Week of September 29, 2017

The Twins are back in the postseason. I’m not pulling your leg. 

Twins Win

This is a great time, folks. The Twins are in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night, and from now until then it’s all possible. I just got off the phone with my buddy Nett. All optimism:

  • Call me crazy, but – I gotta say – I have a good feeling about this.
    • The Yankees have OWNED the Twins in the postseason
  • How good can he be? I’ve never even heard of this Servino guy 
    • Yankees likely Wild Card starting pitcher with a 14-6 record and a sub-3 ERA
  • I’ll take Ervin Santana
  • They might even get Sano back…
    • Twins slugger who’s been out with a shin injury for over a month
  • There’s just something about this group of guys, you know?

This, my friends, is a good week to be alive. The Twins are in, and I don’t have to think about the prospect of them losing a 1-game wild card playoff until next Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong – they are going to win – but I don’t worry myself with the possibility of them losing until Tuesday.

The best part of it is that no one really expected anything from this team. Minnesota columnist Patrick Reusse nails it: “I’ve always contended there is nothing more enjoyable for sports followers than unexpected success, and seeing this team in the American League’s final five ranks as incomprehensible.”

This team is not supposed to be here, but then veterans have had comeback years and the young guns finally got it. Combine that with a top-heavy American League, and you slip into the playoffs as a Wild Card team with at most 86 wins (there are still 3 games to play)

Join me, won’t you, next Tuesday at 5PM PT. There you will see the difference between me watching a Giants postseason game and a Twins postseason game. Over the Giants recent World Series runs, I was in the safe position. Excited if they won, bummed if they lost, but no sleep was lost either way. This will be different, but I will enjoy the wait.

I will fill the time between now and then imagining a band of Twins misfits making an unlikely run deep into the postseason. I will hold out hope that, come October 18, they will still be playing when Nett flies out to visit and old friends will sit at an empty Oakland bar watching a Twins playoff game. I will consider last second flights back to Minnesota to pay way too much for World Series tickets with my brothers and my dad. I’m an optimist. Bad times happen. Good times are forecasted. – PAL

Source: Did you expect the unexpected from Twins after the trading deadline? Me neither”, Patrick Reusse, Minneapolis Star Tribune (09/28/2017)

TOB: Excited for you, and excited to see you lose your goddamn mind, win or lose. However, can I say: if the Twins make it even as far as the ALCS…just GO. Don’t wait for a World Series. A division series is fine, but the stakes feel lower. “If we win, we still gotta beat another really good team before we’re in the World Series.” But the League Championship series? My friend, there is nothing like the feeling, as an adult, of looking at your friend and screaming like a little kid, “We’re going to the World Series!!!!!!!”

Colin Kaepernick: Future Historical Hero

Last weekend felt like a turning point. For the past year, a handful to a few dozen NFL players had been kneeling during the national anthem as a sign of protest against the oppression (in particular by the police) of people of color in this country. It all began, of course, with Colin Kaepernick.

Last summer, Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem before a San Francisco 49ers preseason game. Nobody seemed to notice until he did it again, and then again. He explained to observant reporter Steve Wyche that he could not stand and salute a flag that represented a country where inequality and police brutality existed. He sat in the aftermath of the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana. A Green Beret and former collegiate long snapper, Nate Boyer, reached out to Kaepernick and explained kneeling would be a more respectful form of protest, and so Kaepernick started to kneel. It has become a defining pose for NFL players, an act the country will remember years from now more than any pass, run or tackle this season.

And then last Friday night President (shudder) Donald Trump got on stage at a campaign rally and called these players, exercising their First Amendment rights, “sons of bitches” and said NFL owners should fire the players who do not stand for the anthem. Trump’s words drew cheers from the Alabama crowd, but galvanized players across the league, many of whom had been hesitant to join and face the same fate as the unemployed to join the protest. The players seemed to understand the moment: our country is divided; what has happened to Kaepernick is unfair; but as citizens we cannot allow the supposed leader of this country to smear the names of private citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights.

On Sunday, players kneeled en masse. In some cases, entire teams elected to stay in the locker room during the anthem (though many argue, I think correctly, this prevented players from actually protesting). Even the white, rich owners, many of whom had contributed to Trump’s campaign, released statements denouncing Trump’s words, and many joined their players kneeling in protest (of course, as Deadspin points out, you can cynically argue that the NFL saw a moment to enhance its brand, and certainly some of the participants (*cough* Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones *cough*) oozed photo opportunity over sincerity).

But what did it all mean? As The Ringer’s MJ Baumann notes:

“Is kneeling or sitting or raising one’s fist during the anthem the same as kneeling before the anthem, or locking arms? Or do those two actions blunt the message, watering it down to make it palatable to as many people as possible? Was the president’s commentary just a catalyst for dozens more athletes to mobilize against racism and police violence, or is this now a protest against Trump himself?”

I had the same thought. Trump managed, as usual, to make this about Trump, instead of about police brutality and murder, and the value society places on the lives of people of color. As Baumann further points out:

Solving American racism, whatever that means, would be like putting a man on the moon: It can be done, but it’d be a time-consuming, expensive, and tedious process that might not even be possible as long as “America is the greatest country in the world” remains a bipartisan call-and-response. Exceptionalism, after all, doesn’t tend to foster self-reflection.

But Kaepernick’s words pinpoint a specific expression of racism in American society, one that is identifiable and soluble—one that the citizens of St. Louis are protesting right now. Those “bodies in the street” include Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, and countless others—mostly African American—who were either killed by police or died suspiciously in police custody. Castile’s and a few of Gray’s killers were acquitted, and Rice’s, Crawford’s, Garner’s, and Brown’s killers—along with the other officers investigated in the Gray case—have not stood trial.

This isn’t about the anthem, or the flag, or the military, or even specifically about the president. To Kaepernick’s broader point, modern police brutality is part and parcel of our nation’s racist legacy, from the genocide of Native Americans to slavery to internment camps to Jim Crow to the suggested brutality of “welfare reform” and the prison-industrial complex, and now to a president who rode to power by emboldening hateful people to say openly what once was merely insinuated.

It’s about the fact that police officers can mow down people of color without any consequence.

This isn’t about Trump, which is what it seems it’s becoming, and that’s a problem. All weekend I couldn’t help but think of the man who started it all: Colin Kaepernick. Where was he? Why is he still not on an NFL roster? What does he think of what he began? One thing seems for certain: Kaepernick’s legacy will be far greater than anything he would have done playing football. As his high school guidance counselor said:

“One day, maybe my youngest, who is in second grade, is going to open up a history book and he’ll read about Colin. And it won’t have anything to do with throwing a touchdown.”

We’ve written about Kaepernick now three of the last four weeks, and perhaps you’re sick of reading about it. Writing about it is exhausting, too. But I write it, and I hope you read it, because it forces us to think about why Kaepernick did what he did, and why what is happening is unacceptable. And it is unacceptable. We cannot accept it. As Baumann points out, while there are always at least two sides to a debate, those sides are not always worthwhile:

Some say cops shouldn’t be able kill people of color with impunity, and others want everyone else to shut up and go back to watching football. There aren’t two worthwhile viewpoints here, and there’s no greater condemnation of our culture than the idea that both sides deserve equal consideration.

The fact we need to convince people in this society that Kaepernick is correct is troubling. But we do. Change is difficult, and slow. There are some things that can be done, though. We need better training and mental/stress screening for police officers. It begins with tightening laws that give officers too much leeway by not second guessing their use of deadly force in the streets. And the best way I know how to get that done is to talk about it. To keep talking about it. To talk about it until the people in power can’t stand hearing about it anymore and do something about it, or until they get voted out of office and replaced by people who will. So, I’ll keep writing, in this small little corner of the internet. I hope you’ll keep reading. And maybe give a little bit of money to the organizations that Kaepernick has donated nearly $1,000,000 to, as he pledged last year. -TOB

Sources: The Only Side of the NFL Protest Debate”, MJ Baumann, The Ringer (09/26/2017); The NFL Couldn’t Keep Colin Kaepernick Off the Field”, Adam Kilgore, Washington Post (09/26/2017)

PAL: For me, the time has come –  I really want to hear from Kaepernick. Of course, he doesn’t owe it to anyone, but the message behind the protest is twisting and turning, and I just want to hear from the guy that started this.

I am starting to lean towards the opinion that him being out of the NFL serves his bigger purpose more than being on a team. He’s absent. He’s put his money where is mouth is on the issues off the field, but I want to know he wants to be on a team, as a starter or a backup, or if he’s an eager martyr. The notion that he wants to play is starting to feel disingenuous, and I think up until Trumps comments last week, people still were interested in Kaepernick because he’s a football player, and that interest was fading.

The protests last week shifted away from the original message. We aren’t talking about the police anymore. That’s so far in the rearview. Jerry Jones, and owners like him, sure as shit weren’t protesting the police. Jones and his cohorts sought a middle road that leads to nowhere, offends no one, and inspires nothing. Now we talk about who is standing, who is kneeling, how are teams handling the protest, what the president tweeted.

How about this. People love the flag debate, and we made this about the flag even when Kaepernick’s issue was never about patriotism. We debate the flag because it’s an issue people have confidence talking about. Police treatment of black people – we aren’t as comfortable discussing that, regardless of what side you come down on.

We’re engaged in a never ending debate about Trump. We are so focused on the person, and personally, I need to worry less about him and more about supporting the issues I care about.

This past week it was about his half-baked comments about the NFL. The scary part is we all get swept up in it so easily (myself included), and this time it occurred while the Affordable Care Act was in threat of being repealed (again), we are investigating the current administration’s knowledge/involvement of Russia’s involvement in the election, North Korea is getting real cocky about nuclear missiles, we’re slow to send aid to Puerto Rico after two hurricanes, and there’s been a massive budget cut on the floor. We need to stop falling for the Trump misdirection play.

Ode to a Dying Dynasty

As the Giants play out the string, possibly ending with the worst record in baseball just three years removed from a World Series win and one year removed from a ninth-inning collapse that prevented a decisive Game 5 against the eventual World Series champions, Kansas City Royals fans are knowingly witnessing the end of an era. The Royals narrowly lost the World Series to the Giants in seven games in 2014 and then won it the next season, but they missed the postseason last year and will miss it again this year. The pieces from those teams have been slowly departing over the previous two or three years, but this offseason will see the likely departure of their four core guys from those World Series teams: Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, and possibly Escobar. All expected to be gone (another key cog, Yordano Ventura, passed away early this year in an automobile accident).

Baseball playoff runs are different than most sports. A deep run lasts a month, and the team plays damn near every day. If you’re a baseball fan, you live and breathe a deep playoff run: Where are you going to watch the game? Who are you going to be with? Can you get tickets? You analyze the matchups and every single pitch has your stomach in knots, because every pitch can bring that one moment, good or bad, that turns the game. Some of my favorite memories of my entire life came during the Giants’ World Series runs. Shared joy with strangers is a powerful thing.

Baseball writers are often cynical. The job and the people they cover beat them down. So it was refreshing to read this Kansas City writer’s ode to those Royals teams. He writes about each of the departing players’ best moments over those two postseasons. Some of them I remember, some I don’t. But he saves his best writing for that same communal feeling:

The feeling of singular importance at Kauffman Stadium when playoff baseball returned after nearly three decades is impossible to explain. Nothing else seemed to matter. Around Kansas City, at least, nothing else seemed to be happening. There wasn’t time. Or energy. Just baseball. Just the Royals. Those of us lucky enough to watch those games can remember the noise, the joy, the way the stands filled with more blue than ever and the way the old concrete beauty below our feet shook in the biggest moments. Forty thousand people, mostly strangers, but on those nights it felt like the best kind of reunion. If the guy next to you was a stranger when you sat down, that didn’t last long, because here comes Wade Davis.

As Phil’s Twins gear up for a big Wild Card game in New York after having lost 103 games last year, I am hopeful the Giants can get back to the playoffs next year, and give me back that feeling. But if this is the end of the era, we’ll always have those wonderful Octobers. -TOB

Source: Catch ’Em While You Can: Royals’ Stars Have One More Stand in KC”, Sam Mellinger, Kansas City Star (09/26/2017)

PAL: Our friendship was pretty much solidified over the Giants World Series runs and several Lone Stars at McTeagues. This Giants core won 3 World Series. Nothing else needs to be said. Great teams.

CTE Research: The Game Done Changed

This week, Boston University researchers announced they have developed a method that may help diagnose CTE, for the first time, in living patients. It is for the first time conceivable that in the near-future we will be able to reliably determine if a person has CTE. This, obviously, would have unimaginable effects on the sport of football. Would every current player be tested? What happens if they test positive? Are they allowed to continue to play if they choose to do so? Are there certain tolerable levels of CTE within a person’s brain? I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I did find this unbearably sad:

I suppose, for some players, it’s like the old adage of if you could know exactly when you’ll die, would you want to know? Most don’t, and want to pretend the day is never coming. But the difference between death and CTE is that CTE is avoidable. And while some current players may be beyond the point of helping at this point in their careers, there have to be some who are at such an early stage of CTE that they could quit now and avoid the most severe side effects*. NFL owners should be terrified. -TOB

*not a doctor

Source: Boston University’s CTE Breakthrough Could Forever Change Football”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (09/26/2017)

PAL: Astonishing, potentially life-saving discovery. Clark sums up the implications on the NFL clearly. We consider CTE after a player has died, and part of that might give us just enough space to keep watching football. But that space could be closing. “No sport commands as many viewers as the NFL, and no sport can retain as many sponsors and navigate as many crises. But the ability to test for CTE at any point during a player’s career—including long before he ever reaches the NFL—could send the sport spiraling.”

Remember The Truth About Pat Tillman

Arizona Cardinals defensive Back Pat Tillman runs to the sidelines injubulation after making a bone jarring hit that knocked his helmet free..(Although this picture was taken a few years ago, it recieved its first notice and publication this past season, used widespread by the NFL in memory of Pat Tillman.)…

It’s been 13 years since Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and in the midst of this NFL-Trump standoff, people are resorting dusting off the old the Pat Tillman card as proof those that kneel during the anthem are unpatriotic. If we’re going to use Tillman as an shining light of America (which he should be), let’s make sure we’re telling the truth.

Prior to becoming an Army Ranger, Tillman played for the Arizona Cardinals. After 9/11, he enlisted (with his brother), passing on a lucrative contract. He became a hero – one that the NFL and the US Military sought to lionize. They lied about his cause of death, and if it wasn’t for his incredible family who demanded the truth, we’d probably still be telling a folklore version of Tillman’s life and death.

The above is well-documented, yet people still cling to the cliched version of a patriot story. It just ain’t the truth. His reasons to enlist came from a personal, Hemingway-esque source. Per Gary Smith:

Everybody who thought he’d enlisted purely out of patriotism, they missed reality by a half mile. Sure, he loved America and felt compelled to fight for it after more than 2,600 people at the World Trade Center were turned to dust. But his decision sprang from soil so much richer than that. The foisting of all the dirty work onto people less fortunate than an NFL safety clawed at his ethics. He had uncles and grandfathers on both sides who’d fought in World War II and the Korean War, one who’d taken a bullet in his chest, another who’d lost a finger and one who’d been the last to leap out of a plane shot from the sky. On a level deeper than almost any other American, he’d reaped the reward of those sacrifices: the chance his country afforded him to be himself, all of himself.

He yearned to have a voice one day that would carry, possibly in politics, and he was far from the sort of man who could send others into a fire that he had skirted. His relentless curiosity, his determination to live his life as if it were a book that would hold its reader to the last word, pushed him into the flames as well. The history of man is war, he told his distraught brother Richard, so how, without sampling it, could he ever know man or himself completely? “Are you fucking crazy?” was all Richard could splutter.

“The chance his country afforded him to be himself, all of himself.” Well, that’s it, folks. That’s the whole ball game. That’s the best summation of what we should stand for. At least that’s what I want to stand for. 

That Pat Tillman took on the opportunity to be all of himself is heroic. How he died is so tragic in that the cause was so stupid and without merit. A dumb, colossal mistake. When we’re talking about a guy who pursued truth over seemingly everything else, for anyone to misrepresent his life and death is unacceptable. As is usually the case, I’ll leave it a brother to explain better, as Pat’s brother, Richard, did at Tillman’s memorial service:

We should always remember Pat Tillman, but only the truth. – PAL

Source: Stop Using Pat Tillman, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (09/24/2017)

TOB: Ugh. It’s just so gross.


This week, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell fell into the stands trying to catch a fly ball and knocked over the nachos of a Cardinals fan in attendance. Russell got nacho cheese all over himself. There were nachos all over the field. Later, Russell brought the Cardinals fan a new plate of nachos because it’s the right thing to do. They smiled. They laughed. A good time was had by all.

Hell, it was such a refreshingly nice story, that Scott Van Pelt led off his Monday Sportscenter with it, instead of the NFL anthem protests. Who, possibly, could object to this story? Russell’s teammate, Jon Lester. That’s who:

“A guy fell into him and got nacho cheese on his arm and now he’s taking pictures and signing autographs. It shows you where our society’s at right now with all that stuff.”

Jesus, baseball players. I’m so goddamn tired of your crap. “It shows you where our society’s at right now with all that stuff.” What stuff? What does that even mean? Lighten the hell up, Jon. And learn to throw to first while you’re at it, you mentally-soft dope. -TOB

Source: Jon Lester Nacho Problem for Cubs on Night of Good News, Better Vibe”, Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun-Times (09/26/2017)

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: George Jones – “I’m A One Woman Man”

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“I feel like I owe it to bald people everywhere to grow my hair out again.”

P. Lang

Week of September 22, 2017

Well, yeah.

Extend the Netting, You Twits

A few years ago, MLB “recommended” teams extend the protective netting behind the plate to the ends of the dugouts for the fan safety. Most teams ignored the recommendation. The Yankees were one of those teams. On Wednesday, Yankee Todd Frazier lasered a foul ball line drive into the seats along the third base dugout, and immediately dropped to his knees:

Frazier’s ball had struck a young girl, attending the game with her grandparents.

A decade or so back, the NHL raised the nets behind the goals, but only after a child died after being struck by a puck. Are we going to have to get there in MLB before they extend the GD nets? Thankfully, it sounds like the young girl in the photo above, while hospitalized, is not going to die. But why even put her in this danger?

(I know some will blame the parents, in this case grandparents, for bringing her to a game that close. But the odds are so low that as a parent you think it’s fine. Hell, it’s more dangerous to put your child in a car and we don’t blame parents for putting children in cars when they die in an accident).

This is just so easy to fix, and I just don’t get the resistance. The most expensive seats at baseball games already have netting. Why are the seats farther down the line so sacred? And if you’ve ever sat in seats behind the netting you know that you don’t even realize it’s there. Just extend the damn nets! This is insane. In the aftermath of this girl’s injury, four teams announced immediate plans to extend the nets to the ends of the dugout. Let’s hope the rest of the league follows suit. I’m looking at you, Larry Baer. -TOB

Source: Small Child Injured By Line Drive Foul Ball At Yankees Game“, Lindsey Adler, Deadspin (09/20/2017)

PAL: In Japan, they already extend the nets down the foul the line and have done so for a long time. As you’ll see in the HBO Real Sports below, they take it to an entirely different level:

There has to be a happy medium. At the very least, protective netting should extend to the edge of the infield. It’s time teams followed Japan’s lead. While some teams, like the Twins, already have, more need to follow.

Jared Goff: Not a Bust

I have been a Cal football season ticket holder for over 15 years now, and Jared Goff is the second best quarterback I ever saw play at Cal (behind Aaron Rodgers), including on opposing teams. That list includes NFL quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Matt Leinart, Trevor Siemian, Derek Carr, and, yes, Marcus Mariota. Goff played 3 years behind an incredibly poor offensive line, and had an amazing ability to side step the rush and deliver dimes to well-covered receivers for big yards and scores.

I was, and remain, convinced he will be a very good NFL quarterback. But after seven freaking games as a rookie, not everyone agreed. They pointed to his spread offense in college (and high school), and his poor performance his first year. He was widely panned as a bust. But was that performance his fault? This article makes a strong case that Goff’s rookie year problems were due in large part to his coaches and the players around him. The Rams fired dinosaur Jeff Fisher and his awful staff and hired some innovative offensive coaches, including 31-year old head coach Sean McVey. They also went and got him some better offensive lineman and weapons at wide receiver. The early results are quite good. Goff picked apart the 49ers defense last night, finishing 22-28, with 292 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.

For the season, he’s thrown for 817 yards and 6 touchdowns, against one interception and a quarterback rating of 118. Ya boy! More than that, he’s throwing the darts all over the field. He’s averaging almost 11 yards per attempt, which is very good, and he’s stepping up in the pocket in the face of pressure. I am very happy that, when Aaron Rodgers retires, there will be an elite NFL quarterback from Cal to take the baton. This article is actually more about how NFL teams can, and will need to, adapt spread offense college quarterbacks to NFL systems in order to survive, with Goff as the example. But, ya know. In Goff We Trust. -TOB

Source: Jared Goff, NFL Disruptor?”, Adam Kilgore, Washington Post (09/15/2017)

NFL Offenses Are Conservative and Boring

NFL offenses are in a paradoxical rut. Scoring is up this decade (though down significantly in the early going this year from last year), and quarterbacks are more accurate and productive than ever before.

Why, then, does it seem like NFL offenses are so boring? Football Outsiders has an answer. They have a stat called, “Failed Completions”. Failed Completions occur when a team doesn’t get 45 percent of the yards it needs on first down, 60 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third or fourth down. While completion percentages and yards are way up, so are Failed Completions. So, while quarterbacks are more accurate because of increased reps (year-round 7-on-7 leagues in particular contribute to this), the real reason quarterbacks are completing at such a high level is because offenses have gotten very conservative. Coaches and quarterbacks would rather throw 3 yards short of the first down and punt than risk an interception down field. Of all people, Chris Friggin Simms nails it, quoted in the article:

Then you have the offensive coordinators, who, Simms said, are doing whatever they can to limit mistakes in order to earn the “quarterback whisperer” label on the back of some decent statistics.

“Everyone looks at the box score and says ‘The offense wasn’t that bad!’ But well, they sucked,” Simms said. “Quarterbacks and coaches are now very wary of mistakes.”

For years, I’ve looked at stats and said, “Wow, quarterbacks are so much more accurate now than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago.” NFL quarterbacks now routinely complete 65% (last year, Sam Bradford set a new NFL record with 84.4%). This was not remotely true a few decades ago, when anything over 50% was pretty good, and the league leaders were in the low 60s. Now I understand why: Failed Completions. It is not often that I read an article that blows my mind, but this one did. -TOB

Source: How Football Stopped Being Fun”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (09/19/2017)

HOT TAKE: Both Guys in this Story are Lame

This is hilarious. Generally, professional athletes keep their off-the-field/court beefs private. Especially baseball players. But this week Rockies reliever Pat Neshek aired his beef with Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke on the Sportscollectors.net message board. Neshek, apparently, is a big card/autograph collector. Yes, a professional baseball player, who has made $23 million dollars in his career, collects baseball player autographs and takes it super (duper!) seriously. He’s also a former Cardinal, obviously. And he posts about it on a corny-sounding message board, a message board of which he’s clearly a regular:

I will admit it: I LOL’d at all of this. Neshek being so upset. Neshek confronting Greinke twice. Greinke telling Neshek, “I wouldn’t even sign for your kid if he asked.” Neshek clowning on Greinke’s social anxiety disorder. It’s all so funny. I thought long and hard about it and I decided: Greinke is a turd (just give the GD autograph) and Neshek is a whiney dork. As for me, I am grateful for the hearty chuckle. -TOB

Source: Pat Neshek Is Pissed At Zack Greinke For Not Signing Autographs For Him”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (09/20/2017)

PAL: I’m with team Grienke on this one. Why is Neshek, a MLB vet, collecting autographs of his peers? So lame. If that wasn’t enough, Neshek, an All-Star pitcher, is crying about it on collectors’ a message board. Also, the line about Greinke telling Neshek that he wouldn’t even sign for his kid sounds…well, it sounds made up. It sounds like Neshek was bummed because Greinke didn’t want to give him, a co-worker, an autograph (because it’s lame), and Neshek ran an told all his friends about what a meanie that Zack Grienke is.

Desperation is Never Attractive

Pitt football has a proud and accomplished history, but in the last 30 years or so has been mostly bad. It’s hard to be relevant as a college football team in a major metropolis when there’s an NFL team in town, especially one as successful as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pitt is especially suffering. As a result, early on this season they have resorted to desperate tactics to attract and retain butts in seats:

Aw, geeze. So sad. And so many questions. What kind of beverage? A beer? A soda? A bottle of water? What is it? Let’s check in and see how this worked out for them:

Ouch. So many empty seats, and the ones that are filled are occupied by people who are literally asleep. Thanks to my mom for sending this story along. -TOB

Source: Pitt Offers Free Drinks to Get Sleeping (Literally) Fans to Stay in Stadium During Blowout”, Sam Cooper, Yahoo! Sports (09/16/2017)

PAL: That’s quite a price to pay for a experimental flavor of Mountain Dew:

Video of the Week

He’s a national treasure.

Bonus Video: 

PAL Song of the Week: Tom Rush – “Wrong End Of The Rainbow”

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“Bread is the paper of the food industry. You write your sandwich on it.”

-D. Schrute

Week of September 15, 2017

You Got This, Twinkies

The Minnesota Twins lost 103 games last year. For context, the Giants have been unwatchable this year, and they’re projected to lose 99 game this year. After back-to-back games with walk-off home runs, the Twins have a 3 game lead on the Angels for the final Wild Card spot in the American League with 12 games remaining. They’ve got some mojo working this week at a crucial moment in the season, and I’m very excited.

Consider this: a month ago the Twins front office punted on the season. After losing seven of ten, the team became sellers on the market. They traded pitcher Jaime Garcia  – who they acquired in July and made one start for the Twinkies – to the Yankees (which would be their opponent in the Wild Card play-in game). They dealt their closer to the Nationals for a prospect.

They are a fun team, but they aren’t a great team. As Lauren Theisen points out, they are an above average team in a top-heavy American League, which is the perfect scenario for team to slip into the playoffs with a winning percentage just above .500.

What makes them fun? Byron Buxton, for one. I love watching this guy run and play center field. Rather than trying to tell you how fast he is, just watch these two highlights:

Buxton, who was a can’t-miss prospect from day one, has been talked about for years (I can’t believe he’s only 23). Unbelievable speed and athleticism, and a guy that mashed in the minors. His defense has never been in question. People have been waiting for his bat to come around. Many started to think it wasn’t ever going to happen (again, the dude’s only 23). Take a look at his monthly splits from this year:

He’s cooled off a bit in September, but 3 months is more than getting hot. Most of all, I love him because he wants this so bad. He wants to win, and he wants to be great, and his enthusiasm is contagious. Love it.

The team can hit the long ball, too, thanks in large part the emergence of Miguel Sano (28HR) and vet Brian Dozier (30HR). Historically, the Twins are not a home run team. Twins fans have never asked for a ‘27 Yankees lineup, but consider this: in the history of the organization (the Washington Nationals relocated to Minnesota in 1961), two players have hit 40 or more home runs in a single season. Harmon Killebrew (my dad’s favorite player and doppelganger) did it six times for the Twins, and Brian Dozier joined the 40HR club just last year. That’s the list.

This year’s team doesn’t have a 40 home run guy this year, but they have 6 players with 15 or more home runs.

And while the pitching isn’t built for a long run, I do like Ervin Santana in a 1-game playoff. Add to all of this, every Minnesota Mom’s favorite good Catholic boy Joe Mauer, a.k.a, Baby Jesus, is hitting over .300 again, so all is well (except he has 6 home runs as a first baseman with a slugging percentage below the league average).

Now for the sobering stat. Like I mentioned earlier, the Twins would play the Yankees in the play-in game if all holds as it stands today. Here’s the Twins record against New York in the playoffs: the Yankees have ended the Twins playoffs 4 of the last 5 times Minnesota played in the postseason. The Twinkies won a grand total of 2 games in the four series. Still, as Andy Dufresne taught us, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. – PAL

Source: The Minnesota Twins Are Still Here”, Lauren Theisen, Deadspin (9/13/17)

TOB: Geeze, ya know Phil, I’d love to get on the Twins bandwagon. I really would. But, I need the best chance to beat the Dodgers, and the Twins just aren’t it. Besides…

The Cleveland Indians Will Never Lose Again And Are Fun As Hell

Wow. The Cleveland Indians have won twenty-two games in a row. That’s incredible. I started paying attention heading into last weekend, when they were at about 15 or 16. For wins 20 and 21, I even glanced at my phone every 30 minutes or so. But for win 22 last night, I actually listened to the game on the radio. And what a game it was. The Indians had smoked every team they played for darn near a month, outscoring them 134 to 32 over the first 21 games of the streak – and didn’t need any walk-off or extra-inning wins, either. But Game 22 was a little different. The Indians didn’t capitalize on some early chances and were down to their last six outs. They loaded the bases with one out in the 8th, and popped out harmlessly in foul ground twice to end the threat. In the 9th, they were down to their last strike, with a man on first, when Francisco Lindor (one of the game’s most fun to watch players, along with Phil’s aforementioned Byron Buxton), crushed a ball to the opposite field. The ball went off the wall, just over the outstretched glove of Royals’ Gold Glover Alex Gordon. It would go to the 10th, where a lead-off double by Jose Ramirez was followed by a Jay Bruce double to win the game. Bedlam. In Cleveland, and at my house. I love win streaks, and I had just won $10 dollars from my co-writer, Phil, who did not think the Indians could do it. We’re now officially even for the 2013 Miami Heat win streak bet, buddy.

The Indians are fun and young and talented. They deserved to win the World Series last year, and I really hope they do win it this year. Hell, that’d mean the Dodgers did not. Also, read this great story by Grant Brisbee on why this win streaks has been so much fun. -TOB

Source: Why I Love the Indians’ Winning Streak So Much”, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (09/13/2017)

PAL: Fun read, even when I just can’t root for Cleveland, an A.L. Central foe of the Twins. It’s cool they got the record, but a World Series? Nope. Never.

I enjoyed Brisbee’s writing, especially this section:

The home run records are fantastic, but they always require a next step. Barry Bonds has the single-season and career records, but they came in a high-offense era that was also the peak of performance-enhancing drugs. Giancarlo Stanton hitting 62 in that context might impress you more, but he’s doing it in an era where every Tom, Dick, and Barry is hitting 20 and the ball might be different. This guy played in this decade, that guy played against expansion teams, and it’s all a varied cornucopia.

Winning streaks are the same, mostly. It’s hard to win five games in a row, and it always has been. It’s exceptionally hard to win 10 games in a row, and it always has been. It’s wildly, unfathomably hard to win 15 games in a row, and it always has been. When you get to 20, it’s looped back around to normal, as you forget yourself and expect baseball to be predictable again, but that’s always going to be the case.

Am I a Fair-Weather 49ers Fan? Ya God Damn Right

Last weekend, I did not watch the Santa Clara 49ers’ season opener. They suck and they’re boring, a bad combo. But when taken with every idiotic thing that franchise has done to its fanbase the last 10-15 years, I don’t know why anyone spends their time watching this team right now. Consider:

  1. In 2004, they passed on a local kid, who grew up a 49er fan, named Aaron Rodgers. They took Alex Smith. Big mistake.
  2. It takes them nearly a decade to recover from that, and other, mistakes. They finally do when they hire Jim Harbaugh. He immediately makes them a Super Bowl contender through sheer force of personality. Bitter for years about the team passing on Rodgers, they finally sucked me back in. Then they fire him because he didn’t kiss Boy Wonder Jed York’s brass ring.
  3. And, of course, the coup d’etat, Boy Wonder moves the team from San Francisco. It’s way down in hot, boring Santa Clara, the magical land of strip malls and business parks. They take hundred of millions in public funds, try to tear down youth soccer fields to build more parking lots, and build a sterile, absolutely charmless stadium, that absolutely no one likes, and which gets so hot on one side of the field during day games that the stands are practically empty.

So, yeah, I’m a fair-weather fan. Wake me when they’re good again, or at least when Jed is gone, Rowe. -TOB

Source: The 49ers Stadium is as Empty as it Deserves to Be”, Lindsey Adler, Deadspin (09/12/2017)

PAL: The Niners got what they deserved. You spin it anyway you want – state of the art stadium, public transportation, no more gridlock parking lot nightmares – but moving a team 40 miles from its city matters. Maybe the die-hard fans won’t admit it, but the casual fans are lost unless the team is making a deep playoff run. Community matters in professional sports. Maybe not in terms of TV contracts, but it surely does to the fans. You better be really, really good if you expect people to care when you’re no longer around.  

You Can’t Lose If You Vacate

10 years ago I watched Texas and USC play one of the most entertaining football games I’ve ever seen. USC was riding a 34-game win streak coming into the championship game and was full of college stars – Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett were all bonafide studs (with Bush and Leinart receiving Heisman Awards). USC was also going for a third straight national title under Pete Carroll. Texas had Vince Young. Vince Young proved too much. In one of the most impressive performances on the massive Rose Bowl stage, Young went 30-40 for 267 yards through the air and also ran for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns. Longhorns win the national title on an iconic fourth-and-five scamper from Young with :19 on the clock. Longhorns win. Trojans lose.

Few would argue that this was anything other than one of the greatest football games ever.

However, according to USC, the loss no longer exists. Austin sports anchor Joequin Sanchez first surfaced this little nugget from the USC program:

The 2005-06 Trojans had to vacate all 12 of their wins in the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal. They thought – Hey, if we’re losing all of the wins, we might as well ditch the loss as well.

You can’t exploit a punishment to cross out losses with the wins? This might be the best example of how little an NCAA punishments have on the past, save for the extreme cases like Penn State football or Baylor basketball. The punishments doled out only hurt current and future players – not coaches (Carroll is doing just fine with the Seahawks), and not former players. The games were played, the winning team’s band played, the losing team filed off the field amongst a celebration.I watched the game, I’ve seen the documentary about the game. Our collective memory is far more pervasive than a NCAA sanction.

Carl Lewis might have a gold medal from the ‘88 Olympics, but Ben Johnson won the 100-meter dash. The University of Minnesota might not have a Final Four banner hanging from 1997, but I watched Bobby Jackson carry the Gophers to a Final Four. I’m all for punishing those that break the rules, but an attempt to wipe away the record of events that occurred is in most cases comically foolish.

It’s also quite possible the pissant that was given the task of writing up the USC program copy this year went rogue and thought, shit, if we’re wiping away the season, then why don’t we throw out the loss to Texas, too? If that is the case, then I applaud the effort. – PAL.

Source: USC Pretends Like It Didn’t Lose The 2006 Rose Bowl”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (9/12/17)

TOB: Yeah, this was most likely an intern or low-level employee USC dipshit trying to be cute. The NCAA vacates wins from the cheating team. USC cheated that whole year, and half the year before that, stealing a Rose Bowl from Cal in the process. All those wins were vacated. But the losses are not vacated. It’s the most perfect USC story. They’re cheating morons.

What Kaepernick Teaches Us About Race in America

Former Grantland writer Rembert Browne presents what I believe will be the defining piece of the Colin Kaepernick saga. Similar to the story we brought you last week, but this goes very deep on who Kaepernick is – where he came from, what he’s been through, who has helped shape him, how he became the (silent) face of a movement. But it also talks about where we are, as a society, on race. Needless to say, it’s not pretty:

The clear, overt racism is a beast in itself to fight, without the faux-liberalism further complicating the matter. But the race to unity is, and has always been, a trap. The inconvenience that is Colin Kaepernick brings this denial to the forefront, a presumption that this country is anywhere near a hug. We’ve talked about shit, but we haven’t talked through anything. For white Americans to accept that things are bad—and then just jump ahead to kumbaya and #ImWithKap—is a profoundly deep-seated defense mechanism for hiding from what white America did, and continues to do, to the rest of us.

One of these days
When you made it
And the doors are open wide
Make sure you tell them exactly where it’s at
So they have no place to hide.

Langston Hughes told Nina Simone that, before he died. And while Colin is no Langston (and Bennett no Simone), what’s behind that door has always been the true history of this country.

Through that door, the true history of this country. Through that door, the unpleasant reasons behind this country’s greatest success and failures. And through that door, flashbacks to all the times this country’s ways have helped you and the ones you’ve loved, all the ways it’s hurt.

Colin Kaepernick found that door. He’s been showing us where it is, for a year now. And it’s on us now—all of us: to invite discomfort enough to take that walk, down this dangerous road that so few travel, and understand that you could experience all this hurt, all this pain, then you could walk back out into the same America you left behind.

I strongly urge you to read it. -TOB

Source: Colin Kaepernick Has a Job”, Rembert Browne, Bleacher Report (09/12/2017)

PAL: A lot to digest in this piece, which reads like a director’s cut of the article we posted last week on Kaepernick’s backstory. But Browne, an undeniably talented writer, brings more of himself into this piece. This version of Kaepernick’s story is a long, meandering stroll through his past and present. In the absence of Kaepernick speaking to the media, Browne wants to say everything, but I think the most compelling point he makes addresses Kaepernick’s silence:

“To be a work-in-progress is nearly unacceptable, because the currency that drives our culture is not self-improvement, but instead the ongoing erosive process of each person, on each side, designating who is wrong and who is right.”

Yes, Kaepernick has the right to be a work-in-progress, and to educate himself and do so privately. It makes me wonder if the cause needs Kaepernick to be front-and-center anymore. Does he need to be the face of debate, or can others take the baton? I do think Kaepernick is at risk of becoming a symbol instead of a leader if he choses not to speak (maybe he’s good with that).

I don’t think the public’s interest in his story will sustain much longer. A lot of these stories are connected to football. Add Charlottesville tragedy in the weeks leading up to the start of the NFL season, and it makes sense to circle back on Kaepernick at the start of the season when Kaepernick’s not on a roster.

Even as I write this, I worry we’ve spent so much time, anger, support, frustration on Kaepernick instead of the issues. We like to reduce extremely complex issues down to ‘takes’, and it’s far easier to have a take on Kaepernick than it is to address inequality and discrimination as a part of the American experience. When we talk about Kaepernick, we’re talking about someone else; when we talk about inequality, we’re talking about ourselves.

TOB: I just wanted to add that I really liked that part, too. Kaepernick took a stand, and in doing so made some mistakes (as Browne notes, the police/pig socks, for example). But instead of vilifying him, we should understand that he’s a human, and he’s not a finished product.

Video of the Week (tomorrow’s leaders, folks):


PAL Song of the Week: The War On Drugs – “Holding On”

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“Nobody told me I could be anonymous and tell people.”

-L. David

Week of September 8, 2017

Hey, I know them.

Does 762 Mean Anything to You?

Barry Bonds hit his 762nd and final home run 10 years ago this week. For a sport that is historically obsessed with numbers, the ultimate number – 762 – seems to barely register. I’m a pretty avid baseball fan, but I don’t think I could have told you how many home runs Bonds had in his career prior to reading this. However, the number 755 – Hank Aaron’s total home runs – still takes up space in my brain.

Bonds’ place in baseball history is conflicted and bizarre, so it’s fitting that the same can be said for the story behind his last home run.

For one, if replay existed in baseball 10 years ago, then his 762nd home run likely would’ve been called back. When checking out the slow motions replay, a fan clearly leans over the fence to catch the ball.  

Second, his last home run should not have come on September 5, 2007. Bonds was on the other side of his prime to be sure, but he had 28 home runs, with 22 games remaining. At that point, Bonds was homering every 16 plate appearances that year. No one considered that would be his last home run, an assumption that MLB even worked off of by not authenticating baseballs during the game (they have made a habit out of authenticating game balls to prevent from fans having fakes with them in the game).

Keep in mind, although there were suspicions around Bonds and other record-breakers were still being celebrated, the balls were still fetching mid-to-high six figures at auctions.

If you would’ve told me when I was 12 that the final home run of the new home run king’s career would be all but forgotten, I wouldn’t believe it. So when we talk about the steroid era in the historical and statistical context I think we’re missing the real point. The point is the number 762 holds no place in my memory and I needed a story buried on ESPN.com ten years later to remind me that the number matters at all. – PAL

Source: The unlikely story of how No. 762 became Barry Bonds’ final home run”, Sam Miller, ESPN (9/5/17)

TOB: First, the fan reaches over, but the ball is possibly going to go over without the fan:

More importantly, 762 doesn’t mean much because (a) no one has come close yet, (b), as Miller points out, there’s been relatively little time since it was hit. Aaron’s record 755 stood for 31 years before Bonds broke it, and Ruth’s record stood for 39 years before that. Time, and a chase, will sear 762. Keep in mind, before Bonds, the number in my mind was 715 – the number Aaron hit to pass Ruth.

That’s the video we all play in our heads when we think of Hank Aaron and his record. 715. Not 755. After you set the record, the rest is just gravy. I’d also like to point out how many people tried to delegitimize Aaron’s record at the time – based largely in racism. Aaron received death threats in his chase for Ruth’s record, and some argued it didn’t count because of the longer seasons Aaron enjoyed – Ruth played when there were only 154 games in a season; Aaron played with 162. Yes, some will always argue against Bonds – because of the PED allegations, and because they never liked him. But 762 is the number. Get used to it, puds.

PAL: Yes, that video is the lasting image, but the number that resonated, at least in my youth, was 755. And I do feel like 755 meant something before Bond’s was tracking it down, although I’ll concede the challenging of a record absolutely brings the record to the forefront. In a sport where numbers mean everything, the biggest numbers to me were 56, .406, and 755 (DiMaggio’s consecutive hit streak, Ted William as the last guy to hit over .400, and Aaron’s home run record).

The Worst Article I’ve Ever Written About on 1-2-3 Sports

About a decade ago, The Office’s Mindy Kaling had a blog whose title and concept always made me laugh: “Things That I Bought That I Love”. That is this blog: Sportswriting That We Read That We Loved. But every so often, we have to tear something down. After all, without the bitter, you can’t enjoy the sweet. And so here is a Phil-esque Take Down of a GQ article, written by Luke Zaleski, a father who has let his 8-year old son play tackle football. He tries to disarm you from the very start, to get you sympathetic for him, entitling the article, “What Kind of Father Lets His Son Play Football?” He then name-drops his friend/acquaintance/colleague Malcolm Gladwell, with Gladwell politely calling him for allowing his son to play football. He next tells a story of being shunned by his fellow suburban parents when they find out his decision:

And then, one Saturday at a potluck in my suburban New Jersey neighborhood, a few moms overheard me tell another dad I was conflicted about the decision. The moms chimed in, totally supportive. They didn’t understand why I’d worry at all. Their kids play and they love it. I should definitely sign Wyatt up.

I was psyched. Finally, some love and support for the youth game, and I didn’t even have to cross the Mason-Dixon Line to find it. But then I was confused. I asked the moms: Wait, you’re not gung-ho fourth-generation Bama alums tailgating outside the Iron Bowl, you’re gluten-free yoga moms who pack carrots for snacks…and you’re not sweating the concussions and stuff?


Yeah. No. They were definitely sweating the concussions and stuff. So much so, in fact, that they’d automatically assumed we were all talking about flag football. When they realized I meant tackle, it was like I’d just said I’d been teaching my son how to handle a loaded AK-47 on a roller coaster I’d built myself out of jagged scrap metal I found at a Superfund site. No one actually called me a monster out loud, but I think that’s just because they were speechless. One mom excused herself, got up, and walked out of the kitchen.

The guy understands it’s dangerous for his kid, especially at such a young age. So why does he allow Wyatt to play?

As a former player myself, maybe I thought I had a special appreciation for the risks and rewards of playing football, and that this knowledge would help me protect my son. I also knew that for a boy like Wyatt, who is not unlike the kind of boy I was at his age, there are dangers in not playing football, too.

Yes, that’s right. Dangers in not playing football. What are those dangers? Well, if you unwind the long parable about football allowing him as a kid to finally get close to his abusive and mostly absentee father, and ignore the fact Zaleski attributes his brother’s battles with alcoholism and violence in part with the brother’s extended football career, it seems he’s saying that after his parent’s divorce, he quit football and lost his way:

I had lost two very big parts of my life, football and family. And I remember wanting to go back in time to before I quit, to still be on that path I thought was my birthright. With my brother off at college and none of my old friends around—no football team, no structure—I had no identity and even less self-discipline. I was drinking and smoking anything I could get my hands on. I got into fistfights. I was cutting a lot of classes and hiding out at one of my divorced parents’ empty houses. I definitely wasn’t over their breakup, and I was squandering my youth getting wasted and doing stupid shit, which eventually turned into illegal shit. When I got arrested driving a technically stolen car—it was my dad’s, but I took it without telling him and was still a year away from getting my driver’s license—I sobered up a bit.

But he quickly loses all pretense of not doing this in order to find redemption through his son:

I always wondered what I’d really given up when I quit playing. Did I lose my true self? Did I waste my potential? I wanted Wyatt to have a chance to play, not because I wanted him to be like me but because I was afraid he might turn out like me. And I couldn’t let that happen, even if it meant maybe putting him at risk on the field.

So, you feel like a quitter and you don’t want your son to be a quitter and to prevent him from being a quitter you…allow him to play football. Ok, bud. Next comes the rationalization, with Zaleski reasoning that life is inherently risky, so why try to protect your children at all!

Making a decision like this for someone you love is a big part of what parenting is. Can I watch a PG-13 movie? Can I have another cookie? Can I play a sport that could leave me in a wheelchair? Or worse?

Life is risk. A coin toss. As parents we do everything we can. Safety locks and car seats. All of it. But we know we can’t control everything, even as we try to. We have to teach them to swim ’cause we can’t be in the water with them all the time. Someday we really won’t be around. What then? What now? Can I let my boy take this risk, knowing it will make him stronger as long as it doesn’t kill him?

I’ll point out that the potential outcomes of playing football are not limited to just being stronger and dying. There’s a whole host of other outcomes, including life-long injuries that fall short of death. Zaleski ignores that, though, and lets his kid badger him into playing, with guilt trips an adult should be able to fend off. But Zaleski is not thinking like an adult. He’s thinking like the teenage boy who quit football because he was angry at his parents’ divorce. 

I haven’t gotten past the fear part, myself. I know that if he gets hurt in a way he can’t recover from, it will be my fault. But as I watch him play, I also begin to believe that this is what Wyatt needs to grow up. The things video games and your favorite kindergarten teacher and Sesame Street don’t teach you. Discipline. Competition. Courage under fire.

He’s pushed himself on the football field more—far more—than he ever has doing anything else.

It’s true. Football can teach you those things. But so can many other sports, and they do so without the risks inherent to football. Zaleski doesn’t care about that, though, because he loves football, as is made clear throughout the story. For good measure, there’s even a sappy little anecdote about racial harmony thrown in, to really make you feel bad:

The next week he had a game an hour from home, on a dirt field near where I’d grown up, a more working-class area. It was the third game in a row that Wyatt’s team, which was entirely white, played a more racially diverse team. Sadly, these games are the only time these kids from different towns and backgrounds ever share the same field

Jesus. And, again, this can occur in other sports, and other events. But here’s the kicker:

Malcolm Gladwell is right: I’m out of my mind to let my son play football. I know what the game can do to you, to him. But I also know what it can do for him. And sure that’s cliché, but so are all sports stories and it doesn’t mean it’s not true. How do some parents abide their sons/daughters enlisting in the military? Or becoming police officers? And how is “sometimes in life you have to fight” not a cliché, too? But sometimes you do. We all do.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Those parents “abiding” their children joining the military or becoming police officers? Their children are ADULTS. Making ADULT decisions. They are not EIGHT-YEAR OLDS. Again he’s arguing, “Gee, life is full of dangers and we can’t control it, so might as well let him take the risk he wants to take.” But it’s a risk an 8-year old can’t possibly fathom, with potential effects not revealing themselves for decades. That’s why you, the parent, should step in and tell him, “No.” Oh, and where is the mother in this decision?

“[She] told me that this decision was ultimately going to be mine, as Wyatt’s father and someone who played.”


Source: What Kind of Father Lets His Son Play Football?”, Luke Zaleski, GQ (08/16/2017)

PAL: What is this article? He’s not good with rationale, and he thinks he can call out that he knows his argument doesn’t make sense, and he expects that shortcoming of his writing to magically turn into a source of reader sympathy.

This reads like a first draft of a creative writing assignment. Click bait alert!  


I’ve always kinda liked C.C. Sabathia. He’s from the Bay; he chews a toothpick; he wears his hat crooked; he laughs at his own dumb teammate during a dumb brawl:

But recently Sabathia got upset at former Good Giant current Red Sox Eduardo Nunez for dropping down a bunt when Sabathia was pitching. The reason Sabathia is mad? He’s coming off a knee injury and cannot field his position, thus giving Nunez an easy base hit. Sabathia thinks bunting is “weak”, and implores the other team to “swing the bat”:

And this…this cannot stand, C.C. (fun fact: C.C. stands for Carsten Charles, which is about as white, old Southerner sounding as you can get and would be an obvious starters for Bill Simmons’ Reggie Cleveland All-Stars). Look, Carsten, bunting is part of the game. If you can’t field your position, then get back in the dugout. As Grant Brisbee points out, Cubs pitcher Jon Lester has the yips and refuses to throw over to first. Every base runner should be taking a 30-foot lead on Lester. And when Joe Torre and the Yankees refused to bunt on injured Curt Schilling in the 2004 ALCS, with Torre saying after the game, “We don’t play the game that way.” Congrats. Your fake honor cost your team the chance at a World Series.

Which takes me to this: Last weekend, Cal football won its season opener on the road against heavily favored North Carolina. Late in the game, Cal led by 11 points and UNC was driving. Cal intentionally took two defensive holding penalties, preventing UNC from scoring, while running out the clock. It looked like this:

UNC eventually called a timeout with one second left and punched it in from the 1-yard line to cut the final score to five, but leaving them no time for a miracle onside kick-Hail Mary comeback. Some viewers, including Cal fans, thought this was poor sportsmanship. Nope. It’s playing within the rules to ensure the win. It worked beautifully. It’s no different than the basketball team leading by two points electing to foul the trailing team before they shoot in order to prevent the tying 3-point shot. It’s also no different than the QB kneeldown play, which only became a thing in the 1970s after the Miracle at the Meadowlands.

As Herm Edwards, the hero in that play said: YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME. YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME.

Nunez played to win the game. Cal played to win the game. I approve. -TOB

Source: The Unwritten Rules of Bunting Against a Pitcher Who is Hurt and Not Good at Fielding Bunts”, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (09/01/2017)

PAL: I think someone’s excited about Cal football. TOB just took a story about a guy bunting on C.C. Sabathia and somehow we arrived at Cal football beating UNC. Get as many of those wins before Pac 12 play, my friend.

Before The Debate: Colin Kaepernick

I’m going to ask you to do something for me: set aside where you stand on the Colin Kaepernick debate(s). Wherever you fall on the kneeling during the anthem, and whatever you think the reasons are for him not being on a NFL roster as 2017-2018 season kicks off – this story (thank god) isn’t an attempt to change your mind.

This story is about his backstory. Whether you admire or admonish him, I think his backstory is worth knowing. I also think the story makes a pretty strong case that the guy is, and has always been, more about action than statements.

Take, for instance, Kaepernick pledging a historically black fraternity as a junior in college. He wasn’t a random student at the University of Nevada, he was the starting quarterback for the football team. Like most of us, he was trying to figure out who the hell he was, much to the surprise of one of his frat brothers. “You’re the star quarterback. What are you still missing that you’re looking for membership into our fraternity?”

As an adopted, biracial kid reared in a white household in Turlock, CA, a town with a 2 percent black population, Kaepernick was looking for a community that runs a bit deeper than football, and one that his family and hometown simply couldn’t provide.

So the guy took time for a frat while maintaining grades and his record-breaking performance on the field. Noteworthy, but not on it’s own. Plenty of folks pledge a frat, although I don’t know how many who were starting quarterback pledging a historically black fraternity during his junior. For what it’s worth, Kappa Alpha Psi has put its support behind Kaepernick, writing a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and joining a demonstration outside NFL headquarters recently.

It’s also worth noting that during his time with the 49ers – from unknown backup, to a rising superstar leading his team to the Super Bowl, to the fall apart – by most accounts his teammates had no issue with Kaepernick (the exception here would be a squabble with Aldon Smith over a woman). Not before the protest, and not after it.

Since he was a rookie with the Niners – long before his protest – Kaepernick was seeking to learn more about his roots, reading up the works of Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Maya Angelou, and more. He later audited classes at Cal and was an active participant (this wasn’t an online class). He was curious, and sought out more information. Again, whether you agree or not, at least he took the time to learn about what he was questioning. 

After the protest exploded on the internet, Kaepernick has done the following:

  • He’s donated $100,000 a month since October, oftentimes to little-known, local charities helping the likes of single mothers, black veterans, immigration rights, reproductive rights, and urban gardening.
  • He’s also held three youth camps in Chicago, Oakland, and New York. These camps are set up to “raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”

Kaepernick has not, however, told his story in his own words (he didn’t participate in this article). His silence has caused some to speculate that perhaps not being on a team continues to shine a light on Kaepernick and – by extension – his cause. That might be true, and Kaepernick might be sincere in his wish for the conversation to be on the issue and not on him. However, his silence has become almost as big of a story as the original protest.

I encourage you to read the full story and learn a bit more about the person in the middle of all the debates. Whether you agree with him or not, I think you’ll find that the guy has always been about putting in the work. – PAL

Source: The Awakening of Colin Kaepernick”, John Branch, The New York Times (9/7/17)

“Hurling Is Hurling”

Before reading this, I knew nothing of hurling, a gaelic sport which seems to be a hybrid of other sports – there’s some lacrosse, some baseball, some rugby, some football. But the game is believed to be over 3,000 years old. And now that I know, it’s kinda bad ass.

Dave McKenna explains the game, both its history and its rules, and does so in an entertaining, almost poetic way. Hurling is complicated, as McKenna notes:

My mother, the child of Irish immigrants, used to tell a tale from her childhood about going to the Bronx in the 1930s with her father as he went to see fellow ex-pats play. “What is hurling?” she asked her dad in the car on the ride to her first game. He responded simply, “Hurling is hurling.”

And it’s quite a peculiar sport. Though the players are lionized, they are, to this day, unpaid. Hurlers also can only play for their home county’s team. And it’s violent as hell. If I’m ever in Ireland again, I’ll definitely check out a match. -TOB

Source: Hurling Is Hurling: An All-Ireland Championship Preview For The Blissfully Ignorant”, Dave McKenna, Deadspin (09/01/2017)

PAL: The way they balance the ball on the stick while running is pretty impressive. Weird sports are always good for a fun highlight.

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Robert Randolph & The Family Band – “Going In The Right Direction”

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“I have a prejudice against Human Resources.”

-Michael Scott

Week of September 1, 2017

You big, fat winner.

Aaron Rodgers: More Than a Quarterback

Aaron Rodgers is my homeboy. Let’s start with that. In his first game at Cal, he came off the bench. His first pass was a deep out and the ball seemed to explode out of his hand. I told a friend he was going to win the Heisman one day. I was wrong, but he did win multiple NFL MVPs and a Super Bowl MVP, so I feel vindicated. I’m also very proud that Rodgers went to Cal because he’s not a bimbo who only cares about football, unlike some other quarterbacks.

Rodgers grew up in a devout Christian home. After he left Cal, there were rumors that the Berkeley environment made him uncomfortable. For a few years, this fact prevented me from fully embracing him as my favorite player. But as it does with many of us, time allowed Rodgers to mature and grow, and to see the world in a new light. In this interview, Rodgers opens up about his enlightenment, which occurred shortly after he became the starting quarterback in Green Bay. Rodgers talks about losing his Christian faith, his broadening acceptance of all people, his recognition that life exists beyond football, and his daily struggle with these things and more. The best and most surprising part comes right at the opening:

After the game, Aaron Rodgers got on the bus. It was unusually cold in Arlington during the week leading up to Super Bowl XLV; a winter storm had barreled into Texas, blanketing Cowboys Stadium with so much snow that slabs of ice cascaded from the roof. When the game against the Steelers ended, the team was showered with confetti, then the players trudged down to the bus, where they sat for a while in the bowels of the stadium before heading back to their hotel. Someone brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy on board, and the players passed it around like a collection plate, each taking a moment to palm the sterling silver.

As his teammates chattered away, the quarterback sat and listened and thought about the plays he had made that night: three touchdowns, zero interceptions, 304 yards. The bus rolled along, and he ran it all back in his mind, then pressed rewind and visualized his entire career, retracing the steps he had taken from Chico, California, to Arlington, from beleaguered backup to Super Bowl MVP. As he reflected on the sacrifices and the slights, he wondered whether it was all worth it, and then he felt something unexpected — not regret or fulfillment but a different sensation, like a space had opened inside of him. He thought about life and football and everything he had invested in his sport, and a jarring realization sprang into his mind.

I hope I don’t just do this.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a professional athlete admit to questioning the importance of achieving the pinnacle of his sport moments after doing just that. Rodgers also discusses the Kaepernick situation, using the platform he enjoys not to duck and hide, but to state authoritatively that Kaepernick should be on a roster and isn’t because of his politics. I can’t recommend this story enough. -TOB

Source: The Search For Aaron Rodgers”, Mina Kimes, ESPN The Magazine (08/30/2017)

PAL: Rodgers and I are about the same age (he’s 33, I’m 35). The idea of living my life with one interest is absurd, so I can understand a smart, curious dude setting out to formulate his own way to live instead of putting the blinders on and being a one-dimensional human football throwing machine.

Having said that…

…I got to go at Rodgers a bit. It’s my duty to balance out TOB’s mancrush.

It’s hard for me not to laugh at this Deep Thoughts by Aaron Rodgers while the article is buoyed by glamour shots of him in a leather jacket in holding himself in a corner against some austere, expensive, rich dude walls.

Aaron Rodgers is a late-blooming hipster. Single origin coffee. Getting into the organic super market thing. Going to local rock shows in LA. Defining his own concept of faith and spirituality. Talking about not wanting to talk about things. Being on Instagram but not sure if he likes being on Instagram…COME ON, Dude. Aaron’s a 33 year-old hipster with too much money living in LA. No wonder no one notices him when he goes out.

TOB: He’s a world treasure and you will respect him, even if he’s not perfect. Hell, who is?

PAL: I will have the last word.

Outdated History

Perspective. When TOB and I were talking about starting this digest over three years ago, that word came up a bit. In an era of immediacy, a little time and perspective goes a long way. That, and we weren’t willing to commit to daily posts. 

While most of what we share with you is fun, interesting, and ultimately insignificant sports writing, perspective still helps dial in appreciation just right, especially when we’re oftentimes sharing stories about the why instead of the what. We are inundated with the what every second of every day. The why needs a little time to breathe. 

We’ve made the joke a few times – Stick to Sports! And you might be asking what any of the words you’ve read above have to do with sports. Well, Charles P. Pierce makes perhaps the most compelling argument that sports are inseparable from all the heavy, impassioned debates on the history of racism that even recently have led to outright violence.

The Unite the Right rally began – or was at least billed – as a protest of the removal a Robert E. Lee statue. In the wake of Charlottesville, Red Sox owner John Henry told the press that he is haunted by the legacy of former Red Sox owner and noted racist Thomas Yawkey. The street behind the left field foul line is named after him, and Henry is open to changing the name. It should be noted, the debate about renaming the street has been going on for years.

Pierce uses this as a jumping off point to his column to his assertion that the world of sports has oftentimes dealt with outdated history long before our politicians or communities do, and not always successfully. To use Pierce’s words, while some may call it sanitizing history, he calls it fumigating history.   

[O]rganized sports have been wrestling with this profound question in public for longer than the political world has. Thousands of high school and college programs around the country have dropped their Native American nicknames and mascots over the past 40 years.

The battle flag of the Confederate army, revived in the 1950’s as a symbol of resistance to the Civil Rights Movement, has been another regular flashpoint. Something of a tipping point, however, was reached two years ago when NASCAR, born in the South and created by one of George Corley Wallace’s first political sugar daddies, banned the flag from all of the infields at all of its tracks.

Only now is the political world truly confronting the question of why this country should honor men who were hell-bent on destroying it so that they could continue to own other human beings. That race has been the fuel for these controversies is so plain that it hardly needs to be mentioned…These are healthy arguments to have. We understand ourselves better as a country and as a people, when we have them right out there in the open, loudly and with great passion, and there’s a big one going on not very far from this keyboard. As I wrote somewhere else, this isn’t sanitizing history. It’s fumigating it.

…Tom Yawkey saved baseball in Boston, and for that, he deserves the plaque that hangs on the Fenway bricks. But he does not deserve a public street, the common property of all Boston citizens, to be named after him, any more than Jefferson Davis deserves to have a statue in the Capitol of the nation he sought to dismember. Sports got there first on this question and the industry of sports has not fully answered it yet to anyone’s satisfaction. (Washington Redskins? In 2017?) We cannot be true to our country’s history and slaves to our country’s poisonous myths.

I can only add that I strongly encourage you to read Pierce’s full article. For a blog that likes to share stories with some perspective, this one sure gives a healthy dose of just that.  – PAL

Source: Sports, Like The Rest Of The U.S., Still Struggles With The Legacy Of Racism”, Charles P. Pierce, SI (08/27/2017)

Mays and Mantle: Once Banned From Baseball

I’m a bit of a sports history buff. There are not many things anymore, especially on this level, that stump me or leave me baffled. But I randomly came across this tidbit this week: In the 1970s and 1980s, Wille Freakin Mays and Mickey Freakin Mantle were banned from baseball.

Yes, like Shoeless Joe and later Pete Rose. Mays and Mantle were not allowed to have any affiliation with baseball. Why? It is, of course, the stupidest reason ever. Having retired a few years prior, Mays and Mantle were hard up for cash and took jobs as ambassadors for Atlantic City casinos. Each was paid $100,000 per year (not bad for the late-70s). Then-MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn decided this merited a ban from baseball. Incredible. Thankfully, in 1985, new Commissioner Peter Ueberroth lifted the ban. In doing so, Ueberroth noted both the changing times and the utter hypocrisy of Kuhn’s ban:

”The world changes. We are going to look for stronger, more clarified guidelines to keep gambling and baseball apart. I went through the files, and I found there were people who owned baseball teams and casinos at the same time. There are all kinds of items that could be revised.”

Kuhn was asked about the lifting of the ban, and stuck to his guns while accepting Ueberroth’s decision. Which, whatever. What an asshat. -TOB

Source: “Mays, Mantle Reinstated by Baseball Commissioner”, Michael Martinez, New York Times (03/19/1985)

PAL: How do you say no to this offer when you need some cash? All they did was make some appearances, shake some hands, and collect checks. My favorite tidbit from the story was learning one of the challenges to Mays ‘working’ at the casino was his garden back in the Bay Area was suffering. Willie Mays had a garden…that he tended to!

Also, Pete Rose is such a turd.

TOB: I loved that, too. Seems like an old man thing. He was in his late-50’s, which tells me my backyard has another 20 years before I turn an eye to it. Sorry, Suze.

To Play a Rookie QB, or Not to Play a Rookie QB

Increasingly, NFL teams have immediately thrown rookie quarterbacks into the fire, and letting them sink or swim. This is not ideal for the player. Generally, if a team drafts a quarterback in the first round, it means the whole team is not very good. But because the team is not good, and because the GM and the coach’s job security depends on turning the team around quickly, there is incentive for the coach and GM to see if they’ve hit the jackpot by starting the quarterback. If they don’t play the rookie QB, they’ve just used a high draft pick on someone who won’t make their bad team any better, and they aren’t long for their jobs. If they do play the rookie QB and the guy isn’t ready and plays terribly, the coach and the GM will lose their job, anyways. Might as well hope the guy is great so you look like a genius. The future of the team and the future of the talented but raw QB, be damned.

This article is well done, getting the quarterbacks’ perspective on the effects of the decision to play or not play a rookie QB, including guys like Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, and Carson Palmer, who sat their first season or two or three who see it one way, and the veterans they replaced, and who were tasked with mentoring their successors, who see it another. Really interesting stuff. -TOB

Source: The Strange Life of an NFL Team’s QB of the Future—and the Guy Starting Ahead of Him”, Robert Mays, The Ringer (08/30/2017)

PAL: Jake Plummer is the MVP of this article:

Plummer used the final month of that season to soak in the quieter moments of life as an NFL quarterback. He saw it as a chance to eat actual meals before games again, and during pregame warmups he would play “football golf” with practice squad quarterback Preston Parsons, kicking the ball toward a target and counting the strokes. On Saturday nights, he’d dig into the beers left out in the hotel for coaches. “I’d sit there and have three or four pops,” Plummer says. “Guys were pissed off at me. I’d be drinking beers, and they were just like, ‘You suck, man.’ Well, they benched me. It wasn’t my decision, so I’m having a Bud Light.”

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Fake Laughs – ‘Melt’

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“You may look around and see two different groups of people. White collar, blue collar. But I don’t see it that way. You know why not? Because I am “collar blind”.

-Michael Scott