Week of February 26, 2021


“Good-Looking Ballplayer”

This is a story about the unlikely source material that helped inspire a new way of thinking and evaluating talent in baseball. 

Daniel Kahneman (Cal grad, TOB) and Amos Tversky wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow, a book about behavioral economics. These guys were not baseball dudes. Kahnman won a Nobel Prize in economics. The book barely references baseball, but it’s a major influence on many general managers, executives, and scouts throughout the game. 

Most of us are aware of Moneyball — both the best-seller Michael Lewis book and the Brad Pitt movie (really holds up as an all-time great sports movie) which in large part details how the Oakland A’s took a fresh look at the stats to find undervalued players. They needed to— the team couldn’t compete with the big market teams in terms of paying big-name players. 

In the movie version, one of my favorite scenes is when Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) sits down with all the old scouts and tries to explain how the team needs to take a different approach to evaluations. The scene is a perfect example of what Kahneman and Tversky defined as “the representativeness heuristic” — the idea that assessment is heavily influenced by what is believed to be the standard or the ideal.

While there were other baseball influences at play in Oakland (Bill James’ work on baseball statistics, to name one), it’s no wonder that many decision-makers in today’s game credit the economists’ work in Thinking, Fast and Slow as having a major impact on how they try to evaluate talent for their teams. 

Orioles Assistant General Manager, Sig Mejdal, is one such decision-maker. He worked at NASA prior bringing his biomathematics brain to baseball.

He says:

“When we look at the players standing for the national anthem, it’s hard not to realize that quite a few of these guys are far from stereotypical or prototypical. Yet our mind still is attracted quite loudly to the stereotypical and prototypical.”

Other executives who likely have a raggedy copy of the book in their office: Andrew Freidman (Dodgers), John Mozeliak (Cardinals), Sam Fuld (Phillies). I’d bet my next paycheck the Giants Farhan Zaidi is on this list, too.  Excellent read. – PAL 

Source:This Book Is Not About Baseball. But Baseball Teams Swear by It.Joe Lemire, The New York Times (02/24/21)


Baseball Players…SMH. In an article I otherwise would not have shared here, about how MLB/MLBPA negotiations regarding the expanded playoffs and universal DH are going, Andrew Baggarly included this note from Giants’ MLBPA rep Austin Slater which raised my eyebrows, about player attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccine:

“It’s case by case how each player feels about (the vaccine),” Slater said. “It’s a decision they need to make individually and with their family. All you can do is provide information and point them in the right direction when they have questions. Hopefully that’s enough for people to make the decision.”

Wait, uh – what? Case by case? That sounds like a whole lot of vaccine resistance amongst baseball players. But then a thought hit me that made Slater’s comment make a lot more sense: Baseball players are generally pretty quiet about their politics, but we hear enough rumblings to have a good idea that as a whole they lean heavily right, and will you look at this:

According to the recent Gallup poll, the rate of willingness to get the vaccine increased in both Democrats and Republicans with 91% of Democrats (compared to 83% in December) and 51% of Republicans (compared to 45% in December) willing to get vaccinated.

Oh. Wild. To be clear: 500,000 people have died in this country alone, and somehow the percentage of Republican anti-vaxxers has soared. Last January, the percentage of Republicans who believed it is important to vaccinate kids was 79% (down from 93% in 2001), as compared to 92% of Democrats. That was bad enough, but a year and 500,000 dead later, the number of Republicans who are willing to get the COVID vaccine is 51%? 

-TOB

Source: Giants Need Expanded Playoffs; Union Rep Austin Slater Says it’s a No Go For Now,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (02/25/2021)


Golden Years Softball League

Every time I return to Minnesota, I’ll do the Body By Bennett run. I can’t remember which of the siblings authored the name the 4-mile loop through Central Park, around Bennett Lake, and back down Transit, but the name stuck. In the spring and summer months, somewhere between 1 and 1.5 miles, the trail passes the softball complex. On weekdays, starting the senior softball leagues are ripping. They dominate the fields on weekday afternoons, when everyone else is – you know – working. 

So when I saw this essay from Abby Ellin about her 83-year old dad’s softball league, I had a good feeling I’d be sharing it with you. She doesn’t disappoint. This guy may as a well be playing at Central Park in Roseville.

There are sweet moments and hilarious moments, too. Their rebellion to sitting down or sitting out on life is inspiring. Although, the chatter is a bit different: 

“You get the vaccine?”

“I keep trying, but every time I go to the website it crashes.”

“The Democrats are keeping the vaccine for political reasons.”

“That’s a conspiracy theory!”

Then there was movement on home plate. “I need a runner!” yelled batter Carl Slutz, who at 86 is one of the league’s oldest players. It was a good day for Slutz (“It’s pronounced ‘Slootz,’” he stressed). If he got a hit in this at-bat, he would be 5 for 5.

I love that these old guys are filling their days doing something that — for many of them, I assume—they’ve loved since they were young boys. It’s something that buoyes them in this world instead of waiting for whatever’s next. 

Not my dad.

Playing sports has centered him for the past eight decades. He has been voted the most valuable player a few times. He was out on the field the day after one of the worst moments in his life, when my sister died. The camaraderie and oxygen were more critical than ever. Besides, what good would staying home have done?

“It’s not going to change anything,” he said. “I didn’t play well, let’s just say that.”

It reminded me of something Neil Lewis, 87, one of the Golden Years’ commissioners, told me last year. “When you get old, if you just lay around and watch TV you’ll go to hell, in plain English,” he said. “You’ve got to keep your mind going.”

Not so long ago I’d say I’d never play in a softball league. Didn’t appeal to me enough to make it a priority once a week. I loved baseball when I played. Softball felt so casual, and I loved how intense baseball was for me. I relented and played in a few softball leagues in SF. Nothing stuck. We should give it another go, TOB. These old dude’s seem like they’re having a blast. 

A heartwarming essay worth the five minutes to read in full. -PAL

Source: The Retired Boys of Summer Play On”, Abby Ellin, The New York Times (02/25/21)


Aww, Man Julius Randle was named an All Star this year for the first time in his career. His mom recorded a congrats video and they played it on the jumbotron at MSG, as Julius looked on.

That’s cute and all, but after the game Randle provided some context that took it from, “Aw” to “I’m not crying, I’ve just been chopping onions”: 

“It was definitely amazing,” Randle told reporters after the game. “Throughout the course of this past year, it’s definitely been tough on all of us. But my mother, she hasn’t been able to leave the house; she’s a diabetic. We’ve been extra cautious with her.”

Dang, man. Can we get this woman a vaccine, please? -TOB

Source: Here Is A Delightful Surprise Message From Julius Randle’s Mom,” Patrick Redford, Defector (02/24/2021)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week:


Song of the Week: Aaron Frazer – “Over You”


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

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


I worked out with a dumbbell yesterday. I feel vigorous. 

-Frank Costanza

Week of February 19, 2021

 

TOB and PAL after bringing the heat each and every week.


What is the *Point* of College Sports?

For decades, athletics were seen as an integral part of most college campuses. Sure, there were outliers – like one-time Big 10 football powerhouse University of Chicago deemphasizing athletics and dropping football in 1939. But for the most part, college sports have had a good run. 

Sometime around the 1980s, though, college football and men’s basketball went from big money to stupid big money. Around the same time, public colleges started to lose public funding as a share of their overall revenue. Tuition went up. Competition for admissions went way up. And over the last few years we have found ourselves in this perfect political storm: football and men’s basketball generating a lot of money, which subsidizes the other sports, while football players and men’s basketball players don’t get paid. As it happens, most football and men’s basketball players are persons of color, and most players from most of the other teams are white (especially in the so-called country club sports). 

But that’s not all, because while football and men’s basketball subsidize the country club sports, so does the campus at large. Public funding and student tuition covers the deficit that most college athletic programs run each year. This has led colleges to cut smaller sports, especially smaller men’s sports, in order to reduce budget deficits. But it hasn’t been enough at most schools.

Then, in 2019, the USC/Stanford college admissions scandals brought to light an ugly truth that had been a poorly kept secret: upper-middle to upper-class, mostly white parents have been gaming the admissions systems for decades by guaranteeing their children admission to top colleges, and at least partial scholarships, by having them compete in low-participation sports. Like fencing. And crew. And field hockey. And lacrosse. And synchronized swimming.  Nowhere was this more prevalent than California. The top 4 colleges by Olympic medals are: USC, Stanford, UCLA, Cal. 

Sure, these Olympic medal winning athletes are world-class athletes who come from all across the world to further their training while getting an education. But there are also the kids who fill out those rosters, not with any realistic aspiration for Olympic glory, but to get into a top school and enjoy the perks of a scholarship.

Stanford, in particular, has dominated the country club sport circuit, having won the 25 out of 26 Directors Cup awards since its inception in 1994. The Directors Cup is an annual award given to the college “with the most success in collegiate athletics,” as determined by a points system “based on order of finish in various championships.” After finishing second in the first year it was given, Stanford has won the Directors Cup every single year – 25 times in a row. A large part of their success are the Olympics sports, yes. But it’s also the fact that Stanford has subsidized a massive athletic department – not just in terms of world-class facilities, which they of course have, but also in terms of sheer size – 36 athletic programs, as far as I know by far the most in the country (Cal is way up there at 27; most schools have around 20).

With all that backstory in mind, this article about Stanford’s decision to cut 11 programs and the uproar that has ensued is fascinating. The news was released last summer. After this year, Stanford will cut men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling. “The 11 sports represent roughly one-third of the school’s 36 sponsored athletic programs, account for 240 athletes and include programs that have produced 20 national titles and 27 Olympic medals.” 

This almost happened about a decade ago at Cal – most notably to baseball. But Cal Baseball raised $10M and saved itself, at least for now. Stanford’s sports tried to do the same – raising enough money to endow the sport in perpetuity. And some have succeeded at raising that money:

In a six-month-old fundraising effort, team leaders have raised pledges of $40 million to fund the 11 discontinued squads, and at least three of the teams have raised enough to self-endow, fully covering their operating expenses permanently.

Wow, hey, nice job. So now those sports are reinstated, just like Cal baseball was, right? Well, uh:

Presented with this information, university leaders are steadfastly committed to their decision, showing no signs of restoring the teams.

Oh. Stanford claims a budget crisis – a $12M deficit, to be specific, and also claims cutting these eleven sports will save it $8M annually. But if the sports self-fund, doesn’t that solve the budget issue? Nope.

Using the university’s own financial figures, 36 Sports Strong generated a study to show that the elimination of the 11 sports is only a minimal budgetary impact and attributes the department’s deficit to an 84% increase in salary and benefits over the last decade, much of it tied to football and men’s basketball. On Tuesday, leaders of the group presented their financial findings to Stanford provost Persis Drell during a 35-minute Zoom call, where they also pitched a proposal: Reinstate the 11 sports and give them a five-year runway to self-endow, not just their own programs but also all 34 nonrevenue sports at Stanford. “It was like we were talking to an empty suit,” says Kathy Levinson, a former three-sport athlete at Stanford in the 1970s who is leading the 36 Sports Strong movement and was part of Tuesday’s meeting. “I would say she was immovable.”

So what’s going on here, then? I know that at Cal, the land that sports facilities are on is valuable and takes up a lot of space that could go to more academic buildings or student housing, an especially important concern in Berkeley, where the housing market remains spiked. But have you ever been to Stanford? There’s room there. A lot of it. They don’t need the land. There’s another theory, though:

Many members of 36 Sports Strong theorize that the university, in part, eliminated sports to create admission flexibility. Stanford is one of the few colleges in the U.S. at capacity academically. In this theory, the university would now have the freedom to fill classroom spots occupied by athletes with those who may generate more tuition or carry a higher academic acumen. Stanford’s athlete population was one of the highest in the nation at 12%, or one in every seven students. “Maybe there was concern that 12% of the campus population was too much,” says Andy Schwarz, an antitrust economist based in California and a Stanford graduate himself. “The university admission process is trying to custom-craft a campus community.”

Aha. Stanford denies that allegation. But I don’t think I believe them – do you? Because now we come full circle. Is Stanford embarrassed by the admissions scandal and the ugly truths it revealed about how many of Stanford’s 36 sports are used to leverage admission for kids who are not otherwise qualified? Is Stanford trying to pull a 1930s University of Chicago and de-emphasize athletics? Are athletics still important to a college campus? What about when the sport is lucky to get a handful of spectators per game? Because if this isn’t about that, then why would Stanford deny reinstatement for these sports, especially the three that have already raised enough money to self-endow forever? 

Now, I get why the alumni of these sports and the current athletes and their families are upset. But that $8,000,000 they are saving, conceivably though not actually, could be redirected to the revenue generating athletes at an average of about $90,000 per year. Or it could be used to reduce Stanford’s outrageous tuition. Or fund important research. Or do so many important things besides guarantee admission to a top university to someone whose parents have the money to get them into fencing at a young age. I mean, look at that photograph of the Stanford men’s crew team at the top – do those look like world class athletes to you!? 

I don’t know, Stanford’s decision seems like a step in the right direction, if you ask me.

Also, Go Bears! -TOB

Source: “‘This Is for the Next Generation’: Inside the Fight, at Stanford and Beyond, to Save Olympic Sports,” Ross Dellenger, Sports Illustrated (02/12/2021)


Wherever You Can Find Ice

Saw this story in the NY Times, and I wondered if this would’ve even made it into the St. Paul or Minneapolis local section of paper. Still, I’m a sucker for a back-to-basics story. 

The premise: a lot of ice arenas are closed in the New York area, so people are finding other places to play hockey. These backyard rinks run the gamut: some cost a couple hundred bucks, while other folks go all out. 

Per Kevin Armstrong:

First-timers learned to negotiate inconsistent thaws and freezes, and anxious hosts added umbrella insurance on top of homeowners insurance in case injured visitors filed lawsuits. Like-minded neighbors knocked down fences to share space for rinks, while others complained about noise created by pucks crashing against wooden boards. With ice time at a premium, backyard rink owners were flooded with requests for open skating times.

One person who was in the perfect position for the unexpected D-I-Y rink boon: 24 year-old Dylan Gatsel. He developed a prototype backyard rink kit a couple years ago. EZ ICE Rinks sales are through the roof.

These outdoor rinks in backyards have been a longstanding tradition in Minnesota. I skated on backyard rinks all the time growing up. Three of my five siblings build rinks and make ice every year. 

I wondered this fall if the pandemic couldn’t have been a once-in-a-lifetime nostalgia marketing opportunity. High school hockey is huge in Minnesota, with over 100K fans attending the 4-day state tournament in the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul. I’m guessing that’s a no-go this year. They should’ve brought it back to the basics this year and had all high school hockey games on outdoor rinks, including the state tournament. The documentary all but shoots itself (you can already see ESPN sending SportsCenter there), the merch sales would’ve been insane, and it would’ve celebrated everything Minnesotans like to identify as. 

That could’ve been sweet. – PAL 

Source: With Indoor Rinks Closed, Players Turn to ‘Speakeasy Hockey’, Kevin Armstrong, The New York Times (02/15/2021)


A Good Headline Matters

I have no strong feelings on Blake Griffin. He was possibly the last truly great men’s college basketball player (for me, only Trae Young comes close). He had good dunks and he was funny-for-an-athlete. He sneakily evolved as a player, and I thought his series against the Warriors in 2014, when the Clippers beat the budding Warriors dynasty in 7 games in the first round, literally in the midst of the Donald Sterling scandal, was really good. 

I say this because the Pistons announced this week they’d be sitting Blake while they try to find somewhere to trade him. The dude is only 31, but when so much of your game is built on athleticism and you suffer a series of lower body injuries, 31 suddenly seems very old. And when I first heard the news I shrugged. He was traded to Detroit just over three years ago. January 2018! And I had basically not thought of him since.

Ordinarily, I would have never read more than a tweet-length message about this story. But as I said at the top, a good headline matters. And when this news hit, I saw a really good headline:

Well, that piqued my interest. And damn if the article wasn’t thought-provoking. It was interesting to read a Detroit native’s perspective on Griffin’s 2+ seasons in Detroit:

If Griffin ends up in the Hall of Fame — and I think he will — he’ll be remembered as a Clipper. However, in Detroit, I think it’s safe to say the people saw him as one of them. Griffin arrived in the Motor City with a “Hollywood” label. There were the commercials, the comedy and the high-flying antics. They disguised the fact that he’s a Midwesterner from Oklahoma. When Griffin was on the floor for the Pistons, he truly embodied the grit that the city loves to see from its athletes. He played through injuries and pain. He dove for loose balls. He got in opponents’ faces. When there was very little to be thankful for in regards to basketball in Detroit, Griffin swooped in and gave the best version of himself to a franchise that didn’t always deserve it. Griffin gave everything he could to Detroit when he was able to. That shouldn’t be forgotten.

It’s a nice tribute, and a nice piece of writing. -TOB

Source: How Should Blake Griffin Be Remembered in Detroit?James Edwards III, The Athletic (02/15/2021)

PAL: Dude, thank you for calling out the headline. A good headline can absolutely make me stop, and I feel like a lot of sites gave up trying a long time ago. Agreed on the quality of writing. I liked the angle, too. 


NBA Janitors

TOB’s take on the importance of a headline was in my head as I perused this AM and came upon this story about former NBA first-round draft picks trying to get back to the league and the perspective shift that requires. Excellent read. 

The idea is that these dudes drafted in the mid-to-late first round are super talented players with skill sets centered on being focal points on a team. When that doesn’t happen, for whatever reason (bad play or bad luck), and they find themselves out of the league, a shift likely needs to take place in their game in order to make it back. It’s not necessarily about putting up huge numbers in the G League or elsewhere. As Laker Alex Caruso (undrafted) put it, it’s about understanding the job you’re interviewing for. 

Per Jordan Teicher:

Lakers guard Alex Caruso went undrafted in 2016, but in a November appearance on The Old Man and the Three podcast, the former G Leaguer explained the lesson non-stars need to learn in order to fit in: “They don’t realize the position they’re trying out for. It’s like going to a job interview thinking you’re going to be the CFO of the company and they’re looking for someone to clean the bathrooms.”

Caruso represents an interesting wrinkle to this story. The expectations connected to an undrafted vs. first round draftee that didn’t make it on the first go-round. 

Again, from Teicher: 

The likes of Danny Green, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Seth Curry improved in the G League before sticking in the NBA. However, those success stories are usually about undrafted players or second-round picks, not people who enter the NBA with a first-round pedigree.

“There is a stigma attached with a guy who didn’t make it the first go-around,” said Jim Clibanoff, director of scouting for the Denver Nuggets. “It’s such a recalibration for some of these kids. … How does the kid respond to it? We talk about hunger and desire, and that manifests itself in how you react to adversity.”

Good read. – PAL 

Source: Getting to the NBA Is Hard, but Getting Back May Be Even Harder”, Jordan Teicher, The Ringer (02/16/2021)


4,560

With fatherhood less than a trimester away, I find myself thinking about my dad’s hall-of-fame run as a sports dad and the kind of sports dad I hope to be. Check it out here to see my rudimentary math skills on full display. Here’s a taste:

Parents are like driving instructors when it comes to their kids’ emotions around sports. They ride shotgun while the kiddos take the wheel. The kids try their best to navigate the highs and lows of the wins and losses, to get the feel for triumphs and slights, all the while mom or dad are ready to take control, slow down, and get everything pointed back in the right direction if things get out of hand. 

Game in, game out. Every drive home maneuvering around every bad call, success, substitution; every interaction and how it proved so-and-so really did think such-and-such. 

The more I think about it, maybe the teenage years are the emotional equivalent of teaching the kid to drive a stick shift. 

Full story here. -PAL 


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week Durand Jones & The Indications – “Giving Up”


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

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


“I wanted to eat a pig-in-a-blanket in a blanket.”

-Kevin Malone

4,560

County rinks in Minnesota resemble oversized garden sheds. Concrete floors, pitched aluminium roofs, little-to-no insulation. They are cold, the ice is fantastically hard, and voices carry, including my dad’s on occasion.

“Pass the damn puck!” 

His voice thundered off the cinder block walls and ice, overwhelming the click-clack of sticks.

Like all dads, mine had a different tone of voice kept in reserve. That ‘enough bullshit’ voice. He went to it sparingly. It was a blunt object, a force used for absolute clarity. The sound of it left me cringing on the bench in its echo. He wasn’t yelling at me, not usually. 

Those hockey games were twenty-five years ago and more. How I now measure anything in that length of time is hard to believe, but here we are. Now, my point-of-view is rotating. My wife, Natalie, and I are expecting a little girl in three months. She’ll be our first, and I fill the in-between moments of the day imagining pieces of her life to come. 

I know I’m 10 years away from any real sports dad moments, as any game played by kids younger than 10 more closely resembles a chaos theory experiment than any actual sport. I’m pumped for that youth sports phase, to be a sports dad. The thought of it leads back to my dad. 

Jim Lang’s run as a sports dad is an all-timer. With some back of napkin math and conservative estimates, it’s fair to say he attended somewhere in the ballpark of 4,560 of his kids’ sporting events over a 24-year run (1980-2004), that comes out to a little more than a game every other day.

Here’s how I got to that number. I started with Tony, the oldest of us kids, and estimated his total amount of games/events played in a sports season, having shorter season game totals for younger ages (10-13), then bumping up for older years. Then I added up the total amount of games I played in (I am the youngest). I assigned the average of Tony’s total and my total for the other four siblings. Everyone played 3 sports when kids, and at least two sports through high school. I added estimated college games for my sister, Angie, and me.

My dad’s attendance record at these games/events is legendary. I said 95% and my brother, Matt, thought that figure was actually low. Put in another way, he remembers the games of his my dad missed, including the first inning of a Little League game in which Matt hit his only home run. 

I don’t know how my dad did this while running a business for many of those years. I’m not even counting the 17 grandkids and their games. The man’s put in his 10,000 hours as a sports dad. 

Adding numbers is one way to measure sports parenting. Games, years, dollars, miles. God only knows how many miles my dad rolled on the odometer cutting across the metro area to find some random soccer or baseball field behind some random middle school in a suburb across town. Worse yet, out-of-town tourneys. There’s also the emotional investment to consider. That’s not as easy to count or weigh. 

Parents are like driving instructors when it comes to their kids’ emotions around sports. They ride shotgun while the kiddos take the wheel. The kids try their best to navigate the highs and lows of the wins and losses, to get the feel for triumphs and slights, all the while mom or dad are ready to take control, slow down, and get everything pointed back in the right direction if things get out of hand. 

Game in, game out. Every drive home maneuvering around every bad call, success, substitution; every interaction and how it proved so-and-so really did think such-and-such. 

The more I think about it, maybe the teenage years are the emotional equivalent of teaching the kid to drive a stickshift. 

We’ve all heard a story or two about unhinged sports parents, and I’ve wondered if youth sports have become an outsized focus for many, not to mention a billion dollar industry. Still, youth sports are incredibly important, and not because they allow parents to help their children realize the dreams their mom and dad could’ve realized if only they’d had a stronger parental guide. And while the life lessons are invaluable, there’s a bigger reason why youth sports commandeer so much of us. 

In sports, parents witness their kid experience success and failure in public. 

Where else in a parent-child relationship is that a more regular occurrence than during youth sports? Where else can a parent watch that play out in real time from the comfort of a folding chair? Algebra tests aren’t exactly a spectator sport, and there aren’t 30 school musicals a season. First kiss, first heartbreak, a nailed or failed summer job interview— all secondhand. Come adulthood, so much success and failure is relayed, discussed with but rarely seen by parents.  

We’ve manufactured elaborate ceremonies to celebrate some definition of success. Weddings (love, family), graduations (knowledge), birthdays (not dying), sacraments (spiritual progress), retirement parties (career), funerals even (you know, all of it). These are the recognition of success, but not the act itself. As for failures, we ignore those at pretty much any cost, and have mercy on anyone who experiences failure in public or has them captured on social media.  

Success and failure. Success and failure. Over, and again. Those early glimpses of how a child will handle both certainties – it must be immensely vulnerable and captivating to watch how both shape a child. 

I try to sense the volume of the numbers and emotions of my dad amassed as a sports dad. While us kids were always his priority at those games, he genuinely cared about how the team played. How could he not? He sat through too many games to watch selfish play, timidity, or mental mistakes.  

“Pass the damn puck!” There was a lot more beneath those words than my dad simply being fed up with having to watch a kid’s failed attempt at an end-to-end rush for the fifth time in the period. I am only just beginning to feel my little girl kicking in Natalie’s belly, and I still need to learn, uh, everything about being a dad, but am I fool to think I can now understand just a bit of why my dad would yell every now and again? 

It wasn’t too much for my dad to suggest the kids play as a team. 

Not so long ago, I envisioned myself as the silent dad at my kids games. I’d played and coached enough youth sports to have made the vow so many have made: I would never be the parents losing their shit at the game. 

All of us have experienced some version of these parents. They are the ones berating an umpire making $30 a game, the ones who can’t go five seconds without frantically reminding kids of techniques from across the field, the ones openly questioning coaching decisions to anyone within earshot. Nowadays, I’m guessing these are the folks starting chat groups online to talk crap and plot like cowardly teenagers. 

Out of fear of becoming one of these idiots, I planned to be the silent dad, and that was a stupid plan. 

My best youth sports experience was my baseball team from 13-15. I always appreciated that we had enthusiastic, young coaches (my brother, Tony, and brother in-law, Jay) that connected with the kids. I’m only now fully appreciating how great the families were. Much of the families were the same every year, and while it wasn’t perfect, there was a genuine feeling that parents were pulling for each kid to succeed on the team. 

We won a lot, which never hurts, but the sports cliches regained their original meaning in large part because the parents cheered when teamwork, resilience, effort, preparation, competition manifested into great play. They would call it out when those qualities were lacking, too. Compliments were often directed to specific kids, critiques rarely were.  

As much as where I was born, those families represent where I grew up. I don’t know where I’ll be living in ten years: here in California, back in Minnesota, or maybe there’s a curveball waiting for us down the line. Wherever we are, the families sitting around us in the bleachers will make up a meaningful part of our community. They will be a part of where my kids are from. 

While I won’t threaten my dad’s career numbers, we’re still talking about many games, many miles, many hours, many emotions. If we’re signing up for all of that, then we have to try doing it right. I gotta do my part as a sports dad in helping create an environment where the cliches have meaning. I want to be a parent heaping genuine praise on all the kids when they deserve it, including mine. And for every ten ‘atta boy!’, I want to be part of community that understands yelling “passing the damn puck!” is not an aggression, but preservation. 

I don’t want to help build community in which our fear of offending means we avoid making any positive impact on each other. Sports parents can create that environment or ensure it never has a chance.

Of course, my daughter might not even like sports. Those in-between moments I brought up at the beginning of this story? When I think about the pieces of her life, the truth is the vast majority of those won’t include sports. That’s why youth sports have to be about the lessons and the community that helps teach them. About learning how to compete, being a good teammate, celebrating success, collapsing into failure, and waking up the next day moving on from both. 

I’ll end with one of my favorite stories of my dad as a sports dad. the concession. 

My sister, Libby, was a basketball player. A good one, too. She was the only one of us kids who had any skill for that game. Plus, the Langs aren’t in the height business. She was a point guard on the high school team, and played plenty on varsity as a junior. Come her senior year, she was a likely starter, but there was this seventh grade phenom. The coach decided to bring the phenom up to varsity. Libby bore the brunt of it, and rarely played. My dad was upset. Plenty of no b.s. voice when that topic came up in the house. 

The phenom was incredible, no question about it. She went on to play and coach at Marquette and now coaches at Penn State. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t about her; my dad couldn’t get past the question as to why a seventh grader had to play varsity, and how that was the reason Libby couldn’t take her final lap as an athlete before going to college (Libby would agree that her participation on the J.V. golf team the following spring was strictly about getting a tan…she played in flip-flops, folks) 

Ultimately, there was nothing to be done. The kid was great, coach wanted her playing varsity, and so Libby sat the bench. Who knows what factors were at play—maybe the coach was worried she’d lose a future star player to another school if she didn’t play the 13 year-old right away. 

My parents still were there in the stands, even though it was clear how the season would play out. At one game, my dad walked down the bleachers, passed behind the bench and told Libby he was going to the concession stand – did she want a hot dog?

Imagining that moment kills every time. I’m laughing as the write this!

My dad has devoted the entirety of his time on building two legacies: his career and his family. That’s it. That’s the complete list of things Jim Lang cares about.  Sports have been a big part of his life because they were important to his kids.

I told my dad about this story last night. His response to when I told him 4,560: “And I enjoyed every one of them.”

My dad relished our sports successes. They made him goddamn giddy. And when the puck ought to be passed, he’d say it. When we failed, he felt it. And if concession was the last option, then he’d give us a laugh as we moved on to the next piece of life waiting for us. 

Phil Lang, 02.17.21

 

Week of February 12, 2021

 

We are going to standup, put on our big boy pants, and walk into the weekend.


NBA Players Examining Black History

The NBA players of today are the best of any era, IMO. They are the best players (by far) and the best citizens. The Athletic’s Jason Jones profiles a number of players who have made learning Black American history a priority, and it’s a really good read. He discusses what these players have learned, how they’ve learned it, and the perils of self-education on the internet. I highly recommend you read it. I especially liked this passage, from the Kings’ Harrison Barnes:

“Sometimes people have a tendency to take (Black history) and put that in a box: well that’s education, those are things you learn in school,” Barnes said. “I kind of went through that process and the reality is there’s so much about American history but specifically African American history that is not taught in schools and is not widely publicized. There are certain narratives that are taught and shared and repeated that it’s important to engage in those dialogues. If nothing else, American history is very complex, specifically African American history. A lot of times people don’t have any inclination to do the extra research on it.”

That’s a great point by Barnes, and I have been embarrassed a few times in the last year by major events in American history I had never heard of, especially in regards to Black Americans. On some levels, it’s not my fault because these events and people weren’t covered in school. As Kings’ rookie Tyrese Halliburton said:

Haliburton, like many people, has had a lot of time to look into issues during the pandemic and realized he didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of Black history.

He was able to see what he truly had never been taught.

“I learned the basics of Black history, learned about slavery, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the big pillars of African American history,” Haliburton said. “I feel like in full honesty, African American history is not focused on enough in school … I hate that it’s acknowledged as African American history instead of American history. No, that’s the history of our country.”

But Barnes was right – education shouldn’t stop when we leave school, and that’s on me – on all of us. -TOB

Source: “As NBA Players Delve into Black History, Questions Abound on How and What They Learn,” Jason Jones, The Athletic (02/10/2021)


The Relievers Get Their Day

Life depended on it, what reliever from your team would you trust to get 3 outs in a 1-run game?  Let’s just say it: it’s a light sports news week, folks. The Super Bowl is done, winter sports are just getting going, and baseball still feels far away. In other words, not a ton of sports stories this week, unless you want TOB and me to go rounds over the Red Sox trading Andrew Benintendi to KC…yeah, I didn’t think so.

So instead, let’s turn to Grant Brisbee for a good ol’ fashion bar debate. Since we scoured the internet for a week and couldn’t find much sports stories worth sharing, it feels fitting to only now write many words about relief pitchers. The ground rules, per Brisbee: 

First, we’re talking about the best version of this reliever. You pick the season. I’m not sure if you were more impressed with Robb Nen in 1998 or 2000, but that’s up to you.
Second, it has to be a reliever. Don’t play five-dimensional chess and pick Tim Lincecum from 2008. And don’t play six-dimensional chess and pick Madison Bumgarner from 2014. He doesn’t count, either.
Third, that best version of the reliever has to be when he was with the Giants. Don’t play seven-dimensional chess and pick Joe Nathan unless you want the 2003 or 2016 version.

Let me first apply this to Twins relievers for our MN readers. Obviously, the best reliever we ever had was Jack Morris just going 10 innings in Game 7, but rules are rules. Brisbee was talking Nathan in a Giants uniform, but Nathan put together some good stats as the Twins closer. I knew that, but I was shocked to see just where his performance stacked up historically.  Per Do-Yuong Park of MLB.com:

Nathan stands alone in his dominance out of the Twins’ bullpen. The club’s all-time leader among relievers in ERA (2.16), saves (260) and strikeouts per nine innings (10.9), the six-time All-Star was the shutdown force that awaited at the back end of the bullpen for much of the Twins’ extended run of American League Central success in the 2000s. He was part of the 2004, ’06 and ’09 teams that won division championships, saving 44, 36 and 47 games during those three campaigns, respectively. He was durable in that time, too, making at least 64 appearances in his first six seasons with the Twins until he missed the entire 2010 campaign due to right elbow surgery. The right-hander’s peak seasons involved some crazy numbers — ERA+ marks topping out at 316, 294 and 284, for example — and there was hardly any inconsistency to be had in his game. Consider, for example, that Nathan converted 89.13 percent of his save opportunities throughout his career, placing him just ahead of Hall of Fame closers Mariano Rivera (89.07 percent) and Trevor Hoffman (88.77 percent).

I’ll wait while you read that last sentence again. I did the same. That’s a pretty unassailable case for MN Nathan, and yet he really made me nervous, and I think a lot of Twins fans will tell you the same. He converted a higher percentage of saves than Mo friggin’ Rivera, and I was very nervous when he was on the mound. How about that, eh? 1991 Rick Aguilera was pretty great, too. And he closed out nail-biters on that ’91 World Series run. 1 earned run during the playoffs, all high leverage situations. 3 saves in ALCS against a Blue Jays team that would go back-to-back in ‘92 and ‘93, 2 saves in the World Series, and he held his ground in Game 6 and got the W. High pressure playoff situations is really where a reliever makes his bones in my book. That’s a reliever I can feel good about in this situation.  Also, Rick’s beard or goatee was always so perfectly manicured.

Aguilera over Nathan, on the mound in a tight situation and facial hair. I can trust that first guy to keep it orderly. Chin hair guy will leave me dangling.

For the Giants, If I’m going on feel, I felt very, very good about Jeremy Affeldt coming out of the pen for the Giants in 2012 and 2014. He didn’t give up home runs (1 a piece in each of those seasons), and he had a ERA+ of 154 in 2014, which is very good (I’m pretty sure…I just want to impress TOB with my use of ERA+). He threw hard, but wasn’t a one-pitch guy, and I never felt the moment was too big for him. He wouldn’t give in, and – yeah – that can be hard to grind out sometimes as a viewer, but that kind of confidence in a veteran reliever helped make him a key bullpen guy in all three of the championship teams.  However, he really blows up my facial hair standards set up earlier, because he went to the mound with a long flavor saver quite a bit.

TOB: We have to stick to relievers here. My first thought was actually 2012 Postseason Tim Lincecum. He made 6 appearances, all in relief. He had an ERA of 2.55, a batting average against of just .150, OBP of just .209, and slugging of just .200 for an OPS against of .409. That is ELITE. 

Of course, I’m cheating a bit because Lincecum was mostly not a reliever. Brisbee specifically said not to pick 2008 Lincecum, which I didn’t technically do. Plus, I hadn’t read the article when I first picked 2012 Postseason Lincecum, so I only cheated a little, and I feel pretty good about the pick. 

But if I had to pick a more conventional reliever, I gotta go either 1998 Nen or 2011 Romo. And I think I’m leaning Romo, in part due to an all-time great walk-up song.

That song would get the crowd fired up for a win. And yeah, there’s also some recency bias with Romo. But, other than that and El Mechon, check out these 2011 Romo numbers:

Simply one of the most dominant relief seasons in history. Forty-eight innings. Seventy strikeouts. Five walks, and one of those was intentional. Romo’s ERA that season was 1.50, but his FIP was 0.96. Is it rare to have a FIP that low? It is. It’s happened four times in history.

FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching – basically your expected ERA based on walks, strikeouts, and home runs, equalizing all else to account for the fact that pitchers have varying levels of competent defenses behind him. As Grant notes, a 0.96 FIP is ridiculous. Plus, I get to walk out of the snake room, arms held in triumph with this guy:

Source: If You Had to Choose a Giants Reliever From History to Save Your Life …“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (02/10/2021)


The Mavs Stopped Playing the Anthem and Nobody Noticed, Until They Did

This week, a “news” “story” “broke” – the Dallas Mavericks had quietly side-stepped the kneeling-during-the-anthem “controversy” by simply not playing the stupid song before games. For thirteen home games, they played without playing the song and no one seemed to notice or care. And then a reporter for the Athletic noticed and asked. Mark Cuban acknowledged they had not played it all season and that the reporter was the first to ask about it. 

This really ends this “controversy” doesn’t it? It was never about the anthem, or about the military, or about patriotism. It was never about the song. It was about Shut Up and Dribble. It was about not wanting a person of color to rock the boat and make white people feel uncomfortable. 

Many of us knew this truth, of course. But this story really hammers it home. And for a half day I thought, “Wow, maybe the anthem will just go away before sports games forever.” Of course, that didn’t happen. In fact, the NBA chickened out. Before the season, Cuban got approval from the league to not play the anthem, but once the story broke the NBA ordered them to resume. LOL. Spineless, Adam Silver. -TOB

PAL: I read an opinion column from Ezra Klein the other day about progressivism in California. There’s a lot in there specific to California’s approach to progressive politics, but the part in his story that really resonated in the context of this Mavericks story is the following:

There is a danger — not just in California, but everywhere — that politics becomes an aesthetic rather than a program. It’s a danger on the right, where Donald Trump modeled a presidency that cared more about retweets than bills. But it’s also a danger on the left, where the symbols of progressivism are often preferred to the sacrifices and risks those ideals demand.

So, yeah, the controversy over the anthem is a dumb one. It doesn’t take much to see why someone might want to protest that song, but I also think it’s much easier to write about, comment on, argue over, symbolic gestures than it is to dig into policies that can bring about the change many seek. Each organization should make the call as to whether or not they make the anthem a part of the game experience. 


Everyone knows Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all-time. What this post presupposes is…maybe he wasn’t?

I was scouring for stories, last night, and I found this funny little throw-away post from Defector that included a video of how bad hockey goalies were in the 80s. And so was The Great One actually great?

This video is pretty damning for 99. 

The amount of goals from the neutral zone is appalling. Extra credit for catching the movie reference in the headline. – PAL 

Source: Was Wayne Gretzky A Fraud”, Tom Ley, Defector (02/11/2021)

TOB: This feels very right to me. I caught hockey at the tail end of Gretzky’s prime – he was already in L.A., and did lead them to that won Stanley Cup Final loss. But he never did it for me. 

But I will say that 8 minutes of cherry-picked goals is not exactly fair.


Tweet Storm

As Phil mentioned, it’s a slow week. So I decided to do a quick Tweet/Video round-up because there is a lot to share this week. 

First up, this funny exchange. After baseball writer Andy McCullough wondered aloud what Royals player Kyle Zimmer has been doing this offseason, Sam Selman, a Giants player and apparent friend of Zimmer, helpfully updated McCullough on Zimmer’s goings on.

Next we have a Sacramento Kings fan with an excellent Mandalorian gif when discussing wanting to see Kings’ super rookie Tyrese Halliburton in the game.

That is perhaps very niche, as you have to be in the venn diagram overlap of Kings fan and Mandalorian fan, which fine. What’s not niche are these very relatable tweets.

Changing gears, I watched the following video at least a dozen times Thursday night.

That is Warriors player Juan Toscano Anderson, with the excellent skip pass, celebrating the Curry three-pointer before Curry has even caught the ball. LOLLLLLL. And of course, splash. Great stuff, Juan T. 

I really enjoyed this mash up of Jason Williams highlights, spliced with former Sacramento Monarch Ticha Penicheiro. It is extremely cool.

But I have saved the best for last. All due respect to Phil’s tennis choice, this is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

“If he hit the ball very far, he may run on all the pillows, around the pillows. Sometimes someone is stealing the pillows. Sometimes if a man hits a man with the ball he may run to the pillows. And the boys in the trench, they sit in the trench and they look around and they spit spit spit.”


Video of the Week 

 

Tweet(s) of the Week:


Song of the Week – Black Pumas: “Know You Better”


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

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


“I am one of few people who looks hot eating a cupcake.”

-Kelly Kapoor

Week of February 5, 2021

R.I.P. Wayne Terwilliger at 96. 2x World Series champ with the Twins, managed well into his 80s., and recipient of the most MN retirement gift ever. Photo: Marlin Levinson, Star Tribune


Please Just Read This Story This week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote about the incredible story of the San Francisco Giants’ Drew Robinson, a fringe major league baseball player, pictured above. Last April, Drew decided to end his life. Here’s Passan:

His thoughts crashed into one another — about what it would look like and whom it would affect and who would find him. He was alone, alone until the end. At about 8 p.m., in one uninterrupted motion, he leaned to the side, reached out to the coffee table, lifted the gun, pressed it against his right temple and pulled the trigger. That was supposed to be the end of Drew Robinson’s story. Over the next 20 hours, he would come to realize it was the beginning of another.

I cannot recommend this story enough – it’s long, but it grabs you from the very start and compels you to keep reading. I also recommend the quasi-companion story from The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, who wrote about Drew’s story from the Giants’ perspective, and it’s also quite the read. -TOB

Source: San Francisco Giants Outfielder Drew Robinson’s Remarkable Second Act,” Jeff Passan, ESPN (02/02/2021); How the Giants Stepped in to Help Drew Robinson After His Suicide Attempt,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (02/02/2021)

PAL: “The companion’s voice was unrelenting.” That’s a line that stuck with me after reading this. How exhausting it must be to constantly having that voice telling you that any positive thoughts are b.s., and that all your worst thoughts are the truth. I can understand the hopelessness inside the endless rounds of that mental boxing match. 

And then, add to the hopper the constant up-and-downs between the majors and minors, and the absolute head games that must come with that – being so close to reaching the goal, but then being sent back down the mountain a bit, over and over. It’s mentally difficult for someone not suffering from a mental illness, but something like that could add even more weight to the “companion voice”. 

I was also blown away by the notion Robinson could play again. First thing I thought – no depth perception…no way he could hit. So I found this section fascinating: 

Myint, the eye surgeon, says that the binocular vision two eyes provide matters for up-close depth perception. But hitters typically decide to swing when the ball is about 45 feet from home plate, where depth-perception issues, Myint says, would not necessarily manifest themselves. And because, as a baseball player, Robinson’s brain has already exhibited a unique ability to track high-speed movement, the aptitude he had been showing in all these batting-practice sessions, Myint says, could be very real.

After thinking about it for a second, this makes total sense. All the calculation our brain does to decide whether or not to swing and – if so – where to swing, takes place so fast and so early. It makes total sense that depth perception and that level and speed might not be so important. 

Either way, Robinson has a lot of people pulling for him to do the unthinkable and make it back to the bigs, and who knows how many of those folk who read this have struggled themselves? We need to hear more of these stories in order to destigmatize mental health. 


Super Bowl Time Capsules

Drew Magary nailed this one. Basic premise is that he can remember where he was for most every super bowl, and that memory serves as a dog-ear to who he was. He then proceeds to run through them all. I love it.  Magary has the chops to get an audible laugh out of me. One such moment: 

1990 Drew ALSO loved the Gulf War. I remember reading about all the other wars throughout history and being like, “Hey man, when do WE get a war?” And then Bush 41 invaded Iraq at the start of 1991 and I was excited. Genuinely excited. When the news broke, I rushed around school to tell people, like I was a fucking newsboy. When Whitney sang the anthem, I cried for all the wrong reasons.

That’s the good stuff. Perfect.  Many of Magary’s memories land with me. I can smell that dorm room with spitters all over. I know the feeling of rooting against a team for no reason but a gut feeling. You remember the Super Bowls, regardless of the teams playing, and I’m not sure there’s another sporting event for which that’s true. 

But this is why the Super Bowl is a holiday. It’s not always a happy one.  But it IS always a signpost in life. As with birthdays and Christmases, you can look back in your Super Bowl Sunday archive and catch glimpses of where you were. WHO you were. 

Excellent stuff. – PAL  Source:  “Life Is Measured In Super Bowls”, Drew Magary, Defector (02/04/2021)


The Nolan Arenado Trade and “The Epidemic of Not Trying”

I don’t know if Marc Carig coined that term, The Epidemic of Not Trying, but it’s a great turn of phrase to describe the widespread tanking across the sports world lately. The Epidemic of Not Trying hit a new low this week, as the Colorado Rockies traded away Nolan Arenado, their franchise player, for…not much. Carig’s article is an expert level takedown of the Rockies’ braintrust – GM Jeff Brdich and owner Dick Monfort.

Most of the scorn is directed at Brdich, and rightfully so. The team signed Arenado to a massive extension just two years ago and then, as Carig put it, “behaved as if this was good enough.” Almost immediately after, Arenado seemed to understand that the team felt that way, that they wouldn’t spend more to improve the team, and the relationship between Arenado and Brdich soured. Brdich seems to think this is perfectly normal, saying, “There are relationships in our human existence that do last forever. But we are human beings in a business where sometimes relationships don’t last forever, and commitments don’t last forever.” As Carig points out, it’s part of Brdich’s job to ensure that his relationship with the team’s star in fact does last, well, not forever, but for as long as that star remains a star, at the very least.  Carig also gives us some insight into Brdich as a person, using Brdich’s own words to show that Brdich is a friggin snob. 

Bridich seemingly fancies himself as something of a misunderstood genius. He once boasted that he was “personally blessed with a capacity to not really care what is said about me all that much.” He was referring to the media, whom he deemed unworthy of leveling criticism because, as he explained, “the reality is — and this is going to sound petty and bad — if you just objectively look at the people who are evaluating us every day, you know they’ve never come close to doing this job and all the work that goes into it.” He’s right. I’ll never understand all the work that goes into alienating a franchise player, engaging him in a protracted pissing match, and then packaging him along with $50 million for the privilege of trading him away.

Man, Carig just crushed him. Imagine being stuck with an egomaniac prick like that for your team’s GM. The worst part about this trade for Rockies’ fans is that this is not an A’s or Rays type of trade – trading a top player and getting lots of great prospects back to build for the future. Those fans don’t like those either, but they can at least rationalize it by what you get in return. Here, by all accounts, what the Rockies got back is pitiful – and they still had to pay $50M of Arenado’s remaining salary, as Carig mentioned. Here’s former GM Jeff Bowden’s summary of what the Rockies got:

This trade is a complete disaster for the Rockies outside of the fact they’re saving $184 million of their future payroll obligations. However, they’re also paying $50 million of Arenado’s future earnings with the Cardinals. In return, they only got one of their top 10 prospects in Montero — and he comes with a lot of risk. Gomber was the only sure major-leaguer in the deal for the Rockies and he will help the staff in whatever role they put him in. The other three players in the deal — Locey, Sommers and Gil — are all fringe major-leaguers at best. Not the type of return you’d expect for a superstar. They got nothing close to what the Red Sox got for Mookie Betts, the Indians got for Francisco Lindor or even what the Rays got for Blake Snell. Very disappointing that they decided to dump him just two years after signing him to an eight-year contract. Huge mistake for the Rockies and a horrible return for Arenado.

Imagine being a Rockies fan and reading that. Not only did your team’s best, most fun to watch, homegrown MVP-level player get traded, but you got nothing in return to give you hope for the future. Unlike the Rays, the Rockies aren’t building for the future. They’re just clearing their books. They are Not Trying. If I’m a Rockies fan, I’d be out.  I’m a Giants fan, though, and so while I am not sad to see the Giants’ Video Game Boss, as Grant Brisbee put it, leave the division, it sure will make games against the Rockies less interesting. I mean, I watched this live on TV and howled in disgust before shaking my head in reluctant admiration:

That’s friggin incredible. He could have turned to that crowd like Russell Crowe in Gladiator: 

Well, damn, yeah. Hell yeah. When Arenado came to town, I always was. -TOB

Source: The Rockies are Oblivious to Organizational Failure,” Marc Carig, The Athletic (02/02/2021); “Grading the Nolan Arenado trade for the Rockies and Cardinals,” Jeff Bowden, The Athletic (02/02/2021); Giants Fans Should Miss Nolan Arenado, Even if He Made Their Lives Miserable,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (02/01/2021); 

PAL: My favorite player to watch live at Giants games, no doubt. The Epidemic of Not Trying sucks so bad. I love baseball so much, and I know there’s always been the haves and have-nots, but the last few years marks the first time I can remember feeling like a lot of teams weren’t even giving it a go. Why watch a game if one team (or both) doesn’t care if it wins? 

I was listening to Jeff Passan (the writer of the incredible Drew Robinson story) on a podcast, and one issue he called out was the need for a new collective bargaining agreement that, in part, addresses two critical issues in baseball: 

  1. Free agency needs to start earlier in a player’s MLB service time so that they are paid for when they are great, not after they have been great. Colorado (Arenado), Cleveland (Lindor), Boston (Betts) paid so little for the prime years, then let them go when it was time to pony-up (In Colorado’s case, a couple years later…which is why this one is even crazier…as TOB notes, 50M more for him not to be there!)
  2. Punishment for franchises losing a lot for multiple years. Don’t know if that comes in the form of lower draft picks or a reduced percentage of revenue sharing. 

Absolutely. Baseball needs a major restructuring. Hell, I’ve long been baseball obsessed, and I didn’t watch much baseball at all last year. The casual fan is gone until the World Series, but now the game is starting to lose lifers, and that’s a deathblow to the sport. 

Since we’re on the topic, here are 20 defensive highlights from Arenado. Maybe I’ve watched more than once. Man, he’s good.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week After Fred Van Vleet broke the Raptors’ single game scoring record, previously held by former teammate DeMar DeRozan:


Song of the Week Jerry Jeff Walker – “Sangria Wine (Live)”


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

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


“The IT tech guy and me…did not get off to a great start.”

-Michael Scott

Running In Corduroys

Why my mom started running in her fifties, what made her stop, and the joy of watching a parent discover a new part of their life. 

Mom was in her fifties when she took her first run. On a winter night in Minnesota she ran to the snow pile at the end of Farington Circle beneath the yellow streetlight. 500 feet, give or take a few. She walked back home. 

Mom’s workout attire for the run: business casual. Corduroys, a sweater over a white blouse, winter boots, and a parka. 

I think of her first run regularly, often while I’m running through Oakland in the early morning. The story has long been a part of the family canon. Any forgotten details have been covered by the senses of memory undetected by chronology. For one, there’s little doubt her pre-run snack was a sip from a can of warm Diet Coke and a few chocolate chips from the yellow Tollhouse bag forever ripped open on the counter just to the left of the kitchen sink. Her corduroy strides zipped out in the cold as she passed our neighbors homes –  first the Henches, then Bergersons, then Collettis and all of the rest. I can scribble a picture of every house and every bare tree. 

I’ve been a runner since college, nearly 20 years. Most of my five siblings are runners, too (respect for always holding out, Tony). I’ve got the sibling marathon count around 45. Mom and Dad were at many of those races. She’d be on her tiptoes at mile 21 of the Twin Cities marathon, straining to spot one of us coming up Summit Avenue. We’d get in the Suburban after the race, and she’d be energized, thinking aloud about why she was on the curb cheering, not running. Eventually, she gave it a shot. 

Recently, Mom told me that, long before any of us ran, she would be introduced as Monica, mother of six. The number of her children was the most recognizable part of her, and she would have to convince herself that she was still Monica, separate from us. And then there was the part that had been unsaid in Mom’s presence but no doubt discussed—that she was the mom of six who’d had been really sick. Throat cancer. 

Both distinctions —the one said in front of her and the one discussed when she wasn’t within earshot— pestered her for years. Two mosquitos in a tent. No one has ever loved being a mom more than she’s loved it, but goddamn, she was more than a mom, and certainly more than a mom who almost died. More than a wife, too. First, she was Monica. 

Another certainty regarding the night of her first run: Mom visited Grandma and Grandpa on the way home from teaching at the very elementary school she attended. Their home, where Mom grew up with two younger sisters (both of whom began running later in life, too), was halfway between where Mom taught and our house. 

Grandma and Grandpa have been gone for years now, but Mom checks in with them daily. I was shocked when Mom told me only a short time ago that Grandma had not been on board with Mom having so many kids. They did not send her to college to be a housewife, to be introduced as the mom of six. 

Something in me, the bad writer still tempted to make all the pieces fit, wants to say all of those factors— her kids running, the housewife identity, the cancer survivor story she’d grown tired of, or even her hero, Grandpa, taking the time to exercise— pulled on the same end of the rope and finally got her out there to give running a shot. 

That all might be, but not even Mom could know for certain. The real explanation is a mystery, or maybe even so mundane that it was lost as soon as she got to the snowpile. Instead of jury-rigging an explanation, it feels true to let the mystery be. Epiphany has the tendency to be assembled from the evidence that survived long after the happening has passed.

Mom kept running. Cue the montage music (she would request “Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes”). Runs to the end of the cul-de-sac became runs around the block. Around the block became around the neighborhood. The routes expanded to much of Roseville, many of the same paths Grandpa walked. 

She ran down the streets and through the parks and around the lakes and through the yards that were the backdrop of nearly all of her life. 

A police officer once stopped her on Highway 36. Mom had veered left down Minnesota Ave over behind Concordia Academy and found herself on the quarter-mile off-ramp. It’s that little stretch of Highway 36 that was part off-ramp, part frontage road across from the Vietnamese Buddist temple on the other side of the high school football field. I doubt she even noticed she was technically on the highway, and I promise she never thought it was cause for police concern. 

To her, the fact that she was on a highway mattered less than the proximity of that particular stretch of pavement to so much of her life. How could that officer possibly take issue? She knew more about where she was than his finger knew about the inside of his nose. 

Mom loved running for what it did to her mind. Aside from a Discman that rarely worked, accessories were absent from her runs. So too were gadgets used to count ultimately meaningless units of time and distance. Instead, she took a special joy in cutting through yards. As odd as it sounds, she would go out of her way to cut through a yard. To this day, she gets a kick out of it. 

One time she complained to my brother, Matt, that her knees hurt. He suggested that it was probably time for a new pair of running shoes. A common issue with regular runners, which Mom had become. That didn’t make sense to her. She was still running in boots in the winter. 

She loved it, and watching a parent find something they love other than you is life-affirming. To see another part of them come to form, to witness them alive in the most childlike way: experiencing something new. 

After her runs, we’d talk. Mostly on the phone, but we would sit on the front porch when I was home in the summer. She’d still be sweating in the white wicker rocking chair, I’d be on the front step, and we’d stare down Farrington Circle. That runner’s gaze—exhausted contentment. I saw it in her, knowing its perfection myself. I loved to see her lost in the gaze. 

In many ways, I think like her. We drift on a similar current. Running gave space to think. A tempo for her to meditate on the people she loved and the ideas that she couldn’t untangle or set aside. She could stride through all of the thoughts with the power of synchronicity, of breath and stride. The idea of faith vs. organized religion, grandpa flying missions as a navigator in WWII, dinner that night, the latest from The White House, a lesson plan, the reading for next week’s mass, and her book club book—all of these thoughts connected within the rhythm of breath and footfalls, and Mom didn’t have to wait for anyone to keep up.  

Mom stopped running maybe seven years ago. She slipped a couple times and hit her head. She’s had seizures in her past, though not as a result from falling while running. Also, the radiation from the throat cancer 30 years prior caused many of the muscles in her neck to begin atrophy. Her neck bends forward, resulting in neck, back, and shoulder pain. There have been spinal fusion surgeries, physical therapy, botox, speech therapy, and more. Recently, the flap  in her throat—the epiglottis— doesn’t work too well anymore, so it became hard for her to get certain foods down. Some would go down the wrong pipe, causing her to aspirate. Pneumonia followed at least two times. 

Mom has always been a petite woman, but the swallowing issues had left her much too thin by my wedding in 2019. She’d always plow through any discomfort. Still, I was scared. She was frail, exhausted, but it was more than that. Mentally, she was loose. 

She was malnourished. A feeding tube was put in, which makes it sound like she’s now incapacitated, and that’s far from the truth. The tube has brought her back, in weight, sharpness, and wit. She doesn’t have to rely on swallowing food to get her nutrition. She still eats, orally, but just can’t rely on it for her nutrition. At night, a they attach packet of her daily dose of nutrients and calories to a tube right into her stomach.  She has more energy than she’s had in years, and she puts it to use.

I don’t put my mom’s health challenges out there for dramatics; I share to underscore just how much it took to merely slow her gait from a run to a walk. She is, without a hesitation, the most resilient person I know. She doesn’t know how to quit. 

She walks most every day, probably as fast as she ran to be honest, but her spirit is not that of a walker. She’s in it, but Mom isn’t ready for a walking life, especially after finding running so late. 

Mom’s a fucking runner. I thought she’d hate that I put it that way, but it’s the truth. Turns out, she wasn’t mad at that description at all. 

There’s absolute strength in knowing that I come from her, the lady that took her first run after 50 on a cold winter night. I’m not foolish enough to presume I have all of her resilience in me, but some of that made it to me. It must have. All of those 45 Lang sibling marathons—the ones before and after—come from the same place inside of Mom that convinced her to run up the cul-de-sac. 

OK, I admit it; I can’t be completely certain on the specifics of her work clothes on that first run, but that’s the story that survived, and there’s much truth in it. And that lady defaults to corduroys in the winter, always has. She definitely was not wearing jeans to teach the kids at Maternity of Mary. Of course there was a sweater, and what mom owns any less than 40 white blouses? 

I often recreate Mom on that run. Her breath finds a pace. Her boots crunch the snow-ice with each petite stride venturing out into the night.

Phil Lang, 02/02/21