Welcome sports fans to the exciting and colorful world of the University of Nebraska Press Sports Blog. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion of anything related to sports, and I do mean anything, because the term "sports" means so many different things to different people, including those among us whose very identities are wrapped up in the fortunes of a particular team or player, or who mark seasons and life’s rhythms not by the changing winds but by opening days, all-star games, playoffs, and championships.
I live in Lincoln, a writer by profession. I have a master’s degree in English and a bachelor’s in political science, so I’m well qualified for this. Seriously, just look at great literature, baseball classics such as Bang the Drum Slowly, The Celebrant, The Southpaw, The Summer Game (all available from the University Press, by the way). And politics? Say no more. Sports and politics occupy the same realm; both are proxy forums for societal issues marked by bellwether events that can define an age.
Of the two, sports are better indicators of the human condition. For one, politics can’t match sports when it comes to cult of celebrity, especially one equipped with such a finely tuned sounding board for personal and community grievances as well as for good old American greed, lust, pride and chutzpah, and, on rare occasion, humility and grace.
Show me a politician except for JFK who could hold on to our imaginations as long as Babe Ruth has. Among today’s politicians, only Bill Clinton seems to have that lasting appeal shared by top athletes. How long has this Barry Bonds steroids issue been going on? Or Pete Rose, who perennially rises up to deny his gambling past and claim his place in the Hall of Fame. People still care and debate about it, and they will for years to come. Politics can actually remove the celebrity spell. Look at Bill Bradley, the ex-NBA star. Politics turned him into just another also-ran, like Michael Dukakis. Which sport did Dukakis play you ask? Never mind.
Before I plug some books here, I need to get a couple of peeves out of the way. First, I generally don’t like comparing contemporary teams or players with those from the past. Let’s return to Barry Bonds for a moment. I read the other day that his Giants teammates are helping him focus on the upcoming season and on his pursuit of the Babe’s home run record (which has been broken anyway). But we need a huge asterisk here to note that A) The season was shorter in Ruth’s day, and B) Ruth was not on steroids. In fact, he managed his record on something like a quart of whiskey a day. Amazing.
Of course in Ruth’s day most ballplayers were still human beings who maybe earned a little more than the average guy but still did humbling things like ride buses and eat at roadside diners and share hotel rooms as well as a john down the hall.
What was my other peeve? I’ll save it for later. I’d like to hear from you, though. What gets to you? What about those lamebrain announcers? Let’s tear into that one sometime, shall we?
Okay, next time we’re going to talk a little baseball, namely the UNP book Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend, by Timothy Gay. Quite a fuss down in Texas about this book, or so I hear.
And while I’m on the subject of baseball, I may dabble in the 1944 World Series (See the new UNP title, The Boys Who Were Left Behind) and the UNP book The Unforgettable Season, where I’d like to exhume the Merkel controversy one more time. Yeah it was 98 years ago, but...
And we’ll talk about NFL wives if you’d like (see Shannon O’Toole’s Wedded to the Game), and I’ll try to get a hockey report from a known and respected expert in that field.