Week of June 22, 2018

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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.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=23822919

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

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