Week of March 26, 2021

R.I.P. Elgin Baylor

NBA great Elgin Baylor died this week. He was 86. As is the case with athletes before my time, I learned more about him in the past few days than I’d ever known. Bill Simmons referred to him as the “forgotten pioneer” of the NBA. Simmons, who hasn’t written a column in years, read a portion of his Page 2 story about Baylor from back in 2008. This detail was a stunner:

It’s impossible to fully capture Elgin’s greatness five decades after the fact, but let’s try. He averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds and carried the Lakers to the Finals as a rookie. He scored 71 points against Wilt’s Warriors in his second season. He averaged 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds in his third season — as a 6-foot-5 forward, no less — and topped himself the following year with the most amazing accomplishment in NBA history. During the 1961-62 season, Elgin played only 48 games — all on weekends, all without practicing — and somehow averaged 38 points, 19 rebounds and five assists a game.

Why was this better than Wilt’s 50 per game or Oscar’s season-long triple-double? Because the guy didn’t practice! He was moonlighting as an NBA player on weekends! Wilt’s 50 makes sense considering the feeble competition and his gratuitous ball-hogging. Oscar’s triple-double makes sense considering the style of play at the time — tons of points, tons of missed shots, tons of available rebounds. But Elgin’s 38-19-5 makes no sense whatsoever. I don’t see how this happened. It’s inconceivable. A U.S. Army Reservist at the time, Elgin lived in a barracks in the state of Washington, leaving only whenever they gave him a weekend pass … and even with that pass, he could only fly coach on flights with multiple connections to meet the Lakers wherever they happened to be playing. Once he arrived, he would throw on a uniform and battle the best NBA players alive on back-to-back nights — fortunately for the Lakers, most games were scheduled on the weekends back then — and make the same complicated trip back to Washington on Sunday night or Monday morning. That was his life for five months.

The idea of that situation in modern times is so bananas. 

On a more personal tip, Kurt Streeter paid tribute to Baylor by re-telling a family story in which Baylor played a large part. His family knew it well, texted him about it as soon as they heard the news that Baylor had passed. It’s a perfect story, in that it captures the folklore nature of sports. Our brushes with greatness. TOB seeing Willie Mays. My Joe Mauer tales. 

Baylor floating
Mel Streeter

Streeter’s dad, himself passed away 15 years ago, knew how to tell the story, which makes sense, because it sounds like he told his kids the tale enough times to workshop it. 

Per Streeter: 

“Did I ever tell you about the time I played Elgin Baylor?” my father would say as he looked into my eyes, filled with wonder no matter how many times he’d begun this way.

“Elgin couldn’t score on me, no he couldn’t. Not in that first half he couldn’t.”

How perfect is that opener? It tells you everything you need to know about the second half. The story goes much deeper than Streeter’s dad facing off with an all-time great who, along with Bill Russell, changed the way basketball was played. 

I wish now that I had asked my father more about his one-and-only game against Baylor, more about that league and those times. But dad died 15 years ago. As close as we were, some of his history will always be cut off from me. I don’t know what team he was on when he played against Baylor. I don’t know if it was a big game with high stakes — like the battles that helped decide who would head off to the A.A.U. national championship.

Thankfully, I have a firm recollection of the look on my father’s face as he spoke of how, in a head-to-head matchup between two tall, lithe and powerful forwards, he held Baylor to two first-half points. Oh, and dad never let any of his four sons forget that while he was holding down Baylor, he was lighting up the scoreboard. Even before my older brother Jon knew I was writing this column, the moment he heard about Baylor’s death he sent me a text with his own recollections of our family’s well-told tale: “Dad scored 11 in the first half!”

Two great reads about a “forgotten pioneer”. Both are worth reading in full. – PAL 

Sources: Elgin took the game to new heights”, Bill Simmons, Page 2 (10/08/08); “The Time Dad Locked Down Elgin Baylor”, Kurt Streeter, The NY Times (03/23/21)


I’m Guessing That High School Baseball Won A Lot

I was looking up opening day details, and I just stumbled upon this factoid, ℅ Thomas Harigan over at MLB.com: three pitchers from the same high school will make opening day starts for their MLB clubs. It’s those young guys pictured in the tweet at the top of the post, each first round draft picks.

Jack Flaherty (Cardinals), Lucas Giolito (White Sox), and Max Fried (Braves) all went to Harvard-Westlake in the L.A. area. What’s more, they were teammates! It’s not like one of them is 34, another 29, and another 24; they were on the same team. That’s crazy, right? That’s crazy. – PAL 

Source: 1 high school has 3 Opening Day starters?!”, Thomas Harrigan, MLB.com (03/25/21)


How 3D Printing Is Making Sports Safer

I started reading this, and thought, “Oh yeah; why haven’t they been doing this for years?” An engineering lab at Auburn has been 3D printing guards for football players based on body scans. And while joints aren’t yet on the table, the relatively early results have been very positive. 

Per Andy Staples:

Why do the custom guards protect better? Physics. A guard that isn’t designed to fit a player’s body won’t allow the force of a blow to dissipate evenly. So certain points on the body must absorb more force. A guard made to fit the contours of the athlete’s body reduces that issue. “There are no what you’d call stress concentrations,” Zabala said. “It dissipates the stress out over the entire surface. It’s 100 percent contact area. If you can distribute the load over the entirety of the surface, then it’s safer for anybody.”

And the idea that a guy could bruise a ribs in the first half of a game and be wearing a custom guard by the second half is pretty incredible. It doesn’t take long to see the applications to other sports as well.

The story then becomes less about the idea and more about making a business out of it. 3D printers are common, so what makes XO Armor positioned to take this concept and turn it into a large company? What’s stopping another competitor from joining the game

The current plan is a subscription model with athletic departments and franchises, but they wonder if there’s a future where the company partners with sports orthopedics across the country. I mean, in three years will TOB be backing dudes down in the pickup game some XO Armor? 

I enjoyed the read, but it sure read like a glowing company review from a very popular college football writer. I wouldn’t mention this, but TOB sent another story from The Athletic, one written by the great Marcus Thompson, about the rapper Macklemore finding the healing power of golf…and by the way he started a golf clothing line. Curious to hear from folks as to whether or not this Staples story read a little like an advertorial for XO Armor.- PAL 

Source: Auburn ingenuity: Custom guards to protect injuries making impact on college football and beyond”, Andy Staples, The Athletic (03/24/21)


Video of the Week: “Two Cheeker” – Kruk is the best.


Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: Anderson .Paak – “Make It Better (Feat. Smokey Robinson)”

What’s my problem, punks like you, that’s my problem. And you better not screw up again Seinfeld, because if you do, I’ll be all over you like a Pit Bull on a Poodle.

-Lt. Bookman

Week of March 19, 2021


A Moment of Genius Fandom   

There are cool sports traditions, and there are ones that can feel oh so forced. Here’s a story about a very, very cool tradition from a soccer team in San Sebastián, Spain. The idea, over a half century old,  may have been the product of a hallucinatory haze. I’m already in. How about you? 

Here it is: a single fan shoots off bottle rockets just outside the stadium when a goal is scored. One rocket means the opponents scored, and two rockets shot off means the home team, Real Sociedad, scored. This fantastic idea was courtesy of Patxi Alkorta. Now, his great nephew carries on the tradition. 

One theory is, back in the day, the rockets were an easy way to let the fisherman out in the Bay of Biscay know how the game was going.  The real genius of the idea is not necessarily the rockets, but the code. Per Rory Smith:  

That the tradition’s appeal endured, though, was not only because it was something unique to San Sebastián — “the fans see it as something that belongs to us,” said Iñaki Mendoza, Real Sociedad’s club historian — but because of the simple genius of Alkorta’s idea: that perfect moment of suspense between the two bangs, the silence filled by hope and dread.

“When people are walking through the city on the day of a game and they hear the first rocket, they wait in suspense for the second,” Mendoza said. “And when they hear it, they resume their walk with a smile, because La Real has scored.” Izagirre described it as “a beautiful moment, where everyone is waiting.”

As the team has played to an empty stadium over the past year, the tradition has taken on another angle. While it’s not about breaking news (everyone has it on their phone), but it reminds folks that the game is not being played in a tv or some far off place but rather right there in town, and sometime soon they will be there to see it. – PAL

Source: The Rocketman of San Sebastián”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (03/18/21)

TOB: Oooooh that moment of suspense must be incredible. 


No Direction Home

A handful of folks reading this considered working in sports as a dream job when we were younger. Maybe one of your friends gave it a shot, or maybe you did, and it becomes clear pretty quickly just how difficult it is to break into that industry. For one, you’ll likely get paid shit for a good amount of time,  because the teams – whether it’s the Minnesota Twins or the Sioux Falls Canaries – know how common this dream is this dream is and they pay accordingly, and that’s if you’re lucky. Most folks have a hard time finding a spot to begin with!  Per John Gonzalez: 

That’s the tricky part of the whole dream job thing, especially in pro sports when there are only so many of those to go around in the first place. Unless you’re extremely charmed, there comes a time when you wonder how long you ought to keep chasing after it—and how far you’re willing to go

It’s only a matter of time that the dream is replaced with the reality that it’s likely going to take a long time and a lot of luck in order to get the job you imagined as a kid.  As Adam Tatalovich says, “Not everybody can be Erik Spolestra. Not everyone is coming in as the intern and then you become the head coach. I always knew these jobs would only last for so long.”

Tatalovich is the feature in Gonzalez’s story, and he’s an interesting dude. Tatalovich is a basketball scout, which was a pretty nomadic existence before the pandemic. Back in February, he was working for Guangzhou, a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. There’s a break in the CBA season in January around Lunar New Year. Most coaches and scouts step away from the job and go on vacation; instead, Tatalovich went to Turkey to meet up with a legendary coach there. And thus began his odyssey. Tatalovich hasn’t been back to Guangzhou since. 

March bled into April, and April gave way to a host of concerns—chief among them that he was officially unemployed and his prospects were limited. The woman Adam rented his Airbnb from in Belgrade let him convert it from week-to-week to month-to-month. Clothes were another issue, but that was hardly new. A lot of his belongings were left behind in China. He had an apartment’s worth of stuff stuck in storage and out of reach in Sacramento. He left behind a couple of bags worth of clothes in Australia. More of his things were scattered at friends’ houses all across the United States. All he had was the bag he packed for what he thought would be a quick holiday when he left Guangzhou.

How he spent his time and how he found his way to a job with the Knicks, and what he calls the absence of a nest – I found it all to be a distinct story and point of view on the last year. – PAL 

Source: The COVID Odyssey of One NBA Scout”, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (03/15/21)


RIP Marvin Hagler

Marvin Hagler died this week. He was my all-time favorite fighter. He didn’t take shit and he was tough as hell. Charles Pierce wrote an excellent tribute to Hagler this week, and I suggest you read it. But more importantly, if you even kinda like boxing, watch Hagler’s fight against Tommy Hearns, which in my opinion is the greatest single performance in boxing history. If you think boxing is slow and boring, just spend fifteen minutes watching this fight, and you see how two guys elevated the sport to its purest form.

Two guys, at the peaks of their career, absolutely gutting it out. Incredible. -TOB

Source: Marvelous Marvin Hagler Wouldn’t Bend,” Charles Pierce, Defector (03/15/2021)

PAL: I’d never seen this fight, and TOB is not overselling it. Honestly, this has to be up there in the pantheon of greatest sports ‘highlight’ ever. It’s incredible. Aside from the absolute grit from both of these guys, a few things stood to me, a complete boxing novice. 

  1. Hagler, a lefty, could switch stance and punish in a right-handed stance. 
  2. Hearns’ hands are is so fast. On those long arms, his punches are like a whip with an anvil on the end of it. 

And I heard this anecdote a couple times in the past week that Pierce references, too. After a debatable loss to Sugar Ray Leonard, Hagler walked away from the sport with his brain and some money. He moved to Italy and never game back. Leonard wanted a rematch. Big money. 

Later, when promoter Bob Arum came to New Hampshire to pitch a rematch with Leonard, Hagler’s response carried the sound of a great iron door, closing.

“Tell Ray,” Hagler said to Arum, “to get a life.”

That’s good stuff. 


What Happens When a Football School’s Basketball Team is Better Than the Football Team?

This was a very entertaining article. Here’s the premise:

Every American college that has a big sports culture is either a football school or a something-else school. While a few might identify most closely with lacrosse, baseball, hockey, or volleyball, the most common alternative to football schools are basketball schools.

The article focuses mainly on Michigan and how the basketball team the last few years has been much more successful than the football team. So has Michigan become a basketball school? No, not even close. The issue is the emotional connection, and for whatever reason, certain fanbases have a deep connection with one sport over another:

Coaston got hooked on the Wolverines at their 2005 win over undefeated Penn State, when Mario Manningham caught a walk-off touchdown as time expired. “The highs would be some of the best moments I’ve ever had,” she says.

The most crushing recent loss to the Buckeyes came in 2016, when Michigan came inches away from stopping Ohio State on fourth down to lock up an overtime win. “The emotions I had had about Trump winning in 2016—I was like, ‘I’m fine, I know I can handle this,’ ” Coaston says. “ ‘For the work I do, this is a really important moment, but I’m ready for it.’ I had put all of those emotions into a box, and then I’d shoved that box into Michigan football, and then the Michigan–Ohio State game happened in 2016, and I was like, ‘Ohhhh, no. The box exploded.’ There is no emotional safe space for pretty much anything.”

The box exploded is an all too accurate way to describe it. So is this:

“I don’t think I ever have thought about a Michigan basketball loss more than like a half-hour after it ended,” Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley, a fan since he was a kid in the ’90s, says, “whereas there are Michigan football losses from, like, 18 years ago that I still think very vividly about all the time.”

Swap Cal for Michigan in that paragraph and it’s eerily accurate for me. 

The author suggests a school cannot switch what kind of school it is. But I disagree, because it happened with Cal in the early 2000s. Cal had been a basketball school, with a very strong basketball culture and a passionate fanbase that packed its arena for every game. And then, over a span of 2-3 years, that flipped. The reasons for that are many and involve a rather unique confluence of events – the football team got good, the basketball team was involved in a pay-for-recruits scandal, and the beloved basketball gym was torn down and replaced with a sterile, sucky arena.

Still, this was a fun article and a nice primer for the start of the NCAA tournament. -TOB

Source: “Why So Many College Sports Fans Feel Miserable All the Time,” Alex Kirshner, Slate (03/17/2021)


Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: The White Buffalo – “Sycamore”


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What evidence is there that cats are so smart, anyway? Huh? What do they do? Because they’re clean? I am sorry. My Uncle Pete showers four times a day and he can’t count to ten. So don’t give me hygiene.

-Elaine Benes

Week of March 12, 2021

*this is a COVID-19-Shutdown-Anniversary-Free Zone*


*my heart!*


Snack Shack Queen 

Snack shack food is some of my favorite food on the planet. Burgers, brats, even frozen Snickers. You can do a lot worse at plenty of places. There’s something about eating that kind of food outside that’s perfection. 

I found this story about Carletta Brown. She runs the Hill House (on top of a hill, yes) – Lake Chabot’s version of the snack shack. While the course is rough around the edges, Carletta’s grilling is the very best part of golfing there. 

As a purveyor of great burgers in the area (Tempest still holds it for me, but 4505 on Divis is no joke, either), and as someone who recently wrote a story that features some randos really, really enjoying their round at Chabot, I am ashamed to say I have not had the Carletta Burger at Chabot. Time to step my game up. 

Brown is every bit as positive as she is portrayed in this story from Grant Marek. What Marek fails to mention is she can (and does) make an f-bomb sounds downright chipper. And the Packers love is real. She finds joy in her work, takes pride in it, and loves interacting with people. In other words, Brown is the kind of employee that makes a place special. About that burger:

 What you’re getting is an ungodly combination of a 1/3-pound of burger, lettuce, tomato, onion, two types of cheese (both doused with barbecue sauce), a split hot link (also cooked with barbecue sauce bled into it, with the cheese tucked into the link) and four pieces of bacon. According to Brown, in total, there’s roughly “a pound of barbecue sauce.”
…Carlotta’s burger has reached the kind of lore that there are stories of some locals who hike all the way up the first few fairways to get one of her burgers … even when they’re not golfing.

TOB – I think we must play a round in order to properly review the burger (you can have a sausage) for our audience. – PAL 

Source: This is the Story of Carlotta Brown: The Woman Behind One of the Bay Area’s Most Loved Burgers”, Grant Marek, SF Gate (03/04/21)

TOB: Maaaaaaaaaaaan, the Snack Shack. The absolute greatest. Nachos. Pizza. Slush Puppies. Discovering the no flavor Slush Puppies (this might sound gross but the Slush Puppy base was basically simple syrup, so “Plain” became the hot shit at my little league). Big League Chew. Bubble Tape. Chili dogs. Warheads. I could go on. 

There it is, from Google Street View. The South Tahoe Little League Snack Shack. It’s had a paint job, for sure, but it’s still the same ol’ Snack Shack. The thing about the Snack Shack is the snacks were great, but the other thing about the Snack Shack is that it was a central place for a big chunk of my young life. There are few joys more pure than chasing and getting a foul ball and then sprinting to return it to the Snack Shack for a free Slush Puppy. This is not hyperbole – when I think of being a kid, and how fun being a kid was, I almost always first think of long Saturdays at the Little League field – especially when I had an 8 or 9am game, and got to hang out all day after, running around like a hooligan with my friends. My dad umpired a lot and my mom was league president and then co-Snack Shack coordinator – so, from basically 3rd grade until 8th grade we were at the field all Saturday, all spring from morning until dusk. 

And, friends, let me tell you – there are few powers available to a 12-year old greater than having a mom who runs the Snack Shack. Long line? Psh, walk into the side door, and grab a slice of pizza, and tell whoever was working to put it on your parents’ tab (thanks mom and dad!). That is real power. 

Now, I live in the city – and one of my great reservations about doing so is that my kids will not know the joy of the Snack Shack. This problem is one of the few things that makes me consider moving to the suburbs. The city is just too big – the fields are scattered across the city, and each is a single field. There’s no central location with four fields, like I grew up with, to see and be seen and to snack. Instead, people just show up for their game and then go home. There is no shack. There are no snacks. What a shame.


A Prospect to Build a Dream On

You know that Louis Armstrong song, A Kiss to Build a Dream On? That song plays on loop in my head every March, as I scour Spring Training box scores and scroll Twitter and tune into sports talk radio, looking for those little nuggets of hope that an unheralded prospect will turn into my team’s next difference maker. 

21-year old Heliot Ramos has been in the Giants’ system since he was 17, and he’s very much making his presence known this Spring Training, hitting mammoth blasts all over the field (3 big home runs and a double off the top of the wall in his last two games). Do not get me wrong, I am so excited about Heliot that I am thinking aloud of starting a food cart outside Giants Sunday games called Heliot’s Elote y Helado (alternatively: Heliote y Heliado), and tweeting things like this on a Sunday afternoon:

But Heliot was a known quantity coming into this Spring, and I’m here instead to talk about Jason Vosler. 

I know, who? Well, Vosler was a former late round pick by the Chicago Cubs, out of Northeastern – not exactly a baseball hotbed. In the minors, Vosler always showed good plate discipline and a good sense of the strike zone, but never much power. And then he made a swing change. I’ll let Giants fan Roger Munter explain:

So it was time for a checkup with the swing doctors. I don’t play a swing doctor even on TV, but the term that has followed Vosler around much of his career is that he suffered from an overly “rotational” swing. I don’t want to get into the whole “rotational” versus “linear” swing debate (though I promise you a quick google search will produce a mountain of information for you to wade through), but I read Ted Williams’ Science of Hitting when I was young, and The Kid was the progenitor and original advocate of “rotational” hitting, so I think it’s probably a good thing. Rotating around a single axis, Ted believed, brought the large muscles of one’s core into one’s swing as a power-generating force, rather than relying on just the strength of one’s hands and wrists. The general visual analogy used is that a rotational swing uses the power of a pendulum, while a linear swing creates whip-like power snapping the bat on a more direct path to the ball.

Here’s a short video explaining what this is, but the short of it is that Vosler was over-rotating, causing his swing to be too long, which made him slower to the ball and cost him power. So, he fixed it. From Munter, here is Vosler in college on the left and in 2019 on the right:

The impact was immediate. Vosler began to hit bombs – 21 in AA in 2018, the second most in his league. He hit at least twenty the next two years, too, after having hit just 17 combined in the three years before his swing change.  But Vosler was blocked at third base in the Cubs system, by Kris Bryant, so they dealt him to San Diego after 2019. He’s blocked there, too, of course, but had a great Spring in 2020:

In March of 2020, the now-26-year-old did something he’d no doubt been dreaming about for more than a decade — he reported to major league camp as a non-roster invitee for a talented and deep San Diego Padres team. And, mixing it up with Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Manny Machado, Vosler was the talk of camp, going 9-for-20 (.450) with a homer, three doubles, three walks and two strikeouts. Dude knows how to light up Arizona! Manager Jayce Tingler said that Vosler was having “as good of at-bats as any of our guys” before spring training was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the impression he’d made garnered Vosler an invitation in July to Summer Camp and he’d spend the year at the Padres Alternate Site, waiting for an opportunity that didn’t come. He was, again, buried on a depth chart behind guys like Machado and Rookie of the Year 2nd place finalist Jake Cronenworth

So the Giants signed him to a major league deal, which surprised some people. After all, Vosler has never had an appearance in the bigs. As Munter notes, though, Vosler checks all the Giants boxes – he is a Yaz profile come to life, per Munter:

  • Overlooked because he didn’t pop on traditional scouting grades.
  • Long history of patience, walks, and good swing decisions
  • Swing change unlocking power
  • Approach geared to swinging only when maximum damage can be generated

Vosler has not disappointed this month. His numbers: 

.500 BA/ .500 OBP/ .813 SLG/ 1.313 OPS

Pretty friggin good. Will Vosler be the next Yaz for the Giants? Man, I don’t know. But that’s why I love Spring Training, and that’s why I loved this story by Munter – it’s a story, and those are numbers, to build a dream on. 

P.S. I wrote this on Monday morning. Since, Vosler has gone 0 for 8 with 5 strikeouts and one walk. LOLLLLL *shrug* -TOB

Source: Should Jason Vosler Excite You?Roger Munter (03/10/21)

PAL: “P.S. I wrote this on Monday morning. Since, Vosler has gone 0-8.” What a perfect end to a spring training prospect story.

I liked the rhythm of this paragraph: 

So who is Jason Vosler, exactly? Well there are several answers to that question. Vosler is a cold weather guy. He’s a swing change guy. Not surprisingly, he’s a “good swing decisions” guy. And he’s frequently been a “victim of numbers” guy. But most importantly, he’s a serious “overcoming the odds” guy — Vosler has never been high on anybody’s scouting card, prospect list, or dynasty team. Step by step, he’s walked a long, lonely Cinderella path, well away from the limelight for many years, until suddenly finding himself in that most incredible of positions, the precipice of a dream come true.

You know what else is so great…or maybe the worst about the story? It keeps some delusional dream alive for a bunch of guys not half as good as Vosler on his worst day. The fantasy is given new life: that scouts really were focusing on the wrong numbers, that all it took was a person to see things differently in order for a guy like Vosler to get a shot. That one tweak to the swing was the difference between 14 home runs in three seasons and 20 homers in one season.


Former College Baseball Player Explains Some Hitting Shop Talk

Some people hate Twitter, because of the Discourse. But I still think it’s great because you get to curate what you see. I don’t need to see the toxic stuff. I get juuuuuust enough politics to stay informed, and then so much baseball and basketball. This week I stumbled upon this amazing and confusing conversation between former major leaguer Trevor Plouffe and current major leaguer/former MVP Josh Donaldson, delving into the depths of hitting mechanics. 

And, I won’t lie, a lot of it was so far over my head. So I asked our boy here to translate. I don’t know if you know, but Phil played college baseball – there are stats online to prove it and everything. So, Phil, what’s going on here? Please translate. -TOB

PAL: Very pedestrian stat lines. This is going to take a minute. I think I caught about 75% of what Plouffe and Donaldson are talking about. I’ll do my best here to translate key points. Of course, there’s a chance I am wrong on a lot of this. One thing I’m sure of – my buddies back at Augie will let me know. 

Hand slot: Slot = start of hand path to the ball. Where his hands start indicates the line his hands take to the ball. Think of it in 3D. Not just an uppercut, downward path, or straight line, but do his hands push away from his body (common for guys who hit the ball opposite field a lot or pull in towards his body (more of a pull hitter). 

Clicks in the zone: Yeah, no idea what Plouffe is talking about. 

TOB: If I may jump in here – I believe he means frames/clicks as he reviews the video. Three clicks in the zone means the bat is in the zone for 3 clicks/frames of the film, which is good. If a bat is in the zone for 1 click/frame, that’s too short and hard to hit – the more time the bat is in the zone the better the chance to make contact. Back to Phil…

Yes Yes No Hitter: This connects to the intent to swing idea. Every pitch, the hitter should have the same approach in terms of physical movements. Every pitch – swing or take – should be 90% the same. That last millisecond of recognition is when good hitters decide to take a pitch. Every pitch, as the ball is in flight: yes (I’m going to swing, recognizing pitch), yes (I’m going to swing, recognizing location), and then they decide whether or not to swing. Great hitters do everything the same every swing until that last moment of recognition. 

More forward lower half and upper staying back: This is hard to do, and so a lot of hitters (myself included) would either overcompensate and stay back to the point where I had no momentum going through the ball, or I would get out front with my entire body.  You have to come through the ball by getting your lower body moving towards the ball, but the trick is to keep your hands back and your front shoulder on the ball. That’s where the quickness comes from, and that combined with the big strength from the big muscles in the legs, butt, and core is where power comes from. 

General: Donaldson always rubbed me the wrong way. No reason, really. Ok; fine, maybe it was the hair! But this made me really like him. I’d like him even more if he stays healthy and mashes for the Twinkies. 

TOB: re Donaldson. My favorite tweet was at the end when he tells Plouffe, who had a few nice years there with the Twins, what was wrong with his swing and why his career sputtered out. It was brutally honest and kudos to Plouffe for accepting the way-too-late diagnosis. But – how disturbed is Josh Donaldson that he either (a) knew off the top of his head from having played against Plouffe what was wrong with his balance, or (b) took the time to check his swing during this conversation? Either way, it’s some real grinder shit.


Minor League Experimental Rule Changes? UGH! Wait, Actually…

I don’t like significant rule changes in baseball. I like baseball just how it is. But while I am a traditionalist in that sense, I am at odds with those traditionalists who want to curtail innovation. See, The Shift. In my opinion a team should be able to position its defense however it would like, because there is no rule saying otherwise. Moreover, as we have covered here before, the shift is not new – teams have been doing it for decades – they are just shifting more often now as data not previously available instructs. Not only that, but deep dives into statistics show that the shift is basically neutral in its impact. 

With that said, here are rules MLB is implementing across the minors this year, which are experimental and could be coming to MLB soon:

Skip the larger bases rule in AAA and go right to the shift rule in AA. Despite what I said above, I am ok with the rule that the infielders must be, ya know, on the infield. Over the last few years we’ve seen guys thrown out at first after hitting a 100 MPH laser 100 feet past the infield, because the shortstop has not only shifted, but is essentially playing at a softball rover depth. Baseball is entertainment, and it should be fun – watching a team scoop up a weak grounder that can’t dribble through what would have been a hole is one thing; watching a team play with a cheat code and take away a line drive by playing half way between the infield and the outfielder is another. 

While we’re here, I also love the high-A pickoff rule. Pickoff attempts are legitimately boring and almost always fail, while stolen base attempts are fun as hell. This rule will make it harder for pitchers to pick guys off, and easier to read when they are and aren’t. Sight unseen, I’m a big fan. I’m less thrilled at the low-A pickoff rule. Once you put a limit, and once a pitcher hits his limit, it’s going to allow runners to absolutely tee off on the bases. Stealing bases is fun, but runners taking off with impunity is not.  -TOB


Video of the Week

Yes, more Jomboy.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week  Cannonball Adderley – Autumn Leaves (feat. Miles Davis) 


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Feels like an Arby’s night.”

-David Puddy

Week of March 5, 2021


The Eyes are on the Eyes of Texas

 

 

If you missed it, University of Texas football players created quite the stir last fall when they began refusing to stay out on the field and sing the school song, Eyes of Texas, as has long been tradition. They did this because the song has roots in racism, and good for them. The reason this is a story again, in March, is because the players correctly are not letting it go. But also because a reporter obtained e-mails sent by boosters to the school complaining about the players, and boy howdy are there some doozies. Before we get to the e-mails I have to add this. I have been to two Texas games in my life – one in Austin, the other in Berkeley. But as I read this article I realized I have no idea how Eyes of Texas sounds, or what the lyrics are. So, as I was reading, I decided to pause and go read the lyrics to the song. And, wow. Not only are they dumb as hell, but I also found out the song is set to the tune of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad! That is so hilariously stupid. Why the hell do these people care about a nursery song with dumb lyrics? I went back to the article and then read this:

Texas is not the only school that would make this choice. But it is the one school that’s in the position of forcing players to go along with this particular song, which if you haven’t heard it, is sung to the tune of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad.” A banger, it is not.

 

I laughed out loud. A banger, it is not. Many of the emails threatened to pull donations – some of them claiming to have donated over $1,000,000. Again – imagine first loving a football team so much you donate SEVEN FIGURES, and then getting so upset at the idea of a dumb song set to I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THE RAILROAD not being sung by players who don’t want to sing it. The hell?  Two of the emails from boosters, however, lay it all bare

“Less than 6% of our current student body is black,” wrote Larry Wilkinson, a donor who graduated in 1970, quoting a statistic UT-Austin officials have stated they’re working to improve. “The tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog….. and the dog must instead stand up for what is right. Nothing forces those students to attend UT Austin. Encourage them to select an alternate school ….NOW!”
“It’s time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost,” wrote another donor who graduated in 1986. Texas also redacted that name. “It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it’s time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor.”

THE BLACKS. That’s really all you need to know about this story: rich, white assholes want to exercise their power over others. A story as old as time. -TOB

Source: “UT Needs Rich Donors”: Emails Show Wealthy Alumni Supporting “Eyes of Texas” Threatened to Pull Donations,” Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune (03/01/2021); In ‘Eyes of Texas’ Debate, Texas Chooses Donors Over Doing What’s Best for Players,David Ubben, The Athletic (03/01/2021)

PAL: I laughed at that line, too, TOB: “A banger, it is not.” Winning is the most valued tradition, and that comes from talented players competing for your school. It may not feel like it, but the power here lies with the players and students, not with a few boosters who try to bully the school to shape it around their incomplete, childhood memories of the school and its football team from back in the ‘good ol days’. 

If the players, especially good ones, don’t want to stand and sing the song, then they don’t have to, and if the team punishes them, the team will lose more. More games, and more recruits. Fewer big-time recruits will go to Texas – because who wants to play for an average team that prioritizes some booster and his/her obsession with a dumb song? As the anonymous booster points out, there are plenty of other schools where they don’t have to do that, and I’ll add this: plenty of other schools with better football programs. If the school bows down to these boosters, then program will become more insignificant than it already has become. The school is worried about money drying up now? Keep losing and see what happens. 

It’s easier to argue over symbolic traditions than it is to address what U.T. fans and boosters care about most: the team hasn’t been a title contender in over a decade. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and – perhaps most painful – Oklahoma have left Texas behind. There isn’t an easy solution to that problem, so they turn their attention to a song, to preservation in the name of ‘heritage’. 

Again, winning is the most valued tradition, and that comes from players. This situation is a hell of an unfair burden to put on a kid—to choose between what feels wrong (singing an old minstrel song in the name of tradition) and what you love (playing football). And for a few, that fight could lead to the end of their football days (being benched or not having a scholarship renewed). One thing’s for sure: the adults in the room will be no help. The coaches get paid a lot, and they want to keep cashing those checks. Guess who’s behind writing those checks. 


Hustler

I know very little about pool. Billiards. We played in the basement growing up, and I like to play at a bar. Pool is a great conversation starter. Other than that, and Minnesota Fats, I know very little. Some guys like to wear a vest when they play, right? What’s that about? Efren Reyes is a pool legend. He’s considered the best pool player in history in the same way Wayne Gretzky is considered the best hockey player – it’s not really up for debate, and no one is looking for one. Reading his story from the perspective of someone who knows very little about the game only made this story from Eric Nusbaum and Adam Vllacin even better.  The opening is fantastic: 

Efren Reyes would rather not have become the most famous and universally praised pool player in the history of the world. Would rather not have gone pro or been the subject of a million YouTube highlight reels or won every single pool tournament known to man. Would rather not have become so successful, so universally admired that there is a literal X-Men character based on him. 

Going pro, getting famous—this was all a last resort. Because what Efren Reyes really wanted to do was hustle.  

He was born in a town called Mexico, in the Filipino province of Pampanga, about 40 miles up the highway from Manila. When he was a kid, the family moved down the highway and into the capital. Efren had an uncle there who ran a pool hall called Lucky 13. Efren started hanging around the pool hall, watching the older men—the good players and the bad ones—while working as an attendant, and goofing around at the empty tables. 

Who among you is not reading a story about a Filipino from the town of Mexico who would go on to become the best pool player ever and the inspiration of a comic book character?  I am thinking about what else to add to this story to convince you to read it. What other details, what other quotes. The more I think about it, what else do you need that’s not in that opening? OK, here’s Reyes dominating: 

Go read the story already! – PAL Source: The Greatest Pool Player In History Just Wanted To Hustle”, Eric Nusbaum and Adam Vllacin, Sports Stories, ℅ Defector (03/02/21) TOB: I had never even heard of this guy, but now I love him. If for no other reason than this anecdote relayed in the story:

At the inaugural Derby City Classic in 1999, he won the “Master of the Table” award for best all-around player. At the ceremony he refused his trophy. “I play for money,” he said as he accepted his $25,000 check.

CTC. Cut that check, baby!


Succeed?

Well, this is interesting – two businessmen, working closely with female athletes, are trying to turn the existing concept of a sports league on its head. Or, at least, re-invent it from scratch. They wondered why women’s sports, in particular, don’t seem to have huge professional followings in the U.S. So, they did some research:

In their research, four trend lines in fan behavior stood out: 1) Supporters were more likely to exhibit passion about individual players than they were about entire teams. 2) They were engaging with sports on a variety of platforms, just as likely to play in a fantasy league or consume highlights on Instagram as they were to watch actual games. 3) They were increasingly interested in athletes’ personalities and off-field lives. And 4) They took close notice of “values orientation,” the standards and ideals that a league and its athletes center on.

In other words, the existing model of professional sports has been difficult to navigate for any upstart league, particularly for women’s leagues, which tended to be shut out of mainstream media coverage. But if you were building something new—if you weren’t necessarily worried about filling stadiums in a dozen different markets or landing a major cable deal; if, instead, you marketed directly to an existing segment of fans—you could make it work.

Ok, so – a league in a bubble, with fandom not centered on regional ties? This doesn’t sound all that revolutionary so far. But the devil is in the details, and when they say they are throwing out the 20th Century American Sports model, they are not kidding:

At the start of each season, a small number of players would be named as captains. Those captains would draft teams in a live-streamed event, promoted as much as any game, which would mix personality (Who’s picking whom?) with strategy (How are they approaching the intricacies of roster construction?). These teams would then play one another over the course of the next week. But while each game would look and feel familiar, with a winner and a loser, what really mattered would be the individual stats, kept with a unique scoring system, tailored to the sport, that accounted for offensive and defensive performance. These individual numbers would be tracked on a leaderboard, and at the end of each week team captains would draft anew, remaking their rosters to form completely new teams. Finally, at the end of the season, rather than a championship squad, there would be one woman atop the leaderboard. Your fill-in-the-blank-sport champion.

Uh, wow. That is certainly different. But they’re not done:

Every player would earn the same base salary but could activate performance-based bonuses that doubled or even tripled that takeaway. They’d all play in one city (Rosemont, Ill., for softball; Dallas for volleyball…) to cut out the costs of traveling and operating multiple stadiums, and to facilitate the creation of media content around the players, who’d be living and spending time together, getting drafted by their fellow athletes each week. They’d all have ownership stakes in the league. And they’d make decisions together, on the rulebook and on marketing strategy, all the way down the line.

Officially wild. Baccellieri, long one of my favorite writers and Twitter follows, succinctly explains the rationale:

Fans can follow individual athletes they already know from college or, say, from Instagram, rather than try to embrace brand-new teams with whom they have no history, no local connection.

This makes some sense. Two of my favorite Cal players of all time are Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch. When they got to the NFL, I rooted for them, but with some reservation – though I have my issues with the 49ers, they are still the team I grew up rooting for and rooting for Rodgers or Lynch often meant rooting against the Niners, usually indirectly, but often very directly, including in the playoffs. If the NFL followed this model, instead, I could unabashedly root for those two guys . I could root for Ozzie Albies or Fernando Tatis, Jr., because I like to watch them play, without worrying about what their good performances doe to my team’s playoff chances. Because I’d have no team. I’d just have My Guys. And we all know I love My Guys. That’s not to say that I want MLB to change to this model – hell no. But I see the logic for a niche sport, like women’s softball. The fanbase is small but devoted, and most start following players in college. After college it becomes difficult to follow the players – the teams, and even the leagues, are forming and folding all the time, and it becomes hard to invest in emotionally, as three of the sport’s best players all agree:

The existing model for professional softball was untenable. The average annual salary in NPF was around $5,000. The number of viable teams fluctuated each season. As much as they loved the game, they’d never banked on softball as a serious career. Almost no one could. 

This is true of a lot of sports, for men and women. Even Women’s Soccer – I have lost count of how many teams Alex Morgan has been on (I just looked it up and it’s 7 in 10 years, geeze).  If, instead, I could follow her on Twitter, see her highlights, and be able to see she is kicking butt on the “leaderboard”? I dunno – I think I really would pay more attention. And that’s what Athletes Unlimited hopes. They don’t just want to reach diehards. By focusing on national (“all 30 softball games ran on TV or were streamed by ESPN and CBS; 22 of the 30 upcoming volleyball matches will be on CBS or Fox subsidiaries”) and social media, they hope to reach everyone:

“There’s going to be your volleyball fans, your lacrosse fans—those are the people who are always watching, it doesn’t matter the format, right?” says Jessica Mendoza, a softball player turned ESPN analyst and now an Athletes Unlimited board member. “But now there’s going to be a guy who likes to gamble! Now he’s going to watch a women’s lacrosse game and notice stuff he never would have noticed. … And it’s not just one guy like that. There are hundreds and thousands, and they absorb sports for different reasons. I think, ultimately, a lot of them are going to walk away and be like, I like watching women’s volleyball. I like watching women’s softball. Not all of them, but I think a lot of them—and that makes me happy.”

This is an interesting concept, and a really good read. -TOB Source: Welcome to the Grand Softball Experiment,” Emma Baccellieri, Sports Illustrated (02/26/2021)


Winter Surfing Looks Awesome and Miserable

I love a good photo essay, and the NY Times has this cool thing going during the pandemic where they feature a photojournalist taking the viewers to places in the world a bit harder to get to these days. In this most recent installment, Ryan Carter captures winter surfers on Lake Huron.  Per Carter: 

In recent years there’s been a significant increase in the popularity of lake surfing in North America. Unlike ocean surfers, who often depend partly on tides, lake surfers rely solely on strong, sustained winds. The stormy winter months often bring the biggest waves — and therefore the best surfing conditions.

The photos are surreal. The snow, the ice, the flurries, and the surfboard. It’s like surfers found the last place on earth – a deserted lake town. It all feels a bit apocalyptic.  Check out all of the photos in the link below. – PAL 

Source:Surf’s Up. The Temperature Isn’t.”, Ryan Carter, The New York Times (03/01/21)


Video of the Week: A couple excellent jomboy breakdowns.


Tweet of the Week:


Song of the Week: Anderson .Paak, Feat. Rick Ross – “CUT EM IN”


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I gotta focus. I’m shifting into soup mode. 

-George Costanza

Throw Strikes!

An Incomplete Guide of What Not to Shout at a Baseball Game

Spring is so close. Baseball teams have returned to Arizona and Florida. Daylight Savings—the good one—is just on the other side of next weekend. Maybe there’s an end to this pandemic up ahead, and with some luck, each of you reading this story will soon enough find yourself in a lawn chair watching a baseball game on a long, warm, golden evening. Can you feel the grass between your toes? Don’t forget the sunflower seeds. 

We’ll all be rusty on the situations, players and spectators alike. Understandable; it’s been a minute. While the kid playing right field may have forgotten where to throw the ball on a single with a runner on first and two outs, you may have forgotten what to yell at the game. 

Nothing is everywhere at a baseball game. It permeates. For nearly 200 years spectators have filled the nothing between the pitches with chatter. We are compelled to be heard in that nothing. Of course, leaving the nothing as silence is no good either (games with empty stadiums is a recent reminder), but often the nothing is filled with counterproductive, self-evident, too late, passive-aggressive, not-as-clever-as-you-think crap. 

There are any number of sentiments fitting to yell at a baseball game, but there are a handful of phrases that need to be removed from any spectator’s rotation. They gotta go, regardless of intent. That’s what we’re here to start. 

With the help of friends, family, coaches, parents, I’ve collected the following list of things to avoid shouting when at a baseball game. Consider this a living document. Send me what I’ve missed. We’ll work together on it, and in the process we’ll make games, especially youth sports, just a little less dumb. 

Keep your distance, and keep yourself from yelling any of the following at the ballgame.  

Throw strikes! If nothing else comes from this list other than one less person shouting Throw strikes! at a baseball game, then this story will have been worth it.

To the folks who yell that at a game, I ask you: what in the goddamn hell do you think all pitchers, ages 8 to 80, is trying to do? I promise, their intention was not to walk the previous four hitters. Just because they struggle to throw a strike doesn’t mean they forgot the purpose of their presence on the mound. All pitchers, at every level and every game, are trying to throw strikes, so stop shouting that.

Focus! Question: would someone yelling Focus! while you worked help you keep your attention on the task at hand? Similar: Keep your head in the game! 

Tie goes to the runner! You’re superhuman? You have a slow motion feature in your brain? Oh, you don’t? So then maybe ease up on the retired gym teacher umpire making a judgement call on the bang-bang play. In fact, just resist the urge to yell rules, made-up ones—like “tie goes to the runner”—or otherwise.  

Trust your arm. How does one trust his or her arm? Can an arm betray trust? Can an arm earn trust? This phrase is typically something a father will say to his child who he thinks is superior to the hitter. Trust your arm, in other words, is “your average fastball is more than this kid can handle.” Or, consider this: maybe the pitcher isn’t trusting his/her arm because it sucks on that day and the last four batters have hit standup doubles. 

He’s not looking to hit. One of my favorites, ℅  my college buddy Kevin Wiessner. While the spectator is saying this to the pitcher, this is just as much directed at the opposing team’s hitter. He’s not looking to hit is saying no less than “this player is bad at hitting a baseball. So terrible that you, pitcher, don’t need to waste time thinking about pitch selection or location. The only way this hitter hurts you—the only way— is if you can’t throw three strikes.”  

He’s not looking to hit is the combination of Throw strikes! and calling an opposing player trash in one succinct phrase. 

Watch the junk! God love him, my dad would yell this anytime I had two strikes on me in an at-bat. Thinking about a curveball with two strikes is an effective way to watch a fastball go by and strikeout looking. We’ve all been told hitting is very hard, and it happens in less than a second. My advice: don’t put ideas into a kid’s head the moment before he/she needs to make a decision.

In fact, no instruction is helpful from the stands during the game. Practice is the time for instruction. The batting cage is time to work on technique and approach. If you want to fill your kid’s head with bad info, at least do it away from the game. That time is over once the game starts. 

If you’re in the stands, then you are not the coach, so don’t coach. I know it might feel like it, but your 11 year-old’s MLB draft stock will not be impacted by the fourth at-bat in the 9 AM consolation game at the weekend tournament 50 miles on the other side of nowhere. 

Special consideration for “don’t” coaching from the stands. The only thing worse than shouting stay down at the infielder who just a ground ball go between his legs is to shout don’t come up!  Same goes for don’t lunge (when hitting), don’t nibble (when pitching). If you’re committed to shouting dumb things at a baseball game, at least shout what you want. 

Just a long strike! A favorite phrase of the dad who fancies himself the funny guy in the crowd. Typically this one comes out after an opposing cleanup hitter who hit puberty three years before the rest of the kids sends a pitch 400-feet on a line, just foul. While technically true—the foul ball is a strike—psychologically, this was not just a strike. Anyone at the game feels it and knows it to be true. A missile foul ball can be far more damaging to the pitcher’s psyche than a ground ball with eyes.

I understand the intention of trying to get the pitcher to move onto the next pitch, but we can get there without drawing attention to the ball that cratered the hood of a SUV in the parking lot beyond right field. 

Besides, everyone knows a foul ball – be it a bunt or a moonshot – is a strike. It doesn’t need to be said, and it does not deliver the positive reassurance proposed in the phrase. 

Just ‘lets’ us score more! I have saved the worst for last. This is not a common phrase—thank god—and we must keep it that way. 

This embarrassment is the wordcraft of an otherwise excellent coach and mentor. He knows who he is, and it is out of an abundance of respect that I don’t call him by name. Future generations of his family don’t deserve the burden, so great is this crime against the game. 

Coach would like to shout this, almost with a sick glee, when the opposing team was in the frenzie of scoring several runs in an inning. There’s a momentum that comes with the opposition putting together a big inning. With each run, the weight gets heavier, and it gets harder and harder to get out from under it. Even an out is an act of mercy. 

That’s when he’d shout it: Just ‘lets’ us score more! 

What it felt like: 

5 runs deficit? Not a problem! 

8 runs? We’ve done it before! 

10 runs? What an awesome opportunity! 

First, the opposing team scoring a lot of runs did not then let us score more runs. A victory required more runs. Second, big comebacks happen not through blinding positivity, but through a plodding, steady persistence. 

The rebuttal to my argument is that the phrase is about a mindset, of course. It’s not meant to push blind positivity. It’s more of a PG version of an “f-it” mentality. It’s about avoiding a dugout of moping. Moping leads to a little less hustle, and no team’s coming back from a big deficit feeling sorry for itself.

All of that is true and right, but there’s got to be a less lame, bright-eyed way to convey that point. Just ‘lets’ us score more is like yelling “just ‘lets’ us swim!” to the townspeople as the dam breaks. 

So what are some good phrases to yell at a ballgame? It’s pretty simple: heap specific praise on players, especially on the young ones. 9/10 things you shout should be positive. Don’t be the a-hole who only chimes in when his/her kid does something.  If you’re consistently praising all the good stuff, then it’s fine to call out a lack of hustle and mental mistakes, but maybe go with “we” instead of a kid’s name.

You might be wondering, “Who is this guy to tell me what to shout at a baseball game?”

I’m no one, man. But on this, I am right.

– Phil Lang, 03/03/21

 

Since we’re here, we can quickly cover off on some other sports, too, including basketball, hockey, soccer, volleyball, swimming, and more. 

Here’s a start of running list of phrases to avoid: 

Get the ball

Jump

Run

Skate

Shoot

Dribble

Kick (swimming)

Over (volleyball)

Let’s hear some chatter

Look alive

Take the body

Move it

Keep your head in the game

Walk it off

Box out

Any swearing at a youth game, because you’re better than that. 

Not exactly a phrase, but this still ought to go: holding up four fingers to signal the 4th quarter of a football game, as if to say your team owns the fourth quarter. How unoriginal can a “tradition” be?