Week of May 20, 2022


U.S.A.! U.S.A.! 

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. 

Per Watkins: 

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 

Source: Why Equal Pay For Equal Work Finally Became A Reality For The USWNT,” Claire Watkins, Defector (05/19/22)


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. 

(long pause)

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

Source: Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher and the Comedy of College Football’s ‘Chaos’,” Jason Gay, Wall Street Journal (05/20/2022)


Move Over, Wordle

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.

You ready? play here

I challenge TOB: 20 pitches. Whoever correctly identifies the more gets a brat and a beer. Readers: share your score with us! – PAL 

Source: By God, I Will Get A Good Grade On Statcast’s Pitch Type Guessing Game,” Kathryn Xu, Defector (05/19/22)

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

Source: The Dark Heart Of The NFL Beats Within The Packers Mailbag Column,” Maitreyi Anantharaman, Defector.com (05/13/2022)


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Feels like scientists will study John Daly’s body for decades.

Song of the Week

Arcade Fire – “Unconditional I (Lookout Kid)”


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There’s something about the underdog that really inspires the unexceptional.

“Robert California”

Week of May 13, 2022

HBD, Say Hey Kid!

Jomboy Strikes Again

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.


Hole-In-One Insurance

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 

Source: “The strange business of hole-in-one insurance,” Zachary Crockett, The Hustle (04/29/22)


Seeker: Tom House

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

Source: King of Throws,” Jason Turbow, The New York Times (05/09/22) 


Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

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Do you ever just get down on your knees and thank god that you have access to my dementia?

George Costanza

Week of April 30, 2022

Draft Day suits live forever.

Free Run

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.”

A story worth reading. – PAL 

Source: He Ran Marathons in Prison. Boston’s Was Easier.Patricia Leigh Brown, The New York Times (04/23/22)


Draymond vs. Jokic

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 

Source: How Warriors’ Draymond Green endured five intense rounds with Nikola Jokic,” C. J. Holmes, San Francisco Chronicle (04/28/22)

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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I don’t associate with people who blame the world for their problems.

Megan

Week of April 1, 2022

Yeah, now it will click – eight seasons into his career.

Second Base

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. 

But, the most incredible part of this story remains that second base isn’t 90-feet from first and third. Fun baseball read. – PALSource: Why baseball is moving second base, and what this experiment could mean for the game,”Jayson Stark, The Athletic (03/28/22)


Will Smith Stole The Show

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. 

Per Clarey:

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 

Source: Will Smith Owned the Williams Sisters’ Story Onscreen. Then He Stole Their Moment.” Christopher Clarey, The New York Times (03/28/22)


Pointless Zion Williamson Story

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

Source: ZionWatch: Bouncy Floor??Tom Ley, Defector (03/23/22)


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No, no, no. I have Vienna sausages, and I have napkins. Let me fix you breakfast.

Meredith Palmer

Week of March 11, 2022

I have to ask: who the hell has time to stand outside a ballpark and protest a stupid lockout? I’m glad it’s over and all, but – dude – surely there is something better to do with your time than stand outside a spring training facility in Palm Beach with an “I miss baseball” sign. Be better than this guy this weekend.

Powder Seeker 

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

Source: Under The Big Sky,” Drew Magary, Defector (03/07/22)

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

Source: How Will Baseball’s New Labor Deal Work?Jayson Stark, The Athletic (03/11/2022)


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“You really done well for yourself. You got a couch with a buncha cup holders.”

-Uncle Baby Billy

Week of March 4, 2022

“Hear me out on the helicopter saw idea.”

This Story Has Nothing To Do With Sports

But take the ten minutes to read it. 

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. 

Worth the full read. – PAL 

Source: Does My Son Know You?,” Jonathan Tjarks, The Ringer (03/03/22)


1-2-3 Debates???

Watch this play:

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:

2017: $195 million

2018: $197 million

2019: $206 million

2020: $208 million

2021: $210 million

And here were the last offers:

MLBPA: MLB:

2022: $238M $220M

2023: $244M $220M

2024: $250M $220M

2025: $256M $224M

2026: $263M $230M

And honestly, the MLBPA’s numbers are beyond reasonable. Because MLB revenues have been soaring, increasing from $8.2 billion in 2015 to over $10.7 billion in 2019.

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.

I think what’s most frustrating here is that the players are not asking for a heck of a lot. As Michael Baumann of the Ringer put it:

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.

“[The owners] don’t want to play,” Yankees right-hander Jameson Taillon tweeted Monday. “It’s sad that these are the guys who drive the direction and ‘future’ of our amazing sport.”

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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I’ve run out of superlatives.

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Don’t take glee in it. I’m being blackmailed!

Jesse Gemstone

Week of February 25, 2022


A Lesson in Not Being a Dumbass Coach

Twitter is full of wannabe coaches. Some of them coach at small schools or semi-pro teams and believe that they know more than major league coaches, and are SURE that if they just knew the right person they’d be coaching in the big leagues, too. This week there was a perfect example of such a coach. Here’s the story.

Someone posted a video of Mike Trout’s dad tossing some BP to his son.The caption was a joke: “My friends’ son needs help. Any tips/suggestions?”

The joke, of course, is that the hitter in the video is Mike Trout, one of the most talented baseball players of all-time. But the coach running the Evansville Devils Baseball twitter account did not get the joke and did not know the hitter is Mike Trout.

Ay yi yi. The Evansville Devils are a 17U baseball team. The team’s Twitter account is run by its head coach, Ryan Wargel, who is 47 years old and clearly thinks way too highly of his coaching abilities. -TOB

PAL: So funny. Also, Trout has one of the most distinct swings in the league.  The high hands, the super short but upper-cut – it no doubt helps that I knew it was Trout before I clicked the link, but I have to believe the swing would’ve looked familiar enough to take a closer look. 


That Was Not Covered On The Race Website

Imagine you’re a weekend warrior who likes some off-road bike races. You sign up for the Rock Cobbler in Bakersfield, CA. Some beers, some riding, some good times…until you come across a giant pissed-off bull on the course. You try to bike past. Just a dumb cow, you think. Nope. 

I shouldn’t laugh. I shouldn’t. I know; I really shouldn’t laugh, but there’s just something so damn funny about an animal letting the bikers know what he thinks about our little make believe race. – PAL

Source:Big Bull Wreaks Havoc On Bike Race,” Patrick Redford, Defector (02/14/22)


I Love a Good Rabbit Hole

See above. Sometimes, you get a curious itch that you have to scratch. They’re fun, and you often learn something. This week, SI’s Emma Baccellieri had one: while watching the new Sex and the City series, one of the characters was listening to a baseball game. Baccellieri was determined to find out what game it was, or if it was even real. Here’s what she heard:

Announcer 1: With two on and two outs, runners at the corners, Gentry looks in for the sign, and the pitch—and that one is low. Ball two. He missed that one, and Baker had to pull it out of the dirt. 

Announcer 2: He did a great job of blocking the plate so that pitch didn’t get away from him,” replies the color analyst.

Baccellieri began her search, but couldn’t find much. Only four players in MLB history have had the last name “Gentry” and none ever pitched to a catcher named “Baker.” A pitcher named Gentry once played with Dusty Baker, but Dusty never caught. 

Flummoxed, Baccellieri reached out to a production sound mixer from the episode’s credits. The mixer confirmed the game was not real and was added into the background via postproduction. But Baccellieri wanted to know who the actors were who played the announcers. Her search seemed dead, with the audio mixer unable to point her in the right direction. But she noticed a line in the credits for “additional vocal casting” – Dann Fink and Bruce Winant. Baccellieri did some digging, and got her answer – and it’s a fun lesson in how a show or movie gets put together:

Fink and Winant were indeed the voices behind the baseball game. (Fink was the color man, Winant, the play-by-play.) But they weren’t brought in specifically for that: It was just one part of the work involved with doing all of the background sound for the series.

Take, for instance, something like a restaurant scene that occurred earlier in this episode of And Just Like That…. When the cameras are rolling, everyone is quiet except for the principal actors, so their dialogue can be easily heard. There might be other people visible as waiters and hostesses and fellow diners—but they’re silent while shooting is happening. All the background sounds you’ll hear from them when you actually watch the show? The chattering and laughing and silverware clattering? That comes in courtesy of the loopers.

Winant and Fink will receive a cut of the episode and be told how many voice actors their loop group can bring on for the project. (In this case: six.) And they jump into creating the sonic context of the show—recording all the material that will later get layered in to make the background come alive.

“We’ll then put voice to everyone else in the room,” Winant explains, using the restaurant scene as an example. “So we’ll be the waiters. We’ll be that table directly behind the principals ordering dinner. We’ll be the hostess helping them in.”

Multiply that by every scene where there might be some background noise. (Which is to say: Multiply it by almost every scene.) The work has to fit its context; if a show features a scene in a hedge fund, for example, the loop group will make sure the background dialogue it records uses some financial lingo, and the same for a hospital scene and medical jargon. But where it really gets fun is putting together something like a fake sports broadcast.

I particularly liked this detail:

He starts by making note of whatever details the producers want him to include—this ballgame, for instance, had to feature a team from New York. And then he pulls up a game, any one that fits, and uses it as inspiration to think about how he would call it himself.

Nice rabbit hole, Emma! -TOB
Source: How ‘Sex and the City’ Sent Me Down a Fake Baseball Rabbit Hole,” Emma Baccellieri (02/21/2022)


Do We Dare Gu?

Olympic Skier Eileen Gu was born and raised in San Francisco. Her mom is from China. Gu is competing for China in the olympics. She made this decision when she was 15. She told a friend she wants to be an inspiration to girls in China and that there are many female athletes in the U.S. to inspire girls here. 

Gu is wildly famous in China. She is also a model and has secured millions in endorsement deals with brands like Cadillac, Louis Vuitton, and Victoria’s Secret. 

Unlike most countries, China does not recognize dual-citizenship. When asked if she’s given up her American citizenship, Gu and her camp won’t answer, leading many to question, including SI.com, whether she took the money from China in order to be used as a geopolitical pawn. 

Per Ann Killion

Her camp tries to control her message — Yan Gu would not speak to the New York Times unless she could review the article before publication, which was declined — and Gu avoids tough topics in interviews.

That includes answering questions about her citizenship. The IOC requires athletes to hold the passport of their home country, but China does not allow dual citizenship. Whether Gu has given up her American citizenship is unclear.

Gu is straddling a slippery geopolitical slope at high altitude with little room for error. She is golden now in China, but if the San Francisco-born woman runs afoul of Chinese authorities, her world could quickly change. Look no further than the case of tennis star Peng Shuai, who made accusations against a high-ranking party official, then disappeared for a few weeks and is now seen at the Olympics in tightly controlled conditions.

Gu is not the first American to compete for another country. It happens routinely, but usually with athletes who would struggle to make a U.S. team and find a path to the Olympics through their parents’ country. Not with an athlete considered the best in the world at what she does.

Defector’s Laura Wagner had an angle to add to the debate: Regardless of what country she competes for, Eileen Gu is representing a certain kind of American spirit:

Here’s another narrative: Eileen Gu is above all else a rugged individualist who enjoys massive privilege but chafes at any mention of it, while nonetheless championing the belief that all it takes to achieve one’s dream is hard work. Sound familiar? It’s a funny thing: The athlete at the Winter Olympics doing the most to spread the true message of America is the supposed traitor competing for China.

It would be surprising if Gu did in fact give up her United States citizenship, but that would be her right. However, one would think it would be embarrassing if China broke its own rule to attract an American athlete to win medals in Beijing…until you look at the host country’s men’s hockey team. 

Per The New York TImes, several players have descendents from China, but four players had no Chinese ancestry at all: Ryan Sproul, Denis Osipov and Jake Chelios. Chelios is the son of the Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios.

It’s a bit more difficult for the “olympic spirit” to smooth over the problems with the most revered sporting events in history.  – PAL 

Sources: “‘I loved her motivation’: What Eileen Gu told her S.F. circle about picking China,” Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle (02/12/22); “Eileen Gu Is An American,” Laura Wagner, Defector (02/15/22)


Death to “Name a Athlete Who___________. I’ll Start.”

A while back, someone tweeted this:

And that is very true, as evidenced by the 308k likes the post has garnered. Dudes really can just sit around naming sports guys from their youths, and have a great time. We do it often! 

But there’s a growing phenomenon on Twitter that is super annoying. I call it the I’ll Start Guys. A person (or publication) will tweet some variation of the following: “Name an athlete who __________. I’ll start.” Here’s an example:

Playing off the fact dudes like to name former sports dudes, it’s a pure and shameless attempt to go viral. If Klout was still a thing, it would be a cheap Klout booster. The worst offender is Fox Sports’ Ben Verlander.

Here is a sampling of Ben’s I’ll Starts:

And that’s just in the last two weeks. None of these conversations are particularly interesting, especially when just thrown out for the general public. What’s particularly annoying about Ben Verlander’s use of the I’ll Start is that he does it so often – it’s clearly a ploy to get interactions – and that I don’t follow the guy but he always gets put into my timeline with these. And why is Ben a Fox Sports baseball analyst? His qualifications to be a baseball analyst seem to begin and end with the fact that he is the brother of Justin Verlander. The dude never made it out of A-ball. 

But Ben is not the only one. I’ve seen copycats – usually even smaller-time wannabe baseball or basketball guys with, somehow, even worse topics. So, if you see an I’ll Start – I beg of you, do not interact. Do not feed the troll. -TOB

PAL: I have a Verlander-inspired Tweet, thanks to his ’87 Twins take. It goes something like this:

Name one MLB prospect who washed out and rides the coattails of his more successful brother in order to have a job kinda in baseball.

I’ll start: Ben Verlander


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TOB pitching to PAL this weekend

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“I used to eat pizzas for every meal… sometimes even for my desserts”

-Keefe Chambers

Week of February 6, 2022

BFD, Jordan. I’m playing from the wrong side of the red spray paint all the time.

Fear

Sometimes I come across a story and marvel at how they made it happen. For this one, someone had to pitch the concept: The New York Times should dig into and try to understand the role fear plays in the minds of the winter olympic athletes. The response: take a video crew, writers, audio engineers, and a designer. Go interview a bunch of athletes about their relationship with fear, show what it looks and feels like, and make this come to life in a way that ignites the senses. God bless whoever pitched this idea, and kudos to the team that brought it to life. 

More so than the Summer games, the winter olympics has a high concentration of very dangerous sports. Sports that go high, go very fast, and can lead to violent impact. Halfpipe snowboard and skiing (23 feet), aerial skiing, luge, bombled, downhill skiing, speedskating, and many more. When things go wrong in these sports, it can be deadly. 

What I love is this mixture of video, audio, and writing to try to capture fear. You read the story, you then hear from athletes, you then see the kind of injuries they are talking about and just what recovery looks like after one of these major injuries. 

Fear, I learned, is a very basic survival instinct. It fires in the most primal portion of the brain – the amygdala, which is why it’s so hard to control. In other words, for thousands of years, fear kept our ancestors alive, and that’s exactly what it’s trying to tel these athletes when the are about to do something really dangerous. 

Of all the quotes from this story, I can’t forget this description of fear from a pair of world-class skiers: 

“There have been times that races have been canceled, and I’ve been relieved, 100 percent,” American ski racer Erik Arvidsson said. “Because I was scared as hell, and I needed another day to gather myself.”

Even the world’s top male skier this season is not immune.

“You get kind of an ache in your legs, your knees, and you feel like you lose control over your body,” Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway said. “You can feel it right away when you’re pushing out at the start. You want to push 100 percent, but then your mind kicks in and holds you back, and you can only push out, like, 85 percent, 90 percent. And then you know something is wrong.”

Every one of these athletes are scared, and everyone one of them can’t deny how great it feels when everything is hitting in there respective sports. 

And then they get to profiles like Millie Knight, a Paralympic skier, on what it’s like to ski with 5% of her vision. She and the New York Times worked together to create a replica of what it looks like to ski with her vision, and it’s pretty incredible.

What a brilliant idea: let’s show people what it’s like to ski with 5% of normal vision. Such a great project. I highly recommend everyone checking it out. – PAL

Source:What Scares the World’s Most Daring Olympians”, The New York Times (02/02/22)


Homage to Outdoor Rinks

The Star Tribune ran a particularly Minnesota story this morning: it’s a collection of some of the coolest homemade outdoor rinks around the state. Of my five siblings, four of their yards feature a rink. Some folks have really taken the rinks to another level. From this largely dad obsession has come a growing cottage industry of home rink supplies like plastic boards, custom size tarps to put under the ice, netting, and so on. It’s easy for me to smile when I look at these rinks, watch the videos, and most of all hear the sounds of outdoor hockey.

What’s missing from this story is the understated, quirky, work-with-what-you-got backyard rinks with a fire pit I remember spending so many hours playing on. Sertich’s rink with the big tree that you could use as a bit of a pick on a defender. Elm’s mini rink in Falcon Heights just big enough for 2-2 – these rinks are just as much a part of the spirit of MN’s outdoor rinks as these crazy setups featured in this story. – PAL

Source: At home on the ice,” Rachel Hutton, photos by Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune (02/05/22)

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Just a reminder of how cool this dunk contest was…

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Week of December 19, 2021

The Case for Patience with Coaches

As most of you probably know, I am a Cal football fan. Cal is not a blue blood program, though they were a national powerhouse in the 1930s! Since then, there have been random good years and lots and lots of bad ones. Still, I became a Cal fan in the modern golden era – the early Jeff Tedford years. And this requires a bit of history.

Tedford had been the offensive coordinator at Oregon when they first became nationally relevant. Prior to that, he coached at Fresno State. He coached four first round pick quarterbacks in a short span: Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Akili Smith, and Joey Harrington. Then he took over a 1-10 Cal team and turned Kyle Boller into a top 10 pick, while turning the team around to 7-5. Then they went 8-6, led by JUCO transfer Aaron Rodgers, with that season peaking with a win over eventual national champion USC, and culminating in a bowl win over a very good Virginia Tech team. 

The following year they had a little buzz and I said I thought they could go undefeated. I was close. They went 11-1, with the lone loss being a close loss at #1 (and again eventual champion) USC – a game they outgained and outplayed the defending national champs, but lost after four straight failed plays with goal to go. 

The next five years were uneven. Some good years, some very disappointing years. Then, because of Tedford’s early success, the school was able to build a new training facility and renovate the stadium. But Tedford only lasted one year in the new stadium – he opened with an awful loss to Nevada, and the season did not go up from there. The team seemed to quit late in the season, and to top it off the team’s academics were so bad Cal was close to a bowl ban. After that 2004 season, Tedford’s teams went 8-4, 10-3, 7-6, 9-4, 8-5, 5-7, 7-6, 3-9. There’s an obvious downward trend there. I was sad, but even I agreed Tedford had to go.

But the interesting thing about Tedford is he didn’t stop coaching, despite serious and recurring health problems. Most notably, he returned to his alma mater, Fresno State, and turned a moribund Bulldog program around. The 2016 Bulldogs went 1-11. Tedford arrived after that season and they went 10-4. The next year, 12-2. In his third year, they went 4-8 and he retired due to those same health issues. Interestingly, he just returned to Fresno. We’ll see how it goes.

But what I find most interesting about Tedford’s return to Fresno in the last half of that last decade is the question it begs about his coaching ability and what happened at Cal. Why did he struggle so badly in the last part of his Cal tenure? He obviously didn’t forget how to coach: he proved that at Fresno. There are lot of theories among Cal fans, but I am not here to settle that debate today.

Instead I am here to wonder what might have happened had Cal been more patient with Tedford. What if they had allowed him time to right the ship, both athletically and academically?  No one can say for sure, but I can’t help but wonder if he would have been like Kirk Ferentz, who has been the Iowa coach for over twenty years now. First, Iowa and Cal have similar histories. The programs are, if not equal, close. The similarities between Ferentz and Tedford are even more interesting.

Ferentz and Tedford are similarly aged and were similarly successful early on in their careers, though Ferentz a bit more, perhaps. Ferentz is five years older than Tedford and started at Iowa three years before Tedford started at Cal. Ferentz didn’t start as hot as Tedford, going 1-10 and 3-9 in his first two years. But then he went 7-5, 11-2 (with an Orange Bowl appearance), 10-3, and 10-2. But then, like Tedford, Ferentz hit a lull. From 2005-2007, where he went a combined 19-18, and then particularly from 2010 to 2014, where he went 8-5, 7-6, 4-8, 8-5, 7-6. Since then, he’s 63 wins and 23 losses in 7 years, including two conference championship appearances. Could Tedford have done the same? I don’t know. But I do know this: there are lots of Cal fans unhappy with the current head coach, Justin Wilcox. 

Wilcox took over a program in dire straits – a terrible defense for the entirety of the Sonny Dykes era, Cal football had become, for me, unwatchable. Even the good wins (Texas, twice) were exasperating. Wilcox turned things around immediately – what had been an historically bad defense was suddenly tops in the conference. Wilcox’s early teams struggled on offense. But heading into the 2020 season, Cal fans expected big things: almost every starter from a pretty good team was back, including quarterback Chase Garbers who suddenly looked like a very good QB. 

And then COVID hit and things fell apart. Cal got only 4 games in 2020. Many Cal fans wrote off the 1-3 record to the pandemic – Cal had multiple games canceled; they even had to travel to UCLA on 24 hours’ notice after ASU had a COVID outbreak, before getting stomped. But they beat a very good Oregon team and fans were cautiously optimistic – especially because the NCAA declared 2020 a non season for player eligibility. And then Cal started 2021 1-5 and many fans jumped off the bandwagon. Many wanted him fired. Most wanted him to take the UW job or the Oregon job (Wilcox’s alma mater) when those opened up.

But Cal is not USC. It is not Alabama. It is not Texas. Cal is Iowa. And Cal needs to be patient with a good coach, learning on the job, who wants to be there. Oh, yeah – that’s an important part here: Wilcox was offered the Oregon job last week, and he turned it down. Oregon made a second run at him, he slept on it, and he turned it down. When asked why he turned down his alma mater he said he likes it at Cal and has unfinished business there.

Yes, Cal has instiutional barriers that make it harder to win at than many other schools. So Cal needs a coach who doesn’t shy away from that; who embraces it. Wilcox is that guy, without a doubt. Now, can he be Cal’s Kirk Ferentz?  Can he be another Jeff Tedford? I don’t know – but I think Cal needs to be patient and find out, and not make the possible mistake they made in firing Tedford. -TOB

Counterpoint: Urban Meyer Deserved to Get Fired After 13 Games

Urban Meyer was fired this week, just 13 games into his NFL coaching career. Defector’s Samer Kalaf gives a great run down of Meyer’s horrific tenure:

Though the team hadn’t played since Sunday—a 20-0 loss to the Titans—the midweek firing seems to have been prompted by Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times report in which former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo said Meyer kicked him at a practice during the preseason and called him a “dipshit.” When Lambo told him never to kick him again, Meyer allegedly said, “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f–k I want,” and later told his kicker not to complain about it in front of the other players.

Kicking an employee was possibly the most actionable thing Meyer did as Jaguars head coach, but he packed a lot of mortifying behavior within his incomplete season. An NFL Network report Sunday morning uncovered a handful of terrible decisions: Meyer treated his players like children and pissed off receiver Marvin Jones Jr., a guy who’s difficult to piss off; he called his assistant coaches “losers” in a staff meeting; and he benched running back James Robinson, then pushed the blame onto his RBs coach. That was one report. There were so many more.

Urban Meyer hired, then fired a racist strength coach. He brought in Tim Tebow, presumably so that at least one person respected him in the locker room. He called for an onside kick, and the opposing team returned it for a touchdown. He lost a Thursday night game in Cincinnati, stayed in Ohio while the team flew back to Jacksonville, and showed up in his own steakhouse with his hand in a woman who wasn’t his wife. He looked like the biggest fucking sadsack in the subsequent presser, and basically every presser after that.

The Lambo kicking incident should be required reading for any NFL owner considering hiring a college coach:

“It certainly wasn’t as hard as he could’ve done it, but it certainly wasn’t a love tap,” Lambo said. “Truthfully, I’d register it as a five (out of 10). Which in the workplace, I don’t care if it’s football or not, the boss can’t strike an employee. And for a second, I couldn’t believe it actually happened. Pardon my vulgarity, I said, ‘Don’t you ever f–king kick me again!’ And his response was, ‘I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f–k I want.’”

When reached by Stroud, Meyer denied the kick and said Lambo’s characterization of the incident was “completely inaccurate.” Lambo said Meyer “cornered” him the next day in the practice facility and told him to smile, which Lambo said he would do if his coach stopped kicking him. Then Meyer allegedly threatened to cut Lambo if he ever talked back to him again. “You’re the first player I’ve ever let speak to me that way in my career, and if you do it again, you’re gone,” Meyer said, according to Lambo.

That is the kind of thing you can get away with as a sleazeball college coach, when dealing with young, unpaid players. But when dealing with grown men who make lots of money? It’s not going to fly.

My favorite part of Urbant’s NFL career was…well, ok, it was the pictures of him out at a club in Ohio. But my second favorite part was this press conference, about the above mentioned reports about how awful he is:

Incredible. Who does this guy think he is? A military general? I think he really does. The worst part about his firing is that he’ll probably go back to a high paying gig at ESPN which will mean I’ll have to look at his dumb, lying face way more often. Dang. -TOB

Source: Jaguars Give Urban Meyer The Boot,” Samer Kalaf, Defector (11/16/2021)

PAL: That kick might be the most expensive kick in history. If that helps the Jags fire him for cause, then they don’t need to pay him the remaining (gulp) $50MM on his contract, and it sounds like the team doesn’t intend to pay him (but the two sides will likely negotiate a middle ground).

The Cal-Iowa comp is right on, TOB. Dead-on. There are, what 10 schools that can look in the mirror and say they have a legit chance to make a national championship run at least once a decade? There are a lot of programs who foolishly think they are on that list. Add the University of Minnesota to likes of Cal and Iowa. As least Iowa recognizes what it is, and what it’s not. I feel like deep down, amongst those KFAN listeners in MN, folks still think the Gophers could compete with Ohio State if they just found the right guy. Or maybe I’ve been wrong about used car salesman P.J. Fleck. Maybe he wants to be a cheesier version of Ferentz for the Gophers.

14 Peaks Review

“Giving up is not in the blood, sir. It’s not in the blood.”

There are 14 mountains in the world over 8k meters. The fastest to summit all 14 was seven years. Nimsdai Pursa and his team of Nepali climbers set out to do it in seven months. A must-watch documentary.

The advent of the drone and super high quality small cameras has captured the magnitude of some of these incredible outdoor documentaries (Alone On The Wall, 100 Foot Wave, The Dawn Wall), but the most compelling parts remain the personal stories. Why does Alex Honnold want to climb El Cap without a rope? What compels Garrett McNamara, on the wrong end of 50, to tow into a monster wave and let go of the rope? The exploration of these questions, coupled with the sweaty-palmed beauty of the footage, is what makes for an exhilarating viewing.

At the center of 14 Peaks is one of the biggest, most positive bad-asses to come across my TV. Before becoming a superstar of the mountaineering world, Nimsdai Purja,  was a special ops for 16 years, first as a Gurka, and then as the first Gurkha ever to join the UK Special Ops. 

There’s a part in the doc when Nims gets hooked up to some sort of oxygen thinner machine in a lab in what I think is London. They have him get on the stationary bike to measure his endurance and decision-making skills as he pushes harder and harder while the oxygen thins. Nims has a pot belly. You can tell the guy is strong, but he’s not “ripped”. He proceeds to flabbergast the scientist with his decision-making while charging on a bike with little oxygen. He goes for 3 minutes, while world-class triathletes tap out in under 1 minute. 

His military comes into play on more than one occasion when ‘Nims’ and his team come across other climbers in serious trouble on the mountain. This dude is breaking records and saving lives at the same time.

Of course, ‘Nims’ can’t do this alone, and he has a team made up exclusively of Nepali climbers. In sport where historically Nepali climbers are helping clients up the summit, it was cool to see them pursue the crowning achievement for their people. 

Nims charges so hard, but he also seems so happy to be alive. There’s a real joy pursuing such an audacious goal. Whereas someone like Alex Honnold’s achievement and skill inspire me, I feel so far away from whoever he is as a person. With Nims, the dude’s spirit is so goddamn infectious. I really loved watching him and his team risk their lives one day, and celebrate life (with a bit of booze) the next, then climb again the day after that. – PAL 

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I don’t need you to tell me what I don’t want, you stupid hipster doofus.

Elaine Benes

Week of December 10, 2021

Chef’s kiss.

Greatness Is Not A Number

By the time you read this, there’s a solid chance that Steph Curry will have made more 3-pointers in his career than Ray Allen made, which will make Curry the NBA all-time leader. I challenge anyone outside of TOB to tell me the number Ray Allen made, because the NBA 3-point record ain’t exactly .406 or 9.58

The local broadcast is trying to make a thing out of it – counting down with every Curry 3 with a little graphic in the lower corner of the broadcast. Rightly so, I guess, but I can’t muster up any real interest in the countdown. To what are we really counting down? 

There’s no real argument: Curry is the best shooter the NBA has ever seen, and so Curry passing Ray Allen record doesn’t solidify anything new when it comes to Curry’s legacy. And, as Oakland’s favorite curmudgeon Ray Ratto so perfectly addresses, to be awed by a number Curry passes is to miss the point of what makes him so spectacular. OK, here’s one stat for context: It took Allen 1,300 games to make 2,973 3-pointers; Curry will get there and beyond in less than 790 games. 

Ratto nails it with this: 

Just as long as whatever happens is within whatever Curry decides is the flow of the game, because on this one item, he is more trustworthy than Basketballreference.com. They do numbers. He does moments, and one does well not to try to quantify the work of a true mother of invention.

Good read, per usual, from Ratto. – PAL

Source: Counting Will Get You Nowhere With Steph Curry,” Ray Ratto, Defector (12/08/21) 


The Propaganda Playbook

Last week we shared three stories from the NY Times about Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, her shocking accusation of sexual assuault by a high-ranking government official, and the Chinese government’s response. This week, The Times teamed up with ProPublica to show, piece by piece, post-by-post, pic-by-pic, email-by-email, etc. of the government’s attempt at cover-up. 

The allegation reached the heights of Beijing’s opaque political system, and officials turned to a tested playbook to stamp out discussion and shift the narrative. The tactics have helped Beijing weather a series of political crises at home in recent years, including the 2019 protests in Hong Kong and its initial response to Covid-19.

This time, according to analyses by The New York Times and ProPublica, China began a multifaceted propaganda campaign that was at once sophisticated and clumsy. Inside the country, officials used internet controls to scrub almost all references to the accusation and restrict digital spaces where people might discuss it. At the same time, they activated a widely followed network of state-media commentators, backed by a chorus of fake Twitter accounts, to try to punch back at critics abroad, the analyses show.

The effort didn’t always succeed. This is how China reacted — and how it stumbled along the way.

This is a must-read story. Having a single person, Peng Shuai, at the center of this helps someone like me better understand the dangers and complexity of censorship in Beijing, and why the United States and other nations are imposing a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics. – PAL

Source:Beijing Silenced Peng Shuai in 20 Minutes, Then Spent Weeks on Damage Control,” Paul Mozur, Muyi Xiao, Jeff Kao and Gray Beltran; The New York Times & ProPublica (12/08/21)


Non Sports Stories of the Week

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t only read about sports. This week, I read two particularly interesting articles that I think you’ll enjoy.

First, the New Yorker profile of Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall Roy in Succession. If you watch the show, I highly recommend you set aside some time and read this. You will laugh out loud at him at least a half dozen times. -TOB

Source: On ‘Succession,’ Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke,” Michael Schulman, New Yorker (12/05/2021)

The second article is about the grapefruit. It begins with a long history of the grapefruit and other citrus fruits, which is itself fascinating. And then it gets into a discovery made about twenty years ago that the grapefruit can interact with certain drugs by multiplying the standard efficiency of the drug, which can cause people to overdose. It’s a great read. -TOB

Source: Grapefruit Is One of the Weirdest Fruits on the Planet,” Dan Nosowitz, Atlas Obscura (10/6/2020)

Video of the Week

I am way late to this, but it’s too good not to share, even if you’ve already seen it. – PAL

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