Week of April 24, 2020

TOB is Klay at every pickup game.


The Silver Lining to Shelter-in-Place

The last month has been difficult. Fifty thousand people have died in this country. That’s a nearly-full football stadium, just wiped away. For the loved ones they left behind, it’s been devastating; life-altering. 

For others, like us, it’s been merely an adjustment, and thankfully nothing more. But I miss so many things: the periodic visits from my parents; weekend trips to get coffee and donuts with the boys; hours-long brew days and chats with Phil; daily strategy sessions and shop-talk with my buddy Kevin at work; pickup basketball in my neighborhood on Sunday mornings.

But more than all of that, I try to ignore what my kids are missing out on. My oldest, who wants nothing more than to play sports, got to play exactly one spring soccer game and zero baseball games. It was his first baseball season, and he sure seems snakebit. Last season, I got him onto a team and after the first few practices were rained out, we showed up to the first game, ready to play, and he was turned away for being too young. This year, he went to opening ceremonies, then had his first game rained out, and the rest of the season canceled. My youngest, who for two years was desperate to attend school, had his first year of preschool cut in half. He talks about all of his friends daily – giving us random stories about something one of them did to him, or said to him, or how he handled it. And he begged me Thursday to “go to class” via Zoom with his teacher again, which he did the day before and absolutely loved.

Because even with all of that going on, I’ve tried to be very conscious of how unbelievably lucky my wife and I are. We have our health, as do our friends and family. We have our jobs. We have incredible childcare help that allows us to do and keep those jobs.

But more than that, we are so lucky because after a few weeks’ adjustment period, things are … kinda great. My wife and I work a lot, and now I get to spend so much time with her, and our kids, because we no longer have a 40-min trip each way to the office  The kids, especially, probably hope the shelter-in-place never gets lifted. I enjoy the lazy mornings, listening to the funny things they say to each other as they play. I enjoy the walk upstairs at lunch, knowing they’re about to scream, “Daddyyyyyyy!” with glee when they hear the door open. I enjoy the hours of board games and chess and baking. And, of course, the baseball out front. With the lessened traffic, I now let them just hit directly into the street, after which I chase the ball down the hill. Sometimes, my wife even pitches and I stand in the street playing outfield. 

I try to be mindful of all of this, even as things around us are so difficult. And I thought a lot about it as I read this wonderful article by Dwayne Bray, about how he and his 17-year old son, who long ago gave up baseball to focus on basketball, which he plays at a prep school far from home, have used the shelter-in-place to rediscover the simple joy of throwing some batting practice to each other:

I began by tossing Nick some balls that he could hit into the fence above the backstop. That was always how we started things, back in the day. Next, he walked through the crabgrass and out to the mound. I crouched behind the plate and caught about 25 fastballs — some high, some wide and some down the middle. Years earlier, I’d let him send 50 pitches my way, but bending down to catch 50 pitches isn’t in the cards anymore.

We moved to short toss and, once our arms were loose, we tossed the ball long. I hit him some infield grounders and he fielded most of the balls cleanly, given that he was working with uneven turf and tricky hops. Then we got to our main activity, which was dad hitting long fly balls to son, who would roam center field and shag them. We only had two baseballs and that was plenty.

“Hit it farther,” Nick yelled after my first few flies were more shallow than he wanted. “Make me run.”

After about 10 minutes in the outfield, Nick sprinted in and said, “Let’s switch up. You go to the outfield and I’ll do the hitting.” After about another 10 minutes we switched back.

After about an hour, I was spent. I knew we had one more thing to do. I pitched Nick a fastball and he jacked a screamer into deep left-center. I ran as fast as I could after it. By the time I reached the ball, he’d already crossed the plate. He didn’t slow down to give me a chance. He just wanted to crush the old man. We laughed.

If it weren’t for the isolated world of coronavirus that we live in, I doubt that Nick and I would have ever revived our baseball ritual. This was about dad and son and a game that we both love.

“I had forgot how much fun baseball is,” Nick said to me as we packed up our equipment. “When I have kids, I’m going to make sure I play baseball with them.”

“And when MLB comes back, I’m going to watch more of it,” he said.

As I headed off to my car, and he to his, he had one more thing to say.

“Dad, as long as things are shut down, let’s keep doing baseball, OK?”

Three days later, we were out there again.

The world is a weird and scary place right now, but it’s still a beautiful place, too. -TOB

Source: Under the Coronavirus Lockdown, a Father and Son Rediscover Their Love for Baseball,” Dwayne Bray, The Undefeated (04/21/2020)

PAL: We’re closing in on Week 7 of shutdown mode. Week 7! Sheesh. While our families and friends have avoided the worst of the health scare so far – thank god – the wake of this thing is so wide, and it’s no doubt being felt by loved ones in painful ways. It rolls over everything. Each day feels fragile. Everything must balance: some news (but not too much), a work out (but not at lunchtime or 5pm when everyone’s out), get through a to-do list for work (step 1: make to-do list), cook a good dinner (but let’s be aware of how often we’re going to the grocery store, and let’s make sure to get takeout from our favorite local spots), driveway visits (but let’s keep it 15 feet apart just to be safe), not watching 3 hours of television.

And I wonder about when I can safely visit my parents in Minnesota. I want to give my mom a hug.

So with all of that in mind, this story and TOB’s write-up got my day off to a good start. I think it will do the same for you. I’ve seen TOB in action during the shelter (from a safe distance). My pop-a-shot record at the O’Brien’s house has been bested (most notably by TOB’s 6 year-old), and the security cam videos of the family playing baseball in the driveway are a highlight, too. There is a lot of playing going on over there. A lot. Wish like hell I could join in!


Mike Jordan

On Sunday, the first two of ten episodes of “The Last Dance,” a documentary chronicling the final season of the Jordan-era Bulls’ dynasty in 1998. I didn’t think there was anything groundbreaking, but it was an entertaining and quick two hours that left me wanting more. We’ll likely be writing about it a few times over the next few weeks, because a lot has been written about it so far. 

Before he was Michael Jordan, or Air Jordan, or His Airness…he was Mike Jordan. One of my favorite parts of The Last Dance’s first two episodes was seeing clips of the sheepish and young, the confident but quiet, Mike Jordan. Before the commercials and the Beatles-treatment everywhere he went, he was a kid from North Carolina.

My earliest memory of Michael Jordan was watching him and the Bulls lose to the Pistons in the 1990 playoffs. I remember being so mad. I was eight. By that time, he was all-caps MICHAEL JORDAN, even though he wouldn’t win his first championship until the following year. So I really loved the footage of young Mike, in college and in his first couple years in the pros, before he found his voice, before he was sure of his place atop the game.

One of the many articles written about the first two episodes was by Sam Smith, the former Bulls beat writer who in 1992 wrote “The Jordan Rules,” an inside look at the Bulls under Jordan that was not exactly flattering. Smith’s article touches on much of what I liked about the first two episodes, as he waxed on young Jordan, before he became too famous to function:

As I’ve related at times, I had a good relationship with Jordan writing about the Bulls for The Chicago Tribune in the 1980s. He was great fun to be around, the so called man’s man with whom every moment was a test, a contest, an action, an event.

As unlikely as it seems now, back then hardly anyone believed you could win a title with Jordan on your team. He’s just a scorer! the columnists instructed. You need to make others better like Larry and Magic did.

Hey, I’m being asked to make Mike Smrek, Gene Banks and Steve Colter better, Jordan would lament. But there may not have been a better interview, few players more welcoming, cordial, engaging and relentlessly interesting. Jordan loved the media give and take. He didn’t like shooting before the games because crowds would gather like with the Curry dribbling shows. He preferred to verbally engage, challenge, get that last word.

Obviously the documentary is about the 1998 season, long after Jordan could no longer be that guy. So I doubt we will get much more of that era, but I really enjoyed that aspect of the first two episodes.

Also: in the article, Smith gives context to one of Jordan’s most infamous quotes (“Hey, Republicans buy sneakers, too.”). Jordan said it to Smith, and as Smith notes, people have bashed Jordan over it for decades, arguing he’s a corporate tool. But Smith disagrees. It was just a joke. He should know; after all, Jordan said it to Smith. And, as Smith notes:

After his career I do know he was seriously involved with Barack Obama’s campaigns and has supported more social causes than most. Mostly quietly or anonymously.

I didn’t know that, and I appreciated it. -TOB

Source:The Story Behind One of Michael Jordan’s Most Misunderstood Quotes,” Sam Smith, NBA.com (04/15/2020)


Always Watch The Credits (more on The Last Dance)

I will say, it’s always a red flag when the subject of the doc is the one putting it out. Hey – I know I’ll enjoy the hell out of this documentary series, but it is worth noting that, (A) nothing went into this doc without Jordan’s approval, and (B) Jordan’s production company is a partner in this thing. 

What’s more:

Commissioner Adam Silver, who in the 1990s was the head of NBA Entertainment, told ESPN that a condition of allowing the film crew to follow the Bulls around during the 1997-98 season was that none of the footage could be used without Jordan’s permission. Optically, very little of this is unvarnished.

I’ve heard multiple times from Dan Patrick and Bill Simmons (both former ESPN talent) that everyone had know about the tapes for years. No one thought this thing would ever get done, because Jordan would never approve it. 

Well, in 2016, Jordan finally gave the thumbs up. He did so on the same day Lebron James and his Cavelier teammates were having their championship parade. Hmmmmm. 

And later:

“I am reminded of that viral clip of Jordan and Tom Brady playing pickup basketball with other unidentified players from 2015 in the Bahamas.

“Hey, man, you guys still have YouTube?” Jordan, in his early 50s, says to one of his defenders after making a flawless jumper over him. “You better put on Michael Jordan for real.”

“That’s what “The Last Dance” is: Jordan reminding us who he is, or was, as James’s legacy emerges. Not just as a basketball player, but culturally. Would a documentary about James’s career attract multiple former presidents and A-list celebrities?”

To be fair, I should wait until I’ve watched the entire series before teeing up this stuff. But also, to be fair, THERE ARE NO OTHER SPORTS GOING ON! – PAL 

Source: Is Michael Jordan Playing Defense in ‘The Last Dance’?”, Sopan Deb, The New York Times (04/20/20)


I MISS KRUK AND KUIP

I miss ‘em! And I’m not alone. The Athletic’s Steve Berman (nee the Bay Area Sports Guy) wrote up a nice story on Kruk and Kuip, and how they are staying busy, and in touch, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a nice read, with lots of Kruk and Kuip being Kruk and Kuip. I recommend it.

But I especially liked this anecdote about how they got their start together, broadcasting games:

Their other connection, of course — one which started as players on road trips when the dugouts were spacious enough to stay out of trouble — is broadcasting.

Krukow and Kuiper loved calling games together as teammates, but they had to pick their spots. First, only certain locations made it even feasible without getting reprimanded by a cranky manager.

“It was the real broadcast,” Krukow said. “There was lots of profanity and lots of cutting-edge observations on our opponents, many of whom we weren’t that fond of. Same thing, we would have cutting remarks about our own teammates, which would entertain our teammates sitting close to us. So we had fun with it.”

“Language that at times we wish we could use (today),” Kuiper said. “Certainly not appropriate for people watching in their living room. But that’s dugout language. That’s not language I used in catechism. It was a language that I used in the dugout. So it kind of fit perfectly for where we were sitting.”

There was a problem — one which has suited Krukow and Kuiper quite well since they retired: Sometimes, they were a little too entertaining.

“We would actually get (teammates) that would come over,” said Kuiper. “And it was kind of odd, because Frank [Robinson, the manager] would look down the bench and he had nobody sitting around him, but there would be like eight guys sitting next to Mike and I. And then we had to break up that group because then it was pretty obvious something was going on down there that was a lot more fun than what was going on behind Frank.

I would pay $100 per season to hear them call a game like that.

Source: From the Dugout to Zoom: The Friendship of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper Endures,” Steve Berman, The Athletic (04/12/2020)

PAL: $100? $100 is not enough. Show some damn respect. I love how they could only do it at stadiums with long dugouts. Philly? Nope. Pittsburgh? Not a chance. Montreal? Long dugouts. They could have some fun for an inning or two in Montreal. Outstanding.

TOB: LOL. I almost said a dollar a game, but that seemed low – it’s worth more than that. Then I thought $200. But that’s more than MLB’s league pass. So even though $100 for 162 games is than $1 per game, I  don’t sit down and watch from start to finish 100 games per year. These days I often have to flip through after the kids go to bed. So $100 for the season to pop-in and hear them talk some shit sounded right.


Is NCAA Basketball About to Get Knocked Out?

A year and a half ago, the NBA announced a new option for elite high school seniors not yet eligible for the NBA Draft: the G League (formerly the NBDL) (*If you’re rightfully wondering why the NBA won’t just lift its rule preventing players from entering the draft until one year after they finish high school, it’s because the NBA wants to protect its teams from investing millions in players who they’ve only seen play against high school competition.) The money was far less than for an NBA rookie, but at a then-announced $150,000 per year contract, it was about even with what players get to play at a school like Arizona ( ;), Casey).

It was certainly newsworthy, but many were rightfully skeptical – it takes a lot to turn a tanker, and the NCAA is one of the biggest. Decades of history, and endless TV exposure that the NCAA provides, were seen as too difficult to pass up. Sure, a few players have gone to Europe or Australia in recent years, but the G League has a bit of a stigma, and its games are rarely on TV, or covered at all. It would take a true star to turn this ship, and this week, the G League got it. 

Jalen Green is that dude. Green is the top-rated prospect in the 2020 high school class. Originally from Fresno, California and playing his senior year at Prolific Prep in Napa, Green is a 6’5 combo guard who many believe would be the #1 pick in this year’s draft, if he was eligible. But he’s not. So instead of having to clandestinely take $100,000 or ply his trade in exchange for a useless half-year of education in college, and instead of traveling across the globe, far from family and friends, Green took the G League up on its offer. 

His contract is reportedly worth upwards of $1,000,000. Other prospects who join the program will apparently make at least $500,000.00. And instead of having to fake their way through classes for one semester and be limited in the time they can work on their craft, they will be instead placed in a program designed to develop them, as they play a select few exhibition games. This is great for Green.

It’s not great for the NCAA. If this becomes commonplace, the already depleted talent-level in college will get so much worse. While watching the Jordan documentary, I was struck by the talent in the 1982 NCAA championship, when Jordan hit the game winning shot. You’ve got Jordan, the greatest ever. But you’ve also got Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing and James Worthy, plus Sam Perkins and Sleepy Floyd. You just don’t see that kind of talent in college anymore, because the best players leave before they develop. I often think of guys in their third year in the league (like Jason Taytum this year), and just imagine him as a senior this year at Duke. LOLLLLLL. He’d be DESTROYING everyone. Of course, there’d be lots of other older players, too: De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, Bam Adebayo? Seniors. Bagley, Ayton, Trae Young, and Gilgeous-Alexander? Juniors

The talent level has already been so poor for two decades now, but it’s about to get worse if all those players don’t even play a single year. You can argue that it will create better basketball because there will be more continuity. But you don’t see anyone clamoring to watch D-II basketball, do you? Or even the Ivy League? 

The NCAA is like an aging fighter who just got a cut above its eye in the fourth round. Are they going to get pummeled for the next few rounds before collapsing a bloody heap in the tenth? Or are they going to throw a haymaker that wins them the belt? In this case, the haymaker the NCAA needs is to agree to pay players. They are now in direct competition with the NBA for the dozen or so very best players each year. If they don’t do something drastic, to not only get the best players into college but also keep them for a few years, they’re going to stagger around the ring for a few years before the ref stops the bout. -TOB

PAL: It’s far from perfect, but something along the lines of the baseball draft seems like a decent solution. Here are the simplified rules for first year players in U.S. and Canada (some dudes get drafted multiple times): 

  • High school graduates who haven’t enrolled at a college are eligible
  • Junior college players are eligible 
  • College players, over 21 (odd speculation to me), who have completed their junior or senior year

For basketball, maybe they adjust to something like: 

  • High school graduates who haven’t enrolled at a college are eligible (or they can play in the G-league or wherever they want)
  • Junior college players are eligible (seems like a far rarer scenario, but – hey – we JUST wrote about Shawn Kemp, who was a juco guy)
  • College players who have completed their sophomore year 

In other words, either you go after high school, or you have to play 2 years in college. The best 5-10 don’t play college ball: either they get drafted or join a professional league, but there’s some continuity to college teams with players staying for two seasons. You miss out on the phenoms, but some very good players and teams can sprout in two years together. 

Maybe the best 50 prep players eventually chose routes alternative to college. You make an interesting point about Ivy Leagues and D-II ball not getting a lot of attention. I would argue, at least partially, that’s due to it being an inferior form of college basketball. At least for the foreseeable future, people will watch the best college basketball available, because watching college ball is also about nostalgia to some extent. It’s a reminder of our college days. And people love reminders of the glory days. 


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Pure Prairie League – “Amie”


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“Here’s to good friends…mmm…sort of an oaky afterbirth.”

-Michael Scott

Week of April 17, 2020

Happy Birthday, TOB. Now stop dunking and help your dad wash the suburban.


No. 1, Willie Mays

It’s a name that really sings, doesn’t it? Willie Mays. Say it out loud, but say it quickly. Willie Mays. For 70 years, that name has echoed on streets and playgrounds, ball fields and school yards. Willie Mays. Imagine little kids across the country in 1951, when Willie debuted with the New York Giants, hearing that name dance out of their radio. Willie Mays. Imagine it rolling off their dad’s tongue in 1954, as he read aloud the story of The Catch from the morning sports page. Willie Mays. 

That name continues to dazzle, though it’s been almost 50 years since Willie Mays last played in the major leagues. When my sons and I play baseball, they argue over who gets to “be” Willie Mays. And if you think I’m exaggerating, this was Tuesday:

He’s just three (and it’s fitting because I tried to name him Willie Mays, though my wife would not give in). He has never seen Willie Mays play, of course. He can tell you he was on the Giants. I think he could tell you his jersey number, but that’s about it. There’s something about that name that sparks the imagination, though.

Last Friday, shortly after we posted our weekly digest, Posnanski published the next in line in his Top 100 series: No. 2, Babe Ruth. I think I gasped. I had long assumed Ruth would be #1. I predicted Joe would have Willie Mays #3. But #1? I read through the Ruth story, and it was fine, but I waited all weekend to read his story on Mays, and it did not disappoint. Here’s how it begins:

Think for a moment about the first vivid baseball memory you have.

Perhaps you have a hollow plastic bat in your hands and a Wiffle Ball floats toward you. How old are you? 3? 5? Older? All you want to do is hit the ball. Where does that hunger come from? Who taught you that? Nobody. It is an instinct. You stand rigidly with your legs spread apart and the bat resting on your shoulder — maybe your parents set you up that way like an action figure. The ball dangles in midair like a disco ball. You swing the bat the way you imagine it should be swung, and you connect, perfect contact.

The ball takes off like a leaf caught in the wind, and you begin to run and stumble toward invisible bases that hide in the grass. You run a tight circle around the pitcher — is it your dad? Your mom? Your grandpa? Your best friend? — until you make it all the way around.

And when you get back where you started, you tumble over in the best version of a slide that you can muster. Who taught you how to slide? No one. You just knew.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Or maybe it is this: You and a friend throw a rubber ball (a tennis ball?) against the stairs that climb up to your front door. The sun is so big and warm that it seems to color the cloudless sky yellow. If you throw a ball against those stairs just right — so that the ball hits the upper corner flush — it will take off like a toy rocket. And that’s what your friend does. The ball erupts off the stair and goes soaring toward the street, and you turn your back and sprint after it. You can’t catch it, but you run just the same because … well, just because. And then to your surprise, you find that you start gaining on the ball. You can see it coming down, and you can see that if you reach out, stretch out, thrust out your arm as far as it can possibly go …

And maybe you catch it. How did you catch it? You don’t know but you feel electricity buzzing throughout your body and you shout out to your friend, “DID YOU SEE THAT?” And your friend jumps up and down excitedly — or, wait, maybe you are the friend — and the two of you spend the rest of the afternoon reliving the catch.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Maybe your memory is of buying a new pack of baseball cards. This might be in the days when baseball cards come with a rectangle of rock-hard chewing gum that tastes like cardboard and rubs your tongue raw like sandpapers … or maybe this is years later, when there was no gum, when instead there would be specialty cards inside, maybe an autographed card or one that has a little piece of fabric worn by a major leaguer.

Either way, you pull off the plastic wrapper slowly because you want to savor it all, make the experience last for as long you can. And you slide down the top card just a little so that it reveals only a tiny portion of what card is next. Hmm. Look here. The next player is on your favorite team. Could it be? You don’t dare to hope yet. You slide the card down a little more. Yes, it might be. A little more. Yes! The next card is your favorite player, you already know that this next card is now the most valuable thing you own, and you might sleep with it under your pillow or you might put it in one of those baseball card cases for protection. Whatever you do, your life is just a little bit different and better than it was before.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Perhaps you are at a ballpark. Everything looks so green. You’d seen games on television. You’ve looked at boxscores and imagined. But you never believed it could be so green.

The smells overwhelm you — what is that? Beer? Hot dogs? Funnel cakes? Sweat? Yes. All of it. Baseball smells like an amusement park and a backyard barbecue and an afternoon at a movie theater and recess at the playground all at once. Then you hear the sounds, cheers and chatter, boos and a vendor selling peanuts, claps and stomps and groans and hopeful screams that either rise into happy symphonies or trail off into disheartened sighs, all while an organist plays “Hava Nagila” and a Mexican Hat Dance and a cavalry charge and that nameless song that plays a duet with your rapid heartbeat.

Here we go (YOUR TEAM), here we go (CLAP CLAP).

Maybe you even keep score. You’d have to be a certain age for that to ring true, probably. To keep score, you mark (with your blunt pencil that barely leaves a mark) a 6-3 for a grounder to short or a 9 for a fly ball to right field or you trace that pencil all around the bases and draw a diamond for a home run.

And then a ball is hit deep and the center fielder chases after it, but there is no chance the ball can be caught, the geometry teacher in your head tells you so. Then you see the ball and the man converge, and at the last possible instant the center fielder takes flight and pulls it in, and all at once, all together, people lose their bleeping minds.

“Put a star next to that one,” someone tells you, and you do, you put a little star next to the “8.”

That memory, most of all, is Willie Mays.

Chills. Seriously, I’ve read that four times now, and it gives me chills every time. Posnanski absolutely nails it: Willie Mays deserves to be #1 because he was great, yes, but more than that he was and is everything great about baseball: he loved to play. Loved it. In all the clips I’ve ever seen, the joy he played with oozed from his pores. Look at the video of The Catch.

It’s INCREDIBLE on every level – the read, the speed, the athleticism, the determination, and the sheer difficulty – the impossible angle (straight back, which is just so hard to do), and then of course the way the ball sails right over his head and lands softly in his glove. Then there’s the awareness to immediately get the ball back into the infield, which saved the game, as the runner tagging from second had to stop at third (remember this is deep center at the Polo Grounds, so around 460 feet). But the thing that always tickles me about that catch is the panache – the way his hat flies off, the way he whirls around as he throws like he’s tossing a discus. He’s having an absolute ball, and it’s impossible not to love.

It doesn’t hurt, as a Giants fan, that he’s “ours.” Last season, we were driving on the freeway on the way to the ballpark when I came upon a license plate I had seen once before: 1SAYHEY. I said: “Oh my god. I think we’re about to drive past Willie Mays.” I sped up a little, then slowed down next to him. And sure enough, there he was, the Say Hey Kid, in the passenger seat. I waved. I don’t remember if he noticed. But I said to the kids, “Do you see that guy? That is Willie! Mays! FROM THE STATUE!” He was headed to the game, too. 

It’s those days you show up to the ballpark and Willie shows up, too, that are really special. You feel like a little kid. And you get to point and say to your kids, “That, right there, is Willie Mays, the best baseball player there ever was.” No other fanbase gets that.

Willie turns 89 next month. And every time I see him I think, “Is this the last time?” But instead of getting sad, it makes me appreciate the experience more, and I cheer louder. Because I know he appreciates it. I hope someone read him Posnanski’s story – I know he’d appreciate that, too, because it’s great.

Posnanski sums up Willie Mays, and why he continues to resonate with so many, including two young boys in San Francisco, all these years later:

But even to the end, he sparked joy. What do you love most about baseball? Mays did that. To watch him play, to read the stories about how he played, to look at his glorious statistics, to hear what people say about him is to be reminded why we love this odd and ancient game in the first place.

Yes, Willie Mays has always made kids feel like grown-ups and grown-ups feel like kids.

In the end, isn’t that the whole point of baseball?

Consuming sports was different when Willie played. Not every game was on television. There was no national highlight show giving you the best plays of the night, every night. There are relatively few clips of Willie Mays actually playing baseball available even today. But my three-year old consumes sports the same way kids in the 1950s did: in brief clips that are fuzzy in their brains, in stories their parents tell them, and in the joy of saying a name like Willie Mays. -TOB

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 1, Willie Mays,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)

PAL: I am ashamed that I didn’t know Willie Mays played minor league ball in Minneapolis! 

In a collection of stories that read like folk tales of athleticism, youthful exuberance, and “divine moments”, the parallels and juxtaposition between Mays and Mantle, and their respective fathers, really sticks out. 

And this is a great point on May’s iconic, over-the-shoulder catch: 

Nobody knows for sure where the throw went: The enduring film only shows him making the throw. But we know that it made Larry Doby stop at third. Doby would not score. The Giants would win the game in extra innings and then sweep the series.

But maybe my favorite line from the entire story comes from Giants manager Leo Durocher: “If he could cook I’d marry him.”

The entire series is one hell of a collection from Posnanski. Damn, man.


Shawn Kemp: Kentucky Wildcat (That’s Right)

How about this for teaser from Kyle Tucker: 

“Does Christian Laettner get off that stunning buzzer-beater in overtime to deny Kentucky its triumphant return to the Final Four if Kemp is on the court?”

Say what now?

A little while back we did favorite athletes by decade. Since then, Bill Simmons has started reviewing previous drafts and re-drafting, which has been jogging my basketball memories. Everyone’s looking to the past for their sports fix, and in the process, I’m realizing how many athletes I overlooked in our little exercise. Basketball-wise: I had an affinity for Steve Blake from that Maryland team. I like Andre Miller and that Utah team a lot. Give me some Andrew DeClerq while we’re at it. There may have been a short Reggie Miller period as well. 

So all of these NBA names are spinning around in my brain, especially as I listen to Simmon review these old drafts, when I see this Shawn Kemp story about his time at Kentucky being stopped before it began. 

People over 35 know that Shawn Kemp was a very big deal for a few years. The dunks were ferocious. The Sonics were cool, and they made a Finals against Jordan. 

But I had no idea about his journey to the Sonics. No idea that he was from Indiana, that he passed on Bobby Knight and the Hoosiers, and went to Kentucky. I had no idea he never played a game for the Wildcats, and I had no idea why. In my mind, Shawn Kemp’s existence began in those slick Sonic jerseys doing this: 

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his arrival at Kentucky and how stupidly it ended for pawning some stolen jewelry. And just like that, he was gone before playing a simple game for Kentucky. 

Two details stick out to me from the story. 

The jewelry was Sean Sutton’s. His dad, Eddie, was the coach. Sean filed a police report about the stolen jewelry, which led the local authorities to alert local pawn shops. Kemp was found selling the jewelry to one of those pawn shops for $700. 

Over thirty years later, Sean Sutton had this to say (for the first time, at least to the press): 

“I’ve never talked about this,” Sean Sutton told The Athletic recently. “In the past, I just said, ‘That’s not something I care to revisit.’ But I think everybody probably deserves to know the real truth. I want Kentucky fans to realize that Shawn Kemp was a good guy. It got so out of control, became such a big story, and it’s really, really unfortunate how it all played out. He was gone before any of us really understood what was happening. If I could go back 32 years, I’d probably do things differently.

“Because in my mind, and I would know as well as anybody, he didn’t take that stuff.”

Sean, dude, couldn’t you have maybe found the guts to say that before now? While – yes – the jewelry was stolen, and Kemp was selling it, that doesn’t necessarily mean he stole it (as Sutton now insists he thinks whoever took the jewelry lied to Kemp about where it came from and likely gave it to Kemp to pawn for some cash.) Someone could have just given the jewelry to Kemp and told him to pawn it in order to make some easy cash, no questions. For a super-duper star athlete in a big program, that seems completely understandable to me.

Also, if Sutton just doesn’t file the report, this all can take place without people knowing. Kemp stays and joins a stacked Kentucky roster, and maybe a few years later Kemp (completely normal for superstars to stay 3-4 years in college at that time) is playing with Mashburn against Duke, and the 6’11” Kemp (I had no idea he was that tall) swats Laettner. I know, I know; it’s not a fill in the blank, but isn’t it fun to imagine? 

The other detail from this story that really stuck out was how much of a manchild Kemp was. So he gets to Lexington in the summer and is playing pickup games with current and former Kentucky players. We’re talking NBA guys and top college players. Kemp, a teenager, is dunking on all of them – including Kenny ‘Sky’ Walker. 

“Shawn dunked right over Kenny and looked right at him and said, ‘Take that shit!’ Or maybe something worse,” Sutton says. “Everybody was stunned. What did he just say to Kenny? I don’t think Shawn was doing it to be disrespectful. He just got caught up in a competitive moment. That’s just how he was wired, trying to destroy people.”

Lest anyone think Walker was offended, it was quite the opposite. Kemp was headhunting every player in the gym that day, including former UK stars Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin, the No. 2 and 6 overall picks in 1984, and the alums loved it.

“He was a man-child,” Walker says. “Most guys playing a bunch of established NBA players would be trying to feel their way around, might be a little timid, but he was trying to dunk everything on everybody. I usually had the advantage over everybody, but here I am going against a guy two inches taller than I am, stronger than I am, just as aggressive as I am, and maybe a little meaner than I am. Until LeBron James came along, I couldn’t remember a guy right out of high school so physically put together and with so much spring.”

Perhaps many of you knew the Kemp Kentucky stuff, but I had no idea, which made this a solid read from Kyle Tucker. – PAL 

Source:‘It Got So Out of Control’: Shawn Kemp’s Kentucky Career Ended Before it Began, Kyle Tucker, The Athletic (4/16/2020)

TOB: Interesting stuff. This week I stumbled on another good Kemp tidbit: In 1994, while Jordan was playing baseball, the Sonics almost traded Kemp to the Bulls for Scottie Pippen. The deal fell through when the story leaked and the Sonics’ owner grew concerned about fans being upset over losing the beloved Kemp. But the most fascinating part is that the Sonics’ coach, George Karl, called up Jordan (they are both Carolina guys), and Karl claims Jordan said: “Do it,” he said. “Scottie can make your other players better. Kemp can’t.”

Huh. Given Jordan’s comment: does he even come back in 1996 if Pippen is gone? That’s a crazy what-if.


Joey Votto Tries to Slow the Coming of the End

Joey Votto is an interesting guy, especially as baseball players go. I really enjoyed this article on the Reds’ star, as he tries to fight Father Time. Here’s the open:

Last April, on a gorgeously sunny, relatively cool afternoon at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto popped out to first base. Ahead in the count, he’d lunged at the ball, sending it high into foul territory, before it landed in the mitt of the first baseman. Infield flies are the lamest thing a batter can do apart from striking out, but the crowd went wild—or rather, the baseball commentators and Twitter masses did. (“This has to be a sign of the zombie apocalypse.” “The world is ending.”) Because, over the course of his 13-year Major League career, in 6,827 trips to the plate, Votto had never popped out to first. Think of a veteran opera singer who never hit a wrong note onstage, or an actor who never flubbed a line. Equally astounding, Votto had flied out to the infield—right, left, or center—only seven times since 2010, while any other Major Leaguer with the same number of trips to the plate would have done so 137 times.

That’s an incredible stat, and the story just gets better from there.

Source:The Brainiest Hitter: Can Joey Votto Outsmart Age?” Sridhar Paddu, The Atlantic (May 2020)

PAL: Loved this article. Definitely keeping an eye out for future stories from Sridhar Paddu. I knew nothing about Joey Votto, and so this was a real treat. I’ve read a few sports profiles, and his candor stands out. Fascinating approach to his game. The idea that, in his prime, he felt his skills slipping ever so slightly, and the idea that – before 30 – he chose to accept that and rebuild his swing…two years after winning the National League M.V.P.

My favorite part of the entire piece comes near the end, before the season was cancelled and Votto was about to lock in to his very regimented baseball schedule and mode:

The day before we met in person, Votto decided to have a coffee at Starbucks, his last one, he figured at the time, for months. Then, while at Whole Foods in the afternoon, he went even further. He stopped at the bar set amid overpriced produce and organic beauty supplies to have a beer. A single beer at a grocery store to revel in the task in front of him: the comeback season. “Let’s celebrate,” he recalled thinking. “Let’s get ready for a great year. Let’s go to Whole Foods and get a beer at 3 o’clock!”

Many of us have walked by that Whole Foods bar and thought about a quick beer. I love that he did it, and I love that he was celebrating getting ready for a great year.

Great find, TOB.


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Tom Waits – “Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)”


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And this is more a ying-yang thing. The ‘Michael’ all cursive, the ‘Scott’ all caps. Left brain, right brain. Or, duality of man.

-Michael Scott

Lockdown Dailies #13: Strangest Field You Ever Played On, MN Town Ball Edition

Strangest Baseball Field You Ever Played On – MN Town Ball Edition:

On Monday, we shared some thoughts on the strangest baseball fields around – both in the history of the game (Polo Grounds) and fields we played on. We got a lot of great comments on that post, but Ryan Nett – LHP, college roomie, and future Stearns County H.O.F. – sent a number of gems from the Minnesota town ball scene. We had to share more broadly.

Nett: A few come to mind from my townball years. St. Wendel was 240 down the left field line, but had a 45 ft chicken wire fence almost to CF.

Pearl Lake has a field with a 4 way stop in in CF. No fences, the road is the fence. About 270 down the lines, about 400 to center. Ball rolls on the road, double, clearly hits on the road or over, it’s a homer.

There was a legend of a field in Bowlus where a road to get to about 4 houses went from behind 3rd to rf power alley. Houses front porch faced the field and were in play. 3rd pole on a house down the rf line was the foul pole, old lady who lived there let them paint it yellow.

TOB: I watched the PBS Townball series about Minnesota Townball over the weekend, streaming on Amazon Prime. I recall the field in Farming was featured, but I don’t recall them discussing the dropoff. Hilarious and dangerous.

Netter: yes, both Pearl Lake and Farming were featured. Farming has since put in about 500k into their field, lights, sprinklers, redid the whole playing surface. Went from the outhouse to the penthouse in terms of fields.
Pearl Lake is stuck due to regulations with structures close to the road like a fence.

Last field that I played at and Phil saw, Farming. From home to Rf line was about 315, but from about 1st base to the line was a 6ft drop off. I bet I saw 30 1st baseman fall over chasing a ball just blooped over their heads that normally would have been caught standing. Then to left field you hit up hill. From 3rd to left it rose about 3 ft. From Lf foul pole to Rf foul pile was a 10 ft drop, we had the field surveyed.

TOB: I just looked up Pearl Lake’s field:

Look at that…wouldn’t it make a ton of sense to turn that field around? Place home plate near the 4-way stop?

Regardless, Springer Park (Cold Springs) field looks freakin fantastic in this shot (PAL note: Nett wanted it known that he’s hit two bombs at Springer Park):

I would NOT complain about playing there!


Original Post:

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every field is different. Perhaps most famously is the Polo Grounds. 

Dimensions: Left Field: 279 ft, Left-Center: 450 ft, Center Field: 483 ft, Right-Center: 449 ft, Right Field: 258 ft.

LOL. I’ve seen those dimensions before but it is always so funny. The shortest home run in today’s game is 310 down the right field line at Fenway, which is FIFTY TWO FEET longer than the right field pole was at the Polo Grounds.

I bring this up because last week, 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy (real name: James O’BRIEN) asked Twitter followers for the funniest/dumbest local baseball fields. This one was my absolute favorite:

Center field is just opens up, with no fence, into a football field. Amazing. Like all great, quirky ball parks, they made the best with the space they had and created something so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it.

Looking at the Polo Grounds reminded me that Phil and I used to play softball at a field in SF (James P. LANG Field!) that has two softball fields at opposite corners of what is ostensibly a soccer or football field. 

It’s difficult to tell there how lopsided this field is, but I utilized Google Maps’ measuring tool and the dimensions are 385 to left, and 200 (yes, 200) to right. Given those dimensions, most teams stuck their worst defender in right, and shaded everyone toward center and left, because a ball getting by the outfielders in center and left would roll and roll, but a ball to right would hit that relatively short fence. 

Confession: I have never in my life hit a true home run. So, for two seasons, I eyed that short porch in right and decided to make a run at it, wanting to experience a home run trot. One night, I hit the ball so hard, I thought for sure it was gone off the bat. I watched that beauty fly and felt pure joy.

One thing you can’t tell from the overhead shot is that the right field wall is very tall. Here’s the best pic I could find. 

As you can kind of see in the top left of the photo, as you approach the fence, the grass heads steeply uphill. I’d say 6-7 feet (you can see in the photo the grass line is taller than a person standing out there). Then the fence is probably 12 feet high from there, so we are talking almost 20 feet.

As you probably guessed, I hit the ball high, I hit the ball deep…but I did not hit the ball high enough. The ball hit the goddamn very top of the wall. It was maybe a couple feet short of clearing it. I was crushed. And because I had been pimpin’ it, I had to scramble to eek out a double. Embarrassing.

What’s worse is this: (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil), Phil had not yet hit a dinger at that field either, despite being a lefty (something I had given him some ribbing about). Well, Phil was the next hitter up. And as I stood at second base, I got an absolutely spectacular view as Phil crushed a home run over that same wall I had barely failed to clear. Phil was cackling at me during his entire slow trot around the bases. Insult to injury. 

I never did get that dinger. I might need to get back into that league. I’ve got Dad-strength now, ya know. -TOB

PAL: That is correct, TOB. I had yet to hit a home run, despite the fact that we played ALL of our games on those two fields, and both favored the lefties big time. This is because I kinda suck at hitting softballs.

I’ve played on a lot of odd fields in my day, and – I agree with JOMBOY – it makes for a far more interesting game. That overhead shot of the Polo Grounds is crazy point of view. I also don’t think Pesky Pole down the right field line is anywhere near 310 feet from home. My brother-in-law, lifelong Red Sox fan and Mass. resident, can back me up on this: right field might not be even 300 feet. However, it juts almost straight back from there, so only a very small portion of right field is a short porch at Fenway.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the field, but I seem to remember playing a legion baseball game (16-18) where a ball over the right field fence was just a ground rule double because the fence was so short. Cretin’s field in St. Paul is perfectly manicured, but the left field fence is maybe 265, a fact few people seemed to remember when looking at season stats (OH MY GOD, so-and-so from Cretin has 12 home runs!)

The worst playing field I can remember was my freshman year in college. It was about 6 degrees out and we were trying like hell to get a conference game in before or after another snow storm in March. Somewhere in Sioux City, IA. I swear we played a college game on a Babe Ruth field that, in the most perfect conditions looked like the location of a meth deal from Breaking Bad. On the day we played there, it was unthawed with the snow shoveled off of it. It smelled like sulfur (because that entire town does). It was like playing on concrete in a howling wind. Miserable.

So, that’s my story of the strangest field I ever played on. How about you?


Video of the Day

We haven’t really been doing videos of the day on our dailies, but I loved this and wanted to share: Mike Yastrzemski mic’d up.


More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience
  11. Remove these songs from the sports canon

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Lockdown Dailies #12: Strangest Field You Ever Played On

Strangest Baseball Field You Ever Played On

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every field is different. Perhaps most famously is the Polo Grounds. 

Dimensions: Left Field: 279 ft, Left-Center: 450 ft, Center Field: 483 ft, Right-Center: 449 ft, Right Field: 258 ft.

LOL. I’ve seen those dimensions before but it is always so funny. The shortest home run in today’s game is 310 down the right field line at Fenway, which is FIFTY TWO FEET longer than the right field pole was at the Polo Grounds.

I bring this up because last week, 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy (real name: James O’BRIEN) asked Twitter followers for the funniest/dumbest local baseball fields. This one was my absolute favorite:

Center field is just opens up, with no fence, into a football field. Amazing. Like all great, quirky ball parks, they made the best with the space they had and created something so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it.

Looking at the Polo Grounds reminded me that Phil and I used to play softball at a field in SF (James P. LANG Field!) that has two softball fields at opposite corners of what is ostensibly a soccer or football field. 

It’s difficult to tell there how lopsided this field is, but I utilized Google Maps’ measuring tool and the dimensions are 385 to left, and 200 (yes, 200) to right. Given those dimensions, most teams stuck their worst defender in right, and shaded everyone toward center and left, because a ball getting by the outfielders in center and left would roll and roll, but a ball to right would hit that relatively short fence. 

Confession: I have never in my life hit a true home run. So, for two seasons, I eyed that short porch in right and decided to make a run at it, wanting to experience a home run trot. One night, I hit the ball so hard, I thought for sure it was gone off the bat. I watched that beauty fly and felt pure joy.

One thing you can’t tell from the overhead shot is that the right field wall is very tall. Here’s the best pic I could find. 

As you can kind of see in the top left of the photo, as you approach the fence, the grass heads steeply uphill. I’d say 6-7 feet (you can see in the photo the grass line is taller than a person standing out there). Then the fence is probably 12 feet high from there, so we are talking almost 20 feet.

As you probably guessed, I hit the ball high, I hit the ball deep…but I did not hit the ball high enough. The ball hit the goddamn very top of the wall. It was maybe a couple feet short of clearing it. I was crushed. And because I had been pimpin’ it, I had to scramble to eek out a double. Embarrassing.

What’s worse is this: (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil), Phil had not yet hit a dinger at that field either, despite being a lefty (something I had given him some ribbing about). Well, Phil was the next hitter up. And as I stood at second base, I got an absolutely spectacular view as Phil crushed a home run over that same wall I had barely failed to clear. Phil was cackling at me during his entire slow trot around the bases. Insult to injury. 

I never did get that dinger. I might need to get back into that league. I’ve got Dad-strength now, ya know. -TOB

PAL: That is correct, TOB. I had yet to hit a home run, despite the fact that we played ALL of our games on those two fields, and both favored the lefties big time. This is because I kinda suck at hitting softballs.

I’ve played on a lot of odd fields in my day, and – I agree with JOMBOY – it makes for a far more interesting game. That overhead shot of the Polo Grounds is crazy point of view. I also don’t think Pesky Pole down the right field line is anywhere near 310 feet from home. My brother-in-law, lifelong Red Sox fan and Mass. resident, can back me up on this: right field might not be even 300 feet. However, it juts almost straight back from there, so only a very small portion of right field is a short porch at Fenway.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the field, but I seem to remember playing a legion baseball game (16-18) where a ball over the right field fence was just a ground rule double because the fence was so short. Cretin’s field in St. Paul is perfectly manicured, but the left field fence is maybe 265, a fact few people seemed to remember when looking at season stats (OH MY GOD, so-and-so from Cretin has 12 home runs!)

The worst playing field I can remember was my freshman year in college. It was about 6 degrees out and we were trying like hell to get a conference game in before or after another snow storm in March. Somewhere in Sioux City, IA. I swear we played a college game on a Babe Ruth field that, in the most perfect conditions looked like the location of a meth deal from Breaking Bad. On the day we played there, it was unthawed with the snow shoveled off of it. It smelled like sulfur (because that entire town does). It was like playing on concrete in a howling wind. Miserable.

So, that’s my story of the strangest field I ever played on. How about you?


Video of the Day

We haven’t really been doing videos of the day on our dailies, but I loved this and wanted to share: Mike Yastrzemski mic’d up.


More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience
  11. Remove these songs from the sports canon

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Week of April 10, 2020

COVID-19 Hair.


This Week’s Best from Posnanski’s Top 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds could be an asshole, yes. But, like all of us, he is not monochromatic. He is complicated. When discussing Bonds’ reputation for being a jerk in the locker room, Posnanski writes the following:

*This personal thing must be said here: Barry Bonds was always nice to me. There was no apparent reason for it. He didn’t know me. He hadn’t read me. I feel sure he couldn’t have come up with my name if he was spotted all the letters except the “J.” But every time I needed to talk to him, probably a half-dozen times before 1998, a few times after, he was always accommodating, thoughtful — and could this be? — friendly. It was the strangest thing. It was like I reminded him of a childhood friend or something.

When I told other writers and people around baseball about this, they shook their heads and promptly told me their own Bonds horror stories. I kept waiting for mine. It hasn’t come yet. Maybe it will. But it would not be right or fair for me to discuss Bonds’ well-known media hatred without saying that he could be, when he wanted, an engaging, insightful and pleasant interview. He has a lot of charm. He dispenses it sparingly.

There are certainly times that all of us acted in a way we wouldn’t want written about; there are times we’ve been rude or mean or lashed out because we were hurt, and it doesn’t get played on loop, or written about 25 years later in an article discussing what a jerk you were when you were barely an adult. But from everything I’ve read about Bonds, he was not only a jerk. He was not a movie villain, hell-bent on ruining the day of everyone around him, every single day. As Posnanski says, he in fact could be polite and charming. That doesn’t excuse the times he was rude, or a jerk, or an asshole – but it must be said.

I think what makes me sad about Barry Bonds is that the people who do not like him dismiss that he seems to clearly suffer from deep insecurities stemming from a childhood and a life spent chasing the affection of a father who would not show it. As Posnanski puts it, Bonds wanted to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived. What Posnanski leaves unsaid is that Bonds felt that becoming the greatest baseball player who ever lived was the way to receive the love and admiration of his father, and of everyone else. And he never got it. He was deeply sensitive as a result. As his college coach put it:

“He wanted to be liked, tried so damn hard to have people like him,” Brock told Sports Illustrated. “Tried too hard. But then he’d say things he didn’t mean, wild statements. I tried to tell him that these guys, 20 years from now, would be electricians and plumbers, but he’d be making millions. … Still he’d be hurt. People don’t realize that he can be hurt — and is, fairly often.”

The tragedy of Bonds is that he was an incredible baseball player before steroids, and for some his numbers after 1998 are tainted. For some, his numbers before 1998 are tainted, because the steroids taint his integrity. I think that’s deeply unfair. It’s been written before, but Posnanski puts Bonds’ steroid use into the proper context of the time:

Then came 1998. Barry Bonds had an incredible year in 1998. I mean, no, it wasn’t incredible for him, but it was still so remarkable. He hit .303/.438/.609 with 44 doubles, seven triples, 37 homers, 120 runs scored and 122 RBIs. He won his eighth Gold Glove. He led the league in WAR for the seventh time. It was his seventh straight season with a 1.000 OPS.

And that year, he became the first player in baseball history to hit 400 home runs and steal 400 bases in a career. He was the player of his generation.

It should have been the year of Barry, one celebrated by all. It was, to say the least, not the year of Barry. No, 1998 was the year that people marveled at how far Mark McGwire could hit a baseball. No, 1998 was the year that people pounded their chests along with Sammy Sosa as he rounded the bases an astounding 66 times. No, 1998 was the year that Ken Griffey Jr. — so much more lovable — cracked 56 home runs and drove in 146 and won a Gold Glove (in center field!) and stretched the imagination.

And Bonds? Who? He was just this problematic outfielder who played for an also-ran Giants team and couldn’t hit in the playoffs. Yes, all his career, Bonds told people again and again that he didn’t care, he didn’t care, he didn’t care.

But 1998 was the year Barry Bonds discovered he did care very much.

Barry Bonds broke the game. That’s how good he was after 1998. The theory goes that Bonds saw how people celebrated McGwire and Sosa and others, and he knew they were using steroids, and he decided that it was time to go all in.

You can imagine Jack Nicholson’s line from “Batman” playing in his head: “Wait ‘til they get a load of me.”

There was no testing in baseball then. There was no outcry in baseball then. It was quite the opposite: The game was thriving! The home run was king! Nike reminded everybody that chicks dig the long ball! MLB even put out a comic book of baseball players with enormous muscles. Muscles were in!

So Barry Bonds got muscles. And he tilted baseball.

Remember: we knew. We all knew! In August 1998, a writer saw a bottle of androstenedione (which was banned in the NFL and the Olympics at the time, but not baseball) in McGwire’s locker and wrote about it. McGwire and Sosa looked like bodybuilders. No one cared. MORE DINGERS! MORE DINGERS! 

I don’t understand what an athlete in Bonds’ situation was realistically supposed to do. So many players were using steroids; certainly, not all of them. But so many. It was not being tested for; it was not against the rules. Most importantly, the players using steroids were being celebrated. What kind of message did that send to Barry, and the rest of baseball? Barry Bonds wanted nothing more than to be loved, and his incredible season was ignored because McGwire and Sosa and others were juiced and bashing baseballs out of the stadium at rates never before seen. He was supposed to just shrug his shoulders? That is deeply unfair.

I don’t understand the people who dislike him because he “broke the game.” Posanski touches on this, but it needs to be said: Bonds did not ruin baseball. He was not the first to take steroids. He was not the last. But even if he was, steroids didn’t ruin baseball. In fact, McGwire and Sosa’s 1998 season helped rescue baseball from the post-1994 strike doldrums. So many people made money because players used steroids. The game is more popular than ever, with attendance well above what it was before the 1990s. What gets lost is that baseball is entertainment. There’s no “sanctity of the game.” Bonds was entertaining, both before and after 1998. That’s what we pay money to see. If steroids helped him entertain more and entertain longer, so what?

But the thing I do not understand the most about Bonds, are the Bonds haters who take delight in his pain:

The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly caught up with Barry Bonds. He found a sad and haunted man. “I feel like a ghost,” Bonds said. “A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around.”

How you feel about that quote probably says everything about how you feel about him. Are you thrilled that he’s getting what he had coming? Do you feel sad that Bonds, who did so many incredible things, cannot find peace?

Or do you feel a little of both?

From his earliest memories, all Barry Bonds ever wanted was to become the greatest baseball player who ever lived. He paid every price. He ignored every doubt. He raged over every hurdle. He cut every corner. He shut himself off from everything else. He brushed aside every other concern. He made more enemies than friends.

And he became the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

And what was waiting for him at the end? Remember what he said way back at the start of his career: “If I’m supposed to wait for you guys to applaud me, I could be waiting a lifetime.”

Here’s what waited for him at the end: Silence.

He’s not a cartoon character. He’s a human being. Yes, Bonds made lots of money (career earnings: $188,245,322). But money isn’t everything. And what else does he have? He doesn’t even have adulation. He’s cheered in San Francisco, but that’s about it. How can someone read the stories about his father, not connect the dots to the person he was as a young man, and then think, “I don’t care, fuck that asshole.” I’m not saying he should be completely absolved of his sins. But if you can’t find it in your heart to feel for someone who was so obviously hurting, I don’t understand you. If you can’t find it in your heart to forgive someone for mistakes made 20 or 30 years ago, I don’t understand you. 

Bonds does not deserve your love, but he does deserve your understanding. -TOB

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)

PAL: As if we needed another reminder to be a good parent, eh? Bobby Bonds sounds like a real piece of work. 

Posnanski’s approach (two essays – one for Bonds fans and one for Bonds critics) was a cool tweak in this series. A lot in here, so I think I’ll just add my two cents to points TOB brings up. 

His greatness, especially at the plate, was something to see. And whether or not he has a bust in the Hall of Fame, I will tell my kids that I saw Barry Bonds play. It’s hard to even imagine someone being better than Bonds at his peak. It would have to be something entirely different, like Ohtani being a dominant starting pitcher for 5 years and putting up monster offensive numbers. 

I will measure the best players from future generations against Bonds. What higher compliment could there be?

I sat behind home plate, in line with the right field foul line, and saw him send a pitch into McCovey Cove. And whether or not you rooted for him, everyone was in awe. A home run every 6 at bats. I mean, what the hell? Posnanksi said it – Bonds broke the game. 

History will be very kind to Bonds. Whether or not he is elected into the Hall of Fame, his statistics will outlive the circumstances under which they came. The stats are too absurd. The highlights will live on. In twenty years, generations of fans will neither know nor care that Bonds was an asshole, just like we don’t care that Ty Cobb was an asshole. 

My biggest takeaway from this story is actually a reminder of a lesson I had to learn from Kirby Puckett, my boyhood hero. We don’t know these guys. We love one small, insignificant part of them. We choose when we care. Kirby Puckett was the short, keg of ballplayer that brought two titles to Minnesota. He did it all with a giggle and smile. Everyone’s hero. Turns out he was far from a hero when not in the public eye. By several accounts, he could be pretty gross and mean in ways that are far more important than being rude to a reporter. 

And yet, history has already been kind to Puckett, and he wasn’t half the player Bonds was. It might take a little longer, but the same is coming for Bonds. So Bonds was a selfish prick. Do you care what kind of friend Picasso was? Do you not appreciate For Whom The Bell Tolls because Hemingway was jerk drunk? There are pricks at every office, and some of them are very good at their jobs. Bonds’ personality had zero impact on my enjoyment when I watched him hit. Sure, he was annoying, and I think he always wanted it both ways (leave me alone, but appreciate how great I am), but if you think any of that came into play for anyone in a San Francisco bar during a real Bonds at-bat (not an intentional walk), you’re crazy. We were amazed, all of us.


Sports Need to Stay Shut Down

The sports world quickly shut down last month, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 just before the start of a game in Oklahoma City. Everyone applauded how quickly they put their health of the players, employees, and fans. Hurrah, the billionaires did the right thing!

Yeah, that lasted all of, oh, three weeks. What began as low rumbles almost immediately started gaining steam last week: leagues are exploring ways to finish or hold their season. Over last weekend, the reports about MLB, in particular, seemed to be gaining enough steam with reporters who are typically in-the-know that it seemed inevitable: MLB wants to host their season with all teams being housed in Arizona, playing games in empty stadiums, with players sitting spaced out in the bleachers instead of in the dugout.

This is so incredibly stupid. 

It’s stupid logistically. What about the staff? How do you keep players from infecting themselves on the field? A player could easily infect another player on a slide into second, or even touching a baseball touched by an infected player. Even if you put all players in hotels, how do you ensure they stay locked down? How do the players feel being away from their families that long? Same with the staff, including medical staff and other employees that make game days happen? I could go on and on.

It’s stupid on a moral level. This would require THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of tests – there are approximately 800 players on major league rosters every season. Add to that coaches and staff and we’re talking at least 1,200 people who would require regularly testing to ensure they are healthy and able to play. Even if you only tested them once a week, that’s approximately 30,000 tests in a 6-month season, at a time when testing is still scarce, and resources for processing tests are stretched thin with major back logs. How can they justify those testing resources going to baseball?

It’s stupid on an entertainment level. Make no mistake: they do not want to do this to lift the nation’s collective spirit. This is about money, pure and simple. I love baseball, and if you read this blog you probably know I miss it dearly. But I have serious doubts that I’d be tuning in to watch this. Baseball with no crowd? Buddy, that is batting practice. Are people really going to care? And if not, why are we risking people’s health and utilizing precious resources and subjecting players and staff to this insane plan? 

This plan is absolutely madness. And it has to stop. -TOB


Mike Gundy, a Complete Moron, Gets Torn to Shreds

You may remember Mike Gundy, the longtime football coach at Oklahoma State. He went viral in the 2000s for his, “I’m a man! I’m 40!” speech. His teams have been middling, and so he’s made a name for himself again by sporting a ridiculous mullet.

But this week, perhaps taking a cue from our Commander-in-Chief, Gundy offered some insanely idiotic, dangerous, self-important arguments about how Oklahoma State Football should not be shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Longtime college football writer Pat Forde was not having it. Here’s the lede:

I would like stock tips from Noted Expert Mike Gundy. Also, some cooking recipes. Could he offer best practices to our educators? How about weighing in on the Middle East?

I’m dying to be enlightened. Really.

Clearly, Noted Expert Mike Gundy knows far more than just football. Not that he’s been great in that regard lately—his Oklahoma State teams were 15–11 the past two seasons, 8–10 in the Big 12—especially given his $5 million a year salary. But it is now abundantly obvious that labeling him a mere football coach is too limiting. He is a Renaissance man, a visionary capable of seeing solutions where others see problems, a savant so cleverly disguised as a mullet-haired meathead.

Take, for example, the wisdom Noted Expert Mike Gundy dispensed upon the masses Tuesday in a media teleconference. When the only topic that matters in today’s world came up—the global COVID-19 pandemic—he flexed his intellectual prowess. He showcased his grasp of public health, economics, the workings of higher education, college athletics in general and other topics.

“The NCAA, the presidents of the universities, the Power 5 conference commissioners, the athletic directors need to be meeting right now and we need to start coming up with answers,” Noted Expert Mike Gundy said. “In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them. They’re all in good shape. They’re all 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22-year-olds. They’re healthy. A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and the build that they have. There’s some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then we sequester them. And people say that’s crazy. No, it’s not crazy because we need to continue and budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

Noted Expert Mike Gundy isn’t just talking the talk here. He is an omniscient observer with a plan. He wants to have his staff and support personnel, roughly 100 people, back to work in the Oklahoma State football facility May 1. Then the players after that.

Ooooh, fire. Forde was just getting started, though, and I highly recommend you read it. -TOB

Source: Mike Gundy’s Pandemic Plan Is Ridiculous,” Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated (04/07/2020)

PAL: Dan Patrick also lit into Gundy on this during his radio show. My favorite point: pro athletes, those who get paid to play, aren’t coming back, but let’s talk about bringing the student-athletes back. There are few things higher on the unintentional comedy scale than self-important college football coaches. 


The Spark

This morning, The Athletic posted a complete breakdown of the night when the Utah Jazz – Oklahoma City Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip-off when it was realized Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 the night of Wednesday, March 11. That positive test led to the suspension of the NBA season. NCAA, MLB, NHL were all to follow within 48-hours. Travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines were put in place for folks coming back from anywhere in the E.U., amongst other parts of the world. Shelter in place was issued for 6 Bay Area counties beginning the following Monday. In my mind, that positive test for Gobert was the spark that lit the fuse (even when there were some very alarming details coming out of the Seattle area before March 11.

A lot of us have felt the absence of sports over the past four weeks. Of course, it’s not that important, but I realized how many moments of my daily routine intersects with sports. Coffee, breakfast, check the scores. Lunch was a time scanning a handful of sports sites for interesting stories to write about for Fridays. Having the Twins game streaming audio while I go for a run. Having the Giants game on in the background while making dinner. Again, not that sports is anywhere close to a top priority, but the absence can’t be ignored. And that’s what happened on a very large scale when this Jazz-Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip: as a country, we couldn’t ignore the pandemic. I don’t think many of us could wrap our heads around how scary it was going to get over the next month, but we couldn’t ignore it because it came with the absence of sports, pretty much overnight. 

 

This story tracks the Jazz in the days and weeks leading up to the positive test. It’s an interesting look at how an organization handles crisis management. This story makes it seem like the team was actually a bit ahead of the curve in terms of educating employees and players about COVID-19. Some of that had to do with coach Quin Synder growing up 12 miles from the nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where the first epicenter of the U.S. outbreak took place, and his brother running a market in Pike’s Place. Snyder’s brother, Matt, is also friends with the Seattle-based band, Pearl Jam, which cancelled its world tour two days before the Jazz-Thunder game. So Snyder was following the story extremely closely and asking all sorts of questions early on. 

Another nugget from this story: Thunder’s Chris Paul being a good guy. Never liked Paul, but this was a nice gesture for the Jazz as they waited for next steps after the game in OKC was cancelled: 

Thanks to a generous and well-timed assist from Chris Paul, their moods were lifted approximately an hour after the game had been called when sources say a delivery of beer and wine arrived. Paul, the Thunder point guard who also serves as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, arranged for his longtime security guard Gene Escamilla to deliver the drinks as a way of helping them all pass the anxiety-ridden time.

Other crazy details from the story: 

  • The Jazz had a difficult time finding a hotel in OKC that would take the team after the positive test. 
  • Regardless of how wealthy one might be, it’s not easy to find a flight for someone who has COVID-19 – Charter flights aren’t safe. It had to be private, with additional precautions. 
  • It sounds like this ordeal has driven a wedge between Utah’s two best players (Mitchell and Gobert) – Mitchell is still upset about this, even though he’s been told that no one knows whether he gave it to Gobert or Gobert gave it to him.

A worthwhile read, but I get it if you need a break from pandemic news. – PAL 

Source: Behind the scenes with the Utah Jazz during the days that changed everything”, Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Tony Jones, The Athletic (4/10/20)


Video(s) of the Week

-These always crack me up.

Behind the scenes footage of Miller’s call as Ishikawa wins the 2014 NL pennant.

Bill Murray perfectly capturing the power of John Prine.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘Jesus, The Missing Years’

R.I.P., John Prine. While Dylan spoke loudest to me in my teens and twenties, Prine’s music resonates in me now more than ever. Every day, his stories get funnier, sadder, more caring, and more true.


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You couldn’t handle my undivided attention. 

-Dwight K. Schrute

Lockdown Dailies #11: Remove these songs from the sports canon

These songs, oftentimes played at sporting events, need to be removed from stadium/arena playlists when we go back to games.

  1. ‘Sweet Caroline’ – Neil Diamond. So over it. Every over-served person in America loves singing this song. Only became a Red Sox tradition in late 90s, and then this push for it to become ‘tradition’ across several teams is so lame. Also, there are so many better Diamond songs! ‘America’, “Forever In Blue Jeans’, ‘Kentucky Woman’ to name a few.
  2. ‘Centerfield’ – John Fogerty. Every pre-game mixtape, at every field, at every baseball game from Little League through college. That upbeat, bouncy melody is chiseled into my brain. I. Can’t. Stand. This. Song. No mas. 
  3. ‘All Star’ – Smash Mouth. I would think many of these songs on this list don’t actually need an explanation, and this would be one of them.
  4. ‘Let’s Get It Started’ – Black Eyed Peas. 
  5. ‘When The Lights Go Down’ – Journey.  SF’s answer to Sweet Caroline…and just as manufactured and forced. 
  6. ‘Cotton Eye Joe’. When did annoying = fun? 
  7. ‘Glory Days’ – Springsteen. He’s been given a pass on this. No one calls a fastball a speedball (as many have pointed out). Super catchy guitar riff, and a good concept for a song, but that line unforgivable. It’s actually a real flex on his part. You’re telling me NONE of his friends had the seeds to say, “Hey, Bruce. We need to talk. Dude, you can’t say speedball. You sound like an idiot.” Also, ‘fastball’ has the same amount of syllables and works within the rhythm of the lyric exactly the same as speedball.
  8. ‘Y.M.C.A.’ – Village People. I don’t want to do the wave, and I don’t want to do the YMCA. Next.
  9. ‘I Gotta A Feeling’ – B.E.P. The only group in this list twice…just sayin.
  10. ‘The Greatest’ – Kenny Rogers. A one-listen song. Once you hear the punch line, it’s done. No disrespect to the recently departed.

PAL

How about you? What songs got to go? What songs am I absolutely wrong about? 

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Lockdown Dailies #10: Ultimate Sports Experience

For the sake of entertainment, let’s assume the world was like it was a couple months ago and all sporting events were as they were before the pandemic.

The scenario: by some stroke of luck, good fortune, or mistake you fall into a large sum of money. Enough money so that all the real important things – the house, college for the kids, buying something real nice for your parents – are taken care of, but not enough money where you’re buying a professional sports franchise or building a family compound for you and all your siblings’ families in Monterey or something. Whatever that sum of money is, there’s enough for you to live out your ultimate sports experience. I’d call it bucket list, but this seems even a bit more out of reach than bucket list stuff. As an example, my sports bucket list includes maintaining a youth baseball field at some point in my life.

I think about my ultimate sports experience every time I drive west on the Bay Bridge, where Oracle (the SF Giants Stadium…so hard to keep up with stadium names these days) is just down and to the left. I can see most of the field from that vantage point, and every single time I drive by, and have the same thought: wouldn’t it be cool to rent out the stadium for a night and have 10 buddies out there hitting, taking grounders, turning double-plays, shagging fly balls? A cooler of beer on both baselines. A bucket of seeds. Hundreds of new pearls (rubbed up, of course). Good music* playing over the loudspeakers. 

That is my ultimate sports experience. And since we’re dreaming, I think this would have to take place at Fenway. Yes, Fenway over Wrigley, because the Monster is right there for righties, and it would be super fun to try to play balls off the wall. Plus, for us lefies, Pesky pole is less than 300-feet away. 

Maybe the night starts in the evening when the sun is still out, but we have the park for six hours, that way you get both the day and night feel. 

That’s my ultimate sport experience. What about you, TOB?

*New topic: songs that need to be removed from the ballpark canon. A teaser: “Centerfield” by John Fogerty needs to go away forever.

TOB: I like the Fenway idea. But I want Centerfield playing ON LOOP all night. That song is beyond reproach. How dare you.

How about you? What’s your ultimate sports experience? Floor seats at the NBA Finals? A college football road trip to all the rivalry games? Playing a round with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus? Think big. 

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com