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