1-2-3 Sports! Week of December 14, 2018


Why You Should Temper Your Excitement If Your Team Trades a Star For a Few Top Prospects

Every year, especially at the trade deadline, an out of contention team deals an expensive, star player for a few top prospects. It makes sense – if your team is going nowhere anytime soon, there’s no reason to pay a lot of money to a star player when you can can get young, cheap talent in return and give yourself a brighter future. Fans are sad to see their guy go while at the same time getting excited for a couple top prospects and what they could mean for the future.

The Ringer just kinda blew that apart. They cataloged every prospect ranked in the Top-50 by Baseball America from 1990 through 2011 and analyze that player’s total WAR (wins above replacement) over the player’s first six years in the majors (after which they become free agents). The results are a bit surprising.

In all, there were 697 players in the list. Many of them were busts: over half of them accumulated less than 6 WAR over their first six seasons. Even narrowing it down, more than one third of top-10 ranked players, failed to reach the 6 WAR threshold over their first six seasons.

But things get even worse if the player was traded: of the 697 players, 103 were traded as prospects. On average, the non-traded prospects accrued 27% more WAR than the traded prospects. 28% of the traded prospects accumulated zero or negative WAR over their first six seasons. Another 29% accumulated between zero and 6 WAR over their first six seasons. Less than three percent of the traded prospects produced 24 WAR over their first six seasons, which amounts to an All Star level player. The non-traded prospects reached that threshold more than three times as often.

Perhaps, you’re thinking, the discrepancy is because the most highly ranked prospects are not traded as often as those closer to 50th. Nope. The average ranking of the traded prospects was 27.8, and the non-traded prospects was 25.

So why the gap? The Ringer’s explanation makes sense: there’s an information gap. An organization, that has raised a prospect since they were a teenager knows much more about its players – work ethic, mental makeup, lifestyle habits – than other teams can possibly know. If a team is willing to deal a top prospect, perhaps they value that player less than outsiders do. If the Red Sox thought Yoan Moncada was a power hitting, All-Star second baseman, they might not have included him in the deal for Chris Sale. As it is, Moncada has not yet developed into a star with the White Sox. Other factors hurt the traded prospects, too. Sometimes a player who has come up in a certain system and has done well is unable to adjust to a new environment with unfamiliar coaches, philosophies, and teammates.

So what should teams do? One suggestion is that while in decades past prospects were dealt too easily, the pendulum has swung the other way and they are now overvalued:

In decades past, teams might have undervalued youth and made excessive win-now trades that discarded future considerations. But, “you can even make the argument now that it’s gone so far in the other direction,” Paternostro says, “that it’s a bit of an untapped market inefficiency: trading your best prospect, as silly as that is to say. Just because it’s the only way you can get a return of that level.”

In other words: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Deal your prospects, who might pan out, in order to get quality major league talent that you know will help your team win.

I do have one complaint about this analysis, though. Limiting the analysis to the first six years of the prospect’s career is odd, or perhaps expecting an average of 4 WAR per year (4 WAR is an All Star) over those 6 years is too much. Here’s a screenshot of the top 25 traded prospects by their 6 year WAR:

Aside from the top 3, none made the 24 WAR threshold, but many of them were fantastic players later. I will acknowledge, though, that of the players on that list that I think should be included as very good players, very few of them made a huge mark on the team they were traded to as prospects. For example, Adrian Gonzalez didn’t make his mark with Florida, but with San Diego; Carlos Gonzalez didn’t impact Oakland; etc. Still, it’s worth noting. -TOB

Source: Why Trading for Top Prospects Is Less of a Win Than MLB Teams Seem to Think”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (12/10/2018)

PAL: Good week for The Ringer with two great reads. Organizations don’t trade prospects they love, especially when they are years away from free agency. That much should be obvious, but it’s not, in part because we need to justify that our team got the better end of the deal. I think most fans have gone through a period when their team is in the “prospects cycle”. After a certain amount of years you get tired of being sold on the next great prospect acquired in a trade of yet another solid big leaguer before he hits free agency.


A Lesson For a New NBA Head Coach

When Fred Hoiberg was fired as the head coach for the Chicago Bulls last week, Jim Boylen was named the interim head coach. Things have not gone well! On Saturday, they lost at home to the Celtics by 56 points, a franchise record, and an NBA record for a home loss. Boylen tried to schedule a practice for the next morning, after the team had played games in back to back days Friday and Saturday. This did not go over well, and he nearly had a mutiny.

Now, as the TNT crew said this week, if you lose by 56 points, you should want to practice the next day. But Boylen tried to justify the Sunday practice by noting that he had yanked all five starters twice during the game, including three minutes into the third quarter, after which no starter re-entered the game. Players were not happy about that, either. Starter Zach LaVine noted, “It sucks to know you can help, sitting there watching the score go up and up.” Boylen’s response is classic:

Boylen downplayed his substitution pattern after the game by saying he simply felt it was best for the team. He reminded the media that he worked as an assistant for two seasons under San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who has “subbed five guys a ton of times and nobody says a word to him about it.”

That may be true, Jim. But let this be a lesson to you and every other neophyte coach: he’s Gregg Popovich, and you’re not. -TOB

Source: How the Bulls Narrowly Avoided a Full-Blown Mutiny in Jim Boylen’s First Week as Head Coach”, Darnell Mayberry, The Athletic (12/09/2018)


Fox Was Built On Football

December marks the 25th anniversary of FOX obtaining NFL rights, and the article below is an oral history of how that happened. I don’t knowingly care about what networks are airing what games, but this story reveals so much about the time, the role sports played on the three major networks (a promotional vehicle for other programs), and a new breed of sports franchise owners were starkly different than the old guard.

At the core of this story are two sides looking at the same thing and seeing something the opposite: CBS, NBC, and ABC saw an annual renewal of rights with old owner friends, while Rupert Murdoch and Fox saw NFL – specifically NFC football, with teams in large markets like New York, Chicago, Philly, and San Francisco – as a way to build a television network for decades to come. While many thought Murdoch overbid for the football rights, he saw the as a cheaper alternative to buying one of the old networks outright.

Added to the mix was a tough economy at the time, which led to each of the three networks being run by bottom line CEOs who spent their time watching the stock prices ebb and flow. At one point CBS as actually trying to convince the NFL to take a paycut! Murdoch was not as short sighted.

The finance people and the salespeople at the network got together and said, “OK, how much can we pay for these rights?” They did an analysis of what kind of advertising they could sell and came up with the maximum break-even number. Then Mr. Murdoch came bounding into the room and said, “What do we have to bid?” We told him. He said, “That’s not enough. The NFL doesn’t really want their games on our network. They’re just using us to bid up CBS. I’ve got to bid CBS away from the table.”

When he does a deal, Rupert’s thinking about, “What’s this going to look like 10 years out, 20 years out? Will this help me build a network?” The other guys are trying to manage financials for the next quarterly financial report.

Fox bought 4 years of NFC rights, plus one Super Bowl, for $395MM per year, which was $100MM more than CBS was willing to offer. Five years later, under new management, CBS bid $500MM for the weaker AFC package.

It’s a long read, but perhaps the best oral history I’ve read. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis does an excellent job weaving all of the voices into this story.  – PAL

Source: The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (12/13/18)

TOB: This was great. The thing it was missing that I was wondering about – how much did they have to invest in infrastructure? How did they know what they needed? Did they just hire all the technicians from CBS, too? I care way less about how they hired Matt Millen than how they figured out how to make it work.


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Lil Stoner.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: ‘Trouble Weighs a Ton’ – Dan Auerbach


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“I have never taken the high road. But I tell other people to ‘cause then there’s more room for me on the low road.”

-Tom Haverford

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1-2-3 Sports! Week of December 7, 2018

Feels like yesterday, doesn’t it? 


Sports Research Rabbit Holes

You ever get into an internet rabbit hole? I found myself in one this week, and I found out something pretty interesting. I was reading this Ringer article on Markelle Fultz, who was diagnosed this week with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOC). TOC is a situation where the the gap between the collarbone and the first rib begins to shrink, usually due to repetitive motion (like pitching a baseball), thus pinching nerves and blood vessels specifically nerves and major blood vessels that pass through that gap. This happens to pitchers fairly often, recently to Matt Harvey. It’s pretty rare to happen in basketball, and Fultz hopes this explains his odd shooting mechanics over the last fifteen months.

That’s all pretty interesting, but here’s where I found my rabbit hole. The Ringer article mentioned an Astros pitcher named J.R. Richard. Richard had TOC and it caused him to suffer a stroke in 1980. He nearly died and never pitched again, and was even homeless for a while. He was only 30 when his career ended. Now, I’d like to think I’m a pretty big baseball fan, and I have a good memory when it comes to sports trivia, but I had never heard of J.R. Richard. So I looked him up.

The man was coming off back to back seasons of 300+ strikeouts (in which he finished 3rd and 4th in the Cy Young voting), and before his stroke in 1980, he was on pace to do so again. He also had an ERA+ of 174 and a FIP of 1.94, both of which are extremely excellent. As I gazed in wonder at these numbers I thought, “Wait, wasn’t Nolan Ryan on the Astros by 1980, as well?”

Oh, yes. He was. It was his first year with the team, and within a couple years they’d add Mike Scott. What a rotation that would have been.

So then I started wondering how baseball history might have changed if Richard doesn’t get TOC/have a stroke. In 1980, after he went down, they won 93 games and the NL West, but lost the deciding game of the best-of-five NLCS to the Phillies, 8-7 in extra innings. Nolan pitched Games 2 and 5. What if Richard had been there to pitch Game 4, which the Astros lost 5-3? The difference in that entire series was 1 run – the Phillies outscored the Astros 20-19. The Phillies went on to win that World Series easily, 4-2, over the Royals. Stick with me here, it’s about to get weird.

Then, in 1981, the Astros narrowly lost out on another shot. From Wikpedia:

Due to the players’ strike, which ran from June 12 to August 8, the 1981 season was split into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series. The four survivors would then move on to the two best-of-five League Championship Series. The expanded playoffs led to Game 1 of the World Series being pushed back to October 20, the latest starting date for a Fall Classic up to that time.

In the National League, the Dodgers led the National League West prior to the strike. The Houston Astros, however, won the second-half division title. The Dodgers then defeated the Astros, three games to two, in the National League Division Series before beating the Montreal Expos, three games to two, in the National League Championship Series.

The Yankees, who led the American League East in the season’s first half, took on the Milwaukee Brewers, winners of the second half division title, in the American League Division Series. New York was victorious three games to two, then went on to sweep the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series.

The split-season decision was not a popular one, both among teams and their fans. The arrangement resulted in teams with the best overall record in either their division or league that year, in particular the Cincinnati Reds (the majors’ best team with 66 wins, 42 losses), being left out of the postseason along with the St. Louis Cardinals which lead the NL East with an overall record of 59-43 and a winning percentage of 0.578. Though the teams with the best record in the American League East and West did win their divisions, the Yankees finished 3rd overall in the AL East while the Kansas City Royals finished 4th overall with a losing 50-53 record

WHAT. How did I not know about this? And here’s the kicker: I suffered the same fate!

When I was in majors in Little League, for some reason our league did this exact set up each season. There was a first half winner and a second half winner and they met in a one-game league championship. I was on the Giants. My 11-year old season we had a really good team. We started the season hot, but lost a game we shouldn’t have and then lost to (I believe) the Cubs on the last day of the first half, and I believe we finished 7-2. The Cubs won the first half in a tiebreaker, as they were also 7-2. Then, in the second half, we lost to (I believe) the Rangers, finishing at 8-1, but the Rangers went undefeated in the second half at 9-0. So we were out of the playoffs even though we had the best (or maybe tied for the best?) record.

Yes, I still remember these ridiculous details 25-years later, and yes I am still bitter about it. Heck, we were outraged! I always wondered who the heck came up with that damn format, and now I know: It was MLB! I blame you, Bowie Kuhn!

And that, kids, is how an article about Markelle Fultz explained one of my biggest personal sports disappointments. -TOB
Source: “What Baseball Can Tell Us About Markelle Fultz’s Latest Diagnosis”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/4/2018); From MLB To Homeless: J.R. Richard Tells His Story In ‘Still Throwing Heat’”, Bill Littlefield, WBUR.org (08/22/2015),  J.R. Richard”, “1980 Astros”, “Nolan Ryan”, “Mike ScottBaseball-Reference.com; 1980 NLCS”, “1980 World Series”, “1981 World Series”, “1981 Major League Baseball Strike”, “Bowie Kuhn”, Wikpedia.com

PAL: That’s just damn fun stuff, TOB. The rabbit hole is real. A part of me likes the season being broken up into halves like that. More teams with games that matter a bit more throughout the season.

TOB: Sure, but – the first half winners gets to take the second half easy and rest up for the playoffs. Apparently the adopted format for the 1981 season was not popular among teams and fans.


Good Traditions: Stealing Mascots

Last week I shared a story from former goalie Curtis ‘Cujo’ Joseph that felt like it was from the pages of a John Irving novel. This week, with the Army-Navy football game set for Saturday, I have mascot-stealing vignettes that could be from a Pat Conroy book.

There are college traditions that should stay in the past, but I hope the military academies over-the-top attempts to steal one another’s live mascots goes on forever. Dave Phillips runs through the history of the tradition, highlighting some of the more creative, bold, and downright insane attempts and successes.

Military historian Tom Carhart sums it up best, with a little latin in there for good measure.

“Motivated young men and women on the cusp of adulthood want a challenge. Stealing the mascot is the summum bonum. If you can capture that, there are no boundaries in life.”

Quick refresher of the mascots:

  • Air Force Academy: Falcon
  • West Point: Mule
  • Naval Academy: Goat

Here’s my favorite heist story from the article, featuring Carhart on the mission of 1965:

Dressed in black with faces darkened by burned cork, he and five other Army cadets made it through two fences topped with barbed wire. Then, with the goat in sight, they froze as a Ford station wagon pulled up near the Marines guarding its pen. Two college-age women got out of the car.

“We had planned it all with our girlfriends,” Mr. Carhart said. “They told the Marines a story about how they were lost, and they’d been stood up on a blind date. I think one of them cried. We sneaked in to the goat pen, only 25 feet behind them all, but the guards never turned around. They were looking at the girls.”

That’s the good stuff. College was fun. – PAL

Source: A Covert Coup for Cadets: Steal the Mascot”, Dave Phillips, The New York Times (12/06/2018)

TOB: But as the article notes, you better do your research before stealing a live animal:

Just last month, Aurora, a glacier-white gyrfalcon and mascot of the Air Force Academy, was abducted in the middle of the night, and nearly met a tragic end. The Army cadets who stole Aurora seem not to have known that the regal falcon is almost never caged. Even on commercial airline flights, she travels perched on a handler’s glove in the coach cabin. When the kidnappers stuffed her into a dog crate, Aurora panicked, and beat her wings frantically until they were bloody.


Lookout, Matt; Data’s Coming for the NHL

As anyone who watched the baseball playoffs this past year can attest, baseball is, now more than ever, a data-driven sport. Hell, they made a movie about baseball statistics, starring Brad Pitt. Technology and new data have already changed the game. New data is changing the way we monitor all sorts of athletic endeavors, but different sports create different challenges in gathering advantageous information about players, systems, and strategies. Whereas baseball is largely series isolated events separated by breaks in the game, basketball, soccer, and hockey are in continuous motion.

Tyler Dellow’s article is a good read because he explains how hockey, although well behind baseball in terms of data collection, is on the precipice of a new era in data, how that data will change the way teams play, the valuation of a player’s worth, and ultimately team success. The hockey version of Moneyball, or, Dellow’s would prefer the 2013-2014 Pittsburgh Pirates, hasn’t happened yet.

Here are a couple sections of his article that stuck out:

Historically, hockey leagues have tracked goals and assists. While that’s useful information, it’s not unlike runs and RBI in baseball: an attempt to hand out credit after the fact rather than tracking the building blocks of goals. Shot attempt data and expected goals models are helpful but there’s a huge issue with a lack of information about how the puck moved and where the non-shooting players were when the puck was shot. That’s the information that’s analogous to on-base percentage and slugging percentage in baseball.

And this:

Away from the ice, one of the real challenges of hockey is allocating credit or blame between players. This is particularly true when dealing with players who play with superstars – every partner Nicklas Lidstrom ever had posted great numbers – or players who are playing on particularly good or bad teams. The ability to better isolate what players are contributing away from their linemates will result in much better evaluations of players who are in unusual circumstances. This has the potential to be transformative, both in terms of player evaluation but particularly in terms of how players get paid.  

This story is on The Athletic, so you have to have the service to read. I enjoyed it, but I also think you get the picture here. My main point is this: my brother, Matt, is a big hockey fan who bemoaned the state of baseball after watching the playoffs this year and the Twins firing of Paul Molitor, which was in part due to him not completely buying into data-driven approach to the game. I understand is displeasure, but make no mistake, Matt – the data wave is coming for hockey next. – PAL

Source: The Next Generation of Data Will Drastically Change Our Perception of Players and How Organizations Operate”, Tyler Dellow, The Athletic (12/05/2018)

TOB: I am curious why the NHL has elected to go with radio chips instead


What’s the Matter With Kids These Days?

What is going on in college basketball? Why, back in my day Duke was the school for annoying, obnoxious dorks who fit the personality of their coach, Mike Krzyzewski – players like Christian Laettner, Steve Wojciechowski, JJ Reddick, Cherokee Parks, Jay Williams. Austin Rivers. Grayson Allen. The Plumlees. Ugh, even thinking of those guys is annoying. Duke was made for guys like that, and guys like that were made for Duke. It was a nice system – seasons pass and times change, but you could always count on a reliable sports-hate for Duke.

So what the heck is going on lately? This week, the #2 high school player in the country, Vernon Carey, committed to Duke. He seems cool and very good. The team is currently led by three freshman projected to go first, second, and fourth in next June’s NBA Draft – Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish. They are awesome. This comes off the heels of recent Duke players like Jayson Tatum, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram, Harry Giles, and Marvin Bagley.

Those guys are all cool and good and they had no business playing for Duke. They should have gone to Kansas, or Michigan, or Kentucky, or UCLA. When did the system break down? Has my generation failed to explain to the next one just how much Duke sucks? Apparently so.

As Vernon Carey said this week, the reason he chose Duke was Coach K. When did this flip? I pondered this for a bit, and I now blame Jerry Colangelo, who selected Coach K to coach Team USA since 2005. Coach K won three Olympic gold medals, led by guys like LeBron, Carmelo, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. Suddenly, playing for Coach K is cool and that is terrible.Thanks a lot, Jerry. -TOB

Source: Duke Lands a Recruiting Coup and a Critical Need for 2019 in Five-Star Vernon Carey Jr.”, Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated (12/06/2018)

PAL: I still remember standing in my parents basement watching Laettner hit that shot over Kentucky. My future brother-in-law and his college buddies were in town for a U2 concert at the Metrodome (how early 90s is that setup?), and we all hate watched that team. To hate Duke was an unspoken agreement. Interesting point on the impact of USA basketball, which leads me to a theory.

Alphas and guys who think they are really cool don’t want other really cool guys around them. They don’t like being challenged. Let’s say Cool Guy 1 is the best surfer in his little group of friends, then one day a new cool guy (Cool Guy 2) paddles out with them, and CG2 is a better surfer than CG1. CG1 hates that. CG1 doesn’t want CG2 around when he and his buddies surf; rather, CG1 wants the old surfer who’s been on this break for 30 years passing on locals-only advice and gnarly stories from decades of sessions and sets.

Cool Guys want to be around successful, cool people, but that success and coolness cannot be seen as more of the moment, equal or greater than their own. They aren’t looking for a co-pilot. They want the wise old, sneaky funny guy in the barbershop with real stories. They want a bass player, not a lead guitarist. Someone that is exceptional, but more than fine with being beside the spotlight. Coach K is crazy successful, but he’s not cool relative to LeBron, Kyrie, Carmelo, etc…or cool relative to anyone. He’s tough – people bring up he played for Bobby Knight at West Point seemingly every damn broadcast. He’s old school. Does it the “right way”. Of course LeBron and crew love him. And if they love him, so too will the five-star recruits.


Worth a mention:

  • Per USA TodayGayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, wrote a check for $93K to pay off all of the layaway at a WalMart in New Orleans. It was first reported as an anonymous customer, but the Saints confirmed the anonymous donor was Benson. A real Danson move if you ask me…

  • SI’s Jack Dickey On the passing of President George H.W. Bush, his life as a sportsman, and the parallels between sports and politics: “The early obituaries were divided as to whether Bush had carried those values with him into Congress, the CIA, the Vice Presidency, the White House and his post-Presidency, or whether, out of political expediency, he had checked them at the door. Historians and the American public will have months and years to ponder, among other questions, whether his grace in defeat in 1992 at all mitigated the ruthlessness he displayed in victory in 1988. For all we celebrate about the character-building powers of sports, their cruelest lesson—winning matters most—can stick, too.”

Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – “Rumors”


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No one told me I could be anonymous and tell people. I would’ve taken that option.

-Larry ‘Lar’ David

 

 

1-2-3 Sports! Week of November 30, 2018


Yankees/Red Sox? Michigan/Ohio State? Lakers/Celtics? Amateurs!

If you’re an American sports fan, and you think you have a bitter rival, you are very, very wrong. Hell, if you’re a Real Madrid fan, and you think your rivalry with Barcelona is intense, go kick rocks. You have not seen a bitter rivalry like Boca Juniors and River Plate. And don’t just take my word for it. From wikipedia:

In April 2004, the English newspaper The Observer put the Superclásico at the top of their list of “50 sporting things you must do before you die”, saying that “Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about”, in 2016 the British football magazine FourFourTwo considered it the “biggest derby in the world”, The Daily Telegraph ranked this match as the “biggest club rivalry in world football” in 2016, and the Daily Mirror placed it number 1 in The top 50 football derbies in the world, above El Clásico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F., in 2017.

You may be excused for not knowing either team if you do not follow South American soccer. But River/Boca is the most vicious rivalry on the planet, and for my money it’s not close. River and Boca are cross-town rivals, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s a classic rivalry. Boca, traditionally, is the working class club. Their stadium, La Bombonera (such a cool name), is located in the Buenos Aires docklands, known as “La Boca” (the Mouth). River’s El Monumental, is located in the relatively affluent area of Nuñez. The teams have strikingly different colors, blue and yellow for Boca, and black, white, and red for River. The teams have featured some of the greatest Argentinians players ever, including Maradona, Carlos Tevez, and Martin Palermo for Boca, and Javier Mascherarno, Radamel Falcao, and Gonzalo Higuain for River.

Most importantly for any rivalry, the fans absolutely hate each other, and they do not mess around. When the teams play, it’s known as the Superclasico. Usually, there are two per year. But this year, both Boca and River made the Copa Libertadores final. Libertadores is the South American version of the European Champions League. The best clubs from each country play a tournament, and this year it came down to River and Boca. The two teams played to a 2-2 draw at La Bombonera  a couple weeks back, and were set to play the finale last Saturday at Monumental. The game never happened.

As the Boca bus made its way toward the stadium, it was attacked by a huge mob of River fans. And if you think I’m exaggerating, watch this:

Yes, they smashed the windows out of the moving bus with rocks. Things got worse, and the police used pepper spray/tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd. It didn’t work well, though, because with the smashed out windows, the players also got tear gassed.

When the players finally arrived at the stadium, they were in no shape to play. Many were having difficulty breathing. The Boca captain even had a gash over his eye from the broken glass. But CONMEBOL, the South American soccer federation, insisted the game go on. FIFA’s president was in town for the match. Fox had paid a ton to broadcast the game. The show must go on! CONMEBOL eventually granted Boca a series of one hour delays, before threatening to hold the team out of all competitions for five years if they did not play, which is absolutely insane. Boca called their bluff, and CONMEBOL relented, suspending the game until the next day, and then indefinitely. Presently, the plan is to hold the game outside of Argentina to ensure the players’ safety.

I have a little experience with this. I went to a Boca game at La Bombanera, back in 2009. I was with my brother, Pat, and my buddy, Ryan. We had no idea what we were getting into. We took a cab down to the stadium hoping to scalp some tickets. In hindsight, this was an absolutely insane idea. Luckily, we found no one selling tickets. I don’t think it’s a thing there. But we did find a tour group of Americans being led by a local. It seemed legit, and he said he could get us in, with seats in an enclosed area away from the rest of the fans. We didn’t have enough cash, so he walked us to an ATM at halftime, and I wasn’t feeling nervous until I saw how terrified he was of us all getting mugged as we took out the cash.

The game was fun, and the crowds were nuts. But after the game, we were descending a grand stair case to the exit, and I remarked that it was crazy, but I never felt unsafe. Just as I said it, the crowds in front of us who had already gotten outside began to retreat inside. I looked up and saw police in riot gear, just feet from us, as they retreated from an onslaught of asphalt. Yes, the fans were ripping up the street and throwing it at the cops. We saw cops get hit, blood gushing from their heads. They dropped steel doors while the police outside fought off the crowds. It was legitimately scary. Finally they opened the doors, and our guide had the group sprint across the street to a waiting van. We asked him if rioting was normal. He said yes. We asked if it was a bad riot. He said, nah – it’s a medium riot.

And here’s the kicker: We were not even at El Superclasico! This was not River/Boca. This was Boca against a team called Rosario, from central Argentina. It was a regular-ass game! So, while I don’t recommend you go watch a Superclasico in person, I do suggest you think of it the next time you hear an announcer call Alabama and Auburn “bitter” rivals. -TOB

Source: Copa Libertadores Final Delayed An Hour After River Plate Fans Attack Boca Juniors Bus”, Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin (11/24/2018)


The Netminder of Martin Acres

Ever read a John Irving novel? Curtis Joseph had a twenty year career as an NHL goalie with three all-star appearances, an olympic gold medal, and he’s married to a former Playboy model, but by far the most remarkable detail about his life is that he grew up in a home for the mentally ill.

In an excerpt from his biography (written with Kirstie McClellan Day), Joseph described the circumstances that led he, his mother, and “my mom’s husband” taking over a home, as well as the patients that are just as much a part of his childhood as family.

There was Wellington the pedofile, Tony with his “13 imperfections”, Little George, and Joseph’s favorite – Big George. There was Little Albert, Big Albert (a former wrestler), the architect who would write measurements on the walls and Dave, the burnt out drummer. Some had lobotomies, others had terrible accidents, and all of them were a part of Joseph’s home life at Martin Acres.

Even the circumstances that led Joseph coming to live at Martin Acres seem like something out of a novel. His mother, a pill popper of sorts, worked at the home handing out the meds to the patience. When the original owners grew too old to run the place, she offered up her husband’s house to the owners in exchange for the business of running the home. Both sides agreed.

I had no idea we were moving. I found out one day after school. There was no conversation about it, just “Get in the station wagon.” We pulled up past a sign that said martin acres and onto the driveway that ran in front of the house. Harold told me to hop out and unload my stuff. That wasn’t hard because I had only a few shirts, a couple of pairs of underwear and three pairs of socks, two sweatshirts, one pair of blue jeans, a pair of cords and my hockey cards. My whole world in one suitcase.

I followed Harold through the front door, then through another door, up the stairs to the right, above the garage. There were four bedrooms up there. He pointed to the first room on the right. “This is yours,” he said. The other doors were all opened a crack and I could feel several pairs of eyes watching.

I found out later that my room was with the men who were on the calm side. The other side was a little more dangerous.

Like I said, Joseph’s upbringing is the stuff of a John Irving novel. – PAL

Source: NHL Legend Curtis Joseph Grew Up In A Home For The Mentally Ill”, Curtis Joseph, Deadspin (11/27/18)


Sports Can Be an Escape, But Not a Panacea

This is a really good article – short and to a very good point. Ohio State’s head football coach, Urban Meyer, had a “difficult” year in that it was revealed that he had swept years of domestic violence by one of his assistant coaches under the rug, lied when confronted, and then tried to cover it all up once the lies came out. They were “difficulties” almost entirely of his own doing, and which helped reveal to the general public that Urban Meyer is a win-at-all-costs sh-tbag. But, win he does, and so the show has gone on.

That doesn’t mean that his team winning games absolves him of his sins. But, in the waning minutes of Ohio State’s big win over Michigan last weekend, Fox’s Gus Johnson carried the water for Meyer, discussing how Meyer “overcame” a “troubling” season.

That is so tone deaf and misses the point entirely. As Deadspin’s Gabe Fernandez put it:

There’s always an argument to be made that people turn to sports to escape the bleak realities of the world, and just let their mind sit on autopilot, so it’s best to keep these issues out of whatever is happening on the field. Fine, but then media members can’t get swept up in the emotion of what’s happening to the point where such a definitive character flaw can be exorcised just because one team scored more points than the other.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Gus Johnson Worked Obscenely Hard To Redeem Urban Meyer”, Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin (11/24/2018)

PAL: I don’t have much to add to it, other than to echo how dumb this is and how good of a point Fernandez makes. You can’t have it both ways.


The Best College Hoops Coach Doesn’t Even Coach in the NCAA

If you asked me to name the best college hoops coaches over the last twenty years, I’d consider names like Coach K, Boeheim, Mike Montgomery, Calipari, Bill Self, Roy Williams. Jay Wright. Lots of names to consider! All have had good success.

But if you then told me there was a coach who, over the last two decades, had compiled a winning percentage of .922, and beaten teams like Wisconsin in 2014, Baylor in 2015, Wichita State in 2016, and Cincinnati, and Ole Miss this year, I would have absolutely no idea who you were talking about. In fact, I’d think you misspoke. But that’s the record for Dave Smart, coach of the Carleton University Ravens. Carleton is located outside Ottawa, Canada. The Ravens, under Coach Smart, have won thirteen of the last sixteen national titles in U Sports (the Canadian NCAA equivalent). You might think it’s simply because the competition is weaker, but that Wisconsin team they beat went on to the NCAA championship game.

On top of that, Carleton’s defenses have become so revered that some of the best coaches in the NCAA have come to Coach Smart to study what he does. Those coaches include John Beilein (Michigan), Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Bill Coen (Northeastern), and Paul Weir (New Mexico). Even Jay Wright, winner of two of the last three national titles did so. Wright was effusive in his praise of Smart:

“Their defensive system is the most unique I’ve seen,” says Wright. “I’ve tried to steal it, just based on watching film, but I couldn’t do it, so I asked Dave to come and explain it in depth to our staff.” What began as a schematic melding of forcing ballhandlers to both the middle and baseline of the court transformed into a free-flowing amorphous-like defense that seeks—and largely succeeds—to deny open looks. Rather than a constant stream of information, the Ravens use one-word commands to instruct the man on the ball, a basketball shorthand that enables defenders to anticipate rather than react. “When we played them, we couldn’t score,” says Wright. “Those four players are all communicating what an opponent is going to do next. It’s very complex.”

The Carleton reputation has gotten so good, that Coach K and the Dookies even ducked him during their high profile tour of Canada this preseason. Here’s what Smart had to say:

This past August, there was some thought Carleton might even play Duke, a national title favorite that was set to embark on its first ever exhibition slate in Canada. Though the Blue Devils are stocked with potential one-and-dones like R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, Duke appeared to skirt the game—the ACC squad ultimately declined to come to Ottawa and instead scheduled Ryerson, the University of Toronto, and McGill, squads Carleton routinely beats, a move which caused Smart to claim that the Ravens’ success has unnerved his counterparts south of the border. “We really wanted to play them,” Smart said at the time. “I’ve been told coaches are dodging us.”

So why hasn’t Smart gotten a high profile NCAA job? He says he’s happy where he is, and he is aware of the Canadian basketball legacy he’s building. Plus, Smart does get one distinct advantage over NCAA coaches. There is no practice time restriction as there is here.

There are no restrictions for when teams are allowed to practice, and at Carleton, that means scrimmaging and working out in two-hour stints that begin the week after the national tournament and continue year-round, adding a new dimension to what typically constitutes skill development. “That was a shock when I first arrived,” says Tutu. “I wasn’t used to that type of training.” … According to former guard Kaza Keane, now with the Raptors’ D-League affiliate, that sort of attention to detail is why he transferred to Carleton for his final season of eligibility. Smart heavily recruited him out of high school, an offer Keane spurned at first, playing at Illinois State and then Cleveland State before returning to his native Canada. “I was blown away by how hard the guys were working when I went on my first visit,” he says. “I had to take an ice bath afterwards.”

That’s a big advantage that should not be overlooked. Still, Carleton is doing this mostly with D1 flameouts, and Smart’s accomplishments should be celebrated. -TOB

Source: The Most Successful College Hoops Coach In North America Just Wants Duke To Stop Ducking Him”, Matt Giles, Deadspin (11/27/2018)

PAL: The most telling detail is that big time D-I coaches are flocking up to Ottawa to learn from him. I’m not that impressed with the winning percentage of a college basketball coach in Canada – sorry – but clearly he has something working if all these coaches are making the trip north. Another huge difference between coaching college in Canada is there’s no threat of big time players leaving early. So Smart has what appears to be a brilliant defensive scheme and players that are around for five years to master it. I can understand why a team with that kind of experience would give a D-I team full of 19 year-old hot shots some issues.


Seriously, Where Are The Women Coaches In Men’s Sports?

Consider this statistic:

Of the roughly 2,600 coaches employed by the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, and MLB (this includes minor league affiliates), the number of women coaching isn’t a Congress-like 20 percent. It’s not even one percent. Of that 2,600, the total number of female coaches is six.

If the best truth about sports is that results are blind to those who achieves them – regardless of color, creed, gender, sexuality, wealth, poverty, politics – then how the hell are there only six female coaches across five professional leagues? Why are teams choosing to limit the potential pool from which they fish for the next innovator, genius, or schematic genius?

Tim Struby’s article tracks the journey of football coaching hopeful Phoebe Schecter and uses her story to set up and strike down the rationale as to why there aren’t more women coaching men, and he gets the obvious out of the way from the jump:

These stats prompt some to raise the question: Can women coach men? Well the answer is simple.

Yes. Of course.

If a woman is capable of serving on the Supreme Court, then a woman sure as hell is capable of coaching the Daytona Tortugas, the Cincinnati Reds’ A-ball team. So the real question here isn’t about ability, it’s about access. Why, in the 21st century, aren’t more women coaching men?

As you can imagine, there are a lot of excuses. There’s the playing experience excuse – how can someone coach me who’s never played the game at the same level as me? – but that logic would mean Bill Belichick, who played D-III football, isn’t qualified to coach in the NFL. Additionally, women play hockey, soccer, basketball at a high enough level to understand the nuances, technique, and philosophies of the respective games. I do see a lack of infrastructure in football, and – for better or worse – softball is the defacto women’s alternative to baseball (I never understood why women don’t just play baseball).

There is the sanctity of locker room excuse – the conversations that put the players at ease might offend a woman coach – but I’m not sure anyone should be defending employees desire to have conversations in the workplace that would offend other employees. Call me crazy, but the defending locker room talk these days sounds, well, gross.

Really, it comes down to opportunity and lazy habits. Management shouldn’t see hiring a woman as a PR move but as a competitive advantage, an untapped talent pool. People that have a problem with it are not prioritizing winning enough. Keep in mind that stat up at the top of this write-up isn’t specific to head coaches; rather, we’re talking about women on the paid coaching staff of professional teams in those sports.

For fun, I also looked up other coaches with limited playing experience. In addition to Belichick:

  • Brad Stevens (Celtics) – D-III
  • Ken Hitchcock (Edmonton Oilers, 3rd winningest NHL coach of all-time) – nothing beyond youth hockey
  • Tom Kelly (49 MLB games)

My hunch is we will see a wave of women being hired as coaches across most of the major professional leagues over the next five to ten years. It will be way overdue, and they will succeed, and folks will wonder why the hell it took us so long. Of the sports mentioned above, I see MLB and NFL being the slowest to adapt.- PAL

Source: Why aren’t more women coaching men?”, Tim Struby, SBNation (11/27/18)

TOB: Granted, a the vast majority of this is sexism. But some of it, I think, is also logistical. You cited a few of the many examples of professional coaches who did not play professionally, of course. But Belichick, for example, did play college football and was the son of a football coach. His dad coached Army in Annapolis, Maryland. Bill’s first job out of college? He was hired just down the road as an assistant by the Baltimore Colts. Nepotism was certainly at play. But if Bill hadn’t at least played, I don’t think he gets that job even with his dad being a coach.

I was interested in your Ken Hitchcock example. Here’s the wikipedia entry about his coaching start: “While growing up playing hockey in western Canada, Hitchcock found he could motivate players. This led him into coaching, first at various levels in the Edmonton area, and later a ten-year stint at the helm of the midget AAA Sherwood Park Chain Gang.” So, he coached youth hockey for more than a decade before he got even into coaching the WHL. He didn’t get an assistant coaching job in the NHL until he was 39-years old.

Tom Kelly is similar – he didn’t play a ton in the bigs, but he was around the game and that’s how most coaches get their start – their playing career ends and they start at the lowest levels. Women face a tough hurdle there – they don’t play football or baseball. Watching it just isn’t the same. I’ve watched football my whole life, even played a few years, and I am wholly unqualified to coach.

The article’s analogy to a woman serving on the Supreme Court is a poor one. Like men, women are qualified to serve on the Supreme Court only after decades of work in the law and (usually) on the bench. But you can’t watch Law & Order your whole life and expect to have the ability to be a Supreme Court justice.

Similarly, you just can’t learn football watching on TV or playing in your backyard.
I do believe that if a female coach followed Ken Hitchcock’s example and started coaching at the lowest levels and won consistently for a few years, they’d move up the ranks. Soccer and basketball would be a great sports for that to happen, as women play them at the highest levels, which is what usually gets your foot in the door. But, football? I don’t see how you can coach that game without having played for decades.

The only exception is the child of a coach. The article mentions Todd Haley, who didn’t play even college football. But he grew up around the game because his dad was a coach. I can also think of current SMU coach Sonny Dykes. He played baseball in college, not football. But his dad was the legendary offensive innovator Spike Dykes. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.

However, that’s how I could see a female football coach happen: the daughter of a coach. She’s going to have to love the game from an early age and learn how to watch film and think the game.

I don’t see Schechter, featured in the article, gaining that experience by 2021, as the author suggests.


A Quick Note on the Baker Mayfield/Hue Jackson Beef

I like Baker Mayfield. I do not like Hue Jackson. And like Barry Petchesky, I’m pro-sports beef. But Mayfield’s comments after the Browns/Bengals game this week are crazy. He criticized Jackson for going to the Bengals a few weeks back after being fired by the Browns midseason:

Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati, I don’t know. It’s just somebody that was in our locker room, asking for us to play for him and then goes to a different team we play twice a year.

Making this even more rich is that Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech to conference foe Oklahoma after his freshman year. When this hypocrisy was pointed out to Baker on Twitter, he replied by saying it’s different because Tech was not going to give a scholarship to Mayfield, who had been a walk-on. Ay Baker, that’s literally the same thing! The man was fired. All “loyalties” are off at that point. Move on, bro.

Source: Baker Mayfield is Still Taking Shots at Hue Jackson”“, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (11/27/2018)


Video of the Week

A terrifying video, with a relatively happy-ending, when a hang gliding instructor forgot to strap the student to the hang glider.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Gillian Welch – “Look At Miss Ohio”


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Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here and it says you could have network connectivity problems.

-Andy Dwyer

1-2-3 Sports! Week of November 23, 2018

 


I hope you dominated your family’s Thanksgiving football game. PAL is in Paris this week, so it’s an all you can TOB buffet.


The Rise of Flag Football

Amidst growing awareness of the dangers of playing football, participation in flag football is on the rise. It is America’s fastest growing sport – approximately 1.5 million kids aged 6-12 years old play the game, which is 100,000 more than the number of kids the same age that play tackle football. That’s kind of astounding.

One perhaps unlikely flag football champion is Saints’ QB Drew Brees. Brees himself did not play tackle football until high school, and his three sons all play flag football, as well. Plenty of other former college and NFL players and coaches do not let their kids play tackle football. Dave Wannstedt, former NFL player and head coach, told his daughter he did not recommend her son play tackle, so he plays flag, too.

Concerned that the sport of football would die if parents don’t let their kids play at all, Brees threw money into a flag football league, which has quickly expanded to eleven cities.

“Every parent looks at football now and has reservations,” said Brees, now in his 18th N.F.L. season. “I know I do. If parents feel like the only option is tackle, then there’s a danger that a whole generation of kids may never be introduced to the game.”

The NFL, too, is pumping money into youth flag football leagues, pledging an annual grant to the Boys and Girls Club, and even airing a flag football tournament on its NFL Network last summer.

But is it enough to save football? Is 14-years old old enough that the brain can withstand the repeated collisions? I have my doubts, as do other parents. As former NFL player Jim Schwantz put it, “I found that there was a group of parents, they don’t even want to introduce their kids to flag, period, because they’ll enjoy the game and then ask to play tackle.” -TOB

Source: The Future of Football Has Flags“, Joe Drape and Ken Belson, New York Times (11/20/2018)


Steph Curry’s Injury Once Again Proving He’s the League MVP

Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah. I am a Steph Curry stan, there’s no mystery there. I celebrate that fact. Steph is great and awesome. The greatest shooter of all-time, and it’s not close. A fantastic ballhandler and playmaker. Not a good defender, but he tries, damnit. When the Warriors signed Durant more than two years ago, people wondered how the two players with very different games would co-exist.

It has been about what you’d expect – their volume shooting is down a tick, but they’ve both become a bit more efficient when they do shoot. Curry is basically the same as he ever was, but taking 2-3 fewer shots per game, but still making them at incredibly high, if slightly lower, rates – equaling about a 5-point per game drop. Durant saw his shooting volume go down (3 fewer shots per game in Year 1, but ticked back up to just 1 fewer shot in Year 2), and saw his shooting get more efficient. But that doesn’t really tell the story, and a look at the team’s record in their respective absences tells a lot more. As Patrick Redford points out:

In the two-plus seasons since Durant linked up with the Warriors, the team is 21-20 when Durant has played and Curry has not. When Durant sits and Curry doesn’t, the team is 25-9. This season, Golden State is +118 in Curry’s 399 minutes, and -8 in the 470 minutes he’s sat out. In the six games he’s missed, the Warriors make five fewer threes per game and dish out six fewer assists per game. Klay Thompson is 15-for-55 from three without Curry, and Durant is 3-for-21 from the same distance over the same period.

The numbers bear out what the eye test plainly shows: the Warriors just don’t pass as much or as effectively without Curry, thus taking worse shots and making them less often. Durant is a supremely gifted scorer, but he too often reverts to late-OKC-era isolation ball when he’s given the reins to the offense. It’s not that Durant is unfit to lead the Warriors or that he’s any less talented than Curry; rather, Curry’s penetration, court vision, and gravity open up the court for his teammates more effectively than any other player in basketball. Not only can he pop it from the half-court logo when he wants, he breaks the fabric of the game with his drives and tees up all manner of open shots for his teammates.

Note: Since Redford wrote the above, the Warriors lost another game, to KD’s former team the Thunder, by 28 points. That brings the team to an extremely mediocre 21-21 with Durant and without Curry.

Look, LeBron is one of the two greatest (if not the greatest) player of all-time. I’d take him every time to win a single game or in a game of one-on-one. But Durant isn’t even close to that level, and Curry’s injury is laying bare the truth: Curry changes the game more than any player in the league, possibly in my lifetime.

He is great not just because he’s the greatest shooter of all-time. He’s not Kyle Korver, standing on the three-point line waiting until his defender sags off of him so he can catch and shoot. And he’s not JJ Reddick, running around screens and taking hand-offs so he can get open and hoist an uncontested shot. Curry does it all, from 30-feet and in, and he does it off screens, off the catch-and-shoot, and most impressively, off the dribble while defended. But what sets Curry apart even more is his ability to also create shots for teammates. He creates space for everyone with his shooting range, and then uses his ball handling skills to draw defenders and find his teammates for easy baskets. Durant does practically none of that. As I said last week, his game is so boring I almost fall asleep when I see him working for a turnaround 15-footer.

Steve Kerr has said that Durant is better than Steph. But he’s a good coach and we know he’s lying, as a good coach should. Curry is supremely confident in his own skin, in his own skills. Durant is not confident in either, and needs to have his ego stroked. But that’s ok. We know the truth. Curry is the league’s most valuable player. Durant isn’t close.

Source: Without Steph Curry, The Warriors Are Mortal”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (11/19/2018)


Follow-Up: KD Is Losing His Mind.

Kevin Durant is doing his best to make what I said about him last week seem prophetic. During the Warriors’ loss last weekend to the Mavericks (seriously), Durant walked up to a fan in the front row and said, “Watch the f-cking game and shut the f-ck up.”

When did KD become Ron Artest? But even Artest was more likable than this dude. In the article featured above about Steph Curry, Deadspin’s Patrick Redford put it best: Durant’s ego is “spiderweb-fragile.” When my 4-year old acts up, we give him a timeout. I wonder if the Warriors yet realize they gave the wrong player the suspension last week. -TOB

Source: Kevin Durant Has Suggestion For Heckler: ‘Watch The Fucking Game And Shut The F-ck Up’”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (11/19/2018)


Why You Should Hope Your Team Does Not Sign Bryce Harper

26-year old, former wonderkind, and 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper is a free agent. A handful of teams have planned for this winter for the last five years – hoping to have a chance to sign the guy who, at age 22, had a ten WAR season, while hitting 42 dingers and a slash line of .330/.460/.649 for an OPS of 1.109, and an OPS+ of 198, meaning he was 98% better than league average. My goodness. But quietly, Harper has sandwiched that 2015 season with some rather pedestrian WAR totals: 3.7, 1.1, 10.0, 1.5, 4.7, 1.3.

 

 

While he never again approached that 198 OPS+, he’s still been a good hitter, putting up 114, 156, and 133 since then. So, why are the WAR totals so bad? Because they take into account defense:

Harper’s minus-26 defensive runs saved—the Sports Info Solutions stat that forms the basis of Baseball-Reference’s flavor of WAR—ties him with Hoskins (and 2011 Logan Morrison) for the 12th-worst total of all time. Other defensive stats have Harper costing the Nationals fewer runs, but he doesn’t fare much better in their ordinal rankings. Harper also brought up the rear among outfielders in UZR and Total Zone and ranked second-worst behind Blackmon in Baseball Prospectus’s FRAA.

Statcast-based metrics were only marginally more kind: SIS’s Statcast DRS, which takes positioning into account, had Harper fourth worst among outfielders, behind Hoskins, Blackmon, and Adam Jones. And MLB Advanced Media’s Statcast-based outs above average (OOA)—which considers range but not throwing—ranked Harper sixth worst among 174 players with at least 50 outfield opportunities.

Sabermetric writers have warned readers about the vagaries of single-season defensive stats for as long as they’ve existed. But when every stat points to a fielder as one of the worst—including stats based on different data sources, some of which (Statcast) are more sensitive and, in theory, more dependable in small samples—there’s probably some signal in the often-noisy numbers.

I implore you to click through to this article and look at some of the should-be-easy catches, and there are many, that the writer uses to illustrate the fact Harper is a terrible defender. Here are a couple:

Uh, what?

A bit more understandable, but c’mon.

That route was so bad it was one I could have taken.

Watching these plays, I am struck by two things: one, there are a couple of those that look like a beer league player who has no idea how to judge a fly ball; and two, the guy who was smashing his face into walls trying to make every catch, as a 19-year old rookie, seems less eager to do so now.

Which does make me wonder: was Harper protecting his body in order to ensure a massive payday well over $300M (Reports are that Harper already turned down a 10 yr/$300M offer from his current team, the Nats)? When his agent, Scott Boras, negotiates that money, and teams show the low WAR totals and plays like those, will Boras have the guts to make that argument? And will teams buy it? Or, catch-22, in protecting himself, did he potentially cost himself a lot of money?

At least publicly, Boras is not going that route, and is instead arguing that Harper was not fully healthy from a 2017 knee injury. As Lindbergh points out, though, that argument is undermined that Harper was as fast on the base paths in 2018 as he ever was. And the numbers suggest Harper was in fact taking it easy:

In 764 opportunities in right field from 2016 to 2017, Harper dove 11 times and slid 17 times, per SIS. In 506 combined opportunities in right and center in 2018, Harper dove one time and slid four times. Among the 21 outfielders with at least 460 opportunities, Harper and Nick Castellanos were the only outfielders not to dive more than once. The other 19 averaged one dive per 60 opportunities

Still. It seems clear, under the new leadership of Farhan Zaidi, that the Giants will not be making a run at Harper. The team needs so much more right now than a left-handed power hitter. I know that, but there had been a part of me who had sorta hoped he’d come here. But after reading this, I’m happy he won’t. -TOB

Source: Can $300 Million Buy Bryce Harper a Glove?”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (11/20/2018)


Video of the Week

Actual footage of PAL in Paris this week.


Tweets of the Week


TOB SONG OF THE WEEK


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“How do I feel about losing the sale? It’s like if Michael Phelps came out of retirement, jumped in the pool, bellyflopped and drowned.”

-Michael Scott

Week of November 16, 2018


Slurpy Writing Almost Ruins A Great Story

I’m guessing by now you’ve heard of LeBron James’ incredible philanthropy efforts in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, but just in case: Through his foundation, he has built a school for children struggling with reading (at or below the 25th percentile) and worked with the University of Akron to guarantee a scholarship to any child that comes through LeBron’s I Promise School while meeting all of the educational requirements. This could mean a free college education for as many as 2300+ local kids.

The I Promise school opened this summer, so it makes sense for a writer to report on how it’s going so far. The school takes a holistic, evidence-based approach to the the student lives, and I think it’s cool that this is not a charter school. The school exists within the public school system in Akron, and there’s a lot of really interesting experiments taking place, all of which are spearheaded by a professional athlete who, as a fourth grader in the same town, missed 83 days of school. There’s a food pantry, night classes for parents who want to earn their GED, fresh food, and extended hours.

What they’ve done at the I Promise School is borrow from the best practices identified in public education from across the country and brought them all under one roof. They have a small student population with rigorously vetted teachers who are sensitive to the challenges each of their students faces. And they’re the same challenges.

LeBron laid the groundwork by shifting his foundation’s focus to education eight years ago. Then, under the power and respect and adulation associated with his name, he brought together the banks, the lawyers, his endorsement partners, and above all else, the local education professionals. They’ve filled in the cracks where tax dollars can’t reach, for things like free uniforms and eye exams and counseling for parents.

They’ve pooled all of these tremendous resources to give children of the lowest socioeconomic denominator a chance. Keep them in school longer. Feed them more. Hug them. Listen to them. And then, finally, teach them.

All of this is nothing short of inspiring. James seems to be providing the blueprint for other wealthy public figures to bring back to their hometowns. Feel good story all around!

However, I don’t understand why The Athletic’s Joe Vardon feels the need to unnaturally drop brands into the narrative. While I understand these companies are contributing either money, supplies, or time; that then does not mandate the writer pen sentences like the following (emphasis mine):

  • Third-graders and fourth. Children of all shapes and sizes and skin tones. Each morning they are greeted the same way, with music pumping through a Beats pill and by a handful of teachers handing out high-fives and hugs.
  • I was standing there watching this, still in my black pea coat, stocking cap, jeans and Nikes.
  • After breakfast in teacher Tara Caporuscio’s third-grade class, as in every class, the students sat on the floor next to each other in what’s called the I Promise Circle. Caporuscio takes her Beats pill and dials up Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” It’s not exactly at the top of the charts for 8-year olds living in Akron’s inner city, but nary a student says a word.

I mean, what is this? It’s one thing for the writing to have the tone of a knockoff NY Times wedding announcements section, but what’s with the brand mentions, Joe? I wonder if he is so impressed with the school and how brands LeBron endorses have contributed that he wanted to go out of his way to name them at any opportunity? I don’t get it. This honestly read to me like paid content, which seems so unnecessary given the thoughtful work and partnerships James’ foundation has done with the public school system, the University of Akron, and the community at large. There’s a great story here in the facts. He’s writing about elementary school students, not for them. Is The Athletic looking for an editor? It should be. – PAL

Source: “LeBron James’ Legacy Isn’t His Triumphs with the Lakers or the Cavaliers, it is These Kids”, Joe Vardon, The Athletic Ink (11/14/18)

TOB: A little odd, but I will not let it take away from the amazing thing My Guy is doing. Bravo, LeBron. Bravo.


This Is the End, Beautiful Friend

If you’ve somehow missed this, let’s recap the Warriors week:

  • Steph hurt.
  • Draymond and Durant did this:

There’s a lot to unpack here. Draymond kinda snakes that rebound from Durant. As soon as Draymond got the rebound, Durant clapped for the ball. But by his body language it’s obvious he’s going to go up the court relatively slowly and shoot a 30-footer, as he does.

Instead, Draymond streaked down the court. Something good could have happened. For example, as he approached the right wing, he had an easy drop off pass to Klay for a wide open 3. But something good did not happen. Instead, Draymond fell, just like he did in a similar situation in the playoffs last year to lose a game to the Rockets. Just before he fell, Durant called for the ball again.

After Draymond fell, Durant immediately turned around and sulked back to the bench, muttering the entire time. When Draymond got to the bench, Durant continued, and barked something along the lines of, “pass me the damn ball.”

Draymond does not take that kindly. Reports are that on the bench and during another argument in the locker room after the loss, Draymond repeatedly called Durant a “bitch” and told Durant, who is a free agent this summer and has not stated he intends to re-sign with Golden State, that the Warriors won before he got there, don’t need him, and to go sign somewhere else, or words to that effect.

Back to the recap of the week:

  • In what appears an act of appeasement to Durant, the Warriors suspend Draymond, without pay.
  • Draymond sits out and returns to the team for shootaround on Thursday. Reports are that he and Durant speak for a bit, but that Durant seemed sullen throughout the day.
  • Draymond also speaks to the media, unleashing an almost three minute monologue wherein he acknowledged he crossed the line, and vowed that it would not destroy the team, and supported Durant’s right to do what he wants to do next year.
  • The team gets whomped by a Rockets team that had been struggling all season. Draymond, statistically, plays the worst game of his career: 0 points on 0-3 FG, 5 reb, 5 asts, 5 turnovers.

Let me say at the outset that Draymond Green seems like a real pain in the ass to have as a coworker. I totally get that.

But doesn’t he have a point? I should say: I’m not a fan of Durant’s game, while acknowledging he’s basically unguardable. Too much one on one. Too many long, contested jumpers. I think his athleticism is highly overrated – he’s not fluid in his movements. There’s nothing pretty about his game. It’s almost Ivan Drago-like.

But doesn’t Draymond have a point? The Warriors did win without him. They won a title and went 73-9 with a Finals loss in the two seasons before he arrived. Draymond (and the other stars) even took less money to get Durant there. And isn’t Durant a little bit of a, to borrow Draymond’s phrase, bitch? What kind of teammate acts like Durant did during and after that play? A bad one. What kind of teammate then sulks for two days even when the team takes his side and suspends the other guy, taking more than $100k out of his pocket, and the other guy even acknowledges he crossed the line? A bad one.

I’ve listened to hours of Durant’s podcasts with Bill Simmons and he strikes me as a very moody, hyper-sensitive person. After Thursday’s game, a reporter asked him about his relationship with Draymond. Durant snapped, “Don’t ask me that question ever again.”

So while I get that it would not be easy to be Draymond’s teammate, I say Durant is no better. I ride with Draymond: good riddance, KD. -TOB

Source:Unpacking the Draymond Green-Kevin Durant Rift and What the Fall Out Could Mean Long Term Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic (11/13/2018)

PAL: All parties are in the wrong. Draymond for screwing up a fast break (again) by going too fast and too out of control and for having it out with Durant while a game was there for the taking. Durant for acting like a baby before, during, and after the one play, and for having it out with Draymond while a game was there for the taking. Management for being scared.

He went about it the wrong way, but Draymond’s right. What has made the Warriors great is great players playing this unselfish basketball, and no one being above that. Durant says “screw that” and becomes a chucker too often. Someone needs to call bullshit on that in order to keep the balance, and that’s Draymond. The team backed the wrong dude is an embarrassingly public manner.

And – yes – I have no doubt Draymond is a gigantic pain in the ass.

TOB: Good point, Phil. Another article this week, by Sam Amick, reminded me of that conversation Kerr had with Durant during the playoffs last year, where he used a Phil Jackson/Jordan/John Paxson story to remind Durant to stop shooting so much. Kerr was furious it was aired, with good reason. Durant should have been embarrassed.


Pickup Basketball, Shandling Style

I was a little too young to get into Garry Shandling when his two shows were at their heights, but it feels like pretty much every comedy that I’ve enjoyed in the past twenty years has a direct connection to Garry Shandling. Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Larry David – all of these guys have a connection Shandling, and most of them played in a mostly weekly pickup game at Shandling’s house.

The game started in the early 90s and continued until Shandling’s death in 2016. Regular players included:

  • David Duchovny
  • Al Franken
  • Adam McKay
  • Will Ferrell
  • Greg Kinnear
  • Bill Maher
  • Jim Gray
  • Ben Stiller
  • Sarah Silverman
  • Jeff Goldblum

Court Rules:

  • 3-on-3
  • Up to 7 by 1’s
  • The wall behind the hoop is in bounds if the ball bounces against it by accident
  • No business talk

I’m not sharing this story on the “hollywood stars are regular like us” angle. I’ve heard a lot about Garry Shandling, but nothing is more telling than his approach to a pickup game. It ran for almost thirty years, no work talk was allowed, and the wall behind the hoop is in bounds. Tells me most everything I need to know about the dude. I like his 3-3 rules. – PAL

Source: “’Fight Club’ With Better Jokes: Inside Garry Shandling’s Secret Pickup Game”, Anna Peele, ESPN (11/13/18)

TOB: First, I never would have guessed Duchovny played college ball, even if it was at an Ivy. Impressive. Second, you like the wall being in bounds. What are we playing, indoor soccer? No, man. If I show up to a game and a wall is in, then I’m out.


Video of the Week, c/o Stanford Radio: 


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Bob Dylan – “Up to Me”


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My last job was at a Taco Bell Express. But, then it became a full Taco bell and, I dunno, I couldn’t keep up.

-Kelly Erin Hannon

 

Week of November 9, 2018

 


Google’s New Chess Champion Computer Plays Like a Human

Uh, are we screwed? We’re probably screwed. This week, Google’s chess computer, AlphaZero, beat StockFish, an open-source computer engine that had previously been the world’s computer chess champion, over the course of 100 matches. This would not be a noteworthy event, with one major exception: AlphaZero taught itself and plays chess like a human, not like a computer.

As many of will remember, IBM’s Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, over the course of a six-game series. Deep Blue did so with what is known in the computing chess world as “brute force”. DeepBlue could analyze 200 million moves per second. Kasparov, conversely, could only analyze two moves per second. Kasparov was at a severe computing disadvantage, and in hindsight it’s no surprise DeepBlue won.

Similarly, StockFish uses brute force, analyzing 70 million moves per second. But AlphaZero does not use brute force, relatively speaking. AlphaZero analyzes just 80,000 moves per second. So how did AlphaZero win?

After being given the rules, it played itself over and over, essentially reinventing the history of chess through millions of self-played games. Through what’s known as reinforcement learning, the machine took note of the behavior and patterns that led to a win, then incorporated that information into its blossoming style, over and over and over.

AlphaZero taught itself to play, through trial and error, just like a human. Though in only four hours. As one researcher says, “[AlphaZero] is just learning in the exact same way that a human would learn to play chess. That’s what humans do to learn: You play chess, you play games against each other, and you learn over time. So it’s learning very analogously to how humans learn, and it’s able to do it much quicker and much better.”

So, why are we screwed? The same researcher puts it this way:

“This is where AI is meeting creativity. Beforehand, it was just really, really fast at thinking. Now it’s able to be creative, it’s able to hit on things that humans used to think were intuition. That’s kind of like the humans’ last flagpole of hope, that computers can’t do intuitive things. No computer would be able to invent Mozart or do anything creative, but when you look at AlphaZero, it’s bordering on creativity, it’s bordering on intuition.”

Among chess grandmasters, the AlphaZero news was met quite differently than the fear twenty years ago when DeepBlue beat Kasparov. Many grandmasters, having grown up with computers more powerful than DeepBlue in their pockets, were not alarmed but instead intrigued by AlphaZero’s potential to expand what we understand about the game of chess.

If you’re interested, the article then explores the future of AI, including its potential to create art and music, or play video games and sports, and think consciously. Interesting read. -TOB

Source: Deep You”, The Ringer, Kevin Lincoln (11/08/2018)

PAL: The comparison of music and chess throughout the article is fascinating.

Chess and music share something in common, even if we don’t fully understand what that is. At the very least, we can recognize that there is a knack for patterns, an understanding of arrangement and progression, that unites human achievement in both disciplines, and that ability to recognize patterns—an inherently human trait—is what makes AlphaZero’s achievement so startling. What Steiner’s prepubescent virtuosos lack in intellectual and emotional maturity—the socialization and acculturation that we experience as we grow older—they made up for in this innate understanding of patterns.

To an extent, the same could be said of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, which cannot do anything other than play either chess or Go but seem to exhibit genuine creativity and ingenuity within those realms. For example, during the second game of AlphaGo’s match against Go master Lee Sedol, the machine made a move so unprecedented and idiosyncratic that observers used a very un-mechanical word to describe it: beautiful.

Of course, what AIs still can’t do is first, of their own volition and according to their own values, choose to play chess or compose music; and second, do so in a way that lacks precedent. Instead, they must be told to do so by people, and once they’ve been told to do so, they will perform those tasks within a few unbreakable parameters. AlphaZero is incapable of making an illegal move, and while that doesn’t have much significance in a game of chess, which consists of only legal moves, it’s hugely important in music, where all sounds are fair game.

“One of the most limiting things about AI right now is you need to optimize something. AlphaZero was optimizing for the number of wins and the number of losses, and almost every single artificial intelligence algorithm right now is an optimization algorithm in some way,” Ginn said. “There would be no way to tell an AI, ‘Create me a brand-new song that you think is nice,’ because there’s no objective measurement of that.”

This topic is not usually my thing, but Lincoln writes the hell out of this story. Fascinating and accessible read.


The Day Jackie Mitchell Struck Out Ruth and Gehrig

 

“Overlooked” a pretty cool idea from The New York Times. The series is an acknowledgement that the paper’s obituary section has been “dominated by white men since 1851”, so now the paper is sharing stories of people it overlooked in their time.

I happened upon the story of Jackie Mitchell this week. When Mitchell, a left-hander, was seventeen she struck Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game on April 2, 1931. Of course, it was never known whether or not the strikeouts were arranged between the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Yankee sluggers. Ruth was never opposed to making an extra buck here and there, and Lookouts owner Joe Engel needed to fill the stands during the Depression. It’s also notable that Mitchell was brought in as a relief pitcher in the first inning, struck out Ruth and Gehrig, and was replaced thereafter.

But also of note that Mitchell was throwing a sinker from the left side against two left-handed hitters, and Mitchell grew up near Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance who taught her the “drop ball”, and that Gehrig was no Ruth – he supposedly played it straight all the time.

All of it arguments fall perfectly on either side. Just enough for you to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the seventeen year-old struck out Ruth and Gehrig legit.

“Overlooked” is a great idea, and this was the perfect story for those of us lamenting that baseball is gone and daylight savings has wiped the last tannins of summer from our glasses. – PAL

Source: Overlooked No More: Jackie Mitchell, Who Fanned Two of Baseball’s Greats”, Talya Minsberg, The New York Times (11/7/18)


Kids These Days!

This is a funny one. Bjorn Borg played in an era very different from today, but he’s still one of the greatest tennis players to ever live. He has a 15-year old son, Leo, who is a top tennis prospect. You’d think growing up the son of Bjorn Borg would give you a leg up on the commission. You might watch a lot of your dad’s great matches, ask him questions about how or why he did something. You have a built in great coach. Not so, for Leo Borg. Why? Because Leo Borg is an ungrateful little shit!

Leo’s favorite player to watch is not his dad. No, of course not. It’s Rafael Nadal. OF COURSE. In fact, Leo claims he’s never watched a single one of his dad’s matches. Not one! Worse, his dad, Bjorn Freakin Borg, once tried to offer him some advice. Here’s how Leo’s mom tells the story:

“You tried once, when he was small,” she said to her husband. “You told him, like, ‘Go more forward.’ And Leo was like: ‘Ugh! You don’t know anything about tennis!’ And Bjorn said, ‘O.K., I will never say anything about tennis.’ ”

You, Father, Bjorn Freakin Borg, don’t know anything about tennis. Who is this spoiled child? Why are kids so god damn ungrateful? And when will they stop growing up so quickly? No, I’m not crying. You’re crying!  -TOB

Source: Leo Borg Steps Into His Father’s Shadow”, Andrew Keh, New York Times (11/07/2018)

PAL: This was a funny read for another reason. To learn of the challenges that come with being a sponsored athlete at fifteen while also being the son of a all-time great athlete. I really felt the sympathy for the family when they had to struggle the prospect of young Leo playing his father in a feature film, or that time they had to fly back a day later after learning that the in-flight entertainment would be the movie her son acted in, as the younger version of his father.

Or how about that time when we was competing in a juniors tournament that was sponsored by the clothing line BORG? 

In all seriousness, it sounds like the mom, dad, and son are nonplussed, which is about the best thing I could say.


Friday Night Lights: 2018

I share this article from the Wall Street Journal as an invitation to join me in my stunned reaction at some numbers. The writing is solid, but there’s no real story, other than to say, Texas is really serious about high school football, which we already knew. Consider these facts from writer Jason Gay’s trip to Allen, Texas:

  • The town of 106K has a single high school with an enrollment over 6,000
  • 9,000 season ticket holders
  • 740 students are in the marching band
  • The stadium – a high school football field – holds 18,000 spectators and cost over $60MM. 

My favorite bit of Gay’s writing is actually a parenthetical, which seems to happen somewhat often. Perhaps it’s a sign the writer found his/her real topic too late.

(A quick aside: Whenever I am in Texas and see how crazed the region is for football, it underlines what a crime against humanity it is that the Dallas Cowboys are so continuously mediocre. Dallas having mediocre professional football is the equivalent of New York City having mediocre pizza. It is an insult to the natural balance of the universe and needs to be immediately fixed.)

Tim Riggins would do some serious damage in Allen, Texas. – PAL

Source:An East Coast Schlub at Friday Night Lights”, Jason Gay, The Wall Street Journal (11/08/2018)

TOB: While I subscribe to the philosophy of never yuck another’s yum, this $60 million to build a freaking high school football stadium is outrageous. Look at the concession stand.

What happened to a good ol’ fashioned snack shack? This is nicer than the concession stands for probably every pro and college football stadium I’ve ever been to. That is serious insanity.


Video(s) of the Week: 2 Parents killing it.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Maggie Rogers – “Fallingwater”


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You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.

-Jerry Seinfeld

Week of November 2, 2018


A Most Impressive Loss

The World Series sure seems like a distant memory at this point, doesn’t it? While the Red Sox put the Dodgers out of their misery in just five games, the series felt closer than that. The most memorable ‘moment’ was the 18-inning Game Three. It was perfect kind of insanity for a Friday night, especially for those of us on the west coast. I knew next to nothing about Nathan Eovaldi when entered the game in the 12th inning. When it was over, he threw 97 pitches in relief and got the L when Dodger Max Muncy hit an opposite field home run in the bottom of the 18th. Michael Baumann described the game with the following:

This was the kind of game … actually, there’s no kind of game like this. Game 3 was a seven-hour, 20-minute haunted house, totally unique both in its length—by both time and innings this was the longest World Series game by far—and in its strangeness. This was a game in which Muncy could miss a shot at 15th-inning immortality and come back around for another pass through the lineup.

The pitcher who served up both of Muncy’s fly balls—the 15th-inning foul ball and the 18th-inning walk-off homer—was a 28-year-old named Nathan Eovaldi. If baseball’s empirical revolution of the 21st century hadn’t already debunked wins and losses as a measure of pitcher performance, Eovaldi would have. His relief stint of six-plus innings was a superhero’s origin story, and he ended up taking the loss.

With the Red Sox up two games to zero in the best-of-seven series, the Dodgers more or less needed to win game three to have any real chance at winning its first world series in thirty years. Both teams knew it, and as the game went longer and longer, you could understand the impact this game could have on the future of the series, especially on the teams’ respective pitching staffs. The Dodgers had to make every move, but the Red Sox had the two-game buffer. Among other things, Eovaldi’s performance kept the Red Sox bullpen somewhat intact for game four, which was the next day.

And so we watched this Eovaldi guy go out there on the Dodger’s mound, throwing high 90s inning after inning, with a desperate Dodgers lineup continually trying to end the game with one swing of the bat. As his appearance went from good to great to never-been-done, the casual viewer hears about his two Tommy John surgeries and his journey from high draft pick to journeyman. As Baumann points out, to watch Eovaldi pitch in that game was to watch the literary traits of baseball play out in real time.

Baseball is a contest of attrition, of not only prowess and cunning, but also mental endurance and willpower. When combined with baseball’s unequaled literary tradition, there’s hardly a more romantic figure in sports than the solitary pitcher, holding back the tide with one arm again and again and again, just trying to buy another inning for his teammates.

The most literary aspect of all, Eovaldi lost the game while becoming a Boston sports legend. That game, and Nathan Eovaldi’s performance is why I love baseball. Eovaldi, Steve Pearce, Max Muncy – the World Series was largely decided by role players (or players that were thought to be role players).

Baumann’s story captures the essence of that game and weaves Eovaldi’s professional journey to his greatest moment. A great read about what makes baseball unique. – PAL

Source: “The Cruelest Loss: Nathan Eovaldi’s Superhero Origin Story”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (10/27/2018)

TOB: I watched the whole damn thing. It was just before 1:00 a.m. pacific time when it ended. It ruined me for the entire weekend! And the Dodgers won! What a miserable night. My wife asked me why I didn’t just go to bed and watch in the morning. Are you kidding, woman? The second I turned off that TV something incredible would have happened. Sports lose their magic when you know the outcome is decided, or worse, I’d have been woken at 1 a.m. to the ESPN notification of a Dodger win. Ugh.

The only highlight was our group text chain during the game with Rowe, that Rowe never once responded to. There must have been several hundred unread texts when he woke up. Phil’s last text to me was at 11:38pm: “Eovaldi – impressive.” My last three texts were close to and long after midnight: “(I did not account for how bad Kinsler is)”; “Are you still awake? How is Nunez up again?” “F–k”.

What a game.


Willie McCovey Represented the Best of Baseball

Hall of Famer Willie McCovey died this week. The Giants announced it late afternoon on Halloween. I saw the news on Twitter, and it hit me like a punch to the gut. One of the best things about sports is the ability to see a living legend, point to them and say, “That’s one of the best there ever was.” It reminds you that we’re all aging, we’re all mortal, but we can all leave a legacy. McCovey certainly left his.

I read a lot about McCovey since his death was announced. McCovey’s legacy is one of kindness, humility, and the ability to look at the bright side of everything. Grant Brisbee’s story on McCovey discusses at length how McCovey wasn’t really beloved by Giants fans for a large portion of his career. The Giants most beloved player during the 60s wasn’t Mays or McCovey, but Orlando Cepeda, who while a very good player, was not one of the Willies.

After starting his career with a bang as a 21-year old rookie, McCovey had some up and down years until his mid-20s, when he really took off, becoming one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He won the MVP in 1969, hitting .320 with 45 dingers, but the Giants sent him to San Diego in 1973, because he had gotten too expensive. Remarkably, he returned to the team in 1977 at age 39, and played four more years with the Giants. At the home opener in 1977, the Giants crowd gave him a standing ovation lasting several minutes. McCovey cried, and later said, “I knew then what it felt like to be a Giant. I knew then that there is still some loyalty around.” I find it a little sad that Giants fans had been so hard on McCovey early in his career, but remarkably uplifting that he forgave them for it, and allowed them to welcome him back with open arms.

In retirement, McCovey became a mainstay in San Francisco. As he said during his Hall of Fame speech in 1986, “I’ve been adopted by the thousands of great Giants fans everywhere, and by the city of San Francisco where I’ve always been welcome. Like the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars, I’ve been made to feel like a landmark, too.”

And for good reason. He provided incalculable help to the Junior Giants Fund, including their annual glove drive for underprivileged area youth. When the Giants moved into AT&T Park, they named the cove beyond right field McCovey cove, and there’s a statue out there as well. And, in 1980, the Giants began giving out the annual Willie Mac Award, to the year’s most inspirational Giant. As Andrew Baggarly said, it will be strange next year when a player is presented with the award by someone other than Stretch himself.

I saw McCovey many times at the ballpark. It was always special. The most memorable was after a Giants playoff game – I think it was my first, in 2010. I was walking down the street, celebrating the win, and I looked over and saw a familiar face in the passenger seat of the car next to me. It was Willie McCovey. I yelled, “That’s Willie McCovey!” He looked at me, smiled, and waved. That’s all I needed.

The last time I saw him was this past August, when the Giants retired Barry Bonds’ jersey. Willie Mac was there. I took my son to the game with me, and when he asked me who that was, I was able to point to him and say, “That’s Willie McCovey, one of the best there ever was.” Rest in peace, Stretch. -TOB

Source: The Loss of Willie McCovey is Incalculable”, Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles (11/01/2018); Remembering Willie McCovey, Who Struck Fear Without a Drop of Malice in His Heart”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (10/31/2018)

PAL: Well said, TOB. I will only second that point that I got a thrill every time the Willies were at the ballpark, and so often it was the both of them side-by-side. I am relatively new to the Giants, but it’s clear that the the team’s history, which is baseball history, is not lost on the fans or this ownership. It’s something Twins fans can only pretend we have. Kent Hrbek is a Twins great, but he’s not all-time great. That’s why losing Puckett at such a young age was such a big deal in Minnesota. He, Harmon Killebrew, and Rod Carew are the closest we’ve had to an all-time greats who played the vast majority of their careers with the Twins. That ain’t McCovey, Mays, and Bonds. 

Also, I knew he was very good, but I didn’t fully understand how dominant McCovey was in his prime. This is what Sparky Anderson had to say about McCovey in the early 70s: “If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball. He’d hit 80 home runs. There’s no comparison between McCovey and anybody else in the league.”

TOB: After I wrote the above, I found this great article on McCovey by Hank Schulman. Here’s how it opens, and again – I swear I read it after I wrote my story above:

The scene was the same after every Giants game.

Willie McCovey, in a wheelchair, would be taken down the elevator behind the plate at AT&T Park. As a security guard walked ahead to clear a path, McCovey would be taken to his car.

“Willie!” some fans would yell.

Others touched him on the shoulder or patted him on the back.

At first, I felt sorry for Mac and the spectacle, which he did not have the physical capacity to avoid, until I started hearing parents tell their children, “That’s Willie McCovey. Remember this,” or words to that effect. Some of the moms and dads were not old enough to have seen McCovey play.

Then it hit me. That old cliche about being a “man of the people” truly fit. McCovey, who died Wednesday at 80, did not seem to mind the ritual. He had to know how happy he was making these folks.

Read the rest, it’s very good.


I Really Should Have Chosen to be a Pro Athlete

Quick background: Before last year’s NBA All Star Game, Fergie performed the National Anthem and it was AWFUL. The Warriors’ Draymond Green went a little viral for chuckling mid-performance:

Fergie’s (ex?) husband, actor Josh Duhamel, apparently didn’t like this. In a recent interview, he called Draymond a prick:

(god, lighten up, guy)

The Warriors, a team who has won 3 of the last 4 NBA titles and look like they may waltz to 4 out of 5, are a supremely confident bunch and were not about to take this lying down:

My goddddddddddd. This is savage. I laughed and laughed. I watched this a half dozen times and I keep seeing something funny. I know that the BEST part of being an NBA player is getting paid multi millions to play basketball, but man do I wish my job paid me millions and also let me mess around with my friends like this every day. -TOB

Source: “The Warriors Don’t Give A Shit About Fergie’s Feelings“, Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin (10/27/2018)


The Impossible Fight: Goalie Tactics On Penalty Kicks

Penalty kicks in soccer are not all that different to watching a predator scene on Planet Earth: you pretty much know how it ends, and you feel bad for watching it, but you can’t look away. On rare occasions, the prey gets away, and it’s the most thrilling moment of your day. I feel the same way when a goalie actually makes the save on a penalty kick.

This article does a great job dispelling the simplistic explanation that goalies have a rock-paper-scissors situation on their hands (guessing left, right, or center). A more nuanced approach will still lead to failure 80% of the time, but it’s better than nothing.

Explaining technical nuance to a general audience isn’t an assignment like a human interest piece that allows a writer to wow readers with their language and imagery, but the task is more fundamental: get someone who sees less in a sports moment to see and understand more.

Take this example from Josh Tucker’s piece:

The laws of the game currently read, “The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.” Before 1997, though, they included the phrase, “without moving his feet.” While referees have notoriously given leeway to keepers leaving the line and bounding forward too early—beyond the head start it also helps them cut down the shot angle slightly—this change allowed movement laterally and opened up more completely legal options.

Importantly, this gives a keeper a better chance to react. Instead of having to have their feet rooted in place until impact, they can now bounce into a hop (see Allison against Tesillo, above) or start shuffling their momentum in one direction as early as they dare. They could always distract a kicker by waving their arms or bouncing in place but being able to actively reposition or feint back and forth during the kicker’s run-up can give them more to think about.

In two paragraphs he outlines how the rules have changed, what the keep can do before the ball is kicked, and how they might play the psychological chess match. That’s just solid work from Tucker.

Very interesting study in futility. – PAL

Source: Keepers Wield More Than Just Guesswork In The Battle Against Penalty Kicks”, Josh Tucker, Deadspin (10/30/2018)


How to Play With LeBron

LeBron James is great; this is undeniable. But is playing WITH LeBron great? I’d say yes – unlike great players of the past (Kobe), LeBron is a pass-first superstar who is always looking to get his teammates easy shots. So, playing with LeBron is great. But is playing with LeBron easy?

The Ringer had a cool article this week. They asked three of LeBron’s old teammates (Brendan Haywood, Richard Jefferson, and Carlos Boozer) what LeBron’s new teammates in L.A. can do to maximize the opportunity in front of them. My main takeaway is that his new teammates need to understand that the situation has changed and they need be ready to change with it. As Richard Jefferson said:

If your team is struggling in pick-and-roll defense and you’re [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope, OK, well, if I just fuckin’ focus on just pick-and-roll defense, like that’s one thing that I really want to help us get better at, and your team can go from 17th in pick-and-roll defense to top 10 in pick-and-roll defense, that means that you’re going to get more time on the court. More time on the court means more shot opportunities. More shot opportunities means more scoring. More scoring means more money.

Also, don’t get an offensive rebound with just seconds remaining in a tie game of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when LeBron is having one of the greatest games of his career, and run away from the hoop.

-TOB

Source: How to Be a Perfect Teammate for LeBron James in Eight Easy Steps”, Haley O’Shaughnessy, The Ringer (10/31/2018)

PAL: I was about to pull the same quote as the above. It sounds like playing with LeBron forces guys to be a good teammate, because they are definitely not the best player on the team, and even they can’t deny that. It’s a bit of a hit to the ego, which isn’t a bad thing for a young player and their future. Jefferson, Boozer, and Haywood were great in this. That’s a lot basketball played with LeBron in those three fellas.

TOB: You know was not good at it? Dion Waiters. As Haywood said:

“[When LeBron returned to Cleveland,] Dion Waiters was used to having the ball in his hands. And I remember telling Dion, like, ‘Listen, LeBron’s here. It’s gonna be a little bit different for you this year. Last year, you and Kyrie [Irving] got to have the ball a lot. This year, it’s LeBron, it’s Kyrie, it’s Kevin Love. You’re gonna have to figure out different ways to be effective without the ball.’ And he didn’t. He didn’t really wanna hear that. That’s part of why he was traded very early in the season, because he didn’t fit.

Waiters is such a clown.


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