Week of December 30, 2016


My god. I want to read everything in that magazine.

The Best Thing I Read All Year

I hate to jump the gun on our annual Best of edition, but this New York Times article on Warriors coach Steve Kerr is fantastic. I really think it might win the Pulitzer. We have covered Kerr here before, and mentioned his father’s assassination during his freshman year at Arizona. John Branch weaves a masterful story about how Kerr’s upbringing, heavily tied to the Middle East, culminating with his father’s assassination, has shaped the man he is now. Kerr opens up about his father’s death in a way I’d not seen, and Branch supplements with information from his mother and siblings.


For the first time I know of, Kerr opens up about his father’s death, including the harrowing story of the summer before his freshman year at Arizona, when he went to visit his father in Beirut, and nearly failed to get out.

“There was some question about whether flights would be going out because of everything that was happening,” Kerr said. “We were in the terminal, and all of a sudden there was a blast. It wasn’t in the terminal but on the runways. The whole place just froze. Everybody just froze. People started gathering, saying, ‘We’ve got to get the hell out of here.’ My mom grabbed me, and I remember running out of the terminal and through the parking lot. It was really scary. I remember thinking, ‘This is real.’”

Kerr’s dad eventually hired a driver to take him over the mountains and into the relative safety of Jordan. Months later, Kerr’s father was killed. Four years later, Arizona State students despicably taunted Kerr with chants of “P.L.O., P.L.O.,” “Your father’s history,” and “Why don’t you join the Marines and go back to Beirut?” Kerr was understandably devastated:

“When I heard it, I just dropped the ball and started shaking,” Kerr said at the time. “I sat down for a minute. I’ll admit they got to me. I had tears in my eyes. For one thing, it brought back memories of my dad. But, for another thing, it was just sad that people would do something like that.”

Kerr loved his father, and his parenting methods have colored Kerr’s coaching style:

“When I was 8, 9, 10 years old, I had a horrible temper,” Kerr said. “I couldn’t control it. Everything I did, if I missed a shot, if I made an out, I got so angry. It was embarrassing. It really was. Baseball was the worst. If I was pitching and I walked somebody, I would throw my glove on the ground. I was such a brat. He and my mom would be in the stands watching, and he never really said anything until we got home. He had the sense that I needed to learn on my own, and anything he would say would mean more after I calmed down.”

His father, Kerr said, was what every Little League parent should be. The talks would come later, casual and nonchalant, conversations instead of lectures.

“He was an observer,” he said. “And he let me learn and experience. I try to give our guys a lot of space and speak at the right time. Looking back on it, I think my dad was a huge influence on me, on my coaching.”

Kerr has been outspoken in recent months about politics and America’s place in the world. This rather surprises Kerr’s mother, who says, “I would say Steve’s intellectual interests really blossomed in the last 10 years. But I don’t think of Steve being like Malcolm.” But Branch notes the striking influence of Kerr’s father in his recent evolution:

In many ways, he has grown into an echo of his father.

“The truly civilized man is marked by empathy,” Malcolm Kerr wrote in a foreword to a collection of essays called “The Arab-Israeli Confrontation of June 1967: An Arab Perspective.” “By his recognition that the thought and understanding of men of other cultures may differ sharply from his own, that what seems natural to him may appear grotesque to others.”

In a rare and sometimes emotional interview this fall, Kerr spoke about the death of his father and his family’s deep roots in Lebanon and the Middle East. Some of the words sounded familiar.

“Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and look at it from a bigger perspective,” he said. “We live in this complex world of gray areas. Life is so much easier if it could be black and white, good and evil.”

Steve Kerr may not be as intellectually profound as his father was, but I hope there is a time Steve gives up basketball and follows in his father’s footsteps. Our country could use leaders like Steve right now. -TOB

Source: Tragedy Made Steve Kerr See the World Beyond the Court“, John Branch, New York Times (12/22/2016)

Lane Kiffin: Idiot Savant or Embodiment of the Peter Principle? 

Lane Kiffin seems to be a hell of an offensive coordinator. He co-coordinated those great USC offenses in the mid-2000s, and over the last three years Alabama’s offense has been a juggernaut. But if you look a little deeper, it all starts to crumble. Those USC offenses were absolutely loaded with talent, and even then it’s unclear if Kiffin or Sarkisian deserved the credit (or Norm Chow before them). More interestingly, is the perception he’s turned Alabama’s offense into a real threat. In his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, the Tide have averaged 15th in the country in offensive efficiency. That’s very good. But in the three years before that? Alabama averaged 6th in the country in offensive efficiency.

From the first moment I saw Kiffin’s press conference introducing him as the head coach at Tennessee, I thought something was off about the guy.

I could never quite put my finger on it. He seems both sincere and insincere at the same time, somehow. He looks horribly rehearsed and extremely nervous. He seems unsure of himself and what he’s just gotten himself into. Kiffin’s career since that day has been tumultuous. But after bailing on Tennessee after one year, failing miserably at USC, and kinda-sorta doing well at Alabama, Kiffin has been hired as the head coach at Florida Atlantic University.

Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel tags along with Kiffin as he searches for his new home in Boca Raton. And, finally, I think I have pinpointed Kiffin’s issue. Like Tom Brady, Lane Kiffin is an airhead. A complete and total dope. For example:

He pauses for a minute. He’s been trying to be boring, reimagined and remastered. He thinks out loud. “Should I tell my joke?”

He can’t help himself, a classic Kiffin trait, and proceeds: “I used to say there’s a constantly daily battle between who can take more of my money between Layla and Obama.”

He continues with a bit of fuzzy math: “I figured it out. I really don’t make any money. I pay around 52% in taxes. Layla gets 34.5% in the divorce, and [agent Jimmy Sexton] gets 3%. I make [about] 9% and I’m living in Tuscaloosa.”

What is it about Kiffin that makes people hire him? He seems so obviously stupid. I would never want to hire someone like that. I’ve always thought his private self must be very different than his public persona. I don’t think Nick Saban, probably the greatest college football coach of all-time, would hire Kiffin as offensive coordinator, and then retain him, unless he saw great value in doing so. So is Kiffin an idiot savant? Will he turn FAU into a nationally relevant program? Or is he the embodiment of the Peter Principle, with a healthy dose of nepotism thrown in, destined to fail miserably? I guess we’ll find out. -TOB

Source: Reimagined, Remastered, Unleashed: Is New Lane Kiffin Ready to Succeed as Head Coach?“, Pete Thamel, Sports Illustrated (12/29/2016)

Jim Harbaugh: Weird, Funny

Jim Harbaugh is such a weird dude, but I enjoy it immensely. At a press conference this week in advance of the Orange Bowl today, Harbaugh was asked about oranges. It’s one of those dumb questions non-sports reporters like to ask in advance of big games these days. But Harbaugh turned it funny:

I love his goofy face turning serious. Never change, Jim. -TOB

Video of the Week

Ohhhhhh, Kemba.

Bonus Video of the Week

Breaking: white person digs Phish jam sesh.

Second (!!) Bonus Video of the Week

UCLA frosh Lonzo Ball’s little brother LaMelo is not lacking in confidence.

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I’ve been coming here every summer of my adult life, and every summer there she is oiling and lotioning, lotioning and oiling… smiling. I can’t take this no more!


Week of December 23, 2016

I think he really bleached his goatee for this, too. 


Have a week, DeMarcus Cousins! Earlier this month, Sacramento Bee columnist Andy Furillo wrote a column about a lawsuit filed against Cousins and teammate Matt Barnes, over an alleged incident at a night club in November. In the column, Furillo wrote about Cousins’ brother (there’s a joke about Kentucky, where Cousins went to school, in there somewhere, but I digress) was tased inside of a night club. Furillo follows in the footsteps of the Sac Bee’s Aileen Voisin, easily the worst, most trollish columnist I’ve ever read. The Furillo column set off this incredible series of events:

  • The next time Cousins saw Furillo in the locker room, he berated him and stood over him.
  • That incident was caught on video, and the Sacramento Bee took the liberty of creating the following video (it won’t embed, but you should watch) of other incidents from over the years they describe as Cousins “bullying” Sacramento media, along with a letter from the Bee’s executive editor about Cousins. The Bee, clearly, was declaring war.
  • Cousins was fined $50,000 and then issued an apology, mentioning a number of people and organizations – but not Furillo or the Bee.
  • On Tuesday, Cousins torched the Portland Trailblazers for 55 points. With the score tied and 35 seconds left in the game, Cousins scored go-ahead bucket and was fouled. Cousins reacted by stomping over to the Blazers bench. At that point his mouthpiece came flying out and landed at the feet of the Blazers players. Whether he spit it out or it came out because he was yelling things that would make even the hippest grandmother blush, is unclear. See for yourself:

  • The referee saw the result, believed Cousins threw his mouthpiece, and gave him a technical foul. It was Cousins’ second of the game, and he was thus ejected. Cousins went to the locker room, saying later he was looking for something to destroy. In the meantime, the referees conferred, determining Cousins did not throw the mouthpiece (an automatic technical), and thus rescinded the technical foul. The announcement was made, the crowd went nuts, Cousins came storming back onto the court, hit the free throw for his 55th point and the 3-point lead, and the Kings won. Incredible!
  • Moments later, in his post-game on-court interview, Cousins went in on what he believes is unfair treatment from referees (a little odd considering the unprecedented step of un-ejecting an ejected player, but generally speaking I’m with him) and moreso on Blazers’ whiny punk Meyers Leonard. Here’s the interview:

  • Meyers has been pumping himself as a defensive stopper, and Cousins was understandably emotional about the un-ejection and dropping a double-nickle on Leonards’ head. After the game, Meyers whined about Cousins’ behavior, not realizing this is sports and we want to be entertained. Meyers obviously had some overprotective parents. He looks like he’s going to cry.

  • Finally, on Wednesday, Cousins greeted the media with a hearty, “Hey, friends! I missed you guys.”

Let’s quickly dispense of the Meyers Leonard thing. He’s a whiner, upset Cousins dunked all over his head all night, and needs his mommy and daddy to come support him. Go pound sand, Meyers.

The Sac Bee issue is a bit thornier, and causes me to jump through some hoops to support Cousins. Admittedly, the way he yelled at Furillo was bad. But I get why he’s angry – Cousins’ brother is not a public figure (despite the Bee’s weak insistence that he is) and his past incident is not relevant to Cousins’ recent night club incident. Cousins is not his brother’s keeper; the sins of the father, etc. Worse, was the smarmy, patronizing way Furillo wrote that column – ending it by encouraging Cousins to find better places to hang out. The Bee’s response, in putting together a package of 5-6 times Cousins has been rude was out of line, especially because those events are given no context. It’s also hard to know what the goal was – to get local public opinion to turn on DMC? That’s not gonna work when he’s dropping 55 the next night. Trying to get the team to trade Cousins? The team is well aware of all those incidents, and many more, I’m sure. Trying to embarrass Cousins? I guess if you want to make the lives of your writers even more difficult, I’m sure that has been accomplished. It also distracts from some of the great things Cousins does in the community.

In the end, I think both sides have some fault, but I’m siding with the guy whose anger was justified, if expressed poorly. As I said at the top I am #TeamCuz.

Phil Ivey Just Got Boned

It is difficult to win a case on appeal. But at least from the facts in this article, a federal judge in New Jersey is about to get overturned. Professional poker player Phil Ivey (no relation to 123’s Phil) was ordered this week to repay an Atlantic City casino for breach of contract. What did he do? Phil noticed a certain brand of playing card (purple Gemaco Borgata) has an inconsistency that gives away high-value cards. Phil and his buddy contacted the Borgata Casino and asked them to set up a high stakes Baccarat game, using a single deck of the purple Gemaco cards, and an automatic shuffler. The casino obliged, and Phil took them down for about $10 million. DAAAANG.

The Court, according to this article, found Ivey had breached his contract with the casino by violating the New Jersey Casino Control Act, which prohibits players from marking cards.

This is INSANE. Ivey didn’t mark anything. He just noticed an inconsistency with the cards, asked the casino to use those cards, and when they agreed he took advantage. Perhaps there is more to this case, legally speaking, than the article suggests. But on its face, this is some bull. -TOB

Source: Poker Pro Phil Ivey Ordered to Repay $10M to Atlantic City Casino”, Rebecca Everett, NJ.com (12/19/2016)

Annoying But True: Curt Schilling Belongs in the HOF

Deadspin’s Tim Marchman tackles a tough subject – the Hall of Fame candidacy of Curt Schilling. By the numbers, Schilling is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. One of my tests of a Hall of Famer is when his team is in town do I say to myself, “I’d like to go see him play, so I can say I did so.” In the prime of his career, still with the Diamondbacks, Schilling was pitching a rehab start against the AAA-Sacramento River Cats. A whole group of of us went to watch…and found out when we got there he had pitched the night before. The point remains – Curt Schilling was a great pitcher. But Curt Schilling is also a racist pig. Marchman does a great job listing the awful things Schilling has said and done – claiming to be a fiscal conservative while accepting and flushing million of taxpayer dollars down the toilet in a failed video game venture, bizarrely defending his right to ogle pre-teen friends of his children, and sharing a hoard of racist and idiotic memes on Facebook among them.

Most recently, Schilling approvingly shared a picture with a man wearing a shirt encouraging people to lynch the media. It was abhorrent. In response, a number of baseball writers, who vote on the Hall of Fame, have invoked the so-called “character clause” of the hall of fame ballot instructions and publicly vowed to never vote for Schilling – including some who had voted for him in past years. Marchman makes an excellent argument that despite Schilling being a disgusting buffoon, that has nothing to do with whether he should be in the pro baseball Hall of Fame:

“Your typical clubhouse is filled with funny, thoughtful people who are excellent at doing extremely specialized and impressive things with baseballs; it’s also filled with rednecks, spoiled rich kids, self-obsessed assholes, degenerates, drunks, and Bible-thumpers who have opinions that very few people who read the New York Times could agree to disagree on. John Smoltz—as a pitcher essentially a lesser Curt Schilling and, incidentally, rightly regarded as an uncommonly insightful and intelligent analyst, good enough to call the World Series—was elected to the Hall on the first ballot two years ago. He also compared gay marriage to bestiality not long ago. Baseball is tolerant of its contradictions, and in all better for it.

Curt Schilling has repeatedly crossed every line he can cross; it’s perfectly fair that he works for Breitbart and not ESPN; he richly deserves the scorn he generally enjoys; and if there were any player whose opinions were so bad that they should be read back onto his playing career, it would probably be him.

For writers to do so, though—to mark a line that says that playing excellence is only worthy of recognition when the player spends his retirement meeting the arbitrary and arbitrarily-enforced standards of sportswriters—is essentially to say that baseball itself is about something other than baseball.”

This isn’t even PED use; while I believe steroid users should be in the Hall of Fame, I can also acknowledge steroid use affected the field of play. We are talking about an idiot being an idiot. He wouldn’t be the first idiot in the Hall of Fame, and he won’t be the last. I cringe at the thought of his induction speech. But, god damnit, he should get one. -TOB

Source: Curt Schilling Should be in the Hall of Fame”, Tim Marchman, Deadspin (12/16/2016)

All I Want for Christmas is Jugs

Talk about a headline that writes itself, eh? Here’s a story that falls into the unsung hero category. Few products reach a level of success in which the product is referred to by one brand. Kleenex, Q-tips, Jell-O. The Jugs machine fits into that category as well.

Jugs are pitching machines and football throwing machines, and they’ve exponentially increased the number of reps players – hitters in baseball and receivers in football – can take. Many baseball players will likely tell you they prefer live pitching to a machine, but football receivers swear by the Jugs. Every NFL and College team has them, many high school teams have them, and the trend is expanding: More than 100 of the light blue (paint color patented, too) have been shipped to Australia for Aussie Rules Football.

Because we can’t embed the video, make sure to check out this link to see some of the NFL’s best make insane catches using the Jugs: http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=18303318

Why is this one machine so indispensable? Ravens receiver Mike Wallace sums it up with the following: “You might go through a whole practice and get two to three passes. And to me that’s not enough to get better that day. But if you’re catching 100 before practice and 100 after practice, you’ve caught 203 balls that day instead of catching three.”

Where did the idea come from? A parent trying to help his little leaguer out, of course.

John Paulson played semi-pro baseball in the 1920s, and when his son Butch was coming up in Little League, he designed a machine in 1971 that would throw consistent pitches. The Jugs Curveball Pitching Machine was the company’s first product, with the name derived from an old-time baseball expression about a “jug-handle curve,” which the original machine could be adjusted to throw. In 1974, John started working on a football-throwing machine, eventually securing a patent. Soon after, he started showing it to NFL teams.

This is a fun, light read on the invention and impact of a practice tool. – PAL

Source: “Jugs Effect: The machine that changed football“, Greg Garber, ESPN (12/22/16)

Video of the Week: 

Bonus Video of the Week

Enjoy your trips home, everybody!

PAL Song of the Week: Hugo – “99 Problems”

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“Damn. How can you give Kris Kringle a parking ticket on Christmas Eve? What’s next, rabies shots for the Easter Bunny?”

-S. Claus (Home Alone)

Week of December 16, 2016

Be careful when you’re shopping for presents this weekend, folks. Might get sketchy out there.

See My Loafers? Golden Gophers.

This story came out of nowhere today, but it’s fascinating. The Minnesota Golden Gophers football team was pretty darn good this year. They went 8-4, and were a few plays away from playing for the Big Ten title. Their season earned them a trip to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, which sounds mighty nice during the dead of a Minnesota winter (or so I imagine). But trouble has been quietly brewing in the Twin Cities, and it boiled over today.

Back in September, a woman accused a number of Gopher football players of gang rape. Many of the players were suspended, but ultimately prosecutors declined to press charges, and there’s mention in the story of a video that reportedly shows the woman “lucid…and fully conscious”. Despite no charges being filed, the woman asked for and received a restraining order against six of the players, and the order required them to stay away from Minnesota’s football stadium – as a result, those six players missed a number of home games, but did play away games.

Further, a number of the players were suspended pending the criminal investigation. Following the criminal investigation, the players were allowed to play, but this week the university’s office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action concluded its own investigation and recommended penalties for ten players – ranging from probation to a one-year school suspension to expulsion. My guess, based on the grant of the restraining order and these severe punishments is there was some harassment after the woman went to the police.

As a result, the school decided to suspend all ten players from the Holiday Bowl, set to take place, in eleven days, on December 27. In response, the players threw down the gauntlet. The entire team is boycotting all football activities until the suspended players are reinstated, including the game. As far as I know, no college football team has boycotted any game, let alone a bowl game, ever.

Consider the money at stake. The two teams and its fans have bought flights and hotels, and purchased game tickets. Each team is supposed to receive around $3 million. Commercial slots during the game have been sold. I could go on and on. This is kind of an amazing story, and I for one, will be getting my popcorn ready.

I have advocated in this space in the past for college football players to boycott games until they are paid. This was not exactly what I had in mind, especially if the players did harass the woman, as I suspect. Still, I am very interested to see how it plays out, and perhaps it will inspire players across the country to utilize a boycott for other reasons. For example, the fact their coaches get paid millions (Oregon reportedly just hired away Colorado’s DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR FOR 1.5 MILLION DOLLARS), while they scrap to pay the full cost of attending school.

On a side note, if Minnesota doesn’t play, I believe Cal is first or second in line to be placed in a bowl game and…wait, we already played Washington State and they handed us our ass. Hard pass. -TOB

Source: Minnesota Football Players Say They’ll Boycott Bowl Game in Protest of Mass Suspensions”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (12/15/2016)

PAL: Definitely an interesting development, and – unlike the following college football “scandal” story, this one is very serious at its core. TOB – can you expand a bit on how you’re connecting boycotting a game over payment for athletes and boycotting a game until due process is followed? I assume you’re speaking to utilizing a boycott as a way to protest unfair treatment of any kind, but I’m interested in hearing a bit more from your perspective, and it seems like your write-up ends on the paying college football players.

TOB: Right. I’m saying college football players don’t seem to understand the power they have if they act en masse, until now. They are the workers upon which a billion dollar machine is built. If they stop working, that billion dollar machine comes to a screeching halt. In this instance, a woman may or may not have been raped – the fact charges were not pressed is not a determination the players were innocent, it is determination there is not enough evidence to prosecute. They may well be innocent; they may well be guilty. We just don’t know. However, as I said, the fact a judge granted a restraining order and the school has recommended punishment up to and including expulsion suggests to me they are at least guilty of something – and based on history, my guess is the players harassed the woman following her report to the police.

PAL: I sincerely, sincerely hope that these players know with 100% certainty all of the fact and undersatnd what they are doing in boycotting under these circumstances. This is obviously a very serious matter, and one that has lifelong impact for all involved – the accuser, the players, the athletic director, the coach (who tweeted out that he’s “Never been more proud of our kids”). At best, those showing public support of the players are standing up for young men who took part in a consensual gang bang and then possibly harassed the accuser after she filed charges.

Bieber > Cake Eater

Justin Bieber is from Canada. Justin Bieber plays in a L.A. men’s league. Justin Bieber wears the jersey of L.A. Kings captain Dustin Brown during his men’s league game. Oofta.

Based on the 5 seconds of actual in-game action on this video, I can tell you this men’s league is not very good. I can also tell you there are some real cake eaters out there on the ice (some of which might be “Belieber” cake eaters…we just don’t know). You know how I feel about cake eaters, Belieber cake eaters or otherwise.

A closer examination:


It’s hard to see from the image, but the “backchecker” that ends up snapping Bieber’s stick brings his stick over his head and comes down in a chopping motion:

After considering the evidence, the environment, Bieber is right to be pissed off here. The defender could’ve just as easily tipped away the pass, but he wanted to be the tough guy. While the defender has a decent bar story for the rest of his life, it’s still a cake eater move, man. And while Bieber is a cake eater, too, he’s not the biggest cake eater on the ice for this pathetic men’s league game. – PAL

Source: Justin Bieber Has Hockey Stick Broken, Tries To Start Shit”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (12/13/16)

TOB: Whoa whoa whoa WHOA. Justin Bieber, at his core, is the ULTIMATE cake-eater. If they re-cast the Mighty Ducks, Justin Bieber would be on the Hawks, and he’d be cackling after he jabbed his stick at your b-hole. You can’t out cake-eat that guy. You get on the ice with the ultimate cake-eater, you take your shot! I applaud this guy.

Craig Sager: Dead at 65

Craig Sager fought cancer with everything he had. On Thursday he died at the age of 65. Here is a portion of a write-up we did and a link to Barry Petchesky’s beautifully written piece on Sager in what would become his final months. Sager was an inspiration, and Petchesky captures Sager’s courage, that is to say his humor, persistence, and optimism.  Petchesky doesn’t shy away from the truth either, and writes without sentimentality about the absolute gut punch it is to see someone fight so hard long after the battle was decided. – PAL

Originally posted on September 2, 2016:

Be More Like Craig Sager

You’ve likely been brought up to speed that veteran NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager (yes, the one who wears the wacky suits) has been in a hellacious cancer battle since 2014. This week he underwent a rare third bone marrow transplant. Add to that countless rounds of chemo, and, well, it the odds are not in his favor. In his words, “I like to bet on horses, I like to bet on dogs. I’ve bet on a lot of things with a lot higher odds than this.”

But, damn, this guy continues to battle, round after round. He’s trying everything, and he’s sums up why in a way that’s downright inspiring. “Man, life is too beautiful, too wonderful, there’s just too many things.”

There’s another reason why I shared this story. Barry Petchesky has become one of my favorite sports writers since we started this blog. Two of our three stories this week – one TOB highlighted above and this one – are his work. He writes with a direct honesty. Never sentimental, but not afraid to write about emotion. Here’s a perfect example from the Sager piece:

“This is all very sad, because: Craig Sager is probably going to die. You’re not supposed to say or write things like that, because no one likes to be made to think about it. I hate that line of thought, because it’d be better for everyone if we could discuss cancer and illness and dying from a mature and candid perspective. It’s not something to dance around. It’s serious shit, and we should say what we mean.

“The way to talk about this stuff without being disingenuous is to remember why it makes you sad: to recall how much you’ve enjoyed Sager’s work over the years, to see the impact he’s had on those who know him by seeing the love he’s getting from family, friends, colleagues, and the general public, and to see if you can’t take some inspiration from Sager’s own stated motivation for seeing his treatment through…”

Make a habit out of reading Barry Petchesky’s work, and think good thoughts for Sager and his family. – PAL

Source: Craig Sager Remains The Best”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (8/31/16)

TOB: Craig Sager was great. I really enjoyed the tribute TNT did last night:

How to Handle ‘Scandal’

Tommy Elrod played football at Wake Forest, then coached there for 11 years. When the new head coach took over, Elrod was not asked back as a coach (in many cases a new head coach = an entirely new coaching staff). Elrod was then hired as a radio analyst for the team.

Apparently Elrod wasn’t so stoked about being removed from the coaching staff, and it appears he “provided or attempted to provide confidential and proprietary game preparations to opponents on multiple occasions, starting in 2014.”

The disgruntled worker angle is interesting, but – aside from an as of yet unreported gambling angle here – what’s more interesting to me is watching the teams who received the info try to explain themselves. As of Thursday night, Louisville and Virginia Tech have admitted to receiving information from Elrod. After digging through Elrod’s email and texts, West Point was also contacted. All three schools have or had members of their respective coaching staffs that were on the coaching staff at Wake Forest with Elrod.

The smart way to respond: West Point AD Boo Coorigan

“We were contacted by Wake Forest. We’re looking into it.”

Gather info and plot next steps while the story plays out a bit more in the press.

However, of the schools named in this story (so far), West Point seems to have the most to lose here – not in terms of wins and losses, but in terms of the Honor Code so central to the culture. “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”

The fact that West Point was contacted seems to indicate that Wake Forest has some information leading them to believe that Elrod provided game plan information (rather than attempted to provide), in which case there might be an Army football coach not getting much sleep tonight.

The right way to respond: Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock

“We hold ourselves to a higher standard at Virginia Tech. We are disappointed and embarrassed that this type of information was distributed to, and apparently received by one of our former assistant coaches. The distribution of this type of information among peers or rivals is wrong and not in the vein of sportsmanship and integrity that we demand and expect, and for this I personally apologize to the coaches, student-athletes, administration, alumni, students and fans of Wake Forest University.

“I am also aware of former head coach Frank Beamer’s and current defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s public remarks yesterday as to having no knowledge of the situation and I believe both of them whole heartedly,” Babcock said in his statement. “It should also be noted that there is no known connection of any kind to our current coaching staff, who were hired in late 2015.”

In other words: Some jagweed former assistant received the information, and we have no idea what became of it. Besides, that coaching staff is gone anyway, so let’s move on.

The wrong way to respond: Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino and AD Tom Jurich

Step 1: Deny knowledge (Bobby Petrino)

“I have no knowledge of the situation. We take a lot of pride in the way we operate our program. As I’ve stated already this season, my coaching philosophy has always been to play the game with sportsmanship.”

Step 2: Deny it happened (Bobby Petrino)

“I can tell you that we didn’t. I like our team, and I’m down here (in Houston) preparing for this game, so I don’t really understand what they’re talking about. I heard about it right before we got on the plane to leave (for Houston on Nov. 16). But I can assure you that we prepare each week the way that you’re supposed to prepare, and I like the fact that our team knows how to do that.”

Step 3: Acknowledge it happened, but that it didn’t matter (via AD Jurich)

“Our offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway and Tommy Elrod have known each other since 2007,’’ Jurich posted. “Lonnie received a call from Elrod during the week of the Wake Forest game, and some information was shared with him that week.

“Among the communication were a few plays that were sent and then shared with our defensive staff. None of the special plays were run during the course of the game. Our defense regularly prepares for similar formations every week in their normal game plan.

“Any other information that may have been discussed was nothing that our staff had not already seen while studying Wake Forest in their preparations for the game and the material was not given any further attention. I’m disappointed that this issue has brought undue attention to our football staff as we prepare for our upcoming bowl game.’’

OK, so you’re telling me the O.C. of your team was given an upcoming opponent’s plays, didn’t tell anyone else, like…oh, I don’t know, the head coach who’s not exactly the College Football’s patron saint of character. Keep digging that hole, Louisville.

By the way, I heard columnist Dan Wetzel (I think it was Wetzel) on the Dan Patrick Show on Thursday describe this story perfectly. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said this is the most entertaining kind of scandal. It’s not violent, and it doesn’t involve players behaving poorly, but it has teeth because it deals with the level playing field. – PAL

Source: An about-face: Louisville admits it received information from Elrod”, Dan Collins, Winston-Salem Journal (12/14/16)

TOB: I don’t know what it is, but I disagree with Wetzel. I couldn’t get into this story. Is it because it’s Wake Forest and so…who cares? Maybe.


Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Irvin Mayfield (featuring Ellis Marsalis) – “Mo’ Better Blues”

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“Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, and it is not in endless supply. Time is simply how you live your life.”

-Craig Sager

Week of December 9, 2016

RIP, John Glenn. Rocking the Chuck’s while expanding frontiers. Not a bad legacy. HOF Badass.

What the hell is the Rule 5 Draft?


Here’s a great article about one of baseball’s many traditions that – even as an avid baseball fan – I never understood: The Rule 5 draft.

First, for an explanation of what it is, let’s look to MLB.com:

“[T]eams with open 40-man roster spots can select players with four to five years of pro experience from other organizations if said player hasn’t been protected on the 40-man roster…Each selection costs $100K, but it’s not mandatory for teams to make picks. Clubs must carry chosen players on their active rosters (or the major league disabled list) throughout the entire 2016 season. Doing otherwise would expose them to waivers, and they’d then be offered back to their original club.”

In other words, it prevents teams from stockpiling draft picks without advancing them through the minor league system and onto the big league club. For the players, the sh*t or get off the pot rule gives them an opportunity to make a move with a new team if there’s no chance of a MLB future with the team that holds their rights. Notable players picked up in the rule 5 draft include Roberto Clemente (HOF), Johan Santana (2-time Cy Young winner), and 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton. While these success stories are the tiny exception, their names are worth highlighting considering the circumstances in which they were given a next chance.

The Rule 5 Draft is the last agenda item for the MLB’s winter meetings, and while nearly every baseball executive is in the room, the entire draft takes less than 30 minutes. “The room is set up with a podium at its front, and 30 tables with four or five representatives from each team,” writes David Waldstein. “Behind that setup is seating for scouts, major league officials, agents and reporters. But since the event is so brief, many stand at the perimeter, close to the doors, some with their suitcases at the ready.”

I love how this event about minor league cast-offs and no-names caps the multi-day winter meetings, during which the headlines are dominated by huge trades and free agent acquisitions (See: Aroldis Chapman going to the Yankees – 5yr/$86M  and the Giants landing Nats closer Mark Melancon – 4yr/$62M, both contracts are staggering for a relief pitcher). – PAL

Source: Baseball Executives’ Idea of Gambling: The Rule 5 Draft”, David Waldstein, The New York Times (12/8/16)

TOB: I gotta be honest – I did have a pretty good idea of what the Rule 5 Draft was. I think last year, when the Giants lost Adam Duvall, who then turned into an All-Star and Home Run Derby participant with the Reds, I decided to figure out what the hell the Rule 5 Draft is. But then I read the MLB.com explanation and I was lost. So I read the article and think this makes it much more clear:

In existence since 1903, the Rule 5 draft allows teams to select players from the farm systems of other clubs who are not on those teams’ 40-man rosters. The players must have been in the minor leagues for four or five years, depending on how old they were when they signed, without any major league service time.

The minimum 4-5 years minor league service time, not mentioned in the MLB.com summary, is pretty key (PAL note: I removed that portion of the explanation from the MLB description because the age qualifier was a bit of a looping explanation). And the phrase “…if said player hasn’t been protected on the 40-man roster” suggests to me that there’s some maximum number of player you can protect on the 40-man roster, while leaving some unprotected. But the article makes clear – a player on the 40-man roster is protected. Anyone not on the 40-man roster, with 4-5 years minor league service time, is not protected. But then, the NYT article goes too far – it’s certainly not true that a player is eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft only if he doesn’t have any major league service time. This thing is so confusing that no one can seem to get it right.

Men Ride Sidesaddle

Remember Bryson DeChambeau? He was the eccentric, physics-major amatuer at the Masters who was in it for a minute and ended up finishing 21st. He’s a heady guy who’s looking at a game that he’s really good at (individual NCAA champ, US Amateur champ) with no time for conventional wisdom. The most known example of this was front and center during the Masters, when commentators whispered into the microphone about how all of his irons are the same length (typically, the lower the iron, e.g., a 3-iron, the longer the club).

DeChambeau’s newest experiment: Sidesaddle putting:

This makes perfect sense to me! If the key to putting is a straight, consistent arc of the swing path (and power isn’t needed), it seems grounding that in the arm’s more natural movement – back and forth, like how you swing your arm when you walk – would be more likely to produce a more consistent result. Conceptually, I’m down with DeChambeau (and I just like saying that name). The only thing left to do is test the hypothesis and see how long (if ever) it takes for a better approach to overcome other professionals’ repetition and near perfection of the standard approach.

For a sport I barely watch (Sundays of US Open & Masters), this is the kind of guy that will keep me minorly interested. Makes a somewhat boring sport a bit more interesting. – PAL

Source: The eccentric Bryson DeChambeau is now putting side saddle, Brendan Porath, SB Nation (12/8/16)

TOB: I saw him putting on TV this week, while walking by a bar, so there was no sound. It was the damndest thing. “Man, how funny. I wonder if it works.” He sank the putt, and I chuckled. And then I thought of the Skip Baylesses of the world shouting in faux-anger about what an abomination to the game this is. Oy. I’m so glad I stopped watching ESPN, except to watch actual games.

Surprise, surprise: Rio’s Broke

This continues to infuriate me. Really, it’s not about the green pools we remember on TV, or whether or not the Olympic Village was ready to go at the start of the Games. What infuriates me is the promise on which the Olympics are sold to local communities, and the ruin left in the wake of recent games.

The Olympics, the symbol of all that’s supposedly good, pure, and wholesome about sports is, at its core, a scheme for crooks on the take. After the athletes and the tourists and the cameras leave, Rio continues to unravel.

Today, state-run hospitals are in “total chaos”. Robberies and homicides are way up. Throw in stagnant oil prices and a governor bribery scandal to boot, and you have a state of Rio that’s broke and failing at providing basic government – hell, human – services. And guess who didn’t have to pay their share?

“The Olympics were never meant to be an economic panacea for Rio, but there was certainly hope that the games would boost the local economy. Instead, officials are now trying to figure out if tax cuts awarded to corporations involved with the Olympics actually worsened Rio state’s financial situation.”

The long-term impact of hosting the Olympics can be catastrophic. Political scientist and professor Mauricio Santoro, himself a state employee, says the government’s policies have clearly failed residents of Rio de Janeiro.

“What we can say is that it was a bad decision from a financial point of view, and that giving these tax cuts did not result in jobs or economic growth to Rio,” Santoro says. “And now the state is broken, and it has to cut salaries and pensions, so hundreds of thousands of people are going to suffer very negative impacts because of these decisions.”

So what’s the solution? Can we just ID locations that have existing infrastructure to actually host the Olympics? LA, Vancouver, London, somewhere in Switzerland or Norway, Nagano, Sydney…where else am I missing? This doesn’t need to be set in stone forever, but this open bidding and the lie of jumpstarting the local economy has to stop. – PAL

Source: Three months after the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro is broke”, Will Carless, PRI (12/1/16)

Order Restored to the Universe: Knicks Gettin’ Clowned On

The Knicks had been quietly playing pretty well, winning 7 of their last 10. New Yorkers were predictably puffing out their chests and thinking big things, as the NBA’s defending champion Cavs came to town this week. And then…the Cavs went HAM. Things were so bad that, late in the 4th, up 31 points, the Cavs stars were on the bench doing the water bottle challenge. To wit:

That’s the god damn funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

The Reverse Phil

Last year, Phil and I went to a Cal football night game. It was Phil, a Minnesota native, along with three lifelong Californians. Somehow, we were all fine and Phil whined endlessly about how cold it was. I finally checked the temperature and it was only in the 50s. The 50s! I revoked his Minnesota Card right then and there. I tell this story, in part so I can laugh about it with Phil’s brother when I meet him this weekend, and as a nifty little seque to this story, of Packers wide receiver Trevor Davis, a rookie out of Cal and a Bay Area native (his college football career started at Hawaii, too), as his first winter in Green Bay begins.

Somehow, it’s December, and Trevor didn’t have a winter jacket. So his teammates took him to buy one, and MMQB tagged along. There are some real gems in here from Trevor:

“I knew I should get a jacket. North Face seems to be a popular brand. I’ve heard of parkas, or something like that. I don’t really know what a parka is. I think that’s the thing with furs on the hood? Is that what makes a parka a parka?”

  • Trevor thinks it’s “hella” cold. He’s told it’s only 36 degrees, and can’t believe the temperature will drop another 50 degrees at some point this winter.
  • Trevor puts his 18-month old twins to bed at 9:30 p.m., and seems to think that’s early. TREVOR. WE MUST CHAT. You have much to learn.
  • Trevor considers a $330 North Face jacket, one that he thinks makes him look “like a burnt marshmallow” and notes it’d be the most expensive thing he’s purchased since making the NFL.
  • Trevor wondering aloud if will make him “seem really lame” to buy his own neck-gaiter, because the team offers them for use but they have to return them after games.
  • Trevor asking if snow is “like goblets of things coming down”.
  • Trevor looking dejected upon asking if a snowstorm from the previous week was big, being told it was only 2-3 inches, and that last year a snowstorm was 13 inches. I have a feeling Trevor will not be in Green Bay in Winter portion of the offseason.
  • Trevor throwing in a Nerf basketball with his jacket purchase.

Trevor is now ready to roll.

But the question is: Are you ready, Phil? Are you ready for another bitterly cold Bay Area Winter? – TOB

Source: You Need a Jacket in the Land of the Frozen Tundra”, Emily Kaplan, The MMQB (12/7/16)

PAL: Low blow, O’Brien. Low blow. If only Cal football went for the jugular like you do, then maybe they’d compete with Standford in the next decade or two.

A complete exaggeration of a story. I mentioned leaving once.  While my brother might agree with you, TOB (god, that would really suck), there’s always open invitation for to come on back to the land of Dylan, Prince, Herb Brooks, and Kirby Puckett to have a competition to see who can better handle the cold. I challenge you to the Polar Plunge:

TOB: Hey, if Cal implemented a systematic and institutionalized steroid program like Stanford, I’m sure we could win a Rose Bowl or two, as well. But then, how would I sleep at night?

As for the cold: nope. I have witnesses. It was repeated complaining for at least an hour. And I accept your challenge. You’re talking to a guy who grew up in Lake Tahoe and wore shorts and t-shirt to middle school in the middle of winter.

Video of the Week: 

Song of the Week: Steve Earle – ‘Feel Alright’

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Look, I may not be rich, Mr. Blume, my father may only be a doctor, but we manage.

-M. Fischer

Week of December 2, 2016


Fidel’s Athletic Propaganda


Fidel Castro died on November 25. For an incredible (and incredibly long) obit, I highly suggest this, but we’re going to focus on his impact on sport in Cuba during his nearly 50-year dictatorship of Cuba (he officially handed over the reigns to his brother in 2008).

While Castro seemed to legitimately like sports, its primary purpose was propaganda used to both  “infuse Cuban citizens with a sense of national pride” and, through Cuba’s success in boxing and especially baseball (‘America’s pastime’), allow “Mr. Castro to taunt and defy the United States.”

Here are a couple more noteworthy highlights:

  • The lore that Castro was a MLB prospect with a 90s fastball is completely false. In fact, the 6-foot-3 tyrannical ruler was more of basketball player through his own admission, telling one biographer, “The anticipation, speed and dexterity required for basketball most approximated the skills needed for revolution.” (TOB Note: That made me laugh loudly).
  • “Javier Sotomayor, the only man to clear eight feet in the high jump, soared to his records in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cubans for a time marked the height of his jumps in their doorways.”
  • There have been 62 Cuban baseball players to defect and make their MLB debut, including 10 eventual All-Stars (how many can you name?)

If nothing else, Castro’s impact on sport is yet another example of how a despot of a small island country shaped the world far beyond Cuba’s shores. – PAL

Source: Under Fidel Castro, Sport Symbolized Cuba’s Strength and Vulnerability” Jeré Longman, The New York Times (11/27/16)

TOB: As news of Castro’s death spread, I read many people online celebrating the end of a brutal and murderous dictator, and it occurred to me: are things really going to change in Cuba? As Phil noted, Fidel turned over power to his brother in 2008. And then I read this excellent rundown by Deadspin of ESPN’s Dan LeBatard (himself a Cuban American, the son of immigrants who escaped Castro’s tyranny) talking about Castro’s death on his radio show, and how his parents took “no joy” in Castro’s death:

That death doesn’t mean anything. He is a symbol who already took their youth, their freedom, their land, their childhood. They can’t get any of that back, and the people there that he has empowered are still in power. So celebrating the dying of our Hitler doesn’t mean very much when Nazi Germany is still in charge.

At first, I was taken aback by the comparison. But then I thought: Should we really be concerned with ranking murderous despots? Shouldn’t they all just be lumped into one category? As LeBatard continued, in relation to Colin Kaepernick having worn a shirt earlier this year with Castro and Malcolm X on it:

Colin Kaepernick is not unlike much of America in not understanding what is happening in Cuba. What inflicts Miami Cubans more than anything right now is loneliness, feeling not understood as the prime minister of Canada and a bunch of other people are sitting here on the eulogy of Fidel Castro, and they’re feeling the need to celebrate his life and his passing just because he died.

Agreed. The Trudeau remarks were especially bewildering. I’m not an anti-P.C. person, but good lord – let’s not pretend Castro wasn’t who he was just because he’s dead.

The Importance of College Football Coaches:

Want the most sure-fire way for your college football team to return to relevance? Pony up the cash. Perhaps more than any other major sport, College football success is dictated by head coaches, who are to their teams what the “owner, the head coach and the general manager, combined, are to an N.F.L. team.”

This story sets up the influence of a head coach in college football perfectly. Name the team in the scenario put forth below:

The eminent college football program puttered along for a decade. There were a couple of 10-win seasons, but mostly inferior ones. Over 10 seasons, the team had four interim and permanent head coaches and, not accounting for N.C.A.A. sanctions, went 67-82. The punishment did not help, but neither did a general feeling of malaise and inconsistency — in short, the effects of suboptimal coaching.

Then the team hired a new head coach. In the ensuing decade, that team, [team name removed], has put together a 117-18 record, with four national titles (again, leaving the N.C.A.A. sanctions out of the equation).

Nothing but the coach had changed.

Love him or hate him, Nick Saban’s impact on Alabama has been that stark. Michigan’s hoping for the same in Jim Harbaugh, and Phil Knight has indicated that he’ll back up the Brinks truck for the coaching vacancy at Oregon.

TOB and I were talking about what would be needed for Cal to turn its program around. Considering (among other factors that TOB can speak to far more insightfully than I can) the financial challenges at a state school in California, the uncompromising academic standards for athletes (don’t compromise, Cal), and the tepid support of athletics on campus, one solution we came up with was finding the hot coaching prospect before anyone else does, e.g.,  finding Tom Herman (former Houston coach who just took the Texas job) before he becomes the flavor of the month.  

Or, and this option makes me a little queasy, you can make a deal with the devil and hire an objectively successful coach with an ugly past (see: Art Briles, formerly of Baylor, or a Bobby Petrino of Louisville). As a fan, there are few things better than the ride of a great season, but in college football the driver is very expensive, hard to find, or tough to accept. – PAL

Source: In College Football, Getting the Right Coach Is the Top Priority”, Marc Tracy, The New York Times (11/27/16)

TOB: As I told Phil on Sunday, Cal has a nice but very mediocre coach.  The Cal defense has been consistently awful in Dykes’ tenure (Out of 129 teams, 117th worst this year; 79th in 2015; 114th in 2014; 113th in 2013); and his defenses at Louisiana Tech were similarly awful (106th in 2012; 87th in 2010; with one outlier of 15th in 2011). 

It’s not as though Dykes doesn’t care about defense. I’m sure he knows his job depends on it. I think a bad defense is simply a feature of his offense. His offenses put up a lot of points, but they also work to increase plays/possessions. So the offense is really only above average in efficiency. Meanwhile, the offense’s efforts to maximize possessions and quick strike ability necessarily hurt the defense – as the defense is also forced to defend more possessions and more plays.

As I said on Sunday: Cal fans are largely hoping one of these schools (Baylor, Houston) come calling for Dykes, arrogantly thinking they won’t have the same defensive issues Dykes has had his entire head coaching career. And sure enough, the College Football Coach Hot Stove got red hot this week, with rumors Baylor is focusing on Dykes. This has been me all week:

Cal football has sadly gotten stale. It’s like a video game, with both teams’ offenses being unstoppable, and the defenses looking like they’re running in quicksand. At the very least, a coaching hire would be exciting.

One final thing to address is Phil’s hope that Cal doesn’t compromise academics. I used to feel strongly about this. Cal’s APR (a measure of yearly academic progress by student-athletes) when Dykes arrived was embarrassingly low and Cal was in danger of receiving a bowl ban. Dykes, along with the players and academic support staff did a remarkable turnaround, and Cal now has one of the best APRs in the country. Dykes deserves some credit for that. But my stance has softened. I spent a lot of time and money on Cal football, and I want to be entertained. Winning is entertaining. I hope we can find a coach who cares about his players and ensures their “free” education is meaningful, but I also want to watch good football again. Please.

Santa Clara 49ers: So Full of Shhh…

I came across this on Twitter, and I had to laugh.


Yes, the Santa Clara 49ers are reporting attendance over 100% capacity. Let’s see some recent games…


The 49ers reported attendance for that game was 70,178. The stadium’s capacity is 68,500. OH, TOTALLY. This franchise is a complete joke that can’t do anything right, including report attendance accurately.

Source: “Here’s the Attendance Rank for All 32  NFL Teams This Season”, NFL Memes, Daily Snark (12/01/2016)

Video of the Week

God damn, that’s the best.

PAL Song of the Week: Girls – “Vomit”

Special note: The last two minutes of this song are damn near perfect. Great to turn way, way up in the car when driving solo.


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No. No, no no no. Fuck you, you don’t owe it to yourself man, you owe it to me. Cuz tomorrow I’m gonna wake up and I’ll be 50, and I’ll still be doin’ this shit. And that’s all right. That’s fine. I mean, you’re sittin’ on a winnin’ lottery ticket. And you’re too much of a pussy to cash it in, and that’s bullshit. ‘Cause I’d do fuckin’ anything to have what you got. So would any of these fuckin’ guys. It’d be an insult to us if you’re still here in 20 years. Hangin’ around here is a fuckin’ waste of your time.”