Week of January 29, 2021

Oh My God, Please Stop the Baseball HOF Argument

The 2021 Hall of Fame voting was announced this week, with no players receiving the necessary 75%. Curt Schilling came closest, with 70% – but a number of voters have publicly or privately said they will not vote for him, due to the hateful and divisive things he says on Twitter. Barry Bonds and Roger Clements pulled in just over 60%, with a large section of the electorate still refusing to vote for anyone connected to steroids. Each of those three men have one year of election eligibility left, before they are inevitably inducted by the Veteran’s Committee in 2027.

Anticipating that news, Ray Ratto hit us with a vintage Ratto column: 

“[…T]he notion that the once-hallowed act of putting a check mark in a box next to the name of a baseball player, putting the paper upon which those names reside in a prepaid envelope and shipping it to a suburb of Valhalla, is now viewed by some as an immeasurably onerous burden. … The problem here is the same as it’s always been. It isn’t an honor because voters haven’t been named priests of baseball and should stop acting like it, and it isn’t a hassle because the envelope with the ballot inside weighs an ounce, and mailboxes are always open. Work midnight-to-eight shoving crates of canned hams at a warehouse store with a balky forklift, then come talk about hassles.

He’s exactly right. Anyone calling this a burden is out of touch with reality. The issue is the stupid “character clause” included in HOF ballots. No other sport has this, and no other sport has these obnoxious debates. As Ratto so aptly puts it:

“Apparently baseball thinks it builds character by virtue of its very existence, and cures people who lack it. It doesn’t. It makes money convincing people that a stick and a ball are more fun to watch than Meet The Press. It has embraced some chemical cheats and not others, some brigands and not others, and some malignant provocateurs. Baseball, quite frankly, couldn’t give a toss about who it hires, enriches, or glorifies, and never ever has. If it lucks into an exemplar of nobility like Henry Aaron, it is perfectly happy to take credit for him years after the fact, and that’s about the end of it. Baseball didn’t give Henry Aaron character. Aaron gave character to baseball.” 

This is spot on. Baseball is entertainment, not a bastion of good morality. It’s not just that there are already terrible people in the Hall of Fame, though there are. It’s not just that these guys should be in the Hall of Fame, though they should. What’s aggravating is the ratcheting up of the emotions and rhetoric – with baseball writers acting like the vanguard of a non-existent past, fans getting so angry they are lashing out against those same writers, and former players throwing public temper tantrums, all culminating in this absolute lunacy put out by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci:

The opening footsteps, followed by that dramatic music. And then that first line: “The weight of history in your hands is heavy, even when it is but one piece of paper.” LOLLLOLOLOLOLOLOL. TOM. C’MON. Absolute lunacy! It’s a freaking museum of good baseball players. But this is what it has come to. This video is the apex…or the nadir. Whichever it is, it must stop here. Because next year there are two newly-eligible players that just might light Baseball Twitter on fire: Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. I am crying just thinking about it. Just elect the best baseball players, period. -TOB

Source: The Hall Of Fame’s Problem Is Baseball,” Ray Ratto (01/25/2021)

PAL: I’ve said it last year when we no doubt posted about the same debate, and I’ll say it again. We can tell the history of the game—including Bonds, Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Pete Rose, and others who cheated the game—but a bust for them isn’t required. To me, that’s a fair punishment for breaking the rules of the game: they are included in the museum, but they don’t need to be inducted.

I can’t stand Curt Schilling, but his hateful form of politics have nothing to do with the game he played. His shortcomings have nothing to do with his time on the field; the same cannot be said for Bonds, Clemens, ARod, and Pete Rose. 

The other side of the argument is clearly much cleaner—put the best players in—but I never understood why people are so passionate about taking up a cause for Barry Bonds of Roger Clemens. Ratto helped me out in that regard: it’s not so much about the players but about the process of writers, especially a writer that would be a part of that ridiculous video, playing the judge one last time over a baseball player. There’s a power play at hand here. 

I think Schilling should be elected, and I despise him. I think Bonds and Clemens should be out because they took PEDs after it was banned, and I think if Alex Rodriguez gets in (busted not once, but twice for PEDs), then he’s PR agency should win a big award. I think what Pete Rose did was worse than all of these morons, baseball-wise. All of their names and images and statistics should be recorded for all of history, and so should their baseball crimes.

TOB: We disagree on this so strongly it’s hilarious. In fact, I read an article this week by Michael Baumann who made a very strong case that what Clemens and Bonds *allegedly* did shouldn’t disqualify them, because it’s just baseball – a game, entertainment – but that Schilling’s hateful and abhorrent rhetoric since he retired should disqualify him because what kind of world is it where some guys who may have taken some substances to make them play better are punished, but a guy who cheers on the insurrection at the Capitol gets rewarded? Here’s Baumann:

In the broadest sense of “integrity, sportsmanship, character,” steroid use isn’t especially condemnatory. Particularly when it happened in an era when PED use was not only an open secret, but tacitly condoned by league officials and the media. It’s a penny-ante sin—punishable, but hardly unforgivable. Schilling, though, who earned a voice because of his excellence on the baseball diamond, has espoused a doctrine of hate at a time when American democracy is wobbling like a chair with three legs. If baseball players are to be denied Hall of Fame membership for reasons of character, surely Schilling’s rhetoric qualifies.

I hope—perhaps naively—that recent events cause us to think purposefully about what we valorize, encourage, and tolerate. About who gets elevated, and how, and what message that sends. About the distinction between a great ballplayer and a great person. 

And so while I think it’s easier to just let the best players in, I also agree with Baumann here. If you’re going to pick how to apply the character clause, then whether the character issues affected the field of play should have no bearing. As Baumann asks: who do we want to valorize? Is it the guy who took steroids and now uses his money and platform who help people (When the balloting was released this year “Bonds was on hand to present a $15,000 check from the Barry Bonds Family Foundation to Second Harvest of Silicon Valley Food Distribution. The money should help feed around 800 families.”)? Or is it the guy helping to whips crowds into a dangerous frenzy that threatened to destroy our society? 

PAL: Fair point. I just feel like it’s about the game. When considering a someone for the Hall of Fame, I think it makes sense to consider their contribution to the game, and how they played it/coached it, etc. 

Should we just copy & paste this exchange next year? 

Tap The Breaks, Mike

I was a journalism major for a short time in college. Like every other sports junkie who liked to read, I figured I’d be a sportswriter. I worked for the school newspaper, and the first time I doubted if I wanted to be a sportswriter was when I found myself waiting outside the basketball locker room to interview the head coach after a drubbing. The idea of walking into the locker room – the same locker room we used on the baseball team (this wasn’t the ACC, folks) – to ask a coach why his team sucked so bad that night just didn’t appeal to me. Just like it didn’t appeal to me the last time I was faced with asking the same coach of the same bad team why his team lost Colorado School of Mines (The Orediggers, naturally) or Morningside. 

I did not want to ask a coach about the game, which was an issue if I wanted to be a sportswriter. I switched my major to English by sophomore year. 

With that anecdote in mind, I share this story from our old favorite, Barry Petchesky. He tells us about a student reporter asking the walking legend, Mike Krzyzewski a question in a post-game conference. 

First off, it needs to be said that this kid is covering Duke basketball, a very different beast than my moonlighting as the Augustana Vikings basketball reporter. To his credit, the kid asks Coach K a straightforward and fair question after a loss dropped the iconic Duke program to .500 this year. Coach K is a complete dick in his response, and I love how Pertchesky takes this opportunity to tell the kid that he didn’t do anything wrong, that coaches are really good at avoiding questions and talking down to people. 

Jake, maybe you’re reading this (if you want a free Defector subscription, hit me up). Your question was fine! It might have been just vague enough to allow Krzyzewski to dodge with that last non-answer, about moving onto the next game, but coaches are wily like that; they can almost always find that escape route. But the question was, by the standards of whether it drew an interesting response, indisputably a very good one. Krzyzewski is just a dick, or was having a bad day, or both. A valuable thing you learn quickly, if you’re any sort of decent journalist, is that these coaches aren’t legends; they’re just men.

Here’s the video of the post-game question and answer: 

We’ve missed you, Barry! – PAL 

Source: Coach K Decides Maybe He Shouldn’t Have Belittled Student Reporter”, Barry Petchesky, Defector (01/25/21)

How Much Does it Cost to Raise a D-1 QB?

This is not exactly a “new” story idea – how far will some parents go to raise their child to be a star quarterback – but there are some specifics in here that are eye-popping. For example, this accounting from Alabama quarterback Bryce Young’s dad on what they spent to get their son to this spot:

Craig Young is doing some tablecloth math.

“We’ll just average the QB coach to $100 a week, which is on the low end,” he says. “That’s $400. We’ll add another $100 for speed and weight training. Let’s say that’s $800 to $1,000 a month on training. So we could say about $1,000 a month on training. So if we add that up to a year, that’s going to be about $12,000.”

That total doesn’t include the $300-500 fee for the seven-on-seven teams Bryce played on or the registration fees for participation in youth football, most notably the Inland Empire Ducks, which Bryce led to a national championship as an eighth-grader. It doesn’t include travel costs to camps, tournaments, games and, later, unofficial campus visits.

Craig Young estimates that his family spent upwards of $15,000 a year on football training and participation for Bryce, with most of that spending coming during his high school years, and some in middle school.

What inspired Craig to drop roughly $75,000 for this? 

Bryce had only been playing football for two years, but as his father, Craig, watched him perform week after week in the YMCA Leagues of Pasadena, Calif., he came to believe his son was special.

The way Bryce intuitively sidestepped defenders and delivered throws, the way the ball came off his hand, Craig just knew it: His boy was a prodigy.

It was decided. Bryce “was going to be a quarterback,” Craig said. And that felt less like a position they picked for him and more like one that had chosen Bryce. It was destiny.

At the time, Bryce was 5 years old.

That is such a funny anecdote, and such funny writing. Nice set-up and delivery. I will say, as a father to an athletically-precocious 6-year old, I understand Craig’s feeling. But man, someone kick me in the ass if I start spending that kind of cash on training for him over the next twelve years. Or if I spend FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS to send him to an athletic powerhouse private high school, like UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s mother did. Instead, parents should take our cues from Eric Nelson, father of 4* high school sophomore QB Malachi Nelson:

When Malachi Nelson, a highly-touted quarterback prospect in the 2023 recruiting class was younger, his father, Eric, would receive calls from QB trainers who charged $100 a session, but he couldn’t afford to hire them. Instead of playing for the Inland Empire Ducks, as Young and Georgia QB J.T. Daniels did, Malachi played for his neighborhood Pop Warner team, the Garden Grove Bulldogs, a cheaper option.

Until Malachi was 12 or so, Eric trained his son himself.

“I did everything I could not to mess him up,” says Eric, a pastor.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about this article is that the QB training guru industry has become so flooded that prices have been driven down:

In the past, a quarterback like Malachi Nelson, even as he got older and his talent became undeniable, might have not had access to the quarterbacking machine that hones young prospects. Quarterbacks from low-income families were priced out. But the proliferation of quarterback trainers across Southern California and the rest of the country has driven down prices and has led some tutors to scholarship prospects, training them for free or close to it as a way to raise their own profiles.

So, don’t drop $15,000 a year for 5 years creating your own Todd Marinovich. Instead, remember the lessons of Malachi Nelson and his father:

Despite starting his QB specialization much later than most elite prospects, Malachi Nelson has offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and other blue-blood programs like Texas, USC and Penn State.

“You have this clock in your head and you think if you’re not getting things done early, you’re behind,” Craig Young says. “Having gone through it, I realize that’s a self-inflicted urgency and you just really want to focus on getting better, improving and playing well. If you do all those things, it will happen.”

I mean, maybe it will. But if it doesn’t, you wouldn’t have wasted your money like a fool. -TOB

Source: The Cost of Raising a Blue-Chip QB: ‘God Dang, That is a Lot of Money’,” Antonio Morales, The Athletic (01/27/2021)

PAL: When I kick you in the ass, just remember you asked me to do it.  

Always a very good sign TOB and I have not only posted a link to the same story, but also pulled out the same quote. That’s what happened here (we both had the anecdote about the kindergartener sidestepping a defender. 

In all seriousness, I can understand it might be a hard balance to find between supporting your child’s ambition and encouraging them to “dare to be great” and suffocating them with your ambition for them.

Tom Brady’s Playoff Weakness: Mostly Very Average QBs

H/T to Jack Loflin for this one. Yahoo Sports ran down the list of QBs that have beat the GOAT in the playoffs. It’s a pretty funny list. Before you look, how many can you name? A beer on me for anyone that gets at least 6/7 (honor system, you morons). Click through to the story to check your work. – PAL 

Source: Who are the 7 QBs to Have Beaten Tom Brady in the Playoffs? Let’s Rank a Weird List”, Frank Schwab, Yahoo (01/28/21)

TOB: No cheating, I swear: Eli, obviously. Peyton. I believe Jake Plummer got him. Joe Flacco for sure. Oh uh the Titans QB last year – Tannehill! Man, I’m so close. OH, FOLES. Boom, I’ll take a beer. But…who is number 7? *clicks link* LOLLLL wow. Forgot about that one.

Video of the Week – Thank you to my buddies for the Hrbek Cameo!

Tweet of the Week

Hawk is 52. He was the first person to land a 900, and that was over 20 years ago.

Song of the Week: John Prine – “I Remember Everything”

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I think I’m basically a good person, but I’m going to try to make him cry. 

-Oscar Nunez

Week of January 22, 2021

Riding into the weekend like Peter Mel. Photo: Frank Quirarte

A Ride Three Decades in the Making  

The video speaks for itself. Peter Mel, a local surfing legend caught not one, but two, all-time waves at Mavericks earlier this month. Due to a monster jet stream thousands of miles out in the Pacific pointed right at Half Moon Bay, plus other perfect weather variables, Mavericks has been going off this season (perhaps fittingly, when no official contest exists anymore), and Mel did this: 

This video is fascinating from beginning to end. First of all, it’s important to note that Mel, 51, paddled into that wave. This was not a tow-in situation. Second, as fellow surfer Steve Dwyer points out – the technical know-how, the luck, and the monster guts required to ride something like that might’ve only been achievable by an old guy working for that wave at that break for decades. 

“Something Pete’s been searching three decades to accomplish. It’s a matter of ‘backdooring’ that bowl (the standard takeoff area), taking off behind the peak, and he’s been pushing those boundaries since the late ’90s. This wave was super high-risk. He had to navigate four ledges on the face, and if he falls on that last one, he’s in for the beating of his life. People watching from the lineup would be like, ‘Uh-oh, he could die.’

“Even making it down into the flats doesn’t guarantee the barrel isn’t going to clamshell on him,” Dwyer said, “but it stayed open, and he made history. That comes from 30 years of studying that lineup, seeing the opportunity, then having the king-size balls to go.”

And that guy on the jet-ski when Mel finishes his ride—that’s his 21 year-old son, John. Part of why the older Mel is out there is because it’s so much fun to surf with his boy. It’s a family thing. Mel’s dad started a surf shop in Santa Cruz in 1969 (still in operation today). 

After the ride, there’s a moment when Mel has his arms folded, and he’s got his head bowed a bit. Paired with the Jordan-esque shrug earlier, it looks like he’s honestly wondering what else he could possibly ride in his life. He caught his ultimate wave. 

“It was the wave I’ve been trying to get my whole career,” Mel said. “And then I’m thinking, now what?”. 

What followed a couple days later was another beast. Perhaps the biggest ever at Mavericks. It was simply too big to paddle into anything, so Mel worked with John to tow him into what would become the wave pictured at the top of the post.  

A great story, and it’s so cool that it’s a local guy that made this history. By all accounts from fellow surfers, Mel deserved it. – PAL 

Source: In Mavericks’ Dream Surf Season, 51-Year-Old Peter Mel Making Big-Wave History”, Bruce Jenkins, SF Chronicle (01/16/21)

One for Them: Nepalese Team Completes Historic Winter Summit of K2 

Here’s a very cool mountaineering story about, as Patrick Redford describes it, a “stunning achievement” by those who have been the unsung heroes in most every other great summit. 

Earlier this month, a group of Nepalese climbers (most of them Sherpa), made the first winter summit of K2, which looks like this:

Photo credit: Red Bull Sports

At least to my amateur brain, I think of Everest, and then the rest of the mountains. I knew of K2 because I watched the 1991 movie in my brother’s freshman dorm, and then – later – heard about it a bit more. I knew it was dangerous, but not to the tune of a 25% death rate of all who try to summit. More people have been in space than at the top of K2. 

So there’s the extreme danger of it, but also the history of Sherpa serving as a silent partner in so many of the historical climbs. It only took a pandemic for the unknowns to have a summit like this in service of their ambition.

Per Redford: 

Because of COVID, there isn’t going to be a big spring climbing season in Nepal, which freed up the Sherpa climbers to besiege history (“In 2020, we have earned not even a penny because of Covid-19,” Mingma wrote.) The 10-man team is really a fusion of two teams, one led by Purja and one led by Mingma. Purja is a former Nepalese and British special forces soldier, and he broke into the alpinism scene last year when he climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in a little over six months, shattering the previous record by seven years. Mingma is a veteran guide who has summited Everest five times and notched all 14 of the 8000ers before his 30th birthday. The two expeditions joined forces on New Year’s Eve while setting lines above 23,000 feet to K2’s Camp III. They may be alone in the history books, but were far from alone on K2. Over 60 people were in the process of attempting the first winter summit this year, including a 49-person team which included 27 Sherpa in support.

Read the full story to get more details on how they did it and more background on the history of Sherpa making it possible for foreigners to stand on the tops of mountains. – PAL 

Source:K2 Grudgingly Allows Its First Winter Summit”, Patrick Redford, Defector (01/19/21)

TOB: Loved this story. The anonymous Sherpa thing has long bugged me. It’s great to see this amazing people get its due.

Monsters of 2020: The People Who Gutted Minor League Baseball

In nearly 7 years of writing this weekly blog, we have almost never used the headline of the story we are featuring as our own headline. We like to add our own twist. But in this case the headline was so *chef’s kiss* that I had to leave it untouched. Because it tells the entire story of how MLB ruined minor league baseball this offseason. 

As a baseball fan, it doesn’t get much better than minor league baseball. I have been to more MLB games than I can count, including playoff wins and playoff series clinchers. But some of the most memorable games I’ve ever been to were minor league baseball games. I’m not blowing smoke here – I’m not saying it was the best baseball, or the most exciting. But it’s baseball, and for very cheap you can sit relatively close, and that is really memorable. As Tim Murphy puts it:

At the lowest levels of the minors, a baseball game feels astonishingly intimate. Your grasp of what is happening—stripped of the histories and stakes that shape a big league matchup—feels smaller, but your sense of the people playing it is overloaded. You can sit along the third-base line, feet up on the dividing wall, and hear everything: the ambient noise of warmups; teenagers from Georgia and the Dominican trying out each others’ slang; the exultation and frustration. The veil of mystique that separates performers from fans often slips, if it’s there at all. I’ve seen players carry on conversations for innings at a time with total strangers.

This is so true. In 2018, we found ourselves at a Stockton Ports (the Oakland A’s A-ball team) game on a random summer weeknight after our Lair of the Bear vacation got cut short due to smoke from nearby wildfires. We paid less than $10 per person to sit in the first row directly behind the home dugout. A player signed and gave a ball to my son before the game started. And as I watched, I wondered if any of these guys would be future stars. 

And that is my favorite part of a minor league game: the chance to dream on a dream. Every guy playing in that game hopes to one day play in the bigs, and you get to sit and watch a baseball game and wonder which of those guys is in fact a future star. I had no idea at the time, but that Ports team had future MLB star Matt Chapman, and the A’s next ace, Jesus Luzardo. 

So, you may be thinking of that headline and wondering: wait, who gutted minor league baseball? Why? And how? Very good questions. 

The answer to the first question is Big Business. “Moneyball” has become a convenient catch-all term for teams trying to find and exploit market inefficiencies. And if you are a reader of this blog you know I love Moneyball. But it has its downsides, and the darkest of that is those “business” people who have been tasked with running baseball teams like an investment firm would – cutting the fat, treating baseball strictly as a business and not an entertainment venture. Those people saw a problem with minor league baseball – to them, the fact I got first row tickets to that Ports game for $10 is a problem. Minor league baseball makes better baseball players, but it doesn’t make money. Again, Murphy, and here’s the why and the how:

Paying lots of people to play baseball was a problem, in developmental and financial terms, to be solved by paying substantially fewer people to play less baseball, in substantially fewer places. It’s a testament to the almost religious levels of self-absorption among Major League owners and executives that they didn’t think (or perhaps just did not care) about just how awful it sounds to tell people, publicly, that baseball games are a wasteful byproduct of professional baseball, as opposed to the entire point of professional baseball.

Even as other sports produce better highlights or cooler players, baseball’s great asset is that it’s there. A game is a nice place to be, with friends or family, reasonably close to where you live. It’s a beer garden and a playground, a Hinge date, a happy hour, a place to go when you’re on the road and you don’t want to be alone. One turn-of-the-century Masshole called his saloon “Third Base,” because it was the last place you stop on your way home. The jargon’s changed but the spirit’s the same: It’s a kind of Third Place. Most people who go to these games will not particularly care if a pitcher throws 90 miles per hour instead of 93. They might not even be able to tell you what happened on the field at all. Getting rid of the ubiquity that’s sustained its popularity for 150 years gets sold as streamlining. It’s really just strip-mining.


I find this crushing, as a baseball fan, but it’s not just a baseball story. By this point in the 21st century, you should know enough to run full speed away from people who talk about optimization—people who take over beloved institutions with little appreciation for what those institutions actually do, who talk about getting better by getting leaner, about rooting out inefficiencies and pivoting into a new “space.” These people buy newspapers and gut them. They buy your company and make you build a stage for the announcement where they lay you off. They take over the post office and, well, you know. As the pandemic blew up the global economy, those trends were only exacerbated. Governments might let crises go to waste but big businesses don’t. They use these moments to accelerate consolidation and remake industries. Most of America’s largest companies laid off employees during the pandemic even as they turned a profit.

And so it is with minor league baseball, starting this season. 40 teams have been cut. Others have been threatened that if they don’t upgrade their facilities, they are next. And, boy, does that all suck. -TOB

Source: Monsters of 2020: The People Who Gutted Minor League Baseball,Tim Murphy, Mother Jones (12/28/2020)

PAL: An extremely well-written piece. So friggin’ well done.

Video of the Week

Ignore the sappy tweet message and watch Brees’ daughter just destroying her brother like a pro wrestling villain.

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: Buena Vista Social Club – “Chan Chan”

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I tried to talk to Toby and be his friend, but that is like trying to be friends with an evil snail. 

– M.G.S.


The Single, Part 2

Observations, guidelines, and stories from my year as the single golfer. 

They spot me coming towards them on the first tee. Ragged bag, hand-me-down clubs, trail running shoes. Their practice swings stall. What the hell are we in for? Brings me a smile every time. 

I am the single. The one guy the group hopes to not encounter.


Now that we’ve established a smattering of guidelines in Part 1 of The Single, here are a few of my more memorable stories from my rounds as the single. Let’s start with the nightmares. 

I joined a pair at Boundary Oak, a nice public course in an upper-middle class suburb in the East Bay (tip if you ever play there: every putt breaks towards the hospital). There was Teddy, a husky lefty, and a guy we’ll just call D-Bag. D-Bag definitely spent more on his clubs than I do on rent, he wore a white U.S. Open (Pebble Beach) hat and had one of those annoying, metal tags from Pebble clanged against his bag the entire round. They played from the tips, but to their credit these guys were both around a 10 handicap. 

There was something from the jump about D-Bag’s entire presence that didn’t jive. Everything about him was perfect, new, expensive, and unloved if I’m being honest. And he spoke to Teddy, who I learned later in the round worked with D-Bag, as if Teddy was his caddie. Friendly at times, but a resource, a less than. 

We teed off at perhaps the busiest time on a golf course – 1:30 on a Sunday. The group ahead of us was a dad and two of his boys. It was clear early on that neither the dad nor the kids were anywhere near good at golf. Boundary is a nice course with challenging greens, but it’s also a public course and it was Sunday afternoon. With the way courses having been jamming in tee times tighter and tighter this pandemic year, this was going to be a five-hour round for us whether or not the dad with the kids hitting worm-burners was in front of us. If rate of play was important to D-Bag, then he wouldn’t have booked a tee time for 1:30 on a Sunday. 

By the fourth hole, D-Bag is standing on the tee box with his hands on his hips staring at the dad who did nothing more than seemingly help out his spouse by taking the kids out of the house for the afternoon. D-Bag is beside himself, providing commentary to a silent audience of Ted and me. 

I mean, there are par threes for this kind of crap…My kids will know basic etiquette before we ever come out to a course like this…this is ridiculous. I’m calling the marshall (which he did). 

By hole 8, D-Bag made a weak attempt at a joke, implying that the dad and his wife were divorced and it was his turn to have the kids for the weekend. He said something along the lines of how the dad has fulfilled his responsibilities as co-parent and that by now he could probably just drop them back off with their mother. This guy’s awfulness would’ve been comic if I wasn’t there choking on it. Nope, this guy was real, and he really sucked this much. Unsurprisingly, D-Bag was a mental midget, his game started to go sideways, and he obviously blamed it on the family in front of us. 

I finally said something at the turn. My round was already pretty much shot because of this guy. Not scoring-wise—I did that on my own—but the discomfort rule was shattered, so I went into a bit of a “f-it” mode. I reminded him that it was Sunday afternoon, that obviously the course is going to be busy, and this exactly the time a dad is going to come out and work through a round with his kids. He pretended to agree—I know, but…—and then proceeded to say how there are rules and expectations. By the time Teddy drained a 20-footer for birdie on the par 3 17th, I was openly rooting for him to beat D-Bag. 

I can’t stand elitism in any sport, but there’s a pungent brand of elitism that hovers over a sport that’s already elitist. It’s such an overcooked cliche, like a musician with a drug problem or an abusive dad in a Pat Conroy novel.

Speaking of drugs, let me tell you about my 18 holes at Chabot with 3 late 40s/ early 50s guys. The first bump of cocaine came out on the hole 3 tee box.

Did I mind? Hell, it took me a minute to register just what was going on. The insurance salesman asked if I mind that he snorts cocaine off a key on hole 3 for a 1:45 tee time on a Friday? Dude, I don’t care what you do, but maybe you should start caring a bit more. You’re too old to be doing coke in any company or setting, much less multiple bumps with some rando around (me) on a C+ muni.

I was avoiding any part in the conversation by the time the jokes got racial and directed at the black guy in the trio. He went along with it, which didn’t make it any less unsettling.

Most experiences as the single range from unnoteworthy (which is good) to a pleasant afternoon playing golf and having a random conversation with a couple random people. Not long ago, I found myself standing on the back of a golf cart, holding onto the roof with one hand and cold beer from a guy in the group in the other. We were trying to sneak in 9 at Tilden (right behind the UC Berkeley campus) before dark, and the high school kids in front of us were taking forever on the downhill par 4, so—at my suggestion—we decided to skip ahead in search of some open fairways. I started walking, but the group insisted I jump on the back of the cart. Two minutes earlier, one guy in the group had offered me a beer in such a genuine way that didn’t feel bad accepting. We looked like a clown car as we passed the high schoolers in the fairway…and when we passed them again making our way back up the hill. The slow play was not the kids, and I held on as the cart struggled back up the hill to the tee box from which we came. 

I played with three high-schoolers in the summer, and it reminded me of summer as a teenager just looking for something—anything—to do on a random weeknight. I played with a couple of young guys working at the nearby resort up in Tahoe for the summer who played every Tuesday afternoon. Part of their summer routine during a season that was anything but routine. One of them was probably in his late 20s, while the other was maybe 19 and from New York. Every instinct in me said the older guy was letting this kid from across the country tag along in a resort town with hardly any visitors. 

I played with a group of special ed teachers who were legit funny. The few good shots were celebrated by the group, the many bad shots were shrugged off, and I walked beside them mostly silent enjoying the rhythm of the conversation. Only old friends can find the pocket of a conversation like that. Made me want to get a regular round going with a group of my friends. Made me miss my college buddies and acknowledge this is one of the million small things given up when I moved far from home. 

Kudos to Tilden for being a dog-friendly course. Also, check out the young bucks dashing across the third fairway.

And finally there’s Wayne. My brother-in-law, Jack, and I had finished an early morning round at Eagle Vine in Napa. With the afternoon open, we opted to go back out for another 18 when a scheduled group was miraculously running late. Wayne joined us as the single. 

Wayne was a classic baseball dad. He rocked a hat from a trip to Wrigley that I’d bet anything was purchased from a street vendor and wore the golf spikes equivalent of chunky New Balance. He lit up when told us about his son playing college baseball, and couldn’t help but tell us about the kid’s pitching performance in a high school title game. Wayne was also a solid golfer with a classic retired guy game: consistent off the tee, lethal with the wedges. No flash, but no blow-ups either. Jack and I shouted when he chipped in from 25-yards early in the round. Wayne beamed at our big reaction. The shot set the tone for the afternoon, even as my game fell apart. He got a kick out of our enthusiasm. 

Wayne would join the conversation for some holes, and he’d keep to himself on others. We talked about vacations, his family, and baseball stories with his son. I have no idea what he did for work. Wayne mastered the role of the single. Even his name was perfect.

At some point after all of these rounds, Natalie and I will chat about the round for 10 minutes or so. We might spend a minute or two on how I played, and even that’s too long. The rest of the time is about the people I meet. Vignettes about some new character that’s in and out of our lives. Fresh stories to sip on. Unfamiliar names, new idiosyncrasies.

I’m not trying to inflate golf to be more than it is, which is an entry point. Of course there are many ways to interact with new people – join a casting club, a running club, a book club. Volunteer. Coach. Introduce yourself to the new neighbors, to the old guy who walks around the lake the same time as you, the barista at the local coffee shop. Golfing as the single has just been my (re)entry point, a reminder of how enjoyable, hilarious, strange, and important it is to talk with strangers. To participate alongside someone I don’t know and with whom I might not agree on anything else other than wanting to play a round of golf – I have a need for it. 

Phil Lang

Other miscellaneous observations from my year as the single:

  • You’re likely to have a good round with
    • Retired guys
    • Dad’s playing with adult children
    • High school kids – they are funny and uncomfortable, and it’s hilarious to watch them interact. Also, generally speaking, young people make for an enjoyable golf group. 
    • Slow burns – it’s not a bad sign at all if the first 4-5 holes are pretty quiet. It’s far likelier that this group will grow on you than a group that starts hot with the jokes and the beers on hole 1. 
    • From Part I, I had a note from the opening about bliss and contentment. Bliss is watching the ball you just hit squarely in flight. There are no other thoughts – the world pauses – as you stay in perfect balance and the ball reaches its apex just before its descent. 
  • You were warned if 
    • If they brought speaker for music
      • Aside: my brother-in-law and I shot up to Napa for an 7AM tee-time a month back, and the dudes we’re playing with have Mumford & Sons playing by the second tee. 7:30 is too early for music, and especially too early for “Hopeless Wanderer”, and – while I love music greatly – can there be a few places in the world where we can just listen to the sound of nature? 
    • a group of dudes roughly my age playing golf is a huge coin flip, and – generally speaking, are the worst.
    • First-time golfers – I’m all for learning – and they have every right to be on the course, but it sucks when you’re number has been called. 
    • Dudes wearing white pants.
  • I don’t need a guy to mark his ball after missing a 5-footer for triple bogey; go ahead and finish out. 
  • Yes – repair a divot or two on the green, but don’t be the guy that’s making it a big to-do, lecturing the group about how, if everyone fixed a couple divots on the green, then they wouldn’t be in such bad shape. 
  • Let’s talk head cover to club ratios. For woods, head covers are given, although I do judge a man with a cartoon character head cover – the Tasmanian Devil, Pink Panther, or – of course, the gopher from Caddie Shack. Overly accessorizing the golf club tells me one of the following is true: your family has run out of present ideas, or you bought them yourself, which means you have much too much free time. Putter covers – I’ll say it’s OK, but only because my brother in-law uses one and he’s a very nice person and genuinely A+ guy to golf with. Iron covers are not acceptable. 
  • Rate of play – It’s a real thing

Week of January 15, 2021

A Game of Catch Is Just Right for the Moment

Such a great article by Mike Wilson detailing 70-something Frank Miller just wanting to play catch, his wife reaching out on Nextdoor in the Dallas area, and a bunch of people coming out realizing they needed the same thing—a game of catch.

Photo credit: Jonathan Zizzo

Highly encourage you to read the entire story, but a couple points that really hit me square:

The Millers were surprised by the response to Alice’s Nextdoor post, but when they thought about it, it made sense. Between the dual curses of politics (“I’ve lost friends,” Frank said) and the pandemic, people are ticked off, scared and solitary.

“I think people want to reconnect a little bit right now,” he said a couple of days before the meet-up.

And this:

This was Rich Mazzarella, 73, who grew up in Astoria, Queens, worshiping the Yankees and playing in a Scrabble board of youth sports leagues: CYO, PAL, YMCA. He hadn’t thrown in 35 years and — this is unfortunate, but facts are facts — had long since given his baseball gloves to his grandchildren. He had to borrow Miller’s catcher’s mitt to play.

Mazzarella was asked why he came.

“Fountain of Youth,” he said. “The opportunity to do something that I never expected to do again in my life.”

I can totally identify with Miller’s story, and I Wilson does a wonderful job putting the sweet community story into a bigger context. Excellent read. – PAL

Source: He Just Wanted to Play Catch. They Got Relief From Troubled Times.“, Mike Wilson, The New York Times (01/15/21)

TOB: Man, what the hell. After we had a fun day taking infield at Golden Gate Park during the summer, I made a similar NextDoor post. Not catch, but taking infield. I got a grand total of like 4 responses. Which is enough to field a squad! But two of them would only do it during weekdays at lunch, and two of them would only do it on weekends, so it fell apart. I am jealous that this guy got it going.

In Appreciation of Frank Gore

I believe we’ve written about Frank Gore before, so I won’t go into the details. But the guy who was never supposed to have an NFL career, after tearing the ACL in both knees during college, is still a productive running back, more than 15 years later, at the age of 37. 

This may be the end of his career, and Barry Petchesky wrote an excellent tribute to the improbability of Gore’s career. I especially liked this very accurate description of him:

I can’t even, off the top of my head, conjure up a signature or highlight play of his. When I think of Frank Gore, my mind constructs a Platonic form of a play, one that specifically may never have happened, yet has happened hundreds or thousands of times. In this play, Gore runs straight ahead, hitting the hole (or what there is of one; he did play on some pretty crummy teams) with momentum but not much velocity. There’s contact at or near the line of scrimmage, but Gore bowls through or over and maintains his feet to drag out the act of the tackle for just enough second-fractions to pick up an extra yard or two. The gain is five yards when it should have been four; two when it should have been stopped for no gain. It’s not pretty, and it’s not flashy, but it’s mechanically cool and viscerally pleasing just for the sheer efficiency and repeatability of the thing. He’ll do it again and again, for 16 years.

That’s about right. 16 years and exactly 16,000 yards. If Gore does come back, he has an outside shot at passing Walter Payton for second on the all-time rushing list – he’d need just 727 yards, after having rushed for 653 yards this year (he has no shot at Emmitt Smith for the most all-time, whom he trails by 2,355 yards). But even if he didn’t get it, the quite and steady brilliance of Frank Gore will always amaze me. -TOB

Source: Frank Gore Kept Running,” Barry Petchesky, Defector (12/29/2020)

Harden Just Following Suit 

NBA superstars bouncing around from teams has become pretty common in the NBA. Many “franchise players” – LeBron, Kawhi, KD, Harden, Kyrie – are on their third NBA franchise. As Jonathan Tjarks explains, there’s a good reason for that. All anyone needs to do is look to LeBron: 

Per Tjarks: 

[LeBron] signed shorter contracts with opt-out clauses and used the threat of his departure to force his team to keep him happy. The way for his teams to appease him was to go all in and build the best possible team around him each year. But the end result of a team constantly making decisions for the present is that it has no future. And that’s when LeBron moved on to the next one.

He spent four years in Miami, four years back in Cleveland, and is now in his third year in Los Angeles. He was contending for a title in 10 of those 11 seasons. That level of championship contention would be much harder to pull off had he stayed in one place. LeBron’s teams can rebuild after he leaves, not while he’s there.

Those types of power moves don’t always work, even in the short term. James Harden forced the Rockets to overpay for Russell Westbrook before asking out a little over a year later. The beauty of being a player/GM is that you don’t have to live with the consequences of your bad decisions. 

Of course it makes sense. Great players are measured by their titles, and one clear way to an NBA championships pairing top 5 player teamed up with at least one other top 20 player in the league. 

  • 2020 – Lakers – LeBron & Anthony Davis 
  • 2019 – Toronto – Kawhi & … (that’s what makes it so incredible, but it was against a decimated Warriors team)
  • 2018 – Warriors – KD, Steph, Klay, Draymond
  • 2017 – Warriors – KD, Steph, Klay, Draymond
  • 2016 – Cavs – LeBron, Kyrie
  • 2015 – Warriors – Steph, Klay, Draymond 

In order for a great player to win, he needs another guy, and the team’s draft picks years down the line don’t mean squat to him (and why would they?). 

Great breakdown of the dynamics at play in this Harden trade, and how NBA franchises are—perhaps more than any other league—at the mercy of their stars. – PAL 

Source: The NBA Has Become an All-in League”, Jonathan Tjarks, The Ringer (01/13/21)

TOB: I have to be honest – this article is such a mess. Tjarks seems to want to take the “player empowerment” discussion and put a finer point on it by saying that it has caused teams to either mortgage their futures or lose their players.

But this has always been true, to a point. Stars have always wanted good players around them. But while dumb teams truly mortgage their futures to make a player happy (e.g., the Cavs with LeBron, twice), the smart ones know how to make their stars happy while also keeping their options open for the future. This Harden trade is a perfect example – their trades for and of Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook ended in a net of two lost first round picks for Houston. So what happened when they traded Harden? They got four first rounders back, for a net gain of two first rounders. In the meantime, they were title contenders for almost a decade. This is a win-win for Houston, as they are a team that did not mortgage its future at all.

Tjarks’ thesis is this:

A team that hasn’t traded away all of its future draft picks is not taking every opportunity to compete for a title. And they will probably lose to a team that does. The NBA has become an all-in league. Any team that won’t take the plunge doesn’t have any business sitting at the table.

But as I’ve just shown, Houston didn’t mortgage its future. Or maybe he and I disagree on what that term means in this context. If you have a mortgage on your house, and your mortgage payment gets too high, you can always sell the house. As long as you protect that asset, you’re never in trouble. The Rockets did that – they protected their asset by locking Harden up for long enough and then trading him young enough that he had value to his next team, and because of that they were able to pay off their mortgage and walk away with a nice little profit, in addition to all the time they enjoyed in their “home.”

Belichick Joins Another Extremely Exclusive List

Mo Berg, Jaqueline Kennedy, and Bill Belichick: an odd trio. Photo credit:

In the wake of the abject insanity that was the past week and a half, Bill Belichick declined the Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump wanted to give him. We don’t really need to get into why, and Belichick’s Trump history, but this small story this week opened the door for Maria Cramer to share the other instance (there aren’t many) when someone declined this usually incredibly high honor.

Harry Truman declined back when it was an honor specifically for acts of military valor. He did not believe anything he did while serving in the military merited the honor. 

Jacqueline Kennedy declined, and – according to Cramer – it’s believed the former first lady didn’t want to draw any attention from her husband posthumously receiving the award. 

And then there’s Mo Berg – the baseball playing spy. I mean, what a life. Major league catcher, spoke seven languages, and then became a spy during WWII. He carried a cyanide pill with him, so – yeah – he was the real deal. 

Sure seems like the reasons for Belichick passing on the award are very different from that of Truman, Kennedy, and Berg, but there’s the complete list. – PAL

Source: Who Else Has Declined a Presidential Honor?”, Maria Cramer, The New York Times (01/12/21)


Wait, what? Back? It’s mid-January.


What if Every MLB Player Was a Free Agent Every Year

The title says it all – what would MLB look like if it had taken A’s owner Charlie Finley’s 1970s suggestion to make players free agents every single year? Dayn Perry runs through this very interesting thought experiment. It’s a fun read but ultimately Perry correctly concludes that while free agency would be wild, the game would be pretty awful from a fan perspective, as a handful of rich teams would dominate every year, with no one else having a chance.

Hmm, sounds familiar.

Hm. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Huh. Must be my imagination. Oh well. -TOB

Source: What If Every MLB player Was a Free Agent Every Year?” Dayn Perry, CBS Sports (01/13/2021)

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When Pam gets Michael’s old chair, I get Pam’s old chair. Then I’ll have two chairs. Only one to go.

– Creed Bratton


The Single, Part I

Observations, guidelines, and stories from my year as the single golfer. 

They spot me coming towards them on the first tee. Ragged bag, hand-me-down clubs, trail running shoes. Their practice swings stall. What the hell are we in for? Brings me a smile every time. 

I am the single. The one guy the group hopes to not encounter.

I don’t take it personally. Golfing with a stranger isn’t preferred, but the muni will get as many paying golfers out as is possible, so the group is stuck with me and I’m stuck with them. Together we embark on a lesson of humility, punctuated by moments of pure contentment*. After four hours (if we’re lucky), or last light, we’ll fold into our respective cars without knowing each other’s last names, but we’ll drive away with an oddly intimate knowledge of one another. How we react to success and failure – our own, that of our friends, and even that of a stranger – these are parts of ourselves we don’t offer up so quickly in most every other scenario. 

I’ve played many rounds as the single in the last year. It’s a fascinating crapshoot with strangers. There’s a communal exchange taking place on the golf course that I’m not getting much of anywhere else these days in this phone-trance, headphone-wearing, socially-distant pandemic existence. Equally as important, golf has reminded me of a truth I never tire of re-learning: the ways in which people are weird is endless. That, and–goddamn–failure is an entertaining unifier.

A trip to Mexico with the in-laws is to blame for my return to golf after 20 years. While I love a pool, a book, and a margarita, I can’t lounge for a week straight. So when my father-in-law asked if we should play golf while on vacation, I didn’t hesitate. That led to some practice rounds prior to to the trip to avoid complete embarrassment on what looked like a very nice course hugging the ocean, which led to a friendly competition with my father-in-law, which led to driving range sessions, which led to twilight rounds as the single, which led to more rounds with my father-in-law, and now the brother-in-law has joined in the fun, too, and so here we are. All because I was worried about hanging out by a pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean for too many days in a row. 

A year into the return, and the layoff still shows. I’ll chunk a couple most every round, and my swing can lose all tempo without notice. My entire rig is second-hand – a hodgepodge pulled out of the back corner of the in-laws’ garage. The magenta, purple, and teal bag has two working zippers and the phrase CART-TECH stenciled on it in white (and to answer your question, I don’t know just how much technology is needed to secure a golf bag to a cart, or how some copywriter in the marketing department hooked the S.V.P. of Bags at Spalding with “CART-TECH”). The clubs are a bouquet of leftovers—paint-chipped off-brands mixed in with household names: Warrior (driver I use), Calloway (driver that shouldn’t even be in the bag), Bushmills (sandwedge), Nitro Power Shot (irons, 5-wood), Odyssey (putter, left-handed), and the shaft of the 3-iron I broke at the range. 

So that group on the first tee, they spot all of that coming their way. I don’t care how gracious they might be, they see triple digits all over me. The thought all but radiates off them – what the hell are we in for? Like I said, it brings me a smile. Not because I’m there to prove them wrong (a round over a hundy is not yet completely out of the question) but because they have no idea how this will go, and neither do I. That not knowing is entertaining, a little exciting even. I’m easily amused.

What follows are some observations, guidelines, and stories from my year as the single. 

First Impressions

A hell of a lot about the group I join can be deducted before introductions. Accessories are a good place to start. As I walk from the proshop to the first tee, I’m looking for bag size, gear, attire. I’m scanning for head covers on irons, copper bracelets, guys wearing more than one item from Pebble Beach, TPC (any of them), the U.S. Open, or Augusta. Any combo of those accessories that adds up to over 2.5 and I might be in for a round of exclusive golf course name-dropping and networking jargon. Of course, there are exceptions, but—come on—not many. 

With the handshake out on I.R. the foreseeable future, I can’t fall back on approach, grip, and handshake duration for first impressions. Regardless of where someone might stand on the pandemic, it’s fascinating—like a bumper sticker—when someone chooses to skip the pleasantries and go straight to COVID on the introduction by saying something like, I mean, I’m fine shaking hands, but I guess we’re not doing that anymore. I can’t remember if his name is Beck or Brock, and yet I’m quite clear on his personal feelings about the global health crisis. I’m at the course to escape that topic for a few hours, my man. 

Right in that response, and how the other dudes in the group react to that intro between me and the alpha, will pretty much tip the hand of each guy’s role. There’s the suck-up sidekick, the fringe guy that’s been considering leaving this group for years; the dad that speaks for his almost adult son, the son that might trade his entire set of irons in exchange for this forced father-son bonding time to be over; the low-key burner, the vaper, the drinker, the dipper; the small-talk machine, the range-finder guy, the cigar dude. All shapes and sizes, folks, but always guys. I’ve yet to be added to a group that included a woman.

And then there is the issue of tees. The mainstay question of the first tee box has hung in the air waiting to be asked from the moment the starter tacked me onto the group: What tees are you playing from? I’m an easygoing to dude – I’ll play with the group – white or blue is fine. I ain’t hitting from the tips, and unless each member of the group has a handicap under 13, they can stop fooling themselves, too. 

All the pre-round routine is pushed aside when it’s time to actually put the ball in play. Of course, that first shot matters exactly as little as every other shot in the round, but goddamn does it feel good to split the fairway to get things started. For the short walk from the tee box to my ball, the group’s wondering how good I might be instead of how bad I might be.

And what about the thirty percent of the time I do shank that first drive into the cattails in front of the tee box? Without fail, and with seemingly best intentions, someone in the group of strangers will no doubt call out Breakfast ball! – the universal invitation to redo the tee-shot. It comes out friendly, encouraging, and most likely is, but make no mistake: this isn’t only about making me feel at ease – this is about how my approach to the game impacts their round. 

Truly, no harm is meant. And yet, take a step back and that interaction is pure insanity. After the first of what will very likely amount to over 90 shots, a complete stranger has encouraged me to cheat. He’s seen enough after one swing to make that call. 

Roles and Responsibilities

As the single, my job is simple. More or less, stay the hell out of the way. I achieve that with some basic etiquette and common sense that bends towards keeping things moving. Of course, I adhere to furthest from the pin shoots next, unless someone is punching out while a player further from the hole is waiting for the green to clear. I’m ready when it’s my turn to shoot – meaning I’ve lined up the shot, took my practice swings and I’m actually ready to address the ball. I note landmarks to errant drives off the tee and help look for the ball when it’s on the same side of the fairway as my shot (but he’s on his own if he sliced in when I’m on the left side of the fairway). I never spend more than a couple minutes looking for one of mine that’s gone deep into the woods or out of bounds. I give the green a once-over as we move to the next hole to see if anyone left a wedge on the fringe. 

While I do have a habit of forgetting a ball marker, I’d say I’m an otherwise solid single to the group. It seems simple, but the distinction is important: we’re in it together, but I am not a part of their thing. I can’t be an imposition to the rhythm of their group hang. I always listen to the conversation, react when something’s funny, and – only if I really got a good one – chime in with a one-liner, then back to the sidelines of the convo I go. Friendly, but not friends.  

The group’s responsibility to me is the absence of discomfort. Just don’t make it weird, man. Politics: let’s not. Don’t expect me to laugh when the alpha makes a crack about sidekick’s wife. In fact, let’s pull it back even further: pretty much anytime someone ends a statement with, am I right, Phil, they are not right and I do not want to be associated with whatever the hell was just said. Similarly, I didn’t pay $70 to be a bystander to fellas working through their rage issues on the course, and I don’t enjoy a walk through the humid silence that is father-son surrender: a dad who gave up on telling his smelly teenager to not swing so hard and—just maybe—try keep his head down, and the son who gave up on considering any idea his dad suggests for the next 5-7 years. 

On the topics of compliments – I keep them understated, and save them for compliment-worthy moments. A birdie putt, a nice up-and-down for par: a simple there is it gets the job done. Don’t fanboy when someone hits a long drive. I am in awe of Tiger Woods, of Dustin Johnson, of the amateurs keeping his composure on Saturday at Augusta; I will not be in awe of the high school kid who finally nutted a drive 290-yards down the fairway after 17 tries on the front nine. If someone does something special – say a chip in – then I let go and maybe mix in a well-placed expletive within the compliment. That’s a helluva goddamn shot sounds a lot more genuine than nice one!

As the single, I don’t want bullshit compliments from the group either. Don’t patronize. Just because I’m a 20 handicap doesn’t mean I confuse a good shot with a not terrible shot. Don’t compliment me when I hit a fat 5-iron 125 yards but straight by saying that’ll work; just leave me the hell alone and let me stew for the short walk to my ball. 

Next week: Part 2 of The Single: Fieldwork: a handful of my more memorable rounds and group encounters from my year as the single.

Best of 2020

Loyal Readers,

Thank you for your support in 2020. We had our best year by a long shot, nearly doubling our views and visitors from 2019.  Thank you for continuing to recommend 1-2-3 SPORTS! We are hoping to add a couple wrinkles to our 2021 offerings. As always, we’ll post our favorite stories of the week, and we’ll continue to refine our brewing skills, but there will be more, too.

Without further delay, our favorite stories from 2020. Our grading system is based on the Pflepsen model: 1-5 stars, no half stars. We average our two scores. This year we had two 5-star stories and a handful of 4-star stories.

We follow this best-of 2020 with a collection our favorite videos, tweet, songs, etc.


Joe Posnanski’s Baseball 100 Series

Last Winter and Spring, Joe Posnanski undertook an incredible feat: beginning 100 days from the (planned) start of the baseball season, he posted one story a day about his top 100 baseball players of all-time. And the list was his. He didn’t take the rankings too seriously (to an extent) – e.g., DiMaggio at No. 56 was no coincidence (hit streak); neither was Gary Carter at 86 (the year he won it all with the Mets), or Rickey Henderson at 24, Mike Trout at 27, Greg Maddux at 31, and Jackie Robinson at 42 (their uniform numbers). As Posnanski said at the outset:

But the point of this for me is not the ranking but the stories. Every one of these players has a fascinating story — about persistence, about confidence, about pure talent, about amazing moments, about the lengths people will go to become quote-unquote “great.” The stories are what inspired me to do this bonkers thing. And so, with very rare exceptions, I do not even mention the ranking in these essays.

It was a project years in the making, as Posnanski describes:

A few years ago, when I had a job and a family and something of a life, I decided it would be interesting and fun to rank the 100 greatest baseball players ever. At the time, I imagined writing just a few words on each player — a paragraph or two — and spreading it out over a baseball offseason.

But it didn’t work out that way. The trouble is that I am utterly incapable of writing “just a few words” on great baseball players. And so the stories began to get longer and more involved and longer and more involved until this project overtook my every waking thought. I read multiple books on some of the players. I fell down Grand Canyon-sized rabbit holes. And it kept getting bigger and bigger — after all, if you’re going to write a couple thousand words about Duke Snider, you have to write more words on Willie McCovey, and if you’re going to write that much on McCovey, how much would you need to write about Roberto Clemente?

In that same link it lays out his criteria. It seems fine to me. It may not to others. But that’s ok because it’s his criteria, his rankings, and his work. And boy, is it glorious. I didn’t catch on and start reading every story until around the 40s. As I wrote in response to the incredible Johnny Bench story, I started seeing names I’ve long read and heard, but know practically nothing about. Names like Mel Ott, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Eddie Collins.  It may have been Jimmie Foxx that hooked me, with this anecdote about Jimmie and his dad, Dell:

And, most of all, Dell was happy to play ball with his son, Jimmie. He began throwing balls to Jimmie from their earliest days together. There was, Jimmie always insisted, no pressure attached, no expectations, no deferred dreams to live up to. It was just joy. Father and son would play catch every day after farming, and there was nothing in the world that made both of them happier.”

We featured a few of Posnanski’s stories in our weekly digests: Johnny Bench, Rickey Henderson, Mickey Mantle, Satchel Paige, Barry Bonds, and Willie Mays. All of those stories are filled with depressing and uplifting stories – stories about proud dads and bad dads, good men and sad men, and of course funny anecdotes. But that story about Jimmie Foxx and his dad is my favorite.

I really loved the Baseball 100 series, and if Posnanski ever publishes it as a book, it will be on my proverbial coffee table immediately. -TOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAL (Jan, 2021): This story has stuck in my head throughout the year. It’s such a dense, sad, symmetrical story that parts of it will come to me seemingly out of nowhere and for no clear reason. Upon re-reading it, Junod’s assessment early on lands true:

Everyone who hears the story feels the need to interpret it; so do those unlucky enough to have experienced it. They all become philosophers and theologians; they talk about fate and karma, they talk about the turn of the cosmic wheel and the miracle of peace, and they talk about everything happening for a reason because it’s too hard to imagine it happening for no reason at all.


A Moment for College Nostalgia

Other than this article being written by top-shelf sportswriter Wright Thompson, this story really has nothing to do with sports. I just love the way he writes. This story, posted on the University of Missouri website, is about why we return to our old college haunts, what we’re looking for, and the hold our college days have on us.  

Returning to such places puts us all across a narrow table from our younger selves. Ordering a slice or a burger and sitting knee to knee with me minus 20 years, stripped of my mask and its justification, is a rare gift. We almost never get to get reacquainted with the best version of ourselves, at this place where dreams began, before they got exposed to life and started to decay.

In May of 2018, I joined my college buddies Netter, Shaff, Wiess, Ivy, Barbershop, and O in Sioux Falls to watch our baseball team begin their march to an incredible Division II National Championship. I hadn’t been back on campus for at least 15 years. It was inevitable that we found ourselves at Crow Bar on 41st, and I was giddy – to be back there, back with those guys, back in the rhythm of conversation only found with people who knew me then. While in the moment I didn’t consciously think we were back in the place where dreams began, it resonates indefinitely. 

For Thompson, there was also a special connection between he and his old-timer friends who worked the student newspaper back in the day (Mizzou has a pretty renowned journalism program) and the kids pumping out the stories for the paper/site today: 

Four years ago, a group of us flew back to Columbia in the last week before the original Shakespeare’s closed for demolition. We got a suite at the Tiger Hotel to act as home base, should we need a locale for late-night shenanigans. The first night, we emailed the Missourian sports reporters and invited them to meet us at Booches. They asked questions, we told stories, and all of us imagined a different world that seemed far away. I’m putting words in their mouths, but I suspect they wanted to be us and we wanted to be them.

If this story doesn’t trigger a little college nostalgia, then I don’t know what the hell to tell you. Wonderful read. – PAL

Source: Who Was I In College?”, Wright Thompson, new.missou.edu

TOB: I actually think this is so much more than college nostalgia – it’s about life and aging and death; it’s about pace of life and the not spending the time to enjoy the moments we should be enjoying because we’re too busy thinking about what’s next; it’s about the fleeting nature of memory. Here are my two favorite passages from a great piece:

After running a thousand miles a minute for going on 20 years now, today takes up so much of my energy that it can be a struggle to remember. Maybe that’s why I’m so obsessed with it — and why I love just spending a day at Booches and Shakespeare’s. And yes, I often hit both in the same day. I’m not trying to make new memories as much as I am visiting old friends who grew up and disappeared a long time ago. I want back some of what I’ve forgotten or misplaced.

Sometimes the fragments come in pairs. I’m at Booches with my dad talking over my classes and my future; then he’s been dead 15 years and I can’t remember the sound of his voice. I’m 43 and with my toddler daughter, and, in her eyes, I suddenly see my father and hear his voice again as she tries to find hers. I’m standing in line with friends for Shakespeare’s slices between classes; then it’s nearly two decades later and we are back with our sons and daughters. It’s senior year and we are at the round window table at Booches, wondering if we might ever find success; then we are at that same table as middle-aged adults returning for a speaking engagement, surrounded by students wanting to know how we went from their seats to ours. Time really is a construct, a fragile one at that. One of my Mizzou professors, George Kennedy, is standing at the end of the bar eating a tenderloin sandwich for lunch; then a decade later, he’s still standing there.

He’ll always be standing there.

The bartender at Booches nods at me when I come in, even if it’s been years, and a small, nihilistic part of me knows that the change that’s come to downtown — do you remember coffee at Osama’s or whiskey at Widmans — could one day overtake Shakes and Booches. Columbia is changing. We are all changing. Magazines like this one print class notes in the back, where we get to see who got married, who got promoted and who hit the big time. I’m 43 now, and my friends are all around the same age. Sometimes it feels like we spend 45 percent of our lives trying to be something, 10 percent of our lives being it and 45 percent having been it. We are at the top of the mountain for another decade or so, and then we’ll start the slide down. We rise together, and we fall together. Those class notes will include marriages, children, announcements of retirements, notices of death. But at the two most important restaurants in our old college town, all that is left outside the door. As long as we can go back and wander through the rooms of our past, we can pretend that future will never arrive. It’s pizza time for all of us. There’s time for all of us. There’s always time.

Great find, Phil.

TJO (Jan, 2021): Man, re-reading this almost a year later was a lot. Especially when I read my own interpretation of what his story means: “it’s about life and aging and death; it’s about pace of life and the not spending the time to enjoy the moments we should be enjoying because we’re too busy thinking about what’s next.”

Less than 60 days later, we were all locked down in our homes, terrified to leave, having groceries delivered but scrubbing them with soap and water for fear of allowing a deadly virus into our homes. And with good reason: 365,000 people have died in the U.S., 1.9 million worldwide. But even as we have slowly accepted more risk and allowed ourselves time with family and friends, even if outside, and even without well-earned hugs, I’ve also considered our pace of life over the past year. I find myself asking why we spent so much time doing some of the things we used to do and no longer can, and how much time that has freed up for things I love doing. Like spending time with my wife and kids, all day, with no events to rush off to; or being able to spend my lunch break with my kids at the park, hitting them grounders, or throwing the football around with them.

I feel guilty for thinking this – because 2020 was difficult in many ways for me, while it was unspeakably awful for so many more – but 2020 was also a great reminder to me to make spending time with those I love a priority.

Kobe Bryant’s Death Strikes at a Parent’s Worst Fear

I learned the news of Kobe Bryant’s death, just minutes after the story first broke, in a text message from my friend Murph. “Is this Kobe news real?” he asked. I had no idea what he meant. I was at a restaurant, with a playground in the back, throwing a football to my sports-obsessed 5-year old. I immediately went to Twitter and typed in Kobe. “Holy shit,” I replied to Murph. “I hadn’t seen.” I threw my son a few more passes and struggled to figure out my reaction.

I was never a Kobe fan. He was a Laker. He was not as good as MJ. I liked T-Mac more, then LeBron more. That “Mamba Mentality” always seemed fake to me – it always struck me that he was not a sports “killer” like MJ, but felt like he needed to be, and it seemed insincere. He gave himself nicknames, for heaven’s sake. He was also credibly accused of rape, and it’s never ceased to amaze me how quickly people chose to ignore that. But upon hearing of his death, I was still in shock. This was Kobe. He wasn’t MJ, but he’s a top-10 player of all-time. He was still so young and vibrant. And now he’s dead? 

Right about that moment my wife walked outside from the restaurant; she and her friends had heard the news from one of the employees while awaiting our food. They asked me if it was reported who else had died. A few seconds later I read that Kobe’s 13-year old daughter, Gianna, was also killed in the crash. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Over the next 24 hours I read thousands of words on Kobe. Many articles focused on Kobe the basketball player; others on Kobe the person after basketball; others on Kobe the accused rapist; perhaps most were on Kobe the dad. 

By all reports, Kobe was a doting father to his four daughters. When he died, he was taking the helicopter with Gianna, along with her teammate and the teammate’s parents, to Gianna’s basketball tournament. He had become a champion for women’s basketball – encouraged by Gianna’s love of the game, he even said recently that two or three specific WNBA players could play in the NBA right now. It was Gianna’s death, and his death as a father not as a basketball player, that I kept coming back to. 

I was struggling to verbalize my thoughts. And then I found this article by Henry Abbott. Abbott was one of the original basketbloggers. Abbott started True Hoop in 2005, which was later purchased by ESPN. In that role, Abbott covered Kobe quite a bit, including once when he really angered the Kobe stans in 2014.

But Abbott didn’t write about Kobe the basketball player. He didn’t even really write about Kobe the father. He wrote about how for Henry, as a father himself, Kobe’s death helped crystalize how becoming a parent, and the fear of losing your child, changes a person so fundamentally. Coincidentally, that very morning, Henry had read an article about the very subject by Claudia Dey, in the Paris Review. From Dey’s article:

No one had warned me that with a child comes death. Death slinks into your mind. It circles your growing body, and once your child has left it, death circles him too. It would be dangerous to turn your attentions away from your child—this is how the death presence makes you feel. The conversations I had with other new mothers stayed strictly within the bounds of the list: blankets, diapers, creams. Every conversation I had was the wrong conversation. No other mother congratulated me and then said: I’m overcome by the blackest of thoughts. You? This is why mothers don’t sleep, I thought to myself. This is why mothers don’t look away from their children. This is why, even with a broken heart, a mother will bring herself back to life.

I read that excerpt and realized immediately why the Kobe news affected me: not because a famous person died; but because an innocent young girl lost her life, a father lost his life, and three daughters and a wife were left forever changed. The lives of the surviving family will never be the same. As Draymond gets at below, as a parent, this is your worst fear shoved right in your face. 

I have been a dad for 5 years, and three times in those 5 years I’ve thought my oldest son might die. First, in a scary few minutes during labor. Second, when he was two and fell down a few stairs, seemed fine, and then coincidentally had a febrile seizure three hours later, brought on by a mild virus. Third, about eight months later, when he fell head first out of our second story window while chasing a ball, somehow landed in a flower planter barely wider than his body, with bricks and cement on either side. He managed to land on his upper back, but not his head or neck, and on the dirt, not on the cement or bricks.

I’ve seen the video of that last one. We have an outdoor camera that caught it all. The window screen pops off. A ball bounces out. And then a tiny, half naked body tumbles down. It’s disturbing and eerie and I sometimes wish I’d never seen it. But it was immensely helpful for the doctors, who were able to see exactly what happened.

I thought of that day when I heard the news that Kobe’s daughter died with him. I’ll never forget the terror I felt when our nanny called me, as I emerged from the BART station by our house, and she sobbed out what had happened. I’ll never forget wanting to scream at the Uber driver to hurry the hell up because my son had fallen out of a window and I needed to get home. I’ll never forget not being able to get ahold of my wife, who was at a work event, and texting “911” to her. I’ll never forget, when I got home, running across the street, up to the house and looking up at the open window, sprinting over the screen lying across the front entry stairs, terrified about what I was about to walk into. 

But what I walked into was a miracle. He was, somehow, fine. Scared, shaken, but fine. The doctors thought he had a little whiplash, and he had some bruises on his upper back. But he more or less walked away from an incident that would have killed him, if he had fallen an inch or two to the left or right. 

An inch or two to the left or right, and our family is the Bryant family – devastated, forever changed, possibly disintegrated. I live with that thought every day. Every single time I look at that planter, I think about how close we came. As Abbott emphasizes, as a parent, that fear of an inch or two to the left or right never goes away. 

For Abbott, the hours after he heard the Kobe news illustrates that:

The drive home from the rock climbing gym is only a few minutes. We stopped at Lowe’s …. It seemed like all the cars in the parking lot were some mix of dads and moms and daughters and sons and jeans and shopping carts and conversations, all on their way to patching up little broken things. We crammed the new toilet in the hatchback and made our way home. I tried to concentrate on the road as my learning-to-drive daughter drove (more vigilance!), but my mind wasn’t much on cars. It was swirling with helicopters. Circling death.

A few hours earlier, Kobe was a Sunday dad, bopping to a sports thing with his young teenager. Terrible questions emerge about the deadly sequence. Did the helicopter first have trouble? Were there terrifying minutes, when those poor nine people grew increasingly sure they might die? Did father and daughter hold hands? Would you? What would you say? Is it enough to just cry and cry and hug and say I love you? Is there something more momentous?

Or was it all instant? What’s better?

I don’t know what’s better. I don’t know how many times Kobe almost went down in a helicopter. I don’t know how close the pilot was, this time, to preventing this crash; to hitting that inch or two to the left or right that had everyone on that helicopter walking away safely, exhaling deeply, and telling the story for the next few decades of the time they were all worried they were about to die before they didn’t.

But I do know, for all his triumphs, for all his flaws, the news of Kobe’s death hit me hard because it reminded me how fragile life is, and how terrifying that is for a parent. I feel for Vanessa Bryant, who will never be the same, having lost a child and a husband; I feel for their oldest daughter who will forever miss her dad and her sister; I feel for their two youngest daughters, aged 3 and 0, who will never know either. -TOB

Source: This Is Why Mothers Don’t Sleep,” Henry Abbott, True Hoop (01/27/2020); 

PAL: When a public figure dies suddenly, the initial reaction is out of your control. I had no particular interest or fandom of Kobe Bryant, but I will remember where I was, how I found out –  sitting alone on our stoop, stunned. That haze stuck with me into the next day, and then I was wondering why. Again, not a Laker fan, not a Kobe fan. 

And, just as Abbott describes above, I realized I was on the worst of it in the helicopter, and trying to imagine being a father in that moment. I couldn’t help but picture it, and I couldn’t help seeing it. I mentioned it to Natalie, and she stopped me mid-sentence.

It’s the father and daughter dying together in such a scary way. It’s got very little to do with their names. 

And I just want to mention on our little site – and I’m not saying others haven’t mentioned it  – but this is every bit as terrible for the Chester, Altobelli, Mauser, and Zobayan families. Send a little love their way, too.

Over the last day or two, my mind has shifted to Bryant’s wife. Man, Abbott isn’t lying when he says, “It’s Vanessa Bryant who just took the first step in a devastating ultramarathon.”

And one other line from the Shea Serrano’s article referenced later in the post:

Death arrives by generation, I’ve told myself. They go and then we go, I’ve told myself. That’s the order, I’ve told myself. That’s how it’s going to go because that’s how it’s supposed to go, I’ve told myself.

But no. That’s not true either.

TOB: I just wanted to add – shortly after my son’s fall, we installed safety bars on all the windows on our second story. I highly recommend them if you have young children and live in a house with more than one story.

PAL (Jan, 2021): As sad as it is, this is my favorite summary TOB wrote in 2020. I’ve seen TOB’s love for his family countless times. Suze and the kiddos provide him so much joy, so I understood why a story of a father and his daughter (along with other parents and children in the helicopter) would hit TOB hard. What surprised me was the idea of the inherent fear that comes with being a parent, and how prevalent that feeling is. Draymond touches on it, and TOB expands on it.

The part of TOB’s writing I admire most (and envy) is the clarity with which he can articulate his point, even on complicated topics like this one. A melodic sentence is fine, but what’s it worth without clarity of thought? TOB’s writing has very little fat to it, even when describing an emotionally fraught story.

Make Amatriciana Again 

Wright Thompson is my favorite sports writer going, and it’s not close (Jan, 2021 note: this is his second story to make our best of 2020).  I know this because I can’t wait to tell everyone whenever I read something from him. After reading this story, I told co-workers, siblings, friends, my mom. Natalie probably overheard me summarize the story 5 times this, our third week of shelter in place. 

He writes about the ritual of sport so well, and how both the best and worst of sport is strengthened through ritual. His story about the Cubs winning the World Series had nothing to do with what happened in the game; it’s a feature on some fans going through their usual rituals in an incredibly unusual time. It’s Ted Williams ritualistic obsession with hitting and fishing, and how it terribly impacted his ability as a father (and how his mother’s rituals in San Diego made him feel ignored). The Ole Miss rituals (football and otherwise) and their role in race riots in the 60s. 

With that theme in mind – ritual – it’s no wonder he wrote a story on ESPN about food and sports in Italy. 

Before I go any further, I insist you read this story. Please, just click through to it now, because it will articulate that heavy weight hovering in that gap left now that we aren’t sharing space with one another in our cities and neighborhoods, and it will give you a recipe to feel really good for a few hours. 

Thompson’s story was published on 3/28. I mention that, because the world now seems to change drastically in days for a great deal more people than was the case a month ago. On 3/28, many people were starting to understand and see images of the nightmare playing out in Italy. Many years ago, Thompson lived in Florence, and as he learned of what was happening, he thought of his time there, what he loved about Florence: the Fiorentina soccer team and a restaurant in Rome called Matricianella.

“In Italy, as in many parts of the United States, sports and food are perhaps the two most important ways to celebrate your home.”

And later, Thompson writes:  “As an employee of ESPN, I am acutely aware of the lack of sports right now, which is especially worrisome to me mostly because sports provide one of the few acres of common ground in a country where we too often give in to what divides us.”

Sports and restaurants: they bring us together to be joyous. To celebrate. This country sure felt divided before the pandemic. And while I absolutely feel connected to our neighbors as we hunker down here, fear has sparked this recent sense of community. 

Thompson, missing sports and the ritual of eating a great meal at one of his three favorite restaurants in the world, looked up and made a traditional Roman dish with a bottle of nice red wine, a bottle “that normally would be saved for a special occasion–although I’d argue that imagining the world before the virus and being hopeful about the return of that world is as special an occasion as there is right now.”

And while the restaurant in Rome is closed until…God knows when, and while Gianni–Thompson’s waiter of choice–is home alone in Rome with a silence to it like “the silence before a snowfall,” we can still celebrate. Maybe we have to a little bit. 

At the end of an article for sports website, Wright Thompson shares the amatricianna recipe from Matricianella and encouraged folks to put on an old favorite game. 

I think I’ll make Amatriciana again. Instead of using the internet recipe, I got the genuine article from the owners of Matricianella in Rome. It’s printed below, so you can make it too. Maybe I’ll find some classic old Serie A game to watch once the pasta is done. I’m thinking Fiorentina-Inter, 1997, Batistuta versus Ronaldo. Maybe if you read this, and make the recipe, and find your own game to watch, this shared ritual will briefly connect us. 

I did my best. I had to substitute uncured bacon in for the pork jowl. I paired it with what turned to be a delicious pinot noir, and I watched Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. 

It was the most enjoyable night I’ve had since this covid-19 nightmare started. I urge you to do the same. You will feel connected, and you will feel more like yourself than you have in weeks. 

Wright Thompson is the man. – PAL

Source: A Letter From the Coronavirus Quarantine: Missing Serie A, Pasta and Friendship”, Wright Thompson, ESPN (03/28/20)

Was Trump Good at Baseball?

h/t TOB’s mom for sending this along

Donald Trump has long claimed he was a very good baseball player in high school. In fact, he claimed pro teams scouted him, and that he could have played professional baseball, if he had wanted to. So, writer Leander Schaerlaeckens went to incredible lengths to investigate these claims. He interviewed Trump’s former teammates and coaches; he contacted the MLB teams who supposedly scouted him; he talked to modern day scouts; he found old magazine interviews with Trump and others; he scoured small town newspaper clippings and box scores. Honestly, you have to respect this hustle. 

The conclusion? Trump was probably an average to above-average high school athlete, but no more. Most of his teammates agreed he was a pretty good defensive first baseman, but there was disagreement about his abilities as a hitter. However, Schaerlaeckens was able to find approximately nine box scores; that’s a small sample, but Trump’s team played only 30-40 baseball games over the three years he was on the team, so we’re talking about one-third to one-fourth of Trump’s games. In those games, Trump hit just .138. That is NOT GOOD! Certainly not at the level that would get anyone scouted in Trump’s small, northeast military academy league. 

But the article is interesting as yet another view into how Trump and his people have for decades tried to craft the Trump myth. One of a few examples comes in a piece Trump wrote for Fox News dope Brian Kilmeade’s book about how future politicians were shaped by sports. Here’s Trump in the book:

“I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper,” he continued. “It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.”

Schaerlaeckens scoured the local papers of the time and found no such headline, or anything like it. It doesn’t mean it didn’t occur, but it seems doubtful. In fact, according to a former teammate, Trump may have won a game once, but despite Trump’s claims, it was not on a home run:

We were walking together near the baseball field where, he reminded me, he’d played exceptionally well. He demanded that I tell him the story of one of his greatest games.

“The bases were loaded,” I told him. “We were losing by three. You hit the ball just over the third baseman’s head. Neither the third baseman nor the left fielder could get to the ball in time. All four of our runs came in; we won the game.”

“No,” he [Trump] said. “That’s not the way it happened. I want you to remember this: I hit the ball out of the ballpark! Remember that. I hit it out of the ballpark!”

Ballpark? I thought. We were talking about a high school practice field. There was no park to hit a ball out of. And anyway, his hit was a blooper the fielders misplayed.

That sounds like our guy. 

But one Trump boast in particular made me chuckle. In the same article Trump wrote for Kilmeade Trump made a claim that is demonstrably false. Here’s Schaerlaeckens:

Trump, who played first base, wrote that “being a pro was in the equation” until he attended a tryout with “another young kid named Willie McCovey.” Apparently, the sight of the future Hall of Famer in action convinced him to give up baseball for good.

As for Willie McCovey, he was eight years older than Trump. When Trump was a senior in high school, McCovey was in his fifth year in the major leagues and already an All-Star.

Whoops, Donald. Maybe in the future, he could change the story from McCovey to Reggie Jackson, who made his debut in 1967. The math works a little better. -TOB

Source: Was Donald Trump Good at Baseball,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, Slate (05/05/2020)

PAL: Major kudos to Mrs. O’Brien and Schaerlaeckens. This is some real investigative work to confirm something that – on the surface – doesn’t matter to most. I urge folks to read the full story. Two quotes from the story speak volumes to me: 

From the man himself (ellipses from Schaerlaeckens, underline is mine):

I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper. It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.

(PAL note: nevermind the fact that no such headline exists, and they never played Cornwall in ‘64, or ‘63, but that’s not the point.)

And this:  “If he had hit the ball to right, he could’ve had a home run because no one was there,” a classmate told the Post. “But he always wanted to hit the ball through people. He wanted to overpower them.” 

An Ode to Candlestick Park: A Joyous Dump

Grant Brisbee wrote an incredible article this week about the history of Candlestick Park, and I am telling you that you must read it. The premise is simple: when did San Francisco know Candlestick was a dump? (Spoiler: not long after it opened). I will say though, and Brisbee acknowledges, the place sure looks like a better place to watch a game in that picture from the early days, before the 49ers moved in and ruined the place (much like what happened when the Raiders moved back to Oakland).

Perhaps the most interesting part is the politics, backroom deals, corruption, and incompetence that got the stadium built there in the first place.

There was a more logical reason for the decision to build a ballpark on Bayview Hill: There were profits to make with public money. If there’s anything more reliable than wind in San Francisco, it’s that every story from San Francisco’s history leads back to some sort of graft.

Well-known contractor Charles Harney purchased land in Candlestick Point from the city of San Francisco in 1953 for $2,100 an acre. Land adjacent to it sold in 1957 for $6,540, which means that Harney should have been in line for a cool 311-percent profit. Except, somehow, the city paid $65,853 an acre for the 41 acres they needed for the 77-acre site. (Most of the additional 36 acres were already owned by the city, and they needed some of it to fill in Harney’s land, some of which was occasionally underwater, depending on the tides.)

The ballpark would be constructed by a local contractor by the name of … Charles Harney, who received a $7 million fee for the project.

Harney was awarded the contract in a no-bid process by Stadium, Inc., a non-profit corporation that was created after the city realized that the original $5 million bond, approved by voters in 1954, wasn’t going to be enough for a new ballpark. Giants owner Horace Stoneham wouldn’t even discuss any proposals that were less than $10 million, so San Francisco mayor George Christopher created Stadium, Inc. as an arm of the city government, which allowed it to issue its own bonds and get around that pesky city charter.

Stadium, Inc. needed a board of directors, of course, so they got some local businessmen to fill the roles. Specifically, they got … Charles Harney. And his brother-in-law. And the executive vice president of his company.

This is shady as hell, but I also can’t knock the hustle. 

The article is full of other interesting tidbits. But the best part is when he closed with a personal story that resonated with me. I suggest you read it. But it made me remember the first time I went to Candlestick. I was nine. 

Driving up, the stadium looked huge. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. When we first emerged from the tunnel and saw the field, it was so green. I couldn’t believe I was there. There’s Kevin Mitchell. There’s Will Clark. When I got older, I realized it was…a dump. But that was ok. It was my dump. It’s gone now, which is weird. Every time we drive up the 101 past Candlestick Point, I look at that weirdly empty spot off the freeway and shake my head. If you didn’t know Candlestick had been there, you would never know by looking at it. I usually point it out to my kids, even though there’s literally nothing to see. Just memories of a place that made me happy, and still does. Every time I walk into a major league ballpark, I get the same giddy feeling I got when I was 9. Candlestick Park, dumpy as it may have been, is where that started. -TOB

Source: How Quickly Did San Francisco Realize That Candlestick Park Was a Debacle?Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (07/09/2020)

PAL: My brother, Matt, has started to say he misses the Metrodome. The Twins new stadium is very, very cool. They killed it, but the Dome is setting for childhood memories. It was a home field advantage. It was where the Twins actually won playoff games and two World Series. The grass wasn’t even real when I walked into the dome, but I was in awe. To see the game we played in the front yard at that scope and scale – maybe that’s what so favorably preserves the memories of those dumps. 

Also, this story is a great plot for a comedy. The pursuit of a publicly funded stadium – hell, even attempting to build a stadium – is an absurd shady pursuit from the jump. I could see Adam McKay and Will Ferrel killing an idea like this, The Big Short style. 

OK, so Candlestick was a disaster, but this seat warmer idea was brilliant. So they messed up on the execution. Still, that would be a game-changer (I’m looking at you, Cal). Are there any stadiums out there where regular seats (not the suites or club level) have the warmer built in? 

Just in case, though, the plans included radiant heat to be installed underneath the seats. A 1959 issue of Popular Science declared that fans would be “warmed up by their seats in the cool night air.” More than 35,000 feet of wrought-iron pipe was laid, and the plans were to circulate hot water from a boiler that would cut through the cold. According to the aforementioned Sporting News article, “Giant owner Horace Stoneham says radiant heat won’t be needed, and if he has his way, it will never be turned on.”


I didn’t know what ‘mucking’ meant prior to reading this great story. I know what muck is, but I’d never heard this verb use case. Now that I do, I think this story presents such a hopeful version of the idea. Per Scott Ostler, the concept of mucking was a practice of POWs in North Korea during the Korean conflict. 

The allied POWs were dying in misery and despair, it was every man for himself, much like prison life can be. Then one group of POWs began practicing what they called “mucking.” The men paired off, each man was challenged to do whatever it took to help his buddy. If he is starving, you gave him your food. You muck for him. Morale shot up. Survival became possible.

The inmates at Soledad State Prison learned about this idea by way of a program in which students at nearby Palma School read and discuss books with them. The idea of mucking in prison camps resonated with some of the inmates, and so a couple of them came up with an idea: they wanted to muck for a Palma student in need. 

As the Soledad inmates and Palma students discussed the story, Ted Gray turned to fellow inmate Jason Bryant and said, “We need to start a scholarship and help a young man who doesn’t have the ability to go to Palma.” The two men set their goal at $30,000, to be given to one student. “Instead of spreading our donation an inch deep and a mile wide,” said Bryant, “we wanted to go an inch wide and a mile deep, and have a fundamental impact on one young man’s life, change the trajectory of his entire life.”

And that’s where Syon Green enters this story. At the time, ‘Sy’ was a sophomore at Palma. His parents stretched to send him to the private school, and health issues were about to make his continued enrollment a challenge.  You can see where the two roads intersect here, but it’s such an uplifting story to savor. I will say this, the inmates, who, after four years, pooled $32,000 for Sy (at $0.11/hr), didn’t just cut the check and move on; they wanted to get to know Sy. They wanted to make sure he had a vision for his life. They held him accountable. 

Green’s parents let the inmates know that he had issues with procrastination and helping around the house. “Did we call him out? Absolutely,” Bryant said. “We had some difficult conversations. We had him chart out a whole list, his duties as a son, as a student, his vision as an athlete. ‘In light of those duties you’ve identified, how important is playing video games? How important is spending a bunch of time on YouTube?’ We were having conversations most of us never had with our parents or big brothers.”

Click the link below to hear how Sy, Ted Gray, and Jason Bryant are doing five years later. You won’t be disappointed. – PAL 

Source: ‘Couldn’t Believe It’: Why Inmates Raised $32,000 to Pay a Bay Area Teen’s Tuition,” Scott Ostler, The San Francisco Chronicle (12/06/2020)

Video of the Year

Honorable Mention (because it’s old but it was new to me):

Tweet of the Year

PAL’s favorite finds from 2020

Jason Isbell – “Speed Trap Town”

John Prine – “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone”

El Michaels Affair – “Life of Pablo”

Lee Fields – “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (Take Away Show version)

Billy Strings – “Enough To Leave”

Western Centuries – “Sarah and Charlie”

Bobby Womack -“Lookin’ For A Love”

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