2011

Looking in the mirror

I had a revelation this afternoon, and it’s probably going to sound … well, I don’t know how it’ll sound. So I’ll just begin.

I started this blog because I like writing, and I thought it’d be entertaining to write my thoughts on music, sports, politics—especially politics. I never expected to gain much of a following, because there is nothing specific about this forum. When most bloggers write, they’re consistently writing about a specific something. You go to Deadspin for a specific reason; to andrewsullivan for a specific reason. Here, I’m just doodling around with my thoughts in between books. That’s all it’s meant to be. Nothing more.

But it has become more—and I don’t really like it. About a half hour ago I wrote a post about my latest SI.com column, and within the content I took some shots at an NBC Sports blogger named Craig Calcaterra. I don’t know Craig, I’ve never met Craig and, until a few days ago, I never even heard of Craig. But his recent criticisms irked me, so I fired back. Why? Because of an impulsive and immature need to defend. So childish. So stupid.

This is not who I want to be. I write because I love writing and I love reporting. I love digging into a subject, then digging into a subject about that subject, then digging even more. Books complete me in a way magazine stories or newspaper columns or (certainly) blog posts never have. They are what I love to do, and if you choose to judge me as a journalist, I can only hope those are the barometers.

I hate much of what’s going on out there—the 140-word top-of-the-brain spewage of Twitter; the blog-for-the-sake-of-saying-something blog post; the eagerness to point out the mistakes committed by others; the sheer loudness of it all. I don’t want to be loud, and—in many respects—the recent Jeff Bagwell posts I wrote (the ones that were slammed by so many) were stuffed with more screaming than intellectual discourse (I believe, strongly, in my takes. But the writing was shit). This stuff becomes addictive, however, and before you know it you’re insulting someone because he dared insult you. It’s second grade all over again.

So, first, I want to apologize to Craig.

And second, I want to dedicate myself to returning to the basics.

Writing. Reporting.

Not screaming.

PS: I don’t agree with many of Craig’s points, especially on PED. But his passion is clear in his work, and that’s invaluable.

Today’s SI.com column …

is on why Major League Baseball is to blame for the Hall of Fame/steroid mess, and why voters have been forced to question the legitimacy of it all.

One of the writers I cited in the column was Craig Calcaterra, a blogger for NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk. I don’t know Craig, and I certainly have nothing personal against the man. But, ever since I was directed to his work last week, I’ve been dumbfounded by the simplicity of his general take.

Today, for example, Calcaterra slams Tom Verducci, my old SI colleague and the best baseball writer on the planet, for writing this in his latest SI.com column:

Bagwell’s numbers look worthy of Cooperstown, but he has been tied to steroid speculation enough that he “defended” himself in an ESPN.com interview last month. His defense? “I have no problem” with a guy juicing up, he said. To take such a position today is wildly irresponsible. It also invites the very talk that Bagwell claimed to be “sick and tired of.”

Bagwell was an admitted Andro user who hired a competitive bodybuilder to make him as big as he could be, who claimed, McGwire-like, that Andro “doesn’t help you hit home runs,” who went from a prospect with “no pop” to massively changing his body and outhomering all but six big leaguers in the 13 seasons before steroid penalties (Ken Griffey Jr. and five connected to steroids: Bonds, Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and Juan Gonzalez), and who condones the use of steroids — but said, “I never used.”

Calcaterra refers to this sort of stuff as odius McCarthyism (Which leads to the question: Does Calcaterra actually know who Joseph McCarthy was, or does he just dig the term?), and writes: “Wow. Forget evidence or even eyeball-speculation. Now it’s enough to be merely “tied to speculation,” — query; who’s doing the tying? — to have defended oneself and to have engaged in “irresponsible” talk.” (Sidenote: I just picked up that, toward the end of his column, Calcaterra slams me. Ha).

If one reads Calcaterra’s stuff, he’ll quickly notice how a supposed “expert,” never references that, until 2004, Major League Baseball did not have testing—therefore making his sought-after proof an impossibility. Literally, the positive tests he so desperately seeks cannot exist. Why? Because baseball refused to test. Because the union stalled and hemmed and hawed until something had to give. Because the players didn’t want it.*

One more point: As far as I can tell, Craig Calcaterra never entered a Major League clubhouse during the era we’re all referencing. He wouldn’t understand the culture; certainly doesn’t know the relationship between players; the pressure to keep up; the … anything. At all. He is a former attorney with a laptop, hired by a website, to speak on behalf of a mounting faction of fans who desperately want this whole steroid debate to go away. Steroids? Never happened? PED? What’s that?

The reason baseball writers from the era (like Verducci, like Jon Heyman, like Ed Price) have so many suspicions and doubts about players like Jeff Bagwell is because they possess two things the Calcaterras of the world lack:

A. Experience.

B. Sources.

When I wrote my Roger Clemens biography a couple of years ago, I devoted much of my research time to delving into the Houston Astros’ clubhouse culture from the Rocket’s time with the team. As I’ve noted a more than once, the place was a hotbed for PED. A. Because of its proximity to Mexico (and, yes, many PEDs came—and surely stil come—from south of the border), the stuff was readily available; B. Because so many Astros used. This is not a guess, or speculation. This is fact. And just because a reporter can’t always name names in print (or online) doesn’t mean his material and knowledge is less than legitimate.

As I note in today’s column, Calcaterra is right—we don’t have proof Jeff Bagwell didn’t use, and in the absence of proof there is the possibility of innocence. But because proof—thanks to baseball and, specifically, the union—is an impossibility, we are left with speculation.

And, too often, ignorant bliss.

* The way a ballplayer got caught back them? A loudmouth trainer. And even then, as is the case with Clemens, people will scream, “But there’s no proof! Where’s the DNA-marked needle!”

Ohio State!!!!!!!

So Susan, my mother in law, went to Ohio State. As did Chris Berman (the other one), my little sister-in-law’s boyfriend.

Hence, just got a call a few minutes ago from Jessica (the sis), screaming, “Ohio State, baby! Ohio State! You have to blog about Ohio State!”

OK, I will. Love all the involved family members. But the Ohio State football program, as well as the NCAA, should be ashamed. Yes, Buckeyes, you won a game. You’ll win games next year, too. And the year after. And the year after that. But how did you win? By pathetically using five players who were suspended for selling championship rings, jerseys and awards. In addition, the “student-athletes” (a term dripping with irony) also received improper benefits a from the tattoo parlor and its owner.

Because the NCAA loves money, and bowl games generate millions (especially bowl games featuring high-level quarterbacks like Terrelle Pryor), the players were suspended for the first five games of 2011. Which is pathetic and sad and yet another indictment of an organization that warrants no genuine respect. But where, oh, where, was Jim Tressel, the respected Ohio State coach? Where was all that blather about running a clean program and holding players accountable and standing up for what’s right?

Pryor, of course, is now going to bolt for the NFL—and why shouldn’t he? So, I’m guessing, will some of the four other players (leading rusher Dan Herron, No. 2 wide receiver DeVier Posey, All-Big Ten offensive tackle Mike Adams and reserve defensive lineman Solomon Thomas). To me, it’s just example No. 633,233,221 of how messed up college sports really are.

I’m sure they’re cheering wildly in Columbus tonight.

But they’ve got little to celebrate.

Goodness

There is goodness in the world. Sometimes you have to look hard. But it really is there.

Earlier today I posted this video, which—if you haven’t watched it—is just staggering …

Toward the end, when he talks so honestly about drugs and alcohol and getting clean, well, it’s just heartbreaking. All I wanted was for someone to give him a chance. Any kind of chance.

Well, check this out: According to an MSNBC report, a morning show in Columbus, Ohio plans on giving Ted Williams a genuine job interview next week. Man, do I hope it works out. Stories like this one just do something to a person. They just do.

Along the upbeat lines, today I was at the gym when this commercial came on …

Corny? Yes. Goofy? A little. But also heartwarming and, in an odd way, valuable.

That said, I’m a cynic. And when I saw the spot was sponsored by Foundation for a Better Life, I assumed the group was some right-wing front raising money for conservative candidates. Indeed, the organization was founded by a conservative Evangelical Christian named Phillip Anschutz. And yes, the guy is a special kind of anus—has fought hard against gay rights and denied evolution. But, the Foundation for a Better Life (in and of itself) seems OK. Maybe I’m being fooled, but their commercials aren’t political, and they’ve starred people of both political sides.

Anyhow, happy happy, joy joy …

Dr. Drew

Whenever I go to the gym at night, I seem to find myself on an exercise machine watching the latest episode of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

It’s a riveting show, chock full o’ egomaniac faded celebrities battling substance abuse, fame, the lack of fame, mortality, etc. The star of the program, however, isn’t Jeremy London (Party of Five hunk) or Eric Roberts or Janice Dickinson. It’s Dr. Drew, the therapist who runs the whole thing and whose dry stylings and sought-out insights pave the way toward sobriety.

Man, do I loathe this man.

This isn’t personal—strictly professional. As the husband of a social worker and the son of a subtance abuse specialist, I feel comfortable in saying that the way Dr. Drew exploits people battling addiction is sickening. To begin with, rehab is an insanely personal experience. To go through it properly, one has to block out outside distractions and focus solely on the self. So how does this gig work? The celebs—almost all of whom are addicted to fame—are asked to go through rehab … in front of cameras!? Furthermore, all of their one-on-one (so to speak) sessions with Dr. Drew are aired. So there’s no intimacy; no privacy. Nothing.

Of all my Dr. Drew complains, the one that trumps all is his apparent need for fame. The other day I heard him analyzing Tiger Woods’ addictions, and how disappointed he was that “Tiger” didn’t do so and so. Dude, you’ve never met Tiger Woods. You’ve certainly never treated Tiger Woods. What sort of half-baked therapist analyzes a client he’s never had?

Seriously, so unprofessional, so loathsome.

Blech.

Adrian Beltre

The Texas Rangers are supposedly about to offer Adrian Beltre a six-year, $96 million contract.

Huge mistake.

Last season, Texas played with as much heart and hustle as any team in baseball. They weren’t the American League’s most talented outpost, but, as a unit, they had a genuine cohesiveness other organizations long for. The guys who make up the heart of Texas’ team—Josh Hamilton Vlad, Michael Young, David Murphy—are guys who grind it out. They really do, and to watch the Rangers surge through the playoffs was a thing of joy.

To me, adding Beltre is the equivalent of an NBA team adding on a Gilbert Arenas. He looks good, and the numbers add up, and he produces in bunches. But will he go all out every night? Will ne happily take one for the team? No.

I think of the early Seattle Beltre, just coming off of his huge year with the Dodgers. He was a true dog in Seattle—content, lazy, distant. Ask him, and he’ll tell you it was the NL-AL adjustment. Baloney. He made the money, and he coasted.

Talent-wise, Beltre ranks way up there. But a contender would be unwise to place him on the field every day. Especially when he’s not playing for a new deal.

Transparent political move

So it looks like the Republicans are going to start their House takeover with a bang. They plan on making an effort to immediately repeal the health care law, thereby wiping out one of Barack Obama’s major accomplishments.

If you follow politics at all (left, right, center, whatever), this is a pretty damn transparent move: Over the last 2 1/2 weeks of 2010, the president absolutely kicked the GOP’s ass, walking away with a handful of top-flight achievements that, in a wink’s time, made him go from Jimmy Carter to FDR. It was astonishing, and I honestly believe the Republicans don’t know what hit them.

Now they’re hitting back.

Is the health care bill a good one? Hard to say—since most of the provisions haven’t even kicked in yet. But if I’m a Democrat, I don’t cower from this one. I paint the Republicans as wicked, support-only-the-wealthiest monsters who have no interest in helping the nation’s poor and uninsured. I’d come up with the number of people who’d gain health coverage under the new law and tattoo it atop every Republican’s head. I’d trot out every sick kid I can find and make it clear that, once the Republicans repeal this law, they’re goners. I’d repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly mention that, during the George W. Bush administration, nothing was done about our nation’s horrific health care system. And why? Because if you’re wealthy, you’re either covered, or covered and employed by the companies making millions off of the old system.

The Democrats need to remind average citizens that health coverage in this nation blows (it truly does), and the Republicans have never lifted a finger to fix it.

Will the strategy work? Maybe. But it sure beats cowering.

2:08 am

It’s 2:11 am. Three minutes ago, at 2:08 am, I hit the SEND button on my Mac, thereby shipping off the completed manuscript of my fifth book to my editor.

Whew.

I probably can’t explain how exhausting this one has been, but I’ll try: Ex-hau-st-in-g. For nearly two years all I’ve thought about is this book; about chasing down the ghost of a man not alive to speak for himself, and trying to piece together his life, year by year, month by month, occasionally day by day and minute by minute. I have traveled to two spots repeatedly, and I either wound up staying with my wife’s wonderful cousin in her swet apartment or in some of the grossest $40 motels known to humanity. I’ve had countless people tell me what to write and what not to write. I’ve been yelled at, ignored, ignored again and ignored again. I’ve had people cry and, of course, laugh. I’ve spent waaaaaaay too many hours transcribing tape (a source of pride: I have yet to hire someone to do this task) and waaaaaaaay too many hours procrastinating in front of Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and Juggs. On our recent family vacation to Florida, I was around for, oh, 20 percent of activities. Otherwise, I could be found in Palm Beach Gardens’ finest Panera and Starbucks.

My co-workers—and, quite frankly, the keys to my mental stability—have been the various employees. Yvonne, the Starbucks manager. The dude with the cool white shades who slides me free drinks. The Cosi cashier who just left on maternity leave. Anthony, the lanky Panera manager who laughs at my not funny jokes. Belinda, the Panera waitress with a magical smile. The waitress at Howley’s with the tattoo of her grandpa. The Mirage Diner manager who nods as I enter and go straight to my midnight table.

Most important (by far), is that I’m married to a genuinely amazing woman who knows what it is to write and write and write. Seriously, one can’t do this sort of dive-all-the-way-to-the-bottom endeavor without having a remarkable co-pilot. I’ve got the best.

This book isn’t done. Getting edited is rough. Going through legal—rough. Photos, cover, etc—rough. But I see a light. It’s flickering and dim.

But it’s a light, nonetheless.

The death of iced coffee

Today is my final day of writing my upcoming book, Double V: The Vinnie Vincent Saga. To celebrate, I decided to come here to Panera, the place where I’ve done the bulk of my work.

What I love about Panera, besides the wonderful staff, is the iced coffee. It’s rich and plentiful, and there’s always a cooler just waiting to be tapped. Also, Panera kindly offers free refills, which makes me …

What?

What!

Yes, it is true. Upon arriving today, I found a vacant spot where the iced coffee vat once rested. Upon further inquisition, I learned Panera, as a corporation, has discontinued iced coffee. Not enough buyers, and—they say—it’s hard to keep. Yeah, I’m wrapping things up. But I’m severely bummed. I tried making my own iced coffee out of hot coffee, but it tastes like lukewarm crap.

Since I’m on the subject, and since I am concluding a phase, here’s my ranking of the places I’ve worked:

1. Howley’s—A superb West Palm Beach diner where I wrote for most of last week (before we came home). Awesome staff, terrific menu, open late.

2. Panera—It’s bullshit that they don’t pay the staff more, OR supply them with a meal. But, save for the lame music, it’s a great place.

3. Starbucks 1—Not in love, but my local joint has a superb group of people who, ahem, often slip me free beverages. Drawback: You smell like fresh roast for the rest of the week.

4. Borders Cafe–Would be much higher were there not a VERY LOUD TALKER working there every day. Toss in the crazy couch lady, it’s sort of distracting.

5. Starbucks 2—Big problem—come winter, the place is so small you get chilled every single time the door opens. That said, there’s a very facsinating sexual drama going on with some of the regulars (not me) that keeps it spicey.

6. Cosi—I love some of the people, but it’s dirty and the bread is layered with salt. So-so.

7. Manhattanville College Library—When I started teaching here, Jonathan Tropper told me the library would be a great spot. It’s wonderful, but just too quiet. Can’t do it.

8. My local public library—The bathroom is just rancid. Can’t hold it all day.

9. Mirage Diner—Everything was peaches and roses … until I saw the dude cleaning the toilet with his bare hands, not wash … then serve drinks.