Week of August 27, 2021

Here’s to guessing right this weekend.

The Greatest Complete Game

This one comes ℅ my brother-in-law, Jack. I saw the headline on ESPN, but hadn’t clicked on it, but I had to read it once Jack sent it my way. Forget another time – this story seems to come from a different world. Hard to believe, but it’s a true story from Ryan Hockensmith. 

The fact that Ray Caldwell was struck by lightning while pitching a shutout for the Indians back in a 1919 game against the Red Sox isn’t even the most interesting part of this story. Neither is the fact that he got off the ground after everyone thought he was dead, and proceeded to get the last out of the game, or the fact that he was once a bunkmate to a young Babe Ruth. 

No, the most interesting part of this story was learning that lightning not only comes down from the sky, but also up from the ground. 

Think about it like Wi-Fi. The same way Wi-Fi reaches through the air looking for a device to connect to, lightning also requires a partner from the ground. The charge from a thunderstorm blasts downward but must locate an opposite charge from the ground, called an “upward leader.” Many strikes end up finding multiple partners in the same area, spreading the charge (somewhere between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity) around to whatever upward leaders it can find — flagpoles, trees or, yes, people who are nearby. That’s why many visuals of lightning strikes show them splintering, rather than one huge bolt, with some looking like one arm reaching up from earth and the other reaching from the skies.

I never knew! 

Not only was Caldwell the only known major league ballplayer to be struck by lightning during a game, he might also be the only major leaguer to be contractually obligated to get obliterated after every game he pitched. Caldwell was a known alcoholic, although they didn’t refer to it as that in the papers. He washed out in New York and Boston before playing in Panama. He was considered every bit as good as Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, and so Cleveland took a chance on his talent, and came up with an outside-the-box approach to his drinking problems. 

When Speaker (player/manager Tris Speaker) summoned him a few weeks later, Caldwell would have signed just about any contract put in front of him. And good thing for that, because Cleveland offered him a deal historians now say ranks among the most bizarre in baseball history.

The deal said that on game days, Caldwell was to pitch and then go get plastered. According to historian Franklin Lewis in his book “The Cleveland Indians,” Caldwell was perplexed looking at the contract.

“You left out one word, Tris,” Caldwell said as he looked at the document. “Where it says I’ve got to get drunk after every game, the word not has been left out. It should read that I’m not to get drunk.”

Speaker smiled. “No, it says that you are to get drunk.”

Speaker then explained a very specific regimen Caldwell was to adhere to every week. On game days, he’d pitch and then perform his mandated drinking duties. He was then free to skip coming to the ballpark the next day and sleep off his hangover. But two days later, Speaker wanted him at the ballpark early to run as many wind sprints as the manager thought he needed. Three days after every start, Caldwell was to throw batting practice. Pitch, drink, sleep, run, BP, rinse and repeat.

As Hockensmith mentions, Caldwell’s career sounds like a collection of folktales. Fun read! – PAL 

Source: The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game”, Ryan Hockensmith, ESPN (08/24/21)


How Not to Be a Journalist, IMO

This week I saw an article about the effects that have been seen in the Atlantic League this season, where they moved the pitcher’s mound back a foot, to 61’6”, in the middle of the season. This has been an experiment for MLB, which wants to know if moving the mound back will give hitters more time and thus reduce strikeouts. This article purported to look at how things have gone. The answer? pitchers were mad at first, but at least a few decided there was little difference for them. But it seems to me that any serious journalist covering this topic would put the anecdotes aside and look at the data. 

In our 7+ years writing this blog, we have rarely covered what we think is bad sportswriting, but this week I felt compelled to do so, based on the following:

White, the league president, did not have empirical data to offer during a phone call with CBS Sports…

I don’t know about you, but that’s a HUGE red flag for me. The league president says he doesn’t have “empirical data” on how stats have changed since the mound was moved back mid-season?

…but he presented several of his own observations of how the Atlantic League’s gameplay has changed since the new mound distance was installed.

HE’S GOT THE DATA, I PROMISE. How is this not a red flag for a reporter? How is this information passed on, unquestioned? Well, let’s see what White says…

He believes more balls are being hit into play, with fewer plate appearances ending via strikeout; he believes pitchers are throwing more fastballs and fewer breaking balls; and he believes umpires when they tell him that pitchers’ control, particularly over those breaking balls, has suffered since the change.

OH REALLY? He won’t show any data but he believes it’s working as planned? Does the writer think critically at all about how White might be biased and wonder at all why data is not provided? Nope.

If White’s perception is correct about the Atlantic League’s play taking a new form (analysis by Rob Arthur, a Baseball Prospectus author, indicates that it’s not, and that strikeouts and home runs have actually increased since the change), then the move to the 61-foot, six-inch mound is having MLB’s desired effect. 

This just about knocked me over. Not only does he not think critically about why the league president might be biased, and not wonder why there is no data provided, he attempts to gloss over the fact that another writer has analyzed the data and determined that White’s “observations” are incorrect, by putting it in an otherwise un-analyzed parenthetical. 

It sure seems to me that a major role of a journalist is to analyze the biases and motivations of your sources and strongly consider not publishing something that is clearly erroneous. If this guy had done so here, he might have realized that the spoutings of a league president, providing no data in a data-heavy sport, should not have been regurgitated by a journalist. Particularly so when there is data that contradicts the league president’s opinion.

But what do I know? I never went to journalism school. Then again, maybe this guy didn’t either. 

Source: How MLB Pushed Back the Atlantic League Mound and Pushed Fed-up Players to the Brink of a Work Stoppage,” R.J. Anderson, CBS Sports (08/26/2021)

PAL: Slow clap for TOB’s write-up. Here’s what’s also crazy to me: the real story is right there in this gloss job. The real story is the league president doesn’t provide data on how the experiment has gone. Either he’s withholding it, or they aren’t keeping track of impacts due to making a fundamental change to the variables of baseball (moving the mound back).

I’m all for a semi-regular “worst of the week” for sportswriting. If I see one more prospect projections or quarterback tiers story in The Athletic, I’m going to pass out.


Gavin Weir Is Filthy

Every year at the Little League World Series some kid dominates. That’s nothing new. But Gavin Weir of the Sioux Falls team has taken it to an especially crazy level of own-age. Two stats for you before you watch the video: 

Weir has pitched 43 23 innings in eight Little League postseason games. 

He’s given up one hit.

He’s faced 132 batters and struck out 114 of them — an 86.4% strikeout rate.

These other teams aren’t scrubs. Some of these Little Leaguers really know how to hit, both the hard stuff and a breaking ball. 

Give me 10 at bats against Gavin at the Little League distance (mound is 46-feet from home), and I’d be thrilled with two hard hits. – PAL

Source: Sioux Falls pitching sensation Gavin Weir throws second no-hitter at Little League World Series”, Star Tribune Staff (08/26/21)

TOB: I watched this kid dominate a very good California team. He’s out there throwing like peak Chris Sale. We’ve seen heat and breaking balls in the LLWS before. But the varied arm angles and the way his stuff moves is friggin nasty. I’m glad Phil wrote about Weir, because I wanted his name in our archives when he’s a top prospect in 6 years.


Get Vaxx’d

On Thursday, Giants’ infielder Donovan Solano tested positive for COVID-19. He had come to the stadium (the Giants were on the road in New York), reported his symptoms, tested positive, and sent back to his hotel where he must quarantine for ten days. In two COVID seasons, Solano is the first confirmed positive COVID test for the Giants. 

The team declined to answer whether Solano had been vaccinated and this was a  breakthrough case, or whether he had not been vaccinated. 

But whether he had or not, the newest Giant, Kris Bryant, illustrated for all of us why it’s important to get vaccinated, for baseball players but also for all of us:

“Obviously being vaccinated is the first step,” said Kris Bryant, who was traded to the Giants from the Chicago Cubs, one of the teams that hasn’t met the 85 percent threshold. “We want to take all the cautions possible because we still have a long way to go here and hopefully a long playoff run. We don’t want any speed bumps along the way. Hopefully it doesn’t catch up with us.”

Bryant, of course, came over from the Cubs. The Cubs have still not met that 85% threshold. Bryant said coming to the Giants has been nice, because he’s been able to enjoy freedoms here that he didn’t in Chicago. But it’s more than convenience, for Bryant and for all of us. As Bryant said:

“It’s really just peace of mind knowing that the people around you did what they need to do to help protect the team and help us get through the season. That means a lot, you know?”

Hell yeah, I do. -TOB

Source: ‘Being vaccinated is the first step’: Giants sweep in New York but lose Donovan Solano to a positive COVID-19 test,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (08/26/2021)

PAL: There now exists a reality where a playoff series could be swung by vaccines. How can anyone possibly bet on sports in this time?


Replay In LLWS: Nouns vs Verbs

I wrote an essay about finding (over a decade late) that video replay is used in the LLWS. I couldn’t believe it. Below are the opening few paragraphs. You can read the full essay here.

Last week I learned video replay is used in the Little League World Series, and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

The treadmill in our building gym is one that has a TV screen attached to it, but the channel options are weak: a second-rate news channel, infomercials, telenovelas, and the golf channel that somehow never has actual golf on when I’m running. My eyes drifted to the reflection of the big screen TV in the gym window. A Little League game—a regional tournament game to be exact— was on ESPN. The winner was on its way to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. 

Watching the reflection in the window made everything backwards: right-handed batters looked lefty, left-handed pitchers looked like righties, and when a hitter put a ball in play, his reflection dashed in the direction of third base. 

After the centerfielder caught a bases empty line drive early in a 0-0 game, the home plate umpire walked to the backstop and put on a headset, just like they do in big league games. With no sound, it took a second to figure out they were actually reviewing a call. ESPN looped the replay in slow motion: they were looking to see whether or not the catcher’s glove made contact with the hitter’s bat, which would be catcher’s interference, granting the hitter first base. 

It took at least a half mile for the Replay Team, as I’ve since learned it to be called, to look at the ESPN-provided camera angles (in addition to the actual LLWS, ESPN broadcasts 88 regional tournament games). Players stood around waiting for the home plate umpire, who stood around waiting for the Replay Team to examine each frame to determine if the last fleck of the leather on the webbing of the catcher’s mitt made contact with the bat. I couldn’t tell if the bat nicked the mitt in real time, and I couldn’t be sure in slow motion either. The replay team determined there was catcher’s interference, but it didn’t matter; the play would have no impact on who won. By then I’d already decided I would be digging into this Little League video replay lunacy. 

So here’s the most complete explanation of video replay, straight from the Little League website. Topline (parentheticals mine): the LLWS has used “instant” video replay since 2008(!). Incredibly, it was the first baseball organization of any kind to use replay. That’s right; Little League edged out MLB by about a month, and college baseball started using it in the College World Series starting in 2012. 

The first version of replay in LLWS was limited to fair and foul calls on home runs. Adults being adults, that couldn’t be left alone. Before long, video replay expanded. It’s now available in the regional tournaments as well as the LLWS, and replay can now be used for, well, all of this: 

Managers must specify the exact call that they would like to challenge. The only plays that may be challenged are: ball over the outfield fence, dead ball areas, batted balls ruled fair but foul or rule foul but fair, foul tip versus foul ball, hit batters, runner or runner-batter interference on batted balls, all plays at bases to get a runner or runner-batter out, appeal for missed bases (not if the runner left too soon), any out call made safe (umpire determines where to place the runners), pitched ball ruled “not caught” by the catcher, catcher interference, head-first slide into a base. The final play of all games are automatically reviewed.

Managers have up to two unsuccessful challenges in the first six innings, and one in extra innings. As always, a manager may request time and ask the umpire crew to review a play without officially challenging the play. Umpires may call for video replay on any play that qualifies for it, and may also ask for a review after a manager conference.

LittleLeague.org, 2016

Reminder, this is a video replay rule that was enacted for games being played by kids ages 10-12. 

So that’s how I came to stare at a gym window watching a backwards version of a Little League game. Backwards indeed. -PAL


Other Good Stuff

TOB: #couplesgoals

Song of the Week

Little Steven – “Inside Of Me (feat. The Disciples of Soul)”

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You know what? I’m going to start dating her even harder.

-Michael Scott

Noun vs. Verb: The Case Against Video Replay in The Little League World Series

Last week I learned video replay is used in the Little League World Series, and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

The treadmill in our building gym is one that has a TV screen attached to it, but the channel options are weak: a second-rate news channel, infomercials, telenovelas, and the golf channel that somehow never has actual golf on when I’m running. My eyes drifted to the reflection of the big screen TV in the gym window. A Little League game—a regional tournament game to be exact— was on ESPN. The winner was on its way to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. 

Watching the reflection in the window made everything backwards: right-handed batters looked lefty, left-handed pitchers looked like righties, and when a hitter put a ball in play, his reflection dashed in the direction of third base. 

After the centerfielder caught a bases empty line drive early in a 0-0 game, the home plate umpire walked to the backstop and put on a headset, just like they do in big league games. With no sound, it took a second to figure out they were actually reviewing a call. ESPN looped the replay in slow motion: they were looking to see whether or not the catcher’s glove made contact with the hitter’s bat, which would be catcher’s interference, granting the hitter first base. 

It took at least a half mile for the Replay Team, as I’ve since learned it to be called, to look at the ESPN-provided camera angles (in addition to the actual LLWS, ESPN broadcasts 88 regional tournament games). Players stood around waiting for the home plate umpire, who stood around waiting for the Replay Team to examine each frame to determine if the last fleck of the leather on the webbing of the catcher’s mitt made contact with the bat. I couldn’t tell if the bat nicked the mitt in real time, and I couldn’t be sure in slow motion either. The replay team determined there was catcher’s interference, but it didn’t matter; the play would have no impact on who won. By then I’d already decided I would be digging into this Little League video replay lunacy. 

So here’s the most complete explanation of video replay, straight from the Little League website. Topline (parentheticals mine): the LLWS has used “instant” video replay since 2008(!). Incredibly, it was the first baseball organization of any kind to use replay. That’s right; Little League edged out MLB by about a month, and college baseball started using it in the College World Series starting in 2012. 

The first version of replay in LLWS was limited to fair and foul calls on home runs. Adults being adults, that couldn’t be left alone. Before long, video replay expanded. It’s now available in the regional tournaments as well as the LLWS, and replay can now be used for, well, all of this: 

Managers must specify the exact call that they would like to challenge. The only plays that may be challenged are: ball over the outfield fence, dead ball areas, batted balls ruled fair but foul or rule foul but fair, foul tip versus foul ball, hit batters, runner or runner-batter interference on batted balls, all plays at bases to get a runner or runner-batter out, appeal for missed bases (not if the runner left too soon), any out call made safe (umpire determines where to place the runners), pitched ball ruled “not caught” by the catcher, catcher interference, head-first slide into a base. The final play of all games are automatically reviewed.

Managers have up to two unsuccessful challenges in the first six innings, and one in extra innings. As always, a manager may request time and ask the umpire crew to review a play without officially challenging the play. Umpires may call for video replay on any play that qualifies for it, and may also ask for a review after a manager conference.

LittleLeague.org, 2016

Reminder, this is a video replay rule that was enacted for games being played by kids ages 10-12. 

So that’s how I came to stare at a gym window watching a backwards version of a Little League game. Backwards indeed.


My main curiosity went back all the way to the conceit of the bad idea, at least 14 removed from the catcher’s interference call in question. Where did the idea come from, and why the hell would anyone think it was anything other than wrong. I was laughing at the absurdity of it all pretty quickly. 

Go far enough back, and at some point before August, 2008 the following certainly occurred in some form: someone working at Little League headquarters suggested “video replay” as an agenda item. For this story, let’s call them Blake. Worse, Blake’s agenda item remained. It wasn’t ignored or dismissed. It wasn’t mistaken as a subtle joke to loosen up a Friday meeting.

The notion gained some momentum, and since it made it all the way to the field of play, that means the topic was discussed 5, 10, 20, maybe even 50 times in different Little League meetings at the national and regional level. At some point, execs from ESPN—the broadcast partner for all these games—got involved (would ESPN stand to gain some ad revenue with replay? That’s for another day). Not once was anyone able to douse enough common sense on the matter to keep the idea of video replay from spreading. 

I wonder about Blake— the real person—whoever he (or she) is. I think about what could have happened that led him to take up the cause of video replay in Little League. What was the blown call in his life that ultimately led to this mission?

Was it a play from Blake’s youth that he couldn’t ever get over? Perhaps he was at the plate with a chance to send his Little League team to Williamsport. Perhaps, with the bases loaded, down by three runs with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Blake yanked a pitch down the line. High….deep…it is foul! The umpire called it a foul ball even when it was clearly fair from Blake’s vantage point. What could’ve been for Blake! 

Or maybe Blake’s child was scarred by a missed call. Maybe lil Blakey dropped a ball at second base in what would’ve led to a game-saving double-play. If only there was video replay, dad Blake thought. Then they would’ve seen Junior drop it on the exchange! It was the exchaaaaaange!

A second theory: an umpire absolutely could’ve been the one who first planted the seed of video replay. Exhausted from inexhaustible parents. A set of headphones might be just the buffer umps needed from the rage that is a parent who thinks their child has been screwed over in what must be the least significant way imaginable. 

Maybe the ump thought, Replay’s just easier. Why be the target? I don’t need this shit. 


My silly, “based on a true story” imaginings are an attempt to laugh off the genuine frustration. A Little League rule should not stick in my side like this video replay has for the past week. Really, I shouldn’t care. I’m on family leave taking care of Charlie, our 3-month old baby girl. I’ve got much better things to do with my time, like push a stroller down every street, avenue, boulevard, and cul-du-sac within a four-mile radius. And yet…

The issue isn’t the intention— ‘getting it right,’ as is often the chorus—but rather what ‘it’ deserves our attention and energy. The problem with video replay can be found in the grammar of it all. Beyond pronouns and antecedents, my argument comes down to nouns and verbs. 

A play versus playing.

In sports, when parents age out of the verb part of speech—playing—many can become hyper focused on the noun— (a) play. In some respects, it’s understandable; the noun is all we have left! But the joy, the magic of Little League is in the verb, more specifically (and to the delight of grammar teachers everywhere) the present participle. The continuous tense of the verb: play-ing. Especially in a game in which the action pauses after every pitch, we have to keep it moving forward whenever possible in the youth version of the game. 

Experiencing the rhythm of a well-played baseball game is a difficult thing to learn as a kid, but once you do, it’s a wonderful choreography to take part in and share with teammates and opponents alike. It’s similar to learning how to play in a school band. Yes, mistakes happen all of the time, but it’s a lot harder to know the feeling of being in the pocket—the real joy of finding that rhythm— if you’re stopping every 12 bars for the conductor to review whether or not the rhythm section is rushing or the trumpets are out of tune. The same can be said for a game that’s adding breaks for video review. 

These replays aren’t rare either. The best intel I could find comes from Diane Pucin’s story in the LA Times back in 2011: replay was used 18 times during the 10-day 2011 LLWS. It’s hard to believe it’s any less than 18 times a decade later. 

The Little League World Series is the purest version of baseball you could ever hope to watch. Lamade Stadium might be the most beautiful baseball field on earth. They have that flat-roofed grandstand reminiscent of the minor league parks from the 1940s, and real dugouts, and the hill in centerfield where the kids watching the game slide down on cardboard. There’s a joy in watching a 12 year-old hit a homer or make a diving catch that’s impossible to muster for a professional making $20,000,000 a year. So it offends me when adults can’t stop themselves from futzing with something as damn near perfect as the Little League World Series in the spirit of ‘getting it right’. 

Should umpires, parents, coaches and Little League work to get calls correct? Yes. Of course it matters who wins, and some plays are no doubt tipping points in games, but I’d rather live with the call on the field. What’s stalled —the verb, the continuous tense—is ultimately more important to the overall joy of playing baseball. 

At such a young age, baseball— the game of failure—should feel endless in opportunity. Next pitch, next at bat, next inning, next game, next year. Stopping a game to analyze one play feels backwards to what Little League is at its best. 

This isn’t a “parents are the worst” column. The path to a parent taking a Little League game way too seriously is completely understandable. They put so much time, energy, miles, and money into allowing the opportunity for their kids to experience success and the positive power of baseball. And then, against all odds—holy shit!—their kids are a game or two away from playing in the Little League World Series. A truly rare life experience. One bad call, and one obvious solution, and I can see how our Blake, and all the Blakes out there would think, Why not? Cameras are already at the game, for chrissake. 

Who knows? Charlie has been around for less than a season; maybe I’m a Blake in waiting and I don’t know it yet. We’ll have to wait to find out. Until then, let’s ditch the video replay in Little League and spend time on the -ing of it all. That’s where the magic is found. 

– Phil Lang, 08/25/21

Week of August 20, 2021

Quite a sight.

A Trip to Williamsport is in Our Future

The first Little League World Series I can recall watching was the first year of the back-to-back years Long Beach won it – 1992. The team was led by future major leaguer Sean Burroughs. Burroughs was a star, man. A huge kid, with in retrospect very hilarious hair. He hit bombs and threw gas (in the 1993 LLWS, he threw two no-hitters).

Watching Burroughs and his crew, I wanted to go to the LLWS. But for a kid, I think the window for attendance is small. You need to be old enough to care, but you can’t be too old. No teenager wants to go to the LLWS to see kids younger than them. 

When I discovered the LLWS, I was ten, which is just about the perfect age. The players are only a year or two older than you. You’re close enough in age that the dream of making it to Williamsport feels so much more attainable than making it to the big leagues, even if it’s just as unlikely. Heck, mathematically, it’s probably less likely.

So, I think ages 7-10 is the sweet spot, which my kids are rapidly approaching (currently 7 and just about 5). So it is with great relish that I read articles like this one from Tim Kurkjian, where Tim and MLB players, managers, and broadcasters talk about what a great time it is to attend the LLWS. In the article, Todd Frazier (an MLB all-star, and the star of the Toms River, NJ team that won it all in 1998) advises to book your hotel at least a year early and stay for 4-5 days. Noted. In two years, I’ll be booking our trip for 2024. -TOB

Source: “Why the Little League World Series is ‘All That is Good About Baseball’,” Tim Kurkjian, ESPN (08/18/2021)

PAL: I’d pay to see TOB at the gift shop at the LLWS with Jack and Nate in tow. 

Yes; the LLWS represents everything that’s good about the game I love, but I learned something this week that’s all wrong about the LLWS. Incredibly, something that’s been going on in the LLWS since 2008: video replay. No, no, no, no. I can’t believe video replay is used in Little League. More on that in the coming days.


Freedom, in 900 Words

Great story to read in the wake of the Olympics. This article, “Into The Mist,” from David W. Chen, and an installment of a broader NY Times project. This summer, they gave sportswriters 900 words to explore a single theme: freedom. I’ve enjoyed all of the stories so far, especially “A Shot to the Jaw,” and “Into The Mist”. 

There are a lot of events in the Olympics dominated by very young people: gymnastics, women’s swimming, skateboarding, figure skating. Before reading this story, I would often think about the athletes and what follows after they reach the top of the mountain at such a young age. With my nieces and nephews deep into youth sports, I wonder, too, of where the line is between working hard to be exceptional at something—a really important lesson to learn—and risking burning out at a young age. Obviously, that line is drawn by each individual, but I think about that quite a bit. 

Vinny Marciano was on an Olympic path. As a youth swimmer, he broke national records regularly. As a high school freshman, he missed out on the 2016 U.S. olympic trials by .27 seconds in the 100-meter backstroke. Per Chen, “He was a prodigy, mentioned in the same breath as Michael Phelps and Ryan Murphy.”

By 2017, he entered zero races. No college commitment. Nada. Where did Marciano go? To find a little freedom, of course. 

Marciano knew his motivation had evaporated, however, when he went to Ithaca, N.Y., for a meet with his club team and didn’t look up any times beforehand. So when he was told that he got a best time in the 50 freestyle, he didn’t feel much joy. After that, he only competed in high school meets, mostly to be around friends.

“I saw a never-ending ladder — no matter what I did, there was always going to be something I was expected to achieve,” he said.

The next year, Marciano visited Zion National Park with his father. He was mesmerized by people climbing walls and buttresses. So he headed for the rocks.

Marciano has become obsessed with a sport for which there is no clock and no lane. Fitting, especially when his parents still hold onto what might have been. 

Marciano’s parents are a little more circumspect. In an upstairs office, they keep a shadow box filled with ribbons and articles, highlighted by a July 2012 Swimming World Magazine profile with a smiling Marciano, braces and all. A 45-gallon plastic bin overflows with trophies and national age-group certificates.

“He was once the fastest in the world, at 10 and under, in the 50-meter backstroke,” his mom, Patricia, wistfully recalled.

Good story about making a change for the right reasons. – PAL

TOB: As a parent, I find his parents’ reactions extremely interesting. Obviously, we all want our kids to be happy. We want to see them succeed. But you also have dreams for them and you make sacrifices for them. I’m sure Marciano’s parents spent tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on his swimming. When he told them he wanted to quit, I am sure it was a punch to the gut. All that money, all that time, and all those dreams – gone. And while I’m guessing there was more to the conversation, I thought their response was incredible, given the circumstances:

They were supportive, but also told him: “You shouldn’t make this decision in haste.”

That’s a perfect response by a parent, in my opinion. But I also get that they hold onto those trophies and those memories and “wistfully recall” that he was once the fastest ten-year old swimmer in the world. That’s not an easy thing to let go.

Source: Into The Mist,” David W. Chen, The New York Times (08/18/21)


Draymond, KD and the Importance of Listening to the Question Answered

This week, Draymond Green (of whom I am an unabashed fan), released the first video in his new interview series, “Chips.” In episode 1, he interviews former teammate Kevin Durant. To promote the series, Bleacher Report released a 4 minute video wherein Draymond asks Kevin Durant about how their public argument early in the 2018-19 season affected KD’s decision to leave the Warriors at the end of that year. Take a watch here.

The video quickly made the rounds because KD and Draymond take turns throwing Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and, in particular, Warriors GM Bob Myers under the bus. Both blame Myers and Kerr for the aftermath, which KD and Draymond contend was handled poorly and led to an uncomfortable season. As Draymond is still on the team, that’s pretty incendiary, ya know?

But when I watched it, something jumped out at me immediately. There’s an adage among lawyers – if you don’t like the question asked, answer the one you wish was asked. I think that came into play here. Watch again, but listen carefully to Draymond’s question. Here’s what he asks:

Draymond: “How much did our argument against the Clippers drive you to ultimately leave the Warriors?

This is a question of how much the argument caused KD to leave. It is, essentially, an empirical question. The answer should have been, “a lot,” or “a little,” or “not at all,” or “completely,” or “50%,” or “100%,” or any other answer that explains how much that argument weighed into KD’s decision. 

But KD doesn’t say anything like that. Instead of answering the question asked, he answers the question he wants to answer: what really pissed him off about the whole situation, which allows him to air his grievance at how the organization responded. 

That’s fine, but contrary to most reporting on this interview, we still don’t actually know what role the organization’s response played in his departure. What about his desire for a new challenge? A new city? Business opportunities in NYC? A desire to play with Kyrie? A desire to not play with Steph? A desire to be The Guy amongst the fanbase? All of these factors may or may not have had a role – we don’t know. The only thing we do know is that KD didn’t actually blame Kerr and Myers for his decision to leave, though that is the impression everyone seems to be taking. As Ray Ratto wrote:

“…but for those around the team, the assumption was already well cemented in place even before the season began that Durant would leave for a new team at the end of the season no matter what. In other words, this was a beef without much meat, and frankly still is.

This is a good point. Remember, Draymond complained during the argument that KD was being evasive about his plans at the end of the season. And he was evasive, as Ratto says, because he was always going to leave. So while the argument and the aftermath may have helped him feel better about his decision, it did not cause him to leave. And that is why he didn’t answer Draymond’s question and instead did what he (and Draymond) wanted to do – complain about their boss/former boss, and bait some clicks. -TOB

Source: Draymond Green And Kevin Durant Squeeze The Last Bit Of Juice From Their Old Argument,” Ray Ratto, Defector (08/19/2021)

PAL: This is the exact type of story Ratto has mastered. He is positively allergic to hype, and since this story is all hype, he’s the perfect dude to dispense it as bullshit. My favorite part: I literally sighed a second before reading the following. Seriously. 

It’s just, and we’ll break while you drop a heavy sigh here, Draymond being Draymond. There are 21 minutes of other information in the pod, some of it interesting, but in taking the bait yet again, we have perpetuated the notion that their argument had some lasting effect on anything except our gullibility. 

More evidence that we’ve long since passed the point of too many podcasts.


A Quaint No-Hitter

I know; it was the 8th no-hitter of the season. How special can Tyler Gilbert’s no-no be? As Ben Lindbergh details, pretty damn special.

Lindbergh puts it this way:

I know you know this was improbable. Every no-hitter is. I also know you know a no-no is especially far-fetched for a 27-year-old, nearly unknown pitcher who’s making his starting debut. But no matter how slim you think Gilbert’s chances were, you’re probably underselling the statistical unlikelihood of what transpired on Saturday.

And later: 

In his historic start, Gilbert relied almost entirely on cutters, sinkers, and four-seamers, all of which had average velocities that started with an “8.”

No triple digits for Gilbert. Not even close. And before you go the “crafty” route, consider this:

En route to his no-hitter, Gilbert allowed 10 batted balls above the 95 mph threshold that MLB defines as “hard hit” (plus a pair at 94.7 and 94.6). His no-hitter was one of 135 starts this season in which a starter allowed 10 hard-hit batted balls. The cumulative batting average allowed on those hard-hit balls in the other 134 outings was .495.

Check out all 27 outs: 

It was the 27-year-old’s first major league start, against a really good hitting team made up of hitters that were not fooled by a soft-throwing lefty. Perhaps the rarest of no-hitters is the one when the pitcher doesn’t have no-hit stuff. It’s happened before. Check out this quote from Bill Veeck’s autobiography about another unlikely no-no back in 1953

Big Bobo went out and pitched against the Athletics, the softest competition we could find, and everything he threw up was belted. And everywhere the ball went, there was a Brownie there to catch it. It was such a hot and humid heavy night that long fly balls that seemed to be heading out of the park would die and be caught against the fence. Just when Bobo looked as if he was tiring, a shower would sweep across the field, delaying the game long enough for him to get a rest. Allie Clark hit one into the left field stands that curved foul at the last second. A bunt just rolled foul on the last spin. Our fielding was superb. The game went into the final innings and nobody had got a base hit off Big Bobo. On the final out of the eighth inning, Billy Hunter made an impossible diving stop on a ground ball behind second base and an even more impossible throw. With two out in the ninth, a ground ball was rifled down the first base line—right at our first baseman, Vic Wertz. Big Bobo had pitched the quaintest no-hitter in the history of the game.

Veeck As In Wreck, Bill Veek & Ed Linn, 1962

– PAL 

Source:Tyler Gilbert’s Historic No-hitter Was Improbable in More Than One Way,Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (08/16/21) 


Outfield Heckling

I really enjoyed this article from Eno Sarris about the art of heckling an outfielder. Lots of funny stories from outfielders about good and bad heckling and how they deal with it. My highlight was Josh Harrison talking about the Giants’ fans’ “He’s a bum!” chant. Classic. Also, the video of Tony Gwynn, Jr. mocking the fans by pulling the Ace Ventura butt talk gag. LOL.  -TOB

Source: Carne Asada Fries, Pizza and Bird Legs: Turning Jeers to Cheers, and Other Outfield Fan Interactions,” Eno Sarris, The Athletic (08/19/2021)

PAL: Tony Gwynn, Jr. definitely has the best response. Sarris touched on it a bit in this story, but, as a fan, how bad does it stink to sit next to an unoriginal heckler who won’t shut it down after an inning or two? Can you imagine sitting next to the dude going at Gwynn, Jr. in that video for nine innings? You just spend a good chunk of change on tickets and a $15 beer, and now you need to sit next to the guy workshopping a couple terrible heckler bits all night? No thanks.

TOB: We sat in the bleachers last weekend with the boys. Dickerson was playing left and Alex Wood was on the mound. Some dumbass yelled, “Hey Dick, how do you like Alex’s wood?” Brutal, not clever. And worse, when he got no reaction he didn’t take the hint and said it again a few minutes later. Bro, stop.


Other Good Stuff

Song of the Week

Jungle – “Bonnie Hill”


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I had to find a new dojo after sensei Ira and I parted ways. My new sensei, sensei Billy, thought I had more than enough training to take the test. Turns out, sensei Ira was a bit of a shyster. Sensei Billy says most students don’t spend $150,000 over 20 years to get their black belt.

-Dwight K. Schrute

Week of August 13, 2021


Is This Heaven?

By the time you read this, the Yankees and White Sox will have played a game in Dyersville, Iowa. You likely know the place by a different phrase: Field of Dreams. If that doesn’t ring a bell, then I’ll give you one more descriptor – MLB is playing a game “at” the field from that movie your husband always cries to when Kevin Costner plays catch at dusk with the ghost of his father.

Let’s get the tears out of the way (and—yep—I tear every damn time I watch this clip. The friggin’ score, man!)

The Yankees-White Sox game is the perfect opportunity for Tyler Kepner to revisit the 1989 movie and why it became an unlikely classic (it’s my favorite baseball movie, with Moneyball in second). As Kepner points out (with help from movie critic Richard Roeper), what sets Field of Dreams apart from most sports movies is the plot has nothing to do with a particular game; rather, it is about the timeless nature of baseball, and how often the things we miss the most are the simplest forms of connection, like playing catch with your dad. 

But baseball has never been pure, and that’s a major plot point in the movie. Who first shows up to play on Kevin Costner’s gleaming ball field? Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven White Sox teammates who were banned for life for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.

Losing on purpose is a ballplayer’s worst possible sin. Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, offers redemption. It’s not just the overtone that’s religious, it’s right there in the dialogue; multiple characters wonder aloud if this is heaven. “Field of Dreams” is a different kind of movie, and that is why it stands apart.

“In ‘Rocky’ and ‘Hoosiers’ and ‘The Natural,’ those all have the big game at the end; we’re leading up to the big game, that’s what sports movies are about,” said Richard Roeper, The Chicago Sun-Times critic who succeeded Gene Siskel on “At the Movies” with Roger Ebert. “We don’t really get that in ‘Field of Dreams.’ This is more about the timeless nature of baseball.”

That’s the part of this movie that’s absolutely perfect – the odyssey on which Ray embarks – as flawed and sappy as it can be at times – is to give him one more opportunity to play catch with his dad.  Redemption. So often a fantasy, but a beautiful one. 

Here’s one other nugget from Kepner’s piece that I didn’t know until now:

Dwier Brown, the actor who played Ray Kinsella’s father, lost his own father a month before filming began in 1988, giving extra emotional heft to the role. When the movie was finished, Brown found himself and his co-stars weeping as they watched the screening for the cast.

Good read. If you are the one person who hasn’t seen the movie, grab a box of tissues and get on it! 

Update: The game just finished. Not one, not two, but three dramatic, 9th inning home runs into the cornfields didn’t hurt. The game and field looked just spectacular on TV, although I can pass on Kevin Costner meandering about the field like a kid who can’t find his parents at the state fair.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off at some point, but I’m glad MLB is making this an annual event. Yes, it is all over-the-top, and overly sentimental, and (don’t do it, don’t do it) corny, but dammit it works. – PAL 

Source: Shoeless Joe Won’t Be There. Aaron Judge Will.Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (08/11/21)

TOB: First, great write up by Phil. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie. I was probably in middle school, maybe early high school. I watched it with my parents in their room. And when Ray and his dad played catch, I remember being bewildered that my dad was crying. I remember my mom making some comment about, “This movie always makes your dad cry.” I can’t say I had ever seen him cry before that, but perhaps that is wrong. So it did surprise me, though it shouldn’t have. 

More than most, my dad had a good reason to cry at that scene: his father died when my dad was only 4 years old. It’s hard for me to really fathom that. There are a lot of remarkable things about my dad. But the fact he was and is an excellent, loving, and affectionate father, despite all odds and with every reason to be just the opposite, is the most remarkable of all. I love you, Dad!


Field of Dreams, and Ads

Ok, ok. Now that we’ve covered the good, let’s discuss MLB’s execution of the game. 

When they announced this game last year, I was excited. Then the build up this week was so immense – it was everywhere – I started to sour. But by Wednesday night I decided I had to tune in and man…they were so close. They really almost nailed it. But here’s where they lose me:

First, I don’t understand the location decision. The field where the movie was filmed still exists as a tourist destination. They could have used that. Throw in some more bleachers and bam, a small crowd but it would have been magic. Instead, they wanted to pack the fans in because…money. So they decide to build what ended up being akin to a very nice minor league or college stadium. But they did it RIGHT NEXT to the existing Field of Dreams field. It’s SO weird to me. Look at this picture.

In the foreground is the original, from the movie. You can see the house and the bleachers where Karen almost died, and the backstop. It’s quaint, cool. Then in the background is the behemoth MLB built. So, fine, you wanted something bigger – something ready to host a TV crew. But why put it right next door? It ruins the magic of a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield in the middle of nowhere when there are suddenly two of them.

Second, the ads. Oh god, the ads. Yes, there were fewer ads around the stadium than in every MLB game but ugh. Here’s Tim Anderson rounding first after his walk-off yam…and a Budweiser ad prominently behind him, along with some other ad on the tarp cover:

Here’s Aaron Judge, about to hit a dinger into the corn, with a friggin Mattress Firm ad behind him. That panel of course rotated (very period accurate!) and also had a GEICO ad, and I’m sure others. Again, they couldn’t get over their greed to let a good idea be perfect – they had to scrape every last penny possible.

Finally, my biggest gripe. The outfield wall. 

There’s no need for the fence, man! Just hit into the damn corn. I’m very upset about this. Ray Liotta is going to walk out of that corn, look at the chain link fence, and walk right back to baseball purgatory. Outrageous.

Otherwise, the uniforms: sweet. The vibes, wonderful. I hope the Giants get invited some year. -TOB

PAL:  That’s a great line, TOB: “Ray Liotta is going to walk out of that corn, look at the chain link fence, and walk right back to baseball purgatory.”

I am pretty sure there are requirements for a field and facility to be used in an official MLB game, and meeting those requirements would have messed up the original field where the movie was shot…which would dilute the tourist novelty of the original. I think Toronto had to make upgrades and adjustments to the field it played on when they spent time in a minor league park because of the pandemic.


The Fitzmagic Odyssey 

Ryan Fitzpatrick is slated to start as QB for Washington this season. It will be his ninth team during his 17-year NFL career. Most of you readers probably know his story: Harvard dude, 7th-round draft pick, has become known as the steady vet who backs up, then takes over for, high draft picks. This year might be different. The high draft pick for Washington already flamed out last year, and now a playoff team brought in Fitzpatrick to take over. 

The part about this story that I found most intriguing is the idea of leadership. For a guy who never imagined he’d last all that long in the NFL (the framed mini-camp check in his office for $273.63, the first check he received as a pro, is a replica, because “I sure as hell cashed that thing.”), he’s been in a lot of locker rooms with hundreds of teammates, dynamics, and expectations. Above all, Fitzpatrick has learned that leadership requires connections, and that takes honest-to-goodness time. 

“Being on a new team every year, it’s not the system and learning it,” Fitzpatrick said. “That stuff is gonna take care of itself. Meeting the guys and having this human connection with these guys is such an important aspect of playing QB and being part of a team. A lot of that is time. You have to put the time in. You have to have conversations. You have to ask questions. There are no shortcuts to building relationships.”

He is universally loved by teammates from all of his stops to a degree that is uncommon. How about this: when he was holding out for a respectful contract  (we’re talking like backup money) after leading the Jets to a 10-6 record, two of his receivers considered holding out, too, as an act of solidarity. 

Of course, him taking time to get to know his teammates wouldn’t amount to a story if Fitzpatrick didn’t deliver with some regularity, and he does, which has been a bit of a double edged sword when he has backed-up to franchise QB in waiting (Geno Smith for the Jets, Jameis Winston for the Bucs, Tua for Miami). He’s better than the high-end picks, and everyone on the teams love him. It’s not long before the majority of the players want him starting instead of a raw and mistake machine that is most every rookie QB. 

The other portion that stood out is the sheer logistics of moving nine times for a job. Fitzpatrick and his wife have seven kids (no wonder he keeps playing…he’s got to feed those twerps!). They found out the hard way that it doesn’t work for the family when the QB leaves them behind somewhere else, so every new team means a new house, new schools, new everything. They’ve refined the process over the years: 

Over time, the Fitzpatricks have developed a system for each new move. They’ll start by studying the area to identify the best public schools, and use that initial search to build a list of seven to 10 houses. On his own, Fitzpatrick flies out and makes the final decision. Not long after, Liza will follow with all the kids in tow.

Solid read. – PAL 

Source: Nine teams, hundreds of teammates and a lifetime of stories: Ryan Fitzpatrick is a ‘next-level leader’”, Robert Mays, The Athletic (08/12/21)


Video of the Week

Who did it better? Who can say?

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Loudon Wainwright III – “Fathers And Sons”


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All you need is love? False. The four basic human necessities are air, water, food and shelter.

-Dwight K. Schrute

Week of August 6, 2021


An Olympic Thesis

I’m not a big Olympics guy. I know, as my friend Joanna said last weekend: that is very much not on-brand for me. I have written a sports blog for seven years, for goodness sake. But I don’t have a ton of free time and I want to spend it doing the things I want to do. I can’t pretend to get excited about a sport like beach volleyball, for example, once every four years. Especially when I’d rather watch my favorite team continue to be the best team in baseball, ahem.

However. though I have not watched more than perhaps 45 seconds of the ongoing Olympics*, I do have a gripe with some of the sports that are in the Olympics. After some thought, I came up with a simple two-step test on what should and should not be an Olympic sport. It is as follows:

  1. The sport should be otherwise underexposed. 
  2. There must be some novelty to the competition. That is to say, the Olympics cannot simply be another event on the calendar. We must be seeing the sport in a way that we otherwise do not.

To illustrate:

Golf: NO. Why is this an Olympic sport? It’s a wildly popular worldwide sport and there is no differentiation between its weekly events and its Olympic presentation. Get it out!

Basketball: YES. It’s popular, yes. But it’s generally not played country vs. country as it is in the Olympics. Quite novel!

Tennis: NO! God no. See: golf.

Got it? Ok, let’s do this.

  •  Artistic swimming:
    • Yes.
    • PAL: saw it, started making fun of it for 5 seconds, then was completely impressed and captivated. YES.
  •  Diving
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  •  Marathon swimming
    • I don’t know what this is, yes.
    • PAL: sure
  •  Swimming
  •  Water polo
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Hell yes. Great watch. 
  •  Archery
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes, but I’m not as impressed if I run into an archery Olympian.
  • Badminton
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  • Baseball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Meh
  • Softball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  • Basketball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Sure
  • 3×3 basketball
    • Leaning NO here. It doesn’t fail the tests but it’s also not really played as a sport anywhere. Completely contrived for the Olympics.
    • PAL: So dumb. No.
  • Boxing 
    • This probably fails the tests, but I’ll make an exception here because it’s still an amateur Olympic sport. Like, Canelo isn’t allowed in the Olympics. Once they let pros, it’s out.
  • Canoeing
    • Sure.
    • PAL: Yes
  • BMX freestyle
    • No. Underexposed, but I think this fails prong two: it’s just another event in the same format that we can see year-round.
    • PAL: Nononono. 
  • BMX racing
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: God no.
  • Mountain biking
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: nah.
  • Road cycling (4)
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: God no.
  • Track cycling 
    • I think this is again a no, but I’m not sure.
    • PAL: Watched it today. Loved it. Seems to check both of your boxes. 
  • Equestrian
    • I believe this fails prong two but I’m not sure. Are there international competitions? If not, and they are regional or national only, this is allowed.
    • PAL: Sure. Who cares. The most compelling equestrian story of the Olympics is that Bruce Springsteen’s daughter was on the U.S. team. 
  •  Fencing 
    • See equestrian.
    • PAL: Yes, but they could make it really interesting by bringing in real swords. Just sayin. 
  •  Field hockey
    • Yes.
  •  Football/Soccer
    • Women’s: Yes. See basketball.
    • Men’s: Yes. This also passes because they have implemented a rule that I endorse to ensure this doesn’t just become a repeat of the World Cup: all but three players on each team must be under 24. This creates even more novelty.
    • PAL: But that age rule makes me care a bit less or makes it mean a bit less. 
  •  Golf
    • NO, NEVER AGAIN.
    • PAL: No…how long is this friggin list? 
  •  Gymnastics
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Y
  • Handball
    • I think this makes it but see equestrian.
    • PAL: Hard yes. 
  •  Judo
    • Again, see equestrian.
    • PAL: Don’t know. 
  • Karate
    • Again, see equestrian.
    • PAL: I
  •  Modern pentathlon
    • Yes.
  •  Rowing
    • Yes.
  •  Rugby sevens
    • Yes.
  •  Sailing
    • Yes.
  •  Shooting
    • Sure.
    • PAL: I’ll say it…is this a sport?
  •  Skateboarding
    • No, get out. Fails the golf test.
  •  Sport climbing
    • Underexposed, but I think fails the golf test. 
  •  Surfing
    • No, fails the golf test.
  •  Table tennis
    • Fairly certain this fails the golf test.
  •  Taekwondo
    • See equestrian.
  •  Tennis
    • Again no. NO.
  • Track and Field
    • Yes.
  •  Triathlon
    • Underexposed, but again I think it fails the golf test.
  •  Volleyball
    • Yes.
  • Beach volleyball
    • This has gotten so popular that I think it fails the golf test.
  •  Weightlifting
    • Perhaps fails the golf test but exempt as a quintessential Olympic sport.
  •  Wrestling
    • Yes.

So, there you have it. The definitive list of sports are or are not appropriately played in the Olympics.

*I wrote this before, in a moment of weakness, I watched the second half of the US/Australia men’s basketball semifinal.

-TOB

PAL: My favorite line from TOB: “Though I have not watched more than perhaps 45 seconds of the ongoing Olympics, I do have a gripe with some of the sports that are in the Olympics.” Hahahaha!

I don’t hate your rationale—I’ve been watching water polo, track, rowing, softball, and I’ve been a hard pass on skateboarding and climbing (and I really enjoy climbing!)— but, man, I am a sucker for the Olympics. What a great break from the same old same old (NFL, NCAA football, NBA, baseball)l. The Olympic athlete stories are inspiring, and every couple of years (winter and summer games) I love learning about an athlete that isn’t constantly in the public eye.

Having said that, I have one more gripe to add to TOB’s hot take (seriously, who the hell is anti-Olympics?): why the hell is olympic softball being played on a baseball field?

Damn. These are the best softball players in the world, and they are treated like a non-tryout youth team. I was stunned when I watched USA-Canada in pool play. With the amount of money spent on the Olympics, you would think they could have built at least two turf softball fields. 

Did a little internet sleuthing and found the following as a possible reason. Per Larry Brown: “Well, as you probably guessed, this is a cost-saving measure. NBC Sports’ softball announcers said that baseball and softball agreed to share the venue as part of an effort to get back into the Olympics. This is the first year softball and baseball are back in the Olympics since 2008.”

Just a bad look to have an Olympic women’s sport played on a men’s field.  

TOB: AND ANOTHER THING. Michael Phelps is overrated! His medal count is inflated because his sport has an insane 4 strokes, multiple lengths, and relays and medley and all other kinds of crap. 


EXACTLY. This has bugged me for over a decade and I am finally ready to say it aloud. Thank you.


Hal Higdon

I was meaning to share this story a few weeks ago before we went on vacation. It’s a bit evergreen, so—what the hell—I’ll share it this week. 

Most everyone I know who’s trained for a marathon or half marathon has typed in the name “Hal Higdon” when looking for a training plan. It is free, it is detailed, it will get a first time runner across the finish line if they stick to the training plan. In a fitness world of personalized plans, coaches, and enough gadgets to fill a container ship, Higdon’s plans remain the standard. 

A few weeks ago, the NY Times went a little deeper on the 90 year-old “internet king of running plans”.

Per Talya Minserg:

Higdon started running in high school, and began researching different ways to train for races while a student-athlete at Carleton College in the late 1940s. “I was a perky little freshman and sophomore who came up with training ideas of my own,” he said in a telephone interview. He honed his expertise as an elite runner both in the youth and master divisions, taking his family along with him for the ride.

Before races had water stations, his family would stand on the side of courses with cups of water. His children fondly remember spaghetti dinners before marathons. So, too, do they remember having marathon greats like Bill Rodgers stop by the family home for a meal or two.

In those days, Higdon made a living from freelance writing on a variety of subjects. But the through line remained working with athletes and writing for runners. It wasn’t until 1990, when a high school friend recruited him to design plans for Chicago Marathon runners, that he began crafting training plans for a larger audience.

When I read about Higdon, it reminded me of another name synonymous with sports training. My brother-in-law recently gave me the golf training book Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book. Pretty much any golfer will have heard of it. In Higdon and Penick, you have two men who became passionate about a sport decades before each caught on with the masses. Both men also pay as much attention to the complete amatuer and the experts. 

While Penick died in 1995, before the age of internet golf training (my god, YouTube, IG, SnapChat are full of tutorials), Higdon embraced social media as a way to communicate with folks going through his training plans. Apparently, through the help of grandkids and other family members, Higdon remains the person behind the response to questions and comments across social media.

A fun story about a the guy behind a name that I’ve known for 20 years. – PAL

Source: “Hal Higdon Has Trained Millions of Runners. At 90, He’s Not Slowing Down.”, Talya Minsberg, The New York Times (07/18/21)


Is the USMNT For Real?

The U.S. Men’s National Soccer team has had quite the summer: First, in June, their A-squad beat Mexico’s A-squad in the Nation’s League final, in one of the most exciting soccer games you’ll ever see.

Then, last weekend, their B or C-squad beat the Mexico A-minus squad on a late goal to win the Gold Cup. It was quite the turnaround from four years ago when they shockingly failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

But as soccer analysts will tell you, it’s not just that the U.S. won these tournaments, beating their archnemesis in the process. It’s how they won, with style and panache, with young talent providing so much promise for the future (seriously, buckle up for World Cup 2026, which the U.S. will host). For the first time ever, USMNT fans have hope that their squad will soon be able to compete with the elite squads across the globe. And while the upcoming, talented generation has a lot to do with it, so does the team’s coach, Greg Berhalter, as Leander Schaerlaeckens writes. 

Berhalter has succeeded in creating a culture that players want to be part of and making the USMNT a destination for top soccer talents who could have chosen to play for other national teams. This is an interesting look at Berhalter – where he came from, what he’s doing, and where he hopes to go. If you’re a fan of international soccer, you’ll enjoy this one. -TOB

Source: Gregg Berhalter’s Plan for American Men’s Soccer Is Working,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, The Ringer (08/02/2021)


Actually, Revenge is Pretty Good When Hot and Fresh, Too

In my fantasy baseball dynasty league, I have been on a hunt for a longterm solution at third base all season, ever since Vlad Guerrero, Jr. lost his 3B status and left me with Vlad and Pete Alonso to fill my 1B/DH spots. I cycled through some guys, and traded for Moustakas who was on my roster for a week before missing the last three months with a heel injury. I’ve used Wilmer Flores and Joey Wendle and others, when they were on hot streaks. I even scooped up an injured Evan Longoria and stashed him on my IL.

But I’ve been keeping an eye out for a young guy, and this week I came across someone named Abraham Toro (what an elite name), who went on a tear after being traded from Houston to Seattle last week. So I did some digging to see who he is and came across the incredible story of how he got traded.

You know that scene in Moneyball when the A’s trade for Ricardo Rincon? When he was traded, Rincon was playing for Cleveland, who were in Oakland to play the A’s. So Rincon had to simply walk down the hall to join his new team. That is a true story, and while Toro’s is similar, I think Toro’s story is even better. Here’s the AP’s Chris Talbott with the story:

Toro was taking his pregame swings for Houston when he learned about the deal. The infielder walked to the other dugout, put on his new uniform and went back to the batting cage.

I mean, that is incredible on its own. The dude is taking BP, is told he’s traded, goes to his new dugout, gets his new jersey, and goes back out to the field to continue getting ready. And the cherry on top of it all? The day before he was traded Toro hit a dinger for the Astros, against the Mariners. The day he was traded? He hit a dinger for the Mariners, against the Astros. Per Elias, “Toro is the first player in major league history to homer for one team and against that team in consecutive games.” That is some serious, “Eff you,” energy. 

And if you’re curious, Toro is still on a tear. In 8 games with Seattle, he’s hitting .429/.500/.857 for an OPS of 1.357. -TOB

Source: Abraham Toro Homers Late for New Team, but Astros Hold on to Win,” Chris Talbott, Houston Chronicle (07/28/2021)


Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

The New Basement Tapes – “When I Get My Hands On You”

Kind of a cool project from a few years back. A supergroup with super duper producer T Bone Burnett took a bunch of Bob Dylan lyrics from his Basement Tapes time with the band – lyrics that were never turned into song (at least that we know of) – and took a crack at putting them into songs. This song is my favorite from the album. Anyone with an upcoming wedding: this song would be a damn good first dance song. – PAL


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“Debbie told my son he looked like Tom Petty in a negative way.”

– Catherine