Week of February 28, 2020


Sneak Peek: State-Bound

Where the dream begins…

and where the dream is realized. Josie Lang, fourth from the left.

Last week I traveled back to Minnesota to watch my niece become the first person in my family to play in the State High School Hockey Tournament. We’ll be posting the long-form within a couple days, but here’s an excerpt. 


Still, this was the State Tourney and, regardless of how many empty seats there were and how lopsided the victory was, traditions are to be observed. A post-game burger and beer at McGovern’s is one tradition, thanks to Grandpa Malaske. So Mom, Dad, Tony, Matt, Lisa, and I pulled our hoods tight and leaned into the night wind towards W. 7th and Chestnut.

It was a quiet Wednesday night at the bar. We sat framed in the front window talking favorite State Tourney memories. Tony knew his right away: he and Grandpa went to the Apple Valley – Duluth East 5OT semifinal classic in 1996. Dad remembered how he and Grandpa, his father-in-law, would always go to an evening session. Grandpa’s trick was drive over to whatever high school was nearest and that happened to make the tournament to buy tickets. I remembered Ryan Kraft and Matt Cullen on those Moorhead teams. Or Dave Spehar of that same Duluth East Greyhounds team netting hat-tricks in the quarterfinal, semifinal, and championship games. The kid was the talk of the state one weekend in March. Lisa and Matt made it habit to take off work, pull the kids from school for a session and mix in the sliders from The Grill at the hotel.

“You don’t need your whole seat, just the edge of it.”- Perhaps Wally Shaver’s greatest line. 

Sitting there framed in the window and sharing memories with fries, it struck me how cyclical hockey is in Minnesota. That’s what keeps the game ingrained in damn near every neighborhood and backyard rink. A local pee-wee coach near where Matt lives was on those mid-90s Duluth East teams. My sister’s oldest daughter is coached by what must be the only Mr. and Ms. Hockey husband-wife coaching duo in the history of the sport. Johnny Pohl (Mr. Hockey 1998) carried a Red Wing team to the tourney. His wife, Krissy Wendell (Ms. Hockey 2000) did the same for Park Center. She later captained the National Team, winning an Olympic silver medal in 2002 and a bronze in 2006. It wasn’t until days after that I remembered that Steve Sertich, a member of the 1976 Olympic team, coached me! He’s the father of a former teammate of mine and 2005 Mr. Hockey winner, Marty Sertich. Round and round we go.

And because we’re a family obsessed with nostalgia, telling each other the same stories over and over again, I know each of us at McGovern’s at least considered this night – watching Josie earlier and post-gaming at McGovern’s – a new favorite memory as it was still in progress.

The waiter asked if we wanted another round. The only answer was yes. – PAL

The full version of State-Bound will be published shortly!


Johnny Bench Stories Are Very Good Stories

(the throw at the :40 mark is jaw-dropping)

TOB turned me onto Joe Posnanski’s ambitious Top 100 essay series counting down the best 100 players in MLB history. It’s a great way to get excited for Opening Day, and this Johnny Bench essay had me hooked. Stories about catchers are the best. Catchers are to baseball players what Westerns are to movies. Nothing but grit and charm, baby, and nevermind what positioned I played in baseball. 

Also, Johnny Bench was my dad’s favorite player. Also, some of the anecdotes in this essay are absolute gut-busters. 

Let’s start with Bench’s dad, Ted. Ted was quite the player back in the day, and when he’d watch games, he’d like to inform his youngest son, Johnny, that his old man could hit so-and-so pitcher.

Ted watched Bob Gibson throwing on television and he said the same thing: “Hell, I could hit him.” In 1968, Johnny Bench faced Gibson for the first time. The first time up, he struck out looking. The next two times up, he struck out swinging. “Dad,” he said to Ted the next time they spoke, “you couldn’t hit him.” 

And then there are the Bench legends. I mean, I knew he’s considered the best catcher*, but I didn’t know how cocky he was coming up. Hell, they retired his number on a minor league team for which he played a total of 98 games. They didn’t retire the number after he became an MVP – they retired it before he left town. 

You should read the whole essay, but the following is too good to keep from you:

Something happened that rookie year, something so absurd that it’s almost beyond belief. It’s my second-favorite Johnny Bench story. Bench was catching a veteran pitcher named Gerry Arrigo, and on this day, Arrigo didn’t have anything on his fastball. Anyway, that’s how Bench saw it. He kept calling for breaking balls and offspeed stuff instead.

Arrigo didn’t see things at all the same way and he kept shaking off Bench.

They continued this dance for a while until finally Bench went to the mound to make his case. He explained that Arrigo’s fastball was just not popping. Arrigo, in turn, explained that Bench was a rookie and that, considering the circumstances, he should just shut the hell up. This disagreement went on for a few seconds until finally, the two men understood that they were at an impasse and Bench shrugged and went back behind the plate.

And he called for another curveball.

And Arrigo shook him off again. Bench called for the fastball, which Arrigo threw with all the fury he had inside him.

Bench reached out with his right hand and caught it barehanded.

What a goddamn cowboy. I can understand why he’s one of my dad’s favorites. 

*I’ve said it before: I saw Pudge Rodriguez play, and it’s damn near impossible for me to imagine someone being better than Pudge.) – PAL

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 30, Johnny Bench”, Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (02/26/20)

TOB: I have not read all 70+ of these stories so far. But I’ve read a decent number. Early on in the list, it was just the players I wanted to read about. Guys from my childhood that I know a lot about. Guys like Ichiro. Tony Gwynn. Ken Griffey, Jr. Then I read about guys I knew a decent amount about, but who were before my time. Guys like Jackie Robinson. Roberto Clemente. Joe DiMaggio (choice Posnanski line: “Every day, you wake up, and you hope that something good will happen. And during a hitting streak, it does.” – Ugh, I wish I had written that).

As Posnanski got into the Top 40, I started seeing legendary names; names I’ve read about since I was a kid but know nothing or next-to-nothing about. Names like Mel Ott. Jimmy Foxx. (choice Posnanski line: “And, most of all, Dell was happy to play ball with his son, Jimmie. He began throwing balls to Jimmie from their earliest days together. There was, Jimmie always insisted, no pressure attached, no expectations, no deferred dreams to live up to. It was just joy. Father and son would play catch every day after farming, and there was nothing in the world that made both of them happier.”). Christy Mathewson. Cy Young. Eddie Collins (choice Posnanski line: “He was in Vermont on his honeymoon. While we can only guess at the splendor of a honeymoon that ends up at a semi-pro baseball game in Montpelier, Coakley saw the 19-year-old [Eddie Collins] play and was blown away by the experience.”).

Those much older guys have been fascinating to read about. Some of the stories seem apocryphal. For example, Posnanski tells a story about Clement and his time in the minors that was debunked in another story we featured just a couple months ago. But it doesn’t matter because Posnanski is an excellent storyteller. I hope he puts these together and sells them as a book. I would buy and read the hell out of it.

For the record, Johnny Bench’s story is my favorite so far. Phil nailed the highlights. On a very rare occasion, one of us opens the Google Doc we share to prepare this blog each week ready to copy/paste a specific passage from a story only to find that the other has already put the exact same passage on there. It cracks me up every time. That happened this week with that story about Johnny Bench, his dad, and Bob Gibson. Perfect.


Modern Baseball’s Defensive Shift Began at Tiny, Hippie, Oberlin College in the 1990s. Wait, What?

The title is an exaggeration. Baseball’s shift has been around as early as the 1920s. Famously, in the 1946 World Series, the Cardinals used a very modern looking shift to symie Ted Williams.

So how did an awful, D-III baseball team in the mid-90s presage baseball’s current defensive shift rage? It starts with the school’s basketball coach. His name is Gene DeLorenzo. Oberlin required coaches to help out in a second sport, so DeLorenzo helped out with baseball. He wondered how he could turn his awful baseball team into something a little more respectable. He looked at his own sport, basketball, and realized his baseball team needed to utilize motion, just like his basketball team did:

At a very basic level, basketball teams alternate between man-to-man and zone systems, and, within the zone, between 1-3-1 and 2-1-2 alignments. Football teams might use the 4-3 front or the 3-4 front. They might go nickel or dime or prevent, depending on the game situation and opponent strength.

In both sports, ultimately, defenses adjust to their opponents, provide multiple looks and cover ground out of practicality, not predestination.

The hard truth faced by the Yeomen was that opponents were pummeling their pitchers, smacking frozen ropes into the outfield gaps and enjoying a Gas House Gorillas-style conga line around the bases. Oberlin’s losses weren’t just routine; they were routinely lopsided.

So, DeLorenzo and Connolly thought, what if Oberlin made the type of adjustment that would be made in basketball or football?

“We wanted,” Connolly says, “to put people where we thought [they’d have] a chance to catch the ball or keep it in front of ‘em.”

So, they went extreme. Although they’d sometimes change things up, their base alignment had five outfielders. They put one infielder on each side of second base. Of course, they had a pitcher and catcher. They called it the flytrap. The idea was to close off the outfield to increase their team’s chance of catching a fly ball, and to limit hitters to a single when they hit a line drive.They even renamed the positions.

But Oberlin didn’t stop there. No, sir:

Of course, The Flytrap requires fly balls. To generate those, Connolly and DeLorenzo decided that the Oberlin pitchers could lob the ball, Rip Sewell-style, high over the plate to encourage the opposing hitter to swing up.

“We had to talk to the umpires to see if the strike zone included vertical versus just horizontal,” Connolly says. “So if the ball came down from on top of the plate, 10 feet high, is that considered part of the strike zone?”

They got the OK. They were ready to set the trap.

Of course, once they decided to implement it, they needed a little showmanship:

On Wednesday, April 20, 1994, the Oberlin baseball team took the field for the first inning of a doubleheader against conference foe Case Western Reserve University. The players trotted out to their traditional positions. All was calm and placid at Dill Field as left-hander Noah Pressler picked up the ball and put it in his glove.

But then Pressler, who was nicknamed “Moose,” stepped off the mound, turned his back to the batter, took a deep breath, and screamed, “Mooooooose!”

Suddenly, all of the Oberlin fielders sprinted to new spots. There were five outfielders. There were two infielders (Lytle at sweeper, Marbury at stud). The Yeomen had repositioned themselves so swiftly, so unexpectedly and so originally that all the batter could do was stand there, astonished and spellbound.

That is until he — and his entire dugout — started laughing.

Some of the Oberlin players were doing the same.

“I was laughing so hard, I had tears in my eyes,” Marbury says. “It was so ludicrous.”

You’re probably wondering how well the Flytrap worked. Not well, my dude! The other team still found holes because the Oberlin players were just that bad, and worse it was nearly impossible to defend against bunts or stolen bases. Oberlin played their last 4 games that season using the Flytrap. The cumulative score was 56-6, in favor of Oberlin’s opponents. 

Ah, well, nevertheless. 

Oberlin’s Flytrap may not have actually sparked the MLB shift rage. But it was certainly ahead of its time.

“Even in the last five years, we’re seeing so many changes in the game,” Sheehan says. “We’re seeing infielders in the outfield, we’ve seen teams take the pitcher and put him in left field, we’re seeing guys fill multiple roles, we’re seeing real two-way players. There’s definitely more athleticism and flexibility in the game. It’s a cool pendulum swing.”

The pendulum will quite likely never swing far enough for The Flytrap to mount a comeback. But last season, 185 plate appearances in MLB ended with the defense in a four-outfielder arrangement, including 86 instances in which a fifth fielder was positioned in the outfield grass, at least 160 feet from home plate.

To quote the Sandlot: Legends never die. -TOB

Source: This Terrible College Team Invented the Shift … Sort of,” Anthony Castrovince, MLB.com (02/27/2020)


Time for David Ayres to update the ol’ Linkedin profile

I love a good emergency goalie story, and h/t to Alex Denny of Brooklyn, NY for sending this our way. 

The emergency goalie story is a one of one in professional sports (at least that I can think of). A regular dude, plucked out of anonymity to play in a game at the absolute highest level. Where else does that happen? Emergency QBs are old NFL QBs. Baseball has several teams of minor leaguers to call up in a pinch. Basketball has a minor league, too. 

Most fascinating nugget from this story: I didn’t know that the emergency goalie in an NHL game is available to both teams playing. In 2016, the NHL instituted a rule requiring home teams to provide a list of emergency goalies, just in case. Just in case has happened several times in the last 5 years. 

Ayres was actually in the seats watching the game when he got the call. Other instances of emergency goalies have stories of them parking in public lot by Madison Square Garden (sheesh, get the dude a parking pass!) or having their phone blow up while getting a trim at “Mastercuts”. But Ayres was already at the game when Carolina’s starter and the backup were injured. 

Speaking to the tone the regular players set, Ayers said,“These guys were awesome. They said to me, ‘Have fun with it, don’t worry about how many goals go in, this is your moment, have fun with it.’”

After a rough start (he let in the first two shots) he settled in to get the W, not to mention setting a record in the process. At 42, David Ayres became the oldest goalie to win his N.H.L. debut. 

Ayres day job: Zamboni driver. – PAL

Source: A 42-Year-Old Zamboni Driver Wins in His N.H.L. Debut, A.P., 02/23/2020)

TOB: Loved this story. Love this video of the team in the locker room after the game (it’s the video of the week below).


Philly Phanatic Gets Work Done

The ass is bigger. Dye job on the hair. And The Philly Phanatic is all-in on the thick eyebrows trend. Yes, the iconic mascot has received a makeover, and it’s because of a lawsuit. 

I’ve never been a mascot guy. They’re dumb. I put up with it at the collegiate level, but we can all agree it’s embarrassing in the pros. And take that “it’s fun for the kids” next door. All I can do is think about the poor sap, Cousin Greg style, in the costume sweating and getting poked. 

Some 40 years ago, the Phillies teamed up with a former Muppets designer in hopes of attracting the kiddos. 

In court papers filed in August, the Phillies said that Harrison/Erickson, the New York-based design and marketing firm that worked on the mascot’s design in 1978, improperly wanted to terminate an agreement over the Phanatic’s copyright.

The team said the firm was threatening to “obtain an injunction against the Phillies’ use of the Phanatic and to ‘make the Phanatic a free agent’” if the team did not pay the firm millions of dollars, according to court papers.

The firm replied in its own court documents that the Phillies did not have a claim to the Phanatic’s copyright and that the team had “no input into the design and creation of the Phanatic.” The firm said it “wanted to negotiate a re-granting of the Phanatic copyright to The Phillies for a fair price, to be negotiated.”

I’ll chip in $20 to have the Phanatic just go away forever. This one made me chuckle. – PAL 

Source: The Phillies Unveil a New Phanatic as  Lawyers Fight Over Mascot Copyright”, Mihir Zaveri, The New York Times (02/26/2020)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week


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“I thought your vagina was removed during your hysterectomy.”

-Dwight Schrute

 

Week of February 21, 2020

Amen.


Hallelujah! Aubrey Not Invited to Giants 2010 Reunion

For the record, I always sensed Aubrey Huff was a tool. His “rally thong” bit during the Giants’ run to the 2010 World Series, and the Zoolander-stolen “joke” at the championship parade that year, was just not funny. Huff did not take long to prove me right. 

His post-playing career descent started slowly. I caught him on his radio show a few times and confirmed what I figured: he’s an unfunny meathead. Which is fine. Plenty of people are that, athletes included. But it confirmed for me that I had no affinity for the guy, despite his contribution to a World Series championship.

It was over the last few years, though, that he really showed his true colors. It’s not the fact he supports Trump. I don’t like that, but I also know many of my very favorite athletes also likely support him. Instead, it’s Huff’s pure nastiness; his utter lack of humanity; his “durrrr, why are you so mad, I’m actually laughing” schtick every time someone calls him out for all of the above.

But Huff hit his nadir recently. He apparently went through a divorce in 2017 and claims that has taken the shackles off of him to be “less inhibited online.” I would never wish marrying Aubrey Huff on any woman, but is there any way we can find some way to put that genie back in the bottle? Because over the last two months Huff has gone completely off the rails. 

In November, he posted a tweet at a shooting range with the caption, “Getting my boys trained up on how to use a gun in the unlikely event @BernieSanders beats @realDonaldTrump in 2020. In which case knowing how to effectively use a gun under socialism will be a must.”

I mean, good lord.

In January, he really hit rock bottom, though. In response to a dreadful tweet that said Americans should invade Iran and “take their bitches,” Huff tweeted, “Let’s get a flight over and kidnap about 10 each. We can bring them back here as they fan us and feed us grapes, amongst other things….” 

For the record, yes, Aubrey Huff joked about kidnapping and raping women.

Then, after the Giants hired Alyssa Nakken, the first female coach in MLB history, Huff tweeted that he thought the hiring has “#metoo and #BelieveAllWoman written all over it.” He then tweeted he “couldn’t imagine taking baseball instruction from an ex female softball player,” while tagging Giants players Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey, telling them to “have fun with that.”

I walked you through this recent history of disgusting behavior to set a foundation here: Aubrey Huff is a god awful human being. That’s important, because news leaked this week that the Giants informed Huff he was not invited to their on-field 10-year reunion of the 2010 World Series Championship. Huff responded as you might expect – he incorrectly claimed the Giants don’t support free speech, when this has nothing to do with the First Amendment, and he blamed the move on his support for President Trump (even tagging Trump in the post).

Huff, of course, is dead wrong. He’s been a vocal supporter of Trump for years, and the Giants did invite Huff to Bruce Bochy’s retirement ceremony this past September. Huff was there, and I remember because I am pretty certain I booed him (FREE SPEECH!). So what changed, for the Giants, between last September and now? That’s why I set that foundation above – what changed is that Huff crossed so many lines of decency.

Huff’s attempt to blame this on his support for Trump is pathetic. As pointed out by Grant Brisbee, the majority owner of the Giants is also a Trump supporter:

So we’ll first need to dispel the myth that Huff was disinvited because he vocally supports President Trump. This is an exceptionally ridiculous argument and it can be made only through ignorance or bad faith. The principal owner of the Giants is a confirmed Trump donor. Another member of the ownership group, and the widow of a previous principal owner, is holding fundraisers for him. You can be within the Giants’ orbit while still supporting the president.

No Aubrey, this has nothing to do with your political beliefs. You’re a pig, and you suck, and I am so so so glad you’ve had this honor taken away from you. Now, go away. -TOB

Source: The Giants’ Disinvitation of Aubrey Huff is Remarkably Uncomplicated,Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (02/19/2020)

PAL: He misses the attention he got from baseball, and he’s trying to fill the void in his life by saying stupid crap. This should be the last story written about him.


Cake Eaters Center of Hockey Universe

 

I join you while on assignment from the Minnesota State High School Girls Hockey Tournament (more on that next week), but this article – found on the ESPN homepage no less – was of particular interest while back in the motherland. 

The premise of the story, inspired by the 40th anniversary of the Miracle On Ice, is pretty clear: what are the USA hockey hotbeds today? Back in 1980, the USA Olympic team was made up of 12 Minnesota players (and most of the coaching staff), 4 players from Mass, and a couple from Michigan and Wisconsin. That’s it. No other states were represented. 

So, where are the hotbeds today? Anaheim, Vegas, St. Luis, and Nashville are new-comers. Makes sense. NHL markets with recent success experience bumps in youth signups. Infrastructure is needed, too. In other words, ice. 

We all know the center of the U.S. hockey universe is right here in Minnesota. No surprise. I don’t want a word from the Massachusetts contingent of my family. Not a word.

But then the article got real interesting. 

While there are other contenders for the throne, it’s hard to argue against the Twin Cities as the center of the hockey universe.

“Minnesota is the heartbeat,” Kelleher said.

But can we get even more specific?

Is there a center of the center of the hockey universe?

Consider this: USA Hockey says that the Twin Cities market pulled 10,922 of its total participants in 2018-19 from a region that includes Bloomington (estimated population 85,934), Eden Prairie (64,952) and a little, rather wealthy place ($99,295 median household income, per the U.S. Census Bureau) called Edina (54,791).

No one has captured more Minnesota Tier 1 boys’ state hockey championships than Edina, with 13. They also lost three times in the title game, and finished third three times. Edina also has won the Class AA girls’ hockey title for three straight seasons. 

Among the notable Edina High School alumni: Anders Lee and Kieffer Bellows of the New York Islanders; former Montreal Canadiens player Bill Nyrop; former NHL player Paul Ranheim; and former NHL executive Brian Burke.

“In the Twin Cities, it might be Edina,” said Tom Chorske, a Minneapolis-born former NHL player who’s now an analyst for Fox Sports North. “They win a lot at youth level and produce a lot of college players. A lot of Wild players live in Edina and their little kids are playing there.”

So there you have it: Edina, Minnesota. The center of the center of the hockey universe in the United States.

 

Edina. You’ve got to be shitting me. The inspiration behind “The Cake Eater Anthem”. On ESPN for the world to see. Maybe we’ve known it to be true in our hearts, but no one would want to admit it. 

It’s true. And I can’t stand it. Michael summed it up perfectly.  – PAL 

Source: “USA hockey hotbed heat check: What’s the center of the American hockey universe?”, Greg Wyshynski, ESPN (02/18/20)


Times Like These, I’m Proud to be a Giants Fan

While I realize the Huff thing is at least in part a business decision, I still like it. It makes me proud to be a fan of a team that will ban a clown like that. This story also makes me proud.

Earlier this year, MLB announced some much-needed though still modest raises for minor leaguers, to take effect in 2021. It’s not enough to give them a living wage, but it’s a start. The Giants, though, didn’t waste time. Instead of waiting until 2021, they announced they’d begin paying minor leaguers that raise now, in 2020. In fact, they gave some levels slightly larger raises. 

That’s all nice, and I am sure the players appreciate it. But more importantly, and as you may have noticed in the graphic, the Giants also announced that minor leaguers in AAA Sacramento and AA Richmond would all receive a $500 per month housing stipend, while players in low-A Augusta would receive free housing (if you’re wondering, high-A San Jose players will not receive the stipend because they are already placed with host families and live rent-free).

This is great! No other team offers a housing stipend, so it’s a big deal. Pretty cool move by the Giants. -TOB

Source: Giants Go Past MLB to Raise Minor-League Pay in 2020, Help With Housing,” Henry Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle (02/18/2020)


BASEBALL AND BEER. THAT’S WHAT ENO DOES.

We’ve featured stories from Eno Sarris many times before. Eno is awesome – he’s smart, loves baseball, and writes about advanced statistical analysis in a way that is easy to digest. But if you follow Eno on Twitter, you know that Eno also loves beer. This week, Eno published what I imagine was a labor of love – a detailed and thoughtful ranking of the beer options at all 30 MLB ballparks. Eno rated each stadium on three factors – top-end offering, average offering, accessibility, and then a compound rating of all three. Highly entertaining! Best in Show? Seattle, followed closely by San Diego, with San Francisco a smidge behind in third.

If you’re headed to a stadium this season, you might want to check Eno’s article first. -TOB

Source: “A Beer Nerd’s Guide to Baseball: Ranking Every Stadium by Craft Beer Offerings,” Eno Sarris, The Athletic (02/19/2020)

PAL: That’s just great reporting. My favorite nugget, from San Diego:

“There’s a beer made for the park. In fact, there are (kind of) two. AleSmith’s .394 Pale Ale — named for Tony Gwynn’s batting average that fated 1994 season — is the original gangster, but you can get that all over San Diego and not just at the park.”

Now that’s a great name for a beer.


Video of the Week


Tweets of the Week


Song of the Week

Harry Styles – “Sunflower, Vol. 6”


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“You know, I really would have appreciated a heads up that you’re into dating mothers. I would have introduced you to mine.”

– Dwight Schrute

Week of February 14, 2020

May each and every one of you find your kissing bandit this weekend.


Astros Sorry If Their Cheating Offended Anyone

The Astros had to face the press on Thursday. For the first time, they were to be asked questions about stealing signs (the garbage bin, the Codebreaker app), and man did the players and the owner Jim Crane come off poorly. 

Here’s a sampling:

 

Bregman and Altuve’s statements were less than 90 seconds, combined. All three of them had a commonality: we’re sorry (for cheating), but it didn’t impact the outcome of the World Series. Oh, and “we’re looking forward to 2020.”

Ah, no. 

Aside from the institutional cheating going on for years in the Astros organization, the most incredible takeaway from the team facing the press today is how completely and utterly unprepared they are to answer questions that any PR intern could’ve predicted would be asked today. This news didn’t break yesterday. That’s how in the wrong the Astros were. They knew the questions in advance and this is the best they could muster. They knew what they wanted – to admit wrongdoing, to admit what they were doing created an unfair advantage but to somehow have that admission stop short of impacting the World Series. 

Leave it to a 1-2-3 fav Michael Baumann to sum it up just right: 

Minutes before Crane went on stage, I joked that it would have been more fun if the Astros refused to apologize, and told the assembled reporters to count the rings and go to hell. Having seen what passes for sincere contrition on Crane’s part, they would’ve been better off taking that approach. At least then I would’ve respected their honesty.

Watching all these video clips of players stuttering through their responses to really simple questions reminded me of cops busting up a college house party and asking the guys who live at the house questions about how they got the beer, why the music was so loud, etc. Everyone’s eager to admit a little bit of wrongdoing, but no one is actually responsible for taking $5 and giving a teenager a Solo cup at door. 

At this point, the only detail keeping me from believing the 2017 Astros title should be vacated is that I’m all but certain the Astros and Red Sox weren’t the only teams doing this. No way. – PAL 

Source: The Astros’ Apology Tour Is Off to a Comically Disastrous Start”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (02/13/20)

TOB: Man. Great analogy. As for Crane, I loved this tweet, recalling a classic Chappelle’s Show moment:

As for Bregman, Altuve, Correa, Springer: these dudes better have incredible seasons. They need incredible seasons to save their reputations. If they come out this season and hit 30 points below their career averages, then their 2017-2019 seasons will go from suspect to absolute jokes.


Neymar’s Highlights Are Great, But He’s Never Been

I’ve never read Rory Smith’s NY Times soccer column until this week – and even for a guy that follows soccer from the highlights – I enjoyed his musings on Neymar’s squandering of talent as the next generation of players take his place in line in ascension to the throne Messi or Ronaldo at some point will give up. Neymar, playing on the same team as Messi in Barcelona, moved to Paris St.-Germain in an effort to get out of Messi’s shadow (and become the highest paid player on the planet). 

The move didn’t work. At 28, Neymar has faded from contention for the Ballon d’Or (the annual award handed out to the best player in the world). In his place are younger stars like P.S.G. teammate Kylian Mbappé. 

Talent has never, ever been the issue with Neymar. Smith argues it’s how Neymar values the game, and he uses one small moment in a recent game to serve as Neymar’s signature: 

There is something essential about Neymar contained within this vignette: his imagination, his panache, his confidence and his ability, yes, but also his belief that soccer’s highest form is the expression of individual skill. It is that which makes him so in tune with the sport’s modern era, of course — all gifs and memes and six-second snapshots of brilliance going viral — but it is also his flaw.

The thing about those clips, the ones of brilliant goals and outrageous pieces of skill that go viral, accompanied by nothing more than a screed of emojis, is that they are devoid of context, and greatness in soccer, and in all sports, is determined almost exclusively by context.

Neymar’s trickery is an adornment to a game, not a determining factor in it…

Again, I’m not the most ardent soccer fan, but I really enjoyed Smith’s writing. Always great to come across a talented sportswriter. – PAL 

Source: The Fading of a Star”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (02/08/20)


LeBron: “Cheap as Hell”

I am a LeBron James fan and I always have been. That said, I’m not really sure why The Athletic did an oral history, of sorts, on LeBron this week. Like, I don’t know what the occasion is. But it did provide this incredible tidbit:

Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers, former Cavs teammate: D-Wade has said it before and I hate that I have to quote him. But when we go international, which is obviously always Toronto, he won’t turn on his phone. It’s only WiFi. He’s the cheapest fucking guy. He’s like, “That’s bullshit. I won’t turn on my phone.” He won’t turn on data roaming. He’ll only go when we’re either at the arena or at the Shangri-La, “Hey, what’s the WiFi?” Internationally and in Toronto, he’ll never pay for it.

That is god damn funny as hell. This is a guy who has made over $1 BILLION dollars over the last 15 years, but refuses to pay roaming charges.

There’s more good stuff here, including former teammate Tristan Thompson reporting that LeBron “eats like shit.”

The best story, though, is probably this one:

Romeo Travis, professional basketball player overseas, lifelong friend: I was walking through the mall (around the holidays last year). A guy kept calling my name. I’m with my kids, I don’t want to stop. A guy just kept calling my name. I stopped and he’s like, “You’re Romeo, you’re LeBron’s friend?”’ And I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Can you do me a favor?” I’m like, “What’s up, man?” He said, “LeBron put me through rehab. I just want you to tell him thank you. He really saved my life.” Those are the type of the stories that he doesn’t publicize. He don’t even, I didn’t even know. This is something I found out just walking through the mall, that he does things like that. People never find out about it. He does favors and stuff for people that he don’t talk about. They know the big stuff. They know the iPromise school and the philanthropy and things of that nature, but they don’t know the small stuff. Those small things are impactful as well. I was just like, wow. I sent a message to LeBron and was like, “I ran into a guy and he said you put him through rehab.” He said, “Yeah I do that from time to time just to help addicts.”

What a good dude. -TOB

Source: “A Card Shark Who ‘Eats Like S—t’ and Helps Save Lives: A Collection of Untold LeBron James Stories,” Joe Vardon and Jason Lloyd, The Athletic (02/13/2020)

PAL: LeBron is also on record saying he loves the free version of Pandora. No joke.


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week:


Song of the Week: Richard Swift – “Would You”

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Women are like wolves. If you want a wolf, you have to trap it. Snare it. Then to keep it happy, you have to tame it. Feed it, care for it. Lovingly. The way an animal deserves to be loved. And my animal deserves a lot of loving.

-Dwight K. Schrute

 

Week of February 7, 2020

Still got it.


The Red Sox Trade of Mookie Betts is Outrageous

Mookie Betts is 27, one-year removed from an astounding 186 OPS+, 10.9 WAR, MVP-winning season in 2018 (which he followed up with a 6.8 WAR in 2019). The Red Sox traded him this week, to the god damn L.A. Dodgers, for pennies on the dollar. Why? In short, because they are cheap.

Betts will be a free agent after this season. He reportedly turned down a 10 year, $300M offer from Boston. That’s obviously a lot of money, but it’s the same deal Manny Machado signed for, and less than Bryce Harper signed for, and Betts is just…a lot better than both of them. An incredible hitter, a great defensive outfielder, a marketable personality, and a megawatt smile. He’s worth much more than Machado or Harper, and as a market setter for future players, he was right to turn down that money. He’s going to get way more this winter.

So the Red Sox will save upwards of $400M over the next decade by trading him, not to mention the $27M he was set to make this season. In the deal, they also unloaded David Price. Price’s best days are behind him, and he has 3 years and $97 million left on his contract. In return they got Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo who is good, but not great, and (probably) Twins pitcher Brusdar Graterol, a dude who throws 103 MPH smoke. Both guys make very little. So that’s roughly $60M they save this season. But that’s not quite right. Amazingly, the Dodgers got the Red Sox to pay fully half of Price’s remaining money. 

To recap, the Red Sox decided they didn’t want to pay a generational, home grown talent like Betts, so they dealt him and Price for two good but not great young players, and kicked $50M in for the Dodgers’ troubles. Swell.

The trade has been the biggest story in baseball this week, and the general consensus is that the Red Sox front office should be ashamed. As Grant Brisbee put it:

The Red Sox agreed to trade Betts to the Dodgers on Tuesday, and they should be embarrassed. They aren’t. But they should be. You’ll read about how this gives the team “financial flexibility” and how it’s important for them to “stay under the luxury-tax threshold.” That’s all crap. The Red Sox print money. The bills have pictures of Lou Merloni on them and they have bags of cash buried under each corner of Fenway Park. So much money.

As Brisbee points out – this is the friggin Red Sox. This isn’t the Rays, or the Tigers, or the Reds, or the Indians. This is a huge market deep with deep pockets that can spent any amount they like. They made their team worse now, and they made their team worse later. It’s hard here to argue they cleared money to spend on free agents later. They had the best free agent, as a homegrown talent, and decided not to pay him his fair market value. The Ringer’s Michael Baumann put it bluntly:

This trade is a disgrace for the Red Sox and for the league. I don’t understand why the owner of such a prestigious ball club—a de facto public institution—would charge his baseball operations department with ridding the team of a once-in-a-generation player when he could keep that player and continue to rake in unspendable profits. It’s such a mind-bogglingly greedy and self-defeating move that I resent being made to try to understand it.

I’m in favor of smart baseball, but if the Red Sox of all teams are going to do this, it does not bode well for the direction of the sport. And if your team tries to do the same, you should be angry. -TOB

Source: If the Giants Ever Do What the Red Sox Just Did With Mookie Betts, You Should Not Be Very Happy,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (02/05/2020); The Utter Disgrace of the Mookie Betts Trade,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (02/05/2020)

PAL: Ryen Rusilllo made a good point about the Betts trade at the top of his podcast this week. That’s the best the Sox could get back for Betts – a friggin’ prospect pitcher with elbow issues and a borderline big league starter in Verdugo? B.S. 

If Betts flatout didn’t want to be there – fine – but wait for a better offer at the trade deadline. Let other teams feeling a little desperate and just close enough to a playoff race get in the mix!

And Brisbee has his fastball going in his article. I especially appreciated the idea of the obligation around keeping the rarest of players: home-grown Hall of Famers. 

Both things can be true. Both things should be true. You buy tickets and shirseys and they keep the 20-somethings on a Hall of Fame path. It’s not complicated. The Giants probably aren’t going to sign their next Brandon to a five- or six-year extension to lock him up deep into his 30s, but they should still do it with the next Buster. Or the next Mookie, if they have one. They probably won’t have one soon. Which is the point.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take a big sip of battery acid and stare at the Dodgers’ projected lineup for next season.


The Warriors suddenly face a vital challenge: Can they awaken Andrew Wiggins?

No. – PAL 

Source: “The Warriors suddenly face a vital challenge: Can they awaken Andrew Wiggins?”, Anthony Slater, The Athletic (02/06/2020)

TOB: First of all, LOL. Phil’s post made me actually laugh out loud. But, second and super seriously – I disagree. Phil may recall that when Jimmy Butler left Minnesota, he more or less called Karl Anthony Towns a soft player and a loser. People thought Jimmy was a jerk, but I sided with him. KAT is soft, and he is a loser. I said within 2 years, history would prove him right, and I think it has. Wiggins was never going to be good playing next to KAT. He might be good playing next to Curry, Klay, and Draymond. I also think this is a smart play by the Warriors if they think their championship window with Steoh and Klay is still open. Wiggins’ game complements those two much more than DLo does. And, if the Wolves continue to suck as much as I think they will, that first round pick they got should be very good.


The Golf Course Architect Who Couldn’t Play His Courses

I think this will be the second story I’ve posted from the “Overlooked” series by the NY Times. I can’t help it. Such a great idea. 

A refresher: Overlooked are obituaries (written today) for folks that didn’t receive them at the time of their death. 

Joseph Bartholomew more than earned his NY Times obit honor. He spun a childhood job as a caddie into a career as a golf course architect. He designed many courses throughout the south, and it wasn’t until he built the first municipal course for african americans that he was allowed to play on a course he designed. He was good enough to be the club pro and teach lessons at country clubs, but wasn’t allowed to play the courses. 

What did he do? The same he did as a caddie. He listened and learned. After building courses, he got to know guys from whom he rented the construction equipment. Then he started a construction company, specializing in drainage (a good specialty in Louisiana). He took those profits and turned to life insurance, then real estate – which was smart because he also owned the construction company with the equipment necessary to upgrade the acres. Oh, and he built an ice cream factory, too. 

His key to success: embrace the risk, which was not so simple to follow the Jim Crow south.  “That’s the difference between me and most of the rest of the colored people. They won’t take a chance because they’ve been skinned before. I take ’em all the time.”

Joseph Bartholomew: August 1, 1888 – October 12, 1971. 

I’ll say it again: “Overlooked” is one of the best ideas I’ve come across. – PAL 

Source: Overlooked No More: Joseph Bartholomew, Golf Course Architect”, Roy S. Johnson, The New York Times (02/05/20)


Video(s) of the Week:


Tweet of the Week:


Song of the Week: Jose Feliciano – “Just A Little Bit Of Rain”


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I got away with everything under the last boss and it wasn’t good for me. So I want guidance. I want leadership. Lead me… when I’m in the mood to be led.

-Ryan  ‘Fire Guy’ Howard