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.”

K.D.

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One thought on “Week of June 16, 2017

  1. Pingback: 1-2-3 Sports! Week of October 27, 2017 | 1-2-3 SPORTS!

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