Week of January 25, 2019

Happy Birthday to our co-founder, Phil: the best friend/blogging partner/brewing buddy/sports debater anyone could ever ask for. One hell of a guy.


Save It, Coach

Locker room speeches are the best part of most every sports movie, so I’m going to add some of the best in here as I share with you Joshua Kloke’s excellent piece about how those locker room speeches are changing in the NHL.

 In my head, I think of locker room speeches as pleas to players emotions – inspirational words that invigorate the meekest of players or tongue-lashings that break the most prideful of the bunch. Turns out, these types of speeches are becoming less and less frequent in NHL lockers rooms. I think of these types of speeches (warning: language, and a lot of it – headphones recommended).

In talking with several current NHL players and coaches, as well as minor league coaches, Kloke has found a growing trend that the intermissions between periods are used more and more for video analysis (now clips from the previous shifts are immediately available), concrete feedback, and positive talk. The younger guys typically respond better to that approach, and the older vets have already heard every clichéd rah-rah speech.

In today’s NHL, players insist coaches cannot waste the little time they are afforded in-game to garner the attention of an entire team. Instead of spouting platitudes, many NHL players believe the best dressing room speeches from coaches should focus on how a team can implement their own tactical adjustments in a game.

Another facet of the game that has changed over the years is the general acceptance that the players are the draw and ultimately hold the power. Talented players no longer “conform” to the coach; in fact, the inverse is now true.

All of this makes perfect sense, but there must still be a place for emotion in these speeches, even at the professional level. Can coaches play that card every game? Of course not, but there are moments where a coach has to reach beyond the X’s and O’s and speak to the soul of a team…which is precisely that kind of emotional crap – the soul of a team – that falls on deaf ears of today’s hockey player. 

Per Kloke’s research, I think Jimmy Dugan’s speech might be best suited for today’s NHL player. Short, specific advice on the bunt, and mostly positive. – PAL

Source: The Evolution of the Dressing Room Speech, From Emotional Outburst to Tactical Adjustments”, Joshua Kloke, The Athletic (01/24/2019)


The Tao of Ratto

Allow me to set the scene: Friday morning. Hot cup of coffee and good breakfast in front of me. Dog’s walked. Apartment is quiet, and I’m looking for one more story for this week’s post. I pull up all of the usual sites to scan the headlines, but I only make it to the first tab when I find The RInger’s Bryan Curtis has a profile on the Bay Areas recently unemployed sports columnist Ray Ratto. If you’re wondering who the hell Ratto is, he’s the mustachioed guy in the background of that Dwight Clark picture.

Or, as Curtis puts it, “Ratto is the kind of big-city sports columnist who used to exist everywhere and now barely exists anywhere.”

I take a sip of the coffee and spend the next few minutes savoring every word of Curtis’ story.

A quick backstory on Ratto. He was born in Oakland and never left. At nineteen he was the copy boy for the SF Examiner and found a mentor in Nick Peters. Copy boy leads to sports columnist, and he’s been covering the Bay Area teams ever since. Also, Ray Ratto is quick with the insults. It’s kind of his thing. Oh, and he wears ugly sweaters. Curtis spends the story trying to figure out the “Tao of Ratto”. There is a deeper, more caring person somewhere underneath the sweater, but he’s not showing his face without a fight (and some wine).  

He’s a bit of a legend amongst his peers. Here are some examples as to why:

  • Young Ratto was interviewing Giants manager Frank Robinson for a story. Robinson blew him off with a couple of short answers. Ratto recalled: “I finally said, ‘Well, look, if you don’t want to do this, let’s just not do it.’ And I got up and walked out. He said, ‘C’mere!’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ He said, ‘What do you want to know?’”
  • Ratto: “When [a sportswriter] comes to games in a suit and tie, you say, ‘Who are you trying to impress? What kind of overstuffed asshole are you?’”
  • Once, the Chronicle sent Ratto to cover a meaningless late-season Oakland A’s game. It was an NFL Sunday, so the story was going to run inside the section. Ratto’s gamer began thusly: “Meanwhile, back here among the tire ads …”

As Curtis says, every town has or used to have the old columnist, and I think that writer played a huge role in how we experience the games. Maybe that’s a bit less now as folks like Ratto don’t have that regular column.

Curtis’ work has been featured on 1-2-3 Sports! several times. Dude can write a sports story. I like the idea that, while writing this story, he and Ratto had four glasses of red wine at some Oakland cafe. They ordered three, but then the bartender gave them a round on the house. A fan of Ratto.

Ratto responded, “Give it time. That’ll blow over.”

What a fun read. – PAL

Source: The World According to Ray Ratto”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (01/25/2019)

TOB: Nice write up, Phil. Ratto’s not wrong, though – he doesn’t have many fans. There may be a heart in there, but he’s cantankerous, to put it nicely. I will also say it’s impressive how long he stayed in one place, with his style, because when he felt appropriate he took aim and fired at each and every sports team or person in the Bay Area. As I was thinking about Ratto, and that last sentence, I wondered if my memory of his writing over the years was overly harsh. But if Ratto has a tao, to borrow the bit, he says it right in the first few lines of Curtis’ article:

“I think when you want to say something nice about somebody, it should be private. When you want to say something shitty, everybody should see it.”

I fully believe there’s a softer side to Ratto, and as his friend and fellow sportswriter Tim Keown put it, Ratto uses the insults as defense mechanisms. I’ve seen it a few times, especially on TV. And it’s right there in the quote above – he can be warm, he just does it privately.

One of my favorite Ratto moments was his response to A’s owner Steve Schott’s defense of the Mark Mulder trade (Ratto responses in parentheses):

We’re a small-market team (which the A’s absolutely are not), and we have to make hard choices (which are different in many ways from suicidally stupid ones) and we really regret having to trade Mark (which they absolutely do not regret at all) but those are the conditions that prevail (yeah, when you’re squeezing those quarters so hard that George Washington wishes Cornwallis had shown a little more gumption).

It’s sardonic and pitch perfect. (Although, in hindsight, the A’s were correct to trade Mulder, who had one more pretty good season (ERA+ 116, 2.6 WAR), and then fell off a cliff (ERA+ 58, -2.7 WAR – WOOF!) before falling out of the league at age 30. In return, the A’s got three players who created about 20 WAR over the next three seasons. Not a bad trade).

But the best part of this story, in my opinion, is Ratto’s warning to sports columnists of today and tomorrow:

Ratto insists he’ll be OK if he doesn’t get another column. “Only because the nature of the business is changing,” he said, “so there are fewer and fewer jobs that you can feel good about. More and more jobs are connected to companies that have interest in teams or leagues. Now, all of a sudden, you have to figure out, Well, how much of a whore are they going to ask me to be?”

“I can’t all of a sudden become a shill,” Ratto said.


Video of the Week:


PAL Song of the WeekFrancoise Hardy – “Le temps de l’amour”


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You’re just a babbling brook of bullshit.

-Larry David

Best of 2018, Part 3: The Industry

Nailed it. 


We are trying something a little different this year for our year-in-review. Instead of packing our 5-10 favorite stories from the year into one post, we are going to feature a few each day for the next week for some mini posts. We’ll mix in some of our favorite pics/videos/giphs as bookends, and PAL will share some of his favorite music finds as well. We’ll wrap up the best of with a Funniest of 2018 post. If you haven’t clicked through to read the stories we write about throughout the year, then these are the best of the best. Read them!

In Part 3, we have stories about the business of sports. Michael MacCambridge examines what could be the last gasps of Sports Illustrated, while Bryan Curtis dissects how Fox built a television empire on a foundation of of NFL football.

Best of 2018: The People 

Best of 2018: The Games 


How Sports Illustrated Stopped Mattering

To those of us over 30, Sports Illustrated is an institution. When I found out a fellow grad student at USF was a writer for SI, I felt cooler by association. As Michael MacCambridge writes for The Ringer, SI made a case that the realm of sports was not a juvenile triviality but instead an important part of the culture, worthy of attention and understanding.”

And for writers, like my fellow USF alumnus, SI was not a stop along the way. It was the mountaintop. As Lee Jenkins told a former boss, “I hate to leave you guys, but, you know–the Yankees just called.”

SI is about to be sold for the second time in a year. It also recently became a biweekly publication…not that many folks noticed. The end of the print version of the magazine feels imminent, even when – get this – the magazine was profitable last year.

The magnitude of the biweekly decision hasn’t even been felt yet, but it will be:

[I]f Tiger Woods had managed to win the Masters this year, it would’ve been perhaps the biggest sports story of 2018, but it would have been old news by the time the next issue of SI came out 10 days later. The same goes for this summer’s World Cup, the final of which will come during an off-week in SI’s publishing schedule. And we haven’t even gotten to football season yet.

This story is not just about the death of print journalism at the hands of the digital revolution. It’s also about the missteps made along the way that put SI and its parent company, Time, in its current predicament. At some point cost-cutting means quality cutting, and then – worst of all – people stop noticing.

As MacCambridge writes, at its best,

SI’s news stories were never about telling you who won, it was about telling you why and how they won, the subtle differences that separated one world-class athlete or team from another, and the endless ways that people revealed their character through competition. Furthermore, what the magazine learned, again and again in the coming decades, was that a sports event being televised only increased interest in those stories. The more people saw of a sport, the more they wanted to read about it. And SI was there, to provide the best story, the deepest understanding, the telling picture, the last word.

You can tell MacCambridge cares deeply about SI. It was a touchstone of his youth, and that passion is needed to make this story resonate with us. I know I’m not the only one of us to tear photos of my favorite players from of the magazine and line my bedroom walls. Best read so far this year. – PAL

Source: Who Can Explain the Athletic Heart?”, Michael MacCambridge, The Ringer (04/12/2018)

TOB: This was great, but sad to read. In many ways, Sports Illustrated changed my life. Or rather, it shaped who I am. That sounds dramatic, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. As a kid, from about age 8 until 15, sports were my life. I lived and breathed it. I watched SportsCenter every night; I watched the NBA, college basketball, college football, MLB, and the NFL, every single day. I even watched a lot of hockey back then. I’d watch until I got the itch to run outside and play the game myself. And every single week I’d get Sports Illustrated in the mail, excitedly take it upstairs, and I’d lie on my bed, and read that damn thing cover to cover. I’ll never forget my first issue was Jennifer Capriati, who made the finals of the Virginia Slims tournament at the age of 13.

I have an uncommon amount of sports knowledge in my brain from reading SI, and not just the ones I got weekly. Each time I would visit my grandparents, we’d stay in my uncle’s old room. And each night at bedtime, I’d go into his old closet and sift through the giants stack of Sports Illustrateds from the 70s and 80s, when he was a kid. The magazines were 10, to 20 years old at that point, but I didn’t care.

I think the spirit of Sports Illustrated lives, for Phil and me, in this website. In the article, MacCambridge correctly notes that a perceived problem for Sports Illustrated is that, by the time it hits your mailbox, it seems like last week’s news. When a major story hits, by the time you can read it in SI, many fans have digested all they needed to – on Twitter, or Yahoo, or ESPN.com – three or four or more days prior.

But isn’t that actually the beauty of SI? When we started this website, almost four years ago, our philosophy was to publish once a week because the time allows us a little perspective to digest what has happened, or what we’ve read. Twenty years after I last regularly read SI, life’s realities have reduced my ability to watch hours and hours of sports every day. Getting to sit down for a couple hours and watch a baseball game is a treat. I certainly don’t sit down for two hours a week to read Sports Illustrated. But I think I’m going to start. I hope it’s still good. If so, I’ll be sure to keep the old ones in a basket in the garage, so my kids can stumble on them like I did.


Fox Was Built On Football

December marks the 25th anniversary of FOX obtaining NFL rights, and the article below is an oral history of how that happened. I don’t knowingly care about what networks are airing what games, but this story reveals so much about the time, the role sports played on the three major networks (a promotional vehicle for other programs), and a new breed of sports franchise owners were starkly different than the old guard.

At the core of this story are two sides looking at the same thing and seeing something the opposite: CBS, NBC, and ABC saw an annual renewal of rights with old owner friends, while Rupert Murdoch and Fox saw NFL – specifically NFC football, with teams in large markets like New York, Chicago, Philly, and San Francisco – as a way to build a television network for decades to come. While many thought Murdoch overbid for the football rights, he saw the as a cheaper alternative to buying one of the old networks outright.

Added to the mix was a tough economy at the time, which led to each of the three networks being run by bottom line CEOs who spent their time watching the stock prices ebb and flow. At one point CBS as actually trying to convince the NFL to take a paycut! Murdoch was not as short sighted.

The finance people and the salespeople at the network got together and said, “OK, how much can we pay for these rights?” They did an analysis of what kind of advertising they could sell and came up with the maximum break-even number. Then Mr. Murdoch came bounding into the room and said, “What do we have to bid?” We told him. He said, “That’s not enough. The NFL doesn’t really want their games on our network. They’re just using us to bid up CBS. I’ve got to bid CBS away from the table.”

When he does a deal, Rupert’s thinking about, “What’s this going to look like 10 years out, 20 years out? Will this help me build a network?” The other guys are trying to manage financials for the next quarterly financial report.

Fox bought 4 years of NFC rights, plus one Super Bowl, for $395MM per year, which was $100MM more than CBS was willing to offer. Five years later, under new management, CBS bid $500MM for the weaker AFC package.

It’s a long read, but perhaps the best oral history I’ve read. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis does an excellent job weaving all of the voices into this story.  – PAL

Source: The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (12/13/18)

TOB: This was great. The thing it was missing that I was wondering about – how much did they have to invest in infrastructure? How did they know what they needed? Did they just hire all the technicians from CBS, too? I care way less about how they hired Matt Millen than how they figured out how to make it work.


Video of the Week


PAL Songs of 2018: Khruangbin – “Lady and Man”


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I have plenty of female friends. My mom, Pam’s mom, my aunt, although she just blocked me on IM. 

-Michael Gary Scott

 

1-2-3 Sports! Week of January 18, 2019

*games, not minutes


How Well Would You, As You Sit Today, Play in Little League?

Grant Brisbee has long been one of my favorite writers, and this is one of his funniest in a long time. Even the headline made me laugh: How many WAR would I be worth if I got to play Little League again?

And here’s his open:

The late, great comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “I wish I could play Little League now, I’d kick some f***** ass,” and everybody laughed.

I didn’t think it was funny, though. It’s not a joke to wonder about just how well you would do if you were back in Little League with the size and smarts of an adult.

They wouldn’t be laughing now, that’s for sure. Nobody would be laughing.

I am laughing out loud.

Grant then decides he’ll play second base, because that gives the best WAR boost (positional scarcity, at all). He then goes into hilarious detail into calculating his own WAR.

40 plate appearances
22 walks
18 hits
10 home runs that are, like, just crushed, no errors or anything
8 doubles or triples that probably would have been doubles or triples if a regular kid hit them because these idiot 10-year-olds can’t field

.950 fielding percentage
1 error
8 DRS (at least)

Now, I don’t know how Defensive Runs Saved is calculated, but I’m figuring that every game, I’m making at least two plays that other kids can’t, which is good for a half-run. And that’s erring on the side of caution, believe me, because I would be a total field general out there, telling kids where they need to go with the ball and everything. They would all respect me and listen to me now that I’m stronger than them and better at sports.

Lollll. Those numbers are good for a 4 WAR over a 16 game little league season, which calculates out to a  40.5 WAR over a 162 game season. That would be a record, by a long shot.

As I was reading this, I was thinking, what would my WAR be? Then I saw Grant’s closing line, “In conclusion, I would be awesome if I got to play Little League again. Just don’t put me in a league with any of those travel-ball kids. They’re big and throw too hard.”

And it reminded me of the time Phil and I, along with our friends Rowe and Gleeson, found ourselves in a 4 on 4 baseball game on Treasure Island against kids probably 12 or 13 years old. Don’t ask how this happened, it just happened, ok?. I think we played a few innings and there was a total of ONE hit between everyone. So, maybe Grant overestimates how well he’d do?

BUT! The 12-year old pitcher was a hoss, and he could throw some heat. Definitely a travel ball kid. His buddies weren’t nearly as good and I’m pretty sure I could have crushed some doubles and dingers off of them.

I also think Grant vastly overrates what his fielding ability is, unless he’s an active softball player. I used to umpire a couple years back, and let me tell you – kids are nimble and 12-year olds can make some nifty plays. I’m actually pretty sure I was a better fielder as a 12-year old than I am as an adult. I now actively fear a ball taking a bad hop and crushing me in the face, whereas at 12 I was a stud. Look at that form as I apply the tag.

But then I thought about the bit of adult softball I played a few years back. In my mind, I hit about .800 with a bunch of doubles and triples and probably an inside the park home run or two, and one neeeeeear homer on the opposite field high fence/short porch.

So, this kid wants another shot:

I have no idea where to begin estimating my stats, but I do know that Phil’s would be much, much, much better. -TOB

Source: How Many WAR Would I Be Worth if I Got to Play Little League Again?“, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (01/11/2019)


The Cold Hot Stove: An Update

As you can imagine, more and more articles are being written each day about baseball’s slow offseason and the likelihood it will result in a work stoppage in 2021. Two articles in particular made points that I found to be very compelling.

First, Neil DeMause expands on the article we featured last week about how owners rely less on ticket sales and concessions than they used to for money, so they are less compelled to pay for players to produce wins. As he eventually sums up, “[W]hat we’re seeing now is a renegotiation of the terms of what a ballplayer is worth, and that’s understandably going to take some time to sort out.” In fact, he argues, the actual value that even great players add is far lower than we used to think:

Most assessments of player value, then, have simply examined how other, similar players are being paid on the free agent market, and then applied basic long division. Here’s a long Fangraphs article from 2017 that estimated that free agents earn a little over $10 million for each Win Above Replacement that they contribute to their teams; on those grounds, Machado, who has averaged about 4.5 WAR over his seven-year career and is just heading into his prime, should be able to walk away with a $45 million a year contract.

Except that sports team owners—cover your ears here if you’re of sensitive disposition—aren’t only in this to win ballgames. They also, or maybe primarily, want to make money. So how much are star players worth in terms of actually putting the simoleons in the safe deposit box?

More than a decade ago, I crunched some numbers on this, and then returned to it a few years later, this time consulting the work of actual economists who’d done more robust math. And the numbers were eye-opening: Just about every baseball free agent was being paid more than he was actually worth to his team in terms of the added revenue it would see thanks to extra wins. According to one researcher, Graham Tyler—then an undergrad econ student at Brown, and until recently the Rays’ director of player operations thanks in part to his pioneering studies in this area—teams only earn an extra $1.5 million from each additional win, meaning that a truly rational profit-maximizing owner (more on this in a minute) wouldn’t spend more than $6.75 million a year on a Machado-level talent. Anything more than that, and you’re better off staging a Marlins-style teardown—sure, you won’t win many games, but the money you save by skimping on salaries, it turns out, will dwarf any losses from nobody actually showing up at the ballpark.

Making things worse for players is the fact that MLB’s revenue sharing system means teams only keep about $0.66 of every $1 they bring in, making the value a team gets from paying for players even further reduced.

DeMause then discusses the fact that what has happened over the last decade is simple economics, and to combat it, the MLBPA will need to fight back. He suggests they work to eliminate both the luxury tax (which serves as a de facto salary cap) and severely reduce revenue sharing, thus giving teams more incentive to spend.

In the second article, Michael Baumann discusses the uphill battle the players will face in any labor dispute. Not only is labor usually at a disadvantage in any work stoppage, because labor can least afford to miss paychecks, but in the American public has grown increasingly negative toward unions. That is especially true of sports unions. Recently, Jake Arrieta cautioned young players, who are severely underpaid under the current system, that things are changing and they’re not going to get the big dollars in free agency they were once promised. Teams have gotten smarter and more ruthless, and everyone now understands that giving a 30-year old a big contract is a bad investment. But as Baumann points out, almost every reply to Arrieta’s tweet is, as Baumann puts it, “some variation on ‘You get paid millions to play a kids’ game.’”

So what can the players do? Baumann urges them to begin the campaign now, and to make this a consumer issue:

“Players should also spin the disparity between revenue and salary growth into a consumer issue: Revenue has grown while player wages have stayed stagnant and ticket prices have gone up. The league is making billions in TV and streaming revenue, but an average working-class family can’t afford season tickets anymore, and that money isn’t going to the players who fans love; it’s going right back into the wallets of anonymous billionaires.

It’s a very good point, and reminds me of our tweet of the week a couple weeks back:

Why do fans support billionaire owners over millionaire players? Especially when billionaire owners are cutting player salaries but continuing the raise prices for fans? I just do not understand what goes through people’s heads far too often.

Anyways, both articles are very good reads. -TOB

TOB: Baseball Doesn’t Need Collusion To Turn Off The Hot Stove”, Neil DeMause, Deadspin (01/14/2019); Baseball Is Broken. Can Anything Short of a Strike Fix It?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (01/14/2019)


A Weather Lesson

Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, with the Chiefs hosting the Patriots, is expected to be bitterly cold. When this article was written early in the week, the forecast called for an “arctic blast” to crush Arrowhead Stadium, with temperatures for the early evening kickoff expected anywhere from -5 to +10 F. Yiiiiikes. Luckily for players, coaches, and fans, the forecast has warmed a bit – the arctic blast is not expected to be a direct hit on Kansas City, and the temperature forecast has risen to around 19 degrees at first kick.

Still, this article provided a nice little lesson on the weather, so I’m presenting it here:

Right around New Year’s Day, the layer above the atmospheric layer we inhabit, known as the stratosphere, rapidly warmed in the Arctic. We’re talking a jump over the course of a few days from around minus-103 degrees to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Known as a sudden stratospheric warming event, these spikes in temperature can propagate down to the lower atmosphere where the polar vortex normally sits. In regular times, the vortex is simply a low-pressure system camped over the Arctic and contained by a river of air. But sudden stratospheric warming events can break down that river, allowing the cold air associated with the polar vortex to leak down toward North America and Europe. It takes a few weeks for these things to work their way through the atmosphere, and now the Midwest is about to face the impacts.

-TOB

Source: The Polar Vortex Could Bring Record Cold to This Weekend’s Chiefs-Patriots Championship Game”, Brian Kahn, Gizmodo (01/15/2019)


Videos of the Week

Curry with six 3-pointers in about 3:30. Ridiculous. Also, young Steph:

 


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Bahamas – “Don’t You Want Me” (The Human League)


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I’m a simple man. I like pretty, dark-haired women, and breakfast food.”

-Ron Swanson

Best of 2018, Part 2: The Games

After winning Super Bowl, I doubt this Eagles even felt it.


We are trying something a little different this year for our year-in-review. Instead of packing our 5-10 favorite stories from the year into one post, we are going to feature a few each day for the next week for some mini posts. We’ll mix in some of our favorite pics/videos/giphs as bookends, and PAL will share some of his favorite music finds as well. We’ll wrap of the best of with a Funniest of 2018 post. If you haven’t clicked through to read the stories we write about throughout the year, then these are the best of the best. Read them!

Part 2 features our favorite stories written about games. There are a lot of ‘sports’ stories – maybe too many – written about all the other stuff – the business, the politics, the personal journeys. We care about all of those types of stories, but we care because we love the games. – PAL

Best of 2018: The People


One of the Best Game Stories You’ll Ever Read

For a beat writer, a game story is kind of a pain. Games end late and you have a tight deadline to make the morning’s paper. Most begin writing their gamers, as they’re known, while the game is still ongoing. When a game changes late, the gamer changes, too. Beat writers today must really hate gamers as they are increasingly irrelevant given the social media landscape. How many genuine sports fans wake up in the morning, open the sports section, and are surprised to learn of the outcome of their team’s game from the previous evening? Whatever the number is, it’s shrinking by the day.

I rarely read gamers anymore, because I either watched the game or followed along on Twitter. But last Sunday night there was something about this tweet that made me click on the Chronicle’s gamer by long-time Giants beat writer Hank Schulman:

Boy, am I glad I did. In the game, an aging and struggling Hunter Pence stepped up in the bottom of the 11th inning, the Giants down a run, with the bases loaded and one out. The moment screamed double play, as the once great Pence has rolled over so many balls the last couple years I couldn’t begin to count. And, sure enough, Pence lunged at an 0-2 fastball that was low and away. He made weak contact toward first base, and at least one out seemed assured. But baseball is a beautiful and weird game that always surprises. Eric Hosmer, the Padres’ first baseman, was playing well off the line. The ball snuck by him. The Giants scored two. The game was over. Pence was a hero.

It was a great moment for Pence, his teammates, and Giants fans. Hank Schulman took the opportunity to produce one of the best gamers you’ll ever read. Here’s how his story began:

The mass of people who have not, and cannot, understand the rush of a high-level athlete in the arena still have an avenue to understand how Hunter Pence must feel to have his skills decline, being forced to outrun the calendar, listening to the couch surfers and microphone jockeys advising him to get lost.

Haven’t most people had one of their passions taken from them, by physical decline or life’s circumstances? Isn’t that sting universal to the famous and ordinary?

Pence is not blind. He knows it’s coming, be it this year, next year or soon enough. He is 35 and hitting below the Mendoza Line. His accolades and World Series rings cannot buy him more at-bats. Only success on the field can.

Now, Hank is a great Twitter follow and a really good sports writer. But that is some next level beat writing. Gamers don’t usually have sports-as-life metaphors. As I said above, there’s not enough time. Maybe in October. But in June?

You should know that Hank was diagnosed a couple years back with cancer. As far as I know, he is in remission. But I can’t help but wonder how much Hank was thinking of his own journey when he wrote that, which makes it all the more affecting. I can’t recall ever feeling compelled to thank a writer for any story, let alone a game story. But I did when I read that. -TOB

Source: Giants Stun Padres on Pence’s 11th-Inning Walkoff Hit”, Hank Schulman, SF Chronicle (06/24/2018)

PAL: I wish I had more to add. I loved it, too.

PAL (Jan., 2019): Some of my favorite TOB writing from 2018. This is such a cool story because of the medium – this is a gamer. As TOB outlines above, Schulman has to hit a deadline and tell the story of the game that took place that day. These circumstances set this story apart from the vast majority of the pieces we share with you over the year. Many of them are deep dives, retrospectives, in-depth statistical analysis, profiles; this is a kick-ass gamer, and a lot can happen in a random day game and Schulman somehow draws out a axiom of human existence in a goddamn gamer with this line (TOB also had it in the original recap):

Haven’t most people had one of their passions taken from them, by physical decline or life’s circumstances? Isn’t that sting universal to the famous and ordinary?

Simply beautiful writing. Love, love, love this story.


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.

-TOB

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. 


Best Media: 


Best of PAL Song of the Week 2019: 


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…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

Best of 2018, Part I: The People

Chubby Bryce Harper is hilarious. Not pictured: Mike Trout receiving the tournament MVP trophy. 


Loyal Readers,

Thank you for your support in 2018. We had our best year by a long shot. Thanks you for continuing to recommend 1-2-3 SPORTS! to friends, family, and even co-workers with whom you are desperately trying to form some semblance of regular office sports banter.

We are trying something a little different this year for our year-in-review. Instead of packing our 5-10 favorite stories from the year into one post, we are going to feature a few each day for the next week for some mini posts. We’ll mix in some of our favorite pics/videos/giphs as bookends, and PAL will share some of his favorite music finds as well. We’ll wrap of the best of with a Funniest of 2018 post. If you haven’t clicked through to read the stories we write about throughout the year, then these are the best of the best. Read them!

We kick things off with profiles on a world class Sherpa and his journey to working at an outdoors store in Manhattan, a victim of human trafficking becoming a DI track stalwart, the origin story of Ichiro Suzuki and how he can’t shake it, and a writer dissecting her ‘regular’ dad’s friendship with Charles Barkley. The stories are incredible, and so is the writing.


How One of the World’s Best Sherpas Ended Up Working Retail in Manhattan

This is an interesting look into the life of Serap Jangbu Sherpa, one of the world’s best sherpas, who scaled 11 of the 14 highest peaks in the world, including the most dangerous, K2, twice in one year. Serap retired a few years back, and now works unassumingly in a sporting goods store in Manhattan. The story looks at his young life, how he became a “Sherpa” (which is actually the name of the ethnic group), how and why he ended up working retail in Manhattan, still only aged 49, and tells of some of his most harrowing treks. For a taste, here’s one such story:

Just before midnight on May 11, with four other Sherpas and two Koreans, they started up the North Col from the third camp and arrived at the summit at 11 a.m. They remained on the summit for 90 minutes, then Park and Serap started into Nepal. They climbed down in alpine style, connected to each other only by a thin lightweight rope, seven millimeters thick and 50 meters long.

Serap led, even though he’d never come this way before; he’d only ever reached the summit from the north face. They were climbing blind at 29,000 feet. Coming down the Hillary Step at 12:30 p.m., one of Park’s crampons caught an old rope, and he slid to the edge of the exposed rock face. His headlamp flew off, dropping 8,000 feet to Camp Two.

Serap slammed down his ice axe and tied their rope to the handle. If Park fell, Serap would be pulled off with him.

Serap held the rope tightly; anything more than walking at that altitude felt impossible. After half an hour of wriggling to push himself up, an exhausted Park managed to grab onto a rock for support and with his other hand free his crampon.

A good read! -TOB

Source: The Sherpa of New York”, Ryan Goldberg, Deadspin (07/25/2018)

PAL (Jan, 2019): I hadn’t read this story until we were reviewing the best of 2018, and I am very glad I did. For one, Ryan Goldberg writes the hell out it. We read a lot of incredible stories about athletes that are not household names, but Goldberg expertly balances Serap Jangbu’s personal journey as both exceptional and representative of thousands of Sherpas who find themselves far from the himalayas in, of all places, New York.

Thousands of Sherpas have come to New York, their largest community outside of Nepal, trading the mountains for an uncertain struggle in a distant metropolis. They settled 7,500 miles away in Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, the most ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhoods in New York, and maybe the world, with 167 different languages spoken in a 1.64 square-mile area. In 2010, about 5,000 Nepalese lived in Queens, according to the census, a number that local leaders said was a significant undercount, and which they now believe has gone up by 60 percent. Despite only comprising one half of one percent of Nepal’s population, the Sherpa people are the most populous Nepalese ethnic group in New York, numbering roughly 3,000.

There is a historical symmetry to this story that is powerful as well. After becoming the first person to summit Everest, Edmund Hillary opened several schools in Nepal as a thank you the Sherpa people who had been so generous to him. Hillary’s lasting impact on the culture was the importance of education above all, and that is what brought Serap to New York – a chance at a better life and education for his children. Instead of risking his life to chase his own mountaineering dream, he put his family first and came to America where he, one of the best mountaineers ever, works at an which sells apparel that literally has him in their catalogue.

Inspiring, fascinating, and beautifully written.


Sad Story, Happy Ending

I’ve never read a sports story quite like this one.

Deshae Wise is a freshman sprinter on Cal’s track team. She came to Berkeley from a small town in Oregon, where she was a Gatorade Athlete of the Year. Her name is climbing up the record books already, with the eighth and fourth fastest 60-meter hurdle times in Cal history. She carries a 4.0 G.P.A., volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and she’s joined the black business association on campus, too. And before all of this success, she and her mom were victims of human trafficking. This wasn’t in some far off place halfway around. This happened right here in the U.S.A.

The initial moment Rebecca Bender, Deshae’s mother, realized what was happening is heartbreaking and terrifying. She had met Khaled (not the guy’s real name) in Eugene when she was around 19 or 20 and her daughter was still very young*. Six months after meeting him, Bender decided to move with him to Las Vegas to start their life as a family.

But the dream ended before it even began, according to Rebecca, whose recollection of the next several years is backed by FBI statements and court records, public documents and interviews. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Vegas, she says, things quickly turned. Khaled told Rebecca he wanted to take her out on the town. “Get dressed up,” she remembers him saying.

Deshae stayed with Khaled’s brother, but instead of heading to the strip, Khaled drove him and Rebecca to a dead-end street anchored by a deserted strip mall. Rebecca remembers just darkness and the hum of the car. Khaled, she says, turned to her and explained with a seriousness on his face: He needed money for the apartment, for Deshae’s food. . . . And Rebecca had to pay him. Now.

Khaled, she says, pointed to a door with a security camera above it and told her to enter. Inside she found a smoke-filled room with three desks pushed next to one another, a woman seated behind each. Behind them, written out cleanly on a dry-erase board, were the words brunette, blonde, asian, redhead. . . . It was all too clear, too real. She was at an escort service, and Khaled expected her to sign herself up. No way. She was shocked, confused, and terrified.

Back in the car, Khaled slapped her across the face. Rebecca was suddenly terrified. She was in a new city. . . she didn’t know her address yet. . . and she didn’t know where her daughter was. The rest unfolded in a blur of fear and confusion. At some point there was a phone call from a “local” in the Green Valley area, 15 minutes away. Khaled drove to a townhouse, dropped Rebecca off and parked nearby.

Khaled is what they call a “Romeo” – a trafficker that uses romance to lure his victims (as opposed to a “gorilla”, who uses brute force) – but he quickly turned violent towards Bender. He also would scare her by making threats on her daughter. Bender was mortified and trapped. Then she was “traded” to another trafficker. Kevin gave them nicer things, but he beat Bender and was paranoid the house would get raided. Deshae was getting older – she was in grade school by now – and she could say things to teachers, coaches, or other parents.

Writer Jeremy Fuchs does a really good job juxtaposing their nightmare with mother and daughter existing in the most common, ordinary backdrops. Soccer games, volleyball games, and school plays. They existed in our world, and no one knew the truth. They were very much captives.

Why didn’t Bender just take Deshae and leave, you might be asking. She did try. Four times, in fact.

By the time Deshae was eight, Rebecca had tried to flee with her daughter four times. Once, they made it back to Rebecca’s mom’s house in Grants Pass, but Kevin tracked them down in Oregon and brought them back to Vegas. Another time, feds surrounded one of Kevin’s houses in Vegas in the middle of the night as part of a tax-evasion investigation, and Rebecca took Deshae out the back door and climbed over a fence into a neighbor’s yard.

If that seems like the perfect opportunity to escape, Rebecca didn’t see it that way; she didn’t see any choice but to stay with Kevin—a common sentiment among victims of trafficking. “There’s the realistic stuff, like: How would I get a job? Or what is society going to think of me?” says Elizabeth Hopper, a clinical psychologist and the director of Project REACH, which helps trafficking victims. “Traffickers control the living space, the money, where to go. . . . And then: Is he going to come after me?”

In the end, obviously, Bender and Deshae do escape (it may surprise you as to how they get away), and we know the story has an incredible ending in Deshae signing an athletic scholarship at world-renowned academic institution. Perhaps most incredible of all is that Deshae was never abused. “The probability that I wasn’t sexually or emotionally abused is so slim,” she said. “In any other situation it would have happened to me—but it didn’t.”

This heavy, dense story, but absolutely worth your time. – PAL

*Fuchs never gives an exact age on Deshae when they move to Vegas with Khaled. She’s a freshman now in 2018, and her mother moved back to Eugene around 2000 after getting pregnant with Deshae in Maryland. The story says later that Bender was traded after two years under Khaled in 2004..so she must of met Khaled in 2001 or 2002, which would’ve made Wise around 2 at the time of the move to Vegas.

Source: Life After Escaping the World of Human Trafficking”, Jeremy Fuchs, Sports Illustrated (05/10/2018)

TOB: God damn, an incredible story. Deshae’s mother, Rebecca Bender, has started the Rebecca Bender Initiative, with the goal of equipping first responders with the tools to identify victims of exploitation and assisting victims to escape their traffickers and then assisting them re-adjust to society. In this video, Rebecca tells her story:

PAL (Jan., 2019): This story has stuck with me, and it’s those two pictures of Deshea, and most specifically her eyes in those two picture: as a sprinter coming across the finish line with a look of pride and contentment, and as a child looking up from her desk. Those images will stay with me forever. So will this story.


Another Side of Charles Barkley

1-2-3 reader Alex Denny sent us this utterly fantastic story. If you read a good story, please send it our way at 123sportslist@gmail.com or on Twitter – @123sportsdigest.

Shirley Wang described her dad with the following:

He wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got really excited about two-for-one deals. He was a commuter. He worked as a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was everyone’s suburban dad.

Lin Wang and Charles Barkley met in a hotel bar, and a friendship grew from there. On the surface, the most impressive detail about this story is that Charles Barkley became friends with a fan he met in a bar in Sacramento, who earned a living as a cat litter scientist, but that’s just on the surface. In Shirley Wang’s telling of this story – her favorite dinner party story (obviously) – she plays two roles: she serves as a stand-in for the reader with a healthy dose of skepticism about the true nature of the friendship, and she is the daughter who learns how proud her dad was of her from, or all people, Charles Barkley.  

When Barkley’s mom died in 2015, Lin Wang flew to Leeds, Alabama and just showed up. This past June, Barkley returned the favor and showed up at Lin’s funeral in the outskirts of Iowa City.

Wang’s story is a fresh example of true friendship. Lin Wang and Barkley connected over similar upbringings, they were immensely proud of their children, and they both liked to have a good time. As Shirley Wang puts it:

It was not just a relationship with a celebrity — it shed light on the possibilities of this world. A world where someone like him could just say something cool, something charming, and befriend someone like Charles Barkley.

This is a late entry into one of my favorite stories from 2018, and it was featured on the 12/14/18 episode of the Only A Game podcast. More than worth your time. – PAL

Source: Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley”, Shirley Wang, WBUR (12/14/18)

TOB (Jan. 2019): I did not get around to reading this story until we put together this Best of post. I had heard about it on TV and read headlines on Twitter. I figured that was enough. But I’m glad I finally read it, because it’s a really heartwarming read. Shirley Wang tells a great story, especially about how she more or less rolled her eyes about her dad’s claim of being friends with Charles Barkley, until she realized it really was true. And while I don’t get the sense Wang is a writer, she does a fantastic job humanizing a celebrity, in this case Barkley, in a way that few writers seem able to do. Great story, and it doesn’t take long to read. Give it a click!


Prisoner of Perfection

It doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say Ichiro Suzuki is the Michael Jordan of Japan. He rents out stadiums to train. There are signs at every table of his favorite restaurant demanding no photographs. The Japanese press has covered his every move for his 26 seasons of professional baseball. At 44, Ichiro is prepping his last tour of MLB. While he looks to extend his career (Ichiro has previously said he wants to play until he’s 50), his time is about done, so Wright Thompson attempts to look back at the obsessive rituals that have both made Ichiro a Hall of Fame player as well as perhaps a trapped individual.

The story is long, and completely worth your time. Thompson knows how to paint a picture, and there are so many fascinating nuggets throughout, including:

Japanese culture in general — and Ichiro in particular — remains influenced by remnants of bushido, the code of honor and ethics governing the samurai warrior class. Suffering reveals the way to greatness. When the nation opened up to the Western world in 1868, the language didn’t even have a word to call games played for fun. Baseball got filtered through the prism of martial arts, and it remains a crucible rather than an escape. (end)

He could choose the best players in Japan to help him but he doesn’t. He doesn’t need to get better at swinging a bat. What he needs, and what he seems to find in this rented stadium, is the comfort of the familiar, a place where he knows who he is supposed to be. (end)

These stories are funny individually, but they feel different when taken as a whole. Like nearly all obsessive people, Ichiro finds some sort of safety in his patterns. He goes up to the plate with a goal in mind, and if he accomplishes that goal, then he is at peace for a few innings. Since his minor league days in Japan, he has devised an achievable, specific goal every day, to get a boost of validation upon completion. That’s probably why he hates vacations. In the most public of occupations, he is clearly engaged in a private act of self-preservation. He’s winnowed his life to only the cocoon baseball provides. His days allow for little beyond his routine, like leaving his hotel room at 11:45, or walking through the lobby a minute later, or going to the stadium day after day in the offseason — perhaps his final offseason. Here in the freezing cold, with a 27-degree wind chill, the hooks ping off the flagpoles. The bat in his hand is 33.46 inches long. He steps into the cage and sees 78 pitches. He swings 75 times.

Up close, he looks a lot like a prisoner. (end)

His relationship with his father has defined him, for better or for worse. Ichiro has been in pursuit of baseball perfection since he was three. He’d had a baseball routine for 40+ years, and anyone who knows him wonders if he’ll be able to stop.

And while Ichiro and his father are not currently on speaking terms, Ichiro is still in some ways under his father’s thumb, or, as Thompson more eloquently puts it, “Ichiro now does to himself all the things he resents his father for having made him do.”

While there are some questions left open in this story, of which I’m sure TOB will address, this is one hell of a read. – PAL

Source:  ‘When Winter Never Ends”, Wright Thompson, ESPN (03/07/2018)

TOB: Maaaaaan, do I love Ichiro. This story was sad, though; it’s not only a portrait of an aging ballplayer, seeing the end of the road, with no plan for life after baseball (Ichiro has previously said, “I think I’ll just die,” when asked what he’ll do after his career), a story we’ve seen before. It’s also, as Phil said, a portrait of a man who made it to the very top of his sport, after a lifetime of obsession with doing so, by sticking to the same routine, day after day after day. Ichiro did so to the point I have to wonder, as a person absolutely unqualified to say this, not just whether Ichiro has OCD, but how severe and debilitating his OCD might be. And it’s also the story of a father and son, and how the father more or less robbed the son of his childhood by forcing him into these routines, day after day, not letting him play with friends or be a normal kid, only to have it create one of the greatest baseball players ever. And it’s about how, despite that success, the son resents the father for it all, even while continuing those same routines to this very day.

And as sad as that all is, there are some fantastic Ichiro nuggets in here, as always. For example, Ichiro’s former teammate, Mike Sweeney, tells a second-hand story about an unnamed professional baseball player strolling through Central Park one day with his wife. The player saw a man in the distance, throwing a baseball 300-feet, and hitting balls against the backstop with the “powerful shotgun blast of real contact familiar to any serious player.” Curious, the player got closer, only to discover Ichiro, on an off-day, getting in his reps.

Or this one:

The Yankees clubhouse manager tells a story about Ichiro’s arrival to the team in 2012. Ichiro came to him with a serious matter to discuss: Someone had been in his locker. The clubhouse guy was worried something had gone missing, like jewelry or a watch, and he rushed to check.

Ichiro pointed at his bat.

Then he pointed at a spot maybe 8 inches away.

His bat had moved.

The clubhouse manager sighed in relief and told Ichiro that he’d accidentally bumped the bat while putting a clean uniform or spikes or something back into Ichiro’s locker, which is one of the main roles of clubhouse attendants.

“That can’t happen,” Ichiro said, smiling but serious.

From that day forward, the Yankees staff didn’t replace anything in his locker like they did for every other player on the team. They waited until he arrived and handed him whatever he needed for the day.

I will be sad when Ichiro retires, and I was very happy to hear the news that he had signed with the Mariners this week. I died laughing at this tweet, which shows Ichiro arriving in Seattle for the first time back in 2001, and again this week in 2018.

It shows not only the vagaries of fashion over the last nearly 20 years, but it also shows a young man, grown into an old man, and all that entails. I hope, whenever he retires, Ichiro doesn’t “just die” as he suggested. But for now, as Wright Thompson says, Ichiro is like the rest of us: “out there, hungry for a chance to keep his routines in motion.”


Best Media: TOB with the correct take.


Best of PAL Song of the Week 2019: 


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“He’s a lawyer, I’m an accountant, we speak the same language.  Obviously accountants are more bad boys…but there’s a respect there.”

-Smallmouth Ben Wyatt

Week of January 11, 2019

Pimpage.


Don’t Tag It, Bro

Growing up in Tahoe, one of my family’s favorite spots to go was a series of small alpine lakes not far from Lake Tahoe. It was kind of a locals spot. Off the beaten path, a little hard to find, with a small parking lot before a 15-minute hike to the third and final lake. That lake had a small beach, where you could rent boats, buy some ice cream from a little shack, and most famously, jump off a series of increasingly high cliffs into the water below.

Last year, our entire family was back in Tahoe for the first time in over 20 years, as far as I can remember. My brothers and I decided we’d go back to that spot to show our spouses and/or kids. The drive was more harrowing and more breathtaking than I remembered. Longer, too. And then…we couldn’t find a parking spot. The place was jam packed, and a bunch of cars were circling the small lot, hoping to get lucky. We sadly made the decision to abort the mission.

As a kid, that had never happened. I had never seen the lot full, or close to it. I could only imagine how crowded that small beach was that day. But I started to wonder what happened. The population in Tahoe has only declined since we left. Why was this spot suddenly so crowded? The internet, of course.

The internet is great and has provided access and information for many. There are downsides to that, too, of course. But one downside I never considered before that day is how “secret” spots like that are no longer “secret” because they are so easy to find with a few minutes on google.

You may have noticed I had not named the lakes in question. That was of course not an accident, and brings us to the featured story. My experience last summer was not unique. It is something state and national parks are dealing with, especially, as it turns out, since the rise of Instagram. People post pictures of themselves in breathtaking locations. At its best, these pictures inspire people to explore the world around them. But at its worst, it can actually ruin the place that is pictured:

What’s being lost are the places that are “loved to death,” a now overused phrase that aptly describes what’s happening to the outdoors. Parks, reserves, and wilderness areas were ill-prepared for a newfound fascination with the natural world, in part spurred by Instagram. The photo-sharing app quickly became a place to collect and broadcast locations as if they were medals; social currency can be won by proving you climbed a mountain or bathed in a hot spring. This pursuit has negative byproducts: crowding, trail damage, littering, and vandalism, among others.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s tourism board has instituted a campaign to combat this phenomenon: They are asking visitors to avoid location-specific tags on Instagram, and instead use the generic location, “Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild.” Posters line the airport when visitors arrive, asking them to do this. They even created this short commercial:

How else can this damage from overcrowding be prevented? Increased staffing, for one – which we’ve seen first hand this week, during the federal government shutdown, as beloved national parks like Joshua Tree have seen some truly disturbing damage at the hands over visitors trying to take advantage of the lack of ranger oversight, like this tree that was cut down so off-roaders could get around barriers:

The Jackson Hole campaign, and other places like Oregon and Utah, are not looking to discourage people from coming; after all, many of these places rely on tourism for their economy. But they do want to ensure visitors treat these areas with respect. As Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, Oregon’s director of outdoor recreation, puts it, “That’s sort of a last resort. What we should be focusing on really is a physical presence and public outreach education—trying to instill in visitors who own these places a sense of personal responsibility to some extent.” Utah, however, is considering a reservation system for Arches and Zion National Parks.

As for me, I’m still hoping to get back to that little lake near Tahoe. I’ll try to get there earlier. Perhaps on a weekday. I’ll definitely instagram it, but I won’t tag the exact location. Maybe it’s not too late to #KeepTahoeLocal. -TOB

Source: Stay Wild: How Parks Departments Are Keeping Up With Instagram Chasers“, Molly McHugh, The Ringer (01/04/2019)

PAL: Asking folks to avoid the geo tag is a more than fair request from the parks. What a strange world we live in, eh? Of course we want as many people as possible to experience the power of nature and contribute the local economies, but we are now at a point where conservation has a social media plan. What the hell?

To be honest, I’ve never understood the geo tag. Of course share an awesome pic, but what is gained by essentially giving the coordinates of your location?


The Coldest Hot Stove

Baseball free agency this season has been an unbelievable bore, for the second year in a row. Two of the best, young players to ever hit free agency, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, are on the market. And yet, very few teams are reportedly interested in signing them to longterm deals, and in the third month of the offseason, nothing seems imminent. Even after those two, most of the top available guys have not been signed, and the news is quiet on all fronts.

So much has been written about this, and I’ve read most of it. Generally, the consensus is that MLB teams are being dumb. The Brewers were really good last year because in the middle of a very similar offseason, where so many teams are trying to do the Astros model of getting bad so you can be good years down the road, Milwaukee decided they’d actually try to win, and then did.

But one point in particular stuck out to me as being especially insightful:

MLB reportedly generated a record $10.3 billion in gross revenue in 2018, and while that figure barely budged from the previous year, it also omits the proceeds of the $2.6 billion sale of streaming spinoff BAMTech to Disney, which paid out approximately $50 million per team in 2018. Put aside the rapid appreciation of franchise values: Between BAMTech, the continuing boon of big broadcast deals (both local and national), and the revenue-sharing system, most teams are financially secure before the games begin. That leaves them with less motivation to pony up for free agents than they had when profits were more tightly tied to team success and ticket sales.

That should be chilling to any baseball fan: teams have started to generate so much money just by having a product to put on the field that it doesn’t even matter if they win. They don’t care as much if you come out to the park as they used to, because they’re getting paid, anyways.

As with most things, I figure this is cyclical. But many observers see this strategy resulting in a long and bitter work stoppage in a couple years when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. If so, I hope they consider a true overhaul of the player compensation system, because the current one (e.g., non-living wages for minor leaguers; relatively low wages for 7 years after a player makes the majors; big dollars paid to past their prime free agents) is broken. -TOB

Source: “Long, Cold Winter: MLB Free Agency Is Still Disturbingly Slow“, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (01/08/2019)

PAL: Yikes. A lot of scary sense made here. And when you’re frustrated with the players, remember this Lindbergh nugget:

Although the difficulty of accessing teams’ financial information makes it hard to be conclusive—and, in turn, focuses fans’ envy and ire on the millionaires whose salaries they know rather than the billionaires whose books are closed—it seems much more likely that the reason teams are in no hurry to make moves is that they’re rolling in revenue, not that they’re struggling to make ends meet.


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Pretzels Getzien


Video of the Week

The Spanish radio call is always so much better.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Sharon Van Etten – “Seventeen”


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Normally people tell you to talk about your problems. I’m gonna recommend you bottle that noise up.

-Donna Meagle

1-2-3 Sports! Week of January 4, 2019

Marshawn lighting…something…on Al Davis’s eternal flame (which, what!? Al Davis has an eternal flame!?)


When You Should Not Show a Tribute Video to a Former Player

Look, I am not one to burn a bridge. You never know when you may encounter someone again, and even if they’ve pissed you off, it’s always better to be professional and/or classy and let any transgressions go. BUT! If I was the San Antonio Spurs, I’d make an exception. Kawhi Leonard absolutely dogged them. He sat almost all of last season with a mysterious injury that was only diagnosed by what seemed like the tenth specialist he visited. Then he essentially told them he would not play this year and they better trade him or he’d walk after this season, when he becomes a free agent.

So they traded him. And there’s no way to get back a fair return for an MVP-level player. Thursday night he returned, as a member of the Raptors. The fans booed him lustily during pregame, and kept it up during the game:

But, reportedly after weighing what they should do, the team did play a joint tribute video for Kawhi and Danny Green, who was also part of the trade to Toronto, before the game, .

And I gotta say – the Spurs were a little too classy here. The man does not deserve that. He made his bed, now he can lie in it. Hell, I’d have played a tribute for Green, who almost single handedly won them the Finals in 2014, then I’d have showed a gravestone with Kawhi’s name on it.

All’s well that ends well, though, and the Spurs fans got their revenge. Kawhi sucked and the Spurs rolled the Raptors, 125-107. -TOB

Source: The Spurs And Their Fans Are Out For Blood”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (12/3/2019)

PAL: A video for Kawhi? I wouldn’t call it classy. Foolish is the word that comes to mind. Are you kidding me, Spurs? All the boos are completely negated – and not in a good way – by pandering to a person that pulled a major dick move, and so soon after he pulled said move. This would make me so mad if I was a Spurs fan.

TOB: 

LOLOLOL. Totally, guy.


Remember Mike Davis?

Mike Davis is a classic ‘That Guy’. In 2000, Davis became the Indiana University basketball coach, replacing Bob Knight. Knight reportedly offered to pay his coaching staff their salaries to not take the job and follow him to his next stop. Davis broke ranks (because he’s sane) and became the head coach at a blue blood basketball program. He took the team to the title game the next year (losing to Maryland). Since then, many would describe his career as a regression, one lower profile job after another.

The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn catches up with Davis at his current job: Detroit Mercy. I’d never heard of it either. There, he’s coaching his youngest son, Antoine Davis, who was just a toddler when Davis was at IU. Now Antoine is averaging 31 ppg playing for his dad.

Of course, Mike Davis is more than a ‘That Guy’ – he’s got a life story that is far more interesting than replacing Knight at IU, and he doesn’t seem all that upset about where he finds himself coaching these days.

“Once you get past always trying to prove yourself, you get to the point where you’re only trying to develop others,” Davis says.

Interesting read. – PAL

Source: The Backwards Lives of Mike and Antoine Davis”, Brendan Quinn, The Athletic (November, 2018)

TOB: A very interesting guy. We actually wrote about Davis last season, when his Texas Southern team got off to an 0-13 start. That sounds bad, but it was, fascinatingly, all part of Davis’ plan. Davis made the schedule, and all 13 games were on the road, most against good to very good teams. Why? Because it would make his team better and the losses don’t matter – all he needed to do was win the conference tournament at the end of the year. So did the 0-13 start payoff? Yup. The team finished 16-20, won its conference tournament, won the First Four play-in game, and then led #1 seed Xavier for the first ten minutes of their first round matchup, before losing.


Man, Don’t Be That Dad/Coach

The Dora High School (Missouri) boys basketball team, and specifically its coach, Rick Luna, drew criticism this week after getting caught pulling some real bush league stuff. Luna has three sons on the team – triplets. Luna was caught swapping one of his three triplet sons, Auston, for another triplet son, Bryson, when Auston should have been shooting free throws. Luna claims it wasn’t planned. He must be using ‘planned’ in a very narrow sense, because you can see on video in the link that it was very blatant and very intentional. Plus, fans have other teams have reportedly been complaining about it all year.

Surprisingly, the dad/coach doesn’t seem to take it too seriously. When asked by a reporter about the incident, Luna joked that the team went 1-for-4 from the line the times they cheated during that game. Uh, cool, guy. The school’s official twitter account even retweeted this tweet defending it as something that “happens all the time and has for years.” Uh, no.

Unfortunately, nothing is going to change the outcome of the game. Local officials stated they can’t do anything now, but will educate referees to look out for it going forward. Which is crazy to me. They may not be able/willing to change the outcome of the game, but the coach and/or his sons could and should be suspended. If I was in charge of that school, in fact, I’d fire the coach. That may seem over the top, but do you want your kids coached by someone who blatantly and intentionally cheats? I wouldn’t. -TOB

Source: High School Basketball Team Caught Swapping Out Triplets At The Free-Throw Line”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (01/02/2019)

PAL (read in a NFL ref voice): After video review, it is clear that the triplet swap was intentional. Clearly, the trio has been coached on how to come together at or around the free throw line. This is where the swap takes place. The result is that this dad/coach is a d-bag.

The coach shouldn’t be fired, but everyone at school should just shake their heads and mutter “really, Rick?” for one full school year.


Two for the Road: Clemson’s Tradition

This is a fun little story about a Clemson tradition with a cool backstory. Clemson and Georgia Tech had a longstanding rivalry game until 1973. That year, Georgia Tech – a much better football team at the time – decided to end the rivalry.

Clemson Booster Club member George Bennett wanted to think of a way to let Atlanta and Georgia Tech know how much of a boost Clemson fans can have on the local economy, and the two dollar bill seemed like an idea the popped. This weekend, with Clemson in its third national title game in the last four years, we’ll be seeing some $2 here in the Bay Area (Santa Clara is hosting the game on Monday). The tradition stuck, and more and more cities are seeing the $2 with Clemson becoming a powerhouse making runs in the College Football Playoff. 

Bill Harley is the senior vice president of the Clemson branch of the First Citizens Bank. He’s also a 1982 Clemson grad, so he’s always careful to ensure the bank stocks $2 bills before a big road game or bowl trip. He guessed about 250 customers came in to exchange ordinary currency for $2 denominations before the Cotton Bowl.

Harley said the bank offers the bills to anyone in need but limits how many any one person gets so everyone can get a few. This hasn’t always gone over well.

That’s a fun, smart way to let people know the Tigers are in town. I dig this tradition. – PAL

Source: Clemson, $2 bills and a one-of-a-kind bowl tradition, David Hale, ESPN (01/03/19)

TOB: This is cool, but it works a lot better now that they’re good!


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Lady Baldwin


Poll of the Week


Video of the Week: 
RIP Mean Gene


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: The Kinks – “This Time Tomorrow”


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“There are three acceptable haircuts: high and tight, crew cut, buzz cut.”

-Ron Swanson