Ben Bradlee died last week at the age of 93.
If the name sounds vaguely familiar, then you probably associate him with Watergate or, more likely, the movie All The President’s Men, which describes the events of that tumultuous time. Bradlee was the editor of The Washington Post, which broke the Watergate story, and a central figure in the paper’s pursuit of the facts.
The movie depicts him as wielding flinty integrity and a withering glare with much success and enshrined the notion of Bradlee as the platonic ideal of a newspaper editor — erudite, experienced, supportive — though how much of this stems from Jason Robards’ brisk portrayal is up for debate. If you read the book on which the movie is based, though, you can see that Bradlee’s sometimes-cranky loyalty to his reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, was genuine enough.
When preparing for the role, Robards spent some time studying Bradlee at work, chairing meetings and so forth, and picked up on certain characteristics which later popped up in his on-screen performance.
When the finished movie was eventually screened for the staff of the Post, Bradlee, as was his wont, leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head, resting his feet on the chair in front of him.
Early on in the movie a meeting in the Washington Post was shown on screen, with Robards, as Bradlee, leaning back in his chair with his hands behind his head, resting his feet on the chair in front of him.
According to witnesses, there was a commotion as Bradlee immediately corrected his posture and sat up straight, the chair in front hitting the ground with a crash.
Clearly Watergate was a soaring climax in Bradlee’s career, but he was someone who paid attention to the back page as well. His sports staff often noted that he spent more time in their area of the paper’s offices than any other.
“To Bradlee, a good sports scoop, or well-written sports column, feature or investigative report, was as important as one of Bob Woodward’s bombshells,” said one of his sports editors. “At least he made you feel that way.”
When his sportswriters stirred things up, he stood by them. It wasn’t all about protecting the constitution of the United States. The Post didn’t always have a good relationship with its local NFL side, the Washington Redskins, and in one of the low points in that relationship the team’s coach, the widely disliked George Allen, wrote a letter of complaint to Bradlee about the coverage his team was getting.
Bradlee scrawled across the letter: ‘File under assholes.’
Keeping up with the Beane counters
During the week, I came across an interesting piece online about basketball shooting and rebounds: the writer asserted that when a player shoots, say, from the corner of the court for a basket, there’s a general tendency for the ball to bounce out on the near side.
When the shot is taken closer to the basket, that bias towards the near-side rebound reduces significantly, and so forth.
In much the same vein, a pal forwarded on an item from The New York Times about the strike zone in baseball (The Strike-Zone Revolution), a piece which outlined how that can be broken down for pitchers, and how pitches can be itemised to the nth detail... In fairness, he warned me it got a bit anorak-y the more it went on, and he wasn’t wrong.
Still, there’s no end, it seems, to the categories and the refinements, the new angles and statistics: everything can be broken down and put into a little cubbyhole all its own, and I have difficulty putting away a mental image of a man standing in front of one of those old-fashioned post office letter box shelves, sorting slips of paper with statistics into one of the hundreds of category boxes facing him.
I raise this because it was interesting to read a recent interview with Billy Beane of Moneyball fame, one in which Beane said that Michael Lewis — who wrote that book — had mentioned that he had a sequel to Moneyball in mind.
“Michael Lewis and I are pretty good friends and he has kind of hinted about writing Moneyball 2.0,” Beane told The Guardian.
“But I have told him, one was enough. In fairness to him, a lot of stuff we were using before was public information. Not now, though.”
Beane went as far as to say: “When I read Moneyball now, it feels like I am watching an episode of the Flintstones.”
The baseball man is correct: by identifying what worked a few years ago, you’re always in danger of securing a seat in the peloton at just the right spot to give you a view of the winner zooming into the distance.
The new stats are out there somewhere; we’ll find them soon enough. It’s just they may not seem as earth-shattering as we expect. After all, Beane’s on-base percentage, the silver bullet of baseball numbers, had been obvious to people for decades. They just chose not to act on it.
By the way, the sub-head on that Times piece? Small Change Looms Large.
City’s resurrection a triumph for local spirit
Cork City came close to the Airtricity League title last Friday night, losing out to Dundalk in Dundalk on the final game of the season.
It was a game that Cork had to draw for glory, which is the kind of oddly underwhelming objective that you feel dooms a team from the start (you can’t imagine the Spartans being sent off to battle hearing, “Come home with your shield, or on it. Or with a share of the spoils, maybe.”)
But that shouldn’t obscure the heroics of those who resurrected the League of Ireland club in Cork. That was community service, a living and breathing admonishment to the deluded proponents of the Premier League.
Some years ago I heard a former League of Ireland player on the radio. I won’t name him, not because he embarrassed himself, but memories of the idiot who was posing the questions would probably drive him to drink (Anthony Burgess’ description of radio-miked morons has never been equalled, but I reserve the right to use it another day).
Anyhow, this question was lobbed into the mix: who did the player follow?
“I follow my local team,” he said. “I follow Cork City.”
Irrefutable logic that would appeal to Mr Spock. A pity there aren’t more Vulcans among us.
My answers to all your questions
These are my answers to the questions I know you have.
Yes, I know the All Stars was on Friday night.
No, I didn’t go to it.
No, I am not a judge.
No, I don’t know how they are awarded.
No, I don’t know what weight is placed on the provincial championships. Or the national league.
Why yes, I’d say some of them are more into hurling. Or football, as the case may be.
No, I don’t know why the hero of your parish was snubbed.
No, I don’t plan on going next year.
No, I won’t be giving you my ticket.
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