Week of December 15, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell approves.


Portrait of a Broken Down, 38-Year Old, Former NFL Star

I’ve seen, and read, profiles of aging NFL stars before. Their memory is gone, they can barely walk, their families describe them as mercurial, politely. But I’m not sure I’ve ever read one this sad. Larry Johnson was the best running back in the NFL for about a year or two. He set an NFL record for carries in a season, with over 400. His shelf life, for an elite player, was incredibly short. He only went over 1,000 yards twice (1,700+ yards rushing and over 2,000 all purpose yards in both of those years), and otherwise was a mediocre back who either split time or suffered injuries. He retired in 2011, after a combined six carries in his final two seasons.

Larry Johnson is just 38 years old. Larry Johnson is not well. He routinely has suicidal ideations, and says he has come very close to going through. His memory is so bad, he makes highlight videos of his playing career so that he can remember, and so that his 7-year old daughter will know – know he’s not a monster, know that he’s sorry when he lashes out when she can’t figure out her math homework. His memory is so bad that he doesn’t remember two full seasons from his NFL career. It’s as if they didn’t happen for him. He’s sure he has CTE, and believes he won’t know his own name by age 50. He feels a kinship with Aaron Hernandez, as frightening as that is – like Hernandez, Johnson has a history of violence, and has been arrested a number of times for domestic violence. Johnson says, “his decision to publicly describe his darkest thoughts is meant not as a way to excuse his past but rather a way to begin a conversation with other former players who Johnson suspects are experiencing many of the same symptoms.”

His daughter is his saving grace. He says she’s the only reason he hasn’t acted on his darkest, violent impulses. But it’s the scenes with his daughter that are the most heartbreaking.

They’re in the living room now, Papi and Jaylen, surrounded by walls undecorated but for the blotchy spackling compound behind them. That’s where, a few years ago, Johnson punched through the drywall.

Jaylen was there, and Johnson says he sent her upstairs before making the hole. The way he describes it, the best he can do sometimes is to shield her view.

“Did you think it was something that you did?” Johnson recalls asking Jaylen afterward, and the girl nodded. “I had to explain it: It’s never your fault.”

Or worse, the aforementioned homework scene:

Johnson has high expectations for Jaylen, and he believes the universe was making a point when it gave him a daughter. How better to punish him for shoving or choking women than to assign him a girl to shepherd through a world filled with Larry Johnsons?

“My greatest fear is my daughter falling in love with somebody who’s me,” he’ll say, and he believes if he’s honest and tough with Jaylen, she’ll never accept anyone treating her the way her father treated women.

With the sun filtering between the blinds, Johnson plays with her curly hair as she slides a finger across her sentences.

“All people,” Jaylen reads aloud, and her father interrupts.

“No,” he says. “Why would it say ‘all people?’ It . . .”

He stops, sighs and presses two fingers into his eyelids. She looks back at him, and he tells her to keep reading. He rubs his hands, massages his forehead, checks his watch. He’ll say he sometimes forgets she’s only in second grade.

They move on to her page of math problems: twenty-seven plus seven.

“How many tens?” he asks her.

“Two.”

“And how many ones?”

“Seven.”

“No,” he says, visibly frustrated until Jaylen reaches the answer. Next: fifty-seven plus seven. She stares at the page.

“So count,” he says. “Count!”

Thirteen plus eight. Again staring at the numbers. Johnson’s worst subject was math, another trait Jaylen inherited. But his empathy is sometimes drowned out by more dominant emotions.

“You start at thirteen and count eight ones,” he tells her, and in the kitchen, a watch alarm begins to beep. Jaylen counts her fingers.

“No,” her dad tells her, again rubbing his face. The beeping continues in the next room. “No!”

Abruptly, he stands and stomps out of the room without saying anything. Jaylen’s eyes follow him, eyebrows raised, and listens as her father swipes the beeping watch from a table, swings open the back door and throws it into the courtyard.

That is brutal to read (and a reminder to check my own tone when frustrated with my children). Larry Johnson is no saint. He has admittedly done some terrible things. And as the article notes, “Will she remember this, or has Johnson shielded her from something worse? Is he managing his impulses as well as he can?”  But I can’t help feel bad for him. And worse for his daughter.

In the article, Larry Johnson says, ““What would it be like for this to be the day for people to find out you’re not here?” It’s a profound thought for all of us, but coming from Johnson it is deeply sad. After reading this article I can’t help but think of him as a ticking time bomb, and this begs the question: is today the day we hear some awful story about Larry Johnson, whether it’s something he does to himself, or someone else? -TOB

Source: The Demons Are Always a Breath Away”, Kent Babb, Washington Post (12/12/2017)

PAL: As disturbing as this read is, nothing came off is shocking or new. We’ve read versions of this story quite a bit in last five years. While Johnson says sharing this story is not meant excuse his past, I can’t help but wonder if it’s an attempt to excuse what he hasn’t yet done.


Blue is Fa$ter:

When the difference between gold and no medal whatsoever can be measured in hundredths of seconds, speedskaters preparing for the 2018 Winter Games will try (or believe) anything. This year’s trend: blue is the fastest color.

It’s hard to believe – if everything else is exactly the same – that color dye could impact the time it takes to skate around a rink, but the risk in ignoring a technical advantage is greater than the risk of believing a myth. Andrew Keh examines this funny dance between faith and science playing out right now in speedskating.

“With any new piece of equipment, there is an assumption that it has been tested, tested again and tested some more. At ice rinks, laboratories and wind tunnels around the world, the top countries are engaged in a hush-hush arms race, a different sort of cold war.”

While South Korea skaters have historically worn blue, competitors from Germany (combo of black, orange and red) and Norway (red, always red) are joining the party this year, tossing aside their typical colors. The trend has competitors, coaches, and researchers talking.

  • Dai Dai Ntab, a sprint specialist for the Netherlands: “It’s been proven that blue is faster than other colors. Every Olympic season, everybody is trying to find the hidden gem. This year it’s the blue suits.”
  • Renzo Shamey, professor of color science and technology: “I have come to a point in my life that I have sufficient confidence in what I’ve done and what I know, but at the same time I’m not so arrogant to dismiss claims people make. Having said that, based on my knowledge of dye chemistry, I cannot possibly imagine how dyeing the same fabric with two dyes that have the same properties to different hues would generate differing aerodynamic responses.”
  • Mike Crowe, the coach of the Canadian team: “I look at that as the oldest trick in the book. It’s just gamesmanship, really (on the part of Norway). Make them doubt. Make them wonder.”

Likely, the reason for the blue suit is far more obvious. Give this article a read to find out. I mean – come on – when are you going to read a speed skating story if not now?- PAL

TOB: Blue is the fastest color? Someone tell that to the Cal football team.


Why the Giants Might Need to Stand Pat on a 98-Loss Team, or a Lesson in the MLB CBA

Don’t tell my wife, but I signed up for The Athletic last week, when I was devouring every detail of a possible Giants trade for Giancarlo Stanton or signing of Shohei Ohtani, or both, that I possibly could. Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s some sort of tax write-off, boo. Well, spoiler alert: the Giants whiffed on both Stanton and Ohtani. After reaching a deal with the Marlins for Stanton contingent on Stanton waiving his No Trade Clause to go to SF, Stanton refused. The kicker here is that Stanton reportedly told the Marlins before any trade talks began that he would only accept a deal to a small number of teams (rumored to be the Yankees and Dodgers), but the Marlins engaged the Giants and Cardinals, anyways, and reached agreements with both. The Marlins then went to Stanton and told him to choose the Giants or Cardinals or he’d be a Marlin for life. Stanton, knowing the new ownership group was desperate to shed his $295 million in future payroll, gave them a big f-u and said no. The Marlins predictably caved and sent him to New York for peanuts. Ohtani then shocked everyone and chose the Angels. But I digress.

Once the dust settled on that, the question for the Giants became: What now? Do they go after free agent JD Martinez? Try to trade for an available, expensive, aging star like Andrew McCutcheon or Jacoby Ellsbury? Or trade for a young star like Marcell Ozuna?

This is the part where I finally get back around to shelling out for the Athletic, which recently announced they had hired longtime Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly. Baggarly is very smart (two-time Jeopardy champion, y’all!) and a good writer. In this article, Baggarly makes a very strong argument that the 98-loss Giants very well may, and probably should, stand pat because of the Competitive Balance Tax, or CBT. The CBT is a progressive tax for teams who go over a designated payroll threshold. The tax progresses the higher a team goes over the threshold, and also progresses for teams over the threshold in successive seasons. This year, the threshold is $197 million. Baggarly makes it simple:

A first-time payor gets taxed at a rate of 20 percent. A three-time payor gets levied at a rate of 50 percent…. On top of the base tax on the overage, you pay an additional 12 percent on every dollar that exceeds the CBT by more than $20 million. Then the league levies an additional 45 percent on every dollar that exceeds the CBT by more than $40 million….The penalties for teams that exceed the CBT include stingier draft pick compensation, too. Teams that lose a qualified free agent receive a compensation pick after the first round — unless they were into the CBT, in which case they get a pick after the fourth round. Teams that sign a qualified free agent from another club must forfeit their third-round pick as compensation — unless they were into the CBT, in which case they lose their second- and fifth-round picks, as well as $1 million from their international signing bonus pool.

The Giants have been over the CBT threshold three years running now, and so their penalties are high, but the team can reset those penalties if they get under $197 million threshold next year, heading into a monster free agent class after 2018 headlined by Manny Machado and Bryce Harper (hey, let me dream, ok?). The problem for the Giants is they are going to have a devil of a time getting under the threshold at this point. As Baggarly points out:

Well, you might not like this. They already have 11 players under guaranteed contracts that add up to just more than $150 million toward the total payroll for CBT accounting purposes. Their five arbitration-eligible players project to cost an additional $15 million. It would be another $6 million or so if they were to fill out the roster with players who have fewer than three years of service time.

That’s $171 million. More than a bit of wiggle room before you get to $197 million, right? Except payroll calculations also include a raft of expenditures not limited to but including: contributions to benefits plans, player medical costs, workers compensation premiums, spring training allowances, All-Star Game expenses, contributions to the postseason players’ pool, meal and tip allowances and even moving and travel expenses.

Baggarly estimates the total, then, to be $185 million, leaving them $12 million to work with. In other words, look forward to a lot more bad baseball at AT&T Park in 2018. Then, uh, good luck luring a marquee free agent next Winter. -TOB

Source: Why the Giants Are Motivated to Slip Under the Tax Threshold — And What That Would Leave Them to Spend”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (12/12/2017)

PAL: And if you want to understand it from the Marlins front office, check this out from Michael Baumann. “This is not a baseball trade. This is a liquidation of assets.” The investment group that bought the team this year is immediately in debt, to the tune of $400MM.


Video of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Buffalo Springfield – “Burned”




Tweets of the Week:


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In the end, the greatest snowball isn’t a snowball at all. It’s fear. Merry Christmas. 

-D. Schrute

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Week of December 8, 2017

Phil: Champ.


Woodson Wins Manning’s Heisman

There were four Heisman finalists in 1997 (there is no preset number of finalists). Three will have Hall of Fame busts in Canton, Ohio. Can you name the four without looking?

Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Ryan Leaf, and – the winner – Charles Woodson. He remains the only (primarily) defensive player to win the award in its 80+ year history.

Let’s just take moment to truly admire Randy Moss in this pic.

Winning the Heisman obviously takes one hell of an individual performance over the course of a college football season, but it’s also about timing and moments. November heroics and incredible highlights travel better across a country (and voters) than really good stats. The former are emotive, while the latter are logic. If we’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that people vote with their guts and not their heads.

Since seemingly the dawn of time, Peyton Manning has been everyone’s favorite, and he was the favorite to win the Heisman in 1997. Through the words of the finalists, their college coaches, and former teammates, hear how Charles Woodson took a what felt like a formality of an award from a golden quarterback in Chris Low’s oral history of perhaps the most stacked Heisman contest.

Before we get to Peyton and Woodson, I just want everyone to enjoy this college highlight from Randy Moss and his best quote from this story.

Moss, from Marshall, was not going to win the Heisman, and he knew it, despite being the most dominant player of the bunch (26 touchdowns as a wide receiver!). The dude who made news for breaking his parole and only one year of college football under him was not competing with the senior, all-everything Manning, and he wasn’t going to compete with Michigan’s hype machine behind Woodson. His take on his trip to New York, courtesy of Michigan Safety (and Woodson teammate) Marcus Rey:

Then Randy walks in and said, ‘None of us is going to win, so we might as well get through this ceremony, hang out tonight and tear it up in New York City.’ 

As if I needed another reason to love Randy Moss.

Now, back to the Manning – Woodson competition. It was Manning’s to lose from the start of the season. Manning returned for his senior season at Tennessee. He surely would have been a high first-round pick after his junior year in a draft that featured an astonishing two quarterbacks taken in the first 98 picks (Jim Druckenmilller at the 26th pick to the Niners and Jake Plummer to Arizona in the second round). I would say he would’ve been the number one pick, but the St. Louis Rams got Orlando Pace, a Hall of Fame left tackle.

The one scab on Manning’s college resume coming into his senior year victory lap was that he couldn’t beat Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators. He came up short again in ‘97, with a pick-six to boot in a 33-20 loss in September. That opened the door just a crack early in the season for Woodson.

Most remember that Woodson did it all at Michigan. Shut down defensive back with seven interceptions. Wide receiver with 3 touchdowns. Punt and kick return good for another touchdown. The Wolverines also went undefeated that year and split the National Championship (before the playoff or BCS) with Nebraska (Nebraska was number 1 in the Coaches poll, while Michigan was number 1 in the A.P. poll.

Perhaps as important as the stats and success was the fact that Woodson had not one, but two “Heisman Moments”. First, a one-handed pick in October against Michigan State that, as Lloyd Carr puts it, put Woodson “on everyone’s radar”.

Second, and an electric punt return for a touchdown against Ohio State in the last conference game of the season.

All of this leads to a lot of back-and-forth between the peanut gallery of coaches, former teammates, and broadcasters in this article. Enjoy some of the best comments below:

Keith Jackson on Woodson: The game was changing, and I think people realized his brilliance and weren’t afraid to do something out of the norm — and that’s voting for a defensive player. But he was more than just a defensive player. He was the most impactful player in college football, and that’s why I voted for him.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer on Woodson: I thought it had maybe gone from a lock to a closer race because Woodson had a big game against Ohio State and returned a kick and caught a touchdown pass. I knew it might be close, but didn’t want to think so. But what do I know about that world?

Manning teammate Jeff Teague, on Woodson winning: We were well-stocked, food- and drink-wise [back at Tennessee]. It never crossed my mind, not for one second, that he wasn’t going to win. We were just there to watch him get it. It was a party. When it went down, it was just a stunned silence. A few guys stood up and threw something. But, really, it was just kind of quiet.

Teague on Brian Griese’s assessment that Woodson was the better player (Teague and Griese were teammates on the Broncos): Brian still can’t see through the maize and blue and be objective on that subject. Brian’s a great guy, but he’s blinded by that ugly helmet.

A fun read looking back 20 years on the eve of what most think will be am anticlimactic Heisman ceremony. Then again, they thought the 1997 ceremony would be anticlimactic, too. – PAL

Source: The Oral History of the Epic 1997 Heisman Trophy Race”, Chris Low, ESPN (12/05/2017)

TOB: I have always had a rebellious streak, and so it should be no surprise that I did not like Peyton Manning as a 15-year old kid. I have always distrusted anyone the media universally liked. I couldn’t stomach the Gameday stories about Peyton and how much film he watched, how he was the first one in and the last one out, and about how gosh darn smart he was. I’ve also always been pro-Michigan. And Charles Woodson was cool as hell. So, yeah, I was rooting hard for Woodson over the Golden Boy.

I don’t remember many Heisman ceremonies, but I remember that one. Heading into the ceremony, I was resigned to the fact that Peyton would win. I was ready to bitch and moan. I was 15, so it meant a lot more to me than it does now. It seemed important in a way that it no longer does. And the kicker is – I didn’t even get to watch. As a kid, we went to Saturday night mass, and my parents made me leave after the show had started, but before they announced the winner. I remember getting home, expecting the worst, and being shocked to hear that Chuck had won, Peyton had lost. I took great joy in that, and I took great joy in this article. Sometimes sports surprise you, and sometimes, it’s great. Peyton never winning the Heisman will always bring a smile to my face.

PAL:  You’re on the ‘Chuck’ level with Woodson?


Which Block Was Most Dope?

Last Thursday, in one NBA evening, we saw three amazing blocks. I couldn’t decide which block was dopest, so we’re putting it to a vote. The contenders:

LeBron on Dennis Schroeder

Giannis on Dame Lillard

LeBron on Taurean Prince

So, which block was dopest? Vote! -TOB


Expand the Damn Playoff

I have been on the fence on whether the NCAA four-team playoff should be expanded. I was watching the Conference Championship games last weekend, and it occurred to me that we, kinda, already have an eight-team playoff. There were 10 teams with a shot at the playoff. In the SEC, Auburn and Georgia playing in the title game, and Alabama (who did not win its division and was idle). In the Big 10, Wisconsin and Ohio St., playing each other. In the Big-12, Oklahoma, playing TCU in the title game. In the ACC, Miami and Clemson, playing each other. And USC, playing Stanford in the title game. It wasn’t a true playoff – as it was, SC and Ohio State won but were left out. Still, unless you are Alabama, you’re not making the playoffs without winning your conference championship game. So, it’s kind of a playoff.

But then I read Dan Wetzel’s proposal for an eight-team playoff and I can’t find a problem. In fact, it sounds awesome as hell. His plan:

  • Scrap the conference title games.
  • The five power conference winners (determined by each conference on its own) gets a spot.
  • Three at-large bids. If a non-power five member is ranked top 10 or 15, it gets a spot (I’d add you could limit this to the top ranked non-power five member).
  • Play the first round in early December, and go from there.

Here’s how this year’s playoff would have looked.

I love it. As Wetzel points out, in the current system Alabama lost its season finale and somehow earned an effective bye to the semifinals, while the team they lost to (Auburn) had to play Georgia, in Atlanta. Sees fair.

Some may argue there’s no reason to include the non-power 5. But, I like it. Who doesn’t like rooting for an underdog? And while they might not be the 8th best team, the 8th best team rarely has a reason to argue they are the best team in the country, so who cares. Do better than 8th next time. Anyways, I’m all in. Eight is great! -TOB

Source: Here’s the Solution to College Football’s Inefficient and (Often) Meaningless Postseason”, Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports (12/03/2017)

PAL: I guess I’d care if I were on the eighth best team. What if the eighth best team is more deserving than the the top-ranked non-power 5? You’re telling me USC isn’t more deserving than UCF this year…wrong question to ask TOB. I love the automatic bid for a non power 5 conference gets at first blush, but the only problem is UCF didn’t play very good teams. And what I mean by that is they played maybe two marginally good teams all season. Here’s UCF’s schedule in this undefeated season (and the opponents CBS ranking, which goes to 130):

    • Florida International (#70)
    • Maryland (#82)
    • Memphis (#16)
    • Cincinnati (#107)
    • East Carolina (#109)
    • Navy (#56)
    • Austin Peay (not on CBS top 130)
    • SMU (#59)
    • UConn (#114)
    • Temple (#79)
    • USF (#23)
    • Memphis (#16)

I’m sorry, but that schedule in no way holds up to USC’s schedule this year (ending the regular season ranked 8th), or any a Power 5 conference schedule. I find it highly, highly unlikely UCF would have gone undefeated playing in the Pac-12, and I highly doubt they lose 2 or fewer games in the Pac-12. They played 2 teams in the top 25, and 4 teams ranked outside of the top 100! We try to make the case for the little guy, but the little guy has to play real games (I know this is hard due to scheduling being done so far in advance).

I don’t love the idea of automatic bids to power 5 conference champs (what if a 3-loss SEC team wins its championship while a 1-loss Pac-12 team loses), but it’s the better than what we have now.  With that said, the either ditch the conference championship games or make them mean something. Just don’t guarantee an at-large to anyone. Play it year-by-year.


Fear and Loathing in Carson, California

The subheadline to Kevin Clark’s story says it all:

The Los Angeles Chargers are playing in a tiny soccer stadium in a city that doesn’t seem to want them. There’s no way they’ll be able to fill a full-size arena, but they’re already on the books to be shared residents with the Rams in 2020. Somehow, the best solution might be to just stay where they are.

The Chargers left San Diego, have no fans in L.A., and can’t even fill a 30,000 seat soccer stadium. This is a great article exploring what the Chargers did wrong, the obstacles they face in setting down roots in L.A., why they should just own being the little-brother-team by staying in that soccer team, and what it’s like to attend an NFL game in a small stadium where no one gives a crap about the home team. Fantastic read. -TOB

Source: The Football Team Without a Home”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (12/05/2017)

PAL: Comparing the Chargers in Carson City to U2 giving away albums we didn’t want on our phones in the first place such a great analogy, and Clark’s writing only gets better from there. Highly recommend this story.


Don’t Be A Jackass At Your Kid’s Game

Typically not a fan of self-help or advice columns. In appealing to the masses, they oftentimes are diluted to the lowest common axiom. With that said, there’s some interesting stuff in this guide on how to behave at your kid’s game.

First off, we’ve all heard that the chances of your kid going pro are infinitesimal. But how about some cold hard facts? Here are the probabilities of high school athletes that go on to play NCAA sports:

And here are a couple tips for all you parents out there.

  • “If you haven’t encountered game-day maniacs, well, I’ve got some bad news for you: it’s you.”
  • “If you have the means to afford a private shooting coach for your little baller, you have the means to fund a college savings account. Let the ball game be a game, and nothing more.”
  • Learn how to ref…hell, try being one  – “Once you experience the behavior of parents from the perspective of the people who are working diligently to make the games happen, you’ll behave yourself on game day.”

And if none of that persuaded you to chill the f*&^ out, how about two videos of parents losing it and looking like losers of the worst kind.

The Classic:

The Overreacting Mom:

The Worst:

Don’t be that guy, folks. -PAL

Source: How Not to Be a Raging Maniac at Your Kid’s Soccer Game”, Geoffrey Reddick, Offspring (12/6/17)

TOB: Clearly, I am, and will continue to  be, a very level-headed sports dad.

Also, one in EIGHT high school lax bros/bras plays in college? Looks like my boys are getting pinneys and lax sticks for Christmas!


Herm Edwards at ASU is Going to Be Fun (For Everyone Else)

Herm “YOU PLAY. TO WIN. THE GAME.” Edwards has not coached in ten years, He spent the last decade as a talking head, and not a particularly analytical one. He is mostly a guy they go to for discussion on player behavior. So, it was with incredible shock to the rest of college football when ASU was rumored to, and then did, hire Herm as its next head football coach. The introductory press conferece was…hilarious. First, Herm explained how he’d run his offense, and in doing so pinned our country’s problems, at least in part, on the fact that “we don’t huddle anymore in our society.” Uh, ok. Next, he got all weirdly religious when a reporter identified himself as from Devil Digest, and in the process seemed to suggest he has NO IDEA that ASU’s mascot is the Sun Devils. I’m not kidding. Check it out:

A day later, Herm was presented with a game jersey and could not believe how small it was, and thought it was a “girl’s” jersey.

Look, he’s right. Those things are crazy tight these days. But it does NOT HELP with the perception that he’s completely out of touch. As a fan of a conference opponent, I am delighted. Should be a fun 10 months (no, I don’t think he’ll be the coach for even one full season). -TOB

Source: New Arizona State Coach Herm Edwards Had A Bizarre First Press Conference”, Samer Kalaf, Deadspin (12/04/2017)

PAL: Bet. Edwards’ dog-and-pony show lasts for at least 18 college games. Even Odds. $10.


The Early Aughts Were a Weird Time

Presented without further comment:


Video of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Daniel Caesar – “Hold Me Down”




Tweet of the Week


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You all took a life today. The life of the party. 

-M. Scott

Week of November 24, 2017

I told them not to talk politics at Thanksgiving…


Breaking: Sports Owner Gouged Loyal Fans

I know, I know. It’s a story as old as professional sports. But this one was especially egregious, and I’d never heard it before. Really, it’s kind of amazing. Bill Wirtz was the longtime owner of the Chicago Blackhawks. Wirtz was especially cheap. We all know of the NFL’s old blackout policy – NFL games were blacked out on TVs in the home team’s home market if the game was not a sellout by a few days before the game. The thinking was this would encourage fans to go to games. (The NFL scrapped this policy a couple of years back, likely when they realized TV money is more lucrative than fans in seats). But Wirtz, for decades, took it a step further. He didn’t allow local fans to watch ANY home game on TV, even if it was a sellout. His thinking was it created some exclusivity for ticket holders – the only way to see Blackhawks games was to actually go to the game. This is an unfathomably bad business idea, but that was Wirtz.

In 1992, the Blackhawks were really good. Balfour. Roenick. Chelios. They ended up making a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the leadup to the playoffs, the Hawks were a hot ticket. Wirtz had a brilliant idea for the playoffs: Pay Per View. He called it HAWKVISION.

For the low, low price of $16.95 per game, Chicago fans could finally watch their team’s home games from the comfort of their own home. I looked it up, and the team played 9 home games that playoffs. To watch them all at home, you’d have to pay $152.55 – adjusted for inflation, that is $270 today. Could you imagine paying that much to watch, say, the Warriors home playoff games on TV? And if that wasn’t bad enough, he brought it back for the following season, this time charging $29.99 per month, an inflation adjusted $53 today. Per month! To watch the home games for ONE team. HawkVision did not return after the 1994 lockout, but Wirtz’ tv policy did. Chicago fans could not watch the team’s home games on TV until 2007, when Wirtz died. Needless to say, the fans hated Wirtz, and booed the team’s attempt to eulogize Wirtz.

Well deserved, I say. -TOB

Source: In Unloving Memory Of HawkVision, A Low Point In Sports Owner Shamelessness”, Ed Burmila, Deadspin (11/20/2017)


When Good Promos Go Wrong

It was such a nice idea: The Bavarian Bierhaus, a Wisconsin bar, has long offered free beers to all patrons from the moment the Packers game begins until the moment the Packers first score. With Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, that’s usually been pretty quick. The Packers usually score on their first or second drive. The promotion gets people in the door, and then they stay for the game. It’s a nice way for the Bierhaus to differentiate itself from other area bars. But last Sunday, it backfired. Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone a few weeks back and he’s been replaced by Brett Hundley.

Hundley is no Aaron Rodgers. Last week the team got shutout, the first time that happened since 2006, which means the Bierhaus served free beer the entire game: from kickoff to final whistle. Owner Scott Bell estimates they gave away as many as 300 beers. Bell had a good sense of humor about it – saying everyone had a good time, and were even apologizing to him for taking his beer. Amazingly, the Bierhaus will continue the tradition this weekend. Karmically speaking, the Packers will return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. -TOB

Source: Packers Fans Drink Free Beer All Game at Wisconsin Pub Because Their Team Never Scored”, Carol Off and Jeff Douglas, CBC Radio (11/21/2017)


One & Done

There are the first ballot Hall-of-Famers. There are the multiple Super Bowl champs. There are those with Hall of Fame careers as players and as coaches or front office personnel. These are exclusive clubs within pro football, but perhaps the most exclusive club of them all is that of players who appeared in exactly one NFL game. These men are, as Ben Shpigel puts it, “Football versions of Moonlight Grahams”. He profiles six members of this club for his article, and it’s a pretty fascinating read.

Some, as you could guess, played only one game because of injury. Some finally made it into the game, only to have a change in management, which doesn’t bode well for the guys right on the edge. Some made the best of their opportunity, and some live with the regret of what they did with the moment. Some hold onto excuses, while others look back to that game as proof they made it to the summit.

It’s really interesting to learn how each of the guys view that game in the context of their respective lives. 

Mark Reed has been an engineer at 3M for 30+ years. He made his one and only appearance in an NFL game as quarterback for the Baltimore Colts. He completed 6 of 10 passes for 34 yards and an interception. He likes to tell his co-workers that he had a career 60% completion rate.

The real value of his time in the NFL came to Reed when, as a young father of two, he went back to school to finish his engineering degree. He remembers his coach telling him the difference between winning and losing is infinitesimal, a lesson that proved true for his life as an engineer.  “Everything that I learned from the N.F.L. as far as hard work and intensity, I basically took that to the classroom.I was just bearing down.”

It’s not that these guys were on a team for only one game. In most cases, they spent multiple seasons on various NFL teams’ practice squads waiting for their moment. Martin Nance’s moment came on 12/31/06. He started for the Vikings, had 4 receptions, and made a good impression on the team going into the off-season. That year, the team drafted bulked up on receivers and tight ends in the draft. With new investments at Nance’s position, it came as no surprise he was cut.

He reunited with Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and waited for his next chance for over 2 years while on the practice squad. When star receiver Hines Ward was injured going into the 2009 Super Bowl, Nance was prepared to make it back onto the field on the biggest of stages. Ward ended up playing, and while Nance wears his Super Bowl ring with pride, he could see his time as a player was up.

Shortly thereafter, he went to graduate school at University of Michigan, snagged an internship at Gatorade, and has had a successful career in marketing ever since. He considers himself lucky to have left the game in relatively good health.

‘“I don’t walk around and wonder if I had a career in football; my body reminds me,” he said. “I know there are guys who are in more difficult situations than me, but I still consider myself strong and capable. I consider that a blessing.”’

Not all of the athletes featured made such a smooth transition, and you should tap the link below to read each of their stories. – PAL  

Source: One Game to Remember. Just One.Ben Shpigel, The New York Times (11/22/17)


Video of the Week

The best Georgia Dome implosion video.

Bonus Video

Mike Leach wedding advice.


PAL Song of the Week – Michael Gulezian – Watermelon


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My resolution? Meet a loose woman.

Dwight Schrute

1-2-3 Sports! Week of October 27, 2017


What’s the Point of Youth Sports, Part II: “Checkbook Baseball”

Here’s part II of the 3-part series from the Star Tribune. This “chapter” digs into the club sports epidemic, and its rippling effect. There are a lot of variables at play here: the cost (a lot), the perceived need to participate in order to keep up with other kids in the community, and the cottage industry club sports has become.

It wasn’t that long ago club teams were the exception to the rule:

Barely 20 years ago, clubs and organizations devoted to a single sport were few. Today, it’s become increasingly rare for an athlete to join a high school team in the most popular sports without having extensive, and often expensive, training from a club program.

Clubs offer the promise of exposure. A better chance to play in college is central to the sales pitch. Regional tournaments comprised of “select” teams are the most efficient way for recruiters to see the most talent in one place.

Yes, unless you’re really, really good – in which case, your talent transcends any system – club teams is how you are recruited. Again – and I want to emphasize I played at a small D-II school – but even at that low level, this is how I was recruited.

However, this trend doesn’t just impact players bound for collegiate athletics. If every high school volleyball player is at it 10 months a year, then the the ripple effect impacts anyone who even wants to play varsity. At some point, you need one of the top players, and if all of the top players in your community are busting ass most of the year, then you either need to follow suit or face the reality that you simply might not make the high school team.

“It’s staggering,” Storm said with a chuckle of incredulity in his voice. “It’s gone from only elite kids trying to play in college basketball to a situation where a kid says ‘If I want to make varsity, I better find an AAU team.’ ”

This ecosystem is how you produce the highest yield of exceptional players, i.e., D-1 athletes, but most simply aren’t that. So what is the impact on the majority of kids who simply want to partake in the high school athletic experience?

“Parents say, ‘We have to do it. There’s no way we can’t,’ ” Lakeville South volleyball coach Stephen Willingham said. “I call it FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. If I go to play basketball, while in the meantime 15 or 20 classmates go play winter volleyball, am I going to miss out on that training? What’s going to happen next fall? Am I going to make the team? People are fearful of stepping away from a sport and not being able to catch up.”

Let’s talk dollars here. Just how much is this? Last week I quoted a dad saying that he didn’t even want to think about how much he’s put into his kid’s youth sports. Here are some numbers to digest:

The costs of playing for a for-profit club go toward paying for coaching, facilities, tournament fees, administrative costs and travel, which eats up a significant portion.

At Northern Lights [Volleyball], the single-season cost to play for the program’s top level is $4,775. For the beginners, it’s $2,230. A season of play for Midwest Speed, the state’s top softball club, runs about $3,600. The Minnesota Baseball Academy, which runs the Minnesota Blizzard Elite program, charges $3,150 annually for players ages 12 to 18.

Often those fees don’t include camps and clinics.

“It’s a business,” Klinkhammer said. “We refer to it as ‘Checkbook Baseball.’ ”

I wonder, is there any greater force in the known universe than a parent’s fear of coming up short on providing his/her child every advantage to succeed?

And – to be clear – this isn’t about the Joe Mauer’s of the world. For no other reason than Catholic upbringing within St. Paul, I played against Mauer from sixth grade through my senior year in high school (his sophomore). Guess what: he was special when he was 10, he was special when he was 13, and he was special when he was 16. The scouts and USA Baseball found out about him because he was plainly special.

Here’s a lesser known example: Marty Sertich. We grew up in the same town. I spent many hours skating in his backyard rink (hell, I broke his garage window with an errant shot, and his dad, a US Olympic hockey player…maybe 5’7” didn’t even bat an eye). Marty was a year younger than me. From mites to high school, there was not one game in those ten years – not one – where the short, skinny kid with incredible hands and vision wasn’t clearly the best player on the ice. It was inarguable to anyone at the rink. He was undersized, but he won the coveted Mr. Hockey award in Minnesota, played a couple years of Junior hockey, then won the Hobey Baker at Colorado College – the college hockey equivalent of the Heisman. The rink in Roseville has a big painted sign over one of the goals that says “Marty Sertich 2005 Hobey Baker Award Winner”

The explosion of club sports isn’t for the Joe Mauers or Marty Sertiches of the world. Nope, it’s for the folks whose greatest fear is that their kid might be Mauer or Sertich if they only have the right coaching and exposure, but their kind of talent transcends systems. 

I have a niece and a nephew going through the hockey club circuit in Minnesota. I don’t know a ton about scouting young talent, but I know they are good. Very good. They are also very young. I have no idea what becomes of this talent. Lost in all of this is…you know..puberty. We all played sports with kids that were Babe Ruth or Wayne Gretzky at 12, and then they didn’t grow another inch or acquire another skill. You blink, and you find yourself playing in high school wondering whatever the hell happened to so-and-so.

Here’s what I believe when it comes to my niece and nephew: the time they have spent with their dad at open skating and on the backyard rink has far more to do with how good they are than whatever club team they are on. They are good because they love to play, they love to spend time with their dad, and he knows enough to drill the fundamentals while keeping them laughing and having fun. It has much less to do with whatever super select team they are asked to play on (and their parent are asked to pay for). – PAL

Source: Club teams become the price of admission to youth sports”, Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune (10/23/2017)

TOB: My feelings here are mixed. First, the costs are outrageous. Nearly $5,000 for volleyball!? That’s not a knock on volleyball – I’d say that no matter the sport charging $5,000. Second, whether participation in clubs sports is “good” depends to me where the pressure comes from. If the parents have a grand scheme to get their kid a college scholarship and throw $5,000 a year for eight years (which is how many age levels Northern Lights volleyball has) at a volleyball club, well, congrats. You just spent $40,000 in hopes of getting a scholarship worth not much more than that, and pressured your kid into something he or she likely now hates. But if the kid really wants to play a club sport or wants to focus on a sport, I find it difficult to look down upon that. Hell, as an 11-year old I had a grand scheme to give up all other sports at age 13 to focus on basketball, and no adult put that idea in my head.

But what bothers me is the keeping up with the joneses. The Marty Sertiches of the world will probably benefit by focusing on a sport, though probably not as early as many kids do (I’ve read elsewhere coaches and experts think specialization should not occur until 16 at the earliest). In a perfect world, those kids would do so and everyone else would play multiple sports throughout the year like we all used to. Instead, “normal” kids are feeling the need to specialize, when they shouldn’t. Then they miss out on playing other sports, their parents spend a ton of money, and they risk getting burned out on the sport (as we saw in last week’s installment).

I don’t know what the solution is. The nuclear option would seem to be instituting a rule whereby participation in a club sport makes you ineligible for your high school’s team in that sport. Would that kill high school sports? Probably. It would certainly drain talent, which would lower interest, and then maybe high school sports start to disappear. What a bummer that would be. As the Beach Boys sang – be true to your school, let your colors fly.


The World Series Has Turned into Early 2000s College Baseball

On Wednesday, Phil and I both, separately, went to the Warriors game. The game began as Game 2 of the World Series was winding down. When I got to Oracle, it was 3-2 Dodgers, when Marwin Gonzalez hit a dinger in 9th off Kenley Jansen on an 0-2 pitch.

In the 10th, Altuve hit a dinger. 4-3.

Then Correa hit a dinger. 5-3.

Then Puig hit a dinger for L.A. 5-4.

Then the Dodgers got a two-out run on a walk-wild pitch-single, their first non-home run hit of the night. I repeat: the Dodgers scored 4 runs in 10+ innings and their first non-home run hit of the night came in the 10th.

In the 11th, Springer hit a two-run dinger. 7-5.

Then Culberson hit a dinger to make it 7-6  AND ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?

What is going on in baseball? Well, we know what’s going on. The ball is juiced – the seams are lowered, reducing drag on the ball, thus causing the ball to carry farther.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t watch the game. I followed on MLB’s app. But when I got home, every sportswriter was raving about what a wild, amazing game this was. Funny, it feels like so many other games this postseason. For example, the AL Wildcard game. Game 5 of the Nationals/Cubs NLDS. Most of that Yankees/Indians ALDS. The ball just won’t stay in the park. Dinger after dinger. No lead is safe. Look at this graph:

Flyballs are carrying out of the park at unprecedented rates. It’s a fascinating graph. The rates were slowly rising for decades, peaked at the height of the Steroid Era around 2000, began a steady drop and then…boom. All-time highs beginning 2014. Dingers are fun, sure. But what makes a dinger fun is that it doesn’t happen that often. In the playoffs, especially, runs should be at a premium. When home runs are hit as often as they are being hit, it just sorta feels inevitable. It’s like a sugar rush – it’s great in the moment, and then you feel empty. Please, MLB, fix the ball. It’s gotten out of hand. -TOB

Source: What the Hell Was That“, Lauren Thiesen, Deadspin (10/26/2017)

PAL: It’s also worth noting the temperature at game time was in the 90s. The ball carries in that kind of heat. Obviously, that doesn’t explain the broader trend, but I wanted to add that bit of info.

I love the College World Series comparison. In 1998, both LSU and USC hit 17 home runs at the CWS. SC needed six games, while LSU needed just four. LSU averaged over four home runs per game!

It was bad for college baseball. The bats they were using simply needed to be modified. While they should’ve just gone back to wood bats, there was too much money at stake from bat makers to quit cold turkey on aluminum or carbon bats.

Since big leaguers are already using wood bats – yes – we need to take a look at the ball. As TOB says, runs should come at a premium in the playoffs, and home runs should not be the primary way teams are scoring. I wish I could say Tuesday’s game was an outlier, but it’s clearly a trend.


Kill the Frat

Frats are bad. To me, this is not a particularly hot take. But former and current frat guys are very defensive about the benefits of frat life, and I enjoy every opportunity to shine a light on how stupid and dangerous frat life really is. In this case, the subject is Tim Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State, who died this past February following a frat initiation. The name of the frat doesn’t matter, they’re all the same. And Tim is certainly not the first frat guy to die – that’s been happening, more or less at least once per year (there have been sixty in the last eight years), since frats first took hold on American college campuses. But Tim’s story is especially heartbreaking because the house was extensively equipped with security cameras that captured the entire thing. Tim’s story also highlights the dangers of unintended consequences.

“Hey, man, what the hell. Stick to sports,” you’re probably muttering right now. But in this case, the author gives me just enough cover to pretend that I am:

When I talked with people about Tim Piazza’s death, many brought up an earlier Penn State crisis, the Jerry Sandusky scandal, in which the longtime assistant football coach was convicted for a decades-long practice of sexually abusing young boys, and the university’s head coach, Joe Paterno, was abruptly fired. Both cases gestured to a common theme: that of dark events that had taken place on or near the campus for years, with some kind of tacit knowledge on the part of the university. There is also the sense that at Penn State, both the fraternities and the football team operate as they please. To the extent that this is true, the person responsible is Joe Paterno.

It’s hard to think of a single person with a greater influence on a modern university than Paterno, who died in 2012. Because of his football team—which he coached for half a century—Penn State went from an institution best known as a regional agricultural school to a vast university with a national reputation. He was Catholic, old-school, elaborately respectful of players’ mothers—and eager to wrest their sons away and turn them into men, via the time-honored, noncoddling, masculine processes of football.

To say he was a beloved figure doesn’t begin to suggest the role he played on campus. He was Heaney at Harvard, Chomsky at MIT. That he was not a scholar but a football coach and yet was the final authority on almost every aspect of Penn State life says a great deal about the institution. He was also a proud Delta Kappa Epsilon man and a tremendous booster of the fraternity system, and—as was typical for men of his generation—he understood hazing to be an accepted part of Greek life.

In 2007, he gave the practice his implicit endorsement. Photographs had surfaced of some members of the wrestling team apparently being hazed: They were in their underwear with 40-ounce beer bottles duct-taped to their hands. “What’d they do?” he asked during an open football practice that week. “When I was in college, when you got in a fraternity house, they hazed you. They made you stay up all night and played records until you went nuts, and you woke in the morning and all of a sudden they got you before a tribunal and question you as to whether you have the credentials to be a fraternity brother. I didn’t even know where I was. That was hazing. I don’t know what hazing is today.” He wasn’t upset that the wrestlers had engaged in hazing; he was scornful of them for doing it wrong.

Looking back at the past two decades at Penn State, we see a university grappling with its fraternity problem in ways that pitted concerned administrators against a powerful system, and achieving little change.

Joe Paterno: the gift that keeps on giving. But the hold frats have on campuses like Penn State are truly baffling. In the wake of Tim Piazza’s death, Penn State trustee William Oldsey told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Piazza’s death was not an indictment, but an endorsement of Greek life at Penn State because, get this, “This is a good enough system that it attracted a kid of the high caliber and character of Tim Piazza.” OH FUCK YOU, DUDE.

The details of Tim Piazza’s death are heartwrenching. I reproduce the timeline here in full because each new detail is as shocking as the last, and I simply couldn’t pick-and-choose what to omit. It’s long, but I urge you to read:

So here is Tim, reaching for his good jacket—in a closet that his mother will soon visit to select the clothes he will wear in his coffin—a little bit excited and a little bit nervous.

“They’re going to get me fucked up,” he texts his girlfriend, and then he pulls closed the door of his college apartment for the last time.

He has been told to show up at exactly 9:07. Inside, the 14 pledges are lined up, each with his right hand on the right shoulder of the one in front of him, and taken into the living room, where they are welcomed into the fraternity with songs and skits. And then it is time for the first act of hazing in their pledge period: quickly drinking a massive amount of alcohol in an obstacle course, the “gauntlet.” Court documents and the security footage provide excruciating detail about what comes next.

About an hour after the gauntlet begins, the pledges return to the living room, all of them showing signs of drunkenness. At 10:40, Tim appears on one of the security cameras, assisted by one of the brothers. The forensic pathologist will later describe his level of intoxication at this point as “stuporous.” He is staggering, hunched over, and he sits down heavily on the couch and doesn’t want to get up. But the brother encourages him to stand and walks him through the dining room and kitchen and back to the living room, where he sits down again on the couch. And then Tim tries to do something that could have saved his life.

He stands up, uncertainly, and heads toward the front door. If he makes it through that door, he may get out to the street, may find a place to sit or lie down, may come to the attention of someone who can help him—at the very least by getting him back to his apartment and away from the fraternity. He reaches the front door, but the mechanism to open it proves too complicated in his drunken state, so he turns around and staggers toward another door. Perhaps he is hoping that this door will be easier to open; perhaps he is hoping that it also leads out of the fraternity house. But it is the door to the basement, and when he opens it—perhaps expecting his foot to land on level ground—he takes a catastrophic fall.

On the security footage, a fraternity brother named Luke Visser points toward the stairs in an agitated way. Greg Rizzo clearly hears the fall and goes to the top of the steps to see what’s happened. Later, he will tell the police that he saw Tim “facedown, at the bottom of the steps.” Jonah Neuman will tell the police that he saw Tim lying facedown with his legs on the stairs.

Rizzo sends a group text: “Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of steps, hair-first, going to need help.” (Rizzo, who was not charged with any crimes, told the police that he later advocated for calling an ambulance.)

Four of the brothers carry Tim up the stairs. By now he has somehow lost his jacket and tie, and his white shirt has ridden up, revealing a strange, dark bruise on his torso. This is from his lacerated spleen, which has begun spilling blood into his abdomen. The brothers put him on a couch, and Rizzo performs a sternum rub—a test for consciousness used by EMTs—but Tim does not respond. Another brother throws beer in his face, but he does not respond. Someone throws his shoes at him, hard. Someone lifts his arm and it falls back, deadweight, to his chest.

At this point, the brothers have performed a series of tests to determine whether Tim is merely drunk or seriously injured. He has failed all their tests. The next day, Tim’s father will ask the surgeon who delivers the terrible news of Tim’s prognosis whether the outcome would have been different if Tim had gotten help earlier, and the surgeon will say—unequivocally—that yes, it would have been different. That “earlier” is right now, while Tim is lying here, unresponsive to the sternum rub, the beer poured on him, the dropped arm.

A brother named Ryan Foster rolls Tim on his side, but has to catch him because he almost rolls onto the floor. Jonah Neuman straps a backpack full of books to him to keep him from rolling over and aspirating vomit. Two brothers sit on Tim’s legs to keep him from moving.

This is the moment when Kordel Davis arrives and attempts to save Tim’s life, only to be thrown against the wall by Neuman. Davis disappears from the video, in search of an officer of the club. By now Tim is “thrashing and making weird movements,” according to the grand-jury presentment.

Daniel Casey comes into the room, looks at Tim, and slaps him in the face three times. Tim does not respond. Two other brothers wrestle near the couch and end up slamming on top of Tim, whose spleen is still pouring blood into his abdomen. Tim begins to twitch and vomit.

At this point, Joseph Ems appears “frustrated” by Tim, according to the grand jury. With an open hand, he strikes the unconscious boy hard, on the abdomen, where the bruise has bloomed. This blow may be one of the reasons the forensic pathologist will find that Tim’s spleen was not just lacerated, but “shattered.” (Ems was originally charged with recklessly endangering another person, but that charge—the only one brought against him—has been dropped.) Still, Tim does not wake up.

Forty-five minutes later, Tim rolls onto the floor. The heavy backpack is still strapped to him. He rolls around, his legs moving. He attempts to stand up, and manages to free himself from the backpack, which falls to the floor. But the effort is too much, and he falls backwards, banging his head on the hardwood floor. A fraternity member shakes him, gets no response, and walks away.

At 3:46 in the morning, Tim is on the floor, curled up in the fetal position. At home in New Jersey, his parents are sleeping. Across campus, his older brother, Mike, has no idea that Tim is not safely in his bed.

At 3:49 a.m., Tim wakes up and struggles to his knees, cradling his head in his hands; he falls again to the hardwood floor. An hour later, he manages to stand up, and staggers toward the front door, but within seconds he falls, headfirst, into an iron railing and then onto the floor. On some level he must know: I am dying. He stands once again and tries to get to the door. His only hope is to get out of this house, but he falls headfirst once again.

At 5:08 a.m., Tim is on his knees, his wounded head buried in his hands. Around campus, people are beginning to wake up. The cafeteria workers are brewing coffee; athletes are rising for early practices. It’s cold and still dark, but the day is beginning. Tim is dying inside the Beta house, steps away from the door he has been trying all night to open.

Around 7 o’clock, another pledge wanders into the living room, where Tim is now lying on the couch groaning, and the pledge watches as he rolls off the couch and onto the floor, and again lifts himself to his knees and cradles his head in his hands, “as if he had a really bad headache.” The pledge lifts his cellphone, records Tim’s anguish on Snapchat, and then—while Tim is rocking back and forth on the floor—leaves the house. A few minutes later, Tim stands and staggers toward the basement steps, and disappears from the cameras’ view.

The house begins to stir. Some fraternity members head off to class, and in the fullness of time they return. And then, at about 10 a.m., a brother named Kyle Pecci (who was not charged) arrives and asks a pledge, Daniel Erickson (who was also not charged), a question that seems to both of them a casual one: Whatever happened to that pledge who fell down the stairs at the party? They come across Tim’s shoes, and realize that Tim must still be somewhere in the house, so they look for him. The search reveals him collapsed behind one of the bars in the basement. He is lying on his back, with his arms tight at his sides and his hands gripped in fists. His face is bloody and his breathing is labored. His eyes are half open; his skin is cold to the touch; he is unnaturally pale. Three men carry him upstairs and put him on the couch, but no one calls 911.

Fraternity brothers with garbage bags appear in the footage and start cleaning up the evidence. Brothers try to prop Tim up on the couch and dress him, but his limbs are too stiff and they can’t do it. Someone wipes the blood off his face, and someone else tries, without luck, to pry open his clenched fingers. Clearly the brothers are trying to make this terrible situation appear a little bit better for when the authorities arrive. But they do not use their many cellphones to call 911. Instead one brother uses his phone to do a series of internet searches for terms such as cold extremities in drunk person and binge drinking, alcohol, bruising or discoloration, cold feet and cold hands.

Where is Tim right now, as his body lies on the couch? Are his soul and self still here, in the room, or have they already slipped away? He has put up a valiant, almost incredible fight for his life, but by now he has lost that fight. When he was a little boy, he used to make people laugh because he got so frustrated with board games; he didn’t like playing those games, with their rules and tricks. He loved sports, and running, and playing with his friends at the beach. But his body is cold now, his legs and arms unbending.

Finally, at 10:48 a.m., a brother calls 911—perhaps realizing that it would be best to do so while the pledge is still technically alive—and Tim is delivered from the charnel house. Soon his parents will race toward him, and so will his frantic brother, who has been searching for him. They will be reunited for the few hours they have left with this redheaded boy they have loved so well, and at least it can be said that Tim did not die alone, or in the company of the men who tortured him.

Fourteen of the frat guys face a total of 328 criminal charges (though a judge threw out charges of involuntary manslaughter). The actions of these guys is truly disturbing and shows a callousness that is frankly incomprehensible to me. But in this we also see the unintended consequence of the zero-tolerance policies put in place. In the 1980s, parents of dead fraternity members began suing fraternities and winning huge amounts of money. Insurance companies refused to insure the frats any longer. So frats created a joint council and pooled their money to self-insure. Then, the frats banned hazing, and a host of other activities that everyone associates with frat life: underage drinking, drinking games, etc. They also set absurd rules that would be impossible to enforce. For example, “During a party, alcohol consumption must be tightly regulated. Either the chapter can hire a third-party vendor to sell drinks—and to assume all liability for what happens after guests consume them—or members and guests may each bring a small amount of alcohol for personal use and hand it over to a monitor who labels it, and then metes it back to the owner in a slow trickle.”

The national fraternities then indemnified themselves, so that the individual frat members would be the ones responsible in the event someone got hurt or killed while being hazed, or even while just partying. This is diabolical. And so what we see in the actions of Tim’s fellow frat members is the response to, as the author puts it:

“Liv[ing] under the shadow of giant sanctions and lawsuits that can result even from what seem like minor incidents. The strict policies promote a culture of secrecy, and when something really does go terribly wrong, the young men usually start scrambling to protect themselves. Doug Fierberg, a Washington, D.C., lawyer whose practice is built on representing plaintiffs in fraternity lawsuits, told me that “in virtually every hazing death, there is a critical three or four hours after the injury when the brothers try to figure out what to do. It is during those hours that many victims pass the point of no return.”

We see this clearly in Tim Piazza’s death. Just before the party that killed him began, the fraternity president texted the pledge master, “I know you know this. If anything goes wrong with the pledges this semester then both of us are fucked.” We see it in the reluctance, even outright refusal, to call 9-1-1 when Tim Piazza’s dying body was found, even with another fraternity member begging they do so. We see it the next day, when fraternity members were texting each other:

“Between you and me, “what are the chances the house gets shut down?”

“I think very high. I just hope none of us get into any lawsuits.”

It’s sad, isn’t it? These fraternities, and their members, did terrible things, and lots of people died. So we made rules to try to stop it, but things didn’t stop, and we just throw up our hands and accept it as a part of growing up, for (mostly) white, affluent kids from the suburbs, anyways. But it doesn’t need to be like this. This stuff happens because the traditions keep being passed down, despite the national organization’s lip service to ending them. So, kill the damn frats. There will be no one to pass the traditions to, and kids like Tim Piazza won’t die, slowly, while their friends pour beer on them and assault them, refusing to get them the medical attention they so desperately need, for fear of the “house” getting “shut down”. -TOB

Source: Death at a Penn State Fraternity”, Caitlin Flanagan, The Atlantic (November 2017)

PAL: Terribly sad story. And I agree – there’s no need for this greek institution on college campuses. Regardless of their stated intent, they are the setting for needless deaths and dangerous binge drinking. This isn’t a fun sports story.

While poor choices and binge drinking are not unique to the greek system on a college campus, I can appreciate the environment frats create can lead to people not acting in the best interest of an individual in dire straits. No one wants to be responsible for “shutting the house down”, which, on the other side of thirty, is just absurd. I can understand the thinking, and the environment that breeds this logic, but it’s just absurd.

My real beef with this story concerns the Joe Paterno connection.

Before I jump into that, let me state this clearly: I am not a Paterno apologist. I believe he knew what Sandusky was doing within the football complex – surely enough to make it stop taking place within the football complex – and he did nothing. Criminal.

With that said, for writer Caitlin Flanagan to make the leap that Paterno was somehow implicit in Piazza’s death is outright ridiculous. Let’s go back to the portion about Paterno TOB quoted in his writeup (emphasis mine)

To say he was a beloved figure doesn’t begin to suggest the role he played on campus. He was Heaney at Harvard, Chomsky at MIT. That he was not a scholar but a football coach and yet was the final authority on almost every aspect of Penn State life says a great deal about the institution. He was also a proud Delta Kappa Epsilon man and a tremendous booster of the fraternity system, and—as was typical for men of his generation—he understood hazing to be an accepted part of Greek life.

In 2007, he gave the practice his implicit endorsement. Photographs had surfaced of some members of the wrestling team apparently being hazed: They were in their underwear with 40-ounce beer bottles duct-taped to their hands. “What’d they do?” he asked during an open football practice that week. “When I was in college, when you got in a fraternity house, they hazed you. They made you stay up all night and played records until you went nuts, and you woke in the morning and all of a sudden they got you before a tribunal and question you as to whether you have the credentials to be a fraternity brother. I didn’t even know where I was. That was hazing. I don’t know what hazing is today.” He wasn’t upset that the wrestlers had engaged in hazing; he was scornful of them for doing it wrong.

Paterno says, “That was hazing. I don’t know what hazing is today.” For her to draw the conclusions as to how we felt (“he wasn’t upset…he was scornful of them doing it wrong..”) is quite a leap. Was he asked if he was upset? Is there a quote from him clarifying if he meant he was scornful for them doing it wrong? She is attaching feelings that, as presented, we don’t know to be Paterno’s, in order to connect the dots between one historic scandal and the death of young man at a frat house.

Also, Paterno wasn’t the final authority, goddamit. He was a powerful football coach, perhaps powerful to an unprecedented extent, but he was not the final authority on the greek system, and for anyone to suggest that without also explicitly criticizing actual leadership at Penn State is, well, making a leap and providing an incomplete account.

Paterno did irrevocable harm by standing by as rape and sexual abuse of minors was taking place within his football program. I have no loyalty or appreciation for him. Still, Flanagan uses him to broaden the web of an already tragic story that upon which doesn’t need to be expanded. The greek system full of dangerous loopholes. She doesn’t need to sensationalize it by adding Joe Paterno where he simply doesn’t belong.

TOB: I dug a little into Paterno’s quote. Some context here. First, it should be noted this was the Penn State wrestling team, not a frat. Second, photos of the wrestling team’s hazing were sent to the team’s coach and a local paper, and that’s what got them in trouble. Paterno is asked about the hazing and says:

“What’d they do?” he asked. “When I was in college, when you got in a fraternity house, they hazed you. They made you stay up all night and played records until you went nuts, and you woke in the morning and all of a sudden they got you before a tribunal and question you as to whether you have the credentials to be a fraternity brother. I didn’t even know where I was. That was hazing. I don’t know what hazing is today, you put it on a Web site ‘ “

Paterno said the environment of the country is changing and said even he has to be aware of what pictures he allows himself to appear in.

“I’m down there on a vacation and a pretty little girl comes over to me in a bikini and wants to get her picture taken with me with her boyfriend,” he said. “I’m scared to death. You know what I mean? I mean ‘ I get my picture taken with a cute kid and the whole bit, put it on a Web site, there’s that dirty old man.”

What Paterno is really criticizing is the fact they took photos in the first place. So, yeah, he’s saying they hazed wrong. Either she framed it poorly, or it was edited poorly. I see why you had a beef, but I think she was ultimately correct.

More importantly, though, I understand her larger point. She’s saying this is a university completely out of control, with leadership rotten to its core, that cares about all the wrong things. Preserving the greek system…while kids die! Preserving the football team…while kids gets raped! Hazing happens at campuses all over; what’s concerning here to me is the response. William Oldsey, a university trustee, saying that Tim Piazza’s death is an endorsement of the Penn State greek system is just so gross. I don’t think she’s blaming Paterno. I think she’s arguing Paterno is symptomatic of a rotten core.

PAL: I misspoke on the Wrestler/Frat element. However, she does not present it as explicitly as you do within her story. The context you provide is absent from her story, and that’s part of my critique. If you’re going to make that connection, there can be little-to-no inference on the reader’s part. It needs to be explicit, because it’s that serious. She presents an incomplete connection without qualification, and is relying on the reader to use what they know of Paterno with regards to his ambivalence in the Sandusky tragedy to make the leap with regards to Piazza. This matter is too serious to be this loose.


This Doping Scandal is Different (?)

Readers, I regret to inform you there is another steroid scandal brewing, one that calls into question the legitimacy of an American sports institution. It involves some of the very best athletes in the sport.

You guys, the Iditarod is full of dogs that are juicing.

Well, they aren’t juicing so much as they are being juiced.

A doping scandal has hit the world’s most famous dog-sled race, the 1,000-mile trek through Alaska that ends in Nome each March. Four dogs on a team run by Dallas Seavey, a four-time champion and the most dominant musher in the sport, tested positive last spring for high levels of Tramadol, an opioid pain reliever.

Why would anyone partake in doping dogs? Oh, the winner receives 75K? Gotcha. But mushers are different, folks. They do this for the love of the sport. And mushers stick together. None of Seavey’s competitors believe he did it. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The thought that another musher would taint Seavey’s dogs sounded unlikely to his competitors. The sport is a tight and insular one, in constant need of sponsors and promotion, and setting off a doping scandal would hurt the sport as much as it would damage Seavey. And Tramadol would be a strange drug choice; it is not commonly used in the world of dogsledding. Royer said she had never heard of it.

That reasoning led some to speculate that outsiders who protest the Iditarod and similar events might be involved.

Well, that kind of makes sense. Yeah, why would he dope his dogs while knowing they will be tested after the race. And it doesn’t even sound like Tramadol would even be the drug to use anyway? This is dog-sledding after all. Just hard-working, everyday Americans with an appreciation of that Jack London Alaska…

And that’s how it happens, folks. How many times have we read about doping scandals? How many time (be honest) have you thought the excuses made sense? How many times have those excused proved complete hogwash?

He wanted to win. $75K is a good amount of money. He’s competitive, he wanted to win, so he gave the dogs that had been busting ass for god knows how long a little extra.

He did it. Right? Right. Right? It does make sense that those who believe the sport is animal abuse would look to damage it in a way that makes the dogs even that much more the victim…DAMMIT, I fell for it again! – PAL

Source: Iditarod Doping Mystery: Who Slipped Tramadol to the Dogs?”, John Branch, New York Times (10/24/17)


Jared Goff, Stud Tackler

This is really well done. Last week, Jared Goff threw an interception. On the run back, he made an incredibly smart and athletic play to make the tackle and preserve the shutout.

Lolololololol. Let’s take that frame by frame, all pics and captions courtesy of some guy named Beefjurky.

The apex predator, Goff, locks in on his prey, Tyrann Mathieu, a much smaller human. Once Goff locks in there’s no hope for escape.

Goff, the superior athlete, strategically dodges the entire slew of lead blockers with an agile twirling leap.

Goff, the genius, is now in place and just has to wait for his prey to fall right into his trap.

Mathieu, the fool, has fallen right into his trap. See that white horizontal blur in the middle of that group of men? That’s Goff’s fucking arm of death. Once that thing comes up, it is GAME OVER.

Goff looks pitifully as his prey comes crashing down to Earth. The smug victor doesn’t even move, showing that he barely even used a fraction of his full power.

Goff’s job is done. Mathieu is down and will now go to lick his wounds among his other wimpy bird friends, to perhaps lose again another day. Jared slowly but calmly rises, because alpha predators like him are in no rush to be anywhere.

That’s just good internet content, folks. -TOB

Source: “Breakdown of Goff’s TD Saving Tackle on Mathieu“, Beefjurky, imgur (10/26/2017)


Video of the Week

Bonus Video:

Bonus Video:

I don’t know how we missed this last year, but shoutout to new 1-2-3 reader Ted for sending it along. Amazing.


PAL Song of the Week – Leonard Cohen – “True Love Leaves No Traces”


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“I like eating nachos and lip synching. I always have.”

-Vice Principal Gamby

 

Week of October 13, 2017

Do NOT leave a ball over the plate to Bobson Dugnutt!


Stay the Course or Burn it Down: Where Does U.S. Soccer Go From Here?

On Monday, the U.S. Men’s soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup. It is the first World Cup they will miss since 1986, when I was four. I have only known the World Cup with the U.S. involved, and they have generally fared well once there, advancing out of their group in five of the last seven. The team has been graced with the Christian Pulisic, who is starting for a top tier team in the Bundesliga, and who, at age 19, pretty much no one disputes is the greatest American soccer player of all time. Pulisic has the vision, touch, and creativity that separates the great soccer players from across the world from the pretty good ones that the U.S. has produced in the past.

And now Pulisic will be sitting at home for one of the three World Cups to occur during his prime. Friggin great.

The particulars of how this happened are almost comical (a loss to Trinidad and Tobago, along with a Panama comeback win over Mexico and an Honduras win over Costa Rica on a phantom goal), especially coming off the U.S. thrashing of Panama last Friday, 4-0, which seemed to guarantee the Americans’ World Cup qualification, and really got me excited for next year’s tournament.

Instead, the U.S. must pick up the pieces and figure out where to go from here. American soccer fans expressed many emotions in the hours after the team’s failure: embarrassment, anger, amusement, and for some…relief. Relief? There is a segment of the American soccer fan base that believes U.S. Soccer, in conjunction with MLS, is rotten to its core, wanting to seem competitive, but valuing profits, especially profits for MLS owners, over the short-term pain that is required to truly turn U.S. Soccer into an international powerhouse. For these fans, the hope is that this loss causes coach Bruce Arena to slink away, never to be seen again, and for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to do the same. But that’s just the beginning. These fans want severe structural changes, starting at the youth levels, and did not feel it would ever come as long as the U.S. continued to juuuuuuust enough to not embarrass themselves.

Frankly, I don’t know enough about the situation. But I have read some things this week to suggest that many of those desired structural changes have already been undertaken. The shining star is the youth academy for FC Dallas, modeled after FC Barcelona’s “La Masia” (though, as that story points out, U.S. law provides severe disincentives for MLS teams to invest much in these academies, as they cannot prevent them, when they turn 18, from simply signing with an overseas club). FC Dallas’ academy opened in 2005, has a 17 field complex, has 120 players at present, and has churned out nearly two dozen professionals across both MLS and international leagues. We may soon be seeing the fruits of those efforts . For example, the U-17 World Cup is happening right now, and the U.S. has a good shot to go very far. They are currently 2-0, and need only a draw with Colombia to win the group. More than that, the team is stocked with talent that has soccer fans excited. That group, along with current young senior team stars like Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Weston McKennie, have many observers expecting the U.S. to be much better over the next two World Cup cycles.

Which, while promising, makes this week’s events all the more sad to me. If the above paragraph is true, then we may just be in the middle of a lost generation of American soccer, the transition between the Landon Donovan/Clint Dempsey/Tim Howard/Michael Bradley generation and the Pulisic generation’s revolution. Which means the “embarrassment” of this week wasn’t necessary at all. And, damnit, the World Cup is fun as hell. It will still be fun. I will be rooting for Lionel Messi to finally get over the top (Argentina has their own problems, and needed a Messi hat trick on Monday to themselves avoid missing out on the World Cup). But it won’t be the same. There is something fantastic about getting together in a crowded bar and cheering on the U.S. in the World Cup, and damn if the country couldn’t use that right now. Remember this:

It’s a long, four year wait for the World Cup. The wait just got a lot longer. -TOB

Source: The USMNT Got Exactly What It Deserved”, Billy Haisley, Deadspin (10/10/2017); F All of This”, Timothy Burke, Deadspin (10/10/2017)

PAL: USA Soccer needs to look to USA Hockey for some guidelines on how they might produce world class players. Both of my brothers have children playing hockey, and both have commented regularly at the infrastructure around USA Hockey. There is a playbook, a philosophy, developmental skills and priorities that comes from all the way at the top and feeds all the way down to the Mite level (8 and under). Also, the best players don’t necessarily play high school hockey, and the best players certainly don’t play more than a year of college hockey. There is a Juniors system in Canada and in the U.S. that allows players to hone their skills for the professional game, practice and play without NCAA restrictions, and ultimate train to become a professional.

Absent of that, I guess we look at outliers like the academy in Dallas. However, you don’t find the best of the best with only outliers. In order to compete with the top countries, the game needs to be pervasive, affordable. It has to be played in all neighborhoods. It has to be a national pastime, and a national obsession. We aren’t there. Not even close.


The Original Anthem Controversy

This is sorta funny, and given the current anthem controversy, timely, too. Nearly 50 years ago, the Detroit Tigers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals for Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Before the game, rising star musician Jose Feliciano sang the national anthem. Feliciano, a Puerto Rican American, put his own spin on the anthem. Listening today, I think it’s kinda fantastic.

But I am used to singers putting their own stamp on the anthem. My favorite, before hearing Feliciano’s, was always Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All Star Game.

In 1968, viewers were not so accustomed. Especially at the height of 1960s turmoil, with the Vietnam War raging, and on the heels of the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the country was as tense as it is today, probably moreso. Thus, what sounds to me like a charming and even heartfelt rendition of the anthem by Feliciano, angered many. The Detroit Free-Press published some of the letters they got from those angry viewers. For example:

“I have never heard anything so disgraceful and disrespectful. The only things that resembled our national anthem were the words. As a native Detroiter, I am ashamed of the persons who would let such a thing happen. I remember hearing John Glenn say, ‘I get chills when I hear our national anthem.’ I didn’t get chills. I got sick. No wonder our country is losing its dignity.”

In the aftermath, a live recording of Feliciano’s performance climbed as high as 50 on the charts, but Feliciano felt he was blackballed. Tigers’ legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who invited Feliciano, was almost fired. But he wasn’t. Decades later, Harwell would defend Feliciano, saying “Jose treated the flag and the anthem with respect. He just put his own stamp on it—and he was the first to do it.”

Following Harwell’s death, Feliciano was asked to return to sing his version of the anthem, per Harwell’s wishes. And he did. -TOB

Source: The World Series National Anthem That Infuriated America”, David Davis, Deadspin (10/06/2017)

PAL: I think Felciano’s rendition is excellent, too! There is something reassuring in stories like this. We have been through tumultuous, polarizing times before. Not only can we find our way out, but some good can come from the turmoil, too. However – and I know I’m in the minority here – I’ve never ‘got’ Marvin Gaye’s version. Love Marin Gaye, but his rendition has never done it for me. That backing track has always felt so cheesy…like he’s singing a karaoke version or something.

This story reminds me of the last song  – “Middle Of The Night” – Loudon Wainwright played at his concert in Berkeley on Wednesday night (by the way, Natalie and I were the youngest people there by about 35 years):

In the maelstrom of your mind you are swirled

You’re almost down the drain but not quite

It’s not the end of the world my brother

Rather the middle of the night


Portrait of a Football Coach at the End of His Rope

This week, Oregon State’s Gary Andersen abruptly resigned as Oregon State’s head football coach. Andersen left Wisconsin, of his own volition, after winning 19 games in 2 seasons, to coach the Beavers (the rumor was he didn’t want to deal with Wisconsin’s slightly more stringent than minimum academic standards). Oregon State has struggled this season, but the team was decent last year, and Andersen seems like a real grinder, and the move was shocking. More shocking, was that Andersen gave up nearly $13 million by quitting. Generally, when something like this happens, fans with some inside knowledge and media members leak out a little here and there, but the rumors are never confirmed. This time, though, was a little different. John Canzano, columnist for the Oregonian, published a story this week centered on a series of texts from Andersen to Canzano as this season progressed (with Andersen’s permission). It’s fascinating.

To me, Andersen comes off as both a good person, and as a guy who might be batshit crazy (he also needs to lay off the ellipses and exclamation points). I won’t put all the texts here, because there are quite a few, but together they show a man devolve from having some semblance of hope to one in utter despair. Andersen seems to come to the realization that he made two major mistakes: (1) taking the job at Oregon State, which has never been an easy place to win, in the first place; (2) hiring a coaching staff that he felt was not getting the job done:

Sept. 1: “Love my kids just want to see them take a step!! Don’t expect greatness but I do want to see progress!.. I will fight! It’s an interesting battle. However I asked for it and love my kids! We still need to step up around here and stop being small time!! … We played hard as hell … blown coverages and poor run fits… our youth hurt us bad… it’s on us. This team should get to a bowl game. If not I will be highly disappointed!! Getting old… patience isn’t what it used to be!!”

Sept. 3: “If the defense can not get better … I will be making some decisions I really do not like or want to make. We will grind!!”

Sept. 9: “Hard place right now… one thing I guarantee you is this: This staff needs to figure it out. I ain’t going to die doing this (expletive)! It’s on me and I get that and right now… Beaver Nation deserves much better! End of story!!”

Sept 12: “I have them by the (expletive) for every penny, no buyout for the next four not counting this year… but that’s not my style!! If it does not improve I will do some crazy (expletive) with my salary so I can pay the right coaches the right money!!”

Sept. 20: “I hired the wrong (expletive) guys and are still working our way through a bunch of recruiting years that stunk!! It’s year three! If these (expletives) can’t get it right I will not just say fire them and start over!! That’s not the way to go about it. If I (expletive) it up that bad I will take the bullet and ride off into the sunset! I will stay old school!! I will not die doing this (expletive)!! Stay tuned!”

Sept. 24.: “I AM FIXING THIS PLACE IF IT KILLS!”

Sept. 24: “Riot act has been read to this staff. We shall see what takes place. I have got to see better football regardless of who we are playing!!”

Sept. 24: “Need five graduate transfers in this class!!… I am in a good spot. Got a lot of ‘(expletive) everything’ in me and that’s when I am at my best!! Staff understands their (expletive) is on a short rope!! We are not great today but I expect to be better as we move forward this season!! I like this fight!”

Sept. 25: “It’s Oregon State! Not bitching trust me on that one!! It is what it is!! I made my bed!! Grind and fight again tomorrow with my kids!! I was in a bad funk on bye week now it will be me with my guys the rest of the way!!”

Oct. 1: “I could give a flying (expletive) about natives! I have not looked or listened to any of that (expletive) good or bad…  My plan won’t change. Coach my (expletive) off for these kids seven more times!! They will get all I got!! … I will grind for these fans they deserve that!!!”

I don’t think we’ve ever been given such naked insight into what it’s like to be a coach of a struggling college football team. Andersen reportedly lost 25 pounds since the start of the season, and it shows. He looked gaunt in recent weeks. It took a lot of guts to give up that amount of money, and it will be interesting to see where Andersen lands, if anywhere. He seems very intense, and he may just be the kind of guy who burns himself out, along with those around him, very quickly.

Source: Gary Andersen’s Exit Rooted in Beaver Nation Deserving Better”, John Canzano, Oregonian (10/10/2017)


Joe Girardi Was This Close To Being Canned

By now we know a Yankee blunder does not matter. The Yankees beat Cleveland to advance to the ALCS. The Indians – MLB’s most exciting team the second half of the year with a 22-game win streak- were up 3 games to 1 in last year’s World Series and lost 3 in a row to the Cubs. And now this loss to the Yankees, losing (again) 3 potential series clinching games in a row. So much can be forgotten in a week.

The play in question:

The significance, per Ben Lindbergh:

With two outs and two on in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Yankees up 8–3 on the Indians, Yankees reliever Chad Green, facing his third batter in relief of starter CC Sabathia, nicked the hand of Indians pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall with a 96 mph fastball. So said plate umpire Dan Iassogna, who declared the hit by pitch, sending Chisenhall (who had been down 0-2) to first and loading the bases for Cleveland. But slow-motion replays showed that the ball had almost certainly nicked the knob of Chisenhall’s bat, not his hand, before deflecting into catcher Gary Sánchez’s glove.

Hit-by-pitch calls are reviewable under MLB’s replay rules, but Girardi never issued a challenge. That non-review proved pivotal: Had Iassogna’s call been overturned, the Yankees would have been out of the inning, with a win expectancy upward of 97 percent. As it was, with the bases loaded, their win expectancy was only 93 percent—or, in this instance, slightly lower, because the next batter was not the generic major leaguer that the win-expectancy model assumes, but star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Naturally, Lindor homered, plating four runs, which brought the Indians within one and lowered the Yankees’ win expectancy to 70 percent. In time, that figure would fall to zero percent, after a Jay Bruce homer in the eighth and a Yan Gomes single in the 13th gave Cleveland a 9-8 win and a 2-0 series lead.

Why not challenge? Is it to preserve his 1 of his 2 remaining challenges allotted to teams in the postseason? Nope, and even if it were the case it’s A) unlikely he would need two more challenges in the game, considering this play took place in the 6th inning, and B) a manager can still appeal to the crew chief to review non home-run calls.

Aside from not having time to get the super slow motion within the 30 seconds given to teams to challenge (despite his catcher insisting he heard the sound of a foul ball), Girardi’s reason was that – as a former catcher himself – he didn’t want to break his pitcher’s rhythm. Now I am no pitcher, but I’d rather risk a break in rhythm to make sure an Indian player not named Francisco Lindor doesn’t get a free pass when down 0-2 in a count.

If the Yankees don’t win 3 games in a row, the tide seemed to be shifting towards Girardi being fired, with his decision not to challenge serving as the final straw. Now the Yankees are rolling. Their combination of veteran role players like Brett Gardner, emerging postseason heroes (Didi Gregorius), and a lockdown bullpen (the key to every deep postseason run) are covering for their young, struggling stars (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez) and the Yankees are ahead of schedule in their return to prominence. It’s hard to imagine Girardi gets canned now. Seems to me like he owes Didi Gregorius a steak dinner. – PAL  

Source: “The Last Word in Joe Girardi’s Game 2 Replay Challenge Blunder”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (10/9/17)


Video of the Week

He seems stable.


PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore’


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

– Larry David

Week of October 6, 2017

The modern bu2iness man. 2O modern. Re2pect.


Wrong Result, Right Format

Tuesday night started out so well. I walk into Irish Times in the Financial District about 5 minutes before the first pitch. I’m decked out in my Twins sweatshirt and hat, and there’s TOB saving a spot at the bar directly in front of a TV. 5 minutes later, Rowe walks in and suggests a shot to kick things off. Dozier leads off the game with a home run. Later in the inning Rosario yanks one out to right, and the Twins are up 3-0 in the first inning. We take the shot. Girardi has to pull the Yankees starter after ⅓ of an inning! I sincerely believe this is shaping up to be a Twins route in Yankee stadium.

The Yankees stop the bleeding and hold the Twins to the 3 runs in the first. The Twins starter then walks the leadoff hitter – a terrible sign. Things get worse from there. Buxton injures his back on a very good catch, and the Yankees power their way back, handing Minnesota its 13th straight playoff loss. A 13-game losing streak in the playoffs is, well, historically bad.

Yes, the night started out perfect, but then the Yankees were the Yankees and the Twins were the Twins, and the nachos were soggy, and the beer — the beer is always good. I really thought they were going to do it this time, but just like that, the postseason began and ended in a night for my beloved Twins and me.

But I love the play-in game.

I love playoff baseball. Playoff hockey is great, but for there’s nothing better than playoff baseball. Every moment of the game with no clock is filled with importance, and as a fan there’s nothing better than that sustained focus building to crossroad moments in the game. Playoffs in any sport can drag on for months, so it’s cool to have it start with an elimination game in both the AL and NL.

I had no rooting interest in the Rockies-Diamondbacks game on Wednesday night, but I couldn’t help but look over Natalie’s shoulder at dinner to see the D-Backs reliever smack a 2-run triple late in the game, only then to give up back-to-back homers in the top of the next inning.

MLB has gotten a few things wrong in recent history – the All-Star Game determining home field advantage in the World Series, interleague play, the DH, and – you know – turning a blind eye to steroids, but they got this play-in game right, and I love it. – PAL

Source: The Yankees won because they were the better team, but there was a cost“, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (10/04/2017)

TOB: I agree. It’s fantastic (though this is easier to say because my team is 2-0 in the Wild Card game. If they were 0-2, I’m sure I’d be bitter). As usual, Grant Brisbee nailed it for me:

There was some chatter earlier on Tuesday, spurred by Ken Rosenthal, that if the Yankees lost, there would be calls for change. It’s right there in the headline.

“If Yankees or D-Backs lose, expect wild-card outrage—and calls for change”

As a fan of the last team that will ever win 103 games and miss the postseason, my advice to the Yankees would have been to win their division. This will be my advice to the Diamondbacks if they should lose on Wednesday night. Baseball used to have a system so unfair that it made winning the pennant something that made Russ Hodges’ soul escape his body and join the public domain. Then baseball made it a little easier to win the World Series … a little easier to win the World Series … and then a little too easy to win the World Series …

And now we’re here. I’m here to argue that here is the best possible format.

Start with the idea of the wild card. I hated it, but I came around to it. It was the homework pass you didn’t deserve, but almost did, so you didn’t even feel guilty. By the time the Giants and Angels met in the first all-wild-card World Series, it wasn’t even a big deal. The wild card took all the heat, but what about that weirdo third division winner? They had things to answer for, too.

It was still a little weird. The Marlins have two World Series titles, but they haven’t won a division title in franchise history. The Rockies have a pennant without a division title, and they’re going for another one. There was something a little too cavalier about a wild card team waltzing in and feeling that entitled. They needed one extra obstacle.

This. This one game is that one extra obstacle. It’s just enough to make the team desperately want the division title. It’s not enough to make a team feel like they’re sitting in the corner of the postseason with a cone on their head. It’s an extra chance on the reality show, a Golden Scepter of Redemption that’s handed out by the winner of last week’s challenge. They get to have a deathmatch game.


Student-Athlete

A major story broke last week that we didn’t get to in our post. By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the FBI investigation into bribery and fraud that involves seemingly every thread between top tier basketball recruits, AAU club teams, sports agencies, shoe companies, and college basketball programs.

I’m sure I’m leaving elements out here, but for the purposes of an overview, here’s my summary: AAU Teams are sponsored by shoe companies. Those shoe companies also have contracts with colleges. Those shoe companies are also woven in with sports agents and/or financial advisors. The idea is to get the best recruits on AAU teams that sponsored by a shoe company, then get that recruit to commit to a college that is also sponsored by that shoe company. Money is given to the player or player’s families through a variety of intermediaries in exchange for going the right school. Those that help finance the deals are then in an advantageous position to represent the player once they are drafted.

It’s not a shock that this has been going on, but until now the full view of the scandal hadn’t been exposed. Adidas and Nike are involved, and there are a lot of NCAA basketball coaches sweating it right now. Rick Pitino has already been placed on unpaid leave, as have many other assistant coaches at Arizona, USC, Oklahoma State, Auburn. It sounds like we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg so far.

There are a ton of stories out there about the scandal, but I found a couple to be particularly interesting.

This New York Times article does a nice job explaining the scam through one player – Brian Bowen. Widely considered one of the best high school players in the country, Bowen delayed his commitment all the way into the spring of this year (the last day for D-1 players to sign a letter of intent in May 17, and most players sign well before then). He listed his final options as North Carolina State, Michigan State, Arizona, Texas, and Creighton. Then, in June he finally made his announcement: Louisville.

Louisville coach Pitino had this to say about Bowen coming to Louisville: “But they [Bowen and I’m assuming his family] had to come in unofficially, pay for their hotels, pay for their meals. So we spent zero dollars recruiting a five-star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my 40-some-odd years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.This is the luckiest I’ve ever been.”

That, or he was paid $100K, and Bowen committed to the highest bidder.

Which brings us back to Pitino and Louisville AD Tom Jurich. It sounds like the weren’t just benefiting from paying players to help them succeed, rather, they were profiting millions from shoe companies.

This from Andrew Wolfson of the Courier-Journal: 98% of the current deal between Adidas and Louisville goes to…Rick Pitino.

“In 2015-16, for example, $1.5 million went to Pitino under his personal services agreement with the apparel company while just $25,000 went to the program, according to a contract obtained by the Courier-Journal under the state public records act.”

Adidas and Louisville just announced a new 10 year/$160MM ($79MM in cash) contract that is set to start in July, 2018. It is unclear how much of that will go to coaches.

If you take the time to read through these articles and can still look at me and tell me these kids are student athletes, then I don’t know what I could say to change your mind. This investigation was the tipping point for me. Yes, the vast majority of soccer players and swimmers and cross country runners competing at colleges big and small are student athletes. Big time football and basketball players are not. Why should sleazeball Rick Pitino be able to get filthy rich off of them while they are forced to take money under the table.

I want to say that we need to get rid of the rule prohibiting high school players from entering the draft, and we need to crackdown on the influence apparel companies have on youth basketball, but the fact is college football and basketball are billion dollar industries. We hear the word ‘college’ and we associate our college experiences with what’s going on at major programs like Louisville, Arizona, and USC when in fact the only similarity is the shape of the ball and the dimensions of the court. – PAL

Source: How The N.C.A.A. Recruiting’s Illicit Spoils Ensnared a Young Star”, Marc Tracy and Adam Zagoria, The New York Times (10/04/2017); Rick Pitino Raked in 98% of the Cash From University of Louisville’s Current Adidas Deal”, Andrew Wolfson, Louisville Courier-Journal (10/05/2017)

TOB: If they’d just pay players, we’d avoid this whole charade. There’d be less money funneled to coaches. There’d be less money funneled to hangers-on and “managers”. There’d be no pressure on players to sign with certain agents or shoe companies upon entering the NBA. This “scandal” wouldn’t exist. But it does, because the NCAA insists on holding onto the archaic and B.S.-from-its-conception concept of “amateurism”. I think this scandal may be the tipping point for the NCAA. Adapt or die.


The G.O.A.T Is A Habitual Wedding Crasher

Jerry Rice crashes weddings. This isn’t a story about him crashing a wedding; this is a story about Jerry Rice’s habit of crashing weddings.

This is a funny, sweet story, right? He’s either finishing up a round of golf and there’s a reception going on in the clubhouse, or he’s on the road staying at a resort. He goes in and congratulates the new couple. Understandably, the party freaks out. It is Jerry Rice. He stays, he dances, he takes pictures.

Or, is it a bit sad? Jerry friggin’ Rice says he crashes at least one wedding per weekend. One per weekend? It makes for a great wedding day story, but it kind of feels like a guy that wants to be around happy people on the happiest of days who are even happier to see him.

Maybe I’m overthinking this. Maybe it’s just a great story, and the G.O.A.T. gets joy out of making someone’s big day even that more special. Just thinking about Rowe freaking out and crying at his and Adrian’s wedding at the sight of Jerry Rice is a good time. – PAL

Source: No Excuses: Jerry Rice Is Playing Like a Champion”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (10/04/2017)

TOB: He’s always struck me as a strange dude, so this is not surprising. It’s funny, but also weird.


Joel Embiid, Typical 23-Year Old in a Big City

Here’s a fun one. Joel Embiid, the 76ers’ 7-foot Cameroonian center was seen on film on a late night run through downtown. He’s hard to miss, and so his run was caught on film. As are all the other things he does around town. Like, late night tennis:

This is amusing to me, and Dan McQuade, Philadelphian, nails why:

Joel Embiid is a 23-year-old living in Center City who works out by running down Pine Street. He goes to Center City Sips. He is basically doing exactly what I did when I was 23, but taller. A 7-foot Cameroonian is the most relatable Philadelphia athlete of my lifetime.

Live your life, Joel!

Source: Joel Embiid Is Nailing The Philadelphia Lifestyle”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (09/03/2017)


Video of the Week

The middle-aged guy can’t help himself.


PAL Song of the Week – Tom Petty – “Walls”


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“Michael, the last time I was exposed to a peanut, I was itchy for three days, ok? I had to take baths constantly. I missed the O.J. verdict. I had to read about it in the paper like an idiot.”

-D. Vickers

Week of September 22, 2017

Well, yeah.


Extend the Netting, You Twits

A few years ago, MLB “recommended” teams extend the protective netting behind the plate to the ends of the dugouts for the fan safety. Most teams ignored the recommendation. The Yankees were one of those teams. On Wednesday, Yankee Todd Frazier lasered a foul ball line drive into the seats along the third base dugout, and immediately dropped to his knees:

Frazier’s ball had struck a young girl, attending the game with her grandparents.

A decade or so back, the NHL raised the nets behind the goals, but only after a child died after being struck by a puck. Are we going to have to get there in MLB before they extend the GD nets? Thankfully, it sounds like the young girl in the photo above, while hospitalized, is not going to die. But why even put her in this danger?

(I know some will blame the parents, in this case grandparents, for bringing her to a game that close. But the odds are so low that as a parent you think it’s fine. Hell, it’s more dangerous to put your child in a car and we don’t blame parents for putting children in cars when they die in an accident).

This is just so easy to fix, and I just don’t get the resistance. The most expensive seats at baseball games already have netting. Why are the seats farther down the line so sacred? And if you’ve ever sat in seats behind the netting you know that you don’t even realize it’s there. Just extend the damn nets! This is insane. In the aftermath of this girl’s injury, four teams announced immediate plans to extend the nets to the ends of the dugout. Let’s hope the rest of the league follows suit. I’m looking at you, Larry Baer. -TOB

Source: Small Child Injured By Line Drive Foul Ball At Yankees Game“, Lindsey Adler, Deadspin (09/20/2017)

PAL: In Japan, they already extend the nets down the foul the line and have done so for a long time. As you’ll see in the HBO Real Sports below, they take it to an entirely different level:

There has to be a happy medium. At the very least, protective netting should extend to the edge of the infield. It’s time teams followed Japan’s lead. While some teams, like the Twins, already have, more need to follow.


Jared Goff: Not a Bust

I have been a Cal football season ticket holder for over 15 years now, and Jared Goff is the second best quarterback I ever saw play at Cal (behind Aaron Rodgers), including on opposing teams. That list includes NFL quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Matt Leinart, Trevor Siemian, Derek Carr, and, yes, Marcus Mariota. Goff played 3 years behind an incredibly poor offensive line, and had an amazing ability to side step the rush and deliver dimes to well-covered receivers for big yards and scores.

I was, and remain, convinced he will be a very good NFL quarterback. But after seven freaking games as a rookie, not everyone agreed. They pointed to his spread offense in college (and high school), and his poor performance his first year. He was widely panned as a bust. But was that performance his fault? This article makes a strong case that Goff’s rookie year problems were due in large part to his coaches and the players around him. The Rams fired dinosaur Jeff Fisher and his awful staff and hired some innovative offensive coaches, including 31-year old head coach Sean McVey. They also went and got him some better offensive lineman and weapons at wide receiver. The early results are quite good. Goff picked apart the 49ers defense last night, finishing 22-28, with 292 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.

For the season, he’s thrown for 817 yards and 6 touchdowns, against one interception and a quarterback rating of 118. Ya boy! More than that, he’s throwing the darts all over the field. He’s averaging almost 11 yards per attempt, which is very good, and he’s stepping up in the pocket in the face of pressure. I am very happy that, when Aaron Rodgers retires, there will be an elite NFL quarterback from Cal to take the baton. This article is actually more about how NFL teams can, and will need to, adapt spread offense college quarterbacks to NFL systems in order to survive, with Goff as the example. But, ya know. In Goff We Trust. -TOB

Source: Jared Goff, NFL Disruptor?”, Adam Kilgore, Washington Post (09/15/2017)


NFL Offenses Are Conservative and Boring

NFL offenses are in a paradoxical rut. Scoring is up this decade (though down significantly in the early going this year from last year), and quarterbacks are more accurate and productive than ever before.

Why, then, does it seem like NFL offenses are so boring? Football Outsiders has an answer. They have a stat called, “Failed Completions”. Failed Completions occur when a team doesn’t get 45 percent of the yards it needs on first down, 60 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third or fourth down. While completion percentages and yards are way up, so are Failed Completions. So, while quarterbacks are more accurate because of increased reps (year-round 7-on-7 leagues in particular contribute to this), the real reason quarterbacks are completing at such a high level is because offenses have gotten very conservative. Coaches and quarterbacks would rather throw 3 yards short of the first down and punt than risk an interception down field. Of all people, Chris Friggin Simms nails it, quoted in the article:

Then you have the offensive coordinators, who, Simms said, are doing whatever they can to limit mistakes in order to earn the “quarterback whisperer” label on the back of some decent statistics.

“Everyone looks at the box score and says ‘The offense wasn’t that bad!’ But well, they sucked,” Simms said. “Quarterbacks and coaches are now very wary of mistakes.”

For years, I’ve looked at stats and said, “Wow, quarterbacks are so much more accurate now than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago.” NFL quarterbacks now routinely complete 65% (last year, Sam Bradford set a new NFL record with 84.4%). This was not remotely true a few decades ago, when anything over 50% was pretty good, and the league leaders were in the low 60s. Now I understand why: Failed Completions. It is not often that I read an article that blows my mind, but this one did. -TOB

Source: How Football Stopped Being Fun”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (09/19/2017)


HOT TAKE: Both Guys in this Story are Lame

This is hilarious. Generally, professional athletes keep their off-the-field/court beefs private. Especially baseball players. But this week Rockies reliever Pat Neshek aired his beef with Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke on the Sportscollectors.net message board. Neshek, apparently, is a big card/autograph collector. Yes, a professional baseball player, who has made $23 million dollars in his career, collects baseball player autographs and takes it super (duper!) seriously. He’s also a former Cardinal, obviously. And he posts about it on a corny-sounding message board, a message board of which he’s clearly a regular:

I will admit it: I LOL’d at all of this. Neshek being so upset. Neshek confronting Greinke twice. Greinke telling Neshek, “I wouldn’t even sign for your kid if he asked.” Neshek clowning on Greinke’s social anxiety disorder. It’s all so funny. I thought long and hard about it and I decided: Greinke is a turd (just give the GD autograph) and Neshek is a whiney dork. As for me, I am grateful for the hearty chuckle. -TOB

Source: Pat Neshek Is Pissed At Zack Greinke For Not Signing Autographs For Him”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (09/20/2017)

PAL: I’m with team Grienke on this one. Why is Neshek, a MLB vet, collecting autographs of his peers? So lame. If that wasn’t enough, Neshek, an All-Star pitcher, is crying about it on collectors’ a message board. Also, the line about Greinke telling Neshek that he wouldn’t even sign for his kid sounds…well, it sounds made up. It sounds like Neshek was bummed because Greinke didn’t want to give him, a co-worker, an autograph (because it’s lame), and Neshek ran an told all his friends about what a meanie that Zack Grienke is.


Desperation is Never Attractive

Pitt football has a proud and accomplished history, but in the last 30 years or so has been mostly bad. It’s hard to be relevant as a college football team in a major metropolis when there’s an NFL team in town, especially one as successful as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pitt is especially suffering. As a result, early on this season they have resorted to desperate tactics to attract and retain butts in seats:

Aw, geeze. So sad. And so many questions. What kind of beverage? A beer? A soda? A bottle of water? What is it? Let’s check in and see how this worked out for them:

Ouch. So many empty seats, and the ones that are filled are occupied by people who are literally asleep. Thanks to my mom for sending this story along. -TOB

Source: Pitt Offers Free Drinks to Get Sleeping (Literally) Fans to Stay in Stadium During Blowout”, Sam Cooper, Yahoo! Sports (09/16/2017)

PAL: That’s quite a price to pay for a experimental flavor of Mountain Dew:


Video of the Week

He’s a national treasure.

Bonus Video: 


PAL Song of the Week: Tom Rush – “Wrong End Of The Rainbow”


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“Bread is the paper of the food industry. You write your sandwich on it.”

-D. Schrute