Week of June 14, 2019

That red sleeve on the left is my college buddy, Teresa Resch. She’s the V.P. of Operations for the Raptors. She’s a champ, on the stage with the team. Done good, T!


Thank You, Gabriele Grunewald

I had not heard of Gabriele Grunewald until news of her death at the age of 32 made it to the national websites, but that’s not a good enough reason to keep this story to myself. To our Minnesota readers, let us know if Grunewald, a MN native and University of Minnesota graduate, has been a big topic recently.

For the rest of you, I just want to share with you her story so you can take the time to appreciate this incredible woman. Her drive, her dignity, and what looks like such a beautiful friendship and bond with her husband. You can read a more complete summary of her life here, but for those who don’t click through:

Grunefield walked onto the track team at the University of Minnesota and turned herself into one of the nation’s best at the 1500 meter distance. The day before a race during her senior year, she was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a cancer of the salivary glands. The next year, after surgery and radiation, Grunefield came back and kicked ass, finishing second in the nation in the 1500.

She signed a deal with Brooks and became a professional. Cancer came back in 2010. She kicked ass again. “It’s like I lost all excuses for not pushing myself to reach my fullest potential,” she said. In 2012, she fell one place short of qualifying for the Olympics, but put up a personal best time shortly thereafter. In 2014 she became an American Champion at the 3,000 meters. In 2016, she made it to the Olympic Trials final, despite the cancer coming back. Along the way, she and her husband, Justin, shared their story, inspired a hell of a lot of people, and raised a bunch of money.

“It’s important to me to step on the starting line even if I’m not kicking everyone’s ass. I’m doing my best, and that’s what my story’s about.”

I say we all owe it to ourselves and Gabriele Grunewald to give it our best today. – PAL

Source: Gabriele Grunewald, Who Defied Cancer By Racing At The Highest Level, Dies At 32”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (06/13/19)


Raptors Win. Klay Goes Down. What Just Happened?

I’m not exactly a Warriors fan, but I am a fan of the Curry-era Warriors. They play a brand of basketball that is so exciting, and they make the sport more fun. There’s nothing better than a Curry hot streak – when every time he releases it you know it’s about to drop perfectly through the net. So it’s taken me about 24 hours to digest their NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors.

A lot of people say, “Not to take anything away from the Raptors, but…” I’m not going to say that, because I do have to say that this is not a strong NBA Champ. I think we’ll look back at this Raptors team and scratch our heads. It took injuries to one of the top 2 or 3 players in the NBA and a top 10-15 player in the NBA, and the Raptors still struggled to put the Warriors away, with Curry missing a three that could have forced Game 7. Nothing about this Raptors team is particularly exciting to watch, and the series should not have been close without Durant, and with Klay hobbled early (and out late).

But they won, and that’s that.

I’m more intrigued about what happens now. Because the Warriors didn’t just lose – they were decimated by injury, heading into an offseason where most expected Durant to leave. Now, with the achilles tear, does KD stay? Are teams really going to give him a supermax – he’ll be 31 next season and it might be two full seasons before he’s 100% healthy? Or does KD’s injury cause him to reevaluate his situation and elect to take the extra $60M or so the Warriors can offer him over other teams? Or does he punt his decision for a year by not opting out and becoming a free agent next year? And if he does sign elsewhere, how does that affect other free agent decisions, knowing they’d be going somewhere (New York, Brooklyn, the Clippers) without KD for Year 1 of a 4-year plan? Does it affect Kyrie Irving? Kawhi? And what about a possible Anthony Davis trade?

And What about Klay? I think the Warriors give him the max, and I think he takes it. But where does his ACL tear leave the Warriors next year? They cannot sign any free agents of note to help them – whether they re-sign Durant or lose him – so what does that roster look like next year? The team was already aging, and now they essentially have to punt next season, in terms of being a true contender. Or do they have enough to make the playoffs next year, and then bring Klay back just before the playoffs? And even KD if he stays? Are they still a contender?

So while I think this Raptors team is kind of a blah champ, this Finals will still be unforgettable. It may be the end of one of the top dynasties in NBA history. Plus, in the span of less than two games, the course of the NBA future completely changed. Wild.

Also I want to give a special shoutout to Klay Thompson, who really tried to finish the game with a torn ACL, and even came back from the tunnel to drain his two free throws when he realized that if he did not shoot the free throws himself, he could not return to the game at all.

What a nail. -TOB


How Is This Legal?

Florida State University’s athletic department is going private. What does this mean? Iliana Limón Romero of the Orlando Sentinel summarizes it as follows:

The switch will also give FSU athletics all the privileges of a private corporation, including declining any public-records requests while still preserving its sovereign immunity. The immunity clause for state agencies caps any jury judgments or settlements reached by the athletics department at $200,000. Any further settlements would have to be approved by the state Legislature to avoid undue burden on taxpayers, a privilege not enjoyed by traditional corporations.

The idea that a state-funded institution could decline public-records requests is insane. At the risk of oversimplifying the purpose of public-records requests, it seems obvious Florida taxpayers, as well as out-of-state students, parents paying tuition, and alumni deserve to know what’s going on at the university, including the athletic department.

As Deadspin’s Lauren Theisen points out, the athletic department at FSU needs more public scrutiny, not less (the same could be said for just about every big-time college athletic department). In the last five years, there have been multiple accusations of domestic abuse (former QB Deondre Francios), sexual battery (former QB Jameis Winston, who, in a separate incident, was later suspended by the NFL for groping an Uber driver), and animal abuse. In the Winston example, FSU settled with his accuser for $950K to drop the Title IX lawsuit. Info I think taxpayers, FSU students, FSU parents, and alumni have the right to know.

In Theisen’s words:

Florida State gets these new privileges without one big drawback that usually goes with them—the athletic department still will be subject to an immunity clause that limits any jury judgments or settlements to just $200,000. Anything higher would have to be approved by the state legislature, because it’d be paid by the taxpayers. Obviously, that’s not a perk a private corporation normally enjoys.

That minuscule limit came into play earlier this decade, to the benefit of UCF’s athletic association, after Ereck Plancher collapsed and died during a football practice in 2008. In 2011, a jury awarded Plancher’s family $10 million, but after the organization appealed all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, they didn’t have to pay more than $200,000.

Under this arrangement, not only would Florida State’s athletic leadership not have to be transparent in the event of a scandal or tragedy—similar to the way Maryland was held accountable after the death of Jordan McNair—but there also would be an artificial cap on the judicial consequences for their actions.

FSU isn’t the first school to privatize its athletic department. University of Florida has operated this way for years, as has the University of Central Florida. This is calculated and sinister. – PAL

Source: FSU announces plans to privatize its athletics department”, Iliana Limón Romero, Orlando Sentinel (06/08/19); Florida State Is Privatizing Its Athletic Department To Shield Itself From Scrutiny”, Lauren Theisen, Deadspin (06/10/19)

TOB: The short answer is it’s legal because the legislature, which undoubtedly has graduates/fans of the Florida and Florida State football teams crafted sweetheart legislation that harms the people of Florida but makes the Gators and ‘Noles better able to field competitive football teams. Which is some real bullshit.


This ‘Content’ Wasn’t Made For You

I am not sure you’ll find this story as interesting as I did, but it touched on a subject that, as someone who works on creative for an ad-supported platform, I find myself debating on a nearly daily basis: what is an advertisement?

Considering you’re reading this on an incredibly obscure website, we are alike. We love sports. We love watching games, we love reading great sportswriting, and we spend our commutes listening to sports podcasts or sports talk radio. We love just about all sports content. We are the reason all of this content exists, right?.

Not always.

In Tom Ley’s words:

When editorial products and advertisements become more “naturally integrated,” it becomes harder to determine just in whose service the work is being created. It muddles the nature of the thing you’re reading, very much by design.

Instead of seeing a media company create something that it thinks its readers will enjoy and then presenting that thing to those readers alongside unaffiliated ads, we’re seeing one create something that’s meant to satisfy its advertising partner first and its readers second, if at all.

Which brings us back to that image at the top here. Notice the stat category. Check out the assist column. See the State Farm logo? You might think, No biggie. Maybe you’re right.

So how about the video?

 

Is that an ad? As Ley points out, this “what-if” scenario is exactly the type of thing that Simmons has been doing for years, but would Simmons have done this segment if State Farm wasn’t paying for it? Again, maybe you think, Who cares? What’s wrong with that?

In that indifference a war is being fought and billions of dollars are being spent. Content people and ad people jockey over inches, pixels, and social influencers. Sellers trying to hit their numbers raise their voice to creative directors and legal to have a brand mentioned just one more time. Endless email threads with multi-colored, inline responses about hashtags, logo placement, and so many other seemingly pointless things fill the inbox. Slack channels churn with sidebars to the sidebar. I know, because I’m on the threads, the slack channels, the endless regroup meetings.

While standard advertising remains a powerhouse, the new horizon of advertising is where content and ads are indistinguishable from each other.

Like him or not, Bill Simmons has a major influence on what sports stories are told and how a lot of people get their sports content. As the CEO of a content company, he finds himself straddling the line between revenue and content. In this seemingly innocuous story/ad, he’s is selling off his most valuable asset to an advertiser: they way he thinks about and talks about sports. In this instance, he’s not thinking about creative sports content on our behalf. Those ideas were for State Farm.   

To be clear, this is happening everywhere. Sponsored content takes place on Facebook, IG, Twitter, YouTube. It’s pitched every day at Pandora and Spotify. It happens on news sites, too. Digital advertising is keeping the lights on for every sports and news website and every podcast network. Any tiered service (free option with ads, subscription option with no ads) out there exists because of ad revenue. Outside of subscription-only services (Netflix, The Athletic), ad revenue is the business model.

It’s a catch-22: for every State Farm sponsored “what-if” video that a sports and pop culture website spends time on, might there be an important story that lacks the resources or attention to be reported? On the flip, very few sports websites would exist without the likes of State Farm, and therefore even less stories would be told.

Of course I don’t mind Bill Simmons doing an ad for State Farm, but I do have a problem when that ad is presented as content.

Ley thinks it’s about how the ads are presented in the context of content.

An advertisement should feel somewhat intrusive, if for no other reason than to remind the reader that the ad has no meaningful relationship to the work it is appearing next to, and also that said work was created for the sake of the reader alone.

I don’t know if I agree with Ley’s solution – it minimizes the notion that advertising can be compelling, artistic, and inspiring while selling you something. It also has to be said that Ley is writing this story on Deadspin, a direct competitor with The Ringer.

All that said, I hope State Farm paid The Ringer a boatload of cash for this, and I hope they use some of the money to pay for some really great content that’s made for me and not State Farm. Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t, but I do know this stupid little assist logo and YouTube sponsored segment cheapens something that I care about. Even if just a little, it lessens my thought of The Ringer, and maybe I don’t visit as often this month as I did last month. – PAL

Source:Naturally Integrate Me Into A Hole, Please”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (06/13/19)

TOB: It’s gross, especially because the What-If segment is dumb. What a boring topic: “Let’s go back in time 5 years and choose a random injury and wonder what happens to the NBA.” And this was produced during a very compelling playoff season! And the discussion was bad! Also, if anyone wants to pay me money to work their brand into 1-2-3 Sports! content, please e-mail me at 123sportslist@gmail.com.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Rhye – “Open”


 

Advertisements

Week of June 7, 2019

 

Fin.


11 Miles

Perhaps better than any story in recent memory, this Michael Weinreb feature pins down the complicated and uneasy feelings that comes with living in San Francisco and Oakland these days. This is a story about the Golden State Warriors moving eleven miles, and just how much weight is in those eleven miles. It’s a hell of a read about the “gilded age of tech gentrification.”

As billions in tech money swirls up from Silicon Valley – up into San Francisco, and over the Bay Bridge to Oakland – the area now, undeniably caters to uber-rich. It’s a beautiful place to live, as I have for almost fifteen years, but I am not a millionaire. I wonder how the hell we’re going to afford and enjoy a life here. And that’s coming from the guy who works for a tech company that’s helped usher in this era!

I urge everyone to click-through and read the entire story, but this paragraph sums up the broader stakes:

The longer this boom goes on, the more it seems as if the old, weird Bay Area—the region that shaped contrarians and activists like Allen Jones, and long supported ragtag franchises like the Warriors—might not be coming back. And if San Francisco is going to stay this way, and the Warriors are going to stay this way, maybe you can make the case, as team president Rick Welts essentially has, that the Warriors have become too big for Oakland; they’ve been such a sweeping success that they’re now built more for The City than The Town. The Chase Center, Welts told Forbes, is meant to rival the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden. The unspoken context is that the Chase Center is meant to further elevate San Francisco into a city like Los Angeles or New York. Maybe that’s the right play for a region that is now the center of the tech world, but it also feels like a reflection of yet another power city that’s in danger of hollowing out its old spirit.

I find more than a coincidence that I’m writing this summary from a hotel in Brooklyn looking over to Manhattan. – PAL

Source: Eleven Miles, but a World Away: The Warriors Make Their Last Stand in Oakland”, Michael Weinreb, The Ringer (06/05/19)

TOB: Let me start by noting that I live in San Francisco.

When the Warriors first announced they were moving to SF, I was very lukewarmly against it. I didn’t really see the point, other than the owners making money. Oracle is not a palace but it’s a nice place to watch a basketball game.

Plus, it’s going to make it impossible for me to attend a game. Oracle is easy enough to get to, when I want to see a game. Yes, Chase Center will be easier, but the move will likely render me unable to attend a game for a few years. The prices at Oracle are already outrageous because the team is so good. It’s hard to get in the building for a mid-week regular season game against a non-marquee opponent for under $100 per ticket. Good luck finding lower level for under $175. And ticket prices are about to get stupid. So I trade some travel time for the fact I won’t be able to afford to go. Not exactly thrilling news.

But it was hard to get bent out of shape over such a short move. What I find curious about all the noise now, though, is that l was not the only one lukewarmly against it. As Weinreb notes, “Civic opposition over the move never reached a fever pitch.”

In the article, Weinreb talks to Sam Fleischer, a Warriors fan studying sports history in grad school (wait, how do I do that, too?):

“There’s an urban dynamic to basketball, in a socioeconomic sense, that built up through the second half of the 20th century. Oakland’s just like that. It connected a sport to a community that didn’t have a lot of disposable income. Basketball was ubiquitous in that regard.”

But if we’re being honest, the move doesn’t change a lot. As I noted at the outset, the cost of attending a Warriors game is sky high right now. As Weinreb discusses, many longtime fans were priced out years ago. The move to SF changes a lot less than what has happened over the last decade. Look at this photo from Game 4 of the Finals, which very well might be the last game ever played at Oracle:

The fans who can attend games now are not diehard fans. So, why am I now reading think pieces on what it all means? I don’t buy the “being ripped from the city that supported them through good and bad” narrative. First, I do feel for the Warriors fans in the article who feel like they’re losing their team. But Warrior fans come from all over the Bay Area, and always have. Second, San Francisco lost the Warriors to Oakland long before it was the other way around. I wonder what the reaction was then: my guess is a collective shrug of the shoulders.

Because I think a lot of the (still relatively mild) uproar over this stems from the Take Culture we are in. Everyone has to have a take on everything. The Warriors building a new arena and moving 11 miles has to be symbolic of some greater narrative about the differences between the two cities. It has to be about Class War. It has to have a Winner and a Loser. It has to be good or bad. It can’t just be.


The Funniest Article I’ve Read In a While

The sign of a great writer is when they can hold your attention on a subject you are not all that interested in. Such is the case here, with this article by Rave Sashayed on Phil Kessel’s free agency. I don’t watch enough hockey to really understand who Phil Kessel is, but I do have a general understanding that he’s not well liked. But Sahayed’s article had me LOLing throughout. Here’s my favorite passage:

Anyway, guess who’s the epicenter of this year’s drama? Yes, it’s hockey’s cranky but lovable uncle, Phil Kessel, and he is not going to no gadt-damn Minnesota, gaddammit. The no-trade clause in Phil’s contract reportedly has a list of eight teams the Penguins can send him to without prior consent, and Minnesota’s not one of them. So he was able to quash a potential deal that was on the table last week, per Josh Yohe at the Athletic:

…[N]umerous sources confirmed that Kessel is unsure if he wants to play in Minnesota. He did research on Minnesota and the Wild during the past week, the sources said.

First of all, this is a hilarious sentence. The thought of Phil Kessel painstakingly googling “minnesoda where” and “minnesota weather sucks ass yes or no” and “minnesota montana same?” is absolutely thrilling to me.

And don’t bother adjusting your little nerd glasses and going, “Umm excuse me, Phil Kessel spent a college season in Minnesota and his superstar Olympic champion sister went there, he definitely knows where it is.” I sincerely don’t care. I am picturing a late-’90s model desktop IBM, the kind that runs Encarta, and Phil Kessel is hunched over this computer with his glasses on laboriously typing “google minesota best value bulk mesquite smoking chips delivery,” and then he accidentally steps on the surge protector and the computer powers down and he roars “GADDAMMIT AMANDA, WHY IN THE HELL DID YOU BUY ME THIS GAHD-DAMN MACHINE!” No one can stop me from imagining this and having a wonderful time.

Read the whole thing. -TOB

Source: Can’t Everyone Just Stop Hollering At Phil Kessel While He’s Tryin’ To Watch The Teevee?“, Rave Sashayed, Deadspin


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week:


PAL’s Song of the Week: Fleetwood Mac – “Hold Me”


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


Excellent…wait. Immodium or Ex-Lax?

-Michael Scott

Week of May 24, 2019

Come on back to where you belong, Philly.


1-2-3-4-5-6-8

It is always a good sign when a story includes a video link to local news coverage. Let’s just start right there. This one comes from Iowa’s state high school track meet. The 3200 meter distance race is eight laps, with a bell rung after the seventh lap reminding the racers that they are on the final lap. One problem: the lady holding the bell lost count of the laps in the finals and rung the bell a lap too soon.

In a race that distance, competitors are holding back just enough to decide when to kick. Getting the wrong lap count threw everything in the trash compactor, with runners starting their kick too soon and stopping after the seventh lap. Joe Anderson was counting his laps, sniffed out what was happening, and kept running after the seventh lap.

The race officials were in a pickle. Did Will Roder, the leader after seven laps win the race, or did Anderson? Who do you think won? It’s important, because twenty years from now both of these guys are going to be telling someone at the bar that they are a state champ, 3200 meters, and one of them, deep down in the dark part of their belly, will know they are still lying to themselves. – PAL

Source: Horribly Botched High School Track Meet Awards, Strips, Then Awards Top Runner”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (5/22/19)

TOB: Let’s pose a hypothetical. You, Phil, Runner of Marathons, are on the 21st mile of your latest marathon, approximately 80% done. You are constantly checking your time throughout the race, and you’re on your expected pace, hoping to beat out your personal best. As you approach what you expect is the 22-mile mark, though, someone tells you it’s the final mile. You think: The final mile? You check your watch. The final mile?? You’re suddenly 20-minutes ahead of your pace. In that moment do you think, “This is correct,” or do you think, “Someone messed up”? As you complete the 23rd mile, 87.5% of the way through a true marathon, there are people gathered. Do you stop running and celebrate? Or do you continue running? If you stop running, do you ask questions? And if you stopped, when everyone realizes that the course got screwed up because a turn was missed, do you from that point claim your time in this race as your personal best? If you do, you’re Will Roder. There’s no way that guy didn’t know he was way ahead of his pace. He deserves nothing!


Smash the Draftiarchy!

The last decade has seen the four major American sports attempt to reel in the amount of money paid to draft picks by setting max or “slot” values for each draft. MLB takes it a step farther – once players do hit the majors, they are not allowed to hit the market for 7 years. In the first few years of after they make the bigs, they are paid the league minimum, or whatever their team wants to pay them. After that, players have a few years of arbitration, where the player and team argue for what the player’s salary should be, and an arbitrator decides (if they don’t come to an agreement).

Although there is zero reason minor leaguers should not be paid a living wage, compensation for MLB prospects is actually difficult. When an MLB team drafts a player, it’s like buying a lotto ticket. Very few draftees become regular major leaguers, let alone stars. So MLB pays prospects very little, relatively speaking. It’s one reason Kyler Murray chose football over baseball: he chose $30 million guaranteed over $4 million guaranteed and no chance to make bigger money for roughly 7 years. But that doesn’t mean players have to accept this arrangement, and one MLB prospect just said, Nah to the whole process.

Carter Stewart was drafted 8th in the MLB draft last year by the Atlanta Braves. But the Braves offered him just a $2 million signing bonus (well under his slot value of $5 million). So he said, “No thanks,” and went to JUCO for a year. Apparently his stock dropped a bit, and he was projected to be a second round pick with a signing bonus expected to be even less than $2 million.

So Carter again said no thanks, but he’s apparently tired of waiting to get paid – so he signed with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan’s Pacific League for a lot more money. Stewart will  be able to come to MLB when he’s 25-years old, as a free agent. As Jeff Passan points out:

Stewart’s decision makes easy sense financially. Say he stayed in the United States and signed for $2 million. Best case, Stewart would have started with a team’s short-season Class A affiliate. In 2020, he would top out at Double-A and make less than $10,000 for the season. And if Stewart is that good, and moving that quickly, his team probably would keep him at scant wages in the minor leagues for all of 2021 too, and promote him around this time in 2022 to ensure it controls him for 6¾ years before free agency. In 2022, 2023 and 2024, Stewart would make the major league minimum — which, being generous and assuming the new collective bargaining agreement gives it a big bump, could be $750,000.

In a near-optimal scenario, Stewart would receive around $4 million for the next six years — and would not reach free agency until after the 2027 season, when he will be 28. His deal with the Hawks would guarantee Stewart $3 million more and potentially allow him to hit free agency three years earlier.

If he’s good, he’ll be ready to make big bucks. If he’s not, well he made an extra $3 million and got to experience the world. Plus, he doesn’t spend the next few years riding around the country on a bus. Win-win-win! -TOB

Source: How a 19-Year-Old Prospect is Turning the MLB Draft Upside Down”, Jeff Passan, ESPN (05/22/2019)

PAL: That’s just a big kettle of hoppy common sense. The counter, I guess, would be he’d be out of sight and away from a MLB franchise infrastructure and preferred player development approach. As you mention, TOB, that really won’t matter if he performs in Japan. Smart idea. I do wonder why more players in basketball and baseball don’t go overseas instead of college. One would have to navigate the rules for each sport, but they can make a fair wage for their skills, and they can learn to be a bit more of an adult while living abroad in a professional setting.


Wait, What?

Here’s a story about a John Wayne Gacy painting of an oriole autographed by Cal Ripken Jr.

You read that correctly.

Serial murderer John Wayne Gacy liked to paint when he wasn’t sexually assaulting and murdering over thirty people in the 70s and 80s. The painting is being sold this week for a shade under $10K.

That factoid was obviously more than enough for me to read Dave McKenna’s most recent story, but it only gets more strange and interesting from there. I started reading, then I scrolled and found I wasn’t even halfway through the story, and I really didn’t know what direction McKenna was going to take me: the odd niche of murder memorabilia, first lady memorabilia, art auctions, or whether or not Ripken actually signed a John Wayne Gacy painting of an Oriole. Spoiler: apparently Cal signs everything, so probably yes.

The sale of this is an odd talisman and reveals a market obsessed with serial murderers. Scroll the top podcasts or Netflix for any additional proof needed. Not only that, but it’s a reminder of how these psychopaths became celebrities that, for a time, profited off their gruesome acts (before the “Son of Sam” laws were enacted).

And while this is the only Ripken item up for sale, it is not the only John Wayne Gacy art signed by baseball legends:

Legit or not, it turns out Ripken wouldn’t be the only baseball all-timer to have his John Hancock on a John Gacy. A collector named Stephen Koschal is currently selling a 16”x 20” painting of baseball’s Hall of Fame logo, from 1990, that he says he’s gotten signed by 46 Cooperstown enshrinees, including Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio. But not Ripken, oddly enough. (Oh, and noted baseball fan Richard Nixon also signed.) Koschal is asking $27,500 for that definitely one-of-a-kind piece.

Do with that info what you will, but good work by McKenna. I had no goddamn idea where this story was going, and I’m absolutely good with that when he’s writing. – PAL

Source: “Did Cal Ripken Jr. Sign This Painting Of An Oriole By John Wayne Gacy?“, Dave McKenna, Deadpan (05/23/19)


Video(s) of the Week:

Great work, Max:

Brutal:


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Perfume Genius – “Slip Away”


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


Normally, I find Pam to be a comforting, if unarousing, presence around the office. Like a well-watered fern. But, today, she has tapped into this vengeful, violent side. And I’m like, wow, Pam has kind of a good butt.

-D.K. Schrute

 

Week of May 10, 2019


There’s No Crying in Basketball. Strike That. Reverse It.

I am writing this the night before Game 3 of the Rockets/Warriors second round series. By the time we post this next Friday, the series might be over, in 4 or 5 games. Or the teams could be preparing for a pivotal Game 6, with one of them looking for the closeout. But as things stand today, the Warriors look like the superior team. (Editor’s Note: About that. We’ll get to what really happened over the next three games, too.)

Here’s a recap of the series so far: The Warriors won a tense Game 1, and the Rockets whined and whined about the officiating afterwards. The next day, they leaked an unsolicited report they created after they lost last year’s Western Conference Finals to the Warriors, where they assigned themselves 18.6 points they claim were lost when the referees missed calls. On that basis, they claimed the Finals were stolen from Houston (ignoring the fact that even if they had won Game 7, they still had to play Cleveland). They were roundly mocked for this, justifiably so, and then lost Game 2.

As Brian Phillips says, the leak of the report is sad and embarrassing. When I first read about it I literally LOL’d, and then wondered how the once revered Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, had done this to himself. As Phillips writes:

After losing to Golden State in three of the past four postseasons, Houston has become so immortally psyched out by Steph Curry and Co. that it would rather poindexter its way into PR humiliation than face the Warriors without a scapegoat. The Rockets apparently thought that penning detailed descriptions of 81 blown calls would create a groundswell of sympathy for their cause and that this groundswell would pressure the league into letting James Harden spend even more time at the free throw line than the 1,000 minutes per game he already spends there. Instead, the internet roasted them for a few days, the NBA shrugged, and the hubbub seemed to fray the team’s already fragile nerves.

The report itself is stupid. As Phillips notes, you can’t take a bad call in a game and say, “That cost us two points, so add two points to our total.” That’s not how basketball works. That’s not how life works. Every action on the court changes the rest of the game. Phillips illustrates:

Say a player travels before a made 3-pointer and the official doesn’t call it. To take three points off the board after the game wouldn’t give you a more accurate result, because if traveling had been called, the rest of the game you saw would never have happened. The next play would have been different. The play after that would have been different. Basketball exists in a state of contingency and flux. You can’t say “a career 66 percent free throw shooter drew an uncalled foul on a 3-pointer, therefore his team should get two points,” because sometimes a career 66 percent free throw shooter makes all three, or misses three in a row, or grabs his own rebound and makes the putback but sprains his ankle on the way down. One thing affects another thing, and statistical tendencies over a very short period of time (a half or a quarter) can’t tell you all that much. For instance, sometimes an excellent shooting team misses 27 3s in a row.

Man, that burn in the end is so good. But as Phillips points out – the Rockets’ crybaby act has, to this point, ruined what should be a great series. We were so excited about this series last year that we wrote up game-by-game reactions. This year? After two games, I didn’t have anything I wanted to say except to laugh at the Rockets. The series feels, to quote Phillips, “weirdly high-strung and legalistic.” Let’s hope it gets better. -TOB

Source: “Only the Rockets Can Save Themselves From Annihilation“, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (05/03/2019)


The Night the Warriors Saved Their Dynasty

Well, for one night at least. Since I wrote the above about the Rockets whining, pulled out Game 3 in overtime, and then won a back and forth Game 4 to even up the series. Game 5, back in Oakland, was going to be pivotal. The Warriors came out on fire, and built a 20-point lead in the second quarter. And then they did what they’ve been doing all year, and instead of stomping on the Rockets’ throats, they let them back in the game. The Rockets cut the lead to 14 at halftime, and kept chipping away in the third quarter.

Late in the third, the Warriors led by just one. Curry was playing like dog crap, again, and I began to seriously wonder if he was just simply on the downside of his career, or if the theories about his deferring to Durant had killed his confidence were correct. I began analyzing his jumper – something seemed off. His release didn’t look the game. He was not getting his legs into it. Was his off-hand getting in the way? He certainly didn’t look confident, and he was missing wide open looks, badly. He was 4 for 14 from the field, 1 for 8 from three, and shooting just 26% from deep for the series.

And then, when things already looked bleak, disaster struck. Kevin Durant hit a jumper to push the lead to three, carrying the team as he had all series. But as he jogged back up court he whipped around, looked at his calf, and then limped off the court. TNT’s crew speculated about a possible achilles tear, and the Warriors dynasty appeared to be up in smoke.

What’s more, suddenly it seemed like Oracle Arena had just 14 minutes to live. If the Warriors lost the game, it seemed unthinkable they could win Game 6 in Houston, meaning this would be the very last Warriors game ever played at Oracle.

Without KD, and with Curry unable to shoot and Klay ice cold since the first, how were the Warriors going to hold off this Rockets team? Players like Kevon Looney was going to need to step up, sure. But the core of Curry, Klay, and Draymond would need to turn back the clock and save their season, their dynasty.

And so it was. Curry suddenly found his confidence and his shot, and hit 5 of his next 6 attempts for 14 points. And then it was Draymond, who after drawing a charge and then picking up a technical, went right down and hit a three to put the Warriors up 5. And then it was Klay, who hit a three to put the team up 8, and then got the layup to seal it after a nice job by Looney to keep the ball alive after Klay nearly threw it away. Others contributed, but the Warriors relied on their old Big 3, and it was fantastic. They hunted for good shots, moved the ball, and took care of it, too, with just one turnover after KD went down.

They recaptured the magic of the pre-KD era, and hung on to win. Oracle lives to see another day, at least. I think Steve Kerr said it best, paraphrasing Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, whose team overcame a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in the Champions League the day before:

For one night, they were indeed. But they’ll need to be fucking giants once more to get by the Rockets. -TOB

PAL: The circumstances in which the Warriors go into Game 6 are damn near poetic. The symmetry in this situation to last year, when Houston’s Chris Paul went down at the end of Game 5 (Durant is clearly much better than Paul, but you get it) and hard to ignore. If the Warriors are going to keep the dynasty going, it will in large part up the core players who started the damn thing – Steph, Klay, Draymond, Iggy.

Kevin Durant makes them a better team, but does the Durant injury give the reigning champs an edge that is almost impossible to manufacture now that they’ve been at the top for so long?  If Durant is indeed on his way out of Golden State, and if his teammates know it, wouldn’t a win in Houston tonight be a nice reminder to KD that they won before he came to town?

Does it force the Warriors to try playing that beautiful style of ball movement and not rely on Durant, as has been the case this playoffs? Yep (Strauss does a great breakdown here).

Also, Kevon Looney’s game 5 performance is why the playoffs – in any sport – rule. Ever heard of him? This is a role player that, because of injuries to Durant and Boogie Cousins, will no doubt play a pivotal role in extending the Warriors dynasty or ending it.

TOB: Agree with Phil on Ethan Strauss’ great article on the Warriors going forward without KD. Here’s a key passage:

I asked a few ex-2016 Warriors whether that pre-KD squad exists within the current one, and the answers were somewhere between, “sort of,” and “not really.” To quote Andrew Bogut, “It’s a completely different bench and roster. Half the roster’s different.” Then he started listing: “Harrison, Mo, Festus, Barbosa, Brandon Rush.”

To many viewers, including Kerr, Wednesday night’s crunch time felt like a time machine ride. It looked like that on the floor, save for Kevon Looney’s presence (more on that later). But to the players who were part of the first two Warriors Finals runs, it’s a different experience. The 2015-16 role players might have seemed like guys who got cameos in a show that was all about Steph, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but that’s not quite how players experienced the journey. Guys who might seem peripheral to the viewer are sometimes huge presences in the locker room, on the bus and on the plane. The principals remain, but some of the guys who gave those old squads their esprit de corps are gone.

And yet, the Warriors may have unlocked something on Wednesday, if only for the brief time they need it. They are obviously better with Durant, but, since signing him, have played a style that does not optimize Curry’s talents. That was the trade-off, and it happened to result in two championships.

Now, we will see what happens when the attack optimizes Steph in the way it once did.

I have Phil as my witness. During their 2014 and 2015 seasons, I always said the key to their success was that the bench would turn a 12 point lead into a 20 point lead. When they signed Durant, I wondered if they would be too thin on the bench to win. They weren’t – but you can’t plan for an injury like this, at a time like this, to a player like this.

Btw, since KD joined the team 3 years ago, the Warriors are 22-1 when Steph plays and Durant does not. Hm.


The Ultimate Trail Run

Not a great story because of the writing, but the ambition is worth sharing. One continuous trail across the United States. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (great name) has been working on connecting a network of existing trails across the country. It seems simple enough at first, but then you think about the amount of research that goes into something at this scale, and the amount of organizations from a local level that have to contribute, and you can see why this is such a beast of a dream. While we are still many years away from being able to bike or run across the country on the trail, there’s enough completed to see it on a map, which is pretty excellent.

And I know it’s corny, but I do think there’s power in something as simple as a trail literally connecting a country, even in some small way. – PL

Source: The 4,000-Mile Trail System That Will One Day Connect Both Coasts Is Closer Than Ever Taylor Dutch, Runner’s World, (05/08/2019)

TOB: Not corny, I think it’s sweet.


Hockey Fan Has Great Idea
This had me laughing. Not uncommon for some fans to utilize the brighter of lights of the playoffs to make a statement. Both celebrities and wanna-be celebrities. This week, an ‘influencer’ made her presence known at a Blues-Stars NHL game:

Come on, lady. Really? Look at the meathead and the deep V sitting next to her, too. The best thing to come from it is this moment of pure genius in the following game:

I have nothing more. This was just excellent. – PL

Source: “St. Louis Blues fan has perfect response to Stars fan that went viral for her, well, you know“, Christopher Powers, The Loop (05/8/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘(We’re Not) The Jet Set’ (Bobby Braddock)


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


“As a former high school roller hockey player…”

-TOB, discussing NHL strategy

Week of April 19, 2019

Did not give up popcorn for Lent.


Reminder: Tiger Woods Won The Masters

It’s not even a week old, but Tiger’s unlikely Masters win, his fifteenth major victory, feels like such old news. We’ll get into why people care about this so much in a moment, but the sleazeball actually made it all the way back after his life and his body fell apart. Say what you want about the type of person he is, or has been (I don’t know; is he a ‘good guy’ now?), but it’s undeniably incredible that he came back to win another major after over a decade of setbacks – injuries, surgeries, infidelities, arrests, and just bad golf. Through it all, people held out hope to see this performance. We just kept waiting, long after we should have, and then it finally happened.

Tiger Woods is undeniably bland and boring and captivating and unique. The regular sports fan cares about Tiger playing golf; the regular sports fan doesn’t care about golf. I haven’t experienced an athlete with that much gravity in his or her sport. I’m guessing Ali was like that and maybe Babe Ruth. Whoever’s on that list, it’s a short list.

Needless to say, there was a few columns written about Tiger’s win at Augusta. I found this Drew Magary paragraph in particular to be the most resonant:

Athletes are measuring sticks. You measure their ability against yours and you measure their ability to handle pressure against your own, naturally. But you also measure their lives against your own. Their history is your history. They’re personal markers, just as certain movies and songs and pictures evoke moments from your youth that have grown warmer and fonder and perhaps more unattainable over time. I was rooting for Tiger yesterday, but to be more accurate: I was selfishly rooting to relive my own past. I was still in college and away on a semester abroad when Tiger Woods won his first Masters, back in 1997. I read all about his win in a hard copy of USA Today I got from a newsstand in England, because reading news online wasn’t a thing most people did back then. He was already the biggest name in golf even before he won that first title, and he has remained the biggest name in the sport—perhaps all of sports—as he’s toiled for the past 11 years and change to assume his throne once more.

Magary’s onto something here. I was absolutely pulling for Tiger, and afterwards I wondered why. I really wanted him to win, and it just might be because no other golfer serves as personal marker on my life. I also just want to witness historic moments in sports. There are very few events when you know something historic is taking place in the moment. – PAL

Source: Un-Fucking-Real”, Drew Magary, Deadspin (4/14/19)


Pesky Morality

We’ve posted a lot of stories about CTE over the years. Heartbreaking personal stories, medical stories, political stories; this issue flows into so many facets of culture and very well could be the defining sports story of our generation.

This week, Michael Powell wrote about another scenario in which CTE cannot be ignored. When a college wants to hire a coach, that needs to be approved by a board of regents, as was the case at the University of Colorado recently. Mel Tucker’s five-year, $14.75MM contract went to the board for a vote. That vote comes with some culpability.

The nation’s universities face a more ticklish problem known as morality. These institutions were founded with the purpose of developing and educating young minds. It is difficult to square that mission with the fate of those like running back  Rashaan Salaam, who ran so beautifully for the University of Colorado and then as a pro, and like Drew Wahlroos, a fearless, rampaging Colorado linebacker. Both men suffered emotional and cognitive problems that friends and family and even university officials related to thousands of hits taken over the course of their careers. Each killed himself.

In what I’m sure would be seen as high comedy on the campuses of Ohio State, Clemson, or Alabama, two regents at Colorado voted against the hiring. It wasn’t as much about Tucker as it was about their belief that football is an unsafe game.

Regent Linda Shoemaker: “I really thought at first that we could play football safely with better rules and better equipment; I drank the Kool-Aid. I can’t go there anymore. I don’t believe it can be played safely anymore. I want these young men to leave C.U. with minds that have been strengthened, not damaged.”

Wherever you come down on CTE and football (or any sport connected to CTE), what this story highlights is the fact that this issue touches all of us. It’s not just isolated to locker rooms and athletic departments; we vote and pay taxes that go schools that field football teams. Those institutions, and the student body, are our responsibility, and that – man, that really hit home reading this story. – PAL

Source: At Colorado, a Breach in Football’s Wall”, Michael Powell, The New York Times (4/18/19)


Video of the Week: More of this, please.


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – “A Good Time”

 


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


With all due respect, Officer Berg, you are not bald. You’ve chosen to shave your hair and that’s a look you’re cultivating in order to look fashionable, but we don’t really consider you part of the bald community…with all due respect.

-L.D.

Week of March 22, 2019

Pretty much sums up everything great about going to a game. Photo: Al Bello


The Best Baseball Player Is Paid A Lot, But Is It “Enough”?

On the heels of the Phillies’ signing Bryce Harper to a 13 year, $330M contract ($25M per year, which is frankly a relative bargain), came news this week that the Angels had come to an agreement on a massive extension with Mike Trout, the best baseball player in the world.

The total: a 10 year extension for $360M ($36M per year), and on top of what Trout is owed the next two seasons, he’ll be paid $426.5M over the next 12 years. It’s the biggest total deal in American sports history, and so much more than Harper got, fairly.

But was it as much as Trout could have gotten? When Harper signed with the Phillies, I joked that the Giants should go after Trout when he becomes a free agent in two years with an unfathomable sum:

(Pardon my language!) A billion was obviously never going to happen. But what is a “fair” amount for Trout, who has been the best in the league pretty much since he was called up in 2011. First, a caveat from Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer:

We’ll stipulate something that hardly needs to be said: If making $426.5 million is a problem, it’s one we’d all like to have. It’s never easy to argue that an athlete is underpaid even though he’ll make far more money in a decade than most of us can imagine making in multiple lifetimes. Admittedly, in a world where earnings were parceled out by an all-knowing entity based on societal utility or Good Place points, not even Trout would make so much more than the average citizen. In this world, though, the money that’s now going to Trout wasn’t going to go to teachers or ticket buyers or hungry minor leaguers, but to Angels owner Arte Moreno. Begrudging Trout the millions he’s making is akin to being upset that Moreno isn’t making more.

Seconded! Got it? Good. Ok. So, how good has Trout been? Well, Trout is the best player ever through his age-26 season:

Or how about: this winter, Harper and Manny Machado signed for a combined $55M per season. Since their rookie years in 2012, though, Trout has been better than Harper and Machado combined (Trout: 64.0 WAR; Harper+Machado: 60.9 WAR). So is Trout worth $55 million per year? Maybe! He’s projected to produce something around 80 WAR over the next ten years, and he only has to produce 44.5 WAR to make this deal a win for the Angels:

In other words, Trout will be paid a lot, but it very likely won’t be nearly enough. As Lindbergh says, “The problem for Trout is that he’s too good to be paid exactly what he’s worth.”

I’ll also add this: after mostly seeing him on highlights and box scores the last 8 years, I was very excited to watch him Trout for three days in a row when the Giants traveled to Anaheim last season. He did not disappoint: He hit 6/12 with three dingers and two doubles, a walk and a stolen base, good for a batting average of .500 and an OPS of 2.129 (!!). Every time he came up I was terrified. It was Bondsian. -TOB

Source: Mike Trout Isn’t Worth $430 Million – He’s Worth Much More”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (03/19/2019)

PAL: This is the first time I wish I was an economist. TOB highlights the key caveat to Linbergh’s article: yes, $426MM is an unfathomable amount of money, so the rest of this is more or less an fun exercise on quantifying how good Trout is at baseball. But for the greatest of the greats, I wonder if we can quantify their value in dollars relative to what other players make. There’s something more to it, and I’m going to try to put my finger on it here. These are half-baked:

  • At what point is the dollar the wrong unit to measure the value of an asset? My dad likes to say, “A buck’s a buck.” At some astronomical number, does the value of a dollar mean less than it does at a lower point? And at what point is that? 
  • $1,000,000 is a huge number unless it’s $1,000,000 within $500,000,000. More specifically, it’s .2%. That is a relatively miniscule amount. There is no felt difference between $426MM (Trout) and $360MM (Harper) to everyone on the planet except for about 5,000 people.
  • How could Mike Trout truly be worth $1B really over the course of his career if the Angels franchise is worth maybe $2B? In comparison to other players – sure – he’s undervalued. In comparison to asset of a team he seems he would be overvalued?
  • The last five years of this contract will still suck. Players don’t decline at a consistent rate.  He’ll likely earn the money in the first chunk of the contract (can any single person “earn” that amount of money?), but I bet this gets painful to watch.
  • God, it really sucks he plays for the Angels.

TOB: When you consider Trout is as productive as Machado and Harper, then you are essentially getting production from two fringe-MVP level players at one position. That allows an incredible flexibility – they can pay Trout and then fill the second spot with a light hitting defensive wizard, or a cheap replacement level player, or they can go big and try to sign another good/great player for an embarrassment of riches. That’s why I think Trout is “worth” something along the lines of 90% what Harper+Machado are paid (allowing for around $5M to go to that second player). And, keep in mind, in terms of average annual value, Harper’s deal was well under market.

So, even given the slow market this year, Harper and Machado still did get big deals. If Trout were a free agent this year or next (which he won’t be and wouldn’t have been even without this deal), I do think somewhere around 8 years, $400M was in play, and he might have talked someone into 10 years, $500M.

Regarding the team’s value vs what he could be paid: First, a billion was never going to happen. But I do think your question is comparing apples and oranges. “Value” isn’t the same as revenue. The Angels will certainly pull in multiple billions of dollars over the course of the deal. This is simplified, but in 2018, MLB teams pulled in a collective $10.3 billion. That’s roughly $350 million per team. Over the next 12 years, that’s $4.2 billion, and that’s not assuming any increases in inflation or revenue.


Retirements Let The Writers Sing

When a true great retires, one treat we get is a great sportswriter showing what they can do with an entire career from which to pull. Barry Petchesky is one of my favorite sportswriters. We featured a lot of his articles on 1-2-3 Sports!. Ichiro’s retirement – in Japan after a MLB game – is the type of occasion for Petchesky to bring his fastball (emphasis mine):

For that he can thank his insane training methods and commitment—he once claimed he swore off taking vacations after a weeklong trip to Italy in the winter of 2004 threw off his exercise schedule. Again, it’s kind of hard to believe that’s true—but Ichiro apocrypha is one of baseball’s treasures. We expect foreign players to arrive attached to legends too good to check, but Ichiro created his own myths, even here, before our eyes and cameras and notepads. How he was reliably a beast in batting practice and could’ve hit 40 home runs a year if he wanted to be that type of player. (Barry Bonds once said Ichiro could win the Home Run Derby.) How he could instantly discern a good bat from a bad bat by tapping the barrel once with his fingernail. How he had no idea who Tom Brady was. How he would shit-talk opposing players in their own language, English or Spanish. Were these stories true? Does it matter? For Ichiro as for no other player, certain things felt possible.

That’s the good stuff.

If it’s hard for you to understand just how much Ichiro meant to baseball (it was for me) – not just Japanese baseball, but baseball – look no further than this clip:

Yusei Kikuchi is a 27 year old rookie. That’s what happens when you meet a legend in real life.

Consider this: Ichiro has been playing professional baseball since I was a freshman. In high school. Great writing, and – damn – Ichiro can still throw for a 45 year old. Let’s get him a manager job in MLB right now.  – PAL

Source: Ichiro Forever”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (03/21/19)

TOB: That video was fantastic. Kikuchi said he grew up idolizing Ichiro:“Mr. Ichiro is kind of a person in the sky, a legend. I don’t know if he really exists.” Masahiro Tanaka, who played with Ichiro for a year with the Yankees had a similar sentiment: ”

“He is a legend in Japan. To me, he was in some other category, out of reach, out of reality. When I was small and I would watch TV, he was one of the biggest superstars in Japanese baseball. It wasn’t something that I could realistically relate to. But for me, he was always somebody unreachable, like somebody above the clouds.”

I also want to point out how emotional Felix Hernandez is in the video, just before Kikuchi appears. King Felix’s career is winding down, but he came up as a 19-year old in 2005, and played the next 8 seasons with Ichiro. You can imagine how much he looked up to Ichiro. What a cool thing.


How A Minor Move May Actually Be a Large Domino, Or: How to Be a Great Beat Writer

Andrew Baggarly is one of my favorite beat writers (really, Giants fans have an embarrassment of riches feeding them info – in the booth and on the page). He’s whip smart (he won Jeopardy, you know!), funny, and knows what he’s talking about. The story he wrote about a trade the GIants made this week involving two minor leaguers is a perfect example of how well he sees the big picture.

The Giants traded minor league pitcher Jordan Johnson to the Reds for minor league utility man Connor Joe. 

Looking at this on a transaction log, I wouldn’t even blink. But Baggs grabs you right away:

[I]f those names don’t trigger an emotional response, then perhaps this will: Pablo Sandoval’s chances of making the Giants’ Opening Day roster just took a major hit.

Wait, what? Then he tells you why the trade for Joe is important:

Last December, the Reds plucked Joe away from the Dodgers at the Winter Meetings. Now that the Giants have acquired Joe, the same Rule 5 provisions apply: he must remain on the 25-man big-league roster all season or be offered back to the Dodgers for half the $100,000 claiming price.

At this late stage, it’s hard to imagine the Giants sacrificing a durable minor-league pitcher like Johnson, who made 26 solid if unspectacular starts between Double A and Triple A last season, if they didn’t intend to carry Joe on their Opening Day roster.

Then he breaks down the math of the Giants’ Opening Day roster and why Panda might be impacted:

If the Giants carry 13 pitchers and limit themselves to a four-man bench, they’d need spots for:

— Joe

— backup catcher René Rivera

— at least one backup outfielder (Cameron Maybin? Mike Gerber? Henry Ramos?) capable of spelling Steven Duggar in center

— and at least one backup infielder (Alen Hanson? Yangervis Solarte?) capable of spelling Brandon Crawford at shortstop

Hanson is out of options as well. He cannot be sent to the minors without exposing him to waivers.

Sandoval does have a minor-league option, actually. But he has enough service time to refuse an assignment and immediately elect free agency.

Then he breaks down some deeper ramifications for losing Panda:

It’s a move that would come as a shock to some of their core players. Prior to Thursday’s pregame workout, one of their stars appeared dumbfounded when I raised the very real possibility that Sandoval would not survive to Opening Day.

And if Sandoval, the 2012 World Series MVP, loses his place to a 26-year-old newcomer who hasn’t played a day in the big leagues? It’s going to be a tough one for the clubhouse to understand or accept.

There’s more, and I recommend you read it. It’s to smart, informative, and to the point. Like I said, that’s some damn good beat writing. -TOB

Source: Why the Giants’ Minor Trade with the Reds Could Become a Much Bigger Deal Within the Clubhouse”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (03/21/2019)

PAL: The Red Sox are paying Pablo $18MM to not play for them this year. Suck it, Rabeni. I know your Boston Sports kids expect to win every title every year, but still, suck it.


How To Use (And Not Use) New Information in Baseball: A Case Study

As baseball teams continue to get smarter and continue to use modern technology to gather new information previously unavailable, they are faced with a challenge: how do you present information like launch angle and spin rate to players in a manner that allows them to digest it and put it to good use.

Likewise, players are faced with a challenge: how do you react to new information, especially when it contradicts something you believe? There are hundreds of big leaguers, and many hundreds more minor leaguers and college players, and the reactions to how players accept the new information undoubtedly run the gamut.

In a recent article in the Chronicle on the topic, two stark reactions were placed in contrast. In my opinion, one of those was Good; the other was Bad.

First, the Good, from fringe major leaguer Ray Black, who touches 99 MPH on his fastball but has struggled in his short career to consistently locate his breaking balls:

On the pitching side, Black can cite specific ways tracking data have helped him.

He recalled an encounter last season with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who kept fouling off sliders until Black threw another and got the strikeout. Moments later, Schwartze asked Black what he did differently on the final pitch because the spin was better.

“I went back to the video trying to see exactly what it was that got the swing and miss,” he said. “I got some extra spin rate on it. It had to deal with a little bit of extension and staying on top of the ball a little better.”

That sent Black into study mode.

“How can I try to mirror that?” he said. “How can I throw that pitch more frequently and consistently so I have tighter spin, more spin, and have better depth on my slider instead of side-to-side movement?”

Black showed an excellent attitude toward new information and an even better job of understanding that new information and then implementing what he learned.

And, now, The Bad, from Jeff Samardzija:

“They can bring anything new in and odds are I’m just going to keep it at arm’s length because I want to keep it as simple as possible,” Samardzija said. “To me, it’s a simple game and I don’t want to make it any more complicated than it is.”

Hey, Jeff. You’re 33 years old and you have been better than league average (100 ERA+) just once since 2014. Maybe you could try an open mind, instead of getting paid millions to suck, buddy. -TOB

Source: How the Giants are Elevating Baseball Innovation in S.F.”, Hank Schulman, San Francisco Chronicle (03/19/2019)


Video(s) of the Week: So cool

And this one, c/o Pep from work:


Tweets of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: YEBBA – ‘Evergreen’


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


I had a very good thing going with David Wallace. He was a good guy, was somebody I could trust. There he is. [picks up a framed photo of him and David] You can really see that he is ok taking a picture with me. Even though I was there for disciplinary reasons.

-M. Gary Scott

Week of March 8, 2019

Friggin’ lefties.


Baseball Scouting Is Hard Yet Fascinating

The Ringer obtained 73,000 scouting reports from the Reds from 1991-2003, analyzed them, and this week rolled out a series of stories.

Part 1 opens with a perfect illustration of how hard it is to scout. In 1999, the Reds traded for Ken Griffey, Jr., the best player of the 90s. Ahead of the trade, a number of scouts filed reports:

“Outstanding tools across the board!” one scout wrote. “A future Hall of Famer. Is only active player with a chance to break Hank Aaron’s home run record and would like to see him do it in Cincinnati. Has ability to carry a club to the world series. Tremendous fan appeal, will sell tickets. If have a chance, would acquire.”

Another scout was even more effusive. “Best all-around player in baseball. Can do it all. IS THE MICHAEL JORDAN OF BASEBALL. Will personally sell more tickets than McGwire or Sosa. Can hit, hit with power, run, field & throw. Get 25 of this guy and you will have the best team in the history of baseball. Is a true franchise player. If you can acquire him, go get him! One of the best players in baseball that I would recommend paying top dollar for.

Look at that swing. Almost no one at that time would have disagreed with those reports. The Reds acquired him for three prospects, and almost everyone thought the Reds got a great deal. BUT!

Griffey was 30, had some worrisome injury history, and was coming off his worst statistical season. After the trade to the Reds, Griffey only played one more great season. In exchange, the Reds had given up outfielder Mike Cameron, along with two pitchers. The pitchers never amounted to much, but Cameron himself was more valuable the the Mariners in four seasons than Griffey was to the Reds in eight seasons.

Part 1 is full of interesting statistical analysis on what traits scouts seem to predict well, and which are more of a crapshoot.

Part 2 is fascinating, too. I’ve read Moneyball and seen the movie, so I understand many scouts look at, to paraphrase Billy Beane (at least in the movie; I forget if it’s in the book) how a player looked in jeans, as opposd . But this part is still pretty eye opening:

Keith Law, the ESPN prospect evaluator who worked for the Blue Jays from 2002 to 2006, says that while there may not have been big gaps between clubs in the skill of their scouting staffs in the era covered by the database, “scouting philosophies varied a lot across teams.” Sargent says that when he arrived, the Reds were “exclusively a run-and-throw organization. You draft a guy who can really run and really throw, and we’ll teach him how to hit.” The Reds, he adds, were notorious for conducting tryout camps and signing the players with the best arms and times in the 60-yard dash.

Hitting a baseball is often called the toughest thing in sports, and the Reds were like, “It’s easy. We’ll teach ‘em. Just give me a guy with a good 40-time.” That’s wild! And even wilder may be that the Reds produced a lot of talent back then. The scout referenced, Hank Sargent, was hired by the Reds in 1997. If we assume they had this “run and throw” philosophy for at least 15 years prior, the Reds produced a lot of talent in that time – Barry Larkin, Eric Davis, Chris Sabo, and Paul O’Neill, to name a few. (But maybe that wasn’t a fair assumption, because after being a consistently good team (including a World Series sweep over the A’s in 1990) from 1985 through 1995, the Reds fell off a cliff starting in 1996, only winning more than 81 games twice until 2010).

I highly recommend you read part 2, where The Ringer interviews four former players – Travis Hafner, David Ross, Ben Davis, and Jeff Schmidt – and talks about what the scouts got right about them, wrong about them, and what they couldn’t possibly have known. It’s fascinating.

The Ringer also published some funny actual scouting reports. Maybe my favorite so far is this one on Albert Pujols:

Laid back approach to game. Lazy out of box. No hustle. Has some show boat in him. Lacks hard work. Don’t put in quality time in pre-game work. Ball jumps off bat. Strong swing. Hard solid contact. … Attacks ball. Shows playable carry on throws from 3B. Makes plays at 3B. Shows quick reactions. Has soft playable hands. Drifts thru stroke on swing. Will get out front and reach for balls. Still learning situations while on base. Struggles with throwing acc. when on the move. Likes pitches low in zone. Struggles with belt high and up, breaking balls away. Value to Reds in minors. ML tops. Regular on 2nd division team. Role: 3B.

That was filed one year before Pujols got to the bigs and hit .329 with 37 dingers as a rookie. What’s interesting is that the scout saw some really good things – ball jumps off bat, strong swing, solid contact, attacks, strong harm, soft hands – those are all really important skills. But he couldn’t get beyond his initial surface-level observations, that may or may not have been accurate or may or may not have been influenced by cultural differences. And even if those initial observations were accurate, they were made of a guy who was at that time just 20-years old.

(If part 3 is any good, we’ll feature it next week) – TOB

Source: “Part 1: We Got Our Hands on 73,000 Never-Before-Seen MLB Scouting Reports. Here’s What We Learned“; “Part 2:MLB Scouting Is Hard. These Four Players Prove It“; Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur, The Ringer (03/04/2019); (03/06/2019)

PAL: Really enjoyed scrolling through this scouting time capsule. For, instance, I haven’t thought about Travis Hafner in what feels like a decade, but he was a serious masher for Cleveland for a handful of years. The Jamestown, ND native always had power, but he was slow, couldn’t field and couldn’t throw. Hafner even admitted that it’s hard to scout a guy with only one skill, because it is so rare for one tool to pay off at the highest level.

Scouting a number is much more cut-and-dry approach. A 60-yard sprint time translates – it doesn’t matter how good the competition is or where someone is from. There’s no nuance to a guy that throws mid-nineties. He has Major League arm strength, period. Those numbers translate. The number of home runs Travis Hafner hits at some midwest Junior College is much harder to compare than a 60-time or a radar gun reading.

Which is why scouting catchers must be hard. The article breaks down David Ross’ scouting report. This guy played sixteen big league seasons as a catcher. Guess how many hits he has. This shocked me: 521 career hits! You don’t stick around for sixteen years, earn over $22M (that’s over 40K per hit), if you don’t bring a lot of value in other ways. Ross was a solid defensive catcher, above average thrower, but he was an excellent framer of pitches and managed a pitching staff well and had a little pop at the plate. None of the talent that kept him in the game for so long would jump out at a scout.

The flipside of David Ross is Ben Davis.

Another catcher who fits all the old scout cliches. The classic “looks good in jeans” guy. While he had a great arm and an athletic frame, Davis could never hit big league pitching. It got so bad that guys wouldn’t even bother giving them their best stuff. How about anecdote:

Davis remembers facing Mike Mussina in a game in 2002. “I was scared to death of the knuckle-curve,” Davis recalls, but Mussina threw him nothing but fastballs. Davis struck out looking twice before doubling in his third at-bat. Four years later, Davis was in Yankees camp, catching Mussina. “Hey Moose,” he said. “You’ll never remember this, but you always just threw me all fastballs. Why did you never throw me the knuckle-curve?”

“Honestly, man?” Mussina said. “I never thought I had to.”

Ouch.

All of this comes down to projection, but a lot of times the qualities that keep an average big leaguer around are not obvious. As Ben Lindbergh puts it:

An insatiable desire to be better, buried within an unathletic-looking frame (Hafner). A difficult-to-quantify skill set out of step with its time (Ross). A jaw-dropping, deceptive physique (Davis). Poor player development (Schmidt). These are among the many reasons why a scout might miss.

Such an interesting baseball read.

TOB: Glad you got to that Mussina/Ben Davis quote. Geeze, man. That made me laugh and wince at the same time.


Nik Mittal Was Left Open

Man, what a great story. Nik Mittal is a father of three, recipient of a couple knee surgeries, a serious Carolina Tarheels fan, and the owner of some pride.

Now, at age 47, I am a New York City dad who watches Carolina basketball obsessively with his three sons and who, after a 15 year hiatus (thanks to a couple of knee surgeries) decided to play pickup again. But on the court recently, I came to a shocking realization.

My ugly but effective left-handed heave was no longer effective. I had become the player in the pickup game who everyone leaves open from a distance.

Call it ego, but I really didn’t want to be that guy. So I turned to the only expert I knew — my 10-year-old son’s basketball coach.

Mittal swallows his pride and hires a shooting coach. More specifically, he hires a youth coach to re-teach him how to shoot.

Turns out, he has some serious work to do, because his shot is butt-ass ugly. It was embarrassing. 

But Mittal and Coach Macky work at it, starting close to the hoop and getting in a bunch of reps. Before long, there’s some recognition and improvement:

For one, I was landing with one leg practically a foot in front of the other. Macky had me stick a soccer ball between my legs and practice a series of jump shots while squeezing it between my knees.

This was surprisingly hard — either I’d brick the shot, or the soccer ball would pop out — until I focused on taking really small jumps, landing like I was on train tracks. Kavi even sort of complimented me, calling this an “advanced drill” that only the teenagers do.

I love this. Mittal isn’t grunting out 225 on the bench so he feels better looking in the mirror. Instead, his improvement has a point. Or at least more of a point. He doesn’t want to suck at the local game. Dropping a few shots in a weekend game is athletic success, and he wants that feeling playing the game he’s always loved. Go Mittal!

After some sessions with Coach Macky, Mittal goes back to the pickup game, and he’s shooting for the last spot in the next game. Read the article to find out how it ends for Mittal. – PAL

Source: “Can a Middle-Aged Dad Still Perfect His Jump Shot”, Nik Mittal, The New York Times (03/08/19)

TOB: Loved this, but especially loved when Phil called me an athletic success.


The Warriors Should Fire Bob Fitzgerald, Amen

My godddddd, I’ve been waiting years for someone to write this story. Bob Fitzgerald is a sports talk radio host on KNBR and, for some reason unknown to everyone I’ve ever talked to about him, the TV play by play announcer for the Golden State Warriors. He’s absolutely insufferable. He has zero redeeming qualities as an announcer – he doesn’t describe the action well, he doesn’t seem to have any great understanding of the game, he has a whiney voice AND he constantly whines, and on top of all those swell qualities, he’s an arrogant prick. If you’ve ever listened to his radio show, I pity you. He’s condescending to callers and overall a jerk.

This week, The Athletic’s Danny Leroux opened both barrels, with an open letter to Warriors owner Joe Lacob, calling for Lacob and the Warriors to leave Fitzgerald behind when the team moves to the Chase Center next year. Oh man, did I love it. Here’s the part I nodded along to most vigorously:

He has a penchant for turning anything that goes against the Warriors into something more nefarious than luck or the bounce of the ball, from referees that are out to get them to lucky shooters. While it is an easy trap to fall into, that mentality has been uncomfortably prevalent in the fan base for years and it may be largely explainable by having a broadcaster who speaks in those terms so frequently.

Sometimes referees just miss calls and sometimes 30-percent 3-point shooters make a few of them in a row and, like every team, the Warriors are on the positive end of those fortunate bounces frequently as well, something Fitzgerald rarely acknowledges. Thankfully, Jim Barnett notes it more often. That sets both a divisive and frustrating tone that gets some fans more aggrieved and alienates those watching the broadcast from any other perspective, including fans of the NBA or high-quality basketball more broadly. Fitzgerald’s rants on official broadcasts give the franchise a more aggressive and less professional perception without any coherent benefit, especially for one of the league’s best teams.

Amen!!!! -TOB

Source: An Open Letter to Joe Lacob — the Warriors Deserve a Better Play-by-Play Man Than Bob Fitzgerald“, Danny Leroux, The Athletic (03/08/2019)


Video/Tweet of the Week: What the hell…


PAL Song of the Week: Oddisee – “Skipping Rocks”


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

Instagram: @123__sports


I’m trying to elevate small talk to medium talk. 

-Larry David