Coby McDonald

One Man’s Search for Baseball’s Underdogs

Of all the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, the delay of the Major League Baseball season ranks pretty low on the list, closer to the cancellation of Coachella than the shuttering of all public schools. And yet for many people sports would have been the ideal distraction from the stress and uncertainty of the present moment. Alas, baseball is just one of a long list of things we must do without for the foreseeable. But remember, baseball is America’s most written-about sport.

Intolerable Genius: Berkeley’s Most Controversial Nobel Laureate

IN THE SUMMER OF 1984 the senior scientists of Cetus Corp., a Berkeley biotech company, found themselves in a bind. One of their employees, a promising young scientist named Kary Mullis, had dreamed up a technique to exponentially replicate tiny scraps of DNA. He called it polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and if it worked it would change the world and likely earn Cetus a mountain of money. The only problem was Mullis was an interpersonal wrecking ball.

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Editor’s Note: The Genetics Issue

Brave New World author Aldous Huxley came to Berkeley (his son’s alma mater) in 1962 and delivered a speech on campus entitled “The Ultimate Revolution.” It ended as follows: “Our business is to be aware of what is happening, and then to use our imagination to see what might happen, how this might be abused, and then, if possible, to see that the enormous powers which we now possess thanks to these scientific and technological advances be used for the benefit of human beings and not for their degradation.”

From the Winter 2019 issue of California.

Playing with Fire: Welcome to the Experimental Forest

UC Berkeley’s Blodgett Experimental Forest is situated on the Georgetown Divide between the Middle and South forks of the American River, about 80 miles southeast of Paradise and smack in the heart of California’s most productive timber country. It’s just one of four such research forests owned by the University, but Rob York, Blodgett’s director and Berkeley adjunct professor of forestry, calls it the crown jewel.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

September 17, 1923: The Day That Berkeley Burned

The first signs of trouble were subtle. For some, it was the strange amber hue of the midday light. Others caught the distinctive scent of burning eucalyptus. By two in the afternoon of September 17, 1923, just about everyone in Berkeley had taken note of the uncommonly warm, dry wind blowing in from the northeast. What they didn’t know was that a small grass fire over the hill in Wildcat Canyon was growing fast, leaping from grass to brush to tree—and it was about to crest the hills of North Berkeley.

From the Spring 2019 issue of California.

Necessary Roughness

It was a sunny November Saturday at California Field and the stands brimmed with 20,000 boisterous fans. Banners waved, blue-and-gold streamers unfurled, and the usual cheers of “Oski Wow Wow! Whiskey Wee Wee!” went up as players took the field.

From the Winter 2018 Play issue of California.

Reading Roundup: Robots, Hiring Time, CRISPR Wars, More

CRISPR Wars

UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna has chalked up another award for her discovery of the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool. The Kavli Prize in nanoscience is worth $1 million and will be shared among the three recipients, which includes Doudna’s collaborator, Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute.

The Vagabonds of Tightwad Hill Have the Best View in Sports

“This man needs an escort!” the security guard shouted, as ticketholders decked in blue and gold filed past me through the turnstiles into Memorial Stadium. I had no ticket for the sold out game against Bears’ rival USC, but I had a scheme to watch it regardless.

Are Journalism Schools Just Whistling Past the Graveyard—or Resuscitating the News Biz?

The keynote speaker at the 2014 commencement of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism—an elite institution that prepares students for a profession in which the prospects are, let’s face it, a little touch-and-go at the moment— was a former small-time drug dealer and heavy-duty coke addict who had been in and out of rehab five times, a “fat thug” (in his own words) who’d been known to beat women and wave a gun around on occasion.

From the Winter 2015 Breaking News issue of California.

‘Bout That Action: How Marshawn Lynch Threw the Sports Media for a Loop

Marshawn Lynch is a jerk. And he’s also a hero. He’s ungrateful, immature, and stupid. And he’s a genius with a heart of gold. Lynch, star running back of the Seattle Seahawks and former UC Berkeley phenom, is all of these things and more—if the various media portrayals are to be believed. Just don’t ask Lynch himself if any of it is true, because he’s not talking.

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.
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