Week of May 18, 2018

Ben Zobrist was actually threatened a fine if he continued wearing these Sandlot-inspired PF Flyers. Loosen up, Commish.

Sad Story, Happy Ending

I’ve never read a sports story quite like this one.

Deshae Wise is a freshman sprinter on Cal’s track team. She came to Berkeley from a small town in Oregon, where she was a Gatorade Athlete of the Year. Her name is climbing up the record books already, with the eighth and fourth fastest 60-meter hurdle times in Cal history. She carries a 4.0 G.P.A., volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and she’s joined the black business association on campus, too. And before all of this success, she and her mom were victims of human trafficking. This wasn’t in some far off place halfway around. This happened right here in the U.S.A.

The initial moment Rebecca Bender, Deshae’s mother, realized what was happening is heartbreaking and terrifying. She had met Khaled (not the guy’s real name) in Eugene when she was around 19 or 20 and her daughter was still very young*. Six months after meeting him, Bender decided to move with him to Las Vegas to start their life as a family.

But the dream ended before it even began, according to Rebecca, whose recollection of the next several years is backed by FBI statements and court records, public documents and interviews. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Vegas, she says, things quickly turned. Khaled told Rebecca he wanted to take her out on the town. “Get dressed up,” she remembers him saying.

Deshae stayed with Khaled’s brother, but instead of heading to the strip, Khaled drove him and Rebecca to a dead-end street anchored by a deserted strip mall. Rebecca remembers just darkness and the hum of the car. Khaled, she says, turned to her and explained with a seriousness on his face: He needed money for the apartment, for Deshae’s food. . . . And Rebecca had to pay him. Now.

Khaled, she says, pointed to a door with a security camera above it and told her to enter. Inside she found a smoke-filled room with three desks pushed next to one another, a woman seated behind each. Behind them, written out cleanly on a dry-erase board, were the words brunette, blonde, asian, redhead. . . . It was all too clear, too real. She was at an escort service, and Khaled expected her to sign herself up. No way. She was shocked, confused, and terrified.

Back in the car, Khaled slapped her across the face. Rebecca was suddenly terrified. She was in a new city. . . she didn’t know her address yet. . . and she didn’t know where her daughter was. The rest unfolded in a blur of fear and confusion. At some point there was a phone call from a “local” in the Green Valley area, 15 minutes away. Khaled drove to a townhouse, dropped Rebecca off and parked nearby.

Khaled is what they call a “Romeo” – a trafficker that uses romance to lure his victims (as opposed to a “gorilla”, who uses brute force) – but he quickly turned violent towards Bender. He also would scare her by making threats on her daughter. Bender was mortified and trapped. Then she was “traded” to another trafficker. Kevin gave them nicer things, but he beat Bender and was paranoid the house would get raided. Deshae was getting older – she was in grade school by now – and she could say things to teachers, coaches, or other parents.

Writer Jeremy Fuchs does a really good job juxtaposing their nightmare with mother and daughter existing in the most common, ordinary backdrops. Soccer games, volleyball games, and school plays. They existed in our world, and no one knew the truth. They were very much captives.

Why didn’t Bender just take Deshae and leave, you might be asking. She did try. Four times, in fact.

By the time Deshae was eight, Rebecca had tried to flee with her daughter four times. Once, they made it back to Rebecca’s mom’s house in Grants Pass, but Kevin tracked them down in Oregon and brought them back to Vegas. Another time, feds surrounded one of Kevin’s houses in Vegas in the middle of the night as part of a tax-evasion investigation, and Rebecca took Deshae out the back door and climbed over a fence into a neighbor’s yard.

If that seems like the perfect opportunity to escape, Rebecca didn’t see it that way; she didn’t see any choice but to stay with Kevin—a common sentiment among victims of trafficking. “There’s the realistic stuff, like: How would I get a job? Or what is society going to think of me?” says Elizabeth Hopper, a clinical psychologist and the director of Project REACH, which helps trafficking victims. “Traffickers control the living space, the money, where to go. . . . And then: Is he going to come after me?”

In the end, obviously, Bender and Deshae do escape (it may surprise you as to how they get away), and we know the story has an incredible ending in Deshae signing an athletic scholarship at world-renowned academic institution. Perhaps most incredible of all is that Deshae was never abused. “The probability that I wasn’t sexually or emotionally abused is so slim,” she said. “In any other situation it would have happened to me—but it didn’t.”

This heavy, dense story, but absolutely worth your time. – PAL

*Fuchs never gives an exact age on Deshae when they move to Vegas with Khaled. She’s a freshman now in 2018, and her mother moved back to Eugene around 2000 after getting pregnant with Deshae in Maryland. The story says later that Bender was traded after two years under Khaled in 2004..so she must of met Khaled in 2001 or 2002, which would’ve made Wise around 2 at the time of the move to Vegas.

Source: Life After Escaping the World of Human Trafficking”, Jeremy Fuchs, Sports Illustrated (05/10/2018)

TOB: God damn, an incredible story. Deshae’s mother, Rebecca Bender, has started the Rebecca Bender Initiative, with the goal of equipping first responders with the tools to identify victims of exploitation and assisting victims to escape their traffickers and then assisting them re-adjust to society. In this video, Rebecca tells her story:

Best Of Warriors-Rockets

Since this is such a hot series, we wanted to try something a bit different here and create a mini playoff series digest within the weekly digest. Here are the best bits of writing about games 1 and 2:

Game 1 (Warriors W, 119-106):

PAL: Kevin Durant is 7-feet tall and one of the best shooters ever. Unfair. The Warriors simply have more. Durant, Curry, Klay, Green (who wasn’t a scorer tonight). Mix in a few buckets from role players like Nick Young, and it’s impossible to score at their pace. Harden is incredible, and Paul is real good, but the Warriors are just more.

TOB: Before the series, I figured Warriors in 6. But unlike most, this game did give me a little pause. Curry did not look right, and relying on Durant to hit 18 footers is not what got the Warriors here. The fact they had to do it so often suggests to me that Curry is not out there doing Curry things to get himself and others open. Still, the Rockets looked terrible, and it took an incredible Harden performance, hitting tough shots while well defended, to keep the score respectable. 

Best Stuff:

Source: “Houston’s Risk-Management Basketball Didn’t Work Against the Warriors”, Danny Chau, The Ringer

  • [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey has admittedly been obsessed with beating the Warriors, the NBA’s white whale; this isolation-heavy offense can’t possibly be the answer to Golden State’s riddle, can it?
  • In front of the backdrop of a Golden State offense steered by Stephen Curry’s gyroscopic off-ball play and Kevin Durant’s virtuosity in any sort of space, the Rockets’ offense looks downright ugly.
  • Styles make fights, and no matter how the rest of this series plays out, Houston has at least provided an important intellectual exercise for both Golden State and the league at large. The Rockets don’t have as much talent on their roster as the Warriors do, and they would be fools to consider replicating the Warriors’ style just because it’s en vogue (PAL note: this is exactly what Houston did in game 2 – they increased the ball movement and got role players involved in the offense). Houston is playing risk-management basketball, making sure that its supporting cast isn’t forced to do anything it isn’t comfortable doing; it just so happens that placing all of that pressure on two primary ball handlers also raises their risk profile. It’s a gamble. It always is against the Warriors.

Source: The Warriors Are Better Than The Rockets”, Albert Burneko, Deadspin

  • “That, in turn, partly is due to the fact that the Warriors have Kevin Durant, but more importantly it’s because the Warriors know more ways to score than standing around like fucking idiots while their Designated Ball User dribbles a Morse Code War and Peace into the hardwood in 22-second chapters.”

Source: The Rockets Have Nothing For Kevin Durant”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin

  • Look how many of those buckets are simple isolations; look how mercilessly Durant sizes up and incinerates whichever sack of crap (or two) dares guard him. My favorite is at around 1:25, when Andre Iguodala feeds the ball down to Durant in the mid-post where he’s matched up against P.J. Tucker, and Marv Albert says, “Iguodala for Durant, has a mismatch.” Indeed he did: He had a mismatch against Houston’s best individual defender, the guy designated for the grim job of checking him all night. “Kevin Durant has a mismatch” is the safest thing to say in all the English language. Bark it out the next time you’re wandering the aisles of your local supermarket. The time of day doesn’t even matter. It’s always true. Kevin Durant has a mismatch.

Game 2 (Rockets W, 127-105)

PAL: The Warriors can just drive you nuts. Winning isn’t enough for these basketball artists – they need to make the most beautiful play, even if the degree of difficulty is way high or the margin for error is transparent. The turnovers kill me, because they just seem so careless. How can the same group of dudes make the game look so perfect be the same dudes to make it almost unwatchable?

Tonight was the only recipe for a Rockets win. Combine an off shooting from everyone not named Durant + Rockets role players going crazy. Come on – P.J. Tucker, Ariza, and Gordon aren’t going to score 22, 19, and 28 in the same game again this series. Warriors still take this in 5.

TOB: I still think the Warriors win this series. But Game 2 made me ask myself out loud: When will people stop overreacting to Game 1 of a series? Look at what those writers wrote above after Game 1. Or Charles Barkley joking the Warriors would win in 3 games. It happens all the time. Multiple times per postseason. A team wins Game 1 and suddenly no other result is possible. Basketball doesn’t work like that, especially this deep in the postseason. Teams get here because they’re good and can do good things. The Rockets won 62 games. That’s no fluke. The Warriors got close in the 4th, cutting it to 10, and suddenly the Rockets rained threes on their heads and pushed the lead to almost 30 in just a few minutes.

The Warriors have a real Steph Curry problem, though. I’m guessing he’s hurt, because he looks immobile and not explosive just like in 2016. Not only can he not guard anyone, he can’t get open. He looks lost out there and he needs to start hitting shots or the Warriors will lose. For all the Durant love, no one changes a game like Curry – he opens the floor up for everything the Warriors do, and they cannot win this thing without a major contribution from him. Also, Klay’s inconsistency will never not drive me crazy.

Best Stuff:

Source: Steph Curry Will Have To Take Over At Some Point, Tom Ley, Deadspin

  • You could see Curry outlining a Takeover Game—one of those in which he singlehandedly erases what appeared to be an insurmountable lead through a barrage of threes and floaters that drop perfectly through the net—but he just wasn’t up to filling in the full picture. Your level of concern regarding the Warriors’ chances going forward in this series should directly correlate with how likely you think it is that Curry will continue to sputter in these moments. You have to assume he’s going to keep trying to grab hold of games like he did during that fourth-quarter stretch last night, and at some point the Warriors will need him to find his grip.

Source: “Steph Curry Needs to Get His Mojo Back”, Danny Heifetz, The RInger

  • The biggest obstacle between the Warriors and their dynastic destiny isn’t another team, but Steph’s mojo failing to return, à la the 2016 playoffs. Through two games, the Rockets have thwarted Steph by having their bigs play tight defense when switched onto him, daring him to drive and denying open looks from 3. Whether Steph is unable or unwilling to take what the Rockets are offering him, the plan has thus far worked. His defensive performance added to the frustration, as James Harden constantly targeted Steph in Game 2.
  • In all likelihood, Game 2 was an anomaly. The Warriors let washed Manu Ginobili walk all over them in Game 4 against the Spurs, and the Pelicans crushed Golden State in a similarly sloppy performance by the defending champs two weeks ago. Both opponents were swiftly vanquished in the ensuing games. Odds are the Warriors will win their next two home games, clinch the series in Houston, defeat whatever overachieving Eastern team survives the conference finals, and we’ll remember this game as the last ray of light before the Warriors blotted out the NBA sun for the third time in four seasons. Yet there’s a chance—say, 13.7 percent—that the outcome of these playoffs isn’t prewritten after all.

Robinson Cano: the PED/HOF Debate Rages On

(Forgive me for writing about this topic again, but I love it)

He’s not really going to be a case study in how Hall of Fame voters will treat players with confirmed PED suspensions, because by the time he’s eligible around the year 2040, the question of whether PED guys make the Hall of Fame (Bonds and Clemens chief among them) will have sorted itself out. But Robinson Cano’s suspension this week for taking a diuretic that is often used as a masking agent will still be interesting.

As things stood before this week, Cano had a good chance to make the Hall of Fame if he retired the day before the suspension was announced:

At age 35, Canó is already past many of the standard statistical markers for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. We usually start the Hall of Fame conversation at around 60 bWAR, and Canó’s up to 67.5. JAWS, a Hall of Fame value estimator that balances a player’s career bWAR against his seven-year peak bWAR, rates Canó’s career as already better than that of the average Hall of Fame second baseman. Plus, Canó, who’s still a very good hitter at this stage in his career, has five more seasons left on his current contract in which he can pad his counting stats. He has 2,417 career hits and 305 career home runs.

With a few more years, Cano should get to 3,000 hits and might get to 400 home runs, which would have made him a sure thing before this week. But now that he has this black mark, what will come of his Hall of Fame chances? The Ringer’s Michael Baumann makes a good argument. First, the electorate is changing – younger, more accepting of the fact that PEDs exist in baseball. Cano’s final year on the ballot could be as late as 2040. All of the voters who felt personally fooled by the Steroid Era and refuse to vote for anyone associated at all with PEDs will be long gone – either dead or otherwise not voting. Second, the media likes Cano. This should be a big plus in his favor. And as Baumann points out, the upcoming candidacy of Andy Pettite should tell us a lot about Cano’s chances:

But we should pay attention to what happens to Andy Pettitte, who was named in the Mitchell Report and admitted to using HGH, when he appears on the ballot this year. His case isn’t any more impressive than Gary Sheffield’s, and while Sheffield peaked at 13.3 percent in 2017, I’m confident that Pettitte, with his Baseball Man reputation and clutch postseason record, will blow that number out of the water.

And, I’d point out, it’ll also tell us a lot about the hypocrisy of voters who won’t vote for Bonds or Clemens, two not well-liked guys who are suspected of taking PEDs, but will vote for Pettitte, a well-liked guy who we know took PEDs. -TOB

Source: “Will Robinson Canó’s 80-Game Suspension Affect His Hall of Fame Chances?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (05/15/2018)

PAL: It matter to me. It’s not about what the Hall of Fame represents, or what we think it should represent; rather; it’s about entitlement.

Bonds, McGuire, Palmero, Cano, Manny, etc. – these guys are/were idolized and catered to and fawned over for playing a game. They earned hundreds of millions of dollars. They made a royal life for themselves and their loved ones.

I know I sound old and out of touch, and possibly even naive, but whether or not a guy used performance enhancing drugs matters. Should he be able to play again? Yes. Should he be able to continue to make an insane amount of money? Yes. Should he be able to coach after he’s done playing? Of course.

The only part of an illustrious, fruitful life in baseball that these guys are kept out of is the Hall of Fame, voted on by the Baseball Writers of America and the Veterans Committee. If the Hall of Fame is what’s at stake for the greats, I’m good with that being the punishment for taking banned substances. But what about the guys who admitted to taking greenies and all the other unsavory characters with plaques, you ask. I’m not saying it’s perfect solution, and it’s moving the barrier of entry for relatively new generations of players. Again, I think that’s an acceptable consequence to cleaning up the game.

TOB: Isn’t that a little overkill? A little jealous? A little petty? The punishment for taking banned substances is an 80 game suspension. And a lot of money (for Cano around $12M). The HOF is not just an honor for the players – it’s a museum, of baseball history for the fans.

Also, I don’t recall much complaint from you when your boy Pudge got in the HOF. As I’m sure you remember, Pudge came into camp CONSIDERABLY slimmer the year they began testing for steroids. He was also implicated in Canseco’s book, which proved accurate on quite a few other guys. Pudge got in on the first ballot.

We’re gonna ban Cano now because he took a diuretic? Even if I were to agree a HOF ban for use of PEDs was appropriate, I’d need a lot more than the use of something that can be a masking agent.’’’


  1. You say my reaction is overkill, jealous, and petty. In other words, I’m being jealous and petty. I’d say that’s a bit much. Would I like to be a big league baseball player? That would be awesome! Do I walk around constantly jealous of them, and am I happy when they get caught breaking the rules. No, and no. I do think having a game without PEDs is a worthy pursuit, so I wouldn’t call pondering the legacy of a great player who tested positive for a banned substance petty or of little importance. I mean, you wouldn’t love writing about this if it was inconsequential.
  2. A player can be included in the “museum” without being inducted into the Hall of Fame. We’re talking about a plaque and a speech. That’s it. We aren’t using the ctrl-f on their name and deleting it from all records of ever playing the game.
  3. Pudge – yes, there are rumors and weight loss. Obviously, it’s harder to keep someone out when there isn’t a failed test or admission. I concede that this is a fuzzy zone here, as we’re entering that pre-admission, Lance Armstrong territory (never failed a drug test) here.
  4. Dude, baseball players take the diuretic for one reason. Call me jealous and petty, and I’ll call you willfully ignorant on this “diuretic isn’t the PED” take. 

TOB: When you argue, “they earned hundreds of millions of dollars. They made a royal life for themselves and their loved ones,” and this is the one thing they can’t have, then yeah it sounds a little jealous. But there’s a lot more to this.

First, As I noted, the punishment is 80 games, which will cost Cano $12M. Now you want to punish him again, decades from now, by not letting him in the Hall of Fame? That’s too much, for me. Moreover, you argue that this will “clean up the game” presumably because people won’t want to risk their chances for the Hall of Fame. There’s a huge flaw in this logic. How many players playing today do you think have a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame? Maybe 20? 25? Let’s say 50. That means those 50 guys are subject to a much harsher punishment than everyone else simply because they are better players. Brandon Belt is good. He’s not HOF good. If he gets popped for PEDs, he comes back in August and continues to play. If Kris Bryant gets popped for PEDs, he pays the same price as Belt PLUS he can’t be in the HOF. How is that fair? And how is it a deterrent for the players who have no chance at the HOF?

Second, my argument about diuretics is not willful ignorance. It’s asking for a higher standard of proof than rumors, allegations, and innuendo. Because taking a diuretic is not proof – it’s innuendo. It’s suggestive. Maybe he smoked some weed and wanted to clear that out of his system.

Finally, you make my point for me with Pudge. There was an allegation. There’s circumstantial evidence. And he sails in. For Bonds and Clemens, there were allegations. There was circumstantial evidence. And they may never get in. How is that fair? There should be no “fuzzy zone”. The only fair thing is to let them all in. Have a section in the HOF explaining the steroid era, and note that many players were suspected of using.

Sports Gambling: Coming Soon

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unconstitutional the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, signed into law in 1992, on federalism grounds. The result? It will likely now be up to each individual state to determine whether sports gambling will be legal within that state. Given the expected revenue, it’s hard to imagine most states won’t move quickly to legalize it. But what of the consequences? The ripple effect is hard to even comprehend. Individual families. The Nevada economy, where sports gambling was already legal. Will teams begin offering in seat real time gambling?

Last month I was in Tahoe for a bachelor party, and we spent one evening at the sportsbook. The real-time gambling on baseball was incredible. With each base runner or out, the odds moved like stock prices. Late in a tied game, the smallest events moved the odds dramatically. It was fun enough just to watch the odds swing. We locked in a bet for the Giants to beat the Dodgers in the 7th, and got a solid +145. Soon after, the Giants’ payoff dropped, and we felt like we had free money with our payoff locked in. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan wonders if that will happen pitch by pitch with an app. I can’t see why not – Phil and I do $1 bets on things like that with friends already.

And what about the sports leagues? The NBA and MLB have been openly rooting for this, looking to take a piece of the pie. They are reportedly seeking 1% off the top of all wagers made. Yeah, that’s a lot of money. For decades, MLB has been concerned about how gambling could affect its game (see The 1919 World Series; Pete Rose). But in his article this week, Passan makes an excellent point:

Strong salaries for player tend to be all the integrity they need; the cost of bribery for a millionaire exceeds nearly every gambler’s bankroll. This is nothing more than a cash grab, the leagues calling shotgun on their piece of the pie before others start to understand its enormity. Peel back the lawyer speak and commissioner Rob Manfred’s position always has been clear. He doesn’t see gambling as a panacea but instead an insurance policy. Good economy, bad economy, people gamble. So long as people gamble on baseball, they’ll watch baseball. And the more people watch baseball, the better for the game.

The players make way more money now than gamblers could offer them, so the risk of a player taking cash to throw a game is much lower than it used to be. Passan also suggests the increased money and attention could lead to robot umpires. I dunno. I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, other changes Passan suggests seem likely:

A general manager or head of analytics will leave a team to take a job with a gambling outfit. The Ivy League brains that skipped Wall Street to instead work in sports may now see gambling as the perfect happy medium

As Passan says, “our capacity to gamble is limitless.” It will be fascinating to see where this takes us. -TOB

Source: How Gambling Can Help Make Baseball America’s Pastime Again“, Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports (05/14/2018)

Augie Baseball Update

After winning the NSIC Tourney, the Vikings beat Pitt St. 9-4 in the first game of the Regionals. Four of the nine runs were earned. Today (Friday, 5/18) they play Emporia State. Go Vikes!


We’re about six weeks into the season. Time to check in on Ohtani’s performance.

3.58 ERA and 6 home runs. NOT BAD! A slash line of .321/.360/.617 for an OPS of .977. VERY GOOD! On pace to be at or near Phil’s benchmarks by the All Star Break.

This has been your Ohtani Watch Update. Thank you. -TOB

Videos of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: First Aid Kit – “Emmylou”

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“Close your eyes. Picture a convict. What’s he wearing? Nothing special, baseball cap on backwards, baggy pants. He says something ordinary like, ‘Yo, that’s shizzle.’ Okay. Now slowly open your eyes again. Who are you picturing? A black man? Wrong. That was a white woman. Surprised? Well, shame on you.”

-Michael Scott


Week of May 11, 2018

Augie sticking it to St. Cloud State in the NSIC Tournament, which I should have seen in person. Instead, I’m in Mesa, AZ writing this blog. American Airlines did not have a good day today. 

The Western Conference Finals: A Clash of Contrasting Styles

The Western Conference Finals kick off on Monday, and it should be a doozy. The Warriors, who have made the Finals each of the last three years, having won two titles, against the Rockets, who have stated they were built to beat the Warriors and come in with home court advantage. The Warriors have been there, and the Rockets are coming.

The matchup has been anticipated all season, but some may be surprised to see two offenses that don’t look very much alike. There is a belief in NBA fan and media circles that the Curry/Kerr era Warriors have led a revolution in NBA offense, valuing the three pointer and avoiding the mid-range jumper like never before. It’s a misconception. The Warriors shot 28.9 three-pointers per game this season, just 17th in the league. As Anthony Slater points out in this article, Kerr is actually old school – tailoring his offense to his personnel on the court at any given time. To illustrate, consider: When Curry is on the floor, 39.9% of the Warriors’ shots are three-pointers, which would be third in the league if they averaged that the entire game. But when Curry is off the floor, that number drops to 29.5%, which would be bottom ten in the league. This is because when Curry is off the floor, Shaun Livingston and David West are on the floor. Unlike Curry, Livingston and West excel in the midrange, and so Kerr lets them do their thing, effectively.

Contrast that with the Houston Rockets, who truly implement a team-wide strategy to shoot threes and layups, and avoid the mid-range. This season, 50.2% of the Rockets’ shots were three-pointers, easily an NBA record. But unlike the Warriors, the personnel on the court doesn’t matter. When James Harden missed seven games earlier this season, the team averaged 44.8 three-point attempts per game, more than they averaged with Harden. To further illustrate this, consider Chris Paul. Last year, with the Clippers, Paul shot 322 mid-range shots to just 302 three-pointers, in line with his career numbers. But this year, his first with Houston, he shot 379 three-pointers and just 180 mid-range shots. As Slater notes, “that’s the system overriding the personnel.”

Kerr believes he’s bridging the gap between his mentor, Phil Jackson, and the Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, who was the coach in Phoenix when Kerr was the General Manager there. I’m not going to look at the series as a referendum on either offensive style. I’m just going to enjoy the hell out of the show. -TOB

Source: The Warriors and Rockets Aren’t as Similar as You Think – It’s a Fascinating Strategic and Stylistic Matchup”, Anthony Slater, The Athletic (05/09/2018)

PAL: Kerr, referring to Curry:

“It reminds me a little bit of (Manu) Ginobili his rookie year with the Spurs. Pop was very disciplined. Ginobili would come down on a 3-on-1 fastbreak, throw a crazy pass out of bounds. Pop would be pulling his hair out. But by the end of the year, Pop got it. For every one of those plays, Ginobili would make five great plays. That 5-to-1 ratio is pretty good. Pop learned to live with Ginobili’s insanity and I quickly learned to live with Steph’s insanity.”

For as blissful as it is to watch Curry play basketball, I’ve witnessed this insanity.

As you can see, that one bad play can be really bad – needlessly difficult, and/or too loose. It would be easy to say that Curry is a basketball genius that shouldn’t be instructed, because what comes naturally to him is better than anything Kerr could teach. That’s not what happened. Kerr will always defer to the player’s talent, but he and the staff worked with Curry on how to move without the ball in order to maximize his awesome shooting talent. Yes, you live with the moments like the one above, but that doesn’t mean the team has sat on its hands with Curry.

TOB covers the really cool breakdown of the differences between the Rockets and the Warriors. I thought Kerr’s insight to fostering Curry’s ability was a fascinating second piece to this story.

TOB: Frankly, Draymond should have caught that pass. And for every Curry play like that, there are five like this:

Ok, maybe not five like that, because that’s incredible.

Actually, Speed Can Be Taught

The secret sauce to being an explosive skater in the NHL just might be figure skating. Like swing coaches for PGA players, many hockey players and NHL teams hire skating coaches like former Canadian figure skating champion Barb Underhill. There’s also Laura Stamm, who worked with the Islanders in the 70s, and Dawn Braid. It’s not just at the NHL level either. Diane Ness has built a small skating empire in Minnesota with Pro Edge Skating.

As Joe Smith writes, Tiger Woods helped Underhill see the potential for her to help hockey players. Aside from being the mother to a couple hockey players, it was seeing a split screen of Tiger Woods and her husband’s respective golf swings.

“I said, ‘Wow, you can see the difference when it’s side by side. I’ve just got to find my Tiger Woods.”

Underhill thought of retired Rangers forward Mike Gartner, long considered among the most gifted skaters in the league. She called Gartner and asked if she could film him skating. He said yes.

While figure skates and hockey skates are very different beasts, the power for each type of skating comes from the same mechanics and efficiencies. By teaching these mechanics and efficiencies, Underhill has helped Brayden Point go from an average skater to an elite skater – one that almost beat the fastest man on skates, Connor McDavid, in a race. Think about that for a second. You are not going to take a football player – either kind of football – with average speed and turn him into a blazer. That just doesn’t happen in other sports. Speed isn’t taught like it can be in hockey. That’s a fascinating distinction! – PAL

Source: The Woman Behind Some of the NHL’s Fastest Teams”, Joe Smith, The Athletic (05/9/2018)

Soulless Surfing  

We’ve got ourselves a real pickle here, folks. Of course, most of us are massive surf fans and watch the pro circuit (I could look up the name, but then I’d lose the sarcastic point I’m trying to make). While most of us aren’t serious surf fans…or even surfers, I think we all can appreciate the sport.

Perhaps unlike any other sport, nature plays a massive role in surfing competitions. Obviously, it determines where competitions are held. It also determines the quality of a competition and even the existence of a competition. No swell = no competition.

That was until the Wayne Gretzky of surfing, Kelly Slater, helped usher us into the future of surfing: a man-made wave created by a 100-ton mass of weight pushing through a 400-yard pool over 100 miles away from the ocean. There have been artificial waves before, but nothing like this:

At first blush, this is all wrong. Is a tube ride at all compelling in a pool? Where is the cerebral part of surfing. A huge part of the sport – whether you’re Slater or a nobody – is being able to read the ocean. It’s not enough to pick a set on the horizon; rather, you gotta know if it’s wave two or three that’s the best wave with the most power. All of this is gone in a wave pool. Don’t even get me started on the conditioning needed in the ocean to paddle out to your wave. Unlike baseball or basketball or hockey, there is a connection to the big, powerful world of nature inherent in the sport of surfing. That does not exist in the pool, and that’s a bummer.

You know what’s not a bummer? Being a surfing fan during a pool competition. You can watch idols not from ½ a mile away through binoculars, but along the length of the wave like fans at a hockey game. What’s more, it’s a hell of a lot more TV friendly (see: reliable). And one could argue that by removing the variable of wave consistency, we actually see skill vs. skill.

And perhaps most important of all is the fact that surfing is an Olympic sport in 2020, for the first time. Japan lacks the consistent natural wave that one might find on the North Shore of Oahu. The stakes might simply be too high for the sport to leave it to nature. In order to showcase the athletes, likely Olympians – even those who are on the fence about the man-made wave – agree that the Olympics should be held on a man-made wave.

At its core, I would suggest that what makes surfing so goddamn cool and appealing is that it doesn’t happen in Nebraska. Surfing only happens is idyllic places, and that’s romantic, that’s its special place in pop culture. And while the growth of the sport no doubt stands to benefit from Slater’s pools (and – my god – he’s going to make so much money on this), the spirit of perhaps the zen sport is being eroded in chlorine. This is a great read. Stop reading what I have to say, and read Brent Rose’s kick-ass story. – PAL

Source: “Is The First Pro Surfing Contest In A Wave Pool The Sport’s Future, Or Its Bastardization?”, Brent Rose, Deadspin (05/9/2018)

TOB: As Phil points out, this is an interesting conundrum: what is lost in the sport of surfing when you take the unpredictability of nature out of it? Anything? Everything? As I read it, I went back and forth on this. Finally I came to a conclusion: surfing stops being zen and loses its romantic connection to nature when you put it in the context of competition. This affects a small number of surfers in the world, and only in the context of competition and winning prize money. But it doesn’t change the sport for the vast majority of surfers who get up before dawn every day to catch some swells, brah.

The Neverending But Fun Debate: Jordan vs. LeBron

As LeBron carries his team to perhaps another NBA Finals appearance, which would be his 8th in a row, the clamor to determine who is better, Jordan or LeBron, continues to rise. I’m not sure there’s a right answer – and I’m not sure I have my own decision, but I did enjoy this article by Kevin Pelton, who attempts to answer the question statistically with a stat he invented a few years back called Championships Added. It’s a bit like WAR in baseball. It’s a fascinating article, and I recommend you read it, but here’s the short of Pelton’s conclusion:

Peak: Jordan’s peak was the best ever: the 1990-91 Season with a 0.70 Championship Added. LeBron’s best comes close, 0.62.

Career: LeBron takes it here, especially when you account for strength of league. Pelton argues the NBA is stronger now, in part due to a much wider pool of players (read: non-American). When not accounting for strength of league, Jordan still holds a slight edge over LeBron, but LeBron could pass him as soon as this season depending on how these playoffs shakeout.

Pelton points out another interesting issue: when you go by the age of each instead of the number of seasons, LeBron is way out in front of Jordan. That, of course, is because LeBron started at 18 while Jordan started at 21.

As Pelton concludes, “A team drafting James’ entire career would assure itself championship contention for more than a decade given his metronomic consistency and ability to avoid injury. Jordan might have been better at his best, but James has already put together the best NBA career we’ve ever seen.”

I find it hard to argue with that conclusion. Jordan at his peak was better, but LeBron did more over the course of his career – and he doesn’t even show any signs of slowing down yet. Jordan fans will argue he went 6-for-6 in the Finals, but that means he didn’t make the Finals 9 times (7 times if you ignore his two seasons with the Wizards). Meanwhile, LeBron has made the finals 8 times in 14 seasons, and could make it 9 in 15 this year. Making the Finals and losing is a lot better than losing before the Finals.

What’s remarkable to me about LeBron is that this debate is even close enough to have. When Jordan retired, people figured we’d never see a player better than him. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait long: LeBron’s career began the season after Jordan’s career ended (for good). On top of that is the fact LeBron did it in the face of unbearable expectations:

And LeBron has done it without a sniff of legal or personal trouble. So, I’m with Pelton. Give me Jordan for one year, give me LeBron for his career. -TOB

Source: LeBron or MJ? How the King is Settling the GOAT Debate”, Kevin Pelton, ESPN, (05/10/2018)

PAL: I guess we have to call TOB’s love for James what it is at this point: a LeBoner.

TOB: How dare you.

NBA Player Nicknames in China

The title says it all: the funny nicknames people in China have given to NBA players. This started as a string of tweets. The writer then put a few of them into an article. There are some great ones, and I suggest you check his twitter feed for a lot more, but this is my favorite:

Steph Curry probably has more nicknames than any current NBA player except for LeBron. Many of these nicknames play on his relatively small size for a basketball player, including “The Elementary School Student” (小学生) and 萌神, which literally translates as “Sprout God,” but might more naturally be translated as “Adorable God,” since the Chinese character for “sprout” is a reference to the Japanese concept of “Moe” (萌え), describing feelings of affection and protectiveness for small, cute things.

But Curry’s most interesting Chinese nickname is “Steph Skyfucker” (库昊), which derives from an elaborate series of interlocking visual and verbal puns. It turns out that Chinese also has the phrase “the sky’s the limit” (天空是极限), just like in English. Over time “breaking through the sky” (捅破天) became a way to describe someone who vastly exceeded all expectations. However, in other contexts, the same characters for “breaking through” can be a vulgar slang term for “fuck.” Since Curry defied all expectations to become a superstar, people started saying he had broken through the sky—or fucked it.

Skyfucker it is. -TOB

Source: “Sprout God, Porcelain Mamba, And Six-Step LeBron: The Stories Behind China’s Best NBA Nicknames“, Nick Kapur, Deadspin (05/11/2018)

Videos of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Wings – “Arrow Through Me”

Tweets of the Week

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Week of May 4, 2018

Terry Rozier gets the last word on Eric Bledsoe.

Strength: Analytics. Weakness: How to use a fungo

Photo credit: Michael Starghill

Baseball is measured differently today than it was 20 years ago. Hitting .300 or winning 20 games are not valued in the way they traditionally have been. We all know this. WAR, BABIP, and a parade of new acronyms are taking over. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that  different people – people who understand the new data and how to use it to make better decisions – are more influential within the organization. Typically, these data folks were tucked away in the front office, but the world champ Houston Astros are realizing their analysts might provide more value somewhere less cush than a MLB office.

The Astros and its General Manager Jeff Lunhow are no longer trying to build a winner. They now must sustain excellence with lower draft picks and less money to spend on amatuer talent. As Tyler Kepner learns in his excellent story, Lunhow believes the best way to do that is in making measurable improvements on the field – at all levels of the organization.

“Every team now values advanced metrics. Not every team has sent its top analyst to spend a summer as a first-base coach on the bottom rung of its farm system, as the Astros did with Mejdal last season.”

“Mejdal” is Sig Mejdal, 52. His official title is Special Assistant to Lunhow, but these days you can find him in uniform in the minor league system. He’s riding the bus, he’s shagging balls, and he’s also talking young minor leaguers in the game about pitch usage rate, hitter tendencies, situational data, and other intel that 2016 draft pick Colin McKee describes as “mind-blowing stuff.”

But – again – every team adheres to the importance of new metrics. I mean, have you seen how often teams over-shift these days? What make the Astros different?

Front offices everywhere now teem with well-educated executives who have backgrounds outside baseball. Luhnow, who has an M.B.A. from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern, wondered how the Astros could get more from theirs.

“There is an ivory tower effect, if you will, where great ideas are being thought about and discussed at headquarters, but until you roll them out into the field, you don’t realize all the challenges involved,” he said. “Amazing ideas find all kinds of issues when you try to roll them out with human beings because that’s all we are, a collection of human beings trying to do things to help players perform on the field.”

In past years, Luhnow found, it was easy for executives to visit a minor league affiliate for a week but difficult to form more than a surface-level bond with players and staff members. In Mejdal, whom he had first hired with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005, he had a trusted confidant with intimate knowledge of the Astros’ culture.

A fun and thought-provoking read. A fresh take on the baseball metrics story. I think you’ll enjoy the read whether you’re into baseball, business, or stories about thinking a little differently. – PAL

Source: A Numbers Guy Left the Front Office to Coach Prospects. Here’s What He Learned.”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (4/30/18)

The Bay Area Sports Mt. Rushmore

I stumbled on an article, which was short and not particularly well thought through, about the Bay Area Mt. Rushmore. It wasn’t great, but it did get me thinking: who are the four greatest athletes in Bay Area sports history. For this argument, I’m choosing player performance in the Bay Area, so performance elsewhere is out and hometown kids (see Tom Brady) who played elsewhere are out.

I’ve put a good deal of thought into it, and here’s what I got:

Joe Montana: Beloved – seriously, people friggin love this guy; I wasn’t around, but I get the sense there was some deep-seated issues for the Bay Area and its wounded civic pride coming out of the 60s and 70s, and Joe provided a chance to be a winner. Speaking of winner, Joe was the winner of four Super Bowls and is generally considered the best ever at the toughest and most important position in sports, or at least was until Tom Brady came along.

Barry Bonds: Quite possibly the greatest baseball player of all time. He never won a World Series, but that’s ok. Did he use PEDs? Maybe. Do I care? Not one iota. In hindsight, he made us not realize how hard it is to hit at ATT Park. He made it look so easy. Was he a jerk? I think it’s extremely overstated, but the reputation is there. However, he was our jerk, and he was nice to us, so GTFO.

Willie Mays: I never saw him play, but his numbers were jaw dropping. Seriously check out his WAR (far right column) during his peak:

That’s just stupid. And, again, he was beloved. He’s probably tops on this list for that category. If you’ve ever been at a Giants game when he’s announced, the reaction is incredible. On the dark day he’s gone, this city will mourn communally in a way I’ve never seen.

Ok. The first three were easy. The fourth took some thought, but I landed on:

Steph Curry: Yes, there’s recency bias here. But he’s a two-time MVP and a two-time champ. He’s universally beloved here, and aside from some petty fools, he’s loved all over the country/world. He’s the greatest shooter of all-time, bar none. It’s not close. His shooting, in volume, off the dribble, closely guarded, is incomparable. But he’s not one-dimensional, as he’s got top notch handles and an incredible knack for making incredible finishes at the rack. His range is so deep, it changes the dynamics on the floor so incredibly that it cannot be overstated. Welcome, Wardell.

And now, the runners-up:

Ricky Henderson: Very good player. Less “beloved” than very well liked and funny. Some demerits because only 14 of his 25 (!!) years were in Oakland, which was a theme when I looked through the greatest A’s.

Ken Stabler: Ehhh. Never saw him play. Old timers love him, but he doesn’t resonate with younger generations.

Jerry Rice: Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all-time. Certainly the most productive. But I don’t believe he was ever beloved by the Bay Area like Joe.

Tim Brown: Seriously? C’mon.

Steve Young: One Super Bowl vs. four says a lot. Plus, his peak was relatively short. And I think his post-career media has made him a smidge less likable.

Joe Thornton: I dunno, is he the best Shark? Maybe Owen Nolan? Arturs Irbe? Patrick Marleau? I dunno. But whoever it is is not making the Bay Area’s top 4. -TOB

Returning from Tommy John Surgery Takes a Village

Sometimes you read a feel-good sports story and you’re left feeling a little overwhelmed by the saccharine. But The Athletic’s Andrew   nails this one, on Giants reliever Will Smith’s return this week, thirteen months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Smith made his season debut in the 7th, and struck out red-hot Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer (a former teammate) to end the inning.

Look at that smile. If you’ve ever worked really hard for something, you know that smile. All the grueling rehab finally paid off. But what I really like about this story is how Baggarly talks to the training staff who worked so hard go get Smith back here.

Smith received a handshake from Bochy upon reaching the dugout, and then swallowed head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner with a two-armed hug.

Groeschner stopped on his way to the bus, perched his sunglasses on his forehead and revealed a pair of glassy eyes.

“For us, it’s awesome,” [Groeschner] said. “It’s really a great moment for our medical staff just to watch him and how excited he was. It was 13 months of working his ass off. Really, from Day 1, he was ready to work.

“He just went after it hard, and for this day, right here. And it paid off for him. I think that’s why everyone is so happy for him.”

For Smith, as with most individual achievements, there were people in the background providing support. I really liked how Baggarly highlighted that here. -TOB

Source: Giants Face Significant Obstacles, But Will Smith Shows Them the Importance of Turning the Page”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (05/02/2018)

PAL: 13 months is a long time for a person to not do the thing they are best at and to live the tired, one-day-at-a-time cliche. Aside from the quiet monotony of the drills and exercises contained in those folders, I read about Smith and think about self confidence…even self worth. Being able to contribute at my job is a huge factor in my confidence, even my mood.

At some point, the cliche has to lead to a real payoff, and that was Smith getting on the hill against the Padres. He’s in the box score. Good read!

Hit (and Field) Your Numbers

While I despise the opening line of this story, I enjoyed the hell out of the rest of it, the latest installment of ESPN’s “Radical Ideas Series”. Here’s Sam Miller to frame the discussion:

“The point of ballplayer compensation is to compensate ballplayers, and a good system would fairly and efficiently pay the most valuable ballplayers the most money. The current system does not do this.

“That’s what this system does: It creates a lot of players who are underpaid, whom we take for granted, and some players who are overpaid, whom we grow to hate with every bitter nerve in our body, and we call that an economic wash.”

Both of these guys make a over 25MM a year. One is extremely overpaid, but is it possible that one of them is underpaid?

Setting aside that this is highly unlikely to ever happen, the solution to the problem is to treat baseball players like salespeople and pay them largely on commission (with a base salary of the MLB minimum, which is merely $507,500). Teams would be more than happy with this. No more Barry Zito contract blunders, and Mike Trout will earn what he’s worth based on how he plays on the field.

Of course there are some flaws to this idea (injuries, for one, and how are we measuring success/ranking, The Players Union would never – I mean never ever ever – agree to it), but it’s fun to think about, especially when we consider the fans’ bystander role in the current system.

“We are constantly asking not whether the player is good but whether he is worth it. The player becomes equipment — a depreciating tractor, sputtering. We yell at it when it doesn’t start. We talk about its resale value.”

This story is for you if you have an upcoming date with the relatives and you’re worried you don’t have the small-talk skills to make it through another all-day affair the randos at a barbecue. – PAL

Source: Radical Ideas Series: What if MLB players were paid on commission?, Sam Miller, ESPN (5/2/18)

TOB: As a thought exercise, this is pretty interesting. But in reality? How to deal with injuries? What happens to free agency? I do, however, think it’d be a good way to deal with pre-free agency players. It’s insane that Aaron Judge made $500k last year, when he hit 52 dingers and had an 8.1 WAR (which is MVP-caliber). And it’s insane he won’t be a free agent until 2023. Because Judge was a late bloomer, in 2023 he’ll be 31, the same age as good but past his prime Andrew McCutchen. That is to say, there’s a chance Judge never gets a massive contract and will get paid very little compared to his level of play (Judge will be arbitration eligible in 2020, but the arbitration numbers never come close to fair market value for the best players).

So why not tweak Miller’s plan: pay per WAR for pre-free agency players, so that a guy like Judge gets paid a fair amount when he hits 50 dingers.

Pitching Panda
As a fan, a baseball season is long. Your team plays nearly every day for six months. If your team isn’t good, it’s like being in a torture chamber. The Giants are showing some life, but in good and bad seasons, there are moments that make the grind worth it. Last weekend, Giants fans got one of those.

The Giants were getting smoked in the first game of a double-header Saturday, and so they brought in Pablo Sandoval to pitch. Anytime a position player is forced to pitch, it’s must-see. But something about it being Panda made this even more exciting. And then…the dude pitched. A perfect inning. And not only that, he looked really good. He touched 88 on his fastball, which should make Dan Haren (Twitter handle: IThrow88) blush. He induced weak contact. And best of all, he dropped in this curve ball for a strike.

I couldn’t stop laughing. When he was at bat, Yasmani Grandal couldn’t stop laughing. Throughout the inning, both dugouts couldn’t stop laughing. It was a great moment in an otherwise crappy game. But it wasn’t meaningless. An as always astute Mike Krukow noted, as Panda ran back to the dugout after the inning, that the previously lifeless Giants dugout seemed suddenly energized, and he noted that could bode well for the second game of that double-header. Sure ‘nuff. Giants came out firing in the evening, and then finished off the series win the next day. Again, it was one of those little moments in a baseball season that means so much. I encourage to watch the entire inning here.

What a great sport. -TOB

Source: Pablo Sandoval Pitched A Perfect Inning, And It Was Just Fucking Perfect”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (04/29/2018)

Video(s) of the Week:

Tweet of the Week: As we approach Mother’s Day, it’s fitting that L.A. Clipper Patrick Beverly’s mom dominated on The Price Is Right.

PAL Song of the Week: Oddisee – “The Carter Baron”

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I feel like Neve Campbell in Scream II. She thinks she can go off to college and be happy and then the murderer comes back and starts killing off all of her friends. I learned a lot of lessons from that movie, this is just one of them.

-M.G. Scott

Week of April 27, 2018

Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. On April 27, 1961 the expansion Angels lost its first ever game to the Minnesota Twins, 4-2. 

25 Years Ago: “Put That In Your F&*^ing Pipe And Smoke It”

Most of us who follow sports – that is to say, all of us, because I’m writing a sports blog and you are reading a sports blog – have seen the video of manager Hal McRae’s tantrum following a Royals loss to the Tigers 25 years ago this week. McRae is surrounded in his office by local reporters when this happens:

Or, as The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd puts it:

In one version of the story, it was a tape recorder. In another, a sharp piece of office supplies. For years, nobody could say for sure. They watched the famous video tape, and they listened to the F-bombs. They replayed it slowly, frame by frame, like a managerial Zapruder film. The sports writers still weren’t sure, even Alan Eskew, the baseball beat man who took the foreign object to the face.

This much, we know: The flying object left a bloody, 1 1/2-inch gash on Eskew’s right cheek. It required a trip to the trainer’s room and a tetanus shot. It is, a quarter-century later, the most famous media injury in the history of the Royals, the bloody symbol of a wild managerial tirade. And 25 years later, Eskew is almost certain: It was probably an ashtray.

Thanks to Sunflower Cable out of Lawrence, Kansas, there is video of the tirade. They didn’t know what they had, and when other local affiliates called and asked for the footage, Sunflower simply handed over the footage to anyone without even putting their watermark on it!

As most of us know now, the clip went viral before “viral” was even a thing. Local and national outlets played it. ESPN had a field day with it. Eskew, known simply as “Scoop”, was asked to be a guest on radio and TV, but that wasn’t his style. His job was to cover the beat for the Royals, and so he and McRae meet face-to-face and settled up.

“McRae offered a short apology, and Scoop accepted, delivering just one request: Crab cakes during the next trip to Baltimore.”

I mean, how great is that?

Hal McRae was not that dude on this video. Players and every reporter describe him as cool, calm, blue collar. The reporters enjoyed covering his team’s beat. Players liked playing for him.

“The image he had around the rest of the country then was he was this maniac,” said Flanagan, who now covers the team for MLB.com. “And he wasn’t. He was just a cool, cool manager. He was funny. His cackle was the best cackle I’ve ever heard. He’d rather laugh than do anything.”

Covering a baseball beat in the 80s and 90s sounds like so much fun, and the guys like “Scoop” that have done it for so long (he still covers the Royals) are a part of the culture around a team. He’s part of that team’s story, because he’s been penning it for so long.  

And then there’s this last nugget that had me laughing:

McRae would receive just one more chance to manage, a hopeless situation in Tampa Bay in 2001 and 2002. But one day in 2001, he returned to Kauffman Stadium for a road series. In the hours before the first game, McRae sat at his office desk for a pregame media session. One reporter appeared in the back, wearing a catcher’s mask. It was Scoop.

Another great read from The Athletic. The link below will likely direct you to a free trial offer. I think it’s worth a few bucks a month to read solid sports reporting and feature writing without no ads.

By the way, If I ever write a young adult novel about a baseball, the reporter character in the story will no doubt be named “Scoop”. – PAL  

Source: Twenty-five years later, those who were there remember Hal McRae’s famous rant”, Rustin Dodd, The Athletic (4/20/18)

Should a Balked Run Count As An Earned Run?

For the first time in a long time, this was an article that had me hooked with the headline – “A Dumb, Specific Argument About Balks”. Boom – all-in. Perhaps a rant about headline writing in the digital age (or lack thereof) is in my near future.

Back to balks. From Little League on, balks are a part of baseball. Having played and watched baseball for over 30 years, I can’t confidently tell you what is and isn’t a balk. A balk is an intentional or unintentional act to mislead the baserunner. That’s my best, most vague attempt at defining a balk. Good enough, I guess, but I’d never feel confident enough with my knowledge of the rule to call one as an umpire in a game. 

I am not alone. Per Emma Baccelieri from Deadspin, the MLB definition of a balk in its glossary is different from the definition in the rulebook (how the hell could that be!?!):

“The rule is in place to prevent a pitcher from deceiving the baserunners,” the glossary reads, while the rulebook doesn’t get close to such an idea. There’s nothing about the intent or the result of the motion like that in the Official Baseball Rules, just a technical description, and one that can end up remarkably tricky to apply, at that.

Take a look at the gif above. It is a balk – with runners on first and third – but is this a deception in any way? That runner on third was granted home, and the runner on first advanced to second. Which brings us to the heart of the manner: should balked in runs count as earned runs against the pitcher’s stat line?

Balks leading to runs currently count against the pitcher’s E.R.A. (as do passed balls). However, unlike passed balls, balks are not the result of pitching. In fact, they are the opposite of pitching – they are the deception of a pitch.

It’s not as simple of a “of course it should count against a pitcher’s E.R.A.” as you might think. Baccellieri writes:

‘But the pitcher’s clearly responsible for the balk; he should be responsible for the run that it causes!’ you might say. Okay, yes, but—he can be clearly responsible for an error, and yet he’s not considered responsible for the run that the error causes! And you might then say that the error is related to the pitcher’s defense, which is a separate matter, while the balk relates only to his pitching proper. But does it? The whole idea of the balk is that he’s not really pitching, not near any point of completion. (If he was, it’d just be a pitch!) In Bettis’s case here, and many others, the whole thing’s really just an error—in the literal sense of the word, not the baseball sense. So why draw the line here? Why determine that a pitcher’s fielding error is exempt, and this technical error is not? On a call that is so often made or missed in error itself? Baseball grants a pitcher a little bit of mercy here; the scorecard will not ignore an error from him, but it won’t use it to statistically penalize him in the measures where it’d hurt him most. Why shouldn’t a balk be scored in the same way? There’s no reasonable consistency to any logic that treats them differently.

Here’s a real simple solution: a run scored as a result of a pitcher error, in the “literal sense of the word”(error or balk), should count as earned. Seems like solid logic to me…but wait. What if a pitcher commits an error that allows a baserunner, but then that base runner scores when the second baseman boots a grounder in a later at bat? I still think it’s an earned run, as the scoring runner is on base due to the pitcher’s fielding error, while hitter on the ground ball would be an unearned run, as he/she is on base due to error at 2B…right?

Do you see where we are? We’re in the bowels of baseball nerdery that no one but for a few of us care about. Readers – tell us what you think. How do you count a run from a pitchers balk: earned or unearned? Baseball minutiae perfect fodder for a Friday debate. – PAL

Source: A Dumb, Specific Argument About Balks”, Emma Baccellieri, Deadspin (4/24/18)

TOB: I have umped quite a bit in my life and I have no idea what is and isn’t a balk, aside from the most obvious starts and stops. But the other night I was watching a Giants/Nationals game, and the Nationals reliever kept sorta lifting his front leg, without it leaving the ground, repeatedly before he began his windup. I’ve seen far less significant twitches than that called a balk. I don’t recall if there was a runner on base, but he was pitching from the stretch so it seems likely. And if there wasn’t, and that’s his normal pitching routine, he has to get called for a balk, doesn’t he?

As for earned runs for pitchers on errors: it’s really odd. Let me paint a scenario. A runner gets on because the pitcher commits an error (come-backer, overthrows first. Let’s call the pitcher “Jon Lester”). Then, the next batter hits a ground ball to second. The second baseman tries to hurry to turn the double play, and throws it away. Next batter hits a triple. Both of those runs are “unearned” for the pitcher – but they both got on base because of his throwing error.

Minor League Player Salary Update: Still Shitty

A few weeks back we wrote about the measly pay given to minor league baseball players. I read another good article about it this week, where the following point is made:

Every team could pay its minor leaguers $30,000 a year for about $4.5 million, or the cost of a decent free agent reliever. Instead, the league got together and spent $1.3 million a year on lobbying in 2016 and 2017, and made the problem go away forever, or at least until Congress becomes aggressively pro-labor, which might be effectively the same thing.

$4.5 million? They’re making money hand-over-fist. That is chump change! Hell, Forbes estimates the Sacramento Rivercats, the Giants AAA-affiliate, generate $20 million in annual  revenue. The team has 38 players on its current roster, and to pay them each $30,000 per year would cost $1,140,000 – only 5.7% of its revenue.

Or, consider this. Last year, MLB attendance league-wide totaled 72,688,797. That’s an average of 2,422,627 per team. $4.5M divided by 2,422,627 is about $1.85. So, fine. If these rich bastards won’t pay their employees a fair salary, then sign me up for a $1.85 per ticket surcharge that would be used to pay minor league players a fair, livable wage. -TOB

Source: The Disgrace of Minor League Baseball“”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/20/2018)

Video of the Week: 

PAL’s Song of the Week: Blundetto – “Mi Condena”

Tweet of the Week: 

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I was sad at first, but then I remembered that Bob Marley song: “No, woman! No cry!”

– Erin Hannon


Week of April 20, 2018

The hero the NBA deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

The Perfect Storm: Boston Marathon 2018

The weather for this year’s Boston Marathon was downright miserable, which allowed relatively average runners to have unforgettable days:

Of the top 15 women finishers, 9 of them weren’t even ranked in the top 25 runners leading into race. This means that many of the women at the top of the results are “regulars” – they have full-time jobs like you and me. They did their training by themselves or in running clubs, and then they went out and beat some of the greatest distance runners on the planet. Sara Sellers (pictured above) had only run one marathon before finishing second at Boston. Hell, earlier that week she and her brother went up to Acadia National Park to ride bikes.

While what Sellers did was downright incredible, consider a couple facts:

  • The top runners wanted no part of this race. With conditions as poor as they were, this year’s winning time (2:39) was about 18 minutes slower than last year’s winning time (2:21).
  • While Sellers is an amateur in every respect, she did pace at a sub-6:20 mile. She’s an amateur, but a talented runner to be sure

Still, her old college coach who put together a training plan for her couldn’t believe what he was seeing online.

Her Utah-based coach, Paul Pilkington, who was watching on television, had to hit refresh on his computer to make sure the results were correct. In a telephone interview, Pilkington said he knew Sellers to be “very gritty and tough in adverse conditions.” And yet, “I never thought she’d get second,” he said.

Malika Andrews and Matthew Futterman of The New York Times do a really nice job in this story capturing what’s special about sports or competitions in which us regulars are on the field/course/pitch with the greatest in the world. On the spectrum of elite runners and weekend warriors, they make it feel like Sellers is “one of us”. She’s the nurse anesthetist who trained before and after work, and then she’s finishing second in perhaps the most iconic marathons. While that’s the case in terms of training regimes and a lack of sponsors, Sellers splits reveal a talented runner finding her marathon stride at the perfect time.  – PAL

Source: The Nurse Who Took a Very Different Route to Second Place in the Boston Marathon”, Malika Andrews and Matthew Fetterman, The New York Times (04/17/2018)

TOB: This is pretty incredible. I tried to think of a major-sports comparison. It took me a few minutes, but I got it: Kurt Warner, who went undrafted out of college and worked as a grocery bagger when he couldn’t catch on with an NFL team. It wasn’t until five years later that he got to the NFL and led the Rams to the Super Bowl. Similarly, while an amateur, Sellers was not some chump off the street. She was a very good, but not great, distance runner in college. She didn’t have some out of body, inexplicable performance here, either. She finished the one, (yes one) previous marathon she ran, last September, with a nearly identical time she ran in this race – 2:44:27 and 2:44:04. Unlike everyone else, she just ran her best race, and ignored the weather. Pretty cool. It’d be interesting to see what she could do if he dedicated her time to it.

Was LeBron Acting When He Received Sad News? Or Is He Covering for the Reporter?

During Wednesday’s game between the Cavs and Pacers, news began circulating that Erin Popovich, the wife of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, had passed away. Erin Popovich’s death came, reportedly, after a long illness that the Popovich family had not publicly disclosed. Obviously, this was and is sad news. Popovich, in particular, is a beloved NBA figure, and many players, coaches, media persons, and fans sent along their condolences upon hearing the news. Kevin Durant was informed of her death and asked about it after the team’s shootaround in San Antonio ahead of Thursday’s Game 3 against the Spurs. His reaction was, appropriately, one of shock and sadness for a person he admires.

Similarly, following the Cavs’ Game 2 win, a game in which LeBron carried his team to a close victory despite his herculean effort, TNT’s Allie LaForce informed LeBron of Erin Popovich’s death during her on-court post-game interview of LeBron. LeBron’s reaction is also one of shock and sadness, and it was an emotional moment of television. I watched it live, and found it so affecting I rewound it to watch it again.

Other viewers, however, found the question to be in poor taste, and LaForce began to take a lot of heat online for the question. Some thought LaForce should not have put LeBron on the spot like that, on live TV, and asked him about such a sensitive subject without warning. I don’t agree, but I can understand the argument that perhaps she should have let him know ahead of time. Of course, things then got even weirder.

LeBron defended LaForce, saying that in fact LaForce told LeBron, off camera prior to the interview, of Erin Popovich’s passing, and clearing the question with him ahead of time. That begs the question, though: Was LeBron’s reaction all an act?

I don’t think so. Watch it again. That doesn’t seem like acting to me. That seems like genuine emotion, shock quickly turning into sadness. If LeBron is telling the truth now, then his reaction is a little odd – there was no need to sound shocked. And if LeBron is telling the truth now, LaForce should have prefaced her question by saying, “As we discussed moments ago….”

No, I think LeBron is covering for LaForce, trying to quash a controversy that shouldn’t have existed, and trying to keep the focus on the Popovich family, not on whether a reporter properly asked LeBron a question about it. As I said, I can understand thinking LaForce should have cleared the question with LeBron first, but I don’t understand getting bent out of shape about it, and turning what should be a sad story into an Internet Outrage Story. -TOB

Source: LeBron James Says He Wasn’t Blindsided By TNT Reporter Asking Him About Erin Popovich”, Laura Wagner, Deadspin (04/19/2018)

PAL: Why couldn’t LeBron just tell the truth? She obviously didn’t clear it with him beforehand, but it’s OK. It’s OK because that’s how important LeBron is to the NBA. He’s not just the face of the league, but one of the very few people that can speak on behalf of the league and/or it’s players. 

Let’s Not Forget How Great Albert Pujols Was

As of 4/19/18, Albert Pujols is 10 hits shy of 3,000 and 78 RBI shy of 2,000 for his career. He also has 617 home runs. Here’s the list of players with 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBI, and 600 home runs:

  1. Hank Aaron
  2. Alex Rodriguez

Short list, eh (also, I’m already forgetting how insanely good Rodriguez numbers are)? No Bonds (just missed on RBI), no Ruth (hits), no Mays (RBI). Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like we’ve been overlooking Pujols as he finishes up his career with the irrelevant Angels. In his prime, there was no other hitter I feared more than Pujols, and that includes Bonds (because they’d never pitch to Bonds).

Jerry Crasnick does a nice job showing us what makes one of the greatest hitters ever tick, and he highlights the reverence other players have for Pujols.

Teammate Ian Kinsler sums up Pujols’ greatness this way:

In my opinion, good hitters make adjustments game to game or at-bat to at-bat. Great hitters make adjustments pitch-to-pitch, and Hall of Famers can make adjustments as the pitch is coming. They might be expecting one thing and see another and make an adjustment and put a really good swing on it.

And then there’s how he performed against (some) of the best pitchers (also, WHAT is Ben Sheets doing on this list?):

Quick side note: I mean, my God. The Angels have a top 15 all-time player on their roster in Pujols, the best player in the world in Mike Trout (who could be a top-15 all-time player before he’s done), and the most interesting player in the world in Ohtani. And has anyone made it a point to find an Angels game on TV? I sure as shit haven’t.

The story loses me a bit at the end when it expands beyond his accomplishments within the batter’s box, and – quite frankly, it all starts to sound a little like “Cardinals’ Way” propaganda when he starts talking about the stats that matter to him (spoiler alert, Pujols doesn’t like “computers” telling him about baseball). Still, worth the read. – PAL

Source: “Inside Albert Pujols’ Path to 3,000 Hits”, Jerry Crasnick, ESPN (04/19/2018)

TOB: I’ve never been a big Pujols fan. He seems boring? And it annoyed me in that 2001-2004 range, when people argued (unsuccessfully) that he should win the MVP over Bonds, when Bonds was putting up some of the very best seasons of all time.

And as Phil alludes to, Pujols is anti-modern stats. WHY? First, those stats will place the first dozen years of his career into rarified air. Second, why do so many people, like Pujols, not understand the argument against the RBI? Yes, of course, you score by hitting your teammates (or yourself) in. But the point is simple: why is a single more important than an identical single when the first one just happened to have a teammate or two in scoring position, but the second had no one on base? The hitter had nothing to do with that. It’s chance. It doesn’t mean RBIs aren’t important, it’s just a little random. If you look at his stats, his RBIs predictably drop along with his batting average and slugging. But there are two recent seasons that really illustrate this.

In 2015, Pujols had 40 home runs and 95 RBIs – meaning he hit only 55 teammates in, and he did so on 147 hits. In 2016, the next year, he hit 31 home runs but had 116 RBIs, meaning he hit 85 teammates in – 30 more than the year before, on just 12 more hits. That makes no sense, but for the fact that teammates on base in front of you is random. In 2015, he deserved way more than 95 RBIs, because they don’t reflect how good his season was. And if a stat doesn’t reflect how good a season is, how useful is it?

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Kanye West – “School Spirit”

Tweet of the Week

Amanda McCarthy, wife of baseball player Brandon McCarthy, eviscerating a troll. A play in three acts.

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“Speaking of pimples…release the bloggers!”

Dwight Schrute

Week of April 13, 2018

Boban makes The Brow look like a normal-sized human.

How Sports Illustrated Stopped Mattering

To those of us over 30, Sports Illustrated is an institution. When I found out a fellow grad student at USF was a writer for SI, I felt cooler by association. As Michael MacCambridge writes for The Ringer, SI made a case that the realm of sports was not a juvenile triviality but instead an important part of the culture, worthy of attention and understanding.”

And for writers, like my fellow USF alumnus, SI was not a stop along the way. It was the mountaintop. As Lee Jenkins told a former boss, “I hate to leave you guys, but, you know–the Yankees just called.”

SI is about to be sold for the second time in a year. It also recently became a biweekly publication…not that many folks noticed. The end of the print version of the magazine feels imminent, even when – get this – the magazine was profitable last year.

The magnitude of the biweekly decision hasn’t even been felt yet, but it will be:

[I]f Tiger Woods had managed to win the Masters this year, it would’ve been perhaps the biggest sports story of 2018, but it would have been old news by the time the next issue of SI came out 10 days later. The same goes for this summer’s World Cup, the final of which will come during an off-week in SI’s publishing schedule. And we haven’t even gotten to football season yet.

This story is not just about the death of print journalism at the hands of the digital revolution. It’s also about the missteps made along the way that put SI and its parent company, Time, in its current predicament. At some point cost-cutting means quality cutting, and then – worst of all – people stop noticing.

As MacCambridge writes, at its best,

SI’s news stories were never about telling you who won, it was about telling you why and how they won, the subtle differences that separated one world-class athlete or team from another, and the endless ways that people revealed their character through competition. Furthermore, what the magazine learned, again and again in the coming decades, was that a sports event being televised only increased interest in those stories. The more people saw of a sport, the more they wanted to read about it. And SI was there, to provide the best story, the deepest understanding, the telling picture, the last word.

You can tell MacCambridge cares deeply about SI. It was a touchstone of his youth, and that passion is needed to make this story resonate with us. I know I’m not the only one of us to tear photos of my favorite players from of the magazine and line my bedroom walls. Best read so far this year. – PAL

Source: Who Can Explain the Athletic Heart?”, Michael MacCambridge, The Ringer (04/12/2018)

TOB: This was great, but sad to read. In many ways, Sports Illustrated changed my life. Or rather, it shaped who I am. That sounds dramatic, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. As a kid, from about age 8 until 15, sports were my life. I lived and breathed it. I watched SportsCenter every night; I watched the NBA, college basketball, college football, MLB, and the NFL, every single day. I even watched a lot of hockey back then. I’d watch until I got the itch to run outside and play the game myself. And every single week I’d get Sports Illustrated in the mail, excitedly take it upstairs, and I’d lie on my bed, and read that damn thing cover to cover. I’ll never forget my first issue was Jennifer Capriati, who made the finals of the Virginia Slims tournament at the age of 13.

I have an uncommon amount of sports knowledge in my brain from reading SI, and not just the ones I got weekly. Each time I would visit my grandparents, we’d stay in my uncle’s old room. And each night at bedtime, I’d go into his old closet and sift through the giants stack of Sports Illustrateds from the 70s and 80s, when he was a kid. The magazines were 10, to 20 years old at that point, but I didn’t care.

I think the spirit of Sports Illustrated lives, for Phil and me, in this website. In the article, MacCambridge correctly notes that a perceived problem for Sports Illustrated is that, by the time it hits your mailbox, it seems like last week’s news. When a major story hits, by the time you can read it in SI, many fans have digested all they needed to – on Twitter, or Yahoo, or ESPN.com – three or four or more days prior.

But isn’t that actually the beauty of SI? When we started this website, almost four years ago, our philosophy was to publish once a week because the time allows us a little perspective to digest what has happened, or what we’ve read. Twenty years after I last regularly read SI, life’s realities have reduced my ability to watch hours and hours of sports every day. Getting to sit down for a couple hours and watch a baseball game is a treat. I certainly don’t sit down for two hours a week to read Sports Illustrated. But I think I’m going to start. I hope it’s still good. If so, I’ll be sure to keep the old ones in a basket in the garage, so my kids can stumble on them like I did.

New Kind of Player-Coach

Lindsay Whalen is an all-everything WNBA player from Hutchinson, Minnesota (as small of a town as you’re imagining). She holds every significant women’s basketball record at the University of Minnesota, and even brought the team to a Final Four. After college, she’s dominated the WNBA. 4 titles for her hometown Minnesota Lynx. Oh, and throw in a couple olympic gold medals, too. She’s legit.

It’s no surprise that Whalen was hired as the next women’s basketball coach at the U of M. What is surprising, however, is that she’ll still be playing in the WNBA. Per Marcus Fuller of the Star Tribune:

As part of Whalen’s agreement to become head coach, pending approval from the U’s Board of Regents, she will continue to play for the Lynx, who open the regular season on May 20. The last possible date for the WNBA Finals is Sept. 16 — about two weeks before the Gophers begin fall practice.

I love it. Why wait until she’s done playing. This is the one hire the Gophers women’s basketball team had to make. There is no other Lindsay Whalen for that program, so you do whatever you need to do to make sure she’s a part of that program forever. – PAL

Source: Lindsay Whalen hired by Gophers as women’s basketball coach”, Marcus Fuller, Star Tribune (04/12/2018)

Andre Ingram: NBA Player

Andre Ingram is 32 years old. He’s a math tutor, a father of two, and a graduate of American University. He’s also been in the NBA G-League (formerly known as the D-League) for 10 years. He’s been grinding it out for 10 years waiting for an opportunity. He didn’t want to play overseas because he felt his best chance to achieve his dream was to stay close and be ready should an opportunity arise. This week it finally happened, and Ingram made the most of it.

I don’t think I could’ve fully appreciated this accomplishment as a twenty-something. It’s hard to continue chasing a dream as an adult, and for Ingram to keep pushing while providing for his family on 30K G-League salary + tutoring is just damn impressive. And then to get an opportunity and seize it like that – 19 points on 6-8 shooting – that’s the good stuff.

As if you needed more reasons to root for this guy, check out his post-game interview:

He did it. Andre Ingram is an NBA player, not many people can say that. He’s held the same occupation as LeBron James, Steph Curry, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell. Right now, his shooting percentage is better than all of them, too. – PAL

Source: Andre Ingram Is The NBA’s Best Story”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (04/11/2018)

TOB: This was tough for me. My Lakers hate runs deep. But I had to begrudgingly smile at this. I think what put me over the top is how unpredictable this was once you see the highlights. His jump shot looks BAD. He sorta leans forward and jumps awkwardly. If you showed him in warmups, I’d figure he was someone’s brother or maybe a rep of a big sponsor. He doesn’t look like a professional basketball player. He certainly doesn’t look like an NBA player. But, he damn well is one. Congrats, dude.

Ohtani Watch

Last week, I went gaga for Ohtani. Phil suggested I pump the brakes. Well…

Ohtani crushed even harder over the last week. He’s now 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 0.46 WHIP, and 18 Ks in 13 innings across two starts. He even took a perfect game into the 7th against Oakland. At the plate, he now has three home runs and and eight RBIs, and is hitting .346/.417.773 (!!!!) in just 22 at bats. We will periodically update you throughout the season. You’re welcome. -TOB

PAL: If he has over 12 home runs at the All-Star break, I’ll take you out to dinner, TOB. If not, you buy me a beer, and that week’s picture is you paying for my beer with the caption: “TOB was over-eager about Ohtani. Phil was right. Just like he was about the Patriots and the Heat. Wow. He seems to be right a lot.”

If he has over 12 home runs and an ERA under 3.5 at the All-Star break, then I’ll cook you and your family dinner. If not, then you buy my ticket, a beer, and a dog for an Twins-A’s game. We post a picture from the game. Same caption as above.

TOB: The stakes do not seem even here; but I agree in principle. We’ll work out the details, including a carve out for an extended Ohtani injury. Otherwise, he might have 12 dingers before June 1!

PAL: What would you know about “steaks” – you don’t even eat red meat! Have you ever had my cooking? Damn right these aren’t even stakes. You’re getting a steal.

Video of the Week

Oh, boy.

Bonus Video

PAL Song of the Week: The Velvet Underground & Nico – “Sunday Morning”


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I just want to sit on the beach and eat hot dogs. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

-K. Malone

Week of April 6, 2018

The Best Kind of Sports Story

The Masters, which started Thursday, is one of those very few dream sporting events. When a kid plays, they imagine themselves being at the plate with the World Series on the line, throwing the Super Bowl winning touchdown, or putting for the green jacket. These are iconic venues and events that few regular folks ever attend, much less compete in, which is why I’ll be rooting for Matt Parziale.

Parziale is a 30 year-old firefighter from Brockton, Massachusetts. He works out of the same station his dad worked out of for 32 years as firefighter and captain. Parziale was a talented player growing up, but no Tiger Woods. As Ian O’Conner puts it:

Matt wasn’t a prodigy. He was a good hockey player and all-around athlete in a rugged working-class town known as the home of shoe factories and a pair of boxing champs who never backed down, Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler. Matt ended up at Southeastern, a non-scholarship member of the National Christian College Athletic Association, a group of small bible schools that didn’t exactly feature the level of golf Woods was accustomed to at Stanford.

After years of trying to qualify for the PGA Tour, Parziale figured it was time to fulfill his destiny: become a firefighter alongside his dad. He regained his amatuer golf status, and the odd firefighter hours allowed him to work on his golf game. His breakthrough came this year as he won the Mid-Am (tournament for post-college golfers to try to qualify for The Masters & U.S. Open) with his dad on his bag (his dad will be Parziale’s caddy for The Masters, too).

Parziale knew the implications of the win, and told his fiancee that they needed to move the wedding date.

After opening his personal invitation from Augusta National to play in The Master on Christmas Eve (I mean, come on!), he also found out he was rounding out a Par-3 threesome with Tiger Woods and Fred Couples this past Wednesday, which brings us to my favorite part of O’Connor’s story:

Matt waited and waited on the first tee for Woods to show up for their early Wednesday afternoon nine, looking like a boy worried that Santa Claus might not show. Suddenly, word rippled through the crowd that Tiger was heading to the nearby putting green, and off Matt and Vic marched to join him.

Woods greeted his newfound friend warmly. They chatted, took some practice putts, and then headed together to the first tee along with the third member of their group, Fred Couples, as fans shouted at them from both sides of the roped-off lane.

Parziale was first to put his tee in the ground. He lashed into his drive before two fans who had been poking fun at the sight of Matt waiting on Tiger earlier on.

“Who was that guy?” one asked.

The other replied: “He’s a guy who’s been waiting his entire life to hit that shot.”

Tiger and the firefighter walked off the tee box and down the fairway talking and laughing as if they were lifelong buds, a scene that kept repeating itself across the front nine.

This is a feel-good story that somehow doesn’t read like nacho cheese sentimentality. Enjoy! – PAL

Source: How Matt Parziale went from fighting fires to playing alongside Tiger at Augusta,” Ian O’Connor, ESPN (04/04/2018)

God Damnit, I Knew Ohtani Would Be Good

Shohei Ohtani was the talk of last offseason’s Hot Stove. For one, the new international signing limits meant no one could simply bowl him over with tens of millions of dollars, leaving everyone on equal ground. For two, Ohtani came over expecting to both pitch and hit. Logically, an AL team made sense for him – he could pitch on his start days, and then DH on other days. The book on him was that he was a frontline pitcher, but that his bat was a bit behind. The Giants were finalists for him, and there was a week there where it seemed the Giants might get both Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton (they did not).

Ohtani’s two-way status makes him more intriguing than any MLB player debut in recent memory, and with the Giants’ near miss, I was especially incentivized to keep an eye on him this Spring. He did NOT do well. At the plate, he went just 4-for-32 (.125 BA), with no extra-base hits, and 10 strikeouts. On the bump, it was a small sample size, but he gave 8 runs, including 3 home runs, in just 2 ⅔ innings of work. Yikes. I was hopeful that the Giants missing out on him was a blessing in disguise.

Nope. Ohtani began his regular season career by pitching very well on Sunday in Oakland, touching up to 100 mph with his fastball, and getting 18 swings and misses, many with his splitter. He struck out 6 over 6 innings, giving up 3 runs, all on one swing. He followed that on Tuesday, playing DH, with a no doubter 3-run bomb in his first at bat. He hit another home run on Wednesday, a 400-foot shot to dead center off Corey Kluber, one of the best pitchers in the game.

He’s now hitting .429 with an OPS of 1.286. That’s real good. And numbers aside, he certainly looks like he belongs, and is hitting the ball very hard. I guess his bat isn’t behind, and I am once again very angry that he did not choose the Giants. -TOB

Source: It’s Impossible to Overreact to What Shohei Ohtani is Doing”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (04/04/2018)

PAL: And Joe Panik is on pace to break the single season home run record. Ohtani has 14 at bats and 1 start as of Thursday afternoon. I’m pulling for him, but let’s all just take it easy.

MLB Could Pay Minor Leaguers a Living Wage for just $6M Per Team


This is an interesting interview with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. MLB has been making negative headlines lately for how much it pays minor leaguers. Here’s what minor leaguers are paid:

AAA: $2,150/month in their first year, $2,400/month in second year, $2,700/month in third, for a 5.5-month season.
(Total: ~$11,825-$14,850 per year.)

AA: $1,700/month, goes up by $100/month in additional years.
(Total: ~$9,350+ per year)

High-A, Low-A: $1,100-1,500/month, goes up by $50 per year in additional years.
(Total: ~$6,050-8,400 per year)

Note, that’s what they are paid each month during the season. In the offseason, they aren’t paid. Manfred ties himself into knots trying to justify both the low pay and the fact players aren’t paid year round. He doesn’t address the fact that minor leaguers are not paid at all during Spring Training. As the interviewer notes: “If you’re required by your employer to do something — anything, really—that is optional in name only, and not doing it will cost you your job, that constitutes working.”

The kicker comes at the end. The cost to each MLB team to pay all minor leaguers $40,000 per year would be just over $6M per team, per year. They throw $6M at the bottom of the barrel major leaguers. They can afford this! Pathetic, Manfred. -TOB

Source: On Minor-League Pay, MLB’s Stance Doesn’t Line Up With the Facts”, Levi Weaver, The Athletic (04/04/2018)

PAL: “To be fair, there are also bonuses. The top 64 picks last year all received a bonus of over $1,000,000 before taxes,but roughly 40% of players signed for one-time bonuses of $10,000 or less. The subsequent contracts can keep them in the minor leagues for as long as seven seasons with no way to leave for a higher bidder.”

It’s the last part of this that’s b.s. – a player’s rights are controlled for 7 years! That’s just absurd, especially considering the disparity of league minimum for big league players is $507K. If one team thinks a guy is a big leaguer and the team that hold the player’s rights isn’t quite sure, then that’s a potential difference of over $490,000!

Video of the Week

Sergio Garcia ends his Masters on Day 1: with FIVE shots into the drink on 15.

PAL’s Song of the Week: Willie Nelson – “Me And Paul”

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“Every day is black tie optional.”

– Dwight Schrute