Week of June 29, 2018


One out away and a lifetime ago. Arkansas loses the the CWS. 

One of the Best Game Stories You’ll Ever Read

For a beat writer, a game story is kind of a pain. Games end late and you have a tight deadline to make the morning’s paper. Most begin writing their gamers, as they’re known, while the game is still ongoing. When a game changes late, the gamer changes, too. Beat writers today must really hate gamers as they are increasingly irrelevant given the social media landscape. How many genuine sports fans wake up in the morning, open the sports section, and are surprised to learn of the outcome of their team’s game from the previous evening? Whatever the number is, it’s shrinking by the day.

I rarely read gamers anymore, because I either watched the game or followed along on Twitter. But last Sunday night there was something about this tweet that made me click on the Chronicle’s gamer by long-time Giants beat writer Hank Schulman:

Boy, am I glad I did. In the game, an aging and struggling Hunter Pence stepped up in the bottom of the 11th inning, the Giants down a run, with the bases loaded and one out. The moment screamed double play, as the once great Pence has rolled over so many balls the last couple years I couldn’t begin to count. And, sure enough, Pence lunged at an 0-2 fastball that was low and away. He made weak contact toward first base, and at least one out seemed assured. But baseball is a beautiful and weird game that always surprises. Eric Hosmer, the Padres’ first baseman, was playing well off the line. The ball snuck by him. The Giants scored two. The game was over. Pence was a hero.

It was a great moment for Pence, his teammates, and Giants fans. Hank Schulman took the opportunity to produce one of the best gamers you’ll ever read. Here’s how his story began:

The mass of people who have not, and cannot, understand the rush of a high-level athlete in the arena still have an avenue to understand how Hunter Pence must feel to have his skills decline, being forced to outrun the calendar, listening to the couch surfers and microphone jockeys advising him to get lost.

Haven’t most people had one of their passions taken from them, by physical decline or life’s circumstances? Isn’t that sting universal to the famous and ordinary?

Pence is not blind. He knows it’s coming, be it this year, next year or soon enough. He is 35 and hitting below the Mendoza Line. His accolades and World Series rings cannot buy him more at-bats. Only success on the field can.

Now, Hank is a great Twitter follow and a really good sports writer. But that is some next level beat writing. Gamers don’t usually have sports-as-life metaphors. As I said above, there’s not enough time. Maybe in October. But in June?

You should know that Hank was diagnosed a couple years back with cancer. As far as I know, he is in remission. But I can’t help but wonder how much Hank was thinking of his own journey when he wrote that, which makes it all the more affecting. I can’t recall ever feeling compelled to thank a writer for any story, let alone a game story. But I did when I read that. -TOB

Source: Giants Stun Padres on Pence’s 11th-Inning Walkoff Hit”, Hank Schulman, SF Chronicle (06/24/2018)

PAL: I wish I had more to add. I loved it, too.

Athletes and Aging

How do humans age? Why? What happens to our bodies as they slowly break down, year after year, over the course of decades? How is it measured? ESPN’s Sam Miller tells the story, with both science and the anecdotal evidence of five of the best baseball players in the game, all at different stages of their careers. Man, this is a great article.

23-year old Shohei Ohtani:

Thirty-three feels so far away, but it’s already happening. The 23-year-old’s lean body mass peaked sometime in the preceding five years. His bone-mineral density too. He’s at the age when the body begins producing less testosterone and growth hormone. His body, knowing it won’t need to build any more bone, will produce less energy. Male fertility peaks in the early 20s, the same time as pitch speed and exit velocity. Athleticism is, crudely speaking, about showcasing what a body looks like when it’s ready to propagate a species. The 23-year-old’s machine works as it was designed to. It is undamaged, unsmudged, and every circuit in it is trained to carry on his family’s tradition of survival. When you’re 23, the 32-year-old Mark Trumbo says wistfully, “performance is the only thing holding you back.” To watch a 23-year-old athlete is to see the perfect machine running perfectly.

26-year old Mike Trout:

He’s the best player in baseball, but he has, technically speaking, lost a step: When he was a 20-year-old rookie, he might have been the fastest runner in the sport. Now he’s merely fast. As a rookie, he made four home-run-robbing catches; now, at 26, he hasn’t made one in almost a season and a half. Yet he has not yet begun to decline as a baseball player. He’s having, by most measures, the best season of his career, and he’s the easy front-runner for American League MVP. It’s an odd quirk of aging patterns that ability declines before performance does: Exit velocity declines years before home runs do; speed declines years before stolen bases do. Bone density might peak around 20, but ballplayers, most aging curve studies have concluded, peak in their mid- to late 20s.

30-year old Clayton Kershaw:

A year ago, he was considered, more or less unanimously, the best starting pitcher in the world, with a stretch of more than 1,300 innings — the equivalent of six full seasons! — with an ERA below 2.00. Now he’s probably not, and he might rank as low as fifth or sixth. He allows too many home runs; his velocity has been dropping; and he keeps missing time with lower back issues. (Early byproduct of aging: loss of water content in the spongy lower back disks, leading to herniation and other problems.)…The 30-year-old pitcher throws a curveball for strike one, then he throws a fastball for strike two. It’s 87.9 mph. In a start just 363 days earlier, his fastball averaged 94 mph, but today the average is 89. Less than 24 hours after this game, in fact, he will return to the disabled list, the lower back again.

35-year old Justin Verlander:

It’s the seventh inning, the score is 4-0 and the pitcher throwing the shutout is 35. He’s been an ace for most of this decade, but in the past few years, his peers have been disappearing. Jered Weaver and Matt Cain retired last year, at 34 and 32, respectively. Tim Lincecum, 34, was in Triple-A this year until he got released. Felix Hernandez, at 32, now throws in the high 80s and carries an ERA in the mid-5s.

There was a point a few years ago when the man on the mound feared he might be approaching such a fate. He’d thrown an 88 mph fastball in a game, and he thought his career was ending. Now, though, at 35, he might once again be the best pitcher in the game. “Rather than stability, we have lifelong flux,” wrote the authors of the StarCraft study. “Our day-to-day performance is, at every age, the result of the constant interplay between change and adaptation.”

We know, or can speculate on, some things about this pitcher’s body: His mitochondria — the little factories in the cells that produce energy — probably don’t work as well as they used to. His muscles are probably losing elasticity; his tendons and ligaments are stiffer from having less water content; his bones are more prone to fractures or stress injuries. He doesn’t produce as much testosterone or growth hormone as he did in his early 20s, and it’s therefore harder for him to add muscle mass.

38-year old Albert Pujols:

The 38-year-old at the plate used to do everything: one of the best defensive first basemen ever, a valuable baserunner and a multidimensional hitter who mastered the strike zone and homered nearly as often as he struck out. One by one, the systems have broken down: He’s a DH more often than he plays the field; it hurts to watch him run; he almost never walks; and he sets career highs in strikeouts and career lows in almost everything else. His career survives mostly on the basis of one home run per week.

There’s a way of looking at the data to conclude we will all die — 100 percent of the people who came before us did. But there’s also a way of looking at the data to conclude that, in fact, I never will. I’ve been alive for a billion data points and I haven’t died once.

To watch the 38-year-old these days is to see these two arguments smash into each other. It is to watch a dignified man walking alongside, but not yet into, the end. It’s to see an athlete who was once the very best in the world fail, repeatedly, in public, and to see that it’s OK — not at all shameful — to get worse. It’s to see the smiles and the ovations among it all. It’s to see that, ultimately, this isn’t life and death. Just a metaphor for it.

One of the best articles I’ve read this year. -TOB

Source: What Happens as Ballplayers Age?”, Sam Miller, ESPN (06/27/2018)

PAL: “They stop being young sooner than you think.” What a great line, man.

TOB’s right; fascinating read. When we get deep into the weeds, it seems to all break down to the following:

Ballplayers first notice it in the short, explosive moments. “To get to a 97 mph fastball that’s up in the zone, you know you can get it there,” 31-year-old veteran catcher Caleb Joseph says. “It just isn’t as readily available anymore. When you’re 22, it’s always on. You’re like, ‘Do I need to get a lighter bat? Is this how it’s gonna be?’ ”

He laughs, then pauses, deciding which kind of story he’s telling. “I went down an inch this year. I’m still hitting .150.”

Is it that he’s not as strong? That his brain doesn’t pick up the pitch as fast? It could be, but it could also be that the nervous system moves slightly slower as we age, says Corey Dawkins of Baseball Injury Consultants. Joseph could identify the pitch just as quickly, decide to swing just as confidently, swing just as powerfully as he ever did — but the signal from brain to muscles takes a fraction of a microsecond longer to travel.

There’s nothing you can do but get a little older and a little slower. In a game of decimal points, a little is a lot.

Messi & Argentina:

The very first sentence of this Messi World Cup article made me stop. “He’s not having any fun at this World Cup, that much is obvious.”

Shocker. No one will argue that Messi is anything less than an all-time great, and some will argue he’s the best ever, but at 31 years old Messi has still has one unchecked box on his career – winning a World Cup. This might not be his last chance, but it’s certainly is last chance as all-time great player.

Since when is greatness about having fun? In fact, I’m guessing players like Gretzky, Bonds, Jordan, Jim Brown, Woods would choose 3 adjectives to describe their time on the ice/court/field/course before any of them used the word ‘fun’.

The relationship of Messi and Argentina is an odd one, and I’m not sure ‘fun’ has any place in it. While Messi was born in Argentina, he and his family moved to Barcelona when he was 10 or 11 years old. He was already a prodigy, but the club team in Argentina reneged on paying the $1,000/month treatment he needed, and another team in Buenos Aires couldn’t help out due to the economic collapse. Enter Barcelona. Messi had family in Catalonia. A trial was set up. The rest is history.

Messi was considered a dual-national (Argentina and Spain), so he was eligible to play for either national team. Once a player plays a game for one national team, then they’ve made their claim and can’t play for another team. Argentina went so far as to scheduled two matches for the U20 team to prevent Messi from changing his mind. Perhaps they were paranoid – it has always been Messi’s dream to play for La Albiceleste.

So there’s always been controversy around Messi and Argentina. The greatest player of his generation is from Argentina, and yet his entire life from 10 years old on has been rooted in Spain. So it’s not hard to imagine the criticism when Messi and Argentina loses 1-0 to Germany in the 2014 final with the greatest scorer coming up empty, or when they again lost to Germany in 2010 quarter finals 4-0.  He has six goals in 18 World Cup matches. That ranks him tied for 38th all-time. That’s a problem.

All of this has lead folks to question his level of commitment to national team.

Don’t even think about suggesting Messi lacks love for his homeland or pride in being the captain and talisman for its national soccer team. That’s not the case, but the truth is that he doesn’t much like playing for Argentina because it causes him nothing except pain.

He has felt the burden of being anointed as a national treasure at a young age and still carries the weight of his country’s World Cup hopes — no, demands — as much as he ever did. It is a payload that gets heavier with each passing year, every fresh disappointment or missed opportunity.

I read this, and I think about LeBron before he got Cleveland that title. While James was the fulcrum for a city that hadn’t won in 5 decades, Messi was that for an entire country obsessed with one team, one sport. Those forces seem heavier than what James felt in Cleveland. He feels the weight no matter which way things teeter

And Messi’s experience at Barcelona reminds me of the Warriors – a team of stalwarts that in part allows him his moments of genius. He’s Steph Curry. And in that role, he’s won everything. Success breeds success.

It is easier to play with that kind of freedom when you have accomplished everything, and there are no boxes to be ticked for Messi at Barca, where he has won everything worth winning, multiple times, while also collecting a glut of individual accolades

He’s great at being Steph, but can he be LeBron? We’ll see. This article was written before Argentina snuck out of pool play. Messi still has a chance to grow his legend and make his mark on the World Cup, but he will have to do it while carrying the weight of a Argentina on his back. – PAL

Source: “Why Lionel Messi Hates Playing for Argentina in World Cup”, Martin Rogers, USA Today (06/24/2018)

Grief and Football

This week, Sports Illustrated published an excellent piece on the January suicide of Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski. The story focuses mostly on the aftermath – the pain and guilt his family feels because of Tyler’s death, and what they could have done differently. It’s a very good article and you should read it.

The story reveals that the Mayo Clinic determined Tyler had Stage 1 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (“CTE”). Stage 1 CTE is the lowest level, but is associated with depression, and Tyler’s brain reportedly resembled that of a 65-year old man. For a 21-year old who had not played much college football, and at that had played the relatively protected position of quarterback, the news was fairly surprising. While Tyler did play linebacker in youth football, this made people realize if it could happen in this situation, it can happen to anyone at any level of football, and much quicker than people have assumed.

The story is sad, as you’d imagine a story dealing with a family’s reaction to the suicide of a young person would be. But what I find so troubling is that the family either refuses to blame football, or doesn’t care. This might not matter, but the Hilinski family has another son, Ryan. Ryan is also a quarterback, and a very good one. He will graduate high school next year. After receiving offers from programs like Ohio State, LSU, and Georgia, Ryan decided he’d play college ball at South Carolina.

I never like to tell someone how to raise their child. As a parent, I know we’re all doing the best we can. It’s just not my business, and especially for a family like the Hilinskis, it’s hard to know how grief and guilt are affecting them. They say they do not blame football. But…why? Do they not want to blame football, because doing so would mean they played some part in his death by allowing him to play? Tyler’s older brother, Kelly, also played quarterback in college:

Kelly says scared isn’t exactly the right word to describe the family’s relationship to football now. Kelly views the sport as a welcome distraction from Tyler’s death. He says that when he has kids—if he has a son, he’ll name him Tyler—he will let them play football, without hesitation. He wants the boy to learn lessons best gleaned in shoulder pads, to find pain and overcome it.

Can’t your kids learn those same lessons playing other sports that don’t have brain trauma as a core part of its gameplay? And while Kelly says he’d let his kids play football, at the same time he’s worried about Ryan:

“I’m worried,” Kelly admits. “I’m worried Ryan might face the same signs and symptoms that Tyler had and he won’t be the same person that he was.”

That is just baffling to me. I realize the odds are low. Many kids play football each year and don’t suffer those injuries. And yes, kids can be hurt or worse in countless ways and you can’t ever guarantee their safety. But shouldn’t you do your best to limit the unnecessary dangers? And isn’t it possible that the family has some genetic marker that makes them more susceptible to CTE with less brain trauma than other people?

For his part, Ryan says, “I just don’t give a f—. I don’t care. I love this sport. This is not what hurt [Tyler].” This is more or less what you might expect a 17-year old kid to say. And his parents raise the good point that he’s almost 18 at which point he can make these decisions on his own. But, man. I just can’t understand that, after already losing one son, they are not doing everything in their power of losing another. If Ryan develops CTE and becomes depressed like Tyler did, even if the family is better equipped to see the signs they missed with Tyler, preventing his death is not the end. He’d still be a person changed for the worse.

I feel terrible for this family, and I hope my tone here is not judgmental, because that is not why I am writing this. The Hilinski family will never read this, anyways. But as someone who still watches football, though with less glee than I used to, it’s a reminder to myself. Because, at times, I’ll catch myself thinking, “I dunno, maybe I’d let my kids play high school football.” So I need reminding: no. Just don’t do it. Or this could be me:

Instead, upon landing, [Tyler’s mother] steeled herself for meetings with medical examiners and detectives, learning that Tyler had left behind a note. Maybe, the Hilinskis thought, he had explained his decision, told them not to worry, absolved them of their guilt. Then they read the short message he had written and that only made them feel worse. That note—the Hilinskis do not want to publicly reveal the contents—offered no explanation, no I love you, no goodbye.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). -TOB

Source: A College QB’s Suicide. A Family’s Search for Answers”, Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated (06/27/2018)

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – George Harrison – “What Is Life”

Tweet of the Week

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You couldn’t handle my undivided attention.

-D. Schrute

Week of June 22, 2018

No comment.

So, a quick recap of the career of the Giants’ resident idiot, Hunter Strickland:

  • As a rookie, Hunter Strickland gave up six home runs in eight innings in the 2014 postseason. That’s not good, but it happens, and the Giants overcame it to win the World Series.
  • Two of those homers came off the bat of Bryce Harper, who is pretty darn good. Harper didn’t pimp the homers too hard.

But Strickland apparently took great offense. Hold onto that thought. We’ll get back to it.

  • In the World Series that year, Strickland gave up two home runs. After one of them, Strickland cried like a baby and yelled at Salvador Perez, who didn’t even hit the homer but scored on the play, leading both benches to clear.

  • In the 2016 postseason, Strickland gave up the season-losing hit to Javier Baez in the 9th. Strickland stared him down. Are we seeing a pattern here? Apparently it’s a crime against Strickland to do something good.
  • Remember that thought you held onto? Strickland certainly does, because on Memorial Day 2017, Strickland, somehow still holding a grudge against Harper from three years prior for…doing his job, plunks Harper with a 98 mph fastball, causing the benches to clear. To show you how little he cares for Strickland, Posey didn’t even attempt to slow Harper down as he charged the mound. And by the way, Giants’ outfielder Michael Morse suffered a concussion in that game, effectively ending his career a few months early.

  • In 2018, Strickland had pitched pretty well, compiling a 2.84 ERA and 13 saves in 16 tries. Not elite, but well enough. There were lots of articles written about how he’d learned from his past mistakes and knew how to keep his cool on the mount.

Which brings us to the events of the last few days. Last week, the Giants went into a 4-game series in Miami, one of the worst teams in baseball, and lost 3 of 4. They blew quite a few leads in that series, and Marlins’ rookie Lewis Brinson, who had been hitting .160, played a big role. He was a little excited about it, and apparently Strickland didn’t like that. When the Marlins arrived in SF this week, Strickland apparently wanted to teach Brinson a lesson. Entering Monday’s game in the 9th with a 2-run lead, Strickland went walk, double, walk, and the score was 4-3. On his first pitch to Brinson, Strickland threw 98 mph at his head. Nice. Brinson bailed and avoided getting his face smashed, dusted himself off, and got a base hit to tie the game. The next batter also got a base hit, the Marlins took the lead, and Brinson ended up on third. Strickland got yanked, and Strickland went all Strickland on him, walking toward third base instead of the dugout, barking at Brinson the whole way.

The Giants lost, btw. Good job, Hunter. Strickland claimed after the game that he overreacted and blah blah blah. Oh, he also punched a door and broke his hand and now he’s out two months. What a meathead.

To compound matters, the Giants somehow thought this was someone else’s fault, and… beaned Brinson on Tuesday. It was soft, and on the thigh. But, of course, the Marlins retaliated and hit Posey just below the shoulder, a dangerous pitch that could have been worse. If I’m Posey, I’m pretty pissed off at Strickland. And if I’m the Giants, I’m wondering why I keep putting up with this hot-headed moron. It’s not fun when you realize the team you are rooting for is the bad guy in a given beef, as Strickland and the Giants are here. I wish they’d get rid of him. I don’t like having to root for him to succeed. I wish he’d just go. -TOB

PAL: Dude isn’t nearly good enough to put up with his wanna-be tough guy schtick. His antics are selfish. When he beans a guy, it’s about a personal beef. It’s not about protecting or standing up for a teammate. Ship him out!

Athletes and Reporters: Work Spouses

This is a great read on the daily interactions between athletes and beat writers. Specifically: LeBron James and the guys who cover him every day, and how LeBron has cultivated those relationships. In doing so, LeBron has flipped the media narrative early in his career that he was “unsophisticated about the NBA media game” and “out of touch”, and into a guy that reporters enjoy covering, give the benefit of the doubt, and a guy they can talk to about life beyond basketball. For example:

James understands how beat writers can be friends but also compete for scoops. He knows the value of giving a reporter personal attention. In 2015, James caught McMenamin’s eye when the ESPN reporter was interviewing Joe Harris. James knew McMenamin had worked in L.A. and asked whether he was still commuting back and forth. No, McMenamin said, I moved here to cover you.

James pointed at his chest and said, “Miami.” He pointed at J.R. Smith, who was sitting at his right, and said, “New York.” He pointed at McMenamin and said, “Los Angeles.” Then James said, “I guess we’re all in this together.”

McMenamin was touched. It was the rare instance when a superstar bothers to understand how and why a reporter came to cover him. “I always appreciated that moment,” McMenamin said, “because he was trying to put himself in my shoes.”

James has also done so by understanding the media – they are people who are just doing their jobs and doesn’t get angry if they ask him an uncomfortable question:

But among his beat writers, James rarely balks at tough questions. The flip side of the intimacy McMenamin talks about is that the writers feel they can ask James whatever they want.

Vardon—who got the honor of asking James why he unfollowed the Cavs on Twitter in 2016—will often approach James after a presser to explain a tough question. James will inevitably wave him off. “He goes into almost any room thinking people want things from him,” Vardon said. “He appreciates people who are there to do their job.”

“It’s never about, Oh, you’re the one who’s going to protect me,” said Nichols, who has been interviewing James one-on-one since he was 17. “It’s understanding those questions are going to come and that he’d rather do it in an environment where he can actually answer.”

Yes, I’ve long been a LeBron stan, but I think any sports fan will find the inner-workings of the athlete/reporter relationship interesting.

Source: How LeBron James Mastered the Media”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (06/20/2018)

PAL: Agreed. A well-written piece about the relationship at the heart of how we consume sports and sports stories.

A secondary point I found interesting was the idea that the nature of a lot of NBA stories (I would add NFL to this, too) have become GM-centric. Potential trades, contract stories, building a roster for the future. Curtis chalks this up to, at least in part, so many players being inaccessible. The writers still need to write a story, and they’ll go to a source who will talk to them.

More central to the point of the story is a basic understanding of the nature of the reporter-player relationship. Perhaps LeBron was reluctant to be himself on the record during the early stages of his career, but he gets it now.

As ESPN’s Joe Vardon puts it, “It’s very simple. If a reporter has access to a person, if this person’s willing to talk to them, it’s easier for their viewpoint to show up in the writing. LeBron has always understood that.”

And finally, I liked that Curtis didn’t focus on the relationship between player and media while only looking at what the players bring to the table. ESPN’s Rachel Nichols offered this:

“There’s a continued culture shift in who’s doing the sportswriting. Is it older white males and how they see younger black athletes? Or has there been a more diverse group of people in media who bring more diversity of thought?

“That is not to say every older white male has the same opinion. But a diversity of thought in sportswriting creates a different cauldron of reaction than if you have the same drumbeat.”

NBA fan or not – this is a great read.

This Is How The Work Culture Changes

She’ll never say it, but Teresa Resch is a big deal. She’s the Vice President of Basketball Operations and Player Development for the Toronto Raptors. About 18 years ago (yikes) we were both freshman at Augustana College (now Augustana University, home of the 2018 baseball National Champions) in Sioux Falls. She had come from Lakefield, MN to Augie to play on their outstanding volleyball team. I had driven across I-90 to play baseball. We’ve been friends ever since.

I’ve had the pleasure of following her career after Augie. I knew great things were waiting for her, but she’s already outdone herself. Here’s how Raptors President Masai Ujiri described Resch at a recent Women in Sports and Events banquet:

“That right there is the Toronto Raptors, right there,” Ujiri said, pointing to Resch as the audience clapped for her. “We talked about lifting women, we talked about believing in women, and when we went out and made a lot of hires, we did not hire them because they were women. We hired them because they were the best. They were the best candidates for the job, and that’s what they serve as, and they stand up tall, and they lead the Toronto Raptors. And we listen to them. Teresa is the chief of staff. Everything she says goes.”

First of all, how cool is that? Second, Teresa’s always been the chief of staff in any room. Third, she’s part of a very exclusive group of women changing the face of the NBA, and I’m incredibly proud of her for that. In order for cultural shifts to happen within an organization – like more women taking leadership roles in a male-dominated workplace – the people before need to pay it forward. We all know this, but it’s always worth calling it out when it’s taking place.

In Resch’s case, that person was Ujiri. And for Ujiri that person was Kim Bohuny, NBA’s Senior Vice President of International Basketball Operations.

“Kim is the reason I’m here, OK?” Ujiri said while choking up. “So, 15 years ago, I got a phone call from Kim Bohuny, and she asked me to come to be director of Basketball Without Borders. My life changed. Today, I’m the President of the Toronto Raptors. I was an unpaid scout when I got that call from Kim Bohuny, so here are some women that are changing lives, and changed this life right here.”

The 47-year-old Ujiri was born and raised in Nigeria, and it was Bohuny who helped the unpaid Orlando Magic scout with an opportunity. By 2013, he became the only non-American to be awarded NBA Executive of the Year while with the Denver Nuggets and was then hired by the Raptors. Toronto has since made five straight playoff trips.

To be sure, Resch has earned opportunity that’s come her way, but people need the opportunity to “earn it”. It’s cool to see that come to life in the the NBA amongst two women (Resch and Bohuny) and a guy born and raised in Nigeria (Ujiri).

Also, I happened upon this article by going through my usual sport story browsing. That’s a cool feeling to see your college friend pop up in your morning news. – PAL

Source: “How a Woman Changed Masai Ujiri’s Career and Why He Has Entrusted Other Women with Raptors Front Office Roles”, Michael Scotto, The Athletic (6/15/18)

TOB: Agreed, great story. Masai deserves credit for not just giving workplace diversity lip service, but actually putting it in action and trusting that he sees talent in people that others in the sports world would be afraid to act on.

I had the pleasure to meet Teresa a few years back. In addition to very generously getting us seats behind the Raptors’ bench, she graciously let me pick her brain about how an NBA front office works. In fact, after she found out I’m a Kings fan, she asked me my opinion on Kings’ guard Greivis Vasquez. A few weeks later, the Raptors took Vasquez as part of the Rudy Gay trade. I have joked that I helped make that trade happen, but the reality is that successful people seek input from a variety of sources, and she was probably just seeing if I had seen something in Vasquez that would help her analysis. It sounds like she’s continued to rise in the time since. Congrats to Teresa!

The One Place Sponsors Won’t Advertise At The World Cup

The World Cup got underway last week, and I found myself sipping on coffee last Sunday watching Germany and Mexico play. Late in the game, with Mexico clinging to a surprising 1-0 lead over the defending champions, history was made when Rafa Márquez entered the game. He became only the third player to ever play in 5 World Cups.

One would think this would be cause for celebration. At very least a post-game interview. But very little was made of this accomplishment. The reason might surprise you.

“Márquez, 39, is on a United States Treasury Department blacklist of people it says have helped launder money for drug cartels. His inclusion on the list prohibits American individuals, businesses and banks from having anything to do with him.”

They aren’t joking around with this. He can’t drink from branded water bottles, he wont be selected as a “Budweiser Man of the Match”, and he will earn no money. Why no payment? The banks FIFA used to wire each team money to prepare for the World Cup have U.S. affiliations. Different flights had to be booked for his trip to Russia. His practice jersey displays no sponsors.

One would wonder if it’s worth it for Mexico’s national team to carry Márquez as a sub. Obviously, they think it’s worth it. Not only did he make his record appearance, but he’s the team captain of a squad that upset a world power in Germany.

Márquez has denied any involvement with the cartels.

I would ask how long it might be before they make a movie out of this, but I’m guessing the U.S. Treasury might have an issue with that. I guess it will have to be a foreign film. – PAL

Source: Mexico’s World Cup Captain Is on a U.S. Blacklist”, Tariq Panja, The New York Times (6/18/18)

TOB: Yeah, it’s pretty wild. And Mexico is going to great lengths to ensure they don’t run afoul of the sanctions, so it’s not like they don’t take this seriously. The decision to include an aged player with this kind of baggage is puzzling. Also, your last line made me LOL.

Save Mike Trout

On Monday night, I saw this excellent video on ESPN, from Keith OIberman, about how Mike Trout is amazing and the Angels are terrible.


Mike Trout is already, at 26 (!), one of the best and most productive players in baseball history. He’s played only 1,000 games. He’s just off Pete Rose’s pace for hits in his first 1,000 games. He’s just off Hank Aaron’s pace for total bases in his first 1,000 games. He’s way out in front of Bonds’ pace for home runs in his first 1,000 games. He has a higher career WAR, right now, than any of the following players did their entire careers: Willie Stargell, Big Papi, Harmon Killebrew, Vlad Guerrerro, Yogi Berra, Sammy Sosa. The list goes on. 

He’s currently on pace for the greatest season of all time, measured by WAR.

And get a load of this:

But Mike Trout has been stuck on a terrible team that keeps managing to compound its mistakes. He has played in exactly three playoff games his entire career. He currently leads the league in home runs (23), runs (60), walks (62), on-base percentage (.464), OPS (1.152) OPS+ (217), and total bases (176). Last weekend he hit four home runs in two games, and his team got swept. The Angels are barely over .500 and will need to get red hot to make the playoffs. 

So, to the Angels: Please, baseball fans beg of you: Trade this man! If you love him, set him free! He will be a free agent after the 2020 season, at the age of 29, and he would be absolutely insane to re-sign with you. So, get something in return. You could get the greatest haul in trade history and fix your entire screwed up roster. Please? -TOB

Source: Mike Trout Doesn’t Deserve This Shit”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (06/19/2018)

Video of the Week

Father of the Year: Dad runs on the track to pull his son out of a burning race car, even goes back in to turn on the fire suppression system.

PAL Song of the Week – TV On The Radio – “Family Tree”

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In my family you don’t really go out and get things. If you want something you write it on a list, and then the housekeeper goes out and gets it, on Wednesdays and Fridays. So, I dunno. I guess you could say this job is on my list, and we’ll see what Rosa comes back with.

-Drew Bernard

Week of June 15, 2018

Mike Bibby has been working out, obviously in anticipation of his one-on-one matchup with TOB.

6 Astros Combine for a Rare Unlikely of Baseball Occurrences: The Combined No-Hitter

On June 11, 2003, 6 Houston Astros combined to no-hit the Yankees. There have been 12 combined no-hitters in baseball history. For reference, there have been 23 perfect games. It’s one thing for a single pitcher to be electric and lucky for nine innings (and more impressive, I’d say), but it’s more rare for a handful of guys to have near perfect nights on the same night.

Sweeny Murti deep dives into the Astros no-no for the The Athletic in an inning-by-inning breakdown. Roy Oswalt’s strained groin forced him out of the game in the 2nd inning, kicking off the series of unlikely events.

The Astros had a stacked bullpen in 2003. Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner were throwing high 90s (with Wagner regularly hitting triple digits). They shortened a game for sure.

Also, don’t sleep on the fact that this was an interleague game before interleague play was so pervasive (began in ‘97). The Yankees had never seen Lidge, Dotel, or Wagner.

The notion of the combined no-no becomes more plausible with a bullpen like that. When the Astros made it through 5 innings, then this became far more possible.

Some of my favorite bits:

A lot of guys on the team didn’t know what was going on or at stake until after the game was over! Hell, the catcher, Brad Ausmus, didn’t even know until the 6th inning when Brad Lidge entered the game. “Part of the reason it didn’t cross my mind was because there seemed to be a lot of traffic earlier in the game. There was so much going on on the bases, it didn’t even dawn on me that it might be a no-hitter.”

Nathan Bland was a reliever that had been 1 pitch away from getting into the game. If Pete Munro walks Posada on 4 pitches in the 3rd inning, Bland is pitching at Yankee Stadium in what turns out to be an 8 week major league career. When closer Billy Wagner gets up to close out a 9-0 game, Bland is pretty ticked.

Bland had made his major-league debut only one month earlier. He was perplexed — even a bit perturbed — not to be able to pitch in a game his team led by eight runs in the ninth inning.

“I honestly did not realize it was a no-hitter at the time,” Bland says. “I’m sitting there going, ‘Why are they putting Billy Wagner in?’ I don’t understand this. Is there something I’m not getting? And I turned to Ricky Stone and said, ‘Why are they putting Billy in? This isn’t a save situation!’”

Stone stared at Bland.  

“You don’t know?” he asked.

“What are you talking about?” Bland asked, staring back.

Stone wasn’t jinxing it, not now.

“I’m not saying a word,” he replied.

Bland turned away.

“A few pitches later I looked up at the scoreboard and was like — Ohhhhhh!”

After Wagner catches the final out on a grounder to Bagwell at first, the no-hitter is complete, yet the celebration is, well, muted. Also, it’s hilarious.

There was no dogpile at the mound and nobody tried lifting anyone on their shoulders. There were a few pats on the back and some high fives, but it seemed to be something in between a regular win in June and a typical no-hitter celebration.

“It was awkward is the best way to say it,” Lidge says.

And that’s because even as that last out was made, some of the players on the field didn’t know what just happened.

“I know Bagwell and Kent, those guys were clueless,” Wagner said.

And perhaps the most surprising discovery from this entire, lengthy piece: who is the winning pitcher in a no-hitter when the starter doesn’t go 5 innings. The Astros scored in the top of the first inning, so Oswalt enters the game with a lead.

Are you ready to have your mind blown? Are you? Here we go.

In any ordinary game in which the starter fails to go five innings, as Oswalt did here, the designation of “winning pitcher” becomes the decision of that game’s official scorer. It is based on who he alone deems to be the most effective relief pitcher in the game. In any ordinary game, this is fairly simple and rarely controversial. This was no ordinary game.

The official scorer gave it to Lidge that night, and I can promise you he dangles that factoid over the other guys just about every time they see each other (the epilogue indicates many of the pitchers still see each other on fishing/hunting trips and over the holidays). Lidge went two innings and entered the game with a 4-0 lead.

The scorer gave him the W (“he had the cleanest appearance” was his rationale), and now Lidge’s hat is in Cooperstown as the winning pitcher in a no-hitter.

It’s probably not the worst thing. Kirk Sarloos, who entered in the 4th, may have had a little extra help that day. “I had a little pine tar underneath the bill of my cap and that might not have been good sitting in the Hall of Fame.”

Lastly, this absolute gem. After the game the equipment manager comes into the clubhouse to get the game ball from Wagner.

“Drayton wants the ball,” Laborio said to Wagner, referring to Astros owner Drayton McLane, who was in attendance at Yankee Stadium that night.

“Well he’s not getting the ball,” Wagner told him.

Laborio wasn’t going to go back to the owner empty-handed. So Wagner walked over to a ball bag, grabbed a batting practice ball, and handed it to Laborio.

“Hey, there it is,” Wagner said.

The stories behind the historic moments are endlessly enjoyable. The pitcher who has a cup of coffee in The Show getting pissed that Billy Wagner (400+ saves) is going into a 9-0 game without knowing the circumstances, the rarely used rule giving the official scorer the dictatorial power to grant a historic win, the employee thumbing his nose at ownership. I will be happy searching and finding baseball nuggets like these for the rest of my life, thanks to writers doing the kind of work Sweeny Murti’s does on this story. – PAL

Source: “’You Dumbass, We Just Threw a No-Hitter’: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How Six Astros Pitchers No-Hit the Yankees”, Sweeny Murti, The Athletic (June, 2018)

TOB: Damn, what a stacked bullpen.

BTW, I did know that tidbit about the winning pitcher when the starter goes less than 5 innings. It was a pretty controversial wrinkle of Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. The Giants’ starter, Hudson, struggled and Affeldt came into a 2-2 games in the bottom of the 2nd with 2 out and men on 1st and 2nd. He got a groundout to get out of the inning, then went single/double play/ground out in the 3rd and hit by pitch/double play/groundout in the 4th. Bumgarner then entered, shut down the Royals and sealed the World Series win. Controversially, the scorer gave the win to Affeldt and not Bumgarner.

Also, the two lesser-known relievers in this story demonstrate some supreme baseball player logic. The win was given to Lidge, who went 6 up, 6 down. Munro complains he should have gotten the win because he got two more outs – but he also three walks. Sarloos pitched only one inning but claims he should get the win, because he pitched the fifth and that’s the threshold the starting pitcher must meet to get the win – which is so illogical it’s hard to believe he said it with a straight face.

Finally, like Phil, my favorite part is Wagner sticking it to owner Drayton McLane.

Crawford’s So Hot, Scherzer’s Blue Eye Turned Brown

I feel a small kinship with Max Scherzer. For one, he and my son both have heterochromia iridum, though my boy does it better.

For two, the better Scherzer is, the easier it is for me to point to him when someone tries to argue Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the league. But when Scherzer faces the Giants, he’s an absolute menace and I hope he dies like a dog.

Last weekend, the Giants split the first two games of their series against the Nats in D.C. and headed into Sunday with Derek Lastname facing Scherzer.

That matchup did not sound like a recipe for success, but somebody forgot to tell Scherzer about Brandon Crawford. The Giants’ shortshop has been en fuego the last six weeks. He was hitting .190 heading into May, but after going 4-for-4 against the Nats on Sunday, was sitting at .338 for the season, after hitting .412 in May and (thus far) .539 in June. The dude hit .412 for a month and nearly halfway through the next month is hitting more than 125 points better! Uh, holy cow?

Among Crawford’s four hits were three off Scherzer, including a double and a 2-run homer in the fourth that proved to be the game’s only runs in a 2-0 Giants win.

The Athletic did a fantastic pitch-by-pitch breakdown of that at-bat, showing how a locked in Crawford was able to take the game’s best pitcher deep. Another great article this week from the Athletic was Eno Sarris’ look at why Madison Bumgarner has not been up to his usual standards in his first two starts of the year. The answer: His cutter is not boring in on the hands of right-handed hitters, and he’s not getting the same extension as he usually does, thus releasing his fastball farther away from home plate than he has in the past and allowing hitters more time to recognize and put the bat on it. Or perhaps you’d prefer Jayson Stark’s article on likely MLB expansion and how that could mean a drastic (and I mean drastic) realignment. All three articles are really good, and I highly suggest you shell out a few bucks and check them out, as this is the kind of great stuff you routinely get from the Athletic. -TOB

Source: Brandon Crawford Remains Red-Hot at the Plate – Even Against Max Scherzer”, Julian McWilliams, The Athletic (06/11/2018); What’s Missing for Madison Bumgarner So Far? Let’s Take a Close Look”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (06/12/2018); How MLB Expansion Could Lead to Realignment, a New Playoff Format, a Universal DH and More”, Jayson Stark, The Athletic (06/13/2018)

PAL: How the hell does Crawford lay off that 1-2 change-up? That is a perfect pitch.

Starts over the middle of the plate, then falls off the outside corner. How you spit at that change from a guy who throws 97 is incredible.

Crawford is in his seventh full year in the majors. He’s hit over .260 just one year, which shouldn’t surprise me but it still does. He always seemed like a .300 hitter in waiting. The swing and timing has always looked consistent. He’ll cool off this season, but maybe he’s unlocked a couple components at the plate and has a .300 / 20 HR / 90 RBI year as the Giants make a run at the division title.

Annie Savoy and the Female Baseball Fan

Bull Durham came out 30 years ago this week (sheesh), and that’s a good enough reason to read Kelsey McKinney’s solid story on female baseball fans.

Her assertion:

Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon in the 1988 classic baseball movie Bull Durham, is the best representation of female fandom in any sport—not because, mind you, she sleeps with players, but because she has a deep knowledge of and undeniable love for the game. There are, of course, plenty of women who worship in the Church of Baseball. But all too often, we are ignored in popular representations of the sport.

Reading this has me agreeing with McKinney. More than anything else in this movie, Savoy is active fan of a crummy, minor league team. While she takes on a player to be her lover every season, they are just side pieces. Her main squeeze in baseball. She’s more than a romantic interest of Nuke and Crash. She’s a great baseball mind, and well-read, and well-dressed, and in control and beautiful.

No wonder McKinney heaps such high praise on what Savoy represents. As an avid baseball fan, she’s lived in a world where real women fans don’t receive the respect the team and other fans give to Savoy.

At one game, I sat in front of a crew of men pretending to know what they were talking about. “Scherzer’s great and all,” one of them said to his friend referring to our three-time Cy Young winner, “but I just can’t respect a pitcher with only two pitches.” Inadvertently, I laughed. Max Scherzer has five solid pitches: a four-seam fastball, a changeup, a cutter, a curveball, and a slider. “Something funny, sweetheart?” he asked. It had been rude of me to laugh, but now engaged, I told him why. His friends laughed at him, made fun of him for being shown up by me, a woman.

I could tell dozens of these stories: about men who have relentlessly hit on me because I keep a boxscore, about men who have brushed off my opinions about the team at parties, about fellow fans who have treated me as a tourist in their home country, someone who doesn’t belong. Of course, there are exceptions. But they are exceptions, not the rule.

Bull Durham is a classic baseball movie – one of the best to be sure – but I’ve never considered one of the main reasons it’s great is the nuanced representation of the female baseball fan. McKinney’s dissection of Sarrandon’s performance as Annie Savoy is definitely a main reason why this remains a great baseball movie. – PAL

Source: Bull Durham’s Annie Savoy Is The Patron Saint Of Female Baseball Fans”, Kelsey McKinney, Deadspin (6/12/18)

A Horse Racing Triple Crown Or Other Things, from the Ground

Premise: A writer walks amongst the drunken masses of the Kentucky Derby/Indy 500/the Preakness/the Daytona 500 or the (insert your event here) and reports on the bewildering spectacle of thousands getting drunk all day under the hot sun. I am a sucker for these stories. Perhaps he didn’t do it first, but to me the best of this genre was David Foster Wallace’s 2003 article for Gourmet magazine, “Consider the Lobster”, about the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival. This year I’ve already read two good ones, one on the Indy 500 and the other on the Belmont Stakes. Here are my favorite passages from each.

First, the Indy 500:

The Indy 500 is a tale of two events. Some of its traditions are of the genteel sort that give goosebumps to enthusiasts of the 500-mile, 200-lap sprint: the singing of “Back Home in Indiana,” the public address call of “Drivers, start your engines,” the winner drinking from a glass bottle of milk, even the awkward celebrity appearances. And then there are the far less decorous customs of the Snake Pit, the general-admission interior of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where thousands get mind-numbingly wasted in the oppressive heat of a Sunday afternoon—helped along by the wildly permissive policy that allows ticket holders to stream into the venue with coolers brimming with beer and liquor.

“For lots of people,” observed a middle-aged man seated contently in the grandstands, “Indy is just a party that happens to have a race surrounding it.” Depending on which side of the Speedway’s inside wall one happens to be on, the event is either the Greatest Spectacle in Racing or the Greatest Spectacle in Drinking. The latter phrasing appeared on a T-shirt worn by a woman in the Snake Pit as she cheered on a friend willingly taking on a warped sort of ice-bucket challenge. Two men held the woman upside down by the ankles, completely submerging her head in the freezing water of a cooler for several seconds. Dazed and gasping for breath upon surfacing, she immediately shotgunned a beer before staggering backward and falling into a kiddie pool filled with still more ice and beer.

And the Belmont:

The horses disappear in the spectacle of it; very few physical feats are made more viscerally satisfying by the addition of almost 100,000 people. What you end up feeling is just the experience of being in a large, drunk crowd. That is fun enough, and made more interesting by the costume element of it all, but the Belmont Stakes isn’t even really equestrian-themed. If anything, it’s candy-colored fruit-themed and almost everyone is here for the acceptable levels of unhealthy behaviors. The horses might as well be slot machines.

Enjoy! -TOB

Source: Hell Is Real, And It’s The Infield Of The Indy 500”, Jake Malooley, Deadspin (05/29/2018); A Day at the Belmont Stakes”, Hannah Keyser, Deadspin (06/11/2018)

PAL: The Indy article basically describes my nightmare. The most unsettling part of it the article comes from spectator/drinker George Hauser: “There are six gears in Indy cars. People also have gears. When you come to the Indy 500 infield, these are a bunch of gear-six people.”

No. No. No.

Breaking Down the Tape: Umpire Tom Hallion and The New York Mets

Pretty bad language on the following video. Put some headphones on.

Found this via Deadspin, which sets up the context of the argument and the recent history between the two teams.

Utley’s notorious takeout slide in Game 2 of the 2015 National League Division Series nuked the right fibula of Mets infielder Ruben Tejada (PAL note: Chase Utley is the guy Syndergaard throws behind). Utley was suspended for the next two games of the series, and ultimately MLB instituted what has come to be called the Chase Utley Rule, essentially banning (but not eliminating) takeout slides. Syndergaard’s pitch in 2016 was assumed to be an effort at retaliation, even all that time later. Possibly it was just a wild fastball? Either way, as you can imagine, Terry Collins was quite pissed.

My notes:

  • Umpire Tom Hallion is in complete control, but that doesn’t mean he’s unemotional. He isn’t backing down, but he isn’t fanning Collins’ flames. That is such a fine line, and he walks it perfectly.
  • Noah Syndergaard is a giant
  • Terry Collins is so mad that his speech is teetering on incoherent 
  • Favorite line from Hallion: “Our ass is in the jackpot [if] we don’t do something there.” He uses it twice, and I will now aim to use it at least twice a day. I get the gist of it, but I’ve never heard jackpot used as a negative metaphor for a negative. I love this phrase. 

Source: What Do We Think Of This Old Video Of An Umpire Handling An Extremely Pissed Terry Collins“, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (6/12/18)

Videos of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – “Find Yourself”

Tweet of the Week

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Actually, I didn’t think it was appropriate to invite children, since it’s uh, you know, there’s gambling and alcohol, it’s in our dangerous warehouse, it’s a school night, and you know, Hooter’s is catering, and is that- is that enough? Should I keep going?

-Toby Flenderson, HR

Week of June 8, 2018

Bandwagon fans of the Vegas Knights. Photo: Cody Glenn

Time For A New Bat (Says USA Baseball)

Photo: Lauren Justice

Briefly: A relatable story about the cost of youth sports. Baseball and softball equipment represents a major revenue stream (hundreds of millions of dollars annually), so when U.S.A. Baseball institutes new bat rules that cause a bunch of people to go out and buy new bats, people get a bit skeptical. 

Few things got me more excited than getting a new bat when I was a kid. In a new bat held the promise of a magical breakthrough. A .400 season. Maybe more than a couple home runs on the right field and right conditions (read: short porch in right and a nice breeze blowing out). I believed in the “pop” of a new bat, and I would be giddy with the slightest variation of sound the ball made off a slightly different surface. I loved it.

By the age of 13, I was going through a new bat every year. I want to say the price was somewhere between $120 and $250 from ages 13-18. I was lucky. It was never a question of whether or not my parents could afford a new bat. I think I can say the same for the kids on my teams, too. We know this is not true for everyone. Hell, it’s probably not true for most.

Baseball is an expensive youth sport, which is why newly mandated standards for youth baseball bats have been met with skepticism and frustration. Surprisingly, this mandate wasn’t in the name of safety; rather, it was done for competitive balance. Some parents are a bit skeptical about that rationale. Even though the change was announced three years ago (from what I can gather, the rules took effect this year), the more affordable bat options are in short supply.

It’s foolish to believe this is only about competitive balance. As James Card and Joe Drape highlight, baseball and softball equipment is big business.

The sale of baseball and softball equipment is big business: It yielded $636 million in revenue in 2017, according to the National Sporting Goods Association, with bats accounting for almost a third of that figure — nearly $208 million. But many of those bats, and millions more bought in earlier years, are no longer legal to use in games.

With one rule change, U.S.A Baseball just forced most people’s hand to buy a new stick.

However, this is a case where multiple truths exist. Does it help with competitive balance? Sure. Is is safer? Limiting the “trampoline effect” is a good idea. Does the rule also happen to send teams and parents running to the sporting goods store, whether their kids “needed” a new bat or not. It does that as well.

I can understand the frustration on the parents’ part, but they were going to be replacing those bats within a year or two anyway. 

Kids grow out of bats just like kids grow out of skates, basketball shoes, helmets, golf clubs, etc. Different ages have different rules about the length-to-weight difference and the barrel size.

Bats don’t have an infinite shelf life. Bats flatten, bats crack, bats lose pop. They aren’t indestructible. In fact, I think nearly every one of my bats cracked between 13-18. My parents’ have a laundry bin full of them in the basement.

For what it’s worth, I like intention of getting back closer to a wood bat game, and the new bats – although not wood – provide a something closer to that hitting experience. I’m down with just about any idea that reduces the number of  20-18 youth games. – PAL

Source: New Rules for Bats Leave Youth Baseball Parents With the Bill”, James Card & Joe Drape, The New York Times (6/4/18)

TOB: A lot of things about this story confused me. Most of all this line:

“Although U.S.A. Baseball said improved safety did not play any part in the change….”

Huh? Why is USA Baseball running away from the safety aspect of this? A quick search reveals that 3-4 kids die every year playing baseball – most from brain injuries. You’d think pointing out that the new bats will make it less likely that a child will die would be a good thing.

And this:

Even though U.S.A. Baseball announced the change three years ago, neither parents nor sporting goods professionals were properly prepared. Chris Brugge, a manufacturing representative for Easton in the Midwest, said the company quadrupled its inventory but still underestimated the demand.

If this change was announced three years ago and not implemented until this year, how were the bat manufacturers not prepared?

Also, if your kid is 12, don’t spend $400 on a bat and then complain that your budget is busted. Here’s a rule of thumb: If your budget is such that buying one bat at a given price is ok, but having to buy a second bat for the same price would bust your budget, that bat is too expensive. Buying a $400 bat was a poor decision! If you really want to improve your kid’s baseball performance, you’re better off buying a cheap bat and putting the money you saved toward a couple sessions with a private hitting coach. As Brian Duryea, the founder of Bat Digest said in the story, “A $400 bat doesn’t fix a $4 swing. Nothing compensates for good old-fashioned practice.”

Stories from Alcatraz

Briefly: Here are some cool backstories from a varied group of competitors in last weekends Escape From Alcatraz triathlon. 

There are a lot of triathlons in the spring and summer, but there’s only one Alcatraz, and that is why people come from far and wide to compete in what some call the best triathlon in the world.

The route is iconic – not many races start by jumping off of a boat near an old prison – and a gut buster, too. The tides are no picnic on the swim, the bike ride is hilly, and the run includes heading up the 400-step sand ladder at Baker Beach (I’ve run it, and it’s just as terrible as it sounds).

As is the case with any race, the good stuff comes in the form of people’s stories to get to the race:

  • Kayye Romm, 18, North Carolina: She’d been dreaming and waiting until she turned 18 to compete. The incoming Pepperdine freshman swimmer has wanted to compete in the race ever since her dad completed it.
  • Kevin Collington finished 6th amongst the men, but he was more excited about his 64-year old mom’s first time partaking
  • Leslie Lewis, 47, of Austin, Texas competed in her first Escape. She’s been knocking off a lot of firsts recently, including earning her college degree, learning bass guitar and joining a band, and competing in her first triathlon.

That’s the good stuff, folks. – PAL

Source: Hundreds in SF grind out miles in ‘best triathlon in the world’”, Sarah Ravani, SF Chronicle (6/4/18)

Even The Construct of Time Didn’t Want The Caps to Win

Briefly: As the Washington Capitals looked to win D.C.’s first championship in 26 years, the goddamn game clock broke…in the third period!

There’s not much more to it, the clock friggin broke in the final minutes of Stanley Cup clinching game with the score 4-3. I can’t imagine being a Caps fan watching this:

Is the N.H.L. ready for a clock malfunction, you ask. In fact, yes they are:

There was one and only one person in the world who knew during the entire stretch how much time was actually left: the official Game Timekeeper, classified as an an NHL official and sitting along the glass. An entire rule, Rule 34, explains the timekeeper’s job, which, the vast majority of time, consists of two practicalities: helping TV producers sync with the electronic time, and telling the PA announcer to announce one minute remaining in the period.

But sometimes—sometimes with under two minutes remaining in the deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals!—the timekeeper becomes the hero. Rule 34 stipulates that in addition to the electronic timer, the timekeeper uses a “league-approved stopwatch.” That stopwatch was the only thing standing between last night’s game and total anarchy.

(Another fun rule I just learned; in a situation like last night’s when the electronic clock fails, or if the in-arena sound system goes down, it’s the timekeeper’s responsibility to alert players and officials to the end of a period or a game by blowing a whistle. I bet timekeepers spend their entire lives hoping to blow their whistles just once!)

The timekeeper and other officials thought quickly when technical disaster struck last night, and you can see their fast work on the CBC bug. The scoreboard operator reset the in-arena clock to 1:00 and held it there, and when the timekeeper alerted the PA announcer to announce one minute remaining in the game, the clock operator started time counting down again. It wasn’t precise—you can see little hiccups in the time over the next 10-20 seconds as it re-synced—but it was pretty damn close. Impressive work on everybody’s part.

And did any of this calm the nerves of Caps fans in the moment? Absolutely not. – PAL

Source: The Game clock Broke In Vegas And Caused Total Chaos“, Barry Petchesky, Deadpan (6/8/18)

TOB: I watched this live, and my wife, who was patiently waiting for the end so she could watch the Bachelorette, can attest to the fact that my reactions were very much like Petchesky’s:

The clock jumps from 1:49 to 15:19 (my realtime reaction: “Uhh…”), ticks a second off, freezes again, goes to 14.9 (“Uhhhhhhh”), the graphic gets taken off the screen completely as NBC’s production truck is no doubt in a full panic, then returns with just the score but no time (“!!!”), which looks unsettlingly empty, and then returns with an alleged 51 seconds remaining (“???”) before play finally stops with the clock reading 28.6 seconds.

I felt like a little kid. OMG! The clock stopped! ZOMG!1!1! Now it says 15 minutes! WOWJDJDW NOW IT’S FOURTEEN SECONDS!? THE CLOCK IS GONE! THE CLOCK IS GONE! DO THE REFS KNOW THE TIME!?

So, I was very impressed to read how good the NHL’s contingency policy is, and more importantly that the official kept his cool. That man deserves a raise! Imagine if they screwed that up and Vegas scored the tying goal after time should have expired. Yikes!

How USA missed the World Cup

Art: Michael Weinstein

In October, the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in more than 30 years. A loss to Trinidad and Tobago sealed their fate, but according to players, coaches, commentators, and executives across American soccer, the disaster doesn’t come down to just one unfortunate result. No, it was the culmination of nearly a decade of mismanagement that broke the team’s spirit and condemned them to failure.

This long, and I enjoyed it – but you have to really give a crap about the last ten years of U.S. soccer, behind the scenes, to do so. If you do, it’s a great read – exceptionally reported and insightful. -TOB

Source: Own Goal: The Inside Story of How the USMNT Missed the 2018 World Cup“, Andrew Helms and Matt Pentz, The Ringer (06/05/2018)

Gerald and Madison, a Love Story

This week, Madison Bumgarner made his season debut for the Giants, after breaking his hand on a come-backer on the last day of Spring Training. It was good to have MadBum back, even if he’s not in October form yet. The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly took the time to point out that, ten years ago this week, the Giants drafted Buster Posey, one year after they drafted Bumgarner. The two met shortly thereafter, and quickly progressed through the minors as battery mates. Baggarly spoke to both players about their decade together, and it’s a fun read. But my favorite part was this line from Bummy:

Is that one of Posey’s more underrated attributes? His intuition behind the plate?

“Is there anything underrated about Gerald?” Bumgarner said. “I don’t know if there is.”

Yes, after almost a decade together, and with a bond so much closer than the 60 feet and 6 inches that separate them, Bumgarner still calls Posey by his given name.

“I always call him Gerald,” he said, swallowing a smile. “Yeah. Well, it’s his name, so …”

Welcome back, Bum. -TOB

Source: Like Minded: Madison Bumgarner Returns to the Giants, Reflects on a Decade-Long Kinship with Buster Posey“, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (06/06/2018)

Fixing the NCAA’s Player/Coach Compensation Imbalance One Player at a Time

This week, MLB had its annual amateur draft. The Giants picked a guy. Other teams picked some guys. No one picked Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich, a story for another day. But one of the most interesting stories came from the Bay’s own Oakland A’s. The A’s took Oklahoma center fielder Kyler Murray with the tenth pick of the first round. Murray has speed and power and projects to be a very good player. But what’s most interesting about this pick is that Murray is also the favorite to take over for Baker Mayfield as the starting quarterback for the Sooners this Fall. Murray has also made it clear that he will be playing football this season.

The A’s knew that, understood the risks, and took him anyways. Murray already signed with the A’s, and will be paid a signing bonus just under $5 million. What I like most about this is that Murray will be paid more than his head coach, Lincoln Riley, who makes a smidge over $3 million per year. Yes, finally, an football star will be paid more than his coach. Progress! -TOB

Source: Murray Agrees to Deal Worth Nearly $5 Million“, Joey Helmer, 247 Sports (06/06/2018)

Video of the week: 

Tweets of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Led Zeppelin – “Your Time Is Gonna Come”

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I went to Cornell. Ever heard of it?

– Nard Dog

Week of June 1, 2018

The Cold War at the Russian River

Must read. Is this sports related? I dunno, but I love it. It’s like it was computer generated for me: It has floating on a river. Riparian (look it up!) law. Angry old people. Angry hicks. Challenges to false authority. Mild (strike the mild. I wrote too soon) violence. Profanity. Idiot lawyers. A mention of Cow Hollow. If that doesn’t entice you, I quit. -TOB

Source: Drawing a Line in the Sand Over River Rights“, Chris Colin, Outside Magazine (05/30/2018)

PAL: Great writing trumps all. I don’t care that much that this isn’t a sports story. It’s an impeccably written account of the absurdist nature of land rights. Just because you put up a sign doesn’t make it private.

One of my favorite sections of Chris Colin’s writing is this:

Perhaps at this point you’re marveling at the amount of free time that middle-aged white men have. I marveled, too. But as I got deeper into the dispute, I came to see that this picayune squabble wasn’t all that it seemed. Behind the folly of turf wars and the arcana of river law, a larger conflict was playing out, one rooted in a profound disagreement over how we think about nature and how we divide it.

Great read.

J.R.’s Boner

In 1908, rookie Fred Merkle of the New York Giants made one of the biggest blunders of all-time, costing his team the NL Pennant. Merkle was on first base with two outs in the bottom of the 9th of a tie game. There was also a runner on third.  Al Bridwell stepped to the plate and lined a single to center. The runner on third advanced to home. That should have been the ball game. But Merkle didn’t advance to second, and was forced out. The Cubs ended up winning, and going on to win the World Series (their last for 108 years). The play forever became known as Merkle’s Boner, which is an even funnier name now than it was a century ago.

In 1981, Magic Johnson’s Lakers were in the Finals against the Celtics. In a tied game 2 with just a few seconds left, Magic dribbled, and dribbled, and dribbled…and the clock ran out. He either didn’t know the score or didn’t know the time. The Celtics went on to win in overtime, and won the series in seven games.

Add J.R. Smith to the list of huge blunders. Last night, in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Smith wasted a sublime LeBron performance – 49 points in regulation, completely unstoppable. With just seconds left, the Cavs’ George Hill stepped to the line, down 1. He hit the first, tying the game, but missed the second. Kevin Durant failed to box out, and Smith grabbed the rebound right in front of the basket. But instead of going straight up with it or trying to draw a foul, he streaked away from the basket toward the wing. LeBron pleaded with him, pointing to the hoop. Smith realized his mistake too late, and his pass to Hill did not allow Hill to even get a shot off. The reeling Cavs missed their shot to steal Game 1, and the Warriors won easily in overtime. Here’s the play:

It was obvious Smith thought the Cavs were winning and was trying to run out the clock. Curiously, he claimed after the game that he knew it was tied and was trying to get a timeout.

Too bad for J.R., there’s video of him talking to LeBron right after the play:

“I thought we were ahead.” Yeah, no shit. JR, buddy, just own your mistake. Poor LeBron. It’s hard enough to beat the Warriors four out of seven times. Now he’s gotta beat them five out of seven. -TOB

A Hero for Liar Pitchers Everywhere: Todd Peterson

Todd Peterson is a pitcher for the LSU Tigers. Todd Peterson has not had consistent at bats in games since before high school. Todd Peterson is like every pitcher I’ve ever met, in that he’s supremely confident that he can swing it and will never shut up about it.

The difference between Todd Peterson and every other pitcher not names Ohtani or Bumgarner is that he actually did it, and did so with the season on the line.

Turns out, that win may have been the difference between the Tigers (37-25) making and not making the NCAA tourney, as they were the last team in the field.

That’s all well and good, but Peterson’s post-game interviews are even better:

And the best: Peterson admitting to his coach that he never hit in high school. Listen to that aw shucks moxy:

Oh, and by the way, Peterson pitched the last 5 innings and got the win in the 12-inning game. No biggie. – PAL

Source: LSU Pitcher Hits Clutch Double After Lying to Coach About Hitting ‘Bombs’ in HS”, Dan Gartland, SI (05/25/2018)

Don’t Have Secret Twitter Accounts

Earlier this week, during the lull between the conference finals and the Finals, The Ringer dropped a wild story that shook the NBA. Longtime executive Bryan Colangelo, currently GM for the Sixers, is suspected of running multiple anonymous twitter accounts that bashed players for his team and others, trashed his predecessor Sam Hinkie, leaked players’ private medical information, and defended Colangelo’s work and fashion style.

Colangelo, tweeting (probably).

Colangelo denies all but one of the accounts are his. In fact, he claimed “someone is out to get” him. Word now is the other three may be his wife’s accounts. But there’s one piece of evidence to suggest Colangelo is lying. I’ll let the Ringer’s Ben Detrick explain:

On Tuesday, May 22, I emailed the Sixers and shared the names of two of the accounts, phila1234567 and Eric jr (I did not disclose our suspicions about the other three accounts, one of which, Still Balling, had been active earlier that day; I did this to see whether the partial disclosure would trigger any changes to the other accounts). On a follow-up call that day, Philadelphia’s media representative told me that he would ask Colangelo whether he had any information about the two accounts.

That afternoon, within hours of the call, all three of the accounts I hadn’t discussed with the team switched from public to private, effectively taking them offline—including one (HonestAbe) that hadn’t been active since December. The Still Balling account, which had been tweeting daily, has not posted since the morning of the 22nd (I had already been following Still Balling with an anonymous account of my own, which allowed me to see activity after it went private). Since I contacted the Sixers, Still Balling has unfollowed 37 accounts with ties to Colangelo, including several of his son’s college basketball teammates, a former coach from his son’s high school, and an account that shares the same name as the agent Warren LeGarie, who has represented Colangelo in the past.

Later that day, the Sixers rep called back. He confirmed that one of the accounts (@Phila1234567) did, in fact, belong to Colangelo. He said that Colangelo denied any knowledge of the Eric jr account. When I asked whether he had discussed my inquiry with anyone else in the organization that afternoon, he said that he had spoken to only one person: Colangelo.

On Tuesday, May 29, I contacted the Sixers to ask about the seemingly linked nature of all five accounts. The team responded with a statement from Colangelo:

Like many of my colleagues in sports, I have used social media as a means to keep up with the news. While I have never posted anything whatsoever on social media, I have used the @Phila1234567 Twitter account referenced in this story to monitor our industry and other current events. This storyline is disturbing to me on many levels, as I am not familiar with any of the other accounts that have been brought to my attention, nor do I know who is behind them or what their motives may be in using them

You can draw your own conclusions from the two exchanges: Not only did the Sixers confirm that Colangelo was the owner of one of the five accounts in question, but the three that were not mentioned simultaneously went dark shortly after he was told of The Ringer’s inquiry.

Bryan, Bryan, Bryan. The cover-up is always worse, my man! The three accounts Detrick didn’t ask about going dark is proof that Colangelo either ran those accounts, or knew who did. Colangelo is likely going to be fired. Although, he probably should have been fired for that god awful Tatum for Markelle Fultz plus the Kings’ 2019 first rounder trade last year, anyways. The universe just has a way of working itself out sometimes, ya know. -TOB

Source: The Curious Case of Bryan Colangelo and the Secret Twitter Account“”, Ben Detrick, The Ringer (05/29/2018)

These Kinds of Articles Always Suck Me In

ESPN’s David Schoenfield knows me. He compiled a list of every MLB teams best first round draft pick, best “late round” (10th round or higher, which to me is still a pretty high draft pick, but whatever), and studs they passed on. God, I’m such a sucker for this kind of article. Let’s stop playing grabass and get to some of the highlights. – PAL

First Rounders

  • Red Sox – Roger Clemens (19th pick, 1983). Somehow 10 pitchers in what proved to be a weak first round were selected ahead of Clemens, in part because Texas coach Cliff Gustafson used Clemens as his No. 3 starter (though Clemens won the title game of the College World Series). Two teams — the Mariners and Expos — had two picks before Boston selected Clemens.
  • Seattle – Ken Griffey Jr. (first pick, 1987). Alex Rodriguez also worked out well as a first overall pick.
  • Brewers – Robin Yount (third pick, 1973). The Brewers are the only team with five first-round picks to accumulate 40-plus career WAR: Yount, Paul Molitor, Gary Sheffield, Ryan Braun and Darrell Porter (PAL note: who the hell is Darrell Porter?).

Late-round gems:

  • Mike Piazza (62nd round, 1988). The Dodgers have had a few late-round gems, including 17th-rounder Orel Hershiser, but Piazza is the king of late-round picks, especially given the circumstances of why he was drafted. The team’s final pick in the 1988 draft was selected merely as a favor to Piazza’s godfather, Tommy Lasorda.
  • Yankees – Andy Pettitte (22nd round, 1990) and Jorge Posada (24th, 1990). The Yankees hit the lottery with two draft-and-follows in the same year. Those two ended up producing the third- and fourth-most WAR in the draft that year and helped the Yankees to five World Series championships.
  • Blue Jays – Jeff Kent (20th round, 1989). Kent hit .193 as a sophomore at Cal-Berkeley and left the team his junior season after clashing with the coach. The Blue Jays traded him for David Cone, but he went on to drive in more than 1,500 runs and become the all-time leader in home runs by a second baseman.
  • White Sox – Mark Buehrle (38th round, 1998). The White Sox drafted him after his freshman season at a Missouri junior college and signed him 11 months later as a draft-and-follow. He won 214 games in his career, 161 with the White Sox.
  • Cardinals – Albert Pujols (13th round, 1999). They’ve struck gold with late-round first basemen: Keith Hernandez was a 42nd-round pick in 1971. (He dropped after leaving his high school team in a dispute with the coach but received first-round bonus money.)

Swing and a miss


  • Dodgers – Tom Seaver (eighth round, 1965). The Dodgers have also had some who got away, including Chase Utley (as a second-round pick) and Paul Goldschmidt. Seaver’s eventual entry into pro ball was one of the strangest in draft history. After the Dodgers drafted him, he returned to USC. Under the rules of the time, the Braves then re-drafted him in the January phase and agreed to a $40,000 bonus in late February. But the commissioner nullified the contract because USC’s spring schedule had already begun. The NCAA then ruled Seaver ineligible because he had signed a pro contract. The solution: A special lottery for teams that agreed to pay Seaver a bonus of at least $50,000 (after Seaver’s father threatened a lawsuit). The Mets, Phillies and Indians elected to participate. You know who won.
  • Giants – Barry Bonds (second round, 1982). OK, they eventually got him as a free agent — rumor is he had some good years with the Giants — but the Giants failed to sign him out of high school over a difference of $5,000.
  • Blue Jays – Kris Bryant (18th round, 2010). In the same draft, the Blue Jays snagged Noah Syndergaard with the 38th pick — only to trade him as a minor leaguer.
  • Tigers – Ozzie Smith (seventh round, 1976). The Tigers had one of the great drafts of all time, taking Hall of Famers Alan Trammell in the second round and Jack Morris in the fifth round, plus Dan Petry and Steve Kemp. It could have been three Hall of Famers.
  • Angels – Buster Posey (50th round, 2005). Posey was a star pitcher in high school, played shortstop as a freshman at Florida State and then converted to catcher, and the Giants took him fifth overall in 2008.
  • Braves – Randy Johnson (fourth round, 1982). Imagine a rotation with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and the Big Unit.

Source: Best draft picks ever and one that got away for all 30 teams”, David Schoenfield, ESPN (5/30/18)

TOB: I love this too, but I must point out that the last group is not players the teams passed on, but players they drafted and then didn’t sign because the player elected to go to college (except in Seaver’s case). Which is sooooo much more painful.

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song the Week: Cahalen Morrison & Eli West – “Loretta” (Towns Van Zandt)

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How did I just abandon my dreams so quickly? It’s cause I had a fallback. That’s the problem. When you have fallbacks, it’s just easy to give up. When Cortez landed in Mexico, only way he got his men to defeat the Aztecs was by burning all of his own boats. So they could never return home. Huge dick move but very effective. I need to be that same kind of dick to myself.

-Andrew Bernard