Week of May 22, 2020

Last Words on the Last Dance

Well, it’s over. 5 weeks, 10 hours. I laughed, I got angry, I got nostalgic. It wasn’t perfect, but to paraphrase Vince Vaughn’s character in Wedding Crashers: who are we kidding, neither are you. 

In the days that followed the conclusion, ESPN’s writers wrote about what they took away most from the documentary. One thing I took away was what a god damn sniveling priss Bob Costas was (I also watched Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals on Sunday afternoon ahead of the movie’s finale, and I counted no less than three cheap shots taken by Costas about Dennis Rodman. Included in that is Costas crying for a flagrant foul against Rodman when he and Karl Malone both tripped each other.

God, Costas sucks. Anyways.

Ramona Shelburne had a good point about Phil Jackson – he was an incredible coach because he knew how to let his players breathe. In watching the documentary, they discussed how Rodman missed a practice during the 1998 Finals because he was filming a WCW event with Hulk Hogan (in the broadcast, Costas ripped him for it. God damn you suck, Costas). But of course I thought back to how Jordan went to Atlantic City in the middle of a playoff series back in 1992 (?) to gamble all night. Sure, Jordan got crap for that, but Rodman was treated much more severely by the media (looking at you, Costas).

Most of all, it was fun. The last couple years, I had started to think that MAYBE LeBron is actually the greatest player of all time. I couldn’t help it. I tried to set aside recency bias, but watching him dominate Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was just too much. He’s so much bigger and stronger than Jordan. At his peak, that size and strength made him an even better defender than Jordan was at his peak. And how would Jordan guard him?

But this documentary took me back. Not only was Jordan incredible, watching him play basketball was art. I don’t know if Jordan or LeBron is better; now I realize it doesn’t really matter. But Jordan is still My Guy. -TOB

Source: How ‘The Last Dance’ Changed the Way We Think About Michael Jordan,” ESPN (05/17/2020)

Even Gluttony Couldn’t Stop Jordan 

Let’s talk about Jordan’s food poisoning in Utah, because we’ve come this far, right? Right. If you haven’t been watching the doc, then – my god – I tip my cap to you. Your life is full enough to not be watching the one appointment sports event taking place in America. For the rest of us, Jordan’s ‘Flu Game’ has been a classic for over 20 years. Turns out, the doc confirmed it wasn’t the flu; rather, it was Jordan eating a full pizza by himself (I wouldn’t know the first thing about doing something like that). Jordan says it was food poisoning. The Ringer’s Roger Sherman ain’t buying it, and neither do I…I mean, ultimately I’ll take Jordan at his word, but it’s an odd admission to make now. 

Sherman breaks down the issues with Jordan’s story, the number of guys that delivered the pizza, the fact that players or folks ordering food for the player wouldn’t advertise who the food was for, and the quality of the pizza (being that it came from the only place open). Ultimately, Sherman thinks it’s an attempt to distance the flu game from the rumor that he was simply hungover.

I don’t buy Jordan’s pizza explanation, but there’s one main argument in favor of it being the truth: Why would he lie about this? The Flu Game is an all-time piece of sports lore, as well as a testament to Jordan’s legendary determination and ability. While his performance is still impressive even if he was throwing up from food poisoning rather than sickness, it’s certainly less cool if the instigator was middle-of-the-night garbage pizza. 

There’s only one reason why I can imagine Jordan making up the pizza story: Over the years, many have assumed that Jordan’s Flu Game was actually a Hangover Game. After all, “flu-like symptoms” has long been the NBA’s wink-wink euphemism for “this player partied too hard last night.” And Jordan probably doesn’t want anyone to think he partied too hard the night before an NBA Finals game. Turning the flu story into the pizza story might be an attempt to usurp the hangover conspiracy through a specific explanation for why he felt bad. It’s the same reason you should say you had really bad diarrhea if you ever miss work or class—it’s gross enough that everybody will assume you’re telling the truth, because why would you lie about diarrhea? (Now I’m wondering what Paul Pierce is trying to cover up with his pants-pooping Finals story.)

Unfortunately, the “eating an entire pizza” angle isn’t quite the trump card the diarrhea excuse is. And eating an entire pizza isn’t mutually exclusive from the hangover theory, because “eating an entire pizza” is exactly the type of awful decision that an extremely drunk person would make during a night that could result in a debilitating hangover. 

One of the few details from this doc that left a major impact on me was being reminded that Michael Jordan and yours truly are barely the same species. This guy drank, smoked cigars a lot, stayed up gambling, then golfed 36-holes, then was the greatest basketball player on a nightly basis. Some people can burn the candle at both ends – and those people don’t get hungover after having one too many. They don’t live by the same rules as us. Athletes can handle more and recover faster almost every day.  

We’ve all been there. Sometimes you sidestep a hangover, and you have no idea how or why. Other times, you get tagged with one you simply didn’t earn. It was just your turn, and on that night the late-night pizza’s going to take down even the G.O.A.T.- PAL

Source: Conspiracy Corner: Did Michael Jordan Really Eat a Poisoned Pizza Before the Flu Game?”, Roger Sherman, The RInger (05/19/2020)

TOB: Sherman has some flawed logic; for example:

On the other hand: Why would Jordan need to be so protective of his pizza? Even if Jordan wanted to eat a whole pie by himself, why didn’t the crew in MJ’s room just order multiple pizzas so everybody could partake?

But Jordan explained in the documentary that everyone had eaten without him earlier. They probably weren’t hungry. This happens often with Suze and I: I’ll say I want to order something, she says she’s not hungry, so I make/order enough for one, and then when it’s ready, she suddenly wants some. Nah, brah.

But more importantly, a guy claiming to have owned the pizza place came forward this week to say that he is/was a Bulls fan and he delivered the pizza personally (with one other guy, not four) to ensure it would be fine. The pizza guy undermines Sherman’s argument that there’s no way the person ordering the pizza would identify it as being for Michael Jordan, or that the pizza people would assume a pizza going to a large hotel was for one of the players: 

When a delivery order came in from the hotel, the employee who answered the phone said he thought it was for one of the players. Fite, as the only Bulls fan working there, assumed control of the order. 

“I said, ‘Well, I’m delivering it’,” Fite recalled. “I remember saying this: ‘I will make the pizza, because I don’t want any of you doing anything to it.’ And then I told the driver, you’re going to take me there.”

PAL: The director of the doc, Jason Hehir, in an interview about this very topic points out that Jordan was upset the guys ate earlier without him. As punishment, Hehir says Jordan told him that he spat on the pizza so no else would touch it.


This is a cool idea for a series. Tony Gwynn was a great hitter, but his .415 career batting average – in over 100 plate appearances – against maybe the best pitcher of the past 50 years, Greg Maddux, doesn’t make sense. And Giants fans are all too familiar with Paul Goldschmidt’s .536 against Tim Lincecum (7 HR, 17 RBI in 34 plate appearances). 

But what’s really cool about Andrew Baggarly’s series, “Nemesis”, is he highlights the guys with ownage over players they have no business owning. Gwynn, Maddux, Goldschmidt, Timmy – they were at the tip top echelon of players (some for longer than others), and in that way it was a fair fight. Baggarly finds the mismatches that go the exact opposite way you’d figure them to go. In Baggarly’s words: “This is a series about the game’s greatest players, and the less-heralded foes who got the best of them again, and again, and again.”

I’m in on that sentence alone. 

Exhibit A: Rick Monday vs. Tom Seaver. 

Monday was no scrub; a scrub doesn’t hang around for 19 seasons. It’s just that, by the numbers (never saw him play), Tom Seaver was pretty damn great. Upper tier, even for Hall of Famers. This stat from Baggs is a powerful encapsulation: “He and Walter Johnson are the only pitchers in history to win 300 games, record 3,000 strikeouts and finish their careers with an ERA under 3.00”

Monday was unimpressed, even while Seaver humbled other greats: 

Tom was terrific against even the most inner-circle Hall of Famers. Ernie Banks hit .138 against Seaver. Johnny Bench hit .179. Gary Carter hit .188. So did Mike Schmidt, along with 35 strikeouts in 85 at-bats. Hank Aaron hit .220.

Rick Monday? He hit .349 with a 1.247 OPS — by far the highest among all 172 big-leaguers who faced Seaver at least 30 times in their careers. Monday hit 11 home runs against Seaver. It was the most he hit against any pitcher. It was the most Seaver allowed to any hitter. Willie Stargell, Darrell Evans and Ron Cey were next, with eight. And Monday had fewer plate appearances (104) than all three of those guys.

From 1972 to 1982, whether Seaver was a Met or a Red or Monday was a Cub or a Dodger, the battles were as one-sided as they come. Monday went 30-for-86 with five doubles, 17 RBI, 17 walks (two intentional) and 29 strikeouts. And those 11 homers.

Incredible. So is the story of how Monday and Seaver ‘relationship’ began playing summer ball up in Alaska. At that point, Monday was a first overall pick in the draft while Seaver played his college ball at Fresno City College and begging for any relief innings. 

And how did their one-sided rivalry take root? Read the story to find out, but I’ll tease it with the following: don’t embarrass a guy when his mom is around. 

Also, let’s take a second to appreciate the fact that, between the two of them, Monday and Seaver played 39 seasons of Major League ball. Looking forward to Baggs’ next installment. – PAL 

Source: Nemesis: Tom Seaver Went Back on his Word; His Rival Spent a Decade Getting Even”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (05/20/2020)

How to Create an 82-Game MLB Schedule? Ask the Stephensons.

What a funny story. As MLB and the MLBPA try to come to an agreement to save the 2020 season, Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri wondered what an 82-game season would look like, especially given the rumor that teams would stay within their own region (e.g., NL West teams would play only NL West and AL West teams). So she turned to a couple who would know: Henry and Holly Stephenson.

The husband-and-wife team created the schedule for every MLB season from 1982 to 2004, one of the most impressive streaks in baseball, until they were finally replaced by a professional computing firm. (By comparison, the NBA, whose schedules were written by the Stephensons in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, switched to more advanced technology back in 1985.) Now retired and at home on Martha’s Vineyard, Henry, 79, and Holly, 74, say that they haven’t played around with a schedule in at least a decade. But given the circumstances, and with all their extra free time at home, they were happy to answer a question: How would you handle this?

WHAT. The MLB schedule was created by hand, by a married couple, as late as 2004!? Incredible.

If you’re wondering, their answer to the question is pretty simple: 

Each team would play four three-game series against its four divisional opponents, two at home, two on the road. That would account for 48 games across 16 series. The team would also play two three-game series against each of the five clubs in the corresponding division in the opposite league, one home and one away, for 10 more series, or 30 more games. That lands on a uniform system for 78 games, with four left per team to be sprinkled in as four-game series instead of three. And there you have it—a “fairly clear, fairly simple, and relatively fair way of putting together a schedule,” says Henry.

Makes sense. I mean…it’s fiiiiine. But how do we screw over the Dodgers, WHO BY THE WAY, have not won the World Series since the fifth season the Stephensons were creating the schedule, 32 glorious years ago. -TOB

Source: How MLB’s Old Schedule Makers Would Set Up the 2020 Season,” Emma Baccellieri, Sports Illustrated (05/21/2020)

PAL: “They used their programming skills to take care of the grunt work and a human touch to handle the details and special requests…” Makes sense, but I do hope they are fans and therefore hate a rival team. Once the schedule was complete each year, I hope they poured a drink, sat on the porch and made their signature move to help their their team by hurting the rival.

Henry: Well done, my love.

Holly: To you as well.

Henry: You look ravishing tonight.

Holly: Stop it already. You really know your way around an Old Fashioned, my handsome man.

Henry: Shall we?

Holly (looking at the horizon): It is time.

Henry: The Phillies shall finish out the season with a series against the Dodgers, then onto D.C. to face Scherzer and the Nationals before wrapping up the season in Houston.

Holly: But what of off days?

(Henry and Holly laugh maniacally)

Holly: To the Mets.

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Khruangbin – “So We Won’t Forget

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There are five stages to grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And right now, out there, they’re all denying the fact that they’re sad. And that’s hard. And it’s making them all angry. And it is my job to try to get them all the way through to acceptance. And if not acceptance, then just depression. If I can get them depressed, then I’ll have done my job.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 15, 2020

Pretty much sums it up. Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Rule of Thumb: Never Side With Billionaires Over Millionaires

The MLB PR machine is hard at work this week, trying and seemingly succeeding, in one fell swoop, to turn many fans against the players in a brewing dispute: what does a return to baseball look like? More specifically, how do the finances work.

Some things to keep in mind: MLB does not have revenue sharing. In the NBA and NFL, player salaries (collectively) are tied to revenues through the salary cap (and floor). The cap and floor are set each year based on the previous year’s revenue. MLB does not do that. The players make what they make. Owners can spend as little or as much as they want. And if teams make a gigantic profit, they keep it for themselves. And they have – MLB teams have made profits of almost $6 billion dollars the last three years. 

But this year, the owners want things to change. When the season was shut down, the players immediately agreed to prorate their salaries according to the number of games played. Which was an insane give away by the players, if you ask me. The vast majority of baseball revenue comes from TV, and so far there is no reduction in the TV contracts, despite missed games. Plus, these are contracts – the players could have stood their ground and demanded to be paid. But they instead showed their good will by agreeing to significantly reduce their pay.

But that wasn’t enough for the owners. Now they are asking the players to tie salaries for this season to revenue, as they are concerned about the financial hit if games are played without fans (no tickets, no concessions). This would further reduce player salaries for the year, as revenues should be down. 

But remember, the last three years the owners have made almost $6B. So what would revenues be down this year without fans? Fangraphs’ Marc Edwards did some quick math and he came up with this:

Rob Manfred has indicated 40% of revenues are home stadium-related, in line with Forbes’ figure of around $4 billion. As to how that $4 billion figure might be made up, we already have the players discounting their salaries. If, for example, 100 games are played, players are giving up more than $1.6 billion in salaries. As mentioned above, players made amateur spending concessions that come close to $400 million this year. Expenses will likely go down if games are played in empty ballparks or at neutral sites (one estimate was by as much as 40%), and if teams can save even 25% of their expenses, that might mean another $1 billion dollars. Factoring in 2019 team profits of $1.5 billion per Forbes, and the league as a whole might end up turning a profit if they can keep all of their television revenue.

In other words, most teams will either break even, or perhaps lose a little bit. But that is not good enough for the owners, and as I said at the outset, they are trying to blame the players. Do not fall for their bullshit. As Edwards eloquently puts it:

The owners are trying to make the return of baseball about money. They want the reward without the risk because that’s what they’ve grown accustomed to after years of incredible revenue and increasing profits. The players negotiated a deal with the understanding that if it wasn’t safe to play, they wouldn’t have to. For MLB to try to use the fact that it is currently unsafe for fans to attend games as a reason for players to subsidize their potential losses reflects poorly on the owners and the Commissioner. After negotiating a CBA that turned out to be a huge win for the owners, the players knew they would have to wait five years for another crack at the bargaining table. The owners waited five weeks before crying poor.

For the most part, the players want to play. The fans want to watch. The owners are getting in the way with a shortsighted attempt to squeeze a little more money out of the players, a stance that could potentially damage the long-term health of our sport and their business.

Remember this when MLB’s PR kicks into overdrive. -TOB

Source: After Years of Profits, MLB Owners Ask Players to Subsidize Potential Losses,” Marc Edwards, Fangraphs (05/11/2020)

PAL: Good, pull, TOB. Revealing look at the PR game vs. what’s actually taking place, i.e., the math. I’d posit the owners’ PR move relies on fans having more immediate concerns about the health and employment of their loved ones – they won’t spend two seconds wondering how MLB baseball players are at risk of losing money. Set baseball aside, that’s not how the workforce should be treated. Also, as Edwards points out: 

It seems possible that proposing revenue sharing with the players is a way to keep more teams profitable and avoid uncomfortable inter-owner conflicts about how to split up revenue in a tough 2020 season. But it’s not the players’ job to help owners avoid discomfort among themselves. 

It makes me wonder in what other industries is ownership asking for the workforce to carry more than its fair share of the burden.

TOB: Yep, I didn’t even touch on the health issue. Here’s a video of the Rays’ Blake Snell discussing the health issues and how he feels he should get full pay.

Now, I don’t agree with everything the Snell says in the video (though I love how he says it), but I think he makes a lot of good points. And keep in mind, Snell has never made more than ~$500k in a season, despite winning the 2018 AL Cy Young, and was set for his first big pay day this year, at $11M, so he’s not yet even a millionaire. Besides, he’s been on my fantasy keeper league team since he was a minor league prospect and I’ll be damned if I don’t stand by My Guys. He’s a Ron Popeil, dammit!

A Most Impressive Slashline: .202/.289/.266 with 114 strikeouts in 497 plate appearances

Michael Baumann is one of our favorite baseball writers, and I enjoyed his examination of Michael Jordan, the baseball player. While the general story is that he wasn’t very good – that’s what his stat line tells us – for him to hit .200 is actually a pretty incredible feat. 

First, Jordan hadn’t played a baseball game in 15 years…since high school. And because he was one of the five most famous people on the planet, fans and press wanted to see him play minor league baseball. The fields in the lower ranks – rookie and A-ball – didn’t have the fan capacity or press areas for the Jordan circus, so they decided to plop him in perhaps the hardest level of minor league ball: Double-A.

Per Baumann:  

Double-A is minor league baseball’s weed-out course. Most pitchers in the low minors have either a good fastball or a good breaking ball, but not both, and those who do have good raw stuff are still figuring out how to throw strikes. If a hitter with a pretty swing and good hand-eye coordination is going to struggle with off-speed pitches, Double-A is usually where we find that out. 

Even for players with lots of baseball experience, seeing a big-league-quality curveball for the first time is a lot like seeing an alien. And Jordan was no exception. 

I told my brother about this story, told him Jordan’s stat line, and he asked what I think I could’ve hit in double-A (let’s assume right after college). I think plenty of guys could square up a few fastballs a week, but once they saw me flail at a slider, that would be the end of me. I’d be lucky to hit .200. 

The second factor working against Jordan was his body. Being 6’6” as a position player in baseball is not advantageous. Very few long guys – basketball bodies, with long arms and legs – have fared well in baseball, especially as hitters. Football players playing baseball. Of course there are some examples (Bo, Deon, Frank Thomas played football at Auburn, too). But basketball, especially taller dudes…that doesn’t really happen. 

We’ve probably seen the last NFL/MLB crossover star, but it’s still positively commonplace to see exceptional athletes play both baseball and football. Murray is the most obvious example, though the top pick in the 2019 MLB draft, Adley Rutschman, moonlighted on the football team at Oregon State. The year after Auburn lost Bo Jackson to the NFL, Frank Thomas got to campus and played football as well as baseball. At one point, the Colorado Rockies had both Peyton and Eli Manning’s college backups on their roster—and there are hundreds of other examples. 

But the physical demands of baseball and basketball are so different that it’s extremely difficult to play both at a high level. Basketball players, to paraphrase Jay Bilas, tend to have length. Long arms and legs take up space on defense and make it easier to shoot over opponents or reach the basket on dunks. When it comes to baseball, though, long limbs are really beneficial only for pitchers, who turn that extra distance between the shoulder and the hand into increased angular momentum—in other words, fastball velocity. That’s why the overwhelming majority of baseball-basketball crossovers are pitchers. Mark Hendrickson played in both the NBA and MLB, and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teammate Scott Burrell was once a first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners. Milwaukee Bucks wing Pat Connaughton was a highly regarded pitcher at Notre Dame and a solid prospect in the Orioles system before he chose to play basketball full time. Hall of Fame pitchers Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Ferguson Jenkins all played high-level college or pro basketball, while basketball Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere played for the White Sox in parts of two seasons.

Looking at Jordan’s swing, the very first thing that jumps out is how uncoordinated his weight transfer is. He looks hesitant, committing only partially to the swing and halting his forward momentum to the point where he sometimes knocks his knees together. He looks like a pitcher, or a baby deer. 

It’s all on display in that video clip above. For someone that redefines what it looked like to play basketball, he’s an awkward deer playing baseball. And yet, being super tall and having not played baseball in a decade and a half, Jordan hit .200 in Double-A. Incredible. -PAL

Source: Actually, Michael Jordan’s .202 Batting Average Is More Impressive Than It Seems”, Michael Baumann, The RInger (05/12/20)

TOB: I’ve always thought his .202 average was good, and as a kid I didn’t even realize that AA often has stiffer competition than AAA (the very best prospects get most of their seasoning in AA, and then get a quick trip to AAA, if they go at all). But I really appreciate how this documentary has caused people to revisit this topic. Because it’s not just good. For all the reasons Baumann and Phil discuss, it was incredible. A person should simply not be able to do that. Consider this example from Baumann:

Current Cardinals QB Kyler Murray was one of the most coveted high school infielders in the nation in 2015. But after skipping the 2016 season, he went 6-for-49 with no extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts at the University of Oklahoma in 2017.

Murray, who again had been a top prospect coming out of high school (something Jordan was not), had one year off (not 15), was playing in college (which is much weaker competition than AA), and he’s maybe 5’10 (but Tinder he’s 6-foot; note: joke stolen from Lil Dicky) (not 6’6 like MJ). 

What makes his year in baseball most impressive is what he did in the Arizona Fall League after the season. The AFL is essentially an all-star season for young prospects. Each team sends 3-4 of its best young prospects to help form a handful of teams. Jordan went, and he hit .252. 

However, I find Francona’s statement that Jordan would have made the majors with another 1,000-1,500 at bats simply astonishing. Even I, a Jordan apologist to the core, never would have guessed that. Of course, I defer to Tito.

One last thing: the decision to start him in AA because of the media and fan capacity is outrageous, and suggests to me the White Sox did not take him seriously at the start of the year. 

PAL: For real, how much more do you trust and love Francona based solely on him having an awesome nickname? 

Good Work, Bauer

Hockey players recognize the name Bauer. One of the biggest major hockey equipment brands is doing its part during the pandemic. Instead of the cage mask, many youth hockey players choose a clear shield (a lot of professionals go with the half shield). As the pandemic spread across North America, the company shifted production to making protective masks for health care workers due to the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E). The goal was to make 2.25 million masks at cost for workers in Canada and the U.S. The company saw it as a way to contribute in the short-term. 

Per Helene Elliott: 

March became April, which bled into early May, and the need for protective equipment remains. But what began as a determined, short-term response to an urgent problem has become an example of the best aspects of human ingenuity and adaptability, one of the few positive souvenirs that can be taken from this prolonged and anxious time.

The company, having recognized they won’t be able to meet the demand, posted its designs for any other company to use and thereby avoiding the trial-and-error stage of manufacturing. 

Not a ton to this story, but it made me feel good, and I wanted to share all of you. – PAL 

Source: Bauer’s line shift from hockey equipment to medical face shields is inspiring”, Helene Elliott, L.A. Times (05/14/20) 

Video of the Week:

Stephen A.’s reaction says it all: this take was too fake and obviously an attempt to get attention, even for him.

Tweet(s) of the Week:

Song of the Week: Lee Fields & The Expressions – “Don’t Leave Me This Way”

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Tell him I will give him general specifics tomorrow, okay?

-Michael Scott

Week of May 8, 2020

TOB’s j is all over the Chronicle sports page! Pretty clogged in the lane there. That one guy in the black pants just looks like he’s out for a walk.

Baseball is Back in South Korea, But We Are Not South Korea

Baseball is back! In South Korea. But it’s on ESPN! Late at night. Still, the other night I tuned into the KBO’s opening day, at around 10pm PDT. There was a rain delay, but then the games started. And for about two innings, it was lovely. I scrolled twitter while hearing Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez (shoutout to Eduardo, who we sat next to at breakfast at CWS last year!) discuss baseball. As The Ringer’s Michael Baumann wrote:

It was then that I thought of something I’d heard long ago from a therapist: Sometimes, when we go a long time without something we need, we learn to convince ourselves that we never needed it in the first place. By the time Baek toed the rubber in Daegu on Tuesday morning, I’d gone 52 days without watching a live sporting event, and breaking that streak brought an unexpected yet physically palpable sense of relief. Baseball, even if it featured unfamiliar participants in profoundly weird circumstances at a time when I would much rather have been asleep, had lost none of its emotional potency.

But after a couple innings, I lost interest. I think the majority of that is the same reason I don’t usually watch, say, a Mets/Marlins game on Sunday Night Baseball. I only have so many hours a week, and if I’m going to watch baseball, it’s going to be my team, the team I care about. But The Ringer’s Michael Baumann touched on something else that I was also feeling:

But somewhere around the segment with Passan, the feeling of creeping dread came back. It would be ridiculous to watch baseball returning to South Korea and not expect MLB to poke its head around the corner relatively soon, and the substance of Passan’s appearance focused on when and how that might happen.

As Baumann notes, unlike in the U.S., South Korea’s COVID-19 outbreak was strangled from the outset. We are not in the same position as they are, and it’s not close. Baumann then lays out how the powers that be – from agent Scott Boras and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred all the way to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are all laying the groundwork for the return of sports in the U.S. It’s almost as if ESPN airing the KBO in an effort to put it in our heads: Hey, sports can return. Sports should return! As Baumann puts they are trying to give us “…the overwhelming belief that baseball is important, and if it’s being played anywhere it must be played here also.” 

We don’t know what the next month will look like; we don’t know what the next six months will look like. But resist the urge to look at South Korea playing baseball and think, “We should do that, too.” -TOB

Source: The Joy and Anxiety of Watching KBO’s Return,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (05/06/2020)

On The Line: The Disturbing Diets of the Offensive Linemen 

Some have a hard time maintaining weight, while others are skipping meals and taking saunas to make weight (and avoid team fines), but the life of NFL linemen seems to be centered on food. John Gonzalez’ story reveals the extremes of what it takes to make a living in the trenches, and how the media and fans adore the beer-drinking, beer-belly uggos fighting over inches. 

Gonzalez highlights o-linemen from both ends of careers: from guys just drafted to guys who’ve recently retired. Every dude profiled – from fourth round draft pick Ben Bartch to future HOFs Joe Thomas and Allan Faneca – lives a day scheduled around food. It’s disturbing to read them walk through a ‘typical’ day. If that’s not enough, the during football and after football pics are incredible. You see just how much they ask of their bodies, and then you see how relatively small these dudes are meant to be: 

Joe Thomas:

John Sullivan: 

Alan Faneca: 

As Thomas puts it: “It’s totally an unhealthy relationship with food as an offensive lineman. I don’t know many people who are normally just 300 pounds.”

However, a small light shines through this story. New guys like Bartch and Jon Runyan are looking for ways to do this healthy. Beers and ice cream are being replaced with sweet potatoes, steamed rice, and – as Runyan puts it, “a truckload of chicken breast or tenderloin.” These young guys are food prepping for the week, because it’s pretty hard to eat healthy on a college campus, especially when you need to eat every two hours. Runyan, whose dad played in the NFL, knows the goal is to put on the weight in a way that limits the damage to the body after a NFL career.

A fascinating, albeit disturbing story about the offensive line. Excellent read. – PAL 

Source: ‘It’s Totally an Unhealthy Relationship With Food”’, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (05/05/20)

TOB: This article was just so sad. I’ve heard others suggest a weight limit in the NFL, but I thought it was silly – why keep someone out if they are naturally large? That’s still true for me, but I had no idea so many players have to work so hard to get and stay big. The stories from guys like Joe Thomas on how he much he had to force himself to eat in order to maintain his playing weight are disturbing. Maybe a weight limit is something to consider – even 300 lbs.

Was Trump Good at Baseball?

h/t TOB’s mom for sending this along

Donald Trump has long claimed he was a very good baseball player in high school. In fact, he claimed pro teams scouted him, and that he could have played professional baseball, if he had wanted to. So, writer Leander Schaerlaeckens went to incredible lengths to investigate these claims. He interviewed Trump’s former teammates and coaches; he contacted the MLB teams who supposedly scouted him; he talked to modern day scouts; he found old magazine interviews with Trump and others; he scoured small town newspaper clippings and box scores. Honestly, you have to respect this hustle. 

The conclusion? Trump was probably an average to above-average high school athlete, but no more. Most of his teammates agreed he was a pretty good defensive first baseman, but there was disagreement about his abilities as a hitter. However, Schaerlaeckens was able to find approximately nine box scores; that’s a small sample, but Trump’s team played only 30-40 baseball games over the three years he was on the team, so we’re talking about one-third to one-fourth of Trump’s games. In those games, Trump hit just .138. That is NOT GOOD! Certainly not at the level that would get anyone scouted in Trump’s small, northeast military academy league. 

But the article is interesting as yet another view into how Trump and his people have for decades tried to craft the Trump myth. One of a few examples comes in a piece Trump wrote for Fox News dope Brian Kilmeade’s book about how future politicians were shaped by sports. Here’s Trump in the book:

“I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper,” he continued. “It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.”

Schaerlaeckens scoured the local papers of the time and found no such headline, or anything like it. It doesn’t mean it didn’t occur, but it seems doubtful. In fact, according to a former teammate, Trump may have won a game once, but despite Trump’s claims, it was not on a home run:

We were walking together near the baseball field where, he reminded me, he’d played exceptionally well. He demanded that I tell him the story of one of his greatest games.

“The bases were loaded,” I told him. “We were losing by three. You hit the ball just over the third baseman’s head. Neither the third baseman nor the left fielder could get to the ball in time. All four of our runs came in; we won the game.”

“No,” he [Trump] said. “That’s not the way it happened. I want you to remember this: I hit the ball out of the ballpark! Remember that. I hit it out of the ballpark!”

Ballpark? I thought. We were talking about a high school practice field. There was no park to hit a ball out of. And anyway, his hit was a blooper the fielders misplayed.

That sounds like our guy. 

But one Trump boast in particular made me chuckle. In the same article Trump wrote for Kilmeade Trump made a claim that is demonstrably false. Here’s Schaerlaeckens:

Trump, who played first base, wrote that “being a pro was in the equation” until he attended a tryout with “another young kid named Willie McCovey.” Apparently, the sight of the future Hall of Famer in action convinced him to give up baseball for good.

As for Willie McCovey, he was eight years older than Trump. When Trump was a senior in high school, McCovey was in his fifth year in the major leagues and already an All-Star.

Whoops, Donald. Maybe in the future, he could change the story from McCovey to Reggie Jackson, who made his debut in 1967. The math works a little better. -TOB

Source: Was Donald Trump Good at Baseball,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, Slate (05/05/2020)

PAL: Major kudos to Mrs. O’Brien and Schaerlaeckens. This is some real investigative work to confirm something that – on the surface – doesn’t matter to most. I urge folks to read the full story. Two quotes from the story speak volumes to me: 

From the man himself (ellipses from Schaerlaeckens, underline is mine):

I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper. It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.

(PAL note: nevermind the fact that no such headline exists, and they never played Cornwall in ‘64, or ‘63, but that’s not the point.)

And this:  “If he had hit the ball to right, he could’ve had a home run because no one was there,” a classmate told the Post. “But he always wanted to hit the ball through people. He wanted to overpower them.” 

The Jordan Rules

As we continue to watch The Last Dance, here’s an excerpt from a 2017 article by Bryan Curtis of the Ringer on former Bulls beat writer Sam Smith’s 1992 book, “The Jordan Rules.” The book dished the dirt on Jordan and the Bulls from inside the locker room as they marched to their first title in 1991:

Or take former Bulls coach Doug Collins, now a commentator on ESPN. In December 1988, the Bulls played so unevenly in Charlotte that Collins called for the team to fly back to Chicago for a Christmas Eve practice. Jordan didn’t appear for the team bus — he was returning to North Carolina for the holidays, anyway, and didn’t want to bother with a round trip to Chicago. Collins — who was, in theory, the coach — was humiliated. But what could he do? He sent word that if Jordan would just meet the team at the airport, Collins would “spontaneously” cancel practice, thus caving to Jordan while (or this was Collins’s idea) preserving a shred of his own authority.

Which is what happened, Smith reported. Except when Jordan showed up at the airport, the guard John Paxson saw he wasn’t wearing socks. No one went to Chicago in winter without socks. The Bulls realized the whole scene was a sham.

I laughed so hard when I read this. Collins reminds me of Michael Scott in “The Dinner Party” episode of The Office.

“This is b.s., this is b.s.! Why are we here? I am going to call Krause. Enough is enough, I’m, god, I’m so mad! This is Doug Collins, Chicago. Well, we don’t want to practice. No, we don’t. It’s not fair to these people! These people are my friends and I care about them! We’re not gonna do it! …Everybody, I just got off the horn with Krause. And basically, I told them where they can stick their Christmas Eve practice. Go enjoy your Christmas!”

Curtis also sees the book as a workplace drama, not unlike The Office. 

The Jordan Rules is a story of coworkers, maybe the best office drama in the history of sportswriting.

In one fascinating sequence, Smith shows how even a small personnel move can reverberate across the roster. Phil Jackson wants to put Stacey King, who’s rotting on the bench, into the starting lineup to get him going. But Jackson realizes such a move will be seen by Horace Grant, who’s angling for a new contract, as management’s scheme to limit his minutes and gain an upper hand in the negotiations. It’s only after Grant’s extension is signed that Jackson makes King a starter. But even that is interpreted by several Bulls players as a power move by David Falk, the agent to both King and Jordan.

The battle was joined by Jackson too. The Jordan Rules allows you to appreciate the now checked-out Knicks boss in his Sith lord prime. Once, Smith reported, Jackson stopped keeping score in a team scrimmage because he knew such a decision would piss off the competitive Jordan. When Jordan tomahawk dunked and then stared down his coach, Jackson knew he’d succeeded. Yes, feel the hate flow through you!

I want to read this book. One more:

But in 1991, the idea that Jordan was an exciting but somehow deficient basketball player was every bit as powerful as the idea that Russell Westbrook is one today. As David Robinson says in the book: “Michael is more of a non-basketball-fan type of player. He always looks great out there hanging, jumping, dribbling around. But if you know a lot about the game, you appreciate what I do more.” 

HAHAHAHA. Oh man, David Robinson putting a spin on the old adage that it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to talk and remove all doubt. But in Robinson’s case, he never said anything controversial and people incorrectly assumed he was wise. Nope. -TOB

Source: ‘The Jordan Rules’ Was the Mother of All Woj Bombs,” Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (06/09/2017)

PAL: Just going to put this right here…

Video of the Week

The 80s were so goddamn funny.

Tweet of the Week

I am not going to embed this, but if you haven’t seen the documentary on former Niners’ QB Alex Smith’s return from a broken leg that resulted in a bacterial infection that almost cost him his leg and his life, and you’re wondering what that might have looked like, then click this link for what his leg looked like four days after the injury. If you’re squeamish, you have been warned.

Song of the Week – El Michels Affair – “Life of Pablo”

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You are a thief of joy. 

-Michael Scott

Week of May 1, 2020

50th Anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s Kentucky Derby story and the birth of Gonzo 

To a fat whack of our generation, Hunter S. Thompson is the guy Johnny Depp portrays in a movie. Thompson was a very real guy, and – in a way – he invented the style of journalism that is the grandfather of blogs everywhere. Don’t let the drugs, then guns, and the celebrities fool you; Thompson is a literary giant when it comes to journalism. By accident or otherwise, and his story about the Kentucky Derby was the beginning of ‘gonzo’ as we’ve come to know it.  

If you were looking for a story on the actual race, well this ain’t it, boys and girls. Thos ain’t about the results; this is a story about everything surrounding the race, which is to say everything that actually matters at a sporting event. 

Per Bill Shea: 

A sample: “… the clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious.”

Later, Thompson on how the style came to be: 

“It was one of those horrible deadline scrambles and I ran out of time. I was desperate. Ralph Steadman had done the illustrations, the cover was printed and there was this horrible hole in the magazine. I was convinced I was finished, I’d blown my mind, couldn’t work. So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody,” Thompson said. “Then when it came out, there were massive numbers of letters, phone calls, congratulations, people calling it a ‘great breakthrough in journalism.’ And I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

And that’s what the profile became: An indictment of sports celebrity endorsement culture, blending whatever insight Thompson could glean from this young French cipher with his own observations. The reader gets a feel for Thompson’s frustrations in trying to interview, report and write a traditional narrative feature profile.

As it pertains to Thompson, the man. I mean, how in the actual hell did he become the voice of a counterculture, pretenders and otherwise: 

Other than a few classes, the auto-didactic Thompson didn’t attend college. A short stint in jail at the end of high school led to a brief Air Force enlistment, where he ended up as sports editor of a base newspaper in Florida. He taught himself newspaper journalism’s basics from library books.

“When he was stuck in the Air Force and miserable that they weren’t going to make him a pilot, he gravitated to the newspaper job. This would be as close as he could be to being a civilian and still be in the military,” McKeen said. “He learned the jargon from a book.”

Thompson also moonlighted as a civilian sports columnist and a pro wrestling promoter while writing for the Air Force (which included an expose on current or future NFL stars such as Bart Starr getting preferential treatment while on military service teams).

After that, he held a series of jobs at small newspapers, ending up in Puerto Rico to write about bowling alleys at one point, where he started a novel that wouldn’t be published for almost 40 years. Thompson spent about a year in South America writing about local politics and culture for the since-defunct National Observer, a gig that earned him praise within the industry and a wider audience.

And, if you really want a treat, then go ahead and read Thompson’s original Derby story here. – PAL 

Source: “An Inside Look at How Sports Shaped Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Gonzo’ Journalism”, Bill Shea, The Athletic (04/29/20)

TOB: I read Thompson’s original Kentucky Derby when Grantland (RIP!) published it in full back in 2013. I can’t wait to read it again.

What It’s Like: Caddieing a PGA Tour Event

I could do that! There aren’t many roles in professional sports that us regulars watch and can honestly think, I could do that, but caddieing a professional golf tournament seems like it would be near the top of the list. And what an odd role. Part navigator, part assistant. A one-man entourage. Guitar tech of the sports world. Such a strange way to make a life. 

I could do that. Maybe. Daniel Rapaport did it, and his story is a great Saturday AM read and a fun break from the 24/7 pandemic news cycle. Rapaport met PGA Tour player Matthew Fitzgerald in 2013. They were both freshmen at Northwestern. Rapaport was hoping he’d claim a spot on the golf team as a walk-on. Fitzgerald, U.S. Amatuer champ, left school after one semester to prepare for The Masters. Since then, Rapaport earned his stripes as a sportswriter while Fitzgerald slowly made his way up the various tours until earning his PGA card in 2018. They grew closer, especially when Fitzgerald would crash at Rapaport’s parent’s place in L.A. when he was in the area for tournaments. 

Rapaport had floated the idea of caddieing long ago, and – after a couple near misses – he got his chance at the legendary Pebble Beach Pro Am. That’s when this story starts to get really interesting. The amount of data that each player and caddie have to process in each shot is pretty incredible. Let’s just say the scorecard clipped to your cart and the books these dudes get aren’t very similar. The practice rounds (which sound like absolute heaven on a golf course) weren’t just for ‘Fitzy’ – Rapaport needed some reps, too. 

My first order of business was figuring out how we’d calculate yardages. There’s a surprising amount of math involved. It’s not difficult math, but there’s a lot of it, and it needs to be done quickly and correctly. The process starts with the tee shot. The tour yardage book gives you a number to every sprinkler head, as well as how many yards uphill or downhill it is. But the yardage is given from the back of whatever tee the person who made the book thinks will be used, so you have to pace off how far the markers are from the back of the box. If they’re using another tee box, that’s another layer.

The more crucial calculations come with the approach shot. The book will list every sprinkler head out there, and the sprinkler heads show a number to the middle of the green. But pros aren’t concerned with this yardage. So you find the nearest sprinkler—say, in this case, it reads 140—and check the book. The book tells you that from the 140 sprinkler, it’s 124 yards to the front, and it will also list the slope. Say it’s six yards uphill—it’s playing 130 to the front edge. You then consult the daily pin sheet, which tells you how many paces on the green the flag is. Say it’s 14 paces on. Now we’re at 144 to the flag. But we’re not trying to land it at the flag. Say we want the ball to pitch four paces short. Now we’re back to 140. On to the wind. Say it’s a bit into the fan. Matt thinks it’s playing five yards more. Now we’re at our number: 145. Last calculation: a start line and a finish line. Then, finally, it’s go time. All that in less than 30 seconds.

I thought I had the hang of it all until we reached the ninth hole, an uphill par 4 that turns slightly right. Matt hit his drive in the middle of the fairway—it’s hard to overstate just how straight Fitzy hits it—and asks me, and me alone, to get the yardage. A test! I ran through the numbers quickly and confidently. I communicated to him that it was playing 158 with a hair of wind in the face, a perfect 8-iron. After he struck the approach, it was clear the ball needed to sit—quickly. Get. Down. Now.It didn’t, and it pitched on the back edge of the green, a solid 15 yards past the pin. He then gave me The Look. Every caddie knows The Look. It’s when your player stares at you piercingly, and you both know that you have just screwed up massively, and someone better just say something already. I looked back down at the pin sheet, and sure as hell, I was looking at the eighth hole, not the ninth.

Love the payoff there. The other big take-away Rapaport left with (aside from eating italian every night because, well, the boss likes italian food), was the mental exhaustion. These caddies aren’t hitting the shots, but they are living and dying on every shot. While their cut isn’t nearly as big as the players, they are winning and losing a lot of money with every shot to which they inform. 

Players always talk about how “mentally tired” they are after a tournament, but I never understood what they meant. I do now. This was the most emotionally invested I’ve been in anything since high school sports. I was nervous as hell on the first tee every morning. I lived and died with every birdie putt. I cringed as he prepared to play a tricky flop shot, and my eyes got huge as I saw an approach fly directly at the flag. I buzzed as we started making birdies, and cursed as we started making bogeys. I was the happiest guy in the world after our Saturday back-nine flourish and virtually inconsolable (just ask my girlfriend) after a bitterly disappointing Sunday.

The story is a bit fat in the front, but a fun read that leaves you with a bit more appreciation for the guy walking next to The Guy. – PAL

Source: I Caddied for a Top-25 Player in the World at a PGA Tour Event. Here’s What It Was Like”, Daniel Rapaport, Yahoo (04/27/20)

TOB: I’m sure Rapaport knows a lot more about golf than I do, but all this told me is that caddying (shouldn’t it be caddying and not caddieing?) is the easiest, most luuuuuux gig there is. It takes very little actual skill – nothing you can’t pick up in 15 minutes. And the reward? The top 50 golfers last year averaged $4.6M in winnings. Rapaport says caddies take 8% (though 10% if it’s a major) – which equates to the average full-time caddy making $368,000 and change. There are 40 weeks a year with a PGA event. I doubt most players play them all. So a caddy makes all that money for 30 or so weeks’ work. Nice gig!

Also, I could not stop laughing at how much he used “we” – “We played the first eight of the final round in even par, which had us creeping up the board on a brutally windy day..when you’re six over for the day through 12 holes, the mind wanders to what could have been done differently: We could have hit 9-iron on 9 instead of wedge, I could have said something different on 10 tee, we could have started that tee shot on 12 more right.” LOLLLLLLLL.

Jordan : Athlete :: King Arthur : Political Leader

Loved this Brian Phillips’ piece on The Last Dance. Thought I’d share it, since I’m pretty sure most of us are watching. Let’s be honest – the Rodman ep was meh, but the stories about the Pistons were so good. 

I love this story because I’d never heard the connection we have to our childhood heroes explained in this way, and as soon as I read it, I thought, Damn; that’s exactly it r

As kids, Phillips’ sister would say that she controlled MJ on the court. Emily wasn’t even a basketball fan, but nonetheless she would tell Brian, “Michael Jordan and I just have a…kind of connection.” It became a bit of a family joke, with their father praising Emily after Jordan made yet another spectacular play (sidenote: my god, the highlights of a young Jordan. I know we’ve seen them before, but his speed, power, grace remain awe-inspiring.)

Phillips explores the truth in their telekinetic joke: 

My sister’s joke about moving MJ around with her mind was only a somewhat exaggerated version of how hordes of basketball fans (and non-basketball fans, and probably fruit flies, though they couldn’t buy Nikes) watched his games in the ’90s. It’s only a somewhat exaggerated version of how we watch great athletes in general—not literally guiding their movements, that is, but somehow participating, hitching an imaginary ride in their bodies. We feel a kind of sympathetic echo of their actions, as if, on some shadow-cellular level, they’re our actions, too.

That lands. I was with Puckett when he tracked Ron Gant’s deep fly in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. I jumped when he jumped, and it all mixes together to the point in which it’s difficult to separate my experience from his. The echo on a cellular level…ain’t that the truth. (And – yep – I know you Giants fans are so beyond over hearing about Puckett, Game 6. Too bad.) 

Phillips goes on to also explain the power of Jordan is the simplicity of his narrative, which is the template of the modern sports narrative (after being ‘cut’ from his high school team, he exceeds every expectation, hits ‘every’ clutch shot, and becomes a billionaire). What’s more, he represents the closest to the ideal that we’ve witnessed.

Like any competitive pursuit, sports have always trafficked in the ideal. Here’s the perfect body; sculpt it. Here’s the perfect victory; write a poem about it in Greek. For the most part, though, the ideal remains an abstract concept. People chase perfection but don’t reach it, as a rule. In America in the 1980s and ’90s, though, we decided that we were going to get to see the ideal—the real thing, the source itself, in the flesh. You could write a thesis, probably, on the historical factors that went into constructing that determination. The point is, Michael Jordan gave it to us. He came so close to actually embodying the ideal athlete—he really did hit the buzzer-beaters, he really did seem to move in a different and more beautiful way than other players, he really did seem to hang for an impossible extra beat in the air—that we were able to believe the ideal athlete existed. He was here. He was ours. He was the perfect fusion of capitalism and destiny. He was a living person, but the way we experienced him, he was a basketball player in approximately the same way as King Arthur was a political leader.

That’s some big thinking. An idea that will stick with you for a weekend. And so, as is the case with many examples of great writing, this story is a long path towards a question: is The Last Dance a refresher of the ideal or an unearthing of the humanity in Mike Jordan? – PAL 

Source: Michael Jordan the Story Versus Michael Jordan the Man”, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (04/27/20)

How One Trade Got Done

From the public standpoint, there are generally two types of blockbuster trade. The first is the long-rumored, makes so much sense trade that gets discussed for weeks or months before it finally gets done. The second is the one that shows up as breaking news, out of nowhere, on the ESPN ticker.

But either version, a trade usually doesn’t come together quickly. There is a lot of negotiation back and forth. I’ve always wondered how it happens, though I’m sure it’s always different. So I really enjoyed this story on the 2013 trade that sent James Shields from the Rays to the Royals for a package of prospects, including the then #1 rated prospect, Wil Myers. Executives from both sides go on the record, 7 years later, and it’s a really interesting read. They discuss how they valued the different players involved, the emotional investment for each, knowing when is the time to push your chips in the middle, and even the exact moment the trigger was pulled. 

Inside Moore’s suite was a dry-erase board covered in ink. Moore had written the names of Kansas City’s top prospects. He made his case to his assistants. He crossed off Myers’ name. He crossed off Odorizzi. He crossed off Montgomery and Leonard. Moore pointed to the unsullied names on the board.

“Do we still have a good system?” he asked. Heads nodded. “If we’re going to compete,” Moore said, “we have to make this deal. I don’t know about you guys. But I’m tired of losing.”

Friedman and Moore reconnected. “The tenor of the conversation changed dramatically,” Friedman said. They were speaking the same language.

The two teams left Nashville without a deal done. Moore still needed to convince his owners to take on the contracts for Shields and Davis. He wanted to escape the bubble of the Winter Meetings and reflect. He wanted to gather himself before taking the plunge.

A couple days later, Moore went to a Christmas party with Picollo and scouting director Lonnie Goldberg. During a lull in conversation, Moore made up his mind. He pulled out his phone.

“Guys, I’m just going to go do this,” he said. “I’m going to call Andrew right now.”

It’s also interesting to read, 7 years later, because I don’t think this deal gets done now. Myers was the #1 rated prospect. Now, he’s a goddamn Giants-killer, but overall he was disappointing for the Rays, and has been just ok for the Padres. But he was The Next Big Thing, and he was traded for a 31-year old pitcher, with a lot of innings on his arm, with exactly one All Star Appearance and one season in which he received Cy Young votes, and only two years of team control. He was basically Joe Blanton. Prospects are simply valued much higher now, and there is no way a guy like Shields is enough to get not only the #1 prospect, but a few other highly rated guys, too. Still, a very fun read. -TOB

Source: ‘It Was Time to Win’: Inside the Royals’ Trade for James Shields and Wade Davis,” Andy McCullough, The Athletic (04/22/2020)

Video of the Week: 

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: Pink Floyd – ‘Wish You Were Here’

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Stanley’s dedication is no doubt one of the hallmarks of the foundation of the business we’re hoping to build our basis on.

-Michael Scott

Week of April 24, 2020

TOB is Klay at every pickup game.

The Silver Lining to Shelter-in-Place

The last month has been difficult. Fifty thousand people have died in this country. That’s a nearly-full football stadium, just wiped away. For the loved ones they left behind, it’s been devastating; life-altering. 

For others, like us, it’s been merely an adjustment, and thankfully nothing more. But I miss so many things: the periodic visits from my parents; weekend trips to get coffee and donuts with the boys; hours-long brew days and chats with Phil; daily strategy sessions and shop-talk with my buddy Kevin at work; pickup basketball in my neighborhood on Sunday mornings.

But more than all of that, I try to ignore what my kids are missing out on. My oldest, who wants nothing more than to play sports, got to play exactly one spring soccer game and zero baseball games. It was his first baseball season, and he sure seems snakebit. Last season, I got him onto a team and after the first few practices were rained out, we showed up to the first game, ready to play, and he was turned away for being too young. This year, he went to opening ceremonies, then had his first game rained out, and the rest of the season canceled. My youngest, who for two years was desperate to attend school, had his first year of preschool cut in half. He talks about all of his friends daily – giving us random stories about something one of them did to him, or said to him, or how he handled it. And he begged me Thursday to “go to class” via Zoom with his teacher again, which he did the day before and absolutely loved.

Because even with all of that going on, I’ve tried to be very conscious of how unbelievably lucky my wife and I are. We have our health, as do our friends and family. We have our jobs. We have incredible childcare help that allows us to do and keep those jobs.

But more than that, we are so lucky because after a few weeks’ adjustment period, things are … kinda great. My wife and I work a lot, and now I get to spend so much time with her, and our kids, because we no longer have a 40-min trip each way to the office  The kids, especially, probably hope the shelter-in-place never gets lifted. I enjoy the lazy mornings, listening to the funny things they say to each other as they play. I enjoy the walk upstairs at lunch, knowing they’re about to scream, “Daddyyyyyyy!” with glee when they hear the door open. I enjoy the hours of board games and chess and baking. And, of course, the baseball out front. With the lessened traffic, I now let them just hit directly into the street, after which I chase the ball down the hill. Sometimes, my wife even pitches and I stand in the street playing outfield. 

I try to be mindful of all of this, even as things around us are so difficult. And I thought a lot about it as I read this wonderful article by Dwayne Bray, about how he and his 17-year old son, who long ago gave up baseball to focus on basketball, which he plays at a prep school far from home, have used the shelter-in-place to rediscover the simple joy of throwing some batting practice to each other:

I began by tossing Nick some balls that he could hit into the fence above the backstop. That was always how we started things, back in the day. Next, he walked through the crabgrass and out to the mound. I crouched behind the plate and caught about 25 fastballs — some high, some wide and some down the middle. Years earlier, I’d let him send 50 pitches my way, but bending down to catch 50 pitches isn’t in the cards anymore.

We moved to short toss and, once our arms were loose, we tossed the ball long. I hit him some infield grounders and he fielded most of the balls cleanly, given that he was working with uneven turf and tricky hops. Then we got to our main activity, which was dad hitting long fly balls to son, who would roam center field and shag them. We only had two baseballs and that was plenty.

“Hit it farther,” Nick yelled after my first few flies were more shallow than he wanted. “Make me run.”

After about 10 minutes in the outfield, Nick sprinted in and said, “Let’s switch up. You go to the outfield and I’ll do the hitting.” After about another 10 minutes we switched back.

After about an hour, I was spent. I knew we had one more thing to do. I pitched Nick a fastball and he jacked a screamer into deep left-center. I ran as fast as I could after it. By the time I reached the ball, he’d already crossed the plate. He didn’t slow down to give me a chance. He just wanted to crush the old man. We laughed.

If it weren’t for the isolated world of coronavirus that we live in, I doubt that Nick and I would have ever revived our baseball ritual. This was about dad and son and a game that we both love.

“I had forgot how much fun baseball is,” Nick said to me as we packed up our equipment. “When I have kids, I’m going to make sure I play baseball with them.”

“And when MLB comes back, I’m going to watch more of it,” he said.

As I headed off to my car, and he to his, he had one more thing to say.

“Dad, as long as things are shut down, let’s keep doing baseball, OK?”

Three days later, we were out there again.

The world is a weird and scary place right now, but it’s still a beautiful place, too. -TOB

Source: Under the Coronavirus Lockdown, a Father and Son Rediscover Their Love for Baseball,” Dwayne Bray, The Undefeated (04/21/2020)

PAL: We’re closing in on Week 7 of shutdown mode. Week 7! Sheesh. While our families and friends have avoided the worst of the health scare so far – thank god – the wake of this thing is so wide, and it’s no doubt being felt by loved ones in painful ways. It rolls over everything. Each day feels fragile. Everything must balance: some news (but not too much), a work out (but not at lunchtime or 5pm when everyone’s out), get through a to-do list for work (step 1: make to-do list), cook a good dinner (but let’s be aware of how often we’re going to the grocery store, and let’s make sure to get takeout from our favorite local spots), driveway visits (but let’s keep it 15 feet apart just to be safe), not watching 3 hours of television.

And I wonder about when I can safely visit my parents in Minnesota. I want to give my mom a hug.

So with all of that in mind, this story and TOB’s write-up got my day off to a good start. I think it will do the same for you. I’ve seen TOB in action during the shelter (from a safe distance). My pop-a-shot record at the O’Brien’s house has been bested (most notably by TOB’s 6 year-old), and the security cam videos of the family playing baseball in the driveway are a highlight, too. There is a lot of playing going on over there. A lot. Wish like hell I could join in!

Mike Jordan

On Sunday, the first two of ten episodes of “The Last Dance,” a documentary chronicling the final season of the Jordan-era Bulls’ dynasty in 1998. I didn’t think there was anything groundbreaking, but it was an entertaining and quick two hours that left me wanting more. We’ll likely be writing about it a few times over the next few weeks, because a lot has been written about it so far. 

Before he was Michael Jordan, or Air Jordan, or His Airness…he was Mike Jordan. One of my favorite parts of The Last Dance’s first two episodes was seeing clips of the sheepish and young, the confident but quiet, Mike Jordan. Before the commercials and the Beatles-treatment everywhere he went, he was a kid from North Carolina.

My earliest memory of Michael Jordan was watching him and the Bulls lose to the Pistons in the 1990 playoffs. I remember being so mad. I was eight. By that time, he was all-caps MICHAEL JORDAN, even though he wouldn’t win his first championship until the following year. So I really loved the footage of young Mike, in college and in his first couple years in the pros, before he found his voice, before he was sure of his place atop the game.

One of the many articles written about the first two episodes was by Sam Smith, the former Bulls beat writer who in 1992 wrote “The Jordan Rules,” an inside look at the Bulls under Jordan that was not exactly flattering. Smith’s article touches on much of what I liked about the first two episodes, as he waxed on young Jordan, before he became too famous to function:

As I’ve related at times, I had a good relationship with Jordan writing about the Bulls for The Chicago Tribune in the 1980s. He was great fun to be around, the so called man’s man with whom every moment was a test, a contest, an action, an event.

As unlikely as it seems now, back then hardly anyone believed you could win a title with Jordan on your team. He’s just a scorer! the columnists instructed. You need to make others better like Larry and Magic did.

Hey, I’m being asked to make Mike Smrek, Gene Banks and Steve Colter better, Jordan would lament. But there may not have been a better interview, few players more welcoming, cordial, engaging and relentlessly interesting. Jordan loved the media give and take. He didn’t like shooting before the games because crowds would gather like with the Curry dribbling shows. He preferred to verbally engage, challenge, get that last word.

Obviously the documentary is about the 1998 season, long after Jordan could no longer be that guy. So I doubt we will get much more of that era, but I really enjoyed that aspect of the first two episodes.

Also: in the article, Smith gives context to one of Jordan’s most infamous quotes (“Hey, Republicans buy sneakers, too.”). Jordan said it to Smith, and as Smith notes, people have bashed Jordan over it for decades, arguing he’s a corporate tool. But Smith disagrees. It was just a joke. He should know; after all, Jordan said it to Smith. And, as Smith notes:

After his career I do know he was seriously involved with Barack Obama’s campaigns and has supported more social causes than most. Mostly quietly or anonymously.

I didn’t know that, and I appreciated it. -TOB

Source:The Story Behind One of Michael Jordan’s Most Misunderstood Quotes,” Sam Smith, NBA.com (04/15/2020)

Always Watch The Credits (more on The Last Dance)

I will say, it’s always a red flag when the subject of the doc is the one putting it out. Hey – I know I’ll enjoy the hell out of this documentary series, but it is worth noting that, (A) nothing went into this doc without Jordan’s approval, and (B) Jordan’s production company is a partner in this thing. 

What’s more:

Commissioner Adam Silver, who in the 1990s was the head of NBA Entertainment, told ESPN that a condition of allowing the film crew to follow the Bulls around during the 1997-98 season was that none of the footage could be used without Jordan’s permission. Optically, very little of this is unvarnished.

I’ve heard multiple times from Dan Patrick and Bill Simmons (both former ESPN talent) that everyone had know about the tapes for years. No one thought this thing would ever get done, because Jordan would never approve it. 

Well, in 2016, Jordan finally gave the thumbs up. He did so on the same day Lebron James and his Cavelier teammates were having their championship parade. Hmmmmm. 

And later:

“I am reminded of that viral clip of Jordan and Tom Brady playing pickup basketball with other unidentified players from 2015 in the Bahamas.

“Hey, man, you guys still have YouTube?” Jordan, in his early 50s, says to one of his defenders after making a flawless jumper over him. “You better put on Michael Jordan for real.”

“That’s what “The Last Dance” is: Jordan reminding us who he is, or was, as James’s legacy emerges. Not just as a basketball player, but culturally. Would a documentary about James’s career attract multiple former presidents and A-list celebrities?”

To be fair, I should wait until I’ve watched the entire series before teeing up this stuff. But also, to be fair, THERE ARE NO OTHER SPORTS GOING ON! – PAL 

Source: Is Michael Jordan Playing Defense in ‘The Last Dance’?”, Sopan Deb, The New York Times (04/20/20)


I miss ‘em! And I’m not alone. The Athletic’s Steve Berman (nee the Bay Area Sports Guy) wrote up a nice story on Kruk and Kuip, and how they are staying busy, and in touch, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a nice read, with lots of Kruk and Kuip being Kruk and Kuip. I recommend it.

But I especially liked this anecdote about how they got their start together, broadcasting games:

Their other connection, of course — one which started as players on road trips when the dugouts were spacious enough to stay out of trouble — is broadcasting.

Krukow and Kuiper loved calling games together as teammates, but they had to pick their spots. First, only certain locations made it even feasible without getting reprimanded by a cranky manager.

“It was the real broadcast,” Krukow said. “There was lots of profanity and lots of cutting-edge observations on our opponents, many of whom we weren’t that fond of. Same thing, we would have cutting remarks about our own teammates, which would entertain our teammates sitting close to us. So we had fun with it.”

“Language that at times we wish we could use (today),” Kuiper said. “Certainly not appropriate for people watching in their living room. But that’s dugout language. That’s not language I used in catechism. It was a language that I used in the dugout. So it kind of fit perfectly for where we were sitting.”

There was a problem — one which has suited Krukow and Kuiper quite well since they retired: Sometimes, they were a little too entertaining.

“We would actually get (teammates) that would come over,” said Kuiper. “And it was kind of odd, because Frank [Robinson, the manager] would look down the bench and he had nobody sitting around him, but there would be like eight guys sitting next to Mike and I. And then we had to break up that group because then it was pretty obvious something was going on down there that was a lot more fun than what was going on behind Frank.

I would pay $100 per season to hear them call a game like that.

Source: From the Dugout to Zoom: The Friendship of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper Endures,” Steve Berman, The Athletic (04/12/2020)

PAL: $100? $100 is not enough. Show some damn respect. I love how they could only do it at stadiums with long dugouts. Philly? Nope. Pittsburgh? Not a chance. Montreal? Long dugouts. They could have some fun for an inning or two in Montreal. Outstanding.

TOB: LOL. I almost said a dollar a game, but that seemed low – it’s worth more than that. Then I thought $200. But that’s more than MLB’s league pass. So even though $100 for 162 games is than $1 per game, I  don’t sit down and watch from start to finish 100 games per year. These days I often have to flip through after the kids go to bed. So $100 for the season to pop-in and hear them talk some shit sounded right.

Is NCAA Basketball About to Get Knocked Out?

A year and a half ago, the NBA announced a new option for elite high school seniors not yet eligible for the NBA Draft: the G League (formerly the NBDL) (*If you’re rightfully wondering why the NBA won’t just lift its rule preventing players from entering the draft until one year after they finish high school, it’s because the NBA wants to protect its teams from investing millions in players who they’ve only seen play against high school competition.) The money was far less than for an NBA rookie, but at a then-announced $150,000 per year contract, it was about even with what players get to play at a school like Arizona ( ;), Casey).

It was certainly newsworthy, but many were rightfully skeptical – it takes a lot to turn a tanker, and the NCAA is one of the biggest. Decades of history, and endless TV exposure that the NCAA provides, were seen as too difficult to pass up. Sure, a few players have gone to Europe or Australia in recent years, but the G League has a bit of a stigma, and its games are rarely on TV, or covered at all. It would take a true star to turn this ship, and this week, the G League got it. 

Jalen Green is that dude. Green is the top-rated prospect in the 2020 high school class. Originally from Fresno, California and playing his senior year at Prolific Prep in Napa, Green is a 6’5 combo guard who many believe would be the #1 pick in this year’s draft, if he was eligible. But he’s not. So instead of having to clandestinely take $100,000 or ply his trade in exchange for a useless half-year of education in college, and instead of traveling across the globe, far from family and friends, Green took the G League up on its offer. 

His contract is reportedly worth upwards of $1,000,000. Other prospects who join the program will apparently make at least $500,000.00. And instead of having to fake their way through classes for one semester and be limited in the time they can work on their craft, they will be instead placed in a program designed to develop them, as they play a select few exhibition games. This is great for Green.

It’s not great for the NCAA. If this becomes commonplace, the already depleted talent-level in college will get so much worse. While watching the Jordan documentary, I was struck by the talent in the 1982 NCAA championship, when Jordan hit the game winning shot. You’ve got Jordan, the greatest ever. But you’ve also got Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing and James Worthy, plus Sam Perkins and Sleepy Floyd. You just don’t see that kind of talent in college anymore, because the best players leave before they develop. I often think of guys in their third year in the league (like Jason Taytum this year), and just imagine him as a senior this year at Duke. LOLLLLLL. He’d be DESTROYING everyone. Of course, there’d be lots of other older players, too: De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, Bam Adebayo? Seniors. Bagley, Ayton, Trae Young, and Gilgeous-Alexander? Juniors

The talent level has already been so poor for two decades now, but it’s about to get worse if all those players don’t even play a single year. You can argue that it will create better basketball because there will be more continuity. But you don’t see anyone clamoring to watch D-II basketball, do you? Or even the Ivy League? 

The NCAA is like an aging fighter who just got a cut above its eye in the fourth round. Are they going to get pummeled for the next few rounds before collapsing a bloody heap in the tenth? Or are they going to throw a haymaker that wins them the belt? In this case, the haymaker the NCAA needs is to agree to pay players. They are now in direct competition with the NBA for the dozen or so very best players each year. If they don’t do something drastic, to not only get the best players into college but also keep them for a few years, they’re going to stagger around the ring for a few years before the ref stops the bout. -TOB

PAL: It’s far from perfect, but something along the lines of the baseball draft seems like a decent solution. Here are the simplified rules for first year players in U.S. and Canada (some dudes get drafted multiple times): 

  • High school graduates who haven’t enrolled at a college are eligible
  • Junior college players are eligible 
  • College players, over 21 (odd speculation to me), who have completed their junior or senior year

For basketball, maybe they adjust to something like: 

  • High school graduates who haven’t enrolled at a college are eligible (or they can play in the G-league or wherever they want)
  • Junior college players are eligible (seems like a far rarer scenario, but – hey – we JUST wrote about Shawn Kemp, who was a juco guy)
  • College players who have completed their sophomore year 

In other words, either you go after high school, or you have to play 2 years in college. The best 5-10 don’t play college ball: either they get drafted or join a professional league, but there’s some continuity to college teams with players staying for two seasons. You miss out on the phenoms, but some very good players and teams can sprout in two years together. 

Maybe the best 50 prep players eventually chose routes alternative to college. You make an interesting point about Ivy Leagues and D-II ball not getting a lot of attention. I would argue, at least partially, that’s due to it being an inferior form of college basketball. At least for the foreseeable future, people will watch the best college basketball available, because watching college ball is also about nostalgia to some extent. It’s a reminder of our college days. And people love reminders of the glory days. 

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: Pure Prairie League – “Amie”

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“Here’s to good friends…mmm…sort of an oaky afterbirth.”

-Michael Scott

Week of April 17, 2020

Happy Birthday, TOB. Now stop dunking and help your dad wash the suburban.

No. 1, Willie Mays

It’s a name that really sings, doesn’t it? Willie Mays. Say it out loud, but say it quickly. Willie Mays. For 70 years, that name has echoed on streets and playgrounds, ball fields and school yards. Willie Mays. Imagine little kids across the country in 1951, when Willie debuted with the New York Giants, hearing that name dance out of their radio. Willie Mays. Imagine it rolling off their dad’s tongue in 1954, as he read aloud the story of The Catch from the morning sports page. Willie Mays. 

That name continues to dazzle, though it’s been almost 50 years since Willie Mays last played in the major leagues. When my sons and I play baseball, they argue over who gets to “be” Willie Mays. And if you think I’m exaggerating, this was Tuesday:

He’s just three (and it’s fitting because I tried to name him Willie Mays, though my wife would not give in). He has never seen Willie Mays play, of course. He can tell you he was on the Giants. I think he could tell you his jersey number, but that’s about it. There’s something about that name that sparks the imagination, though.

Last Friday, shortly after we posted our weekly digest, Posnanski published the next in line in his Top 100 series: No. 2, Babe Ruth. I think I gasped. I had long assumed Ruth would be #1. I predicted Joe would have Willie Mays #3. But #1? I read through the Ruth story, and it was fine, but I waited all weekend to read his story on Mays, and it did not disappoint. Here’s how it begins:

Think for a moment about the first vivid baseball memory you have.

Perhaps you have a hollow plastic bat in your hands and a Wiffle Ball floats toward you. How old are you? 3? 5? Older? All you want to do is hit the ball. Where does that hunger come from? Who taught you that? Nobody. It is an instinct. You stand rigidly with your legs spread apart and the bat resting on your shoulder — maybe your parents set you up that way like an action figure. The ball dangles in midair like a disco ball. You swing the bat the way you imagine it should be swung, and you connect, perfect contact.

The ball takes off like a leaf caught in the wind, and you begin to run and stumble toward invisible bases that hide in the grass. You run a tight circle around the pitcher — is it your dad? Your mom? Your grandpa? Your best friend? — until you make it all the way around.

And when you get back where you started, you tumble over in the best version of a slide that you can muster. Who taught you how to slide? No one. You just knew.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Or maybe it is this: You and a friend throw a rubber ball (a tennis ball?) against the stairs that climb up to your front door. The sun is so big and warm that it seems to color the cloudless sky yellow. If you throw a ball against those stairs just right — so that the ball hits the upper corner flush — it will take off like a toy rocket. And that’s what your friend does. The ball erupts off the stair and goes soaring toward the street, and you turn your back and sprint after it. You can’t catch it, but you run just the same because … well, just because. And then to your surprise, you find that you start gaining on the ball. You can see it coming down, and you can see that if you reach out, stretch out, thrust out your arm as far as it can possibly go …

And maybe you catch it. How did you catch it? You don’t know but you feel electricity buzzing throughout your body and you shout out to your friend, “DID YOU SEE THAT?” And your friend jumps up and down excitedly — or, wait, maybe you are the friend — and the two of you spend the rest of the afternoon reliving the catch.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Maybe your memory is of buying a new pack of baseball cards. This might be in the days when baseball cards come with a rectangle of rock-hard chewing gum that tastes like cardboard and rubs your tongue raw like sandpapers … or maybe this is years later, when there was no gum, when instead there would be specialty cards inside, maybe an autographed card or one that has a little piece of fabric worn by a major leaguer.

Either way, you pull off the plastic wrapper slowly because you want to savor it all, make the experience last for as long you can. And you slide down the top card just a little so that it reveals only a tiny portion of what card is next. Hmm. Look here. The next player is on your favorite team. Could it be? You don’t dare to hope yet. You slide the card down a little more. Yes, it might be. A little more. Yes! The next card is your favorite player, you already know that this next card is now the most valuable thing you own, and you might sleep with it under your pillow or you might put it in one of those baseball card cases for protection. Whatever you do, your life is just a little bit different and better than it was before.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Perhaps you are at a ballpark. Everything looks so green. You’d seen games on television. You’ve looked at boxscores and imagined. But you never believed it could be so green.

The smells overwhelm you — what is that? Beer? Hot dogs? Funnel cakes? Sweat? Yes. All of it. Baseball smells like an amusement park and a backyard barbecue and an afternoon at a movie theater and recess at the playground all at once. Then you hear the sounds, cheers and chatter, boos and a vendor selling peanuts, claps and stomps and groans and hopeful screams that either rise into happy symphonies or trail off into disheartened sighs, all while an organist plays “Hava Nagila” and a Mexican Hat Dance and a cavalry charge and that nameless song that plays a duet with your rapid heartbeat.

Here we go (YOUR TEAM), here we go (CLAP CLAP).

Maybe you even keep score. You’d have to be a certain age for that to ring true, probably. To keep score, you mark (with your blunt pencil that barely leaves a mark) a 6-3 for a grounder to short or a 9 for a fly ball to right field or you trace that pencil all around the bases and draw a diamond for a home run.

And then a ball is hit deep and the center fielder chases after it, but there is no chance the ball can be caught, the geometry teacher in your head tells you so. Then you see the ball and the man converge, and at the last possible instant the center fielder takes flight and pulls it in, and all at once, all together, people lose their bleeping minds.

“Put a star next to that one,” someone tells you, and you do, you put a little star next to the “8.”

That memory, most of all, is Willie Mays.

Chills. Seriously, I’ve read that four times now, and it gives me chills every time. Posnanski absolutely nails it: Willie Mays deserves to be #1 because he was great, yes, but more than that he was and is everything great about baseball: he loved to play. Loved it. In all the clips I’ve ever seen, the joy he played with oozed from his pores. Look at the video of The Catch.

It’s INCREDIBLE on every level – the read, the speed, the athleticism, the determination, and the sheer difficulty – the impossible angle (straight back, which is just so hard to do), and then of course the way the ball sails right over his head and lands softly in his glove. Then there’s the awareness to immediately get the ball back into the infield, which saved the game, as the runner tagging from second had to stop at third (remember this is deep center at the Polo Grounds, so around 460 feet). But the thing that always tickles me about that catch is the panache – the way his hat flies off, the way he whirls around as he throws like he’s tossing a discus. He’s having an absolute ball, and it’s impossible not to love.

It doesn’t hurt, as a Giants fan, that he’s “ours.” Last season, we were driving on the freeway on the way to the ballpark when I came upon a license plate I had seen once before: 1SAYHEY. I said: “Oh my god. I think we’re about to drive past Willie Mays.” I sped up a little, then slowed down next to him. And sure enough, there he was, the Say Hey Kid, in the passenger seat. I waved. I don’t remember if he noticed. But I said to the kids, “Do you see that guy? That is Willie! Mays! FROM THE STATUE!” He was headed to the game, too. 

It’s those days you show up to the ballpark and Willie shows up, too, that are really special. You feel like a little kid. And you get to point and say to your kids, “That, right there, is Willie Mays, the best baseball player there ever was.” No other fanbase gets that.

Willie turns 89 next month. And every time I see him I think, “Is this the last time?” But instead of getting sad, it makes me appreciate the experience more, and I cheer louder. Because I know he appreciates it. I hope someone read him Posnanski’s story – I know he’d appreciate that, too, because it’s great.

Posnanski sums up Willie Mays, and why he continues to resonate with so many, including two young boys in San Francisco, all these years later:

But even to the end, he sparked joy. What do you love most about baseball? Mays did that. To watch him play, to read the stories about how he played, to look at his glorious statistics, to hear what people say about him is to be reminded why we love this odd and ancient game in the first place.

Yes, Willie Mays has always made kids feel like grown-ups and grown-ups feel like kids.

In the end, isn’t that the whole point of baseball?

Consuming sports was different when Willie played. Not every game was on television. There was no national highlight show giving you the best plays of the night, every night. There are relatively few clips of Willie Mays actually playing baseball available even today. But my three-year old consumes sports the same way kids in the 1950s did: in brief clips that are fuzzy in their brains, in stories their parents tell them, and in the joy of saying a name like Willie Mays. -TOB

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 1, Willie Mays,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)

PAL: I am ashamed that I didn’t know Willie Mays played minor league ball in Minneapolis! 

In a collection of stories that read like folk tales of athleticism, youthful exuberance, and “divine moments”, the parallels and juxtaposition between Mays and Mantle, and their respective fathers, really sticks out. 

And this is a great point on May’s iconic, over-the-shoulder catch: 

Nobody knows for sure where the throw went: The enduring film only shows him making the throw. But we know that it made Larry Doby stop at third. Doby would not score. The Giants would win the game in extra innings and then sweep the series.

But maybe my favorite line from the entire story comes from Giants manager Leo Durocher: “If he could cook I’d marry him.”

The entire series is one hell of a collection from Posnanski. Damn, man.

Shawn Kemp: Kentucky Wildcat (That’s Right)

How about this for teaser from Kyle Tucker: 

“Does Christian Laettner get off that stunning buzzer-beater in overtime to deny Kentucky its triumphant return to the Final Four if Kemp is on the court?”

Say what now?

A little while back we did favorite athletes by decade. Since then, Bill Simmons has started reviewing previous drafts and re-drafting, which has been jogging my basketball memories. Everyone’s looking to the past for their sports fix, and in the process, I’m realizing how many athletes I overlooked in our little exercise. Basketball-wise: I had an affinity for Steve Blake from that Maryland team. I like Andre Miller and that Utah team a lot. Give me some Andrew DeClerq while we’re at it. There may have been a short Reggie Miller period as well. 

So all of these NBA names are spinning around in my brain, especially as I listen to Simmon review these old drafts, when I see this Shawn Kemp story about his time at Kentucky being stopped before it began. 

People over 35 know that Shawn Kemp was a very big deal for a few years. The dunks were ferocious. The Sonics were cool, and they made a Finals against Jordan. 

But I had no idea about his journey to the Sonics. No idea that he was from Indiana, that he passed on Bobby Knight and the Hoosiers, and went to Kentucky. I had no idea he never played a game for the Wildcats, and I had no idea why. In my mind, Shawn Kemp’s existence began in those slick Sonic jerseys doing this: 

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his arrival at Kentucky and how stupidly it ended for pawning some stolen jewelry. And just like that, he was gone before playing a simple game for Kentucky. 

Two details stick out to me from the story. 

The jewelry was Sean Sutton’s. His dad, Eddie, was the coach. Sean filed a police report about the stolen jewelry, which led the local authorities to alert local pawn shops. Kemp was found selling the jewelry to one of those pawn shops for $700. 

Over thirty years later, Sean Sutton had this to say (for the first time, at least to the press): 

“I’ve never talked about this,” Sean Sutton told The Athletic recently. “In the past, I just said, ‘That’s not something I care to revisit.’ But I think everybody probably deserves to know the real truth. I want Kentucky fans to realize that Shawn Kemp was a good guy. It got so out of control, became such a big story, and it’s really, really unfortunate how it all played out. He was gone before any of us really understood what was happening. If I could go back 32 years, I’d probably do things differently.

“Because in my mind, and I would know as well as anybody, he didn’t take that stuff.”

Sean, dude, couldn’t you have maybe found the guts to say that before now? While – yes – the jewelry was stolen, and Kemp was selling it, that doesn’t necessarily mean he stole it (as Sutton now insists he thinks whoever took the jewelry lied to Kemp about where it came from and likely gave it to Kemp to pawn for some cash.) Someone could have just given the jewelry to Kemp and told him to pawn it in order to make some easy cash, no questions. For a super-duper star athlete in a big program, that seems completely understandable to me.

Also, if Sutton just doesn’t file the report, this all can take place without people knowing. Kemp stays and joins a stacked Kentucky roster, and maybe a few years later Kemp (completely normal for superstars to stay 3-4 years in college at that time) is playing with Mashburn against Duke, and the 6’11” Kemp (I had no idea he was that tall) swats Laettner. I know, I know; it’s not a fill in the blank, but isn’t it fun to imagine? 

The other detail from this story that really stuck out was how much of a manchild Kemp was. So he gets to Lexington in the summer and is playing pickup games with current and former Kentucky players. We’re talking NBA guys and top college players. Kemp, a teenager, is dunking on all of them – including Kenny ‘Sky’ Walker. 

“Shawn dunked right over Kenny and looked right at him and said, ‘Take that shit!’ Or maybe something worse,” Sutton says. “Everybody was stunned. What did he just say to Kenny? I don’t think Shawn was doing it to be disrespectful. He just got caught up in a competitive moment. That’s just how he was wired, trying to destroy people.”

Lest anyone think Walker was offended, it was quite the opposite. Kemp was headhunting every player in the gym that day, including former UK stars Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin, the No. 2 and 6 overall picks in 1984, and the alums loved it.

“He was a man-child,” Walker says. “Most guys playing a bunch of established NBA players would be trying to feel their way around, might be a little timid, but he was trying to dunk everything on everybody. I usually had the advantage over everybody, but here I am going against a guy two inches taller than I am, stronger than I am, just as aggressive as I am, and maybe a little meaner than I am. Until LeBron James came along, I couldn’t remember a guy right out of high school so physically put together and with so much spring.”

Perhaps many of you knew the Kemp Kentucky stuff, but I had no idea, which made this a solid read from Kyle Tucker. – PAL 

Source:‘It Got So Out of Control’: Shawn Kemp’s Kentucky Career Ended Before it Began, Kyle Tucker, The Athletic (4/16/2020)

TOB: Interesting stuff. This week I stumbled on another good Kemp tidbit: In 1994, while Jordan was playing baseball, the Sonics almost traded Kemp to the Bulls for Scottie Pippen. The deal fell through when the story leaked and the Sonics’ owner grew concerned about fans being upset over losing the beloved Kemp. But the most fascinating part is that the Sonics’ coach, George Karl, called up Jordan (they are both Carolina guys), and Karl claims Jordan said: “Do it,” he said. “Scottie can make your other players better. Kemp can’t.”

Huh. Given Jordan’s comment: does he even come back in 1996 if Pippen is gone? That’s a crazy what-if.

Joey Votto Tries to Slow the Coming of the End

Joey Votto is an interesting guy, especially as baseball players go. I really enjoyed this article on the Reds’ star, as he tries to fight Father Time. Here’s the open:

Last April, on a gorgeously sunny, relatively cool afternoon at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto popped out to first base. Ahead in the count, he’d lunged at the ball, sending it high into foul territory, before it landed in the mitt of the first baseman. Infield flies are the lamest thing a batter can do apart from striking out, but the crowd went wild—or rather, the baseball commentators and Twitter masses did. (“This has to be a sign of the zombie apocalypse.” “The world is ending.”) Because, over the course of his 13-year Major League career, in 6,827 trips to the plate, Votto had never popped out to first. Think of a veteran opera singer who never hit a wrong note onstage, or an actor who never flubbed a line. Equally astounding, Votto had flied out to the infield—right, left, or center—only seven times since 2010, while any other Major Leaguer with the same number of trips to the plate would have done so 137 times.

That’s an incredible stat, and the story just gets better from there.

Source:The Brainiest Hitter: Can Joey Votto Outsmart Age?” Sridhar Paddu, The Atlantic (May 2020)

PAL: Loved this article. Definitely keeping an eye out for future stories from Sridhar Paddu. I knew nothing about Joey Votto, and so this was a real treat. I’ve read a few sports profiles, and his candor stands out. Fascinating approach to his game. The idea that, in his prime, he felt his skills slipping ever so slightly, and the idea that – before 30 – he chose to accept that and rebuild his swing…two years after winning the National League M.V.P.

My favorite part of the entire piece comes near the end, before the season was cancelled and Votto was about to lock in to his very regimented baseball schedule and mode:

The day before we met in person, Votto decided to have a coffee at Starbucks, his last one, he figured at the time, for months. Then, while at Whole Foods in the afternoon, he went even further. He stopped at the bar set amid overpriced produce and organic beauty supplies to have a beer. A single beer at a grocery store to revel in the task in front of him: the comeback season. “Let’s celebrate,” he recalled thinking. “Let’s get ready for a great year. Let’s go to Whole Foods and get a beer at 3 o’clock!”

Many of us have walked by that Whole Foods bar and thought about a quick beer. I love that he did it, and I love that he was celebrating getting ready for a great year.

Great find, TOB.

Video(s) of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: Tom Waits – “Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)”

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And this is more a ying-yang thing. The ‘Michael’ all cursive, the ‘Scott’ all caps. Left brain, right brain. Or, duality of man.

-Michael Scott

Lockdown Dailies #13: Strangest Field You Ever Played On, MN Town Ball Edition

Strangest Baseball Field You Ever Played On – MN Town Ball Edition:

On Monday, we shared some thoughts on the strangest baseball fields around – both in the history of the game (Polo Grounds) and fields we played on. We got a lot of great comments on that post, but Ryan Nett – LHP, college roomie, and future Stearns County H.O.F. – sent a number of gems from the Minnesota town ball scene. We had to share more broadly.

Nett: A few come to mind from my townball years. St. Wendel was 240 down the left field line, but had a 45 ft chicken wire fence almost to CF.

Pearl Lake has a field with a 4 way stop in in CF. No fences, the road is the fence. About 270 down the lines, about 400 to center. Ball rolls on the road, double, clearly hits on the road or over, it’s a homer.

There was a legend of a field in Bowlus where a road to get to about 4 houses went from behind 3rd to rf power alley. Houses front porch faced the field and were in play. 3rd pole on a house down the rf line was the foul pole, old lady who lived there let them paint it yellow.

TOB: I watched the PBS Townball series about Minnesota Townball over the weekend, streaming on Amazon Prime. I recall the field in Farming was featured, but I don’t recall them discussing the dropoff. Hilarious and dangerous.

Netter: yes, both Pearl Lake and Farming were featured. Farming has since put in about 500k into their field, lights, sprinklers, redid the whole playing surface. Went from the outhouse to the penthouse in terms of fields.
Pearl Lake is stuck due to regulations with structures close to the road like a fence.

Last field that I played at and Phil saw, Farming. From home to Rf line was about 315, but from about 1st base to the line was a 6ft drop off. I bet I saw 30 1st baseman fall over chasing a ball just blooped over their heads that normally would have been caught standing. Then to left field you hit up hill. From 3rd to left it rose about 3 ft. From Lf foul pole to Rf foul pile was a 10 ft drop, we had the field surveyed.

TOB: I just looked up Pearl Lake’s field:

Look at that…wouldn’t it make a ton of sense to turn that field around? Place home plate near the 4-way stop?

Regardless, Springer Park (Cold Springs) field looks freakin fantastic in this shot (PAL note: Nett wanted it known that he’s hit two bombs at Springer Park):

I would NOT complain about playing there!

Original Post:

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every field is different. Perhaps most famously is the Polo Grounds. 

Dimensions: Left Field: 279 ft, Left-Center: 450 ft, Center Field: 483 ft, Right-Center: 449 ft, Right Field: 258 ft.

LOL. I’ve seen those dimensions before but it is always so funny. The shortest home run in today’s game is 310 down the right field line at Fenway, which is FIFTY TWO FEET longer than the right field pole was at the Polo Grounds.

I bring this up because last week, 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy (real name: James O’BRIEN) asked Twitter followers for the funniest/dumbest local baseball fields. This one was my absolute favorite:

Center field is just opens up, with no fence, into a football field. Amazing. Like all great, quirky ball parks, they made the best with the space they had and created something so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it.

Looking at the Polo Grounds reminded me that Phil and I used to play softball at a field in SF (James P. LANG Field!) that has two softball fields at opposite corners of what is ostensibly a soccer or football field. 

It’s difficult to tell there how lopsided this field is, but I utilized Google Maps’ measuring tool and the dimensions are 385 to left, and 200 (yes, 200) to right. Given those dimensions, most teams stuck their worst defender in right, and shaded everyone toward center and left, because a ball getting by the outfielders in center and left would roll and roll, but a ball to right would hit that relatively short fence. 

Confession: I have never in my life hit a true home run. So, for two seasons, I eyed that short porch in right and decided to make a run at it, wanting to experience a home run trot. One night, I hit the ball so hard, I thought for sure it was gone off the bat. I watched that beauty fly and felt pure joy.

One thing you can’t tell from the overhead shot is that the right field wall is very tall. Here’s the best pic I could find. 

As you can kind of see in the top left of the photo, as you approach the fence, the grass heads steeply uphill. I’d say 6-7 feet (you can see in the photo the grass line is taller than a person standing out there). Then the fence is probably 12 feet high from there, so we are talking almost 20 feet.

As you probably guessed, I hit the ball high, I hit the ball deep…but I did not hit the ball high enough. The ball hit the goddamn very top of the wall. It was maybe a couple feet short of clearing it. I was crushed. And because I had been pimpin’ it, I had to scramble to eek out a double. Embarrassing.

What’s worse is this: (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil), Phil had not yet hit a dinger at that field either, despite being a lefty (something I had given him some ribbing about). Well, Phil was the next hitter up. And as I stood at second base, I got an absolutely spectacular view as Phil crushed a home run over that same wall I had barely failed to clear. Phil was cackling at me during his entire slow trot around the bases. Insult to injury. 

I never did get that dinger. I might need to get back into that league. I’ve got Dad-strength now, ya know. -TOB

PAL: That is correct, TOB. I had yet to hit a home run, despite the fact that we played ALL of our games on those two fields, and both favored the lefties big time. This is because I kinda suck at hitting softballs.

I’ve played on a lot of odd fields in my day, and – I agree with JOMBOY – it makes for a far more interesting game. That overhead shot of the Polo Grounds is crazy point of view. I also don’t think Pesky Pole down the right field line is anywhere near 310 feet from home. My brother-in-law, lifelong Red Sox fan and Mass. resident, can back me up on this: right field might not be even 300 feet. However, it juts almost straight back from there, so only a very small portion of right field is a short porch at Fenway.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the field, but I seem to remember playing a legion baseball game (16-18) where a ball over the right field fence was just a ground rule double because the fence was so short. Cretin’s field in St. Paul is perfectly manicured, but the left field fence is maybe 265, a fact few people seemed to remember when looking at season stats (OH MY GOD, so-and-so from Cretin has 12 home runs!)

The worst playing field I can remember was my freshman year in college. It was about 6 degrees out and we were trying like hell to get a conference game in before or after another snow storm in March. Somewhere in Sioux City, IA. I swear we played a college game on a Babe Ruth field that, in the most perfect conditions looked like the location of a meth deal from Breaking Bad. On the day we played there, it was unthawed with the snow shoveled off of it. It smelled like sulfur (because that entire town does). It was like playing on concrete in a howling wind. Miserable.

So, that’s my story of the strangest field I ever played on. How about you?

Video of the Day

We haven’t really been doing videos of the day on our dailies, but I loved this and wanted to share: Mike Yastrzemski mic’d up.

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience
  11. Remove these songs from the sports canon

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com