Week of May 18, 2018

Ben Zobrist was actually threatened a fine if he continued wearing these Sandlot-inspired PF Flyers. Loosen up, Commish.


Sad Story, Happy Ending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Best Of Warriors-Rockets

Since this is such a hot series, we wanted to try something a bit different here and create a mini playoff series digest within the weekly digest. Here are the best bits of writing about games 1 and 2:

Game 1 (Warriors W, 119-106):

PAL: Kevin Durant is 7-feet tall and one of the best shooters ever. Unfair. The Warriors simply have more. Durant, Curry, Klay, Green (who wasn’t a scorer tonight). Mix in a few buckets from role players like Nick Young, and it’s impossible to score at their pace. Harden is incredible, and Paul is real good, but the Warriors are just more.

TOB: Before the series, I figured Warriors in 6. But unlike most, this game did give me a little pause. Curry did not look right, and relying on Durant to hit 18 footers is not what got the Warriors here. The fact they had to do it so often suggests to me that Curry is not out there doing Curry things to get himself and others open. Still, the Rockets looked terrible, and it took an incredible Harden performance, hitting tough shots while well defended, to keep the score respectable. 

Best Stuff:

Source: “Houston’s Risk-Management Basketball Didn’t Work Against the Warriors”, Danny Chau, The Ringer

  • [Rockets GM] Daryl Morey has admittedly been obsessed with beating the Warriors, the NBA’s white whale; this isolation-heavy offense can’t possibly be the answer to Golden State’s riddle, can it?
  • In front of the backdrop of a Golden State offense steered by Stephen Curry’s gyroscopic off-ball play and Kevin Durant’s virtuosity in any sort of space, the Rockets’ offense looks downright ugly.
  • Styles make fights, and no matter how the rest of this series plays out, Houston has at least provided an important intellectual exercise for both Golden State and the league at large. The Rockets don’t have as much talent on their roster as the Warriors do, and they would be fools to consider replicating the Warriors’ style just because it’s en vogue (PAL note: this is exactly what Houston did in game 2 – they increased the ball movement and got role players involved in the offense). Houston is playing risk-management basketball, making sure that its supporting cast isn’t forced to do anything it isn’t comfortable doing; it just so happens that placing all of that pressure on two primary ball handlers also raises their risk profile. It’s a gamble. It always is against the Warriors.

Source: The Warriors Are Better Than The Rockets”, Albert Burneko, Deadspin

  • “That, in turn, partly is due to the fact that the Warriors have Kevin Durant, but more importantly it’s because the Warriors know more ways to score than standing around like fucking idiots while their Designated Ball User dribbles a Morse Code War and Peace into the hardwood in 22-second chapters.”

Source: The Rockets Have Nothing For Kevin Durant”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin

  • Look how many of those buckets are simple isolations; look how mercilessly Durant sizes up and incinerates whichever sack of crap (or two) dares guard him. My favorite is at around 1:25, when Andre Iguodala feeds the ball down to Durant in the mid-post where he’s matched up against P.J. Tucker, and Marv Albert says, “Iguodala for Durant, has a mismatch.” Indeed he did: He had a mismatch against Houston’s best individual defender, the guy designated for the grim job of checking him all night. “Kevin Durant has a mismatch” is the safest thing to say in all the English language. Bark it out the next time you’re wandering the aisles of your local supermarket. The time of day doesn’t even matter. It’s always true. Kevin Durant has a mismatch.

Game 2 (Rockets W, 127-105)

PAL: The Warriors can just drive you nuts. Winning isn’t enough for these basketball artists – they need to make the most beautiful play, even if the degree of difficulty is way high or the margin for error is transparent. The turnovers kill me, because they just seem so careless. How can the same group of dudes make the game look so perfect be the same dudes to make it almost unwatchable?

Tonight was the only recipe for a Rockets win. Combine an off shooting from everyone not named Durant + Rockets role players going crazy. Come on – P.J. Tucker, Ariza, and Gordon aren’t going to score 22, 19, and 28 in the same game again this series. Warriors still take this in 5.

TOB: I still think the Warriors win this series. But Game 2 made me ask myself out loud: When will people stop overreacting to Game 1 of a series? Look at what those writers wrote above after Game 1. Or Charles Barkley joking the Warriors would win in 3 games. It happens all the time. Multiple times per postseason. A team wins Game 1 and suddenly no other result is possible. Basketball doesn’t work like that, especially this deep in the postseason. Teams get here because they’re good and can do good things. The Rockets won 62 games. That’s no fluke. The Warriors got close in the 4th, cutting it to 10, and suddenly the Rockets rained threes on their heads and pushed the lead to almost 30 in just a few minutes.

The Warriors have a real Steph Curry problem, though. I’m guessing he’s hurt, because he looks immobile and not explosive just like in 2016. Not only can he not guard anyone, he can’t get open. He looks lost out there and he needs to start hitting shots or the Warriors will lose. For all the Durant love, no one changes a game like Curry – he opens the floor up for everything the Warriors do, and they cannot win this thing without a major contribution from him. Also, Klay’s inconsistency will never not drive me crazy.

Best Stuff:

Source: Steph Curry Will Have To Take Over At Some Point, Tom Ley, Deadspin

  • You could see Curry outlining a Takeover Game—one of those in which he singlehandedly erases what appeared to be an insurmountable lead through a barrage of threes and floaters that drop perfectly through the net—but he just wasn’t up to filling in the full picture. Your level of concern regarding the Warriors’ chances going forward in this series should directly correlate with how likely you think it is that Curry will continue to sputter in these moments. You have to assume he’s going to keep trying to grab hold of games like he did during that fourth-quarter stretch last night, and at some point the Warriors will need him to find his grip.

Source: “Steph Curry Needs to Get His Mojo Back”, Danny Heifetz, The RInger

  • The biggest obstacle between the Warriors and their dynastic destiny isn’t another team, but Steph’s mojo failing to return, à la the 2016 playoffs. Through two games, the Rockets have thwarted Steph by having their bigs play tight defense when switched onto him, daring him to drive and denying open looks from 3. Whether Steph is unable or unwilling to take what the Rockets are offering him, the plan has thus far worked. His defensive performance added to the frustration, as James Harden constantly targeted Steph in Game 2.
  • In all likelihood, Game 2 was an anomaly. The Warriors let washed Manu Ginobili walk all over them in Game 4 against the Spurs, and the Pelicans crushed Golden State in a similarly sloppy performance by the defending champs two weeks ago. Both opponents were swiftly vanquished in the ensuing games. Odds are the Warriors will win their next two home games, clinch the series in Houston, defeat whatever overachieving Eastern team survives the conference finals, and we’ll remember this game as the last ray of light before the Warriors blotted out the NBA sun for the third time in four seasons. Yet there’s a chance—say, 13.7 percent—that the outcome of these playoffs isn’t prewritten after all.

Robinson Cano: the PED/HOF Debate Rages On

(Forgive me for writing about this topic again, but I love it)

He’s not really going to be a case study in how Hall of Fame voters will treat players with confirmed PED suspensions, because by the time he’s eligible around the year 2040, the question of whether PED guys make the Hall of Fame (Bonds and Clemens chief among them) will have sorted itself out. But Robinson Cano’s suspension this week for taking a diuretic that is often used as a masking agent will still be interesting.

As things stood before this week, Cano had a good chance to make the Hall of Fame if he retired the day before the suspension was announced:

At age 35, Canó is already past many of the standard statistical markers for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. We usually start the Hall of Fame conversation at around 60 bWAR, and Canó’s up to 67.5. JAWS, a Hall of Fame value estimator that balances a player’s career bWAR against his seven-year peak bWAR, rates Canó’s career as already better than that of the average Hall of Fame second baseman. Plus, Canó, who’s still a very good hitter at this stage in his career, has five more seasons left on his current contract in which he can pad his counting stats. He has 2,417 career hits and 305 career home runs.

With a few more years, Cano should get to 3,000 hits and might get to 400 home runs, which would have made him a sure thing before this week. But now that he has this black mark, what will come of his Hall of Fame chances? The Ringer’s Michael Baumann makes a good argument. First, the electorate is changing – younger, more accepting of the fact that PEDs exist in baseball. Cano’s final year on the ballot could be as late as 2040. All of the voters who felt personally fooled by the Steroid Era and refuse to vote for anyone associated at all with PEDs will be long gone – either dead or otherwise not voting. Second, the media likes Cano. This should be a big plus in his favor. And as Baumann points out, the upcoming candidacy of Andy Pettite should tell us a lot about Cano’s chances:

But we should pay attention to what happens to Andy Pettitte, who was named in the Mitchell Report and admitted to using HGH, when he appears on the ballot this year. His case isn’t any more impressive than Gary Sheffield’s, and while Sheffield peaked at 13.3 percent in 2017, I’m confident that Pettitte, with his Baseball Man reputation and clutch postseason record, will blow that number out of the water.

And, I’d point out, it’ll also tell us a lot about the hypocrisy of voters who won’t vote for Bonds or Clemens, two not well-liked guys who are suspected of taking PEDs, but will vote for Pettitte, a well-liked guy who we know took PEDs. -TOB

Source: “Will Robinson Canó’s 80-Game Suspension Affect His Hall of Fame Chances?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (05/15/2018)

PAL: It matter to me. It’s not about what the Hall of Fame represents, or what we think it should represent; rather; it’s about entitlement.

Bonds, McGuire, Palmero, Cano, Manny, etc. – these guys are/were idolized and catered to and fawned over for playing a game. They earned hundreds of millions of dollars. They made a royal life for themselves and their loved ones.

I know I sound old and out of touch, and possibly even naive, but whether or not a guy used performance enhancing drugs matters. Should he be able to play again? Yes. Should he be able to continue to make an insane amount of money? Yes. Should he be able to coach after he’s done playing? Of course.

The only part of an illustrious, fruitful life in baseball that these guys are kept out of is the Hall of Fame, voted on by the Baseball Writers of America and the Veterans Committee. If the Hall of Fame is what’s at stake for the greats, I’m good with that being the punishment for taking banned substances. But what about the guys who admitted to taking greenies and all the other unsavory characters with plaques, you ask. I’m not saying it’s perfect solution, and it’s moving the barrier of entry for relatively new generations of players. Again, I think that’s an acceptable consequence to cleaning up the game.

TOB: Isn’t that a little overkill? A little jealous? A little petty? The punishment for taking banned substances is an 80 game suspension. And a lot of money (for Cano around $12M). The HOF is not just an honor for the players – it’s a museum, of baseball history for the fans.

Also, I don’t recall much complaint from you when your boy Pudge got in the HOF. As I’m sure you remember, Pudge came into camp CONSIDERABLY slimmer the year they began testing for steroids. He was also implicated in Canseco’s book, which proved accurate on quite a few other guys. Pudge got in on the first ballot.

We’re gonna ban Cano now because he took a diuretic? Even if I were to agree a HOF ban for use of PEDs was appropriate, I’d need a lot more than the use of something that can be a masking agent.’’’

PAL:

  1. You say my reaction is overkill, jealous, and petty. In other words, I’m being jealous and petty. I’d say that’s a bit much. Would I like to be a big league baseball player? That would be awesome! Do I walk around constantly jealous of them, and am I happy when they get caught breaking the rules. No, and no. I do think having a game without PEDs is a worthy pursuit, so I wouldn’t call pondering the legacy of a great player who tested positive for a banned substance petty or of little importance. I mean, you wouldn’t love writing about this if it was inconsequential.
  2. A player can be included in the “museum” without being inducted into the Hall of Fame. We’re talking about a plaque and a speech. That’s it. We aren’t using the ctrl-f on their name and deleting it from all records of ever playing the game.
  3. Pudge – yes, there are rumors and weight loss. Obviously, it’s harder to keep someone out when there isn’t a failed test or admission. I concede that this is a fuzzy zone here, as we’re entering that pre-admission, Lance Armstrong territory (never failed a drug test) here.
  4. Dude, baseball players take the diuretic for one reason. Call me jealous and petty, and I’ll call you willfully ignorant on this “diuretic isn’t the PED” take. 

TOB: When you argue, “they earned hundreds of millions of dollars. They made a royal life for themselves and their loved ones,” and this is the one thing they can’t have, then yeah it sounds a little jealous. But there’s a lot more to this.

First, As I noted, the punishment is 80 games, which will cost Cano $12M. Now you want to punish him again, decades from now, by not letting him in the Hall of Fame? That’s too much, for me. Moreover, you argue that this will “clean up the game” presumably because people won’t want to risk their chances for the Hall of Fame. There’s a huge flaw in this logic. How many players playing today do you think have a legitimate shot at the Hall of Fame? Maybe 20? 25? Let’s say 50. That means those 50 guys are subject to a much harsher punishment than everyone else simply because they are better players. Brandon Belt is good. He’s not HOF good. If he gets popped for PEDs, he comes back in August and continues to play. If Kris Bryant gets popped for PEDs, he pays the same price as Belt PLUS he can’t be in the HOF. How is that fair? And how is it a deterrent for the players who have no chance at the HOF?

Second, my argument about diuretics is not willful ignorance. It’s asking for a higher standard of proof than rumors, allegations, and innuendo. Because taking a diuretic is not proof – it’s innuendo. It’s suggestive. Maybe he smoked some weed and wanted to clear that out of his system.

Finally, you make my point for me with Pudge. There was an allegation. There’s circumstantial evidence. And he sails in. For Bonds and Clemens, there were allegations. There was circumstantial evidence. And they may never get in. How is that fair? There should be no “fuzzy zone”. The only fair thing is to let them all in. Have a section in the HOF explaining the steroid era, and note that many players were suspected of using.


Sports Gambling: Coming Soon

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unconstitutional the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, signed into law in 1992, on federalism grounds. The result? It will likely now be up to each individual state to determine whether sports gambling will be legal within that state. Given the expected revenue, it’s hard to imagine most states won’t move quickly to legalize it. But what of the consequences? The ripple effect is hard to even comprehend. Individual families. The Nevada economy, where sports gambling was already legal. Will teams begin offering in seat real time gambling?

Last month I was in Tahoe for a bachelor party, and we spent one evening at the sportsbook. The real-time gambling on baseball was incredible. With each base runner or out, the odds moved like stock prices. Late in a tied game, the smallest events moved the odds dramatically. It was fun enough just to watch the odds swing. We locked in a bet for the Giants to beat the Dodgers in the 7th, and got a solid +145. Soon after, the Giants’ payoff dropped, and we felt like we had free money with our payoff locked in. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan wonders if that will happen pitch by pitch with an app. I can’t see why not – Phil and I do $1 bets on things like that with friends already.

And what about the sports leagues? The NBA and MLB have been openly rooting for this, looking to take a piece of the pie. They are reportedly seeking 1% off the top of all wagers made. Yeah, that’s a lot of money. For decades, MLB has been concerned about how gambling could affect its game (see The 1919 World Series; Pete Rose). But in his article this week, Passan makes an excellent point:

Strong salaries for player tend to be all the integrity they need; the cost of bribery for a millionaire exceeds nearly every gambler’s bankroll. This is nothing more than a cash grab, the leagues calling shotgun on their piece of the pie before others start to understand its enormity. Peel back the lawyer speak and commissioner Rob Manfred’s position always has been clear. He doesn’t see gambling as a panacea but instead an insurance policy. Good economy, bad economy, people gamble. So long as people gamble on baseball, they’ll watch baseball. And the more people watch baseball, the better for the game.

The players make way more money now than gamblers could offer them, so the risk of a player taking cash to throw a game is much lower than it used to be. Passan also suggests the increased money and attention could lead to robot umpires. I dunno. I’ll believe that when I see it. Still, other changes Passan suggests seem likely:

A general manager or head of analytics will leave a team to take a job with a gambling outfit. The Ivy League brains that skipped Wall Street to instead work in sports may now see gambling as the perfect happy medium

As Passan says, “our capacity to gamble is limitless.” It will be fascinating to see where this takes us. -TOB

Source: How Gambling Can Help Make Baseball America’s Pastime Again“, Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports (05/14/2018)


Augie Baseball Update

After winning the NSIC Tourney, the Vikings beat Pitt St. 9-4 in the first game of the Regionals. Four of the nine runs were earned. Today (Friday, 5/18) they play Emporia State. Go Vikes!


OHTANI WATCH!

We’re about six weeks into the season. Time to check in on Ohtani’s performance.

3.58 ERA and 6 home runs. NOT BAD! A slash line of .321/.360/.617 for an OPS of .977. VERY GOOD! On pace to be at or near Phil’s benchmarks by the All Star Break.

This has been your Ohtani Watch Update. Thank you. -TOB


Videos of the Week: 



PAL Song of the Week: First Aid Kit – “Emmylou”


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“Close your eyes. Picture a convict. What’s he wearing? Nothing special, baseball cap on backwards, baggy pants. He says something ordinary like, ‘Yo, that’s shizzle.’ Okay. Now slowly open your eyes again. Who are you picturing? A black man? Wrong. That was a white woman. Surprised? Well, shame on you.”

-Michael Scott

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Week of May 11, 2018

Augie sticking it to St. Cloud State in the NSIC Tournament, which I should have seen in person. Instead, I’m in Mesa, AZ writing this blog. American Airlines did not have a good day today. 


The Western Conference Finals: A Clash of Contrasting Styles

The Western Conference Finals kick off on Monday, and it should be a doozy. The Warriors, who have made the Finals each of the last three years, having won two titles, against the Rockets, who have stated they were built to beat the Warriors and come in with home court advantage. The Warriors have been there, and the Rockets are coming.

The matchup has been anticipated all season, but some may be surprised to see two offenses that don’t look very much alike. There is a belief in NBA fan and media circles that the Curry/Kerr era Warriors have led a revolution in NBA offense, valuing the three pointer and avoiding the mid-range jumper like never before. It’s a misconception. The Warriors shot 28.9 three-pointers per game this season, just 17th in the league. As Anthony Slater points out in this article, Kerr is actually old school – tailoring his offense to his personnel on the court at any given time. To illustrate, consider: When Curry is on the floor, 39.9% of the Warriors’ shots are three-pointers, which would be third in the league if they averaged that the entire game. But when Curry is off the floor, that number drops to 29.5%, which would be bottom ten in the league. This is because when Curry is off the floor, Shaun Livingston and David West are on the floor. Unlike Curry, Livingston and West excel in the midrange, and so Kerr lets them do their thing, effectively.

Contrast that with the Houston Rockets, who truly implement a team-wide strategy to shoot threes and layups, and avoid the mid-range. This season, 50.2% of the Rockets’ shots were three-pointers, easily an NBA record. But unlike the Warriors, the personnel on the court doesn’t matter. When James Harden missed seven games earlier this season, the team averaged 44.8 three-point attempts per game, more than they averaged with Harden. To further illustrate this, consider Chris Paul. Last year, with the Clippers, Paul shot 322 mid-range shots to just 302 three-pointers, in line with his career numbers. But this year, his first with Houston, he shot 379 three-pointers and just 180 mid-range shots. As Slater notes, “that’s the system overriding the personnel.”

Kerr believes he’s bridging the gap between his mentor, Phil Jackson, and the Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni, who was the coach in Phoenix when Kerr was the General Manager there. I’m not going to look at the series as a referendum on either offensive style. I’m just going to enjoy the hell out of the show. -TOB

Source: The Warriors and Rockets Aren’t as Similar as You Think – It’s a Fascinating Strategic and Stylistic Matchup”, Anthony Slater, The Athletic (05/09/2018)

PAL: Kerr, referring to Curry:

“It reminds me a little bit of (Manu) Ginobili his rookie year with the Spurs. Pop was very disciplined. Ginobili would come down on a 3-on-1 fastbreak, throw a crazy pass out of bounds. Pop would be pulling his hair out. But by the end of the year, Pop got it. For every one of those plays, Ginobili would make five great plays. That 5-to-1 ratio is pretty good. Pop learned to live with Ginobili’s insanity and I quickly learned to live with Steph’s insanity.”

For as blissful as it is to watch Curry play basketball, I’ve witnessed this insanity.

As you can see, that one bad play can be really bad – needlessly difficult, and/or too loose. It would be easy to say that Curry is a basketball genius that shouldn’t be instructed, because what comes naturally to him is better than anything Kerr could teach. That’s not what happened. Kerr will always defer to the player’s talent, but he and the staff worked with Curry on how to move without the ball in order to maximize his awesome shooting talent. Yes, you live with the moments like the one above, but that doesn’t mean the team has sat on its hands with Curry.

TOB covers the really cool breakdown of the differences between the Rockets and the Warriors. I thought Kerr’s insight to fostering Curry’s ability was a fascinating second piece to this story.

TOB: Frankly, Draymond should have caught that pass. And for every Curry play like that, there are five like this:

Ok, maybe not five like that, because that’s incredible.


Actually, Speed Can Be Taught

The secret sauce to being an explosive skater in the NHL just might be figure skating. Like swing coaches for PGA players, many hockey players and NHL teams hire skating coaches like former Canadian figure skating champion Barb Underhill. There’s also Laura Stamm, who worked with the Islanders in the 70s, and Dawn Braid. It’s not just at the NHL level either. Diane Ness has built a small skating empire in Minnesota with Pro Edge Skating.

As Joe Smith writes, Tiger Woods helped Underhill see the potential for her to help hockey players. Aside from being the mother to a couple hockey players, it was seeing a split screen of Tiger Woods and her husband’s respective golf swings.

“I said, ‘Wow, you can see the difference when it’s side by side. I’ve just got to find my Tiger Woods.”

Underhill thought of retired Rangers forward Mike Gartner, long considered among the most gifted skaters in the league. She called Gartner and asked if she could film him skating. He said yes.

While figure skates and hockey skates are very different beasts, the power for each type of skating comes from the same mechanics and efficiencies. By teaching these mechanics and efficiencies, Underhill has helped Brayden Point go from an average skater to an elite skater – one that almost beat the fastest man on skates, Connor McDavid, in a race. Think about that for a second. You are not going to take a football player – either kind of football – with average speed and turn him into a blazer. That just doesn’t happen in other sports. Speed isn’t taught like it can be in hockey. That’s a fascinating distinction! – PAL

Source: The Woman Behind Some of the NHL’s Fastest Teams”, Joe Smith, The Athletic (05/9/2018)


Soulless Surfing  

We’ve got ourselves a real pickle here, folks. Of course, most of us are massive surf fans and watch the pro circuit (I could look up the name, but then I’d lose the sarcastic point I’m trying to make). While most of us aren’t serious surf fans…or even surfers, I think we all can appreciate the sport.

Perhaps unlike any other sport, nature plays a massive role in surfing competitions. Obviously, it determines where competitions are held. It also determines the quality of a competition and even the existence of a competition. No swell = no competition.

That was until the Wayne Gretzky of surfing, Kelly Slater, helped usher us into the future of surfing: a man-made wave created by a 100-ton mass of weight pushing through a 400-yard pool over 100 miles away from the ocean. There have been artificial waves before, but nothing like this:

At first blush, this is all wrong. Is a tube ride at all compelling in a pool? Where is the cerebral part of surfing. A huge part of the sport – whether you’re Slater or a nobody – is being able to read the ocean. It’s not enough to pick a set on the horizon; rather, you gotta know if it’s wave two or three that’s the best wave with the most power. All of this is gone in a wave pool. Don’t even get me started on the conditioning needed in the ocean to paddle out to your wave. Unlike baseball or basketball or hockey, there is a connection to the big, powerful world of nature inherent in the sport of surfing. That does not exist in the pool, and that’s a bummer.

You know what’s not a bummer? Being a surfing fan during a pool competition. You can watch idols not from ½ a mile away through binoculars, but along the length of the wave like fans at a hockey game. What’s more, it’s a hell of a lot more TV friendly (see: reliable). And one could argue that by removing the variable of wave consistency, we actually see skill vs. skill.

And perhaps most important of all is the fact that surfing is an Olympic sport in 2020, for the first time. Japan lacks the consistent natural wave that one might find on the North Shore of Oahu. The stakes might simply be too high for the sport to leave it to nature. In order to showcase the athletes, likely Olympians – even those who are on the fence about the man-made wave – agree that the Olympics should be held on a man-made wave.

At its core, I would suggest that what makes surfing so goddamn cool and appealing is that it doesn’t happen in Nebraska. Surfing only happens is idyllic places, and that’s romantic, that’s its special place in pop culture. And while the growth of the sport no doubt stands to benefit from Slater’s pools (and – my god – he’s going to make so much money on this), the spirit of perhaps the zen sport is being eroded in chlorine. This is a great read. Stop reading what I have to say, and read Brent Rose’s kick-ass story. – PAL

Source: “Is The First Pro Surfing Contest In A Wave Pool The Sport’s Future, Or Its Bastardization?”, Brent Rose, Deadspin (05/9/2018)

TOB: As Phil points out, this is an interesting conundrum: what is lost in the sport of surfing when you take the unpredictability of nature out of it? Anything? Everything? As I read it, I went back and forth on this. Finally I came to a conclusion: surfing stops being zen and loses its romantic connection to nature when you put it in the context of competition. This affects a small number of surfers in the world, and only in the context of competition and winning prize money. But it doesn’t change the sport for the vast majority of surfers who get up before dawn every day to catch some swells, brah.


The Neverending But Fun Debate: Jordan vs. LeBron

As LeBron carries his team to perhaps another NBA Finals appearance, which would be his 8th in a row, the clamor to determine who is better, Jordan or LeBron, continues to rise. I’m not sure there’s a right answer – and I’m not sure I have my own decision, but I did enjoy this article by Kevin Pelton, who attempts to answer the question statistically with a stat he invented a few years back called Championships Added. It’s a bit like WAR in baseball. It’s a fascinating article, and I recommend you read it, but here’s the short of Pelton’s conclusion:

Peak: Jordan’s peak was the best ever: the 1990-91 Season with a 0.70 Championship Added. LeBron’s best comes close, 0.62.

Career: LeBron takes it here, especially when you account for strength of league. Pelton argues the NBA is stronger now, in part due to a much wider pool of players (read: non-American). When not accounting for strength of league, Jordan still holds a slight edge over LeBron, but LeBron could pass him as soon as this season depending on how these playoffs shakeout.

Pelton points out another interesting issue: when you go by the age of each instead of the number of seasons, LeBron is way out in front of Jordan. That, of course, is because LeBron started at 18 while Jordan started at 21.

As Pelton concludes, “A team drafting James’ entire career would assure itself championship contention for more than a decade given his metronomic consistency and ability to avoid injury. Jordan might have been better at his best, but James has already put together the best NBA career we’ve ever seen.”

I find it hard to argue with that conclusion. Jordan at his peak was better, but LeBron did more over the course of his career – and he doesn’t even show any signs of slowing down yet. Jordan fans will argue he went 6-for-6 in the Finals, but that means he didn’t make the Finals 9 times (7 times if you ignore his two seasons with the Wizards). Meanwhile, LeBron has made the finals 8 times in 14 seasons, and could make it 9 in 15 this year. Making the Finals and losing is a lot better than losing before the Finals.

What’s remarkable to me about LeBron is that this debate is even close enough to have. When Jordan retired, people figured we’d never see a player better than him. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait long: LeBron’s career began the season after Jordan’s career ended (for good). On top of that is the fact LeBron did it in the face of unbearable expectations:

And LeBron has done it without a sniff of legal or personal trouble. So, I’m with Pelton. Give me Jordan for one year, give me LeBron for his career. -TOB

Source: LeBron or MJ? How the King is Settling the GOAT Debate”, Kevin Pelton, ESPN, (05/10/2018)

PAL: I guess we have to call TOB’s love for James what it is at this point: a LeBoner.

TOB: How dare you.


NBA Player Nicknames in China

The title says it all: the funny nicknames people in China have given to NBA players. This started as a string of tweets. The writer then put a few of them into an article. There are some great ones, and I suggest you check his twitter feed for a lot more, but this is my favorite:

Steph Curry probably has more nicknames than any current NBA player except for LeBron. Many of these nicknames play on his relatively small size for a basketball player, including “The Elementary School Student” (小学生) and 萌神, which literally translates as “Sprout God,” but might more naturally be translated as “Adorable God,” since the Chinese character for “sprout” is a reference to the Japanese concept of “Moe” (萌え), describing feelings of affection and protectiveness for small, cute things.

But Curry’s most interesting Chinese nickname is “Steph Skyfucker” (库昊), which derives from an elaborate series of interlocking visual and verbal puns. It turns out that Chinese also has the phrase “the sky’s the limit” (天空是极限), just like in English. Over time “breaking through the sky” (捅破天) became a way to describe someone who vastly exceeded all expectations. However, in other contexts, the same characters for “breaking through” can be a vulgar slang term for “fuck.” Since Curry defied all expectations to become a superstar, people started saying he had broken through the sky—or fucked it.

Skyfucker it is. -TOB

Source: “Sprout God, Porcelain Mamba, And Six-Step LeBron: The Stories Behind China’s Best NBA Nicknames“, Nick Kapur, Deadspin (05/11/2018)


Videos of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Wings – “Arrow Through Me”


Tweets of the Week


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“Google me, Chuck!”

-Shaq

Week of May 4, 2018

Terry Rozier gets the last word on Eric Bledsoe.


Strength: Analytics. Weakness: How to use a fungo

Photo credit: Michael Starghill

Baseball is measured differently today than it was 20 years ago. Hitting .300 or winning 20 games are not valued in the way they traditionally have been. We all know this. WAR, BABIP, and a parade of new acronyms are taking over. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that  different people – people who understand the new data and how to use it to make better decisions – are more influential within the organization. Typically, these data folks were tucked away in the front office, but the world champ Houston Astros are realizing their analysts might provide more value somewhere less cush than a MLB office.

The Astros and its General Manager Jeff Lunhow are no longer trying to build a winner. They now must sustain excellence with lower draft picks and less money to spend on amatuer talent. As Tyler Kepner learns in his excellent story, Lunhow believes the best way to do that is in making measurable improvements on the field – at all levels of the organization.

“Every team now values advanced metrics. Not every team has sent its top analyst to spend a summer as a first-base coach on the bottom rung of its farm system, as the Astros did with Mejdal last season.”

“Mejdal” is Sig Mejdal, 52. His official title is Special Assistant to Lunhow, but these days you can find him in uniform in the minor league system. He’s riding the bus, he’s shagging balls, and he’s also talking young minor leaguers in the game about pitch usage rate, hitter tendencies, situational data, and other intel that 2016 draft pick Colin McKee describes as “mind-blowing stuff.”

But – again – every team adheres to the importance of new metrics. I mean, have you seen how often teams over-shift these days? What make the Astros different?

Front offices everywhere now teem with well-educated executives who have backgrounds outside baseball. Luhnow, who has an M.B.A. from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern, wondered how the Astros could get more from theirs.

“There is an ivory tower effect, if you will, where great ideas are being thought about and discussed at headquarters, but until you roll them out into the field, you don’t realize all the challenges involved,” he said. “Amazing ideas find all kinds of issues when you try to roll them out with human beings because that’s all we are, a collection of human beings trying to do things to help players perform on the field.”

In past years, Luhnow found, it was easy for executives to visit a minor league affiliate for a week but difficult to form more than a surface-level bond with players and staff members. In Mejdal, whom he had first hired with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005, he had a trusted confidant with intimate knowledge of the Astros’ culture.

A fun and thought-provoking read. A fresh take on the baseball metrics story. I think you’ll enjoy the read whether you’re into baseball, business, or stories about thinking a little differently. – PAL

Source: A Numbers Guy Left the Front Office to Coach Prospects. Here’s What He Learned.”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (4/30/18)


The Bay Area Sports Mt. Rushmore

I stumbled on an article, which was short and not particularly well thought through, about the Bay Area Mt. Rushmore. It wasn’t great, but it did get me thinking: who are the four greatest athletes in Bay Area sports history. For this argument, I’m choosing player performance in the Bay Area, so performance elsewhere is out and hometown kids (see Tom Brady) who played elsewhere are out.

I’ve put a good deal of thought into it, and here’s what I got:

Joe Montana: Beloved – seriously, people friggin love this guy; I wasn’t around, but I get the sense there was some deep-seated issues for the Bay Area and its wounded civic pride coming out of the 60s and 70s, and Joe provided a chance to be a winner. Speaking of winner, Joe was the winner of four Super Bowls and is generally considered the best ever at the toughest and most important position in sports, or at least was until Tom Brady came along.

Barry Bonds: Quite possibly the greatest baseball player of all time. He never won a World Series, but that’s ok. Did he use PEDs? Maybe. Do I care? Not one iota. In hindsight, he made us not realize how hard it is to hit at ATT Park. He made it look so easy. Was he a jerk? I think it’s extremely overstated, but the reputation is there. However, he was our jerk, and he was nice to us, so GTFO.

Willie Mays: I never saw him play, but his numbers were jaw dropping. Seriously check out his WAR (far right column) during his peak:

That’s just stupid. And, again, he was beloved. He’s probably tops on this list for that category. If you’ve ever been at a Giants game when he’s announced, the reaction is incredible. On the dark day he’s gone, this city will mourn communally in a way I’ve never seen.

Ok. The first three were easy. The fourth took some thought, but I landed on:

Steph Curry: Yes, there’s recency bias here. But he’s a two-time MVP and a two-time champ. He’s universally beloved here, and aside from some petty fools, he’s loved all over the country/world. He’s the greatest shooter of all-time, bar none. It’s not close. His shooting, in volume, off the dribble, closely guarded, is incomparable. But he’s not one-dimensional, as he’s got top notch handles and an incredible knack for making incredible finishes at the rack. His range is so deep, it changes the dynamics on the floor so incredibly that it cannot be overstated. Welcome, Wardell.

And now, the runners-up:

Ricky Henderson: Very good player. Less “beloved” than very well liked and funny. Some demerits because only 14 of his 25 (!!) years were in Oakland, which was a theme when I looked through the greatest A’s.

Ken Stabler: Ehhh. Never saw him play. Old timers love him, but he doesn’t resonate with younger generations.

Jerry Rice: Jerry Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all-time. Certainly the most productive. But I don’t believe he was ever beloved by the Bay Area like Joe.

Tim Brown: Seriously? C’mon.

Steve Young: One Super Bowl vs. four says a lot. Plus, his peak was relatively short. And I think his post-career media has made him a smidge less likable.

Joe Thornton: I dunno, is he the best Shark? Maybe Owen Nolan? Arturs Irbe? Patrick Marleau? I dunno. But whoever it is is not making the Bay Area’s top 4. -TOB


Returning from Tommy John Surgery Takes a Village

Sometimes you read a feel-good sports story and you’re left feeling a little overwhelmed by the saccharine. But The Athletic’s Andrew   nails this one, on Giants reliever Will Smith’s return this week, thirteen months after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Smith made his season debut in the 7th, and struck out red-hot Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer (a former teammate) to end the inning.

Look at that smile. If you’ve ever worked really hard for something, you know that smile. All the grueling rehab finally paid off. But what I really like about this story is how Baggarly talks to the training staff who worked so hard go get Smith back here.

Smith received a handshake from Bochy upon reaching the dugout, and then swallowed head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner with a two-armed hug.

Groeschner stopped on his way to the bus, perched his sunglasses on his forehead and revealed a pair of glassy eyes.

“For us, it’s awesome,” [Groeschner] said. “It’s really a great moment for our medical staff just to watch him and how excited he was. It was 13 months of working his ass off. Really, from Day 1, he was ready to work.

“He just went after it hard, and for this day, right here. And it paid off for him. I think that’s why everyone is so happy for him.”

For Smith, as with most individual achievements, there were people in the background providing support. I really liked how Baggarly highlighted that here. -TOB

Source: Giants Face Significant Obstacles, But Will Smith Shows Them the Importance of Turning the Page”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (05/02/2018)

PAL: 13 months is a long time for a person to not do the thing they are best at and to live the tired, one-day-at-a-time cliche. Aside from the quiet monotony of the drills and exercises contained in those folders, I read about Smith and think about self confidence…even self worth. Being able to contribute at my job is a huge factor in my confidence, even my mood.

At some point, the cliche has to lead to a real payoff, and that was Smith getting on the hill against the Padres. He’s in the box score. Good read!


Hit (and Field) Your Numbers

While I despise the opening line of this story, I enjoyed the hell out of the rest of it, the latest installment of ESPN’s “Radical Ideas Series”. Here’s Sam Miller to frame the discussion:

“The point of ballplayer compensation is to compensate ballplayers, and a good system would fairly and efficiently pay the most valuable ballplayers the most money. The current system does not do this.

“That’s what this system does: It creates a lot of players who are underpaid, whom we take for granted, and some players who are overpaid, whom we grow to hate with every bitter nerve in our body, and we call that an economic wash.”

Both of these guys make a over 25MM a year. One is extremely overpaid, but is it possible that one of them is underpaid?

Setting aside that this is highly unlikely to ever happen, the solution to the problem is to treat baseball players like salespeople and pay them largely on commission (with a base salary of the MLB minimum, which is merely $507,500). Teams would be more than happy with this. No more Barry Zito contract blunders, and Mike Trout will earn what he’s worth based on how he plays on the field.

Of course there are some flaws to this idea (injuries, for one, and how are we measuring success/ranking, The Players Union would never – I mean never ever ever – agree to it), but it’s fun to think about, especially when we consider the fans’ bystander role in the current system.

“We are constantly asking not whether the player is good but whether he is worth it. The player becomes equipment — a depreciating tractor, sputtering. We yell at it when it doesn’t start. We talk about its resale value.”

This story is for you if you have an upcoming date with the relatives and you’re worried you don’t have the small-talk skills to make it through another all-day affair the randos at a barbecue. – PAL

Source: Radical Ideas Series: What if MLB players were paid on commission?, Sam Miller, ESPN (5/2/18)

TOB: As a thought exercise, this is pretty interesting. But in reality? How to deal with injuries? What happens to free agency? I do, however, think it’d be a good way to deal with pre-free agency players. It’s insane that Aaron Judge made $500k last year, when he hit 52 dingers and had an 8.1 WAR (which is MVP-caliber). And it’s insane he won’t be a free agent until 2023. Because Judge was a late bloomer, in 2023 he’ll be 31, the same age as good but past his prime Andrew McCutchen. That is to say, there’s a chance Judge never gets a massive contract and will get paid very little compared to his level of play (Judge will be arbitration eligible in 2020, but the arbitration numbers never come close to fair market value for the best players).

So why not tweak Miller’s plan: pay per WAR for pre-free agency players, so that a guy like Judge gets paid a fair amount when he hits 50 dingers.


Pitching Panda
As a fan, a baseball season is long. Your team plays nearly every day for six months. If your team isn’t good, it’s like being in a torture chamber. The Giants are showing some life, but in good and bad seasons, there are moments that make the grind worth it. Last weekend, Giants fans got one of those.

The Giants were getting smoked in the first game of a double-header Saturday, and so they brought in Pablo Sandoval to pitch. Anytime a position player is forced to pitch, it’s must-see. But something about it being Panda made this even more exciting. And then…the dude pitched. A perfect inning. And not only that, he looked really good. He touched 88 on his fastball, which should make Dan Haren (Twitter handle: IThrow88) blush. He induced weak contact. And best of all, he dropped in this curve ball for a strike.

I couldn’t stop laughing. When he was at bat, Yasmani Grandal couldn’t stop laughing. Throughout the inning, both dugouts couldn’t stop laughing. It was a great moment in an otherwise crappy game. But it wasn’t meaningless. An as always astute Mike Krukow noted, as Panda ran back to the dugout after the inning, that the previously lifeless Giants dugout seemed suddenly energized, and he noted that could bode well for the second game of that double-header. Sure ‘nuff. Giants came out firing in the evening, and then finished off the series win the next day. Again, it was one of those little moments in a baseball season that means so much. I encourage to watch the entire inning here.

What a great sport. -TOB

Source: Pablo Sandoval Pitched A Perfect Inning, And It Was Just Fucking Perfect”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (04/29/2018)


Video(s) of the Week:


Tweet of the Week: As we approach Mother’s Day, it’s fitting that L.A. Clipper Patrick Beverly’s mom dominated on The Price Is Right.


PAL Song of the Week: Oddisee – “The Carter Baron”


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Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

I feel like Neve Campbell in Scream II. She thinks she can go off to college and be happy and then the murderer comes back and starts killing off all of her friends. I learned a lot of lessons from that movie, this is just one of them.

-M.G. Scott

Week of April 27, 2018

Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. On April 27, 1961 the expansion Angels lost its first ever game to the Minnesota Twins, 4-2. 


25 Years Ago: “Put That In Your F&*^ing Pipe And Smoke It”

Most of us who follow sports – that is to say, all of us, because I’m writing a sports blog and you are reading a sports blog – have seen the video of manager Hal McRae’s tantrum following a Royals loss to the Tigers 25 years ago this week. McRae is surrounded in his office by local reporters when this happens:

Or, as The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd puts it:

In one version of the story, it was a tape recorder. In another, a sharp piece of office supplies. For years, nobody could say for sure. They watched the famous video tape, and they listened to the F-bombs. They replayed it slowly, frame by frame, like a managerial Zapruder film. The sports writers still weren’t sure, even Alan Eskew, the baseball beat man who took the foreign object to the face.

This much, we know: The flying object left a bloody, 1 1/2-inch gash on Eskew’s right cheek. It required a trip to the trainer’s room and a tetanus shot. It is, a quarter-century later, the most famous media injury in the history of the Royals, the bloody symbol of a wild managerial tirade. And 25 years later, Eskew is almost certain: It was probably an ashtray.

Thanks to Sunflower Cable out of Lawrence, Kansas, there is video of the tirade. They didn’t know what they had, and when other local affiliates called and asked for the footage, Sunflower simply handed over the footage to anyone without even putting their watermark on it!

As most of us know now, the clip went viral before “viral” was even a thing. Local and national outlets played it. ESPN had a field day with it. Eskew, known simply as “Scoop”, was asked to be a guest on radio and TV, but that wasn’t his style. His job was to cover the beat for the Royals, and so he and McRae meet face-to-face and settled up.

“McRae offered a short apology, and Scoop accepted, delivering just one request: Crab cakes during the next trip to Baltimore.”

I mean, how great is that?

Hal McRae was not that dude on this video. Players and every reporter describe him as cool, calm, blue collar. The reporters enjoyed covering his team’s beat. Players liked playing for him.

“The image he had around the rest of the country then was he was this maniac,” said Flanagan, who now covers the team for MLB.com. “And he wasn’t. He was just a cool, cool manager. He was funny. His cackle was the best cackle I’ve ever heard. He’d rather laugh than do anything.”

Covering a baseball beat in the 80s and 90s sounds like so much fun, and the guys like “Scoop” that have done it for so long (he still covers the Royals) are a part of the culture around a team. He’s part of that team’s story, because he’s been penning it for so long.  

And then there’s this last nugget that had me laughing:

McRae would receive just one more chance to manage, a hopeless situation in Tampa Bay in 2001 and 2002. But one day in 2001, he returned to Kauffman Stadium for a road series. In the hours before the first game, McRae sat at his office desk for a pregame media session. One reporter appeared in the back, wearing a catcher’s mask. It was Scoop.

Another great read from The Athletic. The link below will likely direct you to a free trial offer. I think it’s worth a few bucks a month to read solid sports reporting and feature writing without no ads.

By the way, If I ever write a young adult novel about a baseball, the reporter character in the story will no doubt be named “Scoop”. – PAL  

Source: Twenty-five years later, those who were there remember Hal McRae’s famous rant”, Rustin Dodd, The Athletic (4/20/18)


Should a Balked Run Count As An Earned Run?

For the first time in a long time, this was an article that had me hooked with the headline – “A Dumb, Specific Argument About Balks”. Boom – all-in. Perhaps a rant about headline writing in the digital age (or lack thereof) is in my near future.

Back to balks. From Little League on, balks are a part of baseball. Having played and watched baseball for over 30 years, I can’t confidently tell you what is and isn’t a balk. A balk is an intentional or unintentional act to mislead the baserunner. That’s my best, most vague attempt at defining a balk. Good enough, I guess, but I’d never feel confident enough with my knowledge of the rule to call one as an umpire in a game. 

I am not alone. Per Emma Baccelieri from Deadspin, the MLB definition of a balk in its glossary is different from the definition in the rulebook (how the hell could that be!?!):

“The rule is in place to prevent a pitcher from deceiving the baserunners,” the glossary reads, while the rulebook doesn’t get close to such an idea. There’s nothing about the intent or the result of the motion like that in the Official Baseball Rules, just a technical description, and one that can end up remarkably tricky to apply, at that.

Take a look at the gif above. It is a balk – with runners on first and third – but is this a deception in any way? That runner on third was granted home, and the runner on first advanced to second. Which brings us to the heart of the manner: should balked in runs count as earned runs against the pitcher’s stat line?

Balks leading to runs currently count against the pitcher’s E.R.A. (as do passed balls). However, unlike passed balls, balks are not the result of pitching. In fact, they are the opposite of pitching – they are the deception of a pitch.

It’s not as simple of a “of course it should count against a pitcher’s E.R.A.” as you might think. Baccellieri writes:

‘But the pitcher’s clearly responsible for the balk; he should be responsible for the run that it causes!’ you might say. Okay, yes, but—he can be clearly responsible for an error, and yet he’s not considered responsible for the run that the error causes! And you might then say that the error is related to the pitcher’s defense, which is a separate matter, while the balk relates only to his pitching proper. But does it? The whole idea of the balk is that he’s not really pitching, not near any point of completion. (If he was, it’d just be a pitch!) In Bettis’s case here, and many others, the whole thing’s really just an error—in the literal sense of the word, not the baseball sense. So why draw the line here? Why determine that a pitcher’s fielding error is exempt, and this technical error is not? On a call that is so often made or missed in error itself? Baseball grants a pitcher a little bit of mercy here; the scorecard will not ignore an error from him, but it won’t use it to statistically penalize him in the measures where it’d hurt him most. Why shouldn’t a balk be scored in the same way? There’s no reasonable consistency to any logic that treats them differently.

Here’s a real simple solution: a run scored as a result of a pitcher error, in the “literal sense of the word”(error or balk), should count as earned. Seems like solid logic to me…but wait. What if a pitcher commits an error that allows a baserunner, but then that base runner scores when the second baseman boots a grounder in a later at bat? I still think it’s an earned run, as the scoring runner is on base due to the pitcher’s fielding error, while hitter on the ground ball would be an unearned run, as he/she is on base due to error at 2B…right?

Do you see where we are? We’re in the bowels of baseball nerdery that no one but for a few of us care about. Readers – tell us what you think. How do you count a run from a pitchers balk: earned or unearned? Baseball minutiae perfect fodder for a Friday debate. – PAL

Source: A Dumb, Specific Argument About Balks”, Emma Baccellieri, Deadspin (4/24/18)

TOB: I have umped quite a bit in my life and I have no idea what is and isn’t a balk, aside from the most obvious starts and stops. But the other night I was watching a Giants/Nationals game, and the Nationals reliever kept sorta lifting his front leg, without it leaving the ground, repeatedly before he began his windup. I’ve seen far less significant twitches than that called a balk. I don’t recall if there was a runner on base, but he was pitching from the stretch so it seems likely. And if there wasn’t, and that’s his normal pitching routine, he has to get called for a balk, doesn’t he?

As for earned runs for pitchers on errors: it’s really odd. Let me paint a scenario. A runner gets on because the pitcher commits an error (come-backer, overthrows first. Let’s call the pitcher “Jon Lester”). Then, the next batter hits a ground ball to second. The second baseman tries to hurry to turn the double play, and throws it away. Next batter hits a triple. Both of those runs are “unearned” for the pitcher – but they both got on base because of his throwing error.


Minor League Player Salary Update: Still Shitty

A few weeks back we wrote about the measly pay given to minor league baseball players. I read another good article about it this week, where the following point is made:

Every team could pay its minor leaguers $30,000 a year for about $4.5 million, or the cost of a decent free agent reliever. Instead, the league got together and spent $1.3 million a year on lobbying in 2016 and 2017, and made the problem go away forever, or at least until Congress becomes aggressively pro-labor, which might be effectively the same thing.

$4.5 million? They’re making money hand-over-fist. That is chump change! Hell, Forbes estimates the Sacramento Rivercats, the Giants AAA-affiliate, generate $20 million in annual  revenue. The team has 38 players on its current roster, and to pay them each $30,000 per year would cost $1,140,000 – only 5.7% of its revenue.

Or, consider this. Last year, MLB attendance league-wide totaled 72,688,797. That’s an average of 2,422,627 per team. $4.5M divided by 2,422,627 is about $1.85. So, fine. If these rich bastards won’t pay their employees a fair salary, then sign me up for a $1.85 per ticket surcharge that would be used to pay minor league players a fair, livable wage. -TOB

Source: The Disgrace of Minor League Baseball“”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/20/2018)


Video of the Week: 


PAL’s Song of the Week: Blundetto – “Mi Condena”


Tweet of the Week: 


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I was sad at first, but then I remembered that Bob Marley song: “No, woman! No cry!”

– Erin Hannon

 

Week of March 30, 2018

What a wonderful day. 


The Most Wonderful Day of the Year

Thursday was Opening Day, and for the first time in a long time, it was the most wonderful day of the year for all baseball fans. For the last few decades, MLB has gone with an Opening Night, with just one or two games. A few times they’ve had two teams play a week early in Japan to kick things off. And frankly, it sucked. I’m not getting excited to see Cardinals/Cubs or Mets/Nationals. I want to see my team, and I want to see them now. Well, for the first time since 1968, MLB wised up and gave fans what they want – a true opening day, for all teams, with games damn near ’round the clock.

The beauty of Opening Day is that little ray of hope. Maybe this is the year the Nats put it together and win it all, their fans tell themselves. Indians fans, too. Fans of many teams wonder if their team will  be this year’s Twins, who went from 103 losses in 2016 to the Wild Card last year. As for me, if the Giants want to contend for a playoff spot, they have little room for error. And so it had been a bad seven days – losing two starters, Bumgarner and Samardzjia, along with their closer, Melancon, all on the eve of the season. Of course they kicked the season off against Kershaw in Dodger Stadium, and no the Dodgers were not good sports and let Kershaw pitch even though Bumgarner could not. The Giants instead ran out Ty Blach, who has been something of a Dodger killer in his career, sporting a 2.23 ERA in 36.1 innings pitched. But, the Bumgarner injury and facing Kershaw on Opening Day felt like a harbinger of doom.

Instead, the Giants led off the game with two singles. Then they got two more hits in the second. They knocked Kershaw around, but couldn’t get the big hit to get anyone home. Until Joe Panik snuck one around the right field pole to score the first run of the game. Blach gave up just 3 hits over 5 innings, and the bullpen held on for the win. It felt like a playoff victory, even though it was just one game. The Giants still might suck this year, but for one night, at least, the hope of Opening Day decided to stick around -TOB

PAL: One of the best days of the year. Well-said, TOB.


Architecture of History: Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard 

As we begin a new baseball season, one of the main storylines is Aaron Judge (2017 HR: 52) and Giancarlo Stanton (2017 HR: 59) have joined forces on the Yankees. It’s a good time to remember another fearsome duo: Josh Gibson and Buck Leonard. They played for the Grays of the Negro League.

These guys were the real deal. They won (two Negro League World Series, 8 Pennants), they are accepted as greats by baseball historians (Bill James considers Gibson the best catcher of all time and Leonard the best first basemen in Negro League history), and the they are the subject of folklore (ever hear the one about Gibson hitting a 580-foot home run out of Yankees Stadium?).

But what’s missing are the statistics. As Robert O’Connell writes:  

The disgrace of the time, that qualified stars were barred from the Major League Baseball because of their race, echoes now as a statistical frustration. While their white contemporaries enjoyed M.L.B.’s tidy schedules and scrupulous statistics-keeping, the black players of the early 20th century made do with a mixture of official and unofficial contests across borders of league and nation. The numbers that resulted are slapdash and incomplete; in the case of Gibson and Leonard, the statistics obscure the truth as much as tell it.

The fact that folks didn’t even keep stats that same way or with any consistency for Negro League games, or the fact that the teams played 200 games a year, interspersing their schedule with games against independent and semipro teams out of “economic necessity” makes it damn near impossible to accurately portray Gibson and Leonard’s greatness. There’s assumptions even in my writing this! 

Gibson is credited with 800 home runs on his Hall of Fame plaque, but they are qualified as “in league and independent play”, i.e. “all of these don’t really count.”

In a game where we want numbers to still mean something, this borders on a travesty.

Collective memory helps fill the gaps that numbers leave. “The statistical data doesn’t always paint the real picture about these guys,” Kendrick said, “so you do get a lot of oral history as it relates to these players, and that’s one of the reasons why the myth and legend that surrounds them is so great.”

In the architecture of baseball history, though, numbers are sturdier than words. There is some small forgetting every time Negro leagues players fail to show up in a comparative chart, every time conjecture has to substitute for a box score. But to the shepherds of those players’ stories, there is little doubt as to their place in the game.

That collective memory part worries me. Only the living have memories. As my grandparents’ generation dies off, that living connection is weakening by the day. O’Connell nails it when he writes, “numbers are sturdier than words.” Excellent read.

Aside: isn’t that a perfectly written sentence? “In the architecture of baseball history, though, numbers are sturdier than words.” Simply perfect rhythm and imagery. – PAL

Source: Baseball’s Unappreciated Power Duo”, Robert O’Connell, The New York Times (3/27/18)


When Will Teams Stop Hiring Tom Thibodeaux?


Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeaux, or Thibs, made his name as a defensive savant as an assistant with the Celtics in the late 00s. Since then, though, he’s become known as something else – a head coach who will run his best players into the ground. He did it in Chicago, with players like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah’s careers being shortened due to injury. His teams also often seem to fade in the playoffs.

It’s happening again in Minnesota. The TWolves core is young and talented – with a core of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, along with Taj Gibson, and Jeff Teague to round out the starting five. But all five of those guys are averaging between 33 and 37 minutes per game this year. Before Butler’s knee injury, no one else was averaging even 20 minutes per game. Butler leads the league in minutes per game, Wiggins is tenth, and Towns is 14th.

The fatigue is setting in. On Monday they lost to the lowly Grizzlies, at home. The Grizzlies had lost seventeen straight road games and are actively tanking. The Wolves fell apart in the 4th, shooting just 3 for 17 with 8 turnovers. After the game, Thibs blamed his players, predictably, saying, “It’s a hard-fought game going back and forth. You have to have the resiliency and the mental toughness to get through that. Not every game is going to be free and easy.”

Thibs’ stubbornness may cost him his job. The once promising Wolves season is in free fall. Just a few weeks ago they were in 3rd place in the brual Western conference. Now, they are in 8th, and just 1.5 games ahead of 9th and thus out of the playoffs. If they don’t make the playoffs, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t fired. And if he is – I wonder if any team would be dumb enough to let Thibs run their roster into the ground again. -TOB

Source: Tom Thibodeau Is Burning Out the Timberpups”, Paolo Uggetti, The Ringer (03/27/2018)

PAL: In a way, Thibs is conservative, which in this case comes off as a coaching weakness. Playing the starting five so many minutes tells me that he doesn’t trust his less talented players on the bench. In other words, he can’t coach up the second unit enough to get 18 solid minutes out of them. Yet he positions a loss like the one to the Grizzlies as a failure of toughness. Where’s his toughness? Hell, I could run the starting five out there for 40 minutes. That doesn’t take any skill!

Thibs’ real issue is the Wolves have some serious talent that’s underperforming in Towns, Butler, and Wiggins. That’s two borderline All-NBA guys and Wiggins, who has the talent to be a all-star. They can get another coach, but they can’t just roll over and wake up to a trio like that.


Confirming and Debunking Rumors on Catcher Performance at, Not Behind, the Plate

This is a really fantastic article for any baseball fan. I don’t have much to editorialize, and the author helpfully summarizes the premise as follows:

With help from a few new-age numbers and a couple of catchers who’ve been in the fire, let’s examine three theories about catchers’ performance at the plate: that umpires extend them the courtesy of more favorable strike zones; that they have an advantage against pitchers they’ve previously caught; and that they have a harder time hitting when paired with pitchers who rely on the catcher’s nightmare, the knuckleball.

Spoiler alert: Two of those theories are proven correct; the other is wrong. This is really well written, researched, and presented. -TOB

Source: Two Truths and a Lie: The Hidden Forces That Affect How Catchers Perform at the Plate“, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (03/26/2018)

PAL:  I don’t want to spoil which are the truths and which one is the lie, but I’ll tell you I was very surprised where the chips fell. I caught from age 11 to 22, and I honestly sometimes forget how different my view/perspective on the game is to most everyone else. When people say the game is slow and boring, it doesn’t compute right away, because I’m thinking about all the decisions and interactions that take place between pitches. Great article! Good find, TOB.


Buck Feeling Good

Ever read something and, as you’re reading, realize that the writer is articulating something you’ve always known to be true but never expressed it with any degree of clarity?  That was my reaction to Dan Haye’s article on Byron Buxton from Tuesday.

Growing up, we’re told how important confidence is when playing sports. For us regular people, that’s true, but only to a certain extent. The curveball, footspeed, height, strength – are these the barriers that keep us from athletic successes, not our mental approach. For Byron Buxton – a supremely talented athlete – confidence might be the difference between him being an All-Star and a AAAA player (a AAAA player is a guy who is too good for highest level of minor league ball and not good enough to play in the bigs). In other words, feeling good is very, very important to Buck.

As Buxton and coaches will tell it, his season (and maybe his career) turned around in Boston on a night in which he went 0-3 with two strikeouts. There were some minor mechanical adjustments, but it was mostly about changing his state of mind while at the plate.

Buxton has always been an outstanding defensive player. In the minors, he had been a force at the plate.This combination made him a top prospect. His first two years in the Majors did not go well offensively. He thought he’d turned a corner by ending 2016 strong, but he struggled again to open up last year.  

Buxton was carrying that doubt and frustration to every at bat. As teammate Brian Dozier tells it, you cannot hit big league pitching when you care that much about failure.

Back to Boston. After a good session with hitting coach James Rowson, Buxton felt good in the box against the Red Sox ace Chris Sale. Although he struck out twice, Buxton did hit the ball hard in one of the at-bats, and that reinforced the positive feeling from the pre-game hitting session far more than a bloop single.

“I just got that little inch of positivity that something felt good and ran with it,” Buxton said. “I try to be as positive as anybody possibly can. Me never failing to get to this point was very tough. Honestly, I’m definitely glad I failed at some point. It definitely has made me a lot stronger, definitely has made me a lot more confident. If I get in a slump, I know that I’ve got what it takes to get out.”

Buxton went on to hit the ball harder after the Red Sox series (higher exit velocity), making “loud contact”, but the hits were slow to follow. When they did come, they came in bunches and they came just in time for the Twins to gut out a Wild Card birth.

Watching Buxton play baseball is a treat. He does something spectacular in center field at least once a week. He’s so fast, so athletic, and he wants to win so bad. He gets me pumped up to be a Twins fan.

He plays at max effort at all times, and in baseball that doesn’t always help, especially at the plate. Feeling good at the plate a can be elusive, but it’s everything. It’s why Cal Ripken changed his batting stance 112 times (approximately) in his career.

Here’s to Buck feeling good at the start of the 2018 season. – PAL

Source: Byron Buxton’s Offensive Awakening”, Dan Hayes, The Athletic (3/27/18)

Note: The Athletic is a subscription service that, as far as I know, does not allow folks to view articles without at least signing up for a free trial (which I recommend). I want to give credit to the story, but I don’t think you’ll be able to read it unless you sign up for the trial.


NFL Draft: Always Good For A Laugh

The hype and analysis leading up to the NFL Draft is stupid. Hell, the draft is stupid. Until we see what the dudes do on the field, none of this matters. With that in mind, you can understand why I kind of lost it when I watched this video of Browns coach Hue Jackson fluff Baker Mayfield by talking about the QB’s commanding a room.

Now, Jackson might be trying to throw other teams off the Browns scent of what they are actually thinking about with the #1 pick, but at what cost? He sounds like such a tool praising the headband from Oklahoma for a call and response cheer as if it means anything. Also, now might be a good time to remind the readers of Jackson’s NFL coaching record with the Browns: 1-31.

The best part of the video is that Jackson thinks he’s pulling a real Daniel Day-Lewis acting job. He’s feeling his performance. – PAL

Source: ‘Hue Jackson Fondly Remembers The Time Baker Mayfield Went “Hee Hee!“’, Tom Ley, Deadspin (3/29/18)


Video of the Week: 


PAL’s Song of the Week: Víkingur Ólafsson – “Glassworks: Opening” (Reworked By Christian Badzura), originally written by Philip Glass


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As I sit here before a most cacophonous piece of blank onion skin, which I ever so delicately stuffed into my sturdy Olympia typewriter, and which surely deserves a more appreciative and well-balanced operator, but alas, such is its lamentable fate to be clubbed by my inept and clumsy digits, the paper screams for me to make the first move.

Johnny Depp, Pseudo-intellectual Douchebag

Week of March 23, 2018

That’s pretty good. 


It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad March

Last Friday after work, I was sitting in a bar before going to the Warriors/Kings game, watching the NCAA Tournament. And for no apparent reason I said to my buddy Rowe, “When I was a kid I figured a 16-seed would beat a 1-seed at some point. It had to happen. But now, I’m beginning to think it won’t happen in my lifetime.” Just two hours later, the big screen at Oracle Arena flashed: Final – #1 Virginia 54, #16 UMBC 74. I almost fell out of my chair.

The NCAA Tournament always has upsets. It’s the beauty of it all. Hell, the upsets are why we call it “March Madness”. But we had NEVER seen a 16-seed win a game. Hell, I didn’t even know who UMBC was, and here they had beaten the #1 seed Virginia. My wife asked, “Is that Maryland-Baltimore County, where my parents went?” I had no idea. Maybe!? UMBC was the #64 overall seed. Meaning, when they made the brackets, the selection committee felt Virginia was the best team in the country and UMBC was the worst team in the tournament. And I picked Virginia to win it all! UMBC didn’t just win. They won by TWENTY. It’s shocking, even a week later. As Rodger Sheman said:

Of all the no. 1 seeds to potentially lose, I never would’ve expected Virginia to be the Goliath to fall. Most programs don’t notch nine wins against NCAA tournament teams in a regular season; the Cavaliers had eight double-digit wins against NCAA tournament teams. Virginia went 17–1 in the ACC, losing that one game by one point in overtime. Its largest deficit of the season was 13 points; 1-seeds Kansas and Xavier lost multiple games by more than 13 points. UVA suffocated opponents on defense, and scored better than opponents could score on them.

Virginia did not just win games; it made the best teams in the country look helpless. Being on a court with Virginia was not a situation for hope. The Cavaliers were efficient doom.

And UMBC was, to be honest, very much a 16-seed. They lost by 44 to Albany; they lost twice in the regular season to the best team in the America East, Vermont, by a combined 43 points; their only game against an NCAA tournament team was a 25-point loss to Arizona.

So how did it happen? I read a lot this week about how Virginia’s style – shut down defense and deliberate offense without a go-to guy was responsible, but I don’t buy it. The game was tied at the half, and UMBC got out to a hot start in the second. But with 14 minutes left, Virginia was down only 12, 41-29. They were still down 12 with 7:30 to go. If Virginia locked down on defense, they could have easily made up that deficit. But, they panicked. They didn’t trust their defense and started taking too many 3s – they went 1 for 11 in the second half from deep, and 4 for 22 overall. This allowed UMBC to get out in transition and get baskets. Their second half shot chart is a modern basketball coach’s dream: every shot attempt was in the paint or beyond the arc.

They scored 53 points in the second half. This season, Virginia held sixteen teams to 53 or less for the entire game.

In hindsight, my statement earlier that night was silly. It’s basketball, which is a funny game. And these are kids, who can easily panic, as Virginia did. Still. This Virginia team? UMBC!? SMH. -TOB

Source: UMBC’s Historic Win Over Virginia Didn’t Look Lucky”, Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (03/17/2018)

PAL: I’ll never forget switching this game on, seeing the score and the amount of time remaining – up by 20 with something like 4 minutes to play, and still having to convince myself it was already over.

When stuff like this happens, I wonder about people who claim that momentum isn’t real in sports. Upsets are an obvious case for momentum – a far more talented team unable to be itself or reset. Momentum helped cause Virginia to freak out, to abandon its game plan that had been rock solid all year. Momentum allowed the 16-seed to stay loose and just keep jacking up 3s. Momentum is what made this a 20-point blowout.


In Other NCAA News: Dress For The Job You Want?

We’re talking NCAA Tournament coaching attire, folks. We’re talking about coaching attire because basketball is unlike football or baseball, in that coaches like normal adults (the same is true for hockey coaches). David Roth puts it this way:

Baseball forces older men—men shaped like heirloom eggplants, men in their 70s wearing those progressive lenses, men who are quite literally Charlie Manuel—to don the same baseball uniforms as their youthful charges. Football, branded to the gills as it is, takes those men and drags them through the Lawn Dad section of the team’s Official NFL Gear Store, and the results are Crossfit Aficionado Golf Pro at best and Grown Man In Pajamas at worst.

But basketball lets the men who are not in uniform dress more or less as they like. In college, that generally isn’t good news—it’s mostly legacy slicksters in goofy Dick Tracy suits, aspiring legacy slicksters in somewhat less-shiny suits, some young comers dressing like Steve Kerr, and then a windswept plain of Jos. A. Bank stretching to either horizon.

But, as is the case in normal life, some dads take it upon themselves carve out their own ‘look’. For some dads it’s 24/7 golf clothes, for others it’s Lululemon. There is a smaller group of dads that defines their look with facial hair. It rarely goes well.

West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni were proof of that failure when the in-state rivals faced-off in the NCAA tournament (West Virginia won):

Huggins’ has more or less given up with this attire (2017-18 salary:  $3.75MM). The not-really-short short-sleeve warm up can more accurately be described as a coverall. I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance of a t-shirt under that warm-up (and if there is, then there’s 100% chance said t-shirt has a BBQ sauce stain on it).

It wasn’t that long ago he wore this out of the house:

But D’Antoni (2017-18 salary: $400K) is feeling his look. He’s confident. He’s thinking My God, I found the perfect outfit loophole. I’ll rock a practice t-shirt under the blazer. It’ll be fun, but not disrespectful, and I’ll never wear a tie or struggle with the top button of a dress shirt again. Wife can’t say anything – I have the blazer! Honestly, I’m in my 70s. Who’s got the stones to complain about t-shirt/blazer combo? Comformal is what I’ll call it. Hey, that’s pretty good! Comformal. Yes, yes. This is it.

I mean, it’s not like anything momentous has happened in the tournament this year. – PAL

Source: Bob Huggins Met Dan D’Antoni In A Battle For The Future Of Men’s Fashion”, David Roth, Deadspin (3/19/18)


LeBron: Still the Best

Harden may be more efficient. Curry a better shooter. Giannis younger and more explosive. But no one is better, even after fifteen years, then LeBron James. This week he went into a big showdown with the #1 seed Toronto Raptors. The Raptors jumped out to a big halftime lead, scoring more points (78) than any team had ever scored in a half against a LeBron team. But The King was not deterred. He played a near perfect game: 35 points on 11/19 shooting, 17 assists, 7 rebounds, zero turnovers. He made the biggest play of the game late:

Deadspin’s Tom Ley makes a simple plea:

On any given night you can decide that you want to watch one of the best basketball players ever play some of the best basketball ever, and LeBron is there to scratch that itch. Last week, you could have watched him unleash one of the most beautiful and violent dunks you’ll ever see. A few days later, you could have watched him go for 40-12-10 against the Bucks. He’s just there, on TV, doing that, all the time. It’s neat.

When I think about LeBron in this way I start to wonder why any of us do anything during the NBA season besides watch him play basketball. And then I start to think about how terrible it’s going to be once he finally starts to deteriorate and eventually retires. What am I supposed to do then? Watch Ben Simmons? An impostor. Watch James Harden? Like eating vegetables that taste kind of good. Watch Anthony Davis? He’s not my real dad.

LeBron’s eventually going to leave and nobody will be able to replace him and it’s going to suck. This is my simple plea to you: take in as much of him as possible, while you still can.

Amen. -TOB

Source: What The Hell Are We Going To Do When LeBron James Retires?”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (03/22/2018)

PAL: MLB Opening Day is less than a week away. NCAA Tournament in full swing. NBA’s off my radar until the second round of the playoffs.


Moret Froze

This is the kind of story you’d hear if you ran into an old baseball player at a hotel bar and you both had a few. It’s not about the best, the worst, or the most in [insert sport] – no. This is just a story so goddamn strange that it couldn’t be made up. That’s why I like it.

Roger Moret was a serviceable big league pitcher in the 70s. In ‘75 he went 14-3 for the Red Sox. He was bounced around a bit until he ended up in the bullpen for the Rangers. Everyone knew Roger did not have a sense of humor. In fact, the dude was pretty angry most of the time. Being from Puerto Rico, he not only didn’t speak much English, but he didn’t understand the financial system here, causing his Porsche to be repossessed. He was teased quite a bit, he dabbled in some drugs (that would hardly make him unique for an baseball player in the 70s), and then the shower show incident happened.

The Rangers were getting ready for its game against the Tigers that night. Players were taking grounders and B.P. After a couple odd incidents on the field, Moret retreated to the clubhouse where he…well, read for yourself:  

As word spread from Ranger to Ranger, the entire roster seemed to make an ant line from the field to the clubhouse. And there, in the middle of the room stood Moret. His left leg was off the ground, bent at the knee. His left arm was extended into the air and his right hand held a white plastic shower shoe. His eyes were glassed over. His mouth was closed. He wore white underwear, but no shirt.

…A psychiatrist entered the clubhouse but offered nary a solution. The administrator of Arlington Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital followed. He, too, knew not what to do. Finally, an exasperated Mycoskie administered five back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back sedative injections into Moret’s arm.

Gradually, as his teammates returned to the field, the pitcher snapped from his state. He slowly, steadily slumped onto a chair, then laid flat on a table. By now 1 1/2 hours had passed.

This being the 70s, baseball teams didn’t have a very good handle on mental health (did anyone?), and it was the beginning of an odyssey for Moret. He actually appeared in 5 more games for the Rangers that year, which is incredible. He was also invited to camp for the Indians, but it didn’t stick. By 1987, Moret was living in San Juan making wallets, apparently diagnosed with chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia.

The last anyone heard from him was in 2016, when he returned to Boston to sign autographs at a Holiday Inn.

Is there anything more petrifying to baseball players – a group of individuals so dependent upon the control of a routine to mentally counter the absolute lack of control they have in a game – than to witness a fellow player lose it right before their eyes? Yes, there is – being the guy that loses it in front of a group of baseball players. – PAL

Source: The catatonic pitcher and a shower shoe: Recalling the strange demise of Rangers pitcher Roger Moret”, Jeff Pearlman, The Athletic (3/21/18)


49er Fans Can Thank Marshawn For Breaking Up the Seahawks

It is no secret that Marshawn Lynch is one of my favorite athletes of all time. We’ve written about him here at least a half dozen times over the nearly four years we’ve been writing this weekly digest. He arrived at Cal just as I graduated, and he was amazing. It wasn’t just that he was a great player at Cal, which he was. He was also funny, and fun. There’s the now-legendary time he drove the injury cart around the field after he put the team on his back to beat Washington in OT.

There was the time, after a touchdown, that he looked into the camera and said, “We shining! 24/7, 365 days a week!”

He projected a rough exterior, but he was a 3.0 student and his otherwise stoic head coach, Jeff Tedford, would light up like a Christmas tree every time he was asked about Marshawn.  All his teammates loved him. Hell, everyone loved him. Once, some Oakland gang members shot up his mom’s house by mistake, and when they realized what they had done, they went back and apologized to her in person. When he got to the NFL, though he struggled a bit. There were times his personality shown through, like his legendary appearance with ESPN’s Kenny Mayne about the Buffalo nightlife.

But then he had a couple small run-ins with the law and he became known as a bit of a malcontent. By the time he left Buffalo for Seattle, he was largely seen as a bust. But for Cal fans, he was like that indie band you saw in a small club one time, and you knew they just needed the right hit song to make it big. And then it happened, in one play:

It might be the greatest run of in NFL history, and I knew the secret of Marshawn, finally, was out. He finally had his hit record, and he was no longer our secret. I tell this story because I like any excuse to gush over Marshawn, and this week newly signed Philadelphia Eagle, Michael Bennett and his brother, Martellus, appeared on Bill Simmons’ podcast this week. Michael was Marshawn’s teammate in Seattle for a number of years. When asked about Marshawn, Bennett said that Marshawn’s (temporary) retirement a couple years back basically was the end of the Seahawks’ run:

“Marshawn’s personality is so big and he’s such a… he’s one of those dudes, he’s really like Nina Simone; he’s just misunderstood. People misunderstand him all the time. He’s such a great guy when it comes to doing community. He’s such a great teammate. He’s shows up to everybody’s thing. He plays hard. When he practices, he practices hard. So when he left, you could feel it. He was just that guy that had swag that made the Seahawks feel like a different type of team.”

These are the same types of things that Jeff Tedford used to say about Marshawn. So many of his teammates say similar things. It’s fascinating to me, really – how a guy’s public persona (“I’m just here so I won’t get fined”) could be so very different from what he is in private. I’m just happy that Marshawn is finally getting his due. As Marshawn came into the NFL the same year as Adrian Peterson, it’s also fascinating how their reputations have reversed over the last few years. Now, Marshawn is the great teammate, the great supporter of kids and his community, while Peterson is the malcontent in the locker room and, worse, the child abuser. As for Marshawn, I can say I knew it all along. -TOB

Source: Michael Bennett: Seahawks Never the Same after Marshawn Lynch Left at End of 2015 Season”, Gregg Bell, The News Tribune (03/21/2018)

PAL: Where’d you go to school, TOB?

TOB: Augustana State. I played baseball there. You can probably find my stats online if you search hard enough. Also, one question: How dare you?


Video(s) of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Dwight Yoakam – “Streets of Bakersfield” (Buck Owens)


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We’re all waiting in the dugout
Thinking we should pitch
How you gonna throw a shutout
If all you do is bitch

-T. Snider

Week of March 16, 2018



Ten Years Later: Steph’s Magical Tourney Run

The NCAA Tournament started last week. As an event, it’s probably the best three weeks in sports. With the one-and-done rule, the Dukes and Kentuckys are comprised of uber talented but young and inexperienced future stars, while the also-rans are comprised of less talented but seasoned players who have played together for two to three years. It makes for great matchups.  And with so many games and so many players, you are guaranteed to see something spectacular. Some years, though, are better than others. Some years produce something truly remarkable. Like in 2010, when #8 seed Butler and #11 seed VCU both made the Final Four. Or in 2008, when #12 seed George Mason made the Final Four.

But what I really remember about that 2008 tournament, ten years ago, was the emergence of Davidson’s Stephen Curry. He was skinny, so skinny. He wasn’t not very tall, by basketball standards (he’s 6’3). He was the son of a fairly famous former NBA player, Dell Curry, who made a name as a spot-up sharpshooter in the early 90s. And he, Steph, had an absolute baby face that made him look approximately thirteen years old.

But MAN. Could that kid shoot. He’d come off a screen, catch, shoot, splash. He’d crossover, step back, shoot, splash. He’d head fake, lean left, go right, rise, shoot, splash.

Coming into the tournament a 10-seed, Davidson had a hell of a run. They beat Gonzaga. Georgetown. Wisconsin. They finally lost to #1 seed and eventual National Champion Kansas in the Elite 8, by just two points. Curry was incredible throughout, though he did not shoot well against Kansas. He averaged 33 points and nearly 6 made threes per game.

Players have had better tournament runs, perhaps. But something about Curry, with that baby face and that quick 3-point trigger, captured our imagination in a way I don’t think anyone has. He made us rethink the game. As Weinreb says, “[Curry] has completely altered the way basketball is both played and consumed. Because of Curry, the parameters of the court have been stretched farther and farther outward, and the game has become more fluid and less plodding.” Weinreb presents a fascinating oral history of the making of Steph Curry, from his first days on campus through his emergence as a star, as remembered by those that were there. -TOB

Source: The Birth of Steph”, Michael Weinreb, The Ringer (03/14/2018)

PAL: That’s the stuff! Love this story. I wouldn’t call in an underdog story. It’s just that people couldn’t see what a special talent Curry would become because they hadn’t exactly seen anything like him. He had 13 turnovers in his first collegiate game. He wasn’t even the point guard his first two years in college! It came in pieces. In fact, could he have become the player he is if he had gone to a blueblood program? Weireb writes:

If Curry had gone to North Carolina, or if he’d gone to Duke, would he have been afforded the same freedoms that McKillop [Davidson coach] gave him? And if he hadn’t had those same freedoms, would he possess the same levels of self-confidence and imagination that allowed him to develop into a singular talent?

TOB does a great job in his write up about the ‘08 run, but I also really enjoyed this nugget from the following season:

That junior season was another crucial cog in Curry’s ongoing development, even if it was devoid of the same fresh thrill: He switched over to point guard, and improved his ballhandling, and led the country in scoring. Davidson went 27–8, but lost in the Southern Conference tournament and didn’t make the NCAA tournament. But there is one game from that season worth a brief mention, if only because it foreshadowed the inevitable pall of cynicism that attends anyone who becomes a national commodity, even (or perhaps especially) someone whose game — and whose current team — often hovers on that razor’s edge between joy and egotism. It came in November during a game against Loyola (Md.), when coach Jimmy Patsos decided to shadow Curry everywhere he went with two defenders and take his chances three-on-four against the remainder of Davidson’s team.

How did Curry respond? “Coach,” he told McKillop, “I’m just going to stand in the corner.”

He went scoreless that night. Davidson won by 30.

What a great read, with some vintage Curry highlights to boot!  And when our grandkids come with some b.s. about a so-and-so from 2040 being the best shooter ever, we won’t even dignify it with a verbal response. We’ll just shake our heads.

TOB: His junior year, I tried to watch Curry as much as I could, and I actually watched that game. It was absurd. The other team used a triangle and two. Generally, in a triangle and two, two defenders guard the offense’s two best players, and the other three defenders play a 2-1 or 1-2 zone on three remaining offensive players. It’s rarely used because the talent gap between the two offensive guys you defend man-to-man must be so much better than their three teammates, and you must trust your two man-to-man defenders to actually guard those two with little to no perimeter help. But Loyola used a triangle and two with both of the man defenders on Curry. As Weinreb notes, the defense elected to play 3 defenders against 4 offensive players for the entire game. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. The worst part was, after the game, the Loyola coach said, “Has anyone else ever held him scoreless? I’m a history major. Are people going to remember that we held him scoreless, or that we lost by 30?” If I was his boss, I’d have fired him on the spot. Anyways, Davidson showed that night that they weren’t just Steph and the Stephettes. I still don’t understand how they didn’t make the tournament that year.  Interestingly, they lost in the NIT to St. Mary’s and their future NBA point guard Patty Mills.


My Favorite Sports Story Of The Year, Every Year: The Minnesota State High School All Hockey Hair Team 2018

We’ve posted it every year, and every year I watch it over ten times. I love them so much. And while we’re well past the point in which players know about the video, and therefore are trying to get on the video, this still comes from a place of truth. That truth is the following: ever since I can remember, we all watched each player announced before state tournament game. That skate up to the blue line and the camera – those 3 seconds are as purely Minnesotan as anything I can imagine.

Yes, the video is hilarios. The hair is spectacular. Just thinking about these kids growing it out since summer makes me happy. They bank on the fact that they are making it to State, and when they do their hair will be ready. I love it.

The writing on these videos is on the same level as Jack Handy. Creator John King, once told the Star Tribune he was inspired by the show Newhart. King really should write a comedy movie or HBO series about high school hockey in Minnesota. Here are some of my favorite lines from this year’s video and added a screen grab for context. Enjoy!

This state’s so manly if you type ‘mn’ into your phone it autocorrects to ‘man’.

And the number one N.H.L. flow in all the world is Burnsville’s own Brock Besser. Even Sid knows he’s second fiddle. There’s not a barber in the state of Minnesota that doesn’t know Brock beats scissors.


– “Boys, that’s some greasy letty, right Jacob?”

– “That’s some deadly flop. Keep it up.”


Hey, kid. If you’re ever in Madison Square Garden wear a hat, or you’ll win Best In Show at Westminster.


Our coach comes from Mankato East. Look at this guy. He makes me wanna run a 5K.


We had a lot of peaky boys at this year’s tournament. A lot of peaky boys. (PAL – I think he’s referencing Peaky Blinders…)


These next two kids are in here just cause they’re so dang happy.


And leave it to King to get philosophical in a perfectly Minnesota way: “Some say there was less flow this year. I say you have to know where to look. Hockey will always have ‘shorthairs’ and ‘longhairs’, but unless you don’t have a head, I think it’s better to be a ‘longhair’. Why? Cause the ‘longhairs’ are living free.”

Instead of a story link, I encourage you to go over to the Hendrickson Foundation and make a donation – the video raises a bunch of money for the foundation, which has set out to grow the game of hockey in Minnesota by being inclusive to individuals with mental and physical disabilities.

http://www.hendricksonfoundation.com/home

Just do it. Not hard at all! – PAL

TOB: Cracks me up every year.


The Best and Worst of Ballpark Cuisine

In April, MLB will be hosting the first ever MLB Food Fest, in NYC. Each MLB team will be represented by one menu item available at its ballpark. The list:

 

I looked it over, and I’m here to present some gd awards.

Best in Show: Jerk Chicken Nachos (Blue Jays); Runner-up: Cheeto-Lote (Dodgers)

Jerk chicken nachos sound amazing, and I think it’s the item I’d be most happy with. It’s also juuuuuuuust abnormal enough to be considered real ballpark food, but not so gluttonous as to be too much. The Dodgers’ Cheeto-Lote (an ear of corn covered in chipotle mayo, parmesan, tajin, and flaming hot Cheetos) is very enticing, but is more of a side item, and loses points for that. Still, I might need to make another trip to Dodger Stadium to try it. Honorable mention to the Pirates’ Pulled Pork Pierogie Hoagie (pulled pork, pierogis, and crispy fried onions on a bun).

Best Item If I Wasn’t So Picky (Tie): New England Lobster Rolls (Red Sox); Reuben Cuban Sandwich (Rays)

I think seafood is fine, but I rarely choose it when I have other options. The lobster rolls does sound delicious, though. As for the Reuben Cuban, I don’t eat beef (a deal killer for quite a few items on this list). But, if I did, the Rays sandwich with pulled pork, sausage, corned beef, sauerkraut, pickles, swiss cheese, and russian dressing on Cuban bread would be a serious contender for Best in Show. I also appreciate that the Rays tried to marry south Florida cuisine with New York cuisine, to make the local retirees feel right at home.

Item That Had Me Say “WTF” Out Loud: Churro Dog (Diamondbacks)

“Churro topped with frozen yogurt, chocolate sauce, caramel, and whipped cream inside of a chocolate iced donut.” As if a churro sundae was not enough, they stuff it all inside a chocolate donut???? I’m sure it’s delicious, but I’m also sure it will end you.

Worst Item:

Divorcing the fact I don’t eat beef and am lukewarm on seafood, the item that sounds the worst is the Astros’ “Chicken Waffle Cone” monstrosity. “Popcorn chicken with mashed potatoes and honey mustard inside of a waffle cone.”

I’m sorry, I cannot abide this! This looks and sounds truly disgusting.

Best Item If Shame Is Not a Concern
So, so many options. I considered the Twins (see below) and Rangers (chicken and donut slider) here. But, ultimately, I had to go with the Diamondbacks’ Churro Dog, our only multiple award winner. Look at this thing.  

I would feel so, so so ashamed ordering that thing. People would stare at me as I walked by, judging my gluttony. And rightfully so. I just can’t do it.

Item That Sounds Good But I Know an MLB Stadium Can’t Pull Off: Chicken Shawarma Nachos (Tigers)

This could be fantastic, but I do not trust a ballpark to make chicken shawarma, or hummus, correctly.

Best Normal Item: Gioia’s Hot Salami Sandwich (Cardinals)

Super simple, obviously delicious.

Best Item Related to the Region/Local Cuisine: Breaded Cheese Curds and Bratwurst Topped with Brown Gravy (Twins)

There were a lot of options, as many teams seemed to be gunning for this category. Items considered for this award include the Red Sox, Giants, Pirates, Mets, and Yankees. But, ultimately, the Twins win out – because fried cheese curd, bratwurst, and gravy are all exactly what I think of when I think Minnesota.

Dang. Now I’m hungry.

Source: Food Fest”, MLB.com (03/13/2018)

PAL: No. No. No. Go to a game, get a brat, a beer, some peanuts and enjoy the company and competition. I know I sound like a grump, but I am OUT on these newfangled ballpark items. As TOB mentions, you’ll get the best version of nothing at a ballpark. I can enjoy an average brat; I cannot enjoy an average cheese curd and brat topped with gravy (I just threw up a little in my mouth).

This entire food craze at ballparks is for the pretend fans anyway.

Hell, look at the first image from the very first post from 1-2-3 Sports! from May 4, 2014:


Once A Cheater Always A Cheater?

How would you describe number 21 for Lake Superior State in this, the 1988 National Championship game?

Now, take your words and apply them to a political candidate, because that’s exactly what’s happened. Pete Stauber (no. 21) is a republican congressional candidate from MN. He’s looking to unseat Rick Nolan (D) who retained his seat by less than 2000 votes in 2016. Nolan retained his seat in 2014 by less than 4000 votes. In other words, a seemingly small detail, like a candidate’s lack of sportsmanship 30 years ago, could determine the winner.

Here’s the thing: Stauber has yet to address questions about his willingness to, as City Pages (Minneapolis) puts it, “risk everything and cheat to win” from that game a lifetime ago.

And here’s what I know of Stauber: when the moment gets tight he looks for a way out. I’m not saying this is the truth – I am not familiar with the guy, and I’m sure he’s a good and decent person – but the politics of this doesn’t look good. Absurd? Sure, but isn’t that politics?

I tried to give him a break and went to his website to learn about his political stances but they aren’t laid out. The website tells me he’s a republican, he captained a national champion hockey team, had a career in law enforcement, and his wife is a vet. With a lack of political info, I have to admit that this clip of him pushing the net off – coupled with the fact that he hasn’t addressed it – makes me pause on this guy. – PAL

Source: Congressional Candidate Doesn’t Want To Talk About The Time He Cheated To Win The NCAA Hockey Title”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (3/13/18)

TOB: I’m not sure where I fall here, because I don’t know hockey well enough to know how egregious this is. It certainly looks bad, and obvious. But is knocking the net off its moorings an accepted though annoying aspect of gamesmanship in the sport? Or is it straight cheating? For example, in basketball, flopping sucks and it annoys everyone. But it’s also an accepted part of the game at this point, and I don’t think anyone would use flopping to attack your character. On the other hand, if you’re in a pick-up game and someone on the other team calls for the ball from an opponent, that is bush league, and you have every right to call them a piece of crap.


Video of the Week: 

GOAT.


PAL Song of the Week: Anderson .Paak – “Celebrate”


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“Grenadine.”

-Michael Scott