Week of October 15, 2021


Giants/Dodgers Game 5, Post-Game:

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.

It’s a good read. -TOB

Source: The Cult of the Coach Is Losing Its Power. Good Riddance,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (10/15/2021)


Youth Soccer in the U.S. is Kinda Effed Up

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

Source: How Barcelona, Villarreal and Other European Clubs are Competing with MLS for America’s Top Talent,”Bruce Schoenfeld, ESPN (10/12/2021); “How a Soccer Star is Made,” Michael Sokolove, New York Times (06/02/2010)


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The National – Mr. November


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