Week of September 3, 2021


New Faces, Same Mets

A few new Mets (Javy Baez, acquired at the deadline; Francisco Lindor, acquired on the eve of this season; Kevin Pillar – same) players got in some hot water this week. After big plays, they had begun to give a thumbs down to their dugout.

These on-base gestures are getting really old, but this one was sort of amusing. There was no controversy, until a reporter asked Baez what it meant: 

Well, Javy. I don’t disagree with you. But as Michael Baumann says in the first sentence of this article: All you had to do was lie. That’s it! Make up some dumb reason, like Lindor did. But Baez told the truth and the New York media ate it up. Team President Sandy Alderson ripped Baez and the other players:

The Mets will not tolerate any player gesture that is unprofessional in its meaning or is directed in a negative way toward our fans. I will be meeting with our players and staff to convey this message directly.

Mets fans are loyal, passionate, knowledgeable and more than willing to express themselves. We love them for every one of these qualities.

Then the players had to apologize. And I’m like – why? If the fans can voice their displeasure, shouldn’t the players be able to dish it out a bit? But I like Baumann’s take here. He defends the fans’ right to voice their displeasure, but also points out:

The thing is, as pissed off as Dan from Staten Island is that the Mets are four games under .500, Báez must be all the more frustrated. It’s not like he doesn’t know he has a .258 OBP since being traded to New York, or that he doesn’t appreciate the impact that performance has had on the team. If there was something he could do to turn his fortunes around in time to save the Mets’ season, you have to think he would do it. Because a slump must be even more soul-sapping to live through than it is to watch from the stands.

In that respect, I understand why Báez, Francisco Lindor, and Kevin Pillar would get upset when their own fans get on their case, and why they would want to slyly vent some of their frustration. Getting booed or criticized sucks, even when it’s justified by performance. Maybe it was a petty act, but Alderson’s characterization of it as “unprofessional” is a little precious. If it had remained an inside joke, it wouldn’t be a big deal.

I think he’s right. I don’t know if I’d ever boo my team, but if I did it would be if I thought they weren’t trying or didn’t care. But this is Javy Baez. It’s not like he doesn’t care or loafs it. Man, that dude cares

Ultimately, Baumann blames the Mets’ front office leadership for allowing a series of mishaps similar to this one that have left the team’s fans unable to trust the team they love. Which makes sense – if the team didn’t have such a long history of failure, the fans wouldn’t be so quick to boo. Well, maybe. It is New York, after all. -TOB

Source: The Thumb of All Jeers,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (08/31/2021)

PAL: It’s such a bad look from Baez, Lindor, and Pillar. And while I understand Baumann’s point about Báez knowing as well as anyone that he’s playing poorly and the team is choking, the most important point in the article comes just before the ‘Dan from Staten Island’ section:

Professional sports occupies an unusual place in the American cultural environment, in that it’s a consumer good that gets baked into people’s identity. If the neighborhood doughnut shop starts putting out an inferior product, customers will go somewhere else. But if the local baseball team stinks, most fans will continue to support it.

Báez can go elsewhere, but fandom is a bit harder to leave behind. I should know; I’m a Twins fan.


Credit Where Credit Is Due: Bailey Johnson

By now you’ve likely heard of Bishop Sycamore, the “school” at the center of a sports story that became the talk of the sports world this week. If you haven’t heard about it, here are the bullet points: 

  • Bishop Sycamore played the national powerhouse IMG Academy in a high school football game last Sunday
  • ESPN broadcast the game, which was set up by a marketing firm
  • IMG is basically a feeder school to big-time college programs
  • Bishop Sycamore claimed to have several D-I prospects as well
  • Mid-broadcast, with IMG destroying Bishop Sycamore, ESPN announcers put Bishop Sycamore on blast, saying that none of its “prospects” showed up on ESPN’s scouting list…or any of the other scouting services
  • It became pretty clear pretty quickly that Bishop Sycamore isn’t even a school, and many of the players are older than high school age

When stories catch fire like this one it becomes a topic for sports radio, debate shows,  podcasts, other websites, and so on. Scores of other stories are written on it, some of which is good work and some of which is more of an aggregation play. Here are the top news results from my search:

Considering the popularity of the story, I think it’s worthwhile to share the original story from the person who actually broke it, but even that can be a bit challenging. 

During the game (August 29), the announcers started to question Bishop Sycamore’s credentials, which led to a bunch of social media posts about what was going on. Then there was a summary of what happened during the game from Mary Smith (forthewin.com), which led to more social media posts and stats about Bishop Sycamore. 

As you can tell, the wheel is turning on this story, but I think Bailey Johnson, who writes for the Columbus Dispatch, broke the real story: Bishop Sycamore isn’t a school, many of the players are older than 18, and the team is leaving unpaid bills in its wake everywhere it goes.

Here’s just a bit of sample of Johnson’s reporting:

Non-chartered, non-tax supported schools must report their students’ participation and attendance to their local school district treasurer, which for Bishop Sycamore the state lists as Columbus City Schools.

Jacqueline Bryant, Columbus City Schools spokeswoman, said Tuesday the district has no record that Bishop Sycamore submitted any reports to it, nor could it locate Bishop Sycamore in a directory of schools maintained by the state.

The state lists Bishop Sycamore’s mailing address as a post office box, and its “physical address” as 3599 Chiller Lane in Columbus — the address of Resolute Athletic Complex, an indoor sports facility near Easton Town Center.

What about 1-2-3 Sports!, you might ask. Where does this humble outfit fit into all of this? We share the best of what we find every week and tell you why we think it’s worth your time, and we share the link to the actual piece. Johnson reporting on Bishop Sycamore is a great reminder to try clicking on that actual story link we add at the end of each summary. -PAL 

Source: What is Bishop Sycamore? What we know about mysterious football team on ESPN,” Bailey Johnson, The Columbus Dispatch (08/20/21)


An Interesting Theory About the 49ers’ QB Situation

I am, in my own mind at least, notoriously down on 49ers QB James Garoppolo (I stopped call him Jimmy G long ago; he’s gonna have to earn that nickname back). And it’s not his injury history; in my opinion he is a very average to perhaps slightly above average starting QB in the intermediate range, but has absolutely no deep ball. 

Still makes me mad. A Pro QB has to make that throw. But I didn’t love him even before that, so I was very happy when the Niners took Trey Lance in this year’s draft, even if I had never seen Lance play. I don’t know if he’ll be good, but he seems talented and exciting – and talent and excitement gives hope, something I do not get from James. 

So I’ve been eating up the practice reports – praising the reporters who are hyping up Lance, like Dieter Kurtenbach in a since deleted tweet saying that Lance’s early camp performance had James “shook” and cursing the ones who claim James is in the lead for the job. And salivating over throws like this:

But this week I read a theory of how this could play out, and it will sound very familiar to 49ers fans:

Alex Smith was the starting QB, and—like Garoppolo in 2021—he wasn’t far removed from leading San Francisco on a deep playoff run. But sitting on the bench was a young, athletic quarterback with the ability to supercharge the offense. Today, it’s Lance in that role. Nine years ago, it was Colin Kaepernick.

As is expected this year, that 49ers team installed a small package of plays that featured the mobile backup in cameo roles early in the season. Kaepernick got to throw some passes in these appearances, but he was mostly used as a runner. The team’s Week 4 win over the Jets was a breakout of sorts for the second-year quarterback. He was given three designed run attempts that went for 41 yards and a touchdown. The next week against the Bills, he got three more designed carries, two of which were zone read plays that gained 31 yards and another touchdown. It was clear Harbaugh and his staff were onto something. The only question: When would Kaepernick be ready to do it full time?

The 49ers dialed back Kaepernick’s usage over the next few weeks, perhaps to keep defenses from catching on, but he was thrust into action again after Smith suffered a concussion against the Rams in Week 10. You know how the rest of this goes. Kaepernick’s mobility added another dimension to the offense, as did his willingness to push the ball downfield. Smith was cleared to play two weeks later, but Harbaugh knew that to get to the Super Bowl, he had to go with the younger quarterback. 

This theory is particularly interesting given the fact that, in their final preseason game, the Niners were switching between James and Trey mid-series. So, yeah, that does sound like what happened during the Niners’ 2012 season. I hope this one looks the same. Basically, this tweet is me:

#TeamTrey. Also, enjoy this incredible highlight of Kapernick eating up the Packers in the playoffs that year. 

Man, he was awesome. -TOB

Source: Could the 49ers Use a Decade-Old Idea to Get Back to the Super Bowl?Steven Ruiz, The Ringer (08/31/2021)


Getting to Know the New USMNT

The US Men’s National Team infamously missed the last World Cup. As a fan, it sucked. But there have been rumblings for the last half decade that the U.S. Soccer Federations investments at the youth level would soon be paying off, and it appears that day is here. Or near. Or maybe not at all. But while we may not know if this new generation will bring the U.S. to a credible international level, it sure feels like it right now, which in itself is very exciting. And it’s not just the golden boy, Christian Pulisic. It’s a big group! 

But a new crop of youngsters also raises a lot of questions, and one in particular – as best illustrated by this classic clip from Major League:

Enter: Patrick Redford, a guy with a remarkably similar background to me: Kings fan, Cal grad, lives in SF. I loved Deadspin, he wrote for it. I even saw him at the climbing gym once, in his Deadspin shirt!, but I thought it was too weird to approach him.

Anyways, enter Redford. Who, in the leadup to Thursday night’s World Cup Qualifier opener for the USMNT vs El Salvador has been profiling the names to know. It’s been super fun! It tells their background, including how they came to choose the USMNT if they are a dual-national; he has fun clips of cool stuff they’ve done on the field; and he includes some fun features like non-American fans of the player’s club team tweeting excitement about the player in their native language, and the prospect the player will eventually end up on the USMNT starting eleven. 

This week he featured 18-year old Richard Pepi, a striker for FC Dallas, who chose the U.S. over Mexico. Previously, he profiled Josh Sargent, Konrad de la Fuente, and Antonee Robinson. If you’re getting psyched for World Cup qualifying, check it out. It’s a fun way to get to know the young squad. -TOB

Source: What Is This USMNT Guy’s Deal: Ricardo Pepi,” Patrick Redford, Defector (09/02/2021)


How Much More We Know Due to Analytics

In the first half of this season, Kevin Gausman was a serious contender for the NL Cy Young Award. His ERA of 1.73 over 114 innings. He was lights out. And then the second half started and he’s been a different dude: In 31 innings, his ERA is 5.17. He’s not going as deep into games. He’s striking out more batters (1.4 more per 9 IP), but walking way more (doubling his rate from 2.3 per 9 IP to 4.6). His BABIP is also way up – from .213 to .384. 

So, what changed? Well, Gausman is essentially a two-pitch guy – he uses his splitter and his fastball a combined 90% of the time. As Eno Sarris explains, this allows teams to key on one pitch – sit on it – and do greater damage. And when his splitter is not hitting the strike zone, he runs into trouble. 

But all of that’s always been true, and Eno shows how a minor change for Gausman has caused a lot of his problem. His four seam fastball is not getting as much ride (which makes the ball appear higher to hitters). And the reason? His release point:

“Getting square behind the ball on both the four-seam and the splitter is super important, so if he starts to trend towards pronate or supinate, that’s where he gets into trouble,” Martinez said. “When we start to see the fastball lose its standard profile is when we see the split slip a little too. Some of that has to do with extension and horizontal release.”

In this case, it looks like extension is the key factor for Gausman. Extension is how far from the rubber the pitcher releases the ball, and Gausman — already a taller dude at 6-foot-2 — usually gets excellent extension. Right now, it’s not at peak form.

Two or three inches, that’s what separates Gausman from having his fastball of earlier this season.

The Giants seem to be aware, which is good because this seems fixable? 

After a recent game in which he struck out seven Mets against two walks, with three earned runs in five innings, his manager even specifically called out this aspect of the pitcher’s game.

“I think the fastball velocity and carry has been better, and he’s commanding the ball better at the top of the zone,” Gabe Kapler said that day. “I really thought he was excellent.”

And that’s the real story here. Despite being largely a two-pitch pitcher, Kevin Gausman has been excellent in San Francisco. He probably doesn’t need a better slider — he’s got the meat and potatoes, the splitter and the fastball. It just takes a few tweaks from time to time to keep the whole package humming.

Eno is one of my favorite writers because of the way he is able to break down complicated data in a very digestible form. -TOB

Source: A Familiar Question for a Slumping Kevin Gausman — Are Two Pitches Enough, Even if They’re Great?Eno Sarris (09/02/2021)


Other Good Stuff

Song of the Week

Bob Dylan – “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (take 2)”

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Can we all be brave adults and admit that babies don’t need yoga?

Anne Carlson

Week of August 27, 2021

Here’s to guessing right this weekend.

The Greatest Complete Game

This one comes ℅ my brother-in-law, Jack. I saw the headline on ESPN, but hadn’t clicked on it, but I had to read it once Jack sent it my way. Forget another time – this story seems to come from a different world. Hard to believe, but it’s a true story from Ryan Hockensmith. 

The fact that Ray Caldwell was struck by lightning while pitching a shutout for the Indians back in a 1919 game against the Red Sox isn’t even the most interesting part of this story. Neither is the fact that he got off the ground after everyone thought he was dead, and proceeded to get the last out of the game, or the fact that he was once a bunkmate to a young Babe Ruth. 

No, the most interesting part of this story was learning that lightning not only comes down from the sky, but also up from the ground. 

Think about it like Wi-Fi. The same way Wi-Fi reaches through the air looking for a device to connect to, lightning also requires a partner from the ground. The charge from a thunderstorm blasts downward but must locate an opposite charge from the ground, called an “upward leader.” Many strikes end up finding multiple partners in the same area, spreading the charge (somewhere between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity) around to whatever upward leaders it can find — flagpoles, trees or, yes, people who are nearby. That’s why many visuals of lightning strikes show them splintering, rather than one huge bolt, with some looking like one arm reaching up from earth and the other reaching from the skies.

I never knew! 

Not only was Caldwell the only known major league ballplayer to be struck by lightning during a game, he might also be the only major leaguer to be contractually obligated to get obliterated after every game he pitched. Caldwell was a known alcoholic, although they didn’t refer to it as that in the papers. He washed out in New York and Boston before playing in Panama. He was considered every bit as good as Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, and so Cleveland took a chance on his talent, and came up with an outside-the-box approach to his drinking problems. 

When Speaker (player/manager Tris Speaker) summoned him a few weeks later, Caldwell would have signed just about any contract put in front of him. And good thing for that, because Cleveland offered him a deal historians now say ranks among the most bizarre in baseball history.

The deal said that on game days, Caldwell was to pitch and then go get plastered. According to historian Franklin Lewis in his book “The Cleveland Indians,” Caldwell was perplexed looking at the contract.

“You left out one word, Tris,” Caldwell said as he looked at the document. “Where it says I’ve got to get drunk after every game, the word not has been left out. It should read that I’m not to get drunk.”

Speaker smiled. “No, it says that you are to get drunk.”

Speaker then explained a very specific regimen Caldwell was to adhere to every week. On game days, he’d pitch and then perform his mandated drinking duties. He was then free to skip coming to the ballpark the next day and sleep off his hangover. But two days later, Speaker wanted him at the ballpark early to run as many wind sprints as the manager thought he needed. Three days after every start, Caldwell was to throw batting practice. Pitch, drink, sleep, run, BP, rinse and repeat.

As Hockensmith mentions, Caldwell’s career sounds like a collection of folktales. Fun read! – PAL 

Source: The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game”, Ryan Hockensmith, ESPN (08/24/21)


How Not to Be a Journalist, IMO

This week I saw an article about the effects that have been seen in the Atlantic League this season, where they moved the pitcher’s mound back a foot, to 61’6”, in the middle of the season. This has been an experiment for MLB, which wants to know if moving the mound back will give hitters more time and thus reduce strikeouts. This article purported to look at how things have gone. The answer? pitchers were mad at first, but at least a few decided there was little difference for them. But it seems to me that any serious journalist covering this topic would put the anecdotes aside and look at the data. 

In our 7+ years writing this blog, we have rarely covered what we think is bad sportswriting, but this week I felt compelled to do so, based on the following:

White, the league president, did not have empirical data to offer during a phone call with CBS Sports…

I don’t know about you, but that’s a HUGE red flag for me. The league president says he doesn’t have “empirical data” on how stats have changed since the mound was moved back mid-season?

…but he presented several of his own observations of how the Atlantic League’s gameplay has changed since the new mound distance was installed.

HE’S GOT THE DATA, I PROMISE. How is this not a red flag for a reporter? How is this information passed on, unquestioned? Well, let’s see what White says…

He believes more balls are being hit into play, with fewer plate appearances ending via strikeout; he believes pitchers are throwing more fastballs and fewer breaking balls; and he believes umpires when they tell him that pitchers’ control, particularly over those breaking balls, has suffered since the change.

OH REALLY? He won’t show any data but he believes it’s working as planned? Does the writer think critically at all about how White might be biased and wonder at all why data is not provided? Nope.

If White’s perception is correct about the Atlantic League’s play taking a new form (analysis by Rob Arthur, a Baseball Prospectus author, indicates that it’s not, and that strikeouts and home runs have actually increased since the change), then the move to the 61-foot, six-inch mound is having MLB’s desired effect. 

This just about knocked me over. Not only does he not think critically about why the league president might be biased, and not wonder why there is no data provided, he attempts to gloss over the fact that another writer has analyzed the data and determined that White’s “observations” are incorrect, by putting it in an otherwise un-analyzed parenthetical. 

It sure seems to me that a major role of a journalist is to analyze the biases and motivations of your sources and strongly consider not publishing something that is clearly erroneous. If this guy had done so here, he might have realized that the spoutings of a league president, providing no data in a data-heavy sport, should not have been regurgitated by a journalist. Particularly so when there is data that contradicts the league president’s opinion.

But what do I know? I never went to journalism school. Then again, maybe this guy didn’t either. 

Source: How MLB Pushed Back the Atlantic League Mound and Pushed Fed-up Players to the Brink of a Work Stoppage,” R.J. Anderson, CBS Sports (08/26/2021)

PAL: Slow clap for TOB’s write-up. Here’s what’s also crazy to me: the real story is right there in this gloss job. The real story is the league president doesn’t provide data on how the experiment has gone. Either he’s withholding it, or they aren’t keeping track of impacts due to making a fundamental change to the variables of baseball (moving the mound back).

I’m all for a semi-regular “worst of the week” for sportswriting. If I see one more prospect projections or quarterback tiers story in The Athletic, I’m going to pass out.


Gavin Weir Is Filthy

Every year at the Little League World Series some kid dominates. That’s nothing new. But Gavin Weir of the Sioux Falls team has taken it to an especially crazy level of own-age. Two stats for you before you watch the video: 

Weir has pitched 43 23 innings in eight Little League postseason games. 

He’s given up one hit.

He’s faced 132 batters and struck out 114 of them — an 86.4% strikeout rate.

These other teams aren’t scrubs. Some of these Little Leaguers really know how to hit, both the hard stuff and a breaking ball. 

Give me 10 at bats against Gavin at the Little League distance (mound is 46-feet from home), and I’d be thrilled with two hard hits. – PAL

Source: Sioux Falls pitching sensation Gavin Weir throws second no-hitter at Little League World Series”, Star Tribune Staff (08/26/21)

TOB: I watched this kid dominate a very good California team. He’s out there throwing like peak Chris Sale. We’ve seen heat and breaking balls in the LLWS before. But the varied arm angles and the way his stuff moves is friggin nasty. I’m glad Phil wrote about Weir, because I wanted his name in our archives when he’s a top prospect in 6 years.


Get Vaxx’d

On Thursday, Giants’ infielder Donovan Solano tested positive for COVID-19. He had come to the stadium (the Giants were on the road in New York), reported his symptoms, tested positive, and sent back to his hotel where he must quarantine for ten days. In two COVID seasons, Solano is the first confirmed positive COVID test for the Giants. 

The team declined to answer whether Solano had been vaccinated and this was a  breakthrough case, or whether he had not been vaccinated. 

But whether he had or not, the newest Giant, Kris Bryant, illustrated for all of us why it’s important to get vaccinated, for baseball players but also for all of us:

“Obviously being vaccinated is the first step,” said Kris Bryant, who was traded to the Giants from the Chicago Cubs, one of the teams that hasn’t met the 85 percent threshold. “We want to take all the cautions possible because we still have a long way to go here and hopefully a long playoff run. We don’t want any speed bumps along the way. Hopefully it doesn’t catch up with us.”

Bryant, of course, came over from the Cubs. The Cubs have still not met that 85% threshold. Bryant said coming to the Giants has been nice, because he’s been able to enjoy freedoms here that he didn’t in Chicago. But it’s more than convenience, for Bryant and for all of us. As Bryant said:

“It’s really just peace of mind knowing that the people around you did what they need to do to help protect the team and help us get through the season. That means a lot, you know?”

Hell yeah, I do. -TOB

Source: ‘Being vaccinated is the first step’: Giants sweep in New York but lose Donovan Solano to a positive COVID-19 test,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (08/26/2021)

PAL: There now exists a reality where a playoff series could be swung by vaccines. How can anyone possibly bet on sports in this time?


Replay In LLWS: Nouns vs Verbs

I wrote an essay about finding (over a decade late) that video replay is used in the LLWS. I couldn’t believe it. Below are the opening few paragraphs. You can read the full essay here.

Last week I learned video replay is used in the Little League World Series, and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

The treadmill in our building gym is one that has a TV screen attached to it, but the channel options are weak: a second-rate news channel, infomercials, telenovelas, and the golf channel that somehow never has actual golf on when I’m running. My eyes drifted to the reflection of the big screen TV in the gym window. A Little League game—a regional tournament game to be exact— was on ESPN. The winner was on its way to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. 

Watching the reflection in the window made everything backwards: right-handed batters looked lefty, left-handed pitchers looked like righties, and when a hitter put a ball in play, his reflection dashed in the direction of third base. 

After the centerfielder caught a bases empty line drive early in a 0-0 game, the home plate umpire walked to the backstop and put on a headset, just like they do in big league games. With no sound, it took a second to figure out they were actually reviewing a call. ESPN looped the replay in slow motion: they were looking to see whether or not the catcher’s glove made contact with the hitter’s bat, which would be catcher’s interference, granting the hitter first base. 

It took at least a half mile for the Replay Team, as I’ve since learned it to be called, to look at the ESPN-provided camera angles (in addition to the actual LLWS, ESPN broadcasts 88 regional tournament games). Players stood around waiting for the home plate umpire, who stood around waiting for the Replay Team to examine each frame to determine if the last fleck of the leather on the webbing of the catcher’s mitt made contact with the bat. I couldn’t tell if the bat nicked the mitt in real time, and I couldn’t be sure in slow motion either. The replay team determined there was catcher’s interference, but it didn’t matter; the play would have no impact on who won. By then I’d already decided I would be digging into this Little League video replay lunacy. 

So here’s the most complete explanation of video replay, straight from the Little League website. Topline (parentheticals mine): the LLWS has used “instant” video replay since 2008(!). Incredibly, it was the first baseball organization of any kind to use replay. That’s right; Little League edged out MLB by about a month, and college baseball started using it in the College World Series starting in 2012. 

The first version of replay in LLWS was limited to fair and foul calls on home runs. Adults being adults, that couldn’t be left alone. Before long, video replay expanded. It’s now available in the regional tournaments as well as the LLWS, and replay can now be used for, well, all of this: 

Managers must specify the exact call that they would like to challenge. The only plays that may be challenged are: ball over the outfield fence, dead ball areas, batted balls ruled fair but foul or rule foul but fair, foul tip versus foul ball, hit batters, runner or runner-batter interference on batted balls, all plays at bases to get a runner or runner-batter out, appeal for missed bases (not if the runner left too soon), any out call made safe (umpire determines where to place the runners), pitched ball ruled “not caught” by the catcher, catcher interference, head-first slide into a base. The final play of all games are automatically reviewed.

Managers have up to two unsuccessful challenges in the first six innings, and one in extra innings. As always, a manager may request time and ask the umpire crew to review a play without officially challenging the play. Umpires may call for video replay on any play that qualifies for it, and may also ask for a review after a manager conference.

LittleLeague.org, 2016

Reminder, this is a video replay rule that was enacted for games being played by kids ages 10-12. 

So that’s how I came to stare at a gym window watching a backwards version of a Little League game. Backwards indeed. -PAL


Other Good Stuff

TOB: #couplesgoals

Song of the Week

Little Steven – “Inside Of Me (feat. The Disciples of Soul)”

Like what you’ve read? Follow us for weekly updates:

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Twitter: @123sportsdigest

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You know what? I’m going to start dating her even harder.

-Michael Scott

Noun vs. Verb: The Case Against Video Replay in The Little League World Series

Last week I learned video replay is used in the Little League World Series, and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

The treadmill in our building gym is one that has a TV screen attached to it, but the channel options are weak: a second-rate news channel, infomercials, telenovelas, and the golf channel that somehow never has actual golf on when I’m running. My eyes drifted to the reflection of the big screen TV in the gym window. A Little League game—a regional tournament game to be exact— was on ESPN. The winner was on its way to Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. 

Watching the reflection in the window made everything backwards: right-handed batters looked lefty, left-handed pitchers looked like righties, and when a hitter put a ball in play, his reflection dashed in the direction of third base. 

After the centerfielder caught a bases empty line drive early in a 0-0 game, the home plate umpire walked to the backstop and put on a headset, just like they do in big league games. With no sound, it took a second to figure out they were actually reviewing a call. ESPN looped the replay in slow motion: they were looking to see whether or not the catcher’s glove made contact with the hitter’s bat, which would be catcher’s interference, granting the hitter first base. 

It took at least a half mile for the Replay Team, as I’ve since learned it to be called, to look at the ESPN-provided camera angles (in addition to the actual LLWS, ESPN broadcasts 88 regional tournament games). Players stood around waiting for the home plate umpire, who stood around waiting for the Replay Team to examine each frame to determine if the last fleck of the leather on the webbing of the catcher’s mitt made contact with the bat. I couldn’t tell if the bat nicked the mitt in real time, and I couldn’t be sure in slow motion either. The replay team determined there was catcher’s interference, but it didn’t matter; the play would have no impact on who won. By then I’d already decided I would be digging into this Little League video replay lunacy. 

So here’s the most complete explanation of video replay, straight from the Little League website. Topline (parentheticals mine): the LLWS has used “instant” video replay since 2008(!). Incredibly, it was the first baseball organization of any kind to use replay. That’s right; Little League edged out MLB by about a month, and college baseball started using it in the College World Series starting in 2012. 

The first version of replay in LLWS was limited to fair and foul calls on home runs. Adults being adults, that couldn’t be left alone. Before long, video replay expanded. It’s now available in the regional tournaments as well as the LLWS, and replay can now be used for, well, all of this: 

Managers must specify the exact call that they would like to challenge. The only plays that may be challenged are: ball over the outfield fence, dead ball areas, batted balls ruled fair but foul or rule foul but fair, foul tip versus foul ball, hit batters, runner or runner-batter interference on batted balls, all plays at bases to get a runner or runner-batter out, appeal for missed bases (not if the runner left too soon), any out call made safe (umpire determines where to place the runners), pitched ball ruled “not caught” by the catcher, catcher interference, head-first slide into a base. The final play of all games are automatically reviewed.

Managers have up to two unsuccessful challenges in the first six innings, and one in extra innings. As always, a manager may request time and ask the umpire crew to review a play without officially challenging the play. Umpires may call for video replay on any play that qualifies for it, and may also ask for a review after a manager conference.

LittleLeague.org, 2016

Reminder, this is a video replay rule that was enacted for games being played by kids ages 10-12. 

So that’s how I came to stare at a gym window watching a backwards version of a Little League game. Backwards indeed.


My main curiosity went back all the way to the conceit of the bad idea, at least 14 removed from the catcher’s interference call in question. Where did the idea come from, and why the hell would anyone think it was anything other than wrong. I was laughing at the absurdity of it all pretty quickly. 

Go far enough back, and at some point before August, 2008 the following certainly occurred in some form: someone working at Little League headquarters suggested “video replay” as an agenda item. For this story, let’s call them Blake. Worse, Blake’s agenda item remained. It wasn’t ignored or dismissed. It wasn’t mistaken as a subtle joke to loosen up a Friday meeting.

The notion gained some momentum, and since it made it all the way to the field of play, that means the topic was discussed 5, 10, 20, maybe even 50 times in different Little League meetings at the national and regional level. At some point, execs from ESPN—the broadcast partner for all these games—got involved (would ESPN stand to gain some ad revenue with replay? That’s for another day). Not once was anyone able to douse enough common sense on the matter to keep the idea of video replay from spreading. 

I wonder about Blake— the real person—whoever he (or she) is. I think about what could have happened that led him to take up the cause of video replay in Little League. What was the blown call in his life that ultimately led to this mission?

Was it a play from Blake’s youth that he couldn’t ever get over? Perhaps he was at the plate with a chance to send his Little League team to Williamsport. Perhaps, with the bases loaded, down by three runs with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Blake yanked a pitch down the line. High….deep…it is foul! The umpire called it a foul ball even when it was clearly fair from Blake’s vantage point. What could’ve been for Blake! 

Or maybe Blake’s child was scarred by a missed call. Maybe lil Blakey dropped a ball at second base in what would’ve led to a game-saving double-play. If only there was video replay, dad Blake thought. Then they would’ve seen Junior drop it on the exchange! It was the exchaaaaaange!

A second theory: an umpire absolutely could’ve been the one who first planted the seed of video replay. Exhausted from inexhaustible parents. A set of headphones might be just the buffer umps needed from the rage that is a parent who thinks their child has been screwed over in what must be the least significant way imaginable. 

Maybe the ump thought, Replay’s just easier. Why be the target? I don’t need this shit. 


My silly, “based on a true story” imaginings are an attempt to laugh off the genuine frustration. A Little League rule should not stick in my side like this video replay has for the past week. Really, I shouldn’t care. I’m on family leave taking care of Charlie, our 3-month old baby girl. I’ve got much better things to do with my time, like push a stroller down every street, avenue, boulevard, and cul-du-sac within a four-mile radius. And yet…

The issue isn’t the intention— ‘getting it right,’ as is often the chorus—but rather what ‘it’ deserves our attention and energy. The problem with video replay can be found in the grammar of it all. Beyond pronouns and antecedents, my argument comes down to nouns and verbs. 

A play versus playing.

In sports, when parents age out of the verb part of speech—playing—many can become hyper focused on the noun— (a) play. In some respects, it’s understandable; the noun is all we have left! But the joy, the magic of Little League is in the verb, more specifically (and to the delight of grammar teachers everywhere) the present participle. The continuous tense of the verb: play-ing. Especially in a game in which the action pauses after every pitch, we have to keep it moving forward whenever possible in the youth version of the game. 

Experiencing the rhythm of a well-played baseball game is a difficult thing to learn as a kid, but once you do, it’s a wonderful choreography to take part in and share with teammates and opponents alike. It’s similar to learning how to play in a school band. Yes, mistakes happen all of the time, but it’s a lot harder to know the feeling of being in the pocket—the real joy of finding that rhythm— if you’re stopping every 12 bars for the conductor to review whether or not the rhythm section is rushing or the trumpets are out of tune. The same can be said for a game that’s adding breaks for video review. 

These replays aren’t rare either. The best intel I could find comes from Diane Pucin’s story in the LA Times back in 2011: replay was used 18 times during the 10-day 2011 LLWS. It’s hard to believe it’s any less than 18 times a decade later. 

The Little League World Series is the purest version of baseball you could ever hope to watch. Lamade Stadium might be the most beautiful baseball field on earth. They have that flat-roofed grandstand reminiscent of the minor league parks from the 1940s, and real dugouts, and the hill in centerfield where the kids watching the game slide down on cardboard. There’s a joy in watching a 12 year-old hit a homer or make a diving catch that’s impossible to muster for a professional making $20,000,000 a year. So it offends me when adults can’t stop themselves from futzing with something as damn near perfect as the Little League World Series in the spirit of ‘getting it right’. 

Should umpires, parents, coaches and Little League work to get calls correct? Yes. Of course it matters who wins, and some plays are no doubt tipping points in games, but I’d rather live with the call on the field. What’s stalled —the verb, the continuous tense—is ultimately more important to the overall joy of playing baseball. 

At such a young age, baseball— the game of failure—should feel endless in opportunity. Next pitch, next at bat, next inning, next game, next year. Stopping a game to analyze one play feels backwards to what Little League is at its best. 

This isn’t a “parents are the worst” column. The path to a parent taking a Little League game way too seriously is completely understandable. They put so much time, energy, miles, and money into allowing the opportunity for their kids to experience success and the positive power of baseball. And then, against all odds—holy shit!—their kids are a game or two away from playing in the Little League World Series. A truly rare life experience. One bad call, and one obvious solution, and I can see how our Blake, and all the Blakes out there would think, Why not? Cameras are already at the game, for chrissake. 

Who knows? Charlie has been around for less than a season; maybe I’m a Blake in waiting and I don’t know it yet. We’ll have to wait to find out. Until then, let’s ditch the video replay in Little League and spend time on the -ing of it all. That’s where the magic is found. 

– Phil Lang, 08/25/21

Week of August 20, 2021

Quite a sight.

A Trip to Williamsport is in Our Future

The first Little League World Series I can recall watching was the first year of the back-to-back years Long Beach won it – 1992. The team was led by future major leaguer Sean Burroughs. Burroughs was a star, man. A huge kid, with in retrospect very hilarious hair. He hit bombs and threw gas (in the 1993 LLWS, he threw two no-hitters).

Watching Burroughs and his crew, I wanted to go to the LLWS. But for a kid, I think the window for attendance is small. You need to be old enough to care, but you can’t be too old. No teenager wants to go to the LLWS to see kids younger than them. 

When I discovered the LLWS, I was ten, which is just about the perfect age. The players are only a year or two older than you. You’re close enough in age that the dream of making it to Williamsport feels so much more attainable than making it to the big leagues, even if it’s just as unlikely. Heck, mathematically, it’s probably less likely.

So, I think ages 7-10 is the sweet spot, which my kids are rapidly approaching (currently 7 and just about 5). So it is with great relish that I read articles like this one from Tim Kurkjian, where Tim and MLB players, managers, and broadcasters talk about what a great time it is to attend the LLWS. In the article, Todd Frazier (an MLB all-star, and the star of the Toms River, NJ team that won it all in 1998) advises to book your hotel at least a year early and stay for 4-5 days. Noted. In two years, I’ll be booking our trip for 2024. -TOB

Source: “Why the Little League World Series is ‘All That is Good About Baseball’,” Tim Kurkjian, ESPN (08/18/2021)

PAL: I’d pay to see TOB at the gift shop at the LLWS with Jack and Nate in tow. 

Yes; the LLWS represents everything that’s good about the game I love, but I learned something this week that’s all wrong about the LLWS. Incredibly, something that’s been going on in the LLWS since 2008: video replay. No, no, no, no. I can’t believe video replay is used in Little League. More on that in the coming days.


Freedom, in 900 Words

Great story to read in the wake of the Olympics. This article, “Into The Mist,” from David W. Chen, and an installment of a broader NY Times project. This summer, they gave sportswriters 900 words to explore a single theme: freedom. I’ve enjoyed all of the stories so far, especially “A Shot to the Jaw,” and “Into The Mist”. 

There are a lot of events in the Olympics dominated by very young people: gymnastics, women’s swimming, skateboarding, figure skating. Before reading this story, I would often think about the athletes and what follows after they reach the top of the mountain at such a young age. With my nieces and nephews deep into youth sports, I wonder, too, of where the line is between working hard to be exceptional at something—a really important lesson to learn—and risking burning out at a young age. Obviously, that line is drawn by each individual, but I think about that quite a bit. 

Vinny Marciano was on an Olympic path. As a youth swimmer, he broke national records regularly. As a high school freshman, he missed out on the 2016 U.S. olympic trials by .27 seconds in the 100-meter backstroke. Per Chen, “He was a prodigy, mentioned in the same breath as Michael Phelps and Ryan Murphy.”

By 2017, he entered zero races. No college commitment. Nada. Where did Marciano go? To find a little freedom, of course. 

Marciano knew his motivation had evaporated, however, when he went to Ithaca, N.Y., for a meet with his club team and didn’t look up any times beforehand. So when he was told that he got a best time in the 50 freestyle, he didn’t feel much joy. After that, he only competed in high school meets, mostly to be around friends.

“I saw a never-ending ladder — no matter what I did, there was always going to be something I was expected to achieve,” he said.

The next year, Marciano visited Zion National Park with his father. He was mesmerized by people climbing walls and buttresses. So he headed for the rocks.

Marciano has become obsessed with a sport for which there is no clock and no lane. Fitting, especially when his parents still hold onto what might have been. 

Marciano’s parents are a little more circumspect. In an upstairs office, they keep a shadow box filled with ribbons and articles, highlighted by a July 2012 Swimming World Magazine profile with a smiling Marciano, braces and all. A 45-gallon plastic bin overflows with trophies and national age-group certificates.

“He was once the fastest in the world, at 10 and under, in the 50-meter backstroke,” his mom, Patricia, wistfully recalled.

Good story about making a change for the right reasons. – PAL

TOB: As a parent, I find his parents’ reactions extremely interesting. Obviously, we all want our kids to be happy. We want to see them succeed. But you also have dreams for them and you make sacrifices for them. I’m sure Marciano’s parents spent tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours on his swimming. When he told them he wanted to quit, I am sure it was a punch to the gut. All that money, all that time, and all those dreams – gone. And while I’m guessing there was more to the conversation, I thought their response was incredible, given the circumstances:

They were supportive, but also told him: “You shouldn’t make this decision in haste.”

That’s a perfect response by a parent, in my opinion. But I also get that they hold onto those trophies and those memories and “wistfully recall” that he was once the fastest ten-year old swimmer in the world. That’s not an easy thing to let go.

Source: Into The Mist,” David W. Chen, The New York Times (08/18/21)


Draymond, KD and the Importance of Listening to the Question Answered

This week, Draymond Green (of whom I am an unabashed fan), released the first video in his new interview series, “Chips.” In episode 1, he interviews former teammate Kevin Durant. To promote the series, Bleacher Report released a 4 minute video wherein Draymond asks Kevin Durant about how their public argument early in the 2018-19 season affected KD’s decision to leave the Warriors at the end of that year. Take a watch here.

The video quickly made the rounds because KD and Draymond take turns throwing Warriors head coach Steve Kerr and, in particular, Warriors GM Bob Myers under the bus. Both blame Myers and Kerr for the aftermath, which KD and Draymond contend was handled poorly and led to an uncomfortable season. As Draymond is still on the team, that’s pretty incendiary, ya know?

But when I watched it, something jumped out at me immediately. There’s an adage among lawyers – if you don’t like the question asked, answer the one you wish was asked. I think that came into play here. Watch again, but listen carefully to Draymond’s question. Here’s what he asks:

Draymond: “How much did our argument against the Clippers drive you to ultimately leave the Warriors?

This is a question of how much the argument caused KD to leave. It is, essentially, an empirical question. The answer should have been, “a lot,” or “a little,” or “not at all,” or “completely,” or “50%,” or “100%,” or any other answer that explains how much that argument weighed into KD’s decision. 

But KD doesn’t say anything like that. Instead of answering the question asked, he answers the question he wants to answer: what really pissed him off about the whole situation, which allows him to air his grievance at how the organization responded. 

That’s fine, but contrary to most reporting on this interview, we still don’t actually know what role the organization’s response played in his departure. What about his desire for a new challenge? A new city? Business opportunities in NYC? A desire to play with Kyrie? A desire to not play with Steph? A desire to be The Guy amongst the fanbase? All of these factors may or may not have had a role – we don’t know. The only thing we do know is that KD didn’t actually blame Kerr and Myers for his decision to leave, though that is the impression everyone seems to be taking. As Ray Ratto wrote:

“…but for those around the team, the assumption was already well cemented in place even before the season began that Durant would leave for a new team at the end of the season no matter what. In other words, this was a beef without much meat, and frankly still is.

This is a good point. Remember, Draymond complained during the argument that KD was being evasive about his plans at the end of the season. And he was evasive, as Ratto says, because he was always going to leave. So while the argument and the aftermath may have helped him feel better about his decision, it did not cause him to leave. And that is why he didn’t answer Draymond’s question and instead did what he (and Draymond) wanted to do – complain about their boss/former boss, and bait some clicks. -TOB

Source: Draymond Green And Kevin Durant Squeeze The Last Bit Of Juice From Their Old Argument,” Ray Ratto, Defector (08/19/2021)

PAL: This is the exact type of story Ratto has mastered. He is positively allergic to hype, and since this story is all hype, he’s the perfect dude to dispense it as bullshit. My favorite part: I literally sighed a second before reading the following. Seriously. 

It’s just, and we’ll break while you drop a heavy sigh here, Draymond being Draymond. There are 21 minutes of other information in the pod, some of it interesting, but in taking the bait yet again, we have perpetuated the notion that their argument had some lasting effect on anything except our gullibility. 

More evidence that we’ve long since passed the point of too many podcasts.


A Quaint No-Hitter

I know; it was the 8th no-hitter of the season. How special can Tyler Gilbert’s no-no be? As Ben Lindbergh details, pretty damn special.

Lindbergh puts it this way:

I know you know this was improbable. Every no-hitter is. I also know you know a no-no is especially far-fetched for a 27-year-old, nearly unknown pitcher who’s making his starting debut. But no matter how slim you think Gilbert’s chances were, you’re probably underselling the statistical unlikelihood of what transpired on Saturday.

And later: 

In his historic start, Gilbert relied almost entirely on cutters, sinkers, and four-seamers, all of which had average velocities that started with an “8.”

No triple digits for Gilbert. Not even close. And before you go the “crafty” route, consider this:

En route to his no-hitter, Gilbert allowed 10 batted balls above the 95 mph threshold that MLB defines as “hard hit” (plus a pair at 94.7 and 94.6). His no-hitter was one of 135 starts this season in which a starter allowed 10 hard-hit batted balls. The cumulative batting average allowed on those hard-hit balls in the other 134 outings was .495.

Check out all 27 outs: 

It was the 27-year-old’s first major league start, against a really good hitting team made up of hitters that were not fooled by a soft-throwing lefty. Perhaps the rarest of no-hitters is the one when the pitcher doesn’t have no-hit stuff. It’s happened before. Check out this quote from Bill Veeck’s autobiography about another unlikely no-no back in 1953

Big Bobo went out and pitched against the Athletics, the softest competition we could find, and everything he threw up was belted. And everywhere the ball went, there was a Brownie there to catch it. It was such a hot and humid heavy night that long fly balls that seemed to be heading out of the park would die and be caught against the fence. Just when Bobo looked as if he was tiring, a shower would sweep across the field, delaying the game long enough for him to get a rest. Allie Clark hit one into the left field stands that curved foul at the last second. A bunt just rolled foul on the last spin. Our fielding was superb. The game went into the final innings and nobody had got a base hit off Big Bobo. On the final out of the eighth inning, Billy Hunter made an impossible diving stop on a ground ball behind second base and an even more impossible throw. With two out in the ninth, a ground ball was rifled down the first base line—right at our first baseman, Vic Wertz. Big Bobo had pitched the quaintest no-hitter in the history of the game.

Veeck As In Wreck, Bill Veek & Ed Linn, 1962

– PAL 

Source:Tyler Gilbert’s Historic No-hitter Was Improbable in More Than One Way,Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (08/16/21) 


Outfield Heckling

I really enjoyed this article from Eno Sarris about the art of heckling an outfielder. Lots of funny stories from outfielders about good and bad heckling and how they deal with it. My highlight was Josh Harrison talking about the Giants’ fans’ “He’s a bum!” chant. Classic. Also, the video of Tony Gwynn, Jr. mocking the fans by pulling the Ace Ventura butt talk gag. LOL.  -TOB

Source: Carne Asada Fries, Pizza and Bird Legs: Turning Jeers to Cheers, and Other Outfield Fan Interactions,” Eno Sarris, The Athletic (08/19/2021)

PAL: Tony Gwynn, Jr. definitely has the best response. Sarris touched on it a bit in this story, but, as a fan, how bad does it stink to sit next to an unoriginal heckler who won’t shut it down after an inning or two? Can you imagine sitting next to the dude going at Gwynn, Jr. in that video for nine innings? You just spend a good chunk of change on tickets and a $15 beer, and now you need to sit next to the guy workshopping a couple terrible heckler bits all night? No thanks.

TOB: We sat in the bleachers last weekend with the boys. Dickerson was playing left and Alex Wood was on the mound. Some dumbass yelled, “Hey Dick, how do you like Alex’s wood?” Brutal, not clever. And worse, when he got no reaction he didn’t take the hint and said it again a few minutes later. Bro, stop.


Other Good Stuff

Song of the Week

Jungle – “Bonnie Hill”


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I had to find a new dojo after sensei Ira and I parted ways. My new sensei, sensei Billy, thought I had more than enough training to take the test. Turns out, sensei Ira was a bit of a shyster. Sensei Billy says most students don’t spend $150,000 over 20 years to get their black belt.

-Dwight K. Schrute

Week of August 13, 2021


Is This Heaven?

By the time you read this, the Yankees and White Sox will have played a game in Dyersville, Iowa. You likely know the place by a different phrase: Field of Dreams. If that doesn’t ring a bell, then I’ll give you one more descriptor – MLB is playing a game “at” the field from that movie your husband always cries to when Kevin Costner plays catch at dusk with the ghost of his father.

Let’s get the tears out of the way (and—yep—I tear every damn time I watch this clip. The friggin’ score, man!)

The Yankees-White Sox game is the perfect opportunity for Tyler Kepner to revisit the 1989 movie and why it became an unlikely classic (it’s my favorite baseball movie, with Moneyball in second). As Kepner points out (with help from movie critic Richard Roeper), what sets Field of Dreams apart from most sports movies is the plot has nothing to do with a particular game; rather, it is about the timeless nature of baseball, and how often the things we miss the most are the simplest forms of connection, like playing catch with your dad. 

But baseball has never been pure, and that’s a major plot point in the movie. Who first shows up to play on Kevin Costner’s gleaming ball field? Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven White Sox teammates who were banned for life for conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series.

Losing on purpose is a ballplayer’s worst possible sin. Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, offers redemption. It’s not just the overtone that’s religious, it’s right there in the dialogue; multiple characters wonder aloud if this is heaven. “Field of Dreams” is a different kind of movie, and that is why it stands apart.

“In ‘Rocky’ and ‘Hoosiers’ and ‘The Natural,’ those all have the big game at the end; we’re leading up to the big game, that’s what sports movies are about,” said Richard Roeper, The Chicago Sun-Times critic who succeeded Gene Siskel on “At the Movies” with Roger Ebert. “We don’t really get that in ‘Field of Dreams.’ This is more about the timeless nature of baseball.”

That’s the part of this movie that’s absolutely perfect – the odyssey on which Ray embarks – as flawed and sappy as it can be at times – is to give him one more opportunity to play catch with his dad.  Redemption. So often a fantasy, but a beautiful one. 

Here’s one other nugget from Kepner’s piece that I didn’t know until now:

Dwier Brown, the actor who played Ray Kinsella’s father, lost his own father a month before filming began in 1988, giving extra emotional heft to the role. When the movie was finished, Brown found himself and his co-stars weeping as they watched the screening for the cast.

Good read. If you are the one person who hasn’t seen the movie, grab a box of tissues and get on it! 

Update: The game just finished. Not one, not two, but three dramatic, 9th inning home runs into the cornfields didn’t hurt. The game and field looked just spectacular on TV, although I can pass on Kevin Costner meandering about the field like a kid who can’t find his parents at the state fair.

I’m sure the novelty will wear off at some point, but I’m glad MLB is making this an annual event. Yes, it is all over-the-top, and overly sentimental, and (don’t do it, don’t do it) corny, but dammit it works. – PAL 

Source: Shoeless Joe Won’t Be There. Aaron Judge Will.Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (08/11/21)

TOB: First, great write up by Phil. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie. I was probably in middle school, maybe early high school. I watched it with my parents in their room. And when Ray and his dad played catch, I remember being bewildered that my dad was crying. I remember my mom making some comment about, “This movie always makes your dad cry.” I can’t say I had ever seen him cry before that, but perhaps that is wrong. So it did surprise me, though it shouldn’t have. 

More than most, my dad had a good reason to cry at that scene: his father died when my dad was only 4 years old. It’s hard for me to really fathom that. There are a lot of remarkable things about my dad. But the fact he was and is an excellent, loving, and affectionate father, despite all odds and with every reason to be just the opposite, is the most remarkable of all. I love you, Dad!


Field of Dreams, and Ads

Ok, ok. Now that we’ve covered the good, let’s discuss MLB’s execution of the game. 

When they announced this game last year, I was excited. Then the build up this week was so immense – it was everywhere – I started to sour. But by Wednesday night I decided I had to tune in and man…they were so close. They really almost nailed it. But here’s where they lose me:

First, I don’t understand the location decision. The field where the movie was filmed still exists as a tourist destination. They could have used that. Throw in some more bleachers and bam, a small crowd but it would have been magic. Instead, they wanted to pack the fans in because…money. So they decide to build what ended up being akin to a very nice minor league or college stadium. But they did it RIGHT NEXT to the existing Field of Dreams field. It’s SO weird to me. Look at this picture.

In the foreground is the original, from the movie. You can see the house and the bleachers where Karen almost died, and the backstop. It’s quaint, cool. Then in the background is the behemoth MLB built. So, fine, you wanted something bigger – something ready to host a TV crew. But why put it right next door? It ruins the magic of a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield in the middle of nowhere when there are suddenly two of them.

Second, the ads. Oh god, the ads. Yes, there were fewer ads around the stadium than in every MLB game but ugh. Here’s Tim Anderson rounding first after his walk-off yam…and a Budweiser ad prominently behind him, along with some other ad on the tarp cover:

Here’s Aaron Judge, about to hit a dinger into the corn, with a friggin Mattress Firm ad behind him. That panel of course rotated (very period accurate!) and also had a GEICO ad, and I’m sure others. Again, they couldn’t get over their greed to let a good idea be perfect – they had to scrape every last penny possible.

Finally, my biggest gripe. The outfield wall. 

There’s no need for the fence, man! Just hit into the damn corn. I’m very upset about this. Ray Liotta is going to walk out of that corn, look at the chain link fence, and walk right back to baseball purgatory. Outrageous.

Otherwise, the uniforms: sweet. The vibes, wonderful. I hope the Giants get invited some year. -TOB

PAL:  That’s a great line, TOB: “Ray Liotta is going to walk out of that corn, look at the chain link fence, and walk right back to baseball purgatory.”

I am pretty sure there are requirements for a field and facility to be used in an official MLB game, and meeting those requirements would have messed up the original field where the movie was shot…which would dilute the tourist novelty of the original. I think Toronto had to make upgrades and adjustments to the field it played on when they spent time in a minor league park because of the pandemic.


The Fitzmagic Odyssey 

Ryan Fitzpatrick is slated to start as QB for Washington this season. It will be his ninth team during his 17-year NFL career. Most of you readers probably know his story: Harvard dude, 7th-round draft pick, has become known as the steady vet who backs up, then takes over for, high draft picks. This year might be different. The high draft pick for Washington already flamed out last year, and now a playoff team brought in Fitzpatrick to take over. 

The part about this story that I found most intriguing is the idea of leadership. For a guy who never imagined he’d last all that long in the NFL (the framed mini-camp check in his office for $273.63, the first check he received as a pro, is a replica, because “I sure as hell cashed that thing.”), he’s been in a lot of locker rooms with hundreds of teammates, dynamics, and expectations. Above all, Fitzpatrick has learned that leadership requires connections, and that takes honest-to-goodness time. 

“Being on a new team every year, it’s not the system and learning it,” Fitzpatrick said. “That stuff is gonna take care of itself. Meeting the guys and having this human connection with these guys is such an important aspect of playing QB and being part of a team. A lot of that is time. You have to put the time in. You have to have conversations. You have to ask questions. There are no shortcuts to building relationships.”

He is universally loved by teammates from all of his stops to a degree that is uncommon. How about this: when he was holding out for a respectful contract  (we’re talking like backup money) after leading the Jets to a 10-6 record, two of his receivers considered holding out, too, as an act of solidarity. 

Of course, him taking time to get to know his teammates wouldn’t amount to a story if Fitzpatrick didn’t deliver with some regularity, and he does, which has been a bit of a double edged sword when he has backed-up to franchise QB in waiting (Geno Smith for the Jets, Jameis Winston for the Bucs, Tua for Miami). He’s better than the high-end picks, and everyone on the teams love him. It’s not long before the majority of the players want him starting instead of a raw and mistake machine that is most every rookie QB. 

The other portion that stood out is the sheer logistics of moving nine times for a job. Fitzpatrick and his wife have seven kids (no wonder he keeps playing…he’s got to feed those twerps!). They found out the hard way that it doesn’t work for the family when the QB leaves them behind somewhere else, so every new team means a new house, new schools, new everything. They’ve refined the process over the years: 

Over time, the Fitzpatricks have developed a system for each new move. They’ll start by studying the area to identify the best public schools, and use that initial search to build a list of seven to 10 houses. On his own, Fitzpatrick flies out and makes the final decision. Not long after, Liza will follow with all the kids in tow.

Solid read. – PAL 

Source: Nine teams, hundreds of teammates and a lifetime of stories: Ryan Fitzpatrick is a ‘next-level leader’”, Robert Mays, The Athletic (08/12/21)


Video of the Week

Who did it better? Who can say?

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Loudon Wainwright III – “Fathers And Sons”


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All you need is love? False. The four basic human necessities are air, water, food and shelter.

-Dwight K. Schrute

Week of August 6, 2021


An Olympic Thesis

I’m not a big Olympics guy. I know, as my friend Joanna said last weekend: that is very much not on-brand for me. I have written a sports blog for seven years, for goodness sake. But I don’t have a ton of free time and I want to spend it doing the things I want to do. I can’t pretend to get excited about a sport like beach volleyball, for example, once every four years. Especially when I’d rather watch my favorite team continue to be the best team in baseball, ahem.

However. though I have not watched more than perhaps 45 seconds of the ongoing Olympics*, I do have a gripe with some of the sports that are in the Olympics. After some thought, I came up with a simple two-step test on what should and should not be an Olympic sport. It is as follows:

  1. The sport should be otherwise underexposed. 
  2. There must be some novelty to the competition. That is to say, the Olympics cannot simply be another event on the calendar. We must be seeing the sport in a way that we otherwise do not.

To illustrate:

Golf: NO. Why is this an Olympic sport? It’s a wildly popular worldwide sport and there is no differentiation between its weekly events and its Olympic presentation. Get it out!

Basketball: YES. It’s popular, yes. But it’s generally not played country vs. country as it is in the Olympics. Quite novel!

Tennis: NO! God no. See: golf.

Got it? Ok, let’s do this.

  •  Artistic swimming:
    • Yes.
    • PAL: saw it, started making fun of it for 5 seconds, then was completely impressed and captivated. YES.
  •  Diving
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  •  Marathon swimming
    • I don’t know what this is, yes.
    • PAL: sure
  •  Swimming
  •  Water polo
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Hell yes. Great watch. 
  •  Archery
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes, but I’m not as impressed if I run into an archery Olympian.
  • Badminton
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  • Baseball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Meh
  • Softball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  • Basketball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Sure
  • 3×3 basketball
    • Leaning NO here. It doesn’t fail the tests but it’s also not really played as a sport anywhere. Completely contrived for the Olympics.
    • PAL: So dumb. No.
  • Boxing 
    • This probably fails the tests, but I’ll make an exception here because it’s still an amateur Olympic sport. Like, Canelo isn’t allowed in the Olympics. Once they let pros, it’s out.
  • Canoeing
    • Sure.
    • PAL: Yes
  • BMX freestyle
    • No. Underexposed, but I think this fails prong two: it’s just another event in the same format that we can see year-round.
    • PAL: Nononono. 
  • BMX racing
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: God no.
  • Mountain biking
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: nah.
  • Road cycling (4)
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: God no.
  • Track cycling 
    • I think this is again a no, but I’m not sure.
    • PAL: Watched it today. Loved it. Seems to check both of your boxes. 
  • Equestrian
    • I believe this fails prong two but I’m not sure. Are there international competitions? If not, and they are regional or national only, this is allowed.
    • PAL: Sure. Who cares. The most compelling equestrian story of the Olympics is that Bruce Springsteen’s daughter was on the U.S. team. 
  •  Fencing 
    • See equestrian.
    • PAL: Yes, but they could make it really interesting by bringing in real swords. Just sayin. 
  •  Field hockey
    • Yes.
  •  Football/Soccer
    • Women’s: Yes. See basketball.
    • Men’s: Yes. This also passes because they have implemented a rule that I endorse to ensure this doesn’t just become a repeat of the World Cup: all but three players on each team must be under 24. This creates even more novelty.
    • PAL: But that age rule makes me care a bit less or makes it mean a bit less. 
  •  Golf
    • NO, NEVER AGAIN.
    • PAL: No…how long is this friggin list? 
  •  Gymnastics
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Y
  • Handball
    • I think this makes it but see equestrian.
    • PAL: Hard yes. 
  •  Judo
    • Again, see equestrian.
    • PAL: Don’t know. 
  • Karate
    • Again, see equestrian.
    • PAL: I
  •  Modern pentathlon
    • Yes.
  •  Rowing
    • Yes.
  •  Rugby sevens
    • Yes.
  •  Sailing
    • Yes.
  •  Shooting
    • Sure.
    • PAL: I’ll say it…is this a sport?
  •  Skateboarding
    • No, get out. Fails the golf test.
  •  Sport climbing
    • Underexposed, but I think fails the golf test. 
  •  Surfing
    • No, fails the golf test.
  •  Table tennis
    • Fairly certain this fails the golf test.
  •  Taekwondo
    • See equestrian.
  •  Tennis
    • Again no. NO.
  • Track and Field
    • Yes.
  •  Triathlon
    • Underexposed, but again I think it fails the golf test.
  •  Volleyball
    • Yes.
  • Beach volleyball
    • This has gotten so popular that I think it fails the golf test.
  •  Weightlifting
    • Perhaps fails the golf test but exempt as a quintessential Olympic sport.
  •  Wrestling
    • Yes.

So, there you have it. The definitive list of sports are or are not appropriately played in the Olympics.

*I wrote this before, in a moment of weakness, I watched the second half of the US/Australia men’s basketball semifinal.

-TOB

PAL: My favorite line from TOB: “Though I have not watched more than perhaps 45 seconds of the ongoing Olympics, I do have a gripe with some of the sports that are in the Olympics.” Hahahaha!

I don’t hate your rationale—I’ve been watching water polo, track, rowing, softball, and I’ve been a hard pass on skateboarding and climbing (and I really enjoy climbing!)— but, man, I am a sucker for the Olympics. What a great break from the same old same old (NFL, NCAA football, NBA, baseball)l. The Olympic athlete stories are inspiring, and every couple of years (winter and summer games) I love learning about an athlete that isn’t constantly in the public eye.

Having said that, I have one more gripe to add to TOB’s hot take (seriously, who the hell is anti-Olympics?): why the hell is olympic softball being played on a baseball field?

Damn. These are the best softball players in the world, and they are treated like a non-tryout youth team. I was stunned when I watched USA-Canada in pool play. With the amount of money spent on the Olympics, you would think they could have built at least two turf softball fields. 

Did a little internet sleuthing and found the following as a possible reason. Per Larry Brown: “Well, as you probably guessed, this is a cost-saving measure. NBC Sports’ softball announcers said that baseball and softball agreed to share the venue as part of an effort to get back into the Olympics. This is the first year softball and baseball are back in the Olympics since 2008.”

Just a bad look to have an Olympic women’s sport played on a men’s field.  

TOB: AND ANOTHER THING. Michael Phelps is overrated! His medal count is inflated because his sport has an insane 4 strokes, multiple lengths, and relays and medley and all other kinds of crap. 


EXACTLY. This has bugged me for over a decade and I am finally ready to say it aloud. Thank you.


Hal Higdon

I was meaning to share this story a few weeks ago before we went on vacation. It’s a bit evergreen, so—what the hell—I’ll share it this week. 

Most everyone I know who’s trained for a marathon or half marathon has typed in the name “Hal Higdon” when looking for a training plan. It is free, it is detailed, it will get a first time runner across the finish line if they stick to the training plan. In a fitness world of personalized plans, coaches, and enough gadgets to fill a container ship, Higdon’s plans remain the standard. 

A few weeks ago, the NY Times went a little deeper on the 90 year-old “internet king of running plans”.

Per Talya Minserg:

Higdon started running in high school, and began researching different ways to train for races while a student-athlete at Carleton College in the late 1940s. “I was a perky little freshman and sophomore who came up with training ideas of my own,” he said in a telephone interview. He honed his expertise as an elite runner both in the youth and master divisions, taking his family along with him for the ride.

Before races had water stations, his family would stand on the side of courses with cups of water. His children fondly remember spaghetti dinners before marathons. So, too, do they remember having marathon greats like Bill Rodgers stop by the family home for a meal or two.

In those days, Higdon made a living from freelance writing on a variety of subjects. But the through line remained working with athletes and writing for runners. It wasn’t until 1990, when a high school friend recruited him to design plans for Chicago Marathon runners, that he began crafting training plans for a larger audience.

When I read about Higdon, it reminded me of another name synonymous with sports training. My brother-in-law recently gave me the golf training book Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book. Pretty much any golfer will have heard of it. In Higdon and Penick, you have two men who became passionate about a sport decades before each caught on with the masses. Both men also pay as much attention to the complete amatuer and the experts. 

While Penick died in 1995, before the age of internet golf training (my god, YouTube, IG, SnapChat are full of tutorials), Higdon embraced social media as a way to communicate with folks going through his training plans. Apparently, through the help of grandkids and other family members, Higdon remains the person behind the response to questions and comments across social media.

A fun story about a the guy behind a name that I’ve known for 20 years. – PAL

Source: “Hal Higdon Has Trained Millions of Runners. At 90, He’s Not Slowing Down.”, Talya Minsberg, The New York Times (07/18/21)


Is the USMNT For Real?

The U.S. Men’s National Soccer team has had quite the summer: First, in June, their A-squad beat Mexico’s A-squad in the Nation’s League final, in one of the most exciting soccer games you’ll ever see.

Then, last weekend, their B or C-squad beat the Mexico A-minus squad on a late goal to win the Gold Cup. It was quite the turnaround from four years ago when they shockingly failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

But as soccer analysts will tell you, it’s not just that the U.S. won these tournaments, beating their archnemesis in the process. It’s how they won, with style and panache, with young talent providing so much promise for the future (seriously, buckle up for World Cup 2026, which the U.S. will host). For the first time ever, USMNT fans have hope that their squad will soon be able to compete with the elite squads across the globe. And while the upcoming, talented generation has a lot to do with it, so does the team’s coach, Greg Berhalter, as Leander Schaerlaeckens writes. 

Berhalter has succeeded in creating a culture that players want to be part of and making the USMNT a destination for top soccer talents who could have chosen to play for other national teams. This is an interesting look at Berhalter – where he came from, what he’s doing, and where he hopes to go. If you’re a fan of international soccer, you’ll enjoy this one. -TOB

Source: Gregg Berhalter’s Plan for American Men’s Soccer Is Working,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, The Ringer (08/02/2021)


Actually, Revenge is Pretty Good When Hot and Fresh, Too

In my fantasy baseball dynasty league, I have been on a hunt for a longterm solution at third base all season, ever since Vlad Guerrero, Jr. lost his 3B status and left me with Vlad and Pete Alonso to fill my 1B/DH spots. I cycled through some guys, and traded for Moustakas who was on my roster for a week before missing the last three months with a heel injury. I’ve used Wilmer Flores and Joey Wendle and others, when they were on hot streaks. I even scooped up an injured Evan Longoria and stashed him on my IL.

But I’ve been keeping an eye out for a young guy, and this week I came across someone named Abraham Toro (what an elite name), who went on a tear after being traded from Houston to Seattle last week. So I did some digging to see who he is and came across the incredible story of how he got traded.

You know that scene in Moneyball when the A’s trade for Ricardo Rincon? When he was traded, Rincon was playing for Cleveland, who were in Oakland to play the A’s. So Rincon had to simply walk down the hall to join his new team. That is a true story, and while Toro’s is similar, I think Toro’s story is even better. Here’s the AP’s Chris Talbott with the story:

Toro was taking his pregame swings for Houston when he learned about the deal. The infielder walked to the other dugout, put on his new uniform and went back to the batting cage.

I mean, that is incredible on its own. The dude is taking BP, is told he’s traded, goes to his new dugout, gets his new jersey, and goes back out to the field to continue getting ready. And the cherry on top of it all? The day before he was traded Toro hit a dinger for the Astros, against the Mariners. The day he was traded? He hit a dinger for the Mariners, against the Astros. Per Elias, “Toro is the first player in major league history to homer for one team and against that team in consecutive games.” That is some serious, “Eff you,” energy. 

And if you’re curious, Toro is still on a tear. In 8 games with Seattle, he’s hitting .429/.500/.857 for an OPS of 1.357. -TOB

Source: Abraham Toro Homers Late for New Team, but Astros Hold on to Win,” Chris Talbott, Houston Chronicle (07/28/2021)


Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

The New Basement Tapes – “When I Get My Hands On You”

Kind of a cool project from a few years back. A supergroup with super duper producer T Bone Burnett took a bunch of Bob Dylan lyrics from his Basement Tapes time with the band – lyrics that were never turned into song (at least that we know of) – and took a crack at putting them into songs. This song is my favorite from the album. Anyone with an upcoming wedding: this song would be a damn good first dance song. – PAL


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“Debbie told my son he looked like Tom Petty in a negative way.”

– Catherine

Week of July 16, 2021

Greenkeeper, but also: bassist in a Cheap Trick tribute band

The Dirty, Underhanded World of College Recru…Sorry, What’s That? Oh. Chess? Ok, the Dirty World of Chess.

The New York Times published a wild and, frankly, shocking story this week about match fixing in chess. The short: achieving the rank of Chess Grandmaster is very lucrative and so people are willing to shelve out big dollars to ensure the rank. Far from the meritocratic sport it seems to be, chess has a match-fixing problem. But it does not stop at match-fixing. It includes winning non-existent tournaments: 

Mikhail Zaitsev, who achieved the rank of International Master and is now a chess coach, estimated that of the world’s roughly 1,900 living grandmasters, at least 10 percent have cheated one way or another to acquire the title. Shohreh Bayat, one of the leading arbiters in chess, describes such arrangements in the plainest terms. “Match fixing,” she said, “is cheating.” Some hopefuls didn’t even have to play a game of chess to get the points they needed: Some tournaments, she said, took place only on paper.

None of this is lost on the sport’s frustrated leaders “We have a dog called Pasquales,” said Nigel Short, the vice president of FIDE.

“I believe it is possible that if I went to the effort, I think I could get my dog a grandmaster’s title.”

The article centers around a story from a tournament in 2002, when then 12-year old Sergei Karjakin became the world’s youngest Grandmaster:

For nearly 60 moves, Karjakin posed subtle and challenging problems to Irina Semyonova, his opponent. Each time, she had an answer, a counter. Karjakin kept pressing, but the game ended in a draw.Suddenly, all of what had been close enough to touch — the label, the fame, the history — was slipping away. But the aspiring grandmaster and his team still had one audacious move left.

With Karjakin’s title as the world’s youngest grandmaster slipping away after his unexpected draw with Semyonova, Karjakin’s father, Aleksandr, approached several players to whom his son had lost points and offered them money to replay their games. Firman said he was among those to receive an offer of cash for an arranged draw.

Malinin, who had points to spare, agreed to replay his game with Karjakin. He said he did so for free and therefore did not consider it cheating. The two replayed a game that normally would have taken up to six hours; in the replay, Malinin said, it was played “in a blitz” — a high-speed variant of chess. Karjakin won.

Minutes later, the newly crowned grandmaster ran into the tournament’s main hall, radiant and proud as “a peacock,” according to Areshchenko, who was present.

This is surprising, but the more you read the less surprising it is: achieving the title of grandmaster means a lifetime of perks. 

More recently, Karjakin lost his status as the youngest to achieve grandmaster, when Abhimanyu Mishra bested him by about two months. While there is no evidence yet of match-fixing, Mishra’s achievement is also very dubious:

Mishra’s father, Hemant, had a lot at stake in seeing his son claim the title. He said he spent more than $270,000 on making his son the world’s youngest grandmaster, and he had been collecting donations online to make their chess dream come true. The small advantages that the money could buy — in scheduling, in opposition, in timing — began to add up as he closed in on his final norm.

Mishra, who described Karjakin as his idol, played in five so-called norm tournaments in Charlotte, N.C., in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021 but did not achieve a single norm. With the deadline to beat Karjakin’s record bearing down, he and his father next traveled to Budapest, where Abhimanyu Mishra played eight tournaments in a row.

At these tournaments, norm-seekers paid the organizers, who in turn paid grandmasters to show up, a legal and common arrangement in professional chess. But the quality was not the same; the average rating of Mishra’s opponents in the Budapest events was nearly 50 points lower than it had been in Charlotte.

In an interview, Arkady Dvorkovich, the president of FIDE, said that there is little sportsmanship at such tournaments. That is partly because the grandmasters, often aging players long past their prime, often lack the motivation to work hard to beat their opponents. “The motivation was quite low for me,” said Vojtech Plat, one of the grandmasters who played.

Again, it all makes sense. Give awful parents a chance to game the system for their kids and they will squeeze through every nook and cranny to do it. But…I gotta admit that I had no idea this goes on in chess. Great read. -TOB

Source: The Dark Side of Chess: Payoffs, Points and 12-Year-Old Grandmasters,” Ivan Nechepurenko and Misha Friedman, New York Times (07/13/2021)

PAL: Heads up: it’s a NY Times kind of week. The next time I meet a serious chess player will be my first, but you can take it to the bank that I will ask where he/she earned norm points. If the answer is “Sardak” then we have some problems. 

Absolutely fascinating look into a game about which I know very little. I like the part about the old grandmasters past their prime taking the money and agreeing to draw so some dad can live vicariously through his 12 year-old. 


 2B: LG

This picture from Bob Levey is supposed to represent our old-standing idea of a what a second baseman looks like (Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros, 5-foot-6, 166 pounds) and the direction the position is heading (D.J. LeMahieu of the Yankees, 6-4, 220). While LeMahieu is playing first base in this pic (look at the glove), he plays the majority of his time at second. Credit…Bob Levey/Getty Images

We’ve posted a ton of baseball stories in recent weeks. Obviously, TOB and I love the game, but there’ve also been a lot of great baseball stories recently. Throw in the The All-Star break (a great time to publish the think piece with no games to report on at the moment), and it makes sense we get a good story from Joe Lemire.

I can’t help but wonder if, to some extent, the number of smart baseball stories is also the result of a game that has undergone such a shift over the last 10-20 years. A wave crested over the past couple of seasons by way of general acceptance of shifting defense, all-or-nothing approach at the plate, and the commonplace of pitchers throwing over 97 M.P.H.. Perhaps we were destined for this ever since sabermetrics became the standard of how organizations assess players and positions.  

Naturally, there’s been a shift in how the game is played, which – as Lemire examines – impacts something as fundamental as the prevailing height and weight of a position. 

Take this stat from Lemire’s story: 

For 50 years, from 1948 until 1998, there was never a time when more than one regular second baseman stood at least 6 feet and weighed at least 200 pounds. In 2019, the last full season, 29 such players took the field, according to Baseball Reference.

I’m going to stop you before you think, bigger, stronger, faster, because this stat indicates something much more interesting. This is a story about what skills are more valued at today’s version of second base, how the positioning of the player impacts the skillset needed to play 2B, and finding a soft spot on the defensive side of things to plug another big bat. 

Historically, 2B is a position where you need a defensive player that, although he lacks the range (and arm strength) of a shortstop, can turn a double play and be a plus defensively. A good infielder with a strong arm would typically play on the left side of the infield.

Front office executives are getting more inventive generally with roster construction, but a confluence of leaguewide trends is making experimentation at second more appealing. Strikeouts rates are at an all-time high and, with fewer balls in play, no position has seen a greater reduction in total chances than second basemen, who are fielding 20 percent fewer batted balls per game than they were in the mid-2000s.

There are discernible reasons for the change. Pitchers are throwing more four-seam fastballs at the top of the strike zone, rather than sinking two-seamers at the knees, leading to more airborne batted balls. Better advanced scouting information is informing more precise positioning, which has led to a preponderance of shifts, and cover for players with reduced range.

Farewell Dustin Pedoria and Joe Morgan. Hello D.J. LeMahieu. Instead of needing an agile guy who can turn the double-play (a less frequent occurrence in today’s game); second base has become a place to stash boppers. Hate the trend, but a great read. – PAL 

Source: Where Have You Gone, Dustin Pedroia,” Joe Lemire, The New York Times (07/14/21)


Aftermath

You’ve seen the video:

Here’s a story about what happens to a kid after he makes a stupid, stupid, stupid decision like you saw Emmanul Durón do in that video. What happens when a kid’s lowpoint becomes a viral video and the topic of sports talk across the country? What’s he do after all the bluster and outrage has been applied to the next video of someone doing something stupid. 

Or, in Jeré Longman’s words:

When a young athlete commits an egregious act, where should punishment intersect with compassion? Does the athlete deserve a second chance? And how does a teenager begin again after facing nationwide disgust and cancellation?

One detail stuck out over the others. After Durón hits the ref, and after he’s been booked in jail for assault, at his lowest most alone moment, guess where his coaches, administrators, teachers?

“No Edinburg coaches or school officials visited him in jail, Durón said. Nor did any coaches speak to him, he said, when he briefly returned to school to take state assessment exams.”

Maybe they didn’t know how long he’d be there, maybe no one thought of it in the chaos of the night, maybe the kid was an absolute jerk (that is not the feeling I got from this story), but—damn—where’s all that talk of team and loyalty when a player really needed some support?

We are obsessed with the meltdown, the lowlights; this story is about the aftermath, and I think it’s actually an important read for kids and parents alike. We are not our respective worst moments (and we aren’t our best moments either). – PAL 

Source: “‘I’m Just a Kid Who Did Something Wrong’,”Jeré Longman, The New York Times (07/12/21) 


BP Pitchers Always Get It In, Part II

Back in May, we wrote about batting practice pitchers, the “unsung heroes who keep sluggers in the zone.” Well, I’m back with a quick one because never is the importance of a good BP pitcher more on display than at the Home Run Derby, which was held on Monday. 

For the second straight time, the Mets’ Pete Alonso walked away with the crown. But the real winner was his BP pitcher, Dave Jauss. Here’s Jauss’ pitch chart:

That’s real dang good. Look at that precision. Here’s an overlay of 4 consecutive pitches:

I was the pitcher for my son’s coach-pitch team this year. There were days I was very much in and very much out of the zone. But my best skill, IMO, was putting it where each hitter wanted it. At 7 years old, most kids do not know how to adjust their swing. They just have a groove swing. A few games into the season one of the other coaches told me he realized I am throwing to the bat and that he was very impressed. I was very proud. I felt then like Dave Jauss must feel now. A BP king. -TOB

PAL: My dad has a coach-pitch highlight that’s worth sharing. The scouting report on 8 year-old me was pretty simple: leftie, dead pull. We were playing a team coached by a portly fella who lived up the cul-de-sac . In a game earlier in the season, portly dad put the shift on me. I was 8. If I’m remembering correctly (keep me honest, coach TOB), coach pitch employs four outfielders (right, right-center, left, left-center, left). This guy had every player on his team on the right side of second base. 

Prior to a second meeting against the team, my dad wants to practice something different with me. He tells me not to do anything different. He tells me something like, “No matter where the ball is, just swing the same.” We end up practicing his pitches to the outside corner. 

Game time: Neighbor guy puts on the shift. My dad tosses a pitch on the outside corner, I hit one to leftfield and make it home easily. My dad could barely contain himself. Little victories, baby. Sweet little victories can get you through the day.

TOB: Awesome.


Hot Take: Giannis is NOT Funny

I’ve been biding my time on this one. For a couple years now, I’ve seen tweets and instagram videos showing Giannis Antetokoumpo (pretty sure I got that without looking it up) making corny, worse-than-dad jokes while everyone falls all over to say how funny he is. Well, I feel like Shooter McGavin here when Doug says everyone is coming around on Happy Gilmore, because I’M NOT, DOUG.

Don’t get me wrong – he’s an incredible player. But he’s NOT funny. Here’s an example:

Title: Funniest man in the league. Almost 2 million views. But that is NOT funny. The jokes are BAD and corny and BAD. Ten years ago, Dwight Howard had this same awful sense of humor and got KILLED for it, rightfully so. 

I was finally compelled to be brave and declare that Giannis is not funny when this week, after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, he was asked why he left the bench for a few minutes during the game. His response?

YUK YUK YUK. This went viral. NBA reporters breathlessly reported it right after he said it, with a general feeling of, “Oh that hilarious rascal!” But, nah, man. That’s not funny. That’s funny for a 4-year old, maybe. But he’s a grown ass man and this stuff is not funny. 

So, if you’re with me, don’t be afraid to stand up and say: Giannis is not funny. Stop acting like it. -TOB

PAL: TOB when someone talks about Giannis’ sense of humor:


Cold Take: Giannis is Really Friggin Good at Basketball

Ok, so he’s not funny. We can’t all be everything. Because while Giannis is not the best basketball player I’ve ever seen (Jordan or LeBron) and not the most exciting basketball player I’ve ever seen (Steph), he is perhaps the most shocking basketball player I’ve ever seen. He does things that just seem impossible. To illustrate, here’s a play from Game 4 of the Finals:

I watched that live and I absolutely howled. That just didn’t seem possible. I read a really good article from Tom Ley that put it in perspective. 

Who else can you imagine making exactly that play, under those exact conditions? I’d argue that nobody else in the league fits the bill, not because nobody else in the league is as big or as talented as Antetokounmpo, but because his entire development arc as a player was leading to this point. 

This block [is] a short, authoritative story capturing everything about what makes Antetokounmpo who he is. He’s the guy who just goes, very quickly, in a particular direction or to a particular spot on the floor, and then when he gets there he just does it, because his body allows him to.

He’s right. Giannis may not be funny, but he is a singular talent, in the truest sense of that term, in the history of the NBA. -TOB

Source: Giannis Antetokounmpo Has His Career Highlight,” Tom Ley, Defector (07/15/2021)


Video of the Week

Tennis players are incredible. Playing against Djokovich must be soul crushing. That dude had 2-3 perfect shots in that sequence and still lost the point.

Tweet of the Week:

Song of the Week: Guided By Voices – “Game Of Pricks”

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Ah, yes I know. I shat where I ate. And I shall now eat where I shat.

L.D.

Week of July 9, 2021


Papa Guinn

With the baseball draft kicking off this Sunday (the first time it’s been during the All-Star break), here’s a great story about a prospect who grew up in Oakland. 

Rickey Henderson was a 3-sport star at Oakland Tech High School, which stands about a 9-iron away from the balcony I’m sitting on at this moment. He loved football, but J.J. Guinn, a full-time Berkeley police officer and part-time baseball scout, saw a different future for the young athlete. More importantly, Guinn made the winning pitch to Henderson’s mom: less injuries in baseball. Once Bobbie, a single parent, made up her mind, there was no changing it. Rickey went to his room and cried. 

The decision went against the views of many of the people who had watched Henderson. Football coaches praised Henderson’s physique and lauded his speed. But in baseball, he found less reassurance. Some scouts were concerned with his arm, his crouched batting stance, and the fact that he batted right-handed but threw left-handed.

Those scouts focused on Henderson’s flaws. Guinn focused on his strengths: Henderson’s speed, athleticism and lateral range. Where others saw impediments, Guinn saw possibility.

Only two M.L.B. teams were present for an American Legion game at Bushrod Park on that day in 1976: the Athletics and the Los Angeles Dodgers. After Henderson struck out in his first two at-bats, the Dodgers scout stood up. “I’ve seen enough,” Guinn recalled him saying. “I have a plane to catch.”

Henderson homered in his next two at-bats and Guinn feverishly typed out a report to his scouting director. His advice: Sign Rickey Henderson “right away.”

We know how this ended up for Henderson. Guinn’s story is perhaps more interesting. Part-time scout, full-time officer, respected and revered in Berkeley and Oakland.  

From Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Guinn would walk some of Berkeley’s most crime-ridden streets looking to connect with the residents he was charged with protecting. Few of them had seen a Black police officer.

“Most people think these kids on the street are dumb, but they’re not,” Guinn said. “They know if they can trust you. I had to instill that trust. But because I was raised in Berkeley, if I didn’t know them, they knew my children, or I knew their parents. They knew I was for real.”

Rickey and Guinn got together a couple weeks ago. The location: Rickey Henderson’s suite at the Oakland Coliseum. They reviewed Guinn’s original scouting report from 1976. More than an assessment, that report is now a time machine. 

Henderson sat back and listened, smiling as Guinn recited his strengths, and cackling as he recited his weaknesses. The words transported both men back to Bushrod Park in North Oakland, on a warm April afternoon, two months before that year’s draft.

A heartwarming read. – PAL 

Source: After 45 Years, a Cop Still Looks After His Favorite (Base) Thief,Alex Coffey, The New York Times (07/09/21)

TOB: Love Rickey. I randomly saw this tweet this morning and had to add to it:


Ominous Ohtani

As TOB has touched on many times on this blog (and I have been  a skeptic to a degree that approaches unfun), Shohei Ohtani is doing something unseen in the last century of baseball. The dude has hit 30 home runs before the all-star break…and is a starting pitcher, a pretty good one with electric stuff. He throws 101, and he hits 450-foot lasers. 

Before we go any further, let’s break for TOB to tell me “I TOLD YOU” while I eat crow:

TOB: *cracks knuckles*

Pull up a chair, this is a life lesson: When you want to believe and you choose to believe, then you will get to revel in the fruits of that belief. When I wrote about him 14 at bats into his career, sure I could have “taken it easy,” as my friend suggested. But no. NO, dangit. Where is the joy in that, I ask you? This week I saw an article suggesting Ohtani is “breaking baseball.” I saw another saying he is “pushing MLB’s boundaries.” I saw another discussing how he is the first half AL MVP, and it’s not close because what he is doing hasn’t been done since Babe Ruth. I wanted to believe we could see the next Babe Ruth and by god we are seeing it. If Ohtani stunk, I wouldn’t care. But no. Here I am. Rubbing Phil’s nose in the dirt as a good friend should. Today, we celebrate Ohtani. But we also celebrate ME.

OK, back to the story.

Here’s some context for Ohtani’s season from Neil Paine, writing for the data-driven fivethirtyeight:

As I wrote in May, this is a modern Babe Ruth season. But that might be understating what Ohtani has been doing. According to Baseball-Reference.com’s wins above replacement, Ohtani is on pace for 11.7 total WAR per 162 games this year, including 6.7 as a position player and 5.0 as a pitcher. That would be an astronomical tally — none of teammate Mike Trout’s seasons have reached that level; in fact, it hasn’t been done since Barry Bonds in 2002. But even more remarkably, no player in AL or NL history has even come close to producing 5 WAR on both sides of the ball in the same season. Ruth’s best two-way year saw him put up 6.0 WAR as a batter and 3.0 WAR as a pitcher in 1918, one of his last seasons before becoming a full-time outfielder.

And yet, as I first heard Monday from Bill Simmons and Ryen Russillo, the Ohtani season doesn’t feel like it’s as big of a deal as it would’ve been if it had happened 10-20 years ago. While it’s written about, I don’t know if my dad—a casual baseball fan— would recognize the name. And I haven’t heard that a nephew of mine has begged his parents to go to a game when the Angels come through town.

That should scare the hell out of MLB. How this guy hasn’t moved the needle on a national level is beyond me. There was a lot of hype, then injury, and now he’s living up to the hype, albeit a couple seasons later. We have the most incredible story of my lifetime, and it seems to be flying a bit under the radar. What does that say about the future of the game? 

Podcast embedded below (jump to the 66:00 mark)

We’ve typed up and shared a bunch of stories about what’s ailing baseball. Here we have what’s fun and great about the game—a charismatic dude from another country upending all modern expectations—and no one seems to pay it much mind. That’s a bad sign for baseball. – PAL 

Source: “Only One Player Has Ever Been As Good As Shohei Ohtani,” Neil Paine, fivethirtyeight.com (06/30/21); The Bill Simmons Podcast (07/07/21)

TOB: This is anecdotal, but I think Simmons Russillo (and the two of us) – white, baseball fans – cannot appreciate the affect what Ohtani’s reach might be for non-baseball fans and people of color. My oldest has a best friend who loves sports. But they are not a baseball family. The dad is not originally from the U.S. – he loves soccer, NFL, and golf, but not baseball. But when the Angels were in town to play the Giants and A’s earlier this year, he texted me and asked if we wanted to go to see Ohtani pitch. Again, this is anecdotal. But I would be interested to see if there’s something to that.


Ichiro Stories

The Athletic did an oral history of Ichiro’s career. Here are the funniest anecdotes:

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Bret Boone, Mariners teammate: Opening Day, 2001. I’m taking my position at second base, and there was a veteran umpire out there, a guy that’s been there forever. He comes up to me and goes, “Boonie, what’s up, how are you doing?” And he goes, “What the hell’s up with your right fielder?” I said, “What are you talking about?” He goes, “He runs by me and I say to him, ‘Hey, Ichiro, welcome to America.’” And Ichiro looks at him and says, “What’s happening, home slice,” and keeps running to his position.

Brian McCann, Yankees teammate: One of the first series when I went to New York, I went in to get batting gloves or something out of my locker in like the eighth inning. Ichiro was in full cleats, and he was doing sprints in the clubhouse. In cleats, dead sprints, 40 years old, to go play defense in the ninth.

Young: He got on second base and I was playing second base. At this point, I had no idea if he even spoke English. We were in Texas in the middle of the summer. It was just blistering down there, and I go, “What’s up, man?” He looks at me with a straight face and says, “It’s hotter than rats fucking in a wool sock.”

SPEECHES

CC Sabathia, Yankees teammate: Ichi gave the best speeches at the All-Star Game.

Randy Winn, Mariners teammate: This is 2002. I’m at the All-Star Game and Joe Torre is the manager. Joe brings us all in and says something very nice, very professional, very Joe Torre, very even and monotone.

Sweeney: You could hear a pin drop as Joe Torre’s speaking to us.

Winn: After he finishes, he goes, “All right, Ichiro, what do you have to say?” I was like, “Wow, why is he calling Ichiro? Of all people to say something …”

Jim Leyland, Tigers manager: All of the sudden he pops up: “Let’s kick their fucking fat asses.”

Michael Young, Rangers second baseman: As loud as he could.

A.J. Pierzynski, Twins catcher: And that was it.

Winn: I was like, “Wait, what?” And everybody cheered like, “Yeaaaaah!”

Rick Griffin, Mariners trainer: By the time we got to 2010, he’d added a few more lines to it and had added some more F-bombs.

Young: Every year, whenever the manager said, “Does anyone have anything to add,” everyone would point both their fingers at Ichiro.

Sweeney: It was almost an unwritten rule: Ichiro would always have the last word.

Young: Every year the decibel level would go up a little more to create a different effect. But every year it was the same thing: “Let’s go kick their fucking fat asses.”

Griffin: He dropped many, many F-bombs in many different varieties and different forms. Just screaming and yelling and hopping up and down — and then he walked away and sat down like nothing happened.

Winn: Like nothing happened.

FOOD

Bryant: He literally ate those [chicken wings] every home game for 10 years. Except on a day game he would change it up and he would have a corndog, of all things. He would have two corndogs. These were the cheap, Costco corndogs, and they could not be microwaved. They had to be baked in the oven so they would get crispy.

Chamberlain: During the game, he would only eat plum balls made by his wife. Plum balls.

Griffin: He knew where every single California Pizza Kitchen was in every city that we stayed in. And whether it was five minutes away or 45 minutes away, he had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. He had double cheese, extra sauce and lightly cooked. Every time.

Griffin: He would come in every day when he got to the ballpark, and he would weigh himself. … And if he weighed 171.8 then he would eat a little more so the next day he would come in and weigh 172. If he weighed 172.3 then the next day he would eat a little bit less so he would weigh 172.

Bryant: He actually started out with nine wings. He came in one year and said, “Chef J, I’m gaining weight, so I can only have seven wings.” And then he did seven wings for a while. And then by the end he was only doing five because he was thinking he was gaining weight.

Bryant: I went up to Ichi and said, “Hey, what do you think of selling these wings out in the stands?” And he goes, “Let me think about it.” I’m not even exaggerating: Four years go by. I get a call from his interpreter in the offseason. He goes, “Chef J, I just wanted to let you know. Ichiro said go ahead with the wings idea.”

SELF CONFIDENCE

Strange-Gordon: If Ichi makes a really nice play, like he throws somebody out or gets a big hit, you’d say, “That atta boy Ich!” And he’d literally go, “It’s obvious.”

Winn: It’s myself, Ichiro, Bret and Edgar (Martinez). Bret said something like, “Ichiro, how do you do it?” And Ichiro, without missing a beat, turns to him, stone-faced, and goes, “It’s obvious.”

Chamberlain: That should literally be the title of your article: “It’s obvious.”

Strange-Gordon: He had just signed with the Marlins, and we hit every day. You know me: I’m just watching everything. I go, “Ichi, question. At the beginning of the second half last year, they told me they wanted me to walk more, so I started taking pitches, but I started to strike out.” He said, “No, no, no.” I said, “So how do I walk?” He said, “You rake first, then they’ll walk you.”

Sele: His first year, in spring training, guys were taking BP, and I believe that he was hitting with Jay (Buhner) and Edgar. They were cranking line drives all over the place, no big deal. Ichiro was just staying inside the ball and just flipping the ball to left field with no real impact. Lou (Piniella) starts to get on him, saying something like, “Son, you’ve got to get behind the ball. Drive the ball.” Ichiro puts his finger to his lips and says, “Shhhhhh. I’ve got a plan.”

McLaren: Lou asked him, “Son, do you ever turn on a ball? Do you ever pull the ball?” He just nodded his head and said, “Sometimes.” And Lou goes, “OK, well, I’d like to see it. I’d just like to see you turn on a ball.” So we start the game that night, and he hits one to right field way back on the berm. I mean, he crushed it. So he comes back to the dugout and he’s getting ready to go down the steps and he stops and he looked at Lou and he says, “Is that turn on ball, Lou?”

-TOB
Source: Untold Stories of Ichiro: Wrestling with Griffey, All-Star Speeches and ‘Ichi Wings’,” Corey Brock, Rustin Dodd, Jayson Jenks, The Athletic (07/06/2021)

Ok, Maybe We Should Pump the Brakes on Robo-Umps

But also, doesn’t the ump have the ability to overrule the roboump? I thought they did. Also, nice work by the song guy. -TOB


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: JJ Grey & Mofro – “Every Minute”


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I wish there was a way to know you’re in “the good old days”, before you’ve actually left them.

-Andy Bernard

Week of June 25, 2021

Oooh girl. Look at those Cool Ranch Earrings. Fire.

Baseball’s Sticky Issue, Explained

I know Phil covered this two weeks ago, but I have been wanting to write about this story for a few weeks. However, with each passing day came new developments, and I felt like I needed to wait until there was some resolution before putting it all together. Well, there hasn’t exactly been a resolution, but enough has happened that it does seem like it’s time to recap it all, before it gets too big to boil down to a few hundred words (if we’re not already there). So hold onto your butts – here we go.

Back on May 7, just one month into the baseball season, we wrote about the insane strikeout rate across MLB. April 2021 saw over 1,000 more strikeouts than hits. For context, before May 2018, there hadn’t been a single month in MLB history with more strikeouts than hits. In fact, before 2020 (a two month season), there had never been an MLB season with 1,000 more strikeouts than hits. Again: this year, we saw that in the month of April alone. 

There had been rumblings over the last year or two, if you were interested in finding it, that the increased strikeout rate was largely due to an increase in both velocity and spin rate. And if you were really paying attention, you’d have seen articles like this one last fall, from friend of the blog Eno Sarris, suggesting the increased spin rate and thus the increased strikeout rate were due to the increasing usage of “sticky” stuff by MLB pitchers. 

Officially, the use of a foreign substance by a pitcher violates MLB Rule 8.02. Unofficially, MLB didn’t seem to care (once again creating their own crisis, ahem steroids) until this week. As a result, the use of grip enhancements over the last few years exploded. From an article by Eno last year:

A large majority of big league pitchers right now are using some sort of extra-grip substance to impart more spin — and therefore more movement — on the ball. That’s the consensus of nearly 20 major league hitters, pitchers and pitching coaches who spoke to The Athletic in the last month. The median answer was more than three-quarters of the league, but five respondents thought the portion was much closer to 100 percent.

“Almost everyone is using something,” said a coach with experience in several major league organizations.

“My guess on total MLB players using some sort of grip enhancement … 99.9 percent,” said another coach who has worked with multiple major leaguers.

The use of grip enhancements, and their effect on spin rate and thus a pitcher’s effectiveness have been an open secret in baseball for years. In 2018, Gerrit Cole and Jason Verlander saved and resurrected their careers, respectively, when they were traded to the Houston Astros. Cole’s college teammate Trevor Bauer very publicly called out the Astros, and thus Cole and Verlander, for their sudden increased spin rate. 

Bauer is not really wrong about what happened to Cole’s spin rate when he got to Houston:

Cole’s four-seam spin rate went from 2,164 rpm in 2017 in Pittsburgh to 2,379 rpm in 2018 in Houston — a difference of 215 rpm. It increased again to 2,530 rpm in 2019, and has averaged 2,552 rpm in 2021.

As Eno notes, Bauer commented publicly about grip enhancements repeatedly that year:

“For eight years I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase the spin on my fastball because I’d identified it way back then as such a massive advantage,” Bauer himself wrote in a piece for The Players’ Tribune. “I knew that if I could learn to increase it through training and technique, it would be huge. But eight years later, I haven’t found any other way except using foreign substances.”

It wasn’t for a lack of experimentation.

“I’ve tested all sorts of different stuff in the lab up at Driveline,” Bauer told Jordan Bastian in 2018. “I sat down with a chemical engineer to understand it. At 70 mph, when we were doing the tests, spin rates jumped between 300-400 rpm while using various different sticky substances. The effect is slightly less pronounced at higher velocities — more game-like velocities — but still between 200-300 rpm increase. So, that’s a lot of the research we’ve done. We’ve done it with multiple test subjects. … And those are the results we found.”

For his part, Bauer seemed to see that there would be no enforcement of rule 8.02 and decided if he couldn’t beat ‘em, he’d join ‘em. As noted by the Athletic:

Bauer’s own fastball spin rate has increased by about 400 rpm since 2019. He won the NL Cy Young award in 2020 and signed a three-year, $102 million contract with the Dodgers ahead of the 2021 season.

Curious, huh. The connection between spin and strikeouts is fairly conclusive. Here are two charts from Eno’s article:

Basically, the sticky substance allows a pitcher to grip the ball better and spin it harder. The more a ball spins, the more it breaks. The more it breaks, the harder it is to hit. The harder it is to hit, the more swings and misses, the more strikeouts – and, thus, fewer balls in play. 

Grip enhancement has always been used in some form – scuffing, rosin mixed with either sweat or sunscreen. But the newest technological enhancements created stuff that was stickier than ever before, the most notorious of which in recent weeks was a product called Spider Tack.

Two weeks ago, Phil covered an article Eno wrote about Spider Tack in April. Eno set up an experiment where a former major league pitcher tested various grip substances. When the pitcher used Spider Tack, his spin rate jumped twenty five percent compared to using a sunscreen and rosin mixture. That is a lot. 

As Phil also noted, Spider Tack was developed by a former Strongman competitor who, until a reporter recently called him, had no idea his product was being used by MLB pitchers. It was developed to help Strongman competitors carry gigantic friggin boulders. Here’s a promotional photo for Spider Tack:

Now, look, I love baseball. But strikeouts are rarely exciting, at least en masse. We want to see hits. We want to see good defense. We want to see running. We want action. Dudes waving blindly at pitches they have no chance to hit is not great. The game is moving ever closer to the three true outcomes: home run, walk, strikeout. That’s kinda boring. And boring is bad for business. So, as the strikeout rate hit never before seen levels this year, and as more and more reporters discussed the use of grip enhancements, there was suddenly an outcry to ban this stuff. Players, like Gerrit Cole, were being asked after games if they used the stuff. Cole stammered and didn’t answer, thereby seemingly admitting his use.

So, this month, MLB moved quickly, announcing that by this past Monday, the rule would be enforced:

Under the new guidelines, any pitcher who possesses or applies foreign substances in violation of the rules will be ejected from the game and automatically suspended in accordance with the rules and past precedent. Suspensions under Rule 3.01 are 10 games. Starting pitchers will have more than one mandatory check per game, and relievers must be checked at the end of the inning when they entered the game or when they are taken out of the game, whichever comes first. Typically, the inspections will take place between innings or during pitching changes to give the umpires ample time to perform a thorough check without delaying the game.

Many pitchers were furious. The Rays’ Tyler Glasnow, for example, blamed an injury to the lack of grip enhancement – without the enhancement he had to create more torque in his arm, and he partially tore his UCL (which usually means Tommy John surgery). And he has a point – MLB didn’t enforce this rule and he has pitched for multiple seasons with grip enhancement. Then suddenly, mid-season, they pulled the rug out from under pitchers with very little warning. Glasnow doesn’t seem unreasonable in asking that they had been given an offseason to prepare for Life After Spider Tack.

As for what the lack of grip enhancement will do to the game, it’s too early to tell. We don’t have enough data yet to draw big conclusions. But following the announcement, and even before the enforcement, there have been many reports of pitcher spin rates dropping drastically. It remains to be seen if pitchers will find a way around this. Notably, most hitters who have discussed the topic publicly said that they’d like pitchers to use something to ensure control and thus hitter safety. 

On the other hand, as The Ringer’s Michael Baumann theorizes, maybe the rule enforcement does nothing:

More likely, pitchers will continue to operate as usual, and offenses will continue to suffer. Pitchers aren’t dominating solely because they’re rubbing the inside of a watermelon rind before every inning; foreign substances are just one component of a deliberate leaguewide developmental program. Technological advances and engorged modern bullpens allow teams to teach any Tom, Dick, and Harry they pull off a Big 12 mound how to throw 98 miles an hour and unleash a devastating slider with iffy command for 60 innings a year. And when such effort results in torn elbows and shoulders, that pitcher can be discarded and another plucked off the vine. In the land where every pitcher is José Alvarado, the GM with the most José Alvarados is king. Cleaning pitchers’ fingers won’t solve all those structural issues.

One thing we can say is that the new pitcher checks have given us some high comedy – most notably from Max Scherzer and Sergio Romo, both of whom looked for a second like they were about to take their pants down in an exaggerated effort to show compliance with the umpire check. Here’s Romo’s:

I’m saving Scherzer’s episode for Video of the Week but I implore you to scroll down and watch it, because it gets the Jomboy treatment and when I watched Scherzer demanding that the umpire rub his hair to show that he had nothing in it but sweat, I howled laughing so hard that my wife texted me from down the hall to ensure I was ok because she was worried about me.

Also, this Tweet had me chuckling.

One other interesting twist. I had wondered last week whether the use of substances like Spider Tack had a negative effect on home run rates due to increased drag on the ball. I asked Eno Sarris on Twitter, but he didn’t have an answer. As it turns out, my hunch may have been correct:

So, not only might the elimination of grip enhancements reduce the swing and miss rate, it may increase the distance a given batted ball travels. The effects of the enforcement of this rule are unknown, and that’s pretty exciting.

*exhale*

Ok, I think I covered it all. I hope you enjoyed the trip. I will be on the lookout for articles collating the data on all of this and will report back once we have some ideas on the real effects. -TOB
Source: ‘Almost Everyone is Using Something’: Getting a Grip on How MLB Pitchers are Cheating,” Eno Sarris, The Athletic (11/09/2020); Spider Tack is the Stickiest Stuff in Baseball’s Foreign-Substance Controversy. Its Inventor Had No Idea,” Stephen J. Nesbitt, The Athletic (06/07/2021); What Will Happen After MLB’s Sticky Stuff Crackdown?Michael Baumann, The Ringer (06/17/2021)


Disc Golf Is The Future

For athletes on the fringe, at least. 

So much of my time and energy, as it relates to sports, focuses on the most popular and well-known sports and athletes. Football, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey. Yes, I’m curious about fringe sports, too, but my viewing basically comes down to those four (of course, add soccer to that list for international popularity). Odds are, you’re the same, which is why professional athletes in these sports make so much money: the general public accept these sports and their respective stars as part of mainstream culture. 

But, in today’s world of social influencers, there’s money to be made for the fringe (and amateur) athletes. You only have to look to Paul McBeth. He plays disc golf. He recently signed a $10M endorsement deal, guaranteed. Again, the dude plays disc golf. 

Let’s start here: McBeth dominates his sport. A “Tiger Woods of…” type dominance. Not only has he won a bunch of tournaments that I’m told are important (how the hell would I know what constitutes a major in disc golf?). McBeth has won over $500K playing disc golf. Not too shabby.

More importantly—and worth of the Tiger comp—the size of the prize purse has increased 5x. 

But that’s just a piece. Per David Gardner in his story from The Ringer: 

But except to a subset of hardcore frisbee fans, his more impressive accomplishments have come away from the course. In February, disc golf manufacturer Discraft announced it had extended McBeth’s endorsement deal to a guaranteed $10 million over 10 years. McBeth also has sponsors for other disc golf gear, such as grip equipment and bags, and owns part of a company called Foundation Disc Golf that produces both products and content. He has deals outside of disc golf equipment too, with the likes of Adidas and Celsius energy drink. According to 2019 data from the athlete marketing platform Opendorse, only about 70 athletes in the world make at least a million dollars a year in endorsement deals. McBeth’s endorsement income from Discraft alone puts him on par with Bears linebacker Khalil Mack, Jazz guard Mike Conley Jr., and Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.

McBeth has carved out a lucrative career in a niche sport, in part as an athlete and in part as an influencer. He isn’t alone in using this blueprint. Competitors in sports ranging from bowling to lacrosse have been able to amass riches by building their brands—and growing the games they love along the way. 

McBeth has about 93K subscribers to his YouTube channel, plus an additional 172K on instagram. He posts tons of videos, many of them with over 100K views. Most importantly, he’s also selling products – discs, hats, clothes. The following video is boring. I encourage you to not finish it, but I share it to notice what they are doing – filling orders and running through inventory and filling orders. They are running a small business.

In my assessment, social media is primarily a shitty addition to society (or maybe we’ve used it in a primarily superficial and shitty way) but this is an example of it bringing something fun and interesting to the table. McBeth, and so many other athletes from fringe sports, can find an avid and sizeable following on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, etc.. Take it from someone who works in the marketing arm of a company: people with 6-figure followings can earn 5-figure checks for posting about a brand or product. And while that might sound lame, it’s actually pretty powerful for McBeth, Olympic athletes, or even ‘amatuer athletes’ in college who can/will be able to make money off of their name and likeness. 

While you and I definitely do not know Jason Belmonte (bowler) or Chloe Mitchell (NAIA volleyball player), they’ve amassed some serious followings on social media, and that can mean real money from brands trying to connect with that all-powerful 18-24 demographic (or even younger).

 “To millions of kids, TikTok and YouTube are mainstream entertainment. They don’t watch TV,” says Taylor Lorenz, who covers social media, Gen Z, and influencers for The New York Times. “Sometimes you need to get onto TV to get credibility with boomer CEOs. But for individuals, you can often monetize better on your social media.”

This was a great read that helps explain where sports are heading, especially for college athletes. Simply follow the money, as they say. It’s interesting to see new inroads of cash flow in the sports universe. A great read. – PAL 

Source: The Rise of the $10 Million Disc Golf Celebrity”, David Gardner, The Ringer (06/21/21)


Joey Votto Continues to Rule, A Story in Three Tweets

One:

Two: 

Three: 

Lol, that’s the good shit. -TOB

Source: Abigail’s Mom on Twitter (06/20/2021)


The Playoffs, In Four Shots

Just jumping into the NBA Playoffs? Then you’ll be surprised to learn all of the favorites are gone and your next champion will be one of the following: Clippers (0 titles), Suns (0), Hawks (1, in 1958), Milwaukee (1 in 1971). 

Don’t sweat it, though. Ben Cohen has done something very smart and easy to digest in his article: he’s highlighted one shot each team has to make in order to have a chance to win. For the Bucks, Giannis has to hit his free throws. I don’t mean that like the dude at the bar yellin “gotta hit your free throws” at the TV. I mean, the defense the Hawks can play against the Bucks is dependent upon Giannis’ free throw percentage. 

Cohen writes: 

More important is what happens when the ball finally leaves Antetokounmpo’s hands. He was a 68.5% foul shooter this season—in his previous two MVP seasons, he shot 72.9% and 63.3% from the line—but he’s dipped to 53.8% in the playoffs. At that rate, the Bucks yield 1.08 points per possession when Antetokounmpo gets fouled, which is lower than their average offense in the regular season and playoffs. To put it another way, fouling him is smart defense. 

It’s how the Hawks can take the best player on the other team and diminish him to his worst skill. 

For the Hawks, it comes down to Trae Young and his floaters. If he’s hitting that shot between the foul line and the basket, then a rim-running Clint Capella becomes a much bigger threat on offense. For The Suns, it’s the ugly step-child of the modern NBA: the mid-range jumper (turns out, it’s not a bad shot after all, as long as you have dudes that can make ‘em). For the Clippers, it’s the…uh, it’s the Clippers; no one cares. 

In all seriousness, I really liked this breakdown of one shot per team and how making it unlocks other aspects of the game, making the team much harder to defend. Good stuff. – PAL 

Source:Alley-Oops, Free Throws and the Biggest Shots of the NBA Playoffs,” Ben Cohen, The Wall Street Journal (06/23/21)


Videos of the week

PAL: This brought joy to my morning. It’s the perfect Eddie Rosario clip.

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week: George Harrison – “Behind That Locked Door”


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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.

Carew:

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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