The Armchair Squid turns thirteen years old today. It's time to hand out some hardware. The Squiddy goes to...
Biggest Surprise: Baltimore Orioles
In February, in my post about The MVP Machine by Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik
, I wondered who on my beloved baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, would be this year's big surprise. It turned out to be the whole darn squad. Projected to lose 100 games this season, they're in the thick of the playoff race in late August. Previously undistinguished players like outfielder Austin Hays and shortstop Jorge Mateo are making significant contributions. Rookie Adley Rutschman has quickly established himself as the best catcher in the Major Leagues. Most amazing of all, the Orioles took a bunch of cast-off relief pitchers and somehow combined them into one of the strongest bullpens in baseball. And the team is fun to watch. They believe in themselves and their enthusiasm is highly infectious.
It's possible the team's surge came too late for them to make the playoffs this year. But with even more prospects yet to emerge from the still highest-ranked farm system, it feels like perennial contention is not far off. It's been a long time since Baltimore has been this excited about baseball.
Actress Nichelle Nichols, Uhura of Star Trek's original series, passed away from heart failure on July 30th. She was the first Black woman to have a regular role on an American television show as anything other than a servant. Her on-screen kiss with William Shatner was a revolution all its own. But if you know Star Trek, you know that Uhura was so much more. She was the emotional heart of the Enterprise bridge crew - in many ways, the most human character of all.
And Nichelle Nichols was more than just Uhura. A triple threat, she was an accomplished dancer and singer who toured with both Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Beyond the performing arts, she worked with NASA to recruit both minority and female personnel.
89 years is a long life. Even so, Star Trek's light noticeably dimmed with Nichols's passing. Her legacy is secure.
This wasn't an easy choice. I had three five-star reads over the past twelve months. I'll discuss the other two with the next award. The autobiography of longtime Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson gave me a peak behind the curtain of my childhood, offering insights into a team I love and also the community where I grew up. It's hard to compete with that. Given the choice, I'd rather read more books like I Came As a Shadow than either of the other two. The big guy wins again.
My other two top reads were both comics: Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye
and the Born Again
story arc from Marvel's Daredevil
series. Liew's faux-biographical history of Singapore is extraordinary but Born Again
goes on a short list of the best English-language comics I've ever read. The arc, originally published in issues 227-233 in 1986, was written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzuchelli.
The Kingpin learns of Daredevil's secret identity and sets about ruining Matt Murdock's life. Murdock/Daredevil exacts his revenge. Simple premise. The magic is in the telling. The world-building is exemplary. We hear, feel and smell Hell's Kitchen as well as we see it. We share in Murdock's all-too-real life pain. We delight in his relief when all comes right.
It's hard to top a simple story beautifully told.
That's two years in a row for both Miller and Daredevil in this spot.
Athlete of the Year: Buck O'Neil (1911-2006)
In 2006, mere months before his death, Buck O'Neil was passed over for induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. This year, he finally made it
On the merits of his career as player and manager in the Negro Leagues, O'Neil was an understandably marginal candidate for the honor. But his broader contributions as a goodwill ambassador for the sport were exceptional. Anyone who has watched Ken Burns's Baseball series
knows that Buck O'Neil was a master storyteller in a sport that values the skill. Written records of the Negro Leagues are relatively scarce so the oral history provided by O'Neil and others are essential. If you wish to know more about this extraordinary man, I can't recommend Joe Posnanski's The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America
highly enough. No joke, you'll feel better about humanity after you've read it.
Even before his official induction, Buck O'Neil had a larger presence in the Hall than most. After he died, the museum gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. Today, a life-sized statue of O'Neil greets visitors as they enter the museum's exhibit halls.
Best Family Adventure: High School Graduation
Our child graduated from high school in June. For the second time in my life, I felt my place in the universe shift. The first time was the day she was born. Looking into her eyes for the first time, I realized I was no longer the central character of my own story. Her high school graduation (even more than my own) felt like an arrival point - a brief one, to be sure, but certainly the most significant moment of transition since the birth itself. We'll always be her parents, of course, but the job has qualitatively changed forever.
We've got another big transition coming right soon. It's been wonderful to savor this particular life moment between the two this summer.