Week of March 29, 2019

Bryce Harper with the advanced level pandering.

Entertainment Almost Always Matters More

A few baseline statements before we get into yet another NCAA scandal story, because I can all but feel you rolling your eyes and considering if this one’s worth your time:

  • NCAA football and basketball players are absolutely getting paid under the table
  • These payments are pervasive. This isn’t a bad apple brand or booster or AAU coach; this is happening all over.
  • Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and any other brand that fancies itself a player is paying kids

I appreciated this story because it underscores the exploitative scum is on all sides. It’s not just a shoe company, or the AAU weirdos, or the coaches; it’s also the folks on the other side making a gross situation even more despicable.

In case you haven’t heard, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer is in a bit of trouble on this one. Michael Avenatti tried to threaten Nike into a big payout, and it did not go according to plan:

According to federal prosecutors, Avenatti told the billion-dollar company that he represented a former AAU coach who had proof of Nike paying players and he would keep quiet about it, for a price. The charging documents read like Avenatti had watched too many mob movies. They say he wanted $1.5 million for his client, and $3 million for himself. Then he wanted $5 million, then $7 million, then $9 million, then between $15 million and $25 million. After a negotiation that was secretly recorded, Avenatti allegedly lowered his price to $22.5 million to get rid of it in “one fell swoop.”

“I just wanna share with you what’s gonna happen if we don’t reach a resolution,” Avenatti said, according to the unsealed complaint. “As soon as this becomes public, I am going to receive calls from all over the country and all kinds of people—this is always what happens—and they are going to say I’ve got an email or a text message or—now, 90 percent of that is going to be bullshit because it’s always bullshit 90 percent of the time, always, whether it’s R. Kelly or Trump, the list goes on and on—but 10 percent of it is actually going to be true, and then what’s going to happen is that this is going to snowball… and every time we got more information, that’s going to be the Washington Post, the New York Times, ESPN, a press conference, and the company will die—not die, but they are going to incur cut after cut after cut after cut, and that’s what’s going to happen as soon as this thing becomes public.”

In another recording, as described in the complaint, Avenatti tells Nike he is going to “take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap.”

Doesn’t that make you feel all warm inside? Ever since the threat of a huge NCAA basketball scandal surfaced last year, I’ve been waiting for the crossroads moment when it becomes impossible to ignore the scam that is big time college sports. I wait, and while I wait I consume both the games and the criticism of the system. I watch the games. I read the stories. I share the stories. I embed the highlights.

NCAA basketball is an awesome scam, and Zion Williams highlights are awesome, too, so we consume both. Sports became entertainment the moment each of us realized we would never play for [insert your favorite childhood team]. It’s odd to say this, but the entertainment matters much more than almost any terrible truth.

Millions of people still watch football when we all know there’s at a fair chance it causes brain trauma in a lot of people who play it. Most of us believe that pretty much any big time college basketball player is getting paid under the table. A lot of athletes take PEDs. Tennis has a match-fixing issue. Greyhounds are jacked up on god knows what so we can gamble on a m-f’ing race, only to be killed whenever they are no longer useful at the track. All of that absolutely matters less than our entertainment.

With that in mind, of course the public just doesn’t give a shit when shitty people like Michael Avenatti go after shitty companies like Nike, especially when March Madness is on and the great entertainment of a massive single elimination tourney takes place.

Dan McQuade sums it up far more eloquently:

In theory, this could lead to broader discussions in politics and law enforcement of the NCAA cartel and the expected result of black markets when anything (be it drugs or “earning power from basketball”) is restricted. The NCAA helped create this situation, where players or players’ families and handlers are paid in secret by shoe companies in order to steer them to universities. Sneaker companies exploit it. Avenatti allegedly tried to weasel some money out of the system for himself, too.

Avenatti might have tried to style himself as a hero, but all he did was allegedly use the same corrupt system for himself too.

Can I still claim to care about the fairytale of amateurism represented by the NCAA, or is the threat of its collapse is just another bit of entertainment? – PAL

Source: Whatever Michael Avenatti Has On Nike, No One Really Gives A Shit”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (03/27/19)

TOB: The headline is so true. I heard about this story when Avenatti was arrested this week, but didn’t hear a single whisper of his tweets last week where he hinted he’d be revealing some big scandal involving Nike. The Adidas story got a lot of coverage when the arrests were made, but the trial ended with barely a ripple.

I just can’t believe it’s 2019 and college players still can’t be paid. You may have read about or seen Tom Izzo’s explosion at one of his players during the first round of the tournament. After the game, Izzo defended himself in part by saying this:

Ohh, now it’s a PROFESSION? College basketball players have a JOB!? I don’t know about YOU, Tom, but if I wasn’t being paid at my “job”, I wouldn’t be too concerned with being held accountable. What a joke.


On the surface, this story is about a niche group of folks, known as chasers, who go to great lengths in pursuit of seeing a game in every baseball minor league stadium (there are 149 in all). Like most snapshots of extreme hobbyists, this is a story full of random oddities that seem a bit foolish to regular people. I love baseball, but eagerly awaiting minor league schedule announcements in the offseason so I can plan a complex road trip peppered with cheap motels (is there any other kind?) and gas station food is not my idea of time well spent.

Logistics and obsessive pursuits aside, these chasers are onto something special: a pretty comprehensive mosaic of America and convincing evidence that baseball remains America’s pastime. Per Joe DeLessio:

A tour of Major League parks takes a traveler exclusively to stadiums in or near major cities. But an attempt to hit all 159 affiliated Minor League parks — for the record, that number includes the one in Jupiter, Florida, that’s shared by two teams — effectively forces a chaser to explore towns big and small, all across the country. Chasers initially set out on these trips because they like baseball, but the pursuit means that they wind up seeing the country in ways that most people never will.

“If every Minor League team is a reflection of its community, then there’s 160 teams that taken together are a reflection of America,” says the Brooklyn-based writer Benjamin Hill.

Later in the story, this point resonated:

The idea of baseball as the national game—something fundamentally and uniquely American, and rooted in something deeper than branding—is much more persuasive at levels where the stadiums are not named for major financial institutions or tech concerns.

Isn’t that something? Maybe this has been obvious to many of you for some time. Not to me. It’s a relief to read a fresh thought in an era of sports writing so constipated with reactions to reactions to reactions. – PAL

Source: “The Best Way To See America Is To Visit Every Last Minor League Ballpark”, Joe DeLessio, Deadspin (03/27/19)

TOB: I would love to find myself in a place in life where I had the time and financial security to try this. Because I really love minor league baseball. Last summer, we had to end our stay at the Lair of the Bear early due to all the smoke from the Yosemite fire. We had time off work, but the places we could go that weren’t blanketed with smoke were few. We stopped for lunch in a small town and eventually I thought, “We should find a minor league game!”

I scoured the schedules of every minor league level, and somehow my only options that night were the Stockton Ports and the Visalia Rawhide (the A-ball affiliates for the A’s and Diamondbacks, respectively). Because we were much closer to Stockton and it would set us up better to finish the week in Santa Cruz as we’d decided, we went with the Ports.

What a night! And so cheap! For $8 a ticket we got front row seats behind the Ports’ dugout. Front row! $8! And there were just a few other people in our section – grizzled locals who love baseball so friggin much that they come to Class A games by themselves on a Wednesday night. The Ports had a fun kids meal deal – for like $10 the kids got vouchers for different items to be picked up at various junctures of the game (hot dog in the 2nd, ice cream in the 5th, etc.). The stadium was right on the river, and we got a hotel room right next door, so we could walk there. Jack got a foul ball, and a player even handed him a ball at the side of the dugout.

Which is all to say: I get this story. I get it completely. I get why “chasers” do it. And I totally agree with the thesis – that it’s a hell of a way to see America – even if that isn’t consciously in the “chasers’” minds when they start. I don’t feel a compulsion to see all of the minor league stadiums, but if I’m somewhere new and I don’t have anything to do, I’m always wondering if there’s a baseball game to go see. Great read.

Video of the Week

Tweets of the Week

PAL Song of the Week

Bob Dylan – Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (More Blood, More Tracks version)

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“I have got to make sure YouTube comes down to tape this.”

-Michael Scott

Week of March 22, 2019

Pretty much sums up everything great about going to a game. Photo: Al Bello

The Best Baseball Player Is Paid A Lot, But Is It “Enough”?

On the heels of the Phillies’ signing Bryce Harper to a 13 year, $330M contract ($25M per year, which is frankly a relative bargain), came news this week that the Angels had come to an agreement on a massive extension with Mike Trout, the best baseball player in the world.

The total: a 10 year extension for $360M ($36M per year), and on top of what Trout is owed the next two seasons, he’ll be paid $426.5M over the next 12 years. It’s the biggest total deal in American sports history, and so much more than Harper got, fairly.

But was it as much as Trout could have gotten? When Harper signed with the Phillies, I joked that the Giants should go after Trout when he becomes a free agent in two years with an unfathomable sum:

(Pardon my language!) A billion was obviously never going to happen. But what is a “fair” amount for Trout, who has been the best in the league pretty much since he was called up in 2011. First, a caveat from Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer:

We’ll stipulate something that hardly needs to be said: If making $426.5 million is a problem, it’s one we’d all like to have. It’s never easy to argue that an athlete is underpaid even though he’ll make far more money in a decade than most of us can imagine making in multiple lifetimes. Admittedly, in a world where earnings were parceled out by an all-knowing entity based on societal utility or Good Place points, not even Trout would make so much more than the average citizen. In this world, though, the money that’s now going to Trout wasn’t going to go to teachers or ticket buyers or hungry minor leaguers, but to Angels owner Arte Moreno. Begrudging Trout the millions he’s making is akin to being upset that Moreno isn’t making more.

Seconded! Got it? Good. Ok. So, how good has Trout been? Well, Trout is the best player ever through his age-26 season:

Or how about: this winter, Harper and Manny Machado signed for a combined $55M per season. Since their rookie years in 2012, though, Trout has been better than Harper and Machado combined (Trout: 64.0 WAR; Harper+Machado: 60.9 WAR). So is Trout worth $55 million per year? Maybe! He’s projected to produce something around 80 WAR over the next ten years, and he only has to produce 44.5 WAR to make this deal a win for the Angels:

In other words, Trout will be paid a lot, but it very likely won’t be nearly enough. As Lindbergh says, “The problem for Trout is that he’s too good to be paid exactly what he’s worth.”

I’ll also add this: after mostly seeing him on highlights and box scores the last 8 years, I was very excited to watch him Trout for three days in a row when the Giants traveled to Anaheim last season. He did not disappoint: He hit 6/12 with three dingers and two doubles, a walk and a stolen base, good for a batting average of .500 and an OPS of 2.129 (!!). Every time he came up I was terrified. It was Bondsian. -TOB

Source: Mike Trout Isn’t Worth $430 Million – He’s Worth Much More”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (03/19/2019)

PAL: This is the first time I wish I was an economist. TOB highlights the key caveat to Linbergh’s article: yes, $426MM is an unfathomable amount of money, so the rest of this is more or less an fun exercise on quantifying how good Trout is at baseball. But for the greatest of the greats, I wonder if we can quantify their value in dollars relative to what other players make. There’s something more to it, and I’m going to try to put my finger on it here. These are half-baked:

  • At what point is the dollar the wrong unit to measure the value of an asset? My dad likes to say, “A buck’s a buck.” At some astronomical number, does the value of a dollar mean less than it does at a lower point? And at what point is that? 
  • $1,000,000 is a huge number unless it’s $1,000,000 within $500,000,000. More specifically, it’s .2%. That is a relatively miniscule amount. There is no felt difference between $426MM (Trout) and $360MM (Harper) to everyone on the planet except for about 5,000 people.
  • How could Mike Trout truly be worth $1B really over the course of his career if the Angels franchise is worth maybe $2B? In comparison to other players – sure – he’s undervalued. In comparison to asset of a team he seems he would be overvalued?
  • The last five years of this contract will still suck. Players don’t decline at a consistent rate.  He’ll likely earn the money in the first chunk of the contract (can any single person “earn” that amount of money?), but I bet this gets painful to watch.
  • God, it really sucks he plays for the Angels.

TOB: When you consider Trout is as productive as Machado and Harper, then you are essentially getting production from two fringe-MVP level players at one position. That allows an incredible flexibility – they can pay Trout and then fill the second spot with a light hitting defensive wizard, or a cheap replacement level player, or they can go big and try to sign another good/great player for an embarrassment of riches. That’s why I think Trout is “worth” something along the lines of 90% what Harper+Machado are paid (allowing for around $5M to go to that second player). And, keep in mind, in terms of average annual value, Harper’s deal was well under market.

So, even given the slow market this year, Harper and Machado still did get big deals. If Trout were a free agent this year or next (which he won’t be and wouldn’t have been even without this deal), I do think somewhere around 8 years, $400M was in play, and he might have talked someone into 10 years, $500M.

Regarding the team’s value vs what he could be paid: First, a billion was never going to happen. But I do think your question is comparing apples and oranges. “Value” isn’t the same as revenue. The Angels will certainly pull in multiple billions of dollars over the course of the deal. This is simplified, but in 2018, MLB teams pulled in a collective $10.3 billion. That’s roughly $350 million per team. Over the next 12 years, that’s $4.2 billion, and that’s not assuming any increases in inflation or revenue.

Retirements Let The Writers Sing

When a true great retires, one treat we get is a great sportswriter showing what they can do with an entire career from which to pull. Barry Petchesky is one of my favorite sportswriters. We featured a lot of his articles on 1-2-3 Sports!. Ichiro’s retirement – in Japan after a MLB game – is the type of occasion for Petchesky to bring his fastball (emphasis mine):

For that he can thank his insane training methods and commitment—he once claimed he swore off taking vacations after a weeklong trip to Italy in the winter of 2004 threw off his exercise schedule. Again, it’s kind of hard to believe that’s true—but Ichiro apocrypha is one of baseball’s treasures. We expect foreign players to arrive attached to legends too good to check, but Ichiro created his own myths, even here, before our eyes and cameras and notepads. How he was reliably a beast in batting practice and could’ve hit 40 home runs a year if he wanted to be that type of player. (Barry Bonds once said Ichiro could win the Home Run Derby.) How he could instantly discern a good bat from a bad bat by tapping the barrel once with his fingernail. How he had no idea who Tom Brady was. How he would shit-talk opposing players in their own language, English or Spanish. Were these stories true? Does it matter? For Ichiro as for no other player, certain things felt possible.

That’s the good stuff.

If it’s hard for you to understand just how much Ichiro meant to baseball (it was for me) – not just Japanese baseball, but baseball – look no further than this clip:

Yusei Kikuchi is a 27 year old rookie. That’s what happens when you meet a legend in real life.

Consider this: Ichiro has been playing professional baseball since I was a freshman. In high school. Great writing, and – damn – Ichiro can still throw for a 45 year old. Let’s get him a manager job in MLB right now.  – PAL

Source: Ichiro Forever”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (03/21/19)

TOB: That video was fantastic. Kikuchi said he grew up idolizing Ichiro:“Mr. Ichiro is kind of a person in the sky, a legend. I don’t know if he really exists.” Masahiro Tanaka, who played with Ichiro for a year with the Yankees had a similar sentiment: ”

“He is a legend in Japan. To me, he was in some other category, out of reach, out of reality. When I was small and I would watch TV, he was one of the biggest superstars in Japanese baseball. It wasn’t something that I could realistically relate to. But for me, he was always somebody unreachable, like somebody above the clouds.”

I also want to point out how emotional Felix Hernandez is in the video, just before Kikuchi appears. King Felix’s career is winding down, but he came up as a 19-year old in 2005, and played the next 8 seasons with Ichiro. You can imagine how much he looked up to Ichiro. What a cool thing.

How A Minor Move May Actually Be a Large Domino, Or: How to Be a Great Beat Writer

Andrew Baggarly is one of my favorite beat writers (really, Giants fans have an embarrassment of riches feeding them info – in the booth and on the page). He’s whip smart (he won Jeopardy, you know!), funny, and knows what he’s talking about. The story he wrote about a trade the GIants made this week involving two minor leaguers is a perfect example of how well he sees the big picture.

The Giants traded minor league pitcher Jordan Johnson to the Reds for minor league utility man Connor Joe. 

Looking at this on a transaction log, I wouldn’t even blink. But Baggs grabs you right away:

[I]f those names don’t trigger an emotional response, then perhaps this will: Pablo Sandoval’s chances of making the Giants’ Opening Day roster just took a major hit.

Wait, what? Then he tells you why the trade for Joe is important:

Last December, the Reds plucked Joe away from the Dodgers at the Winter Meetings. Now that the Giants have acquired Joe, the same Rule 5 provisions apply: he must remain on the 25-man big-league roster all season or be offered back to the Dodgers for half the $100,000 claiming price.

At this late stage, it’s hard to imagine the Giants sacrificing a durable minor-league pitcher like Johnson, who made 26 solid if unspectacular starts between Double A and Triple A last season, if they didn’t intend to carry Joe on their Opening Day roster.

Then he breaks down the math of the Giants’ Opening Day roster and why Panda might be impacted:

If the Giants carry 13 pitchers and limit themselves to a four-man bench, they’d need spots for:

— Joe

— backup catcher René Rivera

— at least one backup outfielder (Cameron Maybin? Mike Gerber? Henry Ramos?) capable of spelling Steven Duggar in center

— and at least one backup infielder (Alen Hanson? Yangervis Solarte?) capable of spelling Brandon Crawford at shortstop

Hanson is out of options as well. He cannot be sent to the minors without exposing him to waivers.

Sandoval does have a minor-league option, actually. But he has enough service time to refuse an assignment and immediately elect free agency.

Then he breaks down some deeper ramifications for losing Panda:

It’s a move that would come as a shock to some of their core players. Prior to Thursday’s pregame workout, one of their stars appeared dumbfounded when I raised the very real possibility that Sandoval would not survive to Opening Day.

And if Sandoval, the 2012 World Series MVP, loses his place to a 26-year-old newcomer who hasn’t played a day in the big leagues? It’s going to be a tough one for the clubhouse to understand or accept.

There’s more, and I recommend you read it. It’s to smart, informative, and to the point. Like I said, that’s some damn good beat writing. -TOB

Source: Why the Giants’ Minor Trade with the Reds Could Become a Much Bigger Deal Within the Clubhouse”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (03/21/2019)

PAL: The Red Sox are paying Pablo $18MM to not play for them this year. Suck it, Rabeni. I know your Boston Sports kids expect to win every title every year, but still, suck it.

How To Use (And Not Use) New Information in Baseball: A Case Study

As baseball teams continue to get smarter and continue to use modern technology to gather new information previously unavailable, they are faced with a challenge: how do you present information like launch angle and spin rate to players in a manner that allows them to digest it and put it to good use.

Likewise, players are faced with a challenge: how do you react to new information, especially when it contradicts something you believe? There are hundreds of big leaguers, and many hundreds more minor leaguers and college players, and the reactions to how players accept the new information undoubtedly run the gamut.

In a recent article in the Chronicle on the topic, two stark reactions were placed in contrast. In my opinion, one of those was Good; the other was Bad.

First, the Good, from fringe major leaguer Ray Black, who touches 99 MPH on his fastball but has struggled in his short career to consistently locate his breaking balls:

On the pitching side, Black can cite specific ways tracking data have helped him.

He recalled an encounter last season with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who kept fouling off sliders until Black threw another and got the strikeout. Moments later, Schwartze asked Black what he did differently on the final pitch because the spin was better.

“I went back to the video trying to see exactly what it was that got the swing and miss,” he said. “I got some extra spin rate on it. It had to deal with a little bit of extension and staying on top of the ball a little better.”

That sent Black into study mode.

“How can I try to mirror that?” he said. “How can I throw that pitch more frequently and consistently so I have tighter spin, more spin, and have better depth on my slider instead of side-to-side movement?”

Black showed an excellent attitude toward new information and an even better job of understanding that new information and then implementing what he learned.

And, now, The Bad, from Jeff Samardzija:

“They can bring anything new in and odds are I’m just going to keep it at arm’s length because I want to keep it as simple as possible,” Samardzija said. “To me, it’s a simple game and I don’t want to make it any more complicated than it is.”

Hey, Jeff. You’re 33 years old and you have been better than league average (100 ERA+) just once since 2014. Maybe you could try an open mind, instead of getting paid millions to suck, buddy. -TOB

Source: How the Giants are Elevating Baseball Innovation in S.F.”, Hank Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle (03/19/2019)

Video(s) of the Week: So cool

And this one, c/o Pep from work:

Tweets of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: YEBBA – ‘Evergreen’

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I had a very good thing going with David Wallace. He was a good guy, was somebody I could trust. There he is. [picks up a framed photo of him and David] You can really see that he is ok taking a picture with me. Even though I was there for disciplinary reasons.

-M. Gary Scott

Week of March 15, 2019

Up, up, and away!

College Admission Soft Spot: Sports No One Cares About

Comment: If you’re going to cheat, take a little pride in it and use the correct hand!

I didn’t fully understand just how quickly this story would turn into an ongoing national discussion, but holy hell, it’s sure taken off. In case you’ve been on vacation on some remote island, here’s the gist:

The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.

Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children’s chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches to identify the applicants as athletes.

While I’m not surprised people are taking shortcuts to get their kids into colleges, it’s interesting to see how secondary athletic teams were identified as a weak link in the admission chain. And the amount of coin going into this operation is insane – $25MM!

For every one of these rich, underachieving kids whose parents couldn’t stand the thought of telling their other rich friends that little Jimmy is going to Chico State, there is a deserving kid who busted his or her ass, only to be rejected. College is supposed to be a way for people to move lower class to middle class, from middle class to upper class. College should be the glowing, unassailable beacon of meritocracy. This whole operation is a blowtorch to that idea.

Of course, this is not the dawn of rich people getting their kids into colleges by way of a check, but there’s something more transparent about a rich asshole cutting a check for a new library at the school.

With all that said up front, let’s have a little fun with this. Some observations:

  • USC…hahahahaha! When’s the last time this school wasn’t neck deep in an athletic scandal?
  • USC – Good school, but $500K good, Aunt Becky?
  • I can understand these coaches being on the take. How sick are they of constantly standing aside and letting the football and basketball programs (winning teams or losing teams) have the run of the place. They got paid simply to list kids as recruits to ease the admission process; the students never played on the actual teams.
  • A Yale soccer coach was paid $400K (what the f*&$) to list a girl as a recruit. That has to be at least 3x the coach’s yearly salary. The ‘recruits’ family paid $1.2M (again what the f) to get their daughter into Yale.

Lastly, I’d like to note that neither Augustana University nor Cal have been linked to this scam in any way…yet. – PAL

Source: Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman among 50 charged in college admissions scheme”, Tom Winter, Pete Williams, Julia Ainsley and Rich Schapiro, NBC News (03/12/19)

TOB: Two things I want to get out of the way before addressing the admissions scam. First: Stanford has a SAILING team? What kind of WASPY crap is that? Classic Stanford.

Second: I must take umbrage with two things Phil said about USC. First of all, you can take the “athletic” qualifier out of his question and just ask when is the last time USC wasn’t involved in a scandal? Last summer, USC’s president Max Nikias resigned amid a sexual abuse scandal involving the school’s longtime gynecologist George Tyndall, not unlike the one occurred at Michigan State involving Larry Nassar. From the LA Times:

The Times reported that in a career spanning nearly three decades, Tyndall was the subject of repeated complaints from staff and patients about inappropriate comments and touching. The university barred him from treating patients only after a nurse, frustrated that her complaints had gone ignored, reported Tyndall to the campus rape crisis center.

An internal investigation concluded that Tyndall had sexually harassed students and performed pelvic exams that departed from current medical standards. Yet administrators and USC’s general counsel struck a secret deal with Tyndall, allowing him to resign with a financial payout.

Next regarding the quality of USC as a university: Over the last thirty years, as the US News and World Report college rankings (whose methodology is extremely biased in favor of private schools) have grown in popularity, USC has done all it could to game the system. The rankings began in 1983, and USC didn’t make the list until 1996, when they debuted at 44. By 2007, they had jumped to 27, and presently sit at 23. How did they game the system? Here is a partial list of how USNWR computes their rankings and the percent of weight each category receives: Student Retention/Graduation (22.5%); Faculty Resources (income and faculty/student ratio) (20%); Dollars spent per student (10%); Alumni Giving Rate (5%). As the Forbes article I linked above notes:

Relatively affluent institutions that bring in relatively affluent students will simply perform better in these rankings. This fact puts public universities, which have historical drawn from a wider socioeconomic range of students than their private counterparts, and whose funding per student has been increasingly cut by state legislatures, at a marked disadvantage.

USC gamed the system by intentionally raising their scores on those categories. The goal was not making the best university but increasing their ranking. Gross, and so very USC.

Back to the scandal. At first I thought it was really funny (and some aspects, like the athlete photoshopping details are very funny), but the more I think about it the more insidious it is.

It’s a perfect microcosm showing how the elite stay elite on the backs of everyone else. Lori Loughlin’s kid had no business being in college. She didn’t even want to be there, except to party. But she took a spot from someone who desperately wanted to be there and who had worked hard for it.

I don’t know why it shocked me that the Stanford sailing coach would accept a bribe to give a fake scholarship, but it did. I don’t know why it shocked me that people would fake athlete profiles to admit students through the side door. I don’t know why it shocked me that people have been able to bribe SAT proctors to allow students to cheat, and to even allow someone to come in after a test and change the student’s answers, but it really friggin did.

From NY Mag:

Wealthy parents don’t usually have to resort to rigging college admissions through fraud, or even through charitable giving. They don’t need to. Their advantages are broad. In the United States, people with millions in the bank can always afford a side door — to private high schools or wealthy neighborhoods with better public schools, to test prep and tutors. They can afford to visit doctors when their children are sick and pay professionals to treat learning disabilities. Their children don’t need to work on top of going to school. They have such an edge, in so many different categories, that it is often impossible to catch up with them at all.

We all know our society is not fair, and the wealthy have so many advantages, on a sliding scale, over everyone else. Even in college admissions. I wanted to believe that, even as the NY Mag excerpt above notes the inequities in college admissions, that there was some semblance of meritocracy. But this really lays bare that it isn’t. And that’s why I stopped laughing about this story.

The Cathedral Is Empty

I was surprised to find a NY Times article about University of Minnesota hockey. The Gophs aren’t typical fodder for a global news source. What’s more, the article is about how the once all-powerful U (for real, that’s what we call the University of Minnesota) hockey program has become an also-ran in the state of hockey. And that’s just the way legendary coach and Minnesota icon Herb Brooks wanted it.

I posted about another story detailing the unlikely detour Herb Brooks took in coaching a D-III St. Cloud State team in 1986 as the program transitioned to D-I. I’m still struck by how remarkable his time at St. Cloud St. truly is. This guy had already won three national titles with the iconic University of Minnesota, the 1980 Olympic gold over the USSR in what is considered the greatest game/moment in sports history, and coached the New York Rangers. This dude comes back to coach a D-III after all of that. One of the reasons Brooks took the job was to create more opportunities for Minnesota kids to play college hockey. Until then, there were two options – University of Minnesota and UM, Duluth. The college hockey landscape has changed a lot since then.

Last year, Bob Motzko left St. Cloud St. to take the head coach job at UM. As writer Pat Brozi characterizes it, this was a lateral move. It’s correct, and it’s also insane. College hockey is alive and well in Minnesota, but Gopher hockey has fallen hard. There are several factors to consider:

  1. Moving conferences – from the WCHA to the Big 10 – eliminated pretty every rivalry that fans cared about.
  2. Mariucci Arena – an incredible college hockey venue with luxury boxes and all the modern accommodations – was opened in 1993. The same year the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas. The Wild, the current Minnesota NHL franchise, didn’t start playing until 2001. For 8 years, the Gophers had a brand new arena, were the biggest hockey game in town featuring the best home-grown talent playing in WCHA rivalries. Gopher season tickets were hot!
  3. Up until 1999, UM coaches emphasized recruiting Minnesota natives (Doug Woog, 1986-1999, only recruited Minnesota players) – this grew the sport at the high school level. The dream wasn’t to play in the NHL; the dream was to play for Gophers. The Minnesota State High School tourney was essentially a debut of the best players, almost all of whom would be playing for the Gophers in the years to come. This is no longer the case.
  4. After they ditched the “Minnesota-only” recruiting rule, the Gophers made a habit out of recruiting very high NHL draft picks (in hockey, a player can be drafted and still play in college). Awesome talent, no continuity from year to year. They were the hockey version Kentucky basketball.

Now, the Gophers are an unranked rebuild while St. Cloud State, Minnesota State (Mankato), and UMD are all in line for number one seeds in the NCAA tourney. The Gophers aren’t alone. As Pat Borzi writes:

The change in Minnesota reflects a nationwide trend of newer programs usurping traditional powers. Of the seven teams with five or more N.C.A.A. titles, only Denver and North Dakota are ranked. Conspicuously absent: The Gophers, Michigan, Boston College, Boston University and Wisconsin.

What happened? More schools are benefiting from an expanded pool of players, coming from Europe and nontraditional American markets like California and Florida. And recruits have discovered more paths to the Frozen Four and the N.H.L.

Over the last eight years, Minnesota Duluth, Union, Providence and Yale won their first national championships. Since 2009, the five Minnesota Division I programs (Bemidji State rounds them out) combined for seven Frozen Four appearances. Only Minnesota State failed to make it, even as a No. 1 seed in 2015.

I’ve been thinking about what the football or basketball equivalent of this situation would be. Alabama being unranked while UAB wins multiple national titles. Duke missing out on the NCAA tourney for five years while UNC-Wilmington racks two Final Four appearances.

Look, I understand there’s a good chunk of our readers that don’t care about college hockey, but I can’t get over it. Gopher hockey is part of the of the Minnesota lore. I just can’t believe that in my lifetime we built the cathedral to Minnesota hockey, and now the cathedral is empty. – PAL

Source,Move Over, Gophers: Balance of Power Shifts in Minnesota Hockey”, Pat Borzi, The New York Times (03/13/19)

TOB: Here’s a football equivalent for you: Miami, Florida State, and Florida were three of the top 5-7 programs in the country from roughly 1980 to 2005. Now, all are relatively down, while University of Central Florida of all schools has gone from I-AA in 1996 to 25-1 over the last two years and a claim at a national title in 2017.

I liken this to what would happen to Cal rugby if more programs started taking rugby seriously. Now, Cal rugby has been incredibly dominant for almost 40 years, winning 28 national titles since 1980. Seriously: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2016, 2017. I typed those all out because it is dizzying to look at. But you’ll notice a slow down recently, including a 4 season drought from 2012 through 2015.

What happened there? It sounds similar to what Phil described with Minnesota hockey. More programs and a wider pool of players. BYU started recruiting players from the Southern Pacific Islands (they often also have an age advantage as many of their players play after returning from their missions). Other schools like St. Mary’s (who beat Cal during the regular season last year) are also nipping at Cal’s heels, as are schools you’ve probably never heard of like Life University (2018 National Champions!) and Lindenwood University (2018 Rugby 7s National Champions!).

I’ve always thought Cal Rugby’s dominance was cool, but a bit boring. They still beat teams by scores like 100-3, like they did Santa Clara last year. But they also face stiff competition that pushes them to be better. In that vein, I’m guessing Minnesota Hockey turns it around in the next few years.

Video of the Week

The last Hockey Hair video. It will be missed!

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week

Blaze Foley – “Clay Pigeons”

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It’s purely carnal, and that’s all you need to know.

-Dwight Schrute

Week of March 8, 2019

Friggin’ lefties.

Baseball Scouting Is Hard Yet Fascinating

The Ringer obtained 73,000 scouting reports from the Reds from 1991-2003, analyzed them, and this week rolled out a series of stories.

Part 1 opens with a perfect illustration of how hard it is to scout. In 1999, the Reds traded for Ken Griffey, Jr., the best player of the 90s. Ahead of the trade, a number of scouts filed reports:

“Outstanding tools across the board!” one scout wrote. “A future Hall of Famer. Is only active player with a chance to break Hank Aaron’s home run record and would like to see him do it in Cincinnati. Has ability to carry a club to the world series. Tremendous fan appeal, will sell tickets. If have a chance, would acquire.”

Another scout was even more effusive. “Best all-around player in baseball. Can do it all. IS THE MICHAEL JORDAN OF BASEBALL. Will personally sell more tickets than McGwire or Sosa. Can hit, hit with power, run, field & throw. Get 25 of this guy and you will have the best team in the history of baseball. Is a true franchise player. If you can acquire him, go get him! One of the best players in baseball that I would recommend paying top dollar for.

Look at that swing. Almost no one at that time would have disagreed with those reports. The Reds acquired him for three prospects, and almost everyone thought the Reds got a great deal. BUT!

Griffey was 30, had some worrisome injury history, and was coming off his worst statistical season. After the trade to the Reds, Griffey only played one more great season. In exchange, the Reds had given up outfielder Mike Cameron, along with two pitchers. The pitchers never amounted to much, but Cameron himself was more valuable the the Mariners in four seasons than Griffey was to the Reds in eight seasons.

Part 1 is full of interesting statistical analysis on what traits scouts seem to predict well, and which are more of a crapshoot.

Part 2 is fascinating, too. I’ve read Moneyball and seen the movie, so I understand many scouts look at, to paraphrase Billy Beane (at least in the movie; I forget if it’s in the book) how a player looked in jeans, as opposd . But this part is still pretty eye opening:

Keith Law, the ESPN prospect evaluator who worked for the Blue Jays from 2002 to 2006, says that while there may not have been big gaps between clubs in the skill of their scouting staffs in the era covered by the database, “scouting philosophies varied a lot across teams.” Sargent says that when he arrived, the Reds were “exclusively a run-and-throw organization. You draft a guy who can really run and really throw, and we’ll teach him how to hit.” The Reds, he adds, were notorious for conducting tryout camps and signing the players with the best arms and times in the 60-yard dash.

Hitting a baseball is often called the toughest thing in sports, and the Reds were like, “It’s easy. We’ll teach ‘em. Just give me a guy with a good 40-time.” That’s wild! And even wilder may be that the Reds produced a lot of talent back then. The scout referenced, Hank Sargent, was hired by the Reds in 1997. If we assume they had this “run and throw” philosophy for at least 15 years prior, the Reds produced a lot of talent in that time – Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and Paul O’Neill, to name a few. (But maybe that wasn’t a fair assumption, because after being a consistently good team (including a World Series sweep over the A’s in 1990) from 1985 through 1995, the Reds fell off a cliff starting in 1996, only winning more than 81 games twice until 2010).

I highly recommend you read part 2, where The Ringer interviews four former players – Travis Hafner, David Ross, Ben Davis, and Jeff Schmidt – and talks about what the scouts got right about them, wrong about them, and what they couldn’t possibly have known. It’s fascinating.

The Ringer also published some funny actual scouting reports. Maybe my favorite so far is this one on Albert Pujols:

Laid back approach to game. Lazy out of box. No hustle. Has some show boat in him. Lacks hard work. Don’t put in quality time in pre-game work. Ball jumps off bat. Strong swing. Hard solid contact. … Attacks ball. Shows playable carry on throws from 3B. Makes plays at 3B. Shows quick reactions. Has soft playable hands. Drifts thru stroke on swing. Will get out front and reach for balls. Still learning situations while on base. Struggles with throwing acc. when on the move. Likes pitches low in zone. Struggles with belt high and up, breaking balls away. Value to Reds in minors. ML tops. Regular on 2nd division team. Role: 3B.

That was filed one year before Pujols got to the bigs and hit .329 with 37 dingers as a rookie. What’s interesting is that the scout saw some really good things – ball jumps off bat, strong swing, solid contact, attacks, strong harm, soft hands – those are all really important skills. But he couldn’t get beyond his initial surface-level observations, that may or may not have been accurate or may or may not have been influenced by cultural differences. And even if those initial observations were accurate, they were made of a guy who was at that time just 20-years old.

(If part 3 is any good, we’ll feature it next week) – TOB

Source: “Part 1: We Got Our Hands on 73,000 Never-Before-Seen MLB Scouting Reports. Here’s What We Learned“; “Part 2:MLB Scouting Is Hard. These Four Players Prove It“; Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur, The Ringer (03/04/2019); (03/06/2019)

PAL: Really enjoyed scrolling through this scouting time capsule. For, instance, I haven’t thought about Travis Hafner in what feels like a decade, but he was a serious masher for Cleveland for a handful of years. The Jamestown, ND native always had power, but he was slow, couldn’t field and couldn’t throw. Hafner even admitted that it’s hard to scout a guy with only one skill, because it is so rare for one tool to pay off at the highest level.

Scouting a number is much more cut-and-dry approach. A 60-yard sprint time translates – it doesn’t matter how good the competition is or where someone is from. There’s no nuance to a guy that throws mid-nineties. He has Major League arm strength, period. Those numbers translate. The number of home runs Travis Hafner hits at some midwest Junior College is much harder to compare than a 60-time or a radar gun reading.

Which is why scouting catchers must be hard. The article breaks down David Ross’ scouting report. This guy played sixteen big league seasons as a catcher. Guess how many hits he has. This shocked me: 521 career hits! You don’t stick around for sixteen years, earn over $22M (that’s over 40K per hit), if you don’t bring a lot of value in other ways. Ross was a solid defensive catcher, above average thrower, but he was an excellent framer of pitches and managed a pitching staff well and had a little pop at the plate. None of the talent that kept him in the game for so long would jump out at a scout.

The flipside of David Ross is Ben Davis.

Another catcher who fits all the old scout cliches. The classic “looks good in jeans” guy. While he had a great arm and an athletic frame, Davis could never hit big league pitching. It got so bad that guys wouldn’t even bother giving them their best stuff. How about anecdote:

Davis remembers facing Mike Mussina in a game in 2002. “I was scared to death of the knuckle-curve,” Davis recalls, but Mussina threw him nothing but fastballs. Davis struck out looking twice before doubling in his third at-bat. Four years later, Davis was in Yankees camp, catching Mussina. “Hey Moose,” he said. “You’ll never remember this, but you always just threw me all fastballs. Why did you never throw me the knuckle-curve?”

“Honestly, man?” Mussina said. “I never thought I had to.”


All of this comes down to projection, but a lot of times the qualities that keep an average big leaguer around are not obvious. As Ben Lindbergh puts it:

An insatiable desire to be better, buried within an unathletic-looking frame (Hafner). A difficult-to-quantify skill set out of step with its time (Ross). A jaw-dropping, deceptive physique (Davis). Poor player development (Schmidt). These are among the many reasons why a scout might miss.

Such an interesting baseball read.

TOB: Glad you got to that Mussina/Ben Davis quote. Geeze, man. That made me laugh and wince at the same time.

Nik Mittal Was Left Open

Man, what a great story. Nik Mittal is a father of three, recipient of a couple knee surgeries, a serious Carolina Tarheels fan, and the owner of some pride.

Now, at age 47, I am a New York City dad who watches Carolina basketball obsessively with his three sons and who, after a 15 year hiatus (thanks to a couple of knee surgeries) decided to play pickup again. But on the court recently, I came to a shocking realization.

My ugly but effective left-handed heave was no longer effective. I had become the player in the pickup game who everyone leaves open from a distance.

Call it ego, but I really didn’t want to be that guy. So I turned to the only expert I knew — my 10-year-old son’s basketball coach.

Mittal swallows his pride and hires a shooting coach. More specifically, he hires a youth coach to re-teach him how to shoot.

Turns out, he has some serious work to do, because his shot is butt-ass ugly. It was embarrassing. 

But Mittal and Coach Macky work at it, starting close to the hoop and getting in a bunch of reps. Before long, there’s some recognition and improvement:

For one, I was landing with one leg practically a foot in front of the other. Macky had me stick a soccer ball between my legs and practice a series of jump shots while squeezing it between my knees.

This was surprisingly hard — either I’d brick the shot, or the soccer ball would pop out — until I focused on taking really small jumps, landing like I was on train tracks. Kavi even sort of complimented me, calling this an “advanced drill” that only the teenagers do.

I love this. Mittal isn’t grunting out 225 on the bench so he feels better looking in the mirror. Instead, his improvement has a point. Or at least more of a point. He doesn’t want to suck at the local game. Dropping a few shots in a weekend game is athletic success, and he wants that feeling playing the game he’s always loved. Go Mittal!

After some sessions with Coach Macky, Mittal goes back to the pickup game, and he’s shooting for the last spot in the next game. Read the article to find out how it ends for Mittal. – PAL

Source: “Can a Middle-Aged Dad Still Perfect His Jump Shot”, Nik Mittal, The New York Times (03/08/19)

TOB: Loved this, but especially loved when Phil called me an athletic success.

The Warriors Should Fire Bob Fitzgerald, Amen

My godddddd, I’ve been waiting years for someone to write this story. Bob Fitzgerald is a sports talk radio host on KNBR and, for some reason unknown to everyone I’ve ever talked to about him, the TV play by play announcer for the Golden State Warriors. He’s absolutely insufferable. He has zero redeeming qualities as an announcer – he doesn’t describe the action well, he doesn’t seem to have any great understanding of the game, he has a whiney voice AND he constantly whines, and on top of all those swell qualities, he’s an arrogant prick. If you’ve ever listened to his radio show, I pity you. He’s condescending to callers and overall a jerk.

This week, The Athletic’s Danny Leroux opened both barrels, with an open letter to Warriors owner Joe Lacob, calling for Lacob and the Warriors to leave Fitzgerald behind when the team moves to the Chase Center next year. Oh man, did I love it. Here’s the part I nodded along to most vigorously:

He has a penchant for turning anything that goes against the Warriors into something more nefarious than luck or the bounce of the ball, from referees that are out to get them to lucky shooters. While it is an easy trap to fall into, that mentality has been uncomfortably prevalent in the fan base for years and it may be largely explainable by having a broadcaster who speaks in those terms so frequently.

Sometimes referees just miss calls and sometimes 30-percent 3-point shooters make a few of them in a row and, like every team, the Warriors are on the positive end of those fortunate bounces frequently as well, something Fitzgerald rarely acknowledges. Thankfully, Jim Barnett notes it more often. That sets both a divisive and frustrating tone that gets some fans more aggrieved and alienates those watching the broadcast from any other perspective, including fans of the NBA or high-quality basketball more broadly. Fitzgerald’s rants on official broadcasts give the franchise a more aggressive and less professional perception without any coherent benefit, especially for one of the league’s best teams.

Amen!!!! -TOB

Source: An Open Letter to Joe Lacob — the Warriors Deserve a Better Play-by-Play Man Than Bob Fitzgerald“, Danny Leroux, The Athletic (03/08/2019)

Video/Tweet of the Week: What the hell…

PAL Song of the Week: Oddisee – “Skipping Rocks”

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I’m trying to elevate small talk to medium talk. 

-Larry David


Week of March 1, 2019

The Mirnavator. If you’re looking for some inspiration, ultra-runner Mirna Valerio has got you covered. 

The Woman Behind Free Solo

Full disclosure: I haven’t yet seen Free Solo, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary last week, though I am dying to do so; but I have seen Meru, the 2014 documentary about three climbers’ attempts in 2008 (failed) and 2011 (successful) to climb the previously never ascended Shark Fin spire of Mount Meru in the Himalayas (if you have not seen Meru, it’s on Netflix and it’s fantastic). Both films were shot/produced by wife and husband duo Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Chin served double duty – as he was one of the trio of climbers ascending Meru, while at the same time filming the team along the way).

Free Solo, if you don’t know, is a documentary about climber Alex Honnold’s incredible rope-free climb up the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Here’s the trailer:

Yeah, he’s incredible and maybe a bit insane. But while Honnold’s achievement cannot possibly be overstated no matter how hard you try, the skill and vision of the filmmakers, Vasarhelyi and Chin, should not be overlooked, either. Vasarhelyi, especially, helps bring emotion to both films.

Chin filmed the 2011 climb of Meru and put together a movie that no one was interested in distributing, as it amounted to what is known as climbing porn. Enter Vasarhelyi. She met Chin and saw so much more in the movie. She rewrote the narrative of the film and reshot interviews to “bring up the emotional quotient.” Vasarhelyi “helped break the mold of the typically bro-heavy genre of climber cinema and extreme-sports flicks in general. (See: the entire oeuvre of Warren Miller.) Meru delves into the fear and support that coexist in the families of these men.”

Meru is a fantastic film, and Vasarhelyi followed a similar pattern in Free Solo. With such a harrowing climb in progress, and the very real threat that the subject could fall to his gruesome and filmed death, the crew had a very thin tightrope to toe:

Maybe the greatest paradox of the film is that it required a monumental operation that remained invisible. Five cameramen had to be ready to be in position on the wall on just a few hours’ notice, and there was a crew of three more on the ground. There was a helicopter for big sweeping shots of the wall and aerial shots of Honnold, a speck in a red T-shirt, shimmying up the white granite. He needed to be able to decide the time of the climb based on his intuition and readiness, not on some production schedule. He needed to feel free to bail. He wanted to be filmed, but he didn’t want to feel filmed.

And how did the film turn out? Well, it won the Oscar. But as Vasarhelyi puts it, the theme of Free Solo

“…is this kid who is so scared of talking to other people that it was easier for him to climb alone, with no ropes, than to ask for a partner. I feel like we all have something in our lives like that. It was really important to see Alex’s eyes before he did it. What did his eyes look like the morning he set off?”

And what did the camera see? Vasarhelyi’s eyes light up. “He was excited.” Long pause. “And very well prepared.”

Oh man. I can’t wait to see this. -TOB

Source: Free Solo’s Director Doesn’t Give a F**k About Climbing”, Lisa Chase, Outside (09/12/2018)

TOB: This is unprecedented, but I’m replying to myself. I wrote the above on Thursday, and Thursday night decided I’d just watch the damn movie. First of all, it’s fantastic. As good as I hoped. During Honnold’s climb at the climax of the movie, I felt like I was going to puke, despite knowing that his climb would be successful.

But I have a bone to pick, now, with an editorial choice in the movie. The beginning of the featured article begins like this:

“Today I was replacing swear words. I had to do it myself. No one else can do it,” documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi says over a nouvelle Indian lunch at bohemian-cool Pondicheri in Manhattan.

In the cut I saw in June, Honnold clocks four fucks in the first eight minutes. But Free Solo was funded by National Geographic—not especially fuck friendly. So before Vasarhelyi can fly out of New York City (where she primarily works and lives, along with the couple’s young son and daughter) to join Chin in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (where he primarily works and lives), she needs to scrub the cursing. “These guys,” she says, meaning climbers, “all swear.”

I don’t hate profanity. Sometimes I think it’s important to convey emotion. But when I read the above Thursday morning, I understood – not everyone agrees with my outlook on the f-word.

But then I watched the movie and there was one spot in Honnold’s final climb that was particularly difficult. As he completed it, he turned to the mounted camera, about 2,000 feet off the Yosemite Valley floor, and smiled. He had completed something that had kept him awake at night. And he let loose his emotion: “Fuck yeah!” Except, I only know he said that because I read his lips. In the movie, they dubbed over him in post-production and he said, “Ah yeah.” It really pissed me off because there is nothing more I dislike about a movie than when something in the movie takes me out of the movie. I’m hoping there’s a director’s cut in the future, where we hear each and every “fuck” Honnold drops as he puts it all on the line to free solo El Cap.

PAL: Great call on bringing the narrative to a genre of extreme sports docs that is pretty bro-ey.

Natalie and I went to the Banff Film Festival last night (go, if you haven’t – here’s a list of dates and cities). One of the features was of a young woman climber breaking barriers. Margo Hayes is the first woman to ever climb a 5.15 grade route. Only a handful of people in the world climb 5.15, so to compare her to an Olympic champion athlete isn’t doing her justice. Interestingly enough, Honnold is featured in Margo’s doc, saying that he doesn’t even know what 5.15 holds feel like. Even for him, her accomplishment sparks amazement. Chew on that for a second and watch Margo kick ass.

Much of Margo’s story is about her single-mindedness. Older climbers openly worry that she can’t “turn it off,” so there is this narrative arc even in her story, too. Yes, the footage of adventure sports is instantly captivating, but the mental component, as well as how these pursuits impact relationships, only add to the power of these films. 

“The Best Game I Ever Covered”

That’s the headline. Do you really need any more convincing? I didn’t. The Athletic put together a collection of short essays from its writers about the most memorable games they covered. The series started with baseball writers. I, of course, drank every drop and loved it. Here are a few of my favorite parts.

Peter Gammons – Red Sox – Red, Game 6 of 1975 World Series

At 12:34 a.m., in the 12th inning, Fisk’s histrionic home run brought a 7-6 end to a game that will be the pride of historians in the year 2525, a game won and lost what seemed like a dozen times, and a game that brings back summertime one more day. For the seventh game of the World Series.

I didn’t know the nugget about the organist breaking into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”. Absolutely brilliant.

Ken Rosenthal – 2131 – Cal Ripken Jr. breaks the streak.

I can’t believe Rosenthal was just 32 when he was told to write the page 1 story for the Baltimore Sun.  

I wanted to show that I was on their level, or at least close. Unlike today, when one click can take you to any writer you admire — yes, some behind a paywall — most of us rarely saw each other’s work.

As it turned out, the story wrote itself. Ripken took a victory lap around Camden Yards after the game became official, and my column mostly just detailed the beauty of that moment while trying to convey the greater meaning of it all. I am quite sure others could have written better. But it was pretty much my best shot.

I have to chuckle at this last line…from a writer – pretty much my best shot? Kenny, baby! How about your absolute best shot for a moment that was 2,130 games in the making? Were you surprised?

Sidenote: while I understand the greater meaning Ripken’s streak, it’s always hit me not quite right. The more you dig into it, the more I can’t ignore there is at least a part of the streak that’s selfish.

TOB: Call me a natural cynic, but I felt that way as it happened. Ripken was an great player through his truly incredible 1991 season, until 1992, when at age 31 he became an average to below average player. And that’s even accounting for his premium position. It’s not admirable to “show up” every day. It’s admirable to put aside personal glory for the good of the team. Ripken never did that, so I never respected him.

Pedro Gomez – Diamondbacks v Yankees – Game 7 2001 World Series

Pedro Gomez stock just went up a little after reading this. Bold move. Bringing a buddy in case someone roughed him up? Less of a bold move.

I called Curt Schilling a con man. I wrote how he had built himself up to be Captain America because, after insisting to manager Bob Brenly that he wanted to start Games 1, 4 and (if necessary) 7, he suddenly told Brenly that he didn’t think he could do it, putting the Diamondbacks in one hell of a potential predicament and giving himself an out in case he pitched poorly or the opportunity to build himself up if he pitched well.

So before Game 7, I went down to the field and stood in front of the Dbacks dugout as they took batting practice, wanting any player who had anything to say to me to have the availability to do so (clubhouses are never open pregame during the postseason). I was filled with anxiety because I had truly gone out on quite a limb and asked great friend T.J. Quinn, then with the New York Daily News,  if he would mind accompanying me and just standing nearby, kind of as moral support. Thankfully, he said yes. Several players gave me a wink, a head nod or a pat as they passed me on the way to their clubhouse. It was an acknowledgment that what I had written was accurate.

TOB: I am no fan of Curt Schilling, the baseball Alex Jones. HOWEVER. I don’t remember what Schilling said ahead of Game 7, and I never read what Gomez wrote. BUT. Here’s Schilling’s 2001 World Series stat line: 3 starts, 21.1 IP, 4 ER, 1.69 ERA, 12 H, 2 BB, 26 K. That’s 2014 Bumgarner level incredible.

T.J. Quinn – Game 6 NLCS – Cubs v Marlins – The Bartman Game

Just read the entire essay. I’m pasting a good chunk of it here, which picks up after the incident. Still an incredible, chaotic course of events.

This is where my years of experience among Chicagoans, learning their language and their ways, tells me what is coming. Gonzalez will not be blamed; it will all fall on that hapless young man. I turn to a colleague and, I swear, I say, “I’m going to go find the guy. The Cubs are going to lose.” She notes the score: They are still leading 3-1 with five outs to go. “I’m telling you,” I say, “something has changed and they’re going to lose.”

Down the ramps, onto the concourse, into the maelstrom. The lead is gone and the ballpark has turned on the man in the headphones, all eyes on his section as the inning becomes an eight-run catastrophe. I push through a gathering crowd near his section, past frothing, twisted faces, ducking as one beer cup after another is launched our way, feeling the mist spray my face. Sometimes the faces screaming “Fuck you, asshole!” turn and see my notebook and my press credential and I catch a few words, too. As I start down the aisle, a wedge of Cubs security surges toward and past me. I can see someone in the middle with a jacket over his head. “Is that him?” someone next to me screams. “Kill him!” I follow the phalanx up to the concourse, under more screams and more flying beer. I am genuinely afraid for this man. I see security whisk him behind a gate. A cop stops me. I ask him and a nearby security officer if they know who he is. This is a ridiculous question and I am met with ridiculing looks. I go back to find the man in the gray sweatshirt. His name is Pat Looney and he is a firefighter, although I write his name as “Loomey.” I also write down seat 115. It was 114. Many think Looney is the one. “I already got like 50 hate calls,” he says, pointing to his phone. Someone who intends to be heard screams “Asshole!” at him. “See?” Looney says. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t touch the ball.” He says he wishes he’d pushed the other guy out of the way.

I go back to the press box and I write. The man in the black sweatshirt is the story, and he will be part of Cubs history along with the goat and Leon Durham and the black cat. I dub him “the cat in black” and I think this is sufficiently clever. I file and I go meet my friend Mike and his miserable friends. We’re out until about 2 a.m. “That asshole…” they keep saying. But it’s OK. Kerry Wood is pitching tomorrow.

The next morning, I’m in my hotel room. The phone rings at 7 a.m. It is one of my closest friends, a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times. I can hear that she is outdoors, but she is whispering. “I’m in front of his house,” she says. “We got a call last night. His name is Steven Bartman. I have to knock on his door. I feel sick.” Go on and knock, I say. The world is going to find out who he is, anyway.

How eery is that ending?

There are even more excellent essays included: The Dallas Braden Mothers Day perfect game will absolutely make you cry, and Jayson Stark’s summary of the Cardinals/Rangers 2011 Game 6 win comes as close as one can get to describing what every great game creates out of nothing:

“The emotion that fills ballparks in moments like that defines what it is we love about sports. Where else in life do you experience anything like that feeling?”

Loved, loved, loved reading these. – PAL

Source: The Best Game I Ever Covered”, various authors, The Athletic Ink (February, 2019)

The Game’s the Same, Just Got More Fierce

That’s of my favorite quotes from The Wire, uttered by Slim Charles. It popped in my head as I read this interesting article on the Ben Simmons’ future. John Wilmes wonders if Simmons might turn down his max rookie extension and sign a short deal instead to become a free agent after the 2021 season.

Here’s how it works. The NBA’s CBA allows teams to offer an extension to their players entering the final year of their four year rookie contract. As Wilmes summarizes:

No NBA player has ever turned down a maximum extension of a rookie contract offer, for which Simmons will be eligible in July. The league has structured the collective bargaining agreement specifically to give franchises the ability to offer significantly more money to the young stars they drafted. This is meant to create competitive balance and prevent talent from escaping smaller markets, and it has worked that way.

Simmons would thus be eligible this summer for a deal around 5 years for $148M, keeping him with the Sixers through 2025 at just shy of $30M per year. Not bad. But what if he doesn’t want to stay in Philly?

Wilmes reads some tea leaves to suggest this is the case, and theorizes Simmons aims to head to, yes of course, the Lakers. For example, in a documentary filmed during Simmons’ one year in college at LSU, Simmons was filmed watching the broadcast of the draft lottery, where it would be determined who would pick first in the upcoming draft, and therefore take Simmons:

[Simmons] is shown watching the broadcast of the event and miming his hypothetical reactions if either the Sixers or the Lakers got the first pick and the right to sign him. When he imagines the Lakers getting it, he celebrates; when he imagines going to the Sixers, he shrugs wryly. Earlier in the movie, a Lakers blanket is visible in the background of his apartment. Currently, he dates L.A.-based famous person Kendall Jenner. You can decide what this all means

Additionally, Simmons’ agent is Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, the same agent/agency that represents LeBron James and has been trying to orchestrate a trade of another client, Anthony Davis, to the Lakers.

Simmons turning down the max rookie extension would be risky. He would instead have to take an approximately $10 million dollar deal in 2020-21, one-third of what he’d get in a rookie extension. But, then he’d become a free agent the summer of 2021, free to sign where he wants for an even more lucrative deal. For a player like Simmons, the risk may be worth it. As Wilmes says, such a move could set a new precedent for how NBA superstars control their futures. -TOB

Source: Ben Simmons Could Upend The NBA’s Power Structure With One Decision”, John Wilmes, Deadspin (02/26/2019)

Kick the Kid Out!

This week a kid sitting courtside at a Nuggets/Thunder game reached out and swatted at and hit Russell Westbrook.

A lot of the reaction I saw was, “It’s funny how the kid sat down when Russ gave him that look.” But I have a hot take. KICK THE KID AND HIS PARENTS OUT. I don’t care that he appears to be maybe 12 years old. You can’t do that, and a kid who thinks he can, and is sitting friggin courtside, obviously thinks this is ok. If this spoiled rotten kid doesn’t learn his lesson now, he’ll grow up to be an entitled adult. We had a chance here to fix his trajectory! Instead we are left with his rich mom and dad, laughing at the whole thing.

Yuk yuk yuk! Hilarious! …Westbrook was not so chuckle-y after the game:

“He hit me. So I told his dad, you know, just, “Be careful man, you can’t just have have your son hitting random people.” I don’t know him, he don’t know me, so.


He’s responsible for his kid. Watch the game, sit there, have fun, enjoy. For all the fans though, there’s too much leeway, man, for the fans to be able touch the players and get away with it. And then we can’t react and do the things that we need to do to protect ourselves. It’s important that they understand—kids, whoever it is, dads, moms, that they can say what they want, as long as it’s respectful, but the touching is, to me, off limits.

I agree! The kid should have been kicked out, I say!  -TOB

Source: Russell Westbrook, After Being Shoved By Child: ‘The Touching Is, To Me, Off Limits’”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (02/27/2019)

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – Sharon Van Etten – “I Told You Everything”

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