Week of April 22, 2022


An Inside Look at an MLB Draft

Andrew Baggarly had an interesting article this week on the Giants’ top pitching prospect, Kyle Harrison. The Giants drafted Harrison in 2020, having seen him pitch only once in his senior season at De La Salle. But they liked what they saw.  

What I like about this article is an inside look at how the MLB Draft works. Harrison had committed to pitch at UCLA. His agent, Scott Boras, made it clear he would not go pro unless he was given a signing bonus of $2.5M. But MLB now has draft slot value. Each draft pick is given a value – and the team holding that pick cannot spend over 5% more on its draft picks in a season than they have slot value to spend. 

(Does that make sense? Here’s a simple example: Pretend a team has the first pick in round 1 and the first pick in round 2, and no other picks. The first pick of round 1 has a $8.5M slot value. The first pick of round 2 has a $2M slot value. That team cannot spend more than $10.5M to sign those two picks. 

This article delves into why Harrison, a first round value, dropped to the third round but signed for first round value.

“They weren’t locked into that plan. If there was an obvious player who slipped to them who would require an over-slot bonus, someone they liked even better, they would’ve taken him. The draft could have unfolded in any number of ways. But in each of their first four selections, the Giants found players they liked who might give them the opportunity to save a little money from their bonus pool. They had to get lucky and hope Harrison would still be there in the third round, too.

They were, and he was.

Harrison had fielded offers from several other clubs on draft day and turned them all down. Still, a team could have bit the bullet and taken him at the back of the first round, or within the first few picks of the second round. Nobody did.

Getting him signed was more like playing Twister. The Giants had a pre-arranged deal with their preferred first-round pick, North Carolina State catcher Patrick Bailey, who signed for $400,000 below his $4.2 million slot value. Their second-rounder, San Diego State third baseman Casey Schmitt, signed for $360,000 under his $1.51 million slot value. The Giants gave back some of their savings with the first of their two supplemental second-round picks when they signed North Carolina State left-hander Nick Swiney for $1.2 million, a bonus that was $223,300 over slot. But their next supplemental-round choice, Dallas Baptist infielder Jimmy Glowenke, was a consensus overdraft who signed for just less than $600,000 and allowed them to set aside $355,600 more. Fourth-rounder R.J. Dabovich, a reliever from Arizona State that they had seen a ton while scouting former first-rounder Hunter Bishop, agreed to a $197,500 bonus that was well below the $507,400 recommendation.”

That’s pretty fascinating. Risky play by the Giants, but it seems to have paid off:

Longtime Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti lives in San Jose and watched plenty of Harrison last season. Asked for an impression, he considered the kid’s competitiveness and his durable frame. And he offered one hell of a comp.

“He’s like a left-handed Matt Cain, for me,” Righetti said.

Yeah, that’ll play. -TOB

Source: Behind the Giants’ Risk to Draft Kyle Harrison, Now Their Best Pitching Prospect Since Madison Bumgarner,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (04/18/2022)

PAL: There’s the slotting element and the strategy around that, but I also found it interesting how scouting can shift. It used to be find a pitcher that can light up the radar gun, and a team will teach him how to pitch. But with Harrison they found a kid who knew how to pitch, and they developed more velocity. The high schooler who threw 87-92 is now topping out a 97.

Per Bags:

The mantra used to be that you couldn’t teach velocity. Now, with new technology and training methods, the velo might be easier to teach than everything else. And because the Giants ascribe so much player value to K/BB ratio, it makes sense that they would be at the forefront of a turn back to command over pure power.

“Pitchability” is what the Giants scouts and execs keep referring to it as in the story. It reminded me about a story about Shane Bieber, Jacob deGrom, and other “edge cases” back in April, 2021 from Michael Baumann. They didn’t throw upper 90s in high school, so they had to learn how to pitch at an earlier age than the Gerrit Coles of the baseball world. They were taught velocity, and experts are now wondering if developing velocity in a prospect is easier than developing feel.


Joe Lacob Just Bugs Me

Photo Cred/#Humblebrag: TOB

Joe Lacob is so weird, man. There’s the time he suggested he did bedroom things with the NBA trophy. There’s…

And then this week. After the Warriors won Game 2 in another blowout over the Nuggets, Lacob was interviewed by Tim Kawakami and I cringed at least twice. 

First:

“The building’s incredible,” Lacob said. “Everyone who comes through here thinks this place is amazing. When I get on the court, that’s what I’m thinking, ‘This place is amazing.’ We’re pretty proud of it, obviously.

Ok, Joe. Look. I know that from your seat your feet technically touch the wood floor that also makes up the court. But uh, you don’t get on the court. You are not a player. 

And maybe I would have let that slide, but earlier in the interview he dropped this one:

“This is the team we paid for,” Lacob said. “We never really had the team together all year. So I’m excited to see them all play together. We never really got to see it. I think it’s exciting to see it.”

This is the team you paid for? Such an off-putting way to say that. There’s something very plantation-y about that. How about, “This is the team we were excited to see all year, and we finally got to.” No, not Joe. He’s gotta say the weirdest thing possible, every time. -TOB

Source: Kawakami: ‘This is the Team We Paid For’ — Joe Lacob on the Warriors’ 2-0 Lead and Chase Center Playoff Debut,” Tim Kawakami, The Athletic (04/19/2022)


Kayvon Thibodeaux and the Different Ways We Compete

Every year, there is at least one NFL Draft prospect who falls because of questions about his character, or his drive, or whether he loves football, or because he’s outspoken. This year’s That Guy is Kavon Thibodeaux, an edge rusher from Oregon. This article delves into Thibodeaux – what the criticisms are, whether they’re fair, and what Thibodeaux thinks about it. 

I thought the most interesting passage was this one:

There’s no Pro Football Focus metric that measures passion. In-game speed tracking can provide a glimpse of a player’s individual effort, but can’t quantify one’s internal drive. That’s where getting to personally know a player and learning what makes them tick is a crucial step for NFL teams during the draft process.

Chad Brown is the CEO and chief strategist of a software and consulting company called Profile. The company provides 20-minute behavioral assessments to players based on the DISC personality test, an exam devised to help enhance communication and team development.

Brown explained that when coaches or scouts say a player doesn’t work hard, full context needs to be considered as to why. That’s where criticism of Thibodeaux’s effort misses the mark.

Last year, the draft community praised now-Jets quarterback Zach Wilson’s hours-long drives from Utah to California to train with former NFL QB John Beck; Thibodeaux at one point made daily 80-mile commutes to high school. Top 2021 prospects such as Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons faced minimal judgment for opting out of the 2020 season; despite having been considered a highly rated prospect for years, Thibodeaux played this past season, and even returned to the field for Oregon after suffering an early-season ankle injury. Before the season started, the biggest concern surrounding Thibodeaux as a prospect was his lack of secondary pass-rush moves. Worries over his inconsistent motor weren’t raised until after the season, a good portion of which he played on a bum ankle. “I’ve always looked at college as a pit stop to kind of set up my life for the future,” Thibodeaux said last June. Even still, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that his effort wasn’t lackluster.

Competitiveness doesn’t manifest itself in the same way for every prospect. “Is competitiveness what we think it is?” Brown posited. “There’s definitely [mentalities of] ‘I want to win in checkers. I want to win in video games. I just want to win all the time.’ But what about people that want to constantly learn and develop? They listen to podcasts, they constantly study film, they’re learning from mentors.

That’s a really interesting point. Generally, when we talk about hyper-competitive players, in any sport, we hear stories about guys Michael Jordan and how we won’t stop playing a game, any game, until he beats you. So, maybe someone like Peyton Manning isn’t a “killer” as we use that term in sports. But those hours he spent in the film room? That’s competitive as hell. He is working hard before the game to beat you during the game. I never really thought of that as competitive, but it is. Good read. -TOB

Source: Kayvon Thibodeaux Is This NFL Draft’s Bad-Discourse Prospect,” Kaelen Jones, The Ringer (04/20/2022)


Jogbra

This is the origin story of the sports bra. While some version of it has been told before – Eva Longoria directed a 10-minute doc about it for ESPN a few years back – this is the real origin story, and that matters. As David Davis points out, “sanitized” and “simplified” stories of female empowerment are too common, and we have a tendency to fluff the real stories that feature more complicated characters and stakes. We should stop doing that.

Per Davis:

In her illuminating new book Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, author Danielle Friedman detailed how the inventors overcame a “seemingly endless series of challenges” in bringing the sports bra to the marketplace, including the financing, legal and patent hurdles typical for any start-up, as well as the anachronistic attitudes of the male bankers and sporting-goods store owners they dealt with.

But never once did these or other contemporary accounts address what was perhaps the most significant barrier that the entrepreneurs faced: intra-office feuding that nearly undermined their nascent business, with accusations of betrayal and backstabbing that linger to this day. By the time they sold their company in 1990, Lisa Lindahl and Hinda Miller were so fed up with each other that they didn’t speak for more than a decade.

Erasing the strife from the creation story of the Jogbra, as it was called, has sanitized and simplified the narrative. Female empowerment in the post–Title IX era has become the default storyline—why ruin a plucky underdog yarn with dollops of angst and conflict? Why portray complicated, real women and their divergent drives and opinions when you can stick to the facile script and produce what Lisa describes as a “fluffy piece” about three bosom buddies?

It’s hard to overstate the impact of the sports bra – Davis notes Runner’s World said it was the greatest invention in running…ever – and its popularity lines up perfectly with the passage of Title IX in 1972. After struggling to find a design that made sense, co-founders Lisa Lindahl and Polly Palmer Smith had that breakthrough moment, courtesy of a joking ex-husband, calling back to the first seed of the sports bra came from a joke between Lisa and Polly – we need a jockstrap for women.

A second jockstrap reference provided Polly with her lightbulb moment. Lisa’s husband was a bit of a jokester. One day, watching the women despairing over their unsolvable puzzle, Al Lindahl came down the stairs bare-chested, wearing a jockstrap stretched over his torso. 

“Ladies … I present your jock-bra,” he announced to the room.

For Polly, seeing the straps pulled over Al’s shoulders, with the pouch stretched over his chest, provided the visual prompt she was missing. It was the “fateful moment when all the pieces fell into place,” she recalled.

Hinda was sent to the UVM bookstore to buy two jockstraps. Polly cut them up and made a crude prototype. The two pouches served as the cups; the waistbands became a solid rib-band that stretched around the torso; the butt straps were converted into shoulder straps that crossed at the back. 

Hinda was the third co-founder, and perhaps the reason for imbalance that led to so much stress and strife in the years to come. What follows is decades of friendship colliding with landmines that come with growing a booming company. A must-read. – PAL

Source: The Mostly Untold Story Of How The Sports Bra Conquered The World And Tore Its Inventors Apart,David Davis, Defector (April 20, 2022)

Video of the Week

I ask you, who among us has not run across a playing field and tackled an opponent…-TOB

Same vibes:

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week


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“Say Merry Christmas, goddammit!”

-Eli Gemstone

Week of April 15, 2022


Coaches: Let Athletes Figure It Out

This story tries to do too much, but there’s a specific section of it that’s stuck with me all week. 

As most of you know, Scottie Scheffler won the Masters Sunday. I can’t remember watching the no. 1 golfer in the world ever play, so Sunday afternoon was the first time I noticed there’s something odd about this guy’s swing. 

And after meandering about a bit with a writing style that’s about as heavy-handed as SNL’s take on high school theater performance, Brendan Quinn gets to a key insight: there’s never one way to play a game. Scheffler found a coach that taught him the game, not how to swing. 

He makes it sound easier than it is, but Scheffler was built for this. As a child, his family moved from New Jersey to Dallas, landing Young Scottie under the tutelage of Royal Oaks Country Club legendary pro Randy Smith. An old-school Texan with old-school wit, Smith crafted his teaching style from the likes of Harvey Penick and Lee Trevino. He taught the game to a young boy named Justin Leonard and crafted multiple other kids into tour pros. When it came to Scheffler, Smith found boundless talent and filled it with oxygen.

“He didn’t teach Scottie Scheffler a golf swing,” says University of Texas golf coach John Fields, who recruited Scheffler as a 12-year-old and coached him for four years in Austin. “He taught Scottie the game of golf.”

That footwork? That move? Randy Smith says Scheffler has always had it. It’s intrinsic. He never gave a single thought to coaching Scheffler out of it.

Why?

“He’s an athlete,” Smith says. “And athletes play golf differently than robots.”

I wish more coaches took this approach in youth sports. Let athletes be athletic and teach them the game instead of assuming there’s only one “proper” technique. How it looks doesn’t matter as much as the results. If the results stay great – especially when someone is a great athlete – let the kid figure it out. Great work, Randy Smith! – PAL 

Source: On his own two feet, Scottie Scheffler wins the Masters,” Brendan Quinn, The Athletic (04/10/22)


Play Better, I Guess

The Giants and Padres played a wild baseball game on Sunday. The Giants first base coach Antoan Richardson was ejected and later accused the Padres’ third base coach of using racially-charged language; the Giants’ Alyssa Nakken took over first base coach duties, becoming the first female on-field coach in MLB history; the Giants hit two dingers off Padres’ outfielder Wil Myers; and the Giants broke two unwritten rules, enraging the Padres. And despite all the other stuff worthy of discussion, I want to talk about the unwritten rule kerfuffle.

The game was never close. The Giants batted around in the first, and were up 10-1 in the second. They ended up winning 13-2. In the second inning, up 10-1, Giants’ outfielder Steven Duggar stole second. This made the Padres mad. In fact, it’s the event that led to Richardson’s ejection. 

The game was uneventful after that for a while, until the 6th inning. The Padres were down 9, with the score 11-2. The Padres had one of their better pitchers, Dinelson Lamet, in the game. The Giants’ Mauricio Dubon, a player on the roster bubble, came to the plate. And on an 0-1 count, he laid down a bunt. He reached first safely. The Padres dugout went ballistic

Even Kruk and Kuip were lightly chastising Dubon, suggesting Kapler did the same as Dubon came off the field. But, there’s a twist! After the game, Kapler was asked about Dubon’s bunt. Here’s what he had to say, from Andrew Baggarly:

“I said, ‘Great job. Way to try to get a base hit,’” Kapler said. “It was full, 100 percent support. The pitchers are trying to get Mauricio out. Mauricio is trying to get on base. The goal in baseball is to not make an out.”

This does not represent a sudden shift in Kapler’s thinking. Going back to his time managing in Philadelphia, he would express his disdain for the general understanding that teams should coast with a sizable lead. He was adamant during a morning session with reporters in Scottsdale this spring: the Giants would not stop playing the game hard until the final out regardless of score or inning.

“Our goal is not to exclusively win one game in the series,” Kapler said Wednesday night. “It’s to try to win the entire series. So sometimes that means trying to get a little deeper into the opposition’s ‘pen. I understand that many teams don’t love that strategy and I get why. It’s something we talked about as a club before the season and that we were comfortable going forward with that strategy. It’s not to be disrespectful in any way. … It’s the best way to win a series.

“We’re not emotional about it. We’re not trying to hurt anybody. We just want to score as many runs as possible, force the other pitcher to throw as many pitches as possible, and if other clubs decide that they want to do the same thing to us, we’re not gonna have any issue with it.”

Kapler expanded on his thoughts the next day:

Not only do I love thumbing your nose at the unwritten rules, but I really love the logic behind it. I never thought of that – keep hitting, keep attacking because you’ll get deeper into the other team’s bullpen. Also, this made me laugh:

And, as Joc Pederson said after the game: “You don’t like it, play better, I guess.”

Man, yes. Print the t-shirts already! -TOB

Source: “Giants’ Alyssa Nakken makes history; Antoan Richardson says ejection followed comments with ‘undertones of racism’, Andrew Baggarly, the Athletic (04/13/2022)

PAL: It’s professional baseball; all is fair. Who doesn’t like a little added animosity?


If Your Team is Tanking, Don’t Give Them Money

Despite the labor deal, MLB still has a tanking problem. After the lockout ended, the A’s traded away every good player they have. The Reds did the same, including underpaid all-stars, like Jesse Winker. They are trying to rebuild, they’ll tell you. Trust the process. But you shouldn’t.

The Reds team president offered that reminder this week, when asked during an interview why fans should trust the team after all these trades? His response?

“Well, where you gonna go?”

Yeah, man, where you gonna go? This reminds me of a scene from Can’t Hardly Wait:

https://www.youtube.com/clip/UgkxHDK9ciqw78J6npP69f4cChfwVdxiv6CV

That’s right, Amanda Beckett. Somebody. When your owner asks: where you gonna go? Be like Amanda Beckett – tell him somewhere. These teams think they can hold you hostage. They think they can treat you like crap – collect your money, pocket it, and put out a terrible product that isn’t even trying to win. So, don’t let them. Go somewhere else. Spend your money elsewhere. -TOB

Source: Reds President And CFO Asks Fans To Consider Whether Maybe This Is Actually All Their Fault,” David Roth, Defector (04/12/2022)


White Men Can’t Jump, at 30

I saw this movie in the theatres, apparently just as I was turning 10, with my dad. And I gotta say – it was wildly inappropriate for a child of that age. But, it’s also a great movie. As the movie turns 30 (and I 40!), I enjoyed this short* oral history of the making of the movie.

But here’s the best part, regarding that final scene when Billy Hoyle finally dunks:

In one of the final scenes of the movie, Billy and Sidney bet on whether Billy can actually dunk. Harrelson claimed he could actually dunk and would do so for the shot.

Johnson: And so the basket was at ten feet. Woody had been walkin’ around with these strength shoes — these strength shoes have, like, a — like, a big, gigantic pad on the ball of your feet, and then nothin’ on the heels. So you’re walkin’ on your calves the whole time. So Woody’s got these strength shoes on. He’s preppin’ to get this dunk down on the ten-foot basket. So we get to that part of the scene he’s got to dunk. And he’s nowhere close.

Snipes: And we had a side bet going on.

Harrelson: Yeah, we had a side bet, which kept growing.

Johnson: Ron Shelton’s like, “We gotta lower this thing, Woody. We don’t have all night.” So Woody’s, like, “No — no, whatever you do, don’t lower the basket. I know I can do it. I’ve done it before. I’ve been workin’ on this for the past couple of months.”

Johnson: Woody leaves and goes to his trailer. So my favorite line is Ron Shelton. It’s, like, “Take that thing down to nine and a half feet, please.” And so — they did, and Woody came out and dunked.

Shelton: I recall, as the bet was being upped, the rim was being lowered.

Harrelson: Then we upped the bet a little bit, and uh, oh my God. I’ll never forget [Snipes’] face when I slammed that.

Snipes: Ron, you were the co-conspirator, man. … You set me up.

Shelton: Yeah, gradually. I was.

Harrelson: I didn’t realize. I thank you for that, by the way.

That’s hilarious. Watch that scene again – look at Harrelson’s face. He really thought he dunked. LOL.

*So many oral histories drag on way too long. I enjoyed how this one got in, told its story, and got out. -TOB

Source: ‘White Men Can’t Jump’ at 30: Sneakers, bets and stories from an all-time sports movie,” Jeremy Willis, ESPN (04/12/2022)


Video of the Week

After having just flown with our baby the other week, this one really nailed it.

Tweets of the Week

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Your art was the prettiest art of all the art.

Roy Anderson

Week of January 28, 2022


Curt Schilling’s Lopsided Trades

Curt Schilling is a crappy person, but he was a great pitcher and should be in the Hall of Fame. Ok?

Anyways, this is an interesting article, using Schilling having not been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week as jumping off point to discuss an interesting topic: Schilling was traded three times before he was 25, which is very unusual for a player who ends up being as good as Schilling is. In fact, Schilling was the best such player of all-time.

But where this article gets interesting is it dives into each of those three trades: who Schilling was traded with and for, and why the people who made the decision to trade him did so – what they were thinking, using quotes from today and at the time. I particularly liked this passage, with the Astros GM who traded Schilling kicking himself, thirty years later:

Wood authored some of the sport’s most celebrated and ill-advised decisions: He made out like a bandit in the Davis and Andersen deals, but he also traded Schilling for a future reliever/bat thief who never pitched for the Astros, and he failed to draft Derek Jeter with the ’92 no. 1 pick (another byproduct of the team’s premature all-in approach). “I’m also the genius that traded Kenny Lofton,” Wood says, referring to the December ’91 exchange in which he traded Lofton (who was blocked by Finley) to Cleveland for Ed Taubensee to fill a vacancy at catcher created by Craig Biggio’s switch to second base.

“Sometimes there are moves that it takes a lot of years to forget,” Wood says. Thirty-plus years may not be enough. Whenever Wood hears Schilling’s name now, he confesses, “In the back of my mind, I’m saying to myself, ‘Self, you idiot. That’s one guy you should have held on to. Maybe you would have lasted in Houston for five more years than you did.’” Had the mid-’90s Astros had Schilling and Lofton, Wood jokes, “they might have actually beaten the Braves once in a while.”

It’s an interesting look into what goes on in a trade and how a guy like Schilling got moved around so much. As Lindbergh sums up: “Coaching shortcomings, overrated rosters, overvaluing of veterans, underappreciation of prospects, ownership pressure, bad batted-ball luck, and unfortunate timing: All of the above contributed to a late-blooming ace’s itinerant origins.”

Fun article! -TOB

Source: The Uniquely Confounding Career of Curt Schilling,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (01/26/2022)

PAL: Fantastic angle – traded three times that early only to become an all-timer. First off, I had no idea he was on a team before the Phillies, much less three. Also, it’s crazy how long it took him to actually post a bonkers season: 

Schilling was the winningest pitcher on the Phillies’ staff in ’92—which he acknowledged would have seemed laughable before the season—but the path to his peak wasn’t direct. Schilling lost focus for part of ’93, underwent elbow surgery in ’94, and tore his labrum in ’95. It wasn’t until 1997 that he had his first fully healthy, huge year, which his pitching coach that season, Galen Cisco, attributes to his use of video to study hitters, his willingness to pitch inside, and his consistency in spotting unhittable heaters down and away. 

Good find, TOB!


The Bosa Mob Connection

Here’s a pretty nutso story: there’s a real NFL bloodline that stems from a Chicago mob boss. 

The Niner’s Nick Bosa, his brother and Charger Joey, and some wide receiver on the Bills are all great grandkids of Tony Accardo. Accardo was believed to be Al Capone’s chauffeur, bodyguard, and “potentially more.” When Capone went to Alcatraz and other top dogs fell Chicago, Accardo became the top guy. This was someone you would not want to cross. 

Per Katie Dowd: 

Most people were wise enough not to cross him. In 1978, while Accardo was lounging in his Palm Springs vacation home, burglars broke into his Chicago mansion. In the following days, at least seven individuals connected to the robbery were found with their throats slit. “One was castrated and disemboweled, his face removed with a blow torch, a punishment imposed, presumably, because he was Italian and should have known better,” the Chicago Tribune wrote.

Perhaps more insane: the number of people in this family that have played professional football:

While his cohorts died violent deaths, Accardo slipped quietly into retirement. It was during this time that his family’s NFL empire began. His daughter Marie married Palmer Pyle, a guard who was selected in the first round of the 1960 AFL draft by the Houston Oilers. Although the marriage didn’t last, the NFL bloodline did. Marie and Palmer’s son, Eric Kumerow (he took the last name of his mother’s second husband), became a Dolphins linebacker…

Kumerow’s sister, Cheryl, married Dolphins defensive end John Bosa, and together they had Nick and Joey, now both in the NFL. In addition, Kumerow’s son Jake plays wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. Although none in the current generation knew Accardo personally, his legacy still looms large over the family.

As if we needed more reason not to mess with a Bosa. – PAL 

Source: 49ers star Nick Bosa is the great-grandson of one of history’s most feared mobsters,” Katie Dowd, SF Gate (01/26/22)

It’s Hard to Beat a Team Three Times in One Season. Or is it?

The 49ers, somehow, are in the NFC Championship game, traveling to L.A. to play the Rams (who they have beaten six straight times. Within those six straight, of course, the Niners beat the Rams twice this season, including a do-or-die game in Week 18 in L.A.

All week, just like we hear every time divisional opponents meet in the playoffs and one team swept the season series, I keep reading and hearing that it’s very difficult to beat a team three times in one season. This has been accepted as gospel as long as I’ve been watching the NFL. But…is it true? I decided to Google that question and found this article which answers the question rather emphatically.

Since the 1970 NFL Merger, there have been 21 instances where a team swept a team in the regular season and then had a third battle in the playoffs. The sweeping team has gone 14-7 in those games, which means it must not be that hard to beat a playoff team three times in a season.”

Since the article was written last January, the Saints lost at home to Tampa in last year’s playoffs, after having swept the Bucs in the regular season. Still, it’s 14-8. And this makes sense. Usually a team that sweeps another team in the regular season is simply better. But how often is the sweeping team then the road playoff team, like the Niners are this weekend? Of the 22 third meetings, only 4 have seen the season sweeping team on the road in the playoff rematch. Those teams went 2-2.

The ’84 Seahawks swept the Raiders but finished three games behind them in the standings and lost in the playoff game, the ’92 Chiefs went 10-6 and swept the 11-5 Chargers and lost in San Diego in the postseason. On the other side, the ’99 Jaguars went 14-2, but lost all three games to the 13-3 Titans, the ’04 Seahawks went 9-7 but were swept by the 8-8 Rams in the regular season before beating them at home in the playoffs.

So, I don’t know if the Niners will win or not. But I do know that it’s not hard to beat a team three times in the NFL. -TOB

Source: “How Hard Is It To Beat A Team Three Times In One Season?” Chase Stuart, Football Perspective (01/11/2021)


John Stockton, the Craziest COVID Truther of All

I alllllllways hated John Stockton. He was such a dirty player – routinely voted so by the other players in the league – and yet the media treated him like some sort of hard-nosed, clean-playing-and-living, aw shucks, deity. It always drove me crazy.

So I really relished reading this bat shit crazy interview he gave this week about COVID-19, after his alma mater, Gonzaga, revoked his season tickets for repeated refusals to wear a mask at games. Here’s the highlight:

During the interview, Stockton asserted that more than 100 professional athletes have died of vaccination. He also said tens of thousands of people – perhaps millions – have died from vaccines.

“I think it’s highly recorded now, there’s 150 I believe now, it’s over 100 professional athletes dead – professional athletes – the prime of their life, dropping dead that are vaccinated, right on the pitch, right on the field, right on the court,” Stockton said in the interview.

Such claims are dubious and not backed by science, nor are they deemed credible by medical professionals, according to FactCheck.org, a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center, and research reported by PolitiFact, which is run by the Poynter Institute.

This is not just dubious – it’s an outright lie. 150 athletes have dropped dead while playing after receiving the vaccine? Those are the words of an insane person completely detached from reality.

In sum: Fuck John Stockon. -TOB

Source: John Stockton’s Defiance of COVID-19 Mask Mandate Forces Gonzaga to Suspend NBA Hall of Famer’s Basketball Season Tickets,” Theo Lawson, Spokesman-Review (01/23/2022)


A Quick Note on Bonds

Like Schilling, Barry Bonds was not elected to the Hall of Fame this year, his last year eligible on the writer’s ballot. Most observers are confident that he will get in this year or soon through the Today’s Game Committee, so I am not too distraught about it. I just wanted to link to a story I wrote about Bonds, back in 2020: In Defense of Barry Bonds.

He’s not a cartoon character. He’s a human being. Yes, Bonds made lots of money (career earnings: $188,245,322). But money isn’t everything. And what else does he have? He doesn’t even have adulation. He’s cheered in San Francisco, but that’s about it. How can someone read the stories about his father, not connect the dots to the person he was as a young man, and then think, “I don’t care, screw that guy.” I’m not saying he should be completely absolved of his sins. But if you can’t find it in your heart to feel for someone who was so obviously hurting, I don’t understand you. If you can’t find it in your heart to forgive someone for mistakes made 20 or 30 years ago, I don’t understand you.

Bonds does not deserve your love, but he does deserve your understanding.

Bonds is awesome and he belongs in the Hall of Fame. I can’t wait until it happens. -TOB

PAL: I was ok with this until you write “I can’t wait until it happens.” Really? I mean, really? Is it the hypocrisy finally crumble? Is it the fact that – for what the game was at that time (and that most all of us LOVED) – he was the best combo of skill, smarts, and PEDs?

The Bay Area’s love of Bonds is fascinating, and maybe a bit heartwarming. Yeah, they know he messed up, but he’s still our guy and those seasons when he broke baseball were pretty fun…even though he’s one surly dude.


An Attempt to Empirically Determine Most Amazing Sports Feats of All-Time

Recently, The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson asked his twitter followers to nominate the most impressive athletic feats of all-time. He got lots of submissions, but Thompson decide to try to determine it statistically by looking at records that are severe outliers – far and away better than the next best performance. Here’s Thompson:

I settled on the “50 Percent Club.” That is: What American sports records are at least 50 percent greater than the relevant second-place accomplishment?

For example, Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962 is legendary. But Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game in 2006 means that it would take a 121-point game to pass the 50 Percent Test in the category of points scored in a single game. So Chamberlain doesn’t make it into the club on that metric. But his greatest feat isn’t one game; it’s that he scored 60 points on 32 separate occasions. That’s not just 50 percent more than the second-most on that list (also Bryant). It’s almost 500 percent more. In fact, Chamberlain has more 60-point games than every other basketball player in NBA history combined. That makes Chamberlain a card-carrying member of the 50 Percent Club.

Thompson then lists and discussed some of the greatest feats of all-time. A fun read! -TOB

Source: The Most Amazing Statistical Achievement in U.S. Sports History,” Derek Thompson, The Atlantic (01/21/2022)


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Y’all went down to Disney World, didn’t invite any family to come to your wedding, and you didn’t even get a legacy character to marry you.

Jesse Gemstone

Week of January 21, 2022

On January 21, 1990 John McEnroe was suspended from Australian Open for eating powdered donuts before his match.

D-E-E-B-O! And Deebo Was His Name-o!

(For the record, I stole that joke from Tom Tolbert)

I have thought long and hard about this and I think I’ve decided that Deebo Samuel is my favorite 49er of all-time. So I really enjoyed this article from The Ringer’s Ben Solak at just what makes Deebo so special. It’s really fun – including multiple angle videos of what makes Deebo so special – his power, speed, intelligence, the way he bails out his noodle-armed quarterback. Deebo is the real friggin deal. 

Solak sums up Deebo like this:

It’s not that he’s so explosive (even though he is) or so physical (even though he is) or so smart (even though he is). It’s not even that he’s a blend of all of those things. It’s that he is superlative in all areas, and somehow able to string all of those elite skills into one amorphous, superstar play style. He’s a phase-shifter, a rule breaker. He’s effortlessly everything all at once.

Crushed it. He’s just great at everything, and cool as hell and fun at the same time. Give me more Deebo, please. -TOB

Source: Deebo Samuel Isn’t a Wide Receiver or a Running Back. He’s a Skeleton Key,” Ben Solak, The Ringer (01/19/2022)


Baseball Mafia

If you’ve known me long enough, I’ve probably implored you to watch Pelotero, the documentary about the very shady world of developing star baseball prospects in the Dominican Republic in the era just before limits were put on how much MLB teams could spend on international free agents (there’s no international draft for MLB). 

I haven’t paid too much attention after the rule change, so I eagerly clicked on this story from Maria Torres and Ken Rosenthal when it came across my feed. 

The current system, which ought to be a top agenda item in the current CBA negotiations, allows teams to have a pool of money for bonuses for international free agents. During the 2012-2016 CBA, wealthy teams just exceeded the cap and paid the fines, which then led to firmer restrictions under the CBA that just ended, leading to the current lockout. 

The system in the D.R. and other baseball-obsessed Latin America countries is that of a trainer working with, providing housing, schooling, and food for kids that could turn out to be a sought after free agent. When one of those prospects signs a free agent contract and receives his bonus, the trainer starts to collect on his investment. 

This per Torres and Rosenthal: 

Corruption in the international market accelerated after the introduction of a hard cap in the most recent collective bargaining agreement, according to those familiar with the market’s workings.

Under the 2012-16 CBA, teams routinely exceeded their bonus pools with little regard to penalties that included taxes and limits on future spending. The league responded by seeking firmer restrictions in the next agreement and the union proposed to cap the pools rather than accept an international draft. The pools increased at the rate of industry revenue, giving clubs a rough idea of how much they could spend in each signing period in the five-year term.

Eager to beat their rivals in the market, teams started reaching deals with players at even younger ages, telling them in essence, “If you don’t agree with us now, the money might be gone by the time you are eligible to sign.” It became the norm for top prospects to commit to teams by the time they were 14, two years prior to becoming eligible to sign. Once the terms were set, the players would disappear from the market, working out only at their trainers’ facility. In some cases, teams are said to have pledged contracts to players even as young as 12.

At this stage, teams often don’t even try to hide their circumvention of the system. At least one director of international scouting who spoke to reporters last weekend said he and his staff had been working for three years to sign many of the players they inked to deals at the start of the current signing period.

Trainers had to adjust their development timelines to the level of demand. It is no longer unusual for trainers — who usually take as much as 50 percent of players’ signing bonuses to help cover years of development and housing — to have 10- and 11-year-olds practicing and staying at their academies. One NL executive with extensive experience in Latin American countries cites competition as the reason clubs are willing to commit to increasingly younger players. Given the prominence of Latin American players in baseball, the executive said, “teams have to win in this environment.”

And later: 

“There is common knowledge throughout the industry that a significant number of team personnel are working for both their MLB team and receiving some form of compensation from trainers,” [Ulises] Cabrera said.

The system, as Cabrera and others with knowledge describe it, works like this: An area scout from a major-league club ventures outside his assigned region to find talented players. The scout, after identifying a prospect he likes, influences the player’s trainer to sell a percentage of the youngster’s future bonus to another buscon from the scout’s own region. The player transfers to the buscon and commits to signing with the scout’s team, often for an inflated bonus. And the scout is compensated by the new buscon, sometimes in the form of cash, other times with housing arrangements, vehicles or other material goods.

“It’s a mafia,” said Chico Faña, a former Phillies minor league hitting coach and catching instructor with more than 20 years experience as an amateur trainer in his town of La Vega. Faña estimated that scouts from nine teams engage in the underhanded activity with a select group of trainers.

So why not just create an international draft? Proponents of an international draft say it would help put an end the under-the-table dealings between teams and trainers, as well as solve the issue of Latin America players receiving smaller signing bonuses than that of their draft-eligible counterparts; but others—including Latin American players in the players union, who represent 20% of the active MLB players—believe a solution exists without a draft that also limits a player’s option: MLB could simply enforce rules prohibiting contact with players before the age of 15. 

There’s so much more to this story. I highly encourage you to read. -PAL 

Source: “A failed system’: A corrupt process exploits Dominican baseball prospects. Is an international draft really the answer?,” Maria Torres & Ken Rosenthall, The Athletic (01/20/22)


Marshawn Lynch: NFL Mentor

Remember that Deebo article up there? And the qualification that he’s my favorite 49er of all-time? Well, that’s because my favorite player of all-time is Marshawn Lynch.

Lynch is retired now. Famously, he never spent his paychecks. He invested it, and lived off his endorsements. And now he is serving as a mentor to young NFL players. He was interviewed by the New York Times and as always it’s great.

But first I have to note this part in the intro, where the writer’s relates that:

“Marshawn Lynch absolutely refuses to code switch. His candor, regardless of the audience, has yielded unforgettable quotations — “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”; “Take care of your chicken, take care of your mental” — that have marked him as a sage of sorts, somebody who is sought out in his retirement by current players in need of mentoring and by brands hoping to make an impression.”

Then, two paragraphs later, before the start of the actual interview, NYT included this note:

“This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and condensed.”

So, I guess Marshawn won’t code switch, but NYT will do it for him.

Regardless, there are more great Marshawnims:

Q: A lot of players have misspoken on Covid-19, racism and other social issues in interviews. How would you advise them about staying informed or speaking on topics they might not necessarily be educated about?

A: Turn the tables. If somebody asked me some [expletive] that I was not informed about, I’m going to ask them to inform me before I make any kind of statement. Most of the time, if you’re being asked something that you’re not informed about, it’s going to make you feel a little uncomfortable. But if you feel that way, then it’s time to use your wittys to get up out that siti, that situation, you feel me? Don’t be afraid to say, “That’s not something I feel comfortable talking about.”

Use your wittys to get up out that siti. Love it, love Marshawn. -TOB

Source: How Marshawn Lynch Became an N.F.L. Mentor,” Julian Kimble, New York Times (01/19/2022)


 A Fascinating Article On Long-Snapping

Seriously. Here’s a great breakdown of just what goes into long-snapping. If all goes well, you never notice these guys, but the Tennessee Titan’s Morgan Cox helps shed a little light on the minutia of long-snapping. 

Per David Flemming: 

No one appreciates long-snappers more than backup long-snappers, though. In 2010, Cox blew out his ACL against the Browns but decided to stay in the game to snap, especially after seeing how petrified Ravens running back Willis McGahee was at the prospect of filling in for him. “After I hurt my knee, he came up to me on the sideline and he was like, ‘Hey man, are you good? Are you good? Are you going to be able to snap?'” says Cox, who tore his other ACL in 2014. “He was freaking out that he might have to go in and snap.” 

The premium on scoring and the shrinking margin of victory in the NFL (this season the Titans outscored opponents by an average of only 3.8 points per game) has made extra points and field goals, and thus, long-snappers, even more like lawyers and umbrellas: no one really appreciates them until they don’t have one.

And later: 

After 12 years in the NFL, Cox has long-snapping down to a science. On field goals he only has 0.7 to 0.75 seconds to get the ball into the holder’s hands. (A human eye blink takes 0.4 seconds.) And when the ball arrives the laces need to be at 12 o’clock, which is long-snapper lingo for straight up in the air so that when the ball is placed on the ground the seams are directly toward the goal posts. (Laces at 6 o’clock, pointing back at the kicker, are “a disaster,” Cox says, because if they catch on a kicker’s foot it drastically changes the direction of the ball.) In all, the field goal unit has between 1.2 and 1.3 seconds to get the kick off. So, to get the ball to the holder on time and in the right position, Cox knows that he must snap it at 35 mph with exactly 3½ rotations and with no target deviation. (Even having to reach a little for the snap can push the timing well past 1.3 seconds.)

Most importantly, all long-snappers need to learn how to do cool tricks with the football. How else will you pass the time between kicks/punts without obsessing about not screwing up. When Cox was at the University of Tennessee, the snapper ahead of him told him he’d never make it as a snapper if he didn’t learn how to spin a football on his finger. He was serious: tricks mean not sitting with your thoughts, and snappers need to stay out of their heads. – PAL 

Source: The upside-down life of the Tennessee Titans’ All-Pro long-snapper,” David Flemming, ESPN (01/20/22)

A Cool Story About Meat Loaf, Who Died This Week

Meat Loaf died this week. The news was met with the usual tributes – to his music (Bat out of Hell is great) and his acting (fantastic in Fight Club, for example). But I really liked this old Deadspin story from Jen Carlson, about when Meat Loaf coached her JV softball team.

In 1991, I was a high school freshman in the small town of Redding, Conn. My brother was a senior, and his prom date was one of our neighbors down the street, a junior, Pearl Aday. Pearl would drive me home from softball practice when her father, our coach, was unable to. I preferred Pearl, as her dad drove a red sports car, pushing it to its capabilities through our small, winding roads … like a bat out of hell. His name was Marvin Lee Aday, but he was better known to the world as Meat Loaf. To the scrappy group of girls he was trying to mold into softball players, he was Coach Meat.

The JV team was orphaned at birth that year. No one wanted to coach us, and it was getting down to the wire when Meat Loaf volunteered, despite being on the verge of filming three movies and being in the midst of recording Bat Out Of Hell II. Coach Meat took the game very seriously. When we prodded him to sing us one of his hits, we were denied. Instead, he taught us a team chant: “What do we wanna do? Kill! What do we need to do? Kill! What are we gonna do? Kill! What do big dogs do? KILL!”

That’s really funny, but I especially love this tidbit:

He broke character only once, after our first win (suck it Abbott Tech). When we loaded on to the bus, he started belting out, “I Will Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” We had never heard the song, and the public wouldn’t hear it for nearly two more years.

Jen’s experience, and that of her teammates, seems wholly unique. How many people can say they were coached in a high school sport by a rock star in his prime? And especially a rock star as singular and unique as Meat Loaf? RIP, Coach Meat. -TOB

Source: “Meat Loaf Was My Softball Coach,” Jen Carlson, Deadspin (07/18/2011)

PAL: 10/10


Vote Tim Lincecum into the Hall of Fame, You Cowards



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Week of January 14, 2022


What It Actually Takes To Win In College Football

This is a must read for casual college football fans, like me. Before reading  Kevin Clark’s story, I knew there exists a group of college football programs above the rest—I’ve watched Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio State, play in the 4-team playoff year after year, with a little Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame and even a Cincinatti mixed in this year—but reading this story made is so abundantly clear what it takes to win a national championship in college football, and that nothing short of a miracle is needed for a team like Cincinatti to win a title. 

First and foremost, it’s about talent. Of course, right? I didn’t know how drastic the disparity is. Georgia had 19 – 19! – 5-star recruits in the title game last week. 

Per Clark: 

There’s a massive gulf between making the College Football Playoff and winning it, and you can measure the distance in talent. Around 60 percent of five-star recruits committed to the same five schools—Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, LSU, and Ohio State—over a five-year period ending in 2021, and that number increased later in that time span, according to the Sporting News. Those schools have combined to make 16 playoff appearances and win every national championship since the 2016 season. Texas A&M, which has the no. 1 class in 2022, has made strides to join that group.

Next is money. A school has to spend gobs and gobs of money, and not have to waste time convincing people to hand it over. Clark tells a story about when Clemson’s Dabo Swinney asked for a bigger staff and facilities upgrade, he was asked why. He responded, “Well, Alabama does it.”

Or how about this anecdote about Kirby Smart and Georgia’s program: 

“Kirby Smart got in there and said, ‘This is exactly what I need to win,’ and Georgia gave it to him,” Bud Elliott, a recruiting expert for 247Sports, told me. This includes a helicopter, which Smart uses to navigate recruiting visits. (“Time spent going slow doesn’t work,” he said, when first asked about the helicopter, which costs tens of thousands of dollars to operate.) The state of Georgia changed a public records law early in Smart’s tenure after he lobbied against it. Everyone was on board.

Plenty of schools with big football programs have money. Money is a prerequisite to be above average, but it doesn’t make a program a contender. Traditions be damned—a program that cycles through a couple bad coach hires (take USC as an example) is like blood in the water for the sharks. 

What’s developed is fairly obvious to see: a handful of schools that conceivably could compete are stuck in the mud, stopping and starting with every new coaching hire, while the select few run up the score. In many instances, those down programs are in recruiting hotbeds, which means the haves can run in to raid their talent, increasing the disparity even more. You should not be surprised when Georgia and Alabama play in the national title game—you should be surprised when they don’t. That’s what we had Monday.

It was a great game watch, and now I know why I should expect a lot more of the same. -PAL

Source: Georgia Is the Exception to Alabama’s Rule,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (01/11/2022)


The NFL’s “Scheme Wars” Will be Spotlighted This Weekend

This was a fun article by The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz outlining the rise of the spread offense, kickstarted by the 2008 New England Patriots, and the factions in offensive scheme that have formed over the last decade:

Now, 14 years after the Patriots kicked things off, that ubiquitous “NFL Offense” that Brown wrote about is just one of many systems that are permeating the league. Never before have we seen schematic variety like this at the NFL level, as some coaching staffs have fully embraced more modern concepts, while others have adapted them to fit their established philosophies, and still others have been more reluctant to jump on the bandwagon.

Those three factions are the Spread (Chiefs, Bills, Cardinals), the Wide Zone (Rams, 49ers), the “Throwback” (physical running game setting up play-action passing) (Titans, Patriots, Buccaneers). Ruiz does an excellent job explaining each of them, with video examples. As Ruiz argues, 

These varying levels of acceptance have separated the league into schematic factions. And as assistant coaches from winning teams get head-coaching jobs of their own, those new hires will take their offensive systems with them and expand the territory of whatever faction they belong to. We saw this phenomenon play out a few years back when seemingly every coach who had ever crossed paths with Sean McVay became a hot coaching commodity. And after Kyle Shanahan, who belongs to the same coaching tree as McVay, dragged Jimmy Garoppolo to the Super Bowl after the 2019 season, we saw a run on his assistants, too. Now, nearly a third of the league’s offensive play-callers come from that tree. And four of their teams have made the playoffs this season.

If that success continues, we could see the Shanahan/McVay influence over the NFL grow even larger. But the rest of the league won’t go down without a fight. McDaniels (Patriots), Brian Daboll (Bills), and Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs), three offensive coordinators outside of the Shanahan/McVay tree, are headed for another round of head-coaching interviews this offseason, and Byron Leftwich (Buccaneers) has also gotten some requests.

In that way, there is more than a Lombardi Trophy at stake this postseason. With so many different offensive schemes represented in this year’s playoff field, the next month will not only determine a champion—it might dictate the next step in the NFL’s offensive evolution. So let’s take a look at three main factions that will battle it out for schematic supremacy over the next few weeks, starting with the one that launched it all.

It’s a great article if you’re interested in learning a bit more about how your team’s offense works. -TOB

Source: Scheme Wars Have Taken Over the NFL—and Could Decide This Year’s Playoffs,” Steven Ruiz, The Ringer (01/13/2022)

PAL: Good week for The Ringer, eh? Two of its stories made our list this week. The bit of this article that I had to read twice was that, prior to the 2007 Patriots,  a large portion of NFL teams ran essentially the same offense. I couldn’t believe it. But a former journeyman player would know better than anyone.

Donté Stallworth, who joined the Patriots just before the 2007 season, shared a similar viewpoint at the time. The now-retired wide receiver told The Ringer’s Kevin Clark that around half of all NFL teams ran the same playbooks, and the rest were only separated by minor scheme tweaks. He was expecting more of the same when arrived in New England. But Stallworth quickly saw that the offense Josh McDaniels had crafted was something radically different.


A Pet Peeve: Announcers Who Lose Track of the Basic Rules of the Game

Last weekend, the 49ers overcame a seemingly insurmountable 17-3 halftime deficit against the Rams. If they lost, they would have been out of the playoffs. It was such an improbable comeback, that late in the 4th they had an expected chance to win of just 0.4%. 

But they did. In overtime. The Niners won the OT coin flip and elected to receive. They kicked a field goal on the first possession, giving the Rams a drive to either tie and continue OT, or score a touchdown and win. Niners rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas intercepted a deep pass from Matthew Stafford, and the game was over. Everyone seemed to realize that, except 49ers radio play-by-play guy Greg Papa. Here’s Papa’s call of the last play, starting at the 2:00 mark. Listen to that again:

“Intercepted! By Ambry Thomas. Ambry Thomas takes it away. The Rams only have one timeout remaining! The Niners are gonna win the game in L.A. … and they have won the game.”

LOL. The ever important timeout reminder after the game is over! You can hear the moment his spotter punches him in the shoulder to point out the game is over, and he tries to save it. I really don’t know how you lose track of the fact the game was over – Papa should be embarrassed, and I’ve wondered all week if he addressed his blunder on his daily radio show. But it reminded me of the very famous call from Joe Starkey, the longtime Cal Bears announcer (and also a longtime 49er announcer, coincidentally), during The Play. Give it a listen.

There are just a few seconds left. The Stanford kicker squibs it, and Starkey says:

“The ball comes loose and the Bears have to get out of bounds!”

Except, no. It’s a kickoff. The clock stops at the end of the play. The Bears could have kneeled to save a second or two for a Hail Mary. But getting out of bounds there would serve no purpose, except to waste time trying to get there, and possibly losing Cal the game in the process if the time ran out. And it certainly would have deprived the world of the greatest play of all time.

Starkey has long been lauded for his call on the Play. And, yes, his emotion is great. But his failure to understand or remember a very basic rule of the game has always perturbed me.

Announcers: Do better! -TOB


More Women Officials Needed

I knew the majority of basketball referees – at all levels, but especially at the high school level – are men, but I didn’t know just how few women ref until I read this story from Jim Paulsen.

In Minnesota, one organization that represents officials said “18 to 20” of its 250 officials are women. Another told Paulsen that just four of their 200 officials are women. The good ones move up to college pretty quickly, he was told. 

Far more interesting than the disparity, though, is the difference in how a girls game is called when reffed by all-women crews.

Per Paulsen:

Buffalo coach Barb Metcalf said the difference in how the game was officiated was evident from the outset.

“To me, things just seemed more equitable,” Metcalf said. “It felt like there was a better flow to the game, with a lot fewer ticky-tack calls. There weren’t 50, 60, 70 fouls. They let them play.”

Metcalf summed up a common complaint: Male officials let boys play a more physical game than girls.

“There’s an assumption that women cannot be physical and are less athletic,” Eden Prairie coach Ellen Wiese said. “Boys play more physically, and the male referees are used to that. It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m going to be more lenient because of your gender.’ ”

But ask female refs, and they articulate that it’s not as simple as calling a tighter game for women than men. 

“As officials, we’re taught to allow for a flow to the game,” said Dayna Rethlake, a former player and coach who has been officiating for about a decade. “It’s not so much calling it tighter for the girls as it is defining the skill level and what players can play through.”

Rethlake believes those discrepancies are declining quickly. She cited the improved strength and skill of girls’ players since she helped Midwest Minnesota (now MACCRAY) to a Class 1A championship in the mid-1980s.

I would assume this theory extends to other physical women’s sports – hockey, lacrosse, water polo – as well. I’m calling on my nieces for an update. Will update next week. -PAL 

Source: All-woman crew leads to a question: When the refs are women, is the girls’ basketball better?,” Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune (01/11/22) 

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“Where were you on September 11th?”

-Deangelo Vickers

Week of January 7, 2022

RIP John Madden

My kids know “Madden” the video game, but I am 99% sure they have no idea why the football game they play on my old PS3 is called Madden. So sure, the games are quite the legacy for him (while he didn’t make the game himself, he reportedly helped make the game realistic over the years). Older people remember him as a coach. And sure, he won a Super Bowl. 

But to me Madden will always be an announcer – the best announcer. When you turned on a football game in the 90s and John and his longtime broadcast partner Pat Summerall were on the call, you knew you were in for a treat. Madden’s enthusiasm shown through – he loved football and wanted to share that love. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis relays a great anecdote:

One of the coolest things about John Madden is that he was an academic. It was a brief run, but still. In 1979, after Madden quit as head coach of the Oakland Raiders, he was hired by the University of California, Berkeley, to teach an extension course called “Man to Man Football.” Madden’s students had watched football on TV. Now, they wanted to understand how it worked.

Professor Madden stood in front of a board that was like the Telestrator he later used on TV. Madden drew X’s and O’s and carefully studied his students’ faces. “I wanted to see at what point I lost ’em,” he told me years later. Madden was trying to find the most simple way to explain a complex game. He was converting passive football fans into smart fans. For the next 30 years, Madden performed the same trick on TV every week.

When Madden died Tuesday morning at age 85, obits mentioned his three great careers: football coach, broadcaster, video game czar. In fact, these are all the same career. John Madden was the greatest teacher of football of the 20th century and probably of this one, too.

Madden’s genius was how he taught football. Those booms, that unbuttoned aura of regular guy-dom—all of that was an invitation. It made Madden’s classroom feel like a safe place, where you’d get a little smarter and the professor would never act like he was smarter than you.

He taught us the game, but always at a level we could understand. He was informative, without talking down to us. He was the best.

So I am honoring John Madden in the best way I know how: smiling and laughing at clips of him doing what he did best:

-TOB


The State of the MLB Lockout

For our 40th birthdays this year, Phil and I (and our friend Rowe) are planning a baseball trip. The current plan, three stadiums in three days (Pittsburgh, D.C., Baltimore in June). When discussing dates, I suggested we avoid April: in part because of cold and an increased incidence of rainouts. But also because of the ongoing lockout. Rowe asked, “Are we really concerned about the lockout?” As luck would have it, Jeff Passan published an article this week addressing this very topic. So, Jeff, how are things?

“The players and league don’t negotiate so much as talk past each other. For all the rhetoric about the animosity between the parties not mattering as much as the substance of the issues they’re discussing, they can’t even get to the substance of the issues because the relationship is so toxic. “We’re in such a place as an industry that it’s kind of like politics,” the man said. “Everyone is so obsessed with winning this narrow game we’ve prescribed for ourselves. There’s no practicality. No moderation.”

Hm. Seems bad.

In its last bargaining session, on December 1, “MLB had said it wanted to talk about core economics, but only on the condition that those discussions not include any changes to the six-year reserve period of free agency, the arbitration system or revenue sharing. The union would not agree to that condition. Seven minutes in, there was nothing left to discuss. MLB left the hotel and did not return.” MLB locked the players out at midnight that night.

The players, for their part, want, “earlier free agency, earlier arbitration, a rejiggered draft system, more money going to younger players, a higher minimum salary, less revenue sharing and a higher luxury tax threshold, among other things.” Rob Manfred said such changes would “threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive,” though as Passan points out, Manfred “provided no evidence to support the idea that players becoming free agents after five years or reaching arbitration after two years would ruin the sport — because no such evidence exists.” 

MLB, meanwhile, wants to expand the playoffs (which is a TV cash cow) and, per Passan, “is most interested in continuing its curtailed spending. Player salaries dipped to $4.05 billion in 2021 — a $200 million drop from the record high in 2017 and the lowest since 2015, when the league still hadn’t crossed the $4 billion mark.” Since 2011, MLB revenues have increased 70%, from $6.3 billion to $10.7 billion, while the league’s soft salary cap number has increased only 15%, from $178 million to $206 million.

Passan spoke to a number of agents, players, and league and team officials, and came up with the following framework for a deal:

1. Raise minimum salaries to around $650,000 — a 14% bump

2. Add a performance bonus pool for pre-arbitration players

3. Implement the universal designated hitter

4. Expand the postseason from 10 to 14 teams

5. Remove indirect draft-pick compensation for free agents

6. Make significant changes to the draft to disincentivize tanking and reward small markets

7. Raise the CBT threshold into the $230 million-plus range and remove other restraints, including nonmonetary and recidivism penalties

This seems reasonable to me. Hopefully, the two sides come up with something soon. Afterall, pitchers and catchers should be reporting in just five weeks. -TOB

Source: Why MLB’s Labor Negotiations Have Gone Nowhere — and Baseball’s Path Back,” Jeff Passan, ESPN (01/05/2022)


The Industry-Changing Beetle 

It would be decades before anyone would know it, but the ash bat – used by almost every major leaguer for over a century – was doomed because some pallets were left outside warehouses in Westland, Michigan. 

The pallets were from far away, and they carried the emerald ash borer beetle. The beetles spread, killing ash trees across North America. 

The emerald ash borer beetle was discovered in 2002. In 2001, Barry Bonds broke the single season home run record with a maple bat ( the maple bat was thanks to Joe Carter). It wasn’t long before big leaguers were switching to maple, and thank god they wanted to change when they did. 

Per Stephen Nesbitt: 

Almost overnight, there was an explosion of interest in this small Canadian maple bat company. Hitters turned from ash to maple in droves. Sporting goods stores wanted to stock maple bats. Holman needed more space, more staff, more bats. He hired the bar manager at the Mayflower Pub to be his production manager. He bought an empty bar in Ottawa and converted it into a bat-making laboratory. It still wasn’t enough to keep up with demand.

Maple was suddenly king, and just in time.

The following year, the first ash borers were discovered in Michigan.

I never imagined I’d read a sports story about a beetle, but the best stories take us to unexpected places. This is a story about environmental anomalies, the science behind the ideal wood density, about grain spacing. It’s also about Joey Votto, the last big leaguer to use ash bats exclusively, and his ultimate trust in the feel of the ash bat…and trying to find an ash tree or two that hasn’t been visited by the emerald borer. 

Such a great read. – PAL 

Source: ‘It’s an epic saga’: An exotic beetle, Barry Bonds, Joey Votto and the end of ash baseball bats,” Stephen J. Nesbitt & C. Trent Rosecrans, The Athletic 

TOB: My favorite part:

Votto wasn’t always an ash apostle. As a high schooler in Toronto, he swung whatever wood bat was available. In the minors, he tried a variety of bats without settling on any. It was Jay Bruce who got him hooked on ash when they were at Triple A together. Votto came to love the sound of a baseball smacking the sweet spot, the way an ash bat hardens and grain grooves deepen over time, and the feedback delivered to his hands when making solid contact. An ash bat, he says, just feels like the best possible tool a hitter can have.

And so when Votto has an ace ash bat, he wants to protect it.

“This might sound crazy,” Votto says, “but there were times I was even a touch more particular about what I was going to swing at because I didn’t want to break the bat.”

It’s not that Votto never gave maple a chance. He uses it every day in batting practice — he’d rather break maple in that setting and save ash for competition. Last year, he took an ash bat for a test run in the batting cage and broke it. That really bothered him. “It’s like that scene from ‘Seinfeld’ where Elaine goes out and gets the sponges, then she’s like, ‘Are you sponge-worthy?’” Votto says, with a laugh. “I was hitting, and I was like, ‘Are you cage-worthy?’ I don’t want to burn them on batting practice.”

-LOLLLLL


The Athletic Submits to its Fate

The Athletic was an ambitious undertaking – restore the sports local sports page! And honestly, for the most part I think they did a pretty good job. At least in the Bay Area, they hired good writers to cover the local teams and they freed those writers from traditional print deadlines, to allow them to write about the team without those restrictions. But there were signs all along that it was not going to work. 

First, the Athletic was not profitable, “hemorraghing $100 million cash” in 2019 and 2020, over revenues of just $73 million. In hiring all these writers away, they had to pay them a lot of money! And in order to lure subscribers, they often offered steep discounts, but it was not enough, as subscriptions stagnated over the last two years – going from 1 million in 2020 to just 1.2 million late last year.

It also suffered from quality issues, in the eyes of this humble blog. The plan to restore the sports page relied on hiring local beat writers. And while the Bay Area writers it hired were generally good, that was not true in other locales, which we often noted after reading articles that we found wholly disappointing. 

Which brings us to this week’s news: The Athletic was sold. To the New York Times. Yes, the news publication that aimed to modernize the sports page and in the words of its co-founder, was going to, “wait out every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” and “suck them dry of their best talent at every moment,” ended up selling out. To a newspaper. Sure, it’s the New York Times. Still, it’s a newspaper. 

It remains to be seen what will become of the Athletic, or the jobs and careers of the writers it peeled off from the local rags. But the Athletic becomes, in the end, a symbol of the modern media landscape:

I suppose it was always going to be this way. It was its fate. -TOB 

Source: The Athletic To Be Swallowed By Industry It Aimed To Kill,” Ray Ratto, Defector (01/06/2021)

PAL: Great writers at The Athletic, but also, in recent years I found a lot of filler stories. A lot of lists and rankings, e.g. Top 100 prospects, Week 17 NFL rankings, fantasy projections. That’s never been my idea of a good read; in fact, these headlines would just make it harder to find something I’d want to read. I have long believed more is almost never better, and The Athletic proved to me that the kid who loved to read every word the Pioneer Press sports page doesn’t live here anymore.

I love Ratto’s take on this, and I also think The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis hit the bullseye with this bit from his story on the acquisition…which kinda read like an obit.

When hiring, Athletic editors would tell writers the site didn’t care about clicks. But the site did care about “conversions”—stories that lead people to subscribe to The Athletic. The site set annual conversion targets for writers, a number that can hang over a reporter’s head. Even happy writers who’d migrated over from newspapers told me it felt like trading one Darwinian struggle for another.


Anti-Vaxxer Suffers Consequences

Anti-vaxxers are awful, especially ones who are rich and (presumably) influential (yes, including Aaron Rodgers). So I really like it when one of them finally suffers the consequences of their willful stupidity. 

Enter: Novak Djokovich, aged 34, currently sits tied atop the career Grand Slam leaderboard, with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, with 20. Federer and Nadal both are seemingly done and Djokovich appears destined to surpass them. But with the Australian Open starting next week, it appears Djokovich will have to wait at least a few more months to do so.

You see, Djokovich is an anti-vaxxer. As this article lays out, he’s long been a proponent of fake medicine and has engaged in risky behavior that put himself and others at risk. 

Like many leagues and events, the Australian Open requires competitors to be vaccinated, or to receive a medical exemption. Djokovich applied for a medical exemption, for an undisclosed reason, and it was granted. Given his past behavior during the pandemic, this put many around him at risk. So Djokovich flew to Australia to begin preparing for his tournament. The only problem: while he got a medical exemption from the tournament, he neglected to inquire whether the Australian government would let him in.

Denied.

Australia has had very strict visa rules since the pandemic began, and Djokovich was denied a visa, on the grounds his medical exemption was not valid. He is presently awaiting an appeal hearing next week. I am really, really hoping he does not get his way, and it is doubtful he will. Reportedly his exemption “hinges on the argument that he had COVID in the last six months and is therefore immune. The feds rejected that argument once already, and he faces a possible three-year ban from the country if the courts side against him.” 

As his rival Nadal, who has long supported vaccine efforts, said: “In some way I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.”

Indeed, he does. -TOB
Source: Novak Djokovic and Fellow Star Vaccine Skeptics Are Increasingly Scorned,” by Matthew Futterman, New York Times (01/06/2022); Detained Novak Djokovic Is Jesus And Spartacus All Rolled Into One, According To Novak Djokovic’s Father,” Patrick Redford, Defector (01/06/2022)


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Seems awfully mean. But sometimes the ends justify the mean.

-Michael Scott

Week of November 5, 2021


Man, I’m Gonna Miss That Guy

Buster Posey announced his retirement this week. Posey was coming off his best season in at least seven years. He won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award, after sitting out the short 2020 season to protect his newborn twins from COVID-19. Posey had been the mainstay of this Giants era – the Posey Era. He was the rock, ever present. He caught three World Series winning games. He caught no-hitters and a perfect game. He won the 2010 Rookie of the Year and the 2012 MVP. If I had to guess, he sold more jerseys in the Bay Area than any player, ever. His jerseys were everywhere, for a decade. 

When I read the news he was retiring. I was at my desk and said aloud, “What the fuck.” It was shocking. It really was. Buster Posey…retiring? How is that possible? For a baseball player, his career was short – just ten full seasons. But that is life for a catcher. 

As a kid, Buster Posey retiring would have been devastating to me, because I’d miss seeing him behind the plate. But as you get older your reaction to the world around you changes. Instead of being devastated, Posey’s retirement is just the latest event that makes me realize, “Wow, I am actually getting old.” When he was a rookie, I was 28, and I loved Posey. Then I got married, had kids…and now my kids love Posey. And now he’s retired.

Mostly, I am happy for him. Playing catcher is brutal on a body, and Posey’s body has been through a lot, including a shattered leg in 2011 and numerous hip surgeries. I can’t imagine how much pain he must go through to get ready for each season, or even each game. So I am happy that he made his choice and that he is going out on top. We won’t have to sadly watch him roll over grounder after grounder to second base and barely jog down the line to first. Instead, I got to see him go out like this, in person.

Still. I’m not ready. I’m just not. As Grant Brisbee put it: 

You weren’t ready for the idea of a graying Posey ambling out to throw out a first pitch, or the idea of him as a gum-chewing manager in another uniform. You weren’t ready for a Giants team without him, and neither was anybody else. But the shock will fade, the sadness will dull and the memories will push through. One second, there was a baseball player in Tallahassee, and another second the Giants were the envy of baseball for close to a decade.

I am going to miss the way Posey would look up at the batter before calling his signs. I will miss Twitter exploding with the Ain’t Havin It gif every time he threw out a runner. 

I will miss him walking off the field on a called strike three before the umpire even makes the call. 

I will miss him driving an outside pitch to the right-center gap. And damn, I will miss the Buster Hugs.

The Giants will have a new catcher in 2022. We don’t know now who that is. But we do know that there will only be one Buster Posey. Man. I am really gonna miss that guy. -TOB

Source: Buster Posey’s Career Was Like No Other in Giants History,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (11/03/2021)

PAL: Two thoughts. The first: I was shocked when I first heard the news. He hit .300 this year! He’s just 34! And then I came to my senses. He’s won three titles. A M.V.P., a Gold Glove, a batting title. He made $160M in baseball, not counting endorsements and investment (including an early investment in Body Armor, which Coke just paid $6B to acquire). 

Above all, he and his wife have two sets of twins. If he’s accomplished all he wants to playing baseball, and has more money than he could spend, and the body is starting to bark, why the hell hang on! For whom? For what? As awesome as it sounds, being a professional baseball player and traveling for 6 months out of the year has to be hard on a family, especially with young kiddos. 

Thought two: Buster was everything Joe Mauer was not, even when their career stats are pretty similar (especially when you take away Mauer’s years as at first base). Growing up in Minnesota, Mauer was a local legend not long after he became a teenager. He gets drafted by his hometown team, wins three (!) batting titles, Gold Gloves, and M.V.P. An absolutely incredibly talented catcher. Loved by all. Hell, he probably is a not-so-small reason the Twins get Target Field built…and yet his career feels insignificant because of his playoff story. He had exactly one extra-base hit in 10 playoff games, all of which were Twins’ losses. He never had a moment that I’d just come to expect from Posey in his playoff runs. Moments like this: 

Or this playoff granny against the Reds: 

Buster is a legend. One of the best right-handed swings. Great catcher, framer, thrower, and clutch hitter. All-time great team runs like the Giants had from 2010-2014 can only happen with someone like Posey at the center of it all. – PAL 

TOB: A few more Buster thoughts. The HOF Discourse is already in full force. And the two camps seem to be: Yes, he’s obvious Hall of Famer and No, his numbers aren’t there. If you are in the first group you are smart and handsome and obviously right. If you are in the second group you never saw Buster play, you’re ignorant, your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

Because if Buster Posey is not a Hall of Famer, no catcher can be. It’s a brutal position that saps years off a player’s career. As noted above, Posey lost two full seasons and had many more diminished due to injury and general wear and tear. But look at how good Posey was, throughout his entire career, when he was on the field.

Yes, the second most valuable position player over that time, behind Mike Trout. And if you look on a per at bat basis, while the gap between Trout and Posey is big, the gap between Posey and Votto at #3 is almost as large. Counting stats do not tell the story of Buster Posey. Not even close.

Posey did more than hit, though. As Phil said, he did everything a catcher has to do, and he did it great. Grant Brisbee had another article this week that I really enjoyed, highlighting a few less memorable moments where Posey did something incredible. Read the article, and also check this throw behind Justin Turner. Incredible.

Also, I just wanted to drop this in, because it will make me laugh every time forever:


Nice Guy Finishes First – Excellent Freddie Freeman Story

I’ll never have love for the Braves. My fan apex – the 1991 World Series – pitted my Twins against the Atlanta Braves. Blame Mark Lemke, or Terry Pendelton and his stupid double-flap batting helmet. Blame Steve Avery or Ron Gant; blame them all. Even with the Twins winning it, the sports hate that was forged during that 7-game series just can’t be undone. 

With that qualifier, the Braves Freddie Freeman sure seems like a good dude. This story from Tyler Kepner details where Freeman’s sterling reputation as a leader, MVP, and all-around quality person came from: his mom, Rosemary.

Rosemary died of melanoma in 2000. Freddie was 10. After the Braves won the World Series earlier this week, it was a time to reflect. 

Per Kepner: 

He felt like, to honor his mom, he had to be a great kid,” his father, Fred Freeman, said on the Minute Maid Park infield late Tuesday night, after Atlanta finished off the Houston Astros, 7-0, in Game 6. “That was it. When he was 10, that’s what he decided he was going to be. He always said, ‘I know mom’s watching.’”

And while that’s an incredibly sweet, if not sentimental idea, it’s also a pretty heavy burden to carry from the age of 10. Living up to something like seems like it could zap some of the joy from a guy, but that doesn’t feel like the case with Freeman.

“Believe me, I wish I was able to hug my mom on that field,” Freeman said. “But I know she’s up with my grandma right now, jumping up and down.”

When asked how Rosemary wouldn’ve reacted after Freddie and the Braves turned a sub-.500 team at the All-Star break into a championship, Freeman’s brother said this: 

“She’d be the first one on that field, running out to bearhug him right now,” Andrew said. “She did everything for us. She didn’t know baseball, so she bought ‘Baseball for Dummies’ to know how to do this thing. She would always wear our buttons — she was the ‘Button Mom’ in Little League — and to think that if she was here today, oh my gosh. It would be absolutely amazing.”

As I grow older, I am given more and more reasons to remember that – hey – we don’t know these dudes playing a game on our TVs. People that seem like good guys can be terrible people, and gruff athletes can turn out to be golden, and most are a mixture of both. Having said that, it’s still fun to read about good people winning. – PAL 

Source: ”The Heart and Soul of a Franchise Shines Through,” Tyler Kepner, The New York Times (11/04/21)


Loving an Addict

As you might remember, former Hawaii football star Colt Brennan died earlier this year of a drug overdose. Usually when someone famous dies that way, the family tries to keep the details under wraps. But the Brennan family lived with and loved an addict for many years, and they are making their son’s struggles, and their struggles, an open book. In this article in Sports Illustrated, the family talks about Colt and his demons. Here’s the lede:

Colt Brennan’s parents were in Mexico for a wedding on a Saturday in early May when they started worrying about him again. A friend who fed their pets while they were away had been surprised to find a backpack in their foyer and heard music coming from somewhere inside the house. Colt’s parents called and texted him. He didn’t answer.

That Sunday, Colt’s last day alive, Betsy and Terry Brennan flew back to their home in the hills above Orange County, where a sign by the door announces ALOHA! Inside, they heard noise coming from the kitchen and found their 37-year-old son sprawled across a small sofa. Drunk and high, watching TV, he was surrounded by two bottles of vodka, some beer cans and several nitrous oxide containers.

Betsy groaned. Not again.

Colt, one of college football’s all-time great quarterbacks—and one of the game’s truly beloved figures—had struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. He tried everything to get sober, and then, recently, seemed to get there. To those close to him, in the few months before his parents returned, he appeared as healthy as he’d been in a decade.

Back in Irvine, though, Terry guided Colt to his SUV and drove off. Father and son didn’t speak. The silence felt like a scream. Overwhelmed with emotion, Terry wanted to cry, to “kick his ass,” to hold his son—to do whatever he could to stop the thing that kept driving Colt back to this. The sun was setting. Terry didn’t know where to go or what to do. He wondered, as so many addicts’ parents and families and friends have at some point, maybe many times over: Is this ever going to end?

As a parent, it’s truly heartbreaking – reading about Colt’s addictions, rehabs, relapses, and everything he went through and his family went through alongside him. I highly recommend it.

Source: They Did Everything, But Nothing Could Ever Save Him,” Brandon Sneed, Sports Illustrated (11/01/2021)


Teams That Try to Win Do Win and Winning is Good

The Atlanta Braves won the World Series this week. I was kinda rooting for Dusty to finally get one, but there are also lots of former Giants on the Braves’ roster (Pablo [sorta], Will Smith, Adam Duvall, Steven Vogt, Adrianza) plus lots of other dudes I love (Albies, Freeman, and, although injured, Acuna), so this was a fine result. Plus, ya know, it wasn’t the Dodgers. The Braves won with a starting outfield acquired, entirely, at the trade deadline: Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, and Jorge Soler. They acquired reliever Richard Rodriguez and Vogt in July, too. At the deadline, they were 52-54. But they went for it. They closed 36-19 and then beat the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros and never faced an elimination game while doing it. Not bad. As Zach Kram wrote, “Atlanta wasn’t the majors’ best team from April to September; it wasn’t all that close. It merely tried to win, and then it did. That’s a reason for a trophy, and for the other 29 clubs to take note.”

Similarly, but in another sport, the Los Angeles Rams are trying to win. The Rams are tied for the best record in the NFC, with Green Bay and Arizona, at 7-1. And they just traded a 2022 draft pick in order to get Von Miller, a good but not great pass rusher. The Rams first pick in the 2022 draft won’t be until the fifth round. But to give up those picks, they got guys like Jalen Ramsey and Matt Stafford and now Von Miller. 

Of course, the Rams haven’t won the Super Bowl. But the Rams, like the Braves, have realized that so many teams are tanking, or “building for the future” that it’s not that hard to win right now these days, if you just try. As Kevin Clark writes regarding the Rams:

Through the years, I’ve come to learn how few teams are trying to win a championship each season. A few years ago, a smart NFL person estimated that only 10 or so teams were actively trying to win the Super Bowl in any given season. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said on the Flying Coach podcast the number is about five, and that the other teams are trying to survive. In his new book on the Patriots dynasty, It’s Better to Be Feared, Seth Wickersham writes that Jimmy Johnson told Bill Belichick that if you just get out of the way, 20 teams will remove themselves from competition. Job preservation, saving some money, and not doing anything too weird that’ll get you noticed are guiding principles in many front offices. This trade might be the new normal for the 12 or so teams that haven’t removed themselves from competition. This is what trying to win looks like in 2021, and it applies not just to the Rams, but to every team trying to have a Super Bowl roster.

It’s an interesting point – so many front offices have decided to take the longview that you can differentiate yourself by trying to take a short view: pay less to win now, worry about later, well, later. It’s a Moneyball tact, and as a fan, I like it. -TOB

Source: Atlanta Used One Simple Trick to Win a Shocking World Series Championship,” Zach Kram, The Ringer (11/03/2021); The Rams Keep Carving Their Own Path in the NFL Roster Arms Race,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (11/04/2021)

PAL: Great combo summary, TOB. “Very few teams are trying to win a championship each season.” That’s insane and feels about right. How about this stat from the Kram story:

In the playoffs, the outfield quartet combined for a .270/.339/.505 batting line. In other words, against the higher-caliber pitching of the postseason, Atlanta’s four new outfielders were collectively as productive at the plate as Manny Machado or Nelson Cruz were in the regular season.

Less we forget, anything really can happen, especially in the playoffs. You never know, so why not go for it, like the Braves did, when you even have a small chance at winning.

More articulately put:

Try at the deadline, reach the postseason, and it’s possible to upset three superior rosters in a row, as Atlanta did against the Brewers, Dodgers, and Astros. In a short series, Freeman can homer off Josh Hader, and Tyler Matzek can transform into Mariano Rivera circa 1996, and the lineups’ performance with runners in scoring position can both shift in one team’s favor.

The more we see tanking across major sports, the more I think it’s as much about front office job preservation as anything else. More than anything, I think just wants a team to try to win. That’s not to say a team should always leverage a future for the present, but the tanking is too much and too often bears out too little.


Sometimes I Am Reminded that Most Sports Punditry is Very Bad, A Rant

The Braves won the World Series in Game 6, by a score of 7-0. It was a snoozefest, as they jumped out to an early lead on a gigantic home run from Jorge Soler.

It left the freakin building. It reminded everyone of Pujols’ huge home run against Brad Lidge back in 2005. After the home run, the Astros went down quietly. But the media narrative after the game was that Soler’s 3-run homer, in the third inning, took the wind out of the Astros’ sails. That it killed their spirit. That there was no turning back. I heard or read this multiple times, including by KNBR’s Tom Tolbert, who I really like.

But I am here to tell you that this narrative is b.s. It’s not true. And you only have to look back one single game to prove it. Because this is how Game 5 began, in the first inning:

That is a Grand Slam, people. The Astros, facing elimination, were in a 4-0 hole in the first inning. Did they go down quietly? Uh, no.

Over the next 8 innings, the Astros outscored the Braves 8-1, and staved off elimination in a 9-5 win. So why, one game later, do people think a 3-run homer in the third inning crushed the Astros’ spirits? They’re just wrong, trying to write a narrative where there was none. The real story is that Soler’s homer was huge, as any 3-run homer in the playoffs is, and the Braves pitching staff pitched their tails off. That’s it. -TOB


TOB With a Statement About Aaron Rodgers

Yes, I am aware of rumors and stories about Aaron Rodgers and COVID-19. No, I am not going to defend him (yet). I am “doing my own research.” This is a personal decision and I ask that you respect that as I come to my own conclusions. I will take no questions at this time. Thank you. -TOB

PAL: Readers! I found tape of TOB practicing his closing arguments for Cal’s own Aaron Rodgers:


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Mr. Parkinson would be appalled if he knew how Mr. Fox was behaving.

Larry David

Week of October 15, 2021


Giants/Dodgers Game 5, Post-Game:

Yikes. That phenomenal, season-long battle between two great teams can’t come down to a check swing. The rivalry deserves more. Flores was down 0-2 to Scherzer. Chances are he doesn’t get a hit and it doesn’t matter, but—goddamn it—let’s have it play out. We were so close. 

My god, the Dodgers are a scary lineup. Mookie Betts is terrifying. Will Smith will get ya. Chris Taylor is looking to do damage. Trea Turner will turn a three-hop grounder into a hit…when he’s not busy nearly hitting 30 homers. And, as a catcher a million insignificant years ago, I can’t understand throwing four sliders in a row to Bellinger. I’m certain the Giants have all the data to say stick with the slider, and I won’t argue that, but let’s take a pitch to just change what he sees with an elevated fastball (at 97+) before coming back to it. 

Brandon Webb is a beast, and his incredible performance against a stacked lineup in two playoff games will be lost because the Giants didn’t win, but an ace was born tonight, folks. A Cy Young contender with stuff that will age well (sinker, change-up, slider) introduced himself. 

I’ve never been the head cheerleader of the Brandon Belt fan club, but man-o-man did we miss him in this series. 

Striking out with runners on base and less than two outs is a killer. 

There’s a difference between a regular season bullpen and a playoff bullpen. The Giants had a regular season bullpen; the Dodgers’ is a playoff bullpen with Treinen and Jansen. 

Can’t end on a check swing. That was terrible. -PAL

TOB: We watched this game in the backyard. I needed new mojo. The setup was nice.

When the game ended, I watched for a minute or so as the Dodgers celebrated on the field. When they started to interview Bellinger, I pulled the plug (literally) and began to clean up – quickly, angrily, quietly. And then I saw my 7 year old feeding off my reaction. 

And I realized I didn’t want to be that dad. I couldn’t be that dad. So I told him the Giants lost, but it was ok. I reminded him we had such a fun summer – the Giants gave us so many great moments – watching the games together each night, or the next morning, going over the the highlights he missed after he went to bed. 

He went upstairs and I finished cleaning up. I took that moment of solitude to feel it – to feel that frustration. I kicked a stray soccer ball as hard as I could against the fence. In the garage, I kicked a cardboard box. 

And then I let it all go. I went upstairs and put the boy to bed – I told him again that the Giants gave us the most fun season ever – 107 regular season wins. I mean, hell. That’s incredible. I reminded him that umpires make mistakes and it’s not fun but these things happen. I pointed out that there are 30 teams, and only one gets to finish the season as champs. I told him now we get to root against the Dodgers and hopefully they won’t win the World Series, and then we get to come back next year and win it all. I told him, and me, not to let a disappointing end sour a great season. And then, at 10pm, he drifted off to sleep.


Gruden is Out, and Hopefully So Are All Coaches Like Him

John Gruden was forced to resign this week, after emails from his time with ESPN were leaked, showing Gruden to be a racist, homophobic a-hole. I don’t care to get into the specifics of Gruden. He has been a mediocre coach almost his entire career, save two deep playoff runs twenty years ago, and he’s not worth the time or energy. However, I did read a very good article from Seth Wickersham that the Gruden story (and last week’s Urban Meyer story) inspired, and I wanted to share that instead. It’s about how Gruden and Meyer, and coaches like them, who think they are the cosmos (to steal a line) are a dying breed.

In the early part of the last decade, NFL teams started to notice that the way players learned about football was changing. There is a certain type of coach who hated this because they hate anything outside of football plays that they have to think about for more than 30 seconds, but these changes forced the league to reckon with the fact that the old way of coaching was pretty much over. Teams conducted studies, which found that younger players were more likely to ask coaches “why” and that players could learn effectively even when doing things coaches mostly hated, like listening to music. Mostly, coaches found that they needed to adapt. The Rams studied this. The 49ers did, too, and started shortening and breaking up their meetings because they know antsy younger players can’t concentrate for very long without their devices. Those were just two of the teams that told me about this stuff on the record, but I can assure you nearly every team—including the absolute best coaches in the sport—began adapting to these changes.

Wickersham points out that the “Cult of the Head Coach” has always been “misguided.”

A few years after they leave the game, their legacies take the form of motivational quotes—real or imagined—and some clips from NFL Films and that’s about it. Their imperfections are washed away by time and memes. Twenty years after a coach is done, they are either bumbling incompetents like Rich Kotite or geniuses like Bill Walsh. Never mind the fact that Walsh, in one of his books, details how close he was to quitting after a tough loss early in his head coaching career, or the doubt he faced constantly.

No, there is none of that when discussing former coaches. Just winners and losers. Steelers legend Chuck Noll, one of the paragons of American coaching toughness, believed that toughness was oftentimes simply a product of technique—what was considered soft in the NFL, more often than not, was simply not knowing what you’re doing out there. David Maraniss’s biography of Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered, is more or less devoted to punching holes in the Lombardi mythmaking industry. The Packers’ legendary coach did not coin the phrase “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”—he said it a few times long after it had become popular, and he didn’t even believe it. Maraniss wrote that the famous quote from a player about how Lombardi treated his players—all like dogs—wasn’t even close to the truth.

It’s a good read. -TOB

Source: The Cult of the Coach Is Losing Its Power. Good Riddance,” Kevin Clark, The Ringer (10/15/2021)


Youth Soccer in the U.S. is Kinda Effed Up

My oldest is very good at soccer for his age. That’s not bragging, it’s just true: he’s very good. He plays on a local club team that keeps it fun and is run by a group of people that, to me, seem to do things the right way. But every once in a while we’ll be at a field and I see a group of kids, a bit older, wearing the logo of a big name European team – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich. And I have allowed myself to daydream a little bit – wow. Wouldn’t that be cool? If a coach in Barcelona’s system approached us after a game and asked our son to join their youth academy? Wow, imagine if he impresses those coaches – what doors would open up for him?

But after a few seconds of daydreaming, I consider the realities: What does that actually mean for him? Soccer how many days a week? How many months a year? The inability to play with friends, whether soccer or otherwise. And what does it mean for our family? The cost. The travel. Do we have to consider moving at some point? None of that seems desirable. Especially for the small chance that he winds his way through the academy, which is intentionally casting a wide net and then slowly weeding kids out as they age, and becomes a professional soccer player. If you read the article, the reality is presented in the form of a child named Ricky Vanderhyde, and I highly recommend you read it (For more on how these youth academies work, I highly recommend this New York Times article from 2010, “How a Soccer Star is Made.”). 

I don’t know what I thought the deal was with those academies here in San Francisco. I guess I thought the team hires highly qualified coaches and sends them out across the world to teach the game. So it was with a bit of astonishment, and now embarrassment, that I read about how it actually works, at least sometimes, in an article about how European clubs are increasing their academies in the U.S., in an attempt to land the next American soccer star. This one is about an academy in Virginia, affiliated with Spanish club Villareal:

Villarreal Virginia consists of a contract between Amato, a former Tottenham Hotspur youth player, and the Spanish club. Like the other local operators, Amato pays a fee to use Villarreal’s name and logo to attract players. He is permitted to outfit his team in replica versions of Villarreal’s jerseys — but not the expensive game jerseys, Amato notes with approval. “They don’t want parents wasting their money on that,” he said.

Ohhhhhhh. I basically slapped my forehead when I saw this. The coach may or may not be good – I have no idea. But he’s attracting parents (and talent) by paying money to slap the club’s logo on his gear and call himself an academy of a top European club. As I continued to read, though, it seems the connection is sometimes a little stronger than that, at least in the Virginia Villareal case. Villareal does periodically send its coaches to Virginia to help out. And:

Beyond that, Villarreal has agreed to bring in Amato’s most promising young players for workshops and training. The families of those players are responsible for the airfare, but once they arrive overseas, the Spanish club typically covers everything else.

Which is kinda gross, right? I saw that Bayern Munich club this summer and daydreamed. The club, and the local coach/franchisee, is preying on that daydream – charging what I’ll go out on a limb and guess is a premium in the hopes of attracting parents away from local clubs who aren’t willing to pay for a European club’s logo. For example, the article references a club in Florida, affiliated with Paris-St. Germain, which is rumored to charge $60,000 per year. SIXTY K, BRUH.

And even for clubs like the FC Dallas academy, which has worked out a partnership with Bayern Munich to adopt Bayern’s coaching and development, this seems like a bit of a scam. Bayern gives its name and development strategies. Bayern gets paid a bit and both Bayern and FC Dallas get to keep a close eye on top American talent. Which is worth it. As the article notes:

The next Messi is out there somewhere. If a club could find him, or even the next Pulisic or Reyna, it would recoup its entire U.S. investment. “If we have the opportunity to teach what we believe is the correct way to play football, we’re certain that we’re going to get players,” says Villarreal’s Anton.

“And all it takes is one.”

Which is an interesting sentiment, coming just a few paragraphs after this point:

It’s quite likely that others, who might have had the ability of a Christian Pulisic or Gio Reyna in their mid-teens, but not the European passport, never fulfilled their potential. Opinions differ as to why, and what the remedies should be. Where nearly everyone is in agreement is that the United States has as many talented preteens as anywhere else, yet only a few of those players come out the back end of the youth soccer system as international standouts.

And it seems to me the answer is staring them in the face: make these academies free. Selective, but free. The fact they aren’t doing this is especially astonishing, though, when you know that the idea is not new to these clubs. Remember that 11-year old NYT article about Ajax I linked earlier? Well, here’s a passage from that article:

The Ajax youth academy is not a boarding school. The players all live within a 35-mile radius of Amsterdam (some of them have moved into the area to attend the academy). Ajax operates a fleet of 20 buses to pick up the boys halfway through their school day and employs 15 teachers to tutor them when they arrive. Parents pay nothing except a nominal insurance fee of 12 euros a year, and the club covers the rest — salaries for 24 coaches, travel to tournaments, uniforms and gear for the players and all other costs associated with running a vast facility. Promising young players outside the Ajax catchment area usually attend academies run by other Dutch professional clubs, where the training is also free, as it is in much of the rest of the soccer-playing world for youths with pro potential. (The U.S., where the dominant model is “pay to play” — the better an athlete, the more money a parent shells out — is the outlier.)

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Not only is the Ajax academy free, but they provide tutors to help educate them, and pick them up at school!? Meanwhile, we have U.S. parents shelling out upwards of $60,000 per year for the most expensive and least return-on-your-dollar lotto ticket in history. Americans, man. So dumb. But also, these clubs? So dumb. On the one hand, they wonder why they aren’t capturing the top American youth talent and developing those kids into professional adults. And then at the same time they are putting up a major barrier for many kids and families. Hello! If you make it free, you greatly increase the number of players that can attend and in doing so increase your odds of hitting the jackpot. -TOB

Source: How Barcelona, Villarreal and Other European Clubs are Competing with MLS for America’s Top Talent,”Bruce Schoenfeld, ESPN (10/12/2021); “How a Soccer Star is Made,” Michael Sokolove, New York Times (06/02/2010)


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

The National – Mr. November


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“Some people need dozens of friends to say, ‘Hey look at me, I’m popular!’ But not me, I’m very picky.”

-Michael Scott

Week of September 17, 2021


Where Have All the RBIs Gone?

Phil and I were at the Giants game on Wednesday. Brandon Belt, in the midst of the best season of his career, was at bat. Phil noticed that Belt’s RBI to Home Run ratio was very low – with 25 dingers and just 52 RBI, it’s barely 2:1. And this got me thinking: how low is it in today’s game? Are RBIs down relative to home runs and hits? 

In Moneyball, the book, Michael Lewis called the “fetish” of the RBI a “good example of the general madness” of “perverse incentives” created by various statistics. He explained:

“RBI had had come to be treated by people as an individual achievement – free agents were paid for their reputation as RBI machines when clearly they were not. Big league players routinely swung at pitches they shouldn’t to lard their RBI count. Why did they get so much credit for this? To knock runners in, runners needed to be on base when you came to bat. There was a huge element of luck in even having the opportunity, and what wasn’t luck was, partly, the achievement of others.” 

As Lewis relayed, Bill James once wrote, “The problem is that baseball statistics are not pure accomplishments of men against other men, which is what we are in the habit of seeing them as. They are accomplishments of men in combination with their circumstances.”

Moneyball was published nearly twenty years ago. But that quote from Bill James was published in 1977, nearly 50 years ago. So we are well into the era where the people who are paid to think about baseball have devalued the RBI. And as the RBI has been devalued, I wondered – have RBIs gone down? And, is Belt’s RBI to Home Run ratio that far out of whack? If so, why?

The answer to the second question is yes. As Phil and I talked, I guessed that no or very few guys have 100+ RBI this year, with just two weeks left in the season. That was pretty close. As it turns out, just 7 guys have 100 RBI so far. Those 7 have the following RBI:HR ratio.

Salvador Perez: 2.5

Jose Abreu: 3.6

Vlad Guerrero: 2.3

Rafael Devers: 3.0

Teoscar Hernández: 3.8

Adam Duvall: 2.9

League average RBI:HR ratio is 3.5 (5,373 HRs vs 18,887 RBI). So Belt’s 2.1 is pretty low. At league average you’d expect him to have 88 RBI, not 52.

However, the Giants have a ratio of 2.85 and they lead the league in home runs with 222. So my theory is that because they hit so many dingers there are fewer people on base to hit in. As Bill James said, the RBI is the “accomplishment of men in combination with their circumstances.” Belt just gets fewer RBI opportunities. 

But I think, for Belt, it’s also that he’s playing out of his mind this year. The league average hit to homer ratio is 6.6. The Giants are just 5.5. Belt’s is just 3.0! One out of every three of his hits is a home run. Similarly, his home run rate is 7.4%, which is WAY over league average of 2.9%. 

So what’s really going on with Belt is that he’s crushing a LOT of dingers – 25 in just 289 at bats. If he had a full season of 500 at bats, he’d be on a 50 home run pace. 

But what of the first question? Are RBIs down relative to other baseball events? Yes. 

First, I charted the RBI:HR and HIT:HR ratios over time for 1971, 1980 (1981 was a strike year), 1991, 2001, 2011, and 2021. 

The HR:Hit rate has dropped a great deal over time – from one home run every 14.5 hits in 1991 to one home run in just 6.6 hits in 2021. This is important in considering my question about Belt – it does seem that RBI opportunities are down. We’ve written before about how strikeouts are up, batting average is down, and home runs are up. There are simply fewer people on the base path, so fewer opportunities to hit someone in. The RBI:HR rate has also dropped, from a peak of 5.5 in 1980 to just 3.5 in 2021. In other words, a greater share of RBI in today’s game (28%) come from a home run hitter scoring himself, as compared to 1991 (18%). So while Belt’s 2.1 is low, it’s a lot less low now than it would have been in 1991. -TOB


We Were This Close To A Legendary Clip

Who’s looking for a laugh? This is a great catch by Defector’s Tom Ley. Gavin Newsom, riding high after surviving the recall (the CA recall rules are bananas, by the way, regardless of your party preference), and so – while visiting a school in my neck of the woods here in Oakland – the governor decided to flex with a little basketball skill: 

Not bad, Gov. He even put a little stank on the pass back to the kid. But that’s when Tom Ley earns his pay for the day. 

What’s important about this video is what it doesn’t show, which are the moments following what sure looks like Newsom getting his damn ankles recalled by a young lad. I spent a good chunk of today looking for more complete footage, and came up empty.

Now, go back and watch the video again, and you’ll see that this kid put the fear of God in Newsom. The kid had Newsom skating, and how great would it have been if this kid actually took it to him, made him fall over, then place the ball on the stomach of the leader of the fifth largest economy in the world and walked away. 

I echo Ley’s demand: release the rest of the footage! – PAL 

Source: Release The Footage,” Tom Ley, Defector (09/16/21)


A Take: A Combined No-Hitter is Not Worth Celebrating

A combined no-hitter is, by definition, a no-hitter. But it’s not worth celebrating.  

No, Milwaukee. That celebration is bush league. Stop it. -TOB


Worst of the Week: The Clemente Option

I’ve always appreciated MLB’s Jackie Robinson tribute on April 15 – especially the tradition of everyone on all teams wearing number 42 to honor Robinson’s legacy. Everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, shares that gesture of respect.

At the same Giants game TOB referenced earlier, we noticed some players wearing the number 21 with no name on the back. It was Roberto Clemente Day in MLB. Clemente was a fantastic all-around player for the Pirates. 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner, World Series MVP, National League MVP. He’s also the first Latin player inducted into the Hall of Fame. Clemente died in a plane crash when he was on a cargo plane flying supplies and aid to Nicaragua after an earthquake in 1972. The Roberto Clemente Award is given out annually to a player who makes a major impact in their communities. 

Instead of taking the same approach as they do for Robinson and have everyone wear Clemente’s number 21, the rules dictating who can honor Clemente’s contributions seem needlessly complicated. 

Per Marly Rivera:

MLB has extended the honor to all uniformed personnel of Puerto Rican descent this year for the 20th annual Roberto Clemente Day. In addition, all 2021 Roberto Clemente Award nominees, as well as the six active players who are Roberto Clemente Award recipients, can also wear the No. 21, sources told ESPN.

So players of Puerto Rican descent, coaches of Puerto Rican descent, past Clemente award winners, and 2021 Clemente award nominees, and the entire Pirates team. Got it. Not sure why the source couldn’t be revealed on this bit of info, but OK. 

But later in the story, I became confused: 

This year, it will also be possible for any player, regardless of heritage or place of birth, to request to wear No. 21, as long as the club is given enough notice to create the uniform.

So, all of the above, and—ya know—any other player (but not coaches) that wants to rock the 21 can do so. 

Feels convoluted, and it takes away from the honor.  People spend time trying to understand why some players wear 21 while others don’t. Just have all the players rock the 21 on Clemente Day in recognition of his contributions on and off the field. 

Why didn’t Rivera follow-up with someone with MLB for an explanation for all the rules around this? And then I start to wonder if Rivera talked to anyone for this story. The Yadier Molina quote is attributed as him “telling ESPN”. The MLB quotes aren’t attributed to anyone, and the quotes around the Clemente award look like they were pulled from an “about” page on MLB.  We can do a little better than this, right? – PAL

Source:MLB expands list of who can wear No. 21 to honor Roberto Clemente on Sept. 15,”Marly Rivera, ESPN (09/14/21)


What’s it Like to be Sportswriter?

Recently, the Athletic’s beat writer for the Warriors, Ethan Strauss, resigned his position and started his own Substack. This has become a popular move for journalists with a big enough following to make financial sense. When he did so, Strauss talked about how he had become burned out by the beat writing job. This week, he wrote a bit more – about how he fell into the beat writing gig and what that job entails these days.

On his first job out of college, working for the NBA:

Every day, seven days a week, I’d wake up at 3:30 AM to beat the news cycle. Still in bed, I’d read literally everything written about the NBA in every major outlet. From there, I would send a summarizing memo to commissioner David Stern and others. You know, just notes on who to kill, who to shake from a balcony, etc. Simple stuff. 

This was a miserable gig, and its seven-day requirement was perhaps legal only for the following technical reason: Back then, it was actually possible to read everything written about the NBA in a span that qualified as “part-time.” I’m still not sure why they gave no days off, but the short answer is probably just because the NBA could. If I didn’t want my job, some other early 20s kid would pop up and take it, if only to be associated with big-time sports. That was especially true after the 2008 financial crash bludgeoned New York City, something that happened concurrent with my arrival. Roughly a month after Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, the NBA would lay off nine percent of its workforce. I survived, however. I was too little to fail. 

And so I kept going, despite the lack of sleep and other problems. The issue wasn’t any one morning, but the cumulative effect of never getting a day off and never visiting an office. I was a zombie, ambling outside life’s rhythms as I watched my good buddy Matt live out a fuller existence, with his girlfriend and his hobbies. In contrast, I’d take a late afternoon nap and then just walk the streets of New York alone. In the winter I’d trudge through the living history shtetl of Hasidic Borough Park, wafting through the snow like an aimless dybbuk, disconnected from all around me. 

Every now and again, I’d attempt to steal joy out from under the schedule. I’d try to push it, try to go out, try to drink. My body would rebel every time. I have memories of waking up in a blizzard at the Coney Island station because I’d passed out on the N train. I vaguely recall vomiting on a brick wall, in the dark, about 30 minutes before I had to punch in for more Media Monitoring. 

And on how the job of a beat writer has gotten infinitely worse in the age of Twitter:

Older beat writers describe the pure Internet era rather wistfully. You’re in Chicago for a road game the next day. Maybe you spend the afternoon bullshitting on the phone with team executives. Maybe one of them tells you a relevant bit of breaking news about a trade. You’ll get to publishing it in a couple hours, perhaps. Breaking news was a thing back then, and a website operated out of Spain called HoopsHype chronicled who broke it, but the time pressure wasn’t overbearing and up-to-the-second constant. Twitter wasn’t a thing, at least like it is now.

The next day, you’ll prep your Notes column on team news to run before the game, and later, your “gamer” on the game itself. Beyond the modest output asked of you, you’re exploring cities and enjoying basketball — often from courtside seats. 

Older beat writers describe the pure Internet era rather wistfully. You’re in Chicago for a road game the next day. Maybe you spend the afternoon bullshitting on the phone with team executives. Maybe one of them tells you a relevant bit of breaking news about a trade. You’ll get to publishing it in a couple hours, perhaps. Breaking news was a thing back then, and a website operated out of Spain called HoopsHype chronicled who broke it, but the time pressure wasn’t overbearing and up-to-the-second constant. Twitter wasn’t a thing, at least like it is now.

The next day, you’ll prep your Notes column on team news to run before the game, and later, your “gamer” on the game itself. Beyond the modest output asked of you, you’re exploring cities and enjoying basketball — often from courtside seats. 

It’s an improvement that writers weren’t punching each other over a lone phone line like back in the early 2000s, but new efficiencies tended to create more work faster than they relieved you of stressors. 

In the end, it’s the accumulation that kills. You go from simply having to file a Notes Column and a Game Column to whatever the hell Twitter is. Fast forward. Now you’re constantly watching the players and being watched yourself. You’d better keep checking your emails and your Slack channels; you’re expected to monitor both. Oh, and now welcome to the Zoom era, and all the digital meetings it can spawn. It’s a wonder your laptop doesn’t simply explode. 

Whether you’re a beat writer, national media, or a team blogger, you’re constantly looking into your phone and over your shoulder. There’s a paranoid sense of responsibility, a duty to get stories or to comment on whatever story just happened. And then there’s another aspect of the ennui, what my well wisher referred to when lamenting, “Working sources for months on end, doing honest, diligent reporting work during the process — only to see folks get handed layups and praised for it.”

In this era, many media members are highly incentivized to keep pace with Twitter’s demand for “breaking news,” but the game is rigged in a manner nobody can admit publicly. Certain big-time newsbreakers are represented by the same agencies as the players and GMs, so there’s a self-dealing aspect to how information gets out. Not that those premier newsbreakers are living the easy life, either. The ones at the top are often fighting one another, viciously, in a grand game of power and influence. The Athletic’s newsbreaker Shams Charania gave up pickup basketball, lest he miss a phone call. Marc Stein once mentioned to me that he hadn’t watched a movie in over a decade. I hope he’s found more balance since starting this Substack. When we were both at ESPN I knew the mandate was to live a life free of pauses. It’s probably only gotten worse for those who remain. 

How life on the road isn’t as glamorous as it might seem:

The road felt like something between Almost Famous and Primary Colors, but with acid-trip nightmarish qualities thrown in. Every day was an assault on the senses, a real-life walk through animalistic screaming hordes, followed by an evening of editors’ ravenous demands for more more more Warriors stories. Anything would do. What, Klay said he liked Harry Potter? Write it up goddammit how could you miss that?! And then the ESPN news editor would be on my ass. 

It’s well worth your time. -TOB

Source: Is Sportswriting a Fun Job?Ethan Strauss, House of Strauss (09/16/2021)

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Stevie Wonder – “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)”


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You know, with Hitler, the more I learn about that guy, the more I don’t care for him.

Norm Macdonald

Week of September 10, 2021


“This Is What It’s Supposed to Be Like”

Usually we make our own story titles, but this one was too perfect not to use: This is what it’s supposed to be like. Here, the “This” is massive college football grounds jumping around dumbly to old songs and having an absolute blast while doing so, not worried about this god damn pandemic and COVID-19 and the Delta variant or anything else. I should backup.

Last weekend was the start of the college football season. On Friday night, Virginia Tech hosted North Carolina. At kickoff, Virginia Tech did its traditional go-buck-wild dance to Enter Sandman, like so:

The student section was packed in and screaming, as you can see. Looks awesome, doesn’t it? But watching it that night I also thought, “Ugh, how many students are going to get COVID from this?” I wasn’t alone. MSNBC Host Mehdi Hasan tweeted the following:

His tweet went viral, as did other similar sentiments that night and the following day when, for example, the students at Wisconsin began the 4th by jumping around to Jump Around.

But Defector’s David Roth didn’t exactly see it the same way as Mehdi, and as I read it, I realized Roth is right. Roth helpfully pointed out that “Virginia Tech mandate[s] vaccinations among its students, and went so far as to unenroll 134 students who declined to comply with those requirements; 95 percent of the student body and 88 percent of school employees are vaccinated.” Or that while “[t]he University of Wisconsin does not have a vaccine mandate for students, [] the school announced last week that 91 percent of its students had received at least one dose, and that 92 percent of campus employees and 99 percent of faculty were fully vaccinated.” Well, shoot. That’s great!

Roth effectively explains many of our initial reactions:

What is most jarring about all this, more than the heavy respect that Gus Johnson put on Everlast’s name or the very concept of a “Jump Around Tradition,” finally has to do with the context—the fact that this is all happening, more or less as normal, after this last stupid, brutal, squashed-flat plague year and in this furious and infuriatingly stalled out present in which the pandemic has been permitted to persist. This state of affairs owes in various measures and to various degrees to some other otherwise incomprehensible American traditions—wild and self-wounding intransigence; the invasive bloom of an unreasoning and recursive spite in the wreckage left by a willed and willful collapse of civic faith; listless cringing state incapacity and abandonment; that sort of thing. But it is at this point in many ways a choice.

But then Roth explains that those students at Virginia Tech and Wisconsin earned the right to jump around like idiots because the got the damn vaccine:

Another way of saying this is that the shared joy in Camp Randall Stadium, which may or may not be your personal thing, is now right there to win. If it looks strange, it is in large part because it feels a little strange to see tens of thousands of people celebrating together after so much time spent so warily apart. But there is also a sense in which the people in that stadium are celebrating something that they have earned—by taking care when that was all there was to do, and then by continuing to make (really pretty easy) decisions that do right by the other people who would eventually fill the stadium around them.

Roth, of course, then turns his attention to the idiots who refuse to get vaccinated, who in doing so perpetuate this pandemic, keeping it into, as Roth puts it, an “endless end.” And then, as Roth so eloquently closes:

It is not the point, or anyway not the most interesting point, that a stadium full of overwhelmingly vaccinated twentysomethings wilding out to a Metallica song from 1991 is far from the reason Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. It might be more useful, I think, to understand all that strange and giddy closeness as something like the Nice Thing itself—an experience that could be had again, something strange but also safe and silly and shared, if only everyone loved it enough to fight for it.

Damn. Amen. -TOB

Source: This Is What It’s Supposed To Be Like,” David Roth, Defector (09/05/2021)


Fluffy Balls

Believe me when I say Kelsey McKinney hits this one pure. The premise of her story is the following: sports commentators need to spend more time explaining the specifics of the game for which they provide insights. She used the U.S. Open (tennis) as her initial example. McKinney likes tennis, but doesn’t know much about the game. She watches along at a bar with her friend, who knows a lot about tennis. In a short time, McKinney learns why serves are overhand (angles and power while keeping the ball in…maybe you knew the answer to that one) and what players are doing when they examine the balls from the ball boy/girl (the more tennis balls are hit, the fluffier the felt gets, making them more difficult to hit hard,nand that fact was new info to me). 

As McKinney points out: commentary has gone too far away from the specifics of a game.

Rarely are these basic pieces of knowledge that enrich the viewing experience offered by announcers. There are plenty of rule analyses and personal backstories and over-inflations of rivalries and past meetings. But there’s very little substance to the commentary that actually improves viewer’s understandings of the sports they love to watch but do not play. 

Since, as established, I know very little about tennis, let’s pivot to football. Here is a clip of Tom Brady that went viral late last week talking about how offensive mistakes are resulting in defensive penalties:

How much more interesting is the explanation of why a tennis player takes such care in selecting the ball he wants to play, or Tom Brady providing a really interesting take on the impact defensive penalties have on the quality of the game? I’m a sports nut, and I’ve learned two sports-related tidbits from McKinney’s story. As McKinney writes, “The nuts and bolts are what’s interesting.”

I love it!

Of course, the magic lies in finding the right line for the viewers—what deserves explanation, and what is obvious to viewers? In a baseball game broadcast locally, would the commentators feel the need to explain the infield fly rule (and then debate about such rule), or would that induce eyerolls from baseball fans who are big enough fans to be watching a Tuesday night, regular season game? What about explaining WAR — is this closer to something that might be valuable to regular viewers? 

Attracting new fans while not alienating existing fans of a sport is harder than perhaps McKinney calls out in this story, but she’s 100% about there being an imbalance of commentary focused on backstories and other fluff, and the opportunities to highlight really fascinating elements of the game are missed. 

Excellent read, and I hope some network takes McKinney up on this idea. – PAL 

Source: “I Am Begging Sports Commentators To Teach Me The Nuts And Bolts Of The Game,” Kelsey McKinney, Defector (09/09/21)


The Soto Shuffle: A Statistical Breakdown

If you watched the 2019 MLB Playoffs, you probably saw then-20-year old Juan Soto perform what has been called the Soto Shuffle. To wit:

If you haven’t caught a Nats game the last two seasons, you might not know that he still does it, although he sadly dropped the crotch grab. But he doesn’t do it every time he takes a pitch. He picks his spots. And, in fact, he’s put some variations on the Shuffle, as the Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh breaks down. Thanksfully, the variations are all so funny. For example, the one this one made me laugh the most.

Lindbergh calls it the Ollie and I can’t not laugh every time I watch it. It’s so outrageous. 

Or the one where he shakes his butt.

Or the one where he does a deep lunge.

Seriously, is it just me or is this hilarious? But Lindbergh doesn’t stop with showing you how Soto does the Shuffle, he dives deeeeeeeeeeeeep into when. And here’s a graphical representation:

But Lindbergh doesn’t stop there, either. He also breaks down when Soto does the Shuffle by count and pitch type… and more. It’s such a fun, goofy read on an unimportant but interesting topic. These are the kinds of articles I wish I had the time to research and write. Great stuff. -TOB

Source: Fancy Footwork: A Complete Breakdown of the Soto Shuffle,” Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (09/07/2021)

PAL: The depth of this story is bananas. It would’ve been so easy for Lindbergh to make this a fluff story about The Shuffle, to stop at “the most exciting take in baseball” type of thing and show clips on the variations of The Shuffle. Lindbergh goes to incredible lengths to find some substance by way of explanation or patterns. The dude put together a 20+ minute supercut of all The Shuffles for chrissake.  

Above all, the most incredible bit of info from this story is the following: “He Shuffled (or appeared to start Shuffling) on only 10 called strikes”. Now that’s a guy that knows the strike zone, and that’s a dude, as Lindbergh points out, that doesn’t fail 7/10 times, as is the old adage in baseball; Soto’s on-base percentage .446. If that holds, that would put Soto above Barry Bonds’ best season, and good enough for the seventh highest all-time, right behind Gehrig, Ruth, and Williams.


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