1-2-3 Sports! Week of October 27, 2017

What’s the Point of Youth Sports, Part II: “Checkbook Baseball”

Here’s part II of the 3-part series from the Star Tribune. This “chapter” digs into the club sports epidemic, and its rippling effect. There are a lot of variables at play here: the cost (a lot), the perceived need to participate in order to keep up with other kids in the community, and the cottage industry club sports has become.

It wasn’t that long ago club teams were the exception to the rule:

Barely 20 years ago, clubs and organizations devoted to a single sport were few. Today, it’s become increasingly rare for an athlete to join a high school team in the most popular sports without having extensive, and often expensive, training from a club program.

Clubs offer the promise of exposure. A better chance to play in college is central to the sales pitch. Regional tournaments comprised of “select” teams are the most efficient way for recruiters to see the most talent in one place.

Yes, unless you’re really, really good – in which case, your talent transcends any system – club teams is how you are recruited. Again – and I want to emphasize I played at a small D-II school – but even at that low level, this is how I was recruited.

However, this trend doesn’t just impact players bound for collegiate athletics. If every high school volleyball player is at it 10 months a year, then the the ripple effect impacts anyone who even wants to play varsity. At some point, you need one of the top players, and if all of the top players in your community are busting ass most of the year, then you either need to follow suit or face the reality that you simply might not make the high school team.

“It’s staggering,” Storm said with a chuckle of incredulity in his voice. “It’s gone from only elite kids trying to play in college basketball to a situation where a kid says ‘If I want to make varsity, I better find an AAU team.’ ”

This ecosystem is how you produce the highest yield of exceptional players, i.e., D-1 athletes, but most simply aren’t that. So what is the impact on the majority of kids who simply want to partake in the high school athletic experience?

“Parents say, ‘We have to do it. There’s no way we can’t,’ ” Lakeville South volleyball coach Stephen Willingham said. “I call it FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. If I go to play basketball, while in the meantime 15 or 20 classmates go play winter volleyball, am I going to miss out on that training? What’s going to happen next fall? Am I going to make the team? People are fearful of stepping away from a sport and not being able to catch up.”

Let’s talk dollars here. Just how much is this? Last week I quoted a dad saying that he didn’t even want to think about how much he’s put into his kid’s youth sports. Here are some numbers to digest:

The costs of playing for a for-profit club go toward paying for coaching, facilities, tournament fees, administrative costs and travel, which eats up a significant portion.

At Northern Lights [Volleyball], the single-season cost to play for the program’s top level is $4,775. For the beginners, it’s $2,230. A season of play for Midwest Speed, the state’s top softball club, runs about $3,600. The Minnesota Baseball Academy, which runs the Minnesota Blizzard Elite program, charges $3,150 annually for players ages 12 to 18.

Often those fees don’t include camps and clinics.

“It’s a business,” Klinkhammer said. “We refer to it as ‘Checkbook Baseball.’ ”

I wonder, is there any greater force in the known universe than a parent’s fear of coming up short on providing his/her child every advantage to succeed?

And – to be clear – this isn’t about the Joe Mauer’s of the world. For no other reason than Catholic upbringing within St. Paul, I played against Mauer from sixth grade through my senior year in high school (his sophomore). Guess what: he was special when he was 10, he was special when he was 13, and he was special when he was 16. The scouts and USA Baseball found out about him because he was plainly special.

Here’s a lesser known example: Marty Sertich. We grew up in the same town. I spent many hours skating in his backyard rink (hell, I broke his garage window with an errant shot, and his dad, a US Olympic hockey player…maybe 5’7” didn’t even bat an eye). Marty was a year younger than me. From mites to high school, there was not one game in those ten years – not one – where the short, skinny kid with incredible hands and vision wasn’t clearly the best player on the ice. It was inarguable to anyone at the rink. He was undersized, but he won the coveted Mr. Hockey award in Minnesota, played a couple years of Junior hockey, then won the Hobey Baker at Colorado College – the college hockey equivalent of the Heisman. The rink in Roseville has a big painted sign over one of the goals that says “Marty Sertich 2005 Hobey Baker Award Winner”

The explosion of club sports isn’t for the Joe Mauers or Marty Sertiches of the world. Nope, it’s for the folks whose greatest fear is that their kid might be Mauer or Sertich if they only have the right coaching and exposure, but their kind of talent transcends systems. 

I have a niece and a nephew going through the hockey club circuit in Minnesota. I don’t know a ton about scouting young talent, but I know they are good. Very good. They are also very young. I have no idea what becomes of this talent. Lost in all of this is…you know..puberty. We all played sports with kids that were Babe Ruth or Wayne Gretzky at 12, and then they didn’t grow another inch or acquire another skill. You blink, and you find yourself playing in high school wondering whatever the hell happened to so-and-so.

Here’s what I believe when it comes to my niece and nephew: the time they have spent with their dad at open skating and on the backyard rink has far more to do with how good they are than whatever club team they are on. They are good because they love to play, they love to spend time with their dad, and he knows enough to drill the fundamentals while keeping them laughing and having fun. It has much less to do with whatever super select team they are asked to play on (and their parent are asked to pay for). – PAL

Source: Club teams become the price of admission to youth sports”, Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune (10/23/2017)

TOB: My feelings here are mixed. First, the costs are outrageous. Nearly $5,000 for volleyball!? That’s not a knock on volleyball – I’d say that no matter the sport charging $5,000. Second, whether participation in clubs sports is “good” depends to me where the pressure comes from. If the parents have a grand scheme to get their kid a college scholarship and throw $5,000 a year for eight years (which is how many age levels Northern Lights volleyball has) at a volleyball club, well, congrats. You just spent $40,000 in hopes of getting a scholarship worth not much more than that, and pressured your kid into something he or she likely now hates. But if the kid really wants to play a club sport or wants to focus on a sport, I find it difficult to look down upon that. Hell, as an 11-year old I had a grand scheme to give up all other sports at age 13 to focus on basketball, and no adult put that idea in my head.

But what bothers me is the keeping up with the joneses. The Marty Sertiches of the world will probably benefit by focusing on a sport, though probably not as early as many kids do (I’ve read elsewhere coaches and experts think specialization should not occur until 16 at the earliest). In a perfect world, those kids would do so and everyone else would play multiple sports throughout the year like we all used to. Instead, “normal” kids are feeling the need to specialize, when they shouldn’t. Then they miss out on playing other sports, their parents spend a ton of money, and they risk getting burned out on the sport (as we saw in last week’s installment).

I don’t know what the solution is. The nuclear option would seem to be instituting a rule whereby participation in a club sport makes you ineligible for your high school’s team in that sport. Would that kill high school sports? Probably. It would certainly drain talent, which would lower interest, and then maybe high school sports start to disappear. What a bummer that would be. As the Beach Boys sang – be true to your school, let your colors fly.

The World Series Has Turned into Early 2000s College Baseball

On Wednesday, Phil and I both, separately, went to the Warriors game. The game began as Game 2 of the World Series was winding down. When I got to Oracle, it was 3-2 Dodgers, when Marwin Gonzalez hit a dinger in 9th off Kenley Jansen on an 0-2 pitch.

In the 10th, Altuve hit a dinger. 4-3.

Then Correa hit a dinger. 5-3.

Then Puig hit a dinger for L.A. 5-4.

Then the Dodgers got a two-out run on a walk-wild pitch-single, their first non-home run hit of the night. I repeat: the Dodgers scored 4 runs in 10+ innings and their first non-home run hit of the night came in the 10th.

In the 11th, Springer hit a two-run dinger. 7-5.

Then Culberson hit a dinger to make it 7-6  AND ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

What is going on in baseball? Well, we know what’s going on. The ball is juiced – the seams are lowered, reducing drag on the ball, thus causing the ball to carry farther.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t watch the game. I followed on MLB’s app. But when I got home, every sportswriter was raving about what a wild, amazing game this was. Funny, it feels like so many other games this postseason. For example, the AL Wildcard game. Game 5 of the Nationals/Cubs NLDS. Most of that Yankees/Indians ALDS. The ball just won’t stay in the park. Dinger after dinger. No lead is safe. Look at this graph:

Flyballs are carrying out of the park at unprecedented rates. It’s a fascinating graph. The rates were slowly rising for decades, peaked at the height of the Steroid Era around 2000, began a steady drop and then…boom. All-time highs beginning 2014. Dingers are fun, sure. But what makes a dinger fun is that it doesn’t happen that often. In the playoffs, especially, runs should be at a premium. When home runs are hit as often as they are being hit, it just sorta feels inevitable. It’s like a sugar rush – it’s great in the moment, and then you feel empty. Please, MLB, fix the ball. It’s gotten out of hand. -TOB

Source: What the Hell Was That“, Lauren Thiesen, Deadspin (10/26/2017)

PAL: It’s also worth noting the temperature at game time was in the 90s. The ball carries in that kind of heat. Obviously, that doesn’t explain the broader trend, but I wanted to add that bit of info.

I love the College World Series comparison. In 1998, both LSU and USC hit 17 home runs at the CWS. SC needed six games, while LSU needed just four. LSU averaged over four home runs per game!

It was bad for college baseball. The bats they were using simply needed to be modified. While they should’ve just gone back to wood bats, there was too much money at stake from bat makers to quit cold turkey on aluminum or carbon bats.

Since big leaguers are already using wood bats – yes – we need to take a look at the ball. As TOB says, runs should come at a premium in the playoffs, and home runs should not be the primary way teams are scoring. I wish I could say Tuesday’s game was an outlier, but it’s clearly a trend.

Kill the Frat

Frats are bad. To me, this is not a particularly hot take. But former and current frat guys are very defensive about the benefits of frat life, and I enjoy every opportunity to shine a light on how stupid and dangerous frat life really is. In this case, the subject is Tim Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State, who died this past February following a frat initiation. The name of the frat doesn’t matter, they’re all the same. And Tim is certainly not the first frat guy to die – that’s been happening, more or less at least once per year (there have been sixty in the last eight years), since frats first took hold on American college campuses. But Tim’s story is especially heartbreaking because the house was extensively equipped with security cameras that captured the entire thing. Tim’s story also highlights the dangers of unintended consequences.

“Hey, man, what the hell. Stick to sports,” you’re probably muttering right now. But in this case, the author gives me just enough cover to pretend that I am:

When I talked with people about Tim Piazza’s death, many brought up an earlier Penn State crisis, the Jerry Sandusky scandal, in which the longtime assistant football coach was convicted for a decades-long practice of sexually abusing young boys, and the university’s head coach, Joe Paterno, was abruptly fired. Both cases gestured to a common theme: that of dark events that had taken place on or near the campus for years, with some kind of tacit knowledge on the part of the university. There is also the sense that at Penn State, both the fraternities and the football team operate as they please. To the extent that this is true, the person responsible is Joe Paterno.

It’s hard to think of a single person with a greater influence on a modern university than Paterno, who died in 2012. Because of his football team—which he coached for half a century—Penn State went from an institution best known as a regional agricultural school to a vast university with a national reputation. He was Catholic, old-school, elaborately respectful of players’ mothers—and eager to wrest their sons away and turn them into men, via the time-honored, noncoddling, masculine processes of football.

To say he was a beloved figure doesn’t begin to suggest the role he played on campus. He was Heaney at Harvard, Chomsky at MIT. That he was not a scholar but a football coach and yet was the final authority on almost every aspect of Penn State life says a great deal about the institution. He was also a proud Delta Kappa Epsilon man and a tremendous booster of the fraternity system, and—as was typical for men of his generation—he understood hazing to be an accepted part of Greek life.

In 2007, he gave the practice his implicit endorsement. Photographs had surfaced of some members of the wrestling team apparently being hazed: They were in their underwear with 40-ounce beer bottles duct-taped to their hands. “What’d they do?” he asked during an open football practice that week. “When I was in college, when you got in a fraternity house, they hazed you. They made you stay up all night and played records until you went nuts, and you woke in the morning and all of a sudden they got you before a tribunal and question you as to whether you have the credentials to be a fraternity brother. I didn’t even know where I was. That was hazing. I don’t know what hazing is today.” He wasn’t upset that the wrestlers had engaged in hazing; he was scornful of them for doing it wrong.

Looking back at the past two decades at Penn State, we see a university grappling with its fraternity problem in ways that pitted concerned administrators against a powerful system, and achieving little change.

Joe Paterno: the gift that keeps on giving. But the hold frats have on campuses like Penn State are truly baffling. In the wake of Tim Piazza’s death, Penn State trustee William Oldsey told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Piazza’s death was not an indictment, but an endorsement of Greek life at Penn State because, get this, “This is a good enough system that it attracted a kid of the high caliber and character of Tim Piazza.” OH FUCK YOU, DUDE.

The details of Tim Piazza’s death are heartwrenching. I reproduce the timeline here in full because each new detail is as shocking as the last, and I simply couldn’t pick-and-choose what to omit. It’s long, but I urge you to read:

So here is Tim, reaching for his good jacket—in a closet that his mother will soon visit to select the clothes he will wear in his coffin—a little bit excited and a little bit nervous.

“They’re going to get me fucked up,” he texts his girlfriend, and then he pulls closed the door of his college apartment for the last time.

He has been told to show up at exactly 9:07. Inside, the 14 pledges are lined up, each with his right hand on the right shoulder of the one in front of him, and taken into the living room, where they are welcomed into the fraternity with songs and skits. And then it is time for the first act of hazing in their pledge period: quickly drinking a massive amount of alcohol in an obstacle course, the “gauntlet.” Court documents and the security footage provide excruciating detail about what comes next.

About an hour after the gauntlet begins, the pledges return to the living room, all of them showing signs of drunkenness. At 10:40, Tim appears on one of the security cameras, assisted by one of the brothers. The forensic pathologist will later describe his level of intoxication at this point as “stuporous.” He is staggering, hunched over, and he sits down heavily on the couch and doesn’t want to get up. But the brother encourages him to stand and walks him through the dining room and kitchen and back to the living room, where he sits down again on the couch. And then Tim tries to do something that could have saved his life.

He stands up, uncertainly, and heads toward the front door. If he makes it through that door, he may get out to the street, may find a place to sit or lie down, may come to the attention of someone who can help him—at the very least by getting him back to his apartment and away from the fraternity. He reaches the front door, but the mechanism to open it proves too complicated in his drunken state, so he turns around and staggers toward another door. Perhaps he is hoping that this door will be easier to open; perhaps he is hoping that it also leads out of the fraternity house. But it is the door to the basement, and when he opens it—perhaps expecting his foot to land on level ground—he takes a catastrophic fall.

On the security footage, a fraternity brother named Luke Visser points toward the stairs in an agitated way. Greg Rizzo clearly hears the fall and goes to the top of the steps to see what’s happened. Later, he will tell the police that he saw Tim “facedown, at the bottom of the steps.” Jonah Neuman will tell the police that he saw Tim lying facedown with his legs on the stairs.

Rizzo sends a group text: “Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of steps, hair-first, going to need help.” (Rizzo, who was not charged with any crimes, told the police that he later advocated for calling an ambulance.)

Four of the brothers carry Tim up the stairs. By now he has somehow lost his jacket and tie, and his white shirt has ridden up, revealing a strange, dark bruise on his torso. This is from his lacerated spleen, which has begun spilling blood into his abdomen. The brothers put him on a couch, and Rizzo performs a sternum rub—a test for consciousness used by EMTs—but Tim does not respond. Another brother throws beer in his face, but he does not respond. Someone throws his shoes at him, hard. Someone lifts his arm and it falls back, deadweight, to his chest.

At this point, the brothers have performed a series of tests to determine whether Tim is merely drunk or seriously injured. He has failed all their tests. The next day, Tim’s father will ask the surgeon who delivers the terrible news of Tim’s prognosis whether the outcome would have been different if Tim had gotten help earlier, and the surgeon will say—unequivocally—that yes, it would have been different. That “earlier” is right now, while Tim is lying here, unresponsive to the sternum rub, the beer poured on him, the dropped arm.

A brother named Ryan Foster rolls Tim on his side, but has to catch him because he almost rolls onto the floor. Jonah Neuman straps a backpack full of books to him to keep him from rolling over and aspirating vomit. Two brothers sit on Tim’s legs to keep him from moving.

This is the moment when Kordel Davis arrives and attempts to save Tim’s life, only to be thrown against the wall by Neuman. Davis disappears from the video, in search of an officer of the club. By now Tim is “thrashing and making weird movements,” according to the grand-jury presentment.

Daniel Casey comes into the room, looks at Tim, and slaps him in the face three times. Tim does not respond. Two other brothers wrestle near the couch and end up slamming on top of Tim, whose spleen is still pouring blood into his abdomen. Tim begins to twitch and vomit.

At this point, Joseph Ems appears “frustrated” by Tim, according to the grand jury. With an open hand, he strikes the unconscious boy hard, on the abdomen, where the bruise has bloomed. This blow may be one of the reasons the forensic pathologist will find that Tim’s spleen was not just lacerated, but “shattered.” (Ems was originally charged with recklessly endangering another person, but that charge—the only one brought against him—has been dropped.) Still, Tim does not wake up.

Forty-five minutes later, Tim rolls onto the floor. The heavy backpack is still strapped to him. He rolls around, his legs moving. He attempts to stand up, and manages to free himself from the backpack, which falls to the floor. But the effort is too much, and he falls backwards, banging his head on the hardwood floor. A fraternity member shakes him, gets no response, and walks away.

At 3:46 in the morning, Tim is on the floor, curled up in the fetal position. At home in New Jersey, his parents are sleeping. Across campus, his older brother, Mike, has no idea that Tim is not safely in his bed.

At 3:49 a.m., Tim wakes up and struggles to his knees, cradling his head in his hands; he falls again to the hardwood floor. An hour later, he manages to stand up, and staggers toward the front door, but within seconds he falls, headfirst, into an iron railing and then onto the floor. On some level he must know: I am dying. He stands once again and tries to get to the door. His only hope is to get out of this house, but he falls headfirst once again.

At 5:08 a.m., Tim is on his knees, his wounded head buried in his hands. Around campus, people are beginning to wake up. The cafeteria workers are brewing coffee; athletes are rising for early practices. It’s cold and still dark, but the day is beginning. Tim is dying inside the Beta house, steps away from the door he has been trying all night to open.

Around 7 o’clock, another pledge wanders into the living room, where Tim is now lying on the couch groaning, and the pledge watches as he rolls off the couch and onto the floor, and again lifts himself to his knees and cradles his head in his hands, “as if he had a really bad headache.” The pledge lifts his cellphone, records Tim’s anguish on Snapchat, and then—while Tim is rocking back and forth on the floor—leaves the house. A few minutes later, Tim stands and staggers toward the basement steps, and disappears from the cameras’ view.

The house begins to stir. Some fraternity members head off to class, and in the fullness of time they return. And then, at about 10 a.m., a brother named Kyle Pecci (who was not charged) arrives and asks a pledge, Daniel Erickson (who was also not charged), a question that seems to both of them a casual one: Whatever happened to that pledge who fell down the stairs at the party? They come across Tim’s shoes, and realize that Tim must still be somewhere in the house, so they look for him. The search reveals him collapsed behind one of the bars in the basement. He is lying on his back, with his arms tight at his sides and his hands gripped in fists. His face is bloody and his breathing is labored. His eyes are half open; his skin is cold to the touch; he is unnaturally pale. Three men carry him upstairs and put him on the couch, but no one calls 911.

Fraternity brothers with garbage bags appear in the footage and start cleaning up the evidence. Brothers try to prop Tim up on the couch and dress him, but his limbs are too stiff and they can’t do it. Someone wipes the blood off his face, and someone else tries, without luck, to pry open his clenched fingers. Clearly the brothers are trying to make this terrible situation appear a little bit better for when the authorities arrive. But they do not use their many cellphones to call 911. Instead one brother uses his phone to do a series of internet searches for terms such as cold extremities in drunk person and binge drinking, alcohol, bruising or discoloration, cold feet and cold hands.

Where is Tim right now, as his body lies on the couch? Are his soul and self still here, in the room, or have they already slipped away? He has put up a valiant, almost incredible fight for his life, but by now he has lost that fight. When he was a little boy, he used to make people laugh because he got so frustrated with board games; he didn’t like playing those games, with their rules and tricks. He loved sports, and running, and playing with his friends at the beach. But his body is cold now, his legs and arms unbending.

Finally, at 10:48 a.m., a brother calls 911—perhaps realizing that it would be best to do so while the pledge is still technically alive—and Tim is delivered from the charnel house. Soon his parents will race toward him, and so will his frantic brother, who has been searching for him. They will be reunited for the few hours they have left with this redheaded boy they have loved so well, and at least it can be said that Tim did not die alone, or in the company of the men who tortured him.

Fourteen of the frat guys face a total of 328 criminal charges (though a judge threw out charges of involuntary manslaughter). The actions of these guys is truly disturbing and shows a callousness that is frankly incomprehensible to me. But in this we also see the unintended consequence of the zero-tolerance policies put in place. In the 1980s, parents of dead fraternity members began suing fraternities and winning huge amounts of money. Insurance companies refused to insure the frats any longer. So frats created a joint council and pooled their money to self-insure. Then, the frats banned hazing, and a host of other activities that everyone associates with frat life: underage drinking, drinking games, etc. They also set absurd rules that would be impossible to enforce. For example, “During a party, alcohol consumption must be tightly regulated. Either the chapter can hire a third-party vendor to sell drinks—and to assume all liability for what happens after guests consume them—or members and guests may each bring a small amount of alcohol for personal use and hand it over to a monitor who labels it, and then metes it back to the owner in a slow trickle.”

The national fraternities then indemnified themselves, so that the individual frat members would be the ones responsible in the event someone got hurt or killed while being hazed, or even while just partying. This is diabolical. And so what we see in the actions of Tim’s fellow frat members is the response to, as the author puts it:

“Liv[ing] under the shadow of giant sanctions and lawsuits that can result even from what seem like minor incidents. The strict policies promote a culture of secrecy, and when something really does go terribly wrong, the young men usually start scrambling to protect themselves. Doug Fierberg, a Washington, D.C., lawyer whose practice is built on representing plaintiffs in fraternity lawsuits, told me that “in virtually every hazing death, there is a critical three or four hours after the injury when the brothers try to figure out what to do. It is during those hours that many victims pass the point of no return.”

We see this clearly in Tim Piazza’s death. Just before the party that killed him began, the fraternity president texted the pledge master, “I know you know this. If anything goes wrong with the pledges this semester then both of us are fucked.” We see it in the reluctance, even outright refusal, to call 9-1-1 when Tim Piazza’s dying body was found, even with another fraternity member begging they do so. We see it the next day, when fraternity members were texting each other:

“Between you and me, “what are the chances the house gets shut down?”

“I think very high. I just hope none of us get into any lawsuits.”

It’s sad, isn’t it? These fraternities, and their members, did terrible things, and lots of people died. So we made rules to try to stop it, but things didn’t stop, and we just throw up our hands and accept it as a part of growing up, for (mostly) white, affluent kids from the suburbs, anyways. But it doesn’t need to be like this. This stuff happens because the traditions keep being passed down, despite the national organization’s lip service to ending them. So, kill the damn frats. There will be no one to pass the traditions to, and kids like Tim Piazza won’t die, slowly, while their friends pour beer on them and assault them, refusing to get them the medical attention they so desperately need, for fear of the “house” getting “shut down”. -TOB

Source: Death at a Penn State Fraternity”, Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic (November 2017)

PAL: Terribly sad story. And I agree – there’s no need for this greek institution on college campuses. Regardless of their stated intent, they are the setting for needless deaths and dangerous binge drinking. This isn’t a fun sports story.

While poor choices and binge drinking are not unique to the greek system on a college campus, I can appreciate the environment frats create can lead to people not acting in the best interest of an individual in dire straits. No one wants to be responsible for “shutting the house down”, which, on the other side of thirty, is just absurd. I can understand the thinking, and the environment that breeds this logic, but it’s just absurd.

My real beef with this story concerns the Joe Paterno connection.

Before I jump into that, let me state this clearly: I am not a Paterno apologist. I believe he knew what Sandusky was doing within the football complex – surely enough to make it stop taking place within the football complex – and he did nothing. Criminal.

With that said, for writer Caitlin Flanagan to make the leap that Paterno was somehow implicit in Piazza’s death is outright ridiculous. Let’s go back to the portion about Paterno TOB quoted in his writeup (emphasis mine)

To say he was a beloved figure doesn’t begin to suggest the role he played on campus. He was Heaney at Harvard, Chomsky at MIT. That he was not a scholar but a football coach and yet was the final authority on almost every aspect of Penn State life says a great deal about the institution. He was also a proud Delta Kappa Epsilon man and a tremendous booster of the fraternity system, and—as was typical for men of his generation—he understood hazing to be an accepted part of Greek life.

In 2007, he gave the practice his implicit endorsement. Photographs had surfaced of some members of the wrestling team apparently being hazed: They were in their underwear with 40-ounce beer bottles duct-taped to their hands. “What’d they do?” he asked during an open football practice that week. “When I was in college, when you got in a fraternity house, they hazed you. They made you stay up all night and played records until you went nuts, and you woke in the morning and all of a sudden they got you before a tribunal and question you as to whether you have the credentials to be a fraternity brother. I didn’t even know where I was. That was hazing. I don’t know what hazing is today.” He wasn’t upset that the wrestlers had engaged in hazing; he was scornful of them for doing it wrong.

Paterno says, “That was hazing. I don’t know what hazing is today.” For her to draw the conclusions as to how we felt (“he wasn’t upset…he was scornful of them doing it wrong..”) is quite a leap. Was he asked if he was upset? Is there a quote from him clarifying if he meant he was scornful for them doing it wrong? She is attaching feelings that, as presented, we don’t know to be Paterno’s, in order to connect the dots between one historic scandal and the death of young man at a frat house.

Also, Paterno wasn’t the final authority, goddamit. He was a powerful football coach, perhaps powerful to an unprecedented extent, but he was not the final authority on the greek system, and for anyone to suggest that without also explicitly criticizing actual leadership at Penn State is, well, making a leap and providing an incomplete account.

Paterno did irrevocable harm by standing by as rape and sexual abuse of minors was taking place within his football program. I have no loyalty or appreciation for him. Still, Flanagan uses him to broaden the web of an already tragic story that upon which doesn’t need to be expanded. The greek system full of dangerous loopholes. She doesn’t need to sensationalize it by adding Joe Paterno where he simply doesn’t belong.

TOB: I dug a little into Paterno’s quote. Some context here. First, it should be noted this was the Penn State wrestling team, not a frat. Second, photos of the wrestling team’s hazing were sent to the team’s coach and a local paper, and that’s what got them in trouble. Paterno is asked about the hazing and says:

“What’d they do?” he asked. “When I was in college, when you got in a fraternity house, they hazed you. They made you stay up all night and played records until you went nuts, and you woke in the morning and all of a sudden they got you before a tribunal and question you as to whether you have the credentials to be a fraternity brother. I didn’t even know where I was. That was hazing. I don’t know what hazing is today, you put it on a Web site ‘ “

Paterno said the environment of the country is changing and said even he has to be aware of what pictures he allows himself to appear in.

“I’m down there on a vacation and a pretty little girl comes over to me in a bikini and wants to get her picture taken with me with her boyfriend,” he said. “I’m scared to death. You know what I mean? I mean ‘ I get my picture taken with a cute kid and the whole bit, put it on a Web site, there’s that dirty old man.”

What Paterno is really criticizing is the fact they took photos in the first place. So, yeah, he’s saying they hazed wrong. Either she framed it poorly, or it was edited poorly. I see why you had a beef, but I think she was ultimately correct.

More importantly, though, I understand her larger point. She’s saying this is a university completely out of control, with leadership rotten to its core, that cares about all the wrong things. Preserving the greek system…while kids die! Preserving the football team…while kids gets raped! Hazing happens at campuses all over; what’s concerning here to me is the response. William Oldsey, a university trustee, saying that Tim Piazza’s death is an endorsement of the Penn State greek system is just so gross. I don’t think she’s blaming Paterno. I think she’s arguing Paterno is symptomatic of a rotten core.

PAL: I misspoke on the Wrestler/Frat element. However, she does not present it as explicitly as you do within her story. The context you provide is absent from her story, and that’s part of my critique. If you’re going to make that connection, there can be little-to-no inference on the reader’s part. It needs to be explicit, because it’s that serious. She presents an incomplete connection without qualification, and is relying on the reader to use what they know of Paterno with regards to his ambivalence in the Sandusky tragedy to make the leap with regards to Piazza. This matter is too serious to be this loose.

This Doping Scandal is Different (?)

Readers, I regret to inform you there is another steroid scandal brewing, one that calls into question the legitimacy of an American sports institution. It involves some of the very best athletes in the sport.

You guys, the Iditarod is full of dogs that are juicing.

Well, they aren’t juicing so much as they are being juiced.

A doping scandal has hit the world’s most famous dog-sled race, the 1,000-mile trek through Alaska that ends in Nome each March. Four dogs on a team run by Dallas Seavey, a four-time champion and the most dominant musher in the sport, tested positive last spring for high levels of Tramadol, an opioid pain reliever.

Why would anyone partake in doping dogs? Oh, the winner receives 75K? Gotcha. But mushers are different, folks. They do this for the love of the sport. And mushers stick together. None of Seavey’s competitors believe he did it. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The thought that another musher would taint Seavey’s dogs sounded unlikely to his competitors. The sport is a tight and insular one, in constant need of sponsors and promotion, and setting off a doping scandal would hurt the sport as much as it would damage Seavey. And Tramadol would be a strange drug choice; it is not commonly used in the world of dogsledding. Royer said she had never heard of it.

That reasoning led some to speculate that outsiders who protest the Iditarod and similar events might be involved.

Well, that kind of makes sense. Yeah, why would he dope his dogs while knowing they will be tested after the race. And it doesn’t even sound like Tramadol would even be the drug to use anyway? This is dog-sledding after all. Just hard-working, everyday Americans with an appreciation of that Jack London Alaska…

And that’s how it happens, folks. How many times have we read about doping scandals? How many time (be honest) have you thought the excuses made sense? How many times have those excused proved complete hogwash?

He wanted to win. $75K is a good amount of money. He’s competitive, he wanted to win, so he gave the dogs that had been busting ass for god knows how long a little extra.

He did it. Right? Right. Right? It does make sense that those who believe the sport is animal abuse would look to damage it in a way that makes the dogs even that much more the victim…DAMMIT, I fell for it again! – PAL

Source: Iditarod Doping Mystery: Who Slipped Tramadol to the Dogs?”, John Branch, New York Times (10/24/17)

Jared Goff, Stud Tackler

This is really well done. Last week, Jared Goff threw an interception. On the run back, he made an incredibly smart and athletic play to make the tackle and preserve the shutout.

Lolololololol. Let’s take that frame by frame, all pics and captions courtesy of some guy named Beefjurky.

The apex predator, Goff, locks in on his prey, Tyrann Mathieu, a much smaller human. Once Goff locks in there’s no hope for escape.

Goff, the superior athlete, strategically dodges the entire slew of lead blockers with an agile twirling leap.

Goff, the genius, is now in place and just has to wait for his prey to fall right into his trap.

Mathieu, the fool, has fallen right into his trap. See that white horizontal blur in the middle of that group of men? That’s Goff’s fucking arm of death. Once that thing comes up, it is GAME OVER.

Goff looks pitifully as his prey comes crashing down to Earth. The smug victor doesn’t even move, showing that he barely even used a fraction of his full power.

Goff’s job is done. Mathieu is down and will now go to lick his wounds among his other wimpy bird friends, to perhaps lose again another day. Jared slowly but calmly rises, because alpha predators like him are in no rush to be anywhere.

That’s just good internet content, folks. -TOB

Source: “Breakdown of Goff’s TD Saving Tackle on Mathieu“, Beefjurky, imgur (10/26/2017)

Video of the Week

Bonus Video:

Bonus Video:

I don’t know how we missed this last year, but shoutout to new 1-2-3 reader Ted for sending it along. Amazing.

PAL Song of the Week – Leonard Cohen – “True Love Leaves No Traces”

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“I like eating nachos and lip synching. I always have.”

-Vice Principal Gamby


Week of October 20, 2017

This is your future, Klay.

What Is The Point of Youth Sports?

I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but during the fall of my senior year in high school, I was asked to play in a fall baseball league. It was a wood bat league, and there was one team for the state. I’m certain there was a price tag involved, which my parents graciously paid without a second thought. Not only was it the promise of more games with a bunch of really good players, but the idea of college recruiting was attached as well. It was the first I had heard of a fall baseball league, and it was called Perfect Game, which now touts itself as a premier scouting service and tournament organizer. Read between the lines, and their pitch to parents and players is “play in our league, and you’ll get noticed by colleges and pro scouts.”

It worked. Players on my team played baseball for University of Minnesota, Creighton, Troy State, Arkansas, Valparaiso. Hell, I met a lifetime friend and college teammate Ryan Nett, who’s visiting right now, 18 years later when he suggested I check out this article.

Yes, it worked, but little did I know where it would lead. That’s what this three-part series from the Star Tribune is examining. Is the era of high school sports on the way out? Are we adopting the European, club team approach to youth athletics?

“Youth sports are an estimated $15 billion industry, and the increasing specialization of these budding athletes is irrevocably changing Minnesota’s high school landscape in softball, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball and lacrosse — basically, every team sport except football.”

I like how the Star Tribune is examining youth sports from every angle: the players, the coaches, the business, and even the health impacts of specialization at a young age.

For one, this ain’t free, and that impacts who gets to participate. One parent conservatively estimated doling out $7,500 a year on softball for his daughter. Another dad didn’t even want to think about it. “I’d hate to look at the number. And we’re on the low end.”

So who is actually taking part?

“While some athletes and their families can approach these pursuits with open checkbooks, others can’t. In 2016, children from families making $25,000 or less were only half as likely to take part in a team sport as families making at least $100,000, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.”

It’s easy to say all of this is crazy from a distance – and maybe it is – but I can understand parents with the means wanting to give their children every opportunity to excel at something they love. It feels good to be very good at something. It breeds a confidence that can absolutely be carried throughout a life beyond sports. It teaches the hard truth about the time needed if you want to excel. I understand all of that, but all of this is not unique to sport. Music, science club, debate, student newspaper, and many more examples can teach the exact same life lessons. I do think a large part of this has to do with a desire – both on the parents’ part and on the child’s part – for a scholarship. And if that is the prize, it’s a difficult one to achieve.

“If scholarships are the goal, there are no guarantees. According to the NCAA, only 2 percent of all high school athletes receive some form of college scholarship.”

And what is the impact on high school sports? In Minnesota, the Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament is the stuff of legend – an event that truly captivates the entire state. But as club teams take root, and where scholarships and draft projections outweigh the glory of making a deep run into the tournament with kids from your community, you have to wonder what the hallowed tradition will look like in ten years.

Again, the article digs in deep on all sides of this issue. Do yourself a favor and give it a read. I’ll make sure to write up a summary of the upcoming installments in the weeks to come. PAL

Source: Game On And On”, Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (10/19/17)

TOB: This is really sad. What’s scary is that as a parent, logically, I read it and think, “I will not let that be my kid.” But at the same time, I understand how we got here. You want your kids to be happy. For many kids playing sports, happiness is being good. So, to be good, you have to keep up with the arms race. But it’s so cringe-worthy. One of the dads in the article said, “Like we always tell her, there’s always somebody getting better, faster, stronger — ready to take your spot.” I know he means well, but I think that’s bad parenting. What he said is true, because some people are naturally driven and are working harder. But so what? It doesn’t have to be true for his kid. The fact he has to “always tell her” means she’s not that type. Parenting is wrought with fine lines, and certainly you need to steer your children in the right direction. But if you are pushing your kid into year-round focus on a single sport and need to constantly tell them they better work harder because someone out there is working harder than they are, maybe you should back off a bit.

There’s No Chair There

Remember that infamous video of Yi Jianlian’s predraft workout against a folding chair? He was crossing over, spinning, and dunking all over that chair. It was hilarious because it was so absurd, and we all saw it and laughed and have talked about it for years and years to the point Yi became a punchline, and the video became the symbol of all the dumb pre-draft workouts we ever see, to this day. Except, uh, it almost certainly didn’t happen and we have not seen that video. Wait, what? How is that possible? It’s all thanks to the Mandela Effect, a phenomenon where a group of people manage to create a collective false memory.

The chair workout story got told, and re-told, and told some more, and along the way we imagined it so many times that we all started to believe it really happened, and we really saw the video, when we did not. This honestly blew my mind. When I started the reading, I had no idea where this was going and I was certain I had seen the video. But then I started to think…had I seen the video? Deadspin’s Matt Giles does a thorough job debunking the chair workout video story, speaking to many of the parties involved with Yi’s pre-draft workouts. It just didn’t happen. And you’ll never guess whose fault this is. Bill Simmons. Of course. Boston GM Danny Ainge made a joke about Yi working out against a chair, because it was a one-on-zero workout, and the big dummy Bill Simmons seemed to believe it, and then said he had seen the video. He had not. Simmons then repeated it over and over for years. Friggin Simmons. Still, this is worth a read. Fascinating stuff. -TOB

Source: “The Totally Unexpected True Story Of Yi Jianlian’s Magical Mystery Chair”, Matt Giles, Deadspin (09/19/2017)

PAL: It’s bad comedy during the NBA draft. I’m assuming there are about 200 guys the experts need to know seemingly everything about. A chair punchline is a good sound byte, and so they use it and in the process perpetuate the myth. Simmons just keeps giving TOB reasons to get a good lather going. 

Interviewing Your Childhood Sports Nemesis

Dom Cosentino grew up a Pirates fan, and was 17 when the Braves’ little used Francisco Cabrera hit a game-winning two-run single in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. 25 years later, Cosentino interviewed Cabrera. It was a fun read. But it got me thinking: Who is your equivalent? What opposing athlete gave you the biggest sports heartbreak as a kid, and what would you ask him today if you could? First I tried to think of what loss I took the hardest. That would probably be Cal football at USC in 2004. First and goal at the 9 with a chance to beat SC and likely go on to the National Championship game. But I was 22, and that seems too old for this exercise, plus no SC player really did much of note to win that game. Cal more or less gave it away. Robert Horry’s shot to win game 4 of the Kings/Lakers 2002 Western Conference Finals is right up there, but again…I was 20, and it was only Game 4 of a seven-game series. Ah, I know. 1993. I was 11. Notre Dame football was my passion. The Irish were 10-0 late in the season. They had beaten #1 Florida State the week before and were then #1 themselves, hosting #16 ranked Boston College. The game was ugly, and Notre Dame trailed by 21 points in the 4th. But they scored 22 points in just over 9 minutes to take the late lead, 39-38, with just over a minute left. Boston College put together a drive and then…

Look at that ball. It’s like a knuckle ball. Half way there, it’s veering hard to the right, and then suddenly corrects and splits the uprights. I remember being absolutely shocked. “That wasn’t supposed to happen. BOSTON COLLEGE? We just beat Florida State!” But it did. And that’s sports. So, I guess the guy I’d interview is David Gordon, BC’s kicker. What a dick. -TOB

Source: A Pirates Fan Talks To Francisco Cabrera, 25 Years After The Worst Game Ever”, Dom Cosentino, Deadspin (10/16/2017)

Again: Marshawn Lynch Is Awesome

I was all set to go to bed last night and made the mistake of checking Twitter one last time, and now here I am writing (once again) about how awesome Marshawn Lynch is. As we all know, Marshawn came out of retirement this year to join his hometown Oakland Raiders, just before they leave for Vegas in 2019. He’s played ok, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, but he’s been fun. Tonight was probably the best. Early in the game, Lynch was ejected after running out to protect his QB after a late hit.

He went back to the locker room, changed, and then watched the game from the stands in disguise (sorta).

And then…


PAL: Uh, this is all most excellent and hilarious.

The Man Behind Hugh Freeze’s Fall

Not long before the current college football season began, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze abruptly resigned. In the days to follow, it was revealed that Freeze had placed a phone call to an escort service. The phone call was discovered because Freeze and his coaches told national and local writers that the ongoing NCAA investigation into the Ole Miss program was mostly focused on Freeze’s predecessor, Houston Nutt. Nutt was not happy about these leaks, and sued Ole Miss. As part of that lawsuit, Ole Miss turned over Freeze’s phone records to Nutt’s attorney. Nutt’s attorney, though, is not the guy who found the call. That would be Steve Robertson, a fan of Ole Miss’ rival, Mississippi State, and a writer for Mississippi State’s Scout.com affiliated website.

Robertson is an interesting guy. A lifelong Bulldog fan who began his writing career posting a weekly prediction of each SEC game, Robertson is now deep into the bowels of the small community that is college football in Mississippi. Robertson got word of the shenanigans at Ole Miss years ago, and has publicly called out Ole Miss for its false public statements about the investigation in the last few years. Robertson couldn’t understand why the traditional press took Ole Miss at face value and refused to accept what he was telling them. After Nutt’s attorney got the phone records, and mountains of other documents, he tasked Robertson with sorting through it all. Robertson found “The Call”, and now Freeze is gone, and Ole Miss is staring down the barrel of the NCAA’s big guns. This is a really good and interesting read. -TOB

Source: The Mississippi State Fan Who Took His Revenge On Ole Miss And The Football Press”, Caleb Hannan, Deadspin (09/18/2017)

Nightmares Do Come True

The NFL players went on strike 30 years ago this week. NFL teams put together haphazard rosters comprised of economics teachers, ski instructors, fans, and guys with part-time jobs while they finished up their degrees. They were given the chance to play in the NFL. All they had to do was cross the picket line.

Knowing that this was either their last or only chance to live out their dream, it’s hard to blame these guys for jumping at the opportunity.

And then the best player in the NFL crossed the picket line with these nobodies: Lawrence Taylor.

So you have one of the few truly transcendent players in NFL history competing against guys that couldn’t make an NFL roster a few months prior. There are so many funny anecdotes from this story, but my favorite comes courtesy of Bills coach Marv Levy.

When speaking to the replacement offensive lineman for the Bills, Levy put it this way: “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Lawrence Taylor has crossed and will be back playing for the Giants. The bad news is that you’re going to have to block him.”

Running back Bob Dirico, one of Taylor’s teammates, had a hard enough time even practicing with him.

The running back also remembers the time he had to line up against Taylor in a one-on-one blocking drill and was expecting to be bull-rushed. If I just get a piece of him, DiRico thought, I’d look like a hero. Then Taylor came flying around the edge and put a swim move on the running back, blowing past him on the way to the QB.

“Honest to God, I didn’t get a hand on him,” DiRico says. “Not even his shirt.”

Why did L.T. cross the picket line in the first place? It turns out, it wasn’t that complicated to him. “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. And I like rich a helluva lot better. And losing whatever the F I was making per game check … stung.”

A fun read, to be sure. – PAL

Source: The ‘Worst Game’ in NFL History Was the Best Game Lawrence Taylor Ever Played”, Ben Baskin, MMQB (10/18/17)

TOB: ESPN recently had a 30 for 30 on the 1987 NFL strike, focusing on the Redskins, who were by far the best replacement team. The movie is pretty good, focusing on some of the replacement guys – where they came from, where they were at the time the players went on strike, and where they are now. The movie culminates in the final replacement game, against the Dallas Cowboys, whose roster was mostly populated with the “real” Dallas Cowboys, as most of them had crossed the picket lines. Shockingly, the Replacement Redskins won, and it was a heck of a story. By the way, another interesting picket line crosser: Joe Montana. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

No Debate: Chris Long Doing Good

Chris Long has made around $90MM over his 10 year NFL career. He was the number 2 draft pick, and has been a very good player for an extended period of time. In the later years of his career, he’s also made a huge impact off the field with waterboys.org, bringing water wells to East Africa. And now he’s decided to donate all of his 2017 game checks (he has a $1MM base salary this year) to education in the cities he’s played for in the NFL (St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia).

“My wife and I have been passionate about education being a gateway for upward mobility and equality,” Long told the Associated Press. “I think we can all agree that equity in education can help effect change that we all want to see in this country.”

There’s no bigger story here, folks. I just wanted to help spread the word of a professional athlete making a positive impact. – PAL

Source: Chris Long Will Donate All His 2017 Game Checks To Charitable Causes, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (10/19/17)

De’Aaron Fox is Awesome, But His Taste in Food is Not.

Kings’ rookie De’Aaron Fox was interviewed this week. Fox is new to California and was asked what he thinks of In-N-Out. Fox said:

“All I gotta say, you can tell everybody that lives in the state of California this: In-N-Out is not good….Their burgers are overrated. They’re OK….[The best fast food spot] is Wendy’s.”

Now, look. I think In-N-Out is good, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. HOWEVER, saying In-N-Out is not good and that your favorite fast food is WENDY’S is objectively wrong and disgusting. I love De’Aaron. He’s my boy. But Wendy’s? Bruh. C’mon. -TOB

Source: Kings’ Rookie De’Aaron Fox on Video Games, His Beef With In-N-Out Burger”, Seerat Sohi, Rolling Stone (09/16/2017)

PAL: You nailed it, TOB. I’m not offended that he thinks In-N-Out is overrated; I’m offended that he places Wendy’s on such a high pedestal. Jamie Morganstern, a long time 1-2-3 reader, swears by Wendy’s chicken sandwich. Please. And I’m over the gourmet fast food trend while we’re at it. 5 Guys, Smashburger, Super Duper – they all try to fool us with an ambiance that feels a little nicer than fast food and a higher price. I’ll put a Whopper against any of them, including a Double Double.

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Dire Straits – “Romeo and Juliet”

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“I don’t have to buy it. I just want to taste it. I just… I just want a little taste of it.” 

-M. Scott


Week of October 13, 2017

Do NOT leave a ball over the plate to Bobson Dugnutt!

Stay the Course or Burn it Down: Where Does U.S. Soccer Go From Here?

On Monday, the U.S. Men’s soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup. It is the first World Cup they will miss since 1986, when I was four. I have only known the World Cup with the U.S. involved, and they have generally fared well once there, advancing out of their group in five of the last seven. The team has been graced with the Christian Pulisic, who is starting for a top tier team in the Bundesliga, and who, at age 19, pretty much no one disputes is the greatest American soccer player of all time. Pulisic has the vision, touch, and creativity that separates the great soccer players from across the world from the pretty good ones that the U.S. has produced in the past.

And now Pulisic will be sitting at home for one of the three World Cups to occur during his prime. Friggin great.

The particulars of how this happened are almost comical (a loss to Trinidad and Tobago, along with a Panama comeback win over Mexico and an Honduras win over Costa Rica on a phantom goal), especially coming off the U.S. thrashing of Panama last Friday, 4-0, which seemed to guarantee the Americans’ World Cup qualification, and really got me excited for next year’s tournament.

Instead, the U.S. must pick up the pieces and figure out where to go from here. American soccer fans expressed many emotions in the hours after the team’s failure: embarrassment, anger, amusement, and for some…relief. Relief? There is a segment of the American soccer fan base that believes U.S. Soccer, in conjunction with MLS, is rotten to its core, wanting to seem competitive, but valuing profits, especially profits for MLS owners, over the short-term pain that is required to truly turn U.S. Soccer into an international powerhouse. For these fans, the hope is that this loss causes coach Bruce Arena to slink away, never to be seen again, and for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to do the same. But that’s just the beginning. These fans want severe structural changes, starting at the youth levels, and did not feel it would ever come as long as the U.S. continued to juuuuuuust enough to not embarrass themselves.

Frankly, I don’t know enough about the situation. But I have read some things this week to suggest that many of those desired structural changes have already been undertaken. The shining star is the youth academy for FC Dallas, modeled after FC Barcelona’s “La Masia” (though, as that story points out, U.S. law provides severe disincentives for MLS teams to invest much in these academies, as they cannot prevent them, when they turn 18, from simply signing with an overseas club). FC Dallas’ academy opened in 2005, has a 17 field complex, has 120 players at present, and has churned out nearly two dozen professionals across both MLS and international leagues. We may soon be seeing the fruits of those efforts . For example, the U-17 World Cup is happening right now, and the U.S. has a good shot to go very far. They are currently 2-0, and need only a draw with Colombia to win the group. More than that, the team is stocked with talent that has soccer fans excited. That group, along with current young senior team stars like Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Weston McKennie, have many observers expecting the U.S. to be much better over the next two World Cup cycles.

Which, while promising, makes this week’s events all the more sad to me. If the above paragraph is true, then we may just be in the middle of a lost generation of American soccer, the transition between the Landon Donovan/Clint Dempsey/Tim Howard/Michael Bradley generation and the Pulisic generation’s revolution. Which means the “embarrassment” of this week wasn’t necessary at all. And, damnit, the World Cup is fun as hell. It will still be fun. I will be rooting for Lionel Messi to finally get over the top (Argentina has their own problems, and needed a Messi hat trick on Monday to themselves avoid missing out on the World Cup). But it won’t be the same. There is something fantastic about getting together in a crowded bar and cheering on the U.S. in the World Cup, and damn if the country couldn’t use that right now. Remember this:

It’s a long, four year wait for the World Cup. The wait just got a lot longer. -TOB

Source: The USMNT Got Exactly What It Deserved”, Billy Haisley, Deadspin (10/10/2017); F All of This”, Timothy Burke, Deadspin (10/10/2017)

PAL: USA Soccer needs to look to USA Hockey for some guidelines on how they might produce world class players. Both of my brothers have children playing hockey, and both have commented regularly at the infrastructure around USA Hockey. There is a playbook, a philosophy, developmental skills and priorities that comes from all the way at the top and feeds all the way down to the Mite level (8 and under). Also, the best players don’t necessarily play high school hockey, and the best players certainly don’t play more than a year of college hockey. There is a Juniors system in Canada and in the U.S. that allows players to hone their skills for the professional game, practice and play without NCAA restrictions, and ultimate train to become a professional.

Absent of that, I guess we look at outliers like the academy in Dallas. However, you don’t find the best of the best with only outliers. In order to compete with the top countries, the game needs to be pervasive, affordable. It has to be played in all neighborhoods. It has to be a national pastime, and a national obsession. We aren’t there. Not even close.

The Original Anthem Controversy

This is sorta funny, and given the current anthem controversy, timely, too. Nearly 50 years ago, the Detroit Tigers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals for Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Before the game, rising star musician Jose Feliciano sang the national anthem. Feliciano, a Puerto Rican American, put his own spin on the anthem. Listening today, I think it’s kinda fantastic.

But I am used to singers putting their own stamp on the anthem. My favorite, before hearing Feliciano’s, was always Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All Star Game.

In 1968, viewers were not so accustomed. Especially at the height of 1960s turmoil, with the Vietnam War raging, and on the heels of the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the country was as tense as it is today, probably moreso. Thus, what sounds to me like a charming and even heartfelt rendition of the anthem by Feliciano, angered many. The Detroit Free-Press published some of the letters they got from those angry viewers. For example:

“I have never heard anything so disgraceful and disrespectful. The only things that resembled our national anthem were the words. As a native Detroiter, I am ashamed of the persons who would let such a thing happen. I remember hearing John Glenn say, ‘I get chills when I hear our national anthem.’ I didn’t get chills. I got sick. No wonder our country is losing its dignity.”

In the aftermath, a live recording of Feliciano’s performance climbed as high as 50 on the charts, but Feliciano felt he was blackballed. Tigers’ legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who invited Feliciano, was almost fired. But he wasn’t. Decades later, Harwell would defend Feliciano, saying “Jose treated the flag and the anthem with respect. He just put his own stamp on it—and he was the first to do it.”

Following Harwell’s death, Feliciano was asked to return to sing his version of the anthem, per Harwell’s wishes. And he did. -TOB

Source: The World Series National Anthem That Infuriated America”, David Davis, Deadspin (10/06/2017)

PAL: I think Felciano’s rendition is excellent, too! There is something reassuring in stories like this. We have been through tumultuous, polarizing times before. Not only can we find our way out, but some good can come from the turmoil, too. However – and I know I’m in the minority here – I’ve never ‘got’ Marvin Gaye’s version. Love Marin Gaye, but his rendition has never done it for me. That backing track has always felt so cheesy…like he’s singing a karaoke version or something.

This story reminds me of the last song  – “Middle Of The Night” – Loudon Wainwright played at his concert in Berkeley on Wednesday night (by the way, Natalie and I were the youngest people there by about 35 years):

In the maelstrom of your mind you are swirled

You’re almost down the drain but not quite

It’s not the end of the world my brother

Rather the middle of the night

Portrait of a Football Coach at the End of His Rope

This week, Oregon State’s Gary Andersen abruptly resigned as Oregon State’s head football coach. Andersen left Wisconsin, of his own volition, after winning 19 games in 2 seasons, to coach the Beavers (the rumor was he didn’t want to deal with Wisconsin’s slightly more stringent than minimum academic standards). Oregon State has struggled this season, but the team was decent last year, and Andersen seems like a real grinder, and the move was shocking. More shocking, was that Andersen gave up nearly $13 million by quitting. Generally, when something like this happens, fans with some inside knowledge and media members leak out a little here and there, but the rumors are never confirmed. This time, though, was a little different. John Canzano, columnist for the Oregonian, published a story this week centered on a series of texts from Andersen to Canzano as this season progressed (with Andersen’s permission). It’s fascinating.

To me, Andersen comes off as both a good person, and as a guy who might be batshit crazy (he also needs to lay off the ellipses and exclamation points). I won’t put all the texts here, because there are quite a few, but together they show a man devolve from having some semblance of hope to one in utter despair. Andersen seems to come to the realization that he made two major mistakes: (1) taking the job at Oregon State, which has never been an easy place to win, in the first place; (2) hiring a coaching staff that he felt was not getting the job done:

Sept. 1: “Love my kids just want to see them take a step!! Don’t expect greatness but I do want to see progress!.. I will fight! It’s an interesting battle. However I asked for it and love my kids! We still need to step up around here and stop being small time!! … We played hard as hell … blown coverages and poor run fits… our youth hurt us bad… it’s on us. This team should get to a bowl game. If not I will be highly disappointed!! Getting old… patience isn’t what it used to be!!”

Sept. 3: “If the defense can not get better … I will be making some decisions I really do not like or want to make. We will grind!!”

Sept. 9: “Hard place right now… one thing I guarantee you is this: This staff needs to figure it out. I ain’t going to die doing this (expletive)! It’s on me and I get that and right now… Beaver Nation deserves much better! End of story!!”

Sept 12: “I have them by the (expletive) for every penny, no buyout for the next four not counting this year… but that’s not my style!! If it does not improve I will do some crazy (expletive) with my salary so I can pay the right coaches the right money!!”

Sept. 20: “I hired the wrong (expletive) guys and are still working our way through a bunch of recruiting years that stunk!! It’s year three! If these (expletives) can’t get it right I will not just say fire them and start over!! That’s not the way to go about it. If I (expletive) it up that bad I will take the bullet and ride off into the sunset! I will stay old school!! I will not die doing this (expletive)!! Stay tuned!”


Sept. 24: “Riot act has been read to this staff. We shall see what takes place. I have got to see better football regardless of who we are playing!!”

Sept. 24: “Need five graduate transfers in this class!!… I am in a good spot. Got a lot of ‘(expletive) everything’ in me and that’s when I am at my best!! Staff understands their (expletive) is on a short rope!! We are not great today but I expect to be better as we move forward this season!! I like this fight!”

Sept. 25: “It’s Oregon State! Not bitching trust me on that one!! It is what it is!! I made my bed!! Grind and fight again tomorrow with my kids!! I was in a bad funk on bye week now it will be me with my guys the rest of the way!!”

Oct. 1: “I could give a flying (expletive) about natives! I have not looked or listened to any of that (expletive) good or bad…  My plan won’t change. Coach my (expletive) off for these kids seven more times!! They will get all I got!! … I will grind for these fans they deserve that!!!”

I don’t think we’ve ever been given such naked insight into what it’s like to be a coach of a struggling college football team. Andersen reportedly lost 25 pounds since the start of the season, and it shows. He looked gaunt in recent weeks. It took a lot of guts to give up that amount of money, and it will be interesting to see where Andersen lands, if anywhere. He seems very intense, and he may just be the kind of guy who burns himself out, along with those around him, very quickly.

Source: Gary Andersen’s Exit Rooted in Beaver Nation Deserving Better”, John Canzano, Oregonian (10/10/2017)

Joe Girardi Was This Close To Being Canned

By now we know a Yankee blunder does not matter. The Yankees beat Cleveland to advance to the ALCS. The Indians – MLB’s most exciting team the second half of the year with a 22-game win streak- were up 3 games to 1 in last year’s World Series and lost 3 in a row to the Cubs. And now this loss to the Yankees, losing (again) 3 potential series clinching games in a row. So much can be forgotten in a week.

The play in question:

The significance, per Ben Lindbergh:

With two outs and two on in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Yankees up 8–3 on the Indians, Yankees reliever Chad Green, facing his third batter in relief of starter CC Sabathia, nicked the hand of Indians pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall with a 96 mph fastball. So said plate umpire Dan Iassogna, who declared the hit by pitch, sending Chisenhall (who had been down 0-2) to first and loading the bases for Cleveland. But slow-motion replays showed that the ball had almost certainly nicked the knob of Chisenhall’s bat, not his hand, before deflecting into catcher Gary Sánchez’s glove.

Hit-by-pitch calls are reviewable under MLB’s replay rules, but Girardi never issued a challenge. That non-review proved pivotal: Had Iassogna’s call been overturned, the Yankees would have been out of the inning, with a win expectancy upward of 97 percent. As it was, with the bases loaded, their win expectancy was only 93 percent—or, in this instance, slightly lower, because the next batter was not the generic major leaguer that the win-expectancy model assumes, but star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Naturally, Lindor homered, plating four runs, which brought the Indians within one and lowered the Yankees’ win expectancy to 70 percent. In time, that figure would fall to zero percent, after a Jay Bruce homer in the eighth and a Yan Gomes single in the 13th gave Cleveland a 9-8 win and a 2-0 series lead.

Why not challenge? Is it to preserve his 1 of his 2 remaining challenges allotted to teams in the postseason? Nope, and even if it were the case it’s A) unlikely he would need two more challenges in the game, considering this play took place in the 6th inning, and B) a manager can still appeal to the crew chief to review non home-run calls.

Aside from not having time to get the super slow motion within the 30 seconds given to teams to challenge (despite his catcher insisting he heard the sound of a foul ball), Girardi’s reason was that – as a former catcher himself – he didn’t want to break his pitcher’s rhythm. Now I am no pitcher, but I’d rather risk a break in rhythm to make sure an Indian player not named Francisco Lindor doesn’t get a free pass when down 0-2 in a count.

If the Yankees don’t win 3 games in a row, the tide seemed to be shifting towards Girardi being fired, with his decision not to challenge serving as the final straw. Now the Yankees are rolling. Their combination of veteran role players like Brett Gardner, emerging postseason heroes (Didi Gregorius), and a lockdown bullpen (the key to every deep postseason run) are covering for their young, struggling stars (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez) and the Yankees are ahead of schedule in their return to prominence. It’s hard to imagine Girardi gets canned now. Seems to me like he owes Didi Gregorius a steak dinner. – PAL  

Source: “The Last Word in Joe Girardi’s Game 2 Replay Challenge Blunder”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (10/9/17)

Video of the Week

He seems stable.

PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore’

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Everybody’s gotta be the hero with the pickle jar.

– Larry David

Week of October 6, 2017

The modern bu2iness man. 2O modern. Re2pect.

Wrong Result, Right Format

Tuesday night started out so well. I walk into Irish Times in the Financial District about 5 minutes before the first pitch. I’m decked out in my Twins sweatshirt and hat, and there’s TOB saving a spot at the bar directly in front of a TV. 5 minutes later, Rowe walks in and suggests a shot to kick things off. Dozier leads off the game with a home run. Later in the inning Rosario yanks one out to right, and the Twins are up 3-0 in the first inning. We take the shot. Girardi has to pull the Yankees starter after ⅓ of an inning! I sincerely believe this is shaping up to be a Twins route in Yankee stadium.

The Yankees stop the bleeding and hold the Twins to the 3 runs in the first. The Twins starter then walks the leadoff hitter – a terrible sign. Things get worse from there. Buxton injures his back on a very good catch, and the Yankees power their way back, handing Minnesota its 13th straight playoff loss. A 13-game losing streak in the playoffs is, well, historically bad.

Yes, the night started out perfect, but then the Yankees were the Yankees and the Twins were the Twins, and the nachos were soggy, and the beer — the beer is always good. I really thought they were going to do it this time, but just like that, the postseason began and ended in a night for my beloved Twins and me.

But I love the play-in game.

I love playoff baseball. Playoff hockey is great, but for there’s nothing better than playoff baseball. Every moment of the game with no clock is filled with importance, and as a fan there’s nothing better than that sustained focus building to crossroad moments in the game. Playoffs in any sport can drag on for months, so it’s cool to have it start with an elimination game in both the AL and NL.

I had no rooting interest in the Rockies-Diamondbacks game on Wednesday night, but I couldn’t help but look over Natalie’s shoulder at dinner to see the D-Backs reliever smack a 2-run triple late in the game, only then to give up back-to-back homers in the top of the next inning.

MLB has gotten a few things wrong in recent history – the All-Star Game determining home field advantage in the World Series, interleague play, the DH, and – you know – turning a blind eye to steroids, but they got this play-in game right, and I love it. – PAL

Source: The Yankees won because they were the better team, but there was a cost“, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (10/04/2017)

TOB: I agree. It’s fantastic (though this is easier to say because my team is 2-0 in the Wild Card game. If they were 0-2, I’m sure I’d be bitter). As usual, Grant Brisbee nailed it for me:

There was some chatter earlier on Tuesday, spurred by Ken Rosenthal, that if the Yankees lost, there would be calls for change. It’s right there in the headline.

“If Yankees or D-Backs lose, expect wild-card outrage—and calls for change”

As a fan of the last team that will ever win 103 games and miss the postseason, my advice to the Yankees would have been to win their division. This will be my advice to the Diamondbacks if they should lose on Wednesday night. Baseball used to have a system so unfair that it made winning the pennant something that made Russ Hodges’ soul escape his body and join the public domain. Then baseball made it a little easier to win the World Series … a little easier to win the World Series … and then a little too easy to win the World Series …

And now we’re here. I’m here to argue that here is the best possible format.

Start with the idea of the wild card. I hated it, but I came around to it. It was the homework pass you didn’t deserve, but almost did, so you didn’t even feel guilty. By the time the Giants and Angels met in the first all-wild-card World Series, it wasn’t even a big deal. The wild card took all the heat, but what about that weirdo third division winner? They had things to answer for, too.

It was still a little weird. The Marlins have two World Series titles, but they haven’t won a division title in franchise history. The Rockies have a pennant without a division title, and they’re going for another one. There was something a little too cavalier about a wild card team waltzing in and feeling that entitled. They needed one extra obstacle.

This. This one game is that one extra obstacle. It’s just enough to make the team desperately want the division title. It’s not enough to make a team feel like they’re sitting in the corner of the postseason with a cone on their head. It’s an extra chance on the reality show, a Golden Scepter of Redemption that’s handed out by the winner of last week’s challenge. They get to have a deathmatch game.


A major story broke last week that we didn’t get to in our post. By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the FBI investigation into bribery and fraud that involves seemingly every thread between top tier basketball recruits, AAU club teams, sports agencies, shoe companies, and college basketball programs.

I’m sure I’m leaving elements out here, but for the purposes of an overview, here’s my summary: AAU Teams are sponsored by shoe companies. Those shoe companies also have contracts with colleges. Those shoe companies are also woven in with sports agents and/or financial advisors. The idea is to get the best recruits on AAU teams that sponsored by a shoe company, then get that recruit to commit to a college that is also sponsored by that shoe company. Money is given to the player or player’s families through a variety of intermediaries in exchange for going the right school. Those that help finance the deals are then in an advantageous position to represent the player once they are drafted.

It’s not a shock that this has been going on, but until now the full view of the scandal hadn’t been exposed. Adidas and Nike are involved, and there are a lot of NCAA basketball coaches sweating it right now. Rick Pitino has already been placed on unpaid leave, as have many other assistant coaches at Arizona, USC, Oklahoma State, Auburn. It sounds like we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg so far.

There are a ton of stories out there about the scandal, but I found a couple to be particularly interesting.

This New York Times article does a nice job explaining the scam through one player – Brian Bowen. Widely considered one of the best high school players in the country, Bowen delayed his commitment all the way into the spring of this year (the last day for D-1 players to sign a letter of intent in May 17, and most players sign well before then). He listed his final options as North Carolina State, Michigan State, Arizona, Texas, and Creighton. Then, in June he finally made his announcement: Louisville.

Louisville coach Pitino had this to say about Bowen coming to Louisville: “But they [Bowen and I’m assuming his family] had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotels, pay for their meals. So we spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40-some-odd years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.This is the luckiest I’ve ever been.”

That, or he was paid $100K, and Bowen committed to the highest bidder.

Which brings us back to Pitino and Louisville AD Tom Jurich. It sounds like the weren’t just benefiting from paying players to help them succeed, rather, they were profiting millions from shoe companies.

This from Andrew Wolfson of the Courier-Journal: 98% of the current deal between Adidas and Louisville goes to…Rick Pitino.

“In 2015-16, for example, $1.5 million went to Pitino under his personal services agreement with the apparel company while just $25,000 went to the program, according to a contract obtained by the Courier-Journal under the state public records act.”

Adidas and Louisville just announced a new 10 year/$160MM ($79MM in cash) contract that is set to start in July, 2018. It is unclear how much of that will go to coaches.

If you take the time to read through these articles and can still look at me and tell me these kids are student athletes, then I don’t know what I could say to change your mind. This investigation was the tipping point for me. Yes, the vast majority of soccer players and swimmers and cross country runners competing at colleges big and small are student athletes. Big time football and basketball players are not. Why should sleazeball Rick Pitino be able to get filthy rich off of them while they are forced to take money under the table.

I want to say that we need to get rid of the rule prohibiting high school players from entering the draft, and we need to crackdown on the influence apparel companies have on youth basketball, but the fact is college football and basketball are billion dollar industries. We hear the word ‘college’ and we associate our college experiences with what’s going on at major programs like Louisville, Arizona, and USC when in fact the only similarity is the shape of the ball and the dimensions of the court. – PAL

Source: How The N.C.A.A. Recruiting’s Illicit Spoils Ensnared a Young Star”, Marc Tracy and Adam Zagoria, The New York Times (10/04/2017); Rick Pitino Raked in 98% of the Cash From University of Louisville’s Current Adidas Deal”, Andrew Wolfson, Louisville Courier-Journal (10/05/2017)

TOB: If they’d just pay players, we’d avoid this whole charade. There’d be less money funneled to coaches. There’d be less money funneled to hangers-on and “managers”. There’d be no pressure on players to sign with certain agents or shoe companies upon entering the NBA. This “scandal” wouldn’t exist. But it does, because the NCAA insists on holding onto the archaic and B.S.-from-its-conception concept of “amateurism”. I think this scandal may be the tipping point for the NCAA. Adapt or die.

The G.O.A.T Is A Habitual Wedding Crasher

Jerry Rice crashes weddings. This isn’t a story about him crashing a wedding; this is a story about Jerry Rice’s habit of crashing weddings.

This is a funny, sweet story, right? He’s either finishing up a round of golf and there’s a reception going on in the clubhouse, or he’s on the road staying at a resort. He goes in and congratulates the new couple. Understandably, the party freaks out. It is Jerry Rice. He stays, he dances, he takes pictures.

Or, is it a bit sad? Jerry friggin’ Rice says he crashes at least one wedding per weekend. One per weekend? It makes for a great wedding day story, but it kind of feels like a guy that wants to be around happy people on the happiest of days who are even happier to see him.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe it’s just a great story, and the G.O.A.T. gets joy out of making someone’s big day even that more special. Just thinking about Rowe freaking out and crying at his and Adrian’s wedding at the sight of Jerry Rice is a good time. – PAL

Source: No Excuses: Jerry Rice Is Playing Like a Champion”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (10/04/2017)

TOB: He’s always struck me as a strange dude, so this is not surprising. It’s funny, but also weird.

Joel Embiid, Typical 23-Year Old in a Big City

Here’s a fun one. Joel Embiid, the 76ers’ 7-foot Cameroonian center was seen on film on a late night run through downtown. He’s hard to miss, and so his run was caught on film. As are all the other things he does around town. Like, late night tennis:

This is amusing to me, and Dan McQuade, Philadelphian, nails why:

Joel Embiid is a 23-year-old living in Center City who works out by running down Pine Street. He goes to Center City Sips. He is basically doing exactly what I did when I was 23, but taller. A 7-foot Cameroonian is the most relatable Philadelphia athlete of my lifetime.

Live your life, Joel!

Source: Joel Embiid Is Nailing The Philadelphia Lifestyle”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (09/03/2017)

Video of the Week

The middle-aged guy can’t help himself.

PAL Song of the Week – Tom Petty – “Walls”

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“Michael, the last time I was exposed to a peanut, I was itchy for three days, ok? I had to take baths constantly. I missed the O.J. verdict. I had to read about it in the paper like an idiot.”

-D. Vickers