Sunday, January 27, 2013

25 Books: Catcher in the Rye

I believe in thinking big on your birthday. On my birthday I set a goal to get 25 book recommendations from 25 people who I respect and admire. I didn't ask for their favorite book, but for a book that changed their life.I did this because I wanted to understand my friends, former teachers, co-workers, and family a bit better. If their was one book that changed their life, maybe it could help me out too.

I finished the second book, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I finished it at the perfect time. Hat tip to Andy Aebly, one of my best friends, for the suggestion. 

Holden Caulfield, the novel's protagonist, constantly rails on about "phonies." I don't blame him, a lot of the characters he meets are pretty terrible people. Holden never mentions much about pro sports, but I'm guessing he wouldn't like it in the 21st century. Over the past few weeks, phonies were rampant in the business. 

 For those of you who don't know, I'm studying journalism, specifically sports journalism at Boston University. These past few weeks have been anything but flattering for the sports journalism business. There was the Manti Teo dead girlfriend story, the Lance Armstrong admission of guilt, and the Baseball Writers Association of America not electing anyone to the Baseball Hall of Fame

Such many phonies.

The thing that bothers me most about the Teo story is that hundreds of legitimate journalism outlets bit at a story without doing the meticulous leg-work that journalism professors harp on me about. We're told to get it right.. That's the foundation of the journalism. Manti Teo provided a fantastic narrative and the public (and media) just ate up. A Heisman trophy candidate having a monster game after learning that his girlfriend died of Leukemia? Oh please. Turns out, nearly everyone got played. 

In this weeks issue of Sports Illustrated, editor Chris Stone offered a Mea Culpa, "Hindsight is a wonderful, horrible thing."  When something like this happens, it makes me rethink how much we should care about these games. Yes, games. It reminded me of a line from the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." 

I, along with pretty much the entire world, loved Armstrong when he was destroying the field at the Tour De France. Turns out all this time, it was all phony as well. 

I think the Baseball Hall of Fame story ticks me off the most. For those of you who don't know, the BBWAA didn't elect anyone to the Hall of Fame this year. Part of it dealt with the Hall of Fame's "character clause" which states
"Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played."
Here are some quotes from BBWAA members who complained about the difficulty of their task: (via Deadspin

The BBWAA asks me to vote and I take my duty seriously. I try never to shirk a moral choice. And believe me, this is a moral choice... Cooperstown is not a statistics Hall of Fame. It is a Hall of Fame with certain standards of behavior.
The criteria for the Hall of Fame include judgments about integrity and character. Until that changes, I will continue to abide by those rules.
Heads up guys, there are plenty of drunks, racists, and unsavory people already in the Hall of Fame. Get over yourselves. You're writers, not moral police.You're dealing with a game. A game that is far from the halcyon, poetic, sport that you all imagine it to be.  There's a lot of phonies in baseball, and some of them are sitting in the press box.

One of my favorite scenes in Catcher in the Rye is when Holden describes his dead brother Allie's baseball glove:
"He had poems written all over the fingers and the pocket and everywhere. In green ink. He wrote them on it so that he'd have something to read when he was in the field and nobody was up to bat... You'd have liked him." 
I think I would have liked Allie.

Holden hates a lot of things. His New York sounds like a depressing place. However, there are a handful of moments that make up for all the depressing crap he runs into. There's a great scene at the end of the book (spoiler alert) where he's watching his sister Phoebe on the carousel while it's raining out:
"I felt so damn happy of all sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around. I was damn near bawling. I felts so damn happy, if you want to know the truth. I don't know why. It was just that she looked so damn nice, the way she kept going around and around, in her blue coat and all. God, I wish you could've been there."
That's wonderful.

I know I've trashed sports journalism a lot here. Truth is, I don't know if I even want to write about sports.

However, I feel like I should add a few stories that I love to show that I'm not a cynic (seriously, I'm not.) This article about an Oregon softball player who was helped around tehbases to complete her first home run is one of my favorite stories. Michael Lewis's No Stats All-Star piece on Shane Battier is fascinating. And I loved R.A. Dickey's story this season.

Bob Costas's eulogy of Stan Musial reflects how I want to write and how I want to live my life. It's beautiful. 

So where do I fit in this world? I have no idea. I place a high value on being honest and open. I don't want to be  a phony. 

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