Week of June 30, 2017

This is the look PAL’s going for on the annual trip back to MN. 

TOB: Also, happy birthday to one of our loyal readers, my dear mom! Mom turns a certain number of years today. Have a great birthday, Ma!

Damn Librulz.

The professional wrestling heel (bad guy) is as old as the sport. The heel’s job is to rile up the crowd by doing things to get the crowd to actively and loudly dislike him (or her). Wrestling companies have long used current events to generate “heat” for a heel. I can remember the Iron Shiek (Iran) in the early 1980s, and Russian wrestlers in the late 1980s, for example, who juiced up a crowd by railing against America as they prepared to take on All-Americans like Hulk Hogan and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Our country is very divided politically these days, and it is no surprise that one wrestler has used that division to his advantage.

Known as the Progressive Liberal, Dan Richards wrestles for a small Kentucky  wrestling company. His shtick is too easy: he plays a liberal (and claims to be one IRL), and angers the crowd by advocating for such terrible policies like education for all and clean energy. He’s definitely a little condescending (e.g., intentionally mispronouncing how the people of Appalachia prefer to say Appalachia)…but it’s a bit disturbing to see how the crowds react.

One fan threatened that “if that fucking liberal” showed up to a show, the fan would bring his gun. Part of me laughs at this. The Progressive Liberal is supposed to be funny. It’s wrestling, after all. But there’s also a part that is a little sad that our society has come to a place where advocating for education, for example, is seen as a bad thing, to the point someone threatens to bring a gun to a wrestling event. Yikes.

Source: The ‘Progressive Liberal’ Is Maybe the Perfect Wrestling Heel”, Samer Kalaf, Deadspin (06/26/2017)

PAL: You can’t fix dumb, TOB. That’s been the case long before Don Trump. I do think “The Progressive Liberal” is my favorite wrestling name of all-time. This is the first wrestling story I can get behind. I just wish Richards was a little more polished. The role is too good to be wasted on an amatuer.

Intangibles Are Unacceptable

These days, we all have at least one friend who’s all-in on distance running, rock climbing, cycling, triathlons. Endurance sports have expanded, and – at the highest levels – that put a premium on finding the perfect balance between being as light as possible and still maintaining the strength to exert the energy needed to win.

It should come as no surprise that eating disorders – for men and women – are a part of many athletes’ lives.

While the long-term effect are universally bad, that fact of the matter is the short-term effects contribute to success. It works. 

Take this excerpt from Nora Caplan-Bricker’s piece:

One of the first things Tyler Hamilton learned on day one of his career as a professional cyclist was that he needed to lose weight. It was 1995, and he’d just touched down in the Barcelona airport, having signed a contract with U.S. Postal Service. When the team director picked him up, “He made fun of my baby fat straightaway,” Hamilton recalls. “I was like, ‘What’s this about? I’m super skinny!’ I had no idea.”

While female athletes, like women in general, are inculcated all their lives with the importance of thinness, male athletes are also bombarded with messages about their bodies. Some of the cyclists and runners I interviewed—both men and women—told me they think coaches and directors on women’s teams have grown more attuned to the issue, and, in many cases, are more careful with what they say about an athlete’s weight or eating, while men’s coaches are years behind.

Early in his career, Hamilton thought of himself as a “big engine”—sure, he had bulkier muscles than some of his beanpole teammates, but that’s what powered him to victory in his best stage: the time trial. But after a few years of feeling his team’s nutritionists “eyeballing me every time I went up to get a cookie,” and of hearing from coaches and more seasoned cyclists that he could really be a contender if he shed a few pounds, Hamilton took the advice to heart. “When I lost weight, I basically learned to climb,” he told me. “There was a time”—around 2003, when he placed fourth in the Tour de France—“when I was one of the best climbers in the world.”

Every spring and summer, the 5’8″ Hamilton would work to whittle himself down to about 130 pounds. “The three months before the Tour were hell to get there,” he says. He’d bike for six or seven hours, come home famished, and chug a Diet Coke as fast as he could. A Diet Coke, and maybe an apple, and “you go from ravenous to ‘okay, maybe I can go another hour now.’” Once, after a hard training ride, Hamilton’s director gave him a handful of sleeping pills to help him “make it until dinner” without eating. The message was, “If you make it through the night, even better.”

Hamilton describes these patterns as an eating disorder, though he was never technically diagnosed with one. At the same time, he believes achieving a skeletal physique did make him a better cyclist. Weight is only one of many factors in an athlete’s performance. But in races that are won and lost by a fraction of a second—not only in cycling, but also in running, swimming, and skiing—athletes who fantasize about the perfect ratio between power and leanness usually find that the latter is easier to quantify and control.

This story digs into a dangerous combination where eating disorders seem to flourish (I’m obviously no expert): a person driven to win and that success can be helped by doing something that is bad for you. What makes most elite athletes different from us is they are willing to do things the rest of us are simply not willing to do every day for an extended period of time. They are singularly focused on success. It is the only priority. And when success is that black & white, well, that can be a slippery slope.

Sometimes in sports, fractions – of a second, an inch, a fingernail – separate the legends from great unknowns, while the rewards between first and second can be measured in tax brackets. This can be especially true for fringe sports like rock climbing, cycling, and distance running. In that teeny tiny gap between great and legend is where uncertainty simmers. Athletes can’t stand for uncertainty, which is why they are as good as they already are. The gap needs to be filled with a plan, with measurement, with incremental progress. That’s where something as quantitative as calories and weight and ultimately disorder can root itself. In a way, an eating disorder is similar to doping.

Do me a favor: name me two world class distance runners? Name me three world class swimmers. Now, name me 15 basketball or baseball or football players. 

Is it any surprise that we find eating disorders more prevalent in those whose success is dependent upon obsession? – PAL

Source: The Inextricable Tie Between Eating Disorders and Endurance Athletes”, Nora Caplan-Bricker, Outside Magazine (6/23/17)

TOB: This story surprised me, because we definitely think of athletes as healthy. But it makes sense, as Phil so eloquently expands upon.

This Is Why You Should Always Look Out For Number One In Job Decisions

Two years ago, on the eve of free agency, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan was all set to sign as a free agent with the Dallas Mavericks, much closer to his hometown of Houston. So a bunch of his Clippers teammates, including Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, showed up at his home in Houston and basically held him hostage, convincing him not to leave. The players had a lot of fun with it on Twitter. For example, Blake Griffin tweeted a photo of a chair barricading the door at DeAndre’s house.


It was pretty all pretty amusing, and in the end they convinced him not to leave. But this week, just two years later, Chris Paul told the Clippers he was opting out, and so they traded him to what he sees as a better situation with the Houston Rockets. Blake Griffin can also opt out, and with Paul gone, many expect him to sign elsewhere. Where does this leave DeAndre Jordan? Probably wishing he hadn’t re-signed with the Clippers, a team now completely devoid of talent. The internet had fun with this fact.

Poor De’Andre. Let this be a lesson to us all: You do you. -TOB

Source: After Chris Paul Trade, Twitter Absolutely Savages DeAndre Jordan”, Jimmy Traina, Sports Illustrated (06/28/2017)


TOB: Hey, sure. He’s richer than shit. But, he’d have that money if he’d gone elsewhere, too. It’s not like the Mavericks were offering him $150,000.00.

Blazers Twitter Welcomes New Player, Mr. Considerations

As part of the Houston Rockets’ maneuvering for the above-mentioned trade for Chris Paul, they made a trade with the Portland Trailblazers. The Blazers sent Tim Quarterman (uh, who?) to Houston in exchange for “cash considerations”. The Blazers’ official twitter account, generally one of the best team accounts in sports, had quite a bit of fun with this.

I laughed. Hell, a bag of cash is certainly better than Meyers Freakin Leonard. You suck, Meyers. -TOB

Source: Blazers Twitter (06/28/2017)

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Maggie Rogers – “Alaska”

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“Whenever Leslie asks me for the Latin names of any of our plants, I just give her the names of rappers. Those are some Diddies. Those are some Bone Thugs-N-Harmoniums, right here. Those Ludacrises are coming in great.”

-T. Haverford

Week of June 16, 2017

The Stanley Cup is Temporary

I am ashamed that we ran zero stories about the Stanley Cup Final in the previous couple weeks. Playoff hockey is the best thing this side of your baseball team making a World Series run, and we wrote nothing. Piss poor, I say. Here’s a fun little story to partially make up for it.

The best trophy in sports is the Stanley Cup. There’s no debate there. World Series trophy – lame. Larry O’Brien trophy – weak. College Football – I’ve seen better crystal in a retirement home. And the Super Bowl trophy looks like a hood ornament.

No, the Stanley Cup is the best, by a long shot. It’s (kind of) been around since 1892. The names of every player and coach from the winning team have been engraved on the cup every year since 1924. There was a good chunk of time when each winning team added its own ring to the bottom of the cup. As time went on, more rings were added to make room for new teams. More years, more rings added, and so on, until the cup was referred to the stovepipe:

The decision was made to remove old rings from the cup (and place them in the Hall of Fame) and cram multiple years on each ring. Now, each time a ring is added, a ring is removed.  All of this begs the question: How tall would it be if none of the rings were removed?

Eight feet, nine inches. I want to be in favor of this, but let’s face it: The thing would look like a men’s softball tournament trophy from Vegas or something. That or a NASCAR trophy. No, that won’t do. Not for the best trophy in all of sports.

It’s likely that members of the Pittsburgh Penguins will be alive when their names are removed from the Cup (2070). That’s the day when some snot-nosed grandkid of theirs will question whether or not grandpa was a great hockey player saying, ‘Then why isn’t your name on the trophy, grandpa?”. Then gramps will pull the kid’s sweater over his head just to show that gramps could get a couple shots in if we really wanted. – PAL

Source: How Tall Would The Stanley Cup Be If The NHL Never Removed Anyone’s Name?”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (06/12/2017)

TOB: If it makes you feel any better, I wanted to write a story about what a goddamn fun-hating, whiny  little bitch Sidney Crosby is last week, but I didn’t get around to it. We also didn’t too much about the NBA playoffs.

As for the Stanley Cup as a trophy…I think it’s a little overrated. Saying the Stanley Cup is the best trophy in sports is one of those weird hockey-isms that even non-hockey fans have come to accept, without questioning. For example, hockey players are the toughest! Or, no really, you have to see hockey live, it’s soooo much better live! TV doesn’t do it justice!

Don’t get me wrong, the Stanley Cup is pretty cool. But as a trophy, it’s unwieldy. Now, the fact that each member of the winning team gets to spend one day with the trophy each offseason is without question the coolest trophy-related practice in the North American team sports. But I don’t think the trophy itself is the coolest. For example, Gold medals are cooler.

The Heisman is cooler.

Wimbledon’s men’s trophy is cooler, assuming you can drink out of it, which I will believe even in the face of concrete evidence to the contrary.

However, the Claret Jug is, in my opinion, the coolest.

Like the Stanley Cup, the winner’s name is engraved. Like the Stanley Cup, the winner gets it for the year, until the next tournament. Plus, It’s been around longer than the Stanley Cup (1872). And finally, you can, and people do, drink out of it, like the Stanley Cup. But it’s much more manageable than the Stanley Cup. Imagine taking that thing into a crowded bar the night you won. Goddamn. You would be the belle of the ball. And, on top of all that, it’s a JUG, which is many times cooler than a cup. #jugcore.

PAL: Tennis & golf? When did TOB go country club on all of us? I should clarify: Best team sport championship trophy. Medals are a separate matter. While they award athletic achievement, I wouldn’t classify them as a trophy. The Heisman is great, but it’s an individual award and not entirely related to winning games or a tournament.  

The Ball is Juiced, Part Deux

Since the All-Star break in 2015, the home run rate in major league baseball has dramatically, and suddenly, increased. You can see in this chart, it’s the biggest 3-year increase ever, including over the end of the dead-ball era, and the beginning of the Steroid Era.

The 2015-post All Star Break gain was so dramatic in fact that it was the largest home run rate increase between a first half and a second half ever, and the rate continues to rise: there have been 2,395 home runs hit already this season, on pace for the most ever. Yes, ever. More than the height of the steroid era. So…what the hell is going on? The 2015 second half home run surge was fueled by a spike in batted ball exit velocity. But why? As you may have guessed, there are some theories. Some have wondered about warmer temperatures, but while that would affect the distance a ball travels, it would not affect exit velocity. Others have opined about a changing strike zone, or widespread PED use, or even the fact that pitchers are throwing harder (but a 1 mph increase of pitch speed only increases a batted ball’s distance by less than one foot).

The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh, however, makes a very convincing argument that, this time, the ball really is juiced. First, changes in the baseball have produced dramatic changes in offense in the past, including in MLB, Japan, Mexico, and the NCAA. Second, the fact the spike occurred so suddenly, at the 2015 All Star break, suggests player behavior cannot account for the change. Third, the home run levels in AAA did not change, and they use a different ball than MLB. Fourth, the home run levels have risen not at the top of the leaderboards, but at the bottom. As this article notes, “[p]layers who previously had warning-track power might have more to gain from adding extra feet to their flies and regularly reaching that sweet spot than the elite sluggers who were already comfortably clearing the fence.”

For its part, MLB denies there has been a change in the ball, and claims they have performed multiple studies proving their claims. This article, however, scientifically calls into question those studies. The author of the article purchased a number of game-used baseballs from MLB. 17 balls used before the 2015 All Star Break, and 10 used in May, June, or July 2016. The balls outwardly appeared the same, but they were not:

The testing revealed significant differences in balls used after the 2015 All-Star break in each of the components that could affect the flight of the ball, in the directions we would have expected based on the massive hike in home run rate. While none of these attributes in isolation could explain the increase in home runs that we saw in the summer of 2015, in combination, they can.

OHH SNAP. The newer baseballs are bouncier, have lower seam height, and are smaller, all of which increase the distance a batted-ball will travel.

The ball is juiced! That is some mighty fine journalism. Maybe next Lindbergh can investigate why only San Francisco Giants’ opponents’ pitchers are using the old baseballs, which is the only explanation for the Giants’ moribund offense. -TOB

Source: The Juiced Ball is Back”, Ben Lindbergh,The Ringer (06/14/2017)

PAL: Whoa, that was one hell of an article. Best thing I’ve read on The Ringer, that’s for sure. I’m convinced the balls are juiced. Also, who gets to make the call to change the circumference of a friggin’ baseball? What?!? Hey, the Twins, a team made up of a lot of WTP guys (warning track power) are hitting bombs left and right and were busy kicking the crap out of the Giants last weekend. I’m good with it. Hell, maybe Joe Mauer can even hit 15 home runs this year while making a gazillion dollars playing an average first base and hitting .280 with no power.

Sir Edmund Hillary Posthumously Hosed

Back-to-back weeks with a mountaineering story! Aside from the mountain itself, the most well-known, iconic characteristic of Mt. Everest is Hillary Step. Named after the Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first two confirmed humans to summit Everest, the boulder sat perched a mere 200 meters below the summit and was one last major challenge for climbers so close to standing on top of the world.

Turns out, Hillary Step is no more. A 2015 earthquake is likely the culprit. What’s crazy is that it took this long to confirm it. Climbers have a small window, usually in May, when the weather cooperates to summit Everest. In many cases, Hillary Step is covered in snow, so one couldn’t tell for sure whether it was under the snow or not. American climbers summiting this year have pretty clear photographic evidence that the main boulder is gone.

Kind of sucks for Sir Edmund Hillary, doesn’t it? I mean, talk about a bad ass monument. You can have your statues outside of ballparks, hall of famers. Take your spot on Mt. Rushmore, presidents. Sir Edmund Hillary’s monument sat atop the world. – PAL

Source: “American Climbers Confirm the Hillary Step Is Gone”, Jay Bouchard, Outside (6/12/17)

Track & Field’s Surrender

The longest-standing track world record – Jarmila Kratochvilova’s 800 meter time of 1.53.28 (holy crap) – is in jeopardy. Not because there is an up-and-coming superstar tracking it down, but because a group of people want to just erase it from the record books.

“European Athletics made a striking proposal in May to have the sport’s global governing body void all world records set before 2005. That year, storage of blood and urine samples began for more sophisticated drug screenings.”

This is the most aggressive approach to anti-doping I’ve come across. I’ve never heard a proposal for fending off doping in sports that basically says, ‘let’s start over’ and erase history. Is there any better piece of evidence the governing body has no real way of getting ahead of cheating than a solution that looks to correct the past?

I mean, if you want to start over, then really start over. Change the distance of the races altogether. Replace the decathlon with tough mudder. Hell, scrap the name of the sport, too, and sell the naming rights to a sponsor. “Track & Field” can become “Monster Energy Dashes and Obstacles”.

Rant over. The most fascinating part of the article is the legend/backstory of Kratochvilova. She makes Michael Jordan’s will to win look like Nerf ball:

Kratochvilova was born, and still lives, in the village of Golcuv Jenikov. As a girl, she worked on her uncle’s farm, harvesting beets and potatoes by hand. When Track and Field News named her athlete of the year in 1983, the accompanying story by a Czech journalist said, “At 12, she was already able to toss a pitchfork of hay into the loft as well as any adult farmer.”

While working as an accountant and training for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Kratochvilova sometimes ran beneath streetlights at 4 in the morning before heading to her job. At those Games, even as a part-time athlete, she won a silver medal at 400 meters for Czechoslovakia.

She then began training full time here on a cinder track and forest paths. The stories about her immense willpower and strength are legendary in the track world. And whether they are repeated matter-of-factly, or told with awe or wariness, they remain astonishing.

She sprinted in spiked shoes on a frozen pond when snow covered the cinder track in winter. She ran repeats of 200 meters while dragging a tire filled with varying amounts of sand. To recover from surgery on her left Achilles’ tendon, she dashed through a foot of water in a pool, wore a weighted vest and placed a gas mask over her face to restrict her breathing and raise her pulse rate.

There’s an obvious point that we’re avoiding: In her prime, Kratochvilova was built like a very strong man.

Combine her physique with a record that’s never been broken (or even really seriously challenged), and a state-sponsored doping program, and people are going to draw some conclusions. In fact, take a look at the women’s 25 fastest 800 meter times. Anything stand out?

No one’s ever come within a tenth of a second of Kratochvilova’s time in over 30 years. Also, exactly 2 of these times would exist if the proposed measure of removing world records pre-2005 was enacted. Lastly, look at the countries dominating the this list. A whole lot of “Iron Curtain” countries represented.

So, while the suggestion of wiping away all world records before 2005 is absurd, I can understand the path that led to absurdity. Still, you just can’t just take a record away based on era and geographical generalizations. If they had something on Kratochvilova, it would be different, but they don’t.

The hard part is we’re in the general vicinity of Barry Bonds/Lance Armstrong territory (no positive tests). But I’d rather be fooled than be a sports pessimist. – PAL

Source: Track’s Most Resilient (and Suspect) Record Is in Danger”, Jeré Longman, The New York Times (06/15/2017)

TOB: This is pretty appalling, as it judges everyone before 2005 (which is not that long ago) as guilty of doping by association. Is Kratochvilova’s record legit? Hell if I know, and that’s the point. As the article points out, there is “no proof that every record set before 2005 was aided by doping and no guarantee that every record achieved since then was unassisted by banned substances.” What of Mike Powell, the long jump record holder? As we profiled here last year, Powell’s record is unlikely to ever be broken because it takes years of specialized training that no one wants to put in, because why strive to jump 30 feet when 27 feet will get you a gold medal? Now? Powell’s record will be gone. As will Bob Beamon’s behind him, whose record stood from 1968 until Powell broke it in 1991. The new record would be Dwight Phillips, at 28 feet, 8 inches, back in 2009.

As for Kratochvilova, the evidence against her is sparse. There is a document from 1984, a year after her record was set, with Kratochvilova’s name on a list of athletes “who were to” undergo “specialized care”, believed to be doping. On another document, showing an internal doping test given to Czechoslovakian athletes in 1987 to ensure they would pass drug tests, Kratochvilova’s test was negative. And, there are no documents “showing that (Kratochvilova)  signed a consent form, as required, to participate in the doping program,” and “no document showing dates and doses of drugs administered to” her. Whether she doped or not, I find this to be a compelling point:

Nekola, the Czech antidoping expert, said any revocation of records should carry an asterisk. It should be clearly stated, he said, that athletes participating in state-sponsored systems were victims. That they were treated like “guinea pigs,” essentially left with no choice if they wanted to remain at the elite level and enlisted in a scheme where sport could not be separated from Cold War politics.

“If we cancel the records, automatically athletes will be the guilty ones in the eyes of the public, but the true guilt lies with the system,” Nekola said.

He added: “I do not want individual athletes to be judged. But I believe we must judge the system that required them to take banned substances.”

The Baseball Scout Glossary

Vice Sports polled several baseball scouts and compiled the best scouting terms.

This is hilarious. Here are my favorites:

High Ass: No, really, stop laughing. This is a term. Alternately referred to as “high back pockets” or a prominent “lower half,” having a big posterior is said to portend good power potential. But it’s more than a little weird when you think about a grandfatherly scout using the term on a teenage prospect.”

He’s a baseball player: Though it would seem to apply to anyone on the field—I mean, is everyone else playing a different sport?—this sentiment is intended to be a noble compliment conveying an evaluator’s utmost respect for a prospect, often connoting intangible skill or countenance that exceeds his physical tools. In Dollar Sign on the Muscle, a Phillies’ scouting report on Bip Roberts praised him because, among attributes, he “can run, play defense, play baseball.” Yes, play baseball, indeed.”

Red Ass: A fiery, argumentative, hard-nosed player is said to be a red ass, a term that apparently dates to at least the 1920s. (See: Lo Duca, Paul)”

Hyphenated names: Two incredulous scouts said they’ve heard peers speculate that conjoined appellations are indications of poor potential. One of the scouts summarized the ridiculous thinking as follows: neither parent is an Alpha, so they’ll allegedly lack a killer instinct. Really. We don’t get it, either.”

Redhead: Another insane marginalization of an entire subset of people: some scouts are said to shy away from red-headed ballplayers, apparently because of an inability to cope under the hot summer sun. (Speaking as a ginger, I do go through an awful lot of sunscreen . . .)”

Has an idea: Having an idea suggests a player has know-how. Often this is used to discuss his hitting approach and strike-zone discipline. It also means his brain is working.”

Milk drinker: A scout told Perkin that he prefers players who aren’t too wholesome and have an edge.”

That last one made me laugh out loud. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. -TOB

Source: Good Face, High Ass: The Baseball Scouting Glossary”, Joe Lemire, Vice Sports (06/15/2017)

PAL: In scouting for 1-2-3, we ultimately had to pass on writing prospect Ryan Rowe. Here was my analysis:

While he has an idea around the written word, but his arm slot while typing utilizes the inverted W. He’s got plus stuff, but worried about carpal tunnel in near-to-mid term. He’s not a milk drinker, and some scouts consider him a toolshed, but in the end it’s a can or can’t. Don’t think he’s ready, and I’ve never seen a prospect with a lower ass.

Baseball Art

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Cake – “Stickshifts and Safetybelts”

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“It’s natural to be like, we’re up 3-0, we can play chess with them a little bit. And sometimes they just hit you in the mouth.”


Week of June 9, 2017

“Moon Landing”: Sacramento Rock Climber Alex Honnold Just Did The Unthinkable

Do you remember the first time you drove through Yosemite Valley? I do (and if you haven’t been, then let me know. I’ll gladly take you there). It’s awesome, and not in the colloquial way. The beauty is spiritual. The monolith walls of granite form almost a right angle with the valley, towering so severely that you have to stick your head out of the car window to see the top. The scale and power and art of it all seem impossible, and yet there you stand, craning your neck to the heavens saying to yourself, ‘My god…”.

At the center of it all is El Capitan. It is one giant piece of granite extending 3,000 feet straight up from the valley. Alex Honnold, a Cal dropout from Sacramento and the goofy, unassuming face of rock climbing just climbed it with no ropes. Free solo. 

Mark Synnott of National Geographic classified it as perhaps “the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.”

One world class climber referred to it as “the ‘moon landing’ of free soloing”, and another said “I really don’t see what’s next.”

Honnold is an incredibly skilled climber, world class to be sure, but that’s not what separates him from every other climber. “[N]o one else has matched [Honnold’s] ability to control fear. His tolerance for scary situations is so remarkable that neuroscientists have studied the parts of his brain related to fear to see how they might differ from the norm.”

By all accounts, Alex Honnold just achieved the rarest of accomplishments: He took something that was impossible and made it possible by himself. So why am I so conflicted to admire it?

I brought this up with Natalie the other day on our drive to dinner. We talked about the moon landing comparison. They had no idea what would happen when they got out there. What would the landing be like, what would happen when they set foot on the moons? A new frontier. I don’t think Honnold’s free solo of El Cap is the moon landing. El Cap has been climbed after all. Many elite climbers have completed his route, just with ropes in case something happened – be it the climber being overmatched or something completely out of the climbers control. 

Is it like Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile? I don’t think so. While a pulled hamstring or a headwind out of nowhere would keep him from running a fast time, the loss was a new benchmark, not a life.

The best comparison I can come up with is Philippe Petit. He’s the guy who tightrope walked between the Twin Towers in 1974 (there’s a fantastic documentary on Petit – Man on Wire). His response when asked why: “There is no why.”

In many of us there is a fear of average. In a few of us there is a competition to be great. Then there is the rarest of all: Those that must do something that’s never been done. To them, dying suddenly in pursuit of what’s never been done is better than dying gradually doing anything less.

We are captivated by Honnold for one primary reason. If he falls, then he dies. That says a hell of a lot more about us than it does about him. Or is there something more to it? I don’t know. I really don’t. I would bet that Honnold’s response to that would be similar to Petit: There is no why.

One last interesting tidbit. I once met Honnold. I’m novice climber, and I like to boulder at lunch. One day, about four or five years back I was at Dogpatch Boulders. Super quiet day at the gym, and one section is blocked off. I didn’t know who it was at the time, but Honnold was being filmed for an interview. I went off to climb in another part of the gym, and after a while he’s climbing a route near me. I realized who it is at that moment. We’re pretty much the only people climbing. On the ground, he appears scrawny, and then he gets on the wall and you can see his shoulders and biceps. But most of all, you see his hands. I’ve never seen muscular hands before. At least that’s how I remember them. For a moment I consider asking him for a climbing tip, and it felt comically wrong.

I told a buddy it was like testing out a guitar at a shop – doing your best little riff – only to find Jimi Hendrix plug into an amp next to you. What do you do? You don’t ask for an autograph, because you’re not nine years old. Here’s what you do: You acknowledge that what you do and what he does is in not in any way similar, so there’s no tip to ask for. – PAL

Source: Climber Completes the Most Dangerous Rope-Free Ascent Ever”, Mark Synnott, National Geographic (6/3/17)

TOB: I have to admit I was taken aback when I read Phil’s slightly unimpressed take on Honnold’s feat. In comparing what Honnold did to a moon landing, I actually think what he did was more impressive in challenging what seems humanly possible. This may be showing my age – when I was born, we had long since landed on the moon, and doing so had even become boring. My parents, for example, may strongly disagree with this opinion: I think the astronauts themselves get way too much credit here (yes, I’m splitting hairs). But, before the Apollo 11 landing, we sent plenty of craft up to space, unmanned and then manned, orbited the moon, and came relatively close to a landing. The Apollo 11 astronauts flew a largely automated craft farther from earth than anyone ever had, and then landed it some place no one had been. That’s cool. But, thousands of others did the math/engineering to make it happen, and we had run plenty of tests to understand what would happen.

Conversely, Honnold did this climb solo. Like Phil, I’ve been to Yosemite and I’ve seen El Capitan. What Honnold did is just not fathomable to me. Any mistake and he’s dead. There is zero room for error. And he did this QUICKLY. In less than four hours. He sorta made it look easy, which it of course is not.

And I think it’s certainly better than Philippe Petit’s tightrope between the the World Trade Center towers. In the same way Honnold somehow turns off the fear center of his brain, certainly Petit’s walk is impressive. But, on some level, a tightrope over 20 feet is the same as over 1,350 feet, as Petit’s was. Consider – Petit performed up there for 45 minutes. He freaking danced. This was easy for him.

But Honnold’s 2,900 foot climb is not the same as a 2,900 foot climb elsewhere. It’s not just the fear of death – I’ve seen pictures of his climb and I can’t even fathom how it’s possible. Granted, people have done it. But with ropes, you have the courage to make a move that might fail and know you will (probably) be ok. WIthout them? It’s hard to get my brain around. Phil posits that we are captivated by Honnold because if he falls, he dies. I don’t agree, at least not with the implication we are excited by the fact that life and death is on the line. For me, at least, I like seeing things that challenge my understanding of human capability. Honnold absolutely did that.

One last thing: My favorite tidbit I read about Honnold’s climb (and maybe this undercuts my point, but whatever): After he finished, Honold said he was planning to work out because he’d only had “four hours of light exercise” but definitely needed lunch first.

But look at his face. I suppose he’s not wrong. That dude is not wired like the rest of us.

The Uninspiring Greatness of Real Madrid

This week, Real Madrid won its second straight Champions League title, its third in four years, and wrapped the La Liga title, as well. Objectively, it is one of the greatest runs in soccer history. If you don’t pay attention to European soccer, you may not know, though, that Madrid’s run has been met with yawns. I don’t watch enough to truly know why, but i’ve had my theories. I am, admittedly, biased. In the Great Soccer Debate of the last decade – Messi or Ronaldo – I am firmly in Camp Nou – the stadium that plays home to FC Barcelona and the greatest soccer player of all time, Lionel Messi. I like Messi because he’s little (5’6”?) and he does incredible things on the field. He’s a true soccer genius – dribbling, passing, moving without the ball, and scoring – and even a novice can see this if you sit down for a game and focus on him. His counterpart, Cristiano Ronaldo, on the other hand, does things with brute force. It’s not as pretty, but it is effective. He’s always a threat to score, but it’s not as inspiring. Also, he comes off as a real asshole. This does not help his case.

But there must be more, and Deadspin’s Billy Haisley makes a convincing argument. Over the course of soccer history, there have been teams that implemented tactical innovation that changed the understanding of the sport – from the Dutch “Total Football” to Barcelona’s “Tiki-Taka”, and more. These innovations make fans think, “Holy crap, why didn’t anyone think of this before?”

Madrid is not innovative. Madrid was faced with a problem: Lionel Messi, the greatest player of all-time, and needed to figure out how to beat him. So, they threw money at the problem. Gobs of it. They bought everyone they possibly could, even if it meant stashing that player on the bench. Players like Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez are some of the greatest in the world, and out of 29 games, they started only 17 and 13 games, respectively, for Madrid this season. Just sittin’ there, wondering when they get to go in. This is like when the Miami Heat signed LeBron and Bosh to go with Wade, but then if they ALSO signed Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Kevin Durant, and the majority of them played only a few minutes a game, because there weren’t enough minutes to go around.

As Haisley puts it:

When looked at through this lens, it makes a little more sense why this recent-vintage Real Madrid group don’t feel like the era-defining bunch their titles would seem to imply. Their strategy of signing great players and letting them play well doesn’t appear to add much to our understanding of what soccer can be. The only principle Real’s success stands for is that incalculable (and to all but four or five top-top-top clubs, impossibly expensive) greatness of talent begets great success. Which is a fine and self-evidently true principle, but it doesn’t point one way or the other to where the sport might advance. Real aren’t in conversation with the sport, they are a statement on it, and the statement is tautological: being good means you win, and winning means you’re good.

While reading this story, I couldn’t help contrast this with the Golden State Warriors, who as I write this are up 3 games to 0 on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, one win away from SWEEPING THROUGH THE PLAYOFFS, something I cannot even fathom. I say contrast, of course, because the beauty of the Warriors is that they are a story of so much more than talent. They are great scouting, a lot of luck, and that undefinable quality all great teams must have: chemistry. If you’re not a Warriors fan, you’re rolling your eyes because Warriors fans are sooooooo annoying. I know. I live and work amongst them. But watching the Warriors play is beautiful.

During Game 3 on Wednesday night, it looked like the Cavs might pull it off (it being win a single game in the series). Up six with just over two minutes left to go. LeBron and Kyrie Irving had played spectacularly. Kyrie, especially, had some amazing finishes at the rim. But they each burned so much energy to get those buckets. The Warriors, on the other hand, implement the concept of “pace and space” – move quickly, and stretch the defense by spacing the floor with dangerous shooters and smart/willing passers. Unlike the Cavaliers, they were relatively fresh, and they closed out the game on an 11-0 run that, in hindsight, somehow seems like it was inevitable.

Don’t get me wrong. The Warriors are extremely talented. But, as opposed to Real Madrid, to me their story great talent producing great success. The Warriors have fundamentally changed the way basketball is played. Even if the Cavs had a couple more great players and won this series, in twenty years, people would remember this era as the time when the Warriors changed our understanding of what basketball can be and where it might go. -TOB

Source: Real Madrid Won Everything and Don’t Have Much to Show For It”, Billy Haisley, Deadspin (06/05/2017)

PAL: It was the next logical step in the big business of sports. To a lesser degree, this has been happening for a little while now (Yankees and Heat are the first to come to mind), but it could be most problematic for basketball and soccer. Kevin Durant has made it perfectly clear in this playoffs the impact of adding one great player to a sport where only 5 guys are on the court for each team. And there’s even money in soccer “over there”. With no salary cap, Real Madrid – the Yankees of organizations – can spend just that much more money.

I overheard the PTI guys talking the other day about whether or not dynasties are good for sports. They both said yes, and referenced the Celtics, UCLA, the Lakers, the Patriots. Dynasties are interesting as archives. We talk about the Yankees of the 20s (and 30s and 40s and 50s) or the Celtics of the 60s as some of the greatest teams of all-time, but we didn’t see it – we’re just counting championships and regurgitating stats. Dynasties can also be interesting when there is a real rival. Lakers had the Celtics in the 80s. The rivalry is what made it legendary, not the amount of rings.

Super interesting read and cool context to consider the Warriors as they approach history. Great writing, too. 

Dream Job: Going Deep

This, by far, is the best writing assignment I’ve ever come across. Writer Michael McKnight was paid by Sports Illustrated to try to hit a homerun out of a major league ball park. Tough gig.

Turns out, it was tough, but one man’s home run odyssey makes for a super fun read. Here are just some of his challenges:

  1. He needed to learn how to hit.
  2. He needed someone to pitch to him (pitching machine homers don’t count)
  3. He needed to do it with with a wood bat, which meant he needed (a lot) of wood bats
  4. He needed a Major League ballpark to allow him to take BP
  5. He needed to get into shape

Let’s start with the swing. It starts brutal, and it didn’t get much better looking along the way, but the local batting cage owner pointed out, “We’re not trying to make you a .300 hitter. All you need is one.”

I give McKnight a lot of credit. He worked on his swing every day for a long time (we’ll get to just how long in a moment). At the cage, off a tee in his driveway, and at the local high school fields. It was cool to hear about some relatively advanced technical hitting concepts being applied to an average dude. And the dude put in work.

His odyssey also took him to Baton Rouge to visit the bat makers of Marucci bats. They gave him a tutorial on what separates a pro bat from a bat we buy at a local sporting good shop, and sent him home with 20(!) bats. Wood bats are unforgiving, and McKnight found this out quickly. You hit a ball off the end of the bat or up the handle – just a couple inches from the sweet spot – and a wood bat is breaking. He was going through $300 Marucci’s like snack size Snickers.

And he needed a ballpark. The Dodgers said no, because they are snobs and, in the words of Clark W. Griswold, wouldn’t know a good time if it came up and bit them.

The A’s said yes, because of course the A’s would (and it’s not like anything else is going on at O.Co Coliseum).

He came up short, but then got another chance when the Astros gave him a date. Short porch in left at Minute Maid, but also a higher wall.

After 15 months, 384 days, and over 30,000 swings, McKnight did it. That SOB did it, and now I’m very jealous that this guy, with that swing, got to take BP at not one, but two big league ballparks and hit a homerun. Nice work, Michael.

This wasn’t about me as much as it was about what’s possible for any of us. Those athletic feats we watch the pros execute effortlessly: How hard are they for a layperson to pull off? How much work is required to even come close to landing a triple Axel? If your tax-attorney neighbor trained hard enough, could she hit a contested three in a WNBA game? Could she hit five? Would she raise “three goggles” to her eyes and jaw at her defender as she backpedaled on defense?

But more than any other demographic, this Home Run Project was for overwhelmed, under-rested parents such as myself who wonder, What could I have accomplished had I chosen a more athletic path? It’s for those among us who yell at our TV screens—You can’t take that pitch! You gotta crush that!—forgetting how impossible it is to swing a round bat and strike a round ball snaking by at 90 mph.

Now that I think about it, and wonder who’s feat was more improbable: Alex Honnold free soloing El Cap, or Michael McKnight hitting a homerun. – PAL

Source: How to Homer”, Michael McKnight, Sports Illustrated (no date given)

TOB: As Phil said, this was super fun, and I urge you to read it. But know this: that epic troll-job at the end did not go unnoticed, PHIL.

PAL: Whatever it takes to get new readers.

Video of the Week: Elton John releases video for ‘Tiny Dancer’ 40 years later. I loved it. TOB liked it. 

PAL Song of the Week: Charlie Rich – ‘Behind Closed Doors’

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“You must not fall.”

-P. Petit (tightrope walker)

Week of June 2, 2017

Mission: Accomplished (?)

Now that the Astros are in first place and laying waste to the rest of baseball, this is an interesting read. Written in 2014 in the midst of the Astros rebuild, the final year of a 4-year stretch in which they lost 416 games, Ben Reiter got Moneyball-level access to the Astros braintrust as they prepared to make an unprecedented third straight #1 overall pick in the draft. The Astros considered 4 players and weighed the merits of each, using their blend of analytics and traditional scouting: Carlos Rodon, a college pitcher, Alex Jackson, a high school outfielder, and Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek, high school pitchers. They eventually settled on Aiken, despite their reservations about taking a high school pitcher – historically a very risky pick. It’s fascinating to read, three years later, because I have the benefit of hindsight to see how they did. So, of course I did.

Aiken, Jackson, Rodon, Kolek

Aiken is a major bust at this point, and making matters worse for the Astros is the fact they never even signed him. After the draft, they claimed their doctors found an issue with his elbow, and so they offered him a lowball signing bonus. Aiken called their bluff, and re-entered the draft the folllowing year. He has since undergone Tommy John surgery and has never pitched above A-ball. Yikes.

Kolek has not fared much better. He went #2 to Miami, also underwent Tommy John surgery, and has also not pitched above A-ball.

Jackson at one point was rated highly enough to warrant me taking him in my keeper league as a prospect, but has failed to develop.He strikes out a ton, and has also not produced the kind of power expected from a player who led the entire state of California in home runs as a high school sophomore. Needless to say,  I released him.

Finally, Rodon – the guy they should have taken. Rodon was called up in 2015, and has been a nice addition to the White Sox rotation, if not a star. He strikes out just over a batter an inning, doesn’t walk many guys, and has a career ERA of 3.90.

All told…yikes. I wouldn’t be too harsh on the Astros, though. I checked – it was a pretty bad draft. Not many of the guys are even major league starters, let alone stars. Interestingly, Houston’s #1 overall pick from the previous season, Stanford’s very own Mark Appel, has also been a complete bust, never appearing in the majors, with a career minor league ERA of 5.27 and a K:BB ratio of just 2:1. Houston finally gave up on Appel last year, and he’s in the Phillies’ system at present. So, the Astros did a complete rebuild and got zero from two straight #1 picks, making their current destruction of the league all the more impressive. The players leading the charge are featured quite a bit in the article- then-prospects like Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer were so promising at the time that Sports Illustrated even wrote, at the end of the article, a fake “Dispatch from the Future”, discussing the Astros’ victory over the Cubs in 2017 World Series. That prediction does not look bad, at the moment.

If you read and enjoyed Moneyball, or wanted to read Moneyball but never found the time, you will enjoy this look into the braintrust of an innovative, and ultimately successful, baseball front office. -TOB

Source: Astro-Matic Baseball“, Ben Reiter, Sports Illustrated (07/27/2014)

PAL: Great stuff. I loved Moneyball, and, as Reiter points out, the Astros represent the evolution of innovative baseball analysis. Projecting MLB talent is absolutely gambling. If a player represents a blackjack hand, the team is trying to figure out whether to hit or stay on him.

Definitely worth the read!

The Legend of Frank Deford

“His stories, along with those of other Sports Illustrated writers including Dan Jenkins and Mark Kram, helped raise sportswriting from the daily chronicle of victory and defeat to something with more literary ambition.”

I can’t imagine a more honorable quote for a sportswriter, but Frank Deford wasn’t just a sports writer.

Deford, Jenkins, and Kram set the groundwork for the legend of Sports Illustrated, and the impact of that publication on sports lovers cannot be diluted in the world of Bleacher Report, Deadspin…hell, even 1-2-3 Sports! Box scores are a snapshot, but to those of us with the sports hook firmly set, we want more, and we want more because of the types of stories Deford wrote.

“For Mr. Deford, it wasn’t enough to present in-depth profiles of familiar names, such as coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant and Bobby Knight. He sought to grasp how sports were an inescapable part of the American soul, an emblem of loyalty, aspiration and, all too often, heartbreak.”

That heartbreak was uncovered in Deford’s story on Kirby Puckett’s downfall. It still pains me to read, but you can’t discredit the writing.

I came to Deford when his prime as a writer was in the rearview, and some of his later work could lay the Americana storytelling on a bit thick, the guy was a giant. Here’s to the next who will redefine it for my nieces and nephews. – PAL

Source:Frank Deford, who wrote about sports with panache and insight, dies at 78”, Matt Schudel, The Washington Post (05/29/2017)

No Fan Left Behind

God damn, this is funny. The morning after the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race last weekend, clean-up crews filed in to clean up the mountains of trash left behind. They found the usual – beer cans, etc., but also found tents, a kiddie pool, a woman, a couch. Wait, a woman!? Yes, Jody Nash, whose friends and/or family left her behind. I’m guessing they had difficulty rousing her…but it sure made for a great local TV spot.

“Hey, Mom, I’m okay!” Nash said, holding a Bud Light. “I’m still here in Turn 2!” Y’all come get me?”

Follow the link for the excellent video. -TOB

PAL: I think we might have to go to a NASCAR race. One of the funniest videos I’ve seen in quite some time.

Source: Woman Left Behind at Charlotte Motor Speedway“, WBTV (05/30/2017)

Video of the Week

Richmond, California’s own Takk McKinley. I’d be dancing like that, too, if I got a $5.5 million signing bonus.

PAL Song of the Week: Delicate Steve – “Butterfly”

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See? Simple things. Cause and effect. Crime and punishment. Mash potatoes, know what you get? Mashed potatoes.”

-Moe Dammick, Fargo