1-2-3 Sports! Week of March 9, 2018

Hockey hair is coming…

Prisoner of Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or this one:

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

Ichiro pointed at his bat.

Then he pointed at a spot maybe 8 inches away.

His bat had moved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOB: Hey, Coach.

Popovich: Hey.

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

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

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

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

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

I played it safe. Wisely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking: Sports Media Narrative May Have Been Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video of the Week

That was a shot, right?

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

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

-M. Scott


Week of February 16, 2018

Chloe Kim’s proud pops.

Straight Cash, Homie

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

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

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

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

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

Ya Boy is Back!

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

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

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

Yes, Another Steve Kerr Story (or Two)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here’s what happened:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video of the Week

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

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

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

-M. Scott

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

These Annoying Hall of Fame Debates Will End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOB: A lot of things bother me about this.

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion, Bonds rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Know It When You See It

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

Billy Wagner: That’s funny. No.

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

Edgar Martinez: I mean, I guess.

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

Vladimir Guerrero: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presented Without Comment:

Video of the Week

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

Tweet of the Week

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

-Tom Haverford

Week of January 12, 2018

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

Tonya Harding Was This Close To Being A Real Life Rocky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was your darling, America!

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

Bill Simmons Should Retire

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baseball: The (Potentially) Neverending Story

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

Sam opens the article by invoking the great Eli Cash:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Don’t Speak Ill of Canadians, Eh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#FirstWorldProblems, am I right? -TOB

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

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

Real Worms Vs Fake Worms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video of the Week

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

Tweet of the Week

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

-Dizzy Dean

Week of December 29, 2017

Not cool, hockey guy.

Longevity = Greatness?

The most successful athletes today – Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo – are doing something the past greats never did: they have transcended eras. Lebron James’ has averaged over 25 points per game in 13 seasons (astounding), whereas Jordan’s dominance lasted 10 seasons.

Pete Sampras won his then record-breaking 14th Grand Slam at 31 years old, running on fumes, then never played again. This year, Federer (36) and Nadal (31) split the 4 Grand Slams. Nadal has 16 Grand Slams to his name, while Federer has collected 19.

You can see where this is going, and you can fill in the blanks for Brady vs. Montana, Messi and Ronaldo vs Maradona and Pele. There is no exaggeration when I say we are seeing individual feats in sports that have never been seen before, and it’s in large part due to the fact that athletes are performing at the highest level for much longer.

Does longevity tip the scale in LeBron’s favor in comparison to Jordan? Is Brady truly better than Montana, or has he just done it longer? Chris Almeida puts it this way: “While it’s clear that our standards for recovery and decline are being distorted, it’s unclear how this generation of athletes will change our comprehension of greatness.”

At the highest level, more time = bigger numbers, and so the numbers established by greats of past eras will fall by the wayside. But, as Almeida points out, greatness is not limited to addition:

For as strongly as greatness is linked with statistics and head-to-head matchups, those have never been solely what the concept is about. Greatness is about dreams and images, and in that respect Michael Jordan is something that no athlete who succeeded in 2017 — not LeBron, Serena, nor Cristiano Ronaldo — is: monolithic, spotless, mythic. He represents the model of dominance in sports as it’s always been understood.

Solid read! – PAL

Source: The Year Age Stopped Mattering in Sports”,  Chris Almeida, The Ringer (12/27/2017)

TOB: *hot take alert*

I did NOT like this article. I considered a full-on Phil-Style Breakdown, but I’ll just say a few things:

  1. This is NOT new. Medicine (of legal and illegal varieties), Medical Care, Nutrition, and all sorts of other ways athletes have learned to take care of their bodies, especially as the money in sports have soared, have had athletes playing at elite levels far later for the last decade or two. Saying 2017 is the year this broke through is a strong overreach.
  2. Saying Derek Jeter was elite across generations? OH COME ON. It’s such a strange choice as an example and really took me out of the piece. Jeter was NOT elite for long, and baseball is not a sport where this is new. Jeter was above league average (I’m being generous here) for fifteen years or so, which has been the on the low end of the baseball standard for Hall of Famers for decades. Willie Mays, for example, was elite (not just above average) for just over twenty years, until age 40. DiMaggio was elite for thirteen seasons, until age 36, but he lost three seasons to World War II. His career began nearly eighty years ago. This is not new for baseball.
  3. As I’ve said here before, I love Federer. But you’re not payig attention at all if you say, “There is no reason to expect a sudden decline.” A year ago, Federer looked possibly done. He took many months off, won two Majors, and then looked toast again. I would never bet against him, but don’t be surprised if he never wins another Major.
  4. “[W]hat LeBron has already done is less interesting than what he seems to be capable of, or where he might harness those capabilities.” UGH. More overreach. LeBron has had an amazing career, and the fact he seems as good as ever is crazy. But does anyone think he’s going to get BETTER? He might ride his peak into an extended plateau…but up? I just don’t buy it. And if the argument is “what’s more interesting is how he might continue to do what he does at an advanced age”, ok, fine. Maybe if he sees no drop-off another five years, that’d be nuts. But it wasn’t long ago people argued LeBron looked toast (the 2015 Finals, for example). He’s human, and for elite athletes, the end often comes quickly.
  5. I don’t follow tennis a lot, but doesn’t the staying power of Federer, Nadal, and the Williams Sisters speak more to how weak the generation behind them has been? Does anyone think Serena Williams now could beat Serena Williams at her prime? I sure don’t.
  6. I also don’t get his point about men’s tennis and how it will change our perception of tennis greatness in the future. Even against their own peers – Federer, Nadal, and Djokovich sit 1-2-4 in the career Major titles list – that’s insane. Federer is a few years older, but more or less three guys from the same generation gobbled up every title for a decade or so. Yes, they are great. But it also seems like a very top heavy era, as opposed to anything to do with longevity.
  7. “The most interesting part of Brady in 2017 is the idea of him excelling in 2022.” Stop saying that!

If it wasn’t clear, I did not enjoy this article.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Mike Davis once took the Indiana Hoosiers, an 8-seed, to the NCAA Tournament’s championship game, in only his second year as a head coach. So the man knows something about coaching winning basketball. His career never really took off after that early success, though, and he’s presently coaching at small school Texas Southern. The team is 0-13 so far this year. So, why are they a favorite to make the NCAA tournament? The answer is in the schedule. As they are finally set to begin conference play next week, here are the teams Tigers have played so far: Gonzaga, Washington State, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas, Clemson, Oakland, Toledo, Oregon, Baylor, Wyoming, TCU, BYU – 9 of the 13 were against Top 50 opponents. All 13 were on the road.

Wait, what? Davis believes in sharpening his team by playing tough, non-conference road games. He believes it gets his team ready for conference play, and thus a better shot at winning the conference and then making the NCAA Tournament.

It’s hard to argue – under Davis, Texas Southern has made the tourney three of the last four years. In fact, Davis says he will ALWAYS schedule all his non-conference games on the road:

Economics also come into play. In 2016, Texas Southern made $900,000 in paydays for non-conference road games. Meanwhile, as Davis puts it:

“To have a home game you’ve gotta pay the officials $4,000-$5,000. The people [working the scorers’] table are another $2,500. So in order to have a home game, we’ve gotta clear $10,000. We’re not gonna clear $10,000. And I don’t want to waste my time playing NAIA teams. If we play a lower team, nobody’s gonna come in and see that. The math is simple.”

Again, I can’t argue with that. Davis’ stated goal is to win a national title at Texas Southern. This seems crazy to me, but then again, Butler almost won a few years back, and who would have seen that coming? -TOB

Source: This 0-13 Basketball Team Is A Favorite To Make The NCAA Tournament”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (12/27/2017)

A Real Cinderella Story

This crowd has gone deathly silent, the Cinderella story, outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper and now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac- it’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!

The “Cinderella” sports trope is well-worn, especially in college basketball, where an underdog team can catch fire for a couple days and become a big story for the tournament. But in football? College football? The blue bloods tend to win, and it’s very difficult to break in to that group. It’s so difficult, and there is so much money at stake, that coaches tend to be very conservative in their assistant coach hires. They spend big money to hire coaches who have proven themselves at the highest levels, or at least for guys who have proven themselves at a half-rung below. They have way too much money to lose if a hire goes poorly.

But Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is not most coaches. First of all, he’s a man. He’s 40!

(No, I’ll never stop playing that in my head every time I see his face or hear/read his name, and we’re at the ten-year anniversary)

But Gundy set himself apart when he hired his current offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, in 2013. Gundy’s three previous offensive coordinators had been plucked away (all for head coaching jobs) after two or fewer seasons in Stillwater. Gundy was tired of the turnover, and decided to try to find a good coach at the lowest levels of football in order to engender some loyalty. So, he started looking on the internet:

Gundy went online and looked up offenses that excelled both with rushing and passing numbers. He then narrowed the search to no-huddle, tempo-based offenses similar to Oklahoma State’s. Next, he found coordinators who also coached quarterbacks. The last step, the trickiest, was identifying lesser-known coaches who might stick around even after successful seasons.

Gundy found Yurcich, the offensive coordinator for Shippensburg University, a DII school in Pennsylvania. It took some effort, but Gundy got some Shippensburg gamefilm. It took some more effort, and Gundy got ahold of Yurcich. The two met at a hotel in Pennsylvania, and spoke for three hours. The next day, Gundy called and offered Yurcich the offensive coordinator job for Oklahoma State:

“Mike, here’s the deal,” he told Yurcich. “I’m going to offer you the job, and I have a three-year contract that pays $400,000 a year.”

Silence. Three seconds, four, five, six … Gundy worried that Yurcich had been caught in a snowstorm.

“Are you there?” he asked.


“Well, do you need to talk to your wife?”

“I don’t need to talk to anybody.”

Yeah, no kidding. I love this story. And to top it off, it has a happy ending. Gundy got a lot of flack for the hire, from fans and the administration, but he stuck to his guns. Yurcich has done so well he’s been in the mix for some head coaching jobs. Gundy seems happy for him, and vows to conduct a similar search when Yurcich does leave. Gundy doubts he’ll have much competition, as most coaches don’t have the guts to make such a hire. It’s hard to disagree. Also, I’m starting to think Gundy is a hell of an offensive coach. -TOB

Source: How Mike Gundy Found His Offensive Coordinator on the Internet”, Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com (12/28/2017)

PAL: Perhaps as important, let’s get an update on Gundy’s mullet. This thing has been going on for quite some time now. He just looks like a mullet guy, doesn’t he? This may have started as a joke, but it’s not any more. I mean look at him. Here he is in the week leading up to their bowl game against Virginia Tech. This is a guy that loves the 80s:

Is that a fake tan?

Here he was as a player:

I mean, this guy was trouble.

And here is the car I bet he has somewhere in his garage:

You can all but hear Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood blasting as he peels out of gas station.

TOB: And that reply, folks, is why Phil gets paid the big bucks by Big Sports Blog. Bravo!

The Most Controversial Anthem Protest Yet

Yes, it’s an Onion article. Yes, it’s mildly amusing. Yes, it’s short. Yes, it was an excuse to post that photo. You should go read it.

Source: Controversial Puppy Bowl Star Shits During National Anthem“, The Onion (02/05/2017)

Video of the Week

That was awesome, but that can’t count…can it?

PAL Song of the Week: My Morning Jacket – “Holding On To Black Metal”

Tweets of the Week

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David here it is, my philosophy is basically this, and this is something that I live by, and I always have, and I always will: Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything, to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going, or where you’ve been, ever, for any reason whatsoever.

-M. Scott

Week of December 22, 2017


First and foremost, I implore you to click the link below and read the entirety of this story. It’s so well done. The writing, photography and videos bring you on a fascinating journey that picks up where most end on Mount Everest. Writer John Branch describes it better than I ever could:

Where most of those stories end is where this one begins, long after hope is gone — the quiet, desperate and dangerous pursuit, usually at the insistence of a distraught family far away, to bring the dead home. The only search is for some semblance of closure.

Here are the numbers: About 5,000 people have summited Everest since 1953. Nearly 300 have perished on their attempt. Of those, about 200 bodies never have been recovered from Everest.

Most of the bodies are far out of sight. Some have been moved, dumped over cliffs or into crevasses at the behest of families bothered that their loved ones were someone else’s landmark or at the direction of Nepali officials who worry that the sight of dead bodies hinders the country’s tourist trade.

A lot of variables go into the decision of recovering a body or leaving the body on top of the world. First, it’s expensive (in some cases more expensive than the original expedition). It’s also extremely dangerous. Rescues don’t typically happen when the climber is in danger because every other climber’s life is in peril as well with a finite of supply of oxygen.

There are also questions of religion and transcendence. This story follows the recovery efforts of two West Bengali climbers, both Hindu, who believe in reincarnation. Leaving a body on Everest would be to deny a loved one’s soul the opportunity to pass through to their next life.  

More practically, dying on Everest can make it very challenging for family members to receive death certificates and life insurance benefits in certain parts of the world.

There are about 50 other fascinating points in Branch’s story as he tracks two recovery efforts, so just click on the link below already and have a look for yourself. – PAL

Source: Deliverance From 27,000 Feet”, John Branch, The New York Times (12/19/2017)

How to Handle Fantasy Ohtani

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Earlier this week, it struck me that I should see if Shohei Ohtani is available in my baseball keeper league run through ESPN.com. I was hoping ESPN added him to the system so I could pick him up before our rosters lock in February, ahead of our draft. He was not. As luck would have it, I stumbled on this article later that day about how fantasy sports services are planning to treat Ohtani, a 22-year old from Japan who signed with the Angels. The kicker is Ohtani expects to be both a pitcher and a hitter, likely serving as a DH a couple days a week – an excellent pitcher, Ohtani can also swing the bat.

This is more complicated than you’d expect. Traditionally, fantasy sports have not counted pitcher at-bats. Players are either in a hitter pool, or a pitcher pool. The hitting stats for National League pitchers (or AL pitchers when playing in NL parks) are not counted for or against the fantasy player. Ohtani presented a unique challenge. How should fantasy sports treat a player who expects to be both a good pitcher and a good hitter? There appear to be two approaches the companies are taking.

Yahoo and CBS are splitting Ohtani into two players – you can either draft Ohtani the pitcher or Ohtani the hitter. Or, I suppose, you could draft both. But the point is there will be two Ohtanis. This comes mostly down to ease for the software engineers.

The other approach is interesting, and CBS has hinted they will use it: There will only be one Ohtani, and he’ll be eligible both as a pitcher and a hitter, but his hitting stats will only count when you don’t start him as a pitcher. This makes sense – why would Ohtani’s hitting stats count, but not any other pitcher? You’d be giving Ohtani owners an extra hitter in the lineup each time he starts.

The second approach makes the most sense to me, but the first approach creates for a very interesting draft strategy. Ohtani the pitcher would go fairly early – but how would owners treat Ohtani the hitter? Ohtani the hitter might not be draftable – it’s possible he only DHs twice a week, in addition to his weekly start. If he is a phenom, then those at bats might be worth it. But who is gonna risk it to find out? Rowe. The answer is Rowe. -TOB

Source: Shohei Ohtani Is Already Breaking Fantasy Baseball”, Danny Heifetz, The Ringer (12/20/2017)

PAL: I mean – you’re play a game with “fantasy” in the title. Why wouldn’t you want to draft this guy?

Houston Hittin’ Switches

The Houston Rockets are 25-4, and looking like a real threat to the Warriors in the West this season. The Warriors have been alternately banged up (Steph, KD, and Draymond have all missed significant time), and when they haven’t been hurt they’ve been unfocused, says coach Steve Kerr. The Rockets, though, are hungry – and talented. They don’t seem to have any weaknesses, and run Coach D’Antoni’s offensive system to perfection – they lead the league in offensive efficiency, and they take an astouding 43.2 three-pointers per game, by far the most in the league (by contrast, the Warriors are 8th in the league, taking 30.6 threes per game, and the Rockets take almost ten more threes per game than the Nets, who take the second most threes in the league at 34.0 per game). But what makes the Rockets a real threat to the Warriors come May is the Rockets surprising defensive performance. The Rockets are a surprising 7th in the league in defensive efficiency, an improvement from 17th last season, allowing 4 fewer points per 100 possessions than last season.

At the heart of their defensive improvement is a strategy akin to their offensive strategy – take something that works and take it to its extreme. On defense, for Houston, this means switching every single screen, even those off the ball. They’ve created a roster of long, strong, athletic, and versatile players who can guard almost every possession in a pinch, preventing teams from taking advantage of mismatches after a switch. In this article, Dylan Murphy highlights the defensive play of Ryan Anderson, who we’ve profiled here before. Anderson has long been known as a stretch-four who can shoot the 3 and rebound a bit, but is not known for his defensive abilities. Murphy, though, argues that Anderson has become an excellent defender by defending smart. Historically, when a big gets switched onto a smaller player, the big backs off to avoid a blow-by, and then tries to use his length to contest a shot if the offensive player pulls up. But when Anderson gets switched onto a smaller player, especially a 3-point shooter, he crowds the player, making him uncomfortable, and forcing him to either take a well-contested three, or funneling him into the rest of the defense in the player tries to drive. Here’s an example of Anderson (and Capela) using this strategy after being switched onto Steph Curry back on opening night:

Curry seems very uncomfortable, and in both cases ends up taking (and missing) well-contested shots (the Anderson possession, in particular, reminds me of Kevin Love’s defense on Curry at the end of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals). As Murphy points out,

“Although his feet aren’t moving as quickly as Curry’s, Anderson is not trying to play angles in space. Just touching Curry’s jersey gives him a frame of reference and cuts down on how far he has to slide. Despite each Curry move, Anderson doesn’t overcommit his feet. Reaching out for a touch keeps him grounded, and does not allow Curry to toss him around in space. When Curry decides to fire, the contest is right there.”

Contrast that with the way most bigs defend someone like Curry:

While Curry will be able to blow by a player like Anderson if he chooses, Murphy notes that most players, especially shooters as good as Curry, will not choose to do that all game. As Murphy argues, this is a team set up to give the Warriors a real run in May. Should be fun. By the way, the Athletic is running a 20% off sale with a free trial right now. Check it out. -TOB

Source: The Defensive Versatility of the Rockets Could be a True Threat to the Warriors”, Dylan Murphy, The Athletic (12/20/2017)

Winning by Getting to Average

Mike Trout is the best baseball player of his generation, but he has only made the playoffs once in his career (where the Angels got swept) because the team around him has been so unbelievably bad. despite a Top 10 payroll. In his 6 full seasons, Trout has averaged just over 6.1 WAA – a simple to understand stat; using all sorts of metrics, WAA measures how many wins a player created for his team over a league average player. A single-season WAA of 6.1 is extremely good, and Trout has had a couple seasons over 8.0. In other words, the team has utterly wasted his talent, averaging just 84 wins in his career. Even worse, they’ve averaged only 77 wins the last two years.

Sad Trout.

Rebuilding a bad team is a difficult task…but the Angels have been so bad, and Trout is so good, it makes things a bit easier. In August, the Angels traded for left fielder Justin Upton, who post a very good 3.5 WAR last year. For the season, Angels left fielders posted a WAA of -0.3. Last week, they picked up Ian Kinsler, who was a 0.1 WAA last year, the lowest of his career. Very average. But he replaces Angels second basemen who combined for a -3.0 WAA last year. Then they picked up former Reds shortstop Zach Cozart, who they’ll move to third, where they collectively had a -2.0 WAA last year. Add it up, and they can expect to improve by ten wins, even if Kinsler doesn’t have a bounce back, and that’s before you take into account their signing of two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani (see above).

Happy Trout

That’s far more than the Yankees can expect to improve in their trade for Giancarlo Stanton (6 WAA), and the Angels did it simply by turning their extreme weaknesses into mere mediocrity. -TOB

Source: The Angels Might Finally Stop Wasting the Best Baseball Player of His Generation”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/19/2017)

PAL: When measured by way of WAR, I thought this quote summarized the the premise of the story perfectly:

That’s why it’s so important to understand where the Angels are starting from: These two unremarkable moves [Kinsler and Upton], paying the going rate for competent big leaguers, could very well improve the Angels as much as trading for Stanton improved the Yankees.

Obviously, having a once-in-a-generation talent like Mike Trout on your team is an advantage, but I’ve never really thought about him as a differentiator in terms of how the team can be built to improve. They don’t need more great players to get better. They need less terrible players. That should be a comparatively low bar to meet.

A League of Her Own: Mamie Johnson (9/27/35 – 12/19/17)

Did you know three women played in the Negro Leagues? I did not, and so it was very cool to learn about Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, albeit from an obituary.

After being turned away from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (the league fictionalized in A League of Their Own), the then 17 year-old Johnson joined the Indianapolis Clowns. And she wasn’t just marketing ploy to sell tickets. As the only woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues. “Peanut” posted a 33-8 won-loss record in three seasons, not to mention batted .270, and crossed paths with the likes of Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige along the way.

During the offseason she attended NYU and later earned her nursing degree (she was a nurse for 30 years after her playing days were over). She’s gave speeches at the Library of Congress and the White House, she’s featured in not one, but two, exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame, and has what looks like a great stocking stuffer of a book:

Here’s to a full and inspiring life! – PAL

Source: SC native, baseball pioneer Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson dies”, Noeh Feit, The State (12/19/2017)

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Bing Crosby & The Andrew Sisters – “Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas Song)”

Tweet of the Week

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Ooh the Crunch Enhancer? Yeah, it’s a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It’s semi-permeable, it’s not osmotic, what it does is it coats and seals the flake and prevents the milk from penetrating it. 

-C. Griswold

Week of December 15, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell approves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or worse, the aforementioned homework scene:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How many tens?” he asks her.


“And how many ones?”


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

“So count,” he says. “Count!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue is Fa$ter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video of the Week

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

Tweets of the Week:

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

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest


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

-D. Schrute