Week of February 14, 2020

May each and every one of you find your kissing bandit this weekend.

Astros Sorry If Their Cheating Offended Anyone

The Astros had to face the press on Thursday. For the first time, they were to be asked questions about stealing signs (the garbage bin, the Codebreaker app), and man did the players and the owner Jim Crane come off poorly. 

Here’s a sampling:


Bregman and Altuve’s statements were less than 90 seconds, combined. All three of them had a commonality: we’re sorry (for cheating), but it didn’t impact the outcome of the World Series. Oh, and “we’re looking forward to 2020.”

Ah, no. 

Aside from the institutional cheating going on for years in the Astros organization, the most incredible takeaway from the team facing the press today is how completely and utterly unprepared they are to answer questions that any PR intern could’ve predicted would be asked today. This news didn’t break yesterday. That’s how in the wrong the Astros were. They knew the questions in advance and this is the best they could muster. They knew what they wanted – to admit wrongdoing, to admit what they were doing created an unfair advantage but to somehow have that admission stop short of impacting the World Series. 

Leave it to a 1-2-3 fav Michael Baumann to sum it up just right: 

Minutes before Crane went on stage, I joked that it would have been more fun if the Astros refused to apologize, and told the assembled reporters to count the rings and go to hell. Having seen what passes for sincere contrition on Crane’s part, they would’ve been better off taking that approach. At least then I would’ve respected their honesty.

Watching all these video clips of players stuttering through their responses to really simple questions reminded me of cops busting up a college house party and asking the guys who live at the house questions about how they got the beer, why the music was so loud, etc. Everyone’s eager to admit a little bit of wrongdoing, but no one is actually responsible for taking $5 and giving a teenager a Solo cup at door. 

At this point, the only detail keeping me from believing the 2017 Astros title should be vacated is that I’m all but certain the Astros and Red Sox weren’t the only teams doing this. No way. – PAL 

Source: The Astros’ Apology Tour Is Off to a Comically Disastrous Start”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (02/13/20)

TOB: Man. Great analogy. As for Crane, I loved this tweet, recalling a classic Chappelle’s Show moment:

As for Bregman, Altuve, Correa, Springer: these dudes better have incredible seasons. They need incredible seasons to save their reputations. If they come out this season and hit 30 points below their career averages, then their 2017-2019 seasons will go from suspect to absolute jokes.

Neymar’s Highlights Are Great, But He’s Never Been

I’ve never read Rory Smith’s NY Times soccer column until this week – and even for a guy that follows soccer from the highlights – I enjoyed his musings on Neymar’s squandering of talent as the next generation of players take his place in line in ascension to the throne Messi or Ronaldo at some point will give up. Neymar, playing on the same team as Messi in Barcelona, moved to Paris St.-Germain in an effort to get out of Messi’s shadow (and become the highest paid player on the planet). 

The move didn’t work. At 28, Neymar has faded from contention for the Ballon d’Or (the annual award handed out to the best player in the world). In his place are younger stars like P.S.G. teammate Kylian Mbappé. 

Talent has never, ever been the issue with Neymar. Smith argues it’s how Neymar values the game, and he uses one small moment in a recent game to serve as Neymar’s signature: 

There is something essential about Neymar contained within this vignette: his imagination, his panache, his confidence and his ability, yes, but also his belief that soccer’s highest form is the expression of individual skill. It is that which makes him so in tune with the sport’s modern era, of course — all gifs and memes and six-second snapshots of brilliance going viral — but it is also his flaw.

The thing about those clips, the ones of brilliant goals and outrageous pieces of skill that go viral, accompanied by nothing more than a screed of emojis, is that they are devoid of context, and greatness in soccer, and in all sports, is determined almost exclusively by context.

Neymar’s trickery is an adornment to a game, not a determining factor in it…

Again, I’m not the most ardent soccer fan, but I really enjoyed Smith’s writing. Always great to come across a talented sportswriter. – PAL 

Source: The Fading of a Star”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (02/08/20)

LeBron: “Cheap as Hell”

I am a LeBron James fan and I always have been. That said, I’m not really sure why The Athletic did an oral history, of sorts, on LeBron this week. Like, I don’t know what the occasion is. But it did provide this incredible tidbit:

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers, former Cavs teammate: D-Wade has said it before and I hate that I have to quote him. But when we go international, which is obviously always Toronto, he won’t turn on his phone. It’s only WiFi. He’s the cheapest fucking guy. He’s like, “That’s bullshit. I won’t turn on my phone.” He won’t turn on data roaming. He’ll only go when we’re either at the arena or at the Shangri-La, “Hey, what’s the WiFi?” Internationally and in Toronto, he’ll never pay for it.

That is god damn funny as hell. This is a guy who has made over $1 BILLION dollars over the last 15 years, but refuses to pay roaming charges.

There’s more good stuff here, including former teammate Tristan Thompson reporting that LeBron “eats like shit.”

The best story, though, is probably this one:

Romeo Travis, professional basketball player overseas, lifelong friend: I was walking through the mall (around the holidays last year). A guy kept calling my name. I’m with my kids, I don’t want to stop. A guy just kept calling my name. I stopped and he’s like, “You’re Romeo, you’re LeBron’s friend?”’ And I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Can you do me a favor?” I’m like, “What’s up, man?” He said, “LeBron put me through rehab. I just want you to tell him thank you. He really saved my life.” Those are the type of the stories that he doesn’t publicize. He don’t even, I didn’t even know. This is something I found out just walking through the mall, that he does things like that. People never find out about it. He does favors and stuff for people that he don’t talk about. They know the big stuff. They know the iPromise school and the philanthropy and things of that nature, but they don’t know the small stuff. Those small things are impactful as well. I was just like, wow. I sent a message to LeBron and was like, “I ran into a guy and he said you put him through rehab.” He said, “Yeah I do that from time to time just to help addicts.”

What a good dude. -TOB

Source: “A Card Shark Who ‘Eats Like S—t’ and Helps Save Lives: A Collection of Untold LeBron James Stories,” Joe Vardon and Jason Lloyd, The Athletic (02/13/2020)

PAL: LeBron is also on record saying he loves the free version of Pandora. No joke.

Video of the Week: 

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: Richard Swift – “Would You”

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Women are like wolves. If you want a wolf, you have to trap it. Snare it. Then to keep it happy, you have to tame it. Feed it, care for it. Lovingly. The way an animal deserves to be loved. And my animal deserves a lot of loving.

-Dwight K. Schrute


Week of February 7, 2020

Still got it.

The Red Sox Trade of Mookie Betts is Outrageous

Mookie Betts is 27, one-year removed from an astounding 186 OPS+, 10.9 WAR, MVP-winning season in 2018 (which he followed up with a 6.8 WAR in 2019). The Red Sox traded him this week, to the god damn L.A. Dodgers, for pennies on the dollar. Why? In short, because they are cheap.

Betts will be a free agent after this season. He reportedly turned down a 10 year, $300M offer from Boston. That’s obviously a lot of money, but it’s the same deal Manny Machado signed for, and less than Bryce Harper signed for, and Betts is just…a lot better than both of them. An incredible hitter, a great defensive outfielder, a marketable personality, and a megawatt smile. He’s worth much more than Machado or Harper, and as a market setter for future players, he was right to turn down that money. He’s going to get way more this winter.

So the Red Sox will save upwards of $400M over the next decade by trading him, not to mention the $27M he was set to make this season. In the deal, they also unloaded David Price. Price’s best days are behind him, and he has 3 years and $97 million left on his contract. In return they got Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo who is good, but not great, and (probably) Twins pitcher Brusdar Graterol, a dude who throws 103 MPH smoke. Both guys make very little. So that’s roughly $60M they save this season. But that’s not quite right. Amazingly, the Dodgers got the Red Sox to pay fully half of Price’s remaining money. 

To recap, the Red Sox decided they didn’t want to pay a generational, home grown talent like Betts, so they dealt him and Price for two good but not great young players, and kicked $50M in for the Dodgers’ troubles. Swell.

The trade has been the biggest story in baseball this week, and the general consensus is that the Red Sox front office should be ashamed. As Grant Brisbee put it:

The Red Sox agreed to trade Betts to the Dodgers on Tuesday, and they should be embarrassed. They aren’t. But they should be. You’ll read about how this gives the team “financial flexibility” and how it’s important for them to “stay under the luxury-tax threshold.” That’s all crap. The Red Sox print money. The bills have pictures of Lou Merloni on them and they have bags of cash buried under each corner of Fenway Park. So much money.

As Brisbee points out – this is the friggin Red Sox. This isn’t the Rays, or the Tigers, or the Reds, or the Indians. This is a huge market deep with deep pockets that can spent any amount they like. They made their team worse now, and they made their team worse later. It’s hard here to argue they cleared money to spend on free agents later. They had the best free agent, as a homegrown talent, and decided not to pay him his fair market value. The Ringer’s Michael Baumann put it bluntly:

This trade is a disgrace for the Red Sox and for the league. I don’t understand why the owner of such a prestigious ball club—a de facto public institution—would charge his baseball operations department with ridding the team of a once-in-a-generation player when he could keep that player and continue to rake in unspendable profits. It’s such a mind-bogglingly greedy and self-defeating move that I resent being made to try to understand it.

I’m in favor of smart baseball, but if the Red Sox of all teams are going to do this, it does not bode well for the direction of the sport. And if your team tries to do the same, you should be angry. -TOB

Source: If the Giants Ever Do What the Red Sox Just Did With Mookie Betts, You Should Not Be Very Happy,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (02/05/2020); The Utter Disgrace of the Mookie Betts Trade,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (02/05/2020)

PAL: Ryen Rusilllo made a good point about the Betts trade at the top of his podcast this week. That’s the best the Sox could get back for Betts – a friggin’ prospect pitcher with elbow issues and a borderline big league starter in Verdugo? B.S. 

If Betts flatout didn’t want to be there – fine – but wait for a better offer at the trade deadline. Let other teams feeling a little desperate and just close enough to a playoff race get in the mix!

And Brisbee has his fastball going in his article. I especially appreciated the idea of the obligation around keeping the rarest of players: home-grown Hall of Famers. 

Both things can be true. Both things should be true. You buy tickets and shirseys and they keep the 20-somethings on a Hall of Fame path. It’s not complicated. The Giants probably aren’t going to sign their next Brandon to a five- or six-year extension to lock him up deep into his 30s, but they should still do it with the next Buster. Or the next Mookie, if they have one. They probably won’t have one soon. Which is the point.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a big sip of battery acid and stare at the Dodgers’ projected lineup for next season.

The Warriors suddenly face a vital challenge: Can they awaken Andrew Wiggins?

No. – PAL 

Source: “The Warriors suddenly face a vital challenge: Can they awaken Andrew Wiggins?”, Anthony Slater, The Athletic (02/06/2020)

TOB: First of all, LOL. Phil’s post made me actually laugh out loud. But, second and super seriously – I disagree. Phil may recall that when Jimmy Butler left Minnesota, he more or less called Karl Anthony Towns a soft player and a loser. People thought Jimmy was a jerk, but I sided with him. KAT is soft, and he is a loser. I said within 2 years, history would prove him right, and I think it has. Wiggins was never going to be good playing next to KAT. He might be good playing next to Curry, Klay, and Draymond. I also think this is a smart play by the Warriors if they think their championship window with Steoh and Klay is still open. Wiggins’ game complements those two much more than DLo does. And, if the Wolves continue to suck as much as I think they will, that first round pick they got should be very good.

The Golf Course Architect Who Couldn’t Play His Courses

I think this will be the second story I’ve posted from the “Overlooked” series by the NY Times. I can’t help it. Such a great idea. 

A refresher: Overlooked are obituaries (written today) for folks that didn’t receive them at the time of their death. 

Joseph Bartholomew more than earned his NY Times obit honor. He spun a childhood job as a caddie into a career as a golf course architect. He designed many courses throughout the south, and it wasn’t until he built the first municipal course for african americans that he was allowed to play on a course he designed. He was good enough to be the club pro and teach lessons at country clubs, but wasn’t allowed to play the courses. 

What did he do? The same he did as a caddie. He listened and learned. After building courses, he got to know guys from whom he rented the construction equipment. Then he started a construction company, specializing in drainage (a good specialty in Louisiana). He took those profits and turned to life insurance, then real estate – which was smart because he also owned the construction company with the equipment necessary to upgrade the acres. Oh, and he built an ice cream factory, too. 

His key to success: embrace the risk, which was not so simple to follow the Jim Crow south.  “That’s the difference between me and most of the rest of the colored people. They won’t take a chance because they’ve been skinned before. I take ’em all the time.”

Joseph Bartholomew: August 1, 1888 – October 12, 1971. 

I’ll say it again: “Overlooked” is one of the best ideas I’ve come across. – PAL 

Source: Overlooked No More: Joseph Bartholomew, Golf Course Architect”, Roy S. Johnson, The New York Times (02/05/20)

Video(s) of the Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: Jose Feliciano – “Just A Little Bit Of Rain”

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I got away with everything under the last boss and it wasn’t good for me. So I want guidance. I want leadership. Lead me… when I’m in the mood to be led.

-Ryan  ‘Fire Guy’ Howard


Week of January 31, 2020

Kobe Bryant’s Death Strikes at a Parent’s Worst Fear

I first learned the news of Kobe Bryant’s death, just minutes after the story first broke, in a text message from my friend Murph. “Is this Kobe news real?” he asked. I had no idea what he meant. I was at a restaurant, with a playground in the back, throwing a football to my sports-obsessed 5-year old. I immediately went to Twitter and typed in Kobe. “Holy shit,” I replied to Murph. “I hadn’t seen.” I threw my son a few more passes and struggled to figure out my reaction.

I was never a Kobe fan. He was a Laker. He was not as good as MJ. I liked T-Mac more, then LeBron more. That “Mamba Mentality” always seemed fake to me – it always struck me that he was not a sports “killer” like MJ, but felt like he needed to be, and it seemed insincere. He gave himself nicknames, for heaven’s sake. He was also credibly accused of rape, and it’s never ceased to amaze me how quickly people chose to ignore that. But upon hearing of his death, I was still in shock. This was Kobe. He wasn’t MJ, but he’s a top-10 player of all-time. He was still so young and vibrant. And now he’s dead? 

Right about that moment my wife walked outside from the restaurant; she and her friends had heard the news from one of the employees while awaiting our food. They asked me if it was reported who else had died. A few seconds later I read that Kobe’s 13-year old daughter, Gianna, was also killed in the crash. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Over the next 24 hours I read thousands of words on Kobe. Many articles focused on Kobe the basketball player; others on Kobe the person after basketball; others on Kobe the accused rapist; perhaps most were on Kobe the dad. 

By all reports, Kobe was a doting father to his four daughters. When he died, he was taking the helicopter with Gianna, along with her teammate and the teammate’s parents, to Gianna’s basketball tournament. He had become a champion for women’s basketball – encouraged by Gianna’s love of the game, he even said recently that two or three specific WNBA players could play in the NBA right now. It was Gianna’s death, and his death as a father not as a basketball player, that I kept coming back to. 

I was struggling to verbalize my thoughts. And then I found this article by Henry Abbott. Abbott was one of the original basketbloggers. Abbott started True Hoop in 2005, which was later purchased by ESPN. In that role, Abbott covered Kobe quite a bit, including once when he really angered the Kobe stans in 2014.

But Abbott didn’t write about Kobe the basketball player. He didn’t even really write about Kobe the father. He wrote about how for Henry, as a father himself, Kobe’s death helped crystalize how becoming a parent, and the fear of losing your child, changes a person so fundamentally. Coincidentally, that very morning, Henry had read an article about the very subject by Claudia Dey, in the Paris Review. From Dey’s article:

No one had warned me that with a child comes death. Death slinks into your mind. It circles your growing body, and once your child has left it, death circles him too. It would be dangerous to turn your attentions away from your child—this is how the death presence makes you feel. The conversations I had with other new mothers stayed strictly within the bounds of the list: blankets, diapers, creams. Every conversation I had was the wrong conversation. No other mother congratulated me and then said: I’m overcome by the blackest of thoughts. You? This is why mothers don’t sleep, I thought to myself. This is why mothers don’t look away from their children. This is why, even with a broken heart, a mother will bring herself back to life.

I read that excerpt and realized immediately why the Kobe news affected me: not because a famous person died; but because an innocent young girl lost her life, a father lost his life, and three daughters and a wife were left forever changed. The lives of the surviving family will never be the same. As Draymond gets at below, as a parent, this is your worst fear shoved right in your face. 

I have been a dad for 5 years, and three times in those 5 years I’ve thought my oldest son might die. First, in a scary few minutes during labor. Second, when he was two and fell down a few stairs, seemed fine, and then coincidentally had a febrile seizure three hours later, brought on by a mild virus. Third, about eight months later, when he fell head first out of our second story window while chasing a ball, somehow landed in a flower planter barely wider than his body, with bricks and cement on either side. He managed to land on his upper back, but not his head or neck, and on the dirt, not on the cement or bricks.

I’ve seen the video of that last one. We have an outdoor camera that caught it all. The window screen pops off. A ball bounces out. And then a tiny, half naked body tumbles down. It’s disturbing and eerie and I sometimes wish I’d never seen it. But it was immensely helpful for the doctors, who were able to see exactly what happened.

I thought of that day when I heard the news that Kobe’s daughter died with him. I’ll never forget the terror I felt when our nanny called me, as I emerged from the BART station by our house, and she sobbed out what had happened. I’ll never forget wanting to scream at the Uber driver to hurry the hell up because my son had fallen out of a window and I needed to get home. I’ll never forget not being able to get ahold of my wife, who was at a work event, and texting “911” to her. I’ll never forget, when I got home, running across the street, up to the house and looking up at the open window, sprinting over the screen lying across the front entry stairs, terrified about what I was about to walk into. 

But what I walked into was a miracle. He was, somehow, fine. Scared, shaken, but fine. The doctors thought he had a little whiplash, and he had some bruises on his upper back. But he more or less walked away from an incident that would have killed him, if he had fallen an inch or two to the left or right. 

An inch or two to the left or right, and our family is the Bryant family – devastated, forever changed, possibly disintegrated. I live with that thought every day. Every single time I look at that planter, I think about how close we came. As Abbott emphasizes, as a parent, that fear of an inch or two to the left or right never goes away. 

For Abbott, the hours after he heard the Kobe news illustrates that:

The drive home from the rock climbing gym is only a few minutes. We stopped at Lowe’s …. It seemed like all the cars in the parking lot were some mix of dads and moms and daughters and sons and jeans and shopping carts and conversations, all on their way to patching up little broken things. We crammed the new toilet in the hatchback and made our way home. I tried to concentrate on the road as my learning-to-drive daughter drove (more vigilance!), but my mind wasn’t much on cars. It was swirling with helicopters. Circling death.

A few hours earlier, Kobe was a Sunday dad, bopping to a sports thing with his young teenager. Terrible questions emerge about the deadly sequence. Did the helicopter first have trouble? Were there terrifying minutes, when those poor nine people grew increasingly sure they might die? Did father and daughter hold hands? Would you? What would you say? Is it enough to just cry and cry and hug and say I love you? Is there something more momentous?

Or was it all instant? What’s better?

I don’t know what’s better. I don’t know how many times Kobe almost went down in a helicopter. I don’t know how close the pilot was, this time, to preventing this crash; to hitting that inch or two to the left or right that had everyone on that helicopter walking away safely, exhaling deeply, and telling the story for the next few decades of the time they were all worried they were about to die before they didn’t.

But I do know, for all his triumphs, for all his flaws, the news of Kobe’s death hit me hard because it reminded me how fragile life is, and how terrifying that is for a parent. I feel for Vanessa Bryant, who will never be the same, having lost a child and a husband; I feel for their oldest daughter who will forever miss her dad and her sister; I feel for their two youngest daughters, aged 3 and 0, who will never know either. -TOB

Source: This Is Why Mothers Don’t Sleep,” Henry Abbott, True Hoop (01/27/2020); 

PAL: When a public figure dies suddenly, the initial reaction is out of your control. I had no particular interest or fandom of Kobe Bryant, but I will remember where I was, how I found out –  sitting alone on our stoop, stunned. That haze stuck with me into the next day, and then I was wondering why. Again, not a Laker fan, not a Kobe fan. 

And, just as Abbott describes above, I realized I was on the worst of it in the helicopter, and trying to imagine being a father in that moment. I couldn’t help but picture it, and I couldn’t help seeing it. I mentioned it to Natalie, and she stopped me mid-sentence.

It’s the father and daughter dying together in such a scary way. It’s got very little to do with their names. 

And I just want to mention on our little site – and I’m not saying others haven’t mentioned it  – but this is every bit as terrible for the Chester, Altobelli, Mauser, and Zobayan families. Send a little love their way, too.

Over the last day or two, my mind has shifted to Bryant’s wife. Man, Abbott isn’t lying when he says, “It’s Vanessa Bryant who just took the first step in a devastating ultramarathon.”

And one other line from the Shea Serrano’s article referenced later in the post:

Death arrives by generation, I’ve told myself. They go and then we go, I’ve told myself. That’s the order, I’ve told myself. That’s how it’s going to go because that’s how it’s supposed to go, I’ve told myself.

But no. That’s not true either.

TOB: I just wanted to add – shortly after my son’s fall, we installed safety bars on all the windows on our second story. I highly recommend them if you have young children and live in a house with more than one story.

Best Super Bowl Story I Found This Week

A lot of profiles and backstories about players leading in to the Super Bowl this week – Mahomes’ legendary high school pitching duel, George Kittle and his dad’s pre-game letters – but this one is by far my favorite. 

How about this Super Bowl history, per Benjamin Hoffman of the NY Times: 

Super Bowls are typically littered with tales of random connections, but few can match a parallel between this year’s teams: Both the 49ers and the Chiefs have starting left tackles who were first-round picks out of Central Michigan, and both gained more than 75 pounds in college to make that happen. It is just the second time in 54 Super Bowls that both starting left tackles came from the same college, a rarity made especially surprising since Kansas City’s Eric Fisher and San Francisco’s Staley are the only first-round picks in Central Michigan’s long history.

Second time in history, and they come from Central Michigan? Crazy! Or is it?

[I]t was no coincidence that Staley and Fisher had gone through such radical transformations during their years in Mount Pleasant. As a Mid-American Conference program that did not have the recruiting machines of college football’s heavy hitters, Central Michigan had to look for players who had the frame for a position, even if they were still lacking the necessary bulk.

Makes  perfect sense. Out of necessity, an mid-major needs to look for athletes and a frame, not a finished product. Staley was a tight end and sprinter. Fisher was a skinny wide receiver coming out of high school. Add weight to the athlete, and now you’ve got a chance at a special lineman. 

It’s no joke. Staley was a friggin’ sprinter in highs chool (dude ran 200 in 21.9 seconds in high school!). Or how about this: 

It is not all talk. At his pro day in 2007, Staley’s 20-yard split in the 40-yard dash was just 0.01 of a second slower than the one recorded by Kansas City’s Travis Kelce in 2013, and just 0.08 slower than the one recorded by San Francisco’s George Kittle in 2017, despite the 305-pound Staley’s outweighing both All-Pro tight ends by 50 pounds.

I knew none of this, and I find it so impressive. O-line: studs. A fun, light read this week. Needed it. – PAL

Source: “Central Michigan’s Left Tackle Factory (Some Assembly Required)”, Benjamin Hoffman, The New York Times (01/29/2020)

Other Articles on Kobe I Liked

Kobe and Gianna,” Shea Serrano, The Ringer (01/30/2020) – Shea Serrano also wrote beautifully on the topic of how being a parent made the Kobe news hit especially hard. This was my very favorite, but I had already done my story above before I found this.

Kobe Bryant’s Death Hit Me Hard, and Even Worse Because of What We Had in Common,” Marcus Thompson, The Athletic (01/27/2020) – I read this almost immediately after finishing what I wrote about Kobe, and Thompson echoes many of my sentiments.

‘It’s a Loss That You Can’t Replace’: On the Legacy of John Altobelli,” Fabian Ardaya, The Athletic (01/26/2020) – on John Altobelli, the father and baseball coach also killed, along with his daughter and wife, in the crash.

In the Wake of Tragedy, I Turned to Jerry West to try to Make Sense of Kobe Bryant’s Life and Legacy,” Sam Amick, The Athletic (01/26/2020) – Amick, who covered Kobe for years, on Kobe’s life legacy, the mistakes he made, and how he tried to atone for them.

Two Things Can Be True, But One Thing Is Always Mentioned First,Jeremy Gordon, The Outline (01/27/2020) – In the wake of his death, how we talk about Kobe, the 2003 rape accusation against him, and what it all says about us.

Remembering Gigi Bryant,Molly Knight, The Athletic (01/26/2020) – A memoriam for Gianna the person, not the daughter of Kobe Bryant.

A Wake Held in Blissful Ignorance: Appreciating Kobe’s FInal Days,” Bill Oram, The Athletic (01/26/2020) – particularly this passage:

LeBron James passing Kobe Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list in Philadelphia should have been nothing more than a happy coincidence. Now it’s a cruel twist of fate.

Dwight Howard calling on Bryant to assist him in next month’s dunk contest should have just been another delightful chapter in Howard’s Lakers reclamation. Instead, it’s a reminder that not all stories get to come full circle.

Those moments from recent days now feel like the universe was screaming at us. Grabbing us by the hair and pleading: “Remember this man! Take this moment to appreciate him! He won’t be here much longer.”

Bryant’s helicopter crashed into a hillside in the Santa Monica Mountains on Sunday morning, killing all nine people aboard, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. The sudden manner in which Bryant died makes the celebration of his basketball career that played out over the last few days all the more poignant.

Typically, only when a man dies slowly will his final days be filled with eulogies. But it is difficult now not to look back upon the days before Bryant’s death as a wake held in blissful ignorance — a chance to celebrate the man without the burden of grief that will now be impossible to shed.

As James closed in on Bryant’s career scoring total of 33,643 points, clips of Bryant in full poetic motion were dusted off and played on a loop. When James took the court Saturday night, it was with “Mamba 4 Life” scrawled on his sneakers.

In the locker room after the game, James spoke for several minutes uninterrupted about Bryant giving him a pair of shoes when they met for the first time in 2002 at the All-Star Game, also in Philadelphia.

“The story is too much,” James said as he retold it, marveling at the symmetry of their careers.

James idolized Bryant then passed him on the scoring list in a Lakers uniform in Philly. Wow.

“It’s surreal,” James said. “It doesn’t make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life.”

When Howard, sitting at his own locker, tried to give James his proper due for the achievement, he uttered these chilling words: “We don’t appreciate each other as much as we should as a humanity. And I think something like that should be appreciated. You should appreciate people while they’re alive.”

Oram’s point is a good one – those quotes from LeBron and Howard are from the night before Kobe died, but they sure seem like they came after he died, don’t they? -TOB

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Miles Davis – “So What”

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“I wanted it to be my Playboy mansion. A temple to wine, revelry, sex, intrigue… this was hot on the heels of Eyes Wide Shut, mind you. Then I met my wife, she moved in, made it her own. Now she’s left me and forced me to sell the place. The ultimate insult? They’re calling my speakeasy lounge a rumpus room.”

-Robert California

Week of January 24, 2020

Larry Walker? Borderline Hall of Fame Baseball Player. Larry Walker’s T-Shirt? First Ballot, Unanimous Inductee.

A Moment for College Nostalgia

Other than this article being written by top-shelf sportswriter Wright Thompson, this story really has nothing to do with sports. I just love the way he writes. This story, posted on the University of Missouri website, is about why we return to our old college haunts, what we’re looking for, and the hold our college days have on us.  

Returning to such places puts us all across a narrow table from our younger selves. Ordering a slice or a burger and sitting knee to knee with me minus 20 years, stripped of my mask and its justification, is a rare gift. We almost never get to get reacquainted with the best version of ourselves, at this place where dreams began, before they got exposed to life and started to decay.

In May of 2018, I joined my college buddies Netter, Shaff, Wiess, Ivy, Barbershop, and O in Sioux Falls to watch our baseball team begin their march to an incredible Division II National Championship. I hadn’t been back on campus for at least 15 years. It was inevitable that we found ourselves at Crow Bar on 41st, and I was giddy – to be back there, back with those guys, back in the rhythm of conversation only found with people who knew me then. While in the moment I didn’t consciously think we were back in the place where dreams began, it resonates indefinitely. 

For Thompson, there was also a special connection between he and his old-timer friends who worked the student newspaper back in the day (Mizzou has a pretty renowned journalism program) and the kids pumping out the stories for the paper/site today: 

Four years ago, a group of us flew back to Columbia in the last week before the original Shakespeare’s closed for demolition. We got a suite at the Tiger Hotel to act as home base, should we need a locale for late-night shenanigans. The first night, we emailed the Missourian sports reporters and invited them to meet us at Booches. They asked questions, we told stories, and all of us imagined a different world that seemed far away. I’m putting words in their mouths, but I suspect they wanted to be us and we wanted to be them.

If this story doesn’t trigger a little college nostalgia, then I don’t know what the hell to tell you. Wonderful read. – PAL

Source: Who Was I In College?”, Wright Thompson, new.missou.edu

TOB: I actually think this is so much more than college nostalgia – it’s about life and aging and death; it’s about pace of life and the not spending the time to enjoy the moments we should be enjoying because we’re too busy thinking about what’s next; it’s about the fleeting nature of memory. Here are my two favorite passages from a great piece:

After running a thousand miles a minute for going on 20 years now, today takes up so much of my energy that it can be a struggle to remember. Maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed with it — and why I love just spending a day at Booches and Shakespeare’s. And yes, I often hit both in the same day. I’m not trying to make new memories as much as I am visiting old friends who grew up and disappeared a long time ago. I want back some of what I’ve forgotten or misplaced.

Sometimes the fragments come in pairs. I’m at Booches with my dad talking over my classes and my future; then he’s been dead 15 years and I can’t remember the sound of his voice. I’m 43 and with my toddler daughter, and, in her eyes, I suddenly see my father and hear his voice again as she tries to find hers. I’m standing in line with friends for Shakespeare’s slices between classes; then it’s nearly two decades later and we are back with our sons and daughters. It’s senior year and we are at the round window table at Booches, wondering if we might ever find success; then we are at that same table as middle-aged adults returning for a speaking engagement, surrounded by students wanting to know how we went from their seats to ours. Time really is a construct, a fragile one at that. One of my Mizzou professors, George Kennedy, is standing at the end of the bar eating a tenderloin sandwich for lunch; then a decade later, he’s still standing there.

He’ll always be standing there.

The bartender at Booches nods at me when I come in, even if it’s been years, and a small, nihilistic part of me knows that the change that’s come to downtown — do you remember coffee at Osama’s or whiskey at Widmans — could one day overtake Shakes and Booches. Columbia is changing. We are all changing. Magazines like this one print class notes in the back, where we get to see who got married, who got promoted and who hit the big time. I’m 43 now, and my friends are all around the same age. Sometimes it feels like we spend 45 percent of our lives trying to be something, 10 percent of our lives being it and 45 percent having been it. We are at the top of the mountain for another decade or so, and then we’ll start the slide down. We rise together, and we fall together. Those class notes will include marriages, children, announcements of retirements, notices of death. But at the two most important restaurants in our old college town, all that is left outside the door. As long as we can go back and wander through the rooms of our past, we can pretend that future will never arrive. It’s pizza time for all of us. There’s time for all of us. There’s always time.

Great find, Phil.

Giants Hire First Uniformed Female Coach

Last week, the Giants announced they had hired Alyssa Nakken to be an assistant coach on manager Gabe Kapler’s staff. Nakken, 29, will throw patting practice and hit fungoes. She will wear a uniform on the field. She is the first woman to ever be hired as a coach to an MLB staff ( there are now a few female assistant coaches in the NBA, and one in the NFL – you may have seen 49ers coach Katie Sowers’ American Express commercials during the NFL playoffs).

If you’re wondering if Nakken is a token hire – I think that’s a fair reaction. But it does not appear she is. Nakken played college softball at Sacramento State and was named all-conference four times. She began a graduate program at USF in sports management, and from there landed an internship with the Giants’ baseball operations department. After her internship, she coordinated the Giant Race program, and continued to work in baseball ops.

Still, a 29-year old with that experience, male or female, is an odd choice for an assistant on a major league coaching staff. But if this is a token hire, Kapler has shown quite the commitment to tokenism:

[Kapler] was seeking to put together a staff that embraced diversity in every aspect.

“Diverse in thought, in background, in ethnicity, in socioeconomic experience,” Kapler said. “We just wanted to create as diverse a staff to the degree we were able so that we can be a reflection of the players in our clubhouse and also in our community.”

Kapler’s staff includes an Bahamian former player (first base coach Antoan Richardson), a 32-year-old native Hawaiian who has never played a professional game in the majors or minors (bench coach Kai Correa), a veteran with 26 years of major-league experience (third base coach Ron Wotus), a native Spanish speaker from Puerto Rico (quality control coach Nick Ortiz), a hitting director whose grounding is in biometrics (Dustin Lind) and a 29-year-old hitting coach who will be younger than Belt, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford (Justin Viele).

This is anti-cronyism. Whether Kapler ends up being a successful manager for the Giants or not, I will say this: he’s doing it his own way. 

“The really important message is that experience comes in all shapes and sizes,” Kapler said. “You look at our coaching staff and the immediate reaction is that it’s young and somewhat inexperienced, and traditionally, that’s true. But experience is also having a perspective that is wide ranging and diverse, and that includes having taught people at many different levels and ages and many different backgrounds.

“A lot of our coaches have a long history of consistent and diligent coaching. It just isn’t, like, stopping in the Gulf Coast League or Arizona League and then moving to Low-A ball and then to Double A. They just have a more diverse teaching and coaching experience.”

Again, whether he succeeds or not, I think that’s an extremely smart philosophy. Regarding Nakken specifically, Kapler had this to say:

“She’s an elite athlete and can translate those skills to help our players get better,” Kapler said. “She’s resourceful, a good communicator, organized and clear in her thoughts and delivery. Before this job is anything, it’s teaching. She brings a well-rounded skill set that is unusual to find in a coach.

“And she’s extremely equipped to execute initiatives. Part of coaching is managing very large projects, which she’s done in the past. All of those things are important when you’re developing players and developing a culture.”

This makes sense to me. Certainly, some experience with the game is important, but the best teachers and coaches were not always the best players. So many other skills are required in order to teach. And once you come to that conclusion, it’s idiotic to limit your pool of candidates to 50% of the population. Nakken is the first female coach on a major league staff, but she will not be the last.

For her part, Nakken has been quiet – the team is shielding her from interviews as she gets acclimated to her new role. But, I’m excited to hear from her, and I hope her presence and teaching pay off. -TOB

Source: Woman in Uniform: New Giants Coach Alyssa Nakken Makes Major-League History,Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (01/16/2020)

PAL: Progress isn’t perfection on the first pass. I think her softball experience is less important than her track record while an intern and coordinator with the Giants. And having a diverse staff has been proven valuable by any measure in any workplace. It’s cool to see the glass ceiling in the big four sports leagues, and it’s incredible to know my college friend, Teresa Resch, is a part of this movement.

W.N.B.A. Star Sits Out Another Season 

Interesting story here with a Minnesota connection. WNBA star Maya Moore (plays on the MN Lynx) will sit out a second straight season of WNBA basketball to dedicate her time to criminal justice reform and the release of Jonathan Irons.

Per Kurt Streeter of The NY Times:

Irons, now 39, whom she met in 2007 during a visit to the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Missouri, is serving a 50-year sentence after being convicted of burglary and assaulting a homeowner with a gun. Born into severe poverty, Irons was 16 when the incident occurred in a St. Louis suburb. 

The homeowner, who was shot in the head during the assault, testified that Irons was the perpetrator, but there were no corroborating witnesses, fingerprints, footprints, DNA or blood evidence to connect Irons to the crime. Prosecutors said Irons admitted to a police officer that he broke into the victim’s home, a claim Irons and his lawyers have steadfastly denied. The officer had interrogated Irons alone and did not record the conversation.

I had no idea Moore sat out last season, and while she’s made money in leagues around the world (many W.N.B.A. stars make a lot more dough playing overseas in the offseason than they do in the league stateside), it’s not an insignificant amount to turn down for regular people like you and me (Moore would make the league max in in 2019 of a whopping $120K, or ¼ of a regular season game check for LeBron James). She’s passing up the opportunity to play in the Oympics this summer, which is a huge marketing opportunity for athletes in less popular sports like women’s basketball. 

I admire people who aren’t afraid to focus on what’s important to them, especially when it falls outside of the way other people see them. Good on you, Moore. – PAL

Source: W.N.B.A.’s Maya Moore to Skip Another Season to Focus on Prisoner’s Case”, Kurt Streeter, The New York Times (01/22/2020)

More Fallout From the TrashCanSlamCamScam (™) 

As I said last week, I love this story. I cannot get enough of it. Any angle you got, I’m reading it. For example, this take wondering where retired catcher Brian Mccann is, and demanding he offer an explanation. If you don’t know or remember, at the tail end of his career, McCann became famous for “policing” other player behavior. Pimp a home run? He’s gonna get in your face before you even cross home plate.

RESPECT THE GAME, BRO. RESPECT IT! That kind of guy sucks, IMO. And I’m not alone. The writer of this story very openly loathes McCann for that stuff:

And now Sileo wants to know: 

Where was McCann, the self-appointed arbiter of baseball’s unwritten rules, when he was on the 2017 Astros as they flagrantly violated baseball’s written rules? 

It’s a very good question, and I am really hopeful that a baseball writer with some stones and a video camera finds McCann and asks it of him. Because he’ll say something really friggin stupid and it’ll be hilarious. -TOB

Source: MLB Cheating Scandal: Where is Brian McCann?Tom Sileo, The Stream (01/18/2020)

PAL: Two things: 

  1. I am not a fan of McCann, but Gomez is insufferable on a first inning home run. I would’ve told him to get moving, too. 
  2. Whatever the agreement was/is with MLB, A.J. Hinch took the bullet for all of the players. I wonder if he ever manages at the MLB level again. I only hope they send him a nice birthday present this year. 

Ever Asked, “Who Is Monte Irvin?” Me Too.

If you’ve ever been to a Giants game, you’ve likely looked at the retired numbers on hanging from the upper deck: 24, 25, 44, 30, among others. Giants fans know those numbers and who wore them. My son sees the numbers every time we got to a game and asks me who the players were (and if they’re still alive). But there’s one name and number I really haven’t known too much about: #20, Monte Irvin.

Thanks to Joe Posnasnki, I now know quite a bit. Per Posnasnki, quoting Irvin himself – Irvin was Mays before Mays. Most of Irvin’s career was lost – some due to his service during World War II, and more because his prime was spent in the Negro Leagues, which did not keep statistics as religiously as MLB always did. So we don’t really know what kind of numbers Irvin put up. But we do know what his peers said about him. Like Hall of Famer Roy Campanella:

“Monte was the best all-around player I have ever seen. As great as he was in 1951, he was twice that good 10 years earlier in the Negro Leagues.”

Or Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell:

“Monte Irvin should have been the first black in the major leagues. He could hit that long ball. He had a great arm. He could field. He could run. Yes, he could do everything.”

And we also know what he did in MLB once he did arrive, well past his prime. At age 32: .312/.415/.514, 24 homers, 94 runs, 121 RBIs, 147 OPS+. 

So, now you know who Monte Irvin is.

By the way, this is part of Posnasnki’s excellent and ongoing series on the Athletic counting down, daily, his Top 100 baseball players of all-time. Irvin came in at #69, nice. I haven’t read them all, but I encourage you to read it, and any other players in the series thus far that you want to learn more about. -TOB

Source: The Baseball 100: #69 Monte Irvin,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (01/18/2020)

TOB’s Annual Plea to Put Bonds in the Hall of Fame

Exhibit A: 

Exhibit B:

Exhibit C:

See you next year, *sigh*. -TOB

PAL: Keep waiting. Bonds got more than a favorable return on his “investment”. This is the one thing he doesn’t get just because he wants it. This is the punishment.

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: Billy Bragg & Wilco – Airline Plane To Heaven

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“Not a woman. Just a cool, great looking, best friend.”

-Michael Scott

Week of January 17, 2020

Subtle Sano.

The Sign-Stealing Scandal: The Bigger Picture

Much has been written about the sign-stealing scandal in baseball that, so far, has led to year-long suspension for Astros GM and the team’s manager, the “it was mutual” parting of ways between the Red Sox at its manager, Alex Cora, and the Mets asking for a do-over with Carlos Beltran before he ever managed a game with the team. I found Michael Bauman’s article on the subject the most thought-provoking. 

By punishing the general managers and managers (but not players, unless you count Carlos Beltran as a player in this instance), MLB and its teams are getting rid of the story, but not the problem. 

These investigations, and the punishments they’ve inspired, are attempts to fix a problem. If the problem is “the 2017-18 Astros and 2018 Red Sox were using cameras to steal signs,” then consider that problem all but fixed. The principal offenders in the sign-stealing scandal have now been identified and sanctioned.

But what if the problem is that MLB teams are using technology to gain an unfair advantage during gameplay? 

While reading this, I couldn’t help but think of my Twins, owners of the new single-season home run record.  Let’s just be very clear: the Twinkies haven’t been mentioned once in any of these stories. The record is legit!…and so is the team’s 16-game playoff losing streak. 

Tangent complete. Back to Baumann: 

It’s also reasonable to conclude that sign stealing isn’t the problem, but rather merely a symptom of baseball teams’ overreliance on technology. The mere existence of the replay room, which the Red Sox allegedly used to relay signs to hitters, is another example. The manager’s challenge is a pointless complication of replay review anyway, but allowing the manager to wait for a verdict from his own video staff before challenging a call is like giving students the answer to a test beforehand—if a call was so egregiously blown that it needs to be overturned, it should be obvious to the naked eye. But MLB clubs, unwilling to walk the tightrope of replay without a net, have turned around and used those nets to ensnare unwitting opponents.

Amen, man. If we can’t completely remove instant replay from the game, can we at least bypass this completely absurd dance of having teams decide whether or not they want to challenge a call? Get rid of the team challenge, and then we can get rid of these video replay rooms. Clear solution to the immediate problem. 

Bigger picture: baseball’s obsession with technology in a stat-obsessed sport makes for a powerful duo, and not always for the better. It removes “human considerations” as Bauman puts it. And while some will roll their eyes at those crusty old dude bemoaning how technology takes out the “human element”, Baumann convinces me there’s something much more important playing out here. 

Electronic sign stealing is the cause célèbre of the day, but it’s penny-ante shit compared to other behaviors that stem from the same societal disease that views rules, norms, and human beings as obstacles to be navigated around or run over on the way to the goal.

Again, a thought-provoking, extremely well-written story. – PAL 

Source: The Treatment for Sign Stealing Isn’t a Cure for MLB’s Disease”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (01/14/20)

TOB: As I wrote back in November, I didn’t care too much about this scandal, until I heard the trash can banging videos. It was so blatant, and so disturbing as a competitor. You might as well throw BP up there. But there’s also a side of me that friggin loves the drama. It’s…kinda hilarious. The stupidity of it all is just so funny.  On Thursday, as Twitter went wild with accusations of Astos players wearing buzzers during the 2019 playoffs, my co-worker Kevin and I were howling in our offices, sending each other tweets and videos and breaking down video frame by frame. Cheating is bad, yes. But drama is great.

And after such a wild day, I have so many questions and thoughts.

  • How did the Astros not think they’d get caught?
  • The proverbial whistle was blown by a former teammate, Mike Fiers; how was Fiers the first to do so?
  • How did the Astros not consider the fact that a former teammate turned competitor would do so?
  • How did AJ Hinch have the balls to demand anonymous sources “put their name by” the rumors that his team was using video to steal signs, when he knew full well that they were cheating and there were players no longer on the team who could confirm it?

  • Exactly how much better did this make the Astros? Is Altuve actually any good?
  • Watch this video of Bregman, and wonder how big of an idiot he was to be so brazen, and also wonder how everyone missed this:

  • Or this video, of Alex Cora. Cora was the Astros bench coach in 2017 and the reported mastermind of this all, along with former Astro Carlos Beltran; wonder, again, how we missed this. And also wonder, how players around the league who knew what was going on did not speak out sooner:

  • What genius made this masterpiece?


If you’re like me and want to revel in more of this absurdity, SI’s Emma Baccellieri did a wonderful job recapping it all here. I’ll leave you with what might be my very favorite:

The Most Important 30 Seconds of Burrow’s Season


By now you likely recognize the name Joe Burrow. He was the LSU QB who carved up Clemson to the tune of 463 passing yards, 5 TD passes, and nearly 60 yards rushing. In the process, he capped one of the greatest college football seasons: he lead his team to an undefeated national championship, threw for 60 touchdowns, and had a completion percentage over 76%. LSU smoked Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson. It should come as no surprise that Burrow was the runaway Heisman winner. 

Perhaps one of the most impressive performances from his year didn’t happen on the field. During his Heisman acceptance speech, Burrow made it a point to use that stage and platform of ESPN broadcast to speak to the kids in Athens, Ohio. Specifically, he spoke to kids in his hometown.

Coming from Southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area, and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There are so many people there that don’t have a lot, and I’m up for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table. Hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.

As Billy Witz of The New York Times details in his story, a lot went into those thirty seconds of Burrow’s speech, and perhaps even more came out of it. While Burrow wasn’t one of the kids living in the trailers (his dad is a recently retired college football coach, and his mom is a principal), he wasn’t oblivious to the socioeconomic makeup of Athens. His mom sees it every day at the elementary school. 

Her office is bright and cheery, a welcoming place for “kiddos,” as she calls them, from kindergarten through fourth grade. The office is dotted with photos of her husband, Jimmy, and Joe; there is a bookcase filled with stuffed animal tigers and teddy bears, bracelets and candles; and the accent colors are purple and gold.

Below her desk is a box of macaroni-and-cheese dinners.

How often does she give them out?

“Every day,” she said.

The poverty rate at the school — or those eligible for free or reduced lunch — is 36 percent. Every other Friday, bags of food are sent home with 100 children, about 20 percent of the school’s enrollment. One of Robin Burrow’s biggest concerns is what happens during the two weeks that schools are closed over winter break.

Burrow’s words connected with a lot of people from the area. Will Drabold, who graduated a few years ahead of Burrow, described hearing the speech as “being struck by lightning”.

The next morning, Drabold was determined to do something: He put up a Facebook page asking for donations to the Athens County Food Pantry. The goal was $1,000, which he started with a $50 pledge.

Within 24 hours, the drive had raised $80,000. By Sunday, nearly a month later, it had raised more than $503,000 — more than five times the all-volunteer organization’s annual budget. Similarly, a food pantry in Baton Rouge, La., has raised more than $60,000. 

That’s real money leading to real food, feeding really hungry people. Reading Witz story is a great, positive reminder why athletes should not stick to sports. The full story is well worth the read- PAL 

Source: As Joe Burrow Spoke of Hunger, His Hometown Felt the Lift”, Billy Witz, The New York Times (01/13/20)

TOB: Burrow seems like a good dude, and I’ll say this: I don’t remember the last time I watched a college football game and said, “Oh my god, what a throw,” or some variant thereof, as many times as I did on Monday watching him light up a very good Clemson defense.

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week:

PAL Song of the Week: Bob Seger – ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man’

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I’ve made some empty promises in my life, but hands down, that was the most generous.

-Michael Scott

Week of January 10, 2020

The History of the Flag in American Sports

This is a story about the United States flag and sports that shouldn’t be impacted by your own political leanings…at least I think so. It details just when we started the tradition of the national anthem, and how far we’ve drifted from the regulations Congress wrote in 1942 with regards to how the flag should be respected. 

The ties between sports and displays of patriotism go back at least a century. Fans first stood to salute the flag while singing the national anthem at the 1918 World Series. In 1942, during World War II, Congress wrote regulations, enshrined in a federal law but without penalties for violations, outlining the significance of the flag and how to properly respect it — regulations that are largely ignored today, especially at sporting events.

According to the code, the flag “should never be carried flat,” “never be used as wearing apparel” and “never be used for advertising.” Additionally, “no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”

A quick rundown of those guidelines: 

  • flags are carried flat regularly at football games and many other sporting events
  • it’s absolutely become a part of athletic uniforms from any number of sports 
  • it has absolutely been used for advertising purposes (by our Department of Defense). 

Again, I would think this is an issue for which the staunchest of conservatives and the most dreadlocked of Berkeley hippie would agree that the flag has no place in sports. Either it means too much or shouldn’t mean that much to be woven into our sporting events and the marketing of leagues. 

It’s one thing to take a moment to thank those who have served at a game. I think there should be more of that. It doesn’t need to be part of marketing campaign, but of course we should genuine thanks and ‘salute the troops’. It’s quite another thing for sports industries (leagues, teams, owners, not to mention the ancillary partners like beer companies) to profit off of the flag. I know this happens a lot of ways, and it’s not limited to sports (as my mom just noted, just look to any car dealership), but damn. Whether you think the flag means something sacred, something not so pure, a mixture of both, or – I guess – nothing at all; the flag represents a powerful idea (or loss of) in all of those scenarios. It bothers me that we use this idea to sell baseball caps and uniforms. We are being sold an idea that’s already ours, that we get to define.

I would like to understand why this pimping out of the flag is embraced, while other forms of protest – be it kneeling for the anthem or burning the flag – are so fiercely contested and labeled disrespectful. What am I missing? I am genuinely asking. – PAL 

Source: The N.F.L. Wears Patriotism on Its Sleeve. And Its Head. And Its Feet.,” Brittainy Newman, The New York Times (01/03/2020)

How the VIkings Almost Ended the 49ers Budding Dynasty

The 49ers were the team of the 1980s. They won the Super Bowl after the 1981, 1984, 1988, and 1989 seasons, and made the NFC Championship after 1983. But the mid-80s saw some disappointments. They lost in the Wild Card round after the 1985 season, and the Divisional round after the 1986 season. But they entered the playoffs after the 1987, strike-shortened season as the NFC’s #1 seed, and looked poised to make another deep run. The Niners entered those playoffs as a juggernaut: they ranked No. 1 in total offense, rushing offense, scoring offense, total defense, pass defense and point differential. They had six future Hall of Famers on the field, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Clark, and friggin Steve Young on the bench. They were expected to win their third Super Bowl of the decade. It didn’t happen. 

Instead, in the Niners’ first playoff game that year, the Minnesota Vikings came into Candlestick and put it on ‘em, 36-24. The Vikings made Joe Montana look so bad that Bill Walsh benched him (though it did give the 49ers their first glimpse at what Steve Young could really do. Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter looked like, well, Jerry Rice, and set a then-NFL record with 227 yards receiving. 

I don’t remember this game. I was only six years old, and my very earliest football memory is the next season, when the Niners beat the Bengals, and Montana solidified his legacy with The Drive. But as the 49ers and Vikings prepare to play in the NFL playoffs this weekend, it’s interesting as hell to consider that game in January 1988, and this oral history of that game is an interesting way to do so. Any 49ers fan around my age (and maybe older) will be shocked to read some of the things in this article. For example:

49ers President Carmen Policy: Bill [Walsh] wasn’t quite right. His coaching wasn’t the best, and so forth. And we were going through this other combination of Steve Young-Joe Montana. And we didn’t have our feet solidly on the ground in terms of how we felt about ourselves and about the team and about the season.

Yes, that is Carmen Policy saying that legendary coach Bill Walsh’s coaching wasn’t the best, and saying that there was a QB controversy between Montana and Young long before I’d ever heard of one. In fact, shortly after halftime, Walsh benched Montana. Joe Montana! Benched! I had no idea. Here’s 49er Randy Cross on the benching:

Cross: With Joe, we’d won a couple Super Bowls. We’d won a bunch of playoff games. We’d won a bunch of games, period, with him. So it was very, very strange. You knew there was a chance, but not until he really did it, did it really hit you and sink in….That whole dynamic was very unique and kind of uncomfortable, to be honest. (Bill’s) pissed. All the coaches are pissed. We’re pissed. We needed a spark. We needed something different to happen. They were just making plays happen like crazy on offense, and we couldn’t get anything going on defense.

Somewhere, in an alternate universe, Sliders-style, that loss ended the 49ers’ budding dynasty. In this universe, it nearly did. Except, that it didn’t. The Vikings lost the next week to the Washington football team. In San Francisco, things turned around. After the loss to Minnesota, the team damn near fired Bill Walsh. As Policy puts it:

“I’ll never forget (team owner) Eddie (DeBartolo) telling Bill that night: ‘Bill, I don’t want you to lose another playoff game. This is the last one you lose with the 49ers.” 

DeBartolo was right. Walsh would coach just one more season, winning the next Super Bowl (and beating the Vikings 34-9 in the playoffs along the way), and then retiring (before returning to Stanford for three deliciously disappointing seasons). Montana held off Young for a few more seasons, winning the Super Bowl in 1988 and 1989, and then losing to the Giants in 1990. Montana missed most of the next two seasons due to injury, as Young took over, and won a Super Bowl in 1994 after Montana left for Kansas City.

A good oral history tells you a lot about a subject you thought you knew well, but upon reding realize you did not. Good read for any 49ers (or Vikings) fan. -TOB

Source: The Day the Vikings Put Joe Montana on the Bench and Bill Walsh on the Hot Seat,” Jon Krawczynski, David Lombardi and Daniel Brown, The Athletic (01/09/2020)

PAL: You sure do learn some stuff. How about Joe Montana and Roger Craig crossing the picket line during the strike?!? I never knew that. 

Also, the Montana benching did exactly what Walsh had hoped it would do. Young absolutely jump started the offense. Two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) that kept them within distance of a comeback. The problem was the Niner defense couldn’t stop Anthony Carter. 

One last note on the game this weekend. I haven’t really been a Vikings fan since Gary Anderson missed one field goal all season and ruined the Moss, Carter, Cunningham, John Randle  Vikings 1998 season. But then I found myself planning my day last weekend around getting back to watch the Vikings-Saints game. And for all the terrible, terrible problems with football…damn if it’s not enjoyable to watch on TV. Can’t deny it. 

Go Vikes. This Niners team is awfully talented, but not a whole lot of experience in a playoff game. I’m not a Cousins fan, but he finally delivered last week. Jimmy G hasn’t done it yet. Let’s see how the pretty boy handles the pressure.

Kevin Love Confirm He Sucks

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Kevin Love fan. 

In his one season at UCLA, Love and future NBA teammates Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (seriously how did that team not win a title?), the Bruins beat my favorite Cal team ever on a ludicrous sequence where Love knocked over Ryan Anderson, who was trying to draw the foul to ice the game, and then won on an illegal shot by Josh Shipp that the referees unbelievably allowed to count (I’m still very bitter). 

Then he went to Minnesota and put up big numbers on awful teams.

Then he went to Cleveland, his numbers went down, and he complained about playing in LeBron’s shadow while they won.

But I’ve been mostly alone on this. Love smiles, and seem nice, and people generally like him. So this week has been very vindicating for me. 

After LeBron left Cleveland two years ago, Love was a free agent. He could have left and played for a contender. But Love instead signed a max extension – 4 years, $120M. He got paid. And he did so knowing full well the situation he’d be in – the Cavs were never going to be good post-LeBron.

Last year, he was pretty quiet. The team didn’t win much and his numbers did not return to his Minnesota-levels, suggesting that his numbers didn’t dip in Cleveland because he took a backseat to LeBron; or alternatively suggesting he’d forgotten how to play as the best player on his team; or alternatively suggesting he’d lost a step or two. Whatever the reason, Cleveland’s questionable (IMO) decision to sign him to that extension didn’t look great. But now, it looks awful.

This week, Love threw a couple of on-court tantrums.

What a baby. The quote about having money is obnoxious, but I especially hate how he treats his young teammate in the second video. I’m just very happy that everyone else finally sees what I’ve seen for more than a decade. This guy sucks. -TOB

PAL: Other than the following, I have no feelings about Kevin Love: 

The Beach Boys…meh. 

Videos of the Week

Tweets of the Week

I’m not a huge KD fan but I like Kendrick Perkins far less. So: LOLLLL.

Song of the Week

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – ‘Hey Mama’

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There is a small part of me that is actually very excited about this new company. But 70% of me is water. And the other part, the real part, the part that has feelings, and emotions, and thoughts, and if I can be crass, makes babies, that part thinks that all these changes suck b—.

-Michael Scott

Week of January 3, 2019

RIP, Commish.

One Game Makes All The Difference: Remembering Don Larson 

Readers of this newsletter know I’m a sucker for a sports obit. Don Larsen died this week at the age of 90, and Tyler Kepner of The New York Times centers the obituary on October 8, 1956 when Larson became the only pitcher to ever throw a perfect game in the World Series when he and the Yankee beat the Dodgers 2-0 in game 5. Larson’s perfect game remains a singular achievement in baseball. 

While I’m sure our fathers and uncles know, Larson was an unlikely pitcher to pull off the rarest of feats. In fact, The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ) ran the headline “Clown Prince ascends the throne”. The “midnight kid who doesn’t like to miss many laughs” had a career record of 81-91. He lost a Game 7 the very next year, and became a journeyman pitcher. He was the greatest for one day, and the details of the day make the achievement even more incredible. 

For one, Larsen didn’t exactly get 10 hours of sleep the night before Game 5. His friend told folks how he begged Larsen to take it easy the night before. To raise the degree of difficulty even more, there was an alimony dispute with his estranged wife. Per Kepner: 

Larsen must have had a lot on his mind. The day of the perfect game, his estranged wife, Vivian, asked the State Supreme Court to hold up his World Series winnings in an alimony dispute. A court order over unpaid child support was said to have been in Larsen’s locker as he pitched; newspapers called him a playboy.

But, as Jim Palmer sums up, there’s poetry in the idea that a below average player can be the greatest for a day. In his words, “That’s what baseball’s all about.”

Solid read. – PAL 

Source:Don Larsen Became an Unlikely Legend in 9 Perfect Innings”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (01/02/2020)

TOB: I really love that quote by Palmer. It’s one of my very favorite things about baseball: In one day, an average player can create a legacy. I’ll never forget the all-time leader for RBI in a game is Mark Whiten. He was a quintessential journeyman. But one day in 1993, he hit 12 RBI in a game. Although that one game constituted about 0.1% of his career games, the 12 RBI constituted about 3% of his career RBI.

Or take Brandon Crawford. He’s had his moments and hot streaks at the plate, but he’s known more for his glove. However, in 2016, he had a 7-hit game. In 2019, he had an 8-RBI game. He is the only player in MLB history to do both in his career. How wild is that?

David Stern’s Greatest Act As Commissioner: Compassion  

Former NBA commissioner David Stern died this week after suffering a brain hemorrhage before the holidays. And while he will be remembered as the maestro of growing the NBA into a global sport in a way that no other American sport could dream of, The Athletic’s Bill Oram focused his words on how Stern navigated Magic Johnson’s announcement that he had HIV in 1992. 

I am just old enough to remember how absolutely terrified and uninformed Americans were of and about AIDS and HIV in 1992. And then it comes out that Magic Johnson has HIV. He immediately retires from basketball. When he does want to make a comeback, players are protesting playing on the same court as Johnson. Sponsors threaten to take their business elsewhere. People still think the virus can be contracted by sweat. Throughout all of this, Stern sticks by Johnson. 

Stern admits that he did so to also protect his league. He understood the NBA needed to be about the stardom of its players, and so he stuck by one of the league’s greatest stars. 

“We were in the middle of a complete panic as a nation,” [Stern] said, “and we were losing people left and right. And by just working in a certain way to protect our league, which was (that) we embraced Magic, we didn’t shun him … we changed the debate on AIDS.”

This is another one of those stories I will think about when the familiar chorus, “stick to sports” is barked. In Stern’s words, “the social clout sports can have on important issues” are often the bookmarks we use to return to our history. Good, bad, and all of the above. – PAL

Source ‘Compassion and intelligence’ guided David Stern through aftermath of Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement”, Bill Oram, The Athletic (01/02/20)

TOB: I also liked another write-up on Stern, by the Athletic’s Ethan Strauss. He never met Stern, but they became in recent years, as Strauss puts it, pen-pals. One passage in particular struck a chord with me:

Beyond that reputation, he was frighteningly “high chair famous” to me. People of my generation might know what I mean. The famous people you learned about before you can even remember learning tend to inspire more awe.

This is so true. When you are very young, you don’t realize that famous people – be they athletes, politicians, coaches, media personalities – have not always been around. Sometimes, you find out later, they came to prominence just before you learned about them. But for you, they will always hold a special place. As time passes, for example, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of who the coaches of each team in the four major sports are. At age 9, though, I could have told you all of them, and I figured they’d all been there twenty years.

But they hadn’t. And they moved on. And many have passed away. Still, Stern will always be the NBA Commissioner to me just like Tom Brokaw will always be the face of television news. It’s hard to believe Stern is gone. It just feels…strange.

Colin Kaepernick’s Continued Exile Proves His Point

I highly recommend you read this article about Colin Kaepernick and his continued exile from the NFL. Here’s a great passage that is more or less the thesis:

The demonization of Kaepernick and the distortion of his message have contributed to his NFL exile. It is, as Patterson described, a kind of social death and, in many ways, our shared burden, just as it is Goodell’s and the 32 owners’ who have kept the league’s doors closed to him. The cancer isn’t Colin Kaepernick. It is the scourge of racism in our institutions, and it must be confronted or else the next curious black athlete of another generation will face the same battle: fatigued enough to embrace protest as their weapon of upheaval only to suffer in the same, scripted ways of their predecessors.

Kaepernick protested specifically against police officers not being punished for killing young persons of color. But his exile confirms an even larger point: the system is racist and the system is rigged. Good read. -TOB

Source: “Colin Kaepernick’s NFL Exile Feels Like Forever,” Tyler Tynes, The Ringer (12/23/2019)

Bumgarner Wanted to Leave, So He Left/An Ode to Farhan Zaidi

Madison Bumgarner, who almost single-handedly won a World Series for my favorite baseball team, left that team for a division rival – the Arizona Diamondbacks. A lot of Giants fans are angry – Bumgarner grew up a Giant, helping the team win the World Series in 2010 as a 20-year old rookie. But the anger is directed not at Bumgarner for leaving, but at the team’s front office, led by second-year President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi.

These are the same fans who whined and complained about Farhan constantly shuffling the roster last year; and then when he found a mix that won, those same fans cheered, while giving Farhan little credit.

Farhan’s shuffling found players who were good but underappreciated at their previous stops – guys like Mike Yastremzki and Alex Dickerson. Farhan flipped free agent to be pitchers like Drew Pomeranz and Sam Dyson for young and highly valued prospects who might be part of the next great Giants team, like Mauricio Dubon and Jaylinn Davis.

Back to Bum. He is an above average pitcher, though he never could find the consistency required to be truly great. Still, the Giants rotation next year looks to be a mess, and his innings and leadership would have been welcome for the next few years. In fact, it was reported that the Giants offered him something around 4 years and $75 million, which sounds a bit low until you learn his deal with Arizona was 5 years and $75 million. So, Bumgarner took less money per year and the same money overall to go elsewhere. It’s also been reported other teams offered him deals with much higher money. And what does that tell you?

It tells you Bumgarner did not want to be here. He wanted to be in Arizona. He said at his press conference that Arizona was his preferred destination. I don’t get it, personally; I think Phoenix sucks. And I don’t get why you wouldn’t want to become a legend in a city that reveres its sports heroes. But it’s his choice to make.

So why are fans mad at Farhan when Bumgarner chose to leave? Here are some recent questions to Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic’s mailbag article:

Do the Giants know how discouraged and worried the fans are? — @romareb

What’s the Giants management reaction to the discontent among their fans? — @woodiewoodf14

Discontent? Worried? Worried about what? First, it’s baseball! Chill out. Second, your team won three World Series titles this decade! Are you kidding me? These fans are spoiled and insufferable. They think there’s no plan because they think the Giants are one big bat away from competing with the Dodgers, who are so deep and so good. But the Giants are so far behind the Dodgers right now, it’s going to take so much more.

Farhan has done and continues to do an incredible job. When he turns this mess around, those fans will probably say they knew all along. But I know. I’m keeping the receipts. -TOB

Baseball in the 2010s

This is a really neat article from Tom Verducci about how baseball changed over the decade. I highly recommend it. -TOB

Source: MLB Changed More Than You Think in the 2010s,” Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated (12/23/2019)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Brittany Howard – Stay High 

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Jim, don’t take this the wrong way. Are you gonna take this the wrong way?

-Michael Scott