Week of October 16, 2020

Kershahahahahaw. Mr. May does it again!


How Cal Football is Coping With Covid A few weeks ago we wrote about the first installment from the New York Times reports from one football program’s efforts to deal with COVID-19. The second installment hit this week. The football program happens to be Cal, but you do not need to be a Cal fan to enjoy this story.  This week’s story comes as Cal begins camp, fresh off the announcement that the Pac-12 season will begin on November 7. It covers how players, coaches, and staff deal with daily testing; how they manage to get ready for practice without access to the locker room; how they manage position meetings when they can’t be indoors in their normal facilities. I could honestly quote you 75% of this story because it is so well-written. It is concise and compelling, and I cannot recommend it enough.  But if I had to choose one quote to get you to click the link below, it’s this one from Cal’s director of football operations, Andrew McGraw, himself a COVID-19 survivor:

“They’re seeing examples, week in and week out, as you look around the country, of just how fragile this all is,” McGraw said. “It’s unbelievably delicate, this entire situation. It’s as if the whole building is being held together with one screw. This thing could fall apart if just one part gives.”

 

-TOB

Source: At Cal, a Covid Survivor Keeps Watch Over Football’s Return,” John Breech, New York Times (10/14/2020)


Hell of a Debut

We all know this year’s MLB playoffs is unlike any other. Satellite stadium sites, no fans, expanded field, and expanded rosters. If you try not to think about it, you can almost forget the stadiums are (mostly) empty. The games have been fun, but it’s like a good piece of turkey with none of the sides on Thanksgiving.  One cool result of pandemic baseball is MLB debuts taking place in the playoffs. Prior to this year, only two players have made their MLB debut in the postseason; this year, three dudes have made it to the show on the biggest stage: Twins outfielder Alex Kirilloff, Tampa pitcher Shane McClanahan, and San Diego’s Ryan Weathers.  Weathers is big ol’ lefty, just 20 years old, and has never pitched higher than A ball. Unlike previous years, where a player would get the call while playing in some small minor league town and catch a flight to wherever the big league team was heading, this year – with no minor league seasons – all of the prospects are training at a single team site.  His version of “getting the call” is, well, so 2020. Per Joe Lemire: 

…Weathers was standing next to the club’s general manager, A.J. Preller, in the team’s hotel while waiting to grab a swab for the team’s daily Covid-19 tests when Preller posed a question: Which test was for the minor leaguers and which was for the big leaguers? Weathers said he didn’t know there was a difference, to which Preller replied, “Grab one from the big-league side today because you’re on the roster” for the playoffs. Hours later, Weathers appeared in relief during Game 1 of the Padres’ National League division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers…

Weathers held his own against the high-powered Dodgers, and it might have something to do with how teams have prospects from all levels training together at one site, where young guys can go compete against AAA level talent and stay in top form after a usual minor league season would have ended. It also helps there are no off days in the playoffs this year, which can be a big factor for pitchers like Weathers. 

Craziest of all, Weathers and the others will not get service time credit for playoff rosters spots this year. As far as that goes, they haven’t yet made it.  So three guys this year alone, but what about the other two that made their debut in the playoffs? For Adalberto Modesi (Kansas City), and Mark Kiger (A’s), it’s two sides of the coin. 

Although Mondesi has become the Royals’ everyday shortstop, Oakland’s Kiger never played in the big leagues again. Kiger — whose first bit of fame came in the 2003 book “Moneyball,” in which he appeared on a list of eight players that the A’s executive Billy Beane was determined to draft — entered as a defensive replacement in two 2006 A.L.C.S. games. He recorded a putout while playing second base, but never batted. He completed three more minor league seasons, but never returned to the majors.

Damn.  As for this year’s crop, for as cool as it would be to make it to the bigs, and even cooler to debut in a playoffs, it has to be a letdown for that dream-come-true moment to be in an empty stadium. – PAL 

Source: Welcome to the Majors. Your Season Is on the Line.”, Joe Lemire, The New York Times (10/14/2020)

TOB: I’ve thought about that last line a lot this whole season. As badly as you want to make the majors, it must have been a little bittersweet for all the players who made their big league debut this year, but did so to an empty stadium. Not even their parents could watch. That just ain’t right.


The Lakers Won, BUH, But At What Cost?

I love a good lede:

ORLANDO, Fla. —  Lakers guard Danny Green bounced down the hallway that led to the team’s locker room, the start of a long night of partying after the team won the 2020 NBA championship Sunday. “Free. We’re free,” he said, his voice echoing off the walls. “Freedom. I’m f— free.” The NBA leaves the bubble behind, the experience a major success. The league has finished its season, helping satisfy its obligations to television partners. It has finished its season, crowning a champion without losing a single game to a COVID-19 outbreak. And it’s provided players the opportunity to try to better the world by speaking out about injustice. So if the pandemic continues to cause problems, if safety cannot be guaranteed anywhere else, the league could end up back here sometime in the future, right? “No way,” one NBA veteran said. While the NBA hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to a bubble environment for the 2020-21 season, it’s an obvious last resort because of the effects it had on players.

Ok ok, but an unnamed vet and Danny Freaking Green whining is one thing. What about the stars? What about the guy whose legacy was most burnished by the results of these bubble playoffs?

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” Lakers star LeBron James said before the NBA Finals. “But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough.”

Dang! And remember – this is a guy who won a title in CLEVELAND, saying this is the most challenging thing he’s ever done. This makes sense of course. I would not choose to be away from my family for two or three months at a time with nothing to do but my job, even if my job was basketball -and this is coming from someone who misses playing basketball so much he goes down to the nearby courts once every two weeks or so just to shoot at rimless backboards! Me, sorta: What I find most interesting about this is how little it was discussed in the moment. At one point, as he struggled, Paul George discussed his mental health struggles in the bubble. But otherwise the story was not covered much. Many of us struggled in the first few months of the pandemic. Trying to balance working from home, some with kids to take care of. But at least most of us had our families. What these people went through is honestly unfathomable to me. Hats off to ‘em. -TOB

Source: Even the Champion Lakers Felt Strains of Life in the NBA Bubble,” Dan Woike, L.A. Times (10/14/2020)


Sabermetrics, Circa 1910

Found this relic on Medium. Pretty interesting read from a story posted in 1910 (!) about the “science of baseball”. Pretty incredible, because – aside from some funny terminology –  this doesn’t sound all that dated. Hugh Fullerton (everybody remembers ol’ Hugh) does a deep dive on the math behind how 9 men can cover so much ground on a baseball diamond, and team adjustments made to tip the odds in your favor. 

“Inside baseball” is merely the art of getting the hits that “he couldn’t have got anyhow.” Now watch this play closely. See whether or not you can discover what is going on. “Pat” Moran stoops behind the batter and hides his right hand back of his mitt. Ed Reulbach, pitcher, shakes his head affirmatively. Johnny Evers stoops, pats his hand in the dust, touches it to his knee and rests it upon his hip. Jimmy Sheckard trots twenty feet across left field angling in toward the diamond. Steinfeldt creeps slowly to his left: Tinker moves toward second base and Evers takes four or five steps back and edges toward Chance, who has backed up five feet. Reulbach pitches a fast ball high and on the out corner of the plate. Mike Mitchell hits it. The crowd yells in sudden apprehension. The ball seems a sure hit — going fast toward right field. Evers runs easily over, stops the ball, tosses it to Chance and Mitchell is out.
You saw all that. The ball was hit in “the groove” directly at the 7–1/2-foot gap the geometrician will say is vacant, yet Evers fielded it. Now this is what happened: When Moran knelt down he put the index finger of his right hand straight down, then held it horizontally on the top of his mitt. Evers saw that Moran had signaled Reulbach to pitch a fast ball high and outside the plate. He rubbed his hand in the dirt, signaling Tinker, who patted his right hand upon his glove, replying he understood. Then Evers rested his hand upon his hip, signaling Sheckard, the outfield captain, what ball was to be pitched. Sheckard crept toward the spot where Mitchell would hit that kind of a ball 95 out of 100 times. While Reulbach was “winding up,” swinging his arm to throw the ball, Evers called sharply to Chance (whose good ear is toward him), and Tinker called to Steinfeldt. While Reulbach’s arm was swinging every man in the team was moving automatically toward right field, in full motion before Mitchell hit the ball. The gaps at first base, between first base and second, over second base and between third and short, were closed hermetically, while the gap between Steinfeldt and the third base line was opened up 22 feet. The ball, if hit on the ground, had no place to go except into some infielder’s hands, unless Reulbach blundered and Mitchell “pulled” the ball down the third base gap. Every man on the team knew if Reulbach pitched high, fast and outside, Mitchell would hit toward right field. The only chance Mitchell had to hit safe was to drive the ball over the head of the outfielders, or hit it on a line over 7 feet and less than 15 feet above the ground. If Reulbach had been ordered to pitch low and over the plate, or low and inside, or a slow ball, the team would have shifted exactly in the opposite way.

And how about these charts:

 

The article also goes in depth on defensive alignments and how plays like hit & runs widens the slots for low balls to get through the infield. Stuff we knew and was commonplace growing up, but – again – this is from 1910. It’s long, but to read this knowing its from 120 years ago is a pretty cool experience. People have been looking at this game mathematically for a long, long time. – PAL 

Source: “The Inside Game”, Hugh Fullerton, ℅ John Thorn, Our Game MLB Blog (10/13/2020)


In An Otherwise Unremarkable Story, a Lesson on Success

I love baseball, yes. But during a season I almost exclusively only watch Giants games. I am not up till 1am watching the Mariners and Rangers play. I am not sneaking peeks at my phone during a July Rays/Yankees game. Sure, I watch as many playoff games as I can, but that’s different, ya know?

But I did click on this story about former Rays and current Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman’s fingerprints on the 2020 ALCS and NLCS: his current team, the Dodgers, are in the NLCS (down 3-1, ahem), his former team the Rays are in the ALCS (up 3-2), and his former assistants’ Braves and Astros are in the NLCS (up 3-1, AHEM), and the ALCS (down 3-2). NOT BAD. The story was mostly unremarkable, aside from these very cool quotes from former Blue Jays exec and current Braves exec Alex Anthopoplous, who in between those two jobs worked at the Dodgers under Friedman, and (current Giants exec) Farhan Zaidi: 

“I felt like going to L.A. was like going to grad school,” Anthopoulos said, citing the chance to learn from Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, now president of baseball operations for the San Francisco Giants. “When you’re exposed to the best in the industry, you’re going to get better, right?” Anthopoulos said. “It’s like Warren Buffett and a lot of other people say: Surround yourself with people that are better than you are. Andrew and Farhan made me better.” “I think, because both Andrew and Farhan came from small market clubs, they were relentless in trying to make players better,” Anthopoulos said. “My attitude may have been, ‘OK, a guy is scuffling, you may need to find him a new home, make a trade.’ They came from organizations where they just couldn’t do that. You had to make do with what you had. By necessity, it made them better. They brought those characteristics there. “That’s why you’ve seen them have so much success in player development. They will exhaust all avenues, and they will not quit on players. They will work with you and try to find a way to make you better. It’s great for players to know that and see that. That’s why you’ve seen a lot of players discarded by other organizations — and you’re seeing it with the Giants now too. They go there, and they get better. It starts at the top.”

And if you think I did all this simply to give my guy Farhan some props, well, ya got me.

Jul 12, 2018; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi talks on the phone before a game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

#FarhanGuy -TOB

Source: Andrew Friedman’s Handprints Are Evidence on All Four Tems in MLB Playoffs,” Bill Shaikin, L.A. Times (10/10/2020)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week Jason Isbell – “Speed Trap Town”


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“I know that patience and loyalty are good, and virtuous traits. But sometimes I just think you need to grow a pair.”

-Angela Martin