Week of July 19, 2019

Maxine Fischer

20 Years Later: I Feel You, Jean

This week marks the twenty year anniversary of the following. Don’t scroll past it. Watch the entire comedy. Peter Alliss’ commentary on the video is absolute poetry: 

We just remember the highlight. We rarely remember the leadup. Elizabeth Nelson writes the hell out of this retrospective on Jean Van de Velde’s collapse at the (British) Open. On the topic of meltdowns, she sets the stage and efficiently calls out why this one has legs. 

Many of the most famous meltdowns in golf happened to great players—Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot or Rory McIlroy at the Masters in 2012. Whereas, Jean Van de Velde was not reaching his potential, he was dramatically overachieving for 71 holes, and then he regressed to the mean after that.

And later: 

All week, Carnoustie had proved a miserable challenge. At the start of the final round, Van de Velde was the only player at level par—everyone else was over. Two-way winds, punitive rough, and a diabolical setup made the course veritably unplayable for many of the world’s best. Sergio Garcia wept after shooting an 89 in the first round. Tiger Woods entered Sunday tied for fourth, but at seven shots over par. 

And yet Jean Van de Velde, of all the field—which included nearly every highly ranked player in the world—had forged a path. The first 17 holes of his final round were a roller coaster: He had lost a five-shot lead to Craig Parry by the 11th, regained a two-stroke advantage on the 12th and then managed to be three strokes clear when he stepped up to the tee box at the last. And he’d had his share of good fortune—even his far-flung tee shot had come up just short of the water hazard. “Some golfing god is with him,” Alliss intoned gravely. But golfing gods are notoriously mercurial.

“His first shot was way out near the 17th hole, and it nearly went in the water,” Murray says. ”And so after that you figure he’s just going to wedge his second into play, get it up near the hole and win in extremely boring fashion. Instead, he takes out his 2-iron.”

For professionals and weekend hackers alike, the 1- and 2-iron are clubs incredibly difficult to control—so much so that they have largely been replaced by hybrid woods. Former pro Lee Trevino once famously said that if you find yourself caught on a golf course during a lightning storm, “Hold up a 1-iron. Not even God can hit a 1-iron.” Van de Velde had simple options and three strokes to play with. He could have essentially taken a knee and run out the clock. But where’s the fun in that? Instead he called a hook-and-ladder play.

The collapse is all but complete, but because this ain’t a movie, he makes the damn putt to force the playoff. “Please give him one good putt. Please” the Alliss pleads. Van de Velde not only holes it, he drills the S.O.B. center cut with plenty of pace. It’s as gutsy a putt as you’ll ever see. 

Of course, it was all for not. Jean Van de Velde did not prevail in the playoff. Some other guy won. A guy we will never remember and whose name is worth no more than a meager parenthetical (Paul Laurie).  

I liked this story because it gave me reason to review something that held as a blurry polaroid in my sports memory. It taught me something new about an event of which I thought I had the gist, and it did so with compelling language, fun anecdotes, and it reminded me that this was not an icon melting down; this was a guy who maybe knew this was is one shot and wanted to win it with style. In Nelson’s words, “Epic in scale and preordained to end badly, it is hubris and catharsis and all of the elements of Greek tragedy mainlined into one par four.”

Goddamn, that’s a hell of a line. – PAL 

Source: Sink or … Swim? Remembering Jean Van de Velde’s British Open Meltdown, 20 Years Later”Elizabeth Nelson, The Ringer (07/17/2019)

TOB: Loved this, too – and if you want to see more of Van de Velde’s collapse, including some great stuff from him in the present offering his perspective on it, check out his episode of “Losers” on Netflix (I also highly recommend the curling episode).

Strike Three, You’re…Not Out.

Last week, we posted a story about MLB experimenting with wacky rule changes in the independent Atlantic League; specifically – allowing batters to steal first base on a dropped pitch at any point in the count, not just on strike three. As Phil and I discussed the rule, I wondered aloud as to why the dropped third strike rule even exists. 

To the non-baseball fans, a primer: If a catcher does not cleanly catch a pitch that results in strike three, and first base is open or there are two outs, the runner can try to “steal” first by running to first base before he is either tagged or a defensive player touches first base while in possession of the ball. Interestingly, the player is not out BUT the pitcher is still credited with a strikeout. So, if you’d like some good bar trivia to keep in your back pocket: the maximum number of strikeouts in an inning is not three (or 27 in a 9-inning game), but is in fact infinite.

Now that we’re all on the same page, back to the question of why this rule exists. Baseball has some weird rules, but you can usually figure out why the rule exists by playing the alternative out to its extreme conclusion: It’s usually trying to prevent something from happening that people decided was unfair. For example, the infield fly rule exists because defenders intentionally let routine fly balls drop to the ground in order to get a double play, instead of taking the out. And why is a foul bunt with two strikes an automatic out? To prevent batters from just holding their bat out to waste pitches. But why the dropped strike three rule?Here are the official MLB rules covering the topic:

6.05 A batter is out when— … (b) A third strike is legally caught by the catcher…

6.09 The batter becomes a runner when— … (b) The third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing (1) first base is unoccupied, or (2) first base is occupied with two out…

I asked Phil if he had any idea what the rule is trying to prevent. He did not. I racked my brain and could not for the life of me understand the rationale. So I did what any curious person does in the 21st Century: I went to Google. You will not be shocked to hear I’m not the first person to wonder this, but I am happy to report I found the answer. As the writer, Richard Hershberger, asks: 

Why is this? What purpose does it serve? If it is a penalty for wild pitching or poor catching, why only on the third strike? The rule seems inexplicably random.” 

But Herhberger answers the question, and I gotta say – it’s a fascinating one. Here’s Hershberger:

The answers to these questions lie in the very early days of baseball.… The story begins in an unexpected source: a German book of children’s games published in 1796 titled Spiele zur Uebung und Erholung des Körpers und Geistes für die Jugend, ihre Erzieher und alle Freunde Unschuldiger Jugendfreuden (“Games for the exercise and recreation and body and spirit for the youth and his educator and all friends in innocent joys of youth”) by Johann Christoph Friedrich Gutsmuths

The game described by Gutsmuths is an early form of baseball, with some notable differences:

Prominent among them is that there are only swinging strikes. Called strikes are as yet far in the future….Less obvious is that there was no strikeout in the modern sense. …The pitcher in Gutsmuths stands close to the batter, five or six steps (fünf bis sechs Schrit) away. He tosses the ball to the batter in a high arc (in einem gestrecken Bogen: literally “in a stretched bow”). There are no called strikes or balls. The pitcher is not required to deliver the ball to any particular spot, nor the batter to swing at any given pitch, but neither is there any incentive for the pitcher to toss a purposely ill-placed ball, or the batter to refuse to swing at a well-placed ball.

This presents a problem. If the pitcher proves so inept that he cannot make a good toss, he can be replaced by a more capable teammate. But what about an inept batter? The game can be brought to a halt by a sufficiently incompetent batter, unable to hit even these soft tosses. The solution is to add a special rule. The batter is given three tries to hit the ball (Der Schläger hat im Mal drei Schläge.) On his third try, the ball is in play whether he manages to hit it or not. He has to run toward the first base once he hits the ball, or he has missed three times (oder hat er dreimal durchgeschlagen). Either way, any fielder, including the pitcher, can retrieve the ball and attempt to put the batter out by throwing it at him. Thus a missed third swing is equivalent to hitting the ball.

And…now I get the rationale, and as usual it did stem from trying to prevent something. As explained by Herberger:

This solution is very inclusive. It allows even the hapless batter to join in the fun of running the bases and having the ball thrown at him, which a harsher penalty of an automatic out would deny him. Gutsmuths points out that the batter is at a disadvantage with a missed third swing, since the pitcher is close at hand to pick up the ball and throw it at him (und da der Aufwerfer den Ball gleich bei der Hand hat, so wirft er gewöhnlich nach ihm), so the batter’s ineptitude is penalized, but the fielding side still has to work for the out.

Hershberger goes on to explain how the rule was incorporated into American baseball in the 19th Century (it’s also fascinating). I’m so happy I know this now, and I hope you also put this in your back pocket for a rainy bar trivia day. As we said last week:


Source: The Dropped Third Strike: The Life and Times of a Rule”, Richard Hershberger, Society for American Baseball Research (Spring 2015)

PAL: Is this our first 1-2-3 post in subtitles? Goddamn, TOB; become a P.I. already. Impressive

Get A Dog Already

Maxine Fischer will likely be gone by the time you read this. I’m not entirely sure why I’m compelled to share this with you. Chances are, seeing as we have a blog here in 2019, I over-share. Could be, as my wedding inches closer by the day, that I’m in a stock-taking mode. One thing’s for sure: this isn’t an update about putting her down.

This is a note to twenty-somethings out there considering whether or not to get a dog, written by a guy who just spent 12+ years caring for and living with a stubborn, persistent, trying, needy, ill-trained, cavalier, loving, patient, large, strong, and – in the end – ill friend. 

So, to those twenty-somethings out there: just do it. Go to the pound or rescue and say yes. That’s it. 

Set the pup on the passenger seat and drive home. You don’t need to know anything else. I promise you’ll figure out the rest. 

It will be expensive at a time when you really don’t have any money. It will make finding an apartment that much more difficult at a time when you shouldn’t be too picky. Friends will be super enthusiastic about watching the dog before you get a dog, but – through no fault of their own – friends are busy a lot, too (and the ones that do: shower them with beers and dinners out). It will mean leaving happy hour before you want to sometimes, and it will mean picking up about 7500 poops (2 a day for 10 years, with a little extra added for diarrhea days). You will get frustrated, angry, flabbergasted with that dog. It will destroy something important. And, at the end of the night, just as you’re about to slide into bed, that GD dog will have to go to the bathroom once more. 

Also, you’ll learn that a reason to come home is better than a reason to stay out. A reason to get up is better than a reason to sleep in. A walk with the dog is the best way to get to know your neighbors and neighborhood. Playing fetch is the anecdote to a shit day at work. The parks around you are beautiful and thoughtfully designed. You will talk to your family more, because you will call them while you walk the dog. You will feel loved in a way you’ve never felt before. 

Maybe it’s because we don’t have kids yet. It’s probably that. Max was just the first life I was responsible for, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic to all the parents out there, that’s something that will stick with me. 

Yep, I know this is a sports blog, but we’ve been doing this for over five years now, and I like to think people read because they want to hear want we have to say, to hear what we think is good and worth sharing. More than sports, I think it’s about a small group of people interested in what TOB and I have to share. I’m putting my dog down. She made me a more loving person. That’s a story I want to share this week.

Things are gonna be off without you, buddy. Natalie and I are really going to miss you. – PAL

TOB: Nice tribute to a great dog, Phil. I’ll miss getting into your car as she slowly and begrudgingly vacated her spot in the front seat, I’ll miss her god awful farts, and I’ll miss her relentless pursuit of a belly rub.

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – Starship – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”

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People will never be replaced by machines. In the end, life and business are about human connections. And computers are about trying to murder you in a lake. And to me the choice is easy.

-M.G. Scott

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