Week of June 11, 2021

Tom Ammiano earned this varsity letter in 1958 and received it 50+ years later. Read why it matters so much that he received it here.

Pulling for Smooth

Earlier this week, Giants play-by-play announcer, Duane Kuiper, released a statement saying he would be missing some games as he undergoes chemotherapy for an unspecified illness. I was surprised by how the news stopped me. Friends and family, people we actually know and love dearly get sick all of the time; why did the play-by-play guy’s illness leave me dazed?

After a moment, it’s obvious, right? These announcers are voices in our lives nearly every day for six months. We do know them. They are in our family rooms most every night, stuck with us in traffic, the background conversation at any true sports bar that will have the audio on with the game. 

Duane Kuiper, a.k.a. ‘Smooth’, and Mike Krukow have been here with me since I moved to San Francisco in the summer of 2004. They are, without question, they best baseball broadcast duo I’ve ever heard. There’s so much I could say about the nuance to the mastery of them calling a game together, but the best compliment I can give is this: My wife loves them and so do I. The two of us watch Giants games very differently, and yet these guys somehow have the perfect tone for a very casual viewer in her and someone that has an in depth understanding of the gamer. They are the very rare combo where both the play-by-play and color commentator are former players.

While it comes as no surprise, I was nodding along as I read Bruce Jenkins’ column, which included a handful of fans trying to summarize why they love Kruk and Kuip so much.

Constance Prodromou, acupuncturist and energy healer at the Marin Health Empowerment Center (of course she is): 

But they’re just the best in baseball with their wit and wisdom, always sharing great stories about the game and explaining things beyond the play-by-play. I feel like I know so much about them from their work. If I ever got to meet them, I could talk to them as longtime friends.

Ann Walsh, a retired schoolteacher/PG&E employee: 

There’s just something about the chemistry between Kruk and Kuip, they cover all of the bases. Even when I’m at the games, I bring my earphones in case there’s something I need explaining. Problem with that is, people around you think you’re the bible (laughs). Like, ‘What did Duane say? Do you agree with him?’

I couldn’t agree more with bartender Nick Shapiro when he says, “That’s one of the great things for me — they are the perfect combination of being homers, yet objective. You know where their heart lies, but they call it straight.”

There’s a massive fanbase sending good vibes Duane Kuiper’s way. Join us! – PAL

Source: “‘I know Duane feels it’: Mike Krukow, Giants community rallying behind Kuiper”, Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle (06/08/21)

The Great Substance Debacle in MLB

Let’s get you up to speed: Pitchers in MLB are using this stuff called Spider Tack to increase the grip and, more importantly, revolutions on the baseball. It makes a huge difference. Imagine a batting glove that allowed a hitter to increase good contact by 25%. That’s pretty much what’s happening with pitchers and spider tack: a 25% improvement.

Pitching is dominating baseball this year. I mean, did you read TOB’s summary about the 6 no-hitters that have already taken place this season, or did you check out that Jayson Stark story I wrote about a few weeks ago detailing how hitters are striking out at a historic rate, and singles and doubles are disappearing from the game?

Offense other than home runs is quickly fading away from the game, and MLB baseball is not a great product these days. Some can blame the prevalence of defensive shifts. Or there’s launch angle for hitters and the general ambivalence they have to striking out? And then there are pitchers throwing damn near unhittable stuff. 

Baseball knows it has a problem, because they are experimenting with all sorts of crazy solutions in the minors (moving the mound back one foot, banning spider tack, regulating shifts to name three experiments taking place). They’ve taken even a step further, attempting to now regulate Spider Tack use in MLB – mid-season. For a couple of baseball junkies, this is a big story, so I wanted to share a few of the more interesting reads on the topic. 

For a general overview of what the actual hell is going on with pitchers using substances (which they’ve done forever), check out this story from Ken Rosenthal and Eno Sarris. It breaks down how Spider Tack is a departure from the usual grip suspects and why it matters so much. It’s a meat & potatoes story on what’s going on and why it’s important. Here’s one nugget:

This revelation has a chance to help baseball navigate this difficult space. For pitchers who are truly just looking to grip the ball and avoid hitting batters, there’s a de facto grip substance that cannot be policed and is readily available. For pitcher looking to increase their spin rate by 500 RPM and their breaking ball stuff by a third, baseball can provide the fines and suspensions it takes to reduce the steady advancing march in league spin rates.

Baseball doesn’t need to do a thing about sunscreen and rosin to arrest this trend, it turns out. Just getting rid of the highly engineered tacky substances might very well be good enough.

And for Spider Tack origin story (spoiler alert: invented by a strongman competitor to help keep a grip on those atlas stones), check out this piece from Stephen Nesbit. Here’s a fun bit:

A little amateur sleuthing leads to a LinkedIn profile, then another, then an address, then a phone number, and then I’m cold-calling a pharmaceuticals lab on the outskirts of Denver. The woman who answers the phone patches me through to the lab’s president and CEO, Mike Caruso. He is willing to talk. He is a retired strongman, once one of the strongest men in America. At 40, he’s still so muscular he looks like he could crush a baseball with his hands.

This is the man who invented Spider Tack.

And he is confused about why I’m calling. When I ask Caruso what he thinks about his tacky — that’s the term among strongmen and strongwomen — becoming the talk of baseball, he answers cautiously.

“This is news to me,” he says. “I had no idea it was popular in baseball.”

Of course, there are other variables at play besides Spider Tack. As Hall of Famer Rod Carew outlines in this podcast summary, hitters are reluctant to strategically respond to the defensive shifts (other than try to hit homers). Yes; Carew sounds a bit old in this approach – because it’s not like teams are playing 3 infielders on the one side of the infield when speedsters like Byron Buxton or Billy Hamilton hit – but the broader point is correct. Hitters do need to counter the defensive strategies of the day, but it has to be said that is one hell of a task.

Hitters react to what the pitcher throws; pitchers and defense dictate the terms of engagement so to speak. Carew talks about too much guessing going on. And he’s probably right, but I have to wonder if that’s because these dudes are all throwing 100 with nasty off-speed that’s moving a third more than usual, thanks to that spider tack.


I think the shift is overrated, and I’m disappointed in the players who don’t try to take advantage by making adjustments to go the other way. So many kids in today’s game are guessers. They’re guessing what the pitch is going to be instead of learning how to track the ball and then having an idea of what they want to do with it. I learned how to track the ball by trying to pick the ball up out of a pitcher’s hands and reacting to that instead of trying to guess along.

So there you have it; an abbreviated guide to what’s cooking with this spin rate spider tack story in baseball. – PAL

Sources: How the difference between sunscreen and advanced grip substances could help MLB navigate tricky enforcement landscape”, Ken Rosenthal & Eno Sarris, The Athletic (4/21/21); “Spider Tack is the stickiest stuff in baseball’s foreign-substance controversy. Its inventor had no idea”, Stephen Nesbit, The Athletic (06/07/21); “Rod Carew: Pitchers have always cheated; hitters need new approach”, Michael Rand, Star Tribune (06/09/21)

Pick A Winner

Love the premise of this story from Tyler Kepner: of all the thousands of prospects selected in the Major League Draft, which player turned out the best for his team? 

For the purposes of his story, Kepner uses WAR as his measurement (Wins Above Replacement accounts for hitting, baserunning, defense. It also takes into account position, era, and ballpark). And by that measure, Mike Schmidt (30th pick)was the best selection in the history of the draft (the first amatuer draft was held in 1965, with Rick Monday going to the Cubs).

It helps, of course, that Schmidt played all 18 years with the Phillies while amassing 3 MVPs, 10 Gold Gloves, 500+ home runs and over 1500 RBI (and a lot of strikeouts, but we’ll give him a pass).

Kepner’s story then goes on to share the legend of the scout who discovered Schmidt: Tony Lucadello. 

And while Kepner describes Lucadello as a scout who would’ve  “fit well in the early scenes of ‘Moneyball,’ where graying scouts talk about “the good face” and the sound of the ball off the bat”, he also signed 52 players who would make it to the bigs over his career. At the time, in 1980, that was more than all of the other Phillies’ scouts combined. 

I have no feelings about Mike Schmidt one way or the other. He was just before my time as a baseball nut, but I liked the idea of the story, and the details of how Mike Schmidt was discovered. Good read. – PAL

Source: The Greatest Draft Pick Ever”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (06/06/21)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: Steve Forbert – “Romeo’s Tune”

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Week of June 4, 2021

Looking for an alternative to a game of only strikeouts or homers? college softball and baseball are pretty great alternative to the MLB game. Unseeded James Madison just pulled off a huge upset over #1 Oklahoma in the College World Series. 

Where Do You Fall On Coach K?

News broke this week that the upcoming college basketball season will be Mike Krzyzewski’s last at Duke. That will be his 47th season coaching college basketball, which means he’s been a sports figure for my entire life and then some. In fact, I remember watching Laettner hit the buzzer beater against Kentucky in the 92’ Elite Eight with my future brother-in-law and all his college friends that road tripped to Minnesota from Omaha for a U2 concert.

We know he’s won more than any other men’s college basketball coach. The 12 Final Four appearances, 97 NCAA tournament wins, 5 national titles, and a winning percentage north of 75% for about a half century makes for an unparalleled resume. 

What’s perhaps equally incredible is how ‘Coach K’ built a wholesome, moral reputation of the student athlete line of crud when, at least for the second half of his career, he’s basically followed the same path less desirable coaches and recruited players who were never going to stay for the full college experience like Laettner and Bobby Hurley (Grant Hill, of course, left early), or even for a full academic year. It was a transactional relationship on the players’ way to the NBA, and that would be fine if he didn’t feel the urge to pontificate about the way things ought to be/the way things were back in his West Point days under the choker Bobby Knight. 

So he was incredibly successful. Iconic in a way only coaches can attain in college sports, and he lectured journalism students about why their questions sucked…that’s why you have these two headlines posted in the days after his announcement: 

From The Ringer: “Coach K Built A Basketball Empire”

And from Defector: “See You Later To The Butthead”

I thought it would be fun to pull two selects from these articles trying to encapsulate the same legend.

Michael Baumann (The Ringer):

In achievement and longevity, Krzyzewski transcends his contemporaries and should be regarded as a figure of world-historical sporting import. He’s in a class with Roy Williams and John Calipari, yes, but also Pat Summitt and John Wooden, and the likes of Bill Belichick and Sir Alex Ferguson. These are epoch-spanning, history-bending figures, viewed in their own corners of sporting history as fathers of empire, like George Washington or Charlemagne.

Albert Burneko (Defector)

He is also, inarguably, the greatest self-promoter in the college game’s history, a thin-skinned and viciousbully, a sanctimonious scold, and petty soreloser who has (mostly) successfully portrayed himself as a humble and principled educator and molder of honorable men over the nearly half a century during which he reaped fortune and acclaim beyond measure off the work of unpaid laborers. 

I’ll leave you with this: I am very skeptical of anyone that announces a retirement before his/her last season, thereby welcoming a farewell tour. It’s such a lame and thirsty move. – PAL

Sources: Coach K Built A Basketball Empire”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (06/02/21); “See You Later To This Butthead”, Albert Burneko, The Ringer (06/03/21)

The Playoffs Are Now LeBron-less

The Suns eliminated the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, and for what seems like the first time in my adult life, LeBron James will not be playing in the NBA Finals. The Lakers weren’t a playoff team in 2018 – the rebuild was still in process for LeBron’s first year. Other than that, LeBron teams have shown up to the Finals every year since 2011. Incredible. 

Last year, he and Anthony Davis, the most talented sidekick LeBron’s ever had, blitzed through the bubble playoffs, but injuries to both Davis and LeBron proved too much this go round, especially . 

At 36, LeBron is 18 seasons into his career. Tack on the equivalent of 3.24 seasons in playoffs games played to that, too. What he’s done to stay as healthy and athletic as he has over that amount of time, wear and tear is far more impressive to me than Tom Brady standing in the pocket playing QB at age 43.

After a first round loss, the first time in his career a LeBron team hasn’t advanced past the first round, folks are dying to write the “Father Time is undefeated” story about LeBron. Few writers are as perfectly equipped as Ray Ratto is to handle such a tired storyline and make it actually stand out as worthy to share. Ratto does a nice little trick here: he writes the father time story, but warns people about being too quick to put LeBron in that category. Smart. He’s saying LeBron’s not there…yet, so he can write about the athlete being passed his prime without saying he’s passed it. 

Ratto starts with the following: “The end of the LeBron James era has been prophesied for years, which is the main reason it has been so remarkable—the sheer number of years that everyone has been wrong.”

LeBron’s was still one of the five best players in the league this year – so smart, so strong, so athletic (still), but in an era when all contenders have multiple all-NBA players, LeBron can no longer get by with anything less that top tier talent sharing the load. Anthony Davis was a force in the playoff run last year, but he’s an injury magnet. He went down with another (aggravated a recent injury) within minutes of this game, and the Suns pounced. 

Gone are the games in LeBron’s career when he can pretty much beat a great opponent by himself. Instead of looking to the future, as Ratto does, this Suns loss has me appreciating even more how incredible it was to watch a 2018 LeBron bully his way to 51 points against the stacked Warriors (Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green), nearly stealing the first game of the series against one of the best teams ever assembled.

Look at that. He’s going schoolyard on the Warriors. Forcing his way to whatever shot he wants. Dominant. 

So while it makes sense to ponder what comes next for LeBron after the Suns loss, I am less interested in that than I am interested in remembering how incredible he’s been. – PAL 

Source: Rome Didn’t Fall In A Day”, Ray Ratto, Defector (06/04/21)

Video of the Week

Tweet(s) of the Week:

Song of the Week: Flamin’ Groovies – “Shake Some Action”

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Holly is sweet, and simple. Like a lady baker. I- would not be surprised to find out that she had worked in a bakery before coming here. She has that kind of warmth. I’m pretty sure she’s baked on a professional level.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 15, 2021

They won’t chase her down: Olivia Fehringer (PAL’s niece) gritting her teeth to a district championship in the 800 (2:28:50) and the 1600 (5:39:30). Photo c/o Nate Tenopir

Breaking Rules Pays Out

File this under “Did you know?” While I’m sure some of our esteemed readers understand the rules of betting on a horse race, I did not, so I was fascinated to learn more once the news broke about the Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, testing positive for betamethasone. The results from a second test (taken at the same time) are still pending. Also, horses can have betamethasone (for swelling in joints), just not within 14 days of a race. 

So what happens to all those bets placed on Medina Spirit (12/1 odds) or, more interesting to some, the second place finisher, Mandaloun (27/1 odds) or all the parlays? 

Short answer: once the race is called official at the race, the money starts exchanging at the track and all over the internet. There’s no going back. Regardless of the second test result, according to the betting world, Medina Spirit paid out as the winner. 

Some historical context from Victor Mather: 

The only other time a Derby winner was disqualified, the result for bettors was different. In 2019, Maximum Security crossed the line first but — importantly, before the results were announced as official — was ruled to have interfered with several other horses.

Normally a race is declared official in a few minutes. Even when the stewards look at a possible infraction it usually takes only five or 10. That year, perhaps because of the importance of the Derby, there was a 22-minute delay while the incidents involving Maximum Security were looked at from every angle. In the end, Maximum Security was disqualified for coming off the rail and impeding the path of the horses chasing him. Country House was declared the winner.

This is an odd one. It makes complete sense why the bet pays out, and yet – the winning horse (a bit of a longshot at 27/1) will very likely not pay out as a winner.

Make to click on the link to read more historical context from Mather.  – PAL

Source: A Derby Winner’s Drug Test Won’t Affect Any Bets. Here’s Why.”, Victor Mather, The New York Times (05/10/21)

Tim Duncan’s Bank Shot

Duncan was inducted into the basketball hall of fame last night, which was no surprise to anyone who’s even had a passing interest in the game in the last 30 years. Duncan was first team All-NBA (top player at his position) 10 times. Add to that 3 Finals MVP awards, 2 league MVP awards, and – oh yeah – 5 NBA titles.

His Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich summed it up more succinctly to The Ringer’s Yaron Weitzman:

“No Duncan, no championships,” Popovich said when asked to summarize Duncan’s career. To this day, he added, he and his coaches kick off team dinners by raising their glass to Duncan. “Thank you, Timmy,” they say.

Duncan’s signature offensive weapon was the bank shot. In short, the shot had fallen out of fashion by the time Duncan came to the league as a prized prospect from Wake Forest. He used it, and he abused defenders with it, starting in training camp with NBA MVP and future hall of famer David Robinson. 

“We really couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” Avery Johnson, the Spurs’ starting point guard at the time, said in a phone interview. “Tim dominated David, who I thought was a pretty good defender.” Johnson chuckled. “It got to the point where Pop had David spend the rest of training camp on Tim’s team.”

That scrimmage against Robinson was the beginning of 18 years of Duncan brilliance, earning admiration from his peers along the way. 

About the bank shot, Al Horford said this:

“You knew he was going to take it, but there was nothing you could do about it,” Horford said. “It was like Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar’s] skyhook.’’ But it was more than just Duncan’s trademark shot—it represented everything that made him great.”

And Brian Scalabrine pointed out another strength of Duncan and his bank shot: it could put a stop to an opposing team going on a run.

“It was different. He’d only score 25 but it would feel like 40. Anytime you’d go on a run, Pop would call for the ball to go to Tim in the post and they’d always get a bucket. It was just impossible to build any momentum against them.”

Weitzman does a really good job mixing the origin story of Timmy’s bank shot with his broader impact on his team with this piece. A fun read about a unique athlete. – PAL 

Source: Take It to the Bank”, Yaron Weitzman, The Ringer (05/13/21)

Further Update: Drew Robinson Goes Deep

Man, I love this story. -TOB

Video of the Week

I love this – Jomboy giving some love to an umpire who had one hell of a game.

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: Bob Dylan – “Main Title Theme (Billy)

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I can’t stand your water! I don’t even know what to say. It’s like I a took a straw and put it into a frog’s ass! It makes me sick. I want to barf every time I get near it. I can’t stand the smell, I can’t stand the color, and I cannot stand the taste. I can’t take it anymore!

-Marty ‘Funkman’ Funkhouser

Week of April 23, 2021

To quote the legendary Duane Kuiper, “Am I hallucinating, or is that a rabbit at the game?”

Peak Steph Curry 

Steph Curry is the first player I ever saw who made me question everything I ever thought about basketball. His ability to create space and splash a three, or do so when he didn’t even have space, was unparalleled and was incomprehensible. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s the player I’ve written about most in the seven years we’ve been writing this blog. 

But the last few weeks Curry took things to another level – determined to get this undermanned squad, which might be the worst in the NBA if he was not on it, into the playoffs has him going full supernova. The numbers are staggering – in one five game stretch he hit ten 3-pointers four times. He’s his ten 3-pointers more times than anyone in history and second place is Klay Thompson, with five. In his career. Curry did it four times in a week!

But as Dan Devine puts it, it’s never about the numbers with Steph. 

It’s in the Houdini-ass ability to escape straitjackets with a live dribble, to squeeze through barely there openings like smoke through a keyhole to create the space to rise up. It’s in the fact that everybody in creation knows what’s coming—that Steph coming off a screen to pull is a certainty—and yet he still keeps getting to that shot.

In May 2018, as the Kevin Durant–era Warriors were on their way to a second straight NBA championship, Jared Wade described the difference between Golden State’s two iconic talents like so: “KD will put 8 points on you every quarter forever in his sleep. Steph, in under five minutes, will have you questioning the reason you ever decided to play basketball.”

I missed that line about KD and Steph but goddamn if it’s not perfect. Steph Curry is a national treasure, and he is, somehow, underappreciated. Nothing in sports is better than Steph Curry on fire. Nothing. -TOB

Source: There’s Nothing Quite Like the Magic of Steph Curry,” Dan Devine, The Ringer (04/20/2021)

PAL: How about this: I am shaping my Friday night around watching a regular season NBA game of a team that has a losing record. Curry is shooting as well as he did when he led the 73-win team. 

He led the league in scoring only once before: in the 2015-16 season, when he propelled Golden State to an NBA-record 73 wins and made history as the first player to unanimously win Most Valuable Player honors. Five years later—at age 33, without Klay riding shotgun, with Draymond Green having lost a step, without the Iguodalas and Livingstons and Barbosas and Boguts who helped make those Warriors go—Steph is producing at nearly that exact same level

He has no real help, he’s shooting more, and there’s a very slim chance the Warriors win if he doesn’t have a big night. And yet, the percentages are damn near the same. 

TOB says there’s nothing better in sports than Curry on fire. I agree, and I love how Devine puts it: 

Nothing else feels like it does when Steph becomes wreathed in flames and just starts experimenting, exploring the studio space to see how far he can push the boundaries of what we understand to be true about how the ball finds the net. It’s what we’re searching for night after night—the moment that makes you leap out of your seat and start speaking in tongues, the fleeting glimpse of forever we hope against hope we might catch every time we tune in.

Patrick Marleau Surpasses Gordie Howe

The previous record of games played in the NHL was held by Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. 1,767 NHL games. This week, the legend was surpassed by Patrick Marleau. Bay Area folks recognize Marleau, a long-time Sharks player, but I’m guessing many of you won’t recognize the name Marleau. 

In this story, Scott Burnside shares quite a collection of tales from former coaches, players, and friends. By all accounts, the quiet kid from rural Saskatchewan is loved and respected by pretty much everyone. Hell, even his wife admits that the kids would say he’s the nicer of the two. 

I liked this story because, while Marleau has been a very good player for over 20 years, he’s never been a star. I know the Ripken comparisons came to mind for me, but Ripken won 2 MVPs, was a 19-time All-Star, has over 3,100 hits and 400 home runs; he was a better baseball player than Marleau is a hockey player. But that’s kind of the draw to this story. I enjoyed reading about a very good player (but not great) surpasses a legend like Howe in some way. 

He first played in the NHL when he was 18 with the Sharks. He lived with Kelly Hrundley and his family. Hrundley was 37 and winding down his career. Marleau became the older brother to Hrundley’s daughters. Hrundley described having the kid in his home and looking out after him as “one the highlights of my last years in the NHL.”

After home games, the two would drive home together and Hrudey’s wife, Donna, would make a late meal of sandwiches or warmed-up leftovers.

“And we might sit up till 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning,” Hrudey said. “We just learned everything about each other.”

That season, Marleau and Hrudey were up on Christmas Eve putting together a Barbie camper, complete with stickers and all the tiny pieces, to make it just so. And a basketball hoop outside. And there was a gift from Marleau to the entire family, a DVD player, under the tree as well.

The Hrudeys weren’t charging Marleau any rent and he wanted to show his appreciation with an appropriate gift, one that included a DVD of a live Fleetwood Mac concert that he knew would be appreciated by Donna and Kelly.

That’s just one of many great anecdotes from Burnside’s piece. It’s a feel-good read for sure. – PAL

Source: ‘I’m just playing. I keep playing’: Understated Patrick Marleau is breaking an unbreakable record”, Scott Burnside, The Athletic (04/19/21)

TOB: Like Donny, I am out of my element here. But I want to push back on your assertion that Marleau was not a star. There is certainly some Bay Area bias here. Well, bias isn’t the right word. But even as a non-hockey fan, I know the name Patrick Marleau very well, by proximity, so I was surprised to read you say he’s not a star. So I put my research pants on and here is what I have to offer:

  • Marleau has the second most goals among active players.
  • Marleau is 23rd all time in goals. 
  • Marleau has the 4th most points among active players.
  • Marleau is 50th all time in points. 

Hockey Dash Reference Dot Com lists his most similar player, by the numbers, as Joe Nieuwendyk. That’s Hall of Famer Joseph Nieuwendyk to you, Phil. Other players on his “Most Similar” list include Hall of Famers Ron Francis, Dave Andreychuk, and Adam Oates. 

Now, I am an admitted Cal Ripken, Jr. Hater. I’m a charter member of that club, in fact. Never liked him. Selfish. Overrated. Cared about his streak more than his team. Spent 2/3 of his career as a league average or worse hitter. Spent almost his entire career as a below to well below average defensive shortstop and refused to move to third. 

With that being said, you can take the two Ripken MVPs and shove ‘em. In 1991, it should have been Frank Thomas. In 1983, it should have been George Brett. Ripken had just THREE seasons in the AL’s OPS top 10. Meanwhile, Marleau had two seasons in the top 10 of goals per game.

So, I think your initial comparison was spot on. Two very good players who enjoyed incredibly lengthy and healthy careers. One of them was and is severely overrated. The other is severely underrated. 

For the record, I would have also accepted a Derek Jeter comparison.

PAL: Marleau has been an All-Star 3 times in a 20+ year career. I’ll concede the stat comparison w/ Ripken wasn’t the right approach – because both dudes are going to collect the stats playing 20+ years – but consider this: the closest Marleau got to winning the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) was 9th.

When we talk about stars, there’s a popularity element to that. A collective recognition of that guy. It’s clear Marleau is revered by players and coaches, but a star he is not. 

TOB: Back to the topic at hand – I had no idea that Marleau was about to pass Howe’s record, or that anyone would ever come close. Congrats, Patrick!

Why the Controversial “Super League” Made Many American Sports Fans Shrug

On Sunday, twelve of the biggest, richest, and most successful soccer teams in Europe announced the formation of the so-called Super League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus. By its name, I assumed they were actually leaving their domestic leagues and forming one big league where the best teams would play each other year round. This didn’t sound altogether terrible to me. When Barcelona plays Manchester City, I might tune in. When Barcelona plays Seville, I’ll find something else to do. However, my assumption was wrong.

Instead, the Super League’s intent was to supplant the Champions League, whereby the top teams from each European league from the previous year play a tournament throughout the course of and on top of their domestic league season. There’s a group stage, followed by a knock out tournament, and at the end the champion of champions is crowned. It’s fun!

What I soon learned, after reading quite a lot, is that the Super League does not improve on the Champions League. Instead it was a cynical power and money grab by the top teams attempting to ensure they remain on top, while minimizing their effort to do so. Here’s Defector’s Billy Haisley explaining:

This format follows the logic of the foundational principle of the soccer pyramids the world over, which is the idea of promotion and relegation. The best teams earn the right to compete with the best teams by beating their competitors, thereby either gaining promotion to the next higher league or maintaining their position in the highest tier, while the worst-performing teams are sent to the next league down to make way for the newly promoted ones. Almost everything in soccer is built around this principle that competition alone determines any given club’s place in the pyramid. The Champions League adheres to this logic by conditioning inclusion in the field with some tangible form of on-the-pitch success; every team in the field must earn its place. This is what makes the tournament so prestigious, so popular, and so lucrative, and it is why the winner can rightfully call itself the best team in Europe.

The Super League’s “qualification” process is much different. “Qualification” for the 20-team Super League won’t be based on on-the-pitch success, won’t be earned every season with blood, sweat, and goals; instead, it will be guaranteed to the 15 signatory clubs that will found it, with five other teams selected by some as-of-yet-unexplained qualification mechanism.

So, basically, the best and richest teams want to guarantee themselves a place in the Champions League instead of having to work for it, and to do so they want to start a new tournament where they write the rules and those rules give them a berth in the tournament, no matter what.

Both Haisley and the Ringer’s Michael Baumann connected the dots fromwhat the Super League was attempting to do to the American sports model, which does not have the promotion/relegation pyramid. Here’s Baumann:

Arsenal and Milan were once near-automatic Champions League participants; now, neither club has qualified since 2016-17, costing tens of millions of dollars per year in prize money, and even more in lost prestige.

That’s not what the American owners of Arsenal, AC Milan, and Manchester United signed up for. Stan Kroenke, the American billionaire owner of the L.A. Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and Colorado Rapids, began a takeover bid of Arsenal in 2007. At that time, the Gunners were at the intellectual vanguard of the sport, three years removed from an undefeated Premier League campaign and just a year and change removed from an appearance in the Champions League final.

Some 14 years later, Arsenal have gone from world power to bougie Newcastle United; Arsenal currently sit ninth in the Premier League table, not only out of reach of Champions League qualification but likely to miss out on the less lucrative Europa League as well. In every American sport, an inferior on-field product isn’t a reason for billionaire owners to make less money—why should soccer be any different?

Haisley argues, however, that the Super League is far worse for competition than even the American sports model.

The Super League is almost like if the Knicks, the Lakers, the Celtics, the 76ers, the Bulls, and the Clippers found it intolerable that they were not guaranteed deep runs in the playoffs every season because other, less historically important teams have done better on the court, and so they were breaking away from the NBA playoffs to form a new postseason, called the Super Finals. The six Super Finals teams promise to still compete in the NBA regular season, but come playoff time, they would be taking themselves, their players, and their fans to the Super Finals, which they claim is now the true determiner of the world’s best basketball team. Also, they are no longer beholden to the NBA’s salary cap, and have first right of refusal to sign the new class of rookies ahead of the NBA Draft. Good luck to the NBA though!

But Baumann doesn’t exactly blame the American owners for bringing the American model to Europe. Instead, he sees the Super League as simply the next step in a 30-year evolution that began with the Champions League, and even the creation of the English Premiere League.

Maybe Europeans are more primed to resist further stratification of sports, but the masterminds of the Super League weren’t completely wrong to think they had a chance at forcing more of it through. They’ve got 30 years’ worth of evidence that European soccer fans will accept it.

The Premier League, as a business entity, came into existence in 1992 so that the richest and most successful clubs can siphon off as much money as possible from broadcast fees—to hell with the rest of the hundreds of clubs in the Football League. UEFA’s club competitions—formerly known as the European Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup—used to pit domestic league and cup champions against each other on equal footing. Starting with the implementation of the Champions League in 1992, however, national federations have been allowed to enter multiple teams, with richer, bigger leagues sending more clubs to the tournament. And over the past 20-odd years, the format has been continuously tweaked to give bigger clubs a greater advantage and greater share of the loot. (Liverpool made the Champions League final four times from 2005 to 2019, winning twice, while simultaneously being champions of absolutely fuck-all at the domestic level.)

Given that recent history, Baumann was not surprised the world’s soccer powers attempted to pull this off. He is surprised, however, that it failed. Fans across the world, even those of the twelve charter Super League members, came out in numbers to fight the Super League and it worked almost immediately.

By mid-week, the Super League was dead. That’s pretty cool and very European – where protests still work to effect change. -TOB

Source: Why The European Super League Is Evil,” Billy Haisley, Defector (04/19/2021); “The European Super League Never Stood a Chance,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/21/2021)

Who Can You Beat One-on-One, and When: A Fourth Dimensional Discussion

If you’re reading this, you likely know about my now almost 20-year old belief that I could then and could now score one bucket in ten tries on Mike Bibby (remember: Bibby is playing defense just as hard as he did in the NBA, and not extra hard to avoid the embarrassment of me scoring on him – this is an important factor).

Of course, I’m not the only person who thinks I can score on an NBA player – but importantly, I don’t think I can beat Mike Bibby. I just think I can score on him one time in ten. This tells you more about my confidence in both his indifference on defense and my pull up midrange jumper (I got references, just ask), than it does anything else. But the prevalence of cell phones and social media now lets us see that plenty of weekend warriors run into former NBA players at the gym and get their ass handed to them on a regular basis. See, e.g., this viral video involving a high school player getting smoked 11-0 by Brian Scalabrine.

That video inspired a fun NYT article on this phenomenon and you should read it. It explains how hard a scrub like Scalabrine had to work to stay in the NBA so long, and why that means you can’t beat him. As Scalabrine relayed, “Joakim Noah said it best,” ‘Scal, you look like you suck, but you don’t suck.’”

That’s true. He doesn’t suck at basketball. Although I gotta say, while 11-0 is 11-0, Scal basically pulled some ugly bully ball on the guy. He never once made the kid look foolish; he mostly banged his large body into a high schooler and then flipped up an ugly finish. I give Scal a 2 out of 10 for style points. 

So, ok, regular guys can’t beat former NBA guys. I likely can or maybe cannot score on Bibby. But the much more interesting question is this: when does that stop? When is Scalabrine so old that you, at your age right now, could beat him one on one? Before I answer this question I must say that I have adapted it from Lauren Thiesen’s tweet about LeBron, which I saw close in time with this NYT article:

I hemmed and hawed over that one and finally landed on 65-75, with 72 or so being the real over/under. 

But back to Scal. Scal is 43 at present. For the purpose of this question I’m going to assume my back is feeling great. I have watched that video above a few times. Studied it. Watched his moves. Considered his skill. Considered his size. Imagined the toll an NBA career will have on his body as he ages. Imagined the toll his size will have on his body as he ages. Thought about taller, bigger, older players I’ve played against. Finally, I landed on 57. It would be close. 57-year old Scal would score on 39-year old me with some ease, but I also think I would be running circles around him and his creaky knees. 

Source: Why the Worst N.B.A. Player Is (Probably) Still Better Than You,” Sopan Deb, New York Times (04/19/2021)

PAL: Favorite Scal quote from Deb’s story: 

“People don’t understand how a little bit nuts you have to be to sustain an N.B.A. career,” Scalabrine said. “Especially when you’re not that talented. You have to be ready. You have to be up for the fight. You have to be like that every day. And if you’re not, you lose your livelihood.”

For the record, in all the years we’ve had the Bibby debate, I don’t recall the qualification that limited Bibby’s defensive effort. 

Where Do NBA Fines Go?

You could ask that question about every sport. But this article happens to be about the NBA, and it’s a good read. Before we go into where they go, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the oft-fined Draymond Green, one of my favorite players, who had this to say about the mystery of where his fine money goes:

“For years we’ve all been told, ‘Yeah, the fine money goes to charity,’ but we don’t hear anything about these charities, we don’t have any say so about these charities. Nor do you ever hear, ‘Oh your fine money went to said charity.’ Maybe that is an opportunity to build a relationship with said charity?

I felt like Wee Bey when I read that. 

Dray is right. This is a real missed opportunity for the NBA to send the money somewhere and say, “This $50,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago’s South Side is courtesy of Draymond Green, who kicked Steven Adams in the balls.” Draymond arises to applause, steps up to the mic and doubles his own fine. All the people stand and cheer. It’s a really nice scene. 

That daydream aside, though, really – where does it go? 

The Athletic sought to find out. After a player is fined, where does the money actually go, beyond the blanket word, “charity?” Who is helped? Are there children fed, and clothed, or homes rebuilt? Are scholarships awarded?

Through dozens of interviews and data-driven reporting, The Athletic found numerous, flesh-and-blood examples of people who are a little better off because the NBA docked a player’s pay. But when it came down to answering Green’s question — where, exactly, did his money go? — the system is set up specifically to prevent any tracing of an individual fine all the way to an individual charity.

NO. Read the article – the concerns are dumb and Draymond’s idea is smart, IMO. But the answer to the ultimate answer is that the charities are varied and widespread and honestly that’s all that matters. Keep kicking dudes in the balls, Dray. -TOB

Source: ‘I Would Have Never Been in College’: NBA Fines, from Kyrie Irving to Draymond Green, Have a Story to Tell,” Joe Vardon, the Athletic (04/22/2021)

PAL: What a great idea for a story. I never considered where the money went. Never entered my mind until I read the opening. Might I suggest a donation to The Human Fund?

Got Seven Minutes? Treat Yourself and Read This Oral History of Rob Gronkowski’s Time in College

That should be all I have to tell you, but let me add this:

You know how hot it is in Arizona in August. We didn’t have an indoor facility, and it’s 120 every day and this big, huge kid is just like a lap dog. He’d go run these routes and come back panting, his tongue hanging out. We’d shoot a little water in his mouth and he’d line up and do it all over again.

Gronk is basically a golden retriever, and how can you not love a golden retriever? Especially one that turns his apartment into a beer/soap fueled slip and slide and shows his position coach…actually, I’ll stop there. Just read the article. -TOB

Source: “The ‘Monster’ From Club G: An Oral History of Rob Gronkowski’s Arizona Years,” Doug Haller, The Athletic (04/22/2021)

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Song of the Week: David Bowie – “Sound and Vision”

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“I want a decent sock that’s comfortable and will stay on my foot!”

-Justin Pitts

Week of April 16, 2021

Happy Birthday, TOB!

Another Side of Jackie Robinson Breaking the Color Barrier

After reading this story, the look on Branch Rickey’s (left) face seems fitting.

Thursday was Jackie Robinson Day in MLB, and alongside all of the tributes is this fantastic story from Andrea Williams that shows another side of Robinson breaking the color barrier. I can’t recommend this story enough. 

Many of us know the story of Robinson on the Dodgers, but I had no idea that Rickey’s approach to signing Robinson laid the groundwork for the toppling of the Negro Leagues. 

Per Williams:

As it was, Negro league owners, including Thomas Baird and J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs, learned about their player’s signing like the rest of the world: from breathless radio broadcasts and blaring newspaper headlines. There had been no negotiations with Rickey; years later, Baird would remark that the Dodgers’ boss never responded to the letters he wrote to discuss the matter.

Still, there could be no recourse. In the name of advancement, there would be no lawsuits or outright condemnation of Rickey’s tactics. Together, the Negro league owners agreed to take one for the proverbial Black team in hopes that future transactions would be more favorable.

They didn’t know it then, but Rickey had no plans of letting up.

After WWII, Rickey and other executives could see that integration would be coming. It had been discussed since the 30s, and the idea that Black men could fight in WWII but not play ball in the Major Leagues wouldn’t stand much longer. So Rickey began looking for players, and he didn’t care with what team the players had contracts. 

A surprising white owner came to the defense of the Negro League owners: Clark Griffith. The owner of the Washington Senators called bullshit on Rickey. One might think a white owner holding a fellow MLB executive accountable would’ve helped, but it was not the case. Tap the link below to read why Griffith’s words carried such little weight. – PAL

Source:Jackie Robinson’s Signing Caused a Financial Dispute”, Andrea Williams, The New York Times (4/14/21)

You’re a Weird Guy, Moppo. Weird Guy.

One of my favorite moments in Ace Ventura is near the end, as the rush to the Super Bowl, having saved Dan Marino and Snowflake. Marino asks Ace if he has any more gum. Ace says, “That’s none of your damn business and I’ll thank you to stay out of my personal affairs.” Marino responds, “You’re a weird guy, Ace. Weird guy.”

That line has always stuck with me. Dan says it earnestly and appreciatively. Really, it’s a decent piece of acting. And that line kept popping into my head while reading this article, which can only and bizarrely be described as an oral history of Joey Votto. 

The article paints Votto as part baseball player, part Renaissance Man, part odd duck. I recommend you read the whole thing – it’s a quick and fun read. But this part made me laugh the most:

Dickerson: Joey Votto loves to mop, he loves to mop his house so much to the point where we tried to convince him to make him create an Instagram account called Joey Moppo and it would just be Joey mopping the floor.

Guevara: He’ll send a random video of music and there’s nobody on the screen and I’m like, “What the hell is this?”

Dickerson: He’ll send me random videos of him mopping the house while he’s listening to Kendrick Lamar.

Guevara: And then here he comes across, doing a little dance and mopping. Then he goes off the screen. It’s just that. That’s all I get.

Man, that’s not funny-for-a-baseball-player funny, that’s straight up funny. A very good bit. I also loved him pulling a Michael Scott, singing James Blunt’s “Goodbye My Lover” to a departing teammate. Derivative? Yes. Do I care? No. Again, a good bit among many others. Good baseball guy, good read. -TOB

Source: Joey Votto is Playing Chess, and the Rest of Us are Playing Checkers,” C. Trent Rosecrans, Rustin Dodd and Jayson Jenks, the Athletic (04/13/2021)

Another Way to Find an Ace

The premise of this Michael Baumann story hooked me right away. It’s one of those ideas that just sounds like plain common sense once you think about it a second, and he sets it up perfectly:

The scouting and development of pitchers is a multimillion-dollar industry. The amount of computers, cameras, and sensors employed by MLB franchises, college teams, youth clubs, private tutors, and coaches to track and assist pitchers would’ve been sufficient to run an aerospace company a generation ago. Other sports—and other positions within baseball—utilize high-speed cameras and tracking data in scouting and coaching. But no position is scrutinized to the millimeter-precise level that pitchers are.

On a very basic level, though, it’s not worth anywhere near that type of fuss.

All that money, all that technology, all that scouting – none of it was needed to see Gerrit Cole had ‘ace’ potential. Dude threw high 90s with electric stuff. They knew the same about Kershaw and Verlander, too. That kind of raw ability is pretty easy to spot. Don’t need much more than a radar gun and two eyes. The same can be said for international studs, too.

Future aces get into the American professional baseball pyramid primarily through one of two avenues: the first round of the draft, or seven- or eight-figure international free agent deals. Most of them don’t pan out…The survivors of that system don’t generally surprise anyone.

There is a different path to the front end of a rotation. It’s the path of Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber. While they have 3 Cy Young awards between them, neither of them were highly touted prospects out of high school. 

We’re learning that the very traits that make Gerrit Cole a first round draft pick twice (28th overall out of high school, first overall out of college) – velocity and stuff – can in fact be learned. What’s harder to pickup in a couple years of minor league ball is pinpoint accuracy, especially in high-stakes situations. 

A guy that throws gas in high school or has a wicked breaking ball doesn’t have to learn how to paint the corners until he gets to AA and all of a sudden 95 isn’t anything new. For Bieber, he never threw extremely hard, so he had to throw strikes from an early age in order to succeed. He never walked anyone, and that didn’t change once he added 5 MPH to his fastball through some mechanical tweaks to his motion. All of a sudden the pitcher from the Big West is pumping low-to-mid 90s and can place it wherever he wants. And then learns how to throw a “hellacious core-of-a-spinning-gas-giant curve” and there’s a Cy Young winner never highly recruited out of high school. 

Raw pitchers with good stuff can learn how to pitch in the low minors, where they get regular innings in situations where the results matter less than the process. But pitchers who already learned the craft and can hit their spots consistently enter pro ball with far less to learn, regardless of what the radar gun says.

Same goes for the offspeed. A guy with an electric arm is far less eager to tweak his mechanics or try something new: what he has already works…until the hitters catch up. Guys that aren’t christened high draft picks by junior high are more open to trying different pitches, messing around with a cutter or tweaking the grip on a slider. 

There is so much more compelling stuff in here. A great deep dive into pitching. Baumann is an excellent baseball writer with fresh ideas. – PAL

Source: Which Pitcher Will Be the Next Shane Bieber—and Where Will They Come From?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/15/21)

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Song of the Week – The Avett Brothers – “Smithsonian”

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And what about yooou?!? Tryin’ to bilk an innocent bystander out of a family fortune, built on sweat and toil, manufacturing quality O’Henry candy bars, for honest, hard-working Americans!

-Jerry Seinfeld

Week of April 9, 2021

Lee Elder breaking barriers at Augusta in 1975…and making it look good. His caddie should’ve been an extra in Caddyshack, FWIW.

A Modest Proposal: The Gonzaga Tax

On Monday night, Gonzaga got absolutely sonned by Baylor in the National Championship game. It came as absolutely no shock to me. In a group text before the game, the question was posed: “Who ya got?” After a flurry of “Gonzaga” responses, I was the lone “Baylor” response. At halftime, with Baylor up 10, I said, “This was too easy. Gonzaga plays a shit schedule every year.” The game summed up well by this:

Or this:

And it’s true. I will never take them seriously as a true basketball power. They get to fatten up all season on the backs of schools like Portland, San Diego, Pacific, Santa Clara, Pepperdine, and San Francisco. Folks, those are not tough games. Gonzaga gets to coast through the regular season, resting players if necessary, and show up fresh for the tournament. They were 31-0 this year, and to their credit they did play two or three tougher teams in the pre-conference season. But they still get to get healthy and win easy games for three months. 31-0 is nice…but when it includes 17-0 in the WCC, there’s not a lot you can glean from that. In fact, Gonzaga is 92-3 over the last five seasons in conference (and 182-13 over the last ten seasons in conference). It’s just like Boise State in its heyday under Chris Peterson – they played a bunch of cream puffs and then had one tough game all year, for which they were supremely healthy and amped up, and then celebrated when they beat a major conference team that lost two or three times in its own conference. 

And yet Gonzaga has built up a reputation on these inflated records. After first crashing the scene as a Cinderella in 1999, they’ve been considered a national power for at least 15 years. And with that cream puff schedule, they are almost always over-seeded, thus giving them an easier road through the tournament. And yet, come tournament time, they always crash and burn. In the last twenty tournaments, they have gotten by the Sweet 16 just 4 times. For most programs this would be good – but for a program who gets seeded like Gonzaga does, it’s not.

Put Gonzaga in the Pac-12 and see what happens to that record. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be upper half. They would probably be upper third most years. But they aren’t going 92-3. That UCLA team that outplayed Gonzaga over the weekend lost seven conference games this season, including its last four. Beginning the day after Christmas, Gonzaga played one team (BYU) that would not have finished dead last in the Pac-12 this year. 

Thus, my proposal: until Gonzaga moves to a stronger conference, they should have a seed tax – whatever seed the tournament committee wants to place them at, drop them three spots. Gonzaga will then be appropriately seeded. -TOB

Nine Innings with Cousin Wolf

An old buddy of mine has pulled off quite a feat. Matt Halverson, a musician who records under the name Cousin Wolf, had a really good idea a decade ago. Nine songs, each about a major league baseball player. 

I told you it was a good idea. But here’s the thing – not a lot of people care about a good idea. As just an idea, Nine Innings, is a fun topic to run through over a bunch of beers while watching an entire ballgame at a bar—What would the Ken Griffey Jr song be? What about Kerry Wood, or – hey how about a Vlad & Vlad Jr song?

And that’s where an idea like this almost always ends: last call. To make it more than a good idea, someone needs to write the damn songs. And guess what? They have to sound good, and maybe even say something. I can promise you that is a challenge. No matter the ambition or intent, the songs have to be good.

Excellent music video idea.

Halvy’s songs are good. Good – what the hell does that mean? To me, a good song has something that brings me back to listen. By that measure, the two songs Cousin Wolf has released so far – “Kevin Elster” and “Roger Maris” are good, and a yet-to-be released “Dave Dravecky” is real good. Not only that, but Halvy wrote excellent essays about the story behind the songs. 

On “Kevin Elster”, he writes:

In the sixth game of the 1992 season, Elster hurt his shoulder, and he missed the rest of the year and all of the next. He played a handful of games with a few different teams in 1994 and ’95, and suddenly, it was 1996. Baseball was on a steroid-fueled trajectory toward unheard-of power numbers, and Elster hadn’t had a starting job in years. So, he signed with Texas — in part because his brother lobbied on his behalf — where he planned to compete to be the backup shortstop. 

Now, in those days, the Texas Rangers clubhouse was also one of the game’s steroid hubs. Ruben Sierra in the early ’90s was one of the first notable and obvious users, and that carried right through to steroid godfather Jose Canseco and busted teammates like Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers, and eventually Alex Rodriguez.

In fact, Canseco wrote in his tell-all book “Juiced” that he introduced Pudge, Gonzalez and other Rangers players to steroids between 1992 and ’94.

So, back to Elster. In 1996, when young Benji Gil got hurt during spring training, Elster became the starting shortstop and had by far the best season of his career at age 31, hitting .252 with 24 homers and 99 RBI.

He parlayed that into a million-dollar free-agent deal with Pittsburgh the next offseason, and though he played parts of three more big league seasons, he never again came close to the success of that magical ’96 campaign.

One of the crazy parts about that era of baseball is that we just don’t really know who did what — or what impact it had. But I know for myself, as a kid shortstop in the ’90s who just loved playing baseball, that if I’d been given Elster’s option to either take the same juice everyone else was taking and enjoy a few more years in the game, or take the high-road home, who’s to say what I would have done? And with all the focus on the stars who broke records and shattered fans’ innocence, would anybody even care after all these years what Elster did or didn’t do during that 1996 season?

On “Roger Maris”, Halvy has this to say about his fellow Fargo, ND native:

Maris had worked for most of his life to become a good baseball player, and in 1961, after a few really excellent seasons, things came together in ways no one had seen coming. In some ways, he gotten better than he’d ever intended.

And his reward for happening to become exceptional? To be told that he should be somebody else. To play in front of too many who saw him only as not a legend, as not immortal, as not The Babe or The Mick or the Yankee Clipper.

Original artwork from Zach Scheet, Halvy’s neighbor growing up.

You read those two excerpts, and you realize that Nine Innings isn’t just a good idea; it’s an idea in the hands of someone who can actually make the idea worth your time. Halvy can’t help but see baseball as a way into all those big questions we ask ourselves. That sure resonates with me. 

I can only call him Matt Halverson ‘Halvy’ because that’s what I called him back in college. We played ball together, drank some beers, and I too often lost at caps to him, Sammy, Lou, and Timmy. High Life returnables. 

Halvy and I spoke Wednesday. The intent was to discuss the project in full, but we haven’t talked for many years, so we caught up, with baseball and this project mixing in when it suited us.  

Before I share some of my favorite exchanges, please go to https://www.cousinwolf.com/music/nine-innings and check out Halvy’s project in full. His writing is every bit as good as the songs, and he’s got seven more songs to release! – PAL 

Source: Nine Innings”, Cousin Wolf

Excepts from the old friends catching up

On my one ‘issue’ with the project:

PAL: I have to ask you, as a Twins fan, you’ve three guys on your list that played for the Yankees. What the fuck, dude?

MH: I honestly that at the end had the same thought. And I’m like, no Twins. Three Yankees seems like such a cliche in and of itself. I honestly didn’t know who Carl Mays had played for when I was already like midway through writing about him. I just knew his name as having the guy who killed Ray Chapman with a pitch. And so that one was a little bit like, ah shit, another Yankee, but like Maris and Gehrig, I kind of wanted to write about from the beginning. 

On Lou Gehrig: 

PAL: I was listening to “Lou Gehrig”. We are older than Lou Gehrig was when he died. He had a 17-year career and died. He was younger than us. That actually caught me.

MH: And the fact that he, like, died so publicly, like to me that was what that one was really striking, too, is he gets this disease that’s going to take apart his body in a very short time. That’s one hundred percent going to happen. And there’s no hope. And he still has to be this legend. He doesn’t just get to be a man who’s, like, terrified and dying in a hurry and all this stuff he’s got to let go out and, you know, be the Iron Horse and be Lou Gehrig and be a myth, be a legend until he dies. And to do it all.

How baseball’s place has changed roles: 

MH: I’ve always loved baseball, but like five years ago, I just realized that I was still in a couple of fantasy baseball leagues that were just a job for me that I didn’t want anymore, or it’s like it would feel so good to not have to check that stupid thing every day, you know what I mean?

For one thing, my oldest is 12 and he’s my stepson technically. And we’ve been playing catch for ten years now. And it’s been like one of the great joys of my life to connect with them in that way and to be like coaching them and playing so much baseball. 

I was reading this Samurai book, and it talked about this idea of like through one thing, knowing thousand things. You know, like you can’t know everything about everything, but like if you work really (hard), you can know everything.

And it was I kind of realized it like it didn’t matter what I had bought into as a kid. I had done that. I poured myself into something. And I really like giving baseball all I had and taking it as far as I could at that time and been steady with it for, you know, forever. And it was these things that I almost thought of myself as not being able to do, you know, to be that persistent with something, to be that steady with something. 

On the idea of sidekicks (Roger Maris, and Kent Hrbek…of course): 

MH: With like Roger Maris, I knew what I was writing the whole time, and so I wanted to create a beginning of like ‘what the fuck’s going on?’ and then a middle of like (Maris…and Halvy) finding my way to finding myself and the resolve to do this and then a triumphant ending.

MH: Yeah I feel like Hrbek to me always seemed like Puckett’s sidekick all those years, you know, and like underappreciated. My dad was always talking about how the crime that Don Mattingly won all those gold gloves and Hrbek never got one. 

PAL: I feel like that was a very common stance among midwestern fathers in the 80s and 90s.

MH:  I discovered in some baseball reference rabbit hole that Hrbek finished second in MVP voting to Willie Hernandez, the reliever. In like eighty four, Willie Hernandez, the Tigers reliever, won Cy Young and MVP in the same year. But I did not realize that Hrbek had his best season and finished second in MVP voting. If they don’t the MVP  to some chump reliever,  how differently is Hrbek’s career remembered? It seemed like his third full season. He’s an MVP that sets him on just like in many people’s minds, a different trajectory from there.

PAL: Willie Hernandez? What the hell? A reliever who had a nine and three record with a one nine era and thirty saves won the Cy Young and AL MVP?

Ohtani Is Here, Again

If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ll recall how excited I was for the arrival of Shohei Ohtani, the slugger/pitcher, when he arrived to MLB a few years ago. Early on, we saw flashes of what he can do – big dingers at the plate and electric stuff on the mound. But injuries derailed things, including Tommy John surgery. After 2019, there were rumblings the Angels might ask him to choose – hitting or pitching.

But 2021 is a new year and Ohtani is back. New manager Joe Maddon is reportedly encouraging Ohtani to not only pitch and hit, but to try to play every day, or close to it. In his first start on the mound and it was fun as hell. In the top of the first, he threw a fastball 101 mph. In the bottom of the first, he hit a 451-foot bomb, with an exit velocity of 115 mph.

And that seems like the Ohtani promise, finally fulfilled. Hopefully, this time, he stays healthy. -TOB
Source: Let Us Have Ohtani,” Tom Ley, Defector (04/05/2021)

This is Goofy

White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez got hurt just before the season began and will likely miss the whole season. Apparently he is beloved by teammates because they acted like he died. They hung his jersey in the dugout and everything.

I mean, what the heck? The dude tore his pec – he’s not dying! Here’s Defector’s Chris Thompson hilariously roasting the whole hilarious scene:

The Chicago White Sox kicked off their season Thursday night without departed outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who at the tender age of just 24 years old was suddenly ripped from our world by a God whose purposes are never more mysterious than when the good are cruelly cut down in the prime of life. Coming off a promising sophomore season and primed for a bright future, Jimenez must now lift his White Sox teammates in spirit and memory, from a place beyond the grave. But Opening Day would not be complete—would not be right—without a tribute to this fallen teammate, and so the White Sox took some time during pregame ceremonies to touchingly memorialize their lost brother-in-arms.

First baseman* José Abreu carried a Jimenez jersey lovingly signed by all his teammates out onto the field for player introductions, along with a pair of Jimenez’s batting gloves. I just know that Jimenez was looking down on this moment from a better place, and appreciated this truly moving ceremony. Please, excuse yourself from whatever you are doing so that you may process the deep emotions in private.


Source: White Sox Send Eloy Jimenez To The Great Baseball Diamond In The Sky,” Chris Thompson, Defector (04/02/2021)

Video of the Week:

We showed you the highlight last week, but now you get it with that Jomboy commentary.

Tweets of the Week:

Song of the Week: Parcels – “Tieduprightnow”

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All right, I’ll tell you what. You look like nice people. I’m going to help you out. You want a beautiful name? Soda…All names sound strange the first time you hear ’em. What, you’re telling me people loved the name Blanche the first time they heard it?

-George Costanza

The Pocket

My year of running through a pandemic.

The pocket. A hell of a lot of words have been strung together in attempts to explain why people choose to run long distances. Before the pandemic, my explanation had a word count of two: the pocket. 

The phrase comes from music. When the members of a band, especially the rhythm section, lock into the groove perfectly, they call it being “in the pocket”. It goes beyond playing at the same tempo; each beat has a shape. 100 beats per minute can feel staccato, with the band attacking right on the first edge of the beat, or a band can slide into the very last nook at the back of the beat. Listen to pretty much any D’Angelo song to hear a band playing on the back of a beat, and think of “Imperial Death March” from Star Wars to hear a rigid attack. The pocket is a feel, created by all players adding their element at the exact right time and emphasis.

For years, runs were about finding the pocket with my breath and footstrikes. It wasn’t as simple as finding the same mile pace: some days I found the pocket at a 07:12 pace, and other days I’d find it on the other side of 07:45. I’d consider it a good run when got into the pocket within a mile or two. I breathed in through the nose for three strides, then out through a loose jaw for three more. A heart rate broken into triplets.







Once I’d find it, few thoughts passed through my mind. The pocket was meditation, and I could run for hours in it. When I finished, my mind was power-washed. My body: elastic, spent. More than a P.R. or adding a marathon to the count, I ran for the pocket. 

Like everything, the pocket changed last March. 

In the early months, I tried to leave the pandemic at home, but I ran past evidence of it everywhere. Senior hours and lines forming outside Piedmont Grocery. Homemade “wear a mask” and “stay home” signs taped to bay windows of spacious homes I dreamed of affording. I’d run down center of an empty Grand Ave.—a main drag that leads to a San Francisco-bound freeway entrance at 7:30 AM on a weekday. It wasn’t long before the feigns had medical masks hanging from their ears. 

Fear came with me on a lot of those runs. I tried to find the pocket with it, to figure out where it could fit in with my breath and footstrikes, but fear made me pull up and stop on two occasions.

In normal times, stopping in the middle of a run was a no-go. The reason for stopping didn’t matter—an untied shoe, forgetting to silence my phone, even a turned ankle—all of them messed up the rhythm. To stop out of urgency, to make a call that couldn’t wait until I finished, was something I’d never experienced. 

The first time I stopped on the northwest side of Lake Merritt by rowing docks and the Lake Chalet restaurant. The NBA had just suspended its season. As odd as it may sound to future generations, a sports league shutting down sticks out as the first major decision to put the world on hold. Many shutdowns would come soon after, and on that morning on The Daily podcast a journalist was discussing when the borders would closed to international travel. My brother-in-law was in London at the time, on his way to a backcountry ski trip in the Swiss Alps (of course he was: all of his trips are essentially bringing to life the Instagram photos from outdoor apparel companies). 

I called my father-in-law. I told him Jack needed to find a flight home, that day if possible. I’ve recently become marginally comfortable giving my father-in-law feedback on his golf swing, so to call Don and say his son needed to get back stateside was beyond the range of our communication in March, 2020. Yet, to wait the four miles until the run was done felt like a wasting of very important minutes.

I stopped in front of the lamp further back to make the call to Don.

Don agreed, and so did Jack once he saw future flights from the U.S. to the U.K. getting cancelled on dates before his scheduled return flight. He bought a one-way ticket on one of the last commercial flights back to the states, having never made it to Switzerland. Good fortune, as it turned out: they checked passports at the gate to see if people had been outside of the U.K. before letting passengers board. Switzerland would’ve presented an issue. It would be months before commercial flights from the U.K. came into the states. 

Not long after, I stopped a run near the top of the hill on the way to Lake Temescal. The only thing worse than stopping on a run is stopping in the middle of a climb. 

I can’t remember if I called my brother, Tony, or if he called me, but we talked about Mom and Dad. We spoke of the nightmare scenario so many would experience: Mom or Dad getting infected and dying alone in a hospital. We discussed telling them they had to stay home. Although nearly 40, I was (and am) very much getting used to telling my parents what’s in their best interest, although they may not sense my hesitancy.  

I could hear Tony turning over the idea in the silence between my heavy breaths. Even that early, my head was always on a swivel when on runs, ready to pull the Buff over my nose and mouth if I saw someone approaching. No decision was made. It wasn’t Tony’s to make, but there’s still an authority coming from the oldest of the six of us. Least I felt it. We hung up.

I was so far from Minnesota at that moment. I’d felt far from home before, but there on the hill the feeling didn’t come from a distance or homesickness. I was far from home in the sense that I didn’t know when I’d be back. Would I be allowed to go home? Would interstates set up barriers at state borders? It sounds crazy, but at that point last spring Spain and Italy weren’t letting people leave their homes except for groceries. 

I returned to the climb, but it took an extra moment to get the legs chugging again.

Tony called back a half mile later, just past the parking lot at the top of the hill. Yep, he was going to text the rest of the family. It was too much of a risk with Mom’s history of pneumonia and aspiration issues. Delivering food for Meals on Wheels, going to the grocery store, church, bookclub— all of it had to pause until we had an idea of what the hell was going on. 

From that moment until a few weeks ago when my parents were vaccinated, the anxiety of the nightmare kept churning. 

The collective unknown that came with the pandemic took months to accept. I’d check the stats every morning as if they were box scores: positive test rates, hospitalization numbers, deaths. I’d search for any indication that a turn in the right direction was coming. 

When there wasn’t proof, I’d cling to blind faith that things would get better.  Maybe there was something to warm weather helping tamp down the spread, or that the virus would just fizzle out, or the geniuses would figure out a simple treatment that would get us back to normal in a few months. We knew so little (remember when we were scrubbing down out groceries and weren’t super eager to pump gas without a glove?). The collective unknown is the component of the last year I will try and fail to capture for our future kids. 

Now, when I run those routes and stride over those hidden, autobiographical markers, I think of when I stopped.

As spring led into summer, more and more runs were open-ended. An appreciation for the enormity of the pandemic settled. There was nowhere to go, not much to do, and an end wasn’t in sight. Those were the facts. 

So I ran with no route in mind. I looped back in the direction of home when I had enough. Finishing was a release, but it came with a malaise when my stride switched from running to walking.

The pocket became a place to formulate, not to meditate. I bungled the peculiar rhythms of new thoughts and disagreements. Fitting them into the triplet of breaths and footstrikes was a struggle.

I would false start on rebuttals for a brother. I’d privately consider if a sister was right, and I was angered when I was sure she wasn’t. I’d stew over my parents letting it slip that they were still delivering Meal on Wheels. I get pissed at myself for avoiding a disagreement over the phone in favor of a comfortable conversation molded around empty pleasantry. I’d fester at what I assumed they thought about my take on the pandemic, and I’d be quick to note the times they didn’t ask. I’d wonder if we were in a Bay Area bubble of overreaction, and then I’d remember what the infectious disease experts were saying. 

‘Agree to disagree’ wasn’t going to cut it when it came to this virus and how it could spread through people that display no symptoms. Damn right it was personal; how long would it take for me to get over passing the virus onto a stranger who then was hospitalized or worse? Could I forgive the friend, the neighbor, the family member if they got my parents sick? 

Every interaction on any given day had the threat to go there. Everyone was on edge at all times. Over days, weeks, months the reminder was constant: we did not agree on what the greater good meant. There was a corrosion in all of it. 

When I’m stuck, I either write or run. This last summer required a lot of both. 

I’m sure it took hundreds of miles to get my head around the varying points of view held by the people I love the most. I didn’t agree with them—not even close in some cases—but I understood how they got to their outlook. Each of our most pressing concerns before the pandemic were only magnified by it. Since the beginning, we’ve found our COVID lane through circumstance as much as science, and that includes most of us whose opinion falls in line with Dr. Faucci. Of course, therein lies the problem when it comes to COVID. 

Take our circumstance: Natalie and I were lucky enough to keep our jobs through it all. That was never a persistent concern, and we figured out how to work from home. We don’t have kids. We have a little money saved. Of the very few worries we had in our life before the pandemic—and by any measure they were few—the health of our parents was near the top. I worried about Dad’s mobility and diet. I worried about pneumonia with Mom. Natalie’s parents both had their turns with cancer. Of course, those concerns only spread with COVID and how the risk of serious issues increased for those with compromised immune systems. What other reason did we need to wear a mask and stay home if that’s what would help keep the older population around us safe? It wasn’t too much to expected those around our parents to do the same. Anything we could do in order to give the smart people more time to figure out a treatment was worth it. 

For healthy family members that owned or worked at small businesses—where working from home wasn’t an option —guess what their point of view has been? Risk assessment wasn’t as one-dimensional for them. Or how about the folks with kids trying to find their place in school? Or grandparents whose love in life is to be around their kids and grandkids? A year to folks in their 70s is not the same as a year to people in their 30s. 

It took time, but I learned how to run with both my outlook and the realization that many people I respect had an understandable reason for their outlook. Some days I could find the pocket with all of that in my mind, on my shoulders, in my chest. I’d run fast and smooth. I genuinely don’t know if that should be a point of pride. 

Natalie and I joke that our first year of marriage should count for more than a year. 2020-2021 should be a pandemic-adjusted marriage season due the sheer amount of time couples spent together. 

We tried all the COVID distractions to keep our minds busy in that 100-year old rental, with our wisp of a landlord and her never-ending divorce living below us: puzzles, cards, one (and only one) tik-tok dance, Tiger King. At that point, it was unclear if being outside was even advisable, and I waited for the news that the Bay Area would go into full lockdown, meaning limited time outside the house. That would’ve crushed me. 

Maybe Natalie knew that subconsciously, because that’s about the time she became possessed by the idea of organizing a half marathon. 

We can all get caught up in an idea while passing the time watching TV, but the next moment is the crucial one. While most of us let the idea float by, Natalie reached for the laptop. Within the hour, a flyer was designed with flamengo included for strictly aesthetic reasons. She sent out a group text to Chris, Katelyn, and Basma. Chris and Basma were immediate yeses, Katelyn would be closing in on the third trimester come race day on July 11. I was assigned the role of course architect and asked to present some East Bay route options. Elevation change was a chief concern. Natalie does not mess with running hills. 

Natalie went overboard for a race that would feature all of three competitors, and this little project brought an energy that was so needed. We quickly christened it the “Quarantine Crawl”, and for the next twelve weeks there was a familiar old purpose to a run. T-shirts with the aforementioned flamengo were ordered. My wife is the greatest. 

I ran the long runs with Natalie and Basma (Chris was on the other side of the bridge), mostly along the bay between the Emryville and Berkeley marinas. We’d run with Treasure Island, then the San Francisco skyline, then Alcatraz, then the Golden Gate Bridge over our left shoulders.

They would find their pocket on a few of the runs. It would happen in that silent acceptance found far from the beginning and the end. Conversation would slow to a drip of monosyllabic encouragement. They’d sync up their breath and strides. It was cool to watch them get to a place so meaningful to me. 

We’d splay out on B’s stoop afterwards with a cold drink. They’d recap the different phases of the run, proud and exhausted. I would bask in their sweat-stained accomplishment. And after a couple early route mishaps, the Quarantine Crawl was a success, complete with 3.5 spectators: Natatlie’s parents, Katelyn with Emerson in her belly. 

(A quick aside to anyone thinking about a DIY road race: it has been my experience that, when designing a running course, chalk arrows on the sidewalk are not 100% reliable, so limit the amount of turns. Better yet, just bike with the racers).

Then came the fires. 

A dry lightning storm, an event described in The New York Times as a “freakish siege of thousands of dry lightning strikes in Northern California — a weather event on a scale not seen in decades” sunk Natalie and I in late August and early September. Everyone had a pandemic low point, and that was ours. 

Dry lightning? In Minnesota, lightning came with thunder, followed by rain. The only dry lightning I’d heard of prior to August was from Springsteen’s The Ghost of Tom Joad

I ran the morning these pictures were taken before the Air Quality Index spiked. Forget dystopian; as I ran, I wondered if we were entering apocalyptic territory. It wasn’t hyperbole. Didn’t feel that way at least. There was no pocket to be found that morning, and it was obvious I wouldn’t be running in the coming weeks. With ‘outside’ added to the list of closures, my world became even smaller that morning.  

At the time, we had an unhinged president already sowing voter fraud months before the election (not knowing what would follow at the Capitol on January 6), a country in the depths of a racial reckoning, a pandemic, and now flames raged across the western half of the United States. We were trapped under smoke miles thick, amongst other things. 

This is the same lake pictured above when I stopped to call my Father-In-Law. Photo credit: Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle

There was no longer comfort at home. That old house Natalie and I were renting couldn’t keep the smoke out. The windows were old and cheap, and all the window frames were rotted. Smoke came in as easily as the spiders Natalie despised. We went to my in-laws’ house. They had new windows, and we needed clean air. Natalie was six weeks pregnant with our first child. 

I was exhausted. Of course I had reasons to be happy and grateful, but come fall it took such effort to reach those states of mind. Sometimes I felt like a fool to look for the positive. Optimism and obliviousness—it was hard to tell which current was which. 

The smoke cleared (for the season), and I was running the first day the AQI dropped back into the yellow zone. In the winter months, we’ve adapted in this time before we finally beat back the pandemic (as of writing this, over 30% of the country has been vaccinated, with about 3M receiving shots each day). Caution has replaced fear in our neighborhood. We’ve found ways to be happy and be with friends. Turns out, outside is a great place to be in most any weather. Park hangs have long since replaced Zoom calls with friend groups. Beer gardens are heaven, and we all can find the beauty in the orange glow of a propane heat lamp. 

I’ve never run more than I did in the last year, even years training for multiple marathons. Cue the Jackson Browne from the Forest Gump montage.

Along the way, I’ve become familiar with so many other runners in the neighborhood. Each one of them gets a head nod when we cross paths. There is the young dad with his two daughters who would run a lap around Rose Avenue every morning, face shields and all. There is the bearded guy I’d pass near 40th and Broadway most mornings. Always in his red shirt (man, I hope he owns multiples). Dude must’ve lost 40 pounds in the last year. There was the mom with her daughter and son, maybe 10 and 12, heading up that same hill to Lake Temescal where I stopped to talk to Tony about Mom and Dad. There is the old guy – the same shape and stature as Dad, who prefers his afternoon walks with a cigar. I love the smell of his cigars. There is the other old guy – has to be late 70s – who is still running. If you watch his arms, elbows held up high and pumping, he’s running, so don’t worry about his cargo shorts and walking feet.

And then there is this little girl. Our little girl. I want to write her name, but Natalie and I are keeping it close until she’s born. We call her by her name all the time. I’m saying it in my mind right now. I love the full name and the nickname, too. It sounds good sandwiched between laughs, and there’s a nice weight to the full name for when I’ll need to be stearn. She’ll be here in a month or so, but she’s already my running buddy. She’s in the pocket with me, racking up the miles. 

And that would be a sweet end to this look back. Far too sweet for a pandemic retrospective.

The very sound of the word— pandemic— annoys me. Alway will. I’m over it. I’m over talking about it, debating it, having it lurking on the periphery of every goddamn thought. The threat in every conversation to go there. The edge. I’m over it. We all are. 

I want to leave it behind. Yet, even after the vaccines, even if it were eradicated, the pandemic will show up in moments we don’t expect. There’s a shared trauma the scope of which we won’t grasp for years.

I have little idea where life will take us, but I’ll be there running. On some otherwise forgettable run, I might smell a familiar cigar, or I’ll see a line forming outside a grocery store. Something will trigger a memory of the pandemic and break my triplet of breath and footstrikes. I’ll lose the rhythm, but only for a short distance. I’ll remember how to run in a pandemic. I’ll play the rhythm by heart, and I’ll find the pocket again.

-Phil Lang, April 7, 2021

Week of April 2, 2021

Happy Opening Day, folks!

*When a League Changes its Games, What Do We Do with the Record Books?

This week the NFL voted to officially expand its regular season to 17 games. I take no strong opinion either way – if the players are for it, then it seems fine to me. But The Ringer’s Riley McAtee asked an interesting question: How will a 17-game season impact NFL record books? As in 1961, when people derided Roger Maris for hitting 61 home runs in 162 games when Babe Ruth’s record of 60 game when teams only played 154 games, you have to think there will be healthy skepticism at some of the records that will surely fall. 

For example, we are definitely heading for the first 6,000 yard passing season (remember when 3,000 was the gold standard??). We’ll likely get 2,300 yards rushing. Maybe 25 sacks? Basically every major statistical record is in jeopardy, with teams playing 6.2% more games. So how will those records be treated?

My guess is that, as with Maris, as the record is broken (assuming it is not broken until Game 

17), there will be people who will howl that the record doesn’t count. That it deserves an asterisk. That the previous record holder is the true record holder. But as time passes, people will forget. Enough players will pass the old record holder, even in just 16 games, that eventually it won’t matter anymore. 

The career numbers are even more fascinating. A player playing 15 seasons gets almost an entire extra season of games. Is Emmit Smith’s rushing yard total in jeopardy? Probably not, as the league has moved away from running and away from featured running backs. In fact, is Smith’s record the only untouchable record? If nothing else, the debates about this stuff should be fun. -TOB

Source: How Will a 17-Game Season Impact NFL Record Books?Riley McAtee, The Ringer (03/31/2021)

PAL: Single most insane stat from this numbers-heavy story: George Blanda threw 42 interceptions in a 14-game season back in 1962. George, my man, the check down is your friend.

How a Meme Becomes a Meme, as There’s a Drive into Deep Left Field by Castellanos and That’ll Be a Homerun, and Why One in Particular is Funny

Last year, longtime Reds’ announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic using a gay slur. It was no accident. He was referring to some unnamed city (ahem) as being full of that slur. It was not good. Not long after, word had made it to Thom that his comment had gone out on the air, and he left the broadcast mid-game, first offering an apology. As apologies go, it was not good. He did not directly apologize to the group of people he slurred, and even apologized to his employers. But it was made so much worse by the fact that, mid-apology, without missing a beat, Brennaman casually called a home run by the Reds’ Nick Castellanos.

The awfulness of the slur and the awkwardness of the call went viral over the next couple days. But then, slowly percolating in the Twitterverse, a meme began to rise weeks later. A copypasta, as it’s known, in which people began copying and pasting Brennaman’s home run call, “as there’s a drive into deep left field by Castellanos and that’ll be a homerun. And so that’ll make it a 4-0 ballgame,” and using it as a non-sequitur for comedic effect. It started to catch fire. A few funny examples:

This article breaks down how and why this joke went viral and why it works as a joke – which I really enjoyed. Sometimes you don’t know why something is as funny as it is, you just know it is. But I enjoyed reading why this works:

Then there’s the syntax. The home run call is itself a non sequitur, which enables the Castellanos call to be linked to any preceding sentence just as logically (or illogically) as it was when Brennaman first uttered the infamous lines. Just stick in a comma, add an “as there’s a drive,” and you’re good to go. “The ‘as’ is the killer [word] there,” Ingall says. “It lends itself with that ‘as’ to memeing so well.” The “drive into deep left field,” Baccellieri observes, is also perfectly situated between the “big-picture seriousness” of the “man of faith” clause and the “melancholy vibe” of the headset sentence.

It’s a pretty fun read about how the internet turned a bad story into a good one. -TOB

Source: How ‘A Drive Into Deep Left Field by Castellanos’ Became the Perfect Meme for These Strange Times,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (03/29/2021)

PAL: How can a story be this good while being so much longer than it needed to be?Still, this is a pretty fascinating exploration of the construction of a joke written, revised, and perfected by committee. 

What stands up to replays is the timing of the home run. As Lindbergh highlights in his opening, all of the variables that had to line up exactly so in order for Brennaman’s home run call to slot into his apology without missing a beat. Lindbergh revisits the at-bat later on when he writes:

If Castellanos had taken strike two, maybe Brennaman could have submerged himself in that sea of sorrys and avoided disproportionate attention. “If it was just the formulaic apology, then there would have been an eye roll and maybe some commentary about that,” Milner says. “We would have moved on. But the incongruity of him calling a play in the middle, it just further punctuates how rote this must have been, that he wasn’t even heartfelt enough to get through it without turning to this play call.” The apology’s performative nature was laid bare, all because of a drive into deep left field by Castellanos.

Can’t say I’ve ever read a story like this one.

Video of the Week:

Can’t do that, Cody.

Tweet(s) of the Week:

Song of the Week: Cousin Wolf – “Kevin Elster”

More on this story, the songwriter, and the ambitious project next week.

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You’re crying from Home Alone?

-Jerry Seinfeld

Week of March 26, 2021

R.I.P. Elgin Baylor

NBA great Elgin Baylor died this week. He was 86. As is the case with athletes before my time, I learned more about him in the past few days than I’d ever known. Bill Simmons referred to him as the “forgotten pioneer” of the NBA. Simmons, who hasn’t written a column in years, read a portion of his Page 2 story about Baylor from back in 2008. This detail was a stunner:

It’s impossible to fully capture Elgin’s greatness five decades after the fact, but let’s try. He averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds and carried the Lakers to the Finals as a rookie. He scored 71 points against Wilt’s Warriors in his second season. He averaged 34.8 points and 19.8 rebounds in his third season — as a 6-foot-5 forward, no less — and topped himself the following year with the most amazing accomplishment in NBA history. During the 1961-62 season, Elgin played only 48 games — all on weekends, all without practicing — and somehow averaged 38 points, 19 rebounds and five assists a game.

Why was this better than Wilt’s 50 per game or Oscar’s season-long triple-double? Because the guy didn’t practice! He was moonlighting as an NBA player on weekends! Wilt’s 50 makes sense considering the feeble competition and his gratuitous ball-hogging. Oscar’s triple-double makes sense considering the style of play at the time — tons of points, tons of missed shots, tons of available rebounds. But Elgin’s 38-19-5 makes no sense whatsoever. I don’t see how this happened. It’s inconceivable. A U.S. Army Reservist at the time, Elgin lived in a barracks in the state of Washington, leaving only whenever they gave him a weekend pass … and even with that pass, he could only fly coach on flights with multiple connections to meet the Lakers wherever they happened to be playing. Once he arrived, he would throw on a uniform and battle the best NBA players alive on back-to-back nights — fortunately for the Lakers, most games were scheduled on the weekends back then — and make the same complicated trip back to Washington on Sunday night or Monday morning. That was his life for five months.

The idea of that situation in modern times is so bananas. 

On a more personal tip, Kurt Streeter paid tribute to Baylor by re-telling a family story in which Baylor played a large part. His family knew it well, texted him about it as soon as they heard the news that Baylor had passed. It’s a perfect story, in that it captures the folklore nature of sports. Our brushes with greatness. TOB seeing Willie Mays. My Joe Mauer tales. 

Baylor floating
Mel Streeter

Streeter’s dad, himself passed away 15 years ago, knew how to tell the story, which makes sense, because it sounds like he told his kids the tale enough times to workshop it. 

Per Streeter: 

“Did I ever tell you about the time I played Elgin Baylor?” my father would say as he looked into my eyes, filled with wonder no matter how many times he’d begun this way.

“Elgin couldn’t score on me, no he couldn’t. Not in that first half he couldn’t.”

How perfect is that opener? It tells you everything you need to know about the second half. The story goes much deeper than Streeter’s dad facing off with an all-time great who, along with Bill Russell, changed the way basketball was played. 

I wish now that I had asked my father more about his one-and-only game against Baylor, more about that league and those times. But dad died 15 years ago. As close as we were, some of his history will always be cut off from me. I don’t know what team he was on when he played against Baylor. I don’t know if it was a big game with high stakes — like the battles that helped decide who would head off to the A.A.U. national championship.

Thankfully, I have a firm recollection of the look on my father’s face as he spoke of how, in a head-to-head matchup between two tall, lithe and powerful forwards, he held Baylor to two first-half points. Oh, and dad never let any of his four sons forget that while he was holding down Baylor, he was lighting up the scoreboard. Even before my older brother Jon knew I was writing this column, the moment he heard about Baylor’s death he sent me a text with his own recollections of our family’s well-told tale: “Dad scored 11 in the first half!”

Two great reads about a “forgotten pioneer”. Both are worth reading in full. – PAL 

Sources: Elgin took the game to new heights”, Bill Simmons, Page 2 (10/08/08); “The Time Dad Locked Down Elgin Baylor”, Kurt Streeter, The NY Times (03/23/21)

I’m Guessing That High School Baseball Won A Lot

I was looking up opening day details, and I just stumbled upon this factoid, ℅ Thomas Harigan over at MLB.com: three pitchers from the same high school will make opening day starts for their MLB clubs. It’s those young guys pictured in the tweet at the top of the post, each first round draft picks.

Jack Flaherty (Cardinals), Lucas Giolito (White Sox), and Max Fried (Braves) all went to Harvard-Westlake in the L.A. area. What’s more, they were teammates! It’s not like one of them is 34, another 29, and another 24; they were on the same team. That’s crazy, right? That’s crazy. – PAL 

Source: 1 high school has 3 Opening Day starters?!”, Thomas Harrigan, MLB.com (03/25/21)

How 3D Printing Is Making Sports Safer

I started reading this, and thought, “Oh yeah; why haven’t they been doing this for years?” An engineering lab at Auburn has been 3D printing guards for football players based on body scans. And while joints aren’t yet on the table, the relatively early results have been very positive. 

Per Andy Staples:

Why do the custom guards protect better? Physics. A guard that isn’t designed to fit a player’s body won’t allow the force of a blow to dissipate evenly. So certain points on the body must absorb more force. A guard made to fit the contours of the athlete’s body reduces that issue. “There are no what you’d call stress concentrations,” Zabala said. “It dissipates the stress out over the entire surface. It’s 100 percent contact area. If you can distribute the load over the entirety of the surface, then it’s safer for anybody.”

And the idea that a guy could bruise a ribs in the first half of a game and be wearing a custom guard by the second half is pretty incredible. It doesn’t take long to see the applications to other sports as well.

The story then becomes less about the idea and more about making a business out of it. 3D printers are common, so what makes XO Armor positioned to take this concept and turn it into a large company? What’s stopping another competitor from joining the game

The current plan is a subscription model with athletic departments and franchises, but they wonder if there’s a future where the company partners with sports orthopedics across the country. I mean, in three years will TOB be backing dudes down in the pickup game some XO Armor? 

I enjoyed the read, but it sure read like a glowing company review from a very popular college football writer. I wouldn’t mention this, but TOB sent another story from The Athletic, one written by the great Marcus Thompson, about the rapper Macklemore finding the healing power of golf…and by the way he started a golf clothing line. Curious to hear from folks as to whether or not this Staples story read a little like an advertorial for XO Armor.- PAL 

Source: Auburn ingenuity: Custom guards to protect injuries making impact on college football and beyond”, Andy Staples, The Athletic (03/24/21)

Video of the Week: “Two Cheeker” – Kruk is the best.

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: Anderson .Paak – “Make It Better (Feat. Smokey Robinson)”

What’s my problem, punks like you, that’s my problem. And you better not screw up again Seinfeld, because if you do, I’ll be all over you like a Pit Bull on a Poodle.

-Lt. Bookman

Week of March 19, 2021

A Moment of Genius Fandom   

There are cool sports traditions, and there are ones that can feel oh so forced. Here’s a story about a very, very cool tradition from a soccer team in San Sebastián, Spain. The idea, over a half century old,  may have been the product of a hallucinatory haze. I’m already in. How about you? 

Here it is: a single fan shoots off bottle rockets just outside the stadium when a goal is scored. One rocket means the opponents scored, and two rockets shot off means the home team, Real Sociedad, scored. This fantastic idea was courtesy of Patxi Alkorta. Now, his great nephew carries on the tradition. 

One theory is, back in the day, the rockets were an easy way to let the fisherman out in the Bay of Biscay know how the game was going.  The real genius of the idea is not necessarily the rockets, but the code. Per Rory Smith:  

That the tradition’s appeal endured, though, was not only because it was something unique to San Sebastián — “the fans see it as something that belongs to us,” said Iñaki Mendoza, Real Sociedad’s club historian — but because of the simple genius of Alkorta’s idea: that perfect moment of suspense between the two bangs, the silence filled by hope and dread.

“When people are walking through the city on the day of a game and they hear the first rocket, they wait in suspense for the second,” Mendoza said. “And when they hear it, they resume their walk with a smile, because La Real has scored.” Izagirre described it as “a beautiful moment, where everyone is waiting.”

As the team has played to an empty stadium over the past year, the tradition has taken on another angle. While it’s not about breaking news (everyone has it on their phone), but it reminds folks that the game is not being played in a tv or some far off place but rather right there in town, and sometime soon they will be there to see it. – PAL

Source: The Rocketman of San Sebastián”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (03/18/21)

TOB: Oooooh that moment of suspense must be incredible. 

No Direction Home

A handful of folks reading this considered working in sports as a dream job when we were younger. Maybe one of your friends gave it a shot, or maybe you did, and it becomes clear pretty quickly just how difficult it is to break into that industry. For one, you’ll likely get paid shit for a good amount of time,  because the teams – whether it’s the Minnesota Twins or the Sioux Falls Canaries – know how common this dream is this dream is and they pay accordingly, and that’s if you’re lucky. Most folks have a hard time finding a spot to begin with!  Per John Gonzalez: 

That’s the tricky part of the whole dream job thing, especially in pro sports when there are only so many of those to go around in the first place. Unless you’re extremely charmed, there comes a time when you wonder how long you ought to keep chasing after it—and how far you’re willing to go

It’s only a matter of time that the dream is replaced with the reality that it’s likely going to take a long time and a lot of luck in order to get the job you imagined as a kid.  As Adam Tatalovich says, “Not everybody can be Erik Spolestra. Not everyone is coming in as the intern and then you become the head coach. I always knew these jobs would only last for so long.”

Tatalovich is the feature in Gonzalez’s story, and he’s an interesting dude. Tatalovich is a basketball scout, which was a pretty nomadic existence before the pandemic. Back in February, he was working for Guangzhou, a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. There’s a break in the CBA season in January around Lunar New Year. Most coaches and scouts step away from the job and go on vacation; instead, Tatalovich went to Turkey to meet up with a legendary coach there. And thus began his odyssey. Tatalovich hasn’t been back to Guangzhou since. 

March bled into April, and April gave way to a host of concerns—chief among them that he was officially unemployed and his prospects were limited. The woman Adam rented his Airbnb from in Belgrade let him convert it from week-to-week to month-to-month. Clothes were another issue, but that was hardly new. A lot of his belongings were left behind in China. He had an apartment’s worth of stuff stuck in storage and out of reach in Sacramento. He left behind a couple of bags worth of clothes in Australia. More of his things were scattered at friends’ houses all across the United States. All he had was the bag he packed for what he thought would be a quick holiday when he left Guangzhou.

How he spent his time and how he found his way to a job with the Knicks, and what he calls the absence of a nest – I found it all to be a distinct story and point of view on the last year. – PAL 

Source: The COVID Odyssey of One NBA Scout”, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (03/15/21)

RIP Marvin Hagler

Marvin Hagler died this week. He was my all-time favorite fighter. He didn’t take shit and he was tough as hell. Charles Pierce wrote an excellent tribute to Hagler this week, and I suggest you read it. But more importantly, if you even kinda like boxing, watch Hagler’s fight against Tommy Hearns, which in my opinion is the greatest single performance in boxing history. If you think boxing is slow and boring, just spend fifteen minutes watching this fight, and you see how two guys elevated the sport to its purest form.

Two guys, at the peaks of their career, absolutely gutting it out. Incredible. -TOB

Source: Marvelous Marvin Hagler Wouldn’t Bend,” Charles Pierce, Defector (03/15/2021)

PAL: I’d never seen this fight, and TOB is not overselling it. Honestly, this has to be up there in the pantheon of greatest sports ‘highlight’ ever. It’s incredible. Aside from the absolute grit from both of these guys, a few things stood to me, a complete boxing novice. 

  1. Hagler, a lefty, could switch stance and punish in a right-handed stance. 
  2. Hearns’ hands are is so fast. On those long arms, his punches are like a whip with an anvil on the end of it. 

And I heard this anecdote a couple times in the past week that Pierce references, too. After a debatable loss to Sugar Ray Leonard, Hagler walked away from the sport with his brain and some money. He moved to Italy and never game back. Leonard wanted a rematch. Big money. 

Later, when promoter Bob Arum came to New Hampshire to pitch a rematch with Leonard, Hagler’s response carried the sound of a great iron door, closing.

“Tell Ray,” Hagler said to Arum, “to get a life.”

That’s good stuff. 

What Happens When a Football School’s Basketball Team is Better Than the Football Team?

This was a very entertaining article. Here’s the premise:

Every American college that has a big sports culture is either a football school or a something-else school. While a few might identify most closely with lacrosse, baseball, hockey, or volleyball, the most common alternative to football schools are basketball schools.

The article focuses mainly on Michigan and how the basketball team the last few years has been much more successful than the football team. So has Michigan become a basketball school? No, not even close. The issue is the emotional connection, and for whatever reason, certain fanbases have a deep connection with one sport over another:

Coaston got hooked on the Wolverines at their 2005 win over undefeated Penn State, when Mario Manningham caught a walk-off touchdown as time expired. “The highs would be some of the best moments I’ve ever had,” she says.

The most crushing recent loss to the Buckeyes came in 2016, when Michigan came inches away from stopping Ohio State on fourth down to lock up an overtime win. “The emotions I had had about Trump winning in 2016—I was like, ‘I’m fine, I know I can handle this,’ ” Coaston says. “ ‘For the work I do, this is a really important moment, but I’m ready for it.’ I had put all of those emotions into a box, and then I’d shoved that box into Michigan football, and then the Michigan–Ohio State game happened in 2016, and I was like, ‘Ohhhh, no. The box exploded.’ There is no emotional safe space for pretty much anything.”

The box exploded is an all too accurate way to describe it. So is this:

“I don’t think I ever have thought about a Michigan basketball loss more than like a half-hour after it ended,” Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley, a fan since he was a kid in the ’90s, says, “whereas there are Michigan football losses from, like, 18 years ago that I still think very vividly about all the time.”

Swap Cal for Michigan in that paragraph and it’s eerily accurate for me. 

The author suggests a school cannot switch what kind of school it is. But I disagree, because it happened with Cal in the early 2000s. Cal had been a basketball school, with a very strong basketball culture and a passionate fanbase that packed its arena for every game. And then, over a span of 2-3 years, that flipped. The reasons for that are many and involve a rather unique confluence of events – the football team got good, the basketball team was involved in a pay-for-recruits scandal, and the beloved basketball gym was torn down and replaced with a sterile, sucky arena.

Still, this was a fun article and a nice primer for the start of the NCAA tournament. -TOB

Source: “Why So Many College Sports Fans Feel Miserable All the Time,” Alex Kirshner, Slate (03/17/2021)

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: The White Buffalo – “Sycamore”

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What evidence is there that cats are so smart, anyway? Huh? What do they do? Because they’re clean? I am sorry. My Uncle Pete showers four times a day and he can’t count to ten. So don’t give me hygiene.

-Elaine Benes