Saturday, January 8, 2011

Exploit of the Year

Every year, Bicycling Magazine names a rider (or more accurately, a ride) as earning the "Exploit of the Year". In a sport of diffuse, peripatetic events without any architectonic hierarchy, the very ambiguity of the award is its strength. Like one of those sudden irruptions of beauty and order soccer fans love so writ large1, a rider's seizure of a race, a chase, or a heroic single-day ride is held up as exemplary and emblematic of the ideals of the sport. We here at No Fours love this model. Its dismissal of objectivity mirrors the diverse, occasionally conflicting standards of an aestheticized fandom. More importantly, it can be expanded to the whole of sports we follow. So, following Picasso's putative quip ("Good artists borrow; great artists steal"), our first inaugural Exploit of the Year. Let's begin with a few honorable mentions.
1: This is not to belittle those moments or soccer in general, because they're the shit.


But for all the spectacular2 goings on this year, there really was only one viable pick: Armando Galarraga's Imperfect Game. You've got a transcendent individual performance, historicity, thorny questions of ethics and merit and justice and their imperfect actualization within the juridical framework of sport, failure, redemption, personal ethical classiness all around, a shamelessly plugged Norman Einstein's article and a poignant, catchy name.
2: Really, our working definition of "Exploit" here is looks a fair amount like the Situationists' concept of spectacle divorced from its Marxist critique: "We live in a spectacular society, that is, our whole life is surrounded by an immense accumulation of spectacles. Things that were once directly lived are now lived by proxy. Once an experience is taken out of the real world it becomes a commodity. As a commodity the spectacular is developed to the detriment of the real. It becomes a substitute for experience." (Larry Law, Images And Everyday Life). Respectfully ignoring that business about "the detriment of the real", we're collating the year's spectacular sporting commodities, like any other sort of cultural critic. Song of the year, movie of the year, book of the year. Keep on rolling, Guy Debord.
With all of those tangled, poignant issues, the game's emotional impact runs deep. But that's only half the story, because they're all yoked to an exquisite, almost melodramatic narrative structure. Tension inexorably built over 1:44 of playing time, to an exquisite climax-- the one out away from perfection, less than a foot from the base, perhaps a fifth of a second. All of the weight of a century of sport, a lifetime honing pitches, and generations of fandom, all the unresolved angst over reconciling truth, technology, and humanity with the soul and the future of baseball, all forcing the stiletto point of a moment. Aesthetically, it was literally unimprovable.

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