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Whatever Happened to Play?

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When browsing Bill Simmons’ new long-form sports site, Grantland, I found myself wondering two things. First, what is a “Grantland”? And second, didn’t the New York Times try this once?

Although it only lasted two years, the TimesPlay magazine was an early attempt at a print version of Grantland. It combined long-form sports stories with fun graphics about everything from stretching properly to Super Bowl betting.

The Times launched Play in 2006 as part of a scheme to publish several high-end magazines that would attract luxury products (the others were Key, a real estate magazine, and T Styles, a fashion magazine). The idea for Play was cooked up by Times editor Gerald Marzorati after he decided that ESPN: The Magazine and Sports Illustrated were directed towards teenagers and saw an opening for mature sports writing.

Marzorati recruited writers like Michael Lewis and David Foster Wallace to give Play a higher pedigree and allowed writers to pontificate on everything from Pete Carroll to offshore sailing. Play housed Foster Wallace’s must-read essay on Roger Federer (apparently the opportunity to write it was what drew him to the magazine) and even got the scoop on the creation of the UFL, an NFL knockoff that is still around today.

The magazine even took time to look at sports on the fringe, profiling juggler Vova Galchenko and his training regime that usually ended with him throwing clubs at a wall, or the America's Cup yacht race. Columnist Bryan Curtis even got in a profile of an 85-year-old softball player in New Mexico.

The magazine was especially noted for its graphics. Check out this graph of Super Bowl teams and how they performed against the spread (reprinted on 13pt.com) or this analysis of how Tiger Woods wins a major (this was back when Tiger Woods actually won majors).

Despite widespread praise and a nomination for an American Society of Magazine Editors award, Play folded just two years later. Editorial director Marzorati later told the New York Observer that the Times killed the magazine because it was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. In announcing that the magazine was closing, the Times said publicly that it had “more or less broken even,” although they attributed most of that success to an Olympics issue that sold out its all of its ad space.

“When it started, it was a quarterly and we wanted to get it to a monthly, but each year we kept saying ‘This isn’t the year. This isn’t the year,’” Marzorati said. “And the economy kept going in the wrong direction.’ We couldn’t see how we could possibly expand it.”

Lucky for us, the Times has the entirety of the Play archives on their website.

Oh, and as for my first question, it's a reference to sportswriter Grantland Rice, who was so prolific that he also had a college football bowl game named after him. Have any of you checked out Grantland.com yet? What do you think?

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Pop Culture
The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
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Fox Sports, YouTube

Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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