Week of April 14, 2017

Happy birthday, TOB! May your old man basketball game only getting more refined over time.

Altruistic Masochism

The Barkley Marathons consists of five roughly 20-mile off-road loops (most agree the actual distance is closer to 26 miles, thus, Marathons, plural) in Frozen Head State Park, in eastern Tennessee. Each loop features about 13,400 feet of elevation gain and loss, two-thirds of which does not follow an existing trail. The early spring race date practically [e]nsures foul weather. Entrance is limited to 40 people who must navigate the unmarked course without GPS, hitting 13 unmanned checkpoints along the way. The checkpoints are books stashed under rocks or wedged between trees from which the runner tears the page that corresponds to his bib number, turning in the pages after each loop to prove he finished the whole route.

What draws people to marathons these days: ego or self-discovery? Surely, there’s balance of the two, but the proliferation of mileage bumper stickers, Team in Training groups, energy bars, compression socks, and fitness wearables point to a growing industry for which the prevailing purpose just might be so more and more people can tell you they are running a long distance.

Running a long distance is a challenge. We impress ourselves for doing something challenging. We want people to know we are challenging ourselves and for them to be impressed, too.

I understand, but in recent years there seems to be a lot of weight on the ego side of this teeter-totter—maybe too much—and a man they call Lazarus is ruthlessly orchestrating the shift of some some weight back on the side of self-discovery.

The Barkley Marathons is about the accomplishment of finding your breaking point. More of the Forrest Gump kind of running than the Strava kind. No technology is allowed, and no amount of training will fully prepare you. 18 people have completed the race since 1986.

This year Gary Robbins (pictured above) “completed” the course six seconds after the 60 hour cutoff. He also got turned around in the last two miles of the race, and crossed the finish line – a yellow park gate – from the wrong direction. DNF.

If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at people and their boring marathon training ramblings, this story is for you (there’s also a fun documentary about the race on Netflix). Laz is your anti-hero. -PAL

Source: The Brutality Of The Barkley Marathons”, Sarah Barker, Deadspin (4/10/17)

TOB: This is incredible, and I want to watch this movie, but…when is enough enough? Someone is going to die doing this, right? I can’t decide whether I like this Cantrell guy. He’s got some pluses and minuses. Charging $1.60 and a random item for the race entry fee (e.g., gold-toed socks)? Funny, cheap – a plus. Starting the race, on a whim, in an eleven hour window? Minus. Buuuut, starting the race by lighting a cigarette? Plus. Calling yourself Lazarus? Minus. Having a bugler play Taps when a racer drops out? Hilarious. Huge plus. Announcing an hour from race time with a conch? Oh, come on. Minus. Greeting runners with, “Good luck, morons.” Hahahahaha. Plus. Well, there you go. Simple math says I’m on team Cantrell. And read this great account of a guy who nearly lost his mind during the 5th loop. Highly entertaining. Finally, shout out to the 30 people, of 1,000 who have attempted this over the years, who never even got to the first book in the first loop. You are my people.

Where Does Russell Westbrook’s Season Stack Up?

In the wake of Russell Westbrook becoming the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson, The New York Times asks if his feat is the greatest season for an athlete and reached out to a stable of writers to see what their choice is for the greatest individual season. Here are some of the more interesting factoids from the nominees:  

Secretariat: I’ve watched the Belmont video multiple times now. It looks incredible, and I’m not sure where I stand including horses as athletes. On one hand, an animal doing what it was born and bred to do seems like athleticism in its purest form. On the other hand, I just don’t care about horse racing. For the purpose of comparison, I can’t weigh 3 horse races against Westbrook doing it over the course of 81 of 82 NBA games this year.

Bobby Orr: My favorite comparison of the article. If the triple-double is stat about all around play, then Orr’s leading the league in points (120) as a defenseman, leading his team in penalty minutes, and dominating the playoffs, all while capped with a Stanley Cup winning goal in iconic fashion is a pretty damn good season.

Ruth/Bonds: I love Tyler Kepner’s definition of greatness: breaking the game is a fresh way of putting it. “To find the greatest individual season in baseball history, look at the players who broke the game. Many have changed it, mastered it or nearly perfected it. But to really break it, a player has to upend the norms so thoroughly that the performance looks like a mutation.”

Ruth and Bond broke the game, and it’s plainly evident with two stats. Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920, more than any other team in the American League. In 2004, Barry Bonds was intentionally walked 120 times. No other player has ever been intentionally walked more than 50 times in a season. As Kepner puts, “Bonds was such a destructive force in 2004 that rivals simply stopped competing.”

Tiger Woods: Tiger won 9 of 20 golf tournaments in 2004, including 3 of 4 majors with a combined score of 49 under par. With a typical tournament field ranging from 132 – 154 golfers, when all of those dudes are capable to shooting low on any given day, it’s astounding that one guy was just that much better than—not just a division of 5 teams, or even a league of 30 other teams—than a field of that size in a global game. It’s not like running track, where some guys have literally never run as fast as Usain Bolt’s average time. All pro golfers are capable of shooting 65. I don’t care that Nicklaus has more majors than Tiger; no one can convince me there’s ever been a better golfer on this planet than Tiger Woods in his prime.

Michael Phelps: 2008 Olympics: Tough to beat, but I’ll admit I’m a sucker for gold medals. Karen Krouse brings up a good point about the level of competition and its role in ranking greatest seasons. There were no pushovers like the 2016 Lakers in the Olympics. However, 2 weeks of greatness can’t really stack up to 82 games of consistent excellence. And yet, these two pictures makes it hard to rank anything above Phelps. Here he is with the 8 from Beijing:

And here’s all 23 golds just for good measure:

Fun read, and an even better happy hour debate. – PAL

Source: Is Russell Westbrook’s Season the Best Ever? Some Apples and Oranges to Pick From”, The New York Times (4/10/17)

TOB: I have to ignore individual sports. Sorry, Phelps, Tiger, and others, who had impressive seasons. It’s just a different discussion. And I tried to set bias aside…but I can’t get away from Bonds’ 2004 season being the best ever. Westbrook’s season, though, is right up there. As Sopan Deb says, Westbrook made the triple double look “routine, to the point that fans began undervaluing it.” The Triple Double Season has been, as long as I’ve been alive, one of those untouchable records. It just wasn’t possible. LeBron came…sorta close a couple times, with 30/8/8. But that’s not really all that close. Think about this: Triple Doubles were major headlines in nightly highlight shows. This dude just had FORTY TWO of them in one season, which would be the 9th most in NBA history for an entire career. If he doesn’t win the MVP, I’m going to be furious. People will look back at it in ten years and say “Hey…a guy averaged 31/10/10 on a team with very little help, still won 47 games and made the playoffs in an insanely competitive conference, and didn’t win the MVP? What the hell?” This is like Barkley over Jordan in 1993, or Malone over Jordan in 1998. Someone idiot suggests something and suddenly people start clamoring to show they’re so much smarter than everyone else and say “The triple double is nothing more than our desire for round numbers.” Or, “He’s a ball hog and hunts for rebounds.” To that I say: 30/10/10! GTFOOH.

But back to Bonds, and I’m so happy to discuss this. As Tyler Kepner noted, Bonds broke the freaking game. He was intentionally walked 120 times that year! 120! That’s almost one per game. He was once given an intentional walk with the bases loaded! He was walked with the bases empty many times. As luck would have it, I came across this fantastic video this week. It’s our video of the week, down below. It analyzed, in depth, Bonds’ 2004 season with one twist: what if Bonds played the entire 2004 season without a bat,  buuuuuut the pitchers didn’t realize he didn’t have a bat. It’s entertaining, and really goes into the depths of how insane Bonds was in 2004.

PAL: What about the idea of controlling the game, and how that impacts your ranking? As great as was, Bond’s was at the whim of the pitcher. Hitting is a reaction. Westbrook is like a pitcher. He has the ball. He dictates the game. If anything, this makes what Ruth and Bond’s did even more impressive to me.

When Sports Bring People Together

This week, just before its Champions League Match against Monaco, the Borussia Dortmund team bus was bombed. Yes, bombed. It could have been a lot worse. One player was hurt, and the game was postponed…an entire day. Many Monaco fans had made the trek to Dortmund, and some were left scrambling for a place to stay, not having planned to stay so long. Dortmund fans began tweeting with the hashtag “#bedforawayfans”, offering Monaco fans a place to stay. Monaco fans took them up on the offer, and boy isn’t the internet great?

Yes, das ist futbol, indeed. -TOB

Source: Dortmund Fans Gladly Host Traveling Monaco Fans After Champions League Game Delayed by Explosions”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (04/12/2017)

Short Dudes Representing

I’m short. Short dudes are hitting more long balls in baseball the past few seasons. Chicks dig the long ball. I like this story.

Why are short dudes hitting more dingers and scoring more chicks? Perhaps it’s because the strike zone has lowered in recent years. Maybe it’s because more kids are coming up knowing that dunking singles over the shortstop’s head ain’t going to get them where they want to go in a game that’s put a premium on power.

But really, my guys are swinging for the fences for the chicks, man. By the way, I hate the title of the ESPN article I’m linking here. Mighty Mites? How cute and diminutive…what the shit is that crap? – PAL

Source: Mighty Mites are taking over baseball!”, Sam Miller, ESPN (4/13/17)

TOB: I’m sure all of the factors discussed in the article contribute. But I happen to think the majority of it happens to be the last factor mentioned: we’re in an era with a cluster of good power hitters under 6-feet tall.

PAL: Or, TOB, short people have been persecuted in sports for decades and we’ve finally had enough. By the way, you aren’t that tall either, bub. You easily qualify as short using this articles cut-off (under 6-feet).

TOB: Short people got no reason to live.

PAL: I wonder how my life would be different if I was 6’2” more often than I should.


Video of the Week

What if Barry Bonds had played the 2004 season without a baseball bat? It’s long, but very entertaining.

PAL Song of the Week: Neil Diamond – “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”

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“If you keep your mouth shut, you’ll be surprised what you can learn”

– John B. McLemore

3 thoughts on “Week of April 14, 2017

  1. Your lack of understanding of the impact of Bonds and his steroid use is why I hate Giants fans (no offense, I love ya TOB). But it is astounding that you can write about Bonds in ’04 “breaking the game” when all it did was put a spotlight on what a fraud he was. I have relinquished my pride in the Brewers ’08 season & am happy Braun has relegated himself to just being an above average baseball player & not a Herculean one. You guys need to do the same with Bonds & his stupid ’04 season that has no worth in debating unless you want to talk about who cheated fans more.

    • Caveat: I don’t care about steroid use in sports. I am there to be entertained. Cheating fans? I feel exactly the opposite. As long as it’s not detrimental to the players’ health, I don’t care.

      But, your argument fails because EVERYONE ELSE was doing steroids, too. Bonds’ success is not due to steroid use. He was, in the steroid era, leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else. Watch the video of the week. He was almost as far ahead of the second best hitter, Todd Helton, as Helton was in front of the worst hitter in the league.

      • Do you not get more enjoyment out of the sport now that you know there is far less steroid use? I don’t have an issue if you found the steroid era entertaining, but I watch the game with a greater sense of connection knowing these guys are just working hard and the dominant pitcher has become relevant again.

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