Week of January 10, 2020


The History of the Flag in American Sports

This is a story about the United States flag and sports that shouldn’t be impacted by your own political leanings…at least I think so. It details just when we started the tradition of the national anthem, and how far we’ve drifted from the regulations Congress wrote in 1942 with regards to how the flag should be respected. 

The ties between sports and displays of patriotism go back at least a century. Fans first stood to salute the flag while singing the national anthem at the 1918 World Series. In 1942, during World War II, Congress wrote regulations, enshrined in a federal law but without penalties for violations, outlining the significance of the flag and how to properly respect it — regulations that are largely ignored today, especially at sporting events.

According to the code, the flag “should never be carried flat,” “never be used as wearing apparel” and “never be used for advertising.” Additionally, “no part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”

A quick rundown of those guidelines: 

  • flags are carried flat regularly at football games and many other sporting events
  • it’s absolutely become a part of athletic uniforms from any number of sports 
  • it has absolutely been used for advertising purposes (by our Department of Defense). 

Again, I would think this is an issue for which the staunchest of conservatives and the most dreadlocked of Berkeley hippie would agree that the flag has no place in sports. Either it means too much or shouldn’t mean that much to be woven into our sporting events and the marketing of leagues. 

It’s one thing to take a moment to thank those who have served at a game. I think there should be more of that. It doesn’t need to be part of marketing campaign, but of course we should genuine thanks and ‘salute the troops’. It’s quite another thing for sports industries (leagues, teams, owners, not to mention the ancillary partners like beer companies) to profit off of the flag. I know this happens a lot of ways, and it’s not limited to sports (as my mom just noted, just look to any car dealership), but damn. Whether you think the flag means something sacred, something not so pure, a mixture of both, or – I guess – nothing at all; the flag represents a powerful idea (or loss of) in all of those scenarios. It bothers me that we use this idea to sell baseball caps and uniforms. We are being sold an idea that’s already ours, that we get to define.

I would like to understand why this pimping out of the flag is embraced, while other forms of protest – be it kneeling for the anthem or burning the flag – are so fiercely contested and labeled disrespectful. What am I missing? I am genuinely asking. – PAL 

Source: The N.F.L. Wears Patriotism on Its Sleeve. And Its Head. And Its Feet.,” Brittainy Newman, The New York Times (01/03/2020)


How the VIkings Almost Ended the 49ers Budding Dynasty

The 49ers were the team of the 1980s. They won the Super Bowl after the 1981, 1984, 1988, and 1989 seasons, and made the NFC Championship after 1983. But the mid-80s saw some disappointments. They lost in the Wild Card round after the 1985 season, and the Divisional round after the 1986 season. But they entered the playoffs after the 1987, strike-shortened season as the NFC’s #1 seed, and looked poised to make another deep run. The Niners entered those playoffs as a juggernaut: they ranked No. 1 in total offense, rushing offense, scoring offense, total defense, pass defense and point differential. They had six future Hall of Famers on the field, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Dwight Clark, and friggin Steve Young on the bench. They were expected to win their third Super Bowl of the decade. It didn’t happen. 

Instead, in the Niners’ first playoff game that year, the Minnesota Vikings came into Candlestick and put it on ‘em, 36-24. The Vikings made Joe Montana look so bad that Bill Walsh benched him (though it did give the 49ers their first glimpse at what Steve Young could really do. Vikings wide receiver Anthony Carter looked like, well, Jerry Rice, and set a then-NFL record with 227 yards receiving. 

I don’t remember this game. I was only six years old, and my very earliest football memory is the next season, when the Niners beat the Bengals, and Montana solidified his legacy with The Drive. But as the 49ers and Vikings prepare to play in the NFL playoffs this weekend, it’s interesting as hell to consider that game in January 1988, and this oral history of that game is an interesting way to do so. Any 49ers fan around my age (and maybe older) will be shocked to read some of the things in this article. For example:

49ers President Carmen Policy: Bill [Walsh] wasn’t quite right. His coaching wasn’t the best, and so forth. And we were going through this other combination of Steve Young-Joe Montana. And we didn’t have our feet solidly on the ground in terms of how we felt about ourselves and about the team and about the season.

Yes, that is Carmen Policy saying that legendary coach Bill Walsh’s coaching wasn’t the best, and saying that there was a QB controversy between Montana and Young long before I’d ever heard of one. In fact, shortly after halftime, Walsh benched Montana. Joe Montana! Benched! I had no idea. Here’s 49er Randy Cross on the benching:

Cross: With Joe, we’d won a couple Super Bowls. We’d won a bunch of playoff games. We’d won a bunch of games, period, with him. So it was very, very strange. You knew there was a chance, but not until he really did it, did it really hit you and sink in….That whole dynamic was very unique and kind of uncomfortable, to be honest. (Bill’s) pissed. All the coaches are pissed. We’re pissed. We needed a spark. We needed something different to happen. They were just making plays happen like crazy on offense, and we couldn’t get anything going on defense.

Somewhere, in an alternate universe, Sliders-style, that loss ended the 49ers’ budding dynasty. In this universe, it nearly did. Except, that it didn’t. The Vikings lost the next week to the Washington football team. In San Francisco, things turned around. After the loss to Minnesota, the team damn near fired Bill Walsh. As Policy puts it:

“I’ll never forget (team owner) Eddie (DeBartolo) telling Bill that night: ‘Bill, I don’t want you to lose another playoff game. This is the last one you lose with the 49ers.” 

DeBartolo was right. Walsh would coach just one more season, winning the next Super Bowl (and beating the Vikings 34-9 in the playoffs along the way), and then retiring (before returning to Stanford for three deliciously disappointing seasons). Montana held off Young for a few more seasons, winning the Super Bowl in 1988 and 1989, and then losing to the Giants in 1990. Montana missed most of the next two seasons due to injury, as Young took over, and won a Super Bowl in 1994 after Montana left for Kansas City.

A good oral history tells you a lot about a subject you thought you knew well, but upon reding realize you did not. Good read for any 49ers (or Vikings) fan. -TOB

Source: The Day the Vikings Put Joe Montana on the Bench and Bill Walsh on the Hot Seat,” Jon Krawczynski, David Lombardi and Daniel Brown, The Athletic (01/09/2020)

PAL: You sure do learn some stuff. How about Joe Montana and Roger Craig crossing the picket line during the strike?!? I never knew that. 

Also, the Montana benching did exactly what Walsh had hoped it would do. Young absolutely jump started the offense. Two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing) that kept them within distance of a comeback. The problem was the Niner defense couldn’t stop Anthony Carter. 

One last note on the game this weekend. I haven’t really been a Vikings fan since Gary Anderson missed one field goal all season and ruined the Moss, Carter, Cunningham, John Randle  Vikings 1998 season. But then I found myself planning my day last weekend around getting back to watch the Vikings-Saints game. And for all the terrible, terrible problems with football…damn if it’s not enjoyable to watch on TV. Can’t deny it. 

Go Vikes. This Niners team is awfully talented, but not a whole lot of experience in a playoff game. I’m not a Cousins fan, but he finally delivered last week. Jimmy G hasn’t done it yet. Let’s see how the pretty boy handles the pressure.


Kevin Love Confirm He Sucks

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a Kevin Love fan. 

In his one season at UCLA, Love and future NBA teammates Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (seriously how did that team not win a title?), the Bruins beat my favorite Cal team ever on a ludicrous sequence where Love knocked over Ryan Anderson, who was trying to draw the foul to ice the game, and then won on an illegal shot by Josh Shipp that the referees unbelievably allowed to count (I’m still very bitter). 

Then he went to Minnesota and put up big numbers on awful teams.

Then he went to Cleveland, his numbers went down, and he complained about playing in LeBron’s shadow while they won.

But I’ve been mostly alone on this. Love smiles, and seem nice, and people generally like him. So this week has been very vindicating for me. 

After LeBron left Cleveland two years ago, Love was a free agent. He could have left and played for a contender. But Love instead signed a max extension – 4 years, $120M. He got paid. And he did so knowing full well the situation he’d be in – the Cavs were never going to be good post-LeBron.

Last year, he was pretty quiet. The team didn’t win much and his numbers did not return to his Minnesota-levels, suggesting that his numbers didn’t dip in Cleveland because he took a backseat to LeBron; or alternatively suggesting he’d forgotten how to play as the best player on his team; or alternatively suggesting he’d lost a step or two. Whatever the reason, Cleveland’s questionable (IMO) decision to sign him to that extension didn’t look great. But now, it looks awful.

This week, Love threw a couple of on-court tantrums.

What a baby. The quote about having money is obnoxious, but I especially hate how he treats his young teammate in the second video. I’m just very happy that everyone else finally sees what I’ve seen for more than a decade. This guy sucks. -TOB

PAL: Other than the following, I have no feelings about Kevin Love: 

The Beach Boys…meh. 


Videos of the Week


Tweets of the Week

I’m not a huge KD fan but I like Kendrick Perkins far less. So: LOLLLL.


Song of the Week

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – ‘Hey Mama’


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There is a small part of me that is actually very excited about this new company. But 70% of me is water. And the other part, the real part, the part that has feelings, and emotions, and thoughts, and if I can be crass, makes babies, that part thinks that all these changes suck b—.

-Michael Scott

Week of January 3, 2019

RIP, Commish.


One Game Makes All The Difference: Remembering Don Larson 

Readers of this newsletter know I’m a sucker for a sports obit. Don Larsen died this week at the age of 90, and Tyler Kepner of The New York Times centers the obituary on October 8, 1956 when Larson became the only pitcher to ever throw a perfect game in the World Series when he and the Yankee beat the Dodgers 2-0 in game 5. Larson’s perfect game remains a singular achievement in baseball. 

While I’m sure our fathers and uncles know, Larson was an unlikely pitcher to pull off the rarest of feats. In fact, The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ) ran the headline “Clown Prince ascends the throne”. The “midnight kid who doesn’t like to miss many laughs” had a career record of 81-91. He lost a Game 7 the very next year, and became a journeyman pitcher. He was the greatest for one day, and the details of the day make the achievement even more incredible. 

For one, Larsen didn’t exactly get 10 hours of sleep the night before Game 5. His friend told folks how he begged Larsen to take it easy the night before. To raise the degree of difficulty even more, there was an alimony dispute with his estranged wife. Per Kepner: 

Larsen must have had a lot on his mind. The day of the perfect game, his estranged wife, Vivian, asked the State Supreme Court to hold up his World Series winnings in an alimony dispute. A court order over unpaid child support was said to have been in Larsen’s locker as he pitched; newspapers called him a playboy.

But, as Jim Palmer sums up, there’s poetry in the idea that a below average player can be the greatest for a day. In his words, “That’s what baseball’s all about.”

Solid read. – PAL 

Source:Don Larsen Became an Unlikely Legend in 9 Perfect Innings”, Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (01/02/2020)

TOB: I really love that quote by Palmer. It’s one of my very favorite things about baseball: In one day, an average player can create a legacy. I’ll never forget the all-time leader for RBI in a game is Mark Whiten. He was a quintessential journeyman. But one day in 1993, he hit 12 RBI in a game. Although that one game constituted about 0.1% of his career games, the 12 RBI constituted about 3% of his career RBI.

Or take Brandon Crawford. He’s had his moments and hot streaks at the plate, but he’s known more for his glove. However, in 2016, he had a 7-hit game. In 2019, he had an 8-RBI game. He is the only player in MLB history to do both in his career. How wild is that?


David Stern’s Greatest Act As Commissioner: Compassion  

Former NBA commissioner David Stern died this week after suffering a brain hemorrhage before the holidays. And while he will be remembered as the maestro of growing the NBA into a global sport in a way that no other American sport could dream of, The Athletic’s Bill Oram focused his words on how Stern navigated Magic Johnson’s announcement that he had HIV in 1992. 

I am just old enough to remember how absolutely terrified and uninformed Americans were of and about AIDS and HIV in 1992. And then it comes out that Magic Johnson has HIV. He immediately retires from basketball. When he does want to make a comeback, players are protesting playing on the same court as Johnson. Sponsors threaten to take their business elsewhere. People still think the virus can be contracted by sweat. Throughout all of this, Stern sticks by Johnson. 

Stern admits that he did so to also protect his league. He understood the NBA needed to be about the stardom of its players, and so he stuck by one of the league’s greatest stars. 

“We were in the middle of a complete panic as a nation,” [Stern] said, “and we were losing people left and right. And by just working in a certain way to protect our league, which was (that) we embraced Magic, we didn’t shun him … we changed the debate on AIDS.”

This is another one of those stories I will think about when the familiar chorus, “stick to sports” is barked. In Stern’s words, “the social clout sports can have on important issues” are often the bookmarks we use to return to our history. Good, bad, and all of the above. – PAL

Source ‘Compassion and intelligence’ guided David Stern through aftermath of Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement”, Bill Oram, The Athletic (01/02/20)

TOB: I also liked another write-up on Stern, by the Athletic’s Ethan Strauss. He never met Stern, but they became in recent years, as Strauss puts it, pen-pals. One passage in particular struck a chord with me:

Beyond that reputation, he was frighteningly “high chair famous” to me. People of my generation might know what I mean. The famous people you learned about before you can even remember learning tend to inspire more awe.

This is so true. When you are very young, you don’t realize that famous people – be they athletes, politicians, coaches, media personalities – have not always been around. Sometimes, you find out later, they came to prominence just before you learned about them. But for you, they will always hold a special place. As time passes, for example, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of who the coaches of each team in the four major sports are. At age 9, though, I could have told you all of them, and I figured they’d all been there twenty years.

But they hadn’t. And they moved on. And many have passed away. Still, Stern will always be the NBA Commissioner to me just like Tom Brokaw will always be the face of television news. It’s hard to believe Stern is gone. It just feels…strange.


Colin Kaepernick’s Continued Exile Proves His Point

I highly recommend you read this article about Colin Kaepernick and his continued exile from the NFL. Here’s a great passage that is more or less the thesis:

The demonization of Kaepernick and the distortion of his message have contributed to his NFL exile. It is, as Patterson described, a kind of social death and, in many ways, our shared burden, just as it is Goodell’s and the 32 owners’ who have kept the league’s doors closed to him. The cancer isn’t Colin Kaepernick. It is the scourge of racism in our institutions, and it must be confronted or else the next curious black athlete of another generation will face the same battle: fatigued enough to embrace protest as their weapon of upheaval only to suffer in the same, scripted ways of their predecessors.

Kaepernick protested specifically against police officers not being punished for killing young persons of color. But his exile confirms an even larger point: the system is racist and the system is rigged. Good read. -TOB

Source: “Colin Kaepernick’s NFL Exile Feels Like Forever,” Tyler Tynes, The Ringer (12/23/2019)


Bumgarner Wanted to Leave, So He Left/An Ode to Farhan Zaidi

Madison Bumgarner, who almost single-handedly won a World Series for my favorite baseball team, left that team for a division rival – the Arizona Diamondbacks. A lot of Giants fans are angry – Bumgarner grew up a Giant, helping the team win the World Series in 2010 as a 20-year old rookie. But the anger is directed not at Bumgarner for leaving, but at the team’s front office, led by second-year President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi.

These are the same fans who whined and complained about Farhan constantly shuffling the roster last year; and then when he found a mix that won, those same fans cheered, while giving Farhan little credit.

Farhan’s shuffling found players who were good but underappreciated at their previous stops – guys like Mike Yastremzki and Alex Dickerson. Farhan flipped free agent to be pitchers like Drew Pomeranz and Sam Dyson for young and highly valued prospects who might be part of the next great Giants team, like Mauricio Dubon and Jaylinn Davis.

Back to Bum. He is an above average pitcher, though he never could find the consistency required to be truly great. Still, the Giants rotation next year looks to be a mess, and his innings and leadership would have been welcome for the next few years. In fact, it was reported that the Giants offered him something around 4 years and $75 million, which sounds a bit low until you learn his deal with Arizona was 5 years and $75 million. So, Bumgarner took less money per year and the same money overall to go elsewhere. It’s also been reported other teams offered him deals with much higher money. And what does that tell you?

It tells you Bumgarner did not want to be here. He wanted to be in Arizona. He said at his press conference that Arizona was his preferred destination. I don’t get it, personally; I think Phoenix sucks. And I don’t get why you wouldn’t want to become a legend in a city that reveres its sports heroes. But it’s his choice to make.

So why are fans mad at Farhan when Bumgarner chose to leave? Here are some recent questions to Giants beat writer Alex Pavlovic’s mailbag article:

Do the Giants know how discouraged and worried the fans are? — @romareb

What’s the Giants management reaction to the discontent among their fans? — @woodiewoodf14

Discontent? Worried? Worried about what? First, it’s baseball! Chill out. Second, your team won three World Series titles this decade! Are you kidding me? These fans are spoiled and insufferable. They think there’s no plan because they think the Giants are one big bat away from competing with the Dodgers, who are so deep and so good. But the Giants are so far behind the Dodgers right now, it’s going to take so much more.

Farhan has done and continues to do an incredible job. When he turns this mess around, those fans will probably say they knew all along. But I know. I’m keeping the receipts. -TOB


Baseball in the 2010s

This is a really neat article from Tom Verducci about how baseball changed over the decade. I highly recommend it. -TOB

Source: MLB Changed More Than You Think in the 2010s,” Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated (12/23/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Brittany Howard – Stay High 


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Jim, don’t take this the wrong way. Are you gonna take this the wrong way?

-Michael Scott

Week of December 13, 2019

Yankee Gerrit Cole. For $324 million, you can dictate my facial and head hair choices, too


Taking the Temperature of the Gabe Kapler Hire: Snip, Snap! Snip, Snap! Snip!

The Giants’ hire of Gabe Kapler to replace Bruce Bochy as manager was a polarizing choice. No, polarizing isn’t quite right. Some were outraged about his response, when in the Dodgers system, to two incidents involving Dodger minor leaguers and women. Some of those people, and others, were upset that a guy with a 161-163 record in two seasons as manager of a fairly talented Phillies squad was the pick. Others were in the middle…let’s wait and see. I have been one of those people. But no one that I can find was enthusiastic about the hire, which is why I took back my “polarizing” comment.

So, that’s where we are. Now, Kapler seems like a weird dude (google “Gabe Kapler tan” if you’re feeling adventurous). But, like, who is Gabe Kapler? The Athletic’s Daniel Brown tries to answer that question. And, buddy, this article was giving me some wild swings. Let’s walk through it.

The article opens in Kapler’s office, Bochy’s old office. It’s not yet decorated. But Kapler tells Brown decor is on the way! What has Kapler ordered? 

“So, so glad you asked that question,’’ Kapler replied. “You and I are going to feel much different once (it’s decorated). Environment-building is really important. And I think that design touches make all the difference in conversations like this one. This office needs some life and some plants and some art. I don’t want this to feel like a jail cell.”

Kapler said he was awaiting a shipment of black-and-white photos he’s collected over the years. The images are carefully curated, as are most things with Kapler. There are no frivolities with him, no wasted energy. The photos — like his diet, like what he reads, like the stats he embraces, like the words he chooses, like his umpire-mandated ejections — are selected with a specific purpose in mind.

The pictures, upon arrival, will have an immediate job to do. They will send a message to visitors about what Gabe Kapler believes in.

“So, there are some political figures there. There are some sports figures there,’’ he said. “Muhammad Ali is one, Jackie Robinson is one of them.

“Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. They will all have space somewhere in this office. And I’ll find my way to probably choosing a few more.”

I LAUGHED. I CRIED. This guy! What a weird guy! As my buddy Rowe said, “He basically described the ‘smart guy things for meathead jocks’ starter kit.” Black and white photos! Of super famous people! How daring. 

Current Temperature:

Kapler will happily wax on about his about childhood because, at heart, it still defines him. “Everything I am today,’’ he said, “is a result of that upbringing.” His bedroom walls had photos, too. Kapler’s personal décor in those days included images of Ty Cobb, Pete Rose and Charles Barkley.

Beyond the checkered resume, Kapler also comes equipped with a persona that would fit on a poster next to Barkley, Cobb and Rose. One source, who worked with Kapler at a previous stop, declined to comment when reached for this story. “On the record or off?” the source asked. “Because if it’s on the record, I’d have to lie.”

Another former Kapler co-worker also had his reservations: “Kapler is a high-energy guy. And he means well. I think he means well. But he’s not for everybody. The personality isn’t for everybody. He is kind of a my-way-or-the-highway type of guy.”

OHHH NOOOOOOO. This is bad. This is VERY bad. This is SUCH a poor quality for a manager, of any type. A manager should not be polarizing! A manager should adapt to his subordinates to bring out the best in all of them. 

Current temperature:

During the Giants’ interview process, both Bochy and Buster Posey met with Kapler as the team whittled down its finalist list. Both of those mainstays — no-nonsense types with finely honed B.S. detectors — strongly recommended Kapler, according to team sources, which helped solidify the official decision.

Is someone blowing smoke up my ass? Who are your sources, Daniel!? A Bochy endorsement would go a long way with me. It wouldn’t mean Kapler will be great. And it wouldn’t mean Kapler is not weird as hell because he’s definitely weird as hell. But it would mean he’s not a complete asshole, and that’s a start. So I am off panic mode and at very cautiously optimistic.

Current temperature:

“I’m drawn to colorful people,” he said during this interview in his office. “I’m interested in people who are different than me. I loved biographies as a kid. I wasn’t interested in novels. I wasn’t nearly as interested in reading stories. But I loved biographies. I loved digging into people’s psychology — what makes them tick and how they’re motivated.

At first blush, this is cheezy. But I read it a second time and I gotta say – this is a GOOD managerial quality. Assuming this weirdo we have for a manager who is *allegedly* endorsed by Boch and Posey can actually, you know, dig into people’s psychology, this is a really good thing. 

Current temperature: 

Kapler was never more argument-averse than in his first managing gig, for Class-A Greenville (an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox) in 2007, when his team went 58-81.

“I brought a stoicism to the dugout that I don’t think worked very well,’’ he said, looking back. “And it was by design. I would have minor-league players come to me and complain about umpire calls. And I tried to help them put that aside.

“So I’d say something like, ‘How much value is there in you arguing balls and strikes? Like, do you think that there’s ever a strike or ball call changed?’ And I tried to rationalize with our players instead of getting with them on an emotional level.”

Kapler discovered over time that a raw young player who just struck out looking at a borderline slider was rarely of the mind to intellectualize the experience.

When Kapler became a big-league manager with the Phillies in 2018, he figured that his all-calm-and-reasonable act would play better with a mature roster. So he returned to his old ways and went the entirety of his rookie managerial season without getting the heave-ho.

“It was like, ‘I think I can help these players be stronger mentally and not get so spun,’’’ Kapler said. “But it just doesn’t work. They need to see you get upset.”

“I never really lost my cool. I was upset, but I was also under control. I never felt like I couldn’t maintain control of my emotions during that time period,’’ Kapler said.

“But it doesn’t matter, me rationalizing my way through it. What matters is how the players feel and how the staff feels and how the ballpark feels and how the city feels and how the fans feel. And to some degree being responsive to that.”

I don’t exactly agree with his instinct – I think being a jerk about it rarely helps, but pointing out to an umpire that a call was wrong can help your team. However, I really like that Kapler was able  to adjust to his players’ needs. 

Current temperature: 

“And the lesson in all of that is: Sometimes the best strategic advantage — the one that you’ve been thinking about for a really long time — isn’t worth the confidence being stripped away from the dugout, the clubhouse or the player.”

Assuming he can put this into practice: My guy!

Current temperature: 

Mom ran an early childhood center. She is the bulldog of the family, the one who can make life difficult for the airline customer service agent on the wrong end of a disputed charge.

Ugh, his mom is an asshole. Not a good sign!

Current temperature: 

Still, there was a line Gabe and his older brother, Jeremy, could not cross.

“What was a problem was anything derogatory,’’ Kapler said. “And my dad took major issue with it, so much so that if one us brought a joke home from school that was, like, racially charged in any way, homophobic in any way, my dad was like: No.

“And then he would explain why even telling the joke was problematic in society, why even listening to somebody else tell those jokes and not saying ‘That’s not OK with me’ is problematic in society.”

Ooooh. What a good dad! 

Current temperature: 

“[Little League] is the memory of baseball that I cherish the most,’’ he said from his office. “It was the most important part of my upbringing. It’s where I spent my entire day. Saturday mornings were me walking to the park and spending the entire day — no matter what time my game was — at the park, playing over-the-line between the fields and just being a kid.”

Same, buddy!

Current temperature: 

Neander, now the Rays vice president of baseball operations, informed the longtime big-leaguer that he was much more successful against pitches in the bottom of the strike zone. And then Neander handed him all the game-day data that proved it. For the remainder of his career, Kapler took a new approach at the plate, hunting and attacking pitches at the bottom of the strike zone.

“So how analytical is that?” Kapler said. “It’s just reframing my focus as a player. ‘Here’s what you think you did well. It’s not actually true. Here’s what you actually do well. How can we put you in position to attack that pitch going forward?’

“That was the kind of information that I wanted to have.”

This story is representative of Kapler’s belief when it comes to metrics: They are tools that can make a player better. It’s a concept that can be far simpler than some make it out to be. He rejects the notion that there’s been any kind of analytics “revolution” led by nerds with calculators.

“That’s kind of bullshit, right? Analytics are every kids’ baseball card that they grew up with,’’ he said. “If you looked at batting average and home runs and doubles and triples and stolen bases and caught-stealings and all the things that we have on baseball cards as kids, that’s analytics.”

Sure, but baseball cards never had BABIP, FIP or DRC+ on the back.

“It’s only being labeled as different. It’s not different,’’ Kapler said. “We have different numbers, that’s true, but it’s not an ‘analytics revolution’ like we’ve made it out to be. … We just have better tools. We have more information. We have more numbers to use that predict future success.”

Current temperature: 

Though Kapler said he has learned to be better about balancing the stats with feel, his lingering reputation is why one skeptic thinks that Kapler is the perfect cover for a front office that will be a metrics-run operation from the field on up.

“He’s not going to manage the Giants. He’s just going to be the manager. You see what I’m saying?’’ an industry source familiar with Kapler said. “It’s part of the new era. The manager doesn’t make decisions anymore. He is there, really, to keep the personalities together.”

Current temperature:

Not so good, Al.

A woman rose and fearlessly questioned the handling alleged 2015 assaults. She was upset with Kapler, and with Zaidi for hiring him.

“You’re saying character counts, which we’ve always felt has been the heart of this organization. So I need to address this to you: What were you thinking? In the Bay Area, what made you think that this was going to work?” she said. “Because all I’ve heard is PR sound bites. I haven’t heard anything that spoke to character and all the reasons people — women especially — are concerned about the role you’re taking on.”

The room went the kind of silent that’s actually loud.

Zaidi, as he had several times already that evening, talked about the thorough vetting process in hiring Kapler and the personal lessons both of them have learned through the process. Zaidi said he understood the backlash, welcomed the microscope, said the industry needed to be better about this important issue. He pledged that the organization was committed to speaking with actions, not words.

The question was answered, the tension defused. It looked as if the evening had come to a close.

Then Kapler raised his hand asked for a chance to respond, too.

“Can I ask your name please?” he said.

“My name is Pam.”

“Pam, I’m Gabe. Nice to meet you.”

There was some awkward laughter in the crowd.

“Any questions that you want to know about me, if you would give me a chance to prove that I have high character, I would love that opportunity,’’ he continued. “It doesn’t have to happen right now. It can happen whenever you want. But I’d also be more than happy to answer any of your questions without any sound bites — directly from my heart. Give me an opportunity to get to know me a little better.

“And I’ll make that commitment to anybody in this room: You can stay tonight and we’ll have that conversation. Or, if it makes you feel better, another time, I’m totally cool with that. I just want to ask that you give me a chance to prove my character to you before you decide my character.”

The ensuing applause was as loud as it had been all night.

Nailed it.

Current temperature:

(Actually, I’m still really nervous) -TOB

Source: Who is Gabe Kapler, Really? The New Giants Manager Just Wants Everybody to Get to Know Him,” Daniel Brown, The Athletic (12/07/2019)

PAL: In a word, yikes. 

It all comes off like an act. I don’t buy what Gabe’s selling…not at all. Rowe has it right: “smart guy things for meathead jocks”. 

The Giants are going through a transition, and this is the guy they want for this phase (the lose a lot phase) – someone that gets in line with management. Maybe that works, but I’d think young guys developing need as much emotional support from a leader than cold, sterile, logic. Someone who gets ejected – not because his analysis leads him to decide to get tossed – because he wants to win that game, and that moment matters. Be human, dude, and not just on Thanksgiving. 

Most telling nugget from the entire piece: “It’s worth noting here that Kapler, who was born in Hollywood, won a local Shakespeare Festival award for his performance in “The Taming of the Shrew” while in high school.”

On the plus side: coconut oil. 


Her Time

Here are the first three paragraphs of one of the most moving stories I’ve read since we’ve been doing 1-2-3 Sports!: 

DIEST, Belgium — Champagne flutes were hastily unpacked from boxes, filled to their brims and passed around the room. Dozens of people stood around inside Marieke Vervoort’s cramped apartment, unsure of what to say or do. This was a celebration, Vervoort had assured her guests. But it did not feel like one.

Eleven years earlier, Vervoort had obtained the paperwork required to undergo doctor-assisted euthanasia. Since her teenage years she had been battling a degenerative muscle disease that stole away the use of her legs, stripped her of her independence, and caused her agonizing, unrelenting pain. The paperwork had returned some sense of control. Under Belgian law, she was free to end her life anytime she chose.

But instead, she just went on with it — seized it with new vigor, even. Within a few years she reached uncharted heights in her career as a wheelchair sprinter, winning a gold medal at the Paralympics. She became a celebrity at home and abroad, appearing in the pages of international magazines and newspapers, sitting for interviews on television shows. She traveled the world telling her life story, unspooling it as an inspirational narrative.

You must experience this story in full. It’s much more than just Keh’s writing, which is beautiful in its precision. Lynsey Addario’s photography has depth that makes you linger. Again, it’s not just the heavy in the pictures; the everyday photos are just as striking. There are also places in the story where they’ve embedded audio recordings of Vervoort’s interviews. 

Key and Addario met Vervoort after the Rio Paralympics in 2016. For over three years, they recorded her journey to euthenasia, and how that right “allowed her to wrest back some control of her life.” It wasn’t until after she was approved for euthenasia that she became a gold medalist.  

The piece is divided into four sections: The Pain, Taking Control, The Descent, and The End. Every word is worth your time, but there were a couple moments in this story that are looping in my head like a melody. 

The first moment comes in Rio. Her story – that she would someday end her life through euthenasia – got out. The story that funneled down to the tabloids, and soon this incredibly personal contemplation had become bent into headlines like “‘I’ll Go for Gold, Then Kill Myself,’ Says Paralympian Hopeful,”. A moment that should’ve been a triumph of life became about her impending death.

This was her response. Talk about courage and grace: 

 

The next moment comes when Vervoort asks Keh when she can see the finished article. After “more than one attempt” he explained the plan was to see this through to the end of her life. “She would never read what I would write about her life, never see all the photographs Lynsey was taking of her.”

The last moment is when, at the goodbye party with friends and family, the doctor arrives at her apartment for the final time. He’s there to administer the drugs that will end Vervoort’s suffering. 

“When Dr. Distelmans arrived two hours later, most of the guests were gone. Vervoort was sipping cava and munching on Maltesers chocolates, a guilty pleasure. She offered him one.”

There are beautiful, light moments, too. The weight of the story doesn’t crush those, and what resonates most is Vervoort’s passion for life, for the little things like champagne, sophomoric jokes, and chocolates. 

You must read the full story. – PAL 

Source: The Champion Who Picked a Date to Die”, story by Andrew Keh, photographs and additional reporting by Lynsey Addario, The New York Times (12/09/2019)


WAR? What is it good for? Actually, Something.

How’s this for a lede:

Bryce Harper charged a soft line drive on Sept. 5, fielded it cleanly and fired a strong throw home. The baserunner, Michael Lorenzen, who had started the play on second base, held at third. The trailing baserunner, Jose Peraza, who had started on first base, rounded second and went halfway to third, then backtracked. The catcher, J.T. Realmuto, fielded Harper’s throw and snapped a throw to second, where shortstop Jean Segura caught it and dropped a tag on Peraza. Peraza got back to the base before the tag, but his slide took him off the bag. He initially was called safe, but upon video review, the call was overturned, and Peraza was out.

It all took slightly more than nine seconds, at the end of which one thing had changed — two outs had become three, ending the rally. It can be, like every baseball play, recorded as a simple text description:

Single to RF (Line Drive to Short CF-RF); Lorenzen to 3B; Peraza out at 2B

But those nine seconds, like in many baseball plays, comprise a very complicated story, and converting that complicated story into units of credit is one of the permanent challenges of baseball statistics.

Whose WAR (wins above replacement) goes up on the play? Is it Harper’s, because his strong throw home set everything up? Or Realmuto’s, because his throw to second led to the assist? Or Segura’s, because his acrobatic tag finished the out? Or is it even more nuanced than that?

We’re going to break down this play, which is ordinary enough to pass unmentioned but extraordinary enough to watch 30 or 40 times without wringing it all the way dry. And we’re going to eventually try to answer the central question: Who gets credit for what happened and how much?

Buddy, I am IN on this article. It only gets better from there.

First, there is a second by second account of what almost every player (and even the third base coach and home plate umpire) are doing. Then, it dissects how each players’ actions are treated.

On your traditional stats, this play is treated simply: a hit by the batter, an out for the pitcher, and an outfield assist for Harper (which is odd given what occurred here). But so much went into this play that is not recorded, even in calculating a player’s WAR, both good and bad, including:

  • The Phillies base coach who positioned Harper shallower than normal. Had Harper been at normal depth, the runner from second likely scores and the runner from first likely goes to third.
  • The pitcher for holding the runners and making a quick delivery.
  • The catcher, for simply having a strong-arm reputation, thus helping to hold the runners.
  • The first baseman, who didn’t cut off Harper’s throw, even though he should have, when he would have gotten the runner rounding second out easily. Instead, a close play, originally called safe but overturned on replay, occurred.
  • The pitcher for inducing a swing out of the strike zone.
  • The hitter for swinging out of the zone (bad), but also for making contact (good).

Then there are the ways value stats screw this play up. For example:

Peraza made the out at second, but it is the batter, Blandino, whose win probability added takes the hit, because WPA credits the entire play to the hitter. In that recording of events, Blandino cost the Reds 4% of a win by hitting his single and ending the inning. Irvin gets the corresponding credit to his WPA, 4% of a win he earned the Phillies by allowing the single.

That’s…pretty dumb! The batter hit a single but lowered his team’s odds of winning because of it, so his WPA (WIn Probability Added) goes down, while the runner who screwed up a bases loaded situation by overunning second base takes no hit.

So how does WAR calculate this play? In a variety of ways. First, Lorenzen, the runner who held at third, takes a baserunning knock, because 88% of runners score from second on a hit, even though he would almost for have been out here and thus made the right play, despite being exceptionally fast. Sam Miller then breaks down how the different WAR websites calculated this play, and it illustrates how these things vary and why:

At FanGraphs, Harper gets some credit for Lorenzen holding at third base. Keep in mind, Lorenzen had the stop sign before Harper ever threw the ball. It was Harper’s positioning, his fielding of the ball and the threat of his arm that held Lorenzen. It was his reputation, more than the act itself, that altered the play, and for that he gets credit. Harper could have made a limp throw home that bounced six times and carried 30 feet up the third-base line, but if Lorenzen didn’t try to score — on a play where, in the aggregate, nearly 90% of baserunners do — it goes to the right fielder’s credit.

At Baseball Prospectus, Harper gets some credit for the assist, but most of the play escapes the measures of the site’s defensive metric, fielding runs above average, because the out was so unorthodox. The Phillies’ team baserunning defense is credited with 0.6 runs prevented — about the same as Lorenzen is docked — but not all of that gets distributed to the individual fielders involved.

And at Baseball Reference, where human observers (employed by Sports Info Solutions) credit the defenders on each play, Realmuto gets credit for what SIS labels a good fielding play. That’s worth 0.2 runs to his WAR. Harper gets some credit for Lorenzen holding at third, and some for the outfield assist. It’s worth about 0.33 runs to his WAR.

Segura, across the board, doesn’t get credited by anybody. One could argue he made the most important play in the sequence and the most difficult. One could also argue he stood watching the play for far too long, and his late awareness that he was supposed to be covering second base is what ultimately made the play so difficult for him. Maybe he doesn’t deserve any credit!

Irvin’s WAR improved very slightly at FanGraphs (for the out), improved by a little more at Baseball-Reference (for the runs not scoring) and probably took a slight hit at Baseball Prospectus (for the single). Blandino’s WAR improved everywhere but probably least at Baseball Prospectus, because landing singles on weak flares is one of the least stable skills a hitter can have. Harper’s WAR, among the defenders, improved at all three sites.

Miller closes with an excellent summary of the incredible achievement even creating a stat like WAR really is:

There were more than 100,000 batted-ball plays in major league baseball this year, many of them involving half the players on the field in direct or indirect roles. There were, furthermore, three-quarters of a million pitches, scores of thousands of stolen base opportunities, thousands of pitches in the dirt. To give credit on all of them means building statistical systems that can make assumptions that hold true in as many cases as possible — and that don’t require hours (and that don’t rely on personal opinions) for each of them. The act of assigning value for all these possible plays is a titanic act of research and coding that took years of work, trial and error and ever-more-specific tweaks by generations of analysts — all to be reasonably prepared for an oddity like this play.

Man, what a cool article. -TOB

Source: How is WAR Calculated, Really? Breaking Down a Single Play to Find Out”, Sam Miller, ESPN (12/5/2019)

PAL: This is baseball heaven. The moment-by-moment breakdown of a single play showing the choreography of a play, all which can change when a trailing baserunner watches a throw from right field for a step too long. As Miller describes it, “every actor’s role in the play”. A must read for coaches. 

Some observations: 

  • I have to say, I’ve never noticed how far a third base coach can get down the line in order to read a developing play in the outfield and maximize the amount of time he has to make a decision whether to send a runner home or hold him up at third. 
  • I agree, TOB; the outfield assist to Harper makes no sense in this scenario
  • The credit game is a tough one (as Miller points out); in one sense, we can credit the pitcher for holding the runners on and deliver a psuedo slide step, but maybe he makes a better pitch with a full leg kick than leads to the third out, rendering the baserunners’ secondary leads meaningless
  • This article makes me wonder about qualitative stats. While the centerfielder not backing up the catcher’s throw to second didn’t matter here, we know what would happen if the ball gets past the shortstop: at least one run scores. If the play had gone that way – if the catcher overthrow the shortstop and the centerfielder isn’t there, would that impact the center fielder’s WAR? 
  • Let this stat be written under the bill of every third base coach in youth baseball: “88% of lead baserunners scored from second base on two-out singles to the outfield in 2019.” If that’s the case in MLB, then the answer at lower levers is to just send the runner home on a two-out hit. 
  • Miller says near the end of the article that the trickiest part of this play is deciding who gets credit. I think that answer, on a larger scale, is pretty simple: the team gets credit. This is a team play. Good team plays lead to wins. Yes, baseball is a lot of one-on-one battles within a team games, but plays like this are the moments when the team works in concert with one another. As he mentions later in the story, “There were more than 100,000 batted-ball plays in major league baseball this year, many of them involving half the players on the field in direct or indirect roles.” Those are team plays. A good deal of wins are in those plays.

The NFL Has Always Tried to Get In Its Own Way

There are a lot of bad things about being a football fan. But one of the fun things is attending a game and going absolutely bonkers at a big moment in the game, especially when your team’s defense needs a stop. How less fun would football be if you couldn’t do that? If the referees in fact called delay of game penalties, and charged the home team a timeout, if the fans got louder than the referees thought appropriate? Guess, what. The football powers that be did that in 1970s and 1980s.

 This is a story about the time the people in charge of the league — and those in charge of college football, for that matter — lost their minds and decided fans should not yell, cheer, clap, stomp, roar or do anything else that could make it hard for a visiting team to hear. Basically, the powers that be wanted to turn a football game into a golf tournament.

Or, as 49ers coach George Seifert put it, “Let’s have a football game that doesn’t turn into a rock concert.”

Seifert, you dork!

The NFL adopted the rule, originally started in college in the 70s, in 1989. It did not go well!

With the new rule in place, the NFL tested it out in the preseason. In August of ’89, the Bengals played in New Orleans. When the Bengals had the ball at the Saints’ 2-yard line, the New Orleans crowd went bananas. The refs threw not one, not two, not three but four flags, and the Saints lost all three of their timeouts and were assessed a half-the-distance-to-the-goal penalty. Later, in the third quarter, Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason antagonized the crowd on the sideline by waving his arms. The referee told Bengals coach Sam Wyche to make Esiason stop. Esiason knelt, hid behind a teammate … and still waved his hand behind his back.

Fans, to their credit, did not abide this crap, and just got rowdier.

After the preseason debacle, the NFL realized its mistake and quietly made the rule go away. But, this is a funny, emblematic article about the NFL, and how it has always tried to suck the fun out of its game. -TOB

Source: Remembering the Time the NFL Tried to Silence Its Fans,” Jayson Jenks, The Athletic (12/11/2019)

PAL: I need a name. I need a photo. What old duff in a pinstripe suit the NFL league office thought this was a good idea and had enough juice to get this into a pre-season game. I bet his name was Glen, or Walter, or Jerry. The commish must’ve owed him big for something, and Glen/Walter/Jerry cashed in on this favor for quiet football stadiums.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep My Hangin’ On”


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“I want you to rub butter on my foot. I have Country Crock.”

-Michael Scott

Week of December 6, 2019

After a two-week hiatus, we’re back to spike on y’alls’ heads.


What The Hell Happened On Everest? 

This is the story behind a photo that we all saw earlier this year. You know the one: 

We are aware of the general idea: Mount Everest as become a clogged tourist attraction for folks with the funds, ignorance, and arrogance to think they can summit it because the idea is intriguing to them. This idea is nothing new, especially to anyone who read John Krakaur’s Into Thin Air in the last 20+ years. 

What makes this specific story worth your time is the explanation – all of its variables – that led to that photograph. Joshua Hammer describes the image of a snaking line of climbers at 27K+ feet as resembling throngs of folks “queued up for a ski lift in Vail”. It’s not just the blind ambition of inexperienced climbers. It’s the market for guides, especially at a lower rate. It’s complex weather patterns. It’s a real ethical dilemma playing out with the heaviest of consequence. 

Hammer also writes and reports the hell out of this story. What a fantastic opener: 

It was morning and bright, and Reinhard Grubhofer, depleted and dehydrated, hoisted his body over a crest and rose uneasily. There, from the summit of Mount Everest, he could see everything. How the earth curved gorgeously in all direction; how wisps of clouds sailed beneath his boots. The view—out beyond his worries—was beautiful. But closer at hand, he could see trouble taking shape.

It’s obvious, but I have to say it: it continues to shock me how completely inexperienced climbers are allowed on Everest. It’s life and death, and a slew of climbers are held up because a lady is too scared to get on the ladder. As Hammer points out, the same holds true that Krakauer detailed in his book Into Thin Air. This lady on the ladder was yet another “scathing portrait of irresponsible guides catering to wealthy, out-of-their-depth dilettantes…”.

He swiftly identified the problem: a woman in a red climbing suit adorned with the emblems of a Chinese mountaineering group perched just before the drop-off, unwilling to go forward. The woman’s two Sherpa guides were firmly encouraging her to descend the ladder, but she remained paralyzed in apparent fear. For those in the logjam behind her, there was no going around. Everybody was stuck, freezing in the storm. Nearly six miles high in the Himalayas, Grubhofer knew, conditions were unforgiving: Standing still for long periods in the so-called death zone above 26,000 feet dramatically increased the risk of frostbite, heart attack, stroke, pulmonary or cerebral edema—and death. Grubhofer knew that Ernst Landgraf, the member of his climbing party whom he had seen on Everest’s summit, had been exhausted at the top. He could just make out Landgraf—obscured by snowfall, clouds, fog, and people—a few climbers behind him, but Grubhofer didn’t know how the 64-year-old was holding up.

“Move it!” shouted a climber behind Grubhofer.

Oh, shit, Grubhofer thought, this is getting serious.

This Chinese woman, he was sure, had no business being on the mountain. Why hadn’t her guides screened her ahead of time? Thirty minutes crawled by. Forty-five passed. Still she wouldn’t go down the ladder.

That was far from the only example of this. It reads like the mountain is littered with the corpses of nearly 200 bodies left frozen – some are of the most experienced and qualified, and some are folks with no business being on a mountain half the size and danger of Everest –  being stepped over by dozens of people who have no idea what they’re doing, increasing the risk of adding to the growing number of frozen corpses. 

Reading this story, I have the urge to say the very spirit of summiting Everest is gone, replaced by a backdrop for social media posts. Hammer describes it as a “circus-like pageant of stunts and self-promotion” outlining what sounds like a nightmare scene: “In April 2017, DJ Paul Oakenfold outraged mountaineering purists by hosting an EDM concert at the base camp in Nepal”

But the mountaineers are far from the only issue leading to four deaths over 24 hours last May. Year after year, more permits are sold by the Nepalese and Chinese governments. But this past spring, there was also a category 4 cyclone hundreds of miles away that continued to send bad weather up against Everest. This shortened an already tiny window of good weather for summiting down to two days. Everyone had been waiting for weeks for the weather to clear, and when it finally did, well – everyone – all of those customers paying tens of thousands of dollars to stand on top of the world – went for the summit at the same time. 

Hammer writes, “Experienced sherpas knew the mountain had never seen anything like those two days.”

This story is also a good reminder that it’s not as cut-and-dry for the Sherpas either: 

The Sherpa faced a dilemma confronted by many guides on Everest: how to respond to the determination of an apparently ailing or unfit climber. Only rarely, many experts say, will a Sherpa demonstrate the force of will to override a client’s decision to summit; for new recruits trying to make a mark in a competitive business, getting a client to the top often becomes the priority.

More guide agencies are now catering to clients with less money. Less money means less spent on quality sherpas. More people on the mountain, less quality control and less experience – both climbers and guides – and an unwillingness to tell a client no – you can see how disaster can arise as quickly as bad weather. 

In this new adventure theme park, governments need to limit the amount of permits and add some qualifications in order to receive a permit. It will save lives of climbers and guides. It will restore the prestige of Mount Everest. Great read. – PAL 

Source: Chaos at the Top of the World”, Joshua Hammer, GQ (12/04/2019)

TOB: This is an incredible story; so well written. Two points I’d like to make about the main subject, Reinhard Grubhofer.

First, every time I read about Everest I am dumbfounded that anyone takes credit for climbing this thing when they have hired a Sherpa to carry all their gear, including oxygen. Grubhofer’s Sherpa carried three oxygen takes while they climbed, two for himself and one for Grubhofer, while Grubhofer carried only the one he was using.

Second, regarding this passage at the end:

New rules have to be implemented, he says, to weed out the incompetent and the inexperienced, to reduce the crowds, to remove the Disneyland illusion and bring Everest back to something approximating its pristine state. Too many people, he says, have died needlessly because of sliding standards. “Let’s not make it a tourist mountain,” he says. “Let’s not spoil it even more [and] reduce it to dead people and tourists.”

Grubhofer has an incredible amount of nerve to say those things considering the fact (1) a Sherpa saved his life twice, and (2) his experienced climbing partner DID die that day. My man, YOU did not belong up there, either. You want a rule for who can go up there? A Sherpa can be your guide, but if you cannot carry your own gear, including oxygen, you cannot go. This friggin’ guy!


And the Sign Said “Long-Haired Freaky People Need Not Apply”

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, huh? It’s Hot Effin Stove Season, but if you’re a baseball fan, you’ve probably been reading about signs and how teams steal them for the last few weeks. In particular, the Houston Astros, and how they are pretty obviously using video cameras to steal signs in real-time. Folks, I have a take!

Now, sign stealing in baseball is damn near as old as sign making. Teams have long been accused of trying to steal signs with a runner on second base signaling the pitch selection or location to the hitter. But while that ruffles some feathers, it’s also one of those things that everyone does and no one is sure what benefit it provides, and so it never makes much more than a small ripple.

But over the last few years, the Astros have been accused repeatedly of stealing signs in a much more high tech manner. At one point during the 2019 ALCS, the Yankees accused the Astros of using cameras and a whistle system to signal the pitch to the hitter. At the time, MLB “investigated’ and claimed to find no such evidence. *More on that in a bit.

But last month The Athletic reported that in 2017 the Astros set up an elaborate system with a secret centerfield camera providing a feed to a TV in the private tunnel behind the dugout and leading to the clubhouse. The article said that someone watching that feed would see the sign and immediately signal the pitch selection to the hitter by banging loudly on a trash can. The story was produced largely in part to pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on that Astros team, deciding to speak up about what his former team was up to. 

Now, when I first read this story, it seemed a little preposterous. Would a hitter even hear that? How could they make the signal fast enough to prepare the hitter? So I yawned. It just seemed overblown. And then I saw a series of tweets from our old lip-reading friend Jomboy…and it completely changed my mind. Here’s one, where he shows the whole system at work:

Here’s another, with the Twins facing the Astros. When it’s a fastball, there’s no bang. When it’s an offspeed pitch, there’s a bang.

Once I saw the system at work, I was swayed. As Jomboy says, it’s upsetting. It’s not gamesmanship – it’s cheating. Using technology to steal signs has also been against the rules since at least 2001. And the directive to do so came from the highest levels of the Astros’ front office, as reported by the Athletic.

I thought the Patriots Spygate scandal was overblown because I was skeptical that a team could decode signs and signal them to the team on the field in time in a football game. But watching these videos of the Astros, it’s clear they did have a system, and in hindsight it was stupidly obvious. I would say they deserve to be punished severely, but they beat the Dodgers in the World Series in 2017, and for that I can never be angry at them. Alas. 

One thing I’d like to know, Phil – as a guy who played baseball at a much higher level than I did, how much do you think being told the type of pitch a split second before it arrives actually helps. I’ll take my question off the air, thanks. -TOB

Source: The Astros Stole Signs Electronically in 2017 — Part of a Much Broader Issue For Major League Baseball,” Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Athletic (11/12/2019)

PAL: Thanks, Tommy from San Francisco. And a happy holidays to you and yours. Knowing an off-speed or a fastball is coming makes a huge difference. Timing is everything. A batter can adjust to location while the ball is in flight, but knowing there’s a little more time (or less) changes everything. 

TOB: Ok, I lied. Sorta. I’m not gonna take my answer off the air. But this wasn’t a *gotcha* moment. After reading your response, I read this article and want to add it to the conversation.

Sleuthing uncovered that the Astros “bang bang” system seems to have started on May 27, 2017. But after that date, as The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh reports, the team only got marginally better, and well within a normal in-season variation. More importantly, the Astros hit worse at home, both over the full season and after May 27, than they did on the road, which doesn’t make much sense because the system was only in place at home.

Of course, it seems that the Astros didn’t use the system on every at bat. So Lindbergh isolated “high leverage” at bats. He shows the Astros performed worse in high-leverage situations than they did in low leverage situations. That’s normal. But as the table show, the Astros performed more worse (sorry, but it works here; would you have preferred worser?) than in high vs. low leverage situations relative to the rest of the league. So, we are left wondering – did the cheating help?

Well, the playoffs are an interesting comparison. A smaller sample size, yes. But there is evidence the Astros switched the system – they couldn’t be sure the banging would be heard in a noisy playoff game, and also might have been worried about getting caught with the greater scrutiny the playoffs bring. Here’s what former Minnesota Twin Trevor Plouffe claims they did instead:

 

So, did it help in the playoffs? Boy, did it. The Astros hit 230 OPS points higher at home than on the road in the 2017 postseason. 

Still, Lindbergh notes that many great hitters over the years have said they don’t want to know the pitch, and he makes a compelling argument:

Major league hitters don’t have superhuman reflexes. What they have is learned perceptual skills, honed through picking up patterns over thousands and thousands of pitches. Simply telling them which pitch is coming, instead of making their brains work for it, sounds like it would simply allow them to skip a step and be even better. But disrupting their regular process might make them worse.

Thad Meeks, an associate professor of cognitive psychology at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, says, “If a behavior is well-learned, to the point that it is almost automatic, it is very possible that imposing additional thought processes into working memory may interfere with those behaviors. … Thus, it is possible that batters may have more automatized reactions to pitches without knowing what is coming over decades of learning. And it is certainly possible for some that overriding that automatic response with a different approach, even if that approach is on the surface advantageous, may interfere with [their] natural approach.”

Anyways. I’m just glad they beat the Dodgers.


College Football Fans Haven’t Changed, College Football Has

College football attendance continues to drop, and the people in charge do not understand why. Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey 

“I think we have a changing consumer,” Mullens said. “Getting folks to commit to seven college football Saturdays with a season ticket is hard.”

Sankey believes the issue reaches beyond college football. He’s studied professional sports leagues in America and abroad and knows they’re all struggling to attract fans to the stadiums.

When asked why it was becoming harder to sell tickets to college football games Sankey offered, “A sociologist may be a better contributor than me.”

They’re wrong. They are flat out wrong. I spent a little time on a Cal football message board, and I don’t think fans are changing at all. It is college football that is changing.

The issue has many causes but there’s one that comes up again and a again: The conferences gave up control of kickoff times in exchange for more money from the networks. Period. ESPN and FOX in particular control kickoff times for nearly every team in the country. They not only control the kickoff times for the games they air, but they control the kickoff times for the games they don’t select because they want exclusive windows to drive up ratings. This has meant late night games, beginning as late as 8pm. With games that routinely last 4 hours, many fans can’t get home until 1 or 2am. 

To make those late night games worse, they don’t have to announce kick times for until 12 days, and a few times a year until 6 days, before the game. Six days! I have been a college football season ticket holder for 15 years now, and the last few years have been a nightmare trying to plan my Fall Saturdays. My wife will ask if we can go to an event and I have to say, “Uhhh, maybe? There’s a game.” “When will you know?” “Either two weeks or one week before the game.” It’s awful – and I’m local. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people traveling.

Lest you think this is an issue for the the liberal elite coasts, I assure you it is not. The Big Ten posted its lowest average attendance in 25 years (65,376) last season, and this season is going to be lower. Even the SEC was down more than 100,000 in total attendance last year, its third straight season of declining attendance. That picture up top was a ⅓ full Alabama game from 2018. Alabama!

What’s especially galling about all this is that these idiots decided TV money was greater than ticket-buying money, took the big network payday and are now blaming their fans for saying, “I’m fed up with this.” Worse yet, they are killing an entire generation of young fans, jeopardizing the long-term health of the sport for the short-term boost. 

The solution is simple: set game times before the season. If the NFL can do it, so can the NCAA. Maybe late in the season a small number of “flex options” could be made available in order to ensure an unexpectedly blockbuster game gets into primetime. But that’s it. Give gamedays back to the ticket buying fan. -TOB

Source: College Football’s Troubles Will Be Punctuated With More Empty Seats in Pac-12 Title Game,John Canzano, Oregon Live (12/05/2019)


Why NFL Film Analysis Should Be Left to the Pros

As football fans and members of the media, there is so much the average football viewer does not understand about the modern game. We see a long TD on busted coverage, but the vast majority of us have no idea whose responsibility it was to cover the received on that play. We see a QB throw an interception when there’s no receiver in the area, but almost all routes these days have options, wherein the receiver and the QB read the coverage and break differently. As an average fan, we have no idea if it was the receiver or the quarterback who read the defense wrong way. We see a running back get blown up and assume a lineman missed the block, but maybe the running back went the wrong direction. You get the idea.

On Twitter last week I saw the perfect illustration of this from Eliot Shorr-Parks, an Eagles reporter for a Philadelphia radio station. In his Twitter bio, Shorr-Parks states, “A bad take is better than no take at all,” which should give you an idea of what you’re about to read. Shorr-Parks tweeted the following:

When you watch the video, you might think, hm yeah, good point. Wentz missed the receiver completely and that led to the interception. But remember, we don’t know jack. To prove that point, former Cal Bear and Eagle wide receiver Bryce Treggs weighed in:

Boom, roasted. Shorr-Parks is not alone, of course. Plenty of sports “reporters” now consider themselves “experts” or “film-junkies.” But they have no idea what they’re watching. If you’re going to spend any time trying to learn football from a reporter, be sure he knows what the heck he’s talking about first. -TOB


The Mind PED

Interesting topic, albeit terribly written. TOB said it a few weeks ago, and I’ll say it again: we really need to widen our search for good shit with Deadspin gone. I can’t imagine an editor gave this the once over. There’s just no way. 

However, the idea of a PED for the mind is fascinating. I always think of PEDs in terms of the physical – increase in strength, speed, recovery; Anderson’s account underscores the real challenge in baseball – the battle between the ears. With all that time of waiting in a baseball game, punctuated by milliseconds of action, the ability to get out of your own head and think clearly is survival. Former Giant and current loony Aubrey Huff described playing on adderall and feeling “metally invincible”.

Consider the circumstances in which he first tried adderall, and I’ll have a hard time believing more than a few of us wouldn’t have given it a shot, too:

Maybe it was the exhaustion, or the fact that I was 29, five years removed from my last major league appearance, and playing less for the $1,500 a month in a faraway land, but my inner moral reservations about cheating dissolved. It felt more like an experiment.

And then there’s the testing that comes with a player getting a TUE (therapeutic use exemption). For one, these diagnoses are done on an annual basis with an MLB-approved psychiatrist. Once that TUE is given, Anderson describes it as MLB expecting the player to take the medication daily, regardless of how he might be feeling. In order to continue to receive the TUE, then players actually are better off testing positive for adderall whenever they are tested. 

The idea that health professionals employed by teams or the league are making assessments and diagnosis on players is insane. 

As for the terrible writing, here are some examples: 

  • In his hands, the miracle I needed in the form of a little white pill. In his mouth, a question: “You want an Adderall?”
  • Once the first game started, the effects were immediate. Forget the “Miracle on Ice,” it was time for the “Miracle-on-All-Dirt-Japanese-Infields.”
  • When I stood in the on-deck circle, my old friend Performance Anxiety was conspicuously absent, and I marveled at what it felt like to walk to the plate without giving his bloated ass a piggyback ride, too. He managed to stay on vacation for each at-bat. It was just me and the ball. The fielders didn’t exist, and the pitcher had turned from rottweiler to pug.
  • For real – this guy references WebMD in this story to outline the side effects of adderall

These are from the first ⅓ of the story. You get the point. 

Source: Lars Anderson: To Play ‘Mortal,’ or Not? My Experience Trying Adderall as a PED”, Lars Anderson, The Athletic (12/03/19)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Ikebe Shakedown – “Pepper”


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“I like how guys just know stuff. All the time.”

– Erin Hannon

Week of November 1, 2019

Legend.


Farewell, Deadspin

My favorite website, Deadspin, effectively died this week. The website is still up. But the soul is gone, dead and buried, at the hands of corporate stupidity. 

It would not be going out on much of a limb for me to guess that we have featured more stories from Deadspin than any other publication, and I doubt it’s particularly close. And that doesn’t count the stories we first read about on Deadspin but then featured the underlying story Deadspin sent us to. Rare has been the week we didn’t write about a story we read on Deadspin – when I searched “Deadspin” in our WordPress history, there was a hit in 208 of our 294 published posts – over 70%. But that’s all over now.

The end has been a long time coming. The website launched back in 2005. I found it somewhere soon after, and became a regular reader in or around 2009. Back in 2016, Deadspin was sold to Univision after its parent company, Gawker Media, went bankrupt after losing a lawsuit brought by Hulk Hogan (yes, seriously) and funded by billionaire dickhead Peter Thiel. The Univision purchase seemed strange, but for the most part things stayed the same. But then earlier this year Univision sold Deadspin to a private equity firm called Great Hill Partners. Immediately, longtime readers began to notice changes.

Ads became intrusive – shoehorned into the middle of stories. Pop-ups and demands to whitelist the website from ad blockers were constant. I could live with all that, though it was a bit of a canary in a coalmine, in hindsight. The real end, though, began in August with this post by Megan Greenwell, entitled “The Adults in the Room.” Greenwell had been editor in chief for about a year and a half, but this post served as a resignation letter. As Greenwell points out, the employees of Deadspin are not and have not been “idealistic journalists, unconcerned with profit” – on the contrary, they are journalists who are “eager to do work that makes money; [who] are even willing to compromise for it, knowing that [their] jobs and futures rest on it.” 

And, as Greenwell points out, they were good at it. They were profitable. And they did it while doing good work and reporting the hell out of stories. But that wasn’t good enough for their new corporate overlords. Greenwell explains life at Deadspin under Great Hill Partners and its CEO Jim Spanfeller:

Jim Spanfeller, the CEO of this company, meanwhile, is best known for growing Forbes.com in the mid-2000s, around the time this website was born. While he was not responsible for the “contributor network” that made Forbes a journalistic laughingstock, he set the stage by demanding increased output at all costs (up to 5,000 stories a day by the end of his tenure). The clickbait and SEO plays and sleazy monetization schemes rejected by Gawker Media were the entire point. Content mills The Active Times and The Daily Meal, which Spanfeller launched and later sold to the Tribune Company at a trivial price, ran the same playbook, and many of his ideas for growing revenue at this company (implementing slideshows to juice pageviews, clogging story pages with ever-more programmatic ads at the expense of user experience) were taken straight from that era—more than a decade ago, or approximately an eon in internet time. The only idealistic belief at Gawker Media was that a journalistic enterprise could make money without scamming people; the guiding principle at Forbes and sites of its ilk was that scams are good as long as they make money.

The question I hear the most about the owners of this company is “Why did they buy a bunch of publications they seem to hate?” I and my colleagues have asked Spanfeller only slightly more diplomatic variants of that question on several occasions. The answer he has given is that the publications didn’t cost him much and that he liked their high traffic numbers. The unstated, fuller version seems to be that he believed he could simply turn up the traffic (and thus turn a profit), as if adjusting a faucet, not by investing in quality journalism but by tricking people into clicking on more pages. While pageviews are no longer seen as a key performance indicator at most digital publications—time spent on the site is increasingly thought to be a more valuable metric—Spanfeller has focused on pageviews above all else. In his first meeting with editorial leaders, he said he expected us to double pageviews. Several weeks later, without acknowledging a change, he mentioned that the expectation is in fact to quadruple them. Four months in, the vision for getting there seems less clear than ever.

What has in any event been made exceedingly clear is that the owners’ vision involves narrowing the scope of Deadspin’s coverage. During my first real conversation with Spanfeller, he told me he didn’t understand why the site covered other media companies. During my first real conversation with Spanfeller’s hand-picked editorial director, Paul Maidment (another Forbes veteran), he said he didn’t understand why we covered politics. My responses—that we cover those things because our readers like them, a thesis that is supported by traffic figures—have failed to make an impact.

It really saddens me to know that someone saw a place and a community as great as Deadspin and bought it just to blow it up. Deadspin made the world a better place by shining a light on both the good and the bad in the sports world. And, yes, in the sports-adjacent world. Ok, and sometimes way outside the sports world. 

But that’s what made Deadspin great. There are lots of publications that Stick to Sports. And I’m sure they have readers who like that. But there’s also, obviously, a market for a place like Deadspin, where readers can go and read about sports, but also about other things that affect us all. 

This week, the end that began with Greenwell’s resignation finally, well, ended. The corporate higher ups laid down the edict, officially: Stick to Sports. The staff did not do so. Management killed a story, in violation of their collective bargaining agreement with Deadspin employees that gives near-complete editorial control to the staff. Editor Barry Petchesky, a longtime Deadspin writer and one of our favorites here, announced he’d been fired on Tuesday. 

In response, a long list of some of my very favorite writers announced their resignations on Wednesday. The site’s most popular writer, Drew Magary, followed suit on Thursday. The site, which usually has a dozen or more posts per day, had three on Wednesday (and each seemed to be not-so-subtle F-Us to management). 

And just like that, Deadspin, the funny, intelligent, critical, and creative website that inspired me to produce 1-2-3 Sports each week, was gone. Deadspin focused a critical eye on its subject – forcing readers to challenge popular narratives, to think not about what occurred but why, and to consider how an event has been perceived, and why. I will miss it. -TOB

PAL: I found myself instinctively opening Deadspin the last few days, only to realize again and again that it was essentially done. Deadspin achieved the ultimate goal with me – it was a part of my daily routine. Not just once a day. I would check it quick while waiting for BART, as a minute break at work, it has been part of my coffee scroll for years. Let’s be real – part of the bathroom routine, too. 

I appreciated the diversity of tone and ideas, and that it had an edge and reinforced the idea that sports is an intersection of culture, not a lane of it. It didn’t shy away from politics, and it didn’t shy away from funny highlights. It wasn’t afraid of random stories or pulling stuff from the archive. It seemed like a pretty simple formula: is this an interesting story? More times than not, I agreed that the stuff they posted was in fact interesting. Building a news/sports site based on that edict alone seems to be something fewer and fewer brands can do. Deadspin surely wasn’t the first, but it does signify we’re entering a new era. 

Per Bryan Curtis at The Ringer:

This week, as one staffer after another quit, I couldn’t help but think of one of the first Deadspin-induced moments of journalistic anxiety. In 2008, author Buzz Bissinger faced off with Will Leitch, the site’s founder, on HBO. Bissinger freaked out that real, honest-to-god reporters like him were being undercut and replaced by snotty bloggers.

The critique isn’t worth revisiting. But think about this: Now we’ve lost the snotty bloggers. The kind of churn Bissinger feared has decimated two separate categories of sportswriters. And it ain’t over. We are fated to live in a world where certain owners will make sure this process continues apace, until only mavens remain.

Curtis writes about the fate of these brands we associate with sportswriting, or – more broadly speaking – professional writing. Their carcasses are bought out and used as a short-term clickbait strategy. There is no long-term plan or mission other than diverting the masses to click on something, anything. Deadspin joins the likes of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, Playboy, LA Weekly, and more. Curtis calls it Mavening (named after the company that bought the shell of SI).

Deadspin was my favorite scroll. Yes, some days it sucked, but most days it fell in a hard to find sweet spot. The Ringer skews too heavily on entertainment for my liking. The Athletic relies too much on what I’ve liked (as opposed to what I should read). ESPN is a network and not a news shop and the locals like The Chronicle or Star Tribune don’t have or don’t spend the money any anything more than gamers and local gossip. 

TOB: Ah, yes. I had forgotten. The Buzz Bissinger HBO freak out with Will Leitch is what made Deadspin part of my daily routine. Classic.


The Nats Are All We Can Ever Hope For

Pro tip: When a team wins a title, always read its local paper for the real deal. After the Nationals – major underdogs against the Astros – won four road games en route to the championship, I went to the Washington Post for my recap. 

After my Twins were, again, the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked a suck in the playoffs, I latched onto the Nationals. It’s always easiest to just root for the team playing the Dodgers, but I quickly saw this team had ‘it’ this playoffs. Strasburg was realizing the near impossible potential of his can’t-miss, number one overall draft pick expectations. Max Scherzer was gutting out wins. Juan Soto was becoming a clutch star – at twenty, a better version of former National Bryce Harper. Old guy Howie Kendrick was hitting super-clutch bombs and doing this with Adam Eaton:

This team was on the edge, and playing loose – the most dangerous kind of team. They came back against Josh Hader and the Brewers in the play-in game. They crushed the Dodgers dreams, and they embarrassed the Cardinals. This team was used to it by the playoffs. They rode that right into the World Series and beat a dominant Astros team. That edge – it’s where the Nationals spent the majority of the season. 

Per Dave Sheinin: 

In other words, after a month of exquisite play and narrow escapes, Game 7 had carried the Nationals to a familiar place. They had spent so much of the past five months playing from behind — from the long slog of digging out of May’s 19-31 hole to the win-or-go-home games of early and mid-October — that it almost brought a perverse sense of comfort. They were at their best, they liked to say, when their backs were to the wall.

And it all took us to a Game 7. A baseball fan – hell, a sports fan – can hope for nothing more than a season ending with a Game 7. In that penultimate game, the numbers in the game most defined by numbers don’t matter. Pitch count doesn’t matter. A batting average doesn’t matter. WHIP doesn’t matter. All those numbers got us to this game, and now we get to throw it all out and see who the hell can get a hit with two outs and runners on base. 

In other words: 

By Wednesday night, the Nationals were running on a cocktail of fumes, painkillers, Red Bulls and dwindling supplies of adrenaline. Each player was reduced to his component parts and what each had left in it — how many pitches, how many innings, how many competitive at-bats.

Watching the Nationals make this run, I realized that all you can ever fairly hope for as a sports fan is to get into a situation where you’re one game away. Ain’t that the truth. All we can ever hope for in life is to get one opportunity away from the goal. They playoffs are the best, and Juan Soto is awesome. – PAL

Source: Nationals Win First World Series title, Storming Back on Astros in Game 7, 6-2”, Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post (10/30/2019)


Jumping on a Bandwagon Without Shame

2019 has been a bad year for my sports teams. Cal football has lost 4 straight, the last two in ugly fashion, to fall to 4-4. Cal basketball is unmentionably bad. The Giants were bad, outside of one hot stretch, and Bochy is gone with Bumgarner seeming likely to follow (though I am very bullish on the team going forward). The Kings fell short of a playoff berth, had a strange and unproductive summer, and are 0-4 to start a season many hoped would see their return to the postseason. The Warriors, who aren’t my team but who I root for, look terrible and are 1-3 and Steph Curry just broke his hand. 

And then there are the 49ers. It would not be fair to call the Niners one of “my teams,” though. I loved them as a kid, led by Montana and then Young. But those teams were awesome and easy to love. When the team fell on hard times, I cared less. Then they passed on Aaron Rodgers, took Alex Smith instead, and predictably sucked. So they were dead to me. 

About a decade later the Niners finally recovered from that idiotic mistake, and there I was furiously cheering them on to deep playoff runs with Harbaugh and Kaepernick. They brought me back in. And then they ran Harbaugh out of town, kicked Kaepernick in the teeth, and moved out of San Francisco. So they were dead to me, again.

Now they are 7-0 and look like Super Bowl favorites after blasting the pretty good Carolina Panthers by a score of 51-17. The Niners defense is the story – their defense is so good that if the season ended today it would be the second highest rated defense in the NFL, ever (amazingly, this year’s New England Patriots defense is even better, with the highest rating ever). But the offense is also awesome, with a creative and tricky rushing attack that keeps defenses guessing the entire game. 

So, I’m back, baby! Go Niners! Save me a place to stand on that bandwagon. Yes, I’m a fair weather fan. In fact, I am the fairest of fair weather fans, and I’m ok with that. -TOB


This is a Rant About the Umps, But it is NOT a Robo-Ump Rant

The umpires nearly blew Game 6 of the World Series, which saw the Nats win 7-2 to force a Game 7. But late in the 7th inning, with the Nats up 3-2 and a man on first, the following play occurred:

The play ended with runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs. But home plate umpire called Trea Turner out for runner interference. The Nats went ballistic; Manager Davey Martinez was eventually tossed. I don’t blame him:

Whose fault is that contact? Either Peacock, who made a bad throw, or Gurriel, who turned with his glove.

So what the hell was the call? As Michael Baumann explains:

The white line that runs parallel to the first base line is supposed to create a runner’s lane, and Turner was technically outside that area. Under rule 5.09(a)(11), which MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre read aloud from the rulebook at a postgame press conference, a batter is out when he runs outside that lane and interferes with the first baseman taking a throw.

But what would you like Turner to do? It’s idiotic. If the umpires followed the rule, then the rule is stupid and needs to be changed. What’s worse is that the umpires made that call in that situation – on a play where the runner is clearly not trying to interfere with the throw and the batted ball is far enough up the third base line that he shouldn’t have been even close to the ball if the throw wasn’t awful. As Baumann put it:

But Turner was running a straight line from the right-handed batter’s box to the bag, which is entirely within fair territory, and more important than the way the rules are written is how the rules are enforced by umpires, and how their implementation is understood by players. Precedent of enforcement isn’t as binding in baseball as common law in the real world, but it informs players’ actions just the same.

The interference call was like getting pulled over for driving one mile per hour over the speed limit, a showily petty bit of legal literalism that contravenes a lifetime of lived normative experience.

Exactly.

And then none of it mattered because Anthony Rendon stepped up and hit a bomb to make it 5-2. Go Nats! -TOB

PAL: I think simplifying the rule to a something about running a straight line would be better. Bang-bang play, but I think Turner is safe on a good throw. I think Peacock knows it’s going to be a close play, rushes his sidearm throw, causing it to tail. Turner runs a straight line, but he knows exactly where he is in relation to the baseline. Exactly.

Another thing I heard John Smoltz say yesterday on the Dan Patrick Show: he said pitchers in that situation are instructed to throw it in the runner’s back for this reason.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – “Pass Me By”


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“A real man swallows his vomit when a lady is present.”

-Dwight Schrute

Week of October 25, 2019


Karma Once Again at Work as the Astros Fall Behind 0-2 in World Series

In 2017, the Houston Astros were the feel good story of the baseball season. Just a few years removed from an absolute tank job, they stormed through the postseason and beat the Dodgers in an epic seven game World Series.

Two years later, they might be one of the most disliked teams in my lifetime. Not the players, mind you. As far as those things go, they are a very likable team: Altuve – awesome. Bregman – beast. Correa – talented as hell. Springer – incredible. Cole and Verlander – studs.

But a team is more than the players on their roster, and the Houston Astros front office over the last 16 months have proven to be incredibly tone deaf and insensitive.

It all started last summer. The Blue Jays’ All-Star closer, Roberto Osuna, was arrested and charged with domestic violence. The charges were later dropped because the victim returned to Mexico and refused to go back to Canada to testify. MLB apparently saw enough evidence to suspend him, though, and he was banned for 75 games.

A few weeks later, the Astros traded for Osuna in exchange for a modest package of players. People were rightly upset. A player being charged and suspended for domestic violence is not a market inefficiency to exploit. What’s worse, the Astros took advantage of a loophole in the suspension rules that allowed Osuna to participate in the 2018 playoffs, despite the fact he had not finished serving his 75-game suspension. It was gross and indefensible. They didn’t need to put him on the postseason roster, even if they were allowed to. But they decided having Osuna, and winning, was worth the PR hit of having a player technically suspended for domestic violence on the roster. Fittingly, Osuna gave up 5 runs in 3.2 innings in the ALCS, a 12.27 ERA, as the Astros lost to the Red Sox in 5 innings. Karma.

Now, a year later, the Astros were hoping people would forget about Osuna’s history, and how the team acquired him. People did not. Osuna is routinely booed when he enters games on the road, and people on Twitter celebrate his failures, including when he almost cost the Astros their eventual ALCS clinching Game 6 win by giving up 2 runs in the top of the 9th (the Astros would go on to win in the bottom of the 9th).

The story would have ended there, but the Astros front office continued to show its true colors. The controversy began Sunday, the day after they clinched the AL pennant, when Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein reported that an hour after the game:

[A]ssistant general manager Brandon Taubman turned to a group of three female reporters, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!”

The outburst was offensive and frightening enough that another Houston staffer apologized. The Astros declined to comment. They also declined to make Taubman available for an interview.

As Apstein pointed out, the outburst was odd because as I mentioned Osuna almost blew the game. Additionally, there have been reports that one of the female reporters Taubman yelled at routinely criticizes the team for its acquisition of Osuna, and often tweets a domestic violence hotline number whenever Osuna enters the game. In that context, Taubman’s motive is clear – an attempt both to intimidate and to gloat on the team’s heavily criticized move.

Within an hour of Apstein’s report, the Astros released a statement. Did they announce Taubman’s firing? No. Did they apologize? No. Here’s the statement, in full:

“The story posted by Sports Illustrated is misleading and completely irresponsible. An Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing. Our executive was supporting the player during a difficult time. His comments had everything to do about the game situation that just occurred and nothing else – they were also not directed toward any specific reporters. We are extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

Hoo, boy. If you release a statement like that, you better be right. Unfortunately for the Astros, they were not right. Immediately, multiple reporters who were present tweeted confirmation of Apstein’s story. A Houston Chronicle sportswriter, Hunter Atkins, said: “The Astros called [Stephanie Apsteine’s] report misleading. It is not. I was there. Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.” Others present made similar statements. Again – if you’re going to go all Trump and call a reporter a liar, you better be right. The Astros were not. 

This story picked up steam as the World Series began on Tuesday, distracting from what promised to be a great series. The Astros released two more statements before Game 1 on Tuesday. The first was from Taubman, and it was incredibly insufficient. It apologized for “foul language” but Taubman stood by his story that he was “showing exuberance” for a player and only apologized if his actions offended anyone. in effect Taubman stood by the denial that his outburst was related to negative coverage of Osuna. It threw in a “I’m a loving and committed father and husband” as if that has anything to do with it.

The second statement was from team owner Jim Crane who also did not apologize and touted his team’s raising of money for domestic violence prevention, as if throwing money at something makes all other actions excusable.

So, would karma get the Astros? Oh yeah, baby. They lost a tight Game 1, as Gerrit Cole, the latest Not Bumgarner, got knocked around. They then got smoked late in Game 2, wasting a good start from Justin Verlander, a former Not Bumgarner, falling 12-3. The Nationals head home with a commanding 2-0 lead. Karma. Do bad things, deserve bad things back.

It should be noted that on Thursday the Astros announced they had fired Taubman. But it was too little, too late. To make matters worse, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow appeared at a press conference Thursday. The following occurred:

Terrible. Get swept, Houston! -TOB

PAL: A bit of free advice to businesses of all types: don’t protect the dickheads. They ain’t worth it.


Relevant NFL Experience: High School Coach

Turns out, coaching high school football might be the best preparation for today’s NFL Coach. That’s Kevin Clark’s thesis from his piece on The this week.

The Bears’ head coach Matt Nagy and Eagles heach coach Doug Pederson are considered master schemers in today’s NFL. Not so long ago, both of them were high school head coaches. Add to them Jon Kitna (Dallas QB Coach) and Jess Simpson (D-Line coach, Falcons), and you have four NFL coaches who were coaching in high school within the last 12 years. 

Let’s set aside the obvious point: Kitna and Pederson are former NFL players. So they aren’t the same as a guy like Simpson (22 very successful high school seasons in Georgia). That said, what’s most interesting about this story is how some mandatory skills for a good high school coach – flexibility and teaching – are becoming incredibly valuable skills in the NFL. 

From a creativity standpoint,” Simpson says, “high school coaches start with: If you aren’t willing to do it all, you probably won’t be very good.” High school coaches, Simpson means, must have a command of every possible scheme: wide-open spread offense, pure option football, the jet motion, or the run-pass option. The talent disparity can be so great, and personnel turns over so quickly from year to year that high school coaches need to be able to change everything about their team based on their talent—or lack thereof.

And from later in the story: 

The emphasis on adaptability is important for a few reasons. Trends now appear seemingly out of nowhere (more on that in a second). Players are much less experienced than they were in years past, both because the league has gotten younger, and there is dramatically less practice time since the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. These factors create favorable conditions for flexible schemes that can be run very simply and require an emphasis on instruction and teaching. High school coaches can do that.

Less practice, younger players, and a thing called YouTube makes every wild idea and offense variation accessible to every coach at every level. Good ideas can truly come from anywhere – high school, college, or the pros. The increased value on teaching also makes sense, which highlights another really interesting point: high school coaches are teachers. Kitna taught math while coaching, and said it helped him as a coach. 

The better teacher you are, the better coach you’re going to be. You’ve got to be able to communicate. It’s one thing to have knowledge. It’s another thing to convey knowledge. That’s what I learned from high school.

This story presented a fresh idea about coaching in the NFL that made me think about the game and strategy differently. Excellent read. – PAL 

Source: “The Trailblazing Coaches Who Went From Friday Night Lights to the NFL”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (10/23/2019)

TOB: Really good read. Here’s my favorite point:

There are about 20 times more high school athletic programs in the state of Florida than there are teams in the NFL, so it stands to reason, due to sheer probability, that there are many high school coaches who might be better equipped than those currently coaching in the NFL. Essentially, the NFL has been closed off from the lower levels of football. There’s no law that says NFL coaches must have the smartest schemes—far from it—and opening the sport up to minds from lower levels can help foster innovation in the professional ranks.

Especially when you are talking coordinators whose main job is to strategize (as opposed to position coaches you need helping with technique), limiting your pool of coaches to former NFL players is crazy. There are thousands of football coaches across the country, and any smart coach would expand his search to include them, in order to find the best.


Umpires Favor American-Born Players; Bring on RoboUmps!

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am ready for RoboUmps. In Wednesday night’s Game 2, I saw the game affected by some bad calls at the plate. The ump, who was being picked up on a mic all game, was not picking up pitches at the bottom of the strike zone. Pitchers for both teams were painting the lower edge, and the ump was missing them. The game turned into a 12-3 laugher late, but it was 2-2 after 6, and every pitch was important. Why are we still doing this, I thought?

And then after the game I saw this tweet.

 

If true, this is bad. Umpires are, likely subconsciously, biased against players not born in the U.S. and adjusting the strike zone accordingly, with an effect about half that as exists for home teams vs. away teams. I found this article, from way back in 2013, suggesting that the home team advantage is 2.5% but that it increases in high leverage situations (late and close games). So, figure it’s about a 1.5% bias in favor of American-born players and against foreign-born players. That’s not huge, but it’s too much, and I’d love to see the data by umpire; I am guessing there are a few bad apples. But again I thought: why are we still doing this?

Please, give me RoboUmps. -TOB

PAL: What’s the goal here? I’m assuming TOB’s is to achieve 100% accuracy in the calling balls and strikes and to remove any type of bias (subconscious or otherwise) from the calling of balls and strikes. Does this then extend to all calls related to the game? 

The human umpire adds a dimension to a hobby that makes it more compelling in my view. However, we still ought to seek improvement, and to do so we should examine all variables in this equation. Chris Long mentions the variable of country of birth of the batter, of the pitcher (no impact on calls), and I think you call out an important component – examining umpire variables to see any patterns or trends in the guys actually calling the balls and strikes.  

TOB: The issue is the perception of bias is there, and that’s a problem. Your comment that this is a “hobby” is wrong. It’s not a hobby. It’s a multi-billion dollar per year business and they should ensure they get things right. The entire business rests on the perception that the game is fair – that’s why they take player gambling so seriously. If fans lose faith in the integrity of the game, they stop paying to watch.

So, yes – I want to get things 100% correct, if possible. And if we can’t, I want to improve where we can. The umpire will still be there, making the calls. He’ll just have a signal of what to call on balls and strikes alone. Frankly, I don’t get the resistance. Doing something one way because that’s the way we’ve always done it is not a good enough reason. The game was invented nearly 200 years ago and the roots are deeper than that. It was invented before airplanes. And automobiles. Phones, even. The world has changed a lot. If they had the technology back then, they’d have used it. We do now, and we should. 

PAL: Don’t know what to tell you, other than baseball is a hobby of mine. I don’t know how one can argue the contrary. And the multi-billion dollar per year business is dependent upon its entertainment value to me and millions of other people who like to watch baseball as a hobby.  To watch a game with umpires relaying automated calls would sterilize the experience. Room for interpretation is great for entertainment and lore. Mistakes make for better stories. Sure, sometimes those stories might make for painful memories, but the stories are no doubt more compelling and better long-term for the game. 

TOB: I can’t say you’re wrong – but I can say I suspect it would not take you and others long to get used to it. We use instant replay in all major sports now, and that’s much more of a disruption to the game than this would be. For the most part, people like instant replay – they want to get the calls right, and they accept that disruption, and the removal of human error. I think the same would quickly happen with balls and strikes.

PAL: To borrow a phrase from Dan Patrick, it’s not called instant replay any more – just replay. Most people like instant replay? For real? Seems like a complete c.f. in football, and they still don’t get it right. I can’t stand it in baseball.

TOB: Take away instant replay and see what fans think. People would freak out.


Once, Twice, Three Times a Moron

Seriously, what bizarro world are we living in? The World Series (you may have heard that baseball is a hobby of mine) is in full swing and I’m posting two – two – NFL articles. This one simply had to be shared.

The Patriots embarrassed the Jets on Monday night, 330-0. I mean, 33-0. There was one moment in the snoozefest that rewarded the five people still in the stands and the 9 people still watching on TV. 

The Pats lined up to punt from the Jets 33 yard-line on a fourth & two with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. In order to give his punter a bit more space to work with, Belichick took a delay of game, which also ran down the game clock down. Jets psychopath coach Adam Gase, not knowing when to just curl up in a ball, cover the head, and take the beating, declined the delay of game penalty. 

The play clock – and the game clock – started again. Again the Pats let the clock run down, and with two seconds left on the play clock, they intentionally jumped for a false start penalty. Gase declines again. Play clock resets. Game clock counts down. In all, the Pats killed about 70 seconds, helped preserve a shutout, and reminded everyone that Belichik has inspected every particle of football dust. – PAL 

Source: Bill Belichick Delights In Tormenting The Hapless Jets”, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (10/22/19)


One of the Funniest Things I’ve Read in a While

I can’t stop reading this, and I can’t stop laughing.

Yes, that is Cy Young, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, attempting a bit of a comeback, at age 67, playing with and against a bunch of teenagers. And that is Cy Young getting run off the mound because they realized the old man could no longer bend over to field a bunt. So those god damn kids bunted right at him, over and over, until Cy Friggin Young had to be yanked from the game. Perfection. *muah* -TOB

PAL: Is this real?  You missed the best part: Cy Young was sent to the showers by “[t]he freckle-faced 14-year-old manager”. Hilarious.


Video of the Week

Three videos from the Wide World of Sports:


Tweets of the Week


Song of the Week: J.S. Ondara – “Lebanon”, C/O Jamie Morganstern


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Mr. Scott, who is this other woman, Ryan, who you refer to as “just as hot as Jan, but in a different way”?

-Diane Kelly, Esq.

Week of October 18, 2019


How the 1989 Earthquake Made the Bay Area Safer

30 years ago this week, at 5:04pm, the Lome Prieta earthquake struck, just minutes before the start of the Game 3 of the World Series at Candlestick Park. 

In the stadium that day were an unusually large number of structural engineers: one of them had a buddy with a ticket hookup, and so a bunch of the engineers at Degenkolb Engineers were there, including in the upper deck as it shook and swayed hundreds of feet off the ground, as told by Evan Reis, one of those engineers:

“In my career, there have been a lot of earthquakes in the larger Bay Area, and that was certainly the most intense,” Reis said. “Being cantilevered out in the upper deck of the stadium — it amplified everything. If I had been on the ground, that would’ve been one thing. But we were leaning out and bouncing up and down. That was unique.”

The next day, the engineers at Degenkolb’s office were buzzing. What if the earthquake had lasted another 30 seconds? A minute? What if it had originated closer to the ballpark?

“Those upper decks could’ve easily collapsed,” Reis said. “If it had been a repeat of the 1906 earthquake, things would’ve been a whole lot different.”

Experiencing the earthquake, and seeing first hand the destruction it wrought, confirmed for the young engineer that he had chosen the right profession:

“I had only been working for one year when that happened,” Reis said. “It really showed me, ‘OK, what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my career is going to make an impact. I’m going to design buildings that don’t do this. Buildings that are going to be safe.’”

In 2016, Reis founded the U.S. Resiliency Council — a non-profit dedicated to establishing and implementing rating systems that evaluate a building’s performance through an earthquake, and how it can be improved. The USRC has since developed rating systems to evaluate building resistance against other natural disasters as well.

And Reis says that it all starts with Loma Prieta.

“You spend all this time studying earthquakes in school, but they’re fairly rare,” Reis said. “Engineers can go their entire careers designing for earthquakes and never actually ever experience one.

“To see what they can do, and have physically been in a stadium that could’ve collapsed because of an earthquake, cemented this idea that I can really make a difference doing what I’m doing. And that has not ever left.”

Jim Malley, another engineer in attendance on October 17, 1989, was asked years later to peer review another stadium being built – the Giants’ soon-to-be built Pacific Bell Park – now Oracle Park. Just a few years after it opened, a 5.3 earthquake struck during a game. The stadium was engineered so well the players didn’t even realize there had been an earthquake. 

What a cool story. And for a great oral history of that crazy World Series, check out this old oral history from Grantland, published back in 2013. -TOB

Source: Meet the 1989 Earthquake World Series Attendees Who are Making San Francisco Safer, 30 Years Later”, Alex Coffey, The Athletic (10/17/2019)


Imagine Being So Dumb You Criticize an Athlete for Missing a Game to Be With His Wife and Newborn Child

Yes, it’s the year 2019, and we are still living amongst cavemen who criticize dads who choose to be with their partner and newborn child instead instead of going to work. Sigh.

This time it was Nationals’ pitcher Daniel Hudson who faced criticism from some vile corners of society. Hudson’s wife went into labor, and so Hudson left the team and missed Game 1 to be with his wife and baby. One prominent critic was this dumbass:

Unfortunately, that dumbass is former Miami Marlins President David Samson. Somehow, 344 people saw that tweet and said to themselves, “Yes, I agree, and would like to publicly state my support.”

Luckily, though, most voices drowned out Hudson’s critics. My favorite was his teammate, Sean Dolittle:

Amen. -TOB


The Unlikeliest of NHL Scouts: Former Dodger GM Ned Colletti

 

“Ned Colletti might be the only person in professional sports history to have traded for Manny Ramirez and scouted the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ power play.” 

That’s one hell of an opening line from Greg Wyshynski.

Ned Colletti made a career as a baseball front office guy for over 30 years, the last of those years were as the General Manager of a little underachieving baseball team in LA (you’re absolutely right; I need to be more specific: the Dodgers). Colletti is now a hockey scout for the San Jose Sharks. 

You read that right.

How does a baseball lifer simply switch sports in what he calls his “back nine” of life? It’s not all that surprising when you consider Colletti’s full journey. He grew up a rink rat in Chicago, became a sportswriter covering the Flyers, and then – when two newspapers folded in Philly – he turned to media relations for the Cubs. From there, you can fill in the blanks to GM of the Dodgers, but you also see that Colletti was a hockey guy before he was a basell guy.  

When in LA, Colletti met the coaches and front office for the Kings and Ducks. Aside from being neighbors, Colletti and the hockey guys were able to connect in a way that was impossible within their respective sports. 

As Colletti puts it: 

I couldn’t call another baseball GM. We were competing against each other. It would have been like, ‘Hey, I have a managerial problem.’ ‘Well, good for you! I hope it never ends!'”

That’s all fine, but it sure doesn’t seem to add up to Colletti scouting prospective NHL players. It’s one thing to commiserate and learn from hockey executives, but it’s entirely another to assess talent in a different sport.

Colletti would tell you it’s not all that different. While a fascinating notion, I still find it hard to believe. With that in mind, here are Colletti’s pillars to evaluating whether or not talent is ready, be it the NHL or MLB: 

  • Can I trust a player?
  • What’s inside the jersey?
  • Money can corrupt
  • There’s a reason bad signings happen
  • Analytics as a validation  

I love the idea of Colletti being down to try something new in the twilight of his career, and I love that a hockey guy gave it a shot. – PAL 

Source: Ned Colletti’s baseball lessons for NHL scouting”, Greg Wyshynski, ESPN (10/16/2019)


Professional Golfer Scores 127 in Senior LPGA Round

I’ve had my share of dreadful, never-ending rounds of golf in my time – especially at Como – but I don’t think I’ve ever logged a 127 over 18 holes. That happened this week. In a professional tournament. Get this: the same professional golfer tallied a 90 in the very next round of a LPGA event. 

Not a flat shot on that gd Como course.

Lee Ann Walker, who last played a LPGA event in 2008, entered a Senior LPGA event in French Lick, Indiana most because she wanted to visit some friends, which says something about the exclusivity of the Senior LPGA (just sayin’). In the time she’s been away from the game, there’s been some rule changes, especially around what is and isn’t OK when putting. More specifically, one rule states that “Caddies no longer can stand behind players as they prepare to hit a shot unless players back away after the caddie is no longer behind them.”

Walker didn’t get the memo until mostly through her second round. Set aside the fact that her two playing partners on day one are kind of suspect for not telling her, this oversight cost her 58 friggin’ strokes!

Each violation was good for two penalty strokes, and as the AP’s Doug Fergusoon points out, it’s incredible that Walker could remember each violation, which tallied up to 21 occurrences in round one and eight in round two. 29 x 2 strokes = 58. 

For her part, Walker didn’t seem to lose much sleep over it. “I’m glad I went. I got to see a lot of great friends, it was a great golf course, great event. Everything was great except for my penalties.”

Also, a Bleacher Seat Brewing beer to any of our readers who’ve attended a Senior LPGA event. – PAL 

Source: Pro Golfer Lee Ann Walker Has 58 Penalty strokes Added to Score After Rules Mess-up”, Doug Ferguson, Star Tribune (10/17/2019)

TOB: I saw this story on the ESPN ticker the other night and couldn’t stop laughing. I’m glad she has a good sense of humor about it.


When a Record is Not a Record
Last weekend, a human being ran the first ever sub-2 hour marathon. Specifically, Eliud Kipchoge finished a 26.2 mile run in 1:59:20. An incredible human achievement. But Kipchoge’s run will not be considered an official record. Why? Because it didn’t occur in an official marathon race. In fact, the event was termed an “exhibition marathon”:

The planning that went into the event was a fantasy of perfectionism. The organizers scouted out a six-mile circuit along the Danube River that was flat, straight, and close to sea level. Parts of the road were marked with the fastest possible route, and a car guided the runners by projecting its own disco-like laser in front of them to show the correct pace. The pacesetters, a murderers’ row of Olympians and other distance stars, ran seven-at-a-time in a wind-blocking formation devised by an expert of aerodynamics. (Imagine the Mighty Ducks’ “flying V,” but reversed.)

Kipchoge himself came equipped with an updated, still-unreleased version of Nike’s controversial Vaporfly shoes, which, research appears to confirm, lower marathoners’ times. He had unfettered access to his favorite carbohydrate-rich drink, courtesy of a cyclist who rode alongside the group. And the event’s start time was scheduled within an eight-day window to ensure the best possible weather. The whole thing was as close as you can get to a mobile marathon spa treatment—if going to a spa were paired with the worst discomfort of your life.

First, excellent Mighty Ducks reference. Second…huh. Hm. I get why this doesn’t count as a “record” in the official sense; everyone racing in official marathons after this should not be required to chase this time. Yes, it’s apples and oranges, but to bite a line by my old hoops buddy, you can compare them – they’re both fruit. 

So when I read within this article sports scientist Yannis Pitsiladis called the achievement “meaningless”, I just want to rage. MEANINGLESS? Because it didn’t follow a set of arbitrary rules the sports has agreed upon for competitions? MEANINGLESS? No, man. Hell, no. Did Kipchoge still run 26.2 miles? Did he do that in under 2 hours? Did he ride a motor scooter? No? Ok, then there’s meaning to this – it’s an incredible achievement and it should absolutely be celebrated. What’s more, it gives all elite marathoners the knowledge that the 2-hour barrier is not a barrier at all. I’m guessing someone will break 2 hours, in competition, sooner rather than later. -TOB

Source: The Greatest, Fakest World Record”, Paul Bisceglio, The Atlantic (10/13/2019)

PAL: 100%. Record? No one would argue that. But to say it’s meaningless sure sounds like a troll to me. 01:59:59 is no longer an abstraction, and not quite a reality, but Kipchoge moved it from a mythical concept and into the real world. He was a runner crossing a finish line with 01 still on the clock above him. It matters as much as the first “real” sub-2:00 marathon, because it has given a generation or two of runners a reason and face to believe it’s possible. 

Also – maybe TOB and I should film each other running 13.1 MPH on the treadmill and see how long we can last. 30 seconds? What’s the over-under? 


Elite Pro Athletes Are Complete Lunatics

Carli Lloyd is a very good soccer player. Was and is one of the best in the world. In the 2015 World Cup Final, she scored a hat trick as the U.S. took the title in a laugher over Japan. 

Before this year, she was a big part of the U.S. achieving that World Cup victory, another second-place finish, and two Olympic gold medals. She’s 37 years old now, though, which ahem is young, of course, but a little on the not-so-young side for a professional athlete. At this past summer’s World Cup, Lloyd played in every single game and scored three goals in helping the U.S. win the tournament, but she did so as the team’s first sub off the bench. You might think, “Wow incredible, she’s 37 and still able to perform at such a high level and help her team win the World Cup! She must be thrilled!” You’d be wrong. Here’s Lloyd in a recent interview:

There’s no denying it. I deserved to be on that field that whole World Cup, but I wasn’t. And I think I’ve grown as a person, as a player. It sucked. It absolutely sucked.

It was absolutely the worst time of my life. It affected my relationship with my husband, with friends. It really was rock bottom of my entire career.

Remember: she played in every game. She scored 3 goals. But she didn’t start every game; she didn’t play every single minute, so it was the worst time of her life. That’s crazy, and also suggests an extremely privileged and charmed life. It’s sorta funny, but not all that endearing I can’t imagine her teammates, especially the one who started in front of her, appreciated those comments very much. But, if you’re going to be an elite athlete, you usually have to be a selfish ahole. -TOB

Source: Carli Lloyd On Playing Every Single Match And Winning The World Cup: ‘It Sucked,’Luis Paez-Pumar, Deadspin (10/15/2019)

PAL: Telling note from the article: Lloyd was cut from the U-21 National team. If you don’t think that slight has driven her for the past 16 years, then I direct you to every professional athlete who remember every single player that was drafted ahead of them. Lloyd is the best kind of player – the one who still thinks they have something to prove after proving everything. That can be a grating person to be around, but that attitude cranks up the competition within a team and fuels the idea that everyone needs to earn their time and spot because someone is gunning for her minutes. 


Videos of the Week


Tweets of the Week


Song of the Week: John Prine & Iris Dement – (We’re Not) The Jet Set


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Next Cove, please, Julius!

-Tom Wambsgans