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

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