1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 15, 2019


Pay no mind to the dude in electric blue shades and sweet goatee; Zion is denting a fully inflated basketball likes it’s a tennis ball.


The Softer Side of Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson died late last week. He’s one of the greatest baseball players of all time, coming just 13 dingers short of the ultra elite 600 Home Run Club (10th all time, 4th when he retired), to go along with a career OPS of .936 (really damn good) and an OPS+ of 155 (meaning he was 55% better than league average), 26th all time. He was also a manager, baseball’s first black manager, though not an exceptional one – his teams only finished over .500 six out of sixteen seasons, though he did win Manager of the Year in 1989.

For most of his career, Frank was not particularly liked. Or, perhaps more accurately, he had a reputation for being cranky. But as a black man growing up in the 50s, Frank did not live an easy life. He was born in 1935 and grew up in Oakland, graduating from McClymonds High School, having been on the same basketball team as the great Bill Russell. He debuted in the big leagues in 1956, at age 20, just a few years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Like many black players of his time, Frank was subject a lot of abuse. But unlike Jackie, Frank refused to take it. He vocally stood up against racial prejudice. In 1987, Dodgers’ GM Al Campanis was asked by Larry King why there were so few black managers and no black general managers in MLB. Campanis said, black people “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.” Campanis was rightly excoriated for these remarks, and Frank led the charge, stating:

“Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years — that blacks aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office. There’s a belief that they’re fine when it comes to the physical part of the game, but if it involves brains they just can’t handle it. Al Campanis made people finally understand what goes on behind closed doors — that there is racism in baseball.”

Frank was often referred to as the most feared man in baseball. I imagine he liked that. But he was not a man without feeling, and that’s why I loved the following article about him. Late in his life, Frank was managing the Washington Nationals. The team was not very good, and they ran into an injury problem at catcher. They were forced to play Matt LeCroy, a journeyman nearing the end of his career, who had knee problems and a shoulder injury preventing him from throwing to second base. In one particular game, the Nats built an early six run lead, but the Astros were mounting a comeback, and it was led in part on challenging LeCroy on the basepaths. LeCroy simply could not make the throw to second, and Frank decided to pull him, mid-inning.

LeCroy understood the move and was not upset. But Frank was. He felt he had embarrassed LeCroy, a player he had grown to respect. After the game, Frank spoke about the decision, and the Most Feared Man in Baseball began to cry.

 LeCroy was surprised to hear about Frank’s reaction:

“I hated that he got emotional, I told him I wasn’t good enough for somebody to cry over,” said LeCroy, who was blown away by the size of the scrum of reporters waiting at his locker when he arrived. “It was a crazy day. I didn’t think much about the situation. Didn’t realize that it was going to be such a big deal. That’s when I said the daddy quote.”

The exact, priceless line from LeCroy was, “If my daddy was managing this team, I’m sure he would have done the same thing.” The snippet circulated the Internet along with the footage of Robinson, tears welled in the corner of his eyes and spilling out onto his cheeks.

“A lot of people didn’t understand Frank,” LeCroy said. “He was thought of as this very stern, stoic guy. He was one of the best to ever play and he had to go through a lot being an African American playing. The biggest thing about that day (that stuck with me) is it showed me Frank really cared about everybody, no matter if you were a superstar or the last man on the bench.

“I think it opened up a lot of people’s eyes that deep down Frank cared about everybody. It meant a lot to me and that made our relationship, which was already pretty good, carry over to the next level.  He thought I was going to blast him (for taking me out) and I really didn’t think nothing about it.”

LeCroy himself would go on to coach, and he’s currently a manager for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate. He says he tries to take that lesson, and more, that Frank Robinson taught him.

This was a really good article – short, but great storytelling. -TOB

Source: A Look Back at the Day Frank Robinson Cried When He Took Catcher Matt LeCroy Out of a Game”, Brittany Ghiroli, The Athletic (02/08/2019)

PAL: One clear take-away from the Robinson stories over the past week is that he was a proud man, and so it makes sense Robinson would not take lightly the idea of having a hand in embarrassing a player.

My opinion on the writing differs from TOB’s: Ghiroli opens the story with an extended, teaser lead. Here’s the opening paragraph:

When​ Matt​ LeCroy​ thinks back to that moment,​ there​ was​ no​ way​ of​ anticipating​ its significance.​ No​ amount of​​ premonition would help LeCroy fathom the magnitude of that fateful Nationals game on May 25, 2006. Yet, here he is, dissecting a day almost 13 years ago, an afternoon contest with the Astros at RFK Stadium that was one of the most memorable managerial moments of Frank Robinson’s career.

The reader doesn’t know what moment ‘that moment’ is, and we won’t find out until the ninth(!) paragraph of the story. This is a technique we’ve read before – hell, I’m sure I’ve used it – and in most cases it reads like a writer trying to show off with melodious prose that almost always comes off a bit forced. It’s familiar, and not in a good way.

TOB: IT SAYS IT RIGHT IN THE HEADLINE!

PAL: well, that’s an interesting point. Still hate the writing….now I have to re-write my response? Thanks for saving me the embarrassment, but at what cost? (Publisher’s note: sharing the the laugh is worth more than whatever else I would have written)


We Were So Lucky To Have Been Raised Amongst Catalogs*

This trip back in time comes to us ℅ soft-tossing lefty, Ryan Nett. The Stearns County legend (see his 2010 stats) texted it to me, and I was in based only on the headline alone:

Like writer Dan Woike, I remember flipping through just about every page of the Eastbay catalog, taking extra time on baseball cleats and gloves in the spring editions. Woike, Nett, and I are not alone; the NBA writer asked a bunch of known sneakerheads in the league about East Bay, and their reactions are fantastic Whether or not they ever made an order, guys like Lance Stephenson and P.J. Tucker absorbed each edition.

It seems funny to say in the Amazon era, but the Eastbay catalog absolutely has a little footnote in my childhood. It was a wormhole before the online wormhole, and – let’s be honest – the best bathroom reading around. I haven’t thought about it for who knows how long until Nett sent this along. It’s so fun when a writer uncovers a bit of forgotten nostalgia. Great find, Nett! – PAL

Source: Eastbay Catalog Memories: It’s Where a Generation Went to Look at Sneakers – and Dream”, Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times (02/14/2019)

*Don’t be a jerk and look it up. Ok, now, name the movie the title of this post references. Hit us up in the comment section for a bottle of excellent homebrew.

TOB: Oh HELL yeah. Eastbay friggin ruled. I don’t know how or why it started coming to my house – but the new arrival was a great day. I’d slowly look at each page and circle any item I might want. I’d think, “Man, if I got those Air Jordan XIs, no one could stop me.” I remember specifically obsessing over basketball shoe weight. “Geeze, I love those, but 13 ounces!? That’s gonna limit my vert. I need something under 12 ounces, for sure.”

I definitely ordered from Eastbay, but I can’t remember what any more. I probably didn’t get to order too much, but I used it to keep informed on the newest shoes and brands. The website is still my go-to for finding new basketball shoes, and I’ve ordered from them a couple times in the last few years. Nice find, Ryan. And congrats on that one dinger.


At the 2019 U.S. Open, I Will Be Booing Matt Kuchar

Pro golfers make a ton of money these days. The 50th highest money maker last year was Brendan Steele (not a porn star!) at $2.3 million. To get there, Steele made the cut 16 out of 22 events, with 3 top 10s and 1 win. That’s $2.3 million to play 67 rounds of golf, with average score right around par (71). Not bad!

Customarily, golfers pay their caddies 10% of their winnings. So Steele’s caddy made $230,000 last year. Also not a bad living! Justin Thomas finished first on the money list at $8.7 million, so his caddy made $870,000. That’s a hell of a lot of money! But, ya know, well earned by both the golfer and the caddy. Good on ‘em.

Matt Kuchar made news this week, though, for ignoring the 10% percent custom when he was forced to hire a local caddy at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa Del Carmen Mexico because his normal caddy could not make the trip. Instead of paying the caddy ten percent of his $1.3 million dollar purse ($130,000), Kuchar paid the caddy just $5,000 (five thousand) dollars instead, just one third of one percent – 0.3% – of Kuchar’s winnings.

Kuchar explained that in fact he was being generous, because his pre-tournament agreement with the caddy was to pay him $4,000 for the week, and that extra $1,000 was a bonus for Kuchar’s win. Matt, buddy! Don’t be so loose with your money. Think of your retirement! You’ve only made $3 million dollars this year, and it’s already February!

So how does Kuchar, a guy with career earnings over $43 MILLION dollars justify paying his Let’s let Kuchar, a first class prick, explain:

“For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week.”

GFY, Matt. -TOB

Source: Extremely Rich Golfer Matt Kuchar Defends Stiffing His Caddie”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/14/2019)

PAL: Agree on all fronts, but hold your outrage for a moment and consider this: what is the point of the $4,000 fee to begin with if the usual deal dictates 10% of winnings and, I assume, no payment for the caddie if there are no winnings? Clearly, each party agreed to a deal that was out of the ordinary, and – with one of them being a professional golfer and one of them being an experienced caddie – I can’t possibly believe there was a misunderstanding on this point. If Kuchar pockets more than 40K if he finishes in the top 30 or higher, then he got a deal on the caddie. Anything below, and the caddy-for-hire is covered. In a field of 132 competitors, these are not bad odds for the caddie.

Also, is this a story if Kuchar finishes second in the tournament ($777K)?

Of course in the real world the original deal matters when Kuchar wins the damn thing. He received $1.3M! And then he starts talking like an idiot about relative value of $5,000. That’s when no one wants to hear from the unremarkable golfer who’s made an unfathomable amount of money.

TOB: To me, it’s a story about power and wealth. The caddy is a club caddy in Mexico. As Kuchar says, a good day for him is $200. Kuchar gets to the tournament, with no caddy, and offers $4,000 because he knows every single caddy at that club will jump at $4,000. But that doesn’t make it right. He should have offered 10% to begin with. When called out for being a cheapskate, he should have said, “You’re right. I messed up. Here’s your 10%.”

UPDATE: 3:23pm PST, 2/15/19:

Obviously Kuchar is a reader of this blog, and I’m happy to report that he has taken my words to heart:

That’s a solid apology, Matt. The Boo Declaration is officially rescinded.


A Fresh Story on Steph Curry

Stories about about an athlete’s incredible talent are common. Off of the top of my head, recent profiles of Julio Jones. Alex Honnold, and Aaron Donald come to mind. Like those dudes, Steph Curry has made an imprint on his sport. Honnald is the only one in this group that has a case he’s changed the trajectory of his sport more than Curry.

I enjoyed Kevin O’Connor’s story on Curry because it’s not about his freakish talent. This is a story about his progress as a basketball player, how he practiced, and the people that helped him get better.

Jones, Honnald, Donald, Michael Phelps, LeBron James – these guys in no way resemble a “regular” human. The are bigger, stronger, faster, in every way that helps them succeed in their particular sport.

Aaron Donald is not like us. 

Neither is Phelps. 

While Curry’s lack of size is overstated (at 6’3”, 190, he’s an inch shorter than Dwyane Wade), he was a bit late to grow and gain strength as young pup. As result, his now iconic stroke was a long ways away.

His dad, longtime NBA player Dell Curry, knew they needed to fix it. He would be fine in middle school and JV ball, the dad told O’Connor, but that release point wasn’t going to work as the competition got tougher.

So the Currys entered the offseason with a mission: raise Steph’s shooting release to make his shot more difficult to block or alter. That meant repeating the same motion for hours and hours, each day, for three months. “It was the worst summer of my life, basketball-speaking,” Curry told me last month.

Curry said he spent the summer shooting mostly from the paint; he couldn’t shoot from any farther out because he hadn’t developed the requisite strength with his new form. Before the fix, Curry generated the power for his shot from his shoulders. A higher release, with the ball brought to his forehead, would allow him to flow kinetic energy from his legs through the flick of his wrist. “I used to call it the catapult method,” Curry said. “If you look at my shot now, it’s the exact same starting motion as it was when I was young. But I’m not stopping the ball [at my chin]. I just kept on going to where I couldn’t go anymore, and use my wrist a lot more as opposed to my shoulder.”

As he got stronger, Dell and Steph’s mom (a former volleyball player at Va. Tech, NBD) would get right up in his grill so he would get used to shooting over that kind of pressure. I love the image of a mom and dad practicing together with their kid.

So that’s where the stroke comes from – a tough summer and some pretty excellent genetics.

O’Conner’s piece also reveals how lethal the small (by NBA standards) Curry is finishing at the rim.

That list, and the fact that Curry has the same numbers as LeBron, shocked me, but there’s logic to this stat. At every stage of his basketball life, Curry was undersized. His drives would be blocked if he didn’t get good at creative finished.

Curry tried wild, high-arcing shots, acrobatic finishes, and a scoop shot—which he said is his favorite type of layup—to overcome the size differential. It was a necessity, but it also made what is a simple task for most players a difficult one. “I can’t tell you how many times during middle school I’d be on fast break, and I’d jump into the guy in the paint to do a half 360 and float the ball behind my head. I made it probably one time,” Curry said. “Every time I’d do it, I’d look at my mom in the stands and she’s just like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Just do a normal layup.’”

But those finishes didn’t come easy in the NBA. He wasn’t great around the rim his rookie season, and he found unusual help in Brandon Payne, who worked with Curry on “neuromuscular efficiency”. Whada what now?

 Essentially, they are trying to overload the senses to increase dexterity and reduce reaction time. Sure, why not? As O’Connor points out, Curry getting much stronger and improving his handle helped his finishing a lot, too. Nevermind the fact that he has Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on the court, too. Having two other all-time great shooters waiting for pass might free up the lane a bit.

It becomes harding to find compelling stories about super popular athletes, but O’Connor finds a fresh angle on Curry. Super fun read, and love the giphs and video clips, too. – PAL

Source: It’s More Than Just the Shot”, Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer (02/12/2019)

TOB: I have read or seen video of the story of Curry’s transformed jump shot so many times now, and I don’t care. I devour each and every story about it. He has to be the most remarkable athlete I can remember – what he is doing seems impossible. You look at LeBron and sure, what he does makes absolute sense. But Curry should not be able to do the things he does. He’s changed the sport in a way that no athlete has changed a sport in my lifetime. Curry’s rookie year, the league attempted 3-pointers on 22% of shots. That number is now 35%. I think in lare part that is due to Curry, especially in how many threes he takes off the dribble, as opposed to the more common catch-and-shoot three. Curry changed the way teams think about attacking on offense and forced teams to defend out to 30-feet.

Incredibly, Curry is more accurate from 30-35 feet than he is anywhere else on the floor. This year he’s making fifty-four percent (54%!) of his shots from 30-35 feet, while shooting 43.7% from three overall, and 46.2% on all shots attempted. And it’s not really an anomaly. Since 2014-15, Curry is making 47.9% of his shots from 30-35 feet. What the hell? Anyways, he’s great and I hope he keeps this up another ten years.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – “Better Things”


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Pippity poppity, give me the zoppity. 

-M.G. Scott, C/O Darryl

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Week of February 8, 2019


Gatorade Is A Delicious Lie

Who knew a 4300-word story about hydration could be so fascinating?  In this excerpt from Christie Aschwanden’s new book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, we learn about the real story behind Gatorade, the dangerous hogwash behind Tom Brady’s “drink enough water every day to match half your body weight in ounces”, and the downright bad science experiments used to support marketing claims. Some of the more interesting insights:

  • Michael Jordan and Gatorade is the shining example of what’s called “the illusion of causality”, which is now an entire sub-genre of advertising
  • The word “electrolytes” as we know it is nothing more than a rebranding of a basic term and the body does not need to replenish electrolytes while working out (this happens quite naturally if you eat a meal and drink something after even a long workout)
  • Gatorade and other sports drink companies (the cottage industry obviously exploded) turned to half-baked science as a marketing strategy.
  • Dehydration – the boogeyman brought out to scare all of us to constantly drink during workouts – is far less common than its inverse, hyponatremia, in endurance athletes
  • There are at least five more fascinating facts in this excerpt

Ashwanden’s writing is proof that nearly anything can be made compelling with the right person tapping the keys. I thoroughly enjoyed this read about water and gatorade. – PAL

Source: You Don’t Need Sports Drinks To Stay Hydrated”, Christie Aschwanden, FiveThirtyEight (02/04/2019)


No, the Knicks Crushed the Porzingis Trade

Being a sports fan can be weird. Difficult. Frustrating. I’m a Kings fan, and for the last 15 or so years that has not been easy to say. It’s been barren, man. But as I write this, the Kings sit a game out of the playoffs in the always deep Western Conference, and the team they are looking up at for the last playoff spot (the Clippers) just traded away their best player (Tobias Harris) in a move designed for their future. As a plus, it gives the Kings a significant edge in the playoff race, though there are still roughly 36 hours left for the Lakers (1.5 games behind the Kings) to land Anthony Davis (by the time you are reading this, the trade deadline will have passed and the Lakers will either have or not have the Brow).

Sticking with the Kings through that time, with virtually no hope, was tough. But there was a moment when I almost forsake the team. The Kings had few bright spots from 2006 until 2017, but one of them was DeMarcus Cousins. Despite his mercurial nature, or maybe because of it, I loved Boogie. The team never won squat with him, but he always seemed like a guy you could build a contender around, if the team knew what it was doing. They never seemed to, though, and inevitable the day came when they traded him away. I damn near mourned. How could they do this? Our only hope? And for what, a struggling rookie (Buddy Hield) and a pick (which was dealt for two more picks – one of which turned out to be promising rookie Harry Giles)?

I nearly quit. I wondered: why do I stick with this garbage team when one of the greatest, most well run, and most entertaining teams of all time is moving to damn near my backyard in one year? My head said: just become a Warriors fan. I thought I’d do it, too. But my heart wasn’t there. I love watching the Warriors. Steph Curry may be my favorite player ever. But the minute Buddy Hield started playing well during the stretch run of another lost season, I was back in.

And two years later, the Kings look good! Like I said, the team might make the playoffs! On TNT the other night, someone actually argued they will be a 5-seed in the next two years. Even six months ago that was unthinkable. It hurt to trade Boogie, but we had won nothing with him and it was the right move.

Which brings me to last week’s trade involving Kristaps Porzingis (and a few other bad contracts). I’ve read (and listened to) way too many Knicks fans decrying that trade as inepitude. Complaining that it was a salary dump. Complaining that the rumors that the Knicks hope to sign both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this summer as a result of the trade are meaningless because they haven’t done it yet. And I can’t believe that is the takeaway.  

Yes, sports teams sell hope too often. But this isn’t the Kings, man. This isn’t the Hawks. Or the Pacers. Or the Bucks. This is the friggin Knicks. They play in the friggin Garden. They play in friggin NYC. No, they haven’t been good for a long, long time. But Kyrie and KD could turn that around immediately. And in selling them on that – you have a pitch no one else has: they will be the kings of New York in their 20s. That sounds pretty great, if you ask me.

So, no, it’s not guaranteed. But you have to give yourself that chance, and the Knicks did that. And Porzingis is a nice player. He’s really good. But he doesn’t play much – he gets injured a lot. In his four seasons in the NBA, he’s played 72, 65, 48 and 0 (yes, zero) games. He’s only 23, which makes that injury history scarier. At 7’3, he seems to have one of those bodies that just can’t take the punishment of an 82 (or more) game season. As I noted above, they also unloaded some bad contracts as the price to give up Porzingis, and as an added bonus get a couple recent lottery picks, including the very intriguing Dennis Smith, Jr., plus increase their odds of landing Zion Williamson in this year’s draft, and get two future first round picks.

When the Kings traded Cousins, I got mad, but it provided a path to days much brighter than Kings fans had seen with him. Similarly, the Knicks just gave themselves the chance to bring a title to the Garden for the first time in nearly 50 years – and that’s just not something Porzingis was ever going to do. -TOB
Source: The Knicks Are Still Looking For a Guy”, Dan Devine, The Ringer (02/05/2019)


Durant…Ugh

About that Porzingis trade… in the days following speculation ramped up about whether the Knicks will be able to land Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer. Somewhat oddly, in what many figured was an attempt to avoid answering those questions, Durant refused to talk to the media, at all, for nine days following the Porzingis trade. Like I said, that’s odd. He didn’t just refuse to talk free agency. He refused to talk, period.

Then, after Wednesday’s Warriors win over the Spurs, Durant finally spoke and called out the media, and in particular The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss by name, for asking him questions about free agency. Here’s the video:

KD! That is not a good look, my dude! I get that it would be annoying. But Durant needs to understand: fans care. They really do. It’s intriguing as hell! And fans pay for that $30M you’re making this year, and the $40M you hope to make next year. And it’s the media that feeds fan hunger – without the media giving fans what they want, less people would tune in and if less people tune in ratings and ticket sales go down. If that revenue drops, so do player salaries.

On top of that, KD was being a jerk. The dude is just trying to do his job. I checked out the Strauss article that had Durant so mad. There was nothing terribly objectionable. Strauss talked about how KD had not spoken to the media in the 8 days since the Porzingis trade; he stated that people on and around the Warriors think Durant is leaving or say they don’t know; it discussed the fact KD will face criticism if he leaves just as he faced criticism for coming to the Warriors in the first place.

I was very curious how Strauss would respond to being so publicly called out. Well, he didn’t take it lying down. Some examples:

“You guys really don’t know shit,” Kevin Durant told reporters attending his February interview session, in response to a question about a rumored exit. He wasn’t happy with the media’s approach.

KD was then asked what stories he would like the media to focus on more.

“To be honest, man, I’m only here talking to y’all because I have to,” he said. “So I really don’t care. Y’all not my friends. You’re going to write what you want to write. You’re going to love us one day and hate us the next. That’s a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y’all.”

I’m referring, of course, to the time Durant was asked about whether former Thunder coach Scott Brooks would indeed get fired, as many around the league thought he would back in February of 2015. It was, theoretically, a choice KD had input into. Roughly two months later, Brooks would be axed, in a decision KD backed 100 percent.

When it comes to the future, sometimes the media really doesn’t know shit. And sometimes, as the Yiddish saying goes, the greatest libel is the truth. You’d think a man holding all the cards wouldn’t publicly fret like his hands were tied. You’d think.

Ohhh, snap! That was one hell of a rhetorical device. Strauss continued, pointing out that KD’s complaints are not even grounded in reality (a point I saw confirmed by numerous NBA writers after this article was posted):

By the way, as large as his free agency looms over the organization, it’s not like Durant has been grilled about it. In his time here, weeks if not months can pass between examples of a press conference question for KD about free agency. That’s why it’s so confusing when Durant says, “Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it.” It should be noted that KD has more than earned the right to leave the Bay, after winning at least two titles. Demanding an alternate observable reality is another thing.

These presser settings mostly revolve around that night’s game, and how the team is playing. To receive such presser questions, in February, you typically either have to a) Play the Knicks with their attendant media or b) Do something as novel as, say, avoiding a week of contractually obligated media availability concurrent with the Knicks blasting open some serious cap room. The curious absence is why our team at The Athletic started taking the organization’s temperature on this topic. Otherwise, we were as keen as anyone to write “Boogie’s back!” articles and other more positive stories.

And finally Strauss ended by pointing out that KD is his own worst enemy:

And yet, in a 39-point victory, Kevin Durant has amplified the story he theoretically wants smothered. He’s shining a laser pointer at a July calendar page and bemoaning that anyone dares see the bouncing beam. This is what he does, for reasons that mystify beyond the simple fact that he can. A man with all the leverage can keep speaking in contradictions and reliably keep hearing in supplications.

Yet, I would like to oblige him, because who wants to make a person sad? There’s a problem, though. Not only do I write about the NBA here, but I’ve signed on to write a book about the Warriors dynasty. I plan to do it well. In this endeavor, I won’t be taking my marching orders from Kevin Durant. And yet, I suspect I’ll find myself writing about that which he loudly emphasizes.

As I’ve written before, KD strikes me as terribly moody and self-important, and his rant this week only confirmed that opinion. But this was a fantastic response by Strauss. He stood up for himself, and his brethren in the media, without lashing out as the spoiled brat who started it all. -TOB

Source: On Kevin Durant’s Criticisms and the Relevant Questions Surrounding the Warriors’ Enigmatic Superstar”, Ethan Strauss, The Athletic (02/07/2019)

PAL: Good luck with the New York media, Durant. He is uninteresting in every respect. He is no doubt an insane talent, but his game – being super tall and shooting over dudes in iso situations – is way less entertaining than watching the Warriors whip the ball around to find the best shot. His self-importance reminds me of a kid six months out of college telling someone who’s lived in the real world for a couple decades how it is.

TOB: After I wrote the above, Steve Kerr said this:

“All that revenue that generates the salary cap, it doesn’t all come from ticket sales. It comes from media rights and all kinds of financial streams that are based on people’s intense interest in the league. And so you just kind of have to deal with that and go along with that.

As always, Kerr gets it.


A Solution to the Issue of Whether to Pay College Athletes

College athletes should be paid. Period. But how to unravel the thorny system that has been created over the last century or so is admittedly complicated. If you pay players what they’re worth in football and basketball, how do you comply with Title IX? After all, you have to keep the spending relatively equal. And while there’s enough money to pay football and basketball players, the revenue those sports bring in subsidize all the non-revenue generating sports, including nearly all women’s sports, which again becomes a problem with Title IX. Another idea I’ve seen floated is to simply have athletic departments go independent and license the university’s name/logo/trademark. Critics of that idea think it will kill the magic of college sports, which is hard to know – but logistically, do we think the universities are going to hand over the land and the facilities they’ve spent hundred of millions of dollars on for free? I just don’t see how it’s feasible.

But there’s one relatively easy solution that ensures players are paid what they are worth without a dime coming out of the school’s coffers, and it’s being pushed by California State Senator Nancy Skinner, who represents Oakland, Berkeley and the surrounding communities. Skinner plans to introduce a bill that would allow college athletes to be compensated “directly for the use of their name, image, and likeness.”

As Skinner says, “Our universities and the NCAA make huge amounts of money from TV deals and corporate sponsorships of their teams. The state Fair Pay to Play Act, which is my bill, will help level the playing field by allowing college athletes to sign sponsorship deals much like Olympic athletes are now allowed to.”

If you’re wondering, yes, this would be against NCAA rules. But that’s the point. It would force the NCAA to either change their rules or declare that any student athlete in California paid under the proposed law would be ineligible. This seems like a nightmare PR scenario for the NCAA, not to mention how difficult it might be to enforce. If the law passes, it is not hard to envision other states following suit, and I believe the NCAA would be forced to change.

On a base level, the NCAA rule is incredibly archaic and unfair. Why does this rule exist? I suppose it is intended to prevent boosters with big pockets from promising to pay players who attend their school. But as we’ve always known and have gotten a reminder of over the last two years, this already goes on. Besides, shining a light on something generally tends to clean it up. Frankly, I see no downside to this rule. If a player wants to sign an endorsement deal, let him. Free enterprise, and all. And, practically speaking for the NCAA, it potentially solves a major problem heading its way, as the calls to pay players are growing louder and are not going away. Seems like a no-brainer to me. -TOB

Source: New Bill Seeks to Allow California Collegiate Athletes to Get Paid For Use of Their Name, Image, and Likeness”, Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic  (02/04/2019)


Badass of the Week: Unnamed Trail-runner in Colorado

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever done? Got it? Good. Hey, that’s pretty good!

You know what’s tougher? Killing an attacking mountain lion with your bare hands. That happened this week.

Yesterday afternoon, a trail runner was out for a run alone in the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space area outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, when he was attacked by a mountain lion. The runner said he heard something behind him, and as he turned around to look, the lion attacked him from behind, biting his face and wrist. He managed to break free from the cougar’s claws and teeth, and he told investigators from Colorado Parks & Wildlife that he choked the lion to death while defending himself.

A lion bit this dude’s face, and he fought back and choked it out. Then, being on a solo trail run, tough guy had to get back to safety. Think his head was on a swivel while running back to his car? – PAL

Source: Colorado Runner Kills Mountain Lion With Bare Hands After It Attacks Him”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (02/06/19)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Johnny Cash – “Big Iron” (Marty Robbing cover)


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We have a gym at home. It’s called the bedroom. 

-Phyllis  Vance

1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 1, 2019

Two happy hockey parents with the missed high five on the occasion of their son’s first NHL…fight.


The Young Man & the Steelman

This one comes to us c/o Alex Denny, and it is one hell of a tale. A former olympic hopeful cyclist robs twenty-six banks. His get-a-way: a bike. As if that wasn’t enough, the robber’s name is Justice. Tom Justice. The brand of bike he used: Steelman. Too good! Here’s writer Steven Leckart setting up the scene:

The street was empty: no cars, no pedestrians. Suddenly the man spotted a police officer riding a four-wheel ATV. Squeezing the shopping bag, he settled into a relaxed gait. As the ATV approached, the robber smiled and waved hello, as would anyone who had not just knocked over a bank. Returning a stiff nod, the officer kept rolling. And so did the man, descending into a parking garage.

Not 60 seconds later, he emerged, carrying an aluminum bicycle on one shoulder and a messenger bag over the other and wearing a red, white, and blue spandex bodysuit, a silver helmet, sunglasses with yellow lenses, and a pair of cycling shoes. He climbed onto the bike, clicked into the pedals, and began to ride leisurely. It had been less than three minutes since he exited the bank.

There were no sirens or alarms — only the sound of the 11:26 a.m. Metra rumbling into the station three blocks away. By the time the train was gone, so was the thief. Fifteen minutes later, he was coasting south along Sheridan Road. He pedaled into Gillson Park in Wilmette and cruised up to a trashcan. After fishing out two crisp $20 bills and shoving them into the pocket of his bodysuit, he removed the Sports Authority bag and held it upside down over the trashcan. Several bundles of cash — what authorities would later reveal to be $4,009 — tumbled into the garbage with a syncopated thud.

The man returned the empty sack to his messenger bag and pedaled away.

I recently watched Robert Redford’s latest (and supposedly last) movie, The Old Man and The Gun (I liked it!),  and I was struck by the small scale of it all relative to the big bank heists we’ve seen in movies for decades. Redford’s character ambles into small, neighborhood banks, well-dressed with a charming smile. He hands a young teller a note, puts his hand into his jacket, indicating he has a gun, and walks out just as calmly as he walked in.

That’s pretty much the same approach Justice took in his robberies. He was never armed, he handed a note to a teller, folded his hands and waited. They dubbed him The Choirboy – pretty great nickname for a bank robber if you ask me. Once outside the banks, he’d ditch the costume, revealing a spandex bike outfit, hop on his bike, and be gone. In the beginning, he’d justify the act as one of adrenaline rather than greed. He’d toss most of the money. Of course, it didn’t stay that way, but you’ll have to read the story to find out the specifics.

At the heart of Justice’s struggle is a belief that his life was to have more significance, and his inability to create it when his initial plans fell through. He was a borderline Olympic cyclist, but for a few reasons the timing and his health didn’t line up at the right moments. Then he looked for significance in joining the French Foreign Legion (a military outfit that, in exchange for five years of service, grants soldiers French citizenship), but he had a problem with other plebes and superiors.

Justice never found the significance he was looking for, and he filled that void with a collection of dangerous and damaging decisions. I can understand the feeling that drove Justice to rob banks on bike. In passing moments, I have definitely wondered if I’m leading a significant life, as I’m sure is the case for many of you readers. Justice’s reaction to that ennui is extraordinary, but the feeling…a lot of us are familiar with that.

Steven Leckart does a great job balancing the incredible plot of this story with Justice’s search for meaning. When’s this going to be made into a movie? – PAL

Source: The Bicycle Thief”, Steven Leckart, Chicago Magazine (01/29/2019)

TOB: This story is absolutely wild and you should read the whole thing. From the Chicago suburbs to the drug cartels in Tijuana to a cold river in Walnut Creek, if you told me the plot I’d think it was a new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.


Bummin’ Around.

The defensive coordinator for the NFC Champion Rams is Wade Phillips. Wade has been around the NFL a lonnnng time. He’s been a coach nearly 40 years, and tagged along with his dad, the legendary Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips, before that. The Ringer did an excellent profile on Wade, who has become known as a bit of a defensive mad scientist over the years by turning bad defenses good, and good defenses great, in very short order. But he’s also a character, from a family of them, and I’d like to direct your attention there.

His dad, Bum, may be better known for his famous quotes, or those attributed to him, than for his coaching. For example, on legendary Alabama Coach Bear Bryant:

“He can take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.”

Or in response to Coach Sid Gillman telling him that breaking down football film is better than sex:

“Sid, you must not be doing it right.”

Or on job security:

“There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”

Or on a sense of self worth:

“I always thought I could coach. I just thought people were poor judges of good coaches.”

Possibly my two favorites concern Earl Campbell, the Hall of Fame running back who played for Bum. During a workout, Campbell was unable to finish a mile run. Reporters asked Bum if he was concerned and he said:

“When it’s first and a mile, I won’t give it to him.”

And when asked if Campbell was a running back in a class by himself, Bum unleashed this gem:

“I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but I do know that when that class gets together, it sure don’t take long to call the roll.”

Campbell features rather heavily in the Wade Phillips story – he was a 30 year old assistant with the Oilers when the team drafted Campbell, and the two had similar interests: football, beer, and country music, mostly:

The pair would sit together on the team plane, cranking up country music on the boombox and drinking Budweiser. “I liked Gladys Knight and all that stuff,” Campbell says, “but we listened to Willie Nelson.” Campbell had gotten close to Nelson during his days at UT. The musician was a friend of Royal’s, and on visits to Austin Campbell would go on runs with Nelson in the bayou nearby.

That last anecdote should make you laugh. Earl Campbell was 5’11 and 232 pounds of muscle, possibly the most physical running back of all time. Willie Nelson is reportedly 5’6, 150 pounds. I figured they must have made quite the sight, jogging in the Texas heat, and then I found this pic:

What a picture. What a world. Ok, one more.

Sometimes the best parts of an article are the ones that unwittingly lead you to a place like that. -TOB

Source: The Essential Stories of Wade Phillips“, Robert Mays, The Ringer (01/30/2019)

PAL: Here’s my favorite anecdote from the story:

On May 30, 2009, James (a player Phillips coached), then 28, got married. A reception at the W Hotel in Dallas followed. The first man on the dance floor was Wade Phillips. As Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” blared over the speakers, Wade sang along and swayed to the music with his wife, Laurie. For James, a future that once seemed so remote was finally within reach. “Wade teaches you, regardless of your circumstance, who you are, what’s goin’ on, to enjoy your life,” James says. “That man danced the entire reception. I said, ‘Ya know what? Forget about football. Forget about all this stuff, the glitz and glamour, and what we put value on. How about we value just being a human being and being able to enjoy your life?’”


The Business of Baseball is Fascinating and Not Fun

This is a tough one. Deadspin’s Marc Normandin does a hell of a job explaining Major League Baseball’s cold stove offseason within a historical context, but his story also had me considering what I look for in the game I love.  

If it I see MLB for what it is – a multi-billion dollar business – then I can’t ignore the disputes between the union and the owners. If I only ask the game I love to entertain me, then I am a fool following this offseason as if it were a subplot on a reality show, in part enabling billionaires to fleece millionaire players as well as us fans. What MLB is, and what it is to me…reading this story had me wondering just how close (or far apart) those two points are in my mind.

Back to Normandin’s story. While there is no salary cap in baseball, there is a luxury tax. A luxury tax is essentially a soft salary cap on player payroll. A team that goes over a the ceiling ($219MM in 2019), then pays a tax on the amount over the ceiling.

Get this: the players’ union actually proposed the ideas of a “competitive balance” tax in an effort to squash the idea of a salary cap from any future negotiations. This happened back in 1997, and the initial tax was only applied to the five top-spending teams (that didn’t last). What’s more, the tax didn’t grow proportionally to the revenue earned over the next twenty years.

More important than pointing out the insignificant punishment, though, is that jump from $117 million to $206 million over the course of 16 years. MLB’s revenues grew from $3.58 billion in 2003 to 2018’s record $10.3 billion, a 188 percent jump during that period. The luxury tax ceiling, however, grew by just 68 percent in that stretch. If teams are avoiding going over the luxury tax and luxury tax growth is well below revenue growth, then your luxury cap is, at best, a soft salary cap.

However, a luxury tax is only effective if some teams choose go over the soft cap and pay the tax. If teams like the Yankees and Dodgers – organizations that typically set the market for free agents because they have the most money to spend – are not going over the soft cap, then all the other teams can bid for players at a lower rate.

All of this is to repeat a point TOB has been underscoring several times over the offseason: owners are making so much goddamn money – regardless of whether they have a great team or players – that they are not too eager to drop something in excess of $300MM on a single player. Whether or not it makes the team better – what we all care about – that is a shitty business investment 99 times out of 100, and that’s what the owners care about.

Normandin’s article goes into greater detail on the history of collusion in MLB, free agency, and past collective bargaining negotiations over the years. It’s a pretty fascinating read in which he compiles and references a bunch of other excellent writing on the subject, but it all makes me feel very far away from a day game with a beer in one hand and dog in the other while making dollar bets on mound ball. – PAL

Source: How MLB’s Luxury Tax Became A Salary Cap Because Of Decades Of Failure”, Marc Normandin, Deadspin (01/30/2019)

TOB: Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but following this stuff and understanding the dynamics of what is going on behind the scenes adds to my enjoyment. If I didn’t, I’d be pulling my hair out and screaming, “WHY DON’T THE GIANTS GO GET MACHADO OR HARPER!!!!!?!?!?!?!?” Well, actually, I’m almost there, anyways. But when I see fans on Twitter yelling at the Giants beat writers about how the Giants aren’t doing anything, it’s nice to have an idea of why things are the way they are.


Build Your Baseball Dream Team

These things are dumb but fun.

I’m not even sure who created this, but I like it: Using the list above, create the best team you can, with one player from each position, with a salary cap of $33. Before you continue, please make your list.

 

 

Done? Good. Here were our initial lists:

TOB:

SP: Kershaw $1

C: Posey $3

1B: Pujols $5

2B: Cano $2

3B: Arenado $2

SS: A-Rod $5

LF: Bonds $5

CF: Trout $5

RF: Sheffield $1

DH: Edgar $3

CL: Kimbrel $1

Total: $33

PAL:

SP: Pedro $2

C: Posey $3

1B: Pujols $5

2B: Kent $1

3B: Arenado $2

SS: Jeter $3

LF: Manny $3

CF: Griffey $4

RF: Ichiro $5

DH: Edgar $3

CL: Jansen $2

Total: $33

After making my initial list, I wondered what the optimal list would be. From Baseball Reference, I obtained the 7-year peak WAR for each player available. I chose 7-year WAR because, in part, it was pre-totaled for me by Baseball Reference, but also because it seems like a reasonable estimate of a player’s sustained peak – we want the best a player has to offer, while controlling for a single outlier season by taking a larger time span, and controlling for players with lower peaks but more longevity.

I then averaged each player’s 7-year peak WAR by dividing by 7 to obtain their average single season WAR over their 7-year peak. The exceptions here are Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado, who have only played 4 and 5 full seasons, respectively. I divided by 4 and 5 for each of them to make things fair, but I do acknowledge this could potentially inflate the numbers for those two if they tail off the next couple years. But by doing this, I figure I’m creating the single best team possible, given the parameters, for one season of play.

I then totaled the average WAR over their 7-year peak for the teams we selected. My team totaled 78.04 WAR. Phil’s team totaled 68.19 WAR. Sorry, bud. But, a theoretical team of replacement players totaling a WAR of zero are expected to win 52 games in a 162 game season. Thus, the team I created would be expected to win 130 games, and Phil’s team would be expected to win 120 games. A fine showing, indeed!

But, while I had ten more wins than Phil (ahem), it made me wonder – how close to optimal had I come?

To find out, I sorted the players at each position by the average WAR over their 7-year peak. From this, I was easily able to select the best team possible, without the imposed “salary cap” of $33. Those players are: Clemens, Piazza, Pujols, Cano, Boggs, A-Rod, Bonds, Trout, Mookie, Frank Thomas, and Mariano Rivera. Their WAR totaled 87.73 for a single season. But they also went way over the salary cap at a cost of $44. To find the optimal lineup, I had to shave $11 off the cap spend while minimizing the corresponding loss in WAR.

To help, I created a new column showing how much WAR I’d lose by downgrading from the top option at each position. I then set out evaluating the results at that point. Some of the top players at each position were severely undervalued by whoever made the salary cap. For example, Cano was the top producing second baseman, but only cost $2. That was a smart choice by me. Similarly, Mookie Betts was way out ahead of any other right fielder, but only cost $3. My selection of Sheffield was thus bad, as it saved me $2 from Betts but cost me 3.37 WAR. Other players, like Bonds cost a lot at $5, but was 2.16 WAR over the next highest left fielder, Rickey Henderson (and Bonds nearly 5 WAR over the third highest left fielder). Here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet at that point:

I wish I had the Excel skillz to have typed in some fancy formula to give me the highest in each group without exceeding the salary cap, but I don’t. So instead I studied the table and slowly started making changes that seemed to minimize the hit to my WAR while maximizing the reduction to my cost. Eventually, I came to the following starting lineup, but perhaps you can find a more optimal one:

SP: Pedro

C: Mauer

1B: Bagwell

2B: Cano

3B: Boggs

SS: Ripken

LF: Bonds

CF: Trout

RF: Mookie

DH: Edgar

CL: Kimbrel

Total cost: $33; Total WAR: 81.35 (6.38 lower than the highest possible, and a mere 3.31 WAR above my initial selections.

My initial choices are pretty darn good, all things considered. I originally had good value with low cost picks like Kimbrel and Cano. I didn’t do as well on guys like Posey and Kershaw. And I used my big dollars in good spots, like with Bonds and Trout. The worst picks were anyone other than Bonds (and if you HAD to pick someone other than Bonds, than especially anyone other than Rickey), and anyone at shortstop other than A-Rod and Ripken.

How’d you do? Leave your team in the comments, especially if you found a more optimal lineup than the one I came up with in the end. Like I said, a dumb but fun exercise. -TOB

Source: Tweet by Dallas Braden“, Twitter (01/29/2019)

PAL: My team is awesome and clutch. I think, to understand it, you have to think about the team within a batting order:

  1. Ichiro (9)
  2. Edgar (DH)
  3. Pujols (3)
  4. Junior (8)
  5. Manny (7)
  6. Arenado (5)
  7. Kent (4)
  8. Buster (2)
  9. Jeter (6)

SP: Pedro, Closer: Jansen

OH MY GOD THAT TEAM IS CLUTCH.


A Football Life

Footballs, also known as pigskins, are made of cowhide. Let’s get that out of the way from the jump. The journey from the farm to the Super Bowl has many checkpoints along the way, and the process has been more or less the same for 77 years. MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler tracked the complete process, and it’s a pretty fascinating, insightful story. We’re talking big machines, big animals, some blood and guts, and a lot of manual labor. There’s something some much more interesting in that process than a robot assembly line.

Of course, the first step is turning cows into hide. Farmers refer taking livestock to slaughter simply “moving”.  Then the butchers do their job with the beef. Butchers always refer to livestock as the consumer good. Then the meat is separated from the hide, and then the hide is stacked, salted and cured.

Eventually, the hides end up at a Tannery in Chicago. Every Wilson football has been made here at Horween Leather Co. for 77 years.  

There’s a framed antique photo of his great-grandfather, Isadore, who founded the business in 1905 after emigrating from Ukraine. Isadore is standing next to his wife, Rose, and their two sons, Ralph and Arnold, who would grow up to play football at Harvard and then professionally for the Chicago Cardinals. (Arnold, Skip’s grandfather, was also a player-coach for the Cardinals.) Below the family photo there’s a black-and-white picture of Arnold with Knute Rockne at Harvard’s spring practice in ’29. Pro football was a small fraternity back then, and the Horween brothers were friendly with another Chicago player-coach: George Halas. That relationship is how the family business became the only leather supplier for Wilson, tanning every NFL football for the past 77 seasons. “How important is luck?” Skip says. “We just happened to know a guy.”

Only after all of this can the footballs be inspected and placed into three categories: game use, practice use, or retails. “Game balls” in the stores are the worst of the lot.

Kahler’s football ends up on the Cincinnati Bengals practice ball for kickers. A better fate for the cow than a McDonald’s burger, I suppose.

A fun read. – PAL

Source: From Farm to Field, and Every Point Between: How a Cow Becomes a Football”, Kalyn Kahler, MMQB (01/31/19)


Videos of the Week

Evolutionary Vlade Divac:

Bonus (click through):


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week

Willie Nelson – “Midnight Rider” (Allman Brothers cover)

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXVNwdbBtwKSKDSve4quaUE46FCEm5ib-


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“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

-Ron Swanson