Week of June 18, 2021

PIC


A Bike Race On A Gravel Road In Kansas

TOB dropped this story in the draft doc and told me it was up my alley. TOB is a smart dude; I really enjoyed reading about a bike race in Kansas. 

So much of what we post on this digest are stories orbiting sports we are familiar with, or even played. It’s rejuvenating to read about a sport and a race that I know very little about, and Patrick Redford does a great job explaining how this particular bike race is so different from what you might have in your mind. 

If big-time road racing, with its extremely slick facade and army of helpers ensuring that the sport resembles a straight-up fitness contest to the greatest degree possible, is a luxury yacht coasting along at a steady pace, gravel riding is a pirate ship, reveling in its shameless dirtiness. No wonder it’s cycling’s fastest-growing discipline.

So this Unbound race takes place in small town Kansas. It’s a 200+ mile bike race, and it’s all on gravel roads. Ever ridden your 10-speed on a gravel road when they are doing construction? Even for twenty yards, it’s, shall we say, uncomfortable. 

And you might be wondering, “Why do this?” I was. You might be thinking, “Just making something a sufferfest for the point of suffering, does that make it noteworthy or fun or worthwhile?” I was thinking that, but that misses the real draw to this race in the context of road races, especially in the United States. 

Those big-time races, with the “army of helpers,” are exclusive, whereas a race like Unbound brings world-class cyclists (and that caliber do show up to compete) and puts them on a course that makes them “relatable to everyone in the race,” Redford writes. Suffering is more relatable than winning. That’s the draw to these types of competitions. Finishing is the goal. That brings more bikers of varying levels together. That’s the type of vibe that makes a race popular, that grows a fringe sport’s participation. 

I read this story, and thought of those old pictures of the Tour de France, where competitors are drinking and smoking and eating bagets along the way. Those nascent stages of a race always look like a damn good time, and so does Unbound.

Good find, TOB! – PAL 

Source: Unbound Gravel, The Country’s Coolest Bike Race, Is A Beautiful Sufferfest”, Patrick Redford, Defector (06/07/21)


Cole and Bauer – Aces in the Making

Their roles in the sticky stuff debate notwithstanding, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer are two of the best handful of pitchers in baseball right now. But, other than their competitiveness, the similarities pretty much end there. They could not be much more different. And, ten years ago, they were stars on the same UCLA baseball team, destined to be drafted first (Cole) and third (Bauer) in the same draft. They did not exactly get along.

As the baseball bounded into foul territory, tracking toward the left-field corner at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles, the two competitors would bolt from the home dugout. They’d sprint on the dirt track, past the bullpen, and beeline for the ball. They were the top college pitchers in the country, chasing records, chasing greatness, chasing each other. Their parents would watch the footrace from the bleachers and wince.

An injury could cost their sons millions in the MLB draft and doom UCLA’s dreams of a College World Series title. But Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer couldn’t bear losing to the other.

“Those are two very competitive dudes,” says former UCLA pitcher Zack Weiss.

They were just college kids then, all potential and everything still to prove. They were UCLA’s pair of aces. They spit fire. They threw gas. They frustrated and fueled each other. This was before Cole and Bauer were drafted first and third overall in the 2011 Draft, before the big leagues, before the sticky-substances speculation, before they joined the Yankees and Dodgers, before they were the highest-paid pitchers in the game, before they were Cy Young candidates on World Series contenders in baseball’s biggest markets. Back then, they were starting back to back for the Bruins and battling for foul balls, side by side in the tinderbox of college baseball.

I find it fascinating when two (or more) great players are on the same team prior to being professionals. The above anecdote is just one example of how things were between these two. But this article does an excellent job of getting information, both on and off the record, about what went on behind the scenes when two hyper-competitive future aces competed together, and with each other. 

The article theorizes that Cole, a classically trained and natural pitcher, did not like that Bauer trained by his own methods. However, Bauer’s methods seem to work for him and many of those methods have become popular over the last ten years. The article also notes a quote from Bauer before their final year at UCLA, where Bauer says that Cole annoys him:

“It’s interesting: A lot of things (Cole) does —” Bauer pauses again, “— annoy me. We’re two different personalities. He’s very loud, kind of a vocal leader, in a sense. So at practices, he’s the one getting guys fired up — you know, ‘Yeah, great play!’ — that kind of stuff. I’m more of the sit-back, keep-to-myself, quiet, lead-by-example type. So when he’s out there yelling, for me it’s just like, ‘Oh Gerrit, just shut up.’ But I’m sure when I’m sitting there talking to someone about overlaying video and looking at pitch breaks and stuff like that, he’s probably sitting there thinking, ‘Oh Bauer, shut up.’ You know? So I think we have a pretty good relationship, for being two vastly, vastly different personality types.”

Bauer, of course, is notoriously an asshole – or worse, like in 2019 when he harassed a woman on Twitter for hours because she criticized him. Less is known about Bauer, who keeps a very low profile off the field. So this article was an interesting look at how these two became who they are now. Good read.

Source: ‘Why Do Those Two Clash?’ Inside the Legendary Gerrit Cole-Trevor Bauer Rivalry at UCLA,” 


DJ BC RAW 

Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is having a resurgent year. Resurgent is perhaps not the right word. He’s somehow, at age 34, better than ever. Crawford has had hot streaks before. For example, in June 2018 I wrote the following:

The Giants’ shortshop has been en fuego the last six weeks. He was hitting .190 heading into May, but after going 4-for-4 against the Nats on Sunday, was sitting at .338 for the season, after hitting .412 in May and (thus far) .539 in June. The dude hit .412 for a month and nearly halfway through the next month is hitting more than 125 points better! Uh, holy cow?

Something about this feels different. For one thing, the power is there in a way it never has. In that 2018 season I wrote about, Crawford ended the season with a 100 OPS+ – an exactly league average hitter – and 14 home runs. But this season, he already has 15 home runs. It’s mid-June! He’s only once hit more than 14 – when he hit 21 in 2015. His OPS+ is 139. This continues Crawford’s improvements in the short 2020 season, when he hit 8 home runs in just 54 games.

FanGraphs’ Luke Hooper did a short but excellent breakdown of Crawford’s swing changes since 2020. It’s pretty interesting.

Two big changes should jump out to you: hand placement and a more open stance. In 2019, Crawford was quite upright, almost leaning backward, before starting his swing. Now he seems to be in a more meaningful hitting position from the start. His stance is built with more purpose, with his front leg open, possibly as a way to provide better balance with a more hunched upper body and extended arms, and his hands are far from his body with a much quieter setup overall.

2020, of course, coincides with the new hitting staff under Giants manager Gabe Kapler. That staff has led a resurgence with a host of Giants vets, most notable Crawford, Posey, and Longoria, all of whom looked toast by the end of 2019, and are all somehow as good or better than ever. Don’t worry. I’ll be taking my victory lap on my optimism (cautious as though it might have been) a little later in the season, for now I want to discuss Crawford.

Crawford is a free agent after this year, and if he keeps hitting (and fielding) like this, the Giants will have quite the decision to make in the offseason. CHeading into this season, fans were eyeing the free agent shortstop class – Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Marcus Semien, and until he signed an extension with the Mets, Francisco Lindor. But Crawford is out playing them all – he’s 9th in MLB in both WAR and OPS. In fact, the only shortstop playing better than him is Fernando Tatis, Jr., who may end up the NL MVP.

These decisions are a two-way street, of course. Crawford reportedly lives in Arizona in the offseason these days, which why. But Crawford grew up in the Bay Area, and the Giants were his favorite team.

He recently became the all-time Giants lead in games played at shortstop. He also just hit ten years in the league. And, of course, the Giants were his favorite team growing up – the story is too perfect for him to leave. It will be truly gross if he goes to the Diamondbacks (ugh) for a couple years. I’m not one for sentimentality, but if he’s still good (and he absolutely is), then I think the Giants should do what they need to do to keep him. -TOB

Source: How Brandon Crawford’s New Swing Turned Things Around,” Luke Hooper, Fangraphs (06/07/2021)


Keep the U.S. Open Public…At Least Sometimes

Of course, part of the brilliance in Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore is how both movies make an absolute mockery of country club stereotypes associated with golf. In one, you find yourself pulling for a caddy, and the other, you’re rooting for the enforcer in a Bruins jersey. Beneath all the humor is some feel-good, middle-class vindication. In both of those movies the spirit of the local muni golf course is, at least indirectly, celebrated. 

As the U.S. Open gets rolling this year, it’s important to note that the site, Torey Pines, is a municipal course operated by the city of San Diego. Much like Harding Park in San Francisco, or Bethpage Black in New York, these courses are open and, at least to city residents, relatively affordable to play. 

It’s cool when the United State Open, which is a tournament truly open to anyone who qualifies, is played on courses that are also open to anyone to play. It’s a meaningful symmetry. 

Which is why I was so bummed to read this story from The New York Times. The gist of it, ℅ Paul Sullivan: 

As the U.S. Open moves to more of a fixed rotation of courses — known as a rota — this week’s tournament could be the end of an era when the United States Golf Association experimented with hosting Opens on truly public courses.

Pebble Beach Golf Links in California and Pinehurst in North Carolina are set to host several U.S. Opens in the coming years, but neither could be considered truly public because people pay thousands of dollars a night to stay in their lodges if they want to be able to pay hundreds of dollars to play the course. Of the next six courses that the U.S.G.A. has announced through 2027, none will be truly public.

LAME. 

Why take a good idea—sprinkling in some of the best munis as U.S. Open sites—and replace it with a lame idea (sprinkling in some of the best private courses as U.S. Open sites)? 

Apparently, convenience. 

There are practical, financial reasons for returning to the same venues regularly, but the switch may come at another cost, to the public venues and the geographic diversity that brought the national championship to new markets.

“The wonderful thing about the Open when it was rotating is you got to see so many different places,” said Michael Hurzdan, who designed Erin Hills. “Different horses for different courses. There’s a lot to be said for that. When you go to the rota, something’s going to be lost.”

Amen, Hurzdan!

Bring the U.S. Open back to Munis! – PAL 

Source:At the U.S. Open, Public Courses Are Losing”, Paul Sullivan, The New York Times (06/16/21)
TOB: This feels like the consultification (a word I think I just made up) of golf. The PGA wanted to increase profits so they brought in McKinsey or some other awful consulting firm and said, “How can we increase profits 5%?” So the McKinsey guys looked at the numbers and said, “If you limit the number of places you travel, you can have more of an existing infrastructure, thus saving you some cash.” The shepherds of our sports are failing us.


An Ode to the Diamondbacks, Perhaps the Worst Team of All-Time

That is perhaps an exaggeration. But consider the last two months of Diamondbacks baseball. The team started the season a very respectable 15-13. In that stretch, Madison Bumgarner threw a 7-inning no hitter to bring the team to 11-11. And that game is when the Diamondbacks seemed to light themselves on fire. 

Since Bumgarner’s no-hitter, the Diamondbacks have not won a road game. Not one. That was April 25, almost two full months ago. 23 straight road losses. That, if you’re wondering, is indeed a record. 23 straight road losses! That’s 1/6 of a full season! They set the record on Thursday in San Francisco, a day game I had the joy of attending, as the Giants hitters battered Arizona’s best pitcher (Zac Gallen) and its bullpen all game long, winning 10-3. But the real pain was on Tuesday – the Diamondbacks jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the second inning. The Giants kept chipping away, though, and in the bottom of the 8th Mike Yastrzemski hit a 2-out, 2-strike grand friggin slam into McCovey Cove. It was a great moment for the Giants, but seemed to kill the Diamondbacks’ spirits. 

Now, look, 23-straight road losses is very bad. It’s sorta unbelievable. But what I did not realize until after that game is that the Diamondbacks aren’t winning much at home, either. In fact, in their last 31 games overall, the team is 2-29. TWO wins and TWENTY NINE losses. That is IMPOSSIBLE. 

The worst baseball teams of the modern era are probably either the 1962 Mets (120 losses) or the 2003 Tigers (119 losses). Those Tigers were outscored by 337 runs (591 to 928). They started the season 3-25. Later they had 2 for 23 and 1 for 17 streaks. Their longest losing streak was 11. They were shutout 17 times. They were awful.
But the DBacks are worse! They would kill for 3-25 right now. They are in the middle of a 15-game losing stream, having already ended a previous 14-game losing streak. There is of course plenty of time for the DBacks to turn this around and play respectable baseball again. It’s a team of veterans and I don’t actually think they end up close to 120 losses. But for 1/5 of the season they are on a ten win and 150 loss pace. That’s a big enough sample size to take note. So as I said at the outset – calling them the worst team of all time may be an exaggeration, but they are certainly in one of the worst, if not the worst, two month stretches of all time. We should start paying attention.

-TOB


Video of the Week

Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

Los Dos Carnales – “Mis Raíces”


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Oh, understudies are a very shifty bunch. The substitute teachers of the theater world.

-Cosmo Kramer

Week of May 28, 2021


The Dumbest Defensive Play in MLB History? Or the Smartest Baserunning in MLB History?

Look, there have been a lot of baseball plays in MLB history. Best I can tell, through Wednesday’s games, there have in fact been 11,372,469 balls in play (plate appearances minus strikeouts, walks, hit by pitch, and intentional walks). 11 million! That’s a lot. So I am going out on a limb when I say that I think Thursday’s Pirates/Cubs game featured the dumbest defensive play in MLB history. I’m open to other suggestions, of course. But the following play is just so incredibly dumb it’s hard to sit here and fathom a dumber play. 

So now let’s break it down. 

The scene: The Cubs are up 1-0 in the third. There’s a runner on second. There are two outs. I repeat: there are TWO outs. This is a very important fact. The Cubs’ Javy Baez, one of the smartest players in MLB, is at bat.

Baez hits a routine grounder to third. Here you can see the Pirates’ third baseman Erik Gonzalez preparing to field the ball, as Cubs catcher Willson Contrerars heads for third. 

Gonzalez fields the ball cleanly and makes the throw to first. Here we see Pirates’ first baseman Will Craig awaiting the throw, as Baez approaches first. As a reminder: there are TWO outs.

Next we see Craig has stepped off the bag to receive the throw, which was just a little up the line toward home. Baez appears to already be thinking about his next move, as he has begun to stop.

Craig at that point has a decision. Reminder: there are two outs. Does he turn around and step on first base? Sure, that would make sense. It would be the third out and the inning would be over. Or does he run Baez down and tag him out? Honestly, that works, too. Even if Contreras comes around to score before Baez is out, the run would not count unless Baez safely makes it to first base at some point during the play. Craig goes with the latter. Sure, why not.

Baez retreats all the way to the plate. This is where Craig makes his first mistake. As you can see, he notices Contreras running from third to home. But remember, that doesn’t matter unless Baez makes it safely to first. Craig forgets this fact and/or panics. Craig takes the ball out of his glove and holds it up like he is throwing home.

The catcher then makes his first mistake. 

He holds up his glove, ready to receive the ball. There is no force at home and the run will not count unless Baez gets to first, from which he is now 85 feet away from, with a player holding the ball in his path. The catcher should be screaming, like the announcers, TAG HIM. He should be refusing the ball in order to knock some sense into Craig. Nope. He puts up his glove. So Craig throws it, an absolutely inexplicable decision.

But all is not lost. The catcher caught the ball! This seems easy enough. Tag Baez or throw to first. But he instead tries to tag Contreras. Ok, I mean, it’s risky, but I guess. Contreras beats the tag. Again, all is not lost! All they need to do is tag Baez or throw to first. Baez, inexplicably, does not break for first but instead turns around to help the umpire with the safe call. 

Baez immediately realizes his mistake and breaks for first. The catcher also finally gets his head on straight and looks to throw to first.

But, folks, there is nobody home. I have no idea where the second baseman is and why he’s not covering the bag. I also have no idea why Craig didn’t retreat to first after he threw to second. Both huge mistakes. Finally, we see Frazier, the second baseman, come into view, coming from all the way across the diamond. Why he was over there is also inexplicable. 

And there we see the problem. Baez might beat Frazier to the bag. In fact he does, in part because the catcher makes a horrendous throw, way too far from the bag and behind Frazier.

The ball in fact skips by Frazier, Baez sprints to second, the Cubs bench goes bananas. Absolutely ape shit. Rizzo might have coughed up a lung.

God dang, man. Let’s watch it together.

Now I ask you – isn’t that the dumbest defensive play in MLB history? There were so many ways to execute that play and at almost every turn the Pirates took the worst and/or riskiest and/or dumbest and/or most complicated route. They forgot one of the most simple concepts in the game – a run can’t score with two outs unless the batter safely reaches first, and then completely blew up. 

For his part, Javy Baez was classic Baez – an absolute pest that made this all happen just by doing something unusual and making every Pirates’ player’s brain go haywire. And for that reason, while the defensive play was incredibly dumb, Javy’s play might also have been the smartest base running I’ve ever seen, too. As always in baseball – put pressure on the defense. They might do something stupid.

Making it even worse – those two runs ended up being pretty important. The Pirates lost 5-3. -TOB


The A’s Are Full of Shit

Pictured: Con Man

The A’s, while still marketing themselves as “Rooted in Oakland,” are very publicly threatening to dig up those roots and move elsewhere. Reportedly meeting recently with officials in Portland, Vegas and perhaps elsewhere, the A’s president Dave Kaval drew a line in the sand last week, stating in an interview with Scott Ostler that for the A’s, they either get a new stadium at the Howard Terminal location or they are leaving Oakland.

“That’s why we’re at a point now where really in Oakland, it’s Howard Terminal or bust.

Prior to that interview, MLB released a statement saying the Coliseum site “is not a viable option.” Kaval explained that modern, successful ballparks are in downtown settings, and agreed that the Coliseum site is not viable. Ostler pressed Kaval on that in the following exchange:

Chronicle: But if your Howard Terminal plans fall through, why would the Coliseum not be viable, considering the public access and other positives that many feel make that spot viable?

Kaval: I think it’s important to recognize that two teams have already left the site, both the Warriors and the Raiders. So it has not shown itself, from a market perspective, to be a location that’s viable for 21st century professional sports. … So you have the teams that have left, (and) you have the fact that the most successful locations are in the downtown urban environment.

But Ostler should have pressed harder because Kaval’s statement is an absolute load of horse shit. The Warriors and Raiders did not leave because the Coliseum site is not a viable option. The Warriors left because they wanted to go to San Francisco. But it had nothing to do with the Coliseum site itself. In fact, the Warriors consistently drew big and raucous crowds, even in down years for the team. Similarly, the Raiders left because they wanted a new stadium…somewhere. The stadium itself is a dump. But the Raiders would have stayed if they got a new stadium at the Coliseum site. As with the Warriors, the Raiders leaving had nothing to do with the Coliseum site. 

Which is why Kaval should be roasted for this. -TOB

Source: Dave Kaval on A’s Future in Oakland: ‘It’s Howard Terminal or Bust,’” Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle (05/21/2021)

PAL: Just trying to figure out the reasons for the delay on the Howard Terminal site takes some work and government decoding of lawsuits from dock worker unions, environmental impact reports, delays on governor approvals for expedited reviews. I can only imagine how frustrating a process like this would be for ownership that wants to build and pay for a new stadium…

Oh, that’s right; the A’s want the taxpayers to pay for the lion’s share of the proposed development. Since the team is asking for money from the taxpayers, then they are subject to all that government red tape. And when the team doesn’t get what it wants, Kaval can make up crap about the need to be in downtown locations (not the case for Texas Rangers or Atlanta Braves). 

With every one of these stadium stories that has come up over the past several years, my appreciation for the Giants ownership grows. They paid for the stadium, and I’ve become more and more convinced that public financing of stadiums is a scam. Owning a sports team is a great investment for people or groups who can afford it. Let super rich people build the stadium and profit off of their investments. Keep it simple. It will really stink to have all of the Oakland-based teams leave within a few years, but a team and ownership shouldn’t hold its city hostage whenever it wants new digs.


No Onions? That’s a Problem: A Good Rant About Condiments

I love a good rant, and this is a really good one by Defector’s Kelsey McKinney. Kelsey attended a Washington Nationals game this week, and she is upset that the Nats removed the traditional hot dog condiment bar for…a robot. Kelsey sets the scene:

I love a hot dog. To me, it is important to consume no fewer than 30 hot dogs or summer never happened. Last year, for example, there was no summer. But this year, I am determined. It is the end of May and I had already eaten eight hot dogs going into last night. And where, I ask you, is a better place to eat a hot dog than in a baseball stadium’s folding chair? Nowhere. The constant distraction makes your dog taste better.

I assure you that Phil read that paragraph and nodded along vigorously.

Next, Kelsey sets up the conflict.

My friend Hannah went with me, and she obtained the first round of hot dogs. Another important belief I have is that hot dogs should be consumed in rounds, as a treat.

When Hannah came back with the hot dogs, she warned me: “There was no relish.” AWFUL! But things became worse. My mustard was all clumped in one spot. This was inconvenient but I am really brave, so I simply used my finger to move my mustard around a little bit. But where was the relish? I like a hot dog to have many things on it. Where were the unevenly diced onions that fall from the mouth of the onion crank too quickly? There were none.

I’m not a big relish guy, but a hot dog definitely needs onions! You need that crunch. And the clump of mustard? What? I’m with Kelsey – this is not good, and it’s about to get worse. Later, Kelsey goes to get the “second round of hot dogs” (LOL) and here’s what she encounters:

In case you have never had a day of fun in your life and are unfamiliar with the condiment island, it is a place that is historically home to giant gallon pumps of condiments. You put your hot dog under the spout and press the lever and the condiment comes out. This makes intuitive sense. Everyone likes it. The condiments are all separate.

But this island had been ruined, redeveloped by people who didn’t understand its culture. The jugs of delicious condiments had been replaced by two shiny machines that looked like espresso makers. 

Oh, this sounds AWFUL. I found a picture online.

The picture doesn’t look terrible but as Kelsey explains, they absolutely are. 

They work like this: You put your hot dog underneath the single spout. Then three hand signals light up. You place your hand (Without touching! No touching!) over the one that you want, and the machine glugs out the condiment. You cannot control when it stops. You cannot control the pace. The condiments were limited to the runny ones: ketchup, bbq sauce, mustard, honey mustard, dijon mustard. No relish. No mayo. No onion crank!!

And here’s the money rant:

This was awful. The condiment island had fallen victim to the dopey hygiene theater that sports teams have been deploying throughout the pandemic, and continue to insist upon even though we all know now that the coronavirus doesn’t do much spreading via surfaces. The gluggy jugs were fine! They were good, even. I liked using them!! This all felt especially ridiculous since the signage at the stadium indicated that people who were vaccinated did not have to wear masks. So many people were walking around without masks and then being forced to use this terrible robot.

Gluggy jugs made me chuckle. So did Kelsey telling a Nats employee, “It seems like these things suck.” Solid rant. -TOB

Source: They Ruined The Damn Condiment Island,” Kelsey McKinney, Defector (05/25/2021)

PAL:

  1. I think I should have a hotdog for lunch. 
  2. A day game with hotdog and beer is heaven
  3. McKinney is right – give me a dog with a lot of condiments on it. Onions, mustard, relish at a minimum. Hell, put some kraut on a dog, too. Load me up.
  4. Do we need a friggin’ automated experience for every goddamn moment of our life? What is wrong with the long, spindle spoon and metal trough of onions and relish? 
  5. I really want a hot dog. 
  6. This was a hilarious story. 

Revisiting Jackass

(Jackass is at least sports-adjacent, right? Well, I say it is and so I’m going to write about it, having read this interesting GQ story about Johnny Knoxville, now 50 (FIFTY!!!!!) years old, and putting the final touches on Jackass 4 (FOUR!), which is set to be released in October.)

Jackass hit MTV in fall 2000, when I was 18. This seems to be about the perfect age to have a show like Jackass come into one’s life. I was old enough that these guys were more or less my peers – most of them are just a few years older than me, but also old enough to not be stupid enough to try to recreate any of their stunts. 

When Jackass first aired, I was ready. The concept was not foreign to me, nor were many of the stars. My friend Hank had ordered the CKY2K VHS out of Big Brother magazine and the tape was passed around our school like wildfire. If you’ve never seen the video, it was part band video, part skate video, part precursor to Jackass. Just a bunch of dudes doing dumb stuff for a laugh. And we LOVED it. The star was Bam Margera, who would soon become part of the Jackass crew, as co-star/second banana to Johnny Knoxville, who had his own crew doing similar things. Here’s the full CKY2K movie, if you have an hour:

Bam’s crew and Johnny’s crew merged and Jackass was formed. It was a huge hit, as Knoxville says now:

“It all happened so fast—I don’t know how,” Knoxville said. “We were on the air, and ratings exploded, and I’m on the cover of Rolling Stone. It just happened in an instant.”

The show had no story – it was just a collection of bits. I guess you could call it a sketch physical comedy/stunt show. As the article says: “What they assembled was possibly the most efficient show in the history of television: Bits were rarely more than a minute or two long, and some of the strongest topped out at 15 seconds. It was wall-to-wall mayhem.” 

I am sure plenty of women liked the show, but it was immensely popular among basically every guy I knew. Here’s the writer’s experience, which mirrors mine in some ways (though he is younger than me):

I was 11 at the time. I cannot describe how powerfully it reordered my sense of what was funny; nor can I express how rapidly it permeated the fundamental grammar of my friendships. The first stunt that captured my attention, I told Knoxville, was a relatively simple one: Nutball, where participants strip down to their underwear, sit with their legs splayed, and take turns lobbing a racquetball at each other’s crotches. If you flinched, you lost. If you didn’t flinch, you won—but also, you lost.

“Nutball!” he howled, momentarily flooded with nostalgia. “Me and my buddy Kevin Scruggs made that up when we were 10 in my parents’ living room.”

In so many ways, Jackass was nothing more than that: the kind of shit boys do to make each other laugh, stretched into 22 minutes. It was a demolition derby starring human Looney Tunes. Knoxville, naturally, was Bugs Bunny, the stick of dynamite not quite hidden behind his back. His costars were a rowdy band of fuckups: skaters and stunt performers and one enormous guy and one Wee Man and, in Steve-O, one Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College graduate with an easy gag reflex. They appeared to genuinely love one another—but to only be able to show that love through increasingly baroque forms of torture.

The article is very interesting – I learned a lot I didn’t know about Johnny Knoxville (real name: P.J. Clapp) (original aspiration: to be a famous actor). And it was sad, too. Many of the stars have lived hard – Ryan Dunn died in a terrible car accident about ten years ago, for example. Bam Margera is not in Jackass 4 because, reportedly, he could not or would not agree to get clean for filming. The bright spot is Steve-O, who defied all odds in surviving the last twenty years, having gotten clean back in 2008. 

But more than anything else this article was a fun dose of nostalgia. Not just remembering the characters and the show and the stunts and the bits, but remembering that time in my life – 18, 19 years old, sitting in Joe’s den late at night laughing at dumb videos of dudes doing dumb things, with Joe and Danny and Stacy and Jim and Hank and probably more. Man, those were good times. Jackass really captures that time for me, and I’m sure for a lot of people, when I had barely a care in the world, other than having fun with my friends. So this week, after reading the article, I watched Jackass 3. I am not positive I had seen it before. I think by the time it came out, in 2010, I decided I had outgrown the show.

Man, I was wrong! I was so wrong. I was cackling and howling throughout the movie. At one point, my wife popped her head in.

“Are you watching Jackass?” 

“Yes.”

She walked right out without comment. Which is how it should be. -TOB

Source: Johnny Knoxville’s Last Rodeo,” Sam Schube, GQ (05/25/2021)

PAL:

Close enough to sports! This story is so well-written. One of the best things I’ve read in 2021. TOB does a great job highlighting the odd yet powerful nostalgia Jackass retains, especially for guys around our age, and Schube does a great job putting Knoxville and the show into a broader context of how television and entertainment has evolved in the last quarter century. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from Sam Schube’s story:

And stranger still, this once seemingly frivolous spectacle that emerged from the margins of entertainment seemed to predict where a huge chunk of our culture was headed.

It was easy at the time to describe Jackass as lowest-common-denominator entertainment, a feeble nadir in TV’s race to the bottom. With time, though, it became clear that the show was operating at the intersection of a number of ancient American traditions. If you squinted, you could see traces of Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges. Knoxville’s outlaw influences were present too. Spike Jonze told me that he and Tremaine and Knoxville hadn’t discussed how the stunts might be introduced on the show, so Knoxville improvised what would become a signature opening to each segment. “He started saying, ‘Hi, I’m Johnny Knoxville and this is the Cup Test,’ or whatever it was,” Jonze wrote in an email. “Only later, I remember listening to Johnny Cash Live, and hearing Johnny Cash say, ‘Hi, I’m Johnny Cash and this is “Folsom Prison Blues,” ’ and a lightbulb went off. I was like, damn…no wonder it’s so iconic.”

They’d managed to film only 24 episodes and a special, but MTV recycled the material endlessly. (“For 10 years,” Knoxville said.) Despite its brevity, the show was able to graze, or even predict, a number of emerging cultural trends. It helped hasten MTV’s shift to reality-based content. Hollywood began to throw money at films—Old School, Step Brothers, The Hangover—about stunted, self-thwarting men. Platforms like YouTube, Vine, and TikTok, which would build billion-dollar businesses atop clips of people doing stupid things, were years away.

He started seeing a therapist. There were limits: He told her he wasn’t interested in exploring the part of him that wanted to do stunts. “I know that needs looking at,” he said. “But I didn’t want to break the machine.”


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Song – Sturgill Simpson – “Hero”


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“Wow, graphs and charts. Somebody’s really been doing their homework. Looks like USA Today.”

Michael Scott

Week of May 21, 2022

A True Arteest’s Rendering of a Very Happy Family.

Congrats, PAL!


Will the No-Hitter Epidemic Force Baseball to Change?

For the past few years, baseball has gotten a lot less active. Strikeouts are up. Hits are down. Yes, home runs are up. But balls in play are way down. There’s just a lot less action to watch. Things have gotten extreme this year, though. In an attempt to curtail the home run surge, MLB changed the ball. But they did so ignoring that if hitters weren’t hitting home runs, they weren’t doing much of anything at all. So take all those other changes I listed and then drastically drop the home run rate and you’ve got very little offense. In fact, teams are averaging just 7.82 hits per game, the second lowest ever behind 1908, and 8.98 strikeouts per game (the most ever).

In very related news, the league is off to a record setting pace for no-hitters. There have already been six, including two this week, and not including Madison Bumgarner’s 7-inning no-hitter that we all agree was absolutely a no-hitter. Look, no-hitters are great. So fun! Unless your team is being no-hit – looking at you Texas, Cleveland, Seattle – each of which has been no-hit twice apiece. But even as fans of other teams, usually a no-hitter is exciting. One of those weird, rare things in baseball that can happen anytime you show up to the park.

So, is the no-hitter surge a canary in a coal mine? Could it in fact push baseball into making changes that might save itself from this dead offense era?

The biggest problem is the lack of contact. Pitchers are too good. Substances they are using are too effective. Ted Williams once said hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in sports. If he wasn’t right then he sure is now. Seemingly every team now has 5 guys throwing 98+ mph with insane late movement. If players can’t put the ball in play, exciting things can’t happen. So how does MLB combat that?

The most obvious thing to do would be to police these substances pitchers use. Jayson Stark covered this topic this week, and there were some interesting quotes from some unnamed players. For example, this NL pitcher:

“You have hitters who are like, ‘How the f— are we supposed to hit this?’ For big-league hitters to admit defeat is rare. But when you have a guy throwing a fastball that rises 4 feet or a slider that looks like a strike and drops off another foot, it’s like video game stuff. You think (hitters) are just complaining, but then you look at the video and it’s like, holy s—, how are they supposed to hit this? I don’t care what your approach is at the plate, you don’t have a chance.”

And this AL pitcher:

“It is getting out of hand,” said an American League pitcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “When you watch some of these guys from the dugout you can almost hear the ball ripping out of their hands. Guys are doing stuff now that you can’t do to a baseball with just your hand. You just can’t.”

Phillies catcher JT Realmuto added:

“I would just crack down on the substances they use on their hands,” Realmuto said. “You see pitchers out there all game long doing this (touching his mitt). They’re not doing anything about it. I think if they cracked down on that, that would honestly help the offense a lot, get the ball in play more often and (result in) less swing and missing.”

I agree – we should start there. I am hopeful it would fix a lot of the problems. If not, then I think MLB does need to take a look at some options I’ve seen thrown around – moving the mound back, shortening the base paths, making the strike zone smaller. Whatever they do, they need to do something. They can’t sit around expecting things to just change. -TOB

Sources: “The Historic No-hitter Pace Is Bad for Fans. But It May Be Just What MLB Needs,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/20/2021); What Are We Even Doing Here?’: Around Baseball, Players Raise Concerns About Pitchers’ Use of Foreign Substances,” Jayson Stark, The Athletic (05/21/2021); Why Have There Been So Many No-Hitters in 2021?“, Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times (05/20/2021)


Elderly Man Angry After Man Swings at 3-0 Pitch in Blowout

If you follow sports, you saw this story: the White Sox were blowing out the Twins this week. Late in the game, the Twins brought in infielder Willians “La Tortuga” (Editor Note: LOL) Astudillo to pitch. He proceeded to lob in a few pitches that might as well have been soft pitch softball tosses. White Sox hitter Yermin Mercedes watched three ugly balls go by. In a 3-0 count, he finally got a pitch in or around the strike zone and mashed it all to hell.

This, to me, is the result we should expect. Once you put a position player into pitch, you are throwing up the white flag and saying, “We are basically playing an exhibition game. We just need to get these last few outs so we can go home. Let’s have a little fun and not waste our real pitchers in such an outing.” Well, apparently, not everyone feels that way.

There were rumblings after the game about whether Mercedes should swing up 3-0 with a position player in the game. White Sox manager Tony LaRussa said Mercedes (his own player) “made a mistake” promised it “won’t happen again” and that he was very upset about it. He also said Yermin would face internal consequences. He called him “foolish” and said he doesn’t “got a clue.”

Uh, what. Late in the following game, a Twins reliever very obviously intentionally threw at Mercedes’ legs. And that’s when things got really weird. After that game, White Sox manager Tony LaRussa was asked about Mercedes being targeted and said he agreed with it.

At this point it seems LaRussa may have started a mutiny by not having his guy’s back. After having said Mercedes won’t do it again, Mercedes said he absolutely would.

Mercedes’ teammate Tim Anderson also publicly supported Mercedes, and thus contradicted his manager.


I can’t find the quote, but yet another White Sox player said essentially if you don’t want players to keep playing then either end the game or put a real pitcher in there. I agree. These unwritten rules are so stupid. Just last week, the Dodgers were up 13-0 on the Angels in the 6th. The Angels cut it to 13-4. The Dodgers didn’t stop, scoring another run to make it 14-4, when the Angels put up 7 to make it 14-11 in the 7th. Don’t you think the Dodgers are glad they kept playing?

LaRussa’s reaction reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The Wire, from Slim Charles: “The thing about the old days, they the old days.”

The heartening thing about this story is that most people seem to agree that Mercedes was right to swing and LaRussa was particularly wrong to not back his player. Baseball is finally starting to get out of its own way on these dumb “rules.” -TOB


Much Ado About Machado

Manny Machado slid and broke up a double play last weekend. That’s not unusual. What is unusual is that the slide occurred about 40 feet from second base. 

Machado has a reputation for being a dirty player who does dangerous things on a baseball field. That reputation is well deserved because of things like this in the 2018 NLCS:

And this:

And this:

And this:

As I said, the reputation is well deserved. So when a guy with a reputation like that does something a little unusual, there’s an immediate and natural reaction to say that it was dirty. 

https://twitter.com/JomboyMedia/status/1394133907860299781?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1394133907860299781%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fdefector.com%2Fmanny-machado-hits-another-middle-infielder-with-a-bizarre-sloppy-slide%2F

Except…I’ve now watched this play a dozen times and I can’t decide if it’s clean or dirty. Machado had nowhere to go and he was trying to avoid the tag and thus the double play. Sure, he could have stopped and gone backwards forcing the second baseman to either commit to the tag or throw to first. But I don’t think this was an unreasonable effort just because there was another option for him. On the other hand, his “slide” was not so much as a slide as it was a leg first dive into the second baseman, and he started the dive extremely late. The more I watch it the more I don’t think you can reasonably argue that he was trying to avoid the tag – he was merely trying to take the fielder out. 

Disagree? -TOB


Video of the Week

Me and the Boys, Last Saturday

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

I mean, I had to:


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I think if I was allergic to dairy I’d kill myself.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 7, 2021

Happy 90th Birthday to the greatest ballplayer of all-time!

Update: Drew Robinson, the Baseball Player Who Survived a Suicide Attempt Last Year, Makes the Giants’ AAA Roster

Honestly, this is unbelievable. In February, we wrote about Drew Robinson. On April 16, 2020, Robinson tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. He survived the blast, and then the next 20 hours alone, before finally deciding to call for help. The fact he’s alive is miracle enough, but on some level I believe it – these things do happen. But Robinson lost his right eye as a result, and there is no scenario I could imagine wherein Robinson would ever play professional baseball again. And yet! 

That was the Sacramento Rivercats’ roster in their season debut this week in Las Vegas, Robinson’s hometown. WHAT. I will be honest, when Robinson’s story was published in February and it talked about his comeback attempt, I thought, “Well, that would be cool, but c’mon.” But here’s what his doctor had to say about it:

He no longer needs baseball in an elemental way. This is a test. Of his strength and resolve and willingness to flirt with failure. Hitting major league pitching with two working eyes is extraordinarily difficult. Doing so with one, and the rear eye at that, only increases the degree of difficulty. Only one man has lost an eye and played in the major leagues: Whammy Douglas, who threw 47 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957.

Myint, the eye surgeon, says that the binocular vision two eyes provide matters for up-close depth perception. But hitters typically decide to swing when the ball is about 45 feet from home plate, where depth-perception issues, Myint says, would not necessarily manifest themselves. And because, as a baseball player, Robinson’s brain has already exhibited a unique ability to track high-speed movement, the aptitude he had been showing in all these batting-practice sessions, Myint says, could be very real.

Obviously, doctors know more than I do. Because Robinson is back. He hit a couple dingers in spring training, including a 450-foot bomb. And now he’s almost back to the major leagues. -TOB

Source: Drew Robinson Makes San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A Roster After Losing Eye in 2020 Suicide Attempt,Jeff Passan, ESPN (05/05/2021)

PAL: To see him in a big league game would be one of the most incredible baseball moments. I mean, can you imaging how powerful it would be for all the people who’ve attempted suicide, had ideations, or know someone who has been impacted by suicide? It already is a remarkable story – for him to make a AAA roster is phenomenal. 


Baseball’s Going In The Wrong Direction

There’s a section in Jayson Stark’s April review of the MLB season that got me texting Rowe and TOB. Something’s going on in baseball that’s pretty alarming, and after reading this, I understand why they are trying a bunch of odd shit in the minors, including moving the mound back a foot and limiting defensive shifts. Per Stark: 

STRIKEOUTS: 6,924

HITS: 5,832

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the single largest strikeouts-to-hits differential in any month ever. And it wasn’t even close.

Largest K/H differentials by month

April 2021: 1,096

Sept. 2019: 705

April 2019: 529

Sept. 2020: 496

What’s more, until May 2018, there had never been a month where there were more strikeouts than hits. Now we have 1000 more strikeouts than hits! 

With this in mind, we can assume pitchers are throwing harder (and with a higher spin rate, causing unhittable movement thanks to the OK to put substances on the fingers), hitters trying to hit bombs and OK with the K’s. With that, singles and doubles are heading for the endangered species list due to higher strikeout rate, smarter infield shifts, less ground balls with launch angle, but the doubles seems a little more complicated. 

I think anyone who semi-regularly watches baseball can agree that the games have become a lot more strikeouts and fly balls. I just didn’t know the rate of change has been so steep. Baseball has a real problem on its hands. Home runs aren’t the highlight they used to be, and neither are strikeouts or seeing 100 on the radar. – PAL 

Source: “What We Learned in April — Offense is at 1968 Levels (or Worse), But Must-Watch Performances are Everywhere”, Jayson Stark, The Athletic (05/03/21)


The Lady Behind The Lady Byng Award

https://admin.defector.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2021/05/Lady_Byng_HS85-10-39387.jpg?resize=1080,1325

This is one of the more oddly engrossing stories we’ve posted about. Every year, the NHL hands out a sportsmanship award. Yep, just like your middle school teams did. The cup-shaped trophy (always a fan of cup-themed trophies) is given to the most effective player who essentially doesn’t get a lot of penalties. Despite some historic players winning it (Gretzky is a five-time winner, Pavel Datsyuk’s won it a bunch, too), I can’t think of an award that people care about less. 

And I couldn’t stop reading this story of Marie Evelyn Byng—the Lady!— from Maitreyi Anantharamn. Byng was this rich lady (I mean, in case you didn’t gather that from the distinction of being a “lady”) from England. Her husband was a general in the army, and the British crown gave him the role of “governor general, the British Crown’s representative to Canada”. If you think it sounds like a gig that comes with a big house in Ottawa, then you’d be right. 

Caption: I mean, look how happy Gretzky looks here! Proud as a peacock! 

With no good theater scene—she described the lack of good plays as “grievous”—and no real art scene, she turned to the sport all of Ottawa was obsessed with: ice hockey. She enjoyed the athleticism, and she could see the artistry in it, but she found the rough-and-tumble parts of the game (and the fans) to be unbecoming. Lady Byng wrote a letter to the NHL president, Frank Calder (who also has a hockey trophy in his name).

Per the Ottawa Citizen from 1925:

Feeling a great desire to help your effort to “clean up hockey” and eliminate the needless rough play that at present is a threat to the national game, and also to leave a tangible record of the enjoyment I personally have had from the game during our sojourn in Canada, I am writing to ask you if you will let me offer a challenge cup for the man on any team in the National Hockey League, who, while being thoroughly effective, is also a thoroughly clean player.

I am convinced that the public desires good sport, not the injuring of players, and if, by donating this challenge cup, I can in any way help towards this end, it will give me a great deal of pleasure.

SIGNED) Evelyn Byng of Vimy

And you can put together the rest. I don’t think this would be nearly as interesting of a read if it wasn’t for the the fact that stiff, rich Lady Byng also appears to have possessed a real love for her adopted home to go with a pretty dry sense of humor. While the full story is definitely worth your click, I’ll leave you with this from from Anantharamn:

For someone best known for prizing gentlemanly conduct, she had a surprisingly arch sense of humor. Maybe that was her way of coping with a lonely childhood or with the upheaval of a life lived through two world wars. This was a woman who heard planes overhead and screaming sirens in Essex during the Blitz, and mused that at her advanced age, “a bomb would have been a good solution.” If the trophy she gifted to NHL president Frank Calder in 1925 to help “clean up hockey” has become a league-wide joke, know that Lady Byng, an original Sens Sicko, would be the first one laughing.

Good read. – PAL 

Source: Who Was Lady Byng, And What Was Her Deal?”, Maitreyi Anantharamn, Defector (05/05/21)


Taking Lessons From John Means’ No-Hitter to Improve My Golf Game

This week, Orioles and Ron Popeils pitcher John Means threw a no-hitter (thank you for the 40-spot, John!). Later in the week, Eno Sarris tweeted an old story he wrote about how Means improved the movements on his pitch by just…thinking about it. Means had been taught to throw his changeup like his fastball, but his changeup was too fast. It didn’t have enough speed differential from his fastball. 

“How I was taught it was to throw it like my fastball, and got behind it, and it was too hard,” Means said. “It looked like my fastball, but it was too close to my fastball. Holt told me to think about pronating more.”

Pronating is basically a move of your wrist and hand toward the thumb near the end of release. Everyone naturally pronates when they throw, possibly as a result of releasing the ball off the dominant fingers, but by focusing on pronating, Means ended up deadening the pitch and removing velocity. Now only six changeups have a bigger velocity gap than Means’ does.

It’s amazing that one little piece of advice could do that, but Means insists there weren’t that many drills, that this was really all there was to it.

As Eno says, it is easy to see the link “between how a player thinks about a pitch and the resulting movement is when the cue is mechanical.” But Eno gives another example, when the connection is more “nebulous.” His example? Whaddayaknow, another Ron Popeil – Walker Buehler.

The Dodgers phenom came into the big leagues with a devastating hammer and great velocity, and has since been searching for the right slider to pull it all together. Last year, he changed the grip on the pitch and found success, but late in the year it started to drop less, and he thought it could have another gear if he reversed the trend. You can guess how he did it.

“Just a thought,” Buehler told me in early June. “I’m trying to throw it so it goes down. The grip and mechanics are the same, just a different cue.”

The difference is obvious in movement and outcomes so far this year.

Timeframe Slider Velo Slider Drop Slider Whiff%

Sept. 18-April 19 87 0.0 16%

June 19 to now 87 -1.5 25%

In his last two starts, Buehler has thrown more sliders in back-to-back starts than he has all year, and as a reward he has 21 strikeouts in his last 14 1/3 innings. All he had to do to improve his slider is to think about the movement he wanted.

Pretty interesting, really. And that brings me to golf. My game is very inconsistent, and I don’t hit it as far as I’d like. So, people, send me your thought tips. I want ‘em all. What should I be thinking in order to hit the ball longer and more consistently. Thank you. -TOB

Source: How to Change a Pitch by Changing Your Mind,” Eno Sarris, the Athletic (08/06/2019)


BP Pitchers Always Get It In

I love a good lede, and this story on MLB bullpen pitchers has one:

Fear not, citizens of Rancho Cucamonga. That paunchy, 61-year-old man you might have seen over the winter, throwing a baseball over and over against the exterior walls of various empty warehouses in your Southern California town—he means no harm. He is Mike Ashman, perfectly innocuous and gainfully employed by the Angels for a skill in which he takes great pride. Ashman is a professional batting practice pitcher. That is, he takes the field two hours before each Angels game to throw 60-mph strikes to Mike Trout and the rest of the lineup, to help them find their groove.

It’s all he does, but as narrow as his job description is, Ashman can’t just show up at spring training and throw 500 pitches a day, every day for nine months straight. He must build toward that workload. So there he is each winter, pelting those poor buildings with “fastballs” every five seconds, replacing the ball every few days once it disintegrates, until he can throw for 20 minutes straight. Only then will he be ready for the gantlet ahead.

Great imagery. The entire article has that – great imagery, romanticizing a mostly anonymous but important role for each baseball team. Some of it, I suppose, is cliche, but it works. Here are a few of my favorite passages:

Batting practice, then, is like therapy, a wordless, two-person conversation intended to build the confidence of the man about to enter the arena.

Forget pitch counts or precautionary shutdowns, Ashman throws at least 500 pitches a day, with a goal of just five sailing outside the strike zone. His performance reviews happen in real time, each thwack of wood on rawhide representing a thumbs-up from his higher-paid coworker.

A good BP pitcher learns where every hitter on the roster likes the ball. Then he puts it there. And nine times out of 10 won’t do. If “throw strikes” is the cardinal rule for real pitchers, it’s the papal rule for BP hurlers, who must possess Greg Maddux–level marksmanship above all else. Balls thrown outside a Group 1 hitter’s sweet spot can earn you a glance of mild annoyance, or the ol’ step-out-of-the-box-lean-back-and-reset move (those sting) or an impatient query about whether you’re all right. Too many will get you a clap on the shoulder and a somber, two-person stroll on the outfield grass that ends with “Best of luck.”

But the story also gets into the wear and tear these guys go through, as you can imagine happens when they throw 600 pitches every day for 6 months, and how the increased technology in pitching machines is creeping in on the job. But pitching machines will never replace a BP pitcher:

It will be more difficult to replace the camaraderie and the well-timed insult or Attaboy! that can help ward off slumps hiding just around the corner. No robot can supplant Ebel’s “four-seam fastballs as straight as you can send ’em, so you can make ’em feel good.” Much less his raspy laugh.

Fun read. -TOB

Source: Meet The Unsung Heroes Who Keep Baseball’s Sluggers in the Zone,” Michael McKnight, Sports Illustrated (05/06/2021)


Video of the Week

Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

Eddie Vedder – “Rise Up”


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Italians don’t wear pockets.”

-Michael Scott

Week of April 30, 2021


Bumgarner’s No-Hitter is Absolutely a No-Hitter (No, It’s Not) (Yes, It Is) (No, It’s Not) (Yes, It Is)

Premise 1: Madison Bumgarner had many near no-hitters with the Giants. Then he left for Arizona, stunk up the shortened 2020 season, and stunk even worse in his first few starts in 2021. 

Premise 2: In the shortened 2020 season, MLB instituted a rule change to reduce the number of innings from 9 to 7 for doubleheaders. This was one of a number of rule changes ostensibly intended to reduce the risk of on-field COVID-19 transmission, and it also was accounting for the fact that the league was expecting a big uptick in doubleheaders due to COVID-19 related cancellations, and the fear that so many doubleheaders would overly tax players – especially pitching staffs. Then, for some reason, they kept this rule for 2021. 

Those two premises converged on Sunday when, pitching in the second game of a doubleheader, Madison Bumgarner threw a no-hitter in 7 innings. Immediately the takes were hot. Some felt strongly that it doesn’t count. Their argument is that 9 innings is a game, not 7 innings, and 7 innings is not as difficult as 9 innings. I am here to tell you that they are wrong. If you agree with them, you are wrong. 

Consider what happens if a pitcher gives up no hits through 9 innings but the game goes to extra innings, and then the pitcher gives up a hit in the 10th. MLB does not consider that a no-hitter. But why not? The pitcher gave up zero hits over nine innings! Too bad. It’s not a complete game, it’s not a no-hitter. 

By the same token, the game Bumgarner pitched counts in the standings. It’s a real game. It’s a complete game, from start to finish. If it counts in the standings, and it’s a real game, then how does it not count? The man gave up no hits over the course of a full, complete, legal game – he gets his no-hitter.

Now, you’re free to believe that it’s not as impressive of an accomplishment. And you’d be right. No hits in 7 innings is not as impressive as no hits in 9 innings. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t give up no hits in a complete game and thus threw a no-hitter. Congrats, Bum. -TOB

PAL: They should hand out a ticket for 2 free airheads from the concession stand, because this is some Little League crap! You’re right, and—sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeit—I couldn’t care less about a 7-inning game given up zero hits. I can’t refer to it as a no-hitter. Did he give up any hits in the entire game? No. Was it a no-hitter? Nope.  

TOB: I will fight to the death on this one. Blame MLB for the dumb 7-inning double header rule, but a full game is a full game and he gave up not hits in a full game and thus he threw a No-Hitter. 

PAL: Well, then, stack up the the 5-inning no-hitters in the garage behind the Christmas lights. Per MLB.com: 

A game is considered a regulation game — also known as an “official game” — once the visiting team has made 15 outs (five innings) and the home team is leading, or once the home team has made 15 outs regardless of score.

We know what a no-hitter means. Come on.

TOB: There’s a difference here. This game was scheduled for 7 innings. It was not called early for rain.

PAL: Hey, just going by the rules here.


Quarterback Controversy Competition 

Last night, 5 quarterbacks were selected in the first 15 picks round of the NFL draft. We all understand why: an NFL team cannot win without a very good quarterback, and very good quarterbacks near their prime aren’t usually available in free agency (and they are very expensive if they are available, and why is the team they were on giving up on him if the most valuable asset a football team can have is a very good quarterback?)

What’s more, a has to draft its QB AND have him play well on his rookie deal, so they can pay to build a roster around the most valuable player on the team before he’s accounting for $30MM of the salary cap. 

With that in mind, the I share this story from Rodger Sherman. In it, he talks of a growing trend amongst NFL teams to draft a QB in the first round, and then – even after as little as one or two seasons – draft a QB again. As recently as 10 years ago, a team would give a QB some seasons to grow. They would protect him. They would spend high round draft picks to build around the QB. The trend is getting away from that thinking. If you want to win the lottery, then best way to do it is to buy more tickets. 

Within this broader argument, the part of the story I found most interesting comes when Sherman challenges the idea that teams can’t have two quarterbacks competing for the job. We know it’s the most important position to fill, but to have a real competition amongst is seen as a mess:

And using multiple first-round picks on quarterbacks within the span of a few years takes on outsized emotional significance. If a team holds an open competition for the starting right tackle spot, it’s widely referred to as a training camp battle. If there’s a similar competition for the QB spot, it’s called a QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY, and every comment the coach and players have ever made is meticulously dissected. We worry about the psyche of QBs in a way we don’t with players at other positions. Will a team bringing in a competitor cause a young quarterback to lose confidence? Wouldn’t a young quarterback benefit from having a journeyman 38-year-old with a bushy beard and a Harvard degree as his mentor?

And, before you go to the “job preservation” argument – that a GM and head coach will lose their jobs if they admit failure in their initial pick, consider this: 

They may be worried about losing their jobs—but the thing that’s really going to cost a GM a job is never finding the right quarterback. There aren’t many people who seem critical of Cardinals GM Steve Keim’s decision to pick Rosen now, even though it was a total failure. The screwup that cost his team a highly valuable draft pick was wiped out once Murray emerged as a success. Keim would likely be out of a job if he’d doubled down on Rosen.

I’m not a big NFL Draft follower, but I thought this was a damn good read. – PAL 

Source: The Case for the First-Round Quarterback Draft Mulligan”, Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (04/27/21)

TOB: Tangentially related – I am developing a theory on this draft. As Phil notes, we saw five wide receivers drafted, including 4 in the top 10 and 5 in the top 15. That continued an upward trend – until 2018, there were usually two to three QBs taken in the first round. But starting that year, we’ve seen 5, 3, 4, and 5. But we also saw a lot of wide receivers taken this year – 5 in the first round and 3 in the top 10. Again, that continued an upward trend, this time starting just last year, where six wide receivers went in the first round – but none in the top 10. Prior to last year, usually 2-3 were taken in the first round, and usually late.

You might be thinking my theory is that teams are drafting more for the passing game as offenses continue to become pass heavy. And while that’s true, that’s not my theory. Because while teams have been trending that way in the draft, they’ve also been trending that way on the other side of the ball – defensive lineman and defensive backs, both in an effort to disrupt the passing game.

But this year? Just one defensive tackle (where we typically see three to six over the last decade) and four defensive ends with none in the top 15 (where we typically see as many as seven, with at least two in the top 10). Those are foundational positions on defense, and teams usually fall over themselves to get them. But this year there were few taken, and mostly late in the first round.

So my theory is that many of the QBs taken this year might have been second round picks in many years but it was a weak draft pool this year, for whatever reason – be it the shortened 2020 season, or just a natural down year, so we get bum prospects like Mac Jones taken 15th.


Did Tatis Sneak a Peak and is That Ok?

The Padres took 3 of 4 from the Dodgers last weekend, thanks in large part to Fernando Tatis, back from his shoulder injury, who hit two dongs off Kershaw on Friday, two more off Bauer on Saturday, and then a fifth off Dustin May on Sunday. That is quite the weekend. A little controversy arose during that double dong game against Bauer, though. 

After the first one, Tatis turned toward his dugout and covered one eye, in response to Bauer pitching against the Padres during spring training with one eye closed.

That’s an excellent trolling of a troll. For his part, Bauer said he thought it was great and in general stated he wants players to be allowed to be more animated in celebrations without fear of being tagged. But Bauer also complained that before he hit the second home run, Tatis peaked at the sign.

“There’s no real remedy for the catcher and the pitcher to use to counteract someone looking back at the signs,” Bauer said. “So the remedy is if you look back at the signs, that’s fine, there’s no rule that says I can’t stick a fastball in your ribs. And that’s kind of how it’s been handled traditionally in baseball up until this point.

“Now, flip the bat and do all that stuff, fine. If you’re going to look at the signs, not OK, and if you do it again, the team that you’re playing probably ain’t going to take too kindly to it and there might have to be some on-field stuff.

However, as Jomboy breaks down, the sign was already given before Tatis peaked.

At worst, Tatis was checking where the catcher set up. So, I dunno, is that bad? The Athletic talked to three former catchers about this and, to my surprise anyways, they said they have no issue with Tatis doing that:

In Kratz’s view, Tatis might have determined that Bauer wanted the pitch to be outside from looking at Smith’s positioning. Bauer, though, had worked Tatis away almost the entire at-bat, making it easier for Tatis to anticipate the location.

“He threw him like six pitches away the entire at-bat,” said Kratz, who watched Bauer’s video as well as video of the at-bat. “And Bauer is never going to run a ball in 3-2 unless you’ve got a base open or something. He’s going to stay away. I think Bauer overreacted (with his comments)…

Kratz added that it’s fairly easy to combat this:

“You see that (peeking). You’re aware of that,” Kratz said. “Peeking at signs… Eh, signs are tough to get. But there are guys who peek location, for sure. Location is the biggest thing, especially if a guy moves too much. That’s totally on the catcher. I don’t know who else would stop it.

“You’re within their peripheral vision. If they’re looking location, you move early to show it to them, and then you move back. If a guy is a really, really habitual peeker, then you tell your pitcher, ‘I’m going to move early away. And we’re going heater in. So just trust what the sign is.’”

What do you think, Phil? -TOB

Source: Trevor Bauer Accused Fernando Tatis Jr. of Peeking at Signs. Did He? We Asked Three Ex-Catchers to Weigh In,” Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic (04/26/2021)

PAL: I think Jomboy has a great idea in this video – I want pitch sequence somewhere on the TV during an at-bat. That’s my biggest take-away from all of this. 

He didn’t see the pitch, but Tatis did check for location, and Kratz is 100% right that location is a huge piece of info for a hitter. It’s on the catcher, in this case, Will Smith. They are saying he’s shifting to the outside part of the plate, and giving location away too early. I disagree. 

A catcher is a bit on his haunches, with the knees facing forward and up on the balls of his feet, when giving signs. That is done to shield the sign from base coaches and create a bit of a tunnel from where the signs are being given, directly out to the pitcher. Like this:

Look at how Smith is up on his toes, with his knees pointed towards the pitcher.

After the pitch and location are given, the catcher has to get down in his squat – the position he’ll be in to receive the pitch: more on the insteps of his feet, and – with two strikes – ready to block a ball in the dirt. Like this:

Again, ignore the red notations, and notice how Smith is now shifting the weight to the instep and his widened with his butt a little lower.

In order to get from sign position to the receiving position, a catcher will have to rock/shift his weight, so there’s movement before he gets set in the actual location. That’s what I see Smith doing when Tatis sneaks a peak. 

Smith even rocks back to his left (towards Tatis) before setting up outside. 

That’s a lot of info to say that I agree with the former players analysis—Tatis didn’t see the pitch called, was looking for location, and that’s on the catcher. But I just don’t think Smith gave away the location when Tatis was looking. I think Tatis saw Smith shifting, and then guessed the right location. Bauer was pounding him away the entire at-bat, especially when Tatis already pulled a middle-in slider for a home run earlier in the game.

Most importantly, give us that pitch sequence on the telecast.


Now That’s A Cool Draft Party

Najee Harris, the Alabama RB from the Bay Area, was the first running back selected in the 2021 draft. He was a complete stud playing for the Crimson Tide. Like many first-rounders, Harris had a draft party, but Harris’ was a little different. His party was at the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program. That’s the homeless shelter where he and his family stayed during his middle school years. 

That’s incredibly heartwarming. I hope Harris balls out for the Steelers. – PAL 

Source: Steelers Draft Pick Najee Harris Hosts Draft Party at Homeless Shelter Where He Used to Live”, Madeline Coleman, SI.com (04/30/21)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Kamasi Washington – “Southside V.1”, “Southside V.2.” 


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And Three Times A Week, I Shall Require A Cannoli.

Newman

Abolish the Infield Fly Rule

Two years ago, while wondering why the dropped third strike rule exists in baseball, I wrote the following:

Baseball has some weird rules, but you can usually figure out why the rule exists by playing the alternative out to its extreme conclusion: It’s usually trying to prevent something from happening that people decided was unfair. For example, the infield fly rule exists because defenders intentionally let routine fly balls drop to the ground in order to get a double play, instead of taking the out.

I stick by that descriptive statement but I stand before you now to say this: the infield fly rule sucks. It’s TERRIBLE. It needs to go. As I said in that paragraph – baseball has some weird rules, and most of them were not in existence when the game began. Instead those rules were created as a reaction to ways in which players subverted the blank spaces of the rules to their advantage. 

But there are problems with the infield fly rule – first, it’s both hyper-specific and non-specific.  On the hyper-specific end of the spectrum, the rule is only invoked when there are runners at first and second or the bases are loaded, and less than two outs. Speaking from experience, this gives umpires something extra to think about before a pitch on top of the umpire’s other duties. You have to know when the rule is in play based on those guidelines or you won’t have time to realize it after the ball is hit. On the non-specific end of the spectrum, the ball must be a “fly ball” but specifically not a line drive (which is absolutely getting into a wide swath of gray area) that “can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort.” And what the hell that means is really open to interpretation. As the comment to the MLB rule states:

The umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder-not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder.

Yes, the infield fly rule can be invoked when the ball is hit into the outfield. It can also be called when an outfielder in fact makes the play. And what the heck constitutes “ordinary effort”? Worst of all, if I am reading this right, the infield fly rule can be invoked when the ball is foul (“not by some arbitrary limitation such as … the base lines.” WHAT!? That isn’t even consistent with the reason for the rule!). What a mess.

The aftermath of the play is the most confusing. “When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk.” What does this mean in this context? Can a runner tag up and go as soon as the umpire calls the batter out, the same they would after the ball is caught? Or, if the rule is invoked can a runner advance before the infielder catches it? And if they advance before the infielder catches it and then the infielder catches it, can the runner be thrown out for leaving early? I think I know, but the rule is not clear, which seems problematic.

The infield fly rule has always bugged me for these reasons. But it gnawed its way through my brain this week as I read How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius, by Anthony Greene. In the book’s opening chapters, Greene dives into the 13 original rules of basketball, as written by Dr. James Naismith, and how players worked within the rules to innovate the game to make it better. Here’s Greene, quoting NYU professor and game designer Eric Zimmerman:

“You can tell that Naismith was thinking about exceptions,” Zimmerman says of the first set of rules. “Trying to figure out the loopholes players will try to exploit.” But the exploitation of rules is vital to a game’s evolution. Essentially everything related to basketball that isn’t contained within its original thirteen rules developed because some player somewhere at sometime fudged with them.”

Remember what I said up there about baseball? Baseball’s weird rules were created to “prevent something from happening that people decided was unfair.” But Greene makes the compelling case that this is wrong. The thirteen original rules of basketball prevent “running with the ball,” but permit “throwing” and “batting” the ball “in any direction.” The rules, as written, expected players to be stationary. But it did not take long for some Ivy League boys to find the blank space in the rules – dribbling. Did Naismith find this innovation cheating? Did he try to stop it? Nope. Instead he called it, “one of the most spectacular and exciting maneuvers in basketball.” And he’s right. Again, from Greene’s book:

“It is a subversion,” Dr. Shawn Klein, a philosophy lecturer at Arizona State University, tells me. Klein specializes in the ethics of sport, and I reached out to him to better understand the moral (or amoral) underpinnings of dribbling. “That’s probably the best word for it. They were adhering to the rules, but they were subverting the expectations of how those rules would be followed.”

Reading this angered me more than ever about the infield fly rule – the first player to intentionally drop a fly ball was a genius. Incredible creativity! And that play is exciting as hell. Early in his book Greene speaks to another game designer, Colleen Macklin. 

[Says Macklin} “A lot of game rules are modified or changed based on what the player wants. Basketball rules are modified in order to make the game more interesting to the spectator.” When she watches basketball she sees players both following and exploiting rules for the benefit of us fans. The result, she says, is “one of the most beautiful things you can see.”  

Macklin loves Hickey’s example of the Dr. J behind-the-backboard layup, as it alludes to the kinds of decisions game designers must make. “When it happened, she says, “everyone was like ‘Oh my God, we’ve never seen such a graceful move before.’ And so you have a choice there. The NBA could either say it’s not allowed, or they could be like, ‘Yeah, let’s let that happen.’ The right choice is obviously, ‘let’s let that happen.’” 

The infield fly rule is terrible for this reason – it is, by umpire fiat, a blown dead play. Yes, the runners can advance but they would be stupid to do so. Imagine an infield fly without the rule – if a player decides he wants to try and get a double play, he runs a great deal of risk – if he turns down the sure out, there’s a chance the ball bounces away from him and he gets no outs. Or maybe he does it perfectly. Either way, that is entertainment. And you don’t have to use your imagination to know how exciting that would be – in recent years I have seen players (particularly Javy Baez) do this on line drives. For example:

That is such an exciting play, in a HUGE moment of the NLCS. And not only was it exciting, it did almost backfire – instead of first and second with two outs, Baez almost ended the play with first and third with two outs. Now imagine that skips by him when it hits the outfield grass – chaos. Each time something like that happens, everyone watching agrees – wow that was a heads up play and wow that was fun. 

Which is why MLB flat out got the infield fly rule wrong. Players subverted the rules in an entertaining way and baseball decided to litigate that fun out of the game. It’s not too late to fix it though. Let’s abolish that stupid rule forever. I’m looking at you, Theo.

Happy Opening Day, everyone! -TOB


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Week of March 12, 2021

*this is a COVID-19-Shutdown-Anniversary-Free Zone*


*my heart!*


Snack Shack Queen 

Snack shack food is some of my favorite food on the planet. Burgers, brats, even frozen Snickers. You can do a lot worse at plenty of places. There’s something about eating that kind of food outside that’s perfection. 

I found this story about Carletta Brown. She runs the Hill House (on top of a hill, yes) – Lake Chabot’s version of the snack shack. While the course is rough around the edges, Carletta’s grilling is the very best part of golfing there. 

As a purveyor of great burgers in the area (Tempest still holds it for me, but 4505 on Divis is no joke, either), and as someone who recently wrote a story that features some randos really, really enjoying their round at Chabot, I am ashamed to say I have not had the Carletta Burger at Chabot. Time to step my game up. 

Brown is every bit as positive as she is portrayed in this story from Grant Marek. What Marek fails to mention is she can (and does) make an f-bomb sounds downright chipper. And the Packers love is real. She finds joy in her work, takes pride in it, and loves interacting with people. In other words, Brown is the kind of employee that makes a place special. About that burger:

 What you’re getting is an ungodly combination of a 1/3-pound of burger, lettuce, tomato, onion, two types of cheese (both doused with barbecue sauce), a split hot link (also cooked with barbecue sauce bled into it, with the cheese tucked into the link) and four pieces of bacon. According to Brown, in total, there’s roughly “a pound of barbecue sauce.”
…Carlotta’s burger has reached the kind of lore that there are stories of some locals who hike all the way up the first few fairways to get one of her burgers … even when they’re not golfing.

TOB – I think we must play a round in order to properly review the burger (you can have a sausage) for our audience. – PAL 

Source: This is the Story of Carlotta Brown: The Woman Behind One of the Bay Area’s Most Loved Burgers”, Grant Marek, SF Gate (03/04/21)

TOB: Maaaaaaaaaaaan, the Snack Shack. The absolute greatest. Nachos. Pizza. Slush Puppies. Discovering the no flavor Slush Puppies (this might sound gross but the Slush Puppy base was basically simple syrup, so “Plain” became the hot shit at my little league). Big League Chew. Bubble Tape. Chili dogs. Warheads. I could go on. 

There it is, from Google Street View. The South Tahoe Little League Snack Shack. It’s had a paint job, for sure, but it’s still the same ol’ Snack Shack. The thing about the Snack Shack is the snacks were great, but the other thing about the Snack Shack is that it was a central place for a big chunk of my young life. There are few joys more pure than chasing and getting a foul ball and then sprinting to return it to the Snack Shack for a free Slush Puppy. This is not hyperbole – when I think of being a kid, and how fun being a kid was, I almost always first think of long Saturdays at the Little League field – especially when I had an 8 or 9am game, and got to hang out all day after, running around like a hooligan with my friends. My dad umpired a lot and my mom was league president and then co-Snack Shack coordinator – so, from basically 3rd grade until 8th grade we were at the field all Saturday, all spring from morning until dusk. 

And, friends, let me tell you – there are few powers available to a 12-year old greater than having a mom who runs the Snack Shack. Long line? Psh, walk into the side door, and grab a slice of pizza, and tell whoever was working to put it on your parents’ tab (thanks mom and dad!). That is real power. 

Now, I live in the city – and one of my great reservations about doing so is that my kids will not know the joy of the Snack Shack. This problem is one of the few things that makes me consider moving to the suburbs. The city is just too big – the fields are scattered across the city, and each is a single field. There’s no central location with four fields, like I grew up with, to see and be seen and to snack. Instead, people just show up for their game and then go home. There is no shack. There are no snacks. What a shame.


A Prospect to Build a Dream On

You know that Louis Armstrong song, A Kiss to Build a Dream On? That song plays on loop in my head every March, as I scour Spring Training box scores and scroll Twitter and tune into sports talk radio, looking for those little nuggets of hope that an unheralded prospect will turn into my team’s next difference maker. 

21-year old Heliot Ramos has been in the Giants’ system since he was 17, and he’s very much making his presence known this Spring Training, hitting mammoth blasts all over the field (3 big home runs and a double off the top of the wall in his last two games). Do not get me wrong, I am so excited about Heliot that I am thinking aloud of starting a food cart outside Giants Sunday games called Heliot’s Elote y Helado (alternatively: Heliote y Heliado), and tweeting things like this on a Sunday afternoon:

But Heliot was a known quantity coming into this Spring, and I’m here instead to talk about Jason Vosler. 

I know, who? Well, Vosler was a former late round pick by the Chicago Cubs, out of Northeastern – not exactly a baseball hotbed. In the minors, Vosler always showed good plate discipline and a good sense of the strike zone, but never much power. And then he made a swing change. I’ll let Giants fan Roger Munter explain:

So it was time for a checkup with the swing doctors. I don’t play a swing doctor even on TV, but the term that has followed Vosler around much of his career is that he suffered from an overly “rotational” swing. I don’t want to get into the whole “rotational” versus “linear” swing debate (though I promise you a quick google search will produce a mountain of information for you to wade through), but I read Ted Williams’ Science of Hitting when I was young, and The Kid was the progenitor and original advocate of “rotational” hitting, so I think it’s probably a good thing. Rotating around a single axis, Ted believed, brought the large muscles of one’s core into one’s swing as a power-generating force, rather than relying on just the strength of one’s hands and wrists. The general visual analogy used is that a rotational swing uses the power of a pendulum, while a linear swing creates whip-like power snapping the bat on a more direct path to the ball.

Here’s a short video explaining what this is, but the short of it is that Vosler was over-rotating, causing his swing to be too long, which made him slower to the ball and cost him power. So, he fixed it. From Munter, here is Vosler in college on the left and in 2019 on the right:

The impact was immediate. Vosler began to hit bombs – 21 in AA in 2018, the second most in his league. He hit at least twenty the next two years, too, after having hit just 17 combined in the three years before his swing change.  But Vosler was blocked at third base in the Cubs system, by Kris Bryant, so they dealt him to San Diego after 2019. He’s blocked there, too, of course, but had a great Spring in 2020:

In March of 2020, the now-26-year-old did something he’d no doubt been dreaming about for more than a decade — he reported to major league camp as a non-roster invitee for a talented and deep San Diego Padres team. And, mixing it up with Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Manny Machado, Vosler was the talk of camp, going 9-for-20 (.450) with a homer, three doubles, three walks and two strikeouts. Dude knows how to light up Arizona! Manager Jayce Tingler said that Vosler was having “as good of at-bats as any of our guys” before spring training was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the impression he’d made garnered Vosler an invitation in July to Summer Camp and he’d spend the year at the Padres Alternate Site, waiting for an opportunity that didn’t come. He was, again, buried on a depth chart behind guys like Machado and Rookie of the Year 2nd place finalist Jake Cronenworth

So the Giants signed him to a major league deal, which surprised some people. After all, Vosler has never had an appearance in the bigs. As Munter notes, though, Vosler checks all the Giants boxes – he is a Yaz profile come to life, per Munter:

  • Overlooked because he didn’t pop on traditional scouting grades.
  • Long history of patience, walks, and good swing decisions
  • Swing change unlocking power
  • Approach geared to swinging only when maximum damage can be generated

Vosler has not disappointed this month. His numbers: 

.500 BA/ .500 OBP/ .813 SLG/ 1.313 OPS

Pretty friggin good. Will Vosler be the next Yaz for the Giants? Man, I don’t know. But that’s why I love Spring Training, and that’s why I loved this story by Munter – it’s a story, and those are numbers, to build a dream on. 

P.S. I wrote this on Monday morning. Since, Vosler has gone 0 for 8 with 5 strikeouts and one walk. LOLLLLL *shrug* -TOB

Source: Should Jason Vosler Excite You?Roger Munter (03/10/21)

PAL: “P.S. I wrote this on Monday morning. Since, Vosler has gone 0-8.” What a perfect end to a spring training prospect story.

I liked the rhythm of this paragraph: 

So who is Jason Vosler, exactly? Well there are several answers to that question. Vosler is a cold weather guy. He’s a swing change guy. Not surprisingly, he’s a “good swing decisions” guy. And he’s frequently been a “victim of numbers” guy. But most importantly, he’s a serious “overcoming the odds” guy — Vosler has never been high on anybody’s scouting card, prospect list, or dynasty team. Step by step, he’s walked a long, lonely Cinderella path, well away from the limelight for many years, until suddenly finding himself in that most incredible of positions, the precipice of a dream come true.

You know what else is so great…or maybe the worst about the story? It keeps some delusional dream alive for a bunch of guys not half as good as Vosler on his worst day. The fantasy is given new life: that scouts really were focusing on the wrong numbers, that all it took was a person to see things differently in order for a guy like Vosler to get a shot. That one tweak to the swing was the difference between 14 home runs in three seasons and 20 homers in one season.


Former College Baseball Player Explains Some Hitting Shop Talk

Some people hate Twitter, because of the Discourse. But I still think it’s great because you get to curate what you see. I don’t need to see the toxic stuff. I get juuuuuust enough politics to stay informed, and then so much baseball and basketball. This week I stumbled upon this amazing and confusing conversation between former major leaguer Trevor Plouffe and current major leaguer/former MVP Josh Donaldson, delving into the depths of hitting mechanics. 

And, I won’t lie, a lot of it was so far over my head. So I asked our boy here to translate. I don’t know if you know, but Phil played college baseball – there are stats online to prove it and everything. So, Phil, what’s going on here? Please translate. -TOB

PAL: Very pedestrian stat lines. This is going to take a minute. I think I caught about 75% of what Plouffe and Donaldson are talking about. I’ll do my best here to translate key points. Of course, there’s a chance I am wrong on a lot of this. One thing I’m sure of – my buddies back at Augie will let me know. 

Hand slot: Slot = start of hand path to the ball. Where his hands start indicates the line his hands take to the ball. Think of it in 3D. Not just an uppercut, downward path, or straight line, but do his hands push away from his body (common for guys who hit the ball opposite field a lot or pull in towards his body (more of a pull hitter). 

Clicks in the zone: Yeah, no idea what Plouffe is talking about. 

TOB: If I may jump in here – I believe he means frames/clicks as he reviews the video. Three clicks in the zone means the bat is in the zone for 3 clicks/frames of the film, which is good. If a bat is in the zone for 1 click/frame, that’s too short and hard to hit – the more time the bat is in the zone the better the chance to make contact. Back to Phil…

Yes Yes No Hitter: This connects to the intent to swing idea. Every pitch, the hitter should have the same approach in terms of physical movements. Every pitch – swing or take – should be 90% the same. That last millisecond of recognition is when good hitters decide to take a pitch. Every pitch, as the ball is in flight: yes (I’m going to swing, recognizing pitch), yes (I’m going to swing, recognizing location), and then they decide whether or not to swing. Great hitters do everything the same every swing until that last moment of recognition. 

More forward lower half and upper staying back: This is hard to do, and so a lot of hitters (myself included) would either overcompensate and stay back to the point where I had no momentum going through the ball, or I would get out front with my entire body.  You have to come through the ball by getting your lower body moving towards the ball, but the trick is to keep your hands back and your front shoulder on the ball. That’s where the quickness comes from, and that combined with the big strength from the big muscles in the legs, butt, and core is where power comes from. 

General: Donaldson always rubbed me the wrong way. No reason, really. Ok; fine, maybe it was the hair! But this made me really like him. I’d like him even more if he stays healthy and mashes for the Twinkies. 

TOB: re Donaldson. My favorite tweet was at the end when he tells Plouffe, who had a few nice years there with the Twins, what was wrong with his swing and why his career sputtered out. It was brutally honest and kudos to Plouffe for accepting the way-too-late diagnosis. But – how disturbed is Josh Donaldson that he either (a) knew off the top of his head from having played against Plouffe what was wrong with his balance, or (b) took the time to check his swing during this conversation? Either way, it’s some real grinder shit.


Minor League Experimental Rule Changes? UGH! Wait, Actually…

I don’t like significant rule changes in baseball. I like baseball just how it is. But while I am a traditionalist in that sense, I am at odds with those traditionalists who want to curtail innovation. See, The Shift. In my opinion a team should be able to position its defense however it would like, because there is no rule saying otherwise. Moreover, as we have covered here before, the shift is not new – teams have been doing it for decades – they are just shifting more often now as data not previously available instructs. Not only that, but deep dives into statistics show that the shift is basically neutral in its impact. 

With that said, here are rules MLB is implementing across the minors this year, which are experimental and could be coming to MLB soon:

Skip the larger bases rule in AAA and go right to the shift rule in AA. Despite what I said above, I am ok with the rule that the infielders must be, ya know, on the infield. Over the last few years we’ve seen guys thrown out at first after hitting a 100 MPH laser 100 feet past the infield, because the shortstop has not only shifted, but is essentially playing at a softball rover depth. Baseball is entertainment, and it should be fun – watching a team scoop up a weak grounder that can’t dribble through what would have been a hole is one thing; watching a team play with a cheat code and take away a line drive by playing half way between the infield and the outfielder is another. 

While we’re here, I also love the high-A pickoff rule. Pickoff attempts are legitimately boring and almost always fail, while stolen base attempts are fun as hell. This rule will make it harder for pitchers to pick guys off, and easier to read when they are and aren’t. Sight unseen, I’m a big fan. I’m less thrilled at the low-A pickoff rule. Once you put a limit, and once a pitcher hits his limit, it’s going to allow runners to absolutely tee off on the bases. Stealing bases is fun, but runners taking off with impunity is not.  -TOB


Video of the Week

Yes, more Jomboy.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week  Cannonball Adderley – Autumn Leaves (feat. Miles Davis) 


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Feels like an Arby’s night.”

-David Puddy

Week of February 19, 2021

 

TOB and PAL after bringing the heat each and every week.


What is the *Point* of College Sports?

For decades, athletics were seen as an integral part of most college campuses. Sure, there were outliers – like one-time Big 10 football powerhouse University of Chicago deemphasizing athletics and dropping football in 1939. But for the most part, college sports have had a good run. 

Sometime around the 1980s, though, college football and men’s basketball went from big money to stupid big money. Around the same time, public colleges started to lose public funding as a share of their overall revenue. Tuition went up. Competition for admissions went way up. And over the last few years we have found ourselves in this perfect political storm: football and men’s basketball generating a lot of money, which subsidizes the other sports, while football players and men’s basketball players don’t get paid. As it happens, most football and men’s basketball players are persons of color, and most players from most of the other teams are white (especially in the so-called country club sports). 

But that’s not all, because while football and men’s basketball subsidize the country club sports, so does the campus at large. Public funding and student tuition covers the deficit that most college athletic programs run each year. This has led colleges to cut smaller sports, especially smaller men’s sports, in order to reduce budget deficits. But it hasn’t been enough at most schools.

Then, in 2019, the USC/Stanford college admissions scandals brought to light an ugly truth that had been a poorly kept secret: upper-middle to upper-class, mostly white parents have been gaming the admissions systems for decades by guaranteeing their children admission to top colleges, and at least partial scholarships, by having them compete in low-participation sports. Like fencing. And crew. And field hockey. And lacrosse. And synchronized swimming.  Nowhere was this more prevalent than California. The top 4 colleges by Olympic medals are: USC, Stanford, UCLA, Cal. 

Sure, these Olympic medal winning athletes are world-class athletes who come from all across the world to further their training while getting an education. But there are also the kids who fill out those rosters, not with any realistic aspiration for Olympic glory, but to get into a top school and enjoy the perks of a scholarship.

Stanford, in particular, has dominated the country club sport circuit, having won the 25 out of 26 Directors Cup awards since its inception in 1994. The Directors Cup is an annual award given to the college “with the most success in collegiate athletics,” as determined by a points system “based on order of finish in various championships.” After finishing second in the first year it was given, Stanford has won the Directors Cup every single year – 25 times in a row. A large part of their success are the Olympics sports, yes. But it’s also the fact that Stanford has subsidized a massive athletic department – not just in terms of world-class facilities, which they of course have, but also in terms of sheer size – 36 athletic programs, as far as I know by far the most in the country (Cal is way up there at 27; most schools have around 20).

With all that backstory in mind, this article about Stanford’s decision to cut 11 programs and the uproar that has ensued is fascinating. The news was released last summer. After this year, Stanford will cut men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling. “The 11 sports represent roughly one-third of the school’s 36 sponsored athletic programs, account for 240 athletes and include programs that have produced 20 national titles and 27 Olympic medals.” 

This almost happened about a decade ago at Cal – most notably to baseball. But Cal Baseball raised $10M and saved itself, at least for now. Stanford’s sports tried to do the same – raising enough money to endow the sport in perpetuity. And some have succeeded at raising that money:

In a six-month-old fundraising effort, team leaders have raised pledges of $40 million to fund the 11 discontinued squads, and at least three of the teams have raised enough to self-endow, fully covering their operating expenses permanently.

Wow, hey, nice job. So now those sports are reinstated, just like Cal baseball was, right? Well, uh:

Presented with this information, university leaders are steadfastly committed to their decision, showing no signs of restoring the teams.

Oh. Stanford claims a budget crisis – a $12M deficit, to be specific, and also claims cutting these eleven sports will save it $8M annually. But if the sports self-fund, doesn’t that solve the budget issue? Nope.

Using the university’s own financial figures, 36 Sports Strong generated a study to show that the elimination of the 11 sports is only a minimal budgetary impact and attributes the department’s deficit to an 84% increase in salary and benefits over the last decade, much of it tied to football and men’s basketball. On Tuesday, leaders of the group presented their financial findings to Stanford provost Persis Drell during a 35-minute Zoom call, where they also pitched a proposal: Reinstate the 11 sports and give them a five-year runway to self-endow, not just their own programs but also all 34 nonrevenue sports at Stanford. “It was like we were talking to an empty suit,” says Kathy Levinson, a former three-sport athlete at Stanford in the 1970s who is leading the 36 Sports Strong movement and was part of Tuesday’s meeting. “I would say she was immovable.”

So what’s going on here, then? I know that at Cal, the land that sports facilities are on is valuable and takes up a lot of space that could go to more academic buildings or student housing, an especially important concern in Berkeley, where the housing market remains spiked. But have you ever been to Stanford? There’s room there. A lot of it. They don’t need the land. There’s another theory, though:

Many members of 36 Sports Strong theorize that the university, in part, eliminated sports to create admission flexibility. Stanford is one of the few colleges in the U.S. at capacity academically. In this theory, the university would now have the freedom to fill classroom spots occupied by athletes with those who may generate more tuition or carry a higher academic acumen. Stanford’s athlete population was one of the highest in the nation at 12%, or one in every seven students. “Maybe there was concern that 12% of the campus population was too much,” says Andy Schwarz, an antitrust economist based in California and a Stanford graduate himself. “The university admission process is trying to custom-craft a campus community.”

Aha. Stanford denies that allegation. But I don’t think I believe them – do you? Because now we come full circle. Is Stanford embarrassed by the admissions scandal and the ugly truths it revealed about how many of Stanford’s 36 sports are used to leverage admission for kids who are not otherwise qualified? Is Stanford trying to pull a 1930s University of Chicago and de-emphasize athletics? Are athletics still important to a college campus? What about when the sport is lucky to get a handful of spectators per game? Because if this isn’t about that, then why would Stanford deny reinstatement for these sports, especially the three that have already raised enough money to self-endow forever? 

Now, I get why the alumni of these sports and the current athletes and their families are upset. But that $8,000,000 they are saving, conceivably though not actually, could be redirected to the revenue generating athletes at an average of about $90,000 per year. Or it could be used to reduce Stanford’s outrageous tuition. Or fund important research. Or do so many important things besides guarantee admission to a top university to someone whose parents have the money to get them into fencing at a young age. I mean, look at that photograph of the Stanford men’s crew team at the top – do those look like world class athletes to you!? 

I don’t know, Stanford’s decision seems like a step in the right direction, if you ask me.

Also, Go Bears! -TOB

Source: “‘This Is for the Next Generation’: Inside the Fight, at Stanford and Beyond, to Save Olympic Sports,” Ross Dellenger, Sports Illustrated (02/12/2021)


Wherever You Can Find Ice

Saw this story in the NY Times, and I wondered if this would’ve even made it into the St. Paul or Minneapolis local section of paper. Still, I’m a sucker for a back-to-basics story. 

The premise: a lot of ice arenas are closed in the New York area, so people are finding other places to play hockey. These backyard rinks run the gamut: some cost a couple hundred bucks, while other folks go all out. 

Per Kevin Armstrong:

First-timers learned to negotiate inconsistent thaws and freezes, and anxious hosts added umbrella insurance on top of homeowners insurance in case injured visitors filed lawsuits. Like-minded neighbors knocked down fences to share space for rinks, while others complained about noise created by pucks crashing against wooden boards. With ice time at a premium, backyard rink owners were flooded with requests for open skating times.

One person who was in the perfect position for the unexpected D-I-Y rink boon: 24 year-old Dylan Gatsel. He developed a prototype backyard rink kit a couple years ago. EZ ICE Rinks sales are through the roof.

These outdoor rinks in backyards have been a longstanding tradition in Minnesota. I skated on backyard rinks all the time growing up. Three of my five siblings build rinks and make ice every year. 

I wondered this fall if the pandemic couldn’t have been a once-in-a-lifetime nostalgia marketing opportunity. High school hockey is huge in Minnesota, with over 100K fans attending the 4-day state tournament in the Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul. I’m guessing that’s a no-go this year. They should’ve brought it back to the basics this year and had all high school hockey games on outdoor rinks, including the state tournament. The documentary all but shoots itself (you can already see ESPN sending SportsCenter there), the merch sales would’ve been insane, and it would’ve celebrated everything Minnesotans like to identify as. 

That could’ve been sweet. – PAL 

Source: With Indoor Rinks Closed, Players Turn to ‘Speakeasy Hockey’, Kevin Armstrong, The New York Times (02/15/2021)


A Good Headline Matters

I have no strong feelings on Blake Griffin. He was possibly the last truly great men’s college basketball player (for me, only Trae Young comes close). He had good dunks and he was funny-for-an-athlete. He sneakily evolved as a player, and I thought his series against the Warriors in 2014, when the Clippers beat the budding Warriors dynasty in 7 games in the first round, literally in the midst of the Donald Sterling scandal, was really good. 

I say this because the Pistons announced this week they’d be sitting Blake while they try to find somewhere to trade him. The dude is only 31, but when so much of your game is built on athleticism and you suffer a series of lower body injuries, 31 suddenly seems very old. And when I first heard the news I shrugged. He was traded to Detroit just over three years ago. January 2018! And I had basically not thought of him since.

Ordinarily, I would have never read more than a tweet-length message about this story. But as I said at the top, a good headline matters. And when this news hit, I saw a really good headline:

Well, that piqued my interest. And damn if the article wasn’t thought-provoking. It was interesting to read a Detroit native’s perspective on Griffin’s 2+ seasons in Detroit:

If Griffin ends up in the Hall of Fame — and I think he will — he’ll be remembered as a Clipper. However, in Detroit, I think it’s safe to say the people saw him as one of them. Griffin arrived in the Motor City with a “Hollywood” label. There were the commercials, the comedy and the high-flying antics. They disguised the fact that he’s a Midwesterner from Oklahoma. When Griffin was on the floor for the Pistons, he truly embodied the grit that the city loves to see from its athletes. He played through injuries and pain. He dove for loose balls. He got in opponents’ faces. When there was very little to be thankful for in regards to basketball in Detroit, Griffin swooped in and gave the best version of himself to a franchise that didn’t always deserve it. Griffin gave everything he could to Detroit when he was able to. That shouldn’t be forgotten.

It’s a nice tribute, and a nice piece of writing. -TOB

Source: How Should Blake Griffin Be Remembered in Detroit?James Edwards III, The Athletic (02/15/2021)

PAL: Dude, thank you for calling out the headline. A good headline can absolutely make me stop, and I feel like a lot of sites gave up trying a long time ago. Agreed on the quality of writing. I liked the angle, too. 


NBA Janitors

TOB’s take on the importance of a headline was in my head as I perused this AM and came upon this story about former NBA first-round draft picks trying to get back to the league and the perspective shift that requires. Excellent read. 

The idea is that these dudes drafted in the mid-to-late first round are super talented players with skill sets centered on being focal points on a team. When that doesn’t happen, for whatever reason (bad play or bad luck), and they find themselves out of the league, a shift likely needs to take place in their game in order to make it back. It’s not necessarily about putting up huge numbers in the G League or elsewhere. As Laker Alex Caruso (undrafted) put it, it’s about understanding the job you’re interviewing for. 

Per Jordan Teicher:

Lakers guard Alex Caruso went undrafted in 2016, but in a November appearance on The Old Man and the Three podcast, the former G Leaguer explained the lesson non-stars need to learn in order to fit in: “They don’t realize the position they’re trying out for. It’s like going to a job interview thinking you’re going to be the CFO of the company and they’re looking for someone to clean the bathrooms.”

Caruso represents an interesting wrinkle to this story. The expectations connected to an undrafted vs. first round draftee that didn’t make it on the first go-round. 

Again, from Teicher: 

The likes of Danny Green, Jeremy Lin, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Seth Curry improved in the G League before sticking in the NBA. However, those success stories are usually about undrafted players or second-round picks, not people who enter the NBA with a first-round pedigree.

“There is a stigma attached with a guy who didn’t make it the first go-around,” said Jim Clibanoff, director of scouting for the Denver Nuggets. “It’s such a recalibration for some of these kids. … How does the kid respond to it? We talk about hunger and desire, and that manifests itself in how you react to adversity.”

Good read. – PAL 

Source: Getting to the NBA Is Hard, but Getting Back May Be Even Harder”, Jordan Teicher, The Ringer (02/16/2021)


4,560

With fatherhood less than a trimester away, I find myself thinking about my dad’s hall-of-fame run as a sports dad and the kind of sports dad I hope to be. Check it out here to see my rudimentary math skills on full display. Here’s a taste:

Parents are like driving instructors when it comes to their kids’ emotions around sports. They ride shotgun while the kiddos take the wheel. The kids try their best to navigate the highs and lows of the wins and losses, to get the feel for triumphs and slights, all the while mom or dad are ready to take control, slow down, and get everything pointed back in the right direction if things get out of hand. 

Game in, game out. Every drive home maneuvering around every bad call, success, substitution; every interaction and how it proved so-and-so really did think such-and-such. 

The more I think about it, maybe the teenage years are the emotional equivalent of teaching the kid to drive a stick shift. 

Full story here. -PAL 


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week Durand Jones & The Indications – “Giving Up”


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“I wanted to eat a pig-in-a-blanket in a blanket.”

-Kevin Malone

Week of February 5, 2021

R.I.P. Wayne Terwilliger at 96. 2x World Series champ with the Twins, managed well into his 80s., and recipient of the most MN retirement gift ever. Photo: Marlin Levinson, Star Tribune


Please Just Read This Story This week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote about the incredible story of the San Francisco Giants’ Drew Robinson, a fringe major league baseball player, pictured above. Last April, Drew decided to end his life. Here’s Passan:

His thoughts crashed into one another — about what it would look like and whom it would affect and who would find him. He was alone, alone until the end. At about 8 p.m., in one uninterrupted motion, he leaned to the side, reached out to the coffee table, lifted the gun, pressed it against his right temple and pulled the trigger. That was supposed to be the end of Drew Robinson’s story. Over the next 20 hours, he would come to realize it was the beginning of another.

I cannot recommend this story enough – it’s long, but it grabs you from the very start and compels you to keep reading. I also recommend the quasi-companion story from The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, who wrote about Drew’s story from the Giants’ perspective, and it’s also quite the read. -TOB

Source: San Francisco Giants Outfielder Drew Robinson’s Remarkable Second Act,” Jeff Passan, ESPN (02/02/2021); How the Giants Stepped in to Help Drew Robinson After His Suicide Attempt,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (02/02/2021)

PAL: “The companion’s voice was unrelenting.” That’s a line that stuck with me after reading this. How exhausting it must be to constantly having that voice telling you that any positive thoughts are b.s., and that all your worst thoughts are the truth. I can understand the hopelessness inside the endless rounds of that mental boxing match. 

And then, add to the hopper the constant up-and-downs between the majors and minors, and the absolute head games that must come with that – being so close to reaching the goal, but then being sent back down the mountain a bit, over and over. It’s mentally difficult for someone not suffering from a mental illness, but something like that could add even more weight to the “companion voice”. 

I was also blown away by the notion Robinson could play again. First thing I thought – no depth perception…no way he could hit. So I found this section fascinating: 

Myint, the eye surgeon, says that the binocular vision two eyes provide matters for up-close depth perception. But hitters typically decide to swing when the ball is about 45 feet from home plate, where depth-perception issues, Myint says, would not necessarily manifest themselves. And because, as a baseball player, Robinson’s brain has already exhibited a unique ability to track high-speed movement, the aptitude he had been showing in all these batting-practice sessions, Myint says, could be very real.

After thinking about it for a second, this makes total sense. All the calculation our brain does to decide whether or not to swing and – if so – where to swing, takes place so fast and so early. It makes total sense that depth perception and that level and speed might not be so important. 

Either way, Robinson has a lot of people pulling for him to do the unthinkable and make it back to the bigs, and who knows how many of those folk who read this have struggled themselves? We need to hear more of these stories in order to destigmatize mental health. 


Super Bowl Time Capsules

Drew Magary nailed this one. Basic premise is that he can remember where he was for most every super bowl, and that memory serves as a dog-ear to who he was. He then proceeds to run through them all. I love it.  Magary has the chops to get an audible laugh out of me. One such moment: 

1990 Drew ALSO loved the Gulf War. I remember reading about all the other wars throughout history and being like, “Hey man, when do WE get a war?” And then Bush 41 invaded Iraq at the start of 1991 and I was excited. Genuinely excited. When the news broke, I rushed around school to tell people, like I was a fucking newsboy. When Whitney sang the anthem, I cried for all the wrong reasons.

That’s the good stuff. Perfect.  Many of Magary’s memories land with me. I can smell that dorm room with spitters all over. I know the feeling of rooting against a team for no reason but a gut feeling. You remember the Super Bowls, regardless of the teams playing, and I’m not sure there’s another sporting event for which that’s true. 

But this is why the Super Bowl is a holiday. It’s not always a happy one.  But it IS always a signpost in life. As with birthdays and Christmases, you can look back in your Super Bowl Sunday archive and catch glimpses of where you were. WHO you were. 

Excellent stuff. – PAL  Source:  “Life Is Measured In Super Bowls”, Drew Magary, Defector (02/04/2021)


The Nolan Arenado Trade and “The Epidemic of Not Trying”

I don’t know if Marc Carig coined that term, The Epidemic of Not Trying, but it’s a great turn of phrase to describe the widespread tanking across the sports world lately. The Epidemic of Not Trying hit a new low this week, as the Colorado Rockies traded away Nolan Arenado, their franchise player, for…not much. Carig’s article is an expert level takedown of the Rockies’ braintrust – GM Jeff Brdich and owner Dick Monfort.

Most of the scorn is directed at Brdich, and rightfully so. The team signed Arenado to a massive extension just two years ago and then, as Carig put it, “behaved as if this was good enough.” Almost immediately after, Arenado seemed to understand that the team felt that way, that they wouldn’t spend more to improve the team, and the relationship between Arenado and Brdich soured. Brdich seems to think this is perfectly normal, saying, “There are relationships in our human existence that do last forever. But we are human beings in a business where sometimes relationships don’t last forever, and commitments don’t last forever.” As Carig points out, it’s part of Brdich’s job to ensure that his relationship with the team’s star in fact does last, well, not forever, but for as long as that star remains a star, at the very least.  Carig also gives us some insight into Brdich as a person, using Brdich’s own words to show that Brdich is a friggin snob. 

Bridich seemingly fancies himself as something of a misunderstood genius. He once boasted that he was “personally blessed with a capacity to not really care what is said about me all that much.” He was referring to the media, whom he deemed unworthy of leveling criticism because, as he explained, “the reality is — and this is going to sound petty and bad — if you just objectively look at the people who are evaluating us every day, you know they’ve never come close to doing this job and all the work that goes into it.” He’s right. I’ll never understand all the work that goes into alienating a franchise player, engaging him in a protracted pissing match, and then packaging him along with $50 million for the privilege of trading him away.

Man, Carig just crushed him. Imagine being stuck with an egomaniac prick like that for your team’s GM. The worst part about this trade for Rockies’ fans is that this is not an A’s or Rays type of trade – trading a top player and getting lots of great prospects back to build for the future. Those fans don’t like those either, but they can at least rationalize it by what you get in return. Here, by all accounts, what the Rockies got back is pitiful – and they still had to pay $50M of Arenado’s remaining salary, as Carig mentioned. Here’s former GM Jeff Bowden’s summary of what the Rockies got:

This trade is a complete disaster for the Rockies outside of the fact they’re saving $184 million of their future payroll obligations. However, they’re also paying $50 million of Arenado’s future earnings with the Cardinals. In return, they only got one of their top 10 prospects in Montero — and he comes with a lot of risk. Gomber was the only sure major-leaguer in the deal for the Rockies and he will help the staff in whatever role they put him in. The other three players in the deal — Locey, Sommers and Gil — are all fringe major-leaguers at best. Not the type of return you’d expect for a superstar. They got nothing close to what the Red Sox got for Mookie Betts, the Indians got for Francisco Lindor or even what the Rays got for Blake Snell. Very disappointing that they decided to dump him just two years after signing him to an eight-year contract. Huge mistake for the Rockies and a horrible return for Arenado.

Imagine being a Rockies fan and reading that. Not only did your team’s best, most fun to watch, homegrown MVP-level player get traded, but you got nothing in return to give you hope for the future. Unlike the Rays, the Rockies aren’t building for the future. They’re just clearing their books. They are Not Trying. If I’m a Rockies fan, I’d be out.  I’m a Giants fan, though, and so while I am not sad to see the Giants’ Video Game Boss, as Grant Brisbee put it, leave the division, it sure will make games against the Rockies less interesting. I mean, I watched this live on TV and howled in disgust before shaking my head in reluctant admiration:

That’s friggin incredible. He could have turned to that crowd like Russell Crowe in Gladiator: 

Well, damn, yeah. Hell yeah. When Arenado came to town, I always was. -TOB

Source: The Rockies are Oblivious to Organizational Failure,” Marc Carig, The Athletic (02/02/2021); “Grading the Nolan Arenado trade for the Rockies and Cardinals,” Jeff Bowden, The Athletic (02/02/2021); Giants Fans Should Miss Nolan Arenado, Even if He Made Their Lives Miserable,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (02/01/2021); 

PAL: My favorite player to watch live at Giants games, no doubt. The Epidemic of Not Trying sucks so bad. I love baseball so much, and I know there’s always been the haves and have-nots, but the last few years marks the first time I can remember feeling like a lot of teams weren’t even giving it a go. Why watch a game if one team (or both) doesn’t care if it wins? 

I was listening to Jeff Passan (the writer of the incredible Drew Robinson story) on a podcast, and one issue he called out was the need for a new collective bargaining agreement that, in part, addresses two critical issues in baseball: 

  1. Free agency needs to start earlier in a player’s MLB service time so that they are paid for when they are great, not after they have been great. Colorado (Arenado), Cleveland (Lindor), Boston (Betts) paid so little for the prime years, then let them go when it was time to pony-up (In Colorado’s case, a couple years later…which is why this one is even crazier…as TOB notes, 50M more for him not to be there!)
  2. Punishment for franchises losing a lot for multiple years. Don’t know if that comes in the form of lower draft picks or a reduced percentage of revenue sharing. 

Absolutely. Baseball needs a major restructuring. Hell, I’ve long been baseball obsessed, and I didn’t watch much baseball at all last year. The casual fan is gone until the World Series, but now the game is starting to lose lifers, and that’s a deathblow to the sport. 

Since we’re on the topic, here are 20 defensive highlights from Arenado. Maybe I’ve watched more than once. Man, he’s good.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week After Fred Van Vleet broke the Raptors’ single game scoring record, previously held by former teammate DeMar DeRozan:


Song of the Week Jerry Jeff Walker – “Sangria Wine (Live)”


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“The IT tech guy and me…did not get off to a great start.”

-Michael Scott

Week of December 11, 2020


Mucking 

I didn’t know what ‘mucking’ meant prior to reading this great story. I know what muck is, but I’d never heard this verb use case. Now that I do, I think this story presents such a hopeful version of the idea. Per Scott Ostler, the concept of mucking was a practice of POWs in North Korea during the Korean conflict. 

The allied POWs were dying in misery and despair, it was every man for himself, much like prison life can be. Then one group of POWs began practicing what they called “mucking.” The men paired off, each man was challenged to do whatever it took to help his buddy. If he is starving, you gave him your food. You muck for him. Morale shot up. Survival became possible.

The inmates at Soledad State Prison learned about this idea by way of a program in which students at nearby Palma School read and discuss books with them. The idea of mucking in prison camps resonated with some of the inmates, and so a couple of them came up with an idea: they wanted to muck for a Palma student in need. 

As the Soledad inmates and Palma students discussed the story, Ted Gray turned to fellow inmate Jason Bryant and said, “We need to start a scholarship and help a young man who doesn’t have the ability to go to Palma.” The two men set their goal at $30,000, to be given to one student. “Instead of spreading our donation an inch deep and a mile wide,” said Bryant, “we wanted to go an inch wide and a mile deep, and have a fundamental impact on one young man’s life, change the trajectory of his entire life.”

And that’s where Syon Green enters this story. At the time, ‘Sy’ was a sophomore at Palma. His parents stretched to send him to the private school, and health issues were about to make his continued enrollment a challenge.  You can see where the two roads intersect here, but it’s such an uplifting story to savor. I will say this, the inmates, who, after four years, pooled $32,000 for Sy (at $0.11/hr), didn’t just cut the check and move on; they wanted to get to know Sy. They wanted to make sure he had a vision for his life. They held him accountable. 

Green’s parents let the inmates know that he had issues with procrastination and helping around the house. “Did we call him out? Absolutely,” Bryant said. “We had some difficult conversations. We had him chart out a whole list, his duties as a son, as a student, his vision as an athlete. ‘In light of those duties you’ve identified, how important is playing video games? How important is spending a bunch of time on YouTube?’ We were having conversations most of us never had with our parents or big brothers.”

Click the link below to hear how Sy, Ted Gray, and Jason Bryant are doing five years later. You won’t be disappointed. – PAL 

Source: ‘Couldn’t Believe It’: Why Inmates Raised $32,000 to Pay a Bay Area Teen’s Tuition,” Scott Ostler, The San Francisco Chronicle (12/06/2020)


A Modern Day Treasure Hunt I missed this story over the last few years, but it’s an interesting one. Forrest Fenn, some rich old guy from New Mexico wrote an autobiography, wherein he claimed he left a vast treasure worth $2 million…somewhere. He offered only a poem, filled with cryptic clues:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.  
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.  
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.  
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.  
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.  
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Over the years, Fenn offered more clues – some helpful (it’s in the Rocky Mountains, above 5,000 feet above sea level), and other less so (he drove a sedan to get there). People were obsessed. A guy died trying to find the treasure. He died! Actually, quite a few died. Others wasted years of their lives obsessing over it. Some believed it was a hoax. But it was not! This week, the hunt ended. Jack Stuef, a 32-year old medical student from Michigan, found the treasure.

 

Actually, the hunt ended when Stuef found the treasure last summer. But Stuef kept his discovery a secret, until Fenn’s family (Fenn died in September), recently revealed the discovery, and Mr. Stuef’s identity. Stuef has actually been sued – an attorney from Chicago claims she had spent years deciphering the clues, and that someone hacked her cell phone and stole the information, which lead them to the treasure. Which, LOL. Not sports, but competition. Sports-adjacent, we’ll call it. And a very fascinating read, at that. -TOB

Source: Man Who Found Hidden Treasure in the Rocky Mountains Is Revealed,” Neil Vigdor, New York Times (12/07/2020); see also On the Hunt, ‘Where Warm Waters Halt,’ for a $2 Million Treasure,” Fernanda Santos, New York Times (07/05/2016)

PAL: So that’s how you market self-published memoirs. Hiding a treasure sounds like a really fun to pass the time during retirement. Seriously. I love this idea. 

Wouldn’t it suck if you tried to copy Fenn’s idea, and someone found the treasure in a day?


How 2020 Will Affect a Generation of Baseball Talent

2020 has of course mostly sucked, and its suckiness will have long term ramifications for many, many people. Some of those ramifications we can make educated guesses about, others we can’t foresee. One group for which the latter is true is an entire generation of minor league baseball players.  Unlike most professional sports, the life of most professional baseball players involves years of professional, adult development before players reach their sport’s highest league. For baseball players,  it’s all about reps – play so much baseball against competition at your level, or perhaps a little better, in order to make yourself better so that you can, hopefully, advance. So what happens when, for most minor league players, an entire season is lost?

The Athletic’s Melissa Lockhard, Brittany Ghiroli, and Eno Sarris explored what players lost, how they will be affected, and how teams are planning to make up for the lost time. They also explore the inequities in the game – both in how smarter teams with more resources did more to minimize the impact of the lost season on its prospects, and how prospects in certain parts of the country had a huge advantage on prospects in other parts of the country, or those abroad.  It’s a fascinating look at how some very smart people who are used to doing things a certain way are trying to adapt to fight unknown future effects. -TOB

Source: “‘Everyone Lost’: The Minor League’s Canceled Season Will Reverberate for Years,” Brittany Ghiroli, Melissa Lockhard, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (12/08/2020)


Jim Thorpe 

I think most of us have some idea of who Jim Thorpe was, but this story revealed a good chunk of info about the guy the NY Times described as “probably the greatest natural athlete the world had seen in modern times” in his obit. I knew the Native American was an Olympic legend, and I knew he was a football legend, but I really didn’t know much more than that. 

This story is about people trying to correct the past and preserve stories of Native American achievement. After it was revealed that Thorpe made about $25 a week playing baseball a couple years prior to the 1912 Olympics, they stripped him of two gold medals (decathlon, pentathlon). The golds went to a dude from Sweden and a guy from Norway. In 1982, the IOC re-awarded Thorpe’s family the gold medals. Thorpe was considered a co-winner, which doesn’t make sense, but who would draw the short straw to go to the families of the Swede and Norwegian and ask for the medals back. In an odd twist, there’s no risk of that scenario. Both of the other gold medals are gone – one lost and one stolen.

Equally as shocking to me is this: I had no idea Jim Thorpe played baseball…for 6 years until the age of 32!  He played for the NY Giants, Red, and Braves and then became an all-time great in football. I must have missed his SportsCentury episode. This story got me thinking it might be time for a Jim Thorpe biography. Any recommendations? – PAL

Source: The 100-Year Dispute for Jim Thorpe’s Olympic Golds”, Victor Mather, The New York Times (12/9/2020)


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Song of the Week SNL – Christmas Candle 


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“I don’t know. It was a weird day. I accidentally cross-dressed.”

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