Week of November 19, 2021

This is the first time I’ve felt like going to the zoo in decades.

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again…

Hey, uh. The Warriors are 10-1, with the lone loss coming in OT, and an absolutely outrageous point differential of 13.6 (Edit: Since I wrote this, they are now 13-2  with a point differential of 13.7). And they are about to get Klay Thompson back, who hasn’t played in 2 ½ years. Steph is doing Steph things,, Draymond seems rejuvenated, the young guys who got all that p/t in 2020 are seeing the benefits of that experience (especially Poole), and this team suddenly looks like the best (and most fun) team in the NBA once again. As Chris Thompson writes:

Now they appear to be one of the very best teams in basketball with Jordan damn Poole second on the squad in usage. Imagine adding any conceivable game-ready version of Klay Thompson to this! Bringing Klay back into the fold will, I’m sure, require some patience and fine-tuning, but the team’s already good vibes should immediately shoot through the roof. With a core that has always drawn so much juice from raw vibes, that makes for a thrilling, terrifying possible future. And that’s just any ambulatory version of Thompson. Imagine if he gets back to doing Klay Thompson shit! The mind reels.

More on Steph, though. Here are his last 6 games:

That is NINE 3-pointers made in 4 of his last 6 games, with games of 50, 40, 37, and 40 points. He’s the greatest show in sports. Watch what he made this opposing fan do:

(That, “Oh, ohhh” is my 7-year old, kneeling at the Church of Curry)

Future generations will truly not understand what a wonder he is. We are so lucky to get to see him play. 

Meanwhile, 90 miles up the road:

Cool, cool. 

-TOB

Source: Imagine Adding Klay Thompson To This!Chris Thompson, Defector (11/09/2021)

PAL: My wife is starting to ask if the Warriors are playing tonight, so you know they are back to being so friggin’ entertaining to watch. I really don’t know what else to say about Steph. It’s just so fun to watch when he’s on fire. 

I also love Gary Payton II. Dude comes off the bench, seems to immediately get 2 steals and 6 points in 4 minutes of play. He’s a menace. 


Barefoot Badasses 

This story about a softball team made up of Mayan women is a reminder of the good side of sports. So often I can become too focused on what bothers me about a game or league—be it the politics, business, or the ineptitude of favorite teams—that it’s nice to be reminded of the power within simply playing a game. 

Adam Williams’ story gives the backstory on the Las Diablillas softball team and the growing popularity of softball amongst indigenous women in Mexico.  

The women play barefoot (they prefer it, since they are usually barefoot and cleats just give them blisters) and wear their traditional Mayan dresses. What started as a community idea for the women to get a bit of exercise in the afternoon has become somewhat of a national sensation, playing games in stadiums with thousands of fans to see the spectacle. More importantly, the game has helped change the perception of a woman’s role within the community. 

“When I first started playing, the men in my family said jokes and comments like ‘You’re just wasting your time playing softball,’” said Alvi Yajaira Diaz Poot, who plays several positions for the Amazonas. “Now when I come home from games they are eager to know how the game went and even bring me something to drink.”

And best of all, playing softball has helped the women see themselves in a different light. 

“As we have improved on the field, my life has improved as well,” said Alicia Canul Dzib, who plays second base and pitches for the Diablillas. “I used to really only leave the house to help my husband with our crops. Now, thanks to softball, I have permission to leave the house, enjoy myself with friends and visit new towns. It motivates me to keep playing and set an example for my daughter.”

An excellent read, with phenomenal photos from Marian Carrasquero, that will remind you of the power of a game. – PAL 
Source: “An Indigenous Women’s Softball Team Beats Opponents, and Machismo,” Adam Williams, The NY Times (11/17/21)


Brandon Crawford: A Decent Shortstop

Brandon Crawford won the Gold Glove this year, at age 34. That is pretty dang impressive. To celebrate it, Grant Brisbee utilized Baseball Savant to watch every single play Crawford made this season. He then highlighted the best – whether they were flashy or routine – that Crawford made this year. This isn’t from Brisbee’s article, but it’s a taste:

I love this article because, like those who argue dumbly against Buster Posey as a Hall of Famer, there are some players you need to see everyday in order to understand their brilliance. Crawford is one of those. One of my favorite Twitter follows this past season was Susan Slusser. She had been a beat writer for the A’s for years, but began covering the Giants this season. It seemed like every single night she would express her amazement at how good Brandon Crawford is.

And he’s really great. Watching him play shortstop is a joy. I promise you, I texted friends this season about plays made by Crawford more than anyone else. It was fun to relive those moments in this article. And, to top it off, he finished 4th in the NL MVP voting, receiving the third most first place votes. -TOB

Source: The Defensive Genius of Brandon Crawford’s Gold Glove Season,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (11/08/2021)

PAL: Of all the games I’ve gone to with TOB, no other player in the field has induced more slow head shakes, as in, “Damn, that’s so goddamn good.”The plays he makes look so easy are so, so, so hard. The other variable lost on tv is this: a lot of these guys in the bigs can really get down the line, so everything has to be perfect in order to make the plays he makes all of the time.


Reason #1,459 To Not Gamble

Not a big racetrack guy, but I can appreciate this one. At some big Breeder’s Cup race that a lot of people gamble on, there was a bit of a mess at the starting gate. One horse, Albahr, flipped over and got stuck under the gate. Big delay, and that horse was scratched from the race. So, too, was the horse next to Albahr, Modern Games. So a bettor who picked either of those horses could not win. Tough break, right?

Except Modern Games did race, and the result was way worse than you could expect. I’ll leave it to Dan McQuade to explain: 

The vet had been told, incorrectly, that Modern Games had broken through the starting gate. But the decision to exclude the horses had been made and so both were removed from betting pools.

That ruling stood about four minutes. After some discussion, it was announced Modern Games would return to the race, but would only run for purse money. The horse was briefly entered back into the betting, then removed again, and then the race started. It is important to note: Modern Games would’ve been the favorite in the race, winning three of his five starts coming into the race. Well, he made it four in six. Crossing the finish line first, to a chorus of boos, was Modern Games!

There were many reasons gamblers were booing. Bettors who picked the winning horse saw their horse win the race, but only got a refund on their bets. It was worse for gamblers with multi-race bets: In scenarios where a horse in a parlay bet is scratched, the bettor simply receives the favorite in place of it. The favorite for the race in the end was Dakota Gold at 8–1. That horse finished 5th. The winner for gambling purposes was Tiz The Bomb, who technically finished second. So gamblers who correctly picked Modern Games to win the race on those bets saw their horse win but their ticket lose. This shifted millions of dollars’ worth of bets.

Yikes. I would’ve booed, too. – PAL 

Source: Breeders’ Cup Fiasco Ruins Bettors’ Friday Night,” Dan McQuade, Defector (11/07/21)


Free Offensive Linemen!

Honestly, I have never understood the rule in football that offensive lineman can’t be receivers. Why make the game less exciting? If you’re not aware, there is a rule that an offensive lineman who is not an eligible receiver (which is almost always all of them) cannot be the first person to touch a forward pass. It’s a dumb rule that came into play last week on Thursday Night Football.

I have some experience with this. In JV football, I played offensive line. One game, we called a screen pass. I was supposed to half block my guy, then let him go by so that he (and the other defenders) would think they’d crush the QB, only for the QB to throw the ball over their heads to the waiting running back, who would then have a convoy of blockers in front of him. After getting “beat” I was supposed to wait until I heard the call from the running back to begin heading upfield.

On this play, though, I let my guy go by and then waited…and waited. My internal clock began to go off and I turned my head to see what was going on. As I did, I saw the ball floating right to me. Our QB had made a terrible pass, and it was to me. So I caught it and did the only thing that made sense – I ran upfield.

In that moment I appreciated the vision and awareness required to be a ball carrier. Because in a football helmet, your peripheral vision is narrow. After I caught the bell and began to run, the field was wide open. I legitimately thought I was going to score a 50-yard touchdown. Instead, after probably 15 yards, I was suddenly cut down by a tackle from my right side. 

I actually knew the rule, even at 15, that I was not supposed to touch the ball. But it was coming right to me and I thought in that split second, oh what the hell. I’m glad I did – even after they announced the penalty, my coach ran over to me to celebrate. I didn’t quite do what that Dolphins OL did, but for one moment, I thought I was going to score – and that was pretty cool. 

-TOB


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

PAL: Brad Johnson is a HUGE human.

Song of the Week

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Week of October 29, 2021


Don’t Stop Dreaming

Most of you recognize the name Alex Honnold. He climbed El Capitan without a rope. Nearly as impressive is his mom’s achievement. At 70, Dierdre Wolownick climbed El Cap (with a rope). 

More incredible, she took up rock climbing in her 60s. Not in the 1960s, but rather  in her seventh decade. Her story, which is a part of the NY Times “It’s Never Too Late” Series, is the inspiration some of you might be looking for while perusing our humble little side project of a digest. 

As Tim Neville captures, the first half of her life was filled with wonderful, albeit “sedentary and cerebral”. In her interview with Neville, she describes the circumstances of her late start in climbing. 

How did you try it?

About 10 years ago, Alex was home with an injury so I asked him to take me to the climbing gym. I figured I’d get to know the equipment and climb halfway up the wall and come home and be happy. I got on the first climb and went all the way up, about 45 feet, and I was totally surprised I had no fear whatsoever. So I did 12 more climbs that day and loved it.

What was your life like before that?

Total turmoil. My husband, Charles, fell over dead at 55 in the Phoenix airport one month after I had divorced him and I became the executor of his estate. My father had just died and I was dealing with his estate, too. Alex had almost died while snowshoeing in 2004 when he was 19. So I started running, little by little, and wound up becoming a runner. There was nothing in life I was doing for me and running was for me. Climbing turned out to be the same, an escape, but it took courage.

How did you overcome the challenges to climb?

Climbing is very physical and there’s so much to learn about the equipment, the physics, the angles — everything.

I was just a lumpy old middle age woman completely taken with jobs and chores. I was scared, too, and sometimes you need a little help to do something totally new and alien to you. But after a month or two I had had enough conversations with myself and so I said, OK, today, you’re not going home after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing gym. And I did. It became a routine. Climbing was like a key opening this lifelong door. It was wonderful.

Such a cool one. Read the full story and check out more incredible photos from Aubrey Trinnaman. – PAL

Source: “It’s Never Too Late to Climb That Mountain,” Tim Neville, The New York Times (10/26/21) 


This Mark Davis Story: Hilarious and Right On and Creepy

“Norman Bates presented as an unthreatening goof, too.”

This is a story about a backpack. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag, and who also has this haircut.

I’ve read this story three times now. Albert Burneko writes the hell out of a story about a backpack. And, in this situation, a backpack is disturbing. 

Do not make the category mistake of finding this image relatable. Mark Davis can afford, ten thousand times over, to have very skilled and sleek professionals carry his bags for him; to have all of the items that might go into a backpack attended to with great care and minimal friction and zero personal involvement on his part, so that he can glide effortlessly from the lobby of the building to a waiting vehicle; to do this clad in other than remaindered Las Vegas Raiders team merchandise. He could have all of that with little more than a snap of his fingers; the very rich in America do not even have to arrange these things for themselves (and frequently do not even have to actually pay for them). Choosing this, instead—choosing, that is, to lug his own gigantic backpack and suit bag, instead of cashing in a virtually nonexistent portion of his wealth and prestige to purchase a level of ease infinitely beyond the reach of a normal person—is the equivalent of that normal person willingly choosing to walk out of their hotel clad only in a paper grocery bag with leg-holes kicked into the bottom of it, with all their material possessions clutched in their arms, and then stand at the curb attempting to thumb a ride to their destination. That may be an understatement. It might be the equivalent of a normal person denying themselves the luxury of inhaling. The normal person who did that would not be normal or relatable. They would be bizarre and disturbing.

Burneko goes on. It’s a quick and excellent read. Mark Davis may look like many a dads who got off the “caring how I look” train many stops ago, but that is not what’s going on here. – PAL  

Source: Mark Davis, Big Backpack Guy,” Albert Burneko, Defector (10/27/21)


“That’s kind of what I do: basketball and bass fishing.”

Luke Lowe is the first college basketball player I’ve heard of that entered the transfer portal in search of a new team…and better fishing. He transferred from William & Mary to the University of Minnesota (or, as all of us commonly refer to it, the U). In fishing circles Lowe  has been known as a standout fisher long before he was considered a stellar college basketball player, winning state and national fishing tournaments. 

Per Marcus Fuller:

Playing in the Big Ten was a plus for Loewe, but returning to his Midwest roots as an aspiring pro fisherman was a top priority as well.

“There are a lot of great opportunities up here,” said Loewe, a Fond du Lac, Wis., native. “A lot of great fishermen. I’ve been connecting with some of the better anglers around Minnesota, which has been cool.”

Lowe turned himself into a legit college player at William & Mary. After averaging below 2 points per game during his freshman year, he became into a defensive stopper on the perimeter, a 40 percent 3-point shooter, and averaged over 16 a game by his fourth season. 

Pair the new NIL rules for college athletes with Lowes fishing youtube channel, and the dude just might have a nice little social media niche. Classic local newspaper story right here. – PAL 

Source: “Luke Loewe’s transfer to Gophers means more bass and buckets for the avid fisherman,” Marcus Fuller, The Star Tribune (10/26/21)


Video of the Week

Klay is awesome. He commutes to work on a boat, has a cool dog, and he can take a joke. – PAL

Song of the Week


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Week of October 22, 2021

Phil reading texts about former Twin Eddie Rosario

The Perfect Overtime

I know, I know; playoff baseball is happening, and former Twin, Eddie Rosario—who was terrible for the Twins in any big game ever—decided to continue the legacy of former Twins to have big moments in the playoffs (David Ortiz). Stil, I think this story was the best thing I read all week, and it’s about an early-season NHL overtime between the Rangers and the Maple Leafs. 

Barry Petchesky takes a great highlight in a regular season game and creates a broadly compelling story about the challenge of creating an overtime system in a sport for an American audience (ties ain’t gonna fly) that is both entertaining and not a complete departure from the usual game, e.g. shootouts. He thinks hockey just might have found the perfect balance with the 3-on-3 overtime.

He writes, “[i]t’s fun—the same forces that discourage OT from lasting the full five minutes make it a breathless arcade version of the sport. Not quite the real thing, but not a bastardization either: a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation. 

=

The highlight—which is the entire overtime—is incredible. Non-stop action. Great plays, great saves, a blow-for-blow attack. Just a great sports moment that you can’t turn away from once you hit play. That description of an overtime rule—“a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation”— is a great nugget of writing. I get an extra bit of satisfaction when I find a completely random story and get rewarded with a great read. -PAL

Source: Watch This Overtime,” Barry Petchesky, Defector (10/19/21)


Final Grades: Baseball’s Minor League Experiments

After watching the umpires make a bunch of bad ball/strike calls in the Giants/Dodgers series, TOB and I were texting that it just might be time for the robo ump. And then Laz Diaz gave an all-time performance in the Red Sox/Astros game, missing on a playoff high 23 ball/strike calls. The robo umps are already being tested out in lower leagues, so is the sun setting on human umpires calling pitches in a MLB game? 

The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur bring up an important consideration before we jump all the way there with the automated ball-strike system. For one, leagues need to define the zone. Not difficult, you’d think, but there are a lot of variables at play there. One example of these variables: teams providing an accurate height for its players in order for the system to establish the vertical zone). Also, consider this example in the Atlantic League, which went from a 17-inch wide zone (the width of the plate) to a 21-inch zone, making pitch 3 a strike in the graphic below: 

Now, consider that the catcher was set up on the other side of the plate and the pitcher missed location badly. The catcher reaches across his body and stabs at the pitch. The umpire calls it a strike. 

And there there’s the question of a 3-D zone, a 2-D zone, something called a super ellipses zone. It’s not as simple as you might think, all of which leads to the other side of the coin when consider real umps vs. robo umps

Robo umps just make different divisive calls. Even without the traditional “human element,” the strike zone remains a living document. In effect, the old human element of umpires is being replaced by the new human element of MLB executives who are trying to determine which size and shape the strike zone should take. And it’s difficult to take a strict-constructionist stance on what is and isn’t a strike when the zone is repeatedly reconstructed.

The ABS system is just one experiment headed up by MLB this season in an effort to ““increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of games, and reduce player injuries.”

Now that the season is over in the minors and independent leagues, Lindbergh and Arthur took a look at the data of the various experiments in hopes of having an idea of what proposed changes might potentially make an appearance in real game, maybe even a playoff game, in the years to come. 

Of the rules tried out in the summer season, a handful of them are being instituted in instructional fall leagues, which could be an indication of what changes are still being considered by MLB. Those rules are as follows: 

  • ABS system
  • 15-second pitch clock
  • Shift restrictions
  • 18-inch bases (up from 15-inch)
  • Pick-off attempt limits 

This is a super in-depth story, it’s a bit of a data slog, but it’s no doubt excellent. – PAL 

Source: MLB Just Tried a Bunch of Experimental Rules in the Minors. How Well Did They Work?Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur, The Ringer (10/21/21)


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week


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How hard is a luau? All you need are some grass skirts, pineapple, poi, tiki torches, suckling pig, some fire dancers. That’s all you need.

Michael Scott

Giants/Dodgers Game 5: Armageddon

Bike parking is free…just sayin

PRE-GAME:

One of my favorite announcer calls in sports is that soccer announcer who, when a great player finishes a great shot after a great build up, screams, “HAD TO BE!” And that’s how this decisive Game 5 feels – these teams came down to the wire, with the division settled on the last day. Not to say I didn’t want to end it Tuesday night, but in hindsight this feels inevitable.

Phil wanted us to write some thoughts before the game and then after the game and at first I was reluctant. The only thoughts in my head were: 

  1. Just Win, Baby!
  2. The righties in this lineup, facing lefty Julio Urias, are due: Kris Bryant has one homer since September 15 and just two since August 26; Longoria has one since September 16; Ruf has one since September 6 and just two since August 21; Posey has one since September 14 and just three since July 19; Slater has one since September 23 and just three since July 4; Flores has one since August 31; Solano has one since August 22 and just two since August 4. As the @LOLKNBR hashtag has been saying for 48 hours now: THEY’RE DUE.

But then the news broke early this afternoon that the Dodgers would not start Urias and would instead start right handed bullpen guy Corey Knebel as an opener. This, presumably, is to mess with the Giants lineup and make them make some tough decisions on who to start – lefties or righties. Should the Giants start their lefties as the top and then move to righties when Urias comes in? Maybe, but then they have no lefties late if/when they need them against L.A.’s righty-heavy bullpen.

But then I saw a tweet referencing the fact Urias has reverse splits. So I looked it up, and it’s true:

  • RHH vs Urias, 2021: .605 OPS; 98 OPS+
  • LHH vs Urias, 2021: .640 OPS; 105 OPS+
  • RHH vs Urias, Career: .623 OPS; 96 OPS+
  • LHH vs Urias, Career: .680 OPS; 112 OPS+

Looking at Game 2 in hindsight, this makes sense. The Giants went righty-heavy and mustered just 3 hits and 1 run in 5 innings against Urias. Those hits were a ground-rule double by Slater (RHH), a single by Crawford (LHH) and a double by Posey (RHH). Still, the righties went 2 for 12 with a walk, five strikeouts, two doubles, and a sacrifice fly. The lefties went 1 for 2 with a single and no strikeouts.

Which begs the question: Should the Giants make the Dodgers pay by going lefty-heavy tonight: by starting Wade, Yaz, and Duggar – which serves to help them against Knebel and Urias, as well. What’s even more interesting is that I figured Knebel must be a traditional platoon split guy – but he’s also a reverse split guy. Which doesn’t make any sense and throws me for a loop and calls all of the above into question.

LOL, oh well.

-TOB

This is the reward for watching all of those Giants games this year. Should that be a statement or a question? A statement, but barely. It’s really like getting to the last few chapters (let’s hope a few) of a great novel; you can only really appreciate a team and a season like this when you put in your time throughout the year. That’s how I have molded a feel for the Giants rosters, regardless (and I cannot emphasize that enough) of their numbers. 

Guys I feel really good about tonight: 

  • Ruf
  • Longoria
  • Bryant
  • Posey
  • Crawford
  • Rogers

Honestly, I got no feel for Webb. I know he was awesome in Game 1; I was there, but the upper deck is not the best way to get a feel for a pitching performance. The bullpen has been sketch so far, but I feel good about Rogers and, for some reason, Littell…and that’s it. 

Guys that scare the hell out of me: 

  • Urias
  • The Turners
  • Chris Taylor
  • Will Smith

How I want the Giants to blow it open against Treinen and his “All 4 Him” monogrammed glove. 

Bill Simmons likes to think about matchups in terms of your opponent making decisions that are a relief to you, e.g., your team is playing Kansas City Chiefs and they punt on 4th down – any time they take Pat Mahomes off of the field you feel great. And while Urias is no Mahomes, he reeks of a big-game pitcher. So the Dodgers overthinking this thing and going with an opener in the biggest game of the year is great news to me. 

I think the Giants do it. Somehow, some way, they do it, because it’s been that kind of unexplainable season. Either way, I’ve got great beer on hand, and Natalie is convincing me to get pizza instead of leftovers. -PAL

Week of October 8, 2021

When asked about the pearls, Pederson called himself a “bad bitch” – lol.

A Victory Lap 

Did you hear? The San Francisco Giants won the National League West this year. They beat out the Dodgers, who had won the nine previous NL West crowns; they beat out the Dodgers, who won 106 games this year; they beat out the Dodgers, who won the most games ever by a defending World Series champion; they beat out the Dodgers, who won the most games ever by a team that did not win its division; they beat out the Dodgers, who tied the franchise record for wins in a season. None of that mattered, because the Giants won a franchise record 107 games.

It was a joyous, unbelievable season. There’s something about a good baseball team that puts a pep in your step all summer long. When you know your team is good, it gives you something to look forward to every single day for 6 months.

For the Giants, it was a tremendous achievement. Just four years ago, they lost 98 games. The next two years, they lost 89 and 85 games. Just as a good baseball team perks up your summer, a bad baseball team…well, it sucks.

But after that 2018 season, the Giants hired Farhan Zaidi to right the ship. The job seemed…difficult. Saddled with a bad, overpaid, aging major league roster and a bad minor league system with few promising prospects, people snickered when Zaidi said he would not tear it down and do an Astros-style rebuild but would instead rebuild on the fly, while also trying to play meaningful baseball games as deep into the season as they could. But I did not snicker.

People did worse than snicker when Farhan began tinkering at the fringes of the roster. It seemed a bit like he was trying to pull off the red paperclip trade-up — guys were getting called up and sent down and released and signed and traded for at a dizzying pace. Fans were mad. The players were mad! But then something funny happened. It started to work. 

Maybe it wasn’t a paperclip for a house, but Farhan traded minor leaguer Tyler Herb (career major league appearances: zero) for minor leaguer Mike Yastrzemski (career WAR: 7.8!). He traded minor leaguer Franklin Van Gurp (career major league appearances: zero) for Alex Dickerson (career WAR: 2). Those guys gave Giants fans an exciting summer! The Giants played meaningful baseball well into August, before collapsing in September.

And then Bochy left. And Bumgarner signed with Arizona. Some fans were pissed. But not me.

(Oh, you thought this was an article about the Giants taking a victory lap? No, sir. This is an article about me. I was right. You were [probably] wrong. And now I’m going to revel in it.)

Here’s what I wrote when Bumgarner left:

So why are fans mad at Farhan when Bumgarner chose to leave? Here are some recent questions to Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic’s mailbag article:

Do the Giants know how discouraged and worried the fans are? — @romareb

What’s the Giants management reaction to the discontent among their fans? — @woodiewoodf14

Discontent? Worried? Worried about what? First, it’s baseball! Chill out. Second, your team won three World Series titles this decade! Are you kidding me? These fans are spoiled and insufferable. They think there’s no plan because they think the Giants are one big bat away from competing with the Dodgers, who are so deep and so good. But the Giants are so far behind the Dodgers right now, it’s going to take so much more.

Farhan has done and continues to do an incredible job. When he turns this mess around, those fans will probably say they knew all along. But I know. I’m keeping the receipts.

BAM! 107, romareb! Worry about that!

The tide began to really turn in the shortened 2020 season, though. Bochy was replaced by Gabe Kapler. Kapler was not a popular hire, and for valid reasons. Kapler gave an interview to Daniel Brown of the Athletic, and I highly recommend you revisit it. I wrote about that article — going through it paragraph by paragraph, providing gifs to match my reaction. Not to toot my own horn, but it’s a pretty fun read. My emotions were like a roller coaster — but ultimately positive. My final reaction gif? This one:

So again, BAM! 107!!

That 2020 season started off poorly. So poorly. After a brutal weekend series against the A’s where the Giants blew two big leads and were swept in three games, they traveled to Anaheim for a four game series with the Angels. Leading 6–5 in the 9th, the Giants lost on a walk-off homer to Tommy LaStella. When the ball went over his head and over the wall, Yaz could be heard screaming “FUCK!” And, so could I, alone on Highway 1, listening to the game while taking our new car for a night drive along the coast. The Giants were 8–16 and things looked bleak.

And then they just started winning. They won 21 of their next 33 games to get to 29–28. They needed one win in three tries against the Padres to get into the playoffs. Instead, they lost: (1) on a walk-off, (2) in a sleeper, and (3) a 1-run game with three strikeouts in the 9th. Season over, no playoffs. A real gut punch.

But that run gave me hope. The offense was really good! I told anyone who would listen that this team would mash. I had no idea what the pitching would be like. But I thought if everything broke right, we could win 87–88 games and sneak into the second wild card.

As it happened, 88 games would have done it  – and easily. The next closest team was the Reds, at 83 wins. The Giants would have been traveling to St. Louis this week for the Wild Card game. But, I was wrong. In fact, I was off by almost twenty games. So, instead of the Giants traveling to St. Louis, it is the Cardinals traveling to Los Angeles. The Dodgers, winners of 106 games this year, have to win one more for the right to take on the Giants. That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty improbable, too.

Kapler and his staff — from the major league staff down to the minors – scouts and coaches and everything in between, deserve a lot of credit. The team mashed, as I thought they would. In fact, they mashed harder. The players bought in to Kapler and the staff and a bunch of them (in particular Belt, Crawford, Posey) had career years, or career revitalizing years. The team turned its bullpen around midseason. The starting rotation was incredible. Everything just clicked and for six months, it felt like the team could not lose. 

So while the season isn’t over  –  I sure hope this team has another 11 wins in it  –  I’m also going to enjoy this week. Four days with no stress about baseball. Four days to bask in the joy that was the 2021 Giants season. A four day victory lap. The Giants won 107 games and I basically saw it coming. -TOB


Local Commercials Are The Best Commercials

We all know the look and feel of a local commercial that airs between innings, unchanged, ad nauseam all season long. Every local team has its own version. For the Giants, this year it’s been the The Cheese Steak Shop, starring utility outfielder Alex ‘Dick’ Dickerson. It’s…jarring, and I’m so, so, so glad Alex Schultz got the story behind the ad. 

I’m going to describe the ad, and then encourage you to watch it yourself. Dickerson walks into one of the stores. He’s masked up, and he politely fist bumps some customers, who — and I genuinely mean no offense to any parties involved, it’s just impossible to ignore — would have zero shot of recognizing a masked Dickerson at a cheesesteak chain. Dickerson begins a voice-over about his father, who was an F-14 fighter pilot in the Navy, while there’s b-roll of cheesesteaks, mostly. The music is somber. 

We transition to a shot where Dickerson is sitting at a table. He has an uneaten cheesesteak in front of him. “Knowing that he sacrificed so much for me to have the life I have? It means the world to me,” he says of his father, as he tears up.

Why is Dickerson talking about his father? Because, the ad reveals, the Cheese Steak Shop is promoting a Hometown Heroes special, where you can nominate folks for their exemplary community work, and they can win a $50 gift card plus $100 to a charity.

It’s a lot to process at once, and then an unanticipated pivot happens: Dickerson takes an enormous goddamn chomp of a cheesesteak, and the last two seconds of the ad are him saying, “This is legitimately the best cheesesteak I’ve had outside of Philly.”

Watch the ad, see how quickly we get from misty eyes to Dickerson declaring the cheesesteak the best he’s ever had outside of Philly. It’s so goddamn funny. 

Schultz reached out to the local ad agency that pitched the idea and got the backstory on the shoot. Dickerson was nervous, they did the shoot the same day as a game, and there was no script. Dickerson legit teared up when freestyling about his dad, then—unprompted—declared the sandwich the best cheesesteak outside of Philly. And this plays 5-10 times during very Giants game.

Local TV at its finest. – PAL

Source: The story behind NBC Sports Bay Area’s polarizing cheesesteak ad starring Giants’ Alex Dickerson,Alex Schultz, SF Gate (10/8/21)


LFG

Spoiler alert: there is going to be a lot of Giants/Dodgers chatter on 1-2-3 Sports! this week and next. That’s what happens when rivals face off in the playoffs for, really, the first time ever. TOB and I will be at Game 1 on Friday night. TOB convinced me to go in on the tickets before we knew the Giants would win the NL West, long before the Dodgers would walk-off the Cardinals season in the Wild Card game, and now we’ll be at a legit historica; sports event. 

The hatred between the Giants and Dodgers is very real, non-CA readers, and you can enjoy it from the most comfy seat available, that of a neutral party just looking for an interesting series. 

The Athletic’s Grant Brisbee – one of our favorite Giants writers, broke down the preview of the series that will dominate California for the next week, and he had some nuggets worth sharing. The story is a great read for Giants fans, but this section in particular might resonate to any passionate fan with short-term memory loss when things turn out better than expected: 

Remember that you would have paid for this.

You would have paid for this exact scenario in February, March, April, May and June. You would have added extra prospects to the trades in July…

…And if someone came to you in February and asked for a $20 donation to guarantee that the Giants would host the Dodgers in a best-of-five NLDS, you would have accepted.

If they came to you in March and asked the same thing, the price would go up a few bucks. After the Giants lost Saturday’s game to the Padres in extra innings, you might have sold a family pet.

Again, a reminder that the Giants weren’t expected to be good this year. I found their pre-season over/under win total from this CBS story at 73.5. MGM had the Giants at 75.5. They won 107 games. They beat Vegas odds by over 30 friggin’ games. Incredible. This is a series you’ll want to watch. My predictions: Evan Longoria and Alex Wood come up big for the Giants. – PAL

Source: Ten quick thoughts about the Giants and Dodgers meeting in the postseason,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (10/7/21) 

TOB: I was rooting for the Cardinals to beat the Dodgers for my mental health. Ah, well. My blood pressure has been elevated for 48 hours now. 

As an aside, I enjoyed this breakdown from Susan Slusser, especially this scout’s take:

“Pitching-wise, the Dodgers are tough, but S.F. is just as good, and their hitting discipline, the number of professional at-bats and the team approach, I give the edge to San Francisco,” one AL scout said. “Defense, I give to S.F. They don’t make mistakes, and their leadership — Crawford, Posey — they’ve been there, done that.”

“I’m probably not in the majority,” said one scout who has seen the Giants numerous times in the final months, “but I think they can beat the Dodgers because they do the small things well and they make such smart decisions. They’re not going to overwhelm you, but they’ll find a way to win.”

Hell yeah let’ GOOOOOO. I know sports don’t mean a lot in the grand scheme, but I want the Giants to win this series so so so badly. That is all.


Solace In Routine

I hadn’t heard of Tim Green until reading this story. At 57, he’s already lived a full life. NFL football player, lawyer, NPR contributor, television host, best-selling author; not to mention husband, father, and grandfather. Another part of Green’s life has inspired his latest book, Final Season: Green has A.L.S. 

I’ll be honest, what struck me most about this story wasn’t the book it was promoting; rather, it is how active Green is, despite being on a ventilator, feeding tube, and unable to speak. Emails in the morning, conference calls for the law firm business, then he writes until dinner, watches the grandkids play until their bedtime, watches TV with his wife, and falls asleep reading. A typical day for him is nothing short of inspiring. 

This is not to say he doesn’t have difficult moments. Per Matthew Futterman, 

At the dinner table, he watches his family eat and conjures memories of tasting fresh tomatoes and bacon and red sauce over pasta and sausage, “and a fat glass of Caymus Cabernet.”

I love how Green puts that – a “fat glass” is the perfectly tantalizing word to describe a cabernet. 

Sometimes, the power of those memories becomes overwhelming and the tears flow. But mostly, there is solace in the routines that dominate his life, though even those can have their challenges.

There are other aspects of this story worth reading – whether or not playing football increased Green’s likelihood of getting it (he thinks so), and how real life inspired his latest book, but – again – what struck my most was a typical day for Green, and how Futterman describes the solace found in routine. – PAL 

Source: Nearly Silenced by A.L.S., an Ex-N.F.L. Pro Thrives Telling His Story,” Matthew Futterman, NY Times (10/5/21)


Urban Meyer Shows his True Colors

Last Thursday, the Jacksonville Jaguars played a Thursday night game in Cincinnati. It was head coach Urban Meyer’s return to Ohio, where he spent years as the Ohio State head coach. So, he stayed behind to see his “grandkids.”

Well, he stayed behind to see someone young enough to be his grandkid, maybe. 

Oooooh, buddy. That is not a good look. 

Ya know, everyone’s marriage is different and I don’t like to yuck someone else’s yum. But the thing about this story is that Urban Meyer is a secret slimeball who pretends to be a Family Man, like a politician who runs on family values while spending his free time with prostitutes. 

Now, Meyer’s job is in jeopardy and his NFL career might not last one season. Wild. If you are curious about the backstory on how this video went viral, and the story behind the man who posted it, this is a very good read.

Source: The Electrician Who Shocked the NFL With the Videos of Urban Meyer,” Andrew Beaton, Wall Street Journal (10/7/2021)

Other Good Stuff

Hate the Dodgers, but respect, Max.

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Week of October 1, 2021

Hehehe

Choosing To Stick To Sports 

Last week, over 500 women athletes filed a brief to the Supreme Court in support of reproductive rights being challenged in a pending case. While I know where I stand on the issue, Kurt Streeter’s story brought to light a fresh perspective to a debate that’s been raging for decades: that of the female athlete.  

Per Streeter: 

The brief’s primary claim? If women do not have the option of abortion, their lives could be disrupted and they will not thrive in sports at levels we’ve grown accustomed to — levels witnessed recently at the Tokyo Olympics, in the W.N.B.A. playoffs and the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Having the ability to say when or whether to become mothers directly connects to a key ingredient that has fueled the broad success of women in high-level sports: the ability to control, nurture and push the body to its limits, without breaks of months or years, and without the sometimes permanent physical changes that pregnancy can cause.

Streeter then goes on to share the story of Crissy Perham. Perham captained the U.S. Swim Team at the 1992 Olympics, winning 2 gold medals. That incredible achievement almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if she had gone through with an unwanted pregnancy two years prior. But to Perham, the decision to not have a baby at 19 years old impacted much more than her olympic successes. 

Looking back now, with the cushion of time, Perham cannot imagine the good parts of her life happening as they have if she’d had a baby at 19. Not just her career in the pool but also her successful second marriage, her jobs coaching high school swimmers and being the mother to two sons who are now in their 20s.

Life as she knows it, the life she loves, is a product of that decision, she told me. “That’s not uncommon,” she said, adding that many athletes have similar stories.

A thought-provoking read on an aspect of the issue I hadn’t considered. – PAL 

Source: Why Scores of Female Athletes Are Speaking Out on Abortion Rights,” Kurt Streeter, The New York Times (09/27/21)


A’s Fans Deserve Better

The Chronicle’s Ann Killion wrote this week about how the Oakland A’s seem to be intentionally driving off their fan base. The last year or two has been especially difficult for A’s fans, as the team openly flirts with following the Raiders to Las Vegas. But this week was a real slap in the face – when the A’s sent season ticket holders their renewal notices and tickets prices spikes – in some cases doubling from their previous price. 

Ann does a great job of laying out the A’s steps to driving off the fanbase, which in my opinion was ripped right out of the Maloof Brothers’ handbook -get bad, whine about attendance, jack prices, whine about worse attendance, get worse, jack prices, whine about no attendance…try to move. Except that the A’s have turned things up a notch from what those Kings did:

1. Fail to put money back into the team or re-sign homegrown stars, but instead pocket money received from revenue sharing over the years, until that pot dries up.

2. Have a billionaire owner who is completely unaccountable or present over the course of his 16-year ownership.

3. Denigrate their home stadium as a worthless, horrible place, implying that anyone who shows up there is a moron.

4. Try your best, for many, many years, to escape Oakland, to go to San Jose or Fremont.

5. When those plans fail, reverse course and claim to be “rooted in Oakland.”

6. Prematurely announce a stadium location after pursuing it for months that turns out — surprise! — to actually not be a viable location. (Hello and goodbye, Laney College.)

7. Insist that another problematic stadium site is the only option. You’re supposed to now trust the team decision-makers.

8. Exhibit a complete and total lack of imagination about the existing 155-acre site that comes complete with ideal transportation solutions.

9. Introduce a plan that is one of the biggest, most ambitious real estate projects in Oakland history and insist that it must be pushed through by a city council immediately.

10. When the city council suggests it needs to study an alternate financing plan, pout and claim to be out of options.

11. Embark on a “parallel path” stadium search in Southern Nevada, visiting constantly, being wined and dined by Nevada officials and scouting locations in 106-degree garden spots like Henderson.

And finally, this week’s development:

12. Release season-ticket prices for the coming season at almost double the current cost, alienating the most loyal remaining fans.

The A’s fans Ann talked to are understandably pissed. I’m not an A’s fan. However, I love going to A’s games – especially day games. It’s a great experience. Take BART, sit in the sun, and watch some a (usually good) baseball team in (usually) bad uniforms from up close and cheap. If the A’s leave for Las Vegas, I’ll be a bit sad for selfish reasons – Bay Area baseball is better with the A’s here. But I’ll be really sad for A’s fans – a loyal and passionate group who has stuck with that team when most fan bases would have thrown up their hands and said, “None more!” 

Caval and the A’s suck and I hope someone rescues the A’s from that ownership group like someone rescued the Kings from the Maloofs. I mean, the new ownership is not much better than the Maloofs, but they built a new arena and aren’t threatening to leave so that helps. It wasn’t a high bar. -TOB

Source: How to Lose a Fan Base in 12 steps: A’s Ticket-Price Hike Might be Last Straw,” Ann Killion, SF Chronicle (09/25/2021)

PAL: Obviously so sick of how the A’s have treated Oakland and its fans, but you know what stuck out to me after reading this, the umpteeth story about ownership being assholes? Why is Vegas so pumped to get into bed with the A’s? The ownership sucks here, and they are going to suck in Vegas, too. A stadium isn’t going to change this organization’s approach to the game. Eventually, this ownership will treat whatever fanbase they have like crap, because they are cheap and don’t care about holding up their end of the deal in the team/fan relationship. They want to make a profit by spending as little as possible, and I don’t see that changing in the long run. You can have the A’s with this ownership, Vegas. Good luck.


The Story That Never Was

This is a fun read. This is a story about a Kayln Kahler trying, and failing to confirm a rumor and turn it into a story. The nature of sportswriting, partly, is getting a great bit of info and never being able to use it. 

So many good rumors die on the vine, only feeling some weak rays of sunshine on their crispy brown leaves when I whisper them to friends at a bar, or share with my editors.

The rumor: A future hall of famer offered to pay teammates to get vaccinated…and it seemed to have worked. 

One agent told me he’d heard from another agent at his agency that a certain veteran MLB player and possible future Hall of Famer paid some of his teammates to get the vaccine. (He gave me a name; because I haven’t been able to run down the story satisfactorily, I’m not going to use it here. Sorry.) 

“He basically offered to give other players money if they went out and got vaccinated so they could get over the hump,” the agent said. “And I think it worked. I think there were guys who didn’t [want it] who said, ‘well if you’re going to pay me then I will,’ and it got them over it.”

Hmm. Vaccine bribery?! Now that was a choice tidbit. A great story if I could pin it down. This agent didn’t even feel comfortable telling me who had told him this, but I had a general idea of where it came from, since this agency only has a small number of players on that team.

So Kahler just needs to confirm the rumor. She’s an NFL writer most of the time, so she had to familiarize herself with how tracking leads worked in a different sport. Challenge one: figure out the agent for every player on the team in question. The NFL shares a database of players and agents, MLB does not. Kahler had to call into the MLBPA office to ask about specific players, and she was limited to 3 requests per day (the office admin told her that’s the way it’s always been). She waits in (the wrong) Ritz Carlton lobby, trying to catch to and from the field. She goes to the minor league park to talk to players that have shuffled between the big leagues and minor leagues. She goes to visiting stadiums and deals with PR offices and is given the press credential run-around. All the while, she is tantalizingly close to nailing this rumor down (many knowing glances and smiles from players). 

In the end, she couldn’t get the story nailed, but reading about the process was a fantastic consolation prize. – PAL 

Source:My White Whale Is The Story Of An MLB Veteran Paying His Teammates To Get VaccinatedKayln Kahler, Defector (09/29/21)


A Sports Cliche Quiz

There’s no link, but in Defector’s newsletter they posed the following challenge:

Can You Tell Which Of These Cliche Quotes From New York Rangers Camp Are Real, And Which Ones I Made Up?

It was fun, so I thought I’d share it here.

  1. “He’s very selfless in that he doesn’t think less of himself, he just thinks of himself, less.”
  2. “We’re going to have to put some pucks deep and go to work.”
  3. “We’re just looking to, you know, bang some bodies, play our kind of hockey.”
  4. “I just want to do my part for the team.”
  5. “They say happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. And it’s the same thing in the NHL.”
  6. “You know what those kids want? They just want to play.”
  7. “It is what it is, and at the end of the day, we just have to focus on what we can control.”
  8. “To win at the end, you don’t only have skill, you got to work hard and do all these little details.”
  9. “He just skates hard, gives 110 percent every time he’s out there, and takes it one shift at a time.”
  10. “They don’t hand out the Stanley Cup until you get to the end of the road, so we just have to play our ‘A’ game and do the little things that will get us there.”

Take the quiz and then find the answers here. For the record, I got 7/10 correct (I got 3, 6, 10 wrong) -TOB

PAL: I haven’t looked at the answers:

  1. Rangers Camp
  2. Made up 
  3. Camp
  4. Camp
  5. Made up 
  6. Camp
  7. Made up
  8. Camp
  9. Made up
  10. Camp

How’d I do? Same as TOB – 7/10!

  1. Rangers Camp
  2. Made up 
  3. Camp
  4. Camp
  5. Made up 
  6. Camp
  7. Made up
  8. Camp
  9. Made up
  10. Camp

Video of the Week

PAL: LOL aside, how’s that not a balk?

Song of the Week

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Everyone’s gotta be the hero with the pickle jar.

Larry David

Week of September 24, 2021

No words.

MLB and the Looming Labor Dispute: Origin Story

Over the last few years, many MLB writers have been sounding alarm bells about a bitter labor dispute coming to MLB this offseason, when the current CBA expires. This article by Evan Drellich explains how we got here. 

Drellich starts in 1994, the last time MLB had a work stoppage:

In the first labor deal the players and owners reached afterward, two important elements were introduced: revenue sharing between teams, and a luxury tax on payroll spending, known as the competitive balance tax. The league framed its desire for those mechanisms around improving competitiveness and parity.

“How it was sold to the players was that revenue sharing money was going to be used for competitive balance,” the executive said. “Luxury tax was going to be a drag on spending, not a cap on spending. And that would equal competitive balance. And as a result, you know, there was good faith that teams would honor that concept.

“What happened is, it worked. … That wasn’t good enough for Bud [Selig].”

As Drellich notes, Selig came from a small market team – before being commissioner he owned the Milwaukee Brewers. So, in his last negotiation, he fought for small market teams. 

Prior to 2011, teams could spend what they wanted in the draft. The commissioner’s office made recommendations as to each pick’s worth, but teams were free to exceed them, and big-market teams often did.

The large-market teams had another draft-related weapon, too. Clubs who lost players in free agency often received compensation draft picks. The departing player didn’t have to be a superstar, either — even more middle-of-the-pack players made a team eligible to receive a pick. So a deep-pocketed club like the Red Sox not only had an increased ability to sign players who had high-bonus demands in the draft. The compensation system also allowed the Sox to sign or trade for players whom they knew they could someday let walk, and gain a draft pick for in the process.

The union in 2011 agreed to allow the draft to be capped. Each team would have a fixed pool of money for signing players, and to greatly exceed that pool would bring penalties so onerous that no team would be likely to do so. A new system for free-agent compensation arrived as well: the introduction of the “qualifying offer,” which was not so liberal in granting draft picks when players signed with a new team.

As a result, the free agent market has been depressed. The draft slot caps in particular changed things. As agent Scott Boras points out:

“Because of the draft, club behavior has changed dramatically,” Boras said. “Where before you had to pay ($15.1 million) for Stephen Strasburg, now you only had to pay $6 million. And the key thing is you’re assured of signing him. … When you have the No. 1 pick now, you’re going to get the best player. Before, the No. 1 pick didn’t ensure you’re getting the best player, because you couldn’t afford to sign him.”

And as Drellich summed up:

The draft, in other words, provided more certainty than before for any team that wanted to get cheap, young talent. And because draft order had always been tied to win-loss record, the only way to guarantee high draft picks became losing. And when a team doesn’t mind losing, it’s probably not going to spend much in the free-agent market.

At the same time, teams got smarter and realized that, as one source said, “We’re not going to continue to pay for what players did for us yesterday. We’re going to pay for the guys who we think are going to help us tomorrow.” In other words – don’t pay aging free agents. 

Interestingly, Drellich says some argue that the Competitive Balance Tax, the de facto salary cap, is not what is driving down player salaries:

But some people say the CBT doesn’t matter much at all, usually for two reasons: A, some teams would never spend enough to reach the threshold anyway; and B, almost all teams have decided free agency is best used conservatively. That a groupthink has set in during the last decade, an outgrowth of “Moneyball” and analytics, where teams mostly value players the same way, and have settled on the value of youth.

“I think going over CBT thresholds made you a bad actor in the current ownership group,” one industry source said. “Which didn’t use to be the case. You also had a lot of the kind of old-school, big-market owners die off, or sell. Not having George Steinbrenner own the Yankees. Not having Mike Illitch own the Tigers. The places where you might get an owner’s kind of emotional buying of a player which would drive the market, it doesn’t really exist anymore. And those things … it wouldn’t matter what’s in the CBA.”

It will be interesting to see if this is correct. If so, it would seem a spot the owners could have some room to move in negotiations in order to extract other concessions from players. My guess, though, is that this is wrong – MLB teams are smarter, I believe that. But they are not going to give up the CBT and allow a team or two to buy a championship without incurring major costs, monetarily and otherwise, to do so. As another source puts it, the CBT and ownership behavior are “inextricably linked.”

In the end, the 2016 negotiation was such a blowout win for the league that one source suggests the league made a mistake – they exacted such a crushing win that the players are now pissed and ready for a fight. One source says a work stoppage is inevitable.

Maybe, maybe not. But when it goes down this offseason, it’s nice to know the forces that brought things where they are. -TOB

Source: How We Got Here: The Decisions and Changes of the Last Decade that Brought Players and Owners to a Looming Labor Fight,” Evan Drellich, The Athletic (09/23/2021)


My New Favorite Twitter Follow: College Football Message Board Geniuses

Sometimes, a Twitter account hits you just right – it really gets you. For example, this year I discovered “Guy Who Yells Slater” who Tweets, “SLAAAAAATEEEEER” every time Giants’ reserve outfielder Austin Slater does something good. For example, on Thursday when Slater hit a 3-run go-ahead dinger (in a game the Giants would eventually lose in extra innings):

I love it because *I* also yell SLAAAAAAATEEEEER every time Austin Slater does something good. But I digress. 

I’m here to tell you about CFB Message Board Geniuses, an absolutely incredible account that simply tweets screenshots of the dumbest, most delusional things college football fans say on message boards. Man, it is funny. A lot of it is just a bunch of idiots wanting to fire every coach on every team, even the good ones. And a lot of it is delusional speculation on who a team might be able to hire as its next coach. A sampling, to whet your appetite:

Example:

Also, this:

And this:

Oh, and:

But my favorite are the guys (and, come on, we know they’re all men) who think they would be better coaches than the coaches. 

And this is the best of all:

-TOB

PAL: I went to college with a dude that had an ‘about’ section from his FB profile that was an all-timer. Basically everything you wouldn’t want a potential boss to read when doing a cursory glance at a candidates social media pages. It was so over-the-top inappropriate that one of my friends wondered if this guy was actually a comedian genius that had us fooled for years. I think about that comedic genius comment when I read that last one from the assistant Little League coach. See, the ‘assistant’ detail – that’s the stuff of genius.


Contract Jurisdiction

Here’s a story about the limits of a team’s rights when it comes to a player under contract. Jack Eichel (24), was the second overall pick in 2015, and his play has lived up to the franchise player promise: 355 points in 375 games, and generally improving year over year. Last year, a herniated disc limited Eichel to 21 games played. All parties—the Buffalo Sabres and Eichel—agree he needs surgery to fix it, but they disagree on the type of surgery. The Sabres want Eichel to get a fusion surgery, and Eichel wants to get a disc replacement surgery. 

The Sabres and their doctors insist Eichel undergo fusion surgery, a common practice. It involves removal of the damaged disk. Two vertebrae inhabit the empty space and fuse together, either with time or the addition of a plate.

Eichel says no way, not a chance, never going to happen.

“Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting,” general manager Kevyn Adams said in KeyBank Center.Eichel’s surgeon of choice, Dr. Chad Prusmack, informed the center that 25 percent of fusion patients require additional surgery at the 10-year mark because the procedure puts strain above and below the fusion point. Prusmack said the clock starts over at that point, meaning a patient could have three surgeries in 20 years.

So, Eichel wants artificial disk replacement, which is exactly what it sounds like. An artificial disk is inserted between the vertebrae, replacing the damaged disk. Though the surgery has never been done on an NHL player, it’s hardly experimental. It’s been performed worldwide for two decades. Eichel’s doctor said fewer than 5 percent of recipients need additional surgery at the 10-year mark.

The Sabres and their doctors say no way, not a chance, never going to happen.

Players and teams disagreeing on medical treatment probably happens on a daily basis in professional sports. We hear of players wanting a second opinion. The nature of this injury, and the fact that it deals with a player’s spine, really underscores the oddity of a team having “rights” over an employee’s body much more than if it were a knee or elbow injury. At least for me it does. 

What’s more, the Sabres want to trade Eichel, so getting him healthy in the short-term helps with their leverage. To John Vogl’s point, Eichel’s health 10 or 20 years from now is not the Sabres’ concern or problem. 

I don’t follow Eichel, and I don’t know about any other circumstances around his relationship with the Sabres, but this column from Vogl, who’s definitely in Eichel’s corner on the issue, brought to the surface a sports scenario I hadn’t thought too much about outside of CTE. – PAL 

Source: Jack Eichel should be allowed to live the life he wants, not the life the Sabres want for him,” John Vogl, The Athletic (09/23/21)

TOB: Man, this article nails it in the first sentence: “The Sabres are wrong.” What’s frustrating about the article, though, is while there’s an explanation of why Eichel doesn’t want the fusion surgery, there’s no explanation of why the Sabres refuse to let him do the artificial disc replacement. That seems an important part of the story and I wish I knew why.


A Story Where Everyone Kinda Sucks

There was quite the kerfuffle this week during a series between the Blue Jays and Rays. It started with this:

And it ends with just about every person involved looking bad.

Kevin Kiermaier Sucks. 

What you’re seeing in the video is the Rays’ Kevin Keirmaier looking down, seeing the Blue Jays’ catcher’s game plan on how to attack the Rays’ hitters, which had fallen out of his wristband. Kiermaier sees it. Pauses. Absolutely recognizes what it is. Quickly picks it up, stops complaining about the call, and immediately pop sup and head toward his dugout.

It’s pretty bush league, if you ask me. Think what you want about the cards – but all teams now use them and I think anyone with a little integrity would see what it was and leave it. Kiermaier picked it up. That’s kinda sucky.

Then, after the Blue Jays get upset about him sucking, Kiermaier provides one of the most rambling, b.s. answers I have heard:

So Kiermaier is saying that he didn’t know what it was until after he picked it up. Which is a lie, because you can see the recognition on his face before he picks it up, and he doesn’t look at it after he picked it up. He then acknowledges he was not going to give it back. Then he didn’t think anything of it when he saw it, which is a lie. The only true thing he says is he knew it wasn’t his and he wasn’t giving it back. Ok, well, taking something of some else’s is wrong and refusing to give it back is wrong. And, especially given what it is, it’s unsportsmanlike. Kiermaier sucks.

Ok, so the Jays were rightfully mad. And what happens? Rays manager Kevin Cash apologized to Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. Montoyo’s response:

Ok, so far so good. It ended there, right? Nah. 

Ryan Borucki Sucks. 

In the 8th inning of the next game, Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Borucki tagged Kiermaier in the back. Kiermaier whined like a baby (see previous section re Kiermaier Sucks). But also, that’s dangerous and it’s not my thing, personally. So, that kinda sucks. But worse, Borucki denied it was intentional (I mean, ok, that’s a lie but I get it – you can’t admit that no matter how obvious it is). Borucki kinda sucks.

Kevin Cash Sucks.

Let’s add a little context here. There is a good possibility these two teams meet in the playoffs and so the Rays getting the Jays’ pitching strategy two weeks before the postseason is pretty significant. Kevin Cash apologized, which ok that’s good. But you had to know your guy was going to wear one. Plus, he took it in one of the safest spots – the middle of the back. You have to expect it and move on. Instead, Cash threw a fit. Cash kinda sucks.

Charlie Montoya Sucks.

Ok, your team got its card stolen and that sucks. But don’t accept an apology, tell everyone it’s “agua under the bridge” (a good line, though!), and then have your guy bean Kiermaier. Either accept the apology or don’t. 

Joe West Sucks. 

Just because.

But really, Kiermaier sucks. After writing this, I found this Jomboy video covering whole thing, which gives even more evidence about how much Kiermaier sucks, including footage of what he did when he got to the dugout.

Also, this video about Kiermaier from earlier in the year, stealing fly balls from his teammates.

What a tool. -TOB

PAL: This summary does not suck. 

Taking the card is lame move, but—in the spirit of giving another side of the argument— it’s not on the same level of taking a play card from an O.C. in a football game. For established pitchers at least, hitters know the location and pitches an opposing team will likely attack on certain counts. 

Then again, I’ve never seen what’s on those cards…it could be more detailed than that. Perhaps it has defensive alignment, signal sequences for when runners are on second base, the phone number of a lady in row 17. 


Videos of the Week

@noteworthytopics

“I mean…I COULD” – thought everyone on tiktok

♬ original sound – michael
TOB and PAL on our athletic abilities (joke and link h/t to reader KNL)

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Grouplove – “Deleter”

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Cornell commencement address? Sorry, but Tracy Jordan doesn’t do safety schools.

Tracy Jordan

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


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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