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)


HOCKEY IS BACK!

Wait, what? Back? It’s mid-January.

-TOB


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)


Video(s) of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: The Band – “Bessie Smith”

Like what you’ve read? Follow us for weekly updates:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


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