Week of April 20, 2018

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


The Perfect Storm: Boston Marathon 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let’s Not Forget How Great Albert Pujols Was

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

  1. Hank Aaron
  2. Alex Rodriguez

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

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

Teammate Ian Kinsler sums up Pujols’ greatness this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week


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


Tweet of the Week

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


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“Speaking of pimples…release the bloggers!”

Dwight Schrute

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Week of April 13, 2018

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


How Sports Illustrated Stopped Mattering

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

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

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

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

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

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

As MacCambridge writes, at its best,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New Kind of Player-Coach

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

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

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

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

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


Andre Ingram: NBA Player

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ohtani Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week

Oh, boy.

Bonus Video


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



 


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

-K. Malone

Week of April 6, 2018


The Best Kind of Sports Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who was that guy?” one asked.

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

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

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

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


God Damnit, I Knew Ohtani Would Be Good

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/wp-media-theathletic-production/app/uploads/2018/04/04150805/AP_18088725998669-1024×683.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week

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


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


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“Every day is black tie optional.”

– Dwight Schrute

Week of March 30, 2018

What a wonderful day. 


The Most Wonderful Day of the Year

Thursday was Opening Day, and for the first time in a long time, it was the most wonderful day of the year for all baseball fans. For the last few decades, MLB has gone with an Opening Night, with just one or two games. A few times they’ve had two teams play a week early in Japan to kick things off. And frankly, it sucked. I’m not getting excited to see Cardinals/Cubs or Mets/Nationals. I want to see my team, and I want to see them now. Well, for the first time since 1968, MLB wised up and gave fans what they want – a true opening day, for all teams, with games damn near ’round the clock.

The beauty of Opening Day is that little ray of hope. Maybe this is the year the Nats put it together and win it all, their fans tell themselves. Indians fans, too. Fans of many teams wonder if their team will  be this year’s Twins, who went from 103 losses in 2016 to the Wild Card last year. As for me, if the Giants want to contend for a playoff spot, they have little room for error. And so it had been a bad seven days – losing two starters, Bumgarner and Samardzjia, along with their closer, Melancon, all on the eve of the season. Of course they kicked the season off against Kershaw in Dodger Stadium, and no the Dodgers were not good sports and let Kershaw pitch even though Bumgarner could not. The Giants instead ran out Ty Blach, who has been something of a Dodger killer in his career, sporting a 2.23 ERA in 36.1 innings pitched. But, the Bumgarner injury and facing Kershaw on Opening Day felt like a harbinger of doom.

Instead, the Giants led off the game with two singles. Then they got two more hits in the second. They knocked Kershaw around, but couldn’t get the big hit to get anyone home. Until Joe Panik snuck one around the right field pole to score the first run of the game. Blach gave up just 3 hits over 5 innings, and the bullpen held on for the win. It felt like a playoff victory, even though it was just one game. The Giants still might suck this year, but for one night, at least, the hope of Opening Day decided to stick around -TOB

PAL: One of the best days of the year. Well-said, TOB.


Architecture of History: Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard 

As we begin a new baseball season, one of the main storylines is Aaron Judge (2017 HR: 52) and Giancarlo Stanton (2017 HR: 59) have joined forces on the Yankees. It’s a good time to remember another fearsome duo: Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. They played for the Grays of the Negro League.

These guys were the real deal. They won (two Negro League World Series, 8 Pennants), they are accepted as greats by baseball historians (Bill James considers Gibson the best catcher of all time and Leonard the best first basemen in Negro League history), and the they are the subject of folklore (ever hear the one about Gibson hitting a 580-foot home run out of Yankees Stadium?).

But what’s missing are the statistics. As Robert O’Connell writes:  

The disgrace of the time, that qualified stars were barred from the Major League Baseball because of their race, echoes now as a statistical frustration. While their white contemporaries enjoyed M.L.B.’s tidy schedules and scrupulous statistics-keeping, the black players of the early 20th century made do with a mixture of official and unofficial contests across borders of league and nation. The numbers that resulted are slapdash and incomplete; in the case of Gibson and Leonard, the statistics obscure the truth as much as tell it.

The fact that folks didn’t even keep stats that same way or with any consistency for Negro League games, or the fact that the teams played 200 games a year, interspersing their schedule with games against independent and semipro teams out of “economic necessity” makes it damn near impossible to accurately portray Gibson and Leonard’s greatness. There’s assumptions even in my writing this! 

Gibson is credited with 800 home runs on his Hall of Fame plaque, but they are qualified as “in league and independent play”, i.e. “all of these don’t really count.”

In a game where we want numbers to still mean something, this borders on a travesty.

Collective memory helps fill the gaps that numbers leave. “The statistical data doesn’t always paint the real picture about these guys,” Kendrick said, “so you do get a lot of oral history as it relates to these players, and that’s one of the reasons why the myth and legend that surrounds them is so great.”

In the architecture of baseball history, though, numbers are sturdier than words. There is some small forgetting every time Negro leagues players fail to show up in a comparative chart, every time conjecture has to substitute for a box score. But to the shepherds of those players’ stories, there is little doubt as to their place in the game.

That collective memory part worries me. Only the living have memories. As my grandparents’ generation dies off, that living connection is weakening by the day. O’Connell nails it when he writes, “numbers are sturdier than words.” Excellent read.

Aside: isn’t that a perfectly written sentence? “In the architecture of baseball history, though, numbers are sturdier than words.” Simply perfect rhythm and imagery. – PAL

Source: Baseball’s Unappreciated Power Duo”, Robert O’Connell, The New York Times (3/27/18)


When Will Teams Stop Hiring Tom Thibodeaux?


Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeaux, or Thibs, made his name as a defensive savant as an assistant with the Celtics in the late 00s. Since then, though, he’s become known as something else – a head coach who will run his best players into the ground. He did it in Chicago, with players like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah’s careers being shortened due to injury. His teams also often seem to fade in the playoffs.

It’s happening again in Minnesota. The TWolves core is young and talented – with a core of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, along with Taj Gibson, and Jeff Teague to round out the starting five. But all five of those guys are averaging between 33 and 37 minutes per game this year. Before Butler’s knee injury, no one else was averaging even 20 minutes per game. Butler leads the league in minutes per game, Wiggins is tenth, and Towns is 14th.

The fatigue is setting in. On Monday they lost to the lowly Grizzlies, at home. The Grizzlies had lost seventeen straight road games and are actively tanking. The Wolves fell apart in the 4th, shooting just 3 for 17 with 8 turnovers. After the game, Thibs blamed his players, predictably, saying, “It’s a hard-fought game going back and forth. You have to have the resiliency and the mental toughness to get through that. Not every game is going to be free and easy.”

Thibs’ stubbornness may cost him his job. The once promising Wolves season is in free fall. Just a few weeks ago they were in 3rd place in the brual Western conference. Now, they are in 8th, and just 1.5 games ahead of 9th and thus out of the playoffs. If they don’t make the playoffs, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t fired. And if he is – I wonder if any team would be dumb enough to let Thibs run their roster into the ground again. -TOB

Source: Tom Thibodeau Is Burning Out the Timberpups”, Paolo Uggetti, The Ringer (03/27/2018)

PAL: In a way, Thibs is conservative, which in this case comes off as a coaching weakness. Playing the starting five so many minutes tells me that he doesn’t trust his less talented players on the bench. In other words, he can’t coach up the second unit enough to get 18 solid minutes out of them. Yet he positions a loss like the one to the Grizzlies as a failure of toughness. Where’s his toughness? Hell, I could run the starting five out there for 40 minutes. That doesn’t take any skill!

Thibs’ real issue is the Wolves have some serious talent that’s underperforming in Towns, Butler, and Wiggins. That’s two borderline All-NBA guys and Wiggins, who has the talent to be a all-star. They can get another coach, but they can’t just roll over and wake up to a trio like that.


Confirming and Debunking Rumors on Catcher Performance at, Not Behind, the Plate

This is a really fantastic article for any baseball fan. I don’t have much to editorialize, and the author helpfully summarizes the premise as follows:

With help from a few new-age numbers and a couple of catchers who’ve been in the fire, let’s examine three theories about catchers’ performance at the plate: that umpires extend them the courtesy of more favorable strike zones; that they have an advantage against pitchers they’ve previously caught; and that they have a harder time hitting when paired with pitchers who rely on the catcher’s nightmare, the knuckleball.

Spoiler alert: Two of those theories are proven correct; the other is wrong. This is really well written, researched, and presented. -TOB

Source: Two Truths and a Lie: The Hidden Forces That Affect How Catchers Perform at the Plate“, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (03/26/2018)

PAL:  I don’t want to spoil which are the truths and which one is the lie, but I’ll tell you I was very surprised where the chips fell. I caught from age 11 to 22, and I honestly sometimes forget how different my view/perspective on the game is to most everyone else. When people say the game is slow and boring, it doesn’t compute right away, because I’m thinking about all the decisions and interactions that take place between pitches. Great article! Good find, TOB.


Buck Feeling Good

Ever read something and, as you’re reading, realize that the writer is articulating something you’ve always known to be true but never expressed it with any degree of clarity?  That was my reaction to Dan Haye’s article on Byron Buxton from Tuesday.

Growing up, we’re told how important confidence is when playing sports. For us regular people, that’s true, but only to a certain extent. The curveball, footspeed, height, strength – are these the barriers that keep us from athletic successes, not our mental approach. For Byron Buxton – a supremely talented athlete – confidence might be the difference between him being an All-Star and a AAAA player (a AAAA player is a guy who is too good for highest level of minor league ball and not good enough to play in the bigs). In other words, feeling good is very, very important to Buck.

As Buxton and coaches will tell it, his season (and maybe his career) turned around in Boston on a night in which he went 0-3 with two strikeouts. There were some minor mechanical adjustments, but it was mostly about changing his state of mind while at the plate.

Buxton has always been an outstanding defensive player. In the minors, he had been a force at the plate.This combination made him a top prospect. His first two years in the Majors did not go well offensively. He thought he’d turned a corner by ending 2016 strong, but he struggled again to open up last year.  

Buxton was carrying that doubt and frustration to every at bat. As teammate Brian Dozier tells it, you cannot hit big league pitching when you care that much about failure.

Back to Boston. After a good session with hitting coach James Rowson, Buxton felt good in the box against the Red Sox ace Chris Sale. Although he struck out twice, Buxton did hit the ball hard in one of the at-bats, and that reinforced the positive feeling from the pre-game hitting session far more than a bloop single.

“I just got that little inch of positivity that something felt good and ran with it,” Buxton said. “I try to be as positive as anybody possibly can. Me never failing to get to this point was very tough. Honestly, I’m definitely glad I failed at some point. It definitely has made me a lot stronger, definitely has made me a lot more confident. If I get in a slump, I know that I’ve got what it takes to get out.”

Buxton went on to hit the ball harder after the Red Sox series (higher exit velocity), making “loud contact”, but the hits were slow to follow. When they did come, they came in bunches and they came just in time for the Twins to gut out a Wild Card birth.

Watching Buxton play baseball is a treat. He does something spectacular in center field at least once a week. He’s so fast, so athletic, and he wants to win so bad. He gets me pumped up to be a Twins fan.

He plays at max effort at all times, and in baseball that doesn’t always help, especially at the plate. Feeling good at the plate a can be elusive, but it’s everything. It’s why Cal Ripken changed his batting stance 112 times (approximately) in his career.

Here’s to Buck feeling good at the start of the 2018 season. – PAL

Source: Byron Buxton’s Offensive Awakening”, Dan Hayes, The Athletic (3/27/18)

Note: The Athletic is a subscription service that, as far as I know, does not allow folks to view articles without at least signing up for a free trial (which I recommend). I want to give credit to the story, but I don’t think you’ll be able to read it unless you sign up for the trial.


NFL Draft: Always Good For A Laugh

The hype and analysis leading up to the NFL Draft is stupid. Hell, the draft is stupid. Until we see what the dudes do on the field, none of this matters. With that in mind, you can understand why I kind of lost it when I watched this video of Browns coach Hue Jackson fluff Baker Mayfield by talking about the QB’s commanding a room.

Now, Jackson might be trying to throw other teams off the Browns scent of what they are actually thinking about with the #1 pick, but at what cost? He sounds like such a tool praising the headband from Oklahoma for a call and response cheer as if it means anything. Also, now might be a good time to remind the readers of Jackson’s NFL coaching record with the Browns: 1-31.

The best part of the video is that Jackson thinks he’s pulling a real Daniel Day-Lewis acting job. He’s feeling his performance. – PAL

Source: ‘Hue Jackson Fondly Remembers The Time Baker Mayfield Went “Hee Hee!“’, Tom Ley, Deadspin (3/29/18)


Video of the Week: 


PAL’s Song of the Week: Víkingur Ólafsson – “Glassworks: Opening” (Reworked By Christian Badzura), originally written by Philip Glass


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As I sit here before a most cacophonous piece of blank onion skin, which I ever so delicately stuffed into my sturdy Olympia typewriter, and which surely deserves a more appreciative and well-balanced operator, but alas, such is its lamentable fate to be clubbed by my inept and clumsy digits, the paper screams for me to make the first move.

Johnny Depp, Pseudo-intellectual Douchebag

Week of March 23, 2018

That’s pretty good. 


It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad March

Last Friday after work, I was sitting in a bar before going to the Warriors/Kings game, watching the NCAA Tournament. And for no apparent reason I said to my buddy Rowe, “When I was a kid I figured a 16-seed would beat a 1-seed at some point. It had to happen. But now, I’m beginning to think it won’t happen in my lifetime.” Just two hours later, the big screen at Oracle Arena flashed: Final – #1 Virginia 54, #16 UMBC 74. I almost fell out of my chair.

The NCAA Tournament always has upsets. It’s the beauty of it all. Hell, the upsets are why we call it “March Madness”. But we had NEVER seen a 16-seed win a game. Hell, I didn’t even know who UMBC was, and here they had beaten the #1 seed Virginia. My wife asked, “Is that Maryland-Baltimore County, where my parents went?” I had no idea. Maybe!? UMBC was the #64 overall seed. Meaning, when they made the brackets, the selection committee felt Virginia was the best team in the country and UMBC was the worst team in the tournament. And I picked Virginia to win it all! UMBC didn’t just win. They won by TWENTY. It’s shocking, even a week later. As Rodger Sheman said:

Of all the no. 1 seeds to potentially lose, I never would’ve expected Virginia to be the Goliath to fall. Most programs don’t notch nine wins against NCAA tournament teams in a regular season; the Cavaliers had eight double-digit wins against NCAA tournament teams. Virginia went 17–1 in the ACC, losing that one game by one point in overtime. Its largest deficit of the season was 13 points; 1-seeds Kansas and Xavier lost multiple games by more than 13 points. UVA suffocated opponents on defense, and scored better than opponents could score on them.

Virginia did not just win games; it made the best teams in the country look helpless. Being on a court with Virginia was not a situation for hope. The Cavaliers were efficient doom.

And UMBC was, to be honest, very much a 16-seed. They lost by 44 to Albany; they lost twice in the regular season to the best team in the America East, Vermont, by a combined 43 points; their only game against an NCAA tournament team was a 25-point loss to Arizona.

So how did it happen? I read a lot this week about how Virginia’s style – shut down defense and deliberate offense without a go-to guy was responsible, but I don’t buy it. The game was tied at the half, and UMBC got out to a hot start in the second. But with 14 minutes left, Virginia was down only 12, 41-29. They were still down 12 with 7:30 to go. If Virginia locked down on defense, they could have easily made up that deficit. But, they panicked. They didn’t trust their defense and started taking too many 3s – they went 1 for 11 in the second half from deep, and 4 for 22 overall. This allowed UMBC to get out in transition and get baskets. Their second half shot chart is a modern basketball coach’s dream: every shot attempt was in the paint or beyond the arc.

They scored 53 points in the second half. This season, Virginia held sixteen teams to 53 or less for the entire game.

In hindsight, my statement earlier that night was silly. It’s basketball, which is a funny game. And these are kids, who can easily panic, as Virginia did. Still. This Virginia team? UMBC!? SMH. -TOB

Source: UMBC’s Historic Win Over Virginia Didn’t Look Lucky”, Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (03/17/2018)

PAL: I’ll never forget switching this game on, seeing the score and the amount of time remaining – up by 20 with something like 4 minutes to play, and still having to convince myself it was already over.

When stuff like this happens, I wonder about people who claim that momentum isn’t real in sports. Upsets are an obvious case for momentum – a far more talented team unable to be itself or reset. Momentum helped cause Virginia to freak out, to abandon its game plan that had been rock solid all year. Momentum allowed the 16-seed to stay loose and just keep jacking up 3s. Momentum is what made this a 20-point blowout.


In Other NCAA News: Dress For The Job You Want?

We’re talking NCAA Tournament coaching attire, folks. We’re talking about coaching attire because basketball is unlike football or baseball, in that coaches like normal adults (the same is true for hockey coaches). David Roth puts it this way:

Baseball forces older men—men shaped like heirloom eggplants, men in their 70s wearing those progressive lenses, men who are quite literally Charlie Manuel—to don the same baseball uniforms as their youthful charges. Football, branded to the gills as it is, takes those men and drags them through the Lawn Dad section of the team’s Official NFL Gear Store, and the results are Crossfit Aficionado Golf Pro at best and Grown Man In Pajamas at worst.

But basketball lets the men who are not in uniform dress more or less as they like. In college, that generally isn’t good news—it’s mostly legacy slicksters in goofy Dick Tracy suits, aspiring legacy slicksters in somewhat less-shiny suits, some young comers dressing like Steve Kerr, and then a windswept plain of Jos. A. Bank stretching to either horizon.

But, as is the case in normal life, some dads take it upon themselves carve out their own ‘look’. For some dads it’s 24/7 golf clothes, for others it’s Lululemon. There is a smaller group of dads that defines their look with facial hair. It rarely goes well.

West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni were proof of that failure when the in-state rivals faced-off in the NCAA tournament (West Virginia won):

Huggins’ has more or less given up with this attire (2017-18 salary:  $3.75MM). The not-really-short short-sleeve warm up can more accurately be described as a coverall. I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance of a t-shirt under that warm-up (and if there is, then there’s 100% chance said t-shirt has a BBQ sauce stain on it).

It wasn’t that long ago he wore this out of the house:

But D’Antoni (2017-18 salary: $400K) is feeling his look. He’s confident. He’s thinking My God, I found the perfect outfit loophole. I’ll rock a practice t-shirt under the blazer. It’ll be fun, but not disrespectful, and I’ll never wear a tie or struggle with the top button of a dress shirt again. Wife can’t say anything – I have the blazer! Honestly, I’m in my 70s. Who’s got the stones to complain about t-shirt/blazer combo? Comformal is what I’ll call it. Hey, that’s pretty good! Comformal. Yes, yes. This is it.

I mean, it’s not like anything momentous has happened in the tournament this year. – PAL

Source: Bob Huggins Met Dan D’Antoni In A Battle For The Future Of Men’s Fashion”, David Roth, Deadspin (3/19/18)


LeBron: Still the Best

Harden may be more efficient. Curry a better shooter. Giannis younger and more explosive. But no one is better, even after fifteen years, then LeBron James. This week he went into a big showdown with the #1 seed Toronto Raptors. The Raptors jumped out to a big halftime lead, scoring more points (78) than any team had ever scored in a half against a LeBron team. But The King was not deterred. He played a near perfect game: 35 points on 11/19 shooting, 17 assists, 7 rebounds, zero turnovers. He made the biggest play of the game late:

Deadspin’s Tom Ley makes a simple plea:

On any given night you can decide that you want to watch one of the best basketball players ever play some of the best basketball ever, and LeBron is there to scratch that itch. Last week, you could have watched him unleash one of the most beautiful and violent dunks you’ll ever see. A few days later, you could have watched him go for 40-12-10 against the Bucks. He’s just there, on TV, doing that, all the time. It’s neat.

When I think about LeBron in this way I start to wonder why any of us do anything during the NBA season besides watch him play basketball. And then I start to think about how terrible it’s going to be once he finally starts to deteriorate and eventually retires. What am I supposed to do then? Watch Ben Simmons? An impostor. Watch James Harden? Like eating vegetables that taste kind of good. Watch Anthony Davis? He’s not my real dad.

LeBron’s eventually going to leave and nobody will be able to replace him and it’s going to suck. This is my simple plea to you: take in as much of him as possible, while you still can.

Amen. -TOB

Source: What The Hell Are We Going To Do When LeBron James Retires?”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (03/22/2018)

PAL: MLB Opening Day is less than a week away. NCAA Tournament in full swing. NBA’s off my radar until the second round of the playoffs.


Moret Froze

This is the kind of story you’d hear if you ran into an old baseball player at a hotel bar and you both had a few. It’s not about the best, the worst, or the most in [insert sport] – no. This is just a story so goddamn strange that it couldn’t be made up. That’s why I like it.

Roger Moret was a serviceable big league pitcher in the 70s. In ‘75 he went 14-3 for the Red Sox. He was bounced around a bit until he ended up in the bullpen for the Rangers. Everyone knew Roger did not have a sense of humor. In fact, the dude was pretty angry most of the time. Being from Puerto Rico, he not only didn’t speak much English, but he didn’t understand the financial system here, causing his Porsche to be repossessed. He was teased quite a bit, he dabbled in some drugs (that would hardly make him unique for an baseball player in the 70s), and then the shower show incident happened.

The Rangers were getting ready for its game against the Tigers that night. Players were taking grounders and B.P. After a couple odd incidents on the field, Moret retreated to the clubhouse where he…well, read for yourself:  

As word spread from Ranger to Ranger, the entire roster seemed to make an ant line from the field to the clubhouse. And there, in the middle of the room stood Moret. His left leg was off the ground, bent at the knee. His left arm was extended into the air and his right hand held a white plastic shower shoe. His eyes were glassed over. His mouth was closed. He wore white underwear, but no shirt.

…A psychiatrist entered the clubhouse but offered nary a solution. The administrator of Arlington Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital followed. He, too, knew not what to do. Finally, an exasperated Mycoskie administered five back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back sedative injections into Moret’s arm.

Gradually, as his teammates returned to the field, the pitcher snapped from his state. He slowly, steadily slumped onto a chair, then laid flat on a table. By now 1 1/2 hours had passed.

This being the 70s, baseball teams didn’t have a very good handle on mental health (did anyone?), and it was the beginning of an odyssey for Moret. He actually appeared in 5 more games for the Rangers that year, which is incredible. He was also invited to camp for the Indians, but it didn’t stick. By 1987, Moret was living in San Juan making wallets, apparently diagnosed with chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia.

The last anyone heard from him was in 2016, when he returned to Boston to sign autographs at a Holiday Inn.

Is there anything more petrifying to baseball players – a group of individuals so dependent upon the control of a routine to mentally counter the absolute lack of control they have in a game – than to witness a fellow player lose it right before their eyes? Yes, there is – being the guy that loses it in front of a group of baseball players. – PAL

Source: The catatonic pitcher and a shower shoe: Recalling the strange demise of Rangers pitcher Roger Moret”, Jeff Pearlman, The Athletic (3/21/18)


49er Fans Can Thank Marshawn For Breaking Up the Seahawks

It is no secret that Marshawn Lynch is one of my favorite athletes of all time. We’ve written about him here at least a half dozen times over the nearly four years we’ve been writing this weekly digest. He arrived at Cal just as I graduated, and he was amazing. It wasn’t just that he was a great player at Cal, which he was. He was also funny, and fun. There’s the now-legendary time he drove the injury cart around the field after he put the team on his back to beat Washington in OT.

There was the time, after a touchdown, that he looked into the camera and said, “We shining! 24/7, 365 days a week!”

He projected a rough exterior, but he was a 3.0 student and his otherwise stoic head coach, Jeff Tedford, would light up like a Christmas tree every time he was asked about Marshawn.  All his teammates loved him. Hell, everyone loved him. Once, some Oakland gang members shot up his mom’s house by mistake, and when they realized what they had done, they went back and apologized to her in person. When he got to the NFL, though he struggled a bit. There were times his personality shown through, like his legendary appearance with ESPN’s Kenny Mayne about the Buffalo nightlife.

But then he had a couple small run-ins with the law and he became known as a bit of a malcontent. By the time he left Buffalo for Seattle, he was largely seen as a bust. But for Cal fans, he was like that indie band you saw in a small club one time, and you knew they just needed the right hit song to make it big. And then it happened, in one play:

It might be the greatest run of in NFL history, and I knew the secret of Marshawn, finally, was out. He finally had his hit record, and he was no longer our secret. I tell this story because I like any excuse to gush over Marshawn, and this week newly signed Philadelphia Eagle, Michael Bennett and his brother, Martellus, appeared on Bill Simmons’ podcast this week. Michael was Marshawn’s teammate in Seattle for a number of years. When asked about Marshawn, Bennett said that Marshawn’s (temporary) retirement a couple years back basically was the end of the Seahawks’ run:

“Marshawn’s personality is so big and he’s such a… he’s one of those dudes, he’s really like Nina Simone; he’s just misunderstood. People misunderstand him all the time. He’s such a great guy when it comes to doing community. He’s such a great teammate. He’s shows up to everybody’s thing. He plays hard. When he practices, he practices hard. So when he left, you could feel it. He was just that guy that had swag that made the Seahawks feel like a different type of team.”

These are the same types of things that Jeff Tedford used to say about Marshawn. So many of his teammates say similar things. It’s fascinating to me, really – how a guy’s public persona (“I’m just here so I won’t get fined”) could be so very different from what he is in private. I’m just happy that Marshawn is finally getting his due. As Marshawn came into the NFL the same year as Adrian Peterson, it’s also fascinating how their reputations have reversed over the last few years. Now, Marshawn is the great teammate, the great supporter of kids and his community, while Peterson is the malcontent in the locker room and, worse, the child abuser. As for Marshawn, I can say I knew it all along. -TOB

Source: Michael Bennett: Seahawks Never the Same after Marshawn Lynch Left at End of 2015 Season”, Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (03/21/2018)

PAL: Where’d you go to school, TOB?

TOB: Augustana State. I played baseball there. You can probably find my stats online if you search hard enough. Also, one question: How dare you?


Video(s) of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Dwight Yoakam – “Streets of Bakersfield” (Buck Owens)


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We’re all waiting in the dugout
Thinking we should pitch
How you gonna throw a shutout
If all you do is bitch

-T. Snider

Week of March 16, 2018



Ten Years Later: Steph’s Magical Tourney Run

The NCAA Tournament started last week. As an event, it’s probably the best three weeks in sports. With the one-and-done rule, the Dukes and Kentuckys are comprised of uber talented but young and inexperienced future stars, while the also-rans are comprised of less talented but seasoned players who have played together for two to three years. It makes for great matchups.  And with so many games and so many players, you are guaranteed to see something spectacular. Some years, though, are better than others. Some years produce something truly remarkable. Like in 2010, when #8 seed Butler and #11 seed VCU both made the Final Four. Or in 2008, when #12 seed George Mason made the Final Four.

But what I really remember about that 2008 tournament, ten years ago, was the emergence of Davidson’s Stephen Curry. He was skinny, so skinny. He wasn’t not very tall, by basketball standards (he’s 6’3). He was the son of a fairly famous former NBA player, Dell Curry, who made a name as a spot-up sharpshooter in the early 90s. And he, Steph, had an absolute baby face that made him look approximately thirteen years old.

But MAN. Could that kid shoot. He’d come off a screen, catch, shoot, splash. He’d crossover, step back, shoot, splash. He’d head fake, lean left, go right, rise, shoot, splash.

Coming into the tournament a 10-seed, Davidson had a hell of a run. They beat Gonzaga. Georgetown. Wisconsin. They finally lost to #1 seed and eventual National Champion Kansas in the Elite 8, by just two points. Curry was incredible throughout, though he did not shoot well against Kansas. He averaged 33 points and nearly 6 made threes per game.

Players have had better tournament runs, perhaps. But something about Curry, with that baby face and that quick 3-point trigger, captured our imagination in a way I don’t think anyone has. He made us rethink the game. As Weinreb says, “[Curry] has completely altered the way basketball is both played and consumed. Because of Curry, the parameters of the court have been stretched farther and farther outward, and the game has become more fluid and less plodding.” Weinreb presents a fascinating oral history of the making of Steph Curry, from his first days on campus through his emergence as a star, as remembered by those that were there. -TOB

Source: The Birth of Steph”, Michael Weinreb, The Ringer (03/14/2018)

PAL: That’s the stuff! Love this story. I wouldn’t call in an underdog story. It’s just that people couldn’t see what a special talent Curry would become because they hadn’t exactly seen anything like him. He had 13 turnovers in his first collegiate game. He wasn’t even the point guard his first two years in college! It came in pieces. In fact, could he have become the player he is if he had gone to a blueblood program? Weireb writes:

If Curry had gone to North Carolina, or if he’d gone to Duke, would he have been afforded the same freedoms that McKillop [Davidson coach] gave him? And if he hadn’t had those same freedoms, would he possess the same levels of self-confidence and imagination that allowed him to develop into a singular talent?

TOB does a great job in his write up about the ‘08 run, but I also really enjoyed this nugget from the following season:

That junior season was another crucial cog in Curry’s ongoing development, even if it was devoid of the same fresh thrill: He switched over to point guard, and improved his ballhandling, and led the country in scoring. Davidson went 27–8, but lost in the Southern Conference tournament and didn’t make the NCAA tournament. But there is one game from that season worth a brief mention, if only because it foreshadowed the inevitable pall of cynicism that attends anyone who becomes a national commodity, even (or perhaps especially) someone whose game — and whose current team — often hovers on that razor’s edge between joy and egotism. It came in November during a game against Loyola (Md.), when coach Jimmy Patsos decided to shadow Curry everywhere he went with two defenders and take his chances three-on-four against the remainder of Davidson’s team.

How did Curry respond? “Coach,” he told McKillop, “I’m just going to stand in the corner.”

He went scoreless that night. Davidson won by 30.

What a great read, with some vintage Curry highlights to boot!  And when our grandkids come with some b.s. about a so-and-so from 2040 being the best shooter ever, we won’t even dignify it with a verbal response. We’ll just shake our heads.

TOB: His junior year, I tried to watch Curry as much as I could, and I actually watched that game. It was absurd. The other team used a triangle and two. Generally, in a triangle and two, two defenders guard the offense’s two best players, and the other three defenders play a 2-1 or 1-2 zone on three remaining offensive players. It’s rarely used because the talent gap between the two offensive guys you defend man-to-man must be so much better than their three teammates, and you must trust your two man-to-man defenders to actually guard those two with little to no perimeter help. But Loyola used a triangle and two with both of the man defenders on Curry. As Weinreb notes, the defense elected to play 3 defenders against 4 offensive players for the entire game. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. The worst part was, after the game, the Loyola coach said, “Has anyone else ever held him scoreless? I’m a history major. Are people going to remember that we held him scoreless, or that we lost by 30?” If I was his boss, I’d have fired him on the spot. Anyways, Davidson showed that night that they weren’t just Steph and the Stephettes. I still don’t understand how they didn’t make the tournament that year.  Interestingly, they lost in the NIT to St. Mary’s and their future NBA point guard Patty Mills.


My Favorite Sports Story Of The Year, Every Year: The Minnesota State High School All Hockey Hair Team 2018

We’ve posted it every year, and every year I watch it over ten times. I love them so much. And while we’re well past the point in which players know about the video, and therefore are trying to get on the video, this still comes from a place of truth. That truth is the following: ever since I can remember, we all watched each player announced before state tournament game. That skate up to the blue line and the camera – those 3 seconds are as purely Minnesotan as anything I can imagine.

Yes, the video is hilarios. The hair is spectacular. Just thinking about these kids growing it out since summer makes me happy. They bank on the fact that they are making it to State, and when they do their hair will be ready. I love it.

The writing on these videos is on the same level as Jack Handy. Creator John King, once told the Star Tribune he was inspired by the show Newhart. King really should write a comedy movie or HBO series about high school hockey in Minnesota. Here are some of my favorite lines from this year’s video and added a screen grab for context. Enjoy!

This state’s so manly if you type ‘mn’ into your phone it autocorrects to ‘man’.

And the number one N.H.L. flow in all the world is Burnsville’s own Brock Besser. Even Sid knows he’s second fiddle. There’s not a barber in the state of Minnesota that doesn’t know Brock beats scissors.


– “Boys, that’s some greasy letty, right Jacob?”

– “That’s some deadly flop. Keep it up.”


Hey, kid. If you’re ever in Madison Square Garden wear a hat, or you’ll win Best In Show at Westminster.


Our coach comes from Mankato East. Look at this guy. He makes me wanna run a 5K.


We had a lot of peaky boys at this year’s tournament. A lot of peaky boys. (PAL – I think he’s referencing Peaky Blinders…)


These next two kids are in here just cause they’re so dang happy.


And leave it to King to get philosophical in a perfectly Minnesota way: “Some say there was less flow this year. I say you have to know where to look. Hockey will always have ‘shorthairs’ and ‘longhairs’, but unless you don’t have a head, I think it’s better to be a ‘longhair’. Why? Cause the ‘longhairs’ are living free.”

Instead of a story link, I encourage you to go over to the Hendrickson Foundation and make a donation – the video raises a bunch of money for the foundation, which has set out to grow the game of hockey in Minnesota by being inclusive to individuals with mental and physical disabilities.

http://www.hendricksonfoundation.com/home

Just do it. Not hard at all! – PAL

TOB: Cracks me up every year.


The Best and Worst of Ballpark Cuisine

In April, MLB will be hosting the first ever MLB Food Fest, in NYC. Each MLB team will be represented by one menu item available at its ballpark. The list:

 

I looked it over, and I’m here to present some gd awards.

Best in Show: Jerk Chicken Nachos (Blue Jays); Runner-up: Cheeto-Lote (Dodgers)

Jerk chicken nachos sound amazing, and I think it’s the item I’d be most happy with. It’s also juuuuuuuust abnormal enough to be considered real ballpark food, but not so gluttonous as to be too much. The Dodgers’ Cheeto-Lote (an ear of corn covered in chipotle mayo, parmesan, tajin, and flaming hot Cheetos) is very enticing, but is more of a side item, and loses points for that. Still, I might need to make another trip to Dodger Stadium to try it. Honorable mention to the Pirates’ Pulled Pork Pierogie Hoagie (pulled pork, pierogis, and crispy fried onions on a bun).

Best Item If I Wasn’t So Picky (Tie): New England Lobster Rolls (Red Sox); Reuben Cuban Sandwich (Rays)

I think seafood is fine, but I rarely choose it when I have other options. The lobster rolls does sound delicious, though. As for the Reuben Cuban, I don’t eat beef (a deal killer for quite a few items on this list). But, if I did, the Rays sandwich with pulled pork, sausage, corned beef, sauerkraut, pickles, swiss cheese, and russian dressing on Cuban bread would be a serious contender for Best in Show. I also appreciate that the Rays tried to marry south Florida cuisine with New York cuisine, to make the local retirees feel right at home.

Item That Had Me Say “WTF” Out Loud: Churro Dog (Diamondbacks)

“Churro topped with frozen yogurt, chocolate sauce, caramel, and whipped cream inside of a chocolate iced donut.” As if a churro sundae was not enough, they stuff it all inside a chocolate donut???? I’m sure it’s delicious, but I’m also sure it will end you.

Worst Item:

Divorcing the fact I don’t eat beef and am lukewarm on seafood, the item that sounds the worst is the Astros’ “Chicken Waffle Cone” monstrosity. “Popcorn chicken with mashed potatoes and honey mustard inside of a waffle cone.”

I’m sorry, I cannot abide this! This looks and sounds truly disgusting.

Best Item If Shame Is Not a Concern
So, so many options. I considered the Twins (see below) and Rangers (chicken and donut slider) here. But, ultimately, I had to go with the Diamondbacks’ Churro Dog, our only multiple award winner. Look at this thing.  

I would feel so, so so ashamed ordering that thing. People would stare at me as I walked by, judging my gluttony. And rightfully so. I just can’t do it.

Item That Sounds Good But I Know an MLB Stadium Can’t Pull Off: Chicken Shawarma Nachos (Tigers)

This could be fantastic, but I do not trust a ballpark to make chicken shawarma, or hummus, correctly.

Best Normal Item: Gioia’s Hot Salami Sandwich (Cardinals)

Super simple, obviously delicious.

Best Item Related to the Region/Local Cuisine: Breaded Cheese Curds and Bratwurst Topped with Brown Gravy (Twins)

There were a lot of options, as many teams seemed to be gunning for this category. Items considered for this award include the Red Sox, Giants, Pirates, Mets, and Yankees. But, ultimately, the Twins win out – because fried cheese curd, bratwurst, and gravy are all exactly what I think of when I think Minnesota.

Dang. Now I’m hungry.

Source: Food Fest”, MLB.com (03/13/2018)

PAL: No. No. No. Go to a game, get a brat, a beer, some peanuts and enjoy the company and competition. I know I sound like a grump, but I am OUT on these newfangled ballpark items. As TOB mentions, you’ll get the best version of nothing at a ballpark. I can enjoy an average brat; I cannot enjoy an average cheese curd and brat topped with gravy (I just threw up a little in my mouth).

This entire food craze at ballparks is for the pretend fans anyway.

Hell, look at the first image from the very first post from 1-2-3 Sports! from May 4, 2014:


Once A Cheater Always A Cheater?

How would you describe number 21 for Lake Superior State in this, the 1988 National Championship game?

Now, take your words and apply them to a political candidate, because that’s exactly what’s happened. Pete Stauber (no. 21) is a republican congressional candidate from MN. He’s looking to unseat Rick Nolan (D) who retained his seat by less than 2000 votes in 2016. Nolan retained his seat in 2014 by less than 4000 votes. In other words, a seemingly small detail, like a candidate’s lack of sportsmanship 30 years ago, could determine the winner.

Here’s the thing: Stauber has yet to address questions about his willingness to, as City Pages (Minneapolis) puts it, “risk everything and cheat to win” from that game a lifetime ago.

And here’s what I know of Stauber: when the moment gets tight he looks for a way out. I’m not saying this is the truth – I am not familiar with the guy, and I’m sure he’s a good and decent person – but the politics of this doesn’t look good. Absurd? Sure, but isn’t that politics?

I tried to give him a break and went to his website to learn about his political stances but they aren’t laid out. The website tells me he’s a republican, he captained a national champion hockey team, had a career in law enforcement, and his wife is a vet. With a lack of political info, I have to admit that this clip of him pushing the net off – coupled with the fact that he hasn’t addressed it – makes me pause on this guy. – PAL

Source: Congressional Candidate Doesn’t Want To Talk About The Time He Cheated To Win The NCAA Hockey Title”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (3/13/18)

TOB: I’m not sure where I fall here, because I don’t know hockey well enough to know how egregious this is. It certainly looks bad, and obvious. But is knocking the net off its moorings an accepted though annoying aspect of gamesmanship in the sport? Or is it straight cheating? For example, in basketball, flopping sucks and it annoys everyone. But it’s also an accepted part of the game at this point, and I don’t think anyone would use flopping to attack your character. On the other hand, if you’re in a pick-up game and someone on the other team calls for the ball from an opponent, that is bush league, and you have every right to call them a piece of crap.


Video of the Week: 

GOAT.


PAL Song of the Week: Anderson .Paak – “Celebrate”


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“Grenadine.”

-Michael Scott

1-2-3 Sports! Week of March 9, 2018

Hockey hair is coming…


Prisoner of Perfection

It doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say Ichiro Suzuki is the Michael Jordan of Japan. He rents out stadiums to train. There are signs at every table of his favorite restaurant demanding no photographs. The Japanese press has covered his every move for his 26 seasons of professional baseball. At 44, Ichiro is prepping his last tour of MLB. While he looks to extend his career (Ichiro has previously said he wants to play until he’s 50), his time is about done, so Wright Thompson attempts to look back at the obsessive rituals that have both made Ichiro a Hall of Fame player as well as perhaps a trapped individual.

The story is long, and completely worth your time. Thompson knows how to paint a picture, and there are so many fascinating nuggets throughout, including:

Japanese culture in general — and Ichiro in particular — remains influenced by remnants of bushido, the code of honor and ethics governing the samurai warrior class. Suffering reveals the way to greatness. When the nation opened up to the Western world in 1868, the language didn’t even have a word to call games played for fun. Baseball got filtered through the prism of martial arts, and it remains a crucible rather than an escape. (end)

He could choose the best players in Japan to help him but he doesn’t. He doesn’t need to get better at swinging a bat. What he needs, and what he seems to find in this rented stadium, is the comfort of the familiar, a place where he knows who he is supposed to be. (end)

These stories are funny individually, but they feel different when taken as a whole. Like nearly all obsessive people, Ichiro finds some sort of safety in his patterns. He goes up to the plate with a goal in mind, and if he accomplishes that goal, then he is at peace for a few innings. Since his minor league days in Japan, he has devised an achievable, specific goal every day, to get a boost of validation upon completion. That’s probably why he hates vacations. In the most public of occupations, he is clearly engaged in a private act of self-preservation. He’s winnowed his life to only the cocoon baseball provides. His days allow for little beyond his routine, like leaving his hotel room at 11:45, or walking through the lobby a minute later, or going to the stadium day after day in the offseason — perhaps his final offseason. Here in the freezing cold, with a 27-degree wind chill, the hooks ping off the flagpoles. The bat in his hand is 33.46 inches long. He steps into the cage and sees 78 pitches. He swings 75 times.

Up close, he looks a lot like a prisoner. (end)

His relationship with his father has defined him, for better or for worse. Ichiro has been in pursuit of baseball perfection since he was three. He’d had a baseball routine for 40+ years, and anyone who knows him wonders if he’ll be able to stop.

And while Ichiro and his father are not currently on speaking terms, Ichiro is still in some ways under his father’s thumb, or, as Thompson more eloquently puts it, “Ichiro now does to himself all the things he resents his father for having made him do.”

While there are some questions left open in this story, of which I’m sure TOB will address, this is one hell of a read. – PAL

Source:  ‘When Winter Never Ends”, Wright Thompson, ESPN (03/07/2018)

TOB: Maaaaaan, do I love Ichiro. This story was sad, though; it’s not only a portrait of an aging ballplayer, seeing the end of the road, with no plan for life after baseball (Ichiro has previously said, “I think I’ll just die,” when asked what he’ll do after his career), a story we’ve seen before. It’s also, as Phil said, a portrait of a man who made it to the very top of his sport, after a lifetime of obsession with doing so, by sticking to the same routine, day after day after day. Ichiro did so to the point I have to wonder, as a person absolutely unqualified to say this, not just whether Ichiro has OCD, but how severe and debilitating his OCD might be. And it’s also the story of a father and son, and how the father more or less robbed the son of his childhood by forcing him into these routines, day after day, not letting him play with friends or be a normal kid, only to have it create one of the greatest baseball players ever. And it’s about how, despite that success, the son resents the father for it all, even while continuing those same routines to this very day.

And as sad as that all is, there are some fantastic Ichiro nuggets in here, as always. For example, Ichiro’s former teammate, Mike Sweeney, tells a second-hand story about an unnamed professional baseball player strolling through Central Park one day with his wife. The player saw a man in the distance, throwing a baseball 300-feet, and hitting balls against the backstop with the “powerful shotgun blast of real contact familiar to any serious player.” Curious, the player got closer, only to discover Ichiro, on an off-day, getting in his reps.

Or this one:

The Yankees clubhouse manager tells a story about Ichiro’s arrival to the team in 2012. Ichiro came to him with a serious matter to discuss: Someone had been in his locker. The clubhouse guy was worried something had gone missing, like jewelry or a watch, and he rushed to check.

Ichiro pointed at his bat.

Then he pointed at a spot maybe 8 inches away.

His bat had moved.

The clubhouse manager sighed in relief and told Ichiro that he’d accidentally bumped the bat while putting a clean uniform or spikes or something back into Ichiro’s locker, which is one of the main roles of clubhouse attendants.

“That can’t happen,” Ichiro said, smiling but serious.

From that day forward, the Yankees staff didn’t replace anything in his locker like they did for every other player on the team. They waited until he arrived and handed him whatever he needed for the day.

I will be sad when Ichiro retires, and I was very happy to hear the news that he had signed with the Mariners this week. I died laughing at this tweet, which shows Ichiro arriving in Seattle for the first time back in 2001, and again this week in 2018.

It shows not only the vagaries of fashion over the last nearly 20 years, but it also shows a young man, grown into an old man, and all that entails. I hope, whenever he retires, Ichiro doesn’t “just die” as he suggested. But for now, as Wright Thompson says, Ichiro is like the rest of us: “out there, hungry for a chance to keep his routines in motion.”


1-2-3 Sports! Exclusive: An Interview With Gregg Popovich

This week, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “Pop”, as he’s known, has been the Spurs coach for 23 seasons, leading them to 5 NBA titles. He is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. Pop is also increasingly outspoken on social issues, including having been especially outspoken about President Trump, including calling Trump a “soulless coward” last year. 1-2-3 Sports! had the opportunity to speak with Coach Popovich in San Francisco this week. The conversation is reproduced here, in full:

TOB: Hey, Coach.

Popovich: Hey.

Unfortunately, Popovich is a busy guy. But we hope to find more time with Popovich soon. -TOB

PAL: Dammit, TOB; you have to ask Pop about wine. Make up some brand and ask him about the odd years, e.g., How about DeLillo’s 2011 cab, Underworld, from Paso Robles, eh?

See that? I literally looked at the bookshelf and made up a wine.

I need you thinking, TOB. I’m not roaming the streets of downtown San Francisco anymore. I need you at the top of your game, dude.

TOB: Hey, I’ve seen what he does to people who ask stupid questions:

I played it safe. Wisely.


How Are Jon Lester’s Yips Not A Bigger Deal?

No big analysis of a story here. I just want to pause to ask how the eff this isn’t a bigger deal? Jon Lester is top of the rotation pitcher for the Cubs, which is a serious contender again this year. Jon Lester can’t throw to first base. He can’t do a pick-off throw, and he has a hard time flipping it to first on the come-backer ground balls. He hasn’t been able to for years!

It would be one thing if Lester was a bust in the midst of a breakdown. He is not. As recently as 2016 he was 19-5. He’s been a serious factor for 3 World Series champions.

So we have a pitcher, which is the one dude in the game of baseball who pretty much always has the ball, who can’t throw 40 feet in one direction while making $27.5MM in 2018 (including a signing bonus). It’s become so bad that he’s now intentionally throwing the ball into the ground:

What.The. Shit? How isn’t this a bigger story? – PAL

Source: Jon Lester Is Doing This On Purpose Now”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (03/05/2018)


Breaking: Sports Media Narrative May Have Been Wrong

Shortly after entering the league, a narrative began to form around San Antonio Spurs’ superstar Kawhi Leonard. The narrative centered around the fact Leonard doesn’t speak very much. Many joked that Leonard was a basketball robot; quiet, hard working, tough, talented: the Perfect Spur. But this season has been a peculiar one for Leonard. He’s been dealing with a quadriceps injury that has caused him to miss all but 9 games. More curious, the team has cleared him to play, but he won’t. There have been rumblings this season that Leonard has grown disgruntled with the Spurs, feeling perhaps they are trying to rush him back from his injury, especially concerning for Kawhi because he’s just over a year away from free agency, where he will make a lot of money, but less so if not healthy.

More recently, things came to a bit of a head. ESPN’s Jalen Rose reported that Leonard, the Perfect Spur, wants out of San Antonio. Then this week there were reports that Leonard turned down an extension offer from Jordan Brand, reportedly worth more than $20 million over 4 years. Suddenly, things doesn’t look so functional in San Antonio, where things have been functional since at least the late-80s, when they drafted David Robinson.

This was all enough to prompt the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor to wonder if the Spurs’ dynasty is finally over. We thought they were done when the #8 seed Grizzlies knocked them out of the first round in 6 games waaaaaaaay back in 2011. Nope. We thought they were done when they (kinda) collapsed in the Finals against the Heat in 2013. Nope. They won the title next year. We thought they were done when Duncan retired before last season. Nope, they were the #2 seed last year and made it all the way to the conference finals. But this feels different, and if Kawhi really does want out, there’s just no way they can rise from the dead of that one.

But this finally brings to my point. Kawhi’s unhappiness has many in sports media kinda shocked because he’s not the basketball robot they had made him out to be. He’s a real human, with real emotions, and just because he doesn’t talk to them, it doesn’t mean he’s an emotionless machine who cares about nothing but winning basketball games. Rightly, the man wants to get paid, so he shouldn’t rush back before he’s ready, and he should get as much money out of shoe companies that he can. And no one should be surprised about that. -TOB

Source: No, Seriously This Time: Is This the End of the Spurs’ Dynasty?”, Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer (03/08/2018)

PAL: Who will be Leonard’s main employer? Who will pay him more: a shoe company or a NBA franchise? As good as Leonard is, he is not a part of pop culture like LeBron, Durant, Harden, and Curry are, so I think his primary employer will be an NBA franchise, i.e., he’s not getting more than 20MM a year from a shoe company.

Also, this might be a point in time where speaking up might help. If the notoriously quiet all-NBA player still feels he’s injured while the Spurs have cleared him to play, then he should speak up. If he doesn’t, then he risks being seen as a wimp to whom the Spurs are currently paying $18.8MM per year so he can personal concerns ahead of the team.

Of course he wants to get paid what he’s worth, but this is not a Tim Lincecum situation when he was winning back-to-back Cy Young awards while making 400K and 600K in those years. Leonard is undervalued, but not to an alarming degree…especially if he’s missed all but 9 games this year with an injury he’s had in the past.

Is he pissed because he feels the team is rushing him back, or is he pissed because LeBron is making almost twice as much as him? If it’s the latter, then moving forward he should follow LeBron’s lead and sign short-term deals and bet on himself while maintaining flexibility.


Video of the Week

That was a shot, right?


PAL Song of the Week: Night Ranger – “Sister Christian” (no fireworks)


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I took her to the hospital and the doctors tried to save her life. They did the best that they could. And she is going to be okay.

-M. Scott