Week of March 22, 2019

Pretty much sums up everything great about going to a game. Photo: Al Bello


The Best Baseball Player Is Paid A Lot, But Is It “Enough”?

On the heels of the Phillies’ signing Bryce Harper to a 13 year, $330M contract ($25M per year, which is frankly a relative bargain), came news this week that the Angels had come to an agreement on a massive extension with Mike Trout, the best baseball player in the world.

The total: a 10 year extension for $360M ($36M per year), and on top of what Trout is owed the next two seasons, he’ll be paid $426.5M over the next 12 years. It’s the biggest total deal in American sports history, and so much more than Harper got, fairly.

But was it as much as Trout could have gotten? When Harper signed with the Phillies, I joked that the Giants should go after Trout when he becomes a free agent in two years with an unfathomable sum:

(Pardon my language!) A billion was obviously never going to happen. But what is a “fair” amount for Trout, who has been the best in the league pretty much since he was called up in 2011. First, a caveat from Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer:

We’ll stipulate something that hardly needs to be said: If making $426.5 million is a problem, it’s one we’d all like to have. It’s never easy to argue that an athlete is underpaid even though he’ll make far more money in a decade than most of us can imagine making in multiple lifetimes. Admittedly, in a world where earnings were parceled out by an all-knowing entity based on societal utility or Good Place points, not even Trout would make so much more than the average citizen. In this world, though, the money that’s now going to Trout wasn’t going to go to teachers or ticket buyers or hungry minor leaguers, but to Angels owner Arte Moreno. Begrudging Trout the millions he’s making is akin to being upset that Moreno isn’t making more.

Seconded! Got it? Good. Ok. So, how good has Trout been? Well, Trout is the best player ever through his age-26 season:

Or how about: this winter, Harper and Manny Machado signed for a combined $55M per season. Since their rookie years in 2012, though, Trout has been better than Harper and Machado combined (Trout: 64.0 WAR; Harper+Machado: 60.9 WAR). So is Trout worth $55 million per year? Maybe! He’s projected to produce something around 80 WAR over the next ten years, and he only has to produce 44.5 WAR to make this deal a win for the Angels:

In other words, Trout will be paid a lot, but it very likely won’t be nearly enough. As Lindbergh says, “The problem for Trout is that he’s too good to be paid exactly what he’s worth.”

I’ll also add this: after mostly seeing him on highlights and box scores the last 8 years, I was very excited to watch him Trout for three days in a row when the Giants traveled to Anaheim last season. He did not disappoint: He hit 6/12 with three dingers and two doubles, a walk and a stolen base, good for a batting average of .500 and an OPS of 2.129 (!!). Every time he came up I was terrified. It was Bondsian. -TOB

Source: Mike Trout Isn’t Worth $430 Million – He’s Worth Much More”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (03/19/2019)

PAL: This is the first time I wish I was an economist. TOB highlights the key caveat to Linbergh’s article: yes, $426MM is an unfathomable amount of money, so the rest of this is more or less an fun exercise on quantifying how good Trout is at baseball. But for the greatest of the greats, I wonder if we can quantify their value in dollars relative to what other players make. There’s something more to it, and I’m going to try to put my finger on it here. These are half-baked:

  • At what point is the dollar the wrong unit to measure the value of an asset? My dad likes to say, “A buck’s a buck.” At some astronomical number, does the value of a dollar mean less than it does at a lower point? And at what point is that? 
  • $1,000,000 is a huge number unless it’s $1,000,000 within $500,000,000. More specifically, it’s .2%. That is a relatively miniscule amount. There is no felt difference between $426MM (Trout) and $360MM (Harper) to everyone on the planet except for about 5,000 people.
  • How could Mike Trout truly be worth $1B really over the course of his career if the Angels franchise is worth maybe $2B? In comparison to other players – sure – he’s undervalued. In comparison to asset of a team he seems he would be overvalued?
  • The last five years of this contract will still suck. Players don’t decline at a consistent rate.  He’ll likely earn the money in the first chunk of the contract (can any single person “earn” that amount of money?), but I bet this gets painful to watch.
  • God, it really sucks he plays for the Angels.

TOB: When you consider Trout is as productive as Machado and Harper, then you are essentially getting production from two fringe-MVP level players at one position. That allows an incredible flexibility – they can pay Trout and then fill the second spot with a light hitting defensive wizard, or a cheap replacement level player, or they can go big and try to sign another good/great player for an embarrassment of riches. That’s why I think Trout is “worth” something along the lines of 90% what Harper+Machado are paid (allowing for around $5M to go to that second player). And, keep in mind, in terms of average annual value, Harper’s deal was well under market.

So, even given the slow market this year, Harper and Machado still did get big deals. If Trout were a free agent this year or next (which he won’t be and wouldn’t have been even without this deal), I do think somewhere around 8 years, $400M was in play, and he might have talked someone into 10 years, $500M.

Regarding the team’s value vs what he could be paid: First, a billion was never going to happen. But I do think your question is comparing apples and oranges. “Value” isn’t the same as revenue. The Angels will certainly pull in multiple billions of dollars over the course of the deal. This is simplified, but in 2018, MLB teams pulled in a collective $10.3 billion. That’s roughly $350 million per team. Over the next 12 years, that’s $4.2 billion, and that’s not assuming any increases in inflation or revenue.


Retirements Let The Writers Sing

When a true great retires, one treat we get is a great sportswriter showing what they can do with an entire career from which to pull. Barry Petchesky is one of my favorite sportswriters. We featured a lot of his articles on 1-2-3 Sports!. Ichiro’s retirement – in Japan after a MLB game – is the type of occasion for Petchesky to bring his fastball (emphasis mine):

For that he can thank his insane training methods and commitment—he once claimed he swore off taking vacations after a weeklong trip to Italy in the winter of 2004 threw off his exercise schedule. Again, it’s kind of hard to believe that’s true—but Ichiro apocrypha is one of baseball’s treasures. We expect foreign players to arrive attached to legends too good to check, but Ichiro created his own myths, even here, before our eyes and cameras and notepads. How he was reliably a beast in batting practice and could’ve hit 40 home runs a year if he wanted to be that type of player. (Barry Bonds once said Ichiro could win the Home Run Derby.) How he could instantly discern a good bat from a bad bat by tapping the barrel once with his fingernail. How he had no idea who Tom Brady was. How he would shit-talk opposing players in their own language, English or Spanish. Were these stories true? Does it matter? For Ichiro as for no other player, certain things felt possible.

That’s the good stuff.

If it’s hard for you to understand just how much Ichiro meant to baseball (it was for me) – not just Japanese baseball, but baseball – look no further than this clip:

Yusei Kikuchi is a 27 year old rookie. That’s what happens when you meet a legend in real life.

Consider this: Ichiro has been playing professional baseball since I was a freshman. In high school. Great writing, and – damn – Ichiro can still throw for a 45 year old. Let’s get him a manager job in MLB right now.  – PAL

Source: Ichiro Forever”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (03/21/19)

TOB: That video was fantastic. Kikuchi said he grew up idolizing Ichiro:“Mr. Ichiro is kind of a person in the sky, a legend. I don’t know if he really exists.” Masahiro Tanaka, who played with Ichiro for a year with the Yankees had a similar sentiment: ”

“He is a legend in Japan. To me, he was in some other category, out of reach, out of reality. When I was small and I would watch TV, he was one of the biggest superstars in Japanese baseball. It wasn’t something that I could realistically relate to. But for me, he was always somebody unreachable, like somebody above the clouds.”

I also want to point out how emotional Felix Hernandez is in the video, just before Kikuchi appears. King Felix’s career is winding down, but he came up as a 19-year old in 2005, and played the next 8 seasons with Ichiro. You can imagine how much he looked up to Ichiro. What a cool thing.


How A Minor Move May Actually Be a Large Domino, Or: How to Be a Great Beat Writer

Andrew Baggarly is one of my favorite beat writers (really, Giants fans have an embarrassment of riches feeding them info – in the booth and on the page). He’s whip smart (he won Jeopardy, you know!), funny, and knows what he’s talking about. The story he wrote about a trade the GIants made this week involving two minor leaguers is a perfect example of how well he sees the big picture.

The Giants traded minor league pitcher Jordan Johnson to the Reds for minor league utility man Connor Joe. 

Looking at this on a transaction log, I wouldn’t even blink. But Baggs grabs you right away:

[I]f those names don’t trigger an emotional response, then perhaps this will: Pablo Sandoval’s chances of making the Giants’ Opening Day roster just took a major hit.

Wait, what? Then he tells you why the trade for Joe is important:

Last December, the Reds plucked Joe away from the Dodgers at the Winter Meetings. Now that the Giants have acquired Joe, the same Rule 5 provisions apply: he must remain on the 25-man big-league roster all season or be offered back to the Dodgers for half the $100,000 claiming price.

At this late stage, it’s hard to imagine the Giants sacrificing a durable minor-league pitcher like Johnson, who made 26 solid if unspectacular starts between Double A and Triple A last season, if they didn’t intend to carry Joe on their Opening Day roster.

Then he breaks down the math of the Giants’ Opening Day roster and why Panda might be impacted:

If the Giants carry 13 pitchers and limit themselves to a four-man bench, they’d need spots for:

— Joe

— backup catcher René Rivera

— at least one backup outfielder (Cameron Maybin? Mike Gerber? Henry Ramos?) capable of spelling Steven Duggar in center

— and at least one backup infielder (Alen Hanson? Yangervis Solarte?) capable of spelling Brandon Crawford at shortstop

Hanson is out of options as well. He cannot be sent to the minors without exposing him to waivers.

Sandoval does have a minor-league option, actually. But he has enough service time to refuse an assignment and immediately elect free agency.

Then he breaks down some deeper ramifications for losing Panda:

It’s a move that would come as a shock to some of their core players. Prior to Thursday’s pregame workout, one of their stars appeared dumbfounded when I raised the very real possibility that Sandoval would not survive to Opening Day.

And if Sandoval, the 2012 World Series MVP, loses his place to a 26-year-old newcomer who hasn’t played a day in the big leagues? It’s going to be a tough one for the clubhouse to understand or accept.

There’s more, and I recommend you read it. It’s to smart, informative, and to the point. Like I said, that’s some damn good beat writing. -TOB

Source: Why the Giants’ Minor Trade with the Reds Could Become a Much Bigger Deal Within the Clubhouse”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (03/21/2019)

PAL: The Red Sox are paying Pablo $18MM to not play for them this year. Suck it, Rabeni. I know your Boston Sports kids expect to win every title every year, but still, suck it.


How To Use (And Not Use) New Information in Baseball: A Case Study

As baseball teams continue to get smarter and continue to use modern technology to gather new information previously unavailable, they are faced with a challenge: how do you present information like launch angle and spin rate to players in a manner that allows them to digest it and put it to good use.

Likewise, players are faced with a challenge: how do you react to new information, especially when it contradicts something you believe? There are hundreds of big leaguers, and many hundreds more minor leaguers and college players, and the reactions to how players accept the new information undoubtedly run the gamut.

In a recent article in the Chronicle on the topic, two stark reactions were placed in contrast. In my opinion, one of those was Good; the other was Bad.

First, the Good, from fringe major leaguer Ray Black, who touches 99 MPH on his fastball but has struggled in his short career to consistently locate his breaking balls:

On the pitching side, Black can cite specific ways tracking data have helped him.

He recalled an encounter last season with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who kept fouling off sliders until Black threw another and got the strikeout. Moments later, Schwartze asked Black what he did differently on the final pitch because the spin was better.

“I went back to the video trying to see exactly what it was that got the swing and miss,” he said. “I got some extra spin rate on it. It had to deal with a little bit of extension and staying on top of the ball a little better.”

That sent Black into study mode.

“How can I try to mirror that?” he said. “How can I throw that pitch more frequently and consistently so I have tighter spin, more spin, and have better depth on my slider instead of side-to-side movement?”

Black showed an excellent attitude toward new information and an even better job of understanding that new information and then implementing what he learned.

And, now, The Bad, from Jeff Samardzija:

“They can bring anything new in and odds are I’m just going to keep it at arm’s length because I want to keep it as simple as possible,” Samardzija said. “To me, it’s a simple game and I don’t want to make it any more complicated than it is.”

Hey, Jeff. You’re 33 years old and you have been better than league average (100 ERA+) just once since 2014. Maybe you could try an open mind, instead of getting paid millions to suck, buddy. -TOB

Source: How the Giants are Elevating Baseball Innovation in S.F.”, Hank Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle (03/19/2019)


Video(s) of the Week: So cool

And this one, c/o Pep from work:


Tweets of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: YEBBA – ‘Evergreen’


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I had a very good thing going with David Wallace. He was a good guy, was somebody I could trust. There he is. [picks up a framed photo of him and David] You can really see that he is ok taking a picture with me. Even though I was there for disciplinary reasons.

-M. Gary Scott

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Week of March 15, 2019

Up, up, and away!


College Admission Soft Spot: Sports No One Cares About

Comment: If you’re going to cheat, take a little pride in it and use the correct hand!

I didn’t fully understand just how quickly this story would turn into an ongoing national discussion, but holy hell, it’s sure taken off. In case you’ve been on vacation on some remote island, here’s the gist:

The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.

Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children’s chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches to identify the applicants as athletes.

While I’m not surprised people are taking shortcuts to get their kids into colleges, it’s interesting to see how secondary athletic teams were identified as a weak link in the admission chain. And the amount of coin going into this operation is insane – $25MM!

For every one of these rich, underachieving kids whose parents couldn’t stand the thought of telling their other rich friends that little Jimmy is going to Chico State, there is a deserving kid who busted his or her ass, only to be rejected. College is supposed to be a way for people to move lower class to middle class, from middle class to upper class. College should be the glowing, unassailable beacon of meritocracy. This whole operation is a blowtorch to that idea.

Of course, this is not the dawn of rich people getting their kids into colleges by way of a check, but there’s something more transparent about a rich asshole cutting a check for a new library at the school.

With all that said up front, let’s have a little fun with this. Some observations:

  • USC…hahahahaha! When’s the last time this school wasn’t neck deep in an athletic scandal?
  • USC – Good school, but $500K good, Aunt Becky?
  • I can understand these coaches being on the take. How sick are they of constantly standing aside and letting the football and basketball programs (winning teams or losing teams) have the run of the place. They got paid simply to list kids as recruits to ease the admission process; the students never played on the actual teams.
  • A Yale soccer coach was paid $400K (what the f*&$) to list a girl as a recruit. That has to be at least 3x the coach’s yearly salary. The ‘recruits’ family paid $1.2M (again what the f) to get their daughter into Yale.

Lastly, I’d like to note that neither Augustana University nor Cal have been linked to this scam in any way…yet. – PAL

Source: Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman among 50 charged in college admissions scheme”, Tom Winter, Pete Williams, Julia Ainsley and Rich Schapiro, NBC News (03/12/19)

TOB: Two things I want to get out of the way before addressing the admissions scam. First: Stanford has a SAILING team? What kind of WASPY crap is that? Classic Stanford.

Second: I must take umbrage with two things Phil said about USC. First of all, you can take the “athletic” qualifier out of his question and just ask when is the last time USC wasn’t involved in a scandal? Last summer, USC’s president Max Nikias resigned amid a sexual abuse scandal involving the school’s longtime gynecologist George Tyndall, not unlike the one occurred at Michigan State involving Larry Nassar. From the LA Times:

The Times reported that in a career spanning nearly three decades, Tyndall was the subject of repeated complaints from staff and patients about inappropriate comments and touching. The university barred him from treating patients only after a nurse, frustrated that her complaints had gone ignored, reported Tyndall to the campus rape crisis center.

An internal investigation concluded that Tyndall had sexually harassed students and performed pelvic exams that departed from current medical standards. Yet administrators and USC’s general counsel struck a secret deal with Tyndall, allowing him to resign with a financial payout.

Next regarding the quality of USC as a university: Over the last thirty years, as the US News and World Report college rankings (whose methodology is extremely biased in favor of private schools) have grown in popularity, USC has done all it could to game the system. The rankings began in 1983, and USC didn’t make the list until 1996, when they debuted at 44. By 2007, they had jumped to 27, and presently sit at 23. How did they game the system? Here is a partial list of how USNWR computes their rankings and the percent of weight each category receives: Student Retention/Graduation (22.5%); Faculty Resources (income and faculty/student ratio) (20%); Dollars spent per student (10%); Alumni Giving Rate (5%). As the Forbes article I linked above notes:

Relatively affluent institutions that bring in relatively affluent students will simply perform better in these rankings. This fact puts public universities, which have historical drawn from a wider socioeconomic range of students than their private counterparts, and whose funding per student has been increasingly cut by state legislatures, at a marked disadvantage.

USC gamed the system by intentionally raising their scores on those categories. The goal was not making the best university but increasing their ranking. Gross, and so very USC.

Back to the scandal. At first I thought it was really funny (and some aspects, like the athlete photoshopping details are very funny), but the more I think about it the more insidious it is.

It’s a perfect microcosm showing how the elite stay elite on the backs of everyone else. Lori Loughlin’s kid had no business being in college. She didn’t even want to be there, except to party. But she took a spot from someone who desperately wanted to be there and who had worked hard for it.

I don’t know why it shocked me that the Stanford sailing coach would accept a bribe to give a fake scholarship, but it did. I don’t know why it shocked me that people would fake athlete profiles to admit students through the side door. I don’t know why it shocked me that people have been able to bribe SAT proctors to allow students to cheat, and to even allow someone to come in after a test and change the student’s answers, but it really friggin did.

From NY Mag:

Wealthy parents don’t usually have to resort to rigging college admissions through fraud, or even through charitable giving. They don’t need to. Their advantages are broad. In the United States, people with millions in the bank can always afford a side door — to private high schools or wealthy neighborhoods with better public schools, to test prep and tutors. They can afford to visit doctors when their children are sick and pay professionals to treat learning disabilities. Their children don’t need to work on top of going to school. They have such an edge, in so many different categories, that it is often impossible to catch up with them at all.

We all know our society is not fair, and the wealthy have so many advantages, on a sliding scale, over everyone else. Even in college admissions. I wanted to believe that, even as the NY Mag excerpt above notes the inequities in college admissions, that there was some semblance of meritocracy. But this really lays bare that it isn’t. And that’s why I stopped laughing about this story.


The Cathedral Is Empty

I was surprised to find a NY Times article about University of Minnesota hockey. The Gophs aren’t typical fodder for a global news source. What’s more, the article is about how the once all-powerful U (for real, that’s what we call the University of Minnesota) hockey program has become an also-ran in the state of hockey. And that’s just the way legendary coach and Minnesota icon Herb Brooks wanted it.

I posted about another story detailing the unlikely detour Herb Brooks took in coaching a D-III St. Cloud State team in 1986 as the program transitioned to D-I. I’m still struck by how remarkable his time at St. Cloud St. truly is. This guy had already won three national titles with the iconic University of Minnesota, the 1980 Olympic gold over the USSR in what is considered the greatest game/moment in sports history, and coached the New York Rangers. This dude comes back to coach a D-III after all of that. One of the reasons Brooks took the job was to create more opportunities for Minnesota kids to play college hockey. Until then, there were two options – University of Minnesota and UM, Duluth. The college hockey landscape has changed a lot since then.

Last year, Bob Motzko left St. Cloud St. to take the head coach job at UM. As writer Pat Brozi characterizes it, this was a lateral move. It’s correct, and it’s also insane. College hockey is alive and well in Minnesota, but Gopher hockey has fallen hard. There are several factors to consider:

  1. Moving conferences – from the WCHA to the Big 10 – eliminated pretty every rivalry that fans cared about.
  2. Mariucci Arena – an incredible college hockey venue with luxury boxes and all the modern accommodations – was opened in 1993. The same year the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas. The Wild, the current Minnesota NHL franchise, didn’t start playing until 2001. For 8 years, the Gophers had a brand new arena, were the biggest hockey game in town featuring the best home-grown talent playing in WCHA rivalries. Gopher season tickets were hot!
  3. Up until 1999, UM coaches emphasized recruiting Minnesota natives (Doug Woog, 1986-1999, only recruited Minnesota players) – this grew the sport at the high school level. The dream wasn’t to play in the NHL; the dream was to play for Gophers. The Minnesota State High School tourney was essentially a debut of the best players, almost all of whom would be playing for the Gophers in the years to come. This is no longer the case.
  4. After they ditched the “Minnesota-only” recruiting rule, the Gophers made a habit out of recruiting very high NHL draft picks (in hockey, a player can be drafted and still play in college). Awesome talent, no continuity from year to year. They were the hockey version Kentucky basketball.

Now, the Gophers are an unranked rebuild while St. Cloud State, Minnesota State (Mankato), and UMD are all in line for number one seeds in the NCAA tourney. The Gophers aren’t alone. As Pat Borzi writes:

The change in Minnesota reflects a nationwide trend of newer programs usurping traditional powers. Of the seven teams with five or more N.C.A.A. titles, only Denver and North Dakota are ranked. Conspicuously absent: The Gophers, Michigan, Boston College, Boston University and Wisconsin.

What happened? More schools are benefiting from an expanded pool of players, coming from Europe and nontraditional American markets like California and Florida. And recruits have discovered more paths to the Frozen Four and the N.H.L.

Over the last eight years, Minnesota Duluth, Union, Providence and Yale won their first national championships. Since 2009, the five Minnesota Division I programs (Bemidji State rounds them out) combined for seven Frozen Four appearances. Only Minnesota State failed to make it, even as a No. 1 seed in 2015.

I’ve been thinking about what the football or basketball equivalent of this situation would be. Alabama being unranked while UAB wins multiple national titles. Duke missing out on the NCAA tourney for five years while UNC-Wilmington racks two Final Four appearances.

Look, I understand there’s a good chunk of our readers that don’t care about college hockey, but I can’t get over it. Gopher hockey is part of the of the Minnesota lore. I just can’t believe that in my lifetime we built the cathedral to Minnesota hockey, and now the cathedral is empty. – PAL

Source,Move Over, Gophers: Balance of Power Shifts in Minnesota Hockey”, Pat Borzi, The New York Times (03/13/19)

TOB: Here’s a football equivalent for you: Miami, Florida State, and Florida were three of the top 5-7 programs in the country from roughly 1980 to 2005. Now, all are relatively down, while University of Central Florida of all schools has gone from I-AA in 1996 to 25-1 over the last two years and a claim at a national title in 2017.

I liken this to what would happen to Cal rugby if more programs started taking rugby seriously. Now, Cal rugby has been incredibly dominant for almost 40 years, winning 28 national titles since 1980. Seriously: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2016, 2017. I typed those all out because it is dizzying to look at. But you’ll notice a slow down recently, including a 4 season drought from 2012 through 2015.

What happened there? It sounds similar to what Phil described with Minnesota hockey. More programs and a wider pool of players. BYU started recruiting players from the Southern Pacific Islands (they often also have an age advantage as many of their players play after returning from their missions). Other schools like St. Mary’s (who beat Cal during the regular season last year) are also nipping at Cal’s heels, as are schools you’ve probably never heard of like Life University (2018 National Champions!) and Lindenwood University (2018 Rugby 7s National Champions!).

I’ve always thought Cal Rugby’s dominance was cool, but a bit boring. They still beat teams by scores like 100-3, like they did Santa Clara last year. But they also face stiff competition that pushes them to be better. In that vein, I’m guessing Minnesota Hockey turns it around in the next few years.


Video of the Week

The last Hockey Hair video. It will be missed!


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week

Blaze Foley – “Clay Pigeons”


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It’s purely carnal, and that’s all you need to know.

-Dwight Schrute

Week of March 8, 2019

Friggin’ lefties.


Baseball Scouting Is Hard Yet Fascinating

The Ringer obtained 73,000 scouting reports from the Reds from 1991-2003, analyzed them, and this week rolled out a series of stories.

Part 1 opens with a perfect illustration of how hard it is to scout. In 1999, the Reds traded for Ken Griffey, Jr., the best player of the 90s. Ahead of the trade, a number of scouts filed reports:

“Outstanding tools across the board!” one scout wrote. “A future Hall of Famer. Is only active player with a chance to break Hank Aaron’s home run record and would like to see him do it in Cincinnati. Has ability to carry a club to the world series. Tremendous fan appeal, will sell tickets. If have a chance, would acquire.”

Another scout was even more effusive. “Best all-around player in baseball. Can do it all. IS THE MICHAEL JORDAN OF BASEBALL. Will personally sell more tickets than McGwire or Sosa. Can hit, hit with power, run, field & throw. Get 25 of this guy and you will have the best team in the history of baseball. Is a true franchise player. If you can acquire him, go get him! One of the best players in baseball that I would recommend paying top dollar for.

Look at that swing. Almost no one at that time would have disagreed with those reports. The Reds acquired him for three prospects, and almost everyone thought the Reds got a great deal. BUT!

Griffey was 30, had some worrisome injury history, and was coming off his worst statistical season. After the trade to the Reds, Griffey only played one more great season. In exchange, the Reds had given up outfielder Mike Cameron, along with two pitchers. The pitchers never amounted to much, but Cameron himself was more valuable the the Mariners in four seasons than Griffey was to the Reds in eight seasons.

Part 1 is full of interesting statistical analysis on what traits scouts seem to predict well, and which are more of a crapshoot.

Part 2 is fascinating, too. I’ve read Moneyball and seen the movie, so I understand many scouts look at, to paraphrase Billy Beane (at least in the movie; I forget if it’s in the book) how a player looked in jeans, as opposd . But this part is still pretty eye opening:

Keith Law, the ESPN prospect evaluator who worked for the Blue Jays from 2002 to 2006, says that while there may not have been big gaps between clubs in the skill of their scouting staffs in the era covered by the database, “scouting philosophies varied a lot across teams.” Sargent says that when he arrived, the Reds were “exclusively a run-and-throw organization. You draft a guy who can really run and really throw, and we’ll teach him how to hit.” The Reds, he adds, were notorious for conducting tryout camps and signing the players with the best arms and times in the 60-yard dash.

Hitting a baseball is often called the toughest thing in sports, and the Reds were like, “It’s easy. We’ll teach ‘em. Just give me a guy with a good 40-time.” That’s wild! And even wilder may be that the Reds produced a lot of talent back then. The scout referenced, Hank Sargent, was hired by the Reds in 1997. If we assume they had this “run and throw” philosophy for at least 15 years prior, the Reds produced a lot of talent in that time – Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and Paul O’Neill, to name a few. (But maybe that wasn’t a fair assumption, because after being a consistently good team (including a World Series sweep over the A’s in 1990) from 1985 through 1995, the Reds fell off a cliff starting in 1996, only winning more than 81 games twice until 2010).

I highly recommend you read part 2, where The Ringer interviews four former players – Travis Hafner, David Ross, Ben Davis, and Jeff Schmidt – and talks about what the scouts got right about them, wrong about them, and what they couldn’t possibly have known. It’s fascinating.

The Ringer also published some funny actual scouting reports. Maybe my favorite so far is this one on Albert Pujols:

Laid back approach to game. Lazy out of box. No hustle. Has some show boat in him. Lacks hard work. Don’t put in quality time in pre-game work. Ball jumps off bat. Strong swing. Hard solid contact. … Attacks ball. Shows playable carry on throws from 3B. Makes plays at 3B. Shows quick reactions. Has soft playable hands. Drifts thru stroke on swing. Will get out front and reach for balls. Still learning situations while on base. Struggles with throwing acc. when on the move. Likes pitches low in zone. Struggles with belt high and up, breaking balls away. Value to Reds in minors. ML tops. Regular on 2nd division team. Role: 3B.

That was filed one year before Pujols got to the bigs and hit .329 with 37 dingers as a rookie. What’s interesting is that the scout saw some really good things – ball jumps off bat, strong swing, solid contact, attacks, strong harm, soft hands – those are all really important skills. But he couldn’t get beyond his initial surface-level observations, that may or may not have been accurate or may or may not have been influenced by cultural differences. And even if those initial observations were accurate, they were made of a guy who was at that time just 20-years old.

(If part 3 is any good, we’ll feature it next week) – TOB

Source: “Part 1: We Got Our Hands on 73,000 Never-Before-Seen MLB Scouting Reports. Here’s What We Learned“; “Part 2:MLB Scouting Is Hard. These Four Players Prove It“; Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur, The Ringer (03/04/2019); (03/06/2019)

PAL: Really enjoyed scrolling through this scouting time capsule. For, instance, I haven’t thought about Travis Hafner in what feels like a decade, but he was a serious masher for Cleveland for a handful of years. The Jamestown, ND native always had power, but he was slow, couldn’t field and couldn’t throw. Hafner even admitted that it’s hard to scout a guy with only one skill, because it is so rare for one tool to pay off at the highest level.

Scouting a number is much more cut-and-dry approach. A 60-yard sprint time translates – it doesn’t matter how good the competition is or where someone is from. There’s no nuance to a guy that throws mid-nineties. He has Major League arm strength, period. Those numbers translate. The number of home runs Travis Hafner hits at some midwest Junior College is much harder to compare than a 60-time or a radar gun reading.

Which is why scouting catchers must be hard. The article breaks down David Ross’ scouting report. This guy played sixteen big league seasons as a catcher. Guess how many hits he has. This shocked me: 521 career hits! You don’t stick around for sixteen years, earn over $22M (that’s over 40K per hit), if you don’t bring a lot of value in other ways. Ross was a solid defensive catcher, above average thrower, but he was an excellent framer of pitches and managed a pitching staff well and had a little pop at the plate. None of the talent that kept him in the game for so long would jump out at a scout.

The flipside of David Ross is Ben Davis.

Another catcher who fits all the old scout cliches. The classic “looks good in jeans” guy. While he had a great arm and an athletic frame, Davis could never hit big league pitching. It got so bad that guys wouldn’t even bother giving them their best stuff. How about anecdote:

Davis remembers facing Mike Mussina in a game in 2002. “I was scared to death of the knuckle-curve,” Davis recalls, but Mussina threw him nothing but fastballs. Davis struck out looking twice before doubling in his third at-bat. Four years later, Davis was in Yankees camp, catching Mussina. “Hey Moose,” he said. “You’ll never remember this, but you always just threw me all fastballs. Why did you never throw me the knuckle-curve?”

“Honestly, man?” Mussina said. “I never thought I had to.”

Ouch.

All of this comes down to projection, but a lot of times the qualities that keep an average big leaguer around are not obvious. As Ben Lindbergh puts it:

An insatiable desire to be better, buried within an unathletic-looking frame (Hafner). A difficult-to-quantify skill set out of step with its time (Ross). A jaw-dropping, deceptive physique (Davis). Poor player development (Schmidt). These are among the many reasons why a scout might miss.

Such an interesting baseball read.

TOB: Glad you got to that Mussina/Ben Davis quote. Geeze, man. That made me laugh and wince at the same time.


Nik Mittal Was Left Open

Man, what a great story. Nik Mittal is a father of three, recipient of a couple knee surgeries, a serious Carolina Tarheels fan, and the owner of some pride.

Now, at age 47, I am a New York City dad who watches Carolina basketball obsessively with his three sons and who, after a 15 year hiatus (thanks to a couple of knee surgeries) decided to play pickup again. But on the court recently, I came to a shocking realization.

My ugly but effective left-handed heave was no longer effective. I had become the player in the pickup game who everyone leaves open from a distance.

Call it ego, but I really didn’t want to be that guy. So I turned to the only expert I knew — my 10-year-old son’s basketball coach.

Mittal swallows his pride and hires a shooting coach. More specifically, he hires a youth coach to re-teach him how to shoot.

Turns out, he has some serious work to do, because his shot is butt-ass ugly. It was embarrassing. 

But Mittal and Coach Macky work at it, starting close to the hoop and getting in a bunch of reps. Before long, there’s some recognition and improvement:

For one, I was landing with one leg practically a foot in front of the other. Macky had me stick a soccer ball between my legs and practice a series of jump shots while squeezing it between my knees.

This was surprisingly hard — either I’d brick the shot, or the soccer ball would pop out — until I focused on taking really small jumps, landing like I was on train tracks. Kavi even sort of complimented me, calling this an “advanced drill” that only the teenagers do.

I love this. Mittal isn’t grunting out 225 on the bench so he feels better looking in the mirror. Instead, his improvement has a point. Or at least more of a point. He doesn’t want to suck at the local game. Dropping a few shots in a weekend game is athletic success, and he wants that feeling playing the game he’s always loved. Go Mittal!

After some sessions with Coach Macky, Mittal goes back to the pickup game, and he’s shooting for the last spot in the next game. Read the article to find out how it ends for Mittal. – PAL

Source: “Can a Middle-Aged Dad Still Perfect His Jump Shot”, Nik Mittal, The New York Times (03/08/19)

TOB: Loved this, but especially loved when Phil called me an athletic success.


The Warriors Should Fire Bob Fitzgerald, Amen

My godddddd, I’ve been waiting years for someone to write this story. Bob Fitzgerald is a sports talk radio host on KNBR and, for some reason unknown to everyone I’ve ever talked to about him, the TV play by play announcer for the Golden State Warriors. He’s absolutely insufferable. He has zero redeeming qualities as an announcer – he doesn’t describe the action well, he doesn’t seem to have any great understanding of the game, he has a whiney voice AND he constantly whines, and on top of all those swell qualities, he’s an arrogant prick. If you’ve ever listened to his radio show, I pity you. He’s condescending to callers and overall a jerk.

This week, The Athletic’s Danny Leroux opened both barrels, with an open letter to Warriors owner Joe Lacob, calling for Lacob and the Warriors to leave Fitzgerald behind when the team moves to the Chase Center next year. Oh man, did I love it. Here’s the part I nodded along to most vigorously:

He has a penchant for turning anything that goes against the Warriors into something more nefarious than luck or the bounce of the ball, from referees that are out to get them to lucky shooters. While it is an easy trap to fall into, that mentality has been uncomfortably prevalent in the fan base for years and it may be largely explainable by having a broadcaster who speaks in those terms so frequently.

Sometimes referees just miss calls and sometimes 30-percent 3-point shooters make a few of them in a row and, like every team, the Warriors are on the positive end of those fortunate bounces frequently as well, something Fitzgerald rarely acknowledges. Thankfully, Jim Barnett notes it more often. That sets both a divisive and frustrating tone that gets some fans more aggrieved and alienates those watching the broadcast from any other perspective, including fans of the NBA or high-quality basketball more broadly. Fitzgerald’s rants on official broadcasts give the franchise a more aggressive and less professional perception without any coherent benefit, especially for one of the league’s best teams.

Amen!!!! -TOB

Source: An Open Letter to Joe Lacob — the Warriors Deserve a Better Play-by-Play Man Than Bob Fitzgerald“, Danny Leroux, The Athletic (03/08/2019)


Video/Tweet of the Week: What the hell…


PAL Song of the Week: Oddisee – “Skipping Rocks”


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I’m trying to elevate small talk to medium talk. 

-Larry David

 

Week of March 1, 2019

The Mirnavator. If you’re looking for some inspiration, ultra-runner Mirna Valerio has got you covered. 


The Woman Behind Free Solo

Full disclosure: I haven’t yet seen Free Solo, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary last week, though I am dying to do so; but I have seen Meru, the 2014 documentary about three climbers’ attempts in 2008 (failed) and 2011 (successful) to climb the previously never ascended Shark Fin spire of Mount Meru in the Himalayas (if you have not seen Meru, it’s on Netflix and it’s fantastic). Both films were shot/produced by wife and husband duo Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Chin served double duty – as he was one of the trio of climbers ascending Meru, while at the same time filming the team along the way).

Free Solo, if you don’t know, is a documentary about climber Alex Honnold’s incredible rope-free climb up the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Here’s the trailer:

Yeah, he’s incredible and maybe a bit insane. But while Honnold’s achievement cannot possibly be overstated no matter how hard you try, the skill and vision of the filmmakers, Vasarhelyi and Chin, should not be overlooked, either. Vasarhelyi, especially, helps bring emotion to both films.

Chin filmed the 2011 climb of Meru and put together a movie that no one was interested in distributing, as it amounted to what is known as climbing porn. Enter Vasarhelyi. She met Chin and saw so much more in the movie. She rewrote the narrative of the film and reshot interviews to “bring up the emotional quotient.” Vasarhelyi “helped break the mold of the typically bro-heavy genre of climber cinema and extreme-sports flicks in general. (See: the entire oeuvre of Warren Miller.) Meru delves into the fear and support that coexist in the families of these men.”

Meru is a fantastic film, and Vasarhelyi followed a similar pattern in Free Solo. With such a harrowing climb in progress, and the very real threat that the subject could fall to his gruesome and filmed death, the crew had a very thin tightrope to toe:

Maybe the greatest paradox of the film is that it required a monumental operation that remained invisible. Five cameramen had to be ready to be in position on the wall on just a few hours’ notice, and there was a crew of three more on the ground. There was a helicopter for big sweeping shots of the wall and aerial shots of Honnold, a speck in a red T-shirt, shimmying up the white granite. He needed to be able to decide the time of the climb based on his intuition and readiness, not on some production schedule. He needed to feel free to bail. He wanted to be filmed, but he didn’t want to feel filmed.

And how did the film turn out? Well, it won the Oscar. But as Vasarhelyi puts it, the theme of Free Solo

“…is this kid who is so scared of talking to other people that it was easier for him to climb alone, with no ropes, than to ask for a partner. I feel like we all have something in our lives like that. It was really important to see Alex’s eyes before he did it. What did his eyes look like the morning he set off?”

And what did the camera see? Vasarhelyi’s eyes light up. “He was excited.” Long pause. “And very well prepared.”

Oh man. I can’t wait to see this. -TOB

Source: Free Solo’s Director Doesn’t Give a F**k About Climbing”, Lisa Chase, Outside (09/12/2018)

TOB: This is unprecedented, but I’m replying to myself. I wrote the above on Thursday, and Thursday night decided I’d just watch the damn movie. First of all, it’s fantastic. As good as I hoped. During Honnold’s climb at the climax of the movie, I felt like I was going to puke, despite knowing that his climb would be successful.

But I have a bone to pick, now, with an editorial choice in the movie. The beginning of the featured article begins like this:

“Today I was replacing swear words. I had to do it myself. No one else can do it,” documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi says over a nouvelle Indian lunch at bohemian-cool Pondicheri in Manhattan.

In the cut I saw in June, Honnold clocks four fucks in the first eight minutes. But Free Solo was funded by National Geographic—not especially fuck friendly. So before Vasarhelyi can fly out of New York City (where she primarily works and lives, along with the couple’s young son and daughter) to join Chin in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (where he primarily works and lives), she needs to scrub the cursing. “These guys,” she says, meaning climbers, “all swear.”

I don’t hate profanity. Sometimes I think it’s important to convey emotion. But when I read the above Thursday morning, I understood – not everyone agrees with my outlook on the f-word.

But then I watched the movie and there was one spot in Honnold’s final climb that was particularly difficult. As he completed it, he turned to the mounted camera, about 2,000 feet off the Yosemite Valley floor, and smiled. He had completed something that had kept him awake at night. And he let loose his emotion: “Fuck yeah!” Except, I only know he said that because I read his lips. In the movie, they dubbed over him in post-production and he said, “Ah yeah.” It really pissed me off because there is nothing more I dislike about a movie than when something in the movie takes me out of the movie. I’m hoping there’s a director’s cut in the future, where we hear each and every “fuck” Honnold drops as he puts it all on the line to free solo El Cap.

PAL: Great call on bringing the narrative to a genre of extreme sports docs that is pretty bro-ey.

Natalie and I went to the Banff Film Festival last night (go, if you haven’t – here’s a list of dates and cities). One of the features was of a young woman climber breaking barriers. Margo Hayes is the first woman to ever climb a 5.15 grade route. Only a handful of people in the world climb 5.15, so to compare her to an Olympic champion athlete isn’t doing her justice. Interestingly enough, Honnold is featured in Margo’s doc, saying that he doesn’t even know what 5.15 holds feel like. Even for him, her accomplishment sparks amazement. Chew on that for a second and watch Margo kick ass.

Much of Margo’s story is about her single-mindedness. Older climbers openly worry that she can’t “turn it off,” so there is this narrative arc even in her story, too. Yes, the footage of adventure sports is instantly captivating, but the mental component, as well as how these pursuits impact relationships, only add to the power of these films. 


“The Best Game I Ever Covered”

That’s the headline. Do you really need any more convincing? I didn’t. The Athletic put together a collection of short essays from its writers about the most memorable games they covered. The series started with baseball writers. I, of course, drank every drop and loved it. Here are a few of my favorite parts.

Peter Gammons – Red Sox – Red, Game 6 of 1975 World Series

At 12:34 a.m., in the 12th inning, Fisk’s histrionic home run brought a 7-6 end to a game that will be the pride of historians in the year 2525, a game won and lost what seemed like a dozen times, and a game that brings back summertime one more day. For the seventh game of the World Series.

I didn’t know the nugget about the organist breaking into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”. Absolutely brilliant.

Ken Rosenthal – 2131 – Cal Ripken Jr. breaks the streak.

I can’t believe Rosenthal was just 32 when he was told to write the page 1 story for the Baltimore Sun.  

I wanted to show that I was on their level, or at least close. Unlike today, when one click can take you to any writer you admire — yes, some behind a paywall — most of us rarely saw each other’s work.

As it turned out, the story wrote itself. Ripken took a victory lap around Camden Yards after the game became official, and my column mostly just detailed the beauty of that moment while trying to convey the greater meaning of it all. I am quite sure others could have written better. But it was pretty much my best shot.

I have to chuckle at this last line…from a writer – pretty much my best shot? Kenny, baby! How about your absolute best shot for a moment that was 2,130 games in the making? Were you surprised?

Sidenote: while I understand the greater meaning Ripken’s streak, it’s always hit me not quite right. The more you dig into it, the more I can’t ignore there is at least a part of the streak that’s selfish.

TOB: Call me a natural cynic, but I felt that way as it happened. Ripken was an great player through his truly incredible 1991 season, until 1992, when at age 31 he became an average to below average player. And that’s even accounting for his premium position. It’s not admirable to “show up” every day. It’s admirable to put aside personal glory for the good of the team. Ripken never did that, so I never respected him.

Pedro Gomez – Diamondbacks v Yankees – Game 7 2001 World Series

Pedro Gomez stock just went up a little after reading this. Bold move. Bringing a buddy in case someone roughed him up? Less of a bold move.

I called Curt Schilling a con man. I wrote how he had built himself up to be Captain America because, after insisting to manager Bob Brenly that he wanted to start Games 1, 4 and (if necessary) 7, he suddenly told Brenly that he didn’t think he could do it, putting the Diamondbacks in one hell of a potential predicament and giving himself an out in case he pitched poorly or the opportunity to build himself up if he pitched well.

So before Game 7, I went down to the field and stood in front of the Dbacks dugout as they took batting practice, wanting any player who had anything to say to me to have the availability to do so (clubhouses are never open pregame during the postseason). I was filled with anxiety because I had truly gone out on quite a limb and asked great friend T.J. Quinn, then with the New York Daily News,  if he would mind accompanying me and just standing nearby, kind of as moral support. Thankfully, he said yes. Several players gave me a wink, a head nod or a pat as they passed me on the way to their clubhouse. It was an acknowledgment that what I had written was accurate.

TOB: I am no fan of Curt Schilling, the baseball Alex Jones. HOWEVER. I don’t remember what Schilling said ahead of Game 7, and I never read what Gomez wrote. BUT. Here’s Schilling’s 2001 World Series stat line: 3 starts, 21.1 IP, 4 ER, 1.69 ERA, 12 H, 2 BB, 26 K. That’s 2014 Bumgarner level incredible.

T.J. Quinn – Game 6 NLCS – Cubs v Marlins – The Bartman Game

Just read the entire essay. I’m pasting a good chunk of it here, which picks up after the incident. Still an incredible, chaotic course of events.

This is where my years of experience among Chicagoans, learning their language and their ways, tells me what is coming. Gonzalez will not be blamed; it will all fall on that hapless young man. I turn to a colleague and, I swear, I say, “I’m going to go find the guy. The Cubs are going to lose.” She notes the score: They are still leading 3-1 with five outs to go. “I’m telling you,” I say, “something has changed and they’re going to lose.”

Down the ramps, onto the concourse, into the maelstrom. The lead is gone and the ballpark has turned on the man in the headphones, all eyes on his section as the inning becomes an eight-run catastrophe. I push through a gathering crowd near his section, past frothing, twisted faces, ducking as one beer cup after another is launched our way, feeling the mist spray my face. Sometimes the faces screaming “Fuck you, asshole!” turn and see my notebook and my press credential and I catch a few words, too. As I start down the aisle, a wedge of Cubs security surges toward and past me. I can see someone in the middle with a jacket over his head. “Is that him?” someone next to me screams. “Kill him!” I follow the phalanx up to the concourse, under more screams and more flying beer. I am genuinely afraid for this man. I see security whisk him behind a gate. A cop stops me. I ask him and a nearby security officer if they know who he is. This is a ridiculous question and I am met with ridiculing looks. I go back to find the man in the gray sweatshirt. His name is Pat Looney and he is a firefighter, although I write his name as “Loomey.” I also write down seat 115. It was 114. Many think Looney is the one. “I already got like 50 hate calls,” he says, pointing to his phone. Someone who intends to be heard screams “Asshole!” at him. “See?” Looney says. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t touch the ball.” He says he wishes he’d pushed the other guy out of the way.

I go back to the press box and I write. The man in the black sweatshirt is the story, and he will be part of Cubs history along with the goat and Leon Durham and the black cat. I dub him “the cat in black” and I think this is sufficiently clever. I file and I go meet my friend Mike and his miserable friends. We’re out until about 2 a.m. “That asshole…” they keep saying. But it’s OK. Kerry Wood is pitching tomorrow.

The next morning, I’m in my hotel room. The phone rings at 7 a.m. It is one of my closest friends, a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times. I can hear that she is outdoors, but she is whispering. “I’m in front of his house,” she says. “We got a call last night. His name is Steven Bartman. I have to knock on his door. I feel sick.” Go on and knock, I say. The world is going to find out who he is, anyway.

How eery is that ending?

There are even more excellent essays included: The Dallas Braden Mothers Day perfect game will absolutely make you cry, and Jayson Stark’s summary of the Cardinals/Rangers 2011 Game 6 win comes as close as one can get to describing what every great game creates out of nothing:

“The emotion that fills ballparks in moments like that defines what it is we love about sports. Where else in life do you experience anything like that feeling?”

Loved, loved, loved reading these. – PAL

Source: The Best Game I Ever Covered”, various authors, The Athletic Ink (February, 2019)


The Game’s the Same, Just Got More Fierce

That’s of my favorite quotes from The Wire, uttered by Slim Charles. It popped in my head as I read this interesting article on the Ben Simmons’ future. John Wilmes wonders if Simmons might turn down his max rookie extension and sign a short deal instead to become a free agent after the 2021 season.

Here’s how it works. The NBA’s CBA allows teams to offer an extension to their players entering the final year of their four year rookie contract. As Wilmes summarizes:

No NBA player has ever turned down a maximum extension of a rookie contract offer, for which Simmons will be eligible in July. The league has structured the collective bargaining agreement specifically to give franchises the ability to offer significantly more money to the young stars they drafted. This is meant to create competitive balance and prevent talent from escaping smaller markets, and it has worked that way.

Simmons would thus be eligible this summer for a deal around 5 years for $148M, keeping him with the Sixers through 2025 at just shy of $30M per year. Not bad. But what if he doesn’t want to stay in Philly?

Wilmes reads some tea leaves to suggest this is the case, and theorizes Simmons aims to head to, yes of course, the Lakers. For example, in a documentary filmed during Simmons’ one year in college at LSU, Simmons was filmed watching the broadcast of the draft lottery, where it would be determined who would pick first in the upcoming draft, and therefore take Simmons:

[Simmons] is shown watching the broadcast of the event and miming his hypothetical reactions if either the Sixers or the Lakers got the first pick and the right to sign him. When he imagines the Lakers getting it, he celebrates; when he imagines going to the Sixers, he shrugs wryly. Earlier in the movie, a Lakers blanket is visible in the background of his apartment. Currently, he dates L.A.-based famous person Kendall Jenner. You can decide what this all means

Additionally, Simmons’ agent is Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, the same agent/agency that represents LeBron James and has been trying to orchestrate a trade of another client, Anthony Davis, to the Lakers.

Simmons turning down the max rookie extension would be risky. He would instead have to take an approximately $10 million dollar deal in 2020-21, one-third of what he’d get in a rookie extension. But, then he’d become a free agent the summer of 2021, free to sign where he wants for an even more lucrative deal. For a player like Simmons, the risk may be worth it. As Wilmes says, such a move could set a new precedent for how NBA superstars control their futures. -TOB

Source: Ben Simmons Could Upend The NBA’s Power Structure With One Decision”, John Wilmes, Deadspin (02/26/2019)


Kick the Kid Out!

This week a kid sitting courtside at a Nuggets/Thunder game reached out and swatted at and hit Russell Westbrook.

A lot of the reaction I saw was, “It’s funny how the kid sat down when Russ gave him that look.” But I have a hot take. KICK THE KID AND HIS PARENTS OUT. I don’t care that he appears to be maybe 12 years old. You can’t do that, and a kid who thinks he can, and is sitting friggin courtside, obviously thinks this is ok. If this spoiled rotten kid doesn’t learn his lesson now, he’ll grow up to be an entitled adult. We had a chance here to fix his trajectory! Instead we are left with his rich mom and dad, laughing at the whole thing.

Yuk yuk yuk! Hilarious! …Westbrook was not so chuckle-y after the game:

“He hit me. So I told his dad, you know, just, “Be careful man, you can’t just have have your son hitting random people.” I don’t know him, he don’t know me, so.

[…]

He’s responsible for his kid. Watch the game, sit there, have fun, enjoy. For all the fans though, there’s too much leeway, man, for the fans to be able touch the players and get away with it. And then we can’t react and do the things that we need to do to protect ourselves. It’s important that they understand—kids, whoever it is, dads, moms, that they can say what they want, as long as it’s respectful, but the touching is, to me, off limits.

I agree! The kid should have been kicked out, I say!  -TOB

Source: Russell Westbrook, After Being Shoved By Child: ‘The Touching Is, To Me, Off Limits’”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (02/27/2019)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Sharon Van Etten – “I Told You Everything”


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“I’ll have a vanilla… one of the vanilla bullshit things. You know, whatever you want, some vanilla bullshit latte, cappa thing. Whatever you got – I don’t care.”

-L.D.

1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 22, 2019

More on this later.


What Happens After A Trade

There’s been lots of talk of players switching teams in the past week. In baseball, Manny Machado finally ended up on a team (and that’s the last we’ll hear from the $300MM man until he no doubt opts out after five years) and free agent Bryce Harper remains teamless. In basketball Anthony Davis tried to force his way to L.A., but that was a no go. Two hall-of-fame Steelers are available, and so is Odell Beckham Jr., apparently.

Trades and acquisitions can satiate us during a slow sports week, but what happens when a guy is traded? Logistically, what happens next? That’s what The Athletic’s Scott Burnside details in his story walking through the logistics of a trade deadline in the NHL.

Sure, operations directors need to alert the staff to make up some new jerseys, but there’s a hell of a lot more to consider.

  • Car service, and – if it’s a particularly tight window before the next game, a police escort from the airport
  • Temporary housing for the athlete and his family
  • Realtors, schools, pets
  • In many cases – extremely expedited work visas, which is made more difficult on holiday weekends or, you know, when the government is shut down
  • What if the couple is expecting a child – what arrangements can the team facilitate in a new city in terms of medical care
  • Flowers. Never forget the flowers for the wife/significant other

Above all, teams seek out any and every way to make players and their families feel comfortable as soon as possible. Reduce stress and anxiety quickly, and the player will likely play better sooner.

Of course, an NHL player moving is a very different scenario than one of us moving, but I’m sure it’s still stressful even with the a team handling 95% of the grunt work. It’s interesting to read about the people who make it happen so smoothly. – PAL

Source: How’s a Traded Player on the Ice For a New Team So Quickly? NHL Travel Coordinators Share Their Secrets”, Scott Burnside, The Athletic (02/21/2019)

TOB: Slight tangent: Nothing is more gross to me than a police escort to get a player to a game. I’ll never forget in 2006 when the Red Sox traded for Doug Mirabelli, who specialized in catching knuckleballs, and the Massachusetts State Police did a high speed escort to get Mirabelli from the airport to Fenway Park in time to start that night’s game, which was being started by knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. It was just so gross, and the sports media hailed it as some great event. Bewildering. I’m happy to say that in 2016, the Massachusetts State Police admitted that the escort “was not an appropriate use of our assets.” Ya think?


Sounds of Spring

The premise borders on being too cute, but I happily read Daniel Brown’s puff piece on baseball players and coaches favorite sounds of spring. Spring training has begun and baseball is on its way back. Growing up in Minnesota, it was the first real indication that spring was actually creeping closer, and it meant it was time to start scoping new cleats and maybe even a new bat.

Some of the responses were pretty obvious (the crack of the bat), but others were specific enough to resonate. The baseball sound A’s first base coach (and former first baseman) Mike Aldrete will never forget Bo Jackson running:

Bo Jackson was on first. So I was holding him on. And as the pitcher delivered, he took off stealing. It sounded like the earth was moving with every one of his steps.

It was almost like out of my right ear I could feel him running and I could feel the earth reacting to him. I’ve never heard anything like that.

I mean, everybody kind of makes some noise. And a lot of times as a first baseman you jump off and you kind of hear whether the guy is going or not. But this was …

(Here, Aldrete paused to imitate the sound of dinosaur footsteps.)

I don’t want to compare Bo Jackson to animals or anything, but it wasn’t human. It was superhuman.

I can’t relate to that, but I definitely agree with Giants reliever Will Smith and his affection for the sound of metal cleats on concrete. It’s not until teenage baseball that you’re allowed to wear the real thing, so I can understand his love for the sound of a real ballplayer.

As an old catcher, the best sound is always the snap of a catchers mitt. It’s the sound of everything coming together flush. It’s the sound of things going right. Fun little read. – PAL

Source: Giants, A’s Sound Off On Baseball’s Greatest Hits: A Bo Jackson Steal, a Nolan Ryan Heater and MadBum’s Bat”, Daniel Brown, The Athletic (02/21/2019)


The Fix Was In

ESPN released a long story this week, the result of a two-year investigation into former referee Tim Donaghy and his gambling ring. It’s really fascinating. Donaghy was busted nearly 12 years ago now, and even served time in prison. But in that time, he has always maintained that while he gambled on NBA games he officiated, he did so on “inside information” and never took any steps to affect the outcome of the game. That’s as stupid and unbelievable now as it’s always been, but many powerful people and organizations had a strong incentive to push that narrative, including the NBA. Back in 2007, the NBA claimed it studied Donaghy’s games during that 2006-2007 season and concluded there was nothing strange going on with Donaghy’s officiating, aside from one game.

But ESPN’s article uncovers that the NBA only studied 17 of his 40+ games that year.  It also revealed that Donaghy had been doing this since approximately 2002. When it began, Donaghy and an old buddy would make the bets, on a relatively small scale. But “connected” people soon realized Donaghy’s buddy was winning at an unheard of clip, and began matching his bets. Eventually, they realized  that Donaghy was reffing all the games he was betting, and they wanted in on the action. By 2006-2007, the Donaghy ring was huge, with hundreds of millions of dollars being moved.

What’s more, Donaghy told the FBI in 2007 that there were other referees also gambling and fixing games. But the NBA had no desire for the public to find out how easy it was for a referee to fix a game, and they had no desire for the public to think this was anything but one bad apple. Not long after the FBI informed the NBA of Donaghy’s scheme, the story leaked to the press and any chance the FBI had of finding more corrupt referees was gone.

ESPN’s investigation was painstaking, as they tracked every call and non-call Donaghy made during that 2007 season. What they found revealed there was “just a 4.1 percent chance that an unbiased ref would have randomly made the calls that Tim Donaghy did during his crooked run.” ESPN’s reporting also revealed that while Donaghy still maintains that he never fixed a game, he has privately told a number of people the opposite over the years, and ESPN got all of them to talk about it on the record.

This was a well reported story and a great read. My biggest takeaway was that, especially with the continued push to legalize sports gambling, the NBA and other sports leagues will have a hard time preventing this from happening in the future. Donaghy told one friend that he liked to call an illegal defense on the team he picked against early in the game, so that they’d play less aggressive defense the rest of the game. When you think how easy it is to throw a pass interference flag, or call a strike zone tighter, or blow your whistle a little earlier, you realize: it’s just too easy. As someone who enjoys and even spends money on sports, that’s a scary thought. -TOB

Source:How Former Ref Tim Donaghy Conspired to Cix NBA Games, Scott Eden, ESPN (02/19/2019)


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Tom Rush – ‘No Regrets’


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Are we taking this too far? I don’t think we’re taking this far enough…what?

-K. Fillippelli*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I never thought I’d live to see the day when KAREN got a quote on 1-2-3…damn, TOB

1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 15, 2019


Pay no mind to the dude in electric blue shades and sweet goatee; Zion is denting a fully inflated basketball likes it’s a tennis ball.


The Softer Side of Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson died late last week. He’s one of the greatest baseball players of all time, coming just 13 dingers short of the ultra elite 600 Home Run Club (10th all time, 4th when he retired), to go along with a career OPS of .936 (really damn good) and an OPS+ of 155 (meaning he was 55% better than league average), 26th all time. He was also a manager, baseball’s first black manager, though not an exceptional one – his teams only finished over .500 six out of sixteen seasons, though he did win Manager of the Year in 1989.

For most of his career, Frank was not particularly liked. Or, perhaps more accurately, he had a reputation for being cranky. But as a black man growing up in the 50s, Frank did not live an easy life. He was born in 1935 and grew up in Oakland, graduating from McClymonds High School, having been on the same basketball team as the great Bill Russell. He debuted in the big leagues in 1956, at age 20, just a few years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Like many black players of his time, Frank was subject a lot of abuse. But unlike Jackie, Frank refused to take it. He vocally stood up against racial prejudice. In 1987, Dodgers’ GM Al Campanis was asked by Larry King why there were so few black managers and no black general managers in MLB. Campanis said, black people “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.” Campanis was rightly excoriated for these remarks, and Frank led the charge, stating:

“Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years — that blacks aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office. There’s a belief that they’re fine when it comes to the physical part of the game, but if it involves brains they just can’t handle it. Al Campanis made people finally understand what goes on behind closed doors — that there is racism in baseball.”

Frank was often referred to as the most feared man in baseball. I imagine he liked that. But he was not a man without feeling, and that’s why I loved the following article about him. Late in his life, Frank was managing the Washington Nationals. The team was not very good, and they ran into an injury problem at catcher. They were forced to play Matt LeCroy, a journeyman nearing the end of his career, who had knee problems and a shoulder injury preventing him from throwing to second base. In one particular game, the Nats built an early six run lead, but the Astros were mounting a comeback, and it was led in part on challenging LeCroy on the basepaths. LeCroy simply could not make the throw to second, and Frank decided to pull him, mid-inning.

LeCroy understood the move and was not upset. But Frank was. He felt he had embarrassed LeCroy, a player he had grown to respect. After the game, Frank spoke about the decision, and the Most Feared Man in Baseball began to cry.

 LeCroy was surprised to hear about Frank’s reaction:

“I hated that he got emotional, I told him I wasn’t good enough for somebody to cry over,” said LeCroy, who was blown away by the size of the scrum of reporters waiting at his locker when he arrived. “It was a crazy day. I didn’t think much about the situation. Didn’t realize that it was going to be such a big deal. That’s when I said the daddy quote.”

The exact, priceless line from LeCroy was, “If my daddy was managing this team, I’m sure he would have done the same thing.” The snippet circulated the Internet along with the footage of Robinson, tears welled in the corner of his eyes and spilling out onto his cheeks.

“A lot of people didn’t understand Frank,” LeCroy said. “He was thought of as this very stern, stoic guy. He was one of the best to ever play and he had to go through a lot being an African American playing. The biggest thing about that day (that stuck with me) is it showed me Frank really cared about everybody, no matter if you were a superstar or the last man on the bench.

“I think it opened up a lot of people’s eyes that deep down Frank cared about everybody. It meant a lot to me and that made our relationship, which was already pretty good, carry over to the next level.  He thought I was going to blast him (for taking me out) and I really didn’t think nothing about it.”

LeCroy himself would go on to coach, and he’s currently a manager for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate. He says he tries to take that lesson, and more, that Frank Robinson taught him.

This was a really good article – short, but great storytelling. -TOB

Source: A Look Back at the Day Frank Robinson Cried When He Took Catcher Matt LeCroy Out of a Game”, Brittany Ghiroli, The Athletic (02/08/2019)

PAL: One clear take-away from the Robinson stories over the past week is that he was a proud man, and so it makes sense Robinson would not take lightly the idea of having a hand in embarrassing a player.

My opinion on the writing differs from TOB’s: Ghiroli opens the story with an extended, teaser lead. Here’s the opening paragraph:

When​ Matt​ LeCroy​ thinks back to that moment,​ there​ was​ no​ way​ of​ anticipating​ its significance.​ No​ amount of​​ premonition would help LeCroy fathom the magnitude of that fateful Nationals game on May 25, 2006. Yet, here he is, dissecting a day almost 13 years ago, an afternoon contest with the Astros at RFK Stadium that was one of the most memorable managerial moments of Frank Robinson’s career.

The reader doesn’t know what moment ‘that moment’ is, and we won’t find out until the ninth(!) paragraph of the story. This is a technique we’ve read before – hell, I’m sure I’ve used it – and in most cases it reads like a writer trying to show off with melodious prose that almost always comes off a bit forced. It’s familiar, and not in a good way.

TOB: IT SAYS IT RIGHT IN THE HEADLINE!

PAL: well, that’s an interesting point. Still hate the writing….now I have to re-write my response? Thanks for saving me the embarrassment, but at what cost? (Publisher’s note: sharing the the laugh is worth more than whatever else I would have written)


We Were So Lucky To Have Been Raised Amongst Catalogs*

This trip back in time comes to us ℅ soft-tossing lefty, Ryan Nett. The Stearns County legend (see his 2010 stats) texted it to me, and I was in based only on the headline alone:

Like writer Dan Woike, I remember flipping through just about every page of the Eastbay catalog, taking extra time on baseball cleats and gloves in the spring editions. Woike, Nett, and I are not alone; the NBA writer asked a bunch of known sneakerheads in the league about East Bay, and their reactions are fantastic Whether or not they ever made an order, guys like Lance Stephenson and P.J. Tucker absorbed each edition.

It seems funny to say in the Amazon era, but the Eastbay catalog absolutely has a little footnote in my childhood. It was a wormhole before the online wormhole, and – let’s be honest – the best bathroom reading around. I haven’t thought about it for who knows how long until Nett sent this along. It’s so fun when a writer uncovers a bit of forgotten nostalgia. Great find, Nett! – PAL

Source: Eastbay Catalog Memories: It’s Where a Generation Went to Look at Sneakers – and Dream”, Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times (02/14/2019)

*Don’t be a jerk and look it up. Ok, now, name the movie the title of this post references. Hit us up in the comment section for a bottle of excellent homebrew.

TOB: Oh HELL yeah. Eastbay friggin ruled. I don’t know how or why it started coming to my house – but the new arrival was a great day. I’d slowly look at each page and circle any item I might want. I’d think, “Man, if I got those Air Jordan XIs, no one could stop me.” I remember specifically obsessing over basketball shoe weight. “Geeze, I love those, but 13 ounces!? That’s gonna limit my vert. I need something under 12 ounces, for sure.”

I definitely ordered from Eastbay, but I can’t remember what any more. I probably didn’t get to order too much, but I used it to keep informed on the newest shoes and brands. The website is still my go-to for finding new basketball shoes, and I’ve ordered from them a couple times in the last few years. Nice find, Ryan. And congrats on that one dinger.


At the 2019 U.S. Open, I Will Be Booing Matt Kuchar

Pro golfers make a ton of money these days. The 50th highest money maker last year was Brendan Steele (not a porn star!) at $2.3 million. To get there, Steele made the cut 16 out of 22 events, with 3 top 10s and 1 win. That’s $2.3 million to play 67 rounds of golf, with average score right around par (71). Not bad!

Customarily, golfers pay their caddies 10% of their winnings. So Steele’s caddy made $230,000 last year. Also not a bad living! Justin Thomas finished first on the money list at $8.7 million, so his caddy made $870,000. That’s a hell of a lot of money! But, ya know, well earned by both the golfer and the caddy. Good on ‘em.

Matt Kuchar made news this week, though, for ignoring the 10% percent custom when he was forced to hire a local caddy at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa Del Carmen Mexico because his normal caddy could not make the trip. Instead of paying the caddy ten percent of his $1.3 million dollar purse ($130,000), Kuchar paid the caddy just $5,000 (five thousand) dollars instead, just one third of one percent – 0.3% – of Kuchar’s winnings.

Kuchar explained that in fact he was being generous, because his pre-tournament agreement with the caddy was to pay him $4,000 for the week, and that extra $1,000 was a bonus for Kuchar’s win. Matt, buddy! Don’t be so loose with your money. Think of your retirement! You’ve only made $3 million dollars this year, and it’s already February!

So how does Kuchar, a guy with career earnings over $43 MILLION dollars justify paying his Let’s let Kuchar, a first class prick, explain:

“For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week.”

GFY, Matt. -TOB

Source: Extremely Rich Golfer Matt Kuchar Defends Stiffing His Caddie”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/14/2019)

PAL: Agree on all fronts, but hold your outrage for a moment and consider this: what is the point of the $4,000 fee to begin with if the usual deal dictates 10% of winnings and, I assume, no payment for the caddie if there are no winnings? Clearly, each party agreed to a deal that was out of the ordinary, and – with one of them being a professional golfer and one of them being an experienced caddie – I can’t possibly believe there was a misunderstanding on this point. If Kuchar pockets more than 40K if he finishes in the top 30 or higher, then he got a deal on the caddie. Anything below, and the caddy-for-hire is covered. In a field of 132 competitors, these are not bad odds for the caddie.

Also, is this a story if Kuchar finishes second in the tournament ($777K)?

Of course in the real world the original deal matters when Kuchar wins the damn thing. He received $1.3M! And then he starts talking like an idiot about relative value of $5,000. That’s when no one wants to hear from the unremarkable golfer who’s made an unfathomable amount of money.

TOB: To me, it’s a story about power and wealth. The caddy is a club caddy in Mexico. As Kuchar says, a good day for him is $200. Kuchar gets to the tournament, with no caddy, and offers $4,000 because he knows every single caddy at that club will jump at $4,000. But that doesn’t make it right. He should have offered 10% to begin with. When called out for being a cheapskate, he should have said, “You’re right. I messed up. Here’s your 10%.”

UPDATE: 3:23pm PST, 2/15/19:

Obviously Kuchar is a reader of this blog, and I’m happy to report that he has taken my words to heart:

That’s a solid apology, Matt. The Boo Declaration is officially rescinded.


A Fresh Story on Steph Curry

Stories about about an athlete’s incredible talent are common. Off of the top of my head, recent profiles of Julio Jones. Alex Honnold, and Aaron Donald come to mind. Like those dudes, Steph Curry has made an imprint on his sport. Honnald is the only one in this group that has a case he’s changed the trajectory of his sport more than Curry.

I enjoyed Kevin O’Connor’s story on Curry because it’s not about his freakish talent. This is a story about his progress as a basketball player, how he practiced, and the people that helped him get better.

Jones, Honnald, Donald, Michael Phelps, LeBron James – these guys in no way resemble a “regular” human. The are bigger, stronger, faster, in every way that helps them succeed in their particular sport.

Aaron Donald is not like us. 

Neither is Phelps. 

While Curry’s lack of size is overstated (at 6’3”, 190, he’s an inch shorter than Dwyane Wade), he was a bit late to grow and gain strength as young pup. As result, his now iconic stroke was a long ways away.

His dad, longtime NBA player Dell Curry, knew they needed to fix it. He would be fine in middle school and JV ball, the dad told O’Connor, but that release point wasn’t going to work as the competition got tougher.

So the Currys entered the offseason with a mission: raise Steph’s shooting release to make his shot more difficult to block or alter. That meant repeating the same motion for hours and hours, each day, for three months. “It was the worst summer of my life, basketball-speaking,” Curry told me last month.

Curry said he spent the summer shooting mostly from the paint; he couldn’t shoot from any farther out because he hadn’t developed the requisite strength with his new form. Before the fix, Curry generated the power for his shot from his shoulders. A higher release, with the ball brought to his forehead, would allow him to flow kinetic energy from his legs through the flick of his wrist. “I used to call it the catapult method,” Curry said. “If you look at my shot now, it’s the exact same starting motion as it was when I was young. But I’m not stopping the ball [at my chin]. I just kept on going to where I couldn’t go anymore, and use my wrist a lot more as opposed to my shoulder.”

As he got stronger, Dell and Steph’s mom (a former volleyball player at Va. Tech, NBD) would get right up in his grill so he would get used to shooting over that kind of pressure. I love the image of a mom and dad practicing together with their kid.

So that’s where the stroke comes from – a tough summer and some pretty excellent genetics.

O’Conner’s piece also reveals how lethal the small (by NBA standards) Curry is finishing at the rim.

That list, and the fact that Curry has the same numbers as LeBron, shocked me, but there’s logic to this stat. At every stage of his basketball life, Curry was undersized. His drives would be blocked if he didn’t get good at creative finished.

Curry tried wild, high-arcing shots, acrobatic finishes, and a scoop shot—which he said is his favorite type of layup—to overcome the size differential. It was a necessity, but it also made what is a simple task for most players a difficult one. “I can’t tell you how many times during middle school I’d be on fast break, and I’d jump into the guy in the paint to do a half 360 and float the ball behind my head. I made it probably one time,” Curry said. “Every time I’d do it, I’d look at my mom in the stands and she’s just like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Just do a normal layup.’”

But those finishes didn’t come easy in the NBA. He wasn’t great around the rim his rookie season, and he found unusual help in Brandon Payne, who worked with Curry on “neuromuscular efficiency”. Whada what now?

 Essentially, they are trying to overload the senses to increase dexterity and reduce reaction time. Sure, why not? As O’Connor points out, Curry getting much stronger and improving his handle helped his finishing a lot, too. Nevermind the fact that he has Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on the court, too. Having two other all-time great shooters waiting for pass might free up the lane a bit.

It becomes harding to find compelling stories about super popular athletes, but O’Connor finds a fresh angle on Curry. Super fun read, and love the giphs and video clips, too. – PAL

Source: It’s More Than Just the Shot”, Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer (02/12/2019)

TOB: I have read or seen video of the story of Curry’s transformed jump shot so many times now, and I don’t care. I devour each and every story about it. He has to be the most remarkable athlete I can remember – what he is doing seems impossible. You look at LeBron and sure, what he does makes absolute sense. But Curry should not be able to do the things he does. He’s changed the sport in a way that no athlete has changed a sport in my lifetime. Curry’s rookie year, the league attempted 3-pointers on 22% of shots. That number is now 35%. I think in lare part that is due to Curry, especially in how many threes he takes off the dribble, as opposed to the more common catch-and-shoot three. Curry changed the way teams think about attacking on offense and forced teams to defend out to 30-feet.

Incredibly, Curry is more accurate from 30-35 feet than he is anywhere else on the floor. This year he’s making fifty-four percent (54%!) of his shots from 30-35 feet, while shooting 43.7% from three overall, and 46.2% on all shots attempted. And it’s not really an anomaly. Since 2014-15, Curry is making 47.9% of his shots from 30-35 feet. What the hell? Anyways, he’s great and I hope he keeps this up another ten years.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – “Better Things”


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Pippity poppity, give me the zoppity. 

-M.G. Scott, C/O Darryl

Week of February 8, 2019


Gatorade Is A Delicious Lie

Who knew a 4300-word story about hydration could be so fascinating?  In this excerpt from Christie Aschwanden’s new book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, we learn about the real story behind Gatorade, the dangerous hogwash behind Tom Brady’s “drink enough water every day to match half your body weight in ounces”, and the downright bad science experiments used to support marketing claims. Some of the more interesting insights:

  • Michael Jordan and Gatorade is the shining example of what’s called “the illusion of causality”, which is now an entire sub-genre of advertising
  • The word “electrolytes” as we know it is nothing more than a rebranding of a basic term and the body does not need to replenish electrolytes while working out (this happens quite naturally if you eat a meal and drink something after even a long workout)
  • Gatorade and other sports drink companies (the cottage industry obviously exploded) turned to half-baked science as a marketing strategy.
  • Dehydration – the boogeyman brought out to scare all of us to constantly drink during workouts – is far less common than its inverse, hyponatremia, in endurance athletes
  • There are at least five more fascinating facts in this excerpt

Ashwanden’s writing is proof that nearly anything can be made compelling with the right person tapping the keys. I thoroughly enjoyed this read about water and gatorade. – PAL

Source: You Don’t Need Sports Drinks To Stay Hydrated”, Christie Aschwanden, FiveThirtyEight (02/04/2019)


No, the Knicks Crushed the Porzingis Trade

Being a sports fan can be weird. Difficult. Frustrating. I’m a Kings fan, and for the last 15 or so years that has not been easy to say. It’s been barren, man. But as I write this, the Kings sit a game out of the playoffs in the always deep Western Conference, and the team they are looking up at for the last playoff spot (the Clippers) just traded away their best player (Tobias Harris) in a move designed for their future. As a plus, it gives the Kings a significant edge in the playoff race, though there are still roughly 36 hours left for the Lakers (1.5 games behind the Kings) to land Anthony Davis (by the time you are reading this, the trade deadline will have passed and the Lakers will either have or not have the Brow).

Sticking with the Kings through that time, with virtually no hope, was tough. But there was a moment when I almost forsake the team. The Kings had few bright spots from 2006 until 2017, but one of them was DeMarcus Cousins. Despite his mercurial nature, or maybe because of it, I loved Boogie. The team never won squat with him, but he always seemed like a guy you could build a contender around, if the team knew what it was doing. They never seemed to, though, and inevitable the day came when they traded him away. I damn near mourned. How could they do this? Our only hope? And for what, a struggling rookie (Buddy Hield) and a pick (which was dealt for two more picks – one of which turned out to be promising rookie Harry Giles)?

I nearly quit. I wondered: why do I stick with this garbage team when one of the greatest, most well run, and most entertaining teams of all time is moving to damn near my backyard in one year? My head said: just become a Warriors fan. I thought I’d do it, too. But my heart wasn’t there. I love watching the Warriors. Steph Curry may be my favorite player ever. But the minute Buddy Hield started playing well during the stretch run of another lost season, I was back in.

And two years later, the Kings look good! Like I said, the team might make the playoffs! On TNT the other night, someone actually argued they will be a 5-seed in the next two years. Even six months ago that was unthinkable. It hurt to trade Boogie, but we had won nothing with him and it was the right move.

Which brings me to last week’s trade involving Kristaps Porzingis (and a few other bad contracts). I’ve read (and listened to) way too many Knicks fans decrying that trade as inepitude. Complaining that it was a salary dump. Complaining that the rumors that the Knicks hope to sign both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this summer as a result of the trade are meaningless because they haven’t done it yet. And I can’t believe that is the takeaway.  

Yes, sports teams sell hope too often. But this isn’t the Kings, man. This isn’t the Hawks. Or the Pacers. Or the Bucks. This is the friggin Knicks. They play in the friggin Garden. They play in friggin NYC. No, they haven’t been good for a long, long time. But Kyrie and KD could turn that around immediately. And in selling them on that – you have a pitch no one else has: they will be the kings of New York in their 20s. That sounds pretty great, if you ask me.

So, no, it’s not guaranteed. But you have to give yourself that chance, and the Knicks did that. And Porzingis is a nice player. He’s really good. But he doesn’t play much – he gets injured a lot. In his four seasons in the NBA, he’s played 72, 65, 48 and 0 (yes, zero) games. He’s only 23, which makes that injury history scarier. At 7’3, he seems to have one of those bodies that just can’t take the punishment of an 82 (or more) game season. As I noted above, they also unloaded some bad contracts as the price to give up Porzingis, and as an added bonus get a couple recent lottery picks, including the very intriguing Dennis Smith, Jr., plus increase their odds of landing Zion Williamson in this year’s draft, and get two future first round picks.

When the Kings traded Cousins, I got mad, but it provided a path to days much brighter than Kings fans had seen with him. Similarly, the Knicks just gave themselves the chance to bring a title to the Garden for the first time in nearly 50 years – and that’s just not something Porzingis was ever going to do. -TOB
Source: The Knicks Are Still Looking For a Guy”, Dan Devine, The Ringer (02/05/2019)


Durant…Ugh

About that Porzingis trade… in the days following speculation ramped up about whether the Knicks will be able to land Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer. Somewhat oddly, in what many figured was an attempt to avoid answering those questions, Durant refused to talk to the media, at all, for nine days following the Porzingis trade. Like I said, that’s odd. He didn’t just refuse to talk free agency. He refused to talk, period.

Then, after Wednesday’s Warriors win over the Spurs, Durant finally spoke and called out the media, and in particular The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss by name, for asking him questions about free agency. Here’s the video:

KD! That is not a good look, my dude! I get that it would be annoying. But Durant needs to understand: fans care. They really do. It’s intriguing as hell! And fans pay for that $30M you’re making this year, and the $40M you hope to make next year. And it’s the media that feeds fan hunger – without the media giving fans what they want, less people would tune in and if less people tune in ratings and ticket sales go down. If that revenue drops, so do player salaries.

On top of that, KD was being a jerk. The dude is just trying to do his job. I checked out the Strauss article that had Durant so mad. There was nothing terribly objectionable. Strauss talked about how KD had not spoken to the media in the 8 days since the Porzingis trade; he stated that people on and around the Warriors think Durant is leaving or say they don’t know; it discussed the fact KD will face criticism if he leaves just as he faced criticism for coming to the Warriors in the first place.

I was very curious how Strauss would respond to being so publicly called out. Well, he didn’t take it lying down. Some examples:

“You guys really don’t know shit,” Kevin Durant told reporters attending his February interview session, in response to a question about a rumored exit. He wasn’t happy with the media’s approach.

KD was then asked what stories he would like the media to focus on more.

“To be honest, man, I’m only here talking to y’all because I have to,” he said. “So I really don’t care. Y’all not my friends. You’re going to write what you want to write. You’re going to love us one day and hate us the next. That’s a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y’all.”

I’m referring, of course, to the time Durant was asked about whether former Thunder coach Scott Brooks would indeed get fired, as many around the league thought he would back in February of 2015. It was, theoretically, a choice KD had input into. Roughly two months later, Brooks would be axed, in a decision KD backed 100 percent.

When it comes to the future, sometimes the media really doesn’t know shit. And sometimes, as the Yiddish saying goes, the greatest libel is the truth. You’d think a man holding all the cards wouldn’t publicly fret like his hands were tied. You’d think.

Ohhh, snap! That was one hell of a rhetorical device. Strauss continued, pointing out that KD’s complaints are not even grounded in reality (a point I saw confirmed by numerous NBA writers after this article was posted):

By the way, as large as his free agency looms over the organization, it’s not like Durant has been grilled about it. In his time here, weeks if not months can pass between examples of a press conference question for KD about free agency. That’s why it’s so confusing when Durant says, “Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it.” It should be noted that KD has more than earned the right to leave the Bay, after winning at least two titles. Demanding an alternate observable reality is another thing.

These presser settings mostly revolve around that night’s game, and how the team is playing. To receive such presser questions, in February, you typically either have to a) Play the Knicks with their attendant media or b) Do something as novel as, say, avoiding a week of contractually obligated media availability concurrent with the Knicks blasting open some serious cap room. The curious absence is why our team at The Athletic started taking the organization’s temperature on this topic. Otherwise, we were as keen as anyone to write “Boogie’s back!” articles and other more positive stories.

And finally Strauss ended by pointing out that KD is his own worst enemy:

And yet, in a 39-point victory, Kevin Durant has amplified the story he theoretically wants smothered. He’s shining a laser pointer at a July calendar page and bemoaning that anyone dares see the bouncing beam. This is what he does, for reasons that mystify beyond the simple fact that he can. A man with all the leverage can keep speaking in contradictions and reliably keep hearing in supplications.

Yet, I would like to oblige him, because who wants to make a person sad? There’s a problem, though. Not only do I write about the NBA here, but I’ve signed on to write a book about the Warriors dynasty. I plan to do it well. In this endeavor, I won’t be taking my marching orders from Kevin Durant. And yet, I suspect I’ll find myself writing about that which he loudly emphasizes.

As I’ve written before, KD strikes me as terribly moody and self-important, and his rant this week only confirmed that opinion. But this was a fantastic response by Strauss. He stood up for himself, and his brethren in the media, without lashing out as the spoiled brat who started it all. -TOB

Source: On Kevin Durant’s Criticisms and the Relevant Questions Surrounding the Warriors’ Enigmatic Superstar”, Ethan Strauss, The Athletic (02/07/2019)

PAL: Good luck with the New York media, Durant. He is uninteresting in every respect. He is no doubt an insane talent, but his game – being super tall and shooting over dudes in iso situations – is way less entertaining than watching the Warriors whip the ball around to find the best shot. His self-importance reminds me of a kid six months out of college telling someone who’s lived in the real world for a couple decades how it is.

TOB: After I wrote the above, Steve Kerr said this:

“All that revenue that generates the salary cap, it doesn’t all come from ticket sales. It comes from media rights and all kinds of financial streams that are based on people’s intense interest in the league. And so you just kind of have to deal with that and go along with that.

As always, Kerr gets it.


A Solution to the Issue of Whether to Pay College Athletes

College athletes should be paid. Period. But how to unravel the thorny system that has been created over the last century or so is admittedly complicated. If you pay players what they’re worth in football and basketball, how do you comply with Title IX? After all, you have to keep the spending relatively equal. And while there’s enough money to pay football and basketball players, the revenue those sports bring in subsidize all the non-revenue generating sports, including nearly all women’s sports, which again becomes a problem with Title IX. Another idea I’ve seen floated is to simply have athletic departments go independent and license the university’s name/logo/trademark. Critics of that idea think it will kill the magic of college sports, which is hard to know – but logistically, do we think the universities are going to hand over the land and the facilities they’ve spent hundred of millions of dollars on for free? I just don’t see how it’s feasible.

But there’s one relatively easy solution that ensures players are paid what they are worth without a dime coming out of the school’s coffers, and it’s being pushed by California State Senator Nancy Skinner, who represents Oakland, Berkeley and the surrounding communities. Skinner plans to introduce a bill that would allow college athletes to be compensated “directly for the use of their name, image, and likeness.”

As Skinner says, “Our universities and the NCAA make huge amounts of money from TV deals and corporate sponsorships of their teams. The state Fair Pay to Play Act, which is my bill, will help level the playing field by allowing college athletes to sign sponsorship deals much like Olympic athletes are now allowed to.”

If you’re wondering, yes, this would be against NCAA rules. But that’s the point. It would force the NCAA to either change their rules or declare that any student athlete in California paid under the proposed law would be ineligible. This seems like a nightmare PR scenario for the NCAA, not to mention how difficult it might be to enforce. If the law passes, it is not hard to envision other states following suit, and I believe the NCAA would be forced to change.

On a base level, the NCAA rule is incredibly archaic and unfair. Why does this rule exist? I suppose it is intended to prevent boosters with big pockets from promising to pay players who attend their school. But as we’ve always known and have gotten a reminder of over the last two years, this already goes on. Besides, shining a light on something generally tends to clean it up. Frankly, I see no downside to this rule. If a player wants to sign an endorsement deal, let him. Free enterprise, and all. And, practically speaking for the NCAA, it potentially solves a major problem heading its way, as the calls to pay players are growing louder and are not going away. Seems like a no-brainer to me. -TOB

Source: New Bill Seeks to Allow California Collegiate Athletes to Get Paid For Use of Their Name, Image, and Likeness”, Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic  (02/04/2019)


Badass of the Week: Unnamed Trail-runner in Colorado

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever done? Got it? Good. Hey, that’s pretty good!

You know what’s tougher? Killing an attacking mountain lion with your bare hands. That happened this week.

Yesterday afternoon, a trail runner was out for a run alone in the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space area outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, when he was attacked by a mountain lion. The runner said he heard something behind him, and as he turned around to look, the lion attacked him from behind, biting his face and wrist. He managed to break free from the cougar’s claws and teeth, and he told investigators from Colorado Parks & Wildlife that he choked the lion to death while defending himself.

A lion bit this dude’s face, and he fought back and choked it out. Then, being on a solo trail run, tough guy had to get back to safety. Think his head was on a swivel while running back to his car? – PAL

Source: Colorado Runner Kills Mountain Lion With Bare Hands After It Attacks Him”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (02/06/19)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Johnny Cash – “Big Iron” (Marty Robbing cover)


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We have a gym at home. It’s called the bedroom. 

-Phyllis  Vance