MIKE GIVES A MAKEOVER: With the Clemens-beanball drama ending and his recent revitalization at the plate, it seemed as though Mike Piazza had finally put “the rumor” behind him- but then he goes and does this. On the dime of the New York Post (the same paper, oddly enough, that “outed” him), Piazza took co-catcher Vance Wilson along on a tour of spas, nail salons, and fine clothing stores in order to give him a “makeover,” which included (among other things) an eyebrow wax and manicure. What was Piazza thinking? Did he not know the reaction this would cause? In a related story, much has been made of the rapper Nelly’s attempts, on his new album “Nellyville,” to shed the image some have of him as “soft” and adopt a more gangster-ish edge. Then how do you explain his decision to duet with ‘NSync’s Justin Timberlake on a song called “Work It”? Excuse me?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I mean, I knew going into the night that I was a flaming liberal. Now I know I’m still flaming, but I’m not so sure anymore about being liberal.” – an audience member at last night’s New School debate.
VIRTUALLY NEW SCHOOL: I had the privilege tonight of meeting Andrew Sullivan, my favorite pundit and the man who both revolutionized blogging and is the most prominent figure in the insurgent conservative faction of the gay community. I admire Sullivan for several reasons: he writes eloquently on numerous subjects, from the War on Terror to the Middle East to domestic politics to sexual issues to pop culture, and given his unique background (gay, HIV-positive, Catholic, British, and moderately conservative), he’s certainly not beholden to any orthodoxies. And as a straight, HIV-negative, Jewish, American who’s moderately liberal, I agree with almost everything he says.
Tonight I attended a panel at the New School called “The Great Gay Political Debate,” which featured Sullivan, Richard Goldstein (the Village Voice writer, Javert to Sullivan’s Valjean), conservative lesbian Norah Vincent and leftist political activist Carmen Vazquez. The panel was ostensibly about the clash between traditionally leftist gay people (like Goldstein and Vazquez) and their more conservative counterparts (Sullivan and Vincent), who represent the rising amount of right-leaners in the community (indeed, 25% of gays voted for Bush in 2000). But as several attendees pointed out, it was more a battle between leftist radicals and more traditional liberals- indeed, Sullivan and Vincent take all sorts of positions (anti-discrimination, pro-sexual freedom, abolition of sodomy laws, support for gay marriage, opposition to the Christian Right) that used to be considered liberal when discussing the question of gay rights. Sullivan is not a gay conservative in the way that, say, Clarence Thomas is a black conservative: he’s merely a liberal on gay issues and a conservative on most other things- at one point he said that the goal of the gay rights movement should be to make itself irrelevent- something Thurgood Marshall once said about the civil rights movement. And as he articulated in his supurb book “Virtually Normal,” Sullivan believes all of the traditional approaches to homosexuality in public life (the liberal, conservative, liberationist, and abolitionist) are wrong in their own ways, and that a new consensus must now be etched out from all four.
The highlights of the evening were several contentious exchanges between arch-enemies Sullivan and Goldstein, who appeared at many points like they were about to come to blows Bonds-Kent style. Goldstein has been on a seemingly obsessive quest to undermine Sullivan for years (especially since Sullivan became a prominent figure through his blog), writing about him constantly in the Voice and The Nation, and now Goldstein has written an anti-“gayocon” book called “The Attack Queers.” Goldstein was also instrumental in the effort last year to smear Sullivan by making public personal ads he had placed on sex sites. Sullivan rightly used much of the time on the panel to refute Goldstein’s numerous accusations, most of which included significant distortions of Sullivan’s quotes and viewpoints. Goldstein, an incredibly dishonest and shoddy journalist, even stooped to comparing his disclosure of Sullivan’s private sex life to “outing Roy Cohn,” to which Andrew replied “I’m not Roy Cohn,” in the evening’s most passionate exchange.
I give the audience credit- they seemed fairly pro-Goldstein/Vazquez to start off, but once they realized that Sullivan wasn’t the devil he was made out to be but rather shared most of their views, a substantial amount of them took his side. The event will be airing on C-SPAN at some point in the near future; look for the back of my head in the third row.
INDIANS’ COLON REMOVED: I thought it was a joke when I first heard it too: the Montreal Expos (yes, those Montreal Expos, the contraction-bound Montreal Expos) acquired Bartolo Colon, the top pitcher available this year for an in-season trade, for Lee Stevens and three prospects. And it’s not just the contraction business that makes this bizarre: for the past decade the Expos have made a habit of trading virtually all of their good players for prospects, and then later trading the prospects as soon as they became arbitration-eligible- Pedro Martinez and Larry Walker being only the most prominent examples. Oddly enough, the last time the Expos made a trade to acquire a frontline veteran starting pitcher for the pennant race was their 1990 deal for Mark Langston, for whom they gave up pitching prospects Brian Holman… and Randy Johnson. That’s a good way to explain their behavior since, although their horrible economic conditions are a better one. But hey- if the Expos can get Bartolo Colon, could Jim Thome-to-the-Twins be far behind?
LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER: Yes, I believe in separation of church and state, but yesterday’s ruling by the California Circuit court that effectively bans the Pledge of Allegience is just plain insane. No reasonable person could ever suggest that the Pledge of Allegience exists for the purposes of religious indoctrination, and indeed, this is the sort of thing that makes 70% of the country stand up and say “damn, liberals are idiots.” And as John Podhoretz pointed out today, it also will be like manna from heaven for the Republicans, as they can now send out fundraising letters and make commercials using their usual scare tactics about liberal bogeymen: “they’re gonna raise your taxes, take your guns away, AND stop you from saying ‘God!'” And finally, the ruling is intended to discourage religious belief in the schools, but actually will have the opposite effect: before, nobody thought of God while saying the Pledge. Now, everybody will.
DODGING THE DRAFT: Work obligations unfortunately prevented me from watching tonight’s NBA draft, although from the sound of things it was quite an evening of excitement. I’m not so high on Yao Ming, probably because he looks not unlike an Asian Shawn Bradley, although perhaps he’ll prove me wrong. The Bulls, believe it or not, have the chance to be VERY dangerous in the very near future, as do the Clippers if they manage to hang on to their talent. As for the McDyess/Camby trade, I realize McDyess is quite an effective player and the Knicks are thus a better team than they were yesterday as a result of the deal. However, you just know that either Nene Hilario or one of those picked immediately below him is going to be a superstar who “the Knicks let get away,” and the fans and tabloids will repeat it like a mantra for the next 15 years. I love the Knicks as a last place team- their fans are starting to remind me of Red Sox fans.
DRAFTDUST MEMORIES: Of course, draft night for me always brings back wonderful memories, mostly from the years in which I followed the perenially-in-the-lottery Timberwolves. I even attended a “fans party” at the Target Center in 1992 to “celebrate” the drafting of Christian Laettner, the man who was supposed to lead the T-Wolves to the promised land (call him the Rick Pitino of Minnesota). This is the team that drafted Luc Longley and Felton Spencer in the top 7 in consecutive years, although when the Knicks had both Longley and Spencer for a brief period in 2001, I got the last laugh. And don’t even get me started on J.R. Rider… those days were memorable, most of all, for the relentless optimism, that one of those years, we’d finally get the guy we needed. It took ’til ’95 and the drafting of a guy who’d gone to his prom two weeks before, but we got it done.
Then there was the year I cut off a promising date with a summer-camp co-worker to go home and see whether the Wolves had managed to land Stephon Marbury (they had; my mother’s observation on the draft: “they were all tall, they were all black, and they all had their mothers with them.”) I guess it’s good that the Wolves are out of the lottery now, or else the illegal Joe Smith contract would’ve cost me and other Wolves fans five more years of stories like this.
Back in the ’93, this time at overnight camp, my cabin-mates and I attempted to listen to the draft on a barely-registering AM radio frequency, and were highly confused about the trade of the #1 pick- Chris Webber had been traded to Golden State? For Tim Hardaway? What about Anfernee Hardway? Huh? Later that night, we listened for the end-of-the-first-round pick by the home team of my camp friends, the Bulls, as they drafted… Cincinnati forward Corie Blount, leading to ten voices simultaneously screaming “who the fuck is Corie Blount?” Blount won three rings with the Bulls and another with the Lakers, but to this day I still can’t hear his name without thinking “who the fuck is Corie Blount”? As a councilor at that same camp six years later, driving away from the camp grounds during a night off, I cheered the news that the Wolves had drafted Wally Szczerbiak, with the pick they’d given up in exchange for… Stephon Marbury.
Finally, The Sports Guy (fresh off his selection to the Entertainment Weekly IT List), has a column of his favorite Top 50 draft memories. Sports Guy lists as #43 last year’s report by Peter Vecsey that the Knicks would not be able to trade for Chris Webber, thus drawing an immediate “Vecsey Sucks!” chant from the New York crowd. As an indicator of both the attitudes of New York fans and of Vecsey’s ineptitude, I’d have put that in the top ten, easily.
SO LONG RANDALL: Quarterback Randall Cunningham announced yesterday that he plans to retire from the National Football League. Cunningham first arrived on the NFL scene as the Philadelphia Eagles’ young, gunslinging QB in the late ’80s, later wearing out his welcome in Philly, retiring, and then improbably making a comeback with the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings in 1998, who he led to within a chip-shot field goal (fuck you, Gary Anderson) of Super Bowl XXXIII. Cunningham’s primary legacy will be that of a trailblazer: he was the first quick, mobile, African-American quarterback to prove to coaches that QB wasn’t merely a white guy’s position- in the early ’90s Randall and Warren Moon were the NFL’s only prominent black quarterbacks, and now there’s at least one on almost every team.
Randall McDaniel, the future Hall of Fame lineman on that ’98 team, also recently retired, meaning that of the group of four players that included three Randalls and two McDaniels (John Randle, Randall Cunningham, Randall McDaniel, and Ed McDaniel), only John Randle remains active in the league.
ATTACK ON MAC: Mark McGwire is no longer the only world-class athlete nicknamed “Mac” to be publicly accused of using steroids. John McEnroe is being accused of steroid use by his ex-wife, former actress Tatum O’Neal, who recently sat for a Barbara Waters interview, which I guess was an attempt to cash in on her ex-husband’s new book, “You Cannot Be Serious.” On the one hand, the accusations are believable, due to the former tennis ace’s reputation for public, violent tantrums, though on the other hand they’re quite unbelievable, considering McEnroe’s status as the scrawniest world-class athlete of all time.