Week of December 19, 2021

The Case for Patience with Coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counterpoint: Urban Meyer Deserved to Get Fired After 13 Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 Peaks Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Elaine Benes

Week of December 10, 2021

Chef’s kiss.

Greatness Is Not A Number

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

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

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

Ratto nails it with this: 

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

Good read, per usual, from Ratto. – PAL

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


The Propaganda Playbook

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

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

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

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

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

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


Non Sports Stories of the Week

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

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

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

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

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

Video of the Week

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

Tweet of the Week

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Week of December 3, 2021


The College Football Arms Race Just Went Nuclear

The amount of money in college football, whether it is spent on facilities or coaches or food, while players remain unpaid for their brain-destroying labor, has long been obscene. But the last week or so got wild.

Michigan State extended its coach, Mel Tucker, to a 10-year, $95 million contract. To be clear; this is Tucker’s third season as a head coach. His records are: 5-7 (at Colorado), 2-5, and 10-2. That’s a combined 12-7. $100M. At Michigan State. Ok.

Well, Tucker evidently set the market. Because over the weekend, USC went out and hired Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. A coup in and of itself. But the amount USC committed is staggering:

10 years, $110M. Plus $1M for the Oklahoma homes, $6M for his new home, and unlimited use of a private jet. WOW. 

Editor’s Note: The Oklahoma houses thing has been debunked but I still think it’s funny so I am leaving it there.

And then LSU hired Brian Kelly away from Notre Dame, for a reported 10 years, $95M. 

And baby, we are just getting started. How will Oklahoma and Notre Dame respond? What will they pay? And what will the teams they pull from pay to their next coach? It’s wild. And it’s kind of insane. And very gross. 

I can’t say I’m exactly thrilled that USC might become USC again, but ultimately it’s probably good for west coast football and the Pac-12. The conference hasn’t had a team make the playoffs since 2016 and it hasn’t really had a team get close. The playoff and social media also seems to have greatly changed recruiting – Oklahoma, Ohio State and the SEC now routinely take the vast majority of California’s best players, because those players want to play in the playoff, and those schools are the ones to get you there.

Sometimes, you need a great program to raise the tide for all boats. Plus, they are fun to hate. Eff SC, ya know. -TOB


Peng Shuai

The following is a tough and sad story, but a great example of the power of a team of journalists pursuing all the angles. 

The lede, ℅ Amy Qin and Paul Mozer: 

When the Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused a former top leader of sexual assault earlier this month, the authorities turned to a tried-and-true strategy. At home, the country’s censors scrubbed away any mention of the allegations. Abroad, a few state-affiliated journalists focused narrowly on trying to quash concerns about Ms. Peng’s safety.

First and foremost, there is what has been accused, and there is Ms. Peng’s safety (there is some debate as to where she currently is and the Women’s Tennis Association has tried and failed to communicate with Shuai without the government). The ramifications of this story ripple globally.  The Winter Olympics, in Beijing, is fast-approaching, and the W.T.A. has just suspended all tournaments in China. 

Many feel this conference call with the IOC was staged with Beijing no doubt overseeing it.

Closer to home, fans are finding ways around the censorship. In another story from the NY Times, Amy Chang Chien and Alexandra Stevenson reported:

 To evade the censors, Chinese tennis fans have started to use obscure references to call more attention to Ms. Peng’s silence. Instead of identifying her Chinese name and specifying the details of her allegations, some people have used vague references like “a tennis player” and “the spat.”

There was a seemingly unrelated post about art that used the expression “hitting an egg against a rock.” It echoed a line in Ms. Peng’s original allegation, in which she wrote that going up against someone as powerful as Mr. Zhang was like “hitting a rock with an egg.”

While the Chinese government’s approach to problematic statements in the past has been to simply make them (and the people who make them) disappear from its state-run internet, they can’t do that so cleanly with Ms. Peng. 

On China’s social media platforms and other digital public squares, the censors’ meticulous work has left almost no sign that Ms. Peng had ever accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, of sexual assault. Like a museum to a previous reality, her social media account remains, without new updates or comments.

These tactics have worked for China in the past, at least at home. In recent years, officials have relied on heavy censorship and a nationalistic narrative of Western meddling to deflect blame for issues including the outbreak of Covid-19 and human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

This time, though, the #MeToo accusation from a lauded and patriotic athlete implicating a top leader has no simple solution from Beijing’s propaganda toolbox. Any new narrative would most likely have to acknowledge the allegations in the first place and require the approval of top Chinese leaders.

And in a third NY Times story, Matthew Futterman shed light on the man at the helm of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, and why he and his league were willing to take a stance against China (and its money) in a way no other sport has done, including the N.B.A.:

Simon’s refusal to accept China’s authoritarian stance on human rights once it directly affected one of his players stands in stark contrast to several high-profile leaders in sports who have repeatedly bent to the desires of the Chinese, including Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., and Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

Simon has been concerned about Peng’s physical safety but also believed, as did the members of his player council and others he communicates with regularly in a player chat group, that the silencing of Peng and her sexual assault allegation amounted to a direct attack on the principle of equality upon which the WTA was founded.

Excellent work by The New York Times. All three stories are worth a read. – PAL 

Sources: China’s Silence on Peng Shuai Shows Limits of Beijing’s Propaganda,” Amy Qun & Paul Mozer (11/30/21); “‘Where is **?’: Fans in China Elude Censors to Talk About Peng Shuai,” Amy Chang Chein & Alexandra Stevenson (12/02/21); “Putting Principles Before Profits, Steve Simon Takes a Stand,” Matthew Futterman, (12/02/21)


A Reminder: Don’t Trust the Billionaires

This week, the MLB owners locked out the players. My buddy Kevin asked me yesterday to explain the lockout like he’s a child, and here’s what I came up with:

“Well, we don’t really know exactly what they’re in disagreement over. But most expect that the players want a salary floor for each teams so teams can’t tank, and a higher luxury tax ceiling so teams will spend more. The teams want the opposite.”

To elaborate, though: this has been building for years. As Michael Baumann succinctly puts it:

Under the just-expired CBA, players generally made more money as their careers progressed: Rookies make the league minimum or close to it; players with three to six years of experience get gradual raises through arbitration; and players with more than six years of service time become free agents. Only these established veterans have the freedoms afforded workers in almost every other sphere of American commerce: the freedom to choose the organizations for which they work and to sign the largest deals they can find.

Basically, there was a wink and a nod going on for years – the teams paid players cheaply until they were about 30, and then pay you a lot if you’re good. Then they got smart and realized – ahhh, we players actually get worse after 30 and we don’t have to pay them so much and salaries flatlined. Consider that Alex Rodriguez got $25.2M per year in 1999, and 20 years later Bryce Harper signed for $25.3M per year. Revenues keep rising, but player salaries are falling behind as a share of revenue. Teams are doing all they can to reduce player earnings:

Teams have refused to promote talented young players specifically in an attempt to delay their free agency. They’ve used artificial salary depression early in players’ careers as leverage to convince those same players to sign away their most lucrative earning years for pennies on the dollar. And teams like the Pirates and Orioles have used the guise of rebuilding as an excuse to run rock-bottom payrolls, lose 100 games a year, and turn a profit by cashing revenue sharing checks. 

So, how is this going to shake out? It’s hard to know. The MLB Players Union is generally the strongest in sports, but workers always have an uphill climb. However, as Baumann points out, they have a strong negotiating tool:

The other major negotiating advantage the union has is that the league wants to expand the playoffs. That’s where the most lucrative TV money is (a league presentation to the union last year put the value of postseason baseball at $787 million in national TV money alone, a number that would only increase with more games), and since players don’t get paid their normal salaries during the postseason, it amounts to almost pure profit for the league. But because a revamped playoff format would represent a change to working conditions, the league needs the union to agree to the change. In exchange, the MLBPA would naturally want the league to make concessions.

If the owners want to expand to 14 playoff teams, as has been floated, they’re going to have to make some concessions. In my opinion, players should fight for fewer years of player control – get players to arbitration and free agency quicker so they can get paid while they’re still in their prime. They also need to fight for a salary floor to avoid tanking and less punishment for exceeding the luxury tax.

However it ends up, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be an annoying winter reading about this. -TOB

Source: All the Questions—and Answers—About the Most Important Details of the MLB Lockout,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/02/2021)


For Klay, An Almost Three-Year Wait is Almost Over, But Not Soon Enough

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 2 ½ years since Klay Thompson last played in an NBA game. When he tore his ACL in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, he had 30 points in the third quarter. Had he not gotten hurt, it’s not outlandish to suggest the Warriors win that game, and perhaps Game 7 as well. But he did and they didn’t. 

About a year and a half later, Klay was working his way back for the start of the 2020-21 season when he tore his achilles. He was 29 the last time he played; he’s almost 32 now. In that time, the Warriors got bad – Steph and Draymond got hurt; Steph and Draymond looked cooked; Kerr seemed to lose the team; they traded for a ball dominant point guard who didn’t mesh with the team, and traded him for a Charmin-soft former #1 pick wing who had largely been seen as a bust; the team drafted a big man who many declared an immediate bust…and then the team suddenly got very good – Steph is better than ever; Draymond, too. They developed young talent, like Jordan Poole, drafted a guy in Jonathan Kuminga who everyone loves, and that soft former #1 pick suddenly looks like a beast. 

At 18-2, the Warriors are the best team in basketball, again, by a wide margin, again. And like an old surprise wrestling visit, you can hear Klay Thompson’s entrance music firing up from backstage, as he’s begun scrimmaging with the team and even playing a rehab stint in the G League. 

But he’s not back yet. And even though he’s close, it’s still difficult for him. Last weekend, after the Warriors beat the Blazers, Klay sat on the bench, a towel draped over his head, for 35 minutes. Here’s Marcus Thompson II, on what Klay has gone through to get here:

He began hunched over in his seat, his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped together as he stared at the hardwood in front of him. The remnants of fans not yet cleared out of the arena began chanting his name. “Thomp-Son! Thomp-Son!” His head nodded to their cadence. He pumped his fist to a yell of “Klay, we love you!” from the rafters, tapped his heart in response to another adoring shout. Eventually, he returned back to still, gazing at the court. Perhaps visualizing himself on that very floor, which he has yet to christen.

You just know he can feel the ball slide through his hands as he transitions from catching to shooting. See the defender flying at him, obscuring his view of the rim and forcing him to rely on technique and muscle memory. You know he can almost taste the adrenaline rush of anticipation as the ball spins in the air.

But he can’t actually experience it. Not yet. It’s still just a vision, one crafted from memories and so profound within Thompson it weighted him down right there on the bench. For 35 minutes, he sat.

This is what it looks like when the thing that gives one purpose is snatched away. For Thompson, it was then placed close enough to smell but too far to grasp. And he is just genuine enough not to hide in these moments. Vulnerable enough to share this aspect of his trying journey. While he may not be doing such intentionally, Thompson’s willingness to be this transparent allows a fan base to suffer with him. And there is no better preparation for his triumphant return than being able to sit with him in his low moments. Mourn with one who mourns, then rejoice with one who rejoices.

The first line of that last paragraph really hits: “This is what it looks like when the thing that gives one purpose is snatched away.” It’s a thought we all can relate to, or at least imagine. For almost three years, Klay has been denied the ability to do the thing he was born and raised to do. To do the thing he loves. He’s been betrayed by his body twice – the same body that made him so great at it. Three years is such a long time, in the prime of his career, too. Hurry back Klay! -TOB

Source: Klay Thompson Has a Vulnerable Moment After Warriors Win,” Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic (11/27/2021)

PAL: Good pick, TOB! I’m back on the Dubs wagon, watching most games, and I can’t wait to see Klay back in action. 2.5 years is a long time to be away from the thing you’re supposed to do. Every story about this guy makes me root harder for him. 


A Round of Golf With Kenny G

Fascinating article. Many of you already know saxophonist Kenny G is a really good golfer (at one point a +1 handicap). In this story, Paul Thomson drew what must have been the best assignment The Ringer handed out in recent history: play a round of golf with Kenny G at the uber exclusive Sherwood Country Club. 

As Thompson highlights, Kenny G approaches his golf in the same manner he approaches his profession: 

For Kenny, the allure of golf is not the pressure of those high-stakes situations—the reactivation of nerves that would inevitably dull after thousands of live performances—but the monastic approach to practice that it requires. Kenny practices his saxophone, without fail, for more than three hours every morning, working on specific aspects of his playing each time: tonguing one day, hitting perfect high notes the next. 

Kenny’s mind does not stop with the tinkering with technique. With his saxophone, the dude still wakes up and practices 3 hours every day…he’s been doing that for 50 friggin’ years. His expectation with the saxophone is perfection; he’s slightly less demanding when it comes to his swing: 

Like any golfer, he says he has realistic expectations for how consistent he can be (“I’m going to hit bad shots—the pros hit a lot of bad shots”); also like any golfer, his voice suggests he doesn’t quite believe this.

And finally, after decades of playing at incredible clubs and with pretty much every famous person, he’s got stories to tell. 

He also tells an incredible story about Tiger Woods: Once, Tiger and Kenny were playing here when Tiger, who had reached a green under regulation, missed what appeared to be a half-hearted putt. When Kenny asked if Tiger had missed it on purpose, the superstar admitted he had. “He said he doesn’t like to make eagles on practice days,” Kenny recalls, shaking his head at the embarrassment of riches.

Such a fun read, and I can’t wait to watch the new Kenny G doc on HBO. – PAL 

Source:Kenny G in Deep Concentration,” Paul Thompson, The Ringer (12/02/21)


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I’ve been noticing racism in society and I’m here to report it.

-Anna Kone

Week of November 19, 2021

This is the first time I’ve felt like going to the zoo in decades.

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again…

Hey, uh. The Warriors are 10-1, with the lone loss coming in OT, and an absolutely outrageous point differential of 13.6 (Edit: Since I wrote this, they are now 13-2  with a point differential of 13.7). And they are about to get Klay Thompson back, who hasn’t played in 2 ½ years. Steph is doing Steph things,, Draymond seems rejuvenated, the young guys who got all that p/t in 2020 are seeing the benefits of that experience (especially Poole), and this team suddenly looks like the best (and most fun) team in the NBA once again. As Chris Thompson writes:

Now they appear to be one of the very best teams in basketball with Jordan damn Poole second on the squad in usage. Imagine adding any conceivable game-ready version of Klay Thompson to this! Bringing Klay back into the fold will, I’m sure, require some patience and fine-tuning, but the team’s already good vibes should immediately shoot through the roof. With a core that has always drawn so much juice from raw vibes, that makes for a thrilling, terrifying possible future. And that’s just any ambulatory version of Thompson. Imagine if he gets back to doing Klay Thompson shit! The mind reels.

More on Steph, though. Here are his last 6 games:

That is NINE 3-pointers made in 4 of his last 6 games, with games of 50, 40, 37, and 40 points. He’s the greatest show in sports. Watch what he made this opposing fan do:

(That, “Oh, ohhh” is my 7-year old, kneeling at the Church of Curry)

Future generations will truly not understand what a wonder he is. We are so lucky to get to see him play. 

Meanwhile, 90 miles up the road:

Cool, cool. 

-TOB

Source: Imagine Adding Klay Thompson To This!Chris Thompson, Defector (11/09/2021)

PAL: My wife is starting to ask if the Warriors are playing tonight, so you know they are back to being so friggin’ entertaining to watch. I really don’t know what else to say about Steph. It’s just so fun to watch when he’s on fire. 

I also love Gary Payton II. Dude comes off the bench, seems to immediately get 2 steals and 6 points in 4 minutes of play. He’s a menace. 


Barefoot Badasses 

This story about a softball team made up of Mayan women is a reminder of the good side of sports. So often I can become too focused on what bothers me about a game or league—be it the politics, business, or the ineptitude of favorite teams—that it’s nice to be reminded of the power within simply playing a game. 

Adam Williams’ story gives the backstory on the Las Diablillas softball team and the growing popularity of softball amongst indigenous women in Mexico.  

The women play barefoot (they prefer it, since they are usually barefoot and cleats just give them blisters) and wear their traditional Mayan dresses. What started as a community idea for the women to get a bit of exercise in the afternoon has become somewhat of a national sensation, playing games in stadiums with thousands of fans to see the spectacle. More importantly, the game has helped change the perception of a woman’s role within the community. 

“When I first started playing, the men in my family said jokes and comments like ‘You’re just wasting your time playing softball,’” said Alvi Yajaira Diaz Poot, who plays several positions for the Amazonas. “Now when I come home from games they are eager to know how the game went and even bring me something to drink.”

And best of all, playing softball has helped the women see themselves in a different light. 

“As we have improved on the field, my life has improved as well,” said Alicia Canul Dzib, who plays second base and pitches for the Diablillas. “I used to really only leave the house to help my husband with our crops. Now, thanks to softball, I have permission to leave the house, enjoy myself with friends and visit new towns. It motivates me to keep playing and set an example for my daughter.”

An excellent read, with phenomenal photos from Marian Carrasquero, that will remind you of the power of a game. – PAL 
Source: “An Indigenous Women’s Softball Team Beats Opponents, and Machismo,” Adam Williams, The NY Times (11/17/21)


Brandon Crawford: A Decent Shortstop

Brandon Crawford won the Gold Glove this year, at age 34. That is pretty dang impressive. To celebrate it, Grant Brisbee utilized Baseball Savant to watch every single play Crawford made this season. He then highlighted the best – whether they were flashy or routine – that Crawford made this year. This isn’t from Brisbee’s article, but it’s a taste:

I love this article because, like those who argue dumbly against Buster Posey as a Hall of Famer, there are some players you need to see everyday in order to understand their brilliance. Crawford is one of those. One of my favorite Twitter follows this past season was Susan Slusser. She had been a beat writer for the A’s for years, but began covering the Giants this season. It seemed like every single night she would express her amazement at how good Brandon Crawford is.

And he’s really great. Watching him play shortstop is a joy. I promise you, I texted friends this season about plays made by Crawford more than anyone else. It was fun to relive those moments in this article. And, to top it off, he finished 4th in the NL MVP voting, receiving the third most first place votes. -TOB

Source: The Defensive Genius of Brandon Crawford’s Gold Glove Season,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (11/08/2021)

PAL: Of all the games I’ve gone to with TOB, no other player in the field has induced more slow head shakes, as in, “Damn, that’s so goddamn good.”The plays he makes look so easy are so, so, so hard. The other variable lost on tv is this: a lot of these guys in the bigs can really get down the line, so everything has to be perfect in order to make the plays he makes all of the time.


Reason #1,459 To Not Gamble

Not a big racetrack guy, but I can appreciate this one. At some big Breeder’s Cup race that a lot of people gamble on, there was a bit of a mess at the starting gate. One horse, Albahr, flipped over and got stuck under the gate. Big delay, and that horse was scratched from the race. So, too, was the horse next to Albahr, Modern Games. So a bettor who picked either of those horses could not win. Tough break, right?

Except Modern Games did race, and the result was way worse than you could expect. I’ll leave it to Dan McQuade to explain: 

The vet had been told, incorrectly, that Modern Games had broken through the starting gate. But the decision to exclude the horses had been made and so both were removed from betting pools.

That ruling stood about four minutes. After some discussion, it was announced Modern Games would return to the race, but would only run for purse money. The horse was briefly entered back into the betting, then removed again, and then the race started. It is important to note: Modern Games would’ve been the favorite in the race, winning three of his five starts coming into the race. Well, he made it four in six. Crossing the finish line first, to a chorus of boos, was Modern Games!

There were many reasons gamblers were booing. Bettors who picked the winning horse saw their horse win the race, but only got a refund on their bets. It was worse for gamblers with multi-race bets: In scenarios where a horse in a parlay bet is scratched, the bettor simply receives the favorite in place of it. The favorite for the race in the end was Dakota Gold at 8–1. That horse finished 5th. The winner for gambling purposes was Tiz The Bomb, who technically finished second. So gamblers who correctly picked Modern Games to win the race on those bets saw their horse win but their ticket lose. This shifted millions of dollars’ worth of bets.

Yikes. I would’ve booed, too. – PAL 

Source: Breeders’ Cup Fiasco Ruins Bettors’ Friday Night,” Dan McQuade, Defector (11/07/21)


Free Offensive Linemen!

Honestly, I have never understood the rule in football that offensive lineman can’t be receivers. Why make the game less exciting? If you’re not aware, there is a rule that an offensive lineman who is not an eligible receiver (which is almost always all of them) cannot be the first person to touch a forward pass. It’s a dumb rule that came into play last week on Thursday Night Football.

I have some experience with this. In JV football, I played offensive line. One game, we called a screen pass. I was supposed to half block my guy, then let him go by so that he (and the other defenders) would think they’d crush the QB, only for the QB to throw the ball over their heads to the waiting running back, who would then have a convoy of blockers in front of him. After getting “beat” I was supposed to wait until I heard the call from the running back to begin heading upfield.

On this play, though, I let my guy go by and then waited…and waited. My internal clock began to go off and I turned my head to see what was going on. As I did, I saw the ball floating right to me. Our QB had made a terrible pass, and it was to me. So I caught it and did the only thing that made sense – I ran upfield.

In that moment I appreciated the vision and awareness required to be a ball carrier. Because in a football helmet, your peripheral vision is narrow. After I caught the bell and began to run, the field was wide open. I legitimately thought I was going to score a 50-yard touchdown. Instead, after probably 15 yards, I was suddenly cut down by a tackle from my right side. 

I actually knew the rule, even at 15, that I was not supposed to touch the ball. But it was coming right to me and I thought in that split second, oh what the hell. I’m glad I did – even after they announced the penalty, my coach ran over to me to celebrate. I didn’t quite do what that Dolphins OL did, but for one moment, I thought I was going to score – and that was pretty cool. 

-TOB


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Week of October 29, 2021


Don’t Stop Dreaming

Most of you recognize the name Alex Honnold. He climbed El Capitan without a rope. Nearly as impressive is his mom’s achievement. At 70, Dierdre Wolownick climbed El Cap (with a rope). 

More incredible, she took up rock climbing in her 60s. Not in the 1960s, but rather  in her seventh decade. Her story, which is a part of the NY Times “It’s Never Too Late” Series, is the inspiration some of you might be looking for while perusing our humble little side project of a digest. 

As Tim Neville captures, the first half of her life was filled with wonderful, albeit “sedentary and cerebral”. In her interview with Neville, she describes the circumstances of her late start in climbing. 

How did you try it?

About 10 years ago, Alex was home with an injury so I asked him to take me to the climbing gym. I figured I’d get to know the equipment and climb halfway up the wall and come home and be happy. I got on the first climb and went all the way up, about 45 feet, and I was totally surprised I had no fear whatsoever. So I did 12 more climbs that day and loved it.

What was your life like before that?

Total turmoil. My husband, Charles, fell over dead at 55 in the Phoenix airport one month after I had divorced him and I became the executor of his estate. My father had just died and I was dealing with his estate, too. Alex had almost died while snowshoeing in 2004 when he was 19. So I started running, little by little, and wound up becoming a runner. There was nothing in life I was doing for me and running was for me. Climbing turned out to be the same, an escape, but it took courage.

How did you overcome the challenges to climb?

Climbing is very physical and there’s so much to learn about the equipment, the physics, the angles — everything.

I was just a lumpy old middle age woman completely taken with jobs and chores. I was scared, too, and sometimes you need a little help to do something totally new and alien to you. But after a month or two I had had enough conversations with myself and so I said, OK, today, you’re not going home after work. You’re going to go straight to the climbing gym. And I did. It became a routine. Climbing was like a key opening this lifelong door. It was wonderful.

Such a cool one. Read the full story and check out more incredible photos from Aubrey Trinnaman. – PAL

Source: “It’s Never Too Late to Climb That Mountain,” Tim Neville, The New York Times (10/26/21) 


This Mark Davis Story: Hilarious and Right On and Creepy

“Norman Bates presented as an unthreatening goof, too.”

This is a story about a backpack. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag. A large backpack worn by an NFL owner who is also carrying a suit bag, and who also has this haircut.

I’ve read this story three times now. Albert Burneko writes the hell out of a story about a backpack. And, in this situation, a backpack is disturbing. 

Do not make the category mistake of finding this image relatable. Mark Davis can afford, ten thousand times over, to have very skilled and sleek professionals carry his bags for him; to have all of the items that might go into a backpack attended to with great care and minimal friction and zero personal involvement on his part, so that he can glide effortlessly from the lobby of the building to a waiting vehicle; to do this clad in other than remaindered Las Vegas Raiders team merchandise. He could have all of that with little more than a snap of his fingers; the very rich in America do not even have to arrange these things for themselves (and frequently do not even have to actually pay for them). Choosing this, instead—choosing, that is, to lug his own gigantic backpack and suit bag, instead of cashing in a virtually nonexistent portion of his wealth and prestige to purchase a level of ease infinitely beyond the reach of a normal person—is the equivalent of that normal person willingly choosing to walk out of their hotel clad only in a paper grocery bag with leg-holes kicked into the bottom of it, with all their material possessions clutched in their arms, and then stand at the curb attempting to thumb a ride to their destination. That may be an understatement. It might be the equivalent of a normal person denying themselves the luxury of inhaling. The normal person who did that would not be normal or relatable. They would be bizarre and disturbing.

Burneko goes on. It’s a quick and excellent read. Mark Davis may look like many a dads who got off the “caring how I look” train many stops ago, but that is not what’s going on here. – PAL  

Source: Mark Davis, Big Backpack Guy,” Albert Burneko, Defector (10/27/21)


“That’s kind of what I do: basketball and bass fishing.”

Luke Lowe is the first college basketball player I’ve heard of that entered the transfer portal in search of a new team…and better fishing. He transferred from William & Mary to the University of Minnesota (or, as all of us commonly refer to it, the U). In fishing circles Lowe  has been known as a standout fisher long before he was considered a stellar college basketball player, winning state and national fishing tournaments. 

Per Marcus Fuller:

Playing in the Big Ten was a plus for Loewe, but returning to his Midwest roots as an aspiring pro fisherman was a top priority as well.

“There are a lot of great opportunities up here,” said Loewe, a Fond du Lac, Wis., native. “A lot of great fishermen. I’ve been connecting with some of the better anglers around Minnesota, which has been cool.”

Lowe turned himself into a legit college player at William & Mary. After averaging below 2 points per game during his freshman year, he became into a defensive stopper on the perimeter, a 40 percent 3-point shooter, and averaged over 16 a game by his fourth season. 

Pair the new NIL rules for college athletes with Lowes fishing youtube channel, and the dude just might have a nice little social media niche. Classic local newspaper story right here. – PAL 

Source: “Luke Loewe’s transfer to Gophers means more bass and buckets for the avid fisherman,” Marcus Fuller, The Star Tribune (10/26/21)


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Klay is awesome. He commutes to work on a boat, has a cool dog, and he can take a joke. – PAL

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Week of October 22, 2021

Phil reading texts about former Twin Eddie Rosario

The Perfect Overtime

I know, I know; playoff baseball is happening, and former Twin, Eddie Rosario—who was terrible for the Twins in any big game ever—decided to continue the legacy of former Twins to have big moments in the playoffs (David Ortiz). Stil, I think this story was the best thing I read all week, and it’s about an early-season NHL overtime between the Rangers and the Maple Leafs. 

Barry Petchesky takes a great highlight in a regular season game and creates a broadly compelling story about the challenge of creating an overtime system in a sport for an American audience (ties ain’t gonna fly) that is both entertaining and not a complete departure from the usual game, e.g. shootouts. He thinks hockey just might have found the perfect balance with the 3-on-3 overtime.

He writes, “[i]t’s fun—the same forces that discourage OT from lasting the full five minutes make it a breathless arcade version of the sport. Not quite the real thing, but not a bastardization either: a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation. 

=

The highlight—which is the entire overtime—is incredible. Non-stop action. Great plays, great saves, a blow-for-blow attack. Just a great sports moment that you can’t turn away from once you hit play. That description of an overtime rule—“a condensed adaptation rather than a thin imitation”— is a great nugget of writing. I get an extra bit of satisfaction when I find a completely random story and get rewarded with a great read. -PAL

Source: Watch This Overtime,” Barry Petchesky, Defector (10/19/21)


Final Grades: Baseball’s Minor League Experiments

After watching the umpires make a bunch of bad ball/strike calls in the Giants/Dodgers series, TOB and I were texting that it just might be time for the robo ump. And then Laz Diaz gave an all-time performance in the Red Sox/Astros game, missing on a playoff high 23 ball/strike calls. The robo umps are already being tested out in lower leagues, so is the sun setting on human umpires calling pitches in a MLB game? 

The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur bring up an important consideration before we jump all the way there with the automated ball-strike system. For one, leagues need to define the zone. Not difficult, you’d think, but there are a lot of variables at play there. One example of these variables: teams providing an accurate height for its players in order for the system to establish the vertical zone). Also, consider this example in the Atlantic League, which went from a 17-inch wide zone (the width of the plate) to a 21-inch zone, making pitch 3 a strike in the graphic below: 

Now, consider that the catcher was set up on the other side of the plate and the pitcher missed location badly. The catcher reaches across his body and stabs at the pitch. The umpire calls it a strike. 

And there there’s the question of a 3-D zone, a 2-D zone, something called a super ellipses zone. It’s not as simple as you might think, all of which leads to the other side of the coin when consider real umps vs. robo umps

Robo umps just make different divisive calls. Even without the traditional “human element,” the strike zone remains a living document. In effect, the old human element of umpires is being replaced by the new human element of MLB executives who are trying to determine which size and shape the strike zone should take. And it’s difficult to take a strict-constructionist stance on what is and isn’t a strike when the zone is repeatedly reconstructed.

The ABS system is just one experiment headed up by MLB this season in an effort to ““increase action on the basepaths, create more balls in play, improve the pace and length of games, and reduce player injuries.”

Now that the season is over in the minors and independent leagues, Lindbergh and Arthur took a look at the data of the various experiments in hopes of having an idea of what proposed changes might potentially make an appearance in real game, maybe even a playoff game, in the years to come. 

Of the rules tried out in the summer season, a handful of them are being instituted in instructional fall leagues, which could be an indication of what changes are still being considered by MLB. Those rules are as follows: 

  • ABS system
  • 15-second pitch clock
  • Shift restrictions
  • 18-inch bases (up from 15-inch)
  • Pick-off attempt limits 

This is a super in-depth story, it’s a bit of a data slog, but it’s no doubt excellent. – PAL 

Source: MLB Just Tried a Bunch of Experimental Rules in the Minors. How Well Did They Work?Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur, The Ringer (10/21/21)


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How hard is a luau? All you need are some grass skirts, pineapple, poi, tiki torches, suckling pig, some fire dancers. That’s all you need.

Michael Scott

Giants/Dodgers Game 5: Armageddon

Bike parking is free…just sayin

PRE-GAME:

One of my favorite announcer calls in sports is that soccer announcer who, when a great player finishes a great shot after a great build up, screams, “HAD TO BE!” And that’s how this decisive Game 5 feels – these teams came down to the wire, with the division settled on the last day. Not to say I didn’t want to end it Tuesday night, but in hindsight this feels inevitable.

Phil wanted us to write some thoughts before the game and then after the game and at first I was reluctant. The only thoughts in my head were: 

  1. Just Win, Baby!
  2. The righties in this lineup, facing lefty Julio Urias, are due: Kris Bryant has one homer since September 15 and just two since August 26; Longoria has one since September 16; Ruf has one since September 6 and just two since August 21; Posey has one since September 14 and just three since July 19; Slater has one since September 23 and just three since July 4; Flores has one since August 31; Solano has one since August 22 and just two since August 4. As the @LOLKNBR hashtag has been saying for 48 hours now: THEY’RE DUE.

But then the news broke early this afternoon that the Dodgers would not start Urias and would instead start right handed bullpen guy Corey Knebel as an opener. This, presumably, is to mess with the Giants lineup and make them make some tough decisions on who to start – lefties or righties. Should the Giants start their lefties as the top and then move to righties when Urias comes in? Maybe, but then they have no lefties late if/when they need them against L.A.’s righty-heavy bullpen.

But then I saw a tweet referencing the fact Urias has reverse splits. So I looked it up, and it’s true:

  • RHH vs Urias, 2021: .605 OPS; 98 OPS+
  • LHH vs Urias, 2021: .640 OPS; 105 OPS+
  • RHH vs Urias, Career: .623 OPS; 96 OPS+
  • LHH vs Urias, Career: .680 OPS; 112 OPS+

Looking at Game 2 in hindsight, this makes sense. The Giants went righty-heavy and mustered just 3 hits and 1 run in 5 innings against Urias. Those hits were a ground-rule double by Slater (RHH), a single by Crawford (LHH) and a double by Posey (RHH). Still, the righties went 2 for 12 with a walk, five strikeouts, two doubles, and a sacrifice fly. The lefties went 1 for 2 with a single and no strikeouts.

Which begs the question: Should the Giants make the Dodgers pay by going lefty-heavy tonight: by starting Wade, Yaz, and Duggar – which serves to help them against Knebel and Urias, as well. What’s even more interesting is that I figured Knebel must be a traditional platoon split guy – but he’s also a reverse split guy. Which doesn’t make any sense and throws me for a loop and calls all of the above into question.

LOL, oh well.

-TOB

This is the reward for watching all of those Giants games this year. Should that be a statement or a question? A statement, but barely. It’s really like getting to the last few chapters (let’s hope a few) of a great novel; you can only really appreciate a team and a season like this when you put in your time throughout the year. That’s how I have molded a feel for the Giants rosters, regardless (and I cannot emphasize that enough) of their numbers. 

Guys I feel really good about tonight: 

  • Ruf
  • Longoria
  • Bryant
  • Posey
  • Crawford
  • Rogers

Honestly, I got no feel for Webb. I know he was awesome in Game 1; I was there, but the upper deck is not the best way to get a feel for a pitching performance. The bullpen has been sketch so far, but I feel good about Rogers and, for some reason, Littell…and that’s it. 

Guys that scare the hell out of me: 

  • Urias
  • The Turners
  • Chris Taylor
  • Will Smith

How I want the Giants to blow it open against Treinen and his “All 4 Him” monogrammed glove. 

Bill Simmons likes to think about matchups in terms of your opponent making decisions that are a relief to you, e.g., your team is playing Kansas City Chiefs and they punt on 4th down – any time they take Pat Mahomes off of the field you feel great. And while Urias is no Mahomes, he reeks of a big-game pitcher. So the Dodgers overthinking this thing and going with an opener in the biggest game of the year is great news to me. 

I think the Giants do it. Somehow, some way, they do it, because it’s been that kind of unexplainable season. Either way, I’ve got great beer on hand, and Natalie is convincing me to get pizza instead of leftovers. -PAL

Week of October 8, 2021

When asked about the pearls, Pederson called himself a “bad bitch” – lol.

A Victory Lap 

Did you hear? The San Francisco Giants won the National League West this year. They beat out the Dodgers, who had won the nine previous NL West crowns; they beat out the Dodgers, who won 106 games this year; they beat out the Dodgers, who won the most games ever by a defending World Series champion; they beat out the Dodgers, who won the most games ever by a team that did not win its division; they beat out the Dodgers, who tied the franchise record for wins in a season. None of that mattered, because the Giants won a franchise record 107 games.

It was a joyous, unbelievable season. There’s something about a good baseball team that puts a pep in your step all summer long. When you know your team is good, it gives you something to look forward to every single day for 6 months.

For the Giants, it was a tremendous achievement. Just four years ago, they lost 98 games. The next two years, they lost 89 and 85 games. Just as a good baseball team perks up your summer, a bad baseball team…well, it sucks.

But after that 2018 season, the Giants hired Farhan Zaidi to right the ship. The job seemed…difficult. Saddled with a bad, overpaid, aging major league roster and a bad minor league system with few promising prospects, people snickered when Zaidi said he would not tear it down and do an Astros-style rebuild but would instead rebuild on the fly, while also trying to play meaningful baseball games as deep into the season as they could. But I did not snicker.

People did worse than snicker when Farhan began tinkering at the fringes of the roster. It seemed a bit like he was trying to pull off the red paperclip trade-up — guys were getting called up and sent down and released and signed and traded for at a dizzying pace. Fans were mad. The players were mad! But then something funny happened. It started to work. 

Maybe it wasn’t a paperclip for a house, but Farhan traded minor leaguer Tyler Herb (career major league appearances: zero) for minor leaguer Mike Yastrzemski (career WAR: 7.8!). He traded minor leaguer Franklin Van Gurp (career major league appearances: zero) for Alex Dickerson (career WAR: 2). Those guys gave Giants fans an exciting summer! The Giants played meaningful baseball well into August, before collapsing in September.

And then Bochy left. And Bumgarner signed with Arizona. Some fans were pissed. But not me.

(Oh, you thought this was an article about the Giants taking a victory lap? No, sir. This is an article about me. I was right. You were [probably] wrong. And now I’m going to revel in it.)

Here’s what I wrote when Bumgarner left:

So why are fans mad at Farhan when Bumgarner chose to leave? Here are some recent questions to Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic’s mailbag article:

Do the Giants know how discouraged and worried the fans are? — @romareb

What’s the Giants management reaction to the discontent among their fans? — @woodiewoodf14

Discontent? Worried? Worried about what? First, it’s baseball! Chill out. Second, your team won three World Series titles this decade! Are you kidding me? These fans are spoiled and insufferable. They think there’s no plan because they think the Giants are one big bat away from competing with the Dodgers, who are so deep and so good. But the Giants are so far behind the Dodgers right now, it’s going to take so much more.

Farhan has done and continues to do an incredible job. When he turns this mess around, those fans will probably say they knew all along. But I know. I’m keeping the receipts.

BAM! 107, romareb! Worry about that!

The tide began to really turn in the shortened 2020 season, though. Bochy was replaced by Gabe Kapler. Kapler was not a popular hire, and for valid reasons. Kapler gave an interview to Daniel Brown of the Athletic, and I highly recommend you revisit it. I wrote about that article — going through it paragraph by paragraph, providing gifs to match my reaction. Not to toot my own horn, but it’s a pretty fun read. My emotions were like a roller coaster — but ultimately positive. My final reaction gif? This one:

So again, BAM! 107!!

That 2020 season started off poorly. So poorly. After a brutal weekend series against the A’s where the Giants blew two big leads and were swept in three games, they traveled to Anaheim for a four game series with the Angels. Leading 6–5 in the 9th, the Giants lost on a walk-off homer to Tommy LaStella. When the ball went over his head and over the wall, Yaz could be heard screaming “FUCK!” And, so could I, alone on Highway 1, listening to the game while taking our new car for a night drive along the coast. The Giants were 8–16 and things looked bleak.

And then they just started winning. They won 21 of their next 33 games to get to 29–28. They needed one win in three tries against the Padres to get into the playoffs. Instead, they lost: (1) on a walk-off, (2) in a sleeper, and (3) a 1-run game with three strikeouts in the 9th. Season over, no playoffs. A real gut punch.

But that run gave me hope. The offense was really good! I told anyone who would listen that this team would mash. I had no idea what the pitching would be like. But I thought if everything broke right, we could win 87–88 games and sneak into the second wild card.

As it happened, 88 games would have done it  – and easily. The next closest team was the Reds, at 83 wins. The Giants would have been traveling to St. Louis this week for the Wild Card game. But, I was wrong. In fact, I was off by almost twenty games. So, instead of the Giants traveling to St. Louis, it is the Cardinals traveling to Los Angeles. The Dodgers, winners of 106 games this year, have to win one more for the right to take on the Giants. That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty improbable, too.

Kapler and his staff — from the major league staff down to the minors – scouts and coaches and everything in between, deserve a lot of credit. The team mashed, as I thought they would. In fact, they mashed harder. The players bought in to Kapler and the staff and a bunch of them (in particular Belt, Crawford, Posey) had career years, or career revitalizing years. The team turned its bullpen around midseason. The starting rotation was incredible. Everything just clicked and for six months, it felt like the team could not lose. 

So while the season isn’t over  –  I sure hope this team has another 11 wins in it  –  I’m also going to enjoy this week. Four days with no stress about baseball. Four days to bask in the joy that was the 2021 Giants season. A four day victory lap. The Giants won 107 games and I basically saw it coming. -TOB


Local Commercials Are The Best Commercials

We all know the look and feel of a local commercial that airs between innings, unchanged, ad nauseam all season long. Every local team has its own version. For the Giants, this year it’s been the The Cheese Steak Shop, starring utility outfielder Alex ‘Dick’ Dickerson. It’s…jarring, and I’m so, so, so glad Alex Schultz got the story behind the ad. 

I’m going to describe the ad, and then encourage you to watch it yourself. Dickerson walks into one of the stores. He’s masked up, and he politely fist bumps some customers, who — and I genuinely mean no offense to any parties involved, it’s just impossible to ignore — would have zero shot of recognizing a masked Dickerson at a cheesesteak chain. Dickerson begins a voice-over about his father, who was an F-14 fighter pilot in the Navy, while there’s b-roll of cheesesteaks, mostly. The music is somber. 

We transition to a shot where Dickerson is sitting at a table. He has an uneaten cheesesteak in front of him. “Knowing that he sacrificed so much for me to have the life I have? It means the world to me,” he says of his father, as he tears up.

Why is Dickerson talking about his father? Because, the ad reveals, the Cheese Steak Shop is promoting a Hometown Heroes special, where you can nominate folks for their exemplary community work, and they can win a $50 gift card plus $100 to a charity.

It’s a lot to process at once, and then an unanticipated pivot happens: Dickerson takes an enormous goddamn chomp of a cheesesteak, and the last two seconds of the ad are him saying, “This is legitimately the best cheesesteak I’ve had outside of Philly.”

Watch the ad, see how quickly we get from misty eyes to Dickerson declaring the cheesesteak the best he’s ever had outside of Philly. It’s so goddamn funny. 

Schultz reached out to the local ad agency that pitched the idea and got the backstory on the shoot. Dickerson was nervous, they did the shoot the same day as a game, and there was no script. Dickerson legit teared up when freestyling about his dad, then—unprompted—declared the sandwich the best cheesesteak outside of Philly. And this plays 5-10 times during very Giants game.

Local TV at its finest. – PAL

Source: The story behind NBC Sports Bay Area’s polarizing cheesesteak ad starring Giants’ Alex Dickerson,Alex Schultz, SF Gate (10/8/21)


LFG

Spoiler alert: there is going to be a lot of Giants/Dodgers chatter on 1-2-3 Sports! this week and next. That’s what happens when rivals face off in the playoffs for, really, the first time ever. TOB and I will be at Game 1 on Friday night. TOB convinced me to go in on the tickets before we knew the Giants would win the NL West, long before the Dodgers would walk-off the Cardinals season in the Wild Card game, and now we’ll be at a legit historica; sports event. 

The hatred between the Giants and Dodgers is very real, non-CA readers, and you can enjoy it from the most comfy seat available, that of a neutral party just looking for an interesting series. 

The Athletic’s Grant Brisbee – one of our favorite Giants writers, broke down the preview of the series that will dominate California for the next week, and he had some nuggets worth sharing. The story is a great read for Giants fans, but this section in particular might resonate to any passionate fan with short-term memory loss when things turn out better than expected: 

Remember that you would have paid for this.

You would have paid for this exact scenario in February, March, April, May and June. You would have added extra prospects to the trades in July…

…And if someone came to you in February and asked for a $20 donation to guarantee that the Giants would host the Dodgers in a best-of-five NLDS, you would have accepted.

If they came to you in March and asked the same thing, the price would go up a few bucks. After the Giants lost Saturday’s game to the Padres in extra innings, you might have sold a family pet.

Again, a reminder that the Giants weren’t expected to be good this year. I found their pre-season over/under win total from this CBS story at 73.5. MGM had the Giants at 75.5. They won 107 games. They beat Vegas odds by over 30 friggin’ games. Incredible. This is a series you’ll want to watch. My predictions: Evan Longoria and Alex Wood come up big for the Giants. – PAL

Source: Ten quick thoughts about the Giants and Dodgers meeting in the postseason,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (10/7/21) 

TOB: I was rooting for the Cardinals to beat the Dodgers for my mental health. Ah, well. My blood pressure has been elevated for 48 hours now. 

As an aside, I enjoyed this breakdown from Susan Slusser, especially this scout’s take:

“Pitching-wise, the Dodgers are tough, but S.F. is just as good, and their hitting discipline, the number of professional at-bats and the team approach, I give the edge to San Francisco,” one AL scout said. “Defense, I give to S.F. They don’t make mistakes, and their leadership — Crawford, Posey — they’ve been there, done that.”

“I’m probably not in the majority,” said one scout who has seen the Giants numerous times in the final months, “but I think they can beat the Dodgers because they do the small things well and they make such smart decisions. They’re not going to overwhelm you, but they’ll find a way to win.”

Hell yeah let’ GOOOOOO. I know sports don’t mean a lot in the grand scheme, but I want the Giants to win this series so so so badly. That is all.


Solace In Routine

I hadn’t heard of Tim Green until reading this story. At 57, he’s already lived a full life. NFL football player, lawyer, NPR contributor, television host, best-selling author; not to mention husband, father, and grandfather. Another part of Green’s life has inspired his latest book, Final Season: Green has A.L.S. 

I’ll be honest, what struck me most about this story wasn’t the book it was promoting; rather, it is how active Green is, despite being on a ventilator, feeding tube, and unable to speak. Emails in the morning, conference calls for the law firm business, then he writes until dinner, watches the grandkids play until their bedtime, watches TV with his wife, and falls asleep reading. A typical day for him is nothing short of inspiring. 

This is not to say he doesn’t have difficult moments. Per Matthew Futterman, 

At the dinner table, he watches his family eat and conjures memories of tasting fresh tomatoes and bacon and red sauce over pasta and sausage, “and a fat glass of Caymus Cabernet.”

I love how Green puts that – a “fat glass” is the perfectly tantalizing word to describe a cabernet. 

Sometimes, the power of those memories becomes overwhelming and the tears flow. But mostly, there is solace in the routines that dominate his life, though even those can have their challenges.

There are other aspects of this story worth reading – whether or not playing football increased Green’s likelihood of getting it (he thinks so), and how real life inspired his latest book, but – again – what struck my most was a typical day for Green, and how Futterman describes the solace found in routine. – PAL 

Source: Nearly Silenced by A.L.S., an Ex-N.F.L. Pro Thrives Telling His Story,” Matthew Futterman, NY Times (10/5/21)


Urban Meyer Shows his True Colors

Last Thursday, the Jacksonville Jaguars played a Thursday night game in Cincinnati. It was head coach Urban Meyer’s return to Ohio, where he spent years as the Ohio State head coach. So, he stayed behind to see his “grandkids.”

Well, he stayed behind to see someone young enough to be his grandkid, maybe. 

Oooooh, buddy. That is not a good look. 

Ya know, everyone’s marriage is different and I don’t like to yuck someone else’s yum. But the thing about this story is that Urban Meyer is a secret slimeball who pretends to be a Family Man, like a politician who runs on family values while spending his free time with prostitutes. 

Now, Meyer’s job is in jeopardy and his NFL career might not last one season. Wild. If you are curious about the backstory on how this video went viral, and the story behind the man who posted it, this is a very good read.

Source: The Electrician Who Shocked the NFL With the Videos of Urban Meyer,” Andrew Beaton, Wall Street Journal (10/7/2021)

Other Good Stuff

Hate the Dodgers, but respect, Max.

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Week of October 1, 2021

Hehehe

Choosing To Stick To Sports 

Last week, over 500 women athletes filed a brief to the Supreme Court in support of reproductive rights being challenged in a pending case. While I know where I stand on the issue, Kurt Streeter’s story brought to light a fresh perspective to a debate that’s been raging for decades: that of the female athlete.  

Per Streeter: 

The brief’s primary claim? If women do not have the option of abortion, their lives could be disrupted and they will not thrive in sports at levels we’ve grown accustomed to — levels witnessed recently at the Tokyo Olympics, in the W.N.B.A. playoffs and the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Having the ability to say when or whether to become mothers directly connects to a key ingredient that has fueled the broad success of women in high-level sports: the ability to control, nurture and push the body to its limits, without breaks of months or years, and without the sometimes permanent physical changes that pregnancy can cause.

Streeter then goes on to share the story of Crissy Perham. Perham captained the U.S. Swim Team at the 1992 Olympics, winning 2 gold medals. That incredible achievement almost certainly wouldn’t have happened if she had gone through with an unwanted pregnancy two years prior. But to Perham, the decision to not have a baby at 19 years old impacted much more than her olympic successes. 

Looking back now, with the cushion of time, Perham cannot imagine the good parts of her life happening as they have if she’d had a baby at 19. Not just her career in the pool but also her successful second marriage, her jobs coaching high school swimmers and being the mother to two sons who are now in their 20s.

Life as she knows it, the life she loves, is a product of that decision, she told me. “That’s not uncommon,” she said, adding that many athletes have similar stories.

A thought-provoking read on an aspect of the issue I hadn’t considered. – PAL 

Source: Why Scores of Female Athletes Are Speaking Out on Abortion Rights,” Kurt Streeter, The New York Times (09/27/21)


A’s Fans Deserve Better

The Chronicle’s Ann Killion wrote this week about how the Oakland A’s seem to be intentionally driving off their fan base. The last year or two has been especially difficult for A’s fans, as the team openly flirts with following the Raiders to Las Vegas. But this week was a real slap in the face – when the A’s sent season ticket holders their renewal notices and tickets prices spikes – in some cases doubling from their previous price. 

Ann does a great job of laying out the A’s steps to driving off the fanbase, which in my opinion was ripped right out of the Maloof Brothers’ handbook -get bad, whine about attendance, jack prices, whine about worse attendance, get worse, jack prices, whine about no attendance…try to move. Except that the A’s have turned things up a notch from what those Kings did:

1. Fail to put money back into the team or re-sign homegrown stars, but instead pocket money received from revenue sharing over the years, until that pot dries up.

2. Have a billionaire owner who is completely unaccountable or present over the course of his 16-year ownership.

3. Denigrate their home stadium as a worthless, horrible place, implying that anyone who shows up there is a moron.

4. Try your best, for many, many years, to escape Oakland, to go to San Jose or Fremont.

5. When those plans fail, reverse course and claim to be “rooted in Oakland.”

6. Prematurely announce a stadium location after pursuing it for months that turns out — surprise! — to actually not be a viable location. (Hello and goodbye, Laney College.)

7. Insist that another problematic stadium site is the only option. You’re supposed to now trust the team decision-makers.

8. Exhibit a complete and total lack of imagination about the existing 155-acre site that comes complete with ideal transportation solutions.

9. Introduce a plan that is one of the biggest, most ambitious real estate projects in Oakland history and insist that it must be pushed through by a city council immediately.

10. When the city council suggests it needs to study an alternate financing plan, pout and claim to be out of options.

11. Embark on a “parallel path” stadium search in Southern Nevada, visiting constantly, being wined and dined by Nevada officials and scouting locations in 106-degree garden spots like Henderson.

And finally, this week’s development:

12. Release season-ticket prices for the coming season at almost double the current cost, alienating the most loyal remaining fans.

The A’s fans Ann talked to are understandably pissed. I’m not an A’s fan. However, I love going to A’s games – especially day games. It’s a great experience. Take BART, sit in the sun, and watch some a (usually good) baseball team in (usually) bad uniforms from up close and cheap. If the A’s leave for Las Vegas, I’ll be a bit sad for selfish reasons – Bay Area baseball is better with the A’s here. But I’ll be really sad for A’s fans – a loyal and passionate group who has stuck with that team when most fan bases would have thrown up their hands and said, “None more!” 

Caval and the A’s suck and I hope someone rescues the A’s from that ownership group like someone rescued the Kings from the Maloofs. I mean, the new ownership is not much better than the Maloofs, but they built a new arena and aren’t threatening to leave so that helps. It wasn’t a high bar. -TOB

Source: How to Lose a Fan Base in 12 steps: A’s Ticket-Price Hike Might be Last Straw,” Ann Killion, SF Chronicle (09/25/2021)

PAL: Obviously so sick of how the A’s have treated Oakland and its fans, but you know what stuck out to me after reading this, the umpteeth story about ownership being assholes? Why is Vegas so pumped to get into bed with the A’s? The ownership sucks here, and they are going to suck in Vegas, too. A stadium isn’t going to change this organization’s approach to the game. Eventually, this ownership will treat whatever fanbase they have like crap, because they are cheap and don’t care about holding up their end of the deal in the team/fan relationship. They want to make a profit by spending as little as possible, and I don’t see that changing in the long run. You can have the A’s with this ownership, Vegas. Good luck.


The Story That Never Was

This is a fun read. This is a story about a Kayln Kahler trying, and failing to confirm a rumor and turn it into a story. The nature of sportswriting, partly, is getting a great bit of info and never being able to use it. 

So many good rumors die on the vine, only feeling some weak rays of sunshine on their crispy brown leaves when I whisper them to friends at a bar, or share with my editors.

The rumor: A future hall of famer offered to pay teammates to get vaccinated…and it seemed to have worked. 

One agent told me he’d heard from another agent at his agency that a certain veteran MLB player and possible future Hall of Famer paid some of his teammates to get the vaccine. (He gave me a name; because I haven’t been able to run down the story satisfactorily, I’m not going to use it here. Sorry.) 

“He basically offered to give other players money if they went out and got vaccinated so they could get over the hump,” the agent said. “And I think it worked. I think there were guys who didn’t [want it] who said, ‘well if you’re going to pay me then I will,’ and it got them over it.”

Hmm. Vaccine bribery?! Now that was a choice tidbit. A great story if I could pin it down. This agent didn’t even feel comfortable telling me who had told him this, but I had a general idea of where it came from, since this agency only has a small number of players on that team.

So Kahler just needs to confirm the rumor. She’s an NFL writer most of the time, so she had to familiarize herself with how tracking leads worked in a different sport. Challenge one: figure out the agent for every player on the team in question. The NFL shares a database of players and agents, MLB does not. Kahler had to call into the MLBPA office to ask about specific players, and she was limited to 3 requests per day (the office admin told her that’s the way it’s always been). She waits in (the wrong) Ritz Carlton lobby, trying to catch to and from the field. She goes to the minor league park to talk to players that have shuffled between the big leagues and minor leagues. She goes to visiting stadiums and deals with PR offices and is given the press credential run-around. All the while, she is tantalizingly close to nailing this rumor down (many knowing glances and smiles from players). 

In the end, she couldn’t get the story nailed, but reading about the process was a fantastic consolation prize. – PAL 

Source:My White Whale Is The Story Of An MLB Veteran Paying His Teammates To Get VaccinatedKayln Kahler, Defector (09/29/21)


A Sports Cliche Quiz

There’s no link, but in Defector’s newsletter they posed the following challenge:

Can You Tell Which Of These Cliche Quotes From New York Rangers Camp Are Real, And Which Ones I Made Up?

It was fun, so I thought I’d share it here.

  1. “He’s very selfless in that he doesn’t think less of himself, he just thinks of himself, less.”
  2. “We’re going to have to put some pucks deep and go to work.”
  3. “We’re just looking to, you know, bang some bodies, play our kind of hockey.”
  4. “I just want to do my part for the team.”
  5. “They say happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. And it’s the same thing in the NHL.”
  6. “You know what those kids want? They just want to play.”
  7. “It is what it is, and at the end of the day, we just have to focus on what we can control.”
  8. “To win at the end, you don’t only have skill, you got to work hard and do all these little details.”
  9. “He just skates hard, gives 110 percent every time he’s out there, and takes it one shift at a time.”
  10. “They don’t hand out the Stanley Cup until you get to the end of the road, so we just have to play our ‘A’ game and do the little things that will get us there.”

Take the quiz and then find the answers here. For the record, I got 7/10 correct (I got 3, 6, 10 wrong) -TOB

PAL: I haven’t looked at the answers:

  1. Rangers Camp
  2. Made up 
  3. Camp
  4. Camp
  5. Made up 
  6. Camp
  7. Made up
  8. Camp
  9. Made up
  10. Camp

How’d I do? Same as TOB – 7/10!

  1. Rangers Camp
  2. Made up 
  3. Camp
  4. Camp
  5. Made up 
  6. Camp
  7. Made up
  8. Camp
  9. Made up
  10. Camp

Video of the Week

PAL: LOL aside, how’s that not a balk?

Song of the Week

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Everyone’s gotta be the hero with the pickle jar.

Larry David

Week of September 24, 2021

No words.

MLB and the Looming Labor Dispute: Origin Story

Over the last few years, many MLB writers have been sounding alarm bells about a bitter labor dispute coming to MLB this offseason, when the current CBA expires. This article by Evan Drellich explains how we got here. 

Drellich starts in 1994, the last time MLB had a work stoppage:

In the first labor deal the players and owners reached afterward, two important elements were introduced: revenue sharing between teams, and a luxury tax on payroll spending, known as the competitive balance tax. The league framed its desire for those mechanisms around improving competitiveness and parity.

“How it was sold to the players was that revenue sharing money was going to be used for competitive balance,” the executive said. “Luxury tax was going to be a drag on spending, not a cap on spending. And that would equal competitive balance. And as a result, you know, there was good faith that teams would honor that concept.

“What happened is, it worked. … That wasn’t good enough for Bud [Selig].”

As Drellich notes, Selig came from a small market team – before being commissioner he owned the Milwaukee Brewers. So, in his last negotiation, he fought for small market teams. 

Prior to 2011, teams could spend what they wanted in the draft. The commissioner’s office made recommendations as to each pick’s worth, but teams were free to exceed them, and big-market teams often did.

The large-market teams had another draft-related weapon, too. Clubs who lost players in free agency often received compensation draft picks. The departing player didn’t have to be a superstar, either — even more middle-of-the-pack players made a team eligible to receive a pick. So a deep-pocketed club like the Red Sox not only had an increased ability to sign players who had high-bonus demands in the draft. The compensation system also allowed the Sox to sign or trade for players whom they knew they could someday let walk, and gain a draft pick for in the process.

The union in 2011 agreed to allow the draft to be capped. Each team would have a fixed pool of money for signing players, and to greatly exceed that pool would bring penalties so onerous that no team would be likely to do so. A new system for free-agent compensation arrived as well: the introduction of the “qualifying offer,” which was not so liberal in granting draft picks when players signed with a new team.

As a result, the free agent market has been depressed. The draft slot caps in particular changed things. As agent Scott Boras points out:

“Because of the draft, club behavior has changed dramatically,” Boras said. “Where before you had to pay ($15.1 million) for Stephen Strasburg, now you only had to pay $6 million. And the key thing is you’re assured of signing him. … When you have the No. 1 pick now, you’re going to get the best player. Before, the No. 1 pick didn’t ensure you’re getting the best player, because you couldn’t afford to sign him.”

And as Drellich summed up:

The draft, in other words, provided more certainty than before for any team that wanted to get cheap, young talent. And because draft order had always been tied to win-loss record, the only way to guarantee high draft picks became losing. And when a team doesn’t mind losing, it’s probably not going to spend much in the free-agent market.

At the same time, teams got smarter and realized that, as one source said, “We’re not going to continue to pay for what players did for us yesterday. We’re going to pay for the guys who we think are going to help us tomorrow.” In other words – don’t pay aging free agents. 

Interestingly, Drellich says some argue that the Competitive Balance Tax, the de facto salary cap, is not what is driving down player salaries:

But some people say the CBT doesn’t matter much at all, usually for two reasons: A, some teams would never spend enough to reach the threshold anyway; and B, almost all teams have decided free agency is best used conservatively. That a groupthink has set in during the last decade, an outgrowth of “Moneyball” and analytics, where teams mostly value players the same way, and have settled on the value of youth.

“I think going over CBT thresholds made you a bad actor in the current ownership group,” one industry source said. “Which didn’t use to be the case. You also had a lot of the kind of old-school, big-market owners die off, or sell. Not having George Steinbrenner own the Yankees. Not having Mike Illitch own the Tigers. The places where you might get an owner’s kind of emotional buying of a player which would drive the market, it doesn’t really exist anymore. And those things … it wouldn’t matter what’s in the CBA.”

It will be interesting to see if this is correct. If so, it would seem a spot the owners could have some room to move in negotiations in order to extract other concessions from players. My guess, though, is that this is wrong – MLB teams are smarter, I believe that. But they are not going to give up the CBT and allow a team or two to buy a championship without incurring major costs, monetarily and otherwise, to do so. As another source puts it, the CBT and ownership behavior are “inextricably linked.”

In the end, the 2016 negotiation was such a blowout win for the league that one source suggests the league made a mistake – they exacted such a crushing win that the players are now pissed and ready for a fight. One source says a work stoppage is inevitable.

Maybe, maybe not. But when it goes down this offseason, it’s nice to know the forces that brought things where they are. -TOB

Source: How We Got Here: The Decisions and Changes of the Last Decade that Brought Players and Owners to a Looming Labor Fight,” Evan Drellich, The Athletic (09/23/2021)


My New Favorite Twitter Follow: College Football Message Board Geniuses

Sometimes, a Twitter account hits you just right – it really gets you. For example, this year I discovered “Guy Who Yells Slater” who Tweets, “SLAAAAAATEEEEER” every time Giants’ reserve outfielder Austin Slater does something good. For example, on Thursday when Slater hit a 3-run go-ahead dinger (in a game the Giants would eventually lose in extra innings):

I love it because *I* also yell SLAAAAAAATEEEEER every time Austin Slater does something good. But I digress. 

I’m here to tell you about CFB Message Board Geniuses, an absolutely incredible account that simply tweets screenshots of the dumbest, most delusional things college football fans say on message boards. Man, it is funny. A lot of it is just a bunch of idiots wanting to fire every coach on every team, even the good ones. And a lot of it is delusional speculation on who a team might be able to hire as its next coach. A sampling, to whet your appetite:

Example:

Also, this:

And this:

Oh, and:

But my favorite are the guys (and, come on, we know they’re all men) who think they would be better coaches than the coaches. 

And this is the best of all:

-TOB

PAL: I went to college with a dude that had an ‘about’ section from his FB profile that was an all-timer. Basically everything you wouldn’t want a potential boss to read when doing a cursory glance at a candidates social media pages. It was so over-the-top inappropriate that one of my friends wondered if this guy was actually a comedian genius that had us fooled for years. I think about that comedic genius comment when I read that last one from the assistant Little League coach. See, the ‘assistant’ detail – that’s the stuff of genius.


Contract Jurisdiction

Here’s a story about the limits of a team’s rights when it comes to a player under contract. Jack Eichel (24), was the second overall pick in 2015, and his play has lived up to the franchise player promise: 355 points in 375 games, and generally improving year over year. Last year, a herniated disc limited Eichel to 21 games played. All parties—the Buffalo Sabres and Eichel—agree he needs surgery to fix it, but they disagree on the type of surgery. The Sabres want Eichel to get a fusion surgery, and Eichel wants to get a disc replacement surgery. 

The Sabres and their doctors insist Eichel undergo fusion surgery, a common practice. It involves removal of the damaged disk. Two vertebrae inhabit the empty space and fuse together, either with time or the addition of a plate.

Eichel says no way, not a chance, never going to happen.

“Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting,” general manager Kevyn Adams said in KeyBank Center.Eichel’s surgeon of choice, Dr. Chad Prusmack, informed the center that 25 percent of fusion patients require additional surgery at the 10-year mark because the procedure puts strain above and below the fusion point. Prusmack said the clock starts over at that point, meaning a patient could have three surgeries in 20 years.

So, Eichel wants artificial disk replacement, which is exactly what it sounds like. An artificial disk is inserted between the vertebrae, replacing the damaged disk. Though the surgery has never been done on an NHL player, it’s hardly experimental. It’s been performed worldwide for two decades. Eichel’s doctor said fewer than 5 percent of recipients need additional surgery at the 10-year mark.

The Sabres and their doctors say no way, not a chance, never going to happen.

Players and teams disagreeing on medical treatment probably happens on a daily basis in professional sports. We hear of players wanting a second opinion. The nature of this injury, and the fact that it deals with a player’s spine, really underscores the oddity of a team having “rights” over an employee’s body much more than if it were a knee or elbow injury. At least for me it does. 

What’s more, the Sabres want to trade Eichel, so getting him healthy in the short-term helps with their leverage. To John Vogl’s point, Eichel’s health 10 or 20 years from now is not the Sabres’ concern or problem. 

I don’t follow Eichel, and I don’t know about any other circumstances around his relationship with the Sabres, but this column from Vogl, who’s definitely in Eichel’s corner on the issue, brought to the surface a sports scenario I hadn’t thought too much about outside of CTE. – PAL 

Source: Jack Eichel should be allowed to live the life he wants, not the life the Sabres want for him,” John Vogl, The Athletic (09/23/21)

TOB: Man, this article nails it in the first sentence: “The Sabres are wrong.” What’s frustrating about the article, though, is while there’s an explanation of why Eichel doesn’t want the fusion surgery, there’s no explanation of why the Sabres refuse to let him do the artificial disc replacement. That seems an important part of the story and I wish I knew why.


A Story Where Everyone Kinda Sucks

There was quite the kerfuffle this week during a series between the Blue Jays and Rays. It started with this:

And it ends with just about every person involved looking bad.

Kevin Kiermaier Sucks. 

What you’re seeing in the video is the Rays’ Kevin Keirmaier looking down, seeing the Blue Jays’ catcher’s game plan on how to attack the Rays’ hitters, which had fallen out of his wristband. Kiermaier sees it. Pauses. Absolutely recognizes what it is. Quickly picks it up, stops complaining about the call, and immediately pop sup and head toward his dugout.

It’s pretty bush league, if you ask me. Think what you want about the cards – but all teams now use them and I think anyone with a little integrity would see what it was and leave it. Kiermaier picked it up. That’s kinda sucky.

Then, after the Blue Jays get upset about him sucking, Kiermaier provides one of the most rambling, b.s. answers I have heard:

So Kiermaier is saying that he didn’t know what it was until after he picked it up. Which is a lie, because you can see the recognition on his face before he picks it up, and he doesn’t look at it after he picked it up. He then acknowledges he was not going to give it back. Then he didn’t think anything of it when he saw it, which is a lie. The only true thing he says is he knew it wasn’t his and he wasn’t giving it back. Ok, well, taking something of some else’s is wrong and refusing to give it back is wrong. And, especially given what it is, it’s unsportsmanlike. Kiermaier sucks.

Ok, so the Jays were rightfully mad. And what happens? Rays manager Kevin Cash apologized to Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. Montoyo’s response:

Ok, so far so good. It ended there, right? Nah. 

Ryan Borucki Sucks. 

In the 8th inning of the next game, Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Borucki tagged Kiermaier in the back. Kiermaier whined like a baby (see previous section re Kiermaier Sucks). But also, that’s dangerous and it’s not my thing, personally. So, that kinda sucks. But worse, Borucki denied it was intentional (I mean, ok, that’s a lie but I get it – you can’t admit that no matter how obvious it is). Borucki kinda sucks.

Kevin Cash Sucks.

Let’s add a little context here. There is a good possibility these two teams meet in the playoffs and so the Rays getting the Jays’ pitching strategy two weeks before the postseason is pretty significant. Kevin Cash apologized, which ok that’s good. But you had to know your guy was going to wear one. Plus, he took it in one of the safest spots – the middle of the back. You have to expect it and move on. Instead, Cash threw a fit. Cash kinda sucks.

Charlie Montoya Sucks.

Ok, your team got its card stolen and that sucks. But don’t accept an apology, tell everyone it’s “agua under the bridge” (a good line, though!), and then have your guy bean Kiermaier. Either accept the apology or don’t. 

Joe West Sucks. 

Just because.

But really, Kiermaier sucks. After writing this, I found this Jomboy video covering whole thing, which gives even more evidence about how much Kiermaier sucks, including footage of what he did when he got to the dugout.

Also, this video about Kiermaier from earlier in the year, stealing fly balls from his teammates.

What a tool. -TOB

PAL: This summary does not suck. 

Taking the card is lame move, but—in the spirit of giving another side of the argument— it’s not on the same level of taking a play card from an O.C. in a football game. For established pitchers at least, hitters know the location and pitches an opposing team will likely attack on certain counts. 

Then again, I’ve never seen what’s on those cards…it could be more detailed than that. Perhaps it has defensive alignment, signal sequences for when runners are on second base, the phone number of a lady in row 17. 


Videos of the Week

@noteworthytopics

“I mean…I COULD” – thought everyone on tiktok

♬ original sound – michael
TOB and PAL on our athletic abilities (joke and link h/t to reader KNL)

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Grouplove – “Deleter”

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