Why following sports is better than following politics

April 3, 1989. This was the day it began.

This was the day I began my love love affair with the beautiful but often bothersome world of sports. That evening was the final game of the 1989 NCAA Tournament, the first sporting event I ever really watched (won by the University of Michigan in thrilling fashion). It was also, coincidentally, Opening Day of the 1989 Major League Baseball season, the first season I would follow in detail, and the auspicious debut of a 19-year-old named Ken Griffey Jr.

I was hooked.

For the next decade or more sports was the greatest priority in my life, as it is for many in our society. The society with so much wealth and relative peace that most of its citizens can live their lives knowing but little of the world around them: politics, economics, the mysteries of the universe. Most of us can enjoy playing and watching the games played by grown men. Boys and girls too, both players and watchers never really growing up and tackling the problems of the real and hurtful world.

By the end of my high school career and beginning of my college days I had taken an interest in solving such problems. Silly me, I thought it might be fun. I had abandoned my hopes of playing sports professionally or playing sports at all, focusing rather on music, writing, politics, and the banal activities of geeky white guys. By the time I was done with college (I got my masters in 2005) I had moved on from sports, pausing only at certain moments, like so many do, watching Super Bowl commercials in February and in filling out brackets in March. I know that the Republicans retook the House in 2010, but who won the World Series that year? (The San Fransico Giants, for the first time, and the first time the franchise had won since 1954, the year the Republicans lost the House and didn’t win it back for 40 years.) Somehow I found myself caring more about who won in November than in October.

A great number of Americans fancy themselves experts on all matters political. Most people have opinions on Republicans, Democrats, and the issues of the day. Yet only a small number of people would admit to having intimate knowledge of sports and other “unimportant” activities. Today I’m coming out as an unabashed fan of games and sports, and calling out those who purport to work on “real” issues, only to toy with them at the level of children.

The way in which most Americans follow politics–which “team” is going to win this election or rule on this public issue–is distressing to me on several levels. One, that politics is nothing more than a horse race to be won or lost. Two, that those employed in such activities can be thought of as players, indeed “stars” on one team or another. And three, that those following such events would care and pay attention only at the most superficial levels. Given the level of understanding most Americans have of political candidates and issues, we might as well replace our political “stars” with athletes; at least athletes train and develop skills, and “useless” as they might be, they are at least entertaining.

An expert on both sports and politics, Rush Limbaugh, is fond of saying that politics is showbiz for the ugly. One might say un-athletic as well. And the worst part is, they get to do it with our money. Indeed, the greatest reason following sports is better than following politics is that at least sports are chosen freely. Much as those with a casual knowledge of sports and politics lament the big salaries paid to today’s professional athletes, at least they’re paid by the consumers. Do I think Alex Rodriguez and Cliff Lee are overpaid? Yeah, but I don’t pay them. Do I think Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are overpaid? Don’t get me started. And as much as I may dislike Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, their success or failure does not affect my life. They’re playing a game, the outcome of which, in the broader scheme, doesn’t make a bit of difference in my life.

Others have written with greater eloquence than I about why sports matter. They can make us happy, they can bring us together, and they do give us something to root for. I encourage all people who root for electoral outcomes to turn their attention to sports. Life is too short to care about which group of useless politicians gets to call itself majority or minority party. World Series champion has a much nicer ring to it, does it not? Given the choice, would you rather show support for those who work and train and excel in sports, or those who want to control you and use your money? I say we stop giving the latter group the satisfaction.

In recent weeks, professional sports, and specifically football and the NFL, have received some bad press regarding their players’ actions on and off the field. I’ve heard politicians decry the “win at all costs” attitude shown by players and coaches, an attitude that manifests itself in bodily harm and suffering. Politicians shaming win at all costs? If I may summarize the accusation in three words, let them be: pot, kettle, black. There is no more bloodthirsty gang of savages than today’s clique of high-level politicians. They play a game unknown to the most violent NFLer. (This is why I call House of Cards a slight exaggeration of the facts.) And if we are to chastise those who may be role models for our children, let’s start with those whose goal it is to control us and use our money.

In short, I’ve come full circle on my relative appreciation of sports and politics. Remind me never to let that pendulum swing back. This fall I’m going to follow those who actually work for a living, and let the politicians play to empty stadiums. Why can’t those guys ever go on strike?

October baseball doesn’t disappoint

Baseball was dead to me for exactly one day.

Thanks, greatest sport on Earth, for bringing me back in with one of the most thrilling elimination games–won by the home team no less–in a decade. Thanks, too, for keeping the damn midterm elections out of the headlines for a few hours.

Coming Friday: a hundred million reasons why following sports is better than following politics.

Now that it’s really over

And now the curtain has officially closed on the career of Derek Jeter, the pride of what we will one day no doubt refer to as the “turn of the century” Yankees, or perhaps turn of the millennium. Derek Jeter truly bridged the gap from the God-awful Yankees of the late Mattingly era, to the adequate years of today. Twenty years from now will I say such and such player started in the Jeter era and came to dominate the sport? Or even stick around in the Bronx for more than a few seasons? In the age of scandal-happy social media and hyper free agency, I doubt it. Of course I hope I’m wrong.

Without question it is a cliche to lament there will never be another Derek Jeter. I’m pretty sure it was said about Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle. People have written books about it. But more than will there ever be another Derek Jeter? (I’m sure there will be), I wonder whether there will ever be another Derek Jeter for me. Perhaps not. If nothing else, two things are certain. One, I’m never again going to be younger than any player coming up through the big leagues. Hard to look up to somebody 10 years younger than you are. And two, well, I’ll never be young again. Never be a kid again. I started following Derek Jeter when I was 13. That won’t happen again. Something about Thursday night’s game had me thinking, my youth just ended. That was it. The player I watched with my dad and Grandpa Gallagher and Joe. My last childhood hero just walked off (pun intended) into the sunset.

The beautiful thing about sports is that they do keep us young. Watching Derek Jeter the other night or any night did make me feel 13 again. Some day I’ll watch some other player, perhaps yet unborn, and feel the same way. I’ll watch the game with my son or grandkids, and be transported back in time. I’m hardly the first person to note this, but perhaps this is the first time it’s really sunk in for me on a personal level.

The Keith Olbermanns of the world can knock hero worship all they want; the rest of us are still going to partake. And really, Olbermann, what difference does it make? Who cares that we want to shower affection on someone or something that has brought us so much joy? Are we harming you or anyone else in some way? Yes, in a way sports are completely meaningless; they have no bearing on the actual struggles of mankind and the universe. But in another way sports are completely filled with meaning, about life and friendship, and the passage of time and generations. There are a lot of people in the world who make me happy. Derek Jeter’s one of them, and we’ve never even met. But he reminds me of my youth and the good times I had growing up. I used to feel the same way about Keith Olbermann (waking up early to watch Sportscenter six times in a row!). Some day Keith is going to be on his “farewell” tour and I’m going to resist the urge to say something like, “He was a pretty good broadcaster… but he wasn’t that good!”

Rather than letting the retirement of Derek Jeter be the end of my enjoyment with sports I’m letting it be a new beginning. I’ve got a new generation now with whom to enjoy those meaningless moments: thrills of victory and agonies of defeat. I hope that our new generation of stars brings as much class to the operation as Derek Jeter. Or at least comes around. Remember when Jeter was a partyboy in the ’90s? Well, I guess we all grow up eventually.

O Captain, My Captain



That’s the word I’ve heard most often in description of Derek Jeter’s heroic game-winning hit in last night’s contest, the Captain’s final game in pinstripes after a 20-year career.


You obviously haven’t been paying attention at all the past two decades. This was exactly how it was supposed to happen, right to the final details. The script has been in the works since about 2002. (Thanks, by the way, David Robertson, for taking the whole get-rocked-in-the-ninth-inning thing so well.)

For 20 years I’ve enjoyed watching Derek Jeter play baseball. You might say we grew up together. But whereas Derek now leaves the game I have the benefit of still watching, still remembering, and one day sharing those memories with my son…

who’s wearing a Derek Jeter jersey.

Still fab at fifty

After years of seeing clips and snips and still frames, I finally got around to seeing the famous 1964 “T.A.M.I. Show” in its entirety. Filmed in October 1964, the concert come video features nearly every major pop/rock act of the day, from Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones. (Interesting that while black and white performers appeared on the same bill, they never really play together, but that’s beside the point.)

Do yourself a favor and watch the show some time, if for no other reason than to hear some great music done slightly differently than the thousand times you’ve heard the studio recordings. It really goes to show the musicianship in live performances of the day that doesn’t comes across necessarily on A.M. radio in 2014. And while you could probably get a better picture just filming with your phone these days, the quality for 1964 is surprisingly high res.

So with all the junk passing for pop music these days, do I wish it were still 1964? Yeah, probably.

But I really like my cellphone.

Close but not quite

Dear New York Yankees,

You understand, of course, that along with playing amazing games on Sunday nights there is a certain expectation that you win.

I had a feeling as last night’s game progressed that Yanks-O’s was the new Yanks-Sox.

And we were the Red Sox!

Netflix does it again

You’ve got to hand it to Netflix. The company that already produced the genius idea to mail you your DVDs, then stream then instantly, has struck again with its original programming. As if House of Cards and Orange is the New Black weren’t enough, Netflix now brings you the delightfully ridiculous BoJack Horseman. It’s kind of Netflix’s foray into Adult Swim, and I’m a fan. Good work, Netflix. Keep ’em comin’.