Week of September 10, 2021


“This Is What It’s Supposed to Be Like”

Usually we make our own story titles, but this one was too perfect not to use: This is what it’s supposed to be like. Here, the “This” is massive college football grounds jumping around dumbly to old songs and having an absolute blast while doing so, not worried about this god damn pandemic and COVID-19 and the Delta variant or anything else. I should backup.

Last weekend was the start of the college football season. On Friday night, Virginia Tech hosted North Carolina. At kickoff, Virginia Tech did its traditional go-buck-wild dance to Enter Sandman, like so:

The student section was packed in and screaming, as you can see. Looks awesome, doesn’t it? But watching it that night I also thought, “Ugh, how many students are going to get COVID from this?” I wasn’t alone. MSNBC Host Mehdi Hasan tweeted the following:

His tweet went viral, as did other similar sentiments that night and the following day when, for example, the students at Wisconsin began the 4th by jumping around to Jump Around.

But Defector’s David Roth didn’t exactly see it the same way as Mehdi, and as I read it, I realized Roth is right. Roth helpfully pointed out that “Virginia Tech mandate[s] vaccinations among its students, and went so far as to unenroll 134 students who declined to comply with those requirements; 95 percent of the student body and 88 percent of school employees are vaccinated.” Or that while “[t]he University of Wisconsin does not have a vaccine mandate for students, [] the school announced last week that 91 percent of its students had received at least one dose, and that 92 percent of campus employees and 99 percent of faculty were fully vaccinated.” Well, shoot. That’s great!

Roth effectively explains many of our initial reactions:

What is most jarring about all this, more than the heavy respect that Gus Johnson put on Everlast’s name or the very concept of a “Jump Around Tradition,” finally has to do with the context—the fact that this is all happening, more or less as normal, after this last stupid, brutal, squashed-flat plague year and in this furious and infuriatingly stalled out present in which the pandemic has been permitted to persist. This state of affairs owes in various measures and to various degrees to some other otherwise incomprehensible American traditions—wild and self-wounding intransigence; the invasive bloom of an unreasoning and recursive spite in the wreckage left by a willed and willful collapse of civic faith; listless cringing state incapacity and abandonment; that sort of thing. But it is at this point in many ways a choice.

But then Roth explains that those students at Virginia Tech and Wisconsin earned the right to jump around like idiots because the got the damn vaccine:

Another way of saying this is that the shared joy in Camp Randall Stadium, which may or may not be your personal thing, is now right there to win. If it looks strange, it is in large part because it feels a little strange to see tens of thousands of people celebrating together after so much time spent so warily apart. But there is also a sense in which the people in that stadium are celebrating something that they have earned—by taking care when that was all there was to do, and then by continuing to make (really pretty easy) decisions that do right by the other people who would eventually fill the stadium around them.

Roth, of course, then turns his attention to the idiots who refuse to get vaccinated, who in doing so perpetuate this pandemic, keeping it into, as Roth puts it, an “endless end.” And then, as Roth so eloquently closes:

It is not the point, or anyway not the most interesting point, that a stadium full of overwhelmingly vaccinated twentysomethings wilding out to a Metallica song from 1991 is far from the reason Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. It might be more useful, I think, to understand all that strange and giddy closeness as something like the Nice Thing itself—an experience that could be had again, something strange but also safe and silly and shared, if only everyone loved it enough to fight for it.

Damn. Amen. -TOB

Source: This Is What It’s Supposed To Be Like,” David Roth, Defector (09/05/2021)


Fluffy Balls

Believe me when I say Kelsey McKinney hits this one pure. The premise of her story is the following: sports commentators need to spend more time explaining the specifics of the game for which they provide insights. She used the U.S. Open (tennis) as her initial example. McKinney likes tennis, but doesn’t know much about the game. She watches along at a bar with her friend, who knows a lot about tennis. In a short time, McKinney learns why serves are overhand (angles and power while keeping the ball in…maybe you knew the answer to that one) and what players are doing when they examine the balls from the ball boy/girl (the more tennis balls are hit, the fluffier the felt gets, making them more difficult to hit hard,nand that fact was new info to me). 

As McKinney points out: commentary has gone too far away from the specifics of a game.

Rarely are these basic pieces of knowledge that enrich the viewing experience offered by announcers. There are plenty of rule analyses and personal backstories and over-inflations of rivalries and past meetings. But there’s very little substance to the commentary that actually improves viewer’s understandings of the sports they love to watch but do not play. 

Since, as established, I know very little about tennis, let’s pivot to football. Here is a clip of Tom Brady that went viral late last week talking about how offensive mistakes are resulting in defensive penalties:

How much more interesting is the explanation of why a tennis player takes such care in selecting the ball he wants to play, or Tom Brady providing a really interesting take on the impact defensive penalties have on the quality of the game? I’m a sports nut, and I’ve learned two sports-related tidbits from McKinney’s story. As McKinney writes, “The nuts and bolts are what’s interesting.”

I love it!

Of course, the magic lies in finding the right line for the viewers—what deserves explanation, and what is obvious to viewers? In a baseball game broadcast locally, would the commentators feel the need to explain the infield fly rule (and then debate about such rule), or would that induce eyerolls from baseball fans who are big enough fans to be watching a Tuesday night, regular season game? What about explaining WAR — is this closer to something that might be valuable to regular viewers? 

Attracting new fans while not alienating existing fans of a sport is harder than perhaps McKinney calls out in this story, but she’s 100% about there being an imbalance of commentary focused on backstories and other fluff, and the opportunities to highlight really fascinating elements of the game are missed. 

Excellent read, and I hope some network takes McKinney up on this idea. – PAL 

Source: “I Am Begging Sports Commentators To Teach Me The Nuts And Bolts Of The Game,” Kelsey McKinney, Defector (09/09/21)


The Soto Shuffle: A Statistical Breakdown

If you watched the 2019 MLB Playoffs, you probably saw then-20-year old Juan Soto perform what has been called the Soto Shuffle. To wit:

If you haven’t caught a Nats game the last two seasons, you might not know that he still does it, although he sadly dropped the crotch grab. But he doesn’t do it every time he takes a pitch. He picks his spots. And, in fact, he’s put some variations on the Shuffle, as the Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh breaks down. Thanksfully, the variations are all so funny. For example, the one this one made me laugh the most.

Lindbergh calls it the Ollie and I can’t not laugh every time I watch it. It’s so outrageous. 

Or the one where he shakes his butt.

Or the one where he does a deep lunge.

Seriously, is it just me or is this hilarious? But Lindbergh doesn’t stop with showing you how Soto does the Shuffle, he dives deeeeeeeeeeeeep into when. And here’s a graphical representation:

But Lindbergh doesn’t stop there, either. He also breaks down when Soto does the Shuffle by count and pitch type… and more. It’s such a fun, goofy read on an unimportant but interesting topic. These are the kinds of articles I wish I had the time to research and write. Great stuff. -TOB

Source: Fancy Footwork: A Complete Breakdown of the Soto Shuffle,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (09/07/2021)

PAL: The depth of this story is bananas. It would’ve been so easy for Lindbergh to make this a fluff story about The Shuffle, to stop at “the most exciting take in baseball” type of thing and show clips on the variations of The Shuffle. Lindbergh goes to incredible lengths to find some substance by way of explanation or patterns. The dude put together a 20+ minute supercut of all The Shuffles for chrissake.  

Above all, the most incredible bit of info from this story is the following: “He Shuffled (or appeared to start Shuffling) on only 10 called strikes”. Now that’s a guy that knows the strike zone, and that’s a dude, as Lindbergh points out, that doesn’t fail 7/10 times, as is the old adage in baseball; Soto’s on-base percentage .446. If that holds, that would put Soto above Barry Bonds’ best season, and good enough for the seventh highest all-time, right behind Gehrig, Ruth, and Williams.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Jason Isbell – “24 Frames”


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