My friend Larry was saying this the other day, “People don’t watch sports for the sports. They watch sports for the stories.”
This is true for a lot of people. Roone Arledge understood this. As a fan, I’m in it for the kinetic beauty. That’s not a goal of competition, but a byproduct. Anyways, I think ESPN grokked that, hence their emphasis on the highlight reel. But there’s something missing when those moments are viewed out of context. This is something I try to express occasionally on my blog, but I often have to borrow other writer’s language to explain it. Kinetic beauty is one of those phrases. It isn’t mine, I lifted it from David Foster Wallace. I guess the term I would’ve used is athleticism, but the phrase kinetic beauty is stronger than that term. And sometimes it isn’t athleticism at all that gets me hopped up. Or athleticism in the most understood sense. En beisbol, one of my favorite examples of kinetic beauty is a well-pitched 12-6 curve; especially when it fools the hitter.
There have been two main themes to this blog since I started it last November. One is that it’s a small world. Alex Rodriguez dated Kate Hudson. Her mom is Goldie Hawn. Hawn has lived with Kurt Russell for years. Kurt was a baseball player himself. He played for the Portland Mavericks with another Yankee pariah named Jim Bouton. From Bouton to Rodriguez, you can cover half a century of Yankee history in a few quick steps. Bouton was teammates with Roy White. White was still on the Yankees when Willie Randolph came to the team. Randolph and Don Mattingly were teammates. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera all bridge the Mattingly-Arod gap. Writing about these connections is fun on occasions.
I’ve also written about stylish baseball players. Rabbit Maranville is their patron saint. I came up with a list of qualities for these players, but didn’t really mention beautiful play. I’ve been thinking about this a bit tonite and since the weekend. If I had to choose the most aesthetically pleasing baseball player in my lifetime, it would be the Wizard of Ozz: Ozzie Smith. He has the advantage of being a star when I was 17. Willie Mays played during my lifetime, but I was five when he retired. I don’t remember him and I’m not sure he wants to be remembered from those years either. I have a copy of Willie’s TIme lying around my condo. I should read it some day or another bio of his. One came out this year.
Woody Allen got me thinking about Willie Mays. Bethlehem Shoals mentioned his essay from Sport magazine about Earl Monroe. So I tracked it down and read it the other day. The two other athletes he mentioned were Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Mays. It would be impolite to phrase it this way today, but Allen said that he envied “the grace and magical flair that the black athlete possesses.” It seems to me that sports outsiders are the best writers about this aspect of sports, whether it’s Allen or David Foster Wallace or John Updike or Roger Angell who was a blogger before his time in a sense.
Willie Mays. The Say Hey Kid. I really should read a bio of him. From what I understand, his post baseball life has not been a picnic. Then there’s Ozzie Smith. I’m trying to think of more, but my brain is fried at the moment.