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Valhalla Minstrels

A Cosmic Underleague Team

Minstrels Position
Harold Arlen
The kid's range is limited, but his grasp is exquisite when he gets to the ball, you can put it in the bank. Pop composer, not as well known perhaps as Gershwin or Porter or Berlin, but every bit their equal. Had a particular mastery of a blues-tinged idiom ("Stormy Weather," "Ill Wind," "Blues in the Night") that set him apart from his contemporaries.

Louis Armstrong
The game flows from him period. America's other great musical genius but where Ellington's strength came out in how he used his orchestra, Armstrong's was compacted like some cosmic force inside his incandescent personality. He took the earliest strands of jazz and wove them into a conception so potent that it merely reshaped all popular music, jazz and otherwise, that followed. Every modern musician of quality, vocalists perhaps even more than instrumentalists, can find Pops in his or her family tree.

Samuel Barber
Not the most original moundsman in the league, but he does plenty well by paying attention to what everyone else is doing, discarding the bad ideas and making beautiful music with the good ones. Twentieth century American composer, maligned for his resistance to modernism when, in fact, he should be honored for his unswerving devotion to the musical tradition.

Duke Ellington
Number One, the Staff Ace, the Main Man. Watching him spin his magic, you realize he plays the game like no one else. An absolute original, terrific in the clubhouse, natural leader. America's great musical genius, if genius means doing something not only superbly, but doing something that cannot be imitated. His sound remains only his; no one has ever written music like this. He also managed to assemble and for five decades lead the best band in jazz, a collection of outsized musical personalities whom the Duke somehow taught to speak with one thrilling voice.

Dorothy Fields
Throws like a guy probably the only dame in the league who can bring it like the big boys. No other woman had nearly her record of success in the Golden Age of American Music. Working with Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Jimmy McHugh and others, she wrote the indelible lyrics of "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "The Way You Look Tonight," "A Fine Romance," and many, many other classic American songs.

Paolo Garretto
An artist at the plate, with great offensive instincts. In the 20s and 30s, his remarkable pastel, gouache, or pencil caricatures for Vanity Fair, Fortune and other magazines became the indelible mind's-eye versions of the figures of his time. You want to know who Al Smith was? See Garretto's "Al Smith", Vanity Fair, October 1934.

Norman Bel Geddes
Plays every position on the diamond, and insists he's better at it than you are. He may be. Stage designer, producer, industrial designer, writer, futurist. His name was actually Norman Geddes; he added the "Bel" (an abbreviation of his wife's first name) in an act of prehistoric feminism.

Lorenz Hart
Plays deep outfield. In fact, way out west on West End Avenue. Unreliable, big booze problem, big self-esteem problem. Manifests itself in his extraordinary gifts as a bench jockey. The best lyricist who ever lived; he just didn't live long enough. Richard Rodgers's partner for all of Rodgers's finest work.

Raymond Hood
Long ball hitter, only interested in the big, big score. Amazing power for a little guy. Greatest of the skyscraper architects, responsible for the Daily News Building, the McGraw-Hill Building, the American Radiator Building but most of all, for Rockefeller Center.

Alfred Kazin
Although he plays left, he never goes too far left. The great critic had the biggest heart in American literature: He didn't merely analyze prose (although he did that brilliantly) he loved it. Open to voices of widely varying origin and tone, Kazin throughout his life drew joy and sustenance from great writing, and managed to convey it to his readers. He was also a wonderful memoirist, particularly in his A Walker in the City and New York Jew.

Andre Kertesz
He is best when the sun is slowly setting over the wall and the light takes on the quality of a dream. Hungarian-French-American photographer. Despite the great work that he did in his first two nationalities, Kertesz's finest work may be the series of pictures he made as an old man, all of them photographed out of the window of his lower Fifth Avenue apartment and collected in the book Washington Square. These photos prove that the best photographers don't need to hunt for pictures the pictures come to them.

Ellin Mackay
Throws like a girl, but does it with amazing charm. She was one of The New Yorker's first important writers, a debutante who both chronicled and satirized the social world from which she arose. She then married Irving Berlin, provoking the wild, xenophobic rage of her tycoon father, Clarence Mackay.

Dwight Mcdonald
Can cover an amazing amount of territory, coming to the aid of weaker teammates whenever there's a crisis at hand. Stalinists taking over the American left? Call Dwight Macdonald. Mid-cult writers dominating the book pages? Call Dwight Macdonald. In both the ideological and lit-critical arenas, he was the embodiment of the independent mind, well-read in a hundred subjects and able to deflate pretentious reputations in any one of them. An unwavering political democrat, he knew better than to allow his egalitarian instincts in the civic arena to stain his unflagging commitment to what his opponents called aesthetic elitism -- but which would be better described, simply, as a belief in absolute standards.

Vladimir Nabokov
Ambilingual hurler, throws from three different sides of the mound. Superb in English, which only makes one wonder what his heater is like in Russian and French. Russian-born novelist and lepidopterist, author of many wonderful books, but he's here because of Lolita: best novel I've ever read.

Harold Ross
The man you never notice, the one who does all the little things perfectly and makes his teammates all look great. The world may not know him, but you ask any Minstrel what makes this team go, and the answer will be "Ross!" Founder and editor of The New Yorker. Everything good in it, even today, 50 years after his death, can be traced to Ross's conception of the magazine and his brilliant weekly execution for a quarter of a century. Everything bad belongs to his various successors, no one of whom could approach his astonishing range.

Igor Stravinsky
Jittery, nervous, always in action; uses his energy to cover enormous amounts of territory, can go to his left or to his right. Especially effective in Florida every March, where he performs his annual sacre du printemps. Russian-American composer, who mastered nearly every musical idiom of the 20th century. Best known for The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, but don't ignore the wondrous Apollo Musagete.

John R. Todd
He does one thing only, but he does it better than anyone else on earth. He'll never be a star, but he'll never want for work, either. He built Rockefeller Center -- with John D. Jr.'s money, from Ray Hood's vision, and into the teeth of near universal ridicule. Christie Whitman's grandfather, for whatever it's worth.

Evelyn Waugh
He's always wanting to be what he's not, so management decided to place him permanently in a utility role. Makes fun of his teammates with what he claims to be affection, but what is actually an acid display of his own self-loathing. The great English satirist (Vile Bodies, Scoop, The Loved One) was actually at his most powerful when he played it straight, especially in the dark, acidulous Handful of Dust.

Jock Whitney
Hard to believe this guy gave up a life of ease to patrol the pasture for the Minstrels. But people who've known him a long time say that as much as he likes his money, he likes the feeling in the clubhouse, the nights on the road, the camaraderie of this band of athletes even more. It was Whitney, one of America's wealthiest men, who insisted that his partner buy Gone With the Wind when David O. Selznick wasn't ready to leap for it. He also had an original Seurat on the wall behind his office desk, bankrolled the New York Herald Tribune in its last glory days, starred at polo, and was a genuine war hero.

Team Management
Leonard Bernstein
This man orchestrates the contributions of 25 different individuals like no one else. Can handle virtually any circumstance, and it doesn't hurt that he was a hell of a player himself. As a composer, he found expression for mid-century's voice in the dance music for Fancy Free and in the matchless orchestral writing for Candide. As a songwriter, he created the vaulting melodies of West Side Story, the spiky rhythms of On the Town. As conductor, teacher, and proselytizer, he brought his passion for music to millions.

George Abbott
The old-timer, asked late in his life what was the greatest innovation he'd seen in his nearly nine decades on Broadway, said, "Electricity." Directed his first Broadway show in 1925, consulted on his last (a Damn Yankees revival) in 1994, a year before his death at 106.

Noel Coward
Still thinks it's like cricket, but trying to learn. His efforts are manifest in the variety of positions he's been studying. Playwright, actor, composer, director, screenwriter, singer, lyricist, wit the man I most wish I could have had dinner with.

Graham Greene
His style is characterized by placing life above ideology, faith in conflict with the soul, and loyalty to a friend way ahead of fealty to an idea which is why the players love him. British novelist, memoirist, essayist. From Brighton Rock to The Human Factor, his four-decade body of work is unmatched in 20th century English letters.

David O. Selznick
He doesn't hit, he doesn't pitch, he doesn't field, he's not even directing the action like the manager. But when everything's working, you sense the hand of the Big O's perfectionism. The embodiment of all the good qualities of the word "producer" visionary, passionate, unerring in his taste. Famous especially for Gone with the Wind, but I celebrate him for A Star Is Born, Rebecca, and The Third Man and for his obsessive, exhausting, endless, and utterly fascinating mountain of memoranda, collected in Memo from David O. Selznick.

Otto Kahn
As confident as he is calm, as intuitive as he is inspirational, Kahn is the perfect choice to head this team. Besides, he's exceptionally rich, and pays exceptionally well. The American Maecenas spent more money, time, taste, and heart on the arts in America than any other philanthropist. Among other things, he actually owned the Metropolitan Opera from roughly 1908 to 1930, hiring Gatti-Casazza and supporting him with his checkbook while the Italian impresario built the Met into a great company. Kahn bought two tickets to every concert, play, or opera he attended: one for himself, one for his hat and umbrella.

Roxy Rothafel
People love to play for him: he always travels first class, always pays top dollar, always sells out the house. He could also successfully promote an ice show on the Equator. Responsible for the construction, the management, and the promotion of the grandest theatrical palaces of the teens and twenties, Rothafel's career reached its apex in Radio City Music Hall. He had put so much of himself into it that, after its gala opening in 1932, he collapsed and was hospitalized for ten days.

Minstrel Park Seats:

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The VALHALLA MINSTRELS are a Cosmic Baseball Association team created by Daniel Okrent. The team represents notable creative and intellectual personalities.
Starting Lineup/Batting Order

1Raymond Hood, RF
2Harold Ross, 2B
3Alfred Kazin, LF
4Harold Arlen, 3B
5Jock Whitney, CF
6Dwight Mcdonald, 1B
7Igor Stravinsky, SS
8Louis Armstrong, C
9Duke Ellington, P

Angela Gunn-Dan Okrent Interview
from JCBA Vol. 20

Angela Gunn: You've been asked before but I'll go again: Do you expect to be remembered for anything besides Rotisserie?

Dan Okrent: (laughs) Not a chance.

AG: How did you discover the Cosmic Baseball Association?

DO: I read about it in the [New York] Times. I'd never heard of it and when I went online to find it, it was so close to the connection of the rest of life and baseball that has always interested me -- I applied for membership and was excited to get in. My own personal cliché something I've said in other contexts is that I love to play baseball, but more than I love to play baseball I love to watch baseball, and more than I love to watch baseball I love to think about baseball. That's what all these [forms of baseball] have in common -- being able to go to bed with baseball on your mind.

AG: What are your plans for the Minstrels, and what are your thoughts on the team's maiden season?

DO: The team finished fifth, which I think is fine for a first-year team. We plan to win the Cosmic Series in five years, as the Diamondbacks won their series.

AG: Any plans to break up your team after that Series, Marlins-style?

DO: (laughs) I'm not going to break up the team. These are all people I really love, without exception. That old idea, if you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead -- at my dinner, half of the Minstrels would show up.

AG: As founder of Rotisserie, do you ever wonder about how things work behind the scenes in the Cosmic leagues? The software?

DO: I haven't asked; I'm perfectly happy to accept that there are certain things beyond the control of mere mortals. As general manager, I'm perfectly happy that a manager can only do so much.

AG: When you started Rotisserie, stats were a different animal -- with the Net you can get pretty much everything in one fell swoop, but that was hardly the case in 1980.

DO: Back then we were doing the stats out of the Sporting News, which published for the National League stats on Wednesday covering games up to the previous Friday. Those of us who are wonkish in this way are thrilled to be wonkish in this way. Bill James, in pondering the joys of the statistical aspects of baseball, said, "A chart of numbers that would put an actuary to sleep can be made to dance if you put it on one side of a card and Bombo Rivera's picture on the other."

AG: You're not doing Rotisserie anymore, right?

DO: I stopped six years ago. The first week of the '96 season I was reading the paper and I had no box scores, no okefenokees to look up -- I had to ask myself how I read these for 32 years, before Rotisserie! I used to spend an hour with the box scores when I was 8, when I was 14, 26, 31 -- and it changed when I was 32 and started doing Rotisserie.

AG: Box scores for box scores' sake.

DO: It is still possible for those of us who care about baseball to recreate what happened from these little lines of type. The greatest data compression in the world today is nothing as compared to this box score invented in the nineteenth century.

AG: Is that the secret? Is it that this tool, the box score, helps us to construct our stories better, or is there something about baseball that makes for better stories?

DO: I think it's both. Slow-paced sports are better for storytelling and prose than what [legendary columnist] Red Smith called the back-and-forth sports. As the infielders dash in and as the pitcher begins his motion you lean forward and you think about it, there in the gaps. You listen to it slowly. You can learn from the box score what happened and, if you're good, in what order these things happened. In basketball, you can't look at the statistics and derive from them [in that fashion].

AG: Do modern ballparks detract from listening slowly?

DO: I became a Cubs fan in my forties. One of my reasons for doing so is that watching a ball game at Wrigley is the same as watching at Briggs Stadium when I was growing up in Detroit there aren't the shock signs shouting at you and [so on].

AG: What can managers in the mundane leagues learn from their Cosmic counterparts?

DO: What they can learn is how to love their players. That seems to be the case for most of us who play Cosmic -- you appreciate your players, they're there for a reason. I don't think the owners ever had that sentiment.

Related Links


Link to Season 2002 Final Team Stats

Link to Season 2002 Main Plate

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Valhalla Minstrels Season 2002 Official Cosmic Team Roster
Published: February 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 by the Cosmic Baseball Association