Week of September 25, 2020

Take my money. Send Bomba Robe.


Nostalgia & Inclusions

Near the beginning of the pandemic (a little over six months ago), Joe Posnanski counted down the 100 greatest baseball players of all-time, complete with an essay about each one. It was a gigantic undertaking, and one that this little digest greatly enjoyed. Posnanki’s back with his follow-up: greatest moments in baseball history. A perfect appetizer to the playoffs, which as of this exact moment, has the Twins facing the Astros, i.e. NOT THE YANKEES, in the first round of the playoffs. 

Posnanki’s number two moment might surprise you (and delight Giants fans): 

Duane Kuiper hits his one and only home run

Aug. 29, 1977

Huh?

Do I really believe that Kuiper hitting a meaningless home run for Cleveland, which was terrible in 1977, is a greater baseball moment than Ruth’s called shot or Puckett’s Game 6 homer?

Of course I do. Because I grew up in Cleveland in the 1970s. If I had grown up in New York in the 1930s, I’d have the Ruth homer on there. If I were Garrison Keillor or Steve Rushin, I’d have the Puckett homer on there. The greatest moment in baseball history is your moment, that instant when — among the thousands of baseball games that happen every year — everything comes together just so and a tiny instant of perfection happens.

Interesting that – in describing what makes a moment great, Posnanski uses my greatest baseball moment  – Puckett’s Game 6 homer in the 11th – within his argument about how great baseball moments have to be personal. Of course Puckett’s home run has more historical significance than Duane Kuiper’s single big league home run, but that didn’t even enter a 10 year-old Posnanski’s mind. It’s worth noting I was about the same age for Puckett’s moment as Posnanski was for Kuip’s ‘bomb’. That age is not coincidence. 

Of course, Posnanski is absolutely right about the weave between sports greatness and each of our biographies. I regularly tell people that Puckett’s moment is the highest purity of joy I’ve felt to date. Before you jump on me – of course my wedding day was a happier moment. I have many moments of greater joy, but an ‘instant of perfection’, to use Posnanski’s phrase, must also be about purity. It must include an absence of flaws. 

As we move on down the line, we accrue more inclusions, to borrow a diamond term. We are the diamond, and the moments are the light shining through us. What we bring to a moment when we’re 10 is likely to be purer than what we bring to a moment when we’re 38, and that impacts how the light of a moment reflects through us. Just as is the case for Posnanski and Kuiper, Puckett’s home run was pure because I was pure. 

What an unending comfort to recall as I go on collecting more inclusions along the way, each one making Puckett bounding around the bases pumping his fist more brilliant by comparison. 

With that in mind, what’s your perfect baseball moment, TOB? – PAL

Source: 60 Moments: No. 2, Duane Kuiper’s singular home run”, Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (09/21/2020)

TOB: The Giants provided a lot of pure joy over the last decade, including Tim Lincecum coming out for the 9th in his and my first playoff game, as he finished off a 14 K, 1-hit, 1-0 complete game shutout; three pennant wins, three World Series wins, and lots of crazy moments in between. But to go back a bit farther, I go back to July 25, 1996.

I was visiting my grandparents in Orange County, and my grandpa took me to an Angels game. The Brewers led most of the way, and tacked on an insurance run in the top of the 9th to make it 4-1. My grandpa was not a huge baseball fan and wanted to go home because the game was basically over and he wanted to beat the traffic. Baseball Reference indeed shows Milwaukee with a 97% chance of winning. In fact, while trying to find video of the game, I found this from a look back at the game: “The Brewers added one in the ninth and down 4-1, we can imagine that some of the 16,000+ in attendance were headed to the exits early.” But I said, “No, they’re going to make a comeback.”

In the bottom of the 9th, future Giants fan favorite J.T. Snow led off with a dinger to make it 4-2. After a couple singles and a couple outs, Angels shortstop Gary Disarcina came to the plate and hit a home run down the left field line that just stayed fair – it was one of only 28 home runs in Disarcina’s nearly 4,000 career at bats. 5-4, Angels won. I gloated to my grandpa all the way home.


Badass Women In Sports: Maya Gabeira 

The NY Times multi-media projects alone are worth the subscription. The full-screen video with text overlay pulls you in from the jump. José Sarmento Matos’ photography makes you pause, and Adam Skolnick’s reporting is multifaceted. Just a cool team effort all around. 

On the surface, this is a story about a woman, Maya Gabeira, recording the biggest wave surfed this year – 73.5 feet – off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal. There’s so much more to unpack than a record ride.

Of her ride, Gaeira said, “I had never been so close to such a powerful explosion. I had never felt that energy and that noise. It felt really terrifying.” 

I bet. 

 

It’s cool that a woman caught the biggest wave this year, and that Gabeira and a few women are charging right along with the men of big wave surfing. Seven years ago, Gabeira barely escaped death on the same break. 

In 2013, Gabeira wiped out on a 50-foot wave and was held underwater for several minutes. She was barely conscious when she grabbed a dangling tow rope, only to be dragged toward shore facedown, getting pulled from the water without a pulse. CPR saved her life, but she had snapped her right fibula and herniated a disk in her lower back.

Her recovery took four years and three back surgeries. She lost all of her sponsors, dealt with an anxiety disorder and panic attacks, and was scolded publicly and warned privately by legends of her sport, including Laird Hamilton, who publicly criticized her after her 2013 accident.

What did Gabeira do? She doubled-down, moved to Nazaré, trained like a beast and got back out there and rode monsters by any measure. I have a hard time imagining the amount of drive it takes to paddle back out there after an experience like that. 

But how do experts look at that wall of water and calculate, down to the half foot, its size?

“It’s an imperfect science,” the big wave surfer Greg Long said, “and when we’re talking world records it’s imperative that you bring in a more scientific and specific means.”

Michal Pieszka, a surf scientist at Kelly Slater’s wave pool, led the study in collaboration with researchers. They examined the tides, light and shadows, which can affect perception and size in a photograph, and the objects in each picture. They analyzed both camera angles and the camera lenses involved in capturing Gabeira’s and Dupont’s waves.

I was just talking to my brother, Matt. Our nephew, Anthony Rabeni, made his varsity golf team as a freshman (way to go, Anthony!). Matt and I were remarking how there’s no gray zone in golf, and what a refreshing that quality is in a sport. Golf and surfing…feels odd to lump them together, but it’s correct. No excuses. No restrictions. Not your age, gender, size, race – either you ride it or you don’t. You count your strokes. Simple as that. Hardly the first time this idea has been made, but one worth repeating every now and again.  

Maya Gabeira: badass lady on display in the word, video, design, and photography of this feature. – PAL 

Source: The Biggest Wave Surfed This Year”, Adam Skolnick, The New York Times (09/22/20) 


Is It Fair to Use Tests to Get College Football Players on the Field?

Yesterday the Pac-12 announced it will play a 7-game season, starting November 6. I mentioned in recent weeks that this was a strong possibility after the conference secured rapid testing for each of the 12 campuses.

The business of college football is troubling and layered and problematic as it is; but conducting that business during a pandemic, when kids can’t go to school and many businesses cannot open, and these players are still not being paid is beyond problematic.

As a fan, I’m excited. I know that many of the players want to play, and I don’t want to try to tell them how they should feel, so I’m also happy for them. But as a society there are questions that must be answered.

First, should college sports be played on campuses where students are not allowed to attend class?

I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m ok with that. I think we should be opening what we can, when we can. We can’t safely let 50,000 people back on the Berkeley campus. But we can let 150. So why not do that?

Second, should the schools be using financial resources to pay for this testing? Again, I say yes. As I noted a few weeks back, the school and the athletic department are basically separate entities. Schools even charge the athletic department tuition for players on athletic scholarship. Especially for athletic departments that are in the black, I see no problem with them using their revenue to pay for testing in order to ensure continued revenue.

But my final question is should the testing resources themselves (not the money, but the testing machines and materials used in the tests) be used to get college football players on the field? Is this taking tests away from other places that need it? I have no idea, but the San Jose Mercury News’ Jon Wilner set out to answer that question after his a wife asked, “Why is the Pac-12 getting those tests? Why aren’t they going to teachers and other essential workers?” So he called the CEO of Quidel, the company the Pac-12 purchased the rapid testing machines from.

During a 30-minute conversation, Quidel CEO Doug Bryant told the Hotline that he “worried a lot about the perception” that his company’s rapid-result antigen tests, which have the potential to change the battle lines with coronavirus, were being deployed to 12 college athletic departments.

“I’ve said all along that our company would do the right thing,’’ he told me.

The deal with the Pac-12, he added, will help Quidel do exactly that.

“How so?” I asked.

“It was bit of a perfect storm,’’ he said. “Larry and the universities needed our tests, and we needed their data.”

Quidel had been providing testing to first responders and nursing homes since May, and they were collecting data that they say will help fight COVID-19, especially as to asymptomatic cases. But they wanted to expand to a younger population.

In order to provide the most effective antigen test for all age groups, Bryant explained, Quidel needs data points. Hundreds of thousands of data points.

All the shipments to nursing homes and first responders have enable the company to refine the tests for adults and symptomatic cases.

But it needs more data … cardiac data … serological data … on children and young adults. Specifically, Bryant said, it needs data on asymptomatic young adults.

“For a greater understanding of performance,” Bryant said, “we have to figure out the right algorithms.

“We wanted a generation of asymptomatic data to give the public confidence that it worked.

Now, keep in mind this is the CEO, and part of his job is to spin the PR on what his company has just done. But I believe him when he says this will help. Of course, want to believe it, too. But these are all hard questions without easy answers, and we all do our best to answer them. -TOB

Source: “Quidel’s Antigen Tests Saved Pac-12 Football: A Deep Dive Into the Origin of Their Relationship,” Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News (09/23/2020)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


Song the Week: Little Willie John – “You Hurt Me”


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Well, you know what, Jim, it is not my fault that you bought a house to impress Pam. That is why carnations exist.

-M.G.S.

Week of September 18, 2020


Dodgers Giveth, Whine Like Little Babies When They Take

I am on the record that I love when baseball players talk trash, pimp home runs, scream when they strike a guy out, etc.. What I don’t like is hypocrites who are happy to do those things when they do something well, but whine and cry when someone does those things to them (ahem, MadBum).

Which brings me to the Dodgers. They are in a (surprisingly) tight race for the NL West with the Padres (who look like they’re going to be a headache for the next decade). In a close game this week, the Padres’ Trent Grisham crushed a dong off Clayton Kershaw. When he hit it, he turned to his bench and yelled, “Let’s go!” Although you can’t hear it, I think someone on the Dodgers then yelled at him because he suddenly turns toward either Kershaw or the Dodger bench and smirks. He then gets very animated as he rounds the bases. Let’s let 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy break it all down:

I’m not even mad about the Dodgers yelling, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” That’s hilarious. What really bugs me are the comments after the game by Dave Roberts and other Dodgers, because they are such friggin hypocrites. Do I need to remind you of the time when Max Muncy hit a bomb off Bumgarner, told Bumgarner to go get it out of the ocean (again, we’ll ignore Muncy’s misunderstanding of simple geography), and then half the Dodgers team made and wore “Get It Out of the Ocean” shirts!? Including Muncy himself:

And honestly I thought that was all REALLY funny. But tell me, Dave, why was that ok and what Grisham did not? Take your team’s advice: STFU. -TOB

PAL: I dig the young, talented, cocky Padres leaning into this role.


I’ve Discovered TOB’s Second Career: Spotter

We’ve all had that moment watching a game when we make an observation, only to have the color commentary echo the statement the next second. It will impress the significant other on the couch, and – let’s all cop to it – it’s a nice little moment of validation, that we’re seeing what the expert sees, at least that’s what I thought until reading this story from Bryan Curtis. 

For decades, TV has peddled a vision of the booth as a pair of announcers gazing over the field. This is pure illusion. “It’s a working kitchen at a diner back there,” said Joe Buck. Every announcer in Fox’s “A” booth—Buck, Aikman, even Mike Pereira—has an extra football brain within arm’s reach. Additionally, Buck has a spotter, Bill Garrity, and a statistician, Ed Sfida, stationed at his left; a stage manager, a camera operator, and a makeup artist stand behind the announcers. All told, there are usually 11 people in the Fox booth. NBC’s Sunday Night Football booth has more than 20.

When it’s laid out like that, I’m not shocked, but I just never really thought about it. And now when I do think about it, of course these analysts aren’t processing and articulating every nugget in real time. Enter  David Moulton – the guy behind the guy, just off camera. 

Moulton in action:

 

Before the pandemic and need for social distancing in relatively small booths at the stadiums, Moulton would be right next to the analyst (Troy Aikman for NFL, Gary Danielson SEC), in the ear piece, writing nuggets on notecards, a real-time “spell check” of sorts as Joe Buck puts it. 

Some of Moulton’s value is practical. At the two-minute warning, he reminds Buck and Aikman how many timeouts each team has. But the spotter’s job has an emotional component, too. Danielson said that being an announcer can feel like a comedian telling jokes to an empty room. Danielson can look at Moulton and see a fist pump or a shake of the head. “It’s someone having an audience,” he said.

Another key distinction is that Moulton has to think like his guy. While he compares his role to that of caddieing for a world-class golfer –  “You know that the golfer is going to be Top 3 in the world without you” – he has to see the game and offer notes to his guy in a way that resonates with Aikman’s voice. It’s not enough for something to be interesting to Moulton; rather, he has to think about what’s compelling to the audience as told by Aikman.  In that way, his role reminds of a joke writer more than a caddie: he needs to understand his analysts voice and sensibilities. 

Excellent read on a topic that’s completely fresh to me. Also, I genuinely believe TOB could be a guy-behind-the-guy for basketball and college football. – PAL 

Source: Meet the Man Who Makes Your Favorite Announcer Sound Smarter”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (09/14/2

TOB: Haaaaaaa. I’m not going to argue – I would love this. You nailed that moment of validation when your partner is impressed when you say something right before the announcers. And let me tell you – it’s now happening with the kids and their minds are BLOWN.

Also, I did know this job existed. I’ve definitely heard a few announcers mention their spotter by name, and in either Little Big League or Major League there is someone handing the announcer funny and obscure stats. 


College Football TV $ Is More Important Than My Niece’s College Education 

Up until recently, I was a (wavering) holdout wanting to believe in the idea of a student-athlete. I clung to theidea that a free education is absolutely worth something. But the recent reversal from the Big 10 is the last bit. It’s time to officially call it: college football and basketball players are not student athletes; rather, they are an unpaid workforce. 

The other day, the Big 10 unanimously voted to play the fall football season, just six weeks after voting 11-3 not to hold a fall sports season. Nothing has really changed in that time in terms of treatment or scientific breakthroughs. What’s changed is a handful of extremely rich and powerful football programs saw that the SEC, Big 12, and ACC were not going to follow suit and delay/cancel the season, and money was going to be left on the table. 

Per Berry Svrluga of The Washington Post:

‘The coronavirus pandemic has completely laid bare the contemptible nature of college athletics. The Big Ten’s decision to reverse course and try to stage a football season made it as crisp and clear as a Saturday afternoon in the fall: Athletic departments do not exist to afford opportunities to compete for thousands of “student-athletes.”’

Think about the disparity here. The conference, at its expense, will provide coronavirus tests every single day to a junior economics major if he happens to play football and a sophomore sociology major who excels at soccer and not to the kids who sit alongside them in class — virtually or in person — but don’t play sports.

That pisses me right off. These institutions of higher learning – these schools that are collecting FULL tuition from tens of thousands of students/parents for remote learning in many cases, these nostalgia receptacles that love to wax poetic on code, honor, and values are prioritizing money over the wellbeing of its non-athlete students and staff. 

Put simply, physics majors don’t generate money for their schools. Quarterbacks do. But more than that: The schools that make up the Big Ten are institutions of higher learning. The Big Ten itself is a massive business that stages athletic competitions and creates content for its media partners. The objectives of those two entities don’t always align.

Nevermind the irony we all know – that it’s the goddamn physics major who will bail us all out one day, not the all-conference QB. 

And while I’m rolling, it’s absurd that the football team will receive daily tests while the rest of the student population is signing into a 500th Zoom. Unconscionable. And it’s absurd that one goddamn cent is being dedicated to something other than first figuring out a safe way (including rapid response testing, like the ones the almighty football team receives) to get young kids back in elementary and middle school. And it’s infuriating that people will prioritize exercising  their personal freedoms to not wear a mask over getting kids and teachers back in schools in the safest possible environment (which, really, are you fucking kidding me? Is a mask such an intolerable inconvenience)? But – hey – let’s make sure Big 10 football has games. 

What is going on?

The amateurism argument is officially settled. 

And a general memo: stop referring to college students as ‘kids’ when you need something from them and ‘young adults’ when you want to blame them for something.

Hold steady, Pac 12. If you really think it’s dangerous, then lead and don’t play until  every student has access to the same testing as the football team. Stick to your convictions. – PAL 

Source: The Big Ten might save its football season, but the myth of college sports has been shattered”, Barry Svrluga, The Washington Post (09/17/20)

TOB: I have bad news for you regarding the Pac-12…news broke this week that they are expected to start as soon as late October.

In the bigger picture, though, while you are correct to see that the “student-athlete” concept, as applied to college football and men’s basketball, is a myth, you’ve got to take it a step further. The money being spent by these colleges to test football players is NOT money being taken away from the education of the general student population, like your niece. Major college football programs make money for their schools. The football (and to a lesser extent men’s basketball) money goes to pay for the other sports that take a loss. In fact, the athletic departments pay the school the tuition for each athlete on scholarship. A college athletic department is, essentially, an outside business licensing a college’s trademarks. When you look at it like that, to me, the effort to put college football on the field while other students are remote looks less ridiculous. 

Last point: I don’t believe the daily tests for football players is taking away resources from general populations. The testing machines, as I understand it, will be on each campus, paid for by the conference/the schools. It’s not like the early days of baseball’s return where they were mailing tests to a lab in Utah and utilizing that lab’s resources.

Which is all to say – I’m happy you’re on the side that recognizes that major college football and basketball players are not “student athletes” – but I’m also ok with those teams deciding to play this Fall.


Video of the Week:

I think we all had a George Kittle on a team growing up. 

Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Wynton Marsalis (feat. Joe Farnsworth, Russell Hall, Isaiah J. Thompson & Jerry Weldon) (Jazz Arrangement) – “Daily Battles”


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What is it like being single? I like it! I like starting each day with a sense of possibility. And I’m optimistic, because everyday I get a little more desperate. And desperate situations yield the quickest results.

-Michael Scott

 

 

Week of September 11, 2020

 


A Great Idea, Dr. Crutchfield

It’s Thursday night here as I write this. Today got the best of me, folks. Beat down my optimism, and that doesn’t happen too often. The fires continue, and the ash is falling like a first dusting of snow – I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures. Add the apocalyptic skies and AQI acronym to the oncoming ugly brawl that will be the election in November, the pandemic that feels like it will not end here in CA, and a summer that made it impossible to ignore that we have a deep, deep racism problem in all sorts of places in this country. 

I needed a little light of good, and I got it from a dermatologist back in Minnesota. Per Jennifer Brooks: 

In summer 2020, as Minnesota burned and its people suffered and died in a pandemic, a Twin Cities doctor turned to Minnie and Paul again as a source of unity.

What if, said Dr. Charles Crutchfield III, the Twins logo looked a little bit more like its players and fans?

Crutchfield, the team’s consulting dermatologist, darkened the skin tone of one of the ballplayers on the logo. Suddenly, instead of just Minnie and Paul, he saw Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, grinning with their arms thrown around each other. Suddenly, he saw himself.

Minnie and Paul, glowing in neon 46 feet tall, watch over every home game from center field, ready to mark home runs with a firm handshake. Crutchfield showed his updated logo to a few of the players.

You get the paint, they told him with a laugh, we’ll hold the ladder.

This is such a great idea. Simple, powerful, positive statement. Hell, would it even be expensive! How this could offend people (obviously some morons took to social media to be cowards of the comment section) is beyond me, and if the Twins were to take two seconds to think about this, they’d have the shading of gigantic neon logo over center field changed within the week. That tweak on a classic, beautiful logo could become a genuine symbol for Twin Cities. I wish the Twins don’t over-analyze this one – just make the obvious decision, and do it now. 

Nice work, Dr. Crutchfield! Thank you! Now come on, Twins. Don’t workshop this. Don’t focus group this. Just look at the idea, see that it’s only positive. Show some love. – PAL

Source: Twins Team Doctor Dreams of a Logo That Looks More Like the Team and its Fans”, Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune (09/10/2020)


The Mahomes Contract Origin Story

I’ll admit it from the jump: contract stories are hit and miss. I usually don’t find them particularly interesting, but this breakdown of Patrick Mahomes’ 10 years, $503MM contract with the Kansas City Chiefs is a pretty fresh examination of a mega-deal. 

First of all, there is just about zero chance the Chiefs pay Mahomes the full $503MM. In order for that to happen and for every kicker to count, the team would have to win 11-straight Super Bowls (counting last year) and Mahomes would have to win 10 MVPs in a row. As SI’s Greg Bishop reminds us, with NFL contracts, “nothing is as it appears, beyond guaranteed cash.”

The idea Mahomes signed a huge contract isn’t all that thought-provoking on its own. To most of us, there’s no difference between $20MM and $500MM. The details, NFL quirks, and inspirations that led to deal being structured as it is – that’s a puzzle worth putting together. 

His agents, Lee Steinberg and Chris Cabott, knew it would be a record-breaking contract. The foundation of their strategy seemingly started with the question short-term or long-term.

They wanted to lay out for the superstar what they considered the two most important factors in any deal: whether he would reset the quarterback market in a short-term sense or a long-term one, and how either option would work in tandem with the Chiefs’ salary-cap dynamics, both for overall philosophy and available cash.

A short-term deal would be all guaranteed for a player like Mahomes, and it would allow him to be a free agent and get market value in four or five years at a point when the salary cap no doubt will be higher, thus allowing him to command a higher number without completely jacking up the Chiefs(or another team) from putting a good team around him (hard salary cap in the NFL.) However – and I’d never heard of this – all guaranteed money from a team must be sent to the NFL immediately when the contract is signed. So let’s say Mahomes signed for 4 years, $200MM guaranteed – the NFL holds the money until it’s paid to the player. This is not the case in the NBA and MLB. You can see why guaranteed money over a long term deal could become problematic for a team. 

A long-term deal would give the team breathing room to build around the cornerstone, but would of course not have the same proportional amount guaranteed. 

For Mahomes, Steinberg and Cabott looked to outside-the-box contracts (some of which they negotiated). Bobby Bonilla’s Mets contract is one: 25-year, 1.17MM per (he’ll receive his last payment from the Mets when he’s 72). Mike Trout’s 12/$426MM. They also looked at the pros and cons of LeBron’s single year approach in Cleveland. 

Most relevant, perhaps, was their assessment of the first set of $100MM QB contracts from the early 2000s (Brett Farve, Drew Bledsoe, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick). Each were long on years, very few paid in full, and they made a very important balance very precarious: QBs were becoming mandatory in order to win in a pass-happy league, but the salaries in relation to the hard cap was making it hard to put a good team out there with the QB studs. 

So here’s where it all ended up with Mahomes and the Chiefs:

The first five years—and roughly $140 million—of Mahomes’s deal are guaranteed against injury. But for each year that he remains on the Chiefs’ roster, significant, eight-figure chunks—at least $21.7 million (’21) and as much as $49.4 million (’27)—become guaranteed. There are buyout opportunities, but those very guarantees make releasing Mahomes in any one season prohibitively expensive, which to his reps means that Mahomes basically signed a guaranteed contract, without the Chiefs needing to lay out over $400 million up front. In the improbable event he is let go, he would then hit the open market.

Pretty much guaranteed money, but with the flexibility needed to keep a great team around Mahomes. 

Because those contracts are long and can be adjusted, if Kansas City is strapped for cash, it can rework the deal in any one season to funnel money earmarked for Mahomes to key teammates or prized free agents. If the Chiefs are flush with dollars in another campaign, they could dump more into Mahomes’s coffers with similar but opposite tweaks, an exercise in balancing two enormous scales. Where pro baseball teams can spend over luxury tax thresholds to hoard talent, NFL franchises are capped in total dollars ($198.2 million in 2020), making this exact kind of flexibility more important for any team to consistently contend.

But none of this even touches on the best part of the Mahomes contract story, which is how it broke. For that, you have to read Bishop’s full story. Trust me, it’s worth it. – PAL 

Source: What the Mahomes Contract Really Means”, Greg Bishop, SI.com (09/09/20)


The Machismo Shit in Sports is Fading Away, Slowly, But Finally

This week, I saw an unremarkable tweet about Nelson Cruz, the ageless wonder slugger, now crushing dingers for YOUR Minnesota Twins (presently leading the AL in World Series odds, per Fangraphs. Get your hankies ready!).

When I saw the tweet, I thought, “Well, this is an odd story. A nap? Who cares?” But if you google Nelson Cruz Nap, you’ll see this story has fascinated reporters for YEARS. But, fine, I thought. The Twins are in a friggin tight pennant race and we could be writing about things other than naps, but sure. 

And then I saw this tweet by Trevor Plouffe, former Twin, former Ron Popeil, current retired baseball player and excellent Twitter follow. 

And I realize why the first tweet was significant – sports culture has been so toxic that if you take a friggin NAP, you’re a goddamn pussy. SLEEP IS FOR PANSIES, BRO. I mean, this is wild to me.

And this all would have escaped my brain forever, until something far more significant happened Thursday. The day before, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott revealed that his brother’s offseason death was a result of suicide. Prescott said the following about his brother’s death, and how he dealt with that and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:

“I mean, obviously tears and tears and tears,” Dak Prescott said of his initial reaction. “I mean, I sat there and tried to gather what had happened, and wanted to ask why for so many reasons. It was like this sense of all these emotions coming off of my back.”

“All throughout this quarantine and this offseason, I started experiencing emotions I’ve never felt before,” Prescott said. “Anxiety for the main one. And then, honestly, a couple of days before my brother passed, I would say I started experiencing depression. And to the point of, I didn’t want to work out anymore. I didn’t know necessarily what I was going through, to say the least, and hadn’t been sleeping at all.”

Ugh. That is so sad. Any human being with a heart would read that and empathize with Dak. They’d read that and relate to troubling times in their own life. They’d commend him for being open about his struggles. And then there’s Human Garbage Skip Bayless. Here’s what Bayless said instead:

If I understand this right, Bayless thinks that because Dak is supposed to be a leader of his team, he cannot show vulnerabilities. Skip, you are a piece of shit. More than that, you’re dead ass wrong. 

But this isn’t about Skip. We’ve known he sucks for years. Re-read that title up there – this is about how things are changing, finally. Remember the story I told at the start about Nelson Cruz and naps? Trevor Plouffe says that just five years ago, a player trying to take a nap would get laughed at. Now teams have special nap rooms. If you google Skip Bayless today, you’ll see a torrent of stories denouncing him, including a statement by his employer. 20 years ago, I think most people would have publicly agreed with him. But not anymore. What Dak did was courageous – it shows that he is a leader, despite what idiots like Skip might think. Also, naps rule and I wish I could take them more often. -TOB 


Pitching Ninja: An Excellent Twitter Follow

Pitching Ninja is one of the best twitter follows, and if you like baseball, you should do so. My favorite Pitching Ninja thing is when he overlays two pitches by the same pitcher, usually in the same at bat, to show how different pitches move, how late they move, and ultimately how freaking difficult it is to be a hitter in baseball these days. Here’s a recent overlay that blew my friggin mind:

LOLLLLLLLLLLLL. Imagine trying to hit that. A few years ago, we wrote about a new pitching trend called Tunneling, where pitchers try to keep their various pitches in the same “tunnel” until the latest possible moment. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better tunnel, with a later break and more drastic end points, than that overlay of the Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen. It’s absolutely ridiculous. 

And just for fun, here are two more of my all-time favorite overlays:

 

Ok one more that really made me laugh.

LOL. Hitting is hard. -TOB


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Pink Floyd – “Breathe (In the Air)”


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Toby is the instruction card you throw away. 

-Michael Scott

Week of September 4, 2020


R.I.P. Tom Seaver

One of the more rewarding parts of putting together this weekly digest w/ TOB is finding your own experiences in the stories we post, and I definitely found that in T.J. Quinn’s eulogy of Tom Seaver, who died this week. The story is about our first sports hero. For me – as you all know by now – it was Kirby Puckett. For Quinn, it was Seaver.

The best pitcher in the game was on my team, had my name, wore the same cap I had. He would certainly understand why I took a black felt-tip pen and, with great deliberation, consecrated the back of my pinstriped Mets shirt with a ragged “41.”

I never forgave my parents for leaving New York City to move to Iowa (long story), but even in that foreign land, when I traced my finger over the raised orange stitches of the “NY” on my cap, the same as his cap, with “Tom Seaver” scrawled under the brim in black felt-tip pen, I knew he was out there. Until an 8-year-old learned about the oblivious cruelty of the adult world through a trade to the Reds. My parents had Walter O’Malley and I had M. Donald Grant.

Even while he was in Cincinnati, Tom Seaver was mine, and I knew that if he could leave, that meant he could come back. He did come back to the Mets in 1983, and then I learned the agony that comes with wanting something to be the way it was. Seaver was 9-14 that season. It wasn’t such a great year for my parents, either; they split up for good.

We can’t fathom it at the time, but we put so much on our first sports heroes. Innocence, home, belonging, faith, optimism – maybe that’s what a hero is to a kid – a personification of all those ideas we can’t yet articulate and don’t yet realize are limited. 

T.J. Quinn’s first sports hero became a real person to him. Someone he could call and get updates on Seaver’s vineyard grapes or hear a funny story about his wife. To me Kirby remained the first sports hero; rather, my bookmark to a photoshopped memory of the time in my life when I felt pure joy and belief. So when Puckett had his fall from the pedestal before he died young, it shook something deep down, even knowing that – yeah – these guys are not who we’ve built up in our fantasy world. A lot of sports heroes fall. 

In fact, Quinn was mortified this would happen with Seaver. He’d heard the stories from cynical old writers about other legends. 

One of the first things I learned as a young baseball writer was that you’d better be prepared to hear some awful things about the men you admired as a boy. That knowing laugh you’d get from the older writers when you asked if this or that Hall of Famer was a “good guy.” Eventually you stop asking.

So when I was covering the Mets in 1999 and it was announced that Tom Seaver was returning to the club as an announcer and instructor, I had the scars of almost three decades to gird me for one more disappointment, what I knew would be the most painful of all.

Tom Terrific arrived in Port St. Lucie late, and he toured the camp in a chauffeured golf cart as though he were riding in a chariot. He reveled and waved the way Roman gods do and he was clearly pleased that he was Tom Seaver. At the end of the day, we newspaper writers waited in the dugout for our audience. He was late for that, too. I turned to Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, who shared my age and Mets breeding, and I said, “I don’t care who he is, I’m going to rip him.” Vac nodded.

When Seaver did finally take his seat on the dugout bench, he apologized. He was engaging and charming, but I knew with the insight of a now-jaded 29-year-old sportswriter that this was just the act that legends trot out for those on the outside.

I wish I remembered what I said, but at one point I cracked a little joke and Tom Seaver broke up. Fully and loudly. I blushed. Vac leaned over and whispered, “That was awesome.” I whispered back, “I know.”

No other living person could have made me feel that way. Batman could not have made me feel that way. The 8-year-old who had cried over a baseball trade was still there and couldn’t wait to get to a phone to tell his parents, even if I had to make separate calls to do it.

Tom Seaver thought I was funny. Tom Seaver would come to know my name. 

Quinn’s story is about as heartfelt as you’ll find. I knew Seaver was a great pitcher for the Mets before reading this, but now I care. – PAL Source: Tom Seaver and Why Sometimes You Really Should Meet Your Heroes”, T.J. Quinn, ESPN (09/03/2020)


College Football in 2020: An Interesting Story Just Got…Interestinger

On Wednesday,  the New York Times introduced an upcoming series of stories like so:

In the coming weeks and months, The New York Times will be inside Cal athletics, virtually and on campus — in Zoom meetings, budget discussions and team workouts. The goal is to provide an inside-out view of the unprecedented challenges facing one university — but, really, all of them.

Whoa. Now, that would pique my interest no matter the college, but of course did so 10x because it’s at Cal. I highly recommend you read the first installment because as you might imagine an inside look at a college athletic department trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and the problems, both individual and systemic, that have arisen at a place like Cal Athletics is nothing short of dizzying. Reading this I did not envy the people tasked with figuring this out. And I was all set to write about the Pac-12’s decision to cancel/suspend the football season, and the implications for so many people from that decision. And then Thursday happened.

Thursday, the Pac-12 announced a deal that made national headlines. 

The Pac-12 announced a partnership with a testing company that allows schools to test their athletes daily for coronavirus. And those rapid tests could potentially lead to earlier start dates for football, basketball and other sports.

The conference said that it had partnered with Quidel for on-site rapid testing at each of its 12 member schools. The schools will be able to get test results back in 15 minutes.

WHOA! The Pac-12 (and Big-10) canceled/postponed the fall football season, while the other major conferences refused to do so, even as positive COVID-19 tests in their athletic programs continued to rise. But suddenly, the Pac-12 has the opportunity to play – safely. 

Now,  the Pac-12 is not promising a fall season. But reading the tea leaves, it seems these testing protocols could be in place by October 1, allowing teams to begin practicing by that date and playing games by late October. Pac-12 teams could fit 8 games through December, and potentially be part of any playoff. And on top of all that, the NYT series just got infinitely more interesting, going forward.

I had been annoyed that the Pac-12 canceled their season at a time that seemed premature. They could have kept postponing the start. Following the cancellation, Cal had at least a couple seniors transfer to conferences who plan to play this fall. So while I think that sucks, I am also happy that it seems like they are going to try to play the right way. And as problematic as college football is, god damnit that’s exciting. Go Bears! -TOB

Source: Solving a Pandemic Puzzle: Inside the Return of Sports to a Power 5 Program,” NY Times, John Branch (09/02/2020); “Pac-12 Announces Rapid COVID-19 Testing Partnership, Says It’s Exploring Timelines to Start Football Season,” Nick Bromberg, Yahoo! Sports (09/03/2020)

PAL: Just last night, Natalie and I took an evening walk in the Berkeley hills right behind Memorial Stadium. Perfect fall evening. Beautiful. To state the obvious, it’s downright odd to be essentially on campus of a large state school and have it feel that empty. I hope the testing partnership works out, and we can get these athletes back to competing in a safe environment as soon as possible. Any story about progress in terms of testing makes me a bit lighter. 

As we left and drove back, passing by the frat houses, we saw four dudes playing a drinking game in the front yard. It was a welcome sight, one immediately followed by concern. That’s a pretty common swing of emotions these days – a semblance of normal followed immediately by a dousing of concern. 


Alternative Sites in an Alternative Year

You might know that, given the pandemic, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was canceled. But teams didn’t want to let their best prospects be idle for a year, so they each organized one “Alternate Site,” at one of their minor league complexes. Each Alternate Site only gets between 24-30 players per day, which makes it difficult to train. But exactly how these Alternate Sites have existed has been a bit of a mystery, until this great article by Keith Law. 

Law interviews a number of MLB team executives to discuss how the Alternate Sites are operating. The answers are intriguing, revealing what teams value and don’t value. Many teams dotted their Alternate Site slots with top prospects who are not anywhere near helping the big league team. But there’s a reason for that, as the Giants illustrate:

The Giants also have a number of very young hitting prospects at their alternate site, including Marco Luciano, Alex Canario and Luis Toribio…“It’s a huge growth opportunity for them as they see the difference between rookie ball and major-league players. We have a more aggressive weightlifting program for them as well. They don’t need to be ready for the ML tomorrow, so we don’t have to worry about overwork, and we can do more one-on-one instruction and early work for guys who are less in the ‘stay ready’ category.”

Really smart. There are a lot of other interesting anecdotes – I highly recommend the article! -TOB

Source: Law: A Look Inside Life at Baseball’s ‘Alternate Sites’,” Keith Law, The Athletic (08/19/2020)


Video(s) of the Week

And the obligatory:


Tweet of the Week

The Giants scored 23 runs on Tuesday. Here’s the radio call of all of ‘em. At the same time.


Song of the Week

Chris Stapleton – “Starting Over”


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“Who is Kafkaesque? I never – I don’t know him.”

-Michael Scott