Wahoo

by Scott Raab on November 3, 2016

That was a great Game Seven. I hated the way it ended more than you did, unless you bet on or play for the Tribe. But what a game, what a playoff run, and what an epic World Series. That shit was riveting, and I’m almost as grateful as I am sad.

I hate Twitter. I’m on it; I’ve been on it since before I wrote The Whore of Akron, and I’ve got another book coming out late in February, so it makes no sense to walk away now. But I’ve made enough mistakes on Twitter to last me the rest of my days, and last night I fucked up again.

I’m talking about Chief Wahoo. I should NEVER have raised the subject after a Game Seven loss. If only a tiny percentage, a sliver, of my die-hard brethren are pained by being told that Red Sambo is like the Confederate flag, I could’ve waited for their feelings, their seething emotions, their hurt and anger, to calm a bit after such a brutal L.

That was insensitive of me. I’m so sorry.

Oh, wait: These are the same people — the ones to whom Wahoo seems so crucial — who love to say FUCK YOUR FEELINGS to the people they dismiss as social-justice-warriors and pussies. In fact, whenever I check the timeline of some asshole coming at me about the Chief with what reads like rage or personal contempt, I find a Donald Trump fan. And whenever I read the word “pussification,” I know I’m dealing with a small-fingered cretin.

(I stopped checking. I just block. I like to block on Twitter. Sometimes I’ll block someone who follows me just because they’re giving Grossi grief. I love Grossi. Hall of Famer. Seriously: If you blame Tony Grossi for anything about the Cleveland Browns, you’re in your teens or stupid.)

Anyhow, Wahoo. The Cleveland Indians have a heritage to be proud of when it comes to sports and race. Larry Doby, Satchel Paige, Bill Veeck, Frank Robinson — if the Dolans and Mark Shapiro cared about anything but making another few bucks off the 90s Tribe, they could’ve built a Doby statue before Thome’s, dumped the name and the cartoon, and embraced that heritage just by recognizing the reality, which has been clear for many years, that Chief Wahoo is, plain and simple, a relic of genocide.

My feelings, your feelings, and all the polls in the world can’t change that fact, and there is no argument you can make that doesn’t track precisely with those made to justify the South’s beloved Stars and Bars. You’re free to fly yours from the deck of your double-wide or tape it to your bait-shop window, and you’ll be free to paint your face and wear your headdress to the Jake after Wahoo hits the road. Or, to quote Shapiro, don’t come. Because if Chief Wahoo is the reason you’re a fan, you’re no kind of fan at all.

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Good Luck

by Scott Raab on April 25, 2016

I don’t come here often. Hardly ever. Writing here pays zilch, and I’m averse to spelunking my own butthole for free. But it seems like the right place to say a few words about leaving Esquire magazine.

I’m leaving Esquire magazine. I’m old, and I’m working on a sequel to The Whore of Akron, and there’s other stuff I want to do, too. If you get to a certain age — I’ll be 64 if I make it to August —  the math starts doing itself. (I think I’ve written that exact phrase before, in Esquire — strong evidence that the magazine could use a break from me.) It was time to go, and so the May issue, a split run with either Bill Murray or George Clooney on the cover, is my last as a Writer at Large.

For those playing inside baseball, the May issue is also David Granger’s last as Esquire‘s editor in chief.  I started writing for Granger in 1992, at GQ, and joined him at Esquire in 1997, when he was hired to run it. I’ve had a dream job for almost 25 years. A ridiculously great job. I mean, seriously: My last Esquire Q&A was a four-hour lunch with Granger and Bill Murray at an Albanian steakhouse in the city. I got paid for that.

A word about Bill Murray: I can’t help connect you with Bill Murray. I don’t have his secret number. I don’t think he e-mails. I’ve known Bill since 1998, and he’s something like what I’d imagine an angel to be. He…appears. I bring this up because whenever Esquire does anything with him, I get sincere, impassioned,  detailed asks from folks who need to get in touch with him. I’ve gotten a few already this time around, and I can’t help. If it’s any consolation, Jon Favreau wanted to put him in the first Iron Man, and he couldn’t reach Bill, either, and had to settle for Jeff Bridges.

A word about luck: Timing is god. I was almost 40 years old when I met Granger. I was selling columns to an alternative weekly in Philly for $40 each, I was selling my sperm and white blood cells, too. And working on a novel, of course. I’m a firm believer in hard work, facing fear and failure, and enduring apparently endless self-doubt and -loathing — all of that stuff seems inseparable from writing as a process. But I’m not stupid or silly enough to think that my magazine-writing career is a tribute to any of that, much less to any innate gifts and talents. The longer I stuck around, and the tougher the print business got for thousands and thousands of talented, hard-working writers, the more plainly I saw how fucking lucky I have been.

That’s the trick. That’s the secret. Keep swinging hard. You might get lucky and hit something.

 

 

 

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Hi LeBron

by Scott Raab on September 26, 2014

Hi LeBron,

It’s me, Scott. Scott Raab. I think you might be aware of the book I wrote after The Decision. I dropped off one copy in late 2011 at your place in Bath and another at the LRMR office. I don’t know if you ever got them.

My bad on the book title. My agent hated it. My boss at Esquire magazine didn’t like it, either. But I grew up in Cleveland and I love the city and the teams, and like a lot of Cleveland fans, I was outraged about how you left the Cavs. Whatever your thinking was, and no matter how much money you raised for the Boys & Girls clubs, you personally disrespected the city and the fans who loved and supported you. So when it came to the title of the book, I spoke from my heart.

That’s the same way I read your Sports Illustrated essay — with my heart. What you said and how you said it lifted a lot of hearts, including mine. Your return is the best thing by far to happen to Cleveland — to the city, not just to one of its teams — in 50 years. I’m grateful to you. You made good in Miami and you came back home — as a player, as a dad, as a husband, as a son of Akron — to try to win a championship for all of us. I can’t think of a sweeter story.

So naturally I’m in town, to work on another book. I’m hoping it ends with me and my son at a parade here. (That’s the book I set out to write in 2009, during your last run as a Cavalier.) And if it doesn’t turn out that way, well, that’s fine, too. The story still feels noble, heroic. Mythic, really. Biblical, even.

Anyway, I wanted to give you a holler about this new book project. You’re in the middle of the Media Day scrum; I’m just down the road with a few boxes of donuts for my media pals. I did apply for a press credential, but the Cavs said no. No specific reason. I guess maybe they confused me with James Blair.

I also want to wish you and yours good luck and good health — it’s Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, 5775 — and, of course, a season that brings us to the Promised Land at last.

Best,

Scott

P.S. Feel free to stop by for a couple of donuts. You look thin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1. No question that Jimmy Haslam was right to say that he’d decide after this season about his future head coach and GM. Simply by dumping Mike Holmgren, he put Pat Shurmur on short notice. And by bringing in Joe Banner to replace Holmgren, Haslam effectively shit-canned Heckert, who didn’t work well with Banner when both were with the Eagles. Haslam’s actions said all that needed saying at the time he bought the team.

2. Game by game, Shurmur has pissed away any chance he ever had to hold on to his clipboard. You can bet that the search for his replacement is well underway.

3. As Shurmur’s game management and decision-making continue to cost the team a chance to win, any argument for keeping him through season’s end collapses. Judging a coach’s performance always comes down to two general questions: Does he get the most out of the talent on the roster? Does he put his players in a position to win? If you feel that the Browns’ 2-7 record truly reflects the level of talent on the roster, or that coaching is less to blame for that record than the players, Shurmur’s your guy.

4. I strongly doubt that a fellow like Jimmy Haslam buys the argument that losing games this season is a plus because it means higher draft picks. How any Browns fan can study the post-1999 history of the franchise and still say that losing leads to winning is way, way beyond me. Particularly in the NFL, winning teams find and develop talent no matter where they pick. Losing teams don’t.

5. The best reason to fire Shurmur NOW — the only reason necessary — is to make clear to the players and the fans that ownership won’t tolerate ongoing incompetence. Incompetence is without question the current hallmark of the franchise, and Pat Shurmur fully and publicly embodies it game after game after game.

6. Not that it matters, but Heckert surely has provided more evidence of his competence than Shurmur. Still, that bar is so low as to be meaningless, as is measuring Heckert’s draft performance against previous Browns’ GMs. In any pro sport, a superior GM is capable of articulating and enacting a specific vision of the path to winning championships, and building and guiding scouting and coaching staffs good enough to make it happen. I see very little evidence that Tom Heckert is that guy.

 

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MVP

by Scott Raab on May 13, 2012

When you write a book about LeBron James and call it The Whore of Akron, you also forfeit any claim to objectivity or fairness. Not only do I understand this, I embrace it. It never was fair to burden a  young athlete with the hopes and dreams of millions of Cleveland fans suffering a fifty-year case of blue balls. Nor is it fair to blame LeBron for the Cavs’ failure to win a championship during his tenure with the team; Danny Ferry’s flailing, Mike Brown’s fecklessness, the Mo Williams playoff horrow show, the Larry Hughes Experience — these things weren’t LeBron’s fault.

My loathing for him is a separate thing. It waxes in direct proportion to his on-court success, but it is fixed at a certain level by the greatness of his game: LeBron James is simply the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. Not the fiercest — to say the very least — and hardly the most successful, but the breadth and brilliance of his skills are, to these ancient eyes, unmatched. So it comes as no surprise that LeBron has won another MVP award, his third of the past four seasons. (Truth is, he deserved to win it last year, too.)

Likewise, it’s no surprise that the media — led, as ever, by ESPN, the unsleeping uber-brand spinning the wide world of sports into ’round-the-clock merchandise — is pushing the story of LeBron’s personal and professional redemption so hard. To Cavs fans, and to those writers who covered James during his years in Cleveland, the stories about how hard James worked on this or that aspect of his game over the summer long ago became an annual exercise in bullshit. As for the ‘I played with hate last year, but now I’m back to my old self’ nonsense spewed by King Shit himself, one look at his career stat line ought to be enough to blow away that smoke.

There’s nothing — absolutely nothing — about James’s numbers this year that isn’t perfectly in line with his entire career. His shooting percentage improved, primarily because he took far fewer 3-point shots; his assists-per-game average was the lowest he’s posted since six seasons ago, likely due to playing more often without Dwyane Wade; measured by Win Shares and PER, LeBron’s last two seasons in Cleveland were better than this year’s model. All the love/hate crap aside, James is now wrapping up his 9th NBA season, and he’ll turn 28 later this year. Yeah, he’s a marvelous talent. But to talk about him at this point as if he’s going to get better and better — or as if his drama-queen persona has suddenly calmed — is sheer public relations.

Meanwhile, LeBron’s epic choke in last year’s Finals has been reduced to a trope along the lines of “I didn’t play as well as I wanted to” or “I didn’t make as many big plays as I’m used to making for my team.” This isn’t understatement; it’s lunacy. James’s playoff collapse against the Mavericks was nothing short of historic, and, like his stats, was wholly in line with his vanishing act against Boston in his last playoff appearance for the Cavaliers.

I foolishly picked the Knicks to beat the Heat. I’ll go with the Pacers next, and so on. Not only because I want LeBron James to fail, but also because the Heat just aren’t solid enough to win it all. They lack a decent center and point guard. Their coach is a cipher. And their best player has a MVP statuette where his heart’s supposed to be.

 

 

 

 

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Tupac Lives

by Scott Raab on April 17, 2012

I’m pretty excited about this whole Tupac/hologram thing, and not just because it means that at some point in the near future, as the technology develops, I might actually have a shot at fulfilling my lifelong dream of boning Bea Arthur. Now that they’ve manged to create an image of Pac so lifelike and compelling that ‘he’ may actually tour, I can hope to repay a small debt I incurred two decades ago.

It happened in early November, 1994, when Tupac was starring with Mickey Rourke in a movie called Bullet. I was profiling Mick for GQ; it was Fashion Week in New York and when he wasn’t shooting on location in Brooklyn, Rourke was pseudo-stalking his estranged wife, supermodel and quasi-thespian Carre Otis, as she flounced through Manhattan. Rourke was a mess, professionally and personally; Shakur was shortly to be tried for sexual assault (and would soon catch five slugs in the lobby of an NYC recording studio, a capping he survived); and I wasn’t feeling so good myself.

I’d seen Tupac a couple of times during the week. I had only a nodding acquaintance with his biography and his work then. Whether out of deference or temperament, he was as quiet as Rourke was loud; each had his own small entourage, and each clearly liked the other. By week’s end, I’d gotten pretty much everything I could from Rourke in terms of interviews, but I wasn’t about to miss out on the chance to tag along to a strip club that Saturday night. The main event — aside from Rourke vanishing into a private room with one of the ‘dancers’ at one point in the evening — was the Michael Moorer-George Foreman heavyweight championship fight, shown on a huge screen behind the club’s stage.

Rourke, Tupac, and company took up most of the first row. For nine rounds, Moorer had his way with the 45-year-old Foreman, who resembled a tranquilized bear. In the tenth, Foreman caught Moorer on the chin with a short cannonball right, knocking him out clean. Mickey couldn’t have been more delighted; I can still hear him screaming, over and over, “Age don’t mean shit!” (He told me later he’d won thirty large betting on Foreman, a claim I found precisely as credible as everything else he’d said that week.)

From the strip club we head to a dance club, where — in a scene choreographed by their publicists and designed to keep them on the front page of the tabloids for one more day — Mickey finds Carre seated in his VIP section. She and her party leave for another region of the club and she sends up a tray of drinks, whereupon Mickey has Tupac deliver a bottle of Cristal to her. It is more than a little like high school, more than a little silly. When Tupac rejoins us, he pulls out a baggie of weed and begins rolling and smoking joint after joint. It’s too loud to talk, but not so loud that I can’t signal my willingness — nay, eagerness — to partake, and Tupac, may God rest his noble soul, seems happy to share.

I felt bad that I’d left my own stash at the hotel, mainly because it was vastly better than Tupac’s. But I’ll always be grateful to him for his kindness that night, and I hope someday I’ll get to buy his hologram a thank-you gift of some sort. I guess dinner’s out of the question.

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Chardon High School isn’t far from where I went to high school, and I’m also the father of a 12-year-old boy, so what’s happening in Chardon now is of intense interest to me. I’m heading there to to try to find out what happened and how it happened and — to the extent one human is allowed to speculate — why it happened.

Whenever shit like this goes down — what CNN has now offically labeled a ‘rampage’ — gun control becomes a focal point of controversy. I believe in the 2nd Amendment, strongly. I’ve owned a firearm for many years. But I’m hardly an absolutist when it comes to the right to bear arms, and I truly don’t understand why any sane citizen would want handguns and long guns to be treated alike. I was visiting a pal in Indiana a couple of weeks back, and we went to a gun-shop range for a half-hour, and I was reminded again of the obvious truth: The handgun is an excellent tool for killing a human being. Nothing more, nothing less.

I don’t know where TJ Lane, the shooter in Chardon, got his .22 semi-automatic pistol. But I do know how easy it is to buy a handgun. I also know how easy it is to fire one. And I know that Ohio’s Governor signed a law last year making it legal to carry concealed firearms into bars, malls, and arenas. Call me an elitist asshole, but anybody in Ohio who feels safer as a result is too fucking stupid to ever be trusted with any kind of gun.

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Writing

by Scott Raab on December 28, 2011

new apple keyboardI get asked for advice by young writers and never know what to offer beyond a few things that sound absurdly simple. I don’t want to be discouraging. I don’t want to be overly encouraging, either. Print may or may not be dying, but writing isn’t. People still want to become writers, hope to make a career of it, think of it as something special — all that jazz.

I think the fundamental force behind writing is passion. The writers I know are insane. They don’t know how NOT to write about stuff. It’s like pro athletes often say about their sport: They’d play for free. Writers love to write — and not because it’s easy. Getting it right isn’t easy at all, and that challenge is a big part of why writers love to write. It’s a high, working on your game, a way of being in the world that feels absolutely honest and true.

Anyone, especially in his or her twenties, saying ‘I have no time to write’ because of a job or anything else is full of crap. Writers write. If you can’t find time to write, don’t worry about becoming a writer. You’re not a writer. You’ll never be a writer. Find something else that lights you up.

Same with reading. Anybody who has no time to read isn’t a writer. All the work necessary to learn how to write boils down to reading and writing. This is not subtle or nuanced advice, obviously. I stress it here because of how often I talk to people who seem to think there’s a shortcut. I know no shortcuts. Luck counts, yes. Connections, too. But luck and connections won’t help if you’re not a good enough writer to take advantage of them.

The other factor is endurance. Endurance is a talent. Without endurance, I don’t think other talents mean much, not in a profession as uncertain as writing. Almost without exception, the chances to earn money and recognition come slow. If they do come quick, endurance is still required to build a career. The few writers I know who found relatively early success and kept it going weren’t just good writers; they worked even harder after making their bones.

Keep in mind, though, that this is just one guy’s way of thinking. I was selling columns to a weekly paper in Philadelphia for $40 a pop the year I turned 40. The best writer I know in Cleveland is nearly 60 and makes his living checking orders at a beverage warehouse. One of the best young writers I know in New York City works for a caterer full time. Maybe you can find someone else out there who can offer you some shortcut. Not me.

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That’s what the ‘analyst’ just said after a penalty flag was thrown for unnecessary roughness following a helmet-to-helmet hit on Thursday Night Football. The ‘analyst’ — part asshole, part cyst — was referring to the flag, not the hit. The hit? Old-time football, motherfucker. The flag? Pussification. This ain’t soccer, wimp. First they turn perfectly timed blows to the head into personal fouls, then they force socialized medicine down our throats. Fuck that Euroshit.

Me, I like socialized medicine. Love it. A society that allows huge corporations to regulate and market medical care while preaching ‘family values’ and jailing drug addicts instead of Wall Street buccaneers is naturally going to love the sort of sport that specializes in brain damage. Never mind the mounting number of concussions and the mountain of fresh evidence of their hideous effects. We like our gladiators fearless, and if they die young and demented, we’re fine with that. That’s a price we’re more than willing to let them pay for our entertainment.

Some of my favorite conversations have been with fathers of young sons who think it’s a good thing for 9- and 10-year-olds to play tackle football in full gear. They’re not worried about brain damage; they talk about football teaching their boys ‘how to compete.’

I wonder if they ever wonder how the species itself somehow managed to survive without football? Dumb luck, I guess.

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Bounty Hunter

by Scott Raab on December 14, 2011

That’s me. I’ll pay any credentialed member of the Cleveland media $100 for asking the following question of Pat Shurmur at one of Shurmur’s press conferences:

“Why would any Browns fan feel that you are a competent NFL head coach?”

The question must be asked in those words.

I’ll toss in a $50 bonus for eye-rolling during or immediately after Shurmur’s answer.

*****

While I’m at it, I’ll make the same offer to any credentialed member of the Miami media: You get $100 for asking LeBron James if he has read The Whore of Akron.

I’m biased, of course, but I find it fascinating — and revealing as hell — that not a single member of the pack of fanboys paid to cover every aspect of LeBron’s existence has had the cojones to ask him about a book that 1) was just published, 2) has been reviewed by Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Parade, and many other media outlets, and 3) examines the issues of villainy and regret that James himself has recently and repeatedly raised in his quest to rehabilitate his brand.

I’m not asking for free publicity, you lickspittles. I’m willing to buy it.

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