Week of December 6, 2019

After a two-week hiatus, we’re back to spike on y’alls’ heads.

What The Hell Happened On Everest? 

This is the story behind a photo that we all saw earlier this year. You know the one: 

We are aware of the general idea: Mount Everest as become a clogged tourist attraction for folks with the funds, ignorance, and arrogance to think they can summit it because the idea is intriguing to them. This idea is nothing new, especially to anyone who read John Krakaur’s Into Thin Air in the last 20+ years. 

What makes this specific story worth your time is the explanation – all of its variables – that led to that photograph. Joshua Hammer describes the image of a snaking line of climbers at 27K+ feet as resembling throngs of folks “queued up for a ski lift in Vail”. It’s not just the blind ambition of inexperienced climbers. It’s the market for guides, especially at a lower rate. It’s complex weather patterns. It’s a real ethical dilemma playing out with the heaviest of consequence. 

Hammer also writes and reports the hell out of this story. What a fantastic opener: 

It was morning and bright, and Reinhard Grubhofer, depleted and dehydrated, hoisted his body over a crest and rose uneasily. There, from the summit of Mount Everest, he could see everything. How the earth curved gorgeously in all direction; how wisps of clouds sailed beneath his boots. The view—out beyond his worries—was beautiful. But closer at hand, he could see trouble taking shape.

It’s obvious, but I have to say it: it continues to shock me how completely inexperienced climbers are allowed on Everest. It’s life and death, and a slew of climbers are held up because a lady is too scared to get on the ladder. As Hammer points out, the same holds true that Krakauer detailed in his book Into Thin Air. This lady on the ladder was yet another “scathing portrait of irresponsible guides catering to wealthy, out-of-their-depth dilettantes…”.

He swiftly identified the problem: a woman in a red climbing suit adorned with the emblems of a Chinese mountaineering group perched just before the drop-off, unwilling to go forward. The woman’s two Sherpa guides were firmly encouraging her to descend the ladder, but she remained paralyzed in apparent fear. For those in the logjam behind her, there was no going around. Everybody was stuck, freezing in the storm. Nearly six miles high in the Himalayas, Grubhofer knew, conditions were unforgiving: Standing still for long periods in the so-called death zone above 26,000 feet dramatically increased the risk of frostbite, heart attack, stroke, pulmonary or cerebral edema—and death. Grubhofer knew that Ernst Landgraf, the member of his climbing party whom he had seen on Everest’s summit, had been exhausted at the top. He could just make out Landgraf—obscured by snowfall, clouds, fog, and people—a few climbers behind him, but Grubhofer didn’t know how the 64-year-old was holding up.

“Move it!” shouted a climber behind Grubhofer.

Oh, shit, Grubhofer thought, this is getting serious.

This Chinese woman, he was sure, had no business being on the mountain. Why hadn’t her guides screened her ahead of time? Thirty minutes crawled by. Forty-five passed. Still she wouldn’t go down the ladder.

That was far from the only example of this. It reads like the mountain is littered with the corpses of nearly 200 bodies left frozen – some are of the most experienced and qualified, and some are folks with no business being on a mountain half the size and danger of Everest –  being stepped over by dozens of people who have no idea what they’re doing, increasing the risk of adding to the growing number of frozen corpses. 

Reading this story, I have the urge to say the very spirit of summiting Everest is gone, replaced by a backdrop for social media posts. Hammer describes it as a “circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion” outlining what sounds like a nightmare scene: “In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal”

But the mountaineers are far from the only issue leading to four deaths over 24 hours last May. Year after year, more permits are sold by the Nepalese and Chinese governments. But this past spring, there was also a category 4 cyclone hundreds of miles away that continued to send bad weather up against Everest. This shortened an already tiny window of good weather for summiting down to two days. Everyone had been waiting for weeks for the weather to clear, and when it finally did, well – everyone – all of those customers paying tens of thousands of dollars to stand on top of the world – went for the summit at the same time. 

Hammer writes, “Experienced sherpas knew the mountain had never seen anything like those two days.”

This story is also a good reminder that it’s not as cut-and-dry for the Sherpas either: 

The Sherpa faced a dilemma confronted by many guides on Everest: how to respond to the determination of an apparently ailing or unfit climber. Only rarely, many experts say, will a Sherpa demonstrate the force of will to override a client’s decision to summit; for new recruits trying to make a mark in a competitive business, getting a client to the top often becomes the priority.

More guide agencies are now catering to clients with less money. Less money means less spent on quality sherpas. More people on the mountain, less quality control and less experience – both climbers and guides – and an unwillingness to tell a client no – you can see how disaster can arise as quickly as bad weather. 

In this new adventure theme park, governments need to limit the amount of permits and add some qualifications in order to receive a permit. It will save lives of climbers and guides. It will restore the prestige of Mount Everest. Great read. – PAL 

Source: Chaos at the Top of the World”, Joshua Hammer, GQ (12/04/2019)

TOB: This is an incredible story; so well written. Two points I’d like to make about the main subject, Reinhard Grubhofer.

First, every time I read about Everest I am dumbfounded that anyone takes credit for climbing this thing when they have hired a Sherpa to carry all their gear, including oxygen. Grubhofer’s Sherpa carried three oxygen takes while they climbed, two for himself and one for Grubhofer, while Grubhofer carried only the one he was using.

Second, regarding this passage at the end:

New rules have to be implemented, he says, to weed out the incompetent and the inexperienced, to reduce the crowds, to remove the Disneyland illusion and bring Everest back to something approximating its pristine state. Too many people, he says, have died needlessly because of sliding standards. “Let’s not make it a tourist mountain,” he says. “Let’s not spoil it even more [and] reduce it to dead people and tourists.”

Grubhofer has an incredible amount of nerve to say those things considering the fact (1) a Sherpa saved his life twice, and (2) his experienced climbing partner DID die that day. My man, YOU did not belong up there, either. You want a rule for who can go up there? A Sherpa can be your guide, but if you cannot carry your own gear, including oxygen, you cannot go. This friggin’ guy!

And the Sign Said “Long-Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply”

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, huh? It’s Hot Effin Stove Season, but if you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably been reading about signs and how teams steal them for the last few weeks. In particular, the Houston Astros, and how they are pretty obviously using video cameras to steal signs in real-time. Folks, I have a take!

Now, sign stealing in baseball is damn near as old as sign making. Teams have long been accused of trying to steal signs with a runner on second base signaling the pitch selection or location to the hitter. But while that ruffles some feathers, it’s also one of those things that everyone does and no one is sure what benefit it provides, and so it never makes much more than a small ripple.

But over the last few years, the Astros have been accused repeatedly of stealing signs in a much more high tech manner. At one point during the 2019 ALCS, the Yankees accused the Astros of using cameras and a whistle system to signal the pitch to the hitter. At the time, MLB “investigated’ and claimed to find no such evidence. *More on that in a bit.

But last month The Athletic reported that in 2017 the Astros set up an elaborate system with a secret centerfield camera providing a feed to a TV in the private tunnel behind the dugout and leading to the clubhouse. The article said that someone watching that feed would see the sign and immediately signal the pitch selection to the hitter by banging loudly on a trash can. The story was produced largely in part to pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on that Astros team, deciding to speak up about what his former team was up to. 

Now, when I first read this story, it seemed a little preposterous. Would a hitter even hear that? How could they make the signal fast enough to prepare the hitter? So I yawned. It just seemed overblown. And then I saw a series of tweets from our old lip-reading friend Jomboy…and it completely changed my mind. Here’s one, where he shows the whole system at work:

Here’s another, with the Twins facing the Astros. When it’s a fastball, there’s no bang. When it’s an offspeed pitch, there’s a bang.

Once I saw the system at work, I was swayed. As Jomboy says, it’s upsetting. It’s not gamesmanship – it’s cheating. Using technology to steal signs has also been against the rules since at least 2001. And the directive to do so came from the highest levels of the Astros’ front office, as reported by the Athletic.

I thought the Patriots Spygate scandal was overblown because I was skeptical that a team could decode signs and signal them to the team on the field in time in a football game. But watching these videos of the Astros, it’s clear they did have a system, and in hindsight it was stupidly obvious. I would say they deserve to be punished severely, but they beat the Dodgers in the World Series in 2017, and for that I can never be angry at them. Alas. 

One thing I’d like to know, Phil – as a guy who played baseball at a much higher level than I did, how much do you think being told the type of pitch a split second before it arrives actually helps. I’ll take my question off the air, thanks. -TOB

Source: The Astros Stole Signs Electronically in 2017 — Part of a Much Broader Issue For Major League Baseball,” Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic (11/12/2019)

PAL: Thanks, Tommy from San Francisco. And a happy holidays to you and yours. Knowing an off-speed or a fastball is coming makes a huge difference. Timing is everything. A batter can adjust to location while the ball is in flight, but knowing there’s a little more time (or less) changes everything. 

TOB: Ok, I lied. Sorta. I’m not gonna take my answer off the air. But this wasn’t a *gotcha* moment. After reading your response, I read this article and want to add it to the conversation.

Sleuthing uncovered that the Astros “bang bang” system seems to have started on May 27, 2017. But after that date, as The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh reports, the team only got marginally better, and well within a normal in-season variation. More importantly, the Astros hit worse at home, both over the full season and after May 27, than they did on the road, which doesn’t make much sense because the system was only in place at home.

Of course, it seems that the Astros didn’t use the system on every at bat. So Lindbergh isolated “high leverage” at bats. He shows the Astros performed worse in high-leverage situations than they did in low leverage situations. That’s normal. But as the table show, the Astros performed more worse (sorry, but it works here; would you have preferred worser?) than in high vs. low leverage situations relative to the rest of the league. So, we are left wondering – did the cheating help?

Well, the playoffs are an interesting comparison. A smaller sample size, yes. But there is evidence the Astros switched the system – they couldn’t be sure the banging would be heard in a noisy playoff game, and also might have been worried about getting caught with the greater scrutiny the playoffs bring. Here’s what former Minnesota Twin Trevor Plouffe claims they did instead:


So, did it help in the playoffs? Boy, did it. The Astros hit 230 OPS points higher at home than on the road in the 2017 postseason. 

Still, Lindbergh notes that many great hitters over the years have said they don’t want to know the pitch, and he makes a compelling argument:

Major league hitters don’t have superhuman reflexes. What they have is learned perceptual skills, honed through picking up patterns over thousands and thousands of pitches. Simply telling them which pitch is coming, instead of making their brains work for it, sounds like it would simply allow them to skip a step and be even better. But disrupting their regular process might make them worse.

Thad Meeks, an associate professor of cognitive psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, says, “If a behavior is well-learned, to the point that it is almost automatic, it is very possible that imposing additional thought processes into working memory may interfere with those behaviors. … Thus, it is possible that batters may have more automatized reactions to pitches without knowing what is coming over decades of learning. And it is certainly possible for some that overriding that automatic response with a different approach, even if that approach is on the surface advantageous, may interfere with [their] natural approach.”

Anyways. I’m just glad they beat the Dodgers.

College Football Fans Haven’t Changed, College Football Has

College football attendance continues to drop, and the people in charge do not understand why. Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey 

“I think we have a changing consumer,” Mullens said. “Getting folks to commit to seven college football Saturdays with a season ticket is hard.”

Sankey believes the issue reaches beyond college football. He’s studied professional sports leagues in America and abroad and knows they’re all struggling to attract fans to the stadiums.

When asked why it was becoming harder to sell tickets to college football games Sankey offered, “A sociologist may be a better contributor than me.”

They’re wrong. They are flat out wrong. I spent a little time on a Cal football message board, and I don’t think fans are changing at all. It is college football that is changing.

The issue has many causes but there’s one that comes up again and a again: The conferences gave up control of kickoff times in exchange for more money from the networks. Period. ESPN and FOX in particular control kickoff times for nearly every team in the country. They not only control the kickoff times for the games they air, but they control the kickoff times for the games they don’t select because they want exclusive windows to drive up ratings. This has meant late night games, beginning as late as 8pm. With games that routinely last 4 hours, many fans can’t get home until 1 or 2am. 

To make those late night games worse, they don’t have to announce kick times for until 12 days, and a few times a year until 6 days, before the game. Six days! I have been a college football season ticket holder for 15 years now, and the last few years have been a nightmare trying to plan my Fall Saturdays. My wife will ask if we can go to an event and I have to say, “Uhhh, maybe? There’s a game.” “When will you know?” “Either two weeks or one week before the game.” It’s awful – and I’m local. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people traveling.

Lest you think this is an issue for the the liberal elite coasts, I assure you it is not. The Big Ten posted its lowest average attendance in 25 years (65,376) last season, and this season is going to be lower. Even the SEC was down more than 100,000 in total attendance last year, its third straight season of declining attendance. That picture up top was a ⅓ full Alabama game from 2018. Alabama!

What’s especially galling about all this is that these idiots decided TV money was greater than ticket-buying money, took the big network payday and are now blaming their fans for saying, “I’m fed up with this.” Worse yet, they are killing an entire generation of young fans, jeopardizing the long-term health of the sport for the short-term boost. 

The solution is simple: set game times before the season. If the NFL can do it, so can the NCAA. Maybe late in the season a small number of “flex options” could be made available in order to ensure an unexpectedly blockbuster game gets into primetime. But that’s it. Give gamedays back to the ticket buying fan. -TOB

Source: College Football’s Troubles Will Be Punctuated With More Empty Seats in Pac-12 Title Game,John Canzano, Oregon Live (12/05/2019)

Why NFL Film Analysis Should Be Left to the Pros

As football fans and members of the media, there is so much the average football viewer does not understand about the modern game. We see a long TD on busted coverage, but the vast majority of us have no idea whose responsibility it was to cover the received on that play. We see a QB throw an interception when there’s no receiver in the area, but almost all routes these days have options, wherein the receiver and the QB read the coverage and break differently. As an average fan, we have no idea if it was the receiver or the quarterback who read the defense wrong way. We see a running back get blown up and assume a lineman missed the block, but maybe the running back went the wrong direction. You get the idea.

On Twitter last week I saw the perfect illustration of this from Eliot Shorr-Parks, an Eagles reporter for a Philadelphia radio station. In his Twitter bio, Shorr-Parks states, “A bad take is better than no take at all,” which should give you an idea of what you’re about to read. Shorr-Parks tweeted the following:

When you watch the video, you might think, hm yeah, good point. Wentz missed the receiver completely and that led to the interception. But remember, we don’t know jack. To prove that point, former Cal Bear and Eagle wide receiver Bryce Treggs weighed in:

Boom, roasted. Shorr-Parks is not alone, of course. Plenty of sports “reporters” now consider themselves “experts” or “film-junkies.” But they have no idea what they’re watching. If you’re going to spend any time trying to learn football from a reporter, be sure he knows what the heck he’s talking about first. -TOB

The Mind PED

Interesting topic, albeit terribly written. TOB said it a few weeks ago, and I’ll say it again: we really need to widen our search for good shit with Deadspin gone. I can’t imagine an editor gave this the once over. There’s just no way. 

However, the idea of a PED for the mind is fascinating. I always think of PEDs in terms of the physical – increase in strength, speed, recovery; Anderson’s account underscores the real challenge in baseball – the battle between the ears. With all that time of waiting in a baseball game, punctuated by milliseconds of action, the ability to get out of your own head and think clearly is survival. Former Giant and current loony Aubrey Huff described playing on adderall and feeling “metally invincible”.

Consider the circumstances in which he first tried adderall, and I’ll have a hard time believing more than a few of us wouldn’t have given it a shot, too:

Maybe it was the exhaustion, or the fact that I was 29, five years removed from my last major league appearance, and playing less for the $1,500 a month in a faraway land, but my inner moral reservations about cheating dissolved. It felt more like an experiment.

And then there’s the testing that comes with a player getting a TUE (therapeutic use exemption). For one, these diagnoses are done on an annual basis with an MLB-approved psychiatrist. Once that TUE is given, Anderson describes it as MLB expecting the player to take the medication daily, regardless of how he might be feeling. In order to continue to receive the TUE, then players actually are better off testing positive for adderall whenever they are tested. 

The idea that health professionals employed by teams or the league are making assessments and diagnosis on players is insane. 

As for the terrible writing, here are some examples: 

  • In his hands, the miracle I needed in the form of a little white pill. In his mouth, a question: “You want an Adderall?”
  • Once the first game started, the effects were immediate. Forget the “Miracle on Ice,” it was time for the “Miracle-on-All-Dirt-Japanese-Infields.”
  • When I stood in the on-deck circle, my old friend Performance Anxiety was conspicuously absent, and I marveled at what it felt like to walk to the plate without giving his bloated ass a piggyback ride, too. He managed to stay on vacation for each at-bat. It was just me and the ball. The fielders didn’t exist, and the pitcher had turned from rottweiler to pug.
  • For real – this guy references WebMD in this story to outline the side effects of adderall

These are from the first ⅓ of the story. You get the point. 

Source: Lars Anderson: To Play ‘Mortal,’ or Not? My Experience Trying Adderall as a PED”, Lars Anderson, The Athletic (12/03/19)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Ikebe Shakedown – “Pepper”

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“I like how guys just know stuff. All the time.”

– Erin Hannon

2 thoughts on “Week of December 6, 2019

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