Week of December 4, 2020

My father-in-law actually asked if I wanted to watch this fight with him.

Stories of a Baseball Lifer: Jim Leyland I’m not sure why this Leyland story was posted now. A quick search found no news that would cause this collection of baseball stories from and about Leyland. After reading it, I don’t care why it was posted this week. It’s a great collection of stories from an absolute baseball lifer.  I’m only going to share a few of them, because you really owe it to yourself to read the full piece. This story was tag teamed by a couple writers – Cody Stavenhagen and Rob Biertempfel – so I’m not sure who is responsible for the following, but he wrote the hell out of it:  

Jim Leyland exemplifies our best intentions — and yes, some of our unhealthier impulses. The emotional weight of his caring, trusting, loving nature is held up with cartons of cigarettes and gallons of caffeine.  The anger and the sadness, the joy and the laughter, the songs and the dances, the tirades and expletive-laden soliloquies and encouraging pep talks, are all part of Leyland’s inner machinery. You don’t get one without all the rest.

The inner machinery – I’ve been turning over that phrase for a couple days now. What a great way to describe the complexity of a personality. A great Leyland story to underscore this comes in the aftermath of the viral video of him cursing out a young Barry Bonds: 

For most of us, that’s where the episode ends, but in this article, the writers unearth an equally incredible bit in the wake of Leyland cussing out one the best ever in front of everyone at spring training. 

During camp, Leyland and Donnelly shared a house on Anna Maria Island near Bradenton, Fla. That night, they were in their usual positions — Leyland stretched out on the couch, Donnelly sprawled on the floor — watching ESPN and seeing clips of Leyland’s showdown with Bonds. “They must have shown it 500 times,” Donnelly said. “And Jim said to me, ‘You want (Bonds)?’ I said, ‘No. Get rid of him. He disrespected (instructor) Bill Virdon. It’s terrible, what he did. Barry’s a no-good pain in the ass. Get rid of him.’” ESPN ran the clip again. I’m the fucking manager of this fucking team. … If you don’t want to be here, get your fucking ass out of the way. Leyland watched dispassionately without stirring from the couch. “You want him?” Leyland grumbled again during a commercial break. “You know I said to get rid of him,” Donnelly replied. “He’s no good. He’s bad for the team.” Donnelly got up to grab a drink from the refrigerator. He looked over his shoulder and asked, “Do you want him?” Leyland grinned. “You’re damn right I want him.” Bonds went on to be the runner-up for the National League MVP that summer, then won it outright in ’92, as the Pirates won three straight NL East titles. Nearly 30 years later, Donnelly marveled at the memory of Leyland’s pivotal decision. “It was beautiful,” Donnelly said. “Most guys would’ve agreed with me and gotten rid of Bonds, but Jim knew he had to have him. It’s tough to handle stars, but Jim could do it.”

How good is the part of the story we’ve never heard before? He did the same with Pudge Rodriguez in Detroit, and in doing so earned the respect of everyone in the organization, including the stars themselves. They knew Leyland wouldn’t put up with any shit, but they knew that he valued them and cared about them. It wasn’t just a power trip.

The truly great players, the ones who made their magic happen instinctively, knew Leyland would never meddle with their mechanics. “All I want to say to Bonds is ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good night,’” Leyland once told Donnelly. “What the hell else am I going to tell him? I can’t tell him anything about hitting. The only thing I know about hitting is that I couldn’t.”

While Leyland had interests outside of baseball (we’ll get to his singing in a moment), he lived in baseball for decades. He was all-in from the jump, and his life went wherever the game took him, be it falling out of a minor league bus after telling the driver to ‘go to the beach’, or be it meeting his wife when she worked for the Pirates. His last manager gig was in Detroit. By the time he arrived, he’d already managed 14 big league seasons, and yet he lived in the clubhouse until the owner caught on. 

One night in Detroit, [Todd]Jones had planned to camp out in the clubhouse with his 9-year-old son, Alex. Then, Jones pitched and blew a save in that night’s game. Feeling dejected, he tried to find solace spending time with his son. They played Wiffle ball on the field after the game. They finally came inside, ready to sleep before the following day’s matinee game. In the early days of his Tigers tenure — until owner Mike Ilitch found out and set Leyland up with a hotel suite — Leyland lived in the clubhouse. It was about 1:30 a.m. when Leyland peeked out of his office. “He’s sitting in his tighty-whities and he goes, ‘Hey, get over here, let’s start talking,’” Jones said. Jones and his son went into Leyland’s office. The old manager, still clad in his underwear, lit up a Marlboro and started telling stories about Don Zimmer. They all laughed and talked late into the night, and before they finally went to sleep, Leyland reminded Jones that these were the moments the game was really about.

I read this, I only hope Leyland was passing that on from knowing those moments with his son and not missing those moments because of baseball.  One more:

When he managed the Rockies, he often would cross the street from Coors Field and sing at a piano bar after games, a way to unwind and deal with the stress of a brutal 1999 season. In 2006, after Leyland returned from a seven-year hiatus from managing, the Tigers won the AL pennant after Magglio Ordóñez launched a majestic home run into the night. In the midst of celebration later that evening, Leyland burst into song. “He sang, ‘Drinkin’ champagne, feelin’ no pain’ till early morning,’” Jones said. “All I ever heard was that one. But it was like that TV show, ‘The Voice,’ where the ugly-lookin’ lady from England blew everybody away because she had this incredible voice, and it didn’t really match her. That was the way it was when we looked at Leyland.”

This is the only video clip I could find of Leyland singing. Not bad, but I’m not sure about the Susan Boyle comparison. Miggy. He sure looks like he’s having fun, and the suit looks good, too.

This really is a must-read. I left a lot of great stories out from this summary. – PAL 

Source: Barry Bonds, Heaters and Crying on Cue: The Lost F–ing Stories of Jim Leyland”, Cody Stavenhagen and Rob Biertempfel, The Athletic (11/27/2020)

TOB: Those stories are all fine and good, but this prank he pulled on Bob Walk is an all-timer:

“One time, he called me into his office and told me I’d been traded,” said Bob Walk, who pitched for the Pirates from 1984-93. “Before you know it, we’re hugging each other and the tears are coming down our cheeks.”

They cried for several minutes. Walk was upset. It was trade deadline day and Walk, who spent 14 seasons in the majors, was nearing the end of his career.

“Finally, we composed ourselves,” Walk said. “I’m wiping my eyes with my sleeve and I say, ‘Well, I’ve got to move on, I guess. Where am I going?’ And with that Jim laughs and goes, ‘Do you really think somebody wants your ass? Get the hell out of here.’”

Haaaahhaha. Also, read this article – the Varsho and Moises Alou stories are worth it.

Kyle Shanahan: Not as Cool as I Thought?

Over the last week, COVID-19 has spiked so dramatically in the Bay Area that drastic measures are being taken in hopes of avoiding a NYC in March like surge.

Santa Clara County was among the first to act, forcing the San(ta Clara) Francisco 49ers to move their next two home games out of state. An inconvenience, to be sure. Privately, even, I would allow the team some measure of complaint.

But 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who has always struck me as a Cool Coach in the best ways, minus perhaps the hats he wears (flat brimmed, tiny logos, bro!) made those complaints very public this week. It was NOT a good look.

Let’s aside the big picture here for a moment and focus on his specific, narrow, whiny point. The 49ers have been snake bitten this year – both by injuries and a bad QB named James Garoppolo. Coming off a Super Bowl that they absolutely blew, their high expectations have not materialized. They are 5-6, dead-ass last in their (admittedly very tough) division. They are not out of the playoff hunt, but they are 1.5 games out, with 5 to play, and there are three teams ahead of them who are also out of the playoffs, so they have a tough road to hoe. I’m not saying they can’t make the playoffs, but they are not making the playoffs. So what’s he complaining about?

Moreover, his complaints are odd in a year when home field advantage is worth less than it’s ever been worth – there are no or very few fans at most games. The atmosphere is that of a summer scrimmage. So what do the 49ers even lose by playing a couple would-be home games in Arizona? Again, what is he complaining about?

To make it all worse, let’s get back to that big picture. People are getting sick. People are dying. We are closing in on 300,000 deaths, which is about 0.1% of the country’s entire population. Which is just crazy. And he’s worried about a couple football games? Man, get the hell out of here. Take a step back, have some perspective, you spoiled, son-of-a-rich-coach-dad brat. And bend your friggin bill.

Ray Ratto wrote about Shanahan this week. Ratto, the longtime Bay Area sportswriter, popped up at Deadspin last year shortly before its untimely demise, and has no resurfaced at Defector, an employee-owned Phoenix rising from Deadspin’s ashes. I don’t always agree with Ratto’s takes. I also sometimes think he tries too hard to turn a phrase – but you gotta crack some eggs to make an omelette, and Ratto also makes some Michelin-starred omelettes. Unfortunately I cannot link you to the full story because it is subscriber-email only, but I will give you this excerpt:

It sucks trainloads, yes. But this is one of those rare times when it sucks for everyone a bit more evenly. And Shanahan’s discomfort is actually good, even if he isn’t enjoying it much. It is never a bad thing to learn how the customers live, even if it’s face-first, and Shanahan’s reaction is what it should be.

As long, we hasten to add, as he understands that he is not alone, or separate, or special. If the nation en masse had viewed COVID as a shared burden rather than something that ought to happen to people we don’t agree with, maybe we wouldn’t be dealing with this to the frightful extent we are now. And maybe we would. But I know lots of people who have it way worse than the San Francisco 49ers, so a couple of weeks without the comforting sights of Great America Amusement Park by Levis Stadium is going to hurt them a lot less than getting furloughed did you.

I hope Shanahan reflects on how his reaction showed just a lack of perspective. I will say this: despite his whining, he was a lot more measured than I think most football coaches would have been. So that’s a silver lining, I guess. -TOB

Source: “COVID Might Force The 49ers To Realize That They’re Not Special,” Ray Ratto, Defector (11/30/2020) 

PAL: This is pure Ratto. The verbose cynic dialing it up. I mean, where the hell does“tough darts, Sacko” come from? What the hell does that mean? But underneath the bluster and random references is a real truth: we’re in this together, and even a NFL franchise is feeling that truth right now. It does suck – of course – but it sucks for everyone.

Should Parkour be added to 2024 Olympics? I started to post this as a joke. A one-word response to the question posed in the headline (“nope.”), but then I felt I should probably read the story if I post about it, even if it’s just a joke, and the story I found was actually a bit interesting, and – yes – funny. Before we get any further, let’s just get the obligatory Office parkour clip out of the way:

Ok, back to the story. Parkour was created with a spiritual pursuit in mind. When it was created in the 80s (I was surprised, too), it had, as Victor Mather describes it, a “freewheeling ethos”. As the sport gained popularity, others sought to capitalize. Namely, gymnastics.

Early parkour practitioners emphasized philosophies like freedom and expressiveness almost as much as the physicality of the sport, which derives from military training and combines elements of gymnastics, martial arts and climbing. Competitiveness and rivalry were shunned as being against the nature of parkour.

Despite that, a parkour organization, the World Freerunning Parkour Federation, was founded in 2007 to expand the sport, but also to add competitive events, and in 2017 another organization, Parkour Earth, was established.

The international gymnastics federation, F.I.G., seeing a way to tap into a younger audience, began holding parkour events as well in 2017, saying the sport was a natural extension of their own.

That put the different operations at loggerheads as they organized competing events.

So you have the purists saying they don’t want the sport to buy in to the Olympics, and you have a different sport trying to claim parkour as a version of their thing and pushing for inclusion. Now that’s more interesting a story than my intended punchline post. I mean, this is still stupid and funny, because we’re talking about parkour, but it’s more interesting. – PAL

Source: “Add Parkour to the Olympics? Purists Say ‘Nah’“, Victor Mather, The New York Times (12/02/2020)

Video of the Week

(shot about a pitching wedge from our new apartment in Oakland):

Tweets of the Week:

(For a very small audience, but the most San Jose tweet of all time)

Song of the Week: I’m on the lookout for fresh holiday music for the next few weeks. I’m not saying new holiday music, but performances and versions of songs that we don’t hear 10 times on Black Friday. Consider it your weekly music advent calendar opening for December. Here’s my first pick: Tony Bennett – “My Favourite Things”

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Christmas isn’t about Santa or Jesus. It’s about the workplace.

-Michael Scott