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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Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest


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.”



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