Week of January 21, 2022

On January 21, 1990 John McEnroe was suspended from Australian Open for eating powdered donuts before his match.

D-E-E-B-O! And Deebo Was His Name-o!

(For the record, I stole that joke from Tom Tolbert)

I have thought long and hard about this and I think I’ve decided that Deebo Samuel is my favorite 49er of all-time. So I really enjoyed this article from The Ringer’s Ben Solak at just what makes Deebo so special. It’s really fun – including multiple angle videos of what makes Deebo so special – his power, speed, intelligence, the way he bails out his noodle-armed quarterback. Deebo is the real friggin deal. 

Solak sums up Deebo like this:

It’s not that he’s so explosive (even though he is) or so physical (even though he is) or so smart (even though he is). It’s not even that he’s a blend of all of those things. It’s that he is superlative in all areas, and somehow able to string all of those elite skills into one amorphous, superstar play style. He’s a phase-shifter, a rule breaker. He’s effortlessly everything all at once.

Crushed it. He’s just great at everything, and cool as hell and fun at the same time. Give me more Deebo, please. -TOB

Source: Deebo Samuel Isn’t a Wide Receiver or a Running Back. He’s a Skeleton Key,” Ben Solak, The Ringer (01/19/2022)

Baseball Mafia

If you’ve known me long enough, I’ve probably implored you to watch Pelotero, the documentary about the very shady world of developing star baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic in the era just before limits were put on how much MLB teams could spend on international free agents (there’s no international draft for MLB). 

I haven’t paid too much attention after the rule change, so I eagerly clicked on this story from Maria Torres and Ken Rosenthal when it came across my feed. 

The current system, which ought to be a top agenda item in the current CBA negotiations, allows teams to have a pool of money for bonuses for international free agents. During the 2012-2016 CBA, wealthy teams just exceeded the cap and paid the fines, which then led to firmer restrictions under the CBA that just ended, leading to the current lockout. 

The system in the D.R. and other baseball-obsessed Latin America countries is that of a trainer working with, providing housing, schooling, and food for kids that could turn out to be a sought after free agent. When one of those prospects signs a free agent contract and receives his bonus, the trainer starts to collect on his investment. 

This per Torres and Rosenthal: 

Corruption in the international market accelerated after the introduction of a hard cap in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, according to those familiar with the market’s workings.

Under the 2012-16 CBA, teams routinely exceeded their bonus pools with little regard to penalties that included taxes and limits on future spending. The league responded by seeking firmer restrictions in the next agreement and the union proposed to cap the pools rather than accept an international draft. The pools increased at the rate of industry revenue, giving clubs a rough idea of how much they could spend in each signing period in the five-year term.

Eager to beat their rivals in the market, teams started reaching deals with players at even younger ages, telling them in essence, “If you don’t agree with us now, the money might be gone by the time you are eligible to sign.” It became the norm for top prospects to commit to teams by the time they were 14, two years prior to becoming eligible to sign. Once the terms were set, the players would disappear from the market, working out only at their trainers’ facility. In some cases, teams are said to have pledged contracts to players even as young as 12.

At this stage, teams often don’t even try to hide their circumvention of the system. At least one director of international scouting who spoke to reporters last weekend said he and his staff had been working for three years to sign many of the players they inked to deals at the start of the current signing period.

Trainers had to adjust their development timelines to the level of demand. It is no longer unusual for trainers — who usually take as much as 50 percent of players’ signing bonuses to help cover years of development and housing — to have 10- and 11-year-olds practicing and staying at their academies. One NL executive with extensive experience in Latin American countries cites competition as the reason clubs are willing to commit to increasingly younger players. Given the prominence of Latin American players in baseball, the executive said, “teams have to win in this environment.”

And later: 

“There is common knowledge throughout the industry that a significant number of team personnel are working for both their MLB team and receiving some form of compensation from trainers,” [Ulises] Cabrera said.

The system, as Cabrera and others with knowledge describe it, works like this: An area scout from a major-league club ventures outside his assigned region to find talented players. The scout, after identifying a prospect he likes, influences the player’s trainer to sell a percentage of the youngster’s future bonus to another buscon from the scout’s own region. The player transfers to the buscon and commits to signing with the scout’s team, often for an inflated bonus. And the scout is compensated by the new buscon, sometimes in the form of cash, other times with housing arrangements, vehicles or other material goods.

“It’s a mafia,” said Chico Faña, a former Phillies minor league hitting coach and catching instructor with more than 20 years experience as an amateur trainer in his town of La Vega. Faña estimated that scouts from nine teams engage in the underhanded activity with a select group of trainers.

So why not just create an international draft? Proponents of an international draft say it would help put an end the under-the-table dealings between teams and trainers, as well as solve the issue of Latin America players receiving smaller signing bonuses than that of their draft-eligible counterparts; but others—including Latin American players in the players union, who represent 20% of the active MLB players—believe a solution exists without a draft that also limits a player’s option: MLB could simply enforce rules prohibiting contact with players before the age of 15. 

There’s so much more to this story. I highly encourage you to read. -PAL 

Source: “A failed system’: A corrupt process exploits Dominican baseball prospects. Is an international draft really the answer?,” Maria Torres & Ken Rosenthall, The Athletic (01/20/22)

Marshawn Lynch: NFL Mentor

Remember that Deebo article up there? And the qualification that he’s my favorite 49er of all-time? Well, that’s because my favorite player of all-time is Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch is retired now. Famously, he never spent his paychecks. He invested it, and lived off his endorsements. And now he is serving as a mentor to young NFL players. He was interviewed by the New York Times and as always it’s great.

But first I have to note this part in the intro, where the writer’s relates that:

“Marshawn Lynch absolutely refuses to code switch. His candor, regardless of the audience, has yielded unforgettable quotations — “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”; “Take care of your chicken, take care of your mental” — that have marked him as a sage of sorts, somebody who is sought out in his retirement by current players in need of mentoring and by brands hoping to make an impression.”

Then, two paragraphs later, before the start of the actual interview, NYT included this note:

“This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and condensed.”

So, I guess Marshawn won’t code switch, but NYT will do it for him.

Regardless, there are more great Marshawnims:

Q: A lot of players have misspoken on Covid-19, racism and other social issues in interviews. How would you advise them about staying informed or speaking on topics they might not necessarily be educated about?

A: Turn the tables. If somebody asked me some [expletive] that I was not informed about, I’m going to ask them to inform me before I make any kind of statement. Most of the time, if you’re being asked something that you’re not informed about, it’s going to make you feel a little uncomfortable. But if you feel that way, then it’s time to use your wittys to get up out that siti, that situation, you feel me? Don’t be afraid to say, “That’s not something I feel comfortable talking about.”

Use your wittys to get up out that siti. Love it, love Marshawn. -TOB

Source: How Marshawn Lynch Became an N.F.L. Mentor,” Julian Kimble, New York Times (01/19/2022)

 A Fascinating Article On Long-Snapping

Seriously. Here’s a great breakdown of just what goes into long-snapping. If all goes well, you never notice these guys, but the Tennessee Titan’s Morgan Cox helps shed a little light on the minutia of long-snapping. 

Per David Flemming: 

No one appreciates long-snappers more than backup long-snappers, though. In 2010, Cox blew out his ACL against the Browns but decided to stay in the game to snap, especially after seeing how petrified Ravens running back Willis McGahee was at the prospect of filling in for him. “After I hurt my knee, he came up to me on the sideline and he was like, ‘Hey man, are you good? Are you good? Are you going to be able to snap?'” says Cox, who tore his other ACL in 2014. “He was freaking out that he might have to go in and snap.” 

The premium on scoring and the shrinking margin of victory in the NFL (this season the Titans outscored opponents by an average of only 3.8 points per game) has made extra points and field goals, and thus, long-snappers, even more like lawyers and umbrellas: no one really appreciates them until they don’t have one.

And later: 

After 12 years in the NFL, Cox has long-snapping down to a science. On field goals he only has 0.7 to 0.75 seconds to get the ball into the holder’s hands. (A human eye blink takes 0.4 seconds.) And when the ball arrives the laces need to be at 12 o’clock, which is long-snapper lingo for straight up in the air so that when the ball is placed on the ground the seams are directly toward the goal posts. (Laces at 6 o’clock, pointing back at the kicker, are “a disaster,” Cox says, because if they catch on a kicker’s foot it drastically changes the direction of the ball.) In all, the field goal unit has between 1.2 and 1.3 seconds to get the kick off. So, to get the ball to the holder on time and in the right position, Cox knows that he must snap it at 35 mph with exactly 3½ rotations and with no target deviation. (Even having to reach a little for the snap can push the timing well past 1.3 seconds.)

Most importantly, all long-snappers need to learn how to do cool tricks with the football. How else will you pass the time between kicks/punts without obsessing about not screwing up. When Cox was at the University of Tennessee, the snapper ahead of him told him he’d never make it as a snapper if he didn’t learn how to spin a football on his finger. He was serious: tricks mean not sitting with your thoughts, and snappers need to stay out of their heads. – PAL 

Source: The upside-down life of the Tennessee Titans’ All-Pro long-snapper,” David Flemming, ESPN (01/20/22)

A Cool Story About Meat Loaf, Who Died This Week

Meat Loaf died this week. The news was met with the usual tributes – to his music (Bat out of Hell is great) and his acting (fantastic in Fight Club, for example). But I really liked this old Deadspin story from Jen Carlson, about when Meat Loaf coached her JV softball team.

In 1991, I was a high school freshman in the small town of Redding, Conn. My brother was a senior, and his prom date was one of our neighbors down the street, a junior, Pearl Aday. Pearl would drive me home from softball practice when her father, our coach, was unable to. I preferred Pearl, as her dad drove a red sports car, pushing it to its capabilities through our small, winding roads … like a bat out of hell. His name was Marvin Lee Aday, but he was better known to the world as Meat Loaf. To the scrappy group of girls he was trying to mold into softball players, he was Coach Meat.

The JV team was orphaned at birth that year. No one wanted to coach us, and it was getting down to the wire when Meat Loaf volunteered, despite being on the verge of filming three movies and being in the midst of recording Bat Out Of Hell II. Coach Meat took the game very seriously. When we prodded him to sing us one of his hits, we were denied. Instead, he taught us a team chant: “What do we wanna do? Kill! What do we need to do? Kill! What are we gonna do? Kill! What do big dogs do? KILL!”

That’s really funny, but I especially love this tidbit:

He broke character only once, after our first win (suck it Abbott Tech). When we loaded on to the bus, he started belting out, “I Will Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” We had never heard the song, and the public wouldn’t hear it for nearly two more years.

Jen’s experience, and that of her teammates, seems wholly unique. How many people can say they were coached in a high school sport by a rock star in his prime? And especially a rock star as singular and unique as Meat Loaf? RIP, Coach Meat. -TOB

Source: “Meat Loaf Was My Softball Coach,” Jen Carlson, Deadspin (07/18/2011)

PAL: 10/10

Vote Tim Lincecum into the Hall of Fame, You Cowards

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

TOB and PAL:

Song of the Week