Week of January 14, 2022


What It Actually Takes To Win In College Football

This is a must read for casual college football fans, like me. Before reading  Kevin Clark’s story, I knew there exists a group of college football programs above the rest—I’ve watched Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, play in the 4-team playoff year after year, with a little Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame and even a Cincinatti mixed in this year—but reading this story made is so abundantly clear what it takes to win a national championship in college football, and that nothing short of a miracle is needed for a team like Cincinatti to win a title. 

First and foremost, it’s about talent. Of course, right? I didn’t know how drastic the disparity is. Georgia had 19 – 19! – 5-star recruits in the title game last week. 

Per Clark: 

There’s a massive gulf between making the College Football Playoff and winning it, and you can measure the distance in talent. Around 60 percent of five-star recruits committed to the same five schools—Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, and Ohio State—over a five-year period ending in 2021, and that number increased later in that time span, according to the Sporting News. Those schools have combined to make 16 playoff appearances and win every national championship since the 2016 season. Texas A&M, which has the no. 1 class in 2022, has made strides to join that group.

Next is money. A school has to spend gobs and gobs of money, and not have to waste time convincing people to hand it over. Clark tells a story about when Clemson’s Dabo Swinney asked for a bigger staff and facilities upgrade, he was asked why. He responded, “Well, Alabama does it.”

Or how about this anecdote about Kirby Smart and Georgia’s program: 

“Kirby Smart got in there and said, ‘This is exactly what I need to win,’ and Georgia gave it to him,” Bud Elliott, a recruiting expert for 247Sports, told me. This includes a helicopter, which Smart uses to navigate recruiting visits. (“Time spent going slow doesn’t work,” he said, when first asked about the helicopter, which costs tens of thousands of dollars to operate.) The state of Georgia changed a public records law early in Smart’s tenure after he lobbied against it. Everyone was on board.

Plenty of schools with big football programs have money. Money is a prerequisite to be above average, but it doesn’t make a program a contender. Traditions be damned—a program that cycles through a couple bad coach hires (take USC as an example) is like blood in the water for the sharks. 

What’s developed is fairly obvious to see: a handful of schools that conceivably could compete are stuck in the mud, stopping and starting with every new coaching hire, while the select few run up the score. In many instances, those down programs are in recruiting hotbeds, which means the haves can run in to raid their talent, increasing the disparity even more. You should not be surprised when Georgia and Alabama play in the national title game—you should be surprised when they don’t. That’s what we had Monday.

It was a great game watch, and now I know why I should expect a lot more of the same. -PAL

Source: Georgia Is the Exception to Alabama’s Rule,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (01/11/2022)


The NFL’s “Scheme Wars” Will be Spotlighted This Weekend

This was a fun article by The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz outlining the rise of the spread offense, kickstarted by the 2008 New England Patriots, and the factions in offensive scheme that have formed over the last decade:

Now, 14 years after the Patriots kicked things off, that ubiquitous “NFL Offense” that Brown wrote about is just one of many systems that are permeating the league. Never before have we seen schematic variety like this at the NFL level, as some coaching staffs have fully embraced more modern concepts, while others have adapted them to fit their established philosophies, and still others have been more reluctant to jump on the bandwagon.

Those three factions are the Spread (Chiefs, Bills, Cardinals), the Wide Zone (Rams, 49ers), the “Throwback” (physical running game setting up play-action passing) (Titans, Patriots, Buccaneers). Ruiz does an excellent job explaining each of them, with video examples. As Ruiz argues, 

These varying levels of acceptance have separated the league into schematic factions. And as assistant coaches from winning teams get head-coaching jobs of their own, those new hires will take their offensive systems with them and expand the territory of whatever faction they belong to. We saw this phenomenon play out a few years back when seemingly every coach who had ever crossed paths with Sean McVay became a hot coaching commodity. And after Kyle Shanahan, who belongs to the same coaching tree as McVay, dragged Jimmy Garoppolo to the Super Bowl after the 2019 season, we saw a run on his assistants, too. Now, nearly a third of the league’s offensive play-callers come from that tree. And four of their teams have made the playoffs this season.

If that success continues, we could see the Shanahan/McVay influence over the NFL grow even larger. But the rest of the league won’t go down without a fight. McDaniels (Patriots), Brian Daboll (Bills), and Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs), three offensive coordinators outside of the Shanahan/McVay tree, are headed for another round of head-coaching interviews this offseason, and Byron Leftwich (Buccaneers) has also gotten some requests.

In that way, there is more than a Lombardi Trophy at stake this postseason. With so many different offensive schemes represented in this year’s playoff field, the next month will not only determine a champion—it might dictate the next step in the NFL’s offensive evolution. So let’s take a look at three main factions that will battle it out for schematic supremacy over the next few weeks, starting with the one that launched it all.

It’s a great article if you’re interested in learning a bit more about how your team’s offense works. -TOB

Source: Scheme Wars Have Taken Over the NFL—and Could Decide This Year’s Playoffs,” Steven Ruiz, The Ringer (01/13/2022)

PAL: Good week for The Ringer, eh? Two of its stories made our list this week. The bit of this article that I had to read twice was that, prior to the 2007 Patriots,  a large portion of NFL teams ran essentially the same offense. I couldn’t believe it. But a former journeyman player would know better than anyone.

Donté Stallworth, who joined the Patriots just before the 2007 season, shared a similar viewpoint at the time. The now-retired wide receiver told The Ringer’s Kevin Clark that around half of all NFL teams ran the same playbooks, and the rest were only separated by minor scheme tweaks. He was expecting more of the same when arrived in New England. But Stallworth quickly saw that the offense Josh McDaniels had crafted was something radically different.


A Pet Peeve: Announcers Who Lose Track of the Basic Rules of the Game

Last weekend, the 49ers overcame a seemingly insurmountable 17-3 halftime deficit against the Rams. If they lost, they would have been out of the playoffs. It was such an improbable comeback, that late in the 4th they had an expected chance to win of just 0.4%. 

But they did. In overtime. The Niners won the OT coin flip and elected to receive. They kicked a field goal on the first possession, giving the Rams a drive to either tie and continue OT, or score a touchdown and win. Niners rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas intercepted a deep pass from Matthew Stafford, and the game was over. Everyone seemed to realize that, except 49ers radio play-by-play guy Greg Papa. Here’s Papa’s call of the last play, starting at the 2:00 mark. Listen to that again:

“Intercepted! By Ambry Thomas. Ambry Thomas takes it away. The Rams only have one timeout remaining! The Niners are gonna win the game in L.A. … and they have won the game.”

LOL. The ever important timeout reminder after the game is over! You can hear the moment his spotter punches him in the shoulder to point out the game is over, and he tries to save it. I really don’t know how you lose track of the fact the game was over – Papa should be embarrassed, and I’ve wondered all week if he addressed his blunder on his daily radio show. But it reminded me of the very famous call from Joe Starkey, the longtime Cal Bears announcer (and also a longtime 49er announcer, coincidentally), during The Play. Give it a listen.

There are just a few seconds left. The Stanford kicker squibs it, and Starkey says:

“The ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds!”

Except, no. It’s a kickoff. The clock stops at the end of the play. The Bears could have kneeled to save a second or two for a Hail Mary. But getting out of bounds there would serve no purpose, except to waste time trying to get there, and possibly losing Cal the game in the process if the time ran out. And it certainly would have deprived the world of the greatest play of all time.

Starkey has long been lauded for his call on the Play. And, yes, his emotion is great. But his failure to understand or remember a very basic rule of the game has always perturbed me.

Announcers: Do better! -TOB


More Women Officials Needed

I knew the majority of basketball referees – at all levels, but especially at the high school level – are men, but I didn’t know just how few women ref until I read this story from Jim Paulsen.

In Minnesota, one organization that represents officials said “18 to 20” of its 250 officials are women. Another told Paulsen that just four of their 200 officials are women. The good ones move up to college pretty quickly, he was told. 

Far more interesting than the disparity, though, is the difference in how a girls game is called when reffed by all-women crews.

Per Paulsen:

Buffalo coach Barb Metcalf said the difference in how the game was officiated was evident from the outset.

“To me, things just seemed more equitable,” Metcalf said. “It felt like there was a better flow to the game, with a lot fewer ticky-tack calls. There weren’t 50, 60, 70 fouls. They let them play.”

Metcalf summed up a common complaint: Male officials let boys play a more physical game than girls.

“There’s an assumption that women cannot be physical and are less athletic,” Eden Prairie coach Ellen Wiese said. “Boys play more physically, and the male referees are used to that. It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m going to be more lenient because of your gender.’ ”

But ask female refs, and they articulate that it’s not as simple as calling a tighter game for women than men. 

“As officials, we’re taught to allow for a flow to the game,” said Dayna Rethlake, a former player and coach who has been officiating for about a decade. “It’s not so much calling it tighter for the girls as it is defining the skill level and what players can play through.”

Rethlake believes those discrepancies are declining quickly. She cited the improved strength and skill of girls’ players since she helped Midwest Minnesota (now MACCRAY) to a Class 1A championship in the mid-1980s.

I would assume this theory extends to other physical women’s sports – hockey, lacrosse, water polo – as well. I’m calling on my nieces for an update. Will update next week. -PAL 

Source: All-woman crew leads to a question: When the refs are women, is the girls’ basketball better?,” Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune (01/11/22) 

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“Where were you on September 11th?”

-Deangelo Vickers

Week of January 7, 2022

RIP John Madden

My kids know “Madden” the video game, but I am 99% sure they have no idea why the football game they play on my old PS3 is called Madden. So sure, the games are quite the legacy for him (while he didn’t make the game himself, he reportedly helped make the game realistic over the years). Older people remember him as a coach. And sure, he won a Super Bowl. 

But to me Madden will always be an announcer – the best announcer. When you turned on a football game in the 90s and John and his longtime broadcast partner Pat Summerall were on the call, you knew you were in for a treat. Madden’s enthusiasm shown through – he loved football and wanted to share that love. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis relays a great anecdote:

One of the coolest things about John Madden is that he was an academic. It was a brief run, but still. In 1979, after Madden quit as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, he was hired by the University of California, Berkeley, to teach an extension course called “Man to Man Football.” Madden’s students had watched football on TV. Now, they wanted to understand how it worked.

Professor Madden stood in front of a board that was like the Telestrator he later used on TV. Madden drew X’s and O’s and carefully studied his students’ faces. “I wanted to see at what point I lost ’em,” he told me years later. Madden was trying to find the most simple way to explain a complex game. He was converting passive football fans into smart fans. For the next 30 years, Madden performed the same trick on TV every week.

When Madden died Tuesday morning at age 85, obits mentioned his three great careers: football coach, broadcaster, video game czar. In fact, these are all the same career. John Madden was the greatest teacher of football of the 20th century and probably of this one, too.

Madden’s genius was how he taught football. Those booms, that unbuttoned aura of regular guy-dom—all of that was an invitation. It made Madden’s classroom feel like a safe place, where you’d get a little smarter and the professor would never act like he was smarter than you.

He taught us the game, but always at a level we could understand. He was informative, without talking down to us. He was the best.

So I am honoring John Madden in the best way I know how: smiling and laughing at clips of him doing what he did best:

-TOB


The State of the MLB Lockout

For our 40th birthdays this year, Phil and I (and our friend Rowe) are planning a baseball trip. The current plan, three stadiums in three days (Pittsburgh, D.C., Baltimore in June). When discussing dates, I suggested we avoid April: in part because of cold and an increased incidence of rainouts. But also because of the ongoing lockout. Rowe asked, “Are we really concerned about the lockout?” As luck would have it, Jeff Passan published an article this week addressing this very topic. So, Jeff, how are things?

“The players and league don’t negotiate so much as talk past each other. For all the rhetoric about the animosity between the parties not mattering as much as the substance of the issues they’re discussing, they can’t even get to the substance of the issues because the relationship is so toxic. “We’re in such a place as an industry that it’s kind of like politics,” the man said. “Everyone is so obsessed with winning this narrow game we’ve prescribed for ourselves. There’s no practicality. No moderation.”

Hm. Seems bad.

In its last bargaining session, on December 1, “MLB had said it wanted to talk about core economics, but only on the condition that those discussions not include any changes to the six-year reserve period of free agency, the arbitration system or revenue sharing. The union would not agree to that condition. Seven minutes in, there was nothing left to discuss. MLB left the hotel and did not return.” MLB locked the players out at midnight that night.

The players, for their part, want, “earlier free agency, earlier arbitration, a rejiggered draft system, more money going to younger players, a higher minimum salary, less revenue sharing and a higher luxury tax threshold, among other things.” Rob Manfred said such changes would “threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive,” though as Passan points out, Manfred “provided no evidence to support the idea that players becoming free agents after five years or reaching arbitration after two years would ruin the sport — because no such evidence exists.” 

MLB, meanwhile, wants to expand the playoffs (which is a TV cash cow) and, per Passan, “is most interested in continuing its curtailed spending. Player salaries dipped to $4.05 billion in 2021 — a $200 million drop from the record high in 2017 and the lowest since 2015, when the league still hadn’t crossed the $4 billion mark.” Since 2011, MLB revenues have increased 70%, from $6.3 billion to $10.7 billion, while the league’s soft salary cap number has increased only 15%, from $178 million to $206 million.

Passan spoke to a number of agents, players, and league and team officials, and came up with the following framework for a deal:

1. Raise minimum salaries to around $650,000 — a 14% bump

2. Add a performance bonus pool for pre-arbitration players

3. Implement the universal designated hitter

4. Expand the postseason from 10 to 14 teams

5. Remove indirect draft-pick compensation for free agents

6. Make significant changes to the draft to disincentivize tanking and reward small markets

7. Raise the CBT threshold into the $230 million-plus range and remove other restraints, including nonmonetary and recidivism penalties

This seems reasonable to me. Hopefully, the two sides come up with something soon. Afterall, pitchers and catchers should be reporting in just five weeks. -TOB

Source: Why MLB’s Labor Negotiations Have Gone Nowhere — and Baseball’s Path Back,” Jeff Passan, ESPN (01/05/2022)


The Industry-Changing Beetle 

It would be decades before anyone would know it, but the ash bat – used by almost every major leaguer for over a century – was doomed because some pallets were left outside warehouses in Westland, Michigan. 

The pallets were from far away, and they carried the emerald ash borer beetle. The beetles spread, killing ash trees across North America. 

The emerald ash borer beetle was discovered in 2002. In 2001, Barry Bonds broke the single season home run record with a maple bat ( the maple bat was thanks to Joe Carter). It wasn’t long before big leaguers were switching to maple, and thank god they wanted to change when they did. 

Per Stephen Nesbitt: 

Almost overnight, there was an explosion of interest in this small Canadian maple bat company. Hitters turned from ash to maple in droves. Sporting goods stores wanted to stock maple bats. Holman needed more space, more staff, more bats. He hired the bar manager at the Mayflower Pub to be his production manager. He bought an empty bar in Ottawa and converted it into a bat-making laboratory. It still wasn’t enough to keep up with demand.

Maple was suddenly king, and just in time.

The following year, the first ash borers were discovered in Michigan.

I never imagined I’d read a sports story about a beetle, but the best stories take us to unexpected places. This is a story about environmental anomalies, the science behind the ideal wood density, about grain spacing. It’s also about Joey Votto, the last big leaguer to use ash bats exclusively, and his ultimate trust in the feel of the ash bat…and trying to find an ash tree or two that hasn’t been visited by the emerald borer. 

Such a great read. – PAL 

Source: ‘It’s an epic saga’: An exotic beetle, Barry Bonds, Joey Votto and the end of ash baseball bats,” Stephen J. Nesbitt & C. Trent Rosecrans, The Athletic 

TOB: My favorite part:

Votto wasn’t always an ash apostle. As a high schooler in Toronto, he swung whatever wood bat was available. In the minors, he tried a variety of bats without settling on any. It was Jay Bruce who got him hooked on ash when they were at Triple A together. Votto came to love the sound of a baseball smacking the sweet spot, the way an ash bat hardens and grain grooves deepen over time, and the feedback delivered to his hands when making solid contact. An ash bat, he says, just feels like the best possible tool a hitter can have.

And so when Votto has an ace ash bat, he wants to protect it.

“This might sound crazy,” Votto says, “but there were times I was even a touch more particular about what I was going to swing at because I didn’t want to break the bat.”

It’s not that Votto never gave maple a chance. He uses it every day in batting practice — he’d rather break maple in that setting and save ash for competition. Last year, he took an ash bat for a test run in the batting cage and broke it. That really bothered him. “It’s like that scene from ‘Seinfeld’ where Elaine goes out and gets the sponges, then she’s like, ‘Are you sponge-worthy?’” Votto says, with a laugh. “I was hitting, and I was like, ‘Are you cage-worthy?’ I don’t want to burn them on batting practice.”

-LOLLLLL


The Athletic Submits to its Fate

The Athletic was an ambitious undertaking – restore the sports local sports page! And honestly, for the most part I think they did a pretty good job. At least in the Bay Area, they hired good writers to cover the local teams and they freed those writers from traditional print deadlines, to allow them to write about the team without those restrictions. But there were signs all along that it was not going to work. 

First, the Athletic was not profitable, “hemorraghing $100 million cash” in 2019 and 2020, over revenues of just $73 million. In hiring all these writers away, they had to pay them a lot of money! And in order to lure subscribers, they often offered steep discounts, but it was not enough, as subscriptions stagnated over the last two years – going from 1 million in 2020 to just 1.2 million late last year.

It also suffered from quality issues, in the eyes of this humble blog. The plan to restore the sports page relied on hiring local beat writers. And while the Bay Area writers it hired were generally good, that was not true in other locales, which we often noted after reading articles that we found wholly disappointing. 

Which brings us to this week’s news: The Athletic was sold. To the New York Times. Yes, the news publication that aimed to modernize the sports page and in the words of its co-founder, was going to, “wait out every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” and “suck them dry of their best talent at every moment,” ended up selling out. To a newspaper. Sure, it’s the New York Times. Still, it’s a newspaper. 

It remains to be seen what will become of the Athletic, or the jobs and careers of the writers it peeled off from the local rags. But the Athletic becomes, in the end, a symbol of the modern media landscape:

I suppose it was always going to be this way. It was its fate. -TOB 

Source: The Athletic To Be Swallowed By Industry It Aimed To Kill,” Ray Ratto, Defector (01/06/2021)

PAL: Great writers at The Athletic, but also, in recent years I found a lot of filler stories. A lot of lists and rankings, e.g. Top 100 prospects, Week 17 NFL rankings, fantasy projections. That’s never been my idea of a good read; in fact, these headlines would just make it harder to find something I’d want to read. I have long believed more is almost never better, and The Athletic proved to me that the kid who loved to read every word the Pioneer Press sports page doesn’t live here anymore.

I love Ratto’s take on this, and I also think The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis hit the bullseye with this bit from his story on the acquisition…which kinda read like an obit.

When hiring, Athletic editors would tell writers the site didn’t care about clicks. But the site did care about “conversions”—stories that lead people to subscribe to The Athletic. The site set annual conversion targets for writers, a number that can hang over a reporter’s head. Even happy writers who’d migrated over from newspapers told me it felt like trading one Darwinian struggle for another.


Anti-Vaxxer Suffers Consequences

Anti-vaxxers are awful, especially ones who are rich and (presumably) influential (yes, including Aaron Rodgers). So I really like it when one of them finally suffers the consequences of their willful stupidity. 

Enter: Novak Djokovich, aged 34, currently sits tied atop the career Grand Slam leaderboard, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, with 20. Federer and Nadal both are seemingly done and Djokovich appears destined to surpass them. But with the Australian Open starting next week, it appears Djokovich will have to wait at least a few more months to do so.

You see, Djokovich is an anti-vaxxer. As this article lays out, he’s long been a proponent of fake medicine and has engaged in risky behavior that put himself and others at risk. 

Like many leagues and events, the Australian Open requires competitors to be vaccinated, or to receive a medical exemption. Djokovich applied for a medical exemption, for an undisclosed reason, and it was granted. Given his past behavior during the pandemic, this put many around him at risk. So Djokovich flew to Australia to begin preparing for his tournament. The only problem: while he got a medical exemption from the tournament, he neglected to inquire whether the Australian government would let him in.

Denied.

Australia has had very strict visa rules since the pandemic began, and Djokovich was denied a visa, on the grounds his medical exemption was not valid. He is presently awaiting an appeal hearing next week. I am really, really hoping he does not get his way, and it is doubtful he will. Reportedly his exemption “hinges on the argument that he had COVID in the last six months and is therefore immune. The feds rejected that argument once already, and he faces a possible three-year ban from the country if the courts side against him.” 

As his rival Nadal, who has long supported vaccine efforts, said: “In some way I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.”

Indeed, he does. -TOB
Source: Novak Djokovic and Fellow Star Vaccine Skeptics Are Increasingly Scorned,” by Matthew Futterman, New York Times (01/06/2022); Detained Novak Djokovic Is Jesus And Spartacus All Rolled Into One, According To Novak Djokovic’s Father,” Patrick Redford, Defector (01/06/2022)


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Seems awfully mean. But sometimes the ends justify the mean.

-Michael Scott

Week of December 19, 2021

The Case for Patience with Coaches

As most of you probably know, I am a Cal football fan. Cal is not a blue blood program, though they were a national powerhouse in the 1930s! Since then, there have been random good years and lots and lots of bad ones. Still, I became a Cal fan in the modern golden era – the early Jeff Tedford years. And this requires a bit of history.

Tedford had been the offensive coordinator at Oregon when they first became nationally relevant. Prior to that, he coached at Fresno State. He coached four first round pick quarterbacks in a short span: Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, and Joey Harrington. Then he took over a 1-10 Cal team and turned Kyle Boller into a top 10 pick, while turning the team around to 7-5. Then they went 8-6, led by JUCO transfer Aaron Rodgers, with that season peaking with a win over eventual national champion USC, and culminating in a bowl win over a very good Virginia Tech team. 

The following year they had a little buzz and I said I thought they could go undefeated. I was close. They went 11-1, with the lone loss being a close loss at #1 (and again eventual champion) USC – a game they outgained and outplayed the defending national champs, but lost after four straight failed plays with goal to go. 

The next five years were uneven. Some good years, some very disappointing years. Then, because of Tedford’s early success, the school was able to build a new training facility and renovate the stadium. But Tedford only lasted one year in the new stadium – he opened with an awful loss to Nevada, and the season did not go up from there. The team seemed to quit late in the season, and to top it off the team’s academics were so bad Cal was close to a bowl ban. After that 2004 season, Tedford’s teams went 8-4, 10-3, 7-6, 9-4, 8-5, 5-7, 7-6, 3-9. There’s an obvious downward trend there. I was sad, but even I agreed Tedford had to go.

But the interesting thing about Tedford is he didn’t stop coaching, despite serious and recurring health problems. Most notably, he returned to his alma mater, Fresno State, and turned a moribund Bulldog program around. The 2016 Bulldogs went 1-11. Tedford arrived after that season and they went 10-4. The next year, 12-2. In his third year, they went 4-8 and he retired due to those same health issues. Interestingly, he just returned to Fresno. We’ll see how it goes.

But what I find most interesting about Tedford’s return to Fresno in the last half of that last decade is the question it begs about his coaching ability and what happened at Cal. Why did he struggle so badly in the last part of his Cal tenure? He obviously didn’t forget how to coach: he proved that at Fresno. There are lot of theories among Cal fans, but I am not here to settle that debate today.

Instead I am here to wonder what might have happened had Cal been more patient with Tedford. What if they had allowed him time to right the ship, both athletically and academically?  No one can say for sure, but I can’t help but wonder if he would have been like Kirk Ferentz, who has been the Iowa coach for over twenty years now. First, Iowa and Cal have similar histories. The programs are, if not equal, close. The similarities between Ferentz and Tedford are even more interesting.

Ferentz and Tedford are similarly aged and were similarly successful early on in their careers, though Ferentz a bit more, perhaps. Ferentz is five years older than Tedford and started at Iowa three years before Tedford started at Cal. Ferentz didn’t start as hot as Tedford, going 1-10 and 3-9 in his first two years. But then he went 7-5, 11-2 (with an Orange Bowl appearance), 10-3, and 10-2. But then, like Tedford, Ferentz hit a lull. From 2005-2007, where he went a combined 19-18, and then particularly from 2010 to 2014, where he went 8-5, 7-6, 4-8, 8-5, 7-6. Since then, he’s 63 wins and 23 losses in 7 years, including two conference championship appearances. Could Tedford have done the same? I don’t know. But I do know this: there are lots of Cal fans unhappy with the current head coach, Justin Wilcox. 

Wilcox took over a program in dire straits – a terrible defense for the entirety of the Sonny Dykes era, Cal football had become, for me, unwatchable. Even the good wins (Texas, twice) were exasperating. Wilcox turned things around immediately – what had been an historically bad defense was suddenly tops in the conference. Wilcox’s early teams struggled on offense. But heading into the 2020 season, Cal fans expected big things: almost every starter from a pretty good team was back, including quarterback Chase Garbers who suddenly looked like a very good QB. 

And then COVID hit and things fell apart. Cal got only 4 games in 2020. Many Cal fans wrote off the 1-3 record to the pandemic – Cal had multiple games canceled; they even had to travel to UCLA on 24 hours’ notice after ASU had a COVID outbreak, before getting stomped. But they beat a very good Oregon team and fans were cautiously optimistic – especially because the NCAA declared 2020 a non season for player eligibility. And then Cal started 2021 1-5 and many fans jumped off the bandwagon. Many wanted him fired. Most wanted him to take the UW job or the Oregon job (Wilcox’s alma mater) when those opened up.

But Cal is not USC. It is not Alabama. It is not Texas. Cal is Iowa. And Cal needs to be patient with a good coach, learning on the job, who wants to be there. Oh, yeah – that’s an important part here: Wilcox was offered the Oregon job last week, and he turned it down. Oregon made a second run at him, he slept on it, and he turned it down. When asked why he turned down his alma mater he said he likes it at Cal and has unfinished business there.

Yes, Cal has instiutional barriers that make it harder to win at than many other schools. So Cal needs a coach who doesn’t shy away from that; who embraces it. Wilcox is that guy, without a doubt. Now, can he be Cal’s Kirk Ferentz?  Can he be another Jeff Tedford? I don’t know – but I think Cal needs to be patient and find out, and not make the possible mistake they made in firing Tedford. -TOB

Counterpoint: Urban Meyer Deserved to Get Fired After 13 Games

Urban Meyer was fired this week, just 13 games into his NFL coaching career. Defector’s Samer Kalaf gives a great run down of Meyer’s horrific tenure:

Though the team hadn’t played since Sunday—a 20-0 loss to the Titans—the midweek firing seems to have been prompted by Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times report in which former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo said Meyer kicked him at a practice during the preseason and called him a “dipshit.” When Lambo told him never to kick him again, Meyer allegedly said, “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f–k I want,” and later told his kicker not to complain about it in front of the other players.

Kicking an employee was possibly the most actionable thing Meyer did as Jaguars head coach, but he packed a lot of mortifying behavior within his incomplete season. An NFL Network report Sunday morning uncovered a handful of terrible decisions: Meyer treated his players like children and pissed off receiver Marvin Jones Jr., a guy who’s difficult to piss off; he called his assistant coaches “losers” in a staff meeting; and he benched running back James Robinson, then pushed the blame onto his RBs coach. That was one report. There were so many more.

Urban Meyer hired, then fired a racist strength coach. He brought in Tim Tebow, presumably so that at least one person respected him in the locker room. He called for an onside kick, and the opposing team returned it for a touchdown. He lost a Thursday night game in Cincinnati, stayed in Ohio while the team flew back to Jacksonville, and showed up in his own steakhouse with his hand in a woman who wasn’t his wife. He looked like the biggest fucking sadsack in the subsequent presser, and basically every presser after that.

The Lambo kicking incident should be required reading for any NFL owner considering hiring a college coach:

“It certainly wasn’t as hard as he could’ve done it, but it certainly wasn’t a love tap,” Lambo said. “Truthfully, I’d register it as a five (out of 10). Which in the workplace, I don’t care if it’s football or not, the boss can’t strike an employee. And for a second, I couldn’t believe it actually happened. Pardon my vulgarity, I said, ‘Don’t you ever f–king kick me again!’ And his response was, ‘I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f–k I want.’”

When reached by Stroud, Meyer denied the kick and said Lambo’s characterization of the incident was “completely inaccurate.” Lambo said Meyer “cornered” him the next day in the practice facility and told him to smile, which Lambo said he would do if his coach stopped kicking him. Then Meyer allegedly threatened to cut Lambo if he ever talked back to him again. “You’re the first player I’ve ever let speak to me that way in my career, and if you do it again, you’re gone,” Meyer said, according to Lambo.

That is the kind of thing you can get away with as a sleazeball college coach, when dealing with young, unpaid players. But when dealing with grown men who make lots of money? It’s not going to fly.

My favorite part of Urbant’s NFL career was…well, ok, it was the pictures of him out at a club in Ohio. But my second favorite part was this press conference, about the above mentioned reports about how awful he is:

Incredible. Who does this guy think he is? A military general? I think he really does. The worst part about his firing is that he’ll probably go back to a high paying gig at ESPN which will mean I’ll have to look at his dumb, lying face way more often. Dang. -TOB

Source: Jaguars Give Urban Meyer The Boot,” Samer Kalaf, Defector (11/16/2021)

PAL: That kick might be the most expensive kick in history. If that helps the Jags fire him for cause, then they don’t need to pay him the remaining (gulp) $50MM on his contract, and it sounds like the team doesn’t intend to pay him (but the two sides will likely negotiate a middle ground).

The Cal-Iowa comp is right on, TOB. Dead-on. There are, what 10 schools that can look in the mirror and say they have a legit chance to make a national championship run at least once a decade? There are a lot of programs who foolishly think they are on that list. Add the University of Minnesota to likes of Cal and Iowa. As least Iowa recognizes what it is, and what it’s not. I feel like deep down, amongst those KFAN listeners in MN, folks still think the Gophers could compete with Ohio State if they just found the right guy. Or maybe I’ve been wrong about used car salesman P.J. Fleck. Maybe he wants to be a cheesier version of Ferentz for the Gophers.

14 Peaks Review

“Giving up is not in the blood, sir. It’s not in the blood.”

There are 14 mountains in the world over 8k meters. The fastest to summit all 14 was seven years. Nimsdai Pursa and his team of Nepali climbers set out to do it in seven months. A must-watch documentary.

The advent of the drone and super high quality small cameras has captured the magnitude of some of these incredible outdoor documentaries (Alone On The Wall, 100 Foot Wave, The Dawn Wall), but the most compelling parts remain the personal stories. Why does Alex Honnold want to climb El Cap without a rope? What compels Garrett McNamara, on the wrong end of 50, to tow into a monster wave and let go of the rope? The exploration of these questions, coupled with the sweaty-palmed beauty of the footage, is what makes for an exhilarating viewing.

At the center of 14 Peaks is one of the biggest, most positive bad-asses to come across my TV. Before becoming a superstar of the mountaineering world, Nimsdai Purja,  was a special ops for 16 years, first as a Gurka, and then as the first Gurkha ever to join the UK Special Ops. 

There’s a part in the doc when Nims gets hooked up to some sort of oxygen thinner machine in a lab in what I think is London. They have him get on the stationary bike to measure his endurance and decision-making skills as he pushes harder and harder while the oxygen thins. Nims has a pot belly. You can tell the guy is strong, but he’s not “ripped”. He proceeds to flabbergast the scientist with his decision-making while charging on a bike with little oxygen. He goes for 3 minutes, while world-class triathletes tap out in under 1 minute. 

His military comes into play on more than one occasion when ‘Nims’ and his team come across other climbers in serious trouble on the mountain. This dude is breaking records and saving lives at the same time.

Of course, ‘Nims’ can’t do this alone, and he has a team made up exclusively of Nepali climbers. In sport where historically Nepali climbers are helping clients up the summit, it was cool to see them pursue the crowning achievement for their people. 

Nims charges so hard, but he also seems so happy to be alive. There’s a real joy pursuing such an audacious goal. Whereas someone like Alex Honnold’s achievement and skill inspire me, I feel so far away from whoever he is as a person. With Nims, the dude’s spirit is so goddamn infectious. I really loved watching him and his team risk their lives one day, and celebrate life (with a bit of booze) the next, then climb again the day after that. – PAL 

More Good Stuff

Song of the Week

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Elaine Benes

Week of December 10, 2021

Chef’s kiss.

Greatness Is Not A Number

By the time you read this, there’s a solid chance that Steph Curry will have made more 3-pointers in his career than Ray Allen made, which will make Curry the NBA all-time leader. I challenge anyone outside of TOB to tell me the number Ray Allen made, because the NBA 3-point record ain’t exactly .406 or 9.58

The local broadcast is trying to make a thing out of it – counting down with every Curry 3 with a little graphic in the lower corner of the broadcast. Rightly so, I guess, but I can’t muster up any real interest in the countdown. To what are we really counting down? 

There’s no real argument: Curry is the best shooter the NBA has ever seen, and so Curry passing Ray Allen record doesn’t solidify anything new when it comes to Curry’s legacy. And, as Oakland’s favorite curmudgeon Ray Ratto so perfectly addresses, to be awed by a number Curry passes is to miss the point of what makes him so spectacular. OK, here’s one stat for context: It took Allen 1,300 games to make 2,973 3-pointers; Curry will get there and beyond in less than 790 games. 

Ratto nails it with this: 

Just as long as whatever happens is within whatever Curry decides is the flow of the game, because on this one item, he is more trustworthy than Basketballreference.com. They do numbers. He does moments, and one does well not to try to quantify the work of a true mother of invention.

Good read, per usual, from Ratto. – PAL

Source: Counting Will Get You Nowhere With Steph Curry,” Ray Ratto, Defector (12/08/21) 


The Propaganda Playbook

Last week we shared three stories from the NY Times about Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, her shocking accusation of sexual assuault by a high-ranking government official, and the Chinese government’s response. This week, The Times teamed up with ProPublica to show, piece by piece, post-by-post, pic-by-pic, email-by-email, etc. of the government’s attempt at cover-up. 

The allegation reached the heights of Beijing’s opaque political system, and officials turned to a tested playbook to stamp out discussion and shift the narrative. The tactics have helped Beijing weather a series of political crises at home in recent years, including the 2019 protests in Hong Kong and its initial response to Covid-19.

This time, according to analyses by The New York Times and ProPublica, China began a multifaceted propaganda campaign that was at once sophisticated and clumsy. Inside the country, officials used internet controls to scrub almost all references to the accusation and restrict digital spaces where people might discuss it. At the same time, they activated a widely followed network of state-media commentators, backed by a chorus of fake Twitter accounts, to try to punch back at critics abroad, the analyses show.

The effort didn’t always succeed. This is how China reacted — and how it stumbled along the way.

This is a must-read story. Having a single person, Peng Shuai, at the center of this helps someone like me better understand the dangers and complexity of censorship in Beijing, and why the United States and other nations are imposing a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics. – PAL

Source:Beijing Silenced Peng Shuai in 20 Minutes, Then Spent Weeks on Damage Control,” Paul Mozur, Muyi Xiao, Jeff Kao and Gray Beltran; The New York Times & ProPublica (12/08/21)


Non Sports Stories of the Week

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t only read about sports. This week, I read two particularly interesting articles that I think you’ll enjoy.

First, the New Yorker profile of Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall Roy in Succession. If you watch the show, I highly recommend you set aside some time and read this. You will laugh out loud at him at least a half dozen times. -TOB

Source: On ‘Succession,’ Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke,” Michael Schulman, New Yorker (12/05/2021)

The second article is about the grapefruit. It begins with a long history of the grapefruit and other citrus fruits, which is itself fascinating. And then it gets into a discovery made about twenty years ago that the grapefruit can interact with certain drugs by multiplying the standard efficiency of the drug, which can cause people to overdose. It’s a great read. -TOB

Source: Grapefruit Is One of the Weirdest Fruits on the Planet,” Dan Nosowitz, Atlas Obscura (10/6/2020)

Video of the Week

I am way late to this, but it’s too good not to share, even if you’ve already seen it. – PAL

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Week of December 3, 2021


The College Football Arms Race Just Went Nuclear

The amount of money in college football, whether it is spent on facilities or coaches or food, while players remain unpaid for their brain-destroying labor, has long been obscene. But the last week or so got wild.

Michigan State extended its coach, Mel Tucker, to a 10-year, $95 million contract. To be clear; this is Tucker’s third season as a head coach. His records are: 5-7 (at Colorado), 2-5, and 10-2. That’s a combined 12-7. $100M. At Michigan State. Ok.

Well, Tucker evidently set the market. Because over the weekend, USC went out and hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. A coup in and of itself. But the amount USC committed is staggering:

10 years, $110M. Plus $1M for the Oklahoma homes, $6M for his new home, and unlimited use of a private jet. WOW. 

Editor’s Note: The Oklahoma houses thing has been debunked but I still think it’s funny so I am leaving it there.

And then LSU hired Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame, for a reported 10 years, $95M. 

And baby, we are just getting started. How will Oklahoma and Notre Dame respond? What will they pay? And what will the teams they pull from pay to their next coach? It’s wild. And it’s kind of insane. And very gross. 

I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled that USC might become USC again, but ultimately it’s probably good for west coast football and the Pac-12. The conference hasn’t had a team make the playoffs since 2016 and it hasn’t really had a team get close. The playoff and social media also seems to have greatly changed recruiting – Oklahoma, Ohio State and the SEC now routinely take the vast majority of California’s best players, because those players want to play in the playoff, and those schools are the ones to get you there.

Sometimes, you need a great program to raise the tide for all boats. Plus, they are fun to hate. Eff SC, ya know. -TOB


Peng Shuai

The following is a tough and sad story, but a great example of the power of a team of journalists pursuing all the angles. 

The lede, ℅ Amy Qin and Paul Mozer: 

When the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top leader of sexual assault earlier this month, the authorities turned to a tried-and-true strategy. At home, the country’s censors scrubbed away any mention of the allegations. Abroad, a few state-affiliated journalists focused narrowly on trying to quash concerns about Ms. Peng’s safety.

First and foremost, there is what has been accused, and there is Ms. Peng’s safety (there is some debate as to where she currently is and the Women’s Tennis Association has tried and failed to communicate with Shuai without the government). The ramifications of this story ripple globally.  The Winter Olympics, in Beijing, is fast-approaching, and the W.T.A. has just suspended all tournaments in China. 

Many feel this conference call with the IOC was staged with Beijing no doubt overseeing it.

Closer to home, fans are finding ways around the censorship. In another story from the NY Times, Amy Chang Chien and Alexandra Stevenson reported:

 To evade the censors, Chinese tennis fans have started to use obscure references to call more attention to Ms. Peng’s silence. Instead of identifying her Chinese name and specifying the details of her allegations, some people have used vague references like “a tennis player” and “the spat.”

There was a seemingly unrelated post about art that used the expression “hitting an egg against a rock.” It echoed a line in Ms. Peng’s original allegation, in which she wrote that going up against someone as powerful as Mr. Zhang was like “hitting a rock with an egg.”

While the Chinese government’s approach to problematic statements in the past has been to simply make them (and the people who make them) disappear from its state-run internet, they can’t do that so cleanly with Ms. Peng. 

On China’s social media platforms and other digital public squares, the censors’ meticulous work has left almost no sign that Ms. Peng had ever accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. Like a museum to a previous reality, her social media account remains, without new updates or comments.

These tactics have worked for China in the past, at least at home. In recent years, officials have relied on heavy censorship and a nationalistic narrative of Western meddling to deflect blame for issues including the outbreak of Covid-19 and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

This time, though, the #MeToo accusation from a lauded and patriotic athlete implicating a top leader has no simple solution from Beijing’s propaganda toolbox. Any new narrative would most likely have to acknowledge the allegations in the first place and require the approval of top Chinese leaders.

And in a third NY Times story, Matthew Futterman shed light on the man at the helm of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, and why he and his league were willing to take a stance against China (and its money) in a way no other sport has done, including the N.B.A.:

Simon’s refusal to accept China’s authoritarian stance on human rights once it directly affected one of his players stands in stark contrast to several high-profile leaders in sports who have repeatedly bent to the desires of the Chinese, including Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

Simon has been concerned about Peng’s physical safety but also believed, as did the members of his player council and others he communicates with regularly in a player chat group, that the silencing of Peng and her sexual assault allegation amounted to a direct attack on the principle of equality upon which the WTA was founded.

Excellent work by The New York Times. All three stories are worth a read. – PAL 

Sources: China’s Silence on Peng Shuai Shows Limits of Beijing’s Propaganda,” Amy Qun & Paul Mozer (11/30/21); “‘Where is **?’: Fans in China Elude Censors to Talk About Peng Shuai,” Amy Chang Chein & Alexandra Stevenson (12/02/21); “Putting Principles Before Profits, Steve Simon Takes a Stand,” Matthew Futterman, (12/02/21)


A Reminder: Don’t Trust the Billionaires

This week, the MLB owners locked out the players. My buddy Kevin asked me yesterday to explain the lockout like he’s a child, and here’s what I came up with:

“Well, we don’t really know exactly what they’re in disagreement over. But most expect that the players want a salary floor for each teams so teams can’t tank, and a higher luxury tax ceiling so teams will spend more. The teams want the opposite.”

To elaborate, though: this has been building for years. As Michael Baumann succinctly puts it:

Under the just-expired CBA, players generally made more money as their careers progressed: Rookies make the league minimum or close to it; players with three to six years of experience get gradual raises through arbitration; and players with more than six years of service time become free agents. Only these established veterans have the freedoms afforded workers in almost every other sphere of American commerce: the freedom to choose the organizations for which they work and to sign the largest deals they can find.

Basically, there was a wink and a nod going on for years – the teams paid players cheaply until they were about 30, and then pay you a lot if you’re good. Then they got smart and realized – ahhh, we players actually get worse after 30 and we don’t have to pay them so much and salaries flatlined. Consider that Alex Rodriguez got $25.2M per year in 1999, and 20 years later Bryce Harper signed for $25.3M per year. Revenues keep rising, but player salaries are falling behind as a share of revenue. Teams are doing all they can to reduce player earnings:

Teams have refused to promote talented young players specifically in an attempt to delay their free agency. They’ve used artificial salary depression early in players’ careers as leverage to convince those same players to sign away their most lucrative earning years for pennies on the dollar. And teams like the Pirates and Orioles have used the guise of rebuilding as an excuse to run rock-bottom payrolls, lose 100 games a year, and turn a profit by cashing revenue sharing checks. 

So, how is this going to shake out? It’s hard to know. The MLB Players Union is generally the strongest in sports, but workers always have an uphill climb. However, as Baumann points out, they have a strong negotiating tool:

The other major negotiating advantage the union has is that the league wants to expand the playoffs. That’s where the most lucrative TV money is (a league presentation to the union last year put the value of postseason baseball at $787 million in national TV money alone, a number that would only increase with more games), and since players don’t get paid their normal salaries during the postseason, it amounts to almost pure profit for the league. But because a revamped playoff format would represent a change to working conditions, the league needs the union to agree to the change. In exchange, the MLBPA would naturally want the league to make concessions.

If the owners want to expand to 14 playoff teams, as has been floated, they’re going to have to make some concessions. In my opinion, players should fight for fewer years of player control – get players to arbitration and free agency quicker so they can get paid while they’re still in their prime. They also need to fight for a salary floor to avoid tanking and less punishment for exceeding the luxury tax.

However it ends up, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be an annoying winter reading about this. -TOB

Source: All the Questions—and Answers—About the Most Important Details of the MLB Lockout,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/02/2021)


For Klay, An Almost Three-Year Wait is Almost Over, But Not Soon Enough

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 2 ½ years since Klay Thompson last played in an NBA game. When he tore his ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, he had 30 points in the third quarter. Had he not gotten hurt, it’s not outlandish to suggest the Warriors win that game, and perhaps Game 7 as well. But he did and they didn’t. 

About a year and a half later, Klay was working his way back for the start of the 2020-21 season when he tore his achilles. He was 29 the last time he played; he’s almost 32 now. In that time, the Warriors got bad – Steph and Draymond got hurt; Steph and Draymond looked cooked; Kerr seemed to lose the team; they traded for a ball dominant point guard who didn’t mesh with the team, and traded him for a Charmin-soft former #1 pick wing who had largely been seen as a bust; the team drafted a big man who many declared an immediate bust…and then the team suddenly got very good – Steph is better than ever; Draymond, too. They developed young talent, like Jordan Poole, drafted a guy in Jonathan Kuminga who everyone loves, and that soft former #1 pick suddenly looks like a beast. 

At 18-2, the Warriors are the best team in basketball, again, by a wide margin, again. And like an old surprise wrestling visit, you can hear Klay Thompson’s entrance music firing up from backstage, as he’s begun scrimmaging with the team and even playing a rehab stint in the G League. 

But he’s not back yet. And even though he’s close, it’s still difficult for him. Last weekend, after the Warriors beat the Blazers, Klay sat on the bench, a towel draped over his head, for 35 minutes. Here’s Marcus Thompson II, on what Klay has gone through to get here:

He began hunched over in his seat, his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped together as he stared at the hardwood in front of him. The remnants of fans not yet cleared out of the arena began chanting his name. “Thomp-Son! Thomp-Son!” His head nodded to their cadence. He pumped his fist to a yell of “Klay, we love you!” from the rafters, tapped his heart in response to another adoring shout. Eventually, he returned back to still, gazing at the court. Perhaps visualizing himself on that very floor, which he has yet to christen.

You just know he can feel the ball slide through his hands as he transitions from catching to shooting. See the defender flying at him, obscuring his view of the rim and forcing him to rely on technique and muscle memory. You know he can almost taste the adrenaline rush of anticipation as the ball spins in the air.

But he can’t actually experience it. Not yet. It’s still just a vision, one crafted from memories and so profound within Thompson it weighted him down right there on the bench. For 35 minutes, he sat.

This is what it looks like when the thing that gives one purpose is snatched away. For Thompson, it was then placed close enough to smell but too far to grasp. And he is just genuine enough not to hide in these moments. Vulnerable enough to share this aspect of his trying journey. While he may not be doing such intentionally, Thompson’s willingness to be this transparent allows a fan base to suffer with him. And there is no better preparation for his triumphant return than being able to sit with him in his low moments. Mourn with one who mourns, then rejoice with one who rejoices.

The first line of that last paragraph really hits: “This is what it looks like when the thing that gives one purpose is snatched away.” It’s a thought we all can relate to, or at least imagine. For almost three years, Klay has been denied the ability to do the thing he was born and raised to do. To do the thing he loves. He’s been betrayed by his body twice – the same body that made him so great at it. Three years is such a long time, in the prime of his career, too. Hurry back Klay! -TOB

Source: Klay Thompson Has a Vulnerable Moment After Warriors Win,” Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic (11/27/2021)

PAL: Good pick, TOB! I’m back on the Dubs wagon, watching most games, and I can’t wait to see Klay back in action. 2.5 years is a long time to be away from the thing you’re supposed to do. Every story about this guy makes me root harder for him. 


A Round of Golf With Kenny G

Fascinating article. Many of you already know saxophonist Kenny G is a really good golfer (at one point a +1 handicap). In this story, Paul Thomson drew what must have been the best assignment The Ringer handed out in recent history: play a round of golf with Kenny G at the uber exclusive Sherwood Country Club. 

As Thompson highlights, Kenny G approaches his golf in the same manner he approaches his profession: 

For Kenny, the allure of golf is not the pressure of those high-stakes situations—the reactivation of nerves that would inevitably dull after thousands of live performances—but the monastic approach to practice that it requires. Kenny practices his saxophone, without fail, for more than three hours every morning, working on specific aspects of his playing each time: tonguing one day, hitting perfect high notes the next. 

Kenny’s mind does not stop with the tinkering with technique. With his saxophone, the dude still wakes up and practices 3 hours every day…he’s been doing that for 50 friggin’ years. His expectation with the saxophone is perfection; he’s slightly less demanding when it comes to his swing: 

Like any golfer, he says he has realistic expectations for how consistent he can be (“I’m going to hit bad shots—the pros hit a lot of bad shots”); also like any golfer, his voice suggests he doesn’t quite believe this.

And finally, after decades of playing at incredible clubs and with pretty much every famous person, he’s got stories to tell. 

He also tells an incredible story about Tiger Woods: Once, Tiger and Kenny were playing here when Tiger, who had reached a green under regulation, missed what appeared to be a half-hearted putt. When Kenny asked if Tiger had missed it on purpose, the superstar admitted he had. “He said he doesn’t like to make eagles on practice days,” Kenny recalls, shaking his head at the embarrassment of riches.

Such a fun read, and I can’t wait to watch the new Kenny G doc on HBO. – PAL 

Source:Kenny G in Deep Concentration,” Paul Thompson, The Ringer (12/02/21)


Videos of the Week

You have to watch the slo-mo

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

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I’ve been noticing racism in society and I’m here to report it.

-Anna Kone

Week of November 19, 2021

This is the first time I’ve felt like going to the zoo in decades.

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again…

Hey, uh. The Warriors are 10-1, with the lone loss coming in OT, and an absolutely outrageous point differential of 13.6 (Edit: Since I wrote this, they are now 13-2  with a point differential of 13.7). And they are about to get Klay Thompson back, who hasn’t played in 2 ½ years. Steph is doing Steph things,, Draymond seems rejuvenated, the young guys who got all that p/t in 2020 are seeing the benefits of that experience (especially Poole), and this team suddenly looks like the best (and most fun) team in the NBA once again. As Chris Thompson writes:

Now they appear to be one of the very best teams in basketball with Jordan damn Poole second on the squad in usage. Imagine adding any conceivable game-ready version of Klay Thompson to this! Bringing Klay back into the fold will, I’m sure, require some patience and fine-tuning, but the team’s already good vibes should immediately shoot through the roof. With a core that has always drawn so much juice from raw vibes, that makes for a thrilling, terrifying possible future. And that’s just any ambulatory version of Thompson. Imagine if he gets back to doing Klay Thompson shit! The mind reels.

More on Steph, though. Here are his last 6 games:

That is NINE 3-pointers made in 4 of his last 6 games, with games of 50, 40, 37, and 40 points. He’s the greatest show in sports. Watch what he made this opposing fan do:

(That, “Oh, ohhh” is my 7-year old, kneeling at the Church of Curry)

Future generations will truly not understand what a wonder he is. We are so lucky to get to see him play. 

Meanwhile, 90 miles up the road:

Cool, cool. 

-TOB

Source: Imagine Adding Klay Thompson To This!Chris Thompson, Defector (11/09/2021)

PAL: My wife is starting to ask if the Warriors are playing tonight, so you know they are back to being so friggin’ entertaining to watch. I really don’t know what else to say about Steph. It’s just so fun to watch when he’s on fire. 

I also love Gary Payton II. Dude comes off the bench, seems to immediately get 2 steals and 6 points in 4 minutes of play. He’s a menace. 


Barefoot Badasses 

This story about a softball team made up of Mayan women is a reminder of the good side of sports. So often I can become too focused on what bothers me about a game or league—be it the politics, business, or the ineptitude of favorite teams—that it’s nice to be reminded of the power within simply playing a game. 

Adam Williams’ story gives the backstory on the Las Diablillas softball team and the growing popularity of softball amongst indigenous women in Mexico.  

The women play barefoot (they prefer it, since they are usually barefoot and cleats just give them blisters) and wear their traditional Mayan dresses. What started as a community idea for the women to get a bit of exercise in the afternoon has become somewhat of a national sensation, playing games in stadiums with thousands of fans to see the spectacle. More importantly, the game has helped change the perception of a woman’s role within the community. 

“When I first started playing, the men in my family said jokes and comments like ‘You’re just wasting your time playing softball,’” said Alvi Yajaira Diaz Poot, who plays several positions for the Amazonas. “Now when I come home from games they are eager to know how the game went and even bring me something to drink.”

And best of all, playing softball has helped the women see themselves in a different light. 

“As we have improved on the field, my life has improved as well,” said Alicia Canul Dzib, who plays second base and pitches for the Diablillas. “I used to really only leave the house to help my husband with our crops. Now, thanks to softball, I have permission to leave the house, enjoy myself with friends and visit new towns. It motivates me to keep playing and set an example for my daughter.”

An excellent read, with phenomenal photos from Marian Carrasquero, that will remind you of the power of a game. – PAL 
Source: “An Indigenous Women’s Softball Team Beats Opponents, and Machismo,” Adam Williams, The NY Times (11/17/21)


Brandon Crawford: A Decent Shortstop

Brandon Crawford won the Gold Glove this year, at age 34. That is pretty dang impressive. To celebrate it, Grant Brisbee utilized Baseball Savant to watch every single play Crawford made this season. He then highlighted the best – whether they were flashy or routine – that Crawford made this year. This isn’t from Brisbee’s article, but it’s a taste:

I love this article because, like those who argue dumbly against Buster Posey as a Hall of Famer, there are some players you need to see everyday in order to understand their brilliance. Crawford is one of those. One of my favorite Twitter follows this past season was Susan Slusser. She had been a beat writer for the A’s for years, but began covering the Giants this season. It seemed like every single night she would express her amazement at how good Brandon Crawford is.

And he’s really great. Watching him play shortstop is a joy. I promise you, I texted friends this season about plays made by Crawford more than anyone else. It was fun to relive those moments in this article. And, to top it off, he finished 4th in the NL MVP voting, receiving the third most first place votes. -TOB

Source: The Defensive Genius of Brandon Crawford’s Gold Glove Season,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (11/08/2021)

PAL: Of all the games I’ve gone to with TOB, no other player in the field has induced more slow head shakes, as in, “Damn, that’s so goddamn good.”The plays he makes look so easy are so, so, so hard. The other variable lost on tv is this: a lot of these guys in the bigs can really get down the line, so everything has to be perfect in order to make the plays he makes all of the time.


Reason #1,459 To Not Gamble

Not a big racetrack guy, but I can appreciate this one. At some big Breeder’s Cup race that a lot of people gamble on, there was a bit of a mess at the starting gate. One horse, Albahr, flipped over and got stuck under the gate. Big delay, and that horse was scratched from the race. So, too, was the horse next to Albahr, Modern Games. So a bettor who picked either of those horses could not win. Tough break, right?

Except Modern Games did race, and the result was way worse than you could expect. I’ll leave it to Dan McQuade to explain: 

The vet had been told, incorrectly, that Modern Games had broken through the starting gate. But the decision to exclude the horses had been made and so both were removed from betting pools.

That ruling stood about four minutes. After some discussion, it was announced Modern Games would return to the race, but would only run for purse money. The horse was briefly entered back into the betting, then removed again, and then the race started. It is important to note: Modern Games would’ve been the favorite in the race, winning three of his five starts coming into the race. Well, he made it four in six. Crossing the finish line first, to a chorus of boos, was Modern Games!

There were many reasons gamblers were booing. Bettors who picked the winning horse saw their horse win the race, but only got a refund on their bets. It was worse for gamblers with multi-race bets: In scenarios where a horse in a parlay bet is scratched, the bettor simply receives the favorite in place of it. The favorite for the race in the end was Dakota Gold at 8–1. That horse finished 5th. The winner for gambling purposes was Tiz The Bomb, who technically finished second. So gamblers who correctly picked Modern Games to win the race on those bets saw their horse win but their ticket lose. This shifted millions of dollars’ worth of bets.

Yikes. I would’ve booed, too. – PAL 

Source: Breeders’ Cup Fiasco Ruins Bettors’ Friday Night,” Dan McQuade, Defector (11/07/21)


Free Offensive Linemen!

Honestly, I have never understood the rule in football that offensive lineman can’t be receivers. Why make the game less exciting? If you’re not aware, there is a rule that an offensive lineman who is not an eligible receiver (which is almost always all of them) cannot be the first person to touch a forward pass. It’s a dumb rule that came into play last week on Thursday Night Football.

I have some experience with this. In JV football, I played offensive line. One game, we called a screen pass. I was supposed to half block my guy, then let him go by so that he (and the other defenders) would think they’d crush the QB, only for the QB to throw the ball over their heads to the waiting running back, who would then have a convoy of blockers in front of him. After getting “beat” I was supposed to wait until I heard the call from the running back to begin heading upfield.

On this play, though, I let my guy go by and then waited…and waited. My internal clock began to go off and I turned my head to see what was going on. As I did, I saw the ball floating right to me. Our QB had made a terrible pass, and it was to me. So I caught it and did the only thing that made sense – I ran upfield.

In that moment I appreciated the vision and awareness required to be a ball carrier. Because in a football helmet, your peripheral vision is narrow. After I caught the bell and began to run, the field was wide open. I legitimately thought I was going to score a 50-yard touchdown. Instead, after probably 15 yards, I was suddenly cut down by a tackle from my right side. 

I actually knew the rule, even at 15, that I was not supposed to touch the ball. But it was coming right to me and I thought in that split second, oh what the hell. I’m glad I did – even after they announced the penalty, my coach ran over to me to celebrate. I didn’t quite do what that Dolphins OL did, but for one moment, I thought I was going to score – and that was pretty cool. 

-TOB


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Week of November 5, 2021


Man, I’m Gonna Miss That Guy

Buster Posey announced his retirement this week. Posey was coming off his best season in at least seven years. He won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, after sitting out the short 2020 season to protect his newborn twins from COVID-19. Posey had been the mainstay of this Giants era – the Posey Era. He was the rock, ever present. He caught three World Series winning games. He caught no-hitters and a perfect game. He won the 2010 Rookie of the Year and the 2012 MVP. If I had to guess, he sold more jerseys in the Bay Area than any player, ever. His jerseys were everywhere, for a decade. 

When I read the news he was retiring. I was at my desk and said aloud, “What the fuck.” It was shocking. It really was. Buster Posey…retiring? How is that possible? For a baseball player, his career was short – just ten full seasons. But that is life for a catcher. 

As a kid, Buster Posey retiring would have been devastating to me, because I’d miss seeing him behind the plate. But as you get older your reaction to the world around you changes. Instead of being devastated, Posey’s retirement is just the latest event that makes me realize, “Wow, I am actually getting old.” When he was a rookie, I was 28, and I loved Posey. Then I got married, had kids…and now my kids love Posey. And now he’s retired.

Mostly, I am happy for him. Playing catcher is brutal on a body, and Posey’s body has been through a lot, including a shattered leg in 2011 and numerous hip surgeries. I can’t imagine how much pain he must go through to get ready for each season, or even each game. So I am happy that he made his choice and that he is going out on top. We won’t have to sadly watch him roll over grounder after grounder to second base and barely jog down the line to first. Instead, I got to see him go out like this, in person.

Still. I’m not ready. I’m just not. As Grant Brisbee put it: 

You weren’t ready for the idea of a graying Posey ambling out to throw out a first pitch, or the idea of him as a gum-chewing manager in another uniform. You weren’t ready for a Giants team without him, and neither was anybody else. But the shock will fade, the sadness will dull and the memories will push through. One second, there was a baseball player in Tallahassee, and another second the Giants were the envy of baseball for close to a decade.

I am going to miss the way Posey would look up at the batter before calling his signs. I will miss Twitter exploding with the Ain’t Havin It gif every time he threw out a runner. 

I will miss him walking off the field on a called strike three before the umpire even makes the call. 

I will miss him driving an outside pitch to the right-center gap. And damn, I will miss the Buster Hugs.

The Giants will have a new catcher in 2022. We don’t know now who that is. But we do know that there will only be one Buster Posey. Man. I am really gonna miss that guy. -TOB

Source: Buster Posey’s Career Was Like No Other in Giants History,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (11/03/2021)

PAL: Two thoughts. The first: I was shocked when I first heard the news. He hit .300 this year! He’s just 34! And then I came to my senses. He’s won three titles. A M.V.P., a Gold Glove, a batting title. He made $160M in baseball, not counting endorsements and investment (including an early investment in Body Armor, which Coke just paid $6B to acquire). 

Above all, he and his wife have two sets of twins. If he’s accomplished all he wants to playing baseball, and has more money than he could spend, and the body is starting to bark, why the hell hang on! For whom? For what? As awesome as it sounds, being a professional baseball player and traveling for 6 months out of the year has to be hard on a family, especially with young kiddos. 

Thought two: Buster was everything Joe Mauer was not, even when their career stats are pretty similar (especially when you take away Mauer’s years as at first base). Growing up in Minnesota, Mauer was a local legend not long after he became a teenager. He gets drafted by his hometown team, wins three (!) batting titles, Gold Gloves, and M.V.P. An absolutely incredibly talented catcher. Loved by all. Hell, he probably is a not-so-small reason the Twins get Target Field built…and yet his career feels insignificant because of his playoff story. He had exactly one extra-base hit in 10 playoff games, all of which were Twins’ losses. He never had a moment that I’d just come to expect from Posey in his playoff runs. Moments like this: 

Or this playoff granny against the Reds: 

Buster is a legend. One of the best right-handed swings. Great catcher, framer, thrower, and clutch hitter. All-time great team runs like the Giants had from 2010-2014 can only happen with someone like Posey at the center of it all. – PAL 

TOB: A few more Buster thoughts. The HOF Discourse is already in full force. And the two camps seem to be: Yes, he’s obvious Hall of Famer and No, his numbers aren’t there. If you are in the first group you are smart and handsome and obviously right. If you are in the second group you never saw Buster play, you’re ignorant, your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

Because if Buster Posey is not a Hall of Famer, no catcher can be. It’s a brutal position that saps years off a player’s career. As noted above, Posey lost two full seasons and had many more diminished due to injury and general wear and tear. But look at how good Posey was, throughout his entire career, when he was on the field.

Yes, the second most valuable position player over that time, behind Mike Trout. And if you look on a per at bat basis, while the gap between Trout and Posey is big, the gap between Posey and Votto at #3 is almost as large. Counting stats do not tell the story of Buster Posey. Not even close.

Posey did more than hit, though. As Phil said, he did everything a catcher has to do, and he did it great. Grant Brisbee had another article this week that I really enjoyed, highlighting a few less memorable moments where Posey did something incredible. Read the article, and also check this throw behind Justin Turner. Incredible.

Also, I just wanted to drop this in, because it will make me laugh every time forever:


Nice Guy Finishes First – Excellent Freddie Freeman Story

I’ll never have love for the Braves. My fan apex – the 1991 World Series – pitted my Twins against the Atlanta Braves. Blame Mark Lemke, or Terry Pendelton and his stupid double-flap batting helmet. Blame Steve Avery or Ron Gant; blame them all. Even with the Twins winning it, the sports hate that was forged during that 7-game series just can’t be undone. 

With that qualifier, the Braves Freddie Freeman sure seems like a good dude. This story from Tyler Kepner details where Freeman’s sterling reputation as a leader, MVP, and all-around quality person came from: his mom, Rosemary.

Rosemary died of melanoma in 2000. Freddie was 10. After the Braves won the World Series earlier this week, it was a time to reflect. 

Per Kepner: 

He felt like, to honor his mom, he had to be a great kid,” his father, Fred Freeman, said on the Minute Maid Park infield late Tuesday night, after Atlanta finished off the Houston Astros, 7-0, in Game 6. “That was it. When he was 10, that’s what he decided he was going to be. He always said, ‘I know mom’s watching.’”

And while that’s an incredibly sweet, if not sentimental idea, it’s also a pretty heavy burden to carry from the age of 10. Living up to something like seems like it could zap some of the joy from a guy, but that doesn’t feel like the case with Freeman.

“Believe me, I wish I was able to hug my mom on that field,” Freeman said. “But I know she’s up with my grandma right now, jumping up and down.”

When asked how Rosemary wouldn’ve reacted after Freddie and the Braves turned a sub-.500 team at the All-Star break into a championship, Freeman’s brother said this: 

“She’d be the first one on that field, running out to bearhug him right now,” Andrew said. “She did everything for us. She didn’t know baseball, so she bought ‘Baseball for Dummies’ to know how to do this thing. She would always wear our buttons — she was the ‘Button Mom’ in Little League — and to think that if she was here today, oh my gosh. It would be absolutely amazing.”

As I grow older, I am given more and more reasons to remember that – hey – we don’t know these dudes playing a game on our TVs. People that seem like good guys can be terrible people, and gruff athletes can turn out to be golden, and most are a mixture of both. Having said that, it’s still fun to read about good people winning. – PAL 

Source: ”The Heart and Soul of a Franchise Shines Through,” Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (11/04/21)


Loving an Addict

As you might remember, former Hawaii football star Colt Brennan died earlier this year of a drug overdose. Usually when someone famous dies that way, the family tries to keep the details under wraps. But the Brennan family lived with and loved an addict for many years, and they are making their son’s struggles, and their struggles, an open book. In this article in Sports Illustrated, the family talks about Colt and his demons. Here’s the lede:

Colt Brennan’s parents were in Mexico for a wedding on a Saturday in early May when they started worrying about him again. A friend who fed their pets while they were away had been surprised to find a backpack in their foyer and heard music coming from somewhere inside the house. Colt’s parents called and texted him. He didn’t answer.

That Sunday, Colt’s last day alive, Betsy and Terry Brennan flew back to their home in the hills above Orange County, where a sign by the door announces ALOHA! Inside, they heard noise coming from the kitchen and found their 37-year-old son sprawled across a small sofa. Drunk and high, watching TV, he was surrounded by two bottles of vodka, some beer cans and several nitrous oxide containers.

Betsy groaned. Not again.

Colt, one of college football’s all-time great quarterbacks—and one of the game’s truly beloved figures—had struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. He tried everything to get sober, and then, recently, seemed to get there. To those close to him, in the few months before his parents returned, he appeared as healthy as he’d been in a decade.

Back in Irvine, though, Terry guided Colt to his SUV and drove off. Father and son didn’t speak. The silence felt like a scream. Overwhelmed with emotion, Terry wanted to cry, to “kick his ass,” to hold his son—to do whatever he could to stop the thing that kept driving Colt back to this. The sun was setting. Terry didn’t know where to go or what to do. He wondered, as so many addicts’ parents and families and friends have at some point, maybe many times over: Is this ever going to end?

As a parent, it’s truly heartbreaking – reading about Colt’s addictions, rehabs, relapses, and everything he went through and his family went through alongside him. I highly recommend it.

Source: They Did Everything, But Nothing Could Ever Save Him,” Brandon Sneed, Sports Illustrated (11/01/2021)


Teams That Try to Win Do Win and Winning is Good

The Atlanta Braves won the World Series this week. I was kinda rooting for Dusty to finally get one, but there are also lots of former Giants on the Braves’ roster (Pablo [sorta], Will Smith, Adam Duvall, Steven Vogt, Adrianza) plus lots of other dudes I love (Albies, Freeman, and, although injured, Acuna), so this was a fine result. Plus, ya know, it wasn’t the Dodgers. The Braves won with a starting outfield acquired, entirely, at the trade deadline: Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler. They acquired reliever Richard Rodriguez and Vogt in July, too. At the deadline, they were 52-54. But they went for it. They closed 36-19 and then beat the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros and never faced an elimination game while doing it. Not bad. As Zach Kram wrote, “Atlanta wasn’t the majors’ best team from April to September; it wasn’t all that close. It merely tried to win, and then it did. That’s a reason for a trophy, and for the other 29 clubs to take note.”

Similarly, but in another sport, the Los Angeles Rams are trying to win. The Rams are tied for the best record in the NFC, with Green Bay and Arizona, at 7-1. And they just traded a 2022 draft pick in order to get Von Miller, a good but not great pass rusher. The Rams first pick in the 2022 draft won’t be until the fifth round. But to give up those picks, they got guys like Jalen Ramsey and Matt Stafford and now Von Miller. 

Of course, the Rams haven’t won the Super Bowl. But the Rams, like the Braves, have realized that so many teams are tanking, or “building for the future” that it’s not that hard to win right now these days, if you just try. As Kevin Clark writes regarding the Rams:

Through the years, I’ve come to learn how few teams are trying to win a championship each season. A few years ago, a smart NFL person estimated that only 10 or so teams were actively trying to win the Super Bowl in any given season. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said on the Flying Coach podcast the number is about five, and that the other teams are trying to survive. In his new book on the Patriots dynasty, It’s Better to Be Feared, Seth Wickersham writes that Jimmy Johnson told Bill Belichick that if you just get out of the way, 20 teams will remove themselves from competition. Job preservation, saving some money, and not doing anything too weird that’ll get you noticed are guiding principles in many front offices. This trade might be the new normal for the 12 or so teams that haven’t removed themselves from competition. This is what trying to win looks like in 2021, and it applies not just to the Rams, but to every team trying to have a Super Bowl roster.

It’s an interesting point – so many front offices have decided to take the longview that you can differentiate yourself by trying to take a short view: pay less to win now, worry about later, well, later. It’s a Moneyball tact, and as a fan, I like it. -TOB

Source: Atlanta Used One Simple Trick to Win a Shocking World Series Championship,” Zach Kram, The Ringer (11/03/2021); The Rams Keep Carving Their Own Path in the NFL Roster Arms Race,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (11/04/2021)

PAL: Great combo summary, TOB. “Very few teams are trying to win a championship each season.” That’s insane and feels about right. How about this stat from the Kram story:

In the playoffs, the outfield quartet combined for a .270/.339/.505 batting line. In other words, against the higher-caliber pitching of the postseason, Atlanta’s four new outfielders were collectively as productive at the plate as Manny Machado or Nelson Cruz were in the regular season.

Less we forget, anything really can happen, especially in the playoffs. You never know, so why not go for it, like the Braves did, when you even have a small chance at winning.

More articulately put:

Try at the deadline, reach the postseason, and it’s possible to upset three superior rosters in a row, as Atlanta did against the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros. In a short series, Freeman can homer off Josh Hader, and Tyler Matzek can transform into Mariano Rivera circa 1996, and the lineups’ performance with runners in scoring position can both shift in one team’s favor.

The more we see tanking across major sports, the more I think it’s as much about front office job preservation as anything else. More than anything, I think just wants a team to try to win. That’s not to say a team should always leverage a future for the present, but the tanking is too much and too often bears out too little.


Sometimes I Am Reminded that Most Sports Punditry is Very Bad, A Rant

The Braves won the World Series in Game 6, by a score of 7-0. It was a snoozefest, as they jumped out to an early lead on a gigantic home run from Jorge Soler.

It left the freakin building. It reminded everyone of Pujols’ huge home run against Brad Lidge back in 2005. After the home run, the Astros went down quietly. But the media narrative after the game was that Soler’s 3-run homer, in the third inning, took the wind out of the Astros’ sails. That it killed their spirit. That there was no turning back. I heard or read this multiple times, including by KNBR’s Tom Tolbert, who I really like.

But I am here to tell you that this narrative is b.s. It’s not true. And you only have to look back one single game to prove it. Because this is how Game 5 began, in the first inning:

That is a Grand Slam, people. The Astros, facing elimination, were in a 4-0 hole in the first inning. Did they go down quietly? Uh, no.

Over the next 8 innings, the Astros outscored the Braves 8-1, and staved off elimination in a 9-5 win. So why, one game later, do people think a 3-run homer in the third inning crushed the Astros’ spirits? They’re just wrong, trying to write a narrative where there was none. The real story is that Soler’s homer was huge, as any 3-run homer in the playoffs is, and the Braves pitching staff pitched their tails off. That’s it. -TOB


TOB With a Statement About Aaron Rodgers

Yes, I am aware of rumors and stories about Aaron Rodgers and COVID-19. No, I am not going to defend him (yet). I am “doing my own research.” This is a personal decision and I ask that you respect that as I come to my own conclusions. I will take no questions at this time. Thank you. -TOB

PAL: Readers! I found tape of TOB practicing his closing arguments for Cal’s own Aaron Rodgers:


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Mr. Parkinson would be appalled if he knew how Mr. Fox was behaving.

Larry David

Week of October 29, 2021


Don’t Stop Dreaming

Most of you recognize the name Alex Honnold. He climbed El Capitan without a rope. Nearly as impressive is his mom’s achievement. At 70, Dierdre Wolownick climbed El Cap (with a rope). 

More incredible, she took up rock climbing in her 60s. Not in the 1960s, but rather  in her seventh decade. Her story, which is a part of the NY Times “It’s Never Too Late” Series, is the inspiration some of you might be looking for while perusing our humble little side project of a digest. 

As Tim Neville captures, the first half of her life was filled with wonderful, albeit “sedentary and cerebral”. In her interview with Neville, she describes the circumstances of her late start in climbing. 

How did you try it?

About 10 years ago, Alex was home with an injury so I asked him to take me to the climbing gym. I figured I’d get to know the equipment and climb halfway up the wall and come home and be happy. I got on the first climb and went all the way up, about 45 feet, and I was totally surprised I had no fear whatsoever. So I did 12 more climbs that day and loved it.

What was your life like before that?

Total turmoil. My husband, Charles, fell over dead at 55 in the Phoenix airport one month after I had divorced him and I became the executor of his estate. My father had just died and I was dealing with his estate, too. Alex had almost died while snowshoeing in 2004 when he was 19. So I started running, little by little, and wound up becoming a runner. There was nothing in life I was doing for me and running was for me. Climbing turned out to be the same, an escape, but it took courage.

How did you overcome the challenges to climb?

Climbing is very physical and there’s so much to learn about the equipment, the physics, the angles — everything.

I was just a lumpy old middle age woman completely taken with jobs and chores. I was scared, too, and sometimes you need a little help to do something totally new and alien to you. But after a month or two I had had enough conversations with myself and so I said, OK, today, you’re not going home after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing gym. And I did. It became a routine. Climbing was like a key opening this lifelong door. It was wonderful.

Such a cool one. Read the full story and check out more incredible photos from Aubrey Trinnaman. – PAL

Source: “It’s Never Too Late to Climb That Mountain,” Tim Neville, The New York Times (10/26/21) 


This Mark Davis Story: Hilarious and Right On and Creepy

“Norman Bates presented as an unthreatening goof, too.”

This is a story about a backpack. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag, and who also has this haircut.

I’ve read this story three times now. Albert Burneko writes the hell out of a story about a backpack. And, in this situation, a backpack is disturbing. 

Do not make the category mistake of finding this image relatable. Mark Davis can afford, ten thousand times over, to have very skilled and sleek professionals carry his bags for him; to have all of the items that might go into a backpack attended to with great care and minimal friction and zero personal involvement on his part, so that he can glide effortlessly from the lobby of the building to a waiting vehicle; to do this clad in other than remaindered Las Vegas Raiders team merchandise. He could have all of that with little more than a snap of his fingers; the very rich in America do not even have to arrange these things for themselves (and frequently do not even have to actually pay for them). Choosing this, instead—choosing, that is, to lug his own gigantic backpack and suit bag, instead of cashing in a virtually nonexistent portion of his wealth and prestige to purchase a level of ease infinitely beyond the reach of a normal person—is the equivalent of that normal person willingly choosing to walk out of their hotel clad only in a paper grocery bag with leg-holes kicked into the bottom of it, with all their material possessions clutched in their arms, and then stand at the curb attempting to thumb a ride to their destination. That may be an understatement. It might be the equivalent of a normal person denying themselves the luxury of inhaling. The normal person who did that would not be normal or relatable. They would be bizarre and disturbing.

Burneko goes on. It’s a quick and excellent read. Mark Davis may look like many a dads who got off the “caring how I look” train many stops ago, but that is not what’s going on here. – PAL  

Source: Mark Davis, Big Backpack Guy,” Albert Burneko, Defector (10/27/21)


“That’s kind of what I do: basketball and bass fishing.”

Luke Lowe is the first college basketball player I’ve heard of that entered the transfer portal in search of a new team…and better fishing. He transferred from William & Mary to the University of Minnesota (or, as all of us commonly refer to it, the U). In fishing circles Lowe  has been known as a standout fisher long before he was considered a stellar college basketball player, winning state and national fishing tournaments. 

Per Marcus Fuller:

Playing in the Big Ten was a plus for Loewe, but returning to his Midwest roots as an aspiring pro fisherman was a top priority as well.

“There are a lot of great opportunities up here,” said Loewe, a Fond du Lac, Wis., native. “A lot of great fishermen. I’ve been connecting with some of the better anglers around Minnesota, which has been cool.”

Lowe turned himself into a legit college player at William & Mary. After averaging below 2 points per game during his freshman year, he became into a defensive stopper on the perimeter, a 40 percent 3-point shooter, and averaged over 16 a game by his fourth season. 

Pair the new NIL rules for college athletes with Lowes fishing youtube channel, and the dude just might have a nice little social media niche. Classic local newspaper story right here. – PAL 

Source: “Luke Loewe’s transfer to Gophers means more bass and buckets for the avid fisherman,” Marcus Fuller, The Star Tribune (10/26/21)


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Klay is awesome. He commutes to work on a boat, has a cool dog, and he can take a joke. – PAL

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Week of October 22, 2021

Phil reading texts about former Twin Eddie Rosario

The Perfect Overtime

I know, I know; playoff baseball is happening, and former Twin, Eddie Rosario—who was terrible for the Twins in any big game ever—decided to continue the legacy of former Twins to have big moments in the playoffs (David Ortiz). Stil, I think this story was the best thing I read all week, and it’s about an early-season NHL overtime between the Rangers and the Maple Leafs. 

Barry Petchesky takes a great highlight in a regular season game and creates a broadly compelling story about the challenge of creating an overtime system in a sport for an American audience (ties ain’t gonna fly) that is both entertaining and not a complete departure from the usual game, e.g. shootouts. He thinks hockey just might have found the perfect balance with the 3-on-3 overtime.

He writes, “[i]t’s fun—the same forces that discourage OT from lasting the full five minutes make it a breathless arcade version of the sport. Not quite the real thing, but not a bastardization either: a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation. 

=

The highlight—which is the entire overtime—is incredible. Non-stop action. Great plays, great saves, a blow-for-blow attack. Just a great sports moment that you can’t turn away from once you hit play. That description of an overtime rule—“a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation”— is a great nugget of writing. I get an extra bit of satisfaction when I find a completely random story and get rewarded with a great read. -PAL

Source: Watch This Overtime,” Barry Petchesky, Defector (10/19/21)


Final Grades: Baseball’s Minor League Experiments

After watching the umpires make a bunch of bad ball/strike calls in the Giants/Dodgers series, TOB and I were texting that it just might be time for the robo ump. And then Laz Diaz gave an all-time performance in the Red Sox/Astros game, missing on a playoff high 23 ball/strike calls. The robo umps are already being tested out in lower leagues, so is the sun setting on human umpires calling pitches in a MLB game? 

The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur bring up an important consideration before we jump all the way there with the automated ball-strike system. For one, leagues need to define the zone. Not difficult, you’d think, but there are a lot of variables at play there. One example of these variables: teams providing an accurate height for its players in order for the system to establish the vertical zone). Also, consider this example in the Atlantic League, which went from a 17-inch wide zone (the width of the plate) to a 21-inch zone, making pitch 3 a strike in the graphic below: 

Now, consider that the catcher was set up on the other side of the plate and the pitcher missed location badly. The catcher reaches across his body and stabs at the pitch. The umpire calls it a strike. 

And there there’s the question of a 3-D zone, a 2-D zone, something called a super ellipses zone. It’s not as simple as you might think, all of which leads to the other side of the coin when consider real umps vs. robo umps

Robo umps just make different divisive calls. Even without the traditional “human element,” the strike zone remains a living document. In effect, the old human element of umpires is being replaced by the new human element of MLB executives who are trying to determine which size and shape the strike zone should take. And it’s difficult to take a strict-constructionist stance on what is and isn’t a strike when the zone is repeatedly reconstructed.

The ABS system is just one experiment headed up by MLB this season in an effort to ““increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of games, and reduce player injuries.”

Now that the season is over in the minors and independent leagues, Lindbergh and Arthur took a look at the data of the various experiments in hopes of having an idea of what proposed changes might potentially make an appearance in real game, maybe even a playoff game, in the years to come. 

Of the rules tried out in the summer season, a handful of them are being instituted in instructional fall leagues, which could be an indication of what changes are still being considered by MLB. Those rules are as follows: 

  • ABS system
  • 15-second pitch clock
  • Shift restrictions
  • 18-inch bases (up from 15-inch)
  • Pick-off attempt limits 

This is a super in-depth story, it’s a bit of a data slog, but it’s no doubt excellent. – PAL 

Source: MLB Just Tried a Bunch of Experimental Rules in the Minors. How Well Did They Work?Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur, The Ringer (10/21/21)


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How hard is a luau? All you need are some grass skirts, pineapple, poi, tiki torches, suckling pig, some fire dancers. That’s all you need.

Michael Scott

Week of October 15, 2021


Giants/Dodgers Game 5, Post-Game:

Yikes. That phenomenal, season-long battle between two great teams can’t come down to a check swing. The rivalry deserves more. Flores was down 0-2 to Scherzer. Chances are he doesn’t get a hit and it doesn’t matter, but—goddamn it—let’s have it play out. We were so close. 

My god, the Dodgers are a scary lineup. Mookie Betts is terrifying. Will Smith will get ya. Chris Taylor is looking to do damage. Trea Turner will turn a three-hop grounder into a hit…when he’s not busy nearly hitting 30 homers. And, as a catcher a million insignificant years ago, I can’t understand throwing four sliders in a row to Bellinger. I’m certain the Giants have all the data to say stick with the slider, and I won’t argue that, but let’s take a pitch to just change what he sees with an elevated fastball (at 97+) before coming back to it. 

Brandon Webb is a beast, and his incredible performance against a stacked lineup in two playoff games will be lost because the Giants didn’t win, but an ace was born tonight, folks. A Cy Young contender with stuff that will age well (sinker, change-up, slider) introduced himself. 

I’ve never been the head cheerleader of the Brandon Belt fan club, but man-o-man did we miss him in this series. 

Striking out with runners on base and less than two outs is a killer. 

There’s a difference between a regular season bullpen and a playoff bullpen. The Giants had a regular season bullpen; the Dodgers’ is a playoff bullpen with Treinen and Jansen. 

Can’t end on a check swing. That was terrible. -PAL

TOB: We watched this game in the backyard. I needed new mojo. The setup was nice.

When the game ended, I watched for a minute or so as the Dodgers celebrated on the field. When they started to interview Bellinger, I pulled the plug (literally) and began to clean up – quickly, angrily, quietly. And then I saw my 7 year old feeding off my reaction. 

And I realized I didn’t want to be that dad. I couldn’t be that dad. So I told him the Giants lost, but it was ok. I reminded him we had such a fun summer – the Giants gave us so many great moments – watching the games together each night, or the next morning, going over the the highlights he missed after he went to bed. 

He went upstairs and I finished cleaning up. I took that moment of solitude to feel it – to feel that frustration. I kicked a stray soccer ball as hard as I could against the fence. In the garage, I kicked a cardboard box. 

And then I let it all go. I went upstairs and put the boy to bed – I told him again that the Giants gave us the most fun season ever – 107 regular season wins. I mean, hell. That’s incredible. I reminded him that umpires make mistakes and it’s not fun but these things happen. I pointed out that there are 30 teams, and only one gets to finish the season as champs. I told him now we get to root against the Dodgers and hopefully they won’t win the World Series, and then we get to come back next year and win it all. I told him, and me, not to let a disappointing end sour a great season. And then, at 10pm, he drifted off to sleep.


Gruden is Out, and Hopefully So Are All Coaches Like Him

John Gruden was forced to resign this week, after emails from his time with ESPN were leaked, showing Gruden to be a racist, homophobic a-hole. I don’t care to get into the specifics of Gruden. He has been a mediocre coach almost his entire career, save two deep playoff runs twenty years ago, and he’s not worth the time or energy. However, I did read a very good article from Seth Wickersham that the Gruden story (and last week’s Urban Meyer story) inspired, and I wanted to share that instead. It’s about how Gruden and Meyer, and coaches like them, who think they are the cosmos (to steal a line) are a dying breed.

In the early part of the last decade, NFL teams started to notice that the way players learned about football was changing. There is a certain type of coach who hated this because they hate anything outside of football plays that they have to think about for more than 30 seconds, but these changes forced the league to reckon with the fact that the old way of coaching was pretty much over. Teams conducted studies, which found that younger players were more likely to ask coaches “why” and that players could learn effectively even when doing things coaches mostly hated, like listening to music. Mostly, coaches found that they needed to adapt. The Rams studied this. The 49ers did, too, and started shortening and breaking up their meetings because they know antsy younger players can’t concentrate for very long without their devices. Those were just two of the teams that told me about this stuff on the record, but I can assure you nearly every team—including the absolute best coaches in the sport—began adapting to these changes.

Wickersham points out that the “Cult of the Head Coach” has always been “misguided.”

A few years after they leave the game, their legacies take the form of motivational quotes—real or imagined—and some clips from NFL Films and that’s about it. Their imperfections are washed away by time and memes. Twenty years after a coach is done, they are either bumbling incompetents like Rich Kotite or geniuses like Bill Walsh. Never mind the fact that Walsh, in one of his books, details how close he was to quitting after a tough loss early in his head coaching career, or the doubt he faced constantly.

No, there is none of that when discussing former coaches. Just winners and losers. Steelers legend Chuck Noll, one of the paragons of American coaching toughness, believed that toughness was oftentimes simply a product of technique—what was considered soft in the NFL, more often than not, was simply not knowing what you’re doing out there. David Maraniss’s biography of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, is more or less devoted to punching holes in the Lombardi mythmaking industry. The Packers’ legendary coach did not coin the phrase “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”—he said it a few times long after it had become popular, and he didn’t even believe it. Maraniss wrote that the famous quote from a player about how Lombardi treated his players—all like dogs—wasn’t even close to the truth.

It’s a good read. -TOB

Source: The Cult of the Coach Is Losing Its Power. Good Riddance,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (10/15/2021)


Youth Soccer in the U.S. is Kinda Effed Up

My oldest is very good at soccer for his age. That’s not bragging, it’s just true: he’s very good. He plays on a local club team that keeps it fun and is run by a group of people that, to me, seem to do things the right way. But every once in a while we’ll be at a field and I see a group of kids, a bit older, wearing the logo of a big name European team – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich. And I have allowed myself to daydream a little bit – wow. Wouldn’t that be cool? If a coach in Barcelona’s system approached us after a game and asked our son to join their youth academy? Wow, imagine if he impresses those coaches – what doors would open up for him?

But after a few seconds of daydreaming, I consider the realities: What does that actually mean for him? Soccer how many days a week? How many months a year? The inability to play with friends, whether soccer or otherwise. And what does it mean for our family? The cost. The travel. Do we have to consider moving at some point? None of that seems desirable. Especially for the small chance that he winds his way through the academy, which is intentionally casting a wide net and then slowly weeding kids out as they age, and becomes a professional soccer player. If you read the article, the reality is presented in the form of a child named Ricky Vanderhyde, and I highly recommend you read it (For more on how these youth academies work, I highly recommend this New York Times article from 2010, “How a Soccer Star is Made.”). 

I don’t know what I thought the deal was with those academies here in San Francisco. I guess I thought the team hires highly qualified coaches and sends them out across the world to teach the game. So it was with a bit of astonishment, and now embarrassment, that I read about how it actually works, at least sometimes, in an article about how European clubs are increasing their academies in the U.S., in an attempt to land the next American soccer star. This one is about an academy in Virginia, affiliated with Spanish club Villareal:

Villarreal Virginia consists of a contract between Amato, a former Tottenham Hotspur youth player, and the Spanish club. Like the other local operators, Amato pays a fee to use Villarreal’s name and logo to attract players. He is permitted to outfit his team in replica versions of Villarreal’s jerseys — but not the expensive game jerseys, Amato notes with approval. “They don’t want parents wasting their money on that,” he said.

Ohhhhhhh. I basically slapped my forehead when I saw this. The coach may or may not be good – I have no idea. But he’s attracting parents (and talent) by paying money to slap the club’s logo on his gear and call himself an academy of a top European club. As I continued to read, though, it seems the connection is sometimes a little stronger than that, at least in the Virginia Villareal case. Villareal does periodically send its coaches to Virginia to help out. And:

Beyond that, Villarreal has agreed to bring in Amato’s most promising young players for workshops and training. The families of those players are responsible for the airfare, but once they arrive overseas, the Spanish club typically covers everything else.

Which is kinda gross, right? I saw that Bayern Munich club this summer and daydreamed. The club, and the local coach/franchisee, is preying on that daydream – charging what I’ll go out on a limb and guess is a premium in the hopes of attracting parents away from local clubs who aren’t willing to pay for a European club’s logo. For example, the article references a club in Florida, affiliated with Paris-St. Germain, which is rumored to charge $60,000 per year. SIXTY K, BRUH.

And even for clubs like the FC Dallas academy, which has worked out a partnership with Bayern Munich to adopt Bayern’s coaching and development, this seems like a bit of a scam. Bayern gives its name and development strategies. Bayern gets paid a bit and both Bayern and FC Dallas get to keep a close eye on top American talent. Which is worth it. As the article notes:

The next Messi is out there somewhere. If a club could find him, or even the next Pulisic or Reyna, it would recoup its entire U.S. investment. “If we have the opportunity to teach what we believe is the correct way to play football, we’re certain that we’re going to get players,” says Villarreal’s Anton.

“And all it takes is one.”

Which is an interesting sentiment, coming just a few paragraphs after this point:

It’s quite likely that others, who might have had the ability of a Christian Pulisic or Gio Reyna in their mid-teens, but not the European passport, never fulfilled their potential. Opinions differ as to why, and what the remedies should be. Where nearly everyone is in agreement is that the United States has as many talented preteens as anywhere else, yet only a few of those players come out the back end of the youth soccer system as international standouts.

And it seems to me the answer is staring them in the face: make these academies free. Selective, but free. The fact they aren’t doing this is especially astonishing, though, when you know that the idea is not new to these clubs. Remember that 11-year old NYT article about Ajax I linked earlier? Well, here’s a passage from that article:

The Ajax youth academy is not a boarding school. The players all live within a 35-mile radius of Amsterdam (some of them have moved into the area to attend the academy). Ajax operates a fleet of 20 buses to pick up the boys halfway through their school day and employs 15 teachers to tutor them when they arrive. Parents pay nothing except a nominal insurance fee of 12 euros a year, and the club covers the rest — salaries for 24 coaches, travel to tournaments, uniforms and gear for the players and all other costs associated with running a vast facility. Promising young players outside the Ajax catchment area usually attend academies run by other Dutch professional clubs, where the training is also free, as it is in much of the rest of the soccer-playing world for youths with pro potential. (The U.S., where the dominant model is “pay to play” — the better an athlete, the more money a parent shells out — is the outlier.)

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Not only is the Ajax academy free, but they provide tutors to help educate them, and pick them up at school!? Meanwhile, we have U.S. parents shelling out upwards of $60,000 per year for the most expensive and least return-on-your-dollar lotto ticket in history. Americans, man. So dumb. But also, these clubs? So dumb. On the one hand, they wonder why they aren’t capturing the top American youth talent and developing those kids into professional adults. And then at the same time they are putting up a major barrier for many kids and families. Hello! If you make it free, you greatly increase the number of players that can attend and in doing so increase your odds of hitting the jackpot. -TOB

Source: How Barcelona, Villarreal and Other European Clubs are Competing with MLS for America’s Top Talent,”Bruce Schoenfeld, ESPN (10/12/2021); “How a Soccer Star is Made,” Michael Sokolove, New York Times (06/02/2010)


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“Some people need dozens of friends to say, ‘Hey look at me, I’m popular!’ But not me, I’m very picky.”

-Michael Scott