Week of November 15, 2019

Footage from TOB’s Saturday pickup game.


White Elephant

Baseball is over. Football – college or NFL – doesn’t really matter yet. NBA, NHL, and college basketball are just getting started. All of that is more than enough reason to share a fun history lesson as to why the hell the Oakland A’s have an elephant for its mascot. It all started in 1902 with with an insult from New York Giants manager John McGraw. There’s some history as to why McGraw had a problem with any American League team at the time, and when asked what he thought about the upstart league, he said, among other things, the following: 

The policy of the American League is everything for Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia,” he said. “The remainder of the teams in the organization take what they can get. I’m not saying this because of any prejudice, but because I was told so point-blank by the president of the American League.

The American League is badly in debt. If Johnson wants to deny that, I will tell how much it is in debt and where the money is owed.

The Philadelphia club is not making any money,” the future Hall of Fame manager continued. “It has a big white elephant on its hands … no money was made last year and no money will be made this year.

Philadelphia was home to the Athletics at the time. Connie Mack (the manager who wore a suit, not a jersey) was at the helm of the A’s at the time. He was a polite guy (obviously…the dude wore a suit while managing a baseball team), and didn’t give too much to the press, but even he had to respond to McGraw’s quote. 

“McGraw says that the Athletic club is a white elephant. I will bet McGraw $1,000, and I think that I can get the coin, that the Athletics did make money last year and are making money this year.”

He added in 1952, in an interview with the Palm Beach Post: “When I heard about it I said, ‘We accept McGraw’s name of White Elephants,’ and we have kept that title ever since.”

It was a bold statement — one that easily could’ve backfired — but Mack’s team, which featured future Hall of Famers Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell, backed its skipper’s words. The A’s finished first in the American League, with a record of 83-53-1, and won the pennant (there was no World Series that year).

Over the next 12 seasons, they’d make five World Series appearances, winning three.

And so, over the next 115+ years (on and off) the elephant has been synonymous with the Athletics, be it in Philadelphia, Kansas City, or Oakland. A mascot born out of a beef. 

As a small tangent – and don’t take this, Ryan Nett – I have an idea. If I ever coach high school varsity level baseball or higher, I will wear a suit and tie. It’ll create a little buzz, get the local paper down to do a story on the high school team, and then we’re moving. The uniform on the coach is truly a terrible, terrible look. There’s precedent in not wearing one, one that the silverheads will appreciate the hat tip to Mack. Win-win. 

Tangent aside, this is a really fun article about a legit interesting history of a mascot. Good stuff! – PAL

Source: How the A’s elephant is rooted in an age-old rivalry, and why it has endured for over a century”, Alex Coffey, The Athletic (11/14/19)


Sliding Lawsuit

A JV baseball coach in New Jersey instructed a player to slide into third base. The player wrecked his ankle. The family sued the school district for not properly training the young coach. The facts of the case are every bit as ridiculous as you’re imagining right now, and 2,625 days have passed since the slide and the docket being resolved. The coach and the school district were not found liable or reckless. 

This is one of those ‘how have we gotten here’ stories, and it’s written with a little too much sanctimony for my taste, but it’s an interesting story nonetheless. 

Per, Steven Politi: 

So, yes, I have found the intersection of our overly litigious society and our out-of-control youth sports culture. As Suk sits there, scribbling away, I am consumed with a sickening thought: If this JV baseball coach is found liable for telling a player to slide, there’s nothing to stop the dominoes from falling everywhere around us.

In short: We’re all f—ed.

The full story is worth a read, and I will concede that – while this remains clear that a coach can’t be held responsible for when a kid gets hurt sliding – there are some details that allow me to feel a bit of sympathy for player. 

For one, it sounds like his ankle is permanently jacked up. 

Baseball was the least of his worries. Even after three surgeries, the ankle was not improving — one doctor even presented amputation as a possible outcome. A specialist from the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, Robert Rozbruch, found post-traumatic arthritis and signs of necrosis — evidence the bone was dying.

Mesar needed two more surgeries, including one to inject stem cells into the ankle tissue, and he was fit with an external fixator, a stabilizing frame to keep the bones properly positioned. The injury improved, but Rozbruch told the once-active teenager to avoid high-impact activities. Even jogging.

John Suk, the coach, also never attended any coaching seminars, which I thought was mandatory in order to coach at the high school level. 

Of course, neither of those two details – how messed the ankle was, and the lack of coaching seminars – make Suk or the school district reckless, but I think in some of these seemingly absurd lawsuits aren’t so absurd when you dig into the details a bit. I am reminded of the McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit (if you haven’t, then you must watch the doc Hot Coffee)

On a lighter note, it’s hilarious how the poor quality of the opposing team from the game if the injury is ridiculed. Here’s an exchange from the plaintiff’s attorney cross-examining Suk: 

“We have established that the fence is 315 feet, and that this is a JV game at Gill St. Bernard’s,” Sinins says. “And you’ve heard testimony that the Gill St. Bernard’s team stunk. Is that fair?”

“Sir, my opinion of their team has no bearing —” Suk answers.

“You’re telling this jury that the JV left fielder for the Gill St. Bernard’s team reached the ball at the fence and threw a strike to the third baseman?” Sinins asks. “That’s what you’re telling this jury?!”

Give the full story a read, and let us know what you think, especially you coaches out there. – PAL 

Source: “He told a kid to slide. Then he got sued.”, Steve Politi, NJ.com (11/12/19)


I Hope You Enjoyed This Week, Gophers Fans 

Regular followers may have noticed I, a son of Minnesota, poked a little fun at the Gophers football team last week. I laughed at the very notion of the Gophers beating #3 Penn State. Well, the Gophers pulled off an upset, breathing even more life into P.J. Fleck’s con job. 

Following the big win, Philip John, a.k.a. The Used Car Salesman (c/o Matt Lang),  got a new contract. Per Kare 11, starting on November 15, 2019 (TODAY), Philly will have a 7 year, 33MM contract. He will be paid 4M+ a year to not ever come close to competing with the big boys in the Big 10. 

Mark my words, because I’m doubling-down: the Gophers will not only lose to Iowa, but they will get their shit handed to them by Wisconsin, too, and not participate in the Big 10 title game. 

Why am I going after the school of my dad, uncle, cousin, and niece, you might ask? 

  1. I believe in college monogamy: I’m an Augustana Viking, and only an Augustana Viking (the Augustana in Sioux Falls, not in Illinois, people) 
  2. There has always been this long held pipedream for the U of M to be a football school in the Big 10, but they are bottom feeders that simply don’t admit it. Every local columnist drinks the kool-aid once a decade. Jim Wacker, Glen Mason, P.J. Fleck; same bullshit, different coach hoping for Minnesota to be a stop on the way to a more prestigious job. 
  3. The Gophers had an identity with its hockey program, and it got messed up so horribly that it legitimately makes me sad. 
  4. Football is dumb.
  5. Fleck wears coaching cliches like a middle schooler wears cologne. 

Here’s a lil sampling from Philip’s interview on the Dan Patrick Show this week: 

  • Boys are elite. Getting ready to go to the practice field.
  • We are very fortunate. We are very humbled to represent the University of Minnesota, the great state of Minnesota, and all of our fans and alumn…
  • To be honest, I don’t think anything shocks this football team. You know, successful people and successful teams are usually not shocked by the success they have or what other people think of them, because they’ve been preparing for it…
  • This is a one-game championship season against Iowa. 
  • This team is not built for any letdowns. The game of football, that’s why you play, you just never know what’s going to happen.
  • Yesterday’s Tuesday practice was the best Tuesday practice we’ve had, and that’s all I can continue to ask of our players – is keep changing their best

And then this cringe-worthy, made-for-tv speech: 

All of this is an extremely long lede into the actual story I’m posting about Gopher fans getting down to Iowa City for this Hawkeyes game. For one, it’s the laziest kind of sports writing (I emailed a bunch of folks, and here’s a collection of their responses). Also, the idea of the Gophers in the Rose Bowl is unironically brought up in this article. Drugs, watch out for them. 

Talk about a jinx article:

But this season, he said, the Gophers have become “appointment TV,” and their potential for playing in big games later in the year has him checking travel and ticket sites often. He even mentioned the “R” word.

“I’m a football fan, but I’m not traveling to Indianapolis just to see the BIG Title Game of Ohio State, Penn State or a Michigan school take on the West winner. With the Gophers in contention, I am looking into tickets to the game,” Tate said. “I’m also looking at the costs of a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. It’s the one stadium and the one game I’ve always wanted to go to.”

It’s just football, and P.J. Fleck has a national audience right now with the undefeated Gophers, and – what the hell, it’s entertaining, right? Maybe I should give him a break. Maybe, but this guy’s just a little too loud, laying it on a lot too thick. He’s like a bad actor playing a coach on TV. He’s no Coach Taylor, but, man, is he trying so hard to be the real life version of him. 

Also, just for reference, here’s the team’s remaining schedule: 

  • Iowa
  • Northwestern
  • Wisconsin
  • Big 10 Championship (if they make it)

I see 2 loses on that schedule, my friends. P.J. Fleck will not be the head coach the Gophers 14 months from today, new contract be damned. – PAL 

Source:9-0 Gophers changing a lot of travel plans for fans”, Michael Rand, Star Tribune (11/13/19)


Video of the Week: 


Song of the Week: Kendrick Lamar – “I”


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Wiseman’s lawyers from Ballin, Ballin & Fishman and Farese, Farese & Farese released a statement Thursday morning, shortly before Memphis declared him ineligible.

-Jeff Borzello

1-2-3 Sports! Week of November 8, 2019

Does the used car salesman have a win against Penn State on that chart? Hahahaha!


NHL Dentists

Who’s ready for some stories from NHL dentists? I knew I was going to post this story as soon as I saw the headline: The ugly, gory, bloody, secret life of NHL dentists.

It takes a bit to get me squirming, but this story goes there more than a few times. Hockey pucks are really hard, hockey players are pretty big, hockey sticks are flying everywhere and none of these dudes are wearing a mask that covers their mouths (unless they’re already recovering from a broken jaw). 

Let’s start with Ryan Callahan, shall we?

[T]he Rangers’ Ryan Callahan was bearing down to deliver a check on an L.A. player when the guy turned around at the last second and bayoneted Callahan’s mouth, “Game of Thrones” style, with his stick blade. On his first night on the job, and at his first hockey game, no less, new Kings dentist Kenneth Ochi sat Callahan down in the chair at Staples Center, took a deep breath and aimed his dental lamp at the side of the player’s mouth.

The light shined straight through to the floor.

Callahan’s teeth were intact, but there was a 3-inch hole in his cheek, like he was some kind of gaffed tuna. A closer look revealed that a large portion of Callahan’s exposed jawbone was covered in a strange black substance. Ochi labored over it with his curette for an excruciating 15 minutes while trying to keep his dinner down. Later, a staff member with more hockey experience informed him, with a shrug, that the substance was stick tape.

“There’s no manual for this stuff,” Rivera says. “But for someone who always wanted to be a dentist growing up, being a part of the NHL means we’re doing some crazy stuff — and I love it.”

Setting aside the grimace no doubt on your face right now, these dentists play a pretty key role on their respective teams. They are a part of NHL hockey. Hell, they even get a day with the cup if their team wins it!

Each team keeps a full-time dentist on staff, often seated a few rows behind the bench and armed with a medieval toolkit of needles, forceps, sutures and curettes. Most NHL arenas have dental chairs somewhere near the locker rooms. The work performed there is so vital to teams’ health and success that dentists are often some of the few staff members to survive an ownership or coaching change, and many, including Rivera, get championship rings and their own day with the trophy after a run to the Stanley Cup. “After seeing how many lips had been on the Cup, I gave it the slightest little kiss I could … and then I went and disinfected my mouth,” Rivera says.

If you’ve been to an NHL game, you know how fast that puck comes off a stick when a dude unloads a slapshot. To imagine that hitting me in the mouth unsettling. It’s crazy, and so are are hockey players, and that’s why that toothless smile has been celebrated for decades. 

Another interesting note from this story. The Russian and Eastern European players: traumatized when it comes to dentists in a lot of cases. 

Several team dentists surmised that because of a different standard of dental care in places such as the Czech Republic and Russia — where the use of Novocain and anesthesia is sometimes considered an indulgence, even in pediatric dentistry — players from that part of the world are so terrified of the dentist that Long has seen them visibly shaking from fear in his chair.

So if you find yourself at a party with an NHL dentist, stick by him. He or she no doubt has some gory stories. – PAL

Source: The ugly, gory, bloody secret life of NHL dentists”, David Fleming, ESPN (11/01/19)


What Really Went Down at Deadspin

If you liked our write-up last week about the demise at Deadspin, you’ll enjoy this discussion on Slate with three recent Deadspin staffers (Megan Greenwell, Barry Petchesky, and Tom Ley) about what went on behind the scenes. I especially liked this, from Petchesky and Greenwell

Petchesky: There are 18 billion sites you can go to to find out who won. You can go to ESPN, you can go to new zombie Deadspin to find out about the Pats-Ravens game. It was not the content of the memo itself that so rankled, it was what it represented. It showed very clearly that they did not have any respect and did not hold any value for what Deadspin was and what niche it had carved out, and it showed they were willing to fight about it.

It was a test to see if we would fight it or if we would roll over, and I do think in the end, it’s mostly about power. That they wanted staff to just roll over for them and do bland work that advertisers wouldn’t complain about and just shut up and blog. I’ve been at Deadspin for my entire adult professional life, and that was not the site I’d worked at and that was not a site I wanted to work at.

Greenwell: They were clearly focused on scale above all else. In my very early conversations, I said at one point, you know, the goal of Deadspin is not to be bigger than ESPN, and they were horrified by that. In some ways, I don’t think I ever redeemed myself in their eyes from that comment. They wanted to put AP recaps of every sporting event on the site because they wanted it to be a one stop destination.

I also really liked Fatsis’ summary of what Deadspin was:

As much as any publication, Deadspin defined what sports journalism for smart people in the digital age should look like. For many readers, including me, it replaced legacy sports media as the first place to go for what happened, what mattered, what to think about, and what to talk about.

 -TOB

Source: What Happened to Deadspin, According to the People Who Were There”, Stefan Fatsis and Josh Levin, Slate (11/05/2019)

PAL: I still can’t get my head around how a website posting scores and recaps drives more traffic than something like Deadspin. I can’t comprehend the site in its current state collecting more time per visit or monthly active users than it had in its previous state. Seriously, who is going there? 

As someone that works at a company driven by ad revenue, the advertising dollars completely depend on people regularly using the product for extended periods of time. When the 18-34 demo starts leaving your site is the moment ad revenue slips. Game recaps aren’t going to attract a younger audience…or any audience. The ad revenues slip, and then the sales team push to increase ad features, which will increase revenue short-term but ultimately push more reader away. It’s a death spiral.

TOB: Well, no one is going to Deadspin anymore. Their last remaining employee resigned earlier this week, and they haven’t had a single post for almost 4 days now. I’m wondering how their CEO feels about Sticking to Sports right about now.


“The Memo Method”

02:33:03. That’s Guillermo Piñeda ‘Memo’ Morales’ finishing time at the New York City Marathon last Sunday. Top-100 finisher in a race of over 53K finishers. That’s about a 05:50 per mile pace. For his age, he’s one of the fastest in the world. To borrow a phrase from my father-in-law, Memo is “world-class”. He’s also a porter in an apartment building in Queens. 

I learned about Memo from this excellent NY Times video, ℅ Jamie Morganstern. 

The American fitness industry is worth over $30B a year. That’a a lot of fancy gear and gym memberships, but Memo doesn’t believe in gadgets. This [Memo put his fingers to neck] is Memo’s heart monitor. This [Memo doing push-ups in the park] is Memo’s gym. This [Memo eating rice and beans] is Memo’s nutrition plan. And this [Memo hiding a plastic bag with his clothes in the bushes] is Memo’s locker.

Memo keeps it simple, because running makes him “feel free”. No amount of money, no gadget, no coach can manifest freedom from a workout. That is inside of Memo, and that’s beautiful, reliable simplicity.

Memo reminds us that we’re being sold and packaged something that’s free. Achievement doesn’t come from a sports brand or the latest high-tech gizmo. Just ask Memo. He believes in just three – two things:

    • Work hard
    • Never give up

The theme of ‘free’ comes up in various forms in this video. It’s the part of this video that’s stuck with me throughout the week. Without spoiling it, I encourage you to take 3 minutes and watch. – PAL 

Source: Meet Memo, the Marie Kondo of Fitness”, Lindsay Crouse, Nayeema Raza, Taige Jensen and Max Cantor, The New York Times (11/01/19)


Book of Basketball 2.0 – Prologue – The Secret is Now Rented

We’re going to try something different here. The idea of this site is to share our favorite sports stories from the week. These days, sports stories are coming to us in various forms. Podcasts have obviously exploded over the past five years. Video is also a medium you might have used to get some sports stories.

Listen here

With that in mind, I’m sharing this first episode of Bill Simmons’ new podcast: Book of Basketball 2.0. 10 years ago he wrote a book. It was a best-seller. A lot has changed in the past decade, so instead of writing a follow-up, Simmons is making it a podcast. I haven’t read the book, so maybe some of this is old to those of you that have, but I shared the first episode with my brothers (none of whom are basketball guys) insisting they listen.

The episode is about “The Secret” to winning in basketball is great players putting forth genuine selflessness. Russell knew it in the deepest corner of his soul. Chamberlain never got close to understanding. The Warriors had it for a couple seasons, but lost it. Bill Bradley described it as the “ultimate cooperation”, and the downfall of many a great teams is what Pat Riley describes as the “Disease of More”. A team wins, and everyone starts to want more – more minutes, more money, more shots, more attention.

In the current era of basketball, when new metrics highlight individual value in a multitude of new ways, when star players move teams much more frequently, Simmons’ thinks The Secret “is rented, never bought”. That it’s become damn near impossible to keep it going for more than a few years.

The idea of team success is endlessly fascinating to me. And while Simmons’ predictable pop-culture metaphors come off as forced at moments, the subject matter, interview soundbytes, and anecdotes are a delight. – PAL

Source: Book of Basketball 2.0: The Secret is Now Rented”, Bill Simmons, The Ringer (11/05/19)


Managers Should Never “Go With Their Gut”

Joe Posnanski wrote a bizarre article this week about Mike Matheny, the new Royals manager, and how things are so different today for managers than they used to be. And it’s just such a weird article, but I have two things I wanted to point out. First, in discussing the different landscape for managers in today’s game, Posnanski laments what will happen if a manger goes with a “gut feeling”:

And heaven help you if, because of a gut feeling, you took the 41-minute route thinking you would beat traffic and that didn’t work out. That’s when people will say you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing and need to be canned immediately.

Look, I hope this doesn’t come across as arguing semantics, but I don’t agree with this. If a manager makes a decision on a gut feeling, he’s doing his job poorly. A gut feeling is how I make NFL picks when I know nothing about the teams. But no manager should ever put himself in a position to make a gut feeling. When making a decision, a manager needs to know the pitcher’s tendencies and the hitter’s tendencies and the fielder’s tendencies and the umpire’s tendencies and the ballpark and the weather. It’s not just statistics or advanced statistics or analytics, though. It’s knowing how many innings your pitchers have thrown recently, and how they’ve looked when doing so. It’s knowing how they perform having pitched two days in a row or three or with three days off instead of four. It’s knowing how their curveball breaks in the humidity or how it doesn’t in the altitude. It’s all of that, synthesized quickly into one decision. Some of it may not be conscious, but they are factors good managers think about constantly, before the game and during, so that when the time comes to make a decision, they make the best one available.

A good manager, heck probably most managers, take all of that and more into consideration, and then make the decision they think is best. Maybe Posnanski is using “gut feeling” as shorthand for all of that, but I don’t think so. And any manager ignoring all that information and going with his “gut” is going to be wrong more often than not, and he’s going to be criticized and he’s going to deserve it; and he’s going to be fired and he’s going to deserve it.

One final thing, where Posnasnki discusses, basically, how Matheny was a dick to the media when he was with the Cardinals:

But watching him in that press conference — picking fights, snapping at innocent questions, tilting at windmills and (to paraphrase Bobby Knight) going after rabbits when the elephants were on the march — you could tell that he was not built to last. All the kindness and the even-tempered nature that he had displayed in our conversation were gone. He swatted away even the most innocuous questions and tried, at the same time, to make the reporters look small. He seemed to take offense at anything and everything. His very posture questioned the right of anyone’s right to question him.

And, look, in one way, you can understand it. Matheny was a four-time Gold Glove catcher who played through agonizing pain, who endured agonizing concussions, and there’s a certain logic in thinking, “None of these people played the game. Who are they to question me?” 

I expected the next section to be a discussion with Matheny reflecting on that behavior and how it had to change. But that’s not what happens. Matheny isn’t quoted. I don’t think Posnanski even spoke to him. Instead, Posnanski just says that Matheny has to change because people won’t put up with that when you’re losing and then wraps up the article. That’s some lazy writing, and it’s what happens when an editor is too afraid to stand up to a famous writer. Do better, Joe. -TOB

Source: On Mike Matheny and the Challenges of Being a 21st-Century Baseball Manager,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (11/05/2019)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week:


Song of the Week: OutKast – ‘Player’s Ball’


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OK, show of hands. Who wants to live in a world where Stanley has two lovers and you don’t have any?

-Michael Gary Scott

Week of November 1, 2019

Legend.


Farewell, Deadspin

My favorite website, Deadspin, effectively died this week. The website is still up. But the soul is gone, dead and buried, at the hands of corporate stupidity. 

It would not be going out on much of a limb for me to guess that we have featured more stories from Deadspin than any other publication, and I doubt it’s particularly close. And that doesn’t count the stories we first read about on Deadspin but then featured the underlying story Deadspin sent us to. Rare has been the week we didn’t write about a story we read on Deadspin – when I searched “Deadspin” in our WordPress history, there was a hit in 208 of our 294 published posts – over 70%. But that’s all over now.

The end has been a long time coming. The website launched back in 2005. I found it somewhere soon after, and became a regular reader in or around 2009. Back in 2016, Deadspin was sold to Univision after its parent company, Gawker Media, went bankrupt after losing a lawsuit brought by Hulk Hogan (yes, seriously) and funded by billionaire dickhead Peter Thiel. The Univision purchase seemed strange, but for the most part things stayed the same. But then earlier this year Univision sold Deadspin to a private equity firm called Great Hill Partners. Immediately, longtime readers began to notice changes.

Ads became intrusive – shoehorned into the middle of stories. Pop-ups and demands to whitelist the website from ad blockers were constant. I could live with all that, though it was a bit of a canary in a coalmine, in hindsight. The real end, though, began in August with this post by Megan Greenwell, entitled “The Adults in the Room.” Greenwell had been editor in chief for about a year and a half, but this post served as a resignation letter. As Greenwell points out, the employees of Deadspin are not and have not been “idealistic journalists, unconcerned with profit” – on the contrary, they are journalists who are “eager to do work that makes money; [who] are even willing to compromise for it, knowing that [their] jobs and futures rest on it.” 

And, as Greenwell points out, they were good at it. They were profitable. And they did it while doing good work and reporting the hell out of stories. But that wasn’t good enough for their new corporate overlords. Greenwell explains life at Deadspin under Great Hill Partners and its CEO Jim Spanfeller:

Jim Spanfeller, the CEO of this company, meanwhile, is best known for growing Forbes.com in the mid-2000s, around the time this website was born. While he was not responsible for the “contributor network” that made Forbes a journalistic laughingstock, he set the stage by demanding increased output at all costs (up to 5,000 stories a day by the end of his tenure). The clickbait and SEO plays and sleazy monetization schemes rejected by Gawker Media were the entire point. Content mills The Active Times and The Daily Meal, which Spanfeller launched and later sold to the Tribune Company at a trivial price, ran the same playbook, and many of his ideas for growing revenue at this company (implementing slideshows to juice pageviews, clogging story pages with ever-more programmatic ads at the expense of user experience) were taken straight from that era—more than a decade ago, or approximately an eon in internet time. The only idealistic belief at Gawker Media was that a journalistic enterprise could make money without scamming people; the guiding principle at Forbes and sites of its ilk was that scams are good as long as they make money.

The question I hear the most about the owners of this company is “Why did they buy a bunch of publications they seem to hate?” I and my colleagues have asked Spanfeller only slightly more diplomatic variants of that question on several occasions. The answer he has given is that the publications didn’t cost him much and that he liked their high traffic numbers. The unstated, fuller version seems to be that he believed he could simply turn up the traffic (and thus turn a profit), as if adjusting a faucet, not by investing in quality journalism but by tricking people into clicking on more pages. While pageviews are no longer seen as a key performance indicator at most digital publications—time spent on the site is increasingly thought to be a more valuable metric—Spanfeller has focused on pageviews above all else. In his first meeting with editorial leaders, he said he expected us to double pageviews. Several weeks later, without acknowledging a change, he mentioned that the expectation is in fact to quadruple them. Four months in, the vision for getting there seems less clear than ever.

What has in any event been made exceedingly clear is that the owners’ vision involves narrowing the scope of Deadspin’s coverage. During my first real conversation with Spanfeller, he told me he didn’t understand why the site covered other media companies. During my first real conversation with Spanfeller’s hand-picked editorial director, Paul Maidment (another Forbes veteran), he said he didn’t understand why we covered politics. My responses—that we cover those things because our readers like them, a thesis that is supported by traffic figures—have failed to make an impact.

It really saddens me to know that someone saw a place and a community as great as Deadspin and bought it just to blow it up. Deadspin made the world a better place by shining a light on both the good and the bad in the sports world. And, yes, in the sports-adjacent world. Ok, and sometimes way outside the sports world. 

But that’s what made Deadspin great. There are lots of publications that Stick to Sports. And I’m sure they have readers who like that. But there’s also, obviously, a market for a place like Deadspin, where readers can go and read about sports, but also about other things that affect us all. 

This week, the end that began with Greenwell’s resignation finally, well, ended. The corporate higher ups laid down the edict, officially: Stick to Sports. The staff did not do so. Management killed a story, in violation of their collective bargaining agreement with Deadspin employees that gives near-complete editorial control to the staff. Editor Barry Petchesky, a longtime Deadspin writer and one of our favorites here, announced he’d been fired on Tuesday. 

In response, a long list of some of my very favorite writers announced their resignations on Wednesday. The site’s most popular writer, Drew Magary, followed suit on Thursday. The site, which usually has a dozen or more posts per day, had three on Wednesday (and each seemed to be not-so-subtle F-Us to management). 

And just like that, Deadspin, the funny, intelligent, critical, and creative website that inspired me to produce 1-2-3 Sports each week, was gone. Deadspin focused a critical eye on its subject – forcing readers to challenge popular narratives, to think not about what occurred but why, and to consider how an event has been perceived, and why. I will miss it. -TOB

PAL: I found myself instinctively opening Deadspin the last few days, only to realize again and again that it was essentially done. Deadspin achieved the ultimate goal with me – it was a part of my daily routine. Not just once a day. I would check it quick while waiting for BART, as a minute break at work, it has been part of my coffee scroll for years. Let’s be real – part of the bathroom routine, too. 

I appreciated the diversity of tone and ideas, and that it had an edge and reinforced the idea that sports is an intersection of culture, not a lane of it. It didn’t shy away from politics, and it didn’t shy away from funny highlights. It wasn’t afraid of random stories or pulling stuff from the archive. It seemed like a pretty simple formula: is this an interesting story? More times than not, I agreed that the stuff they posted was in fact interesting. Building a news/sports site based on that edict alone seems to be something fewer and fewer brands can do. Deadspin surely wasn’t the first, but it does signify we’re entering a new era. 

Per Bryan Curtis at The Ringer:

This week, as one staffer after another quit, I couldn’t help but think of one of the first Deadspin-induced moments of journalistic anxiety. In 2008, author Buzz Bissinger faced off with Will Leitch, the site’s founder, on HBO. Bissinger freaked out that real, honest-to-god reporters like him were being undercut and replaced by snotty bloggers.

The critique isn’t worth revisiting. But think about this: Now we’ve lost the snotty bloggers. The kind of churn Bissinger feared has decimated two separate categories of sportswriters. And it ain’t over. We are fated to live in a world where certain owners will make sure this process continues apace, until only mavens remain.

Curtis writes about the fate of these brands we associate with sportswriting, or – more broadly speaking – professional writing. Their carcasses are bought out and used as a short-term clickbait strategy. There is no long-term plan or mission other than diverting the masses to click on something, anything. Deadspin joins the likes of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Playboy, LA Weekly, and more. Curtis calls it Mavening (named after the company that bought the shell of SI).

Deadspin was my favorite scroll. Yes, some days it sucked, but most days it fell in a hard to find sweet spot. The Ringer skews too heavily on entertainment for my liking. The Athletic relies too much on what I’ve liked (as opposed to what I should read). ESPN is a network and not a news shop and the locals like The Chronicle or Star Tribune don’t have or don’t spend the money any anything more than gamers and local gossip. 

TOB: Ah, yes. I had forgotten. The Buzz Bissinger HBO freak out with Will Leitch is what made Deadspin part of my daily routine. Classic.


The Nats Are All We Can Ever Hope For

Pro tip: When a team wins a title, always read its local paper for the real deal. After the Nationals – major underdogs against the Astros – won four road games en route to the championship, I went to the Washington Post for my recap. 

After my Twins were, again, the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked a suck in the playoffs, I latched onto the Nationals. It’s always easiest to just root for the team playing the Dodgers, but I quickly saw this team had ‘it’ this playoffs. Strasburg was realizing the near impossible potential of his can’t-miss, number one overall draft pick expectations. Max Scherzer was gutting out wins. Juan Soto was becoming a clutch star – at twenty, a better version of former National Bryce Harper. Old guy Howie Kendrick was hitting super-clutch bombs and doing this with Adam Eaton:

This team was on the edge, and playing loose – the most dangerous kind of team. They came back against Josh Hader and the Brewers in the play-in game. They crushed the Dodgers dreams, and they embarrassed the Cardinals. This team was used to it by the playoffs. They rode that right into the World Series and beat a dominant Astros team. That edge – it’s where the Nationals spent the majority of the season. 

Per Dave Sheinin: 

In other words, after a month of exquisite play and narrow escapes, Game 7 had carried the Nationals to a familiar place. They had spent so much of the past five months playing from behind — from the long slog of digging out of May’s 19-31 hole to the win-or-go-home games of early and mid-October — that it almost brought a perverse sense of comfort. They were at their best, they liked to say, when their backs were to the wall.

And it all took us to a Game 7. A baseball fan – hell, a sports fan – can hope for nothing more than a season ending with a Game 7. In that penultimate game, the numbers in the game most defined by numbers don’t matter. Pitch count doesn’t matter. A batting average doesn’t matter. WHIP doesn’t matter. All those numbers got us to this game, and now we get to throw it all out and see who the hell can get a hit with two outs and runners on base. 

In other words: 

By Wednesday night, the Nationals were running on a cocktail of fumes, painkillers, Red Bulls and dwindling supplies of adrenaline. Each player was reduced to his component parts and what each had left in it — how many pitches, how many innings, how many competitive at-bats.

Watching the Nationals make this run, I realized that all you can ever fairly hope for as a sports fan is to get into a situation where you’re one game away. Ain’t that the truth. All we can ever hope for in life is to get one opportunity away from the goal. They playoffs are the best, and Juan Soto is awesome. – PAL

Source: Nationals Win First World Series title, Storming Back on Astros in Game 7, 6-2”, Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post (10/30/2019)


Jumping on a Bandwagon Without Shame

2019 has been a bad year for my sports teams. Cal football has lost 4 straight, the last two in ugly fashion, to fall to 4-4. Cal basketball is unmentionably bad. The Giants were bad, outside of one hot stretch, and Bochy is gone with Bumgarner seeming likely to follow (though I am very bullish on the team going forward). The Kings fell short of a playoff berth, had a strange and unproductive summer, and are 0-4 to start a season many hoped would see their return to the postseason. The Warriors, who aren’t my team but who I root for, look terrible and are 1-3 and Steph Curry just broke his hand. 

And then there are the 49ers. It would not be fair to call the Niners one of “my teams,” though. I loved them as a kid, led by Montana and then Young. But those teams were awesome and easy to love. When the team fell on hard times, I cared less. Then they passed on Aaron Rodgers, took Alex Smith instead, and predictably sucked. So they were dead to me. 

About a decade later the Niners finally recovered from that idiotic mistake, and there I was furiously cheering them on to deep playoff runs with Harbaugh and Kaepernick. They brought me back in. And then they ran Harbaugh out of town, kicked Kaepernick in the teeth, and moved out of San Francisco. So they were dead to me, again.

Now they are 7-0 and look like Super Bowl favorites after blasting the pretty good Carolina Panthers by a score of 51-17. The Niners defense is the story – their defense is so good that if the season ended today it would be the second highest rated defense in the NFL, ever (amazingly, this year’s New England Patriots defense is even better, with the highest rating ever). But the offense is also awesome, with a creative and tricky rushing attack that keeps defenses guessing the entire game. 

So, I’m back, baby! Go Niners! Save me a place to stand on that bandwagon. Yes, I’m a fair weather fan. In fact, I am the fairest of fair weather fans, and I’m ok with that. -TOB


This is a Rant About the Umps, But it is NOT a Robo-Ump Rant

The umpires nearly blew Game 6 of the World Series, which saw the Nats win 7-2 to force a Game 7. But late in the 7th inning, with the Nats up 3-2 and a man on first, the following play occurred:

The play ended with runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. But home plate umpire called Trea Turner out for runner interference. The Nats went ballistic; Manager Davey Martinez was eventually tossed. I don’t blame him:

Whose fault is that contact? Either Peacock, who made a bad throw, or Gurriel, who turned with his glove.

So what the hell was the call? As Michael Baumann explains:

The white line that runs parallel to the first base line is supposed to create a runner’s lane, and Turner was technically outside that area. Under rule 5.09(a)(11), which MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre read aloud from the rulebook at a postgame press conference, a batter is out when he runs outside that lane and interferes with the first baseman taking a throw.

But what would you like Turner to do? It’s idiotic. If the umpires followed the rule, then the rule is stupid and needs to be changed. What’s worse is that the umpires made that call in that situation – on a play where the runner is clearly not trying to interfere with the throw and the batted ball is far enough up the third base line that he shouldn’t have been even close to the ball if the throw wasn’t awful. As Baumann put it:

But Turner was running a straight line from the right-handed batter’s box to the bag, which is entirely within fair territory, and more important than the way the rules are written is how the rules are enforced by umpires, and how their implementation is understood by players. Precedent of enforcement isn’t as binding in baseball as common law in the real world, but it informs players’ actions just the same.

The interference call was like getting pulled over for driving one mile per hour over the speed limit, a showily petty bit of legal literalism that contravenes a lifetime of lived normative experience.

Exactly.

And then none of it mattered because Anthony Rendon stepped up and hit a bomb to make it 5-2. Go Nats! -TOB

PAL: I think simplifying the rule to a something about running a straight line would be better. Bang-bang play, but I think Turner is safe on a good throw. I think Peacock knows it’s going to be a close play, rushes his sidearm throw, causing it to tail. Turner runs a straight line, but he knows exactly where he is in relation to the baseline. Exactly.

Another thing I heard John Smoltz say yesterday on the Dan Patrick Show: he said pitchers in that situation are instructed to throw it in the runner’s back for this reason.


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