Most of you recognize the name Alex Honnold. He climbed El Capitan without a rope. Nearly as impressive is his mom’s achievement. At 70, Dierdre Wolownick climbed El Cap (with a rope).
More incredible, she took up rock climbing in her 60s. Not in the 1960s, but rather in her seventh decade. Her story, which is a part of the NY Times “It’s Never Too Late” Series, is the inspiration some of you might be looking for while perusing our humble little side project of a digest.
As Tim Neville captures, the first half of her life was filled with wonderful, albeit “sedentary and cerebral”. In her interview with Neville, she describes the circumstances of her late start in climbing.
How did you try it?
About 10 years ago, Alex was home with an injury so I asked him to take me to the climbing gym. I figured I’d get to know the equipment and climb halfway up the wall and come home and be happy. I got on the first climb and went all the way up, about 45 feet, and I was totally surprised I had no fear whatsoever. So I did 12 more climbs that day and loved it.
What was your life like before that?
Total turmoil. My husband, Charles, fell over dead at 55 in the Phoenix airport one month after I had divorced him and I became the executor of his estate. My father had just died and I was dealing with his estate, too. Alex had almost died while snowshoeing in 2004 when he was 19. So I started running, little by little, and wound up becoming a runner. There was nothing in life I was doing for me and running was for me. Climbing turned out to be the same, an escape, but it took courage.
How did you overcome the challenges to climb?
Climbing is very physical and there’s so much to learn about the equipment, the physics, the angles — everything.
I was just a lumpy old middle age woman completely taken with jobs and chores. I was scared, too, and sometimes you need a little help to do something totally new and alien to you. But after a month or two I had had enough conversations with myself and so I said, OK, today, you’re not going home after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing gym. And I did. It became a routine. Climbing was like a key opening this lifelong door. It was wonderful.
Such a cool one. Read the full story and check out more incredible photos from Aubrey Trinnaman. – PAL
This Mark Davis Story: Hilarious and Right On and Creepy
“Norman Bates presented as an unthreatening goof, too.”
This is a story about a backpack. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag, and who also has this haircut.
I’ve read this story three times now. Albert Burneko writes the hell out of a story about a backpack. And, in this situation, a backpack is disturbing.
Do not make the category mistake of finding this image relatable. Mark Davis can afford, ten thousand times over, to have very skilled and sleek professionals carry his bags for him; to have all of the items that might go into a backpack attended to with great care and minimal friction and zero personal involvement on his part, so that he can glide effortlessly from the lobby of the building to a waiting vehicle; to do this clad in other than remaindered Las Vegas Raiders team merchandise. He could have all of that with little more than a snap of his fingers; the very rich in America do not even have to arrange these things for themselves (and frequently do not even have to actually pay for them). Choosing this, instead—choosing, that is, to lug his own gigantic backpack and suit bag, instead of cashing in a virtually nonexistent portion of his wealth and prestige to purchase a level of ease infinitely beyond the reach of a normal person—is the equivalent of that normal person willingly choosing to walk out of their hotel clad only in a paper grocery bag with leg-holes kicked into the bottom of it, with all their material possessions clutched in their arms, and then stand at the curb attempting to thumb a ride to their destination. That may be an understatement. It might be the equivalent of a normal person denying themselves the luxury of inhaling. The normal person who did that would not be normal or relatable. They would be bizarre and disturbing.
Burneko goes on. It’s a quick and excellent read. Mark Davis may look like many a dads who got off the “caring how I look” train many stops ago, but that is not what’s going on here. – PAL
“That’s kind of what I do: basketball and bass fishing.”
Luke Lowe is the first college basketball player I’ve heard of that entered the transfer portal in search of a new team…and better fishing. He transferred from William & Mary to the University of Minnesota (or, as all of us commonly refer to it, the U). In fishing circles Lowe has been known as a standout fisher long before he was considered a stellar college basketball player, winning state and national fishing tournaments.
Per Marcus Fuller:
Playing in the Big Ten was a plus for Loewe, but returning to his Midwest roots as an aspiring pro fisherman was a top priority as well.
“There are a lot of great opportunities up here,” said Loewe, a Fond du Lac, Wis., native. “A lot of great fishermen. I’ve been connecting with some of the better anglers around Minnesota, which has been cool.”
Lowe turned himself into a legit college player at William & Mary. After averaging below 2 points per game during his freshman year, he became into a defensive stopper on the perimeter, a 40 percent 3-point shooter, and averaged over 16 a game by his fourth season.
Pair the new NIL rules for college athletes with Lowes fishing youtube channel, and the dude just might have a nice little social media niche. Classic local newspaper story right here. – PAL
I know, I know; playoff baseball is happening, and former Twin, Eddie Rosario—who was terrible for the Twins in any big game ever—decided to continue the legacy of former Twins to have big moments in the playoffs (David Ortiz). Stil, I think this story was the best thing I read all week, and it’s about an early-season NHL overtime between the Rangers and the Maple Leafs.
Barry Petchesky takes a great highlight in a regular season game and creates a broadly compelling story about the challenge of creating an overtime system in a sport for an American audience (ties ain’t gonna fly) that is both entertaining and not a complete departure from the usual game, e.g. shootouts. He thinks hockey just might have found the perfect balance with the 3-on-3 overtime.
He writes, “[i]t’s fun—the same forces that discourage OT from lasting the full five minutes make it a breathless arcade version of the sport. Not quite the real thing, but not a bastardization either: a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation.
The highlight—which is the entire overtime—is incredible. Non-stop action. Great plays, great saves, a blow-for-blow attack. Just a great sports moment that you can’t turn away from once you hit play. That description of an overtime rule—“a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation”— is a great nugget of writing. I get an extra bit of satisfaction when I find a completely random story and get rewarded with a great read. -PAL
After watching the umpires make a bunch of bad ball/strike calls in the Giants/Dodgers series, TOB and I were texting that it just might be time for the robo ump. And then Laz Diaz gave an all-time performance in the Red Sox/Astros game, missing on a playoff high 23 ball/strike calls. The robo umps are already being tested out in lower leagues, so is the sun setting on human umpires calling pitches in a MLB game?
The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur bring up an important consideration before we jump all the way there with the automated ball-strike system. For one, leagues need to define the zone. Not difficult, you’d think, but there are a lot of variables at play there. One example of these variables: teams providing an accurate height for its players in order for the system to establish the vertical zone). Also, consider this example in the Atlantic League, which went from a 17-inch wide zone (the width of the plate) to a 21-inch zone, making pitch 3 a strike in the graphic below:
Now, consider that the catcher was set up on the other side of the plate and the pitcher missed location badly. The catcher reaches across his body and stabs at the pitch. The umpire calls it a strike.
And there there’s the question of a 3-D zone, a 2-D zone, something called a super ellipses zone. It’s not as simple as you might think, all of which leads to the other side of the coin when consider real umps vs. robo umps
Robo umps just make different divisive calls. Even without the traditional “human element,” the strike zone remains a living document. In effect, the old human element of umpires is being replaced by the new human element of MLB executives who are trying to determine which size and shape the strike zone should take. And it’s difficult to take a strict-constructionist stance on what is and isn’t a strike when the zone is repeatedly reconstructed.
The ABS system is just one experiment headed up by MLB this season in an effort to ““increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of games, and reduce player injuries.”
Now that the season is over in the minors and independent leagues, Lindbergh and Arthur took a look at the data of the various experiments in hopes of having an idea of what proposed changes might potentially make an appearance in real game, maybe even a playoff game, in the years to come.
Of the rules tried out in the summer season, a handful of them are being instituted in instructional fall leagues, which could be an indication of what changes are still being considered by MLB. Those rules are as follows:
15-second pitch clock
18-inch bases (up from 15-inch)
Pick-off attempt limits
This is a super in-depth story, it’s a bit of a data slog, but it’s no doubt excellent. – PAL
Yikes. That phenomenal, season-long battle between two great teams can’t come down to a check swing. The rivalry deserves more. Flores was down 0-2 to Scherzer. Chances are he doesn’t get a hit and it doesn’t matter, but—goddamn it—let’s have it play out. We were so close.
My god, the Dodgers are a scary lineup. Mookie Betts is terrifying. Will Smith will get ya. Chris Taylor is looking to do damage. Trea Turner will turn a three-hop grounder into a hit…when he’s not busy nearly hitting 30 homers. And, as a catcher a million insignificant years ago, I can’t understand throwing four sliders in a row to Bellinger. I’m certain the Giants have all the data to say stick with the slider, and I won’t argue that, but let’s take a pitch to just change what he sees with an elevated fastball (at 97+) before coming back to it.
Brandon Webb is a beast, and his incredible performance against a stacked lineup in two playoff games will be lost because the Giants didn’t win, but an ace was born tonight, folks. A Cy Young contender with stuff that will age well (sinker, change-up, slider) introduced himself.
I’ve never been the head cheerleader of the Brandon Belt fan club, but man-o-man did we miss him in this series.
Striking out with runners on base and less than two outs is a killer.
There’s a difference between a regular season bullpen and a playoff bullpen. The Giants had a regular season bullpen; the Dodgers’ is a playoff bullpen with Treinen and Jansen.
Can’t end on a check swing. That was terrible. -PAL
TOB: We watched this game in the backyard. I needed new mojo. The setup was nice.
When the game ended, I watched for a minute or so as the Dodgers celebrated on the field. When they started to interview Bellinger, I pulled the plug (literally) and began to clean up – quickly, angrily, quietly. And then I saw my 7 year old feeding off my reaction.
And I realized I didn’t want to be that dad. I couldn’t be that dad. So I told him the Giants lost, but it was ok. I reminded him we had such a fun summer – the Giants gave us so many great moments – watching the games together each night, or the next morning, going over the the highlights he missed after he went to bed.
He went upstairs and I finished cleaning up. I took that moment of solitude to feel it – to feel that frustration. I kicked a stray soccer ball as hard as I could against the fence. In the garage, I kicked a cardboard box.
And then I let it all go. I went upstairs and put the boy to bed – I told him again that the Giants gave us the most fun season ever – 107 regular season wins. I mean, hell. That’s incredible. I reminded him that umpires make mistakes and it’s not fun but these things happen. I pointed out that there are 30 teams, and only one gets to finish the season as champs. I told him now we get to root against the Dodgers and hopefully they won’t win the World Series, and then we get to come back next year and win it all. I told him, and me, not to let a disappointing end sour a great season. And then, at 10pm, he drifted off to sleep.
Gruden is Out, and Hopefully So Are All Coaches Like Him
John Gruden was forced to resign this week, after emails from his time with ESPN were leaked, showing Gruden to be a racist, homophobic a-hole. I don’t care to get into the specifics of Gruden. He has been a mediocre coach almost his entire career, save two deep playoff runs twenty years ago, and he’s not worth the time or energy. However, I did read a very good article from Seth Wickersham that the Gruden story (and last week’s Urban Meyer story) inspired, and I wanted to share that instead. It’s about how Gruden and Meyer, and coaches like them, who think they are the cosmos (to steal a line) are a dying breed.
In the early part of the last decade, NFL teams started to notice that the way players learned about football was changing. There is a certain type of coach who hated this because they hate anything outside of football plays that they have to think about for more than 30 seconds, but these changes forced the league to reckon with the fact that the old way of coaching was pretty much over. Teams conducted studies, which found that younger players were more likely to ask coaches “why” and that players could learn effectively even when doing things coaches mostly hated, like listening to music. Mostly, coaches found that they needed to adapt. The Rams studied this. The 49ers did, too, and started shortening and breaking up their meetings because they know antsy younger players can’t concentrate for very long without their devices. Those were just two of the teams that told me about this stuff on the record, but I can assure you nearly every team—including the absolute best coaches in the sport—began adapting to these changes.
Wickersham points out that the “Cult of the Head Coach” has always been “misguided.”
A few years after they leave the game, their legacies take the form of motivational quotes—real or imagined—and some clips from NFL Films and that’s about it. Their imperfections are washed away by time and memes. Twenty years after a coach is done, they are either bumbling incompetents like Rich Kotite or geniuses like Bill Walsh. Never mind the fact that Walsh, in one of his books, details how close he was to quitting after a tough loss early in his head coaching career, or the doubt he faced constantly.
No, there is none of that when discussing former coaches. Just winners and losers. Steelers legend Chuck Noll, one of the paragons of American coaching toughness, believed that toughness was oftentimes simply a product of technique—what was considered soft in the NFL, more often than not, was simply not knowing what you’re doing out there. David Maraniss’s biography of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, is more or less devoted to punching holes in the Lombardi mythmaking industry. The Packers’ legendary coach did not coin the phrase “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”—he said it a few times long after it had become popular, and he didn’t even believe it. Maraniss wrote that the famous quote from a player about how Lombardi treated his players—all like dogs—wasn’t even close to the truth.
My oldest is very good at soccer for his age. That’s not bragging, it’s just true: he’s very good. He plays on a local club team that keeps it fun and is run by a group of people that, to me, seem to do things the right way. But every once in a while we’ll be at a field and I see a group of kids, a bit older, wearing the logo of a big name European team – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich. And I have allowed myself to daydream a little bit – wow. Wouldn’t that be cool? If a coach in Barcelona’s system approached us after a game and asked our son to join their youth academy? Wow, imagine if he impresses those coaches – what doors would open up for him?
But after a few seconds of daydreaming, I consider the realities: What does that actually mean for him? Soccer how many days a week? How many months a year? The inability to play with friends, whether soccer or otherwise. And what does it mean for our family? The cost. The travel. Do we have to consider moving at some point? None of that seems desirable. Especially for the small chance that he winds his way through the academy, which is intentionally casting a wide net and then slowly weeding kids out as they age, and becomes a professional soccer player. If you read the article, the reality is presented in the form of a child named Ricky Vanderhyde, and I highly recommend you read it (For more on how these youth academies work, I highly recommend this New York Times article from 2010, “How a Soccer Star is Made.”).
I don’t know what I thought the deal was with those academies here in San Francisco. I guess I thought the team hires highly qualified coaches and sends them out across the world to teach the game. So it was with a bit of astonishment, and now embarrassment, that I read about how it actually works, at least sometimes, in an article about how European clubs are increasing their academies in the U.S., in an attempt to land the next American soccer star. This one is about an academy in Virginia, affiliated with Spanish club Villareal:
Villarreal Virginia consists of a contract between Amato, a former Tottenham Hotspur youth player, and the Spanish club. Like the other local operators, Amato pays a fee to use Villarreal’s name and logo to attract players. He is permitted to outfit his team in replica versions of Villarreal’s jerseys — but not the expensive game jerseys, Amato notes with approval. “They don’t want parents wasting their money on that,” he said.
Ohhhhhhh. I basically slapped my forehead when I saw this. The coach may or may not be good – I have no idea. But he’s attracting parents (and talent) by paying money to slap the club’s logo on his gear and call himself an academy of a top European club. As I continued to read, though, it seems the connection is sometimes a little stronger than that, at least in the Virginia Villareal case. Villareal does periodically send its coaches to Virginia to help out. And:
Beyond that, Villarreal has agreed to bring in Amato’s most promising young players for workshops and training. The families of those players are responsible for the airfare, but once they arrive overseas, the Spanish club typically covers everything else.
Which is kinda gross, right? I saw that Bayern Munich club this summer and daydreamed. The club, and the local coach/franchisee, is preying on that daydream – charging what I’ll go out on a limb and guess is a premium in the hopes of attracting parents away from local clubs who aren’t willing to pay for a European club’s logo. For example, the article references a club in Florida, affiliated with Paris-St. Germain, which is rumored to charge $60,000 per year. SIXTY K, BRUH.
And even for clubs like the FC Dallas academy, which has worked out a partnership with Bayern Munich to adopt Bayern’s coaching and development, this seems like a bit of a scam. Bayern gives its name and development strategies. Bayern gets paid a bit and both Bayern and FC Dallas get to keep a close eye on top American talent. Which is worth it. As the article notes:
The next Messi is out there somewhere. If a club could find him, or even the next Pulisic or Reyna, it would recoup its entire U.S. investment. “If we have the opportunity to teach what we believe is the correct way to play football, we’re certain that we’re going to get players,” says Villarreal’s Anton.
“And all it takes is one.”
Which is an interesting sentiment, coming just a few paragraphs after this point:
It’s quite likely that others, who might have had the ability of a Christian Pulisic or Gio Reyna in their mid-teens, but not the European passport, never fulfilled their potential. Opinions differ as to why, and what the remedies should be. Where nearly everyone is in agreement is that the United States has as many talented preteens as anywhere else, yet only a few of those players come out the back end of the youth soccer system as international standouts.
And it seems to me the answer is staring them in the face: make these academies free. Selective, but free. The fact they aren’t doing this is especially astonishing, though, when you know that the idea is not new to these clubs. Remember that 11-year old NYT article about Ajax I linked earlier? Well, here’s a passage from that article:
The Ajax youth academy is not a boarding school. The players all live within a 35-mile radius of Amsterdam (some of them have moved into the area to attend the academy). Ajax operates a fleet of 20 buses to pick up the boys halfway through their school day and employs 15 teachers to tutor them when they arrive. Parents pay nothing except a nominal insurance fee of 12 euros a year, and the club covers the rest — salaries for 24 coaches, travel to tournaments, uniforms and gear for the players and all other costs associated with running a vast facility. Promising young players outside the Ajax catchment area usually attend academies run by other Dutch professional clubs, where the training is also free, as it is in much of the rest of the soccer-playing world for youths with pro potential. (The U.S., where the dominant model is “pay to play” — the better an athlete, the more money a parent shells out — is the outlier.)
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Not only is the Ajax academy free, but they provide tutors to help educate them, and pick them up at school!? Meanwhile, we have U.S. parents shelling out upwards of $60,000 per year for the most expensive and least return-on-your-dollar lotto ticket in history. Americans, man. So dumb. But also, these clubs? So dumb. On the one hand, they wonder why they aren’t capturing the top American youth talent and developing those kids into professional adults. And then at the same time they are putting up a major barrier for many kids and families. Hello! If you make it free, you greatly increase the number of players that can attend and in doing so increase your odds of hitting the jackpot. -TOB
One of my favorite announcer calls in sports is that soccer announcer who, when a great player finishes a great shot after a great build up, screams, “HAD TO BE!” And that’s how this decisive Game 5 feels – these teams came down to the wire, with the division settled on the last day. Not to say I didn’t want to end it Tuesday night, but in hindsight this feels inevitable.
Phil wanted us to write some thoughts before the game and then after the game and at first I was reluctant. The only thoughts in my head were:
Just Win, Baby!
The righties in this lineup, facing lefty Julio Urias, are due: Kris Bryant has one homer since September 15 and just two since August 26; Longoria has one since September 16; Ruf has one since September 6 and just two since August 21; Posey has one since September 14 and just three since July 19; Slater has one since September 23 and just three since July 4; Flores has one since August 31; Solano has one since August 22 and just two since August 4. As the @LOLKNBR hashtag has been saying for 48 hours now: THEY’RE DUE.
But then the news broke early this afternoon that the Dodgers would not start Urias and would instead start right handed bullpen guy Corey Knebel as an opener. This, presumably, is to mess with the Giants lineup and make them make some tough decisions on who to start – lefties or righties. Should the Giants start their lefties as the top and then move to righties when Urias comes in? Maybe, but then they have no lefties late if/when they need them against L.A.’s righty-heavy bullpen.
But then I saw a tweet referencing the fact Urias has reverse splits. So I looked it up, and it’s true:
RHH vs Urias, 2021: .605 OPS; 98 OPS+
LHH vs Urias, 2021: .640 OPS; 105 OPS+
RHH vs Urias, Career: .623 OPS; 96 OPS+
LHH vs Urias, Career: .680 OPS; 112 OPS+
Looking at Game 2 in hindsight, this makes sense. The Giants went righty-heavy and mustered just 3 hits and 1 run in 5 innings against Urias. Those hits were a ground-rule double by Slater (RHH), a single by Crawford (LHH) and a double by Posey (RHH). Still, the righties went 2 for 12 with a walk, five strikeouts, two doubles, and a sacrifice fly. The lefties went 1 for 2 with a single and no strikeouts.
Which begs the question: Should the Giants make the Dodgers pay by going lefty-heavy tonight: by starting Wade, Yaz, and Duggar – which serves to help them against Knebel and Urias, as well. What’s even more interesting is that I figured Knebel must be a traditional platoon split guy – but he’s also a reverse split guy. Which doesn’t make any sense and throws me for a loop and calls all of the above into question.
LOL, oh well.
This is the reward for watching all of those Giants games this year. Should that be a statement or a question? A statement, but barely. It’s really like getting to the last few chapters (let’s hope a few) of a great novel; you can only really appreciate a team and a season like this when you put in your time throughout the year. That’s how I have molded a feel for the Giants rosters, regardless (and I cannot emphasize that enough) of their numbers.
Guys I feel really good about tonight:
Honestly, I got no feel for Webb. I know he was awesome in Game 1; I was there, but the upper deck is not the best way to get a feel for a pitching performance. The bullpen has been sketch so far, but I feel good about Rogers and, for some reason, Littell…and that’s it.
Guys that scare the hell out of me:
How I want the Giants to blow it open against Treinen and his “All 4 Him” monogrammed glove.
Bill Simmons likes to think about matchups in terms of your opponent making decisions that are a relief to you, e.g., your team is playing Kansas City Chiefs and they punt on 4th down – any time they take Pat Mahomes off of the field you feel great. And while Urias is no Mahomes, he reeks of a big-game pitcher. So the Dodgers overthinking this thing and going with an opener in the biggest game of the year is great news to me.
I think the Giants do it. Somehow, some way, they do it, because it’s been that kind of unexplainable season. Either way, I’ve got great beer on hand, and Natalie is convincing me to get pizza instead of leftovers. -PAL
Did you hear? The San Francisco Giants won the National League West this year. They beat out the Dodgers, who had won the nine previous NL West crowns; they beat out the Dodgers, who won 106 games this year; they beat out the Dodgers, who won the most games ever by a defending World Series champion; they beat out the Dodgers, who won the most games ever by a team that did not win its division; they beat out the Dodgers, who tied the franchise record for wins in a season. None of that mattered, because the Giants won a franchise record 107 games.
It was a joyous, unbelievable season. There’s something about a good baseball team that puts a pep in your step all summer long. When you know your team is good, it gives you something to look forward to every single day for 6 months.
For the Giants, it was a tremendous achievement. Just four years ago, they lost 98 games. The next two years, they lost 89 and 85 games. Just as a good baseball team perks up your summer, a bad baseball team…well, it sucks.
But after that 2018 season, the Giants hired Farhan Zaidi to right the ship. The job seemed…difficult. Saddled with a bad, overpaid, aging major league roster and a bad minor league system with few promising prospects, people snickered when Zaidi said he would not tear it down and do an Astros-style rebuild but would instead rebuild on the fly, while also trying to play meaningful baseball games as deep into the season as they could. But I did not snicker.
People did worse than snicker when Farhan began tinkering at the fringes of the roster. It seemed a bit like he was trying to pull off the red paperclip trade-up — guys were getting called up and sent down and released and signed and traded for at a dizzying pace. Fans were mad. The players were mad! But then something funny happened. It started to work.
Maybe it wasn’t a paperclip for a house, but Farhan traded minor leaguer Tyler Herb (career major league appearances: zero) for minor leaguer Mike Yastrzemski (career WAR: 7.8!). He traded minor leaguer Franklin Van Gurp (career major league appearances: zero) for Alex Dickerson (career WAR: 2). Those guys gave Giants fans an exciting summer! The Giants played meaningful baseball well into August, before collapsing in September.
And then Bochy left. And Bumgarner signed with Arizona. Some fans were pissed. But not me.
(Oh, you thought this was an article about the Giants taking a victory lap? No, sir. This is an article about me. I was right. You were [probably] wrong. And now I’m going to revel in it.)
So why are fans mad at Farhan when Bumgarner chose to leave? Here are some recent questions to Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic’s mailbag article:
Do the Giants know how discouraged and worried the fans are? — @romareb
What’s the Giants management reaction to the discontent among their fans? — @woodiewoodf14
Discontent? Worried? Worried about what? First, it’s baseball! Chill out. Second, your team won three World Series titles this decade! Are you kidding me? These fans are spoiled and insufferable. They think there’s no plan because they think the Giants are one big bat away from competing with the Dodgers, who are so deep and so good. But the Giants are so far behind the Dodgers right now, it’s going to take so much more.
Farhan has done and continues to do an incredible job. When he turns this mess around, those fans will probably say they knew all along. But I know. I’m keeping the receipts.
BAM! 107, romareb! Worry about that!
The tide began to really turn in the shortened 2020 season, though. Bochy was replaced by Gabe Kapler. Kapler was not a popular hire, and for valid reasons. Kapler gave an interview to Daniel Brown of the Athletic, and I highly recommend you revisit it. I wrote about that article — going through it paragraph by paragraph, providing gifs to match my reaction. Not to toot my own horn, but it’s a pretty fun read. My emotions were like a roller coaster — but ultimately positive. My final reaction gif? This one:
So again, BAM! 107!!
That 2020 season started off poorly. So poorly. After a brutal weekend series against the A’s where the Giants blew two big leads and were swept in three games, they traveled to Anaheim for a four game series with the Angels. Leading 6–5 in the 9th, the Giants lost on a walk-off homer to Tommy LaStella. When the ball went over his head and over the wall, Yaz could be heard screaming “FUCK!” And, so could I, alone on Highway 1, listening to the game while taking our new car for a night drive along the coast. The Giants were 8–16 and things looked bleak.
And then they just started winning. They won 21 of their next 33 games to get to 29–28. They needed one win in three tries against the Padres to get into the playoffs. Instead, they lost: (1) on a walk-off, (2) in a sleeper, and (3) a 1-run game with three strikeouts in the 9th. Season over, no playoffs. A real gut punch.
But that run gave me hope. The offense was really good! I told anyone who would listen that this team would mash. I had no idea what the pitching would be like. But I thought if everything broke right, we could win 87–88 games and sneak into the second wild card.
As it happened, 88 games would have done it – and easily. The next closest team was the Reds, at 83 wins. The Giants would have been traveling to St. Louis this week for the Wild Card game. But, I was wrong. In fact, I was off by almost twenty games. So, instead of the Giants traveling to St. Louis, it is the Cardinals traveling to Los Angeles. The Dodgers, winners of 106 games this year, have to win one more for the right to take on the Giants. That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty improbable, too.
Kapler and his staff — from the major league staff down to the minors – scouts and coaches and everything in between, deserve a lot of credit. The team mashed, as I thought they would. In fact, they mashed harder. The players bought in to Kapler and the staff and a bunch of them (in particular Belt, Crawford, Posey) had career years, or career revitalizing years. The team turned its bullpen around midseason. The starting rotation was incredible. Everything just clicked and for six months, it felt like the team could not lose.
So while the season isn’t over – I sure hope this team has another 11 wins in it – I’m also going to enjoy this week. Four days with no stress about baseball. Four days to bask in the joy that was the 2021 Giants season. A four day victory lap. The Giants won 107 games and I basically saw it coming. -TOB
Local Commercials Are The Best Commercials
We all know the look and feel of a local commercial that airs between innings, unchanged, ad nauseam all season long. Every local team has its own version. For the Giants, this year it’s been the The Cheese Steak Shop, starring utility outfielder Alex ‘Dick’ Dickerson. It’s…jarring, and I’m so, so, so glad Alex Schultz got the story behind the ad.
I’m going to describe the ad, and then encourage you to watch it yourself. Dickerson walks into one of the stores. He’s masked up, and he politely fist bumps some customers, who — and I genuinely mean no offense to any parties involved, it’s just impossible to ignore — would have zero shot of recognizing a masked Dickerson at a cheesesteak chain. Dickerson begins a voice-over about his father, who was an F-14 fighter pilot in the Navy, while there’s b-roll of cheesesteaks, mostly. The music is somber.
We transition to a shot where Dickerson is sitting at a table. He has an uneaten cheesesteak in front of him. “Knowing that he sacrificed so much for me to have the life I have? It means the world to me,” he says of his father, as he tears up.
Why is Dickerson talking about his father? Because, the ad reveals, the Cheese Steak Shop is promoting a Hometown Heroes special, where you can nominate folks for their exemplary community work, and they can win a $50 gift card plus $100 to a charity.
It’s a lot to process at once, and then an unanticipated pivot happens: Dickerson takes an enormous goddamn chomp of a cheesesteak, and the last two seconds of the ad are him saying, “This is legitimately the best cheesesteak I’ve had outside of Philly.”
Watch the ad, see how quickly we get from misty eyes to Dickerson declaring the cheesesteak the best he’s ever had outside of Philly. It’s so goddamn funny.
Schultz reached out to the local ad agency that pitched the idea and got the backstory on the shoot. Dickerson was nervous, they did the shoot the same day as a game, and there was no script. Dickerson legit teared up when freestyling about his dad, then—unprompted—declared the sandwich the best cheesesteak outside of Philly. And this plays 5-10 times during very Giants game.
Spoiler alert: there is going to be a lot of Giants/Dodgers chatter on 1-2-3 Sports! this week and next. That’s what happens when rivals face off in the playoffs for, really, the first time ever. TOB and I will be at Game 1 on Friday night. TOB convinced me to go in on the tickets before we knew the Giants would win the NL West, long before the Dodgers would walk-off the Cardinals season in the Wild Card game, and now we’ll be at a legit historica; sports event.
The hatred between the Giants and Dodgers is very real, non-CA readers, and you can enjoy it from the most comfy seat available, that of a neutral party just looking for an interesting series.
The Athletic’s Grant Brisbee – one of our favorite Giants writers, broke down the preview of the series that will dominate California for the next week, and he had some nuggets worth sharing. The story is a great read for Giants fans, but this section in particular might resonate to any passionate fan with short-term memory loss when things turn out better than expected:
Remember that you would have paid for this.
You would have paid for this exact scenario in February, March, April, May and June. You would have added extra prospects to the trades in July…
…And if someone came to you in February and asked for a $20 donation to guarantee that the Giants would host the Dodgers in a best-of-five NLDS, you would have accepted.
If they came to you in March and asked the same thing, the price would go up a few bucks. After the Giants lost Saturday’s game to the Padres in extra innings, you might have sold a family pet.
Again, a reminder that the Giants weren’t expected to be good this year. I found their pre-season over/under win total from this CBS story at 73.5. MGM had the Giants at 75.5. They won 107 games. They beat Vegas odds by over 30 friggin’ games. Incredible. This is a series you’ll want to watch. My predictions: Evan Longoria and Alex Wood come up big for the Giants. – PAL
TOB: I was rooting for the Cardinals to beat the Dodgers for my mental health. Ah, well. My blood pressure has been elevated for 48 hours now.
As an aside, I enjoyed this breakdown from Susan Slusser, especially this scout’s take:
“Pitching-wise, the Dodgers are tough, but S.F. is just as good, and their hitting discipline, the number of professional at-bats and the team approach, I give the edge to San Francisco,” one AL scout said. “Defense, I give to S.F. They don’t make mistakes, and their leadership — Crawford, Posey — they’ve been there, done that.”
“I’m probably not in the majority,” said one scout who has seen the Giants numerous times in the final months, “but I think they can beat the Dodgers because they do the small things well and they make such smart decisions. They’re not going to overwhelm you, but they’ll find a way to win.”
Hell yeah let’ GOOOOOO. I know sports don’t mean a lot in the grand scheme, but I want the Giants to win this series so so so badly. That is all.
Solace In Routine
I hadn’t heard of Tim Green until reading this story. At 57, he’s already lived a full life. NFL football player, lawyer, NPR contributor, television host, best-selling author; not to mention husband, father, and grandfather. Another part of Green’s life has inspired his latest book, Final Season: Green has A.L.S.
I’ll be honest, what struck me most about this story wasn’t the book it was promoting; rather, it is how active Green is, despite being on a ventilator, feeding tube, and unable to speak. Emails in the morning, conference calls for the law firm business, then he writes until dinner, watches the grandkids play until their bedtime, watches TV with his wife, and falls asleep reading. A typical day for him is nothing short of inspiring.
This is not to say he doesn’t have difficult moments. Per Matthew Futterman,
At the dinner table, he watches his family eat and conjures memories of tasting fresh tomatoes and bacon and red sauce over pasta and sausage, “and a fat glass of Caymus Cabernet.”
I love how Green puts that – a “fat glass” is the perfectly tantalizing word to describe a cabernet.
Sometimes, the power of those memories becomes overwhelming and the tears flow. But mostly, there is solace in the routines that dominate his life, though even those can have their challenges.
There are other aspects of this story worth reading – whether or not playing football increased Green’s likelihood of getting it (he thinks so), and how real life inspired his latest book, but – again – what struck my most was a typical day for Green, and how Futterman describes the solace found in routine. – PAL
Last Thursday, the Jacksonville Jaguars played a Thursday night game in Cincinnati. It was head coach Urban Meyer’s return to Ohio, where he spent years as the Ohio State head coach. So, he stayed behind to see his “grandkids.”
Well, he stayed behind to see someone young enough to be his grandkid, maybe.
Oooooh, buddy. That is not a good look.
Ya know, everyone’s marriage is different and I don’t like to yuck someone else’s yum. But the thing about this story is that Urban Meyer is a secret slimeball who pretends to be a Family Man, like a politician who runs on family values while spending his free time with prostitutes.
Now, Meyer’s job is in jeopardy and his NFL career might not last one season. Wild. If you are curious about the backstory on how this video went viral, and the story behind the man who posted it, this is a very good read.
Last week, over 500 women athletes filed a brief to the Supreme Court in support of reproductive rights being challenged in a pending case. While I know where I stand on the issue, Kurt Streeter’s story brought to light a fresh perspective to a debate that’s been raging for decades: that of the female athlete.
The brief’s primary claim? If women do not have the option of abortion, their lives could be disrupted and they will not thrive in sports at levels we’ve grown accustomed to — levels witnessed recently at the Tokyo Olympics, in the W.N.B.A. playoffs and the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Having the ability to say when or whether to become mothers directly connects to a key ingredient that has fueled the broad success of women in high-level sports: the ability to control, nurture and push the body to its limits, without breaks of months or years, and without the sometimes permanent physical changes that pregnancy can cause.
Streeter then goes on to share the story of Crissy Perham. Perham captained the U.S. Swim Team at the 1992 Olympics, winning 2 gold medals. That incredible achievement almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if she had gone through with an unwanted pregnancy two years prior. But to Perham, the decision to not have a baby at 19 years old impacted much more than her olympic successes.
Looking back now, with the cushion of time, Perham cannot imagine the good parts of her life happening as they have if she’d had a baby at 19. Not just her career in the pool but also her successful second marriage, her jobs coaching high school swimmers and being the mother to two sons who are now in their 20s.
Life as she knows it, the life she loves, is a product of that decision, she told me. “That’s not uncommon,” she said, adding that many athletes have similar stories.
A thought-provoking read on an aspect of the issue I hadn’t considered. – PAL
The Chronicle’s Ann Killion wrote this week about how the Oakland A’s seem to be intentionally driving off their fan base. The last year or two has been especially difficult for A’s fans, as the team openly flirts with following the Raiders to Las Vegas. But this week was a real slap in the face – when the A’s sent season ticket holders their renewal notices and tickets prices spikes – in some cases doubling from their previous price.
Ann does a great job of laying out the A’s steps to driving off the fanbase, which in my opinion was ripped right out of the Maloof Brothers’ handbook -get bad, whine about attendance, jack prices, whine about worse attendance, get worse, jack prices, whine about no attendance…try to move. Except that the A’s have turned things up a notch from what those Kings did:
1. Fail to put money back into the team or re-sign homegrown stars, but instead pocket money received from revenue sharing over the years, until that pot dries up.
2. Have a billionaire owner who is completely unaccountable or present over the course of his 16-year ownership.
3. Denigrate their home stadium as a worthless, horrible place, implying that anyone who shows up there is a moron.
4. Try your best, for many, many years, to escape Oakland, to go to San Jose or Fremont.
5. When those plans fail, reverse course and claim to be “rooted in Oakland.”
6. Prematurely announce a stadium location after pursuing it for months that turns out — surprise! — to actually not be a viable location. (Hello and goodbye, Laney College.)
7. Insist that another problematic stadium site is the only option. You’re supposed to now trust the team decision-makers.
8. Exhibit a complete and total lack of imagination about the existing 155-acre site that comes complete with ideal transportation solutions.
9. Introduce a plan that is one of the biggest, most ambitious real estate projects in Oakland history and insist that it must be pushed through by a city council immediately.
10. When the city council suggests it needs to study an alternate financing plan, pout and claim to be out of options.
11. Embark on a “parallel path” stadium search in Southern Nevada, visiting constantly, being wined and dined by Nevada officials and scouting locations in 106-degree garden spots like Henderson.
And finally, this week’s development:
12. Release season-ticket prices for the coming season at almost double the current cost, alienating the most loyal remaining fans.
The A’s fans Ann talked to are understandably pissed. I’m not an A’s fan. However, I love going to A’s games – especially day games. It’s a great experience. Take BART, sit in the sun, and watch some a (usually good) baseball team in (usually) bad uniforms from up close and cheap. If the A’s leave for Las Vegas, I’ll be a bit sad for selfish reasons – Bay Area baseball is better with the A’s here. But I’ll be really sad for A’s fans – a loyal and passionate group who has stuck with that team when most fan bases would have thrown up their hands and said, “None more!”
Caval and the A’s suck and I hope someone rescues the A’s from that ownership group like someone rescued the Kings from the Maloofs. I mean, the new ownership is not much better than the Maloofs, but they built a new arena and aren’t threatening to leave so that helps. It wasn’t a high bar. -TOB
PAL: Obviously so sick of how the A’s have treated Oakland and its fans, but you know what stuck out to me after reading this, the umpteeth story about ownership being assholes? Why is Vegas so pumped to get into bed with the A’s? The ownership sucks here, and they are going to suck in Vegas, too. A stadium isn’t going to change this organization’s approach to the game. Eventually, this ownership will treat whatever fanbase they have like crap, because they are cheap and don’t care about holding up their end of the deal in the team/fan relationship. They want to make a profit by spending as little as possible, and I don’t see that changing in the long run. You can have the A’s with this ownership, Vegas. Good luck.
The Story That Never Was
This is a fun read. This is a story about a Kayln Kahler trying, and failing to confirm a rumor and turn it into a story. The nature of sportswriting, partly, is getting a great bit of info and never being able to use it.
So many good rumors die on the vine, only feeling some weak rays of sunshine on their crispy brown leaves when I whisper them to friends at a bar, or share with my editors.
The rumor: A future hall of famer offered to pay teammates to get vaccinated…and it seemed to have worked.
One agent told me he’d heard from another agent at his agency that a certain veteran MLB player and possible future Hall of Famer paid some of his teammates to get the vaccine. (He gave me a name; because I haven’t been able to run down the story satisfactorily, I’m not going to use it here. Sorry.)
“He basically offered to give other players money if they went out and got vaccinated so they could get over the hump,” the agent said. “And I think it worked. I think there were guys who didn’t [want it] who said, ‘well if you’re going to pay me then I will,’ and it got them over it.”
Hmm. Vaccine bribery?! Now that was a choice tidbit. A great story if I could pin it down. This agent didn’t even feel comfortable telling me who had told him this, but I had a general idea of where it came from, since this agency only has a small number of players on that team.
So Kahler just needs to confirm the rumor. She’s an NFL writer most of the time, so she had to familiarize herself with how tracking leads worked in a different sport. Challenge one: figure out the agent for every player on the team in question. The NFL shares a database of players and agents, MLB does not. Kahler had to call into the MLBPA office to ask about specific players, and she was limited to 3 requests per day (the office admin told her that’s the way it’s always been). She waits in (the wrong) Ritz Carlton lobby, trying to catch to and from the field. She goes to the minor league park to talk to players that have shuffled between the big leagues and minor leagues. She goes to visiting stadiums and deals with PR offices and is given the press credential run-around. All the while, she is tantalizingly close to nailing this rumor down (many knowing glances and smiles from players).
In the end, she couldn’t get the story nailed, but reading about the process was a fantastic consolation prize. – PAL