1-2-3 Sports! Week of January 18, 2019

*games, not minutes

How Well Would You, As You Sit Today, Play in Little League?

Grant Brisbee has long been one of my favorite writers, and this is one of his funniest in a long time. Even the headline made me laugh: How many WAR would I be worth if I got to play Little League again?

And here’s his open:

The late, great comedian Mitch Hedberg once said, “I wish I could play Little League now, I’d kick some f***** ass,” and everybody laughed.

I didn’t think it was funny, though. It’s not a joke to wonder about just how well you would do if you were back in Little League with the size and smarts of an adult.

They wouldn’t be laughing now, that’s for sure. Nobody would be laughing.

I am laughing out loud.

Grant then decides he’ll play second base, because that gives the best WAR boost (positional scarcity, at all). He then goes into hilarious detail into calculating his own WAR.

40 plate appearances
22 walks
18 hits
10 home runs that are, like, just crushed, no errors or anything
8 doubles or triples that probably would have been doubles or triples if a regular kid hit them because these idiot 10-year-olds can’t field

.950 fielding percentage
1 error
8 DRS (at least)

Now, I don’t know how Defensive Runs Saved is calculated, but I’m figuring that every game, I’m making at least two plays that other kids can’t, which is good for a half-run. And that’s erring on the side of caution, believe me, because I would be a total field general out there, telling kids where they need to go with the ball and everything. They would all respect me and listen to me now that I’m stronger than them and better at sports.

Lollll. Those numbers are good for a 4 WAR over a 16 game little league season, which calculates out to a  40.5 WAR over a 162 game season. That would be a record, by a long shot.

As I was reading this, I was thinking, what would my WAR be? Then I saw Grant’s closing line, “In conclusion, I would be awesome if I got to play Little League again. Just don’t put me in a league with any of those travel-ball kids. They’re big and throw too hard.”

And it reminded me of the time Phil and I, along with our friends Rowe and Gleeson, found ourselves in a 4 on 4 baseball game on Treasure Island against kids probably 12 or 13 years old. Don’t ask how this happened, it just happened, ok?. I think we played a few innings and there was a total of ONE hit between everyone. So, maybe Grant overestimates how well he’d do?

BUT! The 12-year old pitcher was a hoss, and he could throw some heat. Definitely a travel ball kid. His buddies weren’t nearly as good and I’m pretty sure I could have crushed some doubles and dingers off of them.

I also think Grant vastly overrates what his fielding ability is, unless he’s an active softball player. I used to umpire a couple years back, and let me tell you – kids are nimble and 12-year olds can make some nifty plays. I’m actually pretty sure I was a better fielder as a 12-year old than I am as an adult. I now actively fear a ball taking a bad hop and crushing me in the face, whereas at 12 I was a stud. Look at that form as I apply the tag.

But then I thought about the bit of adult softball I played a few years back. In my mind, I hit about .800 with a bunch of doubles and triples and probably an inside the park home run or two, and one neeeeeear homer on the opposite field high fence/short porch.

So, this kid wants another shot:

I have no idea where to begin estimating my stats, but I do know that Phil’s would be much, much, much better. -TOB

Source: How Many WAR Would I Be Worth if I Got to Play Little League Again?“, Grant Brisbee, SB Nation (01/11/2019)

The Cold Hot Stove: An Update

As you can imagine, more and more articles are being written each day about baseball’s slow offseason and the likelihood it will result in a work stoppage in 2021. Two articles in particular made points that I found to be very compelling.

First, Neil DeMause expands on the article we featured last week about how owners rely less on ticket sales and concessions than they used to for money, so they are less compelled to pay for players to produce wins. As he eventually sums up, “[W]hat we’re seeing now is a renegotiation of the terms of what a ballplayer is worth, and that’s understandably going to take some time to sort out.” In fact, he argues, the actual value that even great players add is far lower than we used to think:

Most assessments of player value, then, have simply examined how other, similar players are being paid on the free agent market, and then applied basic long division. Here’s a long Fangraphs article from 2017 that estimated that free agents earn a little over $10 million for each Win Above Replacement that they contribute to their teams; on those grounds, Machado, who has averaged about 4.5 WAR over his seven-year career and is just heading into his prime, should be able to walk away with a $45 million a year contract.

Except that sports team owners—cover your ears here if you’re of sensitive disposition—aren’t only in this to win ballgames. They also, or maybe primarily, want to make money. So how much are star players worth in terms of actually putting the simoleons in the safe deposit box?

More than a decade ago, I crunched some numbers on this, and then returned to it a few years later, this time consulting the work of actual economists who’d done more robust math. And the numbers were eye-opening: Just about every baseball free agent was being paid more than he was actually worth to his team in terms of the added revenue it would see thanks to extra wins. According to one researcher, Graham Tyler—then an undergrad econ student at Brown, and until recently the Rays’ director of player operations thanks in part to his pioneering studies in this area—teams only earn an extra $1.5 million from each additional win, meaning that a truly rational profit-maximizing owner (more on this in a minute) wouldn’t spend more than $6.75 million a year on a Machado-level talent. Anything more than that, and you’re better off staging a Marlins-style teardown—sure, you won’t win many games, but the money you save by skimping on salaries, it turns out, will dwarf any losses from nobody actually showing up at the ballpark.

Making things worse for players is the fact that MLB’s revenue sharing system means teams only keep about $0.66 of every $1 they bring in, making the value a team gets from paying for players even further reduced.

DeMause then discusses the fact that what has happened over the last decade is simple economics, and to combat it, the MLBPA will need to fight back. He suggests they work to eliminate both the luxury tax (which serves as a de facto salary cap) and severely reduce revenue sharing, thus giving teams more incentive to spend.

In the second article, Michael Baumann discusses the uphill battle the players will face in any labor dispute. Not only is labor usually at a disadvantage in any work stoppage, because labor can least afford to miss paychecks, but in the American public has grown increasingly negative toward unions. That is especially true of sports unions. Recently, Jake Arrieta cautioned young players, who are severely underpaid under the current system, that things are changing and they’re not going to get the big dollars in free agency they were once promised. Teams have gotten smarter and more ruthless, and everyone now understands that giving a 30-year old a big contract is a bad investment. But as Baumann points out, almost every reply to Arrieta’s tweet is, as Baumann puts it, “some variation on ‘You get paid millions to play a kids’ game.’”

So what can the players do? Baumann urges them to begin the campaign now, and to make this a consumer issue:

“Players should also spin the disparity between revenue and salary growth into a consumer issue: Revenue has grown while player wages have stayed stagnant and ticket prices have gone up. The league is making billions in TV and streaming revenue, but an average working-class family can’t afford season tickets anymore, and that money isn’t going to the players who fans love; it’s going right back into the wallets of anonymous billionaires.

It’s a very good point, and reminds me of our tweet of the week a couple weeks back:

Why do fans support billionaire owners over millionaire players? Especially when billionaire owners are cutting player salaries but continuing the raise prices for fans? I just do not understand what goes through people’s heads far too often.

Anyways, both articles are very good reads. -TOB

TOB: Baseball Doesn’t Need Collusion To Turn Off The Hot Stove”, Neil DeMause, Deadspin (01/14/2019); Baseball Is Broken. Can Anything Short of a Strike Fix It?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (01/14/2019)

A Weather Lesson

Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, with the Chiefs hosting the Patriots, is expected to be bitterly cold. When this article was written early in the week, the forecast called for an “arctic blast” to crush Arrowhead Stadium, with temperatures for the early evening kickoff expected anywhere from -5 to +10 F. Yiiiiikes. Luckily for players, coaches, and fans, the forecast has warmed a bit – the arctic blast is not expected to be a direct hit on Kansas City, and the temperature forecast has risen to around 19 degrees at first kick.

Still, this article provided a nice little lesson on the weather, so I’m presenting it here:

Right around New Year’s Day, the layer above the atmospheric layer we inhabit, known as the stratosphere, rapidly warmed in the Arctic. We’re talking a jump over the course of a few days from around minus-103 degrees to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Known as a sudden stratospheric warming event, these spikes in temperature can propagate down to the lower atmosphere where the polar vortex normally sits. In regular times, the vortex is simply a low-pressure system camped over the Arctic and contained by a river of air. But sudden stratospheric warming events can break down that river, allowing the cold air associated with the polar vortex to leak down toward North America and Europe. It takes a few weeks for these things to work their way through the atmosphere, and now the Midwest is about to face the impacts.


Source: The Polar Vortex Could Bring Record Cold to This Weekend’s Chiefs-Patriots Championship Game”, Brian Kahn, Gizmodo (01/15/2019)

Videos of the Week

Curry with six 3-pointers in about 3:30. Ridiculous. Also, young Steph:


Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – Bahamas – “Don’t You Want Me” (The Human League)

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I’m a simple man. I like pretty, dark-haired women, and breakfast food.”

-Ron Swanson


Week of January 11, 2019


Don’t Tag It, Bro

Growing up in Tahoe, one of my family’s favorite spots to go was a series of small alpine lakes not far from Lake Tahoe. It was kind of a locals spot. Off the beaten path, a little hard to find, with a small parking lot before a 15-minute hike to the third and final lake. That lake had a small beach, where you could rent boats, buy some ice cream from a little shack, and most famously, jump off a series of increasingly high cliffs into the water below.

Last year, our entire family was back in Tahoe for the first time in over 20 years, as far as I can remember. My brothers and I decided we’d go back to that spot to show our spouses and/or kids. The drive was more harrowing and more breathtaking than I remembered. Longer, too. And then…we couldn’t find a parking spot. The place was jam packed, and a bunch of cars were circling the small lot, hoping to get lucky. We sadly made the decision to abort the mission.

As a kid, that had never happened. I had never seen the lot full, or close to it. I could only imagine how crowded that small beach was that day. But I started to wonder what happened. The population in Tahoe has only declined since we left. Why was this spot suddenly so crowded? The internet, of course.

The internet is great and has provided access and information for many. There are downsides to that, too, of course. But one downside I never considered before that day is how “secret” spots like that are no longer “secret” because they are so easy to find with a few minutes on google.

You may have noticed I had not named the lakes in question. That was of course not an accident, and brings us to the featured story. My experience last summer was not unique. It is something state and national parks are dealing with, especially, as it turns out, since the rise of Instagram. People post pictures of themselves in breathtaking locations. At its best, these pictures inspire people to explore the world around them. But at its worst, it can actually ruin the place that is pictured:

What’s being lost are the places that are “loved to death,” a now overused phrase that aptly describes what’s happening to the outdoors. Parks, reserves, and wilderness areas were ill-prepared for a newfound fascination with the natural world, in part spurred by Instagram. The photo-sharing app quickly became a place to collect and broadcast locations as if they were medals; social currency can be won by proving you climbed a mountain or bathed in a hot spring. This pursuit has negative byproducts: crowding, trail damage, littering, and vandalism, among others.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s tourism board has instituted a campaign to combat this phenomenon: They are asking visitors to avoid location-specific tags on Instagram, and instead use the generic location, “Tag Responsibly, Keep Jackson Hole Wild.” Posters line the airport when visitors arrive, asking them to do this. They even created this short commercial:

How else can this damage from overcrowding be prevented? Increased staffing, for one – which we’ve seen first hand this week, during the federal government shutdown, as beloved national parks like Joshua Tree have seen some truly disturbing damage at the hands over visitors trying to take advantage of the lack of ranger oversight, like this tree that was cut down so off-roaders could get around barriers:

The Jackson Hole campaign, and other places like Oregon and Utah, are not looking to discourage people from coming; after all, many of these places rely on tourism for their economy. But they do want to ensure visitors treat these areas with respect. As Cailin O’Brien-Feeney, Oregon’s director of outdoor recreation, puts it, “That’s sort of a last resort. What we should be focusing on really is a physical presence and public outreach education—trying to instill in visitors who own these places a sense of personal responsibility to some extent.” Utah, however, is considering a reservation system for Arches and Zion National Parks.

As for me, I’m still hoping to get back to that little lake near Tahoe. I’ll try to get there earlier. Perhaps on a weekday. I’ll definitely instagram it, but I won’t tag the exact location. Maybe it’s not too late to #KeepTahoeLocal. -TOB

Source: Stay Wild: How Parks Departments Are Keeping Up With Instagram Chasers“, Molly McHugh, The Ringer (01/04/2019)

PAL: Asking folks to avoid the geo tag is a more than fair request from the parks. What a strange world we live in, eh? Of course we want as many people as possible to experience the power of nature and contribute the local economies, but we are now at a point where conservation has a social media plan. What the hell?

To be honest, I’ve never understood the geo tag. Of course share an awesome pic, but what is gained by essentially giving the coordinates of your location?

The Coldest Hot Stove

Baseball free agency this season has been an unbelievable bore, for the second year in a row. Two of the best, young players to ever hit free agency, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, are on the market. And yet, very few teams are reportedly interested in signing them to longterm deals, and in the third month of the offseason, nothing seems imminent. Even after those two, most of the top available guys have not been signed, and the news is quiet on all fronts.

So much has been written about this, and I’ve read most of it. Generally, the consensus is that MLB teams are being dumb. The Brewers were really good last year because in the middle of a very similar offseason, where so many teams are trying to do the Astros model of getting bad so you can be good years down the road, Milwaukee decided they’d actually try to win, and then did.

But one point in particular stuck out to me as being especially insightful:

MLB reportedly generated a record $10.3 billion in gross revenue in 2018, and while that figure barely budged from the previous year, it also omits the proceeds of the $2.6 billion sale of streaming spinoff BAMTech to Disney, which paid out approximately $50 million per team in 2018. Put aside the rapid appreciation of franchise values: Between BAMTech, the continuing boon of big broadcast deals (both local and national), and the revenue-sharing system, most teams are financially secure before the games begin. That leaves them with less motivation to pony up for free agents than they had when profits were more tightly tied to team success and ticket sales.

That should be chilling to any baseball fan: teams have started to generate so much money just by having a product to put on the field that it doesn’t even matter if they win. They don’t care as much if you come out to the park as they used to, because they’re getting paid, anyways.

As with most things, I figure this is cyclical. But many observers see this strategy resulting in a long and bitter work stoppage in a couple years when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. If so, I hope they consider a true overhaul of the player compensation system, because the current one (e.g., non-living wages for minor leaguers; relatively low wages for 7 years after a player makes the majors; big dollars paid to past their prime free agents) is broken. -TOB

Source: “Long, Cold Winter: MLB Free Agency Is Still Disturbingly Slow“, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (01/08/2019)

PAL: Yikes. A lot of scary sense made here. And when you’re frustrated with the players, remember this Lindbergh nugget:

Although the difficulty of accessing teams’ financial information makes it hard to be conclusive—and, in turn, focuses fans’ envy and ire on the millionaires whose salaries they know rather than the billionaires whose books are closed—it seems much more likely that the reason teams are in no hurry to make moves is that they’re rolling in revenue, not that they’re struggling to make ends meet.

Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Pretzels Getzien

Video of the Week

The Spanish radio call is always so much better.

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – Sharon Van Etten – “Seventeen”

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Normally people tell you to talk about your problems. I’m gonna recommend you bottle that noise up.

-Donna Meagle

1-2-3 Sports! Week of December 21, 2018


Merry Christmas, everyone!

Another Side of Charles Barkley

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

Shirley Wang described her dad with the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Kyler Murray Choose the NFL or MLB?

Last year, Kyler Murray was Baker Mayfield’s backup at Oklahoma. Fast forward 12 months – he had a great baseball season and was drafted 9th overall by the A’s, receiving a $4.66M signing bonus. The A’s let him play one more year of football, and he won the starting job at Oklahoma. Then he went out and won the friggin Heisman, and is preparing to lead his team against Alabama in the college football playoff. So, it’s been a good year.

But things are about to get more complicated. Murray has a big decision. Murray had previously said he’d play baseball – hence the high draft pick and big signing bonus from the A’s. But no one expected his football season to go this well. So what should Murray do?

The general consensus is that he should play baseball. It’s better for his health, and that can’t be understated. There’s also a chance for a 20+ year career, and once you hit free agency in baseball, the money has the chance to be much better (not to mention guaranteed). But therein lies the rub.

Before Murray gets to baseball free agency, he’s in for a long and unglamorous road. As Michael Baumann puts it:

If he chooses baseball, he’ll start his professional career, if he’s lucky, with Oakland’s Low-A team in Beloit, Wisconsin. (I’ve been to Beloit, by the way. It’s more depressing than playing for the Browns.) There, Murray will play in front of crowds of hundreds, taking long bus trips in the Midwest League, until he gets promoted to High-A and does the same thing in Stockton, California, then he’ll do the same thing in Double-A in Midland, Texas. If Murray starts in Low-A and advances one minor league level per year, it’ll take him until 2022 to even get to an interesting minor league city (Triple-A Las Vegas). If Murray goes into the NFL draft, 2022 would be the last year of his rookie contract.

Then, if Murray makes the big leagues, Oakland will have the ability to pay him the major league minimum for three years, and he’ll be under team control for at least six seasons, probably seven. It’s true that baseball is far more lucrative than football for players who reach free agency. But while Samardzija did, the average big leaguer doesn’t. That goes double for draft picks, even high draft picks straight out of college. The median career bWAR for the no. 9 overall draft pick is 0.0.

Thus, Baumann argues, Murray should take the guaranteed eight-figure deal in the NFL. It makes some sense. He’s got $4.66M in the bank, but that’s going to need to last him a while. But he’s going to need that to last, because he’ll be paid less than minimum wage for the next few years in the minors, and then league minimum for a while after that. And then, as Baumann points out, there’s huge bust potential. About 50% of players drafted 9th never produce in the big leagues. Meaning they’re not getting that big free agency money.

The major flaw in Baumann’s argument is that it assumes Murray will get an eight-figure guaranteed deal in the NFL. I don’t think that’s a sure thing. He’s only 5’10, which is a perfectly normal height, but short for an NFL quarterback. He’d also need to be in the top dozen or so picks of the first round to get those eight figures guaranteed, and if he slips to even the first pick of the second round, his signing bonus will be smaller than the one he got with the A’s.

It’s hard to gauge Murray’s NFL projection right now. His baseball status undoubtedly deflates his value; still, USA Today has a 3-round mock draft and Murray is not in it. If he gets a first round grade, I would agree with Baumann’s assessment. But otherwise, baseball seems like the safer (figuratively and literally) bet. -TOB

Source: The Completely Logical, Financially Prudent Argument for Kyler Murray Choosing the NFL, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/19/2018)

The Committee of 101

When I think of booster clubs, I think money, private jets, and generally seedy behavior around major college sports programs. So I was happy to come across this story of Kentucky’s Committee of 101. The club is a group of old-timers that, more than anything, volunteer their time. Since the 1960s, the group, now more than 300, volunteer at basketball and football games and organize team banquets. Back in the 60s, they were a bit more involved with the recruiting until the NCAA nixed that. Adolph Rupp’s assistant at the time, Joe Hall, saw the potential advantage the 101 could give to Kentucky:

What Hall wanted most was help with recruiting. He was not shy about enlisting the Blue Coats, whether it be to feed the families of visiting players in a postgame hospitality room, call prized prospects and make a pitch, bombard their mailboxes with letter-writing campaigns or show up in force at a high school game, decked out in those not-so-subtle blue blazers — all in an effort to make it clear just how much Kentucky fans love their basketball program. Sometimes, Hall would even get a club member to drive him across the state to see a recruit so the busy coach could catch a few winks in the passenger seat.

“Joe worked extremely close with us. He’d assign it, ‘Hey, call this guy,’ ” says 81-year-old Rex Payne, a former IBM employee who did not get in on the original telegram but joined the club the next year. Like Trosper, he’s still working games at Rupp Arena more than a half-century later. His and the 101’s role is a lot different these days. “We would go to a high school game and wear all our stuff and sit in a big group so a player would look up in the stands and see all that blue and go, Wow. We went up to see Kent Benson, which didn’t turn out too well, but Joe did convince him to come down to visit Kentucky and we made a big poster for him. I’d gotten a program from his high school game and he was on the cover, so the (club) president said, ‘Take that and see if you can blow it up.’ We went to a printer here and blew it up a little bit bigger than life-size, so when he got off the plane, we were holding that up and he did quite a double-take.”

Look, it’s likely that cheating back in those days was just a little more Rockwellian than it is now, but the idea of regular fans getting involved with a team to such an extent comes off as interesting and fun, almost as fun as the story about how they got the name Committee of 101.

The club started when some UK fans over at IBM thought it would be fun to send a telegram to Rupp’s 1966 team, wishing good luck before a game. As the season went on, more and more guys wanted to add their names to the telegram, until they finally tallied an even 100 names on the telegram.

“But then one of our buddies came hollering, ‘Wait! I want on there! I want on there!’ ” the now-85-year-old Weir tells The Athletic. “That’s the whole reason we became the 101, because one more guy showed up at the last minute. Lyle wrote something like, ‘From the 101 to No. 1’ and it listed all of us. Coach Rupp must’ve really liked that, because he mentioned us on his television program the next Sunday. He says, ‘My gosh, there must’ve been a thousand names on that thing!’ It’s really what got us started, because when Coach Rupp said that on TV, we thought, We ought to make a club out of this.”

Fun read about what endears a program to its fans. These traditions, almost as much as the success of the team, keep people connected to their college teams. – PAL  

Source: It’s the People, Like the Committee of 101, That Make Rupp Arena What It Is”, Kyle Tucker, The Athletic (12/18/2018)

Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Jack Glasscock.

Video of the Week:

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: ‘Silver and Gold’ – Burl Ives

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

-Dwight K. Schrute

1-2-3 Sports! Week of December 14, 2018

Why You Should Temper Your Excitement If Your Team Trades a Star For a Few Top Prospects

Every year, especially at the trade deadline, an out of contention team deals an expensive, star player for a few top prospects. It makes sense – if your team is going nowhere anytime soon, there’s no reason to pay a lot of money to a star player when you can can get young, cheap talent in return and give yourself a brighter future. Fans are sad to see their guy go while at the same time getting excited for a couple top prospects and what they could mean for the future.

The Ringer just kinda blew that apart. They cataloged every prospect ranked in the Top-50 by Baseball America from 1990 through 2011 and analyze that player’s total WAR (wins above replacement) over the player’s first six years in the majors (after which they become free agents). The results are a bit surprising.

In all, there were 697 players in the list. Many of them were busts: over half of them accumulated less than 6 WAR over their first six seasons. Even narrowing it down, more than one third of top-10 ranked players, failed to reach the 6 WAR threshold over their first six seasons.

But things get even worse if the player was traded: of the 697 players, 103 were traded as prospects. On average, the non-traded prospects accrued 27% more WAR than the traded prospects. 28% of the traded prospects accumulated zero or negative WAR over their first six seasons. Another 29% accumulated between zero and 6 WAR over their first six seasons. Less than three percent of the traded prospects produced 24 WAR over their first six seasons, which amounts to an All Star level player. The non-traded prospects reached that threshold more than three times as often.

Perhaps, you’re thinking, the discrepancy is because the most highly ranked prospects are not traded as often as those closer to 50th. Nope. The average ranking of the traded prospects was 27.8, and the non-traded prospects was 25.

So why the gap? The Ringer’s explanation makes sense: there’s an information gap. An organization, that has raised a prospect since they were a teenager knows much more about its players – work ethic, mental makeup, lifestyle habits – than other teams can possibly know. If a team is willing to deal a top prospect, perhaps they value that player less than outsiders do. If the Red Sox thought Yoan Moncada was a power hitting, All-Star second baseman, they might not have included him in the deal for Chris Sale. As it is, Moncada has not yet developed into a star with the White Sox. Other factors hurt the traded prospects, too. Sometimes a player who has come up in a certain system and has done well is unable to adjust to a new environment with unfamiliar coaches, philosophies, and teammates.

So what should teams do? One suggestion is that while in decades past prospects were dealt too easily, the pendulum has swung the other way and they are now overvalued:

In decades past, teams might have undervalued youth and made excessive win-now trades that discarded future considerations. But, “you can even make the argument now that it’s gone so far in the other direction,” Paternostro says, “that it’s a bit of an untapped market inefficiency: trading your best prospect, as silly as that is to say. Just because it’s the only way you can get a return of that level.”

In other words: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Deal your prospects, who might pan out, in order to get quality major league talent that you know will help your team win.

I do have one complaint about this analysis, though. Limiting the analysis to the first six years of the prospect’s career is odd, or perhaps expecting an average of 4 WAR per year (4 WAR is an All Star) over those 6 years is too much. Here’s a screenshot of the top 25 traded prospects by their 6 year WAR:

Aside from the top 3, none made the 24 WAR threshold, but many of them were fantastic players later. I will acknowledge, though, that of the players on that list that I think should be included as very good players, very few of them made a huge mark on the team they were traded to as prospects. For example, Adrian Gonzalez didn’t make his mark with Florida, but with San Diego; Carlos Gonzalez didn’t impact Oakland; etc. Still, it’s worth noting. -TOB

Source: Why Trading for Top Prospects Is Less of a Win Than MLB Teams Seem to Think”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (12/10/2018)

PAL: Good week for The Ringer with two great reads. Organizations don’t trade prospects they love, especially when they are years away from free agency. That much should be obvious, but it’s not, in part because we need to justify that our team got the better end of the deal. I think most fans have gone through a period when their team is in the “prospects cycle”. After a certain amount of years you get tired of being sold on the next great prospect acquired in a trade of yet another solid big leaguer before he hits free agency.

A Lesson For a New NBA Head Coach

When Fred Hoiberg was fired as the head coach for the Chicago Bulls last week, Jim Boylen was named the interim head coach. Things have not gone well! On Saturday, they lost at home to the Celtics by 56 points, a franchise record, and an NBA record for a home loss. Boylen tried to schedule a practice for the next morning, after the team had played games in back to back days Friday and Saturday. This did not go over well, and he nearly had a mutiny.

Now, as the TNT crew said this week, if you lose by 56 points, you should want to practice the next day. But Boylen tried to justify the Sunday practice by noting that he had yanked all five starters twice during the game, including three minutes into the third quarter, after which no starter re-entered the game. Players were not happy about that, either. Starter Zach LaVine noted, “It sucks to know you can help, sitting there watching the score go up and up.” Boylen’s response is classic:

Boylen downplayed his substitution pattern after the game by saying he simply felt it was best for the team. He reminded the media that he worked as an assistant for two seasons under San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who has “subbed five guys a ton of times and nobody says a word to him about it.”

That may be true, Jim. But let this be a lesson to you and every other neophyte coach: he’s Gregg Popovich, and you’re not. -TOB

Source: How the Bulls Narrowly Avoided a Full-Blown Mutiny in Jim Boylen’s First Week as Head Coach”, Darnell Mayberry, The Athletic (12/09/2018)

Fox Was Built On Football

December marks the 25th anniversary of FOX obtaining NFL rights, and the article below is an oral history of how that happened. I don’t knowingly care about what networks are airing what games, but this story reveals so much about the time, the role sports played on the three major networks (a promotional vehicle for other programs), and a new breed of sports franchise owners were starkly different than the old guard.

At the core of this story are two sides looking at the same thing and seeing something the opposite: CBS, NBC, and ABC saw an annual renewal of rights with old owner friends, while Rupert Murdoch and Fox saw NFL – specifically NFC football, with teams in large markets like New York, Chicago, Philly, and San Francisco – as a way to build a television network for decades to come. While many thought Murdoch overbid for the football rights, he saw the as a cheaper alternative to buying one of the old networks outright.

Added to the mix was a tough economy at the time, which led to each of the three networks being run by bottom line CEOs who spent their time watching the stock prices ebb and flow. At one point CBS as actually trying to convince the NFL to take a paycut! Murdoch was not as short sighted.

The finance people and the salespeople at the network got together and said, “OK, how much can we pay for these rights?” They did an analysis of what kind of advertising they could sell and came up with the maximum break-even number. Then Mr. Murdoch came bounding into the room and said, “What do we have to bid?” We told him. He said, “That’s not enough. The NFL doesn’t really want their games on our network. They’re just using us to bid up CBS. I’ve got to bid CBS away from the table.”

When he does a deal, Rupert’s thinking about, “What’s this going to look like 10 years out, 20 years out? Will this help me build a network?” The other guys are trying to manage financials for the next quarterly financial report.

Fox bought 4 years of NFC rights, plus one Super Bowl, for $395MM per year, which was $100MM more than CBS was willing to offer. Five years later, under new management, CBS bid $500MM for the weaker AFC package.

It’s a long read, but perhaps the best oral history I’ve read. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis does an excellent job weaving all of the voices into this story.  – PAL

Source: The Great NFL Heist: How Fox Paid for and Changed Football Forever”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (12/13/18)

TOB: This was great. The thing it was missing that I was wondering about – how much did they have to invest in infrastructure? How did they know what they needed? Did they just hire all the technicians from CBS, too? I care way less about how they hired Matt Millen than how they figured out how to make it work.

Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Lil Stoner.

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: ‘Trouble Weighs a Ton’ – Dan Auerbach

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“I have never taken the high road. But I tell other people to ‘cause then there’s more room for me on the low road.”

-Tom Haverford

1-2-3 Sports! Week of December 7, 2018

Feels like yesterday, doesn’t it? 

Sports Research Rabbit Holes

You ever get into an internet rabbit hole? I found myself in one this week, and I found out something pretty interesting. I was reading this Ringer article on Markelle Fultz, who was diagnosed this week with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOC). TOC is a situation where the the gap between the collarbone and the first rib begins to shrink, usually due to repetitive motion (like pitching a baseball), thus pinching nerves and blood vessels specifically nerves and major blood vessels that pass through that gap. This happens to pitchers fairly often, recently to Matt Harvey. It’s pretty rare to happen in basketball, and Fultz hopes this explains his odd shooting mechanics over the last fifteen months.

That’s all pretty interesting, but here’s where I found my rabbit hole. The Ringer article mentioned an Astros pitcher named J.R. Richard. Richard had TOC and it caused him to suffer a stroke in 1980. He nearly died and never pitched again, and was even homeless for a while. He was only 30 when his career ended. Now, I’d like to think I’m a pretty big baseball fan, and I have a good memory when it comes to sports trivia, but I had never heard of J.R. Richard. So I looked him up.

The man was coming off back to back seasons of 300+ strikeouts (in which he finished 3rd and 4th in the Cy Young voting), and before his stroke in 1980, he was on pace to do so again. He also had an ERA+ of 174 and a FIP of 1.94, both of which are extremely excellent. As I gazed in wonder at these numbers I thought, “Wait, wasn’t Nolan Ryan on the Astros by 1980, as well?”

Oh, yes. He was. It was his first year with the team, and within a couple years they’d add Mike Scott. What a rotation that would have been.

So then I started wondering how baseball history might have changed if Richard doesn’t get TOC/have a stroke. In 1980, after he went down, they won 93 games and the NL West, but lost the deciding game of the best-of-five NLCS to the Phillies, 8-7 in extra innings. Nolan pitched Games 2 and 5. What if Richard had been there to pitch Game 4, which the Astros lost 5-3? The difference in that entire series was 1 run – the Phillies outscored the Astros 20-19. The Phillies went on to win that World Series easily, 4-2, over the Royals. Stick with me here, it’s about to get weird.

Then, in 1981, the Astros narrowly lost out on another shot. From Wikpedia:

Due to the players’ strike, which ran from June 12 to August 8, the 1981 season was split into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series. The four survivors would then move on to the two best-of-five League Championship Series. The expanded playoffs led to Game 1 of the World Series being pushed back to October 20, the latest starting date for a Fall Classic up to that time.

In the National League, the Dodgers led the National League West prior to the strike. The Houston Astros, however, won the second-half division title. The Dodgers then defeated the Astros, three games to two, in the National League Division Series before beating the Montreal Expos, three games to two, in the National League Championship Series.

The Yankees, who led the American League East in the season’s first half, took on the Milwaukee Brewers, winners of the second half division title, in the American League Division Series. New York was victorious three games to two, then went on to sweep the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series.

The split-season decision was not a popular one, both among teams and their fans. The arrangement resulted in teams with the best overall record in either their division or league that year, in particular the Cincinnati Reds (the majors’ best team with 66 wins, 42 losses), being left out of the postseason along with the St. Louis Cardinals which lead the NL East with an overall record of 59-43 and a winning percentage of 0.578. Though the teams with the best record in the American League East and West did win their divisions, the Yankees finished 3rd overall in the AL East while the Kansas City Royals finished 4th overall with a losing 50-53 record

WHAT. How did I not know about this? And here’s the kicker: I suffered the same fate!

When I was in majors in Little League, for some reason our league did this exact set up each season. There was a first half winner and a second half winner and they met in a one-game league championship. I was on the Giants. My 11-year old season we had a really good team. We started the season hot, but lost a game we shouldn’t have and then lost to (I believe) the Cubs on the last day of the first half, and I believe we finished 7-2. The Cubs won the first half in a tiebreaker, as they were also 7-2. Then, in the second half, we lost to (I believe) the Rangers, finishing at 8-1, but the Rangers went undefeated in the second half at 9-0. So we were out of the playoffs even though we had the best (or maybe tied for the best?) record.

Yes, I still remember these ridiculous details 25-years later, and yes I am still bitter about it. Heck, we were outraged! I always wondered who the heck came up with that damn format, and now I know: It was MLB! I blame you, Bowie Kuhn!

And that, kids, is how an article about Markelle Fultz explained one of my biggest personal sports disappointments. -TOB
Source: “What Baseball Can Tell Us About Markelle Fultz’s Latest Diagnosis”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/4/2018); From MLB To Homeless: J.R. Richard Tells His Story In ‘Still Throwing Heat’”, Bill Littlefield, WBUR.org (08/22/2015),  J.R. Richard”, “1980 Astros”, “Nolan Ryan”, “Mike ScottBaseball-Reference.com; 1980 NLCS”, “1980 World Series”, “1981 World Series”, “1981 Major League Baseball Strike”, “Bowie Kuhn”, Wikpedia.com

PAL: That’s just damn fun stuff, TOB. The rabbit hole is real. A part of me likes the season being broken up into halves like that. More teams with games that matter a bit more throughout the season.

TOB: Sure, but – the first half winners gets to take the second half easy and rest up for the playoffs. Apparently the adopted format for the 1981 season was not popular among teams and fans.

Good Traditions: Stealing Mascots

Last week I shared a story from former goalie Curtis ‘Cujo’ Joseph that felt like it was from the pages of a John Irving novel. This week, with the Army-Navy football game set for Saturday, I have mascot-stealing vignettes that could be from a Pat Conroy book.

There are college traditions that should stay in the past, but I hope the military academies over-the-top attempts to steal one another’s live mascots goes on forever. Dave Phillips runs through the history of the tradition, highlighting some of the more creative, bold, and downright insane attempts and successes.

Military historian Tom Carhart sums it up best, with a little latin in there for good measure.

“Motivated young men and women on the cusp of adulthood want a challenge. Stealing the mascot is the summum bonum. If you can capture that, there are no boundaries in life.”

Quick refresher of the mascots:

  • Air Force Academy: Falcon
  • West Point: Mule
  • Naval Academy: Goat

Here’s my favorite heist story from the article, featuring Carhart on the mission of 1965:

Dressed in black with faces darkened by burned cork, he and five other Army cadets made it through two fences topped with barbed wire. Then, with the goat in sight, they froze as a Ford station wagon pulled up near the Marines guarding its pen. Two college-age women got out of the car.

“We had planned it all with our girlfriends,” Mr. Carhart said. “They told the Marines a story about how they were lost, and they’d been stood up on a blind date. I think one of them cried. We sneaked in to the goat pen, only 25 feet behind them all, but the guards never turned around. They were looking at the girls.”

That’s the good stuff. College was fun. – PAL

Source: A Covert Coup for Cadets: Steal the Mascot”, Dave Phillips, The New York Times (12/06/2018)

TOB: But as the article notes, you better do your research before stealing a live animal:

Just last month, Aurora, a glacier-white gyrfalcon and mascot of the Air Force Academy, was abducted in the middle of the night, and nearly met a tragic end. The Army cadets who stole Aurora seem not to have known that the regal falcon is almost never caged. Even on commercial airline flights, she travels perched on a handler’s glove in the coach cabin. When the kidnappers stuffed her into a dog crate, Aurora panicked, and beat her wings frantically until they were bloody.

Lookout, Matt; Data’s Coming for the NHL

As anyone who watched the baseball playoffs this past year can attest, baseball is, now more than ever, a data-driven sport. Hell, they made a movie about baseball statistics, starring Brad Pitt. Technology and new data have already changed the game. New data is changing the way we monitor all sorts of athletic endeavors, but different sports create different challenges in gathering advantageous information about players, systems, and strategies. Whereas baseball is largely series isolated events separated by breaks in the game, basketball, soccer, and hockey are in continuous motion.

Tyler Dellow’s article is a good read because he explains how hockey, although well behind baseball in terms of data collection, is on the precipice of a new era in data, how that data will change the way teams play, the valuation of a player’s worth, and ultimately team success. The hockey version of Moneyball, or, Dellow’s would prefer the 2013-2014 Pittsburgh Pirates, hasn’t happened yet.

Here are a couple sections of his article that stuck out:

Historically, hockey leagues have tracked goals and assists. While that’s useful information, it’s not unlike runs and RBI in baseball: an attempt to hand out credit after the fact rather than tracking the building blocks of goals. Shot attempt data and expected goals models are helpful but there’s a huge issue with a lack of information about how the puck moved and where the non-shooting players were when the puck was shot. That’s the information that’s analogous to on-base percentage and slugging percentage in baseball.

And this:

Away from the ice, one of the real challenges of hockey is allocating credit or blame between players. This is particularly true when dealing with players who play with superstars – every partner Nicklas Lidstrom ever had posted great numbers – or players who are playing on particularly good or bad teams. The ability to better isolate what players are contributing away from their linemates will result in much better evaluations of players who are in unusual circumstances. This has the potential to be transformative, both in terms of player evaluation but particularly in terms of how players get paid.  

This story is on The Athletic, so you have to have the service to read. I enjoyed it, but I also think you get the picture here. My main point is this: my brother, Matt, is a big hockey fan who bemoaned the state of baseball after watching the playoffs this year and the Twins firing of Paul Molitor, which was in part due to him not completely buying into data-driven approach to the game. I understand is displeasure, but make no mistake, Matt – the data wave is coming for hockey next. – PAL

Source: The Next Generation of Data Will Drastically Change Our Perception of Players and How Organizations Operate”, Tyler Dellow, The Athletic (12/05/2018)

TOB: I am curious why the NHL has elected to go with radio chips instead

What’s the Matter With Kids These Days?

What is going on in college basketball? Why, back in my day Duke was the school for annoying, obnoxious dorks who fit the personality of their coach, Mike Krzyzewski – players like Christian Laettner, Steve Wojciechowski, JJ Reddick, Cherokee Parks, Jay Williams. Austin Rivers. Grayson Allen. The Plumlees. Ugh, even thinking of those guys is annoying. Duke was made for guys like that, and guys like that were made for Duke. It was a nice system – seasons pass and times change, but you could always count on a reliable sports-hate for Duke.

So what the heck is going on lately? This week, the #2 high school player in the country, Vernon Carey, committed to Duke. He seems cool and very good. The team is currently led by three freshman projected to go first, second, and fourth in next June’s NBA Draft – Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish. They are awesome. This comes off the heels of recent Duke players like Jayson Tatum, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram, Harry Giles, and Marvin Bagley.

Those guys are all cool and good and they had no business playing for Duke. They should have gone to Kansas, or Michigan, or Kentucky, or UCLA. When did the system break down? Has my generation failed to explain to the next one just how much Duke sucks? Apparently so.

As Vernon Carey said this week, the reason he chose Duke was Coach K. When did this flip? I pondered this for a bit, and I now blame Jerry Colangelo, who selected Coach K to coach Team USA since 2005. Coach K won three Olympic gold medals, led by guys like LeBron, Carmelo, Chris Paul, and Kevin Durant. Suddenly, playing for Coach K is cool and that is terrible.Thanks a lot, Jerry. -TOB

Source: Duke Lands a Recruiting Coup and a Critical Need for 2019 in Five-Star Vernon Carey Jr.”, Jeremy Woo, Sports Illustrated (12/06/2018)

PAL: I still remember standing in my parents basement watching Laettner hit that shot over Kentucky. My future brother-in-law and his college buddies were in town for a U2 concert at the Metrodome (how early 90s is that setup?), and we all hate watched that team. To hate Duke was an unspoken agreement. Interesting point on the impact of USA basketball, which leads me to a theory.

Alphas and guys who think they are really cool don’t want other really cool guys around them. They don’t like being challenged. Let’s say Cool Guy 1 is the best surfer in his little group of friends, then one day a new cool guy (Cool Guy 2) paddles out with them, and CG2 is a better surfer than CG1. CG1 hates that. CG1 doesn’t want CG2 around when he and his buddies surf; rather, CG1 wants the old surfer who’s been on this break for 30 years passing on locals-only advice and gnarly stories from decades of sessions and sets.

Cool Guys want to be around successful, cool people, but that success and coolness cannot be seen as more of the moment, equal or greater than their own. They aren’t looking for a co-pilot. They want the wise old, sneaky funny guy in the barbershop with real stories. They want a bass player, not a lead guitarist. Someone that is exceptional, but more than fine with being beside the spotlight. Coach K is crazy successful, but he’s not cool relative to LeBron, Kyrie, Carmelo, etc…or cool relative to anyone. He’s tough – people bring up he played for Bobby Knight at West Point seemingly every damn broadcast. He’s old school. Does it the “right way”. Of course LeBron and crew love him. And if they love him, so too will the five-star recruits.

Worth a mention:

  • Per USA TodayGayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans, wrote a check for $93K to pay off all of the layaway at a WalMart in New Orleans. It was first reported as an anonymous customer, but the Saints confirmed the anonymous donor was Benson. A real Danson move if you ask me…

  • SI’s Jack Dickey On the passing of President George H.W. Bush, his life as a sportsman, and the parallels between sports and politics: “The early obituaries were divided as to whether Bush had carried those values with him into Congress, the CIA, the Vice Presidency, the White House and his post-Presidency, or whether, out of political expediency, he had checked them at the door. Historians and the American public will have months and years to ponder, among other questions, whether his grace in defeat in 1992 at all mitigated the ruthlessness he displayed in victory in 1988. For all we celebrate about the character-building powers of sports, their cruelest lesson—winning matters most—can stick, too.”

Video of the Week: 

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings – “Rumors”

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No one told me I could be anonymous and tell people. I would’ve taken that option.

-Larry ‘Lar’ David



1-2-3 Sports! Week of November 30, 2018

Yankees/Red Sox? Michigan/Ohio State? Lakers/Celtics? Amateurs!

If you’re an American sports fan, and you think you have a bitter rival, you are very, very wrong. Hell, if you’re a Real Madrid fan, and you think your rivalry with Barcelona is intense, go kick rocks. You have not seen a bitter rivalry like Boca Juniors and River Plate. And don’t just take my word for it. From wikipedia:

In April 2004, the English newspaper The Observer put the Superclásico at the top of their list of “50 sporting things you must do before you die”, saying that “Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about”, in 2016 the British football magazine FourFourTwo considered it the “biggest derby in the world”, The Daily Telegraph ranked this match as the “biggest club rivalry in world football” in 2016, and the Daily Mirror placed it number 1 in The top 50 football derbies in the world, above El Clásico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F., in 2017.

You may be excused for not knowing either team if you do not follow South American soccer. But River/Boca is the most vicious rivalry on the planet, and for my money it’s not close. River and Boca are cross-town rivals, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s a classic rivalry. Boca, traditionally, is the working class club. Their stadium, La Bombonera (such a cool name), is located in the Buenos Aires docklands, known as “La Boca” (the Mouth). River’s El Monumental, is located in the relatively affluent area of Nuñez. The teams have strikingly different colors, blue and yellow for Boca, and black, white, and red for River. The teams have featured some of the greatest Argentinians players ever, including Maradona, Carlos Tevez, and Martin Palermo for Boca, and Javier Mascherarno, Radamel Falcao, and Gonzalo Higuain for River.

Most importantly for any rivalry, the fans absolutely hate each other, and they do not mess around. When the teams play, it’s known as the Superclasico. Usually, there are two per year. But this year, both Boca and River made the Copa Libertadores final. Libertadores is the South American version of the European Champions League. The best clubs from each country play a tournament, and this year it came down to River and Boca. The two teams played to a 2-2 draw at La Bombonera  a couple weeks back, and were set to play the finale last Saturday at Monumental. The game never happened.

As the Boca bus made its way toward the stadium, it was attacked by a huge mob of River fans. And if you think I’m exaggerating, watch this:

Yes, they smashed the windows out of the moving bus with rocks. Things got worse, and the police used pepper spray/tear gas in an attempt to disperse the crowd. It didn’t work well, though, because with the smashed out windows, the players also got tear gassed.

When the players finally arrived at the stadium, they were in no shape to play. Many were having difficulty breathing. The Boca captain even had a gash over his eye from the broken glass. But CONMEBOL, the South American soccer federation, insisted the game go on. FIFA’s president was in town for the match. Fox had paid a ton to broadcast the game. The show must go on! CONMEBOL eventually granted Boca a series of one hour delays, before threatening to hold the team out of all competitions for five years if they did not play, which is absolutely insane. Boca called their bluff, and CONMEBOL relented, suspending the game until the next day, and then indefinitely. Presently, the plan is to hold the game outside of Argentina to ensure the players’ safety.

I have a little experience with this. I went to a Boca game at La Bombanera, back in 2009. I was with my brother, Pat, and my buddy, Ryan. We had no idea what we were getting into. We took a cab down to the stadium hoping to scalp some tickets. In hindsight, this was an absolutely insane idea. Luckily, we found no one selling tickets. I don’t think it’s a thing there. But we did find a tour group of Americans being led by a local. It seemed legit, and he said he could get us in, with seats in an enclosed area away from the rest of the fans. We didn’t have enough cash, so he walked us to an ATM at halftime, and I wasn’t feeling nervous until I saw how terrified he was of us all getting mugged as we took out the cash.

The game was fun, and the crowds were nuts. But after the game, we were descending a grand stair case to the exit, and I remarked that it was crazy, but I never felt unsafe. Just as I said it, the crowds in front of us who had already gotten outside began to retreat inside. I looked up and saw police in riot gear, just feet from us, as they retreated from an onslaught of asphalt. Yes, the fans were ripping up the street and throwing it at the cops. We saw cops get hit, blood gushing from their heads. They dropped steel doors while the police outside fought off the crowds. It was legitimately scary. Finally they opened the doors, and our guide had the group sprint across the street to a waiting van. We asked him if rioting was normal. He said yes. We asked if it was a bad riot. He said, nah – it’s a medium riot.

And here’s the kicker: We were not even at El Superclasico! This was not River/Boca. This was Boca against a team called Rosario, from central Argentina. It was a regular-ass game! So, while I don’t recommend you go watch a Superclasico in person, I do suggest you think of it the next time you hear an announcer call Alabama and Auburn “bitter” rivals. -TOB

Source: Copa Libertadores Final Delayed An Hour After River Plate Fans Attack Boca Juniors Bus”, Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin (11/24/2018)

The Netminder of Martin Acres

Ever read a John Irving novel? Curtis Joseph had a twenty year career as an NHL goalie with three all-star appearances, an olympic gold medal, and he’s married to a former Playboy model, but by far the most remarkable detail about his life is that he grew up in a home for the mentally ill.

In an excerpt from his biography (written with Kirstie McClellan Day), Joseph described the circumstances that led he, his mother, and “my mom’s husband” taking over a home, as well as the patients that are just as much a part of his childhood as family.

There was Wellington the pedofile, Tony with his “13 imperfections”, Little George, and Joseph’s favorite – Big George. There was Little Albert, Big Albert (a former wrestler), the architect who would write measurements on the walls and Dave, the burnt out drummer. Some had lobotomies, others had terrible accidents, and all of them were a part of Joseph’s home life at Martin Acres.

Even the circumstances that led Joseph coming to live at Martin Acres seem like something out of a novel. His mother, a pill popper of sorts, worked at the home handing out the meds to the patience. When the original owners grew too old to run the place, she offered up her husband’s house to the owners in exchange for the business of running the home. Both sides agreed.

I had no idea we were moving. I found out one day after school. There was no conversation about it, just “Get in the station wagon.” We pulled up past a sign that said martin acres and onto the driveway that ran in front of the house. Harold told me to hop out and unload my stuff. That wasn’t hard because I had only a few shirts, a couple of pairs of underwear and three pairs of socks, two sweatshirts, one pair of blue jeans, a pair of cords and my hockey cards. My whole world in one suitcase.

I followed Harold through the front door, then through another door, up the stairs to the right, above the garage. There were four bedrooms up there. He pointed to the first room on the right. “This is yours,” he said. The other doors were all opened a crack and I could feel several pairs of eyes watching.

I found out later that my room was with the men who were on the calm side. The other side was a little more dangerous.

Like I said, Joseph’s upbringing is the stuff of a John Irving novel. – PAL

Source: NHL Legend Curtis Joseph Grew Up In A Home For The Mentally Ill”, Curtis Joseph, Deadspin (11/27/18)

Sports Can Be an Escape, But Not a Panacea

This is a really good article – short and to a very good point. Ohio State’s head football coach, Urban Meyer, had a “difficult” year in that it was revealed that he had swept years of domestic violence by one of his assistant coaches under the rug, lied when confronted, and then tried to cover it all up once the lies came out. They were “difficulties” almost entirely of his own doing, and which helped reveal to the general public that Urban Meyer is a win-at-all-costs sh-tbag. But, win he does, and so the show has gone on.

That doesn’t mean that his team winning games absolves him of his sins. But, in the waning minutes of Ohio State’s big win over Michigan last weekend, Fox’s Gus Johnson carried the water for Meyer, discussing how Meyer “overcame” a “troubling” season.

That is so tone deaf and misses the point entirely. As Deadspin’s Gabe Fernandez put it:

There’s always an argument to be made that people turn to sports to escape the bleak realities of the world, and just let their mind sit on autopilot, so it’s best to keep these issues out of whatever is happening on the field. Fine, but then media members can’t get swept up in the emotion of what’s happening to the point where such a definitive character flaw can be exorcised just because one team scored more points than the other.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Gus Johnson Worked Obscenely Hard To Redeem Urban Meyer”, Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin (11/24/2018)

PAL: I don’t have much to add to it, other than to echo how dumb this is and how good of a point Fernandez makes. You can’t have it both ways.

The Best College Hoops Coach Doesn’t Even Coach in the NCAA

If you asked me to name the best college hoops coaches over the last twenty years, I’d consider names like Coach K, Boeheim, Mike Montgomery, Calipari, Bill Self, Roy Williams. Jay Wright. Lots of names to consider! All have had good success.

But if you then told me there was a coach who, over the last two decades, had compiled a winning percentage of .922, and beaten teams like Wisconsin in 2014, Baylor in 2015, Wichita State in 2016, and Cincinnati, and Ole Miss this year, I would have absolutely no idea who you were talking about. In fact, I’d think you misspoke. But that’s the record for Dave Smart, coach of the Carleton University Ravens. Carleton is located outside Ottawa, Canada. The Ravens, under Coach Smart, have won thirteen of the last sixteen national titles in U Sports (the Canadian NCAA equivalent). You might think it’s simply because the competition is weaker, but that Wisconsin team they beat went on to the NCAA championship game.

On top of that, Carleton’s defenses have become so revered that some of the best coaches in the NCAA have come to Coach Smart to study what he does. Those coaches include John Beilein (Michigan), Mick Cronin (Cincinnati), Bill Coen (Northeastern), and Paul Weir (New Mexico). Even Jay Wright, winner of two of the last three national titles did so. Wright was effusive in his praise of Smart:

“Their defensive system is the most unique I’ve seen,” says Wright. “I’ve tried to steal it, just based on watching film, but I couldn’t do it, so I asked Dave to come and explain it in depth to our staff.” What began as a schematic melding of forcing ballhandlers to both the middle and baseline of the court transformed into a free-flowing amorphous-like defense that seeks—and largely succeeds—to deny open looks. Rather than a constant stream of information, the Ravens use one-word commands to instruct the man on the ball, a basketball shorthand that enables defenders to anticipate rather than react. “When we played them, we couldn’t score,” says Wright. “Those four players are all communicating what an opponent is going to do next. It’s very complex.”

The Carleton reputation has gotten so good, that Coach K and the Dookies even ducked him during their high profile tour of Canada this preseason. Here’s what Smart had to say:

This past August, there was some thought Carleton might even play Duke, a national title favorite that was set to embark on its first ever exhibition slate in Canada. Though the Blue Devils are stocked with potential one-and-dones like R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, Duke appeared to skirt the game—the ACC squad ultimately declined to come to Ottawa and instead scheduled Ryerson, the University of Toronto, and McGill, squads Carleton routinely beats, a move which caused Smart to claim that the Ravens’ success has unnerved his counterparts south of the border. “We really wanted to play them,” Smart said at the time. “I’ve been told coaches are dodging us.”

So why hasn’t Smart gotten a high profile NCAA job? He says he’s happy where he is, and he is aware of the Canadian basketball legacy he’s building. Plus, Smart does get one distinct advantage over NCAA coaches. There is no practice time restriction as there is here.

There are no restrictions for when teams are allowed to practice, and at Carleton, that means scrimmaging and working out in two-hour stints that begin the week after the national tournament and continue year-round, adding a new dimension to what typically constitutes skill development. “That was a shock when I first arrived,” says Tutu. “I wasn’t used to that type of training.” … According to former guard Kaza Keane, now with the Raptors’ D-League affiliate, that sort of attention to detail is why he transferred to Carleton for his final season of eligibility. Smart heavily recruited him out of high school, an offer Keane spurned at first, playing at Illinois State and then Cleveland State before returning to his native Canada. “I was blown away by how hard the guys were working when I went on my first visit,” he says. “I had to take an ice bath afterwards.”

That’s a big advantage that should not be overlooked. Still, Carleton is doing this mostly with D1 flameouts, and Smart’s accomplishments should be celebrated. -TOB

Source: The Most Successful College Hoops Coach In North America Just Wants Duke To Stop Ducking Him”, Matt Giles, Deadspin (11/27/2018)

PAL: The most telling detail is that big time D-I coaches are flocking up to Ottawa to learn from him. I’m not that impressed with the winning percentage of a college basketball coach in Canada – sorry – but clearly he has something working if all these coaches are making the trip north. Another huge difference between coaching college in Canada is there’s no threat of big time players leaving early. So Smart has what appears to be a brilliant defensive scheme and players that are around for five years to master it. I can understand why a team with that kind of experience would give a D-I team full of 19 year-old hot shots some issues.

Seriously, Where Are The Women Coaches In Men’s Sports?

Consider this statistic:

Of the roughly 2,600 coaches employed by the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, and MLB (this includes minor league affiliates), the number of women coaching isn’t a Congress-like 20 percent. It’s not even one percent. Of that 2,600, the total number of female coaches is six.

If the best truth about sports is that results are blind to those who achieves them – regardless of color, creed, gender, sexuality, wealth, poverty, politics – then how the hell are there only six female coaches across five professional leagues? Why are teams choosing to limit the potential pool from which they fish for the next innovator, genius, or schematic genius?

Tim Struby’s article tracks the journey of football coaching hopeful Phoebe Schecter and uses her story to set up and strike down the rationale as to why there aren’t more women coaching men, and he gets the obvious out of the way from the jump:

These stats prompt some to raise the question: Can women coach men? Well the answer is simple.

Yes. Of course.

If a woman is capable of serving on the Supreme Court, then a woman sure as hell is capable of coaching the Daytona Tortugas, the Cincinnati Reds’ A-ball team. So the real question here isn’t about ability, it’s about access. Why, in the 21st century, aren’t more women coaching men?

As you can imagine, there are a lot of excuses. There’s the playing experience excuse – how can someone coach me who’s never played the game at the same level as me? – but that logic would mean Bill Belichick, who played D-III football, isn’t qualified to coach in the NFL. Additionally, women play hockey, soccer, basketball at a high enough level to understand the nuances, technique, and philosophies of the respective games. I do see a lack of infrastructure in football, and – for better or worse – softball is the defacto women’s alternative to baseball (I never understood why women don’t just play baseball).

There is the sanctity of locker room excuse – the conversations that put the players at ease might offend a woman coach – but I’m not sure anyone should be defending employees desire to have conversations in the workplace that would offend other employees. Call me crazy, but the defending locker room talk these days sounds, well, gross.

Really, it comes down to opportunity and lazy habits. Management shouldn’t see hiring a woman as a PR move but as a competitive advantage, an untapped talent pool. People that have a problem with it are not prioritizing winning enough. Keep in mind that stat up at the top of this write-up isn’t specific to head coaches; rather, we’re talking about women on the paid coaching staff of professional teams in those sports.

For fun, I also looked up other coaches with limited playing experience. In addition to Belichick:

  • Brad Stevens (Celtics) – D-III
  • Ken Hitchcock (Edmonton Oilers, 3rd winningest NHL coach of all-time) – nothing beyond youth hockey
  • Tom Kelly (49 MLB games)

My hunch is we will see a wave of women being hired as coaches across most of the major professional leagues over the next five to ten years. It will be way overdue, and they will succeed, and folks will wonder why the hell it took us so long. Of the sports mentioned above, I see MLB and NFL being the slowest to adapt.- PAL

Source: Why aren’t more women coaching men?”, Tim Struby, SBNation (11/27/18)

TOB: Granted, a the vast majority of this is sexism. But some of it, I think, is also logistical. You cited a few of the many examples of professional coaches who did not play professionally, of course. But Belichick, for example, did play college football and was the son of a football coach. His dad coached Army in Annapolis, Maryland. Bill’s first job out of college? He was hired just down the road as an assistant by the Baltimore Colts. Nepotism was certainly at play. But if Bill hadn’t at least played, I don’t think he gets that job even with his dad being a coach.

I was interested in your Ken Hitchcock example. Here’s the wikipedia entry about his coaching start: “While growing up playing hockey in western Canada, Hitchcock found he could motivate players. This led him into coaching, first at various levels in the Edmonton area, and later a ten-year stint at the helm of the midget AAA Sherwood Park Chain Gang.” So, he coached youth hockey for more than a decade before he got even into coaching the WHL. He didn’t get an assistant coaching job in the NHL until he was 39-years old.

Tom Kelly is similar – he didn’t play a ton in the bigs, but he was around the game and that’s how most coaches get their start – their playing career ends and they start at the lowest levels. Women face a tough hurdle there – they don’t play football or baseball. Watching it just isn’t the same. I’ve watched football my whole life, even played a few years, and I am wholly unqualified to coach.

The article’s analogy to a woman serving on the Supreme Court is a poor one. Like men, women are qualified to serve on the Supreme Court only after decades of work in the law and (usually) on the bench. But you can’t watch Law & Order your whole life and expect to have the ability to be a Supreme Court justice.

Similarly, you just can’t learn football watching on TV or playing in your backyard.
I do believe that if a female coach followed Ken Hitchcock’s example and started coaching at the lowest levels and won consistently for a few years, they’d move up the ranks. Soccer and basketball would be a great sports for that to happen, as women play them at the highest levels, which is what usually gets your foot in the door. But, football? I don’t see how you can coach that game without having played for decades.

The only exception is the child of a coach. The article mentions Todd Haley, who didn’t play even college football. But he grew up around the game because his dad was a coach. I can also think of current SMU coach Sonny Dykes. He played baseball in college, not football. But his dad was the legendary offensive innovator Spike Dykes. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.

However, that’s how I could see a female football coach happen: the daughter of a coach. She’s going to have to love the game from an early age and learn how to watch film and think the game.

I don’t see Schechter, featured in the article, gaining that experience by 2021, as the author suggests.

A Quick Note on the Baker Mayfield/Hue Jackson Beef

I like Baker Mayfield. I do not like Hue Jackson. And like Barry Petchesky, I’m pro-sports beef. But Mayfield’s comments after the Browns/Bengals game this week are crazy. He criticized Jackson for going to the Bengals a few weeks back after being fired by the Browns midseason:

Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati, I don’t know. It’s just somebody that was in our locker room, asking for us to play for him and then goes to a different team we play twice a year.

Making this even more rich is that Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech to conference foe Oklahoma after his freshman year. When this hypocrisy was pointed out to Baker on Twitter, he replied by saying it’s different because Tech was not going to give a scholarship to Mayfield, who had been a walk-on. Ay Baker, that’s literally the same thing! The man was fired. All “loyalties” are off at that point. Move on, bro.

Source: Baker Mayfield is Still Taking Shots at Hue Jackson”“, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (11/27/2018)

Video of the Week

A terrifying video, with a relatively happy-ending, when a hang gliding instructor forgot to strap the student to the hang glider.

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Gillian Welch – “Look At Miss Ohio”

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Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here and it says you could have network connectivity problems.

-Andy Dwyer

1-2-3 Sports! Week of November 23, 2018


I hope you dominated your family’s Thanksgiving football game. PAL is in Paris this week, so it’s an all you can TOB buffet.

The Rise of Flag Football

Amidst growing awareness of the dangers of playing football, participation in flag football is on the rise. It is America’s fastest growing sport – approximately 1.5 million kids aged 6-12 years old play the game, which is 100,000 more than the number of kids the same age that play tackle football. That’s kind of astounding.

One perhaps unlikely flag football champion is Saints’ QB Drew Brees. Brees himself did not play tackle football until high school, and his three sons all play flag football, as well. Plenty of other former college and NFL players and coaches do not let their kids play tackle football. Dave Wannstedt, former NFL player and head coach, told his daughter he did not recommend her son play tackle, so he plays flag, too.

Concerned that the sport of football would die if parents don’t let their kids play at all, Brees threw money into a flag football league, which has quickly expanded to eleven cities.

“Every parent looks at football now and has reservations,” said Brees, now in his 18th N.F.L. season. “I know I do. If parents feel like the only option is tackle, then there’s a danger that a whole generation of kids may never be introduced to the game.”

The NFL, too, is pumping money into youth flag football leagues, pledging an annual grant to the Boys and Girls Club, and even airing a flag football tournament on its NFL Network last summer.

But is it enough to save football? Is 14-years old old enough that the brain can withstand the repeated collisions? I have my doubts, as do other parents. As former NFL player Jim Schwantz put it, “I found that there was a group of parents, they don’t even want to introduce their kids to flag, period, because they’ll enjoy the game and then ask to play tackle.” -TOB

Source: The Future of Football Has Flags“, Joe Drape and Ken Belson, New York Times (11/20/2018)

Steph Curry’s Injury Once Again Proving He’s the League MVP

Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah. I am a Steph Curry stan, there’s no mystery there. I celebrate that fact. Steph is great and awesome. The greatest shooter of all-time, and it’s not close. A fantastic ballhandler and playmaker. Not a good defender, but he tries, damnit. When the Warriors signed Durant more than two years ago, people wondered how the two players with very different games would co-exist.

It has been about what you’d expect – their volume shooting is down a tick, but they’ve both become a bit more efficient when they do shoot. Curry is basically the same as he ever was, but taking 2-3 fewer shots per game, but still making them at incredibly high, if slightly lower, rates – equaling about a 5-point per game drop. Durant saw his shooting volume go down (3 fewer shots per game in Year 1, but ticked back up to just 1 fewer shot in Year 2), and saw his shooting get more efficient. But that doesn’t really tell the story, and a look at the team’s record in their respective absences tells a lot more. As Patrick Redford points out:

In the two-plus seasons since Durant linked up with the Warriors, the team is 21-20 when Durant has played and Curry has not. When Durant sits and Curry doesn’t, the team is 25-9. This season, Golden State is +118 in Curry’s 399 minutes, and -8 in the 470 minutes he’s sat out. In the six games he’s missed, the Warriors make five fewer threes per game and dish out six fewer assists per game. Klay Thompson is 15-for-55 from three without Curry, and Durant is 3-for-21 from the same distance over the same period.

The numbers bear out what the eye test plainly shows: the Warriors just don’t pass as much or as effectively without Curry, thus taking worse shots and making them less often. Durant is a supremely gifted scorer, but he too often reverts to late-OKC-era isolation ball when he’s given the reins to the offense. It’s not that Durant is unfit to lead the Warriors or that he’s any less talented than Curry; rather, Curry’s penetration, court vision, and gravity open up the court for his teammates more effectively than any other player in basketball. Not only can he pop it from the half-court logo when he wants, he breaks the fabric of the game with his drives and tees up all manner of open shots for his teammates.

Note: Since Redford wrote the above, the Warriors lost another game, to KD’s former team the Thunder, by 28 points. That brings the team to an extremely mediocre 21-21 with Durant and without Curry.

Look, LeBron is one of the two greatest (if not the greatest) player of all-time. I’d take him every time to win a single game or in a game of one-on-one. But Durant isn’t even close to that level, and Curry’s injury is laying bare the truth: Curry changes the game more than any player in the league, possibly in my lifetime.

He is great not just because he’s the greatest shooter of all-time. He’s not Kyle Korver, standing on the three-point line waiting until his defender sags off of him so he can catch and shoot. And he’s not JJ Reddick, running around screens and taking hand-offs so he can get open and hoist an uncontested shot. Curry does it all, from 30-feet and in, and he does it off screens, off the catch-and-shoot, and most impressively, off the dribble while defended. But what sets Curry apart even more is his ability to also create shots for teammates. He creates space for everyone with his shooting range, and then uses his ball handling skills to draw defenders and find his teammates for easy baskets. Durant does practically none of that. As I said last week, his game is so boring I almost fall asleep when I see him working for a turnaround 15-footer.

Steve Kerr has said that Durant is better than Steph. But he’s a good coach and we know he’s lying, as a good coach should. Curry is supremely confident in his own skin, in his own skills. Durant is not confident in either, and needs to have his ego stroked. But that’s ok. We know the truth. Curry is the league’s most valuable player. Durant isn’t close.

Source: Without Steph Curry, The Warriors Are Mortal”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (11/19/2018)

Follow-Up: KD Is Losing His Mind.

Kevin Durant is doing his best to make what I said about him last week seem prophetic. During the Warriors’ loss last weekend to the Mavericks (seriously), Durant walked up to a fan in the front row and said, “Watch the f-cking game and shut the f-ck up.”

When did KD become Ron Artest? But even Artest was more likable than this dude. In the article featured above about Steph Curry, Deadspin’s Patrick Redford put it best: Durant’s ego is “spiderweb-fragile.” When my 4-year old acts up, we give him a timeout. I wonder if the Warriors yet realize they gave the wrong player the suspension last week. -TOB

Source: Kevin Durant Has Suggestion For Heckler: ‘Watch The Fucking Game And Shut The F-ck Up’”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (11/19/2018)

Why You Should Hope Your Team Does Not Sign Bryce Harper

26-year old, former wonderkind, and 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper is a free agent. A handful of teams have planned for this winter for the last five years – hoping to have a chance to sign the guy who, at age 22, had a ten WAR season, while hitting 42 dingers and a slash line of .330/.460/.649 for an OPS of 1.109, and an OPS+ of 198, meaning he was 98% better than league average. My goodness. But quietly, Harper has sandwiched that 2015 season with some rather pedestrian WAR totals: 3.7, 1.1, 10.0, 1.5, 4.7, 1.3.



While he never again approached that 198 OPS+, he’s still been a good hitter, putting up 114, 156, and 133 since then. So, why are the WAR totals so bad? Because they take into account defense:

Harper’s minus-26 defensive runs saved—the Sports Info Solutions stat that forms the basis of Baseball-Reference’s flavor of WAR—ties him with Hoskins (and 2011 Logan Morrison) for the 12th-worst total of all time. Other defensive stats have Harper costing the Nationals fewer runs, but he doesn’t fare much better in their ordinal rankings. Harper also brought up the rear among outfielders in UZR and Total Zone and ranked second-worst behind Blackmon in Baseball Prospectus’s FRAA.

Statcast-based metrics were only marginally more kind: SIS’s Statcast DRS, which takes positioning into account, had Harper fourth worst among outfielders, behind Hoskins, Blackmon, and Adam Jones. And MLB Advanced Media’s Statcast-based outs above average (OOA)—which considers range but not throwing—ranked Harper sixth worst among 174 players with at least 50 outfield opportunities.

Sabermetric writers have warned readers about the vagaries of single-season defensive stats for as long as they’ve existed. But when every stat points to a fielder as one of the worst—including stats based on different data sources, some of which (Statcast) are more sensitive and, in theory, more dependable in small samples—there’s probably some signal in the often-noisy numbers.

I implore you to click through to this article and look at some of the should-be-easy catches, and there are many, that the writer uses to illustrate the fact Harper is a terrible defender. Here are a couple:

Uh, what?

A bit more understandable, but c’mon.

That route was so bad it was one I could have taken.

Watching these plays, I am struck by two things: one, there are a couple of those that look like a beer league player who has no idea how to judge a fly ball; and two, the guy who was smashing his face into walls trying to make every catch, as a 19-year old rookie, seems less eager to do so now.

Which does make me wonder: was Harper protecting his body in order to ensure a massive payday well over $300M (Reports are that Harper already turned down a 10 yr/$300M offer from his current team, the Nats)? When his agent, Scott Boras, negotiates that money, and teams show the low WAR totals and plays like those, will Boras have the guts to make that argument? And will teams buy it? Or, catch-22, in protecting himself, did he potentially cost himself a lot of money?

At least publicly, Boras is not going that route, and is instead arguing that Harper was not fully healthy from a 2017 knee injury. As Lindbergh points out, though, that argument is undermined that Harper was as fast on the base paths in 2018 as he ever was. And the numbers suggest Harper was in fact taking it easy:

In 764 opportunities in right field from 2016 to 2017, Harper dove 11 times and slid 17 times, per SIS. In 506 combined opportunities in right and center in 2018, Harper dove one time and slid four times. Among the 21 outfielders with at least 460 opportunities, Harper and Nick Castellanos were the only outfielders not to dive more than once. The other 19 averaged one dive per 60 opportunities

Still. It seems clear, under the new leadership of Farhan Zaidi, that the Giants will not be making a run at Harper. The team needs so much more right now than a left-handed power hitter. I know that, but there had been a part of me who had sorta hoped he’d come here. But after reading this, I’m happy he won’t. -TOB

Source: Can $300 Million Buy Bryce Harper a Glove?”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (11/20/2018)

Video of the Week

Actual footage of PAL in Paris this week.

Tweets of the Week


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“How do I feel about losing the sale? It’s like if Michael Phelps came out of retirement, jumped in the pool, bellyflopped and drowned.”

-Michael Scott