Week of June 22, 2014

No. No.

I like baseball. Do you like baseball? I like dingers. Do you like dingers? Of course. Who doesn’t like dingers? But I also like games with NO dingers, whenthose games also have no hits by one team. No-hitters are great, but they’re especially great when your team gets one (and embarassing when your team is the no-hittee). Around the 6th or 7th inning, not-so-subtle text messages are sent around. You know immediately what the hint is getting at, but you still check the live box score and say, “Whoa.” On Wednesday, Tim Lincecum threw a no-hitter. It was his second, you know. The best thing about a no-hitter is all the things. But here are the top fifty.

Source: “50 Awesome Things About Tim Lincecum’s (Second) No-Hitter”, Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles (06/25/2014)

I Hope His Shoulder Was Al Dente…

If you tune into soccer every four years to watch the World Cup, you may not have been aware of Luis Suarez before this week. But now? Now you know him. Late in Uruguay’s match against Italy, needing a win to advance, Suarez bit an opponent. Suarez then tried to pretend like the player had struck Suarez in the face, and went down, attempting to draw a penalty kick. Uruguay would score shortly thereafter, advancing to the Round of 16, and sending Italy home in the process. This was below bush league. This was worse than classless. This is just Luis Suarez, a player with a history of biting opponents (seriously, this is the THIRD time he’s done this) and other transgressions, to go along with other worldly talent. -TOB
Source: “The Many Crimes of Luis Suarez”, Billy Haisley, Deadspin (06/24/2014)

“What is a Million Dollars Compared to the Love of Eight Million People?”

This is the rhetorical question once posed by Teofilo Stevens, a now deceased Cuban boxer, who none other than George Foreman declared the greatest heavyweight of their generation. Stevens turned down millions of dollars to fight Muhammad Ali, in order to live a life of poverty in Cuba – a life he believed in. In contrast, athletes like Yasiel Puig risk their lives for millions of dollars in the U.S. – and are treated like indentured servants for the rest of their lives. A short excerpt, that should convince you to read the entire 7,000+ words:

“Stevenson was in an impossible situation. He not only rejected America’s millions, but he also had to pretend there was no consequence. Stevenson had to be just as defiant in his choice as Puig was pretending he’d reached salvation entering American life with no lingering pain. Zero tolerance for dissent on this point cuts both ways. The emotional truth remains hidden.”

After you read that, watch the 15-minute documentary, “Ali vs. Stevenson, The Greatest Fight That Never Was” at the end. -TOB
Source: “Heroes For Sale: Teofilo Stevenson, Yasiel Puig, and the Agony of the Cuban Athlete”, Brin-Jonathan Butler, SB Nation (06/10/2014)

Pay Him. Pay Zat Man Heez Money.

LeBron James just announced that he would opt out of the final two years of his contract with the Heat and become a free agent. This is exciting news to me. I sure wish he comes to the Kings or the Warriors. In a free market, I think the Kings owners could afford to throw a ton of money at him, and convince LeBron to be a conquering hero. But, the NBA is not a free market. The league has implemented many restrictions to limit how much teams can spend on player salaries (e.g., max individual salaries, luxury tax). This has all somehow created a world where guys like Rudy Gay make nearly as much as LeBron James, which is nothing short of stupid. But if you lifted the cap on individual salaries and paid players based on production, how much would individual players be worth? As it turns out, LeBron is worth approximately $45 million. Per year. And Tim Hardaway Jr. should have PAID the Knicks over $12 million dollars for his performance last season. Ouch. That’s the kind of sports world I’d like to live in. -TOB
Source: “How Much is LeBron James Really Worth?”, Kyle Wagner, Deadspin (06/24/14)

Video of the Week: 

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“I don’t know why they call this stuff hamburger helper. It does just fine by itself…”

– Cousin Eddie

Week of June 16, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 9.09.14 AM

RIP Tony Gwynn

Two stories for the one of the greatest hitters of all-time, a genuinely good man, one who died too young. As you probably heard, Tony Gwynn died this week, after a long and difficult battle with cancer. On Father’s Day, the day before his death, the first story was published. It’s about Tony and his son, Tony Jr. Read it, then call your father. The second story, a tribute from a former Padre bat boy, who Tony made feel special when many other ballplayers did not. It provides insight into a ballplayer that most of us do not ever receive. And, for once, that insight makes you appreciate the player more than you did from before. Rest in peace, Tony. -TOB

Source: “The Gwynn Men: A Son’s Love, A Father’s Fight”, by Jim Salisbury, Comcast Sportsnet (06/15/14); “I Was Tony Gwynn’s Bat Boy”, by David Johnson, Deadspin (06/17/14)

Soccer for Dummies

Are you enjoying the World Cup, but want to know more about the strategy involved? This is a good start. -TOB

Source: “How to Watch the World Cup Like a True Soccer Nerd”, by Mike L. Goodman, Grantland (06/06/14)

Meet the Rocky of distance running

We’re getting into marathon season. For most of us, that means suffering through bar conversations about your friend’s mileage this week (full disclosure: I’m guilty of this stupidity). But Steve Jones — even his name is unremarkable — has a pretty great story of how he came out of nowhere to be one of the best marathoners in the world, all while never wearing a watch. -PAL

Source: “I Never Wore A Watch”: Running Lessons From A Record-Breaking Everyman, by Sarah Barker, Fittish (5/21/14)

The Melkman Continues to Deliver

In 2012, Melky Cabrera came out of nowhere to win the All-Star Game MVP, lead the league in batting, and help spur a Giants run to the postseason, which eventually ended in their second World Series title in three years. As he did so, Melky became a fan favorite in SF. But in early August, he was suspended for testing positive for PEDs (and even more shameful, for a bizarre attempt to cover it up). Two years later, now in Toronto, Melky is quietly among the league leaders in hitting (and may even start in the All Star game), as he attempts to move on from his mistakes. -TOB

Story Link: “Melky Cabrera on His Own Little Island”, Jerry Crasnick, ESPN (05/13/14)

Like a fart in church, athletes trying to be musicians is always funny.

An updated list of the worst musical forays. I’ve never liked Tim McCarver, but his contribution to this list almost salvages our relationship. I’m left with a lot of questions. Why does the WSJ have the exclusive on this? More importantly, who’s the best “slash” in the world of athlete/musician?

Story Link: “Listen to the New Rap Song by World Cup Player Clint Dempsey”, Andrew Beaton & Hannah Karp, The WSJ Blog (6/18/14)


Video of the week: Scorpion kick! 

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“Never in my wildest imagination did I ever dream I would have sons like these.”  – Herman Blume

Week of June 9, 2014


Argentina needs Messi, but do they want him?

Lionel Messi left his home in Argentina when he was 13 for pretty understandable reasons – one of the best clubs in Europe wanted him (FC Barcelona), and they would provide the medical treatments he needed (he had a growth-hormone deficiency). Yet, even as Messi is widely considered one of the best players ever, Argentineans have a surprisingly complicated relationship with their star. They don’t completely see him as one of their own. “We’ve always liked how Messi plays,” the driver, Dario Torrisi, told me, “but we don’t know who he is.” This story does a great job exploring what “home” means in the context of the world’s most popular game. -PAL

Source: “The Burden of Being Messi”; by Jeff Himmelman; The New York Times (6/5/14)

TOB: I visited Argentina about a month before the 2010 World Cup, as Messi was tearing up the Champions League. I can say that Argentina was pretty bonkers for him. The media narrative right now seems to be that Messi is not loved in Argentina (though the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine argues that, while this is true for those old enough to have lived through the 1986 World Cup, the younger generation loves Messi and finds Maradona rather abhorrent). He’s a quiet guy – he’s not bombastic. He has struggled, comparatively speaking, on the national team. He’s not Maradona. This is all true. But he’s amazing to watch, and some of his national team struggles can be pinned on a coach who had no idea how to use him (and had no business being coach *coughMaradonacough*). I think this is his time – and I think Argentina should go deep into this World Cup, with Messi leading the way.  

The Times, They Are a-Changin’

I can’t watch college football anymore without feeling a twinge of guilt, though I still do. In fact, I’m a season ticket holder.  But a tidal wave of change is preparing to hit American college sports. We might not know yet when exactly it will arrive and what it will leave in its wake, but it is coming. The debate on whether to pay college football players seems to be approaching a cultural tipping point (with Title IX implications of paying players threatening to leave college sports completely unrecognizable). The myth of amateurism has never rung so hollow. Making matters even worse is the fact that universities nationwide are facing budget reductions, as state legislatures have been cutting back on higher education funding for years (California, my home state, chief among them). And while public university budgets are being slashed, with those costs being passed on to students, universities across the country continue to subsidize their athletics programs with millions of dollars per year. So it was with some pride that I read this article, about how my alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley, has attempted to eliminate its athletic subsidy. In a few years, Cal has reduced its athletic subsidy from $12.1 million in 2010, to $3.2 million in 2013. The job is not done, but Cal has set a model that other schools should look toward. TOB

Source: “Cal Finds Little Company in Push to Cut Subsidies”; by Steve Berkowitz, Christopher Schaars, and Jodi Upton, USA Today (06/05/2014)

PAL: About a week ago I texted Tommy to give him crap. I’d heard the football field at Memorial Stadium (Cal’s football stadium) referred to as “Kabam Field” on the local sports radio station. Cal had struck a deal with a mobile game maker. “How lame,” I thought, as I grabbed for my phone. In fact, it’s not lame at all. Aside from the fact no one will ever, ever, ever refer to the field as “Kabam Field” in any normal conversation, Cal stands to earn $18 million over 15 years. Among other things, that money will be used to help finance the stadium renovations and student-athlete center (you can find the breakdown here). Lame? No. More like common sense.

A Million Dollars a Year on Fantasy Sports? What the Hell?

You ever win a fantasy league? I have. A few times. The gratification is short-lived, but I still feel pride in each of those wins, and aggravation for the losses. Months of work and hours pouring over stats often come down to something as stupid as 3 blocked shots in 5 minutes by a point guard who had 3 blocked shots the entire season before that, costing you the title (this actually happened to me). But what if the season didn’t take months, but occurred in the course of one night? And what if you bet money on that “season”? And what if you played thousands of “seasons” per night? You’ve just entered the world of Cory Albertson, a business school student at Notre Dame, who has turned fantasy sports into a science – and expects to make $1 million dollars this year on fantasy sports. Yes, one million. On fantasy sports. -TOB

Source: “A Fantasy Sports Wizard’s Winning Formula”; by Brad Reagan, Wall Street Journal (06/04/14)

PAL: When something  conceived as a game then becomes a business, there will be gap when it’s ripe for the taking. Fantasy sports hedge fund? I have some buddies who will no doubt contribute to this dude’s next vacation estate. Also, did you notice TOB mentioned he’s won a fantasy league a few times?

This is the perfect story if you don’t love (or “get”) hockey.

I grew up playing the sport in Minnesota. It’s a great game. Fun to play, fun to watch in person, and it features incredible athletes. Aside from a little San Jose Sharks fever once every couple of years, there aren’t a ton of hockey fans out here in California, even when two of the best teams play out here (it pains me to write that). Here’s a cool story breaking down a seemingly tiny, momentary element of the game – the faceoff. Like a jump ball in basketball, it determines possession; however, unlike in basketball, faceoffs happen dozens of times in a game where scoring is much harder to come by. What makes a player a great faceoff guy? Quick hands, researching the tendencies of the refs, and of course the willingness to headbutt your opponent. -PAL

Source: “Controlling the Faceoff is Critical to the Game of Hockey”; by David Wharton, Los Angeles Times (6/11/14)

No Respect At All.

As I write this, the Heat just lost by 21 points on their home floor in Game 4, and the Spurs have taken a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. That the Spurs are winning should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has been watching the NBA closely this year. The Heat are talented but old, and the Spurs are incredible, and have mostly torn through these playoffs. What continues to amaze me, though, is that LeBron James does not get the respect he deserves. “He’s not Jordan.” Yeah, and? No one is. “He abandoned Cleveland on national TV.” A mistake, to be sure. But why has LeBron not been forgiven? The guy has won two NBA titles and and made 5 NBA Finals. He’s the greatest player of his generation, and the ultimate team player. He works hard on defense, unlike many star players, and he shares the ball like Magic Johnson. Every bit of respect seems to be given grudgingly, and every time he does fail, people seem to relish it. Why? -TOB

Source: “LeBron James Has Earned More Respect Than He’s Given”; by Vincent Goodwill, The Detroit News (06/08/14)

PAL: I typically deplore when people play this card, but here I go: Magic and Michael didn’t play in the era of Twitter and 24-hour sports channels. Every sports story (and every news story for that matter) is reported on 10 percent of the time, then analyzed, editorialized, and debated the other 90 percent of the time. Stories are then made out of the opinions expressed about the original news story. This is why I can’t watch ESPN anymore (they aren’t the only guilty party, but definitely the most insufferable). LeBron was/is the most popular athlete when this media pivot took place. It’s not fair, but it makes sense.

Video of the Week Baseball players are the best.    

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“I saved Latin. What did you ever do?” – Max Fischer

Week of June 2, 2014


If This Happened in 2014, Skip Bayless’ Head Would Actually Explode (See Above).

Deadspin has been running informative and not insanely long previews of each of the 32 teams competing in the World Cup, which begins next week. Within this preview of Spain’s chances to repeat as World Cup Champions, there is an absolutely insane story that no modern sports fan will believe: in the 1950’s, Barcelona and Real Madrid were both attempting to sign a highly sought after Argentinian soccer player, Alfredo Di Stefano. Some controversy existed over which South American club team owned Di Stefano’s rights. Barcelona arranged a transfer with one of those clubs (Argentiniean club River Plate), but they also needed consent from Colombian club Millonarios – Millonarios refused, and in turn agreed to transfer him to Real Madrid. After much squabbling, a “compromise” was reached – Di Stefano would play the next four years alternating each year between Barcelona and Real Madrid. What the hell?  I can’t even imagine this situation happening today. I have read suggestions that LeBron should sign one year contracts with the team he thinks he can help win the most, and that would be highly entertaining and crazy, but still not as crazy  as this. -TOB

PAL Note: Well, at least Fascism gave us this gem of a story. Di Stefano was probably the only guy in all for Spain universally tolerated.  

Story Link: “How Spain Can Ride Tiki-Take to International Immortality”, Greg Howard, Deadspin (06/03/14); More detailed reading of the story on Wikipedia

Portrait of the Wrestler as an Old Man

Fueled by the violent death of his sister, Dan Gable became the greatest wrestler (non-WWE division) of all-time, including an incredible run to win the Olympic Gold medal in 1972. Without missing a beat, he later became the most successful wrestling coach of all-time, at the University of Iowa. He retired almost 20 years ago, but wrestling still consumes him. Now, at the age of 65, he has struggled to find purpose in life – but may have found it in keeping wrestling alive. Published last fall before the International Olympic Committee reversed a decision to remove wrestling from the Olympics, a profile of a still fierce competitor, dealing with aging, buried pain, and the family and sport, intertwined as they are, that he loves. -TOB

PAL Note: Wrestlers are obsessive nuts, but to lump Dan Gable in with…anyone would be a mistake. I both envy and pity him. Greatness comes at a cost, not the least of which is the inability to live a well-adjusted life. This quote pretty much nailed Dan Gable for me: “Gable’s life is governed by justification and guilt, as if he’s forever paying off some unseen debt.” This is a fascinating read, sports lover or not.

Story Link: “The Losses of Dan Gable”, Wright Thompson, ESPN the Magazine (08/21/13)

It’s a decent bet the fix is in for the World Cup.

I’m guilty of it. I’ll moan, “this game’s fixed” at the bar, usually about an NBA game, but I don’t really believe it. Here’s a story pretty clearly laying out a widespread fixing scheme in professional soccer (including documented attempts to fix 2010 World Cup matches in South Africa). It’s happening in the most popular sport in the world, it doesn’t seem that hard to do, and it seems really hard to detect when it’s happening in such a global game. – PAL

TOB: Unlike the news the scandal this week about Qatar having bribed its way to hosting the 2022 World Cup, which I do not care about, this iis terrifying to me as a sports fan. Reading this article reminds you how easy it is to fix a sporting event. The money being given to the refs isn’t even that high. This is every major sports’ worst nightmare. In hindsight, it’s rather amazing the NBA escaped the Donaghy scandal as unscathed as it did. Yikes.

Story Link: “Fixed Soccer Matches Cast Shadow Over World Cup”, By Declan Hill and Jeré Longman, New York Times (06/01/14)

Baseball players love to say “Respect the game,” and make up rules like 12 year-olds in a tree house.

I subscribe to baseball’s most basic unwritten rules. For instance Barry Bonds should have been drilled about 300 times the way he stood at home plate after hitting a home run (sorry Giants fans, but deep down you agree with me). However, I don’t think all of the rules outlined in this fun read pass the porn test (I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it). Here’s my proposed rule: any position player with a career average under .250, and any pitcher with a career ERA over 4.00 can’t make or comment on unwritten rules. In that case, a couple dudes’ quotes in this article need to be redacted (I’m looking at you, Jonny Gomes).

TOB: I know there are a lot of stupid baseball players, but somehow Kurkjian found a lot of them. The quote that most sticks out, from Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy: “In hockey, guys don’t take their skates off and slash an opponent’s throat with the blade. In football, you never see a guy take off his helmet and just bludgeon an opponent. We’ve been playing baseball since the 1800s. We just have more unwritten rules.” Someone might want to tell Brandon McCarthy that those are WRITTEN rules. A hockey player would get into a lot of trouble, both within his sport and with the law, if he took off his skate and slashed an opponent’s throat with the blade. Further counterpoint can be found here, from former major league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst.

Story Link: “The Unwritten Canon, Revealed”, Tim Kurkjian, ESPN.com (05/31/14)

$10 million now or maybe $60 million later? Baseball teams are getting smarter about contracts.

MLB teams getting into the insurance business. They are offering extensions to younger and younger players. Pay more than they have to now to save (potentially) a lot on the back end of the contract and avoid arbitration. The prospects get a lot of money now, but not as much as they could potentially earn. Most young studs (agents hate this trend) don’t bite; however a few have taken the money. Houston’s Jon Singleton is the latest to take the money and run. -PAL

TOB: The most fascinating thing about this story is all the backlash Singleton has gotten from other major leaguers, who are afraid of the impact on the rest of the player salaries. Although I’ve never been a part of a union, I understand their general utility. In this case, though, I want to smack these guys. Jon Singleton just guaranteed himself $10 million by the time he is 26 (the deal could be worth up to $35 million with team options). If he’s a star, this is a very team friendly deal, but the history of baseball is littered with “Can’t Miss” prospects who missed. Singleton has just set himself up for life, and now he can go out and play baseball. When the deal is over, he’ll be 29 and able to sign one megadeal. If he’s bad, he just made the best decision of his life. Seems like a win-win to me.

PAL: This story is a nice companion piece to a story we featured a couple weeks ago. Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh laid out how teams make decisions about promoting hot prospects.

Story Link:The Astros Just Changed the Game for Big Prospects in Small Markets“, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (06/02/14)

Video of the Week

It’s from the last World Cup, but this commercial is still the greatest, and should get you pumped for next week.

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“So I say that I gotta be free, so I say that I gotta be me.” -Revenge of the Nerds