1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 15, 2019


Pay no mind to the dude in electric blue shades and sweet goatee; Zion is denting a fully inflated basketball likes it’s a tennis ball.


The Softer Side of Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson died late last week. He’s one of the greatest baseball players of all time, coming just 13 dingers short of the ultra elite 600 Home Run Club (10th all time, 4th when he retired), to go along with a career OPS of .936 (really damn good) and an OPS+ of 155 (meaning he was 55% better than league average), 26th all time. He was also a manager, baseball’s first black manager, though not an exceptional one – his teams only finished over .500 six out of sixteen seasons, though he did win Manager of the Year in 1989.

For most of his career, Frank was not particularly liked. Or, perhaps more accurately, he had a reputation for being cranky. But as a black man growing up in the 50s, Frank did not live an easy life. He was born in 1935 and grew up in Oakland, graduating from McClymonds High School, having been on the same basketball team as the great Bill Russell. He debuted in the big leagues in 1956, at age 20, just a few years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Like many black players of his time, Frank was subject a lot of abuse. But unlike Jackie, Frank refused to take it. He vocally stood up against racial prejudice. In 1987, Dodgers’ GM Al Campanis was asked by Larry King why there were so few black managers and no black general managers in MLB. Campanis said, black people “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.” Campanis was rightly excoriated for these remarks, and Frank led the charge, stating:

“Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years — that blacks aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office. There’s a belief that they’re fine when it comes to the physical part of the game, but if it involves brains they just can’t handle it. Al Campanis made people finally understand what goes on behind closed doors — that there is racism in baseball.”

Frank was often referred to as the most feared man in baseball. I imagine he liked that. But he was not a man without feeling, and that’s why I loved the following article about him. Late in his life, Frank was managing the Washington Nationals. The team was not very good, and they ran into an injury problem at catcher. They were forced to play Matt LeCroy, a journeyman nearing the end of his career, who had knee problems and a shoulder injury preventing him from throwing to second base. In one particular game, the Nats built an early six run lead, but the Astros were mounting a comeback, and it was led in part on challenging LeCroy on the basepaths. LeCroy simply could not make the throw to second, and Frank decided to pull him, mid-inning.

LeCroy understood the move and was not upset. But Frank was. He felt he had embarrassed LeCroy, a player he had grown to respect. After the game, Frank spoke about the decision, and the Most Feared Man in Baseball began to cry.

 LeCroy was surprised to hear about Frank’s reaction:

“I hated that he got emotional, I told him I wasn’t good enough for somebody to cry over,” said LeCroy, who was blown away by the size of the scrum of reporters waiting at his locker when he arrived. “It was a crazy day. I didn’t think much about the situation. Didn’t realize that it was going to be such a big deal. That’s when I said the daddy quote.”

The exact, priceless line from LeCroy was, “If my daddy was managing this team, I’m sure he would have done the same thing.” The snippet circulated the Internet along with the footage of Robinson, tears welled in the corner of his eyes and spilling out onto his cheeks.

“A lot of people didn’t understand Frank,” LeCroy said. “He was thought of as this very stern, stoic guy. He was one of the best to ever play and he had to go through a lot being an African American playing. The biggest thing about that day (that stuck with me) is it showed me Frank really cared about everybody, no matter if you were a superstar or the last man on the bench.

“I think it opened up a lot of people’s eyes that deep down Frank cared about everybody. It meant a lot to me and that made our relationship, which was already pretty good, carry over to the next level.  He thought I was going to blast him (for taking me out) and I really didn’t think nothing about it.”

LeCroy himself would go on to coach, and he’s currently a manager for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate. He says he tries to take that lesson, and more, that Frank Robinson taught him.

This was a really good article – short, but great storytelling. -TOB

Source: A Look Back at the Day Frank Robinson Cried When He Took Catcher Matt LeCroy Out of a Game”, Brittany Ghiroli, The Athletic (02/08/2019)

PAL: One clear take-away from the Robinson stories over the past week is that he was a proud man, and so it makes sense Robinson would not take lightly the idea of having a hand in embarrassing a player.

My opinion on the writing differs from TOB’s: Ghiroli opens the story with an extended, teaser lead. Here’s the opening paragraph:

When​ Matt​ LeCroy​ thinks back to that moment,​ there​ was​ no​ way​ of​ anticipating​ its significance.​ No​ amount of​​ premonition would help LeCroy fathom the magnitude of that fateful Nationals game on May 25, 2006. Yet, here he is, dissecting a day almost 13 years ago, an afternoon contest with the Astros at RFK Stadium that was one of the most memorable managerial moments of Frank Robinson’s career.

The reader doesn’t know what moment ‘that moment’ is, and we won’t find out until the ninth(!) paragraph of the story. This is a technique we’ve read before – hell, I’m sure I’ve used it – and in most cases it reads like a writer trying to show off with melodious prose that almost always comes off a bit forced. It’s familiar, and not in a good way.

TOB: IT SAYS IT RIGHT IN THE HEADLINE!

PAL: well, that’s an interesting point. Still hate the writing….now I have to re-write my response? Thanks for saving me the embarrassment, but at what cost? (Publisher’s note: sharing the the laugh is worth more than whatever else I would have written)


We Were So Lucky To Have Been Raised Amongst Catalogs*

This trip back in time comes to us ℅ soft-tossing lefty, Ryan Nett. The Stearns County legend (see his 2010 stats) texted it to me, and I was in based only on the headline alone:

Like writer Dan Woike, I remember flipping through just about every page of the Eastbay catalog, taking extra time on baseball cleats and gloves in the spring editions. Woike, Nett, and I are not alone; the NBA writer asked a bunch of known sneakerheads in the league about East Bay, and their reactions are fantastic Whether or not they ever made an order, guys like Lance Stephenson and P.J. Tucker absorbed each edition.

It seems funny to say in the Amazon era, but the Eastbay catalog absolutely has a little footnote in my childhood. It was a wormhole before the online wormhole, and – let’s be honest – the best bathroom reading around. I haven’t thought about it for who knows how long until Nett sent this along. It’s so fun when a writer uncovers a bit of forgotten nostalgia. Great find, Nett! – PAL

Source: Eastbay Catalog Memories: It’s Where a Generation Went to Look at Sneakers – and Dream”, Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times (02/14/2019)

*Don’t be a jerk and look it up. Ok, now, name the movie the title of this post references. Hit us up in the comment section for a bottle of excellent homebrew.

TOB: Oh HELL yeah. Eastbay friggin ruled. I don’t know how or why it started coming to my house – but the new arrival was a great day. I’d slowly look at each page and circle any item I might want. I’d think, “Man, if I got those Air Jordan XIs, no one could stop me.” I remember specifically obsessing over basketball shoe weight. “Geeze, I love those, but 13 ounces!? That’s gonna limit my vert. I need something under 12 ounces, for sure.”

I definitely ordered from Eastbay, but I can’t remember what any more. I probably didn’t get to order too much, but I used it to keep informed on the newest shoes and brands. The website is still my go-to for finding new basketball shoes, and I’ve ordered from them a couple times in the last few years. Nice find, Ryan. And congrats on that one dinger.


At the 2019 U.S. Open, I Will Be Booing Matt Kuchar

Pro golfers make a ton of money these days. The 50th highest money maker last year was Brendan Steele (not a porn star!) at $2.3 million. To get there, Steele made the cut 16 out of 22 events, with 3 top 10s and 1 win. That’s $2.3 million to play 67 rounds of golf, with average score right around par (71). Not bad!

Customarily, golfers pay their caddies 10% of their winnings. So Steele’s caddy made $230,000 last year. Also not a bad living! Justin Thomas finished first on the money list at $8.7 million, so his caddy made $870,000. That’s a hell of a lot of money! But, ya know, well earned by both the golfer and the caddy. Good on ‘em.

Matt Kuchar made news this week, though, for ignoring the 10% percent custom when he was forced to hire a local caddy at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa Del Carmen Mexico because his normal caddy could not make the trip. Instead of paying the caddy ten percent of his $1.3 million dollar purse ($130,000), Kuchar paid the caddy just $5,000 (five thousand) dollars instead, just one third of one percent – 0.3% – of Kuchar’s winnings.

Kuchar explained that in fact he was being generous, because his pre-tournament agreement with the caddy was to pay him $4,000 for the week, and that extra $1,000 was a bonus for Kuchar’s win. Matt, buddy! Don’t be so loose with your money. Think of your retirement! You’ve only made $3 million dollars this year, and it’s already February!

So how does Kuchar, a guy with career earnings over $43 MILLION dollars justify paying his Let’s let Kuchar, a first class prick, explain:

“For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week.”

GFY, Matt. -TOB

Source: Extremely Rich Golfer Matt Kuchar Defends Stiffing His Caddie”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/14/2019)

PAL: Agree on all fronts, but hold your outrage for a moment and consider this: what is the point of the $4,000 fee to begin with if the usual deal dictates 10% of winnings and, I assume, no payment for the caddie if there are no winnings? Clearly, each party agreed to a deal that was out of the ordinary, and – with one of them being a professional golfer and one of them being an experienced caddie – I can’t possibly believe there was a misunderstanding on this point. If Kuchar pockets more than 40K if he finishes in the top 30 or higher, then he got a deal on the caddie. Anything below, and the caddy-for-hire is covered. In a field of 132 competitors, these are not bad odds for the caddie.

Also, is this a story if Kuchar finishes second in the tournament ($777K)?

Of course in the real world the original deal matters when Kuchar wins the damn thing. He received $1.3M! And then he starts talking like an idiot about relative value of $5,000. That’s when no one wants to hear from the unremarkable golfer who’s made an unfathomable amount of money.

TOB: To me, it’s a story about power and wealth. The caddy is a club caddy in Mexico. As Kuchar says, a good day for him is $200. Kuchar gets to the tournament, with no caddy, and offers $4,000 because he knows every single caddy at that club will jump at $4,000. But that doesn’t make it right. He should have offered 10% to begin with. When called out for being a cheapskate, he should have said, “You’re right. I messed up. Here’s your 10%.”

UPDATE: 3:23pm PST, 2/15/19:

Obviously Kuchar is a reader of this blog, and I’m happy to report that he has taken my words to heart:

That’s a solid apology, Matt. The Boo Declaration is officially rescinded.


A Fresh Story on Steph Curry

Stories about about an athlete’s incredible talent are common. Off of the top of my head, recent profiles of Julio Jones. Alex Honnold, and Aaron Donald come to mind. Like those dudes, Steph Curry has made an imprint on his sport. Honnald is the only one in this group that has a case he’s changed the trajectory of his sport more than Curry.

I enjoyed Kevin O’Connor’s story on Curry because it’s not about his freakish talent. This is a story about his progress as a basketball player, how he practiced, and the people that helped him get better.

Jones, Honnald, Donald, Michael Phelps, LeBron James – these guys in no way resemble a “regular” human. The are bigger, stronger, faster, in every way that helps them succeed in their particular sport.

Aaron Donald is not like us. 

Neither is Phelps. 

While Curry’s lack of size is overstated (at 6’3”, 190, he’s an inch shorter than Dwyane Wade), he was a bit late to grow and gain strength as young pup. As result, his now iconic stroke was a long ways away.

His dad, longtime NBA player Dell Curry, knew they needed to fix it. He would be fine in middle school and JV ball, the dad told O’Connor, but that release point wasn’t going to work as the competition got tougher.

So the Currys entered the offseason with a mission: raise Steph’s shooting release to make his shot more difficult to block or alter. That meant repeating the same motion for hours and hours, each day, for three months. “It was the worst summer of my life, basketball-speaking,” Curry told me last month.

Curry said he spent the summer shooting mostly from the paint; he couldn’t shoot from any farther out because he hadn’t developed the requisite strength with his new form. Before the fix, Curry generated the power for his shot from his shoulders. A higher release, with the ball brought to his forehead, would allow him to flow kinetic energy from his legs through the flick of his wrist. “I used to call it the catapult method,” Curry said. “If you look at my shot now, it’s the exact same starting motion as it was when I was young. But I’m not stopping the ball [at my chin]. I just kept on going to where I couldn’t go anymore, and use my wrist a lot more as opposed to my shoulder.”

As he got stronger, Dell and Steph’s mom (a former volleyball player at Va. Tech, NBD) would get right up in his grill so he would get used to shooting over that kind of pressure. I love the image of a mom and dad practicing together with their kid.

So that’s where the stroke comes from – a tough summer and some pretty excellent genetics.

O’Conner’s piece also reveals how lethal the small (by NBA standards) Curry is finishing at the rim.

That list, and the fact that Curry has the same numbers as LeBron, shocked me, but there’s logic to this stat. At every stage of his basketball life, Curry was undersized. His drives would be blocked if he didn’t get good at creative finished.

Curry tried wild, high-arcing shots, acrobatic finishes, and a scoop shot—which he said is his favorite type of layup—to overcome the size differential. It was a necessity, but it also made what is a simple task for most players a difficult one. “I can’t tell you how many times during middle school I’d be on fast break, and I’d jump into the guy in the paint to do a half 360 and float the ball behind my head. I made it probably one time,” Curry said. “Every time I’d do it, I’d look at my mom in the stands and she’s just like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Just do a normal layup.’”

But those finishes didn’t come easy in the NBA. He wasn’t great around the rim his rookie season, and he found unusual help in Brandon Payne, who worked with Curry on “neuromuscular efficiency”. Whada what now?

 Essentially, they are trying to overload the senses to increase dexterity and reduce reaction time. Sure, why not? As O’Connor points out, Curry getting much stronger and improving his handle helped his finishing a lot, too. Nevermind the fact that he has Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on the court, too. Having two other all-time great shooters waiting for pass might free up the lane a bit.

It becomes harding to find compelling stories about super popular athletes, but O’Connor finds a fresh angle on Curry. Super fun read, and love the giphs and video clips, too. – PAL

Source: It’s More Than Just the Shot”, Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer (02/12/2019)

TOB: I have read or seen video of the story of Curry’s transformed jump shot so many times now, and I don’t care. I devour each and every story about it. He has to be the most remarkable athlete I can remember – what he is doing seems impossible. You look at LeBron and sure, what he does makes absolute sense. But Curry should not be able to do the things he does. He’s changed the sport in a way that no athlete has changed a sport in my lifetime. Curry’s rookie year, the league attempted 3-pointers on 22% of shots. That number is now 35%. I think in lare part that is due to Curry, especially in how many threes he takes off the dribble, as opposed to the more common catch-and-shoot three. Curry changed the way teams think about attacking on offense and forced teams to defend out to 30-feet.

Incredibly, Curry is more accurate from 30-35 feet than he is anywhere else on the floor. This year he’s making fifty-four percent (54%!) of his shots from 30-35 feet, while shooting 43.7% from three overall, and 46.2% on all shots attempted. And it’s not really an anomaly. Since 2014-15, Curry is making 47.9% of his shots from 30-35 feet. What the hell? Anyways, he’s great and I hope he keeps this up another ten years.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – “Better Things”


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Pippity poppity, give me the zoppity. 

-M.G. Scott, C/O Darryl

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Week of January 25, 2019

Happy Birthday to our co-founder, Phil: the best friend/blogging partner/brewing buddy/sports debater anyone could ever ask for. One hell of a guy.


Save It, Coach

Locker room speeches are the best part of most every sports movie, so I’m going to add some of the best in here as I share with you Joshua Kloke’s excellent piece about how those locker room speeches are changing in the NHL.

 In my head, I think of locker room speeches as pleas to players emotions – inspirational words that invigorate the meekest of players or tongue-lashings that break the most prideful of the bunch. Turns out, these types of speeches are becoming less and less frequent in NHL lockers rooms. I think of these types of speeches (warning: language, and a lot of it – headphones recommended).

In talking with several current NHL players and coaches, as well as minor league coaches, Kloke has found a growing trend that the intermissions between periods are used more and more for video analysis (now clips from the previous shifts are immediately available), concrete feedback, and positive talk. The younger guys typically respond better to that approach, and the older vets have already heard every clichéd rah-rah speech.

In today’s NHL, players insist coaches cannot waste the little time they are afforded in-game to garner the attention of an entire team. Instead of spouting platitudes, many NHL players believe the best dressing room speeches from coaches should focus on how a team can implement their own tactical adjustments in a game.

Another facet of the game that has changed over the years is the general acceptance that the players are the draw and ultimately hold the power. Talented players no longer “conform” to the coach; in fact, the inverse is now true.

All of this makes perfect sense, but there must still be a place for emotion in these speeches, even at the professional level. Can coaches play that card every game? Of course not, but there are moments where a coach has to reach beyond the X’s and O’s and speak to the soul of a team…which is precisely that kind of emotional crap – the soul of a team – that falls on deaf ears of today’s hockey player. 

Per Kloke’s research, I think Jimmy Dugan’s speech might be best suited for today’s NHL player. Short, specific advice on the bunt, and mostly positive. – PAL

Source: The Evolution of the Dressing Room Speech, From Emotional Outburst to Tactical Adjustments”, Joshua Kloke, The Athletic (01/24/2019)


The Tao of Ratto

Allow me to set the scene: Friday morning. Hot cup of coffee and good breakfast in front of me. Dog’s walked. Apartment is quiet, and I’m looking for one more story for this week’s post. I pull up all of the usual sites to scan the headlines, but I only make it to the first tab when I find The RInger’s Bryan Curtis has a profile on the Bay Areas recently unemployed sports columnist Ray Ratto. If you’re wondering who the hell Ratto is, he’s the mustachioed guy in the background of that Dwight Clark picture.

Or, as Curtis puts it, “Ratto is the kind of big-city sports columnist who used to exist everywhere and now barely exists anywhere.”

I take a sip of the coffee and spend the next few minutes savoring every word of Curtis’ story.

A quick backstory on Ratto. He was born in Oakland and never left. At nineteen he was the copy boy for the SF Examiner and found a mentor in Nick Peters. Copy boy leads to sports columnist, and he’s been covering the Bay Area teams ever since. Also, Ray Ratto is quick with the insults. It’s kind of his thing. Oh, and he wears ugly sweaters. Curtis spends the story trying to figure out the “Tao of Ratto”. There is a deeper, more caring person somewhere underneath the sweater, but he’s not showing his face without a fight (and some wine).  

He’s a bit of a legend amongst his peers. Here are some examples as to why:

  • Young Ratto was interviewing Giants manager Frank Robinson for a story. Robinson blew him off with a couple of short answers. Ratto recalled: “I finally said, ‘Well, look, if you don’t want to do this, let’s just not do it.’ And I got up and walked out. He said, ‘C’mere!’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ He said, ‘What do you want to know?’”
  • Ratto: “When [a sportswriter] comes to games in a suit and tie, you say, ‘Who are you trying to impress? What kind of overstuffed asshole are you?’”
  • Once, the Chronicle sent Ratto to cover a meaningless late-season Oakland A’s game. It was an NFL Sunday, so the story was going to run inside the section. Ratto’s gamer began thusly: “Meanwhile, back here among the tire ads …”

As Curtis says, every town has or used to have the old columnist, and I think that writer played a huge role in how we experience the games. Maybe that’s a bit less now as folks like Ratto don’t have that regular column.

Curtis’ work has been featured on 1-2-3 Sports! several times. Dude can write a sports story. I like the idea that, while writing this story, he and Ratto had four glasses of red wine at some Oakland cafe. They ordered three, but then the bartender gave them a round on the house. A fan of Ratto.

Ratto responded, “Give it time. That’ll blow over.”

What a fun read. – PAL

Source: The World According to Ray Ratto”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (01/25/2019)

TOB: Nice write up, Phil. Ratto’s not wrong, though – he doesn’t have many fans. There may be a heart in there, but he’s cantankerous, to put it nicely. I will also say it’s impressive how long he stayed in one place, with his style, because when he felt appropriate he took aim and fired at each and every sports team or person in the Bay Area. As I was thinking about Ratto, and that last sentence, I wondered if my memory of his writing over the years was overly harsh. But if Ratto has a tao, to borrow the bit, he says it right in the first few lines of Curtis’ article:

“I think when you want to say something nice about somebody, it should be private. When you want to say something shitty, everybody should see it.”

I fully believe there’s a softer side to Ratto, and as his friend and fellow sportswriter Tim Keown put it, Ratto uses the insults as defense mechanisms. I’ve seen it a few times, especially on TV. And it’s right there in the quote above – he can be warm, he just does it privately.

One of my favorite Ratto moments was his response to A’s owner Steve Schott’s defense of the Mark Mulder trade (Ratto responses in parentheses):

We’re a small-market team (which the A’s absolutely are not), and we have to make hard choices (which are different in many ways from suicidally stupid ones) and we really regret having to trade Mark (which they absolutely do not regret at all) but those are the conditions that prevail (yeah, when you’re squeezing those quarters so hard that George Washington wishes Cornwallis had shown a little more gumption).

It’s sardonic and pitch perfect. (Although, in hindsight, the A’s were correct to trade Mulder, who had one more pretty good season (ERA+ 116, 2.6 WAR), and then fell off a cliff (ERA+ 58, -2.7 WAR – WOOF!) before falling out of the league at age 30. In return, the A’s got three players who created about 20 WAR over the next three seasons. Not a bad trade).

But the best part of this story, in my opinion, is Ratto’s warning to sports columnists of today and tomorrow:

Ratto insists he’ll be OK if he doesn’t get another column. “Only because the nature of the business is changing,” he said, “so there are fewer and fewer jobs that you can feel good about. More and more jobs are connected to companies that have interest in teams or leagues. Now, all of a sudden, you have to figure out, Well, how much of a whore are they going to ask me to be?”

“I can’t all of a sudden become a shill,” Ratto said.


Video of the Week:


PAL Song of the WeekFrancoise Hardy – “Le temps de l’amour”


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You’re just a babbling brook of bullshit.

-Larry David

Best of 2018, Part 3: The Industry

Nailed it. 


We are trying something a little different this year for our year-in-review. Instead of packing our 5-10 favorite stories from the year into one post, we are going to feature a few each day for the next week for some mini posts. We’ll mix in some of our favorite pics/videos/giphs as bookends, and PAL will share some of his favorite music finds as well. We’ll wrap up the best of with a Funniest of 2018 post. If you haven’t clicked through to read the stories we write about throughout the year, then these are the best of the best. Read them!

In Part 3, we have stories about the business of sports. Michael MacCambridge examines what could be the last gasps of Sports Illustrated, while Bryan Curtis dissects how Fox built a television empire on a foundation of of NFL football.

Best of 2018: The People 

Best of 2018: The Games 


How Sports Illustrated Stopped Mattering

To those of us over 30, Sports Illustrated is an institution. When I found out a fellow grad student at USF was a writer for SI, I felt cooler by association. As Michael MacCambridge writes for The Ringer, SI made a case that the realm of sports was not a juvenile triviality but instead an important part of the culture, worthy of attention and understanding.”

And for writers, like my fellow USF alumnus, SI was not a stop along the way. It was the mountaintop. As Lee Jenkins told a former boss, “I hate to leave you guys, but, you know–the Yankees just called.”

SI is about to be sold for the second time in a year. It also recently became a biweekly publication…not that many folks noticed. The end of the print version of the magazine feels imminent, even when – get this – the magazine was profitable last year.

The magnitude of the biweekly decision hasn’t even been felt yet, but it will be:

[I]f Tiger Woods had managed to win the Masters this year, it would’ve been perhaps the biggest sports story of 2018, but it would have been old news by the time the next issue of SI came out 10 days later. The same goes for this summer’s World Cup, the final of which will come during an off-week in SI’s publishing schedule. And we haven’t even gotten to football season yet.

This story is not just about the death of print journalism at the hands of the digital revolution. It’s also about the missteps made along the way that put SI and its parent company, Time, in its current predicament. At some point cost-cutting means quality cutting, and then – worst of all – people stop noticing.

As MacCambridge writes, at its best,

SI’s news stories were never about telling you who won, it was about telling you why and how they won, the subtle differences that separated one world-class athlete or team from another, and the endless ways that people revealed their character through competition. Furthermore, what the magazine learned, again and again in the coming decades, was that a sports event being televised only increased interest in those stories. The more people saw of a sport, the more they wanted to read about it. And SI was there, to provide the best story, the deepest understanding, the telling picture, the last word.

You can tell MacCambridge cares deeply about SI. It was a touchstone of his youth, and that passion is needed to make this story resonate with us. I know I’m not the only one of us to tear photos of my favorite players from of the magazine and line my bedroom walls. Best read so far this year. – PAL

Source: Who Can Explain the Athletic Heart?”, Michael MacCambridge, The Ringer (04/12/2018)

TOB: This was great, but sad to read. In many ways, Sports Illustrated changed my life. Or rather, it shaped who I am. That sounds dramatic, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. As a kid, from about age 8 until 15, sports were my life. I lived and breathed it. I watched SportsCenter every night; I watched the NBA, college basketball, college football, MLB, and the NFL, every single day. I even watched a lot of hockey back then. I’d watch until I got the itch to run outside and play the game myself. And every single week I’d get Sports Illustrated in the mail, excitedly take it upstairs, and I’d lie on my bed, and read that damn thing cover to cover. I’ll never forget my first issue was Jennifer Capriati, who made the finals of the Virginia Slims tournament at the age of 13.

I have an uncommon amount of sports knowledge in my brain from reading SI, and not just the ones I got weekly. Each time I would visit my grandparents, we’d stay in my uncle’s old room. And each night at bedtime, I’d go into his old closet and sift through the giants stack of Sports Illustrateds from the 70s and 80s, when he was a kid. The magazines were 10, to 20 years old at that point, but I didn’t care.

I think the spirit of Sports Illustrated lives, for Phil and me, in this website. In the article, MacCambridge correctly notes that a perceived problem for Sports Illustrated is that, by the time it hits your mailbox, it seems like last week’s news. When a major story hits, by the time you can read it in SI, many fans have digested all they needed to – on Twitter, or Yahoo, or ESPN.com – three or four or more days prior.

But isn’t that actually the beauty of SI? When we started this website, almost four years ago, our philosophy was to publish once a week because the time allows us a little perspective to digest what has happened, or what we’ve read. Twenty years after I last regularly read SI, life’s realities have reduced my ability to watch hours and hours of sports every day. Getting to sit down for a couple hours and watch a baseball game is a treat. I certainly don’t sit down for two hours a week to read Sports Illustrated. But I think I’m going to start. I hope it’s still good. If so, I’ll be sure to keep the old ones in a basket in the garage, so my kids can stumble on them like I did.


Fox Was Built On Football

December marks the 25th anniversary of FOX obtaining NFL rights, and the article below is an oral history of how that happened. I don’t knowingly care about what networks are airing what games, but this story reveals so much about the time, the role sports played on the three major networks (a promotional vehicle for other programs), and a new breed of sports franchise owners were starkly different than the old guard.

At the core of this story are two sides looking at the same thing and seeing something the opposite: CBS, NBC, and ABC saw an annual renewal of rights with old owner friends, while Rupert Murdoch and Fox saw NFL – specifically NFC football, with teams in large markets like New York, Chicago, Philly, and San Francisco – as a way to build a television network for decades to come. While many thought Murdoch overbid for the football rights, he saw the as a cheaper alternative to buying one of the old networks outright.

Added to the mix was a tough economy at the time, which led to each of the three networks being run by bottom line CEOs who spent their time watching the stock prices ebb and flow. At one point CBS as actually trying to convince the NFL to take a paycut! Murdoch was not as short sighted.

The finance people and the salespeople at the network got together and said, “OK, how much can we pay for these rights?” They did an analysis of what kind of advertising they could sell and came up with the maximum break-even number. Then Mr. Murdoch came bounding into the room and said, “What do we have to bid?” We told him. He said, “That’s not enough. The NFL doesn’t really want their games on our network. They’re just using us to bid up CBS. I’ve got to bid CBS away from the table.”

When he does a deal, Rupert’s thinking about, “What’s this going to look like 10 years out, 20 years out? Will this help me build a network?” The other guys are trying to manage financials for the next quarterly financial report.

Fox bought 4 years of NFC rights, plus one Super Bowl, for $395MM per year, which was $100MM more than CBS was willing to offer. Five years later, under new management, CBS bid $500MM for the weaker AFC package.

It’s a long read, but perhaps the best oral history I’ve read. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis does an excellent job weaving all of the voices into this story.  – PAL

Source: The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (12/13/18)

TOB: This was great. The thing it was missing that I was wondering about – how much did they have to invest in infrastructure? How did they know what they needed? Did they just hire all the technicians from CBS, too? I care way less about how they hired Matt Millen than how they figured out how to make it work.


Video of the Week


PAL Songs of 2018: Khruangbin – “Lady and Man”


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I have plenty of female friends. My mom, Pam’s mom, my aunt, although she just blocked me on IM. 

-Michael Gary Scott

 

Best of 2018, Part 2: The Games

After winning Super Bowl, I doubt this Eagles even felt it.


We are trying something a little different this year for our year-in-review. Instead of packing our 5-10 favorite stories from the year into one post, we are going to feature a few each day for the next week for some mini posts. We’ll mix in some of our favorite pics/videos/giphs as bookends, and PAL will share some of his favorite music finds as well. We’ll wrap of the best of with a Funniest of 2018 post. If you haven’t clicked through to read the stories we write about throughout the year, then these are the best of the best. Read them!

Part 2 features our favorite stories written about games. There are a lot of ‘sports’ stories – maybe too many – written about all the other stuff – the business, the politics, the personal journeys. We care about all of those types of stories, but we care because we love the games. – PAL

Best of 2018: The People


One of the Best Game Stories You’ll Ever Read

For a beat writer, a game story is kind of a pain. Games end late and you have a tight deadline to make the morning’s paper. Most begin writing their gamers, as they’re known, while the game is still ongoing. When a game changes late, the gamer changes, too. Beat writers today must really hate gamers as they are increasingly irrelevant given the social media landscape. How many genuine sports fans wake up in the morning, open the sports section, and are surprised to learn of the outcome of their team’s game from the previous evening? Whatever the number is, it’s shrinking by the day.

I rarely read gamers anymore, because I either watched the game or followed along on Twitter. But last Sunday night there was something about this tweet that made me click on the Chronicle’s gamer by long-time Giants beat writer Hank Schulman:

Boy, am I glad I did. In the game, an aging and struggling Hunter Pence stepped up in the bottom of the 11th inning, the Giants down a run, with the bases loaded and one out. The moment screamed double play, as the once great Pence has rolled over so many balls the last couple years I couldn’t begin to count. And, sure enough, Pence lunged at an 0-2 fastball that was low and away. He made weak contact toward first base, and at least one out seemed assured. But baseball is a beautiful and weird game that always surprises. Eric Hosmer, the Padres’ first baseman, was playing well off the line. The ball snuck by him. The Giants scored two. The game was over. Pence was a hero.

It was a great moment for Pence, his teammates, and Giants fans. Hank Schulman took the opportunity to produce one of the best gamers you’ll ever read. Here’s how his story began:

The mass of people who have not, and cannot, understand the rush of a high-level athlete in the arena still have an avenue to understand how Hunter Pence must feel to have his skills decline, being forced to outrun the calendar, listening to the couch surfers and microphone jockeys advising him to get lost.

Haven’t most people had one of their passions taken from them, by physical decline or life’s circumstances? Isn’t that sting universal to the famous and ordinary?

Pence is not blind. He knows it’s coming, be it this year, next year or soon enough. He is 35 and hitting below the Mendoza Line. His accolades and World Series rings cannot buy him more at-bats. Only success on the field can.

Now, Hank is a great Twitter follow and a really good sports writer. But that is some next level beat writing. Gamers don’t usually have sports-as-life metaphors. As I said above, there’s not enough time. Maybe in October. But in June?

You should know that Hank was diagnosed a couple years back with cancer. As far as I know, he is in remission. But I can’t help but wonder how much Hank was thinking of his own journey when he wrote that, which makes it all the more affecting. I can’t recall ever feeling compelled to thank a writer for any story, let alone a game story. But I did when I read that. -TOB

Source: Giants Stun Padres on Pence’s 11th-Inning Walkoff Hit”, Hank Schulman, SF Chronicle (06/24/2018)

PAL: I wish I had more to add. I loved it, too.

PAL (Jan., 2019): Some of my favorite TOB writing from 2018. This is such a cool story because of the medium – this is a gamer. As TOB outlines above, Schulman has to hit a deadline and tell the story of the game that took place that day. These circumstances set this story apart from the vast majority of the pieces we share with you over the year. Many of them are deep dives, retrospectives, in-depth statistical analysis, profiles; this is a kick-ass gamer, and a lot can happen in a random day game and Schulman somehow draws out a axiom of human existence in a goddamn gamer with this line (TOB also had it in the original recap):

Haven’t most people had one of their passions taken from them, by physical decline or life’s circumstances? Isn’t that sting universal to the famous and ordinary?

Simply beautiful writing. Love, love, love this story.


The Yankees/Red Sox 9th Inning Is Why We Love Baseball

During the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 4 of the Yankees/Red Sox division series, which Boston won 4-3 to win the series, I texted some buddies, “This is so good. Playoff baseball is the best.” I don’t particularly care about either team. Sure, I rooted for Boston back in 2003 and 2004. They were the underdogs then. They’re not now. Both teams spend a lot and win a lot and have obnoxious fans (my dad, excepted). And for the first time (ever?) I found myself pulling for the Yankees. They actually seemed like the underdog. And my multi-year keeper fantasy baseball team has a glut of young Yankees on it, including Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, and Aaron Hicks, with more on the way.

But there’s still something about Yankees/Red Sox playoff baseball that sucks me in. It feels like an event. October baseball in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park sure feels right. Even before the Red Sox closed this out in 4 on Tuesday, I was feeling cheated that this was a best-of-five and not best-of-seven series.

And then the game started and it looked like Boston would cruise to victory. Up 4-0 and then 4-1, they brought in their ace, Chris Sale, to pitch the 8th and presumably close it out. Sale pitched a clean sheet, but then the Sox brought in closer Craig Kimbrel, one of the best and most annoying pitchers of all time. Seriously, why does he stand like this before the pitch?

Kimbrel is great, and it seemed the Yankees’ fate was sealed. And then…a walk to Judge. A soft single by Gregorious. Giancarlo did Giancarlo things and struck out. Voit drew a four pitch walk, on four terrific pitches:

Suddenly the tying run is at the plate. Is Kimbrel rattled yet? Uh, his next pitch hit Neil Walker. 4-2, bases loaded, only one out. Up came Gary Sanchez, with the chance to win it. He hit a ball so high I thought it was a pop out to short stop. But it kept going, and going, and the left fielder kept going back…and finally made the catch well into the warning track. Run scored; 4-3.

It was down to Torres. A single would tie it, anything more could win it and send the series back to Boston. Torres hit a slow roller that former Giant Eduardo Nunez made an amazing play on to just beat Torres. Exhale.

Grant Brisbee’s excellent look at that inning includes this fantastic close:

The game was over. The series was over. It was 14 minutes of perfect, hilarious, dumb baseball, unless you cared about the Yankees or Red Sox, in which case it was the worst 14 minutes of your life*.

* Objectively worse for Yankees fans, when it’s all said and done

But this is it. This is the baseball experience. You build up the energy over 162 games, and you store it and hope for the best, and the radiation becomes too much, and now the parakeet is dead. Great. Except that’s exactly what you want. You want the release after 162 games, the progressive jackpot paying off.

Baseball is a ponzi scheme, except it really does pay off occasionally, and when it does, you get everything that you promised.

How do you sell it? How do you convince fans that baseball is worth it?

You just have to hope it happens organically, I guess. You have to hope they’re watching Game 4 of the Yankees-Red Sox and understand the context. You have to hope they’re at the right game, the one where the people are on their feet and screaming like idiots.

Eventually, I promise, they’ll get to one of those games. And it is absolutely transcendent and addicting.

Hope that someone who was on the fence about baseball saw the end of that Yankees-Red Sox ALDS. It wasn’t the greatest series, but it had one of the greatest 15-minute stretches of the last few years of postseason baseball. It had everything, from hope to despair and everything in between.

It was the best commercial that baseball had to offer. Not everyone might have seen it, but that’s OK. Think of it like the Velvet Underground.

“I was talking to Lou Reed the other day, and he said that the first Velvet Underground record sold only 30,000 copies in its first five years. Yet, that was an enormously important record for so many people. I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band!”

If you saw it, you understood. This was the release of endorphins that you had been promised, and it was all worth it. Either you get it or you don’t, but with games like this, more people will get it. They’ll just have to watch hundreds of hours of lesser baseball to get there.

The Red Sox defeated the Yankees. Some stuff happened. Lots of people watched. But it was so much more than that. It was boring until it wasn’t, and it was so much more than that.

It was a fine day at the ol’ yard. You should have been there. It was a pip of a ninth inning, I hear. And it kind of justified the whole sport.

-TOB

Source: The Red Sox Advanced to the ALCS After One of the Most Thrilling Ninth Innings of the Season”, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (10/10/2018)

PAL: Brisbee has his fastball going in this column. I got home and flipped on the TV and thought, there’s got to be a playoff game on, and watched the last half of this game. It had juice as soon as Kimbrel walked Judge on 4 pitches. And then, as Brisbee lays out, baseball got great in a way that only baseball can get great. I’m far from the first to say it, but the baseball season is the novel, and the payoffs like we saw in this game have so much weight because they take so damn long to develop. For a 162-game season, plus a Wild Card game (for the Yankees), plus four more playoff games to come down to a bases loaded, bottom of the ninth situation…that can’t be faked, so stop reading my response and go read the story. 


Best Media: 


Best of PAL Song of the Week 2019: 


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…and to cover my nervousness I started eating an apple, because I think if they hear you chewing on the other end of the phone, it makes you sound casual.

-Georgie Boy Costanza

Best of 2018, Part I: The People

Chubby Bryce Harper is hilarious. Not pictured: Mike Trout receiving the tournament MVP trophy. 


Loyal Readers,

Thank you for your support in 2018. We had our best year by a long shot. Thanks you for continuing to recommend 1-2-3 SPORTS! to friends, family, and even co-workers with whom you are desperately trying to form some semblance of regular office sports banter.

We are trying something a little different this year for our year-in-review. Instead of packing our 5-10 favorite stories from the year into one post, we are going to feature a few each day for the next week for some mini posts. We’ll mix in some of our favorite pics/videos/giphs as bookends, and PAL will share some of his favorite music finds as well. We’ll wrap of the best of with a Funniest of 2018 post. If you haven’t clicked through to read the stories we write about throughout the year, then these are the best of the best. Read them!

We kick things off with profiles on a world class Sherpa and his journey to working at an outdoors store in Manhattan, a victim of human trafficking becoming a DI track stalwart, the origin story of Ichiro Suzuki and how he can’t shake it, and a writer dissecting her ‘regular’ dad’s friendship with Charles Barkley. The stories are incredible, and so is the writing.


How One of the World’s Best Sherpas Ended Up Working Retail in Manhattan

This is an interesting look into the life of Serap Jangbu Sherpa, one of the world’s best sherpas, who scaled 11 of the 14 highest peaks in the world, including the most dangerous, K2, twice in one year. Serap retired a few years back, and now works unassumingly in a sporting goods store in Manhattan. The story looks at his young life, how he became a “Sherpa” (which is actually the name of the ethnic group), how and why he ended up working retail in Manhattan, still only aged 49, and tells of some of his most harrowing treks. For a taste, here’s one such story:

Just before midnight on May 11, with four other Sherpas and two Koreans, they started up the North Col from the third camp and arrived at the summit at 11 a.m. They remained on the summit for 90 minutes, then Park and Serap started into Nepal. They climbed down in alpine style, connected to each other only by a thin lightweight rope, seven millimeters thick and 50 meters long.

Serap led, even though he’d never come this way before; he’d only ever reached the summit from the north face. They were climbing blind at 29,000 feet. Coming down the Hillary Step at 12:30 p.m., one of Park’s crampons caught an old rope, and he slid to the edge of the exposed rock face. His headlamp flew off, dropping 8,000 feet to Camp Two.

Serap slammed down his ice axe and tied their rope to the handle. If Park fell, Serap would be pulled off with him.

Serap held the rope tightly; anything more than walking at that altitude felt impossible. After half an hour of wriggling to push himself up, an exhausted Park managed to grab onto a rock for support and with his other hand free his crampon.

A good read! -TOB

Source: The Sherpa of New York”, Ryan Goldberg, Deadspin (07/25/2018)

PAL (Jan, 2019): I hadn’t read this story until we were reviewing the best of 2018, and I am very glad I did. For one, Ryan Goldberg writes the hell out it. We read a lot of incredible stories about athletes that are not household names, but Goldberg expertly balances Serap Jangbu’s personal journey as both exceptional and representative of thousands of Sherpas who find themselves far from the himalayas in, of all places, New York.

Thousands of Sherpas have come to New York, their largest community outside of Nepal, trading the mountains for an uncertain struggle in a distant metropolis. They settled 7,500 miles away in Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, the most ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhoods in New York, and maybe the world, with 167 different languages spoken in a 1.64 square-mile area. In 2010, about 5,000 Nepalese lived in Queens, according to the census, a number that local leaders said was a significant undercount, and which they now believe has gone up by 60 percent. Despite only comprising one half of one percent of Nepal’s population, the Sherpa people are the most populous Nepalese ethnic group in New York, numbering roughly 3,000.

There is a historical symmetry to this story that is powerful as well. After becoming the first person to summit Everest, Edmund Hillary opened several schools in Nepal as a thank you the Sherpa people who had been so generous to him. Hillary’s lasting impact on the culture was the importance of education above all, and that is what brought Serap to New York – a chance at a better life and education for his children. Instead of risking his life to chase his own mountaineering dream, he put his family first and came to America where he, one of the best mountaineers ever, works at an which sells apparel that literally has him in their catalogue.

Inspiring, fascinating, and beautifully written.


Sad Story, Happy Ending

I’ve never read a sports story quite like this one.

Deshae Wise is a freshman sprinter on Cal’s track team. She came to Berkeley from a small town in Oregon, where she was a Gatorade Athlete of the Year. Her name is climbing up the record books already, with the eighth and fourth fastest 60-meter hurdle times in Cal history. She carries a 4.0 G.P.A., volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and she’s joined the black business association on campus, too. And before all of this success, she and her mom were victims of human trafficking. This wasn’t in some far off place halfway around. This happened right here in the U.S.A.

The initial moment Rebecca Bender, Deshae’s mother, realized what was happening is heartbreaking and terrifying. She had met Khaled (not the guy’s real name) in Eugene when she was around 19 or 20 and her daughter was still very young*. Six months after meeting him, Bender decided to move with him to Las Vegas to start their life as a family.

But the dream ended before it even began, according to Rebecca, whose recollection of the next several years is backed by FBI statements and court records, public documents and interviews. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Vegas, she says, things quickly turned. Khaled told Rebecca he wanted to take her out on the town. “Get dressed up,” she remembers him saying.

Deshae stayed with Khaled’s brother, but instead of heading to the strip, Khaled drove him and Rebecca to a dead-end street anchored by a deserted strip mall. Rebecca remembers just darkness and the hum of the car. Khaled, she says, turned to her and explained with a seriousness on his face: He needed money for the apartment, for Deshae’s food. . . . And Rebecca had to pay him. Now.

Khaled, she says, pointed to a door with a security camera above it and told her to enter. Inside she found a smoke-filled room with three desks pushed next to one another, a woman seated behind each. Behind them, written out cleanly on a dry-erase board, were the words brunette, blonde, asian, redhead. . . . It was all too clear, too real. She was at an escort service, and Khaled expected her to sign herself up. No way. She was shocked, confused, and terrified.

Back in the car, Khaled slapped her across the face. Rebecca was suddenly terrified. She was in a new city. . . she didn’t know her address yet. . . and she didn’t know where her daughter was. The rest unfolded in a blur of fear and confusion. At some point there was a phone call from a “local” in the Green Valley area, 15 minutes away. Khaled drove to a townhouse, dropped Rebecca off and parked nearby.

Khaled is what they call a “Romeo” – a trafficker that uses romance to lure his victims (as opposed to a “gorilla”, who uses brute force) – but he quickly turned violent towards Bender. He also would scare her by making threats on her daughter. Bender was mortified and trapped. Then she was “traded” to another trafficker. Kevin gave them nicer things, but he beat Bender and was paranoid the house would get raided. Deshae was getting older – she was in grade school by now – and she could say things to teachers, coaches, or other parents.

Writer Jeremy Fuchs does a really good job juxtaposing their nightmare with mother and daughter existing in the most common, ordinary backdrops. Soccer games, volleyball games, and school plays. They existed in our world, and no one knew the truth. They were very much captives.

Why didn’t Bender just take Deshae and leave, you might be asking. She did try. Four times, in fact.

By the time Deshae was eight, Rebecca had tried to flee with her daughter four times. Once, they made it back to Rebecca’s mom’s house in Grants Pass, but Kevin tracked them down in Oregon and brought them back to Vegas. Another time, feds surrounded one of Kevin’s houses in Vegas in the middle of the night as part of a tax-evasion investigation, and Rebecca took Deshae out the back door and climbed over a fence into a neighbor’s yard.

If that seems like the perfect opportunity to escape, Rebecca didn’t see it that way; she didn’t see any choice but to stay with Kevin—a common sentiment among victims of trafficking. “There’s the realistic stuff, like: How would I get a job? Or what is society going to think of me?” says Elizabeth Hopper, a clinical psychologist and the director of Project REACH, which helps trafficking victims. “Traffickers control the living space, the money, where to go. . . . And then: Is he going to come after me?”

In the end, obviously, Bender and Deshae do escape (it may surprise you as to how they get away), and we know the story has an incredible ending in Deshae signing an athletic scholarship at world-renowned academic institution. Perhaps most incredible of all is that Deshae was never abused. “The probability that I wasn’t sexually or emotionally abused is so slim,” she said. “In any other situation it would have happened to me—but it didn’t.”

This heavy, dense story, but absolutely worth your time. – PAL

*Fuchs never gives an exact age on Deshae when they move to Vegas with Khaled. She’s a freshman now in 2018, and her mother moved back to Eugene around 2000 after getting pregnant with Deshae in Maryland. The story says later that Bender was traded after two years under Khaled in 2004..so she must of met Khaled in 2001 or 2002, which would’ve made Wise around 2 at the time of the move to Vegas.

Source: Life After Escaping the World of Human Trafficking”, Jeremy Fuchs, Sports Illustrated (05/10/2018)

TOB: God damn, an incredible story. Deshae’s mother, Rebecca Bender, has started the Rebecca Bender Initiative, with the goal of equipping first responders with the tools to identify victims of exploitation and assisting victims to escape their traffickers and then assisting them re-adjust to society. In this video, Rebecca tells her story:

PAL (Jan., 2019): This story has stuck with me, and it’s those two pictures of Deshea, and most specifically her eyes in those two picture: as a sprinter coming across the finish line with a look of pride and contentment, and as a child looking up from her desk. Those images will stay with me forever. So will this story.


Another Side of Charles Barkley

1-2-3 reader Alex Denny sent us this utterly fantastic story. If you read a good story, please send it our way at 123sportslist@gmail.com or on Twitter – @123sportsdigest.

Shirley Wang described her dad with the following:

He wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got really excited about two-for-one deals. He was a commuter. He worked as a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was everyone’s suburban dad.

Lin Wang and Charles Barkley met in a hotel bar, and a friendship grew from there. On the surface, the most impressive detail about this story is that Charles Barkley became friends with a fan he met in a bar in Sacramento, who earned a living as a cat litter scientist, but that’s just on the surface. In Shirley Wang’s telling of this story – her favorite dinner party story (obviously) – she plays two roles: she serves as a stand-in for the reader with a healthy dose of skepticism about the true nature of the friendship, and she is the daughter who learns how proud her dad was of her from, or all people, Charles Barkley.  

When Barkley’s mom died in 2015, Lin Wang flew to Leeds, Alabama and just showed up. This past June, Barkley returned the favor and showed up at Lin’s funeral in the outskirts of Iowa City.

Wang’s story is a fresh example of true friendship. Lin Wang and Barkley connected over similar upbringings, they were immensely proud of their children, and they both liked to have a good time. As Shirley Wang puts it:

It was not just a relationship with a celebrity — it shed light on the possibilities of this world. A world where someone like him could just say something cool, something charming, and befriend someone like Charles Barkley.

This is a late entry into one of my favorite stories from 2018, and it was featured on the 12/14/18 episode of the Only A Game podcast. More than worth your time. – PAL

Source: Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley”, Shirley Wang, WBUR (12/14/18)

TOB (Jan. 2019): I did not get around to reading this story until we put together this Best of post. I had heard about it on TV and read headlines on Twitter. I figured that was enough. But I’m glad I finally read it, because it’s a really heartwarming read. Shirley Wang tells a great story, especially about how she more or less rolled her eyes about her dad’s claim of being friends with Charles Barkley, until she realized it really was true. And while I don’t get the sense Wang is a writer, she does a fantastic job humanizing a celebrity, in this case Barkley, in a way that few writers seem able to do. Great story, and it doesn’t take long to read. Give it a click!


Prisoner of Perfection

It doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say Ichiro Suzuki is the Michael Jordan of Japan. He rents out stadiums to train. There are signs at every table of his favorite restaurant demanding no photographs. The Japanese press has covered his every move for his 26 seasons of professional baseball. At 44, Ichiro is prepping his last tour of MLB. While he looks to extend his career (Ichiro has previously said he wants to play until he’s 50), his time is about done, so Wright Thompson attempts to look back at the obsessive rituals that have both made Ichiro a Hall of Fame player as well as perhaps a trapped individual.

The story is long, and completely worth your time. Thompson knows how to paint a picture, and there are so many fascinating nuggets throughout, including:

Japanese culture in general — and Ichiro in particular — remains influenced by remnants of bushido, the code of honor and ethics governing the samurai warrior class. Suffering reveals the way to greatness. When the nation opened up to the Western world in 1868, the language didn’t even have a word to call games played for fun. Baseball got filtered through the prism of martial arts, and it remains a crucible rather than an escape. (end)

He could choose the best players in Japan to help him but he doesn’t. He doesn’t need to get better at swinging a bat. What he needs, and what he seems to find in this rented stadium, is the comfort of the familiar, a place where he knows who he is supposed to be. (end)

These stories are funny individually, but they feel different when taken as a whole. Like nearly all obsessive people, Ichiro finds some sort of safety in his patterns. He goes up to the plate with a goal in mind, and if he accomplishes that goal, then he is at peace for a few innings. Since his minor league days in Japan, he has devised an achievable, specific goal every day, to get a boost of validation upon completion. That’s probably why he hates vacations. In the most public of occupations, he is clearly engaged in a private act of self-preservation. He’s winnowed his life to only the cocoon baseball provides. His days allow for little beyond his routine, like leaving his hotel room at 11:45, or walking through the lobby a minute later, or going to the stadium day after day in the offseason — perhaps his final offseason. Here in the freezing cold, with a 27-degree wind chill, the hooks ping off the flagpoles. The bat in his hand is 33.46 inches long. He steps into the cage and sees 78 pitches. He swings 75 times.

Up close, he looks a lot like a prisoner. (end)

His relationship with his father has defined him, for better or for worse. Ichiro has been in pursuit of baseball perfection since he was three. He’d had a baseball routine for 40+ years, and anyone who knows him wonders if he’ll be able to stop.

And while Ichiro and his father are not currently on speaking terms, Ichiro is still in some ways under his father’s thumb, or, as Thompson more eloquently puts it, “Ichiro now does to himself all the things he resents his father for having made him do.”

While there are some questions left open in this story, of which I’m sure TOB will address, this is one hell of a read. – PAL

Source:  ‘When Winter Never Ends”, Wright Thompson, ESPN (03/07/2018)

TOB: Maaaaaan, do I love Ichiro. This story was sad, though; it’s not only a portrait of an aging ballplayer, seeing the end of the road, with no plan for life after baseball (Ichiro has previously said, “I think I’ll just die,” when asked what he’ll do after his career), a story we’ve seen before. It’s also, as Phil said, a portrait of a man who made it to the very top of his sport, after a lifetime of obsession with doing so, by sticking to the same routine, day after day after day. Ichiro did so to the point I have to wonder, as a person absolutely unqualified to say this, not just whether Ichiro has OCD, but how severe and debilitating his OCD might be. And it’s also the story of a father and son, and how the father more or less robbed the son of his childhood by forcing him into these routines, day after day, not letting him play with friends or be a normal kid, only to have it create one of the greatest baseball players ever. And it’s about how, despite that success, the son resents the father for it all, even while continuing those same routines to this very day.

And as sad as that all is, there are some fantastic Ichiro nuggets in here, as always. For example, Ichiro’s former teammate, Mike Sweeney, tells a second-hand story about an unnamed professional baseball player strolling through Central Park one day with his wife. The player saw a man in the distance, throwing a baseball 300-feet, and hitting balls against the backstop with the “powerful shotgun blast of real contact familiar to any serious player.” Curious, the player got closer, only to discover Ichiro, on an off-day, getting in his reps.

Or this one:

The Yankees clubhouse manager tells a story about Ichiro’s arrival to the team in 2012. Ichiro came to him with a serious matter to discuss: Someone had been in his locker. The clubhouse guy was worried something had gone missing, like jewelry or a watch, and he rushed to check.

Ichiro pointed at his bat.

Then he pointed at a spot maybe 8 inches away.

His bat had moved.

The clubhouse manager sighed in relief and told Ichiro that he’d accidentally bumped the bat while putting a clean uniform or spikes or something back into Ichiro’s locker, which is one of the main roles of clubhouse attendants.

“That can’t happen,” Ichiro said, smiling but serious.

From that day forward, the Yankees staff didn’t replace anything in his locker like they did for every other player on the team. They waited until he arrived and handed him whatever he needed for the day.

I will be sad when Ichiro retires, and I was very happy to hear the news that he had signed with the Mariners this week. I died laughing at this tweet, which shows Ichiro arriving in Seattle for the first time back in 2001, and again this week in 2018.

It shows not only the vagaries of fashion over the last nearly 20 years, but it also shows a young man, grown into an old man, and all that entails. I hope, whenever he retires, Ichiro doesn’t “just die” as he suggested. But for now, as Wright Thompson says, Ichiro is like the rest of us: “out there, hungry for a chance to keep his routines in motion.”


Best Media: TOB with the correct take.


Best of PAL Song of the Week 2019: 


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“He’s a lawyer, I’m an accountant, we speak the same language.  Obviously accountants are more bad boys…but there’s a respect there.”

-Smallmouth Ben Wyatt

1-2-3 Sports! Week of January 4, 2019

Marshawn lighting…something…on Al Davis’s eternal flame (which, what!? Al Davis has an eternal flame!?)


When You Should Not Show a Tribute Video to a Former Player

Look, I am not one to burn a bridge. You never know when you may encounter someone again, and even if they’ve pissed you off, it’s always better to be professional and/or classy and let any transgressions go. BUT! If I was the San Antonio Spurs, I’d make an exception. Kawhi Leonard absolutely dogged them. He sat almost all of last season with a mysterious injury that was only diagnosed by what seemed like the tenth specialist he visited. Then he essentially told them he would not play this year and they better trade him or he’d walk after this season, when he becomes a free agent.

So they traded him. And there’s no way to get back a fair return for an MVP-level player. Thursday night he returned, as a member of the Raptors. The fans booed him lustily during pregame, and kept it up during the game:

But, reportedly after weighing what they should do, the team did play a joint tribute video for Kawhi and Danny Green, who was also part of the trade to Toronto, before the game, .

And I gotta say – the Spurs were a little too classy here. The man does not deserve that. He made his bed, now he can lie in it. Hell, I’d have played a tribute for Green, who almost single handedly won them the Finals in 2014, then I’d have showed a gravestone with Kawhi’s name on it.

All’s well that ends well, though, and the Spurs fans got their revenge. Kawhi sucked and the Spurs rolled the Raptors, 125-107. -TOB

Source: The Spurs And Their Fans Are Out For Blood”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (12/3/2019)

PAL: A video for Kawhi? I wouldn’t call it classy. Foolish is the word that comes to mind. Are you kidding me, Spurs? All the boos are completely negated – and not in a good way – by pandering to a person that pulled a major dick move, and so soon after he pulled said move. This would make me so mad if I was a Spurs fan.

TOB: 

LOLOLOL. Totally, guy.


Remember Mike Davis?

Mike Davis is a classic ‘That Guy’. In 2000, Davis became the Indiana University basketball coach, replacing Bob Knight. Knight reportedly offered to pay his coaching staff their salaries to not take the job and follow him to his next stop. Davis broke ranks (because he’s sane) and became the head coach at a blue blood basketball program. He took the team to the title game the next year (losing to Maryland). Since then, many would describe his career as a regression, one lower profile job after another.

The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn catches up with Davis at his current job: Detroit Mercy. I’d never heard of it either. There, he’s coaching his youngest son, Antoine Davis, who was just a toddler when Davis was at IU. Now Antoine is averaging 31 ppg playing for his dad.

Of course, Mike Davis is more than a ‘That Guy’ – he’s got a life story that is far more interesting than replacing Knight at IU, and he doesn’t seem all that upset about where he finds himself coaching these days.

“Once you get past always trying to prove yourself, you get to the point where you’re only trying to develop others,” Davis says.

Interesting read. – PAL

Source: The Backwards Lives of Mike and Antoine Davis”, Brendan Quinn, The Athletic (November, 2018)

TOB: A very interesting guy. We actually wrote about Davis last season, when his Texas Southern team got off to an 0-13 start. That sounds bad, but it was, fascinatingly, all part of Davis’ plan. Davis made the schedule, and all 13 games were on the road, most against good to very good teams. Why? Because it would make his team better and the losses don’t matter – all he needed to do was win the conference tournament at the end of the year. So did the 0-13 start payoff? Yup. The team finished 16-20, won its conference tournament, won the First Four play-in game, and then led #1 seed Xavier for the first ten minutes of their first round matchup, before losing.


Man, Don’t Be That Dad/Coach

The Dora High School (Missouri) boys basketball team, and specifically its coach, Rick Luna, drew criticism this week after getting caught pulling some real bush league stuff. Luna has three sons on the team – triplets. Luna was caught swapping one of his three triplet sons, Auston, for another triplet son, Bryson, when Auston should have been shooting free throws. Luna claims it wasn’t planned. He must be using ‘planned’ in a very narrow sense, because you can see on video in the link that it was very blatant and very intentional. Plus, fans have other teams have reportedly been complaining about it all year.

Surprisingly, the dad/coach doesn’t seem to take it too seriously. When asked by a reporter about the incident, Luna joked that the team went 1-for-4 from the line the times they cheated during that game. Uh, cool, guy. The school’s official twitter account even retweeted this tweet defending it as something that “happens all the time and has for years.” Uh, no.

Unfortunately, nothing is going to change the outcome of the game. Local officials stated they can’t do anything now, but will educate referees to look out for it going forward. Which is crazy to me. They may not be able/willing to change the outcome of the game, but the coach and/or his sons could and should be suspended. If I was in charge of that school, in fact, I’d fire the coach. That may seem over the top, but do you want your kids coached by someone who blatantly and intentionally cheats? I wouldn’t. -TOB

Source: High School Basketball Team Caught Swapping Out Triplets At The Free-Throw Line”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (01/02/2019)

PAL (read in a NFL ref voice): After video review, it is clear that the triplet swap was intentional. Clearly, the trio has been coached on how to come together at or around the free throw line. This is where the swap takes place. The result is that this dad/coach is a d-bag.

The coach shouldn’t be fired, but everyone at school should just shake their heads and mutter “really, Rick?” for one full school year.


Two for the Road: Clemson’s Tradition

This is a fun little story about a Clemson tradition with a cool backstory. Clemson and Georgia Tech had a longstanding rivalry game until 1973. That year, Georgia Tech – a much better football team at the time – decided to end the rivalry.

Clemson Booster Club member George Bennett wanted to think of a way to let Atlanta and Georgia Tech know how much of a boost Clemson fans can have on the local economy, and the two dollar bill seemed like an idea the popped. This weekend, with Clemson in its third national title game in the last four years, we’ll be seeing some $2 here in the Bay Area (Santa Clara is hosting the game on Monday). The tradition stuck, and more and more cities are seeing the $2 with Clemson becoming a powerhouse making runs in the College Football Playoff. 

Bill Harley is the senior vice president of the Clemson branch of the First Citizens Bank. He’s also a 1982 Clemson grad, so he’s always careful to ensure the bank stocks $2 bills before a big road game or bowl trip. He guessed about 250 customers came in to exchange ordinary currency for $2 denominations before the Cotton Bowl.

Harley said the bank offers the bills to anyone in need but limits how many any one person gets so everyone can get a few. This hasn’t always gone over well.

That’s a fun, smart way to let people know the Tigers are in town. I dig this tradition. – PAL

Source: Clemson, $2 bills and a one-of-a-kind bowl tradition, David Hale, ESPN (01/03/19)

TOB: This is cool, but it works a lot better now that they’re good!


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Lady Baldwin


Poll of the Week


Video of the Week: 
RIP Mean Gene


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: The Kinks – “This Time Tomorrow”


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“There are three acceptable haircuts: high and tight, crew cut, buzz cut.”

-Ron Swanson

Week of November 16, 2018


Slurpy Writing Almost Ruins A Great Story

I’m guessing by now you’ve heard of LeBron James’ incredible philanthropy efforts in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, but just in case: Through his foundation, he has built a school for children struggling with reading (at or below the 25th percentile) and worked with the University of Akron to guarantee a scholarship to any child that comes through LeBron’s I Promise School while meeting all of the educational requirements. This could mean a free college education for as many as 2300+ local kids.

The I Promise school opened this summer, so it makes sense for a writer to report on how it’s going so far. The school takes a holistic, evidence-based approach to the the student lives, and I think it’s cool that this is not a charter school. The school exists within the public school system in Akron, and there’s a lot of really interesting experiments taking place, all of which are spearheaded by a professional athlete who, as a fourth grader in the same town, missed 83 days of school. There’s a food pantry, night classes for parents who want to earn their GED, fresh food, and extended hours.

What they’ve done at the I Promise School is borrow from the best practices identified in public education from across the country and brought them all under one roof. They have a small student population with rigorously vetted teachers who are sensitive to the challenges each of their students faces. And they’re the same challenges.

LeBron laid the groundwork by shifting his foundation’s focus to education eight years ago. Then, under the power and respect and adulation associated with his name, he brought together the banks, the lawyers, his endorsement partners, and above all else, the local education professionals. They’ve filled in the cracks where tax dollars can’t reach, for things like free uniforms and eye exams and counseling for parents.

They’ve pooled all of these tremendous resources to give children of the lowest socioeconomic denominator a chance. Keep them in school longer. Feed them more. Hug them. Listen to them. And then, finally, teach them.

All of this is nothing short of inspiring. James seems to be providing the blueprint for other wealthy public figures to bring back to their hometowns. Feel good story all around!

However, I don’t understand why The Athletic’s Joe Vardon feels the need to unnaturally drop brands into the narrative. While I understand these companies are contributing either money, supplies, or time; that then does not mandate the writer pen sentences like the following (emphasis mine):

  • Third-graders and fourth. Children of all shapes and sizes and skin tones. Each morning they are greeted the same way, with music pumping through a Beats pill and by a handful of teachers handing out high-fives and hugs.
  • I was standing there watching this, still in my black pea coat, stocking cap, jeans and Nikes.
  • After breakfast in teacher Tara Caporuscio’s third-grade class, as in every class, the students sat on the floor next to each other in what’s called the I Promise Circle. Caporuscio takes her Beats pill and dials up Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” It’s not exactly at the top of the charts for 8-year olds living in Akron’s inner city, but nary a student says a word.

I mean, what is this? It’s one thing for the writing to have the tone of a knockoff NY Times wedding announcements section, but what’s with the brand mentions, Joe? I wonder if he is so impressed with the school and how brands LeBron endorses have contributed that he wanted to go out of his way to name them at any opportunity? I don’t get it. This honestly read to me like paid content, which seems so unnecessary given the thoughtful work and partnerships James’ foundation has done with the public school system, the University of Akron, and the community at large. There’s a great story here in the facts. He’s writing about elementary school students, not for them. Is The Athletic looking for an editor? It should be. – PAL

Source: “LeBron James’ Legacy Isn’t His Triumphs with the Lakers or the Cavaliers, it is These Kids”, Joe Vardon, The Athletic Ink (11/14/18)

TOB: A little odd, but I will not let it take away from the amazing thing My Guy is doing. Bravo, LeBron. Bravo.


This Is the End, Beautiful Friend

If you’ve somehow missed this, let’s recap the Warriors week:

  • Steph hurt.
  • Draymond and Durant did this:

There’s a lot to unpack here. Draymond kinda snakes that rebound from Durant. As soon as Draymond got the rebound, Durant clapped for the ball. But by his body language it’s obvious he’s going to go up the court relatively slowly and shoot a 30-footer, as he does.

Instead, Draymond streaked down the court. Something good could have happened. For example, as he approached the right wing, he had an easy drop off pass to Klay for a wide open 3. But something good did not happen. Instead, Draymond fell, just like he did in a similar situation in the playoffs last year to lose a game to the Rockets. Just before he fell, Durant called for the ball again.

After Draymond fell, Durant immediately turned around and sulked back to the bench, muttering the entire time. When Draymond got to the bench, Durant continued, and barked something along the lines of, “pass me the damn ball.”

Draymond does not take that kindly. Reports are that on the bench and during another argument in the locker room after the loss, Draymond repeatedly called Durant a “bitch” and told Durant, who is a free agent this summer and has not stated he intends to re-sign with Golden State, that the Warriors won before he got there, don’t need him, and to go sign somewhere else, or words to that effect.

Back to the recap of the week:

  • In what appears an act of appeasement to Durant, the Warriors suspend Draymond, without pay.
  • Draymond sits out and returns to the team for shootaround on Thursday. Reports are that he and Durant speak for a bit, but that Durant seemed sullen throughout the day.
  • Draymond also speaks to the media, unleashing an almost three minute monologue wherein he acknowledged he crossed the line, and vowed that it would not destroy the team, and supported Durant’s right to do what he wants to do next year.
  • The team gets whomped by a Rockets team that had been struggling all season. Draymond, statistically, plays the worst game of his career: 0 points on 0-3 FG, 5 reb, 5 asts, 5 turnovers.

Let me say at the outset that Draymond Green seems like a real pain in the ass to have as a coworker. I totally get that.

But doesn’t he have a point? I should say: I’m not a fan of Durant’s game, while acknowledging he’s basically unguardable. Too much one on one. Too many long, contested jumpers. I think his athleticism is highly overrated – he’s not fluid in his movements. There’s nothing pretty about his game. It’s almost Ivan Drago-like.

But doesn’t Draymond have a point? The Warriors did win without him. They won a title and went 73-9 with a Finals loss in the two seasons before he arrived. Draymond (and the other stars) even took less money to get Durant there. And isn’t Durant a little bit of a, to borrow Draymond’s phrase, bitch? What kind of teammate acts like Durant did during and after that play? A bad one. What kind of teammate then sulks for two days even when the team takes his side and suspends the other guy, taking more than $100k out of his pocket, and the other guy even acknowledges he crossed the line? A bad one.

I’ve listened to hours of Durant’s podcasts with Bill Simmons and he strikes me as a very moody, hyper-sensitive person. After Thursday’s game, a reporter asked him about his relationship with Draymond. Durant snapped, “Don’t ask me that question ever again.”

So while I get that it would not be easy to be Draymond’s teammate, I say Durant is no better. I ride with Draymond: good riddance, KD. -TOB

Source:Unpacking the Draymond Green-Kevin Durant Rift and What the Fall Out Could Mean Long Term Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic (11/13/2018)

PAL: All parties are in the wrong. Draymond for screwing up a fast break (again) by going too fast and too out of control and for having it out with Durant while a game was there for the taking. Durant for acting like a baby before, during, and after the one play, and for having it out with Draymond while a game was there for the taking. Management for being scared.

He went about it the wrong way, but Draymond’s right. What has made the Warriors great is great players playing this unselfish basketball, and no one being above that. Durant says “screw that” and becomes a chucker too often. Someone needs to call bullshit on that in order to keep the balance, and that’s Draymond. The team backed the wrong dude is an embarrassingly public manner.

And – yes – I have no doubt Draymond is a gigantic pain in the ass.

TOB: Good point, Phil. Another article this week, by Sam Amick, reminded me of that conversation Kerr had with Durant during the playoffs last year, where he used a Phil Jackson/Jordan/John Paxson story to remind Durant to stop shooting so much. Kerr was furious it was aired, with good reason. Durant should have been embarrassed.


Pickup Basketball, Shandling Style

I was a little too young to get into Garry Shandling when his two shows were at their heights, but it feels like pretty much every comedy that I’ve enjoyed in the past twenty years has a direct connection to Garry Shandling. Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Larry David – all of these guys have a connection Shandling, and most of them played in a mostly weekly pickup game at Shandling’s house.

The game started in the early 90s and continued until Shandling’s death in 2016. Regular players included:

  • David Duchovny
  • Al Franken
  • Adam McKay
  • Will Ferrell
  • Greg Kinnear
  • Bill Maher
  • Jim Gray
  • Ben Stiller
  • Sarah Silverman
  • Jeff Goldblum

Court Rules:

  • 3-on-3
  • Up to 7 by 1’s
  • The wall behind the hoop is in bounds if the ball bounces against it by accident
  • No business talk

I’m not sharing this story on the “hollywood stars are regular like us” angle. I’ve heard a lot about Garry Shandling, but nothing is more telling than his approach to a pickup game. It ran for almost thirty years, no work talk was allowed, and the wall behind the hoop is in bounds. Tells me most everything I need to know about the dude. I like his 3-3 rules. – PAL

Source: “’Fight Club’ With Better Jokes: Inside Garry Shandling’s Secret Pickup Game”, Anna Peele, ESPN (11/13/18)

TOB: First, I never would have guessed Duchovny played college ball, even if it was at an Ivy. Impressive. Second, you like the wall being in bounds. What are we playing, indoor soccer? No, man. If I show up to a game and a wall is in, then I’m out.


Video of the Week, c/o Stanford Radio: 


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Bob Dylan – “Up to Me”


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My last job was at a Taco Bell Express. But, then it became a full Taco bell and, I dunno, I couldn’t keep up.

-Kelly Erin Hannon