Week of April 26, 2019

Pat Tilllman, straight up.


A Very Good Sports Night

Not long before I went to bed Tuesday night, still buzzing from one of the most electric sports nights in memory, I tweeted the following:

In Game 7, the Sharks pulled off the most improbable comeback I’ve ever seen, blew it minutes later, and then won in overtime. Meanwhile, in Portland, the Thunder pulled away from the Blazers in the 4th, leading by as many as 14, blew it, and then Dame Lillard made the most incredible series winning shot, perhaps of all-time. I watched it all live, picture-in-picture, howling every few minutes at the crazy swings. Days later, I still can’t believe it happened, all in the span of approximately 30 minutes.

What follows is a timeline of one incredible night.

8:20pm: First, you must know this about me: I was a hockey fan as a kid, sorta. I watched the Skills Competition every year, I watched the playoffs, especially if a game went into overtime. I played an entire 82-game season of NHL 95 on my Sega Genesis. I even played in a roller hockey league in high school. But as I grew older and my free-time diminished, it was the first sport I cut. I’m not a Sharks fan, by any fair reading of the word “fan”. However, I absolutely want to be a fair-weather Sharks fan, so I always root for them to win so I can finally tune in. Over the previous week and a half or so, I’d rolled my eyes every time I saw the ticker showing the Sharks had lost again, on the way to a 3-1 deficit in their first round series with the Vegas Golden Knights. Same ol’ Sharks, I thought. But then, they won – twice, setting up a Game 7. I might actually tune in for that.

So as I emerged from putting my kids to bed just after 8:00pm, I fixed myself a quick bite to eat and turned on the TV to check the Sharks score. Literally two seconds after I turned my TV to the game, the Knights scored to put themselves up 2-0. Same ol’ Sharks, I thought.

So I flipped the TV to the Blazers/Thunder, Game 5. The Blazers were looking to close out the series, sending Russ and Paul George to another first round loss.

8:34pm: Dame Lillard is going crazy, but the Blazers still trail late in the first half, 52-47. Lillard hits a 3 and I text my brother, a Portland resident, telling him Lillard has 32 points with two minutes left in the first half.

8:34pm: I text my brother again, as Lillard scores again. 34 points in the first half. The Blazers take the lead.

8:37pm: Paul George hits a stepback 3 to tie the game at 60 at the half. I flip back to hockey, which is at intermission. Hockey intermissions always seem endlessly long to me, so I go to the kitchen to clean up.

9:03pm: I get back in front of the TV just a minute or two before the Knights make it 3-0. Same ol’ Sharks. I flip back to the Blazers/Thunder, writing off the Sharks for good.

9:16pm: I see the following tweet:

I knew it was about the Sharks, and check the score on my phone. 3-2. Uhhhhhh what? I flip back to the game, at the spot where I left off. I fast forward and at around 9:13pm, the Knights were called for a 5-minute major penalty. If you don’t follow hockey, most penalties are two minutes, and the power play ends if the team on the advantage scores a goal. But a major is 5 minutes, and the power play does not end even if a goal is scored.

The penalty itself is somewhat controversial. Here’s the play:

The Knights’ Eakin cross checks Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. Pavelski seems to slip, falls into another Knights player, who seems to shove him to the ground, where he slams his head on the ice, and then bleeds from his skull. It’s ugly, but the Knights argued after the game that the refs did not initially call any penalty, and then called a major because of the result, not because of the act itself, which is improper. In fact, the referee crew will not officiate the next round of the playoffs, and the Knights say that the NHL admitted the refs made a mistake.

But! Pavelski’s gruesome injury aside, the call did allow for the excitement that was about to ensue: Just six seconds into the power play, the Sharks’ Logan Couture scores the team’s first goal of the game. “That’s one!” he says to his celebrating teammates.

Video

9:23pm: Just 49 game-seconds later, Tomas Hertl tacks on another for the Sharks. I’m about 5-minutes behind live, and I have no idea what’s about to happen. In the meantime, the Blazers stretched the lead to 9 late in the third, but the Thunder go on a 15-6 run, and the quarter ends with the Thunder leading 90-88.

9:24pm: Phil texts me: “Dude the sharks just scored 4 power play goals on one 5 minute power play.” He has unintentionally spoiled the next three minutes for me, but I do not mind. I tell him I’m five minutes behind because I turned the game off when they went down 3-0, and I’m at 3-2.

9:25pm: I text Phil, “Wow.” The Sharks have tied the game 3-3 on a goal by Logan Couture.

9:28pm: I text Phil, “Holy shit.” The Sharks’ LaBanc scores, and the Sharks take the lead, 4-3. The arena is rocking. Here are all four goals.

It’s incredible and it’s hard to put into words just how improbable it was. 3-0 with 10 minutes to go in Game 7? The Sharks’ season was over, and suddenly they are looking to hold on. As play resumes with 49 seconds remaining on the advantage, the announcer screams, “And they’re STILL on the power play. I have never seen anything like this in my life!” I try to explain it to my wife and mom. I can’t tell if they care, but I think my wife does say, “Wow.”

I asked Phil and then tweeted the following:

I immediately regret tempting the Sports Gods. Phil did not respond.

9:31pm: I am finally live, just in time to see the Sharks get called for a penalty.

9:36pm: The Sharks successfully kill the power play, and they have to hold on for just one minute and forty-seven seconds. Spoiler: They do not.

9:37pm: The Knights go empty net for the man-advantage and it pays off: They tie it up with just 47 seconds left. I text Phil, simply, “Fuck.”

9:40pm: Regulation ends, tied up at 4. I find ot my brother in law, a big Sharks fan, is at the game. I am jealous. With another long intermission in store, I check in on Blazers/Thunder. OKC goes on a 12-0 run to stretch the lead to 15 with 7:45 to go. After his hot first half, Lillard has shot just 2-for-10 in the second half to this point, and this game seems over.

9:55pm: The Blazers have made a little run, trailing by just 8 with 3:28 to go. Meanwhile, hockey’s intermission is over, meaning that game could end at any moment. Which means: PICTURE IN PICTURE TIME. I begin with the Sharks on the big picture and keep my eye on the Blazers in the corner.

9:58pm – 10: 00pm: The Sharks’ goalie is making me queasy, and the early minutes of overtime feel like a Vegas victory, so I swap the PIP as the Blazers continue to cut the lead. It’s 6 points with 3:07 to go. Then 4 points with 1:39 to go. McCollum hits a three to tie it with 57 seconds to go! Paul George retakes the lead with 39.4 to go. Lillard hits a tough layup to tie it again. 32.8 seconds left. I am shouting to no one in particular every possession at this point. My mom, in town for the evening, goes to bed and asks me not to yell as she opens the door to the kids’ room – a sensible request.

10:01pm: Westbrook tries a wild drive and it rolls off the rim with 17 seconds left. Westbrook had a tough 4th – shooting just 2 for 7, including 1 for 3 with two turnovers as the Blazers made their comeback.

10:01pm: The Blazers have a timeout, but elect not to use it. It’s Dame Time, and so Oakland’s own Dame Lillard does this:

I think I actually fell off the couch. I make my wife watch the replay. She seems slightly impressed. I’ve never seen anything like it. An almost 40-foot rainbow buzzer beater, and not a half court prayer heaved out of necessity, but an intentional jump shot.

I love how Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder, who had talked a lot of crap to him during the series.

I love the way he calmly mugged the camera as he was mobbed by teammates.

I love that Lillard laughed at Paul George on Twitter after George said after the game that Dame took a bad shot.

That shot gave Lillard FIFTY points on the night. A series-winning, damn near half court jumper, for half a hundo, to send home a newly-minted rival? Hell yeah.

10:02pm: I text my brother, “DAME TIME.” Unsure if he’s watching, I find the video on twitter and send it to him a few minutes later. I text Phil, too. He does not respond. But there’s no time to linger on the aftermath – it’s time to do that hockey.

10:03pm: The Sharks’ Joe Thornton looks like he’s skating in sand. I text Phil that he skates like he’s 50. He does not respond.

10:05pm: Things still feel like they will end poorly for the Sharks. Their goalie seems to lack urgency as shots are fired at him, and it seems inevitable one will slip through. I text Phil. He does not respond.

10:06pm-10:22pm: Things turn for the Sharks. Suddenly, they are flying around the ice, getting chances and controlling the puck. I grow optimistic, but it’s hockey and it’s sudden death, so anything can happen.

10:23pm: YESSSSSSSS! The Sharks score. The Sharks win. The improbable comeback that almost wasn’t was. And the winning goal was no fluke.

I immediately feel relieved that while my earlier tweet was punished by the Sports Gods, the Sports Gods are merciful and merely reminded me of their powers without truly bringing their full wrath upon me. I text Phil, “Woo.” He does not respond. Just kidding. This time, he did, saying that he’s on the Sharks bandwagon. I am an honest man and reply that I am a fair-weather Sharks fan, and in fact I tweet the following:

I start to marvel about what I saw over the previous hour and seven minutes, from the time I was alerted to the fact the Sharks had cut their deficit to one goal, until the moment the game winner hit the back of the net. I spend the next hour digesting it all – looking at clips on twitter, watching the analysis of the basketball game on TNT, and the hockey game on ESPN.

I am not shocked but very impressed to hear that there had never been a four goal power play in NHL playoff history, and only two previous instances in the regular season. Thing about that: there have been over 50,000 regular season and over 4,200 playoff games played in 102 NHL seasons, and this happened just twice. And while I suppose it’s conceivable the Sharks could have scored just one (or zero or two) goals in that power play and still tied the game later, it seems extremely unlikely.

I am shocked at the fact that Lillard’s shot is just the fifth series-winning buzzer beater in NBA history. And this is Dame’s second, as he also had one back in 2014. I would have guessed there had been 25, but no – just 5. The others were Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton. Jordan’s shot over Ehlo, by the way, was the only one that was do-or-die: if he missed it, the Bulls season was over. But he made it, and the Cavs season was over instead.

Nights like this are why sports are so great, hence my tweet that opened this story. The next morning I read Ray Ratto’s take on Deadspin, and his thoughts were similar (his headline? “Sports Were Good as Hell Last Night”). I especially liked this passage:

And we would have suggested the same of Lillard except that what he did and the way he did it was in its way every bit as stupefying as what the Sharks did. Lillard’s reaction to his deed was as cold-bloodedly silencing as the Sharks’ was uncontrollably hysterical, but the truth is Lillard ended a series with the same level of amazing performance that the Sharks did.

In other words, while these two events would create the usual internet don’t-cross-the-streams pissing contest about which sport’s postseason is better and on and on, they actually combined to remind everyone that this is the thing we’re all in this for—the ridiculously amazing. Otherwise, what’s the point of any of it? You just got handed two of the best games in modern postseason history, one in each of two seemingly diametrically opposed endeavors, at roughly the same time, and to obstinately denigrate one because you’re pot-committed to the other sport is the reason Vladimir Putin first got the idea to fix our elections.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Sports Were Good as Hell Last Night”, Ray Ratto, Deadspin (04/24/2019)

PAL: TOB is the fastest texter of all time, and he texts in waves. How the hell am I supposed to watch this historic Sharks comeback when my phone is buzzing every second? It’s a mandatory silence the phone situation. Live in the moment.

To think I flipped on the Sharks-Knights game as the puck dropped on  face-off to start the 5-minute major. My initial thought, OK, I’ll watch the power play to see if they can put one maybe two in the net. It was HUGE for them to score six seconds into a 5 minute major. At that moment, the pressure shifted to the Knights.

It’s also insane that zero of the four goals were flukey. Hertl’s tip on the second was especially saucy. Oh, to be at venue when something like that happens in a Game 7. You could feel the arena shaking through the TV. In those moments, players look like kids again – the joy highlights all the youthful features and mannerisms that remain. Watch for the celebrations, especially on the bench. Watch it again: 

The urgency of a game 7 hockey game is a hell of a thing to watch.

TOB: One last thing I wanted to shoehorn in about Lillard. The day after the game, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports published an article on Lillard and his beef with Westbrook (and Paul George and Dennis Schroeder) during the series. Here’s the opening paragraph:

PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard invited a few people to his home for dinner on Monday night to watch Game 4 of the first-round series between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets.

For several minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers’ star guard sat quietly on his sofa, chowing down on fried catfish, red beans and rice, and broccoli. And then suddenly, he spoke: “I’m getting rid of these mother——- tomorrow.”

Amazing. And one more tidbit, a little later:

Lillard showed a social-media clip of him telling Westbrook, “Stop running from this ass whoopin’,” as Lillard grew weary of Westbrook switching off him, while Lillard continued to be Westbrook’s primary defender.

And what came out of Westbrook’s mouth during a few of his post-basket outbursts was the B-word, something most players wouldn’t dismiss without an altercation.

“The way I see it, it’s basketball,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I know I ain’t no b—–ass mother——; so it doesn’t bother me.

“I’m not out here to prove to these dudes that I’m the hardest mother—— in the league because they cussed at me on the court. But they know where I’m from and what I’m about. This Oakland. But I don’t take s— personal. My goal is to get the win.”


The Story Behind That Photo of Pat Tillman, On a Light Tower Above Sun Devil Stadium

Pat Tillman has  to be one of the most interesting people of my lifetime. His story has been told many times over. But one story seldom told is the story behind that photograph of him on a light tower, 200-feet above Sun Devil Stadium, when he was a senior at ASU. The photo appeared in a feature on Tillman that ran in Sports Illustrated that season. Tillman received a call from the photographer, Paul Gero.

Gero was excited; shooting for Sports Illustrated long had been a dream and this was his first assignment for the magazine. He told Tillman he had ideas that he hoped would reflect both the academic and athletic sides of him. After hearing them, Tillman wasn’t enthused.

“Uh, that doesn’t really sound like me,” he said.

Gero asked the linebacker if he had ideas.

“Well,” Tillman said, “sometimes I climb up the light towers and I just sit up there and think.”

Gero jumped on it. But when the issue ran, Tillman’s coach, Bruce Snyder, was less than pleased:

Three​ weeks before the 1997​ Sun​ Bowl,​ Arizona State coach​ Bruce Snyder​ rushed into the​ sixth-floor​ office of​ defensive​ coordinator​​ Phil Snow and threw a magazine on his desk.

It was the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, dated Dec. 8. The magazine cover — which showed four short-haired basketball players — asked: “What Ever Happened to the White Athlete?” But that didn’t concern Snyder. It was the double-truck photo of the ASU football player on pages 86 and 87.

“Snow, what the hell is this?” Snyder asked.

Snow looked at the photo. He recognized Pat Tillman, recently honored as the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year and as an Academic All-American. The senior linebacker was casually dressed in jeans, a beige buttondown and flip flops. His feet rested on a rusted railing as he looked west, the football field far below him in the background.

“Well, Coach, it’s Pat sitting,” Snow said. “What’s he sitting on?”

Snyder walked to the window. From here, he could see all of Sun Devil Stadium. The green grass. The gray bleachers. In his sixth season in Tempe, Snyder pointed to a light tower above the stadium press box, 200 feet from the ground.

“Pat’s sitting on that light standard,” Snyder said.

Tillman started climbing the tower early in his time at ASU, and eventually invited teammates, like Frank Ugenti, who was from San Jose, just like Tillman.

The first time Ugenti reached the top of the light tower he didn’t say much because he didn’t want to ruin the moment. The view was incredible. From 200 feet, sitting on an 8-by-15-foot metal platform, Tillman and his friends could see the entire ASU campus and all of metro Phoenix lit up in the desert night. The airplanes, about to land at nearby Sky Harbor Airport, flew by with such force the light tower seemed to shake.

Tillman never really shared what he liked about the light tower, at least not to Ugenti, but sitting up there, high above the football field, it became obvious. We are out of society. We are out of community. We’re above the noise. Above the distractions. No hierarchy. Everyone’s equal. A group of guys from the same hometown. Just hanging out. Just living life. True friendship.

-TOB

Source: “Above the Noise: The Story of Pat Tillman’s Light-Tower Climbing at Arizona State”, Doug Haller, The Athletic (04/25/2019)

PAL: I’ll only add this. A reminder:

 


Good, Great, Grand, Wonderful!

Here’s a fun story about the losers. That’s right; the world has an unending supply of stories about those who triumph, persevere, reach the mountain top, break through, get the monkey off their back, and so on and so forth. BORING. This one’s about the unprepared, the injured, the foolish, the delusional, and all of the above. This is a story about the shag bus.

While in some running races participants can theoretically stay on the course as long as it takes to complete (Boston Marathon), there are certain running races that take place in locations where road closures cannot go on all day and there isn’t a safe sidewalk alternative once cars are allowed back in the course. The Big Sur Marathon takes place on the Pacific Coast Highway. While quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, I’ve run that highway and even with minimal traffic it can put the fear of god in you. So Big Sur’s got a shag bus. Another race with a shag bus, the race featured in Sarah Lyall’s NY Times piece, is The Seven Mile Bridge Run in Marathon Florida. It should be obvious why a run that takes place on a seven mile bridge would need a shag bus.

From bus driver to the sheriff that steps off the creeping bus with a nice little joke about how we never would’ve made it this far and – really, it’s time to get your dragging ass on the bus, everyone plays a role. The role of the racers dressed in all shades of moisture wicking humiliation on the bus is oftentimes excuse-makers:

  • “I went on a cruise, and then I got sick, and then I pulled a groin muscle.”
  • “I’m more of a golfer, although I’ve been trying to run about five miles once a week, roughly.”
  • “I never made it more that five miles.”

Just a point of clarification: the race is called The SEVEN Mile Bridge Run.

But no doubt the best part of this story comes near the end, as the bus nears the end of the race as well.

The bus stopped for the last few unfortunates, and Westerband (the Sheriff) cajoled them through the door, even as they tried to remonstrate with him. The end was so close, within reach.

Taking advantage of the distraction, a runner who had been quietly sulking at the front of the bus suddenly got up and sprinted for the door, slipping past Westerband. He proceeded to jog unimpeded all the way to the finish line, where he was greeted with applause from runners who had managed to complete the course without riding the bus.

There was a moment of stunned silence on the shag bus, as the passengers contemplated the unethical nature of the man’s action and wondered why they had not thought of it first.

I finished reading this story, and I had an epiphany: these shag bus riders are the very people who stand still on a moving walkway at the airport. SMH. – PAL

Source: A Bitter Finish for Slow Runners: Get on the Bus”, Sarah Lyall, The New York Times (04/23/19)

TOB: I get that this is a short run, and I get why they need to do this. But what I don’t get is why they start the shag bus just forty minutes after a 90-minute race begins. Seems early!


Ollie From Last Chance U Gets Another

If you watched the first season of Netflix’s Last Chance U, you remember Ollie. A big guy with a warm smile and a loud laugh.

He came from an extremely poor small town in Mississippi, and he had a terrible childhood – his father killed his mother, and Ollie discovered her body. Ollie’s dad later killed himself. He later bounced around with relatives. He found solace in football, but he never applied himself. At Eastern Mississippi Community College, Ollie found some purpose, and on Last Chance U, he found a modicum of stardom and a scholarship to FCS Nicholls State. But Ollie didn’t apply himself at Nicholls, either, and soon found that he had squandered that last chance.

Except that he got another last chance. In fact, he gave himself that second last chance. If you’re interested in reading about Ollie – where he’s at now and how he got there, check this story out. -TOB

Source: Ronald Ollie’s Last Chance”, Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated (04/25/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Lillard earned this – Dame D.O.L.L.A: ‘Bill Walton’


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Oh, if they were Sean Jean sweatpants it would be no problem, but because they were Costco brand, it'sthe worst thing I could do.

- Peter Bretter 




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Week of April 19, 2019

Did not give up popcorn for Lent.


Reminder: Tiger Woods Won The Masters

It’s not even a week old, but Tiger’s unlikely Masters win, his fifteenth major victory, feels like such old news. We’ll get into why people care about this so much in a moment, but the sleazeball actually made it all the way back after his life and his body fell apart. Say what you want about the type of person he is, or has been (I don’t know; is he a ‘good guy’ now?), but it’s undeniably incredible that he came back to win another major after over a decade of setbacks – injuries, surgeries, infidelities, arrests, and just bad golf. Through it all, people held out hope to see this performance. We just kept waiting, long after we should have, and then it finally happened.

Tiger Woods is undeniably bland and boring and captivating and unique. The regular sports fan cares about Tiger playing golf; the regular sports fan doesn’t care about golf. I haven’t experienced an athlete with that much gravity in his or her sport. I’m guessing Ali was like that and maybe Babe Ruth. Whoever’s on that list, it’s a short list.

Needless to say, there was a few columns written about Tiger’s win at Augusta. I found this Drew Magary paragraph in particular to be the most resonant:

Athletes are measuring sticks. You measure their ability against yours and you measure their ability to handle pressure against your own, naturally. But you also measure their lives against your own. Their history is your history. They’re personal markers, just as certain movies and songs and pictures evoke moments from your youth that have grown warmer and fonder and perhaps more unattainable over time. I was rooting for Tiger yesterday, but to be more accurate: I was selfishly rooting to relive my own past. I was still in college and away on a semester abroad when Tiger Woods won his first Masters, back in 1997. I read all about his win in a hard copy of USA Today I got from a newsstand in England, because reading news online wasn’t a thing most people did back then. He was already the biggest name in golf even before he won that first title, and he has remained the biggest name in the sport—perhaps all of sports—as he’s toiled for the past 11 years and change to assume his throne once more.

Magary’s onto something here. I was absolutely pulling for Tiger, and afterwards I wondered why. I really wanted him to win, and it just might be because no other golfer serves as personal marker on my life. I also just want to witness historic moments in sports. There are very few events when you know something historic is taking place in the moment. – PAL

Source: Un-Fucking-Real”, Drew Magary, Deadspin (4/14/19)


Pesky Morality

We’ve posted a lot of stories about CTE over the years. Heartbreaking personal stories, medical stories, political stories; this issue flows into so many facets of culture and very well could be the defining sports story of our generation.

This week, Michael Powell wrote about another scenario in which CTE cannot be ignored. When a college wants to hire a coach, that needs to be approved by a board of regents, as was the case at the University of Colorado recently. Mel Tucker’s five-year, $14.75MM contract went to the board for a vote. That vote comes with some culpability.

The nation’s universities face a more ticklish problem known as morality. These institutions were founded with the purpose of developing and educating young minds. It is difficult to square that mission with the fate of those like running back  Rashaan Salaam, who ran so beautifully for the University of Colorado and then as a pro, and like Drew Wahlroos, a fearless, rampaging Colorado linebacker. Both men suffered emotional and cognitive problems that friends and family and even university officials related to thousands of hits taken over the course of their careers. Each killed himself.

In what I’m sure would be seen as high comedy on the campuses of Ohio State, Clemson, or Alabama, two regents at Colorado voted against the hiring. It wasn’t as much about Tucker as it was about their belief that football is an unsafe game.

Regent Linda Shoemaker: “I really thought at first that we could play football safely with better rules and better equipment; I drank the Kool-Aid. I can’t go there anymore. I don’t believe it can be played safely anymore. I want these young men to leave C.U. with minds that have been strengthened, not damaged.”

Wherever you come down on CTE and football (or any sport connected to CTE), what this story highlights is the fact that this issue touches all of us. It’s not just isolated to locker rooms and athletic departments; we vote and pay taxes that go schools that field football teams. Those institutions, and the student body, are our responsibility, and that – man, that really hit home reading this story. – PAL

Source: At Colorado, a Breach in Football’s Wall”, Michael Powell, The New York Times (4/18/19)


Video of the Week: More of this, please.


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – “A Good Time”

 


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With all due respect, Officer Berg, you are not bald. You’ve chosen to shave your hair and that’s a look you’re cultivating in order to look fashionable, but we don’t really consider you part of the bald community…with all due respect.

-L.D.

Week of April 12, 2019


25 Years Ago, Michael Jordan Played Double-A Baseball, That’s Insane

Here’s a great read with an interesting angle on Michael Jordan’s season playing minor league baseball, which is – I can’t believe this – twenty-five years ago.

First, let’s take a moment to appreciate how insane this scenario was. Michael Jordan, the best basketball player on the planet, who has just completed back-to-back-to-back NBA titles, retires from basketball in his prime to go play baseball for the first time since quitting early on in his senior high school season. His reason for retiring has long been a topic of debate (gambling issues is one theory, and another is to honor his dad, who had been recently murdered, and who had thought Michael could’ve been a two-sport star). It would be like LeBron retiring after his Cleveland title to go play football in the CFL, or like Tiger Woods calling it quits at the height of his dominance to become a Navy Seal…but bigger.

Second, the writing is great, and the writer – Steve Wulf – matters. His story from this week is in some ways a correction to the story he filed for Sports Illustrated back in ‘94. In the earlier story, Wulf really goes at Jordan’s baseball ability after watching him in spring training, and now, all these years later, Wulf admits he was wrong, with the help of the coaches and players who were with Jordan that summer.

The manager, Terry Francona (ever heard of him?), still thinks Jordan could’ve made it to the Majors with 1,000 more at-bats. Others felt the same way, but we remember that .202 batting average and still categorize it as a lark. The guys that were there insist it was not. I honestly had no idea.

And then there are all the wonderful anecdotes about Jordan – remember, this is the most famous athlete on the planet – being one of the guys on a minor league team for the season. At 31, he was much older than most, and so he spent some of his time hanging with the coaches and some of the time hanging with the players. And while he arranged for a nicer bus, he was still playing cards with the crew. He was in the clubhouse going nuts on ping pong and giving English tips to Rogelio Nunez. This was when he wasn’t in the batting cage 3-5 times a day. Oh, and there were a few pickup basketball games thrown in there, too. Can you imagine?

Jordan would occasionally deign to play hoops with the mortals. “I can safely tell you this now,” Francona said, “but if I told you back in ’94, I might’ve gotten fired.

“We had just come back to Birmingham after a Sunday morning game in Huntsville [a 5-4 win on May 22, in which Michael went 0-for-5]. We decide to play a 4-on-4 game at Rime Village, where a lot of the players stayed. The three coaches plus Michael versus four of our better basketball players.”

Scott Tedder, a 6-foot-4 outfielder who was the all-time leading scorer as a shooting guard at Ohio Wesleyan, was one of the players. “Let’s see,” he said from his office at Hibbet Sports in Birmingham, where he’s a real estate manager. “It was me, our catcher Chris Tremie, outfielder Kevin Coughlin and pitcher Brian Givens, who was like 6-6. The game was to 16, win by two. One point for a basket, two points for a three.”

“Nobody was watching us at the start of the game,” Barnett said, “but by the end, there were hundreds of people ringing the court.”

“This was back in the day before cellphones,” Tedder said. “Word traveled fast.”

“Me and Barney were just along for the ride,” said Kirk Champion, who was the pitching coach and still works in the White Sox organization. “Once you gave the ball to either Tito or Michael, you weren’t going to see it again.”

“Scott was a really good shooter,” Barnett said.

“I hit maybe four 3s,” said Tedder, who’s now in the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame. “But you could tell Michael was holding back. When we get up 15-11 — one more basket to win — Michael says to me, kind of matter-of-fact, ‘Kid, you’re not going to score any more.’ The next thing we know, we’ve lost, 17-15, and the coaches are celebrating.”

Maybe this story is written for someone exactly my age, but reading it reminded me how incredible Jordan’s baseball detour was, regardless of the reason. It also gave a bit more insight into how serious he took it, and it really seems like he thoroughly enjoyed competing at a game without the circus that surrounded him as a basketball player. That picture of him playing what sure looks like a game of 500 during batting practice (a flyball shagging game where you compete with your teammates to catch the BP ball), sums it up best. That’s a dude not worried about the pressures of being the best of all time; that’s a dude just playing. – PAL

Source:The True Story Behind Michael Jordan’s Brief-But-Promising Baseball Career”, Steve Wulf, ESPN (04/08/2019)

TOB: Wow, what a really good article. I got chills! I knew some of this stuff, having watched the 30 for 30 “Jordan Rides the Bus”, but it’s a good reminder. Also, while he hit .just 202 for Birmingham, that was in Double-A, which is a top prospect-heavy level. Plus, after the season the Sox placed him in the very highly regarded Arizona Fall League, which is full of top prospects. He hit a much more respectable .255.

25 years, though? Geeze. I remember where I was when I found out*. It was Summer 1993, and we were on a family road trip to a dude ranch in Idaho. We had stayed the night at a motel in Jackpot, Nevada, right on the Idaho border. I think I had stayed back while my family got breakfast, and as we headed to the car my older brother told me Michael Jordan retired, almost as a taunt. I didn’t believe him. Bullshit. No way. Michael Jordan? Retired? Nah. I looked at my mom and I remember she had this nervous look, like she didn’t want to confirm. I made them get me the paper, USA Today, which I read in disbelief in the car.

*OR SO I THOUGHT. Funny how memories work. The details are mostly correct, but I just found out my long held belief that we were in Jackpot, Nevada on the way to Idaho is wrong. I tried to find the cover of that USA Today I mentioned, and when I did I found out that Jordan retired on October 6, 1993. Well into the school year, and we were not heading to Idaho at that time. But we were heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to meet my dad’s long lost cousin. I remember we did miss some school for that trip. I also remember we went to a big hot air balloon festival on that trip, and I confirmed the event occurred in early October.


Lukewarm Take: Major League is the Best Baseball Movie of All Time.

Field of Dreams? Very good, but only baseball-adjacent, plus you really gotta be in the mood. Bull Durham? Sorry, I think it’s overrated – sorta funny, but not that funny. And really dated. Sandlot? Very good, but I think you needed to be a kid when you saw it to really love it (I’m open to other opinions). Rookie of the Year? Garbage. Angels in the Outfield? Garbage. Little Big League? Fantastic, still very funny (even for adults), still holds up, and the baseball action is top notch, because they used a lot of professional players. I’ll watch it whenever I see it on. But it’s a close second to Major League, which has great baseball, is still funny and entertaining, and had an excellent cast of characters (and actors).

I happened to see Major League was on TV a few weeks back, just before I was set to go to bed. I thought I’d turn it on for five minutes and then head to bed. I was immediately sucked in and watched the Whole Fuckin’ Thing (give me an A+ for that reference, don’t mind the language).

It even gave me a quote I love to use whenever I watch a game (“Too high! Too high!” when the opposing team hits an obvious homer).

This week is the 30 year anniversary of the movie’s release which is wild because I turn 37 next week, and I remember my dad taking me to see this movie in the theatres (pretty sure, anyways), and when I was watching it recently I couldn’t believe my parents let me watch that as a still 6-year old. There’s a ton of profanity. I don’t think there’s nudity but there’s a lot of near-nudity and near-sex. I’m not complaining, but my oldest son is almost five and I don’t know when I’d be ready to show this movie to him but I don’t think it’s until he’s…11? In my dad’s defense, he probably didn’t know how bad it’d be. In his not-defense, the movie is rated R. Moving on.

Given the anniversary, The Ringer has done some coverage on the movie. There was a good Rewatchables podcast with Rembert Browne, who pointed out how insane it would have been for a woman to go home with Willie Mays Hayes and find a collection of dirty black gloves nailed to the wall. Also, I had no idea that the actor who played one of the movie’s villains, Clue Haywood, the big slugger for the Yankees, was Pete Vuckovich, a former major league pitcher who won the 1982 AL Cy Young. WHAT!?

Anyways, it’s a great movie. If you haven’t seen it in a while, do so. You might notice something you never had before. For example, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh points out that in the one-game playoff against the Yankees that closes the movie, Cleveland batted out of order in either the 8th or 9th inning, which allowed them to win. Click the link to see how he figured this out. It’s fun.

Source: The Dramatic Ending of ‘Major League’ Never Should’ve Happened”, Ben Lindberg, The Ringer (04/10/2019)

PAL: Man, Field of Dreams is pretty damn good. I’m a sucker for it all: the Berkeley folks back-to-earth premise. The farmlands of the midwest caught in all its poetic, dusky beauty, building a baseball field. The curmudgeon writer sidekick. And (quiet weeping) the goddamn game of catch. Field of Dreams is the romance in baseball; Major League nails the idiocy of baseball:

But also the game action is outstanding in this movie. They somehow legit captured the emotion and excitement of a big baseball game better than any other baseball movie.

That idea of Willie Mays Hayes taking a date home, only for her to see a bunch of dirty black gloves nailed to the wall is the funniest thing I’ve heard all week. I was laughing so hard. Also, Randy Newman’s song, ‘Burn On’, which opens the movie, is excellent. Excellent baseball movie. Probably taught me how to use the f-word creatively, which can’t be ignored.


More on Jordan’s Baseball Pitstop

Sorry! Yes, more. But I read that 1994 article by Wulf written during Jordan’s lone spring training and there was just too much to comment on, so I broke it out here.

What’s interesting reading Wulf’s 1994 story is that he was so incredibly harsh: “So shame on them for their cynical manipulation of the public. And shame on them for feeding Michael’s matchbook-cover delusion—BECOME A MAJOR LEAGUER IN JUST SIX WEEKS!” It was still only Spring Training. Michael hadn’t yet hit just .202. But I’d like to take a moment to note that, for the average human, .202 in Double-Freakin-A would be incredible. .202 wasn’t even the worst on the team! Ok, it was second worst. But still, another guy hit .191. And Wulf was shaming the White Sox for giving Jordan a spot.

This passage especially amused me:

The huffing and puffing over Jordan’s supposed sacrilege is so intense you almost want to root for the guy, just to prove all these baseball snobs wrong. But they are right about one thing: He will never, ever hit. “It’s called bat speed,” says one American League scout, “and he ain’t got it.”

He ain’t got experience, either. Next to his name and vital statistics on the official list of 1994 White Sox, where his ’93 batting stats should be, it reads DID NOT PLAY. It should read HASN’T PLAYED IN 15 YEARS! Says one American League Central manager, “What’d he hit in high school, .280? Pathetic. I’ve got players in my clubhouse who are only now starting to hit after living and breathing baseball for 15 years, and this guy thinks he can become a hitter in a couple of months. It’s a disgrace to the game. All I know is that I wouldn’t want to be [White Sox manager] Gene Lamont, having to tell a Mike Huff or a Warren Newson that they didn’t make the team because Michael bleeping Jordan did.”

Indeed, either Huff or Newson would have to go in order to make room for Jordan. The 30-year-old Huff isn’t a great hitter, but he has made only two errors in 217 major league games, and no player has been more helpful in teaching Jordan to play the outfield than Huff. Newson, 29, isn’t much bigger than Muggsy Bogues, but last year, between Triple A Nashville and Chicago, he hit .333.

So there was some poetic justice at work in the second inning of last Thursday’s intrasquad game, the most heavily covered intrasquad game in baseball history. Jordan lined prospect James Baldwin’s fastball into left centerfield, and Newson made a diving, backhanded catch to rob him of a double.

Wulf spends three paragraphs tearing down Jordan for not having the bat speed or the ability to ever hit, and then relays a story where MJ damn near lines a double off a top prospect! That pitcher, James Baldwin, would finish second in the Rookie of the Year race two years later and even made an All Star team. In Wulf’s story this week, he owns up to how harsh he was. But still, the 1994 was hard to read. No one likes a grumpy jerk.

One final thing: Man, baseball players were corny as hell. Here are two quotes from Wulf’s 1994 story:

While the White Sox try to rationalize Jordan’s audition, baseball’s other uniformed personnel are almost irrational about it. “He had better tie his Air Jordans real tight if I pitch to him,” said Seattle Mariner fireballer Randy Johnson. “I’d like to see how much air time he’d get on one of my inside pitches.”

“Be like Mike?” scoffed one Houston Astro. “Hell, Mike right now only wishes he could be like Frank.”

I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough. Corny AF. -TOB

Source: Err Jordan”, Steve Wulf, Sports Illustrated (03/14/1994)


Air Density and Barometric Pressure: The Mind of Golfer Bryson DeChambeau

I am not the biggest golfing fan, but, man, I love me some majors. I had this story about Bryson DeChambeau (that’s the best golf name of all-time) linked here before he jumped out to a share of the lead after the first round of The Masters. For those of you who know a little about golf, DeChambeau is the guy whose irons are all the exact same length (a peculiarity in golf).

DeChambeau is an over-thinker. Always has been. He’s a why guy. When he was a kid golfing with his dad, and his dad told him the green broke one way, DeChambeau wanted to know why. His mind never stops, and so thinking about golf differently isn’t a way for him to look for a competitive advantage; rather, it’s a way to relax his mind.

Having a brain that never stops, and hating surprises led his dad to idea of having his son work with a radical golf coach in the Clovis, CA area. Mike Schy had been developing a different approach to golf. It was a much more scientific take on the sport, one that had no time or patience for “feel”, and that was perfect for a young DeChambeau.

“Feel is the enemy,” Schy said. “You get to the first tee and there’s water left and 1,000 people right. How do you feel now? That was why he bought into the whole process. When you look at everything he does on [the] course, it all makes sense. It gets him out of that moment of trying to guess or feel something.”

There was some real risk to adopting this philosophy, which is based off a book published in 1969 called The Golfing Machine, which looked to science, not hand-me-down tips, to build a golf swing.

Before working with Schy, DeChambeau had interest from a number of college golf programs and beautiful traditional swing. When they came back, they saw he completely retooled his swing. Some programs were scared off.

He won in college, became an easy story on the PGA tour (‘hey, look at this weirdo), but also became a legit contender. He’s currently ranked sixth on the world, so all of the goofy clips of him talking about air density or some other rando tidbits aren’t just amusing.

What gets lost is what DeChambeau gets out of the way he plays. For him, The Golfing Machine is a way of thinking about and working on the game. It satisfies his interests and relaxes his mind. Jon said that if Bryson weren’t a golfer, he would build things for a living, similar to how he’s built his golf swing.

He’s challenging how we play the game, and there are few sports more up its own ass about “the right way to play” than golf, which almost makes me want him to beat Tiger. Almost. – PAL

Source: Why Is the Golf World So Scared of Bryson DeChambeau?”, Tully Corcoran, Bleacher Report (4/11/19)

TOB: BEAT ELDRICK! This article is great. I love DeChambeau already. Here’s my favorite part of the article:

Broadcasters and golf pros and caddies and other golfers have come up with all sorts of reasons why DeChambeau shouldn’t be playing the way he does, despite his rise from 153rd in the world in 2017 to No. 6 today. Some of the most common complaints are that he plays too slowly and his methods will never win at the highest level.

Hahahahahahahaha. Yeah, 6th in the world. What a terrible golfer. He should really change his game. Also, I’m with him on the length of irons: someone will need to explain to me why they should be different lengths. That always bugged me as I was learning to play.

PAL: Update – he’s nearly holed this one on 18:


How to Standout in a Crowded Sportswriting Field

In a short amount of time, Eno Sarris has become one of my favorite writers. I try to read almost everything he writes because his mind seems to think differently than most sportswriters, so he always has an interesting angle from which he approaches a story. His article this week on San Diego Padres rookie Chris Paddack is a good example. Sarris saw Paddack throw a high, inside front door breaking changeup for a called third strike. The pitch was unlike anything Sarris had ever seen, so he went to work. He interviewed Paddack, his manager, his catcher, his Double-A manager, and even Padres great Trevor Hoffman, who made the Hall of Fame on his changeup. He used advanced stats, charts, and video, to explain how rare the pitch is, and why it’s so effective.

Eno does such a good job of blending traditional sportswriting with advanced stats, and I always learn something when I read one of his articles. I’d say he’s worth the subscription fo the Athletic all on his own. -TOB

Source: How a Single Pitch Could Launch Chris Paddack’s Career”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (04/11/2019)


Video of the Week

(Action starts at 00:45)


Tweet of the Week


Gif of the Week

Son’d.


PAL Song of the Week – Randy Newman – “Burn On”


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Make friends first, make sales second, make love third. In no particular order. 

-M.G. Scott

Week of April 5, 2019

The face of a guy getting pulled in the 7th inning of a no-no.


Russell Westbrook’s Tribute to Nipsey Hussle And Why I Still Say Westbrook is Cool as Hell

On Sunday, rapper/entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed outside his clothing store in Los Angeles. He was 33. Hussle made his name releasing mix tapes over the course of the last decade, before debuting his first full album in 2018. It was a commercial and critical success, and it was nominated for a the Best Rap Album Grammy.

It is here that I must admit that before news of Nipsey’s Hussle’s murder got out, I had never heard of him. In fact, when I first read the news I thought it was referring to Nipsey Russell, and I wondered, “Isn’t he really old?” (Yes, in fact, Nipsey Russell died in 2005 at the age of 87). But Hussle’s name was suddenly all over the internet and I figured I should figure out who he was. He seems to have been a great guy.

(Also, it turns out I had seen him in an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend a few years back, where he was very funny – but caution – NSFW language):

Last year, Hussle did a video with Steph Curry where they discussed life, business, basketball, hip hop, and even potty training.

Hussle made enough of an impression on Curry that Curry was quite emotional about Hussle’s death after the Warriors game Sunday night. I also found this cool interview with Hussle from 2006, where he discusses how he was going to save money, invest in land/property, instead of cars and other things that depreciate in value.

What an interesting dude. To his credit, Hussle kept his word. As I mentioned, he had a clothing store in his hometown, in front of which he was shot. But he opened a barber shop and a general goods store in his community, too, and he hired and supported people in his community to get that all done.

So, what’s Nipsey Hussle have to do with Russell Westbrook? I’m getting there.

On Tuesday, Russ went off for 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 21 assists. It was just the second ever 20-20-20 game (unsurprisingly, Wilt Chamberlain had the other). 20-20-20 is incredible, and after the game Russ dedicated it to Hussle.

Russ is also from L.A., so I would not be surprised if they knew each other well. At the end of the video, he says “20+20+20”, an apparent reference to the Rollin’ 60s gang that Hussle had once been involved with.

I am generally an analytics-friendly guy. So I understand that Russell Westbrook compiles counting stats due to extremely high usage, and I understand that he’s not a terribly efficient player. Still. He’s a dynamo and I love him and he does cool stuff like get only the second ever 20-20-20 and then dedicate it to a guy who was doing great things in his community. RIP, Nipsey. -TOB

Source: The Unfinished Marathon of Nipsey Hussle”, Micah Peters, The Ringer (04/02/2019); Russell Westbrook Dedicates Historic 20-20-20 Triple-Double To Slain Rapper Nipsey Hussle”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (04/02/2019)

PAL: A few weeks ago at work there was talk of interviewing Nipsey Hussle for a playlist covering songs from throughout his career. It was the first I’d heard of him, and I didn’t completely understand the outpouring until I read Peters’ excellent story. TOB nails it on his Westbrook assessment: he can be a frustrating basketball player, but I don’t doubt his earnestness. His post-game dedication might seems like a small story, but it’s also an amplification to a national audience of Hussle impact on his community. Again, I knew nothing of him other than these stories, but it sure sounds like the guy committed to making his neighborhood a better place to live, and that’s worth a dedication.


Hitting Optional: The New Era of Big League Catchers

Dammit, I was born in the wrong time. In recent years, MLB teams are putting a premium on defensive catchers, especially catchers whose impact on the game is most felt in their pitch-framing capabilities. In an era when offense is yielding 300MM contracts, there is also a market for journeymen catchers making millions hitting right around .200.

Catchers like Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, or even Joe Mauer are some of the rarest talents in the game. Excellent defensive catchers that also (for a time) hit in the middle of the lineup.

The Red Sox won a world series with a catching unit hitting .194 and a paltry .533.

And these defensive specialists are not just rentals for contenders:

It is no coincidence that one of Arizona’s catchers last season, Jeff Mathis, attracted the attention of the team that ranked worst at framing, the Texas Rangers. Mathis hit .200 and has a .198 average across 14 seasons, but his exceptional defensive skills earned him a two-year, $6.25 million deal from the Rangers.

Why is this? For one, a Gold Glove catcher that can handle the bat is damn near a Hall of Fame level player. Two, improved analytics allow teams to actually quantify pitch framing, which has a major impact on the game outcome. Three, a catching prospect that can really swing it, e.g., Bryce Harper, is moved to another position to preserve the bat. Catchers’ offensive numbers tend to fall off a cliff in the last third of their careers.

For those who are unaware of what framing is, it’s the art of catchers making pitches that aren’t strikes look like strikes. Here’s one awesome example (look where he catches this ball at the very end of the webbing…incredible):

Excellent article about the forgotten guys on a roster that are enjoying an extended career for their contributions due to defensive expertise. – PAL

Source: How the Slugging Catcher Became an Endangered Species in the Majors”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (04/01/19)


Why the Assist Shouldn’t Be So Limited

Thankfully, Trae Young is awesome again, as he’s been lighting it up the second half of his rookie season. Check out this awesome game winner he had last weekend against the Bucks.

The Ringer did a nice profile on him. I enjoyed it a lot, and you should read it. But I wanted to highlight one cool thing revealed in the story: Internally, the Hawks tally player “assists” – and not just the traditional assist you see in the box score:

On their “assist board,” the Hawks keep a running tally of the team’s assists, and not just the traditional ones. The spreadsheet, which they first used at last year’s summer league, also includes hockey (or secondary) assists, space assists, dive (or roll) assists, and screen assists. Young received a traditional assist for his dish to Len, but Collins also earned a space assist for positioning himself behind the 3-point line and opening a lane for the easy bucket. Young is the overall leader this season.

“There’s other ways of assisting,” Lloyd Pierce says. “If John gets a lob, guess what: They’re not gonna let him get a lob the next four positions, so Kevin [Huerter] may get three 3s now. We gotta reward John to make sure he continues to roll.”

That probably takes a long time to tally, but it’s a great way to help quantify the little things in basketball that do so much to help a team win a game but don’t show up in the box score. I approve! I’d also like to hear more things that teams track that we don’t know about.

Back to Trae Young: He’s awesome, and I really love this highlight video where Trae repeatedly jumps along with the ooper to his alley:

-TOB

Source: Passing With Flying Colors”, Paolo Uggetti, The Ringer (04/01/2019)


Phil Mickelson Continues to Reveal Himself as a Degenerate

When I was a kid, Phil Mickelson was portrayed by the golf media as Golden Boy – rich, handsome-ish, successful, good looking wife.

But in the last few years, he has revealed himself as a degenerate gambler and kind of an a-hole, and that all comes together in this story.

Back in November, Jordan Spieth got married. Phil was there. It was the week after Phil’s PPV match against Tiger, which was reportedly underwhelming. Also in attendance was some Country Music Guy I’ve Never Heard Of, who had paid for that PPV and wasn’t happy about it.

“So I walked over to him,” Owen said on the podcast. “I was like, ‘Hey Phil, you owe me f—ing $29.99!’ I was like, ‘For wasting four hours of my life with the s—tiest golf I’ve ever seen! You guys hype this whole thing up about the big match? You guys couldn’t even make three birdies between the two of you? I want my $29.99 and apologize to me for some s— golf!'”

In a story that he confirmed via Twitter, Mickelson, 48, took out a wad of $100 bills, put one down and said, “I won 90,000 of these things yesterday. Take a 100 and go f— yourself!”

I mean, I called him a degenerate a-hole, but that is really funny. Mickelson reportedly earns over $50M per year, including tour earnings and endorsements. So if you were wondering, $50M is officially “eff you” money. -TOB

Source: Owen, Mickelson Let F-Bombs Fly Over The Match”, Bog Harig, ESPN (04/02/2019)

PAL: My favorite line from the story: “Owen has been a partner of Spieth’s at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and other golf events and said alcohol played a role in approaching Mickelson.”


Video of the Week

Holy heck.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Willie Nelson – “I’m A Memory”


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“Truth be told, I think I thrive under a lack of accountability.”

-Michael Scott