Craig Calcaterra

I write about baseball for NBC Sports.com. I write about other things here.
Recent Tweets @craigcalcaterra

They took this photo at the orthodontist this morning. They said “the first day you get braces, you either have to kick someone’s ass or become someone’s bitch.” That’s one tough orthodontist. 

There’s a new book out about the life of Harper Lee, the famously reclusive author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The author moved in next door to Lee, befriended her and her older sister and now is telling us how Lee has spent the past 50+ years since she left the literary spotlight. There is some controversy about whether it is truly an “authorized” biography, but that’s mostly a matter of legal technicality. The gist is that the author got to know the Lees well and was on the up-and-up about the project, so it is no hatchet job. It’s just a book.

Dwight Garner of the New York Times reviews it and he doesn’t like it. Which is cool. I can imagine not liking such a book either, as I have almost uniformly found the lives of the authors I admire either unpleasant or boring or both, and rare it is that my enjoyment of the author’s output is enhanced by knowing every detail of their life. I separate art from artist as much as possible. 

But Garner doesn’t just criticize a book about an author’s life here. He criticizes the author’s life itself. And he does so in the most cringeworthy way possible:

"The Mockingbird Next Door" conjured mostly sad images in my mind. Ms. Lee has a regular booth at McDonald’s, where she goes for coffee. She eats takeout salads from Burger King on movie night. When she fishes, she uses wieners for bait. She feeds the town ducks daily, with seed corn from a plastic Cool Whip Free container, calling "Woo-hoo-HOO! Woo-hoo-HOO!" Somehow learning all this is worse than it would be to learn that she steals money from a local orphanage.

I agree this is sad. Truly, we would enjoy ”To Kill a Mockingbird” more if we knew the author liked to stab idly at her smoked baby beets salad at The King Cole Bar at the St. Regis while trading bon mots with literary friends while making snobbish comments about the lives of people in flyover territory. But McDonald’s coffee! In Monroeville, Alabama! Heaven forfend. I guess I’m just crestfallen. Crestfallen that a woman whose claim to fame was writing about the true-to-life aspects of the world she inhabited as a girl lowered herself to live in the true-to-life aspects of the world she inhabited as an adult.

In other news, Garner is from Charleston, West Virginia and has written about his trips home for the Times in the past. Notably, there isn’t a lot about Gino’s Pizza and Go Mart in those accounts. Color me shocked. 

Happy 9th birthday to my boyo! Love you, Carlo!

Calcaterra Family Portrait 

Anna is in the gifted program at school. Her standardized test scores are startlingly high. She is able to converse with adults comfortably and at a surprisingly sophisticated level.

But when she’s bored she does stuff like this.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go lobby for year-round schooling in New Albany. 

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The LeBron James news dominated sports media for the past several days. Everyone — even people who don’t much care about basketball — was interested in it at least on some level. Even if it was only to joke, snark and/or join in some fun collective happening.

And then the news came — bam! — straight from the horse’s mouth, in the form of a first person essay from James “as told to Lee Jenkins” of Sports Illustrated. We had the story and now the important business of analyzing it — or, if you don’t much care about basketball, the important business of making Twitter jokes about it — was at hand.

But there are some who weren’t as interested in analyzing it, joking about it or just reveling in the fun collective happening. There are some who are using all of this as an occasion to wring their hands about journalistic integrity.

Here’s Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, who takes issue with Sports Illustrated and Jenkins allowing James to publish a brief essay about going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers:

News value aside, the approach cast Sports Illustrated more as a public-relations ally of James than as the strong journalistic standard-bearer it has been for decades.

And while James’s words may have been all that the sports world wanted to hear, the magazine should have pressed for a story that carried more journalistic heft.

Sandomir spoke with Jenkins, who explained that this wasn’t a press release. Rather, it became an essay when Jenkins stitched together James’ words from a lengthy interview into this statement. That doesn’t satisfy him:

But Jenkins has proved quite deft — at Sports Illustrated and before that at The New York Times — at stitching quotes into a broader third-person narrative that serves the reader even better … why not let Jenkins tell the story without handing James the platform for his unfiltered statement?

This is crazy. It’s an instance where Sandomir and the Times — who I think are fantastic most of the time, by the way — are fetishizing the business of Serious Journalism at the expense of understanding what sports fans actually care about, appreciating how informed sports fans already are and asserting that the reporter’s highest and best function is to get between fans and the news as opposed to delivering it to them.

Question: what, apart from the name of the team LeBron James chose and his reason for choosing it, do people interested in this story either not know or actually care about? What sort of “journalistic heft” does Sandomir think should have been added to this to “serve the reader” better? Jenkins prefacing the actual news with "James, 29, from Akron, has played for Miami since the 2010-11 season," would not have added journalistic integrity here. It would have been byline-justifying filler.

Everyone tuning in to this story knows what’s happening. Sports Illustrated and Jenkins provided them with the one thing they didn’t know: where James was going and why. If there is any concern about larger context here, it can and will be addressed by SI sidebars, bullet-pointed, fact-based graphics and, most importantly, an in-depth story from Jenkins about his conversations with James which provides deeper context. All of which, I assume, have either already been published or will soon be.

But Sandomir here is missing more than just the value Sports Illustrated provided by putting out a direct and immediate first-person account of this story. He’s missing the way in which modern sports news breaks and the manner in which readers consume news in this day and age. He’s missing the difference between the dissemination of basic information and the product of actual journalism.

News — especially sports news — has long revolved around the scoop. Yes, all reporters and editors will tell you that it’s important to get it right, not to just get it first, but getting it first is an obsession that drives reporting. Cultivating your sources and becoming that guy who everyone expects to break the news. To be Adrian Wojnarowski for basketball news. Jay Glazer for football. Ken Rosenthal for baseball. These dudes are brands of their own, quite famous and, I assume, quite wealthy as a result. 

But, as I have been saying for three years now, readers don’t care who got this news. They just care about the news itself. The Wojnarowskis of the world will tweet it out and, within minutes, it’s retweeted and blogged halfway around the world. Good retweeters and bloggers will credit the Wojnarowskis, but not everyone does. In very short order, that scoop has become a simple commodity — a fact in the ether — not a unique journalistic product. At least not in the minds of the people consuming it.

No, not all stories are like this. In-depth reporting about institutions, changing dynamics and trends or substantive interviews with newsmakers cannot be easily gutted and commodified like this. Those sorts of stories — stories like Sandomir’s New York Times’ colleague Tyler Kepner often writes — stand on their own and contain reader-serving journalistic heft, the sort of which Sandomir wants to see.

But the LeBron James story doesn’t. It’s a big event, sure, but at bottom it’s functionally equivalent to a team issuing a statement that it placed a player on the disabled list. That day’s starting lineup. A simple bit of data. A commodity. And just as sports teams and leagues are increasingly bypassing the press in order to release that sort of commodity news directly to fans via their Twitter feeds or in-house news operations, LeBron James could have very easily tweeted that he was heading back to Cleveland to his 13.6 million followers. Or, like he did back in 2010, could’ve said it on some TV show cum P.R. festival he created for himself. Indeed, it’s amazing to me that Sports Illustrated even got what it got here and they should be credited for getting that much. I didn’t need more than that yesterday. I’m more than happy — hell, very, very eager — to wait for Jenkins’ in-depth followup to all of this. I bet it’ll be incredible. 

Sports Illustrated gets it. They know that, no matter how much “journalistic heft” they had put in to this story, it would not have mattered too much to them due to everyone taking what they’re dropping and running with it. I mean, just look where we are now, less than 24 hours after the story broke. Here’s the top Google result for “Sports Illustrated LeBron James”:

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Yup, that’s Sandomir’s story criticizing SI’s story in the top slot. Which, it’s probably worth noting, doesn’t even link back to Sports Illustrated.

Good thing Lee Jenkins didn’t waste too much time weaving third-person narratives and serving readers in that piece. No one would’ve seen it.

UPDATE: Seems like whoever puts together the New York Times’ very own sports front is making my point for me: it’s nothing but a blown-up agate transactions blurb. It’s beautiful. No need for more “journalistic heft.” It says all it needs to say.

I drink a lot of coffee. Like, an awful lot of coffee. So much coffee that if the kids see me without a cup of coffee in my hand between the time I wake up and lunchtime, they ask me if something is wrong. They are probably right to ask me that.

I did not start drinking coffee until I was 33 years-old, however. Just didn’t like it or need it before then. But when it became necessary to be up and functional to take care of babies, my love affair with coffee began. It’s been a good eight years.

This afternoon the kids decided that they wanted to try coffee. I told them about how it’s not a good idea for kids to drink coffee and how caffeine is a drug and how drugs are addicting and how it will stain their teeth and make them crazy and stunt their growth.

Then I made them some coffee to try because, man, coffee is AWESOME.

I let them have some of my everyday. Not wasting high-end whole bean stuff on these two:

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Also: not letting them use my kickass Takin’ Care of Business mug I got at Graceland because, as if:

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I did allow them to use the Fiestaware mugs. I started with a bit less than half a cup:

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"UGH!! NOT BLACK!!" Carlo said. "BLACK COFFEE IS BITTER." He clearly heard that from someone else, but I let it slide. I started coffee by drinking it with cream (never sugar), so I decided to give them training wheels.

First the sugar:

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Then the cream. Or, in this case, milk, because I don’t keep cream or half and half around:

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Alright, we’re ready to go!

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 The result:

I was somewhat surprised that they didn’t immediately spit it out. But as an experienced parent, I also smelled b.s. with these responses. They clearly wanted to like coffee because if they said they hated it I might be loathe to let them do other adult things.

Carlo begged out after two sips by saying “I’m … not thirsty,” and poured his out. Anna took a few extra sips and said “Um, it’s too sweet. Maybe next time I’ll do it without sugar,” and poured hers out. I filled up my TCB mug and settled in to the afternoon portion of my love affair with the dark stuff.

They’ll be back. They always come back once they get that first taste. They’ll be chasing that dragon just like their dad does soon enough.

Based on what I’ve read, May Pang was actually a pretty good girlfriend to John Lennon. I mean, say what you want about his 1973-74 “Lost Weekend,” but he was, by all accounts, happy.

But her personal assistant skills left a lot to be desired. From Pang’s Wikipedia page:

In March 1974, Lennon began producing Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats album … Lennon thought it would be a good idea for the musicians to live under one roof to ensure they would get to the studio on time, so Pang rented a beach house in Santa Monica, for her, Lennon, Nilsson, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon to live in.

I feel like maybe Pang should have pushed back on that idea a bit and maybe, just maybe, not have signed that lease.

In other news, what do you suppose the security deposit on a house leased to 1974-Lennon, Harry Nillson and Keith Moon would have run you? Ringo had to have been the stable one. [checks Ringo’s Wikipedia page]:

Zak Starkey is also a drummer, and during his father’s regular absences, he spent time with the Who’s Keith Moon.

Holy crap, I’m surprised anyone survived the 70s.

My mom: “Craig, your father and I just received your wedding announcement. We haven’t even met Eric yet. This is all so … unexpected. What happened?”

Me: “Well, mom, I used the personal care products in non-black containers and now I’m gay. But I do hope you’ll wish Eric and I the best.”

OK, that didn’t happen. But you have to assume that’s what the general mindset is of most men these days. If it wasn’t, the men’s personal care aisle at your local discount store wouldn’t look like this:

Look at all of that black and dark gray and midnight blue! It’s everywhere, from body wash to deodorant to tampons and soda. This morning Eric, er, I mean Allison alerted me to the fact that they’re doing this for sunscreen now. According to the product information, it’s “formulated for men’s unique sun care needs.” The only difference between it and every other sunscreen I’ve ever seen is the fact that it features a “contemporary, masculine scent.” Who knew that all of the other sunscreen had an old lady smell?

Of course in reality it’s all in the packaging. Give something a dark, bold color and men will be more likely to buy it, it seems.

This is our fault, gentlemen. I mean, rail all you want against the companies which produce this stuff or the stores which sell it for being dumb about gender roles and attitudes, but P&G and Target are rational actors. Their goal is to sell as much crap as they can, and if the black packaging didn’t improve sales, they wouldn’t package things in black like they have been. It’s all on us, fellas. We’re voting with our wallets and our wallets seem to be saying “if I get body wash in a steel-gray bottle, no one will think I am a homosexual and/or a woman.”

If there’s any validity to that — if buying things “formulated for men” and packaged in bold dark colors determines one’s masculinity — I’m utterly screwed. This is my current preferred line of personal care products. Literally everything I use on a daily basis:

That’s a pretty darn bright bunch of bottles! To the extent they have photos on them, they’re in soft focus! I see at least three with some floral motif! That sound you hear is Allison refusing to return my phone calls and Eric wondering if he’s got a chance.

But the packaging isn’t the worst part. Take a look at that deodorant. It’s Sure solid Unscented. I have used it, and no other deodorant, since I was a teenager in the 1980s. It has always served me well. However, about a year ago, I had a crisis: I couldn’t find it. None of the stores near me had it in stock for a few weeks and signs saying “coming soon with a fresh new look!” were attached to its usual place on the shelves. Soon, its place was gone entirely and, if I were not a hoarder with multiple sticks of it under my sink, I would have run out and I would have had to choose a new deodorant for the first time since the Reagan Administration.

But, thankfully, I found it again. It was now in the “women’s deodorant” section.

It was there, in the somewhat effeminate packaging you see above (it used to look more like this). Seeing as though it was unscented, I bought it anyway and compared it to my last stick of the old version. Same stuff, 100%, as it was back when the commercials for it featured firefighters and middle linebackers singing “raise your hand if you’re Sure!” Just now, Sure is apparently for women.

Or is it?

That’s from Sure’s UK website. I haven’t seen those manly deodorants or their excessively manly scents like “Quantum,” “Active,” “Adventure,” and “Cobalt” here it the United States yet. But I’m guessing I will soon. Sure needs to get on the dark products gravy train just like everyone else.

When I do see it, I’ll be Sure to continue to pass it up and buy two sticks of the women’s deodorant. And perhaps a couple boxes of tampons for extra measure. 

Eric uses them for tinder when he goes camping, you see.

My dad left all of his nails here. He has 50 different kinds sorted in medicine bottles. OCD much, Richard?