Week of December 3, 2021


The College Football Arms Race Just Went Nuclear

The amount of money in college football, whether it is spent on facilities or coaches or food, while players remain unpaid for their brain-destroying labor, has long been obscene. But the last week or so got wild.

Michigan State extended its coach, Mel Tucker, to a 10-year, $95 million contract. To be clear; this is Tucker’s third season as a head coach. His records are: 5-7 (at Colorado), 2-5, and 10-2. That’s a combined 12-7. $100M. At Michigan State. Ok.

Well, Tucker evidently set the market. Because over the weekend, USC went out and hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. A coup in and of itself. But the amount USC committed is staggering:

10 years, $110M. Plus $1M for the Oklahoma homes, $6M for his new home, and unlimited use of a private jet. WOW. 

Editor’s Note: The Oklahoma houses thing has been debunked but I still think it’s funny so I am leaving it there.

And then LSU hired Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame, for a reported 10 years, $95M. 

And baby, we are just getting started. How will Oklahoma and Notre Dame respond? What will they pay? And what will the teams they pull from pay to their next coach? It’s wild. And it’s kind of insane. And very gross. 

I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled that USC might become USC again, but ultimately it’s probably good for west coast football and the Pac-12. The conference hasn’t had a team make the playoffs since 2016 and it hasn’t really had a team get close. The playoff and social media also seems to have greatly changed recruiting – Oklahoma, Ohio State and the SEC now routinely take the vast majority of California’s best players, because those players want to play in the playoff, and those schools are the ones to get you there.

Sometimes, you need a great program to raise the tide for all boats. Plus, they are fun to hate. Eff SC, ya know. -TOB


Peng Shuai

The following is a tough and sad story, but a great example of the power of a team of journalists pursuing all the angles. 

The lede, ℅ Amy Qin and Paul Mozer: 

When the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top leader of sexual assault earlier this month, the authorities turned to a tried-and-true strategy. At home, the country’s censors scrubbed away any mention of the allegations. Abroad, a few state-affiliated journalists focused narrowly on trying to quash concerns about Ms. Peng’s safety.

First and foremost, there is what has been accused, and there is Ms. Peng’s safety (there is some debate as to where she currently is and the Women’s Tennis Association has tried and failed to communicate with Shuai without the government). The ramifications of this story ripple globally.  The Winter Olympics, in Beijing, is fast-approaching, and the W.T.A. has just suspended all tournaments in China. 

Many feel this conference call with the IOC was staged with Beijing no doubt overseeing it.

Closer to home, fans are finding ways around the censorship. In another story from the NY Times, Amy Chang Chien and Alexandra Stevenson reported:

 To evade the censors, Chinese tennis fans have started to use obscure references to call more attention to Ms. Peng’s silence. Instead of identifying her Chinese name and specifying the details of her allegations, some people have used vague references like “a tennis player” and “the spat.”

There was a seemingly unrelated post about art that used the expression “hitting an egg against a rock.” It echoed a line in Ms. Peng’s original allegation, in which she wrote that going up against someone as powerful as Mr. Zhang was like “hitting a rock with an egg.”

While the Chinese government’s approach to problematic statements in the past has been to simply make them (and the people who make them) disappear from its state-run internet, they can’t do that so cleanly with Ms. Peng. 

On China’s social media platforms and other digital public squares, the censors’ meticulous work has left almost no sign that Ms. Peng had ever accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. Like a museum to a previous reality, her social media account remains, without new updates or comments.

These tactics have worked for China in the past, at least at home. In recent years, officials have relied on heavy censorship and a nationalistic narrative of Western meddling to deflect blame for issues including the outbreak of Covid-19 and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

This time, though, the #MeToo accusation from a lauded and patriotic athlete implicating a top leader has no simple solution from Beijing’s propaganda toolbox. Any new narrative would most likely have to acknowledge the allegations in the first place and require the approval of top Chinese leaders.

And in a third NY Times story, Matthew Futterman shed light on the man at the helm of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, and why he and his league were willing to take a stance against China (and its money) in a way no other sport has done, including the N.B.A.:

Simon’s refusal to accept China’s authoritarian stance on human rights once it directly affected one of his players stands in stark contrast to several high-profile leaders in sports who have repeatedly bent to the desires of the Chinese, including Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

Simon has been concerned about Peng’s physical safety but also believed, as did the members of his player council and others he communicates with regularly in a player chat group, that the silencing of Peng and her sexual assault allegation amounted to a direct attack on the principle of equality upon which the WTA was founded.

Excellent work by The New York Times. All three stories are worth a read. – PAL 

Sources: China’s Silence on Peng Shuai Shows Limits of Beijing’s Propaganda,” Amy Qun & Paul Mozer (11/30/21); “‘Where is **?’: Fans in China Elude Censors to Talk About Peng Shuai,” Amy Chang Chein & Alexandra Stevenson (12/02/21); “Putting Principles Before Profits, Steve Simon Takes a Stand,” Matthew Futterman, (12/02/21)


A Reminder: Don’t Trust the Billionaires

This week, the MLB owners locked out the players. My buddy Kevin asked me yesterday to explain the lockout like he’s a child, and here’s what I came up with:

“Well, we don’t really know exactly what they’re in disagreement over. But most expect that the players want a salary floor for each teams so teams can’t tank, and a higher luxury tax ceiling so teams will spend more. The teams want the opposite.”

To elaborate, though: this has been building for years. As Michael Baumann succinctly puts it:

Under the just-expired CBA, players generally made more money as their careers progressed: Rookies make the league minimum or close to it; players with three to six years of experience get gradual raises through arbitration; and players with more than six years of service time become free agents. Only these established veterans have the freedoms afforded workers in almost every other sphere of American commerce: the freedom to choose the organizations for which they work and to sign the largest deals they can find.

Basically, there was a wink and a nod going on for years – the teams paid players cheaply until they were about 30, and then pay you a lot if you’re good. Then they got smart and realized – ahhh, we players actually get worse after 30 and we don’t have to pay them so much and salaries flatlined. Consider that Alex Rodriguez got $25.2M per year in 1999, and 20 years later Bryce Harper signed for $25.3M per year. Revenues keep rising, but player salaries are falling behind as a share of revenue. Teams are doing all they can to reduce player earnings:

Teams have refused to promote talented young players specifically in an attempt to delay their free agency. They’ve used artificial salary depression early in players’ careers as leverage to convince those same players to sign away their most lucrative earning years for pennies on the dollar. And teams like the Pirates and Orioles have used the guise of rebuilding as an excuse to run rock-bottom payrolls, lose 100 games a year, and turn a profit by cashing revenue sharing checks. 

So, how is this going to shake out? It’s hard to know. The MLB Players Union is generally the strongest in sports, but workers always have an uphill climb. However, as Baumann points out, they have a strong negotiating tool:

The other major negotiating advantage the union has is that the league wants to expand the playoffs. That’s where the most lucrative TV money is (a league presentation to the union last year put the value of postseason baseball at $787 million in national TV money alone, a number that would only increase with more games), and since players don’t get paid their normal salaries during the postseason, it amounts to almost pure profit for the league. But because a revamped playoff format would represent a change to working conditions, the league needs the union to agree to the change. In exchange, the MLBPA would naturally want the league to make concessions.

If the owners want to expand to 14 playoff teams, as has been floated, they’re going to have to make some concessions. In my opinion, players should fight for fewer years of player control – get players to arbitration and free agency quicker so they can get paid while they’re still in their prime. They also need to fight for a salary floor to avoid tanking and less punishment for exceeding the luxury tax.

However it ends up, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be an annoying winter reading about this. -TOB

Source: All the Questions—and Answers—About the Most Important Details of the MLB Lockout,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/02/2021)


For Klay, An Almost Three-Year Wait is Almost Over, But Not Soon Enough

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 2 ½ years since Klay Thompson last played in an NBA game. When he tore his ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, he had 30 points in the third quarter. Had he not gotten hurt, it’s not outlandish to suggest the Warriors win that game, and perhaps Game 7 as well. But he did and they didn’t. 

About a year and a half later, Klay was working his way back for the start of the 2020-21 season when he tore his achilles. He was 29 the last time he played; he’s almost 32 now. In that time, the Warriors got bad – Steph and Draymond got hurt; Steph and Draymond looked cooked; Kerr seemed to lose the team; they traded for a ball dominant point guard who didn’t mesh with the team, and traded him for a Charmin-soft former #1 pick wing who had largely been seen as a bust; the team drafted a big man who many declared an immediate bust…and then the team suddenly got very good – Steph is better than ever; Draymond, too. They developed young talent, like Jordan Poole, drafted a guy in Jonathan Kuminga who everyone loves, and that soft former #1 pick suddenly looks like a beast. 

At 18-2, the Warriors are the best team in basketball, again, by a wide margin, again. And like an old surprise wrestling visit, you can hear Klay Thompson’s entrance music firing up from backstage, as he’s begun scrimmaging with the team and even playing a rehab stint in the G League. 

But he’s not back yet. And even though he’s close, it’s still difficult for him. Last weekend, after the Warriors beat the Blazers, Klay sat on the bench, a towel draped over his head, for 35 minutes. Here’s Marcus Thompson II, on what Klay has gone through to get here:

He began hunched over in his seat, his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped together as he stared at the hardwood in front of him. The remnants of fans not yet cleared out of the arena began chanting his name. “Thomp-Son! Thomp-Son!” His head nodded to their cadence. He pumped his fist to a yell of “Klay, we love you!” from the rafters, tapped his heart in response to another adoring shout. Eventually, he returned back to still, gazing at the court. Perhaps visualizing himself on that very floor, which he has yet to christen.

You just know he can feel the ball slide through his hands as he transitions from catching to shooting. See the defender flying at him, obscuring his view of the rim and forcing him to rely on technique and muscle memory. You know he can almost taste the adrenaline rush of anticipation as the ball spins in the air.

But he can’t actually experience it. Not yet. It’s still just a vision, one crafted from memories and so profound within Thompson it weighted him down right there on the bench. For 35 minutes, he sat.

This is what it looks like when the thing that gives one purpose is snatched away. For Thompson, it was then placed close enough to smell but too far to grasp. And he is just genuine enough not to hide in these moments. Vulnerable enough to share this aspect of his trying journey. While he may not be doing such intentionally, Thompson’s willingness to be this transparent allows a fan base to suffer with him. And there is no better preparation for his triumphant return than being able to sit with him in his low moments. Mourn with one who mourns, then rejoice with one who rejoices.

The first line of that last paragraph really hits: “This is what it looks like when the thing that gives one purpose is snatched away.” It’s a thought we all can relate to, or at least imagine. For almost three years, Klay has been denied the ability to do the thing he was born and raised to do. To do the thing he loves. He’s been betrayed by his body twice – the same body that made him so great at it. Three years is such a long time, in the prime of his career, too. Hurry back Klay! -TOB

Source: Klay Thompson Has a Vulnerable Moment After Warriors Win,” Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic (11/27/2021)

PAL: Good pick, TOB! I’m back on the Dubs wagon, watching most games, and I can’t wait to see Klay back in action. 2.5 years is a long time to be away from the thing you’re supposed to do. Every story about this guy makes me root harder for him. 


A Round of Golf With Kenny G

Fascinating article. Many of you already know saxophonist Kenny G is a really good golfer (at one point a +1 handicap). In this story, Paul Thomson drew what must have been the best assignment The Ringer handed out in recent history: play a round of golf with Kenny G at the uber exclusive Sherwood Country Club. 

As Thompson highlights, Kenny G approaches his golf in the same manner he approaches his profession: 

For Kenny, the allure of golf is not the pressure of those high-stakes situations—the reactivation of nerves that would inevitably dull after thousands of live performances—but the monastic approach to practice that it requires. Kenny practices his saxophone, without fail, for more than three hours every morning, working on specific aspects of his playing each time: tonguing one day, hitting perfect high notes the next. 

Kenny’s mind does not stop with the tinkering with technique. With his saxophone, the dude still wakes up and practices 3 hours every day…he’s been doing that for 50 friggin’ years. His expectation with the saxophone is perfection; he’s slightly less demanding when it comes to his swing: 

Like any golfer, he says he has realistic expectations for how consistent he can be (“I’m going to hit bad shots—the pros hit a lot of bad shots”); also like any golfer, his voice suggests he doesn’t quite believe this.

And finally, after decades of playing at incredible clubs and with pretty much every famous person, he’s got stories to tell. 

He also tells an incredible story about Tiger Woods: Once, Tiger and Kenny were playing here when Tiger, who had reached a green under regulation, missed what appeared to be a half-hearted putt. When Kenny asked if Tiger had missed it on purpose, the superstar admitted he had. “He said he doesn’t like to make eagles on practice days,” Kenny recalls, shaking his head at the embarrassment of riches.

Such a fun read, and I can’t wait to watch the new Kenny G doc on HBO. – PAL 

Source:Kenny G in Deep Concentration,” Paul Thompson, The Ringer (12/02/21)


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Week of November 19, 2021

This is the first time I’ve felt like going to the zoo in decades.

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again…

Hey, uh. The Warriors are 10-1, with the lone loss coming in OT, and an absolutely outrageous point differential of 13.6 (Edit: Since I wrote this, they are now 13-2  with a point differential of 13.7). And they are about to get Klay Thompson back, who hasn’t played in 2 ½ years. Steph is doing Steph things,, Draymond seems rejuvenated, the young guys who got all that p/t in 2020 are seeing the benefits of that experience (especially Poole), and this team suddenly looks like the best (and most fun) team in the NBA once again. As Chris Thompson writes:

Now they appear to be one of the very best teams in basketball with Jordan damn Poole second on the squad in usage. Imagine adding any conceivable game-ready version of Klay Thompson to this! Bringing Klay back into the fold will, I’m sure, require some patience and fine-tuning, but the team’s already good vibes should immediately shoot through the roof. With a core that has always drawn so much juice from raw vibes, that makes for a thrilling, terrifying possible future. And that’s just any ambulatory version of Thompson. Imagine if he gets back to doing Klay Thompson shit! The mind reels.

More on Steph, though. Here are his last 6 games:

That is NINE 3-pointers made in 4 of his last 6 games, with games of 50, 40, 37, and 40 points. He’s the greatest show in sports. Watch what he made this opposing fan do:

(That, “Oh, ohhh” is my 7-year old, kneeling at the Church of Curry)

Future generations will truly not understand what a wonder he is. We are so lucky to get to see him play. 

Meanwhile, 90 miles up the road:

Cool, cool. 

-TOB

Source: Imagine Adding Klay Thompson To This!Chris Thompson, Defector (11/09/2021)

PAL: My wife is starting to ask if the Warriors are playing tonight, so you know they are back to being so friggin’ entertaining to watch. I really don’t know what else to say about Steph. It’s just so fun to watch when he’s on fire. 

I also love Gary Payton II. Dude comes off the bench, seems to immediately get 2 steals and 6 points in 4 minutes of play. He’s a menace. 


Barefoot Badasses 

This story about a softball team made up of Mayan women is a reminder of the good side of sports. So often I can become too focused on what bothers me about a game or league—be it the politics, business, or the ineptitude of favorite teams—that it’s nice to be reminded of the power within simply playing a game. 

Adam Williams’ story gives the backstory on the Las Diablillas softball team and the growing popularity of softball amongst indigenous women in Mexico.  

The women play barefoot (they prefer it, since they are usually barefoot and cleats just give them blisters) and wear their traditional Mayan dresses. What started as a community idea for the women to get a bit of exercise in the afternoon has become somewhat of a national sensation, playing games in stadiums with thousands of fans to see the spectacle. More importantly, the game has helped change the perception of a woman’s role within the community. 

“When I first started playing, the men in my family said jokes and comments like ‘You’re just wasting your time playing softball,’” said Alvi Yajaira Diaz Poot, who plays several positions for the Amazonas. “Now when I come home from games they are eager to know how the game went and even bring me something to drink.”

And best of all, playing softball has helped the women see themselves in a different light. 

“As we have improved on the field, my life has improved as well,” said Alicia Canul Dzib, who plays second base and pitches for the Diablillas. “I used to really only leave the house to help my husband with our crops. Now, thanks to softball, I have permission to leave the house, enjoy myself with friends and visit new towns. It motivates me to keep playing and set an example for my daughter.”

An excellent read, with phenomenal photos from Marian Carrasquero, that will remind you of the power of a game. – PAL 
Source: “An Indigenous Women’s Softball Team Beats Opponents, and Machismo,” Adam Williams, The NY Times (11/17/21)


Brandon Crawford: A Decent Shortstop

Brandon Crawford won the Gold Glove this year, at age 34. That is pretty dang impressive. To celebrate it, Grant Brisbee utilized Baseball Savant to watch every single play Crawford made this season. He then highlighted the best – whether they were flashy or routine – that Crawford made this year. This isn’t from Brisbee’s article, but it’s a taste:

I love this article because, like those who argue dumbly against Buster Posey as a Hall of Famer, there are some players you need to see everyday in order to understand their brilliance. Crawford is one of those. One of my favorite Twitter follows this past season was Susan Slusser. She had been a beat writer for the A’s for years, but began covering the Giants this season. It seemed like every single night she would express her amazement at how good Brandon Crawford is.

And he’s really great. Watching him play shortstop is a joy. I promise you, I texted friends this season about plays made by Crawford more than anyone else. It was fun to relive those moments in this article. And, to top it off, he finished 4th in the NL MVP voting, receiving the third most first place votes. -TOB

Source: The Defensive Genius of Brandon Crawford’s Gold Glove Season,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (11/08/2021)

PAL: Of all the games I’ve gone to with TOB, no other player in the field has induced more slow head shakes, as in, “Damn, that’s so goddamn good.”The plays he makes look so easy are so, so, so hard. The other variable lost on tv is this: a lot of these guys in the bigs can really get down the line, so everything has to be perfect in order to make the plays he makes all of the time.


Reason #1,459 To Not Gamble

Not a big racetrack guy, but I can appreciate this one. At some big Breeder’s Cup race that a lot of people gamble on, there was a bit of a mess at the starting gate. One horse, Albahr, flipped over and got stuck under the gate. Big delay, and that horse was scratched from the race. So, too, was the horse next to Albahr, Modern Games. So a bettor who picked either of those horses could not win. Tough break, right?

Except Modern Games did race, and the result was way worse than you could expect. I’ll leave it to Dan McQuade to explain: 

The vet had been told, incorrectly, that Modern Games had broken through the starting gate. But the decision to exclude the horses had been made and so both were removed from betting pools.

That ruling stood about four minutes. After some discussion, it was announced Modern Games would return to the race, but would only run for purse money. The horse was briefly entered back into the betting, then removed again, and then the race started. It is important to note: Modern Games would’ve been the favorite in the race, winning three of his five starts coming into the race. Well, he made it four in six. Crossing the finish line first, to a chorus of boos, was Modern Games!

There were many reasons gamblers were booing. Bettors who picked the winning horse saw their horse win the race, but only got a refund on their bets. It was worse for gamblers with multi-race bets: In scenarios where a horse in a parlay bet is scratched, the bettor simply receives the favorite in place of it. The favorite for the race in the end was Dakota Gold at 8–1. That horse finished 5th. The winner for gambling purposes was Tiz The Bomb, who technically finished second. So gamblers who correctly picked Modern Games to win the race on those bets saw their horse win but their ticket lose. This shifted millions of dollars’ worth of bets.

Yikes. I would’ve booed, too. – PAL 

Source: Breeders’ Cup Fiasco Ruins Bettors’ Friday Night,” Dan McQuade, Defector (11/07/21)


Free Offensive Linemen!

Honestly, I have never understood the rule in football that offensive lineman can’t be receivers. Why make the game less exciting? If you’re not aware, there is a rule that an offensive lineman who is not an eligible receiver (which is almost always all of them) cannot be the first person to touch a forward pass. It’s a dumb rule that came into play last week on Thursday Night Football.

I have some experience with this. In JV football, I played offensive line. One game, we called a screen pass. I was supposed to half block my guy, then let him go by so that he (and the other defenders) would think they’d crush the QB, only for the QB to throw the ball over their heads to the waiting running back, who would then have a convoy of blockers in front of him. After getting “beat” I was supposed to wait until I heard the call from the running back to begin heading upfield.

On this play, though, I let my guy go by and then waited…and waited. My internal clock began to go off and I turned my head to see what was going on. As I did, I saw the ball floating right to me. Our QB had made a terrible pass, and it was to me. So I caught it and did the only thing that made sense – I ran upfield.

In that moment I appreciated the vision and awareness required to be a ball carrier. Because in a football helmet, your peripheral vision is narrow. After I caught the bell and began to run, the field was wide open. I legitimately thought I was going to score a 50-yard touchdown. Instead, after probably 15 yards, I was suddenly cut down by a tackle from my right side. 

I actually knew the rule, even at 15, that I was not supposed to touch the ball. But it was coming right to me and I thought in that split second, oh what the hell. I’m glad I did – even after they announced the penalty, my coach ran over to me to celebrate. I didn’t quite do what that Dolphins OL did, but for one moment, I thought I was going to score – and that was pretty cool. 

-TOB


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PAL: Brad Johnson is a HUGE human.

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Week of November 5, 2021


Man, I’m Gonna Miss That Guy

Buster Posey announced his retirement this week. Posey was coming off his best season in at least seven years. He won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, after sitting out the short 2020 season to protect his newborn twins from COVID-19. Posey had been the mainstay of this Giants era – the Posey Era. He was the rock, ever present. He caught three World Series winning games. He caught no-hitters and a perfect game. He won the 2010 Rookie of the Year and the 2012 MVP. If I had to guess, he sold more jerseys in the Bay Area than any player, ever. His jerseys were everywhere, for a decade. 

When I read the news he was retiring. I was at my desk and said aloud, “What the fuck.” It was shocking. It really was. Buster Posey…retiring? How is that possible? For a baseball player, his career was short – just ten full seasons. But that is life for a catcher. 

As a kid, Buster Posey retiring would have been devastating to me, because I’d miss seeing him behind the plate. But as you get older your reaction to the world around you changes. Instead of being devastated, Posey’s retirement is just the latest event that makes me realize, “Wow, I am actually getting old.” When he was a rookie, I was 28, and I loved Posey. Then I got married, had kids…and now my kids love Posey. And now he’s retired.

Mostly, I am happy for him. Playing catcher is brutal on a body, and Posey’s body has been through a lot, including a shattered leg in 2011 and numerous hip surgeries. I can’t imagine how much pain he must go through to get ready for each season, or even each game. So I am happy that he made his choice and that he is going out on top. We won’t have to sadly watch him roll over grounder after grounder to second base and barely jog down the line to first. Instead, I got to see him go out like this, in person.

Still. I’m not ready. I’m just not. As Grant Brisbee put it: 

You weren’t ready for the idea of a graying Posey ambling out to throw out a first pitch, or the idea of him as a gum-chewing manager in another uniform. You weren’t ready for a Giants team without him, and neither was anybody else. But the shock will fade, the sadness will dull and the memories will push through. One second, there was a baseball player in Tallahassee, and another second the Giants were the envy of baseball for close to a decade.

I am going to miss the way Posey would look up at the batter before calling his signs. I will miss Twitter exploding with the Ain’t Havin It gif every time he threw out a runner. 

I will miss him walking off the field on a called strike three before the umpire even makes the call. 

I will miss him driving an outside pitch to the right-center gap. And damn, I will miss the Buster Hugs.

The Giants will have a new catcher in 2022. We don’t know now who that is. But we do know that there will only be one Buster Posey. Man. I am really gonna miss that guy. -TOB

Source: Buster Posey’s Career Was Like No Other in Giants History,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (11/03/2021)

PAL: Two thoughts. The first: I was shocked when I first heard the news. He hit .300 this year! He’s just 34! And then I came to my senses. He’s won three titles. A M.V.P., a Gold Glove, a batting title. He made $160M in baseball, not counting endorsements and investment (including an early investment in Body Armor, which Coke just paid $6B to acquire). 

Above all, he and his wife have two sets of twins. If he’s accomplished all he wants to playing baseball, and has more money than he could spend, and the body is starting to bark, why the hell hang on! For whom? For what? As awesome as it sounds, being a professional baseball player and traveling for 6 months out of the year has to be hard on a family, especially with young kiddos. 

Thought two: Buster was everything Joe Mauer was not, even when their career stats are pretty similar (especially when you take away Mauer’s years as at first base). Growing up in Minnesota, Mauer was a local legend not long after he became a teenager. He gets drafted by his hometown team, wins three (!) batting titles, Gold Gloves, and M.V.P. An absolutely incredibly talented catcher. Loved by all. Hell, he probably is a not-so-small reason the Twins get Target Field built…and yet his career feels insignificant because of his playoff story. He had exactly one extra-base hit in 10 playoff games, all of which were Twins’ losses. He never had a moment that I’d just come to expect from Posey in his playoff runs. Moments like this: 

Or this playoff granny against the Reds: 

Buster is a legend. One of the best right-handed swings. Great catcher, framer, thrower, and clutch hitter. All-time great team runs like the Giants had from 2010-2014 can only happen with someone like Posey at the center of it all. – PAL 

TOB: A few more Buster thoughts. The HOF Discourse is already in full force. And the two camps seem to be: Yes, he’s obvious Hall of Famer and No, his numbers aren’t there. If you are in the first group you are smart and handsome and obviously right. If you are in the second group you never saw Buster play, you’re ignorant, your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

Because if Buster Posey is not a Hall of Famer, no catcher can be. It’s a brutal position that saps years off a player’s career. As noted above, Posey lost two full seasons and had many more diminished due to injury and general wear and tear. But look at how good Posey was, throughout his entire career, when he was on the field.

Yes, the second most valuable position player over that time, behind Mike Trout. And if you look on a per at bat basis, while the gap between Trout and Posey is big, the gap between Posey and Votto at #3 is almost as large. Counting stats do not tell the story of Buster Posey. Not even close.

Posey did more than hit, though. As Phil said, he did everything a catcher has to do, and he did it great. Grant Brisbee had another article this week that I really enjoyed, highlighting a few less memorable moments where Posey did something incredible. Read the article, and also check this throw behind Justin Turner. Incredible.

Also, I just wanted to drop this in, because it will make me laugh every time forever:


Nice Guy Finishes First – Excellent Freddie Freeman Story

I’ll never have love for the Braves. My fan apex – the 1991 World Series – pitted my Twins against the Atlanta Braves. Blame Mark Lemke, or Terry Pendelton and his stupid double-flap batting helmet. Blame Steve Avery or Ron Gant; blame them all. Even with the Twins winning it, the sports hate that was forged during that 7-game series just can’t be undone. 

With that qualifier, the Braves Freddie Freeman sure seems like a good dude. This story from Tyler Kepner details where Freeman’s sterling reputation as a leader, MVP, and all-around quality person came from: his mom, Rosemary.

Rosemary died of melanoma in 2000. Freddie was 10. After the Braves won the World Series earlier this week, it was a time to reflect. 

Per Kepner: 

He felt like, to honor his mom, he had to be a great kid,” his father, Fred Freeman, said on the Minute Maid Park infield late Tuesday night, after Atlanta finished off the Houston Astros, 7-0, in Game 6. “That was it. When he was 10, that’s what he decided he was going to be. He always said, ‘I know mom’s watching.’”

And while that’s an incredibly sweet, if not sentimental idea, it’s also a pretty heavy burden to carry from the age of 10. Living up to something like seems like it could zap some of the joy from a guy, but that doesn’t feel like the case with Freeman.

“Believe me, I wish I was able to hug my mom on that field,” Freeman said. “But I know she’s up with my grandma right now, jumping up and down.”

When asked how Rosemary wouldn’ve reacted after Freddie and the Braves turned a sub-.500 team at the All-Star break into a championship, Freeman’s brother said this: 

“She’d be the first one on that field, running out to bearhug him right now,” Andrew said. “She did everything for us. She didn’t know baseball, so she bought ‘Baseball for Dummies’ to know how to do this thing. She would always wear our buttons — she was the ‘Button Mom’ in Little League — and to think that if she was here today, oh my gosh. It would be absolutely amazing.”

As I grow older, I am given more and more reasons to remember that – hey – we don’t know these dudes playing a game on our TVs. People that seem like good guys can be terrible people, and gruff athletes can turn out to be golden, and most are a mixture of both. Having said that, it’s still fun to read about good people winning. – PAL 

Source: ”The Heart and Soul of a Franchise Shines Through,” Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (11/04/21)


Loving an Addict

As you might remember, former Hawaii football star Colt Brennan died earlier this year of a drug overdose. Usually when someone famous dies that way, the family tries to keep the details under wraps. But the Brennan family lived with and loved an addict for many years, and they are making their son’s struggles, and their struggles, an open book. In this article in Sports Illustrated, the family talks about Colt and his demons. Here’s the lede:

Colt Brennan’s parents were in Mexico for a wedding on a Saturday in early May when they started worrying about him again. A friend who fed their pets while they were away had been surprised to find a backpack in their foyer and heard music coming from somewhere inside the house. Colt’s parents called and texted him. He didn’t answer.

That Sunday, Colt’s last day alive, Betsy and Terry Brennan flew back to their home in the hills above Orange County, where a sign by the door announces ALOHA! Inside, they heard noise coming from the kitchen and found their 37-year-old son sprawled across a small sofa. Drunk and high, watching TV, he was surrounded by two bottles of vodka, some beer cans and several nitrous oxide containers.

Betsy groaned. Not again.

Colt, one of college football’s all-time great quarterbacks—and one of the game’s truly beloved figures—had struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. He tried everything to get sober, and then, recently, seemed to get there. To those close to him, in the few months before his parents returned, he appeared as healthy as he’d been in a decade.

Back in Irvine, though, Terry guided Colt to his SUV and drove off. Father and son didn’t speak. The silence felt like a scream. Overwhelmed with emotion, Terry wanted to cry, to “kick his ass,” to hold his son—to do whatever he could to stop the thing that kept driving Colt back to this. The sun was setting. Terry didn’t know where to go or what to do. He wondered, as so many addicts’ parents and families and friends have at some point, maybe many times over: Is this ever going to end?

As a parent, it’s truly heartbreaking – reading about Colt’s addictions, rehabs, relapses, and everything he went through and his family went through alongside him. I highly recommend it.

Source: They Did Everything, But Nothing Could Ever Save Him,” Brandon Sneed, Sports Illustrated (11/01/2021)


Teams That Try to Win Do Win and Winning is Good

The Atlanta Braves won the World Series this week. I was kinda rooting for Dusty to finally get one, but there are also lots of former Giants on the Braves’ roster (Pablo [sorta], Will Smith, Adam Duvall, Steven Vogt, Adrianza) plus lots of other dudes I love (Albies, Freeman, and, although injured, Acuna), so this was a fine result. Plus, ya know, it wasn’t the Dodgers. The Braves won with a starting outfield acquired, entirely, at the trade deadline: Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler. They acquired reliever Richard Rodriguez and Vogt in July, too. At the deadline, they were 52-54. But they went for it. They closed 36-19 and then beat the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros and never faced an elimination game while doing it. Not bad. As Zach Kram wrote, “Atlanta wasn’t the majors’ best team from April to September; it wasn’t all that close. It merely tried to win, and then it did. That’s a reason for a trophy, and for the other 29 clubs to take note.”

Similarly, but in another sport, the Los Angeles Rams are trying to win. The Rams are tied for the best record in the NFC, with Green Bay and Arizona, at 7-1. And they just traded a 2022 draft pick in order to get Von Miller, a good but not great pass rusher. The Rams first pick in the 2022 draft won’t be until the fifth round. But to give up those picks, they got guys like Jalen Ramsey and Matt Stafford and now Von Miller. 

Of course, the Rams haven’t won the Super Bowl. But the Rams, like the Braves, have realized that so many teams are tanking, or “building for the future” that it’s not that hard to win right now these days, if you just try. As Kevin Clark writes regarding the Rams:

Through the years, I’ve come to learn how few teams are trying to win a championship each season. A few years ago, a smart NFL person estimated that only 10 or so teams were actively trying to win the Super Bowl in any given season. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said on the Flying Coach podcast the number is about five, and that the other teams are trying to survive. In his new book on the Patriots dynasty, It’s Better to Be Feared, Seth Wickersham writes that Jimmy Johnson told Bill Belichick that if you just get out of the way, 20 teams will remove themselves from competition. Job preservation, saving some money, and not doing anything too weird that’ll get you noticed are guiding principles in many front offices. This trade might be the new normal for the 12 or so teams that haven’t removed themselves from competition. This is what trying to win looks like in 2021, and it applies not just to the Rams, but to every team trying to have a Super Bowl roster.

It’s an interesting point – so many front offices have decided to take the longview that you can differentiate yourself by trying to take a short view: pay less to win now, worry about later, well, later. It’s a Moneyball tact, and as a fan, I like it. -TOB

Source: Atlanta Used One Simple Trick to Win a Shocking World Series Championship,” Zach Kram, The Ringer (11/03/2021); The Rams Keep Carving Their Own Path in the NFL Roster Arms Race,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (11/04/2021)

PAL: Great combo summary, TOB. “Very few teams are trying to win a championship each season.” That’s insane and feels about right. How about this stat from the Kram story:

In the playoffs, the outfield quartet combined for a .270/.339/.505 batting line. In other words, against the higher-caliber pitching of the postseason, Atlanta’s four new outfielders were collectively as productive at the plate as Manny Machado or Nelson Cruz were in the regular season.

Less we forget, anything really can happen, especially in the playoffs. You never know, so why not go for it, like the Braves did, when you even have a small chance at winning.

More articulately put:

Try at the deadline, reach the postseason, and it’s possible to upset three superior rosters in a row, as Atlanta did against the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros. In a short series, Freeman can homer off Josh Hader, and Tyler Matzek can transform into Mariano Rivera circa 1996, and the lineups’ performance with runners in scoring position can both shift in one team’s favor.

The more we see tanking across major sports, the more I think it’s as much about front office job preservation as anything else. More than anything, I think just wants a team to try to win. That’s not to say a team should always leverage a future for the present, but the tanking is too much and too often bears out too little.


Sometimes I Am Reminded that Most Sports Punditry is Very Bad, A Rant

The Braves won the World Series in Game 6, by a score of 7-0. It was a snoozefest, as they jumped out to an early lead on a gigantic home run from Jorge Soler.

It left the freakin building. It reminded everyone of Pujols’ huge home run against Brad Lidge back in 2005. After the home run, the Astros went down quietly. But the media narrative after the game was that Soler’s 3-run homer, in the third inning, took the wind out of the Astros’ sails. That it killed their spirit. That there was no turning back. I heard or read this multiple times, including by KNBR’s Tom Tolbert, who I really like.

But I am here to tell you that this narrative is b.s. It’s not true. And you only have to look back one single game to prove it. Because this is how Game 5 began, in the first inning:

That is a Grand Slam, people. The Astros, facing elimination, were in a 4-0 hole in the first inning. Did they go down quietly? Uh, no.

Over the next 8 innings, the Astros outscored the Braves 8-1, and staved off elimination in a 9-5 win. So why, one game later, do people think a 3-run homer in the third inning crushed the Astros’ spirits? They’re just wrong, trying to write a narrative where there was none. The real story is that Soler’s homer was huge, as any 3-run homer in the playoffs is, and the Braves pitching staff pitched their tails off. That’s it. -TOB


TOB With a Statement About Aaron Rodgers

Yes, I am aware of rumors and stories about Aaron Rodgers and COVID-19. No, I am not going to defend him (yet). I am “doing my own research.” This is a personal decision and I ask that you respect that as I come to my own conclusions. I will take no questions at this time. Thank you. -TOB

PAL: Readers! I found tape of TOB practicing his closing arguments for Cal’s own Aaron Rodgers:


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Mr. Parkinson would be appalled if he knew how Mr. Fox was behaving.

Larry David

Week of October 29, 2021


Don’t Stop Dreaming

Most of you recognize the name Alex Honnold. He climbed El Capitan without a rope. Nearly as impressive is his mom’s achievement. At 70, Dierdre Wolownick climbed El Cap (with a rope). 

More incredible, she took up rock climbing in her 60s. Not in the 1960s, but rather  in her seventh decade. Her story, which is a part of the NY Times “It’s Never Too Late” Series, is the inspiration some of you might be looking for while perusing our humble little side project of a digest. 

As Tim Neville captures, the first half of her life was filled with wonderful, albeit “sedentary and cerebral”. In her interview with Neville, she describes the circumstances of her late start in climbing. 

How did you try it?

About 10 years ago, Alex was home with an injury so I asked him to take me to the climbing gym. I figured I’d get to know the equipment and climb halfway up the wall and come home and be happy. I got on the first climb and went all the way up, about 45 feet, and I was totally surprised I had no fear whatsoever. So I did 12 more climbs that day and loved it.

What was your life like before that?

Total turmoil. My husband, Charles, fell over dead at 55 in the Phoenix airport one month after I had divorced him and I became the executor of his estate. My father had just died and I was dealing with his estate, too. Alex had almost died while snowshoeing in 2004 when he was 19. So I started running, little by little, and wound up becoming a runner. There was nothing in life I was doing for me and running was for me. Climbing turned out to be the same, an escape, but it took courage.

How did you overcome the challenges to climb?

Climbing is very physical and there’s so much to learn about the equipment, the physics, the angles — everything.

I was just a lumpy old middle age woman completely taken with jobs and chores. I was scared, too, and sometimes you need a little help to do something totally new and alien to you. But after a month or two I had had enough conversations with myself and so I said, OK, today, you’re not going home after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing gym. And I did. It became a routine. Climbing was like a key opening this lifelong door. It was wonderful.

Such a cool one. Read the full story and check out more incredible photos from Aubrey Trinnaman. – PAL

Source: “It’s Never Too Late to Climb That Mountain,” Tim Neville, The New York Times (10/26/21) 


This Mark Davis Story: Hilarious and Right On and Creepy

“Norman Bates presented as an unthreatening goof, too.”

This is a story about a backpack. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag, and who also has this haircut.

I’ve read this story three times now. Albert Burneko writes the hell out of a story about a backpack. And, in this situation, a backpack is disturbing. 

Do not make the category mistake of finding this image relatable. Mark Davis can afford, ten thousand times over, to have very skilled and sleek professionals carry his bags for him; to have all of the items that might go into a backpack attended to with great care and minimal friction and zero personal involvement on his part, so that he can glide effortlessly from the lobby of the building to a waiting vehicle; to do this clad in other than remaindered Las Vegas Raiders team merchandise. He could have all of that with little more than a snap of his fingers; the very rich in America do not even have to arrange these things for themselves (and frequently do not even have to actually pay for them). Choosing this, instead—choosing, that is, to lug his own gigantic backpack and suit bag, instead of cashing in a virtually nonexistent portion of his wealth and prestige to purchase a level of ease infinitely beyond the reach of a normal person—is the equivalent of that normal person willingly choosing to walk out of their hotel clad only in a paper grocery bag with leg-holes kicked into the bottom of it, with all their material possessions clutched in their arms, and then stand at the curb attempting to thumb a ride to their destination. That may be an understatement. It might be the equivalent of a normal person denying themselves the luxury of inhaling. The normal person who did that would not be normal or relatable. They would be bizarre and disturbing.

Burneko goes on. It’s a quick and excellent read. Mark Davis may look like many a dads who got off the “caring how I look” train many stops ago, but that is not what’s going on here. – PAL  

Source: Mark Davis, Big Backpack Guy,” Albert Burneko, Defector (10/27/21)


“That’s kind of what I do: basketball and bass fishing.”

Luke Lowe is the first college basketball player I’ve heard of that entered the transfer portal in search of a new team…and better fishing. He transferred from William & Mary to the University of Minnesota (or, as all of us commonly refer to it, the U). In fishing circles Lowe  has been known as a standout fisher long before he was considered a stellar college basketball player, winning state and national fishing tournaments. 

Per Marcus Fuller:

Playing in the Big Ten was a plus for Loewe, but returning to his Midwest roots as an aspiring pro fisherman was a top priority as well.

“There are a lot of great opportunities up here,” said Loewe, a Fond du Lac, Wis., native. “A lot of great fishermen. I’ve been connecting with some of the better anglers around Minnesota, which has been cool.”

Lowe turned himself into a legit college player at William & Mary. After averaging below 2 points per game during his freshman year, he became into a defensive stopper on the perimeter, a 40 percent 3-point shooter, and averaged over 16 a game by his fourth season. 

Pair the new NIL rules for college athletes with Lowes fishing youtube channel, and the dude just might have a nice little social media niche. Classic local newspaper story right here. – PAL 

Source: “Luke Loewe’s transfer to Gophers means more bass and buckets for the avid fisherman,” Marcus Fuller, The Star Tribune (10/26/21)


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Klay is awesome. He commutes to work on a boat, has a cool dog, and he can take a joke. – PAL

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Week of October 22, 2021

Phil reading texts about former Twin Eddie Rosario

The Perfect Overtime

I know, I know; playoff baseball is happening, and former Twin, Eddie Rosario—who was terrible for the Twins in any big game ever—decided to continue the legacy of former Twins to have big moments in the playoffs (David Ortiz). Stil, I think this story was the best thing I read all week, and it’s about an early-season NHL overtime between the Rangers and the Maple Leafs. 

Barry Petchesky takes a great highlight in a regular season game and creates a broadly compelling story about the challenge of creating an overtime system in a sport for an American audience (ties ain’t gonna fly) that is both entertaining and not a complete departure from the usual game, e.g. shootouts. He thinks hockey just might have found the perfect balance with the 3-on-3 overtime.

He writes, “[i]t’s fun—the same forces that discourage OT from lasting the full five minutes make it a breathless arcade version of the sport. Not quite the real thing, but not a bastardization either: a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation. 

=

The highlight—which is the entire overtime—is incredible. Non-stop action. Great plays, great saves, a blow-for-blow attack. Just a great sports moment that you can’t turn away from once you hit play. That description of an overtime rule—“a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation”— is a great nugget of writing. I get an extra bit of satisfaction when I find a completely random story and get rewarded with a great read. -PAL

Source: Watch This Overtime,” Barry Petchesky, Defector (10/19/21)


Final Grades: Baseball’s Minor League Experiments

After watching the umpires make a bunch of bad ball/strike calls in the Giants/Dodgers series, TOB and I were texting that it just might be time for the robo ump. And then Laz Diaz gave an all-time performance in the Red Sox/Astros game, missing on a playoff high 23 ball/strike calls. The robo umps are already being tested out in lower leagues, so is the sun setting on human umpires calling pitches in a MLB game? 

The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur bring up an important consideration before we jump all the way there with the automated ball-strike system. For one, leagues need to define the zone. Not difficult, you’d think, but there are a lot of variables at play there. One example of these variables: teams providing an accurate height for its players in order for the system to establish the vertical zone). Also, consider this example in the Atlantic League, which went from a 17-inch wide zone (the width of the plate) to a 21-inch zone, making pitch 3 a strike in the graphic below: 

Now, consider that the catcher was set up on the other side of the plate and the pitcher missed location badly. The catcher reaches across his body and stabs at the pitch. The umpire calls it a strike. 

And there there’s the question of a 3-D zone, a 2-D zone, something called a super ellipses zone. It’s not as simple as you might think, all of which leads to the other side of the coin when consider real umps vs. robo umps

Robo umps just make different divisive calls. Even without the traditional “human element,” the strike zone remains a living document. In effect, the old human element of umpires is being replaced by the new human element of MLB executives who are trying to determine which size and shape the strike zone should take. And it’s difficult to take a strict-constructionist stance on what is and isn’t a strike when the zone is repeatedly reconstructed.

The ABS system is just one experiment headed up by MLB this season in an effort to ““increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of games, and reduce player injuries.”

Now that the season is over in the minors and independent leagues, Lindbergh and Arthur took a look at the data of the various experiments in hopes of having an idea of what proposed changes might potentially make an appearance in real game, maybe even a playoff game, in the years to come. 

Of the rules tried out in the summer season, a handful of them are being instituted in instructional fall leagues, which could be an indication of what changes are still being considered by MLB. Those rules are as follows: 

  • ABS system
  • 15-second pitch clock
  • Shift restrictions
  • 18-inch bases (up from 15-inch)
  • Pick-off attempt limits 

This is a super in-depth story, it’s a bit of a data slog, but it’s no doubt excellent. – PAL 

Source: MLB Just Tried a Bunch of Experimental Rules in the Minors. How Well Did They Work?Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur, The Ringer (10/21/21)


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How hard is a luau? All you need are some grass skirts, pineapple, poi, tiki torches, suckling pig, some fire dancers. That’s all you need.

Michael Scott

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