Week of October 18, 2018


Spotlight: Aaron Hernandez

I’ll keep this short, because there’s simply too much to say. If you’re reading this, you know the story of Aaron Hernandez – the football star turned convicted murderer who committed suicide in prison, and was posthumously diagnosed with CTE. But there’s so much more to his story – where he came from, the family he came from, how he went from football star to murderer, why, and what those around him thought as his life spiraled out of control. This week, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team (as in the Best Picture Oscar winning movie, Spotlight about the paper’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of widespread sexual abuse by priests) released their six-part story on Hernandez.

I think the saddest thing about his story, having read this, is how many people with the power to help him looked the other way and did nothing, often to protect themselves or their own reputation. I’m looking at you, Urban Meyer, and even a little at you, Bill Belichick.

The series is incredibly well researched and very thorough, and I highly recommend you read all six parts (you’ll need to get creative in order to get beyond the Globe’s two free story per month paywall, or you can throw them a couple bucks – it’s worth it). -TOB

Source: “Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.”; Part I: “The Secrets Behind the Smile”, Part II: “Lost in the Swamp”; Part III: “Running For His Life”; Part IV: “A Killer in the Huddle”; Part V: “A Room of His Own”; Part VI: “A Terrible Thing to Waste”, by Bob Hohler, Beth Healy, Sacha Pfeiffer, Andrew Ryan, and editor Patricia Wen, The Boston Globe (10/13/2018 – 10/19/2018)

PAL: This was a terrifying, terrified man. Aaron Hernandez is the worse case scenario in so many ways, all of which were looked over because he was a great football player. A victim of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as a child, Spotlight’s description of Hernadez reads to me like he had no true identity. This guy needed extensive therapy. Instead, he banged his brain around for a decade. Very few people he crossed path with in his life seemed to care about him outside of what he could provide them. This is why “Gladiator” is the perfect title for this series. He was valued on the field of battle and how he entertained the crowd. 

All of this, of course is not an excuse for what he did; rather, it might be a roadmap. Again, simply terrifying.


Kroenke’s Quest and Arsenal’s Loss

Stan Kroenke, of Columbia, MO, is a very rich man. He’s worth billions, and his wife – Ann Walton Kroenke (yep, that Walton) is pretty rich, too. Between them, they own the following professional sports teams (among others):

  • LA Rams
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Arsenal (English Premier League)

Recently, Kroenke bought out a big chunk of Arsenal shares from some Russian oligarch, giving him control of over 98.82% of an exceedingly valuable sports club. There are so few shares remaining outside of his control, that he’s legally allowed to take them for a price.

Those remaining shares are in the possession of common fans. This New York Times story, by Rory Smith, allows some of the minority owners to speak, and in their words I recognize the challenge of being a fan in an era in which the business side of sports is impossible to ignore.

Martha Wilcott bought her single Arsenal share in 2004. Jeffery Freeman’s stock broker purchased ten shares for Freeman in 1965, and Freeman remembers walking with his father to see the team play in an alternate stadium in 1945 because the team’s stadium was bombed. Lindsay Rawling’s grandfather and his brothers worked at the stock exchange when the team first offered shares. The shares have been passed down three generations.

Wilcott describes to the shareholder/fan relationship as “custodianship”. What a beautiful way to think of your team, and so I understand these folk’s sadness when they are required to defer to some billionaire who forces them to see what the club is to him instead of what it mean to them. – PAL

Source: Their Arsenal.Their Shares. For Now”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (10/17/18)


Win or Lose, Craig Counsell Made Me Laugh

Heading into crucial Game 5 of the NLCS this week, the Brewers named left-hander Wade Miley the starter. This was technically true. In response, the Dodgers started a right-handed heavy lineup, including David Freese and Austin Barnes. I said before that the Brewers’ naming Miley the starter was technically true, because Miley did start. He threw five pitches, with which he walked Cody Bellinger, and was then yanked for right-handed pitcher Brandon Woodruff. HAAAA:

“That’s what we were going to do all along,” Counsell said after the game, explaining that the Brewers conceived of this plan as soon as they won Game 3 to guarantee that there would be a Game 6 for Miley to start. “They’re trying to get matchups; we’re trying to get matchups. They’re a very tough team to get matchups against.”

Counsell tricked the Dodgers, sorta:

As a manufactured effort to create those advantageous matchups, the ploy paid off, but again, only kind of. Because Miley was starting, the left-handed Max Muncy was hitting fifth, below his usual spot in the order, and righty David Freese, who typically doesn’t face same-handed pitchers, was hitting third. Had the Dodgers been caught more unawares, Counsell’s trick would have resulted in an unqualified strategic success, regardless of the game’s result—L.A. has already run out of bench players twice in this series, so manager Dave Roberts could ill afford to accelerate his bench usage.

But Muncy and Bellinger, who usually sit against left-handed pitchers, were both in the lineup, and Matt Kemp, who serves as a strict platoon batter like Freese, wasn’t. Ken Rosenthal reported that L.A. suspected what was coming, which is why they made those lineup decisions rather than bench Muncy and Bellinger and start Kemp, as they did against Miley in his Game 2 start. As it turned out, Freese batted just once, with two runners on in the first inning, and Woodruff struck him out swinging. Before his second at-bat, Freese was removed for—of course—a left-handed hitter, so all the tomfoolery, which apparently lasted multiple days and involved multiple parties, carried the ultimate outcome of burning Freese, perhaps the Dodgers’ least important position player.

Interestingly, Counsell may have drawn inspiration from the Washington Senators pulling the game trick against the New York Giants, way back in 1924. It worked, as the Senators won and clinched the World Series. As I write this, the Brewers lead 1-0 early in the game. Whether Counsell’s gamesmanship pays off remains to be seen. It sure as hell was hilarious, though.

Post-script: The move worked well, as Woodruff kept the Dodgers hitless for a few innings, but then things fell apart and the Dodgers took a 3-2 series lead. -TOB

Source: The Brewers Tried to Fool the Dodgers With a Pitching Trick From a Century Ago”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (10/17/2018)

PAL: Hey, I’m all for a little gamesmanship. Let’s mix it up, right? You know what’s more effective: a starting pitcher going seven strong innings (Kershaw was pretty good in that game for the winning team). The Brewers’ starting pitching is meh at best, but they have a killer bullpen, so I get the need to be crafty.

I watched the tremendous Astros-Sox game on Wednesday, and that was a perfect reminder that these games are decided by moments more than matchups…or at least it feels that way; I don’t know anymore. Mookie Betts made an incredible play to throw out Tony Kemp who made the inexcusable decision to try to take the extra bag down by three runs with no outs in the bottom of the eighth!

And then, in the bottom of the ninth, Andrew Benintendi makes a mental error and dives for a sinking liner in left field. If the ball gets by him, then three Astros might score, giving them the win. The smart play is to let the ball fall and keep it in front of you. Benintendi gambles big and comes up lucky.

So two dumb decisions lead to two great plays, and they both went the Red Sox way. That doesn’t feel like matchups. It came down to those plays (and a fan interference call). Zach Kram says as much at the end of his article: “Sometimes the smart strategy doesn’t work because a baseball game involves hundreds of other factors, and luck and execution and weather and ballpark dimensions get in the way.” 


Video(s) of the Week:

 

Ever wonder how umpire ‘Cowboy’ Joe West got his nickname? Watch below.


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Ty Segall – “I’m A Man” (Spencer Davis Group cover)


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I’m one of the few people who looks hot eating a cupcake. 

– Kelly Kapoor

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Gary Livingston: Baseball Memories

Earlier this week I found an email from my Uncle Gary. In it he shared his baseball memories, and I think this is a really great way to extend the On the Force or the Tag series. Please feel free to send me your baseball stories and pictures, and I’ll be sure so add it to the page. – PAL

Gary Livingston in the vintage jersey. 

Blogger and nephew, Phil, has inspired me to recollect my youth and past baseball memories. Unlike Phil, I was marginally talented. Like Phil, I loved the game and I knew the game.

My first memories of playing catch are with my mom. I later learned she was a small-town farm girl legend as the tomboy who could play ball. In her day she played kitten ball. I still have the kitten ball she gave me. She had a great arm and I never had to worry about throwing too hard to her. Phil captures the essence of who has the game in their blood, when he writes that when the simple game of catch is enough to entertain for hours—you know they love the game.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood in which moms stayed home and kids played outside until supper. We had a group of 3 “big” kids who dictated our play. They were four years older and wiser. I was among the 6-10 little kids. The big kids decided the sport—baseball, football—how—waffle ball, left-handed—where—street, yard, sandlot. They decided rainy day activities—chess, trivia, and the king of indoor games of our youth—Little Baseball.

Little Baseball consisted of each player picking a major league team. We had little plastic baseball players from cereal boxes as players and found the bakery sold plastic players to be used as cake decorations. We each painted and named our players from the MLB team. I remember the detail and pride we took in painting our players: the black and gold of the Pirates, the number on their back to the color of their skin.

We made a game board from a 4’x4’ sheet of plywood or sheetrock. The players took the field and guarded circles with hits labeled in each. We pitched the ball/marble by rolling down a ramp and the hitter would strike with a wooden dowel bat. We kept score, statistics, played a whole season, which included an All-Star game and World Series. Each year was a new season and brought more sophistication to game. Dave, a big kid with creative talent, helped turn our boards into works of art including lights, spectator bleachers, and scoreboards. The Big kids were their league of choice—usually American—and we little kids would be the National. I still have my Cardinals Curt Flood and Vada Pinson and Pirate- Roberta Clemente as I painted them 50+ years ago. Remarkably, our favorite players would perform the best in our board game. We could hole up for hours playing in the basement and at night compile batting averages and ERA’s.

The Kitten ball and the hand-painted figurines.

My organized baseball began with T-Shirt league at the local park. I was a Tiger in Little League. Dick Wilder was my coach. I remember him as knowledgeable, kind, and always encouraging. Everything you want in a youth coach. Looking back, I was a shy, skinny kid, unsure of himself on hard ground balls and overmatched against hard throwing pitchers, yet coach let me play second base and admired my good eye and bunting ability to find a way to get on base. As a teen I tried out and did not make the cut to play Babe Ruth. That hurt; I remember the 5-mile walk home from the practice I was cut at. I cried and did not want the ride home with the coach. Kids are resilient. I was asked if I wanted to play Minor League. It consisted of kids who had not played the game seriously. The coach was a dad who had limited knowledge of baseball. The coach recognized I played the game and asked if I wanted to run practice, make line-ups, pitch, play shortstop. I knew this was not high quality baseball, but I had fun.

My real baseball experience as a kid was playing with friends. I can’t say an adult, besides my mom, or coach taught me to play the game, or any game for that matter. We all learned to develop an intuition for all sports by playing with friends. I’m befuddled by major laagers with limited baseball sense—not knowing what base to throw to or not knowing when to take the extra base. Summer days were a game in the morning, lunch, and double-header in the afternoon, supper, backyard wiffle baseball. The games were designed around the number of players, location. Some fields dictated we all bat left-handed. Advantage Tony-the only lefty.

I do not remember any adults having input in our play. We just had to be home for supper. One summer, I guess 1966; we had the idea to involve the girls of the neighborhood. We were 13-14 and discovered that having the girls around was a good idea. The Big kids took the girls ages 13-14 and coached them to play the game while we “little” kids took the new little boys ages 8-10 and prepared them to play the older girls. We discovered what I think we already knew; the girls were athletes.  We enlisted Tom, a mild Downs teen, to ump the big game. I don’t remember the outcome; it doesn’t matter. I don’t think it mattered then. This is years before Title 9. I’m impressed by the insight of these kids. Over the years I have come to conclusion that adults are much too involved with kids play. Kids left to their own devices are wise and creative. Kids today have become dependent on adults to dictate their play, their thinking, their creativity. Youth sports has become more about the adults.

As a group of friends we played baseball, basketball and touch football through our teens. As young adults we joined local rec leagues to play touch and softball. It was always more about playing with friends than the game, though we were competitive and took the game seriously. Sometimes I regret we did not play baseball versus softball, but there were not the adult opportunities that exist today to play hardball. That said, the athletes I played with and against were truly great athletes and the play was high caliber ball.

As part of my softball experience I became a certified softball ump. My first lessons about umpping came through the director of Brooklyn Center Parks & Rec. I was the organizer and captain of our softball team and attended the organizational meetings. Director Arnie made it clear that arguing with umpires was not tolerated. He was an ump and a good one. He finished every meeting with the reminder that unless you were perfect in bed with your wife don’t expect perfection from umpires.

 

I understood from my experiences that umps/refs make mistakes. Players, coaches, parents make mistakes; unless you are perfect expecting perfection from others is unreasonable. I am distressed when I hear a young person blame a loss on poor officiating. This is learned from adults. In the rare instance when a game is decided by an officiating error, I wonder if every single player can look back at that game or any game and say they played the perfect game—there was not an instance where they could have changed the outcome with better play. I always taught players, students, parents—“The ump/ref is always right, even when they are wrong.” Once again I blame the over-organizing of youth sport for the inability for kids to self regulate their own play, settle their own differences and arguments. They have been taught to rely on adults to organize and officiate their play.

My baseball life became complete when the Twins won the ’87 World Series and again for frosting on the cake in ‘91. Like most Minnesota sports fans, we had never experienced the thrill of being the champs. A baseball fan highlight was attending the welcome back Twins homecoming at the Dome in the evening after defeating Detroit and earning the right to play the Cardinals in the World Series. Unexpectedly, the building was filled with true fans starved for a chance to celebrate. It brings a tear to my eye to this day. Now if the Gophers can get to the Rose Bowl before I die.

I am 65. Sports are in my DNA. I was a sports rube; I lost sleep with Viking/Twins loses. Minnesota teams are in my DNA, but today there are many more important things in my life then if a team wins or loses. I just don’t care that much about who does what any more. Sporting contests have become events and big business. Baseball games have become too long. I do not enjoy the angst displayed with every pitch, every play. That is what has made the games so long. The deep breaths, adjusting of the glove, the manager examining his analytic card, players with analytic cards, finding the perfect matchup or pitch—it drives me crazy—just play the game. This lack of interest carries over into watching my grandkids play ball. Maybe I am a bad grandparent, but I do not feel a need to watch all their games, and I hope they do not feel a need to play in front of me or anyone for that matter. Play the game for the joy of playing, not for performing for adults. Truth be told, I find the games boring. I just hope the kids have fun; and I am able to play catch with them as my mom played catch with me.

Gary Livingston

 

Week of October 12, 2018

Alex Honnold climbing El Cap with no ropes. Who’s coming to see the doc, Free Solo, with me? 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-TOB

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

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


The Ultimate Assistant: RIP Tex Winter

There are countless unsung heroes and innovators in sports, each with his or her own fascinating story, which is why I enjoyed reading about Tex Winter’s life upon his recent death at the age of 96. You might remember Winter as Phil Jackson’s right-hand man in Chicago and Los Angeles, but Winter, the mastermind behind the triangle offense Jackson used to win all those titles, had been a college coach for 30 years before that. He was also an NBA head coach well before the Jordan Bulls.

There are so many stories about the prodigy, the natural, the supremely talented; reading about Tex Winter, a man to whom I’ve held no real interest or appreciation, is a reminder there are incredible success stories in sports about folks you’d pass by on the street without taking a second look. It’s reassuring.

If none of this does if for you, consider this, The New York Times wrote an obit that was the top story on its sports page for an assistant coach. – PAL

Source: “Tex Winter, Brain Behind Basketball’s Triangle Offense, Dies at 96”, Richard Goldstein, The New York Times (10/10/18)


Sidle Up: How the Best NBA Writers Get Their Best Scoops

This is a fun read, about how the best NBA writers get their best scoops – after years of developing relationships and trust with players, they simply “sidle up” to the player and get an informal exclusive interview. There’s some good imagery in this one:

Last week, Yahoo reporter Chris Haynes walked into the Lakers locker room and spotted LeBron James sitting alone. “LeBron is a different cat …” Haynes said later. “He’s got his headphones on. He’s playing music. He comes off like he doesn’t want to be bothered.”

“Man, I don’t care about that shit,” Haynes continued. “I walk over there. He takes his headphones off. We start chopping it up, talking in front of everybody.”

But any writer can’t simply sidle up to any player. For that reason, sidling also shows the NBA writer pecking order:

“You know when you get to the airport gate and you see the premium people line up and you’re jealous of that?” said Bleacher Report’s Tom Haberstroh. “That’s how you feel with Howard Beck and Stephen A. Smith and Brian Windhorst. Man, I wish I could get to that status—premium first class.”

The art of the sidle is just as fascinating:

“You don’t want to look like you’re standing there planted and waiting,” said Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams. “At least, I don’t.” When he wants to sidle with a player who’s about to leave a locker room, Abrams will strike up a second conversation that can be ended quickly when his quarry makes for the door.

The standard question that opens a sidle is: “Got a minute?” Once, Bryant turned to Adande and said, “No, I don’t have a minute, J.A.”—a line that Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon (mis)quoted on TV for years.

If the player does have a minute, what he tells a reporter falls into the gray zone between on and off the record. “Typically, the default is off the record,” said Windhorst. “But you may ask a player, ‘Can I use that?’” Thompson said players rarely demarcate what is and isn’t on the record, and a reporter’s ability to anticipate a player’s desires is part of what entitles him to sidle in the first place.

The sidle, of course, is helpful to the players, too.

At its most basic level, a sidle is a player’s safe space. Last season, The Athletic’s Jason Quick noticed that Damian Lillard was putting his arm around center Jusuf Nurkic during timeouts and dead balls. “I waited until everyone left after a game and I asked him about it,” Quick said. “That’s when he revealed, ‘Yeah, I’m doing what I was wish LaMarcus Aldridge had done with me.’ Which was gold.”

Lillard probably wouldn’t have revealed his motives to a bunch of reporters in a scrum, but he trusted Quick to write the piece.

I like these how-the-sausage-is-made stories. Good stuff. -TOB

Source: The Art of the Sidle: The Slickest Move in NBA Media“, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (10/11/2018)


The Winningest Football Coach of All-Time

Even if you’re a football fan, or a college football fan, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of John Gagliardi (unless you’re from Minnesota, or were was as crazy about college football as a kid in the 90s as I was). Gagliardi coached D-III St. John’s University in Collegeville (LOL), Minnesota. He won 489 games, the most wins in college football history, at any level. He won those 489 games over a career that spanned an unfathomable SIXTY FIVE seasons – from 1949 until 2012. He coached the Johnnie’s for most of that time, beginning there in 1953, until his retirement.

Gagliardi circa 1953

Gagliardi died this week at the age of 91. I heard the news and noted it was sad, and moved on. Other than a mid-90s ESPN Gameday story about Gaglliardi that stuck in my brain for some reason, I didn’t know much about him other than his wins record. But Deadspin’s Drew Magary wrote a nice tribute that I’m glad I read. Funny enough, Magary learned of Gagliardi the same way I did – through that Gameday piece. But I learned a lot about Gagliardi in Magary’s story, and boy does Gagliardi seem like my kind of coach:

Gagliardi famously had no playbook. He never used a whistle. He never recruited. He insisted on being called “John” instead of coach. He banned tackling from practice (the next time a Gruden or a Harbaugh bitches about being hamstrung by practice restrictions, point them to Gagliardi’s record). He held no meetings. Team stretches were strictly a parody of OTHER team’s stretching routines, with players doing the “Head Shoulders Knees & Toes” dance instead of barking out calf stretches at one another. Every senior on the team was named captain. He famously kept a running list of Nos to adhere to, one of which—No Slogans—I would like printed out and stapled to Mike Lombardi’s ******* head.

Oh, and he never yelled. That’s the thing that threw me when I first saw that Cyphers report. Cyphers asked Gagliardi about yelling at players and Gagliardi responded, “No no no, that’s insanity.” When I was growing up, all of my coaches yelled. It didn’t even occur to me that they might NOT yell. Yelling was coaching, as far as I was concerned. And yet here was one of the most decorated men in the sport, laughing at its uselessness. Calling it outright crazy. It took me a very long time to understand just how right he was about that.

If you coach, strive to be a coach like “John”. I know I will. -TOB

Source: John Gagliardi Was the Only Good Coach“, Drew Magary, Deadspin (10/11/2018)


Gary Livingston: Baseball Memories (On the Force or the Tag submission)

Earlier this week I found an email from my Uncle Gary. In it he shared his baseball memories, and I think this is a really great way to extend the On the Force or the Tag series. Please feel free to send us your baseball stories and pictures, and I’ll be sure so add it to the page. – PAL

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Gary Livingston in the vintage jersey. 

Blogger and nephew, Phil, has inspired me to recollect my youth and past baseball memories. Unlike Phil, I was marginally talented. Like Phil, I loved the game and I knew the game.

My first memories of playing catch are with my mom. I later learned she was a small-town farm girl legend as the tomboy who could play ball. In her day she played kitten ball. I still have the kitten ball she gave me. She had a great arm and I never had to worry about throwing too hard to her. Phil captures the essence of who has the game in their blood, when he writes that when the simple game of catch is enough to entertain for hours—you know they love the game.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood in which moms stayed home and kids played outside until supper. We had a group of 3 “big” kids who dictated our play. They were four years older and wiser. I was among the 6-10 little kids. The big kids decided the sport—baseball, football—how—waffle ball, left-handed—where—street, yard, sandlot. They decided rainy day activities—chess, trivia, and the king of indoor games of our youth—Little Baseball.

Little Baseball consisted of each player picking a major league team. We had little plastic baseball players from cereal boxes as players and found the bakery sold plastic players to be used as cake decorations. We each painted and named our players from the MLB team. I remember the detail and pride we took in painting our players: the black and gold of the Pirates, the number on their back to the color of their skin.

We made a game board from a 4’x4’ sheet of plywood or sheetrock. The players took the field and guarded circles with hits labeled in each. We pitched the ball/marble by rolling down a ramp and the hitter would strike with a wooden dowel bat. We kept score, statistics, played a whole season, which included an All-Star game and World Series. Each year was a new season and brought more sophistication to game. Dave, a big kid with creative talent, helped turn our boards into works of art including lights, spectator bleachers, and scoreboards. The Big kids were their league of choice—usually American—and we little kids would be the National. I still have my Cardinals Curt Flood and Vada Pinson and Pirate- Roberta Clemente as I painted them 50+ years ago. Remarkably, our favorite players would perform the best in our board game. We could hole up for hours playing in the basement and at night compile batting averages and ERA’s.

Click here to read the rest of Livingston’s baseball life.


Video(s) of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week: 

https://twitter.com/maxwellpearce/status/1049811500679004160/video/1


PAL Song of the Week: Todd Snider – “Waco Moo”


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

-Georgie Boy Costanza

Week of October 5, 2018


What if the Steroid Era Wasn’t Really Caused by Steroid Use?

So goes this convincing article from The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh, who argues (1) the Steroid Era, and specifically the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, is over-credited with bringing fans back to baseball after the 1994 strike; (2) steroids are over-credited for the Steroid Era boom.

First, he attacks the “fans returned to baseball theory” and disposes of it with some simple numbers:

Per-game attendance recovered much more in 1996 (+6.5 percent) and 1997 (+4.5 percent) than in 1998 (+2.9 percent). In 1999, with the memory of a thrilling record chase fresh in fans’ minds, it barely budged (+0.3 percent). Per-game attendance actually dropped (as did the economy, which might have more to do with attendance) in 2001, and again in 2002 and 2003. Not until 2006—well into the testing era—did MLB bounce all the way back to its 1994 attendance pace (which probably would have tailed off had the ’94 schedule been completed).

Well, huh. Certainly, attendance isn’t the only measure of fan interest. But that is still pretty compelling, because fans show the most intense interest by spending their time and money going to games.

Next, Lindbergh looks into how much we really know about how steroids even caused the 1990s offensive boom. First, he notes that it wasn’t only hitters taking steroids:

[Nate Silver, now of FiveThirtyEight] also noted [in his 2006 essay, “Baseball Between the Numbers”] that 36 of the 76 pro players suspended for PEDs in 2005—the first year that MLB players were subject to suspensions, and also the year that minor league violators’ names were publicly disclosed—were pitchers, and he tentatively concluded that among hitters, “the average performance improvement from steroid use is detectable but small.”

So what other factors could have caused the offensive surge?

In [] 2012…Jay Jaffe investigated several forces that could have caused or contributed to the so-called steroid era’s home run rates, including the ball, and wrapped up his inquiry by writing, “To suggest that the numbers of the era have been entirely distorted by the use of steroids would appear to be a stretch given the number of other factors in play.”

So why did the Steroid Era become known as the Steroid Era? Simply, steroid use was easy to see and thus easy to blame:

The standard sabermetric line may have hewed to the scientific method, but reserving judgment and downplaying the link between PEDs and dingers was an impossible sell to most fans. Everyone who was watching baseball in the ’90s saw some sluggers get bigger; everyone saw some of those same sluggers post unprecedented stats; and everyone read the revelations about what they were ingesting (or injecting). The availability heuristic did the rest: Steroids were the most scandalous and memorable hallmark of the era, and thus they were held responsible for the sky-high home run rate.

In fact, the current offensive boom is even stronger than 1998:

But recent events should reframe the narrative. In the past three seasons, MLB’s home run rate—expressed as the percentage of balls in play that turn into home runs—has dwarfed its previous peak, which it reached in 2000. Even with home runs on contact down slightly from last season, the 2018 home run rate is about 8 percent higher than it was at any point during the steroid era, and 20 percent higher than it was in 1998.

 

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, home run rates have also skyrocketed the last few seasons, and scientific testing has fairly strongly confirmed that the ball was changed at the 2015 All Star Break. As Lindbergh argues:

Using camera- and radar-derived Statcast data that didn’t exist in all ballparks until 2015, researchers determined that the new balls were flying farther because of decreased drag, although they couldn’t establish with certainty which physical properties of the ball were reducing the drag.

In other words, we know now that a subtle change in the ball is sufficient to explain an even more dramatic rise in home run rate than we witnessed in the ’90s. That doesn’t prove that steroids played no significant role in the previous spike, but it does demonstrate that steroids aren’t necessary to explain the earlier increase. It really could have been the ball.

I find this fascinating. Lindbergh next turns to Eric Walker, one of the people responsible for the Oakland A’s’ late-90s sabermetric revolution. Walker argues that arguing the 1990s boom was due to steroids doesn’t even make sense because, as in the recent boom, the numbers surged practically overnight:

[A] steroid-related explanation for the sudden, dramatic increase in offense of the sort that occurred in ’93 and ’94 would have required a combination of extremely widespread, simultaneous PED adoption and drugs that were capable of producing a probably-implausible per-player improvement. “The crux, the evidence that seems blindingly obvious but which so many people just gloss over like a police inspector in a Sherlock Holmes story, is the suddenness of the change: a large step jump from one stable, self-consistent era to another such over a single season,” Walker says. “There is no other possible explanation than a change in the baseball.” It’s certainly suggestive that the seasons with the largest year-over-year increases in home run rate on contact are, in order, 1977 (when MLB changed ball manufacturers, from Spalding to Rawlings); 1969 (when the mound was lowered and the strike zone shrunk); 2016 (the first full season with the reduced-drag ball); and 1993, followed by 2015 (the season in which the reduced-drag ball made its first appearance).

However, Lindbergh does acknowledge steroids do appear to have contributed to older players remaining productive longer.

Also, today we see fewer extreme outliers at the top:

Compared to the steroid era, today’s home runs are much more evenly distributed. Everyone is hitting more homers, but elite home run hitters haven’t made the greatest gains. Instead, more and more hitters are putting up mid-tier totals, and no one is getting to 60, let alone 70 (or this year, perhaps, even 50).

As Silver wrote in 2006, “There may have been a few players for whom steroids represent a ‘tipping point,’ allowing a relatively minor gain in muscle strength, bat speed, or recovery time to translate into a dramatically improved performance.” Regardless, it’s reductive and likely misleading to say that steroids saved baseball. And if we blame PEDs for retroactively ruining an era, we’re probably giving them too much credit for making it fun in the first place.

This was a great article. Five stars. -TOB

Source: How Much of a Role Did Steroids Play in the Steroid Era?”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (09/28/2018)

PAL: Excellent read. Classic case that more than one idea can be true. Here’s the the most logical line from the story:

We’ll never have the data to determine precisely how the ball behaved two decades ago, or who was taking what, when. We can say, though, that every other home run spike of the magnitude of the one that preceded the 1998 home run race was accompanied by a change in the ball or the mound and strike zone.


Hometown Hero – Assessing Joe Mauer’s Twins Career

Joe Mauer very likely played his last game as a Minnesota Twin this past week. For those of you who don’t know, Mauer is the living embodiment of the childhood dream: he grew up in St. Paul, he was a three-sport star in high school (Gatorade national football player of the year and a Florida State commit), he was drafted number one overall by his hometown Minnesota Twins, and actually lived up to the hype. 6x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove Winner, American League MVP, and – oh, by the way – the only catcher in MLB history to win 3 batting titles (and the only American League catcher ever to win a batting title). Add to all of this, he is by all accounts a model citizen.

I know many of you will laugh at this, but Joe Mauer has more than a little in common with LeBron James (I KNOW, LeBron won a title).

Number 7 will be retired in Minnesota, but ask anyone from from Minnesota and they’ll tell you that Mauer, and his $184MM contract has long been a contentious topic in my home state.

In 2009, Mauer had one of the greatest offensive seasons ever by a catcher: .365, 28 HR, 30 doubles, .444 OBP, 96 RBI. Oh, and he also won a Gold Glove. At that point in time, Mauer was the biggest free agent available. A sure-fire Hall of Fame catcher in his mid-late twenties who had just won his third batting title. If Mauer goes to New York with the short porch in right or Fenway to bounce opposite field flies off the monster, god knows where his career ends up.

Instead, Mauer signed an eight year, $184MM contract with his hometown team. The Twins move into a new stadium with “Baby Jesus” leading all the disciples, and, as SI’s Gabriel Baumgaertner details,  Mauer’s career returns to earth. He never hits more than 11 home runs again, and following a concussion in August 2013, Mauer is never the same hitter for average he was prior to that.

Half of the fans remains loyal to Baby Jesus (including my mom), while the other half felt like he was earning too much dough for the the team to be that bad, for him to get mysterious injuries (bilateral leg weakness), and for him to be a singles hitter.

Mauer brings out the worst in us.

“In Minnesota, we’re hardworking people and don’t like it if you’re being paid and you’re not out there performing,” says former baseball writer Andy Rennecke. Let’s pause to appreciate how stupid this cliche is. You know where else hardworking people live, Andy? Literally everywhere else!

Other critics like to point to that contract as the reason the Twins have had such little success since Mauer signed it. This, of course, is ludicrous. 26 players made over 22MM this year. Aaron Gleeman, Editor-in-Chief of Baseball Prospectus, had this to say:

I think this is true of all sports and all fans in that they will very often side with the billionaires over the millionaires. In Minnesota every dollar is treated as not another player, perception that $23 million has kept them from signing others when the team has not filled their payroll base. The family that owns the Twins are multi-billionaires who own huge businesses around Minnesota. I don’t want them to go nuts, I just want them to spend 51% of their revenue. They don’t do that.

Mauer is an unequivocal success – a story too perfect for even the movies. And yet, he made it hard to fully embrace him as our hero. You gotta win something. You gotta at least make a run, and the Twins simply didn’t, even when Mauer was at his best. The Twins went an astonishing 0-10 in playoff games over Mauer’s tenure (he wasn’t on the 2004 playoff roster), and Mauer had a single playoff RBI.

This a really good read about a hometown hero written from a national writer’s perspective. I think that space and perspective is needed when we’re assessing one of our own. Solid read about a guy we should celebrate, even when his teams didn’t give us much to cheer. – PAL

Source:The $23 Million Question: Why Do Some Twins Fans Despise Hometown Hero Joe Mauer?”, Gabriel Baumgaertner, SI.com (9/25/18)

TOB: Yeesh. 0-10!? I had no idea. I’d love to give Joe Mauer some truth serum and ask him if he regrets re-signing with the Twins. As you note, he would have hit a lot of dingers in New York, and they wanted him. I’m sure he felt a lot of pressure to stay. And maybe he would have felt more pressure in NY. But it’s kind of a Sliding Doors moment; or like Jim Belushi’s character in Mr. Destiny: how is Mauer’s life different if he leaves the Twins in 2009? How is baseball history different? How is Phil’s life different? How is my life different? Consider. The following season, the Yankees lost the ALCS in six games to the Rangers. In that series, Yankees’ catcher Jorge Posada, at the tail end of his career, went 5 for 19 with no homers and 1 RBI. What if that’s peak Mauer instead? Does the series change? Do the Giants beat the Yankees? Who knows. So, thanks Joe, for being loyal to your hometown.

On a tangent, I went to check out the list of Gatorade National Players of the Year for football. It’s a fascinating list, filled with not just NFL busts but college busts. Over the last fifteen years, guys like Tate Martell, Jacob Eason, Justin Worley, Andrew Brown, Max Browne, Garrett Gilbert, Mitch Mustain, Kyle Wright, Brock Berlin, Chris Lewis, Jeff Byers. All were or are barely passable as college starters. Some never even started consistently, if at all. Some are absolute no names. Some ring vague bells in my brain, and I follow college football. Some were complete busts. Maybe they need someone new in charge of selecting the winner for that award (the guys in the 80s and 90s was killing it: Jeff George, Emmitt Smith, Robert Smith, Peyton Manning, for example). This says nothing of my opinion of Mauer, just something I found interesting.


Burn High-Level Amateur Basketball to the Ground and Start Over

This week saw the beginning of the trial of agent Christian Dawkins, Adidas executive James Gatto, and former Adidas operative Merl Code. The three are accused of committing felony wire fraud as part of the FBI’s larger investigation into corruption in basketball recruiting. On Thursday, Brian Bowen Sr. testified. You may recall us writing about Brian Bowen, Jr. about a year ago when he was ruled ineligible after reportedly receiving $100,000 to commit to play basketball at Louisville.

His father’s testimony was…eventful:

According to Bowen Sr., Dawkins told him that Arizona assistant coach Joe Pasternack offered $50,000; Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans offered $150,000 cash, $8,000 for a car and additional money to buy a house; Texas assistant coach Mike Morrell offered to “help me with housing”; and Creighton assistant coach Preston Murphy offered $100,000 and a “good job, a lucrative job.”

Earlier in the week there was testimony that Washington paid current 76er Markelle Fultz, and that Utah paid current Laker Kyle Kuzma. I thought this stuff was going on, but Creighton? Utah? This is all crazy. As Deadspin’s Chris Thompson points out:

The numbers are illuminating. They’re impressive if imagined as a layer of banded stacks of crisp bills inside a briefcase, but in exchange for a year of work from a highly skilled and widely recruited worker whose services will soon be worth tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed money, they’re not much!

Which is what makes this trial kind of ridiculous. Amateur basketball needs to start over. Players should be paid so that these under the table deals don’t occur. Perhaps the craziest thing  it’s not just at the college level either:

Bowen Sr. told the jury that he received $2,000 per month from Shane Heirman for Bowen II to attend La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana. Heirman was the head coach of La Lumiere at the time, and is now an assistant coach at DePaul.

Bowen II began his high school career playing for Dawkins’ Dorian’s Pride AAU program, but moved to the Michigan Mustangs on the Adidas circuit after Adidas program director T.J. Gassnola offered Bowen Sr. $25,000 for his son to play for the Mustangs.

AAU teams playing players is obvious. But high schools are paying for players, too? Yeah, I don’t know how you fix that one.

Source: “Brian Bowen’s Dad Describes Black Market Payments For Top Recruits At Every Level Of “Amateur” Basketball”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (10/04/2018)

PAL: I hate the idea of paying college players, but I don’t see another solution with the athletic companies so entwined in the sport. But does paying them in college stop the jockeying for position in high school and the AAU circuit? Do we let children sign shoe deals? If he decides to go to college, can he then be contractually obligated to only go to a school that has a deal with his shoe maker? At that point, to what degree would the shoe companies essentially running college programs? How much are they already running college programs right now?

TOB: They already are. At least this would be out in the open. I think allowing players to sign endorsement deals is the easiest fix. In every other sport, this isn’t a problem: golf. skiing. tennis. They all sign sponsorships in order to afford equipment, travel, cost of living. It keeps the colleges out of it, solves a lot of the headaches colleges claim, and keeps things above board.


Video of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week – Mogwai – ‘Helicon 1’


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And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.

-Michael Scott

Week of September 28, 2018

Watch out for the A’s in October, folks. Do us all a favor and take the Yankees out, boys.


Da Birth of Da Bears 

How about a light, fun sports story this week, eh? It’s one of the most iconic Saturday Night Live sketches of all-time – “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans”:

Of course it was hilarious, and of course it gave us some vintage Farley moments, but the recurring sketch represented more than a couple laughs. In this enjoyable deep dive, The Ringer’s Aln Siegel goes beyond the heart attacks and gets the origin story of Robert Smigel’s brainchild that took over the nation.

Little did Smigel know that he’d created an archetype. His now 30-year-old characters remain the only-slightly-exaggerated embodiment of America’s obsession with sports. Every depiction of a comically devoted fan over the past three decades owes a debt to Smigel’s portly, mustached diehards.

The inspiration for sketch came not at a Bears game, but at a Cubs game.

It was a surreal Chicago moment, one of many Smigel has experienced since his first game at Wrigley back in the early ’80s. That afternoon, when he heard people in the bleachers shouting, “Left field sucks!” and “Right field sucks” at each other, and watched home run balls being thrown back onto the field, he was smitten. “In Chicago, the best seats in the house are the shitty seats,” he said. It’s a lesson that served him well when he created the Super Fans. The irrationally positive, thick-accented men squeezed into Bears jerseys were funny enough to transcend provincialism. After all, every city has a version of those guys.

As with most any great cultural moment, a bunch of seemingly insignificant and unrelated factors coalesced. Chicago teams were having a moment in the 80s (Cubs, Bears, White Sox to a lesser extent) and that was followed with the Bulls run in the 90s. A writer’s strike in ‘88 gave Smigel and fellow SNL writer Bob Odenkirk some time to try some wackier stuff at a stage revue over the summer (Conan O’Brien’s “In The Year 2000” bit came from this same revue). Lastly, the idea of sport reporters sitting around talking about sports as a TV show was just taking off.

There’s so much more in this story, and it’s a treat to read. Loved it! – PAL

Source: Da Story of Da Bears: How an ‘SNL’ Sketch Defined Sports Fandom”, Alan Siegel, The Ringer (9/27/18)

TOB: Loved this! Nice find, PAL.


Another Way to Consider Tiger’s Comeback

Some of you might be aware that TOB and I made a friendly bet before the Masters this year. I said Tiger would win at least one major before next year’s final major – the British Open (the PGA is moving to April next year). Without Tiger, I might watch the back nine of the US Open and the Masters; with him (and our bet), I’ve been locked in. He makes golf matter to the general public. No one moves the needle in his or her sport like Woods.

He’s obviously played much better this year. I thought I was going to win the bet at the British Open and Brooks Koepka was a beast holding him off at the PGA Championship, too. So I wasn’t surprised that he won this past week, but I should be very surprised. Four back surgeries. Four knee surgeries. Setting aside the rehab and personal issues, I have no friggin’ idea how someone swings a golf club like this after repeated back and knee surgeries:

As Josh Planos writes on fivethirtyeight, there’s a different way of contextualizing Woods’ turnaround: strokes gained. As Planos describes it, strokes gained is “a metric that measures each shot a player takes based on how much it reduces his expected score on a hole relative to the field average.”

In other words, I CANNOT wait to be at Pebble Beach next year (1-2-3 Already got the tickets!) to watch Tiger win the U.S. Open amongst a sea of people going bananas, turning to TOB, and simply holding out my hand. – PAL

Source: How Tiger Woods Finally Put It All Together Again”, Josh Planos, fivethirtyeight (9/24/18)

TOB: When Phil asked me for this bet last December, I felt extremely good about it. I gave him 20-1 odds, but only let him bet $5. I figured it was an easy beer he could buy me. But over the last seven months, I am feeling far less confident. Now, I’d probably go no higher than 5-1.

Hell, at the PGA Championship last month, I was half rooting for Tiger on Sunday, as Phil was whoopin’ it up next to me. This was not a very rational thing for me to do, considering it would have cost me $100. Such is Tiger.


The Truth Behind Nike’s Kaepernick Campaign

As I said a few weeks ago, Nike’s Kaepernick campaign, while powerful and I believe Good (capital G), was also a business decision by a billion dollar corporation. This week, some of the details behind how this ad came to be, and, unsurprisingly, I should have been even more cynical than I was.

The ad is powerful, and Nike drew wide praise (and criticism) for it. But as the New York Times reports, it almost didn’t happen.

In the summer of 2017, a debate raged in Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., over whether to cut loose the controversial, unemployed quarterback — and the company very nearly did.”

Ultimately Nike decided the ad would gain “credibility the company would gain with the young, urban market it has long targeted,” and thus “made good business sense despite the risk of angering the N.F.L.”

Worse yet, the decision to actually run the Kaepernick campaign, more than a year after he last played a snap in the NFL, came only after Kaepernick’s lawyers argued that Nike’s decision to “keep him within its stable of sponsored athletes without using him” left Nike in violation of its contractual obligations.

The play seems to have worked. Nike’s stock closed last week at an all-time high of $85. -TOB

Source: “Nike Nearly Dropped Colin Kaepernick Before Embracing Him”, Julie Creswell, Kevin Draper and Sapna Maheshwari, New York Times (09/26/2018)


Video of the Week:


PAL Song of the Week: Khruangbin – “Lady and Man”


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Alright. Jim, to be fair, the conversation wasn’t about planets. At first we were talking about introducing a line of toilet paper. And what part of the human body does one use toilet paper upon? So you draw a line from there to the other planets… and I think by the end we learned a little bit about how small we are.

-M. Gary Scott

Week of September 21, 2018

Who’s ready for the weekend?


Thank God for Golf Digest

Max Adler had been writing a human interest column for Golf Digest titled “Golf Saved My Life”, when he received a letter from Attica Correctional Facility. It was from Valentino Dixon. Since 1991, he’d been serving a murder sentence.

To pass the time, Dixon borrowed issues of Golf Digest from a cellmate and use the images of golf courses as references for his artwork. Dixon had never played golf in his life. After a long time of drawing the holes he saw in the magazine, Dixon began reading Adler’s column, and decided to share his version of the “Golf Saved My Life” prompt. Here’s an excerpt, but please do yourself a favor and read the entire letter here.

I’ve never hit a golf ball. I’ve never set foot on a golf course. Everything I draw is from inside a 6-by-10 prison cell. The first course I ever drew was for warden James Conway. He would often stop by my cell to ask how my appeal was going and to see my drawings. Before he retired, the warden brought me a photograph of the 12th hole at Augusta National and asked if I could draw it for him.

I spent 15 hours on it. The warden loved it, and it was gratifying to know my art would hang in his house. Something about the grass and sky was rejuvenating. I’d been getting bored with drawing animals and people and whatever I’d get out of National Geographic. After 19 years in Attica (N.Y.) Correctional Facility, the look of a golf hole spoke to me. It seemed peaceful. I imagine playing it would be a lot like fishing.

Of course, Adler read the submission. And, as an Art major, he also appreciated Dixon’s work. Eventually, he would hear Dixon out. Dixon told him he was innocent (like everyone else), but Dixon was telling the truth.

After spending twenty-seven years in prison for a murder another person confessed to, Dixon finally walked out this week, thanks in large part to a Golf Digest story.

Many folks were instrumental in getting Dixon out, but it’s pretty incredible to think that a submission to Golf Digest got the wheels turning. As Adler tells it, despite the evidence, it takes a tremendous amount of work from a lot of inspired people to get an innocent man out of prison.

It was kind of five years of an abyss. Just, like, nothing happened. I was probably naive [thinking the] presentation of his case would get him out of jail. It just seemed so obvious to me. But of course it didn’t. It required so much.

What I realized yesterday in Buffalo [where the court released Dixon] was that it was such a cumulation of so many different people. Myself. Golf Digest. Golf Channel, who then picked it up. All the other media that then covered his story. The students from Georgetown University Prison Reform Project. Valentino’s attorneys, Donald Thompson and Alan Rosenthal.

It took so much for the bough to finally break. After five years, I kind of gave up hope.

This is the best and worst kind of story. It’s the best when when coincidence leads to what seemed like an impossible conclusion. It’s the worst because I guy who didn’t commit the crime sat in a prison for over a quarter century. – PAL

Source: How Golf Digest Started A Movement To Free A Man Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (09/19/2018)


Real Story or SNL: Red Sox Fans

I love this. I love this story so much. Oh, these two idiots. I can’t even. The hair, the accents, the star tattoo on the elbow. This is so rich.

As Deadspin’s Samer Kalef calls out, the best from the video is:

“We wanna give it back to them because it belongs to them, and it doesn’t belong to us,” Iacuzzi said. “But in reciprocation, we would like, you know, to maybe go to a nice playoff game or—we’re looking for something. We don’t want to just hand it over to them. We need to negotiate here.”

What’s more, these two choir boys are now accused of stealing the banner, which they deny. Also, we’re talking about a 2018 divisional banner. This isn’t Ted William’s cryogenically frozen melon, you know what I’m saying? Funniest story I’ve read this year. – PAL

Source: These Massholes Found The Missing Red Sox Division Banner, And They’re Willing To Negotiate“, Samer Kalef, Deadspin (09/20/2018)

TOB: LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. The ol’ “it fell off a truck” defense. But my favorite part is their threat to show up to Fenway when the duplicate banner is unveiled as if everyone will be shocked when they reveal the real banner. Also:

A top notch internet comment.


Stephen Jackson: Old, Not a Bum; Andrew Wiggins: Young, No Heart

This week, Jimmy Butler, who is awesome and good, asked to be traded from the cold hellscape that is Minnesota (kiddin, y’all!). In an apparent response, the older brother of Jimmy’s teammate Andrew Wiggins, who seems like he should be awesome and good but you can watch an entire Wolves game and barely notice him, said “Hallelujah!” on social media. The obvious interpretation is that Jimmy and Andrew don’t like each other, but the deeper analysis is that they don’t like each other because Jimmy plays hard as hell and Wiggins is soft as Charmin.

It would have probably ended there, but Stephen Jackson weighed in on Wiggins’ brother’s tweet with the following video (note: Captain Jack sadly pulled his videos from his Instagram. Someone did save them and upload them to YouTube, so stop the first video here at 1:07 so as not to spoil the second:

Jackson is funny as hell and I’ve always been a big fan, so I choose not to ask why he is involving himself in this. Instead, I choose to appreciate the beef it has created. In response, Wiggins posted the following on social media (having previously deleted a nearly identical post in order to be clear he was responding to Jackson):

Captain Jack is Captain Jack, though, and he could not let that stand. While conceding he is 40 and thus old, he could not allow Wiggins to call him a “bum ass”, and took some more shots at Wiggins in the process (skip to 1:07):

What’s weird here, other than Jackson inserting himself into this is the first place, is Wiggins’ complete lack of self-awareness. The man is a former #1 overall pick and is as talented as players come, and yet he is a classic good stats/bad team guy who plays zero defense. Jackson played fifteen years in the NBA, won a title as a key player, was once declared by Tim Duncan to be Duncan’s best teammate ever, spurred the We Believe Warriors of 2007, and was heavily involved in one of the most infamous moments in NBA history (the Malice at the Palace). Who’s the bum ass, Wiggins? -TOB

Source: Timberwolves Drama Turns Into Spicy Internet Beef Somehow Featuring Stephen Jackson”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (09/19/2018)

PAL: It’s not a good look for ex-players to be inserting themselves into these middle-school, social media ‘beefs’. That said, I do like Jackson’s instruction to Wiggins the next time they cross paths: “Keep your hands straight.” That’s a cool line.


You’re Going to Pay Me How Much to Do What?

The Clippers made an interesting move recently, hiring Lee Jenkins from Sport Illustrated to be the team’s “executive director of research and identity”…wait, is there an episode on Silicon Valley playing the background? Director of research and identity? Huh?

Jenkins, as many of you know, is famous for his athlete feature writer at SI. He’s best known for his NBA profiles of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant. Players and their people trust Jenkins to tell their story, and the Clippers see value in Jenkins’ talent even if he’s unclear what the the hell he’s supposed to do.

“Let’s all acknowledge the fact of how incredibly talented he is and his ability to tell stories, connect the dots, highlight the personalities of our players, and what it is going to highlight about the Clipper experience,” Frank said.

Jenkins will report to Frank and Michael Winger, the general manager, and will not have any employees under his purview but will be assisted by the entire front office.

“My hope is that I learn a lot early on especially fast, and I figure out where I can help and where I fit in,” Jenkins said.

There’s also the point that his most recent employer, SI, has been taking on water for quite some time.

Jenkins’s departure comes as Sports Illustrated faces stiff financial setbacks. It has had several rounds of layoffs, and reduced the frequency of its publication to 27 issues a year, from a high of 51 as recently as 2015. Its parent company, Time Inc., was acquired by the Meredith Corporation last year, and Sports Illustrated has been on the auction block for the better part of 2018. Time magazine was bought for $190 million over the weekend, and Sports Illustrated could have a new owner in a matter of days.

Jenkins is well known enough to get paid a good chunk of money to write for any number of sites (I wonder if The Athletic made a run at him), so I’d be surprised if SI’s situation was a deciding factor in this. My bet is he wanted to try something different for a year. As Draper points out, 2019 free agency is going to be loaded, and the Clippers have space to sign two superstars. My guess is Jenkins wants to see it from the inside and write a book from inside the war room.  – PAL

Source: The Los Angeles Clippers Signed a Big Star. From Sports Illustrated.”, Kevin Draper, The New York Times (9/18/18)

TOB: That’s a really good point at the end, and I hadn’t considered it. The entire time reading this I was thinking it was a pure money grab by Jenkins. A journalist going in-house makes him just a PR guy, ya know? But if he’s allowed to write a book about this on the back-end, I can see how this makes sense for him.


Video(s) of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Florence + The Machine – “Hunger”


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You know I always wanted to pretend I was an architect. 

-G. Costanza

On the Force or the Tag: Part V

On The Force or the Tag is a 5-part series recounting my season as a volunteer baseball coach in a city league to which I had no prior affiliation. Along the way, I’ll connect my coaching experiences this season to memories from the four best coaches I had growing up. Kent Anderson, Tony Lang (my brother), Jay Rabeni (my brother-in-law), and Jeff Holm continue to influence how I approach my day and my life. They represent the best-case scenario of youth sports, from Little League to college. This is my thank you to them.

The names of the players, coaches, and family members from the team I coached have been changed. Read earlier sections:

The dugout in which the meeting with Calloway happened. 


Memory is Duct tape. It’ll hold together bits of truth well enough for us to get on with the day.  

The season ended abruptly. My fiance and I had scheduled a trip to Denver on what was to be the final weekend of games. It was not a good look for the coach to be absent, but the last weekend of games were cancelled anyway. They couldn’t find any umpires.  

Following the previous game – what become our last – I told the fellas how much I enjoyed coaching them. I encouraged them to call if they ever wanted me to throw batting practice or hit fungos. There were a few thank yous from parents and players in the parking lot, but no one was pretending the season was more than it was. In total, I coached eight games, one practice, and one batting practice session with Zack.

Regardless of the brevity of the season, these are my guys now. That’s how this coaching gig works. My wish for them is that they find a calling, they work very hard to master that calling, and they feel the buzz of success regularly. If they need me, I hope they know I’ll answer the call.

I enjoyed every player on the team – truly – and they seemed to like me enough, too. If fate would have it so, it would be a welcome surprise to bump into any of my guys in five or ten years and get an update on how things are going.

My account of this season and the relationships forged with these players is just that: one account. In truth, there is a high likelihood that at least one player on this team did not like me. Someone felt that I had picked favorites, and he wasn’t one of them, and that I didn’t know squat about baseball. I would bet these were the topics of conversation at that monument of adolescence – the car ride home from a game with a parent.

Some portion of that story occured. How can I be so sure? Everyone who has ever played a sport at any level has had at least one coach who didn’t mesh, whether the coach knew it or not. My coach was Chris Calloway.  

I framed this series as a thank you to the great coaches throughout my baseball life. What I haven’t mentioned is I’ve spent as much time thinking about Calloway (not his real name), as any other coach I ever had.

I end with Calloway because baseball’s ultimate lesson is failure.

***

The high school field at Roseville. They can keep leveling and re-edging that field until the end of time, but it will always be a crap field. In the background you can see the hill and Highway 36 where we’d have to shag foul balls.

Calloway played the part of a coach convincingly. While he was no tactician, he was pigeon-toed and sauntered across the infield like a coach. He’d yell odd phrases from the dugout – Get foul, you communist whore! –  that sounded gruff, coach-like, but he also tried to pass off obvious objectives of the game as wisdom – you gotta throw strikes, hit the ball hard. He’d chew leaf tobacco and work hopelessly on our p.o.s. high school field during the summer while his dog ran along the fence line. His aura dripped baseball coach, but it wasn’t the real thing.

To Calloway, my enthusiasm for the game was a book picked up, thumbed through, and never read. I was another player to him, and that did not work for me. I worked hard to be more than just another player, and every other coach prior to him had encouraged me. Calloway didn’t care how much I cared. I grew to hate him for that, flatout. I resolved to prove him wrong and extract his respect without ever knowing what evidence would be sufficient proof I’d succeeded.

The goal was a D-I college baseball scholarship. I’d mapped out a plan in detail. 200 swings a day on the tee in the basement. Long-toss three times a week throughout the year. Blocking drills, framing, working out in the gym. I quit hockey – in Minnesota! –  to focus on doing everything I could to reach this goal. These were not sacrifices; I enjoyed every bit of it. I was fifteen, and because high school baseball is played during the spring, that meant I would likely need a scholarship offer after the summer season (Legion ball) of my junior year. I had two years. Not much time.

I started out ahead of schedule. Calloway asked me to join the varsity tryouts during my freshman year. In exchange for catching bullpens, I was allowed to practice with the upperclassmen. There was no chance I was going to make the varsity roster as a freshman – I knew that – but with that time I was able to assess the catcher pecking order in the program up close.

Jack Rose was the senior left-handed cleanup hitter with a cannon arm. Quick hands and a big ass. Borderline all-state catcher. Rose was graduating, and he gave me rides to the tryouts in his wagon. He was not my concern. Nico Roll was my concern.

Roll was one year ahead of me. A three-sport athlete with all of the physical ability to be good-to-great in just about any sport. He was a running back, a winger, and a catcher. He could hit, he could throw, and he could run. These are the measurables that show in a tryout. Nico also thought about Wu-Tang Clan far more consistently than he thought about baseball. That was not something that showed in a tryout. If anything, a lack of interest can be easily misread as an ‘even-keel approach’ in the short time frame of a tryout.

The following year, my task was quite plain coming into tryouts. In order to stay on schedule for a D-I scholarship, I had to beat out Roll at catcher. I was more consistent defensively, a left-handed hitter, and cared about nothing but baseball. I’d been working at it every day since the gym tryouts the previous year.

Roll was a more powerful hitter, and I already mentioned the speed. His best was pretty damn good, but he rarely showed it. Catcher is a position that will make a mess out of a guy if his head isn’t in it. The catcher is the captain on the field, the only one that has the entire field in front of him. To put it in Kent Anderson terms – every ball’s coming to me, know what I’m going to do with it – the catcher needs to know what every player on the field is supposed to do in every situation. Simply too much happens all of the time for someone with an occasional interest in baseball to play the position.

It was hard to tell who had the edge, and I waited for Calloway’s announcement. I finally had to ask. We were walking out by the loading docks in the back of the gym. Roll was going to start. Calloway seemed unsure why he even had to say it out loud.

It was the first moment in my life in which I encountered another’s talent that outweighed my desire. All things weren’t equal. Hard work had not paid off on my expectation, and I’d lost to a guy that didn’t care. Worst of all, Roll was a junior, meaning I’d sit behind him for two years. By the time my senior year would come I would miss most any chance to get a scholarship. This was not the plan.

And then, without warning, Roll was caught dipping in class before the season opener. Mandatory two week suspension. There I was, starting a varsity game as a sophomore playing against Cretin at their legendary diamond in St. Paul. I hit the ball hard a couple times that game, and I remember a walk-off hit against Coon Rapids. After the Coon Rapids game Calloway referred to my hit as something along the lines of a ground ball with eyes.

Cretin-Derham Hall. High school field of Joe Mauer and Paul Molitor. 

I don’t remember much else from those two weeks other than being extremely happy and feeling like I was where I was supposed to be. I played well, I think, and it wasn’t crazy to hope that I’d continue catching after Roll’s suspension. Who knows if the stats would prove my memory correct or not. Memory is Duct tape.

Roll served his suspension and was back into the lineup shortly thereafter. I was the designated hitter for a couple games, and then I was on the bench taking my turn shagging foul balls along Highway 36. I hated shagging foul balls at that field. You had to walk behind parents and students to climb over the chainlink fence and search for a baseball in high grass along the highway as cars and semis blew by. Put on an orange vest, and it’d be difficult to distinguish a bench player from a minimum security prisoner doing highway cleanup.

I was certain Calloway had it out for me and was going out of his way to screw me. He was drawn to athletes over ballplayers. In Minnesota, that meant he liked the hockey players that also played baseball. I’d quit hockey to become a ballplayer.

He liked Roll. Calloway once brought Roll a Sport Illustrated article about the Pirates catcher Jason Kendall. The story is about the two sides of Kendall: the surfer bum and the hard-nosed, always dirty, win-at-any-cost ballplayer with a huge wad of tobacco poking out of his cheek. Roll had the laid back portion of Kendall down (and the tobacco*), but he wasn’t hard-nosed. He wasn’t a ballplayer.

Calloway was trying to inspire Roll. In retrospect, I understand Calloway trying to jumpstart a player, but you can’t coach a kid to care. Kent, my Little League coach, could tell that from a game of catch with a ten year old. Still, it hurt to see Calloway try with Roll and wonder why he wouldn’t try with me.

The easy answer would be that I didn’t need it. That I already had the drive. That, of course, is disingenuous bullshit. I was a teenager, not a monk. How about an ‘atta boy’ every now and again?

At one point, I even had a meeting with Calloway to try to figure out what I could do differently. In a moment I’ll always regret, I had my older brother, Matt, join us in the dugout. I cried. I was failing, and I didn’t know how handle it. That moment remains utterly embarrassing and emasculating.

***

In the end – what do you know – it worked out. It took me a long time before it sunk into my teenage brain that I couldn’t control Calloway. What I could do was keep up with the daily 200 swings off of the tee and keep taking one more step back on the long toss.

You win by outlasting them. You care more for longer, and eventually the people between you and what you want quit. It’s not always the cinematic moment, the walk-off hit. In many ways, success is attrition.

I don’t think Roll even finished his senior year of baseball. What’s more telling – I can’t remember.  

I didn’t get that D-I scholarship, but I got some money to play at Augustana College, a D-II school (2018 D-II National Champs!). We played damn good ball for Coach Holm, and the team rode buses across Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Nebraska playing baseball in decaying minor league stadiums and through spring time snowstorms. We caravanned across the gray, wet belly of America on a diet of Euchre and orange peanut-butter crackers.

About to ride back from Greeley, Colorado with a NCC conference championship. Left to Right: Bergie, Wally, Kroeger, Schultzy, O-Dog, yours truly in the headphones, Walzy in the background with the looooooong cargo shorts, and Sammy’s chest far right. 

I was lucky to play a bunch all four years, to be captain two of those years, and to help win the first conference championship in the program’s history. My grandpa, my dad, my brothers got to see me play college baseball. Mom, too. She’d sit watch like a sentinel in that Sioux Falls wind galloping across the Dakota plains.  

I also spent my time sending writing samples to authors, drinking beers with teammates who would become lifelong friends, learning to play the guitar, and streaking across the quad. I read Tim O’Brien, John Fowles, and Steinbeck with a pen in hand and slipped terrible love letters into the shadows beneath dorm room doors.

After all those great times, why do I still think of those days with Calloway? Why do I still want to extract that goddamn, worthless respect out of him? Why does a part of me still need him to know I wasn’t a phony?

What bothered me as a teenager and what bothers me now are different points. As a kid, I wanted to play, to be great, and be recognized for it. As I saw it, Calloway wouldn’t allow that to happen, which of course isn’t entirely true. If I was an obvious D-I scholarship player, I would’ve taken Roll’s starting spot at some point.

As an adult, Calloway’s wasted opportunity bothers me as much as anything. He coached with no joy. It offends me that he held that Varsity Baseball Coach job for years, keeping it away from a coach who could’ve been to other players what Kent, Tony, Jay, and Holm were to me. It also bothers me at how quickly I panicked when Roll was given the starting gig. It took me too long to toughen up and deal with the situation by simply controlling what I could control, which was my effort and attitude.

But If I’m going to write about it like this, if I’m going to critique a man twenty years later, then I need to unwrap the Duct tape and examine all of the bits of truth that remain, not just the ones that fit within my emotional truth.

For as uninterested as I remember him to be, Calloway gave me a key to the baseball storage closet so we could get in the old gym and take B.P. anytime we wanted. That was our practice space throughout the winter, during the time the coach couldn’t be working with the players.

He also must have recommended me for a fall wood bat league that ultimately allowed me to catch the attention of my college coach. He spoke well enough about me to have Augustana offer me a scholarship. Without his endorsement, it is highly unlikely that happens. That is a huge detail I’d overlooked until writing this.

And we need to leave room for one other consideration. When we think of coaches, we let the title stand in for the entire person. We don’t think of them sitting at a cubicle the eight hours before they go to the field, and we can’t imagine them in the role of spouse, parent, son, or daughter. We have no idea what people carry on their shoulders on any given day, month, decade, or lifetime.

I have the right to share this story – my story – but I don’t want to be so self-centered as to not even acknowledge that Calloway was more than a coach, and there were parts of his life I didn’t see that impacted our relationship. These are not excuses, but it’s not always about us. Maybe it’s even rarely about us, and we need to leave space to remember that.

So it’s OK if some of the guys I coached this summer didn’t like me, but I hope they believe I care about them. I hope they work hard so they compete and expect to succeed in the moments when real life is at stake, whether that success comes as a cinematic moment or as the invisible victories of persistance. Kent, Tony, Jay, Holm – that’s what they gave me, and that’s about as big of a gift as it gets.

I also hope they know I will throw them B.P. and hit them fungos until it’s too dark to see. I’ll do it because I love to coach, but I’ll also do it because there’s no place I’d rather be than on a baseball field. – PAL

FOOTNOTES:

*I’m realizing now that tobacco is at the root of this chapter. Calloway chewed while working on the field, Roll was suspended for dipping in class. Kendall always and wad in his cheek, and I took up the nasty habit early in college (and have since quit).

A huge thank you to TOB for reading and editing these five chapters. Over the several years we’ve been doing 1-2-3 Sports!, I’ve come to love his writing and trust his opinion immensely. Also, a big thank you to Jay Kurtis for digging up some vintage pics from Little League, and to my mom and dad for digging up old team photos from cardboard boxes in the basement.