Week of July 10, 2020

Ozzie Albies showing why he’s TOB’s favorite player to watch.


A Crazy, Sad Story, That Keeps Getting Crazier and Sadder

You may remember the headlines. A few years ago, in Sanford, a small town in Maine, a car drove onto a youth baseball field and sped around the infield as the children and umpires on the field scattered. The car, driven by Caroll Sharrow, eventually exited the diamond, without anyone physically hurt. But as it tried to leave the parking lot of the field, a 68-year old man sprinted down from the bleachers and tried to close and lock the gate, apparently in hopes of preventing the car from escaping and killing someone elsewhere. But the car did not stop. It plowed  through the gate and the man was thrown high into the air, landing forty feet away, in the middle of the street, as blood pooled around him. He died on the way to the hospital.

That man’s name was Douglas Parkhurst. Parkhurst had not lived in Maine long, having moved from upstate New York just a few years prior. He did so in the hopes of escaping a past that had haunted him for the previous 50 years. That past had recently been dredged up, and Parkhurst could not fully own up to his mistake: on Halloween night in 1968, Parkhurst was driving, his brother in the backseat, when his car struck a 4-year old girl, Carolee Ashby, killing her. Parkhurst did not stop, never came forward, never apologized. He escaped, but the incident did not escape him. It tortured him for the rest of his life, and many theorize the reason he tried to stop the car that killed him was to, in some way, make up for the pain he had caused 50 years prior, and every day since.

This a wonderfully reported, enthralling story. I highly recommend you read it all. It delves into everything leading up to Parkhurst’s death: the pain the Ashby family endured, especially her older sister who was in charge of Carolee when she was dead; the pain Douglas Parkhurst caused his own family as he struggled with the guilt of what he had done back in 1968; the pain and mental illness that brought Caroll Sharrow to that baseball field that day; and the aftermath of all of it, including a disturbing revelation the author realizes about what really happened to Carolee Ashby the night she died. 

There’s also an hour-long ESPN E:60 piece on this, and it’s very good. But the story is better. Do yourself a favor and read it. -TOB

Source: The Hero of Goodall Park,” Tom Junod, ESPN (07/07/2020)

PAL: That is a beast of a story, woven through decades. One line above all others sticks to me: “[T]he burden doesn’t go away. It just goes to someone else.”


Shouldn’t Endowments Be Made For Times Like This? 

While I was back in Minnesota over July 4, I took great pleasure in shuffling down my parents driveway in the morning to pick up the hard copy of the newspaper. A day after returning to Oakland, I was back at my laptop reading the Star Tribune when I came across a Bay Area – Minnesota sports connection. 

On Wednesday, Tyler Eichens was in his hometown of Andover, MN, when he received an email from the Stanford athletic department about an emergency meeting. Shortly thereafter, the redshirt freshman learned that varsity wrestling would be one of the 11 sports teams cut from Stanford’s department as a result of financial challenges due to COVID-19. 

Stanford has an endowment of something in the neighborhood of $40B. TOB explained that endowments are given for specific uses. “Legally, they can’t take endowments for, say, the philosophy dept. and dump it into athletics.” I understand why that is important. I do, but I also can’t get over the idea that a school like that, with an endowment of $40B, which also charges north of $65K per year for tuition + room and board, is cutting non-revenue sports while citing the pandemic as the reason. But also, there’s this:

“The financial model supporting 36 varsity sports is not sustainable,” Stanford’s announcement stated. “The average Division I athletics program sponsors 18 varsity sports. Many of our peers at the Power Five level are supported by budgets that are much larger than ours while operating far fewer sports.”

When an institution is taking your money, it will never look to align itself to what other average institutions do; when it’s time to make cuts, it will always look to the average as justification. 

Something about this doesn’t add up, and this feels like maybe the athletic department just might be taking advantage of the pandemic to cut sports in order to focus their budgets on financially competing in football. 

So where does that leave Eichens? Assuming winter sports go on this year, he will be back to wrestle for Stanford, and then he’ll have a tough decision to make. 

“I’m not ready to end my wrestling career, but a degree from Stanford is an amazing opportunity,” he said. “It’s not an easy choice.”

Of course, Stanford is a private institution. I give it more leeway to do what it wants with its funds, but it just seems like there’s more than enough money to bridge the gap here. Is money really ever going to be an issue at Stanford? If it wants to be held in the same esteem as Harvard (40 varsity sports), Princeton (36), or Brown (36) – all of whom are suspending fall sports in 2020 but not canceling teams as far as I know – then I wonder if the ultimate purpose of the athletic department should go beyond pretending to compete with the big boys of college football. – PAL 

Source: Former Anoka Wrestler Tyler Eischens Blindsided When Stanford Drops Wrestling, 10 Other Sports”, Jim Paulsen, The Star Tribune (07/09/2020)

TOB: A caveat before I begin: Phil and I briefly discussed the Stanford story, and I was champing at the bit to argue why the school cutting 11 sports is not a big deal, and is in fact good. And then I read this, and realized the story is focused on wrestling, and some of the wind went out of my sails. This is because, of the 11 sports Stanford is cutting, wrestling is the one sport that my argument does not apply to. 

With that said, take a look at the other ten sports being cut: men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball. I mean, fencing? Synchronized swimming? Sailing!? These athletes undoubtedly work very hard and I am not denigrating their sport or their effort, but how many colleges across the country have these teams? Who were they competing against

But here’s the point: all of those sports, except wrestling (and, perhaps, men’s volleyball), are what are commonly referred to as country club sports. These are sports that wealthy families have realized they should have their kids compete in because even at Stanford, being good at a sport, even a sport like fencing or squash, provides an upperhand in admissions. These wealthy kids already have so many advantages, and the ability to pay for fencing lessons or synchronized swimming or sailing is just another leg up they get to gain admission to the country’s elite schools.  

And make no mistake, especially at a small private school like Stanford, this is a significant number of students taking up a significant number of available slots. There are under 7,000 undergrads at Stanford. Cutting these 11 teams frees up probably close to 1,000 spots, or 14% of the student body. This is a very significant percentage of spots taken up by athletes who might not have been admitted if not for their ability in these country club sports. 

It is probably heartbreaking for the current student-athletes whose sport is being cut. But, of course, they can continue at Stanford and get a great degree. And it doesn’t mean they can never play their sport again. Their sport could also continue as a club sport…which, come on, fencing and synchronized swimming and crew and sailing and squash already should have been (and the California club sport circuit is very competitive, filled with athletes who were very good at their sports, but often chose academics over sports at smaller schools). And most importantly future students will no longer be incentivized to game the system by paying for expensive training for sports like squash. Bro, squash. They really had a varsity squash team!

One final thought: I know the news is coming because I know Cal is not far behind on this, but I will cry when Cal cuts baseball (again). I love going to those games, and it will be a serious blow to Bay Area baseball fans when it happens. They staved it off ten years ago, but I agree with Phil when he said that Stanford is using the pandemic as an excuse to make cuts: Cal baseball is on life support, and I don’t think it can be saved this time. Brutal.


The Chances of a Baseball Season Grow Dimmer, and Grimmer, by the Day

We’ve said a lot about this, so I’ll keep it short, but reading these very good, and very brief articles by the Chronicle’s John Shea and the Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, reminded me that all of this (whether it be baseball, or any other sport) trying to have a season just seems so…stupid. Buster Posey seems to be weighing this heavily, as he has missed most of the Giants workouts so far, with what they are calling a “personal issue.” But listening to Posey, it’s clear he is strongly considering following a number of other players across the league who have opted out of the 2020 season:

“Yeah, definitely, I think there’s still some reservation on my end as well,” Posey said. “I want to see how things progress here over the next couple weeks. It would be a little bit maybe naive or silly not to gauge what’s going on around you, and not only around here but paying attention to what’s happening in different parts of the country. It’s obviously unprecedented times right now. Most definitely, I’ve thought about it and talked with my wife about it quite a bit.”

In Shea’s article, he talks to Posey, but also to A’s catcher Sean Murphy, who says this:

“A mask while catching in the summer might be tough, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that. I mean it’s just part of it. Make sure we disinfect things really well and just follow all the protocols, and that should work.”

First of all, Sean, buddy: why should that work!? You just have no idea. No one has any idea. There’s currently a two-day lag in testing,  and sometimes more (see: multiple teams canceling workouts this week because test results did not come back). And sometimes the testing is inconsistent (see: the Rangers’ Joey Gallo, who tested positive, then negative, then positive again). So why does Murphy think things will just…work? And why not just wear a god damn mask under your catcher’s mask? And why doesn’t MLB just mandate it? 

I know I said I’d keep this short, but every I am reading about how doctors are slowly learning about the potential long term side effects of COVID-19 (hint: they’re not good!), and this is just so infuriating we are putting people at risk so money can be made. I want to see baseball, badly. But this just all seems so bad. -TOB 

Source: Buster Posey on Baseball in a Pandemic: ‘There’s Some Reservation On My End’,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (07/04/2020); Giants’ Buster Posey on Catchers’ Conundrum: ‘Inherent Risk’ of No Social Distance,” John Shea, SF Chronicle (07/08/2020)


Mound Visits

I never pitched. Well, I did once in Little League. I mostly played third, and my coach said I threw hard, so he wanted to try me at pitcher. I hated it. I was terrified of getting a line drive crushed at my head, but more than that, I’ll never forget the sight of the ball disappearing into the bat, as goddamn Brian Sommerfeldt absolutely barreled up my fastest fastball, with his white TPX, and crushed it down the line.

One damn inning, and I never got to have a single mound visit. So I dug the hell out of this fun story, where former major leaguers talk about their most memorable mount visits. The best is former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. He takes forever to get to the punchline, but it’s a doozy (and lucky for you I’ll cut it all out). He puts a September call-up into a game, and he’s getting rocked. Hurdle goes out to the mount:

“He goes ‘Clint, I know, I know — I just need to get them in, I don’t care about my numbers,’ I mean — it was an awesome conversation,” Hurdle added.

The pitcher made it clear he just wanted to be there for the team. He wanted to keep pitching, he didn’t care what his Baseball-Reference page would say.

“Don’t worry about me,” the pitcher kept saying.

“I said, ‘Hey buddy, c’mon we’re going to have a laugh,’ I said, ‘I’m not worried about you, I said, ‘Turn around.'”

He did just that.

“All three outfielders were bent over with their hands on their knees breathing like they had just run 50 wind sprints. I said it’s either take you out or put in three new outfielders — which one do you think I should do?'”

LOLLLLLLL. Ok, one more, told by Geoff Blum (the Doug in the story is pitcher Doug Brocail), about a spring training game:

“He proceeds to give up a double, triple, double and another double and finally, I’m throwing the ball back to him, as I walk to the mound I’m like, ‘Doug, just not your day, just kind of casually saying ‘It’s spring training, don’t worry about it kind of thing … ‘”

“He goes, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you seeing what’s going on here?’ And he gets to the top of the mound, turns around and screams at the outfield at the top of his lungs: ‘Back the eff up!'”

“I’m like Doug, Doug you can’t do that,” Blum added. “He goes, ‘You don’t know what’s happening.’ He just starts screaming ‘Back the eff up!'”

Brocail then proceeds to give up a home run.

“I go, ‘They’re not playing deep enough,’ and he just kind of yells at me and walks off the mound.”

I’ll close with this great video with Kruk and Kuip talking about their favorite mound visits. 

Loop Kruk calling a woman a pearl in my afterlife. GOD DAMNIT I MISS THEM. -TOB

Source: Dallas Braden, Joba Chamberlain, Others Share Unique Mound-Visit Tales,” Jessica Kleinschmidt, NBC Sports Bay Area (06/01/2020)

PAL: A pearl! I will be using that.

There were some fun mound visits in my day, but the best ones were always with my roommate, Netter. A lefty with some nasty stuff, but Netter gave up a bomb our freshman year at Mankato State. There had been a snowstorm the night before, and – certain the game would be cancelled – Netter had enjoyed a couple drinks the night prior. He was in bad shape when he got on the bus in the morning. It would be OK, because he was a freshman in the bullpen; surely he wasn’t seeing action in a conference game against the Mavericks.

Well, the game got out of hand in the wrong way, and Netter was called in to burn some innings as I recall. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but Mankato had some dudes that could absolutely mash, and one of them had the Karate Kid theme song – ‘You’re The Best Around’ – as his walk-up song. Made me laugh every damn time. He then proceeds to hit a ball about 900-feet off of a hungover Netter. I think Netter then beaned a guy or two, and we stood on the mound as our coach took his sweet time to pull him from the game. We stood on the mound with our hands on our hips – Netter still brutally hungover – and genuinely marveled at how far that home run went.


Videos of the Week


Tweet of the Week

(Former big leaguer Trevor Plouffe  is a great twitter follow. My quick take: Kike is too low; Longo is over the hill and should not be on the list; Javy Baez is a shocking addition)


Song of the Week

Aaron Neville – ‘You Can Give But You Can’t Take’


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That would be shallow. And this is the opposite of shallow. This is emotionally magnificent.

-Michael Scott