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Happy birthday, Rembrandt, you handy allusion you

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Rembrandt Self-Portrait

In honor of Rembrandt’s 407th birthday, here are all the references I have made to him in my writing. Or at least all of them that I could remember or find. All of this is from the Salon column.

They’re s’mores, is all they are. A little circle of graham cracker with marshmallow on it, surrounded, smothered — no, embraced — by a slightly brittle shell of dark, luscious chocolate. Enrobed. That’s the word. The chocolate is poured over the cookie, you see. The cookie isn’t dipped into the chocolate like some common thing. Therefore, says Nabisco, “Mallomars are an enrobed product.” They’re just s’mores, like you make at cookouts. And a Rembrandt’s just a painting, like you make in kindergarten.

Mallomar memories, 2/27/01

My grandmother loved this story, a love letter to Mallomars, which my grandfather, who died in 1968, loved.

I know that sounds silly. A Randy Johnson fastball equals a Rembrandt painting equals a Shakespeare sonnet equals a Kobe Bryant dunk. I can enjoy Rembrandt as much as the next guy. Love what he could do with a dead peacock. But if a tackle-breaking run through the secondary by a tailback gives me the same pleasure, fills me equally with wonder, inspires me in the same way that a Rembrandt painting does, what difference is there? Rembrandt was just as meaningless last Sept. 12 as Emmitt Smith was.

Sports and 9/11, 9/11/02

A little strange on its own but I think it more or less makes sense in the context of the argument I was making. This was the first anniversary of 9/11, and there were some mini-controversies over sportsball people using words like “warrior” or phrases like “let’s roll” when talking about other sportsball people.  Some people thought of this as insulting to the memory of the dead, or to soldiers then just launching a decade’s worth of post-9/11 wars. My point was that we couldn’t live in a state of heightened sensitivity and mourning forever, that we had to get back to our normal lives, which we were doing, and that was a victory. And part of our normal lives is watching and talking about sports, which are exactly as important as we let them be. On Sept. 12, 2001, they weren’t important at all, to anyone. A year later, they were important again—if we wanted them to be. And each of us is free to assign importance to a sporting event, according to our tastes and feelings, just as we are to a Rembrandt painting, which, without the importance we’ve given it as a society, is just colors splashed on a canvas.

I wonder if Cubs fans, deep in their heart of hearts, really love this.

The Cubs are losers again, beaten 9-6 by the Marlins Wednesday in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. But they aren’t just losers. They are artists of loss, maestros of defeat. They are to losing what Jascha Heifetz was to the violin, what Rembrandt was to still lifes, what Jennifer Lopez is to overexposure.

NLCS Game 7 story, 10/16/03

Readers and friends who were Cubs fans hated this, thought I didn’t understand the first thing about being a Cubs fan. I maintain to this day that it’s just about the truest thing I’ve ever written.

And they’re playing the Braves, whom they beat last year, and who are to losing in October what Rembrandt was to painting faces.

MLB playoff preview, 10/4/05

“They” were the Houston Astros, who did, in fact, beat the Braves in that series. But that doesn’t mean I was right. The preview was set up with a “they will win because” section for every team. I did pick the Astros to go to the World Series, though, and I was right about that. I had them beating the Angels. They lost to the White Sox.

Written by King Kaufman

July 15th, 2013 at 11:55 am

Posted in Baseball, Not sports

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Neifi Perez and I inspire Joe Posnanski

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I have a chapter in a new baseball anthology called Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player of All Time, which is out this week from Da Capo Press.

I wrote about Neifi Pérez, who infuriated fans of the Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers in a long career that started with the Colorado Rockies, for whom he put up ballpark-aided, deceptively half-decent offensive numbers, and ended with his suspension for using amphetamines.

The piece is not sarcastic. I really did come to admire Neifi Pérez.

To be a guy like that, to be a guy who makes fans in four cities tear their hair out, to be possibly the single worst regular player in the major leagues in multiple seasons, to last for a dozen years in the big leagues, start more than 1,200 games, get caught stealing an astonishing 45 times in 102 attempts, you have to be a hell of a ballplayer.

The worst player in the major leagues is a hell of a ballplayer. The worst player in the history of the major leagues, whoever he was, was a hell of a ballplayer. Neifi Pérez was a hell of a ballplayer.

The chapter was excerpted this week by my employer, Salon.com, and many former readers of my old sports column showed up in the comments to say kind things about being glad to see my byline and wishing I would bring the column back. I would if it were up to me, but Salon is a business and it makes business decisions, and that’s about it for now.

Part of my job these days is to improve the headlines and coverlines of the pieces that run in Salon, and I did that to my own piece. Well, I changed the headline. I’m not sure I improved it. I forget what it was originally but I changed it to “Neifi Pérez: Bad baseball Hall of Famer.”

I’m gratified to say that this phrase, “bad baseball Hall of Famer,” inspired Joe Posnanski, whom I admire quite a bit, to call on his blog for the formation of a Bad Baseball Hall of Fame. He asks for nominations. Go on over and nominate someone, but be warned, Johnnie LeMaster has already been nominated. A lot.

And while you’re clicking around, why not go buy the book? Here’s that Amazon link again.

Funny thing about having the chapter excerpted in Salon: The readers quickly spotted an error that both I and the book’s excellent editor, Sean Manning, had missed in our multiple, in my case dozens of, readings of the piece. Here it is: “[Dusty] Baker and Detroit’s Jim Leyland have their critics, but they’ve each won more than 1,000 games and three division titles. Baker has won a pennant, Leyland two pennants and a World Series — the latter with Neifi on the postseason roster.”

Of course, Leyland’s World Series win came in 1997 with the Florida Marlins, not in 2006 with the Detroit Tigers and their ineffectual utility man, Neifi Pérez. Not sure how I got myself turned around in that sentence, but there it is, captured for posterity, a mistake I must have read right over 50 times without catching.

I always said my readers at Salon were the best editor in the world. There they go again.

Did I mention you can buy the book? I don’t get royalties or anything. But it’d be nice if a book I contributed to sold a few copies. And it’s good too, a fun read. Roger Kahn’s piece on Jackie Robinson is almost worth the cover price alone for the way it portrays Robinson, whom Kahn both covered and worked for, as a real person, not the paper saint we’ve come to know in the last 20 years.

I’ve read about 15 of the 25 chapters, and there’s not a dog in the bunch yet. Even my old pal Buzz Bissinger’s piece on Albert Pujols isn’t bad.

Written by King Kaufman

March 30th, 2010 at 11:37 pm

King Kaufman and Cary Tennis: A bake sale

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This is going to be a long blog post. Just in case you don’t get to the end of it, the point of it is to get you to click on two links about an online art auction that’s being held to raise funds to offset expenses related to the recent illnesses of two of my favorite people: Cary Tennis and … me.

The online auction is here.

A blog with a lot more detail about the artists, authors etc. who are donating items, as well as details about the items themselves, is here.

And now, the actual post

So I’ve been sick. Really sick. I’m getting better now, and the doctors say I will eventually, in a few months, get all the way better. This is one of the nicer things doctors can say to you, I’ve discovered. It definitely beats when they snap the one glove on and say, “And if you can lower your pants.”

I had a case of something I’d never heard of before, Guillain-Barre syndrome, described here by the Mayo Clinic. Your immune system attacks your nerves, resulting in weakness and numbness, to the point of paralysis. Stupid immune system. Fortunately, either through time or treatment — the docs and researchers don’t actually know which — the process reverses and you get better.

I was in the hospital and a rehab center for 23 days, and I have been on sick leave since the only day I’ve worked so far in 2010: Jan. 4. I’m slowly getting stronger, almost ready to leave my cane at home when I venture out, and I hope to return to work in a week or so.

Here’s another thing I’ve discovered: My friends and family and co-workers are amazing. They flew in from three different time zones to help the wife take care of the kids and various details of life. They brought food, cleaned our house, took our kids places, visited without becoming a burden, told encouraging tales of relatives who recovered fully from GBS, planned and threw our son’s birthday party. And then they brought more food. These people are astonishing. They could not have been more kind.

Imagine if I were a nice person!

And it hasn’t stopped there. My medical expenses have not been overwhelming, but I’ve missed six weeks of work, and might miss a little more than that. State disability makes up for some, but it’s still a financial hit, a few thousand bucks.

As much as my friends have done, there were more who wanted to do something and didn’t know what to do. And not just for me. My friend and co-worker, Cary Tennis, who writes the great advice column Since You Asked for Salon, has also been sick, even sicker than I. He underwent major surgery for sacral chordoma, a rare form of cancer, just before Christmas, and he too remains out of work.

Cary has been chronicling his illness and recovery when he’s been able. In his latest piece, he writes about how, having cheated death, even a trip to the hardware store feels like a miracle.

Now I have this dazzling friend and co-worker named Mignon Khargie. I call her Dazzling Mignon, is how dazzling she is, because she is, I think, a genius of an artist. She has organized a fund-raiser for both Cary and me in the form of what she is calling an online bake sale. She asked some of her artist friends, some of whom know me or Cary, to donate some art for an auction on eBay. But word got out and more people wanted to participate. Not all of them are artists, so there are now all sorts of things for sale.

There’s a lot of art, of course, such as signed prints of the Zach Trenholm caricatures of Cary and me that have adorned our columns for years. Plus! A personal sketch of the purchaser, or whoever the purchaser wants. And there are paintings and illustrations and comics and photos and signed first-edition books and even actual baked goods by a collection of ridiculously talented people, some of whom are famous, some of whom ought to be, some of whom will be someday, some of whom are friends of mine or Cary’s and some of whom are strangers to us.

So you can buy personalized stuff from the likes of Dave Eggers and Heather Havrilesky and Keith Knight and
Janelle Brown and Kate Moses and David Talbot and Scott Rosenberg and Elizabeth Kairys and Mary Elizabeth Williams and Ruth Henrich and Kirsten Menger-Anderson and Laura Miller and Sasha Wizansky and all I’m doing here is listing some of the people who have worked at Salon.

And I can’t leave out my boss, Joan Walsh, a regular on “Hardball” and similar cable news shows, who will debate that relative of yours who most reminds you of her frequent TV foe, Pat Buchanan — or teach you how to do it over coffee.

You can bid on all these things now through Sunday night. Look them over and make your bids at the eBay store or browse through the items, with much more detail — and “bid” links — at the bake sale blog. Everything starts at $9.99.

I’m sure I speak for Cary when I say thank you, from the bottom of our ailing but improving hearts and other body parts, to the talented friends who have donated their work and time, and also to you for reading this and for even thinking about making a bid.

One housekeeping note: In the event that this bake sale raises more money than is needed to cover Cary’s and my medical expenses and lost wages, we will donate the excess to a non-controversial charity to be determined.

Written by King Kaufman

February 9th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Allen Barra on “When Curling Was King”

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“King Kaufman is to curling – ‘chess on ice,’ as we aficionados refer to it — what Red Smith was to baseball and A.J. Liebling to boxing.  He’s good on just about every other competition in the Winter Olympics as well, and no one has ever given a better account of the politics and vagaries of the Winter Olympics and its judges. Not merely a companion to the Winter Games, this book will have you feeling like an insider.”
– Allen Barra, Wall Street Journal, author of “Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee.”

Buy “When Curling Was King: Winter Olympics Columns 2002-2006″ today at Scribd.com. It’s only $3. That’s barely a nickel per mention of curling!

Written by King Kaufman

November 24th, 2009 at 12:56 pm

More praise for “When Curling Was King”

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“Thanks to King Kaufman, for the first time in my life I really wish I gave a tinker’s damn about the Winter Olympics.”
– Rob Neyer, ESPN.com

Buy “When Curling Was King: Winter Olympics Columns 2002-2006″ today at Scribd.com. It’s only $3. That’s only 17 cents per mention of Bode Miller!

Written by King Kaufman

November 23rd, 2009 at 11:27 am

Advance praise for “When Curling Was King”

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“King Kaufman looks at sports in a different, smarter way than most people. Reading this collection reminded me that the best sportswriters dig into sports from the outside to find the truth within.”
– Will Leitch, contributing editor, New York Magazine, author of “God Save The Fan.”

Buy “When Curling Was King: Winter Olympics Columns 2002-2006″ today at Scribd.com. It’s only $3. That’s only 11 cents per mention of Michelle Kwan!

Written by King Kaufman

November 22nd, 2009 at 10:46 am

“When Curling Was King” soft launch

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It’s up! I’ve uploaded my first ebook, “When Curling Was King: Winter Olympics Columns, 2002-2006″ to Scribd.com. I’ll start the hard sell soon.

So far, with total sales at 0, I’m pretty happy with Scribd. I was expecting an hours-long rasslin’ match to get that thing uploaded, but it was pretty easy. The only thing that went wrong went wrong because of my own dumbness, deleting the document when I didn’t like something when I should have just uploaded a revised version.

That’s monkeying with the search right now. It’s run by Google, and right now Google’s seeing the original document, and when you click through you get “This document has been deleted.” Duh, me. I’m hoping next time Google crawls the site, the deleted version will be forgotten and only the second, correct version will show up.

The preview, which should show the “cover” — really just Page 1 of the PDF but it’s a photo with text on it and it’s supposed to look like a book cover — is showing up as a blank page, which isn’t great. Page 1 of the actual document looks right, though, so I’m hoping that the blank page on preview is another artifact of my dumb deletion and will sort itself out soon.

I’m pretty sure this is the most complex thing I’ve ever done on a computer without getting someone smarter than me — usually my only genius friend, Mignon Khargie — to hold my hand or do it for me.

You can read a preview, featuring the cover, the table of contents, an introduction and one column from each Olympics, here. And if you like what you see, spend the three bucks and read the whole thing.

I’m wondering if I should do more column collections, and I’m also wondering if ebooks organized around various subjects would be a good idea for Salon. Interviews with authors? Investigative pieces? The best of Heather Havrilesky? Let’s see if anyone’s interested in this one first.

Written by King Kaufman

November 21st, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Posted in Books, When Curling Was King

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