The world is on fire.
I mean that figuratively, of course. Or, maybe I don’t. I’m not even sure any more.
I’m just saying there’s just a lot of suck out there.
If only the Baltimore Orioles’ 115-loss season was the worst thing that happened this year. If only.
Can you find the worst team in baseball?
Maybe that’s why sports – and excellent sports writing – is such a joy and refuge when times are tough and the world seems unbearably ugly and mean, because it actually is unbearably ugly and mean.
Sure, you could just binge on cooking shows until spring training. That’s not a bad plan.
But, sometimes it feels good to read something sporty. A little balm for the soul. A little de-suck-ification of life.
When your favorite team wins just a lousy 47 games, poring over box scores doesn’t take much time.
So, here are some of my favorite sports-writing words of 2018.
I’m astounded by those people – and there are a lot of them – who think that great reporters and writers should write for free online.
(I wonder if those people also skip out on their restaurant bills?)
Good writing should be acknowledged and prized and paid for. And, that’s why I strongly encourage you to subscribe to The Athletic. (I paid for it and so should you.)
It was this story from Rustin Dodd on a baseball prospect’s battle with drug addiction that convinced me.
“He wants people to know a baseball organization offered a gift when he needed it most. And he believes that if people learn how dark his life got, perhaps they can find their own hope.”
You can read it here.
Nearly every day, I find something new and interesting and well written to tuck into. If you subscribe, you can read Dan Connolly’s thoughtful piece on soon-to-be-very-very-very-rich free agent Manny Machado. It’s worth the subscription price alone.
Sister Jean Offers Comfort, Prayer — And A Competitive Edge — For Loyola Basketball
If you follow college basketball, your lasting memory of the 2018 NCAA tournament probably has something to do with a scrappy 16th-seed team from Maryland making history by knocking the top team in the nation out in the first round.
Keep it to yourself, wise guy.
I’m here to remind you about Sister Jean – the 98-year-old nun who roots for, scouts for – and prays for – Loyola-Chicago.
“I pray for the other team. Perhaps not as hard.”
There were a lot of sweet stories about her during the tournament, including this from Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune.
“‘She’s like another coach,’ senior guard Donte Ingram said. ‘The first game (as a freshman), it caught me off guard. I thought she was just going to pray. She prayed, but then she starts saying, “You’ve got to box out and watch out for 23.”’”
(I hope you appreciate all the attention to double quote, single quote, double quote marks that I put into bringing that quote to you.)
Read it here.
Babe Ruth’s Final Christmas Gift
Bill Littlefield was the voice of WBUR’s Only A Game for 25 years. He retired this summer, and, to be honest, I’m still not sure the weekly radio show has found its footing now that he’s gone.
But, sometimes these things take time. So, I’m going to be patient. And, there are still gems to be found every week.
I love Only A Game’s tagline: “[R]adio for the serious sports fan and the steadfast sports avoider.”
And, I really love this bittersweet story of Babe Ruth and his last Christmas from Gary Waleik.
Read it (or, even better, listen to it) here.
Which brings me to …
The best 477 pages I read this year.
The Big Fella, by Jane Leavy
It was not lost on me, and should not be lost on you, that the best sports book this year was written by a woman. But, that’s not the point.
The point is, it’s not easy to find something new to say about Babe Ruth.
And, just when you thought there were no words left, Leavy uses Ruth’s 1927 off-season, which included a 21-day barnstorming tour with Lou Gehrig, as the jumping off point to show what Ruth, his life and career, meant to baseball and to America.
She explores Ruth’s journey …
“from uncouth to couth, Spartan to spendthrift, abandoned to abandon and back again; from the deadball era to power baseball; from Baltimore to Boston to New York, and back to Boston for a finale with the only team that would have him.”
And, it’s just perfect.
When Baseball Looked Different
Laura Shir is one of the three hosts of Resting Pitchface, a Washington Nationals-centric podcast. (Extra credit for Resting Pitchface which is podcast naming at its finest.)
This summer Shir wrote a short, but important, piece on Baseball Prospectus on the Women’s Baseball World Cup players and how their appearance – as players and women – affected her.
“I don’t know how any of these women define their genders or their sexualities. The way they made me feel may have no bearing on how they feel about themselves. But they gave me a gift, whether they know it or not. They taught me something I’ll never forget: There are a million ways to be a woman. There are a million ways to be a ballplayer. There are infinite ways to be both.”
Shir reminds us that baseball – and any sport – is infinitely more than a game. The game, in fact, might be the least important part of all.
Read it here.
Some of the best things I read this year showcased extraordinary investigative journalism and thought-provoking analysis of tough – and tough to read – stories.
Here are two …
The Inside Story Of A Toxic Culture At Maryland Football
It was ESPN’s investigation, by Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg, and Tom VanHaaren, into the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair at a workout this summer that exposed a toxic and horrifying culture of dysfunction at Maryland’s football program.
Their continued reporting, along with that of The Baltimore Sun, led to the exposure of Maryland’s callous damage control efforts and their Board of Regents’ shameful efforts to protect coach DJ Durkin.
On October 31 – thanks to the tenacity of great sports writers – Durkin was fired.
The original ESPN story is here.
Everyone Believed Larry Nassar
This long read into Nassar’s decades-long assault and abuse of nearly 500 gymnasts and other young athletes just broke my heart. From Kerry Howley in New York magazine’s The Cut …
“It has by the fall of 2018 become commonplace to describe the 499 known victims of Larry Nassar as ‘breaking their silence,’ though in fact they were never, as a group, particularly silent. Over the course of at least 20 years of consistent abuse, women and girls reported to every proximate authority. They told their parents. They told gymnastics coaches, running coaches, softball coaches. They told Michigan State University police and Meridian Township police. They told physicians and psychologists. They told university administrators. They told, repeatedly, USA Gymnastics. They told one another. Athletes were interviewed, reports were written up, charges recommended. The story of Larry Nassar is not a story of silence. The story of Larry Nassar is that of an edifice of trust so resilient, so impermeable to common sense, that it endured for decades against the allegations of so many women.”
Read it here.
And, finally …
George H.W. Bush Had A Love Of Sports And An Affinity For At Least One Sportswriter
I credit a lot of people with nurturing my love for baseball. But, it was Thomas Boswell, of The Washington Post, who first opened the door. When the Orioles began the 1988 season 0-21, it was from reading Boswell’s regular, poignant columns about baseball and futility that I realized that the Orioles needed me. And, I needed baseball.
And, here we are, 30 years later. Orioles and futility are still a thing. And, Boswell is still writing for The Post. One of those is a good thing.
From his remembrance of President George H.W. Bush earlier this month:
“During an interview in the Oval Office, I asked President Bush, since he was known as a slick glove man, whether he still knew where his old first baseman’s mitt was. He gave a strange little look, then opened a drawer of his desk.
“‘It’s right here,’ he said, taking out his George McQuinn claw model. The glove was practically black from age but kept supple, oiled, and in working condition. He pounded his fist in its pocket as so many of us have when we need to think about something — perhaps something difficult, probably not baseball.”
Read it here.
OK, now back to the cooking shows. Just 51 days until pitchers and catchers report.
Dear Santa, Please bring the Orioles some pitchers and catchers*. Thanks in advance.
*Also, outfielders and infielders. Thanks!
Your Friend, The Baseball Bloggess