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.

Video(s) of the Week: 

Tweet of the Week: 


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

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