Week of July 12, 2019

NFL player Josh Norman leaping over a bull at Pamplona.


A Bum and His Boch 

The Giants may be on the verge of trading Madison Bumgarner, a pitcher who helped win three World Series titles, and practically won the third all on his own. Some fans are practical: He’ll be a free agent, he’ll cost a lot, the team needs to rebuild by replenishing the farm system, and he’s one of the few marketable assets. Other fans are emotional: It’s Bummy! Don’t you remember the 2014 World Series? He’s still only 28. If we can turn this around in 2-3 years, he’ll still be young enough to contribute.

I’m in the middle. I absolutely want to restock the farm system, and realize that trading Bum, and 

not re-signing him, is our best option to continue doing so. But damn, I will be sad when it happens. Here’s what Phil wrote about him after the 2014 World Series:

Have you heard the theory about how the indigenous people couldn’t see the ships when Columbus hit landfall on the Americas? The theory is that the ships were so out of their realm of reality that they couldn’t process what was taking place before them. They couldn’t see the ships! Whether or not that’s true (I don’t buy it), that’s how I felt watching Madbum last night. I knew it was exceptional, but I couldn’t process it. Even when you tell me the numbers (.25 ERA in 36 WS innings…what the hell?), it still doesn’t process. I really don’t think we’ll ever, ever see a WS pitching performance like that again.

I just can’t let that go. And if we let him go and the prospects don’t amount to much, which is a very real possibility! (My headline there: Why You Should Temper Your Excitement If Your Team Trades a Star For a Few Top Prospects”), I will be pretty god damn upset.

But if I feel that way, as do so many other Giants fans, imagine how the guy who has managed him feels: Bruce Bochy. Bochy is retiring after this season, so it probably lessens the sting of Bumgarner leaving. But he also probably would prefer to finish his career with Bum on the bump, ya know? Bochy is not shy about expressing his love for the guy he managed from a 20-year old rookie to a World Series hero:

“With Madison, it’s a desire to be the best he can be,” Bochy said. “I love this man so much and I’ll never forget what he did for me, for us. Nah, he’s special, man. This is one … I’m really going to miss.”

I love this article by Baggarly, because he gets two stoic men to open up. But he also tells us things that we can’t know, because we don’t spend every day at the park:

It is an everyday sight whenever the Giants take batting practice: Bumgarner spends so much time at Bochy’s side, the two of them leaning against the back of the cage, that you might assume the man with No. 40 stretching across his broad back and the bristle of hair poking out from his hat is the hitting coach and not the No. 1 starting pitcher.

They might be talking about the hitter in the cage. They might be talking about last night’s game or how they should pitch an opponent on a hot streak. They might be talking about hunting or fishing or whether Bochy should build on that family farmland he inherited in North Carolina, just outside a sleepy little town called Wade.

“What’s talked about the most,” said Bumgarner, “is baseball.

As you read, you start to realize – this isn’t just manager/player. It’s not quite father/son, either. It’s two dear friends who share a love for the game they play. It’s one of the things I miss most as an adult – being able to compete and play the games I love with my friends. For their sake, and my own, I hope the Giants hold onto Bum, and he and Boch get to compete together for a couple more months. -TOB

Source: “‘He’s All We’ve Ever Known’: Madison Bumgarner and Bruce Bochy Near the End of Their Working Relationship, But Their Friendship Will Endure”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (06/24/2019)

PAL: You nail it, TOB. This right here is the fan experience: “It’s one of the things I miss most as an adult – being able to compete and play the games I love with my friends. For their sake, and my own, I hope the Giants hold onto Bum, and he and Boch get to compete together for a couple more months.”

When you have “A Guy” – and each franchise can only hope to have a few in the entire existence of a franchise – it’s hard to let go of seeing him on the mound in a Giants jersey for some prospects. And you’re right; there’s no guarantee any of the prospects will amount to much beyond serving as an asset. 

Bumgarner represents the absolute apex of what a fan hopes to get out of a player. Home-grown talent. The young buck at the beginning of the dynasty. A career defining ‘moment’ (he’s so good that his moment lasted an entire postseason in 2014). Add to it that SF and Bum are an unlikely combination: a country-strong, lift-kit Ford truck driving red-ass in the land of scooters. And all of this while the more heralded talent for the rival down south – Clayton Kershaw – won nothing but individual awards. 

So yeah, I say keep him. He’s not old. Rebuild this thing, and let him be the bridge to the next era. 

Or…

THE GIANTS SHOULD DEFINITELY TRADE HIM TO THE TWINS FOR MIGUEL SANO. GREAT DEAL FOR BOTH TEAMS.


I Don’t Hate This: Stealing First 

I’m usually the curmudgeon when it comes to changing baseball. Don’t change a thing. RBI is a meaningful stat. If I’m being honest, when I see someone hitting over .300 I all but concede that he’s a good hitter. 

But this idea is a radical one, and I friggin’ love it. MLB is using the Atlantic League (an independent league) as its lab, testing out rule changes and seeing their impact. In last week’s Atlantic League All-Star Game, the home plate ump had an AirPod on and ball and strike calls were made by a software. 

But that’s not even close to the most interesting rule change. Starting in the second half of the season, players will be allowed to steal first base. What the hell does that mean, you ask?

“Any pitch on any count not caught in flight will be considered a live ball, and a batter may run to first base, similar to a dropped third strike”

It doesn’t take much to see how this could really add an action-packed wrinkle to a largely stationary game. Per Yahoo’s Chris Cwik:

The rule would drastically alter the game if it is adopted in MLB. Players like Billy Hamilton might suddenly gain extra value. If a ball gets away, he can easily make it to first base. Given his speed, he’ll probably steal second base too.

Not only that, but players like Hamilton might see fewer breaking balls as a result of the new rule. If pitchers fear wild pitches or passed balls, they might serve up more fastballs to players with elite speed. In Hamilton’s case, that would be a good thing. He hits fastballs and sinkers much better than breaking stuff.

I love this. I love the idea of speed becoming much more valuable in a game dictated by power (pitching and hitting). I also love the late-game situations this would create.

Let’s say, I don’t know, the Twins are down by 2 in the ninth with 1 runner on base, and the old, slow, definitely-not-on-something Nelson Cruz is up. Cruz has 16 home runs, and he’s looking go boom. That’s why he’s still in the league – to hit home runs and to sport a haircut that he’s 17 years too old to sport. The pitcher throws one that gets away from the catcher early in the count. Does Cruz take first or stay put to try go boom on the next pitch? Does the pitcher, knowing that Cruz gets paid to hit for power, try to entice him to take first base? 

These are fun scenarios to think about, and this is such a no-brainer for the Atlantic League to be the lab rats for MLB. Let them steal first! Thanks for the tip, Pep! – PAL

Source: MLB will experiment with stealing first base in Atlantic League”, Chris Cwik, Yahoo Sports (07/10/2019) 

TOB:

It’s Freaky Friday, y’all. While I’m ready for RoboUmps, this rule change has me spooked. It’s such a big change. I’ll need to see it.

Also, if you’re like me – this article had me wondering: why even do we have the dropped third strike rule? Well, I did some sleuthing, and I’ll write about it next week.


From Fields to Stadiums: Babe Ruth, Frank Osborn, and Steel

Really enjoyed this one. It digs into how steel, along with a guy named Babe Ruth and an engineer named Frank Osborn, ushered in a new era of professional baseball. An unlikely grouping is alys a sturdy foundation for a good read. 

I’ve understood Babe Ruth’s greatness in terms of numbers, especially when compared to players of his day, but it wasn’t until I read this that I understood how massive his role was in brining baseball to the masses. He put butts in the seats. He sold papers. He’s why the Yankees stopped renting at the Polo Grounds and build their own field. And, in fact, it wasn’t a field; it was a stadium. 

Vince Guerrieri calibrates the reader to the time in question, a time when the Yankees were far from the “Evil Empire”:

Before the 1920 season, the Yankees bought the contract of Babe Ruth from the Red Sox for $125,000, the largest price ever for the purchase of a single player in a move regarded as folly at the time. At that price, the Yankees would have to draw a million fans to break even—unheard of at that point. As it turned out, Ruth’s prodigious home runs revolutionized the sport—and drew crowds. In his first year with the Yankees, the team became the first in major league history to draw more than one million fans, relegating the Giants to second fiddle in their own park. The Yankees needed a bigger place of their own—and the Giants were only too happy to have them leave, going so far as to serve them an eviction notice (later rescinded).

Before this time, most fields (they were called fields or parks, but not yet stadiums) were made of wood. A cheap material, readily available. They were small, far from permanent (much like the game itself) and pretty dangerous. Not only did wooden bleachers “fail”, but fires – big, killer fires – were far more of a regular threat in those days than they are now. Fires and wood – not a good combo. 

Also Baseball was far from a stable industry, and thus lacked the infrastructure. Never mind teams calling it quits – full leagues would fold over night. That volatility started fade when the masses to the fields. The Yankees attendance exceeded one million in Ruth’s first year, the first team to eclipse that mark. Two years later the team was building a stadium that could hold over 60K fans.

As the games popularity grew, thanks in large part to Ruth, the owners saw that they needed to accommodate (and charge) more fans. Baseball was becoming a viable business. And that’s when they called Frank Osborn in Cleveland, Ohio. Osborn earned his stripes as an engineer for a firm that specialized in steel bridges made for railroads. He understood how to build structures that could withstand a tremendous amount of moving weight in a relatively small space. 

While the steel reinforced concrete was a larger expense upfront, owners were no longer worried about leagues folding year to year. They were thinking long term. Frank Osborn’s steel and concrete stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit, and the Brox literally helped cemented baseball’s future. From 1903 – 1953, not a single team relocated.

The article goes on to describe the terrible detour of the multi-purpose,’doughnut’ stadiums that replaced so many of the original ‘stadiums’, as well as how the new stadiums have reverted back to the vintage aesthetic. Best of all, Osborn Engineering is still in operation today. 

What an enjoyable read, and the old photos are so fun to pour over. – PAL 

Source: How Concrete And Steel Built Baseball”, Vince Guerrieri, Deadspin (07/08/2019)


Little Big League: Still Holds Up!

If you asked me to choose my favorite baseball movie, I am torn. I love the Sandlot. I love Field of Dreams. But my top two are Major League, and Little Big League. We covered Major League back in April, as this year is its 30th anniversary. But Little Big League is 25 years old this year, and The Athletic did a fantastic look at what is an unbelievably underrated movie (just 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, which – GFTOH!). 

If you don’t remember Little Big League, the premise is simple: 12-year old Billy Heywood inherits the Minnesota Twins from his grandpa, who passes away near the beginning of the film. The team is slumping, and Billy fires the manager (Dennis Farina playing a Billy Martin-type character). Unable to find a replacement, Billy names himself the manager, and teaches the players to remember why they love playing baseball and in the process they begin to win games.

A lot of things stick out for me in this movie, much of it covered by the article. For example, the baseball scenes are very realistic, and the article gets into how they did that. There are some great cameos, and I get a kick out of watching them now just as I did as a 12-year old. It’s also a genuinely funny movie, even as an adult. It’s just a fun-watch. 

But it’s also a smart-watch. For example, this scene, where Billy convinces the GM and the bench coach that he’s qualified to coach the team (and the line from Billy’s friend who comes up with the idea that he manage the team still kills me: “It’s the American League! They’ve got the DH. How hard could it be?”):

For mainstream baseball, that argument against the sacrifice bunt is twenty years ahead of its time. I also love this scene where Billy enlists the entire team to help him with his homework before they play a one-game playoff to determine whether they make the postseason.

Or how about the fact that, in the climactic scene, the Mariners’ Randy Johnson comes out of the bullpen in the 9th to close the door. Using your best pitcher in relief in a playoff game is almost a decade ahead of its time! 

If you haven’t seen the movie, or if it’s been a while, I highly recommend it! -TOB

Source: Little Big League’ at 25: The Inside Story of an Unlikely Baseball Classic”, Rustin Dodd, The Athletic (06/28/2019)

PAL: TOB made we watch this movie a year or so ago. Watching him watch it and make the case for its greatness was more entertaining than the movie. 

As a Twins fan, I have a couple issues with this movie. 

Timothy Busfield? Really? That’s the best we can do for our first baseman and lead actor in a movie about the Twins? Kevin Costner’s brother-in-law from Field of Dreams, that’s what we get? 

This quote from Dave Magaden, former big leaguer and actor in the movie, about Busfleid’s assessment of his own talents had me dying: 

“He played a little high school baseball, so he had that mindset that if he’d kept working at it, he would have made it to the pros. He was a decent hitter, I guess.” 

HAHAHAHAHAHA! Some hollywood guy played a little in high school and thinks he could have made it to the pros. Of course, Busfield. 

Oh, and let’s not have a friggin’ extra wearing #34 for the Twins. You wouldn’t have an extra wearing #23 for the Bulls in a basketball movie, would you?

Also, the Rawling Pump glove is heavily featured in this movie:

Most important, TOOTBLAN, as demonstrated by Ken Griffey, Jr. in this movie, is a first grade, world class, phenomenal concept. I will be using it the next time I coach.  

TOB: I will give Busfield this: his swing is decent and he throws like a ballplayer.

PAL: His swing is a bad Griffey impression. Nah. A guy like that has to have more of a grinder swing. He should swing more like Brian Giles.


Video of the Week

^World Cup champion Ashlyn Harris channeling PAL and TOB, every Friday morning.


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Sam & Dave: “Hold On, I’m Comin'”


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

-M.G. Scott

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Week of July 5, 2019

PAL and TOB enjoyed this long holiday weekend watching sports and sipping tea. We hope you did the same. We’ll be back next week. Go USWNT!

 

Two Days In a Gorgeous Hellscape: The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

We attended last week’s U.S. Open, and TOB had some thoughts.

Two Days In a Gorgeous Hellscape: What It’s Like to Attend the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

While watching last year’s U.S. Open, I saw an ad for this year’s tournament, played at the relatively close Pebble Beach Golf Course. Phil and I decided to attend, and purchased tickets a year in advance. Neither of us had ever been to a golf tournament before, nor had we been to Pebble Beach. We decided attending both Saturday and Sunday was the perfect plan. We could try a few spots and vantage points on Saturday, and use that to inform our plan of attack on Sunday.

The night before we left, the reality of the fact I was going to leave my wife with two kids for two days while I watched golf seemed to set in for her. She peppered me with questions. What are you going to do? Watch golf. Isn’t that boring? Yeah, I had to admit, maybe. This is so stupid. Is that a question? She was not thrilled.

The next morning, Phil picked me up at 5:30am, and we hit the road. With her questions fresh in my mind, and Phil’s fiance’s similar questions fresh in his mind, we asked ourselves: What kind of person attends these things? What’s it like to attend a golf tournament? What’s the best way to watch a golf tournament in person? We’d soon find out the answers to these questions and many more.

Who Attends the U.S. Open?

Let’s get this out of the way: Lots and lots of white people. More specifically, though, white people who really love golf. If you think you love golf, you are probably wrong. A person who attends the U.S. Open, many of them flying across the country to do so, love golf in a way I can’t get my head around. They love to watch it. They love to talk about it. They love to analyze it. They love to crack jokes about how much better the pros are than they are. Lots of old white guys leaned over to us after a big shot and made some variation of the following joke: “Heh heh, you don’t want to see me try to get up and down from there.”

So, obviously, golfers attend the U.S. Open. But not your once-a-year duffers like your hosts, here. Golfers who take it really seriously. So seriously that they wear their golfing gear to the U.S. Open. I’m talking performance golf pants and golf shoes – hand to God we saw people in golf spikes! It’d be like going to a football game as a fan in full uniform. They dress like they dress when they play, but they aren’t playing. It’s wild. This was a big topic of conversation for us all weekend.

The U.S. Open is also a great place, apparently, to show off your bonafides as a golf fan. Before we even got on the shuttle Saturday, I saw three Masters-branded clothing items. We decided to count them, hoping to find 100 such items on the day. We barely got there, finding #100 in the line to board the shuttle home, but by God we did it.

The Masters-branded clothing item is a very specific statement: I Have Been to the Masters, Thus I Am a Very True and Devoted Golf fan. Some people were wearing two and three Masters-branded clothing items. We saw many groups where they were all wearing Masters-branded clothing items. During one trip to the concessions, Phil saw a Masters-branded braided belt and I almost cried when he told me about it, because I was so mad to have not seen it myself. Phil and I had a lot of laughs imagining these old guys packing for their trip, panicking as they couldn’t find their Masters shirt. “HONEY! WHERE’S MY MASTERS SHIRT!!! I TOLD YOU TO MAKE SURE IT WAS WASHED AND READY!”

On top of Masters-gear, there were an incalculable number of 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach-branded clothing items. Hats, jackets, shirts, windbreakers, sweaters, sweater vests, t-shirts, sunglasses. You name it, they sold it, and thousands of fans bought it. We saw people with huge bags of 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach-branded clothing items, and we saw thousands that threw those items on top of whatever it was they arrived wearing. Then you had a decent number of guys busting out their 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach-branded clothing items. We even saw two guys with 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach-branded clothing items, and boy was golf fashion in 2000 awful. By the way, those two items were in pristine condition, so you know those guys kept those jackets protected carefully the last two decades, only busting them out for special occasions.

More obscure but equally as bonafides-signaling were the other U.S. Open-branded clothing items. Shinnecock, Erin Hills, Oakmont, Pinehurst, Congressional, Bethpage, Torrey Pines, Oakmont, Winged Foot, and the Olympic: All have hosted the Open over the last twenty years, and I saw hats and pins and shirts from each.

Another thing that can’t be ignored is that U.S. Open attendees are, or seem to be, overwhelmingly pro-Trump. Given that I live in San Francisco and enjoy my liberal bubble, this was a bit disorienting. We saw less MAGA hats than I expected, but we saw a LOT of MAGA-adjacent hats. By that I mean, a U.S. Open 2019-branded hat in a very specific shade of red, that when viewed from more than a few feet away causes most observers to think it IS a MAGA hat.

Given the political climate, in my opinion, wearing such a hat is a very specific choice to make a political statement. But there’s more. Personally, I think war is bad. I find military flyovers to be distasteful, especially as the current administration seems to be sounding the drums of a war against Iran. But shortly after the tournament ended Sunday, two military jets performed a flyover. It was crazy loud. The crowd cheered in approval, and a U-S-A- chant broke out. Phil and I muttered quietly. 

But the funniest moment occurred when we first got to Pebble Beach on Saturday. Just as the free shuttle (again more on that later) got to the gates, we saw a small handful of protesters holding signs about global warming. The loud and talkative man with a thick southern accent who was sitting in the seat directly behind us could not let this go without comment.

“Protesters, hah. They probably went to Berkeley.

I, a proud Cal grad, whipped around in my seat.

“And what’s wrong with that?”

He stammered. “Uh..nothing. I hear it’s a good school.”

“Yeah. Ok.”

I sat back down. He continued, “They’re probably taking time off from their job at the EPA.” A joke so dumb I didn’t even respond. But yeah, preserving our environment, what a stupid friggin liberal idea, huh, Bubba?

Not two minutes later, as we approached the course, emerging from the forest as the ocean and landscape of Pebble Beach came into view, this dude remarked, “Sure is beautiful here.” I thought Phil and I were going to self-combust. But like good adults we bit our tongues and then griped about that idiot on and off for the next two days.

So, who attends the U.S. Open? Mostly white guys, from climates where golf is very popular (ahem), and all of the political leanings that come with that (ahem ahem).

What’s it like to Attend the U.S. Open as a “Sporting Event”?

I grappled with the answer to this question throughout the experience, and in the days since. As we left on Sunday, right as I was asking myself whether I would ever do it again, Phil asked me that very same question. I had to pause. Would I do this over again knowing what I know now? Yes. Would I ever come back again, though? To answer that question, I must explain a few things.

Golf is a deeply weird sport to attend. It’s unnervingly quiet. The players and officials demand silence as players begin to line up their shot, and that culture is also self-policed by attendees. Even when players are 250 yards away and can’t possibly hear you, the fans shush each other as a player begins to shoot. And there’s little ambient noise. There’s no music. There’s no announcer. There’s nothing but long stretches of silence, interrupted by brief and relatively tepid applause, with an occasional mild cheer. If you are used to attending baseball, basketball, or football games, it’s a bewildering experience.

The lack of announcers, particularly, makes it hard to follow the action, because as you sit in any single place watching two golfers take a couple shots, there are 34 other golfers on the course that you can’t see, and you have no idea what’s going on with them. They did hand out these dorky looking radio earpieces, but even trying to follow all the action on there is difficult, as the broadcast focuses on the leaders. So you’re left to scoreboard watching, with scores posted for each player’s hole after it’s completed. I will say that is a thrilling moment. “Oh boy, they’re posting Koepka’s score on 6 – did he get that eagle he needed. … … … NO!”

Also, the food sucks. Every single concession stand had these exact food options, with no variation: Hamburger. Grilled chicken sandwich. Bratwurst. Chicken caesar wrap. Turkey cheddar sub. Lay’s original potato chips. THAT IS IT. And none of those hot items were any good. Ok, the brat wasn’t bad, because that’s almost impossible to screw up. But it also wasn’t particularly good. And each concession had the exact same beer options: Budweiser (in a delightful Yosemite branded aluminum bottle). Michelob Ultra aluminum bottle. Sculpin can. I realize that the club does not normally need to produce food for 40,000 people so they don’t have permanent kitchens that can feed that many people, but it seems like they could have provided a bit more variety, and a bit higher quality.

Golf is also weird to attend because everyone roots for all the players. Basically, the fans root for good shots, no matter who makes the shot. Yes, there are favorites. Phil astutely pointed out that the fan favorites seem to be the guys with a nickname that fans can shout. Dustin Johnson is peppered with calls to “DJ!” Matt Kuchar, Stiffer of Caddies, is showered with drones of KUUUUUUUUUUUUCH!” Tiger is of course Tiger, and Mickelson is a cheesedick though beloved. But for the most part, fans cheer good shots and groan in solidarity with bad ones. Most of the fans golf, and they seem to empathize with the players, both good and bad. So when I openly root against the amateur from Stanford like I absolutely did, and cheer when he misses a short putt on 18 Sunday like I absolutely did, the eyerolls and anger are palpable.

Golf is also weird because your glimpse of both the players and the action is incredibly brief. On Sunday we sat, all day long, in the grandstand on the 18th green. We saw every single player come through: Tiger. Mickelson. Spieth. McIlroy. Koepka. But we saw each guy for what feels like 30 seconds. They appear as tiny specks on the horizon, take just a couple shots when you can actually make out their faces, and then they disappear. If you’re a huge Tiger fan, unless you brave the crowds and try to follow him for the entire day, you see him for about a minute, at best. It’s like if your favorite baseball player is Buster Posey, and you wait all year for him to come to town – then he sits on the bench all day and comes out for a single, one-pitch at bat, and disappears back into the dugout.

And even when you do see the players, they are not superhuman specimens like you see in other sports. I thought Brooks Koepka would look like a linebacker. But when we saw him tee off on the 6th on Saturday, Phil and I could not get over how he’s actually kinda skinny: chicken legs and skinny forearms – and he’s one of the bigger guys!

The fact that players look like normal people has an interesting effect, especially in concert with all of the above: the U.S. Open doesn’t feel important or dramatic or special. I’ve attended big sporting events, and it always feels so exciting. But at the U.S. Open, for most of the day you’re with a relatively sparse crowd watching some normal-looking people play golf, with no announcers giving you context in hushed tones.  It feels so incredibly normal, and far less exciting than I expected.

What’s the Best Way to Attend a Golf Tournament

Ahead of the tournament, I was very excited to answer this question. And I’ll give golf this: there are practically infinite ways to watch a golf tournament. Some people follow their favorite golfer from hole to hole. Some people camp out at one spot. Some people are there to get drunk and enjoy the scenery. Some people want to show off their golf gear. Some people are there for the pure sport – to see some great golf shots.

On Saturday, we went in with almost no plan. In the morning, we first stopped by the driving range (don’t do that) and then we walked almost the entire course, just to get the lay of the land. We scouted positions, watched some golf, scouted some more positions, watched some more golf. Then, in the afternoon, we found a relatively small and empty grandstand on the 6th hole, and we parked it. We didn’t intend to stay long, but suddenly the big names were on their way and we had a front row view of the tee box. The 6th is a par-5, so we were going to see some bombs, and it was good. We saw all the big names from very close, and it was neat. We even got on TV making fun of Phil Mickelson’s personal logo, which commemorates his unathletic yet mildly iconic jump after he won his first Masters.

The problem with being on the 6th hole though is that when the last group goes through, there are still 2+ hours of golf left on the course, but no more golf where you are. So as the last group approached, we left the grandstand to beat the exiting crowd and tried to find a new spot. After some more meandering, we found ourselves in the grandstand at 18, and we realized that this was the best spot to be, something I did not expect myself to conclude.

So on Sunday, we considered getting a spot in the grandstand for the iconic 7th hole (a very short par 3 right on the ocean) for a little bit before heading over to 18 before it got too crazy. But the lines at 7 were long and not moving because people don’t leave.

So we popped over to the 5th for a minute, another par 3, but it was kinda boring and I started to get antsy about getting into the 18th grandstand, which is far bigger than the others, but is also very popular. From 5, we had a solid view of the 18th grandstand and could see it was already almost half full, at least two hours before the first group would even arrive.

So we elected to head over, and we did just in time. We got great seats, and camped out the rest of the day. Once the grandstands fill, there’s basically a one in, one out policy. Except! They understand people need to use the restroom and eat and whatnot, so if you are already in and plan on returning they give you a card with a time on it – you have thirty minutes to get back without having to wait in line. So we spent the rest of the day alternating trips to the bathroom or concessions, marveling each time at the length of the unmoving line to get into the special place we’d staked out, and patting ourselves on the back for having such foresight.

We of course also had the grouping schedule, so we could plan those breaks accordingly. When the big names and the final groups came through to finish their tournament, there we were, in our seats that we occupied for approximately nine hours.

The nice thing about that setup is that because the 18th is a par 5, there was almost never a lull in the action. Group 1 would tee off and then walk to their shots in the middle of the fairway. They’d take their second shot and head up to the green. Before they got to their ball, Group 2 behind them would tee off and walk to their shots in the middle of the fairway. Then, as soon as Group 1 completed the hole, Group 2 would take its second shot to the green. Compared to our day at the tee on 6, where we awaited players finishing the par-3 5th hole where only one group can play at a time, there was very little sitting around without anything going on. Plus, we got to see the end of the tournament, from great seats, as the other 40,000 people in attendance crowded 10-people deep along the fairways.

So, the best way to watch a golf tournament is in the grandstand at the green on a par-5, preferably the 18th hole so you can see the end.

So, Would I Go Again?

Well..I wouldn’t say attending the U.S. Open is a purely fun activity, though I did have fun hanging out with Phil for two days, talking about life, cracking jokes at the things we were seeing, and analyzing the experience while living it. But…

The U.S. Open returns to Pebble in 2027. At that time, my kids would be nearly 13 and 11 (geeeeezus). If they wanted to go, I’d go. I certainly wouldn’t be champing at the bit, but I’d go. I’d spend a little more money to get a hotel closer to Pebble. I might only go Sunday, and I’d probably take the following Monday off work, to avoid having to drive home so late. And if the Open ever returns to the Olympic Club, a place I could get to on a short bus ride from my house? I would definitely go.

In the end, the people watching is too magnificent to pass up. Also, now that I have a taste for attending an event like this, I really want to go to a major tennis tournament. Or an obscure event at the Olympics. Or maybe the X-Games? Luckily, I have a wonderful and understanding wife. -TOB

Week of May 31, 2019

He…caught that?


Is “Post-Access Journalism” Coming to American Sports?

In the U.S., we are accustomed to a couple scenes after a game: the first, players/coaches at a podium, often bored out of their minds, answering questions that are rarely interesting and even more rarely results in an interesting answer. The second, players, often half naked and surly, sitting or standing at their locker, microphones stuffed in their faces, while they answer even less interesting questions and give even less interested answers. I have never understood the value of this, personally, because of how rarely we learn anything worth knowing, but the leagues mandate this media access in order to promote the league, its teams, and its players.

As the Ringer’s Bryan Curtis writes, the same is not true in Europe. Soccer leagues and teams do not mandate media availability. Because player discussion with media are not mandated, they are rare, and the results are rather unexpected. When a soccer player or coach does speak to the media, the media companies and reporters realized it was in their collective best interest not to run straight to Twitter with any quotes they might get. Instead they voluntarily agreed to embargo such information. Here’s an example:

After a Saturday soccer match, a club’s manager gives a press conference in front of the TV cameras in the same manner Steve Kerr will this week. What the manager says can be used immediately, on TV or on Twitter. Then, the manager may hold a separate meeting with newspaper writers and answer more questions. What the manager says in that interview is embargoed, by agreement of the writers, until 10:30 p.m. that night. No tweets, no early posts allowed.

Sometimes, the various press conferences contradict one another. As ESPN soccer writer Mark Ogden told me: “The gray area comes when [José] Mourinho says in the open press conference, ‘Paul Pogba isn’t trying hard enough.’ And then in the embargoed section he would go further, saying, ‘Paul Pogba’s not trying hard enough because we’ve had a big row. He hates me.’”

When that happens, a soccer writer has a choice: tell half the story immediately or tell the whole thing at 10:30 p.m. “Embargoes don’t really do any massive harm,” Smith said. “But there are times when you think, ‘Actually, I am almost going to write something that I now know is either incomplete or runs contrary to the full picture, because I have more of the picture.’ That’s a weird thing to do.”

The reasons for the embargoes are many, but the main two are these:

[H]olding news till 10:30 p.m. helps keep the print product alive. If a reader finds a fresh story on the back page of the morning paper, the thinking goes, they’ll be more tempted to buy it. “We willfully function as analog rather than as digital,” Smith said. “But we’re British and we’re a very traditional people.”

Another reason to have embargoes is the idea that readers will drown in the amount of content created by an all-timer like Liverpool-Barcelona. The news and quotes are more likely to be savored if they’re doled out in installments. Yet another reason, Burrows noted, is that holding news gives reporters a chance to write a proper piece instead of a glorified tweet.

As a consumer, some of this I find refreshing. If you check Twitter after a baseball game, the same 4-6 writers all report the same quote from the same players or coaches within seconds of each other. It’s sorta wild. And it makes me wonder if all the Giants beat writers, for example, wouldn’t be better off dividing up the work, so to speak.

But there’s a dark side to all this.

First, the lack of access to players causes reporters to ask questions well ahead of when they normally might, and then ration information they receive. They might not get to speak to that player again for weeks, so they have to get all the answers they can when they can, and then hold that information and slowly divvy it out until the next time they speak.

Second, it has given rise to bad journalism. Players never have to speak to the media, and so they can leverage that power into granting softball interviews, where they (read: their agents/advisors) get to review and edit answers, and where they even get multiple plugs for some god awful product they are endorsing. Instead of an interview, you end up with sponsored content, like this:

First, they might ask for a branded photo to run with the article. Over coffee, Liew pulled out his phone to show me a Daily Telegraph profile he’d written of Manchester United (then Cardiff City) manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2014. The interview had been organized by Barclays, a Premier League sponsor. In the photo, Solskjaer was holding a soccer ball with Barclays’ #YouAreFootball hashtag helpfully pointed at the camera. “This is nice and subtle, isn’t it?” Liew said.

Here’s that photo:

LOLOLOLOL. And the plugs continue:

That’s one plug. Players or manager representatives may also ask for a mention in the text of the story. (“Solskjaer seems relaxed now, having taken some time out to field questions from grassroots coaches as part of a Barclays community event.”) Finally, they ask for the coup de grace: another mention of the product right at the end of the article.

“That’s called a credit,” Liew said.

“A credit?” I said.

“A credit, yeah,” Liew said. “Almost like a shout-out to mom and dad.”

And here’s the “credit”:

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was speaking at a Barclays community event. This season Barclays is thanking fans, community heroes, players and managers for making the game what it is. Join the conversation using #YouAreFootball.

Yikes, that’s gross. But what choice do they have?

“That’s why the whole access game is so corrupt, in a way,” said Liew. “It’s vested interests flogging bad copy to extremely pliant sportswriters.”

And I was talking to good writers, who were queasy about these trade-offs, rather than tabloid scufflers, who might accept them without thinking twice. But even the good writers said a level of branding had crept into the paper.

“We would still resist that complete takeover of the copy,” said Northcroft of The Sunday Times. “But realistically we would bend, and certainly articles would have some kind of … branded photo and maybe a mention, either in the copy or at the end.”

Liew said: “If you get an exclusive interview with Messi, and his agents say, ‘Can we look at the quotes before?’—I know we talk about principles, but we’re going to say yes to that. And most people are—and try and keep it quiet. That’s the reality of it.”

So, as little value I had seen in post-game interview, this does sound waaaaaay worse. Curtis writes this as a cautionary tale for American sports, especially as a few NBA players have recently take more agency with regard to that mandated media “availability”. But I’m not so sure, so long as the league mandates remain in place. Still, this was a fascinating read. -TOB

Source: “‘The Bane of My Existence’: U.K. Sportswriting’s Access Crisis”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (05/29/2019)

PAL: This was a depressing read. With so many rules and embargoes, what the hell is the point of covering a team?


The Last 50

Loved this story. In 2012, the Major League draft shrunk from an almost unfathomable 50 rounds down to a still astounding 40 rounds. By comparison, the NFL has 7 rounds, and the NBA only has 2 rounds. A hell of a lot of players are needed to to fill the rosters of all the minor league affiliates. The San Francisco Giants have 8 – count them 8 – minor league teams.

This reduction from 50 to 40 eight years ago might seem insignificant, but for Jarrod Dyson. Giants fans remember him as a Royal, but Dyson is now a bench player for the Diamondbacks. More historically significant, Jarrod Dyson is the last standing active MLB player drafted in the 50th round or later. More than a number, as The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan underscores in his story, Dyson represents a bygone era of scouting (and hiding) a gem.

Brian Rhees was a first year scout in Mississippi. Like a hell of a lot of late-rounders, Dyson was noticed by accident. Once Rhees graded Dyson with 80 speed (scouts rate on a 20-80 scale, which I don’t understand), and once he realized no one else was onto Dyson, Rhees kept his discovery a secret. Dyson really couldn’t hit or really throw all that well, but he could run.

So the 2006 draft begins. In the late rounds of the draft – the real late rounds – where the chances of a player actually making it to the bigs is so slim, teams are really trying to fill roster spots on their various minor league squads. Rhees, who was following along on the computer, noticed the Royals had gone into the roster-filling mode and still hadn’t picked Dyson, his late round sleeper.

What follows is what some folks describe as fate. I describe it as my favorite writing from the story. It just zooms.

Deric Ladnier was going to give the last pick of the 2006 draft to scout Johnny Ramos.

It was going to be some high school pitcher from Puerto Rico, as far as the former Royals and current Diamondbacks amateur scouting director can remember. Named Pérez, maybe? The exact details elude him. After all, there’s not much at stake that late in the draft. “The 50th-round pick in the draft never plays in the big leagues,” Ladnier says. “So, I’m going to do a favor.”

Ladnier had that pitcher’s draft file in his hand, ready to give to Stewart to announce the final pick, when Rhees called into the draft room. The scout was worked up, sounding like a man frantically trying to wake someone asleep inside a burning building. All draft, his nerves had been fraying.

Rhees was following the progress of the draft at home on his computer. With about five rounds to go, Dyson’s name still hadn’t been called. “It just kind of appeared to me that we were drafting for the sake of pulling names out of a hat,” Rhees says. “I know we weren’t, but that was the feeling you got. There were times when you’d hear a name and go, ‘I saw that guy! He’s terrible! What are we doing?’” He bemoaned to his wife what he predicted would be the premature death of his scouting career. “She’s a bench player, so she knows how to rag,” Rhees says. “She just shrugged her shoulders and looked at me and said, ‘There’s always Home Depot.’”

He wouldn’t go so quietly. He picked up the phone and dialed the draft room, alerting them to the fact that Dyson remained on the board. He was given the brush-off. The selections ticked by, the 47th round, the 48th, the 49th. “At this point, I’m mad,” he says. “I’m like, ‘C’mon, that’s the groundkeeper’s nephew. What are we doing here?’” Once again, he dialed the draft room in Kansas City. Vizcaino picked up. “I had a unique relationship with Junior because I could just kind of yell,” Rhees says. “Like, ‘Junior, what the hell are we doing? Dyson! Dyson!’ Then I heard him go, ‘Deric! Eighty tool! Eighty tool!’”

An 80-grade tool was never available that late. Dyson’s speed was special, and it made sense to take a flyer on special. But what also stood out was how much Rhees cared about the pick. Who gets worked up over a 50th-rounder? “Nobody is fighting for their player in the 50th round,” Ladnier says. “Nobody. We’re looking for warm bodies.” So, Ladnier put down the file of that Puerto Rican pitcher, whoever he was, and handed Dyson’s to Stewart.

There are so many reasons why Dyson shouldn’t have made it, including three failed drug tests (it’s not that cut-and-dry, trust me), yet he’s won a World Series and earned nearly $15MM to date. In today’s world, the idea of a guy with an 80-grade skill still being available in the last round is preposterous. Any cursory ‘prospect’ search of Instagram will kick up a wide range of skill levels.

A treat of a story to read. Cheers, to Jarrod Dyson! – PAL

Source:The Unlikely – But Maybe Destined – Career of Jarrod Dyson, the Last 50th-rounder Standing”, Zach Buchanan, The Athletic (05/29/19)

TOB: Really good article, and loved Phil how pulled it all together.


Break the NCAA Wheel

RJ Hampton is ESPN’s #5 ranked basketball recruit in the country. He had offers to just about everywhere, including Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. But when he weighed whether to play for an “education” or go and get paid, my dude chose wisely. Hampton opted out of the NCAA’s ridiculous system and instead chose to sign a one-year contract with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian pro league, the NBL. I loved that Hampton decided to announce this decision live on ESPN, under the guise of choosing between three colleges. Hah. What a bad ass.

The NBL has wisely positioned itself as an NCAA alternative for would-be-one-and-done players. They recently launched the Next Stars Program, allowing teams to invite top caliber American high school seniors and “sign them to a short-term contract without counting against the team’s quota of three international players.” Players in the Next Stars Program get paid $100,000, and are eligible to enter the NBA Draft after one year.

If the NCAA won’t pay players, or at least allow players to cash in on endorsements, it deserves to die, and I hope this is the first of many players who tells the NCAA to pound sand.

As an aside: it came out Thursday that Hampton knew of his decision for a month, but didn’t tell the coaches recruiting him. I would presume this was to allow the contract to be hammered out with his NBL team. But ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb decided this was the height of offense, and (in a tweet he deleted hours later) called Hampton “classless” and what he did a “DB maneuver”. WHICH IS FUNNY, DOUG. Because I recall when YOU were in college and you stole a teammate’s credit card, racked up a thousand dollars in charges, which is CREDIT CARD FRAUD, DOUG, and got kicked out of school.

Thought we forgot about that one, DOUG? And as I tweeted Thursday to someone who said “it was 20 years ago and it was only $1,000” (LOL): If there’s anyone in college basketball who should be driving the “Kids make mistakes!” train, it’s Doug Friggin Gottlieb. Instead he calls a guy classless and a douchebag.”

You suck, Doug Gottlieb. -TOB

Source: Top Recruit Stiff-Arms the NCAA”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (05/28/2019)

PAL: Yeah, I love how an adult ripped a teenager for being classless while also calling the teenager a douchebag. Also, one does not drive a train.

Also, and completely related to NCAA stuff, did you know the Twins are 19 friggin’ games over .500?

TOB: First of all:

And second of all, don’t go suckin your popsicle just yet. The NL Standings on July 10, 2016:

Giants went 30-42 the rest of the season.


Everest’s Graveyard

The traffic jam at the peak of Mount Everest, captured in what looks like a doctored photograph, has been quite the story this week. A cocktail of a corrupt government handing out permits willy nilly, opportunistic expedition companies, and irrational people thick with cash and thin on mountaineering experience has created a Disney-like line of people waiting to summit Everest. In other words, do the thing they will slip into at every bar, graduation party, and wedding reception encounter for the rest of their respective lives.

While there is altogether too many folks trying to summit during the short, May window when the weather breaks enough for the best chance at the summit; increasingly warm temperatures have also revealed reminders of the risk involved for even the most experienced mountaineers. Several dead bodies from previous failed expeditions are being uncovered. They serve both as landmarks and perhaps ominous indicators of global warming at one of the most extreme places on earth.

In the last few seasons, climbers say they have seen more bodies lying on the icy slopes of Everest than ever before. Both the climbers and the Nepalese government believe this is a grim result of global warming, which is rapidly melting the mountain’s glaciers and in the process exposing bones, old boots and full corpses from doomed missions decades ago.

The Nepalese government is struggling with what to do. More than 100 bodies may be lying on Everest, and there is an open debate about whether to remove them or leave them be. Some climbers believe that fallen comrades have become a part of the mountain and should remain so. A number of the bodies are remarkably well-preserved: Sun-bleached parkas outline faces frozen into the color of charcoal.

Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air was my first exposure to the business end of Everest.  As enthralling as the objective is, it seems the purity of this pursuit was lost long ago, if it existed much at all (I mean, shouldn’t we be remembering the sherpas?). I can’t think of a more appropriate symbol of that commercializing of an ambition than a traffic jam at the top of the world stepping amongst the frozen dead. – PAL

Source: As Everest Melts, Bodies Are Emerging From the Ice”, Bhadra Sharma and Kai Schultz, The New York Times (05/30/19)


The State of the NBA

I’m generally not a fan of the Ringer’s Chris Ryan. He’s grates on every Ringer podcast he appears on – always yes-man-ing Simmons, interrupting people who are far smarter than he is, even while they make an interesting point, and he tried waaaaaaaaay too hard to sound like he know what he’s talking about when discussing basketball by using dumb initials or some other crap.

BUT. This was a really interesting piece by Chris Ryan and Justin Verrier, where the two discuss the state of the NBA, how free agency discussions have taken over the entire league’s discourse and rendered the play on the court an almost after thought, how players over the last decade are treating their careers more like European-based soccer players, and what teams face and how they should react to players taking greater agency over their place of employ (sensing a trend here?). Here’s one passage I especially liked from Verrier:

I feel for Giannis….He and the Bucks smashed preseason expectations, earning the league’s best record and him a spot on the MVP ballot along the way, yet a loss in May 2019 is instantly warped into a footnote for his decision in July 2021. Everything moves too damn fast. But the accelerated timeline is as much a product of his peers’ decisions as it is today’s media culture. Davis can’t become a free agent until July 2020, yet he orchestrated his exit strategy in January 2019; Irving asked out of Cleveland two years before he could enter free agency; and so on. It’s in teams’ best interest to get some sort of payout for their damages, so the process of trading a disgruntled star starts way earlier than you’d think. Next season is the Bucks’ proving grounds, whether they want to admit it or not, and they’re heading into an offseason when almost every helpful player is a free agent. There is a good chance that Milwaukee’s window has closed, just days after we coronated them as the NBA’s next dynasty.

It’s a really good read. -TOB

Source: A Rational Conversation About What Happens When NBA Titles Are Not Enough”, Justin Verrier and Chris Ryan, The Ringer (05/29/2019)


ACHTUNG! NO FUN SHALL BE HAD IN THE NBA FINALS!

During the Eastern Conference Finals, Drake, the rapper (not Drake, the kid from my son’s soccer team who my son and I once saw on BART and tricked my wife into thinking we had seen Drake, the rapper), a Toronto native and Raptors Super Fan, had a lot of fun.

Listen to the announcers enjoy that. It’s fun! What’s wrong with fun! But there will be no joy in the Finals, as Drake has been called to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension for being a very bad boy who has too much fun, young man. Per NBA Commish and hater of fun, Adam Silver:

I think there’s a line too in terms of sitting right on the floor, in terms of engagement whether it’s with the referees and players on other teams. It’s hard to calibrate sometimes exactly where that line is and I think he has a better understanding now of where that line is.

And his manager Future [Adel Nur] who sits with him too, we’ve all talked, all of us together, since then. There’s been conversations that’s taken place. It’s more just, let’s find where that right line is.

Boo. As MLB says: Let the kids play! -TOB

Source: Drake And The Raptors Both Got A Talking-To From The NBA”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (05/30/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Old Crow Medicine Show – “Temporary Like Achilles (Live)”


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“You know? I may have underestimated you. You’re not a total ass.”

-Dwight K. Schrute

Week of May 17, 2019

 


Bounce, Bounce, Bounce, Bounce.

Every so often you read something so great you think, “Man, I wish I had written this.” Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky is a favorite ‘round here, and for good reason, but this might be my favorite article he’s ever written.

First a little background: You probably know that the Raptors beat the Sixers in Game 7 on Sunday, on one the craziest buzzer beaters you may ever see, by Kawhi Leonard.  Note: It is NOT the greatest series winning buzzer beater (as I detailed a few weeks back, there haven’t been many), as I have seen many argue this week. I still give that to Lillard’s step back 37-footer just last round. It’s not the greatest because the shot was kinda terrible – he shot it short, and really had no business making it. But Lillard’s shot was pure, a straight swish – thus the greater shot. But it was the craziest series winning buzzer beater, hitting the front (relative to Leonard) iron, bouncing practically straight up while picking up a top spin, and then slowly bouncing its way down and into the net, hitting the rim a total of four times along the way.

Here’s another cool ass angle:

A lot was written about the game and the shot, as you can imagine, but Petchesky’s stands out for the way he told the story of the shot as it unfolded, bounce by bounce, weaving in images, video, player quotes.

Bounce.

It wasn’t going in. A basketball, at least in the scheme of sports, is relatively predictable. Not like a baseball, which has seams that, in a pitcher’s hand or when deflecting off some imperfection on the infield dirt, can do some pretty wild stuff; not like a football, which is designed to be aerodynamic but when on the ground will bounce maddeningly at random; certainly not like a puck, which when on edge can get weird. A basketball is straightforward. This doesn’t make it any easier for a player to make it do what he wants it to do, but from decades of playing or watching the sport, you generally know where the ball is going. And all that accumulated life evidence was clear: A ball that hits the front of the rim, with that much velocity, bounces out. History and physics overwhelmingly promise it.

“Ah, it doesn’t look too good,” Danny Green remembered thinking from his vantage point on the bench.

So Raptors-Sixers Game 7 was going to head to overtime, and it would have been a fascinating one. The Sixers offense had stalled— they scored five points and just one field goal in the final 5:47 of the game—and Joel Embiid was visibly gassed. Kawhi Leonard had taken 39 shots, the most any player had ever taken in regulation of a Game 7, and for much of the fourth quarter, he was Toronto’s offense. But in the game’s final minute, he had missed a free throw and now looked like he was going to miss a second contested jumper. Overtime would’ve meant redemption for someone, and it would’ve been the second-most dramatic way to wrap up a close game in a close series. The first-most would have been if Leonard’s shot, an attempt at the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history, would have gone in. But that didn’t look likely.

Except…

Bounce.

It continues from there, and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. -TOB

Source: Kawhi Leonard And A Story Of Four Bounces”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/13/2019)

PAL: It was a sport moment writers drool over (1). All the clichés are on the table (2): time stood still (3), the game hung in the balance (4), a game of inches (5), sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good(6). Petchesky described exactly what happened to the ball, why it’s was so incredible (the way the ball bounced, not the circumstance). He smartly kept it very literal, because he knows enough to know that the one thing he doesn’t need to write was the emotion of the moment or the stakes – it was baked in (7).

TOB: Great point, Phil.


Robberies On The Rise

When I think of an outfielder ‘robbing’ a homerun,  I always see Kirby Puckett first. That was his thing back in the 80s and 90s. The fact that one player – even in my biased memory – represented a type of play says a lot about how uncommon the play has been within my lifetime. Now, Ben Lindbergh explains, home run robberies are increasingly more common.

Through Monday’s games, or almost exactly a quarter of the regular season, outfielders had already robbed 21 home runs. That put them on pace for 84 robberies, which would be by far the most since SIS started tracking the event in 2004. A larger sample may slow that pace, but this isn’t a 2019-only phenomenon: Last year’s 65 robberies broke the previous record of 60, which was set in 2017. The first two years of the current high-homer era, 2015 and 2016, featured 50 and 48 robberies, respectively, which were themselves the highest totals of any season since 2004, a high-homer year at the tail end of the somewhat misleadingly labeled steroid era.

The obvious question is why, right? Lindbergh is one of my favorite baseball writers when it comes to explaining cause in an accessible way. Without ruining the article, which is a hell of a fun read with a bunch of links to robberies (this will lead you down a youtube wormhole), here are a handful of factors:

More home runs = more home run robberies

Ballparks have become more homogeneous in terms of dimensions and fence/wall height.

Outfielders play deeper now. I also wonder about the power of familiarity. Most of these centerfielders (yes, centerfielders account for the the most robberies) have grown up seeing guys reaching over the wall to bring one back. They want want to have one, too. Hell, they believe they can do it, and probably practice it.

OK, so with all of this, Lindbergh has done his job in writing an insightful baseball story that feels fresh, but he doesn’t end on the cause. Instead, with the info he’s shared, he brings it back to why robbing a home run matters on an emotional level. He refers to robberies as a kind of alchemy, taking something and turning it into the opposite at the last possible moment.

That’s pretty good stuff, but I prefer the quote Lindbergh pulled from a Sam Miller 2017 article about the problem with the increase in home runs and applied it to home run robberies.

Baseball is best when it sets up an expectation and subverts it: The nasty slider that jags suddenly out of the strike zone, the shortstop who fields a grounder on a dive and flips it to second base with his glove, the three-run comeback against the dominant closer, and now, the home run that doesn’t happen.

Fantastic read. – PAL

Source: Watcher on the Wall: Welcome to the Golden Age of the Home Run Robbery”,Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/14/2019)


Two Bad Qualities For a Coach: Thick Headed and Thin Skinned

If you live in a cave: the Warriors closed out the Rockets in Houston last Friday. After scoring zero points in the first half of Game 6, Curry came back in the second half to score 33, including 23 in a supernova 4th, to ice the game. Then, on Sunday, the Blazers overcame a 17-point second quarter deficit and hung on to beat the Nuggets in Denver, in Game 7.

With just one day’s rest, the Blazers opened the Western Conference Finals in Oakland against the Warriors. Things did not go well for Portland, as Steph Curry continued to cook, hitting nine three-pointers and scoring 38 points in the Warriors 22-point win.

But, for Portland, it didn’t have to be that way. For the better part of 5 ½ games the Rockets made Curry look old, slow, and unconfident by crowding him at every opportunity. He had so few open looks that when he did get one, he still rushed the shot and never got into a rhythm. The second half outburst in Game 6 was vintage Curry, where he created the tiniest slivers of space and was able to get his shot up and in.

So, did Portland follow suit in Game 1? Did they press and crowd Steph and Klay? Um, no. Instead, the Blazers let Curry cook. When the Warriors ran the high pick and roll with Curry and the Warriors center, the Blazers did not switch and didn’t even have their big show on the screen in an attempt to crowd Curry or get him to give up the ball.

I counted: of his nine made threes, seven came off high pick and rolls where the screener’s man, usually Kanter or Collins, sagged off the screen and allowed Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time, to step into a wiiiiiiide open three pointer. Here are a few examples (I’ve helpfully circled the screener’s defender and drawn a line between him and Curry at or near the point of release):

I probably don’t need to say this: but this is not ideal for a defense. #analysis

After the third or fourth time the Blazers did this in the first half, I thought maybe Kanter was just being lazy. He’s known as a terrible defender, especially against the pick and roll – perhaps he was tired from the short turnaround after Game 7. Surely they’d make a halftime adjustment! But then it continued in the second half.

Asked about it after the game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was defiant and, frankly, rude in response to a reasonable question:

WHOA! So, ignoring the fact they held Steph in check for 5 ½ games by being in his pocket, Stotts is basing his suicidal strategy on the fact that Steph scored 33 points in the second half of Game 6 against Houston. BUDDY! He did that because he’s the greatest shooter of all-time, and no defense is going to hold him down forever! If Steph scores 33 points against tight defense the answer is not to go the other way and let him step into wide open 3s!

Maybe Stotts is feeling sheepish and didn’t want to admit he made a mistake. But he also said during that press conference that they were within 6 at the end of the third quarter. Which, fine. Let’s ignore the fact that the small deficit was in large part due to a run the Blazers made in the 3rd quarter when Steph was on the bench. And let’s ignore the fact that the Warriors ended up winning by 22. Let’s give him his six point deficit. Imagine what the score might have been if Curry had shot something like 2 for 9 from 3 instead of 8 for 13 in the first three quarters.

Personally, I doubt they will try this strategy again. Blazers players, like Lillard and McCollum, openly questioned the strategy. Lillard said after the game, “That was very poor execution defensively on our part. Having our bigs back that far…We gotta bring our guys up…they were shooting practice shots.” If they don’t do what Lillard suggests, it’s going to be a short series.

Update: The next day, Stotts apologized for being a jerk to the reporter, and also admitted that they may rethink their strategy:

-TOB

Game 2 Update: Steph got 37. The Blazers did try to run him off the three point line, and he responded by breaking down the defense by giving up the ball quickly and working to get it back in a place he could do damage. Silver lining (I guess) is he shot on 4-14 from three. He did a lot more work at the line last night. This kid just might turn out to be pretty good. -PAL


Hockey Expert Offers Critique of Hockey

There is probably nothing worse in sports than when new fans or non-fans tune into a sport and then immediately offer rule changes that they think would improve the game or make the game more watchable, despite the immense popularity of the sport. This happens every World Cup, when fans complain about and offer “solutions” to things like the offsides rule, despite the fact soccer is the most popular sport in the world and does not need fixing. It’s annoying and arrogant and needs to stop. BUT! I’m slightly caught up in the Sharks’ Stanley Cup playoff run right now. Plus, if you read last week’s blog you are aware that I played roller hockey in high school. I am thus highly qualified to opine on what the NHL does, and I have a beef with how hockey does something, so I’m going to rant about it here.

In hockey, as in most American sports, the clock counts down to 00:00. Hockey has three twenty-minute periods, so each period the clock begins at 20:00 and ticks down. Pretty simple. However, when you look at a box score or other record of the game, they mark events (e.g., goals scored, penalties taken) not by the time showing on the clock, but by the time elapsed in the period. IT’S SO STUPID. Let me illustrate. Here’s the scoring summary from Wednesday’s Sharks/Blues game, as taken from NHL.com.

Any normal person looking at that would think the Sharks scored first when the clock read 13:37. But then you notice that listed after that is a goal by Thornton at 16:58. What you will soon realize is that actually Karlsson’s goal came 13:37 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 6:23, and that Thornton’s goal came 16:58 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 3:02. Indeed, you can see it in the play by play side by side on the very same website.

This inconsistency is SO STUPID, I cannot stand it. At all! It must be fixed. Without bothering to research, I am guessing the inconsistency arose because at some point in time they used a watch counting up to keep score, and thus it made sense to record the time of goals as the amount of time into the period. When they changed to counting down, they wanted to be consistent with prior records and didn’t want to go back through old game logs and flip every goal ever scored. Well, I don’t care! This is dumb and must be fixed, hockey!

Please, if you like hockey and like how they do this, offer me a counter argument in the comments. And as the late Charlie Murphy said – make sure your people are around to see it – because you might get embarrassed! -TOB


The Making of a Modern Day Legend  

On Tuesday, The New Orleans Pelicans defied odds and won the NBA Lottery. This is a good year to win the lottery, probably the best year since the Pelicans last won the lottery and selected Anthony Davis with the top pick in 2012. Seven years later, Davis is top 10 player in the NBA (many would say top 5) and is trying to force his way out of New Orleans. A mess for any small market franchize New Orleans; however, there is relief in Zion Williamson.

This story is not about Davis, the draft, or the Pelicans; it’s about the making of a teenage sports legend. In series of short, let’s call them vignettes, various NY Times journalists sit down with the people who were there (or, in LeBron’s case not allowed in) and played a minor role in the his YouTube filmography of highlights.

I’d seen all but one of the videos featured in this story, but to hear the accounts from those on the court or in the gym gives it another layer, because their disbelief is a first-hand account. Two of my favorites:

Zion’s high school teammate, Bishop Richardson, describing the windmill alley-oop that started with a bad lob from Richardson.

On this occasion, Richardson’s toss arrived well below the rim. But that enabled Williamson to do something outrageous: He rose into the air, reached out with two hands to grab the incoming pass at about shoulder height, and — still rising, now high enough to peer inside the rim he was about to shake — used one sweeping, circular motion to bring the ball down to his waist and then back up to the left side of his body before ramming it through the basket with his left hand.

The crowd erupted.

“I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that, let alone be a part of it,’” Richardson said. “People were falling out of the bleachers.”

The dunk made it onto highlight reels and national sports shows within hours, but Richardson did not see a replay until the next day, when he and teammates sneaked a peek in a study hall.

Check-out the teammate, number 24, at 1:24 of the video below. His reaction pretty much sums it up. 

Zion’s Duke teammate describing when the team measured verticals.

Williamson, who went last, was off the charts. On his first attempt, he casually swatted aside the highest measurement. A staff member adjusted the pole to its highest setting and reset the tabs, and Williamson repeated the feat. They put weights under the contraption to lift it a few more inches into the air. Williamson batted the highest measurements aside again.

We are now well into an era where every play – literally every play – of any prospect of note is captured on video. Legends don’t grown by word of mouth; they grow on YouTube channels and IG accounts created specifically to share highlights of prospects. Basketball fans across the world knew Zion before he played a game at Duke as a freshman.

The story of youth, power, and seemingly limitless athleticism never gets old, because we always do. – PAL

Source: The Legend of Zion”, The New York Times (various contributors) (03/31/2019)

TOB: I think Zion will be very good, but people also need to pump the brakes a bit. Isn’t he just pre-injury Larry Johnson, with more hops? An All-Star but not a Hall of Fame player. Is he really a superstar? Can he go get a bucket when you need it? I’m not sure.


Are the Twins For Real?

Lookout! The Twins have the best record in baseball. But are they really good – or are they winning with some smoke and mirrors?

Overall, the Twins rank first in the majors with a 141 OPS+ against sub-.500 teams, but they’re tied for 20th with a 90 OPS+ against teams with a neutral or winning record. That gap is the largest in the majors by a huge margin, and even though it’s still a bit too early to be slicing slivers of batting splits, this detail indicates that Minnesota’s offense might not be as formidable as its surface stats suggest.”

Hmm. Only time will tell! -TOB

Source: “Are the MLB-Leading Minnesota Twins for Real?”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (05/13/2019)

PAL: I hate this goddamn article. I hate the construction of it. Are the Twins for real????? Here are 5,000 stats, some of which indicate the team is for real, and some of which point to the another hot start. Some of the info is good (they have pitchers who can actually strike some dudes out now), and some if it is amusing (they have a catcher off to a Bond-like start at the plate). 

I also hate that it calls attention to the Twins hot start. Everyone be quiet about it! Nothing to see here.

So, if the Twins do surprise folks and win the division about 120 games from now, then this article will be right on. If the Twins come back to earth, finish a respectable .500, then this article will be right.

Most importantly, I hate that TOB is trolling me in our own effin blog. This is the second Twins-related story TOB’s posted in the last three weeks. I know what you’re up to, fella.

TOB:


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: The Velvet Underground – “Oh Sweet Nuthin’


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

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You cannot learn from books. Replace these pages with life lessons, and then you will have a book that’s worth its weight in gold.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 3, 2019

Cheers to Five More Years

We hatched the plan almost on a whim, sitting at a bar near Phil’s house in San Francisco, and sent the first post just a couple days later, on May 4, 2014. We set a goal to do it every week for six months, which seemed impossible. Five years later, I can count the weeks we’ve missed on one hand.

A lot has changed for us in those five years. Phil started a new job, moved to Oakland, met a girl, and is getting married this July. I couldn’t be happier for him. I insanely took on this project about six weeks before my oldest son was born (special shoutout to my wife, who has allowed me to devote so much time to this vanity project) – and I’ve since had two kids, bought a house, changed jobs, and even started my own law practice. Somehow, 1-2-3 Sports is older than all of those things.

At times it is exhausting and frustrating to do this every week. We put a lot of energy into it. But it’s worth it. In the past five years, Phil has gone from a good but relatively new friend to my best friend, and 1-2-3 Sports is a big part of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve made, and we hope you enjoy it, too. We’re planning a 5 year anniversary whiffle ball game followed by McCovey Cove float day. Stay tuned for details, and thanks for reading. -TOB


An Explanation of Testosterone in Elite Athletes

For years, Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been the face of a heated debate about gender and sports. It’s likely you’ve heard her story.  Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone for a woman. She represents 1 in 20,000 women whose testosterone levels are similar to that of the male range. This week a court in Switzerland ruled that she and others like her would have to reduce their naturally high testosterone in order to compete in certain races at major competitions.

I don’t need to tell you that this is an emotional debate, but I do need to tell you to read Gina Kolata’s accessible explanation as to the science behind the debate.

Amongst other purposes, testosterone builds muscle. It’s not just another physical advantage like, say, height in a basketball player. It’s directly linked to improved performance.  

In one study, Dr. Levine put sedentary young men and young women through a year of athletic training. At the start, the men and women had similarly sized hearts. A year later, the men’s hearts were much larger, the result of muscle-building directed by the hormone.

The hormone’s effects are amplified among elite athletes, altering the body in ways that can make a huge difference in performance. Male champions in every sport are always much faster and stronger than women who set world records.

The gap can be quite wide. Elite female runners would never win races if they competed against elite men, according to Doriane Coleman, a former middle-distance runner who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Ms. Coleman has reviewed the best performances of three female athletes who were the fastest 400-meter runners in history (and were not injecting testosterone).

In 2017 alone, she found, more than 10,000 men and boys running 400-meter races beat the best times these women ever ran.

This is the science behind the ruling, but it’s also worth noting that the ruling is only for races between 400 meters and one mile, which is based on evidence. As I noted earlier, naturally abnormal testosterone levels can be found in 1 out of every 20,000 women; however:

The rule is consistent with a requirement that it be narrowly tailored to the evidence. Athletes who identify as women but who have testosterone levels in the male range are overrepresented in women’s middle-distance running events, a recent study found…

These athletes won 30 medals in Olympic and world championship races at distances ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. Their incidence in the general population is just 1 in 20,000, meaning they were overrepresented by about 1,700-fold on the podium, the study concluded.

How gender is defined and gender fluidity is a very real issue of this generation. I believe gender is an extremely complex issue. Of course it’s about more than testosterone levels, but oftentimes the facts can get overlooked on an emotional topic. And, so, when we’re talking about athletes and gender, it’s helpful to start with the science before we shout at one another. – PAL

Source: Does Testosterone Really Give Caster Semenya an Edge on the Track?”, Gina Kolata, The New York Times (05/01/19)

TOB: You’re telling me that a naturally occurring physical trait makes a person more successful as an athlete and so we’re going to not let them compete unless they reduce the effects of that physical trait? I love it. As a 5’10 basketball player, I think anyone over 6 feet should have to have a portion of their shins removed to reduce their height to 6’0 or lower. I’d have made the NBA, for sure!


Somehow, Steph Curry Is Still Underrated

Kevin Durant has been on fire this postseason – averaging 38 points per game over his last 6. His offense is predicated on the fact that he can shoot over the top of just about anyone, and so he’s extremely difficult to defend, especially when he’s on. You can stay in front of him, get a hand in his face, and he just shoots it right over you. Swish. But as I’ve said before, I find his game boring. It’s not graceful, it’s not fun to watch. He’s talented as hell and does things no one else can do, but he’s a ball stopper and seems to be getting as many isos this year as he did when he was in OKC.

By contrast, KD’s teammate Steph Curry has been a little quiet so far this postseason. Over his last 6 games, as KD has heated up, Curry has scored just 19.8 points per game, on 44% FG and 35% 3PT. In many corners of the internet, this has lead to questions about – what’s wrong with Steph? Is Steph hurt? Is Steph on the backside of his career? Is this KD’s team now?

People ask these questions because they still don’t understand how Steph Curry completely changes the game of basketball. Here’s a series of videos from Game 1 against the Rockets, where the threat of Curry’s shooting leads to a dunk for the Warriors (click through to see the videos):

That is six plays in one game where Curry does not look to shoot and doesn’t even get the assist, but the threat of his abilities to pull from anywhere means the defense is stretched and morphed so badly that Curry’s teammates get easy dunks (and assists). Here’s a similar thread from last year’s Finals, created by the same guy (again, click through to see the videos):

Try to find a play where the defense treats KD like that as he backs his way into the mid-post. When defenses stop respecting Curry like that, you can tell me it’s KD’s team. For now? Nah. -TOB – special thanks to Twitter user Bobby Flaiben for the videos


A Banner Year Year’s In WHL Bantam Draft Names

One of my favorite times of the year – the WHL Bantam Draft, where we get to see what dumbass names white parents were giving their kids 14-15 years ago. This year’s highlights:

My thoughts:

  • Carter is fine, but there are NINE of them.
  • What’s with J and K names that make white people go bananas?
    • Jace, Jaeger (yes, like the booze), Jagger, Jakin, Jhett, Joah (like Noah but with a J!), Kalem, Karson, Kassius, Koehn, Kylynn (good lord), Kyren (NO).
  • Merik. Like…’Merica?
  • Mesele. I’m not even sure how that’s pronounced.
  • Ridge.
  • Rieger, Rilen, Rylen.
  • And, my personal favorite…OASIZ. Don’t look back in anger at your parents for naming you that, kid.

I hope even one person enjoys this as much as I do. -TOB

Source: The Best Names Of The WHL Draft”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/02/2019)

PAL: People are so bored. Not a lot of Catholics up in Canada, eh?


The Twins Show How to Make a Killing in Free Agency

The last two baseball offseasons have been interesting. As many teams tank, an opportunity has emerged for teams to get better quickly. Last year, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, who would go on to win the 2018 NL MVP. And a few weeks after getting Yelich, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain for a relatively low amount of money. In a year in which many teams elected to begin a rebuild, the Brewers took advantage and got some good players for cheap, and went on to win the division title.

This year, news during baseball’s offseason was dominated by three themes: Bryce, Manny, and the Slow Free Agent Market. That’s all anyone could talk about. But like the Brewers last year, there was one team that kept popping up on the transaction ticker that made me keep saying, “Oh, solid pick up,” – the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had an even less splashy offseason than the Brewers last year, signing guys like CJ Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez – solid players, all flawed, some perceived as over the hill. But as Jonah Keri points out, these were really good pickups:

Coming off a 30-homer season in the power-squashing environment of Tropicana Field, C.J. Cron could only manage a one-year, $4.8 million deal, landing in Minnesota. After hitting 53 homers over the previous two seasons — while playing a premium defensive position —  Jonathan Schoop cost the Twins a scant $7.5 million on a one-year contract. No hitter in all of baseball cranked more dingers from 2014 through 2018 than Nelson Cruz … and he too could manage only one year guaranteed, a $14.3 million pact with the Twins.

A funny thing happens when you sign a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — your team hits more home runs. The Twins ranked 23rd in the majors last season in taters. This year, despite playing in one of the least homer-friendly parks in the league, they rank fourth.

But more importantly, the homegrown guys have grown up – with players like Eddie Rosario (11 dingers), Max Kepler (.277, 7 dingers), Jorge Polanco (.327/.393/.606), Mitch Garver (.333/.396/.729 – whoa), and Willins Astudillo (.327/.340/.531) all destroying opposing pitching staffs.

I didn’t realize until last week that things had been going so well for the Twins, when Phil and fellow-St. Paul native/Twins fan/friend of the blog Al both independently remarked to me about how well the team was playing. But until I read this article, I figured it was like the 2017 Twins run to the Wild Card game – a bit of smoke and mirrors, with a lot of luck hiding bad peripheral stats. Not so! The Twins are fourth in the AL in run differential, leading to the second best record in the majors.

The Twins have followed a blueprint that I hope the Giants can take advantage of soon – scout/draft well, build around cheaper, homegrown talent, and look for good value in free agency. -TOB

Source: The Twins Are For Real: How Are They Doing This?”, Jonah Keri, The Athletic (05/02/2019)

PAL: Of course I enjoyed the hell out of this article. The idea that the Twins got power for a bargain is both exciting and nearly foreign to this franchise. Three players in the history of the Minnesota Twins have hit 40 or more home runs in a season. In the last twenty years, their best team (2006) had a middle of the lineup that at least presented a long ball threat: MVP Justin Morneau (34HR), Torii Hunter (31HR), Cuddyer (24HR), and Mauer (13HR).

It’s great to have them off to a good start; but I’m holding my excitement for when they win one postseason game, which hasn’t happened in the team’s last four trips:


A Brief Lesson in Baseball’s Newest Stats

Experiencing Twitter is largely an exercise in a self-selected echo chamber. As such, it is easy for me at times to forget that not all baseball fans like “advanced stats” or even understand what they mean.

For example. ESPN’s Tim Keown, who has been a favorite of mine since his headshot contained a lot less grey, relays this story of the new Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s first meeting with Giants season ticket holders:

FARHAN ZAIDI’S FIRST face-to-face confrontation as the baseball boss of the San Francisco Giants came from a stranger. Zaidi stood in front of a group of season-ticket holders at a January event and listened to one of his customers ask if he was serious about occasionally using a one-inning opener instead of a conventional starting pitcher. The slightly accusatory tone exposed the questioner’s view on the matter, but Zaidi knew the topic was bound to arise after he had suggested to local reporters during the winter meetings that using an opener was a possibility. 

And so he decided to answer the season-ticket holder’s question with a question of his own:

“If I told you using an opener would definitely improve your chances of winning on a certain day, how many of you would still not want to use it?”

His premise was inarguable, genius: Whatever you think of me, and regardless of who pitches and for how long, who says no to winning? Who among you, men and women who have shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for ballgames, cannot unite behind the shared joy of victory?

The group was too big to canvass individually, so Zaidi said: “Let me hear you boo.”

And these men and women, the corporate networkers and the lifelong fans alike, cupped their hands around their mouths, aimed them at the smiling man at the front of the room, and booed.

First of all, great writing. Keown set it up perfectly, and it made me LOL. But more importantly it shocked me – there are fans who would rather their teams lose by playing the way they always played over winning by using new tactics? What I forget when I’m in my Twitter bubble is that there are fans who do not care about analytics and in fact resent their existence.

Which is why I really loved Grant Brisbee’s article this week, on how the last three months of the Giants’ offense (August and September 2018, April 2019), were among the seven worst offensive seasons in Giants history, dating back to 1905. WHICH IS INSANE, but can be addressed another day. For the moment I’d like to highlight how Brisbee, understanding he’s speaking in large part to fans like the ones who booed Zaidi, breaks down a couple of advanced stats in a way that is easy to understand. I wanted to share this with those of you who don’t get them or don’t want to get them:

The first stat you’ll need to understand is OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s an imperfect stat, and you really shouldn’t add decimal points like that … but danged if it doesn’t give you an idea of how a team is performing offensively. It takes into account how good a team is at avoiding outs, and it also takes into account how many extra-base hits they’re getting. It’s safe to assume that a team with an .800 OPS is probably hitting the snot out of the ball.

The next stat to understand is OPS+. In 2006, the Giants had an OPS of .746. In 2012, the Giants had an OPS of .724. So that means the 2006 Giants were better, right?

It does not. The National League scored a lot more runs back in 2006, so we need to adjust for that. OPS+ takes this into account, and it also takes the team’s home ballpark into account. Then it crams everything into one number and sets 100 as the league average. So if a team has a 90 OPS+, like the 2006 Giants, that means they were worse than the league average. If a team has a 106 OPS+, like the 2012 Giants, that means they have an above-average offense. The kind that can win the World Series with some strong pitching.

I love OPS+, and I’ll use it a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s still good, very useful and searchable on Baseball-Reference.com. Which brings us to the last stat you’ll need to know: sOPS+.

What sOPS+ does is look for OPS+ within a particular split. Let’s say that you wanted to find out which team in baseball history was the best at hitting at their home park. Seems like a mess. That would mean comparing the Astrodome to Coors Field and the steroid era to a pitcher-dominated season like 1968. But sOPS+ does all that work for you, and gives us an answer. (It was the Rockies in 2014, even after accounting for park. The Coors effect is real, and it’s scary as heck.)

So when looking for the best or worst offensive months in a team’s history, use sOPS+. That way April isn’t unfairly docked because it’s colder than July, when the ball is likely to travel farther. It also compares Septembers with other Septembers, which are months besotted with rookie call-ups. And most important, sOPS+ takes into account what the rest of the league was doing that month.

Makes sense, right? OPS+ and ERA+ are really good stats to help you put numbers in context, and they’re simple to understand. I wish they were more widely understood and used. -TOB

Source: From a Ph.D. to RBIs: How Farhan Zaidi Left Berkeley and Became a Baseball Pioneer“, Tim Keown, ESPN (05/02/2019); “Here’s a Stat About the Giants Offensive Struggles That Will Melt Your Brain“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (05/01/2019)


Video(s) of the Week

SVP with all you need to know on the Rockets’ close out “controversy”

I’M NOT CRYING. I WAS CHOPPING ONIONS.


Tweet(s) of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Richard Swift – ‘Lady Luck’


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

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

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“Webster’s Dictionary defines “wedding” as “the fusing of two metals with a hot torch.”

-Michael Scott

Week of May 3, 2019

Cheers to Five More Years

We hatched the plan almost on a whim, sitting at a bar near Phil’s house in San Francisco, and sent the first post just a couple days later. We set a goal to do it every week for six months, which seemed impossible. Five years later, I can count the weeks we’ve missed on one hand.

A lot has changed for us in those five years. Phil started a new job, moved to Oakland, met a girl, and is getting married this July. I couldn’t be happier for him. I insanely took on this project about six weeks before my oldest son was born (special shoutout to my wife, who has allowed me to devote so much time to this vanity project) – and I’ve since had two kids, bought a house, changed jobs, and even started my own law practice. Somehow, 1-2-3 Sports is older than all of those things.

At times it is exhausting and frustrating to do this every week. We put a lot of energy into it. But it’s worth it. In the past five years, Phil has gone from a good but relatively new friend to my best friend, and 1-2-3 Sports is a big part of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve made, and we hope you enjoy it, too. We’re planning a 5 year anniversary whiffle ball game followed by McCovey Cove float day. Stay tuned for details, and thanks for reading. -TOB


An Explanation of Testosterone in Elite Athletes

For years, Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been the face of a heated debate about gender and sports. It’s likely you’ve heard her story.  Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone for a woman. She represents 1 in 20,000 women whose testosterone levels are similar to that of the male range. This week a court in Switzerland ruled that she and others like her would have to reduce their naturally high testosterone in order to compete in certain races at major competitions.

I don’t need to tell you that this is an emotional debate, but I do need to tell you to read Gina Kolata’s accessible explanation as to the science behind the debate.

Amongst other purposes, testosterone builds muscle. It’s not just another physical advantage like, say, height in a basketball player. It’s directly linked to improved performance.  

In one study, Dr. Levine put sedentary young men and young women through a year of athletic training. At the start, the men and women had similarly sized hearts. A year later, the men’s hearts were much larger, the result of muscle-building directed by the hormone.

The hormone’s effects are amplified among elite athletes, altering the body in ways that can make a huge difference in performance. Male champions in every sport are always much faster and stronger than women who set world records.

The gap can be quite wide. Elite female runners would never win races if they competed against elite men, according to Doriane Coleman, a former middle-distance runner who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Ms. Coleman has reviewed the best performances of three female athletes who were the fastest 400-meter runners in history (and were not injecting testosterone).

In 2017 alone, she found, more than 10,000 men and boys running 400-meter races beat the best times these women ever ran.

This is the science behind the ruling, but it’s also worth noting that the ruling is only for races between 400 meters and one mile, which is based on evidence. As I noted earlier, naturally abnormal testosterone levels can be found in 1 out of every 20,000 women; however:

The rule is consistent with a requirement that it be narrowly tailored to the evidence. Athletes who identify as women but who have testosterone levels in the male range are overrepresented in women’s middle-distance running events, a recent study found…

These athletes won 30 medals in Olympic and world championship races at distances ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. Their incidence in the general population is just 1 in 20,000, meaning they were overrepresented by about 1,700-fold on the podium, the study concluded.

How gender is defined and gender fluidity is a very real issue of this generation. I believe gender is an extremely complex issue. Of course it’s about more than testosterone levels, but oftentimes the facts can get overlooked on an emotional topic. And, so, when we’re talking about athletes and gender, it’s helpful to start with the science before we shout at one another. – PAL

Source: Does Testosterone Really Give Caster Semenya an Edge on the Track?”, Gina Kolata, The New York Times (05/01/19)

TOB: You’re telling me that a naturally occurring physical trait makes a person more successful as an athlete and so we’re going to not let them compete unless they reduce the effects of that physical trait? I love it. As a 5’10 basketball player, I think anyone over 6 feet should have to have a portion of their shins removed to reduce their height to 6’0 or lower. I’d have made the NBA, for sure!


Somehow, Steph Curry Is Still Underrated

Kevin Durant has been on fire this postseason – averaging 38 points per game over his last 6. His offense is predicated on the fact that he can shoot over the top of just about anyone, and so he’s extremely difficult to defend, especially when he’s on. You can stay in front of him, get a hand in his face, and he just shoots it right over you. Swish. But as I’ve said before, I find his game boring. It’s not graceful, it’s not fun to watch. He’s talented as hell and does things no one else can do, but he’s a ball stopper and seems to be getting as many isos this year as he did when he was in OKC.

By contrast, KD’s teammate Steph Curry has been a little quiet so far this postseason. Over his last 6 games, as KD has heated up, Curry has scored just 19.8 points per game, on 44% FG and 35% 3PT. In many corners of the internet, this has lead to questions about – what’s wrong with Steph? Is Steph hurt? Is Steph on the backside of his career? Is this KD’s team now?

People ask these questions because they still don’t understand how Steph Curry completely changes the game of basketball. Here’s a series of videos from Game 1 against the Rockets, where the threat of Curry’s shooting leads to a dunk for the Warriors (click through to see the videos):

That is six plays in one game where Curry does not look to shoot and doesn’t even get the assist, but the threat of his abilities to pull from anywhere means the defense is stretched and morphed so badly that Curry’s teammates get easy dunks (and assists). Here’s a similar thread from last year’s Finals, created by the same guy (again, click through to see the videos):

Try to find a play where the defense treats KD like that as he backs his way into the mid-post. When defenses stop respecting Curry like that, you can tell me it’s KD’s team. For now? Nah. -TOB – special thanks to Twitter user Bobby Flaiben for the videos


A Banner Year Year’s In WHL Bantam Draft Names

One of my favorite times of the year – the WHL Bantam Draft, where we get to see what dumbass names white parents were giving their kids 14-15 years ago. This year’s highlights:

My thoughts:

  • Carter is fine, but there are NINE of them.
  • What’s with J and K names that make white people go bananas?
    • Jace, Jaeger (yes, like the booze), Jagger, Jakin, Jhett, Joah (like Noah but with a J!), Kalem, Karson, Kassius, Koehn, Kylynn (good lord), Kyren (NO).
  • Merik. Like…’Merica?
  • Mesele. I’m not even sure how that’s pronounced.
  • Ridge.
  • Rieger, Rilen, Rylen.
  • And, my personal favorite…OASIZ. Don’t look back in anger at your parents for naming you that, kid.

I hope even one person enjoys this as much as I do. -TOB

Source: The Best Names Of The WHL Draft”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/02/2019)

PAL: People are so bored. Not a lot of Catholics up in Canada, eh?


The Twins Show How to Make a Killing in Free Agency

The last two baseball offseasons have been interesting. As many teams tank, an opportunity has emerged for teams to get better quickly. Last year, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, who would go on to win the 2018 NL MVP. And a few weeks after getting Yelich, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain for a relatively low amount of money. In a year in which many teams elected to begin a rebuild, the Brewers took advantage and got some good players for cheap, and went on to win the division title.

This year, news during baseball’s offseason was dominated by three themes: Bryce, Manny, and the Slow Free Agent Market. That’s all anyone could talk about. But like the Brewers last year, there was one team that kept popping up on the transaction ticker that made me keep saying, “Oh, solid pick up,” – the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had an even less splashy offseason than the Brewers last year, signing guys like CJ Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez – solid players, all flawed, some perceived as over the hill. But as Jonah Keri points out, these were really good pickups:

Coming off a 30-homer season in the power-squashing environment of Tropicana Field, C.J. Cron could only manage a one-year, $4.8 million deal, landing in Minnesota. After hitting 53 homers over the previous two seasons — while playing a premium defensive position —  Jonathan Schoop cost the Twins a scant $7.5 million on a one-year contract. No hitter in all of baseball cranked more dingers from 2014 through 2018 than Nelson Cruz … and he too could manage only one year guaranteed, a $14.3 million pact with the Twins.

A funny thing happens when you sign a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — your team hits more home runs. The Twins ranked 23rd in the majors last season in taters. This year, despite playing in one of the least homer-friendly parks in the league, they rank fourth.

But more importantly, the homegrown guys have grown up – with players like Eddie Rosario (11 dingers), Max Kepler (.277, 7 dingers), Jorge Polanco (.327/.393/.606), Mitch Garver (.333/.396/.729 – whoa), and Willins Astudillo (.327/.340/.531) all destroying opposing pitching staffs.

I didn’t realize until last week that things had been going so well for the Twins, when Phil and fellow-St. Paul native/Twins fan/friend of the blog Al both independently remarked to me about how well the team was playing. But until I read this article, I figured it was like the 2017 Twins run to the Wild Card game – a bit of smoke and mirrors, with a lot of luck hiding bad peripheral stats. Not so! The Twins are fourth in the AL in run differential, leading to the second best record in the majors.

The Twins have followed a blueprint that I hope the Giants can take advantage of soon – scout/draft well, build around cheaper, homegrown talent, and look for good value in free agency. -TOB

Source: The Twins Are For Real: How Are They Doing This?”, Jonah Keri, The Athletic (05/02/2019)

PAL: Of course I enjoyed the hell out of this article. The idea that the Twins got power for a bargain is both exciting and nearly foreign to this franchise. Three players in the history of the Minnesota Twins have hit 40 or more home runs in a season. In the last twenty years, their best team (2006) had a middle of the lineup that at least presented a long ball threat: MVP Justin Morneau (34HR), Torii Hunter (31HR), Cuddyer (24HR), and Mauer (13HR).

It’s great to have them off to a good start; but I’m holding my excitement for when they win one postseason game, which hasn’t happened in the team’s last four trips:


A Brief Lesson in Baseball’s Newest Stats

Experiencing Twitter is largely an exercise in a self-selected echo chamber. As such, it is easy for me at times to forget that not all baseball fans like “advanced stats” or even understand what they mean.

For example. ESPN’s Tim Keown, who has been a favorite of mine since his headshot contained a lot less grey, relays this story of the new Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s first meeting with Giants season ticket holders:

FARHAN ZAIDI’S FIRST face-to-face confrontation as the baseball boss of the San Francisco Giants came from a stranger. Zaidi stood in front of a group of season-ticket holders at a January event and listened to one of his customers ask if he was serious about occasionally using a one-inning opener instead of a conventional starting pitcher. The slightly accusatory tone exposed the questioner’s view on the matter, but Zaidi knew the topic was bound to arise after he had suggested to local reporters during the winter meetings that using an opener was a possibility. 

And so he decided to answer the season-ticket holder’s question with a question of his own:

“If I told you using an opener would definitely improve your chances of winning on a certain day, how many of you would still not want to use it?”

His premise was inarguable, genius: Whatever you think of me, and regardless of who pitches and for how long, who says no to winning? Who among you, men and women who have shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for ballgames, cannot unite behind the shared joy of victory?

The group was too big to canvass individually, so Zaidi said: “Let me hear you boo.”

And these men and women, the corporate networkers and the lifelong fans alike, cupped their hands around their mouths, aimed them at the smiling man at the front of the room, and booed.

First of all, great writing. Keown set it up perfectly, and it made me LOL. But more importantly it shocked me – there are fans who would rather their teams lose by playing the way they always played over winning by using new tactics? What I forget when I’m in my Twitter bubble is that there are fans who do not care about analytics and in fact resent their existence.

Which is why I really loved Grant Brisbee’s article this week, on how the last three months of the Giants’ offense (August and September 2018, April 2019), were among the seven worst offensive seasons in Giants history, dating back to 1905. WHICH IS INSANE, but can be addressed another day. For the moment I’d like to highlight how Brisbee, understanding he’s speaking in large part to fans like the ones who booed Zaidi, breaks down a couple of advanced stats in a way that is easy to understand. I wanted to share this with those of you who don’t get them or don’t want to get them:

The first stat you’ll need to understand is OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s an imperfect stat, and you really shouldn’t add decimal points like that … but danged if it doesn’t give you an idea of how a team is performing offensively. It takes into account how good a team is at avoiding outs, and it also takes into account how many extra-base hits they’re getting. It’s safe to assume that a team with an .800 OPS is probably hitting the snot out of the ball.

The next stat to understand is OPS+. In 2006, the Giants had an OPS of .746. In 2012, the Giants had an OPS of .724. So that means the 2006 Giants were better, right?

It does not. The National League scored a lot more runs back in 2006, so we need to adjust for that. OPS+ takes this into account, and it also takes the team’s home ballpark into account. Then it crams everything into one number and sets 100 as the league average. So if a team has a 90 OPS+, like the 2006 Giants, that means they were worse than the league average. If a team has a 106 OPS+, like the 2012 Giants, that means they have an above-average offense. The kind that can win the World Series with some strong pitching.

I love OPS+, and I’ll use it a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s still good, very useful and searchable on Baseball-Reference.com. Which brings us to the last stat you’ll need to know: sOPS+.

What sOPS+ does is look for OPS+ within a particular split. Let’s say that you wanted to find out which team in baseball history was the best at hitting at their home park. Seems like a mess. That would mean comparing the Astrodome to Coors Field and the steroid era to a pitcher-dominated season like 1968. But sOPS+ does all that work for you, and gives us an answer. (It was the Rockies in 2014, even after accounting for park. The Coors effect is real, and it’s scary as heck.)

So when looking for the best or worst offensive months in a team’s history, use sOPS+. That way April isn’t unfairly docked because it’s colder than July, when the ball is likely to travel farther. It also compares Septembers with other Septembers, which are months besotted with rookie call-ups. And most important, sOPS+ takes into account what the rest of the league was doing that month.

Makes sense, right? OPS+ and ERA+ are really good stats to help you put numbers in context, and they’re simple to understand. I wish they were more widely understood and used. -TOB

Source: From a Ph.D. to RBIs: How Farhan Zaidi Left Berkeley and Became a Baseball Pioneer“, Tim Keown, ESPN (05/02/2019); “Here’s a Stat About the Giants Offensive Struggles That Will Melt Your Brain“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (05/01/2019)


Video(s) of the Week

SVP with all you need to know on the Rockets’ close out “controversy”

I’M NOT CRYING. I WAS CHOPPING ONIONS.


Tweet(s) of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Richard Swift – ‘Lady Luck’


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