Week of October 26, 2018

There might be nothing better in sports than a hot Steph Curry.

Don’t Forget To Leave A Tip

Rich Hill’s reaction to tipping pitches

One thing that’s struck me while watching the baseball playoffs over the past few years is how many guys are throwing upper 90s regularly. You’ve no doubt noticed this year: teams pulling starting pitching after less than five innings to get to the bullpen, which is a stable of flame-throwers.

But velocity is only one factor at play. Hitting is about timing. Pitching is about upsetting that timing. So it’s a big deal when word gets out about a pitcher tipping pitches, especially in the playoffs (smaller sample size), because hitters have a better chance to lock into the timing when they know whether a 97 M.P.H fastball is coming or a 83 M.P.H. curveball is coming.

Danny Knobler’s story was posted before the World Series started, but is still a great read. He details pitchers in recent history who had been tipping pitches in huge moments (Andy Petitte in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, Craig Kimbrel in the ALCS this year), and wily vets who are the masters of finding a pitcher’s tip (Chase Utley, Alex Cora, Pete Rose, Eduardo Perez, Carlos Beltran).


Before he was managing the Red Sox, Cora was the resident pitch-tipping wizard as a bench coach for the World Champ Astros.

The story isn’t just about recognizing a pitcher’s pattern that associates with a type of pitch, e.g. the hands come set at the chest for a curveball and they come set at the waist for a fastball, but the surprising challenge pitchers face when they realize they are tipping pitches. Muscle memory can be hard to break in front of 45,000 fans in a tight ball game.

Knobler harvests a bunch of grin-worthy anecdotes from recent history, so go read the full story, but I’ll leave you with my favorite: this little Will Clark nugget from Texas Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail:

Brocail speaks from experience. In September 1992, the San Diego Padres called him up from Triple-A. His first start would be against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, and before the game he saw Giants first baseman Will Clark in a tunnel outside the clubhouse.

“You the kid pitching tonight?” Clark asked.

“Yes, I am,” Brocail said.

“Hey, just so you know, you tip all your pitches,” Clark told him.

“I thought he was messing with me,” Brocail said. But he wasn’t. The Giants knocked Brocail out in the fourth inning. Clark walked and doubled.

“We got looking at the video,” Brocail said. “Sure enough, I was coming to a set by my chest when I threw a fastball and by the waist when I threw the curve. I’d been doing it all year in Triple-A and no one picked up on it.”

Of course there are some pitchers that are so dominant that it didn’t matter if the hitter knew what was coming, which is absolutely mind-blowing. Randy Johnson tipped his pitches all the time. Hitters knew when Johan Santana was going to throw his devastating change-up and still couldn’t hit it.

Santana’s change-up got him two Cy Young awards. Big leaguers couldn’t hit it, and they knew it was coming.

Great read. – PAL

Source: How Do You Win a World Series? It Helps If the Pitcher Tells You What’s Coming”, Danny Knobler, Bleacher Report (10/22/18)

TOB: Any time I hear a pitcher is tipping pitches, I’m shocked it doesn’t happen more. Pitching is so hard, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to make a slider look like a fastball look like a curveball look like a changeup. And, as we wrote about here a few months back, now pitchers are tunneling pitches (trying to get their fastball and their breaking ball to stay on the exact same flight path until just before it gets to the plate)? Crazy.

Basketball: The Original Cage Fighting

I’ve been watching ESPN’s 10-part documentary on hoops, entitled, “Basketball: A Love Story”. It’s been at times very good, at others a little boring (they really didn’t need nearly 20 hours). I’ve learned a lot, had my memory refreshed on a lot, and been annoyed at a glaring historical inaccuracy on another (more on that later).

But one thing kept piquing my curiosity. The series’ first few episodes focuses largely on the 1950s and 1960s, and utilized a lot of contemporaneous newspaper clippings to help illustrate the story being told. And, on countless occasions, the newspaper used the term “cage” to refer to the sport of basketball or “cagers” to refer to the players. As in, “Five Cagers Implicated in Point Shaving Scandal.” I can’t say I’ve never heard this term for basketball before, but I don’t think I realized how ubiquitous it once was. The term kept appearing – over and over and over.

I remarked to my wife about this historical tidbit and she suggested I investigate and report my findings on this here blog. I thought that was a fine idea. And then it took me 0.5 seconds to find the answer, in this 1991 article from Sports Illustrated. Entitled, “When the Court Was a Cage”, it explores the origins of the term:

A scant five years [after basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith], in 1896, the first acknowledged professionals took the floor in Trenton, N.J. Their court, in a social hall, was enclosed, literally, in a cage, a 12-foot-high wire-mesh fence set along the endlines and sidelines.

At the time, the cage made good sense. Front-row spectators sat even closer to the court than they do today, and Naismith’s original rules said that when the ball went out of bounds, the first player who got to it could throw it back in. Obviously, it would have been disastrous to allow players to wrestle in the laps of paying customers for possession of the ball. With the cage the rule was moot—the ball never went out of bounds.

The out-of-bounds rule was changed in 1902 to eliminate sideline scrimmages, but by that time the early pros were wedded to the cage. The thinking was that the game was faster and more entertaining in a cage because there were no delays to return the ball to play, and because the ball and the players could bounce off the wire mesh.

That is kinda wild. Cages were used into the 1930s in some areas, and then the use died out. But the term stuck. For a while, anyways. I’m still surprised how literal the term was. -TOB

Source: When the Court Was a Cage”, Sports Illustrated (11/11/1991)

PAL: SI is having some financial issues recently, but they should still employ a copywriter. There’s a crucial typo in the first line of the damn story!

Here’s a pop quiz for today. A eager is:…

The story is about cage basketball. A “Cager” not “a eager” is a basketball player. Come on, Sports Illustrated!

TOB: It occurs at least one more time in the article. I’m pretty sure it was some sort of autocorrect/scanning error when they digitized the article.

Ok so now I’d like to discuss my historical error that really dug in my craw. As many readers know, I am a big Cal sports fan. As many readers likely don’t know, there was a time when Cal basketball was a powerhouse. In 1959 and 1960, Cal won the national title and finished runner-up, respectively. In 1959, the Bears beat Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati squad in the Final Four, and then beat Jerry West’s West Virginia team in the finals. In 1960, the Bears again beat Oscar Robertson in the Final Four, and then lost to Jerry Lucas and Ohio State in the championship.

The Bears’ coach in those days was Pete Newell. Basketball: A Love Story begins their segment on the 1960s/1970s UCLA dynasty under John Wooden by accurately discussing how Pete Newell and the Cal Bears had beaten the pants off of Wooden’s UCLA squad for much of the 1950s. Wooden arrived at UCLA in 1948 and immediately started winning conference titles.

Newell arrived at Cal in 1954, and by 1956 had turned the Cal program around, winning the conference four straight years by the end of that 1960 season. In doing so, Cal beat UCLA 9 straight times dating back to the 1956-57 season.

For the most part, Basketball: A Love Story covered all of that fairly. But then the series strongly suggested that, after the 1960 season, Wooden and his staff invented the 2-2-1 defensive press to beat Newell and the Bears, did so, and never looked back as their dynasty blossomed. It makes for quite the story.

Except it’s not at all true. After losing the 1960 title game, Newell coached the 1960 Olympic team to the gold medal and then retired, apparently believing the stress of coaching was going to kill him. He was only 44 years old, and he never coached a competitive game again. Instead, he spent the next five decades tutoring NBA and college big men, including hosting his annual Coach Newell Big Man Camp. NBA greats like Bill Walton, Shaq, and even Hakeem attended that camp.

What’s worse, this LA Times Article from 2008 says that Wooden didn’t introduce the 2-2-1 zone press until 1964, the year he won his first national title, and that he stole it from Newell.

This inaccuracy shouldn’t bug me so much. I’m sure Phil rolled his eyes at least once while reading this. But the Wooden stuff grates on me. He looked the other way while boosters paid his players. Most people know about it now, and he’s still deified anyways. And now you’re going to pretend like Wooden invented a single defensive scheme and suddenly started beating the pants off the man many old-time basketball people consider the greatest coach of all-time? No, dang it. I won’t take that silently. Wooden sucks, and he’s lucky Newell retired, or he’d have coached circles around him for the next two decades.

PAL: You and Bobby Knight should start a Wooden fan club.

How Golden State’s Team Ended Up In Oakland

Anyone who’s been around San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood recently has seen it, and anyone that lives in Oakland can feel it: the Warriors new arena getting closer and closer to being finished, and so is the team’s time in Oakland. Next year, the team will head over to the fancier side of the Bay. In a couple years, Oakland will have lost the Raiders to Vegas and the Warriors to San Francisco. The A’s might not be too far behind.

Rather than wade into the politics and business reasons for the teams leaving town, Part I of Bruce Jenkins’ Warriors history deep dive focuses on how the team ended up in Oakland in the first place. The story is an enjoyable reminder of days when professional sports franchises represented startups playing it fast and loose more than the stodgy billion dollar companies they’ve become today.

Get this: the mid-60s San Francisco Warriors played most of the team’s ‘home’ games away from their home courts in San Francisco. Bakersfield, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Jose, Richmond. In fact, the team’s name changed from ‘San Francisco Warriors’ to ‘Golden State Warriors’ because owner Franklin Mieuli had the idea that the team would alternate home games in cities throughout the state. Obviously that never panned out, and it was too late to change the name again by the time the lease was signed in Oakland. The idea of a rover team splitting home games across a state or region is still an interesting concept, but that’s just me. 

All of this took place while the team saw a collection of all-time NBA greats put on the Warriors jersey. Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond. The team won it all in 1975.

I understand this story is more appealing to Bay Area folks, but it’s likely that your favorite team has some wild and interesting stories from the early years, too. Pro sports were pretty funky in the early days. – PAL

Source: Crossing the Bridge: When the Warriors took root in Oakland”, Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle (October, 2018)

A Baseball Stadium Is a Series of Microclimates

This is really interesting. The writer, an atmospheric scientist, interviewed John Farley, the Chief Technology Officer for Weather Applied Metrics (WAM). WAM “quantifies weather impacts on baseball (and sports in general) using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling, standard trajectory physics, and other meteorological analysis.”

So, what the hell does that mean? For one, it means WAM analyzes how a batted ball is affected by the very unique wind patterns within a baseball stadium. As Farley notes, fans and announcers often look at the flags that fly atop the stadium in an attempt to know which way the wind is blowing, but those flags tell us very little about how wind impacts a fly ball. As Farley puts it:

[T]here is a lot of vertical wind inside stadiums, which has a significant impact on the flight of the ball over its entire trajectory. Prevailing winds (see graphic below) blowing over a stadium in one direction, but the winds at field level doing the exact opposite, and there’s a lot going on in between. We model the wind field down to each square foot over the entire area where a ball could fly. Then we use those winds for our 3D-Trajectory model with increments of 0.001 seconds.

I’ve always understood that weather can affect a fly ball, but Farley helps put it into perspective:

A headwind, combined with a downdraft, can shorten a fly ball hit to the wall by as much as 60 feet. A tail wind, combined with an updraft can lengthen it by as much as 45 feet. Since baseballs absorb moisture from the air (they are hygroscopic), the difference in distance between very dry air and very wet air is roughly 50 feet. That’s because a wet ball is slightly heavier and spongier, so it doesn’t come off the bat as fast. On a hotter day the air is less dense and so a ball can travel as much as 30 feet farther, compared to a cold day. Air pressure affects density directly. So balls hit at high altitude travel considerably farther.

Farley provides this graphic for a specific example of how wind direction on the field affects a ball.

Farley reports that they installed their real-time analysis system at one major league stadium this June, and I’d fall over in shock if it wasn’t the Giants. Given their tricky weather and stadium, they need every bit of information they can get. Plus, they’re local, as WAM is based out of Silicon Valley. And if it’s not the Giants, get it together, Larry! -TOB

Source: “Understanding The Meteorology Of A Fly Ball May Help Baseball Teams“, Marshall Shepherd, Forbes (10/23/2018)

PAL: So interesting. Brother-in-law Jay Rabeni, who’s currently cuddled up with a Red Sox 2-0 lead in the series, will love this, as he’s a weather dork. It really is a significant amount of distance we’re talking here. Great pull, TOB.

This One Goes Out To Mr. & Ms. 5K (You Know Who You Are) 

Rowe & Suze, I just read an article about why the 5K is better than the marathon. I have found your people.

Danielle Zickl starts out her article capturing an exchange we’re all familiar with: “Anytime I tell someone I’m a runner, they never fail to ask the same question: Have you run a marathon? In the past, I’ve answered this with some variation of ‘Not yet, but probably soon.’ The truth is that I’m a bald-faced liar.”

The assumption that longer = greater challenge is simply untrue. In order to run a sub 20:00 5K requires similar training, speed work, tempo runs as would be required for someone to run a 3:10:00 marathon. And while the marathon distance allows for time to find your race pace and – if needed – make up some time, the 5K requires all-out effort from the start.

Interesting read and a good opportunity to remind folks that no one cares about the marathon your training for (even if they ask). Everyone’s just being polite. – PAL

Source: “Why the 5K Is Better Than the Marathon” (print title), Danielle Zickl, Runner’s World (November/December issue)

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week:

PAL’s Song of the Week: Seu Jorge – “Life On Mars?” (David Bowie)

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Sometimes when I blow my nose I get a boner. I don’t know why. It just happens. 

– Andy Dwyer


Week of October 19, 2018

Spotlight: Aaron Hernandez

I’ll keep this short, because there’s simply too much to say. If you’re reading this, you know the story of Aaron Hernandez – the football star turned convicted murderer who committed suicide in prison, and was posthumously diagnosed with CTE. But there’s so much more to his story – where he came from, the family he came from, how he went from football star to murderer, why, and what those around him thought as his life spiraled out of control. This week, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team (as in the Best Picture Oscar winning movie, Spotlight about the paper’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of widespread sexual abuse by priests) released their six-part story on Hernandez.

I think the saddest thing about his story, having read this, is how many people with the power to help him looked the other way and did nothing, often to protect themselves or their own reputation. I’m looking at you, Urban Meyer, and even a little at you, Bill Belichick.

The series is incredibly well researched and very thorough, and I highly recommend you read all six parts (you’ll need to get creative in order to get beyond the Globe’s two free story per month paywall, or you can throw them a couple bucks – it’s worth it). -TOB

Source: “Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.”; Part I: “The Secrets Behind the Smile”, Part II: “Lost in the Swamp”; Part III: “Running For His Life”; Part IV: “A Killer in the Huddle”; Part V: “A Room of His Own”; Part VI: “A Terrible Thing to Waste”, by Bob Hohler, Beth Healy, Sacha Pfeiffer, Andrew Ryan, and editor Patricia Wen, The Boston Globe (10/13/2018 – 10/19/2018)

PAL: This was a terrifying, terrified man. Aaron Hernandez is the worse case scenario in so many ways, all of which were looked over because he was a great football player. A victim of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as a child, Spotlight’s description of Hernadez reads to me like he had no true identity. This guy needed extensive therapy. Instead, he banged his brain around for a decade. Very few people he crossed path with in his life seemed to care about him outside of what he could provide them. This is why “Gladiator” is the perfect title for this series. He was valued on the field of battle and how he entertained the crowd. 

All of this, of course is not an excuse for what he did; rather, it might be a roadmap. Again, simply terrifying.

Kroenke’s Quest and Arsenal’s Loss

Stan Kroenke, of Columbia, MO, is a very rich man. He’s worth billions, and his wife – Ann Walton Kroenke (yep, that Walton) is pretty rich, too. Between them, they own the following professional sports teams (among others):

  • LA Rams
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Arsenal (English Premier League)

Recently, Kroenke bought out a big chunk of Arsenal shares from some Russian oligarch, giving him control of over 98.82% of an exceedingly valuable sports club. There are so few shares remaining outside of his control, that he’s legally allowed to take them for a price.

Those remaining shares are in the possession of common fans. This New York Times story, by Rory Smith, allows some of the minority owners to speak, and in their words I recognize the challenge of being a fan in an era in which the business side of sports is impossible to ignore.

Martha Wilcott bought her single Arsenal share in 2004. Jeffery Freeman’s stock broker purchased ten shares for Freeman in 1965, and Freeman remembers walking with his father to see the team play in an alternate stadium in 1945 because the team’s stadium was bombed. Lindsay Rawling’s grandfather and his brothers worked at the stock exchange when the team first offered shares. The shares have been passed down three generations.

Wilcott describes to the shareholder/fan relationship as “custodianship”. What a beautiful way to think of your team, and so I understand these folk’s sadness when they are required to defer to some billionaire who forces them to see what the club is to him instead of what it mean to them. – PAL

Source: Their Arsenal.Their Shares. For Now”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (10/17/18)

Win or Lose, Craig Counsell Made Me Laugh

Heading into crucial Game 5 of the NLCS this week, the Brewers named left-hander Wade Miley the starter. This was technically true. In response, the Dodgers started a right-handed heavy lineup, including David Freese and Austin Barnes. I said before that the Brewers’ naming Miley the starter was technically true, because Miley did start. He threw five pitches, with which he walked Cody Bellinger, and was then yanked for right-handed pitcher Brandon Woodruff. HAAAA:

“That’s what we were going to do all along,” Counsell said after the game, explaining that the Brewers conceived of this plan as soon as they won Game 3 to guarantee that there would be a Game 6 for Miley to start. “They’re trying to get matchups; we’re trying to get matchups. They’re a very tough team to get matchups against.”

Counsell tricked the Dodgers, sorta:

As a manufactured effort to create those advantageous matchups, the ploy paid off, but again, only kind of. Because Miley was starting, the left-handed Max Muncy was hitting fifth, below his usual spot in the order, and righty David Freese, who typically doesn’t face same-handed pitchers, was hitting third. Had the Dodgers been caught more unawares, Counsell’s trick would have resulted in an unqualified strategic success, regardless of the game’s result—L.A. has already run out of bench players twice in this series, so manager Dave Roberts could ill afford to accelerate his bench usage.

But Muncy and Bellinger, who usually sit against left-handed pitchers, were both in the lineup, and Matt Kemp, who serves as a strict platoon batter like Freese, wasn’t. Ken Rosenthal reported that L.A. suspected what was coming, which is why they made those lineup decisions rather than bench Muncy and Bellinger and start Kemp, as they did against Miley in his Game 2 start. As it turned out, Freese batted just once, with two runners on in the first inning, and Woodruff struck him out swinging. Before his second at-bat, Freese was removed for—of course—a left-handed hitter, so all the tomfoolery, which apparently lasted multiple days and involved multiple parties, carried the ultimate outcome of burning Freese, perhaps the Dodgers’ least important position player.

Interestingly, Counsell may have drawn inspiration from the Washington Senators pulling the game trick against the New York Giants, way back in 1924. It worked, as the Senators won and clinched the World Series. As I write this, the Brewers lead 1-0 early in the game. Whether Counsell’s gamesmanship pays off remains to be seen. It sure as hell was hilarious, though.

Post-script: The move worked well, as Woodruff kept the Dodgers hitless for a few innings, but then things fell apart and the Dodgers took a 3-2 series lead. -TOB

Source: The Brewers Tried to Fool the Dodgers With a Pitching Trick From a Century Ago”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (10/17/2018)

PAL: Hey, I’m all for a little gamesmanship. Let’s mix it up, right? You know what’s more effective: a starting pitcher going seven strong innings (Kershaw was pretty good in that game for the winning team). The Brewers’ starting pitching is meh at best, but they have a killer bullpen, so I get the need to be crafty.

I watched the tremendous Astros-Sox game on Wednesday, and that was a perfect reminder that these games are decided by moments more than matchups…or at least it feels that way; I don’t know anymore. Mookie Betts made an incredible play to throw out Tony Kemp who made the inexcusable decision to try to take the extra bag down by three runs with no outs in the bottom of the eighth!

And then, in the bottom of the ninth, Andrew Benintendi makes a mental error and dives for a sinking liner in left field. If the ball gets by him, then three Astros might score, giving them the win. The smart play is to let the ball fall and keep it in front of you. Benintendi gambles big and comes up lucky.

So two dumb decisions lead to two great plays, and they both went the Red Sox way. That doesn’t feel like matchups. It came down to those plays (and a fan interference call). Zach Kram says as much at the end of his article: “Sometimes the smart strategy doesn’t work because a baseball game involves hundreds of other factors, and luck and execution and weather and ballpark dimensions get in the way.” 

Video(s) of the Week:


Ever wonder how umpire ‘Cowboy’ Joe West got his nickname? Watch below.

Tweet of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Ty Segall – “I’m A Man” (Spencer Davis Group cover)

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I’m one of the few people who looks hot eating a cupcake. 

– Kelly Kapoor

Gary Livingston: Baseball Memories

Earlier this week I found an email from my Uncle Gary. In it he shared his baseball memories, and I think this is a really great way to extend the On the Force or the Tag series. Please feel free to send me your baseball stories and pictures, and I’ll be sure so add it to the page. – PAL

Gary Livingston in the vintage jersey. 

Blogger and nephew, Phil, has inspired me to recollect my youth and past baseball memories. Unlike Phil, I was marginally talented. Like Phil, I loved the game and I knew the game.

My first memories of playing catch are with my mom. I later learned she was a small-town farm girl legend as the tomboy who could play ball. In her day she played kitten ball. I still have the kitten ball she gave me. She had a great arm and I never had to worry about throwing too hard to her. Phil captures the essence of who has the game in their blood, when he writes that when the simple game of catch is enough to entertain for hours—you know they love the game.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood in which moms stayed home and kids played outside until supper. We had a group of 3 “big” kids who dictated our play. They were four years older and wiser. I was among the 6-10 little kids. The big kids decided the sport—baseball, football—how—waffle ball, left-handed—where—street, yard, sandlot. They decided rainy day activities—chess, trivia, and the king of indoor games of our youth—Little Baseball.

Little Baseball consisted of each player picking a major league team. We had little plastic baseball players from cereal boxes as players and found the bakery sold plastic players to be used as cake decorations. We each painted and named our players from the MLB team. I remember the detail and pride we took in painting our players: the black and gold of the Pirates, the number on their back to the color of their skin.

We made a game board from a 4’x4’ sheet of plywood or sheetrock. The players took the field and guarded circles with hits labeled in each. We pitched the ball/marble by rolling down a ramp and the hitter would strike with a wooden dowel bat. We kept score, statistics, played a whole season, which included an All-Star game and World Series. Each year was a new season and brought more sophistication to game. Dave, a big kid with creative talent, helped turn our boards into works of art including lights, spectator bleachers, and scoreboards. The Big kids were their league of choice—usually American—and we little kids would be the National. I still have my Cardinals Curt Flood and Vada Pinson and Pirate- Roberta Clemente as I painted them 50+ years ago. Remarkably, our favorite players would perform the best in our board game. We could hole up for hours playing in the basement and at night compile batting averages and ERA’s.

The Kitten ball and the hand-painted figurines.

My organized baseball began with T-Shirt league at the local park. I was a Tiger in Little League. Dick Wilder was my coach. I remember him as knowledgeable, kind, and always encouraging. Everything you want in a youth coach. Looking back, I was a shy, skinny kid, unsure of himself on hard ground balls and overmatched against hard throwing pitchers, yet coach let me play second base and admired my good eye and bunting ability to find a way to get on base. As a teen I tried out and did not make the cut to play Babe Ruth. That hurt; I remember the 5-mile walk home from the practice I was cut at. I cried and did not want the ride home with the coach. Kids are resilient. I was asked if I wanted to play Minor League. It consisted of kids who had not played the game seriously. The coach was a dad who had limited knowledge of baseball. The coach recognized I played the game and asked if I wanted to run practice, make line-ups, pitch, play shortstop. I knew this was not high quality baseball, but I had fun.

My real baseball experience as a kid was playing with friends. I can’t say an adult, besides my mom, or coach taught me to play the game, or any game for that matter. We all learned to develop an intuition for all sports by playing with friends. I’m befuddled by major laagers with limited baseball sense—not knowing what base to throw to or not knowing when to take the extra base. Summer days were a game in the morning, lunch, and double-header in the afternoon, supper, backyard wiffle baseball. The games were designed around the number of players, location. Some fields dictated we all bat left-handed. Advantage Tony-the only lefty.

I do not remember any adults having input in our play. We just had to be home for supper. One summer, I guess 1966; we had the idea to involve the girls of the neighborhood. We were 13-14 and discovered that having the girls around was a good idea. The Big kids took the girls ages 13-14 and coached them to play the game while we “little” kids took the new little boys ages 8-10 and prepared them to play the older girls. We discovered what I think we already knew; the girls were athletes.  We enlisted Tom, a mild Downs teen, to ump the big game. I don’t remember the outcome; it doesn’t matter. I don’t think it mattered then. This is years before Title 9. I’m impressed by the insight of these kids. Over the years I have come to conclusion that adults are much too involved with kids play. Kids left to their own devices are wise and creative. Kids today have become dependent on adults to dictate their play, their thinking, their creativity. Youth sports has become more about the adults.

As a group of friends we played baseball, basketball and touch football through our teens. As young adults we joined local rec leagues to play touch and softball. It was always more about playing with friends than the game, though we were competitive and took the game seriously. Sometimes I regret we did not play baseball versus softball, but there were not the adult opportunities that exist today to play hardball. That said, the athletes I played with and against were truly great athletes and the play was high caliber ball.

As part of my softball experience I became a certified softball ump. My first lessons about umpping came through the director of Brooklyn Center Parks & Rec. I was the organizer and captain of our softball team and attended the organizational meetings. Director Arnie made it clear that arguing with umpires was not tolerated. He was an ump and a good one. He finished every meeting with the reminder that unless you were perfect in bed with your wife don’t expect perfection from umpires.


I understood from my experiences that umps/refs make mistakes. Players, coaches, parents make mistakes; unless you are perfect expecting perfection from others is unreasonable. I am distressed when I hear a young person blame a loss on poor officiating. This is learned from adults. In the rare instance when a game is decided by an officiating error, I wonder if every single player can look back at that game or any game and say they played the perfect game—there was not an instance where they could have changed the outcome with better play. I always taught players, students, parents—“The ump/ref is always right, even when they are wrong.” Once again I blame the over-organizing of youth sport for the inability for kids to self regulate their own play, settle their own differences and arguments. They have been taught to rely on adults to organize and officiate their play.

My baseball life became complete when the Twins won the ’87 World Series and again for frosting on the cake in ‘91. Like most Minnesota sports fans, we had never experienced the thrill of being the champs. A baseball fan highlight was attending the welcome back Twins homecoming at the Dome in the evening after defeating Detroit and earning the right to play the Cardinals in the World Series. Unexpectedly, the building was filled with true fans starved for a chance to celebrate. It brings a tear to my eye to this day. Now if the Gophers can get to the Rose Bowl before I die.

I am 65. Sports are in my DNA. I was a sports rube; I lost sleep with Viking/Twins loses. Minnesota teams are in my DNA, but today there are many more important things in my life then if a team wins or loses. I just don’t care that much about who does what any more. Sporting contests have become events and big business. Baseball games have become too long. I do not enjoy the angst displayed with every pitch, every play. That is what has made the games so long. The deep breaths, adjusting of the glove, the manager examining his analytic card, players with analytic cards, finding the perfect matchup or pitch—it drives me crazy—just play the game. This lack of interest carries over into watching my grandkids play ball. Maybe I am a bad grandparent, but I do not feel a need to watch all their games, and I hope they do not feel a need to play in front of me or anyone for that matter. Play the game for the joy of playing, not for performing for adults. Truth be told, I find the games boring. I just hope the kids have fun; and I am able to play catch with them as my mom played catch with me.

Gary Livingston


Week of October 12, 2018

Alex Honnold climbing El Cap with no ropes. Who’s coming to see the doc, Free Solo, with me? 

The Yankees/Red Sox 9th Inning Is Why We Love Baseball

During the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 4 of the Yankees/Red Sox division series, which Boston won 4-3 to win the series, I texted some buddies, “This is so good. Playoff baseball is the best.” I don’t particularly care about either team. Sure, I rooted for Boston back in 2003 and 2004. They were the underdogs then. They’re not now. Both teams spend a lot and win a lot and have obnoxious fans (my dad, excepted). And for the first time (ever?) I found myself pulling for the Yankees. They actually seemed like the underdog. And my multi-year keeper fantasy baseball team has a glut of young Yankees on it, including Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, and Aaron Hicks, with more on the way.

But there’s still something about Yankees/Red Sox playoff baseball that sucks me in. It feels like an event. October baseball in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park sure feels right. Even before the Red Sox closed this out in 4 on Tuesday, I was feeling cheated that this was a best-of-five and not best-of-seven series.

And then the game started and it looked like Boston would cruise to victory. Up 4-0 and then 4-1, they brought in their ace, Chris Sale, to pitch the 8th and presumably close it out. Sale pitched a clean sheet, but then the Sox brought in closer Craig Kimbrel, one of the best and most annoying pitchers of all time. Seriously, why does he stand like this before the pitch?

Kimbrel is great, and it seemed the Yankees’ fate was sealed. And then…a walk to Judge. A soft single by Gregorious. Giancarlo did Giancarlo things and struck out. Voit drew a four pitch walk, on four terrific pitches:

Suddenly the tying run is at the plate. Is Kimbrel rattled yet? Uh, his next pitch hit Neil Walker. 4-2, bases loaded, only one out. Up came Gary Sanchez, with the chance to win it. He hit a ball so high I thought it was a pop out to short stop. But it kept going, and going, and the left fielder kept going back…and finally made the catch well into the warning track. Run scored; 4-3.

It was down to Torres. A single would tie it, anything more could win it and send the series back to Boston. Torres hit a slow roller that former Giant Eduardo Nunez made an amazing play on to just beat Torres. Exhale.

Grant Brisbee’s excellent look at that inning includes this fantastic close:

The game was over. The series was over. It was 14 minutes of perfect, hilarious, dumb baseball, unless you cared about the Yankees or Red Sox, in which case it was the worst 14 minutes of your life*.

* Objectively worse for Yankees fans, when it’s all said and done

But this is it. This is the baseball experience. You build up the energy over 162 games, and you store it and hope for the best, and the radiation becomes too much, and now the parakeet is dead. Great. Except that’s exactly what you want. You want the release after 162 games, the progressive jackpot paying off.

Baseball is a ponzi scheme, except it really does pay off occasionally, and when it does, you get everything that you promised.

How do you sell it? How do you convince fans that baseball is worth it?

You just have to hope it happens organically, I guess. You have to hope they’re watching Game 4 of the Yankees-Red Sox and understand the context. You have to hope they’re at the right game, the one where the people are on their feet and screaming like idiots.

Eventually, I promise, they’ll get to one of those games. And it is absolutely transcendent and addicting.

Hope that someone who was on the fence about baseball saw the end of that Yankees-Red Sox ALDS. It wasn’t the greatest series, but it had one of the greatest 15-minute stretches of the last few years of postseason baseball. It had everything, from hope to despair and everything in between.

It was the best commercial that baseball had to offer. Not everyone might have seen it, but that’s OK. Think of it like the Velvet Underground.

“I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”

If you saw it, you understood. This was the release of endorphins that you had been promised, and it was all worth it. Either you get it or you don’t, but with games like this, more people will get it. They’ll just have to watch hundreds of hours of lesser baseball to get there.

The Red Sox defeated the Yankees. Some stuff happened. Lots of people watched. But it was so much more than that. It was boring until it wasn’t, and it was so much more than that.

It was a fine day at the ol’ yard. You should have been there. It was a pip of a ninth inning, I hear. And it kind of justified the whole sport.


Source: The Red Sox Advanced to the ALCS After One of the Most Thrilling Ninth Innings of the Season”, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (10/10/2018)

PAL: Brisbee has his fastball going in this column. I got home and flipped on the TV and thought, there’s got to be a playoff game on, and watched the last half of this game. It had juice as soon as Kimbrel walked Judge on 4 pitches. And then, as Brisbee lays out, baseball got great in a way that only baseball can get great. I’m far from the first to say it, but the baseball season is the novel, and the payoffs like we saw in this game have so much weight because they take so damn long to develop. For a 162-game season, plus a Wild Card game (for the Yankees), plus four more playoff games to come down to a bases loaded, bottom of the ninth situation…that can’t be faked, so stop reading my response and go read the story. 

The Ultimate Assistant: RIP Tex Winter

There are countless unsung heroes and innovators in sports, each with his or her own fascinating story, which is why I enjoyed reading about Tex Winter’s life upon his recent death at the age of 96. You might remember Winter as Phil Jackson’s right-hand man in Chicago and Los Angeles, but Winter, the mastermind behind the triangle offense Jackson used to win all those titles, had been a college coach for 30 years before that. He was also an NBA head coach well before the Jordan Bulls.

There are so many stories about the prodigy, the natural, the supremely talented; reading about Tex Winter, a man to whom I’ve held no real interest or appreciation, is a reminder there are incredible success stories in sports about folks you’d pass by on the street without taking a second look. It’s reassuring.

If none of this does if for you, consider this, The New York Times wrote an obit that was the top story on its sports page for an assistant coach. – PAL

Source: “Tex Winter, Brain Behind Basketball’s Triangle Offense, Dies at 96”, Richard Goldstein, The New York Times (10/10/18)

Sidle Up: How the Best NBA Writers Get Their Best Scoops

This is a fun read, about how the best NBA writers get their best scoops – after years of developing relationships and trust with players, they simply “sidle up” to the player and get an informal exclusive interview. There’s some good imagery in this one:

Last week, Yahoo reporter Chris Haynes walked into the Lakers locker room and spotted LeBron James sitting alone. “LeBron is a different cat …” Haynes said later. “He’s got his headphones on. He’s playing music. He comes off like he doesn’t want to be bothered.”

“Man, I don’t care about that shit,” Haynes continued. “I walk over there. He takes his headphones off. We start chopping it up, talking in front of everybody.”

But any writer can’t simply sidle up to any player. For that reason, sidling also shows the NBA writer pecking order:

“You know when you get to the airport gate and you see the premium people line up and you’re jealous of that?” said Bleacher Report’s Tom Haberstroh. “That’s how you feel with Howard Beck and Stephen A. Smith and Brian Windhorst. Man, I wish I could get to that status—premium first class.”

The art of the sidle is just as fascinating:

“You don’t want to look like you’re standing there planted and waiting,” said Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams. “At least, I don’t.” When he wants to sidle with a player who’s about to leave a locker room, Abrams will strike up a second conversation that can be ended quickly when his quarry makes for the door.

The standard question that opens a sidle is: “Got a minute?” Once, Bryant turned to Adande and said, “No, I don’t have a minute, J.A.”—a line that Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon (mis)quoted on TV for years.

If the player does have a minute, what he tells a reporter falls into the gray zone between on and off the record. “Typically, the default is off the record,” said Windhorst. “But you may ask a player, ‘Can I use that?’” Thompson said players rarely demarcate what is and isn’t on the record, and a reporter’s ability to anticipate a player’s desires is part of what entitles him to sidle in the first place.

The sidle, of course, is helpful to the players, too.

At its most basic level, a sidle is a player’s safe space. Last season, The Athletic’s Jason Quick noticed that Damian Lillard was putting his arm around center Jusuf Nurkic during timeouts and dead balls. “I waited until everyone left after a game and I asked him about it,” Quick said. “That’s when he revealed, ‘Yeah, I’m doing what I was wish LaMarcus Aldridge had done with me.’ Which was gold.”

Lillard probably wouldn’t have revealed his motives to a bunch of reporters in a scrum, but he trusted Quick to write the piece.

I like these how-the-sausage-is-made stories. Good stuff. -TOB

Source: The Art of the Sidle: The Slickest Move in NBA Media“, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (10/11/2018)

The Winningest Football Coach of All-Time

Even if you’re a football fan, or a college football fan, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of John Gagliardi (unless you’re from Minnesota, or were was as crazy about college football as a kid in the 90s as I was). Gagliardi coached D-III St. John’s University in Collegeville (LOL), Minnesota. He won 489 games, the most wins in college football history, at any level. He won those 489 games over a career that spanned an unfathomable SIXTY FIVE seasons – from 1949 until 2012. He coached the Johnnie’s for most of that time, beginning there in 1953, until his retirement.

Gagliardi circa 1953

Gagliardi died this week at the age of 91. I heard the news and noted it was sad, and moved on. Other than a mid-90s ESPN Gameday story about Gaglliardi that stuck in my brain for some reason, I didn’t know much about him other than his wins record. But Deadspin’s Drew Magary wrote a nice tribute that I’m glad I read. Funny enough, Magary learned of Gagliardi the same way I did – through that Gameday piece. But I learned a lot about Gagliardi in Magary’s story, and boy does Gagliardi seem like my kind of coach:

Gagliardi famously had no playbook. He never used a whistle. He never recruited. He insisted on being called “John” instead of coach. He banned tackling from practice (the next time a Gruden or a Harbaugh bitches about being hamstrung by practice restrictions, point them to Gagliardi’s record). He held no meetings. Team stretches were strictly a parody of OTHER team’s stretching routines, with players doing the “Head Shoulders Knees & Toes” dance instead of barking out calf stretches at one another. Every senior on the team was named captain. He famously kept a running list of Nos to adhere to, one of which—No Slogans—I would like printed out and stapled to Mike Lombardi’s ******* head.

Oh, and he never yelled. That’s the thing that threw me when I first saw that Cyphers report. Cyphers asked Gagliardi about yelling at players and Gagliardi responded, “No no no, that’s insanity.” When I was growing up, all of my coaches yelled. It didn’t even occur to me that they might NOT yell. Yelling was coaching, as far as I was concerned. And yet here was one of the most decorated men in the sport, laughing at its uselessness. Calling it outright crazy. It took me a very long time to understand just how right he was about that.

If you coach, strive to be a coach like “John”. I know I will. -TOB

Source: John Gagliardi Was the Only Good Coach“, Drew Magary, Deadspin (10/11/2018)

Gary Livingston: Baseball Memories (On the Force or the Tag submission)

Earlier this week I found an email from my Uncle Gary. In it he shared his baseball memories, and I think this is a really great way to extend the On the Force or the Tag series. Please feel free to send us your baseball stories and pictures, and I’ll be sure so add it to the page. – PAL

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Gary Livingston in the vintage jersey. 

Blogger and nephew, Phil, has inspired me to recollect my youth and past baseball memories. Unlike Phil, I was marginally talented. Like Phil, I loved the game and I knew the game.

My first memories of playing catch are with my mom. I later learned she was a small-town farm girl legend as the tomboy who could play ball. In her day she played kitten ball. I still have the kitten ball she gave me. She had a great arm and I never had to worry about throwing too hard to her. Phil captures the essence of who has the game in their blood, when he writes that when the simple game of catch is enough to entertain for hours—you know they love the game.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood in which moms stayed home and kids played outside until supper. We had a group of 3 “big” kids who dictated our play. They were four years older and wiser. I was among the 6-10 little kids. The big kids decided the sport—baseball, football—how—waffle ball, left-handed—where—street, yard, sandlot. They decided rainy day activities—chess, trivia, and the king of indoor games of our youth—Little Baseball.

Little Baseball consisted of each player picking a major league team. We had little plastic baseball players from cereal boxes as players and found the bakery sold plastic players to be used as cake decorations. We each painted and named our players from the MLB team. I remember the detail and pride we took in painting our players: the black and gold of the Pirates, the number on their back to the color of their skin.

We made a game board from a 4’x4’ sheet of plywood or sheetrock. The players took the field and guarded circles with hits labeled in each. We pitched the ball/marble by rolling down a ramp and the hitter would strike with a wooden dowel bat. We kept score, statistics, played a whole season, which included an All-Star game and World Series. Each year was a new season and brought more sophistication to game. Dave, a big kid with creative talent, helped turn our boards into works of art including lights, spectator bleachers, and scoreboards. The Big kids were their league of choice—usually American—and we little kids would be the National. I still have my Cardinals Curt Flood and Vada Pinson and Pirate- Roberta Clemente as I painted them 50+ years ago. Remarkably, our favorite players would perform the best in our board game. We could hole up for hours playing in the basement and at night compile batting averages and ERA’s.

Click here to read the rest of Livingston’s baseball life.

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PAL Song of the Week: Todd Snider – “Waco Moo”

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Right. And, and to cover my nervousness I started eating an apple, because I think if they hear you chewing on the other end of the phone, it makes you sound casual.

-Georgie Boy Costanza

Week of October 5, 2018

What if the Steroid Era Wasn’t Really Caused by Steroid Use?

So goes this convincing article from The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh, who argues (1) the Steroid Era, and specifically the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, is over-credited with bringing fans back to baseball after the 1994 strike; (2) steroids are over-credited for the Steroid Era boom.

First, he attacks the “fans returned to baseball theory” and disposes of it with some simple numbers:

Per-game attendance recovered much more in 1996 (+6.5 percent) and 1997 (+4.5 percent) than in 1998 (+2.9 percent). In 1999, with the memory of a thrilling record chase fresh in fans’ minds, it barely budged (+0.3 percent). Per-game attendance actually dropped (as did the economy, which might have more to do with attendance) in 2001, and again in 2002 and 2003. Not until 2006—well into the testing era—did MLB bounce all the way back to its 1994 attendance pace (which probably would have tailed off had the ’94 schedule been completed).

Well, huh. Certainly, attendance isn’t the only measure of fan interest. But that is still pretty compelling, because fans show the most intense interest by spending their time and money going to games.

Next, Lindbergh looks into how much we really know about how steroids even caused the 1990s offensive boom. First, he notes that it wasn’t only hitters taking steroids:

[Nate Silver, now of FiveThirtyEight] also noted [in his 2006 essay, “Baseball Between the Numbers”] that 36 of the 76 pro players suspended for PEDs in 2005—the first year that MLB players were subject to suspensions, and also the year that minor league violators’ names were publicly disclosed—were pitchers, and he tentatively concluded that among hitters, “the average performance improvement from steroid use is detectable but small.”

So what other factors could have caused the offensive surge?

In [] 2012…Jay Jaffe investigated several forces that could have caused or contributed to the so-called steroid era’s home run rates, including the ball, and wrapped up his inquiry by writing, “To suggest that the numbers of the era have been entirely distorted by the use of steroids would appear to be a stretch given the number of other factors in play.”

So why did the Steroid Era become known as the Steroid Era? Simply, steroid use was easy to see and thus easy to blame:

The standard sabermetric line may have hewed to the scientific method, but reserving judgment and downplaying the link between PEDs and dingers was an impossible sell to most fans. Everyone who was watching baseball in the ’90s saw some sluggers get bigger; everyone saw some of those same sluggers post unprecedented stats; and everyone read the revelations about what they were ingesting (or injecting). The availability heuristic did the rest: Steroids were the most scandalous and memorable hallmark of the era, and thus they were held responsible for the sky-high home run rate.

In fact, the current offensive boom is even stronger than 1998:

But recent events should reframe the narrative. In the past three seasons, MLB’s home run rate—expressed as the percentage of balls in play that turn into home runs—has dwarfed its previous peak, which it reached in 2000. Even with home runs on contact down slightly from last season, the 2018 home run rate is about 8 percent higher than it was at any point during the steroid era, and 20 percent higher than it was in 1998.


As we’ve discussed on this blog before, home run rates have also skyrocketed the last few seasons, and scientific testing has fairly strongly confirmed that the ball was changed at the 2015 All Star Break. As Lindbergh argues:

Using camera- and radar-derived Statcast data that didn’t exist in all ballparks until 2015, researchers determined that the new balls were flying farther because of decreased drag, although they couldn’t establish with certainty which physical properties of the ball were reducing the drag.

In other words, we know now that a subtle change in the ball is sufficient to explain an even more dramatic rise in home run rate than we witnessed in the ’90s. That doesn’t prove that steroids played no significant role in the previous spike, but it does demonstrate that steroids aren’t necessary to explain the earlier increase. It really could have been the ball.

I find this fascinating. Lindbergh next turns to Eric Walker, one of the people responsible for the Oakland A’s’ late-90s sabermetric revolution. Walker argues that arguing the 1990s boom was due to steroids doesn’t even make sense because, as in the recent boom, the numbers surged practically overnight:

[A] steroid-related explanation for the sudden, dramatic increase in offense of the sort that occurred in ’93 and ’94 would have required a combination of extremely widespread, simultaneous PED adoption and drugs that were capable of producing a probably-implausible per-player improvement. “The crux, the evidence that seems blindingly obvious but which so many people just gloss over like a police inspector in a Sherlock Holmes story, is the suddenness of the change: a large step jump from one stable, self-consistent era to another such over a single season,” Walker says. “There is no other possible explanation than a change in the baseball.” It’s certainly suggestive that the seasons with the largest year-over-year increases in home run rate on contact are, in order, 1977 (when MLB changed ball manufacturers, from Spalding to Rawlings); 1969 (when the mound was lowered and the strike zone shrunk); 2016 (the first full season with the reduced-drag ball); and 1993, followed by 2015 (the season in which the reduced-drag ball made its first appearance).

However, Lindbergh does acknowledge steroids do appear to have contributed to older players remaining productive longer.

Also, today we see fewer extreme outliers at the top:

Compared to the steroid era, today’s home runs are much more evenly distributed. Everyone is hitting more homers, but elite home run hitters haven’t made the greatest gains. Instead, more and more hitters are putting up mid-tier totals, and no one is getting to 60, let alone 70 (or this year, perhaps, even 50).

As Silver wrote in 2006, “There may have been a few players for whom steroids represent a ‘tipping point,’ allowing a relatively minor gain in muscle strength, bat speed, or recovery time to translate into a dramatically improved performance.” Regardless, it’s reductive and likely misleading to say that steroids saved baseball. And if we blame PEDs for retroactively ruining an era, we’re probably giving them too much credit for making it fun in the first place.

This was a great article. Five stars. -TOB

Source: How Much of a Role Did Steroids Play in the Steroid Era?”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (09/28/2018)

PAL: Excellent read. Classic case that more than one idea can be true. Here’s the the most logical line from the story:

We’ll never have the data to determine precisely how the ball behaved two decades ago, or who was taking what, when. We can say, though, that every other home run spike of the magnitude of the one that preceded the 1998 home run race was accompanied by a change in the ball or the mound and strike zone.

Hometown Hero – Assessing Joe Mauer’s Twins Career

Joe Mauer very likely played his last game as a Minnesota Twin this past week. For those of you who don’t know, Mauer is the living embodiment of the childhood dream: he grew up in St. Paul, he was a three-sport star in high school (Gatorade national football player of the year and a Florida State commit), he was drafted number one overall by his hometown Minnesota Twins, and actually lived up to the hype. 6x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove Winner, American League MVP, and – oh, by the way – the only catcher in MLB history to win 3 batting titles (and the only American League catcher ever to win a batting title). Add to all of this, he is by all accounts a model citizen.

I know many of you will laugh at this, but Joe Mauer has more than a little in common with LeBron James (I KNOW, LeBron won a title).

Number 7 will be retired in Minnesota, but ask anyone from from Minnesota and they’ll tell you that Mauer, and his $184MM contract has long been a contentious topic in my home state.

In 2009, Mauer had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever by a catcher: .365, 28 HR, 30 doubles, .444 OBP, 96 RBI. Oh, and he also won a Gold Glove. At that point in time, Mauer was the biggest free agent available. A sure-fire Hall of Fame catcher in his mid-late twenties who had just won his third batting title. If Mauer goes to New York with the short porch in right or Fenway to bounce opposite field flies off the monster, god knows where his career ends up.

Instead, Mauer signed an eight year, $184MM contract with his hometown team. The Twins move into a new stadium with “Baby Jesus” leading all the disciples, and, as SI’s Gabriel Baumgaertner details,  Mauer’s career returns to earth. He never hits more than 11 home runs again, and following a concussion in August 2013, Mauer is never the same hitter for average he was prior to that.

Half of the fans remains loyal to Baby Jesus (including my mom), while the other half felt like he was earning too much dough for the the team to be that bad, for him to get mysterious injuries (bilateral leg weakness), and for him to be a singles hitter.

Mauer brings out the worst in us.

“In Minnesota, we’re hardworking people and don’t like it if you’re being paid and you’re not out there performing,” says former baseball writer Andy Rennecke. Let’s pause to appreciate how stupid this cliche is. You know where else hardworking people live, Andy? Literally everywhere else!

Other critics like to point to that contract as the reason the Twins have had such little success since Mauer signed it. This, of course, is ludicrous. 26 players made over 22MM this year. Aaron Gleeman, Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Prospectus, had this to say:

I think this is true of all sports and all fans in that they will very often side with the billionaires over the millionaires. In Minnesota every dollar is treated as not another player, perception that $23 million has kept them from signing others when the team has not filled their payroll base. The family that owns the Twins are multi-billionaires who own huge businesses around Minnesota. I don’t want them to go nuts, I just want them to spend 51% of their revenue. They don’t do that.

Mauer is an unequivocal success – a story too perfect for even the movies. And yet, he made it hard to fully embrace him as our hero. You gotta win something. You gotta at least make a run, and the Twins simply didn’t, even when Mauer was at his best. The Twins went an astonishing 0-10 in playoff games over Mauer’s tenure (he wasn’t on the 2004 playoff roster), and Mauer had a single playoff RBI.

This a really good read about a hometown hero written from a national writer’s perspective. I think that space and perspective is needed when we’re assessing one of our own. Solid read about a guy we should celebrate, even when his teams didn’t give us much to cheer. – PAL

Source:The $23 Million Question: Why Do Some Twins Fans Despise Hometown Hero Joe Mauer?”, Gabriel Baumgaertner, SI.com (9/25/18)

TOB: Yeesh. 0-10!? I had no idea. I’d love to give Joe Mauer some truth serum and ask him if he regrets re-signing with the Twins. As you note, he would have hit a lot of dingers in New York, and they wanted him. I’m sure he felt a lot of pressure to stay. And maybe he would have felt more pressure in NY. But it’s kind of a Sliding Doors moment; or like Jim Belushi’s character in Mr. Destiny: how is Mauer’s life different if he leaves the Twins in 2009? How is baseball history different? How is Phil’s life different? How is my life different? Consider. The following season, the Yankees lost the ALCS in six games to the Rangers. In that series, Yankees’ catcher Jorge Posada, at the tail end of his career, went 5 for 19 with no homers and 1 RBI. What if that’s peak Mauer instead? Does the series change? Do the Giants beat the Yankees? Who knows. So, thanks Joe, for being loyal to your hometown.

On a tangent, I went to check out the list of Gatorade National Players of the Year for football. It’s a fascinating list, filled with not just NFL busts but college busts. Over the last fifteen years, guys like Tate Martell, Jacob Eason, Justin Worley, Andrew Brown, Max Browne, Garrett Gilbert, Mitch Mustain, Kyle Wright, Brock Berlin, Chris Lewis, Jeff Byers. All were or are barely passable as college starters. Some never even started consistently, if at all. Some are absolute no names. Some ring vague bells in my brain, and I follow college football. Some were complete busts. Maybe they need someone new in charge of selecting the winner for that award (the guys in the 80s and 90s was killing it: Jeff George, Emmitt Smith, Robert Smith, Peyton Manning, for example). This says nothing of my opinion of Mauer, just something I found interesting.

Burn High-Level Amateur Basketball to the Ground and Start Over

This week saw the beginning of the trial of agent Christian Dawkins, Adidas executive James Gatto, and former Adidas operative Merl Code. The three are accused of committing felony wire fraud as part of the FBI’s larger investigation into corruption in basketball recruiting. On Thursday, Brian Bowen Sr. testified. You may recall us writing about Brian Bowen, Jr. about a year ago when he was ruled ineligible after reportedly receiving $100,000 to commit to play basketball at Louisville.

His father’s testimony was…eventful:

According to Bowen Sr., Dawkins told him that Arizona assistant coach Joe Pasternack offered $50,000; Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans offered $150,000 cash, $8,000 for a car and additional money to buy a house; Texas assistant coach Mike Morrell offered to “help me with housing”; and Creighton assistant coach Preston Murphy offered $100,000 and a “good job, a lucrative job.”

Earlier in the week there was testimony that Washington paid current 76er Markelle Fultz, and that Utah paid current Laker Kyle Kuzma. I thought this stuff was going on, but Creighton? Utah? This is all crazy. As Deadspin’s Chris Thompson points out:

The numbers are illuminating. They’re impressive if imagined as a layer of banded stacks of crisp bills inside a briefcase, but in exchange for a year of work from a highly skilled and widely recruited worker whose services will soon be worth tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed money, they’re not much!

Which is what makes this trial kind of ridiculous. Amateur basketball needs to start over. Players should be paid so that these under the table deals don’t occur. Perhaps the craziest thing  it’s not just at the college level either:

Bowen Sr. told the jury that he received $2,000 per month from Shane Heirman for Bowen II to attend La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana. Heirman was the head coach of La Lumiere at the time, and is now an assistant coach at DePaul.

Bowen II began his high school career playing for Dawkins’ Dorian’s Pride AAU program, but moved to the Michigan Mustangs on the Adidas circuit after Adidas program director T.J. Gassnola offered Bowen Sr. $25,000 for his son to play for the Mustangs.

AAU teams playing players is obvious. But high schools are paying for players, too? Yeah, I don’t know how you fix that one.

Source: “Brian Bowen’s Dad Describes Black Market Payments For Top Recruits At Every Level Of “Amateur” Basketball”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (10/04/2018)

PAL: I hate the idea of paying college players, but I don’t see another solution with the athletic companies so entwined in the sport. But does paying them in college stop the jockeying for position in high school and the AAU circuit? Do we let children sign shoe deals? If he decides to go to college, can he then be contractually obligated to only go to a school that has a deal with his shoe maker? At that point, to what degree would the shoe companies essentially running college programs? How much are they already running college programs right now?

TOB: They already are. At least this would be out in the open. I think allowing players to sign endorsement deals is the easiest fix. In every other sport, this isn’t a problem: golf. skiing. tennis. They all sign sponsorships in order to afford equipment, travel, cost of living. It keeps the colleges out of it, solves a lot of the headaches colleges claim, and keeps things above board.

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week – Mogwai – ‘Helicon 1’

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And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.

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