Week of April 19, 2019

Did not give up popcorn for Lent.


Reminder: Tiger Woods Won The Masters

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pesky Morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week: More of this, please.


Tweet of the Week: 


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

 


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

-L.D.

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Week of March 22, 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Retirements Let The Writers Sing

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

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

That’s the good stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Joe

— backup catcher René Rivera

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

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

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

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

Then he breaks down some deeper ramifications for losing Panda:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That sent Black into study mode.

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

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

And, now, The Bad, from Jeff Samardzija:

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

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

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


Video(s) of the Week: So cool

And this one, c/o Pep from work:


Tweets of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: YEBBA – ‘Evergreen’


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

-M. Gary Scott

Week of March 8, 2019

Friggin’ lefties.


Baseball Scouting Is Hard Yet Fascinating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The flipside of David Ross is Ben Davis.

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

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

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

Ouch.

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

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

Such an interesting baseball read.

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


Nik Mittal Was Left Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Warriors Should Fire Bob Fitzgerald, Amen

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

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

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

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

Amen!!!! -TOB

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


Video/Tweet of the Week: What the hell…


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


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

-Larry David

 

1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 22, 2019

More on this later.


What Happens After A Trade

There’s been lots of talk of players switching teams in the past week. In baseball, Manny Machado finally ended up on a team (and that’s the last we’ll hear from the $300MM man until he no doubt opts out after five years) and free agent Bryce Harper remains teamless. In basketball Anthony Davis tried to force his way to L.A., but that was a no go. Two hall-of-fame Steelers are available, and so is Odell Beckham Jr., apparently.

Trades and acquisitions can satiate us during a slow sports week, but what happens when a guy is traded? Logistically, what happens next? That’s what The Athletic’s Scott Burnside details in his story walking through the logistics of a trade deadline in the NHL.

Sure, operations directors need to alert the staff to make up some new jerseys, but there’s a hell of a lot more to consider.

  • Car service, and – if it’s a particularly tight window before the next game, a police escort from the airport
  • Temporary housing for the athlete and his family
  • Realtors, schools, pets
  • In many cases – extremely expedited work visas, which is made more difficult on holiday weekends or, you know, when the government is shut down
  • What if the couple is expecting a child – what arrangements can the team facilitate in a new city in terms of medical care
  • Flowers. Never forget the flowers for the wife/significant other

Above all, teams seek out any and every way to make players and their families feel comfortable as soon as possible. Reduce stress and anxiety quickly, and the player will likely play better sooner.

Of course, an NHL player moving is a very different scenario than one of us moving, but I’m sure it’s still stressful even with the a team handling 95% of the grunt work. It’s interesting to read about the people who make it happen so smoothly. – PAL

Source: How’s a Traded Player on the Ice For a New Team So Quickly? NHL Travel Coordinators Share Their Secrets”, Scott Burnside, The Athletic (02/21/2019)

TOB: Slight tangent: Nothing is more gross to me than a police escort to get a player to a game. I’ll never forget in 2006 when the Red Sox traded for Doug Mirabelli, who specialized in catching knuckleballs, and the Massachusetts State Police did a high speed escort to get Mirabelli from the airport to Fenway Park in time to start that night’s game, which was being started by knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. It was just so gross, and the sports media hailed it as some great event. Bewildering. I’m happy to say that in 2016, the Massachusetts State Police admitted that the escort “was not an appropriate use of our assets.” Ya think?


Sounds of Spring

The premise borders on being too cute, but I happily read Daniel Brown’s puff piece on baseball players and coaches favorite sounds of spring. Spring training has begun and baseball is on its way back. Growing up in Minnesota, it was the first real indication that spring was actually creeping closer, and it meant it was time to start scoping new cleats and maybe even a new bat.

Some of the responses were pretty obvious (the crack of the bat), but others were specific enough to resonate. The baseball sound A’s first base coach (and former first baseman) Mike Aldrete will never forget Bo Jackson running:

Bo Jackson was on first. So I was holding him on. And as the pitcher delivered, he took off stealing. It sounded like the earth was moving with every one of his steps.

It was almost like out of my right ear I could feel him running and I could feel the earth reacting to him. I’ve never heard anything like that.

I mean, everybody kind of makes some noise. And a lot of times as a first baseman you jump off and you kind of hear whether the guy is going or not. But this was …

(Here, Aldrete paused to imitate the sound of dinosaur footsteps.)

I don’t want to compare Bo Jackson to animals or anything, but it wasn’t human. It was superhuman.

I can’t relate to that, but I definitely agree with Giants reliever Will Smith and his affection for the sound of metal cleats on concrete. It’s not until teenage baseball that you’re allowed to wear the real thing, so I can understand his love for the sound of a real ballplayer.

As an old catcher, the best sound is always the snap of a catchers mitt. It’s the sound of everything coming together flush. It’s the sound of things going right. Fun little read. – PAL

Source: Giants, A’s Sound Off On Baseball’s Greatest Hits: A Bo Jackson Steal, a Nolan Ryan Heater and MadBum’s Bat”, Daniel Brown, The Athletic (02/21/2019)


The Fix Was In

ESPN released a long story this week, the result of a two-year investigation into former referee Tim Donaghy and his gambling ring. It’s really fascinating. Donaghy was busted nearly 12 years ago now, and even served time in prison. But in that time, he has always maintained that while he gambled on NBA games he officiated, he did so on “inside information” and never took any steps to affect the outcome of the game. That’s as stupid and unbelievable now as it’s always been, but many powerful people and organizations had a strong incentive to push that narrative, including the NBA. Back in 2007, the NBA claimed it studied Donaghy’s games during that 2006-2007 season and concluded there was nothing strange going on with Donaghy’s officiating, aside from one game.

But ESPN’s article uncovers that the NBA only studied 17 of his 40+ games that year.  It also revealed that Donaghy had been doing this since approximately 2002. When it began, Donaghy and an old buddy would make the bets, on a relatively small scale. But “connected” people soon realized Donaghy’s buddy was winning at an unheard of clip, and began matching his bets. Eventually, they realized  that Donaghy was reffing all the games he was betting, and they wanted in on the action. By 2006-2007, the Donaghy ring was huge, with hundreds of millions of dollars being moved.

What’s more, Donaghy told the FBI in 2007 that there were other referees also gambling and fixing games. But the NBA had no desire for the public to find out how easy it was for a referee to fix a game, and they had no desire for the public to think this was anything but one bad apple. Not long after the FBI informed the NBA of Donaghy’s scheme, the story leaked to the press and any chance the FBI had of finding more corrupt referees was gone.

ESPN’s investigation was painstaking, as they tracked every call and non-call Donaghy made during that 2007 season. What they found revealed there was “just a 4.1 percent chance that an unbiased ref would have randomly made the calls that Tim Donaghy did during his crooked run.” ESPN’s reporting also revealed that while Donaghy still maintains that he never fixed a game, he has privately told a number of people the opposite over the years, and ESPN got all of them to talk about it on the record.

This was a well reported story and a great read. My biggest takeaway was that, especially with the continued push to legalize sports gambling, the NBA and other sports leagues will have a hard time preventing this from happening in the future. Donaghy told one friend that he liked to call an illegal defense on the team he picked against early in the game, so that they’d play less aggressive defense the rest of the game. When you think how easy it is to throw a pass interference flag, or call a strike zone tighter, or blow your whistle a little earlier, you realize: it’s just too easy. As someone who enjoys and even spends money on sports, that’s a scary thought. -TOB

Source:How Former Ref Tim Donaghy Conspired to Cix NBA Games, Scott Eden, ESPN (02/19/2019)


Video of the Week: 


Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Tom Rush – ‘No Regrets’


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Are we taking this too far? I don’t think we’re taking this far enough…what?

-K. Fillippelli*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I never thought I’d live to see the day when KAREN got a quote on 1-2-3…damn, TOB

1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 15, 2019


Pay no mind to the dude in electric blue shades and sweet goatee; Zion is denting a fully inflated basketball likes it’s a tennis ball.


The Softer Side of Frank Robinson

Frank Robinson died late last week. He’s one of the greatest baseball players of all time, coming just 13 dingers short of the ultra elite 600 Home Run Club (10th all time, 4th when he retired), to go along with a career OPS of .936 (really damn good) and an OPS+ of 155 (meaning he was 55% better than league average), 26th all time. He was also a manager, baseball’s first black manager, though not an exceptional one – his teams only finished over .500 six out of sixteen seasons, though he did win Manager of the Year in 1989.

For most of his career, Frank was not particularly liked. Or, perhaps more accurately, he had a reputation for being cranky. But as a black man growing up in the 50s, Frank did not live an easy life. He was born in 1935 and grew up in Oakland, graduating from McClymonds High School, having been on the same basketball team as the great Bill Russell. He debuted in the big leagues in 1956, at age 20, just a few years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. Like many black players of his time, Frank was subject a lot of abuse. But unlike Jackie, Frank refused to take it. He vocally stood up against racial prejudice. In 1987, Dodgers’ GM Al Campanis was asked by Larry King why there were so few black managers and no black general managers in MLB. Campanis said, black people “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager.” Campanis was rightly excoriated for these remarks, and Frank led the charge, stating:

“Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years — that blacks aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office. There’s a belief that they’re fine when it comes to the physical part of the game, but if it involves brains they just can’t handle it. Al Campanis made people finally understand what goes on behind closed doors — that there is racism in baseball.”

Frank was often referred to as the most feared man in baseball. I imagine he liked that. But he was not a man without feeling, and that’s why I loved the following article about him. Late in his life, Frank was managing the Washington Nationals. The team was not very good, and they ran into an injury problem at catcher. They were forced to play Matt LeCroy, a journeyman nearing the end of his career, who had knee problems and a shoulder injury preventing him from throwing to second base. In one particular game, the Nats built an early six run lead, but the Astros were mounting a comeback, and it was led in part on challenging LeCroy on the basepaths. LeCroy simply could not make the throw to second, and Frank decided to pull him, mid-inning.

LeCroy understood the move and was not upset. But Frank was. He felt he had embarrassed LeCroy, a player he had grown to respect. After the game, Frank spoke about the decision, and the Most Feared Man in Baseball began to cry.

 LeCroy was surprised to hear about Frank’s reaction:

“I hated that he got emotional, I told him I wasn’t good enough for somebody to cry over,” said LeCroy, who was blown away by the size of the scrum of reporters waiting at his locker when he arrived. “It was a crazy day. I didn’t think much about the situation. Didn’t realize that it was going to be such a big deal. That’s when I said the daddy quote.”

The exact, priceless line from LeCroy was, “If my daddy was managing this team, I’m sure he would have done the same thing.” The snippet circulated the Internet along with the footage of Robinson, tears welled in the corner of his eyes and spilling out onto his cheeks.

“A lot of people didn’t understand Frank,” LeCroy said. “He was thought of as this very stern, stoic guy. He was one of the best to ever play and he had to go through a lot being an African American playing. The biggest thing about that day (that stuck with me) is it showed me Frank really cared about everybody, no matter if you were a superstar or the last man on the bench.

“I think it opened up a lot of people’s eyes that deep down Frank cared about everybody. It meant a lot to me and that made our relationship, which was already pretty good, carry over to the next level.  He thought I was going to blast him (for taking me out) and I really didn’t think nothing about it.”

LeCroy himself would go on to coach, and he’s currently a manager for the Harrisburg Senators, the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate. He says he tries to take that lesson, and more, that Frank Robinson taught him.

This was a really good article – short, but great storytelling. -TOB

Source: A Look Back at the Day Frank Robinson Cried When He Took Catcher Matt LeCroy Out of a Game”, Brittany Ghiroli, The Athletic (02/08/2019)

PAL: One clear take-away from the Robinson stories over the past week is that he was a proud man, and so it makes sense Robinson would not take lightly the idea of having a hand in embarrassing a player.

My opinion on the writing differs from TOB’s: Ghiroli opens the story with an extended, teaser lead. Here’s the opening paragraph:

When​ Matt​ LeCroy​ thinks back to that moment,​ there​ was​ no​ way​ of​ anticipating​ its significance.​ No​ amount of​​ premonition would help LeCroy fathom the magnitude of that fateful Nationals game on May 25, 2006. Yet, here he is, dissecting a day almost 13 years ago, an afternoon contest with the Astros at RFK Stadium that was one of the most memorable managerial moments of Frank Robinson’s career.

The reader doesn’t know what moment ‘that moment’ is, and we won’t find out until the ninth(!) paragraph of the story. This is a technique we’ve read before – hell, I’m sure I’ve used it – and in most cases it reads like a writer trying to show off with melodious prose that almost always comes off a bit forced. It’s familiar, and not in a good way.

TOB: IT SAYS IT RIGHT IN THE HEADLINE!

PAL: well, that’s an interesting point. Still hate the writing….now I have to re-write my response? Thanks for saving me the embarrassment, but at what cost? (Publisher’s note: sharing the the laugh is worth more than whatever else I would have written)


We Were So Lucky To Have Been Raised Amongst Catalogs*

This trip back in time comes to us ℅ soft-tossing lefty, Ryan Nett. The Stearns County legend (see his 2010 stats) texted it to me, and I was in based only on the headline alone:

Like writer Dan Woike, I remember flipping through just about every page of the Eastbay catalog, taking extra time on baseball cleats and gloves in the spring editions. Woike, Nett, and I are not alone; the NBA writer asked a bunch of known sneakerheads in the league about East Bay, and their reactions are fantastic Whether or not they ever made an order, guys like Lance Stephenson and P.J. Tucker absorbed each edition.

It seems funny to say in the Amazon era, but the Eastbay catalog absolutely has a little footnote in my childhood. It was a wormhole before the online wormhole, and – let’s be honest – the best bathroom reading around. I haven’t thought about it for who knows how long until Nett sent this along. It’s so fun when a writer uncovers a bit of forgotten nostalgia. Great find, Nett! – PAL

Source: Eastbay Catalog Memories: It’s Where a Generation Went to Look at Sneakers – and Dream”, Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times (02/14/2019)

*Don’t be a jerk and look it up. Ok, now, name the movie the title of this post references. Hit us up in the comment section for a bottle of excellent homebrew.

TOB: Oh HELL yeah. Eastbay friggin ruled. I don’t know how or why it started coming to my house – but the new arrival was a great day. I’d slowly look at each page and circle any item I might want. I’d think, “Man, if I got those Air Jordan XIs, no one could stop me.” I remember specifically obsessing over basketball shoe weight. “Geeze, I love those, but 13 ounces!? That’s gonna limit my vert. I need something under 12 ounces, for sure.”

I definitely ordered from Eastbay, but I can’t remember what any more. I probably didn’t get to order too much, but I used it to keep informed on the newest shoes and brands. The website is still my go-to for finding new basketball shoes, and I’ve ordered from them a couple times in the last few years. Nice find, Ryan. And congrats on that one dinger.


At the 2019 U.S. Open, I Will Be Booing Matt Kuchar

Pro golfers make a ton of money these days. The 50th highest money maker last year was Brendan Steele (not a porn star!) at $2.3 million. To get there, Steele made the cut 16 out of 22 events, with 3 top 10s and 1 win. That’s $2.3 million to play 67 rounds of golf, with average score right around par (71). Not bad!

Customarily, golfers pay their caddies 10% of their winnings. So Steele’s caddy made $230,000 last year. Also not a bad living! Justin Thomas finished first on the money list at $8.7 million, so his caddy made $870,000. That’s a hell of a lot of money! But, ya know, well earned by both the golfer and the caddy. Good on ‘em.

Matt Kuchar made news this week, though, for ignoring the 10% percent custom when he was forced to hire a local caddy at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Playa Del Carmen Mexico because his normal caddy could not make the trip. Instead of paying the caddy ten percent of his $1.3 million dollar purse ($130,000), Kuchar paid the caddy just $5,000 (five thousand) dollars instead, just one third of one percent – 0.3% – of Kuchar’s winnings.

Kuchar explained that in fact he was being generous, because his pre-tournament agreement with the caddy was to pay him $4,000 for the week, and that extra $1,000 was a bonus for Kuchar’s win. Matt, buddy! Don’t be so loose with your money. Think of your retirement! You’ve only made $3 million dollars this year, and it’s already February!

So how does Kuchar, a guy with career earnings over $43 MILLION dollars justify paying his Let’s let Kuchar, a first class prick, explain:

“For a guy who makes $200 a day, a $5,000 week is a really big week.”

GFY, Matt. -TOB

Source: Extremely Rich Golfer Matt Kuchar Defends Stiffing His Caddie”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/14/2019)

PAL: Agree on all fronts, but hold your outrage for a moment and consider this: what is the point of the $4,000 fee to begin with if the usual deal dictates 10% of winnings and, I assume, no payment for the caddie if there are no winnings? Clearly, each party agreed to a deal that was out of the ordinary, and – with one of them being a professional golfer and one of them being an experienced caddie – I can’t possibly believe there was a misunderstanding on this point. If Kuchar pockets more than 40K if he finishes in the top 30 or higher, then he got a deal on the caddie. Anything below, and the caddy-for-hire is covered. In a field of 132 competitors, these are not bad odds for the caddie.

Also, is this a story if Kuchar finishes second in the tournament ($777K)?

Of course in the real world the original deal matters when Kuchar wins the damn thing. He received $1.3M! And then he starts talking like an idiot about relative value of $5,000. That’s when no one wants to hear from the unremarkable golfer who’s made an unfathomable amount of money.

TOB: To me, it’s a story about power and wealth. The caddy is a club caddy in Mexico. As Kuchar says, a good day for him is $200. Kuchar gets to the tournament, with no caddy, and offers $4,000 because he knows every single caddy at that club will jump at $4,000. But that doesn’t make it right. He should have offered 10% to begin with. When called out for being a cheapskate, he should have said, “You’re right. I messed up. Here’s your 10%.”

UPDATE: 3:23pm PST, 2/15/19:

Obviously Kuchar is a reader of this blog, and I’m happy to report that he has taken my words to heart:

That’s a solid apology, Matt. The Boo Declaration is officially rescinded.


A Fresh Story on Steph Curry

Stories about about an athlete’s incredible talent are common. Off of the top of my head, recent profiles of Julio Jones. Alex Honnold, and Aaron Donald come to mind. Like those dudes, Steph Curry has made an imprint on his sport. Honnald is the only one in this group that has a case he’s changed the trajectory of his sport more than Curry.

I enjoyed Kevin O’Connor’s story on Curry because it’s not about his freakish talent. This is a story about his progress as a basketball player, how he practiced, and the people that helped him get better.

Jones, Honnald, Donald, Michael Phelps, LeBron James – these guys in no way resemble a “regular” human. The are bigger, stronger, faster, in every way that helps them succeed in their particular sport.

Aaron Donald is not like us. 

Neither is Phelps. 

While Curry’s lack of size is overstated (at 6’3”, 190, he’s an inch shorter than Dwyane Wade), he was a bit late to grow and gain strength as young pup. As result, his now iconic stroke was a long ways away.

His dad, longtime NBA player Dell Curry, knew they needed to fix it. He would be fine in middle school and JV ball, the dad told O’Connor, but that release point wasn’t going to work as the competition got tougher.

So the Currys entered the offseason with a mission: raise Steph’s shooting release to make his shot more difficult to block or alter. That meant repeating the same motion for hours and hours, each day, for three months. “It was the worst summer of my life, basketball-speaking,” Curry told me last month.

Curry said he spent the summer shooting mostly from the paint; he couldn’t shoot from any farther out because he hadn’t developed the requisite strength with his new form. Before the fix, Curry generated the power for his shot from his shoulders. A higher release, with the ball brought to his forehead, would allow him to flow kinetic energy from his legs through the flick of his wrist. “I used to call it the catapult method,” Curry said. “If you look at my shot now, it’s the exact same starting motion as it was when I was young. But I’m not stopping the ball [at my chin]. I just kept on going to where I couldn’t go anymore, and use my wrist a lot more as opposed to my shoulder.”

As he got stronger, Dell and Steph’s mom (a former volleyball player at Va. Tech, NBD) would get right up in his grill so he would get used to shooting over that kind of pressure. I love the image of a mom and dad practicing together with their kid.

So that’s where the stroke comes from – a tough summer and some pretty excellent genetics.

O’Conner’s piece also reveals how lethal the small (by NBA standards) Curry is finishing at the rim.

That list, and the fact that Curry has the same numbers as LeBron, shocked me, but there’s logic to this stat. At every stage of his basketball life, Curry was undersized. His drives would be blocked if he didn’t get good at creative finished.

Curry tried wild, high-arcing shots, acrobatic finishes, and a scoop shot—which he said is his favorite type of layup—to overcome the size differential. It was a necessity, but it also made what is a simple task for most players a difficult one. “I can’t tell you how many times during middle school I’d be on fast break, and I’d jump into the guy in the paint to do a half 360 and float the ball behind my head. I made it probably one time,” Curry said. “Every time I’d do it, I’d look at my mom in the stands and she’s just like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Just do a normal layup.’”

But those finishes didn’t come easy in the NBA. He wasn’t great around the rim his rookie season, and he found unusual help in Brandon Payne, who worked with Curry on “neuromuscular efficiency”. Whada what now?

 Essentially, they are trying to overload the senses to increase dexterity and reduce reaction time. Sure, why not? As O’Connor points out, Curry getting much stronger and improving his handle helped his finishing a lot, too. Nevermind the fact that he has Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on the court, too. Having two other all-time great shooters waiting for pass might free up the lane a bit.

It becomes harding to find compelling stories about super popular athletes, but O’Connor finds a fresh angle on Curry. Super fun read, and love the giphs and video clips, too. – PAL

Source: It’s More Than Just the Shot”, Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer (02/12/2019)

TOB: I have read or seen video of the story of Curry’s transformed jump shot so many times now, and I don’t care. I devour each and every story about it. He has to be the most remarkable athlete I can remember – what he is doing seems impossible. You look at LeBron and sure, what he does makes absolute sense. But Curry should not be able to do the things he does. He’s changed the sport in a way that no athlete has changed a sport in my lifetime. Curry’s rookie year, the league attempted 3-pointers on 22% of shots. That number is now 35%. I think in lare part that is due to Curry, especially in how many threes he takes off the dribble, as opposed to the more common catch-and-shoot three. Curry changed the way teams think about attacking on offense and forced teams to defend out to 30-feet.

Incredibly, Curry is more accurate from 30-35 feet than he is anywhere else on the floor. This year he’s making fifty-four percent (54%!) of his shots from 30-35 feet, while shooting 43.7% from three overall, and 46.2% on all shots attempted. And it’s not really an anomaly. Since 2014-15, Curry is making 47.9% of his shots from 30-35 feet. What the hell? Anyways, he’s great and I hope he keeps this up another ten years.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – “Better Things”


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

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Pippity poppity, give me the zoppity. 

-M.G. Scott, C/O Darryl

Week of January 25, 2019

Happy Birthday to our co-founder, Phil: the best friend/blogging partner/brewing buddy/sports debater anyone could ever ask for. One hell of a guy.


Save It, Coach

Locker room speeches are the best part of most every sports movie, so I’m going to add some of the best in here as I share with you Joshua Kloke’s excellent piece about how those locker room speeches are changing in the NHL.

 In my head, I think of locker room speeches as pleas to players emotions – inspirational words that invigorate the meekest of players or tongue-lashings that break the most prideful of the bunch. Turns out, these types of speeches are becoming less and less frequent in NHL lockers rooms. I think of these types of speeches (warning: language, and a lot of it – headphones recommended).

In talking with several current NHL players and coaches, as well as minor league coaches, Kloke has found a growing trend that the intermissions between periods are used more and more for video analysis (now clips from the previous shifts are immediately available), concrete feedback, and positive talk. The younger guys typically respond better to that approach, and the older vets have already heard every clichéd rah-rah speech.

In today’s NHL, players insist coaches cannot waste the little time they are afforded in-game to garner the attention of an entire team. Instead of spouting platitudes, many NHL players believe the best dressing room speeches from coaches should focus on how a team can implement their own tactical adjustments in a game.

Another facet of the game that has changed over the years is the general acceptance that the players are the draw and ultimately hold the power. Talented players no longer “conform” to the coach; in fact, the inverse is now true.

All of this makes perfect sense, but there must still be a place for emotion in these speeches, even at the professional level. Can coaches play that card every game? Of course not, but there are moments where a coach has to reach beyond the X’s and O’s and speak to the soul of a team…which is precisely that kind of emotional crap – the soul of a team – that falls on deaf ears of today’s hockey player. 

Per Kloke’s research, I think Jimmy Dugan’s speech might be best suited for today’s NHL player. Short, specific advice on the bunt, and mostly positive. – PAL

Source: The Evolution of the Dressing Room Speech, From Emotional Outburst to Tactical Adjustments”, Joshua Kloke, The Athletic (01/24/2019)


The Tao of Ratto

Allow me to set the scene: Friday morning. Hot cup of coffee and good breakfast in front of me. Dog’s walked. Apartment is quiet, and I’m looking for one more story for this week’s post. I pull up all of the usual sites to scan the headlines, but I only make it to the first tab when I find The RInger’s Bryan Curtis has a profile on the Bay Areas recently unemployed sports columnist Ray Ratto. If you’re wondering who the hell Ratto is, he’s the mustachioed guy in the background of that Dwight Clark picture.

Or, as Curtis puts it, “Ratto is the kind of big-city sports columnist who used to exist everywhere and now barely exists anywhere.”

I take a sip of the coffee and spend the next few minutes savoring every word of Curtis’ story.

A quick backstory on Ratto. He was born in Oakland and never left. At nineteen he was the copy boy for the SF Examiner and found a mentor in Nick Peters. Copy boy leads to sports columnist, and he’s been covering the Bay Area teams ever since. Also, Ray Ratto is quick with the insults. It’s kind of his thing. Oh, and he wears ugly sweaters. Curtis spends the story trying to figure out the “Tao of Ratto”. There is a deeper, more caring person somewhere underneath the sweater, but he’s not showing his face without a fight (and some wine).  

He’s a bit of a legend amongst his peers. Here are some examples as to why:

  • Young Ratto was interviewing Giants manager Frank Robinson for a story. Robinson blew him off with a couple of short answers. Ratto recalled: “I finally said, ‘Well, look, if you don’t want to do this, let’s just not do it.’ And I got up and walked out. He said, ‘C’mere!’ I said, ‘Yeah?’ He said, ‘What do you want to know?’”
  • Ratto: “When [a sportswriter] comes to games in a suit and tie, you say, ‘Who are you trying to impress? What kind of overstuffed asshole are you?’”
  • Once, the Chronicle sent Ratto to cover a meaningless late-season Oakland A’s game. It was an NFL Sunday, so the story was going to run inside the section. Ratto’s gamer began thusly: “Meanwhile, back here among the tire ads …”

As Curtis says, every town has or used to have the old columnist, and I think that writer played a huge role in how we experience the games. Maybe that’s a bit less now as folks like Ratto don’t have that regular column.

Curtis’ work has been featured on 1-2-3 Sports! several times. Dude can write a sports story. I like the idea that, while writing this story, he and Ratto had four glasses of red wine at some Oakland cafe. They ordered three, but then the bartender gave them a round on the house. A fan of Ratto.

Ratto responded, “Give it time. That’ll blow over.”

What a fun read. – PAL

Source: The World According to Ray Ratto”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (01/25/2019)

TOB: Nice write up, Phil. Ratto’s not wrong, though – he doesn’t have many fans. There may be a heart in there, but he’s cantankerous, to put it nicely. I will also say it’s impressive how long he stayed in one place, with his style, because when he felt appropriate he took aim and fired at each and every sports team or person in the Bay Area. As I was thinking about Ratto, and that last sentence, I wondered if my memory of his writing over the years was overly harsh. But if Ratto has a tao, to borrow the bit, he says it right in the first few lines of Curtis’ article:

“I think when you want to say something nice about somebody, it should be private. When you want to say something shitty, everybody should see it.”

I fully believe there’s a softer side to Ratto, and as his friend and fellow sportswriter Tim Keown put it, Ratto uses the insults as defense mechanisms. I’ve seen it a few times, especially on TV. And it’s right there in the quote above – he can be warm, he just does it privately.

One of my favorite Ratto moments was his response to A’s owner Steve Schott’s defense of the Mark Mulder trade (Ratto responses in parentheses):

We’re a small-market team (which the A’s absolutely are not), and we have to make hard choices (which are different in many ways from suicidally stupid ones) and we really regret having to trade Mark (which they absolutely do not regret at all) but those are the conditions that prevail (yeah, when you’re squeezing those quarters so hard that George Washington wishes Cornwallis had shown a little more gumption).

It’s sardonic and pitch perfect. (Although, in hindsight, the A’s were correct to trade Mulder, who had one more pretty good season (ERA+ 116, 2.6 WAR), and then fell off a cliff (ERA+ 58, -2.7 WAR – WOOF!) before falling out of the league at age 30. In return, the A’s got three players who created about 20 WAR over the next three seasons. Not a bad trade).

But the best part of this story, in my opinion, is Ratto’s warning to sports columnists of today and tomorrow:

Ratto insists he’ll be OK if he doesn’t get another column. “Only because the nature of the business is changing,” he said, “so there are fewer and fewer jobs that you can feel good about. More and more jobs are connected to companies that have interest in teams or leagues. Now, all of a sudden, you have to figure out, Well, how much of a whore are they going to ask me to be?”

“I can’t all of a sudden become a shill,” Ratto said.


Video of the Week:


PAL Song of the WeekFrancoise Hardy – “Le temps de l’amour”


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Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

You’re just a babbling brook of bullshit.

-Larry David

Best of 2018, Part 3: The Industry

Nailed it. 


We are trying something a little different this year for our year-in-review. Instead of packing our 5-10 favorite stories from the year into one post, we are going to feature a few each day for the next week for some mini posts. We’ll mix in some of our favorite pics/videos/giphs as bookends, and PAL will share some of his favorite music finds as well. We’ll wrap up the best of with a Funniest of 2018 post. If you haven’t clicked through to read the stories we write about throughout the year, then these are the best of the best. Read them!

In Part 3, we have stories about the business of sports. Michael MacCambridge examines what could be the last gasps of Sports Illustrated, while Bryan Curtis dissects how Fox built a television empire on a foundation of of NFL football.

Best of 2018: The People 

Best of 2018: The Games 


How Sports Illustrated Stopped Mattering

To those of us over 30, Sports Illustrated is an institution. When I found out a fellow grad student at USF was a writer for SI, I felt cooler by association. As Michael MacCambridge writes for The Ringer, SI made a case that the realm of sports was not a juvenile triviality but instead an important part of the culture, worthy of attention and understanding.”

And for writers, like my fellow USF alumnus, SI was not a stop along the way. It was the mountaintop. As Lee Jenkins told a former boss, “I hate to leave you guys, but, you know–the Yankees just called.”

SI is about to be sold for the second time in a year. It also recently became a biweekly publication…not that many folks noticed. The end of the print version of the magazine feels imminent, even when – get this – the magazine was profitable last year.

The magnitude of the biweekly decision hasn’t even been felt yet, but it will be:

[I]f Tiger Woods had managed to win the Masters this year, it would’ve been perhaps the biggest sports story of 2018, but it would have been old news by the time the next issue of SI came out 10 days later. The same goes for this summer’s World Cup, the final of which will come during an off-week in SI’s publishing schedule. And we haven’t even gotten to football season yet.

This story is not just about the death of print journalism at the hands of the digital revolution. It’s also about the missteps made along the way that put SI and its parent company, Time, in its current predicament. At some point cost-cutting means quality cutting, and then – worst of all – people stop noticing.

As MacCambridge writes, at its best,

SI’s news stories were never about telling you who won, it was about telling you why and how they won, the subtle differences that separated one world-class athlete or team from another, and the endless ways that people revealed their character through competition. Furthermore, what the magazine learned, again and again in the coming decades, was that a sports event being televised only increased interest in those stories. The more people saw of a sport, the more they wanted to read about it. And SI was there, to provide the best story, the deepest understanding, the telling picture, the last word.

You can tell MacCambridge cares deeply about SI. It was a touchstone of his youth, and that passion is needed to make this story resonate with us. I know I’m not the only one of us to tear photos of my favorite players from of the magazine and line my bedroom walls. Best read so far this year. – PAL

Source: Who Can Explain the Athletic Heart?”, Michael MacCambridge, The Ringer (04/12/2018)

TOB: This was great, but sad to read. In many ways, Sports Illustrated changed my life. Or rather, it shaped who I am. That sounds dramatic, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. As a kid, from about age 8 until 15, sports were my life. I lived and breathed it. I watched SportsCenter every night; I watched the NBA, college basketball, college football, MLB, and the NFL, every single day. I even watched a lot of hockey back then. I’d watch until I got the itch to run outside and play the game myself. And every single week I’d get Sports Illustrated in the mail, excitedly take it upstairs, and I’d lie on my bed, and read that damn thing cover to cover. I’ll never forget my first issue was Jennifer Capriati, who made the finals of the Virginia Slims tournament at the age of 13.

I have an uncommon amount of sports knowledge in my brain from reading SI, and not just the ones I got weekly. Each time I would visit my grandparents, we’d stay in my uncle’s old room. And each night at bedtime, I’d go into his old closet and sift through the giants stack of Sports Illustrateds from the 70s and 80s, when he was a kid. The magazines were 10, to 20 years old at that point, but I didn’t care.

I think the spirit of Sports Illustrated lives, for Phil and me, in this website. In the article, MacCambridge correctly notes that a perceived problem for Sports Illustrated is that, by the time it hits your mailbox, it seems like last week’s news. When a major story hits, by the time you can read it in SI, many fans have digested all they needed to – on Twitter, or Yahoo, or ESPN.com – three or four or more days prior.

But isn’t that actually the beauty of SI? When we started this website, almost four years ago, our philosophy was to publish once a week because the time allows us a little perspective to digest what has happened, or what we’ve read. Twenty years after I last regularly read SI, life’s realities have reduced my ability to watch hours and hours of sports every day. Getting to sit down for a couple hours and watch a baseball game is a treat. I certainly don’t sit down for two hours a week to read Sports Illustrated. But I think I’m going to start. I hope it’s still good. If so, I’ll be sure to keep the old ones in a basket in the garage, so my kids can stumble on them like I did.


Fox Was Built On Football

December marks the 25th anniversary of FOX obtaining NFL rights, and the article below is an oral history of how that happened. I don’t knowingly care about what networks are airing what games, but this story reveals so much about the time, the role sports played on the three major networks (a promotional vehicle for other programs), and a new breed of sports franchise owners were starkly different than the old guard.

At the core of this story are two sides looking at the same thing and seeing something the opposite: CBS, NBC, and ABC saw an annual renewal of rights with old owner friends, while Rupert Murdoch and Fox saw NFL – specifically NFC football, with teams in large markets like New York, Chicago, Philly, and San Francisco – as a way to build a television network for decades to come. While many thought Murdoch overbid for the football rights, he saw the as a cheaper alternative to buying one of the old networks outright.

Added to the mix was a tough economy at the time, which led to each of the three networks being run by bottom line CEOs who spent their time watching the stock prices ebb and flow. At one point CBS as actually trying to convince the NFL to take a paycut! Murdoch was not as short sighted.

The finance people and the salespeople at the network got together and said, “OK, how much can we pay for these rights?” They did an analysis of what kind of advertising they could sell and came up with the maximum break-even number. Then Mr. Murdoch came bounding into the room and said, “What do we have to bid?” We told him. He said, “That’s not enough. The NFL doesn’t really want their games on our network. They’re just using us to bid up CBS. I’ve got to bid CBS away from the table.”

When he does a deal, Rupert’s thinking about, “What’s this going to look like 10 years out, 20 years out? Will this help me build a network?” The other guys are trying to manage financials for the next quarterly financial report.

Fox bought 4 years of NFC rights, plus one Super Bowl, for $395MM per year, which was $100MM more than CBS was willing to offer. Five years later, under new management, CBS bid $500MM for the weaker AFC package.

It’s a long read, but perhaps the best oral history I’ve read. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis does an excellent job weaving all of the voices into this story.  – PAL

Source: The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (12/13/18)

TOB: This was great. The thing it was missing that I was wondering about – how much did they have to invest in infrastructure? How did they know what they needed? Did they just hire all the technicians from CBS, too? I care way less about how they hired Matt Millen than how they figured out how to make it work.


Video of the Week


PAL Songs of 2018: Khruangbin – “Lady and Man”


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I have plenty of female friends. My mom, Pam’s mom, my aunt, although she just blocked me on IM. 

-Michael Gary Scott