Week of September 18, 2020


Dodgers Giveth, Whine Like Little Babies When They Take

I am on the record that I love when baseball players talk trash, pimp home runs, scream when they strike a guy out, etc.. What I don’t like is hypocrites who are happy to do those things when they do something well, but whine and cry when someone does those things to them (ahem, MadBum).

Which brings me to the Dodgers. They are in a (surprisingly) tight race for the NL West with the Padres (who look like they’re going to be a headache for the next decade). In a close game this week, the Padres’ Trent Grisham crushed a dong off Clayton Kershaw. When he hit it, he turned to his bench and yelled, “Let’s go!” Although you can’t hear it, I think someone on the Dodgers then yelled at him because he suddenly turns toward either Kershaw or the Dodger bench and smirks. He then gets very animated as he rounds the bases. Let’s let 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy break it all down:

I’m not even mad about the Dodgers yelling, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” That’s hilarious. What really bugs me are the comments after the game by Dave Roberts and other Dodgers, because they are such friggin hypocrites. Do I need to remind you of the time when Max Muncy hit a bomb off Bumgarner, told Bumgarner to go get it out of the ocean (again, we’ll ignore Muncy’s misunderstanding of simple geography), and then half the Dodgers team made and wore “Get It Out of the Ocean” shirts!? Including Muncy himself:

And honestly I thought that was all REALLY funny. But tell me, Dave, why was that ok and what Grisham did not? Take your team’s advice: STFU. -TOB

PAL: I dig the young, talented, cocky Padres leaning into this role.


I’ve Discovered TOB’s Second Career: Spotter

We’ve all had that moment watching a game when we make an observation, only to have the color commentary echo the statement the next second. It will impress the significant other on the couch, and – let’s all cop to it – it’s a nice little moment of validation, that we’re seeing what the expert sees, at least that’s what I thought until reading this story from Bryan Curtis. 

For decades, TV has peddled a vision of the booth as a pair of announcers gazing over the field. This is pure illusion. “It’s a working kitchen at a diner back there,” said Joe Buck. Every announcer in Fox’s “A” booth—Buck, Aikman, even Mike Pereira—has an extra football brain within arm’s reach. Additionally, Buck has a spotter, Bill Garrity, and a statistician, Ed Sfida, stationed at his left; a stage manager, a camera operator, and a makeup artist stand behind the announcers. All told, there are usually 11 people in the Fox booth. NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth has more than 20.

When it’s laid out like that, I’m not shocked, but I just never really thought about it. And now when I do think about it, of course these analysts aren’t processing and articulating every nugget in real time. Enter  David Moulton – the guy behind the guy, just off camera. 

Moulton in action:

 

Before the pandemic and need for social distancing in relatively small booths at the stadiums, Moulton would be right next to the analyst (Troy Aikman for NFL, Gary Danielson SEC), in the ear piece, writing nuggets on notecards, a real-time “spell check” of sorts as Joe Buck puts it. 

Some of Moulton’s value is practical. At the two-minute warning, he reminds Buck and Aikman how many timeouts each team has. But the spotter’s job has an emotional component, too. Danielson said that being an announcer can feel like a comedian telling jokes to an empty room. Danielson can look at Moulton and see a fist pump or a shake of the head. “It’s someone having an audience,” he said.

Another key distinction is that Moulton has to think like his guy. While he compares his role to that of caddieing for a world-class golfer –  “You know that the golfer is going to be Top 3 in the world without you” – he has to see the game and offer notes to his guy in a way that resonates with Aikman’s voice. It’s not enough for something to be interesting to Moulton; rather, he has to think about what’s compelling to the audience as told by Aikman.  In that way, his role reminds of a joke writer more than a caddie: he needs to understand his analysts voice and sensibilities. 

Excellent read on a topic that’s completely fresh to me. Also, I genuinely believe TOB could be a guy-behind-the-guy for basketball and college football. – PAL 

Source: Meet the Man Who Makes Your Favorite Announcer Sound Smarter”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (09/14/2

TOB: Haaaaaaa. I’m not going to argue – I would love this. You nailed that moment of validation when your partner is impressed when you say something right before the announcers. And let me tell you – it’s now happening with the kids and their minds are BLOWN.

Also, I did know this job existed. I’ve definitely heard a few announcers mention their spotter by name, and in either Little Big League or Major League there is someone handing the announcer funny and obscure stats. 


College Football TV $ Is More Important Than My Niece’s College Education 

Up until recently, I was a (wavering) holdout wanting to believe in the idea of a student-athlete. I clung to theidea that a free education is absolutely worth something. But the recent reversal from the Big 10 is the last bit. It’s time to officially call it: college football and basketball players are not student athletes; rather, they are an unpaid workforce. 

The other day, the Big 10 unanimously voted to play the fall football season, just six weeks after voting 11-3 not to hold a fall sports season. Nothing has really changed in that time in terms of treatment or scientific breakthroughs. What’s changed is a handful of extremely rich and powerful football programs saw that the SEC, Big 12, and ACC were not going to follow suit and delay/cancel the season, and money was going to be left on the table. 

Per Berry Svrluga of The Washington Post:

‘The coronavirus pandemic has completely laid bare the contemptible nature of college athletics. The Big Ten’s decision to reverse course and try to stage a football season made it as crisp and clear as a Saturday afternoon in the fall: Athletic departments do not exist to afford opportunities to compete for thousands of “student-athletes.”’

Think about the disparity here. The conference, at its expense, will provide coronavirus tests every single day to a junior economics major if he happens to play football and a sophomore sociology major who excels at soccer and not to the kids who sit alongside them in class — virtually or in person — but don’t play sports.

That pisses me right off. These institutions of higher learning – these schools that are collecting FULL tuition from tens of thousands of students/parents for remote learning in many cases, these nostalgia receptacles that love to wax poetic on code, honor, and values are prioritizing money over the wellbeing of its non-athlete students and staff. 

Put simply, physics majors don’t generate money for their schools. Quarterbacks do. But more than that: The schools that make up the Big Ten are institutions of higher learning. The Big Ten itself is a massive business that stages athletic competitions and creates content for its media partners. The objectives of those two entities don’t always align.

Nevermind the irony we all know – that it’s the goddamn physics major who will bail us all out one day, not the all-conference QB. 

And while I’m rolling, it’s absurd that the football team will receive daily tests while the rest of the student population is signing into a 500th Zoom. Unconscionable. And it’s absurd that one goddamn cent is being dedicated to something other than first figuring out a safe way (including rapid response testing, like the ones the almighty football team receives) to get young kids back in elementary and middle school. And it’s infuriating that people will prioritize exercising  their personal freedoms to not wear a mask over getting kids and teachers back in schools in the safest possible environment (which, really, are you fucking kidding me? Is a mask such an intolerable inconvenience)? But – hey – let’s make sure Big 10 football has games. 

What is going on?

The amateurism argument is officially settled. 

And a general memo: stop referring to college students as ‘kids’ when you need something from them and ‘young adults’ when you want to blame them for something.

Hold steady, Pac 12. If you really think it’s dangerous, then lead and don’t play until  every student has access to the same testing as the football team. Stick to your convictions. – PAL 

Source: The Big Ten might save its football season, but the myth of college sports has been shattered”, Barry Svrluga, The Washington Post (09/17/20)

TOB: I have bad news for you regarding the Pac-12…news broke this week that they are expected to start as soon as late October.

In the bigger picture, though, while you are correct to see that the “student-athlete” concept, as applied to college football and men’s basketball, is a myth, you’ve got to take it a step further. The money being spent by these colleges to test football players is NOT money being taken away from the education of the general student population, like your niece. Major college football programs make money for their schools. The football (and to a lesser extent men’s basketball) money goes to pay for the other sports that take a loss. In fact, the athletic departments pay the school the tuition for each athlete on scholarship. A college athletic department is, essentially, an outside business licensing a college’s trademarks. When you look at it like that, to me, the effort to put college football on the field while other students are remote looks less ridiculous. 

Last point: I don’t believe the daily tests for football players is taking away resources from general populations. The testing machines, as I understand it, will be on each campus, paid for by the conference/the schools. It’s not like the early days of baseball’s return where they were mailing tests to a lab in Utah and utilizing that lab’s resources.

Which is all to say – I’m happy you’re on the side that recognizes that major college football and basketball players are not “student athletes” – but I’m also ok with those teams deciding to play this Fall.


Video of the Week:

I think we all had a George Kittle on a team growing up. 

Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Wynton Marsalis (feat. Joe Farnsworth, Russell Hall, Isaiah J. Thompson & Jerry Weldon) (Jazz Arrangement) – “Daily Battles”


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What is it like being single? I like it! I like starting each day with a sense of possibility. And I’m optimistic, because everyday I get a little more desperate. And desperate situations yield the quickest results.

-Michael Scott

 

 

Week of September 11, 2020

 


A Great Idea, Dr. Crutchfield

It’s Thursday night here as I write this. Today got the best of me, folks. Beat down my optimism, and that doesn’t happen too often. The fires continue, and the ash is falling like a first dusting of snow – I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures. Add the apocalyptic skies and AQI acronym to the oncoming ugly brawl that will be the election in November, the pandemic that feels like it will not end here in CA, and a summer that made it impossible to ignore that we have a deep, deep racism problem in all sorts of places in this country. 

I needed a little light of good, and I got it from a dermatologist back in Minnesota. Per Jennifer Brooks: 

In summer 2020, as Minnesota burned and its people suffered and died in a pandemic, a Twin Cities doctor turned to Minnie and Paul again as a source of unity.

What if, said Dr. Charles Crutchfield III, the Twins logo looked a little bit more like its players and fans?

Crutchfield, the team’s consulting dermatologist, darkened the skin tone of one of the ballplayers on the logo. Suddenly, instead of just Minnie and Paul, he saw Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, grinning with their arms thrown around each other. Suddenly, he saw himself.

Minnie and Paul, glowing in neon 46 feet tall, watch over every home game from center field, ready to mark home runs with a firm handshake. Crutchfield showed his updated logo to a few of the players.

You get the paint, they told him with a laugh, we’ll hold the ladder.

This is such a great idea. Simple, powerful, positive statement. Hell, would it even be expensive! How this could offend people (obviously some morons took to social media to be cowards of the comment section) is beyond me, and if the Twins were to take two seconds to think about this, they’d have the shading of gigantic neon logo over center field changed within the week. That tweak on a classic, beautiful logo could become a genuine symbol for Twin Cities. I wish the Twins don’t over-analyze this one – just make the obvious decision, and do it now. 

Nice work, Dr. Crutchfield! Thank you! Now come on, Twins. Don’t workshop this. Don’t focus group this. Just look at the idea, see that it’s only positive. Show some love. – PAL

Source: Twins Team Doctor Dreams of a Logo That Looks More Like the Team and its Fans”, Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune (09/10/2020)


The Mahomes Contract Origin Story

I’ll admit it from the jump: contract stories are hit and miss. I usually don’t find them particularly interesting, but this breakdown of Patrick Mahomes’ 10 years, $503MM contract with the Kansas City Chiefs is a pretty fresh examination of a mega-deal. 

First of all, there is just about zero chance the Chiefs pay Mahomes the full $503MM. In order for that to happen and for every kicker to count, the team would have to win 11-straight Super Bowls (counting last year) and Mahomes would have to win 10 MVPs in a row. As SI’s Greg Bishop reminds us, with NFL contracts, “nothing is as it appears, beyond guaranteed cash.”

The idea Mahomes signed a huge contract isn’t all that thought-provoking on its own. To most of us, there’s no difference between $20MM and $500MM. The details, NFL quirks, and inspirations that led to deal being structured as it is – that’s a puzzle worth putting together. 

His agents, Lee Steinberg and Chris Cabott, knew it would be a record-breaking contract. The foundation of their strategy seemingly started with the question short-term or long-term.

They wanted to lay out for the superstar what they considered the two most important factors in any deal: whether he would reset the quarterback market in a short-term sense or a long-term one, and how either option would work in tandem with the Chiefs’ salary-cap dynamics, both for overall philosophy and available cash.

A short-term deal would be all guaranteed for a player like Mahomes, and it would allow him to be a free agent and get market value in four or five years at a point when the salary cap no doubt will be higher, thus allowing him to command a higher number without completely jacking up the Chiefs(or another team) from putting a good team around him (hard salary cap in the NFL.) However – and I’d never heard of this – all guaranteed money from a team must be sent to the NFL immediately when the contract is signed. So let’s say Mahomes signed for 4 years, $200MM guaranteed – the NFL holds the money until it’s paid to the player. This is not the case in the NBA and MLB. You can see why guaranteed money over a long term deal could become problematic for a team. 

A long-term deal would give the team breathing room to build around the cornerstone, but would of course not have the same proportional amount guaranteed. 

For Mahomes, Steinberg and Cabott looked to outside-the-box contracts (some of which they negotiated). Bobby Bonilla’s Mets contract is one: 25-year, 1.17MM per (he’ll receive his last payment from the Mets when he’s 72). Mike Trout’s 12/$426MM. They also looked at the pros and cons of LeBron’s single year approach in Cleveland. 

Most relevant, perhaps, was their assessment of the first set of $100MM QB contracts from the early 2000s (Brett Farve, Drew Bledsoe, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick). Each were long on years, very few paid in full, and they made a very important balance very precarious: QBs were becoming mandatory in order to win in a pass-happy league, but the salaries in relation to the hard cap was making it hard to put a good team out there with the QB studs. 

So here’s where it all ended up with Mahomes and the Chiefs:

The first five years—and roughly $140 million—of Mahomes’s deal are guaranteed against injury. But for each year that he remains on the Chiefs’ roster, significant, eight-figure chunks—at least $21.7 million (’21) and as much as $49.4 million (’27)—become guaranteed. There are buyout opportunities, but those very guarantees make releasing Mahomes in any one season prohibitively expensive, which to his reps means that Mahomes basically signed a guaranteed contract, without the Chiefs needing to lay out over $400 million up front. In the improbable event he is let go, he would then hit the open market.

Pretty much guaranteed money, but with the flexibility needed to keep a great team around Mahomes. 

Because those contracts are long and can be adjusted, if Kansas City is strapped for cash, it can rework the deal in any one season to funnel money earmarked for Mahomes to key teammates or prized free agents. If the Chiefs are flush with dollars in another campaign, they could dump more into Mahomes’s coffers with similar but opposite tweaks, an exercise in balancing two enormous scales. Where pro baseball teams can spend over luxury tax thresholds to hoard talent, NFL franchises are capped in total dollars ($198.2 million in 2020), making this exact kind of flexibility more important for any team to consistently contend.

But none of this even touches on the best part of the Mahomes contract story, which is how it broke. For that, you have to read Bishop’s full story. Trust me, it’s worth it. – PAL 

Source: What the Mahomes Contract Really Means”, Greg Bishop, SI.com (09/09/20)


The Machismo Shit in Sports is Fading Away, Slowly, But Finally

This week, I saw an unremarkable tweet about Nelson Cruz, the ageless wonder slugger, now crushing dingers for YOUR Minnesota Twins (presently leading the AL in World Series odds, per Fangraphs. Get your hankies ready!).

When I saw the tweet, I thought, “Well, this is an odd story. A nap? Who cares?” But if you google Nelson Cruz Nap, you’ll see this story has fascinated reporters for YEARS. But, fine, I thought. The Twins are in a friggin tight pennant race and we could be writing about things other than naps, but sure. 

And then I saw this tweet by Trevor Plouffe, former Twin, former Ron Popeil, current retired baseball player and excellent Twitter follow. 

And I realize why the first tweet was significant – sports culture has been so toxic that if you take a friggin NAP, you’re a goddamn pussy. SLEEP IS FOR PANSIES, BRO. I mean, this is wild to me.

And this all would have escaped my brain forever, until something far more significant happened Thursday. The day before, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott revealed that his brother’s offseason death was a result of suicide. Prescott said the following about his brother’s death, and how he dealt with that and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:

“I mean, obviously tears and tears and tears,” Dak Prescott said of his initial reaction. “I mean, I sat there and tried to gather what had happened, and wanted to ask why for so many reasons. It was like this sense of all these emotions coming off of my back.”

“All throughout this quarantine and this offseason, I started experiencing emotions I’ve never felt before,” Prescott said. “Anxiety for the main one. And then, honestly, a couple of days before my brother passed, I would say I started experiencing depression. And to the point of, I didn’t want to work out anymore. I didn’t know necessarily what I was going through, to say the least, and hadn’t been sleeping at all.”

Ugh. That is so sad. Any human being with a heart would read that and empathize with Dak. They’d read that and relate to troubling times in their own life. They’d commend him for being open about his struggles. And then there’s Human Garbage Skip Bayless. Here’s what Bayless said instead:

If I understand this right, Bayless thinks that because Dak is supposed to be a leader of his team, he cannot show vulnerabilities. Skip, you are a piece of shit. More than that, you’re dead ass wrong. 

But this isn’t about Skip. We’ve known he sucks for years. Re-read that title up there – this is about how things are changing, finally. Remember the story I told at the start about Nelson Cruz and naps? Trevor Plouffe says that just five years ago, a player trying to take a nap would get laughed at. Now teams have special nap rooms. If you google Skip Bayless today, you’ll see a torrent of stories denouncing him, including a statement by his employer. 20 years ago, I think most people would have publicly agreed with him. But not anymore. What Dak did was courageous – it shows that he is a leader, despite what idiots like Skip might think. Also, naps rule and I wish I could take them more often. -TOB 


Pitching Ninja: An Excellent Twitter Follow

Pitching Ninja is one of the best twitter follows, and if you like baseball, you should do so. My favorite Pitching Ninja thing is when he overlays two pitches by the same pitcher, usually in the same at bat, to show how different pitches move, how late they move, and ultimately how freaking difficult it is to be a hitter in baseball these days. Here’s a recent overlay that blew my friggin mind:

LOLLLLLLLLLLLL. Imagine trying to hit that. A few years ago, we wrote about a new pitching trend called Tunneling, where pitchers try to keep their various pitches in the same “tunnel” until the latest possible moment. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better tunnel, with a later break and more drastic end points, than that overlay of the Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen. It’s absolutely ridiculous. 

And just for fun, here are two more of my all-time favorite overlays:

 

Ok one more that really made me laugh.

LOL. Hitting is hard. -TOB


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Pink Floyd – “Breathe (In the Air)”


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Toby is the instruction card you throw away. 

-Michael Scott

Week of September 4, 2020


R.I.P. Tom Seaver

One of the more rewarding parts of putting together this weekly digest w/ TOB is finding your own experiences in the stories we post, and I definitely found that in T.J. Quinn’s eulogy of Tom Seaver, who died this week. The story is about our first sports hero. For me – as you all know by now – it was Kirby Puckett. For Quinn, it was Seaver.

The best pitcher in the game was on my team, had my name, wore the same cap I had. He would certainly understand why I took a black felt-tip pen and, with great deliberation, consecrated the back of my pinstriped Mets shirt with a ragged “41.”

I never forgave my parents for leaving New York City to move to Iowa (long story), but even in that foreign land, when I traced my finger over the raised orange stitches of the “NY” on my cap, the same as his cap, with “Tom Seaver” scrawled under the brim in black felt-tip pen, I knew he was out there. Until an 8-year-old learned about the oblivious cruelty of the adult world through a trade to the Reds. My parents had Walter O’Malley and I had M. Donald Grant.

Even while he was in Cincinnati, Tom Seaver was mine, and I knew that if he could leave, that meant he could come back. He did come back to the Mets in 1983, and then I learned the agony that comes with wanting something to be the way it was. Seaver was 9-14 that season. It wasn’t such a great year for my parents, either; they split up for good.

We can’t fathom it at the time, but we put so much on our first sports heroes. Innocence, home, belonging, faith, optimism – maybe that’s what a hero is to a kid – a personification of all those ideas we can’t yet articulate and don’t yet realize are limited. 

T.J. Quinn’s first sports hero became a real person to him. Someone he could call and get updates on Seaver’s vineyard grapes or hear a funny story about his wife. To me Kirby remained the first sports hero; rather, my bookmark to a photoshopped memory of the time in my life when I felt pure joy and belief. So when Puckett had his fall from the pedestal before he died young, it shook something deep down, even knowing that – yeah – these guys are not who we’ve built up in our fantasy world. A lot of sports heroes fall. 

In fact, Quinn was mortified this would happen with Seaver. He’d heard the stories from cynical old writers about other legends. 

One of the first things I learned as a young baseball writer was that you’d better be prepared to hear some awful things about the men you admired as a boy. That knowing laugh you’d get from the older writers when you asked if this or that Hall of Famer was a “good guy.” Eventually you stop asking.

So when I was covering the Mets in 1999 and it was announced that Tom Seaver was returning to the club as an announcer and instructor, I had the scars of almost three decades to gird me for one more disappointment, what I knew would be the most painful of all.

Tom Terrific arrived in Port St. Lucie late, and he toured the camp in a chauffeured golf cart as though he were riding in a chariot. He reveled and waved the way Roman gods do and he was clearly pleased that he was Tom Seaver. At the end of the day, we newspaper writers waited in the dugout for our audience. He was late for that, too. I turned to Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, who shared my age and Mets breeding, and I said, “I don’t care who he is, I’m going to rip him.” Vac nodded.

When Seaver did finally take his seat on the dugout bench, he apologized. He was engaging and charming, but I knew with the insight of a now-jaded 29-year-old sportswriter that this was just the act that legends trot out for those on the outside.

I wish I remembered what I said, but at one point I cracked a little joke and Tom Seaver broke up. Fully and loudly. I blushed. Vac leaned over and whispered, “That was awesome.” I whispered back, “I know.”

No other living person could have made me feel that way. Batman could not have made me feel that way. The 8-year-old who had cried over a baseball trade was still there and couldn’t wait to get to a phone to tell his parents, even if I had to make separate calls to do it.

Tom Seaver thought I was funny. Tom Seaver would come to know my name. 

Quinn’s story is about as heartfelt as you’ll find. I knew Seaver was a great pitcher for the Mets before reading this, but now I care. – PAL Source: Tom Seaver and Why Sometimes You Really Should Meet Your Heroes”, T.J. Quinn, ESPN (09/03/2020)


College Football in 2020: An Interesting Story Just Got…Interestinger

On Wednesday,  the New York Times introduced an upcoming series of stories like so:

In the coming weeks and months, The New York Times will be inside Cal athletics, virtually and on campus — in Zoom meetings, budget discussions and team workouts. The goal is to provide an inside-out view of the unprecedented challenges facing one university — but, really, all of them.

Whoa. Now, that would pique my interest no matter the college, but of course did so 10x because it’s at Cal. I highly recommend you read the first installment because as you might imagine an inside look at a college athletic department trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and the problems, both individual and systemic, that have arisen at a place like Cal Athletics is nothing short of dizzying. Reading this I did not envy the people tasked with figuring this out. And I was all set to write about the Pac-12’s decision to cancel/suspend the football season, and the implications for so many people from that decision. And then Thursday happened.

Thursday, the Pac-12 announced a deal that made national headlines. 

The Pac-12 announced a partnership with a testing company that allows schools to test their athletes daily for coronavirus. And those rapid tests could potentially lead to earlier start dates for football, basketball and other sports.

The conference said that it had partnered with Quidel for on-site rapid testing at each of its 12 member schools. The schools will be able to get test results back in 15 minutes.

WHOA! The Pac-12 (and Big-10) canceled/postponed the fall football season, while the other major conferences refused to do so, even as positive COVID-19 tests in their athletic programs continued to rise. But suddenly, the Pac-12 has the opportunity to play – safely. 

Now,  the Pac-12 is not promising a fall season. But reading the tea leaves, it seems these testing protocols could be in place by October 1, allowing teams to begin practicing by that date and playing games by late October. Pac-12 teams could fit 8 games through December, and potentially be part of any playoff. And on top of all that, the NYT series just got infinitely more interesting, going forward.

I had been annoyed that the Pac-12 canceled their season at a time that seemed premature. They could have kept postponing the start. Following the cancellation, Cal had at least a couple seniors transfer to conferences who plan to play this fall. So while I think that sucks, I am also happy that it seems like they are going to try to play the right way. And as problematic as college football is, god damnit that’s exciting. Go Bears! -TOB

Source: Solving a Pandemic Puzzle: Inside the Return of Sports to a Power 5 Program,” NY Times, John Branch (09/02/2020); “Pac-12 Announces Rapid COVID-19 Testing Partnership, Says It’s Exploring Timelines to Start Football Season,” Nick Bromberg, Yahoo! Sports (09/03/2020)

PAL: Just last night, Natalie and I took an evening walk in the Berkeley hills right behind Memorial Stadium. Perfect fall evening. Beautiful. To state the obvious, it’s downright odd to be essentially on campus of a large state school and have it feel that empty. I hope the testing partnership works out, and we can get these athletes back to competing in a safe environment as soon as possible. Any story about progress in terms of testing makes me a bit lighter. 

As we left and drove back, passing by the frat houses, we saw four dudes playing a drinking game in the front yard. It was a welcome sight, one immediately followed by concern. That’s a pretty common swing of emotions these days – a semblance of normal followed immediately by a dousing of concern. 


Alternative Sites in an Alternative Year

You might know that, given the pandemic, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was canceled. But teams didn’t want to let their best prospects be idle for a year, so they each organized one “Alternate Site,” at one of their minor league complexes. Each Alternate Site only gets between 24-30 players per day, which makes it difficult to train. But exactly how these Alternate Sites have existed has been a bit of a mystery, until this great article by Keith Law. 

Law interviews a number of MLB team executives to discuss how the Alternate Sites are operating. The answers are intriguing, revealing what teams value and don’t value. Many teams dotted their Alternate Site slots with top prospects who are not anywhere near helping the big league team. But there’s a reason for that, as the Giants illustrate:

The Giants also have a number of very young hitting prospects at their alternate site, including Marco Luciano, Alex Canario and Luis Toribio…“It’s a huge growth opportunity for them as they see the difference between rookie ball and major-league players. We have a more aggressive weightlifting program for them as well. They don’t need to be ready for the ML tomorrow, so we don’t have to worry about overwork, and we can do more one-on-one instruction and early work for guys who are less in the ‘stay ready’ category.”

Really smart. There are a lot of other interesting anecdotes – I highly recommend the article! -TOB

Source: Law: A Look Inside Life at Baseball’s ‘Alternate Sites’,” Keith Law, The Athletic (08/19/2020)


Video(s) of the Week

And the obligatory:


Tweet of the Week

The Giants scored 23 runs on Tuesday. Here’s the radio call of all of ‘em. At the same time.


Song of the Week

Chris Stapleton – “Starting Over”


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“Who is Kafkaesque? I never – I don’t know him.”

-Michael Scott

Week of August 28, 2020

Swaggy since high school.


Going D-I

As fall and winter college sports begin to be cancelled or postponed, a lot of attention has been spent on the big-time football conferences and teams (Ohio State, USC, Texas, Clemson, etc.). Top prospects sitting out or missing the season, what the playoffs will look like (if any), and whether this is the moment when the major conferences officially break from the NCAA and start their own thing. We’ll be talking about blue blood basketball programs, the NCAA tourney, and the game’s top college prospects next. Billions of dollars, a public health crisis, and the very idea of amateurism – these are a few factors at play. 

That’s one end of the spectrum, but there’s a high stakes game on the other end of the D-I spectrum: schools trying to break into the D-I ranks (a four-year process). Replace Ohio State, USC, Texas, and Clemson with UC San Diego, Bellarmine, Dixie State, and Tarleton State. There’s also been talk at my alma mater – Augustana, a tiny school with 1,700 students – about jumping from D-II up to D-I. 

The first step in the process is for the schools to pay the NCAA 1.7MM for a D-I application. That’s a pricey bit of paperwork! What follows is an odyssey: booking non-conference games with known schools to raise the visibility of the new programs and earn some revenue in those early seasons; recruiting kids to take a chance on a program and school for which they never dream of playing, constantly trying to raise money and sweetalking rich alumni. 

For example, UC San Diego was scheduled to play TOB’s Cal in its first game as a D-I basketball program. Cal would’ve paid for the privilege of beating up on the Tritons, and UCSD would’ve used the game as a centerpiece of a weeklong celebration for donors, not to mention making it a recruiting bonanza. With non-conference schedules being the first part of the schedule to go in the pandemic, the revenue, marketing, and recruiting goes with it. 

Per Brian Bennett:

COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc on guarantee games, which most low-major teams vitally need. The typical going rate for those contests has been anywhere from $85,000 to $100,000, and playing a handful of them can fund an entire athletic department. Especially with no football this fall — Dixie State was supposed to enter its first year as an FCS independent before postponing — the school hoped to make money on basketball games, most notably its road trip to BYU. 

Those guarantee games also provide a crucial and one of the only major sources of revenue during this transition. And make no mistake: Moving to Division I isn’t cheap.

The NCAA charges schools $1.7 million simply to file the application for Division I membership. Dixie State and Tarleton State used fundraising efforts to pay for part of that tab.

Required facilities upgrades, required expanded coaching staffs…

UC San Diego helped fund its move with an increase in student fees. In a May 2016 referendum, students who voted approved the fees hike by a 70 percent majority. Ever since, the students have been paying $480 more per year in fees to underwrite Division I sports while waiting for an actual higher-level game they could attend on campus. Total fees over a four-year period run close to $3,500 per student.

All of that for the privilege to get whooped by Cal? What’s the point? The point can be found at the end of a long play, and that point – as it usually is – is money. 

Teams new to Division I must go through a four-year transition period during which they are not eligible to compete for NCAA championships. They also don’t get any money from the NCAA Tournament or other NCAA revenue streams until the transition is complete. It is up to them to balance budgets for four years until that spigot is turned on.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to grab a slice of that juicy NCAA Tournament pie. The tournament reaped a reported $933 million in revenue in 2019, and the NCAA distributes money from that pool to conferences based on performance. These are divvied up into “units,” which is how the NCAA defines wins and at-large bids in the tournament field. One tournament unit — which would be what a one-bid league whose representative loses in the first round would earn — was scheduled to be worth $282,100 in the 2020 bracket that never was. Teams that advance deep into the tournament can earn millions more for their conferences.

Most leagues, like the WAC, hand out that tournament cash equally among member schools. According to a 2019 study by the Associated Press, the SWAC earned the minimum amount from the NCAA’s basketball fund and received $25 million in payments from 1997 to 2018. The Big Ten brought in $340 million over that same period.

The prospect of all that dough is tantalizing, and it has led to an explosion of growth in Division I men’s basketball. 

Those are big numbers. That’s why the number of D-I schools has ballooned to nearly 350, that’s why I wouldn’t count out the NCAA basketball tourney just yet, and that’s why the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 football teams are making a go of it this fall. That’s a ton of money established programs and conferences are used to pocketing. It reaches all corners of the universities and the surrounding communities. And if someone is of the mind that this pandemic is being blown out of proportion to begin with (I am certainly not one of them), then it’s not that far of a leap to push for games being played. 

No matter what, a big loser in all of this will be these schools just beginning their journey towards D-I relevance and revenue. This will be a tough academic year for them to keep afloat. This was an excellent read about a part of college sports we don’t usually hear much about. – PAL 

Source: Transitioning in these trying times a challenge for four new Division I programs”, Brian Bennett, The Athletic (08/24/20)


In Appreciation of Yaz

The MLB trade deadline is Monday, and the Giants find themselves in a tougher spot than last year in answering the question: hold ‘em or fold ‘em? Last year they were just outside the WIld Card at the trade deadline and decided to split the baby – holding Bumgarner and Will Smith, moving Melancon, Dyson, and Pomeranz, for prospects. After a monster July got them into the playoff picture, they tanked in August and September and fell way out. Still, it’s hard to say they were wrong for keeping Bumgarner and Smith: first, we don’t know what offers they had on the table; second, they got compensatory picks in the June draft which gave them both more picks and more signing bonus money to spread around.

So, what do they do this year? Like last year, they approach the trade deadline on an upswing – before Thursday’s brutal double header loss to the Dodgers, the Giants were winners of seven straight. Plus, in the four games prior to those seven wins, the team had blown three wins in the 9th, two of them to the A’s, one of the best teams in baseball, and the two leads blown to the A’s were BIG leads. And all three blown wins were at the feet of the same pitcher – Trevor Gott. If Gott doesn’t go all 2001 World Series Byung-Hyun Kim, the GIants would  have entered Thursday tied for 3rd in the NL.So there is reason to think this team, suddenly in line for a playoff spot, might actually be good.

Meanwhile, the Giants traded for Mike Yastremzki last Spring for basically a can of beans. Yaz, the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastremzki, had never broken through to the majors after many years in the Orioles’ organization. The Giants acquired him and he made his big league debut when he was almost 29, very late for a baseball player. But Yaz has turned into a star. After a very good 2019, he is out of his mind this season. I will admit the sample size is still a little small, JIFF,  but he’s putting up MVP, literally! MVP!, numbers. 

All of this begs the question: what should the Giants do with Yaz? He’s now 30. His stock has never been higher. The fanbase loves him – he looks like JT Snow but puts up numbers like peak Jeff Kent, and plays the outfield like Jim Edmonds. For weeks, I’ve been wondering what the Giants might do with him. I would understand why they’d move a 30-year old late bloomer for a top prospect, but also…the team is in this thing! And the fans love Yaz. I was starting to get nervous, and then I read this from Roger Munter:

History tells us that prospect-for-veteran trades invariably favor the team acquiring the vets — even though our dumb lizard brains remember the ones that favor the team getting the future star. They’re all John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, right? The vast majority of prospects moved in deals turn into trivia answers (“Man, you remember who they got Yaz for?”), not stars.

So have I set the stage appropriately for why this can’t and shouldn’t happen? The risk involved in moving Yaz is too much to bear. End of story. The Giants front office has a bonafide win in hand — they turned career minor leaguer Tyler Herb into a Star, Capital “S.” Once you’ve traded your broken down milk cow for magic beans and the beans led you to the goose that lays the golden egg….what exactly could another milk cow have to offer to tempt you into trading the goose for it?

Maybe I wanted the above to be true but I have to give it to Munter – he brought me back to the light. Yaz is 30, true, but he still has a few good years left, and because he’s a late bloomer, he’s cheap. If he’s a star, he can absolutely help the next good Giants team. And, as we’ve seen (Dubon, Davis), trading for a highly regarded prospect doesn’t always work out. At this point I’d rather have a star like Yaz for 3 years, than the chance someone like Dubon, who is struggling, turns into a star. Plus, being a fan favorite matters. 

The Giants have a lot of choices once again as the trade deadline approaches. I hope they keep the guys who are helping them win now, and can also do so in the future. -TOB

Source: Let’s Make a Deal: Mike Yastrzemski,” Roger Munter, There R Giants (08/26/2020)


The Ultimate Bartender

Every morning starts the same. After I get my coffee and breakfast ready, I open up the laptop and start with the same three tabs: The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Being a St. Paul family, the Langs were historically a Pioneer Press bunch, I must say, but the non-digital subscription got to the point where even my parents switched.  

Most of the sports stories from the Star Tribune and The Chronicle could more or less be interchangeable if some team names swapped: you have your recap of the in-season sport, the 365 days a year obsession with the NFL, some homer columnist heaping unearned praise on nearest university, and a profile of some high school prodigy once a month or so. 

Sometimes I’m in danger of forgetting what sports page I’m reading, but every now and again a story like this one comes along – a story so utterly St. Paul that I nod along as a I read. 

Tim Tschida is about as St. Paul as one can get. If the name sounds familiar, then you were likely a hardcore baseball fan, because Tschida was an MLB umpire for 27 years. He got in early – he umpired his first MLB game at the age of 25 –  and got out early. He was far from an old fogie when he called it quits in 2012. So he traded his umpire uniform for a hawiian shirt and went back to the job he’d work to make some extra dollars while a minor league ump: bartender.

He started bartending at the legendary Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul (damn good steak) and at Giggles Campfire at the State Fair (never heard of it). 

As Pat Ruesse puts it: 

A man constantly on the road as an umpire for 32 years, he’s been single since 2012, lives in a duplex near West Seventh, works for the Mancinis and Giggles; meaning at 60, Timothy Joseph Tschida is back to being as thoroughly St. Paul as when he was a bat boy for a Jack Morris-led baseball team.

That Jack Morris reference is perfect, because when you think about it, who would have better bartender stories than a guy who umpired in the bigs for nearly 30 years? Seriously, can you imagine the tales? I mean, here’s just a taste:

The one dearest to Minnesotans would be his involvement as the plate umpire on Aug. 3, 1987, when Twins starter Joe Niekro was suspected of trying to make baseballs less aerodynamically predictable for hitters.

“Joe wasn’t exactly suspected,” Tschida said. “We knew what he was doing. We also knew scuffing the baseball was absolutely out of control that season.

“I finally had to go out there. I said, ‘Joe, I want to see your glove and your hands.’ He turned a whiter shade, stammered a little, and then put his hands in his back pockets.

“As it turned out, he had a hunk of sandpaper trimmed and glued to the palm of his left hand. It was touched up to look like flesh. And when he wanted the extra movement, he would take off the glove and rub the baseball as if he was trying to improve the grip.

“He had his left hand in that pocket, trying to work the sandpaper off his palm while making more of an act out of going into his right pocket. He took out a small photo of his son Lance, maybe 11 or 12 then — great kid, by the way — and tried to sound defiant, saying, ‘I have a picture of my son, OK?’

“Davey Phillips said, ‘Dig a little deeper, Joe,’ and out came the emery board. That’s what most people remember, but I wouldn’t have thrown him out for the emery board. I would have just said, ‘Keep that in the dugout.’

“What happened is the piece of sandpaper fell out of the other pocket. Joe wound up getting a 10-game suspension and the appearance on Letterman.”

Tschida paused with a smile and said:

“Best quote of the night came from Gene Mauch, managing the Angels. He said, ‘Those baseballs weren’t scuffed; they were mutilated.’ ”

My post-pandemic to-do list is growing, but I think TOB and I need to make a trip to Minnesota next summer and throw back a few local brews at Mancini’s when Tchida’s working and report back to the readers. – PAL 

Source: Brew chief: Former MLB ump and St. Paul native Tim Tschida goes from behind the plate to behind the bar”, Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune (08/25/20)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week: 


Song of the Week: Bon Ever – “AUATC”


In Italy, you must always wash your hands after going to the bathroom. This is considered to be polite.

-Michael Scott

Week of August 14, 2020

When Laureano gets beaned (again), he offers up tips on how to throw a slider.


A Major Designation

Sometimes it pays off to procrastinate on a 1-2-3 post. Found this thought-provoking story from one of our favorite writers, Ben Lindbergh. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. In addition to many celebrations and commemorations planned, MLB is considering retroactively designating the Negro Leagues a Major League. That means all the stats are added to the MLB record books and all of those players denied a chance to play at the highest level (before and after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947) would finally be big leaguers. Pretty incredible. 

There are not just two leagues recognized as ‘Major League’ – it’s not just the National League (1876)  and the American League (1901). There are four other leagues categorized, and counted in the record books, as a major league, per the definition put forth by 1968 commissioner’s committee put together to create The Baseball Encyclopedia: American Association (1882-1891), Union Association (1884), Players’ League (1890), and Federal League (1914-1915).

The story goes into how, back in ‘68, this committee decided on what leagues made it and what did not. According to those around the committee at the time (all the committee members are now dead), the notion of including the Negro Leagues didn’t even come up. It wasn’t about stat-keeping (as one committee member would retroactively justify years later) or quality of competition; the Negro League was never even brought up in the discussion!

“The one thing that I am absolutely certain about is that there never was any SBRC discussion about treating the Negro Leagues as major leagues,” says David Neft, who oversaw the assembly of the Encyclopedia. 

Which begs the point, what if they had been given proper consideration? What then?

If the Negro Leagues had been brought up by the SBRC, they would have had to satisfy several of the committee’s criteria. Neft says that in addition to scheduling irregularities such as varying lengths, frequent unofficial games, uncompleted campaigns, and inconsistent playoff formats (sound familiar?) “the factors that were used in discussing the other leagues included the populations of their cities, the media coverage of their teams relative to the NL, AL, and the 1880s American Association, the capacity of the stadiums, the level of play, and the number of proven major league players who ‘jumped’ to these leagues.” 

In most of those categories, of course, the Negro Leagues are at a disadvantage relative to white leagues precisely because of the racism and segregation that forced Black ballplayers to create a separate (and in some respects, unequal) place to play. Negro Leagues clubs were owned by Black businesspeople who were cut off from capital and didn’t own their home parks. Their financial circumstances were precarious, and they were forced to barnstorm and play local exhibitions to survive. It would be harsh to hold that against them. Gary Gillette, coeditor of the The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia and many other sports reference books, says that if you denigrate the Negro League’s credentials on the grounds of erratic conditions and schedules, “What you’re saying is ‘We would like to undo the discrimination and isn’t it a crying shame that they were discriminated against. But we can’t undo it because they were discriminated against and their records aren’t that good.’ And I think that’s a horseshit argument.”

Populations? Media coverage? Stadium capacity? Number of players that ‘jumped to these leagues’…setting aside the racism, who the hell came up with this list of categories? 

More important, the record. Black teams played Major League clubs quite frequently over the course of the first half of the 1900s. Over 600 games, actually. Their record against those Major League teams: 315-282-20. Over roughly the same time period (1900-1950), Major League teams went 1690-677 against minor league teams. 

Legendary statistician Bill James sums it up this way: 

“My argument has always been that it is impossible for a league to produce that many players of that quality in that period of time, unless the quality of play in that league was not only equal to the white leagues, but probably superior to it. You just can’t reach that level of excellence while playing against minor league competition. So … designate it as major league.” 

And to bring this all the way back to 2020, one of the most commons ‘concerns’  over including Negro League stats alongside MLB stats is an inconsistency of schedule. Josh Gibson hit .466 in 69 games in 1943. Does that jump past Ted Williams .406 in 1941 (143 games)? Well, MLB currently recognizes Ross Barnes’ .429 batting average over a 70-game season from 1876, so there goes that. 

Or, for that matter, some similar statistical outlier from MLB’s current small-sample season, which will be treated the same as any other season’s despite the many compromises that the pandemic has imposed. “The last remaining plausible objections to not including the Negro Leagues as major leagues have been eliminated with the 60-game season,” says Gillette, who adds, “If there ever was a season more erratic than 2020, I’d like to see it. … There’s no moral justification for excluding the Negro Leagues, and the last rational arguments you could even advance have been destroyed.”

This is such an excellent read about correcting history. Not re-writing it, but correcting it, and this moment – this centennial year of the Negro League, as the BLM movement gains recognition and support, as MLB sells us a 60-game season, is the exact time to do it. – PAL

Source: “As it Celebrates the Centennial of the Negro Leagues, MLB May Undo a “Major” Mistake”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (08/14/20)


Sports Are Good, Exhibit #137: Atalanta 

There have been a lot of stories written about sports in the pandemic, and this one might be my favorite so far. 

Atalanta, a small market soccer team by comparison to the big hitters that compete in the Champions League tournament (Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, etc), made quite a deep run in the tournament this year. Considered the “Queen of the provincial clubs” – which is a backhanded compliment if I’ve ever heard one, Atalanta’s success this year would be like a AAA baseball team making a deep playoff run against the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, and other big market teams. 

The team’s unlikely run was more special this year, because Atalanta’s home base is Bergamo, Italy – right in the heart of the madness when COVID ripped through northern Italy.

One of the club’s greatest moments came on February 19, 2020. With seemingly the entire town transported on charters to Milan to watch, the club put up four goals on its way to it’s first ever Champions League quarterfinal. 

The match would remain meaningful, but for much different reasons. Per Rory Smith: 

The next day, the mayor was in his office in the center of Bergamo when news started to emerge that a patient in an emergency room in Codogno, a town southeast of Milan and about an hour’s drive away, had tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, a second case was confirmed in Alzano Lombardo, only a few minutes outside Bergamo.

In those long, harrowing days in late February, the coronavirus crisis seemed to bubble around the people of Bergamo, gathering force until it consumed them, too. The city shut down, the silence filled with sirens. The hospitals were overwhelmed. The local newspaper filled with the names of the dead. The army was called in to remove the bodies. Quickly, memories of that night in San Siro seemed to drift and fade, as if it had happened in another world.

“It was the last day of total ignorance,” Gori said. He had stopped smiling. “It was the last day when we did not worry.”

This great moment happens, then – wham – something that few had even considered now dominated every thought in the city. That match in Milan filled with 40,000 fans from northern Italy would later be described as a ‘biological bomb’ by the chief pneumologist in the area. 

What followed was a group of fans utilizing the community built around the soccer team to help out. They raised money for the hospital, helped the military build a field hospital, coordinated and commissioned an artist to design a special jersey that thanked first responders. 

In other words, as Smith puts it, “The team is an expression of, and an outlet for, a broader civic identity.”

And when the team returned to the pitch in June, they kept the unlikely run alive. They rattled off 6 wins, and a tie against the much larger Juventes before the run finally ended against Paris St.-Germain (perhaps the richest club in the world). 

The director general of the local hospital summed it all up perfectly when she said, “The suffering of the people mourning for their families cannot be relieved. Sport cannot overcome that grief. But for the city as a whole, a city that has suffered a lot, it offers hope.”

Excellent stuff from Smith. – PAL

Source: “The Dark Fairy Tale of Atalanta”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (08/11/20)


Video of the Week

Song of the Week  – Western Centuries – ‘Sarah and Charlie’


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“I am the bait. Men find me desirable.”

-Dwight Schrute

Week of August 7, 2020

Arnie and His Army at the 1963 San Francisco International Open.


Is College Football On the Brink?

The world is crazy right now, this country especially. Professional sports are back and none of us know if this is good or not – I am enjoying the hell out of baseball, but I don’t know if I should, as the players and employees risk their lives and those of their loved ones so I can sit here on a Wednesday night, watching a 21-year old pitcher on my fantasy team make his MLB debut and throw 99 MPH in front of a stadium peppered with cardboard cutouts of Padres fans, and Padres fans’ dogs. I can assuage my guilt by reminding myself that professional players are paid a lot of money to play, and they are being tested every other day to help ensure safety (the use of test and testing facility resources in order to play these sports is another discussion for another day).

And there is college football. Last week, a group of Pac-12 football players published a list of demands that they say must be met or they will sit out the season. They claim to have hundreds of Pac-12 players on board, which would end the Pac-12 season. The demands are wide-ranging with varying levels of feasibility in both the short and long terms, including 50/50 revenue sharing, extended health care, and COVID-19 protections. The last one is probably the most pressing because as the Ringer’s Rodger Sherman puts it:

[T]here appears to be no discernible plan at all. The players will not compete in a contained bubble, the approach used by the NBA, WNBA, NHL, NWSL, and MLS. There are no uniform testing procedures; some schools had dozens of players test positive for COVID-19 and kept practicing, while some schools aren’t even testing players at all. … During a pandemic, thousands of unpaid athletes, who are predominantly Black, are being asked to risk their health to make money for their coaches and administrators, who overwhelmingly are white. When you say it out loud, it’s bad.

College football has torn me apart inside for quite some time. On the one hand, I freaking love it. I love heading to Berkeley six or seven Saturdays a year, having a beer at the Faculty Club, and dragging my entire family up the hill to the stadium to cheer on the Bears. But over the last decade, as we’ve learned more and more about the danger football poses to athletes’ brain health, and I consider the fact that I don’t think I could possibly let my own kids play the sport… college football also feels really, really wrong. When you add to that the fact players aren’t paid anything other than a free education and room and board, man. It’s bad. And now we want them to play during a pandemic, without any of the safety protocol in place in professional sports? How can we do this?

Many of the arguments against paying players center on how hard it’d be to do (e.g., there are Title IX implications (colleges have to fund men’s and women’s sports equally…how can they do that if they start paying football players; college football and men’s basketball revenue funds every other sport, men and women, so what happens to those sports if football and basketball players are paid from that revenue). 

But so what if it’s hard. Players must be paid. Players need to be paid and colleges/Congress need to find a way around Title IX in doing so. The NFL should also foot some of the bill – they’ve enjoyed their free minor league long enough (plus, money from the NFL could conceivably be paid directly to players, skirting Title IX implications). 

I hope college football survives, but if it does it needs to change. Just because something was done a certain way for 150 years doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. Yes, Cal might lose football. And that would suck. I would be extremely sad. But I can’t put my happiness twelve Saturdays a year over the well-being of approximately 13,000 FBS football players all over the country, risking their health and well-being in exchange for nothing more than an education. If they get paid, I think it flips the balance enough for me. Whatever changes happens to college football in exchange for doing the right thing, I’ll live with that. -TOB

Source: College Football Needs to Change. The Pac-12’s Players Are Making That Happen,” Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (08/04/2020)

PAL: There’s so much to love about college football until you stop to think about it. The only reason we’re talking about the potential for college football this fall is money. That’s it. This is only about money, and that money depends on college players showing up to work. 

I hope the players step up to this moment. They have the stage and real leverage. This is the time to pressure the NCAA to move faster than the bare minimum. Yes, it will cost many of them dearly in the form of scholarshipsand a football future cast in doubt. But if they want to really force a change and make a generational impact, now is the time. 


What’s In A Name

By the time you’re reading this, we’re well into the first major sporting event in the COVID era: The PGA Championship is being played in San Francisco, and it’s being played at a municipal course, no less, which is pretty cool. It’s not everyday that hacks like myself have every opportunity to play the same course the best of the best play – many major tournaments are played on private courses or resort courses. 

Harding Park has an especially interesting backstory, and is connected to a president who famously died in San Francisco. 

Juuuuuuust going to plop this down here: 

The golf course being constructed seven miles from the president’s deathbed 97 years ago was soon christened Harding Park, during a bygone era when naming things for presidents was done with little debate or consideration. 

That this most somber of summers should be linked, even tenuously, to Harding and the strangeness of 1923 feels about right.

Harding, a former Republican senator from Ohio, had little in the way of a platform when he ran for the White House in 1920 other than a “return to normalcy.” He was viewed as a tax-cutting, anti-immigrant nationalist who, in the wake of World War I, did not want the United States to be part of the postwar League of Nations. He was rumored to have had affairs (and at least one out-of-wedlock child) and was soon surrounded by scandal throughout his administration. (Curious? Start by Googling “Teapot Dome.”) He was not considered a deep thinker and was prone to rambling. He liked to play golf.

Time is a circle. 

Anyway, While I’ve never played the course, it’s cool that Harding ($65 if you’re a SF resident) is smack dab in the middle of a bunch of super prestigious private clubs, and the muni is considered the best plot of land of them all. After some real low times – budget cuts and lack of love left the once legendary course in such disrepair that its fairways were used as a parking lot for the 1998 U.S. Open held across the street at Olympic Club. Much like its namesake, the course was all but forgotten. 

But the bones of a great course remained, and they brought it back to its oceanside, cypress tree glory for the tournament. – PAL 

Source: A Memorable Golf Course Honors A Forgotten President”, John Branch, The New York Times (08/05/2020)

TOB: My neighbor, Paul, has one of the resident cards and has been bugging me to get one so that we can go. My game is so so so bad that I just can’t stomach the thought of hacking my way up the fairways at such a nice course. But reading this article had me reconsidering. 

Another interesting wrinkle to the pandemic is the utter lack of fanfare around the tournament. Or, being mostly stuck in my house, as far as I know anyways. When the U.S. Open was across the street at the Olympic a few years back, you could not miss it. The logos were everywhere. People were excited. Now, I had no idea the tournament was being held this week until a Sportscenter preview on Wednesday night. “Oh yeah.” Weird.


Big In Japan: Prospect Gamble Pays Off In Pandemic

Last year, Carter Stewart made a bold decision. After being selected 8th overall in the 2018 MLB draft and turning down $2M from the Braves, the 6’ 6” right-handed pitcher decided to not re-enter the draft in 2019. Instead, he signed a 6-year, $7M deal to play professionally in Japan. At the time, it was an unprecedented decision in baseball (we’ve seen basketball prospects go overseas recently instead of playing college ball). Per Joon Lee of ESPN: 

Not signing with an MLB team was a risk, but it gave Stewart an opportunity to prove himself in Japan, skip the years of low pay and uncertainty in the minor leagues, and set up a potential return to the United States on a lucrative free-agent deal.

Things are a bit different these days. Or, as Michael Scott puts it, ‘how the turn tables.’ 

Now, with the minor league season cancelled due to the pandemic, Stewart is competing in Japan, where the virus is much more under control (just over 1,000 total deaths for a population of 125MM people). He’s getting paid a fair wage to play in actual games, work on his game. That would not be the case if he’d signed with a MLB team. 

Also, not for nothing – but he’s a young guy getting exposed to a new culture, learning a new language, picking up cooking, all while learning how to be a professional. Seems like a lot of positives. While I can understand it might get lonely for a young kid that far from home and his family not being able to visit, his dad sums it up pretty well: 

“It’s amazing all these kids that normally would be at school are here or they’re all working at Home Depot and Domino’s,” Pat says. “And I mean not just the baseball kids. I’m talking about all the college kids. But yeah, I mean I think it truly is a blessing that he’s where he is right now, because he could literally be sitting here twiddling his thumbs.”

More money, more baseball experience, more life experience. Win-win-win. – PAL

Source: “Carter Stewart Ditched the MLB Draft to Pitch in Japan; Then Came the Coronavirus”, Joon Lee, ESPN (08/06/2020)

TOB: How long have Phil and I have been doing this damn thing? So long that we have forgotten the stories we have written about. We were chatting on the phone Thursday night and he told me he was writing about this story. “Wow, interesting idea by this kid,” I said. Then after a few more seconds of it tumbling around in my brain I said, “Wait, didn’t we write about this kid when he first decided to skip the draft?” “I don’t think so,” Phil replied. But after we hung up I checked the archives, and here it is: May 24, 2019 – “Smash the Draftiarchy!” (An inspired title, to pat myself on the back). My take at the time, “If he’s good, he’ll be ready to make big bucks. If he’s not, well he made an extra $3 million and got to experience the world. Plus, he doesn’t spend the next few years riding around the country on a bus. Win-win-win!” Phil’s take: “That’s just a big kettle of hoppy common sense.”

The cool thing here is that this week’s article is a follow-up. Carter’s gamble has paid off, big time. To paraphrase the band Pain: He bet on himself and he’s making a killing.

Basketball’s 3-Point Chess Match

Sports innovations always come in waves, with offenses innovating and defenses adapting. The rise of the 3-point shot has completely changed the way the NBA is played: 

In 13 years, from 2000-01 to 2013-14, the NBA’s average 3-point rate (the percentage of total field goal attempts that were 3s) rose 8.9 percentage points, from 17.0 to 25.9. The next season Curry won his first MVP. In six seasons since, the NBA’s average 3-point rate has jumped from 26.8 to 38.2. That’s an 11.4-percentage-point increase in nearly half as much time.

Defenses responded by attempting to make shooters uncomfortable – closing out on shooters aggressively, trying to run them off the 3-point line and force them to take a long-two or a mid-range shot. 

Recently, offenses threw their counterpunch: the one dribble 3-pointer. 

The mentality manifests in a snippet of NBA parlance that coaches, skill trainers, and a growing number of players abide by: Keep a 3 a 3. Rather than drive into the paint or pull up from midrange, it’s better to evade the defender’s closeout or shot contest with one dribble, stay behind the arc, and let it fly. The shot isn’t simple or easy. It has to be launched in a nanosecond against determined opponents with long arms who are keen to invade personal space. Before they close in, the shooter must recapture a rhythm that was momentarily lost.

The numbers back this up, as the Ringer’s Michael Pina notes:

  • Six seasons ago, all 30 teams launched two or fewer one-dribble 3s per game. This season, every single team averaged more.
  • During the 2017-18 seasons, 18 teams took one-dribble 3s as 3 percent or less of their overall shot distribution.
  • Two seasons ago, five players averaged at least one one-dribble 3 per game. That number has ballooned to 20 this season.
  • The Golden State Warriors led the league at 2.7 percent of their shot distribution when they won it all in 2015. Five years later, 2.7 percent would rank no. 29 in the league.

Interesting article. -TOB

Source: The Rise of the One-Dribble 3-Pointer,” Michael Pina, The Ringer (08/05/2020)

PAL: Great example of the tweaks we as fans don’t immediately recognize, where the game is actually changing. This endless battle between offense and defense, right now is separated by a single dribble. Fun to think if it in that way. I think this is the first I’ve read from Pina. Good writer.


Pujols Was a Man Among Boys

I came across a funny stat this week: Albert Pujols’ numbers as a high school senior. Pujols, of course, was a phenom the moment he hit the majors as a 21-year old, finishing fourth in that year’s MVP voting. A few years prior, Pujols and his family moved to Missouri when he was 16 Unsurprisingly, Albert wrecked the league. 

He hit eight home runs in just 33-at bats and had FIFTY-FIVE intentional walks. Fifty five intentional walks against just 33 official at-bats!? That is outrageous. One of my favorite things about sports is imagining the prodigies just destroying the local high school kids, on their way to the pros. Pujols’ numbers may be the funniest yet. -TOB

PAL: The sight of him holding an aluminum bat is terrifying. Imagine playing 3B when he stepped into the box. No thank you.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Billy Strings – “Enough To Leave”


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“It seems awfully mean. But sometimes the ends justify the mean.”

Michael Scott

 

Week of July 31, 2020


Baseball Without Fans is Weird, But It’s Worse Than That

Grant Brisbee went to the Giants’ home opener this week, and wrote about how deeply weird it was to attend a major league game with no fans. But what really got to him was not the lack of fans in and of itself, but the realization of the impact this has had on all the people who depend on sports to scratch out a living:

There are no cardboard cutouts for the workers who aren’t there, the vendors and the people behind the concession stands. When I was a vendor at Candlestick in 1998, I saw how hard they worked. Back then, there was a pre-game draft to see who would sell what, and the first pick went to the person with the most consecutive games. I was very much part-time, so I would be stuck with the bottled water during night games. They did not sell like hotcakes. They sold like ice-cold water at a Candlestick night game. But there were astounding, Cal Ripken-like streaks among the vendors, and they got the hot dogs for the night games and the malts for the day games. They earned them, and the commissions were sweet.

And while I’m sure this has changed over the last two decades, but you could absolutely make a living as a vendor. You just had to hustle. And do Stanford games when they fit into your schedule, and Cal games, and Earthquakes games. When some weird EPL exhibition came rolling through, they were there. I would lope through the stands half-heartedly, just to get to the eighth inning, where I could turn my stuff in and grab a seat for the final two innings. They would charge up and down the stairs, even during the Tuesday night games against the Expos, knowing that every bag of peanuts sold was a few cents in their pocket. They would be there every weekend, and when the Giants were off, they would be somewhere else, doing the same thing.

They’re devastated. Emotionally, financially. Devastated. Stadium workers will get a one-time grant, or a couple hundred bucks a month, and the unemployment will help if it keeps coming, which isn’t guaranteed. But it’s one thing to remember that fans were supposed to be in the seats instead of cardboard cutouts. It’s another to remember how many livelihoods depended on the sport. Still depend on the sport.

And things aren’t much better outside the stadium:

The local devastation is at its thickest as you cross the Lefty O’Doul bridge toward Lot A. There are no bacon-wrapped hot dogs that curl up in a cloud like a cartoon finger underneath your nose. There used to be a line of them. There used to be a guy who drummed on buckets for cash, and he would always draw a crowd. There would be other musicians and street performers. Across the bridge would be the people selling bootleg apparel, and they wouldn’t be doing it, night after night, in the cold, if it wasn’t helping them navigate life in some capacity. And seeing as they don’t sell a Misfits/Giants mashup shirt inside, I was thrilled to have them. But there’s no foot traffic, so they aren’t there.

This experience was understandably troubling. Despite getting texts from friends and family telling him how lucky he was to see a game in person, he wasn’t so sure:

I’ll go again this year, COVID-willing. But right now, I’m kind of looking forward to pushing a button, listening to some fake crowds, studying a few sliders, then pushing the button to turn it off, while thinking about nothing but the snacks in my well-stocked fridge. I can do this because I’m spoiled. I don’t need to be reminded that baseball exists in the real world, because I’ve always lived in a fantasy world, even in the Before Times, writing about sportsball instead of getting a job.

But baseball does exist in the real world, and that place right now? Kind of a mess. The baseball is normal, but the devastation is not.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Giants Baseball is the Same, For Better or For Worse; Everything Else is Not,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (07/29/2020)

PAL: Excellent stuff from Brisbee. Another portion that really landed:

There was baseball played, and there wasn’t much missing in the actual game. It was like a single spire in the middle of a limitless canyon, though. The games on TV, with the piped-in noise and the humanoid shapes, helped me forget for three hours at a time this week. The live game did the same, but only while it was going on. It’s everything from before and after the game that made me prefer the TV experience.


.01

The other night, Natalie and I watched The Weight of Gold, the HBO doc about olympic athletes and their mental health struggles after the olympics are over and everything their lives have been built around is removed. And while the doc was good-not-great, it was very clear the timing of the release was geared towards playing just before the summer games, which of course reminded me that we should be sharing the best of the best from the olympics and paralympics right about this time. 

So the olympics were on my mind when I came across this exceptionally-written story about Milorad Cavic. Name sound familiar, but can’t quite place it?

He’s the guy who Michael Phelps beat by .01 of a second in the 100M butterfly in Beijing. It was Phelps’ seventh of the eight golds he would end up winning in those games, surpassing Mark Spitz record and solidifying his place as one the absolute greatest U.S. Olympic athletes of all time (but watch out for Simone Biles). 

This is a story about that guy. The Cal guy with dual citizenship in Serbia and the U.S.. The guy that went out fast, knowing the race would come down to whether or not he could hold off a late Phelps kick. The guy who may have touched the wall first (just not hard enough), and the guy Phelps hasn’t spoken to since. He’s treated as a hero in Serbia. He lived there for a bit after Beijing. Now he’s a swim coach in Washington, and he’ trying to reconcile with that one one-hundredth of second – to be recognized for the race he swam – for being in that moment with Phelps – while not letting that one one-hundredth define him, because he was hardly more than a kid then, and that can’t be what his life is about. 

 

This John Gonzalez story is one of my favorites from the year so far. Please read it. Some highlights for me:

On the review of the finish, and the main reason for the lingering conspiracy about the results. After the race, the Serbian coach and Serbia’s chief of mission (odd title, I know) went to the control room: 

Schubert figured there would be an immediate protest launched by the Serbian side challenging the results. Mike Bottom assumed the same thing. He coached Cavic at Cal, and he was in attendance as a coach for the Croatian team. Bottom immediately sought out Branislav Jevtic, Serbia’s chief of mission for the Olympics. “I had to grab hold of [him] and basically put him against the wall and say, ‘You have to protest this,’” said Bottom, now the head coach at the University of Michigan. 

That’s what happened. Initially. In the control room at the Beijing Olympics, officials monitored races and had the capacity to roll back footage in the event of disputed results. That process was supervised by Omega, the official timer of the games—and a longtime sponsor of Michael Phelps.

There are differing accounts about what happened next. Schubert, Bottom, and Cavic all agree that Schubert marched into the control room, where Schubert said Omega refused to show anyone the footage and that officials from the company maintained the system operated correctly. Good enough for Schubert, who said he left—and left Bottom behind in the room.

“Bullshit,” Bottom said when I relayed Schubert’s recollection, insisting he was never inside the control room. “That’s bullshit. That’s total bullshit. That’s absolutely bullshit. I was protesting. But they were not letting me in that room. They did not let me in that room. Only Schubert went to see it. Now, there might have been other people in there, but I sure as hell wasn’t in there. If I had been in there, I wouldn’t have the feelings I have today. I would have seen the actual finish from the Omega cameras, which no one, even the next day, got to see.”

That last part became a publicity problem that fueled the ensuing controversy. Omega and FINA, the governing body of international swimming, refused to release the footage. At first, Omega told The New York Times it would provide footage to journalists, only to reverse course and claim “FINA decided not to release any timekeeping images to the media.” According to the Times, a reporter from the International Herald Tribune tracked down Cornel Marculescu, then FINA’s executive director. Marculescu was defiant and declared that Phelps was “the winner no doubt” and stated, incredibly and on the record, “Even if you could see the pictures, I don’t know how you could use them.”

And later, more on the touchpads:

The real culprit here, the cause of all this controversy as far as Cavic and Bottom are concerned, was the Omega timing system itself. It is also the official system of the NCAA and FINA and has a near stranglehold on global competitive swimming—which drives Bottom mad because he believes there are better timing pads on the market. He mapped out the mechanics—the system, which he called “the worst pads being made right now,” are activated when the swimmer touches the plastic exterior, sending a signal to a metal plate that stops the clock—but all you really need to know is that a certain amount of force is required to trigger the timer. According to Omega’s press booklet, “just 1.5-2.5 kg is enough to immediately stop the clock.” That works out to 3.3 to 5.5 pounds of pressure. In theory, it is possible that Cavic touched the pad first, but Phelps touched it harder when he threw in a half-chop stroke at the very end while Cavic glided into the wall. Schubert subscribed to that notion; he said, “We see light touches all the time.” Meanwhile, Bottom—who wanted it noted that there are “no sour grapes” and called Phelps “a friend of mine”—questioned whether there was an issue with that specific timer in that specific lane at those specific games.

Bottom had a good reason to remain curious. That very next day in 2008, in the very same lane 4 in which Cavic had glided to the wall, American Dara Torres placed second in the 50-meter freestyle. She also lost by one one-hundredth of a second. Torres won 12 Olympic medals over the course of five games from 1984 to 2008. It was the slimmest margin she had ever lost by in a career that spanned more than three decades.

The day before her race, Torres watched Cavic and Phelps and couldn’t believe the result. She kept thinking to herself that it had to be “the worst feeling in the world to lose that way.” She was right. For years, she said she was “consumed” by it and what she could have done differently. Where Cavic still thinks about picking up his head and gliding into the wall, Torres obsesses over whether she had touched the wall hard enough. In the final race she ever swam before retiring, the anchor leg of the 4×100 meter freestyle relay in Beijing, she made sure to hit the wall as hard as possible—and subsequently bent back her thumb, tearing a ligament. She had surgery after returning to the States.

But more than all of this controversy, I was drawn to what seems to bother Cavic the most: not being acknowledged by the man who was .01 faster than he was on that day. More than a gold medal, that’s what seems to weigh heaviest on him, that’s what has his thoughts seem to orbit when it comes to that race and what’s taken place thereafter: 

“People ask me, what kind of guy is he? I have no idea what kind of guy he is,” Cavic said. “You have no clue who that is. You can call it a rivalry, but dammit, other rivalries they can talk. They can shoot the shit. We don’t need to talk about the race. I just want to know the person that, until the rest of my life, I’m going to be pegged to.”

Cavic yearns “for human connection.” The way he explained it, he and Phelps went on a journey together, one only the two of them truly understand. Being denied that connection has deeply frustrated Cavic. He still wonders “why did this guy never want to talk to me?” During one of our interviews, he openly daydreamed about calling Phelps. Maybe he’d tease Phelps and say, “I won that fucking race,” and maybe Phelps would bust his balls and say, “Nah, I got you.” Cavic called Phelps “the GOAT” and “the father of gods” and “one badass motherfucker.” For better or worse, and whether they liked it or not, they crossed paths in a meaningful way. Cavic acknowledged all of it, but he freely admitted he longs to have that same professional courtesy returned. He told me “that’s essentially what the greatest want”—to be “acknowledged by their peers.” All these years, Cavic has waited for a nod that never came, one to signal “I was a worthy adversary and that I just was as much a part of his story as he was a part of mine.” 

“I can’t say why it bothers me,” Cavic said. It sounded to me like he just had.

A fantastic read. – PAL 

Source: Hitting The Wall”, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (07/29/20)


Has The Designated Hitter Finally Prevailed? 

This MLB season promises to be crazy for any number of reasons, but one small detail I haven’t spent much time thinking about until now is how the NL will employ the designated hitter for all games this year. A temporary rule to lighten the load on pitchers and to bring some form of uniformity to schedules with an even higher portion interleague play than usual. 

Next year, we’ll get back to normal, right? Not so fast. As Claire McNear outlines in her story for The Ringer, the DH was meant to be a trial in the American League back in the day. 

It is, in theory, a temporary change. But given that the MLB players’ association pitched the introduction of the universal DH just last year, and that owners at the very least seemed open to negotiating, it’s entirely possible that the DH is here to stay in the NL; an early 2020 proposal by the MLBPA that was ultimately not adopted also included it in 2021. In the AL, too, the adoption was initially meant to be temporary, beginning with a three-year trial period. But after just one season, AL owners were so delighted by the buzz that the DH created that they made the change permanent.

I grew up on DH baseball, and I’ve watched the Giants play NL ball for the last 15 years. The DH makes the game less interesting, and any rationale advocating for its inclusion falls short on the only part I care about: watching the game in its most interesting form. Adding the DH to the NL brings us one step further down a dark road that has made home run highlights bland, hit-and-runs obscure, starting pitchers grinding out a seventh inning unheard of, and strikeouts nothing to be ashamed of. We need more approaches and interpretations to the game, not less. – PAL

Source:A Brief History of the Arguments About the Designated Hitter”, Claire McNear, The Ringer (07/22/2020)


Gabe Kapler’s Decision to Kneel During the Anthem is Not an Empty Gesture

As you may recall, after Gabe Kapler was hired in December he gave an interview that had me ALL over the place. He said some REALLY vapid sounding things, but then said some things that had me very encouraged. Six games into this season, I’m pleased with him as a manager, though the same size is small. But more than that I am happy that he’s the leader of my favorite team. 

Last week, Kapler became the first coach of any major sport to kneel during the national anthem in support of the BLM movement. That week, Kapler posted a very powerful message on Twitter, that suggested to me his decision to kneel was not just lip service.

And in the days since, I read this very interesting story about Kapler’s parents, Judy and Michael. Both were very involved in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement:

“And I developed, at a very young age, very, very strong feelings about how unfair our society was,’’ Judy said. “I don’t think that the phrase ‘systemic racism’ existed at that time, but it was very clear that everything was not equal.”

So, Judy joined the fight. She got a job with the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, which coordinated anti-war parades. That’s where she met Michael, idealistic and freshly arrived from Los Angeles, and the two enjoyed a courtship with a distinctly ’60s bent.

“We went to demonstrations. We connected,’’ said Judy, who spoke for the two of them in this interview. “And don’t forget, it was the late ’60s. The women’s movement was happening, and everything was happening. Stokely Carmichael was happening. Malcolm X was happening. The Black Panthers were happening.

“So there was a lot of peaceful and non-peaceful stuff going on. I aligned myself, as did Michael, with peaceful protests and the right to stand up for things we thought were important and valid.”

As a result, Judy bore witness to some of the biggest events of a tumultuous decade. 

There was King’s landmark speech. 

“It was amazing. It was beyond amazing,’’ she said. “It was moving and it was everything you probably feel when you hear it now. … It was just being there and being amongst the hundreds of thousands of people who really were understanding the terrible inequality that existed in the country and how people had to come together to make a difference.”

There was the March on Washington to end the Vietnam War in 1965.

“I organized all the transportation that went from New York to Washington,’’ Judy said. “I was in charge of all the buses and all the trains and all the cars. That was my job. Thousands and thousands and thousands (of people) … I was young and had a lot of energy.” 

There was the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where thousands of protestors rallied against the Vietnam War and the political status quo.

“What I was doing there, interestingly enough, was working for the National Lawyers Guild, volunteering,’’ Judy said. “I was bailing people out of jail. The mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, was arresting them and beating on them. And I was sitting in a courtroom and bailing them out of jail.” 

That is really cool. And as a parent there are certainly some lessons to be learned from Judy and Michael:

In a way, this is what his parents wanted, far more so than raising a professional athlete. Michael used to teach his youngest boy to question authority, to never follow blindly. The lessons were hardly subtle. When Gabe was in elementary school, his father guided him through the pledge of allegiance, asking him to scrutinize every word, especially the final six: “… with liberty and justice for all.” Was that really true?

“And this is how it all ended,” Judy Kapler said by phone on Saturday. “With Gabe really deciding he had an opportunity to make a difference. That’s what he did and I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Me neither. -TOB

Source: How His Parents’ 1960s Protesting Shaped Gabe Kapler’s Decision to Kneel,” Daniel Brown, The Athletic (07/20/2020)


Re-Examining My Support of the Promotion/Relegation System

For years, I thought the English soccer league’s promotion/relegation system was incredible. The bottom few teams of each league get sent down each season to the next-tier league, and the top few teams of each league move up. In theory, it keeps teams from tanking, and gives smaller teams a dream to dream on. 

But then I watched the first two seasons of Sunderland Till I Die, an excellent Netflix series that provided a behind the scenes look at Sunderland Football Club in the season after their relegation from the Premier League (England’s top league) to the Championship (the second league). The demotion was so devastating – affecting the players, the coaches, the trainers, and even non-football side employees like cafeteria workers and salespeople. It even devastated the town’s proud fanbase. The city was already going through a Detroit-like, decades long recession (its heyday as a ship-making hotspot had long since passed). Making matters worse, in the season covered by Season 1, Sunderland was relegated again. Just one year removed from the Premier league, the storied club would now be playing in League One (England’s third league; confusing, I know).

And I realized: relegation is not just an interesting thing for fans to follow. It has severe effects on the club and the surrounding economy, as laid out by this article in the Athletic. Relegation costs a team an estimated $130 million. If you’ve been in the EPL for a while and get sent down, it’s a major shock to the system. One executive likened it to “trying to catch a falling knife.” The money dries up and as you can imagine major layoffs ensue. Without the money to pay coaches and scouts, you can’t find new players. Forget about paying for better players. A vicious downward spiral ensues. In one extreme case, Bradford Football Club found itself in the fourth division just six years after being relegated out of the Premier League in 2001. They have never recovered, though did manage to get back to League One (remember, the third tier).

So, while relegation/promotion seems fun for fans, that doesn’t seem to be worth enough to overcome the wide-ranging negative effects of the yo-yoing of the teams on the fringes.

‘Like Trying to Catch a Falling Knife’: The Fallout of Premier League Relegation,” Daniel Taylor and more, The Athletic (07/25/2020)


The Rarest of Baseball Plays

Baseball’s back! Kinda. I mean, it’s nice to have the games on. And there’s something disturbingly comforting to shaking my head at the Giants pooping one down its leg against the Dodgers. I’m also very much looking forward to posting stories about new sporting events, but here’s a history pull from Phil Miller. 

The subheading from Miller’s Star Tribune says it all: “It hadn’t been done before the Twins did it July 17, 1990, and it hasn’t happened since.”

The ‘it’ refers to the Twins turning two triple plays in one game. It hadn’t happened in the more than 134,000 MLB games prior, and it hasn’t happened in the roughly 67,000 games since. There aren’t many singular occurrences in a game with the longevity baseball celebrates.

As Miller points out, what’s even more odd is how ho-hum both triple plays are. In both cases, Gaetti get’s high hop to his right at 3B, bringing him to third base pretty much in stride, then throws to 2B for the quick turn to 1B. Hell, the runners are even moving on the pitch in the second triple play, and it’s not even close at any base: 

What’s most charming about this story is our guy, Kent Hrbek. Underrated mullet in the 80s. The ultimate air conditioner commercial guy in Minnesota, is just the best. On the triple plays, Hrbek had this to say: “It’s a cool memory, but you don’t hear about it much anymore. It had to be the Twins, who never get any praise anyway. If the Yankees had done it, they’d have it on TV every day.” 

Ain’t that the truth. 

Also I would love to hear any other singular events in baseball. Send them our way! – PAL 

Source:Kent Hrbek Savors a 30-year-old Memory: Two Triple Plays in a Game”, Phil Miller, Star Tribune (07/17/2020)


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet(s) of the Week


Song of the Week

Mandolin Orange – ‘The Wolves’


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Man became civilized for a reason. He decided that he liked to have warmth, and clothing, and television, and hamburgers, and to walk upright, and to have a soft futon at the end of the day. He didn’t want to have to struggle to survive. I don’t need the woods. I have a nice wood desk. I don’t need fresh air, because I have the freshest air around, A.C. And I don’t need wide open spaces. Check it out. [shows off computer screen scenery] I can also make it the sky.

-Michael Scott

Week of July 17, 2020


An Ode to Candlestick Park: A Joyous Dump

Grant Brisbee wrote an incredible article this week about the history of Candlestick Park, and I am telling you that you must read it. The premise is simple: when did San Francisco know Candlestick was a dump? (Spoiler: not long after it opened). I will say though, and Brisbee acknowledges, the place sure looks like a better place to watch a game in that picture from the early days, before the 49ers moved in and ruined the place (much like what happened when the Raiders moved back to Oakland).

Perhaps the most interesting part is the politics, backroom deals, corruption, and incompetence that got the stadium built there in the first place.

There was a more logical reason for the decision to build a ballpark on Bayview Hill: There were profits to make with public money. If there’s anything more reliable than wind in San Francisco, it’s that every story from San Francisco’s history leads back to some sort of graft.

Well-known contractor Charles Harney purchased land in Candlestick Point from the city of San Francisco in 1953 for $2,100 an acre. Land adjacent to it sold in 1957 for $6,540, which means that Harney should have been in line for a cool 311-percent profit. Except, somehow, the city paid $65,853 an acre for the 41 acres they needed for the 77-acre site. (Most of the additional 36 acres were already owned by the city, and they needed some of it to fill in Harney’s land, some of which was occasionally underwater, depending on the tides.)

The ballpark would be constructed by a local contractor by the name of … Charles Harney, who received a $7 million fee for the project.

Harney was awarded the contract in a no-bid process by Stadium, Inc., a non-profit corporation that was created after the city realized that the original $5 million bond, approved by voters in 1954, wasn’t going to be enough for a new ballpark. Giants owner Horace Stoneham wouldn’t even discuss any proposals that were less than $10 million, so San Francisco mayor George Christopher created Stadium, Inc. as an arm of the city government, which allowed it to issue its own bonds and get around that pesky city charter.

Stadium, Inc. needed a board of directors, of course, so they got some local businessmen to fill the roles. Specifically, they got … Charles Harney. And his brother-in-law. And the executive vice president of his company.

This is shady as hell, but I also can’t knock the hustle. 

The article is full of other interesting tidbits. But the best part is when he closed with a personal story that resonated with me. I suggest you read it. But it made me remember the first time I went to Candlestick. I was nine. 

Driving up, the stadium looked huge. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. When we first emerged from the tunnel and saw the field, it was so green. I couldn’t believe I was there. There’s Kevin Mitchell. There’s Will Clark. When I got older, I realized it was…a dump. But that was ok. It was my dump. It’s gone now, which is weird. Every time we drive up the 101 past Candlestick Point, I look at that weirdly empty spot off the freeway and shake my head. If you didn’t know Candlestick had been there, you would never know by looking at it. I usually point it out to my kids, even though there’s literally nothing to see. Just memories of a place that made me happy, and still does. Every time I walk into a major league ballpark, I get the same giddy feeling I got when I was 9. Candlestick Park, dumpy as it may have been, is where that started. -TOB

Source: How Quickly Did San Francisco Realize That Candlestick Park Was a Debacle?Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (07/09/2020)

PAL: My brother, Matt, has started to say he misses the Metrodome. The Twins new stadium is very, very cool. They killed it, but the Dome is setting for childhood memories. It was a home field advantage. It was where the Twins actually won playoff games and two World Series. The grass wasn’t even real when I walked into the dome, but I was in awe. To see the game we played in the front yard at that scope and scale – maybe that’s what so favorably preserves the memories of those dumps. 

Also, this story is a great plot for a comedy. The pursuit of a publicly funded stadium – hell, even attempting to build a stadium – is an absurd shady pursuit from the jump. I could see Adam McKay and Will Ferrel killing an idea like this, The Big Short style. 

OK, so Candlestick was a disaster, but this seat warmer idea was brilliant. So they messed up on the execution. Still, that would be a game-changer (I’m looking at you, Cal). Are there any stadiums out there where regular seats (not the suites or club level) have the warmer built in? 

Just in case, though, the plans included radiant heat to be installed underneath the seats. A 1959 issue of Popular Science declared that fans would be “warmed up by their seats in the cool night air.” More than 35,000 feet of wrought-iron pipe was laid, and the plans were to circulate hot water from a boiler that would cut through the cold. According to the aforementioned Sporting News article, “Giant owner Horace Stoneham says radiant heat won’t be needed, and if he has his way, it will never be turned on.”


Short Putts for Big Bucks 

 

I was in on this story the moment I read the headline: 

‘I Just Cost Myself 250 Grand.’

Missing a short putt worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is a golfer’s nightmare, but PGA Tour veterans have ways of psyching themselves up to try anyway.

Sure, I’ve thought plenty about the pressure standing over a 3-foot putt to win a major, but the pressure to secure a 9th place finish can be counted in hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ll admit it – my sphincter gets a little tight standing over a $20 putt for a couple skins carry-overs.

This is a story about how tour players – young guys trying to stay on tour and vets – deal with that stress. 

When their rounds are complete, golfers enter the privacy of a nearby scoring tent, which one player called “the loony bin.” It is there that players come face-to-face with the tournament’s prize money chart delineating the payouts for finishing first, second, third, and so on.

“Guys say, ‘I just cost myself 250 grand,’” said Jim Furyk, the winner of 17 tour events. “I’m sure I’ve said it. It’s a really hard moment.”

Gary Woodland, the reigning United States Open champion, insisted the angst was worst at high-profile tournaments, where a final short putt can be worth $1 million.

“I don’t care who you are, that’s a lot of money,” Woodland said. “Maybe you weren’t thinking about the money before the putt, but if you miss you are.”

Woodland, with a career earnings north of $27MM (I couldn’t believe it either), and Jim Furyk (holy shit – $71MM – good for third all-time behind Tiger and Mickelson) can breath a little more freely as they set up for that 9th place putt than someone like Martin Trainer. He’s a second year pro ($780K). I love how he describes it: “Those short putts on 18 are terrifying. It’s part of the treacherous illusion of competence in golf.”

Of course, all the strokes count the same – be it the drive on the opening hole on round 1 or the last putt on Sunday, but there’s a ‘blueprint’ that comes with those putts on the tour:

“At first, you probably let the dollars get into your head and you screw up and it costs you a lot of money,” said Kevin Streelman, who has been a tour regular since 2008. “You get tired of that happening and start treating the last putt of the day the same as your first putt of the day.

But for unproven players on tour, it’s difficult to focus on tour longevity when they are in a desperate, weekly struggle to finish near the top of the leaderboard so they will qualify for an invitation to return to the tour the following year.

“That stress and anxiety is constant,” Wyndham Clark, a second-year tour pro with four career top-10 finishes, said in recalling his first year on the tour. “It affects your sleep. I wasted so many nights worrying about it.”

Quick side-note: let’s all savor the fact that there is a pro golfer out there named ‘Wyndham Clark’. 

OK, back to the story. 

This isn’t a story about a guy struggling to put food on the table vs. the guy that’s, well, made over $70MM, but miss enough cuts and these young guys who haven’t won a tournament won’t keep their card, and the purse money on the PGA Tour vs the (hold on, let me look up the name of the second best tour) Korn Ferry Tour is drastic. I took a look at purse breakdown for the TPC San Antonio Challenge (Korn Ferry Tour) and the Byron Nelson Classic (a regular PGA Tour event). Understand that prize money is a percentage of the total purse, so dollar amount reflects a percentage. Per TOB, we think ties being averaged out between the two spots (so two guys who tie for fifth get the average of prize money for 5th and 6th). 

Place San Antonio Challenge Byron Nelson 
1 108K 1.4MM
2 54K 853K
3 31K 537K
4 22K 379K
5 19K  316K
6 16K 284K 
7 12K 264K
20 5K 102K
Total Purse 600K 6MM+ 

 

So I understand why these dudes look at a putt for 10 minutes from every conceivable angle. 

Good read! – PAL 

Source: ‘I Just Cost Myself 250 Grand.’, Bill Pennington, The New York Times (07/09/20)

TOB: Two things. First, I’m glad they mentioned Gary Woodland because just last week I was thinking, “I could not come up with the name of the guy who won last year’s U.S. Open that we attended if you offered me a million dollars to do so. So unmemorable.

Second, is Justin Thomas going to have to make me bust out the Rick James clip for a second week in a row? Look at “JT” (ugh) contradict himself immediately:

“You probably aren’t going to believe me, but I’ve never had a putt where I’ve thought, ‘if I miss this, I cost myself two hundred or four hundred thousand,’” Justin Thomas, the world’s fifth-ranked golfer and the 2017 P.G.A. Championship winner, said. “A lot of people could tell you what a three-way tie for sixth is in a $9 million purse, whereas I have no clue.”

Thomas, however, admitted to one exception — when he needed to make a three-foot putt to tie for third at last year’s Tour Championship, which would earn him $3.5 million. Finishing in fourth-place would have earned him $500,000 less.

“That was the first ever time I was like, ‘This is probably a million-dollar putt,’ ” Thomas said.

“I’ve never done a thing, except that time I did that thing.” What a rich prick, bragging (in another quote) about how he doesn’t know how much money he each place gets at each tournament. GET OUTTA HERE WITH THAT NOISE, JT!


Joey Bart and MLB Service Time Manipulation in a Short, Weird Season

One of my favorite things about being in a years-long baseball keeper league with prospects is that it has forced me to pay attention to, and read, top prospect lists. You see names rise and fall on the list, and when they get to the bigs (especially if they’re on your squad), it’s EXCITING. Gleyber Torres. Ozzie Albies. Syndergaard. Walker Buehler. Blake Snell. Pete Alonso. All Ron Popeils years before they were on their big league teams, and all had me buzzing when they got called up. 

But this league has also caused me to pay more attention to service-time manipulation. Briefly, to gain a year of service time, a player must be on a roster 172 of 187 days in a season. Once a player has gained six years of service time, he can be a free agent at the end of that season. Unsurprisingly, teams “manipulate” service time to keep them from reaching free agency as long as possible, because players are cheaper before free agency.

One of the most famous examples was the Cubs’ Kris Bryant. He was an absolute can’t-miss prospect. The Cubs should have begun the season with him on the roster. But they sent him to AAA to start, saying he needed to work on his defense. Magically, he was ready to be called up on the exact day that, if he played the entire rest of the year, he would not reach 172 days until the first day the following season. This meant he would be a free agent after 2021, and not 2020, because the Cubs turned “six years” into seven seasons. But it happens ALL THE TIME. 

Egregious cases like Bryant’s, or Vlad Guerrero, Jr., or even Buster Posey, really suck. A good young player is robbed of helping his team, his teammates are robbed of his help, the fans are robbed of watching him, and the player loses a year of high earnings in his prime. MLB has not solved this issue, but this year could be really bad. The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly does an excellent job explaining why.

Joey Bart is the Giants’ top prospect. Bart is the heir apparent to Buster Posey: a young, power hitting catcher, who was the second overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. The Giants maintain they do not want to promote him yet, correctly pointing out that he’s had very little minor league experience: just 130 games over two seasons, due to injuries (and only 144 games in college). Especially for a catcher learning that craft, that is not a lot of games. 

“We just see Joey as a player who can really benefit from more reps in the batter’s box, more opportunities to game plan and more opportunities to work with some really great player-development and major-league coaches,” Kapler said. “We’ve sort of been having this conversation now for several weeks and stayed with a really strong conviction that Joey’s best path to being an excellent major-league player is through more repetition and more time to develop.”

The team wants to get him more reps, as they would with most prospects. Complicating this plan is the fact there’s no minor league season this year, so Bart would not be able to learn in real games, just simulation and practice in an extended training game.

But most complicated of all for the Giants is that Bart has looked very good during the team’s ongoing preparations for the season: he’s reportedly showing good power and approach at bat, and his defense and arm behind the plate are drawing oohs and ahhs. 

Joey is playing so well that his teammates are openly lobbying for him to make the team.

“I really like Joey Bart’s approach,” Flores said. “He can hit the ball hard. I didn’t get to see him in spring training, but I’m getting to see him now. He’s really got some pop.”

Longoria said Bart “is the closest we have to breaking through and being an impact player out of the chute.”

For his part, Joey must want to make the team badly: he went to college, so he is already 23, turning 24 in December. This means if he doesn’t get a year of service time this year, he will not be a free agent until the winter he turns thirty. Guess how many 30-year old catchers get big deals in free agency? I’m guessing zero.

But this short, 60-game season, raises another issue for the Giants. Baggarly points out the following: Bart would need to miss only the first five days to miss out on a year of service time; but with the real risk the season gets shut down with a COVID-19 outbreak, that’s not necessarily true because if the season gets canceled, all players get a year’s service time, even if they only played one game. Ooooh. I am very pro-player, but it would suck for the Giants to lose a year’s cheap service time for a top player for a handful of games in a season that isn’t even completed.

Baggarly points out yet another wrinkle: Bart was drafted by the previous regime, and the new regime took another catcher with this year’s first round pick. Is it possible they are looking to use Bart as trade bait for a top of the line pitching prospect? If so, they run a huge risk letting him get to the majors before he’s ready, because if he stinks it up his trade value plummets. 

I am interested to see what Farhan does. Baseball is *fingers crossed* BACK in six days. -TOB

Source: The Real Reason That Joey Bart Won’t be a Giant on Opening Day,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (07/16/2020)

PAL: First of all, tuck in your shirt on the field, Joey Bart.  And can we drop the ‘y’ while we’re at it? You’re a professional now, not a 10-year old playing up an age group. 

 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, there are more than a few angles to this scenario, and I appreciated this note; 

From inside this fishbowl, anyway, it sure seems like players are sending a message to management. They took on the personal risk to travel to San Francisco and take part in a truncated season amid a pandemic for what will be a fraction of their guaranteed salaries. They made the effort to do this. They don’t want to go through the motions. If they’re going to play a season under these conditions, why not go all-in to win? Why not embrace the crazy and take bold steps?

Totally fair point. 

I’m with TOB: very pro player – because it’s such a treat to watch young, supremely talented, raw athletes compete with the fire of something to prove burning in their belly – but this is a situation when I think the Giants have to hold him back just for a week or so.


How Wedding Crashers Football Magic Was Made

I came across this fun story about the legendary football scene from the movie Wedding Crashers. I’m always impressed anything ever comes off natural in a movie whenever I read ‘making of’ stories, because there are so many people involved in the production, the staging is so methodical, and the number of takes and angles needed for a action scene involving a bunch of characters is insane. It took the production 5 hours to film this 4-minute scene: 

The director, David Dobkin, learned everything he needed to capture this complexity and tension of a big scene from watching the NFL broadcasts. Per Danny Emerman:

But the scene took much more than comedic dialogue to execute. Shooting it was a whole different challenge. When Dobkin studied film at New York University, a professor told him if you ever want to see how to edit a great scene, watch the NFL. Broadcast teams know when to cut to a nervous wife in the luxury box, a coordinator covering his mouth with a play-call sheet, a wide shot of the field while a play develops, an injured player on the sideline. 

Dobkin, a lifelong football fan, applied the NFL lesson in the most literal way possible. The cutaway shots to Kathleen (Jane Seymour) and Gloria Cleary (Isla Fisher) for their reactions after each play come straight from NFL Sunday crowd pans. So does the three-quarters shot of pre-snap motion. “It’s always really guided me,” Dobkin says. “I had that in mind when I went to go shoot this scene, because there are so many points of view, so many characters, and so much movement.”

But, of course, the best part of this scene are the one-liners. Despite a 3-week prep process, which involves the actors walking through each scene and working in ad-libbed lines (which are then re-written into the script), Vaughn’s held his best for the shoot: the pre-snap count was all ad-libbed:

Vaughn: Blue 17! Blue 17! Red seven! Red seven! Red seven! Hot route! Hot route! Hot route! Red seven, red seven red sev-en! Hot route! Red seven! John! Red seven!

Wilson: I don’t know what “red seven” means.

Vaughn: Hot route!

Wilson: I don’t—what is “hot route”?

Vaughn: Will you just go stand on the other side, please?

Also, a special shout-out to Sack’s friend in this scene. Flip, the minor character in the movie, goes 3/3 in this scene: 

 

  • Are you ready? Are you ready for some football? You want the noise brought on you, cause here it comes. 
  • Crabcakes and football. That’s what Maryland does. 
  • Numnumnumnum. That’s what we call a sack lunch. 

A fun read on how much work goes into a laugh, and just how hard it is to capture the essence of a game on a movie set. – PAL

Source: “‘Hot Route! Red Seven!’: How the ‘Wedding Crashers’ Football Scene Came Together”, Danny Emerman, The Ringer (07/15/2020)

TOB: I also enjoyed this article, but the “CRABCAKES AND FOOTBALL THAT’S WHAT MARYLAND DOES!” actually gets short shrift here, IMO. Gleeson and I have spent the last 15 years either quoting it, or adapting it to wherever we are living. Example: “BAD SHIRTS and MCMANSIONS! THAT’S WHAT EDH DOES!” Unlike many of the jokes in this movie, it is timeless.


Sports? No. But a Wild Story About Ballet and Hippies in San Francisco in 1968

This is a very amusing story passed on by my mom, about the time Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, world class ballet dancers, came to San Francisco. 

After their performance, they went to Trader Vic’s, got drunk, met some hippies, went to a hippie house party in the Haight, and got arrested while trying to escape via the roof when the party was broken up…at 3:30 a.m. If that’s not a story you want to read, I doubt we are friends. Be sure to check out the full photo gallery, because there are some wonderful pictures. Thanks, Mom! -TOB

Source: The Great Haight Ballet Bust of 1967,” Bill Van Niekerken, San Francisco Chronicle (04/05/2016)


Videos of the Week (wait for it):

PAL: This guy below nails it. Trust me – seeing Mickelson do that smile and thumbs up live is one of the more ridiculous, hilarious displays I’ve ever seen at a sporting event.

Tweet of the Week: 

For Don Loflin (Father In-Law, pole-vaulter):


Song of the Week – Taj Mahal – “Corinna”


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Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Finishing that 5k, was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I ate more fettuccine alfredo and drank less water, than I have in my entire life. People always talk about triumphs of the human spirit, well today I had a triumph of the human body. That’s why everybody was applauding for me at the end. My guts and my heart, and while I eventually puked my guts out, I never puked my heart out. And I’m very, very proud of that.

-Michael Scott

 

Week of July 10, 2020

Ozzie Albies showing why he’s TOB’s favorite player to watch.


A Crazy, Sad Story, That Keeps Getting Crazier and Sadder

You may remember the headlines. A few years ago, in Sanford, a small town in Maine, a car drove onto a youth baseball field and sped around the infield as the children and umpires on the field scattered. The car, driven by Caroll Sharrow, eventually exited the diamond, without anyone physically hurt. But as it tried to leave the parking lot of the field, a 68-year old man sprinted down from the bleachers and tried to close and lock the gate, apparently in hopes of preventing the car from escaping and killing someone elsewhere. But the car did not stop. It plowed  through the gate and the man was thrown high into the air, landing forty feet away, in the middle of the street, as blood pooled around him. He died on the way to the hospital.

That man’s name was Douglas Parkhurst. Parkhurst had not lived in Maine long, having moved from upstate New York just a few years prior. He did so in the hopes of escaping a past that had haunted him for the previous 50 years. That past had recently been dredged up, and Parkhurst could not fully own up to his mistake: on Halloween night in 1968, Parkhurst was driving, his brother in the backseat, when his car struck a 4-year old girl, Carolee Ashby, killing her. Parkhurst did not stop, never came forward, never apologized. He escaped, but the incident did not escape him. It tortured him for the rest of his life, and many theorize the reason he tried to stop the car that killed him was to, in some way, make up for the pain he had caused 50 years prior, and every day since.

This a wonderfully reported, enthralling story. I highly recommend you read it all. It delves into everything leading up to Parkhurst’s death: the pain the Ashby family endured, especially her older sister who was in charge of Carolee when she was dead; the pain Douglas Parkhurst caused his own family as he struggled with the guilt of what he had done back in 1968; the pain and mental illness that brought Caroll Sharrow to that baseball field that day; and the aftermath of all of it, including a disturbing revelation the author realizes about what really happened to Carolee Ashby the night she died. 

There’s also an hour-long ESPN E:60 piece on this, and it’s very good. But the story is better. Do yourself a favor and read it. -TOB

Source: The Hero of Goodall Park,” Tom Junod, ESPN (07/07/2020)

PAL: That is a beast of a story, woven through decades. One line above all others sticks to me: “[T]he burden doesn’t go away. It just goes to someone else.”


Shouldn’t Endowments Be Made For Times Like This? 

While I was back in Minnesota over July 4, I took great pleasure in shuffling down my parents driveway in the morning to pick up the hard copy of the newspaper. A day after returning to Oakland, I was back at my laptop reading the Star Tribune when I came across a Bay Area – Minnesota sports connection. 

On Wednesday, Tyler Eichens was in his hometown of Andover, MN, when he received an email from the Stanford athletic department about an emergency meeting. Shortly thereafter, the redshirt freshman learned that varsity wrestling would be one of the 11 sports teams cut from Stanford’s department as a result of financial challenges due to COVID-19. 

Stanford has an endowment of something in the neighborhood of $40B. TOB explained that endowments are given for specific uses. “Legally, they can’t take endowments for, say, the philosophy dept. and dump it into athletics.” I understand why that is important. I do, but I also can’t get over the idea that a school like that, with an endowment of $40B, which also charges north of $65K per year for tuition + room and board, is cutting non-revenue sports while citing the pandemic as the reason. But also, there’s this:

“The financial model supporting 36 varsity sports is not sustainable,” Stanford’s announcement stated. “The average Division I athletics program sponsors 18 varsity sports. Many of our peers at the Power Five level are supported by budgets that are much larger than ours while operating far fewer sports.”

When an institution is taking your money, it will never look to align itself to what other average institutions do; when it’s time to make cuts, it will always look to the average as justification. 

Something about this doesn’t add up, and this feels like maybe the athletic department just might be taking advantage of the pandemic to cut sports in order to focus their budgets on financially competing in football. 

So where does that leave Eichens? Assuming winter sports go on this year, he will be back to wrestle for Stanford, and then he’ll have a tough decision to make. 

“I’m not ready to end my wrestling career, but a degree from Stanford is an amazing opportunity,” he said. “It’s not an easy choice.”

Of course, Stanford is a private institution. I give it more leeway to do what it wants with its funds, but it just seems like there’s more than enough money to bridge the gap here. Is money really ever going to be an issue at Stanford? If it wants to be held in the same esteem as Harvard (40 varsity sports), Princeton (36), or Brown (36) – all of whom are suspending fall sports in 2020 but not canceling teams as far as I know – then I wonder if the ultimate purpose of the athletic department should go beyond pretending to compete with the big boys of college football. – PAL 

Source: Former Anoka Wrestler Tyler Eischens Blindsided When Stanford Drops Wrestling, 10 Other Sports”, Jim Paulsen, The Star Tribune (07/09/2020)

TOB: A caveat before I begin: Phil and I briefly discussed the Stanford story, and I was champing at the bit to argue why the school cutting 11 sports is not a big deal, and is in fact good. And then I read this, and realized the story is focused on wrestling, and some of the wind went out of my sails. This is because, of the 11 sports Stanford is cutting, wrestling is the one sport that my argument does not apply to. 

With that said, take a look at the other ten sports being cut: men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball. I mean, fencing? Synchronized swimming? Sailing!? These athletes undoubtedly work very hard and I am not denigrating their sport or their effort, but how many colleges across the country have these teams? Who were they competing against

But here’s the point: all of those sports, except wrestling (and, perhaps, men’s volleyball), are what are commonly referred to as country club sports. These are sports that wealthy families have realized they should have their kids compete in because even at Stanford, being good at a sport, even a sport like fencing or squash, provides an upperhand in admissions. These wealthy kids already have so many advantages, and the ability to pay for fencing lessons or synchronized swimming or sailing is just another leg up they get to gain admission to the country’s elite schools.  

And make no mistake, especially at a small private school like Stanford, this is a significant number of students taking up a significant number of available slots. There are under 7,000 undergrads at Stanford. Cutting these 11 teams frees up probably close to 1,000 spots, or 14% of the student body. This is a very significant percentage of spots taken up by athletes who might not have been admitted if not for their ability in these country club sports. 

It is probably heartbreaking for the current student-athletes whose sport is being cut. But, of course, they can continue at Stanford and get a great degree. And it doesn’t mean they can never play their sport again. Their sport could also continue as a club sport…which, come on, fencing and synchronized swimming and crew and sailing and squash already should have been (and the California club sport circuit is very competitive, filled with athletes who were very good at their sports, but often chose academics over sports at smaller schools). And most importantly future students will no longer be incentivized to game the system by paying for expensive training for sports like squash. Bro, squash. They really had a varsity squash team!

One final thought: I know the news is coming because I know Cal is not far behind on this, but I will cry when Cal cuts baseball (again). I love going to those games, and it will be a serious blow to Bay Area baseball fans when it happens. They staved it off ten years ago, but I agree with Phil when he said that Stanford is using the pandemic as an excuse to make cuts: Cal baseball is on life support, and I don’t think it can be saved this time. Brutal.


The Chances of a Baseball Season Grow Dimmer, and Grimmer, by the Day

We’ve said a lot about this, so I’ll keep it short, but reading these very good, and very brief articles by the Chronicle’s John Shea and the Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, reminded me that all of this (whether it be baseball, or any other sport) trying to have a season just seems so…stupid. Buster Posey seems to be weighing this heavily, as he has missed most of the Giants workouts so far, with what they are calling a “personal issue.” But listening to Posey, it’s clear he is strongly considering following a number of other players across the league who have opted out of the 2020 season:

“Yeah, definitely, I think there’s still some reservation on my end as well,” Posey said. “I want to see how things progress here over the next couple weeks. It would be a little bit maybe naive or silly not to gauge what’s going on around you, and not only around here but paying attention to what’s happening in different parts of the country. It’s obviously unprecedented times right now. Most definitely, I’ve thought about it and talked with my wife about it quite a bit.”

In Shea’s article, he talks to Posey, but also to A’s catcher Sean Murphy, who says this:

“A mask while catching in the summer might be tough, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that. I mean it’s just part of it. Make sure we disinfect things really well and just follow all the protocols, and that should work.”

First of all, Sean, buddy: why should that work!? You just have no idea. No one has any idea. There’s currently a two-day lag in testing,  and sometimes more (see: multiple teams canceling workouts this week because test results did not come back). And sometimes the testing is inconsistent (see: the Rangers’ Joey Gallo, who tested positive, then negative, then positive again). So why does Murphy think things will just…work? And why not just wear a god damn mask under your catcher’s mask? And why doesn’t MLB just mandate it? 

I know I said I’d keep this short, but every I am reading about how doctors are slowly learning about the potential long term side effects of COVID-19 (hint: they’re not good!), and this is just so infuriating we are putting people at risk so money can be made. I want to see baseball, badly. But this just all seems so bad. -TOB 

Source: Buster Posey on Baseball in a Pandemic: ‘There’s Some Reservation On My End’,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (07/04/2020); Giants’ Buster Posey on Catchers’ Conundrum: ‘Inherent Risk’ of No Social Distance,” John Shea, SF Chronicle (07/08/2020)


Mound Visits

I never pitched. Well, I did once in Little League. I mostly played third, and my coach said I threw hard, so he wanted to try me at pitcher. I hated it. I was terrified of getting a line drive crushed at my head, but more than that, I’ll never forget the sight of the ball disappearing into the bat, as goddamn Brian Sommerfeldt absolutely barreled up my fastest fastball, with his white TPX, and crushed it down the line.

One damn inning, and I never got to have a single mound visit. So I dug the hell out of this fun story, where former major leaguers talk about their most memorable mount visits. The best is former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. He takes forever to get to the punchline, but it’s a doozy (and lucky for you I’ll cut it all out). He puts a September call-up into a game, and he’s getting rocked. Hurdle goes out to the mount:

“He goes ‘Clint, I know, I know — I just need to get them in, I don’t care about my numbers,’ I mean — it was an awesome conversation,” Hurdle added.

The pitcher made it clear he just wanted to be there for the team. He wanted to keep pitching, he didn’t care what his Baseball-Reference page would say.

“Don’t worry about me,” the pitcher kept saying.

“I said, ‘Hey buddy, c’mon we’re going to have a laugh,’ I said, ‘I’m not worried about you, I said, ‘Turn around.'”

He did just that.

“All three outfielders were bent over with their hands on their knees breathing like they had just run 50 wind sprints. I said it’s either take you out or put in three new outfielders — which one do you think I should do?'”

LOLLLLLLL. Ok, one more, told by Geoff Blum (the Doug in the story is pitcher Doug Brocail), about a spring training game:

“He proceeds to give up a double, triple, double and another double and finally, I’m throwing the ball back to him, as I walk to the mound I’m like, ‘Doug, just not your day, just kind of casually saying ‘It’s spring training, don’t worry about it kind of thing … ‘”

“He goes, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you seeing what’s going on here?’ And he gets to the top of the mound, turns around and screams at the outfield at the top of his lungs: ‘Back the eff up!'”

“I’m like Doug, Doug you can’t do that,” Blum added. “He goes, ‘You don’t know what’s happening.’ He just starts screaming ‘Back the eff up!'”

Brocail then proceeds to give up a home run.

“I go, ‘They’re not playing deep enough,’ and he just kind of yells at me and walks off the mound.”

I’ll close with this great video with Kruk and Kuip talking about their favorite mound visits. 

Loop Kruk calling a woman a pearl in my afterlife. GOD DAMNIT I MISS THEM. -TOB

Source: Dallas Braden, Joba Chamberlain, Others Share Unique Mound-Visit Tales,” Jessica Kleinschmidt, NBC Sports Bay Area (06/01/2020)

PAL: A pearl! I will be using that.

There were some fun mound visits in my day, but the best ones were always with my roommate, Netter. A lefty with some nasty stuff, but Netter gave up a bomb our freshman year at Mankato State. There had been a snowstorm the night before, and – certain the game would be cancelled – Netter had enjoyed a couple drinks the night prior. He was in bad shape when he got on the bus in the morning. It would be OK, because he was a freshman in the bullpen; surely he wasn’t seeing action in a conference game against the Mavericks.

Well, the game got out of hand in the wrong way, and Netter was called in to burn some innings as I recall. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but Mankato had some dudes that could absolutely mash, and one of them had the Karate Kid theme song – ‘You’re The Best Around’ – as his walk-up song. Made me laugh every damn time. He then proceeds to hit a ball about 900-feet off of a hungover Netter. I think Netter then beaned a guy or two, and we stood on the mound as our coach took his sweet time to pull him from the game. We stood on the mound with our hands on our hips – Netter still brutally hungover – and genuinely marveled at how far that home run went.


Videos of the Week


Tweet of the Week

(Former big leaguer Trevor Plouffe  is a great twitter follow. My quick take: Kike is too low; Longo is over the hill and should not be on the list; Javy Baez is a shocking addition)


Song of the Week

Aaron Neville – ‘You Can Give But You Can’t Take’


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That would be shallow. And this is the opposite of shallow. This is emotionally magnificent.

-Michael Scott

Week of July 3, 2020


A Story About Sports. No, Actual Sports.

There’s not a lot of sports going on right now, and there’s lot of…everything else (which we’ll get to). But I wanted to open this week with some actual damn sports, and it’s a pretty cool story. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Spring Training was shut down, a bunch of major leaguers who live in Florida began getting together just to play catch. Catch turned into bullpen sessions, and live BP, and finally…games. Full games, with names like Verlander, Scherzer, Kluber, Goldschmidt, and Stanton, along with more than 30 other big leaguers. It was basically an All Star Game, but played at a high school field, with no crowds. WILD. That would have been so fun to stumble upon. -TOB

Source: “Prohibition Baseball: Inside the Biggest All-Star Game No One Watched,” Brittany Ghiroli, The Athletic (07/02/2020)


What It’s Like to Raise a Black Athlete, In the Words of Their Parents

This week, former Daily Cal sports writer Grant Marek published a very powerful story, told mostly in the words of the parents of four black athletes at Cal: swimmer Reece Whitley, and football players Josh Drayden, Niko Remigio, and Orin Patu. It’s well worth your time. Here’s one answer that just made me so sad:

SFGATE: Were there any particular moments he experienced growing up that forced a discussion about race to the forefront?

Eureka Drayden: “As far as Josh is concerned, Josh always saw the glass half full. We’d tell him, ‘You need to be careful, and watch how you present yourself,’ and he’d say, ‘It’s not like that anymore, mom.’ It wasn’t until he played high school football that he was called the n-word in huddles or on the line. That fueled a different thing in them, made them aware, then it was just to the point it became common. The first time he was pretty rattled, but then it became a common thing. And they knew if they had retaliated on the field in a more physical way that wasn’t football, they’d be the ones getting the brunt of the consequences.”

“It became a common thing.” That is just so depressing. It reminded me of another, awful story I read this week about a Black high school baseball player in Iowa, named Jeremiah Chapman. While playing an away game, the fans first called him “Colin” (as in Kaepernick), then escalated telling him, “You need to go back to the fields and do your job.” Finally, they went nuclear:

“They looked at me and said, ‘You should have been George Floyd,'” the Minneapolis man killed by a police officer. “Then they started chanting ‘Trump 2020,'” Chapman said.

Disgusting. The host school has acknowledged these racist taunts took place and say they are investigating. It’s so disgusting that no one do some racist assholes say something like this, TO A 16-YEAR OLD KID, but that no one around them stands up and tells them to shut the fuck up. One of the lessons we’ve been teaching our kids over the last few months is that it’s not enough to be kind to others, but that if you see someone being treated like Jeremiah Chapman was, you must stand up and step in to tell the person or persons to stop, even if they are your friend. This certainly reinforces it.

Finally, I encourage you to go read Washington Nationals’ outfielder Ian Desmond’s instagram post this week, where he explains why he has decided to sit out this 60-game baseball season.

Read all 8 pages. It is, again, worth your time. -TOB

Source:What It’s Like to Raise a Black Athlete: Seven Cal Parents Share Their Stories,” Grant Marek, SF Gate (06/30/2020); Black Charles City Baseball Player Taunted: ‘You Should Have Been George Floyd’,” Amie Rivers, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (07/02/2020)


Just Because It’s Funny…

JJ Watt is 6’5, 300 lbs. -TOB


Videos of the Week


Tweet of  the Week


 

Song of the Week

Against Me! – I Was a Teenage Anarchist


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

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“I wonder if king-sized sheets are called presidential-sized in England.”

-Dwight Schrute