Week of February 23, 2018

That’s the good stuff. 

US Women’s Hockey: Clutch

I really wish I watched this one live. What I gather from the highlights and from Hannah Keyser’s reporting, this gold medal matchup between Canada and USA was authentic in every way.

First off, the rivalry is real. Canada had won gold in the last four olympics, while the US team has won the last 4 World Championships (thing World Cup).

Also, there was a real interest from other athletes competing in the Olympics. For athletes and true fans, it was the spot to be. Look at Ice Dancing gold medalist Scott Moir getting into it after a beer or four:

And there were regular buzzed folks, too, which is always needed for a great hockey game. Per Hannah Keyser, the “overwhelming majority of the seats were filled with mostly drunk fans hanging on every play. They shouted chants of U-S-A and CAN-A-DA back and forth through overtime, coming together only to boo when the shootout was announced.”

Overtime wasn’t enough, so it went to a shoot-out. I’m not a fan of the shoot-out deciding a championship, but I heard Dan Patrick make a solid point on Thursday when he noted that the game is put in the hands of some of the best players, and a mistake doesn’t decide it. Either way, a shootout for a gold medal is pretty much the recipe for a heart attack.

Then this happened:

The goal is beautiful. To be loose enough to be so fluid in a fake under those circumstances is just awesome. And don’t sleep on the save – to shut the door on the 5-hole is hard stuff. A lot of players in a shoot-out try to get the goalie moving laterally, wait for the 5-hole to open, and punch it through.

Keyser does a really great job articulating why this Olympic success is particularly meaningful. A lot changes in four years, and I can’t help but think about my 10 nieces when I read the following:

All Olympic events are a culmination, a public actualization of years, if not decades, of dedication to an often obscure sport. But this kind of intensity came at a very specific cost. That is: relegating the relevancy of these athletes—who will continue to play at a high level, many for teams that can barely afford to pay them, in the interim—to a game that only happens once every four years. The U.S. women had to threaten to boycott their own World Championship last year just to get a living wage. They were right to bet on themselves, regardless of whether they left Korea with silver or with gold, but this was their chance to prove it when everyone back home was paying attention.

So proud of these ladies for coming through in the most clutch of situations and setting a great example to girls – hockey players or otherwise – everywhere. – PAL

Source: Team USA’s Women’s Hockey Gold Was The Most Electrifying Moment Of The Olympics”, Hannah Keyser, Deadspin (2/21/18)

TOB: I was lucky enough to catch the third period, overtime, and the shootout live. The third period was a frenzy, with the U.S. controlling the game, trying to get the equalizer. It was intense. I just can’t believe I watched this live, and Phil didn’t. What is this world coming to?

NFL Scouting: Institutional Racism at Work

For decades, NFL scouts, coaches, and analysts openly stated that blacks were not smart enough to play quarterback. Many were forced into other positions, or were treated poorly, even as their intelligence, athleticism, toughness, and aptitude for the position shone through. There is a tendency, now, to think those days are over. There are a handful of black starting quarterbacks in the NFL now, and many think of the league as a strict meritocracy. But sometimes, the racism smacks you in the face, and I think it’s helpful to confront it.

The NFL season is over, and so the NFL media turns its eyes to the draft. One of the top prospects is Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. In 2016, Jackson won the Heisman. In 2017, he finished third. He’s a heck of a player. As with all prospects, the lead up to the draft is a bit of a wringer – flaws are exposed and picked apart. But some of the arguments against Jackson, and for other quarterback prospects, simply don’t make sense.

ESPN’s Bill Polian, the longtime Colts general manager, argued this week that Jackson should convert to wide receiver. Polian cited Jackson’s athleticism (he rushed for over 3,100 yards the last two seasons), and supposed lack of accuracy as reasons for the switch. Comparing Jackson to other top QB prospects, Polian said, “Clearly, clearly not the thrower that the other guys are. The accuracy isn’t there.” This, despite having thrown for a combined 7,203 yards the last two seasons. Added Polian, “Don’t be like the kid from Ohio State (Terrell Pryor) and be 29 when you make the change.”

But The Ringer’s Danny Heifetz does an excellent job countering Polian’s argument:

Jackson has a strong arm, can fit the ball into tight windows, and has the touch to throw receivers open either 4 or 40 yards down the field. When he sets his feet, Jackson can have lethal accuracy, and he has an impressive ability to stay in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield while under pressure. The offense he ran at Louisville under head coach Bobby Petrino required NFL-level recognition and progressions with different personnel packages. When Jackson puts that entire skill set together, it’s often jaw-dropping.

On that play, Jackson (1) sidesteps an unblocked blitzer, (2) steps up in the pocket and resets his feet while keeping his eyes downfield, (3) effortlessly launches a ball 40 yards in the air, and (4) throws it so perfectly that his receiver doesn’t break stride, helping the wideout avoid a would-be tackler en route to the end zone. In scouting circles that’s called “Aaron Rodgers shit.”

As Polian notes, many scouts are down on Jackson’s accuracy, pointing to his 59.1% completion percentage in 2017. This analysis is lazy, ignoring that Jackson often throws the ball deep, which inherently will have a lower percentage. But as Heifetz also points out, it’s not even the best stat to measure accuracy.

Using Pro Football Focus’s adjusted completion percentage, which removes throwaways, spikes, and batted passes from attempts and gives quarterbacks credit for dropped balls, Jackson’s adjusted completion percentage is 73.1 percent, tied for 29th in the country, in part because his receivers dropped more than 12 percent of his catchable balls—almost twice the figure for Darnold.

At twentieth on that list of quarterbacks ranked by the percentage of their passes that were dropped, you’ll see a quarterback by the name of Josh Allen. As you can see, his receivers dropped 7.84% of his passes, a much lower number than Jackson, whose receivers dropped 12.04%. You may not have heard of Allen, but you will. He’s a much-hyped quarterback from the University of Wyoming. He is big, has a strong arm, and seems relatively athletic. He’s also white. Scouts love Josh Allen, despite the fact he only completed 56.3% of his passes last year, three points lower than Jackson. You will not be surprised to learn that Polian is not calling for Allen to move to tight end, or some other position. In fact, Polian said Jackson is not in the same class as Allen.

One of the scouts that loves Allen is ESPN’s Mel Kiper, the longtime draft pundit. In his latest mock draft, Kiper has Allen as the first overall pick. Here’s what Kiper said about Allen, and those who point out his low (remember, 56.3%) completion percentage, back on January 18th: “Stats are for losers in my opinion. The guy won.” But just three days later, Kiper had this to say about Jackson, and why he isn’t even a first rounder: “It’s the accuracy throwing the football. Finished career around 57 percent.” So, for one guy, stats are for losers. For the guy who was more accurate and had way more dropped balls, suddenly the argument begins and ends with stats. To make this even more galling, Kiper said this in that mock draft about Allen: “The NFL statistical comp I make to Allen: Matthew Stafford, who completed 57.1 percent of his passes in 39 games at Georgia and still went No. 1 overall.”

If you asked Polian and Kiper if they are racist, I’m sure they’d say no. And I don’t doubt that they are not knowingly racist. But their careers and lives exist within a system with such deep-seated racism that they make racist arguments and statements without even realizing it. It’s ok to like some prospects and not like others; but when you make an argument for one guy and then use the exact opposite argument against another guy, it’s going to raise eyebrows. And when the first guy is white and the second guy is black, those eyebrows will raise even higher. Kiper and Polian should be forced to explain themselves. -TOB

Source: Lamar Jackson is a Quarterback”, Danny Heifetz, The Ringer (02/20/2018)

PAL: Ugh. We’re talking about pre-draft stories. I’m not frustrated by TOB’s write up; rather, I’m sick of the overanalysis of players that haven’t yet played a professional game. It means so little and yet it takes up so much time during this particular gap in sporting calendar (between the Super Bowl and March Madness).  

I don’t care where a guy is drafted (I know I’m in the minority here), and what impact does Bill Polian (former GM, now commentator) have on whether or not Jackson plays QB in the NFL? I would suggest very little to zero impact. A team will draft him, and he will very likely get an opportunity to prove his skills as a QB since he succeeded to the highest degree in college at the position.

Do I think there’s some underlying, perhaps unintentional racism in Polian Kiper’s analysis? Yeah, I think Heifeltz puts together a pretty compelling case, and TOB’s commentary is rational.

I also think Polian and Kiper’s employer expects one thing from these guys: say something that gets people talking, i.e., Heisman-winning QB shouldn’t play QB in NFL.

So, if Polian and Kiper are hearing that Jackson isn’t a first round pick, and they are strongly encouraged to have a hot take, the take of Jackson not playing QB is a safer hot take than saying a guy that’s projected to be a high first round pick is overrated or fundamentally flawed in some way.

All of this pre-draft, mock draft crap is a complete waste of time.

Spoiled Brat Competes in Olympics

Have you seen freestyle half-pipe skiing in the Olympics? It’s pretty nuts. Here’s what the women’s gold medal winner run looked like at a competition earlier this year (NBC’s a bit protective of the videos, so had to pull a run from an earlier competition).

Pretty incredible! Most of the women engaged in similarly daring and talented performances. And then there was Elizabeth Swaney. Here’s her run.

Umm, what? You’re thinking there must be a story here, and there is. Swaney, from Oakland, California, decided she wanted to be an Olympian, so she gamed the system. To qualify, Swaney needed to finish within the top 30 at a few World Cup skiing events. Swaney thus entered contests with fewer than 30 competitors, and often when the top competitors in the event were competing across the globe at more prestigious events, thus ensuring she finished the in the Top 30. She also country-shopped. Swaney is American, but having previously tried to compete for Venezuela, she ended up competing for Hungary, where her grandparents are from.

I don’t have a problem with country-shopping. If you’re a competitor and you’re one of the best in the world, but your country is especially deep in your sport and there aren’t enough spots for you to qualify, then I have no issue with finding another country to compete for. But what Swaney is doing is not competing. There’s no effort. There’s no work. There’s no skill. There’s no blood, sweat, or tears. There’s nothing. Anyone who has skied a few times in their life could go up and down the half pipe like she did. It’s so far beyond the Olympic spirit. She found a loophole and…congrats? She used her money and privilege to travel around the world and qualify for the Olympics. She’s an Olympian. I’m sure she’ll be proud to someday tell her grandkids about the time she skied slowly up and down a slope. -TOB

Source: The Winter Olympics Feature 2,951 Of The World’s Greatest Athletes, And Also This Woman”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (02/19/2018)

PAL: TOB nails it – she has no interest in Olympic competition; she wants to tell people she was in the Olympics, and that sucks. She’s externally motivated, and that dilutes the awesome achievements of the athletes pushed by an internal desire to be great.

Anyway, here’s her dad’s response to it. This one really bugs the hell out of me. If you want to read her dad’s response to all of this, here is the most absurd response from a Laura Wagner story:

Some people do things that are lower probability and are not guaranteed success. I worked in the business world with start up companies and venture capital and so forth. There are ultimately billion-dollar venture capital firms that are going to be wrong 80 or 90 percent of the time; those investments that they made are the entrepreneurs who tried and failed. For every Microsoft or Apple, there are 99 other companies that didn’t make it. So you have to have that mindset that you can succeed.

Sorry to break your little girl’s heart, dad, but she isn’t the Steve Jobs of half pipe skiing.

How to Set a World Record, and Only Win Bronze

This week, the Dutch women’s short-track speed skating relay team did something that seems rather impossible: They set a world record, only won the bronze, and didn’t even compete in the Finals. Huh? None of those things seems to make any sense, but it happened.

Four teams compete in each heat. The Dutch team made the semifinals, where they didn’t qualify for the finals. They instead competed in a consolation race, to determine final standings. There, they set the world record. Kinda cool, but one race too late, because it wouldn’t garner them a medal, or any higher than fifth place. And then the final race took place:

South Korea won the gold. China was disqualified. Canada was disqualified. Italy bumped up to silver. And that left the Netherlands to get the bronze. Kinda wild, but that’s short-track speed skating: where you can miss the finals, set the world record, and still get a (bronze) medal. -TOB

Source: Netherlands Short-Track Team Wins Bronze Medal For World-Record Race, Didn’t Even Compete In Final”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (02/21/2018)

PAL: THIS. IS. AWESOME. By the way, I fully got into the Olympics this week. Speed skating, skiing, hockey, figure skating – ask Natalie – I’m an expert commentator on all of them at this point. 

I’m Still Out on Hunter Strickland

It’s Spring Training, and so the season of stories of renewal and redemption are upon us. Take, for example, Hunter Strickland. Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic wrote a mostly apologetic story on Strickland this week, about how Strickland feels bad for his Memorial Day intentional beaning of Bryce Harper, and the brawl that caused (a brawl, by the way, that essentially ended Michael Morse’s career a few months early). Well, I’M NOT BUYING IT, HUNTER. I’m not buying it, because it’s crap.

First, Hunter says, “It’s tough to go out there and have people not like you and to have this perception about you that you’re this hothead, because honestly I don’t feel like that,” he said. “I don’t think of myself as a hothead.”

Well, then you lack any semblance of self-awareness.

Second, Hunter says, “Obviously between the lines we’re competitors, we’re going out there competing, and that’s our livelihood out there — that’s how we’re putting food on the table for our family, so we do take it personally,” Strickland said. “Granted I do make mistakes. You know, I’m human — I understand that, so I do regret putting my team in situations like last year.”

Let me get this straight: You understand that players are out there competing for their livelihood, to put food on the table for their families, and this justifies you being angry because Bryce Harper destroyed a couple meatballs you threw THREE years prior, and this also justifies you putting Harper’s livelihood at stake when you throw a ball 100-mph at him? Oh, and by the way, put YOUR teammates’ livelihoods at stake in both the ensuing brawl, and by subjecting them to potential retaliation?

GTFO here, dude. -TOB

Source: Strickland Looks Back on Year that Was Overshadowed by One Pitch”, Alex Pavlovic, NBC Sports (02/20/2018)

PAL: Guys get too cute with these personal growth stories. Strickland makes the mistake of trying convolute what should be a real simple response on his part, which would have been something along the lines of: I blew a personal gripe way out of proportion. I need to work on letting shit go while remaining ultra competitive on the mound.

Instead, he went with the “gotta make a living / misunderstood” response, which is so dumb, by the way. Who on this planet doesn’t have to make a living, Hunter? That isn’t an excuse, because it literally applies to every adult.

XC Skiing Just Sounds Terrible

Other sports are grueling, but no other sport has world class athletes doing this feet after they cross the finish line:

Why is this? Bill Bradley (the dude looking like he’s about to blow chunks in the top photo) spoke to some experts to get the lowdown beyond they fall because they are tired.

Cross-country ski racing—not to be confused with the enjoyable act of leisurely touring through the woods with a flask full of rye—is, to put it lightly, insanely difficult. It is the definition of a total body sport. It makes your legs and lungs and arms burn, all at once. Rowing and swimming are also total body sports. But rowers and swimmers don’t have to contend with climbing formidable hills over the course of, say, 50 kilometers. There is no terrain in the pool.

…“Elite XC ski racing is essentially non-stop intervals which, of course, is highly reliant on both anaerobic energy (dominant during the intervals) and aerobic energy (dominant during the recoveries) to be successful,” Dr. Dan Heil, an exercise physiologist at Montana State University, explained via email. “There is certainly no other endurance sport that equals elite XC ski racing’s high reliance on both of these systems. When played out perfectly, both of these systems will have been exhausted for both the upper and lower body. Thus, it’s much easier to just collapse in the snow rather than stand or rely on your ski poles to hold you up.”

So how did Billy do in that race above? He edged out his buddy Andy (pictured) to finish just ahead of last. – PAL

Source: This Is Why Cross-Country Skiers Collapse And Barf After Races”, Bill Bradley, Deadspin (2/21/18)

TOB: We first moved to Tahoe when I was in second grade, and that winter my mom insisted we needed to cross-country ski as a family. We’d go rent the skis and boots and find some trail she read about somewhere (pre-internet, kiddos!) and then she’d proceed to torture us for two or three hours. It was the absolute worst. Why would anyone subject themselves to that? It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it’s SLOW, it’s COLD, and there’s NO WAY OUT. You can’t get back to the car without continuing to cross-country ski! I will never watch one minute of cross-country skiing at the Olympics because I know it is simply the fruit of the athletes’ mothers torturing them just like mine did.

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Sean Rowe – “Madman”

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I’m Benjamin Button in reverse. 

-M. Scott




Week of February 16, 2018

Chloe Kim’s proud pops.

Straight Cash, Homie

Draymond Green is good at basketball (11 ppg, 8 rpg, 7apg) on a great basketball team but he also drives me crazy with his antics. He is constantly complaining to the refs, sometimes cheap-shotting opponents, and one time he may have cost his team an NBA title. Along with David West, Green brings a real edge to a supremely talented, kinda soft, team.

All of that is to say that I have mixed feeling about the dude. However, I appreciate how he settled his bet with Evan Turner. Green went to Michigan State, and Trailblazer Turner went to Ohio State. The two had to settle a Big 10 bet after the Blazers thumped the Warriors this week.

I appreciate the cash exchange. There is no joy in winning a bet, only to receive a notice on your phone that someone paid you $10. – PAL

Source: At Least Draymond Is An Honorable Bettor”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/15/2018)

TOB: Well, I have no mixed feelings on Draymond – I unabashedly adore him. I’m with you on this exchange, though. A man who timely pays his $100 bets, in cash, is a classy human being, and one worth being friends with.

Ya Boy is Back!

Brian Sabean, architect of three Giants World Series winning teams, along with one other pennant and three other division titles. He’s a Hall of Fame GM. But following the 2014 World Series, he was placed into somewhat of an emeritus status with the team – “promoted” to Executive Vice President, while his longtime assistant Bobby Evans was promoted general manager, in charge of the day-to-day activities. Things have been…less than smooth. Though it’s not clear that much of this is Evans’ fault, the Giants quietly announced this week that Sabean will return to more of a day-to-day role, and the Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly reports that the final word on decisions will be Sabean’s. So, see a lot more of Sabean in his box seats, and I can recreate this.

When your team nearly loses 100 games, you’re looking for any thread of hope to hold onto. I’ve gotten a few threads this offseason, and this is another. Let’s go, Sabey Sabes! -TOB

Source: Giants Ownership Directs Brian Sabean to Reassume Day-to-Day Responsibilities“, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (02/15/2018)

Yes, Another Steve Kerr Story (or Two)

Look, I’m sorry. I know we’ve covered Steve Kerr a lot. But he keeps doing things worth discussing. This week we got a Kerr double whammy. First, in an attempt to connect to his team who he says is tuning him out a bit, Kerr let the players run the huddles in their game against the (terrible) Phoenix Suns.

The players seemed to love it, as did every normal human being. There was, of course, some backlash. A couple Suns players called it disrespectful. A few coaches reportedly didn’t like that Kerr was showing coaches are unnecessary. And the usual media suspects took the opportunity to make some #hottakes. But, by and large, Kerr’s move was praised, rightfully so. Most coaches are simply not secure enough to do this, and it was pretty cool to watch.

Later in the week, our country endured yet another horrific mass shooting. This time at a high school in Florida. Seventeen people were killed by a former student. Kerr, who has grown increasingly willing to speak out about politics, was asked about the shooting and had this to say:

This shouldn’t be hard at all, and yet here we are – nearly 20 years after Columbine, and nothing has been done. Hell, things have gotten worse. I lost hope on this topic after Newtown, when dozens of five year olds were killed. Five years old. And not a damn thing changed. But Kerr is right, there is something we can do. It’s a strange world we live in when an NBA coach is more eloquent and makes more sense than our politicians. -TOB

Source: Steve Kerr Let His Players Coach The Game And It Worked“, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/13/2018)

PAL: I’m now seriously considering if Kerr might be thinking about a life in politics after he’s done coaching.

“Where Were You When Oddvar Bra Broke His Pole?”

How is a folk hero made? That’s the question David Segal’s trying answer in his dissection of Norway’s version of “Miracle On Ice”.

So here’s what happened:

A man named Oddvar Bra is skiing the final segment of the men’s 4×10-kilometer cross-country relay at the 1982 world championships in Oslo. Surging up a hill, he passes and sideswipes the only person ahead of him, Alexander Savyalov of the Soviet Union.

Immediately, Bra realizes that the impact has had a terrible consequence. His right pole has snapped in two.

“Let him get a pole, man!” shouts the sportscaster for what is then Norway’s only national TV station.

As if on cue, someone in the crowd bolts into view and hands off a pole. His equilibrium restored, Bra battles Savyalov in a sprint to the finish line.

Let’s recap. A guy breaks a ski pole and keeps racing. Not exactly the moon landing, is it? And to be clear, this isn’t a come-from-behind story. Bra was actually leading after he broke his pole, because contact had knocked Savyalov to his knees.

Also, Bra didn’t win, at least not outright. After staring at an image of the finish for about an hour, the judges decided that he and Savyalov had tied for first.

There’s a statue of Bra in Norway for not losing. He’s a folk hero, and there are specific ingredients that must be used to create the perfect folk hero for the land he or she represents. Bra has all the prerequisites for a Norwegian hero:

  • Bra’s from the country. “To be a folk hero in Norway, you need to grow up on a farm and you need a country accent,” said Thor Gotaas, who is writing a biography of Bra and who studied Norse mythology as a student. “Norwegians don’t trust people from the city. They like people who have struggled, people who have suffered.”
  • Nordic Skiing is the Norway’s specialty. Their folk hero should be a Nordic Skier, obviously.
  • Bra’s a man of the people. He refused to race on skis that were manufactured outside of Norway.
  • He overcame adversity: Bra was winning national titles, but for years world championships and Olympic gold eluded him.

What’s also very cool about this story is how different the story would be interpreted from the perspective of a Soviet back in the day. Same details, very different feel. Their guy got knocked down. The Norwegian aggressor broke his pole, only to have a fan give him a new one, mid-race. Your guy then overcame the obstacles, got back on his skis and chased down the Norwegian with a last-second sprawl.

This one’s worth your time, folks. Beautifully written, funny and peculiar. – PAL  

Source: The Ski Pole The Norway Will Never Forget”, David Segal, The New York Times (02/13/2018)

TOB: Frankly, I’m surprised it was legal to be handed a ski pole by someone in the crowd, and I wonder if that would fly today. I suspect not.

Video of the Week

Up-20 and done for the day LeBron makes me unreasonably happy.

PAL Song of the Week: The Tallest Man On Earth – “The Dreamer”

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I’m running away from my responsibilities, and it feels good.

-M. Scott

Week of February 9, 2018

Thank you for the laugh, Garth Brooks. 

Dodge: Irony Comes Standard

Let’s talk Super Bowl commercials, shall we? I mean, the game was a total snoozefest, so let’s get into ads, which reportedly cost $5M for every 30 seconds of airtime.

There were some good ones (big winner: Tide), and there was one very terrible one. I’m talking about the Dodge “Built to Serve” ad:

Even in the moment, without knowing the broader context of M.L.K’s speech, using his voice in a car commercial was a bad idea. Then again, we shouldn’t be surprised. Dodge is a division of Chrysler Fiat. Chrysler was behind another eye-roller of a Super Bowl ad back in 2007. Come on, America – you remember:

But back to the Dodge spot from this year. As Deadspin’s Michael Ballaban point’s out, Dodge pulled a portion of M.L.K.’s sermon titled “The Drum Major Instinct”. Here are the parts Dodge features:

If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. … By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great … by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great. … You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know [Einstein’s] theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Melodious, powerful, and inspiring. I don’t love that they pull bits and pieces from the sermon and splice them together, but I’ll let it slide. However, “The Drum Major Sermon” touches on a lot more than the greatness in service, including the danger of joining groups, the danger of mass consumption, and the danger of living beyond our means in order to satisfy the desire in us to be noticed, to be the drum major:

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. (Yes) That’s the way the advertisers do it.

But very seriously, it goes through life; the drum major instinct is real. (Yes) And you know what else it causes to happen? It often causes us to live above our means. (Make it plain) It’s nothing but the drum major instinct. Do you ever see people buy cars that they can’t even begin to buy in terms of their income? (Amen) [laughter] You’ve seen people riding around in Cadillacs and Chryslers who don’t earn enough to have a good T-Model Ford. (Make it plain) But it feeds a repressed ego.

So here’s what the commercial feels like when you take the portion of the sermon that actually calls out advertisers set to the images of the Ram commercial (posted by Nathan Robinson):

So, yeah, of all the speeches they chose to feature in this Ram ad, of course a car company picks and chooses lines from this sermon to sell us trucks. Dodge is getting a lot of negative press about this spot, but I wonder if they see it as a bad thing. Some VP at their creative agency –  probably named Chad –  is trying to convince a conference room of suits that this blowback is actually a good thing, using phrases like ‘zeitgeist’ and “earned media,” when we know damn well this ad was a disgrace and it all made us feel a little embarrassed just to be sitting there, bloated on wings and seven-layer dip and beer, watching a truck ad set to the soundtrack of one of the greatest minds and orators in American history.

If you really want to be moved, read the entire sermon here.- PAL  

Source: Here’s Where That Ram Ad Really Got Martin Luther King Jr. Wrong”, Michael Ballaban, Jalopnik (2/5/18)

TOB: How many ad executives saw (or heard the idea) before it was pitched to Dodge? How many people at Dodge saw it before it was made? How many people saw the finished product before it aired? It has to be in the hundreds. Hundreds of (I’m guessing mostly white) adult humans saw that ad and said, “Yeah. Hell yeah. Let’s run it! Let’s pay millions to run it!” It’s amazing that no one piped up and said, “Ya know…are we missing the point here?” As Phil said, even without knowing the context of the speech the ad is SO off-putting. There’s just something so bizarre about it. I don’t even get the point they’re trying to make, frankly. You can be great if you buy a Dodge? Get outta here! And then you read the context and it’s like the KKK using Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

Out of context, I can definitely see the KKK using that. The Dodge truck is on the same level of stupid.

Jeff Fisher Might Be the Worst NFL Coach, Per Dollar Paid, Ever

Jeff Fisher is one of those names that people for years heard and thought, “Oh, that’s a good coach.” Fisher had some early success – riding a near-Super Bowl win on the backs of Steve McNair (RIP) and Eddie George, to an apparently undeserved reputation as a good football coach. But that Super Bowl appearance was in 1999, and it is quickly becoming clear, in just one season since his firing by the L.A. Rams, that Jeff Fisher is a truly awful coach, and has been for some time. In his final 12 seasons he went just 85-103, and won zero playoff games. Worse, look at how his most recent QBs, who all stunk under his tutelage, have suddenly come alive in just one season out from under his shadow.

Nick Foles was pretty good for a year or two in Philadelphia, before being traded to the Rams for Sam Bradford. Fisher was his new coach, and he suddenly sucked. Heading into 2016, Foles was the Rams’ starting QB. He had gone 7-9 the previous season (a very Fisherian record), but the team drafted Jared Goff, cut Foles, and Foles almost retired over it all. He was signed by the Eagles before this season, and last week Foles was named Super Bowl MVP as he led his team to the title, after everyone wrote them off following Carson Wentz’s injury.

After Foles was cut in 2016, Fisher named previous backup Case Keenum as the Rams’ starter to begin the 2016 season. Keenum was ok, and the team was 4-5 (again, so Fisherian) before being benched for Goff. Before this season, Keenum was signed by the Vikings and lead them to the #2 seed in the NFC and the NFC title game. He played incredibly well in doing so, being named to the Pro Bowl and genuinely looking like a good quarterback.

Goff, meanwhile, sat on the bench for nine games in 2016, then was thrown into the fire, sucked, and was widely considered a bust (except in this corner of the internet, ahem). This year? Fisher was fired and a 30-something wunderkind named Sean McVey was hired. McVey and Goff lead the Rams to the division title, and even running back Todd Gurley, who was horrible in 2016, was revitalized. Gurley lead the NFL in rushing and was named Offensive Player of the Year. Goff was named to the Pro Bowl.

The thread should be obvious: Jeff Fisher is such a horrible coach that with just ONE season of his absence one QB went from crappy and nearly out of the league to Super Bowl MVP, and two others went from seeming busts to Pro Bowlers. Remarkable, really.

At this point my only hope is Fisher goes to coach his dear alma mater, USC. Otherwise, please just stay retired. -TOB

Source: Jeff Fisher Must Be Arrested And Tried For His Crimes Against Football”, Samer Kalaf, Deadspin (02/05/2018)

PAL: Foles, Keenum, Goff. One QB turning it around the year after Fisher left would be an exception. Two could be a coincidence. But three? There’s really not a rebuttal to be made.

STOP IT: Moonlighting As Ballplayers

Russell Wilson was a very good baseball player. He was drafted in the 41st round out of high school (in 2007, there were 50 rounds, now there are 40 rounds). In 2010, after 3 years of college, he was drafted in the fourth round. That means he was a very legit MLB prospect. All you have to do is see this pic to know the guy could play a bit. 

As we all know, Russell Wilson is also very good at football. He’s a Super Bowl winning quarterback for the Seahawks. One of the 10 best people at playing quarterback in the world. He’s a professional football player now making about $22M a year.

But for him, it’s just not enough. He can’t just live out one childhood dream, he has to realize all of them. NFL quarterback: check. Married to a pop star: check. Play for the Yankees: kinda.

Per Peter King of SI:

Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks Pro Bowl quarterback, played parts of two seasons of minor-league baseball late in his college career and never got baseball out of his system. He’s made a couple of cameos in Rangers spring-training camp. But his heart has always been with the Yankees, and so the Rangers sent Wilson’s right to the Yankees Wednesday afternoon. He’ll likely spend a few days this spring in Yankees camp in Tampa.

“He’ll likely spend a few days this spring in Yankees camp in Tampa.” That’s the part that gets me. He’s not really pursuing a two-sport career; he just wants to be able to say he signed with the Yankees. Well of course Russell Wilson is a Yankees fan. He’s also a guy that googles “describing a beautiful woman,” then plagiarized the first result on Twitter.

Let’s just pause on the above for a second. I’ve seen this probably 20 times and it still is hilariously lazy on Wilson’s part.

Back to the story: these b.s. “signings” are so dumb. Billy Crystal, Garth Brooks, Russell Wilson all wanted to live out their childhood dreams, and because they are rich and famous some team gave them a jersey and let them out on the field. Not to get too in the weeds, but they are actually taking a small amount of time away from guys that are actually trying to get a roster spot.

I can’t believe I’m taking the side of Tim Tebow on anything, but at least he’s actually playing on the team full-time.

In short, Russell Wilson is multidimensionally lame. Not that anyone needed any more proof of this, but add this Yankees trade to the growing heap of evidence: he asked the Rangers to trade his fake contract to the Yankees when he has no intention of doing anything with that except posting a picture of himself on Instagram in a Yankees hat he could’ve bought at Sports Authority and adding some tired catchphrase like “Dare 2 Dream”. This is the work of a cake-eater, my friends. -PAL

Source: Russell Wilson On Being Traded to the Yankees”, Peter King, MMQB (2/7/18)

TOB: Apparently, when you’re a dad of two you have nothing better to do on the night before the Super Bowl than watch the NFL awards show. God, it’s the worst. I sat there watching it and thinking, “What am I doing? This is horrendous. It’s not even bad enough to hate-watch, or bad enough to laugh at, it’s just boringly bad and here I am on a Saturday night watching it.” And then Russell Wilson came on stage.

Look at him! No, ignore Ciara for two seconds. Look at Russell Wilson. He’s the tooliest tool of all time. Phil stole the words out of my mouth: of COURSE he’s a Yankees fan. Look at his friends, man!

Did you know his twitter handle is DangeRussWilson. DANGER-RUSS. C’mon, dude. You’re not dangerous. You’re so safe.

PAL: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! This dude is almost 30 and he’s calling himself Danger-russ. Priceless.

Video of the Week (explicit, but so worth it): Please note that Kelce is considered one of the best centers in the game. He’s not a WWF wrestler. No joke, this got me jacked up for work today.

PAL Song of the Week: Johnny Cash – “Tennessee Stud”

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If you had any friends, you would understand. Friends joke with one another. “Hey, um, you’re poor.” “Well hey, your mom is dead.” That’s what friends do.

-M. Scott

Week of February 2, 2018

Phil Kessel is the greatest.

Keep Your Strava To Yourself

I’m a sucker for Strava. I like tracking my runs, staying on top of weekly goals, seeing progress over longer periods of time, and – I’ll admit it – when I really kick-ass, I like to put that ish out in public. Most of the people I know use some sort of fitness tracker with some regularity. Since no one particularly cares where you or I live, the map of my our bikes/runs is of no interest to most.

There are people, or groups of people, whose patterns are definitely of interest.

Recently, Strava posted a global heat map to show two years worth of accumulated activity patterns of its users (they report 27MM users). To no surprise, major cities are a burst of light, but it gets interesting when you zoom into dark patches, especially in war zones.

In war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around.

I’m sure you see why this is unsettling, and it should come as no surprise that the branches of the military are immediately reviewing their policies around fitness tracking.  

Who was the first person to make the connection between military positions and Strava’s Global Heat Map? A student, of course.

Nathan Ruser, who is studying international security and the Middle East, found out about the map from a mapping blog and was inspired to look more closely, he said, after a throwaway comment by his father, who observed that the map offered a snapshot of “where rich white people are” in the world.

“I wondered, does it show U.S. soldiers?” Ruser said, and he immediately zoomed in on Syria. “It sort of lit up like a Christmas tree.”

He started tweeting about his discovery, and the Internet also lit up as data analysts, military experts and former soldiers began scouring the map for evidence of activity in their areas of interest.

It just goes to show you – everyone loves a good humblebrag after working out. Until now, I’d say no one wants to hear about your run. Turns out, there might be an exception to that rule. – PAL

Source: U.S. Soldiers are Revealing Sensitive and Dangerous Information by Jogging”, Liz Sly, The Washington Post (01/29/2018)

TOB: As a non-runner, this story really amused me.

Mark Appel Is More Than A Bust

The Houston Astros, 2017 World Series Champions, drafted Stanford’s Mark Appel as the number one pick in the 2013 amatuer draft. He signed a $6.35MM bonus. He was taken ahead of Kris Bryant (2016 N.L. MVP) and Aaron Judge (2017 A.L. Rookie of the Year, MLB Record for HRs by a rookie with 52).

He was to be the centerpiece of the Astros resurgence. General Manager Jeff Lunhow described him as “the most significant investment the Astros have made in their history in an amateur player”. Hell, he is a prominent figure in the now famous 2014 SI article predicting the Astros 2017 championship.

Appel remains in exclusive company. He is one of three number one overall picks to have never played in a MLB game. At 26, after years of struggles in the minors, Appel is stepping away from baseball. Yep, he’s a huge baseball bust.

But what’s so interesting about Joon Lee’s article catching up with Appel is that Appel seems pretty OK with how things have turned out, and not in a I’m telling you, really, I’m fine with it, but deep down it’s eating me alive way. He really seems to have some perspective on it all…I guess $6.35MM doesn’t hurt, but still.

I’m a guy who loves a game, who had expectations, goals and dreams and then has had everything tumbling, and then everything was unmet. Would I have loved to be pitching in the World Series? Absolutely. Some people have real struggles. I played baseball. I thought I was going to be great, and I wasn’t.

To be honest, if I had that much potential heaped on me and didn’t at least get to the bigs, I really think it would tear me up inside. And maybe he’s just saying the right things to cope, but there is frankness to Appel in this article that has me rooting for him, regardless of the next steps entail.

About the picture above: after yet another disappointing appearance in the minors, Appel returned to the locker room unable to ignore the fact that it was falling apart. He was crying. Frustrated and infuriated. He picked up a ball and hurled it across the clubhouse. Then he did it again and again and again.

For 30 minutes, Appel threw 80 baseballs at the wall, cracking through the board and hitting the wall with a thud. When he was finished, he sat down, breathing heavily, grunting. Ten minutes after the noise ended, Appel’s teammate, Josh Hader, walked out of the bathroom. He had heard the entire ordeal and was too scared to leave the stall. The pair laughed before Hader returned to the field and silence filled the room. Appel heard the crowd cheering outside, the air conditioner purring in the background.

Rather than pay the $600 to have someone repair it, Appel went to Home Depot to buy some wood and stain that matched the clubhouse. He repaired it himself. Maybe I’m being too simplistic or only seeing one piece of the puzzle, but that says a lot to me about the guy. – PAL

Source: Why Mark Appel, Perhaps the Biggest Bust in MLB History, Is Stepping Away at 26”, Joon Lee, Bleacher Report (02/01/2018)

TOB: Classic Stanford Man: a highly rated guy, who gets so angry when things don’t go well that he throws baseballs at a wall for 30 minutes, and then claims he’s ok with his failure because other people have bigger problems. WELL, I’M NOT BUYING IT, MARK. Classic Stanford Man. Classic. Try really hard at something, fail, claim you’re fine without it because my life is still effing great. These are the lessons learned at Stanford (looking at you, Al). Enjoy your job in finance, Mark. 

Q: How Low Can You Go? A: Stealing 5K Race Medals

In the words of Mr. 5K, Ryan Mark Rowe, the best approach to a road race is to think of it like the first day in prison. “Be invisible, no eye contact, look out for #1…and stretch.”

Put another way (although Mr. 5K really came through on that quote), there is some basic decorum to running in a race, be it a marathon, half, 10k, or 5k.

  1. Unless you have a legit shot to win the damn thing, don’t sprint out to the lead off the starting line
  2. Don’t sprint through the finish line unless you have miraculously found yourself in contention to win the damn thing.
  3. Don’t shove your way through the crowd right at the start – you should’ve been there earlier if you’re looking to P.R.
  4. Don’t collect a medal if you hopped into the race without registering.

That last one seems pretty obvious. While I’ve hopped into plenty of road races, you don’t collect a medal at the end. One time, my sister was running the Napa Marathon. The plan was I join her somewhere between mile 16 and 19, depending on how she was feeling, to give her a little company during the dark miles. My brother-in-law and I stayed out pretty late at the bar the night before, but I wasn’t sweating it – I had plenty of time to get my wits about me in the morning.

We saw Missy at mile 11. It was a hot day, and she clearly wasn’t feeling it on that morning. She asked me to hop in at mile 11! That was a long 15 miles.

And when we approached the finish line, I did what any non-registered runner would do – I peeled off, knowing my job was complete. I sure as shit didn’t collect a medal from a race for which I neither registered nor completed.

This was not the case at the Miami Marathon this past weekend, and the race director didn’t let it slide. Not only did he take medals from people without bibs, the dude filmed it!

There’s cheap, then there’s taking a medal when you didn’t pay the $35 for a 5K registration. There’s also a name for these losers: ‘banditing’. Get a life. – PAL

Source: Race Bandits Attempt to Steal Medals at Miami Marathon”, Tim Hubsch, Canadian Running (01/30/2018)

TOB: It’s just so weird. Why steal these? You didn’t earn it, so it has no sentimental value to you. You can’t sell them, because no one would buy them – no one cares about your marathon medal when you earned it (the ultimate participation award), why would they care about one you didn’t earn?

Hot Sauce Still Has It

You remember Hot Sauce, the breakout star of ESPN’s mid-00s street ball show, And1 – a modernized Harlem Globetrotters. Hot Sauce had the craziest handles, and he would clown on everyone who tried to guard him.

Damn, that show was the best. Well, Hot Sauce is still around, and the Atlanta Hawks have been inviting him to games to do his thing with random people from the crowd. if they prevent him from scoring, they get a little cash, and if they steal the ball from him, they get more. It goes about how you’d expect, usually like this:

Aw, bro. And that’s when Hot Sauce likes you. Word to the wise, do not piss off Hot Sauce, or he’ll do you like this guy:

Ohhhh nooooooooooooooooo! -TOB

Source: Forcing Hawks Fans To Try And Guard Hot Sauce Is Very Cruel And Very Funny“, Tom Ley, Deadspin (01/30/2018)

Video of the Week:

PAL Song of the Week: Etta James – “I’d Rather Go Blind”

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Michael, the last time I was exposed to a peanut, I was itchy for three days, ok? I had to take baths constantly. I missed the O.J. verdict. I had to read about it in the paper like an idiot.

-D. Vickers

1-2-3 Sports! Week of January 26, 2018

These Annoying Hall of Fame Debates Will End

Yup, another Hall of Fame article, but Lindsey Adler revealed something to me that I’ve never considered: the steroid era in baseball is a finite chunk of time. The current drug testing and punishments were put into play in the spring of 2006, meaning for steroid era is thought to have begun in the late 80s and ended in the 2000s.

Right now we have the same arguments about Bonds, Clemens, and the others every time voting comes up. But that time will end. According to Adler, it will end with Alex Rodriguez (how perfect). He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2022 and will be the last candidate to have become a star and put up Hall of Fame numbers in the sport’s doping era.

If Rodriguez lingers on the ballot for the maximum 10 years, it will have been more than a quarter century since Mark McGwire’s first appearance on the ballot opened the era in which we now live, in which Hall of Fame debates are largely exercises in anguished handwringing. His candidacy, of course, went nowhere for 10 years; he never even got close to the requisite 75 percent of votes for induction. He spent the first few years of his campaign floating around 20-ish percent, then fell each year by a few degrees until he received only 12 percent of the votes for his final year on the ballot. His campaign went nowhere again when the Today’s Game Era committee rejected him in 2017—the same year they voted in Bud Selig.

Let’s set aside whether or not you or I think Bonds or Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame for a paragraph. Adler is right that by keeping them out the voters are ignoring not just the players, but turning away from generation of people around my age. Our generation knows there were no more famous players than Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa. Manny at the plate during the playoffs was a scary thing. These guys defined an era. There’s no way around it, and ignoring them blurs the a large chunk of time in the game the Hall looks to preserve. The steroid era was an incredibly exciting time in baseball.

Should Bonds, Clemens and the rest be inducted? To me and induction feels like a celebration. I don’t know if we need to celebrate these guys. They will be remembered, and they ought to be. They will be considered some of the greatest, whether they are inducted or not. But do they need a bust? Is that what’s required to confirm they were outstanding? At the moment, it seems obvious that the answer is no. What about in 100 years?

They are a part of baseball’s story and the chapters they helped author are some of the most vivid to a massive generation of baseball fans. Cooperstown would be smart to start thinking about how it addresses the steroid era. Ignoring is not the answer. – PAL

Source: “The Hall Of Fame Is Trying To Vacate Your MemoriesLindsey Adler, Deadspin (01/25/2018)

TOB: A lot of things bother me about this.

Four people voted FOR Clemens and NOT for Bonds. FOUR. That is INSANE. There’s more circumstantial evidence that Clemens took steroids than Bonds. Clemens’ trainer admitted he injected Clemens. Bonds’ trainer never did. Bonds is arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived. At least top 2. Clemens is probably in the Top 5-10 pitchers. Bonds could be an ass, but many who covered him daily have said he was complicated and could be warm and charming. I’ve never heard Clemens described as anything but an asshole. If you are voting for Clemens, there is ZERO reason to not vote for Bonds.

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: Aaron, Mays and every other great player from that era has admitted to taking amphetamines to get their energy up and improve performance. Why is one performance enhancing drug ok, and another is not? And most importantly: guys like Hank Aaron were faced with a choice: take a PED or not. They took it. It’s asinine to think they’d be faced with a different PED and say, “No, amphetamines are where I draw the line. I have principals.” It was a different era and a different environment.

By the way, here’s newly inducted Hall of Famer Jim Thome as a rookie:

Huh. Whaddayaknow. He looks a little skinnier there than he did later in his career, doesn’t he?

Even his head. Oh, I guess because the two major steroid investigations happened to be centered around Bonds’ trainer and Clemens’ trainer, the Steroid Stink isn’t on Thome, huh? Which is not to say I think Thome shouldn’t be in. He should! Even if he took steroids. But we have NO idea who took steroids and who didn’t. And keeping people out who you THINK took steroids is unfair, when plenty more who got away with taking steroids without the whispers will make it in. As Buster Olney said this week:

In conclusion, Bonds rules.

Are the Warriors Hungry Anymore? Are They So Good It Doesn’t Matter?

Bruce Jenkins has been around. He’s been a sportswriter for the SF Chronicle since 1973. He’s covered some of the greatest athletes in sports history on a daily basis – Montana, Rice, Bonds, among others. Sports journalism today tends to be long. That can be engrossing, but in the wrong hands it is often meandering. But Jenkins is from the old school: Have a point, get to it, and get out, in 800 words.

This week Jenkins used his skills to ponder the Warriors’ weekend loss at the Houston Rockets. Jenkins ask the question, point blank: Having won 2 titles in 3 years, does Curry, and by extension the entire Warriors team, have the hunger required to win the title this year? Jenkins takes a quick tour of NBA history – exploring the greats who had that hunger, won, and were later usurped by players whose hunger had not yet been satisfied. For example, Magic and Larry begat Isaiah who begat Jordan. Early on, Curry struggled – first with injuries, then with losing to the Spurs in 2013, and the Clippers (even amidst the Donald Sterling scandal) in 2014, before breaking through the last three seasons. The team seems to at times float through games, confident they can shoot themselves back in it whenever they feel like it. And that’s usually true.

But the Rockets have that hunger. They have that Jordan 1991 hunger. Harden and Chris Paul have that Isaiah 1989 hunger. As Jenkins says, “But the Warriors are not hungry. Not yet. There’s an unsettling tedium to the season so far….The Rockets are coming, and they are famished.” I can’t wait for that series. -TOB

Source: Have-nots Lurking Below Powerful Warriors”, Bruce Jenkins, SF Chronicle (01/23/2018)

PAL: Don’t love to agree with TOB, but he’s right. Jenkins nails this with precise efficiency. I was just talking with a coworker on Wednesday about the Warriors. Savio and I would check in after every game the following morning. We’d know who had a big night and who didn’t. We’d if Steph was getting careless with the ball or not. This year we agreed that we’ve been “keeping an eye on them” and we’ll get back into it during the playoffs. The Warriors and their fans are not nearly as hungry this year, and – yeah – I’ll be tuning in if they play the Rockets in the playoffs.

You Know It When You See It

There have been a lot of stories about the Hall of Fame voting in the past week, but I think this one is my favorite. Perhaps the best Hall of Fame test is your initial reaction when you realize someone is being considered for the first time. Here’s a sampling of some dudes up for voting this year and my reaction:

Billy Wagner: That’s funny. No.

Fred McGriff: Great nickname – Crime Dog – but how did he manage to have such an ugly swing from the left side? I think he got to 400 home runs, right? No Hall of Fame.

Edgar Martinez: I mean, I guess.

Trevor Hoffman: I can’t argue it, but never impressed me. How come relievers aren’t held to the same harsh, part-time player, dig as designated hitters like Martinez are held to?

Vladimir Guerrero: Absolutely.

It’s that ‘absolutely’ that sits at the heart of David Schoenfield’s article. Turns out, Vlad’s numbers aren’t quite the making of an “absolutely” reaction.

He appeared on 92.9% of ballots. To be honest, Guerrero’s Hall of Fame résumé isn’t as cut-and-dried as that percentage might suggest.

He finished with 449 home runs and 2,590 hits, falling short of those automatic career milestones. His career WAR of 59.3 isn’t slam-dunk territory and isn’t even the best for a right fielder on this ballot (Larry Walker is at 72.6 and Gary Sheffield at 60.3). His run of dominance extends only 10 seasons, from 1998 to 2007. He was a terrible postseason performer, hitting just two home runs in 44 games. Heck, Jeff Kent, a second baseman, has more lifetime RBIs and is tracking at only 12 percent of the vote.

But he’s a no-doubter in my mind, and in the mind of 92% of the voters this his second year on the ballot. I agree with Schoenfield when he says Vlad’s damn the torpedoes approach to the game, and his backstory, planted him favorably in the minds of baseball fans across the country. Not a lot of players capture the imagination of a national audience, especially players that spent a good chunk of time in Montreal. To watch him was to watch a talent that was too great to mess with and reign in. My favorite anecdote pretty much sums it up:

In Jonah Keri’s book on the Expos, “Up, Up and Away,” he tells the story of when Guerrero was first called up to the majors in 1996. Manager Felipe Alou called the coaches together. “I’ll never forget that meeting as long as I live,” said Jim Tracy, who was Alou’s bench coach. “Felipe called the staff into his office. And with that deep-ass voice of his, I heard this message: ‘Leave him alone.’ That’s what he said. ‘There’s going to be mistakes. The ball’s not going to be thrown to the cut-off man early on. His plate discipline is going to be very raw at best. Leave. Him. Alone.'”

There’s so much back and forth around who belongs in the Hall and who doesn’t. There’s aura and there are the numbers. This was a fun, articulate argument about a player’s aura, and that represents the side of baseball I like to think about most. – PAL

Source: Why Does Everybody Love Vlad Guerrero So Much?”, David Schoenfield, ESPN (01/24/2018)

Counter-Point: Edgar Martinez is a No Doubt Hall of Famer.

I have a counter-point to your Edgar reaction above. Perhaps because he played his entire career on the West coast you didn’t get to see him much, but he was fantastic. Everyone remembers Griffey tearing from first to third in the 1995 ALDS to beat the Yankees, but it was Edgar being Edgar, tearing a double down the left field line that allowed Griffey to score.

Edgar Martinez had a 12 year peak that rivals most hitters (Non-Bonds Division). Which brings me to my pre-emptive argument: Many argue Martinez does not belong in the Hall of Fame because he was almost exclusively a Designated Hitter, and thus played, not even half the game…he made 4-5 plate appearances a night, and that was it. But so what? The Designated Hitter, as stupid as it is, has been the rule for nearly fifty years now. Moreover, as Emma Baccellieri points out, do we ever keep a Hall of Fame-level hitter out of the Hall of Fame because he was atrocious on defense? No. I’ve literally never heard someone say, “Well he’s one of the greatest hitters to ever play his position, but he was such an awful defender. Defense counts, too, so he’s out.” By not being a negative on defense, Edgar helped his team on defense more than a terrible defender does. Edgar is close (70.4%) this year. I expect he’ll make it next year. -TOB

Source: Edgar Martínez Is A Hall-Of-Fame Baseball Player”, Emma Baccellieri, Deadspin (01/24/2018)

Presented Without Comment:

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Justin Timberlake, ft. Chris Stapleton – “Say Something”

Tweet of the Week

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“People in this town are just now getting into Nirvana. I don’t have the heart to tell them what’s gonna happen to Kurt Cobain in 1994.”

-Tom Haverford

Week of January 19, 2018

My 2018 mantra. 

The Case for Organizational Stability

This is a really good article, exploring how two different NBA teams dealt differently with trade demands, and where they stand now. Last summer, two of the best NBA teams had their second best player come to the team and demand a trade. One of those teams gave in, making almost no effort to repair the issues leading to the demand. The other team refused and addressed the player’s concerns. A look at where those teams and players are now is a fascinating look at how to handle an unhappy player.

The latter, the San Antonio Spurs, told LaMarcus Aldridge, “Nah.” Well, they told him they’d trade him if they could get a player like Kevin Durant in return. Which…lolololol. Instead, Aldridge and coach Greg Popovich met over dinner and wine a number of times. They discussed the issues. Popovich realized he was a big part of the problem – Aldridge has been in the league for a long time, playing at a high level, and Pop was trying to force his square peg into a round hole. Aldridge’s play is much improved this year, putting up the best numbers since his apex in Portland.

The former, the Cleveland Cavaliers, traded Kyrie Irving. Owner Dan Gilbert made no effort to change Irving’s mind, and traded him a short time later without ever talking to Irving again. Irving, finally out of LeBron’s shadow, is excelling in Boston. The Cavs are stuck in a roller coaster season. They just got Isaiah Thomas, the centerpiece of the return they received from the Celtics, back from a pre-existing injury. The team is having trouble integrating their new, ball-dominant point guard. It’s hard to imagine the team is not wishing they had a do-over.

This isn’t really surprising. The Spurs have been fantastic for decades, and continue to be very good even after Tim Duncan’s retirement. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, for years have been buoyed only by the greatest talent in NBA history, in spite of the terrible ownership and management around him. It’s good to be the King, but I have to imagine LeBron looks at what Irving is doing in Boston and is really frustrated. -TOB

Source: How Cavs, Spurs Handled Trade Demands by Stars is Worlds Apart”, Brian Windhorst, ESPN (01/16/2018)

PAL: Agreed – solid story. Having said that, Pop is respected and in charge. As the owner, Gilbert is in charge, but all decisions are made with only one consideration: LeBron James. It’s the only logical approach for the Cavs. He is truly a force unto himself, but here’s an instance where that might not be a good thing.

Protecting Larry Nassar

By now you’ve likely heard of Larry Nassar. He was the doctor who sexually abused hundreds young female gymnasts while serving as a physician at gymnastics clubs, Michigan State, and the Olympic team. He did all of this under the guise of medical treatment. It’s a disgusting, twisted, tragic story. A hard read, to be sure, but you really should read the link below.

As we learned with the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State and the Catholic church scandals, for atrocities like decades of sexual assault to take place there must also exist a culture of enablement. A different culture where the athletes/children’s wellbeing is first doesn’t change monsters like Sandusky or Nassar, but they certainly aren’t allowed to continue irrevocably damaging lives for decades.

Understanding how Nassar gained unfettered access to young girls and young women over the course of a quarter-century — despite repeated warning signs — means confronting an uncomfortable truth: He didn’t gain that access alone. Nassar was surrounded by a collection of adults who enabled his predatory behavior — a group that included coaches of club, collegiate and elite-level gymnasts, the USA Gymnastics organization, medical professionals, administrators and coaches at Michigan State University, and gymnasts’ parents, whom he groomed just as effectively as those he violated. Now that so much of the Nassar tragedy has been exposed, a lingering question remains: Were each of those enablers complicit or simply conned by a man described as a master manipulator?

As you will read in this story, the amount of times that girls and women had the courage to speak up about Nassar – truly believing doing so would put their gymnastic dreams at risk – only to be ignored or accused of outright lying is staggering. And then there are the women who were victim to his abuse at such a young age that they didn’t even know enough to know what he was doing was wrong.

Michigan State University allowed him to continue to treat athletes, and allow intravaginal treatments while under criminal investigation for sexual assault. “At least” 12 women have accused him of sexual assault during that time period.

USA Gymnastics also didn’t want to address the accusations around Nassar. The timing wasn’t good for them, as the Summer Games in Rio were fast-approaching. According to a mother of a gymnast who accused Nasser of abuse, the president of USAG, Steve Penny, called her and told her, “We need to keep this quiet.”

Gina Nichols says Penny repeated his initial request for discretion in several conversations over the ensuing months, requests that struck her, an operating room nurse, and her husband John, a physician, as odd. Penny, Gina Nichols says, put them in an impossible situation and “was in a position of authority over me and my husband. Our whole family gave up everything so we could put [Maggie] on this road.”

As medical professionals, the Nichols are both required by law to immediately report suspected child sex abuse to authorities, but, out of concern they would hurt their daughter’s future in the sport — and because they had been told Nassar had already been reported and any action on their part might jeopardize the investigation — they remained silent.

Sadly, parents like the Nichols played a role in enabling the abuse to continue. Many of them were friends with Nassar, and would drop their children off for treatments. It was a point of pride – their daughters were being treated by the physician treating Olympians. For some, they never knew what was going on, but others simply wouldn’t believe their daughters when they told their parents what was taking place.

Of all the terrible stories, this was the hardest one for me to read:

Stephens, whose father did not believe that she had been abused, says the fact she refused to apologize to Nassar was a constant subject in what had become a contentious relationship with her father. She says he branded her as a liar. Her father suffered from chronic debilitating physical pain throughout much of her life, and she says the cocktail of drugs he was prescribed to manage that affected his mental well-being.

A month before she left for college in 2010, she decided it was time to try again to tell her father that Nassar had assaulted her.

“I wasn’t lying,” she remembers telling him, before his hand shot out and pinned her neck to the chair where she was sitting. “Then he said — well, he growled, ‘What did you say?’ I gasped, ‘I wasn’t lying.’ He said it again. I was basically choking, and I said, ‘I. Was. Not. Lying.’ He just crumpled. You could see his face just completely shatter, like, ‘Holy shit, this 18-year-old doesn’t have any reason to stick to that story at this point.’ He just sat on the couch and just stared into space for a while.”

On March 30, 2016, he died by suicide.

Again, this is a hard read, but it’s important for obvious reasons. It’s also a reminder of the kind of quality reporting can be done when enough attention is given to a story. – PAL

Source: Nassar surrounded by adults who enabled his predatory behavior”, John Barr & Dan Murphy, ESPN (1/16/18)

How Big of an Asterisk Do You Got?

This is one of those instances when I’m not sure what’s better: the story or the subtext. Fresh off the Minneapolis Miracle (see video below), the Minnesota Vikings are one single win against a backup QB away from being the first team to host the Super Bowl.

The usual rule with regards to ticket allocation is the following:

  • 17.5% to NFC team season ticket holders
  • 17.5% to AFC team season ticket holders
  • 5% to host team ticket holders (in this instance, that would also be the Vikings)
  • The rest is divvied up amongst NFL sponsors, “auxiliary press”, and – you know – rich people with connections.

If the Vikings win against Philly, they would split that 5% with the AFC team, meaning both teams would have ~20% of the capacity seating. At US Bank Stadium, that breaks down to a little over 13K seats that season ticket holders, picked by random drawing (please), can have the opportunity to purchase for $950.

Nearly 40K of the 66,655 of the seats will be held for the sponsors and whatever the hell “auxiliary press” means. I knew sponsors get a good chunk of the tickets, but I didn’t know it was that high.

OK, so this story amounts to an interesting factoid, but the subtext here is fantastic. While the comments are pretty mellow, I can just feel Vikings fans gripping while reading this story. Do I mention the story to a friend? Does the mention of it jinx the entire thing? If I win the drawing do I go, or do I sell the tickets, and what does that say about my fandom? Life is about the experiences!…but 8K sure would help out right about now.  

I promise you all of these scenarios are racing through every Minnesota fan’s mind. 

By the way, the photo up top has nothing to do with this story. I had to share what appears to be the dumbest collection of tattoos this side of Arnoldisdead- (yes, that’s real). An NFL shield, the classic barbed wire, the Vikings head, “Freak” in with an old English font, and what appears to be a Cowboys star.  – PAL

Source: If The Vikings reach Super Bowl season ticket-holders find out Monday if they can buy tickets”, Ben Goessling, Star Tribune (1/17/18)

This Is Not a Political Story

But it sure is funny. As you might know, Donald Trump’s doctor released a few details from his annual check-up. Among them, Trump is listed at 6’3, 237 pounds. As the article points out, Trump claims to be a great athlete: “I was always the best athlete, people don’t know that.” Totally, Don. Dan Gartland helpfully puts Trump’s stats into context, comparing him to professional athletes of similar proportion. A sampling:

That Trump, what a great athlete. h/t Michael Kapp -TOB

Source: “Athletes Who Are the Same Size as Donald Trump”, Dan Gartland, Sports Illustrated (01/16/2018)

PAL: Love this. Humor me: what would your reaction be if a friend told you, “I was always the best athlete, people don’t know that.” I’ll answer on your behalf: You would scoff, then tell him to shut the hell up, and then never completely trust his opinion from that moment until the day you die.

Also, there is no friggin’ way he’s 237. Not a chance in hell. 267 maybe, but not 237.

Videos of the Week: 

PAL’s Song of the Week: Sean Rowe – “Newton’s Cradle” (c/o Jamie Morganstern)

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I thought about getting a tattoo on my back as well at one point. I was thinking about getting ‘Back to the Future’. ‘Back’ because it’s on my back. And ‘Future’ because I’m the kinda guy who likes to look ahead, into the future. I just think a tattoo should mean something, you know? And it’s my second favorite movie.


Week of January 12, 2018

When your new boss pays you $100 million, you use his barber.

Tonya Harding Was This Close To Being A Real Life Rocky

Funny story: A few weeks ago Natalie and I were having dinner with a couple friends and Tonya Harding’s name came up. Our friends chuckled. Natalie asked, “Wait, who’s Tonya Harding?”

If you ever wanted to know the difference between being 28 years old and 35 years old today – Natalie’s question is as precise an indicator as you’re ever going to find.

For those of you older than Natalie, I don’t need to tell you who Harding is (and for the young folk, here’s the gist of the story). The feature film I, Tonya, released back in December (I haven’t seen it yet) profiles the person at the center of the most famous Olympic scandal, so it makes sense for Taffy Brodesser-Akner to meet up with Harding 23 years later. I like how she went about a profile about a person who is trying to leave her past behind while still clearly bitter about her past.

Let’s start with the name. Tonya Price. She recently married and took her husband’s name. For a serious reporter, Bodesser-Akner has to be accurate. Her name is Tonya Price, and so she really should refer to the skater by her current name. But this is a story about Tonya Harding. Tonya Price is also Tonya Harding. It turns out the name confusion is actually a perfect metaphor. “This is basically how this entire story goes,” Bodesser-Akner writes. “There are facts, and then there is the truth, and you can’t let one get in the way of the other or you’ll never understand what she’s trying to tell you.”

Price/Harding goes on to tell her version of the Tonya Harding story, and it’s a grim one. This lady did not have it easy. A very poor, abused, tiny, but powerful skater trying to upend a sport that essentially judges on feminine grace. But for perhaps a broken skate lace, Harding might very well have won gold, and all of a sudden hers is added to the pantheon of great american underdog stories. Rose up from nothing to win a gold medal in a stodgy, beauty pageant sport of figure skating. However, the lace did break, and she was found guilty of not reporting that she knew who did the deed on Kerrigan’s knee (Price still insists she only knew after the assault). The underdog story vanishes, all the scrapping and grinding – all those values we love to associate as somehow uniquely American – they will never be associated with Harding.

Over drinks in Washington, Bodesser-Akner wants to hear Price’s version of the story, and she gets it. The writer’s final take:

Here’s the thing: A lot of what she said wasn’t true. She contradicted herself endlessly. But she reminded me of other people I’ve known who have survived trauma and abuse, and who tell their stories again and again to explain what had happened to them but also to process it themselves. The things she said that were false — they were spiritually true, meaning they made her point, and she seemed to believe them.

…Here is something I’ll never understand, that you can be sitting across the table from someone who certainly did something bad, who appears to show no remorse for it and you can still feel the oxytocin rush of love and sympathy for her.

Interesting read, especially for us over the age of 28. – PAL

Source: Tonya Harding Would Like Her Apology Now, Taffy Bodesser-Akner, The New York Times (01/10/2018)

TOB: Longtime readers of the blog will not be surprised that I rooted for Tonya Harding over Nancy Kerrigan. At 12 years old, I didn’t even know the emotional and physical abuse she endured – I just saw the crap she took from the sports media and was drawn to her as the underdog. After the attack I was lukewarm, but still didn’t like Kerrigan. I felt vindicated when her infamous Disney World video surfaced.

This was your darling, America!

Anyways, I watched the 30 for 30 documentary about the whole thing, and it was pretty sad. I read this article, and it’s also sad. Tonya Harding/Price has certainly been treated unfairly, and poorly, by many people in her life. But as Phil notes, she’s unable to move on. I haven’t seen I, Tonya yet, but I am happy that Tonya liked it, and felt her story of abuse was finally told, even if others see the movie in another light.

Bill Simmons Should Retire

This morning, Bill Simmons posted his thought on last Friday’s Seth Wickersham article on the reported inner-turmoil with the New England Patriots. Simmons’ take is bad. It was so bad that I postponed our post and quickly wrote this up. As he did on his podcast, Simmons argues that many points in the Wickersham story shouldn’t be believed because they were “denied”. Oh, ok. The principals of a big story deny the veracity of the details and therefore the story is necessarily false? I take biggest issue with the following, though:

 I know someone who spent time with Kraft last weekend; Kraft was more dumbfounded by the story than anything.

We couldn’t afford to keep both of them, Kraft kept saying. Why is this so hard to understand?

Let’s unpack this. First, Simmons uses an unnamed source, something he complains about in Wickersham’s article. In the same moment, he attempts to use his connections to give himself some authority. Then he quotes Kraft, without actually quoting him, and uses this “quote” to refute the report that Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo. But does it, really? All that it actually says is Kraft was dumbfounded because they couldn’t keep both of them, and why can’t people understand that. How does that refute that Kraft was involved in a personnel decision? Doesn’t it more likely support Wickersham’s report? Other reports say Garoppolo was offered a large extension. If Belichick is in charge of player personnel decisions, that means he made the extension offer to Garoppolo. But if Kraft said they couldn’t afford both Brady and Garoppolo, then doesn’t it follow that Kraft vetoed Belichick’s attempt to keep both of them, and Kraft ordered the trade?

Simmons also draws a terrible comparison to Kraft allowing Belichick to bench his “beloved” Drew Bledsoe in favor of 6th round pick Tom Brady, and allowing Belichick to release or trade other players, like Jamie Collins. That comparison is laughable. First, Bledsoe got hurt, and wasn’t available until the playoffs, and by that time they were on a roll with Brady. Second, Bledsoe never won a Super Bowl. Brady has won five. You think Kraft felt the same loyalty to Bledsoe as he does to Brady? No. Kraft has said Brady is like a son to him. Brady has said Kraft is like a second father. You think Brady is like Jamie Collins, Simmons? Get outta here, man. Seriously, it’s time to retire from writing. You’re rich and lazy. Your writing is lazy and dumb. You’re so far from objective that it’s painful. -TOB

Source: The Story That Tried to Divide Brady and Belichick“, Bill Simmons, The Ringer (01/12/2018)

Baseball: The (Potentially) Neverending Story

One of the greatest things about baseball is that you can never run out of time. You can and will run out of chances, if you don’t make good on them, but you can never say, “Geeze, things might have been different if we had more time.” 27 outs. That’s what you get. That’s what the other team gets. Theoretically, a baseball game could go on forever. A team could simply never make 27 outs. But there’s another way a baseball game could go on forever – extra innings. Again, theoretically, a baseball game could go on forever, as long as neither team leads after each complete inning after the ninth. It’s sort of wild when you think about it, and that brings us to this great Sam Miller article.

Sam opens the article by invoking the great Eli Cash:

On Sept. 5, Hanley Ramirez flared an 0-2 fastball into shallow center field. Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar charged in but couldn’t catch the ball, and Mookie Betts — who took off almost on contact — raced home from second to score. With that bloop single, Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox won the longest game of the 2017 season, after 19 innings, 544 pitches and exactly six hours of play.

What this article presupposes is: What if they didn’t?

What follows is an excellent exploration of the stages players, and fans, would go through if a baseball game went 50 innings. My only issue is this – the game he chooses to piggyback off of is a regular season game. Though it had some playoff implications, it’s still just 1 of 162 games. What I want to know is how MLB, and the networks, would react if a playoff game went that long. In the regular season, the players, managers, and even the league may eventually decide to call it a night and come back the next day. But in the playoffs? In the World Series? In a Game 7? What do they do?

In Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS, the Giants and Nationals played 18 innings, in a game in D.C. It was a day game (well, it was day here), and Phil and I watched the game at McTeague’s, a bar here in SF where we watched most of the Giants’ 2012 and 2014 playoff runs. I’ll never forget the bewildering and disorienting feeling walking out of the bar after the game and realizing it was still daylight. I’ll also never forget the intensity of every single pitch in the bottom half of innings 10 through 18. With one swing, the game could end.

MLB was lucky it was not a later game. Many MLB playoff games begin at 7pm, even 8pm EST. That game lasted 6 hours and 23 minutes, and it was on a weekend. Imagine it was a Tuesday night, and began at 8pm EST – it would have ended at almost 3 am. What would MLB do in that case? What would they do if it went another 6 innings? Miller’s article points out that, unlike in prior eras, MLB no longer has a curfew. The current record holder for longest MLB game in the modern era is a 1984 game between the Brewers and White Sox, but that game was paused due to curfew, and later resumed. Would MLB stop a playoff game and resume it later?

And what of the long lasting effect on the clubs? In a playoff series, it would almost certainly be a pyrrhic victory. You might win that game, and even the series but it’s going to so thoroughly screw up your bullpen and your rotation going forward that you’d have no shot in later rounds (of course if this happened in the World Series, there’s no such concern).

The other interesting aspect of this is the long term effect of the players themselves. Miller invokes what he calls the Something Important phase of an extremely long game. The Something Important phase is where fans and players realize that history is in the making (which I buy wholeheartedly, after having sat through that 18-inning Giants game mentioned above – very few things could have dragged me away). Miller discusses a college baseball game from 2009 between Texas and Boston College. It went 25 innings. Texas’ closer threw thirteen innings of shutout ball. As Miller relates:

Around the 15th or 16th inning, Austin Wood, Texas’ senior closer, was approaching 100 pitches of no-hit relief. He approached head coach Augie Garrido: “Don’t you even think about taking me out of this game.” He would end up throwing 13 scoreless innings in relief, 169 pitches, a performance that can only happen if the limits of the game get so badly extended that unthinkable possibilities can fit within them.

“When a player breaks through to that level, it changes his life,” Garrido said at the time. “… Now he knows something not many people know: You really can be anything you choose to be. … And if he gets a sore arm in the next 10 years, it’ll be my fault.”

And, was Wood’s career affected? You betcha.

“His professional career ended three years later, after shoulder injuries, and plenty of people think Garrido’s decision was unforgivable. Wood has defended Garrido, first by saying there was no connection between that game and his injuries, but ultimately concluding that it doesn’t matter if there was a connection: “If you offered me anything in the world, I don’t think I would trade it for the experience of playing in that game,” Wood told the Austin American-Statesman later. “It was that meaningful.”

Man. It’s hard to understand that statement. We don’t know that this game cost Wood his career. But he essentially says even if it did, he’d do it over again. 13 innings and 169 pitches are worth an entire MLB career? I wonder if he’d say the same thing had Texas lost.

Anyways, go read the article. It’s fantastic. -TOB

Source: What Would Happen if a Baseball Game Went 50 Innings?”, Sam Miller, ESPN.com (01/09/2017)

PAL: Such a fun read, folks. TOB nails the summary above, but one other comparison Miller provides is that of endurance dancing. It was a brief craze in the 1920s, and after watching some video on it, I concur with Miller: it’s the most miserable thing I’ve ever watched.

Also, TOB and I did not watch this game together (but we watched most of them at McTeague’s). I actually heard the Belt homer on the radio while sitting on a porch. Kind of cool to experience the greatest of baseball feats (game-winning playoff homer) over the radio. Thought the connected backyards, you could hear the neighbors all but jump up when he hit it, then lose it when it went over the fence.

Please Don’t Speak Ill of Canadians, Eh.

This is so damn funny. Some San Jose Sharks players were asked to name their least favorite road trip. Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun and Tim Heed all named Winnipeg, citing the fact that it’s cold, it’s dark, and the hotel wifi is slow. Honestly, that’s pretty inoffensive. Well, the prideful city of Winnipeg disagrees. The CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg was trotted out to correct these Sharks:

Spiring also noted the Sharks players have their facts wrong. Winnipeg is actually the second most sunny city in Canada with an annual average of 2,353 hours of sunshine, just below Calgary at 2,396.

As for temperatures, Braun’s home city of Minneapolis is much the same as Winnipeg.

Winnipeg’s average temperatures range between –12 C in the winter months to 26 C in summer. Minneapolis has an average of –9.1 C to 23.2 C.

Hertl is from Prague in the Czech Republic, where the temperature range is –3 C to 25 C. And Heed’s home of Gothenburg, Sweden, where winter temperatures average –3 to 3 C and summer temps average around 20 C.

That’s super funny. But, I’ll allow the retort so long as it ends there. Oh, no sir. It will not end there. Winnipeg Jets coach John Hockeyguy stepped in to give the Sharks a little whatfor.

The coach began by noting he hadn’t heard the comments. Perhaps a reason not to comment? Nah. Where’s the fun in that? Coach Hockeyguy then proceeds to lecture the Sharks players, and every player in the NHL, about how petty it is to whine about the cold and the dark and the slow wi-fi, when by god, they’ve got a good life.

#FirstWorldProblems, am I right? -TOB

Source: The Winnipeg Kerfluffle Has Reached Dangerously Canadian Levels”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (01/09/2018)

PAL: I love when coaches insist they “didn’t read” the story on which they’re being asked to comment. They usually make it about 1.5 sentence before they can’t contain themselves, and they take a “where are we at in the world today” stance. Guys, you aren’t generals in a war. You’re not giving away strategic positioning. You tell extremely talented athletes when to go in the game and when to come out of the game. No one will think less of you if you admit that you’re keeping tabs on the insignificant details.

Real Worms Vs Fake Worms

This article crystalized what we’ve known for years: sports stories can be – and oftentimes are – created out of nothing. The qualifications to what makes a sports story newsworthy have become blurry at best. Most of our news is provided by companies that earn large chunks of their revenue from advertising. Advertisers want eyeballs and clicks-thrus, and stories that generated the most clicks will be reported and posted – newsworthy or not.

This is why you know LaVar Ball, father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. LaVar drives clicks and eyeballs. He says crazy things in a bombastic tone. Like this:

This was not the first time LaVar said that. But let’s be honest, sports dads say some pretty absurd stuff, they just aren’t sitting on a TV set while saying it. He’s a dad. Dads are more or less crazy about their kids’ sports (TOB: Careful…). A dad’s commentary about his son’s basketball abilities hardly seems like news. But ESPN helped make it one, and they’ve done this before.

A few years back, our old pal John Koblin wrote a piece for this here website about ESPN manufacturing a sports story out of thin air. It began, in that case, with ESPN football pundit Ron Jaworski issuing the empty but hot-sounding statement “I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever” (my, how times have changed!); other ESPN properties treated this statement as news and other ESPN pundits reacted to it, leading eventually to Kaepernick (then with the San Francisco 49ers and not yet famous for kneeling during the national anthem) being asked to comment on it, and ESPN treating his comments both as newsworthy in and of themselves and also as the basis for the weird meta-story that an ESPN employee (Jaworski) had said something controversial. The playbook for this sort of thing goes back farther than that, as Koblin noted—at least as far back as when the network staged its own phony intramural culture war over Tim Tebow and sustained, for whole entire years, the entirely fictional story that either Tebow’s football ability or his performative religiosity were matters of genuine controversy anywhere outside the folie à deux between ESPN and its own viewership.

On and on we go. ESPN’s take on vertical integration.

LaVar Ball is not new. He’s just the soup du jour, and we say, ‘Mmmm. That sounds good. I’ll have that.’ Here’s the playbook tailored to the Ball family. Note: LiAngelo just left UCLA (he was a freshman), and LaMelo was a junior in high school.

An ESPN reporter seeks out—in Lithuania!—a noted blowhard and wrings a controversial take out of him (despite the blowhard’s best efforts to temper and walk back that take pretty much as it is leaving his mouth). ESPN spends the following days performing air-raid drills behind it, spawning a succession of follow-ons: Lonzo Ball is asked to, in essence, choose between his coach and his dad, and his tepid choice of athlete-interview boilerplate itself becomes a story; hysterical NBA coach’s union president Rick Carlisle says ESPN has betrayed its covenant with the doofuses who donate ten seconds of distracted “gotta get stops” talk to its between-quarters interviews, and that’s a story; Steve Kerr has takes about ESPN devoting multiple reporters to the LaVar Ball Beat when it has laid off talented people who do actual smart work, and that’s a story. Walton cracks a joke about it in a postgame presser, and that’s a story.

Why is ESPN bankrolling this and shoving LaVar Ball in our face, day after day after day? We click on it. We watch their First Take segments, then listen to their podcasts that comment on the First Take segment, and…hell, I’m writing about this non-story at this very moment. The non-story is now a story about whether or not it’s a worthy story. It’s not like they have the choice to run highlights all day (we don’t use ESPN for that anymore). 

For a company that’s gone through two rounds of layoffs in the past year or so they are fishing for the clicks. Instead of digging for worms, ESPN has been manufacturing plastic ones for years now. LaVar Ball will go away just as soon as he stops landing us fish. – PAL

Source: “ESPN: It’s Bad That We Keep Squeezing Juicy Quotes Out Of LaVar Ball”, Albert Burneko, Deadspin (01/10/2018)

TOB: Yes, thank you. It’s time we please stop the anti-Lavar backlash. ESPN is the problem! And here it is in a nutshell:

The Lakers have a problem now, in ESPN’s formulation. ESPN reporters think the Lakers must do a better job of preventing LaVar Ball from making, to ESPN reporters who follow him to Lithuania, stick a microphone in his face, and ask him for his opinions on issues related to his famous sons, statements that those ESPN reporters may then parse for their most incendiary content and package as inflammatory on ESPN’s various platforms.

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – The Fugees – “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (Roberta Flack)

Tweet of the Week

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Anybody who’s ever had the privilege of seeing me play knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world.

-Dizzy Dean