Week of June 26, 2020

Happy Birthday to this six year old with the sweet swing.


NASCAR Culture Is Not Exonerated

If you missed what happened in NASCAR this week, buckle up. In response to BLM, NASCAR banned all confederate flags at their races earlier this month. As the subheadline in that NYT article says, and as you very well may have guessed, “[s]ome NASCAR fans are furious at Wallace because they view the Confederate flag as being part of their Southern heritage, not as a symbol of racism.”

Wallace is Bubba Wallace a NASCAR driver. You may be surprised to learn, as I was last week, that Bubba Wallace is black. Wallace pushed for the confederate flag ban, saying, “To you, it might seem like heritage, but others see hate. We need to come together and meet in the middle and say, ‘You know what, if this bothers you, I don’t mind taking it down.’” Wallace praised the decision, and wore this mask and shirt at the track that weekend:

But as the NYT article notes, not everyone was happy. On Sunday, after that day’s race at Talladega was rained out, someone found a noose hanging in the race garage assigned to Wallace. All correct thinking people were horrified, especially because it almost certainly would have been placed there by someone who works for a NASCAR team – it’s not in a public area. NASCAR released an immediate statement strongly condemning the attack. The FBI was called in to investigate. 

NASCAR drivers were openly pissed. Many of these drivers are friends with Bubba, so they took it personally (I wish more people would take  these things seriously even when they don’t know the person, but that’s another topic for another day). The drivers rallied around him and organized a rally before the race Monday that was pretty cool, and very powerful.

It was a great moment, but who put the noose there was not yet determined. 

On Monday, the FBI released its findings: the noose was not directed at Wallace, but had been hanging in the garage, as a garage door pulldown since at least last October, and drivers are not assigned garages until the week of a race. The reaction to this news is what I want to talk about.

First, despite some people arguing otherwise, it absolutely was a noose.

Second, some people, like ESPN”s resident idiot Will Cain, seemed to think that this news proved that NASCAR overreacted and rushed to judgment. 

NASCAR immediately rushed to judgment. Immediately said it was a noose. Immediately said it was a heinous act of racism. In the media, in society, we have to be calm enough, rational enough, to say: ‘Could it be true? Could it be false? Could it be a misunderstanding?’ And we didn’t, and because of that, we undercut our credibility.”

“And also, I believe we undercut improvement in race relations,” Cain added. “I really believe that. We are going to take a step back because we have sowed distrust, we have sowed division, and it will come back as a backlash on NASCAR and, unfortunately, on Bubba Wallace as well.”

This is insane. Pure shitbaggery. This is actually more of a condemnation of NASCAR culture to me than one racist person committing a heinous act of directed hate. Over the last few months, how many people, mostly white, walked by that noose and thought nothing of it? Or laughed? How many people, mostly if not all white, used the noose to pull down the garage door and thought nothing of it? Or laughed? The fact a noose was not specifically directed at Bubba Wallace this week, but had been hanging from a garage in a NASCAR racetrack for months is not a good thing. It’s just another type of bad thing. -TOB


Stop Wearing Toe Shoes

About a decade ago, I burned through Born To Run, the story of the Tarahumara runners in Mexico. It was a fascinating look at how a culture largely cut off from civilization had produced some of the most incredible ultra distance runners. Author Christopher McDougall spends the book exploring several factors that might contribute to the tribe’s legendary running endurance. One area of exploration was based on an evolutionary biologist’s assertion that modern humans would be better off running barefoot (or shoes with minimal support) than in shoes because the human foot had evolved to run long distances as a result of persistence hunts (chase the prey into exhaustion). The Tarahumara runners would only wear thin sandals on their multi-day runs. McDougal’s book was a bestseller, and that’s why we all know at least one person who bought those toe shoes.

*shudder*

We have an update on the Tarahumara and the theories explored in Born To Run, courtesy of that same biologist, Daniel Lieberman. Turns out, it’s not the sandals, or the pre-industrial diet, or the fact that the Tarahumara have a higher pain tolerance that make the Tarahumara tribes great runners. Rather, a minority of Tarahumara are excellent runners because – and here’s the shocker – running is a part of the culture. It plays a role in their more recent history (persistence hunts), in their sports and games which celebrate said hunts, and because they lead physically active lifestyles. 

They are good runners because it’s a part of their culture, but running 100 miles isn’t easier for them. Running 100 miles isn’t easy for anyone. 

Interesting update. – PAL 

Source: Reexamining the Mythology of the Tarahumara Runners”, Alex Hutchinson, Outside (6/25/2020)


Baseball Is Back, Baby! Probably. Perhaps. Hell, Who Knows?

Last week, you will recall, I wrote about the fact that the lack of sports over the last few months has prevented us from being distracted by the very important issues our country is dealing with right now. I stand by it, 100%. But I can’t lie and say I didn’t get excited when MLB announced there will be a 60-game season starting late July. This sums up my hypocrisy perfectly:

But as the week went on, reality started to creep back in. Are they really going to be able to do this? What happens when a team has an outbreak (and a team, or multiple teams, will have outbreaks)? Just this week, before players even report, the Rangers had to shut down their team offices because of a “rash” of COVID-19 positive tests; the Phillies had multiple players test positive, too. And it all started to feel bad again. Grant Brisbee said it perfectly:

The giddy thoughts start as a sprinkle, and then they become a downpour. Then you realize that it’s acid rain.

So good and so true (what a great line). I highly recommend Grant’s article. He breaks down all the problems MLB will have to overcome to pull this off: 

  • the health protocols, in an attempt to keep hundreds of players, coaches, and employees per team from contracting the virus, even if perfectly followed cannot guarantee anything; 
  • the ethics around uprooting a player by trading him/for him or releasing him – what that does to his chances of contracting the disease, or how it affects his family;
  • the ethics around subjecting coaches, some who are older and some who have health conditions making them more susceptible to the virus, to the increased likelihood of contracting the disease;
  • potential long term side effects, including to a person’s lungs, especially for athletes;

And you think about all this and wonder, as Grant did, “What are we even doing at this point?” Like Grant, I want to see dingers and strikeouts and I want to hear Kruk and Kuip call a live game as I do the dishes. But this all seems so risky, and I am worried it’s going to go so badly. To quote Brisbee one final time:

Baseball is coming back, and the hindsight will be 20-20. We’ll talk about the next four months of baseball (or no baseball) for the rest of our lives, with lessons that will seem so incredibly obvious in retrospect.

Let’s hope they’re the good kind of lessons. Because I have suspicions as to which kind they’ll be, and I’ll need to bury them deep in my subconscious in order to enjoy a single pitch.

Ugh. Bury it, indeed. -TOB

Source: The Giants are Going to Play Again, But it’s Hard to Focus on That,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (06/24/2020)


Ole

Not a full story, but just loved this John Olerud anecdote from his days at Washington State, ℅ Ryan McGee: 

Here is how great John Olerud was in college.

Every week during practice, the Washington State baseball team ran the Ole (pronounced “Oh-lee”) Drill. The beanpole underclassman would step into the batter’s box while his Cougars teammates took their positions in the field. As pitches were hurled toward Olerud at the plate, head coach Bobo Brayton would loudly growl out the situations he wanted his defense to practice.

“Hot grounder through the six-hole!”

Olerud would meet the ball with a downward stroke that sent a worm-burner just past the outstretched glove of the shortstop.

“Double over your heads and off the left-center-field wall!”

Olerud would stroke a slow-rising glider that outran the outfielders — and indeed ricocheted off the wall in left-center.

Brayton would keep going.

“Infield fly between the mound and first! Baltimore chop toward third! Opposite-fielder down into the corner!”

“It was the craziest damn thing I’ve ever seen,” recalls Dave Wainhouse, who played with Olerud at Washington State and played against him in both high school and in the majors. “Whatever Bobo said to do, no matter how crazy, John just did it. I can’t remember a time when he missed. You would catch yourself just watching him. And that happened all the time, not just in practice. During games too. That’s how good he was.”

“He might very well have been the greatest college baseball player who ever walked his golden spikes onto campus. Over three seasons (1987-89) in Pullman, he hit .434 with 33 homers. He also posted a career pitching record of 26-4.”

The story goes in a bit of a different direction: why he wore the helmet, how he never played a single game in the minors and was inserted in the heart of a World Series Blue Jays team, and some family challenges, but this anecdote from his college days was pretty damn impressive. – PAL  

Source:Inside the Legend of John Olerud, College Baseball’s Two-Way Star”, Ryan McGee, ESPN (06/25/2020)


The Masses Have Spoken: Centerfield Rips

You may recall, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and California’s accompanying shelter-in-place, that Phil and I were doing 1-2-3 Sports! “Dailies” – though they were really about three times a week. Just a couple of kids, flying by the seat of our pants, hair blowin’ in the wind, doin whatever the hell we wanted. We never decided to stop. We just ran out of steam, I guess. Or maybe as shelter-in-place normalized around us, we didn’t feel the need to do something abnormal. 

Whatever the reason, in light of a story this week in The Athletic, I’d like to revisit one Daily: Phil’s “Remove These Songs From the Sports Canon” list. In that story, Phil besmirched Centerfield, by John Fogerty, saying, “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.” I  politely disagreed. But as I read this week, about two weeks after our list, two Athletic writers made their own list of the best baseball songs and omitted Centerfield. Apparently, the masses were not happy.

We published our list: “The 30 greatest baseball songs of all time.” We thought people would like it.

Not quite.

The story drew nearly 600 comments. The overwhelming majority were negative. Readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. We were derided as hipsters and snobs, contrarian partisans of New York and Chicago (I am from Philadelphia; Rustin is from Kansas). According to one of our internal metrics, this list is one of the most despised pieces of content in the publication’s history.

There was one overarching criticism. It appeared in the first comment and in dozens of others. Readers found many reasons to hate our list. None brought them together like their affinity for a song we snubbed: “Centerfield,” by John Fogerty.

Now, as a dad to two young kids, I can tell you that song is very popular in this house. But I also really enjoy it. In reconsidering their list, they explain why they didn’t like it (it’s played before every Royals Spring Training game, and they both covered the Royals for years). But they also consider why so many do like it:

These are not, of course, the memories conjured up when most baseball fans hear “Centerfield.” They think about the game they fell in love with the sport they still miss. They remember trips to the ballpark that doubled as vacations. They are transported by those hand claps. Maybe we should have spent a little more time taking that into consideration.

That’s basically it for me. It’s a fun song, and it puts me in a good mental space: sunny days and baseball. As I get older, I’ll always remember my boys cranking it up in the garage as I throw them wiffle balls to crush into the street. Tough to beat. -TOB

Source: Why Keeping it Real About John Fogerty’s ‘Centerfield’ Went Wrong,Andy McCullough, The Athletic (06/26/2020)


Video of the Week

The real video of the week is that Bubba Wallace video, so go watch that again.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Propagandhi – “The Banger’s Embrace”

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