Week of December 1, 2017

Strong argument. 

College Coaches: Pass on Tennessee

Tennessee fans didn’t want Greg Schiano as the head coach, and rather than claiming his mediocre head coaching record, they used sexual abuse as their rationale. You see, it was a moral issue, but not really

Backstory: From 1991-95, Greg Schiano served as a graduate assistant, then assistant coach for Penn State football. During that time, Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing children, many times in within the Penn State football complex. We know how that story has played out. Per Joe Drape of The New York Times:

In a 2015 deposition, the former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary testified that another Penn State assistant coach, Tom Bradley, had told him that Schiano had talked to him about seeing Sandusky abusing a boy sometime in the early 1990s. Both Schiano and Bradley, most recently an assistant at U.C.L.A, have denied the allegation and said they had no knowledge of the abuse.

Since his time at Penn State, Schiano went on to coach at Miami, Chicago Bears, Rutgers, Tampa Bay, and now he’s the defensive coordinator at Ohio State. He’s had success as a coordinator, and less success as a head coach. At Rutgers he had a 68-67 record, the highlight being 2006, when the team finished 11-2. As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, he posted a 11-21 win-loss record in two seasons. Take out the 2006 Rutgers season, and he’s been a below  average head coach if you simply look at won-loss. It could be he’s better suited as a big-time coordinator.

Which brings us to Tennessee, a football program and fan base under the delusion that they are a premier SEC program, despite having won more than 10 games in a season exactly zero times in the last decade. They’ve won a single National Title since the Johnson administration.

Since they are delusional, they actually believed (I’m laughing as I write this) that they were going to be the program to lure Jon Gruden back into coaching. When – shocker – that didn’t pan out, they offered the job to Schiano, a move that was vetted internally and approved within the program by the likes of  Peyton Manning. Word got out before it was announced, and the fans were not pleased, and they hung their argument on the allegation that Schiano knew about the Sandusky abuse and didn’t do enough. They made enough noise that the University of Tennessee caved and re-opened the coaching search, despite Athletic Director, John Currie, providing this response to Schiano’s vetting: “He received the highest recommendations for character, family values and commitment to academic achievement and student-athlete welfare from his current and former athletics directors, players, coaching colleagues and experienced media figures.”

The only time Schiano’s name ever comes up in the Sandusky scandal is in a deposition in which one coach (McQueary) said another coach (Bradley) told him Schiano saw Sandusky abusing a boy. Bradley and Schiano deny any knowledge of the abuse. That, as far as I’ve found reported, is it.

Fans didn’t like the hire – not because of sexual abuse – but because Schiano was not successful enough as a coach. It wasn’t a big name, and so they used child rape and molestation as front. I mean, my God.

No coach should take the Tennessee job (as of 12/1/17, 7:30AM PT no one has). 

Obviously, this won’t happen – they’ll pay someone a boatload of cash – but who wants to work at a place where absurd allegations from the fanbase can cause the athletic department balk?

A young hot commodity like Scott Frost will have other big-time offers within a year (the coaching carousel at big-time programs seems to constantly have openings these days. In just the last week, Jimbo Fisher seems to be on his way from Florida State to Texas A&M, UCLA hired Chip Kelly, Florida filled its position, and Nebraska’s looking for a coach).

Here’s to another decade of crap Tennessee football. They deserve it. – PAL

Source: Tennessee, Greg Schiano and Moral Outrage in College Sports”, Joe Drape, The New York Times (11/27/17)

TOB: I hesitate to so broadly paint the Tennessee fans. As Drape says:

Certainly some of the people in Tennessee who objected so swiftly and vociferously on Sunday to the Schiano news were drawing a moral line. For others, though, this is about the University of Tennessee wanting to be good at football again. They want a better coach than Schiano.”

The article makes it sound as though this started when someone painted the rock you see above. I believe the person who did so was in fact making a strong moral stand, and would have done so even if Schiano had Nick Saban’s record. Yes, others piled on, many of whom would not have protested if Schiano had Saban’s record. But the thing is, schools make unpopular coaching hires all the time. Fans call into radio, or flood message boards. But I’ve never seen anything like that. And while I think there’s herd mentality going on, I do think the unique situation here (McQueary testifying that another coach told him Schiano had seen Sandusky raping a boy years before McQueary did) does fuel the flames. It’s child rape. It’s among the worst crimes that can be committed. And if there’s a chance a coach turned a blind eye to that? Well, I get the outrage. I wouldn’t want him coaching my school, either. The fact he’s been a mediocre head coach just makes the decision even easier.

The NFL…Whatever.

I am just so, so, so sick of writing about the NFL. It is such an incredibly cynical, ugly organization. But, I must. Under Roger Goodell, the NFL has tried to suppress any and all individuality among the players. They care about profits, and profits alone. So the NFL borrows a line from Michael Jordan, who once reportedly said, “Republicans buy shoes, too.” That is – stay out of politics. Keep everything vanilla. Be everything to everyone. You can imagine, then, that the NFL hates the protests to the national anthem that have gone on for the last year and change. NFL ratings are way down – due in part to anger over the protests, in part to fan concern for player safety, in part to the continuance of a gradual decrease in ratings owing to a whole host of reasons. But the protests are tangible. It is something the NFL can do something about. So first, they tried to co-opt the protest. But many players would not budge, and continued the protests. So the NFL formed a taskforce with the Players Coalition, a group of 40 or so of the more vocal players, and promised to come up with some solutions. This week, the NFL and the Players Coalition released some news. The NFL would commit $89 million dollars to various causes “important to African-American communities.” Wow! Hey! Not Bad! But the on the eve of that news, 49ers safety Eric Reid and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas publicly announced they’d left the Players Coalition as the coalition’s beliefs were “not in [their] best interests as a whole.”

Well, that’s odd. I wonder what’s…oh. Right. It’s the NFL. So here’s the real deal behind the this great-sounding deal: there are strings attached. While the agreement does not require an end to the protests, ESPN reports the NFL “hopes this effort will effectively end” the protests. On top of that, Reid said he was specifically asked if he’d stop his protest. Shocking.

Worse, the deal is not as great or generous as it sounds. For one, the $89M is to be paid over 7 years. Each owner only pays $250,000 per year, a paltry sum. The players pay the same amount. The balance, about $85M comes from the league. But even so, there’s no guarantee the NFL couldn’t simply reallocate funds already earmarked for other charity projects. And there’s no guarantee the money will actually go to charities the players, or African-American communities, care about. The agreement calls for a group of twelve people – five players, five owners, and two league staffers, to determine how the money will be spent each year. That’s right: the NFL owners and the league have a 7-5 majority, meaning the players’ voices on that committee are effectively silenced. Finally, the NFL apparently threatened that if a deal didn’t get done soon, the deal would be off the table and the NFL would take unilateral steps to ban the protests. Swell. As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky says:

“So, let’s recap. NFL owners are pledging to spend a relatively paltry amount, not pledging that they won’t just take that money from previous charitable pledges, not promising that they won’t veto players’ preferences on where the money should be spent, setting up a voting body specifically designed to outvote those players, and expecting that this will stop players from protesting during the national anthem.”

Sigh. I can only hope Will Leitch is right, and that the end is already near for the NFL. -TOB

Source: The NFL’s $100 Million Ploy to Stop Player Protests”, Jeremy Stahl, Slate (11/30/2017)

PAL: Every week we tell you “Here are our favorite stories of the week.” This is not one of my favorite stories of the week. I’m not excited to share this with you, my friends, and talk about with over the phone or over a beer.

Is it an important story? Yeah, it is. And while we are absolutely aware that this is not a news site, and we are not journalists, in this small corner of the sports blogs, I for one want to take that moment to share what I think is worth your time.

When we look back on the year of 2017 in sports in 5, 10, 20 years from now, the NFL protests will at the top of the list of topics. That counts for something, and while I don’t like writing about it time and time again, it is a national conversation transcending sports.

To the N.F.L., it’s always about advertiser dollars and ratings. It has nothing to do with patriotism or protests. To take the money under those terms would mean nothing less than to be bought-off by N.F.L.. Good for those players.

What Does A Hero Owe His Hometown

Here’s a sports story I haven’t read before: the small town boy done good, gives time and money to his hometown, but unlikely to return.

Earl Thomas III may be small (5’10”), but the 3-time all-pro has been one the most lethal safeties in football during his eight-year career with the Seahawks. Take it from Tight End Rob Gronkowski (6’6”, 265 lbs), who said this Thomas hit was one of the hardest he’s ever taken.

Thomas grew up in the southeastern Texas town of Orange. In his profile on Thomas, ESPN’s Joel Anderson describes Orange, TX as carrying “a bedeviling legacy as one of Texas’ most palpably inhospitable regions for black people, a town where Confederacy enthusiasts recently erected a monument on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, to be seen from Interstate 10 and the 55,000 cars per day that pass by.”

For generations, the Thomas family has been a rock of the community. Thomas’ grandfather, Earl, Sr., worked at the grocery store for 43 years and built a church in the toughest part of town. His father, Earl, Jr., has been spending the weeks following Hurricane Harvey hanging drywall in the community, and his mother is an unpaid church secretary after retiring from the school district. 

While the longstanding dominance of West Orange-Stark high school football can bring the community together, it doesn’t seem to carry over beyond Friday nights.

The bitter fights over desegregating the schools that took over Orange in 1977 don’t seem that far off now, as the schools in the area are becoming more segregated by the year. While ⅓ of Orange is black, ⅔ of the student population at West Orange-Stark is black. Most white kids head north, out of Orange, for school. Add to that a recent Confederate monument erected on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, and – well – you can decide for yourself what that says about the state of life in Orange.

After Thomas starred at University of Texas for two seasons, Seattle drafted him in the first round.  Seattle is 2,410 miles away, but the distance in thinking might be even further. Thomas is still connected to his home and carries on the Thomas family legacy within the community. He still trains there in the off-season. He puts on free youth camps attended by hundreds of kids. He chartered buses for his community to watch the high school team play in the State Championship. After Hurricane Harvey, Thomas and fellow UT Alum Jamaal Charles were “this area’s Red Cross”.

No one questions his devotion to his hometown, but he got out, and unlike most everyone in Orange, Thomas’ was allowed to see the world through a lens other than Orange.

It’s so draining, and I think it’s why [Earl Sr.] passed away so early. My uncle is going through the same situation. I feel like, going forward, the older I get, the more I kind of push away. I don’t really grow as much when I’m back.

…I want my daughter to have the best schooling. I want my daughter to be around diverse people, where you don’t see the racism and stuff like that going on.

I know I’m always going to maintain a presence there, but living there? No.

This one’s worth the click-thru, folks. – PAL

Source: Earl Thomas is the favorite son of a troubled Texas town”, Joel Anderson, ESPN (11/24/17)

Hey, Everybody! Phil is Running a Marathon This Weekend!

Go get ’em, buddy!

Good luck!

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Burl Ives – “Silver And Gold”

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My mom always used to say that average people are the most special people in the world. And that’s why God made so many.

-M. Scott


Week of November 17, 2017

There’s never a wrong time to share Vince Wilfork hitting a softball in overalls

What About The Great Ones?

Over the past month I’ve written about a 3-part series on spread of club sports in Minnesota: its impact on the young athletes, their parents (their parents’ checkbook), high school sports, and even the health-related issues popping up at younger and younger ages as a result of repetitive use.

My question throughout the series was “What is the point of youth sports?”. After reading and writing about the series, I suggested we cannot measure the success of a youth sport system by only looking to how good the best athletes become. Youth sports has to be about more than how far the best go, it has to avoid a participation equals success mentality, and we can’t lose a sense of a community – one defined by geographical proximity – in the process. Not the easiest recipe to perfect.

During that same period of time, the U.S. Men’s National Team was struggling with its own recipe. The team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Missing out on the once-every-four-year tournament was a big failure for many reasons, and a lot of people are now trying to figure out what went wrong. The coach resigned, and a new president of U.S. Soccer is likely to be elected in February. But all of this matters less to me than having wait another four years the opportunity to see Christian Pulisic represent the U.S.A. in a World Cup.

TOB wrote a spirited summary of the loss and the cost of the U.S. not qualifying, and the the missed opportunity for us to see Pulisic. BTW, I think this might be the first time we’ve quoted the other guy’s story in a post.

The team has been graced with the Christian Pulisic, who is starting for a top tier team in the Bundesliga, and who, at age 19, pretty much no one disputes is the greatest American soccer player of all time. Pulisic has the vision, touch, and creativity that separates the great soccer players from across the world from the pretty good ones that the U.S. has produced in the past.

So I was writing about youth sports culture, and TOB wrote about the cost of the USMNT missing the World Cup, which is why I want to share this story Pulisic contributed to The Players’ Tribune. Here’s his experience of not only the failure to qualify, but also his take on youth soccer in the U.S. and his experience in the highest levels of club sports: academies.

Due to his dual citizenship (U.S.A and Croatia), Pulisic left the U.S. at 16 and was able to develop at what is regarded as the best training academy in Germany – Dortmund, which is funded by a professional team. He believes that made all the difference:

In the U.S. system, too often the best player on an under-17 team will be treated like a “star” — not having to work for the ball, being the focus of the offense at all times, etc. — at a time when they should be having to fight tooth and nail for their spot. In Europe, on the other hand, the average level of ability around you is just so much higher. It’s a pool of players where everyone has been “the best player,” and everyone is fighting for a spot — truly week in and week out. Which makes the intensity and humility that you need to bring to the field every day — both from a mental and physical perspective — just unlike anything that you can really experience in U.S. developmental soccer.

Without those experiences, there’s simply no way that I would be at anywhere close to the level that I am today.

It makes sense. For the best to reach their potential, they need to compete. They can’t always be special, and they need to learn how to respond to challenges and pressure.

I guess I want it both ways, right? I want youth sports to be the beacon of a community, but of course I want to cheer the absolute best of the best to bring home big wins, especially for the ol’ U.S.A. By all accounts, the club methodology is the right way to develop the skills of the most talented, but I don’t want to give up the quaint, neighborhood aspects of youth sports.

I think there are degrees to club sports. I understand the highest order of them – the academies and the like in the soccer world – but I wonder if a lot of the stateside club teams are profiting off of the youth academy model, rebranding them with gratifying names like “Perfect Game”, “Super Select”, and tacking on a hefty price tag.

So, yes, there should be room for both, but I wonder how broad the spectrum needs to be to account for us regulars and the Pulisics of the world.

Put in another way, a virtuoso violin player shouldn’t play with the high school symphony. A 12-year old with an exceptional math mind shouldn’t be sitting in Algebra to fulfill a sense of community. Their respective talent cannot be developed in that environment, and their contribution to community pride is to show what’s possible.

So where do I net out? Club teams are fine, but I’d be wary if they are expensive. If a check clearing plays a major role on whether or not a kid is allowed to play, then maybe investment is on the wrong side of the table. -PAL

Source: 1,834 Days”, Christian Pulisic, The Players Tribune (11/13/17)

Epic College Reunion

The 2018 Winter Olympics will not feature NHL talent for the first time since 1994. This stinks. I always want to see the best of each country, and while the ‘Miracle On Ice’ was possible in part due to no ‘professional’ players participating, the Iron Curtain created an environment where professional talent was indeed on display for the Soviets. Apples to oranges when compared with the 2018 and the NHL withholding its players from the games.

Quick tangent – don’t you think the NHL would love to put its players on an international stage? Wouldn’t the league benefit from that kind of promotion? Ditch the All-Star Game, take a 3-week break in the middle of the season, and let the studs play. I don’t know the inner-workings behind this decision, but on the surface it seems shortsighted.

All of this creates a pretty cool opportunity for some guys who’s hockey dreams were seemingly behind them, including four former college teammates at Yale – Mark Arcobello, Sean Backman, Broc Little and Brian O’Neill.

[They] have chased hockey careers in Finland, Germany and Switzerland. Together, they exemplified the traits of the American group that found its way to Augsburg: Those who let their N.H.L. dreams fade, who pursued the game wherever else they could, who now have an opportunity to add one spectacular highlight to their careers.

The team, for which the roster is not yet set, is off to a rough start: 0-3 so far, but these guys are thinking about the bigger picture, and put it in perfectly hockey terms.

O’Neill has been trying to manage his own expectations during the national team selection process. But he admitted he had at times imagined what it would be like to attend the opening ceremony and walk alongside the other athletes, “all dressed up in Ralph Lauren stuff.”

I’m trying to be positive about this, and when the NHL guys aren’t playing, these are the fun little stories that give you a little more umph to tune in. – PAL

Source: An Unlikely Yale Reunion on the U.S. Men’s Hockey Team”, Andrew Keh, The New York Times (11/13/17)

Video of the Week: 

PAL’s Song of the Week: Mandolin Orange – ‘Wildfire’

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There was a time when the only people who texted you were people you wanted texted you. Girls. 

-Darryl  Philbin

Week of November 10, 2017

Get it, Brian Boyle! This week, he scored his first goal since being diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in September.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Counterfeit Autographs

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the draw of autographs – sports or otherwise – is lost on me. As we find ourselves in at least the second decade of the online marketplace, the hobby of collecting autographs is an even more removed experience. The signature symbolizes no interaction, no moment when the ordinary and extraordinary paths cross. There is no story, only an online bid.

While it should come as no surprise there are counterfeits out there, here’s a story that highlights a case which uncovers the how and the why behind one such counterfeit – Cliff Panezich.

Before Panezich forged the vast majority of 27,000 ebay items and sold more than $2MM worth of items on eBay, he was a baseball player looking for a shot. He was also an autograph seeker. The autographs were not for a personal collection.

2009 was his first year out of baseball. Panezich had gone undrafted after college ball, but had workouts with MLB teams and fared well enough in an independent league to earn another minor league tryout with the Phillies. His physical with the team revealed not one, not two, but three tears – two in his labrum and one in his rotator cuff. Surgery. Two years of rehab for an undrafted guy means the dream is pretty well squashed. This gave him more time for autographs. He and a friend took a road trip to Tuscaloosa to gather some signatures from Crimson Tide players.

This is what autograph investment looks like. Not exactly the kid waiting after the game for a glimpse of his hero:


This was a business trip, but the end did not justify the means:

Altogether it took Panezich and Bollinger nearly a week to gather the signatures they wanted, and Panezich says they shelled out more than $1,000 to players—but he figured the investment was worth it. He’d seen a team-signed Bama ball sell on eBay for roughly $800 earlier that month. Even if his own fetched just $500 apiece, “we were in pretty good shape,” he says. But once Panezich made it back to Ohio and listed the items on eBay, he says he found a marketplace newly flooded with what he believed to be forgeries—most selling for less than $150.

You can see where this is heading. Panezich embraces the forgery route, and he has a talent for copying signatures. When the feds close in on him and finally question him – they dubbed it “Operation Stolen Base” –  they wanted to see him in action.

The most surreal autograph session of Panezich’s life takes place a month later in a conference room in the FBI’s office in Boardman. He wasn’t arrested during the raid, but he’s since agreed to be interviewed under proffered protection in hopes of improving any future plea deal. The FBI and the Mahoning County prosecutor’s office have decided to pursue the case under Ohio’s version of the RICO Act—rather than bring federal charges—because of the number of potential defendants at the local level. (More than 20 other people, mostly in Ohio, are suspected of being involved in selling the forged items.) This makes Martin Desmond, a Mahoning County assistant D.A., one of the lead interviewers.

“I’m curious,” Desmond tells Panezich from across a conference table. “I want to see how good you are.”

Panezich shoots a look at his lawyer, Robert Duffrin—Is this really happening?—and is reminded that he’s under protection. He grabs a pen and a legal pad and asks Desmond to name an athlete.

“LeBron,” Desmond says, assuming Panezich will then ask to look at an example.

“Number or no number?” Panezich replies.


“Six or 23?”

“Do both.”

Panezich signs two variations—one the way James signed it during his first stint with the Cavs, the other the way he did it in his Heat years. One of the Ohio policemen at the table fires up his iPad and finds a real LeBron, and they all compare it with Panezich’s work.

To the investigators’ untrained eyes, it’s difficult to tell the autographs apart.

Panezich got six years for what is one of the largest eBay frauds on record. Hell, he even had his mom working for him. And while I find it hard to imagine anyone questioning his responsibility in all of this, Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn brings up an interesting point – what about eBay’s role, if any?

The most successful party—in the end—appears to be eBay, which would have earned more than $300,000 on auction and PayPal fees on $2.4 million in sales. Although eBay cooperated in the case, a company spokesman declined to answer SI’s questions about whether it had contacted potential victims or returned any of the fees.

So – yeah – I have no problem with athletes turning down adult autograph seekers (story four from our September 22 post). Honestly, I have little sympathy for folks buying autographed items on an online marketplace, too. I don’t get it, and stories like this surely don’t help. – PAL

Source: Operation Stolen Base”, Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated Longform (11/06/2017)

Man, Roy Halladay Died, and I Barely Knew Him.

A bummer out of baseball this week, as former pitcher Roy “Doc” Halladay died after he crashed his small plane into the Gulf of Mexico. He was 40, and leaves behind a wife and two kids. This story hit the baseball world hard, as Roy Halladay was not just the best pitcher in baseball for a decade, but widely known as one of the nicest and hardest working players, too. He was tall and lanky, and he was all angles when he pitched. He was incredibly difficult to hit, winning two Cy Youngs, a remarkable 7 years apart, in different leagues. He only played in two postseasons, but boy did he make it count.

In his first ever postseason game, Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS, Halladay threw a no-hitter. It was only the second ever postseason no-hitter (the first being Don Larsen’s perfect game). I remember the game distinctly, even though I didn’t watch it, which is a perfect microcosm of my experience with Halladay’s career. As I recall, it was the first game of that season’s playoffs, and it started during the day, when I was still at work. I was intently focused on the Giants’ soon to begin series against Atlanta. I even had tickets to Game 1 the next night, so I wasn’t paying attention to the score of a Phillies game while I was at work. But I remember leaving the office right around 5:00pm, and heading over to a bus stop directly in front of Irish Times, a sports bar in San Francisco’s Financial District. I peeked inside and saw the Phillies leading 4-0 in the 9th. Meh. I got on the bus, and just before it departed, I’ll never forget a HUGE roar from the crowded bar. I thought, “Geeze, it’s only Game 1 of the NLDS, and the Phillies have won a World Series and another pennant recently. Calm down, Phillies fans.” Moments later I got an alert on my phone, telling me Roy Halladay had just completed a no-hitter. I had not only missed a playoff no-hitter, but unknowingly walked out of the bar, in the 9th, as he was closing it out. UGH.

As I said, it’s a microcosm of my, and many baseball fans’, experience with Halladay. The postseason is when many fans get to watch the best players in the league, but because Halladay made just five postseason starts, I simply did not get to see him pitch much. I did see him in person that postseason – he started Game 5 of the NLCS against the Giants, beating Tim Lincecum 4-2, in a rematch of the Giants 4-3 win in Game 1. But…I don’t really remember too much about Halladay that night. And I didn’t remember that Cody Ross’ two huge home runs in Game 1 came off Halladay, either.

But this week, I read a lot about how others experienced him. Like Blue Jays and Phillies fans, who saw him pitch every five days, the best in the game at the peak of his powers. I know how fun that experience is. Phillie fan Michael Baumann summed up why we love sports, and why we are sad when athletes die too soon:

But for me, and for numerous others who had the good fortune to be Phillies fans in a certain time and place, this is different, because of the memories he created, the community his team fostered, and, above all, the ineffable feeling of being part of something special that he inspired. I never met Roy Halladay, never high-fived him as a fan or interviewed him as a reporter, but he changed my life all the same.

Deadspin rounded up many of the tweets from players who played with and against Halladay. Brandon McCarthy seemed to capture Halladay best:

And I really enjoyed this old SI article, written at the height of Halladay’s powers, about his early career struggles, and what Halladay went through to turn it around. It’s really quite a remarkable story. Rest in peace, Doc. -TOB

Source: Roy Halladay Changed My Life”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (11/07/2017); Roy Halladay Was ‘Your Favorite Player’s Favorite Player’”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (11/08/2017); What Makes Roy Run”, Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated (04/05/2010)

PAL: I enjoyed the Baumann article as well. I actually highlighted the exact same passage TOB pulled out above. And to those asking why he was flying so dangerously – implying that he deserved it in some way – just go away (I’m not going to even link to the story about it, but you can find them if you want).

Damn The Birds, Build The Stadium in Oakland

The Raiders: Vegas. Warriors: San Francisco. Sports teams are dropping Oakland like a high school boyfriend or girlfriend come second semester of college. The A’s are looking to stay in Oakland with a privately funded, 35,000 seat stadium. They want to put it right by Lake Merritt near downtown Oakland.

But what about the birds?

Cindy Margulis, executive director of the Audubon’s Golden Gate chapter, said in an interview that a new ballpark built near the Lake Merritt Channel would devastate large numbers of bird species that nest each year at Lake Merritt, especially herons and cormorants.

The ballpark could cause a die off of birds and perhaps force them to leave the Lake Merritt area completely. And Margulis says she sees no way for the A’s to prevent what she predicts will be an ecological catastrophe.

I run around that lake a lot, and let me tell you something: The birds are out of control. I have no beef with the herons, but if they could find a way for the new stadium to kill off the seemingly millions of geese and their poop that litters every inch of grass around the lake, then I’ll personally contribute to the stadium.

Lake Merritt is a good looking lake. It’s a small lake, and it can smell a bit, but it’s a nice, downtown lake. People love to grill out and just hang on the weekends. It’s packed with folding tables, grills, and loud, bumping music. I love it, but for the geese.

Geese suck. They poop white poop everywhere, they waddle around like they own the place, and they’re jealous of the swans. Build the stadium. Damn the birds. Eagles are cool. Hawks are impressive. Owls: I’m in. The rest of them – meh. Birds are gross. Privately funded stadiums built near downtown are cool. Stadium > birds. – PAL

Source: New Ballpark Could Devastate Lake Merritt’s Birds”, Robert Gammon, East Bay Express (11/07/2017)

TOB: Good take, Andy.

Video(s) of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott – ‘Long Time Gone’

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“It’s all your fault. I took you under my wing and then you bit the underside of my wing”

-Guy Young

Week of November 3, 2017

Ben Reiter called it…3 years ago. 

Why Didn’t the Dodgers START Kershaw?

This article was written, and I read it, in advance of Wednesday’s glorious Game 7, where the Houston Astros extended the Dodgers non-World Series winning streak to 29 years. Here’s to 30, a nice round number. Now that the gloating is over, I just can’t get over how badly I think Roberts managed this, and why everyone seems to take it as a given that he didn’t. Specifically, why didn’t he start Clayton Kershaw in Game 7? In the last few seasons, managers have really begun to get creative with their bullpen use in the playoffs, especially in Game 7, and especially in Game 7 of the World Series. I don’t know if it began with Bumgarner in 2014, but it seems like his performance that night, after having dominated in Game 5, made every manager since realize you should live and die with your best. Before Game 7 this year, both managers said every starter, save perhaps the starter from Game 6, was available to pitch out of the bullpen if necessary.

But…this is what I don’t get. Kershaw is an excellent pitcher. Possibly the best of his generation. He’s struggled in the playoffs, but he was great this year at home, where the Dodgers were playing Game 7. He’s available. And not in an emergency. It was reported that Kershaw texted manager Dave Roberts and told him before Game 6 that he was available for that night’s game, after having been rocked and giving up two different 3-run leads two days prior in Game 5. Roberts replied, telling Kershaw he’d be closing out Game 7. So we know that Roberts intends to pitch Kershaw for at least the last 3 outs. This is not a break glass in case of emergency situation.

For his starter, though, Roberts went with Yu Darvish, who gave up 5 runs in 1 ⅔ innings, the same as he had in Game 3.

The Dodgers were down 5-0 when they brought in Kershaw. Yes, the pressure on him at that point is lower, but he was lights out and gave his offense a chance to come back. So why not start Kershaw? If you have the best pitcher of his generation, and you’re going to pitch him, why not start him? You can let him go until he begins to fatigue or gets into trouble. Here’s what Sam Miller says:

So, ideally, in a perfect world, you’d do the only logical thing: You’d start with your best pitcher, Kershaw. You’d let him go until you realize he’s not your best anymore. You figure out as you go how many pitches that is, and you figure out as you go how many outs that is good for. Then you bring in your second-best pitcher, Jansen. You do the same. Once he’s not your second-best pitcher anymore — which you’ll see, because you’re a baseball genius and spot these little tells that a pitcher has that he’s tiring — you look up at the scoreboard. Maybe it’s the third inning at this point. Maybe it’s the eighth inning. The difference between those two situations is massive, and you’re glad, looking at the scoreboard, that you chose to do it this way, because now you know exactly what you need to get from your third-best pitchers and beyond.

But you can’t do this, can you? Because, most likely, you’re still going to be asking a lot from Yu Darvish, and he needs to be good for this plan to work. He needs to be Yu Darvish good. And you just don’t know whether Darvish, coming out of the bullpen for the first time in his career, with all the nerves of Game 7 of the World Series affecting his preparation in the bullpen, is going to be able to handle that. If he can, he throws the final six or four or two innings and you hold the parade. If he doesn’t, you’ve just ruined the third-best pitcher you’ve got.

I just don’t buy that argument about Darvish. Later in the game, after their starter Lance McCullers also struggled, the Astros called on normally starting pitcher Charlie Morton. He slammed the door shut for 4 innings and finished out the game. Did Morton turn mentally soft because he wasn’t asked to start? No. Did Kershaw? No. If I’m managing Game 7 of the World Series, I am trusting my best pitcher, especially if he’s Clayton Freaking Kershaw, to get as many outs for me as he can. So, thank you, Dave Roberts. Thank you for starting Darvish. I had an enjoyable Wednesday evening. -TOB

Source: Managing Game 7 is the Most Difficult Job in Sports”, Sam Miller, ESPN (11/01/2017)

PAL: Why did the Dodger pick up Darvish midseason? So they don’t have to think about starting Kershaw on two days rest in a game 7. Because Kershaw can’t be the only guy if they want to make a World Series Run.

You ride or die with your generational talent. As much as I like to disagree with TOB, he’s right on this – if Kershaw’s told he’s pitching anyway, why not just start him and see how many innings you can eek out. Kershaw’s already great (3x Cy Young Winner, with a 2.36 ERA, averaging 248K per season, and his team wins almost 70% of the games he’s pitched), so you bet on him to be legendary.

Roberts (or the Dodgers front office – I wonder who was calling the shots, to be honest) completely and utterly overmanaged the world series, and they sh*t themselves, quite frankly. They wrote out a plan that made sense on paper, and then they proceeded to run their entire bullpen into the ground. The bullpen, which was perhaps the one facet of the game where they had an advantage over the Astros, ended up overworked and couldn’t deliver, which is understandable since they pitched the majority of the innings in the series.

As loaded as that team is, there is no guarantee the Dodgers will ever get back to the World Series. I think you need to keep this in mind when you manage. If this is the last World Series game this collection of Dodgers ever plays, who do you want on the mound. A fresh Yu Darvish – no scrub by any means, but did pitch awfully in game 2 – or Clayton Kershaw on ½ of a tank. I’d see how far Kershaw’s tank gets me – from the beginning of the game.

TOB: What’s wild to me is how many sportswriters (like Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann from The Ringer) I saw after the game saying Roberts was correct not to start Kershaw. Now, this reminds me of the scene in Swingers when Trent tells Mikey you always double down on 11, and when Mikey does and busts, Trent keeps insisting, “You always double down on 11.” Mikey says, “I lost! How could you say ‘always’?” But I do get their point. The outcome was unknown when he made the decision, so you shouldn’t take the outcome into consideration when determining if he made the right call (plus, who knows how things turn out if they do start Kershaw. Maybe he takes a liner to his head that ends his career or something). But my point is this: I thought this before the game, and I just disagree with the logic. Baumann and Lindbergh’s argument is that you don’t know what could happen, so go with Darvish because that’s why you traded for him. Sorry, if I’m a manager, I’m winning or losing on the back of a generational pitcher. If you beat him, so be it.

What is the Point of Youth Sports, Part III: Coaching High School Sports in a Club World

Let’s start the third and final chapter on youth sports with a quote that seems to pretty much sum up the current state of coaching high school sports today:

The e-mails from angry parents come faster and more often than any time in his 25 years as a high school coach, sometimes waiting for Carl Pierson by the time he arrives home from a game.

Each time it happens, the Waconia girls’ basketball coach knows a long night is about to get even longer.

After he enters statistics, uploads and edits game film and creates a scouting report for the next day’s practice, Pierson faces a choice: Take the time to carefully craft and send a response, or put it off until morning and endure a lousy night of sleep dreading the thought of hard feelings festering with a parent and their player.

The old adage says there is no ‘I’ in team, and that seems to be the problem in high school sports these days. As we’ve written about the previous two weeks, players and parents are investing a lot of time and money on personal athletic pursuits through pay-for-play club sports and 1-1 training. When a varsity high school coach – who gets about $6K stipend in Minnesota – doesn’t have little Johnny in the regular rotation – well, there’s trouble in paradise.

When expectations aren’t met, parents blame the high school coaches — whose work now extends well-beyond a season’s start and end — and even push for their ouster.

After the ouster of two high-profile boys’ hockey coaches — Jeff Pauletti at Roseville and Tony Sarsland at Elk River — Rep. Dean Urdahl authored a bill in 2013 to forbid parental complaints for being the sole reason to not renew a high school coach’s contract. The measure was passed into law, but its effects are hard to discern.

Fast-spreading complaints via social media can further stoke tension. In 2016, Tony Scheid resigned as Stillwater girls’ hockey coach, saying he and his family had been subjected to “unrelenting and vicious” verbal attacks from a group of parents.

Let’s just pause for a second. We can be such wimps. Such frauds. I include all of us – whether we have kids or not – because we are parts of communities where this crap happens every day, and ‘our kids’ isn’t limited to flesh and blood. We want our kids to learn about character and competition and teamwork and perseverance, but only if that happens in a way that’s acceptable to us – only while making varsity as a sophomore, and playing regular minutes/innings/shifts. When it doesn’t go our way, we act like wimps. We post pithy complaints on social media like teenagers, and we either work to get the coach fired or acquiesce to those that do. We don’t use the most minor of setbacks – a youth sports setback – to actually have a moment to say to our kids, “This is a challenge, and I’ve got news: You will be challenged for the rest of your life. It’s actually a big part of each day. How you respond tells yourself and the world what kind of person you are. This is what the word ‘character’ means.”

Full disclosure: I absolutely failed my first sports character test.

I was a sophomore on the high school baseball team. The catcher ahead of me, a junior, was suspended for two weeks (maybe I was a junior and he was a senior…I can’t remember). He served his suspension, and was back in the lineup. I was the designated hitter for a couple weeks, I’m wouldn’t be surprised my hitting cooled off, and then I wasn’t playing. The guy in front of me was a natural athlete, but didn’t seem to care too much, and that just ate at me. I wanted to succeed with every ounce in me. I had quit hockey to spend more time on baseball. I wanted to play D-I baseball. It was my only goal, I had a plan worked out to the day, and my plan was getting off course because an upperclassmen who didn’t seem to care about anything. I wanted to know why I wasn’t playing (even when maybe deep down I knew he was more gifted than I was), and I was worried that I wouldn’t get any college looks if, you know, I wasn’t on the field.

My brother and I met with the coach in the dugout. My feelings about his coaching are beside the point here, so I’ll just leave that alone. My brother did most of the talking while I sat there.

To this day I regret that I didn’t find the guts to talk with my coach one-on-one. Ugh. This isn’t something that comes up once every few years; I think about it pretty regularly.

What is the point of youth sports? It’s all the stuff we rolled our eyes about as kids – teamwork, competition, the feeling of earned success and a camaraderie that can only be achieved by spending seasons of ups and downs together with teammates you love and teammates you learn to get along with over time. It’s all the cliches. The cliches are true. They were when I was playing as a kid, and they are true at my job today. A great day at work is due to teamwork – and everyone buying into that idea. After reading this series, it’s hard to make a case that parents and players share my feelings on this.

Individual success in sports – like any other facet of life – is not guaranteed just because there’s been an investment of time or money or desire. We all know life isn’t fair. While adults seem to understand that truism when it happens to them, the idea that their children are faced to learn that lesson destabilizes mom and dad.

High school coaches – the good ones, the bad ones (and there are bad ones), and the indifferent ones – have always had to deal with crap parents, but they had leverage. With the ubiquity of club sports, it seems that leverage has shifted.

What’s lost in all of this is the the most beautiful part of high school sports – a team made up of kids from the same neighborhood or city winning a state championship. A group of guys or girls, who grew up playing together from when they were 10 years old all the way through high school bring home a goddamn state championship to their hometown. It’s beautiful.

Pride. I fear that’s what’s lost in all of this. – PAL

Source: Crunch Time Never Ends for Coaches”, David La Vaque, Star Tribune (10/24/2017)

$100k for an Elite Basketball Recruit is a Steal

As we’ve written about here before, NCAA basketball is embroiled in a developing pay-for-play scandal that broke when a number of assistant coaches from some of the top programs around the country were simultaneously arrested a few weeks ago. One of those recruits, Brian Bowen, was preparing to start his freshman year at Louisville. It has been alleged he, or his family, were paid $100,000 by Adidas for choosing Louisville.

At first blush, that sounds like a lot. But $100,000, even for one year of basketball, is not a lot of money.

Economist Dan Rascher, an expert witness in the O’Bannon case, estimates that Division I football and men’s college basketball players only receive about 10 percent of the $10-12 billion of annual revenue that they generate. By contrast, NBA and National Football League players receive roughly 50 percent of total league revenues. Three years ago, the National College Players Association, a campus athlete advocacy group, applied that same split to athletes in Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and estimated that the average basketball player was worth $289,000 a year.

That’s the average player at the average program. Bowen of course is not average. Louisville is not average. If Louisville paid its players 50% of revenue like NBA players get, each player on the team would be paid $1.72 million per year. The tenth pick in last year’s draft, for example, is making over $3 million this year, thirty times what Bowen was allegedly paid. This well beyond stupid at this point. Maybe he doesn’t need to get paid $1.72 million, but $100,000 is a bargain, and the players should get paid a fair amount.

Source: Brian Bowen is a Bargain at $100,000”, Patrick Hruby, Deadspin (10/26/2017)

PAL: I hate the notion of paying college players, but any semblance of amateurism left big time college basketball decades ago (UCLA in the 60s, right TOB?). Wherever you stand on the issue, this article breaks it down by the numbers, and it’s a pretty logical, measured argument. Glad TOB posted it this week. We just didn’t get to it last week.

Sports Screaming Explained

It’s in every sport now, the screaming. Tennis, Football, Track & Field, and all of the others. The screaming is to a point where we don’t really notice it anymore, but there was a time – not that long ago – when this didn’t happen.

After losing the first set to Monica Seles in ‘92 Wimbledon semifinal, Martina Navratilova went to the chair umpire to make Seles stop grunting after every shot. It was so unprecedented at that time that the umpire didn’t know what to do, so he gave Seles a warning. Seles went on to win the match, and by the end of the match, the grunting had turned into screams. Seles had opened the screaming door in women’s tennis, and “[o]ver the next 20 years, Navratilova watched in horror as an entire generation of tennis players proceeded to copy Seles.”


Nick Zarzycki does a nice job organizing a handful of theories as to why athletes now scream.

There have been several studies, including some that contend screaming can “increase our maximum jumping distance, improve our ability to withstand pain, and increase coordination.” As Zarzycki points out, there seems to be connection to the fight or flight response.

And fear is part of the fight or flight equation.

Working with neuroscientists at Dr. David Poeppel’s lab at NYU, Arnal found that screams are different from any other kind of human vocalization because they possess a sonic attribute called “roughness,” which is particularly good at activating the brain’s fear and danger processing centers.

So perhaps there’s something to either creating or reacting to danger when it comes to today’s sports. Vikings great John Randle was a big yeller (and all around gab machine on the field). What’s fascinating is when you wonder whether or not he was yelling at the offensive line as a reaction to danger or in an effort to create fear. Maybe a bit of both.

There are less combative sports where the breakdown between creating and reacting to danger is less complex. Take, for instance, the skeleton (the luge-type winter olympic sport where one competitor sleds head first down an ice track at 75 m.p.h.


Why do athletes scream? Because we’re all animals! – PAL

Source: Why Do Athletes Scream”, Nick Zarzycki, Deadspin (10/31/17)

Sporting Event Proposals are Never, Ever OK

There is no scenario in which a proposal of marriage at a sporting event is acceptable. I don’t care if you just won the World Series, Carlos Correa. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Sure, he was having the best night of his life, and – to repurpose a phrase TOB uses in the Dodgers writeup, he doubled-down and proposes. Exuberance is at an all-time high, she’s a total babe. He goes for it. I get it. It’s just the wrong play.

We are conditioned to give it the ah, that’s so sweet. Resist that urge. It is not sweet. To propose at a sporting event is unoriginal, thirsty, and puts the fiance being proposed to in an impossible position.

What’s she going to do – say no? Hey, honey. I know you just won the World Series, and you’re an incredibly successful, young, good-looking, wealthy shortstop who bats cleanup for the World Series champs, but…can we talk about this? Yes, the diamond the size of small island is beautiful. It’s not that. I just don’t feel like we’ve talked about each of our visions of the future.

So – yeah – that was never going to happen. Did I mention he’s the shortstop and bats cleanup? Hell, I might have said yes. But that doesn’t make it OK. Propose on your own time, and make that day special because you got engaged on that day. Of all the moments in your life, don’t tack that one onto any other special day, and don’t do it at a baseball game.

What’s that? Yes, I am 35 and never been married. – PAL

Source: Carlos Correa Celebrates World Series Win By Proposing To Girlfriend Daniella Rodriguez”, Emma Baccellieri, Deadspin (11/01/2017)

TOB: I have mixed feelings here. First, I think everyone should do it their own  way. She looked happy as hell. He looked happy. It was a sweet moment, good for them. On the other hand, when it happened I did think, “It makes for a bit of an awkward engagement night.” I mean, now he’s gotta leave for the trophy ceremonies, then head to the locker room for the champagne celebration, and then get absolutely hammered with his teammates. Is she in the locker room? Either way, once the celebration is done, Correa is drunk and celebrating his own thing, while also trying to celebrate their thing. In the end, I go with my gut: They seemed happy, so…

Video of the Week: 


(Sorry, can’t embed)

PAL Song of the Week: Jeffrey Foucault – ‘Lodi’ (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

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“No, don’t call me a hero. Do you know who the real heroes are? The guys who wake up every morning and go into their normal jobs, and get a distress call from the Commissioner and take off their glasses and change into capes and fly around fighting crime. Those are the real heroes.”

-D. Schrute

Week of October 20, 2017

This is your future, Klay.

What Is The Point of Youth Sports?

I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but during the fall of my senior year in high school, I was asked to play in a fall baseball league. It was a wood bat league, and there was one team for the state. I’m certain there was a price tag involved, which my parents graciously paid without a second thought. Not only was it the promise of more games with a bunch of really good players, but the idea of college recruiting was attached as well. It was the first I had heard of a fall baseball league, and it was called Perfect Game, which now touts itself as a premier scouting service and tournament organizer. Read between the lines, and their pitch to parents and players is “play in our league, and you’ll get noticed by colleges and pro scouts.”

It worked. Players on my team played baseball for University of Minnesota, Creighton, Troy State, Arkansas, Valparaiso. Hell, I met a lifetime friend and college teammate Ryan Nett, who’s visiting right now, 18 years later when he suggested I check out this article.

Yes, it worked, but little did I know where it would lead. That’s what this three-part series from the Star Tribune is examining. Is the era of high school sports on the way out? Are we adopting the European, club team approach to youth athletics?

“Youth sports are an estimated $15 billion industry, and the increasing specialization of these budding athletes is irrevocably changing Minnesota’s high school landscape in softball, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball and lacrosse — basically, every team sport except football.”

I like how the Star Tribune is examining youth sports from every angle: the players, the coaches, the business, and even the health impacts of specialization at a young age.

For one, this ain’t free, and that impacts who gets to participate. One parent conservatively estimated doling out $7,500 a year on softball for his daughter. Another dad didn’t even want to think about it. “I’d hate to look at the number. And we’re on the low end.”

So who is actually taking part?

“While some athletes and their families can approach these pursuits with open checkbooks, others can’t. In 2016, children from families making $25,000 or less were only half as likely to take part in a team sport as families making at least $100,000, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.”

It’s easy to say all of this is crazy from a distance – and maybe it is – but I can understand parents with the means wanting to give their children every opportunity to excel at something they love. It feels good to be very good at something. It breeds a confidence that can absolutely be carried throughout a life beyond sports. It teaches the hard truth about the time needed if you want to excel. I understand all of that, but all of this is not unique to sport. Music, science club, debate, student newspaper, and many more examples can teach the exact same life lessons. I do think a large part of this has to do with a desire – both on the parents’ part and on the child’s part – for a scholarship. And if that is the prize, it’s a difficult one to achieve.

“If scholarships are the goal, there are no guarantees. According to the NCAA, only 2 percent of all high school athletes receive some form of college scholarship.”

And what is the impact on high school sports? In Minnesota, the Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament is the stuff of legend – an event that truly captivates the entire state. But as club teams take root, and where scholarships and draft projections outweigh the glory of making a deep run into the tournament with kids from your community, you have to wonder what the hallowed tradition will look like in ten years.

Again, the article digs in deep on all sides of this issue. Do yourself a favor and give it a read. I’ll make sure to write up a summary of the upcoming installments in the weeks to come. PAL

Source: Game On And On”, Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (10/19/17)

TOB: This is really sad. What’s scary is that as a parent, logically, I read it and think, “I will not let that be my kid.” But at the same time, I understand how we got here. You want your kids to be happy. For many kids playing sports, happiness is being good. So, to be good, you have to keep up with the arms race. But it’s so cringe-worthy. One of the dads in the article said, “Like we always tell her, there’s always somebody getting better, faster, stronger — ready to take your spot.” I know he means well, but I think that’s bad parenting. What he said is true, because some people are naturally driven and are working harder. But so what? It doesn’t have to be true for his kid. The fact he has to “always tell her” means she’s not that type. Parenting is wrought with fine lines, and certainly you need to steer your children in the right direction. But if you are pushing your kid into year-round focus on a single sport and need to constantly tell them they better work harder because someone out there is working harder than they are, maybe you should back off a bit.

There’s No Chair There

Remember that infamous video of Yi Jianlian’s predraft workout against a folding chair? He was crossing over, spinning, and dunking all over that chair. It was hilarious because it was so absurd, and we all saw it and laughed and have talked about it for years and years to the point Yi became a punchline, and the video became the symbol of all the dumb pre-draft workouts we ever see, to this day. Except, uh, it almost certainly didn’t happen and we have not seen that video. Wait, what? How is that possible? It’s all thanks to the Mandela Effect, a phenomenon where a group of people manage to create a collective false memory.

The chair workout story got told, and re-told, and told some more, and along the way we imagined it so many times that we all started to believe it really happened, and we really saw the video, when we did not. This honestly blew my mind. When I started the reading, I had no idea where this was going and I was certain I had seen the video. But then I started to think…had I seen the video? Deadspin’s Matt Giles does a thorough job debunking the chair workout video story, speaking to many of the parties involved with Yi’s pre-draft workouts. It just didn’t happen. And you’ll never guess whose fault this is. Bill Simmons. Of course. Boston GM Danny Ainge made a joke about Yi working out against a chair, because it was a one-on-zero workout, and the big dummy Bill Simmons seemed to believe it, and then said he had seen the video. He had not. Simmons then repeated it over and over for years. Friggin Simmons. Still, this is worth a read. Fascinating stuff. -TOB

Source: “The Totally Unexpected True Story Of Yi Jianlian’s Magical Mystery Chair”, Matt Giles, Deadspin (09/19/2017)

PAL: It’s bad comedy during the NBA draft. I’m assuming there are about 200 guys the experts need to know seemingly everything about. A chair punchline is a good sound byte, and so they use it and in the process perpetuate the myth. Simmons just keeps giving TOB reasons to get a good lather going. 

Interviewing Your Childhood Sports Nemesis

Dom Cosentino grew up a Pirates fan, and was 17 when the Braves’ little used Francisco Cabrera hit a game-winning two-run single in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS. 25 years later, Cosentino interviewed Cabrera. It was a fun read. But it got me thinking: Who is your equivalent? What opposing athlete gave you the biggest sports heartbreak as a kid, and what would you ask him today if you could? First I tried to think of what loss I took the hardest. That would probably be Cal football at USC in 2004. First and goal at the 9 with a chance to beat SC and likely go on to the National Championship game. But I was 22, and that seems too old for this exercise, plus no SC player really did much of note to win that game. Cal more or less gave it away. Robert Horry’s shot to win game 4 of the Kings/Lakers 2002 Western Conference Finals is right up there, but again…I was 20, and it was only Game 4 of a seven-game series. Ah, I know. 1993. I was 11. Notre Dame football was my passion. The Irish were 10-0 late in the season. They had beaten #1 Florida State the week before and were then #1 themselves, hosting #16 ranked Boston College. The game was ugly, and Notre Dame trailed by 21 points in the 4th. But they scored 22 points in just over 9 minutes to take the late lead, 39-38, with just over a minute left. Boston College put together a drive and then…

Look at that ball. It’s like a knuckle ball. Half way there, it’s veering hard to the right, and then suddenly corrects and splits the uprights. I remember being absolutely shocked. “That wasn’t supposed to happen. BOSTON COLLEGE? We just beat Florida State!” But it did. And that’s sports. So, I guess the guy I’d interview is David Gordon, BC’s kicker. What a dick. -TOB

Source: A Pirates Fan Talks To Francisco Cabrera, 25 Years After The Worst Game Ever”, Dom Cosentino, Deadspin (10/16/2017)

Again: Marshawn Lynch Is Awesome

I was all set to go to bed last night and made the mistake of checking Twitter one last time, and now here I am writing (once again) about how awesome Marshawn Lynch is. As we all know, Marshawn came out of retirement this year to join his hometown Oakland Raiders, just before they leave for Vegas in 2019. He’s played ok, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, but he’s been fun. Tonight was probably the best. Early in the game, Lynch was ejected after running out to protect his QB after a late hit.

He went back to the locker room, changed, and then watched the game from the stands in disguise (sorta).

And then…


PAL: Uh, this is all most excellent and hilarious.

The Man Behind Hugh Freeze’s Fall

Not long before the current college football season began, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze abruptly resigned. In the days to follow, it was revealed that Freeze had placed a phone call to an escort service. The phone call was discovered because Freeze and his coaches told national and local writers that the ongoing NCAA investigation into the Ole Miss program was mostly focused on Freeze’s predecessor, Houston Nutt. Nutt was not happy about these leaks, and sued Ole Miss. As part of that lawsuit, Ole Miss turned over Freeze’s phone records to Nutt’s attorney. Nutt’s attorney, though, is not the guy who found the call. That would be Steve Robertson, a fan of Ole Miss’ rival, Mississippi State, and a writer for Mississippi State’s Scout.com affiliated website.

Robertson is an interesting guy. A lifelong Bulldog fan who began his writing career posting a weekly prediction of each SEC game, Robertson is now deep into the bowels of the small community that is college football in Mississippi. Robertson got word of the shenanigans at Ole Miss years ago, and has publicly called out Ole Miss for its false public statements about the investigation in the last few years. Robertson couldn’t understand why the traditional press took Ole Miss at face value and refused to accept what he was telling them. After Nutt’s attorney got the phone records, and mountains of other documents, he tasked Robertson with sorting through it all. Robertson found “The Call”, and now Freeze is gone, and Ole Miss is staring down the barrel of the NCAA’s big guns. This is a really good and interesting read. -TOB

Source: The Mississippi State Fan Who Took His Revenge On Ole Miss And The Football Press”, Caleb Hannan, Deadspin (09/18/2017)

Nightmares Do Come True

The NFL players went on strike 30 years ago this week. NFL teams put together haphazard rosters comprised of economics teachers, ski instructors, fans, and guys with part-time jobs while they finished up their degrees. They were given the chance to play in the NFL. All they had to do was cross the picket line.

Knowing that this was either their last or only chance to live out their dream, it’s hard to blame these guys for jumping at the opportunity.

And then the best player in the NFL crossed the picket line with these nobodies: Lawrence Taylor.

So you have one of the few truly transcendent players in NFL history competing against guys that couldn’t make an NFL roster a few months prior. There are so many funny anecdotes from this story, but my favorite comes courtesy of Bills coach Marv Levy.

When speaking to the replacement offensive lineman for the Bills, Levy put it this way: “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Lawrence Taylor has crossed and will be back playing for the Giants. The bad news is that you’re going to have to block him.”

Running back Bob Dirico, one of Taylor’s teammates, had a hard enough time even practicing with him.

The running back also remembers the time he had to line up against Taylor in a one-on-one blocking drill and was expecting to be bull-rushed. If I just get a piece of him, DiRico thought, I’d look like a hero. Then Taylor came flying around the edge and put a swim move on the running back, blowing past him on the way to the QB.

“Honest to God, I didn’t get a hand on him,” DiRico says. “Not even his shirt.”

Why did L.T. cross the picket line in the first place? It turns out, it wasn’t that complicated to him. “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. And I like rich a helluva lot better. And losing whatever the F I was making per game check … stung.”

A fun read, to be sure. – PAL

Source: The ‘Worst Game’ in NFL History Was the Best Game Lawrence Taylor Ever Played”, Ben Baskin, MMQB (10/18/17)

TOB: ESPN recently had a 30 for 30 on the 1987 NFL strike, focusing on the Redskins, who were by far the best replacement team. The movie is pretty good, focusing on some of the replacement guys – where they came from, where they were at the time the players went on strike, and where they are now. The movie culminates in the final replacement game, against the Dallas Cowboys, whose roster was mostly populated with the “real” Dallas Cowboys, as most of them had crossed the picket lines. Shockingly, the Replacement Redskins won, and it was a heck of a story. By the way, another interesting picket line crosser: Joe Montana. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

No Debate: Chris Long Doing Good

Chris Long has made around $90MM over his 10 year NFL career. He was the number 2 draft pick, and has been a very good player for an extended period of time. In the later years of his career, he’s also made a huge impact off the field with waterboys.org, bringing water wells to East Africa. And now he’s decided to donate all of his 2017 game checks (he has a $1MM base salary this year) to education in the cities he’s played for in the NFL (St. Louis, Boston, and Philadelphia).

“My wife and I have been passionate about education being a gateway for upward mobility and equality,” Long told the Associated Press. “I think we can all agree that equity in education can help effect change that we all want to see in this country.”

There’s no bigger story here, folks. I just wanted to help spread the word of a professional athlete making a positive impact. – PAL

Source: Chris Long Will Donate All His 2017 Game Checks To Charitable Causes, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (10/19/17)

De’Aaron Fox is Awesome, But His Taste in Food is Not.

Kings’ rookie De’Aaron Fox was interviewed this week. Fox is new to California and was asked what he thinks of In-N-Out. Fox said:

“All I gotta say, you can tell everybody that lives in the state of California this: In-N-Out is not good….Their burgers are overrated. They’re OK….[The best fast food spot] is Wendy’s.”

Now, look. I think In-N-Out is good, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. HOWEVER, saying In-N-Out is not good and that your favorite fast food is WENDY’S is objectively wrong and disgusting. I love De’Aaron. He’s my boy. But Wendy’s? Bruh. C’mon. -TOB

Source: Kings’ Rookie De’Aaron Fox on Video Games, His Beef With In-N-Out Burger”, Seerat Sohi, Rolling Stone (09/16/2017)

PAL: You nailed it, TOB. I’m not offended that he thinks In-N-Out is overrated; I’m offended that he places Wendy’s on such a high pedestal. Jamie Morganstern, a long time 1-2-3 reader, swears by Wendy’s chicken sandwich. Please. And I’m over the gourmet fast food trend while we’re at it. 5 Guys, Smashburger, Super Duper – they all try to fool us with an ambiance that feels a little nicer than fast food and a higher price. I’ll put a Whopper against any of them, including a Double Double.

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Dire Straits – “Romeo and Juliet”

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“I don’t have to buy it. I just want to taste it. I just… I just want a little taste of it.” 

-M. Scott


Week of September 29, 2017

The Twins are back in the postseason. I’m not pulling your leg. 

Twins Win

This is a great time, folks. The Twins are in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night, and from now until then it’s all possible. I just got off the phone with my buddy Nett. All optimism:

  • Call me crazy, but – I gotta say – I have a good feeling about this.
    • The Yankees have OWNED the Twins in the postseason
  • How good can he be? I’ve never even heard of this Servino guy 
    • Yankees likely Wild Card starting pitcher with a 14-6 record and a sub-3 ERA
  • I’ll take Ervin Santana
  • They might even get Sano back…
    • Twins slugger who’s been out with a shin injury for over a month
  • There’s just something about this group of guys, you know?

This, my friends, is a good week to be alive. The Twins are in, and I don’t have to think about the prospect of them losing a 1-game wild card playoff until next Tuesday. Don’t get me wrong – they are going to win – but I don’t worry myself with the possibility of them losing until Tuesday.

The best part of it is that no one really expected anything from this team. Minnesota columnist Patrick Reusse nails it: “I’ve always contended there is nothing more enjoyable for sports followers than unexpected success, and seeing this team in the American League’s final five ranks as incomprehensible.”

This team is not supposed to be here, but then veterans have had comeback years and the young guns finally got it. Combine that with a top-heavy American League, and you slip into the playoffs as a Wild Card team with at most 86 wins (there are still 3 games to play)

Join me, won’t you, next Tuesday at 5PM PT. There you will see the difference between me watching a Giants postseason game and a Twins postseason game. Over the Giants recent World Series runs, I was in the safe position. Excited if they won, bummed if they lost, but no sleep was lost either way. This will be different, but I will enjoy the wait.

I will fill the time between now and then imagining a band of Twins misfits making an unlikely run deep into the postseason. I will hold out hope that, come October 18, they will still be playing when Nett flies out to visit and old friends will sit at an empty Oakland bar watching a Twins playoff game. I will consider last second flights back to Minnesota to pay way too much for World Series tickets with my brothers and my dad. I’m an optimist. Bad times happen. Good times are forecasted. – PAL

Source: Did you expect the unexpected from Twins after the trading deadline? Me neither”, Patrick Reusse, Minneapolis Star Tribune (09/28/2017)

TOB: Excited for you, and excited to see you lose your goddamn mind, win or lose. However, can I say: if the Twins make it even as far as the ALCS…just GO. Don’t wait for a World Series. A division series is fine, but the stakes feel lower. “If we win, we still gotta beat another really good team before we’re in the World Series.” But the League Championship series? My friend, there is nothing like the feeling, as an adult, of looking at your friend and screaming like a little kid, “We’re going to the World Series!!!!!!!”

Colin Kaepernick: Future Historical Hero

Last weekend felt like a turning point. For the past year, a handful to a few dozen NFL players had been kneeling during the national anthem as a sign of protest against the oppression (in particular by the police) of people of color in this country. It all began, of course, with Colin Kaepernick.

Last summer, Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem before a San Francisco 49ers preseason game. Nobody seemed to notice until he did it again, and then again. He explained to observant reporter Steve Wyche that he could not stand and salute a flag that represented a country where inequality and police brutality existed. He sat in the aftermath of the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana. A Green Beret and former collegiate long snapper, Nate Boyer, reached out to Kaepernick and explained kneeling would be a more respectful form of protest, and so Kaepernick started to kneel. It has become a defining pose for NFL players, an act the country will remember years from now more than any pass, run or tackle this season.

And then last Friday night President (shudder) Donald Trump got on stage at a campaign rally and called these players, exercising their First Amendment rights, “sons of bitches” and said NFL owners should fire the players who do not stand for the anthem. Trump’s words drew cheers from the Alabama crowd, but galvanized players across the league, many of whom had been hesitant to join and face the same fate as the unemployed to join the protest. The players seemed to understand the moment: our country is divided; what has happened to Kaepernick is unfair; but as citizens we cannot allow the supposed leader of this country to smear the names of private citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights.

On Sunday, players kneeled en masse. In some cases, entire teams elected to stay in the locker room during the anthem (though many argue, I think correctly, this prevented players from actually protesting). Even the white, rich owners, many of whom had contributed to Trump’s campaign, released statements denouncing Trump’s words, and many joined their players kneeling in protest (of course, as Deadspin points out, you can cynically argue that the NFL saw a moment to enhance its brand, and certainly some of the participants (*cough* Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones *cough*) oozed photo opportunity over sincerity).

But what did it all mean? As The Ringer’s MJ Baumann notes:

“Is kneeling or sitting or raising one’s fist during the anthem the same as kneeling before the anthem, or locking arms? Or do those two actions blunt the message, watering it down to make it palatable to as many people as possible? Was the president’s commentary just a catalyst for dozens more athletes to mobilize against racism and police violence, or is this now a protest against Trump himself?”

I had the same thought. Trump managed, as usual, to make this about Trump, instead of about police brutality and murder, and the value society places on the lives of people of color. As Baumann further points out:

Solving American racism, whatever that means, would be like putting a man on the moon: It can be done, but it’d be a time-consuming, expensive, and tedious process that might not even be possible as long as “America is the greatest country in the world” remains a bipartisan call-and-response. Exceptionalism, after all, doesn’t tend to foster self-reflection.

But Kaepernick’s words pinpoint a specific expression of racism in American society, one that is identifiable and soluble—one that the citizens of St. Louis are protesting right now. Those “bodies in the street” include Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, and countless others—mostly African American—who were either killed by police or died suspiciously in police custody. Castile’s and a few of Gray’s killers were acquitted, and Rice’s, Crawford’s, Garner’s, and Brown’s killers—along with the other officers investigated in the Gray case—have not stood trial.

This isn’t about the anthem, or the flag, or the military, or even specifically about the president. To Kaepernick’s broader point, modern police brutality is part and parcel of our nation’s racist legacy, from the genocide of Native Americans to slavery to internment camps to Jim Crow to the suggested brutality of “welfare reform” and the prison-industrial complex, and now to a president who rode to power by emboldening hateful people to say openly what once was merely insinuated.

It’s about the fact that police officers can mow down people of color without any consequence.

This isn’t about Trump, which is what it seems it’s becoming, and that’s a problem. All weekend I couldn’t help but think of the man who started it all: Colin Kaepernick. Where was he? Why is he still not on an NFL roster? What does he think of what he began? One thing seems for certain: Kaepernick’s legacy will be far greater than anything he would have done playing football. As his high school guidance counselor said:

“One day, maybe my youngest, who is in second grade, is going to open up a history book and he’ll read about Colin. And it won’t have anything to do with throwing a touchdown.”

We’ve written about Kaepernick now three of the last four weeks, and perhaps you’re sick of reading about it. Writing about it is exhausting, too. But I write it, and I hope you read it, because it forces us to think about why Kaepernick did what he did, and why what is happening is unacceptable. And it is unacceptable. We cannot accept it. As Baumann points out, while there are always at least two sides to a debate, those sides are not always worthwhile:

Some say cops shouldn’t be able kill people of color with impunity, and others want everyone else to shut up and go back to watching football. There aren’t two worthwhile viewpoints here, and there’s no greater condemnation of our culture than the idea that both sides deserve equal consideration.

The fact we need to convince people in this society that Kaepernick is correct is troubling. But we do. Change is difficult, and slow. There are some things that can be done, though. We need better training and mental/stress screening for police officers. It begins with tightening laws that give officers too much leeway by not second guessing their use of deadly force in the streets. And the best way I know how to get that done is to talk about it. To keep talking about it. To talk about it until the people in power can’t stand hearing about it anymore and do something about it, or until they get voted out of office and replaced by people who will. So, I’ll keep writing, in this small little corner of the internet. I hope you’ll keep reading. And maybe give a little bit of money to the organizations that Kaepernick has donated nearly $1,000,000 to, as he pledged last year. -TOB

Sources: The Only Side of the NFL Protest Debate”, MJ Baumann, The Ringer (09/26/2017); The NFL Couldn’t Keep Colin Kaepernick Off the Field”, Adam Kilgore, Washington Post (09/26/2017)

PAL: For me, the time has come –  I really want to hear from Kaepernick. Of course, he doesn’t owe it to anyone, but the message behind the protest is twisting and turning, and I just want to hear from the guy that started this.

I am starting to lean towards the opinion that him being out of the NFL serves his bigger purpose more than being on a team. He’s absent. He’s put his money where is mouth is on the issues off the field, but I want to know he wants to be on a team, as a starter or a backup, or if he’s an eager martyr. The notion that he wants to play is starting to feel disingenuous, and I think up until Trumps comments last week, people still were interested in Kaepernick because he’s a football player, and that interest was fading.

The protests last week shifted away from the original message. We aren’t talking about the police anymore. That’s so far in the rearview. Jerry Jones, and owners like him, sure as shit weren’t protesting the police. Jones and his cohorts sought a middle road that leads to nowhere, offends no one, and inspires nothing. Now we talk about who is standing, who is kneeling, how are teams handling the protest, what the president tweeted.

How about this. People love the flag debate, and we made this about the flag even when Kaepernick’s issue was never about patriotism. We debate the flag because it’s an issue people have confidence talking about. Police treatment of black people – we aren’t as comfortable discussing that, regardless of what side you come down on.

We’re engaged in a never ending debate about Trump. We are so focused on the person, and personally, I need to worry less about him and more about supporting the issues I care about.

This past week it was about his half-baked comments about the NFL. The scary part is we all get swept up in it so easily (myself included), and this time it occurred while the Affordable Care Act was in threat of being repealed (again), we are investigating the current administration’s knowledge/involvement of Russia’s involvement in the election, North Korea is getting real cocky about nuclear missiles, we’re slow to send aid to Puerto Rico after two hurricanes, and there’s been a massive budget cut on the floor. We need to stop falling for the Trump misdirection play.

Ode to a Dying Dynasty

As the Giants play out the string, possibly ending with the worst record in baseball just three years removed from a World Series win and one year removed from a ninth-inning collapse that prevented a decisive Game 5 against the eventual World Series champions, Kansas City Royals fans are knowingly witnessing the end of an era. The Royals narrowly lost the World Series to the Giants in seven games in 2014 and then won it the next season, but they missed the postseason last year and will miss it again this year. The pieces from those teams have been slowly departing over the previous two or three years, but this offseason will see the likely departure of their four core guys from those World Series teams: Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, and possibly Escobar. All expected to be gone (another key cog, Yordano Ventura, passed away early this year in an automobile accident).

Baseball playoff runs are different than most sports. A deep run lasts a month, and the team plays damn near every day. If you’re a baseball fan, you live and breathe a deep playoff run: Where are you going to watch the game? Who are you going to be with? Can you get tickets? You analyze the matchups and every single pitch has your stomach in knots, because every pitch can bring that one moment, good or bad, that turns the game. Some of my favorite memories of my entire life came during the Giants’ World Series runs. Shared joy with strangers is a powerful thing.

Baseball writers are often cynical. The job and the people they cover beat them down. So it was refreshing to read this Kansas City writer’s ode to those Royals teams. He writes about each of the departing players’ best moments over those two postseasons. Some of them I remember, some I don’t. But he saves his best writing for that same communal feeling:

The feeling of singular importance at Kauffman Stadium when playoff baseball returned after nearly three decades is impossible to explain. Nothing else seemed to matter. Around Kansas City, at least, nothing else seemed to be happening. There wasn’t time. Or energy. Just baseball. Just the Royals. Those of us lucky enough to watch those games can remember the noise, the joy, the way the stands filled with more blue than ever and the way the old concrete beauty below our feet shook in the biggest moments. Forty thousand people, mostly strangers, but on those nights it felt like the best kind of reunion. If the guy next to you was a stranger when you sat down, that didn’t last long, because here comes Wade Davis.

As Phil’s Twins gear up for a big Wild Card game in New York after having lost 103 games last year, I am hopeful the Giants can get back to the playoffs next year, and give me back that feeling. But if this is the end of the era, we’ll always have those wonderful Octobers. -TOB

Source: Catch ’Em While You Can: Royals’ Stars Have One More Stand in KC”, Sam Mellinger, Kansas City Star (09/26/2017)

PAL: Our friendship was pretty much solidified over the Giants World Series runs and several Lone Stars at McTeagues. This Giants core won 3 World Series. Nothing else needs to be said. Great teams.

CTE Research: The Game Done Changed

This week, Boston University researchers announced they have developed a method that may help diagnose CTE, for the first time, in living patients. It is for the first time conceivable that in the near-future we will be able to reliably determine if a person has CTE. This, obviously, would have unimaginable effects on the sport of football. Would every current player be tested? What happens if they test positive? Are they allowed to continue to play if they choose to do so? Are there certain tolerable levels of CTE within a person’s brain? I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I did find this unbearably sad:

I suppose, for some players, it’s like the old adage of if you could know exactly when you’ll die, would you want to know? Most don’t, and want to pretend the day is never coming. But the difference between death and CTE is that CTE is avoidable. And while some current players may be beyond the point of helping at this point in their careers, there have to be some who are at such an early stage of CTE that they could quit now and avoid the most severe side effects*. NFL owners should be terrified. -TOB

*not a doctor

Source: Boston University’s CTE Breakthrough Could Forever Change Football”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (09/26/2017)

PAL: Astonishing, potentially life-saving discovery. Clark sums up the implications on the NFL clearly. We consider CTE after a player has died, and part of that might give us just enough space to keep watching football. But that space could be closing. “No sport commands as many viewers as the NFL, and no sport can retain as many sponsors and navigate as many crises. But the ability to test for CTE at any point during a player’s career—including long before he ever reaches the NFL—could send the sport spiraling.”

Remember The Truth About Pat Tillman

Arizona Cardinals defensive Back Pat Tillman runs to the sidelines injubulation after making a bone jarring hit that knocked his helmet free..(Although this picture was taken a few years ago, it recieved its first notice and publication this past season, used widespread by the NFL in memory of Pat Tillman.)…

It’s been 13 years since Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and in the midst of this NFL-Trump standoff, people are resorting dusting off the old the Pat Tillman card as proof those that kneel during the anthem are unpatriotic. If we’re going to use Tillman as an shining light of America (which he should be), let’s make sure we’re telling the truth.

Prior to becoming an Army Ranger, Tillman played for the Arizona Cardinals. After 9/11, he enlisted (with his brother), passing on a lucrative contract. He became a hero – one that the NFL and the US Military sought to lionize. They lied about his cause of death, and if it wasn’t for his incredible family who demanded the truth, we’d probably still be telling a folklore version of Tillman’s life and death.

The above is well-documented, yet people still cling to the cliched version of a patriot story. It just ain’t the truth. His reasons to enlist came from a personal, Hemingway-esque source. Per Gary Smith:

Everybody who thought he’d enlisted purely out of patriotism, they missed reality by a half mile. Sure, he loved America and felt compelled to fight for it after more than 2,600 people at the World Trade Center were turned to dust. But his decision sprang from soil so much richer than that. The foisting of all the dirty work onto people less fortunate than an NFL safety clawed at his ethics. He had uncles and grandfathers on both sides who’d fought in World War II and the Korean War, one who’d taken a bullet in his chest, another who’d lost a finger and one who’d been the last to leap out of a plane shot from the sky. On a level deeper than almost any other American, he’d reaped the reward of those sacrifices: the chance his country afforded him to be himself, all of himself.

He yearned to have a voice one day that would carry, possibly in politics, and he was far from the sort of man who could send others into a fire that he had skirted. His relentless curiosity, his determination to live his life as if it were a book that would hold its reader to the last word, pushed him into the flames as well. The history of man is war, he told his distraught brother Richard, so how, without sampling it, could he ever know man or himself completely? “Are you fucking crazy?” was all Richard could splutter.

“The chance his country afforded him to be himself, all of himself.” Well, that’s it, folks. That’s the whole ball game. That’s the best summation of what we should stand for. At least that’s what I want to stand for. 

That Pat Tillman took on the opportunity to be all of himself is heroic. How he died is so tragic in that the cause was so stupid and without merit. A dumb, colossal mistake. When we’re talking about a guy who pursued truth over seemingly everything else, for anyone to misrepresent his life and death is unacceptable. As is usually the case, I’ll leave it a brother to explain better, as Pat’s brother, Richard, did at Tillman’s memorial service:

We should always remember Pat Tillman, but only the truth. – PAL

Source: Stop Using Pat Tillman, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (09/24/2017)

TOB: Ugh. It’s just so gross.


This week, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell fell into the stands trying to catch a fly ball and knocked over the nachos of a Cardinals fan in attendance. Russell got nacho cheese all over himself. There were nachos all over the field. Later, Russell brought the Cardinals fan a new plate of nachos because it’s the right thing to do. They smiled. They laughed. A good time was had by all.

Hell, it was such a refreshingly nice story, that Scott Van Pelt led off his Monday Sportscenter with it, instead of the NFL anthem protests. Who, possibly, could object to this story? Russell’s teammate, Jon Lester. That’s who:

“A guy fell into him and got nacho cheese on his arm and now he’s taking pictures and signing autographs. It shows you where our society’s at right now with all that stuff.”

Jesus, baseball players. I’m so goddamn tired of your crap. “It shows you where our society’s at right now with all that stuff.” What stuff? What does that even mean? Lighten the hell up, Jon. And learn to throw to first while you’re at it, you mentally-soft dope. -TOB

Source: Jon Lester Nacho Problem for Cubs on Night of Good News, Better Vibe”, Gordon Wittenmyer, Chicago Sun-Times (09/26/2017)

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: George Jones – “I’m A One Woman Man”

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“I feel like I owe it to bald people everywhere to grow my hair out again.”

P. Lang

Week of September 15, 2017

You Got This, Twinkies

The Minnesota Twins lost 103 games last year. For context, the Giants have been unwatchable this year, and they’re projected to lose 99 game this year. After back-to-back games with walk-off home runs, the Twins have a 3 game lead on the Angels for the final Wild Card spot in the American League with 12 games remaining. They’ve got some mojo working this week at a crucial moment in the season, and I’m very excited.

Consider this: a month ago the Twins front office punted on the season. After losing seven of ten, the team became sellers on the market. They traded pitcher Jaime Garcia  – who they acquired in July and made one start for the Twinkies – to the Yankees (which would be their opponent in the Wild Card play-in game). They dealt their closer to the Nationals for a prospect.

They are a fun team, but they aren’t a great team. As Lauren Theisen points out, they are an above average team in a top-heavy American League, which is the perfect scenario for team to slip into the playoffs with a winning percentage just above .500.

What makes them fun? Byron Buxton, for one. I love watching this guy run and play center field. Rather than trying to tell you how fast he is, just watch these two highlights:

Buxton, who was a can’t-miss prospect from day one, has been talked about for years (I can’t believe he’s only 23). Unbelievable speed and athleticism, and a guy that mashed in the minors. His defense has never been in question. People have been waiting for his bat to come around. Many started to think it wasn’t ever going to happen (again, the dude’s only 23). Take a look at his monthly splits from this year:

He’s cooled off a bit in September, but 3 months is more than getting hot. Most of all, I love him because he wants this so bad. He wants to win, and he wants to be great, and his enthusiasm is contagious. Love it.

The team can hit the long ball, too, thanks in large part the emergence of Miguel Sano (28HR) and vet Brian Dozier (30HR). Historically, the Twins are not a home run team. Twins fans have never asked for a ‘27 Yankees lineup, but consider this: in the history of the organization (the Washington Nationals relocated to Minnesota in 1961), two players have hit 40 or more home runs in a single season. Harmon Killebrew (my dad’s favorite player and doppelganger) did it six times for the Twins, and Brian Dozier joined the 40HR club just last year. That’s the list.

This year’s team doesn’t have a 40 home run guy this year, but they have 6 players with 15 or more home runs.

And while the pitching isn’t built for a long run, I do like Ervin Santana in a 1-game playoff. Add to all of this, every Minnesota Mom’s favorite good Catholic boy Joe Mauer, a.k.a, Baby Jesus, is hitting over .300 again, so all is well (except he has 6 home runs as a first baseman with a slugging percentage below the league average).

Now for the sobering stat. Like I mentioned earlier, the Twins would play the Yankees in the play-in game if all holds as it stands today. Here’s the Twins record against New York in the playoffs: the Yankees have ended the Twins playoffs 4 of the last 5 times Minnesota played in the postseason. The Twinkies won a grand total of 2 games in the four series. Still, as Andy Dufresne taught us, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. – PAL

Source: The Minnesota Twins Are Still Here”, Lauren Theisen, Deadspin (9/13/17)

TOB: Geeze, ya know Phil, I’d love to get on the Twins bandwagon. I really would. But, I need the best chance to beat the Dodgers, and the Twins just aren’t it. Besides…

The Cleveland Indians Will Never Lose Again And Are Fun As Hell

Wow. The Cleveland Indians have won twenty-two games in a row. That’s incredible. I started paying attention heading into last weekend, when they were at about 15 or 16. For wins 20 and 21, I even glanced at my phone every 30 minutes or so. But for win 22 last night, I actually listened to the game on the radio. And what a game it was. The Indians had smoked every team they played for darn near a month, outscoring them 134 to 32 over the first 21 games of the streak – and didn’t need any walk-off or extra-inning wins, either. But Game 22 was a little different. The Indians didn’t capitalize on some early chances and were down to their last six outs. They loaded the bases with one out in the 8th, and popped out harmlessly in foul ground twice to end the threat. In the 9th, they were down to their last strike, with a man on first, when Francisco Lindor (one of the game’s most fun to watch players, along with Phil’s aforementioned Byron Buxton), crushed a ball to the opposite field. The ball went off the wall, just over the outstretched glove of Royals’ Gold Glover Alex Gordon. It would go to the 10th, where a lead-off double by Jose Ramirez was followed by a Jay Bruce double to win the game. Bedlam. In Cleveland, and at my house. I love win streaks, and I had just won $10 dollars from my co-writer, Phil, who did not think the Indians could do it. We’re now officially even for the 2013 Miami Heat win streak bet, buddy.

The Indians are fun and young and talented. They deserved to win the World Series last year, and I really hope they do win it this year. Hell, that’d mean the Dodgers did not. Also, read this great story by Grant Brisbee on why this win streaks has been so much fun. -TOB

Source: Why I Love the Indians’ Winning Streak So Much”, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (09/13/2017)

PAL: Fun read, even when I just can’t root for Cleveland, an A.L. Central foe of the Twins. It’s cool they got the record, but a World Series? Nope. Never.

I enjoyed Brisbee’s writing, especially this section:

The home run records are fantastic, but they always require a next step. Barry Bonds has the single-season and career records, but they came in a high-offense era that was also the peak of performance-enhancing drugs. Giancarlo Stanton hitting 62 in that context might impress you more, but he’s doing it in an era where every Tom, Dick, and Barry is hitting 20 and the ball might be different. This guy played in this decade, that guy played against expansion teams, and it’s all a varied cornucopia.

Winning streaks are the same, mostly. It’s hard to win five games in a row, and it always has been. It’s exceptionally hard to win 10 games in a row, and it always has been. It’s wildly, unfathomably hard to win 15 games in a row, and it always has been. When you get to 20, it’s looped back around to normal, as you forget yourself and expect baseball to be predictable again, but that’s always going to be the case.

Am I a Fair-Weather 49ers Fan? Ya God Damn Right

Last weekend, I did not watch the Santa Clara 49ers’ season opener. They suck and they’re boring, a bad combo. But when taken with every idiotic thing that franchise has done to its fanbase the last 10-15 years, I don’t know why anyone spends their time watching this team right now. Consider:

  1. In 2004, they passed on a local kid, who grew up a 49er fan, named Aaron Rodgers. They took Alex Smith. Big mistake.
  2. It takes them nearly a decade to recover from that, and other, mistakes. They finally do when they hire Jim Harbaugh. He immediately makes them a Super Bowl contender through sheer force of personality. Bitter for years about the team passing on Rodgers, they finally sucked me back in. Then they fire him because he didn’t kiss Boy Wonder Jed York’s brass ring.
  3. And, of course, the coup d’etat, Boy Wonder moves the team from San Francisco. It’s way down in hot, boring Santa Clara, the magical land of strip malls and business parks. They take hundred of millions in public funds, try to tear down youth soccer fields to build more parking lots, and build a sterile, absolutely charmless stadium, that absolutely no one likes, and which gets so hot on one side of the field during day games that the stands are practically empty.

So, yeah, I’m a fair-weather fan. Wake me when they’re good again, or at least when Jed is gone, Rowe. -TOB

Source: The 49ers Stadium is as Empty as it Deserves to Be”, Lindsey Adler, Deadspin (09/12/2017)

PAL: The Niners got what they deserved. You spin it anyway you want – state of the art stadium, public transportation, no more gridlock parking lot nightmares – but moving a team 40 miles from its city matters. Maybe the die-hard fans won’t admit it, but the casual fans are lost unless the team is making a deep playoff run. Community matters in professional sports. Maybe not in terms of TV contracts, but it surely does to the fans. You better be really, really good if you expect people to care when you’re no longer around.  

You Can’t Lose If You Vacate

10 years ago I watched Texas and USC play one of the most entertaining football games I’ve ever seen. USC was riding a 34-game win streak coming into the championship game and was full of college stars – Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett were all bonafide studs (with Bush and Leinart receiving Heisman Awards). USC was also going for a third straight national title under Pete Carroll. Texas had Vince Young. Vince Young proved too much. In one of the most impressive performances on the massive Rose Bowl stage, Young went 30-40 for 267 yards through the air and also ran for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns. Longhorns win the national title on an iconic fourth-and-five scamper from Young with :19 on the clock. Longhorns win. Trojans lose.

Few would argue that this was anything other than one of the greatest football games ever.

However, according to USC, the loss no longer exists. Austin sports anchor Joequin Sanchez first surfaced this little nugget from the USC program:

The 2005-06 Trojans had to vacate all 12 of their wins in the wake of the Reggie Bush scandal. They thought – Hey, if we’re losing all of the wins, we might as well ditch the loss as well.

You can’t exploit a punishment to cross out losses with the wins? This might be the best example of how little an NCAA punishments have on the past, save for the extreme cases like Penn State football or Baylor basketball. The punishments doled out only hurt current and future players – not coaches (Carroll is doing just fine with the Seahawks), and not former players. The games were played, the winning team’s band played, the losing team filed off the field amongst a celebration.I watched the game, I’ve seen the documentary about the game. Our collective memory is far more pervasive than a NCAA sanction.

Carl Lewis might have a gold medal from the ‘88 Olympics, but Ben Johnson won the 100-meter dash. The University of Minnesota might not have a Final Four banner hanging from 1997, but I watched Bobby Jackson carry the Gophers to a Final Four. I’m all for punishing those that break the rules, but an attempt to wipe away the record of events that occurred is in most cases comically foolish.

It’s also quite possible the pissant that was given the task of writing up the USC program copy this year went rogue and thought, shit, if we’re wiping away the season, then why don’t we throw out the loss to Texas, too? If that is the case, then I applaud the effort. – PAL.

Source: USC Pretends Like It Didn’t Lose The 2006 Rose Bowl”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (9/12/17)

TOB: Yeah, this was most likely an intern or low-level employee USC dipshit trying to be cute. The NCAA vacates wins from the cheating team. USC cheated that whole year, and half the year before that, stealing a Rose Bowl from Cal in the process. All those wins were vacated. But the losses are not vacated. It’s the most perfect USC story. They’re cheating morons.

What Kaepernick Teaches Us About Race in America

Former Grantland writer Rembert Browne presents what I believe will be the defining piece of the Colin Kaepernick saga. Similar to the story we brought you last week, but this goes very deep on who Kaepernick is – where he came from, what he’s been through, who has helped shape him, how he became the (silent) face of a movement. But it also talks about where we are, as a society, on race. Needless to say, it’s not pretty:

The clear, overt racism is a beast in itself to fight, without the faux-liberalism further complicating the matter. But the race to unity is, and has always been, a trap. The inconvenience that is Colin Kaepernick brings this denial to the forefront, a presumption that this country is anywhere near a hug. We’ve talked about shit, but we haven’t talked through anything. For white Americans to accept that things are bad—and then just jump ahead to kumbaya and #ImWithKap—is a profoundly deep-seated defense mechanism for hiding from what white America did, and continues to do, to the rest of us.

One of these days
When you made it
And the doors are open wide
Make sure you tell them exactly where it’s at
So they have no place to hide.

Langston Hughes told Nina Simone that, before he died. And while Colin is no Langston (and Bennett no Simone), what’s behind that door has always been the true history of this country.

Through that door, the true history of this country. Through that door, the unpleasant reasons behind this country’s greatest success and failures. And through that door, flashbacks to all the times this country’s ways have helped you and the ones you’ve loved, all the ways it’s hurt.

Colin Kaepernick found that door. He’s been showing us where it is, for a year now. And it’s on us now—all of us: to invite discomfort enough to take that walk, down this dangerous road that so few travel, and understand that you could experience all this hurt, all this pain, then you could walk back out into the same America you left behind.

I strongly urge you to read it. -TOB

Source: Colin Kaepernick Has a Job”, Rembert Browne, Bleacher Report (09/12/2017)

PAL: A lot to digest in this piece, which reads like a director’s cut of the article we posted last week on Kaepernick’s backstory. But Browne, an undeniably talented writer, brings more of himself into this piece. This version of Kaepernick’s story is a long, meandering stroll through his past and present. In the absence of Kaepernick speaking to the media, Browne wants to say everything, but I think the most compelling point he makes addresses Kaepernick’s silence:

“To be a work-in-progress is nearly unacceptable, because the currency that drives our culture is not self-improvement, but instead the ongoing erosive process of each person, on each side, designating who is wrong and who is right.”

Yes, Kaepernick has the right to be a work-in-progress, and to educate himself and do so privately. It makes me wonder if the cause needs Kaepernick to be front-and-center anymore. Does he need to be the face of debate, or can others take the baton? I do think Kaepernick is at risk of becoming a symbol instead of a leader if he choses not to speak (maybe he’s good with that).

I don’t think the public’s interest in his story will sustain much longer. A lot of these stories are connected to football. Add Charlottesville tragedy in the weeks leading up to the start of the NFL season, and it makes sense to circle back on Kaepernick at the start of the season when Kaepernick’s not on a roster.

Even as I write this, I worry we’ve spent so much time, anger, support, frustration on Kaepernick instead of the issues. We like to reduce extremely complex issues down to ‘takes’, and it’s far easier to have a take on Kaepernick than it is to address inequality and discrimination as a part of the American experience. When we talk about Kaepernick, we’re talking about someone else; when we talk about inequality, we’re talking about ourselves.

TOB: I just wanted to add that I really liked that part, too. Kaepernick took a stand, and in doing so made some mistakes (as Browne notes, the police/pig socks, for example). But instead of vilifying him, we should understand that he’s a human, and he’s not a finished product.

Video of the Week (tomorrow’s leaders, folks):


PAL Song of the Week: The War On Drugs – “Holding On”

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“Nobody told me I could be anonymous and tell people.”

-L. David