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The Sweetest Man In History Writes to Beckett Monthly

Because the Internet can be such a cold and mean place, I think it's necessary to remind ourselves every now and then that people have feelings. Of course, I personally won't be doing that — the Internet would rip me to shreds if I did — so instead I will turn to B.M. from California who, in 1987, sent the sweetest and most sensitive letter ever written to Beckett Baseball Card Monthly.

Every month, Beckett would publish their "Weather Report," a tabulated list of baseball players broken into two sections: "Hot" and "Cold." The "Hot" players were on the come-up and playing well, while the "Cold" players were slumping. Quick-fire rankings are nothing new, and Beckett's "Weather Report" was by no means groundbreaking, even in 1987. However, one reader — our hero, B.M. — didn't see it as a fun and easy read, but rather a cruel and insulting missive that could emotionally harm the professional baseball players featured on the "Cold" list:

Here's the full text:

I just received the first issue of Beckett Monthly. It is great fun reading it; but, I really got a knot in the pit of my stomach when I came to page 7 -- the "Weather Report." This is so unkind, and I can't help but feel how it must really hurt a man like "Oil Can" Boyd, who has thrilled us to the tips of our toes with his concentrated, exciting performances -- especially in some of these games last season! And Gary Carter, who plays his heart out. And youthful, ever hopeful, Willie McGee! Pete Rose is Cold? You've got to be kidding!! And Reggie! And George Brett!! Did you ever stop to think how this must make them feel?? Like nobodies -- dirt! Please don't do this to these beautiful guys who bring so much joy to the baseball fans of the world! It's one thing when a 10-year-old from Peoria writes in and says Pete Rose in [sic] "Cold." It's quite another thing when a publication like Beckett, read by thousands of impressionable little guys, proud of their handsome collections of Strawberry, or Coleman, or Yount, etc., publishes a "list" of "cold" players! I can't believe you do this! I understand many of the players themselves read Beckett and collect cards! It's so cruel and unnecessary. Please don't.

We should all take B.M.'s words to heart. It's easier than ever to pass along flippant takedowns, be the target a celebrity, the subject of a viral meme, or even the "youthful, ever hopeful, Willie McGee." So let B.M.'s thoughtfulness echo: "Did you ever stop to think how this must make them feel?? Like nobodies -- dirt!"

Beckett responded to B.M.'s letter, saying the "Weather Report" represents the opinions of their readers and not the views of the magazine's editorial staff. "We certainly are not intending to offend any of the players...In our opinion, to publish a Hot list would be giving our readers only half the story." Half the story indeed, unless "B.M." is Beckett Monthly's own conscience, writing in after years of painful guilt. In that case, a Hot list would barely even be a small fraction of the story. What centaurs hide around the corners of a card collector's labyrinthine mind? We may never know.

In case you were wondering, "Oil Can" Boyd was listed yet again on the "Cold" list in the very issue in which B.M.'s plea appears. That's two months in a row, so you might want to sell his card if you can.

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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olympics
The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
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Big Questions
How Do You Steer a Bobsled?
 Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Now that the Olympics are well underway, you might have developed a few questions about the games' equipment. For example: How does one steer a bobsled? Let's take a crack at answering this pressing query.

How do you steer a bobsled?

Bobsled teams careen down an icy, curving track at up to 90 miles per hour, so steering is no small concern. Drivers steer their sleds just like you steered your childhood sleds—by manipulating a pair of ropes connected to the sled's steel runners. The driver also gets help from the rest of the crew members, who shift their weight to aid with the steering.

Why do speed skaters wear glasses?

speed-skating

Speed skaters can fly around the ice at upwards of 40 mph, so those sunglasses-type specs they wear aren't merely ornamental. At such high speeds, it's not very pleasant to have wind blowing in your eyes; it's particularly nightmarish if the breeze is drying out your contact lenses. On top of that, there's all sorts of ice and debris flying around on a speed skating track that could send you on a fast trip to the ophthalmologist.

Some skaters also say the glasses help them see the track. American skater Ryan Bedford recently told the Saginaw News that his tinted shades help him focus on the track and filter out distracting lights and camera flashes from the crowd.

What kind of heat are the biathletes packing?

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As you might guess, there are fairly strict rules governing what sort of rifles biathletes carry on the course. They are equipped with guns chambered for .22 LR ammunition. The gun must weigh at least 3.5 kilograms without its magazines and ammunition, and the rifle has to have a bolt action or a straight-pull bolt rather than firing automatically or semi-automatically.

Is a curling stone really made of stone?

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You bet it is, and it's not just any old stone, either. Curling enthusiasts swear by a very specific type of granite called ailsite that is only found on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Ailsite supposedly absorbs less water than other types of stone, so they last longer than their competitors.

Ailsa Craig is now a wildlife sanctuary, so no new ailsite has been quarried since 2002. As a result, curling stones are incredibly expensive. Kays of Scotland, which has made the stones for every Olympics in which curling has been an official event, gets prices upwards of $1,500 per stone.

What about the brooms?

The earliest curling brooms were actual brooms made of wood with straw heads. Modern brooms, though, are a bit more technologically advanced. The handles are usually made of carbon fiber, and the heads can be made of synthetic materials or natural hair from horses or hogs. Synthetic materials tend to be more common now because they pull all of the debris off of the ice and don't drop the occasional stray bristle like a natural hair broom might.

What are the ski jumpers wearing?

Getty Images

It may look like a ski jumper can pull on any old form-fitting bodysuit and hit the mountain, but things are a bit more complicated than that. Their suits have to be made of a spongy material and can't be thicker than five millimeters. Additionally, the suits must allow a certain amount of air to pass through them; jumpers wearing suits without sufficient air permeability are disqualified. (This rule keeps jumpers from wearing suits that could unfairly act as airfoils.) These rules are seriously enforced, too; Norwegian skier Sigurd Petterson found himself DQed at the 2006 Torino Games due to improper air permeability.

Those aren't the only concerns, though. In 2010, judges disqualified Italian jumper Roberto Dellasega because his suit was too baggy.

What's up with the short track speed skaters' gloves?

Gloves
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If you watch a bit of short track speed skating, the need for gloves quickly becomes apparent. When the skaters go to make passes or careen around a turn, they need the gloves to keep from cutting their hands due to incidental contact with other skaters' blades.

There's more to the gloves than just safety, though. Since the skaters' hands often touch the ice during turns, they need hard fingertip coverings that won't add friction and slow them down. The tips can be made of any material as long as it's hard and smooth, but you've got to give American skater Apolo Ohno some style points for the gold-tipped left glove he broke out in 2010.

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