Week of May 18, 2018

Ben Zobrist was actually threatened a fine if he continued wearing these Sandlot-inspired PF Flyers. Loosen up, Commish.


Sad Story, Happy Ending

I’ve never read a sports story quite like this one.

Deshae Wise is a freshman sprinter on Cal’s track team. She came to Berkeley from a small town in Oregon, where she was a Gatorade Athlete of the Year. Her name is climbing up the record books already, with the eighth and fourth fastest 60-meter hurdle times in Cal history. She carries a 4.0 G.P.A., volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and she’s joined the black business association on campus, too. And before all of this success, she and her mom were victims of human trafficking. This wasn’t in some far off place halfway around. This happened right here in the U.S.A.

The initial moment Rebecca Bender, Deshae’s mother, realized what was happening is heartbreaking and terrifying. She had met Khaled (not the guy’s real name) in Eugene when she was around 19 or 20 and her daughter was still very young*. Six months after meeting him, Bender decided to move with him to Las Vegas to start their life as a family.

But the dream ended before it even began, according to Rebecca, whose recollection of the next several years is backed by FBI statements and court records, public documents and interviews. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Vegas, she says, things quickly turned. Khaled told Rebecca he wanted to take her out on the town. “Get dressed up,” she remembers him saying.

Deshae stayed with Khaled’s brother, but instead of heading to the strip, Khaled drove him and Rebecca to a dead-end street anchored by a deserted strip mall. Rebecca remembers just darkness and the hum of the car. Khaled, she says, turned to her and explained with a seriousness on his face: He needed money for the apartment, for Deshae’s food. . . . And Rebecca had to pay him. Now.

Khaled, she says, pointed to a door with a security camera above it and told her to enter. Inside she found a smoke-filled room with three desks pushed next to one another, a woman seated behind each. Behind them, written out cleanly on a dry-erase board, were the words brunette, blonde, asian, redhead. . . . It was all too clear, too real. She was at an escort service, and Khaled expected her to sign herself up. No way. She was shocked, confused, and terrified.

Back in the car, Khaled slapped her across the face. Rebecca was suddenly terrified. She was in a new city. . . she didn’t know her address yet. . . and she didn’t know where her daughter was. The rest unfolded in a blur of fear and confusion. At some point there was a phone call from a “local” in the Green Valley area, 15 minutes away. Khaled drove to a townhouse, dropped Rebecca off and parked nearby.

Khaled is what they call a “Romeo” – a trafficker that uses romance to lure his victims (as opposed to a “gorilla”, who uses brute force) – but he quickly turned violent towards Bender. He also would scare her by making threats on her daughter. Bender was mortified and trapped. Then she was “traded” to another trafficker. Kevin gave them nicer things, but he beat Bender and was paranoid the house would get raided. Deshae was getting older – she was in grade school by now – and she could say things to teachers, coaches, or other parents.

Writer Jeremy Fuchs does a really good job juxtaposing their nightmare with mother and daughter existing in the most common, ordinary backdrops. Soccer games, volleyball games, and school plays. They existed in our world, and no one knew the truth. They were very much captives.

Why didn’t Bender just take Deshae and leave, you might be asking. She did try. Four times, in fact.

By the time Deshae was eight, Rebecca had tried to flee with her daughter four times. Once, they made it back to Rebecca’s mom’s house in Grants Pass, but Kevin tracked them down in Oregon and brought them back to Vegas. Another time, feds surrounded one of Kevin’s houses in Vegas in the middle of the night as part of a tax-evasion investigation, and Rebecca took Deshae out the back door and climbed over a fence into a neighbor’s yard.

If that seems like the perfect opportunity to escape, Rebecca didn’t see it that way; she didn’t see any choice but to stay with Kevin—a common sentiment among victims of trafficking. “There’s the realistic stuff, like: How would I get a job? Or what is society going to think of me?” says Elizabeth Hopper, a clinical psychologist and the director of Project REACH, which helps trafficking victims. “Traffickers control the living space, the money, where to go. . . . And then: Is he going to come after me?”

In the end, obviously, Bender and Deshae do escape (it may surprise you as to how they get away), and we know the story has an incredible ending in Deshae signing an athletic scholarship at world-renowned academic institution. Perhaps most incredible of all is that Deshae was never abused. “The probability that I wasn’t sexually or emotionally abused is so slim,” she said. “In any other situation it would have happened to me—but it didn’t.”

This heavy, dense story, but absolutely worth your time. – PAL

*Fuchs never gives an exact age on Deshae when they move to Vegas with Khaled. She’s a freshman now in 2018, and her mother moved back to Eugene around 2000 after getting pregnant with Deshae in Maryland. The story says later that Bender was traded after two years under Khaled in 2004..so she must of met Khaled in 2001 or 2002, which would’ve made Wise around 2 at the time of the move to Vegas.

Source: Life After Escaping the World of Human Trafficking”, Jeremy Fuchs, Sports Illustrated (05/10/2018)

TOB: God damn, an incredible story. Deshae’s mother, Rebecca Bender, has started the Rebecca Bender Initiative, with the goal of equipping first responders with the tools to identify victims of exploitation and assisting victims to escape their traffickers and then assisting them re-adjust to society. In this video, Rebecca tells her story:


Best Of Warriors-Rockets

Since this is such a hot series, we wanted to try something a bit different here and create a mini playoff series digest within the weekly digest. Here are the best bits of writing about games 1 and 2:

Game 1 (Warriors W, 119-106):

PAL: Kevin Durant is 7-feet tall and one of the best shooters ever. Unfair. The Warriors simply have more. Durant, Curry, Klay, Green (who wasn’t a scorer tonight). Mix in a few buckets from role players like Nick Young, and it’s impossible to score at their pace. Harden is incredible, and Paul is real good, but the Warriors are just more.

TOB: Before the series, I figured Warriors in 6. But unlike most, this game did give me a little pause. Curry did not look right, and relying on Durant to hit 18 footers is not what got the Warriors here. The fact they had to do it so often suggests to me that Curry is not out there doing Curry things to get himself and others open. Still, the Rockets looked terrible, and it took an incredible Harden performance, hitting tough shots while well defended, to keep the score respectable. 

Best Stuff:

Source: “Houston’s Risk-Management Basketball Didn’t Work Against the Warriors”, Danny Chau, The Ringer

  • [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey has admittedly been obsessed with beating the Warriors, the NBA’s white whale; this isolation-heavy offense can’t possibly be the answer to Golden State’s riddle, can it?
  • In front of the backdrop of a Golden State offense steered by Stephen Curry’s gyroscopic off-ball play and Kevin Durant’s virtuosity in any sort of space, the Rockets’ offense looks downright ugly.
  • Styles make fights, and no matter how the rest of this series plays out, Houston has at least provided an important intellectual exercise for both Golden State and the league at large. The Rockets don’t have as much talent on their roster as the Warriors do, and they would be fools to consider replicating the Warriors’ style just because it’s en vogue (PAL note: this is exactly what Houston did in game 2 – they increased the ball movement and got role players involved in the offense). Houston is playing risk-management basketball, making sure that its supporting cast isn’t forced to do anything it isn’t comfortable doing; it just so happens that placing all of that pressure on two primary ball handlers also raises their risk profile. It’s a gamble. It always is against the Warriors.

Source: The Warriors Are Better Than The Rockets”, Albert Burneko, Deadspin

  • “That, in turn, partly is due to the fact that the Warriors have Kevin Durant, but more importantly it’s because the Warriors know more ways to score than standing around like fucking idiots while their Designated Ball User dribbles a Morse Code War and Peace into the hardwood in 22-second chapters.”

Source: The Rockets Have Nothing For Kevin Durant”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin

  • Look how many of those buckets are simple isolations; look how mercilessly Durant sizes up and incinerates whichever sack of crap (or two) dares guard him. My favorite is at around 1:25, when Andre Iguodala feeds the ball down to Durant in the mid-post where he’s matched up against P.J. Tucker, and Marv Albert says, “Iguodala for Durant, has a mismatch.” Indeed he did: He had a mismatch against Houston’s best individual defender, the guy designated for the grim job of checking him all night. “Kevin Durant has a mismatch” is the safest thing to say in all the English language. Bark it out the next time you’re wandering the aisles of your local supermarket. The time of day doesn’t even matter. It’s always true. Kevin Durant has a mismatch.

Game 2 (Rockets W, 127-105)

PAL: The Warriors can just drive you nuts. Winning isn’t enough for these basketball artists – they need to make the most beautiful play, even if the degree of difficulty is way high or the margin for error is transparent. The turnovers kill me, because they just seem so careless. How can the same group of dudes make the game look so perfect be the same dudes to make it almost unwatchable?

Tonight was the only recipe for a Rockets win. Combine an off shooting from everyone not named Durant + Rockets role players going crazy. Come on – P.J. Tucker, Ariza, and Gordon aren’t going to score 22, 19, and 28 in the same game again this series. Warriors still take this in 5.

TOB: I still think the Warriors win this series. But Game 2 made me ask myself out loud: When will people stop overreacting to Game 1 of a series? Look at what those writers wrote above after Game 1. Or Charles Barkley joking the Warriors would win in 3 games. It happens all the time. Multiple times per postseason. A team wins Game 1 and suddenly no other result is possible. Basketball doesn’t work like that, especially this deep in the postseason. Teams get here because they’re good and can do good things. The Rockets won 62 games. That’s no fluke. The Warriors got close in the 4th, cutting it to 10, and suddenly the Rockets rained threes on their heads and pushed the lead to almost 30 in just a few minutes.

The Warriors have a real Steph Curry problem, though. I’m guessing he’s hurt, because he looks immobile and not explosive just like in 2016. Not only can he not guard anyone, he can’t get open. He looks lost out there and he needs to start hitting shots or the Warriors will lose. For all the Durant love, no one changes a game like Curry – he opens the floor up for everything the Warriors do, and they cannot win this thing without a major contribution from him. Also, Klay’s inconsistency will never not drive me crazy.

Best Stuff:

Source: Steph Curry Will Have To Take Over At Some Point, Tom Ley, Deadspin

  • You could see Curry outlining a Takeover Game—one of those in which he singlehandedly erases what appeared to be an insurmountable lead through a barrage of threes and floaters that drop perfectly through the net—but he just wasn’t up to filling in the full picture. Your level of concern regarding the Warriors’ chances going forward in this series should directly correlate with how likely you think it is that Curry will continue to sputter in these moments. You have to assume he’s going to keep trying to grab hold of games like he did during that fourth-quarter stretch last night, and at some point the Warriors will need him to find his grip.

Source: “Steph Curry Needs to Get His Mojo Back”, Danny Heifetz, The RInger

  • The biggest obstacle between the Warriors and their dynastic destiny isn’t another team, but Steph’s mojo failing to return, à la the 2016 playoffs. Through two games, the Rockets have thwarted Steph by having their bigs play tight defense when switched onto him, daring him to drive and denying open looks from 3. Whether Steph is unable or unwilling to take what the Rockets are offering him, the plan has thus far worked. His defensive performance added to the frustration, as James Harden constantly targeted Steph in Game 2.
  • In all likelihood, Game 2 was an anomaly. The Warriors let washed Manu Ginobili walk all over them in Game 4 against the Spurs, and the Pelicans crushed Golden State in a similarly sloppy performance by the defending champs two weeks ago. Both opponents were swiftly vanquished in the ensuing games. Odds are the Warriors will win their next two home games, clinch the series in Houston, defeat whatever overachieving Eastern team survives the conference finals, and we’ll remember this game as the last ray of light before the Warriors blotted out the NBA sun for the third time in four seasons. Yet there’s a chance—say, 13.7 percent—that the outcome of these playoffs isn’t prewritten after all.

Robinson Cano: the PED/HOF Debate Rages On

(Forgive me for writing about this topic again, but I love it)

He’s not really going to be a case study in how Hall of Fame voters will treat players with confirmed PED suspensions, because by the time he’s eligible around the year 2040, the question of whether PED guys make the Hall of Fame (Bonds and Clemens chief among them) will have sorted itself out. But Robinson Cano’s suspension this week for taking a diuretic that is often used as a masking agent will still be interesting.

As things stood before this week, Cano had a good chance to make the Hall of Fame if he retired the day before the suspension was announced:

At age 35, Canó is already past many of the standard statistical markers for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. We usually start the Hall of Fame conversation at around 60 bWAR, and Canó’s up to 67.5. JAWS, a Hall of Fame value estimator that balances a player’s career bWAR against his seven-year peak bWAR, rates Canó’s career as already better than that of the average Hall of Fame second baseman. Plus, Canó, who’s still a very good hitter at this stage in his career, has five more seasons left on his current contract in which he can pad his counting stats. He has 2,417 career hits and 305 career home runs.

With a few more years, Cano should get to 3,000 hits and might get to 400 home runs, which would have made him a sure thing before this week. But now that he has this black mark, what will come of his Hall of Fame chances? The Ringer’s Michael Baumann makes a good argument. First, the electorate is changing – younger, more accepting of the fact that PEDs exist in baseball. Cano’s final year on the ballot could be as late as 2040. All of the voters who felt personally fooled by the Steroid Era and refuse to vote for anyone associated at all with PEDs will be long gone – either dead or otherwise not voting. Second, the media likes Cano. This should be a big plus in his favor. And as Baumann points out, the upcoming candidacy of Andy Pettite should tell us a lot about Cano’s chances:

But we should pay attention to what happens to Andy Pettitte, who was named in the Mitchell Report and admitted to using HGH, when he appears on the ballot this year. His case isn’t any more impressive than Gary Sheffield’s, and while Sheffield peaked at 13.3 percent in 2017, I’m confident that Pettitte, with his Baseball Man reputation and clutch postseason record, will blow that number out of the water.

And, I’d point out, it’ll also tell us a lot about the hypocrisy of voters who won’t vote for Bonds or Clemens, two not well-liked guys who are suspected of taking PEDs, but will vote for Pettitte, a well-liked guy who we know took PEDs. -TOB

Source: “Will Robinson Canó’s 80-Game Suspension Affect His Hall of Fame Chances?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (05/15/2018)

PAL: It matter to me. It’s not about what the Hall of Fame represents, or what we think it should represent; rather; it’s about entitlement.

Bonds, McGuire, Palmero, Cano, Manny, etc. – these guys are/were idolized and catered to and fawned over for playing a game. They earned hundreds of millions of dollars. They made a royal life for themselves and their loved ones.

I know I sound old and out of touch, and possibly even naive, but whether or not a guy used performance enhancing drugs matters. Should he be able to play again? Yes. Should he be able to continue to make an insane amount of money? Yes. Should he be able to coach after he’s done playing? Of course.

The only part of an illustrious, fruitful life in baseball that these guys are kept out of is the Hall of Fame, voted on by the Baseball Writers of America and the Veterans Committee. If the Hall of Fame is what’s at stake for the greats, I’m good with that being the punishment for taking banned substances. But what about the guys who admitted to taking greenies and all the other unsavory characters with plaques, you ask. I’m not saying it’s perfect solution, and it’s moving the barrier of entry for relatively new generations of players. Again, I think that’s an acceptable consequence to cleaning up the game.

TOB: Isn’t that a little overkill? A little jealous? A little petty? The punishment for taking banned substances is an 80 game suspension. And a lot of money (for Cano around $12M). The HOF is not just an honor for the players – it’s a museum, of baseball history for the fans.

Also, I don’t recall much complaint from you when your boy Pudge got in the HOF. As I’m sure you remember, Pudge came into camp CONSIDERABLY slimmer the year they began testing for steroids. He was also implicated in Canseco’s book, which proved accurate on quite a few other guys. Pudge got in on the first ballot.

We’re gonna ban Cano now because he took a diuretic? Even if I were to agree a HOF ban for use of PEDs was appropriate, I’d need a lot more than the use of something that can be a masking agent.’’’

PAL:

  1. You say my reaction is overkill, jealous, and petty. In other words, I’m being jealous and petty. I’d say that’s a bit much. Would I like to be a big league baseball player? That would be awesome! Do I walk around constantly jealous of them, and am I happy when they get caught breaking the rules. No, and no. I do think having a game without PEDs is a worthy pursuit, so I wouldn’t call pondering the legacy of a great player who tested positive for a banned substance petty or of little importance. I mean, you wouldn’t love writing about this if it was inconsequential.
  2. A player can be included in the “museum” without being inducted into the Hall of Fame. We’re talking about a plaque and a speech. That’s it. We aren’t using the ctrl-f on their name and deleting it from all records of ever playing the game.
  3. Pudge – yes, there are rumors and weight loss. Obviously, it’s harder to keep someone out when there isn’t a failed test or admission. I concede that this is a fuzzy zone here, as we’re entering that pre-admission, Lance Armstrong territory (never failed a drug test) here.
  4. Dude, baseball players take the diuretic for one reason. Call me jealous and petty, and I’ll call you willfully ignorant on this “diuretic isn’t the PED” take. 

TOB: When you argue, “they earned hundreds of millions of dollars. They made a royal life for themselves and their loved ones,” and this is the one thing they can’t have, then yeah it sounds a little jealous. But there’s a lot more to this.

First, As I noted, the punishment is 80 games, which will cost Cano $12M. Now you want to punish him again, decades from now, by not letting him in the Hall of Fame? That’s too much, for me. Moreover, you argue that this will “clean up the game” presumably because people won’t want to risk their chances for the Hall of Fame. There’s a huge flaw in this logic. How many players playing today do you think have a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame? Maybe 20? 25? Let’s say 50. That means those 50 guys are subject to a much harsher punishment than everyone else simply because they are better players. Brandon Belt is good. He’s not HOF good. If he gets popped for PEDs, he comes back in August and continues to play. If Kris Bryant gets popped for PEDs, he pays the same price as Belt PLUS he can’t be in the HOF. How is that fair? And how is it a deterrent for the players who have no chance at the HOF?

Second, my argument about diuretics is not willful ignorance. It’s asking for a higher standard of proof than rumors, allegations, and innuendo. Because taking a diuretic is not proof – it’s innuendo. It’s suggestive. Maybe he smoked some weed and wanted to clear that out of his system.

Finally, you make my point for me with Pudge. There was an allegation. There’s circumstantial evidence. And he sails in. For Bonds and Clemens, there were allegations. There was circumstantial evidence. And they may never get in. How is that fair? There should be no “fuzzy zone”. The only fair thing is to let them all in. Have a section in the HOF explaining the steroid era, and note that many players were suspected of using.


Sports Gambling: Coming Soon

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unconstitutional the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, signed into law in 1992, on federalism grounds. The result? It will likely now be up to each individual state to determine whether sports gambling will be legal within that state. Given the expected revenue, it’s hard to imagine most states won’t move quickly to legalize it. But what of the consequences? The ripple effect is hard to even comprehend. Individual families. The Nevada economy, where sports gambling was already legal. Will teams begin offering in seat real time gambling?

Last month I was in Tahoe for a bachelor party, and we spent one evening at the sportsbook. The real-time gambling on baseball was incredible. With each base runner or out, the odds moved like stock prices. Late in a tied game, the smallest events moved the odds dramatically. It was fun enough just to watch the odds swing. We locked in a bet for the Giants to beat the Dodgers in the 7th, and got a solid +145. Soon after, the Giants’ payoff dropped, and we felt like we had free money with our payoff locked in. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan wonders if that will happen pitch by pitch with an app. I can’t see why not – Phil and I do $1 bets on things like that with friends already.

And what about the sports leagues? The NBA and MLB have been openly rooting for this, looking to take a piece of the pie. They are reportedly seeking 1% off the top of all wagers made. Yeah, that’s a lot of money. For decades, MLB has been concerned about how gambling could affect its game (see The 1919 World Series; Pete Rose). But in his article this week, Passan makes an excellent point:

Strong salaries for player tend to be all the integrity they need; the cost of bribery for a millionaire exceeds nearly every gambler’s bankroll. This is nothing more than a cash grab, the leagues calling shotgun on their piece of the pie before others start to understand its enormity. Peel back the lawyer speak and commissioner Rob Manfred’s position always has been clear. He doesn’t see gambling as a panacea but instead an insurance policy. Good economy, bad economy, people gamble. So long as people gamble on baseball, they’ll watch baseball. And the more people watch baseball, the better for the game.

The players make way more money now than gamblers could offer them, so the risk of a player taking cash to throw a game is much lower than it used to be. Passan also suggests the increased money and attention could lead to robot umpires. I dunno. I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, other changes Passan suggests seem likely:

A general manager or head of analytics will leave a team to take a job with a gambling outfit. The Ivy League brains that skipped Wall Street to instead work in sports may now see gambling as the perfect happy medium

As Passan says, “our capacity to gamble is limitless.” It will be fascinating to see where this takes us. -TOB

Source: How Gambling Can Help Make Baseball America’s Pastime Again“, Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports (05/14/2018)


Augie Baseball Update

After winning the NSIC Tourney, the Vikings beat Pitt St. 9-4 in the first game of the Regionals. Four of the nine runs were earned. Today (Friday, 5/18) they play Emporia State. Go Vikes!


OHTANI WATCH!

We’re about six weeks into the season. Time to check in on Ohtani’s performance.

3.58 ERA and 6 home runs. NOT BAD! A slash line of .321/.360/.617 for an OPS of .977. VERY GOOD! On pace to be at or near Phil’s benchmarks by the All Star Break.

This has been your Ohtani Watch Update. Thank you. -TOB


Videos of the Week: 



PAL Song of the Week: First Aid Kit – “Emmylou”


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“Close your eyes. Picture a convict. What’s he wearing? Nothing special, baseball cap on backwards, baggy pants. He says something ordinary like, ‘Yo, that’s shizzle.’ Okay. Now slowly open your eyes again. Who are you picturing? A black man? Wrong. That was a white woman. Surprised? Well, shame on you.”

-Michael Scott

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