Week of May 29, 2020


Andre Dawson Is A Mortician?

Yes. Hall of Fame baseball player Andre Dawson is a mortician. Crazy, right? Read this wonderful story from Peter Keating, and you’ll learn that it makes sense. The work, what it requires, fits perfectly in line with how Dawson approached his baseball career. 

He happened upon the mortuary business as a member of an investment group. 12 years ago, there was an opportunity for him to purchase a funeral parlor that was often used by members of the church Dawson attended. It didn’t take long for Dawson to realize the investment required more than money. 

“Do I keep [the funeral home]? Do I sell it? Does the community really need it?” Dawson asked himself. Meeting with local pastors convinced him the answer to the last question was yes — churches worried about losing services from a partner they had relied on for more than two decades. Dawson began to sense that he personally needed to reopen its doors. 

So he got involved. He learned what it took to be good at this next career. Now, Dawson refers to it as “my calling.” 

But Dawson didn’t go out of his way to seek publicity. He rebranded the funeral home as Paradise Memorial rather than using his own name, and he doesn’t speak at most services. It’s Vanessa, outgoing enough that she once considered a career in broadcast journalism, who makes funeral arrangements with most visiting families. Her husband threw himself into all the less visible of aspects of their work. Dawson retrieved corpses from deathbeds. He drove a hearse. (On his first trip, he found himself reassuring the body inside the casket that he would try to keep the ride smooth.) He delivered cadavers to cremations.

“The funeral home business is not about volume,” Brown says. “It’s about controlling the quality of what you do and making it rewarding for the families that come to you and the people who work for you. Andre seems to have found enjoyment in that. Strangest thing!”

Maybe not so strange. Determined, studious and willing to deal with pain, Andre Dawson turns out to be who his fans always thought he was.

Now, as the death tolls rise from COVID-19, and as every element of a wake or viewing changes, Dawson and his team carry on. As he told his staff early on, “It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about the service being rendered to this community,” he told his employees.  

No wonder Dawson was the kind of teammate the other fellas named their kids after. Great story. – PAL 

Source: The Baseball Hall of Famer Who Runs a Funeral Home: Andre Dawson’s Second Act”, Peter Keating, ESPN (05/28/20)


Do Not Fall For the Owners’ Bullshit

We discussed this in the abstract a couple weeks back, but this week the MLB owners went even beyond what I would have imagined in their public negotiations with the players union regarding how the finances will work in an abbreviated 2020 baseball season.

To quickly recap: When the start of the season was postponed, the players graciously agreed to prorate their salaries according to how many games are played. In an 81-game season, that’s a 50% pay cut for all players. I say graciously because they did so with almost no push-back, assuming (perhaps stupidly) that they would accept this entirely fair position and not receive any pushback from the owners. LOLLLLL. 

In the last few weeks, the owners floated through trusted media channels that they’d need more of a give back from players due to the fact fans would not be permitted in the stadium. The players said they’d need to see the owners’ books, for the first time ever, to understand if things were as dire as the owners claim. Owners claim they rarely make large profits as is, and that the lack of ticket sales and concessions would be ruinous (When considering the owners’ claim that they don’t make large profits in normal seasons, keep in mind the small market Kansas City Royals were sold a few months back for $1 billion. Do you think people are eager to pay $1 billion for failing businesses? Me neither).

But this week, the owners released their “proposal” and it is a truly insulting offer. Ignore the people arguing it’s an “opening” offer. Remember, they already HAD a deal. And also understand that in negotiations, if your initial offer is so outrageously one-sided, many times people will simply walk away – you are not to be taken seriously. So, without agreeing to show their books, the owners proposed pay cuts as follows:

It would be at that point I would tell the owners to either make a serious offer or we’d be walking away. That is completely ludicrous to the point that I actually think the owners might prefer to skip the season altogether, and so are making an offer they know would enfuriate the players.

But it’s worse than that. The public nature of it all suggests this was nothing more than a bad faith offer intended to get the players to balk, in an attempt to get the public on the owners’ side. As expected, and understandably so, the players were not happy. Here’s Max Scherzer, a member of the MLBPA’s 8-person executive committee with a representative response, and to see if the owners’ were successful in their PR ploy, wade into Scherzer’s replies. Here’s an example:

And another:

 

As I’ve said many times, though, I do not understand why people side with billionaires over millionaires. Yes, the players get paid a lot. But they will be risking their lives, and potentially be separated from their families for months, for a fraction of what they agreed to play for. Meanwhile, the owners will still collect billions with no risk, and without being separated from their families, for sitting on their butts and writing some checks. 

I think the owners overplayed this hand. They have pissed off the players in a way they haven’t been pissed for 25 years, when the last labor stoppage took place. Buster Posey, of all people, tweeted an article by Roger Ehrenberg, a venture capitalist and baseball fan, discussing how awful the owners’ offer was:

The owners flopped a deal that perverts economic logic and fairness in order to win in the court of public opinion and to pressure the players to go along. Stripping things down to their essence, the proposal calls for players on the lowest end of pay scale to get their prorated pay based upon games played, while those at the highest end to get what amounts to 40% of their prorated salary (read: 20% of their annual contract value). So what you have here are the employees being asked to subsidize the owners — the equity owners- of the business during tough times. Not giving up their fair share, e.g., straight proration, but 60% of their fair share. As an investor for more than three decades, I have to say I’m impressed with the owner’s wanton disregard for fairness and the willingness to create the most hostile dynamic possible with their most valuable assets – the players – and using a sports-starved public as a battering ram to have their highly compensated employees look like selfish a**holes. I am impressed — and aghast.

Here’s what Posey said about the article:

If you know Buster, this is an incredibly surprising thing for him to say publicly. He’s practically a PR robot. As Grant Brisbee put it:

If Posey is saying something like that, the players are PISSED. As two agents put it:

“I have never seen a collective response like I’m seeing today from the players,” one agent said. “They are livid.”

Another agent said, “It’s such a shame there is so much distrust on both sides that we can’t be pragmatic adults. There’s no way MLB would think that proposal would get a favorable response from the players. It’s ‘right back at you, screw you.’ And where are we? They’re playing a pretty dangerous game of chicken.”

I get unreasonably angry at fans when they fall for the owners’ crap. Because we really shouldn’t. As Ehrenberger puts it:

Now here’s the important part: take a deep breath, divorce yourself from the sums involved and think about principle…. The owners of baseball clubs own the equity. The club and all of the cash flows associated with its operation are its assets. When someone owns equity, they’re supposed to get the benefit of an increase in asset value, and to bear the loss of a decrease in asset value. With the steady rise in TV revenues and sweetheart stadium deals, team values have generally skyrocketed. During COVID-19, there has been a short-term hit to asset value as ticket sales, ad revenues, merchandise sales, etc. have slowed to a trickle. The owners have fixed costs (like stadium leases and/or maintenance, supporting the farm system and supposedly player contracts) that need to be covered regardless of revenues, so on a cash flow basis the lack of baseball is costing them real cash. But guess what — this is what being an equity owner is — benefiting from the ups but paying for the downs. But that’s not what the owners want — they want their highly compensated employees to cushion the blow, without any return for what is an implicit financing of the owners by these players.

YES. Thank you. As I wrote a couple weeks back, the owners do NOT share in the profits (or skyrocketing values of their teams) when times are good. They should not get to share in the risk when times are uncertain. They make more than you and me, but the players are still labor. Don’t be a tool of the owners. -TOB

Source: Re-Starting Major League Baseball: Motivation and Manipulation,” Roger Ehrenberg, Medium (05/27/2020); MLB Proposal Made, Players Now Have Say Over Restart,” Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic (05/26/2020)

PAL: To our readers: isn’t it great when TOB threads together a topic through several articles like he does above? 

The exercise of removing the sums of money is a great point on Ehrenberg’s part. The sums are a distraction. Could be wrong, but people get mad at the players because guys like Max Scherzer and Buster Posey get to live the dream a lot of us had as children, and there’s some residue of anger that their lives were able to stay on some trajectory set in a childhood dream millions shared while a lot of people began their drift towards anonymous mediocrity. That residue isn’t a lot – you don’t even notice it most of the time – but every now and again we’re reminded it’s there.


Roy Halladay’s Battle 

10 years ago today, Roy Halladay threw a perfect game, and that wasn’t even undoubtedly the highlight of his career. Before reading this, I forgot just how excellent Halladay was, After reading this, I learned how much trouble Halladay tried to navigate throughout his life. This story from John Barr, Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera serves as another reminder that we have no damn idea who we are rooting for and what is going on in their lives beyond the field of play. 

No two ways about: this story is a sad one to unwrap, but it’s important to share stories of people who struggle, especially those who we tag, unfairly, as idols. And in that word – struggle – is also something admirable. To struggle means there’s a fight, and Halladay fought against his demons. 

Please read the full story. Here are some moments that have stuck with me: 

On Brandy Halladay recalling her first memories of her husband showing signs of addiction: 

It started with chewing tobacco, a habit she says she hated. She’d find the partially empty tobacco tins everywhere — in toolboxes, under plants in the living room, in food boxes in the refrigerator.

Halladay, then in his early 20s, would frequently disappear, alone, into a room in the home he purchased outside of Denver to work on model airplanes or watch TV. It struck Brandy as odd that Roy would lock the door. She recalls one day finding a stack of empty Crown Royal whiskey bags inside the room.

When she confronted him, Roy explained it away, she says, by saying he relished his time alone, unwinding with a few drinks, adding he’d always had a controlled life growing up in a Mormon home and was enjoying his newfound freedom.

On Halladay’s shame of being demoted to the minors and early struggles with addiction:

By then, Roy and Brandy had their first son, 6-month-old Braden. They spoke of buying a home in Florida because Halladay was too ashamed to show his face in Colorado, she says.

That night, Brandy drove to the bookstore and bought Roy a book she now credits with saving his career and their marriage. The now-well-worn copy of “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, has few highlights or handwritten notes from the pitcher, but one passage is marked with a single pen stroke in the column:

“Pitchers must have a clue,” it reads. “One must know something is breaking if he is to keep it from shattering.”

Rich Dubee, Halladay’s pitching coach in Philly, on the kind of heart the star pitcher had: 

To this day, every day, Dubee wears the Baume & Mercier watch that Halladay gifted to teammates, coaches, clubhouse staffers and front-office personnel after his perfect game 10 years ago.

“We did it together,” the engraving reads on the back of each watch.

A tough read, but an important one, and one that is very well-written. -PAL

Source: Inside Roy Halladay’s Struggle With Pain, Addiction”, John Barr, Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera, ESPN (5/27/20)


Not to Pick on MLB Owners, But…

Just kidding. As long as these rich pricks keep being rich pricks, I’ll happily pick on them. But this one is directed at a specific owner: Oakland A’s owner John Fisher (estimated net worth of $2 BILLION). This week, Fisher announced the A’s will stop paying their minor leaguers, their measly $400 weekly stipend, starting this week. 

This cost saving move will save the A’s oh, about a million dollars.

 

So, are those players free agents now? Are they free to sign with teams that don’t treat their players like shit? LOLLLLLLLL. No. Of course not. 

This is about as disgusting as it gets, A’s. -TOB

Source: Minor Leaguers Make $400 a Week. The A’s Are Cutting Off Payments,” Jared DIamond, Wall Street Journal (05/28/2020)


Video(s) of the Week:

I can’t decide if I’m impressed:

Tweet(s) of the Week: 


Song of the Week: Bobby Womack – “Lookin’ For A Love”


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We’re not supposed to PDA.

-MGS

Week of May 22, 2020


Last Words on the Last Dance

Well, it’s over. 5 weeks, 10 hours. I laughed, I got angry, I got nostalgic. It wasn’t perfect, but to paraphrase Vince Vaughn’s character in Wedding Crashers: who are we kidding, neither are you. 

In the days that followed the conclusion, ESPN’s writers wrote about what they took away most from the documentary. One thing I took away was what a god damn sniveling priss Bob Costas was (I also watched Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals on Sunday afternoon ahead of the movie’s finale, and I counted no less than three cheap shots taken by Costas about Dennis Rodman. Included in that is Costas crying for a flagrant foul against Rodman when he and Karl Malone both tripped each other.

God, Costas sucks. Anyways.

Ramona Shelburne had a good point about Phil Jackson – he was an incredible coach because he knew how to let his players breathe. In watching the documentary, they discussed how Rodman missed a practice during the 1998 Finals because he was filming a WCW event with Hulk Hogan (in the broadcast, Costas ripped him for it. God damn you suck, Costas). But of course I thought back to how Jordan went to Atlantic City in the middle of a playoff series back in 1992 (?) to gamble all night. Sure, Jordan got crap for that, but Rodman was treated much more severely by the media (looking at you, Costas).

Most of all, it was fun. The last couple years, I had started to think that MAYBE LeBron is actually the greatest player of all time. I couldn’t help it. I tried to set aside recency bias, but watching him dominate Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was just too much. He’s so much bigger and stronger than Jordan. At his peak, that size and strength made him an even better defender than Jordan was at his peak. And how would Jordan guard him?

But this documentary took me back. Not only was Jordan incredible, watching him play basketball was art. I don’t know if Jordan or LeBron is better; now I realize it doesn’t really matter. But Jordan is still My Guy. -TOB

Source: How ‘The Last Dance’ Changed the Way We Think About Michael Jordan,” ESPN (05/17/2020)


Even Gluttony Couldn’t Stop Jordan 

Let’s talk about Jordan’s food poisoning in Utah, because we’ve come this far, right? Right. If you haven’t been watching the doc, then – my god – I tip my cap to you. Your life is full enough to not be watching the one appointment sports event taking place in America. For the rest of us, Jordan’s ‘Flu Game’ has been a classic for over 20 years. Turns out, the doc confirmed it wasn’t the flu; rather, it was Jordan eating a full pizza by himself (I wouldn’t know the first thing about doing something like that). Jordan says it was food poisoning. The Ringer’s Roger Sherman ain’t buying it, and neither do I…I mean, ultimately I’ll take Jordan at his word, but it’s an odd admission to make now. 

Sherman breaks down the issues with Jordan’s story, the number of guys that delivered the pizza, the fact that players or folks ordering food for the player wouldn’t advertise who the food was for, and the quality of the pizza (being that it came from the only place open). Ultimately, Sherman thinks it’s an attempt to distance the flu game from the rumor that he was simply hungover.

I don’t buy Jordan’s pizza explanation, but there’s one main argument in favor of it being the truth: Why would he lie about this? The Flu Game is an all-time piece of sports lore, as well as a testament to Jordan’s legendary determination and ability. While his performance is still impressive even if he was throwing up from food poisoning rather than sickness, it’s certainly less cool if the instigator was middle-of-the-night garbage pizza. 

There’s only one reason why I can imagine Jordan making up the pizza story: Over the years, many have assumed that Jordan’s Flu Game was actually a Hangover Game. After all, “flu-like symptoms” has long been the NBA’s wink-wink euphemism for “this player partied too hard last night.” And Jordan probably doesn’t want anyone to think he partied too hard the night before an NBA Finals game. Turning the flu story into the pizza story might be an attempt to usurp the hangover conspiracy through a specific explanation for why he felt bad. It’s the same reason you should say you had really bad diarrhea if you ever miss work or class—it’s gross enough that everybody will assume you’re telling the truth, because why would you lie about diarrhea? (Now I’m wondering what Paul Pierce is trying to cover up with his pants-pooping Finals story.)

Unfortunately, the “eating an entire pizza” angle isn’t quite the trump card the diarrhea excuse is. And eating an entire pizza isn’t mutually exclusive from the hangover theory, because “eating an entire pizza” is exactly the type of awful decision that an extremely drunk person would make during a night that could result in a debilitating hangover. 

One of the few details from this doc that left a major impact on me was being reminded that Michael Jordan and yours truly are barely the same species. This guy drank, smoked cigars a lot, stayed up gambling, then golfed 36-holes, then was the greatest basketball player on a nightly basis. Some people can burn the candle at both ends – and those people don’t get hungover after having one too many. They don’t live by the same rules as us. Athletes can handle more and recover faster almost every day.  

We’ve all been there. Sometimes you sidestep a hangover, and you have no idea how or why. Other times, you get tagged with one you simply didn’t earn. It was just your turn, and on that night the late-night pizza’s going to take down even the G.O.A.T.- PAL

Source: Conspiracy Corner: Did Michael Jordan Really Eat a Poisoned Pizza Before the Flu Game?”, Roger Sherman, The RInger (05/19/2020)

TOB: Sherman has some flawed logic; for example:

On the other hand: Why would Jordan need to be so protective of his pizza? Even if Jordan wanted to eat a whole pie by himself, why didn’t the crew in MJ’s room just order multiple pizzas so everybody could partake?

But Jordan explained in the documentary that everyone had eaten without him earlier. They probably weren’t hungry. This happens often with Suze and I: I’ll say I want to order something, she says she’s not hungry, so I make/order enough for one, and then when it’s ready, she suddenly wants some. Nah, brah.

But more importantly, a guy claiming to have owned the pizza place came forward this week to say that he is/was a Bulls fan and he delivered the pizza personally (with one other guy, not four) to ensure it would be fine. The pizza guy undermines Sherman’s argument that there’s no way the person ordering the pizza would identify it as being for Michael Jordan, or that the pizza people would assume a pizza going to a large hotel was for one of the players: 

When a delivery order came in from the hotel, the employee who answered the phone said he thought it was for one of the players. Fite, as the only Bulls fan working there, assumed control of the order. 

“I said, ‘Well, I’m delivering it’,” Fite recalled. “I remember saying this: ‘I will make the pizza, because I don’t want any of you doing anything to it.’ And then I told the driver, you’re going to take me there.”

PAL: The director of the doc, Jason Hehir, in an interview about this very topic points out that Jordan was upset the guys ate earlier without him. As punishment, Hehir says Jordan told him that he spat on the pizza so no else would touch it.


Ownage 

This is a cool idea for a series. Tony Gwynn was a great hitter, but his .415 career batting average – in over 100 plate appearances – against maybe the best pitcher of the past 50 years, Greg Maddux, doesn’t make sense. And Giants fans are all too familiar with Paul Goldschmidt’s .536 against Tim Lincecum (7 HR, 17 RBI in 34 plate appearances). 

But what’s really cool about Andrew Baggarly’s series, “Nemesis”, is he highlights the guys with ownage over players they have no business owning. Gwynn, Maddux, Goldschmidt, Timmy – they were at the tip top echelon of players (some for longer than others), and in that way it was a fair fight. Baggarly finds the mismatches that go the exact opposite way you’d figure them to go. In Baggarly’s words: “This is a series about the game’s greatest players, and the less-heralded foes who got the best of them again, and again, and again.”

I’m in on that sentence alone. 

Exhibit A: Rick Monday vs. Tom Seaver. 

Monday was no scrub; a scrub doesn’t hang around for 19 seasons. It’s just that, by the numbers (never saw him play), Tom Seaver was pretty damn great. Upper tier, even for Hall of Famers. This stat from Baggs is a powerful encapsulation: “He and Walter Johnson are the only pitchers in history to win 300 games, record 3,000 strikeouts and finish their careers with an ERA under 3.00”

Monday was unimpressed, even while Seaver humbled other greats: 

Tom was terrific against even the most inner-circle Hall of Famers. Ernie Banks hit .138 against Seaver. Johnny Bench hit .179. Gary Carter hit .188. So did Mike Schmidt, along with 35 strikeouts in 85 at-bats. Hank Aaron hit .220.

Rick Monday? He hit .349 with a 1.247 OPS — by far the highest among all 172 big-leaguers who faced Seaver at least 30 times in their careers. Monday hit 11 home runs against Seaver. It was the most he hit against any pitcher. It was the most Seaver allowed to any hitter. Willie Stargell, Darrell Evans and Ron Cey were next, with eight. And Monday had fewer plate appearances (104) than all three of those guys.

From 1972 to 1982, whether Seaver was a Met or a Red or Monday was a Cub or a Dodger, the battles were as one-sided as they come. Monday went 30-for-86 with five doubles, 17 RBI, 17 walks (two intentional) and 29 strikeouts. And those 11 homers.

Incredible. So is the story of how Monday and Seaver ‘relationship’ began playing summer ball up in Alaska. At that point, Monday was a first overall pick in the draft while Seaver played his college ball at Fresno City College and begging for any relief innings. 

And how did their one-sided rivalry take root? Read the story to find out, but I’ll tease it with the following: don’t embarrass a guy when his mom is around. 

Also, let’s take a second to appreciate the fact that, between the two of them, Monday and Seaver played 39 seasons of Major League ball. Looking forward to Baggs’ next installment. – PAL 

Source: Nemesis: Tom Seaver Went Back on his Word; His Rival Spent a Decade Getting Even”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (05/20/2020)


How to Create an 82-Game MLB Schedule? Ask the Stephensons.

What a funny story. As MLB and the MLBPA try to come to an agreement to save the 2020 season, Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri wondered what an 82-game season would look like, especially given the rumor that teams would stay within their own region (e.g., NL West teams would play only NL West and AL West teams). So she turned to a couple who would know: Henry and Holly Stephenson.

The husband-and-wife team created the schedule for every MLB season from 1982 to 2004, one of the most impressive streaks in baseball, until they were finally replaced by a professional computing firm. (By comparison, the NBA, whose schedules were written by the Stephensons in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, switched to more advanced technology back in 1985.) Now retired and at home on Martha’s Vineyard, Henry, 79, and Holly, 74, say that they haven’t played around with a schedule in at least a decade. But given the circumstances, and with all their extra free time at home, they were happy to answer a question: How would you handle this?

WHAT. The MLB schedule was created by hand, by a married couple, as late as 2004!? Incredible.

If you’re wondering, their answer to the question is pretty simple: 

Each team would play four three-game series against its four divisional opponents, two at home, two on the road. That would account for 48 games across 16 series. The team would also play two three-game series against each of the five clubs in the corresponding division in the opposite league, one home and one away, for 10 more series, or 30 more games. That lands on a uniform system for 78 games, with four left per team to be sprinkled in as four-game series instead of three. And there you have it—a “fairly clear, fairly simple, and relatively fair way of putting together a schedule,” says Henry.

Makes sense. I mean…it’s fiiiiine. But how do we screw over the Dodgers, WHO BY THE WAY, have not won the World Series since the fifth season the Stephensons were creating the schedule, 32 glorious years ago. -TOB

Source: How MLB’s Old Schedule Makers Would Set Up the 2020 Season,” Emma Baccellieri, Sports Illustrated (05/21/2020)

PAL: “They used their programming skills to take care of the grunt work and a human touch to handle the details and special requests…” Makes sense, but I do hope they are fans and therefore hate a rival team. Once the schedule was complete each year, I hope they poured a drink, sat on the porch and made their signature move to help their their team by hurting the rival.

Henry: Well done, my love.

Holly: To you as well.

Henry: You look ravishing tonight.

Holly: Stop it already. You really know your way around an Old Fashioned, my handsome man.

Henry: Shall we?

Holly (looking at the horizon): It is time.

Henry: The Phillies shall finish out the season with a series against the Dodgers, then onto D.C. to face Scherzer and the Nationals before wrapping up the season in Houston.

Holly: But what of off days?

(Henry and Holly laugh maniacally)

Holly: To the Mets.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Khruangbin – “So We Won’t Forget


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There are five stages to grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And right now, out there, they’re all denying the fact that they’re sad. And that’s hard. And it’s making them all angry. And it is my job to try to get them all the way through to acceptance. And if not acceptance, then just depression. If I can get them depressed, then I’ll have done my job.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 15, 2020

Pretty much sums it up. Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune


Rule of Thumb: Never Side With Billionaires Over Millionaires

The MLB PR machine is hard at work this week, trying and seemingly succeeding, in one fell swoop, to turn many fans against the players in a brewing dispute: what does a return to baseball look like? More specifically, how do the finances work.

Some things to keep in mind: MLB does not have revenue sharing. In the NBA and NFL, player salaries (collectively) are tied to revenues through the salary cap (and floor). The cap and floor are set each year based on the previous year’s revenue. MLB does not do that. The players make what they make. Owners can spend as little or as much as they want. And if teams make a gigantic profit, they keep it for themselves. And they have – MLB teams have made profits of almost $6 billion dollars the last three years. 

But this year, the owners want things to change. When the season was shut down, the players immediately agreed to prorate their salaries according to the number of games played. Which was an insane give away by the players, if you ask me. The vast majority of baseball revenue comes from TV, and so far there is no reduction in the TV contracts, despite missed games. Plus, these are contracts – the players could have stood their ground and demanded to be paid. But they instead showed their good will by agreeing to significantly reduce their pay.

But that wasn’t enough for the owners. Now they are asking the players to tie salaries for this season to revenue, as they are concerned about the financial hit if games are played without fans (no tickets, no concessions). This would further reduce player salaries for the year, as revenues should be down. 

But remember, the last three years the owners have made almost $6B. So what would revenues be down this year without fans? Fangraphs’ Marc Edwards did some quick math and he came up with this:

Rob Manfred has indicated 40% of revenues are home stadium-related, in line with Forbes’ figure of around $4 billion. As to how that $4 billion figure might be made up, we already have the players discounting their salaries. If, for example, 100 games are played, players are giving up more than $1.6 billion in salaries. As mentioned above, players made amateur spending concessions that come close to $400 million this year. Expenses will likely go down if games are played in empty ballparks or at neutral sites (one estimate was by as much as 40%), and if teams can save even 25% of their expenses, that might mean another $1 billion dollars. Factoring in 2019 team profits of $1.5 billion per Forbes, and the league as a whole might end up turning a profit if they can keep all of their television revenue.

In other words, most teams will either break even, or perhaps lose a little bit. But that is not good enough for the owners, and as I said at the outset, they are trying to blame the players. Do not fall for their bullshit. As Edwards eloquently puts it:

The owners are trying to make the return of baseball about money. They want the reward without the risk because that’s what they’ve grown accustomed to after years of incredible revenue and increasing profits. The players negotiated a deal with the understanding that if it wasn’t safe to play, they wouldn’t have to. For MLB to try to use the fact that it is currently unsafe for fans to attend games as a reason for players to subsidize their potential losses reflects poorly on the owners and the Commissioner. After negotiating a CBA that turned out to be a huge win for the owners, the players knew they would have to wait five years for another crack at the bargaining table. The owners waited five weeks before crying poor.

For the most part, the players want to play. The fans want to watch. The owners are getting in the way with a shortsighted attempt to squeeze a little more money out of the players, a stance that could potentially damage the long-term health of our sport and their business.

Remember this when MLB’s PR kicks into overdrive. -TOB

Source: After Years of Profits, MLB Owners Ask Players to Subsidize Potential Losses,” Marc Edwards, Fangraphs (05/11/2020)

PAL: Good, pull, TOB. Revealing look at the PR game vs. what’s actually taking place, i.e., the math. I’d posit the owners’ PR move relies on fans having more immediate concerns about the health and employment of their loved ones – they won’t spend two seconds wondering how MLB baseball players are at risk of losing money. Set baseball aside, that’s not how the workforce should be treated. Also, as Edwards points out: 

It seems possible that proposing revenue sharing with the players is a way to keep more teams profitable and avoid uncomfortable inter-owner conflicts about how to split up revenue in a tough 2020 season. But it’s not the players’ job to help owners avoid discomfort among themselves. 

It makes me wonder in what other industries is ownership asking for the workforce to carry more than its fair share of the burden.

TOB: Yep, I didn’t even touch on the health issue. Here’s a video of the Rays’ Blake Snell discussing the health issues and how he feels he should get full pay.

Now, I don’t agree with everything the Snell says in the video (though I love how he says it), but I think he makes a lot of good points. And keep in mind, Snell has never made more than ~$500k in a season, despite winning the 2018 AL Cy Young, and was set for his first big pay day this year, at $11M, so he’s not yet even a millionaire. Besides, he’s been on my fantasy keeper league team since he was a minor league prospect and I’ll be damned if I don’t stand by My Guys. He’s a Ron Popeil, dammit!


A Most Impressive Slashline: .202/.289/.266 with 114 strikeouts in 497 plate appearances

Michael Baumann is one of our favorite baseball writers, and I enjoyed his examination of Michael Jordan, the baseball player. While the general story is that he wasn’t very good – that’s what his stat line tells us – for him to hit .200 is actually a pretty incredible feat. 

First, Jordan hadn’t played a baseball game in 15 years…since high school. And because he was one of the five most famous people on the planet, fans and press wanted to see him play minor league baseball. The fields in the lower ranks – rookie and A-ball – didn’t have the fan capacity or press areas for the Jordan circus, so they decided to plop him in perhaps the hardest level of minor league ball: Double-A.

Per Baumann:  

Double-A is minor league baseball’s weed-out course. Most pitchers in the low minors have either a good fastball or a good breaking ball, but not both, and those who do have good raw stuff are still figuring out how to throw strikes. If a hitter with a pretty swing and good hand-eye coordination is going to struggle with off-speed pitches, Double-A is usually where we find that out. 

Even for players with lots of baseball experience, seeing a big-league-quality curveball for the first time is a lot like seeing an alien. And Jordan was no exception. 

I told my brother about this story, told him Jordan’s stat line, and he asked what I think I could’ve hit in double-A (let’s assume right after college). I think plenty of guys could square up a few fastballs a week, but once they saw me flail at a slider, that would be the end of me. I’d be lucky to hit .200. 

The second factor working against Jordan was his body. Being 6’6” as a position player in baseball is not advantageous. Very few long guys – basketball bodies, with long arms and legs – have fared well in baseball, especially as hitters. Football players playing baseball. Of course there are some examples (Bo, Deon, Frank Thomas played football at Auburn, too). But basketball, especially taller dudes…that doesn’t really happen. 

We’ve probably seen the last NFL/MLB crossover star, but it’s still positively commonplace to see exceptional athletes play both baseball and football. Murray is the most obvious example, though the top pick in the 2019 MLB draft, Adley Rutschman, moonlighted on the football team at Oregon State. The year after Auburn lost Bo Jackson to the NFL, Frank Thomas got to campus and played football as well as baseball. At one point, the Colorado Rockies had both Peyton and Eli Manning’s college backups on their roster—and there are hundreds of other examples. 

But the physical demands of baseball and basketball are so different that it’s extremely difficult to play both at a high level. Basketball players, to paraphrase Jay Bilas, tend to have length. Long arms and legs take up space on defense and make it easier to shoot over opponents or reach the basket on dunks. When it comes to baseball, though, long limbs are really beneficial only for pitchers, who turn that extra distance between the shoulder and the hand into increased angular momentum—in other words, fastball velocity. That’s why the overwhelming majority of baseball-basketball crossovers are pitchers. Mark Hendrickson played in both the NBA and MLB, and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teammate Scott Burrell was once a first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners. Milwaukee Bucks wing Pat Connaughton was a highly regarded pitcher at Notre Dame and a solid prospect in the Orioles system before he chose to play basketball full time. Hall of Fame pitchers Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Ferguson Jenkins all played high-level college or pro basketball, while basketball Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere played for the White Sox in parts of two seasons.

Looking at Jordan’s swing, the very first thing that jumps out is how uncoordinated his weight transfer is. He looks hesitant, committing only partially to the swing and halting his forward momentum to the point where he sometimes knocks his knees together. He looks like a pitcher, or a baby deer. 

It’s all on display in that video clip above. For someone that redefines what it looked like to play basketball, he’s an awkward deer playing baseball. And yet, being super tall and having not played baseball in a decade and a half, Jordan hit .200 in Double-A. Incredible. -PAL

Source: Actually, Michael Jordan’s .202 Batting Average Is More Impressive Than It Seems”, Michael Baumann, The RInger (05/12/20)

TOB: I’ve always thought his .202 average was good, and as a kid I didn’t even realize that AA often has stiffer competition than AAA (the very best prospects get most of their seasoning in AA, and then get a quick trip to AAA, if they go at all). But I really appreciate how this documentary has caused people to revisit this topic. Because it’s not just good. For all the reasons Baumann and Phil discuss, it was incredible. A person should simply not be able to do that. Consider this example from Baumann:

Current Cardinals QB Kyler Murray was one of the most coveted high school infielders in the nation in 2015. But after skipping the 2016 season, he went 6-for-49 with no extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts at the University of Oklahoma in 2017.

Murray, who again had been a top prospect coming out of high school (something Jordan was not), had one year off (not 15), was playing in college (which is much weaker competition than AA), and he’s maybe 5’10 (but Tinder he’s 6-foot; note: joke stolen from Lil Dicky) (not 6’6 like MJ). 

What makes his year in baseball most impressive is what he did in the Arizona Fall League after the season. The AFL is essentially an all-star season for young prospects. Each team sends 3-4 of its best young prospects to help form a handful of teams. Jordan went, and he hit .252. 

However, I find Francona’s statement that Jordan would have made the majors with another 1,000-1,500 at bats simply astonishing. Even I, a Jordan apologist to the core, never would have guessed that. Of course, I defer to Tito.

One last thing: the decision to start him in AA because of the media and fan capacity is outrageous, and suggests to me the White Sox did not take him seriously at the start of the year. 

PAL: For real, how much more do you trust and love Francona based solely on him having an awesome nickname? 


Good Work, Bauer

Hockey players recognize the name Bauer. One of the biggest major hockey equipment brands is doing its part during the pandemic. Instead of the cage mask, many youth hockey players choose a clear shield (a lot of professionals go with the half shield). As the pandemic spread across North America, the company shifted production to making protective masks for health care workers due to the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E). The goal was to make 2.25 million masks at cost for workers in Canada and the U.S. The company saw it as a way to contribute in the short-term. 

Per Helene Elliott: 

March became April, which bled into early May, and the need for protective equipment remains. But what began as a determined, short-term response to an urgent problem has become an example of the best aspects of human ingenuity and adaptability, one of the few positive souvenirs that can be taken from this prolonged and anxious time.

The company, having recognized they won’t be able to meet the demand, posted its designs for any other company to use and thereby avoiding the trial-and-error stage of manufacturing. 

Not a ton to this story, but it made me feel good, and I wanted to share all of you. – PAL 

Source: Bauer’s line shift from hockey equipment to medical face shields is inspiring”, Helene Elliott, L.A. Times (05/14/20) 


Video of the Week:

Stephen A.’s reaction says it all: this take was too fake and obviously an attempt to get attention, even for him.


Tweet(s) of the Week:


Song of the Week: Lee Fields & The Expressions – “Don’t Leave Me This Way”


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Tell him I will give him general specifics tomorrow, okay?

-Michael Scott

Week of May 8, 2020

TOB’s j is all over the Chronicle sports page! Pretty clogged in the lane there. That one guy in the black pants just looks like he’s out for a walk.


Baseball is Back in South Korea, But We Are Not South Korea

Baseball is back! In South Korea. But it’s on ESPN! Late at night. Still, the other night I tuned into the KBO’s opening day, at around 10pm PDT. There was a rain delay, but then the games started. And for about two innings, it was lovely. I scrolled twitter while hearing Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez (shoutout to Eduardo, who we sat next to at breakfast at CWS last year!) discuss baseball. As The Ringer’s Michael Baumann wrote:

It was then that I thought of something I’d heard long ago from a therapist: Sometimes, when we go a long time without something we need, we learn to convince ourselves that we never needed it in the first place. By the time Baek toed the rubber in Daegu on Tuesday morning, I’d gone 52 days without watching a live sporting event, and breaking that streak brought an unexpected yet physically palpable sense of relief. Baseball, even if it featured unfamiliar participants in profoundly weird circumstances at a time when I would much rather have been asleep, had lost none of its emotional potency.

But after a couple innings, I lost interest. I think the majority of that is the same reason I don’t usually watch, say, a Mets/Marlins game on Sunday Night Baseball. I only have so many hours a week, and if I’m going to watch baseball, it’s going to be my team, the team I care about. But The Ringer’s Michael Baumann touched on something else that I was also feeling:

But somewhere around the segment with Passan, the feeling of creeping dread came back. It would be ridiculous to watch baseball returning to South Korea and not expect MLB to poke its head around the corner relatively soon, and the substance of Passan’s appearance focused on when and how that might happen.

As Baumann notes, unlike in the U.S., South Korea’s COVID-19 outbreak was strangled from the outset. We are not in the same position as they are, and it’s not close. Baumann then lays out how the powers that be – from agent Scott Boras and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred all the way to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are all laying the groundwork for the return of sports in the U.S. It’s almost as if ESPN airing the KBO in an effort to put it in our heads: Hey, sports can return. Sports should return! As Baumann puts they are trying to give us “…the overwhelming belief that baseball is important, and if it’s being played anywhere it must be played here also.” 

We don’t know what the next month will look like; we don’t know what the next six months will look like. But resist the urge to look at South Korea playing baseball and think, “We should do that, too.” -TOB

Source: The Joy and Anxiety of Watching KBO’s Return,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (05/06/2020)


On The Line: The Disturbing Diets of the Offensive Linemen 

Some have a hard time maintaining weight, while others are skipping meals and taking saunas to make weight (and avoid team fines), but the life of NFL linemen seems to be centered on food. John Gonzalez’ story reveals the extremes of what it takes to make a living in the trenches, and how the media and fans adore the beer-drinking, beer-belly uggos fighting over inches. 

Gonzalez highlights o-linemen from both ends of careers: from guys just drafted to guys who’ve recently retired. Every dude profiled – from fourth round draft pick Ben Bartch to future HOFs Joe Thomas and Allan Faneca – lives a day scheduled around food. It’s disturbing to read them walk through a ‘typical’ day. If that’s not enough, the during football and after football pics are incredible. You see just how much they ask of their bodies, and then you see how relatively small these dudes are meant to be: 

Joe Thomas:

John Sullivan: 

Alan Faneca: 

As Thomas puts it: “It’s totally an unhealthy relationship with food as an offensive lineman. I don’t know many people who are normally just 300 pounds.”

However, a small light shines through this story. New guys like Bartch and Jon Runyan are looking for ways to do this healthy. Beers and ice cream are being replaced with sweet potatoes, steamed rice, and – as Runyan puts it, “a truckload of chicken breast or tenderloin.” These young guys are food prepping for the week, because it’s pretty hard to eat healthy on a college campus, especially when you need to eat every two hours. Runyan, whose dad played in the NFL, knows the goal is to put on the weight in a way that limits the damage to the body after a NFL career.

A fascinating, albeit disturbing story about the offensive line. Excellent read. – PAL 

Source: ‘It’s Totally an Unhealthy Relationship With Food”’, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (05/05/20)

TOB: This article was just so sad. I’ve heard others suggest a weight limit in the NFL, but I thought it was silly – why keep someone out if they are naturally large? That’s still true for me, but I had no idea so many players have to work so hard to get and stay big. The stories from guys like Joe Thomas on how he much he had to force himself to eat in order to maintain his playing weight are disturbing. Maybe a weight limit is something to consider – even 300 lbs.


Was Trump Good at Baseball?

h/t TOB’s mom for sending this along

Donald Trump has long claimed he was a very good baseball player in high school. In fact, he claimed pro teams scouted him, and that he could have played professional baseball, if he had wanted to. So, writer Leander Schaerlaeckens went to incredible lengths to investigate these claims. He interviewed Trump’s former teammates and coaches; he contacted the MLB teams who supposedly scouted him; he talked to modern day scouts; he found old magazine interviews with Trump and others; he scoured small town newspaper clippings and box scores. Honestly, you have to respect this hustle. 

The conclusion? Trump was probably an average to above-average high school athlete, but no more. Most of his teammates agreed he was a pretty good defensive first baseman, but there was disagreement about his abilities as a hitter. However, Schaerlaeckens was able to find approximately nine box scores; that’s a small sample, but Trump’s team played only 30-40 baseball games over the three years he was on the team, so we’re talking about one-third to one-fourth of Trump’s games. In those games, Trump hit just .138. That is NOT GOOD! Certainly not at the level that would get anyone scouted in Trump’s small, northeast military academy league. 

But the article is interesting as yet another view into how Trump and his people have for decades tried to craft the Trump myth. One of a few examples comes in a piece Trump wrote for Fox News dope Brian Kilmeade’s book about how future politicians were shaped by sports. Here’s Trump in the book:

“I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper,” he continued. “It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.”

Schaerlaeckens scoured the local papers of the time and found no such headline, or anything like it. It doesn’t mean it didn’t occur, but it seems doubtful. In fact, according to a former teammate, Trump may have won a game once, but despite Trump’s claims, it was not on a home run:

We were walking together near the baseball field where, he reminded me, he’d played exceptionally well. He demanded that I tell him the story of one of his greatest games.

“The bases were loaded,” I told him. “We were losing by three. You hit the ball just over the third baseman’s head. Neither the third baseman nor the left fielder could get to the ball in time. All four of our runs came in; we won the game.”

“No,” he [Trump] said. “That’s not the way it happened. I want you to remember this: I hit the ball out of the ballpark! Remember that. I hit it out of the ballpark!”

Ballpark? I thought. We were talking about a high school practice field. There was no park to hit a ball out of. And anyway, his hit was a blooper the fielders misplayed.

That sounds like our guy. 

But one Trump boast in particular made me chuckle. In the same article Trump wrote for Kilmeade Trump made a claim that is demonstrably false. Here’s Schaerlaeckens:

Trump, who played first base, wrote that “being a pro was in the equation” until he attended a tryout with “another young kid named Willie McCovey.” Apparently, the sight of the future Hall of Famer in action convinced him to give up baseball for good.

As for Willie McCovey, he was eight years older than Trump. When Trump was a senior in high school, McCovey was in his fifth year in the major leagues and already an All-Star.

Whoops, Donald. Maybe in the future, he could change the story from McCovey to Reggie Jackson, who made his debut in 1967. The math works a little better. -TOB

Source: Was Donald Trump Good at Baseball,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, Slate (05/05/2020)

PAL: Major kudos to Mrs. O’Brien and Schaerlaeckens. This is some real investigative work to confirm something that – on the surface – doesn’t matter to most. I urge folks to read the full story. Two quotes from the story speak volumes to me: 

From the man himself (ellipses from Schaerlaeckens, underline is mine):

I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper. It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.

(PAL note: nevermind the fact that no such headline exists, and they never played Cornwall in ‘64, or ‘63, but that’s not the point.)

And this:  “If he had hit the ball to right, he could’ve had a home run because no one was there,” a classmate told the Post. “But he always wanted to hit the ball through people. He wanted to overpower them.” 


The Jordan Rules

As we continue to watch The Last Dance, here’s an excerpt from a 2017 article by Bryan Curtis of the Ringer on former Bulls beat writer Sam Smith’s 1992 book, “The Jordan Rules.” The book dished the dirt on Jordan and the Bulls from inside the locker room as they marched to their first title in 1991:

Or take former Bulls coach Doug Collins, now a commentator on ESPN. In December 1988, the Bulls played so unevenly in Charlotte that Collins called for the team to fly back to Chicago for a Christmas Eve practice. Jordan didn’t appear for the team bus — he was returning to North Carolina for the holidays, anyway, and didn’t want to bother with a round trip to Chicago. Collins — who was, in theory, the coach — was humiliated. But what could he do? He sent word that if Jordan would just meet the team at the airport, Collins would “spontaneously” cancel practice, thus caving to Jordan while (or this was Collins’s idea) preserving a shred of his own authority.

Which is what happened, Smith reported. Except when Jordan showed up at the airport, the guard John Paxson saw he wasn’t wearing socks. No one went to Chicago in winter without socks. The Bulls realized the whole scene was a sham.

I laughed so hard when I read this. Collins reminds me of Michael Scott in “The Dinner Party” episode of The Office.

“This is b.s., this is b.s.! Why are we here? I am going to call Krause. Enough is enough, I’m, god, I’m so mad! This is Doug Collins, Chicago. Well, we don’t want to practice. No, we don’t. It’s not fair to these people! These people are my friends and I care about them! We’re not gonna do it! …Everybody, I just got off the horn with Krause. And basically, I told them where they can stick their Christmas Eve practice. Go enjoy your Christmas!”

Curtis also sees the book as a workplace drama, not unlike The Office. 

The Jordan Rules is a story of coworkers, maybe the best office drama in the history of sportswriting.

In one fascinating sequence, Smith shows how even a small personnel move can reverberate across the roster. Phil Jackson wants to put Stacey King, who’s rotting on the bench, into the starting lineup to get him going. But Jackson realizes such a move will be seen by Horace Grant, who’s angling for a new contract, as management’s scheme to limit his minutes and gain an upper hand in the negotiations. It’s only after Grant’s extension is signed that Jackson makes King a starter. But even that is interpreted by several Bulls players as a power move by David Falk, the agent to both King and Jordan.

The battle was joined by Jackson too. The Jordan Rules allows you to appreciate the now checked-out Knicks boss in his Sith lord prime. Once, Smith reported, Jackson stopped keeping score in a team scrimmage because he knew such a decision would piss off the competitive Jordan. When Jordan tomahawk dunked and then stared down his coach, Jackson knew he’d succeeded. Yes, feel the hate flow through you!

I want to read this book. One more:

But in 1991, the idea that Jordan was an exciting but somehow deficient basketball player was every bit as powerful as the idea that Russell Westbrook is one today. As David Robinson says in the book: “Michael is more of a non-basketball-fan type of player. He always looks great out there hanging, jumping, dribbling around. But if you know a lot about the game, you appreciate what I do more.” 

HAHAHAHA. Oh man, David Robinson putting a spin on the old adage that it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to talk and remove all doubt. But in Robinson’s case, he never said anything controversial and people incorrectly assumed he was wise. Nope. -TOB

Source: ‘The Jordan Rules’ Was the Mother of All Woj Bombs,” Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (06/09/2017)

PAL: Just going to put this right here…


Video of the Week

The 80s were so goddamn funny.


Tweet of the Week

I am not going to embed this, but if you haven’t seen the documentary on former Niners’ QB Alex Smith’s return from a broken leg that resulted in a bacterial infection that almost cost him his leg and his life, and you’re wondering what that might have looked like, then click this link for what his leg looked like four days after the injury. If you’re squeamish, you have been warned.


Song of the Week – El Michels Affair – “Life of Pablo”


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You are a thief of joy. 

-Michael Scott

Week of May 1, 2020

50th Anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s Kentucky Derby story and the birth of Gonzo 

To a fat whack of our generation, Hunter S. Thompson is the guy Johnny Depp portrays in a movie. Thompson was a very real guy, and – in a way – he invented the style of journalism that is the grandfather of blogs everywhere. Don’t let the drugs, then guns, and the celebrities fool you; Thompson is a literary giant when it comes to journalism. By accident or otherwise, and his story about the Kentucky Derby was the beginning of ‘gonzo’ as we’ve come to know it.  

If you were looking for a story on the actual race, well this ain’t it, boys and girls. Thos ain’t about the results; this is a story about everything surrounding the race, which is to say everything that actually matters at a sporting event. 

Per Bill Shea: 

A sample: “… the clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious.”

Later, Thompson on how the style came to be: 

“It was one of those horrible deadline scrambles and I ran out of time. I was desperate. Ralph Steadman had done the illustrations, the cover was printed and there was this horrible hole in the magazine. I was convinced I was finished, I’d blown my mind, couldn’t work. So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody,” Thompson said. “Then when it came out, there were massive numbers of letters, phone calls, congratulations, people calling it a ‘great breakthrough in journalism.’ And I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

And that’s what the profile became: An indictment of sports celebrity endorsement culture, blending whatever insight Thompson could glean from this young French cipher with his own observations. The reader gets a feel for Thompson’s frustrations in trying to interview, report and write a traditional narrative feature profile.

As it pertains to Thompson, the man. I mean, how in the actual hell did he become the voice of a counterculture, pretenders and otherwise: 

Other than a few classes, the auto-didactic Thompson didn’t attend college. A short stint in jail at the end of high school led to a brief Air Force enlistment, where he ended up as sports editor of a base newspaper in Florida. He taught himself newspaper journalism’s basics from library books.

“When he was stuck in the Air Force and miserable that they weren’t going to make him a pilot, he gravitated to the newspaper job. This would be as close as he could be to being a civilian and still be in the military,” McKeen said. “He learned the jargon from a book.”

Thompson also moonlighted as a civilian sports columnist and a pro wrestling promoter while writing for the Air Force (which included an expose on current or future NFL stars such as Bart Starr getting preferential treatment while on military service teams).

After that, he held a series of jobs at small newspapers, ending up in Puerto Rico to write about bowling alleys at one point, where he started a novel that wouldn’t be published for almost 40 years. Thompson spent about a year in South America writing about local politics and culture for the since-defunct National Observer, a gig that earned him praise within the industry and a wider audience.

And, if you really want a treat, then go ahead and read Thompson’s original Derby story here. – PAL 

Source: “An Inside Look at How Sports Shaped Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Gonzo’ Journalism”, Bill Shea, The Athletic (04/29/20)

TOB: I read Thompson’s original Kentucky Derby when Grantland (RIP!) published it in full back in 2013. I can’t wait to read it again.


What It’s Like: Caddieing a PGA Tour Event

I could do that! There aren’t many roles in professional sports that us regulars watch and can honestly think, I could do that, but caddieing a professional golf tournament seems like it would be near the top of the list. And what an odd role. Part navigator, part assistant. A one-man entourage. Guitar tech of the sports world. Such a strange way to make a life. 

I could do that. Maybe. Daniel Rapaport did it, and his story is a great Saturday AM read and a fun break from the 24/7 pandemic news cycle. Rapaport met PGA Tour player Matthew Fitzgerald in 2013. They were both freshmen at Northwestern. Rapaport was hoping he’d claim a spot on the golf team as a walk-on. Fitzgerald, U.S. Amatuer champ, left school after one semester to prepare for The Masters. Since then, Rapaport earned his stripes as a sportswriter while Fitzgerald slowly made his way up the various tours until earning his PGA card in 2018. They grew closer, especially when Fitzgerald would crash at Rapaport’s parent’s place in L.A. when he was in the area for tournaments. 

Rapaport had floated the idea of caddieing long ago, and – after a couple near misses – he got his chance at the legendary Pebble Beach Pro Am. That’s when this story starts to get really interesting. The amount of data that each player and caddie have to process in each shot is pretty incredible. Let’s just say the scorecard clipped to your cart and the books these dudes get aren’t very similar. The practice rounds (which sound like absolute heaven on a golf course) weren’t just for ‘Fitzy’ – Rapaport needed some reps, too. 

My first order of business was figuring out how we’d calculate yardages. There’s a surprising amount of math involved. It’s not difficult math, but there’s a lot of it, and it needs to be done quickly and correctly. The process starts with the tee shot. The tour yardage book gives you a number to every sprinkler head, as well as how many yards uphill or downhill it is. But the yardage is given from the back of whatever tee the person who made the book thinks will be used, so you have to pace off how far the markers are from the back of the box. If they’re using another tee box, that’s another layer.

The more crucial calculations come with the approach shot. The book will list every sprinkler head out there, and the sprinkler heads show a number to the middle of the green. But pros aren’t concerned with this yardage. So you find the nearest sprinkler—say, in this case, it reads 140—and check the book. The book tells you that from the 140 sprinkler, it’s 124 yards to the front, and it will also list the slope. Say it’s six yards uphill—it’s playing 130 to the front edge. You then consult the daily pin sheet, which tells you how many paces on the green the flag is. Say it’s 14 paces on. Now we’re at 144 to the flag. But we’re not trying to land it at the flag. Say we want the ball to pitch four paces short. Now we’re back to 140. On to the wind. Say it’s a bit into the fan. Matt thinks it’s playing five yards more. Now we’re at our number: 145. Last calculation: a start line and a finish line. Then, finally, it’s go time. All that in less than 30 seconds.

I thought I had the hang of it all until we reached the ninth hole, an uphill par 4 that turns slightly right. Matt hit his drive in the middle of the fairway—it’s hard to overstate just how straight Fitzy hits it—and asks me, and me alone, to get the yardage. A test! I ran through the numbers quickly and confidently. I communicated to him that it was playing 158 with a hair of wind in the face, a perfect 8-iron. After he struck the approach, it was clear the ball needed to sit—quickly. Get. Down. Now.It didn’t, and it pitched on the back edge of the green, a solid 15 yards past the pin. He then gave me The Look. Every caddie knows The Look. It’s when your player stares at you piercingly, and you both know that you have just screwed up massively, and someone better just say something already. I looked back down at the pin sheet, and sure as hell, I was looking at the eighth hole, not the ninth.

Love the payoff there. The other big take-away Rapaport left with (aside from eating italian every night because, well, the boss likes italian food), was the mental exhaustion. These caddies aren’t hitting the shots, but they are living and dying on every shot. While their cut isn’t nearly as big as the players, they are winning and losing a lot of money with every shot to which they inform. 

Players always talk about how “mentally tired” they are after a tournament, but I never understood what they meant. I do now. This was the most emotionally invested I’ve been in anything since high school sports. I was nervous as hell on the first tee every morning. I lived and died with every birdie putt. I cringed as he prepared to play a tricky flop shot, and my eyes got huge as I saw an approach fly directly at the flag. I buzzed as we started making birdies, and cursed as we started making bogeys. I was the happiest guy in the world after our Saturday back-nine flourish and virtually inconsolable (just ask my girlfriend) after a bitterly disappointing Sunday.

The story is a bit fat in the front, but a fun read that leaves you with a bit more appreciation for the guy walking next to The Guy. – PAL

Source: I Caddied for a Top-25 Player in the World at a PGA Tour Event. Here’s What It Was Like”, Daniel Rapaport, Yahoo (04/27/20)

TOB: I’m sure Rapaport knows a lot more about golf than I do, but all this told me is that caddying (shouldn’t it be caddying and not caddieing?) is the easiest, most luuuuuux gig there is. It takes very little actual skill – nothing you can’t pick up in 15 minutes. And the reward? The top 50 golfers last year averaged $4.6M in winnings. Rapaport says caddies take 8% (though 10% if it’s a major) – which equates to the average full-time caddy making $368,000 and change. There are 40 weeks a year with a PGA event. I doubt most players play them all. So a caddy makes all that money for 30 or so weeks’ work. Nice gig!

Also, I could not stop laughing at how much he used “we” – “We played the first eight of the final round in even par, which had us creeping up the board on a brutally windy day..when you’re six over for the day through 12 holes, the mind wanders to what could have been done differently: We could have hit 9-iron on 9 instead of wedge, I could have said something different on 10 tee, we could have started that tee shot on 12 more right.” LOLLLLLLLL.


Jordan : Athlete :: King Arthur : Political Leader

Loved this Brian Phillips’ piece on The Last Dance. Thought I’d share it, since I’m pretty sure most of us are watching. Let’s be honest – the Rodman ep was meh, but the stories about the Pistons were so good. 

I love this story because I’d never heard the connection we have to our childhood heroes explained in this way, and as soon as I read it, I thought, Damn; that’s exactly it r

As kids, Phillips’ sister would say that she controlled MJ on the court. Emily wasn’t even a basketball fan, but nonetheless she would tell Brian, “Michael Jordan and I just have a…kind of connection.” It became a bit of a family joke, with their father praising Emily after Jordan made yet another spectacular play (sidenote: my god, the highlights of a young Jordan. I know we’ve seen them before, but his speed, power, grace remain awe-inspiring.)

Phillips explores the truth in their telekinetic joke: 

My sister’s joke about moving MJ around with her mind was only a somewhat exaggerated version of how hordes of basketball fans (and non-basketball fans, and probably fruit flies, though they couldn’t buy Nikes) watched his games in the ’90s. It’s only a somewhat exaggerated version of how we watch great athletes in general—not literally guiding their movements, that is, but somehow participating, hitching an imaginary ride in their bodies. We feel a kind of sympathetic echo of their actions, as if, on some shadow-cellular level, they’re our actions, too.

That lands. I was with Puckett when he tracked Ron Gant’s deep fly in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. I jumped when he jumped, and it all mixes together to the point in which it’s difficult to separate my experience from his. The echo on a cellular level…ain’t that the truth. (And – yep – I know you Giants fans are so beyond over hearing about Puckett, Game 6. Too bad.) 

Phillips goes on to also explain the power of Jordan is the simplicity of his narrative, which is the template of the modern sports narrative (after being ‘cut’ from his high school team, he exceeds every expectation, hits ‘every’ clutch shot, and becomes a billionaire). What’s more, he represents the closest to the ideal that we’ve witnessed.

Like any competitive pursuit, sports have always trafficked in the ideal. Here’s the perfect body; sculpt it. Here’s the perfect victory; write a poem about it in Greek. For the most part, though, the ideal remains an abstract concept. People chase perfection but don’t reach it, as a rule. In America in the 1980s and ’90s, though, we decided that we were going to get to see the ideal—the real thing, the source itself, in the flesh. You could write a thesis, probably, on the historical factors that went into constructing that determination. The point is, Michael Jordan gave it to us. He came so close to actually embodying the ideal athlete—he really did hit the buzzer-beaters, he really did seem to move in a different and more beautiful way than other players, he really did seem to hang for an impossible extra beat in the air—that we were able to believe the ideal athlete existed. He was here. He was ours. He was the perfect fusion of capitalism and destiny. He was a living person, but the way we experienced him, he was a basketball player in approximately the same way as King Arthur was a political leader.

That’s some big thinking. An idea that will stick with you for a weekend. And so, as is the case with many examples of great writing, this story is a long path towards a question: is The Last Dance a refresher of the ideal or an unearthing of the humanity in Mike Jordan? – PAL 

Source: Michael Jordan the Story Versus Michael Jordan the Man”, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (04/27/20)


How One Trade Got Done

From the public standpoint, there are generally two types of blockbuster trade. The first is the long-rumored, makes so much sense trade that gets discussed for weeks or months before it finally gets done. The second is the one that shows up as breaking news, out of nowhere, on the ESPN ticker.

But either version, a trade usually doesn’t come together quickly. There is a lot of negotiation back and forth. I’ve always wondered how it happens, though I’m sure it’s always different. So I really enjoyed this story on the 2013 trade that sent James Shields from the Rays to the Royals for a package of prospects, including the then #1 rated prospect, Wil Myers. Executives from both sides go on the record, 7 years later, and it’s a really interesting read. They discuss how they valued the different players involved, the emotional investment for each, knowing when is the time to push your chips in the middle, and even the exact moment the trigger was pulled. 

Inside Moore’s suite was a dry-erase board covered in ink. Moore had written the names of Kansas City’s top prospects. He made his case to his assistants. He crossed off Myers’ name. He crossed off Odorizzi. He crossed off Montgomery and Leonard. Moore pointed to the unsullied names on the board.

“Do we still have a good system?” he asked. Heads nodded. “If we’re going to compete,” Moore said, “we have to make this deal. I don’t know about you guys. But I’m tired of losing.”

Friedman and Moore reconnected. “The tenor of the conversation changed dramatically,” Friedman said. They were speaking the same language.

The two teams left Nashville without a deal done. Moore still needed to convince his owners to take on the contracts for Shields and Davis. He wanted to escape the bubble of the Winter Meetings and reflect. He wanted to gather himself before taking the plunge.

A couple days later, Moore went to a Christmas party with Picollo and scouting director Lonnie Goldberg. During a lull in conversation, Moore made up his mind. He pulled out his phone.

“Guys, I’m just going to go do this,” he said. “I’m going to call Andrew right now.”

It’s also interesting to read, 7 years later, because I don’t think this deal gets done now. Myers was the #1 rated prospect. Now, he’s a goddamn Giants-killer, but overall he was disappointing for the Rays, and has been just ok for the Padres. But he was The Next Big Thing, and he was traded for a 31-year old pitcher, with a lot of innings on his arm, with exactly one All Star Appearance and one season in which he received Cy Young votes, and only two years of team control. He was basically Joe Blanton. Prospects are simply valued much higher now, and there is no way a guy like Shields is enough to get not only the #1 prospect, but a few other highly rated guys, too. Still, a very fun read. -TOB

Source: ‘It Was Time to Win’: Inside the Royals’ Trade for James Shields and Wade Davis,” Andy McCullough, The Athletic (04/22/2020)


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