February 5, 2006


UP CLOSE AND NOT PERSONAL (Roger Angell, 2006-01-09, The New Yorker)

With the bowl games at hand, the N.B.A. and N.H.L. seasons in full flow, the N.F.L. playoffs just ahead, and pitchers-and-catchers a bare six weeks away, sports fans may be wondering once again why all this repletion isn’t more satisfying. Sports news abounds, with the talk shows easily outnumbering the games actually being played, but what’s missing still is the crazy, cozy old sense of identification that once tied the fan by the set or in the stands to the young athletes out on the field. The attachment was steady until a couple of decades ago, and what did it in wasn’t so much salaries or steroids or free agency as the astoundingly changed dimensions and reflexes of the modern player. Professional athletes once looked like somebody we knew, that friendly young fellow down the block who could run fast and dunk the ball or throw it a mile—not us exactly but close enough, and there in the games to represent if not always our town or our college then our species. This illusion waned when everyday N.B.A. players grew to six feet eight or better and N.F.L. linemen suddenly averaged two hundred and ninety pounds and could run forty yards in under six seconds. Well, O.K., there was still baseball, where the sweet connection first flourished. Our fathers or grandfathers, at ease in their good grandstand seats behind third base, could look out at Red Schoendienst or Bill Mazeroski or Tom Tresh and think, Well, with a little luck . . . The regulars took home each year just about what a pediatrician or a V.P. for sales or a steady C.P.A. earned. They were us, if we were doing well, in short, and chances were that we’d have succeeded at their game, too, if we’d taken a crack at it. Well, dream on, Gramps—or, as Hemingway’s Jake Barnes said, isn’t it pretty to think so? Now, in any case, all that’s gone. Try to get down near field level before your next ballgame and take a look at Derek Jeter or Jeff Kent or Dontrelle Willis as they stroll by: wow, these guys are enormous.

The dream of intimacy—it was always fantasy—is gone, and today’s players, so close to us on our plasma screens, are galaxies away from our own doings and capabilities. The loss hurts—no wonder the hosts and guests on the TV sports shows look so angry—and we are casting about to close the distance. If we can bring ourselves to think of professional athletes as rock stars, which they so resemble, we can find them on the wildly popular MTV program “Cribs,” which has taken viewers to the lush quarters of Snoop Dogg and Mariah Carey and Missy Elliott (a giant replica of her signature is set in the floor of her front hall), and also to Johnny Damon’s home in Tampa, where the dining room features an altered version of “The Last Supper,” with the heads of former fellow Red Sox players replacing the Apostles around the table. On various Web sites, we can also find Shaquille O’Neal’s lobby-size bed with its Superman-logo bedspread, and the heroic bronze statue of Pudge Rodriguez that decorates his own back yard. Roger Clemens, who has yet to appear on “Cribs,” has granted the occasional journalist a visit to his fifteen-thousand-square-foot home in the Piney Point area of Houston, with its Hall of Bats; its floor-to-ceiling golf-ball holders on either side of his study desk, containing three hundred and four golf balls each (one for each course he has played to date); and a bedroom that features lighted display cases and a wet bar. Gasping at the stars’ enormous pads and rolling acres and their outsized fridges (empty, for the most part, except for the obligatory bottle of Cristal) and snickering at such monumental garishness and infantile taste is all right for the sub-twenty age group that “Cribs” aims at, but it’s still not what we fans are after. What we yearn for may be contained in the question that every sportswriter keeps hearing from his readers: “What’s Willie Mays”—or Phil Mickelson or Andy Roddick—“really like?” Willie, as it happens, is cranky and private in person (he’s seventy-four years old) and passably complex, but this news, of course, is not what’s wanted. The desired, almost the demanded, answer is that he’s a great guy: he’s exactly like us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 5, 2006 11:27 PM

"Professional athletes once looked like somebody we knew, that friendly young fellow down the block who could run fast and dunk the ball or throw it a milenot us exactly but close enough, and there in the games to represent if not always our town or our college then our species"

Which is why true football, otherwise known as soccer, is the best thing going now.

What other professional sport can five foot nine, 155 pounders play? Or in the case of the great Demarcus Beasley, five foot seven and 125 lbs.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 6, 2006 11:34 PM

Jim in Chicago:

Exactly which soccer player is five foot nine and 155 pounds?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at February 7, 2006 1:13 AM

I was just throwing out a typical size.

For example: Gary Neville, the ManU right back is 5'10" 170. Roy Keane, the former ManU midfielder is 5'11" 175. Paul Scholes 5'7" 160, Ryan Giggs 5'11' 150, and so forth.

Centerbacks and goalkeepers obviously tend to be over six feet, as are some old-fashioned center forwards. Most other players tend to be under six feet tall and farily slim given the running they do.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 7, 2006 3:21 AM

Are they all dwarves?

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 7:18 AM

Tom Tresh?

Posted by: jdkelly at February 7, 2006 9:43 AM

Hey, you posted the article dude. I presumed that you agreed with the sentiments expressed about pro-athletes who look like the result of scientific experiments.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 7, 2006 11:11 AM


No soccer player even looks like Hank Aaron--their wrists are too limp.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 11:33 AM

It's talk like that which will get you put on the disappeared list come the revolution . . . mind you, I'll put in a good word for you, but there'll only be so much I can do . . .

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 7, 2006 1:50 PM

They even throw molotov cocktails like girls. The brothers in Detroit, Newark, and Watts...now they could hum that baby....

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 1:53 PM

OJ when you're in your dotage and you're down at the soccer pitch watching your grandkids play, you can huddle with all the nativists cursing the "Mexicans" and their sissy game.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 7, 2006 6:03 PM

Judds aren't midgets. We're banned from soccer because we might hurt the little people.

Posted by: oj at February 7, 2006 6:37 PM