Week of April 20, 2018

The hero the NBA deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

The Perfect Storm: Boston Marathon 2018

The weather for this year’s Boston Marathon was downright miserable, which allowed relatively average runners to have unforgettable days:

Of the top 15 women finishers, 9 of them weren’t even ranked in the top 25 runners leading into race. This means that many of the women at the top of the results are “regulars” – they have full-time jobs like you and me. They did their training by themselves or in running clubs, and then they went out and beat some of the greatest distance runners on the planet. Sara Sellers (pictured above) had only run one marathon before finishing second at Boston. Hell, earlier that week she and her brother went up to Acadia National Park to ride bikes.

While what Sellers did was downright incredible, consider a couple facts:

  • The top runners wanted no part of this race. With conditions as poor as they were, this year’s winning time (2:39) was about 18 minutes slower than last year’s winning time (2:21).
  • While Sellers is an amateur in every respect, she did pace at a sub-6:20 mile. She’s an amateur, but a talented runner to be sure

Still, her old college coach who put together a training plan for her couldn’t believe what he was seeing online.

Her Utah-based coach, Paul Pilkington, who was watching on television, had to hit refresh on his computer to make sure the results were correct. In a telephone interview, Pilkington said he knew Sellers to be “very gritty and tough in adverse conditions.” And yet, “I never thought she’d get second,” he said.

Malika Andrews and Matthew Futterman of The New York Times do a really nice job in this story capturing what’s special about sports or competitions in which us regulars are on the field/course/pitch with the greatest in the world. On the spectrum of elite runners and weekend warriors, they make it feel like Sellers is “one of us”. She’s the nurse anesthetist who trained before and after work, and then she’s finishing second in perhaps the most iconic marathons. While that’s the case in terms of training regimes and a lack of sponsors, Sellers splits reveal a talented runner finding her marathon stride at the perfect time.  – PAL

Source: The Nurse Who Took a Very Different Route to Second Place in the Boston Marathon”, Malika Andrews and Matthew Fetterman, The New York Times (04/17/2018)

TOB: This is pretty incredible. I tried to think of a major-sports comparison. It took me a few minutes, but I got it: Kurt Warner, who went undrafted out of college and worked as a grocery bagger when he couldn’t catch on with an NFL team. It wasn’t until five years later that he got to the NFL and led the Rams to the Super Bowl. Similarly, while an amateur, Sellers was not some chump off the street. She was a very good, but not great, distance runner in college. She didn’t have some out of body, inexplicable performance here, either. She finished the one, (yes one) previous marathon she ran, last September, with a nearly identical time she ran in this race – 2:44:27 and 2:44:04. Unlike everyone else, she just ran her best race, and ignored the weather. Pretty cool. It’d be interesting to see what she could do if he dedicated her time to it.

Was LeBron Acting When He Received Sad News? Or Is He Covering for the Reporter?

During Wednesday’s game between the Cavs and Pacers, news began circulating that Erin Popovich, the wife of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, had passed away. Erin Popovich’s death came, reportedly, after a long illness that the Popovich family had not publicly disclosed. Obviously, this was and is sad news. Popovich, in particular, is a beloved NBA figure, and many players, coaches, media persons, and fans sent along their condolences upon hearing the news. Kevin Durant was informed of her death and asked about it after the team’s shootaround in San Antonio ahead of Thursday’s Game 3 against the Spurs. His reaction was, appropriately, one of shock and sadness for a person he admires.

Similarly, following the Cavs’ Game 2 win, a game in which LeBron carried his team to a close victory despite his herculean effort, TNT’s Allie LaForce informed LeBron of Erin Popovich’s death during her on-court post-game interview of LeBron. LeBron’s reaction is also one of shock and sadness, and it was an emotional moment of television. I watched it live, and found it so affecting I rewound it to watch it again.

Other viewers, however, found the question to be in poor taste, and LaForce began to take a lot of heat online for the question. Some thought LaForce should not have put LeBron on the spot like that, on live TV, and asked him about such a sensitive subject without warning. I don’t agree, but I can understand the argument that perhaps she should have let him know ahead of time. Of course, things then got even weirder.

LeBron defended LaForce, saying that in fact LaForce told LeBron, off camera prior to the interview, of Erin Popovich’s passing, and clearing the question with him ahead of time. That begs the question, though: Was LeBron’s reaction all an act?

I don’t think so. Watch it again. That doesn’t seem like acting to me. That seems like genuine emotion, shock quickly turning into sadness. If LeBron is telling the truth now, then his reaction is a little odd – there was no need to sound shocked. And if LeBron is telling the truth now, LaForce should have prefaced her question by saying, “As we discussed moments ago….”

No, I think LeBron is covering for LaForce, trying to quash a controversy that shouldn’t have existed, and trying to keep the focus on the Popovich family, not on whether a reporter properly asked LeBron a question about it. As I said, I can understand thinking LaForce should have cleared the question with LeBron first, but I don’t understand getting bent out of shape about it, and turning what should be a sad story into an Internet Outrage Story. -TOB

Source: LeBron James Says He Wasn’t Blindsided By TNT Reporter Asking Him About Erin Popovich”, Laura Wagner, Deadspin (04/19/2018)

PAL: Why couldn’t LeBron just tell the truth? She obviously didn’t clear it with him beforehand, but it’s OK. It’s OK because that’s how important LeBron is to the NBA. He’s not just the face of the league, but one of the very few people that can speak on behalf of the league and/or it’s players. 

Let’s Not Forget How Great Albert Pujols Was

As of 4/19/18, Albert Pujols is 10 hits shy of 3,000 and 78 RBI shy of 2,000 for his career. He also has 617 home runs. Here’s the list of players with 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBI, and 600 home runs:

  1. Hank Aaron
  2. Alex Rodriguez

Short list, eh (also, I’m already forgetting how insanely good Rodriguez numbers are)? No Bonds (just missed on RBI), no Ruth (hits), no Mays (RBI). Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like we’ve been overlooking Pujols as he finishes up his career with the irrelevant Angels. In his prime, there was no other hitter I feared more than Pujols, and that includes Bonds (because they’d never pitch to Bonds).

Jerry Crasnick does a nice job showing us what makes one of the greatest hitters ever tick, and he highlights the reverence other players have for Pujols.

Teammate Ian Kinsler sums up Pujols’ greatness this way:

In my opinion, good hitters make adjustments game to game or at-bat to at-bat. Great hitters make adjustments pitch-to-pitch, and Hall of Famers can make adjustments as the pitch is coming. They might be expecting one thing and see another and make an adjustment and put a really good swing on it.

And then there’s how he performed against (some) of the best pitchers (also, WHAT is Ben Sheets doing on this list?):

Quick side note: I mean, my God. The Angels have a top 15 all-time player on their roster in Pujols, the best player in the world in Mike Trout (who could be a top-15 all-time player before he’s done), and the most interesting player in the world in Ohtani. And has anyone made it a point to find an Angels game on TV? I sure as shit haven’t.

The story loses me a bit at the end when it expands beyond his accomplishments within the batter’s box, and – quite frankly, it all starts to sound a little like “Cardinals’ Way” propaganda when he starts talking about the stats that matter to him (spoiler alert, Pujols doesn’t like “computers” telling him about baseball). Still, worth the read. – PAL

Source: “Inside Albert Pujols’ Path to 3,000 Hits”, Jerry Crasnick, ESPN (04/19/2018)

TOB: I’ve never been a big Pujols fan. He seems boring? And it annoyed me in that 2001-2004 range, when people argued (unsuccessfully) that he should win the MVP over Bonds, when Bonds was putting up some of the very best seasons of all time.

And as Phil alludes to, Pujols is anti-modern stats. WHY? First, those stats will place the first dozen years of his career into rarified air. Second, why do so many people, like Pujols, not understand the argument against the RBI? Yes, of course, you score by hitting your teammates (or yourself) in. But the point is simple: why is a single more important than an identical single when the first one just happened to have a teammate or two in scoring position, but the second had no one on base? The hitter had nothing to do with that. It’s chance. It doesn’t mean RBIs aren’t important, it’s just a little random. If you look at his stats, his RBIs predictably drop along with his batting average and slugging. But there are two recent seasons that really illustrate this.

In 2015, Pujols had 40 home runs and 95 RBIs – meaning he hit only 55 teammates in, and he did so on 147 hits. In 2016, the next year, he hit 31 home runs but had 116 RBIs, meaning he hit 85 teammates in – 30 more than the year before, on just 12 more hits. That makes no sense, but for the fact that teammates on base in front of you is random. In 2015, he deserved way more than 95 RBIs, because they don’t reflect how good his season was. And if a stat doesn’t reflect how good a season is, how useful is it?

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Kanye West – “School Spirit”

Tweet of the Week

Amanda McCarthy, wife of baseball player Brandon McCarthy, eviscerating a troll. A play in three acts.

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“Speaking of pimples…release the bloggers!”

Dwight Schrute


Week of April 13, 2018

Boban makes The Brow look like a normal-sized human.

How Sports Illustrated Stopped Mattering

To those of us over 30, Sports Illustrated is an institution. When I found out a fellow grad student at USF was a writer for SI, I felt cooler by association. As Michael MacCambridge writes for The Ringer, SI made a case that the realm of sports was not a juvenile triviality but instead an important part of the culture, worthy of attention and understanding.”

And for writers, like my fellow USF alumnus, SI was not a stop along the way. It was the mountaintop. As Lee Jenkins told a former boss, “I hate to leave you guys, but, you know–the Yankees just called.”

SI is about to be sold for the second time in a year. It also recently became a biweekly publication…not that many folks noticed. The end of the print version of the magazine feels imminent, even when – get this – the magazine was profitable last year.

The magnitude of the biweekly decision hasn’t even been felt yet, but it will be:

[I]f Tiger Woods had managed to win the Masters this year, it would’ve been perhaps the biggest sports story of 2018, but it would have been old news by the time the next issue of SI came out 10 days later. The same goes for this summer’s World Cup, the final of which will come during an off-week in SI’s publishing schedule. And we haven’t even gotten to football season yet.

This story is not just about the death of print journalism at the hands of the digital revolution. It’s also about the missteps made along the way that put SI and its parent company, Time, in its current predicament. At some point cost-cutting means quality cutting, and then – worst of all – people stop noticing.

As MacCambridge writes, at its best,

SI’s news stories were never about telling you who won, it was about telling you why and how they won, the subtle differences that separated one world-class athlete or team from another, and the endless ways that people revealed their character through competition. Furthermore, what the magazine learned, again and again in the coming decades, was that a sports event being televised only increased interest in those stories. The more people saw of a sport, the more they wanted to read about it. And SI was there, to provide the best story, the deepest understanding, the telling picture, the last word.

You can tell MacCambridge cares deeply about SI. It was a touchstone of his youth, and that passion is needed to make this story resonate with us. I know I’m not the only one of us to tear photos of my favorite players from of the magazine and line my bedroom walls. Best read so far this year. – PAL

Source: Who Can Explain the Athletic Heart?”, Michael MacCambridge, The Ringer (04/12/2018)

TOB: This was great, but sad to read. In many ways, Sports Illustrated changed my life. Or rather, it shaped who I am. That sounds dramatic, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. As a kid, from about age 8 until 15, sports were my life. I lived and breathed it. I watched SportsCenter every night; I watched the NBA, college basketball, college football, MLB, and the NFL, every single day. I even watched a lot of hockey back then. I’d watch until I got the itch to run outside and play the game myself. And every single week I’d get Sports Illustrated in the mail, excitedly take it upstairs, and I’d lie on my bed, and read that damn thing cover to cover. I’ll never forget my first issue was Jennifer Capriati, who made the finals of the Virginia Slims tournament at the age of 13.

I have an uncommon amount of sports knowledge in my brain from reading SI, and not just the ones I got weekly. Each time I would visit my grandparents, we’d stay in my uncle’s old room. And each night at bedtime, I’d go into his old closet and sift through the giants stack of Sports Illustrateds from the 70s and 80s, when he was a kid. The magazines were 10, to 20 years old at that point, but I didn’t care.

I think the spirit of Sports Illustrated lives, for Phil and me, in this website. In the article, MacCambridge correctly notes that a perceived problem for Sports Illustrated is that, by the time it hits your mailbox, it seems like last week’s news. When a major story hits, by the time you can read it in SI, many fans have digested all they needed to – on Twitter, or Yahoo, or ESPN.com – three or four or more days prior.

But isn’t that actually the beauty of SI? When we started this website, almost four years ago, our philosophy was to publish once a week because the time allows us a little perspective to digest what has happened, or what we’ve read. Twenty years after I last regularly read SI, life’s realities have reduced my ability to watch hours and hours of sports every day. Getting to sit down for a couple hours and watch a baseball game is a treat. I certainly don’t sit down for two hours a week to read Sports Illustrated. But I think I’m going to start. I hope it’s still good. If so, I’ll be sure to keep the old ones in a basket in the garage, so my kids can stumble on them like I did.

New Kind of Player-Coach

Lindsay Whalen is an all-everything WNBA player from Hutchinson, Minnesota (as small of a town as you’re imagining). She holds every significant women’s basketball record at the University of Minnesota, and even brought the team to a Final Four. After college, she’s dominated the WNBA. 4 titles for her hometown Minnesota Lynx. Oh, and throw in a couple olympic gold medals, too. She’s legit.

It’s no surprise that Whalen was hired as the next women’s basketball coach at the U of M. What is surprising, however, is that she’ll still be playing in the WNBA. Per Marcus Fuller of the Star Tribune:

As part of Whalen’s agreement to become head coach, pending approval from the U’s Board of Regents, she will continue to play for the Lynx, who open the regular season on May 20. The last possible date for the WNBA Finals is Sept. 16 — about two weeks before the Gophers begin fall practice.

I love it. Why wait until she’s done playing. This is the one hire the Gophers women’s basketball team had to make. There is no other Lindsay Whalen for that program, so you do whatever you need to do to make sure she’s a part of that program forever. – PAL

Source: Lindsay Whalen hired by Gophers as women’s basketball coach”, Marcus Fuller, Star Tribune (04/12/2018)

Andre Ingram: NBA Player

Andre Ingram is 32 years old. He’s a math tutor, a father of two, and a graduate of American University. He’s also been in the NBA G-League (formerly known as the D-League) for 10 years. He’s been grinding it out for 10 years waiting for an opportunity. He didn’t want to play overseas because he felt his best chance to achieve his dream was to stay close and be ready should an opportunity arise. This week it finally happened, and Ingram made the most of it.

I don’t think I could’ve fully appreciated this accomplishment as a twenty-something. It’s hard to continue chasing a dream as an adult, and for Ingram to keep pushing while providing for his family on 30K G-League salary + tutoring is just damn impressive. And then to get an opportunity and seize it like that – 19 points on 6-8 shooting – that’s the good stuff.

As if you needed more reasons to root for this guy, check out his post-game interview:

He did it. Andre Ingram is an NBA player, not many people can say that. He’s held the same occupation as LeBron James, Steph Curry, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell. Right now, his shooting percentage is better than all of them, too. – PAL

Source: Andre Ingram Is The NBA’s Best Story”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (04/11/2018)

TOB: This was tough for me. My Lakers hate runs deep. But I had to begrudgingly smile at this. I think what put me over the top is how unpredictable this was once you see the highlights. His jump shot looks BAD. He sorta leans forward and jumps awkwardly. If you showed him in warmups, I’d figure he was someone’s brother or maybe a rep of a big sponsor. He doesn’t look like a professional basketball player. He certainly doesn’t look like an NBA player. But, he damn well is one. Congrats, dude.

Ohtani Watch

Last week, I went gaga for Ohtani. Phil suggested I pump the brakes. Well…

Ohtani crushed even harder over the last week. He’s now 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 0.46 WHIP, and 18 Ks in 13 innings across two starts. He even took a perfect game into the 7th against Oakland. At the plate, he now has three home runs and and eight RBIs, and is hitting .346/.417.773 (!!!!) in just 22 at bats. We will periodically update you throughout the season. You’re welcome. -TOB

PAL: If he has over 12 home runs at the All-Star break, I’ll take you out to dinner, TOB. If not, you buy me a beer, and that week’s picture is you paying for my beer with the caption: “TOB was over-eager about Ohtani. Phil was right. Just like he was about the Patriots and the Heat. Wow. He seems to be right a lot.”

If he has over 12 home runs and an ERA under 3.5 at the All-Star break, then I’ll cook you and your family dinner. If not, then you buy my ticket, a beer, and a dog for an Twins-A’s game. We post a picture from the game. Same caption as above.

TOB: The stakes do not seem even here; but I agree in principle. We’ll work out the details, including a carve out for an extended Ohtani injury. Otherwise, he might have 12 dingers before June 1!

PAL: What would you know about “steaks” – you don’t even eat red meat! Have you ever had my cooking? Damn right these aren’t even stakes. You’re getting a steal.

Video of the Week

Oh, boy.

Bonus Video

PAL Song of the Week: The Velvet Underground & Nico – “Sunday Morning”


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I just want to sit on the beach and eat hot dogs. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.

-K. Malone

Week of April 6, 2018

The Best Kind of Sports Story

The Masters, which started Thursday, is one of those very few dream sporting events. When a kid plays, they imagine themselves being at the plate with the World Series on the line, throwing the Super Bowl winning touchdown, or putting for the green jacket. These are iconic venues and events that few regular folks ever attend, much less compete in, which is why I’ll be rooting for Matt Parziale.

Parziale is a 30 year-old firefighter from Brockton, Massachusetts. He works out of the same station his dad worked out of for 32 years as firefighter and captain. Parziale was a talented player growing up, but no Tiger Woods. As Ian O’Conner puts it:

Matt wasn’t a prodigy. He was a good hockey player and all-around athlete in a rugged working-class town known as the home of shoe factories and a pair of boxing champs who never backed down, Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler. Matt ended up at Southeastern, a non-scholarship member of the National Christian College Athletic Association, a group of small bible schools that didn’t exactly feature the level of golf Woods was accustomed to at Stanford.

After years of trying to qualify for the PGA Tour, Parziale figured it was time to fulfill his destiny: become a firefighter alongside his dad. He regained his amatuer golf status, and the odd firefighter hours allowed him to work on his golf game. His breakthrough came this year as he won the Mid-Am (tournament for post-college golfers to try to qualify for The Masters & U.S. Open) with his dad on his bag (his dad will be Parziale’s caddy for The Masters, too).

Parziale knew the implications of the win, and told his fiancee that they needed to move the wedding date.

After opening his personal invitation from Augusta National to play in The Master on Christmas Eve (I mean, come on!), he also found out he was rounding out a Par-3 threesome with Tiger Woods and Fred Couples this past Wednesday, which brings us to my favorite part of O’Connor’s story:

Matt waited and waited on the first tee for Woods to show up for their early Wednesday afternoon nine, looking like a boy worried that Santa Claus might not show. Suddenly, word rippled through the crowd that Tiger was heading to the nearby putting green, and off Matt and Vic marched to join him.

Woods greeted his newfound friend warmly. They chatted, took some practice putts, and then headed together to the first tee along with the third member of their group, Fred Couples, as fans shouted at them from both sides of the roped-off lane.

Parziale was first to put his tee in the ground. He lashed into his drive before two fans who had been poking fun at the sight of Matt waiting on Tiger earlier on.

“Who was that guy?” one asked.

The other replied: “He’s a guy who’s been waiting his entire life to hit that shot.”

Tiger and the firefighter walked off the tee box and down the fairway talking and laughing as if they were lifelong buds, a scene that kept repeating itself across the front nine.

This is a feel-good story that somehow doesn’t read like nacho cheese sentimentality. Enjoy! – PAL

Source: How Matt Parziale went from fighting fires to playing alongside Tiger at Augusta,” Ian O’Connor, ESPN (04/04/2018)

God Damnit, I Knew Ohtani Would Be Good

Shohei Ohtani was the talk of last offseason’s Hot Stove. For one, the new international signing limits meant no one could simply bowl him over with tens of millions of dollars, leaving everyone on equal ground. For two, Ohtani came over expecting to both pitch and hit. Logically, an AL team made sense for him – he could pitch on his start days, and then DH on other days. The book on him was that he was a frontline pitcher, but that his bat was a bit behind. The Giants were finalists for him, and there was a week there where it seemed the Giants might get both Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton (they did not).

Ohtani’s two-way status makes him more intriguing than any MLB player debut in recent memory, and with the Giants’ near miss, I was especially incentivized to keep an eye on him this Spring. He did NOT do well. At the plate, he went just 4-for-32 (.125 BA), with no extra-base hits, and 10 strikeouts. On the bump, it was a small sample size, but he gave 8 runs, including 3 home runs, in just 2 ⅔ innings of work. Yikes. I was hopeful that the Giants missing out on him was a blessing in disguise.

Nope. Ohtani began his regular season career by pitching very well on Sunday in Oakland, touching up to 100 mph with his fastball, and getting 18 swings and misses, many with his splitter. He struck out 6 over 6 innings, giving up 3 runs, all on one swing. He followed that on Tuesday, playing DH, with a no doubter 3-run bomb in his first at bat. He hit another home run on Wednesday, a 400-foot shot to dead center off Corey Kluber, one of the best pitchers in the game.

He’s now hitting .429 with an OPS of 1.286. That’s real good. And numbers aside, he certainly looks like he belongs, and is hitting the ball very hard. I guess his bat isn’t behind, and I am once again very angry that he did not choose the Giants. -TOB

Source: It’s Impossible to Overreact to What Shohei Ohtani is Doing”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (04/04/2018)

PAL: And Joe Panik is on pace to break the single season home run record. Ohtani has 14 at bats and 1 start as of Thursday afternoon. I’m pulling for him, but let’s all just take it easy.

MLB Could Pay Minor Leaguers a Living Wage for just $6M Per Team


This is an interesting interview with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred. MLB has been making negative headlines lately for how much it pays minor leaguers. Here’s what minor leaguers are paid:

AAA: $2,150/month in their first year, $2,400/month in second year, $2,700/month in third, for a 5.5-month season.
(Total: ~$11,825-$14,850 per year.)

AA: $1,700/month, goes up by $100/month in additional years.
(Total: ~$9,350+ per year)

High-A, Low-A: $1,100-1,500/month, goes up by $50 per year in additional years.
(Total: ~$6,050-8,400 per year)

Note, that’s what they are paid each month during the season. In the offseason, they aren’t paid. Manfred ties himself into knots trying to justify both the low pay and the fact players aren’t paid year round. He doesn’t address the fact that minor leaguers are not paid at all during Spring Training. As the interviewer notes: “If you’re required by your employer to do something — anything, really—that is optional in name only, and not doing it will cost you your job, that constitutes working.”

The kicker comes at the end. The cost to each MLB team to pay all minor leaguers $40,000 per year would be just over $6M per team, per year. They throw $6M at the bottom of the barrel major leaguers. They can afford this! Pathetic, Manfred. -TOB

Source: On Minor-League Pay, MLB’s Stance Doesn’t Line Up With the Facts”, Levi Weaver, The Athletic (04/04/2018)

PAL: “To be fair, there are also bonuses. The top 64 picks last year all received a bonus of over $1,000,000 before taxes,but roughly 40% of players signed for one-time bonuses of $10,000 or less. The subsequent contracts can keep them in the minor leagues for as long as seven seasons with no way to leave for a higher bidder.”

It’s the last part of this that’s b.s. – a player’s rights are controlled for 7 years! That’s just absurd, especially considering the disparity of league minimum for big league players is $507K. If one team thinks a guy is a big leaguer and the team that hold the player’s rights isn’t quite sure, then that’s a potential difference of over $490,000!

Video of the Week

Sergio Garcia ends his Masters on Day 1: with FIVE shots into the drink on 15.

PAL’s Song of the Week: Willie Nelson – “Me And Paul”

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“Every day is black tie optional.”

– Dwight Schrute

1-2-3 Sports! Week of March 9, 2018

Hockey hair is coming…

Prisoner of Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or this one:

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

Ichiro pointed at his bat.

Then he pointed at a spot maybe 8 inches away.

His bat had moved.

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

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

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

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

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

1-2-3 Sports! Exclusive: An Interview With Gregg Popovich

This week, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. “Pop”, as he’s known, has been the Spurs coach for 23 seasons, leading them to 5 NBA titles. He is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. Pop is also increasingly outspoken on social issues, including having been especially outspoken about President Trump, including calling Trump a “soulless coward” last year. 1-2-3 Sports! had the opportunity to speak with Coach Popovich in San Francisco this week. The conversation is reproduced here, in full:

TOB: Hey, Coach.

Popovich: Hey.

Unfortunately, Popovich is a busy guy. But we hope to find more time with Popovich soon. -TOB

PAL: Dammit, TOB; you have to ask Pop about wine. Make up some brand and ask him about the odd years, e.g., How about DeLillo’s 2011 cab, Underworld, from Paso Robles, eh?

See that? I literally looked at the bookshelf and made up a wine.

I need you thinking, TOB. I’m not roaming the streets of downtown San Francisco anymore. I need you at the top of your game, dude.

TOB: Hey, I’ve seen what he does to people who ask stupid questions:

I played it safe. Wisely.

How Are Jon Lester’s Yips Not A Bigger Deal?

No big analysis of a story here. I just want to pause to ask how the eff this isn’t a bigger deal? Jon Lester is top of the rotation pitcher for the Cubs, which is a serious contender again this year. Jon Lester can’t throw to first base. He can’t do a pick-off throw, and he has a hard time flipping it to first on the come-backer ground balls. He hasn’t been able to for years!

It would be one thing if Lester was a bust in the midst of a breakdown. He is not. As recently as 2016 he was 19-5. He’s been a serious factor for 3 World Series champions.

So we have a pitcher, which is the one dude in the game of baseball who pretty much always has the ball, who can’t throw 40 feet in one direction while making $27.5MM in 2018 (including a signing bonus). It’s become so bad that he’s now intentionally throwing the ball into the ground:

What.The. Shit? How isn’t this a bigger story? – PAL

Source: Jon Lester Is Doing This On Purpose Now”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (03/05/2018)

Breaking: Sports Media Narrative May Have Been Wrong

Shortly after entering the league, a narrative began to form around San Antonio Spurs’ superstar Kawhi Leonard. The narrative centered around the fact Leonard doesn’t speak very much. Many joked that Leonard was a basketball robot; quiet, hard working, tough, talented: the Perfect Spur. But this season has been a peculiar one for Leonard. He’s been dealing with a quadriceps injury that has caused him to miss all but 9 games. More curious, the team has cleared him to play, but he won’t. There have been rumblings this season that Leonard has grown disgruntled with the Spurs, feeling perhaps they are trying to rush him back from his injury, especially concerning for Kawhi because he’s just over a year away from free agency, where he will make a lot of money, but less so if not healthy.

More recently, things came to a bit of a head. ESPN’s Jalen Rose reported that Leonard, the Perfect Spur, wants out of San Antonio. Then this week there were reports that Leonard turned down an extension offer from Jordan Brand, reportedly worth more than $20 million over 4 years. Suddenly, things doesn’t look so functional in San Antonio, where things have been functional since at least the late-80s, when they drafted David Robinson.

This was all enough to prompt the Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor to wonder if the Spurs’ dynasty is finally over. We thought they were done when the #8 seed Grizzlies knocked them out of the first round in 6 games waaaaaaaay back in 2011. Nope. We thought they were done when they (kinda) collapsed in the Finals against the Heat in 2013. Nope. They won the title next year. We thought they were done when Duncan retired before last season. Nope, they were the #2 seed last year and made it all the way to the conference finals. But this feels different, and if Kawhi really does want out, there’s just no way they can rise from the dead of that one.

But this finally brings to my point. Kawhi’s unhappiness has many in sports media kinda shocked because he’s not the basketball robot they had made him out to be. He’s a real human, with real emotions, and just because he doesn’t talk to them, it doesn’t mean he’s an emotionless machine who cares about nothing but winning basketball games. Rightly, the man wants to get paid, so he shouldn’t rush back before he’s ready, and he should get as much money out of shoe companies that he can. And no one should be surprised about that. -TOB

Source: No, Seriously This Time: Is This the End of the Spurs’ Dynasty?”, Kevin O’Connor, The Ringer (03/08/2018)

PAL: Who will be Leonard’s main employer? Who will pay him more: a shoe company or a NBA franchise? As good as Leonard is, he is not a part of pop culture like LeBron, Durant, Harden, and Curry are, so I think his primary employer will be an NBA franchise, i.e., he’s not getting more than 20MM a year from a shoe company.

Also, this might be a point in time where speaking up might help. If the notoriously quiet all-NBA player still feels he’s injured while the Spurs have cleared him to play, then he should speak up. If he doesn’t, then he risks being seen as a wimp to whom the Spurs are currently paying $18.8MM per year so he can personal concerns ahead of the team.

Of course he wants to get paid what he’s worth, but this is not a Tim Lincecum situation when he was winning back-to-back Cy Young awards while making 400K and 600K in those years. Leonard is undervalued, but not to an alarming degree…especially if he’s missed all but 9 games this year with an injury he’s had in the past.

Is he pissed because he feels the team is rushing him back, or is he pissed because LeBron is making almost twice as much as him? If it’s the latter, then moving forward he should follow LeBron’s lead and sign short-term deals and bet on himself while maintaining flexibility.

Video of the Week

That was a shot, right?

PAL Song of the Week: Night Ranger – “Sister Christian” (no fireworks)

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I took her to the hospital and the doctors tried to save her life. They did the best that they could. And she is going to be okay.

-M. Scott

Week of February 16, 2018

Chloe Kim’s proud pops.

Straight Cash, Homie

Draymond Green is good at basketball (11 ppg, 8 rpg, 7apg) on a great basketball team but he also drives me crazy with his antics. He is constantly complaining to the refs, sometimes cheap-shotting opponents, and one time he may have cost his team an NBA title. Along with David West, Green brings a real edge to a supremely talented, kinda soft, team.

All of that is to say that I have mixed feeling about the dude. However, I appreciate how he settled his bet with Evan Turner. Green went to Michigan State, and Trailblazer Turner went to Ohio State. The two had to settle a Big 10 bet after the Blazers thumped the Warriors this week.

I appreciate the cash exchange. There is no joy in winning a bet, only to receive a notice on your phone that someone paid you $10. – PAL

Source: At Least Draymond Is An Honorable Bettor”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/15/2018)

TOB: Well, I have no mixed feelings on Draymond – I unabashedly adore him. I’m with you on this exchange, though. A man who timely pays his $100 bets, in cash, is a classy human being, and one worth being friends with.

Ya Boy is Back!

Brian Sabean, architect of three Giants World Series winning teams, along with one other pennant and three other division titles. He’s a Hall of Fame GM. But following the 2014 World Series, he was placed into somewhat of an emeritus status with the team – “promoted” to Executive Vice President, while his longtime assistant Bobby Evans was promoted general manager, in charge of the day-to-day activities. Things have been…less than smooth. Though it’s not clear that much of this is Evans’ fault, the Giants quietly announced this week that Sabean will return to more of a day-to-day role, and the Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly reports that the final word on decisions will be Sabean’s. So, see a lot more of Sabean in his box seats, and I can recreate this.

When your team nearly loses 100 games, you’re looking for any thread of hope to hold onto. I’ve gotten a few threads this offseason, and this is another. Let’s go, Sabey Sabes! -TOB

Source: Giants Ownership Directs Brian Sabean to Reassume Day-to-Day Responsibilities“, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (02/15/2018)

Yes, Another Steve Kerr Story (or Two)

Look, I’m sorry. I know we’ve covered Steve Kerr a lot. But he keeps doing things worth discussing. This week we got a Kerr double whammy. First, in an attempt to connect to his team who he says is tuning him out a bit, Kerr let the players run the huddles in their game against the (terrible) Phoenix Suns.

The players seemed to love it, as did every normal human being. There was, of course, some backlash. A couple Suns players called it disrespectful. A few coaches reportedly didn’t like that Kerr was showing coaches are unnecessary. And the usual media suspects took the opportunity to make some #hottakes. But, by and large, Kerr’s move was praised, rightfully so. Most coaches are simply not secure enough to do this, and it was pretty cool to watch.

Later in the week, our country endured yet another horrific mass shooting. This time at a high school in Florida. Seventeen people were killed by a former student. Kerr, who has grown increasingly willing to speak out about politics, was asked about the shooting and had this to say:

This shouldn’t be hard at all, and yet here we are – nearly 20 years after Columbine, and nothing has been done. Hell, things have gotten worse. I lost hope on this topic after Newtown, when dozens of five year olds were killed. Five years old. And not a damn thing changed. But Kerr is right, there is something we can do. It’s a strange world we live in when an NBA coach is more eloquent and makes more sense than our politicians. -TOB

Source: Steve Kerr Let His Players Coach The Game And It Worked“, Tom Ley, Deadspin (02/13/2018)

PAL: I’m now seriously considering if Kerr might be thinking about a life in politics after he’s done coaching.

“Where Were You When Oddvar Bra Broke His Pole?”

How is a folk hero made? That’s the question David Segal’s trying answer in his dissection of Norway’s version of “Miracle On Ice”.

So here’s what happened:

A man named Oddvar Bra is skiing the final segment of the men’s 4×10-kilometer cross-country relay at the 1982 world championships in Oslo. Surging up a hill, he passes and sideswipes the only person ahead of him, Alexander Savyalov of the Soviet Union.

Immediately, Bra realizes that the impact has had a terrible consequence. His right pole has snapped in two.

“Let him get a pole, man!” shouts the sportscaster for what is then Norway’s only national TV station.

As if on cue, someone in the crowd bolts into view and hands off a pole. His equilibrium restored, Bra battles Savyalov in a sprint to the finish line.

Let’s recap. A guy breaks a ski pole and keeps racing. Not exactly the moon landing, is it? And to be clear, this isn’t a come-from-behind story. Bra was actually leading after he broke his pole, because contact had knocked Savyalov to his knees.

Also, Bra didn’t win, at least not outright. After staring at an image of the finish for about an hour, the judges decided that he and Savyalov had tied for first.

There’s a statue of Bra in Norway for not losing. He’s a folk hero, and there are specific ingredients that must be used to create the perfect folk hero for the land he or she represents. Bra has all the prerequisites for a Norwegian hero:

  • Bra’s from the country. “To be a folk hero in Norway, you need to grow up on a farm and you need a country accent,” said Thor Gotaas, who is writing a biography of Bra and who studied Norse mythology as a student. “Norwegians don’t trust people from the city. They like people who have struggled, people who have suffered.”
  • Nordic Skiing is the Norway’s specialty. Their folk hero should be a Nordic Skier, obviously.
  • Bra’s a man of the people. He refused to race on skis that were manufactured outside of Norway.
  • He overcame adversity: Bra was winning national titles, but for years world championships and Olympic gold eluded him.

What’s also very cool about this story is how different the story would be interpreted from the perspective of a Soviet back in the day. Same details, very different feel. Their guy got knocked down. The Norwegian aggressor broke his pole, only to have a fan give him a new one, mid-race. Your guy then overcame the obstacles, got back on his skis and chased down the Norwegian with a last-second sprawl.

This one’s worth your time, folks. Beautifully written, funny and peculiar. – PAL  

Source: The Ski Pole The Norway Will Never Forget”, David Segal, The New York Times (02/13/2018)

TOB: Frankly, I’m surprised it was legal to be handed a ski pole by someone in the crowd, and I wonder if that would fly today. I suspect not.

Video of the Week

Up-20 and done for the day LeBron makes me unreasonably happy.

PAL Song of the Week: The Tallest Man On Earth – “The Dreamer”

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I’m running away from my responsibilities, and it feels good.

-M. Scott

1-2-3 Sports! Week of January 26, 2018

These Annoying Hall of Fame Debates Will End

Yup, another Hall of Fame article, but Lindsey Adler revealed something to me that I’ve never considered: the steroid era in baseball is a finite chunk of time. The current drug testing and punishments were put into play in the spring of 2006, meaning for steroid era is thought to have begun in the late 80s and ended in the 2000s.

Right now we have the same arguments about Bonds, Clemens, and the others every time voting comes up. But that time will end. According to Adler, it will end with Alex Rodriguez (how perfect). He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2022 and will be the last candidate to have become a star and put up Hall of Fame numbers in the sport’s doping era.

If Rodriguez lingers on the ballot for the maximum 10 years, it will have been more than a quarter century since Mark McGwire’s first appearance on the ballot opened the era in which we now live, in which Hall of Fame debates are largely exercises in anguished handwringing. His candidacy, of course, went nowhere for 10 years; he never even got close to the requisite 75 percent of votes for induction. He spent the first few years of his campaign floating around 20-ish percent, then fell each year by a few degrees until he received only 12 percent of the votes for his final year on the ballot. His campaign went nowhere again when the Today’s Game Era committee rejected him in 2017—the same year they voted in Bud Selig.

Let’s set aside whether or not you or I think Bonds or Clemens should be in the Hall of Fame for a paragraph. Adler is right that by keeping them out the voters are ignoring not just the players, but turning away from generation of people around my age. Our generation knows there were no more famous players than Clemens, Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa. Manny at the plate during the playoffs was a scary thing. These guys defined an era. There’s no way around it, and ignoring them blurs the a large chunk of time in the game the Hall looks to preserve. The steroid era was an incredibly exciting time in baseball.

Should Bonds, Clemens and the rest be inducted? To me and induction feels like a celebration. I don’t know if we need to celebrate these guys. They will be remembered, and they ought to be. They will be considered some of the greatest, whether they are inducted or not. But do they need a bust? Is that what’s required to confirm they were outstanding? At the moment, it seems obvious that the answer is no. What about in 100 years?

They are a part of baseball’s story and the chapters they helped author are some of the most vivid to a massive generation of baseball fans. Cooperstown would be smart to start thinking about how it addresses the steroid era. Ignoring is not the answer. – PAL

Source: “The Hall Of Fame Is Trying To Vacate Your MemoriesLindsey Adler, Deadspin (01/25/2018)

TOB: A lot of things bother me about this.

Four people voted FOR Clemens and NOT for Bonds. FOUR. That is INSANE. There’s more circumstantial evidence that Clemens took steroids than Bonds. Clemens’ trainer admitted he injected Clemens. Bonds’ trainer never did. Bonds is arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived. At least top 2. Clemens is probably in the Top 5-10 pitchers. Bonds could be an ass, but many who covered him daily have said he was complicated and could be warm and charming. I’ve never heard Clemens described as anything but an asshole. If you are voting for Clemens, there is ZERO reason to not vote for Bonds.

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: Aaron, Mays and every other great player from that era has admitted to taking amphetamines to get their energy up and improve performance. Why is one performance enhancing drug ok, and another is not? And most importantly: guys like Hank Aaron were faced with a choice: take a PED or not. They took it. It’s asinine to think they’d be faced with a different PED and say, “No, amphetamines are where I draw the line. I have principals.” It was a different era and a different environment.

By the way, here’s newly inducted Hall of Famer Jim Thome as a rookie:

Huh. Whaddayaknow. He looks a little skinnier there than he did later in his career, doesn’t he?

Even his head. Oh, I guess because the two major steroid investigations happened to be centered around Bonds’ trainer and Clemens’ trainer, the Steroid Stink isn’t on Thome, huh? Which is not to say I think Thome shouldn’t be in. He should! Even if he took steroids. But we have NO idea who took steroids and who didn’t. And keeping people out who you THINK took steroids is unfair, when plenty more who got away with taking steroids without the whispers will make it in. As Buster Olney said this week:

In conclusion, Bonds rules.

Are the Warriors Hungry Anymore? Are They So Good It Doesn’t Matter?

Bruce Jenkins has been around. He’s been a sportswriter for the SF Chronicle since 1973. He’s covered some of the greatest athletes in sports history on a daily basis – Montana, Rice, Bonds, among others. Sports journalism today tends to be long. That can be engrossing, but in the wrong hands it is often meandering. But Jenkins is from the old school: Have a point, get to it, and get out, in 800 words.

This week Jenkins used his skills to ponder the Warriors’ weekend loss at the Houston Rockets. Jenkins ask the question, point blank: Having won 2 titles in 3 years, does Curry, and by extension the entire Warriors team, have the hunger required to win the title this year? Jenkins takes a quick tour of NBA history – exploring the greats who had that hunger, won, and were later usurped by players whose hunger had not yet been satisfied. For example, Magic and Larry begat Isaiah who begat Jordan. Early on, Curry struggled – first with injuries, then with losing to the Spurs in 2013, and the Clippers (even amidst the Donald Sterling scandal) in 2014, before breaking through the last three seasons. The team seems to at times float through games, confident they can shoot themselves back in it whenever they feel like it. And that’s usually true.

But the Rockets have that hunger. They have that Jordan 1991 hunger. Harden and Chris Paul have that Isaiah 1989 hunger. As Jenkins says, “But the Warriors are not hungry. Not yet. There’s an unsettling tedium to the season so far….The Rockets are coming, and they are famished.” I can’t wait for that series. -TOB

Source: Have-nots Lurking Below Powerful Warriors”, Bruce Jenkins, SF Chronicle (01/23/2018)

PAL: Don’t love to agree with TOB, but he’s right. Jenkins nails this with precise efficiency. I was just talking with a coworker on Wednesday about the Warriors. Savio and I would check in after every game the following morning. We’d know who had a big night and who didn’t. We’d if Steph was getting careless with the ball or not. This year we agreed that we’ve been “keeping an eye on them” and we’ll get back into it during the playoffs. The Warriors and their fans are not nearly as hungry this year, and – yeah – I’ll be tuning in if they play the Rockets in the playoffs.

You Know It When You See It

There have been a lot of stories about the Hall of Fame voting in the past week, but I think this one is my favorite. Perhaps the best Hall of Fame test is your initial reaction when you realize someone is being considered for the first time. Here’s a sampling of some dudes up for voting this year and my reaction:

Billy Wagner: That’s funny. No.

Fred McGriff: Great nickname – Crime Dog – but how did he manage to have such an ugly swing from the left side? I think he got to 400 home runs, right? No Hall of Fame.

Edgar Martinez: I mean, I guess.

Trevor Hoffman: I can’t argue it, but never impressed me. How come relievers aren’t held to the same harsh, part-time player, dig as designated hitters like Martinez are held to?

Vladimir Guerrero: Absolutely.

It’s that ‘absolutely’ that sits at the heart of David Schoenfield’s article. Turns out, Vlad’s numbers aren’t quite the making of an “absolutely” reaction.

He appeared on 92.9% of ballots. To be honest, Guerrero’s Hall of Fame résumé isn’t as cut-and-dried as that percentage might suggest.

He finished with 449 home runs and 2,590 hits, falling short of those automatic career milestones. His career WAR of 59.3 isn’t slam-dunk territory and isn’t even the best for a right fielder on this ballot (Larry Walker is at 72.6 and Gary Sheffield at 60.3). His run of dominance extends only 10 seasons, from 1998 to 2007. He was a terrible postseason performer, hitting just two home runs in 44 games. Heck, Jeff Kent, a second baseman, has more lifetime RBIs and is tracking at only 12 percent of the vote.

But he’s a no-doubter in my mind, and in the mind of 92% of the voters this his second year on the ballot. I agree with Schoenfield when he says Vlad’s damn the torpedoes approach to the game, and his backstory, planted him favorably in the minds of baseball fans across the country. Not a lot of players capture the imagination of a national audience, especially players that spent a good chunk of time in Montreal. To watch him was to watch a talent that was too great to mess with and reign in. My favorite anecdote pretty much sums it up:

In Jonah Keri’s book on the Expos, “Up, Up and Away,” he tells the story of when Guerrero was first called up to the majors in 1996. Manager Felipe Alou called the coaches together. “I’ll never forget that meeting as long as I live,” said Jim Tracy, who was Alou’s bench coach. “Felipe called the staff into his office. And with that deep-ass voice of his, I heard this message: ‘Leave him alone.’ That’s what he said. ‘There’s going to be mistakes. The ball’s not going to be thrown to the cut-off man early on. His plate discipline is going to be very raw at best. Leave. Him. Alone.'”

There’s so much back and forth around who belongs in the Hall and who doesn’t. There’s aura and there are the numbers. This was a fun, articulate argument about a player’s aura, and that represents the side of baseball I like to think about most. – PAL

Source: Why Does Everybody Love Vlad Guerrero So Much?”, David Schoenfield, ESPN (01/24/2018)

Counter-Point: Edgar Martinez is a No Doubt Hall of Famer.

I have a counter-point to your Edgar reaction above. Perhaps because he played his entire career on the West coast you didn’t get to see him much, but he was fantastic. Everyone remembers Griffey tearing from first to third in the 1995 ALDS to beat the Yankees, but it was Edgar being Edgar, tearing a double down the left field line that allowed Griffey to score.

Edgar Martinez had a 12 year peak that rivals most hitters (Non-Bonds Division). Which brings me to my pre-emptive argument: Many argue Martinez does not belong in the Hall of Fame because he was almost exclusively a Designated Hitter, and thus played, not even half the game…he made 4-5 plate appearances a night, and that was it. But so what? The Designated Hitter, as stupid as it is, has been the rule for nearly fifty years now. Moreover, as Emma Baccellieri points out, do we ever keep a Hall of Fame-level hitter out of the Hall of Fame because he was atrocious on defense? No. I’ve literally never heard someone say, “Well he’s one of the greatest hitters to ever play his position, but he was such an awful defender. Defense counts, too, so he’s out.” By not being a negative on defense, Edgar helped his team on defense more than a terrible defender does. Edgar is close (70.4%) this year. I expect he’ll make it next year. -TOB

Source: Edgar Martínez Is A Hall-Of-Fame Baseball Player”, Emma Baccellieri, Deadspin (01/24/2018)

Presented Without Comment:

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Justin Timberlake, ft. Chris Stapleton – “Say Something”

Tweet of the Week

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“People in this town are just now getting into Nirvana. I don’t have the heart to tell them what’s gonna happen to Kurt Cobain in 1994.”

-Tom Haverford

Week of January 12, 2018

When your new boss pays you $100 million, you use his barber.

Tonya Harding Was This Close To Being A Real Life Rocky

Funny story: A few weeks ago Natalie and I were having dinner with a couple friends and Tonya Harding’s name came up. Our friends chuckled. Natalie asked, “Wait, who’s Tonya Harding?”

If you ever wanted to know the difference between being 28 years old and 35 years old today – Natalie’s question is as precise an indicator as you’re ever going to find.

For those of you older than Natalie, I don’t need to tell you who Harding is (and for the young folk, here’s the gist of the story). The feature film I, Tonya, released back in December (I haven’t seen it yet) profiles the person at the center of the most famous Olympic scandal, so it makes sense for Taffy Brodesser-Akner to meet up with Harding 23 years later. I like how she went about a profile about a person who is trying to leave her past behind while still clearly bitter about her past.

Let’s start with the name. Tonya Price. She recently married and took her husband’s name. For a serious reporter, Bodesser-Akner has to be accurate. Her name is Tonya Price, and so she really should refer to the skater by her current name. But this is a story about Tonya Harding. Tonya Price is also Tonya Harding. It turns out the name confusion is actually a perfect metaphor. “This is basically how this entire story goes,” Bodesser-Akner writes. “There are facts, and then there is the truth, and you can’t let one get in the way of the other or you’ll never understand what she’s trying to tell you.”

Price/Harding goes on to tell her version of the Tonya Harding story, and it’s a grim one. This lady did not have it easy. A very poor, abused, tiny, but powerful skater trying to upend a sport that essentially judges on feminine grace. But for perhaps a broken skate lace, Harding might very well have won gold, and all of a sudden hers is added to the pantheon of great american underdog stories. Rose up from nothing to win a gold medal in a stodgy, beauty pageant sport of figure skating. However, the lace did break, and she was found guilty of not reporting that she knew who did the deed on Kerrigan’s knee (Price still insists she only knew after the assault). The underdog story vanishes, all the scrapping and grinding – all those values we love to associate as somehow uniquely American – they will never be associated with Harding.

Over drinks in Washington, Bodesser-Akner wants to hear Price’s version of the story, and she gets it. The writer’s final take:

Here’s the thing: A lot of what she said wasn’t true. She contradicted herself endlessly. But she reminded me of other people I’ve known who have survived trauma and abuse, and who tell their stories again and again to explain what had happened to them but also to process it themselves. The things she said that were false — they were spiritually true, meaning they made her point, and she seemed to believe them.

…Here is something I’ll never understand, that you can be sitting across the table from someone who certainly did something bad, who appears to show no remorse for it and you can still feel the oxytocin rush of love and sympathy for her.

Interesting read, especially for us over the age of 28. – PAL

Source: Tonya Harding Would Like Her Apology Now, Taffy Bodesser-Akner, The New York Times (01/10/2018)

TOB: Longtime readers of the blog will not be surprised that I rooted for Tonya Harding over Nancy Kerrigan. At 12 years old, I didn’t even know the emotional and physical abuse she endured – I just saw the crap she took from the sports media and was drawn to her as the underdog. After the attack I was lukewarm, but still didn’t like Kerrigan. I felt vindicated when her infamous Disney World video surfaced.

This was your darling, America!

Anyways, I watched the 30 for 30 documentary about the whole thing, and it was pretty sad. I read this article, and it’s also sad. Tonya Harding/Price has certainly been treated unfairly, and poorly, by many people in her life. But as Phil notes, she’s unable to move on. I haven’t seen I, Tonya yet, but I am happy that Tonya liked it, and felt her story of abuse was finally told, even if others see the movie in another light.

Bill Simmons Should Retire

This morning, Bill Simmons posted his thought on last Friday’s Seth Wickersham article on the reported inner-turmoil with the New England Patriots. Simmons’ take is bad. It was so bad that I postponed our post and quickly wrote this up. As he did on his podcast, Simmons argues that many points in the Wickersham story shouldn’t be believed because they were “denied”. Oh, ok. The principals of a big story deny the veracity of the details and therefore the story is necessarily false? I take biggest issue with the following, though:

 I know someone who spent time with Kraft last weekend; Kraft was more dumbfounded by the story than anything.

We couldn’t afford to keep both of them, Kraft kept saying. Why is this so hard to understand?

Let’s unpack this. First, Simmons uses an unnamed source, something he complains about in Wickersham’s article. In the same moment, he attempts to use his connections to give himself some authority. Then he quotes Kraft, without actually quoting him, and uses this “quote” to refute the report that Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo. But does it, really? All that it actually says is Kraft was dumbfounded because they couldn’t keep both of them, and why can’t people understand that. How does that refute that Kraft was involved in a personnel decision? Doesn’t it more likely support Wickersham’s report? Other reports say Garoppolo was offered a large extension. If Belichick is in charge of player personnel decisions, that means he made the extension offer to Garoppolo. But if Kraft said they couldn’t afford both Brady and Garoppolo, then doesn’t it follow that Kraft vetoed Belichick’s attempt to keep both of them, and Kraft ordered the trade?

Simmons also draws a terrible comparison to Kraft allowing Belichick to bench his “beloved” Drew Bledsoe in favor of 6th round pick Tom Brady, and allowing Belichick to release or trade other players, like Jamie Collins. That comparison is laughable. First, Bledsoe got hurt, and wasn’t available until the playoffs, and by that time they were on a roll with Brady. Second, Bledsoe never won a Super Bowl. Brady has won five. You think Kraft felt the same loyalty to Bledsoe as he does to Brady? No. Kraft has said Brady is like a son to him. Brady has said Kraft is like a second father. You think Brady is like Jamie Collins, Simmons? Get outta here, man. Seriously, it’s time to retire from writing. You’re rich and lazy. Your writing is lazy and dumb. You’re so far from objective that it’s painful. -TOB

Source: The Story That Tried to Divide Brady and Belichick“, Bill Simmons, The Ringer (01/12/2018)

Baseball: The (Potentially) Neverending Story

One of the greatest things about baseball is that you can never run out of time. You can and will run out of chances, if you don’t make good on them, but you can never say, “Geeze, things might have been different if we had more time.” 27 outs. That’s what you get. That’s what the other team gets. Theoretically, a baseball game could go on forever. A team could simply never make 27 outs. But there’s another way a baseball game could go on forever – extra innings. Again, theoretically, a baseball game could go on forever, as long as neither team leads after each complete inning after the ninth. It’s sort of wild when you think about it, and that brings us to this great Sam Miller article.

Sam opens the article by invoking the great Eli Cash:

On Sept. 5, Hanley Ramirez flared an 0-2 fastball into shallow center field. Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar charged in but couldn’t catch the ball, and Mookie Betts — who took off almost on contact — raced home from second to score. With that bloop single, Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox won the longest game of the 2017 season, after 19 innings, 544 pitches and exactly six hours of play.

What this article presupposes is: What if they didn’t?

What follows is an excellent exploration of the stages players, and fans, would go through if a baseball game went 50 innings. My only issue is this – the game he chooses to piggyback off of is a regular season game. Though it had some playoff implications, it’s still just 1 of 162 games. What I want to know is how MLB, and the networks, would react if a playoff game went that long. In the regular season, the players, managers, and even the league may eventually decide to call it a night and come back the next day. But in the playoffs? In the World Series? In a Game 7? What do they do?

In Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS, the Giants and Nationals played 18 innings, in a game in D.C. It was a day game (well, it was day here), and Phil and I watched the game at McTeague’s, a bar here in SF where we watched most of the Giants’ 2012 and 2014 playoff runs. I’ll never forget the bewildering and disorienting feeling walking out of the bar after the game and realizing it was still daylight. I’ll also never forget the intensity of every single pitch in the bottom half of innings 10 through 18. With one swing, the game could end.

MLB was lucky it was not a later game. Many MLB playoff games begin at 7pm, even 8pm EST. That game lasted 6 hours and 23 minutes, and it was on a weekend. Imagine it was a Tuesday night, and began at 8pm EST – it would have ended at almost 3 am. What would MLB do in that case? What would they do if it went another 6 innings? Miller’s article points out that, unlike in prior eras, MLB no longer has a curfew. The current record holder for longest MLB game in the modern era is a 1984 game between the Brewers and White Sox, but that game was paused due to curfew, and later resumed. Would MLB stop a playoff game and resume it later?

And what of the long lasting effect on the clubs? In a playoff series, it would almost certainly be a pyrrhic victory. You might win that game, and even the series but it’s going to so thoroughly screw up your bullpen and your rotation going forward that you’d have no shot in later rounds (of course if this happened in the World Series, there’s no such concern).

The other interesting aspect of this is the long term effect of the players themselves. Miller invokes what he calls the Something Important phase of an extremely long game. The Something Important phase is where fans and players realize that history is in the making (which I buy wholeheartedly, after having sat through that 18-inning Giants game mentioned above – very few things could have dragged me away). Miller discusses a college baseball game from 2009 between Texas and Boston College. It went 25 innings. Texas’ closer threw thirteen innings of shutout ball. As Miller relates:

Around the 15th or 16th inning, Austin Wood, Texas’ senior closer, was approaching 100 pitches of no-hit relief. He approached head coach Augie Garrido: “Don’t you even think about taking me out of this game.” He would end up throwing 13 scoreless innings in relief, 169 pitches, a performance that can only happen if the limits of the game get so badly extended that unthinkable possibilities can fit within them.

“When a player breaks through to that level, it changes his life,” Garrido said at the time. “… Now he knows something not many people know: You really can be anything you choose to be. … And if he gets a sore arm in the next 10 years, it’ll be my fault.”

And, was Wood’s career affected? You betcha.

“His professional career ended three years later, after shoulder injuries, and plenty of people think Garrido’s decision was unforgivable. Wood has defended Garrido, first by saying there was no connection between that game and his injuries, but ultimately concluding that it doesn’t matter if there was a connection: “If you offered me anything in the world, I don’t think I would trade it for the experience of playing in that game,” Wood told the Austin American-Statesman later. “It was that meaningful.”

Man. It’s hard to understand that statement. We don’t know that this game cost Wood his career. But he essentially says even if it did, he’d do it over again. 13 innings and 169 pitches are worth an entire MLB career? I wonder if he’d say the same thing had Texas lost.

Anyways, go read the article. It’s fantastic. -TOB

Source: What Would Happen if a Baseball Game Went 50 Innings?”, Sam Miller, ESPN.com (01/09/2017)

PAL: Such a fun read, folks. TOB nails the summary above, but one other comparison Miller provides is that of endurance dancing. It was a brief craze in the 1920s, and after watching some video on it, I concur with Miller: it’s the most miserable thing I’ve ever watched.

Also, TOB and I did not watch this game together (but we watched most of them at McTeague’s). I actually heard the Belt homer on the radio while sitting on a porch. Kind of cool to experience the greatest of baseball feats (game-winning playoff homer) over the radio. Thought the connected backyards, you could hear the neighbors all but jump up when he hit it, then lose it when it went over the fence.

Please Don’t Speak Ill of Canadians, Eh.

This is so damn funny. Some San Jose Sharks players were asked to name their least favorite road trip. Tomas Hertl, Justin Braun and Tim Heed all named Winnipeg, citing the fact that it’s cold, it’s dark, and the hotel wifi is slow. Honestly, that’s pretty inoffensive. Well, the prideful city of Winnipeg disagrees. The CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg was trotted out to correct these Sharks:

Spiring also noted the Sharks players have their facts wrong. Winnipeg is actually the second most sunny city in Canada with an annual average of 2,353 hours of sunshine, just below Calgary at 2,396.

As for temperatures, Braun’s home city of Minneapolis is much the same as Winnipeg.

Winnipeg’s average temperatures range between –12 C in the winter months to 26 C in summer. Minneapolis has an average of –9.1 C to 23.2 C.

Hertl is from Prague in the Czech Republic, where the temperature range is –3 C to 25 C. And Heed’s home of Gothenburg, Sweden, where winter temperatures average –3 to 3 C and summer temps average around 20 C.

That’s super funny. But, I’ll allow the retort so long as it ends there. Oh, no sir. It will not end there. Winnipeg Jets coach John Hockeyguy stepped in to give the Sharks a little whatfor.

The coach began by noting he hadn’t heard the comments. Perhaps a reason not to comment? Nah. Where’s the fun in that? Coach Hockeyguy then proceeds to lecture the Sharks players, and every player in the NHL, about how petty it is to whine about the cold and the dark and the slow wi-fi, when by god, they’ve got a good life.

#FirstWorldProblems, am I right? -TOB

Source: The Winnipeg Kerfluffle Has Reached Dangerously Canadian Levels”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (01/09/2018)

PAL: I love when coaches insist they “didn’t read” the story on which they’re being asked to comment. They usually make it about 1.5 sentence before they can’t contain themselves, and they take a “where are we at in the world today” stance. Guys, you aren’t generals in a war. You’re not giving away strategic positioning. You tell extremely talented athletes when to go in the game and when to come out of the game. No one will think less of you if you admit that you’re keeping tabs on the insignificant details.

Real Worms Vs Fake Worms

This article crystalized what we’ve known for years: sports stories can be – and oftentimes are – created out of nothing. The qualifications to what makes a sports story newsworthy have become blurry at best. Most of our news is provided by companies that earn large chunks of their revenue from advertising. Advertisers want eyeballs and clicks-thrus, and stories that generated the most clicks will be reported and posted – newsworthy or not.

This is why you know LaVar Ball, father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. LaVar drives clicks and eyeballs. He says crazy things in a bombastic tone. Like this:

This was not the first time LaVar said that. But let’s be honest, sports dads say some pretty absurd stuff, they just aren’t sitting on a TV set while saying it. He’s a dad. Dads are more or less crazy about their kids’ sports (TOB: Careful…). A dad’s commentary about his son’s basketball abilities hardly seems like news. But ESPN helped make it one, and they’ve done this before.

A few years back, our old pal John Koblin wrote a piece for this here website about ESPN manufacturing a sports story out of thin air. It began, in that case, with ESPN football pundit Ron Jaworski issuing the empty but hot-sounding statement “I truly believe Colin Kaepernick could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever” (my, how times have changed!); other ESPN properties treated this statement as news and other ESPN pundits reacted to it, leading eventually to Kaepernick (then with the San Francisco 49ers and not yet famous for kneeling during the national anthem) being asked to comment on it, and ESPN treating his comments both as newsworthy in and of themselves and also as the basis for the weird meta-story that an ESPN employee (Jaworski) had said something controversial. The playbook for this sort of thing goes back farther than that, as Koblin noted—at least as far back as when the network staged its own phony intramural culture war over Tim Tebow and sustained, for whole entire years, the entirely fictional story that either Tebow’s football ability or his performative religiosity were matters of genuine controversy anywhere outside the folie à deux between ESPN and its own viewership.

On and on we go. ESPN’s take on vertical integration.

LaVar Ball is not new. He’s just the soup du jour, and we say, ‘Mmmm. That sounds good. I’ll have that.’ Here’s the playbook tailored to the Ball family. Note: LiAngelo just left UCLA (he was a freshman), and LaMelo was a junior in high school.

An ESPN reporter seeks out—in Lithuania!—a noted blowhard and wrings a controversial take out of him (despite the blowhard’s best efforts to temper and walk back that take pretty much as it is leaving his mouth). ESPN spends the following days performing air-raid drills behind it, spawning a succession of follow-ons: Lonzo Ball is asked to, in essence, choose between his coach and his dad, and his tepid choice of athlete-interview boilerplate itself becomes a story; hysterical NBA coach’s union president Rick Carlisle says ESPN has betrayed its covenant with the doofuses who donate ten seconds of distracted “gotta get stops” talk to its between-quarters interviews, and that’s a story; Steve Kerr has takes about ESPN devoting multiple reporters to the LaVar Ball Beat when it has laid off talented people who do actual smart work, and that’s a story. Walton cracks a joke about it in a postgame presser, and that’s a story.

Why is ESPN bankrolling this and shoving LaVar Ball in our face, day after day after day? We click on it. We watch their First Take segments, then listen to their podcasts that comment on the First Take segment, and…hell, I’m writing about this non-story at this very moment. The non-story is now a story about whether or not it’s a worthy story. It’s not like they have the choice to run highlights all day (we don’t use ESPN for that anymore). 

For a company that’s gone through two rounds of layoffs in the past year or so they are fishing for the clicks. Instead of digging for worms, ESPN has been manufacturing plastic ones for years now. LaVar Ball will go away just as soon as he stops landing us fish. – PAL

Source: “ESPN: It’s Bad That We Keep Squeezing Juicy Quotes Out Of LaVar Ball”, Albert Burneko, Deadspin (01/10/2018)

TOB: Yes, thank you. It’s time we please stop the anti-Lavar backlash. ESPN is the problem! And here it is in a nutshell:

The Lakers have a problem now, in ESPN’s formulation. ESPN reporters think the Lakers must do a better job of preventing LaVar Ball from making, to ESPN reporters who follow him to Lithuania, stick a microphone in his face, and ask him for his opinions on issues related to his famous sons, statements that those ESPN reporters may then parse for their most incendiary content and package as inflammatory on ESPN’s various platforms.

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – The Fugees – “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (Roberta Flack)

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Anybody who’s ever had the privilege of seeing me play knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world.

-Dizzy Dean