I Spoke Too Soon

I’d like to apologize sincerely to all those inconvenienced by the weather Friday and today. After all, I caused it. All it took was one mention of how warm and dry the winter has been and how I’m looking forward to getting an early start on cycling and this happens:

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Yeah, that was all me.

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And that’s where the bikes live.

I know what you’re thinking: “But you love cross-country skiing as much as cycling, if not more. Wax up your skis and get out there.” [Of course my cross-country skis use wax for grip instead of those fish-scale patterns on the bottom. If you’re surprised by that, you’ve learned nothing from these essays.] Well, it’s not that simple.  Right now, there are four inches of dry powder outside with nothing but dead grass (and rocks and tree roots) underneath. Without a base of older snow, the skis go right down to Mother Earth, and there is a reason you don’t see this sport in the summertime. So, yes, there is snow, but it would ruin my day to try and ski on it.

But that’s all right, because I have embraced the precipitation and the mud that will result from its eventual thaw. I have a new project in my life, and it came from a most unlikely source: sporting scandal. It seems that…someone just got caught cheating in a bike race. [Try to contain your surprise.] This time, the performance enhancement came from a motor inside the frame instead of from drugs inside the athlete.

Now, permit me a small digression here. I’m shocked by the shock so many people in the cycling world are expressing. They are so angry that there is a call for a mandatory lifetime ban from the sport for any rider and mechanic involved in using a motor. Riders who have had their victories stripped away because they tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs routinely claim to be clean and re-join the peloton. When they win again, broadcasters praise them for [allegedly] realizing their errors and setting a better example by reforming their ways. But Femke Van den Driessche might as well be projected on a telescreen for the next Two Minutes Hate.

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And drugs are better than motors?

Anyway, I was less interested in the cheating than in the event in which it occurred- cyclocross. I know this is the hot new trendy thing among people looking to buy still another bike, but I remembered reading about cyclocross decades ago in Greg LeMond’s Complete Book of Cycling.

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[Why did nobody think aerodynamic handlebars were “mechanical doping” in 1989?]

Cyclocross began as a way for European riders to keep fit in the winter months. They would put tires with a little more traction on their regular bikes and ride through cow pastures or along wooded trails. When they came to unrideable sections like rivers or steep muddy hills, they had no choice but to dismount and carry their bikes across or over. Doesn’t that sound perfect for a curmudgeon? “Son, when I was your age, we didn’t have these fancy mountain bikes with all their granny gears. We ran up the hills. And we were thankful!”

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[Real men.]

 Because riders could not go anywhere near as fast as they could on the road, and because they had to run for significant stretches, it was much easier to keep warm and stay happy.

Now, as my hero Bike Snob NYC recommends, I have a metal bike whose configuration I can change around any time I like and try out new stuff. Remember it?

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Because I built light, strong, tubular wheels for it, I can simply put knobby, slightly-wider cyclocross tires on it and give a new (to me) sport a try. The fenders will need to come off so the knobs don’t rub, but they will find their way onto whatever I ride on the road in the rain.

Tell me this doesn’t look like a blast.

Not a doper or a piece of carbon fiber in sight.

 

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Out of the Depths of My Despair

Now that I have gotten over my disappointment over the results of the World Series, I can think clearly about this past baseball season. Back in September, I wrote about how the Mets’ style of play was encouraging me that they had what it takes to go far in the playoffs. [During a playoff game in October, one of the Mets’ announcers complimented the team’s beat writer on his recent article about how the team was winning by coming from behind, creating opportunities, and never giving up. Let the record show that I went there first!] Well, the run continued through the end of the season as the Mets won their division,

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won their first playoff round over the Dodgers,

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won the pennant against the Cubs in four straight games,

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and headed to the World Series to face the Royals.

I was thoroughly satisfied by the defeat of the Cubs. After all, they had earlier eliminated my actual favorite team since I was young, the Pirates. There has not been much to cheer for during the last couple of decades in Pittsburgh. After all, when they last had any success, Barry Bonds looked like this:images

fifty pounds lighter and several hundred home runs fewer. (More on that later.) I realize that the Cubs have had a far longer drought, last winning the World Series in 1908. But by now, the Cubs’ not winning it all is one of those sacred and undeniable truths of baseball. The streak’s continuation means that everything is all right with the universe.

I was so happy I failed to notice that the Mets had stopped playing in the way that had gotten them this far. They had repeatedly scrapped and come from behind against the Dodgers. But now, more and more, they stood around waiting for Daniel Murphy

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to hit another home run. This was great as long as Murphy was unconscious at the plate, but what happened when he came down to Earth?

The Royals made the Mets look silly.

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It doesn’t help that I have had a lingering sinus infection since the World Series ended. [It must have been all of the sleep I lost. Games now are long enough without extra innings prolonging them well into the morning of a work day.] But I realize now that the Royals represented all that I had praised about the Mets through this season. Although I had not listened to many of their games, they were the true masters of creating opportunities, picking each other up, getting base hits at the right times, and not worrying about hitting mammoth home runs that count the same as the inside-the-park variety with which Alcides Escobar opened the Series.

The Royals came from behind in every game they won, including the ninth inning of the clinching game 5. Everything I wrote about the Mets in 1986 was even more true of the Royals in 2015. They played small, heads-up, fundamental baseball, and the fact that this style triumphed is good for the sport. If we want to see a home run derby, we can wait for the All-Star break.

The Royals are beginning the rehabilitation of the game from the regime of Commissioner Bud Selig.

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[Would you buy a used car from this man? There was a time when you actually could.]

Back in 1994, there was a player strike that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series. Disillusioned fans abandoned the sport in droves, and stayed away for several years. Then in 1998, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey, Jr. all challenged Roger Maris’ record for home runs in a single season. Fans began to pay attention again. When I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame that summer, they had live broadcasts of every plate appearance by each of the three. I guess the colossal home run is in-your-face-enough to make baseball competitive with basketball and football again, because nobody was happier about these developments than Commissioner Selig.

More and more players began to look to the example of the heavy hitters and try to gain the same competitive advantage. How were they hitting the ball so far?

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Uh, no, actually, not by drinking milk. The answer is PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS. But Selig was so happy that the fans were filling ballparks again that Major League Baseball turned a blind eye, until pressure from the public forced it to crack down. However, that did not happen until the twenty-first century was well underway. And unfortunately, with the resulting decline in offensive numbers, baseball’s resurgent popularity began to wane once again. I think the Royals are just the spark that will get people interested again.

In future posts, I’ll detail some of the other damage Commissioner Selig inflicted on baseball, along with my ideas to reform his reforms. But for now, remember that baseball is fascinating and exciting whether a player hits the ball five feet or five hundred feet.