Volume 3, Issue 64: Hotel Arizona

"I guess all this history is just a mystery to me."

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This week, I wrote a piece for MLB.com about the new Major League Baseball rule that, when a game reaches extra innings, a runner is placed on second base to lead off the inning. The purpose of this rule, instituted for the 2020 pandemic season and carried over into 2021, was to shorten games, rest pitchers’ arms and potentially provide add extra excitement. I was very much against this rule when it was instituted, but was ultimately surprised by how much I enjoyed it; I was even pleased when they brought it back for 2021. The rule is not perfect. But I like it, for the reasons explained in the linked article. I know many people, for perfectly understandable reasons, do not feel that way. There are surely some of you who are feeling the hair on the back of your neck stand up just reading this paragraph, who are fist-clinchingly furious at this perceived desecration of the game you love. You should know that I find myself envious of this passion. But only a little.

The pandemic changed us all in ways that will take us years to unravel. They haven’t all been terrible. My sons, who were friendly with each other but also so different that they seemed to occupy different planets entirely before the pandemic, have become best friends now: I have been listening to them play goofball games downstairs together while writing this for an hour now. (“It’s your turn to be the robot maid! Pick that up!” “I Am Sorry I Cannot This Does Not Compute.” “You’re broken!” “Robot Maid Attack!”) My wife’s business, interior design, has exploded during the pandemic; it turns out when people are locked in their homes for a year, they tend to look around and find all sorts of things they’d like to fix.

My thing, my change, I’ve discovered: I now both enjoy my diversions more and care about them less.

I have been writing about sports and entertainment, mostly movies, for more than 20 years now. While I’ve tried to avoid the sort of Sports Shouting analysis that fuels the sports media economy, I’ve had my fair share of takes. [Crash Davis voice] I believe Pete Rose should never be allowed within 100 miles of the Hall of Fame. I believe PEDs are no big deal and, in fact, the Steroid Panic of the early aughts is going to be considered ridiculous by those who look back at it decades from now. I believe Tom Brady, Barry Bonds and LeBron James are the greatest athletes I’ve ever seen. I believe Michael Jordan to be an unlikable jerk (which does not take away from his brilliance and may in fact be its primary source). I believe there’s going to be a major gambling scandal in the next 10 years that we all should have seen coming. I believe Bobby Knight may have personally set sports back 20 years. I believe Albert Pujols should retire a Cardinal.

(I also believe Crash Davis, who remains one of my favorite movie characters ever, would have hated the shift, rejected all advanced analytics, despised the runner-on-second rule and, probably, voted for Trump. He would have gotten vaccinated, though.)

And you should see some of my terrible movie takes! The point is, I’ve always had strong opinions about my diversions and entertainment options, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I would argue having strong takes, deeply held, I’ll-fight-you-to-the-death-if-you-don’t-think-Inside Llewyn Davis-is-the-best-Coen-brothers-movie convictions in the frivolous, ultimately inconsequential world of entertainment is the most healthy place to keep those most stringent, violently unyielding viewpoints. As humans, we need to be open to new experiences, new voices, new perspectives so that we might grow and evolve. But we also need to have dumb things to cling to, just to make us still feel like ourselves. Sports and entertainment is a great outlet for those dumb things. If you truly believe baseball was better in the 1980s and that today’s players lack fundamentals and couldn’t hold up to the stars of your youth, I think you are wrong … but I’d rather you believe that than "kids are lazy and don’t want to work and also back in my day men were men and women were women and that’s all there was to it.” Dumb sports biases and dumb movies biases are harmless.

But what I’ve noticed, post-pandemic (or whatever you want to call this period), is that even those old chestnut polarizing takes and debates … I don’t have the stomach for them anymore. It’s not that I don’t still believe Pete Rose shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. It’s just that I don’t care that much anymore. Maybe he gets in. Maybe he doesn’t. None of it affects my life, or your life, in the slightest. I mean: Aren’t you just happy to be alive? Aren’t you just grateful to have any of this at all?

I keep bumping my head on that ceiling lately. Seven-inning doubleheaders? Yeah, but isn’t it wonderful to have baseball back? NBA play-in tournament? Cool, more basketball! Fights over college athletics and the Name, Likeness and Image laws? I cannot wait to get back to tailgating again. The Golden Globes has been canceled? I’m going to see a Paul Thomas Anderson movie in the theater this year! I am so excited to return to basic, foundational diversions in my life that the details of them, the little obsessive stuff that only the diehards care about … I can’t get worked up about them anymore. Who cares about Pete Rose when we almost lost baseball? Who cares about awards shows when no one can even go to the movies?

I just can’t sweat the small stuff right now. I’m so eager, after the last 14 months, to embrace all that we’ve lost that, in a way, it doesn’t even matter if what I’m embracing is any good or not. I’m going to love that Fast and Furious movie, watching it on as big a screen as possible, munching on popcorn and having my senses assaulted. I do not think that movie will be good; the last few sure haven’t been. But I’m not going to care. I have, for the time being, lost my ability to be discerning.

This is a positive, I think. Losing what we lost in the pandemic, and now being able to to slowly return to living, has forced me, and I suspect many others, to re-evaluate what they value, what they cherish, what they want to hold closest. And it’s making me look at the familiar through fresh, almost childish eyes. I went to a Cardinals-Marlins game with my son in April, and all of it felt new. The crack of the bat was louder; the grass was greener; the lights popped brighter; the beer tasted colder. I was just so happy to be there. The game ran too long, there were too many strikeouts, the dumb relievers-have-to-face-three-batters rule kept popping up, it wasn’t anything close to perfect. But I didn’t want, or need, perfect. I just was grateful it was happening.

This bliss-out is unusual: It honestly does feel a little bit like being a kid again, seeing everything anew, being in awe that any of this exists in the first place. And it’s destroying all my hot takes. You know how I feel about Pete Rose being in the Hall of Fame right now? I feel weeee I get to watch baseball! That’s how I feel. That’s really the totality of it.

I know this cannot last, and I wouldn’t want it to. A return to normalcy will be just that: A normalcy that becomes the common, a normalcy that I’ll begin to take for granted again, to the point that I start complaining about stuff that doesn’t matter once more. It will feel like a wonderful gift, being irritated by stupid things again. Right now, though? Right now I recognize that this, at this second, actually is a wonderful gift. It doesn’t just feel like one. It’s baseball, and movies, and live music, and dinner with friends, and hugging loved ones, and shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye, and going to the grocery store without worrying about anything, and being able to have a regular freaking boring day for once. It will become banal soon. Soon, it won’t be enough. But right now? Right now I’m so blinded by it that all I can see is light.

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HOW LUCKY UPDATE

Well, How Lucky finally came out this week. I made a little promise to myself that I would give you all a break on book stuff once we hit bookstores—you have gone along on this journey with me for months now, and I think you’ve suffered enough—but I figure I should at least let you know how the first week went.

It went great! We received some very kind reviews, from The Washington Post to The Wall Street Journal to the People magazine review above. I also went on “Morning Joe” and got my Room Rated.

The highlight may have been the virtual launch event we did with Kevin Wilson and Avid Bookshop on Wednesday night; I’m reliably informed it will be on YouTube soon. There’s more coming, including an appearance with NPR’s Scott Simon on his show tonight. The key thing, for me, is that people seem to be responding to the book, and that Harper is happy enough with how this is going that they want me to do another one. Which was really the goal all along.

I think you’ve all done enough to this point, but if you wanted to do more—and who am I to stop you?!—if you purchased the book through Amazon, five-star Verified Purchase reviews are extremely helpful. (If you want to mash that five star button on Goodreads too, I won’t stop you.) But you really have done enough. Thank you.

Also, the first batch of bookplates should be coming out next week. There are a lot of them, so bear with me. But I’m signing them as fast as I can! But the key thing this week is that I have had a lot of fun. Weeks like this should be exciting, and I think it’s important to try to remember to enjoy them. I have.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.

  1. States Are Trying to Fix College Sports, But for the Wrong Reasons, New York. Even got an firm Athens connection in this one.

  2. The Extra Innings Rule Is Fine, MLB.com. As I said: This one did get me yelled at a lot. But I mean it! It’s not bad! It’s good!

  3. Possible Landing Spots for Albert Pujols, MLB.com. Who are we kidding, we know there’s only one.

  4. Guy Ritchie Movies, Ranked, Vulture. It was fun to do this about a filmmaker who, uh, isn’t that great.

  5. I Took Over the HarperCollins Twitter Account For An Hour and Tried To Make a Whole Bunch of Jokes. Some of Them Were Good! Twitter. Here’s one I liked:

  6. Internet Nostalgia: The Double Rainbow Guy, Medium. Why mock a guy for loving nature?

  7. I Answered Questions About the Book For My Friend Jay Busbee, Flashlight and a Biscuit. I wrote out the answers, so it counts!

  8. My Room Got Rated! Medium. It did.

  9. MLB Players Who Struggled in the Minors, MLB.com. Including Adam Wainwright.

  10. The Thirty: Players Who Need to Get It Going, MLB.com. Not the AWESOME CARDINALS, though.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Wrath of Man,” “Here Today” and “Bamboozled.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I have the big Pujols debate.

People Still Read Books, I talked to Grierson! He interviewed me about “How Lucky.” He is a good interviewer.

Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK

“The Battles Within Atlanta United,” Felipe Cardenas, The Athletic. This piece about the dysfunction inside my favorite MLS team is a little inside-baseball, but terrific. (And very worrying for this season-ticket holder.)

ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON

Georgia 2021 Home Football Games, Ranked by Desirability to Attend (Though I Wouldn’t Miss a One Anyway)

  1. Arkansas

  2. South Carolina

  3. Kentucky

  4. Missouri

  5. UAB

  6. Charleston Southern

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Write me at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO

“Howl,” Black Metal Motorcycle Club. One of the few good things about getting old is stumbling across songs that, 10-15 years ago, you listened to constantly but have, as life as piled up on you, since forgotten about. This whole CD was once on repeat in my old Lower East Side apartment. And now I haven’t listened to it in a decade. Still great!

Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.

One lucky reader is getting this edition of How Lucky, which Wynn signed for me at Avid Bookshop here in Athens last week.

The very definition of a collector’s edition.

Have a great weekend, all.

Best,
Will