the liga retrospective: 2010 (pt. 3)
In part 1 of the retrospective, we got the raw numbers for the regular season. In part 2, we remembered the Delicious Flapjacks, the losingest team in Liga history.
In part 2 I also introduced the graphic for the best of the worst award (which, not coincidentally, prominently features flapjacks).
That spiky plant in the background? It’s the maguey plant, which ties together the Virgen de Guadalupe, the best of the worst, and the tlachiqueros.
mother of maguey
La Virgen de Guadalupe, the namesake for the Liga and a central figure in Mexican religion and culture, is said to have appeared as an image of the Virgin Mary on the front of a peasant’s cloak on or around 12 December, 1531. Here is a little background information on the religious significance of the Virgen de Guadalupe.
The iconography of the Virgin is impeccably Catholic: Miguel Sanchez, the author of the 1648 tract Imagen de la Virgen María, described her as the Woman of the Apocalypse from the New Testament’s Revelation 12:1, “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars,” and she is also described as a representation of the Immaculate Conception. Yet despite this orthodoxy the image also had a hidden layer of coded messages for the indigenous people of Mexico which goes a considerable way towards explaining her popularity. Her blue-green mantle was the color reserved for the divine couple Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl; her belt is interpreted as a sign of pregnancy; and a cross-shaped image symbolizing the cosmos and called nahui-ollin is inscribed beneath the image’s sash. She was called “mother of maguey,” the source of the sacred beverage pulque, “the milk of the Virgin”, and the rays of light surrounding her doubled as maguey spines. (emphasis added)
Maguey is a species of agave—related to, but not the same plant (blue agave) that is used to produce tequila. As the excerpt above provides, maguey is the source of pulque; but it is more than that. Although I can’t find the 1577 source publication, lots of folks out there quote the Spanish explorer Francisco Hernández, who wrote about the many uses of maguey in the cenral highlands of Mexico:
As a whole [maguey] can be used as fuel or to fence fields. Its shoots can be used as wood and its leave as roofing materials, as plates or platters, to make paper, to make cord with which they make shoes, cloth, and all kinds of clothes . . . . From the sap . . . they make wines, honey, vinegar, and sugar . . . . From the root, they also make very strong ropes which are useful for many things. The thicker part of the leaves as well as the trunk, cooked underground . . . are good to eat . . . . There is nothing which gives a higher return.
We were always taught in elementary school that the Native Americans of the Great Plains region used every part of the buffalo; nothing went to waste. I guess the folks a little further south did the same kind of thing with these big spiky plants.
And I am not exaggerating when I say they are BIG spiky plants.
Full grown maguey plants are about 10 feet high and 12-14 feet across. It kind of reminds me of Little Shop of Horrors. Which in turn reminds me of T-Rac, the Tennessee Titans’ mascot with an appetite for cheerleaders.
But that’s not really where I want to go with all this.
milk of the virgen
Pulque, “the milk of the Virgin,” is the sweet product of the maguey plant. Don Lotter provides an excellent history and discussion of the drink in his article for the Rodale Institute, Pulque: Mexico’s unique and vanishing drink. I’ll try to only quote a little bit here, but the article and slideshow are definitely worth a gander.
Pulque is a thick, white-colored drink of 3-4% alcohol made by a brief fermentation of the sap of the maguey plant, an Agave species. It is different from tequila and mescal in that it is not distilled.
Pulque has been left out of the “modern” diet promoted by government and market forces in Mexico. In its place have come beer and spirits, neither of which have anything close to the nutrition that pulque has. Beer is much more expensive. Cheap cane spirits, the preferred alcohol of the poor now, will rot one’s gut much faster than pulque ever will.
I haven’t submitted the idea to Don Lotter and the Rodale Institute, but I thought a clever ad campaign might help raise public awareness (and interest) in pulque. My idea (click for a larger view):
Anyway, let’s return to Lotter’s article to learn how to get from BIG spiky plant to rich, creamy pulque.
Unlike tequila and mescal production, where the plant heart is extracted and cooked, in pulque production the maguey heart is tapped while the plant is still alive. This gives many times the volume of sweet sap, called aguamiel (honey water), than if the heart was simply cut out, cooked and crushed. Aguamiel flow lasts for up to six months and can yield 1000 liters over that time.
. . . When a plant is about to send up its enormous flowering stalk at the end of its 7-15 year lifetime, it is selected for agualmiel tapping. It is at this stage that the plant has conserved large amounts of nutritious sap in order to send its flowering stalk 20 feet in the air.
I’ve omitted this next paragraph because of the graphic violence it depicts. It’s man vs. plant violence, kind of like Little Shop of Horrors, except here the man wins pretty easily. (If you want to read all the gory details, I again encourage you to check out Lotter’s article.) To sum it up, the flowering stalk is not allowed to flower. Or stalk. And by “stalk” I mean “make a stalk.” Or “grow vertically.” After several months they hollow out the place where the stalk would have grown (as in the picture at right).
Plant sap fills up the cavity rapidly and must be harvested twice a day. . . . The extraction of the aguamiel is done using a long calabash gourd called an acocote. The harvester uses his mouth, placed on a hole at the top of the acocote, to provide suction for the aguamiel to flow up into the gourd, which is then emptied into a bucket.
Using nothing but an acocote and a bucket (and sometimes a donkey), the harvester tirelessly repeats the tlachiquero two-step (click for larger view).
That’s right, my friends: these brave sap-suckers are called tlachiqueros. Without them, there would be no pulque, only maguey.
I should note that there is still a fermentation process that transforms the aguamiel sap into pulque. This means that, although they are instrumental in the process that creates “the milk of the Virgin,” they are not actually extracting the milk with their acocotes. I will not name the reader who made the crass inquiry, but the answer to his question is “no; it would not be appropriate to call the tlachiqueros or their acocotes ‘the breast pumps of the Virgin.'”
the tlachiqueros of the liga
I could delve deeper into the lore and legend surrounding the BIG spiky maguey plant and rich creamy pulque—but I won’t. The important thing to take away from the drivel above: the Virgen de Guadalupe is also known as the “mother of maguey,” and the sacred drink pulque is also known as “the milk of the virgen.” Since pulque comes from maguey and they both relate to Guad, it only makes sense that they be somehow incorporated in the Liga’s awards.
The tlachiqueros of the liga are the top-scoring teams of the regular season, adjusted slightly to incorporate the best-of-the-worst award.
Just like real tlachiqueros, who extract the sweet aguamiel from a BIG spiky plant, the tlachiqueros of the liga extract the sweet syrup of victory from BIG games with lots of points. Since spikes are, in a sense, “points,” I figure lots of spikes and lots of points should translate pretty well.
Sometimes, however, lots of points isn’t enough to fill your acocote with the sweet syrup of victory. This is the case when you are the best-of-the-worst (the highest-scoring losing team). In these weeks, instead of aguamiel, you find a stack of delicious flapjacks inside your maguey. They still might be syruppy, but they’re not really what you were after. Hopefully that explains the best-of-the-worst graphic.
An explanation of the math follows, but here are the tlachiquero ratings for the 2010 Liga:
|team||pf (avg)||tlachiquero rating|
Congratulations to the Tequila Whistlers, the top-ranked tlachiquero of the 2010 Liga Guadalupe!
tlachiquero rating explained
The tlachiquero rating includes a bonus for any best-of-the-worst awards the team has won over the course of the season. Since best-of-the-worst awards are only awarded to losing teams, dividing by the team’s total losses yields a fraction representing their best-of-the-worst pct. If all of a team’s losses coincided with a best-of-the-worst award, this number would be 1. If none of the team’s losses coincided with a best-of-the-worst award, this number would be 0.
To meaningfully scale the best-of-the-worst pct, it is multiplied by the standard deviation (σ) of all regular-season liga scores; for 2010, σ = 27.52. The result is that team’s tlachiquero best-of-the-worst bonus.
The actual tlachiquero rating is simply a team’s average score plus their tlachiquero best-of-the-worst bonus.
|avg score||+||=||tlachiquero rating|
Epic. Sorry for the length of the post. I’ve been working on this one for about a month, so I hope you enjoyed it.
I have a little more that I hope to get up soon. In the meanwhile, thank you all for a great 2010 season. Congratulations to the Albino Rhinos for once again proving the Liga is not Durham-proof.