1-2-3 Sports! Week of August 31, 2018

2018 Little League World Series Champs: Hawaii


Why Is Tennis So Concerned About Women’s Wardrobes?

The U.S. Open started this week, and the early round matches were overshadowed by two stories of men trying to control women’s bodies, and the clothes they wear on those bodies while they play tennis.

First, before the tournament began, the head of the French Federation, in charge of the French Open, which took place, uh, back in May and June, announced that the cat suit that Serena wore during the French Open this year would be banned in the future. Let’s set aside why the hell this announcement was made now (seriously, I can’t figure out why), and consider why it was made at all. Here’s a picture of Serena at this year’s French Open in the cat suit.

It’s tight, sure, but she’s covered from neck to ankle. Compare this to most women’s players, who play in tank tops and skirts or tight shorts. So, what’s the big deal? Why the ban on the cat suit? This reeks of a racist double standard, if you ask me. Serena previously said the outfit is functional, as she’s been dealing with blood clots and the tight outfit promotes circulation. She also said it makes her “feel like a warring.” To her credit, though, she shined this idiot on, saying that she’d never wear the same outfit twice, anyways. I also liked the response of her sponsor, Nike:

Damn right.

If all that wasn’t enough, during the early rounds of the U.S. Open, French player Alize Cornet (damn, what a cool name), was penalized for “changing her clothes” on the court. Here’s the video:

Cornet had previously been wearing a dress, but because it was so damn hot that they’ve instituted special heat breaks during the tournament, she changed (off court) during a break into this shirt/skirt combo. When she got on the court, she realized the shirt was on backwards and *gasp* quickly flipped it around, revealing *gasp* a sports bra! The match umpire penalized her pursuant to a rule prohibiting “players” from changing clothes on the court.

First, if I were her lawyer, I’d be jumping up and down about this because while she did briefly remove her shirt, she did not change her clothes. Same clothes, bro. Where’s the change?

Second, and please sit down because this is going to shock you, but this rule about changing clothes on the court does not apply to the men, who often change shirts on the court without issue. No, I know. It’s crazy. Come on. Didn’t we get over this nearly twenty years ago when Brandi Chastain won the World Cup and tore off her jersey to reveal her sports bra? Are we really going to roll back all this progress?

It would be nice, as Billy Jean King said, and my mom echoed, this week, if men would stop policing women’s bodies. -TOB

Source: The French Open’s Banning of Serena Williams’s Catsuit Defies Explanation”, Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated (08/26/2018); U.S. Open Umpire Hits Alize Cornet With A Bizarre Code Violation Because She Briefly Took Off Her Shirt”, Laura Wagner, Deadspin (08/28/2018)

PAL: First and foremost, no one gets to tell Serena Williams anything. You could make the case that she’s a top-5 athlete of all-time.

Yeah, I watched the HBO docuseries Being Serena, and you should, too. While it’s a bit of a puff piece, it also shows what an absolute badass, smart, thoughtful, super athlete she is. The French Federation needs Serena a hell of a lot more than she needs the French Open. What’s more, the argument made no sense. She’s had a history of life-threatening blood clots. The outfits promote circulation. Full stop.

As for the Cornet story: the umpire sucked that day. I don’t want to go as far as to call him a coward, but he really sucked that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the guy that memorized the rule book and stopped thinking for himself before he could buy a beer. He saw Cornet doing something completely normal – shit, I put my shirt on backwards – and his first thought was (in a computer voice) “Is this an infraction? I am told yes. Must punish pursuant to the rule book.”

I will give the US Open credit for setting the record straight, and doing so in plain English:

TOB: Kudos to the US Open. Thanks for pointing that out. Also, a question for you, bud, that came up after a fantasy football draft this week: Is Serena the greatest athlete of our generation (we went with anyone born beginning January 1, 1980)? I said LeBron edges her out. Like Serena, he’s arguably the greatest to ever play his sport, but I give him the nod because being great in a team sport is tougher than a solo sport, in my opinion. I am splitting hairs here, but Serena only has to worry about Serena. LeBron has to win with guys who do things like forget the score of the game in the closing seconds. Another possibility: Pujols, who made the cut by 16 days.

PAL: The team wrinkle is a good point, TOB, but giving birth seems like a pretty big hurdle for an athlete. Other athletes that come to mind:

  • Simone Biles – she might be the strongest candidate of the bunch. Seems to be considered the greatest ever in her sport.
  • Shaun White – Revolutionized one sport (snowboarding), became one of the best in another sport (skateboarding) – icon of the alternative sport generation.
  • Usain Bolt – I know he was just running, but he expanded the spectrum of human capability. To watch him run at his peak was otherworldly.
  • Michael Phelps – without a doubt the best swimmer ever. However, this is ostensibly an individual sport with an inordinate amount of medals up for grabs.
  • Too soon, but Mike Trout career is on an unprecedented trajectory. Needs to win something.
  • Messi & Cristiano Rinaldo…but neither of them have won a world cup.

Harbaugh’s Gotta Win Now

On February 3, 2013 Jim Harbaugh was coaching against his brother in the Super Bowl. On December 30, 2014, Harbaugh was introduced as the head football coach at Michigan. That does not happen. Young NFL coaches who bring a team to the Super Bowl don’t find themselves back in college within 2 years.

I can say I’d never seen up close anything like Harbaugh’s rise from Stanford to the Niners, and then to Michigan. This was a guy who could turn around a football program very quickly and compete with the very best. And he seemed to do it by willing it to be so. The more he won, the more his oddities shown through, which was charming and fun because he was winning.

I find the Harbaugh sideshow compelling, but The Ringer’s Roger Sherman writes the hell out of this story in explaining why Harbaugh and his antics just might be at a crossroads this season. Why is that? Because 8-5, Michigan’s record last year, makes Harbaugh’s hot milk takes and recruiting antics a little less charming. Because a Harbaugh team has zero wins against Ohio State and is 1-2 against Michigan State. A Michigan Man he might be, but the Wolverine honeymoon is officially over.

One of the major differences between his previous stops and Michigan comes down to the quarterback position:

At each of these stops, Harbaugh’s strength was coaching quarterbacks. In San Diego he coached Josh Johnson, who was named a finalist for the 2007 Walter Payton Award—the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy—and became the first Toreros quarterback to reach the NFL. At Stanford, Harbaugh coached Andrew Luck, who was the runner-up for the actual Heisman in 2010 and 2011, got drafted no. 1 overall in 2012, and now appears in stock brokerage ads in between injuries. Harbaugh coached Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers, and Kap emerged as one of the most dynamic playmakers in recent memory. Now, he donates a lot of money to charity while being called the antichrist by about 40 percent of the country.

You’ll notice none of those QB success stories come from Michigan. In his three years there, Harbaugh hasn’t yet found one that’s been good. The opportunity appears to be presenting itself this year:

Now Michigan has Shea Patterson, a transfer from Ole Miss and the top quarterback recruit in the class of 2015. Patterson, ostensibly, is the block of raw quarterbacking talent Harbaugh has been waiting to sculpt.

The major difference between Michigan and every other job Harbaugh’s had is this: it’s not a stepping stone. Returning to Michigan was the “coming home” move. While he surely could go back to the NFL, he’s entering his fourth season at Michigan, which equals his longest tenure at University of San Diego, Stanford, and the 49ers. He was able to turn it around quickly at each of those stops. Maybe it’s just taking Harbaugh a little bit longer at Michigan, but he’s getting paid too much money (north of $7MM per year) for much more patience.

 

Sherman puts it this way: “This is the year for Harbaugh to prove there’s a method to his madness. Because if not, he’s just a weirdo getting paid extravagantly to produce mediocrity for a program used to excellence.”

Solid read. Great writing. – PAL

Source: The Fading Novelty of Jim Harbaugh”, Roger Sherman, The Ringer (8/29/18)

TOB: I have more than a couple thoughts on this. First, Harbaugh’s turnaround at Stanford was absolutely miraculous. That team was so bad, it’s hard to believe now. They got destroyed by everyone. Hell, they lost to FCS teams. Before Harbaugh, they hadn’t been to a bowl game in 8 years, under Ty Willingham. In the previous 5 years, they went 16-40.

But what people don’t remember is that the turnaround did not happen overnight. In his first 3 seasons, Harbaugh went 4-8, 5-7, and 8-5, before exploding in 2010 at 10-1, capped off by a win in the Orange Bowl. It took Harbaugh a few years to recruit the guys he wanted – big, tough, smart. He recruited so many tight ends, it became a joke. But he converted those kids, cleanly or not, into defensive lineman and offensive lineman. And suddenly he had a fast and athletic but strong team. They manhandled their opponents. The turnaround in San Francisco was more immediate, but looking back the Niners had a similar squad.

It must be noted that while Michigan was not as bad before Harbaugh as Stanford was before Harbaugh, the previous two Michigan coaches, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, combined to go 46-42. Harbaugh stepped in and went 10-3, 10-3, 8-5.

Yes, he’s struggled to develop a quarterback at Michigan. But I disagree with Sherman’s assertion that his previous turnarounds were all because Harbaugh developed a QB. At Stanford, his first two seasons he did not have any notable QB. In fact, Stanford fans were mad that Harbaugh let Luck redshirt his freshman year instead of getting him in there. As I said above, Harbaugh’s Stanford teams (and his 49er teams) were built on very good offensive and defensive lines. That takes time to develop in college – you have to change the culture and recruit.

Besides, on quarterback issue, as Sherman notes, Harbaugh will have Shea Patterson this year. Shea is the real deal. I mean, yes, Cal got a pick six against him last year to seal a Golden Bear win, but the dude can drop dimes.

Point is: I’m not in the business of doubting Jim Harbaugh. He’s proved too many people wrong too many times. Also, give me 28 wins over 3 years PLEASE.


Barry Bonds + Beetle = End of Ash Baseball Bats

When I think of a wooden baseball bat, I see a Louisville Slugger. I wouldn’t know it before reading this article, but I actually see an ash bat. For much of the 20th Century, ash bats were the standard in the hands of big leaguers, but the same cannot be said for the 21st Century. We are now in the days of maple bats. Vince Guerrieri’s story is a exploration of why maple has become the wood of choice of over 70 percent MLB players.

Reason number one: Barry Bonds.

Bonds hit his first 400 or so home runs using Louisville Slugger ash bats, but he had switched to maple by the time he hit the two big milestone homers of his career: No. 73 in 2001 and no. 756 six years later. When Albert Pujols knocked in 130 runs for a National League rookie record in 2001, he did so with a maple bat, as did Miguel Cabrera in 2012 when he became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years.

Bonds was turned on to maple bats by way of Joe Carter. Carter, who had spent the prime of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, was given a maple bat after a local carpenter, Sam Holman,  had been tinkering with different types of wood. Earlier, he’d had a conversation with a lifer baseball scout who was complaining about how easily ash bats were breaking.

Carter loved the feel, the sound, i.e., the intangibles of the bat. He brought his passion for maple to San Francisco (and to Bonds) when he was traded near the end of his career

So Bonds is jacked up and hitting a homerun every 6.52 at bats (still an absolutely staggering stat, regardless of what he was on) with a maple bat. That same year (2001) Albert Pujols was setting records with a maple bat as well. His 130 RBI in his rookie season remains an NL record. If I’m a player in 2001, I wouldn’t need to see any data. I’d just say, “Give me whatever bat Pujols and Bonds are using.”

One year later, scientists discover another problem for ash bats:

In 2002, scientists discovered the emerald ash borer, an insect native to northeastern Asia, in southeastern Michigan. The beetle eats the tree’s leaves, but the females lay their eggs inside the tree—and the larvae tunnel through the tree, feeding off it and ultimately killing it within one to three years. By 2016, the emerald ash borer could be found in 25 different states—including New York and Pennsylvania, home to most of the ash trees used for baseball bats—killing an estimated 50 million ash trees in the United States. Maple bats, all other things being equal, are more expensive than ash, but the emerald ash borer is making ash scarcer, to a point where, Rathwell said, ash might become as expensive as maple.

As interesting as the beetle subplot is, it doesn’t have any impact on MLB player’s preference. If they want an ash bat, then there’s still plenty of ash to provide baseball bats for what I’m guessing +/- 1,000 players to hit in a major league baseball game over the course of a season*.

The real question is whether or not maple outperforms ash, and the answer is no.

The rise of maple bats has come as baseball has seen an increase in strikeouts and home runs, but again, relation does not imply causation. Jim Sherwood of the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, said the conclusion of a 2005 study was that the ball goes just as far off maple as it does off ash. Lloyd V. Smith, an engineering professor at Washington State University, went even further, telling the Washington Post, “If Barry Bonds had not been swinging maple when he broke that record, I don’t think anybody would even be talking about maple right now.”

I encourage you to click-through to the article to find some really great anecdotes about the history of the baseball bat. It’s legitimately fascinating. -PAL

* Napkin math that gets me to around 1,000 players to hit in a MLB game – Multiple the following by 30 (number of MLB teams):

  • 25-man roster for much of the season MINUS AL pitchers
  • Mid-season call-ups PLUS additional 15 players on the expanded rosters
    • A good chunk of 40-man roster is made up of pitchers
    • AL pitchers don’t hit
    • NL relief pitchers rarely hit

Source: How Maple Bats Kicked Ash And Conquered Baseball”, Vince Guerrieri, Deadspin (8/28/18)


An Insight into Baseball Prospect Rankings

This year, 19-year old rookie Nationals’ outfielder Juan Soto exploded onto the scene, doing things at 19 that no one has ever done.

Before the season, his average ranking was 42nd across Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, FanGraphs, and ESPN – the four major rankings services. He was called up on May 20, and immediately started destroying major league pitching, with an OPS of .998. No one saw this coming, except for former Nats’ GM and current contributor to The Athletic, Jim Bowden, had Soto as his 7th best prospect before this season.

So, how does a player that good slip, relatively speaking, under the radar? Two simple answers: lack of minor league at bats. Soto suffered a couple of injuries the last two years, and as a result had only gotten 147 at bats above rookie ball. And in those at bats, he only hit three dingers. Still, he must have been passing the eye test – how else to explain a prospect even being ranked Top 50 with so few at bats? So, I’m giving the scouting services a break on this one. Even if his low ranking did cause me to pass on him in early May in my prospect keeper league. Grr. Anyways, click the link. Lots of interesting stuff on how scouting works. -TOB

Source: How Did Juan Soto Surprise So Many of Us?”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (08/28/2018)


Ode to Manu

Upon his retirement, I’d just like to take a moment to say thank you to Manu Ginobili, one of the best, most entertaining, and most innovative players of his generation. Manu popularized (if not invented) the so-called Eurostep (though he’s not European).

He played with a joy that was infectious, which made him impossible to hate, even when he was crushing your team in the biggest moments of the game. Spurs fan Shea Serrano writes lovingly about Manu, and what he meant to that team and that city. It’s a good read, and a solid tribute to a guy who deserves it:

He is, in all ways and in every way, beloved in San Antonio: an untouchable, unimpeachable, unassailable cultural figure. Nobody who has ever worn a Spurs jersey has ever been more beloved than Manu Ginobili. (Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were also both supremely beloved, but Tim, a savant so gifted that he always existed above the fray, was a basketball god we worshipped from afar, and Tony, the little brother of the trio, always seemed just out of reach.) Even in Manu’s extra-worst moment, and even after having been deemed the reason his team lost the most coveted thing in professional basketball, the idea of trading him was simply too outlandish, too dumb, too inconceivable to tolerate for even one second. That’s Manu in San Antonio. That’s San Antonio with Manu.

There’s also a great anecdote that says so much about what it means to be a fan, which brings both so much good and so much bad, after Manu played horribly in the 2013 NBA Finals, which the Spurs lost to the Heat in 7 games:

But so everyone was fussing about Manu and saying this and saying that and pointing out how bad he looked and yelling about how much he hurt the team (“DANNY GREEN WAS PLAYING LIKE AN MVP AND MANU COULDN’T MAKE A LAYUP?!”) and blah blah blah. And it was all very bad and very negative. And so finally, after what felt like six hours of talking but was probably somewhere nearer to 10 minutes, one of the younger cousins asked, “Do you think the Spurs can get anything good for him when they try to trade him this summer?” And the first uncle, the very vocal leader of the Anti-Manu Coalition that had formed in the backyard, looked at him. He looked as dead at him as anyone has ever looked dead at someone. And he said — and I will never forget this — he said: “You can’t fucking trade Manu Ginobili. He’s Manu Ginobili!” Then he took a big breath. Then he yelled, “HE’S MANU GINOBILI!”

I’m not a Spurs fan, but my favorite Manu moment is this one, against the Sacramento Kings, on Halloween night in 2009.

Yes, a bat interrupted the game, and as crew members struggled to catch it, Manu sized it up and then just swatted it out of midair. He swatted a BAT out of the sky! On Halloween night, of course. Then he picked up the bat, like it was NBD, and handed it off to someone to get rid of. What a boss. We’ll miss you, Manu! -TOB

Source: Manu Forever: Reflecting on the Retirement of a Legend”, Greg Wiss, Sactown Royalty (08/27/2018)


Post-Concussion Symptoms, as Told by a Loved One

Giants outfielder Mac Williamson started the year on fire. He crushed AAA pitching so severely, that he forced the Giants to call him up to the bigs. And for four glorious games, he continued his hot streak in the majors. But in the fifth inning of a game against the Nationals on April 24th, while tracking down a pop fly in left field, Mac stumbled on the bullpen mound and crashed into the wall.

It was scary, but Mac seemed ok. In fact, he stayed in the lineup and in the bottom half of the inning he crushed a dinger, his 3rd in 5 games for the Giants. But soon after, he was pulled from the game, and was later diagnosed with a concussion. Mac, the team, and the fans, hoped he’d miss a short time and then return to lockdown the left field spot, giving the Giants their first home run hitting threat there since Bonds retired over a decade ago.

Things did not go as hoped. As told on her blog by Mac’s girlfriend, Kaitlyn Watts, Mac has suffered from post-concussion symptoms for over four months, unable to concentrate, needing extreme amounts of sleep in order to function, among other things. It’s sad and scary.

But what’s crazy to me, reading this, is to not only read how badly this affected him, but how long it has done so and compare it to how concussions keep football players only a week or two, at most. Similarly, the Yankees Clint Frazier has missed basically the entire season because of a concussion. Brandon Belt has missed large parts of two seasons to concussions. And football players get knocked out cold and come back the next week? Football is in trouble.

As for Mac, Kaitlyn reports that he is finally doing better, after recently shutting down baseball activities for the year. Hopefully Mac returns next year, and picks up where he left off – crushing dingers. -TOB

Source: Dealing with Mac’s Concussion”, Kaitlyn Watts, The Lymey Gypsy (08/27/2018)

PAL: What’s crazy to me is that someone other than the Cleveland Cavs owner still chooses to type Comic Sans.

Williamson’s story is no-doubt scary. And I agree – the length of time during which he’s simply not himself reinforces something we all need to understand – that not all concussions are the same and they affect people differently.

Having said that, reading Watts is like reading a homecoming queen’s diary.

TOB: COLD. BLOODED.


Newsflash: A Player Being Disoriented is Not Funny

Miami Dolphins’ linebacker Kiko Alonso made a tackle in a game last week that caused him to be so disoriented he ran to the wrong sideline. It looked to me like he was so disoriented that even as coaches from the other team were telling him he was on the wrong sideline, he seemed to be completely bewildered by what they were saying for a few seconds.

his was not funny. This was scary. Why, then, are the idiot announcers chuckling along at this? Is it the 1980s? Don’t we know better by now? Geeze. I hope Alonso was given tests for a concussion before he re-entered the game. -TOB

PAL: I think you need see the video that includes the hit for folks to get an idea that, yep, he definitely smacked his head on that play.

It seems like an otherwise light moment in a pre-season game, but these are the clips are kids will watch in fifteen years when we know even more about concussions. They’ll look at us incredulously, and ask, “People thought it was funny?”


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

South Tahoe High School’s “It’s Never Over Till It’s Over.” God, it’s even better than I remember from when I was a kid. Incredible shot.


PAL Song of the Week – R.E.M. – “Strange Currencies”


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You give me a gift? Bam! Thank You note. You invite me somewhere? Pow! RSVP. You do me a favor? Wham! Favor returned. Do not test my politeness.

– Drew Bernard

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