Reading Bill Simmons

If you care even in the slightest for either sports and/or magazine writing, you should be reading ESPN’s Bill Simmons now more than ever.

After a couple shaky months (a career so prolific, yet so organic, creates natural ups and downs), Simmons has been on fire lately, with two excellent mailbag columns and two other uncharacteristically short pieces of late- one on former Red Sox great Fred Lynn, and the other a hilarious and on-point review of Seabiscut.

For those who aren’t familiar (though he’s in ESPN The Magazine, on ESPN The Web site, and a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live), Simmons is the former “”Boston Sports Guy”” who self-published a large volume of columns and daily links for the die-hard Boston sports fans first on his own site, and later at Boston’s CitySearch Web site.

Simmons’ columns are some of the best- and most original- examples of American sportswriting anywhere, despite his now-classic rough-edge, college-guy writing style. An unchallenged expert on sports history, sports movies, television, and most of the rest of pop culture, he combines each of these elements into long-form first-person narratives. His best quality, despite all of his other talents, has always been the palpabable passion for all things sports that he delivers at times cleverly, wisely, and reverently.

There are people who still love sports for the drama, for the game, and for its better characters- and not all of them are middle age balding men in sports coats and toupees. There is at least one great fan who came of age with us, saw the things we saw, and remembers the things we do.

I am very grateful he has chosen to write most of them down.

Depressing local baseball game

The Bangor Lumberjacks game Monday night was depressing, to say the least. Only about 75 people were on hand on a beautiful, long early summer evening, leaving the stadium that holds 3,000 looking suprisingly vacant.

There was no vibe whatsoever, thanks to a stadium experience lacking both video replay and the crowd noises most people relish in a live game. All this deafening quiet at UMO’s Mahaney Diamond, even though the food is relatively cheap and good, and you can easily get a great seat for under $5 bucks! More, there were plently of mid-inning opportunities for parents to send their kids running around the bases, racing the mascot, and tossing tennis balls for prizes and laughs.

The Lumberjacks are trying their hardest, with sharp uniforms, a highly visible mall outpost, and a reasonably enjoyable, professional time at the ballpark. Why people aren’t responding in greater numbers is not suprising, but it is interesting. You can’t fire off the excuse that people simply cannot afford it, because the local movie theatres are more expensive and are consistently filled night after night.

Perhaps location is the key, and next season or the one after, when the team is at Husson in Bangor, buzz will form around this new property and seats will fill.

In the meantime, people seem much too comfortable in their chairs, watching the Sox game on TV with the sound down and the radio turned up. They are playing great right now, after all.

Saint Hillary draws her plans for the throne

Nevermind the instantly boring campaign 2004, a race that ended in mid-April around the same time as Saddam Hussein’s rule. (Sorry, Deano, you won’t even get a chance to be the next Nader!) With campaign 2004’s long, weaving season out of the way, thanks to the military we embedded with those reporters in Iraq, it’s now best to set our arched eyebrows towards the presidential election of 2008.

The first big story of what the networks are already calling Crowning Hillary the Great in Oh Eight is the debut of Senator Hillary Clinton’s fake book last week. With that, campaign 2008 begins, as Hillary’s unbearably stupid interview with Barbara Walters last week has quickly materialized as her kick-off event. In case you doubt this, believe it or not, the interview’s toughest question came when Walters actually asked Clinton, “”Are you a saint?”” (Babs is just begging for it–Cheri O’Teri don’t hold back!)

The Blogsphere’s liberal left contingent, which is less than 5% of the total scene anyway, has been hilariously silent for Hill’s book debut, perhaps because blogs are all about truth, and no truthful blogger (even a dem-blogist) could ever approach the book without mentioning (er, disclosing) that it is written entirely by a ghostwriter. It’s even funnier to mention that I bet Hill didn’t even pen the jacket’s fake handwriting-scrawled title herself, either.

Thankfully, neither of these pesky truths about the book have gotten in the way of the major media’s truth brigade, and since they’re overwhelmingly liberal anyway, a vast majority of them have been right in line with Walter’s carefully-lobbed softballs in terms of their coverage. These are good signs for Saint Hill as she puts out those early feelers for 2008, as her fake book’s debut has generated more coverage in a week than the nine democratic dwarves have warranted all spring.

She’ll need only a few more easy pieces to complete her pre-campaign victory lap, and at least a few of them besides the full adoration of the media are assured. First off, she’s set herself up to win whether or not Willy keeps it in, so she’s got obstacle numero uno out of the way right there. Secondly, there appear to be no more qualified Bushes in line (though who can tell, really), and with that, it appears that the right has no candidate more formidable than Lazio was the last time she walked in.

I’m afraid there may be only one great write hope for the majority of polled Americans who say they do not want Hillary to be president, even these five years out. It’s the buzz that Election Bore in 2004 will herald the rise of the blog as the next stage of Web-enabled campaigning. If this widely-growing pundit premonition turns out to be insta-correct, then perhaps the right-leaning blogsphere will wield enough influence in 2008 to keep Saint Hillary’s army chomping at the gates.

On second thought, all may be lost after all. For if that is the case, Mrs. Clinton could simply follow in her own footsteps and premier the ghostwritten blog. Hey Begala, I smell a thunder-stealing dem catch-phrase: It’s the blog, stupid!

on his way

In a few short weeks, our baby, who is not even born, will own more things than we do.

He’s already well on his way. After a suprise baby shower in Connecticut this weekend and several scattered items besides, we’re grateful that his room is filling up fast with gifts from people who have never met him, never talked to him, never seen him except in small grainy black and white pictures with arrows pointing to his tiny hands.

A flash constituency

Glenn Reynolds has a great new article up on TechCentralStation about the power of horiztonal knowledge and how it has changed the world in the past 10 years-

With email, weblogs, bulletin boards, etc., I could, if the topic interested enough people, put together an overnight coalition – a flash constituency – without leaving the restaurant. (And in fact, some folks did pretty much just that recently, and succeeded in killing the “”super-DMCA”” bill before the Tennessee legislature.)

TCS: Glenn Reynolds: Horizontal Knowledge

Don’t be too sure of parity

With today’s news that the FCC would allow further deregulation of the media industry, effectively allowing fewer companies to own more media properties, it’s interesting to note a similar, if ironic trend, going on with the Web.

It’s conventional wisdom (for whatever that’s worth) that in traditional media, the fewer the companies the worse the user experience. For example:

  • Clear Channel owns thousands of radio stations, therefore only a handful of watered-down, corporate-approved songs make it into 60% of the nations radio market.
  • AOL/Time Warner owns several TV networks in addition to its movie studio, meaning that simple economics dictate crappy bomb movies will be shown over and over again on Comedy Central and TBS simply because they’re cheaper to buy and air repeatedly.
  • ..and you get the idea.

The irony here is that this situation- the few owning the many- is in the best cases a very good thing for the Web. Notice:

The best companies on the Web are focusing on the user experience, and they’re winning. There’s only a small handful of them right now, but it’s no coincidence that three of the top 5 Web companies are also three of the most popular, well-known Web sites in the world.

Amazon has expanded its simple, powerful interface to a new Web index, Alexa, which is still taking off. The biggest mystery of all is why the parent hasn’t reshaped their child in their award-winning image, considering it’s easily the best, most widely used and referenced movie & TV database online.

That’s not to mention the offline and online retailers who have moved under Amazon’s banner, and not the reverse- including CDNOW, Target, Toy’s R Us, and many others.

Google, the most popular search engine, is revolutionizing the online news habit with it’s , a smash after less than a year in existence. Though Google doesn’t own any subsidiary companies of note, they are a monopoly on search, the most user-centric tool on the Web, and they’re creating new usable ideas almost every week, from the news to text ads.

And there is one recent purchase of note that has made Google a parent company- Blogger, the first ever Weblog tool, was snapped up by Google last February. Though the once-leading Blogger is now sagging far behind the much more confusing, elitist MovableType software, it still says a lot about Google that they made the purchase, signaling an important trend towards the categorization and indexing of the disparate, dynamic blog culture.

Finally, there’s Ebay, the online auction site. Setting the pace with a clean, text-based design heavy on content and superior features for free, eBay strattles the lowest common denominator in an accessable way that attracts power users and alike, clearly the key to its brilliant strategy.


Die Another Day DVD

Sitting down to watch Die Another Day on special edition DVD, even though it doesn’t officially come out here in the US until tomorrow.

Thank you again,