Week of October 16, 2020

Kershahahahahaw. Mr. May does it again!


How Cal Football is Coping With Covid A few weeks ago we wrote about the first installment from the New York Times reports from one football program’s efforts to deal with COVID-19. The second installment hit this week. The football program happens to be Cal, but you do not need to be a Cal fan to enjoy this story.  This week’s story comes as Cal begins camp, fresh off the announcement that the Pac-12 season will begin on November 7. It covers how players, coaches, and staff deal with daily testing; how they manage to get ready for practice without access to the locker room; how they manage position meetings when they can’t be indoors in their normal facilities. I could honestly quote you 75% of this story because it is so well-written. It is concise and compelling, and I cannot recommend it enough.  But if I had to choose one quote to get you to click the link below, it’s this one from Cal’s director of football operations, Andrew McGraw, himself a COVID-19 survivor:

“They’re seeing examples, week in and week out, as you look around the country, of just how fragile this all is,” McGraw said. “It’s unbelievably delicate, this entire situation. It’s as if the whole building is being held together with one screw. This thing could fall apart if just one part gives.”

 

-TOB

Source: At Cal, a Covid Survivor Keeps Watch Over Football’s Return,” John Breech, New York Times (10/14/2020)


Hell of a Debut

We all know this year’s MLB playoffs is unlike any other. Satellite stadium sites, no fans, expanded field, and expanded rosters. If you try not to think about it, you can almost forget the stadiums are (mostly) empty. The games have been fun, but it’s like a good piece of turkey with none of the sides on Thanksgiving.  One cool result of pandemic baseball is MLB debuts taking place in the playoffs. Prior to this year, only two players have made their MLB debut in the postseason; this year, three dudes have made it to the show on the biggest stage: Twins outfielder Alex Kirilloff, Tampa pitcher Shane McClanahan, and San Diego’s Ryan Weathers.  Weathers is big ol’ lefty, just 20 years old, and has never pitched higher than A ball. Unlike previous years, where a player would get the call while playing in some small minor league town and catch a flight to wherever the big league team was heading, this year – with no minor league seasons – all of the prospects are training at a single team site.  His version of “getting the call” is, well, so 2020. Per Joe Lemire: 

…Weathers was standing next to the club’s general manager, A.J. Preller, in the team’s hotel while waiting to grab a swab for the team’s daily Covid-19 tests when Preller posed a question: Which test was for the minor leaguers and which was for the big leaguers? Weathers said he didn’t know there was a difference, to which Preller replied, “Grab one from the big-league side today because you’re on the roster” for the playoffs. Hours later, Weathers appeared in relief during Game 1 of the Padres’ National League division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers…

Weathers held his own against the high-powered Dodgers, and it might have something to do with how teams have prospects from all levels training together at one site, where young guys can go compete against AAA level talent and stay in top form after a usual minor league season would have ended. It also helps there are no off days in the playoffs this year, which can be a big factor for pitchers like Weathers. 

Craziest of all, Weathers and the others will not get service time credit for playoff rosters spots this year. As far as that goes, they haven’t yet made it.  So three guys this year alone, but what about the other two that made their debut in the playoffs? For Adalberto Modesi (Kansas City), and Mark Kiger (A’s), it’s two sides of the coin. 

Although Mondesi has become the Royals’ everyday shortstop, Oakland’s Kiger never played in the big leagues again. Kiger — whose first bit of fame came in the 2003 book “Moneyball,” in which he appeared on a list of eight players that the A’s executive Billy Beane was determined to draft — entered as a defensive replacement in two 2006 A.L.C.S. games. He recorded a putout while playing second base, but never batted. He completed three more minor league seasons, but never returned to the majors.

Damn.  As for this year’s crop, for as cool as it would be to make it to the bigs, and even cooler to debut in a playoffs, it has to be a letdown for that dream-come-true moment to be in an empty stadium. – PAL 

Source: Welcome to the Majors. Your Season Is on the Line.”, Joe Lemire, The New York Times (10/14/2020)

TOB: I’ve thought about that last line a lot this whole season. As badly as you want to make the majors, it must have been a little bittersweet for all the players who made their big league debut this year, but did so to an empty stadium. Not even their parents could watch. That just ain’t right.


The Lakers Won, BUH, But At What Cost?

I love a good lede:

ORLANDO, Fla. —  Lakers guard Danny Green bounced down the hallway that led to the team’s locker room, the start of a long night of partying after the team won the 2020 NBA championship Sunday. “Free. We’re free,” he said, his voice echoing off the walls. “Freedom. I’m f— free.” The NBA leaves the bubble behind, the experience a major success. The league has finished its season, helping satisfy its obligations to television partners. It has finished its season, crowning a champion without losing a single game to a COVID-19 outbreak. And it’s provided players the opportunity to try to better the world by speaking out about injustice. So if the pandemic continues to cause problems, if safety cannot be guaranteed anywhere else, the league could end up back here sometime in the future, right? “No way,” one NBA veteran said. While the NBA hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to a bubble environment for the 2020-21 season, it’s an obvious last resort because of the effects it had on players.

Ok ok, but an unnamed vet and Danny Freaking Green whining is one thing. What about the stars? What about the guy whose legacy was most burnished by the results of these bubble playoffs?

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” Lakers star LeBron James said before the NBA Finals. “But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough.”

Dang! And remember – this is a guy who won a title in CLEVELAND, saying this is the most challenging thing he’s ever done. This makes sense of course. I would not choose to be away from my family for two or three months at a time with nothing to do but my job, even if my job was basketball -and this is coming from someone who misses playing basketball so much he goes down to the nearby courts once every two weeks or so just to shoot at rimless backboards! Me, sorta: What I find most interesting about this is how little it was discussed in the moment. At one point, as he struggled, Paul George discussed his mental health struggles in the bubble. But otherwise the story was not covered much. Many of us struggled in the first few months of the pandemic. Trying to balance working from home, some with kids to take care of. But at least most of us had our families. What these people went through is honestly unfathomable to me. Hats off to ‘em. -TOB

Source: Even the Champion Lakers Felt Strains of Life in the NBA Bubble,” Dan Woike, L.A. Times (10/14/2020)


Sabermetrics, Circa 1910

Found this relic on Medium. Pretty interesting read from a story posted in 1910 (!) about the “science of baseball”. Pretty incredible, because – aside from some funny terminology –  this doesn’t sound all that dated. Hugh Fullerton (everybody remembers ol’ Hugh) does a deep dive on the math behind how 9 men can cover so much ground on a baseball diamond, and team adjustments made to tip the odds in your favor. 

“Inside baseball” is merely the art of getting the hits that “he couldn’t have got anyhow.” Now watch this play closely. See whether or not you can discover what is going on. “Pat” Moran stoops behind the batter and hides his right hand back of his mitt. Ed Reulbach, pitcher, shakes his head affirmatively. Johnny Evers stoops, pats his hand in the dust, touches it to his knee and rests it upon his hip. Jimmy Sheckard trots twenty feet across left field angling in toward the diamond. Steinfeldt creeps slowly to his left: Tinker moves toward second base and Evers takes four or five steps back and edges toward Chance, who has backed up five feet. Reulbach pitches a fast ball high and on the out corner of the plate. Mike Mitchell hits it. The crowd yells in sudden apprehension. The ball seems a sure hit — going fast toward right field. Evers runs easily over, stops the ball, tosses it to Chance and Mitchell is out.
You saw all that. The ball was hit in “the groove” directly at the 7–1/2-foot gap the geometrician will say is vacant, yet Evers fielded it. Now this is what happened: When Moran knelt down he put the index finger of his right hand straight down, then held it horizontally on the top of his mitt. Evers saw that Moran had signaled Reulbach to pitch a fast ball high and outside the plate. He rubbed his hand in the dirt, signaling Tinker, who patted his right hand upon his glove, replying he understood. Then Evers rested his hand upon his hip, signaling Sheckard, the outfield captain, what ball was to be pitched. Sheckard crept toward the spot where Mitchell would hit that kind of a ball 95 out of 100 times. While Reulbach was “winding up,” swinging his arm to throw the ball, Evers called sharply to Chance (whose good ear is toward him), and Tinker called to Steinfeldt. While Reulbach’s arm was swinging every man in the team was moving automatically toward right field, in full motion before Mitchell hit the ball. The gaps at first base, between first base and second, over second base and between third and short, were closed hermetically, while the gap between Steinfeldt and the third base line was opened up 22 feet. The ball, if hit on the ground, had no place to go except into some infielder’s hands, unless Reulbach blundered and Mitchell “pulled” the ball down the third base gap. Every man on the team knew if Reulbach pitched high, fast and outside, Mitchell would hit toward right field. The only chance Mitchell had to hit safe was to drive the ball over the head of the outfielders, or hit it on a line over 7 feet and less than 15 feet above the ground. If Reulbach had been ordered to pitch low and over the plate, or low and inside, or a slow ball, the team would have shifted exactly in the opposite way.

And how about these charts:

 

The article also goes in depth on defensive alignments and how plays like hit & runs widens the slots for low balls to get through the infield. Stuff we knew and was commonplace growing up, but – again – this is from 1910. It’s long, but to read this knowing its from 120 years ago is a pretty cool experience. People have been looking at this game mathematically for a long, long time. – PAL 

Source: “The Inside Game”, Hugh Fullerton, ℅ John Thorn, Our Game MLB Blog (10/13/2020)


In An Otherwise Unremarkable Story, a Lesson on Success

I love baseball, yes. But during a season I almost exclusively only watch Giants games. I am not up till 1am watching the Mariners and Rangers play. I am not sneaking peeks at my phone during a July Rays/Yankees game. Sure, I watch as many playoff games as I can, but that’s different, ya know?

But I did click on this story about former Rays and current Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman’s fingerprints on the 2020 ALCS and NLCS: his current team, the Dodgers, are in the NLCS (down 3-1, ahem), his former team the Rays are in the ALCS (up 3-2), and his former assistants’ Braves and Astros are in the NLCS (up 3-1, AHEM), and the ALCS (down 3-2). NOT BAD. The story was mostly unremarkable, aside from these very cool quotes from former Blue Jays exec and current Braves exec Alex Anthopoplous, who in between those two jobs worked at the Dodgers under Friedman, and (current Giants exec) Farhan Zaidi: 

“I felt like going to L.A. was like going to grad school,” Anthopoulos said, citing the chance to learn from Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, now president of baseball operations for the San Francisco Giants. “When you’re exposed to the best in the industry, you’re going to get better, right?” Anthopoulos said. “It’s like Warren Buffett and a lot of other people say: Surround yourself with people that are better than you are. Andrew and Farhan made me better.” “I think, because both Andrew and Farhan came from small market clubs, they were relentless in trying to make players better,” Anthopoulos said. “My attitude may have been, ‘OK, a guy is scuffling, you may need to find him a new home, make a trade.’ They came from organizations where they just couldn’t do that. You had to make do with what you had. By necessity, it made them better. They brought those characteristics there. “That’s why you’ve seen them have so much success in player development. They will exhaust all avenues, and they will not quit on players. They will work with you and try to find a way to make you better. It’s great for players to know that and see that. That’s why you’ve seen a lot of players discarded by other organizations — and you’re seeing it with the Giants now too. They go there, and they get better. It starts at the top.”

And if you think I did all this simply to give my guy Farhan some props, well, ya got me.

Jul 12, 2018; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi talks on the phone before a game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

#FarhanGuy -TOB

Source: Andrew Friedman’s Handprints Are Evidence on All Four Tems in MLB Playoffs,” Bill Shaikin, L.A. Times (10/10/2020)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week Jason Isbell – “Speed Trap Town”


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“I know that patience and loyalty are good, and virtuous traits. But sometimes I just think you need to grow a pair.”

-Angela Martin

Week of October 9, 2020

Hoping to see a LOT of this next week.


You Don’t Know Earl Campbell’s Story 

This week, I’ve got two stories about revered legends: Udonis Haslem and Earl Campbell. Their journeys couldn’t be much more different, but – man – they are loved.  

Of course I knew of Earl Cambell. He’s before my time, sure, but I’d seen the highlights of him giving more punishment as a running back than he ever took. I didn’t know many details. I just  knew he was a legend, and I knew the game had all but destroyed his body, leaving him as a cautionary tale for today’s players. It’s no wonder when you watch him run: 

 

I was wrong. While I’m sure the game exacted a toll on Campbell, there was something else at play that had caused his deterioration. Even Campbell didn’t know it until long after retirement that he’d had spinal stenosis his entire life – a condition that, in ESPN’s Dave Wilson’s words, “causes a narrowing of the space inside the spine, leading to pressure on nerves, and causes pain, weakness or numbness.” How painful does that sound?

According to his last back surgeon, Dr. Stan Jones, Campbell was lucky to have avoided any “catastrophes” in all those collisions on the field due to the stenosis. What followed the initial diagnosis were several back surgeries that left loose screws in his spine and pain pills for recovery. It wasn’t long before Cambell was self-medicating.

“I never took pills. I never smoked a joint. I never had experience with cocaine,” Campbell said. “Now, I know a little bit about Budweiser and tequila. But this doctor (PAL Note: Not Dr. Jones) started me and I don’t know, hell, it just happened so fast with the surgeries. I mean I’ve gotten cut in my throat. I never dreamed about all this s— about my spine, and cutting bone spurs the size of your thumb off my back. They were giving me pain medication and doctorin’ on me and next thing I know I’m hooked.”

You watch Campbell in those highlights – the almost unbelievable athleticism and power – and then you’ve seen him confined to a wheelchair at the Heisman events, and when you put those details together to draw a conclusion. But you miss a much bigger story. In many ways, a much more common, relatable, and inspiring of a legend humbled.

I also loved hearing the tales about the manchild from a tiny town in Texas who Barry Switzer described as the only high school player that could’ve jumped straight to the NFL. Solid read. – PAL 

Source:Earl Campbell got up: Inside the second act of a Texas Longhorns legend”, Dave Wilson, ESPN (10/8/20)


Ten Years After the Greatest Sports Performance I Ever Saw

Many times over the years, including just two weeks ago, I have mentioned on this blog Tim Lincecum’s performance in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS. 9 innings, 2 hits, 14 Ks. Pure dominance. I was at that game, and it was incredible. God, I loved being there.  Even if we had awful seats. But we didn’t care where we sat. We were at a playoff game in the most beautiful ballpark in the most beautiful setting, and our guy was on the mound, dealing. Those Ks on the right field wall kept piling up, and the tension was palpable as the Giants won 1-0. Grant Brisbee does an excellent job capturing the feeling:

The crowd was bananas throughout. You can keep your Game 1 World Series crowds, when it’s possible to recoup the cost of an entire season by selling the tickets and the seats are filled with people who love exclusive events more than baseball. Give me the first game of a postseason for a team that’s trying to win its first World Series in a half-century. The nerves were frayed after the leadoff double. They were still tingling with each three-ball count in the first and they were raw by the final pitch of a 1-0 game. But every flailing Braves hitter forced the fans to become more and more raucous. There was no other choice. Watch the whole game here on MLB’s global account, which isn’t embeddable for some reason, and you’ll hear what I mean. In the top of the sixth, the crowd gets behind a “POSEY’S BETTER” chant while Jason Heyward is at the plate, the kind of petty, extremely niche jab that makes sense only to people who are a little too into baseball. San Francisco fans got a reputation for being a little quiet and soft in the post-Candlestick years, as if the extra 25,000 people at the ballpark somehow negated the 10,000 to 15,000 who were there the whole time, but this was a crowd that knew what it was doing. They were exhorting one of the most popular athletes the Bay Area had ever seen — will ever see — because he was giving them an entirely new feeling.

Grant is right – the crowd was incredible. And that chat was fantastic. It continued after the game, as we excitedly wound our way down the ramps, high fiving strangers, marveling that we were just 10 wins away from a friggin World Series title. God damn, what a feeling.  It was October 7, 2010 – ten years ago yesterday, as I write this. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. So much has changed, both in my life (I was 28!), and as a Giants fan. Those 10 more wins I was dreaming about? They happened, of course, and the Giants won the World Series. Two more titles followed in short order. But it was that game, that night, that feeling that really sticks out as the best of the bunch. -TOB

Source: Ten Years Ago, Tim Lincecum Dominated the Braves and Started Something Beautiful,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (10/07/2020)

PAL: Great story. This part really landed with me: “Hope is what was wrested from the arms of Giants fans and used to bludgeon them, time and time again. It was a feeling of rational hope that was new. A feeling that maybe this year was different because, well, just look at this guy.”

Well, the first line, anyway. And the second part of this – the idea rational hope – that captures the real power of an absolute ace. 


Udonis Haslem’s Leadership Odyssey 

By the time you read this, the Lakers may have very have eliminated the Heat for the NBA title, so it might feel a bit odd that I’m sharing a profile of an over-the-hill Miami Heat bench player. Yet, here’s the Udonis Haslem story you really should read, whether you think you might be interested or not. I assure you, it’s a great read.  The angle, as described by its author, Andrew Sharp:

The vast majority of sports legends are so successful that their place in history is almost self-explanatory. There are others, though, who resonate for reasons that are harder to articulate. They’re known less for what they did than how they did it. These athletes generally won’t make the Hall of Fame, but they’re remembered forever by anyone who happened to be paying attention. Udonis Haslem is in that second category. 

There are incredible stories about the superstars in sports – from LeBron’s origin story to the tale of a troubled kid from Baltimore named George who went on to ‘build’ Yankee Stadium, but the stories about role players finding a way, fighting their way to make it are just as inspiring, if not moreso.  Haslem, or ‘UD’ to everyone who knows him, was always a very good player on very good teams. His high school team in Liberty City rattled off state titles. His Florida Gators made it to the Final Four. He was a key player on those teams – a leader who would set the tone for the team, but that skill set did not stand out, partially because he was a bit out of shape, and – for a big guy – didn’t do a lot of rebounding.  So, how did that guy turn into what Miami Heat Coach Eric Spoelstra describes as the following:

“Years on from here, when we’ll say, ‘What’s the Miami Heat culture?’ We can describe it and say, ‘Hardest working team, most professional, best conditioned, and so forth.’ Or we can just pull up a picture of Udonis Haslem.”

Not only was Haslem undrafted, he wasn’t even asked to work out for a number of team. His only real option was to play overseas. 

Haslem had spent much of the previous year in Chalon-sur-Saône, a small city in eastern France, where he averaged 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds playing for a team called Élan Chalon. His season was a success, but that didn’t mean Haslem enjoyed it. “I gave myself one night to feel sorry for myself,” he says. “I had a one-night pity party. I had a bottle of Hennessy and I sat on my back porch. ‘Why am I here? I did everything right.’ Some of the guys that got drafted, I’d done really well against. I really didn’t understand. So I just gave myself one night.” But even that night, his mindset began to change. “Part of my pity party was, ‘What can I do differently?’ It’s so easy to blame the NBA, blame the coaches. It’s easy to say they made a mistake. But in the end, I don’t think that gets you anywhere. So for me, part of that bottle of Hennessy was, ‘What do I need to do?’”

I love every word of that anecdote. Even in his self-described pity party, he’s asking himself what he needs to do to change his situation. That’s a huge life lesson (or a reminder).  From there, he catches on with the Heat after being so competitive and dominant in workouts that thy shut him down before he hurt somebody. He’s been with his hometown team ever since. He won a title with the Wade-Shaq version of the team, setting the tone by holding Shaq accountable when few others could. Later, when LeBron and Chris Bosh joined Wade to create the super team, it appeared UD’s time was up with the Heat. 

Haslem was a 30-year-old free agent. Both the Mavericks and Nuggets were reportedly offering five-year deals worth about $34 million. Meanwhile, the entire sports world had just watched Miami use all its cap space on three superstars. “Plus,” says Riley, “we made a deal with Mike Miller. In order to get Mike, we had to get rid of Michael Beasley. There wasn’t any more room.” So a few days after that welcome party, Haslem called Wade to tell him that he loved him, but he had to leave. “I hung up,” Haslem says, “and I’m taking the exit to head downtown to meet with Pat to tell him the same thing: ‘Thank you for the opportunity, Coach. Nobody ever gave me a chance but you. I love you guys. But I’m moving on.’” Five minutes later, Haslem’s agent, the late Henry Thomas, told him to wait on a meeting with Riley. Thomas also represented Wade, and the latter was organizing an emergency conference call with his new teammates. Within hours, the Miami superstars agreed to sacrifice portions of their max salary to free up enough room for Haslem. The deal he accepted in Miami—five years, $20 million—was $14 million less than what he’d been offered elsewhere, but that was fine with Haslem. “Dwyane taking less,” he says. “LeBron taking less. Chris taking less. Everybody was sacrificing for a common goal.”

While – yes – the super team would need to fill out the rest of the roster with some player, I do think – as it’s told here – that story a lot about what other guys think of UD. 

Still…$14MM? 

Great success story of a hometown kid done good, both on the court and off. I’ll never tire of these kinds of profiles.- PAL

Source: The Legend of Udonis Haslem”, Andrew Sharp, The Ringer (09/29/20)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week – Florence + The Machine – “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly cover)


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How do you tell somebody that you care about deeply, “I told you so.” Gently with a rose? In a funny way, like it’s a hilarious joke? Or do you just let it go, because saying it would just make things worse? Probably the funny way.

-Michael Scott

Week of October 2, 2020


17 18 

My Minnesota Twins made the postseason again this year. And again, they lost. Not the series. Every game. My Minnesota Twins have lost 18 playoff games in a row, good for the longest in American sports history (the Blackhawks used to hold the record at 16 games, followed by the Red Sox back in the 80s). Worse, the Twins were swept by the team everyone hates – the Houston Astros. I couldn’t help but chuckle…in between cursing my team out and firing off expletive-laden texts. 

This iteration of the Twins homered their way to 100+ wins last year, and the all-or-nothing approach at the plate carried them into this year’s expanded playoff. But just as was the case last year, the playoffs revealed the Twins to be frauds when it mattered most. A lineup stacked with hitters that put up big power numbers in the regular season go silent in the playoffs (except for Nelson Cruz). A team built to bludgeon opponents found itself in low-scoring games, and was unable to manufacture a run when they needed it most. Errors, base-running blunders, bullpen letdowns…this team doesn’t know how to gut out a win. The Giants World Series’ teams were everything the Twins are not. 

In previous years, the mighty Yankees beat the Twins an incredible 10 straight games in the playoffs, but this year the Twins lost to a sub-.500 team with mediocre pitching at best. 

The streak is at a point where I swear the fan cynicism feeds into it, which is the absolute worst. Every text is an expectation for something bad to happen. I’ve always been a fan that hopes and expects a good thing to happen – blame it on the ‘91 Twins – but this year I found myself waiting for the bad to happen.  

In other words, us Twins fans have officially willingly entered the lowest rung of fandom – we are feeding off of the failure. It’s become a part of our identity, and – man – that really, really sucks. All the proof you need can be found in the comments section of Twins articles: 

Why do we even watch anymore? It’s OUR fault for thinking things could be different this time. 

Tanner W.

Sep 29, 10:40pm

2 likes

So true 

Chris G.

Sep 29, 10:05pm

2 likes

Sounds about right. 

Josh K.

Sep 29, 10:05pm

12 likes

Life is pain 

Will R.

Sep 29, 10:05pm

24 likes

I’m not even sure what to say… no clutch hitting, bad fielding, inconsistent bullpen. I’m just glad that we can at least hang our hat on the longest postseason losing streak! 

Cal K.

Sep 29, 10:11pm

8 likes

Historically good or biblically bad, in that order. 

Christopher H.

The next time Rosario runs a ball out will be the first time Rosario runs a ball out. 

Glen S.

Sep 29, 10:06pm

6 likes

Explain to me how the team with record HR’s can’t hit when it matters? Also, Romo closing? Cmon man! 

Shane K.

Sep 29, 11:00pm

4 likes

Because they only seem to try to hit home runs. It seems like they have no concept of situational hitting. 

Justin B.

Sep 30, 12:02am

2 likes

Sano can only strike out and smash HRs 

Michael T.

Sep 29, 10:07pm

🤣🤣🤣 

Andrew M.

Sep 29, 10:07pm

14 likes

Why Austudillo 

Shane K.

Sep 29, 11:04pm

2 likes

Yes, why???? 

Justin M.

Sep 29, 10:07pm

22 likes

Least surprising and most predictable thing to happen. Guess it’s not the Yankees, huh? Just a crap run by another brutally inept MN sports franchise. Anyone think they won’t make it 18 in a row? This team is punchless & the manager deserves to finally take criticism for awful substitutions and pinch hitting decisions. What an embarrassment. 

Michael C.

Sep 29, 11:31pm

3 likes

@Justin M. Agree with the pinch hitting call. Garver? Are you f’ng kidding me? 

Michael C.

Sep 29, 11:34pm

5 likes

Why call up Kirilloff then? Anyone would have been better than Garver.

And this, from Jim Souhan, longtime MN columnist: 

Do not let the oddities of this short, strange season distract you from the fact that this was the most embarrassing loss of this record-breaking streak.

They did not have to play in Yankee Stadium. They did not have to face a superior team. They did not need to solve an ace.

They managed two runs in 18 innings against a mediocre Houston pitching staff and gave up big hits to a group of hitters who have shrunk before our eyes since they were caught cheating.

In 18 innings, no Twin not named Nelson Cruz produced an extra-base hit or an RBI. Their Home Run Robe became a K Cape.

Time to clean house. Trade everyone not named Cruz and Kenta (especially Rosario and Sano). Rocco has to go, and so does the front office. Start fresh. Power numbers might be the most value, best approach over the long haul of a season, but there has to be a balance to a team, and – caution, old guy take alert – there is something to having some grinders on a team. What I don’t need are a bunch of dudes that act like the spoiled kid on the Little League team at the first sign of trouble.

Rosario didn’t like the 3-1 call, which was close enough to be called a strike. What’s more troubling is his complaining about the 3-1 pitch made him even more useless than normal on the 3-2 pitch. Of course he swings through it, because that’s what Eddie Rosario does in any at-bat of any significance, and then gets tossed for arguing a borderline pitch in a elimination game that’s tied going into the late innings. I don’t want that dude on my team. Don’t care how many meaningless homers he hits in a regular season.

It was terrible, again, but the Twins – the players and fans – all felt it coming. They braced for the streak to continue instead of saying, ‘the hell with that,” and making something happen, starting with some optimism. The real loss is if we allow ourselves to become one of those self-loathing fanbases. They are the worst. Worse than losing 18-straight playoff games. – PAL

Sources: “Twins implode in ninth as playoff losing streak hits 17 games: Discuss”, Zack Pierce, The Athletic (09/30/20); “Rocco Baldelli’s quick hook for starters leads to Twins’ quick exit from playoffs“, Jim Souhan, Star Tribune (10/1/20)

TOB: Eighteen straight playoff losses is unfathomable – it’s more games than the Giants played in any of their three World Series runs – 2014 (17), 2012 (16), and 2010 (15). 

A Gluttonous and Historical Day of Playoff Baseball

Adding insult to the Twins’ 18-game postseason losing streak is that they were relegated to the morning games on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Why does that add insult? Well, this season saw the introduction of best-of-3 series in the first round. With 8 series to play, MLB scheduled the 4 AL series to open Tuesday, and then all 8 games played Wednesday. The Twins playing the early games meant their postseason ended before many teams’ postseasons began. Hell, it was over before October began. 

But Phil’s pain aside (and god it was a painful 18 innings to watch, even as someone who adopted the Twins for the postseason), Wednesday was cool as hell. A record EIGHT playoff games in one day. On Tuesday night I checked the start times and it was staggering. It began at 9am PDT with the Reds/Braves, with subsequent games starting at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 7pm. 

I was working so I was trying to follow along by checking scores periodically and it was insane. It was so much fun! That Reds/Braves game went scoreless into the 13th (the Braves won 1-0)! The Yankees/Indians game was BANANAS, with so many swings of momentum I had to finally put it on in the background to keep up (the Yankees eventually won, 10-9 to eliminate Cleveland).  

As an aside: the Reds set a record by opening (and closing) their postseason with TWENTY TWO scoreless innings. Wild. 

Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri did an excellent job capturing the madness with a running diary. This entry, in the early morning hours, sums it all up well:

12:43 a.m.: The Yankees have loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth, I am bordering on delirium, the world does not exist outside of my television, I love baseball, I want to die.

So of course I had to ask myself: is the expanded playoffs good or bad? Do we want this in the future? And I gotta tell you I am torn. Keeping more teams in “it” until the end of the season is good. But teams with losing records making the playoffs? NOT GREAT!  Especially with a best-of-three series. A 60-game season coming down to a best of three seems fine. A 162 game season coming down to a best of three, though? That seems unfair?

The more we expand the playoffs, the funkier results we will see. Houston could end up in the World Series and finish the year, as in after the World Series, with a losing record! Their two-game “sweep” put them at .500. All it would take is a 3-2 ALDS win, a 4-3 ALCS, win, and then a 4 or 5-game loss in the World Series, and your AL Pennant winner would finish with a losing record. That’s wild.

So, while I appreciated the intensity of the Giants’ final weekend (I mean, sorta, it was fun to care again but it also paralyzing and stressful), and while I loved Wednesday’s baseball bonanza, I think this is *too* much. -TOB

Source: A Diary of MLB’s Never-Ending Day of Playoffs,” Emma Baccellieri, Sports Illustrated (10/2/2020)

Landon Donovan Stands Up to Rid Soccer of Bigotry

Former U.S. Soccer star Landon Donovan is now the coach of the San Diego Loyal of the USL. Donovan’s team was winning 3-1 this week when a player on another team used a gay slur to refer to a player on Donovan’s team. That player happens to be openly gay. The player’s teammates stood up for him, and the referee initially sent the player off. But the ref changed his mind, apparently deciding that he was not sure the slur (“bitch boy”) was actually a gay slur. Donovan told the ref if he did not stand by his initial decision, he’d pull his team off the field.

First, that ref is in way over his head. Second, the other coach sucks. But most importantly, I have a lot of respect for Donovan standing up for what’s right, and standing up for his player, in the way he did. We need more of this in sports, and life. Here’s what Donovan said:

“Our guys said we will not stand for this and they were very clear in that moment that we are giving up all hopes of making the play-offs. They are beating one of the best teams in the league but they said it doesn’t matter and there are more things important in life and we have to stick up for what we believe in.

“They made the decision to walk off and I have tremendous pride in this group and I am really proud of this organisation and that I get to be a part of it.”

Good for them. -TOB

Source: San Diego Loyal Manager ‘Proud’ of Walk-off Over Alleged Homophobic Abuse,” the Guardian (10/1/2020)

Video of the Week:


Song the Week: Patsy Cline – “I Fall To Pieces”


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Sometimes you have to take a break from being the kind of boss that’s always trying to teach people things. Sometimes you have to just be the boss of dancing.

-Michael Scott

Week of September 11, 2020

 


A Great Idea, Dr. Crutchfield

It’s Thursday night here as I write this. Today got the best of me, folks. Beat down my optimism, and that doesn’t happen too often. The fires continue, and the ash is falling like a first dusting of snow – I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures. Add the apocalyptic skies and AQI acronym to the oncoming ugly brawl that will be the election in November, the pandemic that feels like it will not end here in CA, and a summer that made it impossible to ignore that we have a deep, deep racism problem in all sorts of places in this country. 

I needed a little light of good, and I got it from a dermatologist back in Minnesota. Per Jennifer Brooks: 

In summer 2020, as Minnesota burned and its people suffered and died in a pandemic, a Twin Cities doctor turned to Minnie and Paul again as a source of unity.

What if, said Dr. Charles Crutchfield III, the Twins logo looked a little bit more like its players and fans?

Crutchfield, the team’s consulting dermatologist, darkened the skin tone of one of the ballplayers on the logo. Suddenly, instead of just Minnie and Paul, he saw Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, grinning with their arms thrown around each other. Suddenly, he saw himself.

Minnie and Paul, glowing in neon 46 feet tall, watch over every home game from center field, ready to mark home runs with a firm handshake. Crutchfield showed his updated logo to a few of the players.

You get the paint, they told him with a laugh, we’ll hold the ladder.

This is such a great idea. Simple, powerful, positive statement. Hell, would it even be expensive! How this could offend people (obviously some morons took to social media to be cowards of the comment section) is beyond me, and if the Twins were to take two seconds to think about this, they’d have the shading of gigantic neon logo over center field changed within the week. That tweak on a classic, beautiful logo could become a genuine symbol for Twin Cities. I wish the Twins don’t over-analyze this one – just make the obvious decision, and do it now. 

Nice work, Dr. Crutchfield! Thank you! Now come on, Twins. Don’t workshop this. Don’t focus group this. Just look at the idea, see that it’s only positive. Show some love. – PAL

Source: Twins Team Doctor Dreams of a Logo That Looks More Like the Team and its Fans”, Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune (09/10/2020)


The Mahomes Contract Origin Story

I’ll admit it from the jump: contract stories are hit and miss. I usually don’t find them particularly interesting, but this breakdown of Patrick Mahomes’ 10 years, $503MM contract with the Kansas City Chiefs is a pretty fresh examination of a mega-deal. 

First of all, there is just about zero chance the Chiefs pay Mahomes the full $503MM. In order for that to happen and for every kicker to count, the team would have to win 11-straight Super Bowls (counting last year) and Mahomes would have to win 10 MVPs in a row. As SI’s Greg Bishop reminds us, with NFL contracts, “nothing is as it appears, beyond guaranteed cash.”

The idea Mahomes signed a huge contract isn’t all that thought-provoking on its own. To most of us, there’s no difference between $20MM and $500MM. The details, NFL quirks, and inspirations that led to deal being structured as it is – that’s a puzzle worth putting together. 

His agents, Lee Steinberg and Chris Cabott, knew it would be a record-breaking contract. The foundation of their strategy seemingly started with the question short-term or long-term.

They wanted to lay out for the superstar what they considered the two most important factors in any deal: whether he would reset the quarterback market in a short-term sense or a long-term one, and how either option would work in tandem with the Chiefs’ salary-cap dynamics, both for overall philosophy and available cash.

A short-term deal would be all guaranteed for a player like Mahomes, and it would allow him to be a free agent and get market value in four or five years at a point when the salary cap no doubt will be higher, thus allowing him to command a higher number without completely jacking up the Chiefs(or another team) from putting a good team around him (hard salary cap in the NFL.) However – and I’d never heard of this – all guaranteed money from a team must be sent to the NFL immediately when the contract is signed. So let’s say Mahomes signed for 4 years, $200MM guaranteed – the NFL holds the money until it’s paid to the player. This is not the case in the NBA and MLB. You can see why guaranteed money over a long term deal could become problematic for a team. 

A long-term deal would give the team breathing room to build around the cornerstone, but would of course not have the same proportional amount guaranteed. 

For Mahomes, Steinberg and Cabott looked to outside-the-box contracts (some of which they negotiated). Bobby Bonilla’s Mets contract is one: 25-year, 1.17MM per (he’ll receive his last payment from the Mets when he’s 72). Mike Trout’s 12/$426MM. They also looked at the pros and cons of LeBron’s single year approach in Cleveland. 

Most relevant, perhaps, was their assessment of the first set of $100MM QB contracts from the early 2000s (Brett Farve, Drew Bledsoe, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick). Each were long on years, very few paid in full, and they made a very important balance very precarious: QBs were becoming mandatory in order to win in a pass-happy league, but the salaries in relation to the hard cap was making it hard to put a good team out there with the QB studs. 

So here’s where it all ended up with Mahomes and the Chiefs:

The first five years—and roughly $140 million—of Mahomes’s deal are guaranteed against injury. But for each year that he remains on the Chiefs’ roster, significant, eight-figure chunks—at least $21.7 million (’21) and as much as $49.4 million (’27)—become guaranteed. There are buyout opportunities, but those very guarantees make releasing Mahomes in any one season prohibitively expensive, which to his reps means that Mahomes basically signed a guaranteed contract, without the Chiefs needing to lay out over $400 million up front. In the improbable event he is let go, he would then hit the open market.

Pretty much guaranteed money, but with the flexibility needed to keep a great team around Mahomes. 

Because those contracts are long and can be adjusted, if Kansas City is strapped for cash, it can rework the deal in any one season to funnel money earmarked for Mahomes to key teammates or prized free agents. If the Chiefs are flush with dollars in another campaign, they could dump more into Mahomes’s coffers with similar but opposite tweaks, an exercise in balancing two enormous scales. Where pro baseball teams can spend over luxury tax thresholds to hoard talent, NFL franchises are capped in total dollars ($198.2 million in 2020), making this exact kind of flexibility more important for any team to consistently contend.

But none of this even touches on the best part of the Mahomes contract story, which is how it broke. For that, you have to read Bishop’s full story. Trust me, it’s worth it. – PAL 

Source: What the Mahomes Contract Really Means”, Greg Bishop, SI.com (09/09/20)


The Machismo Shit in Sports is Fading Away, Slowly, But Finally

This week, I saw an unremarkable tweet about Nelson Cruz, the ageless wonder slugger, now crushing dingers for YOUR Minnesota Twins (presently leading the AL in World Series odds, per Fangraphs. Get your hankies ready!).

When I saw the tweet, I thought, “Well, this is an odd story. A nap? Who cares?” But if you google Nelson Cruz Nap, you’ll see this story has fascinated reporters for YEARS. But, fine, I thought. The Twins are in a friggin tight pennant race and we could be writing about things other than naps, but sure. 

And then I saw this tweet by Trevor Plouffe, former Twin, former Ron Popeil, current retired baseball player and excellent Twitter follow. 

And I realize why the first tweet was significant – sports culture has been so toxic that if you take a friggin NAP, you’re a goddamn pussy. SLEEP IS FOR PANSIES, BRO. I mean, this is wild to me.

And this all would have escaped my brain forever, until something far more significant happened Thursday. The day before, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott revealed that his brother’s offseason death was a result of suicide. Prescott said the following about his brother’s death, and how he dealt with that and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:

“I mean, obviously tears and tears and tears,” Dak Prescott said of his initial reaction. “I mean, I sat there and tried to gather what had happened, and wanted to ask why for so many reasons. It was like this sense of all these emotions coming off of my back.”

“All throughout this quarantine and this offseason, I started experiencing emotions I’ve never felt before,” Prescott said. “Anxiety for the main one. And then, honestly, a couple of days before my brother passed, I would say I started experiencing depression. And to the point of, I didn’t want to work out anymore. I didn’t know necessarily what I was going through, to say the least, and hadn’t been sleeping at all.”

Ugh. That is so sad. Any human being with a heart would read that and empathize with Dak. They’d read that and relate to troubling times in their own life. They’d commend him for being open about his struggles. And then there’s Human Garbage Skip Bayless. Here’s what Bayless said instead:

If I understand this right, Bayless thinks that because Dak is supposed to be a leader of his team, he cannot show vulnerabilities. Skip, you are a piece of shit. More than that, you’re dead ass wrong. 

But this isn’t about Skip. We’ve known he sucks for years. Re-read that title up there – this is about how things are changing, finally. Remember the story I told at the start about Nelson Cruz and naps? Trevor Plouffe says that just five years ago, a player trying to take a nap would get laughed at. Now teams have special nap rooms. If you google Skip Bayless today, you’ll see a torrent of stories denouncing him, including a statement by his employer. 20 years ago, I think most people would have publicly agreed with him. But not anymore. What Dak did was courageous – it shows that he is a leader, despite what idiots like Skip might think. Also, naps rule and I wish I could take them more often. -TOB 


Pitching Ninja: An Excellent Twitter Follow

Pitching Ninja is one of the best twitter follows, and if you like baseball, you should do so. My favorite Pitching Ninja thing is when he overlays two pitches by the same pitcher, usually in the same at bat, to show how different pitches move, how late they move, and ultimately how freaking difficult it is to be a hitter in baseball these days. Here’s a recent overlay that blew my friggin mind:

LOLLLLLLLLLLLL. Imagine trying to hit that. A few years ago, we wrote about a new pitching trend called Tunneling, where pitchers try to keep their various pitches in the same “tunnel” until the latest possible moment. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better tunnel, with a later break and more drastic end points, than that overlay of the Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen. It’s absolutely ridiculous. 

And just for fun, here are two more of my all-time favorite overlays:

 

Ok one more that really made me laugh.

LOL. Hitting is hard. -TOB


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Pink Floyd – “Breathe (In the Air)”


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Toby is the instruction card you throw away. 

-Michael Scott

Week of September 4, 2020


R.I.P. Tom Seaver

One of the more rewarding parts of putting together this weekly digest w/ TOB is finding your own experiences in the stories we post, and I definitely found that in T.J. Quinn’s eulogy of Tom Seaver, who died this week. The story is about our first sports hero. For me – as you all know by now – it was Kirby Puckett. For Quinn, it was Seaver.

The best pitcher in the game was on my team, had my name, wore the same cap I had. He would certainly understand why I took a black felt-tip pen and, with great deliberation, consecrated the back of my pinstriped Mets shirt with a ragged “41.”

I never forgave my parents for leaving New York City to move to Iowa (long story), but even in that foreign land, when I traced my finger over the raised orange stitches of the “NY” on my cap, the same as his cap, with “Tom Seaver” scrawled under the brim in black felt-tip pen, I knew he was out there. Until an 8-year-old learned about the oblivious cruelty of the adult world through a trade to the Reds. My parents had Walter O’Malley and I had M. Donald Grant.

Even while he was in Cincinnati, Tom Seaver was mine, and I knew that if he could leave, that meant he could come back. He did come back to the Mets in 1983, and then I learned the agony that comes with wanting something to be the way it was. Seaver was 9-14 that season. It wasn’t such a great year for my parents, either; they split up for good.

We can’t fathom it at the time, but we put so much on our first sports heroes. Innocence, home, belonging, faith, optimism – maybe that’s what a hero is to a kid – a personification of all those ideas we can’t yet articulate and don’t yet realize are limited. 

T.J. Quinn’s first sports hero became a real person to him. Someone he could call and get updates on Seaver’s vineyard grapes or hear a funny story about his wife. To me Kirby remained the first sports hero; rather, my bookmark to a photoshopped memory of the time in my life when I felt pure joy and belief. So when Puckett had his fall from the pedestal before he died young, it shook something deep down, even knowing that – yeah – these guys are not who we’ve built up in our fantasy world. A lot of sports heroes fall. 

In fact, Quinn was mortified this would happen with Seaver. He’d heard the stories from cynical old writers about other legends. 

One of the first things I learned as a young baseball writer was that you’d better be prepared to hear some awful things about the men you admired as a boy. That knowing laugh you’d get from the older writers when you asked if this or that Hall of Famer was a “good guy.” Eventually you stop asking.

So when I was covering the Mets in 1999 and it was announced that Tom Seaver was returning to the club as an announcer and instructor, I had the scars of almost three decades to gird me for one more disappointment, what I knew would be the most painful of all.

Tom Terrific arrived in Port St. Lucie late, and he toured the camp in a chauffeured golf cart as though he were riding in a chariot. He reveled and waved the way Roman gods do and he was clearly pleased that he was Tom Seaver. At the end of the day, we newspaper writers waited in the dugout for our audience. He was late for that, too. I turned to Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post, who shared my age and Mets breeding, and I said, “I don’t care who he is, I’m going to rip him.” Vac nodded.

When Seaver did finally take his seat on the dugout bench, he apologized. He was engaging and charming, but I knew with the insight of a now-jaded 29-year-old sportswriter that this was just the act that legends trot out for those on the outside.

I wish I remembered what I said, but at one point I cracked a little joke and Tom Seaver broke up. Fully and loudly. I blushed. Vac leaned over and whispered, “That was awesome.” I whispered back, “I know.”

No other living person could have made me feel that way. Batman could not have made me feel that way. The 8-year-old who had cried over a baseball trade was still there and couldn’t wait to get to a phone to tell his parents, even if I had to make separate calls to do it.

Tom Seaver thought I was funny. Tom Seaver would come to know my name. 

Quinn’s story is about as heartfelt as you’ll find. I knew Seaver was a great pitcher for the Mets before reading this, but now I care. – PAL Source: Tom Seaver and Why Sometimes You Really Should Meet Your Heroes”, T.J. Quinn, ESPN (09/03/2020)


College Football in 2020: An Interesting Story Just Got…Interestinger

On Wednesday,  the New York Times introduced an upcoming series of stories like so:

In the coming weeks and months, The New York Times will be inside Cal athletics, virtually and on campus — in Zoom meetings, budget discussions and team workouts. The goal is to provide an inside-out view of the unprecedented challenges facing one university — but, really, all of them.

Whoa. Now, that would pique my interest no matter the college, but of course did so 10x because it’s at Cal. I highly recommend you read the first installment because as you might imagine an inside look at a college athletic department trying to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and the problems, both individual and systemic, that have arisen at a place like Cal Athletics is nothing short of dizzying. Reading this I did not envy the people tasked with figuring this out. And I was all set to write about the Pac-12’s decision to cancel/suspend the football season, and the implications for so many people from that decision. And then Thursday happened.

Thursday, the Pac-12 announced a deal that made national headlines. 

The Pac-12 announced a partnership with a testing company that allows schools to test their athletes daily for coronavirus. And those rapid tests could potentially lead to earlier start dates for football, basketball and other sports.

The conference said that it had partnered with Quidel for on-site rapid testing at each of its 12 member schools. The schools will be able to get test results back in 15 minutes.

WHOA! The Pac-12 (and Big-10) canceled/postponed the fall football season, while the other major conferences refused to do so, even as positive COVID-19 tests in their athletic programs continued to rise. But suddenly, the Pac-12 has the opportunity to play – safely. 

Now,  the Pac-12 is not promising a fall season. But reading the tea leaves, it seems these testing protocols could be in place by October 1, allowing teams to begin practicing by that date and playing games by late October. Pac-12 teams could fit 8 games through December, and potentially be part of any playoff. And on top of all that, the NYT series just got infinitely more interesting, going forward.

I had been annoyed that the Pac-12 canceled their season at a time that seemed premature. They could have kept postponing the start. Following the cancellation, Cal had at least a couple seniors transfer to conferences who plan to play this fall. So while I think that sucks, I am also happy that it seems like they are going to try to play the right way. And as problematic as college football is, god damnit that’s exciting. Go Bears! -TOB

Source: Solving a Pandemic Puzzle: Inside the Return of Sports to a Power 5 Program,” NY Times, John Branch (09/02/2020); “Pac-12 Announces Rapid COVID-19 Testing Partnership, Says It’s Exploring Timelines to Start Football Season,” Nick Bromberg, Yahoo! Sports (09/03/2020)

PAL: Just last night, Natalie and I took an evening walk in the Berkeley hills right behind Memorial Stadium. Perfect fall evening. Beautiful. To state the obvious, it’s downright odd to be essentially on campus of a large state school and have it feel that empty. I hope the testing partnership works out, and we can get these athletes back to competing in a safe environment as soon as possible. Any story about progress in terms of testing makes me a bit lighter. 

As we left and drove back, passing by the frat houses, we saw four dudes playing a drinking game in the front yard. It was a welcome sight, one immediately followed by concern. That’s a pretty common swing of emotions these days – a semblance of normal followed immediately by a dousing of concern. 


Alternative Sites in an Alternative Year

You might know that, given the pandemic, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was canceled. But teams didn’t want to let their best prospects be idle for a year, so they each organized one “Alternate Site,” at one of their minor league complexes. Each Alternate Site only gets between 24-30 players per day, which makes it difficult to train. But exactly how these Alternate Sites have existed has been a bit of a mystery, until this great article by Keith Law. 

Law interviews a number of MLB team executives to discuss how the Alternate Sites are operating. The answers are intriguing, revealing what teams value and don’t value. Many teams dotted their Alternate Site slots with top prospects who are not anywhere near helping the big league team. But there’s a reason for that, as the Giants illustrate:

The Giants also have a number of very young hitting prospects at their alternate site, including Marco Luciano, Alex Canario and Luis Toribio…“It’s a huge growth opportunity for them as they see the difference between rookie ball and major-league players. We have a more aggressive weightlifting program for them as well. They don’t need to be ready for the ML tomorrow, so we don’t have to worry about overwork, and we can do more one-on-one instruction and early work for guys who are less in the ‘stay ready’ category.”

Really smart. There are a lot of other interesting anecdotes – I highly recommend the article! -TOB

Source: Law: A Look Inside Life at Baseball’s ‘Alternate Sites’,” Keith Law, The Athletic (08/19/2020)


Video(s) of the Week

And the obligatory:


Tweet of the Week

The Giants scored 23 runs on Tuesday. Here’s the radio call of all of ‘em. At the same time.


Song of the Week

Chris Stapleton – “Starting Over”


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“Who is Kafkaesque? I never – I don’t know him.”

-Michael Scott

Week of August 7, 2020

Arnie and His Army at the 1963 San Francisco International Open.


Is College Football On the Brink?

The world is crazy right now, this country especially. Professional sports are back and none of us know if this is good or not – I am enjoying the hell out of baseball, but I don’t know if I should, as the players and employees risk their lives and those of their loved ones so I can sit here on a Wednesday night, watching a 21-year old pitcher on my fantasy team make his MLB debut and throw 99 MPH in front of a stadium peppered with cardboard cutouts of Padres fans, and Padres fans’ dogs. I can assuage my guilt by reminding myself that professional players are paid a lot of money to play, and they are being tested every other day to help ensure safety (the use of test and testing facility resources in order to play these sports is another discussion for another day).

And there is college football. Last week, a group of Pac-12 football players published a list of demands that they say must be met or they will sit out the season. They claim to have hundreds of Pac-12 players on board, which would end the Pac-12 season. The demands are wide-ranging with varying levels of feasibility in both the short and long terms, including 50/50 revenue sharing, extended health care, and COVID-19 protections. The last one is probably the most pressing because as the Ringer’s Rodger Sherman puts it:

[T]here appears to be no discernible plan at all. The players will not compete in a contained bubble, the approach used by the NBA, WNBA, NHL, NWSL, and MLS. There are no uniform testing procedures; some schools had dozens of players test positive for COVID-19 and kept practicing, while some schools aren’t even testing players at all. … During a pandemic, thousands of unpaid athletes, who are predominantly Black, are being asked to risk their health to make money for their coaches and administrators, who overwhelmingly are white. When you say it out loud, it’s bad.

College football has torn me apart inside for quite some time. On the one hand, I freaking love it. I love heading to Berkeley six or seven Saturdays a year, having a beer at the Faculty Club, and dragging my entire family up the hill to the stadium to cheer on the Bears. But over the last decade, as we’ve learned more and more about the danger football poses to athletes’ brain health, and I consider the fact that I don’t think I could possibly let my own kids play the sport… college football also feels really, really wrong. When you add to that the fact players aren’t paid anything other than a free education and room and board, man. It’s bad. And now we want them to play during a pandemic, without any of the safety protocol in place in professional sports? How can we do this?

Many of the arguments against paying players center on how hard it’d be to do (e.g., there are Title IX implications (colleges have to fund men’s and women’s sports equally…how can they do that if they start paying football players; college football and men’s basketball revenue funds every other sport, men and women, so what happens to those sports if football and basketball players are paid from that revenue). 

But so what if it’s hard. Players must be paid. Players need to be paid and colleges/Congress need to find a way around Title IX in doing so. The NFL should also foot some of the bill – they’ve enjoyed their free minor league long enough (plus, money from the NFL could conceivably be paid directly to players, skirting Title IX implications). 

I hope college football survives, but if it does it needs to change. Just because something was done a certain way for 150 years doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. Yes, Cal might lose football. And that would suck. I would be extremely sad. But I can’t put my happiness twelve Saturdays a year over the well-being of approximately 13,000 FBS football players all over the country, risking their health and well-being in exchange for nothing more than an education. If they get paid, I think it flips the balance enough for me. Whatever changes happens to college football in exchange for doing the right thing, I’ll live with that. -TOB

Source: College Football Needs to Change. The Pac-12’s Players Are Making That Happen,” Rodger Sherman, The Ringer (08/04/2020)

PAL: There’s so much to love about college football until you stop to think about it. The only reason we’re talking about the potential for college football this fall is money. That’s it. This is only about money, and that money depends on college players showing up to work. 

I hope the players step up to this moment. They have the stage and real leverage. This is the time to pressure the NCAA to move faster than the bare minimum. Yes, it will cost many of them dearly in the form of scholarshipsand a football future cast in doubt. But if they want to really force a change and make a generational impact, now is the time. 


What’s In A Name

By the time you’re reading this, we’re well into the first major sporting event in the COVID era: The PGA Championship is being played in San Francisco, and it’s being played at a municipal course, no less, which is pretty cool. It’s not everyday that hacks like myself have every opportunity to play the same course the best of the best play – many major tournaments are played on private courses or resort courses. 

Harding Park has an especially interesting backstory, and is connected to a president who famously died in San Francisco. 

Juuuuuuust going to plop this down here: 

The golf course being constructed seven miles from the president’s deathbed 97 years ago was soon christened Harding Park, during a bygone era when naming things for presidents was done with little debate or consideration. 

That this most somber of summers should be linked, even tenuously, to Harding and the strangeness of 1923 feels about right.

Harding, a former Republican senator from Ohio, had little in the way of a platform when he ran for the White House in 1920 other than a “return to normalcy.” He was viewed as a tax-cutting, anti-immigrant nationalist who, in the wake of World War I, did not want the United States to be part of the postwar League of Nations. He was rumored to have had affairs (and at least one out-of-wedlock child) and was soon surrounded by scandal throughout his administration. (Curious? Start by Googling “Teapot Dome.”) He was not considered a deep thinker and was prone to rambling. He liked to play golf.

Time is a circle. 

Anyway, While I’ve never played the course, it’s cool that Harding ($65 if you’re a SF resident) is smack dab in the middle of a bunch of super prestigious private clubs, and the muni is considered the best plot of land of them all. After some real low times – budget cuts and lack of love left the once legendary course in such disrepair that its fairways were used as a parking lot for the 1998 U.S. Open held across the street at Olympic Club. Much like its namesake, the course was all but forgotten. 

But the bones of a great course remained, and they brought it back to its oceanside, cypress tree glory for the tournament. – PAL 

Source: A Memorable Golf Course Honors A Forgotten President”, John Branch, The New York Times (08/05/2020)

TOB: My neighbor, Paul, has one of the resident cards and has been bugging me to get one so that we can go. My game is so so so bad that I just can’t stomach the thought of hacking my way up the fairways at such a nice course. But reading this article had me reconsidering. 

Another interesting wrinkle to the pandemic is the utter lack of fanfare around the tournament. Or, being mostly stuck in my house, as far as I know anyways. When the U.S. Open was across the street at the Olympic a few years back, you could not miss it. The logos were everywhere. People were excited. Now, I had no idea the tournament was being held this week until a Sportscenter preview on Wednesday night. “Oh yeah.” Weird.


Big In Japan: Prospect Gamble Pays Off In Pandemic

Last year, Carter Stewart made a bold decision. After being selected 8th overall in the 2018 MLB draft and turning down $2M from the Braves, the 6’ 6” right-handed pitcher decided to not re-enter the draft in 2019. Instead, he signed a 6-year, $7M deal to play professionally in Japan. At the time, it was an unprecedented decision in baseball (we’ve seen basketball prospects go overseas recently instead of playing college ball). Per Joon Lee of ESPN: 

Not signing with an MLB team was a risk, but it gave Stewart an opportunity to prove himself in Japan, skip the years of low pay and uncertainty in the minor leagues, and set up a potential return to the United States on a lucrative free-agent deal.

Things are a bit different these days. Or, as Michael Scott puts it, ‘how the turn tables.’ 

Now, with the minor league season cancelled due to the pandemic, Stewart is competing in Japan, where the virus is much more under control (just over 1,000 total deaths for a population of 125MM people). He’s getting paid a fair wage to play in actual games, work on his game. That would not be the case if he’d signed with a MLB team. 

Also, not for nothing – but he’s a young guy getting exposed to a new culture, learning a new language, picking up cooking, all while learning how to be a professional. Seems like a lot of positives. While I can understand it might get lonely for a young kid that far from home and his family not being able to visit, his dad sums it up pretty well: 

“It’s amazing all these kids that normally would be at school are here or they’re all working at Home Depot and Domino’s,” Pat says. “And I mean not just the baseball kids. I’m talking about all the college kids. But yeah, I mean I think it truly is a blessing that he’s where he is right now, because he could literally be sitting here twiddling his thumbs.”

More money, more baseball experience, more life experience. Win-win-win. – PAL

Source: “Carter Stewart Ditched the MLB Draft to Pitch in Japan; Then Came the Coronavirus”, Joon Lee, ESPN (08/06/2020)

TOB: How long have Phil and I have been doing this damn thing? So long that we have forgotten the stories we have written about. We were chatting on the phone Thursday night and he told me he was writing about this story. “Wow, interesting idea by this kid,” I said. Then after a few more seconds of it tumbling around in my brain I said, “Wait, didn’t we write about this kid when he first decided to skip the draft?” “I don’t think so,” Phil replied. But after we hung up I checked the archives, and here it is: May 24, 2019 – “Smash the Draftiarchy!” (An inspired title, to pat myself on the back). My take at the time, “If he’s good, he’ll be ready to make big bucks. If he’s not, well he made an extra $3 million and got to experience the world. Plus, he doesn’t spend the next few years riding around the country on a bus. Win-win-win!” Phil’s take: “That’s just a big kettle of hoppy common sense.”

The cool thing here is that this week’s article is a follow-up. Carter’s gamble has paid off, big time. To paraphrase the band Pain: He bet on himself and he’s making a killing.

Basketball’s 3-Point Chess Match

Sports innovations always come in waves, with offenses innovating and defenses adapting. The rise of the 3-point shot has completely changed the way the NBA is played: 

In 13 years, from 2000-01 to 2013-14, the NBA’s average 3-point rate (the percentage of total field goal attempts that were 3s) rose 8.9 percentage points, from 17.0 to 25.9. The next season Curry won his first MVP. In six seasons since, the NBA’s average 3-point rate has jumped from 26.8 to 38.2. That’s an 11.4-percentage-point increase in nearly half as much time.

Defenses responded by attempting to make shooters uncomfortable – closing out on shooters aggressively, trying to run them off the 3-point line and force them to take a long-two or a mid-range shot. 

Recently, offenses threw their counterpunch: the one dribble 3-pointer. 

The mentality manifests in a snippet of NBA parlance that coaches, skill trainers, and a growing number of players abide by: Keep a 3 a 3. Rather than drive into the paint or pull up from midrange, it’s better to evade the defender’s closeout or shot contest with one dribble, stay behind the arc, and let it fly. The shot isn’t simple or easy. It has to be launched in a nanosecond against determined opponents with long arms who are keen to invade personal space. Before they close in, the shooter must recapture a rhythm that was momentarily lost.

The numbers back this up, as the Ringer’s Michael Pina notes:

  • Six seasons ago, all 30 teams launched two or fewer one-dribble 3s per game. This season, every single team averaged more.
  • During the 2017-18 seasons, 18 teams took one-dribble 3s as 3 percent or less of their overall shot distribution.
  • Two seasons ago, five players averaged at least one one-dribble 3 per game. That number has ballooned to 20 this season.
  • The Golden State Warriors led the league at 2.7 percent of their shot distribution when they won it all in 2015. Five years later, 2.7 percent would rank no. 29 in the league.

Interesting article. -TOB

Source: The Rise of the One-Dribble 3-Pointer,” Michael Pina, The Ringer (08/05/2020)

PAL: Great example of the tweaks we as fans don’t immediately recognize, where the game is actually changing. This endless battle between offense and defense, right now is separated by a single dribble. Fun to think if it in that way. I think this is the first I’ve read from Pina. Good writer.


Pujols Was a Man Among Boys

I came across a funny stat this week: Albert Pujols’ numbers as a high school senior. Pujols, of course, was a phenom the moment he hit the majors as a 21-year old, finishing fourth in that year’s MVP voting. A few years prior, Pujols and his family moved to Missouri when he was 16 Unsurprisingly, Albert wrecked the league. 

He hit eight home runs in just 33-at bats and had FIFTY-FIVE intentional walks. Fifty five intentional walks against just 33 official at-bats!? That is outrageous. One of my favorite things about sports is imagining the prodigies just destroying the local high school kids, on their way to the pros. Pujols’ numbers may be the funniest yet. -TOB

PAL: The sight of him holding an aluminum bat is terrifying. Imagine playing 3B when he stepped into the box. No thank you.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Billy Strings – “Enough To Leave”


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“It seems awfully mean. But sometimes the ends justify the mean.”

Michael Scott

 

Week of July 31, 2020


Baseball Without Fans is Weird, But It’s Worse Than That

Grant Brisbee went to the Giants’ home opener this week, and wrote about how deeply weird it was to attend a major league game with no fans. But what really got to him was not the lack of fans in and of itself, but the realization of the impact this has had on all the people who depend on sports to scratch out a living:

There are no cardboard cutouts for the workers who aren’t there, the vendors and the people behind the concession stands. When I was a vendor at Candlestick in 1998, I saw how hard they worked. Back then, there was a pre-game draft to see who would sell what, and the first pick went to the person with the most consecutive games. I was very much part-time, so I would be stuck with the bottled water during night games. They did not sell like hotcakes. They sold like ice-cold water at a Candlestick night game. But there were astounding, Cal Ripken-like streaks among the vendors, and they got the hot dogs for the night games and the malts for the day games. They earned them, and the commissions were sweet.

And while I’m sure this has changed over the last two decades, but you could absolutely make a living as a vendor. You just had to hustle. And do Stanford games when they fit into your schedule, and Cal games, and Earthquakes games. When some weird EPL exhibition came rolling through, they were there. I would lope through the stands half-heartedly, just to get to the eighth inning, where I could turn my stuff in and grab a seat for the final two innings. They would charge up and down the stairs, even during the Tuesday night games against the Expos, knowing that every bag of peanuts sold was a few cents in their pocket. They would be there every weekend, and when the Giants were off, they would be somewhere else, doing the same thing.

They’re devastated. Emotionally, financially. Devastated. Stadium workers will get a one-time grant, or a couple hundred bucks a month, and the unemployment will help if it keeps coming, which isn’t guaranteed. But it’s one thing to remember that fans were supposed to be in the seats instead of cardboard cutouts. It’s another to remember how many livelihoods depended on the sport. Still depend on the sport.

And things aren’t much better outside the stadium:

The local devastation is at its thickest as you cross the Lefty O’Doul bridge toward Lot A. There are no bacon-wrapped hot dogs that curl up in a cloud like a cartoon finger underneath your nose. There used to be a line of them. There used to be a guy who drummed on buckets for cash, and he would always draw a crowd. There would be other musicians and street performers. Across the bridge would be the people selling bootleg apparel, and they wouldn’t be doing it, night after night, in the cold, if it wasn’t helping them navigate life in some capacity. And seeing as they don’t sell a Misfits/Giants mashup shirt inside, I was thrilled to have them. But there’s no foot traffic, so they aren’t there.

This experience was understandably troubling. Despite getting texts from friends and family telling him how lucky he was to see a game in person, he wasn’t so sure:

I’ll go again this year, COVID-willing. But right now, I’m kind of looking forward to pushing a button, listening to some fake crowds, studying a few sliders, then pushing the button to turn it off, while thinking about nothing but the snacks in my well-stocked fridge. I can do this because I’m spoiled. I don’t need to be reminded that baseball exists in the real world, because I’ve always lived in a fantasy world, even in the Before Times, writing about sportsball instead of getting a job.

But baseball does exist in the real world, and that place right now? Kind of a mess. The baseball is normal, but the devastation is not.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Giants Baseball is the Same, For Better or For Worse; Everything Else is Not,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (07/29/2020)

PAL: Excellent stuff from Brisbee. Another portion that really landed:

There was baseball played, and there wasn’t much missing in the actual game. It was like a single spire in the middle of a limitless canyon, though. The games on TV, with the piped-in noise and the humanoid shapes, helped me forget for three hours at a time this week. The live game did the same, but only while it was going on. It’s everything from before and after the game that made me prefer the TV experience.


.01

The other night, Natalie and I watched The Weight of Gold, the HBO doc about olympic athletes and their mental health struggles after the olympics are over and everything their lives have been built around is removed. And while the doc was good-not-great, it was very clear the timing of the release was geared towards playing just before the summer games, which of course reminded me that we should be sharing the best of the best from the olympics and paralympics right about this time. 

So the olympics were on my mind when I came across this exceptionally-written story about Milorad Cavic. Name sound familiar, but can’t quite place it?

He’s the guy who Michael Phelps beat by .01 of a second in the 100M butterfly in Beijing. It was Phelps’ seventh of the eight golds he would end up winning in those games, surpassing Mark Spitz record and solidifying his place as one the absolute greatest U.S. Olympic athletes of all time (but watch out for Simone Biles). 

This is a story about that guy. The Cal guy with dual citizenship in Serbia and the U.S.. The guy that went out fast, knowing the race would come down to whether or not he could hold off a late Phelps kick. The guy who may have touched the wall first (just not hard enough), and the guy Phelps hasn’t spoken to since. He’s treated as a hero in Serbia. He lived there for a bit after Beijing. Now he’s a swim coach in Washington, and he’ trying to reconcile with that one one-hundredth of second – to be recognized for the race he swam – for being in that moment with Phelps – while not letting that one one-hundredth define him, because he was hardly more than a kid then, and that can’t be what his life is about. 

 

This John Gonzalez story is one of my favorites from the year so far. Please read it. Some highlights for me:

On the review of the finish, and the main reason for the lingering conspiracy about the results. After the race, the Serbian coach and Serbia’s chief of mission (odd title, I know) went to the control room: 

Schubert figured there would be an immediate protest launched by the Serbian side challenging the results. Mike Bottom assumed the same thing. He coached Cavic at Cal, and he was in attendance as a coach for the Croatian team. Bottom immediately sought out Branislav Jevtic, Serbia’s chief of mission for the Olympics. “I had to grab hold of [him] and basically put him against the wall and say, ‘You have to protest this,’” said Bottom, now the head coach at the University of Michigan. 

That’s what happened. Initially. In the control room at the Beijing Olympics, officials monitored races and had the capacity to roll back footage in the event of disputed results. That process was supervised by Omega, the official timer of the games—and a longtime sponsor of Michael Phelps.

There are differing accounts about what happened next. Schubert, Bottom, and Cavic all agree that Schubert marched into the control room, where Schubert said Omega refused to show anyone the footage and that officials from the company maintained the system operated correctly. Good enough for Schubert, who said he left—and left Bottom behind in the room.

“Bullshit,” Bottom said when I relayed Schubert’s recollection, insisting he was never inside the control room. “That’s bullshit. That’s total bullshit. That’s absolutely bullshit. I was protesting. But they were not letting me in that room. They did not let me in that room. Only Schubert went to see it. Now, there might have been other people in there, but I sure as hell wasn’t in there. If I had been in there, I wouldn’t have the feelings I have today. I would have seen the actual finish from the Omega cameras, which no one, even the next day, got to see.”

That last part became a publicity problem that fueled the ensuing controversy. Omega and FINA, the governing body of international swimming, refused to release the footage. At first, Omega told The New York Times it would provide footage to journalists, only to reverse course and claim “FINA decided not to release any timekeeping images to the media.” According to the Times, a reporter from the International Herald Tribune tracked down Cornel Marculescu, then FINA’s executive director. Marculescu was defiant and declared that Phelps was “the winner no doubt” and stated, incredibly and on the record, “Even if you could see the pictures, I don’t know how you could use them.”

And later, more on the touchpads:

The real culprit here, the cause of all this controversy as far as Cavic and Bottom are concerned, was the Omega timing system itself. It is also the official system of the NCAA and FINA and has a near stranglehold on global competitive swimming—which drives Bottom mad because he believes there are better timing pads on the market. He mapped out the mechanics—the system, which he called “the worst pads being made right now,” are activated when the swimmer touches the plastic exterior, sending a signal to a metal plate that stops the clock—but all you really need to know is that a certain amount of force is required to trigger the timer. According to Omega’s press booklet, “just 1.5-2.5 kg is enough to immediately stop the clock.” That works out to 3.3 to 5.5 pounds of pressure. In theory, it is possible that Cavic touched the pad first, but Phelps touched it harder when he threw in a half-chop stroke at the very end while Cavic glided into the wall. Schubert subscribed to that notion; he said, “We see light touches all the time.” Meanwhile, Bottom—who wanted it noted that there are “no sour grapes” and called Phelps “a friend of mine”—questioned whether there was an issue with that specific timer in that specific lane at those specific games.

Bottom had a good reason to remain curious. That very next day in 2008, in the very same lane 4 in which Cavic had glided to the wall, American Dara Torres placed second in the 50-meter freestyle. She also lost by one one-hundredth of a second. Torres won 12 Olympic medals over the course of five games from 1984 to 2008. It was the slimmest margin she had ever lost by in a career that spanned more than three decades.

The day before her race, Torres watched Cavic and Phelps and couldn’t believe the result. She kept thinking to herself that it had to be “the worst feeling in the world to lose that way.” She was right. For years, she said she was “consumed” by it and what she could have done differently. Where Cavic still thinks about picking up his head and gliding into the wall, Torres obsesses over whether she had touched the wall hard enough. In the final race she ever swam before retiring, the anchor leg of the 4×100 meter freestyle relay in Beijing, she made sure to hit the wall as hard as possible—and subsequently bent back her thumb, tearing a ligament. She had surgery after returning to the States.

But more than all of this controversy, I was drawn to what seems to bother Cavic the most: not being acknowledged by the man who was .01 faster than he was on that day. More than a gold medal, that’s what seems to weigh heaviest on him, that’s what has his thoughts seem to orbit when it comes to that race and what’s taken place thereafter: 

“People ask me, what kind of guy is he? I have no idea what kind of guy he is,” Cavic said. “You have no clue who that is. You can call it a rivalry, but dammit, other rivalries they can talk. They can shoot the shit. We don’t need to talk about the race. I just want to know the person that, until the rest of my life, I’m going to be pegged to.”

Cavic yearns “for human connection.” The way he explained it, he and Phelps went on a journey together, one only the two of them truly understand. Being denied that connection has deeply frustrated Cavic. He still wonders “why did this guy never want to talk to me?” During one of our interviews, he openly daydreamed about calling Phelps. Maybe he’d tease Phelps and say, “I won that fucking race,” and maybe Phelps would bust his balls and say, “Nah, I got you.” Cavic called Phelps “the GOAT” and “the father of gods” and “one badass motherfucker.” For better or worse, and whether they liked it or not, they crossed paths in a meaningful way. Cavic acknowledged all of it, but he freely admitted he longs to have that same professional courtesy returned. He told me “that’s essentially what the greatest want”—to be “acknowledged by their peers.” All these years, Cavic has waited for a nod that never came, one to signal “I was a worthy adversary and that I just was as much a part of his story as he was a part of mine.” 

“I can’t say why it bothers me,” Cavic said. It sounded to me like he just had.

A fantastic read. – PAL 

Source: Hitting The Wall”, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (07/29/20)


Has The Designated Hitter Finally Prevailed? 

This MLB season promises to be crazy for any number of reasons, but one small detail I haven’t spent much time thinking about until now is how the NL will employ the designated hitter for all games this year. A temporary rule to lighten the load on pitchers and to bring some form of uniformity to schedules with an even higher portion interleague play than usual. 

Next year, we’ll get back to normal, right? Not so fast. As Claire McNear outlines in her story for The Ringer, the DH was meant to be a trial in the American League back in the day. 

It is, in theory, a temporary change. But given that the MLB players’ association pitched the introduction of the universal DH just last year, and that owners at the very least seemed open to negotiating, it’s entirely possible that the DH is here to stay in the NL; an early 2020 proposal by the MLBPA that was ultimately not adopted also included it in 2021. In the AL, too, the adoption was initially meant to be temporary, beginning with a three-year trial period. But after just one season, AL owners were so delighted by the buzz that the DH created that they made the change permanent.

I grew up on DH baseball, and I’ve watched the Giants play NL ball for the last 15 years. The DH makes the game less interesting, and any rationale advocating for its inclusion falls short on the only part I care about: watching the game in its most interesting form. Adding the DH to the NL brings us one step further down a dark road that has made home run highlights bland, hit-and-runs obscure, starting pitchers grinding out a seventh inning unheard of, and strikeouts nothing to be ashamed of. We need more approaches and interpretations to the game, not less. – PAL

Source:A Brief History of the Arguments About the Designated Hitter”, Claire McNear, The Ringer (07/22/2020)


Gabe Kapler’s Decision to Kneel During the Anthem is Not an Empty Gesture

As you may recall, after Gabe Kapler was hired in December he gave an interview that had me ALL over the place. He said some REALLY vapid sounding things, but then said some things that had me very encouraged. Six games into this season, I’m pleased with him as a manager, though the same size is small. But more than that I am happy that he’s the leader of my favorite team. 

Last week, Kapler became the first coach of any major sport to kneel during the national anthem in support of the BLM movement. That week, Kapler posted a very powerful message on Twitter, that suggested to me his decision to kneel was not just lip service.

And in the days since, I read this very interesting story about Kapler’s parents, Judy and Michael. Both were very involved in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement:

“And I developed, at a very young age, very, very strong feelings about how unfair our society was,’’ Judy said. “I don’t think that the phrase ‘systemic racism’ existed at that time, but it was very clear that everything was not equal.”

So, Judy joined the fight. She got a job with the Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade Committee, which coordinated anti-war parades. That’s where she met Michael, idealistic and freshly arrived from Los Angeles, and the two enjoyed a courtship with a distinctly ’60s bent.

“We went to demonstrations. We connected,’’ said Judy, who spoke for the two of them in this interview. “And don’t forget, it was the late ’60s. The women’s movement was happening, and everything was happening. Stokely Carmichael was happening. Malcolm X was happening. The Black Panthers were happening.

“So there was a lot of peaceful and non-peaceful stuff going on. I aligned myself, as did Michael, with peaceful protests and the right to stand up for things we thought were important and valid.”

As a result, Judy bore witness to some of the biggest events of a tumultuous decade. 

There was King’s landmark speech. 

“It was amazing. It was beyond amazing,’’ she said. “It was moving and it was everything you probably feel when you hear it now. … It was just being there and being amongst the hundreds of thousands of people who really were understanding the terrible inequality that existed in the country and how people had to come together to make a difference.”

There was the March on Washington to end the Vietnam War in 1965.

“I organized all the transportation that went from New York to Washington,’’ Judy said. “I was in charge of all the buses and all the trains and all the cars. That was my job. Thousands and thousands and thousands (of people) … I was young and had a lot of energy.” 

There was the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where thousands of protestors rallied against the Vietnam War and the political status quo.

“What I was doing there, interestingly enough, was working for the National Lawyers Guild, volunteering,’’ Judy said. “I was bailing people out of jail. The mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley, was arresting them and beating on them. And I was sitting in a courtroom and bailing them out of jail.” 

That is really cool. And as a parent there are certainly some lessons to be learned from Judy and Michael:

In a way, this is what his parents wanted, far more so than raising a professional athlete. Michael used to teach his youngest boy to question authority, to never follow blindly. The lessons were hardly subtle. When Gabe was in elementary school, his father guided him through the pledge of allegiance, asking him to scrutinize every word, especially the final six: “… with liberty and justice for all.” Was that really true?

“And this is how it all ended,” Judy Kapler said by phone on Saturday. “With Gabe really deciding he had an opportunity to make a difference. That’s what he did and I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Me neither. -TOB

Source: How His Parents’ 1960s Protesting Shaped Gabe Kapler’s Decision to Kneel,” Daniel Brown, The Athletic (07/20/2020)


Re-Examining My Support of the Promotion/Relegation System

For years, I thought the English soccer league’s promotion/relegation system was incredible. The bottom few teams of each league get sent down each season to the next-tier league, and the top few teams of each league move up. In theory, it keeps teams from tanking, and gives smaller teams a dream to dream on. 

But then I watched the first two seasons of Sunderland Till I Die, an excellent Netflix series that provided a behind the scenes look at Sunderland Football Club in the season after their relegation from the Premier League (England’s top league) to the Championship (the second league). The demotion was so devastating – affecting the players, the coaches, the trainers, and even non-football side employees like cafeteria workers and salespeople. It even devastated the town’s proud fanbase. The city was already going through a Detroit-like, decades long recession (its heyday as a ship-making hotspot had long since passed). Making matters worse, in the season covered by Season 1, Sunderland was relegated again. Just one year removed from the Premier league, the storied club would now be playing in League One (England’s third league; confusing, I know).

And I realized: relegation is not just an interesting thing for fans to follow. It has severe effects on the club and the surrounding economy, as laid out by this article in the Athletic. Relegation costs a team an estimated $130 million. If you’ve been in the EPL for a while and get sent down, it’s a major shock to the system. One executive likened it to “trying to catch a falling knife.” The money dries up and as you can imagine major layoffs ensue. Without the money to pay coaches and scouts, you can’t find new players. Forget about paying for better players. A vicious downward spiral ensues. In one extreme case, Bradford Football Club found itself in the fourth division just six years after being relegated out of the Premier League in 2001. They have never recovered, though did manage to get back to League One (remember, the third tier).

So, while relegation/promotion seems fun for fans, that doesn’t seem to be worth enough to overcome the wide-ranging negative effects of the yo-yoing of the teams on the fringes.

‘Like Trying to Catch a Falling Knife’: The Fallout of Premier League Relegation,” Daniel Taylor and more, The Athletic (07/25/2020)


The Rarest of Baseball Plays

Baseball’s back! Kinda. I mean, it’s nice to have the games on. And there’s something disturbingly comforting to shaking my head at the Giants pooping one down its leg against the Dodgers. I’m also very much looking forward to posting stories about new sporting events, but here’s a history pull from Phil Miller. 

The subheading from Miller’s Star Tribune says it all: “It hadn’t been done before the Twins did it July 17, 1990, and it hasn’t happened since.”

The ‘it’ refers to the Twins turning two triple plays in one game. It hadn’t happened in the more than 134,000 MLB games prior, and it hasn’t happened in the roughly 67,000 games since. There aren’t many singular occurrences in a game with the longevity baseball celebrates.

As Miller points out, what’s even more odd is how ho-hum both triple plays are. In both cases, Gaetti get’s high hop to his right at 3B, bringing him to third base pretty much in stride, then throws to 2B for the quick turn to 1B. Hell, the runners are even moving on the pitch in the second triple play, and it’s not even close at any base: 

What’s most charming about this story is our guy, Kent Hrbek. Underrated mullet in the 80s. The ultimate air conditioner commercial guy in Minnesota, is just the best. On the triple plays, Hrbek had this to say: “It’s a cool memory, but you don’t hear about it much anymore. It had to be the Twins, who never get any praise anyway. If the Yankees had done it, they’d have it on TV every day.” 

Ain’t that the truth. 

Also I would love to hear any other singular events in baseball. Send them our way! – PAL 

Source:Kent Hrbek Savors a 30-year-old Memory: Two Triple Plays in a Game”, Phil Miller, Star Tribune (07/17/2020)


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet(s) of the Week


Song of the Week

Mandolin Orange – ‘The Wolves’


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Man became civilized for a reason. He decided that he liked to have warmth, and clothing, and television, and hamburgers, and to walk upright, and to have a soft futon at the end of the day. He didn’t want to have to struggle to survive. I don’t need the woods. I have a nice wood desk. I don’t need fresh air, because I have the freshest air around, A.C. And I don’t need wide open spaces. Check it out. [shows off computer screen scenery] I can also make it the sky.

-Michael Scott

Week of July 10, 2020

Ozzie Albies showing why he’s TOB’s favorite player to watch.


A Crazy, Sad Story, That Keeps Getting Crazier and Sadder

You may remember the headlines. A few years ago, in Sanford, a small town in Maine, a car drove onto a youth baseball field and sped around the infield as the children and umpires on the field scattered. The car, driven by Caroll Sharrow, eventually exited the diamond, without anyone physically hurt. But as it tried to leave the parking lot of the field, a 68-year old man sprinted down from the bleachers and tried to close and lock the gate, apparently in hopes of preventing the car from escaping and killing someone elsewhere. But the car did not stop. It plowed  through the gate and the man was thrown high into the air, landing forty feet away, in the middle of the street, as blood pooled around him. He died on the way to the hospital.

That man’s name was Douglas Parkhurst. Parkhurst had not lived in Maine long, having moved from upstate New York just a few years prior. He did so in the hopes of escaping a past that had haunted him for the previous 50 years. That past had recently been dredged up, and Parkhurst could not fully own up to his mistake: on Halloween night in 1968, Parkhurst was driving, his brother in the backseat, when his car struck a 4-year old girl, Carolee Ashby, killing her. Parkhurst did not stop, never came forward, never apologized. He escaped, but the incident did not escape him. It tortured him for the rest of his life, and many theorize the reason he tried to stop the car that killed him was to, in some way, make up for the pain he had caused 50 years prior, and every day since.

This a wonderfully reported, enthralling story. I highly recommend you read it all. It delves into everything leading up to Parkhurst’s death: the pain the Ashby family endured, especially her older sister who was in charge of Carolee when she was dead; the pain Douglas Parkhurst caused his own family as he struggled with the guilt of what he had done back in 1968; the pain and mental illness that brought Caroll Sharrow to that baseball field that day; and the aftermath of all of it, including a disturbing revelation the author realizes about what really happened to Carolee Ashby the night she died. 

There’s also an hour-long ESPN E:60 piece on this, and it’s very good. But the story is better. Do yourself a favor and read it. -TOB

Source: The Hero of Goodall Park,” Tom Junod, ESPN (07/07/2020)

PAL: That is a beast of a story, woven through decades. One line above all others sticks to me: “[T]he burden doesn’t go away. It just goes to someone else.”


Shouldn’t Endowments Be Made For Times Like This? 

While I was back in Minnesota over July 4, I took great pleasure in shuffling down my parents driveway in the morning to pick up the hard copy of the newspaper. A day after returning to Oakland, I was back at my laptop reading the Star Tribune when I came across a Bay Area – Minnesota sports connection. 

On Wednesday, Tyler Eichens was in his hometown of Andover, MN, when he received an email from the Stanford athletic department about an emergency meeting. Shortly thereafter, the redshirt freshman learned that varsity wrestling would be one of the 11 sports teams cut from Stanford’s department as a result of financial challenges due to COVID-19. 

Stanford has an endowment of something in the neighborhood of $40B. TOB explained that endowments are given for specific uses. “Legally, they can’t take endowments for, say, the philosophy dept. and dump it into athletics.” I understand why that is important. I do, but I also can’t get over the idea that a school like that, with an endowment of $40B, which also charges north of $65K per year for tuition + room and board, is cutting non-revenue sports while citing the pandemic as the reason. But also, there’s this:

“The financial model supporting 36 varsity sports is not sustainable,” Stanford’s announcement stated. “The average Division I athletics program sponsors 18 varsity sports. Many of our peers at the Power Five level are supported by budgets that are much larger than ours while operating far fewer sports.”

When an institution is taking your money, it will never look to align itself to what other average institutions do; when it’s time to make cuts, it will always look to the average as justification. 

Something about this doesn’t add up, and this feels like maybe the athletic department just might be taking advantage of the pandemic to cut sports in order to focus their budgets on financially competing in football. 

So where does that leave Eichens? Assuming winter sports go on this year, he will be back to wrestle for Stanford, and then he’ll have a tough decision to make. 

“I’m not ready to end my wrestling career, but a degree from Stanford is an amazing opportunity,” he said. “It’s not an easy choice.”

Of course, Stanford is a private institution. I give it more leeway to do what it wants with its funds, but it just seems like there’s more than enough money to bridge the gap here. Is money really ever going to be an issue at Stanford? If it wants to be held in the same esteem as Harvard (40 varsity sports), Princeton (36), or Brown (36) – all of whom are suspending fall sports in 2020 but not canceling teams as far as I know – then I wonder if the ultimate purpose of the athletic department should go beyond pretending to compete with the big boys of college football. – PAL 

Source: Former Anoka Wrestler Tyler Eischens Blindsided When Stanford Drops Wrestling, 10 Other Sports”, Jim Paulsen, The Star Tribune (07/09/2020)

TOB: A caveat before I begin: Phil and I briefly discussed the Stanford story, and I was champing at the bit to argue why the school cutting 11 sports is not a big deal, and is in fact good. And then I read this, and realized the story is focused on wrestling, and some of the wind went out of my sails. This is because, of the 11 sports Stanford is cutting, wrestling is the one sport that my argument does not apply to. 

With that said, take a look at the other ten sports being cut: men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball. I mean, fencing? Synchronized swimming? Sailing!? These athletes undoubtedly work very hard and I am not denigrating their sport or their effort, but how many colleges across the country have these teams? Who were they competing against

But here’s the point: all of those sports, except wrestling (and, perhaps, men’s volleyball), are what are commonly referred to as country club sports. These are sports that wealthy families have realized they should have their kids compete in because even at Stanford, being good at a sport, even a sport like fencing or squash, provides an upperhand in admissions. These wealthy kids already have so many advantages, and the ability to pay for fencing lessons or synchronized swimming or sailing is just another leg up they get to gain admission to the country’s elite schools.  

And make no mistake, especially at a small private school like Stanford, this is a significant number of students taking up a significant number of available slots. There are under 7,000 undergrads at Stanford. Cutting these 11 teams frees up probably close to 1,000 spots, or 14% of the student body. This is a very significant percentage of spots taken up by athletes who might not have been admitted if not for their ability in these country club sports. 

It is probably heartbreaking for the current student-athletes whose sport is being cut. But, of course, they can continue at Stanford and get a great degree. And it doesn’t mean they can never play their sport again. Their sport could also continue as a club sport…which, come on, fencing and synchronized swimming and crew and sailing and squash already should have been (and the California club sport circuit is very competitive, filled with athletes who were very good at their sports, but often chose academics over sports at smaller schools). And most importantly future students will no longer be incentivized to game the system by paying for expensive training for sports like squash. Bro, squash. They really had a varsity squash team!

One final thought: I know the news is coming because I know Cal is not far behind on this, but I will cry when Cal cuts baseball (again). I love going to those games, and it will be a serious blow to Bay Area baseball fans when it happens. They staved it off ten years ago, but I agree with Phil when he said that Stanford is using the pandemic as an excuse to make cuts: Cal baseball is on life support, and I don’t think it can be saved this time. Brutal.


The Chances of a Baseball Season Grow Dimmer, and Grimmer, by the Day

We’ve said a lot about this, so I’ll keep it short, but reading these very good, and very brief articles by the Chronicle’s John Shea and the Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly, reminded me that all of this (whether it be baseball, or any other sport) trying to have a season just seems so…stupid. Buster Posey seems to be weighing this heavily, as he has missed most of the Giants workouts so far, with what they are calling a “personal issue.” But listening to Posey, it’s clear he is strongly considering following a number of other players across the league who have opted out of the 2020 season:

“Yeah, definitely, I think there’s still some reservation on my end as well,” Posey said. “I want to see how things progress here over the next couple weeks. It would be a little bit maybe naive or silly not to gauge what’s going on around you, and not only around here but paying attention to what’s happening in different parts of the country. It’s obviously unprecedented times right now. Most definitely, I’ve thought about it and talked with my wife about it quite a bit.”

In Shea’s article, he talks to Posey, but also to A’s catcher Sean Murphy, who says this:

“A mask while catching in the summer might be tough, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that. I mean it’s just part of it. Make sure we disinfect things really well and just follow all the protocols, and that should work.”

First of all, Sean, buddy: why should that work!? You just have no idea. No one has any idea. There’s currently a two-day lag in testing,  and sometimes more (see: multiple teams canceling workouts this week because test results did not come back). And sometimes the testing is inconsistent (see: the Rangers’ Joey Gallo, who tested positive, then negative, then positive again). So why does Murphy think things will just…work? And why not just wear a god damn mask under your catcher’s mask? And why doesn’t MLB just mandate it? 

I know I said I’d keep this short, but every I am reading about how doctors are slowly learning about the potential long term side effects of COVID-19 (hint: they’re not good!), and this is just so infuriating we are putting people at risk so money can be made. I want to see baseball, badly. But this just all seems so bad. -TOB 

Source: Buster Posey on Baseball in a Pandemic: ‘There’s Some Reservation On My End’,” Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (07/04/2020); Giants’ Buster Posey on Catchers’ Conundrum: ‘Inherent Risk’ of No Social Distance,” John Shea, SF Chronicle (07/08/2020)


Mound Visits

I never pitched. Well, I did once in Little League. I mostly played third, and my coach said I threw hard, so he wanted to try me at pitcher. I hated it. I was terrified of getting a line drive crushed at my head, but more than that, I’ll never forget the sight of the ball disappearing into the bat, as goddamn Brian Sommerfeldt absolutely barreled up my fastest fastball, with his white TPX, and crushed it down the line.

One damn inning, and I never got to have a single mound visit. So I dug the hell out of this fun story, where former major leaguers talk about their most memorable mount visits. The best is former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle. He takes forever to get to the punchline, but it’s a doozy (and lucky for you I’ll cut it all out). He puts a September call-up into a game, and he’s getting rocked. Hurdle goes out to the mount:

“He goes ‘Clint, I know, I know — I just need to get them in, I don’t care about my numbers,’ I mean — it was an awesome conversation,” Hurdle added.

The pitcher made it clear he just wanted to be there for the team. He wanted to keep pitching, he didn’t care what his Baseball-Reference page would say.

“Don’t worry about me,” the pitcher kept saying.

“I said, ‘Hey buddy, c’mon we’re going to have a laugh,’ I said, ‘I’m not worried about you, I said, ‘Turn around.'”

He did just that.

“All three outfielders were bent over with their hands on their knees breathing like they had just run 50 wind sprints. I said it’s either take you out or put in three new outfielders — which one do you think I should do?'”

LOLLLLLLL. Ok, one more, told by Geoff Blum (the Doug in the story is pitcher Doug Brocail), about a spring training game:

“He proceeds to give up a double, triple, double and another double and finally, I’m throwing the ball back to him, as I walk to the mound I’m like, ‘Doug, just not your day, just kind of casually saying ‘It’s spring training, don’t worry about it kind of thing … ‘”

“He goes, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you seeing what’s going on here?’ And he gets to the top of the mound, turns around and screams at the outfield at the top of his lungs: ‘Back the eff up!'”

“I’m like Doug, Doug you can’t do that,” Blum added. “He goes, ‘You don’t know what’s happening.’ He just starts screaming ‘Back the eff up!'”

Brocail then proceeds to give up a home run.

“I go, ‘They’re not playing deep enough,’ and he just kind of yells at me and walks off the mound.”

I’ll close with this great video with Kruk and Kuip talking about their favorite mound visits. 

Loop Kruk calling a woman a pearl in my afterlife. GOD DAMNIT I MISS THEM. -TOB

Source: Dallas Braden, Joba Chamberlain, Others Share Unique Mound-Visit Tales,” Jessica Kleinschmidt, NBC Sports Bay Area (06/01/2020)

PAL: A pearl! I will be using that.

There were some fun mound visits in my day, but the best ones were always with my roommate, Netter. A lefty with some nasty stuff, but Netter gave up a bomb our freshman year at Mankato State. There had been a snowstorm the night before, and – certain the game would be cancelled – Netter had enjoyed a couple drinks the night prior. He was in bad shape when he got on the bus in the morning. It would be OK, because he was a freshman in the bullpen; surely he wasn’t seeing action in a conference game against the Mavericks.

Well, the game got out of hand in the wrong way, and Netter was called in to burn some innings as I recall. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but Mankato had some dudes that could absolutely mash, and one of them had the Karate Kid theme song – ‘You’re The Best Around’ – as his walk-up song. Made me laugh every damn time. He then proceeds to hit a ball about 900-feet off of a hungover Netter. I think Netter then beaned a guy or two, and we stood on the mound as our coach took his sweet time to pull him from the game. We stood on the mound with our hands on our hips – Netter still brutally hungover – and genuinely marveled at how far that home run went.


Videos of the Week


Tweet of the Week

(Former big leaguer Trevor Plouffe  is a great twitter follow. My quick take: Kike is too low; Longo is over the hill and should not be on the list; Javy Baez is a shocking addition)


Song of the Week

Aaron Neville – ‘You Can Give But You Can’t Take’


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That would be shallow. And this is the opposite of shallow. This is emotionally magnificent.

-Michael Scott

Week of July 3, 2020


A Story About Sports. No, Actual Sports.

There’s not a lot of sports going on right now, and there’s lot of…everything else (which we’ll get to). But I wanted to open this week with some actual damn sports, and it’s a pretty cool story. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Spring Training was shut down, a bunch of major leaguers who live in Florida began getting together just to play catch. Catch turned into bullpen sessions, and live BP, and finally…games. Full games, with names like Verlander, Scherzer, Kluber, Goldschmidt, and Stanton, along with more than 30 other big leaguers. It was basically an All Star Game, but played at a high school field, with no crowds. WILD. That would have been so fun to stumble upon. -TOB

Source: “Prohibition Baseball: Inside the Biggest All-Star Game No One Watched,” Brittany Ghiroli, The Athletic (07/02/2020)


What It’s Like to Raise a Black Athlete, In the Words of Their Parents

This week, former Daily Cal sports writer Grant Marek published a very powerful story, told mostly in the words of the parents of four black athletes at Cal: swimmer Reece Whitley, and football players Josh Drayden, Niko Remigio, and Orin Patu. It’s well worth your time. Here’s one answer that just made me so sad:

SFGATE: Were there any particular moments he experienced growing up that forced a discussion about race to the forefront?

Eureka Drayden: “As far as Josh is concerned, Josh always saw the glass half full. We’d tell him, ‘You need to be careful, and watch how you present yourself,’ and he’d say, ‘It’s not like that anymore, mom.’ It wasn’t until he played high school football that he was called the n-word in huddles or on the line. That fueled a different thing in them, made them aware, then it was just to the point it became common. The first time he was pretty rattled, but then it became a common thing. And they knew if they had retaliated on the field in a more physical way that wasn’t football, they’d be the ones getting the brunt of the consequences.”

“It became a common thing.” That is just so depressing. It reminded me of another, awful story I read this week about a Black high school baseball player in Iowa, named Jeremiah Chapman. While playing an away game, the fans first called him “Colin” (as in Kaepernick), then escalated telling him, “You need to go back to the fields and do your job.” Finally, they went nuclear:

“They looked at me and said, ‘You should have been George Floyd,'” the Minneapolis man killed by a police officer. “Then they started chanting ‘Trump 2020,'” Chapman said.

Disgusting. The host school has acknowledged these racist taunts took place and say they are investigating. It’s so disgusting that no one do some racist assholes say something like this, TO A 16-YEAR OLD KID, but that no one around them stands up and tells them to shut the fuck up. One of the lessons we’ve been teaching our kids over the last few months is that it’s not enough to be kind to others, but that if you see someone being treated like Jeremiah Chapman was, you must stand up and step in to tell the person or persons to stop, even if they are your friend. This certainly reinforces it.

Finally, I encourage you to go read Washington Nationals’ outfielder Ian Desmond’s instagram post this week, where he explains why he has decided to sit out this 60-game baseball season.

Read all 8 pages. It is, again, worth your time. -TOB

Source:What It’s Like to Raise a Black Athlete: Seven Cal Parents Share Their Stories,” Grant Marek, SF Gate (06/30/2020); Black Charles City Baseball Player Taunted: ‘You Should Have Been George Floyd’,” Amie Rivers, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (07/02/2020)


Just Because It’s Funny…

JJ Watt is 6’5, 300 lbs. -TOB


Videos of the Week


Tweet of  the Week


 

Song of the Week

Against Me! – I Was a Teenage Anarchist


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“I wonder if king-sized sheets are called presidential-sized in England.”

-Dwight Schrute

Week of June 26, 2020

Happy Birthday to this six year old with the sweet swing.


NASCAR Culture Is Not Exonerated

If you missed what happened in NASCAR this week, buckle up. In response to BLM, NASCAR banned all confederate flags at their races earlier this month. As the subheadline in that NYT article says, and as you very well may have guessed, “[s]ome NASCAR fans are furious at Wallace because they view the Confederate flag as being part of their Southern heritage, not as a symbol of racism.”

Wallace is Bubba Wallace a NASCAR driver. You may be surprised to learn, as I was last week, that Bubba Wallace is black. Wallace pushed for the confederate flag ban, saying, “To you, it might seem like heritage, but others see hate. We need to come together and meet in the middle and say, ‘You know what, if this bothers you, I don’t mind taking it down.’” Wallace praised the decision, and wore this mask and shirt at the track that weekend:

But as the NYT article notes, not everyone was happy. On Sunday, after that day’s race at Talladega was rained out, someone found a noose hanging in the race garage assigned to Wallace. All correct thinking people were horrified, especially because it almost certainly would have been placed there by someone who works for a NASCAR team – it’s not in a public area. NASCAR released an immediate statement strongly condemning the attack. The FBI was called in to investigate. 

NASCAR drivers were openly pissed. Many of these drivers are friends with Bubba, so they took it personally (I wish more people would take  these things seriously even when they don’t know the person, but that’s another topic for another day). The drivers rallied around him and organized a rally before the race Monday that was pretty cool, and very powerful.

It was a great moment, but who put the noose there was not yet determined. 

On Monday, the FBI released its findings: the noose was not directed at Wallace, but had been hanging in the garage, as a garage door pulldown since at least last October, and drivers are not assigned garages until the week of a race. The reaction to this news is what I want to talk about.

First, despite some people arguing otherwise, it absolutely was a noose.

Second, some people, like ESPN”s resident idiot Will Cain, seemed to think that this news proved that NASCAR overreacted and rushed to judgment. 

NASCAR immediately rushed to judgment. Immediately said it was a noose. Immediately said it was a heinous act of racism. In the media, in society, we have to be calm enough, rational enough, to say: ‘Could it be true? Could it be false? Could it be a misunderstanding?’ And we didn’t, and because of that, we undercut our credibility.”

“And also, I believe we undercut improvement in race relations,” Cain added. “I really believe that. We are going to take a step back because we have sowed distrust, we have sowed division, and it will come back as a backlash on NASCAR and, unfortunately, on Bubba Wallace as well.”

This is insane. Pure shitbaggery. This is actually more of a condemnation of NASCAR culture to me than one racist person committing a heinous act of directed hate. Over the last few months, how many people, mostly white, walked by that noose and thought nothing of it? Or laughed? How many people, mostly if not all white, used the noose to pull down the garage door and thought nothing of it? Or laughed? The fact a noose was not specifically directed at Bubba Wallace this week, but had been hanging from a garage in a NASCAR racetrack for months is not a good thing. It’s just another type of bad thing. -TOB


Stop Wearing Toe Shoes

About a decade ago, I burned through Born To Run, the story of the Tarahumara runners in Mexico. It was a fascinating look at how a culture largely cut off from civilization had produced some of the most incredible ultra distance runners. Author Christopher McDougall spends the book exploring several factors that might contribute to the tribe’s legendary running endurance. One area of exploration was based on an evolutionary biologist’s assertion that modern humans would be better off running barefoot (or shoes with minimal support) than in shoes because the human foot had evolved to run long distances as a result of persistence hunts (chase the prey into exhaustion). The Tarahumara runners would only wear thin sandals on their multi-day runs. McDougal’s book was a bestseller, and that’s why we all know at least one person who bought those toe shoes.

*shudder*

We have an update on the Tarahumara and the theories explored in Born To Run, courtesy of that same biologist, Daniel Lieberman. Turns out, it’s not the sandals, or the pre-industrial diet, or the fact that the Tarahumara have a higher pain tolerance that make the Tarahumara tribes great runners. Rather, a minority of Tarahumara are excellent runners because – and here’s the shocker – running is a part of the culture. It plays a role in their more recent history (persistence hunts), in their sports and games which celebrate said hunts, and because they lead physically active lifestyles. 

They are good runners because it’s a part of their culture, but running 100 miles isn’t easier for them. Running 100 miles isn’t easy for anyone. 

Interesting update. – PAL 

Source: Reexamining the Mythology of the Tarahumara Runners”, Alex Hutchinson, Outside (6/25/2020)


Baseball Is Back, Baby! Probably. Perhaps. Hell, Who Knows?

Last week, you will recall, I wrote about the fact that the lack of sports over the last few months has prevented us from being distracted by the very important issues our country is dealing with right now. I stand by it, 100%. But I can’t lie and say I didn’t get excited when MLB announced there will be a 60-game season starting late July. This sums up my hypocrisy perfectly:

But as the week went on, reality started to creep back in. Are they really going to be able to do this? What happens when a team has an outbreak (and a team, or multiple teams, will have outbreaks)? Just this week, before players even report, the Rangers had to shut down their team offices because of a “rash” of COVID-19 positive tests; the Phillies had multiple players test positive, too. And it all started to feel bad again. Grant Brisbee said it perfectly:

The giddy thoughts start as a sprinkle, and then they become a downpour. Then you realize that it’s acid rain.

So good and so true (what a great line). I highly recommend Grant’s article. He breaks down all the problems MLB will have to overcome to pull this off: 

  • the health protocols, in an attempt to keep hundreds of players, coaches, and employees per team from contracting the virus, even if perfectly followed cannot guarantee anything; 
  • the ethics around uprooting a player by trading him/for him or releasing him – what that does to his chances of contracting the disease, or how it affects his family;
  • the ethics around subjecting coaches, some who are older and some who have health conditions making them more susceptible to the virus, to the increased likelihood of contracting the disease;
  • potential long term side effects, including to a person’s lungs, especially for athletes;

And you think about all this and wonder, as Grant did, “What are we even doing at this point?” Like Grant, I want to see dingers and strikeouts and I want to hear Kruk and Kuip call a live game as I do the dishes. But this all seems so risky, and I am worried it’s going to go so badly. To quote Brisbee one final time:

Baseball is coming back, and the hindsight will be 20-20. We’ll talk about the next four months of baseball (or no baseball) for the rest of our lives, with lessons that will seem so incredibly obvious in retrospect.

Let’s hope they’re the good kind of lessons. Because I have suspicions as to which kind they’ll be, and I’ll need to bury them deep in my subconscious in order to enjoy a single pitch.

Ugh. Bury it, indeed. -TOB

Source: The Giants are Going to Play Again, But it’s Hard to Focus on That,” Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (06/24/2020)


Ole

Not a full story, but just loved this John Olerud anecdote from his days at Washington State, ℅ Ryan McGee: 

Here is how great John Olerud was in college.

Every week during practice, the Washington State baseball team ran the Ole (pronounced “Oh-lee”) Drill. The beanpole underclassman would step into the batter’s box while his Cougars teammates took their positions in the field. As pitches were hurled toward Olerud at the plate, head coach Bobo Brayton would loudly growl out the situations he wanted his defense to practice.

“Hot grounder through the six-hole!”

Olerud would meet the ball with a downward stroke that sent a worm-burner just past the outstretched glove of the shortstop.

“Double over your heads and off the left-center-field wall!”

Olerud would stroke a slow-rising glider that outran the outfielders — and indeed ricocheted off the wall in left-center.

Brayton would keep going.

“Infield fly between the mound and first! Baltimore chop toward third! Opposite-fielder down into the corner!”

“It was the craziest damn thing I’ve ever seen,” recalls Dave Wainhouse, who played with Olerud at Washington State and played against him in both high school and in the majors. “Whatever Bobo said to do, no matter how crazy, John just did it. I can’t remember a time when he missed. You would catch yourself just watching him. And that happened all the time, not just in practice. During games too. That’s how good he was.”

“He might very well have been the greatest college baseball player who ever walked his golden spikes onto campus. Over three seasons (1987-89) in Pullman, he hit .434 with 33 homers. He also posted a career pitching record of 26-4.”

The story goes in a bit of a different direction: why he wore the helmet, how he never played a single game in the minors and was inserted in the heart of a World Series Blue Jays team, and some family challenges, but this anecdote from his college days was pretty damn impressive. – PAL  

Source:Inside the Legend of John Olerud, College Baseball’s Two-Way Star”, Ryan McGee, ESPN (06/25/2020)


The Masses Have Spoken: Centerfield Rips

You may recall, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and California’s accompanying shelter-in-place, that Phil and I were doing 1-2-3 Sports! “Dailies” – though they were really about three times a week. Just a couple of kids, flying by the seat of our pants, hair blowin’ in the wind, doin whatever the hell we wanted. We never decided to stop. We just ran out of steam, I guess. Or maybe as shelter-in-place normalized around us, we didn’t feel the need to do something abnormal. 

Whatever the reason, in light of a story this week in The Athletic, I’d like to revisit one Daily: Phil’s “Remove These Songs From the Sports Canon” list. In that story, Phil besmirched Centerfield, by John Fogerty, saying, “Every pre-game mixtape, at every field, at every baseball game from Little League through college. That upbeat, bouncy melody is chiseled into my brain. I. Can’t. Stand. This. Song. No mas.” I  politely disagreed. But as I read this week, about two weeks after our list, two Athletic writers made their own list of the best baseball songs and omitted Centerfield. Apparently, the masses were not happy.

We published our list: “The 30 greatest baseball songs of all time.” We thought people would like it.

Not quite.

The story drew nearly 600 comments. The overwhelming majority were negative. Readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. We were derided as hipsters and snobs, contrarian partisans of New York and Chicago (I am from Philadelphia; Rustin is from Kansas). According to one of our internal metrics, this list is one of the most despised pieces of content in the publication’s history.

There was one overarching criticism. It appeared in the first comment and in dozens of others. Readers found many reasons to hate our list. None brought them together like their affinity for a song we snubbed: “Centerfield,” by John Fogerty.

Now, as a dad to two young kids, I can tell you that song is very popular in this house. But I also really enjoy it. In reconsidering their list, they explain why they didn’t like it (it’s played before every Royals Spring Training game, and they both covered the Royals for years). But they also consider why so many do like it:

These are not, of course, the memories conjured up when most baseball fans hear “Centerfield.” They think about the game they fell in love with the sport they still miss. They remember trips to the ballpark that doubled as vacations. They are transported by those hand claps. Maybe we should have spent a little more time taking that into consideration.

That’s basically it for me. It’s a fun song, and it puts me in a good mental space: sunny days and baseball. As I get older, I’ll always remember my boys cranking it up in the garage as I throw them wiffle balls to crush into the street. Tough to beat. -TOB

Source: Why Keeping it Real About John Fogerty’s ‘Centerfield’ Went Wrong,Andy McCullough, The Athletic (06/26/2020)


Video of the Week

The real video of the week is that Bubba Wallace video, so go watch that again.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Propagandhi – “The Banger’s Embrace”

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