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