Week of July 16, 2021

Greenkeeper, but also: bassist in a Cheap Trick tribute band

The Dirty, Underhanded World of College Recru…Sorry, What’s That? Oh. Chess? Ok, the Dirty World of Chess.

The New York Times published a wild and, frankly, shocking story this week about match fixing in chess. The short: achieving the rank of Chess Grandmaster is very lucrative and so people are willing to shelve out big dollars to ensure the rank. Far from the meritocratic sport it seems to be, chess has a match-fixing problem. But it does not stop at match-fixing. It includes winning non-existent tournaments: 

Mikhail Zaitsev, who achieved the rank of International Master and is now a chess coach, estimated that of the world’s roughly 1,900 living grandmasters, at least 10 percent have cheated one way or another to acquire the title. Shohreh Bayat, one of the leading arbiters in chess, describes such arrangements in the plainest terms. “Match fixing,” she said, “is cheating.” Some hopefuls didn’t even have to play a game of chess to get the points they needed: Some tournaments, she said, took place only on paper.

None of this is lost on the sport’s frustrated leaders “We have a dog called Pasquales,” said Nigel Short, the vice president of FIDE.

“I believe it is possible that if I went to the effort, I think I could get my dog a grandmaster’s title.”

The article centers around a story from a tournament in 2002, when then 12-year old Sergei Karjakin became the world’s youngest Grandmaster:

For nearly 60 moves, Karjakin posed subtle and challenging problems to Irina Semyonova, his opponent. Each time, she had an answer, a counter. Karjakin kept pressing, but the game ended in a draw.Suddenly, all of what had been close enough to touch — the label, the fame, the history — was slipping away. But the aspiring grandmaster and his team still had one audacious move left.

With Karjakin’s title as the world’s youngest grandmaster slipping away after his unexpected draw with Semyonova, Karjakin’s father, Aleksandr, approached several players to whom his son had lost points and offered them money to replay their games. Firman said he was among those to receive an offer of cash for an arranged draw.

Malinin, who had points to spare, agreed to replay his game with Karjakin. He said he did so for free and therefore did not consider it cheating. The two replayed a game that normally would have taken up to six hours; in the replay, Malinin said, it was played “in a blitz” — a high-speed variant of chess. Karjakin won.

Minutes later, the newly crowned grandmaster ran into the tournament’s main hall, radiant and proud as “a peacock,” according to Areshchenko, who was present.

This is surprising, but the more you read the less surprising it is: achieving the title of grandmaster means a lifetime of perks. 

More recently, Karjakin lost his status as the youngest to achieve grandmaster, when Abhimanyu Mishra bested him by about two months. While there is no evidence yet of match-fixing, Mishra’s achievement is also very dubious:

Mishra’s father, Hemant, had a lot at stake in seeing his son claim the title. He said he spent more than $270,000 on making his son the world’s youngest grandmaster, and he had been collecting donations online to make their chess dream come true. The small advantages that the money could buy — in scheduling, in opposition, in timing — began to add up as he closed in on his final norm.

Mishra, who described Karjakin as his idol, played in five so-called norm tournaments in Charlotte, N.C., in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021 but did not achieve a single norm. With the deadline to beat Karjakin’s record bearing down, he and his father next traveled to Budapest, where Abhimanyu Mishra played eight tournaments in a row.

At these tournaments, norm-seekers paid the organizers, who in turn paid grandmasters to show up, a legal and common arrangement in professional chess. But the quality was not the same; the average rating of Mishra’s opponents in the Budapest events was nearly 50 points lower than it had been in Charlotte.

In an interview, Arkady Dvorkovich, the president of FIDE, said that there is little sportsmanship at such tournaments. That is partly because the grandmasters, often aging players long past their prime, often lack the motivation to work hard to beat their opponents. “The motivation was quite low for me,” said Vojtech Plat, one of the grandmasters who played.

Again, it all makes sense. Give awful parents a chance to game the system for their kids and they will squeeze through every nook and cranny to do it. But…I gotta admit that I had no idea this goes on in chess. Great read. -TOB

Source: The Dark Side of Chess: Payoffs, Points and 12-Year-Old Grandmasters,” Ivan Nechepurenko and Misha Friedman, New York Times (07/13/2021)

PAL: Heads up: it’s a NY Times kind of week. The next time I meet a serious chess player will be my first, but you can take it to the bank that I will ask where he/she earned norm points. If the answer is “Sardak” then we have some problems. 

Absolutely fascinating look into a game about which I know very little. I like the part about the old grandmasters past their prime taking the money and agreeing to draw so some dad can live vicariously through his 12 year-old. 


 2B: LG

This picture from Bob Levey is supposed to represent our old-standing idea of a what a second baseman looks like (Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros, 5-foot-6, 166 pounds) and the direction the position is heading (D.J. LeMahieu of the Yankees, 6-4, 220). While LeMahieu is playing first base in this pic (look at the glove), he plays the majority of his time at second. Credit…Bob Levey/Getty Images

We’ve posted a ton of baseball stories in recent weeks. Obviously, TOB and I love the game, but there’ve also been a lot of great baseball stories recently. Throw in the The All-Star break (a great time to publish the think piece with no games to report on at the moment), and it makes sense we get a good story from Joe Lemire.

I can’t help but wonder if, to some extent, the number of smart baseball stories is also the result of a game that has undergone such a shift over the last 10-20 years. A wave crested over the past couple of seasons by way of general acceptance of shifting defense, all-or-nothing approach at the plate, and the commonplace of pitchers throwing over 97 M.P.H.. Perhaps we were destined for this ever since sabermetrics became the standard of how organizations assess players and positions.  

Naturally, there’s been a shift in how the game is played, which – as Lemire examines – impacts something as fundamental as the prevailing height and weight of a position. 

Take this stat from Lemire’s story: 

For 50 years, from 1948 until 1998, there was never a time when more than one regular second baseman stood at least 6 feet and weighed at least 200 pounds. In 2019, the last full season, 29 such players took the field, according to Baseball Reference.

I’m going to stop you before you think, bigger, stronger, faster, because this stat indicates something much more interesting. This is a story about what skills are more valued at today’s version of second base, how the positioning of the player impacts the skillset needed to play 2B, and finding a soft spot on the defensive side of things to plug another big bat. 

Historically, 2B is a position where you need a defensive player that, although he lacks the range (and arm strength) of a shortstop, can turn a double play and be a plus defensively. A good infielder with a strong arm would typically play on the left side of the infield.

Front office executives are getting more inventive generally with roster construction, but a confluence of leaguewide trends is making experimentation at second more appealing. Strikeouts rates are at an all-time high and, with fewer balls in play, no position has seen a greater reduction in total chances than second basemen, who are fielding 20 percent fewer batted balls per game than they were in the mid-2000s.

There are discernible reasons for the change. Pitchers are throwing more four-seam fastballs at the top of the strike zone, rather than sinking two-seamers at the knees, leading to more airborne batted balls. Better advanced scouting information is informing more precise positioning, which has led to a preponderance of shifts, and cover for players with reduced range.

Farewell Dustin Pedoria and Joe Morgan. Hello D.J. LeMahieu. Instead of needing an agile guy who can turn the double-play (a less frequent occurrence in today’s game); second base has become a place to stash boppers. Hate the trend, but a great read. – PAL 

Source: Where Have You Gone, Dustin Pedroia,” Joe Lemire, The New York Times (07/14/21)


Aftermath

You’ve seen the video:

Here’s a story about what happens to a kid after he makes a stupid, stupid, stupid decision like you saw Emmanul Durón do in that video. What happens when a kid’s lowpoint becomes a viral video and the topic of sports talk across the country? What’s he do after all the bluster and outrage has been applied to the next video of someone doing something stupid. 

Or, in Jeré Longman’s words:

When a young athlete commits an egregious act, where should punishment intersect with compassion? Does the athlete deserve a second chance? And how does a teenager begin again after facing nationwide disgust and cancellation?

One detail stuck out over the others. After Durón hits the ref, and after he’s been booked in jail for assault, at his lowest most alone moment, guess where his coaches, administrators, teachers?

“No Edinburg coaches or school officials visited him in jail, Durón said. Nor did any coaches speak to him, he said, when he briefly returned to school to take state assessment exams.”

Maybe they didn’t know how long he’d be there, maybe no one thought of it in the chaos of the night, maybe the kid was an absolute jerk (that is not the feeling I got from this story), but—damn—where’s all that talk of team and loyalty when a player really needed some support?

We are obsessed with the meltdown, the lowlights; this story is about the aftermath, and I think it’s actually an important read for kids and parents alike. We are not our respective worst moments (and we aren’t our best moments either). – PAL 

Source: “‘I’m Just a Kid Who Did Something Wrong’,”Jeré Longman, The New York Times (07/12/21) 


BP Pitchers Always Get It In, Part II

Back in May, we wrote about batting practice pitchers, the “unsung heroes who keep sluggers in the zone.” Well, I’m back with a quick one because never is the importance of a good BP pitcher more on display than at the Home Run Derby, which was held on Monday. 

For the second straight time, the Mets’ Pete Alonso walked away with the crown. But the real winner was his BP pitcher, Dave Jauss. Here’s Jauss’ pitch chart:

That’s real dang good. Look at that precision. Here’s an overlay of 4 consecutive pitches:

I was the pitcher for my son’s coach-pitch team this year. There were days I was very much in and very much out of the zone. But my best skill, IMO, was putting it where each hitter wanted it. At 7 years old, most kids do not know how to adjust their swing. They just have a groove swing. A few games into the season one of the other coaches told me he realized I am throwing to the bat and that he was very impressed. I was very proud. I felt then like Dave Jauss must feel now. A BP king. -TOB

PAL: My dad has a coach-pitch highlight that’s worth sharing. The scouting report on 8 year-old me was pretty simple: leftie, dead pull. We were playing a team coached by a portly fella who lived up the cul-de-sac . In a game earlier in the season, portly dad put the shift on me. I was 8. If I’m remembering correctly (keep me honest, coach TOB), coach pitch employs four outfielders (right, right-center, left, left-center, left). This guy had every player on his team on the right side of second base. 

Prior to a second meeting against the team, my dad wants to practice something different with me. He tells me not to do anything different. He tells me something like, “No matter where the ball is, just swing the same.” We end up practicing his pitches to the outside corner. 

Game time: Neighbor guy puts on the shift. My dad tosses a pitch on the outside corner, I hit one to leftfield and make it home easily. My dad could barely contain himself. Little victories, baby. Sweet little victories can get you through the day.

TOB: Awesome.


Hot Take: Giannis is NOT Funny

I’ve been biding my time on this one. For a couple years now, I’ve seen tweets and instagram videos showing Giannis Antetokoumpo (pretty sure I got that without looking it up) making corny, worse-than-dad jokes while everyone falls all over to say how funny he is. Well, I feel like Shooter McGavin here when Doug says everyone is coming around on Happy Gilmore, because I’M NOT, DOUG.

Don’t get me wrong – he’s an incredible player. But he’s NOT funny. Here’s an example:

Title: Funniest man in the league. Almost 2 million views. But that is NOT funny. The jokes are BAD and corny and BAD. Ten years ago, Dwight Howard had this same awful sense of humor and got KILLED for it, rightfully so. 

I was finally compelled to be brave and declare that Giannis is not funny when this week, after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, he was asked why he left the bench for a few minutes during the game. His response?

YUK YUK YUK. This went viral. NBA reporters breathlessly reported it right after he said it, with a general feeling of, “Oh that hilarious rascal!” But, nah, man. That’s not funny. That’s funny for a 4-year old, maybe. But he’s a grown ass man and this stuff is not funny. 

So, if you’re with me, don’t be afraid to stand up and say: Giannis is not funny. Stop acting like it. -TOB

PAL: TOB when someone talks about Giannis’ sense of humor:


Cold Take: Giannis is Really Friggin Good at Basketball

Ok, so he’s not funny. We can’t all be everything. Because while Giannis is not the best basketball player I’ve ever seen (Jordan or LeBron) and not the most exciting basketball player I’ve ever seen (Steph), he is perhaps the most shocking basketball player I’ve ever seen. He does things that just seem impossible. To illustrate, here’s a play from Game 4 of the Finals:

I watched that live and I absolutely howled. That just didn’t seem possible. I read a really good article from Tom Ley that put it in perspective. 

Who else can you imagine making exactly that play, under those exact conditions? I’d argue that nobody else in the league fits the bill, not because nobody else in the league is as big or as talented as Antetokounmpo, but because his entire development arc as a player was leading to this point. 

This block [is] a short, authoritative story capturing everything about what makes Antetokounmpo who he is. He’s the guy who just goes, very quickly, in a particular direction or to a particular spot on the floor, and then when he gets there he just does it, because his body allows him to.

He’s right. Giannis may not be funny, but he is a singular talent, in the truest sense of that term, in the history of the NBA. -TOB

Source: Giannis Antetokounmpo Has His Career Highlight,” Tom Ley, Defector (07/15/2021)


Video of the Week

Tennis players are incredible. Playing against Djokovich must be soul crushing. That dude had 2-3 perfect shots in that sequence and still lost the point.

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: Guided By Voices – “Game Of Pricks”

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Ah, yes I know. I shat where I ate. And I shall now eat where I shat.

L.D.

Week of July 9, 2021


Papa Guinn

With the baseball draft kicking off this Sunday (the first time it’s been during the All-Star break), here’s a great story about a prospect who grew up in Oakland. 

Rickey Henderson was a 3-sport star at Oakland Tech High School, which stands about a 9-iron away from the balcony I’m sitting on at this moment. He loved football, but J.J. Guinn, a full-time Berkeley police officer and part-time baseball scout, saw a different future for the young athlete. More importantly, Guinn made the winning pitch to Henderson’s mom: less injuries in baseball. Once Bobbie, a single parent, made up her mind, there was no changing it. Rickey went to his room and cried. 

The decision went against the views of many of the people who had watched Henderson. Football coaches praised Henderson’s physique and lauded his speed. But in baseball, he found less reassurance. Some scouts were concerned with his arm, his crouched batting stance, and the fact that he batted right-handed but threw left-handed.

Those scouts focused on Henderson’s flaws. Guinn focused on his strengths: Henderson’s speed, athleticism and lateral range. Where others saw impediments, Guinn saw possibility.

Only two M.L.B. teams were present for an American Legion game at Bushrod Park on that day in 1976: the Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers. After Henderson struck out in his first two at-bats, the Dodgers scout stood up. “I’ve seen enough,” Guinn recalled him saying. “I have a plane to catch.”

Henderson homered in his next two at-bats and Guinn feverishly typed out a report to his scouting director. His advice: Sign Rickey Henderson “right away.”

We know how this ended up for Henderson. Guinn’s story is perhaps more interesting. Part-time scout, full-time officer, respected and revered in Berkeley and Oakland.  

From Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Guinn would walk some of Berkeley’s most crime-ridden streets looking to connect with the residents he was charged with protecting. Few of them had seen a Black police officer.

“Most people think these kids on the street are dumb, but they’re not,” Guinn said. “They know if they can trust you. I had to instill that trust. But because I was raised in Berkeley, if I didn’t know them, they knew my children, or I knew their parents. They knew I was for real.”

Rickey and Guinn got together a couple weeks ago. The location: Rickey Henderson’s suite at the Oakland Coliseum. They reviewed Guinn’s original scouting report from 1976. More than an assessment, that report is now a time machine. 

Henderson sat back and listened, smiling as Guinn recited his strengths, and cackling as he recited his weaknesses. The words transported both men back to Bushrod Park in North Oakland, on a warm April afternoon, two months before that year’s draft.

A heartwarming read. – PAL 

Source: After 45 Years, a Cop Still Looks After His Favorite (Base) Thief,Alex Coffey, The New York Times (07/09/21)

TOB: Love Rickey. I randomly saw this tweet this morning and had to add to it:


Ominous Ohtani

As TOB has touched on many times on this blog (and I have been  a skeptic to a degree that approaches unfun), Shohei Ohtani is doing something unseen in the last century of baseball. The dude has hit 30 home runs before the all-star break…and is a starting pitcher, a pretty good one with electric stuff. He throws 101, and he hits 450-foot lasers. 

Before we go any further, let’s break for TOB to tell me “I TOLD YOU” while I eat crow:

TOB: *cracks knuckles*

Pull up a chair, this is a life lesson: When you want to believe and you choose to believe, then you will get to revel in the fruits of that belief. When I wrote about him 14 at bats into his career, sure I could have “taken it easy,” as my friend suggested. But no. NO, dangit. Where is the joy in that, I ask you? This week I saw an article suggesting Ohtani is “breaking baseball.” I saw another saying he is “pushing MLB’s boundaries.” I saw another discussing how he is the first half AL MVP, and it’s not close because what he is doing hasn’t been done since Babe Ruth. I wanted to believe we could see the next Babe Ruth and by god we are seeing it. If Ohtani stunk, I wouldn’t care. But no. Here I am. Rubbing Phil’s nose in the dirt as a good friend should. Today, we celebrate Ohtani. But we also celebrate ME.

OK, back to the story.

Here’s some context for Ohtani’s season from Neil Paine, writing for the data-driven fivethirtyeight:

As I wrote in May, this is a modern Babe Ruth season. But that might be understating what Ohtani has been doing. According to Baseball-Reference.com’s wins above replacement, Ohtani is on pace for 11.7 total WAR per 162 games this year, including 6.7 as a position player and 5.0 as a pitcher. That would be an astronomical tally — none of teammate Mike Trout’s seasons have reached that level; in fact, it hasn’t been done since Barry Bonds in 2002. But even more remarkably, no player in AL or NL history has even come close to producing 5 WAR on both sides of the ball in the same season. Ruth’s best two-way year saw him put up 6.0 WAR as a batter and 3.0 WAR as a pitcher in 1918, one of his last seasons before becoming a full-time outfielder.

And yet, as I first heard Monday from Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo, the Ohtani season doesn’t feel like it’s as big of a deal as it would’ve been if it had happened 10-20 years ago. While it’s written about, I don’t know if my dad—a casual baseball fan— would recognize the name. And I haven’t heard that a nephew of mine has begged his parents to go to a game when the Angels come through town.

That should scare the hell out of MLB. How this guy hasn’t moved the needle on a national level is beyond me. There was a lot of hype, then injury, and now he’s living up to the hype, albeit a couple seasons later. We have the most incredible story of my lifetime, and it seems to be flying a bit under the radar. What does that say about the future of the game? 

Podcast embedded below (jump to the 66:00 mark)

We’ve typed up and shared a bunch of stories about what’s ailing baseball. Here we have what’s fun and great about the game—a charismatic dude from another country upending all modern expectations—and no one seems to pay it much mind. That’s a bad sign for baseball. – PAL 

Source: “Only One Player Has Ever Been As Good As Shohei Ohtani,” Neil Paine, fivethirtyeight.com (06/30/21); The Bill Simmons Podcast (07/07/21)

TOB: This is anecdotal, but I think Simmons Russillo (and the two of us) – white, baseball fans – cannot appreciate the affect what Ohtani’s reach might be for non-baseball fans and people of color. My oldest has a best friend who loves sports. But they are not a baseball family. The dad is not originally from the U.S. – he loves soccer, NFL, and golf, but not baseball. But when the Angels were in town to play the Giants and A’s earlier this year, he texted me and asked if we wanted to go to see Ohtani pitch. Again, this is anecdotal. But I would be interested to see if there’s something to that.


Ichiro Stories

The Athletic did an oral history of Ichiro’s career. Here are the funniest anecdotes:

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Bret Boone, Mariners teammate: Opening Day, 2001. I’m taking my position at second base, and there was a veteran umpire out there, a guy that’s been there forever. He comes up to me and goes, “Boonie, what’s up, how are you doing?” And he goes, “What the hell’s up with your right fielder?” I said, “What are you talking about?” He goes, “He runs by me and I say to him, ‘Hey, Ichiro, welcome to America.’” And Ichiro looks at him and says, “What’s happening, home slice,” and keeps running to his position.

Brian McCann, Yankees teammate: One of the first series when I went to New York, I went in to get batting gloves or something out of my locker in like the eighth inning. Ichiro was in full cleats, and he was doing sprints in the clubhouse. In cleats, dead sprints, 40 years old, to go play defense in the ninth.

Young: He got on second base and I was playing second base. At this point, I had no idea if he even spoke English. We were in Texas in the middle of the summer. It was just blistering down there, and I go, “What’s up, man?” He looks at me with a straight face and says, “It’s hotter than rats fucking in a wool sock.”

SPEECHES

CC Sabathia, Yankees teammate: Ichi gave the best speeches at the All-Star Game.

Randy Winn, Mariners teammate: This is 2002. I’m at the All-Star Game and Joe Torre is the manager. Joe brings us all in and says something very nice, very professional, very Joe Torre, very even and monotone.

Sweeney: You could hear a pin drop as Joe Torre’s speaking to us.

Winn: After he finishes, he goes, “All right, Ichiro, what do you have to say?” I was like, “Wow, why is he calling Ichiro? Of all people to say something …”

Jim Leyland, Tigers manager: All of the sudden he pops up: “Let’s kick their fucking fat asses.”

Michael Young, Rangers second baseman: As loud as he could.

A.J. Pierzynski, Twins catcher: And that was it.

Winn: I was like, “Wait, what?” And everybody cheered like, “Yeaaaaah!”

Rick Griffin, Mariners trainer: By the time we got to 2010, he’d added a few more lines to it and had added some more F-bombs.

Young: Every year, whenever the manager said, “Does anyone have anything to add,” everyone would point both their fingers at Ichiro.

Sweeney: It was almost an unwritten rule: Ichiro would always have the last word.

Young: Every year the decibel level would go up a little more to create a different effect. But every year it was the same thing: “Let’s go kick their fucking fat asses.”

Griffin: He dropped many, many F-bombs in many different varieties and different forms. Just screaming and yelling and hopping up and down — and then he walked away and sat down like nothing happened.

Winn: Like nothing happened.

FOOD

Bryant: He literally ate those [chicken wings] every home game for 10 years. Except on a day game he would change it up and he would have a corndog, of all things. He would have two corndogs. These were the cheap, Costco corndogs, and they could not be microwaved. They had to be baked in the oven so they would get crispy.

Chamberlain: During the game, he would only eat plum balls made by his wife. Plum balls.

Griffin: He knew where every single California Pizza Kitchen was in every city that we stayed in. And whether it was five minutes away or 45 minutes away, he had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. He had double cheese, extra sauce and lightly cooked. Every time.

Griffin: He would come in every day when he got to the ballpark, and he would weigh himself. … And if he weighed 171.8 then he would eat a little more so the next day he would come in and weigh 172. If he weighed 172.3 then the next day he would eat a little bit less so he would weigh 172.

Bryant: He actually started out with nine wings. He came in one year and said, “Chef J, I’m gaining weight, so I can only have seven wings.” And then he did seven wings for a while. And then by the end he was only doing five because he was thinking he was gaining weight.

Bryant: I went up to Ichi and said, “Hey, what do you think of selling these wings out in the stands?” And he goes, “Let me think about it.” I’m not even exaggerating: Four years go by. I get a call from his interpreter in the offseason. He goes, “Chef J, I just wanted to let you know. Ichiro said go ahead with the wings idea.”

SELF CONFIDENCE

Strange-Gordon: If Ichi makes a really nice play, like he throws somebody out or gets a big hit, you’d say, “That atta boy Ich!” And he’d literally go, “It’s obvious.”

Winn: It’s myself, Ichiro, Bret and Edgar (Martinez). Bret said something like, “Ichiro, how do you do it?” And Ichiro, without missing a beat, turns to him, stone-faced, and goes, “It’s obvious.”

Chamberlain: That should literally be the title of your article: “It’s obvious.”

Strange-Gordon: He had just signed with the Marlins, and we hit every day. You know me: I’m just watching everything. I go, “Ichi, question. At the beginning of the second half last year, they told me they wanted me to walk more, so I started taking pitches, but I started to strike out.” He said, “No, no, no.” I said, “So how do I walk?” He said, “You rake first, then they’ll walk you.”

Sele: His first year, in spring training, guys were taking BP, and I believe that he was hitting with Jay (Buhner) and Edgar. They were cranking line drives all over the place, no big deal. Ichiro was just staying inside the ball and just flipping the ball to left field with no real impact. Lou (Piniella) starts to get on him, saying something like, “Son, you’ve got to get behind the ball. Drive the ball.” Ichiro puts his finger to his lips and says, “Shhhhhh. I’ve got a plan.”

McLaren: Lou asked him, “Son, do you ever turn on a ball? Do you ever pull the ball?” He just nodded his head and said, “Sometimes.” And Lou goes, “OK, well, I’d like to see it. I’d just like to see you turn on a ball.” So we start the game that night, and he hits one to right field way back on the berm. I mean, he crushed it. So he comes back to the dugout and he’s getting ready to go down the steps and he stops and he looked at Lou and he says, “Is that turn on ball, Lou?”

-TOB
Source: Untold Stories of Ichiro: Wrestling with Griffey, All-Star Speeches and ‘Ichi Wings’,” Corey Brock, Rustin Dodd, Jayson Jenks, The Athletic (07/06/2021)

Ok, Maybe We Should Pump the Brakes on Robo-Umps

But also, doesn’t the ump have the ability to overrule the roboump? I thought they did. Also, nice work by the song guy. -TOB


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: JJ Grey & Mofro – “Every Minute”


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I wish there was a way to know you’re in “the good old days”, before you’ve actually left them.

-Andy Bernard

Week of July 2, 2021


I’m a Surfer* Now, So I Write About Surfing

Big wave surfer Greg Noll died this week. I will be honest – I had not heard of him before. However, you know a piece of writing is good when it makes you really care about someone you had not previously heard of. And that’s what Patrick Redford accomplished with this story on Noll. I mean, just look at this passage from the opening paragraph:

Surfing a big wave is like climbing an imposing mountain, only the mountain disappears in seconds. You cannot point to a killer wave at Mavericks and be like, “I surfed that exact wave there.” All that lasts is the memory.

I mean, holy shit that’s a good line. As Redford relates, Noll is famous for being a big wave pioneer, culminating in his ride at Makaha, Hawaii on December 4, 1969. Noll tells the story in the surf movie classic Riding Giants, linked here. Noll and his ride at Makaha are a precursor to Mavericks. But not long after that ride, which he barely survived, Noll stepped away from big wave surfing. Noll later said:

”For 15 years, my whole thing was to ride a bigger wave than the year before. I was getting so cocky I said, ‘Come on, God, show me a wave I can’t ride.’ Then all of a sudden that day came along, and it kind of blew the cap off the whole thing,”

I particularly like Redford’s closing, though:

In the decades since his legendary ride, aspects of it have come into question. Tomson says he actually captured Noll’s ride on camera, and another surf photographer has three photos of Noll atop the wave. People have questioned the actual height of the wave, and while it’s not altogether possible to come to a definitive measurement, weather historians have shown that the swell that battered Hawaii was genuinely freakish. None of that really matters to me, because the point is the myth. I was not unmoored by Noll’s ride because of the precision of his technique, or the minute details of his fall. The thing that matters is that he did something that nobody had ever done before, that he pushed his defiance of death all the way to the very edge, looked into the void, and was allowed by the monster to rise again.

That is fantastic writing.

*I went surfing twice last month. But I loved it. 

-TOB

Source: Greg Noll, The Surfer Who Became A Myth, Is Dead At 84,” Patrick Redford, Defector (07/01/2021)


A Concise Explanation of Why Soccer is Great

A year delayed, Euro 2020 (like the World Cup, but just Europe) is going on. I’m doing my best to catch a game or two per week, but it’s difficult to carve out time for my very favorite sports, so I have not been terribly successful. 

Over the last few decades, much ink has been spilled about why soccer is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in most other parts of the world. But instead of thinking about what’s wrong with soccer or what’s wrong with U.S. sports fans, I really enjoyed this article from Defector’s Tom Ley about what makes soccer great, as illustrated by an extra time goal from Italy’s Federico Chiesa, which helped the Italians advance to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win over Austria. The goal was so good that I had to show my kids the next day.

I think I yelped when he blasted that in. That touch with his right foot to knock it by the oncoming defender and set it up for his left-footed volley? That is *chef’s kiss* beautiful. 

Ley makes a good point about soccer, and it’s one of the reasons I love watching the sport:

Soccer can be pretty aggravating to watch sometimes. The game is so hard, and played at such inhuman speeds, that finding a steady supply of thrills in a single game can feel like an act of compromise. You end up hooting at deft turns in the midfield that lead to fizzled attacks, clapping for masterful dribbles that lead to the ball being kicked harmlessly out of bounds, and gasping at shots that miss the top corner by six inches. These moments don’t ultimately change the final outcome of the match, but once you understand how difficult it is to even participate in a high-level soccer game, you can’t help but appreciate them.

In soccer, fans appreciate skill even if it doesn’t end up in a goal, because goals are scarce and if you didn’t appreciate the skill in between goals, it’d be a very boring game to watch. 

In basketball, there is a phrase: “million dollar move, ten cent finish.”  The phrase implies that a great move that ends in a missed shot is not worth much because it didn’t end in a score. This makes sense in basketball, where teams average over 82 combined baskets per game. By contrast, the most recent English Premier League season averaged a total of 2.69 goals per game. Each made shot in basketball is worth far less (more than 30 times less in fact), relatively speaking, than each goal in soccer. So, soccer fans rightly appreciate a million dollar move, even if it does end in a ten cent finish. For example, this is not a goal but it was still incredible:

So what happens when a million dollar move in soccer ends not in a ten cent finish but in a million dollar finish? Bliss. Here’s Ley:

And then something like Chiesa’s goal happens, and there’s no need for compromise. Chiesa’s goal was the product of three genius-level touches—on the head to bring the ball under control, on the right foot to snatch it away from the recovering defender, and on the left foot to fire it past the keeper at a tight angle—that would have earned a polite applause from the crowd had they occurred on their own and not led to a goal. That Chiesa executed all three in a matter of seconds and got the ball into the net puts his goal somewhere in the realm of the miraculous. Repeat that sequence 1,000 times, and chances are that Chiesa would lose the ball out of bounds, have it taken from him by a defender, or fire it wide of the net in 996 of them. But sometimes everything lines up just right, and you get to see three perfect touches and a goal, and soccer is the best damn sport.

Unlike Ley, soccer is not my favorite sport. But…in moments like those, it sure feels great. -TOB

Source: Federico Chiesa Showed Us Soccer In All Its Glory,” Tom Ley, Defector (06/27/2021)


SImone Biles: The GOAT of GOATS

Now, I cannot by any stretch of the imagination call myself a gymnastics “fan.” Sure, like many kids of the 90s, I watched the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams alongside my parents – Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strugg, Dominique Moceanu. Big names! They rocked. And in the early 2010s, I loved McKalya Maroney’s Not Impressed memes and Aly Raisman leading her team to gold – that was a fun group! But none of them, or any other gymnast that ever lived, compares to Simone Biles.

The lead up to the 2016 Olympics was the first I (remember, not a gymnastics “fan”) had heard of her – and by that point she had already won three straight World Championships – 2013, 2014, and 2015 (which begs the question: why did the 2013 World Champion did not make the 2012 Olympic team). She was also being called perhaps the greatest gymnast of all time. The media narrative seemed set up for her to fail.

Lol, nah bro. She killed it. Team? Gold. Individual all around? Gold. Vault? Gold. Floor? Gold. Beam? Bronze. Hey, look, no one is perfect. But Simone is close. Since 2013 she has competed in every World Championship, besides 2017, when she took a year off. In those 5 tournaments, she has won all five individual all-around golds, all five floor golds, three golds and two bronze on beam, and two golds, two silvers, and one bronze on vault. That is pretty god dang dominant. 

In fact, this is how dominant Biles has been since stepping onto the international scene: at the Olympic trials last week, Biles had an off-day – she had a mistake on uneven bars, a fall on balance beam and stepped out of bounds twice on floor. She won the two-day event, but her Olympic teammate Suni Lee bested her on day two – and it was the first time Biles had been beaten in a single day since March 2013. 

So as we head into the Olympics this summer, you bet your ass I will be tuning into see if Biles can put herself in Phelps-territory. No, she’ll never win as many medals as Phelps. If you ask me, swimmers have an unfair advantage in terms of medal count – multiple relays and distances and strokes allow for numerous medal opportunities – 18 gold medals will be awarded in swimming at this Olympics, in fact; three times as many as the six a gymnast can get. Plus, they have a shorter peak due to the beating their body takes, compared to the low impact of swimming.

Which brings me to the story title: I think what Biles has done over the last eight years is the single most dominant, extended performance by an athlete in history. She is the GOAT of GOATs, and I’m really excited to see what she does at the Olympics.

All that is prelude to this: I read quite a few articles about Biles this week, coming off those Olympic trials where she (sorta) looked human. But my favorite was this one, from Defector’s Kalyn Kahler. The article reads a smidge like my U.S. Open story from 2019 – Kalyn is a big Biles fan, but has never been to a big gymnastics tournament. So when she heard the Olympic Trials were within driving distance, she bought front row seats and got in her car. Her article is a fun look at what it’s like to attend a major gymnastics meet. A very fun read.

Source: The Draw Of Simone Biles,” Kalyn Kahler, Defector (06/28/2021)


Subtopic: Can Simone Biles Dunk a Basketball?

Yes, more on Biles. In a moment, I am going to show you a clip that made me tweet this question: Can Simone Biles dunk a basketball?

Now, I must say here that Biles is listed at 4’8”. I don’t know what her standing reach is. The average standing reach is about 135% of a person’s height, which would put her standing reach at 6’2. That means she would need to get 46” off the ground just to touch the rim. To get the basketball over the rim, she’d need another 10” or so, which would mean a 50” clearance. I am gulping hard right now, because 56” is very high. HOWEVER, I have some evidence.

First, Spud Webb. Spud was 5’7 and had a reported standing vertical leap of 46”, which allowed him to win a Slam Dunk contest. But Spud was not a trained gymnast – he just played basketball. His 46” standing vertical came naturally. So can Simone Biles jump 10” higher, with a running start? This leads me to my second piece of evidence, which is the clip referenced above:

YO WHAT THE HELL. That’s INSANE. Yes, Kevin, it’s a spring floor. I do not care. If she is 4’8, she looks at LEAST 7 feet high there. Give her a running start and I think she can dunk a basketball. Prove me wrong! -TOB


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Blackilicious – Make You Feel That Way


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“You only live once? False. You live every day. You only die once.”

-Dwight Schrute

Week of June 25, 2021

Oooh girl. Look at those Cool Ranch Earrings. Fire.

Baseball’s Sticky Issue, Explained

I know Phil covered this two weeks ago, but I have been wanting to write about this story for a few weeks. However, with each passing day came new developments, and I felt like I needed to wait until there was some resolution before putting it all together. Well, there hasn’t exactly been a resolution, but enough has happened that it does seem like it’s time to recap it all, before it gets too big to boil down to a few hundred words (if we’re not already there). So hold onto your butts – here we go.

Back on May 7, just one month into the baseball season, we wrote about the insane strikeout rate across MLB. April 2021 saw over 1,000 more strikeouts than hits. For context, before May 2018, there hadn’t been a single month in MLB history with more strikeouts than hits. In fact, before 2020 (a two month season), there had never been an MLB season with 1,000 more strikeouts than hits. Again: this year, we saw that in the month of April alone. 

There had been rumblings over the last year or two, if you were interested in finding it, that the increased strikeout rate was largely due to an increase in both velocity and spin rate. And if you were really paying attention, you’d have seen articles like this one last fall, from friend of the blog Eno Sarris, suggesting the increased spin rate and thus the increased strikeout rate were due to the increasing usage of “sticky” stuff by MLB pitchers. 

Officially, the use of a foreign substance by a pitcher violates MLB Rule 8.02. Unofficially, MLB didn’t seem to care (once again creating their own crisis, ahem steroids) until this week. As a result, the use of grip enhancements over the last few years exploded. From an article by Eno last year:

A large majority of big league pitchers right now are using some sort of extra-grip substance to impart more spin — and therefore more movement — on the ball. That’s the consensus of nearly 20 major league hitters, pitchers and pitching coaches who spoke to The Athletic in the last month. The median answer was more than three-quarters of the league, but five respondents thought the portion was much closer to 100 percent.

“Almost everyone is using something,” said a coach with experience in several major league organizations.

“My guess on total MLB players using some sort of grip enhancement … 99.9 percent,” said another coach who has worked with multiple major leaguers.

The use of grip enhancements, and their effect on spin rate and thus a pitcher’s effectiveness have been an open secret in baseball for years. In 2018, Gerrit Cole and Jason Verlander saved and resurrected their careers, respectively, when they were traded to the Houston Astros. Cole’s college teammate Trevor Bauer very publicly called out the Astros, and thus Cole and Verlander, for their sudden increased spin rate. 

Bauer is not really wrong about what happened to Cole’s spin rate when he got to Houston:

Cole’s four-seam spin rate went from 2,164 rpm in 2017 in Pittsburgh to 2,379 rpm in 2018 in Houston — a difference of 215 rpm. It increased again to 2,530 rpm in 2019, and has averaged 2,552 rpm in 2021.

As Eno notes, Bauer commented publicly about grip enhancements repeatedly that year:

“For eight years I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase the spin on my fastball because I’d identified it way back then as such a massive advantage,” Bauer himself wrote in a piece for The Players’ Tribune. “I knew that if I could learn to increase it through training and technique, it would be huge. But eight years later, I haven’t found any other way except using foreign substances.”

It wasn’t for a lack of experimentation.

“I’ve tested all sorts of different stuff in the lab up at Driveline,” Bauer told Jordan Bastian in 2018. “I sat down with a chemical engineer to understand it. At 70 mph, when we were doing the tests, spin rates jumped between 300-400 rpm while using various different sticky substances. The effect is slightly less pronounced at higher velocities — more game-like velocities — but still between 200-300 rpm increase. So, that’s a lot of the research we’ve done. We’ve done it with multiple test subjects. … And those are the results we found.”

For his part, Bauer seemed to see that there would be no enforcement of rule 8.02 and decided if he couldn’t beat ‘em, he’d join ‘em. As noted by the Athletic:

Bauer’s own fastball spin rate has increased by about 400 rpm since 2019. He won the NL Cy Young award in 2020 and signed a three-year, $102 million contract with the Dodgers ahead of the 2021 season.

Curious, huh. The connection between spin and strikeouts is fairly conclusive. Here are two charts from Eno’s article:

Basically, the sticky substance allows a pitcher to grip the ball better and spin it harder. The more a ball spins, the more it breaks. The more it breaks, the harder it is to hit. The harder it is to hit, the more swings and misses, the more strikeouts – and, thus, fewer balls in play. 

Grip enhancement has always been used in some form – scuffing, rosin mixed with either sweat or sunscreen. But the newest technological enhancements created stuff that was stickier than ever before, the most notorious of which in recent weeks was a product called Spider Tack.

Two weeks ago, Phil covered an article Eno wrote about Spider Tack in April. Eno set up an experiment where a former major league pitcher tested various grip substances. When the pitcher used Spider Tack, his spin rate jumped twenty five percent compared to using a sunscreen and rosin mixture. That is a lot. 

As Phil also noted, Spider Tack was developed by a former Strongman competitor who, until a reporter recently called him, had no idea his product was being used by MLB pitchers. It was developed to help Strongman competitors carry gigantic friggin boulders. Here’s a promotional photo for Spider Tack:

Now, look, I love baseball. But strikeouts are rarely exciting, at least en masse. We want to see hits. We want to see good defense. We want to see running. We want action. Dudes waving blindly at pitches they have no chance to hit is not great. The game is moving ever closer to the three true outcomes: home run, walk, strikeout. That’s kinda boring. And boring is bad for business. So, as the strikeout rate hit never before seen levels this year, and as more and more reporters discussed the use of grip enhancements, there was suddenly an outcry to ban this stuff. Players, like Gerrit Cole, were being asked after games if they used the stuff. Cole stammered and didn’t answer, thereby seemingly admitting his use.

So, this month, MLB moved quickly, announcing that by this past Monday, the rule would be enforced:

Under the new guidelines, any pitcher who possesses or applies foreign substances in violation of the rules will be ejected from the game and automatically suspended in accordance with the rules and past precedent. Suspensions under Rule 3.01 are 10 games. Starting pitchers will have more than one mandatory check per game, and relievers must be checked at the end of the inning when they entered the game or when they are taken out of the game, whichever comes first. Typically, the inspections will take place between innings or during pitching changes to give the umpires ample time to perform a thorough check without delaying the game.

Many pitchers were furious. The Rays’ Tyler Glasnow, for example, blamed an injury to the lack of grip enhancement – without the enhancement he had to create more torque in his arm, and he partially tore his UCL (which usually means Tommy John surgery). And he has a point – MLB didn’t enforce this rule and he has pitched for multiple seasons with grip enhancement. Then suddenly, mid-season, they pulled the rug out from under pitchers with very little warning. Glasnow doesn’t seem unreasonable in asking that they had been given an offseason to prepare for Life After Spider Tack.

As for what the lack of grip enhancement will do to the game, it’s too early to tell. We don’t have enough data yet to draw big conclusions. But following the announcement, and even before the enforcement, there have been many reports of pitcher spin rates dropping drastically. It remains to be seen if pitchers will find a way around this. Notably, most hitters who have discussed the topic publicly said that they’d like pitchers to use something to ensure control and thus hitter safety. 

On the other hand, as The Ringer’s Michael Baumann theorizes, maybe the rule enforcement does nothing:

More likely, pitchers will continue to operate as usual, and offenses will continue to suffer. Pitchers aren’t dominating solely because they’re rubbing the inside of a watermelon rind before every inning; foreign substances are just one component of a deliberate leaguewide developmental program. Technological advances and engorged modern bullpens allow teams to teach any Tom, Dick, and Harry they pull off a Big 12 mound how to throw 98 miles an hour and unleash a devastating slider with iffy command for 60 innings a year. And when such effort results in torn elbows and shoulders, that pitcher can be discarded and another plucked off the vine. In the land where every pitcher is José Alvarado, the GM with the most José Alvarados is king. Cleaning pitchers’ fingers won’t solve all those structural issues.

One thing we can say is that the new pitcher checks have given us some high comedy – most notably from Max Scherzer and Sergio Romo, both of whom looked for a second like they were about to take their pants down in an exaggerated effort to show compliance with the umpire check. Here’s Romo’s:

I’m saving Scherzer’s episode for Video of the Week but I implore you to scroll down and watch it, because it gets the Jomboy treatment and when I watched Scherzer demanding that the umpire rub his hair to show that he had nothing in it but sweat, I howled laughing so hard that my wife texted me from down the hall to ensure I was ok because she was worried about me.

Also, this Tweet had me chuckling.

One other interesting twist. I had wondered last week whether the use of substances like Spider Tack had a negative effect on home run rates due to increased drag on the ball. I asked Eno Sarris on Twitter, but he didn’t have an answer. As it turns out, my hunch may have been correct:

So, not only might the elimination of grip enhancements reduce the swing and miss rate, it may increase the distance a given batted ball travels. The effects of the enforcement of this rule are unknown, and that’s pretty exciting.

*exhale*

Ok, I think I covered it all. I hope you enjoyed the trip. I will be on the lookout for articles collating the data on all of this and will report back once we have some ideas on the real effects. -TOB
Source: ‘Almost Everyone is Using Something’: Getting a Grip on How MLB Pitchers are Cheating,” Eno Sarris, The Athletic (11/09/2020); Spider Tack is the Stickiest Stuff in Baseball’s Foreign-Substance Controversy. Its Inventor Had No Idea,” Stephen J. Nesbitt, The Athletic (06/07/2021); What Will Happen After MLB’s Sticky Stuff Crackdown?Michael Baumann, The Ringer (06/17/2021)


Disc Golf Is The Future

For athletes on the fringe, at least. 

So much of my time and energy, as it relates to sports, focuses on the most popular and well-known sports and athletes. Football, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey. Yes, I’m curious about fringe sports, too, but my viewing basically comes down to those four (of course, add soccer to that list for international popularity). Odds are, you’re the same, which is why professional athletes in these sports make so much money: the general public accept these sports and their respective stars as part of mainstream culture. 

But, in today’s world of social influencers, there’s money to be made for the fringe (and amateur) athletes. You only have to look to Paul McBeth. He plays disc golf. He recently signed a $10M endorsement deal, guaranteed. Again, the dude plays disc golf. 

Let’s start here: McBeth dominates his sport. A “Tiger Woods of…” type dominance. Not only has he won a bunch of tournaments that I’m told are important (how the hell would I know what constitutes a major in disc golf?). McBeth has won over $500K playing disc golf. Not too shabby.

More importantly—and worth of the Tiger comp—the size of the prize purse has increased 5x. 

But that’s just a piece. Per David Gardner in his story from The Ringer: 

But except to a subset of hardcore frisbee fans, his more impressive accomplishments have come away from the course. In February, disc golf manufacturer Discraft announced it had extended McBeth’s endorsement deal to a guaranteed $10 million over 10 years. McBeth also has sponsors for other disc golf gear, such as grip equipment and bags, and owns part of a company called Foundation Disc Golf that produces both products and content. He has deals outside of disc golf equipment too, with the likes of Adidas and Celsius energy drink. According to 2019 data from the athlete marketing platform Opendorse, only about 70 athletes in the world make at least a million dollars a year in endorsement deals. McBeth’s endorsement income from Discraft alone puts him on par with Bears linebacker Khalil Mack, Jazz guard Mike Conley Jr., and Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.

McBeth has carved out a lucrative career in a niche sport, in part as an athlete and in part as an influencer. He isn’t alone in using this blueprint. Competitors in sports ranging from bowling to lacrosse have been able to amass riches by building their brands—and growing the games they love along the way. 

McBeth has about 93K subscribers to his YouTube channel, plus an additional 172K on instagram. He posts tons of videos, many of them with over 100K views. Most importantly, he’s also selling products – discs, hats, clothes. The following video is boring. I encourage you to not finish it, but I share it to notice what they are doing – filling orders and running through inventory and filling orders. They are running a small business.

In my assessment, social media is primarily a shitty addition to society (or maybe we’ve used it in a primarily superficial and shitty way) but this is an example of it bringing something fun and interesting to the table. McBeth, and so many other athletes from fringe sports, can find an avid and sizeable following on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc.. Take it from someone who works in the marketing arm of a company: people with 6-figure followings can earn 5-figure checks for posting about a brand or product. And while that might sound lame, it’s actually pretty powerful for McBeth, Olympic athletes, or even ‘amatuer athletes’ in college who can/will be able to make money off of their name and likeness. 

While you and I definitely do not know Jason Belmonte (bowler) or Chloe Mitchell (NAIA volleyball player), they’ve amassed some serious followings on social media, and that can mean real money from brands trying to connect with that all-powerful 18-24 demographic (or even younger).

 “To millions of kids, TikTok and YouTube are mainstream entertainment. They don’t watch TV,” says Taylor Lorenz, who covers social media, Gen Z, and influencers for The New York Times. “Sometimes you need to get onto TV to get credibility with boomer CEOs. But for individuals, you can often monetize better on your social media.”

This was a great read that helps explain where sports are heading, especially for college athletes. Simply follow the money, as they say. It’s interesting to see new inroads of cash flow in the sports universe. A great read. – PAL 

Source: The Rise of the $10 Million Disc Golf Celebrity”, David Gardner, The Ringer (06/21/21)


Joey Votto Continues to Rule, A Story in Three Tweets

One:

Two: 

Three: 

Lol, that’s the good shit. -TOB

Source: Abigail’s Mom on Twitter (06/20/2021)


The Playoffs, In Four Shots

Just jumping into the NBA Playoffs? Then you’ll be surprised to learn all of the favorites are gone and your next champion will be one of the following: Clippers (0 titles), Suns (0), Hawks (1, in 1958), Milwaukee (1 in 1971). 

Don’t sweat it, though. Ben Cohen has done something very smart and easy to digest in his article: he’s highlighted one shot each team has to make in order to have a chance to win. For the Bucks, Giannis has to hit his free throws. I don’t mean that like the dude at the bar yellin “gotta hit your free throws” at the TV. I mean, the defense the Hawks can play against the Bucks is dependent upon Giannis’ free throw percentage. 

Cohen writes: 

More important is what happens when the ball finally leaves Antetokounmpo’s hands. He was a 68.5% foul shooter this season—in his previous two MVP seasons, he shot 72.9% and 63.3% from the line—but he’s dipped to 53.8% in the playoffs. At that rate, the Bucks yield 1.08 points per possession when Antetokounmpo gets fouled, which is lower than their average offense in the regular season and playoffs. To put it another way, fouling him is smart defense. 

It’s how the Hawks can take the best player on the other team and diminish him to his worst skill. 

For the Hawks, it comes down to Trae Young and his floaters. If he’s hitting that shot between the foul line and the basket, then a rim-running Clint Capella becomes a much bigger threat on offense. For The Suns, it’s the ugly step-child of the modern NBA: the mid-range jumper (turns out, it’s not a bad shot after all, as long as you have dudes that can make ‘em). For the Clippers, it’s the…uh, it’s the Clippers; no one cares. 

In all seriousness, I really liked this breakdown of one shot per team and how making it unlocks other aspects of the game, making the team much harder to defend. Good stuff. – PAL 

Source:Alley-Oops, Free Throws and the Biggest Shots of the NBA Playoffs,” Ben Cohen, The Wall Street Journal (06/23/21)


Videos of the week

PAL: This brought joy to my morning. It’s the perfect Eddie Rosario clip.

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: George Harrison – “Behind That Locked Door”


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Week of June 18, 2021

PIC


A Bike Race On A Gravel Road In Kansas

TOB dropped this story in the draft doc and told me it was up my alley. TOB is a smart dude; I really enjoyed reading about a bike race in Kansas. 

So much of what we post on this digest are stories orbiting sports we are familiar with, or even played. It’s rejuvenating to read about a sport and a race that I know very little about, and Patrick Redford does a great job explaining how this particular bike race is so different from what you might have in your mind. 

If big-time road racing, with its extremely slick facade and army of helpers ensuring that the sport resembles a straight-up fitness contest to the greatest degree possible, is a luxury yacht coasting along at a steady pace, gravel riding is a pirate ship, reveling in its shameless dirtiness. No wonder it’s cycling’s fastest-growing discipline.

So this Unbound race takes place in small town Kansas. It’s a 200+ mile bike race, and it’s all on gravel roads. Ever ridden your 10-speed on a gravel road when they are doing construction? Even for twenty yards, it’s, shall we say, uncomfortable. 

And you might be wondering, “Why do this?” I was. You might be thinking, “Just making something a sufferfest for the point of suffering, does that make it noteworthy or fun or worthwhile?” I was thinking that, but that misses the real draw to this race in the context of road races, especially in the United States. 

Those big-time races, with the “army of helpers,” are exclusive, whereas a race like Unbound brings world-class cyclists (and that caliber do show up to compete) and puts them on a course that makes them “relatable to everyone in the race,” Redford writes. Suffering is more relatable than winning. That’s the draw to these types of competitions. Finishing is the goal. That brings more bikers of varying levels together. That’s the type of vibe that makes a race popular, that grows a fringe sport’s participation. 

I read this story, and thought of those old pictures of the Tour de France, where competitors are drinking and smoking and eating bagets along the way. Those nascent stages of a race always look like a damn good time, and so does Unbound.

Good find, TOB! – PAL 

Source: Unbound Gravel, The Country’s Coolest Bike Race, Is A Beautiful Sufferfest”, Patrick Redford, Defector (06/07/21)


Cole and Bauer – Aces in the Making

Their roles in the sticky stuff debate notwithstanding, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer are two of the best handful of pitchers in baseball right now. But, other than their competitiveness, the similarities pretty much end there. They could not be much more different. And, ten years ago, they were stars on the same UCLA baseball team, destined to be drafted first (Cole) and third (Bauer) in the same draft. They did not exactly get along.

As the baseball bounded into foul territory, tracking toward the left-field corner at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles, the two competitors would bolt from the home dugout. They’d sprint on the dirt track, past the bullpen, and beeline for the ball. They were the top college pitchers in the country, chasing records, chasing greatness, chasing each other. Their parents would watch the footrace from the bleachers and wince.

An injury could cost their sons millions in the MLB draft and doom UCLA’s dreams of a College World Series title. But Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer couldn’t bear losing to the other.

“Those are two very competitive dudes,” says former UCLA pitcher Zack Weiss.

They were just college kids then, all potential and everything still to prove. They were UCLA’s pair of aces. They spit fire. They threw gas. They frustrated and fueled each other. This was before Cole and Bauer were drafted first and third overall in the 2011 Draft, before the big leagues, before the sticky-substances speculation, before they joined the Yankees and Dodgers, before they were the highest-paid pitchers in the game, before they were Cy Young candidates on World Series contenders in baseball’s biggest markets. Back then, they were starting back to back for the Bruins and battling for foul balls, side by side in the tinderbox of college baseball.

I find it fascinating when two (or more) great players are on the same team prior to being professionals. The above anecdote is just one example of how things were between these two. But this article does an excellent job of getting information, both on and off the record, about what went on behind the scenes when two hyper-competitive future aces competed together, and with each other. 

The article theorizes that Cole, a classically trained and natural pitcher, did not like that Bauer trained by his own methods. However, Bauer’s methods seem to work for him and many of those methods have become popular over the last ten years. The article also notes a quote from Bauer before their final year at UCLA, where Bauer says that Cole annoys him:

“It’s interesting: A lot of things (Cole) does —” Bauer pauses again, “— annoy me. We’re two different personalities. He’s very loud, kind of a vocal leader, in a sense. So at practices, he’s the one getting guys fired up — you know, ‘Yeah, great play!’ — that kind of stuff. I’m more of the sit-back, keep-to-myself, quiet, lead-by-example type. So when he’s out there yelling, for me it’s just like, ‘Oh Gerrit, just shut up.’ But I’m sure when I’m sitting there talking to someone about overlaying video and looking at pitch breaks and stuff like that, he’s probably sitting there thinking, ‘Oh Bauer, shut up.’ You know? So I think we have a pretty good relationship, for being two vastly, vastly different personality types.”

Bauer, of course, is notoriously an asshole – or worse, like in 2019 when he harassed a woman on Twitter for hours because she criticized him. Less is known about Bauer, who keeps a very low profile off the field. So this article was an interesting look at how these two became who they are now. Good read.

Source: ‘Why Do Those Two Clash?’ Inside the Legendary Gerrit Cole-Trevor Bauer Rivalry at UCLA,” 


DJ BC RAW 

Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is having a resurgent year. Resurgent is perhaps not the right word. He’s somehow, at age 34, better than ever. Crawford has had hot streaks before. For example, in June 2018 I wrote the following:

The Giants’ shortshop has been en fuego the last six weeks. He was hitting .190 heading into May, but after going 4-for-4 against the Nats on Sunday, was sitting at .338 for the season, after hitting .412 in May and (thus far) .539 in June. The dude hit .412 for a month and nearly halfway through the next month is hitting more than 125 points better! Uh, holy cow?

Something about this feels different. For one thing, the power is there in a way it never has. In that 2018 season I wrote about, Crawford ended the season with a 100 OPS+ – an exactly league average hitter – and 14 home runs. But this season, he already has 15 home runs. It’s mid-June! He’s only once hit more than 14 – when he hit 21 in 2015. His OPS+ is 139. This continues Crawford’s improvements in the short 2020 season, when he hit 8 home runs in just 54 games.

FanGraphs’ Luke Hooper did a short but excellent breakdown of Crawford’s swing changes since 2020. It’s pretty interesting.

Two big changes should jump out to you: hand placement and a more open stance. In 2019, Crawford was quite upright, almost leaning backward, before starting his swing. Now he seems to be in a more meaningful hitting position from the start. His stance is built with more purpose, with his front leg open, possibly as a way to provide better balance with a more hunched upper body and extended arms, and his hands are far from his body with a much quieter setup overall.

2020, of course, coincides with the new hitting staff under Giants manager Gabe Kapler. That staff has led a resurgence with a host of Giants vets, most notable Crawford, Posey, and Longoria, all of whom looked toast by the end of 2019, and are all somehow as good or better than ever. Don’t worry. I’ll be taking my victory lap on my optimism (cautious as though it might have been) a little later in the season, for now I want to discuss Crawford.

Crawford is a free agent after this year, and if he keeps hitting (and fielding) like this, the Giants will have quite the decision to make in the offseason. CHeading into this season, fans were eyeing the free agent shortstop class – Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien, and until he signed an extension with the Mets, Francisco Lindor. But Crawford is out playing them all – he’s 9th in MLB in both WAR and OPS. In fact, the only shortstop playing better than him is Fernando Tatis, Jr., who may end up the NL MVP.

These decisions are a two-way street, of course. Crawford reportedly lives in Arizona in the offseason these days, which why. But Crawford grew up in the Bay Area, and the Giants were his favorite team.

He recently became the all-time Giants lead in games played at shortstop. He also just hit ten years in the league. And, of course, the Giants were his favorite team growing up – the story is too perfect for him to leave. It will be truly gross if he goes to the Diamondbacks (ugh) for a couple years. I’m not one for sentimentality, but if he’s still good (and he absolutely is), then I think the Giants should do what they need to do to keep him. -TOB

Source: How Brandon Crawford’s New Swing Turned Things Around,” Luke Hooper, Fangraphs (06/07/2021)


Keep the U.S. Open Public…At Least Sometimes

Of course, part of the brilliance in Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore is how both movies make an absolute mockery of country club stereotypes associated with golf. In one, you find yourself pulling for a caddy, and the other, you’re rooting for the enforcer in a Bruins jersey. Beneath all the humor is some feel-good, middle-class vindication. In both of those movies the spirit of the local muni golf course is, at least indirectly, celebrated. 

As the U.S. Open gets rolling this year, it’s important to note that the site, Torey Pines, is a municipal course operated by the city of San Diego. Much like Harding Park in San Francisco, or Bethpage Black in New York, these courses are open and, at least to city residents, relatively affordable to play. 

It’s cool when the United State Open, which is a tournament truly open to anyone who qualifies, is played on courses that are also open to anyone to play. It’s a meaningful symmetry. 

Which is why I was so bummed to read this story from The New York Times. The gist of it, ℅ Paul Sullivan: 

As the U.S. Open moves to more of a fixed rotation of courses — known as a rota — this week’s tournament could be the end of an era when the United States Golf Association experimented with hosting Opens on truly public courses.

Pebble Beach Golf Links in California and Pinehurst in North Carolina are set to host several U.S. Opens in the coming years, but neither could be considered truly public because people pay thousands of dollars a night to stay in their lodges if they want to be able to pay hundreds of dollars to play the course. Of the next six courses that the U.S.G.A. has announced through 2027, none will be truly public.

LAME. 

Why take a good idea—sprinkling in some of the best munis as U.S. Open sites—and replace it with a lame idea (sprinkling in some of the best private courses as U.S. Open sites)? 

Apparently, convenience. 

There are practical, financial reasons for returning to the same venues regularly, but the switch may come at another cost, to the public venues and the geographic diversity that brought the national championship to new markets.

“The wonderful thing about the Open when it was rotating is you got to see so many different places,” said Michael Hurzdan, who designed Erin Hills. “Different horses for different courses. There’s a lot to be said for that. When you go to the rota, something’s going to be lost.”

Amen, Hurzdan!

Bring the U.S. Open back to Munis! – PAL 

Source:At the U.S. Open, Public Courses Are Losing”, Paul Sullivan, The New York Times (06/16/21)
TOB: This feels like the consultification (a word I think I just made up) of golf. The PGA wanted to increase profits so they brought in McKinsey or some other awful consulting firm and said, “How can we increase profits 5%?” So the McKinsey guys looked at the numbers and said, “If you limit the number of places you travel, you can have more of an existing infrastructure, thus saving you some cash.” The shepherds of our sports are failing us.


An Ode to the Diamondbacks, Perhaps the Worst Team of All-Time

That is perhaps an exaggeration. But consider the last two months of Diamondbacks baseball. The team started the season a very respectable 15-13. In that stretch, Madison Bumgarner threw a 7-inning no hitter to bring the team to 11-11. And that game is when the Diamondbacks seemed to light themselves on fire. 

Since Bumgarner’s no-hitter, the Diamondbacks have not won a road game. Not one. That was April 25, almost two full months ago. 23 straight road losses. That, if you’re wondering, is indeed a record. 23 straight road losses! That’s 1/6 of a full season! They set the record on Thursday in San Francisco, a day game I had the joy of attending, as the Giants hitters battered Arizona’s best pitcher (Zac Gallen) and its bullpen all game long, winning 10-3. But the real pain was on Tuesday – the Diamondbacks jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the second inning. The Giants kept chipping away, though, and in the bottom of the 8th Mike Yastrzemski hit a 2-out, 2-strike grand friggin slam into McCovey Cove. It was a great moment for the Giants, but seemed to kill the Diamondbacks’ spirits. 

Now, look, 23-straight road losses is very bad. It’s sorta unbelievable. But what I did not realize until after that game is that the Diamondbacks aren’t winning much at home, either. In fact, in their last 31 games overall, the team is 2-29. TWO wins and TWENTY NINE losses. That is IMPOSSIBLE. 

The worst baseball teams of the modern era are probably either the 1962 Mets (120 losses) or the 2003 Tigers (119 losses). Those Tigers were outscored by 337 runs (591 to 928). They started the season 3-25. Later they had 2 for 23 and 1 for 17 streaks. Their longest losing streak was 11. They were shutout 17 times. They were awful.
But the DBacks are worse! They would kill for 3-25 right now. They are in the middle of a 15-game losing stream, having already ended a previous 14-game losing streak. There is of course plenty of time for the DBacks to turn this around and play respectable baseball again. It’s a team of veterans and I don’t actually think they end up close to 120 losses. But for 1/5 of the season they are on a ten win and 150 loss pace. That’s a big enough sample size to take note. So as I said at the outset – calling them the worst team of all time may be an exaggeration, but they are certainly in one of the worst, if not the worst, two month stretches of all time. We should start paying attention.

-TOB


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Oh, understudies are a very shifty bunch. The substitute teachers of the theater world.

-Cosmo Kramer

Week of June 11, 2021

Tom Ammiano earned this varsity letter in 1958 and received it 50+ years later. Read why it matters so much that he received it here.


Pulling for Smooth

Earlier this week, Giants play-by-play announcer, Duane Kuiper, released a statement saying he would be missing some games as he undergoes chemotherapy for an unspecified illness. I was surprised by how the news stopped me. Friends and family, people we actually know and love dearly get sick all of the time; why did the play-by-play guy’s illness leave me dazed?

After a moment, it’s obvious, right? These announcers are voices in our lives nearly every day for six months. We do know them. They are in our family rooms most every night, stuck with us in traffic, the background conversation at any true sports bar that will have the audio on with the game. 

Duane Kuiper, a.k.a. ‘Smooth’, and Mike Krukow have been here with me since I moved to San Francisco in the summer of 2004. They are, without question, they best baseball broadcast duo I’ve ever heard. There’s so much I could say about the nuance to the mastery of them calling a game together, but the best compliment I can give is this: My wife loves them and so do I. The two of us watch Giants games very differently, and yet these guys somehow have the perfect tone for a very casual viewer in her and someone that has an in depth understanding of the gamer. They are the very rare combo where both the play-by-play and color commentator are former players.

While it comes as no surprise, I was nodding along as I read Bruce Jenkins’ column, which included a handful of fans trying to summarize why they love Kruk and Kuip so much.

Constance Prodromou, acupuncturist and energy healer at the Marin Health Empowerment Center (of course she is): 

But they’re just the best in baseball with their wit and wisdom, always sharing great stories about the game and explaining things beyond the play-by-play. I feel like I know so much about them from their work. If I ever got to meet them, I could talk to them as longtime friends.

Ann Walsh, a retired schoolteacher/PG&E employee: 

There’s just something about the chemistry between Kruk and Kuip, they cover all of the bases. Even when I’m at the games, I bring my earphones in case there’s something I need explaining. Problem with that is, people around you think you’re the bible (laughs). Like, ‘What did Duane say? Do you agree with him?’

I couldn’t agree more with bartender Nick Shapiro when he says, “That’s one of the great things for me — they are the perfect combination of being homers, yet objective. You know where their heart lies, but they call it straight.”

There’s a massive fanbase sending good vibes Duane Kuiper’s way. Join us! – PAL

Source: “‘I know Duane feels it’: Mike Krukow, Giants community rallying behind Kuiper”, Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle (06/08/21)


The Great Substance Debacle in MLB

Let’s get you up to speed: Pitchers in MLB are using this stuff called Spider Tack to increase the grip and, more importantly, revolutions on the baseball. It makes a huge difference. Imagine a batting glove that allowed a hitter to increase good contact by 25%. That’s pretty much what’s happening with pitchers and spider tack: a 25% improvement.

Pitching is dominating baseball this year. I mean, did you read TOB’s summary about the 6 no-hitters that have already taken place this season, or did you check out that Jayson Stark story I wrote about a few weeks ago detailing how hitters are striking out at a historic rate, and singles and doubles are disappearing from the game?

Offense other than home runs is quickly fading away from the game, and MLB baseball is not a great product these days. Some can blame the prevalence of defensive shifts. Or there’s launch angle for hitters and the general ambivalence they have to striking out? And then there are pitchers throwing damn near unhittable stuff. 

Baseball knows it has a problem, because they are experimenting with all sorts of crazy solutions in the minors (moving the mound back one foot, banning spider tack, regulating shifts to name three experiments taking place). They’ve taken even a step further, attempting to now regulate Spider Tack use in MLB – mid-season. For a couple of baseball junkies, this is a big story, so I wanted to share a few of the more interesting reads on the topic. 

For a general overview of what the actual hell is going on with pitchers using substances (which they’ve done forever), check out this story from Ken Rosenthal and Eno Sarris. It breaks down how Spider Tack is a departure from the usual grip suspects and why it matters so much. It’s a meat & potatoes story on what’s going on and why it’s important. Here’s one nugget:

This revelation has a chance to help baseball navigate this difficult space. For pitchers who are truly just looking to grip the ball and avoid hitting batters, there’s a de facto grip substance that cannot be policed and is readily available. For pitcher looking to increase their spin rate by 500 RPM and their breaking ball stuff by a third, baseball can provide the fines and suspensions it takes to reduce the steady advancing march in league spin rates.

Baseball doesn’t need to do a thing about sunscreen and rosin to arrest this trend, it turns out. Just getting rid of the highly engineered tacky substances might very well be good enough.

And for Spider Tack origin story (spoiler alert: invented by a strongman competitor to help keep a grip on those atlas stones), check out this piece from Stephen Nesbit. Here’s a fun bit:

A little amateur sleuthing leads to a LinkedIn profile, then another, then an address, then a phone number, and then I’m cold-calling a pharmaceuticals lab on the outskirts of Denver. The woman who answers the phone patches me through to the lab’s president and CEO, Mike Caruso. He is willing to talk. He is a retired strongman, once one of the strongest men in America. At 40, he’s still so muscular he looks like he could crush a baseball with his hands.

This is the man who invented Spider Tack.

And he is confused about why I’m calling. When I ask Caruso what he thinks about his tacky — that’s the term among strongmen and strongwomen — becoming the talk of baseball, he answers cautiously.

“This is news to me,” he says. “I had no idea it was popular in baseball.”

Of course, there are other variables at play besides Spider Tack. As Hall of Famer Rod Carew outlines in this podcast summary, hitters are reluctant to strategically respond to the defensive shifts (other than try to hit homers). Yes; Carew sounds a bit old in this approach – because it’s not like teams are playing 3 infielders on the one side of the infield when speedsters like Byron Buxton or Billy Hamilton hit – but the broader point is correct. Hitters do need to counter the defensive strategies of the day, but it has to be said that is one hell of a task.

Hitters react to what the pitcher throws; pitchers and defense dictate the terms of engagement so to speak. Carew talks about too much guessing going on. And he’s probably right, but I have to wonder if that’s because these dudes are all throwing 100 with nasty off-speed that’s moving a third more than usual, thanks to that spider tack.

Carew:

I think the shift is overrated, and I’m disappointed in the players who don’t try to take advantage by making adjustments to go the other way. So many kids in today’s game are guessers. They’re guessing what the pitch is going to be instead of learning how to track the ball and then having an idea of what they want to do with it. I learned how to track the ball by trying to pick the ball up out of a pitcher’s hands and reacting to that instead of trying to guess along.

So there you have it; an abbreviated guide to what’s cooking with this spin rate spider tack story in baseball. – PAL

Sources: How the difference between sunscreen and advanced grip substances could help MLB navigate tricky enforcement landscape”, Ken Rosenthal & Eno Sarris, The Athletic (4/21/21); “Spider Tack is the stickiest stuff in baseball’s foreign-substance controversy. Its inventor had no idea”, Stephen Nesbit, The Athletic (06/07/21); “Rod Carew: Pitchers have always cheated; hitters need new approach”, Michael Rand, Star Tribune (06/09/21)


Pick A Winner

Love the premise of this story from Tyler Kepner: of all the thousands of prospects selected in the Major League Draft, which player turned out the best for his team? 

For the purposes of his story, Kepner uses WAR as his measurement (Wins Above Replacement accounts for hitting, baserunning, defense. It also takes into account position, era, and ballpark). And by that measure, Mike Schmidt (30th pick)was the best selection in the history of the draft (the first amatuer draft was held in 1965, with Rick Monday going to the Cubs).

It helps, of course, that Schmidt played all 18 years with the Phillies while amassing 3 MVPs, 10 Gold Gloves, 500+ home runs and over 1500 RBI (and a lot of strikeouts, but we’ll give him a pass).

Kepner’s story then goes on to share the legend of the scout who discovered Schmidt: Tony Lucadello. 

And while Kepner describes Lucadello as a scout who would’ve  “fit well in the early scenes of ‘Moneyball,’ where graying scouts talk about “the good face” and the sound of the ball off the bat”, he also signed 52 players who would make it to the bigs over his career. At the time, in 1980, that was more than all of the other Phillies’ scouts combined. 

I have no feelings about Mike Schmidt one way or the other. He was just before my time as a baseball nut, but I liked the idea of the story, and the details of how Mike Schmidt was discovered. Good read. – PAL

Source: The Greatest Draft Pick Ever”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (06/06/21)

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Week of June 4, 2021

Looking for an alternative to a game of only strikeouts or homers? college softball and baseball are pretty great alternative to the MLB game. Unseeded James Madison just pulled off a huge upset over #1 Oklahoma in the College World Series. 


Where Do You Fall On Coach K?

News broke this week that the upcoming college basketball season will be Mike Krzyzewski’s last at Duke. That will be his 47th season coaching college basketball, which means he’s been a sports figure for my entire life and then some. In fact, I remember watching Laettner hit the buzzer beater against Kentucky in the 92’ Elite Eight with my future brother-in-law and all his college friends that road tripped to Minnesota from Omaha for a U2 concert.

We know he’s won more than any other men’s college basketball coach. The 12 Final Four appearances, 97 NCAA tournament wins, 5 national titles, and a winning percentage north of 75% for about a half century makes for an unparalleled resume. 

What’s perhaps equally incredible is how ‘Coach K’ built a wholesome, moral reputation of the student athlete line of crud when, at least for the second half of his career, he’s basically followed the same path less desirable coaches and recruited players who were never going to stay for the full college experience like Laettner and Bobby Hurley (Grant Hill, of course, left early), or even for a full academic year. It was a transactional relationship on the players’ way to the NBA, and that would be fine if he didn’t feel the urge to pontificate about the way things ought to be/the way things were back in his West Point days under the choker Bobby Knight. 

So he was incredibly successful. Iconic in a way only coaches can attain in college sports, and he lectured journalism students about why their questions sucked…that’s why you have these two headlines posted in the days after his announcement: 

From The Ringer: “Coach K Built A Basketball Empire”

And from Defector: “See You Later To The Butthead”

I thought it would be fun to pull two selects from these articles trying to encapsulate the same legend.

Michael Baumann (The Ringer):

In achievement and longevity, Krzyzewski transcends his contemporaries and should be regarded as a figure of world-historical sporting import. He’s in a class with Roy Williams and John Calipari, yes, but also Pat Summitt and John Wooden, and the likes of Bill Belichick and Sir Alex Ferguson. These are epoch-spanning, history-bending figures, viewed in their own corners of sporting history as fathers of empire, like George Washington or Charlemagne.

Albert Burneko (Defector)

He is also, inarguably, the greatest self-promoter in the college game’s history, a thin-skinned and viciousbully, a sanctimonious scold, and petty soreloser who has (mostly) successfully portrayed himself as a humble and principled educator and molder of honorable men over the nearly half a century during which he reaped fortune and acclaim beyond measure off the work of unpaid laborers. 


I’ll leave you with this: I am very skeptical of anyone that announces a retirement before his/her last season, thereby welcoming a farewell tour. It’s such a lame and thirsty move. – PAL


Sources: Coach K Built A Basketball Empire”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (06/02/21); “See You Later To This Butthead”, Albert Burneko, The Ringer (06/03/21)


The Playoffs Are Now LeBron-less

The Suns eliminated the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, and for what seems like the first time in my adult life, LeBron James will not be playing in the NBA Finals. The Lakers weren’t a playoff team in 2018 – the rebuild was still in process for LeBron’s first year. Other than that, LeBron teams have shown up to the Finals every year since 2011. Incredible. 

Last year, he and Anthony Davis, the most talented sidekick LeBron’s ever had, blitzed through the bubble playoffs, but injuries to both Davis and LeBron proved too much this go round, especially . 

At 36, LeBron is 18 seasons into his career. Tack on the equivalent of 3.24 seasons in playoffs games played to that, too. What he’s done to stay as healthy and athletic as he has over that amount of time, wear and tear is far more impressive to me than Tom Brady standing in the pocket playing QB at age 43.

After a first round loss, the first time in his career a LeBron team hasn’t advanced past the first round, folks are dying to write the “Father Time is undefeated” story about LeBron. Few writers are as perfectly equipped as Ray Ratto is to handle such a tired storyline and make it actually stand out as worthy to share. Ratto does a nice little trick here: he writes the father time story, but warns people about being too quick to put LeBron in that category. Smart. He’s saying LeBron’s not there…yet, so he can write about the athlete being passed his prime without saying he’s passed it. 

Ratto starts with the following: “The end of the LeBron James era has been prophesied for years, which is the main reason it has been so remarkable—the sheer number of years that everyone has been wrong.”

LeBron’s was still one of the five best players in the league this year – so smart, so strong, so athletic (still), but in an era when all contenders have multiple all-NBA players, LeBron can no longer get by with anything less that top tier talent sharing the load. Anthony Davis was a force in the playoff run last year, but he’s an injury magnet. He went down with another (aggravated a recent injury) within minutes of this game, and the Suns pounced. 

Gone are the games in LeBron’s career when he can pretty much beat a great opponent by himself. Instead of looking to the future, as Ratto does, this Suns loss has me appreciating even more how incredible it was to watch a 2018 LeBron bully his way to 51 points against the stacked Warriors (Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green), nearly stealing the first game of the series against one of the best teams ever assembled.

Look at that. He’s going schoolyard on the Warriors. Forcing his way to whatever shot he wants. Dominant. 

So while it makes sense to ponder what comes next for LeBron after the Suns loss, I am less interested in that than I am interested in remembering how incredible he’s been. – PAL 


Source: Rome Didn’t Fall In A Day”, Ray Ratto, Defector (06/04/21)


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Holly is sweet, and simple. Like a lady baker. I- would not be surprised to find out that she had worked in a bakery before coming here. She has that kind of warmth. I’m pretty sure she’s baked on a professional level.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 28, 2021


The Dumbest Defensive Play in MLB History? Or the Smartest Baserunning in MLB History?

Look, there have been a lot of baseball plays in MLB history. Best I can tell, through Wednesday’s games, there have in fact been 11,372,469 balls in play (plate appearances minus strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch, and intentional walks). 11 million! That’s a lot. So I am going out on a limb when I say that I think Thursday’s Pirates/Cubs game featured the dumbest defensive play in MLB history. I’m open to other suggestions, of course. But the following play is just so incredibly dumb it’s hard to sit here and fathom a dumber play. 

So now let’s break it down. 

The scene: The Cubs are up 1-0 in the third. There’s a runner on second. There are two outs. I repeat: there are TWO outs. This is a very important fact. The Cubs’ Javy Baez, one of the smartest players in MLB, is at bat.

Baez hits a routine grounder to third. Here you can see the Pirates’ third baseman Erik Gonzalez preparing to field the ball, as Cubs catcher Willson Contrerars heads for third. 

Gonzalez fields the ball cleanly and makes the throw to first. Here we see Pirates’ first baseman Will Craig awaiting the throw, as Baez approaches first. As a reminder: there are TWO outs.

Next we see Craig has stepped off the bag to receive the throw, which was just a little up the line toward home. Baez appears to already be thinking about his next move, as he has begun to stop.

Craig at that point has a decision. Reminder: there are two outs. Does he turn around and step on first base? Sure, that would make sense. It would be the third out and the inning would be over. Or does he run Baez down and tag him out? Honestly, that works, too. Even if Contreras comes around to score before Baez is out, the run would not count unless Baez safely makes it to first base at some point during the play. Craig goes with the latter. Sure, why not.

Baez retreats all the way to the plate. This is where Craig makes his first mistake. As you can see, he notices Contreras running from third to home. But remember, that doesn’t matter unless Baez makes it safely to first. Craig forgets this fact and/or panics. Craig takes the ball out of his glove and holds it up like he is throwing home.

The catcher then makes his first mistake. 

He holds up his glove, ready to receive the ball. There is no force at home and the run will not count unless Baez gets to first, from which he is now 85 feet away from, with a player holding the ball in his path. The catcher should be screaming, like the announcers, TAG HIM. He should be refusing the ball in order to knock some sense into Craig. Nope. He puts up his glove. So Craig throws it, an absolutely inexplicable decision.

But all is not lost. The catcher caught the ball! This seems easy enough. Tag Baez or throw to first. But he instead tries to tag Contreras. Ok, I mean, it’s risky, but I guess. Contreras beats the tag. Again, all is not lost! All they need to do is tag Baez or throw to first. Baez, inexplicably, does not break for first but instead turns around to help the umpire with the safe call. 

Baez immediately realizes his mistake and breaks for first. The catcher also finally gets his head on straight and looks to throw to first.

But, folks, there is nobody home. I have no idea where the second baseman is and why he’s not covering the bag. I also have no idea why Craig didn’t retreat to first after he threw to second. Both huge mistakes. Finally, we see Frazier, the second baseman, come into view, coming from all the way across the diamond. Why he was over there is also inexplicable. 

And there we see the problem. Baez might beat Frazier to the bag. In fact he does, in part because the catcher makes a horrendous throw, way too far from the bag and behind Frazier.

The ball in fact skips by Frazier, Baez sprints to second, the Cubs bench goes bananas. Absolutely ape shit. Rizzo might have coughed up a lung.

God dang, man. Let’s watch it together.

Now I ask you – isn’t that the dumbest defensive play in MLB history? There were so many ways to execute that play and at almost every turn the Pirates took the worst and/or riskiest and/or dumbest and/or most complicated route. They forgot one of the most simple concepts in the game – a run can’t score with two outs unless the batter safely reaches first, and then completely blew up. 

For his part, Javy Baez was classic Baez – an absolute pest that made this all happen just by doing something unusual and making every Pirates’ player’s brain go haywire. And for that reason, while the defensive play was incredibly dumb, Javy’s play might also have been the smartest base running I’ve ever seen, too. As always in baseball – put pressure on the defense. They might do something stupid.

Making it even worse – those two runs ended up being pretty important. The Pirates lost 5-3. -TOB


The A’s Are Full of Shit

Pictured: Con Man

The A’s, while still marketing themselves as “Rooted in Oakland,” are very publicly threatening to dig up those roots and move elsewhere. Reportedly meeting recently with officials in Portland, Vegas and perhaps elsewhere, the A’s president Dave Kaval drew a line in the sand last week, stating in an interview with Scott Ostler that for the A’s, they either get a new stadium at the Howard Terminal location or they are leaving Oakland.

“That’s why we’re at a point now where really in Oakland, it’s Howard Terminal or bust.

Prior to that interview, MLB released a statement saying the Coliseum site “is not a viable option.” Kaval explained that modern, successful ballparks are in downtown settings, and agreed that the Coliseum site is not viable. Ostler pressed Kaval on that in the following exchange:

Chronicle: But if your Howard Terminal plans fall through, why would the Coliseum not be viable, considering the public access and other positives that many feel make that spot viable?

Kaval: I think it’s important to recognize that two teams have already left the site, both the Warriors and the Raiders. So it has not shown itself, from a market perspective, to be a location that’s viable for 21st century professional sports. … So you have the teams that have left, (and) you have the fact that the most successful locations are in the downtown urban environment.

But Ostler should have pressed harder because Kaval’s statement is an absolute load of horse shit. The Warriors and Raiders did not leave because the Coliseum site is not a viable option. The Warriors left because they wanted to go to San Francisco. But it had nothing to do with the Coliseum site itself. In fact, the Warriors consistently drew big and raucous crowds, even in down years for the team. Similarly, the Raiders left because they wanted a new stadium…somewhere. The stadium itself is a dump. But the Raiders would have stayed if they got a new stadium at the Coliseum site. As with the Warriors, the Raiders leaving had nothing to do with the Coliseum site. 

Which is why Kaval should be roasted for this. -TOB

Source: Dave Kaval on A’s Future in Oakland: ‘It’s Howard Terminal or Bust,’” Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle (05/21/2021)

PAL: Just trying to figure out the reasons for the delay on the Howard Terminal site takes some work and government decoding of lawsuits from dock worker unions, environmental impact reports, delays on governor approvals for expedited reviews. I can only imagine how frustrating a process like this would be for ownership that wants to build and pay for a new stadium…

Oh, that’s right; the A’s want the taxpayers to pay for the lion’s share of the proposed development. Since the team is asking for money from the taxpayers, then they are subject to all that government red tape. And when the team doesn’t get what it wants, Kaval can make up crap about the need to be in downtown locations (not the case for Texas Rangers or Atlanta Braves). 

With every one of these stadium stories that has come up over the past several years, my appreciation for the Giants ownership grows. They paid for the stadium, and I’ve become more and more convinced that public financing of stadiums is a scam. Owning a sports team is a great investment for people or groups who can afford it. Let super rich people build the stadium and profit off of their investments. Keep it simple. It will really stink to have all of the Oakland-based teams leave within a few years, but a team and ownership shouldn’t hold its city hostage whenever it wants new digs.


No Onions? That’s a Problem: A Good Rant About Condiments

I love a good rant, and this is a really good one by Defector’s Kelsey McKinney. Kelsey attended a Washington Nationals game this week, and she is upset that the Nats removed the traditional hot dog condiment bar for…a robot. Kelsey sets the scene:

I love a hot dog. To me, it is important to consume no fewer than 30 hot dogs or summer never happened. Last year, for example, there was no summer. But this year, I am determined. It is the end of May and I had already eaten eight hot dogs going into last night. And where, I ask you, is a better place to eat a hot dog than in a baseball stadium’s folding chair? Nowhere. The constant distraction makes your dog taste better.

I assure you that Phil read that paragraph and nodded along vigorously.

Next, Kelsey sets up the conflict.

My friend Hannah went with me, and she obtained the first round of hot dogs. Another important belief I have is that hot dogs should be consumed in rounds, as a treat.

When Hannah came back with the hot dogs, she warned me: “There was no relish.” AWFUL! But things became worse. My mustard was all clumped in one spot. This was inconvenient but I am really brave, so I simply used my finger to move my mustard around a little bit. But where was the relish? I like a hot dog to have many things on it. Where were the unevenly diced onions that fall from the mouth of the onion crank too quickly? There were none.

I’m not a big relish guy, but a hot dog definitely needs onions! You need that crunch. And the clump of mustard? What? I’m with Kelsey – this is not good, and it’s about to get worse. Later, Kelsey goes to get the “second round of hot dogs” (LOL) and here’s what she encounters:

In case you have never had a day of fun in your life and are unfamiliar with the condiment island, it is a place that is historically home to giant gallon pumps of condiments. You put your hot dog under the spout and press the lever and the condiment comes out. This makes intuitive sense. Everyone likes it. The condiments are all separate.

But this island had been ruined, redeveloped by people who didn’t understand its culture. The jugs of delicious condiments had been replaced by two shiny machines that looked like espresso makers. 

Oh, this sounds AWFUL. I found a picture online.

The picture doesn’t look terrible but as Kelsey explains, they absolutely are. 

They work like this: You put your hot dog underneath the single spout. Then three hand signals light up. You place your hand (Without touching! No touching!) over the one that you want, and the machine glugs out the condiment. You cannot control when it stops. You cannot control the pace. The condiments were limited to the runny ones: ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, honey mustard, dijon mustard. No relish. No mayo. No onion crank!!

And here’s the money rant:

This was awful. The condiment island had fallen victim to the dopey hygiene theater that sports teams have been deploying throughout the pandemic, and continue to insist upon even though we all know now that the coronavirus doesn’t do much spreading via surfaces. The gluggy jugs were fine! They were good, even. I liked using them!! This all felt especially ridiculous since the signage at the stadium indicated that people who were vaccinated did not have to wear masks. So many people were walking around without masks and then being forced to use this terrible robot.

Gluggy jugs made me chuckle. So did Kelsey telling a Nats employee, “It seems like these things suck.” Solid rant. -TOB

Source: They Ruined The Damn Condiment Island,” Kelsey McKinney, Defector (05/25/2021)

PAL:

  1. I think I should have a hotdog for lunch. 
  2. A day game with hotdog and beer is heaven
  3. McKinney is right – give me a dog with a lot of condiments on it. Onions, mustard, relish at a minimum. Hell, put some kraut on a dog, too. Load me up.
  4. Do we need a friggin’ automated experience for every goddamn moment of our life? What is wrong with the long, spindle spoon and metal trough of onions and relish? 
  5. I really want a hot dog. 
  6. This was a hilarious story. 

Revisiting Jackass

(Jackass is at least sports-adjacent, right? Well, I say it is and so I’m going to write about it, having read this interesting GQ story about Johnny Knoxville, now 50 (FIFTY!!!!!) years old, and putting the final touches on Jackass 4 (FOUR!), which is set to be released in October.)

Jackass hit MTV in fall 2000, when I was 18. This seems to be about the perfect age to have a show like Jackass come into one’s life. I was old enough that these guys were more or less my peers – most of them are just a few years older than me, but also old enough to not be stupid enough to try to recreate any of their stunts. 

When Jackass first aired, I was ready. The concept was not foreign to me, nor were many of the stars. My friend Hank had ordered the CKY2K VHS out of Big Brother magazine and the tape was passed around our school like wildfire. If you’ve never seen the video, it was part band video, part skate video, part precursor to Jackass. Just a bunch of dudes doing dumb stuff for a laugh. And we LOVED it. The star was Bam Margera, who would soon become part of the Jackass crew, as co-star/second banana to Johnny Knoxville, who had his own crew doing similar things. Here’s the full CKY2K movie, if you have an hour:

Bam’s crew and Johnny’s crew merged and Jackass was formed. It was a huge hit, as Knoxville says now:

“It all happened so fast—I don’t know how,” Knoxville said. “We were on the air, and ratings exploded, and I’m on the cover of Rolling Stone. It just happened in an instant.”

The show had no story – it was just a collection of bits. I guess you could call it a sketch physical comedy/stunt show. As the article says: “What they assembled was possibly the most efficient show in the history of television: Bits were rarely more than a minute or two long, and some of the strongest topped out at 15 seconds. It was wall-to-wall mayhem.” 

I am sure plenty of women liked the show, but it was immensely popular among basically every guy I knew. Here’s the writer’s experience, which mirrors mine in some ways (though he is younger than me):

I was 11 at the time. I cannot describe how powerfully it reordered my sense of what was funny; nor can I express how rapidly it permeated the fundamental grammar of my friendships. The first stunt that captured my attention, I told Knoxville, was a relatively simple one: Nutball, where participants strip down to their underwear, sit with their legs splayed, and take turns lobbing a racquetball at each other’s crotches. If you flinched, you lost. If you didn’t flinch, you won—but also, you lost.

“Nutball!” he howled, momentarily flooded with nostalgia. “Me and my buddy Kevin Scruggs made that up when we were 10 in my parents’ living room.”

In so many ways, Jackass was nothing more than that: the kind of shit boys do to make each other laugh, stretched into 22 minutes. It was a demolition derby starring human Looney Tunes. Knoxville, naturally, was Bugs Bunny, the stick of dynamite not quite hidden behind his back. His costars were a rowdy band of fuckups: skaters and stunt performers and one enormous guy and one Wee Man and, in Steve-O, one Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College graduate with an easy gag reflex. They appeared to genuinely love one another—but to only be able to show that love through increasingly baroque forms of torture.

The article is very interesting – I learned a lot I didn’t know about Johnny Knoxville (real name: P.J. Clapp) (original aspiration: to be a famous actor). And it was sad, too. Many of the stars have lived hard – Ryan Dunn died in a terrible car accident about ten years ago, for example. Bam Margera is not in Jackass 4 because, reportedly, he could not or would not agree to get clean for filming. The bright spot is Steve-O, who defied all odds in surviving the last twenty years, having gotten clean back in 2008. 

But more than anything else this article was a fun dose of nostalgia. Not just remembering the characters and the show and the stunts and the bits, but remembering that time in my life – 18, 19 years old, sitting in Joe’s den late at night laughing at dumb videos of dudes doing dumb things, with Joe and Danny and Stacy and Jim and Hank and probably more. Man, those were good times. Jackass really captures that time for me, and I’m sure for a lot of people, when I had barely a care in the world, other than having fun with my friends. So this week, after reading the article, I watched Jackass 3. I am not positive I had seen it before. I think by the time it came out, in 2010, I decided I had outgrown the show.

Man, I was wrong! I was so wrong. I was cackling and howling throughout the movie. At one point, my wife popped her head in.

“Are you watching Jackass?” 

“Yes.”

She walked right out without comment. Which is how it should be. -TOB

Source: Johnny Knoxville’s Last Rodeo,” Sam Schube, GQ (05/25/2021)

PAL:

Close enough to sports! This story is so well-written. One of the best things I’ve read in 2021. TOB does a great job highlighting the odd yet powerful nostalgia Jackass retains, especially for guys around our age, and Schube does a great job putting Knoxville and the show into a broader context of how television and entertainment has evolved in the last quarter century. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from Sam Schube’s story:

And stranger still, this once seemingly frivolous spectacle that emerged from the margins of entertainment seemed to predict where a huge chunk of our culture was headed.

It was easy at the time to describe Jackass as lowest-common-denominator entertainment, a feeble nadir in TV’s race to the bottom. With time, though, it became clear that the show was operating at the intersection of a number of ancient American traditions. If you squinted, you could see traces of Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges. Knoxville’s outlaw influences were present too. Spike Jonze told me that he and Tremaine and Knoxville hadn’t discussed how the stunts might be introduced on the show, so Knoxville improvised what would become a signature opening to each segment. “He started saying, ‘Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville and this is the Cup Test,’ or whatever it was,” Jonze wrote in an email. “Only later, I remember listening to Johnny Cash Live, and hearing Johnny Cash say, ‘Hi, I’m Johnny Cash and this is “Folsom Prison Blues,” ’ and a lightbulb went off. I was like, damn…no wonder it’s so iconic.”

They’d managed to film only 24 episodes and a special, but MTV recycled the material endlessly. (“For 10 years,” Knoxville said.) Despite its brevity, the show was able to graze, or even predict, a number of emerging cultural trends. It helped hasten MTV’s shift to reality-based content. Hollywood began to throw money at films—Old School, Step Brothers, The Hangover—about stunted, self-thwarting men. Platforms like YouTube, Vine, and TikTok, which would build billion-dollar businesses atop clips of people doing stupid things, were years away.

He started seeing a therapist. There were limits: He told her he wasn’t interested in exploring the part of him that wanted to do stunts. “I know that needs looking at,” he said. “But I didn’t want to break the machine.”


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Song – Sturgill Simpson – “Hero”


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“Wow, graphs and charts. Somebody’s really been doing their homework. Looks like USA Today.”

Michael Scott

Week of May 21, 2022

A True Arteest’s Rendering of a Very Happy Family.

Congrats, PAL!


Will the No-Hitter Epidemic Force Baseball to Change?

For the past few years, baseball has gotten a lot less active. Strikeouts are up. Hits are down. Yes, home runs are up. But balls in play are way down. There’s just a lot less action to watch. Things have gotten extreme this year, though. In an attempt to curtail the home run surge, MLB changed the ball. But they did so ignoring that if hitters weren’t hitting home runs, they weren’t doing much of anything at all. So take all those other changes I listed and then drastically drop the home run rate and you’ve got very little offense. In fact, teams are averaging just 7.82 hits per game, the second lowest ever behind 1908, and 8.98 strikeouts per game (the most ever).

In very related news, the league is off to a record setting pace for no-hitters. There have already been six, including two this week, and not including Madison Bumgarner’s 7-inning no-hitter that we all agree was absolutely a no-hitter. Look, no-hitters are great. So fun! Unless your team is being no-hit – looking at you Texas, Cleveland, Seattle – each of which has been no-hit twice apiece. But even as fans of other teams, usually a no-hitter is exciting. One of those weird, rare things in baseball that can happen anytime you show up to the park.

So, is the no-hitter surge a canary in a coal mine? Could it in fact push baseball into making changes that might save itself from this dead offense era?

The biggest problem is the lack of contact. Pitchers are too good. Substances they are using are too effective. Ted Williams once said hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in sports. If he wasn’t right then he sure is now. Seemingly every team now has 5 guys throwing 98+ mph with insane late movement. If players can’t put the ball in play, exciting things can’t happen. So how does MLB combat that?

The most obvious thing to do would be to police these substances pitchers use. Jayson Stark covered this topic this week, and there were some interesting quotes from some unnamed players. For example, this NL pitcher:

“You have hitters who are like, ‘How the f— are we supposed to hit this?’ For big-league hitters to admit defeat is rare. But when you have a guy throwing a fastball that rises 4 feet or a slider that looks like a strike and drops off another foot, it’s like video game stuff. You think (hitters) are just complaining, but then you look at the video and it’s like, holy s—, how are they supposed to hit this? I don’t care what your approach is at the plate, you don’t have a chance.”

And this AL pitcher:

“It is getting out of hand,” said an American League pitcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “When you watch some of these guys from the dugout you can almost hear the ball ripping out of their hands. Guys are doing stuff now that you can’t do to a baseball with just your hand. You just can’t.”

Phillies catcher JT Realmuto added:

“I would just crack down on the substances they use on their hands,” Realmuto said. “You see pitchers out there all game long doing this (touching his mitt). They’re not doing anything about it. I think if they cracked down on that, that would honestly help the offense a lot, get the ball in play more often and (result in) less swing and missing.”

I agree – we should start there. I am hopeful it would fix a lot of the problems. If not, then I think MLB does need to take a look at some options I’ve seen thrown around – moving the mound back, shortening the base paths, making the strike zone smaller. Whatever they do, they need to do something. They can’t sit around expecting things to just change. -TOB

Sources: “The Historic No-hitter Pace Is Bad for Fans. But It May Be Just What MLB Needs,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/20/2021); What Are We Even Doing Here?’: Around Baseball, Players Raise Concerns About Pitchers’ Use of Foreign Substances,” Jayson Stark, The Athletic (05/21/2021); Why Have There Been So Many No-Hitters in 2021?“, Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times (05/20/2021)


Elderly Man Angry After Man Swings at 3-0 Pitch in Blowout

If you follow sports, you saw this story: the White Sox were blowing out the Twins this week. Late in the game, the Twins brought in infielder Willians “La Tortuga” (Editor Note: LOL) Astudillo to pitch. He proceeded to lob in a few pitches that might as well have been soft pitch softball tosses. White Sox hitter Yermin Mercedes watched three ugly balls go by. In a 3-0 count, he finally got a pitch in or around the strike zone and mashed it all to hell.

This, to me, is the result we should expect. Once you put a position player into pitch, you are throwing up the white flag and saying, “We are basically playing an exhibition game. We just need to get these last few outs so we can go home. Let’s have a little fun and not waste our real pitchers in such an outing.” Well, apparently, not everyone feels that way.

There were rumblings after the game about whether Mercedes should swing up 3-0 with a position player in the game. White Sox manager Tony LaRussa said Mercedes (his own player) “made a mistake” promised it “won’t happen again” and that he was very upset about it. He also said Yermin would face internal consequences. He called him “foolish” and said he doesn’t “got a clue.”

Uh, what. Late in the following game, a Twins reliever very obviously intentionally threw at Mercedes’ legs. And that’s when things got really weird. After that game, White Sox manager Tony LaRussa was asked about Mercedes being targeted and said he agreed with it.

At this point it seems LaRussa may have started a mutiny by not having his guy’s back. After having said Mercedes won’t do it again, Mercedes said he absolutely would.

Mercedes’ teammate Tim Anderson also publicly supported Mercedes, and thus contradicted his manager.


I can’t find the quote, but yet another White Sox player said essentially if you don’t want players to keep playing then either end the game or put a real pitcher in there. I agree. These unwritten rules are so stupid. Just last week, the Dodgers were up 13-0 on the Angels in the 6th. The Angels cut it to 13-4. The Dodgers didn’t stop, scoring another run to make it 14-4, when the Angels put up 7 to make it 14-11 in the 7th. Don’t you think the Dodgers are glad they kept playing?

LaRussa’s reaction reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The Wire, from Slim Charles: “The thing about the old days, they the old days.”

The heartening thing about this story is that most people seem to agree that Mercedes was right to swing and LaRussa was particularly wrong to not back his player. Baseball is finally starting to get out of its own way on these dumb “rules.” -TOB


Much Ado About Machado

Manny Machado slid and broke up a double play last weekend. That’s not unusual. What is unusual is that the slide occurred about 40 feet from second base. 

Machado has a reputation for being a dirty player who does dangerous things on a baseball field. That reputation is well deserved because of things like this in the 2018 NLCS:

And this:

And this:

And this:

As I said, the reputation is well deserved. So when a guy with a reputation like that does something a little unusual, there’s an immediate and natural reaction to say that it was dirty. 

https://twitter.com/JomboyMedia/status/1394133907860299781?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1394133907860299781%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fdefector.com%2Fmanny-machado-hits-another-middle-infielder-with-a-bizarre-sloppy-slide%2F

Except…I’ve now watched this play a dozen times and I can’t decide if it’s clean or dirty. Machado had nowhere to go and he was trying to avoid the tag and thus the double play. Sure, he could have stopped and gone backwards forcing the second baseman to either commit to the tag or throw to first. But I don’t think this was an unreasonable effort just because there was another option for him. On the other hand, his “slide” was not so much as a slide as it was a leg first dive into the second baseman, and he started the dive extremely late. The more I watch it the more I don’t think you can reasonably argue that he was trying to avoid the tag – he was merely trying to take the fielder out. 

Disagree? -TOB


Video of the Week

Me and the Boys, Last Saturday

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

I mean, I had to:


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I think if I was allergic to dairy I’d kill myself.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 15, 2021

They won’t chase her down: Olivia Fehringer (PAL’s niece) gritting her teeth to a district championship in the 800 (2:28:50) and the 1600 (5:39:30). Photo c/o Nate Tenopir

Breaking Rules Pays Out

File this under “Did you know?” While I’m sure some of our esteemed readers understand the rules of betting on a horse race, I did not, so I was fascinated to learn more once the news broke about the Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, testing positive for betamethasone. The results from a second test (taken at the same time) are still pending. Also, horses can have betamethasone (for swelling in joints), just not within 14 days of a race. 

So what happens to all those bets placed on Medina Spirit (12/1 odds) or, more interesting to some, the second place finisher, Mandaloun (27/1 odds) or all the parlays? 

Short answer: once the race is called official at the race, the money starts exchanging at the track and all over the internet. There’s no going back. Regardless of the second test result, according to the betting world, Medina Spirit paid out as the winner. 

Some historical context from Victor Mather: 

The only other time a Derby winner was disqualified, the result for bettors was different. In 2019, Maximum Security crossed the line first but — importantly, before the results were announced as official — was ruled to have interfered with several other horses.

Normally a race is declared official in a few minutes. Even when the stewards look at a possible infraction it usually takes only five or 10. That year, perhaps because of the importance of the Derby, there was a 22-minute delay while the incidents involving Maximum Security were looked at from every angle. In the end, Maximum Security was disqualified for coming off the rail and impeding the path of the horses chasing him. Country House was declared the winner.

This is an odd one. It makes complete sense why the bet pays out, and yet – the winning horse (a bit of a longshot at 27/1) will very likely not pay out as a winner.

Make to click on the link to read more historical context from Mather.  – PAL


Source: A Derby Winner’s Drug Test Won’t Affect Any Bets. Here’s Why.”, Victor Mather, The New York Times (05/10/21)


Tim Duncan’s Bank Shot

Duncan was inducted into the basketball hall of fame last night, which was no surprise to anyone who’s even had a passing interest in the game in the last 30 years. Duncan was first team All-NBA (top player at his position) 10 times. Add to that 3 Finals MVP awards, 2 league MVP awards, and – oh yeah – 5 NBA titles.

His Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich summed it up more succinctly to The Ringer’s Yaron Weitzman:

“No Duncan, no championships,” Popovich said when asked to summarize Duncan’s career. To this day, he added, he and his coaches kick off team dinners by raising their glass to Duncan. “Thank you, Timmy,” they say.

Duncan’s signature offensive weapon was the bank shot. In short, the shot had fallen out of fashion by the time Duncan came to the league as a prized prospect from Wake Forest. He used it, and he abused defenders with it, starting in training camp with NBA MVP and future hall of famer David Robinson. 

“We really couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” Avery Johnson, the Spurs’ starting point guard at the time, said in a phone interview. “Tim dominated David, who I thought was a pretty good defender.” Johnson chuckled. “It got to the point where Pop had David spend the rest of training camp on Tim’s team.”

That scrimmage against Robinson was the beginning of 18 years of Duncan brilliance, earning admiration from his peers along the way. 

About the bank shot, Al Horford said this:

“You knew he was going to take it, but there was nothing you could do about it,” Horford said. “It was like Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar’s] skyhook.’’ But it was more than just Duncan’s trademark shot—it represented everything that made him great.”

And Brian Scalabrine pointed out another strength of Duncan and his bank shot: it could put a stop to an opposing team going on a run.

“It was different. He’d only score 25 but it would feel like 40. Anytime you’d go on a run, Pop would call for the ball to go to Tim in the post and they’d always get a bucket. It was just impossible to build any momentum against them.”

Weitzman does a really good job mixing the origin story of Timmy’s bank shot with his broader impact on his team with this piece. A fun read about a unique athlete. – PAL 

Source: Take It to the Bank”, Yaron Weitzman, The Ringer (05/13/21)


Further Update: Drew Robinson Goes Deep

Man, I love this story. -TOB


Video of the Week

I love this – Jomboy giving some love to an umpire who had one hell of a game.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Bob Dylan – “Main Title Theme (Billy)


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I can’t stand your water! I don’t even know what to say. It’s like I a took a straw and put it into a frog’s ass! It makes me sick. I want to barf every time I get near it. I can’t stand the smell, I can’t stand the color, and I cannot stand the taste. I can’t take it anymore!

-Marty ‘Funkman’ Funkhouser