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Jurickson Profar the Philanthropist

I was kind of surprised when the Rangers called up No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar late last season, but apparently manager Ron Washington insisted after hearing a story from Profar’s minor league days that led Wash to believe Profar to be the kind of good-natured, kind-hearted soul that would have a positive clubhouse impact down the stretch.

You see, there was a youth baseball academy not far from the Rangers’ AA team in Frisco, and the minor leaguers would often stop by to sign autographs for the young kids, many of them in their early teens or younger, and offer informal coaching advice. Profar, being only a teenager himself, took a particular liking to the kids and was disturbed to hear that funding shortfalls had caused the camp’s dormitories to fall into a state of disrepair. It wasn’t unsafe, but the air conditioning was intermittent and the camp had been unable to buy new beds for some years. In fact, the boys at the camp had begun to suffer fatigue and on-field injuries more easily as a result of not sleeping well.

Profar, when made aware of the camp’s plight, ordered new, softer, more comfortable bedding at the cost of several thousand dollars of his own money.

When word got back to Washington, the Rangers’ manager was touched by Profar’s generosity and insisted that he be called up if for no other reason than to reward him for being a good guy.

In other words, Profar got his cup of coffee when he proffered puffy cots.

The Turko-Belgian Hockey Fan

When I was in college, I spent a summer studying European politics in Brussels. Brussels gets a bad name because it’s between Paris and Amsterdam, but isn’t either of those cities, and because it’s not full of drugs and whores on the one hand or snotty wastrels on the other, nobody ever visits it.

Which is a shame, because I can think of no better city for me than the capital of a multilingual country with superb public transportation whose culture is built on French fries, beer and multinational bureaucracy.

But for all the beer and the friendly natives and discussion of codecision and lionization of Javier Solana, perhaps my favorite thing about Brussels was not actually Belgian—it was the Turkish food. Brussels is home to many Turkish immigrants, most of whom, it seems, have gone into the restaurant business. Which is great, because Turko-Belgian food is 1) delicious 2) ubiquitous 3) sold in large quantities 4) dirt cheap.

There was one doner kebab shop near my school that I was fond of, and I befriended the owner’s son, Hakan, who ran the store on weeknights. Hakan had recently returned from four years studying physics at Concordia University in Montreal, where he’d fallen immediately and desperately in love with ice hockey. So when I came in after class to pick up an early dinner, before the evening rush, he’d often pour a cup of coffee, pull up a chair at my table and talk with me about the NHL. Hockey fans, particularly Turko-Belgian Montreal Canadiens fans, are rare in that part of Europe.

Hakan, despite being relatively new to the game, had studied its history and often as not would tell me things I didn’t know.

For instance, he told me about the first NHL game he ever saw in person, which was, in fact, a Canadiens-Flyers tilt back in 2002. The game, he said, was marked by a particularly vicious fight in which Flyers defenseman Chris Therien bloodied Habs forward Joe Juneau.

“That’s strange,” I said. “I don’t remember either of them being particularly eager fighters.”

“They weren’t,” Hakan said as he brought me a bowl of spiced rice. “But Juneau had been purposely annoying Therien all night, hooking and tripping. He picked that fight on purpose.”

“Interesting. Therien’s much bigger than he is. Do you remember if Juneau said there was a good reason for it after?”

Hakan shook his head. “No. Juneau regrets Therien.” He pointed at the bowl. “Eat this pilaf.”

Shoot the Manager

Baseball in the mid-19th Century was more like the Wild West than the modern-day major leagues in terms of playing conditions, attitudes and, surprisingly, the amount of violence surrounding the game.

It’s a little-known story that, in 1882, Chicago White Stockings (the team that would become the Cubs) owner Albert Spalding, once considered having his manager killed.

Spalding, who had just taken over the team, was looking to slash his payroll and Cap Anson, the team’s manager and star first baseman, made up almost a quarter of Chicago’s wage bill. Spalding had begun to look into trading Anson, but when Anson, who was happy in Chicago, got wind of the news, he threatened to hold out and conduct his contract dispute in the press, where he was immensely popular at the time.

Spalding, losing money and unable to offload his team’s biggest star, began to look into other means of getting Anson off the team.

His first call was to the Market Street Gang, the precursor to Bugsy Moran’s North Side Gang. The Market Street Gang wasn’t particularly steeped in assassinations, so they directed Spalding to David Dillahunt, a hitman who’d worked in northern Illinois for five years. Dillahunt met Spalding and heard him out.

"Any way you want me to do it?" he asked.

"Well, he stays at the stadium well into the night. You’d have no trouble sneaking up on him with the poor lighting. Then you could shoot him and make your escape."

"Seems like kind of a small-time job. Shooting one guy in the back. Not a real challenge."

"So will you do it?" Spalding asked. "I’ll give you seven hundred dollars."

Dillahunt nodded. “This gun’s for hire,” he said. “Even if it’s just Anson in the dark.”

Noel Gallagher, Violence and the Manchester Derby

Back in the late 1990s, when Oasis was at the peak of its popularity, the Gallagher brothers found themselves at a club in downtown Manchester.

Even though Manchester is a pretty big city, there are only so many places young men with more money and ego than they know what to do with can go, so the Gallaghers soon found themselves in a room with David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Roy Keane—in short, the bulk of the Manchester United midfield.

Now, in most situations like this, when world-famous athletes and world-famous musicians come together, one group might say hi to the other, drinks might be bought, pleasantries exchanged and photographs taken.

Not in this case. Not only had Liam and Noel Gallagher ingested more pills and alcohol than is usually considered wise, they were enormous Manchester City fans, and seeing their hated rival’s biggest stars invade their bar like conquering heroes did not sit well.

"Let’s kick their asses," Liam said.

Noel considered for a moment, then tossed back the last of his drink. “Alright.”

So the Gallagher brothers ran over to the soccer players and started throwing punches.

Or at least Liam tried to. Because Keane—the kind of violent psychopath who’d occasionally stop in the middle of a game to punch Patrick Vieira—saw them coming and dropped Liam with an elbow to the nose. 

Noel, however, got through and managed to tackle Beckham to the ground before Giggs tore the musician off of his teammate, who was aghast: “What was that?” Beckham asked no one in particular. “Did he kiss me?”

Before Beckham got his answer, the Gallaghers were hauled off to the Manchester constabulary.

About an hour later, the Gallaghers were in the drunk tank, waiting for their manager to come along and bail them out, when Liam remembered something he’d overhead.

"Did you kiss David Beckham?"

Noel shook his head. “No, I had my mouth open and tongue hanging out when I tackled him and I guess my tongue caught him on the head.”

Liam arched an eyebrow. “Why’d you do that? That’s really weird.”

"I couldn’t tell you. I was just so mad." 

Liam shook his head disapprovingly. “If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times.”

"Said what?"

"Don’t lick Becks in anger."

Going Over Hadrian’s Wall

When the Roman Empire conquered a country, the centurions would often conscript locals into the army as a way of recovering from personnel losses before moving on to conquer the next tribe. 

Circumstances in the Roman-occupied British Isles were no different. Roman legionnaires would, from time to time, hop over Hadrian’s Wall, capture local men and train them to fight. Now, when you’re picking soldiers, you’d want to take tall, lean, muscular fellows, but after a time, the natives of what is now Scotland ran out of physically imposing conscripts to give.

So one day, a Roman raiding party came back over the wall with a fat kid. In spite of his girth, the legion’s commander was very pleased to have him in the unit.

After all, it’s hard not to get excited about your first round drafted Pict.

How NASA and the Sports World Avoided Disaster

In 1986, Rice University sponsored a sports business conference in Houston, Texas. One of the first of its kind, it featured a laundry list of big names in coaching and upper management—it was one of the last big appearances for Dodgers GM Al Campanis before the Nightline interview that forced him to leave baseball in disgrace. Red Auerbach spoke, as did Glen Sather, the management of the Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays and the commissioners of the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball.

Now, at the conclusion of this trip, the Reds were supposed to play the Mets and the Blue Jays were supposed to play the Yankees, so the managers and GMs of both teams split a charter with the bigwigs at the NBA so they could all get to New York more quickly and cheaply. 

That charter flight took off from Houston and five minutes later, mechanical debris began raining down on a neighborhood not far from the Johnson Space Center. Part of what looked like a jet engine landed on a house on the block where legendary NASA Flight Director lived, and the local news was ready to run with a story about the crashed charter flight.

But in a few minutes, it was established that it was a different plane that had exploded in midair and that no one on the ground had been hurt.

This saved the Houston Chronicle from running the headline:

"Rose and Kranz and Gillick and Stern are Dead."

My Top 10 Favorite TV Episodes of All Time

  1. "Middle Ground"—The Wire, S3E11
  2. "Shut the Door. Have a Seat"—Mad Men, S3E13
  3. "Unfinished Business"—Battlestar Galactica, S3E9
  4. "20 Hours in America"—The West Wing, S4E1
  5. "Commissions and Fees"—Mad Men, S5E12
  6. "Modern Warfare"—Community, S1E23
  7. "In the Pale Moonlight"—Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, S6E19
  8. "Can We Do This?"—From the Earth to the Moon, S1E1
  9. "Mud Bowl"—Friday Night Lights, S1E20
  10. "Twenty Five"—The West Wing, S4E23

My Ten Greatest Writing Influences

  1. Jonathan Franzen
  2. Robert A. Heinlein
  3. Dylan Thomas
  4. Simon Kuper
  5. David Foster Wallace
  6. Graham Greene
  7. Joe Posnanski
  8. Bill Simmons
  9. Drew Magary
  10. Aaron Sorkin

Ten Most Impressive Athletic Performances I’ve Ever Seen in Person

  1. Tim Tebow, football, University of Florida vs. University of South Carolina, 2007 (It’s really this, a huge gap, then the rest of the list)
  2. Ryan Roushandel, men’s soccer, University of Central Florida vs. University of South Carolina, 2008
  3. Candace Parker, women’s basketball, University of Tennessee vs. University of Arkansas, 2006
  4. Josh Johnson, baseball Florida Marlins vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 2010
  5. Eric Berry, football, University of Tennesee vs. University of South Carolina, 2008
  6. Patrick Kane, hockey, Chicago Blackhawks vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 2010
  7. Jimmy Rollins, baseball, Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds, 2011
  8. Knowshon Moreno, football, University of Georgia vs. University of South Carolina, 2007
  9. Jahre Cheeseman, football, Eastern High School vs. Timber Creek High School, 2003
  10. Justin Smoak, baseball, University of South Carolina vs. Elon College, 2006