The A's must be butter ...
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Page 2's "Critical Mass" is a weekly survey of what's happening at the busy intersection of sports and pop culture.

On a roll
The Oakland A's

A's celebrate
The A's sprint out of the dugout World Series-style after Miguel Tejada's streak-saving homer Sunday.
As I write this column, they have won 19 in a row.

The streak is its own thing now. It's a force. It has a weight and a heft. It brings its influence to bear on other realms of life.

Restaurants in Northern California, where I live, have their televisions tuned in to every game. Proprietors of restaurants without televisions are bringing in sets from home, running extension cords across the floor, standing on one foot and holding the rabbit ears at a 45 degree angle to get decent reception.

Roads are jammed. People are just stopping their cars in the middle of intersections to hear key plays on the radio. The other day, after Miguel Tejada hit the walkoff home run to win the 18th straight, the California Highway Patrol reported dozens of cases of folks getting out of their cars to hug each other -- complete strangers, arms wrapped around each other, jumping up and down.

Estranged couples are getting back together over the streak. "Did you see the game?" he says. "Yeah," she says. "You?" "Yeah," he says. "It was great. Listen, I was wondering if maybe you would wanna watch it together tonight? I mean I know it's been a while, but ..." "That would be nice," she says, gently taking his hand.

Preachers are allegorizing the streak in their sermons. Used car salesmen are drawing parallels between the streak and this sweet honey of a convertible over here that just keeps on humming and purring and will never, ever let you down.

School kids are dyeing their heads green and gold, and there were six babies born in Alameda County last week named Zito. Three kids named Justice.

Lifers at San Quentin are doing A's murals on the yard wall.

Guys at Golden Gate Fields are betting horses using a system based on A's jersey numbers. Tim Hudson's pitching, you bet the one horse in the fifth race. Eric Chavez goes deep you take No. 3 in the third.

There is no good explanation for a streak like this. Momentum is just a word. Winning yesterday is a poor predictor that you will win today, no matter how excited you are and no matter how much you love the bunch of guys you're playing with.

The truth of the matter is, the A's have won 19 in a row because, as Dave Justice said rather quietly in a post-game interview the other day, they are "a good ballclub" and because they have been lucky in these last three weeks.

That's the truth, yeah, but that kind of truth seems insufficient. It feels like maybe there is another kind of truth floating around out there, too. Maybe it's a harmonic convergence thing, maybe the tumblers are all in alignment. Maybe some sick kid begged Art Howe to promise him 19 victories in a row and Art couldn't say No and the kid needed to believe in something in order to pull through. Maybe the ghost of Charlie Finley or the spirit of Billy Martin is at work. Maybe somewhere out there in the ether the baseball gods got tired of hearing the small-market vs. big-market argument and said, "You know what, let's send the small-town boys on a streak, a big, tasty, spectacular streak, and, you know what, while we're at it, let's put the Twins up, oh, I don't know, say ... 12 games in the AL Central." Maybe this is one big "contract this!" from the Lords of Baseball to the lords of baseball.

Or maybe it's just that they're good and they've been lucky.

Whatever it is, it's a delicate thing. You can't mess with it. You've got to respect the streak -- that's Crash Davis, I think. So if you're reading this, and you believe in the fuzzy kind of truth, believe in believing, believe in late-inning rallies and wildly improbable circumstances all adding up just so every once in a while, keep doing what you're doing. Even if you're an Angels fan, or a Mariners fan -- send all the bad mojo toward Seattle or Anaheim, and keep the universal love flowing for the A's improbable run. If you haven't taken a shower in a few days, don't take one now. If you haven't worn a particular pair of shoes, or eaten at a certain restaurant or pulled into a particular gas station in the last few weeks, stay away. Keep doing things the way you're doing them. Don't jam things up. Any little change, however small, might tip the balance. It's like that butterfly flapping its wings in Madagascar thing. Don't toy with the streak. Maintain your patterns. Do not, under any circumstances, turn over a new leaf.

Think of that kid in the hospital. Think of those crazy young lovers just barely pulling it all back together. They need you.

On the shelf
"The Ringer" by Bill Scheft (Harper Collins, released July 2)

Scheft is a writer for David Letterman who, until recently, wrote a regular column for ESPN The Magazine called "The Monologue." These days, he writes a front-of-the-book column in Sports Illustrated called "The Show."

His first novel is the story of College Boy, a much-better-than-average softball player who plays as a ringer in various leagues around New York, his increasingly senile sports writer uncle Mort, and Mort's cleaning lady, Sheila. College Boy's body is falling apart, and he's not sure what he'll do if he can't play ball, Mort is in the hospital but is convinced he is actually at the country club, and Sheila sleeps with men for money in Mort's empty apartment. In unpredictable ways, each one offers the others advice and comfort.

What goes on in their lives (College Boy's totally unplugged therapy sessions, Mort's imaginary conversations with old movie and sports stars, Sheila's "business" arrangements) and what goes on between them isn't gut-bustingly funny, but the story is witty, the prose is lean, and there is a seasoned balance between comic exaggeration and simple realism that makes the characters and their underdog lives appealing, and the book very readable.

The best of it: College Boy's twisted grip on reality -- equal parts ballfield protocol and valium-induced relaxation -- is strangely familiar and sympathetic. He's a loveable screw-up, the guy who keeps any serious revelations, insights or confrontations at a very safe distance, the guy you like to have around, as long as neither one of you ever mentions the fact that he's just a couple of bad breaks away from sliding off the face of the earth, maybe never to return. Scheft has a feel for this guy, and you end up feeling for him too.

The worst of it: Not much plot to speak of, the occasional punch line for its own sake, and a redemptive love story angle that isn't very compelling.

The lasting impression: Irreverent, sharp-eyed and bittersweet. The kind of book you'd give your father-in-law or your uncle.

On the small screen
"The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" on DVD (Fox Home Video, released Aug. 27)

It's not that the fan wants to be the slugger, it's that he wants to see himself reflected in the slugger, wants to be a part of what the slugger represents. He knows the slugger is out there in the world doing amazing things, and he imagines he is somehow connected to them. The slugger is Jewish, the fan is Jewish, and each swing of the slugger's bat makes the fan feel more powerful in the identity they share. They are, both of them, young and strong and brave, making their way in America.

Yes, that's it. But no, it's more than that: It's also that the fan does want to be the slugger. He wants to hold the bat in his hands, feel the soft, sweet rub of the uniform twisting around his waist. He wants the pop and sting of balls hit and caught. He wants the easy, unselfconscious walk of broad shoulders. And he would die if he could just once step out onto the grass at Tiger Stadium, look up at the sky, rub the palm of his glove, give it two quick pops with his fist and bend slightly at the knees, waiting for the pitch.

On the small screen, Part 2
Arab commando
An Arab commando from the group that seized and killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team at the Munich Olympic Village appears on a balcony in this Sept. 5, 1972, file photo.
"The 1972 Munich Games: Bud Greenspan Remembers" (Showtime, 10 p.m. Thursday) and "One Day in September" (Columbia/Tristar, available on DVD and VHS)

Thursday is the 30th anniversary of the day eight Palestinian terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes in Munich at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

At the time, ABC's Jim McKay said, "The Olympics of serenity have become ... the Olympics of terror." Each of these documentaries (and a third, produced by ABC called "Our Greatest Hopes, Our Worst Fears: The Tragedy of the Munich Games," which ran last Sunday) makes it clear how excruciating and unbelievable that transformation was.

"One Day in September" is particularly meticulous, and as it slowly unfolds you can literally feel the anguish and realization creep into the consciousnesses of the victims' family members, the writers and reporters on-site, and the Olympic officials and German police officers trying to negotiate the hostages' release. It's torture to watch.

Most Olympic stories -- think about Greenspan's films -- rewrite the boundaries of what human beings are capable of. In a sad, ugly way, this was a very Olympic story.

On the radio
"Crispy with the Rock," This American Life, WBEZ Chicago

Part of a "Meet the Pros" episode of the best show on public radio, available on the Web as a streaming audio file here:

Chicago writer Joel Lovell goes to meet Luis Da Silva, the kid with the mad, mad, mad, mad dribbling skills from last year's Nike "Freestyle" commercials.

Da Silva is soft-spoken and charming, utterly in love with the sound and feel of the ball. Like a chess master or a piano virtuoso, he's done something most of us will never do: completely dedicated himself to being great at something -- no shrinking, no fudging, no wandering, just give-it-all-up, every-waking-minute pursuit of the one thing.

I recommend listening in, with a ball in your hands.

On the newsstand
"Life is A Contact Sport" by Stephen J. Dubner, New York Times Magazine (Aug. 18 issue)

A behind-the-scenes look at NFL rookie seminars designed to help the league's newest players make good decisions about sex, money and other aspects of their new lives.

Interesting piece. The players are just regular Joes: frustrated with the IRS, sheepish when talking about sex, nervous about fitting in. At the same time, they're not regular Joes at all: million-dollar bonuses, fancy cars, hangers-on and women who say they love them because of what they do for a living. You bounce back and forth between identifying with them (maybe even wanting to counsel them) and having absolutely no idea what their lives must be like (and wondering where you would start, how you would talk to them).

Click here to check out the article.

Strange sports reference of the week
Yesterday, I'm listening to Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" off "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" for about the 50th time (a freakin' great song -- listen to the not-quite-stumbling right-hand piano thing and the way it simultaneously fits in with and cuts across the snare keeping time) and I'm jazzed and confused all over again by the following line:

"I wanna hold you in the Bible-black pre-dawn/You're quite a quiet domino, bury me now/Take off your band-aid 'cause I don't believe in touchdowns/What was I thinking when we said hello?"

You know the song? Good stuff, right? But what does this passage mean? What I mean is, where do the touchdowns come in? Is this a football thing? Is it a landing on the moon thing?

Help me out. Send me your best read on the lyric. Feel free to think of the lines in the context of the rest of the song. Feel free to take a wild flight out of context, if that helps. Keep your take to 50 words or less and make it creative and entertaining. I'll run the best two or three explanations in a future column, with full credit to the analytic genius who connects the dots between the pre-dawn and the touchdowns.

Eric Neel reviews sports culture in his "Critical Mass" column, which will appear every Wednesday on Page 2. You can e-mail him at



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