April 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Lighting Up the Cosmos (DIANE ACKERMAN, 5/31/81, NY Times Book Review)

Throughout his career, Chinaglia has had a way of overloading the circuits of already jumpy soccer fans. In Italy, where he played with the prestigious Lazio team of Rome, he became one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the game. He was a sparkling forward with a percussive right foot, a cat burglar's agility and an uncanny instinct for where the ball and players were at any moment; he also had a reputation for going berserk when he scored.

When Chinaglia led the club out of a slump and into the Italian championship of 1973-74, he was devoured by paparazzi. Chinaglia entered the bloodstream of every Italian's life. ''I can't explain what it was like,'' he has said. ''There are 52 million people in Italy, and 48 million could recognize me on the street. When they needed news, they quoted me on the front page of the papers.''

In 1976, during the expansionist days of the youthful North American Soccer League (N.A.S.L.), Chinaglia joined the Cosmos at the age of 29, still in his prime. In those days, the Cosmos were trying to build an audience for soccer by ransacking the world for topflight players who they hoped would appeal to New York's large and varied ethnic populations. Pele, the extraordinary Brazilian, was the team's main drawing card; then Chinaglia arrived, and the dazzling Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany and Carlos Alberto of Brazil - legends all.

In no time, Chinaglia was making news again, both with his explosive play and his impenitent candor. Insuring himself the wrath of soccer fans the world over, he declared that Pele, one of the most beloved figures in all sports, was ''not playing on all cylinders.'' From that comment on, nothing Chinaglia said or did was considered neutral. There were reports of inappropriate hand gestures during a game, a ruckus in the bleachers with the ground crew at Giants Stadium. He was depicted as a sophisticated tough who precipitated trouble just as inevitably as glass condenses water. Comfortable in both the boardroom and the locker room, Chinaglia had a cozy relationship with the executives of Warner Communications, owners of the Cosmos, that became a source of deep suspicion among players and fans alike; like an unofficial player-manager, Chinaglia has long been thought to have a hand in who got hired, who got fired, who stayed and who played. [...]

In Italy, Chinaglia had a history, an aura; but in this country, he has had to invent himself with each game, a challenge that seems both to alarm and renew him. He is the by far the league's leading scorer, ending last season with 126 goals, and he got the fastest start in the league this season, averaging one and a half goals in the team's first 10 games. And fans still flock to Giants Stadium for the chance to publicly adore and revile him. Giorgio Chinaglia (kee-NAL-ya) is not built like most soccer players, who need bellows for lungs and legs so thoroughly developed that each muscle stands out like a clove of garlic. At 6 feet 1 inch, he is tall for a game in which height is not necessarily an advantage. He has hulking shoulders; large, pan-shaped muscles across each thigh; a bobbin-small waist, and, thanks to a childhood deformity of the upper spine, a deep-set neck that nests his head low in his shoulders. Chinaglia looks wrought-up when he is merely standing still, and, when the ball comes near him, his rage to score becomes palpable.

Chinaglia is not an acrobat, like Pele. What they have in common is sheer striking power. Pele, the greatest scorer in the game's history, with 1,282 lifetime goals, could become a human catapult, as agile upside down as rightside up, nerving shots from 40 yards out. In his prime, he would chase the length and breadth of the field, hunting the ball. More than any other soccer player, he was the omnicompetent virtuoso, both feeder and striker, subordinate and master in one.

If Pele was the javelin, Chinaglia is its point. His forte is surprise. In Italy, they devised the word chinagliata to mean ''uniquely unpredictable.'' Chinaglia spends most of most games hanging around the goal like a streetcorner hood, irritable, threatening, ready to erupt. Then he'll shock everyone by running the full length of the field to work as a back, but such outbursts are rare.

Pele, being many players in one, was so busy on the field that he had no time to parade what ego he possessed; Chinaglia, by hovering near the goal, has time to be aware of himself as an object of attention. Pele merged his brilliance with the competence of his teammates; Chinaglia is almost aloof, never merging into the flux of play.

''Total soccer,'' which started in Europe about eight years ago and has been picked up here, encourages players with assigned positions to ad-lib and redefine them as the game demands. This new freedom does not affect Chinaglia much. Traditionally, the center forward's role has been to loiter receptively as close to the goal as he can get, waiting for speedier and defter forwards to feed him the ball. In this, Chinaglia is classical and unyielding, always waiting for the ball to be delivered to him, preferably to his right foot. If the ball comes, he will work miracles with it, but he won't search for it or hustle downfield with a starlet's longing. From his point of view, he is as special- ized a creature as a place kicker in football. His job is to score goals, not to chase wayward balls; his lot is to be ''served'' the ball by others.

Over the years, this attitude has chafed some of Chinaglia's admirers, teammates and associates, not to mention his critics and opponents, who have accused him of being lumbering, immobile, lazy, self-serving, uninventive, possessive, imperious, close-minded and uncoachable. Werner Roth, the Cosmos captain in the late 1970's, suggests that ''the team would benefit if Giorgio changed his style a little and came out of the middle once in a while. Very often they put two or three players on him, and if he stays in the middle it closes off all possibilities, since the main artery of attack is through the middle. If he would sometimes allow others to go in, it would be better for the team.'' [...]

With much hoopla, Chinaglia became a citizen three years ago, and for a spell his pride was such that he kept his citizenship papers next to the Chivas Regal in his locker. ''When I go home over the George Washington Bridge,'' he says with visible emotion, ''I feel as if I've lived here all my life. The rest is like a film. Like when we play in Los Angeles. We return to the airport here, and I feel as if I can breathe again, I'm home.''
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


NY, Lazio legend Chinaglia passes away (Fox, APR 1, 2012)

New York Cosmos legend Giorgio Chinaglia has passed away due to complications from a heart attack in Florida.

Chinaglia, the NASL's all-time leading scorer with 243 goals, was 65.

Chinaglia was a star with Lazio in 1976 when he decamped for New York. Considered the greatest player in Lazio's history, his move to the States was controversial and he was arguably the first player to join the NASL while still in the prime of his career.

...and how thirty years ago we used to complain that all he did was score, but if you watch guys play now you just wish any of them could put the ball in the back of the net.  The selfishness that made him a great striker ultimately destroyed the Cosmos, but in later life, as a radio talk show host, he was generous with and deferential to fans.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


Kansas lotto player hit by lightning after buying Mega Millions tickets  (PHILIP CAULFIELD, 4/01/12 NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Officials of the Mega Millions lottery, which had the largest prize in U.S. history, said that the odds of winning lottery were about 176 million to one. Americans have a much higher chance of being struck by lightning, at 775,000 to one over the course of a year, depending on the part of the country and the season, according to the National Weather Service.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Opposition claims historic sweep in Myanmar elections: The symbolic importance of a landslide opposition victory in Myanmar could prompt a backlash against reformist President Thein Sein by hardliners in the military. (CS Monitor, April 1, 2012)

Jubilant supporters of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi sang and danced outside the headquarters of her opposition National League for Democracy here on Sunday night, as the party claimed a stunning near clean sweep of the parliamentary by-elections held earlier in the day.

"I am very happy for democracy and for the future of our country," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win, as thousands of supporters, many clad in red T-shirts emblazoned with their party's golden peacock emblem, danced and clapped in the street outside to the sounds of party songs blaring from loudspeakers.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


The Book That Drove Them Crazy: Allan Bloom's 'Closing of the American Mind' 25 years later. ( ANDREW FERGUSON, 4/09/12, Weekly Standard)

If I had reread The Closing of the American Mind 10 years ago, when my own children were themselves under 10, I confess I would have thought Bloom's portrait of educational decline was overwrought. And then they grew up and went off to college.

Here Bloom describes a freshman arriving on campus. "He finds a democracy of the disciplines," he wrote. "This democracy is really an anarchy, because there are no recognized rules for citizenship and no legitimate titles to rule. In short, there is no vision, nor is there a set of competing visions, of what an educated human being is." In the end the freshman will likely opt for a major that will get him hired when he graduates, while "pick[ing] up in elective courses a little of whatever is thought to make one cultured."

This observation from 25 years ago matches what a freshman encounters at a moderately selective university today, and with small adjustments, even at many smaller colleges that claim to specialize in the liberal arts. The "core curriculum" or "general education requirements" are largely a sham: A math class may be offered, a science class may be offered, but seldom are both required, and often the content of each has only a glancing relation to the study of math or science. Philosophy and history fare still worse. Last year, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni surveyed the catalogues of more than one thousand colleges and universities. Fewer than 20 percent of the schools required courses in American government, only a third required a literature survey class, and 15 percent required anything more than a beginner's level class in a foreign language. The results have been predictable. The authors of Academically Adrift, the most devastating book on higher education since Bloom, found that nearly half of undergraduates show no measurable improvement in knowledge or "critical thinking" after two years of college.

Perhaps the most famous image in Bloom's book​--​certainly the least appetizing​--​is a cartoonish word picture of an MTV-watching, Walkman-wearing 13-year-old boy, the flower of American civilization, the human culmination of centuries of learning and sacrifice, nonetheless brought low by a degraded popular culture: "a pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents," and so on and so on, whose "life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbation fantasy," and who will soon, therefore, be well-fit to begin study at a major university.

I thought of that boy of 13 when I finished rereading The Closing of the American Mind not long ago. He is now 38. His parents, I hope, survived his childhood; about the onanism I refuse to speculate. He will likely have children of his own by now. And I hope by the time his own daughter is ready for college, he and all the youngsters he was meant to symbolize will have forgiven the author of this scandalous but all too plausible caricature. And when he disgorges tens of thousands of dollars to send his daughter to a school that has itself become a caricature of higher education, I am consoled to think that he will be able to consult Allan Bloom as to how such a thing could come to pass, thanks to a new edition of his maddening, haunting, towering book.

Our friend, Ari Mendelson, wrote a funny novel about college last year, Bias Incident.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The Curious Case of Sidd Finch: He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga -- and his future in baseball (George Plimpton, April 1, 1985, Sports Illustrated):

"I never dreamed a baseball could be thrown that fast. The wrist must have a lot to do with it, and all that leverage. You can hardly see the blur of it as it goes by. As for hitting the thing, frankly, I just don't think it's humanly possible. You could send a blind man up there, and maybe he'd do better hitting at the sound of the thing."

Christensen's opinion was echoed by both Cochrane and Dykstra, who followed him into the enclosure. When each had done his stint, he emerged startled and awestruck.

Especially Dykstra. Offering a comparison for SI, he reported that out of curiosity he had once turned up the dials that control the motors of the pitching machine to maximum velocity, thus producing a pitch that went approximately 106 miles per hour. "What I looked at in there," he said, motioning toward the enclosure, "was whistling by another third as fast, I swear."

The phenomenon the three young batters faced, and about whom only Reynolds, Stottlemyre and a few members of the Mets' front office know, is a 28-year-old, somewhat eccentric mystic named Hayden (Sidd) Finch. He may well change the course of baseball history. On St. Patrick's Day, to make sure they were not all victims of a crazy hallucination, the Mets brought in a radar gun to measure the speed of Finch's fastball. The model used was a JUGS Supergun II. It looks like a black space gun with a big snout, weighs about five pounds and is usually pointed at the pitcher from behind the catcher. A glass plate in the back of the gun shows the pitch's velocity -- accurate, so the manufacturer claims, to within plus or minus 1 mph. The figure at the top of the gauge is 200 mph. The fastest projectile ever measured by the JUGS (which is named after the oldtimer's descriptive -- the "jug-handled" curveball) was a Roscoe Tanner serve that registered 153 mph. The highest number that the JUGS had ever turned for a baseball was 103 mph, which it did, curiously, twice on one day, July 11, at the 1978 All-Star game when both Goose Gossage and Nolan Ryan threw the ball at that speed. On March 17, the gun was handled by Stottlemyre. He heard the pop of the ball in Reynolds's mitt and the little squeak of pain from the catcher. Then the astonishing figure 168 appeared on the glass plate. Stottlemyre remembers whistling in amazement, and then he heard Reynolds say, "Don't tell me, Mel, I don't want to know. . . "

The Met front office is reluctant to talk about Finch. The fact is, they know very little about him. He has had no baseball career. Most of his life has been spent abroad, except for a short period at Harvard University.

The registrar's office at Harvard will release no information about Finch except that in the spring of 1976 he withdrew from the college in midterm. The alumni records in Harvard's Holyoke Center indicate slightly more. Finch spent his early childhood in an orphanage in Leicester, England and was adopted by a foster parent, the eminent archaeologist Francis Whyte-Finch, who was killed in an airplane crash while on an expedition in the Dhaulaglri mountain area of Nepal. At the time of the tragedy, Finch was in his last year at the Stowe School in Buckingham, England, from which he had been accepted into Harvard. Apparently, though, the boy decided to spend a year in the general area of the plane crash in the Himalayas (the plane was never actually found) before he returned to the West and entered Harvard in 1975, dropping for unknown reasons the "Whyte" from his name. Hayden Finch's picture is not in the freshman yearbook. Nor, of course, did he play baseball at Harvard, having departed before the start of the spring season.

His assigned roommate was Henry W. Peterson, class of 1979, now a stockbroker in New York with Dean Witter, who saw very little of Finch. "He was almost never there," Peterson told SI. "I'd wake up morning after morning and look across at his bed, which had a woven native carpet of some sort on it -- I have an idea he told me it was made of yak fur -- and never had the sense it had been slept in. Maybe he slept on the floor. Actually, my assumption was that he had a girl in Somerville or something, and stayed out there. He had almost no belongings. A knapsack. A bowl he kept in the corner on the floor. A couple of wool shirts, always very clean, and maybe a pair or so of blue jeans. One pair of hiking boots. I always had the feeling that he was very bright. He had a French horn in an old case. I don't know much about French-horn music but he played beautifully. Sometimes he'd play it in the bath. He knew any number of languages. He was so adept at them that he'd be talking in English, which he spoke in this distinctive singsong way, quite Oriental, and he'd use a phrase like "pied-a-terre" and without knowing it he'd sail along in French for a while until he'd drop in a German word like "angst" and he'd shift to that language. For any kind of sustained conversation you had to hope he wasn't going to use a foreign buzz word -- especially out of the Eastern languages he knew, like Sanskrit -- because that was the end of it as far as I was concerned."

When Peterson was asked why he felt Finch had left Harvard, he shrugged his shoulders. "I came back one afternoon, and everything was gone -- the little rug, the horn, the staff. . . Did I tell you that he had this long kind of shepherd's crook standing in the corner? Actually, there was so little stuff to begin with that it was hard to tell he wasn't there anymore. He left a curious note on the floor. It turned out to be a Zen koan, which is one of those puzzles which cannot be solved by the intellect. It's the famous one about the live goose in the bottle. How do you get the goose out of the bottle without hurting it or breaking the glass? The answer is, 'There, it's out!' I heard from him once, from Egypt. He sent pictures. He was on his way to Tibet to study."

Finch's entry into the world of baseball occurred last July in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where the Mets' AAA farm club, the Tidewater Tides, was in town playing the Guides. After the first game of the series, Bob Schaefer, the Tides' manager, was strolling back to the hotel. He has very distinct memories of his first meeting with Finch: "I was walking by a park when suddenly this guy -- nice-looking kid, clean-shaven, blue jeans, big boots -- appears alongside. At first, I think maybe he wants an autograph or to chat about the game, but no, he scrabbles around in a kind of knapsack, gets out a scuffed-up baseball and a small, black leather fielder's mitt that looks like it came out of the back of some Little League kid's closet. This guy says to me, 'I have learned the art of the pitch. . .' Some odd phrase like that, delivered in a singsong voice, like a chant, kind of what you hear in a Chinese restaurant if there are some Chinese in there.

"I am about to hurry on to the hotel when this kid points out a soda bottle on top of a fence post about the same distance home plate is from the pitcher's rubber. He rears way back, comes around and pops the ball at it. Out there on that fence post the soda bottle explodes. It disintegrates like a rifle bullet hit it -- just little specks of vaporized glass in a puff. Beyond the post I could see the ball bouncing across the grass of the park until it stopped about as far away as I can hit a three-wood on a good day.

"I said, very calm, 'Son, would you mind showing me that again?'

"And he did. He disappeared across the park to find the ball -- it had gone so far, he was after it for what seemed 15 minutes. In the meantime I found a tin can from a trash container and set it up for him. He did it again -- just kicked that can off the fence like it was hit with a baseball bat. It wasn't the accuracy of the pitch so much that got to me but the speed. It was like the tin can got belted as soon as the ball left the guy's fingertips. Instantaneous. I thought to myself, 'My god, that kid's thrown the ball about 150 mph. Nolan Ryan's fastball is a change-up compared to what this kid just threw.'

An Old Baseball April Fools' Hoax (ALAN SCHWARZ, 4/01/05, NY Times)

It still happens on the Wrigley Field concession lines. It happens as he walks down Michigan Avenue. It even happened, in all places, while sipping a lager in an Oxford pub.

"Sidd Finch! You're Sidd Finch! Hey Sidd, can I get your autograph?"

After 20 years, for Joe Berton, the line remains a little blurred. Ninety-nine percent of his waking moments are spent as Joe Berton, mild-mannered junior high school art teacher in Oak Park, Ill. But that other 1 percent, he is still Sidd Finch, baseball's greatest pitching prospect.

It was 20 years ago this week that Sports Illustrated ran one of its most celebrated articles, "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch" - in which George Plimpton crafted a 14-page exposé on a bizarre, out-of-nowhere Mets phenom who fired baseballs at a stupefying 168 miles an hour. "Crafted," of course, is what Plimpton truly did - the story was pure fiction. It instantly became its generation's "War of the Worlds," leaving thousands of frenzied fans either delighted at the April Fools' prank or furious at being duped.

The story was fiction for all but one person - Joe Berton, a gangly, 6-foot-4 Chicagoan who modeled for all the pictures, and to this day is recognized by dreamy fans as the actual Sidd Finch.

"I was at one of the Cubs' playoff games in 2003, I'm lining up for a beer, and this guy goes: 'You're Sidd Finch! I can't believe it!' " recalled Berton, 51. "He asked me to sign his program. I find that almost everybody loves to recount their moment with the story - where they were when they read it and what it meant to them. It's like they really wanted Sidd to be real."