By now, you’ve likely enjoyed the great work of Jomboy. We regularly post breakdown videos from its founder, Jimmy O’Brien (sadly, no relation to TOB). The most famous one – the video that is credited for turning something O’Brien did in his spare time while working as a wedding videographer to a company with 64 employees and a latest funding round of $5M – was the Astros cheating scandal. You know, the garbage bins.
O’Brien’s unique skillset is on full display in the video. He wasn’t breaking news – The Athletic had the story before Jomboy…and Jmboy isn’t a sports news website anyway…it still doesn’t even have a website! – but he walked the viewer through it so they could see it with their own eyes instead of imagining the cheating while reading along. In the video, O’Brien is funny and extremely insightful, but he never even has a whiff of that self-aggrandizement that seems so common in sports talk tv and radio (the hot take).
It’s the tone that has come to define the company. In his own words, “Fun, not funny.”
Per Zach Schonbrun:
O’Brien says, “The easiest way to get laughs sometimes is to knock other people down or go negative. That isn’t really our vibe.”
This can be construed as an attempt at virtuousness, but he insists it is nothing out of character for them. He and Storiale just generally don’t like confrontation.
“We’ve both been diagnosed as conflict averse because we have older sisters who fought their moms,” O’Brien joked. “We were the peacemakers.”
It’s also likely a big reason why Jomboy has been welcomed by MLB. Chicago Cubs outfielder Ian Haap hosts a weekly podcast for Jomboy, and the company recently signed a partnership with the YES Network to produce content and simulcast shows.
As Schonbrun’s story lays out, “Fun, not funny” is also a pretty savvy place to plant a flag in this current landscape of sport content.
Joe Favorito, a sports industry analyst and lecturer in Columbia University’s sports management program, contrasted Jomboy’s goofier, more inviting approach to the path forged by Barstool Sports, the insurgent media group now worth more than half a billion dollars.
“They’re the less edgy premise of what Barstool is overall,” Favorito said. “They’ve taken that unique, irreverent position while also being respectful of baseball — with some really good insight.”
Jomboy’s escape from the toxicity and polarization on social media is what attracted some big-name investors, including Alexis Ohanian of Reddit and Seven Seven Six, who joined in its latest funding round.
“The pendulum has swung back,” Ohanian wrote in an email. “People crave the good vibes.”
TOB and I started this hobby of 1-2-3 while sitting at a bar on the corner of Geary and Masonic in San Francisco, and it sounds like Jomboy was started in the same spirit of a regular dude who just loves sports. It’s really cool to see Jomboy take off like it has. O’Brien had a clear niche, he executes it perfectly, and I love it. – PAL
Tjarks, a basketball writer for The Ringer, died this week after a long battle with cancer. I was not a big follower of his work, but I wanted to re-post a story he wrote after learning the first round of chemotherapy didn’t take, and his mindset shifted. It’s an incredible, beautiful piece of writing.
I have already told some of my friends: When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? Were you there for them? Does my son know you?
TheNew York Times has a fascinating series going on right now. It’s an examination of sports and fame in today’s world. One of the stories really stuck out to me: Jamad Fiin. She’s a fascinating example of a trend in sports. As Andrew Keh describes it, Fiin is one of the growing number of influencers who are “professional athletes without competing in professional sports.”
Fiin is a Somali American and Muslim who lives in the Boston area. She wears a hijab, and she balls. Something that combination connected with the masses, and a clip of her finishing with a buttery smooth left amongst a bunch of boys on a playground court went viral.
The followers grew— including Drake — and so did the opportunities.
Today, she has more Instagram followers than all but two Celtics players.
“Kids now, their top career choice is not rock star, athlete or actor,” said Dan Levitt, the founder of Long Haul Management, which represents Fiin and other sports influencers. “It’s digital creator on one of these platforms.”
Levitt is one of many people waiting to see what Fiin does next. Fiin said her managers had gently prodded her to make more content. They have other clients making seven figures a year, monetizing their personal brands with advertisements, sponsorships and merchandise.
So what is Fiin doing with this? She’s almost finished up grad school (M.B.A). She’s playing on the Somali national team, and she’s also putting on basketball camps for Somali and Muslim girls. Reading that made me happy. Not that I begrudge anyone for making the most out of an opportunity and earning off of your name, but it’s cool that she wants to give back, too.
Before this — before the fame, before the camps, before Drake — Fiin had to fight to play the game. Other parents in the Boston Somali community used to call her mother and ask why her daughter was playing sports and running with boys. It was not until the eighth grade that her mother let her play on a team.
That old tension is what propels everything today. Fiin is shy by nature, but she wants to be more famous, wants even more eyeballs on her, because she wants to embody something she never saw as a child.
She wants people to keep being surprised by her — until the sight of a girl in a hijab swishing a step-back 3 isn’t surprising anymore.
Loved this article from the legend Peter Gammons on the importance of base running and the nutjobs in baseball who obsess over it (Moises Alou, the Alomar family, Mookie Betts, Ron Washington, Terry Francona. Think baserunning isn’t’ a big deal? Consider this gem from Gammons:
In the 2022 season, through August 20, 22.2 percent of nine-inning major league games were decided by one run, and another 8.5 percent were decided in extra innings, which means around 30 percent were essentially one-run games. “How many of those games can be decided by running down the line on a groundball at sprint speed?” asks Sandy Alomar Jr., who Francona has in charge of the Guardians’ baserunning.
I am shocked by that number. 30 percent! Are you shocked? That’s about 48 games in a 162-game season. Maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t get over that stat.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts describes baserunning as “the measure of a great teammate.” Of course he would, considering his 2004 moment.
TOB and I were walking past Oracle Park with our families just last week. As we passed the Gaylor Perry statue near the left field entrance, I asked TOB, a lifelong Giants fan, what the qualifications were for a statue outside the park. For the Giants, any player that goes into the Hall of Fame as a San Francisco Giant (sorry old players from NY) gets a statue.
Perry played for the Giants for a decade and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991, but TOB was pretty insistent that he shouldn’t have a statue outside the park. His main reason: Perry played for seven other teams after his time for the Giants.
Tyler Kepner must’ve been within earshot, because his story is about just that: who gets a statue and who doesn’t. Nearly every Hall of Fame member has a statue somewhere. As Kepner points out, Dave Winfield, a no-doubter Hall-of-Famer, doesn’t have a statue, and his fellow Hall members don’t let him forget it.
Because statue isn’t just about greatness. Winfield played for too many teams, splitting his best years with the Padres and Angels, winning a World Series with the Blue Jays before collecting his 3,000 hit and 400th home run with his hometown MN Twins.
To George Brett, a teammate of Winfield’s on eight American League All-Star teams in the 1980s, that only stands to reason. Brett has a statue on the outfield concourse in Kansas City, where he played for 21 seasons and is synonymous with the Royals franchise.
“A lot of these guys played in so many cities,” Brett said. “Who’s going to have a statue of Winfield? He played on eight different teams.”
Six, actually, but that raises an interesting point: Teams are more active now in celebrating their pasts, but many great players, especially over the last few decades, were only passing through on their way to better contracts elsewhere.
Kepner notes that the baseball statue boom is also due to most every team playing in a baseball-only stadium, creating space outside the park to celebrate the team’s history. Older fields like Wrigley and Dodger Stadium have made renovations outside the stadium to create nicer gathering places and plazas. That’s where you’ll find Fergie Jenkins’ statute (Cubs) and Sandy Koufax rocking back (Dodgers)
Kepner also has a cool tangent with sculptor William Behrends about how the surrounding space can dictate dimensions to the sculpture.
Fellow Minnesotan, Kent Hrbek wasn’t the player Winfield was. In fact, he’s only received 5 Hall of Fame votes the only time he showed up on the ballot, but he’s got a great statue outside Target field, as he should, and right there is the intangible quality that is fun to think about when it comes to which players deserve a sculpture. While Tim Lincecum was freakishly great for only a few seasons for the Giants, TOB didn’t miss a beat to say yes when I asked Timmy should have one.
My daughter will go to the ballpark and take her friends or her children or her cousins and say, ‘That’s Dad; that was his favorite part of playing the game, winning the world championship, catching the ball and jumping off first base. Hopefully that memory will go on for a long time — and give the pigeons someplace to sit for a while and let them do their thing.
There are few writers out there who savor calling bullshit as much as Ray Ratto. He takes his time, tucks that napkin into his shirt, chooses his phrases carefully, and cleans his plate with a cynical panache. A couple weeks ago, his meal of choice was Tiger Woods’ take on the LIV golf tour – the Saudi-backed competitor to the PGA.
First, here’s what Woods, who had been silent on the topic, said before the (British) Open last week.
What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice? What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt? You’re just getting paid a lot of money up front and playing a few events and playing 54 holes. They’re playing blaring music and have all these atmospheres that are different.
And here’s Ratto just getting started.
He sounds like just the kind of middle-aged scold every extraordinary cultural figure becomes when the audience has moved on and abandoned him or her to the dustbin of their parents’ history. In a moment where he could explode the LIV tour as doing business with dirty money in defense of even more untrammeled greed that they already exhibit, he goes for the politically safer yet far less compelling argument that successful golfers should be more grateful to the tired old boys than hyper-acquisitive and ethically indifferent in service to the morally compromised new ones.
One suspects that he (Woods) would be in equally staunch opposition if the Saudi billionaires were replaced by the guys who gave us the raucous Waste Management Open, which means that while he may be on the right side on the human decency, he’s doing it mostly because he hates change.
You don’t need to read too deeply into this to find Woods’ ultimate incentive. Spoiler alert: it’s not about the young guys going “out there and earn[ing] it in the dirt”. To him, this is about his legacy, because it’s only ever about his legacy. His singular obsession to be the greatest golfer makes him utterly uninteresting when he doesn’t have a club in his hands (or when he’s not being chased by someone with a club in their hands). Calling out changes to the game, changes that make it easier for future generations of golfers to win, which could then makes it even the smallest bit easier for some golf-obsessed fan in 2122 to forget the greatness of Tiger Woods. And in that way, as Ratto points out, Woods is like every other aging sports icon that’s come before him.
While Woods’ best golf is decades in the rearview, he is still the skeleton key for golf to the mainstream, at least for another year or so. He still matters more than all of the young guys who’ve surpassed his game. His last Masters win had the casual sports fan tuning in to watch his back nine. As incredible as Cam Smith’s back nine at the Open (12 putts on the back nine on a Sunday of a major), the mulleted Aussie is not sending a casual golf fan to the TV. Which is to say, if Tiger did leave the PGA for the LIV, it would be far and away the biggest blow to the PGA.
But I don’t think the PGA has to worry about that. Not yet, at least. I can’t imagine the amount of money that would sway Tiger Woods to dilute the organization that’s woven into the infrastructure of his greatness. Maybe I am yet again failing to appreciate that every single person has a price, even a billionaire who’s built his entire empire on winning golf tournaments while playing in the PGA Tour.
Because above it all, even Woods, is the money and our ability to digest what lies beneath our viewing entertainment. As Ratto so perfectly calls it, “gradations of manic greed”.
That there’s prize money as defined by corporate sponsors, there’s obscene prize money as defined by objectionable corporate sponsors, and there’s dirty obscene prize money as defined by governments who are comfortable with attitude adjusters like murder and oppression. You know, tiny subtleties you normal folk could pilot a cruise ship through sideways while irretrievably drunk.
We took a few weeks off. But in the words of Pat O’Brien and the O’Briens, we’re back you motherf…
Brittney Griner Story Cheat Sheet
Who is she?
Griner is one of the most well-known female basketball players in the world. A high school phenom out of Houston, she’s also the first openly gay athlete endorsed by Nike (2013). She won an NCAA championship at Baylor and two Olympic gold medals.
Why does she play basketball in Russia?
She’s played for UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is a team located in a town 1,100 miles east of Moscow. A lot of the best American women hoopers play overseas during the offseason. The pay is much better than what they earn in the WNBA. According to her wife, Griner makes $1M a season overseas, compared to $220K she makes playing for Phoenix.
What did she do?
According to Griner when she entered a guilty plea, she was in a hurry to pack for her return to Russia, and forgot about .7g of cannabis oil in her bag. Vape cartridges. She’s been detained since early March.
What is Cannabis oil?
Cannabis oil is legal in 45 states. Griner had vape cartridges containing it in her bag. THC and CBD are found in hemp and cannabis plants. There’s more THC in cannabis, and more CBD in hemp. Sounds like Griner had some vape cartridges with cannabis oil.
She’s facing up to 10 years in a Russian prison in what’s called a penal colony. That sounds ominous, especially for a gay person in a country that does not take too kindly to the L.G.B.T.Q community, and it’s not like she would’ve had a fair shake in a Russian court. Griner pleaded guilty, which makes sense. By way of Defector, the Associated Pressreported that fewer than 1 percent of Russian criminal cases result in acquittals. They aren’t super lenient to foreigners who break laws, especially considering the climate between the U.S. and Russia, and the war in Ukraine.
Experts think that what’s really at stake here is more than likely an attempt by Russia for a prisoner exchange with the United States, and the reports are that Russia has its eye on one person in particular.
Per the NY Times:
With a guilty verdict an all but a foregone conclusion in a Russian legal system that heavily favors the prosecution, her best hope, experts say, is that the Biden administration secure her freedom by releasing a Russian held in the United States. The name of one prisoner in particular has emerged: Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison sentence.
As Defector’s Laura Wagner points out, it is worth noting reports that Bout had clients other than U.S. enemies. In fact, one of Bout’s customers was the U.S. military.
But even a prisoner swap could take years, and the optics sure don’t look great for Biden if we were to trade Griner for an arms dealer with the nickname “The Merchant of Death“ with Russia as it wages war on Ukraine and faces widespread sanctions. A previous prisoner swap, a former U.S. Marine named Trevor Reed, took more than two years after the original arrest.
Per NY Times:
Griner’s detention comes at the most dangerous moment in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cuban missile crisis, as the Biden administration leads dozens of nations in imposing crushing sanctions on Russia’s economy and its political elites. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Saturday that the sanctions were “akin to a declaration of war” against his country.
A vape cartridge. This all starts with a vape cartridge. I can’t imagine how scared Griner must be right now. And if you’re wondering how big of a story this is, then consider the following: The NY Times byline names three journalists. Small stories don’t have three names in a byline. – PAL
The Death of the Pac-12 Portends the Death of College Football
Last week, news broke that USC and UCLA were leaving the Pac-12 conference and headed (in 2024) for the Big-10. Geographically, this makes little sense. Historically, this makes little sense. But financially? It makes sense. And so the move was made.
The Pac-12 can trace its beginnings to the Pacific Coast Conference, founded in 1915, comprised originally of Cal, Washington, Oregon, and Oregon State. Washington State joined in 1916, followed by Stanford in 19818. USC joined in 1922, and UCLA followed in 1928. The conference disbanded and re-formed in the early 1960s, naming itself the Pac-8 in 1968. The Arizona schools joined in 1977, and the conference was renamed the Pac-10. Utah and Colorado were added in the early 2010, and the conference was re-named the Pac-12.
So USC and UCLA’s decision upends 100 years of tradition and rivalry. How much money did it take for them to do so? Well, a lot.
The Pac-12’s TV media rights expire in 2024, and early rumors suggested the total deal would be worth $500M a year. The Pac-12’s teams divide those numbers evenly (reports suggest this had long rankled USC). After conference expenses, the Pac-12 schools could likely expect $35 million or so per year. Not a bad haul.
However, reports are that with the Big-10 expanding with USC and UCLA, Big-10 payouts will be around $100 million. $100M! And this follows the last few years where conference payouts of the SEC and Big-10 dwarfed the Pac-12’s payout (particularly in 2020, when the Pac-12 played a truncated season due to COVID, while the other conferences pressed on).
And, don’t forget, Oklahoma and Texas are leaving the Big-12 for the SEC soon, too.
So, fine. The Pac-12 is dead. The Big-12 likely is, too. Cal desperately wants to follow UCLA and USC to the Big-10. UW and Oregon reportedly applied and were turned down, at least for now. Most speculate that the Big-10 wants to add Notre Dame and three other schools. Many assume that is three out of the four: UW, Oregon, Cal, and Stanford. But no one knows if Notre Dame wants to go, or Stanford, for that matter. No one knows if the Big-10 might look eastward, and try to get UNC or Clemson, or even Miami and Florida State.
But where is this all headed? In the medium term, it seems we are heading toward two super conferences of about 25 teams each. Then, eventually, one pared down premiere league with 40-50 teams. But it’s so short-sighted, it’s hard to fathom these schools don’t see the downside.
The top dogs are accustomed to playing 2-4 tough games per year and then beating up on patsies the rest of the season. What happens when there are no patsies? What will happen when fanbases accustomed to winning ten games or more per year are suddenly faced with .500 seasons, year after year? Will those fans remain engaged?
What is college football if it’s a small group of schools with parity? What about those crazy fall Saturdays when a bunch of top ranked teams are upset by unranked teams? Those days will be gone. At that point, it’s the NFL Lite, isn’t it? The football is worse and more boring?
And what happens to those teams on the outside looking in? Reportedly, UCLA and USC’s defections will halve the per school payout for the remaining Pac-10 schools. Imagine if UW and Oregon go, too. And imagine schools like Cal, Oregon State, and Washington State are left with a choice of getting almost nothing for TV rights by joining the MWC or folding? Are they going to keep playing in what amounts to D-1AA football? Or are they going to make the cost/benefit analysis and determine they can no longer afford football?
Which begs a question: if these left behind teams fold, who is going to watch this new college football? The fans of the 50 teams in the super conferences, sure. But what about the fans of the other 80 current D1 teams? Are they going to adopt new teams? Are they going to care? I think a lot of them won’t. And when the ratings plummet and the TV networks decide that college football isn’t worth paying what they are paying, what happens then?
All of this is to say: college football is cannibalizing itself, taking short term gains and ignoring the long term losses they are running head first into.
The sad thing is, it’s probably too late to save it. -TOB
Video of the Week
Tweet of the Week
Song of the Week
Pink Sweat$ – PINK CITY
What’s missing? The turtles. Where are the turtles? Where are the turtles? Where are the turtles! Where are they!
Last week was a very big week for women’s sports (and, I would argue, sports in general). On Wednesday, the US Soccer Federation announced that, under a new collective bargaining agreement, the men’s and women’s teams would be compensated the same. More than that, both teams agreed to the exact same terms with the federation. Hell yes!
But it’s more impressive than the same salaries. As Claire Watkins breaks down in this story, other national teams are tracking towards equal pay for the men and women. In 2019, the Netherlands agreed to a gradual increase in pay until the women are paid the same in 2023. Same goes for Australia, New Zealand, and Norway. In the agreement reached between teh US Soccer Federation and the men’s and women’s national teams, the pay will be the same immediately.
The other major factor in this comes by way of FIFA, and its World Cups (incredibly, the 1991 was the first Women’s World Cup…in the 90s people!) …and the prize money that comes with it. For the men, teams divided up $400M in 2018, with $30M going to France for winning it. The women’ purse, although growing, totaled $30M, with $4M going to the victorious U.S. team.
While the World Cup money is increasing for women, the prize money gap is widening. And FIFA, a non-profit that at least on paper exists to grow the sport, doesn’t give a shit about equal pay. Which led to something pretty remarkable from our USNT and USWNT players.
It should be noted that FIFA, like U.S. Soccer, is a non-profit organization ostensibly dedicated to the growth of the sport of football for everyone. Revenue arguments, as tantalizing as they may be, aren’t relevant to these organizations per their own internal logic. If you have a mission statement that your job is to grow the game in all corners of the world, subsidization comes with the territory until we live in a society of equal opportunity. If your organization isn’t committed to making equal opportunity a reality, then subsidization will be around for a while.
But with FIFA’s financial reluctance towards the women’s game being what it is, U.S. Soccer made it very clear that they could not shoulder the burden of replicating the eight-figure gap, and that the solution had to come from the players themselves. That part of Wednesday’s agreement is truly historic, and progressive in a way that clearly still makes some people uncomfortable.
The men and the women will pool their prize money, meaning that whatever is earned in Qatar in 2022 and Australia in 2023 will become one (hopefully large) sum of money shared equally. Perhaps even more significantly, the same approach applies to the 2026 and 2027 tournaments, the first of which will be hosted in North America,with the hope that the USMNT might make their deepest World Cup run yet.
To see how this is good for everybody takes a little faith and vision, and the USMNT do deserve credit for having both. Rather than focusing on the men giving something up, one has to see this as the financial burden of sexism now equally affecting both teams. With solidarity achieved in writing, further pressure will hopefully be placed squarely on FIFA to address the gap they’ve created, and encourage other federations to take the same step. If everyone gets on board, and the USWNT keeps winning, the men don’t stand to lose much at all.
The solidarity goes both ways, as the USWNT pushed to add paternal leave and other parental privileges into the men’s contract, with the understanding that men deserve non-gendered treatment too. It’s also an important step toward a relationship between the men and women’s teams that has historically been slightly strained, as the men’s failures became cannon fodder for arguments against the federation’s treatment of women.
How badass is that? That’s a reason to be patriotic. Watkins does an excellent job breaking down this landmark moment and all that led up to it. Excellent story – PAL
Where College Sports Stands, One Year into the NIL Era
Last year, in response to a series of lawsuits and court decisions forcing their hand, the NCAA limited its prior restriction on college athletes being compensated for license of their names, images, and likeness (commonly referred to as “NIL”).
The result has been something of a wild west atmosphere – anything goes. It’s hard to know exactly what is going on and how much money players are making. From the information we do know, it seems like there is a small group of elite earners earning the most money: the biggest stars, and shall we say photogenic female athletes. For the rest of the players, word trickles about a few grand here and there, but not huge deals.
The most interesting development has been the formation of so-called “collectives” – program boosters are pooling their money to pay for recruits, retain current players, and lure transfers from other schools (oh yeah – players are now allowed to transfer one time in their career without sitting a year, as before). The collectives are supposed to be divorced from the school – it’s like a Political Action Committee, in that way. The school is not supposed to organize or direct the funds. Yeah, good luck with that.
Well, we are one year in and the fun is really starting to begin.
This week, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, in my opinion the most successful college football coach of all time, spoke at a public event and called out Texas A&M, coached by Saban’s former assistant Jimbo Fisher, for “buying” players on A&M’s way to the #1 ranked recruiting class in the country. Alabama’s class was ranked #2, and Saban claims they bought no recruits. Instead, Saban said Alabama “did it the right way” – with their current players getting paid $3 million based on their accomplishments and popularity.
Now, Jimbo Fisher lost his mind at this, even suggesting Saban has some skeletons in this closet.
“It’s despicable that a reputable head coach can come out and say this when he doesn’t get his way,” Fisher said. “The narcissist in him doesn’t allow those things to happen. It’s ridiculous when he’s not on top.”
“Some people think they’re God,” Fisher said. “Go dig into how God did his deal. You may find out … a lot of things you don’t want to know. We build him up to be the czar of football. Go dig into his past, or anybody’s that’s ever coached with him. You can find out anything you want to find out, what he does and how he does it. It’s despicable.”
But Jimbo’s reaction suggests to me Jimbo is not very bright. Saban wasn’t accusing Jimbo and A&M of paying recruits directly. He was stating the well known fact that A&M’s booster collective paid those players.
And Saban wasn’t criticizing A&M. Saban also said that Alabama is not going to be “able to sustain [a high level or recruiting] in the future [without paying recruits].” People, like Jimbo, seem to have overlooked that comment, but that’s Saban’s tell. He was not criticizing Jimbo, but instead telling Alabama boosters to form a collective and help him recruit by offering that money to high school players. Notably, Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders (who Saban also singled out for paying a recruit $1 million) did pick up on this, noting in a statement that Saban’s comments were directed at Alabama boosters.
But the coaches do seem, overall, worried about this situation. After all, there is a finite amount of money available from any booster base. If they are paying players, who is going to pay the coaches’ salaries? Who is going to build the lavish facilities? Who is going to donate the money that funds women’s sports and keeps the school in compliance with Title IX?
The first two questions threaten a coach’s comfort. As Jason Gay writes:
Imagine a frustrated college football coach talking to someone in another business.
COACH: I’m so mad.
BUSINESS OWNER: Why?
COACH: We changed the rules so that employees are seeking compensation. If they don’t get it, they might go somewhere else.
BUSINESS OWNER: You’re kidding, right?
But the third question is a serious one facing all college athletic programs. If you start to pay football and basketball players, whose efforts rake in cash that the colleges use to fund the revenue-negative sports, what does that mean for women’s college sports? Or for smaller men’s college sports? No one really knows. And that’s pretty interesting. -TOB
We’ve all heard it, so let’s start the eyeroll together: the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. First of all, what a ridiculous statement, Ted Williams. How the hell would you know, Splendid Splinter? If you were comparing it to fishing, or even flying, then I’d listen, as it sounds like you were outstanding in those areas as well.
But the hardest thing to do in sports? Dunno…playing QB in the NFL looks pretty challenging. Driving a race car has some high stakes. Judging by the amount of times the kids fall skateboarding in the parking lot at the Rockridge BART parking lot, skateboarding seems like a higher fail rate than .300.
So who knows if hitting baseball is the hardest, but Kathryn Xu shared something this week that helps us regular folks get a taste of how hard it might be to just recognize a big league pitch. Forget hitting it, just identify what pitch is thrown. I can’t stop playing this game.
Before you give it a go, some insight from Xu:
Some information is constant: pitch speed, pitch location, etc. But without knowing the pitcher’s repertoire, the variety of different pitch profiles across the league renders creating a firm set of characteristics a futile task. A curveball can have straight 12-to-6 drop, or it can have some horizontal movement, like a slider. A four-seamer is a straight, occasionally rising fastball if you’re a spin warrior, unless it happens to have lateral run—shout out to Brusdar Graterol. A four-seamer can range anywhere from 88-105 mph. On the other hand, some people throw changeups at 88 mph or, in the extreme case of Gerrit Cole freakery last season, throw a 95-mph change immediately following a 102-mph fastball.
TOB: I got 13 out of 20, and 8 of my last 10 as I got the hang of it. Pretty happy with that score!
PAL: I got a string of sinkers…hard to ID those…I also had one view from behind the plate…didn’t help. 7 out of 20…YIKES.
The Packers’ President’s Fan Mailbag Column is Hilarious
Mark Murphy, president of the Green Bay Packers writes a weekly fan mailbag column, called Murphy Takes 5 (aka MT5). In a recent column, the “question” was a Packer fan complaining that the Packers didn’t draft enough white players. Hooooo boy. The woman then counted all the white players drafted in the first two rounds (11) and claimed it wasn’t enough, and accused the NFL of being racist against whites. Hooooooooooooooooo boy. Murphy’s response, surprisingly, is pointed but polite. Per Anantharaman:
In response, Murphy offered an answer far more polite than Marilyn’s email warranted, assuring her that the Packers make draft decisions based on ability and reminding her that “Vince Lombardi, who was discriminated against because he was Italian, helped change things when he came to Green Bay and built the Packers into a dynasty by focusing on bringing in Black players
What’s interesting here, as Anantharaman points out, is not only that Murphy answers her earnestly but that he answers her at all:
I was curious: If you’re not going to roast the hell out of Marilyn in your answer, why bother accepting this question at all? Marilyn’s seems like precisely the kind of email the MT5 screener makes it three words through before smashing the delete key and moving on to Audrey’s request to “please bring Paul McCartney back to LAMBEAU, it was the best concert ever. Please please please!” At the very least, don’t the team president and people in charge of the team website have some interest in concealing the fans’ true horrible nature?
So Anantharaman dove into the archives and found that Murphy does this often. He answered a question about the Davante Adams trade that began, “What the f… are you and your sidekick doing?” In response, Murphy provided a thoughtful answer. I kinda have to hand it to Murphy – most mail bag columnists are not answering a question that opens with WTF.
But it’s the other two answers from Murphy, as highlighted by Anantharaman, that I really enjoyed.
A question from Sam, The Real Big Packer Fan
Hey Murphy, why don’t you ever answer me? I think I know the answer to that, you’re a joke you know I’m right. The offense is starting to look good but this defensive unit once again stinks and why? Because every year you pass up really good defensive linemen and inside linebackers in the first round in the draft. Gary was the only player you picked, he’s a decent player but there were plenty of better players still on the board. Two years ago I was excited when I saw you guys moved up in the draft, I was thinking we’re going to get one of the best LBs still on the board, but what did you do? You drafted Love as you can tell we don’t need a QB yet you ass…! Well because of you and Gutekunst our offense is going to have to carry this team once again, pitiful!
Because you never ask questions, Sam. MT5 is based on answering five questions from fans, not responding to five complaints about our team. Thanks for understanding.
A question from Duane
Murphy! Get that jerk Gutekunst to get off his butt and make a play to get Julio Jones on the Packers!
Thanks for the email, Duane. Thanks as well for the 20 previous emails you’ve sent MT5 in recent months. Interestingly, there is not a single question among the 20 emails.
The answer to Duane continues, but I just love how Murphy is scolding these guys for sending complaints, not questions. Hilarious. -TOB
My cousin, Jim O’Brien, aka Jomboy, has turned his ability to read lips into quite the career as a sports media person. That’s not a dig – his lip reading recaps are incredibly entertaining. Here’s a recent one that cracked me up, where Yankees manager Aaron Boone gets thrown out for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire.
I do not have his talent for lip reading, but watching the video you can see he absolutely nails it. It’s really fun to be able to understand the manager/umpire argument, which is a significant portion of the game, but is largely opaque to most of us. -TOB
PAL: The man has a talent for such things.
With a h/t to Pat O’Brien, we bring you the history of hole-in-one insurance. Not only is this a thing, it’s been a thing since the 1930s. Players were worried about having to pay a fat bar tab (it’s customary to buy drinks for everyone in the bar afterwards). The business faded away for awhile stateside, but flourished in golf-obsessed Japan.
Per Zachary Crockett:
Though the concept largely faded away in the US, it became a big business in Japan, where golfers who landed a hole-in-one were expected to throw parties “comparable to a small wedding,” including live music, food, drinks, and commemorative tree plantings.
By the 1990s, the hole-in-one insurance industry had a total market value of $220m. An estimated 30% of all Japanese golfers shelled out $50-$70/year to insure themselves against up to $3.5k in expenses.
Crockett then looks to an expert in the field to explain how it works in today’s world. According to Mark Gilmartin, anything with small odds can be insured. Mark Gilmartin has been in the prize indemnity insurance world for 30+ years. He operates out of Reno (of course, Mark).
The amount of insurance is based on a few factors: the prize value, the yardage of the hole, the number participants, and skill level (obviously, the odds are much higher for a pro to put one in than TOB or I run into a hole-in-one). Hole-In-One insurance is typically purchased by the prize sponsor at an event (“typically a small fee – $200-$1000), e.g. the Mercedes dealership in town. The fee is usually between $200-$1000.
The chances of someone getting a hole-in-one are fairly small (1in 12.5K for scrubs, 1 in 3K for pros), but the number of rounds played is very large, which means a hole-in-one is a daily occurrence.
Then the story goes off the rails a bit. If it’s just an odds game, then Gilmartin just needs to figure out the odds in order to insure. He’s insured some weird shit. Really. It’s called cow patty bingo. Good find, Pat! – PAL
I am drawn to stories about seekers, especially old seekers. I wonder if that’s the true fountain of youth.
Tom House, the former MLB pitcher turned throwing guru is a seeker.After his pitching days were over, House’s real career just began. He’s become an expert on the throwing motion, he’s pioneered training methods, and he went back to school for a doctorate in sports psychology. Now, at 75, he’s bringing his expertise to the masses by way of an app called Mustard. An app, by the way, that my college roommate high school baseball swears by. It works like this:
The app’s A.I., built from tens of thousands of three-dimensional models he has compiled over decades of motion-capture studies, analyzes uploaded video and makes recommendations for things like head angle and hip separation. It then feeds the user an assortment of recorded drills, almost all of them executable without the need of a partner, to address whatever issues are identified.
House has helped Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees, just to name a handful. And it’s hard to argue with the results: his tactics allow throwers to throw at an elite level for a very long time.
How about this anecdote about Nolan Ryan and the impact House had on the Rangers pitching staff while serving as the pitching coach. Per Jason Turbow:
Over Ryan’s first three years with Texas, during which he was 42, 43 and 44 years old, he went 41-25 with a 3.20 E.R.A. and led the league in strikeouts twice, whiffing three times as many men as he walked — something he had done only once to that point.
It almost defies belief, but five of the Rangers’ nine primary pitchers during Ryan’s first two seasons with the club — the other four being Hough, Rogers, Kevin Brown and Jamie Moyer — played into their 40s.
Talk about a game-changer. A great read, with so many more great nuggets in there. – PAL
What I like about this story is right there in the subhead:
Markelle Taylor started running as an antidote to despair. This week he ran the Boston Marathon as a free man, with a time of 2:52:00.
One of the coolest aspects of a marathon is how the dude running a 5-hour marathon is on the same “field” as the guy who wins the damn thing. A wide spectrum of abilities all gather in the corrals before the starting line, and inside everyone is a story of how they got there. Taylor’s story is unlike any I’ve heard. It includes almost 18 years at San Quentin Prison here in the Bay Area.
This isn’t just a story about a guy who found running as a way to heal and cope – it’s a story about a guy who found running as a way to heal and cope, and then became incredibly great at it relatively late in his life.
Brown doesn’t belabor the point on what earned Taylor a 15-life sentence. One paragraph made of two sentences: one details his crimes, which are pretty terrible, and the other details his troubled childhood.
Being locked up helped him get sober. Another inmate’s suicide, which had followed his fifth denial of parole, inspired Taylor to run. The friend was a part of the running club at San Quentin. Taylor became the fastest runner, earning the nickname “Markelle the Gazelle”. In 2019, he ran a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, a notoriously difficult race to qualify for, by running 104 and ½ loops around the prison yard.
Last year, Taylor ran his first sub-three-hour marathon at the Avenue of Giants up northern California, a race I’ve run. Not many people have a sub-three hour marathon in them (his pace at Boston this year: 6:33/mile); again, Taylor is an exceptional distance runner. As the name of the race suggests, the entire route is nestled at the base of redwood trees that have been there for thousands of years. I can’t imagine a setting more different than his 104 and ½ loops around San Quentin.
Life hasn’t been easy for Taylor since leaving San Quintin – jobs aren’t easy to come by when you have a record like his – and he sees the metaphor in his running.
“Running is humbling,” he said. “Sometimes you have to start from the back, just like I’m doing now with minimum wage. It’s like trying to go up that hill after 18-plus miles — sometimes you can get cramps and stuff like that. That’s like being rejected from a job you want because they asked for fingerprints.”
Because our friend, Rowe, is married to a very exceptional and generous woman, I was able to watch game 2 of the Warriors-Nuggets series from absurdly close seats. We’re talking third row. I’ve never had better seats to a playoff game of any kind.
All of the NBA guys are so tall, so young, and obviously in incredible shape. Even Draymond Green, who can look a little hefty on tv, is far from it; up close, the guy looks like he could run a marathon tomorrow.
Which brings me to the single most impressive take-away from watching that game up close. It wasn’t Steph scoring 34 points in 23 minutes. It wasn’t Nilola Jokic being essentially a 7-foot point guard that did everything for an overmatched Nuggets team. It was Draymond Green.
Per Steve Kerr:
What Draymond does, it’s hard to quantify. The stats never do him justice. I just feel like he’s built for the playoffs. This is what he’s all about. … The regular season is kind of hard for him because the games are not as meaningful, and he’s at his best when the games are the most important.
On defensive side, the way he defended Jokic was incredible. Giving up 5 inches and about 50 pounds, Green was up in Jokic. He didn’t stop him; but he made everything hard for the reigning MVP. He had to be; Jokic is not only bigger than Green but also extremely talented. Green was always leaning, always swiping, always with a forearm in Jokic. Joker finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks, but none of it came easy.
And then on the offensive side, Draymond is the conductor. It’s so clear in person. The passes that look so obvious on TV are anticipated. Like a QB throwing to the open space, Draymond passes guys open. He’s making sure everyone’s in the right position, he’s crashing the boards, he’s initiating the fast break. Watching on TV, sometimes I can get frustrated with his antics, but it’s pretty clear that Green has to play that way. He’s the spiritual leader of this team – that much was plain to see in person.
So it makes sense when, after it was all done and the Dubs completed the gentleman’s sweep of the undermanned Nuggets (the fact that Jokic dragged this roster to a 6-seed is incredible), Jokic had this to say about the guy he battled for much of the series.
“I mean, give the guy credit,” Jokic said. “I think, to be honest, he’s stopped much better offensive players than me through his career, through his playing, whatever. I really appreciate whatever he’s doing for them because that’s a tough position. He needs to do everything. He’s really accepting the role and really being the best that he can be in that role. He’s a big part of their rings, their championships. I think that’s really hard to do. … I really, really appreciate our matchup.”
It’s probably for the best that the Timberpups didn’t make it past Memphis after coughing up not one but two games. Draymond might have permanently destroyed Karl-Anthony Towns into retirement. He would’ve dominated the bigger, more talented player physically and mentally. – PAL
TOB: Especially in person, you could see that Draymond fouls Jokic almost every trip. He’s doing the Seahawks Gamble: foul them every time because the refs don’t want to call that many fouls. But it’s not hacking. He’s fouling with his body in smart ways that are less obvious, and easier for a referee to ignore. Jokic was frustrated, and even got ejected in Game 1. So, I saw that Jokic said that, and I thought it was very cool. I also saw Draymond had similar compliments for Jokic:
But, I love Draymond getting this kind of appreciation. I was an early-adopter, to to speak, of Draymond’s game. But two years ago, I thought he was toast. Too many years of pounding bigger guys in the paint and doing the dirty work. Suddenly, he looked old and slow. What a run, I thought! A meteor – bright, but short-lived. Man, was I wrong. Draymond was not toast. He just didn’t want to kill himself for a Warriors team that was without Klay and Steph that went 15-50. For a guy like him, that makes sense.
Perhaps the Most Little League Ending to an MLB Game, Ever
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TOB sent this one over to me and within a minute I was scrunching my face in disbelief. Second base is where? It’s not 90 feet from first and third?
No, it isn’t. Hasn’t been where we thought it was for a long time.
Jayson Stark breaks it down, best captured by the following diagram:
Since 1887, second base has never been positioned quite the same way as the other bases. How can that be, you ask? I asked the same question. Just take a look at this diagram from the official rulebook of baseball. Hopefully, you’ll see that one of these base things is not like the others.
See where first base and third base are located? They’re nestled into their natural corners on each side of the diamond. But now check out second base. It looks lovely, positioned aesthetically in the middle of the infield. Just one problem.
It’s not nestled into its own natural corner of the diamond.
Instead, it’s too deep (geometrically speaking), positioned so that the imaginary corner runs right through the middle of the bag.
Why? How even? I knew you’d ask.
The short explanation is that first base and third base were repositioned to help umpires make fair/foul calls. How? Because once they were moved to their current locales, any ball that hit the bag was obviously fair. Very helpful. Joe West’s thank you note is in the mail.
Odd, sure, but it’s more significant than a historical tidbit, especially now as minor league baseball begins an experiment: its moving second to be in line with first and third, nestled into the geometric corner. That moves the base closer. Add to that change the the fact that minor league baseball will also experiment with larger bases (from 15 inches to 18 inches). The combination of moving second in line and bigger bases means that second base will now be over a foot closer to first third. A foot is a huge distance. Think of all those bang-bang plays in a game. When a player that’s out or safe by a foot, it’s not that close play, many times I’m sure doesn’t even require instant replay.
The hope is that by moving the base closer the game will encourage more aggressive base running. More steals, more attempts to stretch a single into a double, and more runners trying to go from first to third on a single. More excitement. I wouldn’t be surprised if this change has a major positive impact on the game.
Did you all hear Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars? Of all the words spoken and written about that moment, this story from Christpher Clarey has stuck with me the most. In what should have been a moment to celebrate the Williams sisters’ incredible story – authored in many ways by their father (who Will Smith portrays in the movie) became about Will Smith and just what the hell he would say (why was he still even there?!?) upon receiving an Academy Award for best actor.
But then, as so often happens with the Williamses, things got complicated — and, through no fault of the sisters, an evening that should have affirmed their against-great-odds rise to stardom instead became about Smith slapping the comedian Chris Rock onstage.
When Smith accepted the Oscar, he delivered a tearful, rambling, semi-apologetic speech in which he said that “art imitates life” and “I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams.”
Serena, watching the speech from a front-row box seat, covered her face with her hand.
Clarey then goes on to remind folks of the sisters’ journey to the top of women’s tennis, and just how rare it is that they both made it, that they remain close, that they began a new era in their sport. If it weren’t true, we wouldn’t believe the story of Venus and Serena. Of course, it all came with its fair share of complications along the way, but a night at a movie awards show should not be one of those complications. Smith’s acceptance speech became about him that night instead of what his award-winning performance celebrated. – PAL
And I’m still thinking about it over a week later.
Zion Williamson was the top NBA draft pick in 2019, and the closest we’ve had to Charles Barkley. At 6’ 6”, he’s a physically dominant player in the league when he’s right, but Zion’s been hurt a lot in his young career, playing in only 85 of the 226 possible games. He’s also looked a bit husky while not playing, which is especially concerning for a very young dude with injury issues, especially foot issues.
Some wonder if Zion will force his way out of the small market team. He’s reportedly rehabbing in Portland, far away from the Pelicans, until recently. He’s yet to play a game this year.
Despite the ups and downs, there’s a good chance a team will give him a max contract, be it New Orleans or elsewhere; his talent will overshadow the injury and diet red flags. Not many can do this:
TOB knows a lot more about hoops than I do, so I’ll let him add some insight, but when Zion wants to go to the basket, it sure doesn’t seem like there’s much anyone can do. So strong, and quick. The league is more fun when he’s playing, but this year has been a series of delayed debuts for Zion.
In September, the Pelicans reported Zion had surgery on his right foot in the offseason, and the team said he’d be ready for the regular season (late October).
November 26: Zion is cleared to participate in full team activities
December 16: Zion is shut down, to be re-evaluated in 4-6 weeks
January 5: Pelican’s tell media Zion will continue his rehab away from the team
February 10: GM David Griffin says, “Zion continues to progress well anecdotally at least. He feels very good. We hope that towards the end of next week or beginning of the following, we’ll have some imaging done and have a better update.”
That all sounds like shit is going in the wrong direction for Zion and the Pelicans. Then this video shows up:
Damn, Zion! Looking good! Looking bouncy. Speaking of bouncy…
From Tom Ley:
I honestly do not know what’s going on here. Hardwood courts certainly have some give to them, but turning one into a trampoline should be impossible, even for a human as dense as Williamson. Which means the only conclusion that can be reached here is that shenanigans are afoot! The Pelicans obviously installed a special springy floor at their practice facility for the sole purpose of producing one grainy clip of Williamson performing an allegedly impressive basketball maneuver.
Does this dunk – legit or not – make any difference to Zion’s future? Not one iota, but what the hell is this? Who thought it was a good idea to post this vid, knowing the internet will sniff out anything fishy. I remain fascinated. – PAL
Here’s a bit of nostalgia, courtesy of Drew Magary. In this story, he details his life as a skier growing up, then losing touch with a sport he enjoyed, only to regain a love for it as an older fella. Some of the turns and runs he could recapture even just a few years back are no longer in him anymore, but there’s still plenty of magic in it for him. Even the non-skiing holds joy for him – the silent chairlift rides over the trees or pulling the boots off after a long day.
His dad was an avid skier who loved to ski with Magary and his siblings. Now, Drew is a father of three and finds himself in a different role. With TOB just at the beginning of taking his growing crew skiing, I had to share this one.
I have that annoying parent tic where I desperately want my kids to have the same indelible experiences that I had growing up: going to overnight camp, playing sports, falling in love, and skiing. I would love for them to go up that Powder Seeker, maybe even higher. Because I know what’s up there. I know how long it stays with you.
Worth the full read, especially for all the dads out there. – PAL
TOB: This is a really good read, and as Phil suggests – it hit home with me. As someone who grew up skiing, lost touch for years, and recently got back into skiing while introducing it to my kids, I identified with so much of what Magary had to say.
Let’s Make a Deal!
Baseball is back. It never left. In fact, no games will be missed. But! Baseball. Is. Back.
Last week I wrote about the relatively small amount of money the two sides were haggling over – the subtext – a deal should and would be struck soon. Sure enough, the deal came Thursday. And even though I had not really stressed about the lockout (compared to many others I saw discussing it online) because a lockout in the offseason didn’t really mean much, I still got a big thrill when the news came that the deal was done.
But the big questions are: what’s in the deal and how will it change the game (or the business of the game)? To find out, read Jayson Stark’s article answering those questions, as he discusses what has changed (CBT, expanded playoffs, the draft lottery, service time manipulation, and young player compensation) – how it will work and whether it will fix the problem it attempts to solve. With player and management sources, Stark does an excellent job explaining what this deal means. -TOB
Jonathon Tjarks writes for The Ringer. About a year ago he was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer (“a Ewing’s-like sarcoma with a BCOR-CCNB3 rearrangement”). In this story, he ponders his life and what his son’s life will be like after he’s gone.
This is not Tjarks first experience with this sort of thing. When Tjarks was six, his dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Although he died when Jonathon was 21, his dad had been a shadow for almost a decade. “He was there, but no longer there” by the time Jonathon turned 12. He remembers how his dad’s friends would show up a lot in the beginning, but it was just nurses by the end.
My dad kept getting sicker and could no longer do the things that had made them friends in the first place. People moved, or had kids, or got busy at work. Even the Christmas cards stopped coming. By the end, the only people who stopped by the house were nurses and health care workers.
My dad died when I was 21. There were a bunch of people at his funeral whom I hadn’t seen in years. They all told me how sorry they were and asked whether there was anything they could do. All I could think was I don’t know any of you. I know of you. I’ve heard your names. But I don’t know you.
With those memories, Tjarks thinks of his son, and what the future might hold for Jackson after his dad dies.
I have already told some of my friends: When I see you in heaven, there’s only one thing I’m going to ask—Were you good to my son and my wife? Were you there for them? Does my son know you?
I don’t want Jackson to have the same childhood that I did. I want him to wonder why his dad’s friends always come over and shoot hoops with him. Why they always invite him to their houses. Why there are so many of them at his games. I hope that he gets sick of them.
Were you good to my child? Were you good to my wife? What a powerful measurement of friendship.
First of all, that’s an incredible effort. Full extension, all out effort. Tough as hell. Absolutely no regard for his own health and safety. And that’s all great.
But it is that last part (no regard for his own health), and the message from the Twitter Coach (“Every coach wants a player who wants the baseball this badly”) that I want to discuss. Because I disagree. Trying to make a play like that is simply not worth it.
First, there is little gain in the big picture. The game is between Fordham and Virginia Tech. The catcher plays for Fordham. The catcher’s team is down 5-0 in the third, (in a game they will go on to lose 12-0, though he doesn’t know that at the time). It’s not a league game, and Fordham has no shot at the NCAA tournament. Fordham’s season does not hang in the balance.
Second, there is little to gain in the small picture. There is a man on second. But the ball is in foul territory. We are not talking about a ball in the gap. So, while if he catches the ball the inning is over, if he does not catch the ball, no runs will score, either. At least not right away. The at bat would continue, and the pitcher has another shot to get out of the inning (indeed, the at bat ended with a fly ball to center field).
Third, the catcher has a ton to lose. And so does the team. Again, I want to stress – incredible effort by this kid. But this kid, Andy Semo, is a senior. He hit .287 in fewer than 100 ABs last year while splitting time behind the dish, and probably hopes to be the full-time catcher this year (he has started 3 out 5 games so far this year). And he is damn lucky he did not get hurt on that play. Ignore the most severe injuries that could have occurred (neck, spine, head) by diving face first, blindly, toward the opposing dugout. Maybe he screws up his shoulder. Maybe he screws up his elbow or his knee or his hip. Well, there goes his senior year. And it’s bad for the team, too. He’s the team’s starting catcher, and thus is likely a leader on the team. The whole team is affected for the worse if he goes out with injury.
And for what? A single out in a mismatched game that his team already trails 5-0? That’s worth the risk of injury?
Now, I don’t coach college baseball. I don’t know what it’s like to have my job on the line, determined on kids or young adults playing a game. But as my kids get older, I will coach them not to try to make plays like that. I’m not saying to never dive. But be smart about it. Don’t dive head first into/toward walls. Unless your season is on the line, no single out is worth an injury. Consider the situation in the game, and the season. Consider your role on the team. Tip your cap to dudes like Andy Semo, but protect yourself and your team, too. -TOB
PAL: You’re a cerebral dude, TOB. We can watch that clip loop on Twitter and consider the situation and circumstances, and you’re probably right. But your thought-process is not something a player can measure while the ball is in the air, so I want dude’s on my team that want to make a great play.
It’s not even for the one play, it’s about that spirit being contagious, and a few games later you got more guys selling out on plays. That ball in the gap that you mention? That play is determined on whether or not an outfielder really wants to catch that ball – not on the last step before the dive, but on the first step as the ball leaves the bat.
You can’t put a governor on a competitor.
How Much Money are MLB and MLBPA Fighting Over?
So, the baseball lockout continued this week. And for the first time over the last three months, I am concerned. That is because the first week of regular games was canceled when there was no agreement by MLB’s self-imposed deadline of 5pm EST on Monday, February 28.
Let me start this by saying: I am firmly on the player’s side here. But I have been wondering – how much money is at issue in the disputes, at least as they’ve been reported? To answer this question, it’s helpful to understand we got here on two big issues: compensation for young players and the competitive balance tax (“CBT”). Let’s dig in.
Compensation for Young Players.
Pay for young players is a big issue in these negotiations. Generally, teams have control over a player for six years of major league* service time. For the first three years, players make the league minimum, which is presently $570,500. After three years, players become arbitration eligible. Once arbitration eligible, players and teams negotiate their salary to bring them more in line with the open market pay for a player of their skills and production. If they can’t agree, the case is submitted to an arbitrator, who chooses either the player’s demanded number or the team’s offered number, but nothing in between. For whatever reason, arbitration numbers are never in-line with what a player would make on the open market. Finally, after six years, players become free agents.
*And remember, before they make the big leagues, they are getting paid waaaaaaay less than minimum wage in the minors:
A player earns a year of service time when he is on the major league roster for 172 days of a 186 day season. Teams have taken advantage of this to manipulate service time to earn a seventh year by waiting 15 days into a season before calling up a player. The most famous example was when the Cubs did this to Kris Bryant. Bryant won the Rookie of the Year but did not earn a year of service time, so the Cubs essentially got him for seven years before he became a free agent instead of six.
All of this is problematic and the results proved worse than anyone anticipated. A player usually does not hit free agency until they are 30, which is past most players’ primes. Teams realized it was not smart to hand out long free agent deals for big dollars when they could get almost the same productivity out of players making the league minimum. So, free agent deals became shorter and for less money, outside of the very top of the pyramid. This suppressed wages across the board – more and more players were making league minimum and fewer and fewer players were getting big free agent deals. In fact, in 2019 and 2021 (the last two full seasons), league minimum players accounted for 52% of MLB service time. That’s a huge percentage! And it has mattered – MLB salaries have decreased 6.4% over the course of the previous CBA.
Initially, the players tried to change much of the above – less time to arbitration, less time to free agency, rules prohibiting service time manipulation. The owners told them all of this was a non-starter. So the players and owners zeroed in on a few ways to increase pay for pre-arbitration players.
The first was a minimum salary increase. As for the minimum salary, MLB’s minimum of $570,500 is very low compared to the other three major American sports: the NFL is $660,000 for first year players and $780,000 for second year; the NBA is $925,258 for first year players and $1.5 million for second year players; heck, even the NHL is even higher – at $750,000.
Reportedly, the sides are not that far apart. The Athletic’s Evan Drellich reported that MLBPA’s last offer was $725,000 with $20,000 annual increases to the minimum. MLB is at $700,000, going as high as $740,000 over the course of the 5-year deal. In year 1, we are talking about a $25,000 per year difference in minimum salary. Assuming the the league continues to be made up of 50% league minimum players, we are basically talking 13 players per team x $25,000, which amounts to $325,000 per team. This is peanuts to MLB.
Additionally, the sides have negotiated a so-called “pre-arb bonus pool” – a league wide pool of money to be distributed annually to players in years one through three of service time based on their play. MLBPA had been at a pool of $115M but are now asking just $85M, with $5M increases each year. MLB was at $25M and has come up to just $30M. That $55M gap amounts to $1.8M per team. Again, this is peanuts.
Competitive Balance Tax.
This is likely the much bigger issue. The Competitive Balance Tax is a de facto salary cap. Teams can and do exceed the number, but they are forced to pay a tax to other teams when they do so. The more they exceed the limit by, the more dollars per dollar exceeded that they must pay. Also, they suffer exponentially worse penalties, including lost draft picks, each year they remain above the limit.
The players are not seeking to eliminate the CBT. Instead, they want to bring the CBT up to a level that is fair given the increased revenues MLB has seen since the CBT was instituted. Over the last few years, here was the limit:
But what’s crazy here is that the owners are digging in so hard over what is a very small number. In 2021, 13 teams had payrolls under $100M. Five teams spent less than fifty million. Almost half the league isn’t even halfway to the CBT. Only one team went over the $210M threshold (the Dodgers, at $266M). Only two more teams even got close – the Yankees and Mets each surpassed $200M. The CBT threshold is working so effectively that teams aren’t even getting close to approaching it, let alone surpassing it. In fact, only eight teams have surpassed the CBT since it was instituted back in 2002, and only two teams have surpassed it more than four times in those 20 years.
MLB’s fear is that if the CBT is raised more teams will increase payroll toward it. This, in turn, will make it more difficult for those teams who are paying well under it (half the league or more) to compete.
So the answer to my initial question? MLB is canceling games over $2M per team in salaries for young players and … a difficult to peg but insignificant amount of money for the few teams who even approach the CBT. Absolutely stupid and greedy by the owners.
What’s most commendable to me is what the players are fighting for. They have fought to increase the playoff field to 12 teams instead of 14 teams, as the owners want (more playoff teams = more playoff games = more money). And the players in MLBPA leadership are largely established stars – guys like Max Scherzer, who will lose out on approximately $250,000 each day missed in the season. Max is sacrificing that money to fight, mostly, for young players – to increase their minimum salary and increase their bonus pool. And for players in their prime, hitting free agency – so that their salaries will get bigger.
And while the players will not be paid during the lockout, the owners will – it has been reported that MLB owners will still get paid the money from their TV deals (national and regional) until they miss 25 games. In other words, the owners canceled games, refuse to pay players, refuse to pay the thousands and thousands of workers whose income depends on baseball games being players…and they will only lose the revenue from each game.
And this is where this all gets dumber from the owner’s perspective. As I’ve laid out above, they are arguing over a small amount of money per year. But according to some reports, the average MLB game pulls in $4M in revenue. That’s $4M per home game – which means if MLB ends up canceling 25 games and thus 12.5 home games per team, we are talking $50 million in lost revenue per team. Absolutely stupid.
And let’s also not forget that MLB locked the players out, when they could technically continue to play games without a lockout, claiming that a lockout would jump start negotiations by putting some pressure on. Then MLB didn’t make a single offer until 43 days later, and the two sides met very little until last week.
And top of all that, the Blue Jays’ Ross Stripling reports that in the wee hours on the last full day of negotiations before MLB’s self-imposed and artificial deadline expired, the owners tried to shove a bunch of crap down their throats.
Rather than trying to abolish the competitive balance tax or revenue sharing, or to take years off the path to free agency—suggestions that would have made the negotiations even more ponderous and acrimonious than they have been already—they sought to tweak the current system: to rebalance the sport’s incentive structure, so teams would be emboldened to invest in the on-field product.
That’s what this boils down to. This is not an irreconcilable conflict of philosophy, nor a necessary belt-tightening brought on by mysterious economic forces. This is a group of, in Taillon’s words, “guys,” who are willing to shut down a historic corner of American culture until they are able to profit as much as they desire.
Support the players. They are sacrificing a lot of pay for very little asked in return. -TOB
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