Week of October 15, 2021


Giants/Dodgers Game 5, Post-Game:

Yikes. That phenomenal, season-long battle between two great teams can’t come down to a check swing. The rivalry deserves more. Flores was down 0-2 to Scherzer. Chances are he doesn’t get a hit and it doesn’t matter, but—goddamn it—let’s have it play out. We were so close. 

My god, the Dodgers are a scary lineup. Mookie Betts is terrifying. Will Smith will get ya. Chris Taylor is looking to do damage. Trea Turner will turn a three-hop grounder into a hit…when he’s not busy nearly hitting 30 homers. And, as a catcher a million insignificant years ago, I can’t understand throwing four sliders in a row to Bellinger. I’m certain the Giants have all the data to say stick with the slider, and I won’t argue that, but let’s take a pitch to just change what he sees with an elevated fastball (at 97+) before coming back to it. 

Brandon Webb is a beast, and his incredible performance against a stacked lineup in two playoff games will be lost because the Giants didn’t win, but an ace was born tonight, folks. A Cy Young contender with stuff that will age well (sinker, change-up, slider) introduced himself. 

I’ve never been the head cheerleader of the Brandon Belt fan club, but man-o-man did we miss him in this series. 

Striking out with runners on base and less than two outs is a killer. 

There’s a difference between a regular season bullpen and a playoff bullpen. The Giants had a regular season bullpen; the Dodgers’ is a playoff bullpen with Treinen and Jansen. 

Can’t end on a check swing. That was terrible. -PAL

TOB: We watched this game in the backyard. I needed new mojo. The setup was nice.

When the game ended, I watched for a minute or so as the Dodgers celebrated on the field. When they started to interview Bellinger, I pulled the plug (literally) and began to clean up – quickly, angrily, quietly. And then I saw my 7 year old feeding off my reaction. 

And I realized I didn’t want to be that dad. I couldn’t be that dad. So I told him the Giants lost, but it was ok. I reminded him we had such a fun summer – the Giants gave us so many great moments – watching the games together each night, or the next morning, going over the the highlights he missed after he went to bed. 

He went upstairs and I finished cleaning up. I took that moment of solitude to feel it – to feel that frustration. I kicked a stray soccer ball as hard as I could against the fence. In the garage, I kicked a cardboard box. 

And then I let it all go. I went upstairs and put the boy to bed – I told him again that the Giants gave us the most fun season ever – 107 regular season wins. I mean, hell. That’s incredible. I reminded him that umpires make mistakes and it’s not fun but these things happen. I pointed out that there are 30 teams, and only one gets to finish the season as champs. I told him now we get to root against the Dodgers and hopefully they won’t win the World Series, and then we get to come back next year and win it all. I told him, and me, not to let a disappointing end sour a great season. And then, at 10pm, he drifted off to sleep.


Gruden is Out, and Hopefully So Are All Coaches Like Him

John Gruden was forced to resign this week, after emails from his time with ESPN were leaked, showing Gruden to be a racist, homophobic a-hole. I don’t care to get into the specifics of Gruden. He has been a mediocre coach almost his entire career, save two deep playoff runs twenty years ago, and he’s not worth the time or energy. However, I did read a very good article from Seth Wickersham that the Gruden story (and last week’s Urban Meyer story) inspired, and I wanted to share that instead. It’s about how Gruden and Meyer, and coaches like them, who think they are the cosmos (to steal a line) are a dying breed.

In the early part of the last decade, NFL teams started to notice that the way players learned about football was changing. There is a certain type of coach who hated this because they hate anything outside of football plays that they have to think about for more than 30 seconds, but these changes forced the league to reckon with the fact that the old way of coaching was pretty much over. Teams conducted studies, which found that younger players were more likely to ask coaches “why” and that players could learn effectively even when doing things coaches mostly hated, like listening to music. Mostly, coaches found that they needed to adapt. The Rams studied this. The 49ers did, too, and started shortening and breaking up their meetings because they know antsy younger players can’t concentrate for very long without their devices. Those were just two of the teams that told me about this stuff on the record, but I can assure you nearly every team—including the absolute best coaches in the sport—began adapting to these changes.

Wickersham points out that the “Cult of the Head Coach” has always been “misguided.”

A few years after they leave the game, their legacies take the form of motivational quotes—real or imagined—and some clips from NFL Films and that’s about it. Their imperfections are washed away by time and memes. Twenty years after a coach is done, they are either bumbling incompetents like Rich Kotite or geniuses like Bill Walsh. Never mind the fact that Walsh, in one of his books, details how close he was to quitting after a tough loss early in his head coaching career, or the doubt he faced constantly.

No, there is none of that when discussing former coaches. Just winners and losers. Steelers legend Chuck Noll, one of the paragons of American coaching toughness, believed that toughness was oftentimes simply a product of technique—what was considered soft in the NFL, more often than not, was simply not knowing what you’re doing out there. David Maraniss’s biography of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, is more or less devoted to punching holes in the Lombardi mythmaking industry. The Packers’ legendary coach did not coin the phrase “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”—he said it a few times long after it had become popular, and he didn’t even believe it. Maraniss wrote that the famous quote from a player about how Lombardi treated his players—all like dogs—wasn’t even close to the truth.

It’s a good read. -TOB

Source: The Cult of the Coach Is Losing Its Power. Good Riddance,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (10/15/2021)


Youth Soccer in the U.S. is Kinda Effed Up

My oldest is very good at soccer for his age. That’s not bragging, it’s just true: he’s very good. He plays on a local club team that keeps it fun and is run by a group of people that, to me, seem to do things the right way. But every once in a while we’ll be at a field and I see a group of kids, a bit older, wearing the logo of a big name European team – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich. And I have allowed myself to daydream a little bit – wow. Wouldn’t that be cool? If a coach in Barcelona’s system approached us after a game and asked our son to join their youth academy? Wow, imagine if he impresses those coaches – what doors would open up for him?

But after a few seconds of daydreaming, I consider the realities: What does that actually mean for him? Soccer how many days a week? How many months a year? The inability to play with friends, whether soccer or otherwise. And what does it mean for our family? The cost. The travel. Do we have to consider moving at some point? None of that seems desirable. Especially for the small chance that he winds his way through the academy, which is intentionally casting a wide net and then slowly weeding kids out as they age, and becomes a professional soccer player. If you read the article, the reality is presented in the form of a child named Ricky Vanderhyde, and I highly recommend you read it (For more on how these youth academies work, I highly recommend this New York Times article from 2010, “How a Soccer Star is Made.”). 

I don’t know what I thought the deal was with those academies here in San Francisco. I guess I thought the team hires highly qualified coaches and sends them out across the world to teach the game. So it was with a bit of astonishment, and now embarrassment, that I read about how it actually works, at least sometimes, in an article about how European clubs are increasing their academies in the U.S., in an attempt to land the next American soccer star. This one is about an academy in Virginia, affiliated with Spanish club Villareal:

Villarreal Virginia consists of a contract between Amato, a former Tottenham Hotspur youth player, and the Spanish club. Like the other local operators, Amato pays a fee to use Villarreal’s name and logo to attract players. He is permitted to outfit his team in replica versions of Villarreal’s jerseys — but not the expensive game jerseys, Amato notes with approval. “They don’t want parents wasting their money on that,” he said.

Ohhhhhhh. I basically slapped my forehead when I saw this. The coach may or may not be good – I have no idea. But he’s attracting parents (and talent) by paying money to slap the club’s logo on his gear and call himself an academy of a top European club. As I continued to read, though, it seems the connection is sometimes a little stronger than that, at least in the Virginia Villareal case. Villareal does periodically send its coaches to Virginia to help out. And:

Beyond that, Villarreal has agreed to bring in Amato’s most promising young players for workshops and training. The families of those players are responsible for the airfare, but once they arrive overseas, the Spanish club typically covers everything else.

Which is kinda gross, right? I saw that Bayern Munich club this summer and daydreamed. The club, and the local coach/franchisee, is preying on that daydream – charging what I’ll go out on a limb and guess is a premium in the hopes of attracting parents away from local clubs who aren’t willing to pay for a European club’s logo. For example, the article references a club in Florida, affiliated with Paris-St. Germain, which is rumored to charge $60,000 per year. SIXTY K, BRUH.

And even for clubs like the FC Dallas academy, which has worked out a partnership with Bayern Munich to adopt Bayern’s coaching and development, this seems like a bit of a scam. Bayern gives its name and development strategies. Bayern gets paid a bit and both Bayern and FC Dallas get to keep a close eye on top American talent. Which is worth it. As the article notes:

The next Messi is out there somewhere. If a club could find him, or even the next Pulisic or Reyna, it would recoup its entire U.S. investment. “If we have the opportunity to teach what we believe is the correct way to play football, we’re certain that we’re going to get players,” says Villarreal’s Anton.

“And all it takes is one.”

Which is an interesting sentiment, coming just a few paragraphs after this point:

It’s quite likely that others, who might have had the ability of a Christian Pulisic or Gio Reyna in their mid-teens, but not the European passport, never fulfilled their potential. Opinions differ as to why, and what the remedies should be. Where nearly everyone is in agreement is that the United States has as many talented preteens as anywhere else, yet only a few of those players come out the back end of the youth soccer system as international standouts.

And it seems to me the answer is staring them in the face: make these academies free. Selective, but free. The fact they aren’t doing this is especially astonishing, though, when you know that the idea is not new to these clubs. Remember that 11-year old NYT article about Ajax I linked earlier? Well, here’s a passage from that article:

The Ajax youth academy is not a boarding school. The players all live within a 35-mile radius of Amsterdam (some of them have moved into the area to attend the academy). Ajax operates a fleet of 20 buses to pick up the boys halfway through their school day and employs 15 teachers to tutor them when they arrive. Parents pay nothing except a nominal insurance fee of 12 euros a year, and the club covers the rest — salaries for 24 coaches, travel to tournaments, uniforms and gear for the players and all other costs associated with running a vast facility. Promising young players outside the Ajax catchment area usually attend academies run by other Dutch professional clubs, where the training is also free, as it is in much of the rest of the soccer-playing world for youths with pro potential. (The U.S., where the dominant model is “pay to play” — the better an athlete, the more money a parent shells out — is the outlier.)

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Not only is the Ajax academy free, but they provide tutors to help educate them, and pick them up at school!? Meanwhile, we have U.S. parents shelling out upwards of $60,000 per year for the most expensive and least return-on-your-dollar lotto ticket in history. Americans, man. So dumb. But also, these clubs? So dumb. On the one hand, they wonder why they aren’t capturing the top American youth talent and developing those kids into professional adults. And then at the same time they are putting up a major barrier for many kids and families. Hello! If you make it free, you greatly increase the number of players that can attend and in doing so increase your odds of hitting the jackpot. -TOB

Source: How Barcelona, Villarreal and Other European Clubs are Competing with MLS for America’s Top Talent,”Bruce Schoenfeld, ESPN (10/12/2021); “How a Soccer Star is Made,” Michael Sokolove, New York Times (06/02/2010)


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

The National – Mr. November


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“Some people need dozens of friends to say, ‘Hey look at me, I’m popular!’ But not me, I’m very picky.”

-Michael Scott

Giants/Dodgers Game 5: Armageddon

Bike parking is free…just sayin

PRE-GAME:

One of my favorite announcer calls in sports is that soccer announcer who, when a great player finishes a great shot after a great build up, screams, “HAD TO BE!” And that’s how this decisive Game 5 feels – these teams came down to the wire, with the division settled on the last day. Not to say I didn’t want to end it Tuesday night, but in hindsight this feels inevitable.

Phil wanted us to write some thoughts before the game and then after the game and at first I was reluctant. The only thoughts in my head were: 

  1. Just Win, Baby!
  2. The righties in this lineup, facing lefty Julio Urias, are due: Kris Bryant has one homer since September 15 and just two since August 26; Longoria has one since September 16; Ruf has one since September 6 and just two since August 21; Posey has one since September 14 and just three since July 19; Slater has one since September 23 and just three since July 4; Flores has one since August 31; Solano has one since August 22 and just two since August 4. As the @LOLKNBR hashtag has been saying for 48 hours now: THEY’RE DUE.

But then the news broke early this afternoon that the Dodgers would not start Urias and would instead start right handed bullpen guy Corey Knebel as an opener. This, presumably, is to mess with the Giants lineup and make them make some tough decisions on who to start – lefties or righties. Should the Giants start their lefties as the top and then move to righties when Urias comes in? Maybe, but then they have no lefties late if/when they need them against L.A.’s righty-heavy bullpen.

But then I saw a tweet referencing the fact Urias has reverse splits. So I looked it up, and it’s true:

  • RHH vs Urias, 2021: .605 OPS; 98 OPS+
  • LHH vs Urias, 2021: .640 OPS; 105 OPS+
  • RHH vs Urias, Career: .623 OPS; 96 OPS+
  • LHH vs Urias, Career: .680 OPS; 112 OPS+

Looking at Game 2 in hindsight, this makes sense. The Giants went righty-heavy and mustered just 3 hits and 1 run in 5 innings against Urias. Those hits were a ground-rule double by Slater (RHH), a single by Crawford (LHH) and a double by Posey (RHH). Still, the righties went 2 for 12 with a walk, five strikeouts, two doubles, and a sacrifice fly. The lefties went 1 for 2 with a single and no strikeouts.

Which begs the question: Should the Giants make the Dodgers pay by going lefty-heavy tonight: by starting Wade, Yaz, and Duggar – which serves to help them against Knebel and Urias, as well. What’s even more interesting is that I figured Knebel must be a traditional platoon split guy – but he’s also a reverse split guy. Which doesn’t make any sense and throws me for a loop and calls all of the above into question.

LOL, oh well.

-TOB

This is the reward for watching all of those Giants games this year. Should that be a statement or a question? A statement, but barely. It’s really like getting to the last few chapters (let’s hope a few) of a great novel; you can only really appreciate a team and a season like this when you put in your time throughout the year. That’s how I have molded a feel for the Giants rosters, regardless (and I cannot emphasize that enough) of their numbers. 

Guys I feel really good about tonight: 

  • Ruf
  • Longoria
  • Bryant
  • Posey
  • Crawford
  • Rogers

Honestly, I got no feel for Webb. I know he was awesome in Game 1; I was there, but the upper deck is not the best way to get a feel for a pitching performance. The bullpen has been sketch so far, but I feel good about Rogers and, for some reason, Littell…and that’s it. 

Guys that scare the hell out of me: 

  • Urias
  • The Turners
  • Chris Taylor
  • Will Smith

How I want the Giants to blow it open against Treinen and his “All 4 Him” monogrammed glove. 

Bill Simmons likes to think about matchups in terms of your opponent making decisions that are a relief to you, e.g., your team is playing Kansas City Chiefs and they punt on 4th down – any time they take Pat Mahomes off of the field you feel great. And while Urias is no Mahomes, he reeks of a big-game pitcher. So the Dodgers overthinking this thing and going with an opener in the biggest game of the year is great news to me. 

I think the Giants do it. Somehow, some way, they do it, because it’s been that kind of unexplainable season. Either way, I’ve got great beer on hand, and Natalie is convincing me to get pizza instead of leftovers. -PAL

Week of October 8, 2021

When asked about the pearls, Pederson called himself a “bad bitch” – lol.

A Victory Lap 

Did you hear? The San Francisco Giants won the National League West this year. They beat out the Dodgers, who had won the nine previous NL West crowns; they beat out the Dodgers, who won 106 games this year; they beat out the Dodgers, who won the most games ever by a defending World Series champion; they beat out the Dodgers, who won the most games ever by a team that did not win its division; they beat out the Dodgers, who tied the franchise record for wins in a season. None of that mattered, because the Giants won a franchise record 107 games.

It was a joyous, unbelievable season. There’s something about a good baseball team that puts a pep in your step all summer long. When you know your team is good, it gives you something to look forward to every single day for 6 months.

For the Giants, it was a tremendous achievement. Just four years ago, they lost 98 games. The next two years, they lost 89 and 85 games. Just as a good baseball team perks up your summer, a bad baseball team…well, it sucks.

But after that 2018 season, the Giants hired Farhan Zaidi to right the ship. The job seemed…difficult. Saddled with a bad, overpaid, aging major league roster and a bad minor league system with few promising prospects, people snickered when Zaidi said he would not tear it down and do an Astros-style rebuild but would instead rebuild on the fly, while also trying to play meaningful baseball games as deep into the season as they could. But I did not snicker.

People did worse than snicker when Farhan began tinkering at the fringes of the roster. It seemed a bit like he was trying to pull off the red paperclip trade-up — guys were getting called up and sent down and released and signed and traded for at a dizzying pace. Fans were mad. The players were mad! But then something funny happened. It started to work. 

Maybe it wasn’t a paperclip for a house, but Farhan traded minor leaguer Tyler Herb (career major league appearances: zero) for minor leaguer Mike Yastrzemski (career WAR: 7.8!). He traded minor leaguer Franklin Van Gurp (career major league appearances: zero) for Alex Dickerson (career WAR: 2). Those guys gave Giants fans an exciting summer! The Giants played meaningful baseball well into August, before collapsing in September.

And then Bochy left. And Bumgarner signed with Arizona. Some fans were pissed. But not me.

(Oh, you thought this was an article about the Giants taking a victory lap? No, sir. This is an article about me. I was right. You were [probably] wrong. And now I’m going to revel in it.)

Here’s what I wrote when Bumgarner left:

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

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

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

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

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

BAM! 107, romareb! Worry about that!

The tide began to really turn in the shortened 2020 season, though. Bochy was replaced by Gabe Kapler. Kapler was not a popular hire, and for valid reasons. Kapler gave an interview to Daniel Brown of the Athletic, and I highly recommend you revisit it. I wrote about that article — going through it paragraph by paragraph, providing gifs to match my reaction. Not to toot my own horn, but it’s a pretty fun read. My emotions were like a roller coaster — but ultimately positive. My final reaction gif? This one:

So again, BAM! 107!!

That 2020 season started off poorly. So poorly. After a brutal weekend series against the A’s where the Giants blew two big leads and were swept in three games, they traveled to Anaheim for a four game series with the Angels. Leading 6–5 in the 9th, the Giants lost on a walk-off homer to Tommy LaStella. When the ball went over his head and over the wall, Yaz could be heard screaming “FUCK!” And, so could I, alone on Highway 1, listening to the game while taking our new car for a night drive along the coast. The Giants were 8–16 and things looked bleak.

And then they just started winning. They won 21 of their next 33 games to get to 29–28. They needed one win in three tries against the Padres to get into the playoffs. Instead, they lost: (1) on a walk-off, (2) in a sleeper, and (3) a 1-run game with three strikeouts in the 9th. Season over, no playoffs. A real gut punch.

But that run gave me hope. The offense was really good! I told anyone who would listen that this team would mash. I had no idea what the pitching would be like. But I thought if everything broke right, we could win 87–88 games and sneak into the second wild card.

As it happened, 88 games would have done it  – and easily. The next closest team was the Reds, at 83 wins. The Giants would have been traveling to St. Louis this week for the Wild Card game. But, I was wrong. In fact, I was off by almost twenty games. So, instead of the Giants traveling to St. Louis, it is the Cardinals traveling to Los Angeles. The Dodgers, winners of 106 games this year, have to win one more for the right to take on the Giants. That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty improbable, too.

Kapler and his staff — from the major league staff down to the minors – scouts and coaches and everything in between, deserve a lot of credit. The team mashed, as I thought they would. In fact, they mashed harder. The players bought in to Kapler and the staff and a bunch of them (in particular Belt, Crawford, Posey) had career years, or career revitalizing years. The team turned its bullpen around midseason. The starting rotation was incredible. Everything just clicked and for six months, it felt like the team could not lose. 

So while the season isn’t over  –  I sure hope this team has another 11 wins in it  –  I’m also going to enjoy this week. Four days with no stress about baseball. Four days to bask in the joy that was the 2021 Giants season. A four day victory lap. The Giants won 107 games and I basically saw it coming. -TOB


Local Commercials Are The Best Commercials

We all know the look and feel of a local commercial that airs between innings, unchanged, ad nauseam all season long. Every local team has its own version. For the Giants, this year it’s been the The Cheese Steak Shop, starring utility outfielder Alex ‘Dick’ Dickerson. It’s…jarring, and I’m so, so, so glad Alex Schultz got the story behind the ad. 

I’m going to describe the ad, and then encourage you to watch it yourself. Dickerson walks into one of the stores. He’s masked up, and he politely fist bumps some customers, who — and I genuinely mean no offense to any parties involved, it’s just impossible to ignore — would have zero shot of recognizing a masked Dickerson at a cheesesteak chain. Dickerson begins a voice-over about his father, who was an F-14 fighter pilot in the Navy, while there’s b-roll of cheesesteaks, mostly. The music is somber. 

We transition to a shot where Dickerson is sitting at a table. He has an uneaten cheesesteak in front of him. “Knowing that he sacrificed so much for me to have the life I have? It means the world to me,” he says of his father, as he tears up.

Why is Dickerson talking about his father? Because, the ad reveals, the Cheese Steak Shop is promoting a Hometown Heroes special, where you can nominate folks for their exemplary community work, and they can win a $50 gift card plus $100 to a charity.

It’s a lot to process at once, and then an unanticipated pivot happens: Dickerson takes an enormous goddamn chomp of a cheesesteak, and the last two seconds of the ad are him saying, “This is legitimately the best cheesesteak I’ve had outside of Philly.”

Watch the ad, see how quickly we get from misty eyes to Dickerson declaring the cheesesteak the best he’s ever had outside of Philly. It’s so goddamn funny. 

Schultz reached out to the local ad agency that pitched the idea and got the backstory on the shoot. Dickerson was nervous, they did the shoot the same day as a game, and there was no script. Dickerson legit teared up when freestyling about his dad, then—unprompted—declared the sandwich the best cheesesteak outside of Philly. And this plays 5-10 times during very Giants game.

Local TV at its finest. – PAL

Source: The story behind NBC Sports Bay Area’s polarizing cheesesteak ad starring Giants’ Alex Dickerson,Alex Schultz, SF Gate (10/8/21)


LFG

Spoiler alert: there is going to be a lot of Giants/Dodgers chatter on 1-2-3 Sports! this week and next. That’s what happens when rivals face off in the playoffs for, really, the first time ever. TOB and I will be at Game 1 on Friday night. TOB convinced me to go in on the tickets before we knew the Giants would win the NL West, long before the Dodgers would walk-off the Cardinals season in the Wild Card game, and now we’ll be at a legit historica; sports event. 

The hatred between the Giants and Dodgers is very real, non-CA readers, and you can enjoy it from the most comfy seat available, that of a neutral party just looking for an interesting series. 

The Athletic’s Grant Brisbee – one of our favorite Giants writers, broke down the preview of the series that will dominate California for the next week, and he had some nuggets worth sharing. The story is a great read for Giants fans, but this section in particular might resonate to any passionate fan with short-term memory loss when things turn out better than expected: 

Remember that you would have paid for this.

You would have paid for this exact scenario in February, March, April, May and June. You would have added extra prospects to the trades in July…

…And if someone came to you in February and asked for a $20 donation to guarantee that the Giants would host the Dodgers in a best-of-five NLDS, you would have accepted.

If they came to you in March and asked the same thing, the price would go up a few bucks. After the Giants lost Saturday’s game to the Padres in extra innings, you might have sold a family pet.

Again, a reminder that the Giants weren’t expected to be good this year. I found their pre-season over/under win total from this CBS story at 73.5. MGM had the Giants at 75.5. They won 107 games. They beat Vegas odds by over 30 friggin’ games. Incredible. This is a series you’ll want to watch. My predictions: Evan Longoria and Alex Wood come up big for the Giants. – PAL

Source: Ten quick thoughts about the Giants and Dodgers meeting in the postseason,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (10/7/21) 

TOB: I was rooting for the Cardinals to beat the Dodgers for my mental health. Ah, well. My blood pressure has been elevated for 48 hours now. 

As an aside, I enjoyed this breakdown from Susan Slusser, especially this scout’s take:

“Pitching-wise, the Dodgers are tough, but S.F. is just as good, and their hitting discipline, the number of professional at-bats and the team approach, I give the edge to San Francisco,” one AL scout said. “Defense, I give to S.F. They don’t make mistakes, and their leadership — Crawford, Posey — they’ve been there, done that.”

“I’m probably not in the majority,” said one scout who has seen the Giants numerous times in the final months, “but I think they can beat the Dodgers because they do the small things well and they make such smart decisions. They’re not going to overwhelm you, but they’ll find a way to win.”

Hell yeah let’ GOOOOOO. I know sports don’t mean a lot in the grand scheme, but I want the Giants to win this series so so so badly. That is all.


Solace In Routine

I hadn’t heard of Tim Green until reading this story. At 57, he’s already lived a full life. NFL football player, lawyer, NPR contributor, television host, best-selling author; not to mention husband, father, and grandfather. Another part of Green’s life has inspired his latest book, Final Season: Green has A.L.S. 

I’ll be honest, what struck me most about this story wasn’t the book it was promoting; rather, it is how active Green is, despite being on a ventilator, feeding tube, and unable to speak. Emails in the morning, conference calls for the law firm business, then he writes until dinner, watches the grandkids play until their bedtime, watches TV with his wife, and falls asleep reading. A typical day for him is nothing short of inspiring. 

This is not to say he doesn’t have difficult moments. Per Matthew Futterman, 

At the dinner table, he watches his family eat and conjures memories of tasting fresh tomatoes and bacon and red sauce over pasta and sausage, “and a fat glass of Caymus Cabernet.”

I love how Green puts that – a “fat glass” is the perfectly tantalizing word to describe a cabernet. 

Sometimes, the power of those memories becomes overwhelming and the tears flow. But mostly, there is solace in the routines that dominate his life, though even those can have their challenges.

There are other aspects of this story worth reading – whether or not playing football increased Green’s likelihood of getting it (he thinks so), and how real life inspired his latest book, but – again – what struck my most was a typical day for Green, and how Futterman describes the solace found in routine. – PAL 

Source: Nearly Silenced by A.L.S., an Ex-N.F.L. Pro Thrives Telling His Story,” Matthew Futterman, NY Times (10/5/21)


Urban Meyer Shows his True Colors

Last Thursday, the Jacksonville Jaguars played a Thursday night game in Cincinnati. It was head coach Urban Meyer’s return to Ohio, where he spent years as the Ohio State head coach. So, he stayed behind to see his “grandkids.”

Well, he stayed behind to see someone young enough to be his grandkid, maybe. 

Oooooh, buddy. That is not a good look. 

Ya know, everyone’s marriage is different and I don’t like to yuck someone else’s yum. But the thing about this story is that Urban Meyer is a secret slimeball who pretends to be a Family Man, like a politician who runs on family values while spending his free time with prostitutes. 

Now, Meyer’s job is in jeopardy and his NFL career might not last one season. Wild. If you are curious about the backstory on how this video went viral, and the story behind the man who posted it, this is a very good read.

Source: The Electrician Who Shocked the NFL With the Videos of Urban Meyer,” Andrew Beaton, Wall Street Journal (10/7/2021)

Other Good Stuff

Hate the Dodgers, but respect, Max.

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Week of October 1, 2021

Hehehe

Choosing To Stick To Sports 

Last week, over 500 women athletes filed a brief to the Supreme Court in support of reproductive rights being challenged in a pending case. While I know where I stand on the issue, Kurt Streeter’s story brought to light a fresh perspective to a debate that’s been raging for decades: that of the female athlete.  

Per Streeter: 

The brief’s primary claim? If women do not have the option of abortion, their lives could be disrupted and they will not thrive in sports at levels we’ve grown accustomed to — levels witnessed recently at the Tokyo Olympics, in the W.N.B.A. playoffs and the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Having the ability to say when or whether to become mothers directly connects to a key ingredient that has fueled the broad success of women in high-level sports: the ability to control, nurture and push the body to its limits, without breaks of months or years, and without the sometimes permanent physical changes that pregnancy can cause.

Streeter then goes on to share the story of Crissy Perham. Perham captained the U.S. Swim Team at the 1992 Olympics, winning 2 gold medals. That incredible achievement almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if she had gone through with an unwanted pregnancy two years prior. But to Perham, the decision to not have a baby at 19 years old impacted much more than her olympic successes. 

Looking back now, with the cushion of time, Perham cannot imagine the good parts of her life happening as they have if she’d had a baby at 19. Not just her career in the pool but also her successful second marriage, her jobs coaching high school swimmers and being the mother to two sons who are now in their 20s.

Life as she knows it, the life she loves, is a product of that decision, she told me. “That’s not uncommon,” she said, adding that many athletes have similar stories.

A thought-provoking read on an aspect of the issue I hadn’t considered. – PAL 

Source: Why Scores of Female Athletes Are Speaking Out on Abortion Rights,” Kurt Streeter, The New York Times (09/27/21)


A’s Fans Deserve Better

The Chronicle’s Ann Killion wrote this week about how the Oakland A’s seem to be intentionally driving off their fan base. The last year or two has been especially difficult for A’s fans, as the team openly flirts with following the Raiders to Las Vegas. But this week was a real slap in the face – when the A’s sent season ticket holders their renewal notices and tickets prices spikes – in some cases doubling from their previous price. 

Ann does a great job of laying out the A’s steps to driving off the fanbase, which in my opinion was ripped right out of the Maloof Brothers’ handbook -get bad, whine about attendance, jack prices, whine about worse attendance, get worse, jack prices, whine about no attendance…try to move. Except that the A’s have turned things up a notch from what those Kings did:

1. Fail to put money back into the team or re-sign homegrown stars, but instead pocket money received from revenue sharing over the years, until that pot dries up.

2. Have a billionaire owner who is completely unaccountable or present over the course of his 16-year ownership.

3. Denigrate their home stadium as a worthless, horrible place, implying that anyone who shows up there is a moron.

4. Try your best, for many, many years, to escape Oakland, to go to San Jose or Fremont.

5. When those plans fail, reverse course and claim to be “rooted in Oakland.”

6. Prematurely announce a stadium location after pursuing it for months that turns out — surprise! — to actually not be a viable location. (Hello and goodbye, Laney College.)

7. Insist that another problematic stadium site is the only option. You’re supposed to now trust the team decision-makers.

8. Exhibit a complete and total lack of imagination about the existing 155-acre site that comes complete with ideal transportation solutions.

9. Introduce a plan that is one of the biggest, most ambitious real estate projects in Oakland history and insist that it must be pushed through by a city council immediately.

10. When the city council suggests it needs to study an alternate financing plan, pout and claim to be out of options.

11. Embark on a “parallel path” stadium search in Southern Nevada, visiting constantly, being wined and dined by Nevada officials and scouting locations in 106-degree garden spots like Henderson.

And finally, this week’s development:

12. Release season-ticket prices for the coming season at almost double the current cost, alienating the most loyal remaining fans.

The A’s fans Ann talked to are understandably pissed. I’m not an A’s fan. However, I love going to A’s games – especially day games. It’s a great experience. Take BART, sit in the sun, and watch some a (usually good) baseball team in (usually) bad uniforms from up close and cheap. If the A’s leave for Las Vegas, I’ll be a bit sad for selfish reasons – Bay Area baseball is better with the A’s here. But I’ll be really sad for A’s fans – a loyal and passionate group who has stuck with that team when most fan bases would have thrown up their hands and said, “None more!” 

Caval and the A’s suck and I hope someone rescues the A’s from that ownership group like someone rescued the Kings from the Maloofs. I mean, the new ownership is not much better than the Maloofs, but they built a new arena and aren’t threatening to leave so that helps. It wasn’t a high bar. -TOB

Source: How to Lose a Fan Base in 12 steps: A’s Ticket-Price Hike Might be Last Straw,” Ann Killion, SF Chronicle (09/25/2021)

PAL: Obviously so sick of how the A’s have treated Oakland and its fans, but you know what stuck out to me after reading this, the umpteeth story about ownership being assholes? Why is Vegas so pumped to get into bed with the A’s? The ownership sucks here, and they are going to suck in Vegas, too. A stadium isn’t going to change this organization’s approach to the game. Eventually, this ownership will treat whatever fanbase they have like crap, because they are cheap and don’t care about holding up their end of the deal in the team/fan relationship. They want to make a profit by spending as little as possible, and I don’t see that changing in the long run. You can have the A’s with this ownership, Vegas. Good luck.


The Story That Never Was

This is a fun read. This is a story about a Kayln Kahler trying, and failing to confirm a rumor and turn it into a story. The nature of sportswriting, partly, is getting a great bit of info and never being able to use it. 

So many good rumors die on the vine, only feeling some weak rays of sunshine on their crispy brown leaves when I whisper them to friends at a bar, or share with my editors.

The rumor: A future hall of famer offered to pay teammates to get vaccinated…and it seemed to have worked. 

One agent told me he’d heard from another agent at his agency that a certain veteran MLB player and possible future Hall of Famer paid some of his teammates to get the vaccine. (He gave me a name; because I haven’t been able to run down the story satisfactorily, I’m not going to use it here. Sorry.) 

“He basically offered to give other players money if they went out and got vaccinated so they could get over the hump,” the agent said. “And I think it worked. I think there were guys who didn’t [want it] who said, ‘well if you’re going to pay me then I will,’ and it got them over it.”

Hmm. Vaccine bribery?! Now that was a choice tidbit. A great story if I could pin it down. This agent didn’t even feel comfortable telling me who had told him this, but I had a general idea of where it came from, since this agency only has a small number of players on that team.

So Kahler just needs to confirm the rumor. She’s an NFL writer most of the time, so she had to familiarize herself with how tracking leads worked in a different sport. Challenge one: figure out the agent for every player on the team in question. The NFL shares a database of players and agents, MLB does not. Kahler had to call into the MLBPA office to ask about specific players, and she was limited to 3 requests per day (the office admin told her that’s the way it’s always been). She waits in (the wrong) Ritz Carlton lobby, trying to catch to and from the field. She goes to the minor league park to talk to players that have shuffled between the big leagues and minor leagues. She goes to visiting stadiums and deals with PR offices and is given the press credential run-around. All the while, she is tantalizingly close to nailing this rumor down (many knowing glances and smiles from players). 

In the end, she couldn’t get the story nailed, but reading about the process was a fantastic consolation prize. – PAL 

Source:My White Whale Is The Story Of An MLB Veteran Paying His Teammates To Get VaccinatedKayln Kahler, Defector (09/29/21)


A Sports Cliche Quiz

There’s no link, but in Defector’s newsletter they posed the following challenge:

Can You Tell Which Of These Cliche Quotes From New York Rangers Camp Are Real, And Which Ones I Made Up?

It was fun, so I thought I’d share it here.

  1. “He’s very selfless in that he doesn’t think less of himself, he just thinks of himself, less.”
  2. “We’re going to have to put some pucks deep and go to work.”
  3. “We’re just looking to, you know, bang some bodies, play our kind of hockey.”
  4. “I just want to do my part for the team.”
  5. “They say happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. And it’s the same thing in the NHL.”
  6. “You know what those kids want? They just want to play.”
  7. “It is what it is, and at the end of the day, we just have to focus on what we can control.”
  8. “To win at the end, you don’t only have skill, you got to work hard and do all these little details.”
  9. “He just skates hard, gives 110 percent every time he’s out there, and takes it one shift at a time.”
  10. “They don’t hand out the Stanley Cup until you get to the end of the road, so we just have to play our ‘A’ game and do the little things that will get us there.”

Take the quiz and then find the answers here. For the record, I got 7/10 correct (I got 3, 6, 10 wrong) -TOB

PAL: I haven’t looked at the answers:

  1. Rangers Camp
  2. Made up 
  3. Camp
  4. Camp
  5. Made up 
  6. Camp
  7. Made up
  8. Camp
  9. Made up
  10. Camp

How’d I do? Same as TOB – 7/10!

  1. Rangers Camp
  2. Made up 
  3. Camp
  4. Camp
  5. Made up 
  6. Camp
  7. Made up
  8. Camp
  9. Made up
  10. Camp

Video of the Week

PAL: LOL aside, how’s that not a balk?

Song of the Week

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Everyone’s gotta be the hero with the pickle jar.

Larry David

Week of September 24, 2021

No words.

MLB and the Looming Labor Dispute: Origin Story

Over the last few years, many MLB writers have been sounding alarm bells about a bitter labor dispute coming to MLB this offseason, when the current CBA expires. This article by Evan Drellich explains how we got here. 

Drellich starts in 1994, the last time MLB had a work stoppage:

In the first labor deal the players and owners reached afterward, two important elements were introduced: revenue sharing between teams, and a luxury tax on payroll spending, known as the competitive balance tax. The league framed its desire for those mechanisms around improving competitiveness and parity.

“How it was sold to the players was that revenue sharing money was going to be used for competitive balance,” the executive said. “Luxury tax was going to be a drag on spending, not a cap on spending. And that would equal competitive balance. And as a result, you know, there was good faith that teams would honor that concept.

“What happened is, it worked. … That wasn’t good enough for Bud [Selig].”

As Drellich notes, Selig came from a small market team – before being commissioner he owned the Milwaukee Brewers. So, in his last negotiation, he fought for small market teams. 

Prior to 2011, teams could spend what they wanted in the draft. The commissioner’s office made recommendations as to each pick’s worth, but teams were free to exceed them, and big-market teams often did.

The large-market teams had another draft-related weapon, too. Clubs who lost players in free agency often received compensation draft picks. The departing player didn’t have to be a superstar, either — even more middle-of-the-pack players made a team eligible to receive a pick. So a deep-pocketed club like the Red Sox not only had an increased ability to sign players who had high-bonus demands in the draft. The compensation system also allowed the Sox to sign or trade for players whom they knew they could someday let walk, and gain a draft pick for in the process.

The union in 2011 agreed to allow the draft to be capped. Each team would have a fixed pool of money for signing players, and to greatly exceed that pool would bring penalties so onerous that no team would be likely to do so. A new system for free-agent compensation arrived as well: the introduction of the “qualifying offer,” which was not so liberal in granting draft picks when players signed with a new team.

As a result, the free agent market has been depressed. The draft slot caps in particular changed things. As agent Scott Boras points out:

“Because of the draft, club behavior has changed dramatically,” Boras said. “Where before you had to pay ($15.1 million) for Stephen Strasburg, now you only had to pay $6 million. And the key thing is you’re assured of signing him. … When you have the No. 1 pick now, you’re going to get the best player. Before, the No. 1 pick didn’t ensure you’re getting the best player, because you couldn’t afford to sign him.”

And as Drellich summed up:

The draft, in other words, provided more certainty than before for any team that wanted to get cheap, young talent. And because draft order had always been tied to win-loss record, the only way to guarantee high draft picks became losing. And when a team doesn’t mind losing, it’s probably not going to spend much in the free-agent market.

At the same time, teams got smarter and realized that, as one source said, “We’re not going to continue to pay for what players did for us yesterday. We’re going to pay for the guys who we think are going to help us tomorrow.” In other words – don’t pay aging free agents. 

Interestingly, Drellich says some argue that the Competitive Balance Tax, the de facto salary cap, is not what is driving down player salaries:

But some people say the CBT doesn’t matter much at all, usually for two reasons: A, some teams would never spend enough to reach the threshold anyway; and B, almost all teams have decided free agency is best used conservatively. That a groupthink has set in during the last decade, an outgrowth of “Moneyball” and analytics, where teams mostly value players the same way, and have settled on the value of youth.

“I think going over CBT thresholds made you a bad actor in the current ownership group,” one industry source said. “Which didn’t use to be the case. You also had a lot of the kind of old-school, big-market owners die off, or sell. Not having George Steinbrenner own the Yankees. Not having Mike Illitch own the Tigers. The places where you might get an owner’s kind of emotional buying of a player which would drive the market, it doesn’t really exist anymore. And those things … it wouldn’t matter what’s in the CBA.”

It will be interesting to see if this is correct. If so, it would seem a spot the owners could have some room to move in negotiations in order to extract other concessions from players. My guess, though, is that this is wrong – MLB teams are smarter, I believe that. But they are not going to give up the CBT and allow a team or two to buy a championship without incurring major costs, monetarily and otherwise, to do so. As another source puts it, the CBT and ownership behavior are “inextricably linked.”

In the end, the 2016 negotiation was such a blowout win for the league that one source suggests the league made a mistake – they exacted such a crushing win that the players are now pissed and ready for a fight. One source says a work stoppage is inevitable.

Maybe, maybe not. But when it goes down this offseason, it’s nice to know the forces that brought things where they are. -TOB

Source: How We Got Here: The Decisions and Changes of the Last Decade that Brought Players and Owners to a Looming Labor Fight,” Evan Drellich, The Athletic (09/23/2021)


My New Favorite Twitter Follow: College Football Message Board Geniuses

Sometimes, a Twitter account hits you just right – it really gets you. For example, this year I discovered “Guy Who Yells Slater” who Tweets, “SLAAAAAATEEEEER” every time Giants’ reserve outfielder Austin Slater does something good. For example, on Thursday when Slater hit a 3-run go-ahead dinger (in a game the Giants would eventually lose in extra innings):

I love it because *I* also yell SLAAAAAAATEEEEER every time Austin Slater does something good. But I digress. 

I’m here to tell you about CFB Message Board Geniuses, an absolutely incredible account that simply tweets screenshots of the dumbest, most delusional things college football fans say on message boards. Man, it is funny. A lot of it is just a bunch of idiots wanting to fire every coach on every team, even the good ones. And a lot of it is delusional speculation on who a team might be able to hire as its next coach. A sampling, to whet your appetite:

Example:

Also, this:

And this:

Oh, and:

But my favorite are the guys (and, come on, we know they’re all men) who think they would be better coaches than the coaches. 

And this is the best of all:

-TOB

PAL: I went to college with a dude that had an ‘about’ section from his FB profile that was an all-timer. Basically everything you wouldn’t want a potential boss to read when doing a cursory glance at a candidates social media pages. It was so over-the-top inappropriate that one of my friends wondered if this guy was actually a comedian genius that had us fooled for years. I think about that comedic genius comment when I read that last one from the assistant Little League coach. See, the ‘assistant’ detail – that’s the stuff of genius.


Contract Jurisdiction

Here’s a story about the limits of a team’s rights when it comes to a player under contract. Jack Eichel (24), was the second overall pick in 2015, and his play has lived up to the franchise player promise: 355 points in 375 games, and generally improving year over year. Last year, a herniated disc limited Eichel to 21 games played. All parties—the Buffalo Sabres and Eichel—agree he needs surgery to fix it, but they disagree on the type of surgery. The Sabres want Eichel to get a fusion surgery, and Eichel wants to get a disc replacement surgery. 

The Sabres and their doctors insist Eichel undergo fusion surgery, a common practice. It involves removal of the damaged disk. Two vertebrae inhabit the empty space and fuse together, either with time or the addition of a plate.

Eichel says no way, not a chance, never going to happen.

“Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting,” general manager Kevyn Adams said in KeyBank Center.Eichel’s surgeon of choice, Dr. Chad Prusmack, informed the center that 25 percent of fusion patients require additional surgery at the 10-year mark because the procedure puts strain above and below the fusion point. Prusmack said the clock starts over at that point, meaning a patient could have three surgeries in 20 years.

So, Eichel wants artificial disk replacement, which is exactly what it sounds like. An artificial disk is inserted between the vertebrae, replacing the damaged disk. Though the surgery has never been done on an NHL player, it’s hardly experimental. It’s been performed worldwide for two decades. Eichel’s doctor said fewer than 5 percent of recipients need additional surgery at the 10-year mark.

The Sabres and their doctors say no way, not a chance, never going to happen.

Players and teams disagreeing on medical treatment probably happens on a daily basis in professional sports. We hear of players wanting a second opinion. The nature of this injury, and the fact that it deals with a player’s spine, really underscores the oddity of a team having “rights” over an employee’s body much more than if it were a knee or elbow injury. At least for me it does. 

What’s more, the Sabres want to trade Eichel, so getting him healthy in the short-term helps with their leverage. To John Vogl’s point, Eichel’s health 10 or 20 years from now is not the Sabres’ concern or problem. 

I don’t follow Eichel, and I don’t know about any other circumstances around his relationship with the Sabres, but this column from Vogl, who’s definitely in Eichel’s corner on the issue, brought to the surface a sports scenario I hadn’t thought too much about outside of CTE. – PAL 

Source: Jack Eichel should be allowed to live the life he wants, not the life the Sabres want for him,” John Vogl, The Athletic (09/23/21)

TOB: Man, this article nails it in the first sentence: “The Sabres are wrong.” What’s frustrating about the article, though, is while there’s an explanation of why Eichel doesn’t want the fusion surgery, there’s no explanation of why the Sabres refuse to let him do the artificial disc replacement. That seems an important part of the story and I wish I knew why.


A Story Where Everyone Kinda Sucks

There was quite the kerfuffle this week during a series between the Blue Jays and Rays. It started with this:

And it ends with just about every person involved looking bad.

Kevin Kiermaier Sucks. 

What you’re seeing in the video is the Rays’ Kevin Keirmaier looking down, seeing the Blue Jays’ catcher’s game plan on how to attack the Rays’ hitters, which had fallen out of his wristband. Kiermaier sees it. Pauses. Absolutely recognizes what it is. Quickly picks it up, stops complaining about the call, and immediately pop sup and head toward his dugout.

It’s pretty bush league, if you ask me. Think what you want about the cards – but all teams now use them and I think anyone with a little integrity would see what it was and leave it. Kiermaier picked it up. That’s kinda sucky.

Then, after the Blue Jays get upset about him sucking, Kiermaier provides one of the most rambling, b.s. answers I have heard:

So Kiermaier is saying that he didn’t know what it was until after he picked it up. Which is a lie, because you can see the recognition on his face before he picks it up, and he doesn’t look at it after he picked it up. He then acknowledges he was not going to give it back. Then he didn’t think anything of it when he saw it, which is a lie. The only true thing he says is he knew it wasn’t his and he wasn’t giving it back. Ok, well, taking something of some else’s is wrong and refusing to give it back is wrong. And, especially given what it is, it’s unsportsmanlike. Kiermaier sucks.

Ok, so the Jays were rightfully mad. And what happens? Rays manager Kevin Cash apologized to Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. Montoyo’s response:

Ok, so far so good. It ended there, right? Nah. 

Ryan Borucki Sucks. 

In the 8th inning of the next game, Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Borucki tagged Kiermaier in the back. Kiermaier whined like a baby (see previous section re Kiermaier Sucks). But also, that’s dangerous and it’s not my thing, personally. So, that kinda sucks. But worse, Borucki denied it was intentional (I mean, ok, that’s a lie but I get it – you can’t admit that no matter how obvious it is). Borucki kinda sucks.

Kevin Cash Sucks.

Let’s add a little context here. There is a good possibility these two teams meet in the playoffs and so the Rays getting the Jays’ pitching strategy two weeks before the postseason is pretty significant. Kevin Cash apologized, which ok that’s good. But you had to know your guy was going to wear one. Plus, he took it in one of the safest spots – the middle of the back. You have to expect it and move on. Instead, Cash threw a fit. Cash kinda sucks.

Charlie Montoya Sucks.

Ok, your team got its card stolen and that sucks. But don’t accept an apology, tell everyone it’s “agua under the bridge” (a good line, though!), and then have your guy bean Kiermaier. Either accept the apology or don’t. 

Joe West Sucks. 

Just because.

But really, Kiermaier sucks. After writing this, I found this Jomboy video covering whole thing, which gives even more evidence about how much Kiermaier sucks, including footage of what he did when he got to the dugout.

Also, this video about Kiermaier from earlier in the year, stealing fly balls from his teammates.

What a tool. -TOB

PAL: This summary does not suck. 

Taking the card is lame move, but—in the spirit of giving another side of the argument— it’s not on the same level of taking a play card from an O.C. in a football game. For established pitchers at least, hitters know the location and pitches an opposing team will likely attack on certain counts. 

Then again, I’ve never seen what’s on those cards…it could be more detailed than that. Perhaps it has defensive alignment, signal sequences for when runners are on second base, the phone number of a lady in row 17. 


Videos of the Week

@noteworthytopics

“I mean…I COULD” – thought everyone on tiktok

♬ original sound – michael
TOB and PAL on our athletic abilities (joke and link h/t to reader KNL)

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Grouplove – “Deleter”

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Cornell commencement address? Sorry, but Tracy Jordan doesn’t do safety schools.

Tracy Jordan

Week of September 17, 2021


Where Have All the RBIs Gone?

Phil and I were at the Giants game on Wednesday. Brandon Belt, in the midst of the best season of his career, was at bat. Phil noticed that Belt’s RBI to Home Run ratio was very low – with 25 dingers and just 52 RBI, it’s barely 2:1. And this got me thinking: how low is it in today’s game? Are RBIs down relative to home runs and hits? 

In Moneyball, the book, Michael Lewis called the “fetish” of the RBI a “good example of the general madness” of “perverse incentives” created by various statistics. He explained:

“RBI had had come to be treated by people as an individual achievement – free agents were paid for their reputation as RBI machines when clearly they were not. Big league players routinely swung at pitches they shouldn’t to lard their RBI count. Why did they get so much credit for this? To knock runners in, runners needed to be on base when you came to bat. There was a huge element of luck in even having the opportunity, and what wasn’t luck was, partly, the achievement of others.” 

As Lewis relayed, Bill James once wrote, “The problem is that baseball statistics are not pure accomplishments of men against other men, which is what we are in the habit of seeing them as. They are accomplishments of men in combination with their circumstances.”

Moneyball was published nearly twenty years ago. But that quote from Bill James was published in 1977, nearly 50 years ago. So we are well into the era where the people who are paid to think about baseball have devalued the RBI. And as the RBI has been devalued, I wondered – have RBIs gone down? And, is Belt’s RBI to Home Run ratio that far out of whack? If so, why?

The answer to the second question is yes. As Phil and I talked, I guessed that no or very few guys have 100+ RBI this year, with just two weeks left in the season. That was pretty close. As it turns out, just 7 guys have 100 RBI so far. Those 7 have the following RBI:HR ratio.

Salvador Perez: 2.5

Jose Abreu: 3.6

Vlad Guerrero: 2.3

Rafael Devers: 3.0

Teoscar Hernández: 3.8

Adam Duvall: 2.9

League average RBI:HR ratio is 3.5 (5,373 HRs vs 18,887 RBI). So Belt’s 2.1 is pretty low. At league average you’d expect him to have 88 RBI, not 52.

However, the Giants have a ratio of 2.85 and they lead the league in home runs with 222. So my theory is that because they hit so many dingers there are fewer people on base to hit in. As Bill James said, the RBI is the “accomplishment of men in combination with their circumstances.” Belt just gets fewer RBI opportunities. 

But I think, for Belt, it’s also that he’s playing out of his mind this year. The league average hit to homer ratio is 6.6. The Giants are just 5.5. Belt’s is just 3.0! One out of every three of his hits is a home run. Similarly, his home run rate is 7.4%, which is WAY over league average of 2.9%. 

So what’s really going on with Belt is that he’s crushing a LOT of dingers – 25 in just 289 at bats. If he had a full season of 500 at bats, he’d be on a 50 home run pace. 

But what of the first question? Are RBIs down relative to other baseball events? Yes. 

First, I charted the RBI:HR and HIT:HR ratios over time for 1971, 1980 (1981 was a strike year), 1991, 2001, 2011, and 2021. 

The HR:Hit rate has dropped a great deal over time – from one home run every 14.5 hits in 1991 to one home run in just 6.6 hits in 2021. This is important in considering my question about Belt – it does seem that RBI opportunities are down. We’ve written before about how strikeouts are up, batting average is down, and home runs are up. There are simply fewer people on the base path, so fewer opportunities to hit someone in. The RBI:HR rate has also dropped, from a peak of 5.5 in 1980 to just 3.5 in 2021. In other words, a greater share of RBI in today’s game (28%) come from a home run hitter scoring himself, as compared to 1991 (18%). So while Belt’s 2.1 is low, it’s a lot less low now than it would have been in 1991. -TOB


We Were This Close To A Legendary Clip

Who’s looking for a laugh? This is a great catch by Defector’s Tom Ley. Gavin Newsom, riding high after surviving the recall (the CA recall rules are bananas, by the way, regardless of your party preference), and so – while visiting a school in my neck of the woods here in Oakland – the governor decided to flex with a little basketball skill: 

Not bad, Gov. He even put a little stank on the pass back to the kid. But that’s when Tom Ley earns his pay for the day. 

What’s important about this video is what it doesn’t show, which are the moments following what sure looks like Newsom getting his damn ankles recalled by a young lad. I spent a good chunk of today looking for more complete footage, and came up empty.

Now, go back and watch the video again, and you’ll see that this kid put the fear of God in Newsom. The kid had Newsom skating, and how great would it have been if this kid actually took it to him, made him fall over, then place the ball on the stomach of the leader of the fifth largest economy in the world and walked away. 

I echo Ley’s demand: release the rest of the footage! – PAL 

Source: Release The Footage,” Tom Ley, Defector (09/16/21)


A Take: A Combined No-Hitter is Not Worth Celebrating

A combined no-hitter is, by definition, a no-hitter. But it’s not worth celebrating.  

No, Milwaukee. That celebration is bush league. Stop it. -TOB


Worst of the Week: The Clemente Option

I’ve always appreciated MLB’s Jackie Robinson tribute on April 15 – especially the tradition of everyone on all teams wearing number 42 to honor Robinson’s legacy. Everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, shares that gesture of respect.

At the same Giants game TOB referenced earlier, we noticed some players wearing the number 21 with no name on the back. It was Roberto Clemente Day in MLB. Clemente was a fantastic all-around player for the Pirates. 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner, World Series MVP, National League MVP. He’s also the first Latin player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Clemente died in a plane crash when he was on a cargo plane flying supplies and aid to Nicaragua after an earthquake in 1972. The Roberto Clemente Award is given out annually to a player who makes a major impact in their communities. 

Instead of taking the same approach as they do for Robinson and have everyone wear Clemente’s number 21, the rules dictating who can honor Clemente’s contributions seem needlessly complicated. 

Per Marly Rivera:

MLB has extended the honor to all uniformed personnel of Puerto Rican descent this year for the 20th annual Roberto Clemente Day. In addition, all 2021 Roberto Clemente Award nominees, as well as the six active players who are Roberto Clemente Award recipients, can also wear the No. 21, sources told ESPN.

So players of Puerto Rican descent, coaches of Puerto Rican descent, past Clemente award winners, and 2021 Clemente award nominees, and the entire Pirates team. Got it. Not sure why the source couldn’t be revealed on this bit of info, but OK. 

But later in the story, I became confused: 

This year, it will also be possible for any player, regardless of heritage or place of birth, to request to wear No. 21, as long as the club is given enough notice to create the uniform.

So, all of the above, and—ya know—any other player (but not coaches) that wants to rock the 21 can do so. 

Feels convoluted, and it takes away from the honor.  People spend time trying to understand why some players wear 21 while others don’t. Just have all the players rock the 21 on Clemente Day in recognition of his contributions on and off the field. 

Why didn’t Rivera follow-up with someone with MLB for an explanation for all the rules around this? And then I start to wonder if Rivera talked to anyone for this story. The Yadier Molina quote is attributed as him “telling ESPN”. The MLB quotes aren’t attributed to anyone, and the quotes around the Clemente award look like they were pulled from an “about” page on MLB.  We can do a little better than this, right? – PAL

Source:MLB expands list of who can wear No. 21 to honor Roberto Clemente on Sept. 15,”Marly Rivera, ESPN (09/14/21)


What’s it Like to be Sportswriter?

Recently, the Athletic’s beat writer for the Warriors, Ethan Strauss, resigned his position and started his own Substack. This has become a popular move for journalists with a big enough following to make financial sense. When he did so, Strauss talked about how he had become burned out by the beat writing job. This week, he wrote a bit more – about how he fell into the beat writing gig and what that job entails these days.

On his first job out of college, working for the NBA:

Every day, seven days a week, I’d wake up at 3:30 AM to beat the news cycle. Still in bed, I’d read literally everything written about the NBA in every major outlet. From there, I would send a summarizing memo to commissioner David Stern and others. You know, just notes on who to kill, who to shake from a balcony, etc. Simple stuff. 

This was a miserable gig, and its seven-day requirement was perhaps legal only for the following technical reason: Back then, it was actually possible to read everything written about the NBA in a span that qualified as “part-time.” I’m still not sure why they gave no days off, but the short answer is probably just because the NBA could. If I didn’t want my job, some other early 20s kid would pop up and take it, if only to be associated with big-time sports. That was especially true after the 2008 financial crash bludgeoned New York City, something that happened concurrent with my arrival. Roughly a month after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the NBA would lay off nine percent of its workforce. I survived, however. I was too little to fail. 

And so I kept going, despite the lack of sleep and other problems. The issue wasn’t any one morning, but the cumulative effect of never getting a day off and never visiting an office. I was a zombie, ambling outside life’s rhythms as I watched my good buddy Matt live out a fuller existence, with his girlfriend and his hobbies. In contrast, I’d take a late afternoon nap and then just walk the streets of New York alone. In the winter I’d trudge through the living history shtetl of Hasidic Borough Park, wafting through the snow like an aimless dybbuk, disconnected from all around me. 

Every now and again, I’d attempt to steal joy out from under the schedule. I’d try to push it, try to go out, try to drink. My body would rebel every time. I have memories of waking up in a blizzard at the Coney Island station because I’d passed out on the N train. I vaguely recall vomiting on a brick wall, in the dark, about 30 minutes before I had to punch in for more Media Monitoring. 

And on how the job of a beat writer has gotten infinitely worse in the age of Twitter:

Older beat writers describe the pure Internet era rather wistfully. You’re in Chicago for a road game the next day. Maybe you spend the afternoon bullshitting on the phone with team executives. Maybe one of them tells you a relevant bit of breaking news about a trade. You’ll get to publishing it in a couple hours, perhaps. Breaking news was a thing back then, and a website operated out of Spain called HoopsHype chronicled who broke it, but the time pressure wasn’t overbearing and up-to-the-second constant. Twitter wasn’t a thing, at least like it is now.

The next day, you’ll prep your Notes column on team news to run before the game, and later, your “gamer” on the game itself. Beyond the modest output asked of you, you’re exploring cities and enjoying basketball — often from courtside seats. 

Older beat writers describe the pure Internet era rather wistfully. You’re in Chicago for a road game the next day. Maybe you spend the afternoon bullshitting on the phone with team executives. Maybe one of them tells you a relevant bit of breaking news about a trade. You’ll get to publishing it in a couple hours, perhaps. Breaking news was a thing back then, and a website operated out of Spain called HoopsHype chronicled who broke it, but the time pressure wasn’t overbearing and up-to-the-second constant. Twitter wasn’t a thing, at least like it is now.

The next day, you’ll prep your Notes column on team news to run before the game, and later, your “gamer” on the game itself. Beyond the modest output asked of you, you’re exploring cities and enjoying basketball — often from courtside seats. 

It’s an improvement that writers weren’t punching each other over a lone phone line like back in the early 2000s, but new efficiencies tended to create more work faster than they relieved you of stressors. 

In the end, it’s the accumulation that kills. You go from simply having to file a Notes Column and a Game Column to whatever the hell Twitter is. Fast forward. Now you’re constantly watching the players and being watched yourself. You’d better keep checking your emails and your Slack channels; you’re expected to monitor both. Oh, and now welcome to the Zoom era, and all the digital meetings it can spawn. It’s a wonder your laptop doesn’t simply explode. 

Whether you’re a beat writer, national media, or a team blogger, you’re constantly looking into your phone and over your shoulder. There’s a paranoid sense of responsibility, a duty to get stories or to comment on whatever story just happened. And then there’s another aspect of the ennui, what my well wisher referred to when lamenting, “Working sources for months on end, doing honest, diligent reporting work during the process — only to see folks get handed layups and praised for it.”

In this era, many media members are highly incentivized to keep pace with Twitter’s demand for “breaking news,” but the game is rigged in a manner nobody can admit publicly. Certain big-time newsbreakers are represented by the same agencies as the players and GMs, so there’s a self-dealing aspect to how information gets out. Not that those premier newsbreakers are living the easy life, either. The ones at the top are often fighting one another, viciously, in a grand game of power and influence. The Athletic’s newsbreaker Shams Charania gave up pickup basketball, lest he miss a phone call. Marc Stein once mentioned to me that he hadn’t watched a movie in over a decade. I hope he’s found more balance since starting this Substack. When we were both at ESPN I knew the mandate was to live a life free of pauses. It’s probably only gotten worse for those who remain. 

How life on the road isn’t as glamorous as it might seem:

The road felt like something between Almost Famous and Primary Colors, but with acid-trip nightmarish qualities thrown in. Every day was an assault on the senses, a real-life walk through animalistic screaming hordes, followed by an evening of editors’ ravenous demands for more more more Warriors stories. Anything would do. What, Klay said he liked Harry Potter? Write it up goddammit how could you miss that?! And then the ESPN news editor would be on my ass. 

It’s well worth your time. -TOB

Source: Is Sportswriting a Fun Job?Ethan Strauss, House of Strauss (09/16/2021)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Stevie Wonder – “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)”


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You know, with Hitler, the more I learn about that guy, the more I don’t care for him.

Norm Macdonald

Week of September 10, 2021


“This Is What It’s Supposed to Be Like”

Usually we make our own story titles, but this one was too perfect not to use: This is what it’s supposed to be like. Here, the “This” is massive college football grounds jumping around dumbly to old songs and having an absolute blast while doing so, not worried about this god damn pandemic and COVID-19 and the Delta variant or anything else. I should backup.

Last weekend was the start of the college football season. On Friday night, Virginia Tech hosted North Carolina. At kickoff, Virginia Tech did its traditional go-buck-wild dance to Enter Sandman, like so:

The student section was packed in and screaming, as you can see. Looks awesome, doesn’t it? But watching it that night I also thought, “Ugh, how many students are going to get COVID from this?” I wasn’t alone. MSNBC Host Mehdi Hasan tweeted the following:

His tweet went viral, as did other similar sentiments that night and the following day when, for example, the students at Wisconsin began the 4th by jumping around to Jump Around.

But Defector’s David Roth didn’t exactly see it the same way as Mehdi, and as I read it, I realized Roth is right. Roth helpfully pointed out that “Virginia Tech mandate[s] vaccinations among its students, and went so far as to unenroll 134 students who declined to comply with those requirements; 95 percent of the student body and 88 percent of school employees are vaccinated.” Or that while “[t]he University of Wisconsin does not have a vaccine mandate for students, [] the school announced last week that 91 percent of its students had received at least one dose, and that 92 percent of campus employees and 99 percent of faculty were fully vaccinated.” Well, shoot. That’s great!

Roth effectively explains many of our initial reactions:

What is most jarring about all this, more than the heavy respect that Gus Johnson put on Everlast’s name or the very concept of a “Jump Around Tradition,” finally has to do with the context—the fact that this is all happening, more or less as normal, after this last stupid, brutal, squashed-flat plague year and in this furious and infuriatingly stalled out present in which the pandemic has been permitted to persist. This state of affairs owes in various measures and to various degrees to some other otherwise incomprehensible American traditions—wild and self-wounding intransigence; the invasive bloom of an unreasoning and recursive spite in the wreckage left by a willed and willful collapse of civic faith; listless cringing state incapacity and abandonment; that sort of thing. But it is at this point in many ways a choice.

But then Roth explains that those students at Virginia Tech and Wisconsin earned the right to jump around like idiots because the got the damn vaccine:

Another way of saying this is that the shared joy in Camp Randall Stadium, which may or may not be your personal thing, is now right there to win. If it looks strange, it is in large part because it feels a little strange to see tens of thousands of people celebrating together after so much time spent so warily apart. But there is also a sense in which the people in that stadium are celebrating something that they have earned—by taking care when that was all there was to do, and then by continuing to make (really pretty easy) decisions that do right by the other people who would eventually fill the stadium around them.

Roth, of course, then turns his attention to the idiots who refuse to get vaccinated, who in doing so perpetuate this pandemic, keeping it into, as Roth puts it, an “endless end.” And then, as Roth so eloquently closes:

It is not the point, or anyway not the most interesting point, that a stadium full of overwhelmingly vaccinated twentysomethings wilding out to a Metallica song from 1991 is far from the reason Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. It might be more useful, I think, to understand all that strange and giddy closeness as something like the Nice Thing itself—an experience that could be had again, something strange but also safe and silly and shared, if only everyone loved it enough to fight for it.

Damn. Amen. -TOB

Source: This Is What It’s Supposed To Be Like,” David Roth, Defector (09/05/2021)


Fluffy Balls

Believe me when I say Kelsey McKinney hits this one pure. The premise of her story is the following: sports commentators need to spend more time explaining the specifics of the game for which they provide insights. She used the U.S. Open (tennis) as her initial example. McKinney likes tennis, but doesn’t know much about the game. She watches along at a bar with her friend, who knows a lot about tennis. In a short time, McKinney learns why serves are overhand (angles and power while keeping the ball in…maybe you knew the answer to that one) and what players are doing when they examine the balls from the ball boy/girl (the more tennis balls are hit, the fluffier the felt gets, making them more difficult to hit hard,nand that fact was new info to me). 

As McKinney points out: commentary has gone too far away from the specifics of a game.

Rarely are these basic pieces of knowledge that enrich the viewing experience offered by announcers. There are plenty of rule analyses and personal backstories and over-inflations of rivalries and past meetings. But there’s very little substance to the commentary that actually improves viewer’s understandings of the sports they love to watch but do not play. 

Since, as established, I know very little about tennis, let’s pivot to football. Here is a clip of Tom Brady that went viral late last week talking about how offensive mistakes are resulting in defensive penalties:

How much more interesting is the explanation of why a tennis player takes such care in selecting the ball he wants to play, or Tom Brady providing a really interesting take on the impact defensive penalties have on the quality of the game? I’m a sports nut, and I’ve learned two sports-related tidbits from McKinney’s story. As McKinney writes, “The nuts and bolts are what’s interesting.”

I love it!

Of course, the magic lies in finding the right line for the viewers—what deserves explanation, and what is obvious to viewers? In a baseball game broadcast locally, would the commentators feel the need to explain the infield fly rule (and then debate about such rule), or would that induce eyerolls from baseball fans who are big enough fans to be watching a Tuesday night, regular season game? What about explaining WAR — is this closer to something that might be valuable to regular viewers? 

Attracting new fans while not alienating existing fans of a sport is harder than perhaps McKinney calls out in this story, but she’s 100% about there being an imbalance of commentary focused on backstories and other fluff, and the opportunities to highlight really fascinating elements of the game are missed. 

Excellent read, and I hope some network takes McKinney up on this idea. – PAL 

Source: “I Am Begging Sports Commentators To Teach Me The Nuts And Bolts Of The Game,” Kelsey McKinney, Defector (09/09/21)


The Soto Shuffle: A Statistical Breakdown

If you watched the 2019 MLB Playoffs, you probably saw then-20-year old Juan Soto perform what has been called the Soto Shuffle. To wit:

If you haven’t caught a Nats game the last two seasons, you might not know that he still does it, although he sadly dropped the crotch grab. But he doesn’t do it every time he takes a pitch. He picks his spots. And, in fact, he’s put some variations on the Shuffle, as the Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh breaks down. Thanksfully, the variations are all so funny. For example, the one this one made me laugh the most.

Lindbergh calls it the Ollie and I can’t not laugh every time I watch it. It’s so outrageous. 

Or the one where he shakes his butt.

Or the one where he does a deep lunge.

Seriously, is it just me or is this hilarious? But Lindbergh doesn’t stop with showing you how Soto does the Shuffle, he dives deeeeeeeeeeeeep into when. And here’s a graphical representation:

But Lindbergh doesn’t stop there, either. He also breaks down when Soto does the Shuffle by count and pitch type… and more. It’s such a fun, goofy read on an unimportant but interesting topic. These are the kinds of articles I wish I had the time to research and write. Great stuff. -TOB

Source: Fancy Footwork: A Complete Breakdown of the Soto Shuffle,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (09/07/2021)

PAL: The depth of this story is bananas. It would’ve been so easy for Lindbergh to make this a fluff story about The Shuffle, to stop at “the most exciting take in baseball” type of thing and show clips on the variations of The Shuffle. Lindbergh goes to incredible lengths to find some substance by way of explanation or patterns. The dude put together a 20+ minute supercut of all The Shuffles for chrissake.  

Above all, the most incredible bit of info from this story is the following: “He Shuffled (or appeared to start Shuffling) on only 10 called strikes”. Now that’s a guy that knows the strike zone, and that’s a dude, as Lindbergh points out, that doesn’t fail 7/10 times, as is the old adage in baseball; Soto’s on-base percentage .446. If that holds, that would put Soto above Barry Bonds’ best season, and good enough for the seventh highest all-time, right behind Gehrig, Ruth, and Williams.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Jason Isbell – “24 Frames”


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Week of September 3, 2021


New Faces, Same Mets

A few new Mets (Javy Baez, acquired at the deadline; Francisco Lindor, acquired on the eve of this season; Kevin Pillar – same) players got in some hot water this week. After big plays, they had begun to give a thumbs down to their dugout.

These on-base gestures are getting really old, but this one was sort of amusing. There was no controversy, until a reporter asked Baez what it meant: 

Well, Javy. I don’t disagree with you. But as Michael Baumann says in the first sentence of this article: All you had to do was lie. That’s it! Make up some dumb reason, like Lindor did. But Baez told the truth and the New York media ate it up. Team President Sandy Alderson ripped Baez and the other players:

The Mets will not tolerate any player gesture that is unprofessional in its meaning or is directed in a negative way toward our fans. I will be meeting with our players and staff to convey this message directly.

Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.

Then the players had to apologize. And I’m like – why? If the fans can voice their displeasure, shouldn’t the players be able to dish it out a bit? But I like Baumann’s take here. He defends the fans’ right to voice their displeasure, but also points out:

The thing is, as pissed off as Dan from Staten Island is that the Mets are four games under .500, Báez must be all the more frustrated. It’s not like he doesn’t know he has a .258 OBP since being traded to New York, or that he doesn’t appreciate the impact that performance has had on the team. If there was something he could do to turn his fortunes around in time to save the Mets’ season, you have to think he would do it. Because a slump must be even more soul-sapping to live through than it is to watch from the stands.

In that respect, I understand why Báez, Francisco Lindor, and Kevin Pillar would get upset when their own fans get on their case, and why they would want to slyly vent some of their frustration. Getting booed or criticized sucks, even when it’s justified by performance. Maybe it was a petty act, but Alderson’s characterization of it as “unprofessional” is a little precious. If it had remained an inside joke, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

I think he’s right. I don’t know if I’d ever boo my team, but if I did it would be if I thought they weren’t trying or didn’t care. But this is Javy Baez. It’s not like he doesn’t care or loafs it. Man, that dude cares

Ultimately, Baumann blames the Mets’ front office leadership for allowing a series of mishaps similar to this one that have left the team’s fans unable to trust the team they love. Which makes sense – if the team didn’t have such a long history of failure, the fans wouldn’t be so quick to boo. Well, maybe. It is New York, after all. -TOB

Source: The Thumb of All Jeers,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (08/31/2021)

PAL: It’s such a bad look from Baez, Lindor, and Pillar. And while I understand Baumann’s point about Báez knowing as well as anyone that he’s playing poorly and the team is choking, the most important point in the article comes just before the ‘Dan from Staten Island’ section:

Professional sports occupies an unusual place in the American cultural environment, in that it’s a consumer good that gets baked into people’s identity. If the neighborhood doughnut shop starts putting out an inferior product, customers will go somewhere else. But if the local baseball team stinks, most fans will continue to support it.

Báez can go elsewhere, but fandom is a bit harder to leave behind. I should know; I’m a Twins fan.


Credit Where Credit Is Due: Bailey Johnson

By now you’ve likely heard of Bishop Sycamore, the “school” at the center of a sports story that became the talk of the sports world this week. If you haven’t heard about it, here are the bullet points: 

  • Bishop Sycamore played the national powerhouse IMG Academy in a high school football game last Sunday
  • ESPN broadcast the game, which was set up by a marketing firm
  • IMG is basically a feeder school to big-time college programs
  • Bishop Sycamore claimed to have several D-I prospects as well
  • Mid-broadcast, with IMG destroying Bishop Sycamore, ESPN announcers put Bishop Sycamore on blast, saying that none of its “prospects” showed up on ESPN’s scouting list…or any of the other scouting services
  • It became pretty clear pretty quickly that Bishop Sycamore isn’t even a school, and many of the players are older than high school age

When stories catch fire like this one it becomes a topic for sports radio, debate shows,  podcasts, other websites, and so on. Scores of other stories are written on it, some of which is good work and some of which is more of an aggregation play. Here are the top news results from my search:

Considering the popularity of the story, I think it’s worthwhile to share the original story from the person who actually broke it, but even that can be a bit challenging. 

During the game (August 29), the announcers started to question Bishop Sycamore’s credentials, which led to a bunch of social media posts about what was going on. Then there was a summary of what happened during the game from Mary Smith (forthewin.com), which led to more social media posts and stats about Bishop Sycamore. 

As you can tell, the wheel is turning on this story, but I think Bailey Johnson, who writes for the Columbus Dispatch, broke the real story: Bishop Sycamore isn’t a school, many of the players are older than 18, and the team is leaving unpaid bills in its wake everywhere it goes.

Here’s just a bit of sample of Johnson’s reporting:

Non-chartered, non-tax supported schools must report their students’ participation and attendance to their local school district treasurer, which for Bishop Sycamore the state lists as Columbus City Schools.

Jacqueline Bryant, Columbus City Schools spokeswoman, said Tuesday the district has no record that Bishop Sycamore submitted any reports to it, nor could it locate Bishop Sycamore in a directory of schools maintained by the state.

The state lists Bishop Sycamore’s mailing address as a post office box, and its “physical address” as 3599 Chiller Lane in Columbus — the address of Resolute Athletic Complex, an indoor sports facility near Easton Town Center.

What about 1-2-3 Sports!, you might ask. Where does this humble outfit fit into all of this? We share the best of what we find every week and tell you why we think it’s worth your time, and we share the link to the actual piece. Johnson reporting on Bishop Sycamore is a great reminder to try clicking on that actual story link we add at the end of each summary. -PAL 

Source: What is Bishop Sycamore? What we know about mysterious football team on ESPN,” Bailey Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch (08/20/21)


An Interesting Theory About the 49ers’ QB Situation

I am, in my own mind at least, notoriously down on 49ers QB James Garoppolo (I stopped call him Jimmy G long ago; he’s gonna have to earn that nickname back). And it’s not his injury history; in my opinion he is a very average to perhaps slightly above average starting QB in the intermediate range, but has absolutely no deep ball. 

Still makes me mad. A Pro QB has to make that throw. But I didn’t love him even before that, so I was very happy when the Niners took Trey Lance in this year’s draft, even if I had never seen Lance play. I don’t know if he’ll be good, but he seems talented and exciting – and talent and excitement gives hope, something I do not get from James. 

So I’ve been eating up the practice reports – praising the reporters who are hyping up Lance, like Dieter Kurtenbach in a since deleted tweet saying that Lance’s early camp performance had James “shook” and cursing the ones who claim James is in the lead for the job. And salivating over throws like this:

But this week I read a theory of how this could play out, and it will sound very familiar to 49ers fans:

Alex Smith was the starting QB, and—like Garoppolo in 2021—he wasn’t far removed from leading San Francisco on a deep playoff run. But sitting on the bench was a young, athletic quarterback with the ability to supercharge the offense. Today, it’s Lance in that role. Nine years ago, it was Colin Kaepernick.

As is expected this year, that 49ers team installed a small package of plays that featured the mobile backup in cameo roles early in the season. Kaepernick got to throw some passes in these appearances, but he was mostly used as a runner. The team’s Week 4 win over the Jets was a breakout of sorts for the second-year quarterback. He was given three designed run attempts that went for 41 yards and a touchdown. The next week against the Bills, he got three more designed carries, two of which were zone read plays that gained 31 yards and another touchdown. It was clear Harbaugh and his staff were onto something. The only question: When would Kaepernick be ready to do it full time?

The 49ers dialed back Kaepernick’s usage over the next few weeks, perhaps to keep defenses from catching on, but he was thrust into action again after Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams in Week 10. You know how the rest of this goes. Kaepernick’s mobility added another dimension to the offense, as did his willingness to push the ball downfield. Smith was cleared to play two weeks later, but Harbaugh knew that to get to the Super Bowl, he had to go with the younger quarterback. 

This theory is particularly interesting given the fact that, in their final preseason game, the Niners were switching between James and Trey mid-series. So, yeah, that does sound like what happened during the Niners’ 2012 season. I hope this one looks the same. Basically, this tweet is me:

#TeamTrey. Also, enjoy this incredible highlight of Kapernick eating up the Packers in the playoffs that year. 

Man, he was awesome. -TOB

Source: Could the 49ers Use a Decade-Old Idea to Get Back to the Super Bowl?Steven Ruiz, The Ringer (08/31/2021)


Getting to Know the New USMNT

The US Men’s National Team infamously missed the last World Cup. As a fan, it sucked. But there have been rumblings for the last half decade that the U.S. Soccer Federations investments at the youth level would soon be paying off, and it appears that day is here. Or near. Or maybe not at all. But while we may not know if this new generation will bring the U.S. to a credible international level, it sure feels like it right now, which in itself is very exciting. And it’s not just the golden boy, Christian Pulisic. It’s a big group! 

But a new crop of youngsters also raises a lot of questions, and one in particular – as best illustrated by this classic clip from Major League:

Enter: Patrick Redford, a guy with a remarkably similar background to me: Kings fan, Cal grad, lives in SF. I loved Deadspin, he wrote for it. I even saw him at the climbing gym once, in his Deadspin shirt!, but I thought it was too weird to approach him.

Anyways, enter Redford. Who, in the leadup to Thursday night’s World Cup Qualifier opener for the USMNT vs El Salvador has been profiling the names to know. It’s been super fun! It tells their background, including how they came to choose the USMNT if they are a dual-national; he has fun clips of cool stuff they’ve done on the field; and he includes some fun features like non-American fans of the player’s club team tweeting excitement about the player in their native language, and the prospect the player will eventually end up on the USMNT starting eleven. 

This week he featured 18-year old Richard Pepi, a striker for FC Dallas, who chose the U.S. over Mexico. Previously, he profiled Josh Sargent, Konrad de la Fuente, and Antonee Robinson. If you’re getting psyched for World Cup qualifying, check it out. It’s a fun way to get to know the young squad. -TOB

Source: What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal: Ricardo Pepi,” Patrick Redford, Defector (09/02/2021)


How Much More We Know Due to Analytics

In the first half of this season, Kevin Gausman was a serious contender for the NL Cy Young Award. His ERA of 1.73 over 114 innings. He was lights out. And then the second half started and he’s been a different dude: In 31 innings, his ERA is 5.17. He’s not going as deep into games. He’s striking out more batters (1.4 more per 9 IP), but walking way more (doubling his rate from 2.3 per 9 IP to 4.6). His BABIP is also way up – from .213 to .384. 

So, what changed? Well, Gausman is essentially a two-pitch guy – he uses his splitter and his fastball a combined 90% of the time. As Eno Sarris explains, this allows teams to key on one pitch – sit on it – and do greater damage. And when his splitter is not hitting the strike zone, he runs into trouble. 

But all of that’s always been true, and Eno shows how a minor change for Gausman has caused a lot of his problem. His four seam fastball is not getting as much ride (which makes the ball appear higher to hitters). And the reason? His release point:

“Getting square behind the ball on both the four-seam and the splitter is super important, so if he starts to trend towards pronate or supinate, that’s where he gets into trouble,” Martinez said. “When we start to see the fastball lose its standard profile is when we see the split slip a little too. Some of that has to do with extension and horizontal release.”

In this case, it looks like extension is the key factor for Gausman. Extension is how far from the rubber the pitcher releases the ball, and Gausman — already a taller dude at 6-foot-2 — usually gets excellent extension. Right now, it’s not at peak form.

Two or three inches, that’s what separates Gausman from having his fastball of earlier this season.

The Giants seem to be aware, which is good because this seems fixable? 

After a recent game in which he struck out seven Mets against two walks, with three earned runs in five innings, his manager even specifically called out this aspect of the pitcher’s game.

“I think the fastball velocity and carry has been better, and he’s commanding the ball better at the top of the zone,” Gabe Kapler said that day. “I really thought he was excellent.”

And that’s the real story here. Despite being largely a two-pitch pitcher, Kevin Gausman has been excellent in San Francisco. He probably doesn’t need a better slider — he’s got the meat and potatoes, the splitter and the fastball. It just takes a few tweaks from time to time to keep the whole package humming.

Eno is one of my favorite writers because of the way he is able to break down complicated data in a very digestible form. -TOB

Source: A Familiar Question for a Slumping Kevin Gausman — Are Two Pitches Enough, Even if They’re Great?Eno Sarris (09/02/2021)


Other Good Stuff

Song of the Week

Bob Dylan – “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (take 2)”

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Can we all be brave adults and admit that babies don’t need yoga?

Anne Carlson

Week of August 27, 2021

Here’s to guessing right this weekend.

The Greatest Complete Game

This one comes ℅ my brother-in-law, Jack. I saw the headline on ESPN, but hadn’t clicked on it, but I had to read it once Jack sent it my way. Forget another time – this story seems to come from a different world. Hard to believe, but it’s a true story from Ryan Hockensmith. 

The fact that Ray Caldwell was struck by lightning while pitching a shutout for the Indians back in a 1919 game against the Red Sox isn’t even the most interesting part of this story. Neither is the fact that he got off the ground after everyone thought he was dead, and proceeded to get the last out of the game, or the fact that he was once a bunkmate to a young Babe Ruth. 

No, the most interesting part of this story was learning that lightning not only comes down from the sky, but also up from the ground. 

Think about it like Wi-Fi. The same way Wi-Fi reaches through the air looking for a device to connect to, lightning also requires a partner from the ground. The charge from a thunderstorm blasts downward but must locate an opposite charge from the ground, called an “upward leader.” Many strikes end up finding multiple partners in the same area, spreading the charge (somewhere between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity) around to whatever upward leaders it can find — flagpoles, trees or, yes, people who are nearby. That’s why many visuals of lightning strikes show them splintering, rather than one huge bolt, with some looking like one arm reaching up from earth and the other reaching from the skies.

I never knew! 

Not only was Caldwell the only known major league ballplayer to be struck by lightning during a game, he might also be the only major leaguer to be contractually obligated to get obliterated after every game he pitched. Caldwell was a known alcoholic, although they didn’t refer to it as that in the papers. He washed out in New York and Boston before playing in Panama. He was considered every bit as good as Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, and so Cleveland took a chance on his talent, and came up with an outside-the-box approach to his drinking problems. 

When Speaker (player/manager Tris Speaker) summoned him a few weeks later, Caldwell would have signed just about any contract put in front of him. And good thing for that, because Cleveland offered him a deal historians now say ranks among the most bizarre in baseball history.

The deal said that on game days, Caldwell was to pitch and then go get plastered. According to historian Franklin Lewis in his book “The Cleveland Indians,” Caldwell was perplexed looking at the contract.

“You left out one word, Tris,” Caldwell said as he looked at the document. “Where it says I’ve got to get drunk after every game, the word not has been left out. It should read that I’m not to get drunk.”

Speaker smiled. “No, it says that you are to get drunk.”

Speaker then explained a very specific regimen Caldwell was to adhere to every week. On game days, he’d pitch and then perform his mandated drinking duties. He was then free to skip coming to the ballpark the next day and sleep off his hangover. But two days later, Speaker wanted him at the ballpark early to run as many wind sprints as the manager thought he needed. Three days after every start, Caldwell was to throw batting practice. Pitch, drink, sleep, run, BP, rinse and repeat.

As Hockensmith mentions, Caldwell’s career sounds like a collection of folktales. Fun read! – PAL 

Source: The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game”, Ryan Hockensmith, ESPN (08/24/21)


How Not to Be a Journalist, IMO

This week I saw an article about the effects that have been seen in the Atlantic League this season, where they moved the pitcher’s mound back a foot, to 61’6”, in the middle of the season. This has been an experiment for MLB, which wants to know if moving the mound back will give hitters more time and thus reduce strikeouts. This article purported to look at how things have gone. The answer? pitchers were mad at first, but at least a few decided there was little difference for them. But it seems to me that any serious journalist covering this topic would put the anecdotes aside and look at the data. 

In our 7+ years writing this blog, we have rarely covered what we think is bad sportswriting, but this week I felt compelled to do so, based on the following:

White, the league president, did not have empirical data to offer during a phone call with CBS Sports…

I don’t know about you, but that’s a HUGE red flag for me. The league president says he doesn’t have “empirical data” on how stats have changed since the mound was moved back mid-season?

…but he presented several of his own observations of how the Atlantic League’s gameplay has changed since the new mound distance was installed.

HE’S GOT THE DATA, I PROMISE. How is this not a red flag for a reporter? How is this information passed on, unquestioned? Well, let’s see what White says…

He believes more balls are being hit into play, with fewer plate appearances ending via strikeout; he believes pitchers are throwing more fastballs and fewer breaking balls; and he believes umpires when they tell him that pitchers’ control, particularly over those breaking balls, has suffered since the change.

OH REALLY? He won’t show any data but he believes it’s working as planned? Does the writer think critically at all about how White might be biased and wonder at all why data is not provided? Nope.

If White’s perception is correct about the Atlantic League’s play taking a new form (analysis by Rob Arthur, a Baseball Prospectus author, indicates that it’s not, and that strikeouts and home runs have actually increased since the change), then the move to the 61-foot, six-inch mound is having MLB’s desired effect. 

This just about knocked me over. Not only does he not think critically about why the league president might be biased, and not wonder why there is no data provided, he attempts to gloss over the fact that another writer has analyzed the data and determined that White’s “observations” are incorrect, by putting it in an otherwise un-analyzed parenthetical. 

It sure seems to me that a major role of a journalist is to analyze the biases and motivations of your sources and strongly consider not publishing something that is clearly erroneous. If this guy had done so here, he might have realized that the spoutings of a league president, providing no data in a data-heavy sport, should not have been regurgitated by a journalist. Particularly so when there is data that contradicts the league president’s opinion.

But what do I know? I never went to journalism school. Then again, maybe this guy didn’t either. 

Source: How MLB Pushed Back the Atlantic League Mound and Pushed Fed-up Players to the Brink of a Work Stoppage,” R.J. Anderson, CBS Sports (08/26/2021)

PAL: Slow clap for TOB’s write-up. Here’s what’s also crazy to me: the real story is right there in this gloss job. The real story is the league president doesn’t provide data on how the experiment has gone. Either he’s withholding it, or they aren’t keeping track of impacts due to making a fundamental change to the variables of baseball (moving the mound back).

I’m all for a semi-regular “worst of the week” for sportswriting. If I see one more prospect projections or quarterback tiers story in The Athletic, I’m going to pass out.


Gavin Weir Is Filthy

Every year at the Little League World Series some kid dominates. That’s nothing new. But Gavin Weir of the Sioux Falls team has taken it to an especially crazy level of own-age. Two stats for you before you watch the video: 

Weir has pitched 43 23 innings in eight Little League postseason games. 

He’s given up one hit.

He’s faced 132 batters and struck out 114 of them — an 86.4% strikeout rate.

These other teams aren’t scrubs. Some of these Little Leaguers really know how to hit, both the hard stuff and a breaking ball. 

Give me 10 at bats against Gavin at the Little League distance (mound is 46-feet from home), and I’d be thrilled with two hard hits. – PAL

Source: Sioux Falls pitching sensation Gavin Weir throws second no-hitter at Little League World Series”, Star Tribune Staff (08/26/21)

TOB: I watched this kid dominate a very good California team. He’s out there throwing like peak Chris Sale. We’ve seen heat and breaking balls in the LLWS before. But the varied arm angles and the way his stuff moves is friggin nasty. I’m glad Phil wrote about Weir, because I wanted his name in our archives when he’s a top prospect in 6 years.


Get Vaxx’d

On Thursday, Giants’ infielder Donovan Solano tested positive for COVID-19. He had come to the stadium (the Giants were on the road in New York), reported his symptoms, tested positive, and sent back to his hotel where he must quarantine for ten days. In two COVID seasons, Solano is the first confirmed positive COVID test for the Giants. 

The team declined to answer whether Solano had been vaccinated and this was a  breakthrough case, or whether he had not been vaccinated. 

But whether he had or not, the newest Giant, Kris Bryant, illustrated for all of us why it’s important to get vaccinated, for baseball players but also for all of us:

“Obviously being vaccinated is the first step,” said Kris Bryant, who was traded to the Giants from the Chicago Cubs, one of the teams that hasn’t met the 85 percent threshold. “We want to take all the cautions possible because we still have a long way to go here and hopefully a long playoff run. We don’t want any speed bumps along the way. Hopefully it doesn’t catch up with us.”

Bryant, of course, came over from the Cubs. The Cubs have still not met that 85% threshold. Bryant said coming to the Giants has been nice, because he’s been able to enjoy freedoms here that he didn’t in Chicago. But it’s more than convenience, for Bryant and for all of us. As Bryant said:

“It’s really just peace of mind knowing that the people around you did what they need to do to help protect the team and help us get through the season. That means a lot, you know?”

Hell yeah, I do. -TOB

Source: ‘Being vaccinated is the first step’: Giants sweep in New York but lose Donovan Solano to a positive COVID-19 test,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (08/26/2021)

PAL: There now exists a reality where a playoff series could be swung by vaccines. How can anyone possibly bet on sports in this time?


Replay In LLWS: Nouns vs Verbs

I wrote an essay about finding (over a decade late) that video replay is used in the LLWS. I couldn’t believe it. Below are the opening few paragraphs. You can read the full essay here.

Last week I learned video replay is used in the Little League World Series, and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

The treadmill in our building gym is one that has a TV screen attached to it, but the channel options are weak: a second-rate news channel, infomercials, telenovelas, and the golf channel that somehow never has actual golf on when I’m running. My eyes drifted to the reflection of the big screen TV in the gym window. A Little League game—a regional tournament game to be exact— was on ESPN. The winner was on its way to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. 

Watching the reflection in the window made everything backwards: right-handed batters looked lefty, left-handed pitchers looked like righties, and when a hitter put a ball in play, his reflection dashed in the direction of third base. 

After the centerfielder caught a bases empty line drive early in a 0-0 game, the home plate umpire walked to the backstop and put on a headset, just like they do in big league games. With no sound, it took a second to figure out they were actually reviewing a call. ESPN looped the replay in slow motion: they were looking to see whether or not the catcher’s glove made contact with the hitter’s bat, which would be catcher’s interference, granting the hitter first base. 

It took at least a half mile for the Replay Team, as I’ve since learned it to be called, to look at the ESPN-provided camera angles (in addition to the actual LLWS, ESPN broadcasts 88 regional tournament games). Players stood around waiting for the home plate umpire, who stood around waiting for the Replay Team to examine each frame to determine if the last fleck of the leather on the webbing of the catcher’s mitt made contact with the bat. I couldn’t tell if the bat nicked the mitt in real time, and I couldn’t be sure in slow motion either. The replay team determined there was catcher’s interference, but it didn’t matter; the play would have no impact on who won. By then I’d already decided I would be digging into this Little League video replay lunacy. 

So here’s the most complete explanation of video replay, straight from the Little League website. Topline (parentheticals mine): the LLWS has used “instant” video replay since 2008(!). Incredibly, it was the first baseball organization of any kind to use replay. That’s right; Little League edged out MLB by about a month, and college baseball started using it in the College World Series starting in 2012. 

The first version of replay in LLWS was limited to fair and foul calls on home runs. Adults being adults, that couldn’t be left alone. Before long, video replay expanded. It’s now available in the regional tournaments as well as the LLWS, and replay can now be used for, well, all of this: 

Managers must specify the exact call that they would like to challenge. The only plays that may be challenged are: ball over the outfield fence, dead ball areas, batted balls ruled fair but foul or rule foul but fair, foul tip versus foul ball, hit batters, runner or runner-batter interference on batted balls, all plays at bases to get a runner or runner-batter out, appeal for missed bases (not if the runner left too soon), any out call made safe (umpire determines where to place the runners), pitched ball ruled “not caught” by the catcher, catcher interference, head-first slide into a base. The final play of all games are automatically reviewed.

Managers have up to two unsuccessful challenges in the first six innings, and one in extra innings. As always, a manager may request time and ask the umpire crew to review a play without officially challenging the play. Umpires may call for video replay on any play that qualifies for it, and may also ask for a review after a manager conference.

LittleLeague.org, 2016

Reminder, this is a video replay rule that was enacted for games being played by kids ages 10-12. 

So that’s how I came to stare at a gym window watching a backwards version of a Little League game. Backwards indeed. -PAL


Other Good Stuff

TOB: #couplesgoals

Song of the Week

Little Steven – “Inside Of Me (feat. The Disciples of Soul)”

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You know what? I’m going to start dating her even harder.

-Michael Scott

Noun vs. Verb: The Case Against Video Replay in The Little League World Series

Last week I learned video replay is used in the Little League World Series, and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

The treadmill in our building gym is one that has a TV screen attached to it, but the channel options are weak: a second-rate news channel, infomercials, telenovelas, and the golf channel that somehow never has actual golf on when I’m running. My eyes drifted to the reflection of the big screen TV in the gym window. A Little League game—a regional tournament game to be exact— was on ESPN. The winner was on its way to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. 

Watching the reflection in the window made everything backwards: right-handed batters looked lefty, left-handed pitchers looked like righties, and when a hitter put a ball in play, his reflection dashed in the direction of third base. 

After the centerfielder caught a bases empty line drive early in a 0-0 game, the home plate umpire walked to the backstop and put on a headset, just like they do in big league games. With no sound, it took a second to figure out they were actually reviewing a call. ESPN looped the replay in slow motion: they were looking to see whether or not the catcher’s glove made contact with the hitter’s bat, which would be catcher’s interference, granting the hitter first base. 

It took at least a half mile for the Replay Team, as I’ve since learned it to be called, to look at the ESPN-provided camera angles (in addition to the actual LLWS, ESPN broadcasts 88 regional tournament games). Players stood around waiting for the home plate umpire, who stood around waiting for the Replay Team to examine each frame to determine if the last fleck of the leather on the webbing of the catcher’s mitt made contact with the bat. I couldn’t tell if the bat nicked the mitt in real time, and I couldn’t be sure in slow motion either. The replay team determined there was catcher’s interference, but it didn’t matter; the play would have no impact on who won. By then I’d already decided I would be digging into this Little League video replay lunacy. 

So here’s the most complete explanation of video replay, straight from the Little League website. Topline (parentheticals mine): the LLWS has used “instant” video replay since 2008(!). Incredibly, it was the first baseball organization of any kind to use replay. That’s right; Little League edged out MLB by about a month, and college baseball started using it in the College World Series starting in 2012. 

The first version of replay in LLWS was limited to fair and foul calls on home runs. Adults being adults, that couldn’t be left alone. Before long, video replay expanded. It’s now available in the regional tournaments as well as the LLWS, and replay can now be used for, well, all of this: 

Managers must specify the exact call that they would like to challenge. The only plays that may be challenged are: ball over the outfield fence, dead ball areas, batted balls ruled fair but foul or rule foul but fair, foul tip versus foul ball, hit batters, runner or runner-batter interference on batted balls, all plays at bases to get a runner or runner-batter out, appeal for missed bases (not if the runner left too soon), any out call made safe (umpire determines where to place the runners), pitched ball ruled “not caught” by the catcher, catcher interference, head-first slide into a base. The final play of all games are automatically reviewed.

Managers have up to two unsuccessful challenges in the first six innings, and one in extra innings. As always, a manager may request time and ask the umpire crew to review a play without officially challenging the play. Umpires may call for video replay on any play that qualifies for it, and may also ask for a review after a manager conference.

LittleLeague.org, 2016

Reminder, this is a video replay rule that was enacted for games being played by kids ages 10-12. 

So that’s how I came to stare at a gym window watching a backwards version of a Little League game. Backwards indeed.


My main curiosity went back all the way to the conceit of the bad idea, at least 14 removed from the catcher’s interference call in question. Where did the idea come from, and why the hell would anyone think it was anything other than wrong. I was laughing at the absurdity of it all pretty quickly. 

Go far enough back, and at some point before August, 2008 the following certainly occurred in some form: someone working at Little League headquarters suggested “video replay” as an agenda item. For this story, let’s call them Blake. Worse, Blake’s agenda item remained. It wasn’t ignored or dismissed. It wasn’t mistaken as a subtle joke to loosen up a Friday meeting.

The notion gained some momentum, and since it made it all the way to the field of play, that means the topic was discussed 5, 10, 20, maybe even 50 times in different Little League meetings at the national and regional level. At some point, execs from ESPN—the broadcast partner for all these games—got involved (would ESPN stand to gain some ad revenue with replay? That’s for another day). Not once was anyone able to douse enough common sense on the matter to keep the idea of video replay from spreading. 

I wonder about Blake— the real person—whoever he (or she) is. I think about what could have happened that led him to take up the cause of video replay in Little League. What was the blown call in his life that ultimately led to this mission?

Was it a play from Blake’s youth that he couldn’t ever get over? Perhaps he was at the plate with a chance to send his Little League team to Williamsport. Perhaps, with the bases loaded, down by three runs with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Blake yanked a pitch down the line. High….deep…it is foul! The umpire called it a foul ball even when it was clearly fair from Blake’s vantage point. What could’ve been for Blake! 

Or maybe Blake’s child was scarred by a missed call. Maybe lil Blakey dropped a ball at second base in what would’ve led to a game-saving double-play. If only there was video replay, dad Blake thought. Then they would’ve seen Junior drop it on the exchange! It was the exchaaaaaange!

A second theory: an umpire absolutely could’ve been the one who first planted the seed of video replay. Exhausted from inexhaustible parents. A set of headphones might be just the buffer umps needed from the rage that is a parent who thinks their child has been screwed over in what must be the least significant way imaginable. 

Maybe the ump thought, Replay’s just easier. Why be the target? I don’t need this shit. 


My silly, “based on a true story” imaginings are an attempt to laugh off the genuine frustration. A Little League rule should not stick in my side like this video replay has for the past week. Really, I shouldn’t care. I’m on family leave taking care of Charlie, our 3-month old baby girl. I’ve got much better things to do with my time, like push a stroller down every street, avenue, boulevard, and cul-du-sac within a four-mile radius. And yet…

The issue isn’t the intention— ‘getting it right,’ as is often the chorus—but rather what ‘it’ deserves our attention and energy. The problem with video replay can be found in the grammar of it all. Beyond pronouns and antecedents, my argument comes down to nouns and verbs. 

A play versus playing.

In sports, when parents age out of the verb part of speech—playing—many can become hyper focused on the noun— (a) play. In some respects, it’s understandable; the noun is all we have left! But the joy, the magic of Little League is in the verb, more specifically (and to the delight of grammar teachers everywhere) the present participle. The continuous tense of the verb: play-ing. Especially in a game in which the action pauses after every pitch, we have to keep it moving forward whenever possible in the youth version of the game. 

Experiencing the rhythm of a well-played baseball game is a difficult thing to learn as a kid, but once you do, it’s a wonderful choreography to take part in and share with teammates and opponents alike. It’s similar to learning how to play in a school band. Yes, mistakes happen all of the time, but it’s a lot harder to know the feeling of being in the pocket—the real joy of finding that rhythm— if you’re stopping every 12 bars for the conductor to review whether or not the rhythm section is rushing or the trumpets are out of tune. The same can be said for a game that’s adding breaks for video review. 

These replays aren’t rare either. The best intel I could find comes from Diane Pucin’s story in the LA Times back in 2011: replay was used 18 times during the 10-day 2011 LLWS. It’s hard to believe it’s any less than 18 times a decade later. 

The Little League World Series is the purest version of baseball you could ever hope to watch. Lamade Stadium might be the most beautiful baseball field on earth. They have that flat-roofed grandstand reminiscent of the minor league parks from the 1940s, and real dugouts, and the hill in centerfield where the kids watching the game slide down on cardboard. There’s a joy in watching a 12 year-old hit a homer or make a diving catch that’s impossible to muster for a professional making $20,000,000 a year. So it offends me when adults can’t stop themselves from futzing with something as damn near perfect as the Little League World Series in the spirit of ‘getting it right’. 

Should umpires, parents, coaches and Little League work to get calls correct? Yes. Of course it matters who wins, and some plays are no doubt tipping points in games, but I’d rather live with the call on the field. What’s stalled —the verb, the continuous tense—is ultimately more important to the overall joy of playing baseball. 

At such a young age, baseball— the game of failure—should feel endless in opportunity. Next pitch, next at bat, next inning, next game, next year. Stopping a game to analyze one play feels backwards to what Little League is at its best. 

This isn’t a “parents are the worst” column. The path to a parent taking a Little League game way too seriously is completely understandable. They put so much time, energy, miles, and money into allowing the opportunity for their kids to experience success and the positive power of baseball. And then, against all odds—holy shit!—their kids are a game or two away from playing in the Little League World Series. A truly rare life experience. One bad call, and one obvious solution, and I can see how our Blake, and all the Blakes out there would think, Why not? Cameras are already at the game, for chrissake. 

Who knows? Charlie has been around for less than a season; maybe I’m a Blake in waiting and I don’t know it yet. We’ll have to wait to find out. Until then, let’s ditch the video replay in Little League and spend time on the -ing of it all. That’s where the magic is found. 

– Phil Lang, 08/25/21