Week of January 12, 2018

When your new boss pays you $100 million, you use his barber.

Tonya Harding Was This Close To Being A Real Life Rocky

Funny story: A few weeks ago Natalie and I were having dinner with a couple friends and Tonya Harding’s name came up. Our friends chuckled. Natalie asked, “Wait, who’s Tonya Harding?”

If you ever wanted to know the difference between being 28 years old and 35 years old today – Natalie’s question is as precise an indicator as you’re ever going to find.

For those of you older than Natalie, I don’t need to tell you who Harding is (and for the young folk, here’s the gist of the story). The feature film I, Tonya, released back in December (I haven’t seen it yet) profiles the person at the center of the most famous Olympic scandal, so it makes sense for Taffy Brodesser-Akner to meet up with Harding 23 years later. I like how she went about a profile about a person who is trying to leave her past behind while still clearly bitter about her past.

Let’s start with the name. Tonya Price. She recently married and took her husband’s name. For a serious reporter, Bodesser-Akner has to be accurate. Her name is Tonya Price, and so she really should refer to the skater by her current name. But this is a story about Tonya Harding. Tonya Price is also Tonya Harding. It turns out the name confusion is actually a perfect metaphor. “This is basically how this entire story goes,” Bodesser-Akner writes. “There are facts, and then there is the truth, and you can’t let one get in the way of the other or you’ll never understand what she’s trying to tell you.”

Price/Harding goes on to tell her version of the Tonya Harding story, and it’s a grim one. This lady did not have it easy. A very poor, abused, tiny, but powerful skater trying to upend a sport that essentially judges on feminine grace. But for perhaps a broken skate lace, Harding might very well have won gold, and all of a sudden hers is added to the pantheon of great american underdog stories. Rose up from nothing to win a gold medal in a stodgy, beauty pageant sport of figure skating. However, the lace did break, and she was found guilty of not reporting that she knew who did the deed on Kerrigan’s knee (Price still insists she only knew after the assault). The underdog story vanishes, all the scrapping and grinding – all those values we love to associate as somehow uniquely American – they will never be associated with Harding.

Over drinks in Washington, Bodesser-Akner wants to hear Price’s version of the story, and she gets it. The writer’s final take:

Here’s the thing: A lot of what she said wasn’t true. She contradicted herself endlessly. But she reminded me of other people I’ve known who have survived trauma and abuse, and who tell their stories again and again to explain what had happened to them but also to process it themselves. The things she said that were false — they were spiritually true, meaning they made her point, and she seemed to believe them.

…Here is something I’ll never understand, that you can be sitting across the table from someone who certainly did something bad, who appears to show no remorse for it and you can still feel the oxytocin rush of love and sympathy for her.

Interesting read, especially for us over the age of 28. – PAL

Source: Tonya Harding Would Like Her Apology Now, Taffy Bodesser-Akner, The New York Times (01/10/2018)

TOB: Longtime readers of the blog will not be surprised that I rooted for Tonya Harding over Nancy Kerrigan. At 12 years old, I didn’t even know the emotional and physical abuse she endured – I just saw the crap she took from the sports media and was drawn to her as the underdog. After the attack I was lukewarm, but still didn’t like Kerrigan. I felt vindicated when her infamous Disney World video surfaced.

This was your darling, America!

Anyways, I watched the 30 for 30 documentary about the whole thing, and it was pretty sad. I read this article, and it’s also sad. Tonya Harding/Price has certainly been treated unfairly, and poorly, by many people in her life. But as Phil notes, she’s unable to move on. I haven’t seen I, Tonya yet, but I am happy that Tonya liked it, and felt her story of abuse was finally told, even if others see the movie in another light.

Bill Simmons Should Retire

This morning, Bill Simmons posted his thought on last Friday’s Seth Wickersham article on the reported inner-turmoil with the New England Patriots. Simmons’ take is bad. It was so bad that I postponed our post and quickly wrote this up. As he did on his podcast, Simmons argues that many points in the Wickersham story shouldn’t be believed because they were “denied”. Oh, ok. The principals of a big story deny the veracity of the details and therefore the story is necessarily false? I take biggest issue with the following, though:

 I know someone who spent time with Kraft last weekend; Kraft was more dumbfounded by the story than anything.

We couldn’t afford to keep both of them, Kraft kept saying. Why is this so hard to understand?

Let’s unpack this. First, Simmons uses an unnamed source, something he complains about in Wickersham’s article. In the same moment, he attempts to use his connections to give himself some authority. Then he quotes Kraft, without actually quoting him, and uses this “quote” to refute the report that Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo. But does it, really? All that it actually says is Kraft was dumbfounded because they couldn’t keep both of them, and why can’t people understand that. How does that refute that Kraft was involved in a personnel decision? Doesn’t it more likely support Wickersham’s report? Other reports say Garoppolo was offered a large extension. If Belichick is in charge of player personnel decisions, that means he made the extension offer to Garoppolo. But if Kraft said they couldn’t afford both Brady and Garoppolo, then doesn’t it follow that Kraft vetoed Belichick’s attempt to keep both of them, and Kraft ordered the trade?

Simmons also draws a terrible comparison to Kraft allowing Belichick to bench his “beloved” Drew Bledsoe in favor of 6th round pick Tom Brady, and allowing Belichick to release or trade other players, like Jamie Collins. That comparison is laughable. First, Bledsoe got hurt, and wasn’t available until the playoffs, and by that time they were on a roll with Brady. Second, Bledsoe never won a Super Bowl. Brady has won five. You think Kraft felt the same loyalty to Bledsoe as he does to Brady? No. Kraft has said Brady is like a son to him. Brady has said Kraft is like a second father. You think Brady is like Jamie Collins, Simmons? Get outta here, man. Seriously, it’s time to retire from writing. You’re rich and lazy. Your writing is lazy and dumb. You’re so far from objective that it’s painful. -TOB

Source: The Story That Tried to Divide Brady and Belichick“, Bill Simmons, The Ringer (01/12/2018)

Baseball: The (Potentially) Neverending Story

One of the greatest things about baseball is that you can never run out of time. You can and will run out of chances, if you don’t make good on them, but you can never say, “Geeze, things might have been different if we had more time.” 27 outs. That’s what you get. That’s what the other team gets. Theoretically, a baseball game could go on forever. A team could simply never make 27 outs. But there’s another way a baseball game could go on forever – extra innings. Again, theoretically, a baseball game could go on forever, as long as neither team leads after each complete inning after the ninth. It’s sort of wild when you think about it, and that brings us to this great Sam Miller article.

Sam opens the article by invoking the great Eli Cash:

On Sept. 5, Hanley Ramirez flared an 0-2 fastball into shallow center field. Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar charged in but couldn’t catch the ball, and Mookie Betts — who took off almost on contact — raced home from second to score. With that bloop single, Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox won the longest game of the 2017 season, after 19 innings, 544 pitches and exactly six hours of play.

What this article presupposes is: What if they didn’t?

What follows is an excellent exploration of the stages players, and fans, would go through if a baseball game went 50 innings. My only issue is this – the game he chooses to piggyback off of is a regular season game. Though it had some playoff implications, it’s still just 1 of 162 games. What I want to know is how MLB, and the networks, would react if a playoff game went that long. In the regular season, the players, managers, and even the league may eventually decide to call it a night and come back the next day. But in the playoffs? In the World Series? In a Game 7? What do they do?

In Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS, the Giants and Nationals played 18 innings, in a game in D.C. It was a day game (well, it was day here), and Phil and I watched the game at McTeague’s, a bar here in SF where we watched most of the Giants’ 2012 and 2014 playoff runs. I’ll never forget the bewildering and disorienting feeling walking out of the bar after the game and realizing it was still daylight. I’ll also never forget the intensity of every single pitch in the bottom half of innings 10 through 18. With one swing, the game could end.

MLB was lucky it was not a later game. Many MLB playoff games begin at 7pm, even 8pm EST. That game lasted 6 hours and 23 minutes, and it was on a weekend. Imagine it was a Tuesday night, and began at 8pm EST – it would have ended at almost 3 am. What would MLB do in that case? What would they do if it went another 6 innings? Miller’s article points out that, unlike in prior eras, MLB no longer has a curfew. The current record holder for longest MLB game in the modern era is a 1984 game between the Brewers and White Sox, but that game was paused due to curfew, and later resumed. Would MLB stop a playoff game and resume it later?

And what of the long lasting effect on the clubs? In a playoff series, it would almost certainly be a pyrrhic victory. You might win that game, and even the series but it’s going to so thoroughly screw up your bullpen and your rotation going forward that you’d have no shot in later rounds (of course if this happened in the World Series, there’s no such concern).

The other interesting aspect of this is the long term effect of the players themselves. Miller invokes what he calls the Something Important phase of an extremely long game. The Something Important phase is where fans and players realize that history is in the making (which I buy wholeheartedly, after having sat through that 18-inning Giants game mentioned above – very few things could have dragged me away). Miller discusses a college baseball game from 2009 between Texas and Boston College. It went 25 innings. Texas’ closer threw thirteen innings of shutout ball. As Miller relates:

Around the 15th or 16th inning, Austin Wood, Texas’ senior closer, was approaching 100 pitches of no-hit relief. He approached head coach Augie Garrido: “Don’t you even think about taking me out of this game.” He would end up throwing 13 scoreless innings in relief, 169 pitches, a performance that can only happen if the limits of the game get so badly extended that unthinkable possibilities can fit within them.

“When a player breaks through to that level, it changes his life,” Garrido said at the time. “… Now he knows something not many people know: You really can be anything you choose to be. … And if he gets a sore arm in the next 10 years, it’ll be my fault.”

And, was Wood’s career affected? You betcha.

“His professional career ended three years later, after shoulder injuries, and plenty of people think Garrido’s decision was unforgivable. Wood has defended Garrido, first by saying there was no connection between that game and his injuries, but ultimately concluding that it doesn’t matter if there was a connection: “If you offered me anything in the world, I don’t think I would trade it for the experience of playing in that game,” Wood told the Austin American-Statesman later. “It was that meaningful.”

Man. It’s hard to understand that statement. We don’t know that this game cost Wood his career. But he essentially says even if it did, he’d do it over again. 13 innings and 169 pitches are worth an entire MLB career? I wonder if he’d say the same thing had Texas lost.

Anyways, go read the article. It’s fantastic. -TOB

Source: What Would Happen if a Baseball Game Went 50 Innings?”, Sam Miller, ESPN.com (01/09/2017)

PAL: Such a fun read, folks. TOB nails the summary above, but one other comparison Miller provides is that of endurance dancing. It was a brief craze in the 1920s, and after watching some video on it, I concur with Miller: it’s the most miserable thing I’ve ever watched.

Also, TOB and I did not watch this game together (but we watched most of them at McTeague’s). I actually heard the Belt homer on the radio while sitting on a porch. Kind of cool to experience the greatest of baseball feats (game-winning playoff homer) over the radio. Thought the connected backyards, you could hear the neighbors all but jump up when he hit it, then lose it when it went over the fence.

Please Don’t Speak Ill of Canadians, Eh.

This is so damn funny. Some San Jose Sharks players were asked to name their least favorite road trip. Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun and Tim Heed all named Winnipeg, citing the fact that it’s cold, it’s dark, and the hotel wifi is slow. Honestly, that’s pretty inoffensive. Well, the prideful city of Winnipeg disagrees. The CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg was trotted out to correct these Sharks:

Spiring also noted the Sharks players have their facts wrong. Winnipeg is actually the second most sunny city in Canada with an annual average of 2,353 hours of sunshine, just below Calgary at 2,396.

As for temperatures, Braun’s home city of Minneapolis is much the same as Winnipeg.

Winnipeg’s average temperatures range between –12 C in the winter months to 26 C in summer. Minneapolis has an average of –9.1 C to 23.2 C.

Hertl is from Prague in the Czech Republic, where the temperature range is –3 C to 25 C. And Heed’s home of Gothenburg, Sweden, where winter temperatures average –3 to 3 C and summer temps average around 20 C.

That’s super funny. But, I’ll allow the retort so long as it ends there. Oh, no sir. It will not end there. Winnipeg Jets coach John Hockeyguy stepped in to give the Sharks a little whatfor.

The coach began by noting he hadn’t heard the comments. Perhaps a reason not to comment? Nah. Where’s the fun in that? Coach Hockeyguy then proceeds to lecture the Sharks players, and every player in the NHL, about how petty it is to whine about the cold and the dark and the slow wi-fi, when by god, they’ve got a good life.

#FirstWorldProblems, am I right? -TOB

Source: The Winnipeg Kerfluffle Has Reached Dangerously Canadian Levels”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (01/09/2018)

PAL: I love when coaches insist they “didn’t read” the story on which they’re being asked to comment. They usually make it about 1.5 sentence before they can’t contain themselves, and they take a “where are we at in the world today” stance. Guys, you aren’t generals in a war. You’re not giving away strategic positioning. You tell extremely talented athletes when to go in the game and when to come out of the game. No one will think less of you if you admit that you’re keeping tabs on the insignificant details.

Real Worms Vs Fake Worms

This article crystalized what we’ve known for years: sports stories can be – and oftentimes are – created out of nothing. The qualifications to what makes a sports story newsworthy have become blurry at best. Most of our news is provided by companies that earn large chunks of their revenue from advertising. Advertisers want eyeballs and clicks-thrus, and stories that generated the most clicks will be reported and posted – newsworthy or not.

This is why you know LaVar Ball, father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. LaVar drives clicks and eyeballs. He says crazy things in a bombastic tone. Like this:

This was not the first time LaVar said that. But let’s be honest, sports dads say some pretty absurd stuff, they just aren’t sitting on a TV set while saying it. He’s a dad. Dads are more or less crazy about their kids’ sports (TOB: Careful…). A dad’s commentary about his son’s basketball abilities hardly seems like news. But ESPN helped make it one, and they’ve done this before.

A few years back, our old pal John Koblin wrote a piece for this here website about ESPN manufacturing a sports story out of thin air. It began, in that case, with ESPN football pundit Ron Jaworski issuing the empty but hot-sounding statement “I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever” (my, how times have changed!); other ESPN properties treated this statement as news and other ESPN pundits reacted to it, leading eventually to Kaepernick (then with the San Francisco 49ers and not yet famous for kneeling during the national anthem) being asked to comment on it, and ESPN treating his comments both as newsworthy in and of themselves and also as the basis for the weird meta-story that an ESPN employee (Jaworski) had said something controversial. The playbook for this sort of thing goes back farther than that, as Koblin noted—at least as far back as when the network staged its own phony intramural culture war over Tim Tebow and sustained, for whole entire years, the entirely fictional story that either Tebow’s football ability or his performative religiosity were matters of genuine controversy anywhere outside the folie à deux between ESPN and its own viewership.

On and on we go. ESPN’s take on vertical integration.

LaVar Ball is not new. He’s just the soup du jour, and we say, ‘Mmmm. That sounds good. I’ll have that.’ Here’s the playbook tailored to the Ball family. Note: LiAngelo just left UCLA (he was a freshman), and LaMelo was a junior in high school.

An ESPN reporter seeks out—in Lithuania!—a noted blowhard and wrings a controversial take out of him (despite the blowhard’s best efforts to temper and walk back that take pretty much as it is leaving his mouth). ESPN spends the following days performing air-raid drills behind it, spawning a succession of follow-ons: Lonzo Ball is asked to, in essence, choose between his coach and his dad, and his tepid choice of athlete-interview boilerplate itself becomes a story; hysterical NBA coach’s union president Rick Carlisle says ESPN has betrayed its covenant with the doofuses who donate ten seconds of distracted “gotta get stops” talk to its between-quarters interviews, and that’s a story; Steve Kerr has takes about ESPN devoting multiple reporters to the LaVar Ball Beat when it has laid off talented people who do actual smart work, and that’s a story. Walton cracks a joke about it in a postgame presser, and that’s a story.

Why is ESPN bankrolling this and shoving LaVar Ball in our face, day after day after day? We click on it. We watch their First Take segments, then listen to their podcasts that comment on the First Take segment, and…hell, I’m writing about this non-story at this very moment. The non-story is now a story about whether or not it’s a worthy story. It’s not like they have the choice to run highlights all day (we don’t use ESPN for that anymore). 

For a company that’s gone through two rounds of layoffs in the past year or so they are fishing for the clicks. Instead of digging for worms, ESPN has been manufacturing plastic ones for years now. LaVar Ball will go away just as soon as he stops landing us fish. – PAL

Source: “ESPN: It’s Bad That We Keep Squeezing Juicy Quotes Out Of LaVar Ball”, Albert Burneko, Deadspin (01/10/2018)

TOB: Yes, thank you. It’s time we please stop the anti-Lavar backlash. ESPN is the problem! And here it is in a nutshell:

The Lakers have a problem now, in ESPN’s formulation. ESPN reporters think the Lakers must do a better job of preventing LaVar Ball from making, to ESPN reporters who follow him to Lithuania, stick a microphone in his face, and ask him for his opinions on issues related to his famous sons, statements that those ESPN reporters may then parse for their most incendiary content and package as inflammatory on ESPN’s various platforms.

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – The Fugees – “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (Roberta Flack)

Tweet of the Week

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Anybody who’s ever had the privilege of seeing me play knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world.

-Dizzy Dean

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