Best of 2018, Part I: The People

Chubby Bryce Harper is hilarious. Not pictured: Mike Trout receiving the tournament MVP trophy. 


Loyal Readers,

Thank you for your support in 2018. We had our best year by a long shot. Thanks you for continuing to recommend 1-2-3 SPORTS! to friends, family, and even co-workers with whom you are desperately trying to form some semblance of regular office sports banter.

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

We kick things off with profiles on a world class Sherpa and his journey to working at an outdoors store in Manhattan, a victim of human trafficking becoming a DI track stalwart, the origin story of Ichiro Suzuki and how he can’t shake it, and a writer dissecting her ‘regular’ dad’s friendship with Charles Barkley. The stories are incredible, and so is the writing.


How One of the World’s Best Sherpas Ended Up Working Retail in Manhattan

This is an interesting look into the life of Serap Jangbu Sherpa, one of the world’s best sherpas, who scaled 11 of the 14 highest peaks in the world, including the most dangerous, K2, twice in one year. Serap retired a few years back, and now works unassumingly in a sporting goods store in Manhattan. The story looks at his young life, how he became a “Sherpa” (which is actually the name of the ethnic group), how and why he ended up working retail in Manhattan, still only aged 49, and tells of some of his most harrowing treks. For a taste, here’s one such story:

Just before midnight on May 11, with four other Sherpas and two Koreans, they started up the North Col from the third camp and arrived at the summit at 11 a.m. They remained on the summit for 90 minutes, then Park and Serap started into Nepal. They climbed down in alpine style, connected to each other only by a thin lightweight rope, seven millimeters thick and 50 meters long.

Serap led, even though he’d never come this way before; he’d only ever reached the summit from the north face. They were climbing blind at 29,000 feet. Coming down the Hillary Step at 12:30 p.m., one of Park’s crampons caught an old rope, and he slid to the edge of the exposed rock face. His headlamp flew off, dropping 8,000 feet to Camp Two.

Serap slammed down his ice axe and tied their rope to the handle. If Park fell, Serap would be pulled off with him.

Serap held the rope tightly; anything more than walking at that altitude felt impossible. After half an hour of wriggling to push himself up, an exhausted Park managed to grab onto a rock for support and with his other hand free his crampon.

A good read! -TOB

Source: The Sherpa of New York”, Ryan Goldberg, Deadspin (07/25/2018)

PAL (Jan, 2019): I hadn’t read this story until we were reviewing the best of 2018, and I am very glad I did. For one, Ryan Goldberg writes the hell out it. We read a lot of incredible stories about athletes that are not household names, but Goldberg expertly balances Serap Jangbu’s personal journey as both exceptional and representative of thousands of Sherpas who find themselves far from the himalayas in, of all places, New York.

Thousands of Sherpas have come to New York, their largest community outside of Nepal, trading the mountains for an uncertain struggle in a distant metropolis. They settled 7,500 miles away in Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, the most ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhoods in New York, and maybe the world, with 167 different languages spoken in a 1.64 square-mile area. In 2010, about 5,000 Nepalese lived in Queens, according to the census, a number that local leaders said was a significant undercount, and which they now believe has gone up by 60 percent. Despite only comprising one half of one percent of Nepal’s population, the Sherpa people are the most populous Nepalese ethnic group in New York, numbering roughly 3,000.

There is a historical symmetry to this story that is powerful as well. After becoming the first person to summit Everest, Edmund Hillary opened several schools in Nepal as a thank you the Sherpa people who had been so generous to him. Hillary’s lasting impact on the culture was the importance of education above all, and that is what brought Serap to New York – a chance at a better life and education for his children. Instead of risking his life to chase his own mountaineering dream, he put his family first and came to America where he, one of the best mountaineers ever, works at an which sells apparel that literally has him in their catalogue.

Inspiring, fascinating, and beautifully written.


Sad Story, Happy Ending

I’ve never read a sports story quite like this one.

Deshae Wise is a freshman sprinter on Cal’s track team. She came to Berkeley from a small town in Oregon, where she was a Gatorade Athlete of the Year. Her name is climbing up the record books already, with the eighth and fourth fastest 60-meter hurdle times in Cal history. She carries a 4.0 G.P.A., volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, and she’s joined the black business association on campus, too. And before all of this success, she and her mom were victims of human trafficking. This wasn’t in some far off place halfway around. This happened right here in the U.S.A.

The initial moment Rebecca Bender, Deshae’s mother, realized what was happening is heartbreaking and terrifying. She had met Khaled (not the guy’s real name) in Eugene when she was around 19 or 20 and her daughter was still very young*. Six months after meeting him, Bender decided to move with him to Las Vegas to start their life as a family.

But the dream ended before it even began, according to Rebecca, whose recollection of the next several years is backed by FBI statements and court records, public documents and interviews. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Vegas, she says, things quickly turned. Khaled told Rebecca he wanted to take her out on the town. “Get dressed up,” she remembers him saying.

Deshae stayed with Khaled’s brother, but instead of heading to the strip, Khaled drove him and Rebecca to a dead-end street anchored by a deserted strip mall. Rebecca remembers just darkness and the hum of the car. Khaled, she says, turned to her and explained with a seriousness on his face: He needed money for the apartment, for Deshae’s food. . . . And Rebecca had to pay him. Now.

Khaled, she says, pointed to a door with a security camera above it and told her to enter. Inside she found a smoke-filled room with three desks pushed next to one another, a woman seated behind each. Behind them, written out cleanly on a dry-erase board, were the words brunette, blonde, asian, redhead. . . . It was all too clear, too real. She was at an escort service, and Khaled expected her to sign herself up. No way. She was shocked, confused, and terrified.

Back in the car, Khaled slapped her across the face. Rebecca was suddenly terrified. She was in a new city. . . she didn’t know her address yet. . . and she didn’t know where her daughter was. The rest unfolded in a blur of fear and confusion. At some point there was a phone call from a “local” in the Green Valley area, 15 minutes away. Khaled drove to a townhouse, dropped Rebecca off and parked nearby.

Khaled is what they call a “Romeo” – a trafficker that uses romance to lure his victims (as opposed to a “gorilla”, who uses brute force) – but he quickly turned violent towards Bender. He also would scare her by making threats on her daughter. Bender was mortified and trapped. Then she was “traded” to another trafficker. Kevin gave them nicer things, but he beat Bender and was paranoid the house would get raided. Deshae was getting older – she was in grade school by now – and she could say things to teachers, coaches, or other parents.

Writer Jeremy Fuchs does a really good job juxtaposing their nightmare with mother and daughter existing in the most common, ordinary backdrops. Soccer games, volleyball games, and school plays. They existed in our world, and no one knew the truth. They were very much captives.

Why didn’t Bender just take Deshae and leave, you might be asking. She did try. Four times, in fact.

By the time Deshae was eight, Rebecca had tried to flee with her daughter four times. Once, they made it back to Rebecca’s mom’s house in Grants Pass, but Kevin tracked them down in Oregon and brought them back to Vegas. Another time, feds surrounded one of Kevin’s houses in Vegas in the middle of the night as part of a tax-evasion investigation, and Rebecca took Deshae out the back door and climbed over a fence into a neighbor’s yard.

If that seems like the perfect opportunity to escape, Rebecca didn’t see it that way; she didn’t see any choice but to stay with Kevin—a common sentiment among victims of trafficking. “There’s the realistic stuff, like: How would I get a job? Or what is society going to think of me?” says Elizabeth Hopper, a clinical psychologist and the director of Project REACH, which helps trafficking victims. “Traffickers control the living space, the money, where to go. . . . And then: Is he going to come after me?”

In the end, obviously, Bender and Deshae do escape (it may surprise you as to how they get away), and we know the story has an incredible ending in Deshae signing an athletic scholarship at world-renowned academic institution. Perhaps most incredible of all is that Deshae was never abused. “The probability that I wasn’t sexually or emotionally abused is so slim,” she said. “In any other situation it would have happened to me—but it didn’t.”

This heavy, dense story, but absolutely worth your time. – PAL

*Fuchs never gives an exact age on Deshae when they move to Vegas with Khaled. She’s a freshman now in 2018, and her mother moved back to Eugene around 2000 after getting pregnant with Deshae in Maryland. The story says later that Bender was traded after two years under Khaled in 2004..so she must of met Khaled in 2001 or 2002, which would’ve made Wise around 2 at the time of the move to Vegas.

Source: Life After Escaping the World of Human Trafficking”, Jeremy Fuchs, Sports Illustrated (05/10/2018)

TOB: God damn, an incredible story. Deshae’s mother, Rebecca Bender, has started the Rebecca Bender Initiative, with the goal of equipping first responders with the tools to identify victims of exploitation and assisting victims to escape their traffickers and then assisting them re-adjust to society. In this video, Rebecca tells her story:

PAL (Jan., 2019): This story has stuck with me, and it’s those two pictures of Deshea, and most specifically her eyes in those two picture: as a sprinter coming across the finish line with a look of pride and contentment, and as a child looking up from her desk. Those images will stay with me forever. So will this story.


Another Side of Charles Barkley

1-2-3 reader Alex Denny sent us this utterly fantastic story. If you read a good story, please send it our way at 123sportslist@gmail.com or on Twitter – @123sportsdigest.

Shirley Wang described her dad with the following:

He wore striped, red polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts and got really excited about two-for-one deals. He was a commuter. He worked as a cat litter scientist in Muscatine, Iowa. In short, he was everyone’s suburban dad.

Lin Wang and Charles Barkley met in a hotel bar, and a friendship grew from there. On the surface, the most impressive detail about this story is that Charles Barkley became friends with a fan he met in a bar in Sacramento, who earned a living as a cat litter scientist, but that’s just on the surface. In Shirley Wang’s telling of this story – her favorite dinner party story (obviously) – she plays two roles: she serves as a stand-in for the reader with a healthy dose of skepticism about the true nature of the friendship, and she is the daughter who learns how proud her dad was of her from, or all people, Charles Barkley.  

When Barkley’s mom died in 2015, Lin Wang flew to Leeds, Alabama and just showed up. This past June, Barkley returned the favor and showed up at Lin’s funeral in the outskirts of Iowa City.

Wang’s story is a fresh example of true friendship. Lin Wang and Barkley connected over similar upbringings, they were immensely proud of their children, and they both liked to have a good time. As Shirley Wang puts it:

It was not just a relationship with a celebrity — it shed light on the possibilities of this world. A world where someone like him could just say something cool, something charming, and befriend someone like Charles Barkley.

This is a late entry into one of my favorite stories from 2018, and it was featured on the 12/14/18 episode of the Only A Game podcast. More than worth your time. – PAL

Source: Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley”, Shirley Wang, WBUR (12/14/18)

TOB (Jan. 2019): I did not get around to reading this story until we put together this Best of post. I had heard about it on TV and read headlines on Twitter. I figured that was enough. But I’m glad I finally read it, because it’s a really heartwarming read. Shirley Wang tells a great story, especially about how she more or less rolled her eyes about her dad’s claim of being friends with Charles Barkley, until she realized it really was true. And while I don’t get the sense Wang is a writer, she does a fantastic job humanizing a celebrity, in this case Barkley, in a way that few writers seem able to do. Great story, and it doesn’t take long to read. Give it a click!


Prisoner of Perfection

It doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say Ichiro Suzuki is the Michael Jordan of Japan. He rents out stadiums to train. There are signs at every table of his favorite restaurant demanding no photographs. The Japanese press has covered his every move for his 26 seasons of professional baseball. At 44, Ichiro is prepping his last tour of MLB. While he looks to extend his career (Ichiro has previously said he wants to play until he’s 50), his time is about done, so Wright Thompson attempts to look back at the obsessive rituals that have both made Ichiro a Hall of Fame player as well as perhaps a trapped individual.

The story is long, and completely worth your time. Thompson knows how to paint a picture, and there are so many fascinating nuggets throughout, including:

Japanese culture in general — and Ichiro in particular — remains influenced by remnants of bushido, the code of honor and ethics governing the samurai warrior class. Suffering reveals the way to greatness. When the nation opened up to the Western world in 1868, the language didn’t even have a word to call games played for fun. Baseball got filtered through the prism of martial arts, and it remains a crucible rather than an escape. (end)

He could choose the best players in Japan to help him but he doesn’t. He doesn’t need to get better at swinging a bat. What he needs, and what he seems to find in this rented stadium, is the comfort of the familiar, a place where he knows who he is supposed to be. (end)

These stories are funny individually, but they feel different when taken as a whole. Like nearly all obsessive people, Ichiro finds some sort of safety in his patterns. He goes up to the plate with a goal in mind, and if he accomplishes that goal, then he is at peace for a few innings. Since his minor league days in Japan, he has devised an achievable, specific goal every day, to get a boost of validation upon completion. That’s probably why he hates vacations. In the most public of occupations, he is clearly engaged in a private act of self-preservation. He’s winnowed his life to only the cocoon baseball provides. His days allow for little beyond his routine, like leaving his hotel room at 11:45, or walking through the lobby a minute later, or going to the stadium day after day in the offseason — perhaps his final offseason. Here in the freezing cold, with a 27-degree wind chill, the hooks ping off the flagpoles. The bat in his hand is 33.46 inches long. He steps into the cage and sees 78 pitches. He swings 75 times.

Up close, he looks a lot like a prisoner. (end)

His relationship with his father has defined him, for better or for worse. Ichiro has been in pursuit of baseball perfection since he was three. He’d had a baseball routine for 40+ years, and anyone who knows him wonders if he’ll be able to stop.

And while Ichiro and his father are not currently on speaking terms, Ichiro is still in some ways under his father’s thumb, or, as Thompson more eloquently puts it, “Ichiro now does to himself all the things he resents his father for having made him do.”

While there are some questions left open in this story, of which I’m sure TOB will address, this is one hell of a read. – PAL

Source:  ‘When Winter Never Ends”, Wright Thompson, ESPN (03/07/2018)

TOB: Maaaaaan, do I love Ichiro. This story was sad, though; it’s not only a portrait of an aging ballplayer, seeing the end of the road, with no plan for life after baseball (Ichiro has previously said, “I think I’ll just die,” when asked what he’ll do after his career), a story we’ve seen before. It’s also, as Phil said, a portrait of a man who made it to the very top of his sport, after a lifetime of obsession with doing so, by sticking to the same routine, day after day after day. Ichiro did so to the point I have to wonder, as a person absolutely unqualified to say this, not just whether Ichiro has OCD, but how severe and debilitating his OCD might be. And it’s also the story of a father and son, and how the father more or less robbed the son of his childhood by forcing him into these routines, day after day, not letting him play with friends or be a normal kid, only to have it create one of the greatest baseball players ever. And it’s about how, despite that success, the son resents the father for it all, even while continuing those same routines to this very day.

And as sad as that all is, there are some fantastic Ichiro nuggets in here, as always. For example, Ichiro’s former teammate, Mike Sweeney, tells a second-hand story about an unnamed professional baseball player strolling through Central Park one day with his wife. The player saw a man in the distance, throwing a baseball 300-feet, and hitting balls against the backstop with the “powerful shotgun blast of real contact familiar to any serious player.” Curious, the player got closer, only to discover Ichiro, on an off-day, getting in his reps.

Or this one:

The Yankees clubhouse manager tells a story about Ichiro’s arrival to the team in 2012. Ichiro came to him with a serious matter to discuss: Someone had been in his locker. The clubhouse guy was worried something had gone missing, like jewelry or a watch, and he rushed to check.

Ichiro pointed at his bat.

Then he pointed at a spot maybe 8 inches away.

His bat had moved.

The clubhouse manager sighed in relief and told Ichiro that he’d accidentally bumped the bat while putting a clean uniform or spikes or something back into Ichiro’s locker, which is one of the main roles of clubhouse attendants.

“That can’t happen,” Ichiro said, smiling but serious.

From that day forward, the Yankees staff didn’t replace anything in his locker like they did for every other player on the team. They waited until he arrived and handed him whatever he needed for the day.

I will be sad when Ichiro retires, and I was very happy to hear the news that he had signed with the Mariners this week. I died laughing at this tweet, which shows Ichiro arriving in Seattle for the first time back in 2001, and again this week in 2018.

It shows not only the vagaries of fashion over the last nearly 20 years, but it also shows a young man, grown into an old man, and all that entails. I hope, whenever he retires, Ichiro doesn’t “just die” as he suggested. But for now, as Wright Thompson says, Ichiro is like the rest of us: “out there, hungry for a chance to keep his routines in motion.”


Best Media: TOB with the correct take.


Best of PAL Song of the Week 2019: 


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“He’s a lawyer, I’m an accountant, we speak the same language.  Obviously accountants are more bad boys…but there’s a respect there.”

-Smallmouth Ben Wyatt

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1-2-3 Sports! Week of January 4, 2019

Marshawn lighting…something…on Al Davis’s eternal flame (which, what!? Al Davis has an eternal flame!?)


When You Should Not Show a Tribute Video to a Former Player

Look, I am not one to burn a bridge. You never know when you may encounter someone again, and even if they’ve pissed you off, it’s always better to be professional and/or classy and let any transgressions go. BUT! If I was the San Antonio Spurs, I’d make an exception. Kawhi Leonard absolutely dogged them. He sat almost all of last season with a mysterious injury that was only diagnosed by what seemed like the tenth specialist he visited. Then he essentially told them he would not play this year and they better trade him or he’d walk after this season, when he becomes a free agent.

So they traded him. And there’s no way to get back a fair return for an MVP-level player. Thursday night he returned, as a member of the Raptors. The fans booed him lustily during pregame, and kept it up during the game:

But, reportedly after weighing what they should do, the team did play a joint tribute video for Kawhi and Danny Green, who was also part of the trade to Toronto, before the game, .

And I gotta say – the Spurs were a little too classy here. The man does not deserve that. He made his bed, now he can lie in it. Hell, I’d have played a tribute for Green, who almost single handedly won them the Finals in 2014, then I’d have showed a gravestone with Kawhi’s name on it.

All’s well that ends well, though, and the Spurs fans got their revenge. Kawhi sucked and the Spurs rolled the Raptors, 125-107. -TOB

Source: The Spurs And Their Fans Are Out For Blood”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (12/3/2019)

PAL: A video for Kawhi? I wouldn’t call it classy. Foolish is the word that comes to mind. Are you kidding me, Spurs? All the boos are completely negated – and not in a good way – by pandering to a person that pulled a major dick move, and so soon after he pulled said move. This would make me so mad if I was a Spurs fan.

TOB: 

LOLOLOL. Totally, guy.


Remember Mike Davis?

Mike Davis is a classic ‘That Guy’. In 2000, Davis became the Indiana University basketball coach, replacing Bob Knight. Knight reportedly offered to pay his coaching staff their salaries to not take the job and follow him to his next stop. Davis broke ranks (because he’s sane) and became the head coach at a blue blood basketball program. He took the team to the title game the next year (losing to Maryland). Since then, many would describe his career as a regression, one lower profile job after another.

The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn catches up with Davis at his current job: Detroit Mercy. I’d never heard of it either. There, he’s coaching his youngest son, Antoine Davis, who was just a toddler when Davis was at IU. Now Antoine is averaging 31 ppg playing for his dad.

Of course, Mike Davis is more than a ‘That Guy’ – he’s got a life story that is far more interesting than replacing Knight at IU, and he doesn’t seem all that upset about where he finds himself coaching these days.

“Once you get past always trying to prove yourself, you get to the point where you’re only trying to develop others,” Davis says.

Interesting read. – PAL

Source: The Backwards Lives of Mike and Antoine Davis”, Brendan Quinn, The Athletic (November, 2018)

TOB: A very interesting guy. We actually wrote about Davis last season, when his Texas Southern team got off to an 0-13 start. That sounds bad, but it was, fascinatingly, all part of Davis’ plan. Davis made the schedule, and all 13 games were on the road, most against good to very good teams. Why? Because it would make his team better and the losses don’t matter – all he needed to do was win the conference tournament at the end of the year. So did the 0-13 start payoff? Yup. The team finished 16-20, won its conference tournament, won the First Four play-in game, and then led #1 seed Xavier for the first ten minutes of their first round matchup, before losing.


Man, Don’t Be That Dad/Coach

The Dora High School (Missouri) boys basketball team, and specifically its coach, Rick Luna, drew criticism this week after getting caught pulling some real bush league stuff. Luna has three sons on the team – triplets. Luna was caught swapping one of his three triplet sons, Auston, for another triplet son, Bryson, when Auston should have been shooting free throws. Luna claims it wasn’t planned. He must be using ‘planned’ in a very narrow sense, because you can see on video in the link that it was very blatant and very intentional. Plus, fans have other teams have reportedly been complaining about it all year.

Surprisingly, the dad/coach doesn’t seem to take it too seriously. When asked by a reporter about the incident, Luna joked that the team went 1-for-4 from the line the times they cheated during that game. Uh, cool, guy. The school’s official twitter account even retweeted this tweet defending it as something that “happens all the time and has for years.” Uh, no.

Unfortunately, nothing is going to change the outcome of the game. Local officials stated they can’t do anything now, but will educate referees to look out for it going forward. Which is crazy to me. They may not be able/willing to change the outcome of the game, but the coach and/or his sons could and should be suspended. If I was in charge of that school, in fact, I’d fire the coach. That may seem over the top, but do you want your kids coached by someone who blatantly and intentionally cheats? I wouldn’t. -TOB

Source: High School Basketball Team Caught Swapping Out Triplets At The Free-Throw Line”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (01/02/2019)

PAL (read in a NFL ref voice): After video review, it is clear that the triplet swap was intentional. Clearly, the trio has been coached on how to come together at or around the free throw line. This is where the swap takes place. The result is that this dad/coach is a d-bag.

The coach shouldn’t be fired, but everyone at school should just shake their heads and mutter “really, Rick?” for one full school year.


Two for the Road: Clemson’s Tradition

This is a fun little story about a Clemson tradition with a cool backstory. Clemson and Georgia Tech had a longstanding rivalry game until 1973. That year, Georgia Tech – a much better football team at the time – decided to end the rivalry.

Clemson Booster Club member George Bennett wanted to think of a way to let Atlanta and Georgia Tech know how much of a boost Clemson fans can have on the local economy, and the two dollar bill seemed like an idea the popped. This weekend, with Clemson in its third national title game in the last four years, we’ll be seeing some $2 here in the Bay Area (Santa Clara is hosting the game on Monday). The tradition stuck, and more and more cities are seeing the $2 with Clemson becoming a powerhouse making runs in the College Football Playoff. 

Bill Harley is the senior vice president of the Clemson branch of the First Citizens Bank. He’s also a 1982 Clemson grad, so he’s always careful to ensure the bank stocks $2 bills before a big road game or bowl trip. He guessed about 250 customers came in to exchange ordinary currency for $2 denominations before the Cotton Bowl.

Harley said the bank offers the bills to anyone in need but limits how many any one person gets so everyone can get a few. This hasn’t always gone over well.

That’s a fun, smart way to let people know the Tigers are in town. I dig this tradition. – PAL

Source: Clemson, $2 bills and a one-of-a-kind bowl tradition, David Hale, ESPN (01/03/19)

TOB: This is cool, but it works a lot better now that they’re good!


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Lady Baldwin


Poll of the Week


Video of the Week: 
RIP Mean Gene


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: The Kinks – “This Time Tomorrow”


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“There are three acceptable haircuts: high and tight, crew cut, buzz cut.”

-Ron Swanson

Week of November 16, 2018


Slurpy Writing Almost Ruins A Great Story

I’m guessing by now you’ve heard of LeBron James’ incredible philanthropy efforts in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, but just in case: Through his foundation, he has built a school for children struggling with reading (at or below the 25th percentile) and worked with the University of Akron to guarantee a scholarship to any child that comes through LeBron’s I Promise School while meeting all of the educational requirements. This could mean a free college education for as many as 2300+ local kids.

The I Promise school opened this summer, so it makes sense for a writer to report on how it’s going so far. The school takes a holistic, evidence-based approach to the the student lives, and I think it’s cool that this is not a charter school. The school exists within the public school system in Akron, and there’s a lot of really interesting experiments taking place, all of which are spearheaded by a professional athlete who, as a fourth grader in the same town, missed 83 days of school. There’s a food pantry, night classes for parents who want to earn their GED, fresh food, and extended hours.

What they’ve done at the I Promise School is borrow from the best practices identified in public education from across the country and brought them all under one roof. They have a small student population with rigorously vetted teachers who are sensitive to the challenges each of their students faces. And they’re the same challenges.

LeBron laid the groundwork by shifting his foundation’s focus to education eight years ago. Then, under the power and respect and adulation associated with his name, he brought together the banks, the lawyers, his endorsement partners, and above all else, the local education professionals. They’ve filled in the cracks where tax dollars can’t reach, for things like free uniforms and eye exams and counseling for parents.

They’ve pooled all of these tremendous resources to give children of the lowest socioeconomic denominator a chance. Keep them in school longer. Feed them more. Hug them. Listen to them. And then, finally, teach them.

All of this is nothing short of inspiring. James seems to be providing the blueprint for other wealthy public figures to bring back to their hometowns. Feel good story all around!

However, I don’t understand why The Athletic’s Joe Vardon feels the need to unnaturally drop brands into the narrative. While I understand these companies are contributing either money, supplies, or time; that then does not mandate the writer pen sentences like the following (emphasis mine):

  • Third-graders and fourth. Children of all shapes and sizes and skin tones. Each morning they are greeted the same way, with music pumping through a Beats pill and by a handful of teachers handing out high-fives and hugs.
  • I was standing there watching this, still in my black pea coat, stocking cap, jeans and Nikes.
  • After breakfast in teacher Tara Caporuscio’s third-grade class, as in every class, the students sat on the floor next to each other in what’s called the I Promise Circle. Caporuscio takes her Beats pill and dials up Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” It’s not exactly at the top of the charts for 8-year olds living in Akron’s inner city, but nary a student says a word.

I mean, what is this? It’s one thing for the writing to have the tone of a knockoff NY Times wedding announcements section, but what’s with the brand mentions, Joe? I wonder if he is so impressed with the school and how brands LeBron endorses have contributed that he wanted to go out of his way to name them at any opportunity? I don’t get it. This honestly read to me like paid content, which seems so unnecessary given the thoughtful work and partnerships James’ foundation has done with the public school system, the University of Akron, and the community at large. There’s a great story here in the facts. He’s writing about elementary school students, not for them. Is The Athletic looking for an editor? It should be. – PAL

Source: “LeBron James’ Legacy Isn’t His Triumphs with the Lakers or the Cavaliers, it is These Kids”, Joe Vardon, The Athletic Ink (11/14/18)

TOB: A little odd, but I will not let it take away from the amazing thing My Guy is doing. Bravo, LeBron. Bravo.


This Is the End, Beautiful Friend

If you’ve somehow missed this, let’s recap the Warriors week:

  • Steph hurt.
  • Draymond and Durant did this:

There’s a lot to unpack here. Draymond kinda snakes that rebound from Durant. As soon as Draymond got the rebound, Durant clapped for the ball. But by his body language it’s obvious he’s going to go up the court relatively slowly and shoot a 30-footer, as he does.

Instead, Draymond streaked down the court. Something good could have happened. For example, as he approached the right wing, he had an easy drop off pass to Klay for a wide open 3. But something good did not happen. Instead, Draymond fell, just like he did in a similar situation in the playoffs last year to lose a game to the Rockets. Just before he fell, Durant called for the ball again.

After Draymond fell, Durant immediately turned around and sulked back to the bench, muttering the entire time. When Draymond got to the bench, Durant continued, and barked something along the lines of, “pass me the damn ball.”

Draymond does not take that kindly. Reports are that on the bench and during another argument in the locker room after the loss, Draymond repeatedly called Durant a “bitch” and told Durant, who is a free agent this summer and has not stated he intends to re-sign with Golden State, that the Warriors won before he got there, don’t need him, and to go sign somewhere else, or words to that effect.

Back to the recap of the week:

  • In what appears an act of appeasement to Durant, the Warriors suspend Draymond, without pay.
  • Draymond sits out and returns to the team for shootaround on Thursday. Reports are that he and Durant speak for a bit, but that Durant seemed sullen throughout the day.
  • Draymond also speaks to the media, unleashing an almost three minute monologue wherein he acknowledged he crossed the line, and vowed that it would not destroy the team, and supported Durant’s right to do what he wants to do next year.
  • The team gets whomped by a Rockets team that had been struggling all season. Draymond, statistically, plays the worst game of his career: 0 points on 0-3 FG, 5 reb, 5 asts, 5 turnovers.

Let me say at the outset that Draymond Green seems like a real pain in the ass to have as a coworker. I totally get that.

But doesn’t he have a point? I should say: I’m not a fan of Durant’s game, while acknowledging he’s basically unguardable. Too much one on one. Too many long, contested jumpers. I think his athleticism is highly overrated – he’s not fluid in his movements. There’s nothing pretty about his game. It’s almost Ivan Drago-like.

But doesn’t Draymond have a point? The Warriors did win without him. They won a title and went 73-9 with a Finals loss in the two seasons before he arrived. Draymond (and the other stars) even took less money to get Durant there. And isn’t Durant a little bit of a, to borrow Draymond’s phrase, bitch? What kind of teammate acts like Durant did during and after that play? A bad one. What kind of teammate then sulks for two days even when the team takes his side and suspends the other guy, taking more than $100k out of his pocket, and the other guy even acknowledges he crossed the line? A bad one.

I’ve listened to hours of Durant’s podcasts with Bill Simmons and he strikes me as a very moody, hyper-sensitive person. After Thursday’s game, a reporter asked him about his relationship with Draymond. Durant snapped, “Don’t ask me that question ever again.”

So while I get that it would not be easy to be Draymond’s teammate, I say Durant is no better. I ride with Draymond: good riddance, KD. -TOB

Source:Unpacking the Draymond Green-Kevin Durant Rift and What the Fall Out Could Mean Long Term Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic (11/13/2018)

PAL: All parties are in the wrong. Draymond for screwing up a fast break (again) by going too fast and too out of control and for having it out with Durant while a game was there for the taking. Durant for acting like a baby before, during, and after the one play, and for having it out with Draymond while a game was there for the taking. Management for being scared.

He went about it the wrong way, but Draymond’s right. What has made the Warriors great is great players playing this unselfish basketball, and no one being above that. Durant says “screw that” and becomes a chucker too often. Someone needs to call bullshit on that in order to keep the balance, and that’s Draymond. The team backed the wrong dude is an embarrassingly public manner.

And – yes – I have no doubt Draymond is a gigantic pain in the ass.

TOB: Good point, Phil. Another article this week, by Sam Amick, reminded me of that conversation Kerr had with Durant during the playoffs last year, where he used a Phil Jackson/Jordan/John Paxson story to remind Durant to stop shooting so much. Kerr was furious it was aired, with good reason. Durant should have been embarrassed.


Pickup Basketball, Shandling Style

I was a little too young to get into Garry Shandling when his two shows were at their heights, but it feels like pretty much every comedy that I’ve enjoyed in the past twenty years has a direct connection to Garry Shandling. Judd Apatow, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Larry David – all of these guys have a connection Shandling, and most of them played in a mostly weekly pickup game at Shandling’s house.

The game started in the early 90s and continued until Shandling’s death in 2016. Regular players included:

  • David Duchovny
  • Al Franken
  • Adam McKay
  • Will Ferrell
  • Greg Kinnear
  • Bill Maher
  • Jim Gray
  • Ben Stiller
  • Sarah Silverman
  • Jeff Goldblum

Court Rules:

  • 3-on-3
  • Up to 7 by 1’s
  • The wall behind the hoop is in bounds if the ball bounces against it by accident
  • No business talk

I’m not sharing this story on the “hollywood stars are regular like us” angle. I’ve heard a lot about Garry Shandling, but nothing is more telling than his approach to a pickup game. It ran for almost thirty years, no work talk was allowed, and the wall behind the hoop is in bounds. Tells me most everything I need to know about the dude. I like his 3-3 rules. – PAL

Source: “’Fight Club’ With Better Jokes: Inside Garry Shandling’s Secret Pickup Game”, Anna Peele, ESPN (11/13/18)

TOB: First, I never would have guessed Duchovny played college ball, even if it was at an Ivy. Impressive. Second, you like the wall being in bounds. What are we playing, indoor soccer? No, man. If I show up to a game and a wall is in, then I’m out.


Video of the Week, c/o Stanford Radio: 


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Bob Dylan – “Up to Me”


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My last job was at a Taco Bell Express. But, then it became a full Taco bell and, I dunno, I couldn’t keep up.

-Kelly Erin Hannon

 

Week of November 9, 2018

 


Google’s New Chess Champion Computer Plays Like a Human

Uh, are we screwed? We’re probably screwed. This week, Google’s chess computer, AlphaZero, beat StockFish, an open-source computer engine that had previously been the world’s computer chess champion, over the course of 100 matches. This would not be a noteworthy event, with one major exception: AlphaZero taught itself and plays chess like a human, not like a computer.

As many of will remember, IBM’s Deep Blue beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, over the course of a six-game series. Deep Blue did so with what is known in the computing chess world as “brute force”. DeepBlue could analyze 200 million moves per second. Kasparov, conversely, could only analyze two moves per second. Kasparov was at a severe computing disadvantage, and in hindsight it’s no surprise DeepBlue won.

Similarly, StockFish uses brute force, analyzing 70 million moves per second. But AlphaZero does not use brute force, relatively speaking. AlphaZero analyzes just 80,000 moves per second. So how did AlphaZero win?

After being given the rules, it played itself over and over, essentially reinventing the history of chess through millions of self-played games. Through what’s known as reinforcement learning, the machine took note of the behavior and patterns that led to a win, then incorporated that information into its blossoming style, over and over and over.

AlphaZero taught itself to play, through trial and error, just like a human. Though in only four hours. As one researcher says, “[AlphaZero] is just learning in the exact same way that a human would learn to play chess. That’s what humans do to learn: You play chess, you play games against each other, and you learn over time. So it’s learning very analogously to how humans learn, and it’s able to do it much quicker and much better.”

So, why are we screwed? The same researcher puts it this way:

“This is where AI is meeting creativity. Beforehand, it was just really, really fast at thinking. Now it’s able to be creative, it’s able to hit on things that humans used to think were intuition. That’s kind of like the humans’ last flagpole of hope, that computers can’t do intuitive things. No computer would be able to invent Mozart or do anything creative, but when you look at AlphaZero, it’s bordering on creativity, it’s bordering on intuition.”

Among chess grandmasters, the AlphaZero news was met quite differently than the fear twenty years ago when DeepBlue beat Kasparov. Many grandmasters, having grown up with computers more powerful than DeepBlue in their pockets, were not alarmed but instead intrigued by AlphaZero’s potential to expand what we understand about the game of chess.

If you’re interested, the article then explores the future of AI, including its potential to create art and music, or play video games and sports, and think consciously. Interesting read. -TOB

Source: Deep You”, The Ringer, Kevin Lincoln (11/08/2018)

PAL: The comparison of music and chess throughout the article is fascinating.

Chess and music share something in common, even if we don’t fully understand what that is. At the very least, we can recognize that there is a knack for patterns, an understanding of arrangement and progression, that unites human achievement in both disciplines, and that ability to recognize patterns—an inherently human trait—is what makes AlphaZero’s achievement so startling. What Steiner’s prepubescent virtuosos lack in intellectual and emotional maturity—the socialization and acculturation that we experience as we grow older—they made up for in this innate understanding of patterns.

To an extent, the same could be said of AlphaGo and AlphaZero, which cannot do anything other than play either chess or Go but seem to exhibit genuine creativity and ingenuity within those realms. For example, during the second game of AlphaGo’s match against Go master Lee Sedol, the machine made a move so unprecedented and idiosyncratic that observers used a very un-mechanical word to describe it: beautiful.

Of course, what AIs still can’t do is first, of their own volition and according to their own values, choose to play chess or compose music; and second, do so in a way that lacks precedent. Instead, they must be told to do so by people, and once they’ve been told to do so, they will perform those tasks within a few unbreakable parameters. AlphaZero is incapable of making an illegal move, and while that doesn’t have much significance in a game of chess, which consists of only legal moves, it’s hugely important in music, where all sounds are fair game.

“One of the most limiting things about AI right now is you need to optimize something. AlphaZero was optimizing for the number of wins and the number of losses, and almost every single artificial intelligence algorithm right now is an optimization algorithm in some way,” Ginn said. “There would be no way to tell an AI, ‘Create me a brand-new song that you think is nice,’ because there’s no objective measurement of that.”

This topic is not usually my thing, but Lincoln writes the hell out of this story. Fascinating and accessible read.


The Day Jackie Mitchell Struck Out Ruth and Gehrig

 

“Overlooked” a pretty cool idea from The New York Times. The series is an acknowledgement that the paper’s obituary section has been “dominated by white men since 1851”, so now the paper is sharing stories of people it overlooked in their time.

I happened upon the story of Jackie Mitchell this week. When Mitchell, a left-hander, was seventeen she struck Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game on April 2, 1931. Of course, it was never known whether or not the strikeouts were arranged between the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Yankee sluggers. Ruth was never opposed to making an extra buck here and there, and Lookouts owner Joe Engel needed to fill the stands during the Depression. It’s also notable that Mitchell was brought in as a relief pitcher in the first inning, struck out Ruth and Gehrig, and was replaced thereafter.

But also of note that Mitchell was throwing a sinker from the left side against two left-handed hitters, and Mitchell grew up near Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance who taught her the “drop ball”, and that Gehrig was no Ruth – he supposedly played it straight all the time.

All of it arguments fall perfectly on either side. Just enough for you to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the seventeen year-old struck out Ruth and Gehrig legit.

“Overlooked” is a great idea, and this was the perfect story for those of us lamenting that baseball is gone and daylight savings has wiped the last tannins of summer from our glasses. – PAL

Source: Overlooked No More: Jackie Mitchell, Who Fanned Two of Baseball’s Greats”, Talya Minsberg, The New York Times (11/7/18)


Kids These Days!

This is a funny one. Bjorn Borg played in an era very different from today, but he’s still one of the greatest tennis players to ever live. He has a 15-year old son, Leo, who is a top tennis prospect. You’d think growing up the son of Bjorn Borg would give you a leg up on the commission. You might watch a lot of your dad’s great matches, ask him questions about how or why he did something. You have a built in great coach. Not so, for Leo Borg. Why? Because Leo Borg is an ungrateful little shit!

Leo’s favorite player to watch is not his dad. No, of course not. It’s Rafael Nadal. OF COURSE. In fact, Leo claims he’s never watched a single one of his dad’s matches. Not one! Worse, his dad, Bjorn Freakin Borg, once tried to offer him some advice. Here’s how Leo’s mom tells the story:

“You tried once, when he was small,” she said to her husband. “You told him, like, ‘Go more forward.’ And Leo was like: ‘Ugh! You don’t know anything about tennis!’ And Bjorn said, ‘O.K., I will never say anything about tennis.’ ”

You, Father, Bjorn Freakin Borg, don’t know anything about tennis. Who is this spoiled child? Why are kids so god damn ungrateful? And when will they stop growing up so quickly? No, I’m not crying. You’re crying!  -TOB

Source: Leo Borg Steps Into His Father’s Shadow”, Andrew Keh, New York Times (11/07/2018)

PAL: This was a funny read for another reason. To learn of the challenges that come with being a sponsored athlete at fifteen while also being the son of a all-time great athlete. I really felt the sympathy for the family when they had to struggle the prospect of young Leo playing his father in a feature film, or that time they had to fly back a day later after learning that the in-flight entertainment would be the movie her son acted in, as the younger version of his father.

Or how about that time when we was competing in a juniors tournament that was sponsored by the clothing line BORG? 

In all seriousness, it sounds like the mom, dad, and son are nonplussed, which is about the best thing I could say.


Friday Night Lights: 2018

I share this article from the Wall Street Journal as an invitation to join me in my stunned reaction at some numbers. The writing is solid, but there’s no real story, other than to say, Texas is really serious about high school football, which we already knew. Consider these facts from writer Jason Gay’s trip to Allen, Texas:

  • The town of 106K has a single high school with an enrollment over 6,000
  • 9,000 season ticket holders
  • 740 students are in the marching band
  • The stadium – a high school football field – holds 18,000 spectators and cost over $60MM. 

My favorite bit of Gay’s writing is actually a parenthetical, which seems to happen somewhat often. Perhaps it’s a sign the writer found his/her real topic too late.

(A quick aside: Whenever I am in Texas and see how crazed the region is for football, it underlines what a crime against humanity it is that the Dallas Cowboys are so continuously mediocre. Dallas having mediocre professional football is the equivalent of New York City having mediocre pizza. It is an insult to the natural balance of the universe and needs to be immediately fixed.)

Tim Riggins would do some serious damage in Allen, Texas. – PAL

Source:An East Coast Schlub at Friday Night Lights”, Jason Gay, The Wall Street Journal (11/08/2018)

TOB: While I subscribe to the philosophy of never yuck another’s yum, this $60 million to build a freaking high school football stadium is outrageous. Look at the concession stand.

What happened to a good ol’ fashioned snack shack? This is nicer than the concession stands for probably every pro and college football stadium I’ve ever been to. That is serious insanity.


Video(s) of the Week: 2 Parents killing it.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Maggie Rogers – “Fallingwater”


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You know the message you’re sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society. I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.

-Jerry Seinfeld

Week of October 26, 2018

There might be nothing better in sports than a hot Steph Curry.


Don’t Forget To Leave A Tip

Rich Hill’s reaction to tipping pitches

One thing that’s struck me while watching the baseball playoffs over the past few years is how many guys are throwing upper 90s regularly. You’ve no doubt noticed this year: teams pulling starting pitching after less than five innings to get to the bullpen, which is a stable of flame-throwers.

But velocity is only one factor at play. Hitting is about timing. Pitching is about upsetting that timing. So it’s a big deal when word gets out about a pitcher tipping pitches, especially in the playoffs (smaller sample size), because hitters have a better chance to lock into the timing when they know whether a 97 M.P.H fastball is coming or a 83 M.P.H. curveball is coming.

Danny Knobler’s story was posted before the World Series started, but is still a great read. He details pitchers in recent history who had been tipping pitches in huge moments (Andy Petitte in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series, Craig Kimbrel in the ALCS this year), and wily vets who are the masters of finding a pitcher’s tip (Chase Utley, Alex Cora, Pete Rose, Eduardo Perez, Carlos Beltran).

 

Before he was managing the Red Sox, Cora was the resident pitch-tipping wizard as a bench coach for the World Champ Astros.

The story isn’t just about recognizing a pitcher’s pattern that associates with a type of pitch, e.g. the hands come set at the chest for a curveball and they come set at the waist for a fastball, but the surprising challenge pitchers face when they realize they are tipping pitches. Muscle memory can be hard to break in front of 45,000 fans in a tight ball game.

Knobler harvests a bunch of grin-worthy anecdotes from recent history, so go read the full story, but I’ll leave you with my favorite: this little Will Clark nugget from Texas Rangers pitching coach Doug Brocail:

Brocail speaks from experience. In September 1992, the San Diego Padres called him up from Triple-A. His first start would be against the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park, and before the game he saw Giants first baseman Will Clark in a tunnel outside the clubhouse.

“You the kid pitching tonight?” Clark asked.

“Yes, I am,” Brocail said.

“Hey, just so you know, you tip all your pitches,” Clark told him.

“I thought he was messing with me,” Brocail said. But he wasn’t. The Giants knocked Brocail out in the fourth inning. Clark walked and doubled.

“We got looking at the video,” Brocail said. “Sure enough, I was coming to a set by my chest when I threw a fastball and by the waist when I threw the curve. I’d been doing it all year in Triple-A and no one picked up on it.”

Of course there are some pitchers that are so dominant that it didn’t matter if the hitter knew what was coming, which is absolutely mind-blowing. Randy Johnson tipped his pitches all the time. Hitters knew when Johan Santana was going to throw his devastating change-up and still couldn’t hit it.

Santana’s change-up got him two Cy Young awards. Big leaguers couldn’t hit it, and they knew it was coming.

Great read. – PAL

Source: How Do You Win a World Series? It Helps If the Pitcher Tells You What’s Coming”, Danny Knobler, Bleacher Report (10/22/18)

TOB: Any time I hear a pitcher is tipping pitches, I’m shocked it doesn’t happen more. Pitching is so hard, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to make a slider look like a fastball look like a curveball look like a changeup. And, as we wrote about here a few months back, now pitchers are tunneling pitches (trying to get their fastball and their breaking ball to stay on the exact same flight path until just before it gets to the plate)? Crazy.


Basketball: The Original Cage Fighting

I’ve been watching ESPN’s 10-part documentary on hoops, entitled, “Basketball: A Love Story”. It’s been at times very good, at others a little boring (they really didn’t need nearly 20 hours). I’ve learned a lot, had my memory refreshed on a lot, and been annoyed at a glaring historical inaccuracy on another (more on that later).

But one thing kept piquing my curiosity. The series’ first few episodes focuses largely on the 1950s and 1960s, and utilized a lot of contemporaneous newspaper clippings to help illustrate the story being told. And, on countless occasions, the newspaper used the term “cage” to refer to the sport of basketball or “cagers” to refer to the players. As in, “Five Cagers Implicated in Point Shaving Scandal.” I can’t say I’ve never heard this term for basketball before, but I don’t think I realized how ubiquitous it once was. The term kept appearing – over and over and over.

I remarked to my wife about this historical tidbit and she suggested I investigate and report my findings on this here blog. I thought that was a fine idea. And then it took me 0.5 seconds to find the answer, in this 1991 article from Sports Illustrated. Entitled, “When the Court Was a Cage”, it explores the origins of the term:

A scant five years [after basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith], in 1896, the first acknowledged professionals took the floor in Trenton, N.J. Their court, in a social hall, was enclosed, literally, in a cage, a 12-foot-high wire-mesh fence set along the endlines and sidelines.

At the time, the cage made good sense. Front-row spectators sat even closer to the court than they do today, and Naismith’s original rules said that when the ball went out of bounds, the first player who got to it could throw it back in. Obviously, it would have been disastrous to allow players to wrestle in the laps of paying customers for possession of the ball. With the cage the rule was moot—the ball never went out of bounds.

The out-of-bounds rule was changed in 1902 to eliminate sideline scrimmages, but by that time the early pros were wedded to the cage. The thinking was that the game was faster and more entertaining in a cage because there were no delays to return the ball to play, and because the ball and the players could bounce off the wire mesh.

That is kinda wild. Cages were used into the 1930s in some areas, and then the use died out. But the term stuck. For a while, anyways. I’m still surprised how literal the term was. -TOB

Source: When the Court Was a Cage”, Sports Illustrated (11/11/1991)

PAL: SI is having some financial issues recently, but they should still employ a copywriter. There’s a crucial typo in the first line of the damn story!

Here’s a pop quiz for today. A eager is:…

The story is about cage basketball. A “Cager” not “a eager” is a basketball player. Come on, Sports Illustrated!

TOB: It occurs at least one more time in the article. I’m pretty sure it was some sort of autocorrect/scanning error when they digitized the article.

Ok so now I’d like to discuss my historical error that really dug in my craw. As many readers know, I am a big Cal sports fan. As many readers likely don’t know, there was a time when Cal basketball was a powerhouse. In 1959 and 1960, Cal won the national title and finished runner-up, respectively. In 1959, the Bears beat Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati squad in the Final Four, and then beat Jerry West’s West Virginia team in the finals. In 1960, the Bears again beat Oscar Robertson in the Final Four, and then lost to Jerry Lucas and Ohio State in the championship.

The Bears’ coach in those days was Pete Newell. Basketball: A Love Story begins their segment on the 1960s/1970s UCLA dynasty under John Wooden by accurately discussing how Pete Newell and the Cal Bears had beaten the pants off of Wooden’s UCLA squad for much of the 1950s. Wooden arrived at UCLA in 1948 and immediately started winning conference titles.

Newell arrived at Cal in 1954, and by 1956 had turned the Cal program around, winning the conference four straight years by the end of that 1960 season. In doing so, Cal beat UCLA 9 straight times dating back to the 1956-57 season.

For the most part, Basketball: A Love Story covered all of that fairly. But then the series strongly suggested that, after the 1960 season, Wooden and his staff invented the 2-2-1 defensive press to beat Newell and the Bears, did so, and never looked back as their dynasty blossomed. It makes for quite the story.

Except it’s not at all true. After losing the 1960 title game, Newell coached the 1960 Olympic team to the gold medal and then retired, apparently believing the stress of coaching was going to kill him. He was only 44 years old, and he never coached a competitive game again. Instead, he spent the next five decades tutoring NBA and college big men, including hosting his annual Coach Newell Big Man Camp. NBA greats like Bill Walton, Shaq, and even Hakeem attended that camp.

What’s worse, this LA Times Article from 2008 says that Wooden didn’t introduce the 2-2-1 zone press until 1964, the year he won his first national title, and that he stole it from Newell.

This inaccuracy shouldn’t bug me so much. I’m sure Phil rolled his eyes at least once while reading this. But the Wooden stuff grates on me. He looked the other way while boosters paid his players. Most people know about it now, and he’s still deified anyways. And now you’re going to pretend like Wooden invented a single defensive scheme and suddenly started beating the pants off the man many old-time basketball people consider the greatest coach of all-time? No, dang it. I won’t take that silently. Wooden sucks, and he’s lucky Newell retired, or he’d have coached circles around him for the next two decades.

PAL: You and Bobby Knight should start a Wooden fan club.


How Golden State’s Team Ended Up In Oakland

Anyone who’s been around San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood recently has seen it, and anyone that lives in Oakland can feel it: the Warriors new arena getting closer and closer to being finished, and so is the team’s time in Oakland. Next year, the team will head over to the fancier side of the Bay. In a couple years, Oakland will have lost the Raiders to Vegas and the Warriors to San Francisco. The A’s might not be too far behind.

Rather than wade into the politics and business reasons for the teams leaving town, Part I of Bruce Jenkins’ Warriors history deep dive focuses on how the team ended up in Oakland in the first place. The story is an enjoyable reminder of days when professional sports franchises represented startups playing it fast and loose more than the stodgy billion dollar companies they’ve become today.

Get this: the mid-60s San Francisco Warriors played most of the team’s ‘home’ games away from their home courts in San Francisco. Bakersfield, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Jose, Richmond. In fact, the team’s name changed from ‘San Francisco Warriors’ to ‘Golden State Warriors’ because owner Franklin Mieuli had the idea that the team would alternate home games in cities throughout the state. Obviously that never panned out, and it was too late to change the name again by the time the lease was signed in Oakland. The idea of a rover team splitting home games across a state or region is still an interesting concept, but that’s just me. 

All of this took place while the team saw a collection of all-time NBA greats put on the Warriors jersey. Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond. The team won it all in 1975.

I understand this story is more appealing to Bay Area folks, but it’s likely that your favorite team has some wild and interesting stories from the early years, too. Pro sports were pretty funky in the early days. – PAL

Source: Crossing the Bridge: When the Warriors took root in Oakland”, Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle (October, 2018)


A Baseball Stadium Is a Series of Microclimates

This is really interesting. The writer, an atmospheric scientist, interviewed John Farley, the Chief Technology Officer for Weather Applied Metrics (WAM). WAM “quantifies weather impacts on baseball (and sports in general) using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling, standard trajectory physics, and other meteorological analysis.”

So, what the hell does that mean? For one, it means WAM analyzes how a batted ball is affected by the very unique wind patterns within a baseball stadium. As Farley notes, fans and announcers often look at the flags that fly atop the stadium in an attempt to know which way the wind is blowing, but those flags tell us very little about how wind impacts a fly ball. As Farley puts it:

[T]here is a lot of vertical wind inside stadiums, which has a significant impact on the flight of the ball over its entire trajectory. Prevailing winds (see graphic below) blowing over a stadium in one direction, but the winds at field level doing the exact opposite, and there’s a lot going on in between. We model the wind field down to each square foot over the entire area where a ball could fly. Then we use those winds for our 3D-Trajectory model with increments of 0.001 seconds.

I’ve always understood that weather can affect a fly ball, but Farley helps put it into perspective:

A headwind, combined with a downdraft, can shorten a fly ball hit to the wall by as much as 60 feet. A tail wind, combined with an updraft can lengthen it by as much as 45 feet. Since baseballs absorb moisture from the air (they are hygroscopic), the difference in distance between very dry air and very wet air is roughly 50 feet. That’s because a wet ball is slightly heavier and spongier, so it doesn’t come off the bat as fast. On a hotter day the air is less dense and so a ball can travel as much as 30 feet farther, compared to a cold day. Air pressure affects density directly. So balls hit at high altitude travel considerably farther.

Farley provides this graphic for a specific example of how wind direction on the field affects a ball.

Farley reports that they installed their real-time analysis system at one major league stadium this June, and I’d fall over in shock if it wasn’t the Giants. Given their tricky weather and stadium, they need every bit of information they can get. Plus, they’re local, as WAM is based out of Silicon Valley. And if it’s not the Giants, get it together, Larry! -TOB

Source: “Understanding The Meteorology Of A Fly Ball May Help Baseball Teams“, Marshall Shepherd, Forbes (10/23/2018)

PAL: So interesting. Brother-in-law Jay Rabeni, who’s currently cuddled up with a Red Sox 2-0 lead in the series, will love this, as he’s a weather dork. It really is a significant amount of distance we’re talking here. Great pull, TOB.


This One Goes Out To Mr. & Ms. 5K (You Know Who You Are) 

Rowe & Suze, I just read an article about why the 5K is better than the marathon. I have found your people.

Danielle Zickl starts out her article capturing an exchange we’re all familiar with: “Anytime I tell someone I’m a runner, they never fail to ask the same question: Have you run a marathon? In the past, I’ve answered this with some variation of ‘Not yet, but probably soon.’ The truth is that I’m a bald-faced liar.”

The assumption that longer = greater challenge is simply untrue. In order to run a sub 20:00 5K requires similar training, speed work, tempo runs as would be required for someone to run a 3:10:00 marathon. And while the marathon distance allows for time to find your race pace and – if needed – make up some time, the 5K requires all-out effort from the start.

Interesting read and a good opportunity to remind folks that no one cares about the marathon your training for (even if they ask). Everyone’s just being polite. – PAL

Source: “Why the 5K Is Better Than the Marathon” (print title), Danielle Zickl, Runner’s World (November/December issue)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week:


PAL’s Song of the Week: Seu Jorge – “Life On Mars?” (David Bowie)


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Sometimes when I blow my nose I get a boner. I don’t know why. It just happens. 

– Andy Dwyer

 

Week of October 19, 2018


Spotlight: Aaron Hernandez

I’ll keep this short, because there’s simply too much to say. If you’re reading this, you know the story of Aaron Hernandez – the football star turned convicted murderer who committed suicide in prison, and was posthumously diagnosed with CTE. But there’s so much more to his story – where he came from, the family he came from, how he went from football star to murderer, why, and what those around him thought as his life spiraled out of control. This week, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team (as in the Best Picture Oscar winning movie, Spotlight about the paper’s investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of widespread sexual abuse by priests) released their six-part story on Hernandez.

I think the saddest thing about his story, having read this, is how many people with the power to help him looked the other way and did nothing, often to protect themselves or their own reputation. I’m looking at you, Urban Meyer, and even a little at you, Bill Belichick.

The series is incredibly well researched and very thorough, and I highly recommend you read all six parts (you’ll need to get creative in order to get beyond the Globe’s two free story per month paywall, or you can throw them a couple bucks – it’s worth it). -TOB

Source: “Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.”; Part I: “The Secrets Behind the Smile”, Part II: “Lost in the Swamp”; Part III: “Running For His Life”; Part IV: “A Killer in the Huddle”; Part V: “A Room of His Own”; Part VI: “A Terrible Thing to Waste”, by Bob Hohler, Beth Healy, Sacha Pfeiffer, Andrew Ryan, and editor Patricia Wen, The Boston Globe (10/13/2018 – 10/19/2018)

PAL: This was a terrifying, terrified man. Aaron Hernandez is the worse case scenario in so many ways, all of which were looked over because he was a great football player. A victim of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as a child, Spotlight’s description of Hernadez reads to me like he had no true identity. This guy needed extensive therapy. Instead, he banged his brain around for a decade. Very few people he crossed path with in his life seemed to care about him outside of what he could provide them. This is why “Gladiator” is the perfect title for this series. He was valued on the field of battle and how he entertained the crowd. 

All of this, of course is not an excuse for what he did; rather, it might be a roadmap. Again, simply terrifying.


Kroenke’s Quest and Arsenal’s Loss

Stan Kroenke, of Columbia, MO, is a very rich man. He’s worth billions, and his wife – Ann Walton Kroenke (yep, that Walton) is pretty rich, too. Between them, they own the following professional sports teams (among others):

  • LA Rams
  • Denver Nuggets
  • Colorado Avalanche
  • Arsenal (English Premier League)

Recently, Kroenke bought out a big chunk of Arsenal shares from some Russian oligarch, giving him control of over 98.82% of an exceedingly valuable sports club. There are so few shares remaining outside of his control, that he’s legally allowed to take them for a price.

Those remaining shares are in the possession of common fans. This New York Times story, by Rory Smith, allows some of the minority owners to speak, and in their words I recognize the challenge of being a fan in an era in which the business side of sports is impossible to ignore.

Martha Wilcott bought her single Arsenal share in 2004. Jeffery Freeman’s stock broker purchased ten shares for Freeman in 1965, and Freeman remembers walking with his father to see the team play in an alternate stadium in 1945 because the team’s stadium was bombed. Lindsay Rawling’s grandfather and his brothers worked at the stock exchange when the team first offered shares. The shares have been passed down three generations.

Wilcott describes to the shareholder/fan relationship as “custodianship”. What a beautiful way to think of your team, and so I understand these folk’s sadness when they are required to defer to some billionaire who forces them to see what the club is to him instead of what it mean to them. – PAL

Source: Their Arsenal.Their Shares. For Now”, Rory Smith, The New York Times (10/17/18)


Win or Lose, Craig Counsell Made Me Laugh

Heading into crucial Game 5 of the NLCS this week, the Brewers named left-hander Wade Miley the starter. This was technically true. In response, the Dodgers started a right-handed heavy lineup, including David Freese and Austin Barnes. I said before that the Brewers’ naming Miley the starter was technically true, because Miley did start. He threw five pitches, with which he walked Cody Bellinger, and was then yanked for right-handed pitcher Brandon Woodruff. HAAAA:

“That’s what we were going to do all along,” Counsell said after the game, explaining that the Brewers conceived of this plan as soon as they won Game 3 to guarantee that there would be a Game 6 for Miley to start. “They’re trying to get matchups; we’re trying to get matchups. They’re a very tough team to get matchups against.”

Counsell tricked the Dodgers, sorta:

As a manufactured effort to create those advantageous matchups, the ploy paid off, but again, only kind of. Because Miley was starting, the left-handed Max Muncy was hitting fifth, below his usual spot in the order, and righty David Freese, who typically doesn’t face same-handed pitchers, was hitting third. Had the Dodgers been caught more unawares, Counsell’s trick would have resulted in an unqualified strategic success, regardless of the game’s result—L.A. has already run out of bench players twice in this series, so manager Dave Roberts could ill afford to accelerate his bench usage.

But Muncy and Bellinger, who usually sit against left-handed pitchers, were both in the lineup, and Matt Kemp, who serves as a strict platoon batter like Freese, wasn’t. Ken Rosenthal reported that L.A. suspected what was coming, which is why they made those lineup decisions rather than bench Muncy and Bellinger and start Kemp, as they did against Miley in his Game 2 start. As it turned out, Freese batted just once, with two runners on in the first inning, and Woodruff struck him out swinging. Before his second at-bat, Freese was removed for—of course—a left-handed hitter, so all the tomfoolery, which apparently lasted multiple days and involved multiple parties, carried the ultimate outcome of burning Freese, perhaps the Dodgers’ least important position player.

Interestingly, Counsell may have drawn inspiration from the Washington Senators pulling the game trick against the New York Giants, way back in 1924. It worked, as the Senators won and clinched the World Series. As I write this, the Brewers lead 1-0 early in the game. Whether Counsell’s gamesmanship pays off remains to be seen. It sure as hell was hilarious, though.

Post-script: The move worked well, as Woodruff kept the Dodgers hitless for a few innings, but then things fell apart and the Dodgers took a 3-2 series lead. -TOB

Source: The Brewers Tried to Fool the Dodgers With a Pitching Trick From a Century Ago”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (10/17/2018)

PAL: Hey, I’m all for a little gamesmanship. Let’s mix it up, right? You know what’s more effective: a starting pitcher going seven strong innings (Kershaw was pretty good in that game for the winning team). The Brewers’ starting pitching is meh at best, but they have a killer bullpen, so I get the need to be crafty.

I watched the tremendous Astros-Sox game on Wednesday, and that was a perfect reminder that these games are decided by moments more than matchups…or at least it feels that way; I don’t know anymore. Mookie Betts made an incredible play to throw out Tony Kemp who made the inexcusable decision to try to take the extra bag down by three runs with no outs in the bottom of the eighth!

And then, in the bottom of the ninth, Andrew Benintendi makes a mental error and dives for a sinking liner in left field. If the ball gets by him, then three Astros might score, giving them the win. The smart play is to let the ball fall and keep it in front of you. Benintendi gambles big and comes up lucky.

So two dumb decisions lead to two great plays, and they both went the Red Sox way. That doesn’t feel like matchups. It came down to those plays (and a fan interference call). Zach Kram says as much at the end of his article: “Sometimes the smart strategy doesn’t work because a baseball game involves hundreds of other factors, and luck and execution and weather and ballpark dimensions get in the way.” 


Video(s) of the Week:

 

Ever wonder how umpire ‘Cowboy’ Joe West got his nickname? Watch below.


Tweet of the Week: 


PAL Song of the Week: Ty Segall – “I’m A Man” (Spencer Davis Group cover)


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I’m one of the few people who looks hot eating a cupcake. 

– Kelly Kapoor

Gary Livingston: Baseball Memories

Earlier this week I found an email from my Uncle Gary. In it he shared his baseball memories, and I think this is a really great way to extend the On the Force or the Tag series. Please feel free to send me your baseball stories and pictures, and I’ll be sure so add it to the page. – PAL

Gary Livingston in the vintage jersey. 

Blogger and nephew, Phil, has inspired me to recollect my youth and past baseball memories. Unlike Phil, I was marginally talented. Like Phil, I loved the game and I knew the game.

My first memories of playing catch are with my mom. I later learned she was a small-town farm girl legend as the tomboy who could play ball. In her day she played kitten ball. I still have the kitten ball she gave me. She had a great arm and I never had to worry about throwing too hard to her. Phil captures the essence of who has the game in their blood, when he writes that when the simple game of catch is enough to entertain for hours—you know they love the game.

I grew up in a working class neighborhood in which moms stayed home and kids played outside until supper. We had a group of 3 “big” kids who dictated our play. They were four years older and wiser. I was among the 6-10 little kids. The big kids decided the sport—baseball, football—how—waffle ball, left-handed—where—street, yard, sandlot. They decided rainy day activities—chess, trivia, and the king of indoor games of our youth—Little Baseball.

Little Baseball consisted of each player picking a major league team. We had little plastic baseball players from cereal boxes as players and found the bakery sold plastic players to be used as cake decorations. We each painted and named our players from the MLB team. I remember the detail and pride we took in painting our players: the black and gold of the Pirates, the number on their back to the color of their skin.

We made a game board from a 4’x4’ sheet of plywood or sheetrock. The players took the field and guarded circles with hits labeled in each. We pitched the ball/marble by rolling down a ramp and the hitter would strike with a wooden dowel bat. We kept score, statistics, played a whole season, which included an All-Star game and World Series. Each year was a new season and brought more sophistication to game. Dave, a big kid with creative talent, helped turn our boards into works of art including lights, spectator bleachers, and scoreboards. The Big kids were their league of choice—usually American—and we little kids would be the National. I still have my Cardinals Curt Flood and Vada Pinson and Pirate- Roberta Clemente as I painted them 50+ years ago. Remarkably, our favorite players would perform the best in our board game. We could hole up for hours playing in the basement and at night compile batting averages and ERA’s.

The Kitten ball and the hand-painted figurines.

My organized baseball began with T-Shirt league at the local park. I was a Tiger in Little League. Dick Wilder was my coach. I remember him as knowledgeable, kind, and always encouraging. Everything you want in a youth coach. Looking back, I was a shy, skinny kid, unsure of himself on hard ground balls and overmatched against hard throwing pitchers, yet coach let me play second base and admired my good eye and bunting ability to find a way to get on base. As a teen I tried out and did not make the cut to play Babe Ruth. That hurt; I remember the 5-mile walk home from the practice I was cut at. I cried and did not want the ride home with the coach. Kids are resilient. I was asked if I wanted to play Minor League. It consisted of kids who had not played the game seriously. The coach was a dad who had limited knowledge of baseball. The coach recognized I played the game and asked if I wanted to run practice, make line-ups, pitch, play shortstop. I knew this was not high quality baseball, but I had fun.

My real baseball experience as a kid was playing with friends. I can’t say an adult, besides my mom, or coach taught me to play the game, or any game for that matter. We all learned to develop an intuition for all sports by playing with friends. I’m befuddled by major laagers with limited baseball sense—not knowing what base to throw to or not knowing when to take the extra base. Summer days were a game in the morning, lunch, and double-header in the afternoon, supper, backyard wiffle baseball. The games were designed around the number of players, location. Some fields dictated we all bat left-handed. Advantage Tony-the only lefty.

I do not remember any adults having input in our play. We just had to be home for supper. One summer, I guess 1966; we had the idea to involve the girls of the neighborhood. We were 13-14 and discovered that having the girls around was a good idea. The Big kids took the girls ages 13-14 and coached them to play the game while we “little” kids took the new little boys ages 8-10 and prepared them to play the older girls. We discovered what I think we already knew; the girls were athletes.  We enlisted Tom, a mild Downs teen, to ump the big game. I don’t remember the outcome; it doesn’t matter. I don’t think it mattered then. This is years before Title 9. I’m impressed by the insight of these kids. Over the years I have come to conclusion that adults are much too involved with kids play. Kids left to their own devices are wise and creative. Kids today have become dependent on adults to dictate their play, their thinking, their creativity. Youth sports has become more about the adults.

As a group of friends we played baseball, basketball and touch football through our teens. As young adults we joined local rec leagues to play touch and softball. It was always more about playing with friends than the game, though we were competitive and took the game seriously. Sometimes I regret we did not play baseball versus softball, but there were not the adult opportunities that exist today to play hardball. That said, the athletes I played with and against were truly great athletes and the play was high caliber ball.

As part of my softball experience I became a certified softball ump. My first lessons about umpping came through the director of Brooklyn Center Parks & Rec. I was the organizer and captain of our softball team and attended the organizational meetings. Director Arnie made it clear that arguing with umpires was not tolerated. He was an ump and a good one. He finished every meeting with the reminder that unless you were perfect in bed with your wife don’t expect perfection from umpires.

 

I understood from my experiences that umps/refs make mistakes. Players, coaches, parents make mistakes; unless you are perfect expecting perfection from others is unreasonable. I am distressed when I hear a young person blame a loss on poor officiating. This is learned from adults. In the rare instance when a game is decided by an officiating error, I wonder if every single player can look back at that game or any game and say they played the perfect game—there was not an instance where they could have changed the outcome with better play. I always taught players, students, parents—“The ump/ref is always right, even when they are wrong.” Once again I blame the over-organizing of youth sport for the inability for kids to self regulate their own play, settle their own differences and arguments. They have been taught to rely on adults to organize and officiate their play.

My baseball life became complete when the Twins won the ’87 World Series and again for frosting on the cake in ‘91. Like most Minnesota sports fans, we had never experienced the thrill of being the champs. A baseball fan highlight was attending the welcome back Twins homecoming at the Dome in the evening after defeating Detroit and earning the right to play the Cardinals in the World Series. Unexpectedly, the building was filled with true fans starved for a chance to celebrate. It brings a tear to my eye to this day. Now if the Gophers can get to the Rose Bowl before I die.

I am 65. Sports are in my DNA. I was a sports rube; I lost sleep with Viking/Twins loses. Minnesota teams are in my DNA, but today there are many more important things in my life then if a team wins or loses. I just don’t care that much about who does what any more. Sporting contests have become events and big business. Baseball games have become too long. I do not enjoy the angst displayed with every pitch, every play. That is what has made the games so long. The deep breaths, adjusting of the glove, the manager examining his analytic card, players with analytic cards, finding the perfect matchup or pitch—it drives me crazy—just play the game. This lack of interest carries over into watching my grandkids play ball. Maybe I am a bad grandparent, but I do not feel a need to watch all their games, and I hope they do not feel a need to play in front of me or anyone for that matter. Play the game for the joy of playing, not for performing for adults. Truth be told, I find the games boring. I just hope the kids have fun; and I am able to play catch with them as my mom played catch with me.

Gary Livingston