Week of August 23, 2019


Poppy Yaz and Young Yaz

The Giants’ mid-season run to relevance has been fueled in part by a 28-year old rookie (he turns 29 on the day we publish this) with a last name familiar to baseball fans young and old: Mike Yastrzemski. Yes, as I told my Dad the other night, Mike is related to Yaz – Hall of Famer and Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski.

Mike is Carl’s grandson. Mike never caught the break he needed for years in the Orioles system before being traded this year to the Giants. He got his shot, and he has delivered – with 17 home runs and an OPS+ of 131 (very good!). 

The Athletic’s Steve Buckley caught up with Yaz (the original Yaz, or Poppy Yaz, as Mike calls him) to get his thoughts on Mike (or Young Yaz, as I call him), and if this doesn’t warm your heart a degree or two, I don’t know what will.

His voice cracked a little last week, too, when, sitting in that box seat next to the Red Sox dugout after he had completed his Genesis Fund duties, the old ballplayer was asked about his grandson’s ascension to the big leagues as a San Francisco Giant after six seasons in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system.

It was a simple question: Hey, how about that Mike Yastrzemski kid!?

He waited a full eight seconds before answering.

“You know, the main thing is, he’s a great kid,” said Poppy Yaz. “He’s worked hard. He always thought he was going to make it and I’m very, very happy for him.”

“To see him come play at Fenway . . . that’ll be something,” Yaz said. “And me . . . playing here for 23 years, and then see my grandson come in and play here. It’ll be emotional, yes.

“I know how hard he worked, and to see him there, and having them announce the name Yastrzemski, I feel great because of him, how much he wanted it.”

As Buckley points out, Young Yaz’ debut at Fenway will have some bitter with that sweet. Carl’s son, Mike’s dad, was a good baseball player, too, and he got a small taste of the majors in an exhibition game in the mid-80s. But he got injured, never made it, and then passed away in 2004 from complications after hip surgery. He was 43. 

That’s sad, but I really love the proud grandpa side of Yaz:

“I’m losing a lot of sleep. I have the Major League Baseball (package) and those games don’t come on until 10:15 and I always get up 6:30 in the morning. I just always have, I don’t know why. So to watch him play, yeah, that makes for a late night.”

Young Yaz will have a few shots to bang one over the Green Monster his grandpa used to patrol in front of. He’s a lefty, but given his home run spray chart, I think he’s got a shot.

-TOB

Source: The Red Sox’ Lion in Winter: At 80, Carl Yastrzemski Looks to the Field, and Sees Family”, Steve Buckley, The Athletic (08/21/2019)

PAL: My favorite part of the article is when, following Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown season in 2013, Mike looks up his grandpa’s stats – the last guy to hit for the Triple Crown in 1967 before Cabrera.

What jumped out to Yaz the Younger was not the Triple Crown numbers — .326 batting average, 44 home runs, 121 RBI — that were posted by his grandfather during the Summer of Yaz.

It was another number — 23 — at the very bottom of the ledger.

“I’m looking and I see that he played 23 years,” he said. “And I’m 23 years old at the time. It suddenly hit me that every day of my life he showed up at Fenway Park. Every day of my life. And I couldn’t register that. I kept thinking about that. I went to Vanderbilt for four years. I felt like I had this long stay there. I felt like I had accomplished just about everything I needed to accomplish other than getting a national championship.

“I had been to the College World Series, we won a super regional, all this really neat stuff that everyone dreams about when you go to college, and I’m, OK, I’ll start my professional career and move on. But to take that four years and how long it felt and think about 19 more of those, it was, like, whoa, that’s a lot.”


Lee Trevino ‘Never Had Much Use For Caution’

When’s the last time Lee Trevino crossed your mind? I can’t remember either. During what is widely considered a dead time in sports (MLB playoff runs haven’t really heated up, NBA is dead, NFL camps just started, no college football, no NHL, golf majors are done), I read this absolute gem of a story about Lee Trevino’s life. 

Elizabeth Nelson uses the 35th anniversary of Trevino’s last major (he had 6 majors – one more than Mickelson and only one less than Arnold Palmer!) to share stories about the unlikeliest of golf icons. Like Charles Barkley, Mickey Mantle, Trevino one of those athletes that all of his fellow competitors have their favorite story about. 

Bernard Langer’s Trevion story is a doozy:

One day, Floyd, who would go on to win four major championships and have a Hall of Fame career, received an odd overture to play for significant cash down in El Paso. 

“Raymond Floyd drove up with his Cadillac or his limousine, or whatever,” Langer said. “So Raymond gets out of the car and Lee Trevino was the bag boy, and he says, ‘Welcome, Mr. Floyd, let me get your bag for you, and what else can I do for you?’ And Raymond Floyd says, ‘Well, young man, who am I playing against today? Do you know anything about him?’ And [Trevino] says, ‘Well, that would be me, sir.’ And so Floyd looks and says, ‘What? I’m playing against a bag boy?’ And Lee says, ‘Yes, sir, and I’ll see you on the first tee in a little bit.’” 

The obvious postscript to the story—the one in which an irate Floyd leaves the premises with his wallet considerably lighter and his mood commensurately darkened—is less crucial than the irrepressible levity with which Langer, the typically stoic and reserved German, relays it. Trevino was put on this earth to stand up for the little man—and make you laugh in the process.

Strangely enough, people love Trevino for much of the same reasons they love Caddy Shack and Happy Gilmore. He was the high school dropout and Mexican-American sharpie in Dallas who taught himself the game and stuck it to the stodgy country club folks with a grace and wit. He was a hustler, a gambler and – at his prime – a champion who could get a round with the president with one call. In Trevino’s own words, “I Represent the Public Golf Courses, the Working Man, the Blue Collar Worker.”

Other excellent tidbits from the story, which Nelson writes oh so well: 

  • He was struck by lighting…while waiting out a storm beside a green, while eating a hotdog.
  • Tom Watson said, “He always told me, ‘You learn how to play under pressure when you’ve got five dollars in your pocket and you’re playing for 10.’ 
  • Nelson has a few outstanding lines in the story
    • “After a great shot he would waggle his club like a magic wand. It wasn’t done out of disrespect. It was just so exciting to be great.”
    • “The original Dallas Athletic Club was located right in his backyard, and he spent afternoons watching the golfers amble by, alternatively ebullient or cursing the heavens, and wondering what the soap opera was all about. Eventually he’d find lost balls and sell them back for 10 cents a pop.”
    • …he’d never had much use for caution

Loved the stories. Loved the writing. Loved the video clips…and I don’t even really love golf! – PAL 

Source: The Ballad of Lee Buck Trevino, Golf Legend”, Elizabeth Nelson, The RInger (08/19/2019)

TOB: To answer your question: I think of Lee Trevino’s cameo in Happy Gilmore waaaaaaaaaaaay too often.

So, not that long ago.


“The Appropriate Question Is: “When the Hell Are They?’!” – Doc Brown

Lots of sports writing is silly; much of it is unmemorable. But over the years I have found a small little subgenre of sports writing that is silly but highly entertaining and very memorable. The best way I can describe it is: Sportswriter Reveals Observed Quirk About Professional Athletes That Only Someone Who Spends Months of the Year WIth Athletes On a Daily Basis Would Know. The most memorable of the subgenre is Henry Abbott’s story years ago on ESPN about how NBA players loooooooove Cheesecake Factory. Title: “The Cheesecake Factory Did Not Pay Me to Write This.” Opening to the story:

In some ways, I have been working on this post for years, just by listening to things that NBA players say. They talk about a massive spectrum of things, of course, from AAU to Zydrunas Ilgauskas. But sprinkled in there among the things players talk most frequently — you hear it again and again — is the Cheesecake Factory.

Nowadays, if ever someone tells me that they bumped into an NBA player out in public, I like to stop them mid-sentence and guess: “Was it at the Cheesecake Factory?” It can make you look like a freaking genius, because once in a while, you’ll be right. (If that doesn’t work, I ask if it was at P.F. Chang’s. Those two together account for a ridiculous percentage of player sightings nationwide.)

People always want to know what it’s like to be an NBA player. I feel pretty confident that one of the easiest and most accurate things you could do to live just like an NBA player is to eat a meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

He then lists the many examples of the NBA player/Cheesecake Factory thing, and dives deep into why. It’s great, and even though it’s now over 11 years old, you should read it.

This week saw another entry into the Sportswriter Reveals Observed Quirk About Professional Athletes Hall of Fame, this time by the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty.

Title: MLB Players Never Know What Day of the Week It Is.

I laughed before I even read the story, and when I did read it, boy did it deliver. Some choice quotes:

“Oh, it’s impossible,” Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle said. “Here’s how it goes: Every start of a series is a Monday, no matter what. Every last game of a series is a Wednesday. But there are other wrinkles, too, like how every day game is a Sunday. So, wait, uh …”

Doolittle realizes the problem. By that logic, if it can be called that, a day game that finishes a series is both a Wednesday and a Sunday. Having talked himself into a riddle, further complicating the issue, Doolittle smiled, turned his palms to the clubhouse ceiling and shrugged. That was the blanket reaction when fellow Nationals were asked how to follow the calendar during the season. Nothing we can do about it.

Dougherty then gets into the reality of a major leaguers schedule: 162 games in approximately 180 days, and every 3-4 days you fly to a new city, stay in a new hotel, and the day of the week just simply doesn’t matter. It’s how I imagine it’d be on a cruise ship for a month. The day of the week is of no import; the only thing that matters is what day of the trip it is and where you are headed next. Dougherty then shows how this once affected Dolittle:

So it’s hard to blame Doolittle, way back in May, discussing a pair of rough outings at his locker in Washington. It was a Monday. His most recent appearance had come that past Friday. But he kept referring to that appearance as “Monday” — because it was the first game of the series — and proceeded to do so six times in a 12-minute interview. Like, “I just didn’t have it on Monday.” Or, “Monday didn’t go my way, but if I get out there today [editor’s note: actually Monday], I’m confident these changes will work.” It was trippy.

Dougherty gives some more examples and then the coup de grâce:

A confession: I’m relatively new to the baseball beat, about a year in, and so now I never know what day of the week it is either. I often wake up not knowing what city I just slept in. I first realized this in May, one morning in New York, staring at the ceiling and wondering where I was. So I started asking around the clubhouse — veterans such as Doolittle and Dozier, a younger guy such as Stevenson, Manager Dave Martinez — to see how the pros combat this confusion of time and space.

I love this story. The writer noticed something weird, asked about it, told the story, and now I have a funny little thought in my brain every time I watch a baseball game: these guys have no idea what day it is, and isn’t that weird and funny. A welcome addition to the subgenre, Jesse! -TOB
Source: MLB Players Never Know What Day of the Week It Is”, Jesse Dougherty, Washington Post (08/22/2019)


Baseball’s Wet Guys

Another laugh this week comes courtesy of David Roth. He brings us a story about something we already know, but maybe we haven’t yet articulated: every baseball team now has “the wet guy”. 

Sound gross. It’s not that gross, but a little bit. What’s a wet guy, you ask?

Brandon Crawford:

Clay Buchholz:

This guy on the Rays…or San Diego…who cares: 

You get the idea. From where did this trend come? Who started it? Is there a competitive reason, or are baseball players just kinda dumb when it comes to this stuff? No worries – David Roth breaks it all down. 

Also, since you’re here, this is a perfect time for me to break out my long hair style theory. Likey everything, every decade or so, long hair comes back in fashion. Unlike short hair trends, the long hair (and beard) trends hang on a little longer because, well, it took dudes six month to finally get that shit into a manbun; he ain’t snipping it the first sign of a high-and-tight from the cool guy at the office. No, no, no. 

That’s why you see so many baseball players still rocking the long hair they first grew out five years ago. 

Back to the story about the wet guy on baseball teams. It’s hilarious. Real laugh-out-loud stuff. Get to it. 

Also, this: 

Source: Every Baseball Team Has a ‘Wet Guy’ Now“, David Roth, Deadspin (08/22/2019)

TOB: I mean, I lived it. Hell, I met you like that. But I still just don’t quite believe it happened.


Last Week’s Two 1-2-3 Subjects Collide: Bichette v. Kershaw

Last week, Phil was on The Endless Honeymoon, and I was low on energy, so you got a two story week. It happens, ya know. Those stories were: (1) How awesome Bo Bichette, Baseball Legacy, has been in his short time in the bigs, and (2) Clayton Kershaw whining. This week, those two subjects met. Let’s see how things went:

Bang.

DOUBLE BANG!

Ok, ok. In between those two bangs, Kershaw dropped a hammer so nasty that Bichette had no choice but to laugh and ask his teammate, “Did you see that shit?”

Still. Two dingers? Game: Bo. -TOB

Source: Bo Bichette Vs. Clayton Kershaw Was A Rad Time”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (08/21/2019)


Video of the Week

Move over, Flash. We’ve got a Fridge now. Incredible.


Tweet of the Week

Also:


PAL Song of the Week – Tom Petty – “Honey Bee”


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There was a time when the only people who texted you were the people you wanted to text you – girls. And they’d all say the same thing. “I’m comin’ over, baby.” And I’d text back “B.T.B”. Bring that booty.

-Darryl  Philbin

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Week of August 16, 2019

Miss you, Skeeter


Bo (Bichette) Knows…

This is the year of the baseball kids in Toronto, who have called up three sons whose dads were very prominent names in baseball during my childhood: Cavan Bishop (son of Craig), Bo Bichette (son of Dante), and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (you can guess that one). After a slow start, Vladdy is starting to really heat up, but this story focuses on Bo Bichette, who is tearing up the league in his first couple weeks in the bigs (.365 with 4 dingers, and a double in nine straight game, an all-time MLB record, not just for a rookie).

The Ringer wrote a story about him, and I had to share this hilarious anecdote from when Bo was in the low minors:

One day in 2017, Dunedin Blue Jays manager John Schneider was hanging around the cage, watching his new shortstop take batting practice. Bo Bichette, then all of 19 years old, had recently been called up from Toronto’s low-A affiliate in Lansing, Michigan, where he’d hit .384/.448/.623 over 70 games. As Bichette prepared to go against a superior level of pitching, Schneider and Dunedin hitting coach Corey Hart came to him with an idea. With less than two strikes, the 2016 second-round pick liked to rear back with a big leg kick and try to clobber the ball, whereas with two strikes he’d spread out his stance and moderate his swing in an attempt to make contact. Schneider and Hart wanted Bichette to moderate his leg kick early in at-bats too. “His batting average with two strikes was astronomically high that year,” says Schneider, who in November was promoted to a spot on the Blue Jays’ big league coaching staff.

The suggestion should’ve carried serious weight: Schneider had nearly a decade’s worth of minor league coaching experience at that point, while Hart had coached in the minors since 2006. But when the pair told Bichette what they wanted him to do, he looked back at them (up, really—Bichette is an even 6 feet; Schneider is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds) and said, “No.” By way of explanation, Bichette asked his coaches whether they remembered when Tiger Woods was the best golfer in the world.

“We said yeah, but we didn’t really know where he was going with it,” Schneider says. “Bo said, ‘He would get on the tee box and he would just let it rip. He’d crush the ball 360 down the fairway and he didn’t care if he was off in the rough a little bit because he had confidence in his short game to get it on the green in two out of the rough.’

“And he just looked at us and said, ‘My two-strike approach is my short game.’”

Cocky? Sure. But, when you got it, you got it. -TOB

Source: The Growing Legend of Bo Bichette”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (08/09/2019)


Clayton Kershaw Doesn’t Want to Be Exposed as a Fraud, Hates RoboUmps

Jayson Stark wrote a really interesting article about how things are going in the Atlantic League since they started using RoboUmps. The short of it is: there are kinks to work out, but it’s not bad. But I wanted to call attention to the whining by Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who knows RoboUmps will prevent him from getting all the B.S. calls he presently gets – calls that make him a much better pitcher than he really is. Here’s Kershaw:

How would there not be more offense? If they shrink the box and there’s no give at all, it’s going to be crazy. There’ll be more walks. And then the walks are going to slow down the pace of play. And then the games will be longer. And then the pace of game is gone. So it’s, like, what do you want? You want a fast game with more offense but not too many walks? So I mean, that’s embarrassing, honestly.

Think about what he’s saying here: there will be more walks because pitches outside the strike zone that are currently called strikes will no longer be called strikes. Well, if Clayton Kershaw hates it, I love it. Bring on the RoboUmps! -TOB

Source: The Robots are Coming! Examining Big Leaguers’ Biggest Fears About Their Future Electronic Overlords”, Jayson Stark, The Athletic (08/14/2019)


Videos of the Week


Tweet of the Week


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“This could be perfect! My full time job could be our relationship. I could wear stretch pants and wait for you to come home at 5:15. This could work!”

-Jan Levinson

Week of August 9, 2019


So Long, Joey Baseball

In sports, there are guys whose contributions in big moments far outweigh their lack of performance in others. No, I don’t mean clutch. But sometimes a guy has a couple moments so important to a team and a fanbase, that other fans look at the numbers and don’t understand. When the Giants honored Ryan Vogelsong a couple years back, opposing fans said, “Ryan Vogelsong?” Then they looked at his numbers and said, “Huh?” But they don’t remember the times Vogey stepped up and saved a playoff series. They don’t remember the times it looked like the opposing team was about to hang a big number on the Giants in the postseason, and Vogey got a strikeout and a double play to escape a jam.

Joe Panik is probably another guy like that. His numbers are…fine. 

That’s one very good season (2015, his second in the league), two average ones, and three bad ones. There’s a Gold Glove (we’ll get to that) and an All Star appearance. All in all, a very average six seasons. 

But to Giants fans, he’s beloved. The Giants absolutely do not win the 2014 World Series without him. He was not a highly rated prospect headed into the 2014 season. Hell, they brought in Brandon Hicks (the near-all Brandon infield was kinda cool, though) and Dan Uggla at the start of the year. Those two sucked. Uggla batted .000. Hicks just .162. So they decided to give Joe Panik a shot. He was still in AA when they called him up. He struggled immediately, hitting just .211 heading into the trade deadline. But the Giants didn’t panic (sorry, sorry!), and it paid off: Panik went 2012 Scutaro, hitting .338/.367/.414 over the final two months of the season. They finished six games clear of the third place Wild Card team, sure, but who knows – without Panik’s hot bat and sweet glove, maybe they tailspin and miss the playoffs entirely.

As it was, they made the playoffs and Panik made perhaps the biggest contribution outside of Bumgarner, on the way to the World Series title: The Double Play. Many have called it among the best defensive plays in World Series history, and I’ve never seen anyone argue against that position. Given the stakes, the point in the game, the difficulty of the play…it’s hard to beat.

As Brisbee points out, if Panik doesn’t get to that ball, it’s first and third with out out. In a game where every single base mattered, Panik saved four in one play. Here’s what I wrote about Panik in our World Series recap:

Joe Panik deserves mention. I have been watching the World Series since 1988. That is a total of 27. And while I don’t have total recall, I can’t recall a better and more important defensive play than the double play he turned in the third. It was only the bottom of the third, but until Gordon’s hit in the 9th, it was the last time the Royals would threaten. Cain led off with a single, and the Royals’ best hitter, Eric Hosmer, came up. He ripped a ground ball up the middle, and Panik came out of nowhere to glove it. Cain is fast, and he didn’t have much time, so before he even stopped sliding, Panik flipped the ball directly from his glove to Crawford, and Crawford threw an absolute bullet to get Hosmer at first. If that ball gets through, I think the game does not end well for the Giants.

After Game 5, my mom sent me a very cute and funny e-mail. After talking about how much she and my dad love Hunter Pence, with his “Marty Feldman eyes” and his high socks and pants pushed above his knees, she said, “Of course, Dad also has his other favorite, Panik. He loves him. He thinks he’s Mr. Baseball.” That nickname is official. Joe Panik is Mr. Baseball.

We started to actually call him Joey Baseball, and the nickname fit. The dude just knew how to play. He followed up that 2014 postseason run with an incredible 2015 season, hitting .312 with an OPS+ of 129, and made the All Star team. He continued to make plays like the one in the World Series, and won the Gold Glove in 2016. At age 25, it seemed the Giants had their second baseman for the next 7 years. KNBR’s Derek Jeter even declared him a “mini Wade Boggs.”

But sports are weird, and not always linear. 2016 saw Panik’s batting average drop almost 100 points, to .239 with an OPS+ of just 88. 2017 was better, but 2018 and 2019 were very bad. He’s still only 28, when players should be peaking. But when the Giants traded for two second basemen this trade deadline, the writing was on the wall. Sure enough, Panik was gone in less than a week.

By all accounts, Panik is a good guy and a great teammate. He made one of the most memorable baseball plays I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m sad to see him go, even while recognizing it had to be done. I highly recommend you check out the Grant Brisbee article below, which chronicles the ten best moments of Panik’s Giants career. It’s awesome. So long, Joe – and thanks! -TOB

Source: The 10 Best Moments of Joe Panik’s Glorious Giants Career”, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (08/07/2019)


Just How Bad Are MLB Umpires?

If you read this blog, you know I am ready for so-called RoboUmps. It’s frustrating to watch a game and see umpires inconsistently call balls and strikes. To see an obvious strike three called a ball, and then see the next pitch hit over the fence (Phil knows that feeling all too well). Or to see a 9th inning rally stopped short by a strike three call on a pitch way out of the zone. Umpiring is hard, and how we do it is imperfect. Have you ever umpired? It’s so hard. When I was umpiring a few years back, I realized I had a blind spot low in the zone. If it’s in the dirt, it’s obvious. But on any pitch close, your eyes are up at the batter’s chest and you are staring down at the ball – you don’t have the perspective to make the call correctly every time. But, I’m just an amateur, umpiring for 12-year olds. Do MLB umpires have the same problems? And just how often do they get calls wrong?

A team of graduate students at the Boston University School of Business decided to answer those questions, and more. To do so, they analyzed data on every single pitch thrown in MLB for 11 seasons – from 2008 through 2018. That’s over 4 million pitches, and they noticed a few trends worth noting.

First, umpires make an incorrect strike call on pitches out of the zone at a far higher rate when there are two strikes in the count (29% of all called strike threes were incorrect) as opposed to when there are less than two strikes in the count (just 15%). This suggests a two-strike bias – umpires loooooove to punch somebody out.

Second, like me, MLB umpires have blind spots – areas where they have trouble making the correct call. Check out this chart – the numbers represents the number of incorrect calls:

I find it fascinating how umpires have improved at calling low pitches, especially with how putrid they were in 2008 (49% incorrect in the lower right zone!!). My guess is MLB recognized this issue and educated umpires on it. Still, pitches in the upper corners remain absurdly incorrect (27%).

Third, umpires, get worse as they age, just like athletes. The ten best umpires from each year 2008-2018 had an average of 2.7 years of experience, and averaged 33 years of age. Those umpires got under 9% of their calls incorrect. None of those umpires had more than 5 years experience or were older than 37. Compare that to the ten worst umpires each year from 2008-2018, who had an average of 20.6 years experience and averaged 56 years of age. Those umpires got 56% more calls incorrect than the ten best umpires, or 13.96% of all their calls.

It’s this last point I find the most intriguing, because it’s very easy to fix. Usually, if you know an umpire’s name, it’s not a good thing. Sure enough, the data shows the big names like Angel Hernandez, Joe West, Mike Winters, and Laz Diaz all stink. Now, it could be that there aren’t better umpires in the minor leagues ready to take their spots. But it seems MLB would be wise to move these guys out from behind the plate once they hit a certain age – vision and reaction times slow as we age, for umpires just as for players, and we could significantly improve umpire performance by culling the herd, so to speak.

The article makes a strong case for allowing the existing radar systems to call balls and strikes. At this point, with MLB testing it in the Atlantic League, it seems inevitable. Thanks to my dad for sending along the article! -TOB

Source: MLB Umpires Missed 34,294 Ball-Strike Calls in 2018. Bring on Robo-Umps?”, Mark T. Williams, BU Today (04/08/2019)


You Didn’t Do Anything Wrong, Twins…

I haven’t been keeping up with sports much on the honeymoon (you have to see the Dolomites if ever possible). Scanning your phone for stories isn’t a good use of time when your day is filled with croissants and cappuccinos, hikes and aperitivos, wine and pasta and strolls around the hamlet. 

But I have been keeping an eye on my Twins. I’m aware that, as of 7:15 AM local time on Friday, the team now clings to a single game lead over the scorching hot Indians after losing the opening game in a big series between the two teams. 

This was destined to happen months ago. It started when I looked up the team’s percent chance of winning the AL Central six weeks ago (it was 93.6% as of 6/1/19, and it’s now 68%). I further tempted fate when I spoke dismissively about another team. I wrote on our wedding website that people interested in joining us for a Wednesday afternoon Giants should have no problem getting tickets cheaply when they arrive because “the Giants aren’t very good this year, so there should be seats aplenty right before the game.”

And so here we are, the Twins double-digit lead on the Indians is down to one game, and sphincters across Minnesota are clinched pretty tight this weekend. Here’s the odd thing: The Twins haven’t cratered as the Indians have made its run over the last month or so. As Michael Baumann points out, since June 2 the Twins have been 4 games over .500 (as of 8/5/19…so now the team is right at .500). In that same time, the Indians have been on a tear. 

So, with all this in mind, you think the Twins would’ve been eager to make a big move at last week’s trade deadline. Their big moves? Two relievers. They simply wouldn’t part with top prospects (or young MLB roster guys) to land a top of the rotation pitcher, and their offense is on pace to break the single-season home run record, so we’re fine offensively. 

Meanwhile, the Indians made bold moves at the deadline. They got creative and, through a three-team trade – moved a top of the rotation pitcher in Trevor Bauer for Yaseil Puig and Franmil Reyes – two power-hitting outfielders. 

The Indians were creative and bold, and the Twins hesitated. It seemed odd. As Baumann points out, just last offseason it was the Twins that had been creative and bold in assembling what is now the most dinger-crazy lineup in baseball history. The team was aggressive in trying to catch the Indians (the presumed division favorite before the season started). Now that Twins have something to lose, they elected the “hold on for dear life” approach. 

Minnesota didn’t do anything that disruptive at the deadline—no other contender did—but adding Dyson and Romo is a finger in the dike, not a counterpunch to Cleveland’s late-July additions. Given the Twins’ head start, and how good their offseason acquisitions have been, that stop gap might be enough. Minnesota closed the gap on Cleveland by being aggressive this offseason, and through their relative inactivity at the deadline, allowed Cleveland to get back on level footing. If Minnesota does cough up its division lead and falls into the bingo cage of the AL wild-card race, the team’s relatively quiet deadline will stick out more than any untimely strikeout or blown save. Inaction carries its own flavor of risk.

No one knows if the Indians gamble will pay off. Bauer is having an off year, but he’s proven to be a top of the rotation pitcher on a good team. Puig is Puig and will no doubt do Puig things, which is to say he’ll have moments of awesome punctuated by bonehead and distracting crap. Franmil Reyes hits a lot of dingers and not much else (his WAR is -0.2). 

Who knows how it will play out, but one thing’s for certain: I find it difficult to be stressed about it as we set off for Lago Maggiore to continue the trip:

-PAL 

Source: Minnesota’s Historic Season Still Might Not Be Enough to Best Cleveland”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (08/05/19)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “American Girl”


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“If this is about what happened in the bathroom, there was no place to cuddle…”

– Michael Scott

Week of July 26, 2019

It’s a TOB Only Week: Exactly one year after this amazing photo was taken, these two lovebirds are tying the knot this weekend. Congrats PAL and NML!


Why Are We Still Discussing This? MLB Needs to Mandate Immediate Extension of Protective Netting to the Foul Poles

Last weekend, a 3-year old was struck by a foul line drive off the bat of Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians. At this time, the extent of the child’s injuries are unknown, but he was seen rushed up from the stands in the arms of an adult, presumably his father. This incident came on the heels of a similar incident in May, where the Chicago Cubs’ Albert Almora, Jr. fouled a ball off that struck a toddler in the head. That child, we now know, suffered a fractured skull, subdural bleeding, brain contusions, and brain edema. The child was lucky to survive. After these incidents, Lindor and Almora were each visibly upset. After their respective incidents, Almora and Lindor joined the growing chorus of people calling for MLB to expand protective netting all the way to the foul pole. 

Last season, MLB mandated protective netting to the ends of the dugouts. It was a good move, but it was not enough. Since then, injuries have continued to occur. In a story that did not get much press, a woman was killed after she was struck in the head by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium last year. Countless others have been injured, some severely.

The hesitancy doesn’t even make sense to me. Why? Is it because MLB is worried that high paying customers will object? It would appear so. In June, after the Almora incident, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said:

“We do have fans that are vocal about the fact that they don’t want to sit behind nets. I think that we have struck the balance in favor of fan safety so far, and I think we will continue to do that going forward.”

But that doesn’t fly when they already have protective netting for the highest paying customers. And has anyone heard fans raising a stink about the extension of netting to the ends of the dugouts? No. Have fans stopped paying for seats there? No. Why? Because if you’ve ever sat behind home plate, you know that you don’t notice the netting after just a few seconds in your seat. 

In defense of his defenseless inaction, Manfred also blamed “structural issues”:

“It’s very difficult given how far the clubs have gone with the netting to make changes during the year because they really are structural issues.”

Whatever that means. This year, season, two teams made the decision and completed and then completed installation of netting to the foul poles, so we know it’s not impossible. One of those teams is the Chicago White Sox, and White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito applauded the move:

“I think it’s great. I see the counter-arguments like, ‘Don’t sit there’ or ‘Just pay attention to the game.’ Dude, no matter how much you’re paying attention to the game, if that thing’s coming in 115 miles an hour with tail, no matter if you have a glove this big, it could hit you right in the forehead.

Well put, Lucas. I recently sat in the lower bowl behind the dugout at a Giants game, solo-parenting with my two boys, ages 5 and 2. We were behind the netting, but high enough that foul balls can loop over the net. I can tell you that while I paid attention to the game, and I was on very high alert for foul balls, throughout the game there were many times where the boys were distracting me and my eyes were not on the field; and there were two instances where that occurred when a ball was hit in our general vicinity. That split second when I could sense (by crowd reaction) that a ball was on its way toward us but couldn’t locate it was terrifying. In those instances, I jumped out of my seat to block the kids, having no idea where the ball was. Does that sound like fun?

So I ask: WHY ARE WE STILL DISCUSSING THIS? Extend the netting! -TOB


Does a Purpose Pitch Serve Its Purpose?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Eno Sarris has quickly become one of my very favorite sportswriters. In addition to answering my emails asking for fantasy baseball advice (seriously) his writing blends analytics with scouting to explore some of the most previously opaque concepts in baseball. This week, he tackled the “purpose pitch”.

His jump-off was about a recent spat between the Pirates and Cubs. Cubs manager Joe Maddon got angry when a Pirates pitcher threw a ball high and inside to Cubs’ star Javier Baez:

“[W]hen your guys keep getting thrown at their head, that’s another thing, too. It’s not just us. It’s an industry-wide concept that we know that they’re into, and I have it from really good sources.”

What is this industry-wide concept? The purpose pitch. And what is it and why does everyone know the Pirates are “into” it? Here’s an explanation from Travis Sawchick’s 2015 book, Big Data Baseball:

“[P]rior to the 2013 season [the Pirates] found that pitching inside would indeed have a psychological effect on batters that would create even more ground balls and further enhance the plan. The numbers showed that opponents were more likely to pull outside pitches on the ground after being pitched inside earlier. … After being pitched inside, players were less willing to aggressively lunge at outside pitches. Now the coaching staff had the data they needed to get their pitchers to pitch inside, but would the pitchers execute the plan?”

So Eno sets out to answer the question of whether pitching high and inside is worth it. First, he isolates every pitch thrown by the Pirates that was 6″ above the strike zone and 6″ inside. The Pirates threw 3,409 such pitches since 2015 – 1,113 hit the batter, 106 were ball four, and on seven the batter struck out. Of the 2,000 or so pitches left, Eno analyzed what happened on the next pitch: swings and misses were up. But he wasn’t satisfied, because a lot of that was due to the fact that slider-usage was also way up, a pitch that induces more swings and more misses. So he kept going, and he found that the purpose pitch set up weak contact:

Now you’re seeing that Pirates effect. Slugging percentage goes way down. On-base percentage goes up, of course, since you gave away a ball and got closer to a walk, and it’s even understated by this OBP since a third of these pitches resulted in walks — but it does look like players don’t slug very well once a pitcher throws them a purpose pitch high and tight.

But then Eno talked to players, and they told him that it’s not likely a purpose pitch if the pitcher is behind in the count – they can’t waste that pitch.

Aha! The purpose pitch does work! But, Eno astutely points out that if you add back in the 687 hit by pitches, the OBP soars to .511, and the OPS also rises to above league average. In other words: the purpose pitch doesn’t work unless you are sure you won’t hit the batter. Good stuff, Eno! -TOB

Source: Do ‘Purpose Pitches’ Actually Work?“, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (07/23/2019)


Why Team USA Will Not Be Sending Its Best to the Basketball World Cup

The FIBA World Cup is this summer, and the U.S. team should dominate – in theory. But in reality, we may lose. We may lose badly. Why? We aren’t sending our best players. In recent weeks, every elite American NBA player has dropped out. From last year’s All NBA teams, only Kemba Walker remains; Harden, LeBron, Paul George, Curry, Durant, Kawhi, Lillard, Irving, Blake Griffin, and Russell Westbrook have all dropped out. Invites have been extended to guys like PJ Tucker and Marcus Smart. Woof! So why is this happening: 

First, the NBA season is long, and competing in the Olympics/World Cup removes a large portion of a player’s rest and recovery time each year. Plus, superstars are now paid over $40M a year, and if you’re looking at an upcoming deal in that range, do you want to risk it by playing for free? By winning the Olympics/World Cup, you receive a sense of pride, sure. But how much is that pride worth? Historically, NBA players have seemed to value an Olympic Gold enough to take these risks, but do not value the World Cup in the same way. And why is that?

For whatever reason, as a country we place more value on Olympic basketball than the basketball World Cup (this is not true in many other countries around the world). Compared to the Olympics, there is less media coverage of the World Cup, and thus less praise and less glory for the players. The games are a Sportscenter footnote if you win, and you are ridiculed if you lose. There’s no upside, and a lot of downside. Historically, it has thus been difficult for USA Basketball to convince our best players to attend. To illustrate: 

Team USA has lost five Olympic basketball games in history. The 1972 Gold Medal game, the 1988 Semifinals, and the 2004 team, which lost three times en route to a Bronze medal. They have won 15 of the 16 other Olympic Gold Medals (the lone missing Gold due to the 1980 boycott). In contrast, Team USA’s results at the FIBA World Cup (nee World Championships) are much more spotty: 5 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze, and five times they did not medal, finishing as low as 6th in 2002.

But in his article this week, The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman sounds an alarm for next summer’s Olympics. Sherman notes a pattern we see in Team USA Basketball: (1) A starless Team USA loses in the Olympics; (2) Every superstar comes out the next Olympics and dominates the world en route to Gold; (3) A few superstars stay home in the following Olympics, having already won a Gold previously, but the team still wins Gold, though less impressively; (4) Team USA’s talent level is way down, but they eek out the Gold; (5) A starless Team USA loses in the Olympics. Repeat.

So where on that cycle will we be in 2020? At this point, it appears either 4 or 5. If we sent this year’s World Cup roster to the 2020 Olympics, we will be lucky to medal. It will be up to Team USA to convince the NBA’s top stars, almost all of whom have won one or two or even three Gold Medals to come back out in 2020. Given what’s at stake for the players, though, it will not be an easy sell. -TOB

Source: The Life Cycle of Team USA Basketball”, Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (07/24/2019)


Video of the Week

-Tour de France rider signs his autobiography for a fan. Haaah


Tweet of the Week


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“I’m not going for bulk, I’m going for tone.”

-Michael Scott

Week of July 19, 2019

Maxine Fischer


20 Years Later: I Feel You, Jean

This week marks the twenty year anniversary of the following. Don’t scroll past it. Watch the entire comedy. Peter Alliss’ commentary on the video is absolute poetry: 

We just remember the highlight. We rarely remember the leadup. Elizabeth Nelson writes the hell out of this retrospective on Jean Van de Velde’s collapse at the (British) Open. On the topic of meltdowns, she sets the stage and efficiently calls out why this one has legs. 

Many of the most famous meltdowns in golf happened to great players—Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot or Rory McIlroy at the Masters in 2012. Whereas, Jean Van de Velde was not reaching his potential, he was dramatically overachieving for 71 holes, and then he regressed to the mean after that.

And later: 

All week, Carnoustie had proved a miserable challenge. At the start of the final round, Van de Velde was the only player at level par—everyone else was over. Two-way winds, punitive rough, and a diabolical setup made the course veritably unplayable for many of the world’s best. Sergio Garcia wept after shooting an 89 in the first round. Tiger Woods entered Sunday tied for fourth, but at seven shots over par. 

And yet Jean Van de Velde, of all the field—which included nearly every highly ranked player in the world—had forged a path. The first 17 holes of his final round were a roller coaster: He had lost a five-shot lead to Craig Parry by the 11th, regained a two-stroke advantage on the 12th and then managed to be three strokes clear when he stepped up to the tee box at the last. And he’d had his share of good fortune—even his far-flung tee shot had come up just short of the water hazard. “Some golfing god is with him,” Alliss intoned gravely. But golfing gods are notoriously mercurial.

“His first shot was way out near the 17th hole, and it nearly went in the water,” Murray says. ”And so after that you figure he’s just going to wedge his second into play, get it up near the hole and win in extremely boring fashion. Instead, he takes out his 2-iron.”

For professionals and weekend hackers alike, the 1- and 2-iron are clubs incredibly difficult to control—so much so that they have largely been replaced by hybrid woods. Former pro Lee Trevino once famously said that if you find yourself caught on a golf course during a lightning storm, “Hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.” Van de Velde had simple options and three strokes to play with. He could have essentially taken a knee and run out the clock. But where’s the fun in that? Instead he called a hook-and-ladder play.

The collapse is all but complete, but because this ain’t a movie, he makes the damn putt to force the playoff. “Please give him one good putt. Please” the Alliss pleads. Van de Velde not only holes it, he drills the S.O.B. center cut with plenty of pace. It’s as gutsy a putt as you’ll ever see. 

Of course, it was all for not. Jean Van de Velde did not prevail in the playoff. Some other guy won. A guy we will never remember and whose name is worth no more than a meager parenthetical (Paul Laurie).  

I liked this story because it gave me reason to review something that held as a blurry polaroid in my sports memory. It taught me something new about an event of which I thought I had the gist, and it did so with compelling language, fun anecdotes, and it reminded me that this was not an icon melting down; this was a guy who maybe knew this was is one shot and wanted to win it with style. In Nelson’s words, “Epic in scale and preordained to end badly, it is hubris and catharsis and all of the elements of Greek tragedy mainlined into one par four.”

Goddamn, that’s a hell of a line. – PAL 

Source: Sink or … Swim? Remembering Jean Van de Velde’s British Open Meltdown, 20 Years Later”Elizabeth Nelson, The Ringer (07/17/2019)

TOB: Loved this, too – and if you want to see more of Van de Velde’s collapse, including some great stuff from him in the present offering his perspective on it, check out his episode of “Losers” on Netflix (I also highly recommend the curling episode).


Strike Three, You’re…Not Out.

Last week, we posted a story about MLB experimenting with wacky rule changes in the independent Atlantic League; specifically – allowing batters to steal first base on a dropped pitch at any point in the count, not just on strike three. As Phil and I discussed the rule, I wondered aloud as to why the dropped third strike rule even exists. 

To the non-baseball fans, a primer: If a catcher does not cleanly catch a pitch that results in strike three, and first base is open or there are two outs, the runner can try to “steal” first by running to first base before he is either tagged or a defensive player touches first base while in possession of the ball. Interestingly, the player is not out BUT the pitcher is still credited with a strikeout. So, if you’d like some good bar trivia to keep in your back pocket: the maximum number of strikeouts in an inning is not three (or 27 in a 9-inning game), but is in fact infinite.

Now that we’re all on the same page, back to the question of why this rule exists. Baseball has some weird rules, but you can usually figure out why the rule exists by playing the alternative out to its extreme conclusion: It’s usually trying to prevent something from happening that people decided was unfair. For example, the infield fly rule exists because defenders intentionally let routine fly balls drop to the ground in order to get a double play, instead of taking the out. And why is a foul bunt with two strikes an automatic out? To prevent batters from just holding their bat out to waste pitches. But why the dropped strike three rule?Here are the official MLB rules covering the topic:

6.05 A batter is out when— … (b) A third strike is legally caught by the catcher…

6.09 The batter becomes a runner when— … (b) The third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing (1) first base is unoccupied, or (2) first base is occupied with two out…

I asked Phil if he had any idea what the rule is trying to prevent. He did not. I racked my brain and could not for the life of me understand the rationale. So I did what any curious person does in the 21st Century: I went to Google. You will not be shocked to hear I’m not the first person to wonder this, but I am happy to report I found the answer. As the writer, Richard Hershberger, asks: 

Why is this? What purpose does it serve? If it is a penalty for wild pitching or poor catching, why only on the third strike? The rule seems inexplicably random.” 

But Herhberger answers the question, and I gotta say – it’s a fascinating one. Here’s Hershberger:

The answers to these questions lie in the very early days of baseball.… The story begins in an unexpected source: a German book of children’s games published in 1796 titled Spiele zur Uebung und Erholung des Körpers und Geistes für die Jugend, ihre Erzieher und alle Freunde Unschuldiger Jugendfreuden (“Games for the exercise and recreation and body and spirit for the youth and his educator and all friends in innocent joys of youth”) by Johann Christoph Friedrich Gutsmuths

The game described by Gutsmuths is an early form of baseball, with some notable differences:

Prominent among them is that there are only swinging strikes. Called strikes are as yet far in the future….Less obvious is that there was no strikeout in the modern sense. …The pitcher in Gutsmuths stands close to the batter, five or six steps (fünf bis sechs Schrit) away. He tosses the ball to the batter in a high arc (in einem gestrecken Bogen: literally “in a stretched bow”). There are no called strikes or balls. The pitcher is not required to deliver the ball to any particular spot, nor the batter to swing at any given pitch, but neither is there any incentive for the pitcher to toss a purposely ill-placed ball, or the batter to refuse to swing at a well-placed ball.

This presents a problem. If the pitcher proves so inept that he cannot make a good toss, he can be replaced by a more capable teammate. But what about an inept batter? The game can be brought to a halt by a sufficiently incompetent batter, unable to hit even these soft tosses. The solution is to add a special rule. The batter is given three tries to hit the ball (Der Schläger hat im Mal drei Schläge.) On his third try, the ball is in play whether he manages to hit it or not. He has to run toward the first base once he hits the ball, or he has missed three times (oder hat er dreimal durchgeschlagen). Either way, any fielder, including the pitcher, can retrieve the ball and attempt to put the batter out by throwing it at him. Thus a missed third swing is equivalent to hitting the ball.

And…now I get the rationale, and as usual it did stem from trying to prevent something. As explained by Herberger:

This solution is very inclusive. It allows even the hapless batter to join in the fun of running the bases and having the ball thrown at him, which a harsher penalty of an automatic out would deny him. Gutsmuths points out that the batter is at a disadvantage with a missed third swing, since the pitcher is close at hand to pick up the ball and throw it at him (und da der Aufwerfer den Ball gleich bei der Hand hat, so wirft er gewöhnlich nach ihm), so the batter’s ineptitude is penalized, but the fielding side still has to work for the out.

Hershberger goes on to explain how the rule was incorporated into American baseball in the 19th Century (it’s also fascinating). I’m so happy I know this now, and I hope you also put this in your back pocket for a rainy bar trivia day. As we said last week:

-TOB

Source: The Dropped Third Strike: The Life and Times of a Rule”, Richard Hershberger, Society for American Baseball Research (Spring 2015)

PAL: Is this our first 1-2-3 post in subtitles? Goddamn, TOB; become a P.I. already. Impressive


Get A Dog Already

Maxine Fischer will likely be gone by the time you read this. I’m not entirely sure why I’m compelled to share this with you. Chances are, seeing as we have a blog here in 2019, I over-share. Could be, as my wedding inches closer by the day, that I’m in a stock-taking mode. One thing’s for sure: this isn’t an update about putting her down.

This is a note to twenty-somethings out there considering whether or not to get a dog, written by a guy who just spent 12+ years caring for and living with a stubborn, persistent, trying, needy, ill-trained, cavalier, loving, patient, large, strong, and – in the end – ill friend. 

So, to those twenty-somethings out there: just do it. Go to the pound or rescue and say yes. That’s it. 

Set the pup on the passenger seat and drive home. You don’t need to know anything else. I promise you’ll figure out the rest. 

It will be expensive at a time when you really don’t have any money. It will make finding an apartment that much more difficult at a time when you shouldn’t be too picky. Friends will be super enthusiastic about watching the dog before you get a dog, but – through no fault of their own – friends are busy a lot, too (and the ones that do: shower them with beers and dinners out). It will mean leaving happy hour before you want to sometimes, and it will mean picking up about 7500 poops (2 a day for 10 years, with a little extra added for diarrhea days). You will get frustrated, angry, flabbergasted with that dog. It will destroy something important. And, at the end of the night, just as you’re about to slide into bed, that GD dog will have to go to the bathroom once more. 

Also, you’ll learn that a reason to come home is better than a reason to stay out. A reason to get up is better than a reason to sleep in. A walk with the dog is the best way to get to know your neighbors and neighborhood. Playing fetch is the anecdote to a shit day at work. The parks around you are beautiful and thoughtfully designed. You will talk to your family more, because you will call them while you walk the dog. You will feel loved in a way you’ve never felt before. 

Maybe it’s because we don’t have kids yet. It’s probably that. Max was just the first life I was responsible for, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic to all the parents out there, that’s something that will stick with me. 

Yep, I know this is a sports blog, but we’ve been doing this for over five years now, and I like to think people read because they want to hear want we have to say, to hear what we think is good and worth sharing. More than sports, I think it’s about a small group of people interested in what TOB and I have to share. I’m putting my dog down. She made me a more loving person. That’s a story I want to share this week.

Things are gonna be off without you, buddy. Natalie and I are really going to miss you. – PAL

TOB: Nice tribute to a great dog, Phil. I’ll miss getting into your car as she slowly and begrudgingly vacated her spot in the front seat, I’ll miss her god awful farts, and I’ll miss her relentless pursuit of a belly rub.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Starship – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”


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People will never be replaced by machines. In the end, life and business are about human connections. And computers are about trying to murder you in a lake. And to me the choice is easy.

-M.G. Scott

Week of July 12, 2019

NFL player Josh Norman leaping over a bull at Pamplona.


A Bum and His Boch 

The Giants may be on the verge of trading Madison Bumgarner, a pitcher who helped win three World Series titles, and practically won the third all on his own. Some fans are practical: He’ll be a free agent, he’ll cost a lot, the team needs to rebuild by replenishing the farm system, and he’s one of the few marketable assets. Other fans are emotional: It’s Bummy! Don’t you remember the 2014 World Series? He’s still only 28. If we can turn this around in 2-3 years, he’ll still be young enough to contribute.

I’m in the middle. I absolutely want to restock the farm system, and realize that trading Bum, and 

not re-signing him, is our best option to continue doing so. But damn, I will be sad when it happens. Here’s what Phil wrote about him after the 2014 World Series:

Have you heard the theory about how the indigenous people couldn’t see the ships when Columbus hit landfall on the Americas? The theory is that the ships were so out of their realm of reality that they couldn’t process what was taking place before them. They couldn’t see the ships! Whether or not that’s true (I don’t buy it), that’s how I felt watching Madbum last night. I knew it was exceptional, but I couldn’t process it. Even when you tell me the numbers (.25 ERA in 36 WS innings…what the hell?), it still doesn’t process. I really don’t think we’ll ever, ever see a WS pitching performance like that again.

I just can’t let that go. And if we let him go and the prospects don’t amount to much, which is a very real possibility! (My headline there: Why You Should Temper Your Excitement If Your Team Trades a Star For a Few Top Prospects”), I will be pretty god damn upset.

But if I feel that way, as do so many other Giants fans, imagine how the guy who has managed him feels: Bruce Bochy. Bochy is retiring after this season, so it probably lessens the sting of Bumgarner leaving. But he also probably would prefer to finish his career with Bum on the bump, ya know? Bochy is not shy about expressing his love for the guy he managed from a 20-year old rookie to a World Series hero:

“With Madison, it’s a desire to be the best he can be,” Bochy said. “I love this man so much and I’ll never forget what he did for me, for us. Nah, he’s special, man. This is one … I’m really going to miss.”

I love this article by Baggarly, because he gets two stoic men to open up. But he also tells us things that we can’t know, because we don’t spend every day at the park:

It is an everyday sight whenever the Giants take batting practice: Bumgarner spends so much time at Bochy’s side, the two of them leaning against the back of the cage, that you might assume the man with No. 40 stretching across his broad back and the bristle of hair poking out from his hat is the hitting coach and not the No. 1 starting pitcher.

They might be talking about the hitter in the cage. They might be talking about last night’s game or how they should pitch an opponent on a hot streak. They might be talking about hunting or fishing or whether Bochy should build on that family farmland he inherited in North Carolina, just outside a sleepy little town called Wade.

“What’s talked about the most,” said Bumgarner, “is baseball.

As you read, you start to realize – this isn’t just manager/player. It’s not quite father/son, either. It’s two dear friends who share a love for the game they play. It’s one of the things I miss most as an adult – being able to compete and play the games I love with my friends. For their sake, and my own, I hope the Giants hold onto Bum, and he and Boch get to compete together for a couple more months. -TOB

Source: “‘He’s All We’ve Ever Known’: Madison Bumgarner and Bruce Bochy Near the End of Their Working Relationship, But Their Friendship Will Endure”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (06/24/2019)

PAL: You nail it, TOB. This right here is the fan experience: “It’s one of the things I miss most as an adult – being able to compete and play the games I love with my friends. For their sake, and my own, I hope the Giants hold onto Bum, and he and Boch get to compete together for a couple more months.”

When you have “A Guy” – and each franchise can only hope to have a few in the entire existence of a franchise – it’s hard to let go of seeing him on the mound in a Giants jersey for some prospects. And you’re right; there’s no guarantee any of the prospects will amount to much beyond serving as an asset. 

Bumgarner represents the absolute apex of what a fan hopes to get out of a player. Home-grown talent. The young buck at the beginning of the dynasty. A career defining ‘moment’ (he’s so good that his moment lasted an entire postseason in 2014). Add to it that SF and Bum are an unlikely combination: a country-strong, lift-kit Ford truck driving red-ass in the land of scooters. And all of this while the more heralded talent for the rival down south – Clayton Kershaw – won nothing but individual awards. 

So yeah, I say keep him. He’s not old. Rebuild this thing, and let him be the bridge to the next era. 

Or…

THE GIANTS SHOULD DEFINITELY TRADE HIM TO THE TWINS FOR MIGUEL SANO. GREAT DEAL FOR BOTH TEAMS.


I Don’t Hate This: Stealing First 

I’m usually the curmudgeon when it comes to changing baseball. Don’t change a thing. RBI is a meaningful stat. If I’m being honest, when I see someone hitting over .300 I all but concede that he’s a good hitter. 

But this idea is a radical one, and I friggin’ love it. MLB is using the Atlantic League (an independent league) as its lab, testing out rule changes and seeing their impact. In last week’s Atlantic League All-Star Game, the home plate ump had an AirPod on and ball and strike calls were made by a software. 

But that’s not even close to the most interesting rule change. Starting in the second half of the season, players will be allowed to steal first base. What the hell does that mean, you ask?

“Any pitch on any count not caught in flight will be considered a live ball, and a batter may run to first base, similar to a dropped third strike”

It doesn’t take much to see how this could really add an action-packed wrinkle to a largely stationary game. Per Yahoo’s Chris Cwik:

The rule would drastically alter the game if it is adopted in MLB. Players like Billy Hamilton might suddenly gain extra value. If a ball gets away, he can easily make it to first base. Given his speed, he’ll probably steal second base too.

Not only that, but players like Hamilton might see fewer breaking balls as a result of the new rule. If pitchers fear wild pitches or passed balls, they might serve up more fastballs to players with elite speed. In Hamilton’s case, that would be a good thing. He hits fastballs and sinkers much better than breaking stuff.

I love this. I love the idea of speed becoming much more valuable in a game dictated by power (pitching and hitting). I also love the late-game situations this would create.

Let’s say, I don’t know, the Twins are down by 2 in the ninth with 1 runner on base, and the old, slow, definitely-not-on-something Nelson Cruz is up. Cruz has 16 home runs, and he’s looking go boom. That’s why he’s still in the league – to hit home runs and to sport a haircut that he’s 17 years too old to sport. The pitcher throws one that gets away from the catcher early in the count. Does Cruz take first or stay put to try go boom on the next pitch? Does the pitcher, knowing that Cruz gets paid to hit for power, try to entice him to take first base? 

These are fun scenarios to think about, and this is such a no-brainer for the Atlantic League to be the lab rats for MLB. Let them steal first! Thanks for the tip, Pep! – PAL

Source: MLB will experiment with stealing first base in Atlantic League”, Chris Cwik, Yahoo Sports (07/10/2019) 

TOB:

It’s Freaky Friday, y’all. While I’m ready for RoboUmps, this rule change has me spooked. It’s such a big change. I’ll need to see it.

Also, if you’re like me – this article had me wondering: why even do we have the dropped third strike rule? Well, I did some sleuthing, and I’ll write about it next week.


From Fields to Stadiums: Babe Ruth, Frank Osborn, and Steel

Really enjoyed this one. It digs into how steel, along with a guy named Babe Ruth and an engineer named Frank Osborn, ushered in a new era of professional baseball. An unlikely grouping is alys a sturdy foundation for a good read. 

I’ve understood Babe Ruth’s greatness in terms of numbers, especially when compared to players of his day, but it wasn’t until I read this that I understood how massive his role was in brining baseball to the masses. He put butts in the seats. He sold papers. He’s why the Yankees stopped renting at the Polo Grounds and build their own field. And, in fact, it wasn’t a field; it was a stadium. 

Vince Guerrieri calibrates the reader to the time in question, a time when the Yankees were far from the “Evil Empire”:

Before the 1920 season, the Yankees bought the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for $125,000, the largest price ever for the purchase of a single player in a move regarded as folly at the time. At that price, the Yankees would have to draw a million fans to break even—unheard of at that point. As it turned out, Ruth’s prodigious home runs revolutionized the sport—and drew crowds. In his first year with the Yankees, the team became the first in major league history to draw more than one million fans, relegating the Giants to second fiddle in their own park. The Yankees needed a bigger place of their own—and the Giants were only too happy to have them leave, going so far as to serve them an eviction notice (later rescinded).

Before this time, most fields (they were called fields or parks, but not yet stadiums) were made of wood. A cheap material, readily available. They were small, far from permanent (much like the game itself) and pretty dangerous. Not only did wooden bleachers “fail”, but fires – big, killer fires – were far more of a regular threat in those days than they are now. Fires and wood – not a good combo. 

Also Baseball was far from a stable industry, and thus lacked the infrastructure. Never mind teams calling it quits – full leagues would fold over night. That volatility started fade when the masses to the fields. The Yankees attendance exceeded one million in Ruth’s first year, the first team to eclipse that mark. Two years later the team was building a stadium that could hold over 60K fans.

As the games popularity grew, thanks in large part to Ruth, the owners saw that they needed to accommodate (and charge) more fans. Baseball was becoming a viable business. And that’s when they called Frank Osborn in Cleveland, Ohio. Osborn earned his stripes as an engineer for a firm that specialized in steel bridges made for railroads. He understood how to build structures that could withstand a tremendous amount of moving weight in a relatively small space. 

While the steel reinforced concrete was a larger expense upfront, owners were no longer worried about leagues folding year to year. They were thinking long term. Frank Osborn’s steel and concrete stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit, and the Brox literally helped cemented baseball’s future. From 1903 – 1953, not a single team relocated.

The article goes on to describe the terrible detour of the multi-purpose,’doughnut’ stadiums that replaced so many of the original ‘stadiums’, as well as how the new stadiums have reverted back to the vintage aesthetic. Best of all, Osborn Engineering is still in operation today. 

What an enjoyable read, and the old photos are so fun to pour over. – PAL 

Source: How Concrete And Steel Built Baseball”, Vince Guerrieri, Deadspin (07/08/2019)


Little Big League: Still Holds Up!

If you asked me to choose my favorite baseball movie, I am torn. I love the Sandlot. I love Field of Dreams. But my top two are Major League, and Little Big League. We covered Major League back in April, as this year is its 30th anniversary. But Little Big League is 25 years old this year, and The Athletic did a fantastic look at what is an unbelievably underrated movie (just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, which – GFTOH!). 

If you don’t remember Little Big League, the premise is simple: 12-year old Billy Heywood inherits the Minnesota Twins from his grandpa, who passes away near the beginning of the film. The team is slumping, and Billy fires the manager (Dennis Farina playing a Billy Martin-type character). Unable to find a replacement, Billy names himself the manager, and teaches the players to remember why they love playing baseball and in the process they begin to win games.

A lot of things stick out for me in this movie, much of it covered by the article. For example, the baseball scenes are very realistic, and the article gets into how they did that. There are some great cameos, and I get a kick out of watching them now just as I did as a 12-year old. It’s also a genuinely funny movie, even as an adult. It’s just a fun-watch. 

But it’s also a smart-watch. For example, this scene, where Billy convinces the GM and the bench coach that he’s qualified to coach the team (and the line from Billy’s friend who comes up with the idea that he manage the team still kills me: “It’s the American League! They’ve got the DH. How hard could it be?”):

For mainstream baseball, that argument against the sacrifice bunt is twenty years ahead of its time. I also love this scene where Billy enlists the entire team to help him with his homework before they play a one-game playoff to determine whether they make the postseason.

Or how about the fact that, in the climactic scene, the Mariners’ Randy Johnson comes out of the bullpen in the 9th to close the door. Using your best pitcher in relief in a playoff game is almost a decade ahead of its time! 

If you haven’t seen the movie, or if it’s been a while, I highly recommend it! -TOB

Source: Little Big League’ at 25: The Inside Story of an Unlikely Baseball Classic”, Rustin Dodd, The Athletic (06/28/2019)

PAL: TOB made we watch this movie a year or so ago. Watching him watch it and make the case for its greatness was more entertaining than the movie. 

As a Twins fan, I have a couple issues with this movie. 

Timothy Busfield? Really? That’s the best we can do for our first baseman and lead actor in a movie about the Twins? Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law from Field of Dreams, that’s what we get? 

This quote from Dave Magaden, former big leaguer and actor in the movie, about Busfleid’s assessment of his own talents had me dying: 

“He played a little high school baseball, so he had that mindset that if he’d kept working at it, he would have made it to the pros. He was a decent hitter, I guess.” 

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Some hollywood guy played a little in high school and thinks he could have made it to the pros. Of course, Busfield. 

Oh, and let’s not have a friggin’ extra wearing #34 for the Twins. You wouldn’t have an extra wearing #23 for the Bulls in a basketball movie, would you?

Also, the Rawling Pump glove is heavily featured in this movie:

Most important, TOOTBLAN, as demonstrated by Ken Griffey, Jr. in this movie, is a first grade, world class, phenomenal concept. I will be using it the next time I coach.  

TOB: I will give Busfield this: his swing is decent and he throws like a ballplayer.

PAL: His swing is a bad Griffey impression. Nah. A guy like that has to have more of a grinder swing. He should swing more like Brian Giles.


Video of the Week

^World Cup champion Ashlyn Harris channeling PAL and TOB, every Friday morning.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sam & Dave: “Hold On, I’m Comin'”


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

-M.G. Scott

Week of July 5, 2019

PAL and TOB enjoyed this long holiday weekend watching sports and sipping tea. We hope you did the same. We’ll be back next week. Go USWNT!