Week of March 15, 2019

Up, up, and away!


College Admission Soft Spot: Sports No One Cares About

Comment: If you’re going to cheat, take a little pride in it and use the correct hand!

I didn’t fully understand just how quickly this story would turn into an ongoing national discussion, but holy hell, it’s sure taken off. In case you’ve been on vacation on some remote island, here’s the gist:

The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.

Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children’s chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches to identify the applicants as athletes.

While I’m not surprised people are taking shortcuts to get their kids into colleges, it’s interesting to see how secondary athletic teams were identified as a weak link in the admission chain. And the amount of coin going into this operation is insane – $25MM!

For every one of these rich, underachieving kids whose parents couldn’t stand the thought of telling their other rich friends that little Jimmy is going to Chico State, there is a deserving kid who busted his or her ass, only to be rejected. College is supposed to be a way for people to move lower class to middle class, from middle class to upper class. College should be the glowing, unassailable beacon of meritocracy. This whole operation is a blowtorch to that idea.

Of course, this is not the dawn of rich people getting their kids into colleges by way of a check, but there’s something more transparent about a rich asshole cutting a check for a new library at the school.

With all that said up front, let’s have a little fun with this. Some observations:

  • USC…hahahahaha! When’s the last time this school wasn’t neck deep in an athletic scandal?
  • USC – Good school, but $500K good, Aunt Becky?
  • I can understand these coaches being on the take. How sick are they of constantly standing aside and letting the football and basketball programs (winning teams or losing teams) have the run of the place. They got paid simply to list kids as recruits to ease the admission process; the students never played on the actual teams.
  • A Yale soccer coach was paid $400K (what the f*&$) to list a girl as a recruit. That has to be at least 3x the coach’s yearly salary. The ‘recruits’ family paid $1.2M (again what the f) to get their daughter into Yale.

Lastly, I’d like to note that neither Augustana University nor Cal have been linked to this scam in any way…yet. – PAL

Source: Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman among 50 charged in college admissions scheme”, Tom Winter, Pete Williams, Julia Ainsley and Rich Schapiro, NBC News (03/12/19)

TOB: Two things I want to get out of the way before addressing the admissions scam. First: Stanford has a SAILING team? What kind of WASPY crap is that? Classic Stanford.

Second: I must take umbrage with two things Phil said about USC. First of all, you can take the “athletic” qualifier out of his question and just ask when is the last time USC wasn’t involved in a scandal? Last summer, USC’s president Max Nikias resigned amid a sexual abuse scandal involving the school’s longtime gynecologist George Tyndall, not unlike the one occurred at Michigan State involving Larry Nassar. From the LA Times:

The Times reported that in a career spanning nearly three decades, Tyndall was the subject of repeated complaints from staff and patients about inappropriate comments and touching. The university barred him from treating patients only after a nurse, frustrated that her complaints had gone ignored, reported Tyndall to the campus rape crisis center.

An internal investigation concluded that Tyndall had sexually harassed students and performed pelvic exams that departed from current medical standards. Yet administrators and USC’s general counsel struck a secret deal with Tyndall, allowing him to resign with a financial payout.

Next regarding the quality of USC as a university: Over the last thirty years, as the US News and World Report college rankings (whose methodology is extremely biased in favor of private schools) have grown in popularity, USC has done all it could to game the system. The rankings began in 1983, and USC didn’t make the list until 1996, when they debuted at 44. By 2007, they had jumped to 27, and presently sit at 23. How did they game the system? Here is a partial list of how USNWR computes their rankings and the percent of weight each category receives: Student Retention/Graduation (22.5%); Faculty Resources (income and faculty/student ratio) (20%); Dollars spent per student (10%); Alumni Giving Rate (5%). As the Forbes article I linked above notes:

Relatively affluent institutions that bring in relatively affluent students will simply perform better in these rankings. This fact puts public universities, which have historical drawn from a wider socioeconomic range of students than their private counterparts, and whose funding per student has been increasingly cut by state legislatures, at a marked disadvantage.

USC gamed the system by intentionally raising their scores on those categories. The goal was not making the best university but increasing their ranking. Gross, and so very USC.

Back to the scandal. At first I thought it was really funny (and some aspects, like the athlete photoshopping details are very funny), but the more I think about it the more insidious it is.

It’s a perfect microcosm showing how the elite stay elite on the backs of everyone else. Lori Loughlin’s kid had no business being in college. She didn’t even want to be there, except to party. But she took a spot from someone who desperately wanted to be there and who had worked hard for it.

I don’t know why it shocked me that the Stanford sailing coach would accept a bribe to give a fake scholarship, but it did. I don’t know why it shocked me that people would fake athlete profiles to admit students through the side door. I don’t know why it shocked me that people have been able to bribe SAT proctors to allow students to cheat, and to even allow someone to come in after a test and change the student’s answers, but it really friggin did.

From NY Mag:

Wealthy parents don’t usually have to resort to rigging college admissions through fraud, or even through charitable giving. They don’t need to. Their advantages are broad. In the United States, people with millions in the bank can always afford a side door — to private high schools or wealthy neighborhoods with better public schools, to test prep and tutors. They can afford to visit doctors when their children are sick and pay professionals to treat learning disabilities. Their children don’t need to work on top of going to school. They have such an edge, in so many different categories, that it is often impossible to catch up with them at all.

We all know our society is not fair, and the wealthy have so many advantages, on a sliding scale, over everyone else. Even in college admissions. I wanted to believe that, even as the NY Mag excerpt above notes the inequities in college admissions, that there was some semblance of meritocracy. But this really lays bare that it isn’t. And that’s why I stopped laughing about this story.


The Cathedral Is Empty

I was surprised to find a NY Times article about University of Minnesota hockey. The Gophs aren’t typical fodder for a global news source. What’s more, the article is about how the once all-powerful U (for real, that’s what we call the University of Minnesota) hockey program has become an also-ran in the state of hockey. And that’s just the way legendary coach and Minnesota icon Herb Brooks wanted it.

I posted about another story detailing the unlikely detour Herb Brooks took in coaching a D-III St. Cloud State team in 1986 as the program transitioned to D-I. I’m still struck by how remarkable his time at St. Cloud St. truly is. This guy had already won three national titles with the iconic University of Minnesota, the 1980 Olympic gold over the USSR in what is considered the greatest game/moment in sports history, and coached the New York Rangers. This dude comes back to coach a D-III after all of that. One of the reasons Brooks took the job was to create more opportunities for Minnesota kids to play college hockey. Until then, there were two options – University of Minnesota and UM, Duluth. The college hockey landscape has changed a lot since then.

Last year, Bob Motzko left St. Cloud St. to take the head coach job at UM. As writer Pat Brozi characterizes it, this was a lateral move. It’s correct, and it’s also insane. College hockey is alive and well in Minnesota, but Gopher hockey has fallen hard. There are several factors to consider:

  1. Moving conferences – from the WCHA to the Big 10 – eliminated pretty every rivalry that fans cared about.
  2. Mariucci Arena – an incredible college hockey venue with luxury boxes and all the modern accommodations – was opened in 1993. The same year the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas. The Wild, the current Minnesota NHL franchise, didn’t start playing until 2001. For 8 years, the Gophers had a brand new arena, were the biggest hockey game in town featuring the best home-grown talent playing in WCHA rivalries. Gopher season tickets were hot!
  3. Up until 1999, UM coaches emphasized recruiting Minnesota natives (Doug Woog, 1986-1999, only recruited Minnesota players) – this grew the sport at the high school level. The dream wasn’t to play in the NHL; the dream was to play for Gophers. The Minnesota State High School tourney was essentially a debut of the best players, almost all of whom would be playing for the Gophers in the years to come. This is no longer the case.
  4. After they ditched the “Minnesota-only” recruiting rule, the Gophers made a habit out of recruiting very high NHL draft picks (in hockey, a player can be drafted and still play in college). Awesome talent, no continuity from year to year. They were the hockey version Kentucky basketball.

Now, the Gophers are an unranked rebuild while St. Cloud State, Minnesota State (Mankato), and UMD are all in line for number one seeds in the NCAA tourney. The Gophers aren’t alone. As Pat Borzi writes:

The change in Minnesota reflects a nationwide trend of newer programs usurping traditional powers. Of the seven teams with five or more N.C.A.A. titles, only Denver and North Dakota are ranked. Conspicuously absent: The Gophers, Michigan, Boston College, Boston University and Wisconsin.

What happened? More schools are benefiting from an expanded pool of players, coming from Europe and nontraditional American markets like California and Florida. And recruits have discovered more paths to the Frozen Four and the N.H.L.

Over the last eight years, Minnesota Duluth, Union, Providence and Yale won their first national championships. Since 2009, the five Minnesota Division I programs (Bemidji State rounds them out) combined for seven Frozen Four appearances. Only Minnesota State failed to make it, even as a No. 1 seed in 2015.

I’ve been thinking about what the football or basketball equivalent of this situation would be. Alabama being unranked while UAB wins multiple national titles. Duke missing out on the NCAA tourney for five years while UNC-Wilmington racks two Final Four appearances.

Look, I understand there’s a good chunk of our readers that don’t care about college hockey, but I can’t get over it. Gopher hockey is part of the of the Minnesota lore. I just can’t believe that in my lifetime we built the cathedral to Minnesota hockey, and now the cathedral is empty. – PAL

Source,Move Over, Gophers: Balance of Power Shifts in Minnesota Hockey”, Pat Borzi, The New York Times (03/13/19)

TOB: Here’s a football equivalent for you: Miami, Florida State, and Florida were three of the top 5-7 programs in the country from roughly 1980 to 2005. Now, all are relatively down, while University of Central Florida of all schools has gone from I-AA in 1996 to 25-1 over the last two years and a claim at a national title in 2017.

I liken this to what would happen to Cal rugby if more programs started taking rugby seriously. Now, Cal rugby has been incredibly dominant for almost 40 years, winning 28 national titles since 1980. Seriously: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2016, 2017. I typed those all out because it is dizzying to look at. But you’ll notice a slow down recently, including a 4 season drought from 2012 through 2015.

What happened there? It sounds similar to what Phil described with Minnesota hockey. More programs and a wider pool of players. BYU started recruiting players from the Southern Pacific Islands (they often also have an age advantage as many of their players play after returning from their missions). Other schools like St. Mary’s (who beat Cal during the regular season last year) are also nipping at Cal’s heels, as are schools you’ve probably never heard of like Life University (2018 National Champions!) and Lindenwood University (2018 Rugby 7s National Champions!).

I’ve always thought Cal Rugby’s dominance was cool, but a bit boring. They still beat teams by scores like 100-3, like they did Santa Clara last year. But they also face stiff competition that pushes them to be better. In that vein, I’m guessing Minnesota Hockey turns it around in the next few years.


Video of the Week

The last Hockey Hair video. It will be missed!


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week

Blaze Foley – “Clay Pigeons”


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It’s purely carnal, and that’s all you need to know.

-Dwight Schrute

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Week of March 1, 2019

The Mirnavator. If you’re looking for some inspiration, ultra-runner Mirna Valerio has got you covered. 


The Woman Behind Free Solo

Full disclosure: I haven’t yet seen Free Solo, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary last week, though I am dying to do so; but I have seen Meru, the 2014 documentary about three climbers’ attempts in 2008 (failed) and 2011 (successful) to climb the previously never ascended Shark Fin spire of Mount Meru in the Himalayas (if you have not seen Meru, it’s on Netflix and it’s fantastic). Both films were shot/produced by wife and husband duo Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Chin served double duty – as he was one of the trio of climbers ascending Meru, while at the same time filming the team along the way).

Free Solo, if you don’t know, is a documentary about climber Alex Honnold’s incredible rope-free climb up the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Here’s the trailer:

Yeah, he’s incredible and maybe a bit insane. But while Honnold’s achievement cannot possibly be overstated no matter how hard you try, the skill and vision of the filmmakers, Vasarhelyi and Chin, should not be overlooked, either. Vasarhelyi, especially, helps bring emotion to both films.

Chin filmed the 2011 climb of Meru and put together a movie that no one was interested in distributing, as it amounted to what is known as climbing porn. Enter Vasarhelyi. She met Chin and saw so much more in the movie. She rewrote the narrative of the film and reshot interviews to “bring up the emotional quotient.” Vasarhelyi “helped break the mold of the typically bro-heavy genre of climber cinema and extreme-sports flicks in general. (See: the entire oeuvre of Warren Miller.) Meru delves into the fear and support that coexist in the families of these men.”

Meru is a fantastic film, and Vasarhelyi followed a similar pattern in Free Solo. With such a harrowing climb in progress, and the very real threat that the subject could fall to his gruesome and filmed death, the crew had a very thin tightrope to toe:

Maybe the greatest paradox of the film is that it required a monumental operation that remained invisible. Five cameramen had to be ready to be in position on the wall on just a few hours’ notice, and there was a crew of three more on the ground. There was a helicopter for big sweeping shots of the wall and aerial shots of Honnold, a speck in a red T-shirt, shimmying up the white granite. He needed to be able to decide the time of the climb based on his intuition and readiness, not on some production schedule. He needed to feel free to bail. He wanted to be filmed, but he didn’t want to feel filmed.

And how did the film turn out? Well, it won the Oscar. But as Vasarhelyi puts it, the theme of Free Solo

“…is this kid who is so scared of talking to other people that it was easier for him to climb alone, with no ropes, than to ask for a partner. I feel like we all have something in our lives like that. It was really important to see Alex’s eyes before he did it. What did his eyes look like the morning he set off?”

And what did the camera see? Vasarhelyi’s eyes light up. “He was excited.” Long pause. “And very well prepared.”

Oh man. I can’t wait to see this. -TOB

Source: Free Solo’s Director Doesn’t Give a F**k About Climbing”, Lisa Chase, Outside (09/12/2018)

TOB: This is unprecedented, but I’m replying to myself. I wrote the above on Thursday, and Thursday night decided I’d just watch the damn movie. First of all, it’s fantastic. As good as I hoped. During Honnold’s climb at the climax of the movie, I felt like I was going to puke, despite knowing that his climb would be successful.

But I have a bone to pick, now, with an editorial choice in the movie. The beginning of the featured article begins like this:

“Today I was replacing swear words. I had to do it myself. No one else can do it,” documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi says over a nouvelle Indian lunch at bohemian-cool Pondicheri in Manhattan.

In the cut I saw in June, Honnold clocks four fucks in the first eight minutes. But Free Solo was funded by National Geographic—not especially fuck friendly. So before Vasarhelyi can fly out of New York City (where she primarily works and lives, along with the couple’s young son and daughter) to join Chin in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (where he primarily works and lives), she needs to scrub the cursing. “These guys,” she says, meaning climbers, “all swear.”

I don’t hate profanity. Sometimes I think it’s important to convey emotion. But when I read the above Thursday morning, I understood – not everyone agrees with my outlook on the f-word.

But then I watched the movie and there was one spot in Honnold’s final climb that was particularly difficult. As he completed it, he turned to the mounted camera, about 2,000 feet off the Yosemite Valley floor, and smiled. He had completed something that had kept him awake at night. And he let loose his emotion: “Fuck yeah!” Except, I only know he said that because I read his lips. In the movie, they dubbed over him in post-production and he said, “Ah yeah.” It really pissed me off because there is nothing more I dislike about a movie than when something in the movie takes me out of the movie. I’m hoping there’s a director’s cut in the future, where we hear each and every “fuck” Honnold drops as he puts it all on the line to free solo El Cap.

PAL: Great call on bringing the narrative to a genre of extreme sports docs that is pretty bro-ey.

Natalie and I went to the Banff Film Festival last night (go, if you haven’t – here’s a list of dates and cities). One of the features was of a young woman climber breaking barriers. Margo Hayes is the first woman to ever climb a 5.15 grade route. Only a handful of people in the world climb 5.15, so to compare her to an Olympic champion athlete isn’t doing her justice. Interestingly enough, Honnold is featured in Margo’s doc, saying that he doesn’t even know what 5.15 holds feel like. Even for him, her accomplishment sparks amazement. Chew on that for a second and watch Margo kick ass.

Much of Margo’s story is about her single-mindedness. Older climbers openly worry that she can’t “turn it off,” so there is this narrative arc even in her story, too. Yes, the footage of adventure sports is instantly captivating, but the mental component, as well as how these pursuits impact relationships, only add to the power of these films. 


“The Best Game I Ever Covered”

That’s the headline. Do you really need any more convincing? I didn’t. The Athletic put together a collection of short essays from its writers about the most memorable games they covered. The series started with baseball writers. I, of course, drank every drop and loved it. Here are a few of my favorite parts.

Peter Gammons – Red Sox – Red, Game 6 of 1975 World Series

At 12:34 a.m., in the 12th inning, Fisk’s histrionic home run brought a 7-6 end to a game that will be the pride of historians in the year 2525, a game won and lost what seemed like a dozen times, and a game that brings back summertime one more day. For the seventh game of the World Series.

I didn’t know the nugget about the organist breaking into Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”. Absolutely brilliant.

Ken Rosenthal – 2131 – Cal Ripken Jr. breaks the streak.

I can’t believe Rosenthal was just 32 when he was told to write the page 1 story for the Baltimore Sun.  

I wanted to show that I was on their level, or at least close. Unlike today, when one click can take you to any writer you admire — yes, some behind a paywall — most of us rarely saw each other’s work.

As it turned out, the story wrote itself. Ripken took a victory lap around Camden Yards after the game became official, and my column mostly just detailed the beauty of that moment while trying to convey the greater meaning of it all. I am quite sure others could have written better. But it was pretty much my best shot.

I have to chuckle at this last line…from a writer – pretty much my best shot? Kenny, baby! How about your absolute best shot for a moment that was 2,130 games in the making? Were you surprised?

Sidenote: while I understand the greater meaning Ripken’s streak, it’s always hit me not quite right. The more you dig into it, the more I can’t ignore there is at least a part of the streak that’s selfish.

TOB: Call me a natural cynic, but I felt that way as it happened. Ripken was an great player through his truly incredible 1991 season, until 1992, when at age 31 he became an average to below average player. And that’s even accounting for his premium position. It’s not admirable to “show up” every day. It’s admirable to put aside personal glory for the good of the team. Ripken never did that, so I never respected him.

Pedro Gomez – Diamondbacks v Yankees – Game 7 2001 World Series

Pedro Gomez stock just went up a little after reading this. Bold move. Bringing a buddy in case someone roughed him up? Less of a bold move.

I called Curt Schilling a con man. I wrote how he had built himself up to be Captain America because, after insisting to manager Bob Brenly that he wanted to start Games 1, 4 and (if necessary) 7, he suddenly told Brenly that he didn’t think he could do it, putting the Diamondbacks in one hell of a potential predicament and giving himself an out in case he pitched poorly or the opportunity to build himself up if he pitched well.

So before Game 7, I went down to the field and stood in front of the Dbacks dugout as they took batting practice, wanting any player who had anything to say to me to have the availability to do so (clubhouses are never open pregame during the postseason). I was filled with anxiety because I had truly gone out on quite a limb and asked great friend T.J. Quinn, then with the New York Daily News,  if he would mind accompanying me and just standing nearby, kind of as moral support. Thankfully, he said yes. Several players gave me a wink, a head nod or a pat as they passed me on the way to their clubhouse. It was an acknowledgment that what I had written was accurate.

TOB: I am no fan of Curt Schilling, the baseball Alex Jones. HOWEVER. I don’t remember what Schilling said ahead of Game 7, and I never read what Gomez wrote. BUT. Here’s Schilling’s 2001 World Series stat line: 3 starts, 21.1 IP, 4 ER, 1.69 ERA, 12 H, 2 BB, 26 K. That’s 2014 Bumgarner level incredible.

T.J. Quinn – Game 6 NLCS – Cubs v Marlins – The Bartman Game

Just read the entire essay. I’m pasting a good chunk of it here, which picks up after the incident. Still an incredible, chaotic course of events.

This is where my years of experience among Chicagoans, learning their language and their ways, tells me what is coming. Gonzalez will not be blamed; it will all fall on that hapless young man. I turn to a colleague and, I swear, I say, “I’m going to go find the guy. The Cubs are going to lose.” She notes the score: They are still leading 3-1 with five outs to go. “I’m telling you,” I say, “something has changed and they’re going to lose.”

Down the ramps, onto the concourse, into the maelstrom. The lead is gone and the ballpark has turned on the man in the headphones, all eyes on his section as the inning becomes an eight-run catastrophe. I push through a gathering crowd near his section, past frothing, twisted faces, ducking as one beer cup after another is launched our way, feeling the mist spray my face. Sometimes the faces screaming “Fuck you, asshole!” turn and see my notebook and my press credential and I catch a few words, too. As I start down the aisle, a wedge of Cubs security surges toward and past me. I can see someone in the middle with a jacket over his head. “Is that him?” someone next to me screams. “Kill him!” I follow the phalanx up to the concourse, under more screams and more flying beer. I am genuinely afraid for this man. I see security whisk him behind a gate. A cop stops me. I ask him and a nearby security officer if they know who he is. This is a ridiculous question and I am met with ridiculing looks. I go back to find the man in the gray sweatshirt. His name is Pat Looney and he is a firefighter, although I write his name as “Loomey.” I also write down seat 115. It was 114. Many think Looney is the one. “I already got like 50 hate calls,” he says, pointing to his phone. Someone who intends to be heard screams “Asshole!” at him. “See?” Looney says. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t touch the ball.” He says he wishes he’d pushed the other guy out of the way.

I go back to the press box and I write. The man in the black sweatshirt is the story, and he will be part of Cubs history along with the goat and Leon Durham and the black cat. I dub him “the cat in black” and I think this is sufficiently clever. I file and I go meet my friend Mike and his miserable friends. We’re out until about 2 a.m. “That asshole…” they keep saying. But it’s OK. Kerry Wood is pitching tomorrow.

The next morning, I’m in my hotel room. The phone rings at 7 a.m. It is one of my closest friends, a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times. I can hear that she is outdoors, but she is whispering. “I’m in front of his house,” she says. “We got a call last night. His name is Steven Bartman. I have to knock on his door. I feel sick.” Go on and knock, I say. The world is going to find out who he is, anyway.

How eery is that ending?

There are even more excellent essays included: The Dallas Braden Mothers Day perfect game will absolutely make you cry, and Jayson Stark’s summary of the Cardinals/Rangers 2011 Game 6 win comes as close as one can get to describing what every great game creates out of nothing:

“The emotion that fills ballparks in moments like that defines what it is we love about sports. Where else in life do you experience anything like that feeling?”

Loved, loved, loved reading these. – PAL

Source: The Best Game I Ever Covered”, various authors, The Athletic Ink (February, 2019)


The Game’s the Same, Just Got More Fierce

That’s of my favorite quotes from The Wire, uttered by Slim Charles. It popped in my head as I read this interesting article on the Ben Simmons’ future. John Wilmes wonders if Simmons might turn down his max rookie extension and sign a short deal instead to become a free agent after the 2021 season.

Here’s how it works. The NBA’s CBA allows teams to offer an extension to their players entering the final year of their four year rookie contract. As Wilmes summarizes:

No NBA player has ever turned down a maximum extension of a rookie contract offer, for which Simmons will be eligible in July. The league has structured the collective bargaining agreement specifically to give franchises the ability to offer significantly more money to the young stars they drafted. This is meant to create competitive balance and prevent talent from escaping smaller markets, and it has worked that way.

Simmons would thus be eligible this summer for a deal around 5 years for $148M, keeping him with the Sixers through 2025 at just shy of $30M per year. Not bad. But what if he doesn’t want to stay in Philly?

Wilmes reads some tea leaves to suggest this is the case, and theorizes Simmons aims to head to, yes of course, the Lakers. For example, in a documentary filmed during Simmons’ one year in college at LSU, Simmons was filmed watching the broadcast of the draft lottery, where it would be determined who would pick first in the upcoming draft, and therefore take Simmons:

[Simmons] is shown watching the broadcast of the event and miming his hypothetical reactions if either the Sixers or the Lakers got the first pick and the right to sign him. When he imagines the Lakers getting it, he celebrates; when he imagines going to the Sixers, he shrugs wryly. Earlier in the movie, a Lakers blanket is visible in the background of his apartment. Currently, he dates L.A.-based famous person Kendall Jenner. You can decide what this all means

Additionally, Simmons’ agent is Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, the same agent/agency that represents LeBron James and has been trying to orchestrate a trade of another client, Anthony Davis, to the Lakers.

Simmons turning down the max rookie extension would be risky. He would instead have to take an approximately $10 million dollar deal in 2020-21, one-third of what he’d get in a rookie extension. But, then he’d become a free agent the summer of 2021, free to sign where he wants for an even more lucrative deal. For a player like Simmons, the risk may be worth it. As Wilmes says, such a move could set a new precedent for how NBA superstars control their futures. -TOB

Source: Ben Simmons Could Upend The NBA’s Power Structure With One Decision”, John Wilmes, Deadspin (02/26/2019)


Kick the Kid Out!

This week a kid sitting courtside at a Nuggets/Thunder game reached out and swatted at and hit Russell Westbrook.

A lot of the reaction I saw was, “It’s funny how the kid sat down when Russ gave him that look.” But I have a hot take. KICK THE KID AND HIS PARENTS OUT. I don’t care that he appears to be maybe 12 years old. You can’t do that, and a kid who thinks he can, and is sitting friggin courtside, obviously thinks this is ok. If this spoiled rotten kid doesn’t learn his lesson now, he’ll grow up to be an entitled adult. We had a chance here to fix his trajectory! Instead we are left with his rich mom and dad, laughing at the whole thing.

Yuk yuk yuk! Hilarious! …Westbrook was not so chuckle-y after the game:

“He hit me. So I told his dad, you know, just, “Be careful man, you can’t just have have your son hitting random people.” I don’t know him, he don’t know me, so.

[…]

He’s responsible for his kid. Watch the game, sit there, have fun, enjoy. For all the fans though, there’s too much leeway, man, for the fans to be able touch the players and get away with it. And then we can’t react and do the things that we need to do to protect ourselves. It’s important that they understand—kids, whoever it is, dads, moms, that they can say what they want, as long as it’s respectful, but the touching is, to me, off limits.

I agree! The kid should have been kicked out, I say!  -TOB

Source: Russell Westbrook, After Being Shoved By Child: ‘The Touching Is, To Me, Off Limits’”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (02/27/2019)


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week – Sharon Van Etten – “I Told You Everything”


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

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“I’ll have a vanilla… one of the vanilla bullshit things. You know, whatever you want, some vanilla bullshit latte, cappa thing. Whatever you got – I don’t care.”

-L.D.

Week of February 8, 2019


Gatorade Is A Delicious Lie

Who knew a 4300-word story about hydration could be so fascinating?  In this excerpt from Christie Aschwanden’s new book, Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery, we learn about the real story behind Gatorade, the dangerous hogwash behind Tom Brady’s “drink enough water every day to match half your body weight in ounces”, and the downright bad science experiments used to support marketing claims. Some of the more interesting insights:

  • Michael Jordan and Gatorade is the shining example of what’s called “the illusion of causality”, which is now an entire sub-genre of advertising
  • The word “electrolytes” as we know it is nothing more than a rebranding of a basic term and the body does not need to replenish electrolytes while working out (this happens quite naturally if you eat a meal and drink something after even a long workout)
  • Gatorade and other sports drink companies (the cottage industry obviously exploded) turned to half-baked science as a marketing strategy.
  • Dehydration – the boogeyman brought out to scare all of us to constantly drink during workouts – is far less common than its inverse, hyponatremia, in endurance athletes
  • There are at least five more fascinating facts in this excerpt

Ashwanden’s writing is proof that nearly anything can be made compelling with the right person tapping the keys. I thoroughly enjoyed this read about water and gatorade. – PAL

Source: You Don’t Need Sports Drinks To Stay Hydrated”, Christie Aschwanden, FiveThirtyEight (02/04/2019)


No, the Knicks Crushed the Porzingis Trade

Being a sports fan can be weird. Difficult. Frustrating. I’m a Kings fan, and for the last 15 or so years that has not been easy to say. It’s been barren, man. But as I write this, the Kings sit a game out of the playoffs in the always deep Western Conference, and the team they are looking up at for the last playoff spot (the Clippers) just traded away their best player (Tobias Harris) in a move designed for their future. As a plus, it gives the Kings a significant edge in the playoff race, though there are still roughly 36 hours left for the Lakers (1.5 games behind the Kings) to land Anthony Davis (by the time you are reading this, the trade deadline will have passed and the Lakers will either have or not have the Brow).

Sticking with the Kings through that time, with virtually no hope, was tough. But there was a moment when I almost forsake the team. The Kings had few bright spots from 2006 until 2017, but one of them was DeMarcus Cousins. Despite his mercurial nature, or maybe because of it, I loved Boogie. The team never won squat with him, but he always seemed like a guy you could build a contender around, if the team knew what it was doing. They never seemed to, though, and inevitable the day came when they traded him away. I damn near mourned. How could they do this? Our only hope? And for what, a struggling rookie (Buddy Hield) and a pick (which was dealt for two more picks – one of which turned out to be promising rookie Harry Giles)?

I nearly quit. I wondered: why do I stick with this garbage team when one of the greatest, most well run, and most entertaining teams of all time is moving to damn near my backyard in one year? My head said: just become a Warriors fan. I thought I’d do it, too. But my heart wasn’t there. I love watching the Warriors. Steph Curry may be my favorite player ever. But the minute Buddy Hield started playing well during the stretch run of another lost season, I was back in.

And two years later, the Kings look good! Like I said, the team might make the playoffs! On TNT the other night, someone actually argued they will be a 5-seed in the next two years. Even six months ago that was unthinkable. It hurt to trade Boogie, but we had won nothing with him and it was the right move.

Which brings me to last week’s trade involving Kristaps Porzingis (and a few other bad contracts). I’ve read (and listened to) way too many Knicks fans decrying that trade as inepitude. Complaining that it was a salary dump. Complaining that the rumors that the Knicks hope to sign both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this summer as a result of the trade are meaningless because they haven’t done it yet. And I can’t believe that is the takeaway.  

Yes, sports teams sell hope too often. But this isn’t the Kings, man. This isn’t the Hawks. Or the Pacers. Or the Bucks. This is the friggin Knicks. They play in the friggin Garden. They play in friggin NYC. No, they haven’t been good for a long, long time. But Kyrie and KD could turn that around immediately. And in selling them on that – you have a pitch no one else has: they will be the kings of New York in their 20s. That sounds pretty great, if you ask me.

So, no, it’s not guaranteed. But you have to give yourself that chance, and the Knicks did that. And Porzingis is a nice player. He’s really good. But he doesn’t play much – he gets injured a lot. In his four seasons in the NBA, he’s played 72, 65, 48 and 0 (yes, zero) games. He’s only 23, which makes that injury history scarier. At 7’3, he seems to have one of those bodies that just can’t take the punishment of an 82 (or more) game season. As I noted above, they also unloaded some bad contracts as the price to give up Porzingis, and as an added bonus get a couple recent lottery picks, including the very intriguing Dennis Smith, Jr., plus increase their odds of landing Zion Williamson in this year’s draft, and get two future first round picks.

When the Kings traded Cousins, I got mad, but it provided a path to days much brighter than Kings fans had seen with him. Similarly, the Knicks just gave themselves the chance to bring a title to the Garden for the first time in nearly 50 years – and that’s just not something Porzingis was ever going to do. -TOB
Source: The Knicks Are Still Looking For a Guy”, Dan Devine, The Ringer (02/05/2019)


Durant…Ugh

About that Porzingis trade… in the days following speculation ramped up about whether the Knicks will be able to land Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer. Somewhat oddly, in what many figured was an attempt to avoid answering those questions, Durant refused to talk to the media, at all, for nine days following the Porzingis trade. Like I said, that’s odd. He didn’t just refuse to talk free agency. He refused to talk, period.

Then, after Wednesday’s Warriors win over the Spurs, Durant finally spoke and called out the media, and in particular The Athletic’s Ethan Strauss by name, for asking him questions about free agency. Here’s the video:

KD! That is not a good look, my dude! I get that it would be annoying. But Durant needs to understand: fans care. They really do. It’s intriguing as hell! And fans pay for that $30M you’re making this year, and the $40M you hope to make next year. And it’s the media that feeds fan hunger – without the media giving fans what they want, less people would tune in and if less people tune in ratings and ticket sales go down. If that revenue drops, so do player salaries.

On top of that, KD was being a jerk. The dude is just trying to do his job. I checked out the Strauss article that had Durant so mad. There was nothing terribly objectionable. Strauss talked about how KD had not spoken to the media in the 8 days since the Porzingis trade; he stated that people on and around the Warriors think Durant is leaving or say they don’t know; it discussed the fact KD will face criticism if he leaves just as he faced criticism for coming to the Warriors in the first place.

I was very curious how Strauss would respond to being so publicly called out. Well, he didn’t take it lying down. Some examples:

“You guys really don’t know shit,” Kevin Durant told reporters attending his February interview session, in response to a question about a rumored exit. He wasn’t happy with the media’s approach.

KD was then asked what stories he would like the media to focus on more.

“To be honest, man, I’m only here talking to y’all because I have to,” he said. “So I really don’t care. Y’all not my friends. You’re going to write what you want to write. You’re going to love us one day and hate us the next. That’s a part of it. So I just learn how to deal with y’all.”

I’m referring, of course, to the time Durant was asked about whether former Thunder coach Scott Brooks would indeed get fired, as many around the league thought he would back in February of 2015. It was, theoretically, a choice KD had input into. Roughly two months later, Brooks would be axed, in a decision KD backed 100 percent.

When it comes to the future, sometimes the media really doesn’t know shit. And sometimes, as the Yiddish saying goes, the greatest libel is the truth. You’d think a man holding all the cards wouldn’t publicly fret like his hands were tied. You’d think.

Ohhh, snap! That was one hell of a rhetorical device. Strauss continued, pointing out that KD’s complaints are not even grounded in reality (a point I saw confirmed by numerous NBA writers after this article was posted):

By the way, as large as his free agency looms over the organization, it’s not like Durant has been grilled about it. In his time here, weeks if not months can pass between examples of a press conference question for KD about free agency. That’s why it’s so confusing when Durant says, “Y’all come in here every day, ask me about free agency, ask my teammates, my coaches, rile up the fans about it.” It should be noted that KD has more than earned the right to leave the Bay, after winning at least two titles. Demanding an alternate observable reality is another thing.

These presser settings mostly revolve around that night’s game, and how the team is playing. To receive such presser questions, in February, you typically either have to a) Play the Knicks with their attendant media or b) Do something as novel as, say, avoiding a week of contractually obligated media availability concurrent with the Knicks blasting open some serious cap room. The curious absence is why our team at The Athletic started taking the organization’s temperature on this topic. Otherwise, we were as keen as anyone to write “Boogie’s back!” articles and other more positive stories.

And finally Strauss ended by pointing out that KD is his own worst enemy:

And yet, in a 39-point victory, Kevin Durant has amplified the story he theoretically wants smothered. He’s shining a laser pointer at a July calendar page and bemoaning that anyone dares see the bouncing beam. This is what he does, for reasons that mystify beyond the simple fact that he can. A man with all the leverage can keep speaking in contradictions and reliably keep hearing in supplications.

Yet, I would like to oblige him, because who wants to make a person sad? There’s a problem, though. Not only do I write about the NBA here, but I’ve signed on to write a book about the Warriors dynasty. I plan to do it well. In this endeavor, I won’t be taking my marching orders from Kevin Durant. And yet, I suspect I’ll find myself writing about that which he loudly emphasizes.

As I’ve written before, KD strikes me as terribly moody and self-important, and his rant this week only confirmed that opinion. But this was a fantastic response by Strauss. He stood up for himself, and his brethren in the media, without lashing out as the spoiled brat who started it all. -TOB

Source: On Kevin Durant’s Criticisms and the Relevant Questions Surrounding the Warriors’ Enigmatic Superstar”, Ethan Strauss, The Athletic (02/07/2019)

PAL: Good luck with the New York media, Durant. He is uninteresting in every respect. He is no doubt an insane talent, but his game – being super tall and shooting over dudes in iso situations – is way less entertaining than watching the Warriors whip the ball around to find the best shot. His self-importance reminds me of a kid six months out of college telling someone who’s lived in the real world for a couple decades how it is.

TOB: After I wrote the above, Steve Kerr said this:

“All that revenue that generates the salary cap, it doesn’t all come from ticket sales. It comes from media rights and all kinds of financial streams that are based on people’s intense interest in the league. And so you just kind of have to deal with that and go along with that.

As always, Kerr gets it.


A Solution to the Issue of Whether to Pay College Athletes

College athletes should be paid. Period. But how to unravel the thorny system that has been created over the last century or so is admittedly complicated. If you pay players what they’re worth in football and basketball, how do you comply with Title IX? After all, you have to keep the spending relatively equal. And while there’s enough money to pay football and basketball players, the revenue those sports bring in subsidize all the non-revenue generating sports, including nearly all women’s sports, which again becomes a problem with Title IX. Another idea I’ve seen floated is to simply have athletic departments go independent and license the university’s name/logo/trademark. Critics of that idea think it will kill the magic of college sports, which is hard to know – but logistically, do we think the universities are going to hand over the land and the facilities they’ve spent hundred of millions of dollars on for free? I just don’t see how it’s feasible.

But there’s one relatively easy solution that ensures players are paid what they are worth without a dime coming out of the school’s coffers, and it’s being pushed by California State Senator Nancy Skinner, who represents Oakland, Berkeley and the surrounding communities. Skinner plans to introduce a bill that would allow college athletes to be compensated “directly for the use of their name, image, and likeness.”

As Skinner says, “Our universities and the NCAA make huge amounts of money from TV deals and corporate sponsorships of their teams. The state Fair Pay to Play Act, which is my bill, will help level the playing field by allowing college athletes to sign sponsorship deals much like Olympic athletes are now allowed to.”

If you’re wondering, yes, this would be against NCAA rules. But that’s the point. It would force the NCAA to either change their rules or declare that any student athlete in California paid under the proposed law would be ineligible. This seems like a nightmare PR scenario for the NCAA, not to mention how difficult it might be to enforce. If the law passes, it is not hard to envision other states following suit, and I believe the NCAA would be forced to change.

On a base level, the NCAA rule is incredibly archaic and unfair. Why does this rule exist? I suppose it is intended to prevent boosters with big pockets from promising to pay players who attend their school. But as we’ve always known and have gotten a reminder of over the last two years, this already goes on. Besides, shining a light on something generally tends to clean it up. Frankly, I see no downside to this rule. If a player wants to sign an endorsement deal, let him. Free enterprise, and all. And, practically speaking for the NCAA, it potentially solves a major problem heading its way, as the calls to pay players are growing louder and are not going away. Seems like a no-brainer to me. -TOB

Source: New Bill Seeks to Allow California Collegiate Athletes to Get Paid For Use of Their Name, Image, and Likeness”, Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic  (02/04/2019)


Badass of the Week: Unnamed Trail-runner in Colorado

What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever done? Got it? Good. Hey, that’s pretty good!

You know what’s tougher? Killing an attacking mountain lion with your bare hands. That happened this week.

Yesterday afternoon, a trail runner was out for a run alone in the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space area outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, when he was attacked by a mountain lion. The runner said he heard something behind him, and as he turned around to look, the lion attacked him from behind, biting his face and wrist. He managed to break free from the cougar’s claws and teeth, and he told investigators from Colorado Parks & Wildlife that he choked the lion to death while defending himself.

A lion bit this dude’s face, and he fought back and choked it out. Then, being on a solo trail run, tough guy had to get back to safety. Think his head was on a swivel while running back to his car? – PAL

Source: Colorado Runner Kills Mountain Lion With Bare Hands After It Attacks Him”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (02/06/19)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Johnny Cash – “Big Iron” (Marty Robbing cover)


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We have a gym at home. It’s called the bedroom. 

-Phyllis  Vance

1-2-3 Sports! Week of February 1, 2019

Two happy hockey parents with the missed high five on the occasion of their son’s first NHL…fight.


The Young Man & the Steelman

This one comes to us c/o Alex Denny, and it is one hell of a tale. A former olympic hopeful cyclist robs twenty-six banks. His get-a-way: a bike. As if that wasn’t enough, the robber’s name is Justice. Tom Justice. The brand of bike he used: Steelman. Too good! Here’s writer Steven Leckart setting up the scene:

The street was empty: no cars, no pedestrians. Suddenly the man spotted a police officer riding a four-wheel ATV. Squeezing the shopping bag, he settled into a relaxed gait. As the ATV approached, the robber smiled and waved hello, as would anyone who had not just knocked over a bank. Returning a stiff nod, the officer kept rolling. And so did the man, descending into a parking garage.

Not 60 seconds later, he emerged, carrying an aluminum bicycle on one shoulder and a messenger bag over the other and wearing a red, white, and blue spandex bodysuit, a silver helmet, sunglasses with yellow lenses, and a pair of cycling shoes. He climbed onto the bike, clicked into the pedals, and began to ride leisurely. It had been less than three minutes since he exited the bank.

There were no sirens or alarms — only the sound of the 11:26 a.m. Metra rumbling into the station three blocks away. By the time the train was gone, so was the thief. Fifteen minutes later, he was coasting south along Sheridan Road. He pedaled into Gillson Park in Wilmette and cruised up to a trashcan. After fishing out two crisp $20 bills and shoving them into the pocket of his bodysuit, he removed the Sports Authority bag and held it upside down over the trashcan. Several bundles of cash — what authorities would later reveal to be $4,009 — tumbled into the garbage with a syncopated thud.

The man returned the empty sack to his messenger bag and pedaled away.

I recently watched Robert Redford’s latest (and supposedly last) movie, The Old Man and The Gun (I liked it!),  and I was struck by the small scale of it all relative to the big bank heists we’ve seen in movies for decades. Redford’s character ambles into small, neighborhood banks, well-dressed with a charming smile. He hands a young teller a note, puts his hand into his jacket, indicating he has a gun, and walks out just as calmly as he walked in.

That’s pretty much the same approach Justice took in his robberies. He was never armed, he handed a note to a teller, folded his hands and waited. They dubbed him The Choirboy – pretty great nickname for a bank robber if you ask me. Once outside the banks, he’d ditch the costume, revealing a spandex bike outfit, hop on his bike, and be gone. In the beginning, he’d justify the act as one of adrenaline rather than greed. He’d toss most of the money. Of course, it didn’t stay that way, but you’ll have to read the story to find out the specifics.

At the heart of Justice’s struggle is a belief that his life was to have more significance, and his inability to create it when his initial plans fell through. He was a borderline Olympic cyclist, but for a few reasons the timing and his health didn’t line up at the right moments. Then he looked for significance in joining the French Foreign Legion (a military outfit that, in exchange for five years of service, grants soldiers French citizenship), but he had a problem with other plebes and superiors.

Justice never found the significance he was looking for, and he filled that void with a collection of dangerous and damaging decisions. I can understand the feeling that drove Justice to rob banks on bike. In passing moments, I have definitely wondered if I’m leading a significant life, as I’m sure is the case for many of you readers. Justice’s reaction to that ennui is extraordinary, but the feeling…a lot of us are familiar with that.

Steven Leckart does a great job balancing the incredible plot of this story with Justice’s search for meaning. When’s this going to be made into a movie? – PAL

Source: The Bicycle Thief”, Steven Leckart, Chicago Magazine (01/29/2019)

TOB: This story is absolutely wild and you should read the whole thing. From the Chicago suburbs to the drug cartels in Tijuana to a cold river in Walnut Creek, if you told me the plot I’d think it was a new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.


Bummin’ Around.

The defensive coordinator for the NFC Champion Rams is Wade Phillips. Wade has been around the NFL a lonnnng time. He’s been a coach nearly 40 years, and tagged along with his dad, the legendary Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips, before that. The Ringer did an excellent profile on Wade, who has become known as a bit of a defensive mad scientist over the years by turning bad defenses good, and good defenses great, in very short order. But he’s also a character, from a family of them, and I’d like to direct your attention there.

His dad, Bum, may be better known for his famous quotes, or those attributed to him, than for his coaching. For example, on legendary Alabama Coach Bear Bryant:

“He can take his’n and beat your’n, and then he can turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.”

Or in response to Coach Sid Gillman telling him that breaking down football film is better than sex:

“Sid, you must not be doing it right.”

Or on job security:

“There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”

Or on a sense of self worth:

“I always thought I could coach. I just thought people were poor judges of good coaches.”

Possibly my two favorites concern Earl Campbell, the Hall of Fame running back who played for Bum. During a workout, Campbell was unable to finish a mile run. Reporters asked Bum if he was concerned and he said:

“When it’s first and a mile, I won’t give it to him.”

And when asked if Campbell was a running back in a class by himself, Bum unleashed this gem:

“I don’t know if he’s in a class by himself, but I do know that when that class gets together, it sure don’t take long to call the roll.”

Campbell features rather heavily in the Wade Phillips story – he was a 30 year old assistant with the Oilers when the team drafted Campbell, and the two had similar interests: football, beer, and country music, mostly:

The pair would sit together on the team plane, cranking up country music on the boombox and drinking Budweiser. “I liked Gladys Knight and all that stuff,” Campbell says, “but we listened to Willie Nelson.” Campbell had gotten close to Nelson during his days at UT. The musician was a friend of Royal’s, and on visits to Austin Campbell would go on runs with Nelson in the bayou nearby.

That last anecdote should make you laugh. Earl Campbell was 5’11 and 232 pounds of muscle, possibly the most physical running back of all time. Willie Nelson is reportedly 5’6, 150 pounds. I figured they must have made quite the sight, jogging in the Texas heat, and then I found this pic:

What a picture. What a world. Ok, one more.

Sometimes the best parts of an article are the ones that unwittingly lead you to a place like that. -TOB

Source: The Essential Stories of Wade Phillips“, Robert Mays, The Ringer (01/30/2019)

PAL: Here’s my favorite anecdote from the story:

On May 30, 2009, James (a player Phillips coached), then 28, got married. A reception at the W Hotel in Dallas followed. The first man on the dance floor was Wade Phillips. As Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” blared over the speakers, Wade sang along and swayed to the music with his wife, Laurie. For James, a future that once seemed so remote was finally within reach. “Wade teaches you, regardless of your circumstance, who you are, what’s goin’ on, to enjoy your life,” James says. “That man danced the entire reception. I said, ‘Ya know what? Forget about football. Forget about all this stuff, the glitz and glamour, and what we put value on. How about we value just being a human being and being able to enjoy your life?’”


The Business of Baseball is Fascinating and Not Fun

This is a tough one. Deadspin’s Marc Normandin does a hell of a job explaining Major League Baseball’s cold stove offseason within a historical context, but his story also had me considering what I look for in the game I love.  

If it I see MLB for what it is – a multi-billion dollar business – then I can’t ignore the disputes between the union and the owners. If I only ask the game I love to entertain me, then I am a fool following this offseason as if it were a subplot on a reality show, in part enabling billionaires to fleece millionaire players as well as us fans. What MLB is, and what it is to me…reading this story had me wondering just how close (or far apart) those two points are in my mind.

Back to Normandin’s story. While there is no salary cap in baseball, there is a luxury tax. A luxury tax is essentially a soft salary cap on player payroll. A team that goes over a the ceiling ($219MM in 2019), then pays a tax on the amount over the ceiling.

Get this: the players’ union actually proposed the ideas of a “competitive balance” tax in an effort to squash the idea of a salary cap from any future negotiations. This happened back in 1997, and the initial tax was only applied to the five top-spending teams (that didn’t last). What’s more, the tax didn’t grow proportionally to the revenue earned over the next twenty years.

More important than pointing out the insignificant punishment, though, is that jump from $117 million to $206 million over the course of 16 years. MLB’s revenues grew from $3.58 billion in 2003 to 2018’s record $10.3 billion, a 188 percent jump during that period. The luxury tax ceiling, however, grew by just 68 percent in that stretch. If teams are avoiding going over the luxury tax and luxury tax growth is well below revenue growth, then your luxury cap is, at best, a soft salary cap.

However, a luxury tax is only effective if some teams choose go over the soft cap and pay the tax. If teams like the Yankees and Dodgers – organizations that typically set the market for free agents because they have the most money to spend – are not going over the soft cap, then all the other teams can bid for players at a lower rate.

All of this is to repeat a point TOB has been underscoring several times over the offseason: owners are making so much goddamn money – regardless of whether they have a great team or players – that they are not too eager to drop something in excess of $300MM on a single player. Whether or not it makes the team better – what we all care about – that is a shitty business investment 99 times out of 100, and that’s what the owners care about.

Normandin’s article goes into greater detail on the history of collusion in MLB, free agency, and past collective bargaining negotiations over the years. It’s a pretty fascinating read in which he compiles and references a bunch of other excellent writing on the subject, but it all makes me feel very far away from a day game with a beer in one hand and dog in the other while making dollar bets on mound ball. – PAL

Source: How MLB’s Luxury Tax Became A Salary Cap Because Of Decades Of Failure”, Marc Normandin, Deadspin (01/30/2019)

TOB: Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but following this stuff and understanding the dynamics of what is going on behind the scenes adds to my enjoyment. If I didn’t, I’d be pulling my hair out and screaming, “WHY DON’T THE GIANTS GO GET MACHADO OR HARPER!!!!!?!?!?!?!?” Well, actually, I’m almost there, anyways. But when I see fans on Twitter yelling at the Giants beat writers about how the Giants aren’t doing anything, it’s nice to have an idea of why things are the way they are.


Build Your Baseball Dream Team

These things are dumb but fun.

I’m not even sure who created this, but I like it: Using the list above, create the best team you can, with one player from each position, with a salary cap of $33. Before you continue, please make your list.

 

 

Done? Good. Here were our initial lists:

TOB:

SP: Kershaw $1

C: Posey $3

1B: Pujols $5

2B: Cano $2

3B: Arenado $2

SS: A-Rod $5

LF: Bonds $5

CF: Trout $5

RF: Sheffield $1

DH: Edgar $3

CL: Kimbrel $1

Total: $33

PAL:

SP: Pedro $2

C: Posey $3

1B: Pujols $5

2B: Kent $1

3B: Arenado $2

SS: Jeter $3

LF: Manny $3

CF: Griffey $4

RF: Ichiro $5

DH: Edgar $3

CL: Jansen $2

Total: $33

After making my initial list, I wondered what the optimal list would be. From Baseball Reference, I obtained the 7-year peak WAR for each player available. I chose 7-year WAR because, in part, it was pre-totaled for me by Baseball Reference, but also because it seems like a reasonable estimate of a player’s sustained peak – we want the best a player has to offer, while controlling for a single outlier season by taking a larger time span, and controlling for players with lower peaks but more longevity.

I then averaged each player’s 7-year peak WAR by dividing by 7 to obtain their average single season WAR over their 7-year peak. The exceptions here are Mookie Betts and Nolan Arenado, who have only played 4 and 5 full seasons, respectively. I divided by 4 and 5 for each of them to make things fair, but I do acknowledge this could potentially inflate the numbers for those two if they tail off the next couple years. But by doing this, I figure I’m creating the single best team possible, given the parameters, for one season of play.

I then totaled the average WAR over their 7-year peak for the teams we selected. My team totaled 78.04 WAR. Phil’s team totaled 68.19 WAR. Sorry, bud. But, a theoretical team of replacement players totaling a WAR of zero are expected to win 52 games in a 162 game season. Thus, the team I created would be expected to win 130 games, and Phil’s team would be expected to win 120 games. A fine showing, indeed!

But, while I had ten more wins than Phil (ahem), it made me wonder – how close to optimal had I come?

To find out, I sorted the players at each position by the average WAR over their 7-year peak. From this, I was easily able to select the best team possible, without the imposed “salary cap” of $33. Those players are: Clemens, Piazza, Pujols, Cano, Boggs, A-Rod, Bonds, Trout, Mookie, Frank Thomas, and Mariano Rivera. Their WAR totaled 87.73 for a single season. But they also went way over the salary cap at a cost of $44. To find the optimal lineup, I had to shave $11 off the cap spend while minimizing the corresponding loss in WAR.

To help, I created a new column showing how much WAR I’d lose by downgrading from the top option at each position. I then set out evaluating the results at that point. Some of the top players at each position were severely undervalued by whoever made the salary cap. For example, Cano was the top producing second baseman, but only cost $2. That was a smart choice by me. Similarly, Mookie Betts was way out ahead of any other right fielder, but only cost $3. My selection of Sheffield was thus bad, as it saved me $2 from Betts but cost me 3.37 WAR. Other players, like Bonds cost a lot at $5, but was 2.16 WAR over the next highest left fielder, Rickey Henderson (and Bonds nearly 5 WAR over the third highest left fielder). Here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet at that point:

I wish I had the Excel skillz to have typed in some fancy formula to give me the highest in each group without exceeding the salary cap, but I don’t. So instead I studied the table and slowly started making changes that seemed to minimize the hit to my WAR while maximizing the reduction to my cost. Eventually, I came to the following starting lineup, but perhaps you can find a more optimal one:

SP: Pedro

C: Mauer

1B: Bagwell

2B: Cano

3B: Boggs

SS: Ripken

LF: Bonds

CF: Trout

RF: Mookie

DH: Edgar

CL: Kimbrel

Total cost: $33; Total WAR: 81.35 (6.38 lower than the highest possible, and a mere 3.31 WAR above my initial selections.

My initial choices are pretty darn good, all things considered. I originally had good value with low cost picks like Kimbrel and Cano. I didn’t do as well on guys like Posey and Kershaw. And I used my big dollars in good spots, like with Bonds and Trout. The worst picks were anyone other than Bonds (and if you HAD to pick someone other than Bonds, than especially anyone other than Rickey), and anyone at shortstop other than A-Rod and Ripken.

How’d you do? Leave your team in the comments, especially if you found a more optimal lineup than the one I came up with in the end. Like I said, a dumb but fun exercise. -TOB

Source: Tweet by Dallas Braden“, Twitter (01/29/2019)

PAL: My team is awesome and clutch. I think, to understand it, you have to think about the team within a batting order:

  1. Ichiro (9)
  2. Edgar (DH)
  3. Pujols (3)
  4. Junior (8)
  5. Manny (7)
  6. Arenado (5)
  7. Kent (4)
  8. Buster (2)
  9. Jeter (6)

SP: Pedro, Closer: Jansen

OH MY GOD THAT TEAM IS CLUTCH.


A Football Life

Footballs, also known as pigskins, are made of cowhide. Let’s get that out of the way from the jump. The journey from the farm to the Super Bowl has many checkpoints along the way, and the process has been more or less the same for 77 years. MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler tracked the complete process, and it’s a pretty fascinating, insightful story. We’re talking big machines, big animals, some blood and guts, and a lot of manual labor. There’s something some much more interesting in that process than a robot assembly line.

Of course, the first step is turning cows into hide. Farmers refer taking livestock to slaughter simply “moving”.  Then the butchers do their job with the beef. Butchers always refer to livestock as the consumer good. Then the meat is separated from the hide, and then the hide is stacked, salted and cured.

Eventually, the hides end up at a Tannery in Chicago. Every Wilson football has been made here at Horween Leather Co. for 77 years.  

There’s a framed antique photo of his great-grandfather, Isadore, who founded the business in 1905 after emigrating from Ukraine. Isadore is standing next to his wife, Rose, and their two sons, Ralph and Arnold, who would grow up to play football at Harvard and then professionally for the Chicago Cardinals. (Arnold, Skip’s grandfather, was also a player-coach for the Cardinals.) Below the family photo there’s a black-and-white picture of Arnold with Knute Rockne at Harvard’s spring practice in ’29. Pro football was a small fraternity back then, and the Horween brothers were friendly with another Chicago player-coach: George Halas. That relationship is how the family business became the only leather supplier for Wilson, tanning every NFL football for the past 77 seasons. “How important is luck?” Skip says. “We just happened to know a guy.”

Only after all of this can the footballs be inspected and placed into three categories: game use, practice use, or retails. “Game balls” in the stores are the worst of the lot.

Kahler’s football ends up on the Cincinnati Bengals practice ball for kickers. A better fate for the cow than a McDonald’s burger, I suppose.

A fun read. – PAL

Source: From Farm to Field, and Every Point Between: How a Cow Becomes a Football”, Kalyn Kahler, MMQB (01/31/19)


Videos of the Week

Evolutionary Vlade Divac:

Bonus (click through):


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week

Willie Nelson – “Midnight Rider” (Allman Brothers cover)

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXVNwdbBtwKSKDSve4quaUE46FCEm5ib-


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“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

-Ron Swanson

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

*games, not minutes


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

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

And here’s his open:

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

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

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

I am laughing out loud.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, this kid wants another shot:

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

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


The Cold Hot Stove: An Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyways, both articles are very good reads. -TOB

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


A Weather Lesson

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

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

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

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

-TOB

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


Videos of the Week

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

 


Tweet of the Week


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


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

-Ron Swanson

Week of January 11, 2019

Pimpage.


Don’t Tag It, Bro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Coldest Hot Stove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Pretzels Getzien


Video of the Week

The Spanish radio call is always so much better.


Tweet of the Week


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


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

-Donna Meagle

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

 

Merry Christmas, everyone!


Another Side of Charles Barkley

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

Shirley Wang described her dad with the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Should Kyler Murray Choose the NFL or MLB?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Committee of 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Old Timey Baseball Player Name of the Week

Jack Glasscock.


Video of the Week:


Tweet of the Week


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


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

-Dwight K. Schrute