Week of August 7, 2020

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


Is College Football On the Brink?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What’s In A Name

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

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

Juuuuuuust going to plop this down here: 

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

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

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

Time is a circle. 

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

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

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

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

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


Big In Japan: Prospect Gamble Pays Off In Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basketball’s 3-Point Chess Match

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting article. -TOB

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

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


Pujols Was a Man Among Boys

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

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

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


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Billy Strings – “Enough To Leave”


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

Michael Scott

 

Week of July 31, 2020


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

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

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

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

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

And things aren’t much better outside the stadium:

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

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

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

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

Amen. -TOB

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

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

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


.01

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And later, more on the touchpads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fantastic read. – PAL 

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


Has The Designated Hitter Finally Prevailed? 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was King’s landmark speech. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me neither. -TOB

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


Re-Examining My Support of the Promotion/Relegation System

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

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

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

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

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


The Rarest of Baseball Plays

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

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

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

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

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

Ain’t that the truth. 

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

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


Video(s) of the Week


Tweet(s) of the Week


Song of the Week

Mandolin Orange – ‘The Wolves’


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

-Michael Scott

Week of July 10, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Shouldn’t Endowments Be Made For Times Like This? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mound Visits

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

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

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

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

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

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

He did just that.

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

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

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

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

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

Brocail then proceeds to give up a home run.

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

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

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

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

PAL: A pearl! I will be using that.

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

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


Videos of the Week


Tweet of the Week

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


Song of the Week

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


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

-Michael Scott

Week of July 3, 2020


A Story About Sports. No, Actual Sports.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Just Because It’s Funny…

JJ Watt is 6’5, 300 lbs. -TOB


Videos of the Week


Tweet of  the Week


 

Song of the Week

Against Me! – I Was a Teenage Anarchist


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

-Dwight Schrute

Week of June 26, 2020

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


NASCAR Culture Is Not Exonerated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Stop Wearing Toe Shoes

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

*shudder*

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

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

Interesting update. – PAL 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugh. Bury it, indeed. -TOB

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


Ole

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

Here is how great John Olerud was in college.

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

“Hot grounder through the six-hole!”

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

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

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

Brayton would keep going.

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

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

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

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

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


The Masses Have Spoken: Centerfield Rips

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

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

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

Not quite.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Video of the Week

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


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Propagandhi – “The Banger’s Embrace”

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“It’s a real shame because studies have shown that more information gets passed through water cooler gossip than through official memos. Which puts me at a disadvantage because I bring my own water to work.”

-Dwight Schrute

Week of May 22, 2020


Last Words on the Last Dance

Well, it’s over. 5 weeks, 10 hours. I laughed, I got angry, I got nostalgic. It wasn’t perfect, but to paraphrase Vince Vaughn’s character in Wedding Crashers: who are we kidding, neither are you. 

In the days that followed the conclusion, ESPN’s writers wrote about what they took away most from the documentary. One thing I took away was what a god damn sniveling priss Bob Costas was (I also watched Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals on Sunday afternoon ahead of the movie’s finale, and I counted no less than three cheap shots taken by Costas about Dennis Rodman. Included in that is Costas crying for a flagrant foul against Rodman when he and Karl Malone both tripped each other.

God, Costas sucks. Anyways.

Ramona Shelburne had a good point about Phil Jackson – he was an incredible coach because he knew how to let his players breathe. In watching the documentary, they discussed how Rodman missed a practice during the 1998 Finals because he was filming a WCW event with Hulk Hogan (in the broadcast, Costas ripped him for it. God damn you suck, Costas). But of course I thought back to how Jordan went to Atlantic City in the middle of a playoff series back in 1992 (?) to gamble all night. Sure, Jordan got crap for that, but Rodman was treated much more severely by the media (looking at you, Costas).

Most of all, it was fun. The last couple years, I had started to think that MAYBE LeBron is actually the greatest player of all time. I couldn’t help it. I tried to set aside recency bias, but watching him dominate Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals was just too much. He’s so much bigger and stronger than Jordan. At his peak, that size and strength made him an even better defender than Jordan was at his peak. And how would Jordan guard him?

But this documentary took me back. Not only was Jordan incredible, watching him play basketball was art. I don’t know if Jordan or LeBron is better; now I realize it doesn’t really matter. But Jordan is still My Guy. -TOB

Source: How ‘The Last Dance’ Changed the Way We Think About Michael Jordan,” ESPN (05/17/2020)


Even Gluttony Couldn’t Stop Jordan 

Let’s talk about Jordan’s food poisoning in Utah, because we’ve come this far, right? Right. If you haven’t been watching the doc, then – my god – I tip my cap to you. Your life is full enough to not be watching the one appointment sports event taking place in America. For the rest of us, Jordan’s ‘Flu Game’ has been a classic for over 20 years. Turns out, the doc confirmed it wasn’t the flu; rather, it was Jordan eating a full pizza by himself (I wouldn’t know the first thing about doing something like that). Jordan says it was food poisoning. The Ringer’s Roger Sherman ain’t buying it, and neither do I…I mean, ultimately I’ll take Jordan at his word, but it’s an odd admission to make now. 

Sherman breaks down the issues with Jordan’s story, the number of guys that delivered the pizza, the fact that players or folks ordering food for the player wouldn’t advertise who the food was for, and the quality of the pizza (being that it came from the only place open). Ultimately, Sherman thinks it’s an attempt to distance the flu game from the rumor that he was simply hungover.

I don’t buy Jordan’s pizza explanation, but there’s one main argument in favor of it being the truth: Why would he lie about this? The Flu Game is an all-time piece of sports lore, as well as a testament to Jordan’s legendary determination and ability. While his performance is still impressive even if he was throwing up from food poisoning rather than sickness, it’s certainly less cool if the instigator was middle-of-the-night garbage pizza. 

There’s only one reason why I can imagine Jordan making up the pizza story: Over the years, many have assumed that Jordan’s Flu Game was actually a Hangover Game. After all, “flu-like symptoms” has long been the NBA’s wink-wink euphemism for “this player partied too hard last night.” And Jordan probably doesn’t want anyone to think he partied too hard the night before an NBA Finals game. Turning the flu story into the pizza story might be an attempt to usurp the hangover conspiracy through a specific explanation for why he felt bad. It’s the same reason you should say you had really bad diarrhea if you ever miss work or class—it’s gross enough that everybody will assume you’re telling the truth, because why would you lie about diarrhea? (Now I’m wondering what Paul Pierce is trying to cover up with his pants-pooping Finals story.)

Unfortunately, the “eating an entire pizza” angle isn’t quite the trump card the diarrhea excuse is. And eating an entire pizza isn’t mutually exclusive from the hangover theory, because “eating an entire pizza” is exactly the type of awful decision that an extremely drunk person would make during a night that could result in a debilitating hangover. 

One of the few details from this doc that left a major impact on me was being reminded that Michael Jordan and yours truly are barely the same species. This guy drank, smoked cigars a lot, stayed up gambling, then golfed 36-holes, then was the greatest basketball player on a nightly basis. Some people can burn the candle at both ends – and those people don’t get hungover after having one too many. They don’t live by the same rules as us. Athletes can handle more and recover faster almost every day.  

We’ve all been there. Sometimes you sidestep a hangover, and you have no idea how or why. Other times, you get tagged with one you simply didn’t earn. It was just your turn, and on that night the late-night pizza’s going to take down even the G.O.A.T.- PAL

Source: Conspiracy Corner: Did Michael Jordan Really Eat a Poisoned Pizza Before the Flu Game?”, Roger Sherman, The RInger (05/19/2020)

TOB: Sherman has some flawed logic; for example:

On the other hand: Why would Jordan need to be so protective of his pizza? Even if Jordan wanted to eat a whole pie by himself, why didn’t the crew in MJ’s room just order multiple pizzas so everybody could partake?

But Jordan explained in the documentary that everyone had eaten without him earlier. They probably weren’t hungry. This happens often with Suze and I: I’ll say I want to order something, she says she’s not hungry, so I make/order enough for one, and then when it’s ready, she suddenly wants some. Nah, brah.

But more importantly, a guy claiming to have owned the pizza place came forward this week to say that he is/was a Bulls fan and he delivered the pizza personally (with one other guy, not four) to ensure it would be fine. The pizza guy undermines Sherman’s argument that there’s no way the person ordering the pizza would identify it as being for Michael Jordan, or that the pizza people would assume a pizza going to a large hotel was for one of the players: 

When a delivery order came in from the hotel, the employee who answered the phone said he thought it was for one of the players. Fite, as the only Bulls fan working there, assumed control of the order. 

“I said, ‘Well, I’m delivering it’,” Fite recalled. “I remember saying this: ‘I will make the pizza, because I don’t want any of you doing anything to it.’ And then I told the driver, you’re going to take me there.”

PAL: The director of the doc, Jason Hehir, in an interview about this very topic points out that Jordan was upset the guys ate earlier without him. As punishment, Hehir says Jordan told him that he spat on the pizza so no else would touch it.


Ownage 

This is a cool idea for a series. Tony Gwynn was a great hitter, but his .415 career batting average – in over 100 plate appearances – against maybe the best pitcher of the past 50 years, Greg Maddux, doesn’t make sense. And Giants fans are all too familiar with Paul Goldschmidt’s .536 against Tim Lincecum (7 HR, 17 RBI in 34 plate appearances). 

But what’s really cool about Andrew Baggarly’s series, “Nemesis”, is he highlights the guys with ownage over players they have no business owning. Gwynn, Maddux, Goldschmidt, Timmy – they were at the tip top echelon of players (some for longer than others), and in that way it was a fair fight. Baggarly finds the mismatches that go the exact opposite way you’d figure them to go. In Baggarly’s words: “This is a series about the game’s greatest players, and the less-heralded foes who got the best of them again, and again, and again.”

I’m in on that sentence alone. 

Exhibit A: Rick Monday vs. Tom Seaver. 

Monday was no scrub; a scrub doesn’t hang around for 19 seasons. It’s just that, by the numbers (never saw him play), Tom Seaver was pretty damn great. Upper tier, even for Hall of Famers. This stat from Baggs is a powerful encapsulation: “He and Walter Johnson are the only pitchers in history to win 300 games, record 3,000 strikeouts and finish their careers with an ERA under 3.00”

Monday was unimpressed, even while Seaver humbled other greats: 

Tom was terrific against even the most inner-circle Hall of Famers. Ernie Banks hit .138 against Seaver. Johnny Bench hit .179. Gary Carter hit .188. So did Mike Schmidt, along with 35 strikeouts in 85 at-bats. Hank Aaron hit .220.

Rick Monday? He hit .349 with a 1.247 OPS — by far the highest among all 172 big-leaguers who faced Seaver at least 30 times in their careers. Monday hit 11 home runs against Seaver. It was the most he hit against any pitcher. It was the most Seaver allowed to any hitter. Willie Stargell, Darrell Evans and Ron Cey were next, with eight. And Monday had fewer plate appearances (104) than all three of those guys.

From 1972 to 1982, whether Seaver was a Met or a Red or Monday was a Cub or a Dodger, the battles were as one-sided as they come. Monday went 30-for-86 with five doubles, 17 RBI, 17 walks (two intentional) and 29 strikeouts. And those 11 homers.

Incredible. So is the story of how Monday and Seaver ‘relationship’ began playing summer ball up in Alaska. At that point, Monday was a first overall pick in the draft while Seaver played his college ball at Fresno City College and begging for any relief innings. 

And how did their one-sided rivalry take root? Read the story to find out, but I’ll tease it with the following: don’t embarrass a guy when his mom is around. 

Also, let’s take a second to appreciate the fact that, between the two of them, Monday and Seaver played 39 seasons of Major League ball. Looking forward to Baggs’ next installment. – PAL 

Source: Nemesis: Tom Seaver Went Back on his Word; His Rival Spent a Decade Getting Even”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (05/20/2020)


How to Create an 82-Game MLB Schedule? Ask the Stephensons.

What a funny story. As MLB and the MLBPA try to come to an agreement to save the 2020 season, Sports Illustrated’s Emma Baccellieri wondered what an 82-game season would look like, especially given the rumor that teams would stay within their own region (e.g., NL West teams would play only NL West and AL West teams). So she turned to a couple who would know: Henry and Holly Stephenson.

The husband-and-wife team created the schedule for every MLB season from 1982 to 2004, one of the most impressive streaks in baseball, until they were finally replaced by a professional computing firm. (By comparison, the NBA, whose schedules were written by the Stephensons in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, switched to more advanced technology back in 1985.) Now retired and at home on Martha’s Vineyard, Henry, 79, and Holly, 74, say that they haven’t played around with a schedule in at least a decade. But given the circumstances, and with all their extra free time at home, they were happy to answer a question: How would you handle this?

WHAT. The MLB schedule was created by hand, by a married couple, as late as 2004!? Incredible.

If you’re wondering, their answer to the question is pretty simple: 

Each team would play four three-game series against its four divisional opponents, two at home, two on the road. That would account for 48 games across 16 series. The team would also play two three-game series against each of the five clubs in the corresponding division in the opposite league, one home and one away, for 10 more series, or 30 more games. That lands on a uniform system for 78 games, with four left per team to be sprinkled in as four-game series instead of three. And there you have it—a “fairly clear, fairly simple, and relatively fair way of putting together a schedule,” says Henry.

Makes sense. I mean…it’s fiiiiine. But how do we screw over the Dodgers, WHO BY THE WAY, have not won the World Series since the fifth season the Stephensons were creating the schedule, 32 glorious years ago. -TOB

Source: How MLB’s Old Schedule Makers Would Set Up the 2020 Season,” Emma Baccellieri, Sports Illustrated (05/21/2020)

PAL: “They used their programming skills to take care of the grunt work and a human touch to handle the details and special requests…” Makes sense, but I do hope they are fans and therefore hate a rival team. Once the schedule was complete each year, I hope they poured a drink, sat on the porch and made their signature move to help their their team by hurting the rival.

Henry: Well done, my love.

Holly: To you as well.

Henry: You look ravishing tonight.

Holly: Stop it already. You really know your way around an Old Fashioned, my handsome man.

Henry: Shall we?

Holly (looking at the horizon): It is time.

Henry: The Phillies shall finish out the season with a series against the Dodgers, then onto D.C. to face Scherzer and the Nationals before wrapping up the season in Houston.

Holly: But what of off days?

(Henry and Holly laugh maniacally)

Holly: To the Mets.


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week

Khruangbin – “So We Won’t Forget


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There are five stages to grief, which are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And right now, out there, they’re all denying the fact that they’re sad. And that’s hard. And it’s making them all angry. And it is my job to try to get them all the way through to acceptance. And if not acceptance, then just depression. If I can get them depressed, then I’ll have done my job.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 8, 2020

TOB’s j is all over the Chronicle sports page! Pretty clogged in the lane there. That one guy in the black pants just looks like he’s out for a walk.


Baseball is Back in South Korea, But We Are Not South Korea

Baseball is back! In South Korea. But it’s on ESPN! Late at night. Still, the other night I tuned into the KBO’s opening day, at around 10pm PDT. There was a rain delay, but then the games started. And for about two innings, it was lovely. I scrolled twitter while hearing Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez (shoutout to Eduardo, who we sat next to at breakfast at CWS last year!) discuss baseball. As The Ringer’s Michael Baumann wrote:

It was then that I thought of something I’d heard long ago from a therapist: Sometimes, when we go a long time without something we need, we learn to convince ourselves that we never needed it in the first place. By the time Baek toed the rubber in Daegu on Tuesday morning, I’d gone 52 days without watching a live sporting event, and breaking that streak brought an unexpected yet physically palpable sense of relief. Baseball, even if it featured unfamiliar participants in profoundly weird circumstances at a time when I would much rather have been asleep, had lost none of its emotional potency.

But after a couple innings, I lost interest. I think the majority of that is the same reason I don’t usually watch, say, a Mets/Marlins game on Sunday Night Baseball. I only have so many hours a week, and if I’m going to watch baseball, it’s going to be my team, the team I care about. But The Ringer’s Michael Baumann touched on something else that I was also feeling:

But somewhere around the segment with Passan, the feeling of creeping dread came back. It would be ridiculous to watch baseball returning to South Korea and not expect MLB to poke its head around the corner relatively soon, and the substance of Passan’s appearance focused on when and how that might happen.

As Baumann notes, unlike in the U.S., South Korea’s COVID-19 outbreak was strangled from the outset. We are not in the same position as they are, and it’s not close. Baumann then lays out how the powers that be – from agent Scott Boras and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred all the way to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are all laying the groundwork for the return of sports in the U.S. It’s almost as if ESPN airing the KBO in an effort to put it in our heads: Hey, sports can return. Sports should return! As Baumann puts they are trying to give us “…the overwhelming belief that baseball is important, and if it’s being played anywhere it must be played here also.” 

We don’t know what the next month will look like; we don’t know what the next six months will look like. But resist the urge to look at South Korea playing baseball and think, “We should do that, too.” -TOB

Source: The Joy and Anxiety of Watching KBO’s Return,” Michael Baumann, The Ringer (05/06/2020)


On The Line: The Disturbing Diets of the Offensive Linemen 

Some have a hard time maintaining weight, while others are skipping meals and taking saunas to make weight (and avoid team fines), but the life of NFL linemen seems to be centered on food. John Gonzalez’ story reveals the extremes of what it takes to make a living in the trenches, and how the media and fans adore the beer-drinking, beer-belly uggos fighting over inches. 

Gonzalez highlights o-linemen from both ends of careers: from guys just drafted to guys who’ve recently retired. Every dude profiled – from fourth round draft pick Ben Bartch to future HOFs Joe Thomas and Allan Faneca – lives a day scheduled around food. It’s disturbing to read them walk through a ‘typical’ day. If that’s not enough, the during football and after football pics are incredible. You see just how much they ask of their bodies, and then you see how relatively small these dudes are meant to be: 

Joe Thomas:

John Sullivan: 

Alan Faneca: 

As Thomas puts it: “It’s totally an unhealthy relationship with food as an offensive lineman. I don’t know many people who are normally just 300 pounds.”

However, a small light shines through this story. New guys like Bartch and Jon Runyan are looking for ways to do this healthy. Beers and ice cream are being replaced with sweet potatoes, steamed rice, and – as Runyan puts it, “a truckload of chicken breast or tenderloin.” These young guys are food prepping for the week, because it’s pretty hard to eat healthy on a college campus, especially when you need to eat every two hours. Runyan, whose dad played in the NFL, knows the goal is to put on the weight in a way that limits the damage to the body after a NFL career.

A fascinating, albeit disturbing story about the offensive line. Excellent read. – PAL 

Source: ‘It’s Totally an Unhealthy Relationship With Food”’, John Gonzalez, The Ringer (05/05/20)

TOB: This article was just so sad. I’ve heard others suggest a weight limit in the NFL, but I thought it was silly – why keep someone out if they are naturally large? That’s still true for me, but I had no idea so many players have to work so hard to get and stay big. The stories from guys like Joe Thomas on how he much he had to force himself to eat in order to maintain his playing weight are disturbing. Maybe a weight limit is something to consider – even 300 lbs.


Was Trump Good at Baseball?

h/t TOB’s mom for sending this along

Donald Trump has long claimed he was a very good baseball player in high school. In fact, he claimed pro teams scouted him, and that he could have played professional baseball, if he had wanted to. So, writer Leander Schaerlaeckens went to incredible lengths to investigate these claims. He interviewed Trump’s former teammates and coaches; he contacted the MLB teams who supposedly scouted him; he talked to modern day scouts; he found old magazine interviews with Trump and others; he scoured small town newspaper clippings and box scores. Honestly, you have to respect this hustle. 

The conclusion? Trump was probably an average to above-average high school athlete, but no more. Most of his teammates agreed he was a pretty good defensive first baseman, but there was disagreement about his abilities as a hitter. However, Schaerlaeckens was able to find approximately nine box scores; that’s a small sample, but Trump’s team played only 30-40 baseball games over the three years he was on the team, so we’re talking about one-third to one-fourth of Trump’s games. In those games, Trump hit just .138. That is NOT GOOD! Certainly not at the level that would get anyone scouted in Trump’s small, northeast military academy league. 

But the article is interesting as yet another view into how Trump and his people have for decades tried to craft the Trump myth. One of a few examples comes in a piece Trump wrote for Fox News dope Brian Kilmeade’s book about how future politicians were shaped by sports. Here’s Trump in the book:

“I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper,” he continued. “It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.”

Schaerlaeckens scoured the local papers of the time and found no such headline, or anything like it. It doesn’t mean it didn’t occur, but it seems doubtful. In fact, according to a former teammate, Trump may have won a game once, but despite Trump’s claims, it was not on a home run:

We were walking together near the baseball field where, he reminded me, he’d played exceptionally well. He demanded that I tell him the story of one of his greatest games.

“The bases were loaded,” I told him. “We were losing by three. You hit the ball just over the third baseman’s head. Neither the third baseman nor the left fielder could get to the ball in time. All four of our runs came in; we won the game.”

“No,” he [Trump] said. “That’s not the way it happened. I want you to remember this: I hit the ball out of the ballpark! Remember that. I hit it out of the ballpark!”

Ballpark? I thought. We were talking about a high school practice field. There was no park to hit a ball out of. And anyway, his hit was a blooper the fielders misplayed.

That sounds like our guy. 

But one Trump boast in particular made me chuckle. In the same article Trump wrote for Kilmeade Trump made a claim that is demonstrably false. Here’s Schaerlaeckens:

Trump, who played first base, wrote that “being a pro was in the equation” until he attended a tryout with “another young kid named Willie McCovey.” Apparently, the sight of the future Hall of Famer in action convinced him to give up baseball for good.

As for Willie McCovey, he was eight years older than Trump. When Trump was a senior in high school, McCovey was in his fifth year in the major leagues and already an All-Star.

Whoops, Donald. Maybe in the future, he could change the story from McCovey to Reggie Jackson, who made his debut in 1967. The math works a little better. -TOB

Source: Was Donald Trump Good at Baseball,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, Slate (05/05/2020)

PAL: Major kudos to Mrs. O’Brien and Schaerlaeckens. This is some real investigative work to confirm something that – on the surface – doesn’t matter to most. I urge folks to read the full story. Two quotes from the story speak volumes to me: 

From the man himself (ellipses from Schaerlaeckens, underline is mine):

I will never forget […] the first time I saw my name in the newspaper. It was when I got the winning home run in a game between our academy and Cornwall High School. It was in 1964 and it was in a little local paper. It simply said, TRUMP HOMERS TO WIN THE GAME. I just loved it and I will never forget it. It was better than actually hitting the home run.

(PAL note: nevermind the fact that no such headline exists, and they never played Cornwall in ‘64, or ‘63, but that’s not the point.)

And this:  “If he had hit the ball to right, he could’ve had a home run because no one was there,” a classmate told the Post. “But he always wanted to hit the ball through people. He wanted to overpower them.” 


The Jordan Rules

As we continue to watch The Last Dance, here’s an excerpt from a 2017 article by Bryan Curtis of the Ringer on former Bulls beat writer Sam Smith’s 1992 book, “The Jordan Rules.” The book dished the dirt on Jordan and the Bulls from inside the locker room as they marched to their first title in 1991:

Or take former Bulls coach Doug Collins, now a commentator on ESPN. In December 1988, the Bulls played so unevenly in Charlotte that Collins called for the team to fly back to Chicago for a Christmas Eve practice. Jordan didn’t appear for the team bus — he was returning to North Carolina for the holidays, anyway, and didn’t want to bother with a round trip to Chicago. Collins — who was, in theory, the coach — was humiliated. But what could he do? He sent word that if Jordan would just meet the team at the airport, Collins would “spontaneously” cancel practice, thus caving to Jordan while (or this was Collins’s idea) preserving a shred of his own authority.

Which is what happened, Smith reported. Except when Jordan showed up at the airport, the guard John Paxson saw he wasn’t wearing socks. No one went to Chicago in winter without socks. The Bulls realized the whole scene was a sham.

I laughed so hard when I read this. Collins reminds me of Michael Scott in “The Dinner Party” episode of The Office.

“This is b.s., this is b.s.! Why are we here? I am going to call Krause. Enough is enough, I’m, god, I’m so mad! This is Doug Collins, Chicago. Well, we don’t want to practice. No, we don’t. It’s not fair to these people! These people are my friends and I care about them! We’re not gonna do it! …Everybody, I just got off the horn with Krause. And basically, I told them where they can stick their Christmas Eve practice. Go enjoy your Christmas!”

Curtis also sees the book as a workplace drama, not unlike The Office. 

The Jordan Rules is a story of coworkers, maybe the best office drama in the history of sportswriting.

In one fascinating sequence, Smith shows how even a small personnel move can reverberate across the roster. Phil Jackson wants to put Stacey King, who’s rotting on the bench, into the starting lineup to get him going. But Jackson realizes such a move will be seen by Horace Grant, who’s angling for a new contract, as management’s scheme to limit his minutes and gain an upper hand in the negotiations. It’s only after Grant’s extension is signed that Jackson makes King a starter. But even that is interpreted by several Bulls players as a power move by David Falk, the agent to both King and Jordan.

The battle was joined by Jackson too. The Jordan Rules allows you to appreciate the now checked-out Knicks boss in his Sith lord prime. Once, Smith reported, Jackson stopped keeping score in a team scrimmage because he knew such a decision would piss off the competitive Jordan. When Jordan tomahawk dunked and then stared down his coach, Jackson knew he’d succeeded. Yes, feel the hate flow through you!

I want to read this book. One more:

But in 1991, the idea that Jordan was an exciting but somehow deficient basketball player was every bit as powerful as the idea that Russell Westbrook is one today. As David Robinson says in the book: “Michael is more of a non-basketball-fan type of player. He always looks great out there hanging, jumping, dribbling around. But if you know a lot about the game, you appreciate what I do more.” 

HAHAHAHA. Oh man, David Robinson putting a spin on the old adage that it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to talk and remove all doubt. But in Robinson’s case, he never said anything controversial and people incorrectly assumed he was wise. Nope. -TOB

Source: ‘The Jordan Rules’ Was the Mother of All Woj Bombs,” Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (06/09/2017)

PAL: Just going to put this right here…


Video of the Week

The 80s were so goddamn funny.


Tweet of the Week

I am not going to embed this, but if you haven’t seen the documentary on former Niners’ QB Alex Smith’s return from a broken leg that resulted in a bacterial infection that almost cost him his leg and his life, and you’re wondering what that might have looked like, then click this link for what his leg looked like four days after the injury. If you’re squeamish, you have been warned.


Song of the Week – El Michels Affair – “Life of Pablo”


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You are a thief of joy. 

-Michael Scott

Week of April 24, 2020

TOB is Klay at every pickup game.


The Silver Lining to Shelter-in-Place

The last month has been difficult. Fifty thousand people have died in this country. That’s a nearly-full football stadium, just wiped away. For the loved ones they left behind, it’s been devastating; life-altering. 

For others, like us, it’s been merely an adjustment, and thankfully nothing more. But I miss so many things: the periodic visits from my parents; weekend trips to get coffee and donuts with the boys; hours-long brew days and chats with Phil; daily strategy sessions and shop-talk with my buddy Kevin at work; pickup basketball in my neighborhood on Sunday mornings.

But more than all of that, I try to ignore what my kids are missing out on. My oldest, who wants nothing more than to play sports, got to play exactly one spring soccer game and zero baseball games. It was his first baseball season, and he sure seems snakebit. Last season, I got him onto a team and after the first few practices were rained out, we showed up to the first game, ready to play, and he was turned away for being too young. This year, he went to opening ceremonies, then had his first game rained out, and the rest of the season canceled. My youngest, who for two years was desperate to attend school, had his first year of preschool cut in half. He talks about all of his friends daily – giving us random stories about something one of them did to him, or said to him, or how he handled it. And he begged me Thursday to “go to class” via Zoom with his teacher again, which he did the day before and absolutely loved.

Because even with all of that going on, I’ve tried to be very conscious of how unbelievably lucky my wife and I are. We have our health, as do our friends and family. We have our jobs. We have incredible childcare help that allows us to do and keep those jobs.

But more than that, we are so lucky because after a few weeks’ adjustment period, things are … kinda great. My wife and I work a lot, and now I get to spend so much time with her, and our kids, because we no longer have a 40-min trip each way to the office  The kids, especially, probably hope the shelter-in-place never gets lifted. I enjoy the lazy mornings, listening to the funny things they say to each other as they play. I enjoy the walk upstairs at lunch, knowing they’re about to scream, “Daddyyyyyyy!” with glee when they hear the door open. I enjoy the hours of board games and chess and baking. And, of course, the baseball out front. With the lessened traffic, I now let them just hit directly into the street, after which I chase the ball down the hill. Sometimes, my wife even pitches and I stand in the street playing outfield. 

I try to be mindful of all of this, even as things around us are so difficult. And I thought a lot about it as I read this wonderful article by Dwayne Bray, about how he and his 17-year old son, who long ago gave up baseball to focus on basketball, which he plays at a prep school far from home, have used the shelter-in-place to rediscover the simple joy of throwing some batting practice to each other:

I began by tossing Nick some balls that he could hit into the fence above the backstop. That was always how we started things, back in the day. Next, he walked through the crabgrass and out to the mound. I crouched behind the plate and caught about 25 fastballs — some high, some wide and some down the middle. Years earlier, I’d let him send 50 pitches my way, but bending down to catch 50 pitches isn’t in the cards anymore.

We moved to short toss and, once our arms were loose, we tossed the ball long. I hit him some infield grounders and he fielded most of the balls cleanly, given that he was working with uneven turf and tricky hops. Then we got to our main activity, which was dad hitting long fly balls to son, who would roam center field and shag them. We only had two baseballs and that was plenty.

“Hit it farther,” Nick yelled after my first few flies were more shallow than he wanted. “Make me run.”

After about 10 minutes in the outfield, Nick sprinted in and said, “Let’s switch up. You go to the outfield and I’ll do the hitting.” After about another 10 minutes we switched back.

After about an hour, I was spent. I knew we had one more thing to do. I pitched Nick a fastball and he jacked a screamer into deep left-center. I ran as fast as I could after it. By the time I reached the ball, he’d already crossed the plate. He didn’t slow down to give me a chance. He just wanted to crush the old man. We laughed.

If it weren’t for the isolated world of coronavirus that we live in, I doubt that Nick and I would have ever revived our baseball ritual. This was about dad and son and a game that we both love.

“I had forgot how much fun baseball is,” Nick said to me as we packed up our equipment. “When I have kids, I’m going to make sure I play baseball with them.”

“And when MLB comes back, I’m going to watch more of it,” he said.

As I headed off to my car, and he to his, he had one more thing to say.

“Dad, as long as things are shut down, let’s keep doing baseball, OK?”

Three days later, we were out there again.

The world is a weird and scary place right now, but it’s still a beautiful place, too. -TOB

Source: Under the Coronavirus Lockdown, a Father and Son Rediscover Their Love for Baseball,” Dwayne Bray, The Undefeated (04/21/2020)

PAL: We’re closing in on Week 7 of shutdown mode. Week 7! Sheesh. While our families and friends have avoided the worst of the health scare so far – thank god – the wake of this thing is so wide, and it’s no doubt being felt by loved ones in painful ways. It rolls over everything. Each day feels fragile. Everything must balance: some news (but not too much), a work out (but not at lunchtime or 5pm when everyone’s out), get through a to-do list for work (step 1: make to-do list), cook a good dinner (but let’s be aware of how often we’re going to the grocery store, and let’s make sure to get takeout from our favorite local spots), driveway visits (but let’s keep it 15 feet apart just to be safe), not watching 3 hours of television.

And I wonder about when I can safely visit my parents in Minnesota. I want to give my mom a hug.

So with all of that in mind, this story and TOB’s write-up got my day off to a good start. I think it will do the same for you. I’ve seen TOB in action during the shelter (from a safe distance). My pop-a-shot record at the O’Brien’s house has been bested (most notably by TOB’s 6 year-old), and the security cam videos of the family playing baseball in the driveway are a highlight, too. There is a lot of playing going on over there. A lot. Wish like hell I could join in!


Mike Jordan

On Sunday, the first two of ten episodes of “The Last Dance,” a documentary chronicling the final season of the Jordan-era Bulls’ dynasty in 1998. I didn’t think there was anything groundbreaking, but it was an entertaining and quick two hours that left me wanting more. We’ll likely be writing about it a few times over the next few weeks, because a lot has been written about it so far. 

Before he was Michael Jordan, or Air Jordan, or His Airness…he was Mike Jordan. One of my favorite parts of The Last Dance’s first two episodes was seeing clips of the sheepish and young, the confident but quiet, Mike Jordan. Before the commercials and the Beatles-treatment everywhere he went, he was a kid from North Carolina.

My earliest memory of Michael Jordan was watching him and the Bulls lose to the Pistons in the 1990 playoffs. I remember being so mad. I was eight. By that time, he was all-caps MICHAEL JORDAN, even though he wouldn’t win his first championship until the following year. So I really loved the footage of young Mike, in college and in his first couple years in the pros, before he found his voice, before he was sure of his place atop the game.

One of the many articles written about the first two episodes was by Sam Smith, the former Bulls beat writer who in 1992 wrote “The Jordan Rules,” an inside look at the Bulls under Jordan that was not exactly flattering. Smith’s article touches on much of what I liked about the first two episodes, as he waxed on young Jordan, before he became too famous to function:

As I’ve related at times, I had a good relationship with Jordan writing about the Bulls for The Chicago Tribune in the 1980s. He was great fun to be around, the so called man’s man with whom every moment was a test, a contest, an action, an event.

As unlikely as it seems now, back then hardly anyone believed you could win a title with Jordan on your team. He’s just a scorer! the columnists instructed. You need to make others better like Larry and Magic did.

Hey, I’m being asked to make Mike Smrek, Gene Banks and Steve Colter better, Jordan would lament. But there may not have been a better interview, few players more welcoming, cordial, engaging and relentlessly interesting. Jordan loved the media give and take. He didn’t like shooting before the games because crowds would gather like with the Curry dribbling shows. He preferred to verbally engage, challenge, get that last word.

Obviously the documentary is about the 1998 season, long after Jordan could no longer be that guy. So I doubt we will get much more of that era, but I really enjoyed that aspect of the first two episodes.

Also: in the article, Smith gives context to one of Jordan’s most infamous quotes (“Hey, Republicans buy sneakers, too.”). Jordan said it to Smith, and as Smith notes, people have bashed Jordan over it for decades, arguing he’s a corporate tool. But Smith disagrees. It was just a joke. He should know; after all, Jordan said it to Smith. And, as Smith notes:

After his career I do know he was seriously involved with Barack Obama’s campaigns and has supported more social causes than most. Mostly quietly or anonymously.

I didn’t know that, and I appreciated it. -TOB

Source:The Story Behind One of Michael Jordan’s Most Misunderstood Quotes,” Sam Smith, NBA.com (04/15/2020)


Always Watch The Credits (more on The Last Dance)

I will say, it’s always a red flag when the subject of the doc is the one putting it out. Hey – I know I’ll enjoy the hell out of this documentary series, but it is worth noting that, (A) nothing went into this doc without Jordan’s approval, and (B) Jordan’s production company is a partner in this thing. 

What’s more:

Commissioner Adam Silver, who in the 1990s was the head of NBA Entertainment, told ESPN that a condition of allowing the film crew to follow the Bulls around during the 1997-98 season was that none of the footage could be used without Jordan’s permission. Optically, very little of this is unvarnished.

I’ve heard multiple times from Dan Patrick and Bill Simmons (both former ESPN talent) that everyone had know about the tapes for years. No one thought this thing would ever get done, because Jordan would never approve it. 

Well, in 2016, Jordan finally gave the thumbs up. He did so on the same day Lebron James and his Cavelier teammates were having their championship parade. Hmmmmm. 

And later:

“I am reminded of that viral clip of Jordan and Tom Brady playing pickup basketball with other unidentified players from 2015 in the Bahamas.

“Hey, man, you guys still have YouTube?” Jordan, in his early 50s, says to one of his defenders after making a flawless jumper over him. “You better put on Michael Jordan for real.”

“That’s what “The Last Dance” is: Jordan reminding us who he is, or was, as James’s legacy emerges. Not just as a basketball player, but culturally. Would a documentary about James’s career attract multiple former presidents and A-list celebrities?”

To be fair, I should wait until I’ve watched the entire series before teeing up this stuff. But also, to be fair, THERE ARE NO OTHER SPORTS GOING ON! – PAL 

Source: Is Michael Jordan Playing Defense in ‘The Last Dance’?”, Sopan Deb, The New York Times (04/20/20)


I MISS KRUK AND KUIP

I miss ‘em! And I’m not alone. The Athletic’s Steve Berman (nee the Bay Area Sports Guy) wrote up a nice story on Kruk and Kuip, and how they are staying busy, and in touch, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a nice read, with lots of Kruk and Kuip being Kruk and Kuip. I recommend it.

But I especially liked this anecdote about how they got their start together, broadcasting games:

Their other connection, of course — one which started as players on road trips when the dugouts were spacious enough to stay out of trouble — is broadcasting.

Krukow and Kuiper loved calling games together as teammates, but they had to pick their spots. First, only certain locations made it even feasible without getting reprimanded by a cranky manager.

“It was the real broadcast,” Krukow said. “There was lots of profanity and lots of cutting-edge observations on our opponents, many of whom we weren’t that fond of. Same thing, we would have cutting remarks about our own teammates, which would entertain our teammates sitting close to us. So we had fun with it.”

“Language that at times we wish we could use (today),” Kuiper said. “Certainly not appropriate for people watching in their living room. But that’s dugout language. That’s not language I used in catechism. It was a language that I used in the dugout. So it kind of fit perfectly for where we were sitting.”

There was a problem — one which has suited Krukow and Kuiper quite well since they retired: Sometimes, they were a little too entertaining.

“We would actually get (teammates) that would come over,” said Kuiper. “And it was kind of odd, because Frank [Robinson, the manager] would look down the bench and he had nobody sitting around him, but there would be like eight guys sitting next to Mike and I. And then we had to break up that group because then it was pretty obvious something was going on down there that was a lot more fun than what was going on behind Frank.

I would pay $100 per season to hear them call a game like that.

Source: From the Dugout to Zoom: The Friendship of Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper Endures,” Steve Berman, The Athletic (04/12/2020)

PAL: $100? $100 is not enough. Show some damn respect. I love how they could only do it at stadiums with long dugouts. Philly? Nope. Pittsburgh? Not a chance. Montreal? Long dugouts. They could have some fun for an inning or two in Montreal. Outstanding.

TOB: LOL. I almost said a dollar a game, but that seemed low – it’s worth more than that. Then I thought $200. But that’s more than MLB’s league pass. So even though $100 for 162 games is than $1 per game, I  don’t sit down and watch from start to finish 100 games per year. These days I often have to flip through after the kids go to bed. So $100 for the season to pop-in and hear them talk some shit sounded right.


Is NCAA Basketball About to Get Knocked Out?

A year and a half ago, the NBA announced a new option for elite high school seniors not yet eligible for the NBA Draft: the G League (formerly the NBDL) (*If you’re rightfully wondering why the NBA won’t just lift its rule preventing players from entering the draft until one year after they finish high school, it’s because the NBA wants to protect its teams from investing millions in players who they’ve only seen play against high school competition.) The money was far less than for an NBA rookie, but at a then-announced $150,000 per year contract, it was about even with what players get to play at a school like Arizona ( ;), Casey).

It was certainly newsworthy, but many were rightfully skeptical – it takes a lot to turn a tanker, and the NCAA is one of the biggest. Decades of history, and endless TV exposure that the NCAA provides, were seen as too difficult to pass up. Sure, a few players have gone to Europe or Australia in recent years, but the G League has a bit of a stigma, and its games are rarely on TV, or covered at all. It would take a true star to turn this ship, and this week, the G League got it. 

Jalen Green is that dude. Green is the top-rated prospect in the 2020 high school class. Originally from Fresno, California and playing his senior year at Prolific Prep in Napa, Green is a 6’5 combo guard who many believe would be the #1 pick in this year’s draft, if he was eligible. But he’s not. So instead of having to clandestinely take $100,000 or ply his trade in exchange for a useless half-year of education in college, and instead of traveling across the globe, far from family and friends, Green took the G League up on its offer. 

His contract is reportedly worth upwards of $1,000,000. Other prospects who join the program will apparently make at least $500,000.00. And instead of having to fake their way through classes for one semester and be limited in the time they can work on their craft, they will be instead placed in a program designed to develop them, as they play a select few exhibition games. This is great for Green.

It’s not great for the NCAA. If this becomes commonplace, the already depleted talent-level in college will get so much worse. While watching the Jordan documentary, I was struck by the talent in the 1982 NCAA championship, when Jordan hit the game winning shot. You’ve got Jordan, the greatest ever. But you’ve also got Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing and James Worthy, plus Sam Perkins and Sleepy Floyd. You just don’t see that kind of talent in college anymore, because the best players leave before they develop. I often think of guys in their third year in the league (like Jason Taytum this year), and just imagine him as a senior this year at Duke. LOLLLLLL. He’d be DESTROYING everyone. Of course, there’d be lots of other older players, too: De’Aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, Bam Adebayo? Seniors. Bagley, Ayton, Trae Young, and Gilgeous-Alexander? Juniors

The talent level has already been so poor for two decades now, but it’s about to get worse if all those players don’t even play a single year. You can argue that it will create better basketball because there will be more continuity. But you don’t see anyone clamoring to watch D-II basketball, do you? Or even the Ivy League? 

The NCAA is like an aging fighter who just got a cut above its eye in the fourth round. Are they going to get pummeled for the next few rounds before collapsing a bloody heap in the tenth? Or are they going to throw a haymaker that wins them the belt? In this case, the haymaker the NCAA needs is to agree to pay players. They are now in direct competition with the NBA for the dozen or so very best players each year. If they don’t do something drastic, to not only get the best players into college but also keep them for a few years, they’re going to stagger around the ring for a few years before the ref stops the bout. -TOB

PAL: It’s far from perfect, but something along the lines of the baseball draft seems like a decent solution. Here are the simplified rules for first year players in U.S. and Canada (some dudes get drafted multiple times): 

  • High school graduates who haven’t enrolled at a college are eligible
  • Junior college players are eligible 
  • College players, over 21 (odd speculation to me), who have completed their junior or senior year

For basketball, maybe they adjust to something like: 

  • High school graduates who haven’t enrolled at a college are eligible (or they can play in the G-league or wherever they want)
  • Junior college players are eligible (seems like a far rarer scenario, but – hey – we JUST wrote about Shawn Kemp, who was a juco guy)
  • College players who have completed their sophomore year 

In other words, either you go after high school, or you have to play 2 years in college. The best 5-10 don’t play college ball: either they get drafted or join a professional league, but there’s some continuity to college teams with players staying for two seasons. You miss out on the phenoms, but some very good players and teams can sprout in two years together. 

Maybe the best 50 prep players eventually chose routes alternative to college. You make an interesting point about Ivy Leagues and D-II ball not getting a lot of attention. I would argue, at least partially, that’s due to it being an inferior form of college basketball. At least for the foreseeable future, people will watch the best college basketball available, because watching college ball is also about nostalgia to some extent. It’s a reminder of our college days. And people love reminders of the glory days. 


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: Pure Prairie League – “Amie”


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“Here’s to good friends…mmm…sort of an oaky afterbirth.”

-Michael Scott

Lockdown Dailies #12: Strangest Field You Ever Played On

Strangest Baseball Field You Ever Played On

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that every field is different. Perhaps most famously is the Polo Grounds. 

Dimensions: Left Field: 279 ft, Left-Center: 450 ft, Center Field: 483 ft, Right-Center: 449 ft, Right Field: 258 ft.

LOL. I’ve seen those dimensions before but it is always so funny. The shortest home run in today’s game is 310 down the right field line at Fenway, which is FIFTY TWO FEET longer than the right field pole was at the Polo Grounds.

I bring this up because last week, 1-2-3 favorite Jomboy (real name: James O’BRIEN) asked Twitter followers for the funniest/dumbest local baseball fields. This one was my absolute favorite:

Center field is just opens up, with no fence, into a football field. Amazing. Like all great, quirky ball parks, they made the best with the space they had and created something so ridiculous, you can’t help but love it.

Looking at the Polo Grounds reminded me that Phil and I used to play softball at a field in SF (James P. LANG Field!) that has two softball fields at opposite corners of what is ostensibly a soccer or football field. 

It’s difficult to tell there how lopsided this field is, but I utilized Google Maps’ measuring tool and the dimensions are 385 to left, and 200 (yes, 200) to right. Given those dimensions, most teams stuck their worst defender in right, and shaded everyone toward center and left, because a ball getting by the outfielders in center and left would roll and roll, but a ball to right would hit that relatively short fence. 

Confession: I have never in my life hit a true home run. So, for two seasons, I eyed that short porch in right and decided to make a run at it, wanting to experience a home run trot. One night, I hit the ball so hard, I thought for sure it was gone off the bat. I watched that beauty fly and felt pure joy.

One thing you can’t tell from the overhead shot is that the right field wall is very tall. Here’s the best pic I could find. 

As you can kind of see in the top left of the photo, as you approach the fence, the grass heads steeply uphill. I’d say 6-7 feet (you can see in the photo the grass line is taller than a person standing out there). Then the fence is probably 12 feet high from there, so we are talking almost 20 feet.

As you probably guessed, I hit the ball high, I hit the ball deep…but I did not hit the ball high enough. The ball hit the goddamn very top of the wall. It was maybe a couple feet short of clearing it. I was crushed. And because I had been pimpin’ it, I had to scramble to eek out a double. Embarrassing.

What’s worse is this: (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil), Phil had not yet hit a dinger at that field either, despite being a lefty (something I had given him some ribbing about). Well, Phil was the next hitter up. And as I stood at second base, I got an absolutely spectacular view as Phil crushed a home run over that same wall I had barely failed to clear. Phil was cackling at me during his entire slow trot around the bases. Insult to injury. 

I never did get that dinger. I might need to get back into that league. I’ve got Dad-strength now, ya know. -TOB

PAL: That is correct, TOB. I had yet to hit a home run, despite the fact that we played ALL of our games on those two fields, and both favored the lefties big time. This is because I kinda suck at hitting softballs.

I’ve played on a lot of odd fields in my day, and – I agree with JOMBOY – it makes for a far more interesting game. That overhead shot of the Polo Grounds is crazy point of view. I also don’t think Pesky Pole down the right field line is anywhere near 310 feet from home. My brother-in-law, lifelong Red Sox fan and Mass. resident, can back me up on this: right field might not be even 300 feet. However, it juts almost straight back from there, so only a very small portion of right field is a short porch at Fenway.

For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of the field, but I seem to remember playing a legion baseball game (16-18) where a ball over the right field fence was just a ground rule double because the fence was so short. Cretin’s field in St. Paul is perfectly manicured, but the left field fence is maybe 265, a fact few people seemed to remember when looking at season stats (OH MY GOD, so-and-so from Cretin has 12 home runs!)

The worst playing field I can remember was my freshman year in college. It was about 6 degrees out and we were trying like hell to get a conference game in before or after another snow storm in March. Somewhere in Sioux City, IA. I swear we played a college game on a Babe Ruth field that, in the most perfect conditions looked like the location of a meth deal from Breaking Bad. On the day we played there, it was unthawed with the snow shoveled off of it. It smelled like sulfur (because that entire town does). It was like playing on concrete in a howling wind. Miserable.

So, that’s my story of the strangest field I ever played on. How about you?


Video of the Day

We haven’t really been doing videos of the day on our dailies, but I loved this and wanted to share: Mike Yastrzemski mic’d up.


More Dailies: 

  1. Your favorite baseball cleats
  2. Greatest game you ever played in
  3. Glove Rules
  4. Coaching Unis
  5. Best Fields/Courts/Venues you’ve every played on
  6. Favorite players (by decade)
  7. Best players you played with or against
  8. Predicting Joe Posnanski’s Top 7  baseball players of all-time.
  9. Least Favorite Players By Decade
  10. Ultimate Sports Experience
  11. Remove these songs from the sports canon

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Week of April 10, 2020

COVID-19 Hair.


This Week’s Best from Posnanski’s Top 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds could be an asshole, yes. But, like all of us, he is not monochromatic. He is complicated. When discussing Bonds’ reputation for being a jerk in the locker room, Posnanski writes the following:

*This personal thing must be said here: Barry Bonds was always nice to me. There was no apparent reason for it. He didn’t know me. He hadn’t read me. I feel sure he couldn’t have come up with my name if he was spotted all the letters except the “J.” But every time I needed to talk to him, probably a half-dozen times before 1998, a few times after, he was always accommodating, thoughtful — and could this be? — friendly. It was the strangest thing. It was like I reminded him of a childhood friend or something.

When I told other writers and people around baseball about this, they shook their heads and promptly told me their own Bonds horror stories. I kept waiting for mine. It hasn’t come yet. Maybe it will. But it would not be right or fair for me to discuss Bonds’ well-known media hatred without saying that he could be, when he wanted, an engaging, insightful and pleasant interview. He has a lot of charm. He dispenses it sparingly.

There are certainly times that all of us acted in a way we wouldn’t want written about; there are times we’ve been rude or mean or lashed out because we were hurt, and it doesn’t get played on loop, or written about 25 years later in an article discussing what a jerk you were when you were barely an adult. But from everything I’ve read about Bonds, he was not only a jerk. He was not a movie villain, hell-bent on ruining the day of everyone around him, every single day. As Posnanski says, he in fact could be polite and charming. That doesn’t excuse the times he was rude, or a jerk, or an asshole – but it must be said.

I think what makes me sad about Barry Bonds is that the people who do not like him dismiss that he seems to clearly suffer from deep insecurities stemming from a childhood and a life spent chasing the affection of a father who would not show it. As Posnanski puts it, Bonds wanted to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived. What Posnanski leaves unsaid is that Bonds felt that becoming the greatest baseball player who ever lived was the way to receive the love and admiration of his father, and of everyone else. And he never got it. He was deeply sensitive as a result. As his college coach put it:

“He wanted to be liked, tried so damn hard to have people like him,” Brock told Sports Illustrated. “Tried too hard. But then he’d say things he didn’t mean, wild statements. I tried to tell him that these guys, 20 years from now, would be electricians and plumbers, but he’d be making millions. … Still he’d be hurt. People don’t realize that he can be hurt — and is, fairly often.”

The tragedy of Bonds is that he was an incredible baseball player before steroids, and for some his numbers after 1998 are tainted. For some, his numbers before 1998 are tainted, because the steroids taint his integrity. I think that’s deeply unfair. It’s been written before, but Posnanski puts Bonds’ steroid use into the proper context of the time:

Then came 1998. Barry Bonds had an incredible year in 1998. I mean, no, it wasn’t incredible for him, but it was still so remarkable. He hit .303/.438/.609 with 44 doubles, seven triples, 37 homers, 120 runs scored and 122 RBIs. He won his eighth Gold Glove. He led the league in WAR for the seventh time. It was his seventh straight season with a 1.000 OPS.

And that year, he became the first player in baseball history to hit 400 home runs and steal 400 bases in a career. He was the player of his generation.

It should have been the year of Barry, one celebrated by all. It was, to say the least, not the year of Barry. No, 1998 was the year that people marveled at how far Mark McGwire could hit a baseball. No, 1998 was the year that people pounded their chests along with Sammy Sosa as he rounded the bases an astounding 66 times. No, 1998 was the year that Ken Griffey Jr. — so much more lovable — cracked 56 home runs and drove in 146 and won a Gold Glove (in center field!) and stretched the imagination.

And Bonds? Who? He was just this problematic outfielder who played for an also-ran Giants team and couldn’t hit in the playoffs. Yes, all his career, Bonds told people again and again that he didn’t care, he didn’t care, he didn’t care.

But 1998 was the year Barry Bonds discovered he did care very much.

Barry Bonds broke the game. That’s how good he was after 1998. The theory goes that Bonds saw how people celebrated McGwire and Sosa and others, and he knew they were using steroids, and he decided that it was time to go all in.

You can imagine Jack Nicholson’s line from “Batman” playing in his head: “Wait ‘til they get a load of me.”

There was no testing in baseball then. There was no outcry in baseball then. It was quite the opposite: The game was thriving! The home run was king! Nike reminded everybody that chicks dig the long ball! MLB even put out a comic book of baseball players with enormous muscles. Muscles were in!

So Barry Bonds got muscles. And he tilted baseball.

Remember: we knew. We all knew! In August 1998, a writer saw a bottle of androstenedione (which was banned in the NFL and the Olympics at the time, but not baseball) in McGwire’s locker and wrote about it. McGwire and Sosa looked like bodybuilders. No one cared. MORE DINGERS! MORE DINGERS! 

I don’t understand what an athlete in Bonds’ situation was realistically supposed to do. So many players were using steroids; certainly, not all of them. But so many. It was not being tested for; it was not against the rules. Most importantly, the players using steroids were being celebrated. What kind of message did that send to Barry, and the rest of baseball? Barry Bonds wanted nothing more than to be loved, and his incredible season was ignored because McGwire and Sosa and others were juiced and bashing baseballs out of the stadium at rates never before seen. He was supposed to just shrug his shoulders? That is deeply unfair.

I don’t understand the people who dislike him because he “broke the game.” Posanski touches on this, but it needs to be said: Bonds did not ruin baseball. He was not the first to take steroids. He was not the last. But even if he was, steroids didn’t ruin baseball. In fact, McGwire and Sosa’s 1998 season helped rescue baseball from the post-1994 strike doldrums. So many people made money because players used steroids. The game is more popular than ever, with attendance well above what it was before the 1990s. What gets lost is that baseball is entertainment. There’s no “sanctity of the game.” Bonds was entertaining, both before and after 1998. That’s what we pay money to see. If steroids helped him entertain more and entertain longer, so what?

But the thing I do not understand the most about Bonds, are the Bonds haters who take delight in his pain:

The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly caught up with Barry Bonds. He found a sad and haunted man. “I feel like a ghost,” Bonds said. “A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around.”

How you feel about that quote probably says everything about how you feel about him. Are you thrilled that he’s getting what he had coming? Do you feel sad that Bonds, who did so many incredible things, cannot find peace?

Or do you feel a little of both?

From his earliest memories, all Barry Bonds ever wanted was to become the greatest baseball player who ever lived. He paid every price. He ignored every doubt. He raged over every hurdle. He cut every corner. He shut himself off from everything else. He brushed aside every other concern. He made more enemies than friends.

And he became the greatest baseball player who ever lived.

And what was waiting for him at the end? Remember what he said way back at the start of his career: “If I’m supposed to wait for you guys to applaud me, I could be waiting a lifetime.”

Here’s what waited for him at the end: Silence.

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

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

Source: The Baseball 100: No. 3, Barry Bonds,” Joe Posnanski, The Athletic (04/08/2020)

PAL: As if we needed another reminder to be a good parent, eh? Bobby Bonds sounds like a real piece of work. 

Posnanski’s approach (two essays – one for Bonds fans and one for Bonds critics) was a cool tweak in this series. A lot in here, so I think I’ll just add my two cents to points TOB brings up. 

His greatness, especially at the plate, was something to see. And whether or not he has a bust in the Hall of Fame, I will tell my kids that I saw Barry Bonds play. It’s hard to even imagine someone being better than Bonds at his peak. It would have to be something entirely different, like Ohtani being a dominant starting pitcher for 5 years and putting up monster offensive numbers. 

I will measure the best players from future generations against Bonds. What higher compliment could there be?

I sat behind home plate, in line with the right field foul line, and saw him send a pitch into McCovey Cove. And whether or not you rooted for him, everyone was in awe. A home run every 6 at bats. I mean, what the hell? Posnanksi said it – Bonds broke the game. 

History will be very kind to Bonds. Whether or not he is elected into the Hall of Fame, his statistics will outlive the circumstances under which they came. The stats are too absurd. The highlights will live on. In twenty years, generations of fans will neither know nor care that Bonds was an asshole, just like we don’t care that Ty Cobb was an asshole. 

My biggest takeaway from this story is actually a reminder of a lesson I had to learn from Kirby Puckett, my boyhood hero. We don’t know these guys. We love one small, insignificant part of them. We choose when we care. Kirby Puckett was the short, keg of ballplayer that brought two titles to Minnesota. He did it all with a giggle and smile. Everyone’s hero. Turns out he was far from a hero when not in the public eye. By several accounts, he could be pretty gross and mean in ways that are far more important than being rude to a reporter. 

And yet, history has already been kind to Puckett, and he wasn’t half the player Bonds was. It might take a little longer, but the same is coming for Bonds. So Bonds was a selfish prick. Do you care what kind of friend Picasso was? Do you not appreciate For Whom The Bell Tolls because Hemingway was jerk drunk? There are pricks at every office, and some of them are very good at their jobs. Bonds’ personality had zero impact on my enjoyment when I watched him hit. Sure, he was annoying, and I think he always wanted it both ways (leave me alone, but appreciate how great I am), but if you think any of that came into play for anyone in a San Francisco bar during a real Bonds at-bat (not an intentional walk), you’re crazy. We were amazed, all of us.


Sports Need to Stay Shut Down

The sports world quickly shut down last month, after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19 just before the start of a game in Oklahoma City. Everyone applauded how quickly they put their health of the players, employees, and fans. Hurrah, the billionaires did the right thing!

Yeah, that lasted all of, oh, three weeks. What began as low rumbles almost immediately started gaining steam last week: leagues are exploring ways to finish or hold their season. Over last weekend, the reports about MLB, in particular, seemed to be gaining enough steam with reporters who are typically in-the-know that it seemed inevitable: MLB wants to host their season with all teams being housed in Arizona, playing games in empty stadiums, with players sitting spaced out in the bleachers instead of in the dugout.

This is so incredibly stupid. 

It’s stupid logistically. What about the staff? How do you keep players from infecting themselves on the field? A player could easily infect another player on a slide into second, or even touching a baseball touched by an infected player. Even if you put all players in hotels, how do you ensure they stay locked down? How do the players feel being away from their families that long? Same with the staff, including medical staff and other employees that make game days happen? I could go on and on.

It’s stupid on a moral level. This would require THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of tests – there are approximately 800 players on major league rosters every season. Add to that coaches and staff and we’re talking at least 1,200 people who would require regularly testing to ensure they are healthy and able to play. Even if you only tested them once a week, that’s approximately 30,000 tests in a 6-month season, at a time when testing is still scarce, and resources for processing tests are stretched thin with major back logs. How can they justify those testing resources going to baseball?

It’s stupid on an entertainment level. Make no mistake: they do not want to do this to lift the nation’s collective spirit. This is about money, pure and simple. I love baseball, and if you read this blog you probably know I miss it dearly. But I have serious doubts that I’d be tuning in to watch this. Baseball with no crowd? Buddy, that is batting practice. Are people really going to care? And if not, why are we risking people’s health and utilizing precious resources and subjecting players and staff to this insane plan? 

This plan is absolutely madness. And it has to stop. -TOB


Mike Gundy, a Complete Moron, Gets Torn to Shreds

You may remember Mike Gundy, the longtime football coach at Oklahoma State. He went viral in the 2000s for his, “I’m a man! I’m 40!” speech. His teams have been middling, and so he’s made a name for himself again by sporting a ridiculous mullet.

But this week, perhaps taking a cue from our Commander-in-Chief, Gundy offered some insanely idiotic, dangerous, self-important arguments about how Oklahoma State Football should not be shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Longtime college football writer Pat Forde was not having it. Here’s the lede:

I would like stock tips from Noted Expert Mike Gundy. Also, some cooking recipes. Could he offer best practices to our educators? How about weighing in on the Middle East?

I’m dying to be enlightened. Really.

Clearly, Noted Expert Mike Gundy knows far more than just football. Not that he’s been great in that regard lately—his Oklahoma State teams were 15–11 the past two seasons, 8–10 in the Big 12—especially given his $5 million a year salary. But it is now abundantly obvious that labeling him a mere football coach is too limiting. He is a Renaissance man, a visionary capable of seeing solutions where others see problems, a savant so cleverly disguised as a mullet-haired meathead.

Take, for example, the wisdom Noted Expert Mike Gundy dispensed upon the masses Tuesday in a media teleconference. When the only topic that matters in today’s world came up—the global COVID-19 pandemic—he flexed his intellectual prowess. He showcased his grasp of public health, economics, the workings of higher education, college athletics in general and other topics.

“The NCAA, the presidents of the universities, the Power 5 conference commissioners, the athletic directors need to be meeting right now and we need to start coming up with answers,” Noted Expert Mike Gundy said. “In my opinion, if we have to bring our players back, test them. They’re all in good shape. They’re all 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22-year-olds. They’re healthy. A lot of them can fight it off with their natural body, the antibodies and the build that they have. There’s some people that are asymptomatic. If that’s true, then we sequester them. And people say that’s crazy. No, it’s not crazy because we need to continue and budget and run money through the state of Oklahoma.”

Noted Expert Mike Gundy isn’t just talking the talk here. He is an omniscient observer with a plan. He wants to have his staff and support personnel, roughly 100 people, back to work in the Oklahoma State football facility May 1. Then the players after that.

Ooooh, fire. Forde was just getting started, though, and I highly recommend you read it. -TOB

Source: Mike Gundy’s Pandemic Plan Is Ridiculous,” Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated (04/07/2020)

PAL: Dan Patrick also lit into Gundy on this during his radio show. My favorite point: pro athletes, those who get paid to play, aren’t coming back, but let’s talk about bringing the student-athletes back. There are few things higher on the unintentional comedy scale than self-important college football coaches. 


The Spark

This morning, The Athletic posted a complete breakdown of the night when the Utah Jazz – Oklahoma City Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip-off when it was realized Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 the night of Wednesday, March 11. That positive test led to the suspension of the NBA season. NCAA, MLB, NHL were all to follow within 48-hours. Travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines were put in place for folks coming back from anywhere in the E.U., amongst other parts of the world. Shelter in place was issued for 6 Bay Area counties beginning the following Monday. In my mind, that positive test for Gobert was the spark that lit the fuse (even when there were some very alarming details coming out of the Seattle area before March 11.

A lot of us have felt the absence of sports over the past four weeks. Of course, it’s not that important, but I realized how many moments of my daily routine intersects with sports. Coffee, breakfast, check the scores. Lunch was a time scanning a handful of sports sites for interesting stories to write about for Fridays. Having the Twins game streaming audio while I go for a run. Having the Giants game on in the background while making dinner. Again, not that sports is anywhere close to a top priority, but the absence can’t be ignored. And that’s what happened on a very large scale when this Jazz-Thunder game was cancelled just minutes before tip: as a country, we couldn’t ignore the pandemic. I don’t think many of us could wrap our heads around how scary it was going to get over the next month, but we couldn’t ignore it because it came with the absence of sports, pretty much overnight. 

 

This story tracks the Jazz in the days and weeks leading up to the positive test. It’s an interesting look at how an organization handles crisis management. This story makes it seem like the team was actually a bit ahead of the curve in terms of educating employees and players about COVID-19. Some of that had to do with coach Quin Synder growing up 12 miles from the nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, where the first epicenter of the U.S. outbreak took place, and his brother running a market in Pike’s Place. Snyder’s brother, Matt, is also friends with the Seattle-based band, Pearl Jam, which cancelled its world tour two days before the Jazz-Thunder game. So Snyder was following the story extremely closely and asking all sorts of questions early on. 

Another nugget from this story: Thunder’s Chris Paul being a good guy. Never liked Paul, but this was a nice gesture for the Jazz as they waited for next steps after the game in OKC was cancelled: 

Thanks to a generous and well-timed assist from Chris Paul, their moods were lifted approximately an hour after the game had been called when sources say a delivery of beer and wine arrived. Paul, the Thunder point guard who also serves as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, arranged for his longtime security guard Gene Escamilla to deliver the drinks as a way of helping them all pass the anxiety-ridden time.

Other crazy details from the story: 

  • The Jazz had a difficult time finding a hotel in OKC that would take the team after the positive test. 
  • Regardless of how wealthy one might be, it’s not easy to find a flight for someone who has COVID-19 – Charter flights aren’t safe. It had to be private, with additional precautions. 
  • It sounds like this ordeal has driven a wedge between Utah’s two best players (Mitchell and Gobert) – Mitchell is still upset about this, even though he’s been told that no one knows whether he gave it to Gobert or Gobert gave it to him.

A worthwhile read, but I get it if you need a break from pandemic news. – PAL 

Source: Behind the scenes with the Utah Jazz during the days that changed everything”, Shams Charania, Sam Amick and Tony Jones, The Athletic (4/10/20)


Video(s) of the Week

-These always crack me up.

Behind the scenes footage of Miller’s call as Ishikawa wins the 2014 NL pennant.

Bill Murray perfectly capturing the power of John Prine.


Tweet of the Week


Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘Jesus, The Missing Years’

R.I.P., John Prine. While Dylan spoke loudest to me in my teens and twenties, Prine’s music resonates in me now more than ever. Every day, his stories get funnier, sadder, more caring, and more true.


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-Dwight K. Schrute