Bryan Joiner

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Tag: bill simmons

Why is Bill Simmons insane over the Patriots?

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On a recent podcast, Bill Simmons lamented that the Patriots let Adam Vinatieri leave the team in 2006, because he exemplified the “Patriot Way,” and they have suffered for a lack of this intangible quality since he left. On a more recent podcast, with Bob Ryan, he lamented that the Patriots were ‘turning over’ 12-win seasons without winning a championship. The Patriots have gone 88-24 in the regular season in the post-Vinatieri stretch and have lost two Super Bowls by one absurdity and one note-perfect symphony of a pass play. Simmons’ nutso Patriots talk carried over to this year’s de facto jettisoning of Wes Welker, for which he called Bill Barnwell to act as a therapist and first responder. Barnwell had already written that Amendola’s statistics on the Rams were far better than Welker’s before he joined the Patriots as a tacit plea for everyone not to lose their shit, and the question isn’t whether Amendola will be better than Welker (he probably won’t be). The Patriots won three Super Bowls without Welker and could win without him next year. They have done just fine without Vinatieri. This is pretty damn good for a decade. Why the hysterical blindness? What makes Patriots fans like Bill Simmons so obviously crazy when it comes to the team, aside from the fact his head is so far down Secretariat’s mouth that all he sees is darkness?

The ‘Patriot Way’ has always been a death machine. Insofar as there’s a ‘Patriot Way’ at all, it is a plastic sign hanging above Bill Belichick’s office reading ‘buy low, sell high,’ which he slaps every day on his way out to the field and then sends some MLB packing. There are a few obvious amendments: Belichick, Tom Brady, Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork are irreplaceable, and are paid as such long into their careers. Terrell Suggs said in February that players on all 31 other teams ‘hate’ the Patriots. There’s a ring of truth there, but there’s a fat lie inside of it: Players hate the Patriots right up until they need them. Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Amendola, and Aqib Talib could file testimonials. It is a system of strict player valuation so mind-numbingly uncomplicated and successful that no one is content to just leave it alone.

Adam Vinatieri was so easily replaceable that the Patriots managed to do it that very season with a fourth-round pick who’s been every bit as good as Vinatieri, if not better, and neither has had a Super Bowl-winning kick, so you know, that insane qualification also checks out. The Patriots did not lose because the ‘Patriot Way’ was impure. In Simmons’ case, you win or you die, and your journey becomes loaded with meaningless symbols. The defining quality of being a sports fan is that a foothold in sports is worth the same as a doctorate. You can read talk about them at work or start a blog and it’s all the same. Intoxicants have the notable side effect of making you spout nonsense. The Pats hosted the AFC Championship game two months ago. There’s no evidence that there’s anything to worry about. There is no sorrow in 12-win seasons. There should only be pride, and the decision to shut up. Your gift horse won the Triple Crown.

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Garbageland

Nostalgia isn’t insidious by nature, but it’s close. Close enough, for me.

Once upon a time, I thought I was important. I grew up rooting for the Boston Red Sox and some of what I’d call my fondest memories are of listening on a transistor radio to Mo Vaughn hitting a home run on a lazy August afternoon or poring over the Peter Gammons Baseball Notes column in the Sunday Boston Globe—the column that made me want to assemble words for a living.

It, of course, takes someone with a supreme sense of self-importance to think anyone wants to read their shit. Reporting was an easy choice for me. You are provided with most of the material, and you string it together. It’s not that hard to tell a story: People do it all the time, everywhere, even if they’d never think about sitting in front of a screen and putting it to paper.

The thing about reporting is that it’s just a trick. You tell the stories of other people long enough to convince readers that you are important enough to tell stories of your own. Soon enough, the stories of other people become stories of your own. The emphasis shifts. It becomes the name on the back of the jersey, and not the name on the front. The name on the front of the jersey is another person’s charge: the editor.

I had imagined, for as long as I imagined such things, that I would eventually distinguish myself by writing about the Boston Red Sox. In the mid-aughts, this career path hit a temporary dead end A lot of this was due to Bill Simmons. He was hoarding the Red Sox readership, and doing a good job of it. Much like I used to read Gammons and call it a day, Simmons was the first and last source for Red Sox columns on the Internet. He had critics, sure, but this was before the sophisticated nesting-doll structure of criticism that has developed. If you hated Simmons, you had to go out of your way to express that, to feel heard or cared for or even loved. Now you know where to go.

For years, I defended Simmons against the inevitable criticisms of laziness. In John Updike’s famous essay on Ted Williams, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” he said that for all of Williams’s hits to have come in non-clutch situations would have been “unparalleled in the annals of selfishness.” Similarly, to call Bill Simmons to be a garbage writer, and to dismiss his entire body of work on a column you didn’t like, seemed silly and reductive. The guy showed up every day and did my own dream job well enough that I respected it, even if it put me at a dead end. I have no axe to grind with Bill Simmons, which means it’s with no great joy then that I say Grantland is trash. As a writer, he is defendable, but as an editor and administrator he is an embarrassment. He’s so bad I hope he grew the mustache just to avoid looking himself in the mirror. At least then we’d know that he knew there was something wrong.

What could have been high-concept—The New Yorker for sports, or something similar but more fun—is instead a cross between kitty litter mags Vanity Fair and New York Magazine at its absolute best and a shitty buddy blog for sports and entertainment at its worst. When Grantland was first announced, I never thought it would have a lower batting average of good articles than espn.com, but it does. Simmons’s writing success never bothered me. This, a real hope for good sportswriting on the Internet gone sour, bothers me.

I don’t need to go into the ghastly copy editing and fact-checking associated with the site; Deadspin has kept on top of that. Many of my complaints are similar to those Mr. Destructo laid out in a pre-official launch pasting of the site; I thought it was a tad unfair for Mr. Destructo to go crazy on the site based on two articles, but he’s turned out to be right on nearly all accounts, the key sentence being this:

This site in general is all premise and no twist. The set-up seems to be all you need: someone has an opinion about something, and it’s humorous because thinking about it is. The minimum daily requirements for humor have been provided.

The baffling part to me is who Simmons thinks he’s fooling by throwing up a four-part series about poker, the craze that’s seven years dead, by Colson Whitehead, titled “Dispatches from the Republic of Anhedonia.” Unless you sleep next to a signed copy of Sag Harbor, would you read this? It is presented as a near-perfect mix of pretension, lack of timeliness and self-importance. Part of being an editor is saying “no,” even to famous authors like Colson Whitehead, if even just to a headline. (Update: the original version made it sound like I was critiquing the content; I was going after the presentation, albeit poorly.) As in, like, 75 percent of it. Less can be, in fact, more, but as Mr. Destructo says (and his post is much better than mine, you should read it), Bill Simmons is insecure. I nearly fell out of my chair when he told Tom Shales and Jim Miller in Those Guys Have All The Fun that he had “thick skin.” It’s not good when you have the least self-aware comment in a book full of narcissists.

As others have mentioned, the extremely talented Chris Jones is completely miscast as an “AL East columnist;” it’s like asking a star quarterback to place-hold. Jonah Keri is enthusiastic, which is good, but wrote a good book proposal that no one seems to notice made a really crappy book. The book, called The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First begins discussing these strategies at its three-quarter mark. I know, because in my Kindle I made a note when the first “Wall Street strategy” was discussed that said simply, “It begins!” and the little number in the bottom left said 75%. It also kind of boils down to this: buy low and sell high. It’s also vitally important that we meet Joe Maddon’s entire Rust Belt family to understand this, and that we understand the Rays, who didn’t win the World Series, are some sort of living miracle, like a baby born without a heart who’s bouncing around all the same. The Rays are pretty good, and they’re pretty good because they’re run by smart people, but that hardly makes them unique. Keri’s trying to ride the long coattails of Moneyball, but you’d be better off re-reading the genuine article (“Oh look, here comes Mr. Swing-At-Everything”) or maybe even Vanity Fair.

His Grantland columns aren’t much better, describing at length simple statistical measures that have been used for years to an audience that’s self-selected to already know what he’s talking about. Nor is he consistent. A recent column on potential MLB playoff teams used Nate Silver’s “Secret Sauce,” created nine years ago, in the first act, disavowed it in the second, and brought it back in the third act like nothing ever happened.

Chuck Klosterman is, like many obsessive writers, better at writing against type: his sports stuff isn’t that bad. Specifically, his article on the mindset of Olympic sprinters was fantastic. But when he writes about music, and gets into “second-by-second” breakdowns of this or that… it’s stuff that belongs on a shitty, unread music blog. It’s insufferable. Molly Lambert is what she is, and was much better in the no-rules environment of This Recording than she is here. She’s the brainy slacker, and if there’s one thing anathema to ESPN culture, it’s overt laziness. (Just skip the research and yell louder, and it’ll be fine.) Sooner or later, someone at ESPN is going to realize that they can be as edgy as they want, but sports has to be the focus, even on a site that doesn’t have explicit ESPN branding. Klosterman is a big enough name to keep the experiment going for awhile, but its death is inevitable. We all know it’s part of the family. While Lambert is actually perceptive and talented, the preview column Mr. Destructo eviscerated was pure trash, and yes, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Klosterman hired her because he has a crush on her. This non-transferable ability to draw male readers is pretty much null at Grantland. (Good criticism of this paragraph in the comments.)

Bill Barnwell, Rany Jazayerli and Katie Baker are the three consistently good writers on the site, and there’s no reason they couldn’t have just been hired at espn.com. They deserve better.

The main problem, though, is Simmons, and it’s not just “his” “editing.” So much of life is context, and ripped from the company of fellow ESPN.com columnists, his columns and podcasts look just… fucking… terrible. As much as Simmons hates Rick Reilly, despite claiming not to, he needs him. I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but Rick Reilly, ESPN’s molar– and moralist in chief, is the winner of the whole affair. He’s vain and grandstanding and usually insufferable, but at least he’s consistent, and now he has a Simmons-free universe to glop up readers. The ESPN book had the wonderful little note that Simmons would return his columns with little notes to STET all changes; it’s the writer’s equivalent of tooling around in a shiny, tiny convertible Porsche.

Next to other self-styled geniuses, though, his writing falls apart. His article on “Hollywood” starmaking—whoever the fuck “Hollywood” is—was such an embarrassment that it’s hardly worth discussing. Suppose for a second, though, that he’s right. This “Hollywood” entity is trying to force Ryan Reynolds down our throats as a bona fide movie star, when in reality he’s way out of his league trying to headline a movie. Couldn’t one make the association with Simmons and ESPN? Isn’t ESPN trying to force Bill Simmons down our throats as a bona fide media star, when in fact he’s out of his league trying to do anything than write silly columns? Yes, he was the executive producer of 30 for 30, and deserves credit for that. But to get Rumsfeld on you, he knew what he didn’t know in filmmaking, and stepped out of the way. On Grantland, he thinks he actually knows what he’s doing. He did in one sense: he got smart people to write for him. He largely made them suck, through direction or presentation, and made his own work look terrible in the process. The emperor is naked, except for, yes, the mustache.

Fixing Grantland would be so, so easy. Bill Simmons needs to be fired or step aside. If Bill Simmons was actually a historian, instead of just playing one in his error-riddled The Book of Basketball (STET all changes), he’d see the historical comparison to his (and my) exhaustively beloved New England Patriots staring him right in the face: He’s the problem. When Robert Kraft meddled, Bill Parcells scrammed. When Kraft promised to keep his hands off something he had no clue over, the Patriots took off, with a little or a lot of luck, depending on how you look at it.

As I wrote at the top, nostalgia isn’t always insidious, but it’s close. Bill Simmons has built a nice career on exploiting nostalgia, and of giving people 15 minutes per week to live in the past, when sports and movies were the most important things in their lives. Either he really still believes sports and movies are the most important things in his life, and he’s a freak (having, you know, a family), or he’s selling a bill of goods. Either way, I don’t begrudge him. It’s the internet. Everyone has their hustle. It’s the name of the game. But it is a hustle.

It’s different when your name’s at the top. It’s not about what you’ve done in the past: it’s about what everyone under you is doing, right now. And nearly everyone at Grantland is creating content that wouldn’t be published at a legitimized website for one reason (spelling, grammar and factual errors) or another (totally uninteresting). We don’t need Grantland editors to be the arbiters of what is or is not a “Hall of Fame” YouTube video, and to put the results at the top of their site. It’s this type of laziness and self-importance that breeds competition. Even now, there’s another collective of sportswriters attempting to start a thinky sports journalism site called The Classical; they’re trying to raise $50,000. You want to see Moneyball in action? Watch what happens when a group of smart. focused people take on a rudderless, bloated corporate behemoth—you know, what Grantland was actually supposed to do in the first place. It’ll be interesting. Someone might even write a book about it.

Bill Simmons, Heel

Bill Simmons has always been something of a heel to non-Boston Sports fans, a category I don’t belong to. They often tire of his Boston-themed columns, and if they don’t, they often scrape away enough of the good feelings that a misplayed pop culture reference finally breaks them. It’s understandable, but it never affected me. I enjoyed reading Simmons, and even as I type this, I’m enjoying his book, the absolute litany of copy editing errors contained therein aside.

But in two short weeks, Simmons has lost at least one 10-year reader and listener in the day-to-day, at least for the day-to-day. I’m sure I’ll come back some day, and it might even feel like it’s the same as it used to be, at times. It won’t be. It never is.

As regular readers of this blog know, it all started with his intellectually dishonest column about Bill Belichick’s 4th-and-2 decision; it’s not that he hated the decision that bothered me, but that he spoke so disingenuously out of both sides of his mouth. He argued that he did not take issue with the statistics showing that it was the technically correct choice to go for it, then took issue with the numbers. He argued that numbers don’t always apply to football situations, then created his own numbers, as if from thin air, and applied them to the situation. It was an argument built like an inverted house of cards—he undermined his own argument so quickly that the rest was all smoke and mirrors to obscure the fact that there was no “there” there, so to speak.

That alone would have been one thing, but he preceded these arguments by engaging in a podcast whereupon he somehow argued simultaneously—as many do—that Belichick was both “arrogant” and “didn’t have confidence in his defense,” and, like many others, didn’t even attempt to reconcile the contradiction. He also repeated a theory, hatched earlier, that since Belichick is 57 years old, he is likely “losing it” and that this is the first sign of said senility, lack of energy, whatever. I wouldn’t have a problem with this argument individually, even if I don’t agree with it, but piled on top of everything else he’s written it infuriates me. On top of that, it violates his own anti-statistical code. He’s busy scouring the history books and saying that 55 is the last good year for a coach… well, if that’s true, shouldn’t the Pats be looking for a younger coach? If that’s what Simmons is arguing, he should just come out and say it. If he thought people were angry about 4th-and-2, I’d love to see the reaction to that one. It’s the smart thing to do!, he’d probably say, make a pre-emptive strike based on the numbers!

That would, for obvious reasons, make me laugh.

That’s all, and was, water under the bridge until I saw one of his tweets today, which called the Pats “dead.” Take a look at their schedule and tell me what you see. I see 12-4. You know what the Pats’ record was when they won their first Super Bowl? 11-5. You remember who they played? A clone of the Saints from this year, or the Pats from 2007. There are details of which I’m obviously aware that could mitigate this: the 12-4 Pats wouldn’t likely have a bye and the Saints looked fairly unstoppble the other night. But to declare the Patriots “dead” is something in the spirit of Simmons’ supposed arch-enemy, Dan Shaughnessy. Yes, the Pats don’t look like the best team now, but if 2007 taught us anything, it’s that you only have to look like the best team on the last day of the season for it to mean anything. Do I believe then can, even if I don’t believe they will? Yes.

That’s what it comes down to: hope. If you hope your team does well, and you see one of its biggest cheerleaders raining on your parade, it’s time to disengage. If Bill Simmons can’t enjoy first place, and yet another awesome season, maybe he needs to re-read some of his columns from 1999 and 2000 to show how far we’ve really come. Will it help him get back to a positive mindset? Maybe, for a little bit, but never completely. Like my love affair with his columns, that part of him is probably gone forever.

Pain, and the Basketball Hall of Fame

Some serious—and I mean serious—back pain this morning. I think I pulled a muscle.

I just joined a gym and started lifting again, only I only lift extremely light weights because I don’t want to be lifting at all. I want to be doing yoga, but I don’t know the first clue about how to choose one kind or find a teacher. I am being a baby about it, I know, but I thought doing the light lifting would help in the meantime. Holy sh*t, I was wrong. I can barely sit up. Feels like someone is corkscrewing into the lower-right of my back.

Ryan said I need to have more posts with Barack Obama in the tags, so his tag gets bigger than A-Rod’s. Fair enough. I’m not sure how what I’m about to say fits with Obama, but I’ll see if I can connect them.

Today’s [insert series of intellectually disparaging adjectives] column to the contrary, I like Bill Simmons. I even bought his book, The Book of Basketball, and I’m enjoying it. It’s less a history of basketball than one man’s history of basketball, designed to start and sustain arguments between two people or the reader and the writer (Basically, it’s a 600-page blog post). It’s pretty good, and I just got to the part where he wants to move the Basketball Hall of Fame and change its induction policy. I agree with both parts. It’s in Springfield, MA, now, and I’ve driven by it plenty of times but never had the desire to go. Not a good sign.

He says move it to Indiana, the home of basketball. At first, I thought it was ridiculous, and thought it should be in Manhattan. I don’t think that’s an inherently NY-centric view. Put it here, in the city with the “World’s Most Famous Arena,” make it a tourist attraction, and people will come.

Then I thought about it some more, and came up with a better idea. If we’re going to blow it up and move it, why not make it its own tourist attraction?

That’s what the Baseball Hall of Fame is, but that’s its own thing. No one’s going to go to Indiana just to see the basketball Hall of Fame. Basketball simply doesn’t draw on its past the way baseball does, so there’s no reason to think that people will go to Indiana just to be in Indiana, the way people flock to upstate New York just to go there. No: there needs to be another draw.

So here’s what I was thinking. Put it in Indiana if you want. Or Chicago. Or Vegas, ideally, but that ain’t going to happen. But make it a destination by making the HOF only part of the draw. Put it next to a golf course. Better yet, have dozens of open basketball courts, like the US Tennis Center has tennis courts. Have open play available for visitors who otherwise have put their balling days behind them. Use the courts to play High School championships and for summer camps. Put restaurants, bars, and hotels on campus. Make it a both a bachelor party and family destination where the groups can split up. “What are you doing today?” “Oh, I’m going to hit the pool and play in the 3 p.m. pickup game.” “Nice. I’m going to check out the Celtics exhibit.” “I saw it yesterday, and it’s awesome.” Etc.

I’d put $500 on it for a weekend, wherever that was. You know who else would? President Obama.

There you go.

The Play

They start in the spring. They being practicing as a mass, knowing that in a few months their numbers will be whittled to 53.

The summer comes along, and it’s time for cuts. Every day, the players but their asses to make the NFL. At the end of the month, some do, some don’t. The ones that do have one charge: win football games.

In an average football game, there are 125 plays, on average. You can lose the game on almost all of them, but you cannot win the game on most of them.

So when you get to 4th-and-“2” (really 1) against the best team in football, in their stadium, with the statistics in your favor and an all-time great staring you down, and you finally have a chance to win the game*, do you take it? For months, you’ve practiced and practiced and been taught to execute. Would you take that one chance?

I would, and Bill Belichick would. I’ve heard talking heads say he “disrespected” his team and that he “didn’t trust” it. Nothing could be further from the truth. He trusted his team to make 4th-and-2, and win them the game. He played to win the game. He understands what he is there to do.

Too many times in football and outside of it, people make the easy decision to save themselves, to look better. Belichick did what was right, not worrying about the consequences outside the lines. He ought to be commended.

The one good thing about the Pats’ failure on the play (if they even failed) is it exposed so many football analysts and writers as just fundamentally misunderstanding of the game. The list is long. Bill Simmons. Rodney Harrison. Peter King. Tedy Bruschi. Tony Dungy. Tom Jackson. Keyshawn Johnson. More, more, and more.

Make no mistake — they are wrong. Bill Belichick played to win the game, and he lost.

* Despite what he said, there actually was no guarantee of a win. The Colts take their timeouts after two running plays, and the Pats run a third to move the clock down. That gives Peyton the ball on the 20 or so with about a minute remaining if there’s no first down. That, I could live with.

Chuck Klosterman, Bill Simmons, David Foster Wallace, Footnotes and Football

I wouldn’t say I was a fan of David Foster Wallace so much as I simply read Infinite Jest, a feat about which I was prone to brag. It was the worst type of bragging, too, in that I was completely passive-aggressive about it (that should probably say “am” passive-aggressive about it.) Whenever something came up that necessitated the “reveal,” so to speak, I would hold my information for a beat and really treasure letting it out of the cage—the whole time pretending that it meant nothing to me. I wanted my reaction to be like “Yeah, so what, I read it!” and in doing so, I’m sure it came across as the exact opposite. I’m sure it was, and is, annoying. I would have been better off just taking my literary d*** out, so so speak and laying it on the table, or bragging about it, Rushmore-style. I read a giant book. What did you ever do?

But yeah: I read Infinite Jest. The defining feature of Infinite Jest is that there are more than 100 pages of endnotes, which most people call footnotes. Reading IJ required two bookmarks and a constant reference-book like tossing of the middle section back and forth to see what DFW had meant by “the” in the thirty-seventh chapter. Once you got used to it, it was all very entertaining.

I mention this because I just read Chuck Klosterman’s wonderful book excerpt on football and Bill Simmons’ book excerpt on basketball, and they both use some sort of notation system (Off the printed page, they’re formatted as endnotes. I don’t know how they’ll be in the book, but is anyone going to care anyway?). Simmons has, in the past, acknowledged his use of “footnotes” as a direct homage to Wallace, whom he admired. They work in Simmons’ prose for the same reason they worked for Wallace—they appeal to the helter-skelter mind of the reader and the writer, allowing quick (or in DFW’s case, not so quick) tangeants on whatthefuckever. DFW was Twitter before Twitter.

Klosterman’s thesis is that football is a progressive game in a conservative shell. For all the talk about football as being the man’s man, grounded-in-tradition sport, everything changes all the time. The forward pass, instant replay, challenges, the spread offense, the Wildcat: anything that’s new is at first rejected upon some sort of anti-traditionalism basis, then copied ad infinitum. Isn’t the same thing Klosterman and Simmons are doing with footnotes?

The correlation might not be perfect, but here’s a snippet from Michiko Kakutani’s review of IJ in the Times (emphasis mine):

The book seems to have been written and edited (or not edited) on the principle that bigger is better, more means more important, and this results in a big psychedelic jumble of characters, anecdotes, jokes, soliloquies, reminiscences and footnotes, uproarious and mind-boggling, but also arbitrary and self-indulgent.

A decade and a half later, Klosterman and Simmons, two pop culture writers, have brought the form to the mainstream. For Klosterman’s part, he realizes that the faux-anti-innovation processes he’s witnessed in football are present elsewhere:

I had played football and written about football and watched it exhaustively for twenty years, so I thought I knew certain inalienable truths about the game. And I was wrong. What I knew were the assumed truths, which are not the same thing. I had brainwashed myself. I was unwilling to admit that my traditional, conservative football values were imaginary and symbolic. They belonged to a game I wasn’t actually watching but was still trying to see.

Over time, I realized this had happened with almost every aspect of my life.

You can add one more to the list. As to the future of footnotes in pop writing, one need no look farther than Klosterman, again. If you like them, enjoy them while they last:

Twenty-five years ago, the read option didn’t exist. Coaches would have given a dozen reasons why it couldn’t be used. Ten years ago, it was a play of mild desperation, most often used by teams who couldn’t compete physically. But now almost everyone uses it. It’s the vortex of an offensive scheme that has become dominant. But ten years from now — or even less, probably — this play will have disappeared completely. In 2018, no one will run it, because every team will be running something else. It will have been replaced with new thinking.