Recently by JCB

A Retrospective Moment to Say Thanks

By JCB on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

As with last year, I'm afraid that I will no longer be able to write consistently for Agony & Ivy on account of other commitments, which will continue at least into the bulk of the 2010 season. Accordingly, changes for the site are afoot. Details will follow as they materialize.

I wanted to take a moment to say thanks, though, to several people.

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That Slipping Feeling

By JCB on Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I really hope the next couple weeks don't remind me of how it felt to leave the bleachers last night.

It was my first time back to Wrigley Field since 2007; and my first time back to the bleachers since 2006. Before that, I'd gone every season since at least 1998, if not before. (Younger memories get fuzzier each year.) Last season, not going even once left a true void. I had been looking forward to last night's game for a long time, then, and to see it lining up with Rich Harden pitching for the Cubs only added to my enthusiasm because he's been the one pitcher recently who seems capable of leading the team to a position to win by sheer force of will.

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Sponsored By . . .

By JCB on Monday, April 13, 2009

"More bad times, brought to you by Van Kampen Investments."

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Spring Training Meanderings

By JCB on Thursday, April 2, 2009

Consensus among the faithful in Arizona last weekend is that the Cubs will win the National League Central. This is because the Cubs have gotten a little bit better, while the rest of the division got worse. Of course, like every season, this one will be 162 games long - and we all know what that means: No one knows.

But putting analysis aside, one thing I noticed is that the fans seemed to feel much less urgency about this season. Last year, among the fans I talked with, there was the sense that the Cubs had to win in 2008. But the 101st season apparently brings less pressure than the one before. To me, this is a good thing. If there's one thing the collective mindset can use, it's less pressure.

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In The Mind's Eye

By JCB on Wednesday, August 20, 2008
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.

- A. Barlett Giamatti, former president of both Yale and the National League

This is the first paragraph of his 1977 essay The Green Fields of the Mind, recalling the Red Sox collapse of 1975.

* * *

It happened again after the Cubs took a slim lead; as I watched Rich Harden pitch, I was not thinking about whether the Cubs would win the game, I was thinking about whether they will win the World Series. I can't be the only one, right?

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Friday Afternoon Meanderings

By JCB on Friday, April 18, 2008

I haven't been able to watch the games this week. Today, though, I'm taking a break to watch the game and let my mind wander through everything Cubs. Here, then, is a collection of mid-April meanderings jotted as I watch.

Editor's Note: If you watch the games on DVR or something, and you subscribe to Agony & Ivy's RSS or Atom feed, don't read any more until later! There's spoilers.

On the offensive t-shirts

So, has everyone heard about the t-shirts being sold outside Wrigley Field by now?

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An Unprecedented New Yorker Cover

By JCB on Sunday, April 6, 2008

My jaw literally dropped when I picked up my weekend mail this evening, and saw the cover of the latest issue of the New Yorker. The title is "Lost and Found" by Mark Ulriksen. Here's the image (with its source pulling the image directly from the "About Us" page of the New Yorker website for this issue):

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Our Year

By JCB on Sunday, March 30, 2008
The crowd was vocal. Because the subject here was baseball and the stadium was full of scholars—and historians—and soon enough I found myself engaged in learned debate with all these ... strangers, these ... guys.

--Mason Marzac in Richard Greenberg’s “Take Me Out,” Act Two.
* * *

Saturday night around eleven o’clock I went to one of my stacks of books and pulled out my copy of “Take Me Out,” a play by Richard Greenberg. I bought the script about a year ago after the Zach Scott Theater here in Austin performed it. I thought the play was not only excellent but of exceptional literary quality, so I ordered a copy from Amazon or somewhere to add to my library, where baseball literature does its best to counterbalance the stuffier law books that look as heavy as they are.
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On The Naming Rights to Wrigley Field

By JCB on Friday, March 28, 2008

If the question is whether the owner of Wrigley Field should sell its naming rights to a sponsor, there is no correct answer.

However, approaching it from any given perspective, it feels like there is a correct answer--sometimes yes, sometimes no, and sometimes the answer feels very strong. Unless we have some form of analysis to identify the proper perspective--and we don't, besides each person choosing her own--this means we're asking the wrong question.

The right question is much deeper. It encompasses the inherent tension between baseball as business and baseball as sport, as pastime, as tradition. It encompasses the tension between our past and our present, our legacy and our policy. It encompasses the tensions in our country's changing culture, especially regarding technology, media, and advertising.

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What Baseball's Comprehensive Steroids Policy Needs

By JCB on Friday, January 25, 2008

Many of the games I’ve attended at Wrigley Field and about two dozen other stadiums blend together. This is inevitable when you attend so many; when baseball consumes a significant part of your life. Certain ones stand out though, and it's one of these on my mind today: Friday the 21st of August, 1998.

It was a hot, hazy, humid afternoon. Typical for Chicago in August. (Miserable.) It was also the weekend I moved in to my non-airconditioned dorm as a freshman in college.

We parked off of Roscoe Street because in those days you could still find free parking off of Roscoe if you got there early enough. Kerry Wood pitched against Orel Hersheiser that afternoon. The Cubs came from behind in the bottom of the ninth. Sammy Sosa singled; Mark Grace walked; Henry Rodriguez singled; Jose Hernandez singled; and the Cubs won 6-5. We stayed until the end and drove away slowly, stuck in traffic, completely drained, but also completely content.

Earlier in the game, Sosa hit his 49th homerun.

Steroids? Not on our radar that day. Not really. Sosa’s and McGwire’s homerun chase? Very much on our radar, as was the Cubs role in the wild card race. How could we have known that soon a cloud would hang over this era, this season, even perhaps this game? That Sosa, while never proven, would become a strongly suspected steroid user? That weeks later, Bonds would see the acclaim for Sosa and McGwire, probably leading to his own steroid use in the following years, and probably now a trial for perjury?

* * *

There’s an analytic concept that has proven useful to me recently in thinking about steroids and baseball. It’s not perfect, but it’s helped me grapple with not only what baseball should do, going forward, but also how I think—and feel—about assessing blame and culpability looking back. The concept is the distinction between rules and standards, a distinction between types and forms of laws that I’ll explain in a moment.

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