Week of November 16, 2018


Slurpy Writing Almost Ruins A Great Story

I’m guessing by now you’ve heard of LeBron James’ incredible philanthropy efforts in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, but just in case: Through his foundation, he has built a school for children struggling with reading (at or below the 25th percentile) and worked with the University of Akron to guarantee a scholarship to any child that comes through LeBron’s I Promise School while meeting all of the educational requirements. This could mean a free college education for as many as 2300+ local kids.

The I Promise school opened this summer, so it makes sense for a writer to report on how it’s going so far. The school takes a holistic, evidence-based approach to the the student lives, and I think it’s cool that this is not a charter school. The school exists within the public school system in Akron, and there’s a lot of really interesting experiments taking place, all of which are spearheaded by a professional athlete who, as a fourth grader in the same town, missed 83 days of school. There’s a food pantry, night classes for parents who want to earn their GED, fresh food, and extended hours.

What they’ve done at the I Promise School is borrow from the best practices identified in public education from across the country and brought them all under one roof. They have a small student population with rigorously vetted teachers who are sensitive to the challenges each of their students faces. And they’re the same challenges.

LeBron laid the groundwork by shifting his foundation’s focus to education eight years ago. Then, under the power and respect and adulation associated with his name, he brought together the banks, the lawyers, his endorsement partners, and above all else, the local education professionals. They’ve filled in the cracks where tax dollars can’t reach, for things like free uniforms and eye exams and counseling for parents.

They’ve pooled all of these tremendous resources to give children of the lowest socioeconomic denominator a chance. Keep them in school longer. Feed them more. Hug them. Listen to them. And then, finally, teach them.

All of this is nothing short of inspiring. James seems to be providing the blueprint for other wealthy public figures to bring back to their hometowns. Feel good story all around!

However, I don’t understand why The Athletic’s Joe Vardon feels the need to unnaturally drop brands into the narrative. While I understand these companies are contributing either money, supplies, or time; that then does not mandate the writer pen sentences like the following (emphasis mine):

  • Third-graders and fourth. Children of all shapes and sizes and skin tones. Each morning they are greeted the same way, with music pumping through a Beats pill and by a handful of teachers handing out high-fives and hugs.
  • I was standing there watching this, still in my black pea coat, stocking cap, jeans and Nikes.
  • After breakfast in teacher Tara Caporuscio’s third-grade class, as in every class, the students sat on the floor next to each other in what’s called the I Promise Circle. Caporuscio takes her Beats pill and dials up Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” It’s not exactly at the top of the charts for 8-year olds living in Akron’s inner city, but nary a student says a word.

I mean, what is this? It’s one thing for the writing to have the tone of a knockoff NY Times wedding announcements section, but what’s with the brand mentions, Joe? I wonder if he is so impressed with the school and how brands LeBron endorses have contributed that he wanted to go out of his way to name them at any opportunity? I don’t get it. This honestly read to me like paid content, which seems so unnecessary given the thoughtful work and partnerships James’ foundation has done with the public school system, the University of Akron, and the community at large. There’s a great story here in the facts. He’s writing about elementary school students, not for them. Is The Athletic looking for an editor? It should be. – PAL

Source: “LeBron James’ Legacy Isn’t His Triumphs with the Lakers or the Cavaliers, it is These Kids”, Joe Vardon, The Athletic Ink (11/14/18)

TOB: A little odd, but I will not let it take away from the amazing thing My Guy is doing. Bravo, LeBron. Bravo.


This Is the End, Beautiful Friend

If you’ve somehow missed this, let’s recap the Warriors week:

  • Steph hurt.
  • Draymond and Durant did this:

There’s a lot to unpack here. Draymond kinda snakes that rebound from Durant. As soon as Draymond got the rebound, Durant clapped for the ball. But by his body language it’s obvious he’s going to go up the court relatively slowly and shoot a 30-footer, as he does.

Instead, Draymond streaked down the court. Something good could have happened. For example, as he approached the right wing, he had an easy drop off pass to Klay for a wide open 3. But something good did not happen. Instead, Draymond fell, just like he did in a similar situation in the playoffs last year to lose a game to the Rockets. Just before he fell, Durant called for the ball again.

After Draymond fell, Durant immediately turned around and sulked back to the bench, muttering the entire time. When Draymond got to the bench, Durant continued, and barked something along the lines of, “pass me the damn ball.”

Draymond does not take that kindly. Reports are that on the bench and during another argument in the locker room after the loss, Draymond repeatedly called Durant a “bitch” and told Durant, who is a free agent this summer and has not stated he intends to re-sign with Golden State, that the Warriors won before he got there, don’t need him, and to go sign somewhere else, or words to that effect.

Back to the recap of the week:

  • In what appears an act of appeasement to Durant, the Warriors suspend Draymond, without pay.
  • Draymond sits out and returns to the team for shootaround on Thursday. Reports are that he and Durant speak for a bit, but that Durant seemed sullen throughout the day.
  • Draymond also speaks to the media, unleashing an almost three minute monologue wherein he acknowledged he crossed the line, and vowed that it would not destroy the team, and supported Durant’s right to do what he wants to do next year.
  • The team gets whomped by a Rockets team that had been struggling all season. Draymond, statistically, plays the worst game of his career: 0 points on 0-3 FG, 5 reb, 5 asts, 5 turnovers.

Let me say at the outset that Draymond Green seems like a real pain in the ass to have as a coworker. I totally get that.

But doesn’t he have a point? I should say: I’m not a fan of Durant’s game, while acknowledging he’s basically unguardable. Too much one on one. Too many long, contested jumpers. I think his athleticism is highly overrated – he’s not fluid in his movements. There’s nothing pretty about his game. It’s almost Ivan Drago-like.

But doesn’t Draymond have a point? The Warriors did win without him. They won a title and went 73-9 with a Finals loss in the two seasons before he arrived. Draymond (and the other stars) even took less money to get Durant there. And isn’t Durant a little bit of a, to borrow Draymond’s phrase, bitch? What kind of teammate acts like Durant did during and after that play? A bad one. What kind of teammate then sulks for two days even when the team takes his side and suspends the other guy, taking more than $100k out of his pocket, and the other guy even acknowledges he crossed the line? A bad one.

I’ve listened to hours of Durant’s podcasts with Bill Simmons and he strikes me as a very moody, hyper-sensitive person. After Thursday’s game, a reporter asked him about his relationship with Draymond. Durant snapped, “Don’t ask me that question ever again.”

So while I get that it would not be easy to be Draymond’s teammate, I say Durant is no better. I ride with Draymond: good riddance, KD. -TOB

Source:Unpacking the Draymond Green-Kevin Durant Rift and What the Fall Out Could Mean Long Term Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic (11/13/2018)

PAL: All parties are in the wrong. Draymond for screwing up a fast break (again) by going too fast and too out of control and for having it out with Durant while a game was there for the taking. Durant for acting like a baby before, during, and after the one play, and for having it out with Draymond while a game was there for the taking. Management for being scared.

He went about it the wrong way, but Draymond’s right. What has made the Warriors great is great players playing this unselfish basketball, and no one being above that. Durant says “screw that” and becomes a chucker too often. Someone needs to call bullshit on that in order to keep the balance, and that’s Draymond. The team backed the wrong dude is an embarrassingly public manner.

And – yes – I have no doubt Draymond is a gigantic pain in the ass.

TOB: Good point, Phil. Another article this week, by Sam Amick, reminded me of that conversation Kerr had with Durant during the playoffs last year, where he used a Phil Jackson/Jordan/John Paxson story to remind Durant to stop shooting so much. Kerr was furious it was aired, with good reason. Durant should have been embarrassed.


Pickup Basketball, Shandling Style

I was a little too young to get into Garry Shandling when his two shows were at their heights, but it feels like pretty much every comedy that I’ve enjoyed in the past twenty years has a direct connection to Garry Shandling. Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Larry David – all of these guys have a connection Shandling, and most of them played in a mostly weekly pickup game at Shandling’s house.

The game started in the early 90s and continued until Shandling’s death in 2016. Regular players included:

  • David Duchovny
  • Al Franken
  • Adam McKay
  • Will Ferrell
  • Greg Kinnear
  • Bill Maher
  • Jim Gray
  • Ben Stiller
  • Sarah Silverman
  • Jeff Goldblum

Court Rules:

  • 3-on-3
  • Up to 7 by 1’s
  • The wall behind the hoop is in bounds if the ball bounces against it by accident
  • No business talk

I’m not sharing this story on the “hollywood stars are regular like us” angle. I’ve heard a lot about Garry Shandling, but nothing is more telling than his approach to a pickup game. It ran for almost thirty years, no work talk was allowed, and the wall behind the hoop is in bounds. Tells me most everything I need to know about the dude. I like his 3-3 rules. – PAL

Source: “’Fight Club’ With Better Jokes: Inside Garry Shandling’s Secret Pickup Game”, Anna Peele, ESPN (11/13/18)

TOB: First, I never would have guessed Duchovny played college ball, even if it was at an Ivy. Impressive. Second, you like the wall being in bounds. What are we playing, indoor soccer? No, man. If I show up to a game and a wall is in, then I’m out.


Video of the Week, c/o Stanford Radio: 


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Bob Dylan – “Up to Me”


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My last job was at a Taco Bell Express. But, then it became a full Taco bell and, I dunno, I couldn’t keep up.

-Kelly Erin Hannon

 

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Week of November 9, 2018

 


Google’s New Chess Champion Computer Plays Like a Human

Uh, are we screwed? We’re probably screwed. This week, Google’s chess computer, AlphaZero, beat StockFish, an open-source computer engine that had previously been the world’s computer chess champion, over the course of 100 matches. This would not be a noteworthy event, with one major exception: AlphaZero taught itself and plays chess like a human, not like a computer.

As many of will remember, IBM’s Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, over the course of a six-game series. Deep Blue did so with what is known in the computing chess world as “brute force”. DeepBlue could analyze 200 million moves per second. Kasparov, conversely, could only analyze two moves per second. Kasparov was at a severe computing disadvantage, and in hindsight it’s no surprise DeepBlue won.

Similarly, StockFish uses brute force, analyzing 70 million moves per second. But AlphaZero does not use brute force, relatively speaking. AlphaZero analyzes just 80,000 moves per second. So how did AlphaZero win?

After being given the rules, it played itself over and over, essentially reinventing the history of chess through millions of self-played games. Through what’s known as reinforcement learning, the machine took note of the behavior and patterns that led to a win, then incorporated that information into its blossoming style, over and over and over.

AlphaZero taught itself to play, through trial and error, just like a human. Though in only four hours. As one researcher says, “[AlphaZero] is just learning in the exact same way that a human would learn to play chess. That’s what humans do to learn: You play chess, you play games against each other, and you learn over time. So it’s learning very analogously to how humans learn, and it’s able to do it much quicker and much better.”

So, why are we screwed? The same researcher puts it this way:

“This is where AI is meeting creativity. Beforehand, it was just really, really fast at thinking. Now it’s able to be creative, it’s able to hit on things that humans used to think were intuition. That’s kind of like the humans’ last flagpole of hope, that computers can’t do intuitive things. No computer would be able to invent Mozart or do anything creative, but when you look at AlphaZero, it’s bordering on creativity, it’s bordering on intuition.”

Among chess grandmasters, the AlphaZero news was met quite differently than the fear twenty years ago when DeepBlue beat Kasparov. Many grandmasters, having grown up with computers more powerful than DeepBlue in their pockets, were not alarmed but instead intrigued by AlphaZero’s potential to expand what we understand about the game of chess.

If you’re interested, the article then explores the future of AI, including its potential to create art and music, or play video games and sports, and think consciously. Interesting read. -TOB

Source: Deep You”, The Ringer, Kevin Lincoln (11/08/2018)

PAL: The comparison of music and chess throughout the article is fascinating.

Chess and music share something in common, even if we don’t fully understand what that is. At the very least, we can recognize that there is a knack for patterns, an understanding of arrangement and progression, that unites human achievement in both disciplines, and that ability to recognize patterns—an inherently human trait—is what makes AlphaZero’s achievement so startling. What Steiner’s prepubescent virtuosos lack in intellectual and emotional maturity—the socialization and acculturation that we experience as we grow older—they made up for in this innate understanding of patterns.

To an extent, the same could be said of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, which cannot do anything other than play either chess or Go but seem to exhibit genuine creativity and ingenuity within those realms. For example, during the second game of AlphaGo’s match against Go master Lee Sedol, the machine made a move so unprecedented and idiosyncratic that observers used a very un-mechanical word to describe it: beautiful.

Of course, what AIs still can’t do is first, of their own volition and according to their own values, choose to play chess or compose music; and second, do so in a way that lacks precedent. Instead, they must be told to do so by people, and once they’ve been told to do so, they will perform those tasks within a few unbreakable parameters. AlphaZero is incapable of making an illegal move, and while that doesn’t have much significance in a game of chess, which consists of only legal moves, it’s hugely important in music, where all sounds are fair game.

“One of the most limiting things about AI right now is you need to optimize something. AlphaZero was optimizing for the number of wins and the number of losses, and almost every single artificial intelligence algorithm right now is an optimization algorithm in some way,” Ginn said. “There would be no way to tell an AI, ‘Create me a brand-new song that you think is nice,’ because there’s no objective measurement of that.”

This topic is not usually my thing, but Lincoln writes the hell out of this story. Fascinating and accessible read.


The Day Jackie Mitchell Struck Out Ruth and Gehrig

 

“Overlooked” a pretty cool idea from The New York Times. The series is an acknowledgement that the paper’s obituary section has been “dominated by white men since 1851”, so now the paper is sharing stories of people it overlooked in their time.

I happened upon the story of Jackie Mitchell this week. When Mitchell, a left-hander, was seventeen she struck Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game on April 2, 1931. Of course, it was never known whether or not the strikeouts were arranged between the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Yankee sluggers. Ruth was never opposed to making an extra buck here and there, and Lookouts owner Joe Engel needed to fill the stands during the Depression. It’s also notable that Mitchell was brought in as a relief pitcher in the first inning, struck out Ruth and Gehrig, and was replaced thereafter.

But also of note that Mitchell was throwing a sinker from the left side against two left-handed hitters, and Mitchell grew up near Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance who taught her the “drop ball”, and that Gehrig was no Ruth – he supposedly played it straight all the time.

All of it arguments fall perfectly on either side. Just enough for you to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the seventeen year-old struck out Ruth and Gehrig legit.

“Overlooked” is a great idea, and this was the perfect story for those of us lamenting that baseball is gone and daylight savings has wiped the last tannins of summer from our glasses. – PAL

Source: Overlooked No More: Jackie Mitchell, Who Fanned Two of Baseball’s Greats”, Talya Minsberg, The New York Times (11/7/18)


Kids These Days!

This is a funny one. Bjorn Borg played in an era very different from today, but he’s still one of the greatest tennis players to ever live. He has a 15-year old son, Leo, who is a top tennis prospect. You’d think growing up the son of Bjorn Borg would give you a leg up on the commission. You might watch a lot of your dad’s great matches, ask him questions about how or why he did something. You have a built in great coach. Not so, for Leo Borg. Why? Because Leo Borg is an ungrateful little shit!

Leo’s favorite player to watch is not his dad. No, of course not. It’s Rafael Nadal. OF COURSE. In fact, Leo claims he’s never watched a single one of his dad’s matches. Not one! Worse, his dad, Bjorn Freakin Borg, once tried to offer him some advice. Here’s how Leo’s mom tells the story:

“You tried once, when he was small,” she said to her husband. “You told him, like, ‘Go more forward.’ And Leo was like: ‘Ugh! You don’t know anything about tennis!’ And Bjorn said, ‘O.K., I will never say anything about tennis.’ ”

You, Father, Bjorn Freakin Borg, don’t know anything about tennis. Who is this spoiled child? Why are kids so god damn ungrateful? And when will they stop growing up so quickly? No, I’m not crying. You’re crying!  -TOB

Source: Leo Borg Steps Into His Father’s Shadow”, Andrew Keh, New York Times (11/07/2018)

PAL: This was a funny read for another reason. To learn of the challenges that come with being a sponsored athlete at fifteen while also being the son of a all-time great athlete. I really felt the sympathy for the family when they had to struggle the prospect of young Leo playing his father in a feature film, or that time they had to fly back a day later after learning that the in-flight entertainment would be the movie her son acted in, as the younger version of his father.

Or how about that time when we was competing in a juniors tournament that was sponsored by the clothing line BORG? 

In all seriousness, it sounds like the mom, dad, and son are nonplussed, which is about the best thing I could say.


Friday Night Lights: 2018

I share this article from the Wall Street Journal as an invitation to join me in my stunned reaction at some numbers. The writing is solid, but there’s no real story, other than to say, Texas is really serious about high school football, which we already knew. Consider these facts from writer Jason Gay’s trip to Allen, Texas:

  • The town of 106K has a single high school with an enrollment over 6,000
  • 9,000 season ticket holders
  • 740 students are in the marching band
  • The stadium – a high school football field – holds 18,000 spectators and cost over $60MM. 

My favorite bit of Gay’s writing is actually a parenthetical, which seems to happen somewhat often. Perhaps it’s a sign the writer found his/her real topic too late.

(A quick aside: Whenever I am in Texas and see how crazed the region is for football, it underlines what a crime against humanity it is that the Dallas Cowboys are so continuously mediocre. Dallas having mediocre professional football is the equivalent of New York City having mediocre pizza. It is an insult to the natural balance of the universe and needs to be immediately fixed.)

Tim Riggins would do some serious damage in Allen, Texas. – PAL

Source:An East Coast Schlub at Friday Night Lights”, Jason Gay, The Wall Street Journal (11/08/2018)

TOB: While I subscribe to the philosophy of never yuck another’s yum, this $60 million to build a freaking high school football stadium is outrageous. Look at the concession stand.

What happened to a good ol’ fashioned snack shack? This is nicer than the concession stands for probably every pro and college football stadium I’ve ever been to. That is serious insanity.


Video(s) of the Week: 2 Parents killing it.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Maggie Rogers – “Fallingwater”


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You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.

-Jerry Seinfeld

Week of November 2, 2018


A Most Impressive Loss

The World Series sure seems like a distant memory at this point, doesn’t it? While the Red Sox put the Dodgers out of their misery in just five games, the series felt closer than that. The most memorable ‘moment’ was the 18-inning Game Three. It was perfect kind of insanity for a Friday night, especially for those of us on the west coast. I knew next to nothing about Nathan Eovaldi when entered the game in the 12th inning. When it was over, he threw 97 pitches in relief and got the L when Dodger Max Muncy hit an opposite field home run in the bottom of the 18th. Michael Baumann described the game with the following:

This was the kind of game … actually, there’s no kind of game like this. Game 3 was a seven-hour, 20-minute haunted house, totally unique both in its length—by both time and innings this was the longest World Series game by far—and in its strangeness. This was a game in which Muncy could miss a shot at 15th-inning immortality and come back around for another pass through the lineup.

The pitcher who served up both of Muncy’s fly balls—the 15th-inning foul ball and the 18th-inning walk-off homer—was a 28-year-old named Nathan Eovaldi. If baseball’s empirical revolution of the 21st century hadn’t already debunked wins and losses as a measure of pitcher performance, Eovaldi would have. His relief stint of six-plus innings was a superhero’s origin story, and he ended up taking the loss.

With the Red Sox up two games to zero in the best-of-seven series, the Dodgers more or less needed to win game three to have any real chance at winning its first world series in thirty years. Both teams knew it, and as the game went longer and longer, you could understand the impact this game could have on the future of the series, especially on the teams’ respective pitching staffs. The Dodgers had to make every move, but the Red Sox had the two-game buffer. Among other things, Eovaldi’s performance kept the Red Sox bullpen somewhat intact for game four, which was the next day.

And so we watched this Eovaldi guy go out there on the Dodger’s mound, throwing high 90s inning after inning, with a desperate Dodgers lineup continually trying to end the game with one swing of the bat. As his appearance went from good to great to never-been-done, the casual viewer hears about his two Tommy John surgeries and his journey from high draft pick to journeyman. As Baumann points out, to watch Eovaldi pitch in that game was to watch the literary traits of baseball play out in real time.

Baseball is a contest of attrition, of not only prowess and cunning, but also mental endurance and willpower. When combined with baseball’s unequaled literary tradition, there’s hardly a more romantic figure in sports than the solitary pitcher, holding back the tide with one arm again and again and again, just trying to buy another inning for his teammates.

The most literary aspect of all, Eovaldi lost the game while becoming a Boston sports legend. That game, and Nathan Eovaldi’s performance is why I love baseball. Eovaldi, Steve Pearce, Max Muncy – the World Series was largely decided by role players (or players that were thought to be role players).

Baumann’s story captures the essence of that game and weaves Eovaldi’s professional journey to his greatest moment. A great read about what makes baseball unique. – PAL

Source: “The Cruelest Loss: Nathan Eovaldi’s Superhero Origin Story”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (10/27/2018)

TOB: I watched the whole damn thing. It was just before 1:00 a.m. pacific time when it ended. It ruined me for the entire weekend! And the Dodgers won! What a miserable night. My wife asked me why I didn’t just go to bed and watch in the morning. Are you kidding, woman? The second I turned off that TV something incredible would have happened. Sports lose their magic when you know the outcome is decided, or worse, I’d have been woken at 1 a.m. to the ESPN notification of a Dodger win. Ugh.

The only highlight was our group text chain during the game with Rowe, that Rowe never once responded to. There must have been several hundred unread texts when he woke up. Phil’s last text to me was at 11:38pm: “Eovaldi – impressive.” My last three texts were close to and long after midnight: “(I did not account for how bad Kinsler is)”; “Are you still awake? How is Nunez up again?” “F–k”.

What a game.


Willie McCovey Represented the Best of Baseball

Hall of Famer Willie McCovey died this week. The Giants announced it late afternoon on Halloween. I saw the news on Twitter, and it hit me like a punch to the gut. One of the best things about sports is the ability to see a living legend, point to them and say, “That’s one of the best there ever was.” It reminds you that we’re all aging, we’re all mortal, but we can all leave a legacy. McCovey certainly left his.

I read a lot about McCovey since his death was announced. McCovey’s legacy is one of kindness, humility, and the ability to look at the bright side of everything. Grant Brisbee’s story on McCovey discusses at length how McCovey wasn’t really beloved by Giants fans for a large portion of his career. The Giants most beloved player during the 60s wasn’t Mays or McCovey, but Orlando Cepeda, who while a very good player, was not one of the Willies.

After starting his career with a bang as a 21-year old rookie, McCovey had some up and down years until his mid-20s, when he really took off, becoming one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He won the MVP in 1969, hitting .320 with 45 dingers, but the Giants sent him to San Diego in 1973, because he had gotten too expensive. Remarkably, he returned to the team in 1977 at age 39, and played four more years with the Giants. At the home opener in 1977, the Giants crowd gave him a standing ovation lasting several minutes. McCovey cried, and later said, “I knew then what it felt like to be a Giant. I knew then that there is still some loyalty around.” I find it a little sad that Giants fans had been so hard on McCovey early in his career, but remarkably uplifting that he forgave them for it, and allowed them to welcome him back with open arms.

In retirement, McCovey became a mainstay in San Francisco. As he said during his Hall of Fame speech in 1986, “I’ve been adopted by the thousands of great Giants fans everywhere, and by the city of San Francisco where I’ve always been welcome. Like the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars, I’ve been made to feel like a landmark, too.”

And for good reason. He provided incalculable help to the Junior Giants Fund, including their annual glove drive for underprivileged area youth. When the Giants moved into AT&T Park, they named the cove beyond right field McCovey cove, and there’s a statue out there as well. And, in 1980, the Giants began giving out the annual Willie Mac Award, to the year’s most inspirational Giant. As Andrew Baggarly said, it will be strange next year when a player is presented with the award by someone other than Stretch himself.

I saw McCovey many times at the ballpark. It was always special. The most memorable was after a Giants playoff game – I think it was my first, in 2010. I was walking down the street, celebrating the win, and I looked over and saw a familiar face in the passenger seat of the car next to me. It was Willie McCovey. I yelled, “That’s Willie McCovey!” He looked at me, smiled, and waved. That’s all I needed.

The last time I saw him was this past August, when the Giants retired Barry Bonds’ jersey. Willie Mac was there. I took my son to the game with me, and when he asked me who that was, I was able to point to him and say, “That’s Willie McCovey, one of the best there ever was.” Rest in peace, Stretch. -TOB

Source: The Loss of Willie McCovey is Incalculable”, Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles (11/01/2018); Remembering Willie McCovey, Who Struck Fear Without a Drop of Malice in His Heart”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (10/31/2018)

PAL: Well said, TOB. I will only second that point that I got a thrill every time the Willies were at the ballpark, and so often it was the both of them side-by-side. I am relatively new to the Giants, but it’s clear that the the team’s history, which is baseball history, is not lost on the fans or this ownership. It’s something Twins fans can only pretend we have. Kent Hrbek is a Twins great, but he’s not all-time great. That’s why losing Puckett at such a young age was such a big deal in Minnesota. He, Harmon Killebrew, and Rod Carew are the closest we’ve had to an all-time greats who played the vast majority of their careers with the Twins. That ain’t McCovey, Mays, and Bonds. 

Also, I knew he was very good, but I didn’t fully understand how dominant McCovey was in his prime. This is what Sparky Anderson had to say about McCovey in the early 70s: “If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball. He’d hit 80 home runs. There’s no comparison between McCovey and anybody else in the league.”

TOB: After I wrote the above, I found this great article on McCovey by Hank Schulman. Here’s how it opens, and again – I swear I read it after I wrote my story above:

The scene was the same after every Giants game.

Willie McCovey, in a wheelchair, would be taken down the elevator behind the plate at AT&T Park. As a security guard walked ahead to clear a path, McCovey would be taken to his car.

“Willie!” some fans would yell.

Others touched him on the shoulder or patted him on the back.

At first, I felt sorry for Mac and the spectacle, which he did not have the physical capacity to avoid, until I started hearing parents tell their children, “That’s Willie McCovey. Remember this,” or words to that effect. Some of the moms and dads were not old enough to have seen McCovey play.

Then it hit me. That old cliche about being a “man of the people” truly fit. McCovey, who died Wednesday at 80, did not seem to mind the ritual. He had to know how happy he was making these folks.

Read the rest, it’s very good.


I Really Should Have Chosen to be a Pro Athlete

Quick background: Before last year’s NBA All Star Game, Fergie performed the National Anthem and it was AWFUL. The Warriors’ Draymond Green went a little viral for chuckling mid-performance:

Fergie’s (ex?) husband, actor Josh Duhamel, apparently didn’t like this. In a recent interview, he called Draymond a prick:

(god, lighten up, guy)

The Warriors, a team who has won 3 of the last 4 NBA titles and look like they may waltz to 4 out of 5, are a supremely confident bunch and were not about to take this lying down:

My goddddddddddd. This is savage. I laughed and laughed. I watched this a half dozen times and I keep seeing something funny. I know that the BEST part of being an NBA player is getting paid multi millions to play basketball, but man do I wish my job paid me millions and also let me mess around with my friends like this every day. -TOB

Source: “The Warriors Don’t Give A Shit About Fergie’s Feelings“, Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin (10/27/2018)


The Impossible Fight: Goalie Tactics On Penalty Kicks

Penalty kicks in soccer are not all that different to watching a predator scene on Planet Earth: you pretty much know how it ends, and you feel bad for watching it, but you can’t look away. On rare occasions, the prey gets away, and it’s the most thrilling moment of your day. I feel the same way when a goalie actually makes the save on a penalty kick.

This article does a great job dispelling the simplistic explanation that goalies have a rock-paper-scissors situation on their hands (guessing left, right, or center). A more nuanced approach will still lead to failure 80% of the time, but it’s better than nothing.

Explaining technical nuance to a general audience isn’t an assignment like a human interest piece that allows a writer to wow readers with their language and imagery, but the task is more fundamental: get someone who sees less in a sports moment to see and understand more.

Take this example from Josh Tucker’s piece:

The laws of the game currently read, “The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.” Before 1997, though, they included the phrase, “without moving his feet.” While referees have notoriously given leeway to keepers leaving the line and bounding forward too early—beyond the head start it also helps them cut down the shot angle slightly—this change allowed movement laterally and opened up more completely legal options.

Importantly, this gives a keeper a better chance to react. Instead of having to have their feet rooted in place until impact, they can now bounce into a hop (see Allison against Tesillo, above) or start shuffling their momentum in one direction as early as they dare. They could always distract a kicker by waving their arms or bouncing in place but being able to actively reposition or feint back and forth during the kicker’s run-up can give them more to think about.

In two paragraphs he outlines how the rules have changed, what the keep can do before the ball is kicked, and how they might play the psychological chess match. That’s just solid work from Tucker.

Very interesting study in futility. – PAL

Source: Keepers Wield More Than Just Guesswork In The Battle Against Penalty Kicks”, Josh Tucker, Deadspin (10/30/2018)


How to Play With LeBron

LeBron James is great; this is undeniable. But is playing WITH LeBron great? I’d say yes – unlike great players of the past (Kobe), LeBron is a pass-first superstar who is always looking to get his teammates easy shots. So, playing with LeBron is great. But is playing with LeBron easy?

The Ringer had a cool article this week. They asked three of LeBron’s old teammates (Brendan Haywood, Richard Jefferson, and Carlos Boozer) what LeBron’s new teammates in L.A. can do to maximize the opportunity in front of them. My main takeaway is that his new teammates need to understand that the situation has changed and they need be ready to change with it. As Richard Jefferson said:

If your team is struggling in pick-and-roll defense and you’re [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope, OK, well, if I just fuckin’ focus on just pick-and-roll defense, like that’s one thing that I really want to help us get better at, and your team can go from 17th in pick-and-roll defense to top 10 in pick-and-roll defense, that means that you’re going to get more time on the court. More time on the court means more shot opportunities. More shot opportunities means more scoring. More scoring means more money.

Also, don’t get an offensive rebound with just seconds remaining in a tie game of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when LeBron is having one of the greatest games of his career, and run away from the hoop.

-TOB

Source: How to Be a Perfect Teammate for LeBron James in Eight Easy Steps”, Haley O’Shaughnessy, The Ringer (10/31/2018)

PAL: I was about to pull the same quote as the above. It sounds like playing with LeBron forces guys to be a good teammate, because they are definitely not the best player on the team, and even they can’t deny that. It’s a bit of a hit to the ego, which isn’t a bad thing for a young player and their future. Jefferson, Boozer, and Haywood were great in this. That’s a lot basketball played with LeBron in those three fellas.

TOB: You know was not good at it? Dion Waiters. As Haywood said:

“[When LeBron returned to Cleveland,] Dion Waiters was used to having the ball in his hands. And I remember telling Dion, like, ‘Listen, LeBron’s here. It’s gonna be a little bit different for you this year. Last year, you and Kyrie [Irving] got to have the ball a lot. This year, it’s LeBron, it’s Kyrie, it’s Kevin Love. You’re gonna have to figure out different ways to be effective without the ball.’ And he didn’t. He didn’t really wanna hear that. That’s part of why he was traded very early in the season, because he didn’t fit.

Waiters is such a clown.


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PAL Song of the Week – Otis Redding – ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’


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Do I have to tuck my shirt in? Because honestly that’s kind of a dealbreaker for me. 

-Andy Dwyer