Week of October 11, 2019

Mr. May in agony. Sweet, sweet agony.


The NBA and China: To Paraphrase Tupac: It Isn’t About East and West. It’s About Power and Money. Riders and Chumps. Which Side Are You On?

So, the NBA. What a week, huh? Rockets GM Daryl Morey started an international incident by tweeting support for protesters in Hong Kong. The Rockets owner quickly distanced himself from Morey’s tweet; Morey deleted the tweet and said he made the tweet without understanding the issues; China and Chinese companies have all but banned the Rockets in China, wiping away a history that is long, dating back to 2002, when the team drafted Yao Ming.

To understand all this, we should first understand what the protests are about because it’s important. The protests in Hong Kong began a few months ago in response to a law proposed by the Hong Kong government in response to a gruesome crime: the murder of Poon Hiu-wing allegedly by her boyfriend Chan Tong-kai. The murder occurred in Taiwan, where the two Hong Kong residents were visiting. Chan Tong-kai escaped to Hong Kong. Hong Kong does not have an extradition treaty with Taiwan, because China does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty. 

The law would allow Hong Kong authorities to extradite persons wanted in outside countries with which Hong Kong does not currently have extradition agreements, including Taiwan and mainland China. Opponents of the proposed law do not want China included, for fear that the Chinese government would use it to quell pro-Democracy political opponents. So, they protested. And the protests have widened into bigger concerns about China’s aims to erode the “one country, two systems” arrangement in place since the United Kingdom handed control of Hong Kong back to China in 1997. 

Ok, back to the Morey story. In the aftermath of the Tweet, the NBA tried and miserably failed to walk a tightrope between supporting its employee’s right to express his opinions and the league’s billions of dollars of interest in China. As Brian Phillips sums up the aftermath:

The Chinese Basketball Association formally suspended its relationship with the Rockets. With the NBA’s preseason Global Games underway—including two games in China this week—Rockets merchandise disappeared from Chinese e-commerce platforms, and Chinese telecom companies stopped showing Rockets games. The NBA released an incoherent response, in English, that said all it wanted to do was bring people together; then a more sternly incoherent version appeared on the league’s Chinese social media account, in Mandarin, that said the NBA was extremely disappointed in Morey’s inappropriate tweet and all it wanted to do was bring people together.

The whole thing is an absolute sh-t show, but I thought this Phillips attacked the NBA’s hypocrisy the best. As the lede says, this story “might look like a complicated story of accidental cultural conflict brought about through deep geopolitical nuance. It isn’t. It’s just another nasty little farce about money and power.” Phillips thesis is more or less as follows:

The Chinese government does not care what Daryl Morey thinks about Hong Kong. I doubt many people in the league office sincerely think Morey’s tweet was morally wrong—as opposed to strategically foolish—or that the protesters are mistaken to be concerned about China’s encroachments on the “one country, two systems” policy by which Hong Kong has been governed since 1997. But it suits the interests of the government to force a popular American sports franchise to performatively legitimize its actions in Hong Kong. And it suits the financial interests of the Rockets and the league to capitulate to the demands of the government, because not capitulating would make it harder for them to fulfill the deepest dream of all sports owners: make enough money to buy a private island, then move to that island and do favors for its authoritarian government in return for tax breaks.

There’s nothing edifying about any of this, except to the extent that it’s a useful reminder of where we are. We’re in a world where global capital feels perfectly comfortable teaming up with communist autocrats against democracy activists, as long as it keeps the cash registers dinging. Generally speaking, the hypocrisy of sports owners feels more depressing than the hypocrisy of other tycoon varietals, because sports owners represent a product that you’d like to believe has a meaning surpassing commerce. This is especially true about the NBA, because the NBA is so proud of its social conscience, or at least it was before its social conscience started threatening to cost it money.

For the most part, though, you’ll never be surprised if you assume that the devotion of sports owners to their own self-interest, and of sports leagues to their owners’ self-interest, is absolute. The NBA wants you to see it as politically progressive to the precise extent that your seeing it as progressive helps the bottom line and no further. Tilman Fertitta, the Rockets’ owner, occasionally goes on CNBC to praise Donald Trump, from whom he bought an Atlantic City casino in 2011, and to say things like “Obamacare does not work.” He has no problem then turning around and declaring that the Rockets are a “non-political organization” to make nice with China, because what he means by “non-political organization” is that he thinks hundred-dollar bills are nice, and also fuck you.

Ooooooooh daaaaaang. Fire.

I also wanted to point out the hypocrisy of new Nets owner Joseph Tsai, a Taiwanese-Canadian. Tsai, who made his fortune as the co-founder of Alibaba Group, posted a long message on Facebook, condemning Morey’s tweet and seemingly attempting to scare any other players or executives from wading into these waters:

What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues.

The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.

Wow. In other words. “Freedom of expression is great… unless it upsets people and possibly costs me money.” Which, of course, is not freedom at all. And as Phillips points out, Tsai’s letter “somehow made the feelings of Hong Kong’s citizens seem less important to the question of Hong Kong’s governance than the feelings of Chinese people outside Hong Kong.”

What seems especially dumb about the NBA is this: first, their attempts to appease the Chinese have failed. So they’ve laid bare their fake commitment to progressivism and letting their employees speak this minds, and they’ve lost money. 

I also think the NBA underestimates its power here. The NBA is wildly popular in China. If the NBA supported Morey and the Chinese government tried to ban the NBA, there would be a few hundred million NBA fans angry they could no longer watch. NBA: Trust your product! Instead, it looks weak, kowtowing to the Chinese government, and losing credibility domestically. Dumb. -TOB

Source: The NBA’s Convenient “Non-political” Stance Comes at a Cost”, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (10/07/2019)

PAL: I appreciated the perspective from Sopan Dep of The NY Times: 

The tweet put the league in a situation familiar to many global companies seeking to do business in a Communist country with 1.4 billion people: Any misstep could mean swiftly losing access to a powerful economy.

China Central Television, the state broadcaster, made clear the risks of challenging Beijing, chiding the league for an earlier expression of support for Morey’s free speech rights.

The NBA knew there were going to be some murky ethical waters in China decades before a friggin’ general manager tweeted, and they knew the Chinese market was massive. Show me a time when a multi-billion dollar business came free of ethical and political dilemmas.

The only thing that changed this week is Morey’s tweet made it so the NBA and the rest of us couldn’t ignore the concessions the NBA made in pursuit of globalization. Things will go back to normal in no time.


The Loneliest Man In Sports

Watching Clayton Kershaw cough up the yet another Dodgers post-season*, I wondered if there’s any lonelier position in sports than a relief pitcher, a guy literally standing on a tiny island with the fate of a season gripped in his hand. Maybe a goalie in a shootout situation (hockey or soccer). How about a gymnast participating in a team all-around competition?

In order for a player to feel lonely, I think they need to be a part of a team sport; a golfer or a swimmer doesn’t feel lonely because he/she is pretty much always alone in competition. 

And then I thought of the kicker on a football team. Is there any position in team sports more segregated from the rest of the team? Hell, the kicker on a football team doesn’t even look like a football player. If he makes the field goal, he’s done his the baseline of his job; if he misses, he’s the reason the team loses. Miss a couple field goals, and the team is looking for anyone – literally anyone – who can kick. Football, Rugby. Soccer. It doesn’t matter.. Can you imagine if a highly recruited QB is replaced after missing 4 throws in a row? 

With all of this in mind, I share Tashan Reed’s in depth look at the Aguayo brothers. First Roberto and now Ricky have been the starting kicker for Florida State since 2013. 

Here’s what I love about this story: 

I’m a sucker for brother stories

To have a brother to share such a lonely experience is incredibly compelling. It’s one thing to confide in your holder, but to be able to call a brother who understands every synapse of your experience. 

The fragility of the position

Miss 5 of 10, and you’re likely out of a job, be it pros or college. In Ricky’s case, go 1 for 5, and the wolves are closing in this season (another kicker was sent in for the field goal in the most recent game, as of publication of this story). Add that to a less than sterling 2018 (11/17), and Ricky’s got a problem, special teams captain or otherwise. 

Kicking isn’t football, but it determines so many outcomes. Or how about the absurd speciality of kicking in relation to the rest of football. The disparity of skill sets between that position and every other on the team is comical. Get this: after Roberto showed some real talent high school, he went to the Kohl’s Professional Camps, a specialty camp for kickers. But it’s a bit more important than just a kicking camp.

Per Reed: 

Soon after, Roberto received an invitation from Kohl’s Professional Camps. Today, 99.2 percent of FBS teams have a kicker, punter or long snapper from Kohl’s Kicking. The coaches who ran the camps told Roberto they believed he could make it to the league one day.

99.2%? This should be the pitch for a Netflix doc about placekickers. 

This part of football is completely sequestered, and yet, how many of the most important games are determined by 3 points or less?

So you have all these factors only reinforcing isolation within a team sport. Hell, kickers only get one – maybe two – of the 16 sessions (whatever the hell a session means in terms of time or reps) within a practice. That means they are on the field with the rest of the team for at best 13% of the time. 

All that time alone on the side fields can leave a man with his thoughts. Left to his own devices, Ricky has developed some of his own tactics, informed by Roberto’s struggles in the NFL: 

As Roberto struggled through his first NFL season, he depended on his parents and his wife, Courtney. But his brother could relate on a different level. The older brother elaborated on what he should’ve done better. He pointed out how an adjustment to his plant foot or his follow-through on kicks could’ve led to fewer misses. The corrections were minuscule, but those talks opened Ricky’s eyes to their importance.

“It made me pay attention to more detail,” Aguayo says. “When he was here, he wasn’t really worried because everything was going good with his kick. It kind of put it into perspective, OK, well, why ain’t I doing this?’ He’s paying attention to that much detail, well, let me do the same thing to try to be better as well.”

Each time he practices, Aguayo videos at least one of his attempts. He also takes three pictures — before he starts his approach, at the point of impact and on his follow-through — and he hangs them on his wall. He looks at them at least five times a day. The purpose of this technique, which he learned from Roberto, is to know exactly what his swing looks like so he can visualize it at any moment.

Visualizing is essential for kickers to perform well in extreme situations. Unlike other positions, where a player can build upon positive experiences throughout the course of a game, kickers get that opportunity far less often and under much more intense focus.

Let’s not forget: more than any other position in football, kickers score points. Every single one of the top 20 point leaders in NFL history are kickers. Sure, a QB who throws a touchdown doesn’t get six points – only the receiver does, but still…you’d think kickers would get a bit more respect when the contribute more points in a game in which, you know, points are used to determine winners and losers. 

A fascinating examination of brotherhood, isolation, and the fleeting nature of sport. – PAL 

Source: “The precarious life of the placekicker: Inside the head of Florida State’s Ricky Aguayo with his career on the line”, Tashan Reed, The Athletic (10/09/19) 

* It’s OK to respect Kershaw and hate the Dodgers at the same time, right?

TOB: Yes, of course, Mr. May should get his due.


The Braves Experience Instant Karma

The first World Series I really remember was 1991 World Series between the Twins and the Braves. It was a notable World Series, because it was a 7-game classic that went to extras in Game 7, but also in part because the two fanbases had a “thing”: Twins fans whipped around those white hankies, and Braves fans did the “Tomahawk Chop” with an accompanying chant. The Tomahawk Chop was new to Braves fans, as some report that it came to the Braves with Deion Sanders, the former Florida State star. FSU fans had been doing the chant/chop since the mid-80s. But it’s not 1991 anymore, and as a society we are moving away, finally, from blatantly offensive things, like the Tomahawk Chop. Unless you’re the Braves.

During this year’s NLDS, the Braves faced the St. Louis Cardinals. Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley is part Cherokee, and during the series he expressed his feeling that the chop is deeply offensive, and he wished the Braves would stop. Halsley is not the first person who has said this over the years. But hearing a player says it got most thinking people to say, “Hm, yeah, this is long overdue.” So, the Braves thought it over and did away with the Tomahawk Chop. What a great story!

I’m kidding, they didn’t do that. They did the opposite. Instead, minutes before the deciding Game 5 in Atlanta, the Braves announced the following: they would “reduce” the Tomahawk Chop by (1) not passing out foam Tomahawks before the game, as they had before Games 1 nd 2; and (2) not use the musical prompt for the Tomahawk Chop when Halsley is on the mound. 

I mean, FFS. Why is this so hard? The team cannot force Braves fans to stop doing the chop, of course. But they could strongly discourage fans from doing it, and they could cease the musical prompt, period. 

Remember, this announcement came just minutes before the start of Game 5. And then the game started, Braves fans starting doing the chop immediately, and here’s the first inning went for them:

10-0 before Atlanta even went to bat. LOLOLOL. I was listening to the whole thing on the Braves radio broadcast, and I felt like Cartman licking Scott Tenorman’s tears. 

Instant karma, baby. Do bad things, bad things happen. -TOB


Sports is Reveling in Your Rival’s Failure

The Dodgers have won the NL West seven straight years. The Dodgers made the World Series the last two years. The Dodgers won 106 games this year (that’s a lot of games). But they will head into 2020 still having not won the World Series since I was 6 years old, in 1988. Glorious.

One of the best things about sports is taking joy in your rival’s failure. No, the Giants didn’t make the playoffs this year (though I believe glory days will return soon), and haven’t since 2016. So my October, for the third straight year, was instead focused on rooting for #AnyoneButDodgers. Luckily, this year, I didn’t have to wait long, as the Nats bounced the Dodgers in the winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday night.

My wife and I went to a concert that night. We stopped for dinner before, and I was able to watch the game at the restaurant. When we had to leave, the Dodgers led 3-1, and former ace Clayton Kershaw had just come in relief for new ace Walker Buehler, with the go ahead run at the plate, and two outs in the 7th inning. Kershaw, whose playoffs struggles are long (and at this point statistically significant – he’s pitched 150+ postseason innings and his postseason ERA is nearly double his regular season ERA, sitting at over 4.50). Kershaw struck out Eaton to end the threat. DAMN.

We got to the Fillmore and as we waited for Ingrid Michaelson to begin, I followed along with my phone. Kershaw came back out for the 8th to face possible NL MVP Anthony Rendon, and Nats’ phenom Juan Soto. How’d it go, Clayton?

Dinger. Dinger. LOLLLLLLLLLL. I laughed and laughed. Of course, the game wasn’t over. It was tied at 3. In the bottom of the 9th, Dodgers catcher Will Smith juuuuuuust missed a game winning home run. But he did miss it. And in the 10th, the Nats loaded the bases with no outs, and Howie Kendrick came up and hit a grand slam to center. WOO!

When we got home, I spent some time on Giants twitter, laughing at all the best burns. Here’s a selection:

Celebrating your team’s win is the best; but second best is laughing at your rival when they repeatedly get hit in the face with a rake.

I can now sleep easy…until October 2020. -TOB


People Can’t Resist Messing Up A Good Thing

If you were ever looking for the steps on how to take an altruistic idea and completely botch it, look no further than the 9th Ward Field of Dreams New Orleans. People are the worst sometimes, and it’s important for good writing to capture that. Good grief.

Long story short: Hurricane Katrina decimated the 9th Ward. Even prior to the disaster, none of the high schools in Desire area of New Orleans had a home football field. A young Teach for America educator, Brian Bordianick, saw that a football field could represent a reinvestment – not only of money but pride – in the community. The grassroots campaign gained momentum. Before long, who’s who of New Orleans were getting involved. 

Per Jeff Duncan, Lee Zurik and Cody Lillich:

The grassroots campaign took off and garnered donations from the likes of Drew Brees, James Carville, Sean Payton and Alyssa Milano. The feel-good story became a symbol for New Orleans’ recovery and attracted nationwide publicity, even earning a mention from President Barack Obama in his 2010 speech to commemorate the 5-year anniversary of the storm.

It’s been six years since city officials conducted the groundbreaking ceremony for the stadium. It’s been four years since officials publicly announced the field would be named in honor of Marshall Faulk, a Pro Football Hall of Fame running back and former Carver standout.

Today, no stadium has been built. An empty grass field sits on the proposed stadium site. And more than $1 million in donations and pledges are gone.

What the hell happened? They had the money. They had a driver in Bordianick, they the donation of services from architectural firms and contractors. They had everything needed to build a stadium, and yet the site remains a parking lot with weeds towering out of asphalt cracks. 

By 2011, they had 1.2MM in donations, plus hundreds of thousands in service donations. Also at that time, there was a push for a charter group to run the school The locals weren’t interested. Divisiveness grew between the school and the community. Bordianick tried to show good faith to the community by adding another board seat to the organization for a community leader. Things began to unfurl from there. At some point the Field of Dreams became multiple things to multiple people.

After years of fundraising and planning with a local architectural firm, complete with some last-minute concessions to come in at budget, Bordianick and the firm had a field plan ready for construction at 1.3MM. They nixed the track, bathrooms, and concessions from phase 1, but they thought a proof of concept would be the best way to convince the public for additional funds to build out the stadium with all the original bells. 

However, members of the board saw it differently: 

Some members of the Field of Dreams board, though, had another plan. They saw vast potential in the stadium project and wanted to expand its scope rather than reduce it. They wanted to manage the stadium and make it a for-profit venture for the community, according to Ripple. Consequently, they proposed a grander project, one that would cost $2.8 million.

Bordainick was fundamentally opposed to delaying the project any further. He thought about the donors he’d pitched and the kids he’d inspired along the way. If construction didn’t begin soon, he worried that the project would stall and never get off the ground. He feared there would be a “lost generation” of local youths with no positive outlets in the community if the stadium were not built as quickly as possible.

It was precisely after reading these to paragraphs when I started shaking my head. Eventually, Bordianick bounced, and Betty Washington was, for some reason, called on to replace him. Not smart. Aside from her felony tax and bankruptcy fraud, her legal licence was suspended. Oh, and she also demanded a 5K per month salary for acting as executive director. Executive Director or what, I do not know. Construction never began. Grants were reallocated. Fundraising all but stopped. 

In the time that Brian Bordianick began this idea in 2008 and 2016, a 50MM+ Carver High School has been built. It sits alongside the site of the 1.5MM dollar athletic field that remains a parking lot. If you didn’t know the backstory, you might think that building a new school before a new field makes sense, but nothing about this story makes sense. It just challenges your faith in people.- PAL 

Source: “What happened to New Orleans Field of Dream and its $1 million in donations?”, Jeff Duncan, Lee Zurik and Cody Lillich, The Athletic w/ WVUE-TV in New Orleans


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week – Ringo Starr – “Photograph”


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Dad, go to hell. I’m taller than you!

-Drew Bernard

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Week of October 4, 2019


Thanks, Boch

Bruce Bochy managed his last game for the San Francisco Giants on Sunday. I paid a mint to be there. My wife asked why it was so important. I considered it a moment and said, “The man had a large part in a half dozen of the twenty or so happiest moments of my life.” And I thought for a few more moments, and confirmed in my mind what I had just said. In terms of pure, unadulterated joy, he really did. So, I had to be there to say thanks. I brought my oldest boy, because he’s old enough now to remember, and I want him to be able to say, “I went to Bruce Bochy’s last game – he was the last true manager.”

Baseball is changing. Analytics have taken over. Teams are smarter, more ruthless. Teams make decisions on probabilities, not hunches. On the whole, I think it’s made the game better. But an inevitability of that change is that the manager means less. There’s less strategy, more looking at pitch counts and heat maps and splits and spray charts. A computer could manage a ball club at this point, and with some teams, they basically do. But Bruce Bochy proves that teams are wrong to do so. 

On Sunday, dozens of Bochy’s former players showed up, just like I did. After the game ended, they were introduced, team by team, player by player, to the crowd. Names I had forgotten, like Vinnie Chulk, Dan Runzler, and Kevin Correia. Names that made me laugh like Tyler Walker, Brian Wilson, and Pedro Feliz. And names I could never forget, like Coddy MF Ross, Edgar Renteria, and Marco Scutaro. And, of course, Timothy LeRoy Lincecum.

Timmy had not been back to the park in the five years since he left the team, and word has been he had declined invitations to do so. The end of his career is so painful for the fans to whom he gave such joy, and we wanted to say thanks. All week the talk amongst Giants fans was: Is Timmy going to show up? I stayed offline all day Saturday and Sunday, because I figured it’d leak, and I didn’t want to know, either way. During the ceremony, Renel announced the 2010 players, no Tim. Hm. She announced the 2012 players, no Tim. Hm. She announced the 2014 players, no Tim. Hmmm. And then, suddenly,

“NUMBER FIFT…”

She didn’t even get through “Fifty Five” and I lost my friggin mind. 42,000+ lost their friggin minds. Tim smiled, and waved, and laughed. I followed him over to Boch, and Boch gave him a bear hug. It took Bochy leaving to get Timmy to come back, and that tells you how much Bochy meant to Tim.

Then the speeches began, and it was great. Man, was it great. Peavy got me legit watery-eyed. When Vogey spoke, I could feel the true gratitude he had in his heart for Bochy, someone who believed in him and helped to revive his career. Earlier, during the game, they played a video message from Panda, and when Panda broke down, I got choked up then, too. But it was when Bochy spoke that I really got emotional, and so did so many people around me. 

His full speech was almost fifteen minutes. It was heartfelt and funny, and I was so glad I got to be there. 

Bruce Bochy may be the last of his tribe – the old school manager; one who does not ignore statistics and probabilities, but one who also understands his players on a deep level, and almost always managed to pull the right strings. He was able to do so because he’s in the trenches. He knows his players. He knows what they need, and what they can give him or can’t give him, each and every game. He didn’t just make lineup decisions and pitching changes. He managed the club. He managed their personalities, their insecurities, and their egos. He managed to maximize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. He took the blame when they failed, and deflected all the praise to them when they succeeded. He was fiercely loyal to his players, and in turn they were fiercely loyal to him. 

I’ve never heard of a manager retirement ceremony like this, where so many former players showed up to pay tribute, and I was very pleased to read this week that Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi walked away from Sunday’s ceremony similarly impressed. As Hank Schulman wrote this week:

As Farhan Zaidi watched Sunday’s farewell ceremony at Oracle Park, he was struck by the affection that five dozen current and former players showed Bruce Bochy.

That scene fortified what he already felt from working with other managers in Oakland and Los Angeles, that the most important trait he can find in Bochy’s replacement is a leader who forges close ties with his players and front-office partners, in that order.

It’s going to be deeply, deeply weird to see another manager leaning on that rail next season, and I will miss Boch something awful. But I am hopeful the next manager will have many of the same qualities. He’s sure got a big hat to fill. -TOB


Bochy Made The Giants Easy To Love

As my Twins set out to try to stop a 13-game playoff losing streak in the Bronx, the ultimate fantasy of any fan has officially come to an end in San Francisco. Bruce Bochy has managed his last game for the Giants, and while it’s been five years since the Giants won the last of three World Series under Bochy, his departure stamps it official. 

I am lucky to have lived in a place when a team goes on an extended run like that. Nothing brings a community together like a postseason run. To hear cheers and expletives from the apartments across the street, or the bar down the block erupt in celebration. It’s the best. No matter where life takes me, I will always think of San Francisco on a warm fall evening with the restaurants and bars, windows open, filled with people watching a Giants playoff game. It’s when the most beautiful city in the world felt most alive. 

The Giants were easy to root for, and Bochy was perhaps the easiest of all to like. Aside from liking him, Claire McNear writes that Boch signals the end of an era: 

But the time for dynastic managers like Bochy has nearly ended. At the start of the 2019 season, just five of 30 managers in Major League Baseball had been leading their teams for more than four seasons. The ability of a manager to wield much decision-making power has shriveled as front offices have taken ever more control over the on-field product. The grounds for firing have likewise grown: The Cubs, for instance, seem all but certain to part ways with Joe Maddon, who led the Northsiders to their first championship in 108 years in 2016 and a playoff berth in each of his first four years with the team, and nearly—OK, kinda—a fifth one this fall. It’s not enough; for most teams now, it’s not clear what could ever be.

And yet the Giants remained Bochy’s for 12 years, through seasons great and dismal, through the lost causes and the should’ve-made-it years alike, through the period when the team’s unofficial slogan was “Giants Baseball: Torture” and through the years that ended with parades. In his hands, baseball felt like something older, less fragile: Sometimes there are crap years and sometimes great ones, and neither will last forever.

Of course winning cures all, but there’s something crucially irrational to the best fan experience. There’s a romance in putting trust in a guy that talks about the baseball gods while not denying the value in some statistics that don’t appear on the back of baseball cards from another century. 

With Bochy, I always got a good feeling, and his teams were made up of dudes that were easy to like – Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Buster were the best of the best, but the characters like Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, Javy Lopez, and many more were intensely adored. To a man, their respect and adulation for Bochy has been unwavering. 

A baseball season is a long haul, and you gotta like the team if you’re really going to follow them through all those games. I always liked rooting for the Giants, and I am realizing today that Bruce Bochy had a lot to do that.  -PAL 

Source: Bruce Bochy Bids Farewell”, Claire McNear, The Ringer (09/27/19)

TOB: Great stuff, buddy.


CHANGE YOUR FLIGHT, PHIL

As you may know, Phil’s Minnesota Twins won 101 (!!!) games this season, and set the all-time MLB record for home runs by a team, with 307. This is their first appearance in a division series since 2010. And I’m guessing Phil hasn’t been to a Twins home playoff game since…if not the early 2000s, then…maybe ever?

So last week I texted him about an idea for plans this weekend and he said he can’t, he’ll be in Minnesota. Wow, I think, the sonofagun is really flying home to see the Twins play. Good for him.

So I checked the Twins schedule, and they play in New York Friday and Saturday and host the Yankees Monday. So, I asked when he leaves, and if it’s on Saturday, maybe we can meet up and watch Game 1 Friday:

“Flying Friday, flying back Monday.”

“You’re not going to Game 3!?”

“Got flight before this!”

“Dude CHANGE IT. You have my permission.”

He did not address my demand. Folks, if you have Phil’s phone number or e-mail address, please reach out. Tell him to change his flight to Tuesday, and tell him to enjoy the hell out of that game, in person. -TOB


Belichick Shows Another Side of Patriot Way

Here’s a fun little nugget about Bill Belichick, courtesy of Patriots receiver Julian Edelman. 

For all the attention to detail, dedication, and focus Belichick is known for, the coach apparently thinks the rules don’t apply to him. We’re not talking meaningless, harmless rules, folks. No, we’re talking about the types of rules that, when someone ignores them, the only correct response is ‘OH COME ON, DUDE!”

I just so happen to walk by the hot tub and coach is in the hot tub. Obviously, I came in the room to go in the hot tub. But then we made eye contact and my natural instinct was to turn around like I was gonna leave. But then I saw that he saw that I was in there and then he got up and got out and real, real big party foul by coach. We’re supposed to have shorts on. Supposed to have shorts. But I guess at 11 o’clock, when you’re the GOAT of coaching you go wherever you want, free—free ball. So I had to hide my absolute face of terror after seeing what I saw and sit in the hot tub.

Birthday suit in a hot tub that’s not your own? Not cool, Bill. Can a reporter please, please, please ask him about using a team hot tub in the nude during the next press conference? 

Also, is there anyone that loves anything as much as Julian Edelman loves being on the Patriots and being in the vicinity of Tom Brady? – PAL 

Source: Julian Edelman Tells Detailed Story About an Awkward Encounter With Bill Belichick”, Jimmy Traina, SI.com (10/02/19)


Sports Illustrated, Placed In Trashcan Outside, Waits for Trash Day

Yesterday, 40% of an already depleted staff at SI was laid off. This is not shocking. The iconic magazine had been sold twice in the last two years, and now is in the hands of a company that, per Bryan Curtis of The Ringer, manages the images of dead celebrities like Ali and Marilyn Monroe. 200 contractors will replace the full-time writers and staffers. And that’s the way SI turns this around – by building cheaper, less qualified workforce.

Of course, the goal for its parent company is to wring out, not build up. It will extract whatever drips of value that remain until there’s nothing left, and then SI will I guess be officially classified as waste.

I have little to offer other than a few ideas. You shouldn’t see today’s awfulness as a single event—“the day SI died.” You should see it as the latest in a series of awful events. SI laid off a lot of people in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Spare a thought for the people who lost their jobs back then. They weren’t treated any fairer than the writers who got the sack today.

Of course it was a long time coming. And instead of using this minute of your day to bemoan the death of the newspaper and print (we all saw it coming for 20 years and, at most, we subscribed to a paper, so all of us should not saddle up on the high horse on this one), I only would like to speak to the joy of monoculture (with a hat-tip to Chuck Klosterman). Monoculture wasn’t lost this week either, but this was just a kick to the ribs to make sure it was dead (it is).

Now sports content is a lot about breaking stories and uploading highlights as immediately as possible. It’s takes on takes on takes (talking heads on any of the sports networks). It’s analysts with TelePrompTers showing us the nuance of run-blocking and route-running and super slo-mo instant replay.

The highlight piece of the current sports landscape is incredible – let’s not overlook that. Being told something awesome happened somewhere – anywhere – in the sports world and immediately finding video evidence is so gratifying…and at once tossed into the trash. Onto the next. Always next. Always right now.

There is something lost in binging on sports content. The idea, one SI represented, that something noteworthy happened in sports and world-class writer had a few days to write about it, and then we all read the piece, and then we all talked about it – that part of monoculture is not without value or merit.

Of course, we find ourselves in miniature versions of that place through various art ant entertainment – pretty much everyone I know read Unbroken or a Malcom Gladwell book, and now millions of people (and a good chunk of my friends) listen to the same podcasts as I do.

But finding likeminded folks is very different than an authority like an SI editor telling sports fans what’s worth reading about and who’s words should describe the topics worth our time. It’s important to share experiences with people who don’t see the world – even the sports world – the same way as I do.

And of course the irony of Bryan Curtis writing a column about the death of Sports Illustrated on for a sports and pop culture website run by Bill Simmons is not lost on any of us.

A couple weeks ago I was listening to this interview with a person whose expertise is waste. The economy of waste, the operations of waste, shipping patterns, etc.; in other words, what happens the moment we put the garbage out and never think of it again. It was fascinating, surprisingly complex, and shockingly lucrative (I guess I should’ve learned that lesson from The Sopranos). Reading this story about SI layoffs reminded me of that interview. – PAL

Source Crueler and Dumber by the Day: On ‘Sports Illustrated’ and a Dark Media LandscapeBryan Curtis, The Ringer (10/03/19)


Another NBA Rap Battle

Somehow, Shaq and Dame Lillard got into a rap beef this week. Ok, well, Dame was on a podcast and said Shaq wasn’t a good rapper in his day, but was popular because he was Shaq. Which, fair. But Shaq came out of retirement, and I gotta tell ya – it’s not awful! In fact, it’s pretty good, especially for a guy approaching 50. 

Dame’s retort:

Ok, Dame probably wins, but it’s closer than I’d have thought. The Ringer’s Shaker Samman does a good job breaking it all down. -TOB

Source: Is This a Thing? Dame Lillard and Shaq’s Rap Beef”, Shaker Samman, The Ringer (10/3/2019)


More Bochy Stuff

We read a lot of stuff this week on Bruce Bochy, here are a few of our favorites:

Saying Goodbye to Bruce Bochy and the Golden Era of Giants Baseball”, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (09/29/2019)

For Tim Lincecum, and So Many Others, the Ultimate Giants Reunion Was a Celebration of Bruce Bochy’s Legacy”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (09/29/2019)

Stop Celebrating Bruce Bochy’s 2,000th Victory”, Ray Ratto, Deadspin (09/19/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Kamasi Washington – “Leroy and Lanisha”

 

 


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He’s a linebacker. Skill positions only for Donna Meagle. 

-Donna Meagle

Week of September 27, 2019

102 yards, no bounce.


Muhammad Ali Sells Us A Honda Civic  

As we walked into Ken Harvey’s Dublin Honda, I leaned over to Natalie and said, “Now, I might be a little blunt in there, but I’m not in a bad mood or anything.” 

It was 7:35PM on a Tuesday night. I had just taken BART to the last stop so we could spend god knows how long in a car dealership only to buy our leased Civic (text from my brother, Matt: “Good luck getting out of there in under 3 hours”). Natalie drove there right from her Tuesday night grad school class. It’s been brutally hot in the East Bay this week, and it was still hot that night. I was wearing a dark blue shirt, so maybe it wasn’t obvious that I was pitting out. I didn’t care one way or the other. 

I could say neither of us wanted to be there, but that would make us no different from anyone in the world walking into a car dealership on a Tuesday night. That’s the deal when buying a car, right? You don’t know exactly how, but you know you’re gonna get hosed. 

We needed a reliable car. I’m in the process of donating a 2002 Escape, some of which our dearly departed Maxine treated as a chew toy (specifically, the windshield wiper nob on the steering wheel), and Natalie has about a 25-mile work commute. Additionally, I could do without my father-in-law asking “What car you driving?” whenever we make a trip over 30 miles. His faith in the Ol’ Yeller (the banana yellow Escape) waned long before mine did. 

Natalie was leasing the Civic. It’s black, it’s got the handsfree for the phone. It has 47K miles, and it’s affordable. Done and done. 

We had been to Ken Harvey’s Dublin Honda the previous Saturday, and I thought we cracked the car dealership experience: find yourself a rookie salesperson. We found DJ. DJ was great; when he asked if we wanted to “roll our lease over into a 2019”, we told him we were not interested, and he said, “OK.” When he asked if we were interested in any other models, we said nope, and he said, “OK.” He then came back both times and said, “My manager was wondering why you don’t want to roll…” We told him we just don’t, and he said, “OK.”

We liked DJ. We wanted to buy this car from DJ. We told him that, and we asked when he was working next. The date was set. 

Natalie called DJ’s cell, the number he gave us, on our way over. DJ told us he was sick, and his manager told us he was was supposed to be at a training, and now that I think about it, did we out DJ for skipping work on Tuesday?  

Instead, we got Artie. Artie was a handsome, older gentleman from Vallejo (that’s a 40-mile commute through some of the shittiest Bay Area traffic). He was somehow dapper in a car dealership golf shirt. He was soft spoken, kind, and sweet, and also a car salesman, I reminded myself! I wasn’t falling for his act. No way. I leaned back in my chair, slouched and sweaty.  

We told him we had been there the previous Saturday and filled out all the bank-related stuff and we wanted to know how much it was to buy the car. He asked if we were interested in rolling our lease over to 2019. No, thank you. He asked if we wanted to take a look around at other makes and models. No, thank you. Artie got his manager, and they “crunched the numbers” in some back office, which makes no sense. How much is the used car worth, do we want to pay it all now, or space it out, here’s the interest rate. 

We waited as said numbers were crunched (read: where the hosing takes place). Artie sat with us, and Artied started telling stories. I was in no mood for stories of his trip to Morocco and Spain from our used car salesman. We can just wait quietly until they tell us the price, thank you very much. Please point me in the direction of a vending machine.

I was half-listening when he mentioned “Ali”. I think Artie was talking about his hometown (San Diego) and mentioned such and such hotel is where they set up Ali’s training camp for his first fight with Ken Norton. 

I sat up, and Artie kept on going. He had a wonderful way of connecting anecdotes. He’d say, “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but…” that was at once a little corny but also endearing. 

Artie goes on to tell us how Budini Brown (Ali’s cutman) was selling off memorabilia like mouthguards and pins on the side to make some extra money. Or the time Artie grabbed the rhinestone robe Elvis gave Ali when we saw two fellas looking to swipe it. 

He told us about visiting Ali in the hospital after Norton broke his jaw in the second round (Ali finished all 12 in what was his second loss), and how Ali consoled Artie, telling him they’d get Norton next time (he did). Or driving Ali around La Jolla on a book tour later on in life and restaurant owners begging Artie to bring the champ by for dinner. 

He’s telling all of these stories, and I’m reminding myself, he’s a car salesman, dumbo. 

And then Artie pulled out his phone to show pictures from Ali’s funeral. Artie has pictures with everyone. Artie and Don King, Artie and Reggie Jackson. Artie and Holyfield. Artie and Chubby Checker. Mike Tyson. Artie and Laila Ali (Ali’s daughter) with Laila’s daughter. Artie was not just at the funeral. I’m guessing he was in the first 30 rows on the main floor of what was one of the greatest collection of dignitaries, celebrities, athletes, and politicians in the last 100 years. 

There were other pictures in his phone, too. Pictures of pictures, like any grandpa has in his phone, but his are of a younger, strong Ali holding Artie’s baby back in the 70s in Artie’s living room. Old Ali and Artie together. They look like friends, not like someone asking a celebrity for a photo in a public space. 

Natalie and I were stunned by the time we left in our “new car”. We ate C+ bar food at Lazy Dog in Dublin at 9:45PM on a Tuesday and talked about our Civic, the most recognizable athlete of the 20th Century, Artie the Honda salesman, and the Trump impeachment inquiry. It’s a night I’ll never forget. – PAL 

Source: “Muhammad Ali Sells Us A Honda Civic”, Phil Lang, 1-2-3 SPORTS! (09/27/19)


Why Baseball is the Best Sport

Felix Hernandez and Mariner fans said goodbye to each other Thursday night, as his career comes to a close. Felix was great. But more importantly, Mariner fans loved him, and he loved them.

Felix came up as a 19-year old, and he set the league on fire immediately. He won just one Cy Young award, in large part because the team never – not a single time in 15 seasons – built a squad around him that managed to play in even a single playoff game. Fifteen seasons, no playoff games.

But that didn’t matter to Mariner fans. Baseball is the best spectator sport because the season is so long, fans can develop real emotional connection with the players. And more than any other player, a great starting pitcher is a gift – he makes every fifth day an event. King Felix certainly did that. Thursday night was the last such event, and it reaffirmed for me why I love baseball.

To start the game, Felix’s teammates stayed in the dugout as he ran out to the mound. This was the scene.

Then, when he was removed from the game in the sixth, this:

If those two videos don’t give you goosebumps, I wonder if you have a pulse. -TOB

Source: “Why Baseball is the Best Sport”, Thomas O’Brien, 1-2-3 Sports! (09/27/2019)


The Wildest Game I’ve Ever Seen

There are many football fans who only like the NFL. They have no time for college – the players are not as good; it’d be like investing time in AAA baseball. Then there are football fans who only like college football – they prefer players playing for their pride and not a paycheck, which IMO is gross, but they also love the atmosphere – the band, the student sections, the connection to the team (after all, I graduated from Cal, but I’ve never been a part of the 49ers). 

Then there are of course football fans who like both. That is where I reside, but I want to point out one other thing I really love about college football: because many college players are so good they could star in the NFL if they were the league, their individual talent pops. I mean, POPS. Like DeSean Jackson making college defenses look like Pop Warner teams.

Or Devin Hester doing the same.

 

The end result of that talent disparity results in some incredible things you would never see in the NFL. Last weekend we saw such an event in the UCLA/Washington State game. Allow me to set the scene.

Wazzu is ranked 19th , continuing their third year or so of being a pretty darn good football team under Mike Leach. They host UCLA, in its second season under former offensive genius Chip Kelly, and things look bad. Last year they went 3-9, and they started this year 0-3. The rumor mill was already churning. And at halftime, I am sure there were many UCLA fans ready to pull the plug on the Chipper Experience.

Wazzu took a commanding 35-17 lead into the break, and that is when I turned the game off. The Colorado/Arizona State game was getting tight, and this game looked over, so I flipped to CU/ASU and did not plan on flipping back. But then that game ended, and I checked in on the score. I think I did a triple take:

Wazzu 49, UCLA 46, with the 4th quarter just starting.

What. The. Hell? A 29-14 run in one quarter? But then I pulled up the box score on my phone and it was so much more than that. Wazzu opened the third with back to back touchdowns to make it 49-17 with 6:52 to go in the 3rd quarter! Read that again. So how did UCLA cut a 49-17 deficit to 49-46 in less than seven minutes?

That’s how. In 6 minutes and 52 seconds, UCLA scored 29 points on 257 yards of offense over 4 possessions totaling 4:32 of game time. Wazzu, meanwhile, went Fumble/Punt/Fumble, totaling 64 yards over 3 possessions totaling 2:52 of gametime. It doesn’t even make sense. 

Of course, moments after I tuned in, Wazzu scored to make it 56-46 with just ten minutes to go in the game. Surely, Wazzu would right the ship.

Quick sidebar: if you are not a longtime Pac-12 football fan, allow me to introduce you to the term “Coog’d It”. Washington State is so notorious for blowing games in the most unbelievable ways that opposing fans, and even Wazzu fans, use that term for any team, but especially the Cougars, that manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. 

I am sure it will not surprise you now to learn that Wazzu absolutely Coog’d this one. Here’s how the rest of the game went, after they went up 56-46.

LOLLLLLL.

All told, UCLA scored FIFTY FREAKING POINTS in less than NINETEEN game minutes. They went on a FIFTY TO FOURTEEN run. The teams combined for ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY POINTS and 1,377 yards for the game. If you’re wondering, which I very much was when the teams hit 123 combined points, the all time NCAA record for combined points is 137, set just 3 years ago, when Pitt beat Syracuse 76-61. Mind you, when Wazzu scored the 123rd point, there was still 6:11 to go in the game and I would have lost any amount of money you named if you had bet me that they would not end up at least tying the record at 137.

The entire game was outrageous. Wazzu’s QB threw for nine touchdown passes. There was absolutely no defense, sure, but as an outsider with no emotional attachment to either team, it was incredible to watch. I was texting a couple buddies throughout, but it was dangerous to take your eyes off the screen, lest you miss another big play. 

Best of all, as a fan of a team who actually plays defense, and a fan of that same team that played less than zero defense under its previous coach, I couldn’t help but be relieved that my favorite team was not involved in the game.

It was the wildest game I’ve ever seen, and I will never forget the experience of watching it. It could never happen in the NFL, and that is why I love college football. -TOB

Source: “The Wildest Game I’ve Ever Seen”, Thomas O’Brien, 1-2-3 Sports! (09/27/2019)

PAL: Man, “Coog’d it” is excellent. It just feels good to say, and I have nothing against Washington State. I like that a lot, and Devin Hester’s return looks exactly like backyard football.


Next Up for The Twins: End 15 Year Losing Streak

My number one concern as Natalie and I move this weekend is to make sure we have the TV/Cable situation figured out in time for the first round of the ALDS playoffs. My second concern: my Twins have lost 13 consecutive playoff games over the past 15 years. My third concerns: 10 of those losses were against the team’s likely opponent in this year’s ALDS, the Yankees.

This year will be different (keep your snickering to yourself).

In previous matchups, the Yankees outclassed the Twins, especially with the bats and in the bullpen. That 2004 Yankees team had Jeter, ARod, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, and Posada. The Twins featured a rookie version of Joe Mauer*, 74 games of Justin Morneau, and a whopping three players hit over 20 home runs. Aside from Cy Young winner Johan Santana, the Yankees outclassed the Twins on the mound, too, especially when it came to the bullpen.

But, as the Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman (99 years old, and still writing columns) writes this week, “The good news for most of these Twins players is that most of the history that the club has against the Yankees has little to do with them.”

That’s right. Just as I did in the opening of this Twins post, we can focus on records, good or bad, that extend far before the guys currently wearing the Twins jersey were on the team.

This year is different. This year it was the Twins who slugged into the record books (301 and counting as of Friday AM, but the Yankees have 299). This year, the Yankees have been hit by the injury bug (a record 30 players put on the injured list). This year the Yankees starting pitching is good not great. And while over the season the Yankees bullpen has better numbers, the Twins have pieced together a bullpen recently that could have just the kind of flexibility needed for playoff baseball. I like the mixture of “guys who’ve been there”, stud prospects (TOB turned me onto Brusdar Graterol), and traditional starters who could nail down several innings in a marathon game (Kyle Gibson). As another MN columnist, Jim Souhan, optimistically puts it in his column today:

The bullpen improved because of the most boring and underappreciated aspect of baseball management: Patience with young talent. The Twins became more cautious about using Taylor Rogers on short rest. They waited for May and Duffey to master their increasingly dynamic stuff. They reaped the benefits of two previously unexciting trades — landing Zack Littell for Jaime Garcia and Devin Smeltzer for Brian Dozier.

Suddenly, the Twins have a dozen useful arms and no traditional-thinking guardrails. They could throw nine pitchers in a nine-inning game, or ride a hot starter.

This year’s different, and I can’t wait for the beautiful stress of watching my hometown team in a playoff series. – PAL

Source: “Twins-Yankees playoffs history has been decidedly one-sided“, Sid Hartman, Star Tribune (09/27/19)

*Just saying, Mauer might turn out to be the best test of the Ewing Theory in MN Sports history if this team goes on a run. For those who don’t know, the Ewing Theory was penned by Bill Simmons and Dave Cirilli. Per Urban Dictionary, the Ewing Theory “explains the reason why teams inexplicably become better after their star player leaves the team for any reason (trade, injury, etc.). Two elements must be present for a situation to be explained by the Ewing Theory: 1) The team has a star player who receives a lot of attention but never wins anything, and 2) The star player leaves the team and everybody writes the team off.”

The Twins failed to win a single playoff game in Baby Jesus’ career. He retires, and the team just might win 100 games in the next season. Just sayin…

TOB: Three things: (1)Go Twins. (2) I don’t need think it’s Ewing Theory because no one had thought Mauer was good for the last decade or so. It was not like anyone was asking, “How come the Twins never win when they have a great player like Mauer?” For a long time. (3) Don’t think I didn’t notice the shade thrown the Giants’ way – this year we had a whopping three players hit 20 dingers for the first time since 2006, I believe.

Ok, four things: (4) I am so god damn pumped for the baseball playoffs. Let’s go!!!


When a Hero Becomes a Legend

Late last Sunday night in Philadelphia, a residential fire broke out. Everyone survived, in part due to the help of a passerby, Hakim Laws. He saw a man in the window of the building, screaming that his children were in the building. Laws offered his help – the man in the window threw the children down to them, and Laws and his friend caught them. They likely saved lives. Laws was interviewed by the local news, as you’d expect.

Here’s the thing. Before I continue, you should know that during Sunday’s game against the Lions, Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor dropped two crucial passes. Ok, now we can continue.

So Laws is interviewed, and here it is.

Incredible. To have the presence of mind to burn Agholor is some galaxy brain shit.

To his credit, after this thing went viral, Agholor reached out to offer Laws tickets to the Eagles’ next home game.

What a cool and funny story. -TOB

Source: Hero At Scene Of Philadelphia Fire Drops Burn On Nelson Agholor“, Dom Cosentino, Deadspin (09/23/2019)


Answering a Dumb Question That Popped In My Head

I worked from home Thursday, so I had the Giants day game on in the background. In the 4th, 28-year old rookie Mike Yastremzki hit a dinger, his 21st of the year. I said to myself, “Wow, if he had come up at the start of the year, maybe he would have hit his age.” And then I thought, “Huh, I wonder who is the oldest player to ever hit their age in dingers.” So then I set out to find the answer, using Baseball Reference’s terrific Play Index, and just started plugging in numbers.

Fittingly, the oldest players to hit at least their age in homers are Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron. But I was not satisfied there, and needed to know: who is the oldest player to hit exactly their age?

Consider that itch scratched. -TOB

Source: “Answering a Dumb Question That Popped in My Head”, Thomas O’Brien, 1-2-3 Sports! (09/27/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Barefoot Jerry – “Smokies”


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I think Comic Sans always screams fun. 

-Gary ‘Jerry’ Gergich

Week of September 20, 2019


Yaz Homers At Fenway

Mike Yastrzemski, that is. For folks outside the Bay Area, the grandson of Red Sox Hall of Fame Carl Yastrzemski plays for the Giants, but this is a more interesting Hank Schulman story than a grandson hitting a homerun in the stadium the elder ruled for 20+ years.

 

Mike Yastrzemski is 29 and made his MLB debut this season with the Giants. In other words, he is far too old for anyone making a MLB debut who plans on actually sticking around. In most cases, a position player that age gets a token call-up at the very end of the year. After being stuck with the Orioles organization for seven minor league seasons, the Giants got the younger Yaz, and he was called up in late May. And he’s been pretty good for the Giants. 20 home runs, 60 runs, 50+ RBI in 340 at bats. The home runs number is especially shocking, considering he’s never hit more than 15 home runs in a season, including college (ball is no doubt juiced!) If nothing else, he’s finally proven he’s a big league baseball player, which was far from certain in the spring. After seven minor league seasons, that has to feel good.

The idea of circling a late September game at Fenway early in the season was not his focus. Per Schulman:

As soon as Mike was promoted to the big-leagues his family reminded him that the Giants were coming to Boston in September, but he could not afford to look forward to this day.

“I kept it very focused on just surviving one more day in the big-leagues,” he said. There had been a lot of turnover on the team and I knew that they were looking for production. In order to make it to Boston I had to play well.”

Mike walked to the ballpark himself Tuesday and admitted he was struck by nostalgia from his days growing up near Boston.

Once he got to the stadium, there was, of course, a staged meeting and walk to the Green Monster ( those in the know refer to it, ‘The Wall’ as we learn in a different article this week) with his grandpa. It’s one of those things that was simultaneously staged and corny, and still cool all at once. 

I’m most struck with Schulman’s last detail in the block quote – that Mike walked to the ballpark himself Tuesday. Maybe I’m over-analysing here, but I think that detail is a great piece of writing. 

It is a detail Mike must have given Schulman, and I’m left to fill in the blanks of the nostalgia that just had to be rushing through him (did he even feel the ground beneath his feet?). And the doubts I’m sure he had, especially in the last couple of years in the minors. The pride in knowing he was going to Fenway – the stadium where his grandpa became a deity – and he was going to walk into the same stadium as a player, just like his grandpa. He earned that walk to the stadium. He no doubt could appreciated that walk more as a 29 year-old than had he been a 23 year-old phenom making that walk.

And then this happened: 

Sidenote: there is no better home run call in baseball teh Duane “Smooth’ Kuiper. It’s simple. He saves it for legit big moments, and it’s from the gut. Never, ever gets old. 

Schulman is great baseball writer. It’s not the biggest story, but he didn’t overwrite a moment that so easily could’ve been overwritten. 

And here’s an insane sidenote: Grandpa Carl didn’t see the home run in person. He was at the stadium before the game, then left before the game started. What?!? His grandson, having a breakout season as a 29 year-old rookie is the first Yastrzemski to play left field in Fenway in almost 40 years and gramps taps out before the game starts? I hope there’s a good explanation for this…

One last note: can someone please get Tan from Queer Eye to give Carl Yastrzemski some goddamn clothes that fit? Let’s look at this again:

I’m not asking for a French tuck, but hell. Those pants and jacket are legit four sizes too big and need to go. – PAL 

Source:Giants’ Mike Yastrzemski matches hype of his Fenway debut with a home run in 15-inning win”, Henry Schulman, SF Chronicle (09/18/19)

TOB: Nice write up, Phil (and Hank). Re Carl: I read he never sticks around for the games – he’s there sometimes for pre-game ceremonies and then takes off; he was described as a recluse. I agree it was surprising, but I’m ok allowing an old man to live his life his way. The next evening, Carl threw out the first pitch…to Mike. 

Carl stuck around in the Red Sox dugout for the first at bat of the game…in which Mike drew a walk. Then Carl headed inside. You do you, Yaz.

Also, I’d like to point out the other wrinkle to this story: Mike’s dad, Carl, Jr., was a career minor leaguer, too, and passed away in 2004, when Mike was 14. That sad fact adds a little weight to the grandfather/grandson moments.


Bochy Being Bochy

As Bruce Bochy’s final season managing the San Francisco Giants comes to a close, you can bet we will be reading (and writing) a lot about him. But before the career tributes start arriving, I wanted to highlight this cool story by the San Jose Mercury News’ Kerry Crowley. Crowley is a young sportswriter, in just his second year on the Giants’ beat. 

Before Thursday’s series finale at Fenway Park, Crowley and some other beat writers were chatting with Bochy. Bruce asked them if they had all been inside Fenway’s famed Green Monster. Only Crowley hadn’t. So Bochy jumped up and said, “Let’s go.” Bochy took Crowley through the little door in the Green Monster, and into a piece of baseball history – for decades, players and coaches have walked through that door and signed their names on the inside walls of the Monster (also, one time Manny Ramirez walked through that door mid-inning to go pee).

 

Bochy looked for names of old friends, and Crowley got to experience something most of us never will. It’s a simple story, but it gives a glimpse into Bochy – his love of the game, and his generosity to others – he took time out of his busy day to give a young sportswriter a memory he’ll never forget. -TOB

Source: My Trip Inside the Green Monster at Fenway Park with Bruce Bochy”, Kerry Crowley, San Jose Mercury News (09/19/2019)

PAL: Hell, that got me a little choked up. What a great moment between a legend at the end of his career and a kid just starting. TOB, it would be our greatest victory to have a few beers with Bruce Bochy. This needs to happen. Is there any chance he stays in the area after he retires?

TOB: Pretty sure he still lives in the offseason in San Diego… 😦

PAL: Roadtrip. Maybe a little Joshua Tree camping, and a little non-creepy Bochy tracking. There is simply no way that guy isn’t sipping a Pacifico somewhere at 5pm in his retirement.


The Conwoman of the NBA

Anyone who’s seen the 30 for 30 “Broke” knows that millions of dollars in the pocket of very young adult athletes is a volatile combination. Most of us have heard a story or two about a professional athlete getting scammed for millions, but the detail and and emotional warfare Peggy King pulled on several NBA and NFL players was a familiar story told in a fresh way. 

As is required for every con, a solid backstory is the foundation. SI’s Alex Prewitt outlines King’s backstory like this: 

Upon completing her Ivy League education, obtaining a Series 7 license and earning a fortune on Wall Street, Peggy explained in interviews for her sizzle reel, she’d entered sports management for selfless reasons. Not only would her investment acumen guarantee a long-term financial windfall for her clients—”Building Generational Wealth,” her email signature promised—but she swore to protect them against would-be scammers. This, Peggy said, was why she insisted on working for free. Her athletes were family, and helping each other is just what family does.

And that story gains the trust of young athletes who, like pretty much all of us at 21 years old, have no idea how to manage their money. Of course they have way more than most of us will make in our life, and so they try to be responsible and have someone more knowledgeable manage the finances. You know, like a Harvard-educated broker. This ruse allowed King to take nearly $6M from Ricky Williams (running back), Dennis Rodman, Travis Best (her first mark), Lex Hilliard (NFL fullback who played only 3 seasons), and Rashad McCants (NBA). These are just the verifiable amounts from one case. She surely took more money from non-athletes, as is detailed in this story. 

Another detail from this story that sticks with me is how important a referral is in these circles. Lex Hilliard did not make a fortune in his short stint in the NFL, but he was in the same backfield as Ricky Williams in Miami. When Hilliard and his wife were trying to get a pawn shop off the ground in Montana, they became victims of fraud from family members. Looking to enlist a professional advisor, Hilliard’s wife reached out to a former teammate’s wife. Kristin Williams, in what must just hurt her to this day, recommended Peggy King. 

It was under this tragic backdrop that the Hilliards enlisted the expertise of a new financial adviser, based on the recommendation of one of Lex’s former Dolphins teammates—and at first Peggy was everything Ricky and Kristin Williams said she would be. Early on she lent the Hilliards $10,000 interest-free, Rebekah says. After setting up new joint checking accounts for the couple’s daily expenditures—the rest of their savings would hypothetically be raking profits in mutual funds—Peggy also flew to Kalispell and acted as the Hilliards’ lawyer in talks with business partners as the pawn shop rebranded and relocated.

That good faith didn’t last long, though. The following spring Lex was at Jets mini-camp, optimistic about his NFL future, when his bank card was declined at the team hotel. Back in Montana with the couple’s five children, Rebekah was suddenly struggling, too. A storage facility owner was demanding months of overdue bills. When the Hilliards’ youngest daughter reached her third birthday, finances were too tight for a party.

And of course it all fell apart on Peggy King. I’m damn near incredulous at how long the ride lasted when what undid her in the end was a few very basic checks on Kristen Williams’ part: 

  1. An alumni database check at Harvard (no Peggy King)
  2. A call to Charles Schwab to check on her and Ricky’s account (there was none)
  3. A call to the bank where Peggy had opened checking accounts in their name (of course they were denied access)

Reading this made me feel terrible for these athletes. Sure, King was found guilty, but that money is gone forever. If someone offered to help me with my finances (all $300) at 22 years-old, I would have been delighted and given them whatever they needed to help me save some money. Yet, I think up until this story my reaction to these scam stories has been “how dumb are you?!?” directed at the athletes. I finally know the answer to that question is these athletes were no more dumb than I was at their age. I just didn’t have any money. 

Peggy, of course, is just one of many stories like this:

Peggy is hardly alone. According to a recent study by Ernst & Young, pro athletes claimed nearly $600 million in total fraud-related losses between 2004 and ’18. But that figure is based on only 35 cases available in public court documents, the alleged victims of which include Tim Duncan, Mark Sanchez, Roy Oswalt and McCants’s guardian angel, Garnett. It likely represents a small fraction of the actual damage. “Extrapolating from what I know,” says Steve Spiegelhalter, a former federal prosecutor who cowrote the E&Y report, “it certainly exceeds $1 billion. It’s just not discovered.”

Athletes these days would be better off following Samir’s advice. – PAL 

Source: “She Won Athletes’ Hearts. And Robbed Them Blind”, Alex Prewitt, SI.com (09/19/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Hot Club Sandwich – “Yogiri No Shinobiai”


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 I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know I’m doing it really, really well.

-Andy Dwyer

Week of September 13, 2019


Siding With the Raiders Is Siding With the Empire

(All analysis here is related only to Antonio Brown’s dispute that led to his release by the Oakland Raiders, and is not in any way related to the civil suit filed this week accusing Brown of sexual assault)

In the wake of the Raiders’ release of Antonio Brown over the weekend, the great weight of public opinion seemed to side with the Raiders: Brown is unprofessional, I read. Brown had it coming, I heard. Brown is a diva and an idiot who cost himself $30M, I saw. And I feel like I’m taking crazy pills because this is almost completely on the Raiders. Let’s recap his brief tenure with the Raiders, starting where the problems began:

Before camp, Brown suffers frostbite on his feet while undergoing cryogenic therapy. This is an admittedly odd injury, but it’s hard to lay blame at his…feet. 

Shortly after, we find out that Brown was told by the NFL that he can no longer wear his helmet. It’s the same helmet, not just the same model but the same helmet, he’s worn his whole career (including college). Brown is not happy about it, because while some helmet models were banned last summer and players were given a one-year grace period, Brown did not receive advanced notice. Some thought this was ridiculous. But a football helmet is sacred to a player – football players have that ingrained in their heads from the first time they take the field as kids. Former NFL player Nate Jackson wrote about why this was so important to Brown:

Each new helmet design foisted upon players has a new shape and a new feel. It doesn’t just change the shape on the outside; it changes the shape within. It changes the placement and feel of the pads that are touching the head. It changes the pressure points on your noggin. It changes the neurological response to a very specific tightness on your head. And because of the different shape, it changes your field of vision, the frame through which you see the field and everyone on it. This all forces you to think when you have no time to think—when thinking will get you hurt.

The Raiders seemed understandably frustrated, but all still seemed fine, and they publicly supported Antonio. So far, so good.

Brown loses the grievance. He tried to find a similar helmet that is approved. He puts out a nationwide call on twitter and actually finds one, but it fails testing. He appeals. He loses. He tried to find one he can use. He does. It fails testing. He files another grievance, and now Raiders rookie GM and career NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock gives his infamous “all in or all out” speech.

When I saw it, I expected fireworks. But Brown actually reported to practice. He picked a new helmet. Things seemed like they’d move forward smoothly. I drafted AB in both of my fantasy leagues, a steal in the third round on each. 

But then, the week of the first game, the Raiders, petty as ever, send Brown a letter letting him know they are fining tens of thousands of dollars for a missed practice and a missed walkthrough during camp way back in mid-August. So… when things were quiet, they turned up the tension with a fine. Why? Brown was understandably not happy. He gets in an argument with Mayock. He calls Mayock a cracker. People expect the Raiders to release him, but they don’t. 

Instead, Brown apologizes – to his teammates and Mayock. He seems pumped to start the season and posts a video voiced over by a phone call between Brown and head coach Jon Gruden, that had me pumped for the NFL season. Seems like everyone is moving forward, right?

Buddy, it’s the Raiders. They will do everything wrong at every opportunity. Saturday morning Brown tweets that the Raiders have voided the $30M guaranteed money on his deal. Brown will be forced to play on a week to week contract, with the Raiders able to cut him and owe him no money whenever they want. This is utter crap. NFL contracts are already crap and weighted heavily toward the teams. And apparently they’re worse than we thought because the teams can walk away from the deal because a player yells at his boss. Brown is understandably pissed. I imagine he would have won a grievance about the voiding of the guaranteed money. But Brown didn’t want to deal with it, and asked to be released. The Raiders obliged.

And people side with the Raiders? Do you root for Goliath? The Soviets at Lake Placid? I mean geeze. At every opportunity they had to move on, they instead escalated. To be clear, I don’t think Antonio was blameless in this, and I don’t think he did everything correctly. But it was the Raiders who escalated at every opportunity they had to de-escalate.

I wrote above early this week, and later in the week read this excellent interview with former 49er Jimmy Farris, who was friends with Terrell Owens during the rocky end of his tenure with the Niners. Farris basically agrees with me, and he makes some great points with his unique insight:

I thought they did a really good job of handling the situation up until they fined him. Other than Mayock coming out and doing that “he’s all-in or he’s all-out” thing, I think that probably got under AB’s skin a little bithe didn’t say anything about it at the time, but I feel like it’s kind of a shot that was unnecessary. Maybe [it was] Mayock kind of trying to prove, Hey, I’m the boss around here, or whatever. It was like a call-out, it was like a public ultimatum to a superstar. [Brown’s] whole thing wasn’t that he was not all-in, or he didn’t want to do it; he was just trying to get the helmet deal figured out.

And, look, people have different opinions about that. Was that even a legitimate thing for him to be taking it to the level that he was? Who knows, but that’s just him, okay? That’s Antonio Brown, and that’s what you’re dealing with. And you know that when you trade for him and you sign him to the big deal. So they publicly supported him. He was missing practices, and he was missing team activities doing that stuff. And you’ve got Gruden and everybody saying, “Hey, man, we support him,” and Gruden’s saying, “Hey, I like the fact that the guy’s standing up for something that he believes in, and when he’s out here, he’s great, and he brings the level of everybody around him up, and he practices his ass off”all this stuff. So you get past all that.

You got the guy in the building, he’s working his ass off, he’s getting ready for Week 1, and then they turn around and fine him for missing some activities that were weeks ago, that when he was missing those activities you said you supported him. So that’s why I said it was petty because you’re telling him while he’s missing those activities, you’re saying, “Hey, man, we get it, just get this thing resolved and get your ass in here as soon as possible and let’s go to work.” So, he thinks, “Hey, they’ve got my back, they’re supporting me.” And then it’s ****ing [five] days before the first game, you do this?

That was my thing. All the drama and the issues and all that kind of stuffyou’d gotten past it. It happened in training camp. It was over. He’s in the building now, he’s here, like, let’s go full-steam ahead. And then, for whatever reason, some procedural reason or some reasonI really don’t know, Mayock felt like they needed to fine him. To set an example or what? I don’t know.

Sure, you’ve got to draw a line somewhere with guys, right? But if the biggest problem you’ve got with the guy so farlet’s not make it more than it is, right? Yes, he’s a quote-unquote diva, or he’s a little eccentric or whatever. But if the biggest problem you’ve got with him so far is that he missed a couple of team activities, that’s not a problem. I asked some guy this on Twitter, just responding to one of the comments: How many team activities did Ezekiel Elliott miss during training camp? The answer is ****ing all of them. He missed all of them. How many has Melvin Gordon missed? All of them. And how much did the Cowboys fine Zeke? They didn’t. They signed him to the richest running back contract in history.

Jason La Canfora’s tweet that I originally responded to was he said he talked to somebody high up in the Steelers organization that said there’s a way to deal with personalities like AB, and that Mayock, being inexperienced, might not understand how to do that. That was my whole point. I agree 100 percent, because if Mayock knew what he was doing, he would know that you don’t fine AB over some bull**** like that, and make an issue out of something that’s not an issue.

[Asked prior to the Raiders cutting Brown] Do you think this is irreparable for AB and the Raiders?]

I had heard apparently what Brown had said to Mayock on the field, and what he’d called him, and what had happened. And so when it gets to that level, I feel like that was, like, some next-level type stuff that is probably irreparable for a personal relationship and maybe even a working relationship.

Here’s the thing, though. Antonio Brown can still be a Raider this year, but it’s going to take the Raiders organization being the bigger person and probably doing some things that’ll cause them to take some hits in the media and around the league from people saying, “How many times are they going to let this guy walk on them, blah blah blah, and this and that.”

All great points. The Raiders blew this. They gave up valuable draft picks to get AB, and because they are a complete clown show they gave him up for nothing, before he played a single snap for the team. Nice job, guys. So don’t support the Raiders. Support the players. As I said last week.

-TOB

Source: Why Good Organizations Know How to Handle Players Like Antonio Brown”, Dom Cosentino, Deadspin (09/09/2019)


Mets Busy Mets-ing?

Every major league team carries two or three catchers. It being the most physically grueling of the positions, even the best catchers need a day off from the squat at least once a week, which means more than one catcher is getting semi-regular playing time. 

In many cases the second and/or third catcher is better defensively than he is as a hitter (if he was a good hitter AND good behind the plate, he’d be a starting catcher). The backup catcher is typically good at framing pitches, blocking balls in the dirt, keeping runners from stealing. The backup catcher’s best contribution to the team is prioritizing the pitcher’s performance ahead of his own. 

This is the case with one of the Mets’ “ace” pitcher Noah Syndergaard (the real ace is reigning Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom). When throwing to either of the two backup catchers – Tomas Nido or Rene Rivera – Syndergaard has a 2.22 ERA in 11 starts. When he pitches to the starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, he has an ERA over 5 in 15 starts. 

Per Tom Ley: 

Over the weekend, Syndergaard went to Mets management and requested that he no longer be forced to pitch to Ramos. The Mets ignored that request, and Ramos was behind the plate on Sunday when Syndergaard gave up four earned runs in five innings; the Mets lost 10-7. According to MLB.com, Syndergaard was in meetings with management throughout Monday afternoon and evening, but wasn’t in the locker room by the time it was opened for the press. Ramos was similarly nowhere to be found. Manager Mickey Callaway and GM Brodie Van Wagenen were around, though, and both made it clear that Syndergaard is just going to have to grin and bear it

Offensively, Ramos is clearly the best of the three catchers. Nido’s OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) is a woeful .571, and Rivera is a career backup catcher with 17 total hits in the last two years. This year, Ramos is hitting .295 with 14 HR, 50 Runs, 72 RBI. 

With that info, you’d understand why Syndergaard would rather throw to Nido or Rivera and why management wants Ramos in the game. The Mets are only 2 games back in the NL Wild Card. With 16 games left, every game is pretty much a must-win if the Mets hope to make it to the play-in game.  

Of those 16 games, Syndergaard starts probably 3, maybe 4 games. In those starts, his pitching performance is much more likely to have a larger impact on the outcome of the game than that of the catcher’s offensive performance. 

If we’re just talking about winning, Syndergaard is right and the Mets should have Nido or Rivera start behind the plate in those games. They can be substituted out whenever Syndergaard is pulled from the game, thus giving Ramos 1-2 at bats in the last portion of the game if needed. 

There’s more at play here. I think the Mets are tired of Syndergaard and they’re trying to prove a point to him that he’s got some work to do before he gets the “ace” treatment. He’s having his worst year while deGrom is backing up his Cy Young performance in 2018 with another stellar year. 

And there’s this: if management grants Syndergaard his wish, what’s stopping deGrom from asking for the same (during his Cy Young year, he pitched to a backup catcher)? All of a sudden you have a backup catcher starting 40% of the games. All of a sudden you have an issue with your starting catcher and his playing time. All of a sudden, you’ve got a team-wide mess because an underperforming pitcher doesn’t like pitching to the starting catcher. Syndergaard hasn’t been good enough for that headache. – PAL 

Source: “Noah Syndergaard Is Mad About Catchers And The Mets Don’t Care”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (09/10/19)

TOB: I think the last paragraph is likely what’s at play here, but it’s still short-sighted. Syndergaard is 3 runs better 9 innings when the backups catch for him. Is Ramos creating 3 runs more per game offensively than his backups? I assure you he is not, because he would be the greatest hitter to ever live if he was.


Don’t Get Bogged Down In Semantics: MIke Trout is the AL MVP

This week on his podcast, The Ringer’s Bill Simmons argued that Mike Trout should not win the MVP because his team stinks (67-80 at the moment). Simmons argued the award says “Valuable” and therefore the most valuable player has to come from a good team because otherwise what “value” is the player if he makes a really crappy team into a merely crappy team? Simmons suggested a new award – the Most Outstanding Player award to the best player in the league – while also awarding the MVP to the best player on one of the best teams. This is all so stupid.

First, if you did that, the MOP award would quickly surpass the MVP. No one cares who the best player on the best team is. Everyone wants to be the best player.

But most importantly, his argument is illogical. Let’s say I have $10,000 and you have $1,000. Someone gives us both $100. Is that $100 worth more to you or me? The $100 retains the same inherent value. $100 is $100. But the $100 actually means more to you because it is 10% of your total and just 1% of my total. So either the $100 is equally valuable to us, or it’s more valuable to you.

But Trout isn’t equal to everyone else. He’s better. So let’s say I have $10,000 and you have $1,000 and someone gives you $100 and they give me $50. The $100 is worth more than the $50, inherently, and it’s worth more to you than it’s worth to me. 

And what if, say, we both have $100, but someone gives me $50 four times (the Astros have 4 players in AL’s top 10 in WAR), they give you $100 (Trout leads the AL in WAR, no one else on his team ). Are any one of those $50 worth more to you because you now have $300 than the $100 is to me because I only have $200? NO. It’s a stupid argument, and I wish it would stop. 

Baseball is the most independent of the team sports – a player could hit 100 home runs and be the best center fielder in major league history, but his team could still suck if they didn’t have anyone good hitters to help him and pitchers to prevent runs. In baseball, the MVP is the best player in the league. Period. -TOB

PAL: In team sports (outside of fantasy), winning is the currency, not personal performance…which makes the MVP award such a mucky and fun topic to debate forever and ever.

Your argument is completely logical. I agree; he’s the MVP. His contribution to a win is far more than anyone else, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is part of far fewer wins, which we ultimately value and count. Clearly not his fault, and it doesn’t take much dissection to uncover just how big his contribution is to winning, but that’s the truth.

The most valuable player is associated with far less of the thing I value most. He’s the MVP, and who cares?


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Bon Iver – “Naeem”


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“Our balls are in your court.”

-Michael Scott

Week of September 6, 2019

 

Be impressive this weekend.


Has Twitter Killed Hard Knocks?

Boy, that was a boring season of Hard Knocks, huh? I didn’t expect to say that – Gruden! Antonio Brown! Mark Davis and his haircuts! Mayock! Carr! Ok, not Carr. I was never excited about Carr. The impending move to Vegas! It had the makings of a classic season. And yet…it didn’t work.

Mostly it didn’t work because the show focused on Antonio Brown and his many sagas this training camp. First his feet, which suffered from frostbite after improper protection during cryogenic therapy. Then his dispute with the NFL of his desire to continue using the same helmet he’s used since college. Fifteen years ago, this would have probably been a great season. We would have gotten all the behind the scenes chatter on those two topics, and we would have said, “Wow, this is great drama. So interesting to get all the behind the scenes details!”

But, in the instant information, Twitter age…by the time the show aired on Tuesday night, we had already seen all of it. We didn’t need to see what Antonio Brown thought because he had already tweeted it out (and it was covered online and on TV endlessly). We didn’t need to know what Mayock said because his post-practice statement telling Brown he needed to be all-in or all-out was posted on Twitter seconds after it ended and retweeted all over the place, and then on TV all day.

On top of all that, the show suffered because the NFL changed the roster cut rules a couple years back. Teams no longer have to periodically make cuts through camp. Those weekly cuts were the center of the show’s drama in previous seasons: get to know the borderline guys, watch them practice and play, see the coaches discuss their strengths and weaknesses in the coaches’ meetings, find out in dramatic fashion whether the player would survive the cut, and watch in agony as a young man’s dream was killed. God damn, that was great TV.

But that’s all gone now, until the final week, anyways – and then 37 guys got cut in one day and the final episode didn’t have the time to show more than a couple. So I’m concerned that a once great show is effectively finished – they may continue to air it, but it will no longer be great TV. They’ll just continue to show us stories we saw days before and lack any real drama.

But I hold a sliver of hope that the producers simply made a grave error in judgment on storylines. I hope they thought the Brown stories were too good to not address. Which is true – they couldn’t leave it unaddressed. But I think they erred by making it the focus of the show. Hopefully they take stock of what went right and wrong this season and don’t make this mistake again. I just hope they figure out a way around the new roster trimming rules, because a lot has been lost there. -TOB

Source: “‘Hard Knocks’ Season Finale Recap: The Raiders Go Out With a Whimper”, Claire McNear, The Ringer (09/04/2019)

PAL:  Agreed on all fronts, but the unintentional comedy is too good to resist. Jon Gruden is doing a bad impression of Frank Caliendo’s impression of Jon Gruden. At no point does he forget that he’s got a mic and a camera on him. David Carr’s brother/franchise QB tries so hard to be liked, to be seen as a leader, and no one – I mean no one – is buying what he’s selling. The corpse of Brent Musburger saying “knock on wood if you’re with me”. Mike Glennon’s freakish neck. Gruden’s hair. The b-roll of the smelly lake I run around. There are plenty of nuggets. 

I also am struck – every time I watch this show – at how professional most every one of the players is. Most of them are the furthest thing from a diva. They know it’s a grind, and they know who’s on the bubble, and they don’t resent the guys that end up taking their spots. 

It’s completely b.s. they don’t show much of the cut conversations this season, and it’s even worse that neither the G.M. nor Gruden even show up on camera for the cuts. 

The show isn’t good, and neither are the Raiders. But the show is so slick that it’ll make you forget that. Plus, I’m a sucker for montages and Liev Schreiber narration. Sue me. 

TOB: Hah, agreed on that last part. And the Autumn Wind opening each week would get me so pumped.


The Case For Memorabilia from Not A Big Memorabilia Guy

“I don’t want to be anywhere else. Put me on a wall, and bring me some prime rib.” – Former Giants Shortstop Rich Aurilia 

An autograph has never done it for me, and I don’t feel anything when someone shows me a selfie with someone famous. The story behind acquiring the autograph or selfie too often reveals itself to be a one sentence explanation. The memory is missing from a lot of memorabilia. 

The memories are what make The Shed in Nashville, Illinois (you read that right) so legendary amongst San Francisco Giants fans. It belongs to Kirk Reuter, the beloved Giants lefty from 1996-2005. Nicknamed “Woody” for what are now pretty obvious reasons, he was the loveable thumber that always seemed to be on the mound when the Giants played well (despite an ERA well over 4), with the team tallying a record of 165-113 in games Rueter started. As writer Grant Brisbee points out, some reasons for such a favorable record include a few excellent players on the roster during that time (“Barry Bonds. And Jeff Kent. And Rich Aurilia. And Barry Bonds. It also has a lot to do with Barry Bonds.”) 

Not only did the team win when Woody was on the mound, but he pitched for a team that finally got out from under the threat moving out of San Francisco. The Giants moved from one of the worst ballparks (Candlestick) to what is undoubtedly one of the best (Oracle Park). Talk of the team leaving San Francisco was replaced with talk of a winning ball club. 

Woody felt (and looked) like the regular guy on a team of cartoon athletes. So of course it would be him that formed a fast friendship with the clubhouse manager, Mike Murphy . Of course he wouldn’t shy away from asking for autographs from opposing players. Of course Woody would ask Willie friggin’ Mays for the shirt off his back and the shoes off his feet.

“Now that was a good story, too, Estes. Did I ever tell you that? When I took that from Willie?”

The earnestness and absurdity of the sentence breaks up the room. Ah, yes, who among us doesn’t have a story of taking a shirt and boots from Willie Mays?

“He threw out a first pitch. He comes in … he has a silk shirt, a sport coat … and his boots, these zippered-up boots,” Rueter said. “I’m sitting in Murph’s (Mike Murphy, clubhouse manager) office, looking at him and the ‘Say Hey’ on his shirt, and I said, ‘Hey, that’d look good in The Shed.’”

He says that last part with an affected tone, comically devious and cunning, like a charming cat burglar. More laughs around the room.

“He starts unbuttoning, and I go, ‘Heck, you gotta sign it!’ So he signs it, and I’m still looking at him. Then I’m like, ‘Well, crap, those boots … those would look good in The Shed …’”

More laughter, this time with Rueter joining in. He already knew how ridiculous this was, but it’s all coming back to him as he tells the story again.

“So then he walks out, and he’s walking out of our clubhouse. Murph gave him a pair of shower shoes, and then all he has on is a little tank top. That’s all he’s got as he’s walking out of the clubhouse to go to his car, and everybody is like, ‘You just made the best player ever go out of the clubhouse in shower shoes and a tank top!’”

Rueter’s laughter this time is full-body, again, and punctuated with clapping hands. If he were telling a story about taking my dog’s medicine and throwing it in the ocean, it still would have been impossible not to laugh along.

Now that’s some memorabilia with a memory. This is just one of the anecdotes from Brisbee’s story. There are plenty more, which got me thinkin…

My dad has a small collection of autographed baseballs. There are some respectable Hall of Fame guys ones up there on the corner bookshelf: Willie Mays, Harmon Killebrew, Carl Hubbel, and I think he’s got a team ball from 1987 World Series Twins. But there are two signed baseballs he talks about more than any other: Dave Winfield and Bob Feller. I’ll tell you about the Feller story later if you want to hear it. 

Dave Winfield is the greatest athlete to come out of the state of Minnesota. Forget Mauer. Don’t come at me with Kevin McHale or Bronco Nagurski, or even Phil Housely. Winfield is the answer. He was drafted in basketball, baseball, and football (despite never having played college football) – and considered by at least one publication third greatest athlete ever. Debate over. 

So Winfield’s brother, Steve, had a batting cage down on Rice Street, maybe two miles from home. One day, the word around the cage is Winfield, Dave, was going to be at the cage. My memory gets hazy, about how I got home, but I got home quickly and tore through the garage for a baseball. My dad had all the equipment for the little league teams at our house, including each team’s allotment of game balls for the year. It was clear that I was not supposed to tear into any new baseballs – that those were for each of the teams. So instead of bring one of the literally dozens of clean, new baseballs for the future Hall of Famer to sign, instead getting a new baseball at sporting goods store that was on the same street as the batting cage, I found the cleanest, somewhat tattered ball lying around the garage and had Winfield sign it. Later that night, my dad’s dismay was punctuated by booming laughter when I showed the ball I got him for the bookshelf. 

To this day, it remains one of my dad’s favorite stories to tell. Just cracks him up every damn time. 

And that’s what Brisbee is getting at, or at the least the part of his story that spoke to me. That same thing is what makes The Shed most meaningful.  

The Shed exists in its exact permutation because that’s how Rueter navigated his life, with events that both were and weren’t in his control. And that exact permutation happens to help describe why Oracle Park exists and how the Giants could sell it out season after season.

The stories are better than the memorabilia. Let’s say Gale Sayers signed a baseball that ended up in a plastic cube that was displayed at a restaurant. Here’s what that ball would mean to you: Gale Sayers, Hall of Fame running back, at some point in his life, held a baseball and, with his free hand, moved a pen around the ball in a distinctive motion. That’s it. Gale Sayers touched a baseball with a pen.

When it’s in The Shed, it becomes that time Gale Sayers came through town to see Dusty Baker, with an anecdote behind that. Guys like that were always stopping by the clubhouse to see Bake, and Murph would give Rueter a heads up. “Hey, Woody, such and such is coming tomorrow, so make sure you have a football or a basketball,” and this leads into another anecdote.

The Shed is a collection of this. This happened. And it was awesome. It’s an appreciation of just how strange this world is, and it’s curated by an 18th-round pick out of Murray State who couldn’t throw harder than 86 mph, fully aware of how unlikely and fortunate he is. This isn’t something that any ol’ player could collect and show off with the same zeal. It had to be someone who could appreciate it all the proper amount.

I’ve said it quite a few times, but I’ll say it again: that’s the good stuff. Brisbee does a great job capturing the spirit of the game and highlighting why an average pitcher can become a fan favorite. – PAL 

Source: Inside The Shed: Kirk Rueter’s tribute to Giants history has become an indelible part of the lore”, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (09/04/19)


Football Is Chess, And That’s Why I Keep Coming Back

Almost every story I’ve written about football over the 5+ years we’ve been doing this has been negative. I’ve ripped the NFL for the Ray Rice story, concussions, treating players like children, the blackball on Kaepernick, and on and on. I’ve ripped the NCAA for not paying players while coaches and administrators make millions. 

If you didn’t know me you’d be surprised, then, that I like football. Sorta. Well, I hate almost everything surrounding football, but I really enjoy the game. It’s a nasty compromise I have to make with myself: I know how poorly football treats its players, but I can’t help the fact that I like the game. Call me morally soft if you must. But damnit the game is great. This video is a perfect example of what I love about football – former QB Dan Orlovsky breaks down the Oklahoma offense, and how they scheme to beat a defense.

It’s great! I hate myself for liking it, but it’s great. Sigh. -TOB

PAL: That much choreography with that many guys in concert…hell yeah the creativity and strategy makes for a great TV sport. Couple that with the athleticism, and the orchestra that is football is almost as great as it is scary.


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Ali De Meola – “Mediterranean Sundance”


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I made my money the old fashioned way. I got run over by a Lexus. 

-Jean Ralphio

Week of August 30, 2019


Andrew Luck Is No Ken Dryden (or Barry Sanders or Bjorn Borg)

This is a bit of new type of post. I thought this was an interesting read the first time I read it. I liked that it puts Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement into the context of other athletes that retired while in their peaks. Canadians goalie Ken Dryden, Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson, Bjorn Borg, and another tennis player I’ve never heard of before today. 

Katie Baker lumps them all together with the following: 

All of which is why it was such a shock on Saturday night to learn that Luck, not yet 30 years old, was retiring from football, smack dab in the prime of his life, becoming the latest in an alternately doomed and dazzling group of athletes whose careers ended not with the fireworks of celebration but with an afterburn of a lost star. 

I shared the story with TOB, and then – as we typically do – I re-read it tonight (Thursday) in preparation for a write-up. Guess what? I didn’t like it nearly as much on the second read. In fact, I found the point kind of flawed. The “afterburn of a lost star”? Come on. It’s a bit more nuanced than that. Some of the athletes simply didn’t want to play any more (maybe they never loved their respective sport to begin with?), some got hurt, and some were far more successful than Luck ever was. 

Let’s break it down, shall we? Remember, as far as we know Luck retired because he’s sick of being unhealthy and constantly rehabbing. It’s taken the fun out of the game, and – if I may posit – the experience of pain-rehab-play-pain-rehab-pain was depressing.

Ken Dryden – Goalie for the Canadians retired at 31, after helping the Canadians winning 5 Stanley Cups in a decade. Luck won nothing as a NFL player. Harsh, but it’s true. Dryden was the best on the best team for a decade. Not the same. 

Barry Sanders – running back in the NFL for 10(!) years. By all accounts he was healthy and had good years ahead of him. Enough to likely break every rushing record there was. He retired, via fax, and the consensus is a) he never loved football, and b) was sick of playing for a shitty Lions team. Barry Sanders was an all-time great that retired because he was sick of losing. Also, let’s not forget playing running back in the NFL takes a much greater toll on the body than QB, even if Sanders didn’t retire due to injury. 

Calvin Johnson – wide receiver for the Lions. You can pretty much cut and paste Barry Sanders’ paragraph here. Johnson was on pace to be one of the best receivers ever. He was sick of playing for a losing team and was an extremely talented guy who may have never loved the game. 

Bjorn Borg – retired at 26(!) after 11 Grand Slams. After folks blamed his wife, Borg responded sarcastically, “It can’t be that I don’t enjoy tennis.” 

Andrew Luck retired because he wasn’t healthy, and he was sick of the physical and psychological toll of constantly rehabbing. I get it. And I get that – after already earning millions – there’s no more money that can justify being an unhappy husband and father (to be). Hell, I’m a real piece of work to be around when my plantar fasciitis rears its head, and my livelihood has nothing to do with my feet. 

So I’m posting a story I didn’t love. Pretty antithetical to the entire premise of this blog, but I thought I’d share because the story’s definitely kicking around in my brain this week. Good or bad, it resonated, so I wanted to share it with the crew. – PAL 

Source: “Andrew Luck and the Afterburn of Early Retirement”, Katie Baker, The Ringer (08/26/19)


What Luck Went Through

When Luck’s retirement news hit, I was nearing the end of an in-person fantasy football draft. Ten minutes before, in the 12th of 16 rounds, I took Luck. I thought I had a bit of a steal, and I joked about how I never like to take Stanford guys when I made the pick. Then, a phone buzzed. And another. Someone read the news aloud. I thought it was a joke. Reader, it was not!

I couldn’t help but laugh at my misfortune, but I didn’t get angry at Luck. I mean, sure, when I heard a day later that this had been in the works for a couple weeks, and that he may have even told the Colts way back in the Spring that this was what he wanted to do but they tried to talk him out of it, I wished he had said it sooner. But I wasn’t mad at the guy. If anything, it’s a good story. Yes, I’m one of Those Guys, who drafted Luck right before he announced his retirement.

But then I got home and caught a whiff of the inevitable Sports Show talking head takes. And I saw the Colts fans booing him as he left the field after the news broke (more on that in a second)*. And I saw his press conference, and how sad he was. And I realized: the only correct takes on this story are: (1) good for him getting out while he (hopefully) can still live a normal life, and (2) this game is so brutal and we should all feel guilty for enjoying it.

Later in the week I read this depressing story from former NFL player Nate Jackson, who in his retirement has become a periodic contributor to Deadspin. And man. Were those takes ever reinforced. Here’s Jackson giving a glimpse into what he, Luck, and so many other players go through:

The glory was fleeting; the injuries were constant. And everyone I spoke to reminded me that I was living the dream. But it was never my dream to be lying on a training table for four hours a day, hooked up to machines, ice bags strapped to my body, while my teammates went to meetings and practiced. It was never my dream to wake up in the morning and wonder how I’d get through the day, to drive to work in pain and confusion, on the verge of tears, trying to understand how things got to this point. What I had done wrong—because, if I was so unhappy while living the dream, I must have done something wrong, right?

Call it a confluence of perspectives. The body is no longer cooperating. The adrenaline of game-day has subsided. The adulation of the fans no longer excites. Neither does the big check every week. The shine begins to wear off the Shield. You imagine yourself on a beach. On an island. Far from a football field, free from the mental anguish and paranoia you live with every day. Still, you soldier on, because everything in your life has steered you onto that field.

And so you play until they drag your lifeless body from the grass, and it’s all you can do to muster a thumbs-up as they wheel you into the tunnel, knowing that’s how you secure your legacy. Every football player knows how to make that sacrifice. But few know how to walk away. That seems to be changing, and thank god for that.

Ugh. Man. What a brutal game. 

*One thing about those Colts fans booing. They were roundly criticized for it, basically called country bumpkins who still don’t understand that their entertainment is not worth more than a player’s health. But for a second I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. 

As I mentioned above, reports are that this was in the works for months. All that time, the Colts sold season tickets for thousands of dollars to fans on the promise of another season led by Andrew Luck. Maybe some of those fans wouldn’t have paid that had they known? It doesn’t justify booing, but I think I understand the sentiment from that perspective.

One last thing: Eff Doug Gottlieb forever.

Why won’t this clown go away? -TOB

Source: Football Doesn’t Let You Leave”, Nate Jackson, Deadspin (08/28/2019)


Don’t You Dare Make Ohtani Choose

Surprise surprise: we’re sharing another Ben Lindbergh baseball story. Clearly the best baseball writer going these days. 

Remember Shohei Ohtani, the two-way sensation and the biggest story in baseball at the beginning of last year? Yeah, Tommy John surgery has a way of making us forget dudes for awhile, or – to be more precise – for about 12-18 months. Tommy John and playing for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 

 

Ohtani is playing this year while he recovers from TJ. As a DH, Ohtani is having another solid year at the plate. The dude can hit at an all-star level. His traditional stats, averaged out over 162 games look like this: 

.295 BA, 32 HR, 96 RBI, slugging over .500. 

When he was preparing to make his debut in MLB, most of the concern around his hitting. People wanted him to focus on taking the mound and becoming a dominant starter with a triple-digit arm and a nast splitty to boot. 

Dude has a pretty, pretty swing

Now, as he puts up impressive numbers as a hitter, the chorus has shifted. There is a mathematical argument he is more valuable as a position player only. Or, in the words of Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”

As Miller laid out, though, the balance between Ohtani’s hitting and pitching contributions has to be just right for the stats to support continued two-way play. Only if Ohtani is very good to great at both hitting and pitching, or very good at hitting but even better at pitching, does the calculus favor two-way play. Any other combination, and a purely numbers-driven analysis would hew to one-way play. If Ohtani is a better hitter than he is a pitcher, then, the data aligns with the Rymer-Sheehan-Thomas contention that he should pick the position-player lane.

Cool. Except I don’t care what the numbers say. We may never get a chance to see someone be great at both again in our lifetime. I’m not saying Ohtani is going to be a great pitcher or a great hitter, but he’s actually shown the potential for both at the big league level. We owe it to the baseball gods to let this play out. 

Also, the Angels NEED pitching: 

Only the Orioles have received fewer WAR from their starters this season, and even if the Angels’ active innings leader, Griffin Canning, can cross the 100-inning threshold, the Angels will join the 2012 Rockies as the only two teams in the modern era to have just one pitcher reach the century mark. 

I mean, can you imagine – can you freaking imagine the scenario in which he’s pitching and hitting in the middle of the lineup in a World Series game? How awesome would that be? How can you root against that, logically or otherwise?  

New statistics should make us better understand the game, but they lose me when the numbers suggest we take the rarest joyous moments out of the game (pulling a pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, an iconic pitcher intentionally walking an iconic hitter, this nonsense with Ohtani).

Also, god, everytime I read about him I think how much bigger a deal it would be if he played on popular team, especially on the east coast. 

Another interesting nugget – the Angles have (at least earlier this year) allowed more guys to legit try being 2-way players. Pitcher/Position players should become the team’s thing. Become the first team to assemble a lineup with several dual threats. 

I’ll leave the last word for Lindbergh:  

Baseball fans and analysts who believe that the game has grown less spectator-friendly have repeatedly pointed their fingers at numbers nerds for emphasizing efficiency over fun. Going out of our way to say that a fascinating, singular, game-reframing player who could be baseball’s best story should have his attempt at two-way immortality curtailed for at most a modest upgrade would play into that stathead stereotype. 

Amen. – PAL 

Source: “Let Ohtani Play Two-Way”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (08/21/19)


In Praise of the A’s in the Moneyball 3.0 (?) Era

I am an unabashed GIants fan, of course. But I also admire the A’s from across the Bay – often admiring the fact that Billy Beane somehow turned chicken shit into chicken salad yet again, year after year, with just a few blips here and there. The question is: how does he do it? How do they do it? In Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball, written about the 2001 season, Beane was exploiting the fact that teams vastly underrated walks, and by extension on base percentage. But many seemed to think that Beane had “solved” the game and that the edge he had figured out was gone once Lewis’ book was published. 

But Moneyball was misunderstood by many. Beane noticed a market inefficiency – the market overpaid for some skills, and vastly underpaid for other skills, and those underpaid skills were often more important to winning than the ones the other teams valued. So Beane paid less to get more out of those underrated skills. Once the league caught up on on base percentage, Beane moved on.

Rumor has it his next effort was to understand and pay for defense: after all, a run saved is a run earned. But until the last ten years or so, we had almost no way to truly measure defense. Fielding percentage is a garbage stat because a better player can be penalized for not quite gloving a ball that a worse player never would have gotten close to. MLB is now obsessed with quantifying defense.

But MLB is also obsessed with dingers, and Beane is unsurprisingly leading the charge, as laid out by Eno Sarris in his article this week: SInce 2015, the A’s lead the majors in fly ball rate (the percentage of hit balls that are fly balls). And since 2015, the A’s also lead the majors in launch angle (the angle of the ball off the bat) at 15%. What does that lead to: dingers, baby. Lots of dingers. The A’s pitching staff also leads the league in getting pop-outs – almost 5% of balls put into play against them are pop-outs. Beane and the team figured out a better way to play and acquire players who play that way, and coach the players they have to do so, too.

But the A’s don’t stop at hitting dingers and inducing pop outs. In an era where teams hoard prospects and value cheap, controllable talent over all else, Beane has exploited this swing by going the other way: obtaining cheap veterans who play the way he wants his team to play.

Finally, the A’s were ahead of the curve in buying cheap but good bullpen help, and using that bullpen as a weapon by relying on them for more innings. Since 2015, the A’s bullpen ranks in the Top 5.

Other teams pay more to players, but few teams win as consistently, over so many years, as the A’s have under Bllly Beane. The Giants are slipping out of the playoff picture (but gosh are they in better shape than they were one year ago), so the A’s might be my team to root for this postseason. -TOB 

Source: The A’s Prove Their Formula is Working in Big Win Over Yankees”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (08/20/2019)

PAL: Finding value, that’s Beane’s talent. They find a way to compete while having a payroll in the lowest third of the league (21 of 30 at the start of the season). It’s impressive, and yet, aren’t we all kind of waiting for them to win in the way counts, as in the World Series. Unfair? No doubt! But we’re most captivated by the underdog story when the underdog comes out on top. Near the top doesn’t do it for us. 

Also, TOB. Root for the gd Twins this postseason! What the hell, man? With GTR (Good Times Rowe) is on dad patrol for the first time, who the hell is going to watch these games with me in a dark bar? The correct answer is you, sir.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Roy Orbison – “Candy Man”


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“I hope the war goes on forever and Ryan gets drafted.”

– Dwight K. Schrute