Week of August 28, 2020

Swaggy since high school.

Going D-I

As fall and winter college sports begin to be cancelled or postponed, a lot of attention has been spent on the big-time football conferences and teams (Ohio State, USC, Texas, Clemson, etc.). Top prospects sitting out or missing the season, what the playoffs will look like (if any), and whether this is the moment when the major conferences officially break from the NCAA and start their own thing. We’ll be talking about blue blood basketball programs, the NCAA tourney, and the game’s top college prospects next. Billions of dollars, a public health crisis, and the very idea of amateurism – these are a few factors at play. 

That’s one end of the spectrum, but there’s a high stakes game on the other end of the D-I spectrum: schools trying to break into the D-I ranks (a four-year process). Replace Ohio State, USC, Texas, and Clemson with UC San Diego, Bellarmine, Dixie State, and Tarleton State. There’s also been talk at my alma mater – Augustana, a tiny school with 1,700 students – about jumping from D-II up to D-I. 

The first step in the process is for the schools to pay the NCAA 1.7MM for a D-I application. That’s a pricey bit of paperwork! What follows is an odyssey: booking non-conference games with known schools to raise the visibility of the new programs and earn some revenue in those early seasons; recruiting kids to take a chance on a program and school for which they never dream of playing, constantly trying to raise money and sweetalking rich alumni. 

For example, UC San Diego was scheduled to play TOB’s Cal in its first game as a D-I basketball program. Cal would’ve paid for the privilege of beating up on the Tritons, and UCSD would’ve used the game as a centerpiece of a weeklong celebration for donors, not to mention making it a recruiting bonanza. With non-conference schedules being the first part of the schedule to go in the pandemic, the revenue, marketing, and recruiting goes with it. 

Per Brian Bennett:

COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc on guarantee games, which most low-major teams vitally need. The typical going rate for those contests has been anywhere from $85,000 to $100,000, and playing a handful of them can fund an entire athletic department. Especially with no football this fall — Dixie State was supposed to enter its first year as an FCS independent before postponing — the school hoped to make money on basketball games, most notably its road trip to BYU. 

Those guarantee games also provide a crucial and one of the only major sources of revenue during this transition. And make no mistake: Moving to Division I isn’t cheap.

The NCAA charges schools $1.7 million simply to file the application for Division I membership. Dixie State and Tarleton State used fundraising efforts to pay for part of that tab.

Required facilities upgrades, required expanded coaching staffs…

UC San Diego helped fund its move with an increase in student fees. In a May 2016 referendum, students who voted approved the fees hike by a 70 percent majority. Ever since, the students have been paying $480 more per year in fees to underwrite Division I sports while waiting for an actual higher-level game they could attend on campus. Total fees over a four-year period run close to $3,500 per student.

All of that for the privilege to get whooped by Cal? What’s the point? The point can be found at the end of a long play, and that point – as it usually is – is money. 

Teams new to Division I must go through a four-year transition period during which they are not eligible to compete for NCAA championships. They also don’t get any money from the NCAA Tournament or other NCAA revenue streams until the transition is complete. It is up to them to balance budgets for four years until that spigot is turned on.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to grab a slice of that juicy NCAA Tournament pie. The tournament reaped a reported $933 million in revenue in 2019, and the NCAA distributes money from that pool to conferences based on performance. These are divvied up into “units,” which is how the NCAA defines wins and at-large bids in the tournament field. One tournament unit — which would be what a one-bid league whose representative loses in the first round would earn — was scheduled to be worth $282,100 in the 2020 bracket that never was. Teams that advance deep into the tournament can earn millions more for their conferences.

Most leagues, like the WAC, hand out that tournament cash equally among member schools. According to a 2019 study by the Associated Press, the SWAC earned the minimum amount from the NCAA’s basketball fund and received $25 million in payments from 1997 to 2018. The Big Ten brought in $340 million over that same period.

The prospect of all that dough is tantalizing, and it has led to an explosion of growth in Division I men’s basketball. 

Those are big numbers. That’s why the number of D-I schools has ballooned to nearly 350, that’s why I wouldn’t count out the NCAA basketball tourney just yet, and that’s why the SEC, ACC, and Big 12 football teams are making a go of it this fall. That’s a ton of money established programs and conferences are used to pocketing. It reaches all corners of the universities and the surrounding communities. And if someone is of the mind that this pandemic is being blown out of proportion to begin with (I am certainly not one of them), then it’s not that far of a leap to push for games being played. 

No matter what, a big loser in all of this will be these schools just beginning their journey towards D-I relevance and revenue. This will be a tough academic year for them to keep afloat. This was an excellent read about a part of college sports we don’t usually hear much about. – PAL 

Source: Transitioning in these trying times a challenge for four new Division I programs”, Brian Bennett, The Athletic (08/24/20)

In Appreciation of Yaz

The MLB trade deadline is Monday, and the Giants find themselves in a tougher spot than last year in answering the question: hold ‘em or fold ‘em? Last year they were just outside the WIld Card at the trade deadline and decided to split the baby – holding Bumgarner and Will Smith, moving Melancon, Dyson, and Pomeranz, for prospects. After a monster July got them into the playoff picture, they tanked in August and September and fell way out. Still, it’s hard to say they were wrong for keeping Bumgarner and Smith: first, we don’t know what offers they had on the table; second, they got compensatory picks in the June draft which gave them both more picks and more signing bonus money to spread around.

So, what do they do this year? Like last year, they approach the trade deadline on an upswing – before Thursday’s brutal double header loss to the Dodgers, the Giants were winners of seven straight. Plus, in the four games prior to those seven wins, the team had blown three wins in the 9th, two of them to the A’s, one of the best teams in baseball, and the two leads blown to the A’s were BIG leads. And all three blown wins were at the feet of the same pitcher – Trevor Gott. If Gott doesn’t go all 2001 World Series Byung-Hyun Kim, the GIants would  have entered Thursday tied for 3rd in the NL.So there is reason to think this team, suddenly in line for a playoff spot, might actually be good.

Meanwhile, the Giants traded for Mike Yastremzki last Spring for basically a can of beans. Yaz, the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastremzki, had never broken through to the majors after many years in the Orioles’ organization. The Giants acquired him and he made his big league debut when he was almost 29, very late for a baseball player. But Yaz has turned into a star. After a very good 2019, he is out of his mind this season. I will admit the sample size is still a little small, JIFF,  but he’s putting up MVP, literally! MVP!, numbers. 

All of this begs the question: what should the Giants do with Yaz? He’s now 30. His stock has never been higher. The fanbase loves him – he looks like JT Snow but puts up numbers like peak Jeff Kent, and plays the outfield like Jim Edmonds. For weeks, I’ve been wondering what the Giants might do with him. I would understand why they’d move a 30-year old late bloomer for a top prospect, but also…the team is in this thing! And the fans love Yaz. I was starting to get nervous, and then I read this from Roger Munter:

History tells us that prospect-for-veteran trades invariably favor the team acquiring the vets — even though our dumb lizard brains remember the ones that favor the team getting the future star. They’re all John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander, right? The vast majority of prospects moved in deals turn into trivia answers (“Man, you remember who they got Yaz for?”), not stars.

So have I set the stage appropriately for why this can’t and shouldn’t happen? The risk involved in moving Yaz is too much to bear. End of story. The Giants front office has a bonafide win in hand — they turned career minor leaguer Tyler Herb into a Star, Capital “S.” Once you’ve traded your broken down milk cow for magic beans and the beans led you to the goose that lays the golden egg….what exactly could another milk cow have to offer to tempt you into trading the goose for it?

Maybe I wanted the above to be true but I have to give it to Munter – he brought me back to the light. Yaz is 30, true, but he still has a few good years left, and because he’s a late bloomer, he’s cheap. If he’s a star, he can absolutely help the next good Giants team. And, as we’ve seen (Dubon, Davis), trading for a highly regarded prospect doesn’t always work out. At this point I’d rather have a star like Yaz for 3 years, than the chance someone like Dubon, who is struggling, turns into a star. Plus, being a fan favorite matters. 

The Giants have a lot of choices once again as the trade deadline approaches. I hope they keep the guys who are helping them win now, and can also do so in the future. -TOB

Source: Let’s Make a Deal: Mike Yastrzemski,” Roger Munter, There R Giants (08/26/2020)

The Ultimate Bartender

Every morning starts the same. After I get my coffee and breakfast ready, I open up the laptop and start with the same three tabs: The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Being a St. Paul family, the Langs were historically a Pioneer Press bunch, I must say, but the non-digital subscription got to the point where even my parents switched.  

Most of the sports stories from the Star Tribune and The Chronicle could more or less be interchangeable if some team names swapped: you have your recap of the in-season sport, the 365 days a year obsession with the NFL, some homer columnist heaping unearned praise on nearest university, and a profile of some high school prodigy once a month or so. 

Sometimes I’m in danger of forgetting what sports page I’m reading, but every now and again a story like this one comes along – a story so utterly St. Paul that I nod along as a I read. 

Tim Tschida is about as St. Paul as one can get. If the name sounds familiar, then you were likely a hardcore baseball fan, because Tschida was an MLB umpire for 27 years. He got in early – he umpired his first MLB game at the age of 25 –  and got out early. He was far from an old fogie when he called it quits in 2012. So he traded his umpire uniform for a hawiian shirt and went back to the job he’d work to make some extra dollars while a minor league ump: bartender.

He started bartending at the legendary Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul (damn good steak) and at Giggles Campfire at the State Fair (never heard of it). 

As Pat Ruesse puts it: 

A man constantly on the road as an umpire for 32 years, he’s been single since 2012, lives in a duplex near West Seventh, works for the Mancinis and Giggles; meaning at 60, Timothy Joseph Tschida is back to being as thoroughly St. Paul as when he was a bat boy for a Jack Morris-led baseball team.

That Jack Morris reference is perfect, because when you think about it, who would have better bartender stories than a guy who umpired in the bigs for nearly 30 years? Seriously, can you imagine the tales? I mean, here’s just a taste:

The one dearest to Minnesotans would be his involvement as the plate umpire on Aug. 3, 1987, when Twins starter Joe Niekro was suspected of trying to make baseballs less aerodynamically predictable for hitters.

“Joe wasn’t exactly suspected,” Tschida said. “We knew what he was doing. We also knew scuffing the baseball was absolutely out of control that season.

“I finally had to go out there. I said, ‘Joe, I want to see your glove and your hands.’ He turned a whiter shade, stammered a little, and then put his hands in his back pockets.

“As it turned out, he had a hunk of sandpaper trimmed and glued to the palm of his left hand. It was touched up to look like flesh. And when he wanted the extra movement, he would take off the glove and rub the baseball as if he was trying to improve the grip.

“He had his left hand in that pocket, trying to work the sandpaper off his palm while making more of an act out of going into his right pocket. He took out a small photo of his son Lance, maybe 11 or 12 then — great kid, by the way — and tried to sound defiant, saying, ‘I have a picture of my son, OK?’

“Davey Phillips said, ‘Dig a little deeper, Joe,’ and out came the emery board. That’s what most people remember, but I wouldn’t have thrown him out for the emery board. I would have just said, ‘Keep that in the dugout.’

“What happened is the piece of sandpaper fell out of the other pocket. Joe wound up getting a 10-game suspension and the appearance on Letterman.”

Tschida paused with a smile and said:

“Best quote of the night came from Gene Mauch, managing the Angels. He said, ‘Those baseballs weren’t scuffed; they were mutilated.’ ”

My post-pandemic to-do list is growing, but I think TOB and I need to make a trip to Minnesota next summer and throw back a few local brews at Mancini’s when Tchida’s working and report back to the readers. – PAL 

Source: Brew chief: Former MLB ump and St. Paul native Tim Tschida goes from behind the plate to behind the bar”, Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune (08/25/20)

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week: 

Song of the Week: Bon Ever – “AUATC”

In Italy, you must always wash your hands after going to the bathroom. This is considered to be polite.

-Michael Scott

Week of August 14, 2020

When Laureano gets beaned (again), he offers up tips on how to throw a slider.

A Major Designation

Sometimes it pays off to procrastinate on a 1-2-3 post. Found this thought-provoking story from one of our favorite writers, Ben Lindbergh. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues. In addition to many celebrations and commemorations planned, MLB is considering retroactively designating the Negro Leagues a Major League. That means all the stats are added to the MLB record books and all of those players denied a chance to play at the highest level (before and after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947) would finally be big leaguers. Pretty incredible. 

There are not just two leagues recognized as ‘Major League’ – it’s not just the National League (1876)  and the American League (1901). There are four other leagues categorized, and counted in the record books, as a major league, per the definition put forth by 1968 commissioner’s committee put together to create The Baseball Encyclopedia: American Association (1882-1891), Union Association (1884), Players’ League (1890), and Federal League (1914-1915).

The story goes into how, back in ‘68, this committee decided on what leagues made it and what did not. According to those around the committee at the time (all the committee members are now dead), the notion of including the Negro Leagues didn’t even come up. It wasn’t about stat-keeping (as one committee member would retroactively justify years later) or quality of competition; the Negro League was never even brought up in the discussion!

“The one thing that I am absolutely certain about is that there never was any SBRC discussion about treating the Negro Leagues as major leagues,” says David Neft, who oversaw the assembly of the Encyclopedia. 

Which begs the point, what if they had been given proper consideration? What then?

If the Negro Leagues had been brought up by the SBRC, they would have had to satisfy several of the committee’s criteria. Neft says that in addition to scheduling irregularities such as varying lengths, frequent unofficial games, uncompleted campaigns, and inconsistent playoff formats (sound familiar?) “the factors that were used in discussing the other leagues included the populations of their cities, the media coverage of their teams relative to the NL, AL, and the 1880s American Association, the capacity of the stadiums, the level of play, and the number of proven major league players who ‘jumped’ to these leagues.” 

In most of those categories, of course, the Negro Leagues are at a disadvantage relative to white leagues precisely because of the racism and segregation that forced Black ballplayers to create a separate (and in some respects, unequal) place to play. Negro Leagues clubs were owned by Black businesspeople who were cut off from capital and didn’t own their home parks. Their financial circumstances were precarious, and they were forced to barnstorm and play local exhibitions to survive. It would be harsh to hold that against them. Gary Gillette, coeditor of the The ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia and many other sports reference books, says that if you denigrate the Negro League’s credentials on the grounds of erratic conditions and schedules, “What you’re saying is ‘We would like to undo the discrimination and isn’t it a crying shame that they were discriminated against. But we can’t undo it because they were discriminated against and their records aren’t that good.’ And I think that’s a horseshit argument.”

Populations? Media coverage? Stadium capacity? Number of players that ‘jumped to these leagues’…setting aside the racism, who the hell came up with this list of categories? 

More important, the record. Black teams played Major League clubs quite frequently over the course of the first half of the 1900s. Over 600 games, actually. Their record against those Major League teams: 315-282-20. Over roughly the same time period (1900-1950), Major League teams went 1690-677 against minor league teams. 

Legendary statistician Bill James sums it up this way: 

“My argument has always been that it is impossible for a league to produce that many players of that quality in that period of time, unless the quality of play in that league was not only equal to the white leagues, but probably superior to it. You just can’t reach that level of excellence while playing against minor league competition. So … designate it as major league.” 

And to bring this all the way back to 2020, one of the most commons ‘concerns’  over including Negro League stats alongside MLB stats is an inconsistency of schedule. Josh Gibson hit .466 in 69 games in 1943. Does that jump past Ted Williams .406 in 1941 (143 games)? Well, MLB currently recognizes Ross Barnes’ .429 batting average over a 70-game season from 1876, so there goes that. 

Or, for that matter, some similar statistical outlier from MLB’s current small-sample season, which will be treated the same as any other season’s despite the many compromises that the pandemic has imposed. “The last remaining plausible objections to not including the Negro Leagues as major leagues have been eliminated with the 60-game season,” says Gillette, who adds, “If there ever was a season more erratic than 2020, I’d like to see it. … There’s no moral justification for excluding the Negro Leagues, and the last rational arguments you could even advance have been destroyed.”

This is such an excellent read about correcting history. Not re-writing it, but correcting it, and this moment – this centennial year of the Negro League, as the BLM movement gains recognition and support, as MLB sells us a 60-game season, is the exact time to do it. – PAL

Source: “As it Celebrates the Centennial of the Negro Leagues, MLB May Undo a “Major” Mistake”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (08/14/20)

Sports Are Good, Exhibit #137: Atalanta 

There have been a lot of stories written about sports in the pandemic, and this one might be my favorite so far. 

Atalanta, a small market soccer team by comparison to the big hitters that compete in the Champions League tournament (Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, etc), made quite a deep run in the tournament this year. Considered the “Queen of the provincial clubs” – which is a backhanded compliment if I’ve ever heard one, Atalanta’s success this year would be like a AAA baseball team making a deep playoff run against the Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, and other big market teams. 

The team’s unlikely run was more special this year, because Atalanta’s home base is Bergamo, Italy – right in the heart of the madness when COVID ripped through northern Italy.

One of the club’s greatest moments came on February 19, 2020. With seemingly the entire town transported on charters to Milan to watch, the club put up four goals on its way to it’s first ever Champions League quarterfinal. 

The match would remain meaningful, but for much different reasons. Per Rory Smith: 

The next day, the mayor was in his office in the center of Bergamo when news started to emerge that a patient in an emergency room in Codogno, a town southeast of Milan and about an hour’s drive away, had tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, a second case was confirmed in Alzano Lombardo, only a few minutes outside Bergamo.

In those long, harrowing days in late February, the coronavirus crisis seemed to bubble around the people of Bergamo, gathering force until it consumed them, too. The city shut down, the silence filled with sirens. The hospitals were overwhelmed. The local newspaper filled with the names of the dead. The army was called in to remove the bodies. Quickly, memories of that night in San Siro seemed to drift and fade, as if it had happened in another world.

“It was the last day of total ignorance,” Gori said. He had stopped smiling. “It was the last day when we did not worry.”

This great moment happens, then – wham – something that few had even considered now dominated every thought in the city. That match in Milan filled with 40,000 fans from northern Italy would later be described as a ‘biological bomb’ by the chief pneumologist in the area. 

What followed was a group of fans utilizing the community built around the soccer team to help out. They raised money for the hospital, helped the military build a field hospital, coordinated and commissioned an artist to design a special jersey that thanked first responders. 

In other words, as Smith puts it, “The team is an expression of, and an outlet for, a broader civic identity.”

And when the team returned to the pitch in June, they kept the unlikely run alive. They rattled off 6 wins, and a tie against the much larger Juventes before the run finally ended against Paris St.-Germain (perhaps the richest club in the world). 

The director general of the local hospital summed it all up perfectly when she said, “The suffering of the people mourning for their families cannot be relieved. Sport cannot overcome that grief. But for the city as a whole, a city that has suffered a lot, it offers hope.”

Excellent stuff from Smith. – PAL

Source: “The Dark Fairy Tale of Atalanta”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (08/11/20)

Video of the Week

Song of the Week  – Western Centuries – ‘Sarah and Charlie’

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“I am the bait. Men find me desirable.”

-Dwight Schrute

Week of August 7, 2020

Arnie and His Army at the 1963 San Francisco International Open.

Is College Football On the Brink?

The world is crazy right now, this country especially. Professional sports are back and none of us know if this is good or not – I am enjoying the hell out of baseball, but I don’t know if I should, as the players and employees risk their lives and those of their loved ones so I can sit here on a Wednesday night, watching a 21-year old pitcher on my fantasy team make his MLB debut and throw 99 MPH in front of a stadium peppered with cardboard cutouts of Padres fans, and Padres fans’ dogs. I can assuage my guilt by reminding myself that professional players are paid a lot of money to play, and they are being tested every other day to help ensure safety (the use of test and testing facility resources in order to play these sports is another discussion for another day).

And there is college football. Last week, a group of Pac-12 football players published a list of demands that they say must be met or they will sit out the season. They claim to have hundreds of Pac-12 players on board, which would end the Pac-12 season. The demands are wide-ranging with varying levels of feasibility in both the short and long terms, including 50/50 revenue sharing, extended health care, and COVID-19 protections. The last one is probably the most pressing because as the Ringer’s Rodger Sherman puts it:

[T]here appears to be no discernible plan at all. The players will not compete in a contained bubble, the approach used by the NBA, WNBA, NHL, NWSL, and MLS. There are no uniform testing procedures; some schools had dozens of players test positive for COVID-19 and kept practicing, while some schools aren’t even testing players at all. … During a pandemic, thousands of unpaid athletes, who are predominantly Black, are being asked to risk their health to make money for their coaches and administrators, who overwhelmingly are white. When you say it out loud, it’s bad.

College football has torn me apart inside for quite some time. On the one hand, I freaking love it. I love heading to Berkeley six or seven Saturdays a year, having a beer at the Faculty Club, and dragging my entire family up the hill to the stadium to cheer on the Bears. But over the last decade, as we’ve learned more and more about the danger football poses to athletes’ brain health, and I consider the fact that I don’t think I could possibly let my own kids play the sport… college football also feels really, really wrong. When you add to that the fact players aren’t paid anything other than a free education and room and board, man. It’s bad. And now we want them to play during a pandemic, without any of the safety protocol in place in professional sports? How can we do this?

Many of the arguments against paying players center on how hard it’d be to do (e.g., there are Title IX implications (colleges have to fund men’s and women’s sports equally…how can they do that if they start paying football players; college football and men’s basketball revenue funds every other sport, men and women, so what happens to those sports if football and basketball players are paid from that revenue). 

But so what if it’s hard. Players must be paid. Players need to be paid and colleges/Congress need to find a way around Title IX in doing so. The NFL should also foot some of the bill – they’ve enjoyed their free minor league long enough (plus, money from the NFL could conceivably be paid directly to players, skirting Title IX implications). 

I hope college football survives, but if it does it needs to change. Just because something was done a certain way for 150 years doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. Yes, Cal might lose football. And that would suck. I would be extremely sad. But I can’t put my happiness twelve Saturdays a year over the well-being of approximately 13,000 FBS football players all over the country, risking their health and well-being in exchange for nothing more than an education. If they get paid, I think it flips the balance enough for me. Whatever changes happens to college football in exchange for doing the right thing, I’ll live with that. -TOB

Source: College Football Needs to Change. The Pac-12’s Players Are Making That Happen,” Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (08/04/2020)

PAL: There’s so much to love about college football until you stop to think about it. The only reason we’re talking about the potential for college football this fall is money. That’s it. This is only about money, and that money depends on college players showing up to work. 

I hope the players step up to this moment. They have the stage and real leverage. This is the time to pressure the NCAA to move faster than the bare minimum. Yes, it will cost many of them dearly in the form of scholarshipsand a football future cast in doubt. But if they want to really force a change and make a generational impact, now is the time. 

What’s In A Name

By the time you’re reading this, we’re well into the first major sporting event in the COVID era: The PGA Championship is being played in San Francisco, and it’s being played at a municipal course, no less, which is pretty cool. It’s not everyday that hacks like myself have every opportunity to play the same course the best of the best play – many major tournaments are played on private courses or resort courses. 

Harding Park has an especially interesting backstory, and is connected to a president who famously died in San Francisco. 

Juuuuuuust going to plop this down here: 

The golf course being constructed seven miles from the president’s deathbed 97 years ago was soon christened Harding Park, during a bygone era when naming things for presidents was done with little debate or consideration. 

That this most somber of summers should be linked, even tenuously, to Harding and the strangeness of 1923 feels about right.

Harding, a former Republican senator from Ohio, had little in the way of a platform when he ran for the White House in 1920 other than a “return to normalcy.” He was viewed as a tax-cutting, anti-immigrant nationalist who, in the wake of World War I, did not want the United States to be part of the postwar League of Nations. He was rumored to have had affairs (and at least one out-of-wedlock child) and was soon surrounded by scandal throughout his administration. (Curious? Start by Googling “Teapot Dome.”) He was not considered a deep thinker and was prone to rambling. He liked to play golf.

Time is a circle. 

Anyway, While I’ve never played the course, it’s cool that Harding ($65 if you’re a SF resident) is smack dab in the middle of a bunch of super prestigious private clubs, and the muni is considered the best plot of land of them all. After some real low times – budget cuts and lack of love left the once legendary course in such disrepair that its fairways were used as a parking lot for the 1998 U.S. Open held across the street at Olympic Club. Much like its namesake, the course was all but forgotten. 

But the bones of a great course remained, and they brought it back to its oceanside, cypress tree glory for the tournament. – PAL 

Source: A Memorable Golf Course Honors A Forgotten President”, John Branch, The New York Times (08/05/2020)

TOB: My neighbor, Paul, has one of the resident cards and has been bugging me to get one so that we can go. My game is so so so bad that I just can’t stomach the thought of hacking my way up the fairways at such a nice course. But reading this article had me reconsidering. 

Another interesting wrinkle to the pandemic is the utter lack of fanfare around the tournament. Or, being mostly stuck in my house, as far as I know anyways. When the U.S. Open was across the street at the Olympic a few years back, you could not miss it. The logos were everywhere. People were excited. Now, I had no idea the tournament was being held this week until a Sportscenter preview on Wednesday night. “Oh yeah.” Weird.

Big In Japan: Prospect Gamble Pays Off In Pandemic

Last year, Carter Stewart made a bold decision. After being selected 8th overall in the 2018 MLB draft and turning down $2M from the Braves, the 6’ 6” right-handed pitcher decided to not re-enter the draft in 2019. Instead, he signed a 6-year, $7M deal to play professionally in Japan. At the time, it was an unprecedented decision in baseball (we’ve seen basketball prospects go overseas recently instead of playing college ball). Per Joon Lee of ESPN: 

Not signing with an MLB team was a risk, but it gave Stewart an opportunity to prove himself in Japan, skip the years of low pay and uncertainty in the minor leagues, and set up a potential return to the United States on a lucrative free-agent deal.

Things are a bit different these days. Or, as Michael Scott puts it, ‘how the turn tables.’ 

Now, with the minor league season cancelled due to the pandemic, Stewart is competing in Japan, where the virus is much more under control (just over 1,000 total deaths for a population of 125MM people). He’s getting paid a fair wage to play in actual games, work on his game. That would not be the case if he’d signed with a MLB team. 

Also, not for nothing – but he’s a young guy getting exposed to a new culture, learning a new language, picking up cooking, all while learning how to be a professional. Seems like a lot of positives. While I can understand it might get lonely for a young kid that far from home and his family not being able to visit, his dad sums it up pretty well: 

“It’s amazing all these kids that normally would be at school are here or they’re all working at Home Depot and Domino’s,” Pat says. “And I mean not just the baseball kids. I’m talking about all the college kids. But yeah, I mean I think it truly is a blessing that he’s where he is right now, because he could literally be sitting here twiddling his thumbs.”

More money, more baseball experience, more life experience. Win-win-win. – PAL

Source: “Carter Stewart Ditched the MLB Draft to Pitch in Japan; Then Came the Coronavirus”, Joon Lee, ESPN (08/06/2020)

TOB: How long have Phil and I have been doing this damn thing? So long that we have forgotten the stories we have written about. We were chatting on the phone Thursday night and he told me he was writing about this story. “Wow, interesting idea by this kid,” I said. Then after a few more seconds of it tumbling around in my brain I said, “Wait, didn’t we write about this kid when he first decided to skip the draft?” “I don’t think so,” Phil replied. But after we hung up I checked the archives, and here it is: May 24, 2019 – “Smash the Draftiarchy!” (An inspired title, to pat myself on the back). My take at the time, “If he’s good, he’ll be ready to make big bucks. If he’s not, well he made an extra $3 million and got to experience the world. Plus, he doesn’t spend the next few years riding around the country on a bus. Win-win-win!” Phil’s take: “That’s just a big kettle of hoppy common sense.”

The cool thing here is that this week’s article is a follow-up. Carter’s gamble has paid off, big time. To paraphrase the band Pain: He bet on himself and he’s making a killing.

Basketball’s 3-Point Chess Match

Sports innovations always come in waves, with offenses innovating and defenses adapting. The rise of the 3-point shot has completely changed the way the NBA is played: 

In 13 years, from 2000-01 to 2013-14, the NBA’s average 3-point rate (the percentage of total field goal attempts that were 3s) rose 8.9 percentage points, from 17.0 to 25.9. The next season Curry won his first MVP. In six seasons since, the NBA’s average 3-point rate has jumped from 26.8 to 38.2. That’s an 11.4-percentage-point increase in nearly half as much time.

Defenses responded by attempting to make shooters uncomfortable – closing out on shooters aggressively, trying to run them off the 3-point line and force them to take a long-two or a mid-range shot. 

Recently, offenses threw their counterpunch: the one dribble 3-pointer. 

The mentality manifests in a snippet of NBA parlance that coaches, skill trainers, and a growing number of players abide by: Keep a 3 a 3. Rather than drive into the paint or pull up from midrange, it’s better to evade the defender’s closeout or shot contest with one dribble, stay behind the arc, and let it fly. The shot isn’t simple or easy. It has to be launched in a nanosecond against determined opponents with long arms who are keen to invade personal space. Before they close in, the shooter must recapture a rhythm that was momentarily lost.

The numbers back this up, as the Ringer’s Michael Pina notes:

  • Six seasons ago, all 30 teams launched two or fewer one-dribble 3s per game. This season, every single team averaged more.
  • During the 2017-18 seasons, 18 teams took one-dribble 3s as 3 percent or less of their overall shot distribution.
  • Two seasons ago, five players averaged at least one one-dribble 3 per game. That number has ballooned to 20 this season.
  • The Golden State Warriors led the league at 2.7 percent of their shot distribution when they won it all in 2015. Five years later, 2.7 percent would rank no. 29 in the league.

Interesting article. -TOB

Source: The Rise of the One-Dribble 3-Pointer,” Michael Pina, The Ringer (08/05/2020)

PAL: Great example of the tweaks we as fans don’t immediately recognize, where the game is actually changing. This endless battle between offense and defense, right now is separated by a single dribble. Fun to think if it in that way. I think this is the first I’ve read from Pina. Good writer.

Pujols Was a Man Among Boys

I came across a funny stat this week: Albert Pujols’ numbers as a high school senior. Pujols, of course, was a phenom the moment he hit the majors as a 21-year old, finishing fourth in that year’s MVP voting. A few years prior, Pujols and his family moved to Missouri when he was 16 Unsurprisingly, Albert wrecked the league. 

He hit eight home runs in just 33-at bats and had FIFTY-FIVE intentional walks. Fifty five intentional walks against just 33 official at-bats!? That is outrageous. One of my favorite things about sports is imagining the prodigies just destroying the local high school kids, on their way to the pros. Pujols’ numbers may be the funniest yet. -TOB

PAL: The sight of him holding an aluminum bat is terrifying. Imagine playing 3B when he stepped into the box. No thank you.

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Billy Strings – “Enough To Leave”

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“It seems awfully mean. But sometimes the ends justify the mean.”

Michael Scott