Spielberg the Sportswriter

The Best Hitter You’ve Never Heard Of

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images Mike D'Antoni

The Secret Behind Mike D’Antoni’s ‘Much-Maligned Mustache’

And the rest of your critical sports questions answered in this week's Bake Shop

So I was wondering what incentive I have, if any, to ever go see a Blue Jackets game ever again. I have been struggling to think of one besides a good team coming to town or the fact that CBJ might not be around much longer. It has gotten so bad that the president of my company has been sending all-staff emails trying to get rid of Jackets tickets, and no one is responding. Any answers or ideas would be much appreciated. At least Ohio State Basketball is still watchable.

— Matt Y.

I thought the most depressing thing I had read about the Blue Jackets lately was the ” … Aaaand now, the starting lineups for your 2013 NHL All-Star Game! Heeerre’s … Team Prospal!” joke, but I think this e-mail might outdo it. Columbus currently has its share of intrigue, but just about none of it takes place on the ice. What will the team do with Nash? (Not rush to trade him unless they can get something substantial in return, I hope.) Will they trade for a goalie? (Sure, but they should be wary of overvaluing the guys out there. It wasn’t too long ago that Steve Mason himself seemed like a stud!) How openly contemptuous can Jeff Carter get? (What annoys me most about his situation is that I bet he’ll go thrive for some other team, like a baby who fake-cries, then is all smiles the moment you pick him up.)

But! The Blue Jackets do have one thing going for them right now, which is that they’re a league-leading 2-for-2 in “having bizarre clock malfunctions occur during their games.” The malevolent force field that has enveloped Columbus this season is beginning to stretch the time-space continuum. In a contest against the L.A. Kings earlier this month at Staples Center, the official scoreboard clock paused briefly with 1.8 seconds to go in the game before it resumed ticking down; the extra few tenths of a second gave the Kings enough time to score a game-winning goal (and gave their GM, Dean Lombardi, cause to send my favorite e-mail of the year). On Sunday, the Rangers appeared to have scored against the Blue Jackets at MSG, but it was called off because the NHL uses about seven different clocks, only one of which is truly legit, and that particular clock showed that time had expired before the puck crossed the line. You win some and you lose some, I guess, although in this case, in this season, the poor Blue Jackets ended up losing both.

If you are remaking a classic Western, say Stagecoach or The Wild Bunch, how do you NOT cast Mike D’Antoni as Sheriff? That ‘stache!!!

— Miles C.

It truly is majestic. (I like this old ode by Rob Peterson.) I would be proud as an American to watch D’Antoni draw pistols while on horseback in Cheyenne. However, you have to be careful not to start typecasting the Knicks coach as a pure Westerns guy, because then you’re missing out on one of the best things about him: his international flava.

D’Antoni remains a beloved hoops figure in Italy, where he played for most of the ’80s and won four league titles, all while sporting the same duster (in cut, if not color) that remains today. Marc Berman wrote in the New York Post last season that D’Antoni is still referred to in Milan as “Il Baffo” — The Mustache. Or, says Google Translate, The Whisker, which I think we can all agree is superior. “Contento per Lin, ma sopratutto per il baffo … il tanto vituperato mike d’antoni,” wrote one commenter, named Luigi, on an Italian basketball blog after the Knicks beat the Sacramento Kings last week. Translated roughly, that meant: “Happy for Lin, but especially for the much-maligned mustache … Mike D’Antoni.” On that, Luigi and I are speaking the same language.

I grew up in New York but I am a diehard Penguins fan ever since my dad picked #66 for my first mites jersey in 1988…you know, back when Mario scored 199 points in a season. Way to set realistic expectations there Dad. Since anything done by any Russian player ever (tweets, interviews, celebrations, etc) is automatically hilarious, I figured you would greatly enjoy this clip, the legendary “cooking with Geno” segment that the Penguins aired on their website also in 2009. In it Malkin cooks pierogis with Alyonka Larionov (Igor’s daughter in her breakout performance, back when she was a web reporter for the Pens while attending school in Pittsburgh before making the Sterger-esque move to TSN/NHL Network). The best part is the end when Letang creepily shows up to eat the finished project and you have what is shaping up as a scene right out of a Cinemax movie with one hot blonde in a kitchen with two guys that don’t speak English.

— Jesse S.

Upping the Skinemax Quotient is the fact that both “Tell me I did a good job” and “Just do it with your tongue” are actual phrases spoken aloud (in Russian, with English subtitles, no less). I didn’t think I’d ever see an athlete-related “cooking” “show” that trumps Charles Oakley’s three-episode run of Cafe Oakley, but Geno Malkin might be the guy.

By the way, if you love you some Russian NHL players — and who doesn’t? — I highly suggest following hockey writers like Dmitry Chesnokov and Slava Malamud on Twitter. Chesnokov’s language-barrier-hurdling interviews with guys on Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy are some of the more illuminating ones out there, and Malamud’s ongoing befuddlement about various aspects of everyday Americana is as funny as his insights into Russian hockey are worthwhile. I’m calling Madonna “the American Alla Pugachyova” from now on.

This NYU student sent a somewhat pretentious cover letter when he applied for an internship with J.P. Morgan. It has since been circulated throughout Wall Street and beyond (confidentiality agreements be damned).

This story got me thinking… how great would it be if college athletes had to craft a cover letter before the draft and submit it to all teams and the media? Granted, most draftees would have other people write their letters… but I bet some would feel compelled to write their own and we would get a few gems during the slow NFL offseason.

— Rob K.

It’s the line “That semester I achieved a 3.93, and in the same time I managed to bench double my bodyweight and do 35 pull-ups” that vaults this cover letter from borderline standard to something worth forwarding to all your buddies. I also like how a grammatical error turns one phrase into a hall of mirrors: “J.P. Morgan is a firm with a reputation that precedes itself.” (Although that’s actually a really beautiful way of describing the credit bubble, when you think about it.)

Still, while it’s nice to see that the tradition of ridiculous cover letters and résumés being swiftly posted on the Internet rolls on, it will always feel a little hollow. That’s because no one will ever live up to Aleksey Vayner and his “Impossible Is Nothing” production. Aleksey Vayner is the Wayne Gretzky of over-the-top fame-whorey careerism: He’s done things that no one will be able to match in our lifetimes, probably ever.

As for your cover-letter idea: If they turn out anything like J.J. Redick’s poetry (“Searching for the face of God / I’m only inspired by the poems of Nas”) or the web page Blake Kessel had to create for a college class (which has tragically been taken down, but some of which was saved for posterity by Harrison Mooney), then I’m ALL for it. I think you could also make a case for sealing the files until a few days or weeks after the draft and then having a big televised reveal where either the owner or the GM of each team has to read aloud the letters written by their draft picks. With Bovada, you’ll be able to place prop bets on who starts weeping first.

Is there an opposite sex term for “Man Crush”? You know what I’m talking about, right? Take Ryan Kesler, I like the way the guy plays, he seems like a great guy, definitely someone you’d want to have a beer with. “Man Crush.” But what about a female like Sue Bird? I don’t have a “crush” on her, but I’d love to have a beer with her. Is there a good term for that?

— Jim S.

Wait, I’m distracted because I’m reading this 2009 Q&A with Sue Bird, where the Seattle Storm guard talks about playing basketball in Russia, superhero powers, Seattle, and LeBron, and now I want to get a beer with her, too! “Oh, my god,” she responded when asked what actor she would cast to play her Russian team owner, Shabtai von Kalmanovic. “Anyone with a mullet would qualify.” I like jokes about mullets, too! And we both would choose being invisible as our superhero power! We would have so much to talk about.

The problem is, the girl-on-girl (easy now) equivalent of “man crush” is either “fem crush” or “girl crush,” and both make me feel like I should be curling a pigtail around my pinky and wearing knee-high socks when I say them. And as for your situation, I agree that we need a word or phrase for this — I highly support and believe in this kind of platonic beer-having friendship, despite what Harry Burns might have to say.

It’s unclear what the solutions are, though. Something like “friend crush” sounds like a Friday night spent on OK Cupid. I think the right dynamic is “partner in crime,” but that’s not snappy enough, and it’s liable to make significant others suspicious or jealous. Maybe the solution is to term the object of your not-crush “a total suebird,” though it seems like a little bit of a hepcat thing to say. I don’t know what the answer is. This needs some reader suggestions, so feel free to send them along to katiebakeshop@gmail.com. Help us help everyone move one small step forward toward a brave new world of human interaction!

I have been following the Flyers for thirty-two seasons, and I am pretty sure that this past Saturday’s Penguins game featured the worst goaltending tandem performance I have ever seen — which, I know, is really, really saying something. Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky let in Mr. Softees each. What would you do to fix the Flyers’ goaltending situation? And what is the most relevant life/sports corollary to this?

— Phil K.

After getting back from this January’s Winter Classic, I wrote a long blog post about the Bryzgalov situation that, as I was writing it, I worried was too reactionary. (Ilya Bryzgalov, the team’s starting goalie who also filled the role of resident reality TV crazy guy, was benched for the game after a string of bad play.) Things are never as bad as they seem, and all that. Here’s part of what I wrote:

I heard the following words said a lot throughout the weekend, whether accompanied by a snicker or a shake of the head: “Nine years, $51 million.” That’s how much Philadelphia, a team that for basically decades now has considered itself just one legit goaltender away from a Stanley Cup, inked Bryzgalov for this past summer. That’s a lot to invest in, and a long time to be tethered to, a man who couldn’t even maintain the starting job for a marquee event like the Winter Classic. …

Philadelphia is an organization for which locker room dynamics are so important that the team shipped off both its captain and another of its most productive scorers this offseason for reasons that had partly to do with team chemistry. But the other reason for the moves? To clear cap space for a much-needed franchise goalie, someone to rely on for the better part of a decade.

It’s been about six weeks since I wrote that, and very little has changed. Bryzgalov let in three goals on 13 shots against the Penguins on Saturday and was pulled for Sergei Bobrovsky, who wasn’t much better, allowing a bad goal off his skate. After the game, Bryzgalov gave one of his trademarked meandering interviews. “It’s easy to find a scapegoat when you point to one guy and say, ‘We’re always losing because we have a bad goalie,'” he said. “I will continue to work on this, but I’m just trying to find peace in my soul to play in this city.”

As for the Flyers, they recently traded for veteran shutdown defenseman Pavel Kubina to shore up their blue line, but there’s no simple fix to the Flyers’ goaltending situation. Bryzgalov’s nine-year, $51 million contract wasn’t built for simple fixes; it had been intended to last. The team right now is like someone who has endured years of bad short-term leases, shady tenants, and bickering roommates (and that’s just in net) and suddenly finds a place that blows everything before it out of the water. Yeah, there are a few weird quirks here and there, and the old tenants sure don’t seem too upset to be moving, and it’s kind of expensive — some things will have to be sold to afford it — but this does seem like a pretty great situation, all things considered, and how often do houses like this come along? And so the problems are mindfully overlooked, the purchase is made, and the long-term mortgage is taken out, and then a few months after move-in it’s discovered that the roof leaks and the foundation might be beginning to crumble. What can you do, really, except hold tight, cross your fingers, and patch up whatever you can?

I wanted to reach out to you regarding a dilemma I have with the 2013 Winter Classic. I was born and raised in metro Detroit and remember the pizza party I had when the Wings won their 1997 Stanley Cup with Darren McCarty’s awesome move. While I am excited that the Wings are finally getting to host a Winter Classic, I am kind of disappointed it will be at the Big House. I am a alumnus of Michigan State University, and there isn’t a thing I hate more than anything regarding University of Michigan. Having to support the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan in order to attend this game would be a tough pill to swallow. Detroit has been known as Hockeytown for as long as I can remember, but what will be one of the most memorable events in the history of the Red Wings is going down about an hour away from Hockeytown, and in the valley of my biggest enemy to boot?!?!? So what do I do?

— Josh S.

I have a lot of respect for Michigan State alumni. My second-favorite Spartan, Plaxico Burress, was so devoted to the spirit of the university that he blew off a pre-NFL draft workout with the Eagles in 2000 because his pal Mateen Cleaves was playing in the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis. (“Good to see Mateen and hang out with him,” he explained in an SI.com live chat a few weeks later.)

Anyway, I asked my first-favorite Spartan, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine‘s hockey insider Craig Custance, for his reaction to your dilemma. A Detroit native, Craig is a true beacon of journalistic objectivity in all matters that don’t include Michigan State. Here, his response:


First, let me tell you you’re not alone. Any true Spartan will struggle with this issue when it comes time to purchase tickets for the Winter Classic, knowing it’s helping support the $3 million in rent that the league paid to have the game in Ann Arbor.

I’ve covered every Winter Classic outside the original in Buffalo and I can tell you it’s at the top of the list of great sporting events to attend. And the NHL really takes over these things, so the University of Michigan arrogance, I mean influence, will be muted. Even at such historic venues as Wrigley and Fenway, the participating hockey teams overshadowed the regular tenants for that one day.

The best advice I can give you is to take small steps to make yourself feel better. After you buy tickets, never refer to the game as being at the Big House. Sounds too endearing. Just call it Michigan Stadium. Buy a beer or two there and then casually mention to your Wolverines friends how convenient it is, rather than sneaking in alcohol like they have to do for Michigan games. Say stuff during the game like, “The sightlines at Comerica Park were much better during the GLI,” even if deep down you don’t believe it. It’ll help you feel better.

But don’t skip just because it means going to Ann Arbor. It’s a celebration of hockey, and for that you can set aside the hatred for one afternoon.

As he alluded to, the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park ought to be a great event, whether part of a whole Winter Classic weekend of festivities or, if you’re a true extremist, on its own. Either way, here’s a piece you might enjoy that basically credits Michigan State for inventing hockey in general.

So last week on Twitter I asked for help finding a cool key chain, and you suggested that I subscribe to The Hockey News in order to get the free, customized key chain that comes with the subscription. Now, I didn’t pull the trigger because I’m not a hockey fan and $134.00 is a lot of smacks, but it was a cool key chain. That got me thinking about what is the highest acceptable amount of money that you are allowed to spend on a product that you don’t really want, for the sole purpose of getting whatever novelty throw-in item comes along with it. For example, I’d easily drop $100.00 on a subscription to Ron Paul’s Old Timey Newsletter if it somehow garnered me an especially snazzy Troy Tulowitzki bobble head. (Okay, I probably wouldn’t really do that, but you get the point).

— Tom L.

Makeup counters at the mall are always doing these things where if you spend X amount or more on their products (where X typically equals upwards of $50, sometimes $75), you get a free little makeup bag stuffed with a smorgasbord of samples: eye shadows, lipsticks, fancy eye creams (0.03 ounces’ worth), blushes, and, more often than not, those omnipresent little yellow bottles of Clinique face lotion. It’s pathetic how strongly these little “free gifts” lure me in. I definitely need this small, garish makeup bag, I think to myself each time I’m in a department store, forgetting how my cabinets back home are filled with pink polyester pouches that are themselves filled with abandoned makeup that I once got as gift for buying other makeup that I didn’t need specifically in order to obtain the now-abandoned gift itself. What I’m saying is, if anyone’s kid ever needs a bouquet of dried-up mini-mascara wand donations for some school project, give me a ring. Also, whoa, I just realized that the phenomenon you are describing is in many ways the whole business model of an arcade. The games themselves are fun, which is the major difference, but they’re not objectively that fun. I have Dave & Buster’s shot glasses that probably ran me in the low three figures, and just thinking about it is making me contemplate using them right now.

You said that you want Fitz and the Tantrums to perform at your wedding which I think would be a great choice, at least in part because it seems like most of their songs are break up songs, which I always think works well at weddings. But the real question is which band would earn the most points on the NUPTIALS scale if they were to perform at your wedding? Also would it be worth more if they played at a wedding because a) They are a close family friend? b) Some obscure connection to the wedding party? c) Money?

— Benjamin L.

It’s about context. Think of it as a college application of sorts: You’re trying to tell a cohesive story about yourself in a short space. You can play it safe and outline just how well-rounded and capable you are, but sometimes demonstrating a clear and focused passion will really make you stand out among the rest. So a Middlebury lax coach who gets Dispatch to reunite and jam out a few tunes at his wedding to the team’s former stat girl (with Braddigan also officiating as an ordained member of the Church of Spiritual Humanism) would definitely earn some extra points. So would a pair of cheesy Silicon Valley wantrepreneurs who splurged on hiring Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to “score” their wedding. You know these people because they’ve sent you these invitations.

Additional style points can be based on any of the following: how tongue-in-cheek the choice is; how legitimately enjoyable the band must have been (high marks for both categories is really the sweet spot, if you think about it); whether you actually chuckle out loud when you find out who the band is; whether the performer was somehow involved in the couple’s introduction, either directly or in a more “was playing on the diner’s radio the next morning” type of way; and finally, how the New York Times chooses to break the news. It’s worth more if, like, the last paragraph super-casually reports: “Guests dined under the Idaho stars on the grounds of the couple’s ranch as the singer-songwriter Carole King, who owns the adjacent 128 acre plot of land, serenaded the couple with songs ranging from sappy to sassy. (One champagne-soaked refrain had the cowboy hat-wearing crowd in stitches: ‘You invited me to get on my good side / trying to dodge the noise complaint / but between our gates is a 20-minute ride / I wouldn’t have heard you anyway.’)” As for Fitz and the Tantrums — you’re right that the album I like so much is actually all about breaking up, so maybe they’re not the best bet. But hey, that’s never stopped the thousands of couples who consider “I Will Always Love You” their song!

(Here’s where I’ll shoehorn in some quick Whitney appreciation. As a hammy 9-year-old whose molars and insecurities had yet to grow in, I thought there was no lovelier note to warble from the backseat of the car than “so good-bye … pleeeease … don’t cry.” I’m pretty certain that my elementary school had and probably still has an unblemished record of using “Greatest Love of All” as part of the soundtrack for its annual year-end schoolwide slideshow assembly. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve listened, sniffling, to “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” after a breakup. And even now, my best friends can crack each other up by putting on “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and having one person do the crazy Whitney part near the end — “DONTCHUwannadanceSAYYOUwannadanceDONTCHUwannadance??” — while another person sits there stone-faced and chimes in periodically along with the backup-singer dudes who just grunt/chant “dance” again and again. That we are almost 30 years old and still do this is probably not something I should be sharing, but it feels like the right time to admit it. We’ll miss you, Whitney. Dance.)

Have any questions, thoughts, or observations for the Bake Shop? E-mail katiebakeshop@gmail.com.

Filed Under: Bake Shop, Mike D'Antoni, Music, People, Series

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ katiebakes