a minor health hazard to thousands of fans stuck in steady, cold rain. I'll admit—I felt awful for the Phillie Phanatic, its fur soaked and matted (and as seen here, too weak to move). As far as I know, the Phanatic is cold-blooded. It may not have survived the rain delay. Has anyone looked into that?

Still, harsh April and October weather was far more common in the old days, before global warming shortened winter's grasp, and the Fall Classic has been no stranger to adverse conditions—such as in the inaugural World Series of 1903, when a snowbound Cy Young of the Boston Americans (a/k/a Red Sox) battled the elements as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 7 long after heavy snow had chased away most fans. Seen below (with 3rd-baseman Jimmy Collins guarding against the bunt), Young called this "my coldest day in baseball" but still stifled the Pirates for a 7-3 victory.

Bud Selig has to suck it up and let these guys play ball. And I mean literally suck it up—get down on his hands and knees and suck up all the water on the basepaths and mound so that the Phils can bring our city a championship with no more delay. Selig has been highly culpable in Major League Baseball's recent black eyes (ignoring the rise of steroids, ineffectually presiding over the strike that canceled the 1994 World Series, declaring a tie in the 2002 All-Star Game), so the least he can do to clean up baseball is to clean up the baseball diamond.

Assume the position, Bud.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pretzel's Honor

Before the start of the NLCS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers wrote an article that went beyond poking good-natured fun at the opponent city and took cheap shots at Philadelphia, its culture, and its citizens. An excerpt:

ANGRYVILLE—You spend any time in this dingy city and around these folks, and pit bulls running wild come to mind.

Fine when leashed, but set them free, put a beer in their grubby paws and it's only a matter of time before they're going to go on the attack—both the home team and its opponent feeling the bite.

For Dodgers, it will be handle with care... Dodgers bullpen might not include...It's an angry place, all right, everything old here in Philadelphia, crumbling and in ruin. Even the city's main attraction has a crack in it.

So the prevailing opinion around here is you have to be an obstinate pug to make it in Philly, the football team tough, the hockey team a bunch of bullies and the Phillies rugged competitors like Larry Bowa.

This is supposed to make Philly an intimidating place to play, Bowa telling the media Wednesday that if the Dodgers thought Chicago was bad, "they're going to be in for a rude awakening" playing here.

"It was like a West Coast crowd in Chicago," said Bowa, the Philly in him unable to keep himself from slapping Dodgers fans, and apparently discounting the manner in which Nancy Bea Hefley can whip a Dodgers crowd into a frenzy.

But if a Philly crowd is so intimidating, as Bowa suggests, why do the Phillies lose here so often? A year ago, the Phillies became the first pro sports franchise in North American history to lose 10,000 games.

Philly has always been more bark than championship bite, so why should the Dodgers give a hoot about folks who paint their faces and then have to drive home looking like sad clowns?

The Dodgers have the better team, a destiny date in Boston, and while that might make the folks in Philly miserable, they don't know how to act any differently here.

Simers' article was soon reprinted on a Philadelphia Web site (digphilly.com), whereupon it drew the ire of many locals. It was brought to my attention by a friend, who "commissioned" me to post a suitable response to Simers' boorish snobbery:

T.J. Simers proved as astute a baseball expert as an appreciator of American culture. But that’s to be expected from a resident of a city so uninventive that it essentially named one of its baseball teams the “City of Angels Angels.” Through L.A. smog, he foresaw victory for a squad that won a powderpuff division with a puny 84 wins—and won it solely because the Boston Red Sox virtually gave away Manny Ramirez. Without Boston’s gift, the Dodgers are pipe-dreaming of a .500 season. Even with Manny, they could only eke out a lone win in the NLCS—but that’ll happen when the opponent’s #2 starting pitcher out-RBI’s your catcher and right-fielder combined.

Yes, everything is “old here in Philadelphia, crumbling and in ruin.” We’re practically living in rubble. To hell with the history of the United States—we should raze historical and architectural landmarks like Independence Hall, the Museum of Art, Walnut Street Theater, the marvelously ornate City Hall, and start afresh. Who needs the colonial sublimity of Elfreth’s Alley when we could instead erect soulless abominations like Walt Disney Concert Hall and stare agog at how shiny they are? (Note to Los Angeles City Council: Keep Donald Duck away from the blueprints next time.)

Still, we’re quite proud of our city’s main attraction, crack and all. In the town that gave the New World democracy, our Liberty Bell is the foremost symbol of freedom—the same freedom enjoyed for the last fourteen years by the unending Los Angeles embarrassment known as O.J.

Yes, the Phillies were the first North American team to 10,000 losses. It’s easy to stay off that list when your city doesn’t even have a professional sports team until after World War II. (Our long-departed A’s gave us five World Series titles before Hollywood even started shooting in Technicolor.) And how does the second-largest city in the nation allow not one—but two—NFL teams to abandon it? That’s some fan base Apathenos have there. But then, you can’t spell “blasé” without “LA.” Granted, the Lakers own a glorious history (even if their best player of the last decade is a Philadelphian), but those triumphs are cruelly balanced by the woeful Clippers, one of the poorest-run franchises in American sport.

And why do the Kings even bother?

“Angryville,” as Simers has less-than-cleverly dubbed Philadelphia (conjure that one in six-lane traffic on the way to work, T.J.?), doesn’t require Hollywood glitterati at its games. We’re content living without the starstruck sycophantism of La La Land. And if our favorite sons are as glamour-less as Benjamin Franklin and W.C. Fields, that still beats the Bloods, Crips, and the omni-obnoxious Jack Nicholson. (By the way, six decades after his death, Fields’ films are still more entertaining than ninety-five percent of the drek Hollywood churns out.)

Philadelphians are passionate fans, alright—occasionally too much so—but it was Dodgers fans guilty of acting like classless buffoons in this series, reported in the media and caught on Youtube throwing food, viciously berating, and even spitting at isolated Phillies fans.

You might want to reset the coordinates of Angryville in your GPS, T.J.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Foreheady Rivalry

Peyton Manning has been inextricably linked to brother Eli since the younger Manning entered the NFL in 2004. And with good reason: the Mannings are talented, high-profile quarterbacks who each led his team to Super Bowl victory in the last two seasons.

But as unfair as comparisons of a younger, struggling Eli to his superstar sibling have been at times, those comparisons have proved just as unfair to the elder Manning. For the hard truth is—though the Manning boys engender direct comparison because they are siblings playing the same position—Peyton's true rival is Mike Farrell, a/k/a Capt. B.J. Hunnicutt of M*A*S*H.

Until Peyton Manning's emergence on the national stage in 1998, Mike Farrell's crown for America's biggest forehead remained unchallenged—an honor he had taken from the Talosians of the Star Trek pilot (seen at right). Joining the M*A*S*H ensemble in 1975, Farrell's prominent squama frontalis instantly became the most recognizable frontal anatomy in prime-time. Although cast as a mild-mannered foil to Hawkeye, the producers soon found that Farrell's forehead lent much-needed counterbalance to Jamie Farr's nose. Farrell's huge forehead quickly became one of the 4077th's centerpieces—and even found its way into plotlines, doubling as an emergency helicopter pad in Episode 114, "Beyond the Call."

Farrell confessed to People in a 1981 interview: "Most of my fan mail concerns my forehead. Viewers want to know everything about it."

After M*A*S*H left the air, Farrell considered reprising his role in a spinoff, which was to be called BJ, MD and follow his post-war days as President Eisenhower's personal physician. But Farrell, a liberal activist, thought the character's conservative leanings on transthoracic echocardiography too out of sync with his own. Yet even without a major role since 1983, the abundant acreage above Farrell's eyebrows left him the king of craniums for a quarter-century.

And along comes Peyton Manning, a supremely talented quarterback with a forehead unlike any ever seen in the NFL. Former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora would diagram plays on Peyton's ample forehead during timeouts. Sure, Manning's forehead afforded plenty of space for all the X's and O's—the Colts offense had a grand view of Mora's strategy. Only problem was that Peyton, himself, couldn't see the play. He'd look up and try to snare a glimpse of the upcoming playcall, but, of course, it was futile...and the Colts finished a dreary 3-13 that season. Not until Tony Dungy introduced the clipboard to the Indianapolis offense in 2002 did Manning blossom into an MVP.

Neither Manning nor Farrell has ever consented to a forehead measurement, so it remains to be seen who officially possesses more cranial surface area. But Manning's celebrity and broad advertising appeal have made him virtually ubiquitous, whereas Farrell has largely faded from the public eye. However, Farrell is fast becoming the darling of the astronomy circuit, his convex upper profile providing California observatories with on-demand solar eclipses, from which scientists have garnered a wealth of new data about the sun's atmosphere. Rumor has it that Farrell may take his new talent to observatories across the nation so that the public might benefit, and that Farrell has acquired the rights to Thus Spake Zarathustra to complement what NASA has dubbed the "Farrellian eclipse." This could well make Mike Farrell a hot commodity once again, so perhaps the crown shouldn't be handed to Peyton Manning too quickly.

Who's really the Sultan of Skull? Unless someone can get a caliper to Farrell's and Manning's foreheads while they're sleeping, it's the Super Bowl vs. the solar eclipse in the battle for the public's heart.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sibling Vapidity

Last Thursday, USS Intrepid, one of the United States Navy’s most decorated aircraft carriers, returned to the Manhattan pier she has called home for a quarter-century, after a two-year, $120 million renovation in nearby Staten Island. Intrepid—seen here steaming toward something exciting—saw action in six major battles of the Pacific war, as well as in Korea and Vietnam. She also twice served as a recovery ship for NASA astronauts. Since 1982, she has served as the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, one of New York City's most popular tourist attractions.

Yet, whereas Intrepid has one of the most distinguished careers of all aircraft carriers, little remembered is her sister ship, USS Insipid, owner of a stultifyingly boring and pointless history.

According to Jane’s Bickering Ships:

USS Insipid (CV-0) is surely the United States Navy’s most banal warship. Her keel laid down in autumn 1941 by wholly disinterested shipbuilders, she sailed from one end of the Pacific to the other without once encountering the enemy. Sighs of boredom from her exasperated crew could be heard aboard screening vessels more than a thousand yards away, and she soon came to be known throughout the fleet as "Dull Hull." By March 1945, even the Japanese Imperial Navy deemed her too jejune to seek out and directed their kamikaze pilots to target more interesting vessels. At war’s conclusion, she docked in San Francisco Harbor to scattered yawns.

Boatswain's Mate J.W. Chouinard and Betsy with
nothing to do in the Tasman Sea, 1944.

The third ship in the US Navy's history to bear the name Insipid, she inherited a pallid legacy. The original Insipid, a frigate that fruitlessly patrolled the Mid-Atlantic coast during the War of 1812, was taken out of service when her jaded crew contracted narcolepsy. Her successor, a Union gunboat, ran aground in 1864 due to "dreadful ennui."

Insipid's colorless career continued until 1962, when the Chief of Naval Operations recalled that she was still part of the fleet and, deciding that the ensuing paperwork would be more stimulating than giving Insipid another assignment, ordered her decommissioned. Capt. Theodore Purvis, tears of monotony streaming down his face, gushed, "Thank god that's over with..." Her 20-year ship's log, now displayed behind some empty boxes in a closet of the United States Navy Museum, contained no entries.