Week of September 17, 2021


Where Have All the RBIs Gones?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salvador Perez: 2.5

Jose Abreu: 3.6

Vlad Guerrero: 2.3

Rafael Devers: 3.0

Teoscar Hernández: 3.8

Adam Duvall: 2.9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


We Were This Close To A Legendary Clip

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Worst of the Week: The Clemente Option

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

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

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

Per Marly Rivera:

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

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

But later in the story, I became confused: 

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

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

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

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

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


What’s it Like to be Sportswriter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s well worth your time. -TOB

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

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

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


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

Norm Macdonald

Week of September 10, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

Roth effectively explains many of our initial reactions:

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

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

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

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

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

Damn. Amen. -TOB

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


Fluffy Balls

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

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

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

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

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

I love it!

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

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

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

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


The Soto Shuffle: A Statistical Breakdown

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

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

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

Or the one where he shakes his butt.

Or the one where he does a deep lunge.

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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Jason Isbell – “24 Frames”


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Week of July 2, 2021


I’m a Surfer* Now, So I Write About Surfing

Big wave surfer Greg Noll died this week. I will be honest – I had not heard of him before. However, you know a piece of writing is good when it makes you really care about someone you had not previously heard of. And that’s what Patrick Redford accomplished with this story on Noll. I mean, just look at this passage from the opening paragraph:

Surfing a big wave is like climbing an imposing mountain, only the mountain disappears in seconds. You cannot point to a killer wave at Mavericks and be like, “I surfed that exact wave there.” All that lasts is the memory.

I mean, holy shit that’s a good line. As Redford relates, Noll is famous for being a big wave pioneer, culminating in his ride at Makaha, Hawaii on December 4, 1969. Noll tells the story in the surf movie classic Riding Giants, linked here. Noll and his ride at Makaha are a precursor to Mavericks. But not long after that ride, which he barely survived, Noll stepped away from big wave surfing. Noll later said:

”For 15 years, my whole thing was to ride a bigger wave than the year before. I was getting so cocky I said, ‘Come on, God, show me a wave I can’t ride.’ Then all of a sudden that day came along, and it kind of blew the cap off the whole thing,”

I particularly like Redford’s closing, though:

In the decades since his legendary ride, aspects of it have come into question. Tomson says he actually captured Noll’s ride on camera, and another surf photographer has three photos of Noll atop the wave. People have questioned the actual height of the wave, and while it’s not altogether possible to come to a definitive measurement, weather historians have shown that the swell that battered Hawaii was genuinely freakish. None of that really matters to me, because the point is the myth. I was not unmoored by Noll’s ride because of the precision of his technique, or the minute details of his fall. The thing that matters is that he did something that nobody had ever done before, that he pushed his defiance of death all the way to the very edge, looked into the void, and was allowed by the monster to rise again.

That is fantastic writing.

*I went surfing twice last month. But I loved it. 

-TOB

Source: Greg Noll, The Surfer Who Became A Myth, Is Dead At 84,” Patrick Redford, Defector (07/01/2021)


A Concise Explanation of Why Soccer is Great

A year delayed, Euro 2020 (like the World Cup, but just Europe) is going on. I’m doing my best to catch a game or two per week, but it’s difficult to carve out time for my very favorite sports, so I have not been terribly successful. 

Over the last few decades, much ink has been spilled about why soccer is not as popular in the U.S. as it is in most other parts of the world. But instead of thinking about what’s wrong with soccer or what’s wrong with U.S. sports fans, I really enjoyed this article from Defector’s Tom Ley about what makes soccer great, as illustrated by an extra time goal from Italy’s Federico Chiesa, which helped the Italians advance to the quarterfinals with a 2-1 win over Austria. The goal was so good that I had to show my kids the next day.

I think I yelped when he blasted that in. That touch with his right foot to knock it by the oncoming defender and set it up for his left-footed volley? That is *chef’s kiss* beautiful. 

Ley makes a good point about soccer, and it’s one of the reasons I love watching the sport:

Soccer can be pretty aggravating to watch sometimes. The game is so hard, and played at such inhuman speeds, that finding a steady supply of thrills in a single game can feel like an act of compromise. You end up hooting at deft turns in the midfield that lead to fizzled attacks, clapping for masterful dribbles that lead to the ball being kicked harmlessly out of bounds, and gasping at shots that miss the top corner by six inches. These moments don’t ultimately change the final outcome of the match, but once you understand how difficult it is to even participate in a high-level soccer game, you can’t help but appreciate them.

In soccer, fans appreciate skill even if it doesn’t end up in a goal, because goals are scarce and if you didn’t appreciate the skill in between goals, it’d be a very boring game to watch. 

In basketball, there is a phrase: “million dollar move, ten cent finish.”  The phrase implies that a great move that ends in a missed shot is not worth much because it didn’t end in a score. This makes sense in basketball, where teams average over 82 combined baskets per game. By contrast, the most recent English Premier League season averaged a total of 2.69 goals per game. Each made shot in basketball is worth far less (more than 30 times less in fact), relatively speaking, than each goal in soccer. So, soccer fans rightly appreciate a million dollar move, even if it does end in a ten cent finish. For example, this is not a goal but it was still incredible:

So what happens when a million dollar move in soccer ends not in a ten cent finish but in a million dollar finish? Bliss. Here’s Ley:

And then something like Chiesa’s goal happens, and there’s no need for compromise. Chiesa’s goal was the product of three genius-level touches—on the head to bring the ball under control, on the right foot to snatch it away from the recovering defender, and on the left foot to fire it past the keeper at a tight angle—that would have earned a polite applause from the crowd had they occurred on their own and not led to a goal. That Chiesa executed all three in a matter of seconds and got the ball into the net puts his goal somewhere in the realm of the miraculous. Repeat that sequence 1,000 times, and chances are that Chiesa would lose the ball out of bounds, have it taken from him by a defender, or fire it wide of the net in 996 of them. But sometimes everything lines up just right, and you get to see three perfect touches and a goal, and soccer is the best damn sport.

Unlike Ley, soccer is not my favorite sport. But…in moments like those, it sure feels great. -TOB

Source: Federico Chiesa Showed Us Soccer In All Its Glory,” Tom Ley, Defector (06/27/2021)


SImone Biles: The GOAT of GOATS

Now, I cannot by any stretch of the imagination call myself a gymnastics “fan.” Sure, like many kids of the 90s, I watched the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams alongside my parents – Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes, Kerri Strugg, Dominique Moceanu. Big names! They rocked. And in the early 2010s, I loved McKalya Maroney’s Not Impressed memes and Aly Raisman leading her team to gold – that was a fun group! But none of them, or any other gymnast that ever lived, compares to Simone Biles.

The lead up to the 2016 Olympics was the first I (remember, not a gymnastics “fan”) had heard of her – and by that point she had already won three straight World Championships – 2013, 2014, and 2015 (which begs the question: why did the 2013 World Champion did not make the 2012 Olympic team). She was also being called perhaps the greatest gymnast of all time. The media narrative seemed set up for her to fail.

Lol, nah bro. She killed it. Team? Gold. Individual all around? Gold. Vault? Gold. Floor? Gold. Beam? Bronze. Hey, look, no one is perfect. But Simone is close. Since 2013 she has competed in every World Championship, besides 2017, when she took a year off. In those 5 tournaments, she has won all five individual all-around golds, all five floor golds, three golds and two bronze on beam, and two golds, two silvers, and one bronze on vault. That is pretty god dang dominant. 

In fact, this is how dominant Biles has been since stepping onto the international scene: at the Olympic trials last week, Biles had an off-day – she had a mistake on uneven bars, a fall on balance beam and stepped out of bounds twice on floor. She won the two-day event, but her Olympic teammate Suni Lee bested her on day two – and it was the first time Biles had been beaten in a single day since March 2013. 

So as we head into the Olympics this summer, you bet your ass I will be tuning into see if Biles can put herself in Phelps-territory. No, she’ll never win as many medals as Phelps. If you ask me, swimmers have an unfair advantage in terms of medal count – multiple relays and distances and strokes allow for numerous medal opportunities – 18 gold medals will be awarded in swimming at this Olympics, in fact; three times as many as the six a gymnast can get. Plus, they have a shorter peak due to the beating their body takes, compared to the low impact of swimming.

Which brings me to the story title: I think what Biles has done over the last eight years is the single most dominant, extended performance by an athlete in history. She is the GOAT of GOATs, and I’m really excited to see what she does at the Olympics.

All that is prelude to this: I read quite a few articles about Biles this week, coming off those Olympic trials where she (sorta) looked human. But my favorite was this one, from Defector’s Kalyn Kahler. The article reads a smidge like my U.S. Open story from 2019 – Kalyn is a big Biles fan, but has never been to a big gymnastics tournament. So when she heard the Olympic Trials were within driving distance, she bought front row seats and got in her car. Her article is a fun look at what it’s like to attend a major gymnastics meet. A very fun read.

Source: The Draw Of Simone Biles,” Kalyn Kahler, Defector (06/28/2021)


Subtopic: Can Simone Biles Dunk a Basketball?

Yes, more on Biles. In a moment, I am going to show you a clip that made me tweet this question: Can Simone Biles dunk a basketball?

Now, I must say here that Biles is listed at 4’8”. I don’t know what her standing reach is. The average standing reach is about 135% of a person’s height, which would put her standing reach at 6’2. That means she would need to get 46” off the ground just to touch the rim. To get the basketball over the rim, she’d need another 10” or so, which would mean a 50” clearance. I am gulping hard right now, because 56” is very high. HOWEVER, I have some evidence.

First, Spud Webb. Spud was 5’7 and had a reported standing vertical leap of 46”, which allowed him to win a Slam Dunk contest. But Spud was not a trained gymnast – he just played basketball. His 46” standing vertical came naturally. So can Simone Biles jump 10” higher, with a running start? This leads me to my second piece of evidence, which is the clip referenced above:

YO WHAT THE HELL. That’s INSANE. Yes, Kevin, it’s a spring floor. I do not care. If she is 4’8, she looks at LEAST 7 feet high there. Give her a running start and I think she can dunk a basketball. Prove me wrong! -TOB


Video of the Week

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Blackilicious – Make You Feel That Way


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“You only live once? False. You live every day. You only die once.”

-Dwight Schrute

Week of June 18, 2021

PIC


A Bike Race On A Gravel Road In Kansas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good find, TOB! – PAL 

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


Cole and Bauer – Aces in the Making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


DJ BC RAW 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAME. 

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

Apparently, convenience. 

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

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

Amen, Hurzdan!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

-TOB


Video of the Week

Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

Los Dos Carnales – “Mis Raíces”


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

-Cosmo Kramer

Week of May 28, 2021


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

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

So now let’s break it down. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The catcher then makes his first mistake. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The A’s Are Full of Shit

Pictured: Con Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Next, Kelsey sets up the conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s the money rant:

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

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

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

PAL:

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

Revisiting Jackass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you watching Jackass?” 

“Yes.”

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

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

PAL:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

Song – Sturgill Simpson – “Hero”


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

Michael Scott

Week of May 21, 2022

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

Congrats, PAL!


Will the No-Hitter Epidemic Force Baseball to Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this AL pitcher:

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

Phillies catcher JT Realmuto added:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Much Ado About Machado

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

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

And this:

And this:

And this:

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

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

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

Disagree? -TOB


Video of the Week

Me and the Boys, Last Saturday

Tweet of the Week

Song of the Week

I mean, I had to:


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

-Michael Scott

Week of May 7, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Baseball’s Going In The Wrong Direction

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

STRIKEOUTS: 6,924

HITS: 5,832

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

Largest K/H differentials by month

April 2021: 1,096

Sept. 2019: 705

April 2019: 529

Sept. 2020: 496

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

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

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

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


The Lady Behind The Lady Byng Award

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

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

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

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

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

Per the Ottawa Citizen from 1925:

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

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

SIGNED) Evelyn Byng of Vimy

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

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

Good read. – PAL 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeframe Slider Velo Slider Drop Slider Whiff%

Sept. 18-April 19 87 0.0 16%

June 19 to now 87 -1.5 25%

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

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

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


BP Pitchers Always Get It In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun read. -TOB

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


Video of the Week

Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

Eddie Vedder – “Rise Up”


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Italians don’t wear pockets.”

-Michael Scott

Week of April 30, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAL: Hey, just going by the rules here.


Quarterback Controversy Competition 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Did Tatis Sneak a Peak and is That Ok?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think, Phil? -TOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Now That’s A Cool Draft Party

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

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

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


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

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


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

Newman

Abolish the Infield Fly Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Opening Day, everyone! -TOB


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Week of March 12, 2021

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


*my heart!*


Snack Shack Queen 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Prospect to Build a Dream On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vosler has not disappointed this month. His numbers: 

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

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

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

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

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

I liked the rhythm of this paragraph: 

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

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


Former College Baseball Player Explains Some Hitting Shop Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week

Yes, more Jomboy.


Tweet of the Week


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


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Feels like an Arby’s night.”

-David Puddy