Week of April 30, 2021

Bumgarner’s No-Hitter is Absolutely a No-Hitter (No, It’s Not) (Yes, It Is) (No, It’s Not) (Yes, It Is)

Premise 1: Madison Bumgarner had many near no-hitters with the Giants. Then he left for Arizona, stunk up the shortened 2020 season, and stunk even worse in his first few starts in 2021. 

Premise 2: In the shortened 2020 season, MLB instituted a rule change to reduce the number of innings from 9 to 7 for doubleheaders. This was one of a number of rule changes ostensibly intended to reduce the risk of on-field COVID-19 transmission, and it also was accounting for the fact that the league was expecting a big uptick in doubleheaders due to COVID-19 related cancellations, and the fear that so many doubleheaders would overly tax players – especially pitching staffs. Then, for some reason, they kept this rule for 2021. 

Those two premises converged on Sunday when, pitching in the second game of a doubleheader, Madison Bumgarner threw a no-hitter in 7 innings. Immediately the takes were hot. Some felt strongly that it doesn’t count. Their argument is that 9 innings is a game, not 7 innings, and 7 innings is not as difficult as 9 innings. I am here to tell you that they are wrong. If you agree with them, you are wrong. 

Consider what happens if a pitcher gives up no hits through 9 innings but the game goes to extra innings, and then the pitcher gives up a hit in the 10th. MLB does not consider that a no-hitter. But why not? The pitcher gave up zero hits over nine innings! Too bad. It’s not a complete game, it’s not a no-hitter. 

By the same token, the game Bumgarner pitched counts in the standings. It’s a real game. It’s a complete game, from start to finish. If it counts in the standings, and it’s a real game, then how does it not count? The man gave up no hits over the course of a full, complete, legal game – he gets his no-hitter.

Now, you’re free to believe that it’s not as impressive of an accomplishment. And you’d be right. No hits in 7 innings is not as impressive as no hits in 9 innings. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t give up no hits in a complete game and thus threw a no-hitter. Congrats, Bum. -TOB

PAL: They should hand out a ticket for 2 free airheads from the concession stand, because this is some Little League crap! You’re right, and—sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeit—I couldn’t care less about a 7-inning game given up zero hits. I can’t refer to it as a no-hitter. Did he give up any hits in the entire game? No. Was it a no-hitter? Nope.  

TOB: I will fight to the death on this one. Blame MLB for the dumb 7-inning double header rule, but a full game is a full game and he gave up not hits in a full game and thus he threw a No-Hitter. 

PAL: Well, then, stack up the the 5-inning no-hitters in the garage behind the Christmas lights. Per MLB.com: 

A game is considered a regulation game — also known as an “official game” — once the visiting team has made 15 outs (five innings) and the home team is leading, or once the home team has made 15 outs regardless of score.

We know what a no-hitter means. Come on.

TOB: There’s a difference here. This game was scheduled for 7 innings. It was not called early for rain.

PAL: Hey, just going by the rules here.

Quarterback Controversy Competition 

Last night, 5 quarterbacks were selected in the first 15 picks round of the NFL draft. We all understand why: an NFL team cannot win without a very good quarterback, and very good quarterbacks near their prime aren’t usually available in free agency (and they are very expensive if they are available, and why is the team they were on giving up on him if the most valuable asset a football team can have is a very good quarterback?)

What’s more, a has to draft its QB AND have him play well on his rookie deal, so they can pay to build a roster around the most valuable player on the team before he’s accounting for $30MM of the salary cap. 

With that in mind, the I share this story from Rodger Sherman. In it, he talks of a growing trend amongst NFL teams to draft a QB in the first round, and then – even after as little as one or two seasons – draft a QB again. As recently as 10 years ago, a team would give a QB some seasons to grow. They would protect him. They would spend high round draft picks to build around the QB. The trend is getting away from that thinking. If you want to win the lottery, then best way to do it is to buy more tickets. 

Within this broader argument, the part of the story I found most interesting comes when Sherman challenges the idea that teams can’t have two quarterbacks competing for the job. We know it’s the most important position to fill, but to have a real competition amongst is seen as a mess:

And using multiple first-round picks on quarterbacks within the span of a few years takes on outsized emotional significance. If a team holds an open competition for the starting right tackle spot, it’s widely referred to as a training camp battle. If there’s a similar competition for the QB spot, it’s called a QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY, and every comment the coach and players have ever made is meticulously dissected. We worry about the psyche of QBs in a way we don’t with players at other positions. Will a team bringing in a competitor cause a young quarterback to lose confidence? Wouldn’t a young quarterback benefit from having a journeyman 38-year-old with a bushy beard and a Harvard degree as his mentor?

And, before you go to the “job preservation” argument – that a GM and head coach will lose their jobs if they admit failure in their initial pick, consider this: 

They may be worried about losing their jobs—but the thing that’s really going to cost a GM a job is never finding the right quarterback. There aren’t many people who seem critical of Cardinals GM Steve Keim’s decision to pick Rosen now, even though it was a total failure. The screwup that cost his team a highly valuable draft pick was wiped out once Murray emerged as a success. Keim would likely be out of a job if he’d doubled down on Rosen.

I’m not a big NFL Draft follower, but I thought this was a damn good read. – PAL 

Source: The Case for the First-Round Quarterback Draft Mulligan”, Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (04/27/21)

TOB: Tangentially related – I am developing a theory on this draft. As Phil notes, we saw five wide receivers drafted, including 4 in the top 10 and 5 in the top 15. That continued an upward trend – until 2018, there were usually two to three QBs taken in the first round. But starting that year, we’ve seen 5, 3, 4, and 5. But we also saw a lot of wide receivers taken this year – 5 in the first round and 3 in the top 10. Again, that continued an upward trend, this time starting just last year, where six wide receivers went in the first round – but none in the top 10. Prior to last year, usually 2-3 were taken in the first round, and usually late.

You might be thinking my theory is that teams are drafting more for the passing game as offenses continue to become pass heavy. And while that’s true, that’s not my theory. Because while teams have been trending that way in the draft, they’ve also been trending that way on the other side of the ball – defensive lineman and defensive backs, both in an effort to disrupt the passing game.

But this year? Just one defensive tackle (where we typically see three to six over the last decade) and four defensive ends with none in the top 15 (where we typically see as many as seven, with at least two in the top 10). Those are foundational positions on defense, and teams usually fall over themselves to get them. But this year there were few taken, and mostly late in the first round.

So my theory is that many of the QBs taken this year might have been second round picks in many years but it was a weak draft pool this year, for whatever reason – be it the shortened 2020 season, or just a natural down year, so we get bum prospects like Mac Jones taken 15th.

Did Tatis Sneak a Peak and is That Ok?

The Padres took 3 of 4 from the Dodgers last weekend, thanks in large part to Fernando Tatis, back from his shoulder injury, who hit two dongs off Kershaw on Friday, two more off Bauer on Saturday, and then a fifth off Dustin May on Sunday. That is quite the weekend. A little controversy arose during that double dong game against Bauer, though. 

After the first one, Tatis turned toward his dugout and covered one eye, in response to Bauer pitching against the Padres during spring training with one eye closed.

That’s an excellent trolling of a troll. For his part, Bauer said he thought it was great and in general stated he wants players to be allowed to be more animated in celebrations without fear of being tagged. But Bauer also complained that before he hit the second home run, Tatis peaked at the sign.

“There’s no real remedy for the catcher and the pitcher to use to counteract someone looking back at the signs,” Bauer said. “So the remedy is if you look back at the signs, that’s fine, there’s no rule that says I can’t stick a fastball in your ribs. And that’s kind of how it’s been handled traditionally in baseball up until this point.

“Now, flip the bat and do all that stuff, fine. If you’re going to look at the signs, not OK, and if you do it again, the team that you’re playing probably ain’t going to take too kindly to it and there might have to be some on-field stuff.

However, as Jomboy breaks down, the sign was already given before Tatis peaked.

At worst, Tatis was checking where the catcher set up. So, I dunno, is that bad? The Athletic talked to three former catchers about this and, to my surprise anyways, they said they have no issue with Tatis doing that:

In Kratz’s view, Tatis might have determined that Bauer wanted the pitch to be outside from looking at Smith’s positioning. Bauer, though, had worked Tatis away almost the entire at-bat, making it easier for Tatis to anticipate the location.

“He threw him like six pitches away the entire at-bat,” said Kratz, who watched Bauer’s video as well as video of the at-bat. “And Bauer is never going to run a ball in 3-2 unless you’ve got a base open or something. He’s going to stay away. I think Bauer overreacted (with his comments)…

Kratz added that it’s fairly easy to combat this:

“You see that (peeking). You’re aware of that,” Kratz said. “Peeking at signs… Eh, signs are tough to get. But there are guys who peek location, for sure. Location is the biggest thing, especially if a guy moves too much. That’s totally on the catcher. I don’t know who else would stop it.

“You’re within their peripheral vision. If they’re looking location, you move early to show it to them, and then you move back. If a guy is a really, really habitual peeker, then you tell your pitcher, ‘I’m going to move early away. And we’re going heater in. So just trust what the sign is.’”

What do you think, Phil? -TOB

Source: Trevor Bauer Accused Fernando Tatis Jr. of Peeking at Signs. Did He? We Asked Three Ex-Catchers to Weigh In,” Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic (04/26/2021)

PAL: I think Jomboy has a great idea in this video – I want pitch sequence somewhere on the TV during an at-bat. That’s my biggest take-away from all of this. 

He didn’t see the pitch, but Tatis did check for location, and Kratz is 100% right that location is a huge piece of info for a hitter. It’s on the catcher, in this case, Will Smith. They are saying he’s shifting to the outside part of the plate, and giving location away too early. I disagree. 

A catcher is a bit on his haunches, with the knees facing forward and up on the balls of his feet, when giving signs. That is done to shield the sign from base coaches and create a bit of a tunnel from where the signs are being given, directly out to the pitcher. Like this:

Look at how Smith is up on his toes, with his knees pointed towards the pitcher.

After the pitch and location are given, the catcher has to get down in his squat – the position he’ll be in to receive the pitch: more on the insteps of his feet, and – with two strikes – ready to block a ball in the dirt. Like this:

Again, ignore the red notations, and notice how Smith is now shifting the weight to the instep and his widened with his butt a little lower.

In order to get from sign position to the receiving position, a catcher will have to rock/shift his weight, so there’s movement before he gets set in the actual location. That’s what I see Smith doing when Tatis sneaks a peak. 

Smith even rocks back to his left (towards Tatis) before setting up outside. 

That’s a lot of info to say that I agree with the former players analysis—Tatis didn’t see the pitch called, was looking for location, and that’s on the catcher. But I just don’t think Smith gave away the location when Tatis was looking. I think Tatis saw Smith shifting, and then guessed the right location. Bauer was pounding him away the entire at-bat, especially when Tatis already pulled a middle-in slider for a home run earlier in the game.

Most importantly, give us that pitch sequence on the telecast.

Now That’s A Cool Draft Party

Najee Harris, the Alabama RB from the Bay Area, was the first running back selected in the 2021 draft. He was a complete stud playing for the Crimson Tide. Like many first-rounders, Harris had a draft party, but Harris’ was a little different. His party was at the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program. That’s the homeless shelter where he and his family stayed during his middle school years. 

That’s incredibly heartwarming. I hope Harris balls out for the Steelers. – PAL 

Source: Steelers Draft Pick Najee Harris Hosts Draft Party at Homeless Shelter Where He Used to Live”, Madeline Coleman, SI.com (04/30/21)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Kamasi Washington – “Southside V.1”, “Southside V.2.” 

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And Three Times A Week, I Shall Require A Cannoli.


Week of April 23, 2021

To quote the legendary Duane Kuiper, “Am I hallucinating, or is that a rabbit at the game?”

Peak Steph Curry 

Steph Curry is the first player I ever saw who made me question everything I ever thought about basketball. His ability to create space and splash a three, or do so when he didn’t even have space, was unparalleled and was incomprehensible. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s the player I’ve written about most in the seven years we’ve been writing this blog. 

But the last few weeks Curry took things to another level – determined to get this undermanned squad, which might be the worst in the NBA if he was not on it, into the playoffs has him going full supernova. The numbers are staggering – in one five game stretch he hit ten 3-pointers four times. He’s his ten 3-pointers more times than anyone in history and second place is Klay Thompson, with five. In his career. Curry did it four times in a week!

But as Dan Devine puts it, it’s never about the numbers with Steph. 

It’s in the Houdini-ass ability to escape straitjackets with a live dribble, to squeeze through barely there openings like smoke through a keyhole to create the space to rise up. It’s in the fact that everybody in creation knows what’s coming—that Steph coming off a screen to pull is a certainty—and yet he still keeps getting to that shot.

In May 2018, as the Kevin Durant–era Warriors were on their way to a second straight NBA championship, Jared Wade described the difference between Golden State’s two iconic talents like so: “KD will put 8 points on you every quarter forever in his sleep. Steph, in under five minutes, will have you questioning the reason you ever decided to play basketball.”

I missed that line about KD and Steph but goddamn if it’s not perfect. Steph Curry is a national treasure, and he is, somehow, underappreciated. Nothing in sports is better than Steph Curry on fire. Nothing. -TOB

Source: There’s Nothing Quite Like the Magic of Steph Curry,” Dan Devine, The Ringer (04/20/2021)

PAL: How about this: I am shaping my Friday night around watching a regular season NBA game of a team that has a losing record. Curry is shooting as well as he did when he led the 73-win team. 

He led the league in scoring only once before: in the 2015-16 season, when he propelled Golden State to an NBA-record 73 wins and made history as the first player to unanimously win Most Valuable Player honors. Five years later—at age 33, without Klay riding shotgun, with Draymond Green having lost a step, without the Iguodalas and Livingstons and Barbosas and Boguts who helped make those Warriors go—Steph is producing at nearly that exact same level

He has no real help, he’s shooting more, and there’s a very slim chance the Warriors win if he doesn’t have a big night. And yet, the percentages are damn near the same. 

TOB says there’s nothing better in sports than Curry on fire. I agree, and I love how Devine puts it: 

Nothing else feels like it does when Steph becomes wreathed in flames and just starts experimenting, exploring the studio space to see how far he can push the boundaries of what we understand to be true about how the ball finds the net. It’s what we’re searching for night after night—the moment that makes you leap out of your seat and start speaking in tongues, the fleeting glimpse of forever we hope against hope we might catch every time we tune in.

Patrick Marleau Surpasses Gordie Howe

The previous record of games played in the NHL was held by Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. 1,767 NHL games. This week, the legend was surpassed by Patrick Marleau. Bay Area folks recognize Marleau, a long-time Sharks player, but I’m guessing many of you won’t recognize the name Marleau. 

In this story, Scott Burnside shares quite a collection of tales from former coaches, players, and friends. By all accounts, the quiet kid from rural Saskatchewan is loved and respected by pretty much everyone. Hell, even his wife admits that the kids would say he’s the nicer of the two. 

I liked this story because, while Marleau has been a very good player for over 20 years, he’s never been a star. I know the Ripken comparisons came to mind for me, but Ripken won 2 MVPs, was a 19-time All-Star, has over 3,100 hits and 400 home runs; he was a better baseball player than Marleau is a hockey player. But that’s kind of the draw to this story. I enjoyed reading about a very good player (but not great) surpasses a legend like Howe in some way. 

He first played in the NHL when he was 18 with the Sharks. He lived with Kelly Hrundley and his family. Hrundley was 37 and winding down his career. Marleau became the older brother to Hrundley’s daughters. Hrundley described having the kid in his home and looking out after him as “one the highlights of my last years in the NHL.”

After home games, the two would drive home together and Hrudey’s wife, Donna, would make a late meal of sandwiches or warmed-up leftovers.

“And we might sit up till 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning,” Hrudey said. “We just learned everything about each other.”

That season, Marleau and Hrudey were up on Christmas Eve putting together a Barbie camper, complete with stickers and all the tiny pieces, to make it just so. And a basketball hoop outside. And there was a gift from Marleau to the entire family, a DVD player, under the tree as well.

The Hrudeys weren’t charging Marleau any rent and he wanted to show his appreciation with an appropriate gift, one that included a DVD of a live Fleetwood Mac concert that he knew would be appreciated by Donna and Kelly.

That’s just one of many great anecdotes from Burnside’s piece. It’s a feel-good read for sure. – PAL

Source: ‘I’m just playing. I keep playing’: Understated Patrick Marleau is breaking an unbreakable record”, Scott Burnside, The Athletic (04/19/21)

TOB: Like Donny, I am out of my element here. But I want to push back on your assertion that Marleau was not a star. There is certainly some Bay Area bias here. Well, bias isn’t the right word. But even as a non-hockey fan, I know the name Patrick Marleau very well, by proximity, so I was surprised to read you say he’s not a star. So I put my research pants on and here is what I have to offer:

  • Marleau has the second most goals among active players.
  • Marleau is 23rd all time in goals. 
  • Marleau has the 4th most points among active players.
  • Marleau is 50th all time in points. 

Hockey Dash Reference Dot Com lists his most similar player, by the numbers, as Joe Nieuwendyk. That’s Hall of Famer Joseph Nieuwendyk to you, Phil. Other players on his “Most Similar” list include Hall of Famers Ron Francis, Dave Andreychuk, and Adam Oates. 

Now, I am an admitted Cal Ripken, Jr. Hater. I’m a charter member of that club, in fact. Never liked him. Selfish. Overrated. Cared about his streak more than his team. Spent 2/3 of his career as a league average or worse hitter. Spent almost his entire career as a below to well below average defensive shortstop and refused to move to third. 

With that being said, you can take the two Ripken MVPs and shove ‘em. In 1991, it should have been Frank Thomas. In 1983, it should have been George Brett. Ripken had just THREE seasons in the AL’s OPS top 10. Meanwhile, Marleau had two seasons in the top 10 of goals per game.

So, I think your initial comparison was spot on. Two very good players who enjoyed incredibly lengthy and healthy careers. One of them was and is severely overrated. The other is severely underrated. 

For the record, I would have also accepted a Derek Jeter comparison.

PAL: Marleau has been an All-Star 3 times in a 20+ year career. I’ll concede the stat comparison w/ Ripken wasn’t the right approach – because both dudes are going to collect the stats playing 20+ years – but consider this: the closest Marleau got to winning the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) was 9th.

When we talk about stars, there’s a popularity element to that. A collective recognition of that guy. It’s clear Marleau is revered by players and coaches, but a star he is not. 

TOB: Back to the topic at hand – I had no idea that Marleau was about to pass Howe’s record, or that anyone would ever come close. Congrats, Patrick!

Why the Controversial “Super League” Made Many American Sports Fans Shrug

On Sunday, twelve of the biggest, richest, and most successful soccer teams in Europe announced the formation of the so-called Super League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus. By its name, I assumed they were actually leaving their domestic leagues and forming one big league where the best teams would play each other year round. This didn’t sound altogether terrible to me. When Barcelona plays Manchester City, I might tune in. When Barcelona plays Seville, I’ll find something else to do. However, my assumption was wrong.

Instead, the Super League’s intent was to supplant the Champions League, whereby the top teams from each European league from the previous year play a tournament throughout the course of and on top of their domestic league season. There’s a group stage, followed by a knock out tournament, and at the end the champion of champions is crowned. It’s fun!

What I soon learned, after reading quite a lot, is that the Super League does not improve on the Champions League. Instead it was a cynical power and money grab by the top teams attempting to ensure they remain on top, while minimizing their effort to do so. Here’s Defector’s Billy Haisley explaining:

This format follows the logic of the foundational principle of the soccer pyramids the world over, which is the idea of promotion and relegation. The best teams earn the right to compete with the best teams by beating their competitors, thereby either gaining promotion to the next higher league or maintaining their position in the highest tier, while the worst-performing teams are sent to the next league down to make way for the newly promoted ones. Almost everything in soccer is built around this principle that competition alone determines any given club’s place in the pyramid. The Champions League adheres to this logic by conditioning inclusion in the field with some tangible form of on-the-pitch success; every team in the field must earn its place. This is what makes the tournament so prestigious, so popular, and so lucrative, and it is why the winner can rightfully call itself the best team in Europe.

The Super League’s “qualification” process is much different. “Qualification” for the 20-team Super League won’t be based on on-the-pitch success, won’t be earned every season with blood, sweat, and goals; instead, it will be guaranteed to the 15 signatory clubs that will found it, with five other teams selected by some as-of-yet-unexplained qualification mechanism.

So, basically, the best and richest teams want to guarantee themselves a place in the Champions League instead of having to work for it, and to do so they want to start a new tournament where they write the rules and those rules give them a berth in the tournament, no matter what.

Both Haisley and the Ringer’s Michael Baumann connected the dots fromwhat the Super League was attempting to do to the American sports model, which does not have the promotion/relegation pyramid. Here’s Baumann:

Arsenal and Milan were once near-automatic Champions League participants; now, neither club has qualified since 2016-17, costing tens of millions of dollars per year in prize money, and even more in lost prestige.

That’s not what the American owners of Arsenal, AC Milan, and Manchester United signed up for. Stan Kroenke, the American billionaire owner of the L.A. Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and Colorado Rapids, began a takeover bid of Arsenal in 2007. At that time, the Gunners were at the intellectual vanguard of the sport, three years removed from an undefeated Premier League campaign and just a year and change removed from an appearance in the Champions League final.

Some 14 years later, Arsenal have gone from world power to bougie Newcastle United; Arsenal currently sit ninth in the Premier League table, not only out of reach of Champions League qualification but likely to miss out on the less lucrative Europa League as well. In every American sport, an inferior on-field product isn’t a reason for billionaire owners to make less money—why should soccer be any different?

Haisley argues, however, that the Super League is far worse for competition than even the American sports model.

The Super League is almost like if the Knicks, the Lakers, the Celtics, the 76ers, the Bulls, and the Clippers found it intolerable that they were not guaranteed deep runs in the playoffs every season because other, less historically important teams have done better on the court, and so they were breaking away from the NBA playoffs to form a new postseason, called the Super Finals. The six Super Finals teams promise to still compete in the NBA regular season, but come playoff time, they would be taking themselves, their players, and their fans to the Super Finals, which they claim is now the true determiner of the world’s best basketball team. Also, they are no longer beholden to the NBA’s salary cap, and have first right of refusal to sign the new class of rookies ahead of the NBA Draft. Good luck to the NBA though!

But Baumann doesn’t exactly blame the American owners for bringing the American model to Europe. Instead, he sees the Super League as simply the next step in a 30-year evolution that began with the Champions League, and even the creation of the English Premiere League.

Maybe Europeans are more primed to resist further stratification of sports, but the masterminds of the Super League weren’t completely wrong to think they had a chance at forcing more of it through. They’ve got 30 years’ worth of evidence that European soccer fans will accept it.

The Premier League, as a business entity, came into existence in 1992 so that the richest and most successful clubs can siphon off as much money as possible from broadcast fees—to hell with the rest of the hundreds of clubs in the Football League. UEFA’s club competitions—formerly known as the European Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup—used to pit domestic league and cup champions against each other on equal footing. Starting with the implementation of the Champions League in 1992, however, national federations have been allowed to enter multiple teams, with richer, bigger leagues sending more clubs to the tournament. And over the past 20-odd years, the format has been continuously tweaked to give bigger clubs a greater advantage and greater share of the loot. (Liverpool made the Champions League final four times from 2005 to 2019, winning twice, while simultaneously being champions of absolutely fuck-all at the domestic level.)

Given that recent history, Baumann was not surprised the world’s soccer powers attempted to pull this off. He is surprised, however, that it failed. Fans across the world, even those of the twelve charter Super League members, came out in numbers to fight the Super League and it worked almost immediately.

By mid-week, the Super League was dead. That’s pretty cool and very European – where protests still work to effect change. -TOB

Source: Why The European Super League Is Evil,” Billy Haisley, Defector (04/19/2021); “The European Super League Never Stood a Chance,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/21/2021)

Who Can You Beat One-on-One, and When: A Fourth Dimensional Discussion

If you’re reading this, you likely know about my now almost 20-year old belief that I could then and could now score one bucket in ten tries on Mike Bibby (remember: Bibby is playing defense just as hard as he did in the NBA, and not extra hard to avoid the embarrassment of me scoring on him – this is an important factor).

Of course, I’m not the only person who thinks I can score on an NBA player – but importantly, I don’t think I can beat Mike Bibby. I just think I can score on him one time in ten. This tells you more about my confidence in both his indifference on defense and my pull up midrange jumper (I got references, just ask), than it does anything else. But the prevalence of cell phones and social media now lets us see that plenty of weekend warriors run into former NBA players at the gym and get their ass handed to them on a regular basis. See, e.g., this viral video involving a high school player getting smoked 11-0 by Brian Scalabrine.

That video inspired a fun NYT article on this phenomenon and you should read it. It explains how hard a scrub like Scalabrine had to work to stay in the NBA so long, and why that means you can’t beat him. As Scalabrine relayed, “Joakim Noah said it best,” ‘Scal, you look like you suck, but you don’t suck.’”

That’s true. He doesn’t suck at basketball. Although I gotta say, while 11-0 is 11-0, Scal basically pulled some ugly bully ball on the guy. He never once made the kid look foolish; he mostly banged his large body into a high schooler and then flipped up an ugly finish. I give Scal a 2 out of 10 for style points. 

So, ok, regular guys can’t beat former NBA guys. I likely can or maybe cannot score on Bibby. But the much more interesting question is this: when does that stop? When is Scalabrine so old that you, at your age right now, could beat him one on one? Before I answer this question I must say that I have adapted it from Lauren Thiesen’s tweet about LeBron, which I saw close in time with this NYT article:

I hemmed and hawed over that one and finally landed on 65-75, with 72 or so being the real over/under. 

But back to Scal. Scal is 43 at present. For the purpose of this question I’m going to assume my back is feeling great. I have watched that video above a few times. Studied it. Watched his moves. Considered his skill. Considered his size. Imagined the toll an NBA career will have on his body as he ages. Imagined the toll his size will have on his body as he ages. Thought about taller, bigger, older players I’ve played against. Finally, I landed on 57. It would be close. 57-year old Scal would score on 39-year old me with some ease, but I also think I would be running circles around him and his creaky knees. 

Source: Why the Worst N.B.A. Player Is (Probably) Still Better Than You,” Sopan Deb, New York Times (04/19/2021)

PAL: Favorite Scal quote from Deb’s story: 

“People don’t understand how a little bit nuts you have to be to sustain an N.B.A. career,” Scalabrine said. “Especially when you’re not that talented. You have to be ready. You have to be up for the fight. You have to be like that every day. And if you’re not, you lose your livelihood.”

For the record, in all the years we’ve had the Bibby debate, I don’t recall the qualification that limited Bibby’s defensive effort. 

Where Do NBA Fines Go?

You could ask that question about every sport. But this article happens to be about the NBA, and it’s a good read. Before we go into where they go, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the oft-fined Draymond Green, one of my favorite players, who had this to say about the mystery of where his fine money goes:

“For years we’ve all been told, ‘Yeah, the fine money goes to charity,’ but we don’t hear anything about these charities, we don’t have any say so about these charities. Nor do you ever hear, ‘Oh your fine money went to said charity.’ Maybe that is an opportunity to build a relationship with said charity?

I felt like Wee Bey when I read that. 

Dray is right. This is a real missed opportunity for the NBA to send the money somewhere and say, “This $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago’s South Side is courtesy of Draymond Green, who kicked Steven Adams in the balls.” Draymond arises to applause, steps up to the mic and doubles his own fine. All the people stand and cheer. It’s a really nice scene. 

That daydream aside, though, really – where does it go? 

The Athletic sought to find out. After a player is fined, where does the money actually go, beyond the blanket word, “charity?” Who is helped? Are there children fed, and clothed, or homes rebuilt? Are scholarships awarded?

Through dozens of interviews and data-driven reporting, The Athletic found numerous, flesh-and-blood examples of people who are a little better off because the NBA docked a player’s pay. But when it came down to answering Green’s question — where, exactly, did his money go? — the system is set up specifically to prevent any tracing of an individual fine all the way to an individual charity.

NO. Read the article – the concerns are dumb and Draymond’s idea is smart, IMO. But the answer to the ultimate answer is that the charities are varied and widespread and honestly that’s all that matters. Keep kicking dudes in the balls, Dray. -TOB

Source: ‘I Would Have Never Been in College’: NBA Fines, from Kyrie Irving to Draymond Green, Have a Story to Tell,” Joe Vardon, the Athletic (04/22/2021)

PAL: What a great idea for a story. I never considered where the money went. Never entered my mind until I read the opening. Might I suggest a donation to The Human Fund?

Got Seven Minutes? Treat Yourself and Read This Oral History of Rob Gronkowski’s Time in College

That should be all I have to tell you, but let me add this:

You know how hot it is in Arizona in August. We didn’t have an indoor facility, and it’s 120 every day and this big, huge kid is just like a lap dog. He’d go run these routes and come back panting, his tongue hanging out. We’d shoot a little water in his mouth and he’d line up and do it all over again.

Gronk is basically a golden retriever, and how can you not love a golden retriever? Especially one that turns his apartment into a beer/soap fueled slip and slide and shows his position coach…actually, I’ll stop there. Just read the article. -TOB

Source: “The ‘Monster’ From Club G: An Oral History of Rob Gronkowski’s Arizona Years,” Doug Haller, The Athletic (04/22/2021)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: David Bowie – “Sound and Vision”

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“I want a decent sock that’s comfortable and will stay on my foot!”

-Justin Pitts

Week of April 16, 2021

Happy Birthday, TOB!

Another Side of Jackie Robinson Breaking the Color Barrier

After reading this story, the look on Branch Rickey’s (left) face seems fitting.

Thursday was Jackie Robinson Day in MLB, and alongside all of the tributes is this fantastic story from Andrea Williams that shows another side of Robinson breaking the color barrier. I can’t recommend this story enough. 

Many of us know the story of Robinson on the Dodgers, but I had no idea that Rickey’s approach to signing Robinson laid the groundwork for the toppling of the Negro Leagues. 

Per Williams:

As it was, Negro league owners, including Thomas Baird and J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs, learned about their player’s signing like the rest of the world: from breathless radio broadcasts and blaring newspaper headlines. There had been no negotiations with Rickey; years later, Baird would remark that the Dodgers’ boss never responded to the letters he wrote to discuss the matter.

Still, there could be no recourse. In the name of advancement, there would be no lawsuits or outright condemnation of Rickey’s tactics. Together, the Negro league owners agreed to take one for the proverbial Black team in hopes that future transactions would be more favorable.

They didn’t know it then, but Rickey had no plans of letting up.

After WWII, Rickey and other executives could see that integration would be coming. It had been discussed since the 30s, and the idea that Black men could fight in WWII but not play ball in the Major Leagues wouldn’t stand much longer. So Rickey began looking for players, and he didn’t care with what team the players had contracts. 

A surprising white owner came to the defense of the Negro League owners: Clark Griffith. The owner of the Washington Senators called bullshit on Rickey. One might think a white owner holding a fellow MLB executive accountable would’ve helped, but it was not the case. Tap the link below to read why Griffith’s words carried such little weight. – PAL

Source:Jackie Robinson’s Signing Caused a Financial Dispute”, Andrea Williams, The New York Times (4/14/21)

You’re a Weird Guy, Moppo. Weird Guy.

One of my favorite moments in Ace Ventura is near the end, as the rush to the Super Bowl, having saved Dan Marino and Snowflake. Marino asks Ace if he has any more gum. Ace says, “That’s none of your damn business and I’ll thank you to stay out of my personal affairs.” Marino responds, “You’re a weird guy, Ace. Weird guy.”

That line has always stuck with me. Dan says it earnestly and appreciatively. Really, it’s a decent piece of acting. And that line kept popping into my head while reading this article, which can only and bizarrely be described as an oral history of Joey Votto. 

The article paints Votto as part baseball player, part Renaissance Man, part odd duck. I recommend you read the whole thing – it’s a quick and fun read. But this part made me laugh the most:

Dickerson: Joey Votto loves to mop, he loves to mop his house so much to the point where we tried to convince him to make him create an Instagram account called Joey Moppo and it would just be Joey mopping the floor.

Guevara: He’ll send a random video of music and there’s nobody on the screen and I’m like, “What the hell is this?”

Dickerson: He’ll send me random videos of him mopping the house while he’s listening to Kendrick Lamar.

Guevara: And then here he comes across, doing a little dance and mopping. Then he goes off the screen. It’s just that. That’s all I get.

Man, that’s not funny-for-a-baseball-player funny, that’s straight up funny. A very good bit. I also loved him pulling a Michael Scott, singing James Blunt’s “Goodbye My Lover” to a departing teammate. Derivative? Yes. Do I care? No. Again, a good bit among many others. Good baseball guy, good read. -TOB

Source: Joey Votto is Playing Chess, and the Rest of Us are Playing Checkers,” C. Trent Rosecrans, Rustin Dodd and Jayson Jenks, the Athletic (04/13/2021)

Another Way to Find an Ace

The premise of this Michael Baumann story hooked me right away. It’s one of those ideas that just sounds like plain common sense once you think about it a second, and he sets it up perfectly:

The scouting and development of pitchers is a multimillion-dollar industry. The amount of computers, cameras, and sensors employed by MLB franchises, college teams, youth clubs, private tutors, and coaches to track and assist pitchers would’ve been sufficient to run an aerospace company a generation ago. Other sports—and other positions within baseball—utilize high-speed cameras and tracking data in scouting and coaching. But no position is scrutinized to the millimeter-precise level that pitchers are.

On a very basic level, though, it’s not worth anywhere near that type of fuss.

All that money, all that technology, all that scouting – none of it was needed to see Gerrit Cole had ‘ace’ potential. Dude threw high 90s with electric stuff. They knew the same about Kershaw and Verlander, too. That kind of raw ability is pretty easy to spot. Don’t need much more than a radar gun and two eyes. The same can be said for international studs, too.

Future aces get into the American professional baseball pyramid primarily through one of two avenues: the first round of the draft, or seven- or eight-figure international free agent deals. Most of them don’t pan out…The survivors of that system don’t generally surprise anyone.

There is a different path to the front end of a rotation. It’s the path of Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber. While they have 3 Cy Young awards between them, neither of them were highly touted prospects out of high school. 

We’re learning that the very traits that make Gerrit Cole a first round draft pick twice (28th overall out of high school, first overall out of college) – velocity and stuff – can in fact be learned. What’s harder to pickup in a couple years of minor league ball is pinpoint accuracy, especially in high-stakes situations. 

A guy that throws gas in high school or has a wicked breaking ball doesn’t have to learn how to paint the corners until he gets to AA and all of a sudden 95 isn’t anything new. For Bieber, he never threw extremely hard, so he had to throw strikes from an early age in order to succeed. He never walked anyone, and that didn’t change once he added 5 MPH to his fastball through some mechanical tweaks to his motion. All of a sudden the pitcher from the Big West is pumping low-to-mid 90s and can place it wherever he wants. And then learns how to throw a “hellacious core-of-a-spinning-gas-giant curve” and there’s a Cy Young winner never highly recruited out of high school. 

Raw pitchers with good stuff can learn how to pitch in the low minors, where they get regular innings in situations where the results matter less than the process. But pitchers who already learned the craft and can hit their spots consistently enter pro ball with far less to learn, regardless of what the radar gun says.

Same goes for the offspeed. A guy with an electric arm is far less eager to tweak his mechanics or try something new: what he has already works…until the hitters catch up. Guys that aren’t christened high draft picks by junior high are more open to trying different pitches, messing around with a cutter or tweaking the grip on a slider. 

There is so much more compelling stuff in here. A great deep dive into pitching. Baumann is an excellent baseball writer with fresh ideas. – PAL

Source: Which Pitcher Will Be the Next Shane Bieber—and Where Will They Come From?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/15/21)

Videos, Tweets, Music

Song of the Week – The Avett Brothers – “Smithsonian”

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And what about yooou?!? Tryin’ to bilk an innocent bystander out of a family fortune, built on sweat and toil, manufacturing quality O’Henry candy bars, for honest, hard-working Americans!

-Jerry Seinfeld

Week of April 9, 2021

Lee Elder breaking barriers at Augusta in 1975…and making it look good. His caddie should’ve been an extra in Caddyshack, FWIW.

A Modest Proposal: The Gonzaga Tax

On Monday night, Gonzaga got absolutely sonned by Baylor in the National Championship game. It came as absolutely no shock to me. In a group text before the game, the question was posed: “Who ya got?” After a flurry of “Gonzaga” responses, I was the lone “Baylor” response. At halftime, with Baylor up 10, I said, “This was too easy. Gonzaga plays a shit schedule every year.” The game summed up well by this:

Or this:

And it’s true. I will never take them seriously as a true basketball power. They get to fatten up all season on the backs of schools like Portland, San Diego, Pacific, Santa Clara, Pepperdine, and San Francisco. Folks, those are not tough games. Gonzaga gets to coast through the regular season, resting players if necessary, and show up fresh for the tournament. They were 31-0 this year, and to their credit they did play two or three tougher teams in the pre-conference season. But they still get to get healthy and win easy games for three months. 31-0 is nice…but when it includes 17-0 in the WCC, there’s not a lot you can glean from that. In fact, Gonzaga is 92-3 over the last five seasons in conference (and 182-13 over the last ten seasons in conference). It’s just like Boise State in its heyday under Chris Peterson – they played a bunch of cream puffs and then had one tough game all year, for which they were supremely healthy and amped up, and then celebrated when they beat a major conference team that lost two or three times in its own conference. 

And yet Gonzaga has built up a reputation on these inflated records. After first crashing the scene as a Cinderella in 1999, they’ve been considered a national power for at least 15 years. And with that cream puff schedule, they are almost always over-seeded, thus giving them an easier road through the tournament. And yet, come tournament time, they always crash and burn. In the last twenty tournaments, they have gotten by the Sweet 16 just 4 times. For most programs this would be good – but for a program who gets seeded like Gonzaga does, it’s not.

Put Gonzaga in the Pac-12 and see what happens to that record. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be upper half. They would probably be upper third most years. But they aren’t going 92-3. That UCLA team that outplayed Gonzaga over the weekend lost seven conference games this season, including its last four. Beginning the day after Christmas, Gonzaga played one team (BYU) that would not have finished dead last in the Pac-12 this year. 

Thus, my proposal: until Gonzaga moves to a stronger conference, they should have a seed tax – whatever seed the tournament committee wants to place them at, drop them three spots. Gonzaga will then be appropriately seeded. -TOB

Nine Innings with Cousin Wolf

An old buddy of mine has pulled off quite a feat. Matt Halverson, a musician who records under the name Cousin Wolf, had a really good idea a decade ago. Nine songs, each about a major league baseball player. 

I told you it was a good idea. But here’s the thing – not a lot of people care about a good idea. As just an idea, Nine Innings, is a fun topic to run through over a bunch of beers while watching an entire ballgame at a bar—What would the Ken Griffey Jr song be? What about Kerry Wood, or – hey how about a Vlad & Vlad Jr song?

And that’s where an idea like this almost always ends: last call. To make it more than a good idea, someone needs to write the damn songs. And guess what? They have to sound good, and maybe even say something. I can promise you that is a challenge. No matter the ambition or intent, the songs have to be good.

Excellent music video idea.

Halvy’s songs are good. Good – what the hell does that mean? To me, a good song has something that brings me back to listen. By that measure, the two songs Cousin Wolf has released so far – “Kevin Elster” and “Roger Maris” are good, and a yet-to-be released “Dave Dravecky” is real good. Not only that, but Halvy wrote excellent essays about the story behind the songs. 

On “Kevin Elster”, he writes:

In the sixth game of the 1992 season, Elster hurt his shoulder, and he missed the rest of the year and all of the next. He played a handful of games with a few different teams in 1994 and ’95, and suddenly, it was 1996. Baseball was on a steroid-fueled trajectory toward unheard-of power numbers, and Elster hadn’t had a starting job in years. So, he signed with Texas — in part because his brother lobbied on his behalf — where he planned to compete to be the backup shortstop. 

Now, in those days, the Texas Rangers clubhouse was also one of the game’s steroid hubs. Ruben Sierra in the early ’90s was one of the first notable and obvious users, and that carried right through to steroid godfather Jose Canseco and busted teammates like Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers, and eventually Alex Rodriguez.

In fact, Canseco wrote in his tell-all book “Juiced” that he introduced Pudge, Gonzalez and other Rangers players to steroids between 1992 and ’94.

So, back to Elster. In 1996, when young Benji Gil got hurt during spring training, Elster became the starting shortstop and had by far the best season of his career at age 31, hitting .252 with 24 homers and 99 RBI.

He parlayed that into a million-dollar free-agent deal with Pittsburgh the next offseason, and though he played parts of three more big league seasons, he never again came close to the success of that magical ’96 campaign.

One of the crazy parts about that era of baseball is that we just don’t really know who did what — or what impact it had. But I know for myself, as a kid shortstop in the ’90s who just loved playing baseball, that if I’d been given Elster’s option to either take the same juice everyone else was taking and enjoy a few more years in the game, or take the high-road home, who’s to say what I would have done? And with all the focus on the stars who broke records and shattered fans’ innocence, would anybody even care after all these years what Elster did or didn’t do during that 1996 season?

On “Roger Maris”, Halvy has this to say about his fellow Fargo, ND native:

Maris had worked for most of his life to become a good baseball player, and in 1961, after a few really excellent seasons, things came together in ways no one had seen coming. In some ways, he gotten better than he’d ever intended.

And his reward for happening to become exceptional? To be told that he should be somebody else. To play in front of too many who saw him only as not a legend, as not immortal, as not The Babe or The Mick or the Yankee Clipper.

Original artwork from Zach Scheet, Halvy’s neighbor growing up.

You read those two excerpts, and you realize that Nine Innings isn’t just a good idea; it’s an idea in the hands of someone who can actually make the idea worth your time. Halvy can’t help but see baseball as a way into all those big questions we ask ourselves. That sure resonates with me. 

I can only call him Matt Halverson ‘Halvy’ because that’s what I called him back in college. We played ball together, drank some beers, and I too often lost at caps to him, Sammy, Lou, and Timmy. High Life returnables. 

Halvy and I spoke Wednesday. The intent was to discuss the project in full, but we haven’t talked for many years, so we caught up, with baseball and this project mixing in when it suited us.  

Before I share some of my favorite exchanges, please go to https://www.cousinwolf.com/music/nine-innings and check out Halvy’s project in full. His writing is every bit as good as the songs, and he’s got seven more songs to release! – PAL 

Source: Nine Innings”, Cousin Wolf

Excepts from the old friends catching up

On my one ‘issue’ with the project:

PAL: I have to ask you, as a Twins fan, you’ve three guys on your list that played for the Yankees. What the fuck, dude?

MH: I honestly that at the end had the same thought. And I’m like, no Twins. Three Yankees seems like such a cliche in and of itself. I honestly didn’t know who Carl Mays had played for when I was already like midway through writing about him. I just knew his name as having the guy who killed Ray Chapman with a pitch. And so that one was a little bit like, ah shit, another Yankee, but like Maris and Gehrig, I kind of wanted to write about from the beginning. 

On Lou Gehrig: 

PAL: I was listening to “Lou Gehrig”. We are older than Lou Gehrig was when he died. He had a 17-year career and died. He was younger than us. That actually caught me.

MH: And the fact that he, like, died so publicly, like to me that was what that one was really striking, too, is he gets this disease that’s going to take apart his body in a very short time. That’s one hundred percent going to happen. And there’s no hope. And he still has to be this legend. He doesn’t just get to be a man who’s, like, terrified and dying in a hurry and all this stuff he’s got to let go out and, you know, be the Iron Horse and be Lou Gehrig and be a myth, be a legend until he dies. And to do it all.

How baseball’s place has changed roles: 

MH: I’ve always loved baseball, but like five years ago, I just realized that I was still in a couple of fantasy baseball leagues that were just a job for me that I didn’t want anymore, or it’s like it would feel so good to not have to check that stupid thing every day, you know what I mean?

For one thing, my oldest is 12 and he’s my stepson technically. And we’ve been playing catch for ten years now. And it’s been like one of the great joys of my life to connect with them in that way and to be like coaching them and playing so much baseball. 

I was reading this Samurai book, and it talked about this idea of like through one thing, knowing thousand things. You know, like you can’t know everything about everything, but like if you work really (hard), you can know everything.

And it was I kind of realized it like it didn’t matter what I had bought into as a kid. I had done that. I poured myself into something. And I really like giving baseball all I had and taking it as far as I could at that time and been steady with it for, you know, forever. And it was these things that I almost thought of myself as not being able to do, you know, to be that persistent with something, to be that steady with something. 

On the idea of sidekicks (Roger Maris, and Kent Hrbek…of course): 

MH: With like Roger Maris, I knew what I was writing the whole time, and so I wanted to create a beginning of like ‘what the fuck’s going on?’ and then a middle of like (Maris…and Halvy) finding my way to finding myself and the resolve to do this and then a triumphant ending.

MH: Yeah I feel like Hrbek to me always seemed like Puckett’s sidekick all those years, you know, and like underappreciated. My dad was always talking about how the crime that Don Mattingly won all those gold gloves and Hrbek never got one. 

PAL: I feel like that was a very common stance among midwestern fathers in the 80s and 90s.

MH:  I discovered in some baseball reference rabbit hole that Hrbek finished second in MVP voting to Willie Hernandez, the reliever. In like eighty four, Willie Hernandez, the Tigers reliever, won Cy Young and MVP in the same year. But I did not realize that Hrbek had his best season and finished second in MVP voting. If they don’t the MVP  to some chump reliever,  how differently is Hrbek’s career remembered? It seemed like his third full season. He’s an MVP that sets him on just like in many people’s minds, a different trajectory from there.

PAL: Willie Hernandez? What the hell? A reliever who had a nine and three record with a one nine era and thirty saves won the Cy Young and AL MVP?

Ohtani Is Here, Again

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ll recall how excited I was for the arrival of Shohei Ohtani, the slugger/pitcher, when he arrived to MLB a few years ago. Early on, we saw flashes of what he can do – big dingers at the plate and electric stuff on the mound. But injuries derailed things, including Tommy John surgery. After 2019, there were rumblings the Angels might ask him to choose – hitting or pitching.

But 2021 is a new year and Ohtani is back. New manager Joe Maddon is reportedly encouraging Ohtani to not only pitch and hit, but to try to play every day, or close to it. In his first start on the mound and it was fun as hell. In the top of the first, he threw a fastball 101 mph. In the bottom of the first, he hit a 451-foot bomb, with an exit velocity of 115 mph.

And that seems like the Ohtani promise, finally fulfilled. Hopefully, this time, he stays healthy. -TOB
Source: Let Us Have Ohtani,” Tom Ley, Defector (04/05/2021)

This is Goofy

White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez got hurt just before the season began and will likely miss the whole season. Apparently he is beloved by teammates because they acted like he died. They hung his jersey in the dugout and everything.

I mean, what the heck? The dude tore his pec – he’s not dying! Here’s Defector’s Chris Thompson hilariously roasting the whole hilarious scene:

The Chicago White Sox kicked off their season Thursday night without departed outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who at the tender age of just 24 years old was suddenly ripped from our world by a God whose purposes are never more mysterious than when the good are cruelly cut down in the prime of life. Coming off a promising sophomore season and primed for a bright future, Jimenez must now lift his White Sox teammates in spirit and memory, from a place beyond the grave. But Opening Day would not be complete—would not be right—without a tribute to this fallen teammate, and so the White Sox took some time during pregame ceremonies to touchingly memorialize their lost brother-in-arms.

First baseman* José Abreu carried a Jimenez jersey lovingly signed by all his teammates out onto the field for player introductions, along with a pair of Jimenez’s batting gloves. I just know that Jimenez was looking down on this moment from a better place, and appreciated this truly moving ceremony. Please, excuse yourself from whatever you are doing so that you may process the deep emotions in private.


Source: White Sox Send Eloy Jimenez To The Great Baseball Diamond In The Sky,” Chris Thompson, Defector (04/02/2021)

Video of the Week:

We showed you the highlight last week, but now you get it with that Jomboy commentary.

Tweets of the Week:

Song of the Week: Parcels – “Tieduprightnow”

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All right, I’ll tell you what. You look like nice people. I’m going to help you out. You want a beautiful name? Soda…All names sound strange the first time you hear ’em. What, you’re telling me people loved the name Blanche the first time they heard it?

-George Costanza

The Pocket

My year of running through a pandemic.

The pocket. A hell of a lot of words have been strung together in attempts to explain why people choose to run long distances. Before the pandemic, my explanation had a word count of two: the pocket. 

The phrase comes from music. When the members of a band, especially the rhythm section, lock into the groove perfectly, they call it being “in the pocket”. It goes beyond playing at the same tempo; each beat has a shape. 100 beats per minute can feel staccato, with the band attacking right on the first edge of the beat, or a band can slide into the very last nook at the back of the beat. Listen to pretty much any D’Angelo song to hear a band playing on the back of a beat, and think of “Imperial Death March” from Star Wars to hear a rigid attack. The pocket is a feel, created by all players adding their element at the exact right time and emphasis.

For years, runs were about finding the pocket with my breath and footstrikes. It wasn’t as simple as finding the same mile pace: some days I found the pocket at a 07:12 pace, and other days I’d find it on the other side of 07:45. I’d consider it a good run when got into the pocket within a mile or two. I breathed in through the nose for three strides, then out through a loose jaw for three more. A heart rate broken into triplets.







Once I’d find it, few thoughts passed through my mind. The pocket was meditation, and I could run for hours in it. When I finished, my mind was power-washed. My body: elastic, spent. More than a P.R. or adding a marathon to the count, I ran for the pocket. 

Like everything, the pocket changed last March. 

In the early months, I tried to leave the pandemic at home, but I ran past evidence of it everywhere. Senior hours and lines forming outside Piedmont Grocery. Homemade “wear a mask” and “stay home” signs taped to bay windows of spacious homes I dreamed of affording. I’d run down center of an empty Grand Ave.—a main drag that leads to a San Francisco-bound freeway entrance at 7:30 AM on a weekday. It wasn’t long before the feigns had medical masks hanging from their ears. 

Fear came with me on a lot of those runs. I tried to find the pocket with it, to figure out where it could fit in with my breath and footstrikes, but fear made me pull up and stop on two occasions.

In normal times, stopping in the middle of a run was a no-go. The reason for stopping didn’t matter—an untied shoe, forgetting to silence my phone, even a turned ankle—all of them messed up the rhythm. To stop out of urgency, to make a call that couldn’t wait until I finished, was something I’d never experienced. 

The first time I stopped on the northwest side of Lake Merritt by rowing docks and the Lake Chalet restaurant. The NBA had just suspended its season. As odd as it may sound to future generations, a sports league shutting down sticks out as the first major decision to put the world on hold. Many shutdowns would come soon after, and on that morning on The Daily podcast a journalist was discussing when the borders would closed to international travel. My brother-in-law was in London at the time, on his way to a backcountry ski trip in the Swiss Alps (of course he was: all of his trips are essentially bringing to life the Instagram photos from outdoor apparel companies). 

I called my father-in-law. I told him Jack needed to find a flight home, that day if possible. I’ve recently become marginally comfortable giving my father-in-law feedback on his golf swing, so to call Don and say his son needed to get back stateside was beyond the range of our communication in March, 2020. Yet, to wait the four miles until the run was done felt like a wasting of very important minutes.

I stopped in front of the lamp further back to make the call to Don.

Don agreed, and so did Jack once he saw future flights from the U.S. to the U.K. getting cancelled on dates before his scheduled return flight. He bought a one-way ticket on one of the last commercial flights back to the states, having never made it to Switzerland. Good fortune, as it turned out: they checked passports at the gate to see if people had been outside of the U.K. before letting passengers board. Switzerland would’ve presented an issue. It would be months before commercial flights from the U.K. came into the states. 

Not long after, I stopped a run near the top of the hill on the way to Lake Temescal. The only thing worse than stopping on a run is stopping in the middle of a climb. 

I can’t remember if I called my brother, Tony, or if he called me, but we talked about Mom and Dad. We spoke of the nightmare scenario so many would experience: Mom or Dad getting infected and dying alone in a hospital. We discussed telling them they had to stay home. Although nearly 40, I was (and am) very much getting used to telling my parents what’s in their best interest, although they may not sense my hesitancy.  

I could hear Tony turning over the idea in the silence between my heavy breaths. Even that early, my head was always on a swivel when on runs, ready to pull the Buff over my nose and mouth if I saw someone approaching. No decision was made. It wasn’t Tony’s to make, but there’s still an authority coming from the oldest of the six of us. Least I felt it. We hung up.

I was so far from Minnesota at that moment. I’d felt far from home before, but there on the hill the feeling didn’t come from a distance or homesickness. I was far from home in the sense that I didn’t know when I’d be back. Would I be allowed to go home? Would interstates set up barriers at state borders? It sounds crazy, but at that point last spring Spain and Italy weren’t letting people leave their homes except for groceries. 

I returned to the climb, but it took an extra moment to get the legs chugging again.

Tony called back a half mile later, just past the parking lot at the top of the hill. Yep, he was going to text the rest of the family. It was too much of a risk with Mom’s history of pneumonia and aspiration issues. Delivering food for Meals on Wheels, going to the grocery store, church, bookclub— all of it had to pause until we had an idea of what the hell was going on. 

From that moment until a few weeks ago when my parents were vaccinated, the anxiety of the nightmare kept churning. 

The collective unknown that came with the pandemic took months to accept. I’d check the stats every morning as if they were box scores: positive test rates, hospitalization numbers, deaths. I’d search for any indication that a turn in the right direction was coming. 

When there wasn’t proof, I’d cling to blind faith that things would get better.  Maybe there was something to warm weather helping tamp down the spread, or that the virus would just fizzle out, or the geniuses would figure out a simple treatment that would get us back to normal in a few months. We knew so little (remember when we were scrubbing down out groceries and weren’t super eager to pump gas without a glove?). The collective unknown is the component of the last year I will try and fail to capture for our future kids. 

Now, when I run those routes and stride over those hidden, autobiographical markers, I think of when I stopped.

As spring led into summer, more and more runs were open-ended. An appreciation for the enormity of the pandemic settled. There was nowhere to go, not much to do, and an end wasn’t in sight. Those were the facts. 

So I ran with no route in mind. I looped back in the direction of home when I had enough. Finishing was a release, but it came with a malaise when my stride switched from running to walking.

The pocket became a place to formulate, not to meditate. I bungled the peculiar rhythms of new thoughts and disagreements. Fitting them into the triplet of breaths and footstrikes was a struggle.

I would false start on rebuttals for a brother. I’d privately consider if a sister was right, and I was angered when I was sure she wasn’t. I’d stew over my parents letting it slip that they were still delivering Meal on Wheels. I get pissed at myself for avoiding a disagreement over the phone in favor of a comfortable conversation molded around empty pleasantry. I’d fester at what I assumed they thought about my take on the pandemic, and I’d be quick to note the times they didn’t ask. I’d wonder if we were in a Bay Area bubble of overreaction, and then I’d remember what the infectious disease experts were saying. 

‘Agree to disagree’ wasn’t going to cut it when it came to this virus and how it could spread through people that display no symptoms. Damn right it was personal; how long would it take for me to get over passing the virus onto a stranger who then was hospitalized or worse? Could I forgive the friend, the neighbor, the family member if they got my parents sick? 

Every interaction on any given day had the threat to go there. Everyone was on edge at all times. Over days, weeks, months the reminder was constant: we did not agree on what the greater good meant. There was a corrosion in all of it. 

When I’m stuck, I either write or run. This last summer required a lot of both. 

I’m sure it took hundreds of miles to get my head around the varying points of view held by the people I love the most. I didn’t agree with them—not even close in some cases—but I understood how they got to their outlook. Each of our most pressing concerns before the pandemic were only magnified by it. Since the beginning, we’ve found our COVID lane through circumstance as much as science, and that includes most of us whose opinion falls in line with Dr. Faucci. Of course, therein lies the problem when it comes to COVID. 

Take our circumstance: Natalie and I were lucky enough to keep our jobs through it all. That was never a persistent concern, and we figured out how to work from home. We don’t have kids. We have a little money saved. Of the very few worries we had in our life before the pandemic—and by any measure they were few—the health of our parents was near the top. I worried about Dad’s mobility and diet. I worried about pneumonia with Mom. Natalie’s parents both had their turns with cancer. Of course, those concerns only spread with COVID and how the risk of serious issues increased for those with compromised immune systems. What other reason did we need to wear a mask and stay home if that’s what would help keep the older population around us safe? It wasn’t too much to expected those around our parents to do the same. Anything we could do in order to give the smart people more time to figure out a treatment was worth it. 

For healthy family members that owned or worked at small businesses—where working from home wasn’t an option —guess what their point of view has been? Risk assessment wasn’t as one-dimensional for them. Or how about the folks with kids trying to find their place in school? Or grandparents whose love in life is to be around their kids and grandkids? A year to folks in their 70s is not the same as a year to people in their 30s. 

It took time, but I learned how to run with both my outlook and the realization that many people I respect had an understandable reason for their outlook. Some days I could find the pocket with all of that in my mind, on my shoulders, in my chest. I’d run fast and smooth. I genuinely don’t know if that should be a point of pride. 

Natalie and I joke that our first year of marriage should count for more than a year. 2020-2021 should be a pandemic-adjusted marriage season due the sheer amount of time couples spent together. 

We tried all the COVID distractions to keep our minds busy in that 100-year old rental, with our wisp of a landlord and her never-ending divorce living below us: puzzles, cards, one (and only one) tik-tok dance, Tiger King. At that point, it was unclear if being outside was even advisable, and I waited for the news that the Bay Area would go into full lockdown, meaning limited time outside the house. That would’ve crushed me. 

Maybe Natalie knew that subconsciously, because that’s about the time she became possessed by the idea of organizing a half marathon. 

We can all get caught up in an idea while passing the time watching TV, but the next moment is the crucial one. While most of us let the idea float by, Natalie reached for the laptop. Within the hour, a flyer was designed with flamengo included for strictly aesthetic reasons. She sent out a group text to Chris, Katelyn, and Basma. Chris and Basma were immediate yeses, Katelyn would be closing in on the third trimester come race day on July 11. I was assigned the role of course architect and asked to present some East Bay route options. Elevation change was a chief concern. Natalie does not mess with running hills. 

Natalie went overboard for a race that would feature all of three competitors, and this little project brought an energy that was so needed. We quickly christened it the “Quarantine Crawl”, and for the next twelve weeks there was a familiar old purpose to a run. T-shirts with the aforementioned flamengo were ordered. My wife is the greatest. 

I ran the long runs with Natalie and Basma (Chris was on the other side of the bridge), mostly along the bay between the Emryville and Berkeley marinas. We’d run with Treasure Island, then the San Francisco skyline, then Alcatraz, then the Golden Gate Bridge over our left shoulders.

They would find their pocket on a few of the runs. It would happen in that silent acceptance found far from the beginning and the end. Conversation would slow to a drip of monosyllabic encouragement. They’d sync up their breath and strides. It was cool to watch them get to a place so meaningful to me. 

We’d splay out on B’s stoop afterwards with a cold drink. They’d recap the different phases of the run, proud and exhausted. I would bask in their sweat-stained accomplishment. And after a couple early route mishaps, the Quarantine Crawl was a success, complete with 3.5 spectators: Natatlie’s parents, Katelyn with Emerson in her belly. 

(A quick aside to anyone thinking about a DIY road race: it has been my experience that, when designing a running course, chalk arrows on the sidewalk are not 100% reliable, so limit the amount of turns. Better yet, just bike with the racers).

Then came the fires. 

A dry lightning storm, an event described in The New York Times as a “freakish siege of thousands of dry lightning strikes in Northern California — a weather event on a scale not seen in decades” sunk Natalie and I in late August and early September. Everyone had a pandemic low point, and that was ours. 

Dry lightning? In Minnesota, lightning came with thunder, followed by rain. The only dry lightning I’d heard of prior to August was from Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad

I ran the morning these pictures were taken before the Air Quality Index spiked. Forget dystopian; as I ran, I wondered if we were entering apocalyptic territory. It wasn’t hyperbole. Didn’t feel that way at least. There was no pocket to be found that morning, and it was obvious I wouldn’t be running in the coming weeks. With ‘outside’ added to the list of closures, my world became even smaller that morning.  

At the time, we had an unhinged president already sowing voter fraud months before the election (not knowing what would follow at the Capitol on January 6), a country in the depths of a racial reckoning, a pandemic, and now flames raged across the western half of the United States. We were trapped under smoke miles thick, amongst other things. 

This is the same lake pictured above when I stopped to call my Father-In-Law. Photo credit: Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle

There was no longer comfort at home. That old house Natalie and I were renting couldn’t keep the smoke out. The windows were old and cheap, and all the window frames were rotted. Smoke came in as easily as the spiders Natalie despised. We went to my in-laws’ house. They had new windows, and we needed clean air. Natalie was six weeks pregnant with our first child. 

I was exhausted. Of course I had reasons to be happy and grateful, but come fall it took such effort to reach those states of mind. Sometimes I felt like a fool to look for the positive. Optimism and obliviousness—it was hard to tell which current was which. 

The smoke cleared (for the season), and I was running the first day the AQI dropped back into the yellow zone. In the winter months, we’ve adapted in this time before we finally beat back the pandemic (as of writing this, over 30% of the country has been vaccinated, with about 3M receiving shots each day). Caution has replaced fear in our neighborhood. We’ve found ways to be happy and be with friends. Turns out, outside is a great place to be in most any weather. Park hangs have long since replaced Zoom calls with friend groups. Beer gardens are heaven, and we all can find the beauty in the orange glow of a propane heat lamp. 

I’ve never run more than I did in the last year, even years training for multiple marathons. Cue the Jackson Browne from the Forest Gump montage.

Along the way, I’ve become familiar with so many other runners in the neighborhood. Each one of them gets a head nod when we cross paths. There is the young dad with his two daughters who would run a lap around Rose Avenue every morning, face shields and all. There is the bearded guy I’d pass near 40th and Broadway most mornings. Always in his red shirt (man, I hope he owns multiples). Dude must’ve lost 40 pounds in the last year. There was the mom with her daughter and son, maybe 10 and 12, heading up that same hill to Lake Temescal where I stopped to talk to Tony about Mom and Dad. There is the old guy – the same shape and stature as Dad, who prefers his afternoon walks with a cigar. I love the smell of his cigars. There is the other old guy – has to be late 70s – who is still running. If you watch his arms, elbows held up high and pumping, he’s running, so don’t worry about his cargo shorts and walking feet.

And then there is this little girl. Our little girl. I want to write her name, but Natalie and I are keeping it close until she’s born. We call her by her name all the time. I’m saying it in my mind right now. I love the full name and the nickname, too. It sounds good sandwiched between laughs, and there’s a nice weight to the full name for when I’ll need to be stearn. She’ll be here in a month or so, but she’s already my running buddy. She’s in the pocket with me, racking up the miles. 

And that would be a sweet end to this look back. Far too sweet for a pandemic retrospective.

The very sound of the word— pandemic— annoys me. Alway will. I’m over it. I’m over talking about it, debating it, having it lurking on the periphery of every goddamn thought. The threat in every conversation to go there. The edge. I’m over it. We all are. 

I want to leave it behind. Yet, even after the vaccines, even if it were eradicated, the pandemic will show up in moments we don’t expect. There’s a shared trauma the scope of which we won’t grasp for years.

I have little idea where life will take us, but I’ll be there running. On some otherwise forgettable run, I might smell a familiar cigar, or I’ll see a line forming outside a grocery store. Something will trigger a memory of the pandemic and break my triplet of breath and footstrikes. I’ll lose the rhythm, but only for a short distance. I’ll remember how to run in a pandemic. I’ll play the rhythm by heart, and I’ll find the pocket again.

-Phil Lang, April 7, 2021

Week of April 2, 2021

Happy Opening Day, folks!

*When a League Changes its Games, What Do We Do with the Record Books?

This week the NFL voted to officially expand its regular season to 17 games. I take no strong opinion either way – if the players are for it, then it seems fine to me. But The Ringer’s Riley McAtee asked an interesting question: How will a 17-game season impact NFL record books? As in 1961, when people derided Roger Maris for hitting 61 home runs in 162 games when Babe Ruth’s record of 60 game when teams only played 154 games, you have to think there will be healthy skepticism at some of the records that will surely fall. 

For example, we are definitely heading for the first 6,000 yard passing season (remember when 3,000 was the gold standard??). We’ll likely get 2,300 yards rushing. Maybe 25 sacks? Basically every major statistical record is in jeopardy, with teams playing 6.2% more games. So how will those records be treated?

My guess is that, as with Maris, as the record is broken (assuming it is not broken until Game 

17), there will be people who will howl that the record doesn’t count. That it deserves an asterisk. That the previous record holder is the true record holder. But as time passes, people will forget. Enough players will pass the old record holder, even in just 16 games, that eventually it won’t matter anymore. 

The career numbers are even more fascinating. A player playing 15 seasons gets almost an entire extra season of games. Is Emmit Smith’s rushing yard total in jeopardy? Probably not, as the league has moved away from running and away from featured running backs. In fact, is Smith’s record the only untouchable record? If nothing else, the debates about this stuff should be fun. -TOB

Source: How Will a 17-Game Season Impact NFL Record Books?Riley McAtee, The Ringer (03/31/2021)

PAL: Single most insane stat from this numbers-heavy story: George Blanda threw 42 interceptions in a 14-game season back in 1962. George, my man, the check down is your friend.

How a Meme Becomes a Meme, as There’s a Drive into Deep Left Field by Castellanos and That’ll Be a Homerun, and Why One in Particular is Funny

Last year, longtime Reds’ announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic using a gay slur. It was no accident. He was referring to some unnamed city (ahem) as being full of that slur. It was not good. Not long after, word had made it to Thom that his comment had gone out on the air, and he left the broadcast mid-game, first offering an apology. As apologies go, it was not good. He did not directly apologize to the group of people he slurred, and even apologized to his employers. But it was made so much worse by the fact that, mid-apology, without missing a beat, Brennaman casually called a home run by the Reds’ Nick Castellanos.

The awfulness of the slur and the awkwardness of the call went viral over the next couple days. But then, slowly percolating in the Twitterverse, a meme began to rise weeks later. A copypasta, as it’s known, in which people began copying and pasting Brennaman’s home run call, “as there’s a drive into deep left field by Castellanos and that’ll be a homerun. And so that’ll make it a 4-0 ballgame,” and using it as a non-sequitur for comedic effect. It started to catch fire. A few funny examples:

This article breaks down how and why this joke went viral and why it works as a joke – which I really enjoyed. Sometimes you don’t know why something is as funny as it is, you just know it is. But I enjoyed reading why this works:

Then there’s the syntax. The home run call is itself a non sequitur, which enables the Castellanos call to be linked to any preceding sentence just as logically (or illogically) as it was when Brennaman first uttered the infamous lines. Just stick in a comma, add an “as there’s a drive,” and you’re good to go. “The ‘as’ is the killer [word] there,” Ingall says. “It lends itself with that ‘as’ to memeing so well.” The “drive into deep left field,” Baccellieri observes, is also perfectly situated between the “big-picture seriousness” of the “man of faith” clause and the “melancholy vibe” of the headset sentence.

It’s a pretty fun read about how the internet turned a bad story into a good one. -TOB

Source: How ‘A Drive Into Deep Left Field by Castellanos’ Became the Perfect Meme for These Strange Times,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (03/29/2021)

PAL: How can a story be this good while being so much longer than it needed to be?Still, this is a pretty fascinating exploration of the construction of a joke written, revised, and perfected by committee. 

What stands up to replays is the timing of the home run. As Lindbergh highlights in his opening, all of the variables that had to line up exactly so in order for Brennaman’s home run call to slot into his apology without missing a beat. Lindbergh revisits the at-bat later on when he writes:

If Castellanos had taken strike two, maybe Brennaman could have submerged himself in that sea of sorrys and avoided disproportionate attention. “If it was just the formulaic apology, then there would have been an eye roll and maybe some commentary about that,” Milner says. “We would have moved on. But the incongruity of him calling a play in the middle, it just further punctuates how rote this must have been, that he wasn’t even heartfelt enough to get through it without turning to this play call.” The apology’s performative nature was laid bare, all because of a drive into deep left field by Castellanos.

Can’t say I’ve ever read a story like this one.

Video of the Week:

Can’t do that, Cody.

Tweet(s) of the Week:

Song of the Week: Cousin Wolf – “Kevin Elster”

More on this story, the songwriter, and the ambitious project next week.

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You’re crying from Home Alone?

-Jerry Seinfeld

Abolish the Infield Fly Rule

Two years ago, while wondering why the dropped third strike rule exists in baseball, I wrote the following:

Baseball has some weird rules, but you can usually figure out why the rule exists by playing the alternative out to its extreme conclusion: It’s usually trying to prevent something from happening that people decided was unfair. For example, the infield fly rule exists because defenders intentionally let routine fly balls drop to the ground in order to get a double play, instead of taking the out.

I stick by that descriptive statement but I stand before you now to say this: the infield fly rule sucks. It’s TERRIBLE. It needs to go. As I said in that paragraph – baseball has some weird rules, and most of them were not in existence when the game began. Instead those rules were created as a reaction to ways in which players subverted the blank spaces of the rules to their advantage. 

But there are problems with the infield fly rule – first, it’s both hyper-specific and non-specific.  On the hyper-specific end of the spectrum, the rule is only invoked when there are runners at first and second or the bases are loaded, and less than two outs. Speaking from experience, this gives umpires something extra to think about before a pitch on top of the umpire’s other duties. You have to know when the rule is in play based on those guidelines or you won’t have time to realize it after the ball is hit. On the non-specific end of the spectrum, the ball must be a “fly ball” but specifically not a line drive (which is absolutely getting into a wide swath of gray area) that “can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort.” And what the hell that means is really open to interpretation. As the comment to the MLB rule states:

The umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder-not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder.

Yes, the infield fly rule can be invoked when the ball is hit into the outfield. It can also be called when an outfielder in fact makes the play. And what the heck constitutes “ordinary effort”? Worst of all, if I am reading this right, the infield fly rule can be invoked when the ball is foul (“not by some arbitrary limitation such as … the base lines.” WHAT!? That isn’t even consistent with the reason for the rule!). What a mess.

The aftermath of the play is the most confusing. “When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk.” What does this mean in this context? Can a runner tag up and go as soon as the umpire calls the batter out, the same they would after the ball is caught? Or, if the rule is invoked can a runner advance before the infielder catches it? And if they advance before the infielder catches it and then the infielder catches it, can the runner be thrown out for leaving early? I think I know, but the rule is not clear, which seems problematic.

The infield fly rule has always bugged me for these reasons. But it gnawed its way through my brain this week as I read How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius, by Anthony Greene. In the book’s opening chapters, Greene dives into the 13 original rules of basketball, as written by Dr. James Naismith, and how players worked within the rules to innovate the game to make it better. Here’s Greene, quoting NYU professor and game designer Eric Zimmerman:

“You can tell that Naismith was thinking about exceptions,” Zimmerman says of the first set of rules. “Trying to figure out the loopholes players will try to exploit.” But the exploitation of rules is vital to a game’s evolution. Essentially everything related to basketball that isn’t contained within its original thirteen rules developed because some player somewhere at sometime fudged with them.”

Remember what I said up there about baseball? Baseball’s weird rules were created to “prevent something from happening that people decided was unfair.” But Greene makes the compelling case that this is wrong. The thirteen original rules of basketball prevent “running with the ball,” but permit “throwing” and “batting” the ball “in any direction.” The rules, as written, expected players to be stationary. But it did not take long for some Ivy League boys to find the blank space in the rules – dribbling. Did Naismith find this innovation cheating? Did he try to stop it? Nope. Instead he called it, “one of the most spectacular and exciting maneuvers in basketball.” And he’s right. Again, from Greene’s book:

“It is a subversion,” Dr. Shawn Klein, a philosophy lecturer at Arizona State University, tells me. Klein specializes in the ethics of sport, and I reached out to him to better understand the moral (or amoral) underpinnings of dribbling. “That’s probably the best word for it. They were adhering to the rules, but they were subverting the expectations of how those rules would be followed.”

Reading this angered me more than ever about the infield fly rule – the first player to intentionally drop a fly ball was a genius. Incredible creativity! And that play is exciting as hell. Early in his book Greene speaks to another game designer, Colleen Macklin. 

[Says Macklin} “A lot of game rules are modified or changed based on what the player wants. Basketball rules are modified in order to make the game more interesting to the spectator.” When she watches basketball she sees players both following and exploiting rules for the benefit of us fans. The result, she says, is “one of the most beautiful things you can see.”  

Macklin loves Hickey’s example of the Dr. J behind-the-backboard layup, as it alludes to the kinds of decisions game designers must make. “When it happened, she says, “everyone was like ‘Oh my God, we’ve never seen such a graceful move before.’ And so you have a choice there. The NBA could either say it’s not allowed, or they could be like, ‘Yeah, let’s let that happen.’ The right choice is obviously, ‘let’s let that happen.’” 

The infield fly rule is terrible for this reason – it is, by umpire fiat, a blown dead play. Yes, the runners can advance but they would be stupid to do so. Imagine an infield fly without the rule – if a player decides he wants to try and get a double play, he runs a great deal of risk – if he turns down the sure out, there’s a chance the ball bounces away from him and he gets no outs. Or maybe he does it perfectly. Either way, that is entertainment. And you don’t have to use your imagination to know how exciting that would be – in recent years I have seen players (particularly Javy Baez) do this on line drives. For example:

That is such an exciting play, in a HUGE moment of the NLCS. And not only was it exciting, it did almost backfire – instead of first and second with two outs, Baez almost ended the play with first and third with two outs. Now imagine that skips by him when it hits the outfield grass – chaos. Each time something like that happens, everyone watching agrees – wow that was a heads up play and wow that was fun. 

Which is why MLB flat out got the infield fly rule wrong. Players subverted the rules in an entertaining way and baseball decided to litigate that fun out of the game. It’s not too late to fix it though. Let’s abolish that stupid rule forever. I’m looking at you, Theo.

Happy Opening Day, everyone! -TOB

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