Week of July 17, 2020


An Ode to Candlestick Park: A Joyous Dump

Grant Brisbee wrote an incredible article this week about the history of Candlestick Park, and I am telling you that you must read it. The premise is simple: when did San Francisco know Candlestick was a dump? (Spoiler: not long after it opened). I will say though, and Brisbee acknowledges, the place sure looks like a better place to watch a game in that picture from the early days, before the 49ers moved in and ruined the place (much like what happened when the Raiders moved back to Oakland).

Perhaps the most interesting part is the politics, backroom deals, corruption, and incompetence that got the stadium built there in the first place.

There was a more logical reason for the decision to build a ballpark on Bayview Hill: There were profits to make with public money. If there’s anything more reliable than wind in San Francisco, it’s that every story from San Francisco’s history leads back to some sort of graft.

Well-known contractor Charles Harney purchased land in Candlestick Point from the city of San Francisco in 1953 for $2,100 an acre. Land adjacent to it sold in 1957 for $6,540, which means that Harney should have been in line for a cool 311-percent profit. Except, somehow, the city paid $65,853 an acre for the 41 acres they needed for the 77-acre site. (Most of the additional 36 acres were already owned by the city, and they needed some of it to fill in Harney’s land, some of which was occasionally underwater, depending on the tides.)

The ballpark would be constructed by a local contractor by the name of … Charles Harney, who received a $7 million fee for the project.

Harney was awarded the contract in a no-bid process by Stadium, Inc., a non-profit corporation that was created after the city realized that the original $5 million bond, approved by voters in 1954, wasn’t going to be enough for a new ballpark. Giants owner Horace Stoneham wouldn’t even discuss any proposals that were less than $10 million, so San Francisco mayor George Christopher created Stadium, Inc. as an arm of the city government, which allowed it to issue its own bonds and get around that pesky city charter.

Stadium, Inc. needed a board of directors, of course, so they got some local businessmen to fill the roles. Specifically, they got … Charles Harney. And his brother-in-law. And the executive vice president of his company.

This is shady as hell, but I also can’t knock the hustle. 

The article is full of other interesting tidbits. But the best part is when he closed with a personal story that resonated with me. I suggest you read it. But it made me remember the first time I went to Candlestick. I was nine. 

Driving up, the stadium looked huge. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. When we first emerged from the tunnel and saw the field, it was so green. I couldn’t believe I was there. There’s Kevin Mitchell. There’s Will Clark. When I got older, I realized it was…a dump. But that was ok. It was my dump. It’s gone now, which is weird. Every time we drive up the 101 past Candlestick Point, I look at that weirdly empty spot off the freeway and shake my head. If you didn’t know Candlestick had been there, you would never know by looking at it. I usually point it out to my kids, even though there’s literally nothing to see. Just memories of a place that made me happy, and still does. Every time I walk into a major league ballpark, I get the same giddy feeling I got when I was 9. Candlestick Park, dumpy as it may have been, is where that started. -TOB

Source: How Quickly Did San Francisco Realize That Candlestick Park Was a Debacle?Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (07/09/2020)

PAL: My brother, Matt, has started to say he misses the Metrodome. The Twins new stadium is very, very cool. They killed it, but the Dome is setting for childhood memories. It was a home field advantage. It was where the Twins actually won playoff games and two World Series. The grass wasn’t even real when I walked into the dome, but I was in awe. To see the game we played in the front yard at that scope and scale – maybe that’s what so favorably preserves the memories of those dumps. 

Also, this story is a great plot for a comedy. The pursuit of a publicly funded stadium – hell, even attempting to build a stadium – is an absurd shady pursuit from the jump. I could see Adam McKay and Will Ferrel killing an idea like this, The Big Short style. 

OK, so Candlestick was a disaster, but this seat warmer idea was brilliant. So they messed up on the execution. Still, that would be a game-changer (I’m looking at you, Cal). Are there any stadiums out there where regular seats (not the suites or club level) have the warmer built in? 

Just in case, though, the plans included radiant heat to be installed underneath the seats. A 1959 issue of Popular Science declared that fans would be “warmed up by their seats in the cool night air.” More than 35,000 feet of wrought-iron pipe was laid, and the plans were to circulate hot water from a boiler that would cut through the cold. According to the aforementioned Sporting News article, “Giant owner Horace Stoneham says radiant heat won’t be needed, and if he has his way, it will never be turned on.”


Short Putts for Big Bucks 

 

I was in on this story the moment I read the headline: 

‘I Just Cost Myself 250 Grand.’

Missing a short putt worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is a golfer’s nightmare, but PGA Tour veterans have ways of psyching themselves up to try anyway.

Sure, I’ve thought plenty about the pressure standing over a 3-foot putt to win a major, but the pressure to secure a 9th place finish can be counted in hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ll admit it – my sphincter gets a little tight standing over a $20 putt for a couple skins carry-overs.

This is a story about how tour players – young guys trying to stay on tour and vets – deal with that stress. 

When their rounds are complete, golfers enter the privacy of a nearby scoring tent, which one player called “the loony bin.” It is there that players come face-to-face with the tournament’s prize money chart delineating the payouts for finishing first, second, third, and so on.

“Guys say, ‘I just cost myself 250 grand,’” said Jim Furyk, the winner of 17 tour events. “I’m sure I’ve said it. It’s a really hard moment.”

Gary Woodland, the reigning United States Open champion, insisted the angst was worst at high-profile tournaments, where a final short putt can be worth $1 million.

“I don’t care who you are, that’s a lot of money,” Woodland said. “Maybe you weren’t thinking about the money before the putt, but if you miss you are.”

Woodland, with a career earnings north of $27MM (I couldn’t believe it either), and Jim Furyk (holy shit – $71MM – good for third all-time behind Tiger and Mickelson) can breath a little more freely as they set up for that 9th place putt than someone like Martin Trainer. He’s a second year pro ($780K). I love how he describes it: “Those short putts on 18 are terrifying. It’s part of the treacherous illusion of competence in golf.”

Of course, all the strokes count the same – be it the drive on the opening hole on round 1 or the last putt on Sunday, but there’s a ‘blueprint’ that comes with those putts on the tour:

“At first, you probably let the dollars get into your head and you screw up and it costs you a lot of money,” said Kevin Streelman, who has been a tour regular since 2008. “You get tired of that happening and start treating the last putt of the day the same as your first putt of the day.

But for unproven players on tour, it’s difficult to focus on tour longevity when they are in a desperate, weekly struggle to finish near the top of the leaderboard so they will qualify for an invitation to return to the tour the following year.

“That stress and anxiety is constant,” Wyndham Clark, a second-year tour pro with four career top-10 finishes, said in recalling his first year on the tour. “It affects your sleep. I wasted so many nights worrying about it.”

Quick side-note: let’s all savor the fact that there is a pro golfer out there named ‘Wyndham Clark’. 

OK, back to the story. 

This isn’t a story about a guy struggling to put food on the table vs. the guy that’s, well, made over $70MM, but miss enough cuts and these young guys who haven’t won a tournament won’t keep their card, and the purse money on the PGA Tour vs the (hold on, let me look up the name of the second best tour) Korn Ferry Tour is drastic. I took a look at purse breakdown for the TPC San Antonio Challenge (Korn Ferry Tour) and the Byron Nelson Classic (a regular PGA Tour event). Understand that prize money is a percentage of the total purse, so dollar amount reflects a percentage. Per TOB, we think ties being averaged out between the two spots (so two guys who tie for fifth get the average of prize money for 5th and 6th). 

Place San Antonio Challenge Byron Nelson 
1 108K 1.4MM
2 54K 853K
3 31K 537K
4 22K 379K
5 19K  316K
6 16K 284K 
7 12K 264K
20 5K 102K
Total Purse 600K 6MM+ 

 

So I understand why these dudes look at a putt for 10 minutes from every conceivable angle. 

Good read! – PAL 

Source: ‘I Just Cost Myself 250 Grand.’, Bill Pennington, The New York Times (07/09/20)

TOB: Two things. First, I’m glad they mentioned Gary Woodland because just last week I was thinking, “I could not come up with the name of the guy who won last year’s U.S. Open that we attended if you offered me a million dollars to do so. So unmemorable.

Second, is Justin Thomas going to have to make me bust out the Rick James clip for a second week in a row? Look at “JT” (ugh) contradict himself immediately:

“You probably aren’t going to believe me, but I’ve never had a putt where I’ve thought, ‘if I miss this, I cost myself two hundred or four hundred thousand,’” Justin Thomas, the world’s fifth-ranked golfer and the 2017 P.G.A. Championship winner, said. “A lot of people could tell you what a three-way tie for sixth is in a $9 million purse, whereas I have no clue.”

Thomas, however, admitted to one exception — when he needed to make a three-foot putt to tie for third at last year’s Tour Championship, which would earn him $3.5 million. Finishing in fourth-place would have earned him $500,000 less.

“That was the first ever time I was like, ‘This is probably a million-dollar putt,’ ” Thomas said.

“I’ve never done a thing, except that time I did that thing.” What a rich prick, bragging (in another quote) about how he doesn’t know how much money he each place gets at each tournament. GET OUTTA HERE WITH THAT NOISE, JT!


Joey Bart and MLB Service Time Manipulation in a Short, Weird Season

One of my favorite things about being in a years-long baseball keeper league with prospects is that it has forced me to pay attention to, and read, top prospect lists. You see names rise and fall on the list, and when they get to the bigs (especially if they’re on your squad), it’s EXCITING. Gleyber Torres. Ozzie Albies. Syndergaard. Walker Buehler. Blake Snell. Pete Alonso. All Ron Popeils years before they were on their big league teams, and all had me buzzing when they got called up. 

But this league has also caused me to pay more attention to service-time manipulation. Briefly, to gain a year of service time, a player must be on a roster 172 of 187 days in a season. Once a player has gained six years of service time, he can be a free agent at the end of that season. Unsurprisingly, teams “manipulate” service time to keep them from reaching free agency as long as possible, because players are cheaper before free agency.

One of the most famous examples was the Cubs’ Kris Bryant. He was an absolute can’t-miss prospect. The Cubs should have begun the season with him on the roster. But they sent him to AAA to start, saying he needed to work on his defense. Magically, he was ready to be called up on the exact day that, if he played the entire rest of the year, he would not reach 172 days until the first day the following season. This meant he would be a free agent after 2021, and not 2020, because the Cubs turned “six years” into seven seasons. But it happens ALL THE TIME. 

Egregious cases like Bryant’s, or Vlad Guerrero, Jr., or even Buster Posey, really suck. A good young player is robbed of helping his team, his teammates are robbed of his help, the fans are robbed of watching him, and the player loses a year of high earnings in his prime. MLB has not solved this issue, but this year could be really bad. The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly does an excellent job explaining why.

Joey Bart is the Giants’ top prospect. Bart is the heir apparent to Buster Posey: a young, power hitting catcher, who was the second overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. The Giants maintain they do not want to promote him yet, correctly pointing out that he’s had very little minor league experience: just 130 games over two seasons, due to injuries (and only 144 games in college). Especially for a catcher learning that craft, that is not a lot of games. 

“We just see Joey as a player who can really benefit from more reps in the batter’s box, more opportunities to game plan and more opportunities to work with some really great player-development and major-league coaches,” Kapler said. “We’ve sort of been having this conversation now for several weeks and stayed with a really strong conviction that Joey’s best path to being an excellent major-league player is through more repetition and more time to develop.”

The team wants to get him more reps, as they would with most prospects. Complicating this plan is the fact there’s no minor league season this year, so Bart would not be able to learn in real games, just simulation and practice in an extended training game.

But most complicated of all for the Giants is that Bart has looked very good during the team’s ongoing preparations for the season: he’s reportedly showing good power and approach at bat, and his defense and arm behind the plate are drawing oohs and ahhs. 

Joey is playing so well that his teammates are openly lobbying for him to make the team.

“I really like Joey Bart’s approach,” Flores said. “He can hit the ball hard. I didn’t get to see him in spring training, but I’m getting to see him now. He’s really got some pop.”

Longoria said Bart “is the closest we have to breaking through and being an impact player out of the chute.”

For his part, Joey must want to make the team badly: he went to college, so he is already 23, turning 24 in December. This means if he doesn’t get a year of service time this year, he will not be a free agent until the winter he turns thirty. Guess how many 30-year old catchers get big deals in free agency? I’m guessing zero.

But this short, 60-game season, raises another issue for the Giants. Baggarly points out the following: Bart would need to miss only the first five days to miss out on a year of service time; but with the real risk the season gets shut down with a COVID-19 outbreak, that’s not necessarily true because if the season gets canceled, all players get a year’s service time, even if they only played one game. Ooooh. I am very pro-player, but it would suck for the Giants to lose a year’s cheap service time for a top player for a handful of games in a season that isn’t even completed.

Baggarly points out yet another wrinkle: Bart was drafted by the previous regime, and the new regime took another catcher with this year’s first round pick. Is it possible they are looking to use Bart as trade bait for a top of the line pitching prospect? If so, they run a huge risk letting him get to the majors before he’s ready, because if he stinks it up his trade value plummets. 

I am interested to see what Farhan does. Baseball is *fingers crossed* BACK in six days. -TOB

Source: The Real Reason That Joey Bart Won’t be a Giant on Opening Day,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (07/16/2020)

PAL: First of all, tuck in your shirt on the field, Joey Bart.  And can we drop the ‘y’ while we’re at it? You’re a professional now, not a 10-year old playing up an age group. 

 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, there are more than a few angles to this scenario, and I appreciated this note; 

From inside this fishbowl, anyway, it sure seems like players are sending a message to management. They took on the personal risk to travel to San Francisco and take part in a truncated season amid a pandemic for what will be a fraction of their guaranteed salaries. They made the effort to do this. They don’t want to go through the motions. If they’re going to play a season under these conditions, why not go all-in to win? Why not embrace the crazy and take bold steps?

Totally fair point. 

I’m with TOB: very pro player – because it’s such a treat to watch young, supremely talented, raw athletes compete with the fire of something to prove burning in their belly – but this is a situation when I think the Giants have to hold him back just for a week or so.


How Wedding Crashers Football Magic Was Made

I came across this fun story about the legendary football scene from the movie Wedding Crashers. I’m always impressed anything ever comes off natural in a movie whenever I read ‘making of’ stories, because there are so many people involved in the production, the staging is so methodical, and the number of takes and angles needed for a action scene involving a bunch of characters is insane. It took the production 5 hours to film this 4-minute scene: 

The director, David Dobkin, learned everything he needed to capture this complexity and tension of a big scene from watching the NFL broadcasts. Per Danny Emerman:

But the scene took much more than comedic dialogue to execute. Shooting it was a whole different challenge. When Dobkin studied film at New York University, a professor told him if you ever want to see how to edit a great scene, watch the NFL. Broadcast teams know when to cut to a nervous wife in the luxury box, a coordinator covering his mouth with a play-call sheet, a wide shot of the field while a play develops, an injured player on the sideline. 

Dobkin, a lifelong football fan, applied the NFL lesson in the most literal way possible. The cutaway shots to Kathleen (Jane Seymour) and Gloria Cleary (Isla Fisher) for their reactions after each play come straight from NFL Sunday crowd pans. So does the three-quarters shot of pre-snap motion. “It’s always really guided me,” Dobkin says. “I had that in mind when I went to go shoot this scene, because there are so many points of view, so many characters, and so much movement.”

But, of course, the best part of this scene are the one-liners. Despite a 3-week prep process, which involves the actors walking through each scene and working in ad-libbed lines (which are then re-written into the script), Vaughn’s held his best for the shoot: the pre-snap count was all ad-libbed:

Vaughn: Blue 17! Blue 17! Red seven! Red seven! Red seven! Hot route! Hot route! Hot route! Red seven, red seven red sev-en! Hot route! Red seven! John! Red seven!

Wilson: I don’t know what “red seven” means.

Vaughn: Hot route!

Wilson: I don’t—what is “hot route”?

Vaughn: Will you just go stand on the other side, please?

Also, a special shout-out to Sack’s friend in this scene. Flip, the minor character in the movie, goes 3/3 in this scene: 

 

  • Are you ready? Are you ready for some football? You want the noise brought on you, cause here it comes. 
  • Crabcakes and football. That’s what Maryland does. 
  • Numnumnumnum. That’s what we call a sack lunch. 

A fun read on how much work goes into a laugh, and just how hard it is to capture the essence of a game on a movie set. – PAL

Source: “‘Hot Route! Red Seven!’: How the ‘Wedding Crashers’ Football Scene Came Together”, Danny Emerman, The Ringer (07/15/2020)

TOB: I also enjoyed this article, but the “CRABCAKES AND FOOTBALL THAT’S WHAT MARYLAND DOES!” actually gets short shrift here, IMO. Gleeson and I have spent the last 15 years either quoting it, or adapting it to wherever we are living. Example: “BAD SHIRTS and MCMANSIONS! THAT’S WHAT EDH DOES!” Unlike many of the jokes in this movie, it is timeless.


Sports? No. But a Wild Story About Ballet and Hippies in San Francisco in 1968

This is a very amusing story passed on by my mom, about the time Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, world class ballet dancers, came to San Francisco. 

After their performance, they went to Trader Vic’s, got drunk, met some hippies, went to a hippie house party in the Haight, and got arrested while trying to escape via the roof when the party was broken up…at 3:30 a.m. If that’s not a story you want to read, I doubt we are friends. Be sure to check out the full photo gallery, because there are some wonderful pictures. Thanks, Mom! -TOB

Source: The Great Haight Ballet Bust of 1967,” Bill Van Niekerken, San Francisco Chronicle (04/05/2016)


Videos of the Week (wait for it):

PAL: This guy below nails it. Trust me – seeing Mickelson do that smile and thumbs up live is one of the more ridiculous, hilarious displays I’ve ever seen at a sporting event.

Tweet of the Week: 

For Don Loflin (Father In-Law, pole-vaulter):


Song of the Week – Taj Mahal – “Corinna”


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Finishing that 5k, was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I ate more fettuccine alfredo and drank less water, than I have in my entire life. People always talk about triumphs of the human spirit, well today I had a triumph of the human body. That’s why everybody was applauding for me at the end. My guts and my heart, and while I eventually puked my guts out, I never puked my heart out. And I’m very, very proud of that.

-Michael Scott

 

Week of June 19, 2020

On this day in sports history…


We Don’t Need Sports to Heal

I can barely stomach writing about baseball again. The negotiations between the owners and players are exhausting. But I come here today to discuss something else about those ongoing discussions. Over the past few months, I have seen baseball writers, fans, and politicians expressing some variation of the following:

Commissioner Manfred said it back in March:

“Whenever it’s safe to play, we’ll be back. Our fans will be back, our players will be back, and we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell:

“America needs baseball. “It’s a sign of getting back to normal.”

Agent Scott Boras: 

“Time and time again, baseball has helped our country heal,” he wrote, citing its role after the strike on Pearl Harbor, the 1989 earthquake in Northern California, the Boston Marathon bombing and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo:

“We’re very, very hopeful that we can get going,” he said. “Baseball has stepped up in troubled times to be a leader. We’re used to it. It’s a distraction. It’s comforting to people. It comes with the rhythm of their life.

Baseball, and all sports, are entertainment. But the above sentiment really bothers me. Most of these statements were made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (which is not over, even if you’re over it). 110,000 people have died in this country alone. Baseball would have been a mild distraction, at best. 

But as the Black Lives Matter protests have rightfully raged across the country (and the globe), I can’t help but think that the lack of sports at this time have helped our country reckon with its past, and its present. Governor Cuomo was right: baseball is a distraction. Sports are a distraction. 

But for too long we have utilized distractions in our daily lives to allow us to avoid the problems in our society, in our culture. The silver lining to the dark cloud of the 110,000 deaths of the COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that we don’t have those distractions right now. We can’t turn the channel to a baseball game and pretend everything is alright. We can’t go to a basketball game, see the melting pot in the crowd, and act like we are all living in racial harmony. We can’t avert our eyes from the pains others are feeling, and have felt all their lives.

This week I read “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nahesi Coates. As I read him describe his daily life as a child, the things he had to think about on a daily basis just to survive, it was striking what very different worlds he and I grew up in. We haven’t even begun to rip off the scab of 400 years of racism and oppression. Until we do, we are not ready to heal.

I love baseball. But I don’t need baseball right now. And the country doesn’t, either. -TOB


Nemesis: Heath Bell never game up a home run in 27 innings of work at Coors

We’re back with another installment from Andrew Baggarly’s “Nemesis” collection. It’s a bit different this time, as our subject is a nemesis of a stadium. This is a story about Coors Field’s nemesis: Heath Bell. 

Who’s Heath Bell? He’s a 69th-round draft pick who once entered an All-Star game like this:

And wore his hat like this:

That guy never gave up a home run while pitching at Coors Field. Keep in mind, a big chunk of Bell’s career was with the Padres, a Rockies division opponent. In all, Bell pitched 27 innings and never gave up one gopher ball. Of the 322 pitchers who’ve logged at least 25 innings at Coors, Bell’s the only one who can make that claim. 

Bell confessed that he was as intimidated and uncertain as any other pitcher the first time he walked into the ballpark on Blake Street. But he credited two teammates with giving him the tips he’d need to thrive there.

“We had Doug Brocail in the ‘pen and Greg Maddux was one of our starters,” Bell said. “I remember playing catch and I’m throwing my curveball and it’s not breaking at all. Then Doggy walks up — that’s what we called Maddux — and he comes up all nonchalant like Doggy does. He says, ‘Hey, less is more here. Throw it easier. It’ll break more. Throw it hard and it’ll break less.’ You want to try harder to throw it past guys because you know how the ball flies. But that’s the opposite of what you should be doing.

“But I was still a little scared to do it. So in the bullpen, I asked Brocail, who was someone I talked to all the time. He said if you throw the curveball just below the belt, it will always break. But an inch above the belt, it’ll never break. And if you try to throw your big curveball, the one that comes out of your shoulder and breaks over, that won’t move at all. These guys were such great teammates and they knew from experience.”

Bell worked in a few of his own tricks, too. When the Padres would play the Rockies in San Diego, he’d throw Colorado hitters a ton of get-ahead curveballs for strikes. He was baiting them for those away games.

I love all of that: Maddux’s nickname being Doggy, doing the opposite of what your inclination might be, and especially setting players up in games played in San Diego. All of that is gold. 

Also, in some sick twist, Coors Field is the setting of one of Bell’s worst memories as a player: the Rockies incredible comeback against the Padres in the 2007 play-in game. Bell pitched great (again), but the Padres ultimately lost a wild one on a controversial play at the plate. 

Loving this series. -PAL 

Source: Nemesis: The pitcher who dominated Coors Field still couldn’t escape heartbreak”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (06/03/2020)

TOB: We need a Maddux documentary. Ten hours, like The Last Dance. Is there a player whose public perception during his career turned out to be more different from reality than Maddux? He came across very vanilla. But the stories that have slowly trickled out over the last few years paint a very different picture. He’s like a Lincecum in sheep’s clothing.


The Tale of the Real Tiger King

This was an extremely fun read. Here’s the intro:

While flipping channels not long ago in desperate search of a sports fix, I stumbled across Tiger King.

No, not that one.

Right there, in the closing credits of “The Rookie,” a few dozen names below stars Dennis Quaid and Rachel Griffiths, was the listing for the guy who played the not-so-memorable role of “Durham catcher.”
https://twitter.com/BrownieAthletic/status/1243738600170237959

That glorified extra was Tiger King. He even had a line — “You wanna warm up?” — and uttered it to Quaid without a single animal trainer getting his forearm gnawed off.

Curious about whether that was Tiger King’s real name, I went to Baseball-Reference. And there he was, the 29th-round pick of the Cleveland Indians in 1993, an infielder who went on to play two seasons for the independent league Lafayette (Ind.) Leopards.

TIGER KING! The article is basically a series of anecdotes about a guy whose life is almost as bizarre as that of the Netflix star who has borrowed his name. How he ended up in The Rookie is a good example of something that happened to Tiger King that seems unbelievable:

After his minor-league baseball days, Tiger King found a new career as a traffic signal technician. It’s not a job that screams Hollywood but it turned out to be his big break.

John Lee Hancock, who directed the movie, envisioned a scene in which Quaid tested his fastball velocity by firing a pitch past a roadside speed limit sign.

Hancock wanted the lights to fritz and flicker at 76 mph before fully illuminating at 96 mph. (It’s right here in the trailer at about the 1:18 mark.)

Tiger King delivered that speed limit sign to the set. He also taught the crew how to get that flicker effect by touching two wires together.

Then he swung a hell of a trade with the director.

“I’ll tell you what,” Tiger told Hancock, “if you can get me in this movie, I’ll give it to you for free.”

Tiger had himself a deal. He was supposed to be an extra in the baseball scenes but so charmed everyone that he met, including casting director Beth Sepko, that he wound up with a speaking role.

He also became Quaid’s personal catcher off the set, the guy who would warm up the actor before the pitching scenes. Privately, sports-action coordinator Mark Ellis warned Tiger to never, ever, ever throw hard on the return throw. Rule No. 1 in sports scenes is to avoid injury to the A-lister.

“I was like, ‘Alright. Yeah, I won’t,”‘ Tiger recalled. “And every day, we’d be out there and Dennis Quaid would say, ‘Here’s my fastball!’ One out of every three or four pitches is sailing. He’s not an athlete. He couldn’t throw.”

Still, Tiger would pretend as if he were playing catch with Nolan Ryan himself, sometimes shaking his glove in feigned anguish. He’d say stuff like, “Oh that was a good one!” and “That stung a little!” Talk about acting.

In 1994, during the baseball strike, Tiger King was playing on an independent team in Minneapolis. The team ran out of money in August, but twelve players stuck around to play for free, including King.

The funny thing is, the crowds started getting larger. Sympathetic to the players’ plight, especially at a time when MLB was on hold because of the 1994 strike, fans started filling the seats in support.

“And I’m not exaggerating. We had a fish tank set up on the concourse. And we would tell people, ‘Hey, they’re not getting paid. Donate whatever you can,’” Gonzales said. “They’d throw it all in there and we’d split it up between the 12 players every night. They might get $20 bucks, it might be $10, it might be $50. It just depended on how good the crowd was.”

Another desperate-for-cash promotion offered raffle winners a chance to suit up as the “13th Man.” The winner was just supposed to sit in the dugout for the game, but players once cajoled Gonzales into dispatching a 40-year-old Denny’s busboy to the plate as a pinch-hitter.

“And on the first pitch he got drilled in the back,” Gonzales said. “Man, and I thought they were going to have to get an ambulance to get him to first base. He got smoked.”

That was the one and only plate appearance for the guy from Denny’s. He got his cup of coffee.

The whole thing is funny. Big recommend! -TOB
Source: “His Name is Tiger King, and He’s the Best Baseball Movie Netflix Never Made,” Daniel Brown, The Athletic (06/09/2020)

PAL: Dennis Quaid can’t throw? I’m shocked, based on this trailer for The Rookie. How do they cast someone who can’t throw for that role in that movie? How?

Tiger sounds like the exact kind of guy you’d want on a team.

Sounds like he was absolutely made for independent league baseball. Love the story about the broken bat, and King hitting the home run, going directly into the stands to ask the kid if the bat was juiced up in any way.

The engagement was cute enough, but – dude – secure the ring!

The summer after my freshman year, I worked as a beer vendor at the St. Paul Saints games. This was before the Twins had their new stadium, so the carrot was always “outdoor baseball”. The stadium was packed most nights. And everyone was primarily concerned with everything but the game. Tailgating was priority 1. Drinking beer was the priority for the rest of the night. Actually, a pretty great way to make a buck as a 19 year-old. Independent baseball does have some magic to it. When you take the seriousness out of baseball, it’s a great way to enjoy a warm summer night.


Press League Softball in Central Park Must’ve Been So Fun

On the surface, this is a bit of a fantasy read for me. In another life, maybe, maybe, just maybe I could’ve been working for one of these publications with a team in the Press League. Maybe I could’ve found myself playing in the Wednesday afternoon games in Central Park. 

Look a little deeper, read a little longer, and you’ll see that the rise and fall of the Press League follows a similar arc to print media. Or, in John Walter’s words: 

The internet killed the Press League, some say. And sure, it’s tough to get away for two hours on a Wednesday if it means a Woj bomb is going to derail your career. Besides, it’s hard enough to play third base without also having to constantly refresh your Twitter feed.

This league seemed like an absolute hoot. Until ringers took over, that is. Every publication would mine the corners of the company for good softball players. Jobs were offered in order to get some much-needed outfield defense. 

Given that on/off-field interplay, careers could hinge on softball prowess. Jimmy Colton went on to be the photo director at Newsweek into the late ’90s, and he played a flawless left field for the AP. Steve (Down the Line) Fine, who held the same job at SI, was a dead pull hitter. After more than a decade of frustration, Fine hired Colton in ’98 as his deputy chief. “Half the reason Steve hired me,” says Colton, “was to lift his batting average.”

Characters, the league was full of characters. Catcher Joe (who looks exactly like you’re imagining right now), Murray Chass (The Bantam Rooster), Butch, and so many more. 

What shines through is a group of (mostly) fellas who loved this little tradition. There is something inarguably awesome about playing in a work softball game on weekday afternoon. To be going to the park while everyone else was stuck at work.

And while there are some absolute gems for anecdotes (like when Al Pacino, playing in the Show League, wore an Armani suit, Gucci loafers, and cheated up in the batter’s box, or the umpire Butch moved the bases back 10 feet in order to make the game go faster), of course the league lost itself in the heat of competition. Ringers started showing up. Guys that didn’t work at any of the publications. Guys who played in the SEC. Guys on World Series rosters. Much like its industry, the Press League became almost unrecognizable to what it began as in the 70s. 

Walters characterizes his story as an “elegy. To a softball league. An industry. A generation.” The entire time reading (and it’s a bit of a slog), I wished I was there in the memories. – PAL 

Source: The Spectacular Rise and Sudden Fall of Print Media … on the Softball Field”, John Walters, Sports Illustrated (06/02/20)


Video of the Week: and the crowd goes…wait.

Tweet of the Week:


Song of the Week: Fiona Apple – “Ladies”


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Look, I didn’t say anything when her dad upstaged me during the ceremony. 

-Michael Scott

Week of May 29, 2020


Andre Dawson Is A Mortician?

Yes. Hall of Fame baseball player Andre Dawson is a mortician. Crazy, right? Read this wonderful story from Peter Keating, and you’ll learn that it makes sense. The work, what it requires, fits perfectly in line with how Dawson approached his baseball career. 

He happened upon the mortuary business as a member of an investment group. 12 years ago, there was an opportunity for him to purchase a funeral parlor that was often used by members of the church Dawson attended. It didn’t take long for Dawson to realize the investment required more than money. 

“Do I keep [the funeral home]? Do I sell it? Does the community really need it?” Dawson asked himself. Meeting with local pastors convinced him the answer to the last question was yes — churches worried about losing services from a partner they had relied on for more than two decades. Dawson began to sense that he personally needed to reopen its doors. 

So he got involved. He learned what it took to be good at this next career. Now, Dawson refers to it as “my calling.” 

But Dawson didn’t go out of his way to seek publicity. He rebranded the funeral home as Paradise Memorial rather than using his own name, and he doesn’t speak at most services. It’s Vanessa, outgoing enough that she once considered a career in broadcast journalism, who makes funeral arrangements with most visiting families. Her husband threw himself into all the less visible of aspects of their work. Dawson retrieved corpses from deathbeds. He drove a hearse. (On his first trip, he found himself reassuring the body inside the casket that he would try to keep the ride smooth.) He delivered cadavers to cremations.

“The funeral home business is not about volume,” Brown says. “It’s about controlling the quality of what you do and making it rewarding for the families that come to you and the people who work for you. Andre seems to have found enjoyment in that. Strangest thing!”

Maybe not so strange. Determined, studious and willing to deal with pain, Andre Dawson turns out to be who his fans always thought he was.

Now, as the death tolls rise from COVID-19, and as every element of a wake or viewing changes, Dawson and his team carry on. As he told his staff early on, “It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about the service being rendered to this community,” he told his employees.  

No wonder Dawson was the kind of teammate the other fellas named their kids after. Great story. – PAL 

Source: The Baseball Hall of Famer Who Runs a Funeral Home: Andre Dawson’s Second Act”, Peter Keating, ESPN (05/28/20)


Do Not Fall For the Owners’ Bullshit

We discussed this in the abstract a couple weeks back, but this week the MLB owners went even beyond what I would have imagined in their public negotiations with the players union regarding how the finances will work in an abbreviated 2020 baseball season.

To quickly recap: When the start of the season was postponed, the players graciously agreed to prorate their salaries according to how many games are played. In an 81-game season, that’s a 50% pay cut for all players. I say graciously because they did so with almost no push-back, assuming (perhaps stupidly) that they would accept this entirely fair position and not receive any pushback from the owners. LOLLLLL. 

In the last few weeks, the owners floated through trusted media channels that they’d need more of a give back from players due to the fact fans would not be permitted in the stadium. The players said they’d need to see the owners’ books, for the first time ever, to understand if things were as dire as the owners claim. Owners claim they rarely make large profits as is, and that the lack of ticket sales and concessions would be ruinous (When considering the owners’ claim that they don’t make large profits in normal seasons, keep in mind the small market Kansas City Royals were sold a few months back for $1 billion. Do you think people are eager to pay $1 billion for failing businesses? Me neither).

But this week, the owners released their “proposal” and it is a truly insulting offer. Ignore the people arguing it’s an “opening” offer. Remember, they already HAD a deal. And also understand that in negotiations, if your initial offer is so outrageously one-sided, many times people will simply walk away – you are not to be taken seriously. So, without agreeing to show their books, the owners proposed pay cuts as follows:

It would be at that point I would tell the owners to either make a serious offer or we’d be walking away. That is completely ludicrous to the point that I actually think the owners might prefer to skip the season altogether, and so are making an offer they know would enfuriate the players.

But it’s worse than that. The public nature of it all suggests this was nothing more than a bad faith offer intended to get the players to balk, in an attempt to get the public on the owners’ side. As expected, and understandably so, the players were not happy. Here’s Max Scherzer, a member of the MLBPA’s 8-person executive committee with a representative response, and to see if the owners’ were successful in their PR ploy, wade into Scherzer’s replies. Here’s an example:

And another:

 

As I’ve said many times, though, I do not understand why people side with billionaires over millionaires. Yes, the players get paid a lot. But they will be risking their lives, and potentially be separated from their families for months, for a fraction of what they agreed to play for. Meanwhile, the owners will still collect billions with no risk, and without being separated from their families, for sitting on their butts and writing some checks. 

I think the owners overplayed this hand. They have pissed off the players in a way they haven’t been pissed for 25 years, when the last labor stoppage took place. Buster Posey, of all people, tweeted an article by Roger Ehrenberg, a venture capitalist and baseball fan, discussing how awful the owners’ offer was:

The owners flopped a deal that perverts economic logic and fairness in order to win in the court of public opinion and to pressure the players to go along. Stripping things down to their essence, the proposal calls for players on the lowest end of pay scale to get their prorated pay based upon games played, while those at the highest end to get what amounts to 40% of their prorated salary (read: 20% of their annual contract value). So what you have here are the employees being asked to subsidize the owners — the equity owners- of the business during tough times. Not giving up their fair share, e.g., straight proration, but 60% of their fair share. As an investor for more than three decades, I have to say I’m impressed with the owner’s wanton disregard for fairness and the willingness to create the most hostile dynamic possible with their most valuable assets – the players – and using a sports-starved public as a battering ram to have their highly compensated employees look like selfish a**holes. I am impressed — and aghast.

Here’s what Posey said about the article:

If you know Buster, this is an incredibly surprising thing for him to say publicly. He’s practically a PR robot. As Grant Brisbee put it:

If Posey is saying something like that, the players are PISSED. As two agents put it:

“I have never seen a collective response like I’m seeing today from the players,” one agent said. “They are livid.”

Another agent said, “It’s such a shame there is so much distrust on both sides that we can’t be pragmatic adults. There’s no way MLB would think that proposal would get a favorable response from the players. It’s ‘right back at you, screw you.’ And where are we? They’re playing a pretty dangerous game of chicken.”

I get unreasonably angry at fans when they fall for the owners’ crap. Because we really shouldn’t. As Ehrenberger puts it:

Now here’s the important part: take a deep breath, divorce yourself from the sums involved and think about principle…. The owners of baseball clubs own the equity. The club and all of the cash flows associated with its operation are its assets. When someone owns equity, they’re supposed to get the benefit of an increase in asset value, and to bear the loss of a decrease in asset value. With the steady rise in TV revenues and sweetheart stadium deals, team values have generally skyrocketed. During COVID-19, there has been a short-term hit to asset value as ticket sales, ad revenues, merchandise sales, etc. have slowed to a trickle. The owners have fixed costs (like stadium leases and/or maintenance, supporting the farm system and supposedly player contracts) that need to be covered regardless of revenues, so on a cash flow basis the lack of baseball is costing them real cash. But guess what — this is what being an equity owner is — benefiting from the ups but paying for the downs. But that’s not what the owners want — they want their highly compensated employees to cushion the blow, without any return for what is an implicit financing of the owners by these players.

YES. Thank you. As I wrote a couple weeks back, the owners do NOT share in the profits (or skyrocketing values of their teams) when times are good. They should not get to share in the risk when times are uncertain. They make more than you and me, but the players are still labor. Don’t be a tool of the owners. -TOB

Source: Re-Starting Major League Baseball: Motivation and Manipulation,” Roger Ehrenberg, Medium (05/27/2020); MLB Proposal Made, Players Now Have Say Over Restart,” Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic (05/26/2020)

PAL: To our readers: isn’t it great when TOB threads together a topic through several articles like he does above? 

The exercise of removing the sums of money is a great point on Ehrenberg’s part. The sums are a distraction. Could be wrong, but people get mad at the players because guys like Max Scherzer and Buster Posey get to live the dream a lot of us had as children, and there’s some residue of anger that their lives were able to stay on some trajectory set in a childhood dream millions shared while a lot of people began their drift towards anonymous mediocrity. That residue isn’t a lot – you don’t even notice it most of the time – but every now and again we’re reminded it’s there.


Roy Halladay’s Battle 

10 years ago today, Roy Halladay threw a perfect game, and that wasn’t even undoubtedly the highlight of his career. Before reading this, I forgot just how excellent Halladay was, After reading this, I learned how much trouble Halladay tried to navigate throughout his life. This story from John Barr, Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera serves as another reminder that we have no damn idea who we are rooting for and what is going on in their lives beyond the field of play. 

No two ways about: this story is a sad one to unwrap, but it’s important to share stories of people who struggle, especially those who we tag, unfairly, as idols. And in that word – struggle – is also something admirable. To struggle means there’s a fight, and Halladay fought against his demons. 

Please read the full story. Here are some moments that have stuck with me: 

On Brandy Halladay recalling her first memories of her husband showing signs of addiction: 

It started with chewing tobacco, a habit she says she hated. She’d find the partially empty tobacco tins everywhere — in toolboxes, under plants in the living room, in food boxes in the refrigerator.

Halladay, then in his early 20s, would frequently disappear, alone, into a room in the home he purchased outside of Denver to work on model airplanes or watch TV. It struck Brandy as odd that Roy would lock the door. She recalls one day finding a stack of empty Crown Royal whiskey bags inside the room.

When she confronted him, Roy explained it away, she says, by saying he relished his time alone, unwinding with a few drinks, adding he’d always had a controlled life growing up in a Mormon home and was enjoying his newfound freedom.

On Halladay’s shame of being demoted to the minors and early struggles with addiction:

By then, Roy and Brandy had their first son, 6-month-old Braden. They spoke of buying a home in Florida because Halladay was too ashamed to show his face in Colorado, she says.

That night, Brandy drove to the bookstore and bought Roy a book she now credits with saving his career and their marriage. The now-well-worn copy of “The Mental ABC’s of Pitching,” by sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman, has few highlights or handwritten notes from the pitcher, but one passage is marked with a single pen stroke in the column:

“Pitchers must have a clue,” it reads. “One must know something is breaking if he is to keep it from shattering.”

Rich Dubee, Halladay’s pitching coach in Philly, on the kind of heart the star pitcher had: 

To this day, every day, Dubee wears the Baume & Mercier watch that Halladay gifted to teammates, coaches, clubhouse staffers and front-office personnel after his perfect game 10 years ago.

“We did it together,” the engraving reads on the back of each watch.

A tough read, but an important one, and one that is very well-written. -PAL

Source: Inside Roy Halladay’s Struggle With Pain, Addiction”, John Barr, Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera, ESPN (5/27/20)


Not to Pick on MLB Owners, But…

Just kidding. As long as these rich pricks keep being rich pricks, I’ll happily pick on them. But this one is directed at a specific owner: Oakland A’s owner John Fisher (estimated net worth of $2 BILLION). This week, Fisher announced the A’s will stop paying their minor leaguers, their measly $400 weekly stipend, starting this week. 

This cost saving move will save the A’s oh, about a million dollars.

 

So, are those players free agents now? Are they free to sign with teams that don’t treat their players like shit? LOLLLLLLLL. No. Of course not. 

This is about as disgusting as it gets, A’s. -TOB

Source: Minor Leaguers Make $400 a Week. The A’s Are Cutting Off Payments,” Jared DIamond, Wall Street Journal (05/28/2020)


Video(s) of the Week:

I can’t decide if I’m impressed:

Tweet(s) of the Week: 


Song of the Week: Bobby Womack – “Lookin’ For A Love”


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We’re not supposed to PDA.

-MGS

Week of May 15, 2020

Pretty much sums it up. Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune


Rule of Thumb: Never Side With Billionaires Over Millionaires

The MLB PR machine is hard at work this week, trying and seemingly succeeding, in one fell swoop, to turn many fans against the players in a brewing dispute: what does a return to baseball look like? More specifically, how do the finances work.

Some things to keep in mind: MLB does not have revenue sharing. In the NBA and NFL, player salaries (collectively) are tied to revenues through the salary cap (and floor). The cap and floor are set each year based on the previous year’s revenue. MLB does not do that. The players make what they make. Owners can spend as little or as much as they want. And if teams make a gigantic profit, they keep it for themselves. And they have – MLB teams have made profits of almost $6 billion dollars the last three years. 

But this year, the owners want things to change. When the season was shut down, the players immediately agreed to prorate their salaries according to the number of games played. Which was an insane give away by the players, if you ask me. The vast majority of baseball revenue comes from TV, and so far there is no reduction in the TV contracts, despite missed games. Plus, these are contracts – the players could have stood their ground and demanded to be paid. But they instead showed their good will by agreeing to significantly reduce their pay.

But that wasn’t enough for the owners. Now they are asking the players to tie salaries for this season to revenue, as they are concerned about the financial hit if games are played without fans (no tickets, no concessions). This would further reduce player salaries for the year, as revenues should be down. 

But remember, the last three years the owners have made almost $6B. So what would revenues be down this year without fans? Fangraphs’ Marc Edwards did some quick math and he came up with this:

Rob Manfred has indicated 40% of revenues are home stadium-related, in line with Forbes’ figure of around $4 billion. As to how that $4 billion figure might be made up, we already have the players discounting their salaries. If, for example, 100 games are played, players are giving up more than $1.6 billion in salaries. As mentioned above, players made amateur spending concessions that come close to $400 million this year. Expenses will likely go down if games are played in empty ballparks or at neutral sites (one estimate was by as much as 40%), and if teams can save even 25% of their expenses, that might mean another $1 billion dollars. Factoring in 2019 team profits of $1.5 billion per Forbes, and the league as a whole might end up turning a profit if they can keep all of their television revenue.

In other words, most teams will either break even, or perhaps lose a little bit. But that is not good enough for the owners, and as I said at the outset, they are trying to blame the players. Do not fall for their bullshit. As Edwards eloquently puts it:

The owners are trying to make the return of baseball about money. They want the reward without the risk because that’s what they’ve grown accustomed to after years of incredible revenue and increasing profits. The players negotiated a deal with the understanding that if it wasn’t safe to play, they wouldn’t have to. For MLB to try to use the fact that it is currently unsafe for fans to attend games as a reason for players to subsidize their potential losses reflects poorly on the owners and the Commissioner. After negotiating a CBA that turned out to be a huge win for the owners, the players knew they would have to wait five years for another crack at the bargaining table. The owners waited five weeks before crying poor.

For the most part, the players want to play. The fans want to watch. The owners are getting in the way with a shortsighted attempt to squeeze a little more money out of the players, a stance that could potentially damage the long-term health of our sport and their business.

Remember this when MLB’s PR kicks into overdrive. -TOB

Source: After Years of Profits, MLB Owners Ask Players to Subsidize Potential Losses,” Marc Edwards, Fangraphs (05/11/2020)

PAL: Good, pull, TOB. Revealing look at the PR game vs. what’s actually taking place, i.e., the math. I’d posit the owners’ PR move relies on fans having more immediate concerns about the health and employment of their loved ones – they won’t spend two seconds wondering how MLB baseball players are at risk of losing money. Set baseball aside, that’s not how the workforce should be treated. Also, as Edwards points out: 

It seems possible that proposing revenue sharing with the players is a way to keep more teams profitable and avoid uncomfortable inter-owner conflicts about how to split up revenue in a tough 2020 season. But it’s not the players’ job to help owners avoid discomfort among themselves. 

It makes me wonder in what other industries is ownership asking for the workforce to carry more than its fair share of the burden.

TOB: Yep, I didn’t even touch on the health issue. Here’s a video of the Rays’ Blake Snell discussing the health issues and how he feels he should get full pay.

Now, I don’t agree with everything the Snell says in the video (though I love how he says it), but I think he makes a lot of good points. And keep in mind, Snell has never made more than ~$500k in a season, despite winning the 2018 AL Cy Young, and was set for his first big pay day this year, at $11M, so he’s not yet even a millionaire. Besides, he’s been on my fantasy keeper league team since he was a minor league prospect and I’ll be damned if I don’t stand by My Guys. He’s a Ron Popeil, dammit!


A Most Impressive Slashline: .202/.289/.266 with 114 strikeouts in 497 plate appearances

Michael Baumann is one of our favorite baseball writers, and I enjoyed his examination of Michael Jordan, the baseball player. While the general story is that he wasn’t very good – that’s what his stat line tells us – for him to hit .200 is actually a pretty incredible feat. 

First, Jordan hadn’t played a baseball game in 15 years…since high school. And because he was one of the five most famous people on the planet, fans and press wanted to see him play minor league baseball. The fields in the lower ranks – rookie and A-ball – didn’t have the fan capacity or press areas for the Jordan circus, so they decided to plop him in perhaps the hardest level of minor league ball: Double-A.

Per Baumann:  

Double-A is minor league baseball’s weed-out course. Most pitchers in the low minors have either a good fastball or a good breaking ball, but not both, and those who do have good raw stuff are still figuring out how to throw strikes. If a hitter with a pretty swing and good hand-eye coordination is going to struggle with off-speed pitches, Double-A is usually where we find that out. 

Even for players with lots of baseball experience, seeing a big-league-quality curveball for the first time is a lot like seeing an alien. And Jordan was no exception. 

I told my brother about this story, told him Jordan’s stat line, and he asked what I think I could’ve hit in double-A (let’s assume right after college). I think plenty of guys could square up a few fastballs a week, but once they saw me flail at a slider, that would be the end of me. I’d be lucky to hit .200. 

The second factor working against Jordan was his body. Being 6’6” as a position player in baseball is not advantageous. Very few long guys – basketball bodies, with long arms and legs – have fared well in baseball, especially as hitters. Football players playing baseball. Of course there are some examples (Bo, Deon, Frank Thomas played football at Auburn, too). But basketball, especially taller dudes…that doesn’t really happen. 

We’ve probably seen the last NFL/MLB crossover star, but it’s still positively commonplace to see exceptional athletes play both baseball and football. Murray is the most obvious example, though the top pick in the 2019 MLB draft, Adley Rutschman, moonlighted on the football team at Oregon State. The year after Auburn lost Bo Jackson to the NFL, Frank Thomas got to campus and played football as well as baseball. At one point, the Colorado Rockies had both Peyton and Eli Manning’s college backups on their roster—and there are hundreds of other examples. 

But the physical demands of baseball and basketball are so different that it’s extremely difficult to play both at a high level. Basketball players, to paraphrase Jay Bilas, tend to have length. Long arms and legs take up space on defense and make it easier to shoot over opponents or reach the basket on dunks. When it comes to baseball, though, long limbs are really beneficial only for pitchers, who turn that extra distance between the shoulder and the hand into increased angular momentum—in other words, fastball velocity. That’s why the overwhelming majority of baseball-basketball crossovers are pitchers. Mark Hendrickson played in both the NBA and MLB, and Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teammate Scott Burrell was once a first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners. Milwaukee Bucks wing Pat Connaughton was a highly regarded pitcher at Notre Dame and a solid prospect in the Orioles system before he chose to play basketball full time. Hall of Fame pitchers Robin Roberts, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Ferguson Jenkins all played high-level college or pro basketball, while basketball Hall of Famer Dave DeBusschere played for the White Sox in parts of two seasons.

Looking at Jordan’s swing, the very first thing that jumps out is how uncoordinated his weight transfer is. He looks hesitant, committing only partially to the swing and halting his forward momentum to the point where he sometimes knocks his knees together. He looks like a pitcher, or a baby deer. 

It’s all on display in that video clip above. For someone that redefines what it looked like to play basketball, he’s an awkward deer playing baseball. And yet, being super tall and having not played baseball in a decade and a half, Jordan hit .200 in Double-A. Incredible. -PAL

Source: Actually, Michael Jordan’s .202 Batting Average Is More Impressive Than It Seems”, Michael Baumann, The RInger (05/12/20)

TOB: I’ve always thought his .202 average was good, and as a kid I didn’t even realize that AA often has stiffer competition than AAA (the very best prospects get most of their seasoning in AA, and then get a quick trip to AAA, if they go at all). But I really appreciate how this documentary has caused people to revisit this topic. Because it’s not just good. For all the reasons Baumann and Phil discuss, it was incredible. A person should simply not be able to do that. Consider this example from Baumann:

Current Cardinals QB Kyler Murray was one of the most coveted high school infielders in the nation in 2015. But after skipping the 2016 season, he went 6-for-49 with no extra-base hits and 20 strikeouts at the University of Oklahoma in 2017.

Murray, who again had been a top prospect coming out of high school (something Jordan was not), had one year off (not 15), was playing in college (which is much weaker competition than AA), and he’s maybe 5’10 (but Tinder he’s 6-foot; note: joke stolen from Lil Dicky) (not 6’6 like MJ). 

What makes his year in baseball most impressive is what he did in the Arizona Fall League after the season. The AFL is essentially an all-star season for young prospects. Each team sends 3-4 of its best young prospects to help form a handful of teams. Jordan went, and he hit .252. 

However, I find Francona’s statement that Jordan would have made the majors with another 1,000-1,500 at bats simply astonishing. Even I, a Jordan apologist to the core, never would have guessed that. Of course, I defer to Tito.

One last thing: the decision to start him in AA because of the media and fan capacity is outrageous, and suggests to me the White Sox did not take him seriously at the start of the year. 

PAL: For real, how much more do you trust and love Francona based solely on him having an awesome nickname? 


Good Work, Bauer

Hockey players recognize the name Bauer. One of the biggest major hockey equipment brands is doing its part during the pandemic. Instead of the cage mask, many youth hockey players choose a clear shield (a lot of professionals go with the half shield). As the pandemic spread across North America, the company shifted production to making protective masks for health care workers due to the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E). The goal was to make 2.25 million masks at cost for workers in Canada and the U.S. The company saw it as a way to contribute in the short-term. 

Per Helene Elliott: 

March became April, which bled into early May, and the need for protective equipment remains. But what began as a determined, short-term response to an urgent problem has become an example of the best aspects of human ingenuity and adaptability, one of the few positive souvenirs that can be taken from this prolonged and anxious time.

The company, having recognized they won’t be able to meet the demand, posted its designs for any other company to use and thereby avoiding the trial-and-error stage of manufacturing. 

Not a ton to this story, but it made me feel good, and I wanted to share all of you. – PAL 

Source: Bauer’s line shift from hockey equipment to medical face shields is inspiring”, Helene Elliott, L.A. Times (05/14/20) 


Video of the Week:

Stephen A.’s reaction says it all: this take was too fake and obviously an attempt to get attention, even for him.


Tweet(s) of the Week:


Song of the Week: Lee Fields & The Expressions – “Don’t Leave Me This Way”


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Tell him I will give him general specifics tomorrow, okay?

-Michael Scott

Week of May 1, 2020

50th Anniversary of Hunter S. Thompson’s Kentucky Derby story and the birth of Gonzo 

To a fat whack of our generation, Hunter S. Thompson is the guy Johnny Depp portrays in a movie. Thompson was a very real guy, and – in a way – he invented the style of journalism that is the grandfather of blogs everywhere. Don’t let the drugs, then guns, and the celebrities fool you; Thompson is a literary giant when it comes to journalism. By accident or otherwise, and his story about the Kentucky Derby was the beginning of ‘gonzo’ as we’ve come to know it.  

If you were looking for a story on the actual race, well this ain’t it, boys and girls. Thos ain’t about the results; this is a story about everything surrounding the race, which is to say everything that actually matters at a sporting event. 

Per Bill Shea: 

A sample: “… the clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious.”

Later, Thompson on how the style came to be: 

“It was one of those horrible deadline scrambles and I ran out of time. I was desperate. Ralph Steadman had done the illustrations, the cover was printed and there was this horrible hole in the magazine. I was convinced I was finished, I’d blown my mind, couldn’t work. So finally I just started jerking pages out of my notebook and numbering them and sending them to the printer. I was sure it was the last article I was ever going to do for anybody,” Thompson said. “Then when it came out, there were massive numbers of letters, phone calls, congratulations, people calling it a ‘great breakthrough in journalism.’ And I thought, ‘Holy shit, if I can write like this and get away with it, why should I keep trying to write like the New York Times?’ It was like falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool full of mermaids.”

And that’s what the profile became: An indictment of sports celebrity endorsement culture, blending whatever insight Thompson could glean from this young French cipher with his own observations. The reader gets a feel for Thompson’s frustrations in trying to interview, report and write a traditional narrative feature profile.

As it pertains to Thompson, the man. I mean, how in the actual hell did he become the voice of a counterculture, pretenders and otherwise: 

Other than a few classes, the auto-didactic Thompson didn’t attend college. A short stint in jail at the end of high school led to a brief Air Force enlistment, where he ended up as sports editor of a base newspaper in Florida. He taught himself newspaper journalism’s basics from library books.

“When he was stuck in the Air Force and miserable that they weren’t going to make him a pilot, he gravitated to the newspaper job. This would be as close as he could be to being a civilian and still be in the military,” McKeen said. “He learned the jargon from a book.”

Thompson also moonlighted as a civilian sports columnist and a pro wrestling promoter while writing for the Air Force (which included an expose on current or future NFL stars such as Bart Starr getting preferential treatment while on military service teams).

After that, he held a series of jobs at small newspapers, ending up in Puerto Rico to write about bowling alleys at one point, where he started a novel that wouldn’t be published for almost 40 years. Thompson spent about a year in South America writing about local politics and culture for the since-defunct National Observer, a gig that earned him praise within the industry and a wider audience.

And, if you really want a treat, then go ahead and read Thompson’s original Derby story here. – PAL 

Source: “An Inside Look at How Sports Shaped Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Gonzo’ Journalism”, Bill Shea, The Athletic (04/29/20)

TOB: I read Thompson’s original Kentucky Derby when Grantland (RIP!) published it in full back in 2013. I can’t wait to read it again.


What It’s Like: Caddieing a PGA Tour Event

I could do that! There aren’t many roles in professional sports that us regulars watch and can honestly think, I could do that, but caddieing a professional golf tournament seems like it would be near the top of the list. And what an odd role. Part navigator, part assistant. A one-man entourage. Guitar tech of the sports world. Such a strange way to make a life. 

I could do that. Maybe. Daniel Rapaport did it, and his story is a great Saturday AM read and a fun break from the 24/7 pandemic news cycle. Rapaport met PGA Tour player Matthew Fitzgerald in 2013. They were both freshmen at Northwestern. Rapaport was hoping he’d claim a spot on the golf team as a walk-on. Fitzgerald, U.S. Amatuer champ, left school after one semester to prepare for The Masters. Since then, Rapaport earned his stripes as a sportswriter while Fitzgerald slowly made his way up the various tours until earning his PGA card in 2018. They grew closer, especially when Fitzgerald would crash at Rapaport’s parent’s place in L.A. when he was in the area for tournaments. 

Rapaport had floated the idea of caddieing long ago, and – after a couple near misses – he got his chance at the legendary Pebble Beach Pro Am. That’s when this story starts to get really interesting. The amount of data that each player and caddie have to process in each shot is pretty incredible. Let’s just say the scorecard clipped to your cart and the books these dudes get aren’t very similar. The practice rounds (which sound like absolute heaven on a golf course) weren’t just for ‘Fitzy’ – Rapaport needed some reps, too. 

My first order of business was figuring out how we’d calculate yardages. There’s a surprising amount of math involved. It’s not difficult math, but there’s a lot of it, and it needs to be done quickly and correctly. The process starts with the tee shot. The tour yardage book gives you a number to every sprinkler head, as well as how many yards uphill or downhill it is. But the yardage is given from the back of whatever tee the person who made the book thinks will be used, so you have to pace off how far the markers are from the back of the box. If they’re using another tee box, that’s another layer.

The more crucial calculations come with the approach shot. The book will list every sprinkler head out there, and the sprinkler heads show a number to the middle of the green. But pros aren’t concerned with this yardage. So you find the nearest sprinkler—say, in this case, it reads 140—and check the book. The book tells you that from the 140 sprinkler, it’s 124 yards to the front, and it will also list the slope. Say it’s six yards uphill—it’s playing 130 to the front edge. You then consult the daily pin sheet, which tells you how many paces on the green the flag is. Say it’s 14 paces on. Now we’re at 144 to the flag. But we’re not trying to land it at the flag. Say we want the ball to pitch four paces short. Now we’re back to 140. On to the wind. Say it’s a bit into the fan. Matt thinks it’s playing five yards more. Now we’re at our number: 145. Last calculation: a start line and a finish line. Then, finally, it’s go time. All that in less than 30 seconds.

I thought I had the hang of it all until we reached the ninth hole, an uphill par 4 that turns slightly right. Matt hit his drive in the middle of the fairway—it’s hard to overstate just how straight Fitzy hits it—and asks me, and me alone, to get the yardage. A test! I ran through the numbers quickly and confidently. I communicated to him that it was playing 158 with a hair of wind in the face, a perfect 8-iron. After he struck the approach, it was clear the ball needed to sit—quickly. Get. Down. Now.It didn’t, and it pitched on the back edge of the green, a solid 15 yards past the pin. He then gave me The Look. Every caddie knows The Look. It’s when your player stares at you piercingly, and you both know that you have just screwed up massively, and someone better just say something already. I looked back down at the pin sheet, and sure as hell, I was looking at the eighth hole, not the ninth.

Love the payoff there. The other big take-away Rapaport left with (aside from eating italian every night because, well, the boss likes italian food), was the mental exhaustion. These caddies aren’t hitting the shots, but they are living and dying on every shot. While their cut isn’t nearly as big as the players, they are winning and losing a lot of money with every shot to which they inform. 

Players always talk about how “mentally tired” they are after a tournament, but I never understood what they meant. I do now. This was the most emotionally invested I’ve been in anything since high school sports. I was nervous as hell on the first tee every morning. I lived and died with every birdie putt. I cringed as he prepared to play a tricky flop shot, and my eyes got huge as I saw an approach fly directly at the flag. I buzzed as we started making birdies, and cursed as we started making bogeys. I was the happiest guy in the world after our Saturday back-nine flourish and virtually inconsolable (just ask my girlfriend) after a bitterly disappointing Sunday.

The story is a bit fat in the front, but a fun read that leaves you with a bit more appreciation for the guy walking next to The Guy. – PAL

Source: I Caddied for a Top-25 Player in the World at a PGA Tour Event. Here’s What It Was Like”, Daniel Rapaport, Yahoo (04/27/20)

TOB: I’m sure Rapaport knows a lot more about golf than I do, but all this told me is that caddying (shouldn’t it be caddying and not caddieing?) is the easiest, most luuuuuux gig there is. It takes very little actual skill – nothing you can’t pick up in 15 minutes. And the reward? The top 50 golfers last year averaged $4.6M in winnings. Rapaport says caddies take 8% (though 10% if it’s a major) – which equates to the average full-time caddy making $368,000 and change. There are 40 weeks a year with a PGA event. I doubt most players play them all. So a caddy makes all that money for 30 or so weeks’ work. Nice gig!

Also, I could not stop laughing at how much he used “we” – “We played the first eight of the final round in even par, which had us creeping up the board on a brutally windy day..when you’re six over for the day through 12 holes, the mind wanders to what could have been done differently: We could have hit 9-iron on 9 instead of wedge, I could have said something different on 10 tee, we could have started that tee shot on 12 more right.” LOLLLLLLLL.


Jordan : Athlete :: King Arthur : Political Leader

Loved this Brian Phillips’ piece on The Last Dance. Thought I’d share it, since I’m pretty sure most of us are watching. Let’s be honest – the Rodman ep was meh, but the stories about the Pistons were so good. 

I love this story because I’d never heard the connection we have to our childhood heroes explained in this way, and as soon as I read it, I thought, Damn; that’s exactly it r

As kids, Phillips’ sister would say that she controlled MJ on the court. Emily wasn’t even a basketball fan, but nonetheless she would tell Brian, “Michael Jordan and I just have a…kind of connection.” It became a bit of a family joke, with their father praising Emily after Jordan made yet another spectacular play (sidenote: my god, the highlights of a young Jordan. I know we’ve seen them before, but his speed, power, grace remain awe-inspiring.)

Phillips explores the truth in their telekinetic joke: 

My sister’s joke about moving MJ around with her mind was only a somewhat exaggerated version of how hordes of basketball fans (and non-basketball fans, and probably fruit flies, though they couldn’t buy Nikes) watched his games in the ’90s. It’s only a somewhat exaggerated version of how we watch great athletes in general—not literally guiding their movements, that is, but somehow participating, hitching an imaginary ride in their bodies. We feel a kind of sympathetic echo of their actions, as if, on some shadow-cellular level, they’re our actions, too.

That lands. I was with Puckett when he tracked Ron Gant’s deep fly in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. I jumped when he jumped, and it all mixes together to the point in which it’s difficult to separate my experience from his. The echo on a cellular level…ain’t that the truth. (And – yep – I know you Giants fans are so beyond over hearing about Puckett, Game 6. Too bad.) 

Phillips goes on to also explain the power of Jordan is the simplicity of his narrative, which is the template of the modern sports narrative (after being ‘cut’ from his high school team, he exceeds every expectation, hits ‘every’ clutch shot, and becomes a billionaire). What’s more, he represents the closest to the ideal that we’ve witnessed.

Like any competitive pursuit, sports have always trafficked in the ideal. Here’s the perfect body; sculpt it. Here’s the perfect victory; write a poem about it in Greek. For the most part, though, the ideal remains an abstract concept. People chase perfection but don’t reach it, as a rule. In America in the 1980s and ’90s, though, we decided that we were going to get to see the ideal—the real thing, the source itself, in the flesh. You could write a thesis, probably, on the historical factors that went into constructing that determination. The point is, Michael Jordan gave it to us. He came so close to actually embodying the ideal athlete—he really did hit the buzzer-beaters, he really did seem to move in a different and more beautiful way than other players, he really did seem to hang for an impossible extra beat in the air—that we were able to believe the ideal athlete existed. He was here. He was ours. He was the perfect fusion of capitalism and destiny. He was a living person, but the way we experienced him, he was a basketball player in approximately the same way as King Arthur was a political leader.

That’s some big thinking. An idea that will stick with you for a weekend. And so, as is the case with many examples of great writing, this story is a long path towards a question: is The Last Dance a refresher of the ideal or an unearthing of the humanity in Mike Jordan? – PAL 

Source: Michael Jordan the Story Versus Michael Jordan the Man”, Brian Phillips, The Ringer (04/27/20)


How One Trade Got Done

From the public standpoint, there are generally two types of blockbuster trade. The first is the long-rumored, makes so much sense trade that gets discussed for weeks or months before it finally gets done. The second is the one that shows up as breaking news, out of nowhere, on the ESPN ticker.

But either version, a trade usually doesn’t come together quickly. There is a lot of negotiation back and forth. I’ve always wondered how it happens, though I’m sure it’s always different. So I really enjoyed this story on the 2013 trade that sent James Shields from the Rays to the Royals for a package of prospects, including the then #1 rated prospect, Wil Myers. Executives from both sides go on the record, 7 years later, and it’s a really interesting read. They discuss how they valued the different players involved, the emotional investment for each, knowing when is the time to push your chips in the middle, and even the exact moment the trigger was pulled. 

Inside Moore’s suite was a dry-erase board covered in ink. Moore had written the names of Kansas City’s top prospects. He made his case to his assistants. He crossed off Myers’ name. He crossed off Odorizzi. He crossed off Montgomery and Leonard. Moore pointed to the unsullied names on the board.

“Do we still have a good system?” he asked. Heads nodded. “If we’re going to compete,” Moore said, “we have to make this deal. I don’t know about you guys. But I’m tired of losing.”

Friedman and Moore reconnected. “The tenor of the conversation changed dramatically,” Friedman said. They were speaking the same language.

The two teams left Nashville without a deal done. Moore still needed to convince his owners to take on the contracts for Shields and Davis. He wanted to escape the bubble of the Winter Meetings and reflect. He wanted to gather himself before taking the plunge.

A couple days later, Moore went to a Christmas party with Picollo and scouting director Lonnie Goldberg. During a lull in conversation, Moore made up his mind. He pulled out his phone.

“Guys, I’m just going to go do this,” he said. “I’m going to call Andrew right now.”

It’s also interesting to read, 7 years later, because I don’t think this deal gets done now. Myers was the #1 rated prospect. Now, he’s a goddamn Giants-killer, but overall he was disappointing for the Rays, and has been just ok for the Padres. But he was The Next Big Thing, and he was traded for a 31-year old pitcher, with a lot of innings on his arm, with exactly one All Star Appearance and one season in which he received Cy Young votes, and only two years of team control. He was basically Joe Blanton. Prospects are simply valued much higher now, and there is no way a guy like Shields is enough to get not only the #1 prospect, but a few other highly rated guys, too. Still, a very fun read. -TOB

Source: ‘It Was Time to Win’: Inside the Royals’ Trade for James Shields and Wade Davis,” Andy McCullough, The Athletic (04/22/2020)


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Pink Floyd – ‘Wish You Were Here’


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Stanley’s dedication is no doubt one of the hallmarks of the foundation of the business we’re hoping to build our basis on.

-Michael Scott

Week of April 17, 2020

Happy Birthday, TOB. Now stop dunking and help your dad wash the suburban.


No. 1, Willie Mays

It’s a name that really sings, doesn’t it? Willie Mays. Say it out loud, but say it quickly. Willie Mays. For 70 years, that name has echoed on streets and playgrounds, ball fields and school yards. Willie Mays. Imagine little kids across the country in 1951, when Willie debuted with the New York Giants, hearing that name dance out of their radio. Willie Mays. Imagine it rolling off their dad’s tongue in 1954, as he read aloud the story of The Catch from the morning sports page. Willie Mays. 

That name continues to dazzle, though it’s been almost 50 years since Willie Mays last played in the major leagues. When my sons and I play baseball, they argue over who gets to “be” Willie Mays. And if you think I’m exaggerating, this was Tuesday:

He’s just three (and it’s fitting because I tried to name him Willie Mays, though my wife would not give in). He has never seen Willie Mays play, of course. He can tell you he was on the Giants. I think he could tell you his jersey number, but that’s about it. There’s something about that name that sparks the imagination, though.

Last Friday, shortly after we posted our weekly digest, Posnanski published the next in line in his Top 100 series: No. 2, Babe Ruth. I think I gasped. I had long assumed Ruth would be #1. I predicted Joe would have Willie Mays #3. But #1? I read through the Ruth story, and it was fine, but I waited all weekend to read his story on Mays, and it did not disappoint. Here’s how it begins:

Think for a moment about the first vivid baseball memory you have.

Perhaps you have a hollow plastic bat in your hands and a Wiffle Ball floats toward you. How old are you? 3? 5? Older? All you want to do is hit the ball. Where does that hunger come from? Who taught you that? Nobody. It is an instinct. You stand rigidly with your legs spread apart and the bat resting on your shoulder — maybe your parents set you up that way like an action figure. The ball dangles in midair like a disco ball. You swing the bat the way you imagine it should be swung, and you connect, perfect contact.

The ball takes off like a leaf caught in the wind, and you begin to run and stumble toward invisible bases that hide in the grass. You run a tight circle around the pitcher — is it your dad? Your mom? Your grandpa? Your best friend? — until you make it all the way around.

And when you get back where you started, you tumble over in the best version of a slide that you can muster. Who taught you how to slide? No one. You just knew.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Or maybe it is this: You and a friend throw a rubber ball (a tennis ball?) against the stairs that climb up to your front door. The sun is so big and warm that it seems to color the cloudless sky yellow. If you throw a ball against those stairs just right — so that the ball hits the upper corner flush — it will take off like a toy rocket. And that’s what your friend does. The ball erupts off the stair and goes soaring toward the street, and you turn your back and sprint after it. You can’t catch it, but you run just the same because … well, just because. And then to your surprise, you find that you start gaining on the ball. You can see it coming down, and you can see that if you reach out, stretch out, thrust out your arm as far as it can possibly go …

And maybe you catch it. How did you catch it? You don’t know but you feel electricity buzzing throughout your body and you shout out to your friend, “DID YOU SEE THAT?” And your friend jumps up and down excitedly — or, wait, maybe you are the friend — and the two of you spend the rest of the afternoon reliving the catch.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Maybe your memory is of buying a new pack of baseball cards. This might be in the days when baseball cards come with a rectangle of rock-hard chewing gum that tastes like cardboard and rubs your tongue raw like sandpapers … or maybe this is years later, when there was no gum, when instead there would be specialty cards inside, maybe an autographed card or one that has a little piece of fabric worn by a major leaguer.

Either way, you pull off the plastic wrapper slowly because you want to savor it all, make the experience last for as long you can. And you slide down the top card just a little so that it reveals only a tiny portion of what card is next. Hmm. Look here. The next player is on your favorite team. Could it be? You don’t dare to hope yet. You slide the card down a little more. Yes, it might be. A little more. Yes! The next card is your favorite player, you already know that this next card is now the most valuable thing you own, and you might sleep with it under your pillow or you might put it in one of those baseball card cases for protection. Whatever you do, your life is just a little bit different and better than it was before.

That memory is Willie Mays.

Perhaps you are at a ballpark. Everything looks so green. You’d seen games on television. You’ve looked at boxscores and imagined. But you never believed it could be so green.

The smells overwhelm you — what is that? Beer? Hot dogs? Funnel cakes? Sweat? Yes. All of it. Baseball smells like an amusement park and a backyard barbecue and an afternoon at a movie theater and recess at the playground all at once. Then you hear the sounds, cheers and chatter, boos and a vendor selling peanuts, claps and stomps and groans and hopeful screams that either rise into happy symphonies or trail off into disheartened sighs, all while an organist plays “Hava Nagila” and a Mexican Hat Dance and a cavalry charge and that nameless song that plays a duet with your rapid heartbeat.

Here we go (YOUR TEAM), here we go (CLAP CLAP).

Maybe you even keep score. You’d have to be a certain age for that to ring true, probably. To keep score, you mark (with your blunt pencil that barely leaves a mark) a 6-3 for a grounder to short or a 9 for a fly ball to right field or you trace that pencil all around the bases and draw a diamond for a home run.

And then a ball is hit deep and the center fielder chases after it, but there is no chance the ball can be caught, the geometry teacher in your head tells you so. Then you see the ball and the man converge, and at the last possible instant the center fielder takes flight and pulls it in, and all at once, all together, people lose their bleeping minds.

“Put a star next to that one,” someone tells you, and you do, you put a little star next to the “8.”

That memory, most of all, is Willie Mays.

Chills. Seriously, I’ve read that four times now, and it gives me chills every time. Posnanski absolutely nails it: Willie Mays deserves to be #1 because he was great, yes, but more than that he was and is everything great about baseball: he loved to play. Loved it. In all the clips I’ve ever seen, the joy he played with oozed from his pores. Look at the video of The Catch.

It’s INCREDIBLE on every level – the read, the speed, the athleticism, the determination, and the sheer difficulty – the impossible angle (straight back, which is just so hard to do), and then of course the way the ball sails right over his head and lands softly in his glove. Then there’s the awareness to immediately get the ball back into the infield, which saved the game, as the runner tagging from second had to stop at third (remember this is deep center at the Polo Grounds, so around 460 feet). But the thing that always tickles me about that catch is the panache – the way his hat flies off, the way he whirls around as he throws like he’s tossing a discus. He’s having an absolute ball, and it’s impossible not to love.

It doesn’t hurt, as a Giants fan, that he’s “ours.” Last season, we were driving on the freeway on the way to the ballpark when I came upon a license plate I had seen once before: 1SAYHEY. I said: “Oh my god. I think we’re about to drive past Willie Mays.” I sped up a little, then slowed down next to him. And sure enough, there he was, the Say Hey Kid, in the passenger seat. I waved. I don’t remember if he noticed. But I said to the kids, “Do you see that guy? That is Willie! Mays! FROM THE STATUE!” He was headed to the game, too. 

It’s those days you show up to the ballpark and Willie shows up, too, that are really special. You feel like a little kid. And you get to point and say to your kids, “That, right there, is Willie Mays, the best baseball player there ever was.” No other fanbase gets that.

Willie turns 89 next month. And every time I see him I think, “Is this the last time?” But instead of getting sad, it makes me appreciate the experience more, and I cheer louder. Because I know he appreciates it. I hope someone read him Posnanski’s story – I know he’d appreciate that, too, because it’s great.

Posnanski sums up Willie Mays, and why he continues to resonate with so many, including two young boys in San Francisco, all these years later:

But even to the end, he sparked joy. What do you love most about baseball? Mays did that. To watch him play, to read the stories about how he played, to look at his glorious statistics, to hear what people say about him is to be reminded why we love this odd and ancient game in the first place.

Yes, Willie Mays has always made kids feel like grown-ups and grown-ups feel like kids.

In the end, isn’t that the whole point of baseball?

Consuming sports was different when Willie played. Not every game was on television. There was no national highlight show giving you the best plays of the night, every night. There are relatively few clips of Willie Mays actually playing baseball available even today. But my three-year old consumes sports the same way kids in the 1950s did: in brief clips that are fuzzy in their brains, in stories their parents tell them, and in the joy of saying a name like Willie Mays. -TOB

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 1, Willie Mays,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)

PAL: I am ashamed that I didn’t know Willie Mays played minor league ball in Minneapolis! 

In a collection of stories that read like folk tales of athleticism, youthful exuberance, and “divine moments”, the parallels and juxtaposition between Mays and Mantle, and their respective fathers, really sticks out. 

And this is a great point on May’s iconic, over-the-shoulder catch: 

Nobody knows for sure where the throw went: The enduring film only shows him making the throw. But we know that it made Larry Doby stop at third. Doby would not score. The Giants would win the game in extra innings and then sweep the series.

But maybe my favorite line from the entire story comes from Giants manager Leo Durocher: “If he could cook I’d marry him.”

The entire series is one hell of a collection from Posnanski. Damn, man.


Shawn Kemp: Kentucky Wildcat (That’s Right)

How about this for teaser from Kyle Tucker: 

“Does Christian Laettner get off that stunning buzzer-beater in overtime to deny Kentucky its triumphant return to the Final Four if Kemp is on the court?”

Say what now?

A little while back we did favorite athletes by decade. Since then, Bill Simmons has started reviewing previous drafts and re-drafting, which has been jogging my basketball memories. Everyone’s looking to the past for their sports fix, and in the process, I’m realizing how many athletes I overlooked in our little exercise. Basketball-wise: I had an affinity for Steve Blake from that Maryland team. I like Andre Miller and that Utah team a lot. Give me some Andrew DeClerq while we’re at it. There may have been a short Reggie Miller period as well. 

So all of these NBA names are spinning around in my brain, especially as I listen to Simmon review these old drafts, when I see this Shawn Kemp story about his time at Kentucky being stopped before it began. 

People over 35 know that Shawn Kemp was a very big deal for a few years. The dunks were ferocious. The Sonics were cool, and they made a Finals against Jordan. 

But I had no idea about his journey to the Sonics. No idea that he was from Indiana, that he passed on Bobby Knight and the Hoosiers, and went to Kentucky. I had no idea he never played a game for the Wildcats, and I had no idea why. In my mind, Shawn Kemp’s existence began in those slick Sonic jerseys doing this: 

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about his arrival at Kentucky and how stupidly it ended for pawning some stolen jewelry. And just like that, he was gone before playing a simple game for Kentucky. 

Two details stick out to me from the story. 

The jewelry was Sean Sutton’s. His dad, Eddie, was the coach. Sean filed a police report about the stolen jewelry, which led the local authorities to alert local pawn shops. Kemp was found selling the jewelry to one of those pawn shops for $700. 

Over thirty years later, Sean Sutton had this to say (for the first time, at least to the press): 

“I’ve never talked about this,” Sean Sutton told The Athletic recently. “In the past, I just said, ‘That’s not something I care to revisit.’ But I think everybody probably deserves to know the real truth. I want Kentucky fans to realize that Shawn Kemp was a good guy. It got so out of control, became such a big story, and it’s really, really unfortunate how it all played out. He was gone before any of us really understood what was happening. If I could go back 32 years, I’d probably do things differently.

“Because in my mind, and I would know as well as anybody, he didn’t take that stuff.”

Sean, dude, couldn’t you have maybe found the guts to say that before now? While – yes – the jewelry was stolen, and Kemp was selling it, that doesn’t necessarily mean he stole it (as Sutton now insists he thinks whoever took the jewelry lied to Kemp about where it came from and likely gave it to Kemp to pawn for some cash.) Someone could have just given the jewelry to Kemp and told him to pawn it in order to make some easy cash, no questions. For a super-duper star athlete in a big program, that seems completely understandable to me.

Also, if Sutton just doesn’t file the report, this all can take place without people knowing. Kemp stays and joins a stacked Kentucky roster, and maybe a few years later Kemp (completely normal for superstars to stay 3-4 years in college at that time) is playing with Mashburn against Duke, and the 6’11” Kemp (I had no idea he was that tall) swats Laettner. I know, I know; it’s not a fill in the blank, but isn’t it fun to imagine? 

The other detail from this story that really stuck out was how much of a manchild Kemp was. So he gets to Lexington in the summer and is playing pickup games with current and former Kentucky players. We’re talking NBA guys and top college players. Kemp, a teenager, is dunking on all of them – including Kenny ‘Sky’ Walker. 

“Shawn dunked right over Kenny and looked right at him and said, ‘Take that shit!’ Or maybe something worse,” Sutton says. “Everybody was stunned. What did he just say to Kenny? I don’t think Shawn was doing it to be disrespectful. He just got caught up in a competitive moment. That’s just how he was wired, trying to destroy people.”

Lest anyone think Walker was offended, it was quite the opposite. Kemp was headhunting every player in the gym that day, including former UK stars Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin, the No. 2 and 6 overall picks in 1984, and the alums loved it.

“He was a man-child,” Walker says. “Most guys playing a bunch of established NBA players would be trying to feel their way around, might be a little timid, but he was trying to dunk everything on everybody. I usually had the advantage over everybody, but here I am going against a guy two inches taller than I am, stronger than I am, just as aggressive as I am, and maybe a little meaner than I am. Until LeBron James came along, I couldn’t remember a guy right out of high school so physically put together and with so much spring.”

Perhaps many of you knew the Kemp Kentucky stuff, but I had no idea, which made this a solid read from Kyle Tucker. – PAL 

Source:‘It Got So Out of Control’: Shawn Kemp’s Kentucky Career Ended Before it Began, Kyle Tucker, The Athletic (4/16/2020)

TOB: Interesting stuff. This week I stumbled on another good Kemp tidbit: In 1994, while Jordan was playing baseball, the Sonics almost traded Kemp to the Bulls for Scottie Pippen. The deal fell through when the story leaked and the Sonics’ owner grew concerned about fans being upset over losing the beloved Kemp. But the most fascinating part is that the Sonics’ coach, George Karl, called up Jordan (they are both Carolina guys), and Karl claims Jordan said: “Do it,” he said. “Scottie can make your other players better. Kemp can’t.”

Huh. Given Jordan’s comment: does he even come back in 1996 if Pippen is gone? That’s a crazy what-if.


Joey Votto Tries to Slow the Coming of the End

Joey Votto is an interesting guy, especially as baseball players go. I really enjoyed this article on the Reds’ star, as he tries to fight Father Time. Here’s the open:

Last April, on a gorgeously sunny, relatively cool afternoon at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto popped out to first base. Ahead in the count, he’d lunged at the ball, sending it high into foul territory, before it landed in the mitt of the first baseman. Infield flies are the lamest thing a batter can do apart from striking out, but the crowd went wild—or rather, the baseball commentators and Twitter masses did. (“This has to be a sign of the zombie apocalypse.” “The world is ending.”) Because, over the course of his 13-year Major League career, in 6,827 trips to the plate, Votto had never popped out to first. Think of a veteran opera singer who never hit a wrong note onstage, or an actor who never flubbed a line. Equally astounding, Votto had flied out to the infield—right, left, or center—only seven times since 2010, while any other Major Leaguer with the same number of trips to the plate would have done so 137 times.

That’s an incredible stat, and the story just gets better from there.

Source:The Brainiest Hitter: Can Joey Votto Outsmart Age?” Sridhar Paddu, The Atlantic (May 2020)

PAL: Loved this article. Definitely keeping an eye out for future stories from Sridhar Paddu. I knew nothing about Joey Votto, and so this was a real treat. I’ve read a few sports profiles, and his candor stands out. Fascinating approach to his game. The idea that, in his prime, he felt his skills slipping ever so slightly, and the idea that – before 30 – he chose to accept that and rebuild his swing…two years after winning the National League M.V.P.

My favorite part of the entire piece comes near the end, before the season was cancelled and Votto was about to lock in to his very regimented baseball schedule and mode:

The day before we met in person, Votto decided to have a coffee at Starbucks, his last one, he figured at the time, for months. Then, while at Whole Foods in the afternoon, he went even further. He stopped at the bar set amid overpriced produce and organic beauty supplies to have a beer. A single beer at a grocery store to revel in the task in front of him: the comeback season. “Let’s celebrate,” he recalled thinking. “Let’s get ready for a great year. Let’s go to Whole Foods and get a beer at 3 o’clock!”

Many of us have walked by that Whole Foods bar and thought about a quick beer. I love that he did it, and I love that he was celebrating getting ready for a great year.

Great find, TOB.


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Tom Waits – “Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)”


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

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

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And this is more a ying-yang thing. The ‘Michael’ all cursive, the ‘Scott’ all caps. Left brain, right brain. Or, duality of man.

-Michael Scott

Lockdown Dailies #13: Strangest Field You Ever Played On, MN Town Ball Edition

Strangest Baseball Field You Ever Played On – MN Town Ball Edition:

On Monday, we shared some thoughts on the strangest baseball fields around – both in the history of the game (Polo Grounds) and fields we played on. We got a lot of great comments on that post, but Ryan Nett – LHP, college roomie, and future Stearns County H.O.F. – sent a number of gems from the Minnesota town ball scene. We had to share more broadly.

Nett: A few come to mind from my townball years. St. Wendel was 240 down the left field line, but had a 45 ft chicken wire fence almost to CF.

Pearl Lake has a field with a 4 way stop in in CF. No fences, the road is the fence. About 270 down the lines, about 400 to center. Ball rolls on the road, double, clearly hits on the road or over, it’s a homer.

There was a legend of a field in Bowlus where a road to get to about 4 houses went from behind 3rd to rf power alley. Houses front porch faced the field and were in play. 3rd pole on a house down the rf line was the foul pole, old lady who lived there let them paint it yellow.

TOB: I watched the PBS Townball series about Minnesota Townball over the weekend, streaming on Amazon Prime. I recall the field in Farming was featured, but I don’t recall them discussing the dropoff. Hilarious and dangerous.

Netter: yes, both Pearl Lake and Farming were featured. Farming has since put in about 500k into their field, lights, sprinklers, redid the whole playing surface. Went from the outhouse to the penthouse in terms of fields.
Pearl Lake is stuck due to regulations with structures close to the road like a fence.

Last field that I played at and Phil saw, Farming. From home to Rf line was about 315, but from about 1st base to the line was a 6ft drop off. I bet I saw 30 1st baseman fall over chasing a ball just blooped over their heads that normally would have been caught standing. Then to left field you hit up hill. From 3rd to left it rose about 3 ft. From Lf foul pole to Rf foul pile was a 10 ft drop, we had the field surveyed.

TOB: I just looked up Pearl Lake’s field:

Look at that…wouldn’t it make a ton of sense to turn that field around? Place home plate near the 4-way stop?

Regardless, Springer Park (Cold Springs) field looks freakin fantastic in this shot (PAL note: Nett wanted it known that he’s hit two bombs at Springer Park):

I would NOT complain about playing there!


Original Post:

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every field is different. Perhaps most famously is the Polo Grounds. 

Dimensions: Left Field: 279 ft, Left-Center: 450 ft, Center Field: 483 ft, Right-Center: 449 ft, Right Field: 258 ft.

LOL. I’ve seen those dimensions before but it is always so funny. The shortest home run in today’s game is 310 down the right field line at Fenway, which is FIFTY TWO FEET longer than the right field pole was at the Polo Grounds.

I bring this up because last week, 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy (real name: James O’BRIEN) asked Twitter followers for the funniest/dumbest local baseball fields. This one was my absolute favorite:

Center field is just opens up, with no fence, into a football field. Amazing. Like all great, quirky ball parks, they made the best with the space they had and created something so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it.

Looking at the Polo Grounds reminded me that Phil and I used to play softball at a field in SF (James P. LANG Field!) that has two softball fields at opposite corners of what is ostensibly a soccer or football field. 

It’s difficult to tell there how lopsided this field is, but I utilized Google Maps’ measuring tool and the dimensions are 385 to left, and 200 (yes, 200) to right. Given those dimensions, most teams stuck their worst defender in right, and shaded everyone toward center and left, because a ball getting by the outfielders in center and left would roll and roll, but a ball to right would hit that relatively short fence. 

Confession: I have never in my life hit a true home run. So, for two seasons, I eyed that short porch in right and decided to make a run at it, wanting to experience a home run trot. One night, I hit the ball so hard, I thought for sure it was gone off the bat. I watched that beauty fly and felt pure joy.

One thing you can’t tell from the overhead shot is that the right field wall is very tall. Here’s the best pic I could find. 

As you can kind of see in the top left of the photo, as you approach the fence, the grass heads steeply uphill. I’d say 6-7 feet (you can see in the photo the grass line is taller than a person standing out there). Then the fence is probably 12 feet high from there, so we are talking almost 20 feet.

As you probably guessed, I hit the ball high, I hit the ball deep…but I did not hit the ball high enough. The ball hit the goddamn very top of the wall. It was maybe a couple feet short of clearing it. I was crushed. And because I had been pimpin’ it, I had to scramble to eek out a double. Embarrassing.

What’s worse is this: (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil), Phil had not yet hit a dinger at that field either, despite being a lefty (something I had given him some ribbing about). Well, Phil was the next hitter up. And as I stood at second base, I got an absolutely spectacular view as Phil crushed a home run over that same wall I had barely failed to clear. Phil was cackling at me during his entire slow trot around the bases. Insult to injury. 

I never did get that dinger. I might need to get back into that league. I’ve got Dad-strength now, ya know. -TOB

PAL: That is correct, TOB. I had yet to hit a home run, despite the fact that we played ALL of our games on those two fields, and both favored the lefties big time. This is because I kinda suck at hitting softballs.

I’ve played on a lot of odd fields in my day, and – I agree with JOMBOY – it makes for a far more interesting game. That overhead shot of the Polo Grounds is crazy point of view. I also don’t think Pesky Pole down the right field line is anywhere near 310 feet from home. My brother-in-law, lifelong Red Sox fan and Mass. resident, can back me up on this: right field might not be even 300 feet. However, it juts almost straight back from there, so only a very small portion of right field is a short porch at Fenway.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the field, but I seem to remember playing a legion baseball game (16-18) where a ball over the right field fence was just a ground rule double because the fence was so short. Cretin’s field in St. Paul is perfectly manicured, but the left field fence is maybe 265, a fact few people seemed to remember when looking at season stats (OH MY GOD, so-and-so from Cretin has 12 home runs!)

The worst playing field I can remember was my freshman year in college. It was about 6 degrees out and we were trying like hell to get a conference game in before or after another snow storm in March. Somewhere in Sioux City, IA. I swear we played a college game on a Babe Ruth field that, in the most perfect conditions looked like the location of a meth deal from Breaking Bad. On the day we played there, it was unthawed with the snow shoveled off of it. It smelled like sulfur (because that entire town does). It was like playing on concrete in a howling wind. Miserable.

So, that’s my story of the strangest field I ever played on. How about you?


Video of the Day

We haven’t really been doing videos of the day on our dailies, but I loved this and wanted to share: Mike Yastrzemski mic’d up.


More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience
  11. Remove these songs from the sports canon

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Lockdown Dailies #11: Remove these songs from the sports canon

These songs, oftentimes played at sporting events, need to be removed from stadium/arena playlists when we go back to games.

  1. ‘Sweet Caroline’ – Neil Diamond. So over it. Every over-served person in America loves singing this song. Only became a Red Sox tradition in late 90s, and then this push for it to become ‘tradition’ across several teams is so lame. Also, there are so many better Diamond songs! ‘America’, “Forever In Blue Jeans’, ‘Kentucky Woman’ to name a few.
  2. ‘Centerfield’ – John Fogerty. Every pre-game mixtape, at every field, at every baseball game from Little League through college. That upbeat, bouncy melody is chiseled into my brain. I. Can’t. Stand. This. Song. No mas. 
  3. ‘All Star’ – Smash Mouth. I would think many of these songs on this list don’t actually need an explanation, and this would be one of them.
  4. ‘Let’s Get It Started’ – Black Eyed Peas. 
  5. ‘When The Lights Go Down’ – Journey.  SF’s answer to Sweet Caroline…and just as manufactured and forced. 
  6. ‘Cotton Eye Joe’. When did annoying = fun? 
  7. ‘Glory Days’ – Springsteen. He’s been given a pass on this. No one calls a fastball a speedball (as many have pointed out). Super catchy guitar riff, and a good concept for a song, but that line unforgivable. It’s actually a real flex on his part. You’re telling me NONE of his friends had the seeds to say, “Hey, Bruce. We need to talk. Dude, you can’t say speedball. You sound like an idiot.” Also, ‘fastball’ has the same amount of syllables and works within the rhythm of the lyric exactly the same as speedball.
  8. ‘Y.M.C.A.’ – Village People. I don’t want to do the wave, and I don’t want to do the YMCA. Next.
  9. ‘I Gotta A Feeling’ – B.E.P. The only group in this list twice…just sayin.
  10. ‘The Greatest’ – Kenny Rogers. A one-listen song. Once you hear the punch line, it’s done. No disrespect to the recently departed.

PAL

How about you? What songs got to go? What songs am I absolutely wrong about? 

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Lockdown Dailies #10: Ultimate Sports Experience

For the sake of entertainment, let’s assume the world was like it was a couple months ago and all sporting events were as they were before the pandemic.

The scenario: by some stroke of luck, good fortune, or mistake you fall into a large sum of money. Enough money so that all the real important things – the house, college for the kids, buying something real nice for your parents – are taken care of, but not enough money where you’re buying a professional sports franchise or building a family compound for you and all your siblings’ families in Monterey or something. Whatever that sum of money is, there’s enough for you to live out your ultimate sports experience. I’d call it bucket list, but this seems even a bit more out of reach than bucket list stuff. As an example, my sports bucket list includes maintaining a youth baseball field at some point in my life.

I think about my ultimate sports experience every time I drive west on the Bay Bridge, where Oracle (the SF Giants Stadium…so hard to keep up with stadium names these days) is just down and to the left. I can see most of the field from that vantage point, and every single time I drive by, and have the same thought: wouldn’t it be cool to rent out the stadium for a night and have 10 buddies out there hitting, taking grounders, turning double-plays, shagging fly balls? A cooler of beer on both baselines. A bucket of seeds. Hundreds of new pearls (rubbed up, of course). Good music* playing over the loudspeakers. 

That is my ultimate sports experience. And since we’re dreaming, I think this would have to take place at Fenway. Yes, Fenway over Wrigley, because the Monster is right there for righties, and it would be super fun to try to play balls off the wall. Plus, for us lefies, Pesky pole is less than 300-feet away. 

Maybe the night starts in the evening when the sun is still out, but we have the park for six hours, that way you get both the day and night feel. 

That’s my ultimate sport experience. What about you, TOB?

*New topic: songs that need to be removed from the ballpark canon. A teaser: “Centerfield” by John Fogerty needs to go away forever.

TOB: I like the Fenway idea. But I want Centerfield playing ON LOOP all night. That song is beyond reproach. How dare you.

How about you? What’s your ultimate sports experience? Floor seats at the NBA Finals? A college football road trip to all the rivalry games? Playing a round with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus? Think big. 

More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Week of April 3, 2020

Sigh.


Make Amatriciana Again 

Wright Thompson is my favorite sports writer going, and it’s not close. I know this because I can’t wait to tell everyone whenever I read something from him. After reading this story, I told co-workers, siblings, friends, my mom. Natalie probably overheard me summarize the story 5 times this, our third week of shelter in place. 

He writes about the ritual of sport so well, and how both the best and worst of sport is strengthened through ritual. His story about the Cubs winning the world series had nothing to do with what happened in the game; it’s a feature on some fans going through their usual rituals in an incredibly unusual time. It’s Ted Williams ritualistic obsession with hitting and fishing, and how it terribly impacted his ability as a father (and how his mother’s rituals in San Diego made him feel ignored). The Ole Miss rituals (football and otherwise) and their role in race riots in the 60s. 

With that theme in mind – ritual – it’s no wonder he wrote a story on ESPN about food and sports in Italy. 

Before I go any further, I insist you read this story. Please, just click through to it now, because it will articulate that heavy weight hovering in that gap left now that we aren’t sharing space with one another in our cities and neighborhoods, and it will give you a recipe to feel really good for a few hours. 

Thompson’s story was published on 3/28. I mention that, because the world now seems to change drastically in days for a great deal more people than was the case a month ago. On 3/28, many people were starting to understand and see images of the nightmare playing out in Italy. Many years ago, Thompson lived in Florence, and as he learned of what was happening, he thought of his time there, what he loved about Florence: the Fiorentina soccer team and a restaurant in Rome called Matricianella.

“In Italy, as in many parts of the United States, sports and food are perhaps the two most important ways to celebrate your home.”

And later, Thompson writes:  “As an employee of ESPN, I am acutely aware of the lack of sports right now, which is especially worrisome to me mostly because sports provide one of the few acres of common ground in a country where we too often give in to what divides us.”

Sports and restaurants: they bring us together to be joyous. To celebrate. This country sure felt divided before the pandemic. And while I absolutely feel connected to our neighbors as we hunker down here, fear has sparked this recent sense of community. 

Thompson, missing sports and the ritual of eating a great meal at one of his three favorite restaurants in the world, looked up and made a traditional Roman dish with a bottle of nice red wine, a bottle “that normally would be saved for a special occasion–although I’d argue that imagining the world before the virus and being hopeful about the return of that world is as special an occasion as there is right now.”

And while the restaurant in Rome is closed until…God knows when, and while Gianni–Thompson’s waiter of choice–is home alone in Rome with a silence to it like “the silence before a snowfall,” we can still celebrate. Maybe we have to a little bit. 

At the end of an article for sports website, Wright Thompson shares the amatricianna recipe from Matricianella and encouraged folks to put on an old favorite game. 

I think I’ll make Amatriciana again. Instead of using the internet recipe, I got the genuine article from the owners of Matricianella in Rome. It’s printed below, so you can make it too. Maybe I’ll find some classic old Serie A game to watch once the pasta is done. I’m thinking Fiorentina-Inter, 1997, Batistuta versus Ronaldo. Maybe if you read this, and make the recipe, and find your own game to watch, this shared ritual will briefly connect us. 

I did my best. I had to substitute uncured bacon in for the pork jowl. I paired it with what turned to be a delicious pinot noir, and I watched Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. 

It was the most enjoyable night I’ve had since this covid-19 nightmare started. I urge you to do this same. You will feel connected, and you will feel more like yourself than you have in weeks. 

Wright Thompson is the man. – PAL

Source: A Letter From the Coronavirus Quarantine: Missing Serie A, Pasta and Friendship”, Wright Thompson, ESPN (03/28/20)


Today Should Have Been Giants Opening Day, and That Sucks. But…

Leave it to Kruk to make you smile, anyways. -TOB


This Week’s Best from Posnanski’s Top 100:

No. 5, Oscar Charleston:

Oscar Charleston former Negro league star with bat.

This seems impossible, because I had heard plenty about every other Negro League legend that Posnanski had listed here: Satchell Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and others. But before this week I had never, to my memory, heard the name Oscar Charleston. And Charleston is ranked No. 5 by Posnanski. He even says:

I want you to feel the fury of this ranking, feel it down deep. I want you to think, “Look, I’m sure he was terrific, but there’s no possible way that Oscar Charleston, who played in a struggling league 100 years ago, could possibly be the fifth greatest player of all time.”

Or I want you to think, “Fifth greatest? That’s ridiculous. He should be No. 1!”

Or I want you to think, “This is pure romanticism. We have almost no stats on Charleston. We have only a handful of quotes about him. You can’t rank someone this high on the list based on a few crusty legends and myths.”

Or I want you to think, “It’s such an infuriating tragedy that we as an entire nation never got to see the greatest player in the history of baseball.”

Or I want you to think, “How is it that I’ve never even heard of this guy?”

Or I want you to think some of those thoughts together, or even all of them at the same time. This ranking, unlike the rest, is a statement and, even more, it’s a challenge. Oscar Charleston is the fifth greatest player in baseball history? It is meant to make you think about what you think.

So, I was very interested in reading this one. And boy, does Posnanski knock the intro out of the park, about a recent visit to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with Buck O’Neil and Willie Mays:

There isn’t much in the little room. There are a few charts showing Negro Leagues migration, a couple of photos and a statue of Buck O’Neil. The highlight is that it overlooks the Field of Legends, a baseball diamond in the middle of the museum. Beyond the chicken wire, which separates the room and the field, there are 10 bronze statues standing at their baseball positions. The names of the players are familiar to some and, even now, mysterious to others.

Let me say something else about the chicken wire, which represents the segregation black fans endured at stadiums across the country. If you unfocus your eyes a bit and look through the chicken wire just so, with your imagination taking the lead, the statues seem to come to life.

Anyway, that’s what I thought the day Buck O’Neil and Negro Leagues president Bob Kendrick and I stayed back there with Willie Mays.

“I knew these guys,” Mays said as we all looked through the chicken wire and imagined the players as they once were. “Like that guy at third base, Ray Dandridge. I played with him in Minneapolis. He helped me become the ballplayer I became.”

Everybody else in our group had gone ahead into the museum. We had stayed behind because of Willie Mays’ eyes. Those eyes, which had once been able to differentiate between a fastball and slider simply because of the way the baseball’s laces moved, had grown terribly sensitive to light. Glaucoma. Even in that dark room, Mays wore sunglasses.

He also wore a thick San Francisco Giants coat, even though it was stuffy. He seemed to be sweating and shivering at once. He was in pain. He seemed exhausted … or perhaps more precisely, evaporated. Buck tried to get him to tell some stories, but Mays was not in the mood for stories. He just looked out on the field quietly.

“Willie,” Buck said in an effort to break through, “I saw the catch on television the other day.”

“You saw that?” Mays said. He smiled a little.

“Only one other guy I ever saw could have made that catch,” Buck said.

Seven days after Mays made that catch, the only other man — the statue standing in center field on the Field of Legends — died in a Philadelphia hospital. He was not quite 58 years old and he was almost entirely unknown. His obituary did not appear in the local newspapers.

“Oscar Charleston,” Mays said as he looked out on the field.

“He was you before you,” O’Neil said.

If that doesn’t make you want to read about Charleston, nothing I say will.

No. 6, Ted Williams:

Williams was famously given the option to sit that last day and let his batting average round up to .400. As you undoubtedly know, he didn’t take that option, something that has been celebrated throughout the years.

That part has been over-celebrated, to be honest. Of course he played. He wasn’t hitting .400. He was hitting .3995. Sure, it’s easy to say that rounds up now but nobody saw it that way then. After he went 1-for-4 the day before, headlines like “Ted Williams Drops Below .400 Level” and “Ted Williams Down To .399” and “Williams Slumps Below Magic Mark” appeared all over the country.

Now, he definitely could have sat down after cracking a single off Dick Fowler in the second inning, which pushed the average up to .4008, or .401 on the back of a baseball card. He was given the option to skip out at that point, but he felt great, and he knew that even if he failed to get a hit his next time up, he’d still be hitting .400. Well, the next time up he homered off Fowler to make the average a solid .402, and then he singled again, this time off Porter Vaughan.

And then he singled again off Vaughan, 4-for-4, and his average was .405. At that point, he knew that he could go zero for his next five and still be above the .400 line. So he stayed, even played the second game, and ended up 6-for-8 on the day with that magical .406 average — the last time anyone hit .400.

He famously didn’t win the MVP that year, despite hitting .400 and leading the league in homers, runs, slugging, on-base percentage and walks. That was the season DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games and the writers gave the award to DiMag. The writers always thought Joe was the better all-around player and leader.

DiMaggio during the streak: .408/.463/.717, 1.180 OPS.

Williams all of 1941: .406/.553/.735, 1.288 OPS.

In 1999, Ted Williams rode to home plate in a golf cart for the All-Star Game at Fenway Park. He had suffered two strokes and a broken hip in the previous months, but still he stood. The greatest living players — from Henry Aaron to Willie Mays, Bob Feller to Stan Musial, Ken Griffey to Cal Ripken and all the All-Stars of the day — surrounded him and hugged him. He tipped his cap, and the crowd cheered as loudly as they ever had, and as the papers said, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

 

“Hey McGwire,” Williams shouted out to Mark McGwire, the most prodigious slugger in the world then. “You ever smell the wood when you foul one off real hard? You ever notice how it smells like burning wood?”

 

“I’ve smelled it,” McGwire said. Maybe he had or maybe he was just saying so, but Ted Williams smiled and nodded and said it was the best bleeping smell in the whole world.

-TOB

Source: No. 5, Oscar Charleston,” “No. 6, Ted Williams,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/01/2020);

PAL:  I had bumped Williams all the way up to number 3 when predicting Posnanski’s top 7. The Kid came in at 6. As I mentioned above, I read Wright Thompson’s essay on Williams a few months back. That story focuses on the batshit crazy last few years of Williams’ life with his adult children, as well as how he was, well, not a great husband or father. In Thompson’s words, summarizing to Claudia Williams, “[M]ost people didn’t understand that the two famous acts of his life–ballplayer and fisherman–occurred only because he was hiding from the third and final act of his life: fatherhood…He hid in the hyperfocus required by baseball and fishing.”

One lesson I slowly learn as I grow older is that greatness in one aspect of life is very rare and is commonly to the detriment of every other aspect of life, including happiness. The rarest of all is someone who is both good and great. 

Williams was great at seemingly three things: hitting a baseball, flying a fighter jet, and fishing. We’ll leave the flying and fishing aside for this. 

Posnanski quotes, of all people, Teller of Penn and Teller, in describing Williams hitting: “Sometimes magic is just spending more time on something than anyone might reasonably expect.” 

The M.V.P. stuff TOB mentions above is astounding. Man, he sure must’ve hated the writers, eh? His season stats are better than DiMaggio’s during the streak, and Joe wins it. Then Williams wins two – TWO – triple crowns and doesn’t win the M.V.P. 

TOB: One last thing. In the Charleston essay, Posnanski comes clean about his rankings, and it’s very funny to me:

We are now close to the end of the Baseball 100, and all along I have made certain to almost never mention the rankings. There’s is a specific reason for this: the rankings are just a device. Someone once asked Orson Welles if Mr. Thompson, the man who goes in search of Rosebud in “Citizen Kane,” learned anything or grew at all throughout the movie. “He’s not a person,” Welles raged. “He’s a piece of machinery to lead you through.”

That’s what the rankings are … they are here to give this project shape and to spark a few feelings. Yes, they’re in the basic order of a formula I used, one based on five things in no particular order:

  1. Wins Above Replacement
  2. Peak Wins Above Replacement
  3. How multi-dimensional they were as players
  4. The era when they played
  5. Bonus value — This might include postseason performances, leadership, sportsmanship, impact on the game as a whole, if they lost prime years to the war and numerous other possibilities.

But I have no illusions about the formula. It is as flawed as anything so, whenever possible, I attached the player and a number that fits. So, for instance, Mariano Rivera is 91 for Psalm 91, the Psalm of Protection. Gary Carter is 86 for his role on the 1986 Mets. Joe DiMaggio is 56 for the hitting streak. Grover Cleveland Alexander is 26 because that was his magical year, 1926.

Bob GibsonTom SeaverJimmie FoxxGreg MadduxMike TroutJackie RobinsonFrank Robinson and Mike Schmidt, among others, were all given a ranking based on their uniform numbers. I would say at least two-thirds of the numbers have some sort of connection to the ballplayer.

I even skipped No. 19 because of the ’19 Black Sox, the biggest single-year scandal in baseball history.

That’s not to say that I couldn’t defend the individual rankings. I’m sure I could. But to do so would be to say negative things about various players’ talent, which goes against the very essence of this project. And anyway, fighting over the questions — Ted Williams over Ty CobbSteve Carlton over Sandy KoufaxCarl Yastrzemski over Ken Griffey? — is a big part of the fun.

I noticed the DiMaggio 56 thing. I knew that couldn’t be a coincidence. But none of the rest – not even that there wasn’t a 19.


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Song of the Week: John Prine – “Flashback Blues”

Hang in there, John!


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