Week of November 2, 2018

A Most Impressive Loss

The World Series sure seems like a distant memory at this point, doesn’t it? While the Red Sox put the Dodgers out of their misery in just five games, the series felt closer than that. The most memorable ‘moment’ was the 18-inning Game Three. It was perfect kind of insanity for a Friday night, especially for those of us on the west coast. I knew next to nothing about Nathan Eovaldi when entered the game in the 12th inning. When it was over, he threw 97 pitches in relief and got the L when Dodger Max Muncy hit an opposite field home run in the bottom of the 18th. Michael Baumann described the game with the following:

This was the kind of game … actually, there’s no kind of game like this. Game 3 was a seven-hour, 20-minute haunted house, totally unique both in its length—by both time and innings this was the longest World Series game by far—and in its strangeness. This was a game in which Muncy could miss a shot at 15th-inning immortality and come back around for another pass through the lineup.

The pitcher who served up both of Muncy’s fly balls—the 15th-inning foul ball and the 18th-inning walk-off homer—was a 28-year-old named Nathan Eovaldi. If baseball’s empirical revolution of the 21st century hadn’t already debunked wins and losses as a measure of pitcher performance, Eovaldi would have. His relief stint of six-plus innings was a superhero’s origin story, and he ended up taking the loss.

With the Red Sox up two games to zero in the best-of-seven series, the Dodgers more or less needed to win game three to have any real chance at winning its first world series in thirty years. Both teams knew it, and as the game went longer and longer, you could understand the impact this game could have on the future of the series, especially on the teams’ respective pitching staffs. The Dodgers had to make every move, but the Red Sox had the two-game buffer. Among other things, Eovaldi’s performance kept the Red Sox bullpen somewhat intact for game four, which was the next day.

And so we watched this Eovaldi guy go out there on the Dodger’s mound, throwing high 90s inning after inning, with a desperate Dodgers lineup continually trying to end the game with one swing of the bat. As his appearance went from good to great to never-been-done, the casual viewer hears about his two Tommy John surgeries and his journey from high draft pick to journeyman. As Baumann points out, to watch Eovaldi pitch in that game was to watch the literary traits of baseball play out in real time.

Baseball is a contest of attrition, of not only prowess and cunning, but also mental endurance and willpower. When combined with baseball’s unequaled literary tradition, there’s hardly a more romantic figure in sports than the solitary pitcher, holding back the tide with one arm again and again and again, just trying to buy another inning for his teammates.

The most literary aspect of all, Eovaldi lost the game while becoming a Boston sports legend. That game, and Nathan Eovaldi’s performance is why I love baseball. Eovaldi, Steve Pearce, Max Muncy – the World Series was largely decided by role players (or players that were thought to be role players).

Baumann’s story captures the essence of that game and weaves Eovaldi’s professional journey to his greatest moment. A great read about what makes baseball unique. – PAL

Source: “The Cruelest Loss: Nathan Eovaldi’s Superhero Origin Story”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (10/27/2018)

TOB: I watched the whole damn thing. It was just before 1:00 a.m. pacific time when it ended. It ruined me for the entire weekend! And the Dodgers won! What a miserable night. My wife asked me why I didn’t just go to bed and watch in the morning. Are you kidding, woman? The second I turned off that TV something incredible would have happened. Sports lose their magic when you know the outcome is decided, or worse, I’d have been woken at 1 a.m. to the ESPN notification of a Dodger win. Ugh.

The only highlight was our group text chain during the game with Rowe, that Rowe never once responded to. There must have been several hundred unread texts when he woke up. Phil’s last text to me was at 11:38pm: “Eovaldi – impressive.” My last three texts were close to and long after midnight: “(I did not account for how bad Kinsler is)”; “Are you still awake? How is Nunez up again?” “F–k”.

What a game.

Willie McCovey Represented the Best of Baseball

Hall of Famer Willie McCovey died this week. The Giants announced it late afternoon on Halloween. I saw the news on Twitter, and it hit me like a punch to the gut. One of the best things about sports is the ability to see a living legend, point to them and say, “That’s one of the best there ever was.” It reminds you that we’re all aging, we’re all mortal, but we can all leave a legacy. McCovey certainly left his.

I read a lot about McCovey since his death was announced. McCovey’s legacy is one of kindness, humility, and the ability to look at the bright side of everything. Grant Brisbee’s story on McCovey discusses at length how McCovey wasn’t really beloved by Giants fans for a large portion of his career. The Giants most beloved player during the 60s wasn’t Mays or McCovey, but Orlando Cepeda, who while a very good player, was not one of the Willies.

After starting his career with a bang as a 21-year old rookie, McCovey had some up and down years until his mid-20s, when he really took off, becoming one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He won the MVP in 1969, hitting .320 with 45 dingers, but the Giants sent him to San Diego in 1973, because he had gotten too expensive. Remarkably, he returned to the team in 1977 at age 39, and played four more years with the Giants. At the home opener in 1977, the Giants crowd gave him a standing ovation lasting several minutes. McCovey cried, and later said, “I knew then what it felt like to be a Giant. I knew then that there is still some loyalty around.” I find it a little sad that Giants fans had been so hard on McCovey early in his career, but remarkably uplifting that he forgave them for it, and allowed them to welcome him back with open arms.

In retirement, McCovey became a mainstay in San Francisco. As he said during his Hall of Fame speech in 1986, “I’ve been adopted by the thousands of great Giants fans everywhere, and by the city of San Francisco where I’ve always been welcome. Like the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars, I’ve been made to feel like a landmark, too.”

And for good reason. He provided incalculable help to the Junior Giants Fund, including their annual glove drive for underprivileged area youth. When the Giants moved into AT&T Park, they named the cove beyond right field McCovey cove, and there’s a statue out there as well. And, in 1980, the Giants began giving out the annual Willie Mac Award, to the year’s most inspirational Giant. As Andrew Baggarly said, it will be strange next year when a player is presented with the award by someone other than Stretch himself.

I saw McCovey many times at the ballpark. It was always special. The most memorable was after a Giants playoff game – I think it was my first, in 2010. I was walking down the street, celebrating the win, and I looked over and saw a familiar face in the passenger seat of the car next to me. It was Willie McCovey. I yelled, “That’s Willie McCovey!” He looked at me, smiled, and waved. That’s all I needed.

The last time I saw him was this past August, when the Giants retired Barry Bonds’ jersey. Willie Mac was there. I took my son to the game with me, and when he asked me who that was, I was able to point to him and say, “That’s Willie McCovey, one of the best there ever was.” Rest in peace, Stretch. -TOB

Source: The Loss of Willie McCovey is Incalculable”, Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles (11/01/2018); Remembering Willie McCovey, Who Struck Fear Without a Drop of Malice in His Heart”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (10/31/2018)

PAL: Well said, TOB. I will only second that point that I got a thrill every time the Willies were at the ballpark, and so often it was the both of them side-by-side. I am relatively new to the Giants, but it’s clear that the the team’s history, which is baseball history, is not lost on the fans or this ownership. It’s something Twins fans can only pretend we have. Kent Hrbek is a Twins great, but he’s not all-time great. That’s why losing Puckett at such a young age was such a big deal in Minnesota. He, Harmon Killebrew, and Rod Carew are the closest we’ve had to an all-time greats who played the vast majority of their careers with the Twins. That ain’t McCovey, Mays, and Bonds. 

Also, I knew he was very good, but I didn’t fully understand how dominant McCovey was in his prime. This is what Sparky Anderson had to say about McCovey in the early 70s: “If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball. He’d hit 80 home runs. There’s no comparison between McCovey and anybody else in the league.”

TOB: After I wrote the above, I found this great article on McCovey by Hank Schulman. Here’s how it opens, and again – I swear I read it after I wrote my story above:

The scene was the same after every Giants game.

Willie McCovey, in a wheelchair, would be taken down the elevator behind the plate at AT&T Park. As a security guard walked ahead to clear a path, McCovey would be taken to his car.

“Willie!” some fans would yell.

Others touched him on the shoulder or patted him on the back.

At first, I felt sorry for Mac and the spectacle, which he did not have the physical capacity to avoid, until I started hearing parents tell their children, “That’s Willie McCovey. Remember this,” or words to that effect. Some of the moms and dads were not old enough to have seen McCovey play.

Then it hit me. That old cliche about being a “man of the people” truly fit. McCovey, who died Wednesday at 80, did not seem to mind the ritual. He had to know how happy he was making these folks.

Read the rest, it’s very good.

I Really Should Have Chosen to be a Pro Athlete

Quick background: Before last year’s NBA All Star Game, Fergie performed the National Anthem and it was AWFUL. The Warriors’ Draymond Green went a little viral for chuckling mid-performance:

Fergie’s (ex?) husband, actor Josh Duhamel, apparently didn’t like this. In a recent interview, he called Draymond a prick:

(god, lighten up, guy)

The Warriors, a team who has won 3 of the last 4 NBA titles and look like they may waltz to 4 out of 5, are a supremely confident bunch and were not about to take this lying down:

My goddddddddddd. This is savage. I laughed and laughed. I watched this a half dozen times and I keep seeing something funny. I know that the BEST part of being an NBA player is getting paid multi millions to play basketball, but man do I wish my job paid me millions and also let me mess around with my friends like this every day. -TOB

Source: “The Warriors Don’t Give A Shit About Fergie’s Feelings“, Gabe Fernandez, Deadspin (10/27/2018)

The Impossible Fight: Goalie Tactics On Penalty Kicks

Penalty kicks in soccer are not all that different to watching a predator scene on Planet Earth: you pretty much know how it ends, and you feel bad for watching it, but you can’t look away. On rare occasions, the prey gets away, and it’s the most thrilling moment of your day. I feel the same way when a goalie actually makes the save on a penalty kick.

This article does a great job dispelling the simplistic explanation that goalies have a rock-paper-scissors situation on their hands (guessing left, right, or center). A more nuanced approach will still lead to failure 80% of the time, but it’s better than nothing.

Explaining technical nuance to a general audience isn’t an assignment like a human interest piece that allows a writer to wow readers with their language and imagery, but the task is more fundamental: get someone who sees less in a sports moment to see and understand more.

Take this example from Josh Tucker’s piece:

The laws of the game currently read, “The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.” Before 1997, though, they included the phrase, “without moving his feet.” While referees have notoriously given leeway to keepers leaving the line and bounding forward too early—beyond the head start it also helps them cut down the shot angle slightly—this change allowed movement laterally and opened up more completely legal options.

Importantly, this gives a keeper a better chance to react. Instead of having to have their feet rooted in place until impact, they can now bounce into a hop (see Allison against Tesillo, above) or start shuffling their momentum in one direction as early as they dare. They could always distract a kicker by waving their arms or bouncing in place but being able to actively reposition or feint back and forth during the kicker’s run-up can give them more to think about.

In two paragraphs he outlines how the rules have changed, what the keep can do before the ball is kicked, and how they might play the psychological chess match. That’s just solid work from Tucker.

Very interesting study in futility. – PAL

Source: Keepers Wield More Than Just Guesswork In The Battle Against Penalty Kicks”, Josh Tucker, Deadspin (10/30/2018)

How to Play With LeBron

LeBron James is great; this is undeniable. But is playing WITH LeBron great? I’d say yes – unlike great players of the past (Kobe), LeBron is a pass-first superstar who is always looking to get his teammates easy shots. So, playing with LeBron is great. But is playing with LeBron easy?

The Ringer had a cool article this week. They asked three of LeBron’s old teammates (Brendan Haywood, Richard Jefferson, and Carlos Boozer) what LeBron’s new teammates in L.A. can do to maximize the opportunity in front of them. My main takeaway is that his new teammates need to understand that the situation has changed and they need be ready to change with it. As Richard Jefferson said:

If your team is struggling in pick-and-roll defense and you’re [Kentavious] Caldwell-Pope, OK, well, if I just fuckin’ focus on just pick-and-roll defense, like that’s one thing that I really want to help us get better at, and your team can go from 17th in pick-and-roll defense to top 10 in pick-and-roll defense, that means that you’re going to get more time on the court. More time on the court means more shot opportunities. More shot opportunities means more scoring. More scoring means more money.

Also, don’t get an offensive rebound with just seconds remaining in a tie game of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, when LeBron is having one of the greatest games of his career, and run away from the hoop.


Source: How to Be a Perfect Teammate for LeBron James in Eight Easy Steps”, Haley O’Shaughnessy, The Ringer (10/31/2018)

PAL: I was about to pull the same quote as the above. It sounds like playing with LeBron forces guys to be a good teammate, because they are definitely not the best player on the team, and even they can’t deny that. It’s a bit of a hit to the ego, which isn’t a bad thing for a young player and their future. Jefferson, Boozer, and Haywood were great in this. That’s a lot basketball played with LeBron in those three fellas.

TOB: You know was not good at it? Dion Waiters. As Haywood said:

“[When LeBron returned to Cleveland,] Dion Waiters was used to having the ball in his hands. And I remember telling Dion, like, ‘Listen, LeBron’s here. It’s gonna be a little bit different for you this year. Last year, you and Kyrie [Irving] got to have the ball a lot. This year, it’s LeBron, it’s Kyrie, it’s Kevin Love. You’re gonna have to figure out different ways to be effective without the ball.’ And he didn’t. He didn’t really wanna hear that. That’s part of why he was traded very early in the season, because he didn’t fit.

Waiters is such a clown.

Video of the Week

Tweets of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – Otis Redding – ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’

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Do I have to tuck my shirt in? Because honestly that’s kind of a dealbreaker for me. 

-Andy Dwyer


Week of September 14, 2018

90s College Football Coach Fashion is “In”

This is one of the weirdest and funniest things I’ve ever read. In the 1990s, and still today but especially then, college football coaches had some terrible style. I mean, look at Bobby Bowden here:

The chunky white shoes. The heavily pleated and baggy khakis. The nearly mono-chromatic jacket/pants combo. That is seriously offensive to my eyes.

But, somehow, and until this article unbeknownst to me, the 1990s college football coach’s fashion is now IN. Like, IN-IN. Like, seriously High Fashion in, as illustrated to hilarious length by Jezebel’s Stassa Edwards. Edwards does a masterful job showing photos of college football coaches from the 90s, like Bowden, Steve Spurrier, and Lou Holtz, and recreating their outfits with the latest from top designers, costing thousands of dollars. For example, this pic of Spurrier?

Edwards recreated it for nearly $2,500, including these horrendously ugly sneakers for $895:

There are a few more examples. The story is creative, funny, and kinda mind-blowing. Fashion is friggin’ weird. -TOB

Source: Get The Look: Khaki-Loving 1990s College Football Coach”, Stassa Edwards, Deadspin (09/12/2018)

PAL: Hilarious. Most enjoyable read of the week.

The Incomparable Aaron Rodgers

Look, y’all know me. You know I’m biased. I’ve told the story on this very blog at least a couple times about how I said Aaron Rodgers would win a Heisman the very first time I saw him throw a pass (he didn’t, but multi-time NFL MVP is even better). But I’m sorry, I just can’t help it, and you’re going to have to sit through another gushing story. It’s not my fault. He’s the best quarterback to ever play the game, and that’s just how it goes.

I got home from a day out with the kids Sunday night just in time to see a Bears linebacker land on Rodgers’ leg early in the game. Rodgers was carted off and I dreaded a second straight season in which I couldn’t share his highlights and strut about my prophetic quarterback scouting skills and laugh in the face of any idiot trying to tell me Brady is better because of the rings.

So, I turned the game off. I let the kids watch CoCo or something. They went to bed, and I flipped back just in time to see Rodgers put the capper on a comeback, all the way from a 20-3 fourth quarter deficit to a win. The man limped back out, probably drugged out of his mind, and did stuff like this:

LOOK AT THAT THROW. ON ONE LEG. You can make fun of me all you want, but it’s throws like that which keep be coming back to football despite its problems.

The Ringer’s Robert Mays, himself a Chicago Bears fan, waxed poetic on how insanely good Rodgers is, and in particular on that throw:

The third quarter came and went without much fanfare, but dread began to creep in for Bears fans at the 13:59 mark in the fourth when Rodgers fired a missile directly into the hands of wide receiver Geronimo Allison for a 39-yard score. The strike—which brought the Packers within 10 points—was vintage stuff, a throw that no other quarterback past or present could have made. Standing on the left hash mark near midfield, Rodgers dropped the ball into a window the size of a shoebox, between the outstretched hand of cornerback Kyle Fuller and the back-right corner of the end zone. The play design was nothing special, the separation minimal, and yet none of it mattered.

The Bears’ party may have been spoiled, but it was spoiled by one of the best to ever do it, as Rodgers channeled the height of his power when a franchise and a fan base needed it most. Chicago’s day may come, but for now, the king in the North remains.

Hell yeah. And to be clear, Rodgers really was hurt and might not play this weekend against the Vikings. Speaking of the Vikes, Xavier Rhodes, one of the best corners in the game, published a Player Tribune article this week, and said:

You ever seen that movie Wanted?

The one where they shoot a gun and the bullet curves?

Well, there was this play against the Packers — it was early in my rookie season, the first time I played against Aaron Rodgers. Jordy Nelson was in the back of the end zone. I wasn’t on him, though. Josh Robinson was. I was underneath. When Rodgers threw it to Jordy, it went right over my head. But right when Rodgers let it go, I knew Jordy wasn’t gonna catch it. The trajectory of the ball was off to the right.

Then, as the pass went over my head, I turned around just in time to watch — and, man, I promise you, the ball bent back to the left, barely missed Josh’s helmet, and dropped right into Jordy’s hands.

I was immediately like, It’s over. If THIS is what the NFL is like, I’m never getting any picks!

A lot of guys had told me that Aaron Rodgers was a different breed, but now I’d had a front-row seat for it. This guy was out there throwing curveballs.

It was great coverage. There was nothing Josh could do. Nothing nobody could do. When we got back to the sideline, it was like those Thanksgiving Day games against Stafford. Our coaches weren’t even mad. They saw the replay on the jumbotron, and our DB coach just shrugged his shoulders and was like, “I don’t know what to tell you.”

And if all that wasn’t enough, we get this late in the week:

I AGREE, TOM. BY GOD, I AGREE. To ape a line or two: Aaron Rodgers is the best there is, the best there ever was, and the best there ever will be. Forever and ever amen. -TOB

Source: Aaron Rodgers Hero Ball Is the Bears’ Recurring Nightmare”, Robert Mays, The Ringer (09/10/2018); The 7 Best Players in the NFC North. Period”, Xavier Rhodes, The Players Tribune (09/11/2018)

PAL: Can a person get a restraining order on someone else’s behalf? 

Sisters of the Poor Fat with Cash

I saw the headline and I knew I’d be sharing this story. Early in the college football season, we see a lot of lopsided scores. The big-timers from the power five conferences schedule ass-kickins with smaller schools from conferences we’ve never heard. Every once in a decade, we get a stunner like like Appalachian State beating Michigan, but most every time it’s an ass-kicking.

The smaller schools do it for the money, and the money is better than ever.

It seems like a no-brainer for a school like San Jose State. The players love the opportunity to play in front of 100,000 fans in Austin and potentially catch someone’s attention. The fans love traveling to iconic college football stadiums, and the revenue goes a long way in helping keep the 21 other teams at the school up and running.

The cost of flying a team, coaches, staff, school officials and equipment across the country and paying for hotels and meals can eat up as much as $100,000 from the payout. But even after taking that into consideration, there’s plenty left over.

San Jose State has a $26.5 million annual athletics budget, with which it fields 22 varsity teams, 13 of them for women. A school needs to have 16 overall teams to stay in Division I of the NCAA. Nearly 6 percent of this year’s budget — $1.525 million — will come from the school’s two big revenue games (Oregon $1 million; Washington State $525,000).

The Chronicle’s Tom FitzGerald writes a no-nonsense article clearly explaining something I’ve always wondered about. I can’t ask for anything more from a sports story. – PAL

Source: College Football ‘Revenue Games’: How San Jose State Makes Millions,” Tom FitzGerald, The Chronicle (09/13/2018)

TOB: I’m a bigger college football fan than Phil, so this article was not news to me, but I do want to point out this amazing coachspeak by SJSU’s head coach, when:

“I think you get beat up playing football,” he said. “We got beat up just as much playing Cal Poly last year as we did playing Texas or Utah. Football’s a physical game. Sometimes there’s a certain amount of good fortune in staying healthy.

RIP Jeff Lowe

I didn’t know of Jeff Lowe before reading this story, but his passing really got to me after reading about him. There is something so thrilling and primal to great climbers. To watch them climb is to witness someone truly alive. For a man who climbed routes thought impossible to die from a degenerative disease feels unnecessarily cruel. I mean, how cool is this guy:

There is something incredibly powerful in the simplicity of climbing. Get to the top. I envy people like Jeff Lowe. In a time when I feel I’m acquiring more, I see these people who care about one thing, and shed the rest. From afar, it’s romantic and inspiring. – PAL

Source: “Jeff Lowe, Pathfinder Up the Face of Mountains, Is Dead at 67”, Daniel E. Slotnick, The New York Times (09/11/2018)

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week – Elton John – “Son Of Your Father”

Tweet of the Week

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I can do six weeks standing on my head. I’m a sexual camel.

– George Costanza

Week of September 7, 2018

People who have birds for pets. Man, I just don’t know. 

Nike’s Amoral But Important Kaepernick Ad

The biggest story in sports this week was Nike’s powerful ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, which they unveiled on Labor Day:

It was the 30 year anniversary of their first “Just Do It” ad. I, for one, applauded. Nike, as it turns out, has been paying Kaepernick the last two years as the NFL has either colluded to keep him out, or collectively and cowardly refused to hire him for fear of the “distraction”. Nike will also be kicking off a larger ad campaign around Kaepernick, including a Kaepernick line of apparel. Later in the week, they even released a video ad:

They are doing it, and doing it big.

A lot of words were written about this story, but I thought the best came from The Ringer’s Michael Baumann. His story succinctly summarized the events leading up to this, and then provided a quick explanation of Nike’s motivations; they are a billion dollar corporation after all. But Baumann closes with this explanation of why, though, Nike’s business decision is still important:

Nike betting on Kaepernick is encouraging for those of us who find his message not only inoffensive but worthy. A major corporation has put a financial stake in the idea that the people who either oppose Kaepernick’s message or choose to misunderstand it are a small minority whose arguments can be ignored. Amoral though it may be, Nike apparently believes that people who believe in racial equality are more numerous, and more passionate, than those who oppose it. It’s comforting to know that someone does.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Nike’s Big Gamble on Colin Kaepernick”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (09/04/2018)

PAL: Wieden + Kennedy, Nike’s creative agency, knows exactly what it’s doing. They show the extraordinary sports stories in all shapes and colors – they’ve been doing it for decades – from sports icons like LeBron to “regular” folk living inspired lives. I know I’m inspired by the athletes captured in this ad. Yep, they are good at making a commercial that makes me want to get off my ass and go for a run. But don’t confuse Nike as anything other that a business first.  

Nike might now be a social justice warrior in the pejorative online shorthand but is practically antithetical to the concept in any other context. Nike is a for-profit company, worth tens of billions of dollars. You can’t build a multi-billion-dollar company from scratch in 54 years if social justice is anything approaching a primary concern. Companies like Nike are by nature aggressively amoral.

So people can burn their Nike stuff and rip the company to shreds in the name of patriotism, but know that a multi-billion dollar business with a market research division the likes of which is hard to imagine, has made a bet that most of us understand why Kaepernick went to a knee. He isn’t as bad for business as the people who speak out against him are. Those folks shouldn’t take it personally; it’s just business.

Minor League Angel Investor

Michael Schwimer, 32,  didn’t have much of a career as a big league baseball player, but his company, Big League Advance, could make a tremendous impact on the lives of many minor leaguers living on less than minimum wage.

As Jack Dickey summarizes in his SI column, Schwimer’s company, Big League Advance, proposing a solution to a problem for many minor league players:

[T]he company offers baseball players lump-sum payments now in exchange for an agreed-upon share of any future MLB salary. Players pick the percentage of their MLB paychecks to sign away—the model spits out only a nonnegotiable price per percentage point. To date the company has signed 123 players with an average payment in the neighborhood of $350,000, and it plans to sign hundreds more.

A little bit of math brings you to the conclusion that Schwimer and his team of analysts are looking for a minority of players that actually make to a big league contract in order to generate the majority of the revenue needed to turn a profit. The business model also offers a compelling financial option to the minor leaguers who continue to be classified as season apprentices, which means many of them make less than $1,000 per month.

…Similar models have long existed in golf and boxing and other non-team sports. Wealthy benefactors stake a young pro as he works his way up; in exchange, once he advances, the athlete kicks a predetermined share of his winnings back to his investors. If there are no winnings, the investor is out of luck. Baseball wouldn’t at first seem to need such a model: Boxers and golfers are independent contractors, responsible for all their own travel and training expenses, while baseball players are employees, who travel on team buses and receive instruction from the team’s coaches at the team’s own facility.

But that’s where the sorry state of minor-league pay comes into play. Players without large signing bonuses to spend simply aren’t able to afford healthy food and offseason training; with BLA’s cash they can.

If BLA is in the futures game, then it needs to be able to see value before everyone else, and in the era of sabermetrics, that’s not as easy as understanding that wins for a pitcher or batting average for a hitter aren’t the most telling of stats. Not only does the model have to see value sooner, it likely has to value different data points. All of this is used to set a non-negotiable price per percentage point of future earnings.

Turns out that model, if it produces results, is valuable to more than just setting a value between BLA and a minor leaguer. In fact, there’s easier money, with nowhere near the upfront cost, in selling the data directly to the teams.

The company is two years old and it’s already raised $150MM and some real sports data big-timers have joined the team. I am no financial wiz, so I am naturally intrigued by this concept. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes the next big thing in baseball, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this turns out to be some white collar crime. Either way, it’s an intriguing idea. – PAL

Source: Future Considerations: Why Ex-MLB Pitcher Michael Schwimer Is Investing in Minor League Longshots”, Jack Dickey, SI.com (09/04/2018)

TOB: I think this sort of thing has been going on a while – as I recall, some company did or does this with student loans. I find it rather parasitic, but I do see how it helps minor league players in the short-term. Maybe if MLB paid them a livable wage they wouldn’t have to give away future earnings.

Football as Told By a Non-Fan

God, this killed me. A writer who doesn’t watch football but has seen some games at various places in her life explained the rules of football as she understands them. A sample:

The teams flip a coin to determine who gets to go first. The team that goes first holds the ball and throws it to each other. The quarterback does the throwing. Usually the point of the first throw, and every first throw after a team gets the ball during the game, is to trick the other team into thinking that they are going to throw it somewhere else. After that, the other players throw the ball around while trying to get closer to the finish line or end zone. When a player loses control of the ball because he’s tackled or drops it and someone on the other team picks it up, the game reverses direction. It goes on like this for a long time.

She gets some right, some wrong. But her ending nails it:

At the stadium, the chicken fingers are great. At home, it’s all about the dips.

It’s true! No one denies this! -TOB

Source: The Rules of Football As I Understand Them”, Katie McDonough, Deadspin (09/06/2018)

PAL: Chicken fingers are the worst.

TOB: You’re REALLY going to enjoy what we’re doing this weekend, that everyone will read about next week.

Yeah, Sure, Shorten Men’s Tennis Grand Slam Matches to Three Sets

Tennis is a sport that I somehow spend 10x more time reading (or writing) about than actually watching the sport. Basically if Federer is in a Grand Slam Final, I drag myself out of bed to watch because I think it’s cool that he’s still winning at his age. But other than that, my tennis exposure is limited to Sportscenter highlights and articles that I read. Which is why, while reading this article, I found out something rather fundamental to the sport: previously I thought all men’s matches were best-of-five sets and all women’s matches are best-of-three sets. But as it turns out most men’s matches are also best-of-three sets, and only the Grand Slam events are best-of-five. Well, I’ll be damned.

As I don’t watch tennis, generally, this doesn’t affect me in the slightest, but I have to say this makes sense: why change the rules for the Grand Slams? Why have any sporting event take six hours, as many men’s best-of-five set matches take? Andy Murray may have put it best:

“As a player, I really like best-of-five; it’s been good to me,” he said. “I feel like it rewards the training and everything you put into that. But then, when I sat and watched the match — that Nadal-del Potro match in the commentary booth — it was an amazing match, it was a brilliant match, but it was really, really long to sit there as a spectator for the first time.”

The match, which lasted 4 hours 48 minutes — long, but well shorter than either of the subsequent men’s semifinals — disrupted Murray’s day.

“That evening I had a meeting planned, and I missed my dinner,” he said. “People that are sitting there during the week watching that all, I don’t think you can plan to do that. A lot of people are going to be getting up and leaving the matches and not actually watching the whole thing. The people while in the stadium loved it, but I don’t think it — as well, what happened in the semifinals — is good for tennis.”

So, sure. Makes sense. Cut it to three. Many agree, but as you can imagine, many don’t. The article delves into the competing arguments. -TOB

Source: Men Should Play Best Of Three Sets, And Anyone Who Says Otherwise Is A Weenie Like ESPN’s Brad Gilbert”, Laura Wagner, Deadspin (09/05/2018)

PAL: That’s so odd that the majors have different rules than the rest of the tournaments. I don’t care how many sets they play, but I found this rationale for 3 sets confusing:

In today’s professional tennis, racquets are more technologically advanced than ever before, players hit harder than ever before, conditioning is better than ever before, and as a result, the rallies last way longer than ever before.

I don’t understand how better racquets and hitting the ball harder work in concert with better conditioning to make rallies last longer. Wouldn’t hitting the ball harder with a better racquet make rallies shorter, which is countered by better conditioned players?

TOB: Yeah, I think it’d make sense if they left out the “players hit harder” part, and left it at the racquet technology, which makes shots more accurate. Either way, it seems the results are the same: the matches have gotten way longer.


It’s been a while, let’s see what our hero Sho has been up to…

OH NOOOOO! On Wednesday morning the Angels announced Shohei needs Tommy John surgery. This is terrible news for baseball fans everywhere, as we’ll not see Ohtani smashin’ dingers and throwin smoke until, likely, the 2020 season.

Sorry, I’m getting word of some new developments. I see. Ok. Well, despite needing TJ surgery on his pitching elbow, Ohtani went ahead and DH’d that night. He hit a dinger.

Ah, yes, I’m being told he hit another.

Mmhm, ok. Yes, I’m being told he went 4-for-4 with those 2 dingers and a walk. With an elbow that is barely connected. He’s not human! I sure hope we see him back sooner than 2020. He finishes his pitching season an ERA of 3.31 and he struck out 11 batters per 9 innings. Thus far, he’s hit 18 dingers in just 249 ABs, and an OPS of .946. He’s real good. -TOB

Source: Shohei Ohtani, Who Needs Tommy John Surgery, Is Still Out Here Smashing Dingers”, Laura Theisen, Deadspin (09/05/2018)

PAL: Ohtani will pitch less than 300 innings in his major league career. I wish it weren’t so, but that’s the way I’m seeing it.

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Khruangbin – “Maria Tambien”

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I found the best tentist on the east coast. He personally tented Giuliani’s first and third weddings. And I got him. I got him!

-Nard Dog

1-2-3 Sports! Week of August 31, 2018

2018 Little League World Series Champs: Hawaii

Why Is Tennis So Concerned About Women’s Wardrobes?

The U.S. Open started this week, and the early round matches were overshadowed by two stories of men trying to control women’s bodies, and the clothes they wear on those bodies while they play tennis.

First, before the tournament began, the head of the French Federation, in charge of the French Open, which took place, uh, back in May and June, announced that the cat suit that Serena wore during the French Open this year would be banned in the future. Let’s set aside why the hell this announcement was made now (seriously, I can’t figure out why), and consider why it was made at all. Here’s a picture of Serena at this year’s French Open in the cat suit.

It’s tight, sure, but she’s covered from neck to ankle. Compare this to most women’s players, who play in tank tops and skirts or tight shorts. So, what’s the big deal? Why the ban on the cat suit? This reeks of a racist double standard, if you ask me. Serena previously said the outfit is functional, as she’s been dealing with blood clots and the tight outfit promotes circulation. She also said it makes her “feel like a warring.” To her credit, though, she shined this idiot on, saying that she’d never wear the same outfit twice, anyways. I also liked the response of her sponsor, Nike:

Damn right.

If all that wasn’t enough, during the early rounds of the U.S. Open, French player Alize Cornet (damn, what a cool name), was penalized for “changing her clothes” on the court. Here’s the video:

Cornet had previously been wearing a dress, but because it was so damn hot that they’ve instituted special heat breaks during the tournament, she changed (off court) during a break into this shirt/skirt combo. When she got on the court, she realized the shirt was on backwards and *gasp* quickly flipped it around, revealing *gasp* a sports bra! The match umpire penalized her pursuant to a rule prohibiting “players” from changing clothes on the court.

First, if I were her lawyer, I’d be jumping up and down about this because while she did briefly remove her shirt, she did not change her clothes. Same clothes, bro. Where’s the change?

Second, and please sit down because this is going to shock you, but this rule about changing clothes on the court does not apply to the men, who often change shirts on the court without issue. No, I know. It’s crazy. Come on. Didn’t we get over this nearly twenty years ago when Brandi Chastain won the World Cup and tore off her jersey to reveal her sports bra? Are we really going to roll back all this progress?

It would be nice, as Billy Jean King said, and my mom echoed, this week, if men would stop policing women’s bodies. -TOB

Source: The French Open’s Banning of Serena Williams’s Catsuit Defies Explanation”, Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated (08/26/2018); U.S. Open Umpire Hits Alize Cornet With A Bizarre Code Violation Because She Briefly Took Off Her Shirt”, Laura Wagner, Deadspin (08/28/2018)

PAL: First and foremost, no one gets to tell Serena Williams anything. You could make the case that she’s a top-5 athlete of all-time.

Yeah, I watched the HBO docuseries Being Serena, and you should, too. While it’s a bit of a puff piece, it also shows what an absolute badass, smart, thoughtful, super athlete she is. The French Federation needs Serena a hell of a lot more than she needs the French Open. What’s more, the argument made no sense. She’s had a history of life-threatening blood clots. The outfits promote circulation. Full stop.

As for the Cornet story: the umpire sucked that day. I don’t want to go as far as to call him a coward, but he really sucked that day. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the guy that memorized the rule book and stopped thinking for himself before he could buy a beer. He saw Cornet doing something completely normal – shit, I put my shirt on backwards – and his first thought was (in a computer voice) “Is this an infraction? I am told yes. Must punish pursuant to the rule book.”

I will give the US Open credit for setting the record straight, and doing so in plain English:

TOB: Kudos to the US Open. Thanks for pointing that out. Also, a question for you, bud, that came up after a fantasy football draft this week: Is Serena the greatest athlete of our generation (we went with anyone born beginning January 1, 1980)? I said LeBron edges her out. Like Serena, he’s arguably the greatest to ever play his sport, but I give him the nod because being great in a team sport is tougher than a solo sport, in my opinion. I am splitting hairs here, but Serena only has to worry about Serena. LeBron has to win with guys who do things like forget the score of the game in the closing seconds. Another possibility: Pujols, who made the cut by 16 days.

PAL: The team wrinkle is a good point, TOB, but giving birth seems like a pretty big hurdle for an athlete. Other athletes that come to mind:

  • Simone Biles – she might be the strongest candidate of the bunch. Seems to be considered the greatest ever in her sport.
  • Shaun White – Revolutionized one sport (snowboarding), became one of the best in another sport (skateboarding) – icon of the alternative sport generation.
  • Usain Bolt – I know he was just running, but he expanded the spectrum of human capability. To watch him run at his peak was otherworldly.
  • Michael Phelps – without a doubt the best swimmer ever. However, this is ostensibly an individual sport with an inordinate amount of medals up for grabs.
  • Too soon, but Mike Trout career is on an unprecedented trajectory. Needs to win something.
  • Messi & Cristiano Rinaldo…but neither of them have won a world cup.

Harbaugh’s Gotta Win Now

On February 3, 2013 Jim Harbaugh was coaching against his brother in the Super Bowl. On December 30, 2014, Harbaugh was introduced as the head football coach at Michigan. That does not happen. Young NFL coaches who bring a team to the Super Bowl don’t find themselves back in college within 2 years.

I can say I’d never seen up close anything like Harbaugh’s rise from Stanford to the Niners, and then to Michigan. This was a guy who could turn around a football program very quickly and compete with the very best. And he seemed to do it by willing it to be so. The more he won, the more his oddities shown through, which was charming and fun because he was winning.

I find the Harbaugh sideshow compelling, but The Ringer’s Roger Sherman writes the hell out of this story in explaining why Harbaugh and his antics just might be at a crossroads this season. Why is that? Because 8-5, Michigan’s record last year, makes Harbaugh’s hot milk takes and recruiting antics a little less charming. Because a Harbaugh team has zero wins against Ohio State and is 1-2 against Michigan State. A Michigan Man he might be, but the Wolverine honeymoon is officially over.

One of the major differences between his previous stops and Michigan comes down to the quarterback position:

At each of these stops, Harbaugh’s strength was coaching quarterbacks. In San Diego he coached Josh Johnson, who was named a finalist for the 2007 Walter Payton Award—the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy—and became the first Toreros quarterback to reach the NFL. At Stanford, Harbaugh coached Andrew Luck, who was the runner-up for the actual Heisman in 2010 and 2011, got drafted no. 1 overall in 2012, and now appears in stock brokerage ads in between injuries. Harbaugh coached Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers, and Kap emerged as one of the most dynamic playmakers in recent memory. Now, he donates a lot of money to charity while being called the antichrist by about 40 percent of the country.

You’ll notice none of those QB success stories come from Michigan. In his three years there, Harbaugh hasn’t yet found one that’s been good. The opportunity appears to be presenting itself this year:

Now Michigan has Shea Patterson, a transfer from Ole Miss and the top quarterback recruit in the class of 2015. Patterson, ostensibly, is the block of raw quarterbacking talent Harbaugh has been waiting to sculpt.

The major difference between Michigan and every other job Harbaugh’s had is this: it’s not a stepping stone. Returning to Michigan was the “coming home” move. While he surely could go back to the NFL, he’s entering his fourth season at Michigan, which equals his longest tenure at University of San Diego, Stanford, and the 49ers. He was able to turn it around quickly at each of those stops. Maybe it’s just taking Harbaugh a little bit longer at Michigan, but he’s getting paid too much money (north of $7MM per year) for much more patience.


Sherman puts it this way: “This is the year for Harbaugh to prove there’s a method to his madness. Because if not, he’s just a weirdo getting paid extravagantly to produce mediocrity for a program used to excellence.”

Solid read. Great writing. – PAL

Source: The Fading Novelty of Jim Harbaugh”, Roger Sherman, The Ringer (8/29/18)

TOB: I have more than a couple thoughts on this. First, Harbaugh’s turnaround at Stanford was absolutely miraculous. That team was so bad, it’s hard to believe now. They got destroyed by everyone. Hell, they lost to FCS teams. Before Harbaugh, they hadn’t been to a bowl game in 8 years, under Ty Willingham. In the previous 5 years, they went 16-40.

But what people don’t remember is that the turnaround did not happen overnight. In his first 3 seasons, Harbaugh went 4-8, 5-7, and 8-5, before exploding in 2010 at 10-1, capped off by a win in the Orange Bowl. It took Harbaugh a few years to recruit the guys he wanted – big, tough, smart. He recruited so many tight ends, it became a joke. But he converted those kids, cleanly or not, into defensive lineman and offensive lineman. And suddenly he had a fast and athletic but strong team. They manhandled their opponents. The turnaround in San Francisco was more immediate, but looking back the Niners had a similar squad.

It must be noted that while Michigan was not as bad before Harbaugh as Stanford was before Harbaugh, the previous two Michigan coaches, Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, combined to go 46-42. Harbaugh stepped in and went 10-3, 10-3, 8-5.

Yes, he’s struggled to develop a quarterback at Michigan. But I disagree with Sherman’s assertion that his previous turnarounds were all because Harbaugh developed a QB. At Stanford, his first two seasons he did not have any notable QB. In fact, Stanford fans were mad that Harbaugh let Luck redshirt his freshman year instead of getting him in there. As I said above, Harbaugh’s Stanford teams (and his 49er teams) were built on very good offensive and defensive lines. That takes time to develop in college – you have to change the culture and recruit.

Besides, on quarterback issue, as Sherman notes, Harbaugh will have Shea Patterson this year. Shea is the real deal. I mean, yes, Cal got a pick six against him last year to seal a Golden Bear win, but the dude can drop dimes.

Point is: I’m not in the business of doubting Jim Harbaugh. He’s proved too many people wrong too many times. Also, give me 28 wins over 3 years PLEASE.

Barry Bonds + Beetle = End of Ash Baseball Bats

When I think of a wooden baseball bat, I see a Louisville Slugger. I wouldn’t know it before reading this article, but I actually see an ash bat. For much of the 20th Century, ash bats were the standard in the hands of big leaguers, but the same cannot be said for the 21st Century. We are now in the days of maple bats. Vince Guerrieri’s story is a exploration of why maple has become the wood of choice of over 70 percent MLB players.

Reason number one: Barry Bonds.

Bonds hit his first 400 or so home runs using Louisville Slugger ash bats, but he had switched to maple by the time he hit the two big milestone homers of his career: No. 73 in 2001 and no. 756 six years later. When Albert Pujols knocked in 130 runs for a National League rookie record in 2001, he did so with a maple bat, as did Miguel Cabrera in 2012 when he became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years.

Bonds was turned on to maple bats by way of Joe Carter. Carter, who had spent the prime of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, was given a maple bat after a local carpenter, Sam Holman,  had been tinkering with different types of wood. Earlier, he’d had a conversation with a lifer baseball scout who was complaining about how easily ash bats were breaking.

Carter loved the feel, the sound, i.e., the intangibles of the bat. He brought his passion for maple to San Francisco (and to Bonds) when he was traded near the end of his career

So Bonds is jacked up and hitting a homerun every 6.52 at bats (still an absolutely staggering stat, regardless of what he was on) with a maple bat. That same year (2001) Albert Pujols was setting records with a maple bat as well. His 130 RBI in his rookie season remains an NL record. If I’m a player in 2001, I wouldn’t need to see any data. I’d just say, “Give me whatever bat Pujols and Bonds are using.”

One year later, scientists discover another problem for ash bats:

In 2002, scientists discovered the emerald ash borer, an insect native to northeastern Asia, in southeastern Michigan. The beetle eats the tree’s leaves, but the females lay their eggs inside the tree—and the larvae tunnel through the tree, feeding off it and ultimately killing it within one to three years. By 2016, the emerald ash borer could be found in 25 different states—including New York and Pennsylvania, home to most of the ash trees used for baseball bats—killing an estimated 50 million ash trees in the United States. Maple bats, all other things being equal, are more expensive than ash, but the emerald ash borer is making ash scarcer, to a point where, Rathwell said, ash might become as expensive as maple.

As interesting as the beetle subplot is, it doesn’t have any impact on MLB player’s preference. If they want an ash bat, then there’s still plenty of ash to provide baseball bats for what I’m guessing +/- 1,000 players to hit in a major league baseball game over the course of a season*.

The real question is whether or not maple outperforms ash, and the answer is no.

The rise of maple bats has come as baseball has seen an increase in strikeouts and home runs, but again, relation does not imply causation. Jim Sherwood of the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, said the conclusion of a 2005 study was that the ball goes just as far off maple as it does off ash. Lloyd V. Smith, an engineering professor at Washington State University, went even further, telling the Washington Post, “If Barry Bonds had not been swinging maple when he broke that record, I don’t think anybody would even be talking about maple right now.”

I encourage you to click-through to the article to find some really great anecdotes about the history of the baseball bat. It’s legitimately fascinating. -PAL

* Napkin math that gets me to around 1,000 players to hit in a MLB game – Multiple the following by 30 (number of MLB teams):

  • 25-man roster for much of the season MINUS AL pitchers
  • Mid-season call-ups PLUS additional 15 players on the expanded rosters
    • A good chunk of 40-man roster is made up of pitchers
    • AL pitchers don’t hit
    • NL relief pitchers rarely hit

Source: How Maple Bats Kicked Ash And Conquered Baseball”, Vince Guerrieri, Deadspin (8/28/18)

An Insight into Baseball Prospect Rankings

This year, 19-year old rookie Nationals’ outfielder Juan Soto exploded onto the scene, doing things at 19 that no one has ever done.

Before the season, his average ranking was 42nd across Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, FanGraphs, and ESPN – the four major rankings services. He was called up on May 20, and immediately started destroying major league pitching, with an OPS of .998. No one saw this coming, except for former Nats’ GM and current contributor to The Athletic, Jim Bowden, had Soto as his 7th best prospect before this season.

So, how does a player that good slip, relatively speaking, under the radar? Two simple answers: lack of minor league at bats. Soto suffered a couple of injuries the last two years, and as a result had only gotten 147 at bats above rookie ball. And in those at bats, he only hit three dingers. Still, he must have been passing the eye test – how else to explain a prospect even being ranked Top 50 with so few at bats? So, I’m giving the scouting services a break on this one. Even if his low ranking did cause me to pass on him in early May in my prospect keeper league. Grr. Anyways, click the link. Lots of interesting stuff on how scouting works. -TOB

Source: How Did Juan Soto Surprise So Many of Us?”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (08/28/2018)

Ode to Manu

Upon his retirement, I’d just like to take a moment to say thank you to Manu Ginobili, one of the best, most entertaining, and most innovative players of his generation. Manu popularized (if not invented) the so-called Eurostep (though he’s not European).

He played with a joy that was infectious, which made him impossible to hate, even when he was crushing your team in the biggest moments of the game. Spurs fan Shea Serrano writes lovingly about Manu, and what he meant to that team and that city. It’s a good read, and a solid tribute to a guy who deserves it:

He is, in all ways and in every way, beloved in San Antonio: an untouchable, unimpeachable, unassailable cultural figure. Nobody who has ever worn a Spurs jersey has ever been more beloved than Manu Ginobili. (Tim Duncan and Tony Parker were also both supremely beloved, but Tim, a savant so gifted that he always existed above the fray, was a basketball god we worshipped from afar, and Tony, the little brother of the trio, always seemed just out of reach.) Even in Manu’s extra-worst moment, and even after having been deemed the reason his team lost the most coveted thing in professional basketball, the idea of trading him was simply too outlandish, too dumb, too inconceivable to tolerate for even one second. That’s Manu in San Antonio. That’s San Antonio with Manu.

There’s also a great anecdote that says so much about what it means to be a fan, which brings both so much good and so much bad, after Manu played horribly in the 2013 NBA Finals, which the Spurs lost to the Heat in 7 games:

But so everyone was fussing about Manu and saying this and saying that and pointing out how bad he looked and yelling about how much he hurt the team (“DANNY GREEN WAS PLAYING LIKE AN MVP AND MANU COULDN’T MAKE A LAYUP?!”) and blah blah blah. And it was all very bad and very negative. And so finally, after what felt like six hours of talking but was probably somewhere nearer to 10 minutes, one of the younger cousins asked, “Do you think the Spurs can get anything good for him when they try to trade him this summer?” And the first uncle, the very vocal leader of the Anti-Manu Coalition that had formed in the backyard, looked at him. He looked as dead at him as anyone has ever looked dead at someone. And he said — and I will never forget this — he said: “You can’t fucking trade Manu Ginobili. He’s Manu Ginobili!” Then he took a big breath. Then he yelled, “HE’S MANU GINOBILI!”

I’m not a Spurs fan, but my favorite Manu moment is this one, against the Sacramento Kings, on Halloween night in 2009.

Yes, a bat interrupted the game, and as crew members struggled to catch it, Manu sized it up and then just swatted it out of midair. He swatted a BAT out of the sky! On Halloween night, of course. Then he picked up the bat, like it was NBD, and handed it off to someone to get rid of. What a boss. We’ll miss you, Manu! -TOB

Source: Manu Forever: Reflecting on the Retirement of a Legend”, Greg Wiss, Sactown Royalty (08/27/2018)

Post-Concussion Symptoms, as Told by a Loved One

Giants outfielder Mac Williamson started the year on fire. He crushed AAA pitching so severely, that he forced the Giants to call him up to the bigs. And for four glorious games, he continued his hot streak in the majors. But in the fifth inning of a game against the Nationals on April 24th, while tracking down a pop fly in left field, Mac stumbled on the bullpen mound and crashed into the wall.

It was scary, but Mac seemed ok. In fact, he stayed in the lineup and in the bottom half of the inning he crushed a dinger, his 3rd in 5 games for the Giants. But soon after, he was pulled from the game, and was later diagnosed with a concussion. Mac, the team, and the fans, hoped he’d miss a short time and then return to lockdown the left field spot, giving the Giants their first home run hitting threat there since Bonds retired over a decade ago.

Things did not go as hoped. As told on her blog by Mac’s girlfriend, Kaitlyn Watts, Mac has suffered from post-concussion symptoms for over four months, unable to concentrate, needing extreme amounts of sleep in order to function, among other things. It’s sad and scary.

But what’s crazy to me, reading this, is to not only read how badly this affected him, but how long it has done so and compare it to how concussions keep football players only a week or two, at most. Similarly, the Yankees Clint Frazier has missed basically the entire season because of a concussion. Brandon Belt has missed large parts of two seasons to concussions. And football players get knocked out cold and come back the next week? Football is in trouble.

As for Mac, Kaitlyn reports that he is finally doing better, after recently shutting down baseball activities for the year. Hopefully Mac returns next year, and picks up where he left off – crushing dingers. -TOB

Source: Dealing with Mac’s Concussion”, Kaitlyn Watts, The Lymey Gypsy (08/27/2018)

PAL: What’s crazy to me is that someone other than the Cleveland Cavs owner still chooses to type Comic Sans.

Williamson’s story is no-doubt scary. And I agree – the length of time during which he’s simply not himself reinforces something we all need to understand – that not all concussions are the same and they affect people differently.

Having said that, reading Watts is like reading a homecoming queen’s diary.


Newsflash: A Player Being Disoriented is Not Funny

Miami Dolphins’ linebacker Kiko Alonso made a tackle in a game last week that caused him to be so disoriented he ran to the wrong sideline. It looked to me like he was so disoriented that even as coaches from the other team were telling him he was on the wrong sideline, he seemed to be completely bewildered by what they were saying for a few seconds.

his was not funny. This was scary. Why, then, are the idiot announcers chuckling along at this? Is it the 1980s? Don’t we know better by now? Geeze. I hope Alonso was given tests for a concussion before he re-entered the game. -TOB

PAL: I think you need see the video that includes the hit for folks to get an idea that, yep, he definitely smacked his head on that play.

It seems like an otherwise light moment in a pre-season game, but these are the clips are kids will watch in fifteen years when we know even more about concussions. They’ll look at us incredulously, and ask, “People thought it was funny?”


South Tahoe High School’s “It’s Never Over Till It’s Over.” God, it’s even better than I remember from when I was a kid. Incredible shot.

PAL Song of the Week – R.E.M. – “Strange Currencies”

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You give me a gift? Bam! Thank You note. You invite me somewhere? Pow! RSVP. You do me a favor? Wham! Favor returned. Do not test my politeness.

– Drew Bernard

Week of August 17, 2018

Proving Your Worth

Of all stories about PEDs and baseball, I don’t think I’ve ever come across an article that put forth the explanation Jonathan Tjarks asks us to consider: in some cases PED usage is used to justify of a massive contract and not a tactic to sign a massive contract. With Seattle’s Robinson Canó, the $240MM man, returning this week from an 80-game PED suspension (tested positive for a diuretic used to mask PED) Tjarks walks us through a interesting argument:

The conventional cynical wisdom is that players use PEDs to boost their stats and secure massive contracts, but what if we sometimes have it backward?  In an interview for ESPN with Peter Gammons in 2009, Alex Rodriguez said he first began taking steroids in 2001 after signing a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers. A-Rod put a huge spotlight on himself by signing that deal, which was worth more than what Rangers owner Tom Hicks paid for the franchise. His performance had to be almost superhuman; otherwise, it would be judged a failure.

Baseball’s free agency rules (once players get to the majors, their salaries are controlled for six seasons). No open market until after that sixth year with the big league club. Considering a lot of players spend two, three, or even four years in the minors, we’re talking about team control for eight, nine, or even ten years! This rule makes it very rare for players to hit the open market while still in their prime (which is somewhere between 26 and 28).

Unless a player is a prodigy like A-Rod, who reached the majors at 18, he won’t hit the market until he’s past his prime. Under the current system, Aaron Judge won’t be a free agent until he’s 31. Jacob deGrom won’t be a free agent until he’s 32.

In other words, the Yankees paid Canó 58MM for nine hall-of-fame seasons (a complete bargain), and the Mariners will pay $240MM for not that (a rip-off). These 10-year contracts never work out because the players are simply too old when they are eligible to sign such a deal.

Tjarks went back a generation for another comparison:

Just look at two of the greatest players from the previous generation: Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. Bonds spent his first seven seasons with the Pirates before signing with the Giants at the age of 28. Griffey spent his first 11 seasons with the Mariners before signing with the Reds at the age of 30. Both were sure-fire Hall of Famers before they signed with their second teams. Both were paid $95 million between the ages of 30 and 38. The difference is that Griffey produced 13.3 WAR over that stretch, while Bonds produced 77.8 WAR.

PED use is why Bonds is not in the Hall of Fame and Griffey is. But would San Francisco fans be willing to trade the second half of his career for Griffey’s? Bonds won back-to-back-to-back-to-back MVP awards and turned the Giants into an elite franchise. The Reds never even made the playoffs with Griffey.

Of course, there is another possible explanation. Players take PEDs for all the reasons: to get into the bigs, to stay in the bigs; to sign a contract for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and to sign a contract for hundreds of millions of dollars. I choose D – all of the above. – PAL

Source: Canó and the Impossible Contract”, Jonathan Tjarks, The Ringer (8/14/18)

TOB: (My response inspired by of one of my favorite memes):

Phil I want to address this issue. You KNOW I don’t care if athletes use PEDs. BUT!

I think this argument is b.s.! I won’t dispute that Robinson Canó, who has a massive contract guaranteeing him huge amounts of money until he’s 41 was not taking PEDs to play for his next contract. It was not “about” making money. HOWEVER! I do not buy that athletes like Canó, A-Rod and (ALLEGEDLY!) Bonds took PEDs out of some selfless need to live up to the expectations created by their massive contracts. It’s ego, bruh. Plain and simple. When Bonds (ALLEGEDLY!) took PEDs, it was (ALLEGEDLY!) in response to the fame garnered by juiceheads McGwire and Sosa during the 1998 home run chase. Bonds, suddenly, wasn’t the biggest name in baseball and he couldn’t take it.

Sidebar: I’d also like to take this opportunity to say that I am surprised everyone so blindly accepts that Griffey was clean, when there is some evidence to suggest he was not. First, he got a lot bigger right after 1998, just like Bonds. Natural aging? Maybe. But no one gives the benefit of that doubt to Bonds. Second, right after he goes to the Reds in 2000, his body starts breaking down. He was only 30, and he suffered repeated and severe soft tissue injuries: pulled and torn hamstrings especially plagued him. As you may know, anabolic steroid use can lead to muscle tears. I’m not saying, I’m just saying.

So, yeah. I don’t care if Canó took PEDs. But I’m also not going to allow Tjarks to let him off the hook for his actions to say it was out of some altruistic need to live up to his paycheck.

PAL: To be clear, I am not suggesting Tjarks is right; I’m just saying he makes a compelling point on Canó’s behalf. The delayed free agency leads to players being at or past their prime when they sign their big contracts, which can lead to the PED use. I have’t heard that one before.

The Birth of College Football

As TOB mentioned to me, it’s frustrating how many great articles and stories are on The Athletic, which doesn’t allow readers any free views in order to sample the goods. I’ll do my best to share big chunks of this story, because it’s a doozy.

Did you know the popularization of college football ban be traced back to WWI, and that it was military bases and academies that brought the game to the masses? I didn’t.

As top college athletes enlisted in the war efforts and universities struggled to find enough bodies to field teams, more players who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play at the college level were given a chance to participate. The sport became less of an elitist pastime and more of an everyman’s game.

College football became seen as more “American” as military training camps put together teams to face off against themselves and universities. And when the flu ultimately passed and congregating was again allowed around the country, the communal feel of a football game proved valuable.

Back in 1916, the game was used as a way to keep soldiers healthy…and by healthy I mean STD-free:

The view of football being valuable to World War I military training can be traced to a breakout of venereal disease.

In 1916, national guardsmen who were stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas — patrolling territory near the U.S.-Mexico border — suffered from an outbreak of sexually transmitted disease at their camp.

“These young Guardsmen, with nothing to occupy their free time, swarmed into the nearby camp towns to look for fun, but found venereal disease and cheap alcohol instead,” James Mennell wrote in The Service Football Program of World War I: Its Impact on the Popularity of the Game.

With the U.S. creeping closer to involvement in World War I in 1916, the need for healthy, young, STD-free American males became greater. So on the recommendation of War Department Secretary Newton D. Baker, the Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA) was created.

With U.S. involvement in WWI seeming more likely by the day, the war efforts became widespread. Many former college athletes were enlisting, and more and more college men were joining the ROTC. However, there was a general concern that the 2-year and 4-year ROTC programs weren’t churning out prepare soldiers fast enough. This lead to the Student Army Training Corps,  a university-driven military training curriculum. At that point, nearly every male student was a part of the SATC; they were eligible for the draft if they weren’t a member. The SATC allowed them to continue their education without a draft hanging over their heads.

And just like that, you have 400 colleges across the country training soldiers with the military leadership – right up to President Wilson – seeing football as a key component of the soldiers’ training.

And right as the game, made popular on bases and college campuses alike, was gaining national attention, the flu hit. It’s hard to fathom the scale of it all, but this stat rattled me:

More children under 9 died in the United States in 1918 than during the next 25 years combined. In the span of those 12 months, the average U.S. life expectancy dropped almost 12 years.

The result was very few games played in September and October of that year. People missed the game, and in November charity games were set up to raise funds for the United War Work Fund. People came out by the thousands, eager to cheer.  The ceasefire and Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, and the second wave of the flu was dissipating.

For a nation that had suffered deaths abroad and at home, November football came as a respite. For the American military, it proved to be one of the most useful tools in helping to win the war. And for the future of the sport, the 1918 season proved to be one in which the game was taken up as American and democratized for many.

When you think about the origin of college football, which pre-dates professional football, the modern-day alignment with the military makes a bit more sense. In fact, I’m shocked that I’ve never heard the story of how football spread across the country by way of a war effort. I’m shocked I haven’t read the words of Penn’s Sol Metzger on a bumper-sticker somewhere:

Now our American game of football teaches us nothing if it does not build up our spirit. College spirit, bred of football, is close kin to patriotism. And this spirit of the American forces is nothing more than college spirit of a high and nobler order.

All of this football because some soldiers got VD. Actually, that sounds about right. – PALSource: A season of influenza and influence: How World War I and a pandemic in 1918 changed college football forever”, Chantel Jennings, The Athletic (8/14/18)

TOB: Interesting article. Phil did a good job tying it together, but I had to call attention to this section, where a doctor laments all the deaths due to the 1918 influenza pandemic:

“One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day, and still keeping it up. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a new mixed infection here, but what I don’t know.”

I can’t stop laughing at his nonchalance. Sure, who doesn’t mind seeing twenty people die. But yeah, 100 per day? That sure does get on my nerves, too

Video of the Week

Tweet of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Aretha Franklin – “Chain of Fools”

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“No, no. AIDS is not funny. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

M. Scott

Week of August 10, 2018

Why Baseball’s Shift Actually Hurts the Defense

We’ve written a few times about the increasing use of the defensive shift in baseball, as recently as last month. The concept of the shift is simple: For hitters who pull the ball a lot, put more defenders in that area to increase the likelihood of an out. It makes sense, and teams have gone to extremes to use it over the last few years. The story we featured last month involved hitters who face shifts explaining why they insist on trying to hit into/over the shift instead of just slapping a ball to the vacated spot on the opposite side of the infield. Essentially, it’s not as easy as it sounds and it takes the bat out of the hands out of your power hitters.

But, as the use of the shift has soared, so too have the statistics on the shift’s effect. Surprisingly, the shift is actually hurting the defense and increasing scoring, albeit slightly. While the shift does have the effect of reducing BABIP (batting average on balls in play) by roughly 18 points on the most shifted hitters, scoring actually increases when a shift is employed. Two articles I read this week illustrate this.

The math here is pretty interesting, as laid out by Russell Carleton at Baseball Prospectus:

I looked at all hitters who had at least 100 plate appearance without The Shift. If a batter had a .300 BABIP without The Shift, then in the 200 plate appearance that he got in front of The Shift–if The Shift was exactly as good a defense against batted balls as a standard two-right/two-left alignment–we would expect 60 hits from him. If The Shift is a better defense, we’d see fewer than 60. If it’s worse, we’d see more. Now, we know that because of small-sample-size weirdness, you can’t always trust the results you’d get from this sort of analysis on an individual level. But if we sum across the league, we can get a good idea on how The Shift is doing in the aggregate.

We see that the Full Shift “took away” 493 singles, but it somehow gave back 574 walks. It seems that the primary effect of The Shift is to change the way that a batter reaches first base, and it seems that he is standing on first base more often. You can’t throw him out if he gets to walk there.

So why is this happening? A summary from Sam Smith of ESPN:

Even though the shift is good at gobbling up ground balls and line drives, it has the secondary effect of making pitchers throw more pitches out of the strike zone. They don’t appear to be pitching to the shift — by throwing more pitches on the inner part of the plate, for instance — but merely pitching away from contact, nibbling more and throwing fewer fastballs. This all means more balls. More balls mean more walks, and they also mean more hitter’s counts, which means more doubles, more triples, more home runs and fewer strikeouts.

Home runs are also up against the full shift, as the hitter attempts to lift the ball up and over the shift more than he would against a normal defense. Carleton suggests that the issue for pitchers nibbling and issuing more walks is mental, and could be fixed – but until then, he suggests defenses utilize the shift only against the most extreme pull hitters

I find this issue most compelling because of the fact some people around the game, including MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, have suggested banning the shift in order to preserve offense. This always seemed like an overreaction to me. But the numbers show, at least right now, that the shift isn’t decreasing scoring, but increasing it. Just another example of why it’s good to collect data before reacting. -TOB

Source: MLB Myth-Buster: The Shift Isn’t Curbing Runs; It’s Creating Them”, Sam Smith, ESPN (08/07/2018); Baseball Therapy: How to Beat the Shift”, Russell A. Carleton, Baseball Prospectus (05/22/2018)

PAL: No rules banning positioning of players. The game will correct itself, because there’s a competitive advantage in the truth. I was listening to the Dan Patrick Show this morning while walking Max, and a guest pointed out that the split finger fastball wasn’t popularized until the 1980s. The game had existed for over 100 years, and then something different came about and revolutionized pitching. Guess what, it happened again in the 90s with the popularization of the cutter. The shift will be worked out. Either it will prove ineffective, or hitters will have to evolve. In the long-term, these are the cat-and-mouse games that make sports interesting.

Summer Internship: Cape Cod League Broadcaster

The Cape Cod Baseball League is a wood bat summer league where some of the best college ball players are invited to play. While to the crowd the games might be, as The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis describes it, “a chance to put a capper on a perfectly Rockwellian day”, The Cape League is a serious nesting area for future big leaguers. According to the CCBL, there were 306 Cape Cod alumni in the Majors in 2017. That’s an incredible 25% of all big leaguers after they expand to the 40-man roster.

It’s not just a training ground for players. Curtis digs into the broadcasting internships started by the Vegas Knights radio play-by-play announcer, Dan D’Uva. D’Uva started the internship program with a friend when he was in high school back in 2002, and he continues to oversee the internship program to this day.

There’s a lot to like about this story, but I especially enjoyed reading how serious D’Uva and this years interns, Josh Schaefer and Cooper Boardman, take it. This is about teaching a craft. D’Uva and the boys seem to really have a coach-player relationship. When D’Uva’s in town, they go over the game ‘tape’ just like players do, only their classroom is the pressbox. D’Uva asks which of the two pupils wants to go first, then they break down an inning of announcing from the night before. All of this is focused on kicking the habit of mimicry.

When you attend the Cape Cod finishing school for broadcasters, you don’t just submit to daily critiques. D’Uva is waging a war against baseball broadcasting cliché. Young play-by-play announcers’ heads are filled with clichés: “free pass,” “the bump,” “knock,” “new slab of lumber,” “campaign,” “Hi again, everybody,” “Farewell from …” They use these words and phrases because they think that’s how announcers are supposed to sound.

After calling the first inning against Yarmouth-Dennis, Cooper swiveled around in his chair. “I said ‘clubbed’ three times in that inning,” he announced to the press box. “I don’t know why. I don’t say that.”

D’Uva told me: “One thing I’ll say is, ‘Don’t be a pretender. You’re not acting the part of a broadcaster. You are a broadcaster.’”

Other useful notes D’Uva passes onto the boys include:

  • Don’t say ‘just in the nick of time’ when you can say ‘safe’ or ‘out’. Too many words. Your listener is thinking,‘Spit it out.’”
  • Add the detail of how close the play was AFTER you make the outcome clear.
  • When you say ‘big game in the east division’ and tell me Harwich is leading Orleans, I expect you to then tell me what place those two teams are in and how many points separate them from each other and from Chatham.
  • Tell me what happened.

It’s easy for us to sit back, watch games, and make a comment here or there about the defense or the hitter’s recent hot streak, but it is no doubt craft to call a sporting event. Much like the players, the Cape Cod League will be as good as it gets for a few years if Schaefer and Boardman take the next step in their journey to a big league stadium. They will be calling low minor league games in towns like Elizabethton, Tennessee and Pulaski, Virginia. These are a long ways away from the postcard experience that is the Cape Cod Baseball League. – PAL

Source: “The Cape Cod Finishing School for Broadcasters”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (8/6/18)

TOB: Good read, and this was a bit of a flashback for me: I was taught many of those same lessons in my first year law school legal writing class: don’t use the passive voice; be thorough but make your point succinctly. Anyways, their summer sounds like a friggin blast.

 The Most New York Times Sports Article Ever Written

Ever wonder where the phrase “out of left field” comes from? Ever wonder why it out of left field and not center field (seemingly furthest “out there”) or right field?

How about “hands down” or “back to square one”? Your lazy wait is over (I mean, you couldn’t looked these phrases up before now if you really wanted to know).

Here are my favorite three idiom explanations, ℅ Victor Mather:

Back to Square One

As with many terms, there is a colorful explanation of the origin and a more prosaic and realistic one, though both originate with competition.

First the colorful one: When soccer was first broadcast on the radio in the 1920s in Britain, there was concern that fans would not be able to visualize the field well. So the field was divided into numbered squares, with charts published in newspapers. That way the announcer could say, “The ball is passed into Square 4, then dribbled into Square 6,” and fans used to watching games in person would understand what was going on. Square 1 was the area with the goalie, so a pass back to Square 1 would be a restarting of an offensive move.

The Oxford English Dictionary deflates that theory though, pointing out that the term’s use really began in the 1950s, some decades after the soccer broadcasting scheme stopped. It suggests the term actually comes from board games like chutes and ladders, in which players can find themselves sent back to the start.

Hands Down

It sounds like it might be from a card game, but it actually comes from horse racing. When a jockey has a race in the bag, he can relax his hold on the reins and stop urging the horse so hard.

Out of Left Field

In 1961, William Safire devoted a Times column to the topic and put forth numerous ideas, including that left field was often deeper than right in early baseball stadiums, that weaker fielders were put in left and that left fielders tended to play farther back.

A more colorful explanation is that behind the left-field wall at the Cubs’ West Side Grounds, in use from 1893 to 1915, was a mental hospital whose patients could sometimes be heard making bizarre remarks during the game.

One other note of importance: don’t sleep Bill Shakespeare when it comes to sports idioms. He’s responsible for two that made the article – there’s the rub and Wild-goose chase. As you go into the weekend and are wondering what the hell to talk about at tonight’s happy hour or cocktail party, casually bring up that you read this delightful little article in The Times about sports phrases. Just make sure you do so with an old fashioned or Manhattan in your hand. Keep it classy. -PAL

Source: We Use Sports Terms All The Time. But Where Do They Come From?”, Victor Mather, The New York Times (8/6/18)

How One of the World’s Best Sherpas Ended Up Working Retail in Manhattan

This is an interesting look into the life of Serap Jangbu Sherpa, one of the world’s best sherpas, who scaled 11 of the 14 highest peaks in the world, including the most dangerous, K2, twice in one year. Serap retired a few years back, and now works unassumingly in a sporting goods store in Manhattan. The story looks at his young life, how he became a “Sherpa” (which is actually the name of the ethnic group), how and why he ended up working retail in Manhattan, still only aged 49, and tells of some of his most harrowing treks. For a taste, here’s one such story:

Just before midnight on May 11, with four other Sherpas and two Koreans, they started up the North Col from the third camp and arrived at the summit at 11 a.m. They remained on the summit for 90 minutes, then Park and Serap started into Nepal. They climbed down in alpine style, connected to each other only by a thin lightweight rope, seven millimeters thick and 50 meters long.

Serap led, even though he’d never come this way before; he’d only ever reached the summit from the north face. They were climbing blind at 29,000 feet. Coming down the Hillary Step at 12:30 p.m., one of Park’s crampons caught an old rope, and he slid to the edge of the exposed rock face. His headlamp flew off, dropping 8,000 feet to Camp Two.

Serap slammed down his ice axe and tied their rope to the handle. If Park fell, Serap would be pulled off with him.

Serap held the rope tightly; anything more than walking at that altitude felt impossible. After half an hour of wriggling to push himself up, an exhausted Park managed to grab onto a rock for support and with his other hand free his crampon.

A good read! -TOB

Source: The Sherpa of New York”, Ryan Goldberg, Deadspin (07/25/2018)

Imagine Being So Rich You Wouldn’t Miss a $150k Deposit

Tommy Fleetwood is a British Golfer. There’s another Tommy Fleetwood who also plays professional golf, and lives in Florida. British Tommy recently earned $150,000 in the British Open. But the European Tour accidentally sent the winnings to Florida Tommy, who had played in some European events in the past. Oops. Here’s a screenshot of Florida Tommy’s banking app.

Florida Tommy was honest, and alerted the proper people of the error (though it is a crime to spend money accidentally deposited into your account), and British Tommy got his winnings.

This is a bit of an unremarkable story that I normally wouldn’t bother writing about, except for this quote from British Tommy:

“I honestly didn’t know anything about it. I wouldn’t even know if I’d been paid or not because I don’t really look.

Oh, goddamnit. What a rich bastard. “Ohh, I’m sooooo rich that I wouldn’t notice not getting paid $150,000.” Screw you, pal. -TOB

Source: European Tour Sent Tommy Fleetwood’s $150K To The Wrong Tommy Fleetwood”, Patrick Redford, Deadspin (08/09/2018)

PAL: Send the money my way. I’ll notice it everyday.

Video of the Week: 121 MPH exit velocity. Holy crap.

PAL Song of the Week: The Avalanches – “Because I’m Me”

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And she is a woman. She is a strong, soft, thoughtful, SEXY woman.

-M. Scott

Week of July 20, 2018

Name that future star. I’m still laughing.

There’s No Game, and That’s a Shame

Most kids I knew growing up liked to play Madden. Every year, they’d buy the game and play for hours. I liked Madden ok. I bought it every few years if I read about a game innovation that was enticing enough. But I was a much bigger college football fan back then, and so my football video game of choice was NCAA Football.

I got the very first EA Sports college football game – Bill Walsh’s College Football for the Sega Genesis. I saved my allowance and got the next three versions when they each came out – Bill Walsh’s College Football 95 and College Football USA 96 and 97. Man, I played those games for hours. As I got older, every three years or so, I’d get the newest version and spend an embarrassing amount of time over the next few years creating the best Cal players, and amassing Heismans and National Titles. I was so good I had to create mini challenges for myself. It was a failure if I didn’t score 100 points or more. Every time the other team scored, I did as many pushups as points they had in the game.

I wasn’t the only one who loved those games. The games came with players with fake names, but characteristically they generally matched the real life rosters. Every year I’d find a message board where people would team-up to rename the players to the names of players actually on the roster. There were around 50 players per roster, and 120 or so teams. And it was not very quick to change a single name. It was an incredible amount of work. Then, they’d make them available and you could download the file to your XBox or PS3, and upload it to the game to use. It was incredibly dorky, but also fun.

But then the NCAA was sued by Ed O’Bannon for the use of his likeness in the EA Basketball game (as in the football game, it wasn’t “Ed O’Bannon”, but it was the 1995 UCLA team with a player who sorta looked like him, had his number, equivalent skills, etc.). In response, the NCAA revoked its license to EA to use NCAA trademarks (school names, logos, etc.). Without this, EA didn’t see the point of making the game. Just weeks after releasing NCAA 14 with Denard Robinson on the cover, they announced there would be no future versions.

Not that people don’t still play. Hell, it’s almost a collector’s item. On Gamestop right now, it’ll cost you $40 to get NCAA 14, a game 5 years old. By comparison, you can get Madden 17, a game just two years old, for $7. And you can still find the faithful updating rosters every summer for use on NCAA 14. I still download the roster every season and try to play at least a season of games, late at night when the rest of the family is asleep. And every time, there’s Denard Robinson. For college football fans, he will become an icon – the last NCAA Football video game cover boy. -TOB 

Source: Denard Robinson’s ‘NCAA 14’ Cover Legacy, and the One He’s Building Beyond FootballCody Stavenhagen, The Athletic (07/13/2018)

Golf Hero: Big Mama

Friday mornings are fun. Cup of coffee, take a little extra time before getting into work, refine the week’s post, and find the perfect quote for the week. It’s a good way to lead into the weekend. But sometimes that feeling only lasts for a few minutes, because you find new story that definitely would’ve made the post. That is the case with this story.

JoAnne Carner, a.k.a. Big Mama, has long been a legend on the LPGA tour. She’s a more successful, less depressing version of John Daly. She likes her cigarettes, she’s not afraid of a beer or three, and she could really hit it.

Last week, at age of 79, Big Mama shot her age at the U.S. Open, a feat made even more impressive when you consider she hasn’t walked a course since 2004!

The story is more of a headline, but it included this great documentary short about Big Mama that I thoroughly enjoyed:

My favorite anecdote is that she would go to gym where the other competitors were working out, put her beer in the cup holder on stationary bike, and b.s. with the ladies. – PAL

Source: A 79-Year-Old Nicknamed “Big Mama” Just Shot Her Age At The U.S. Senior Women’s Open”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (7/13/18)

Serena Lost, and That’s Ok

Serena Williams is the greatest women’s tennis player of all-time. She has won 23 Grand Slams – second only to Margaret Court’s 24. Serena would have likely already passed Court, but she missed the final three majors last year, and the first one this year, because she gave birth in September 2017. But she has returned to the court just a few months later. What’s most amazing is that Serena, at age 35, won the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant. I asked my wife, who has twice given birth about that fact, and she deemed it “mindblowing.”

After losing early in the French Open, Serena looked more like herself during the recent Wimbledon. She entered the final with a chance to tie Court, losing just one set on her way to the finals. And then she lost 3-6, 3-6, to Angelique Kerber. Many were disappointed. We wanted history! We wanted Serena, just a few months after giving birth, at age 36, to win the damn thing.

The loss must be painful for Serena, who noted she missed her ten-month old daughter’s first steps while away competing. As Katie Baker points out, for her entire career, Serena Williams has been the best, and thus always has to face opponents giving their best to beat her. During the tournament, Madison Keys, another player, noted that this fact “must suck.” Serena appreciated Keys acknowledging this, saying “That’s what makes me great. I always play everyone at their greatest. So I have to be greater.”

But Baker makes a really great point:

A Wimbledon victory on Saturday for Williams would have been like the 73-9 Golden State Warriors closing out the 2016 NBA Finals in five games, or the 2007 Patriots going 19-0 with a Super Bowl win. It would have been too perfect, too stunning, too broad and borderline-incomprehensible a caricature of success. (What’s worse, it definitely would have inspired people to opine that “women really can have it all!”) What happened instead serves to emphasize just how challenging Williams’s latest quest is, and it adds one more layer of intrigue and nuance to a career that has always been elevated by both.

After tarnishing that 73-9 record, the Warriors went on to win the next two (and counting) titles. After losing the Super Bowl at 18-0, the Brady/Belichick Patriots won two more (and counting) Super Bowls. Serena, too, needs just two more to become the most decorated tennis player, man or woman, in history. What she almost did this month was incredible; I’m betting that Serena takes this loss, uses it as fuel, and once again shows why she’s the greatest of all-time. At least twice. -TOB

Source: Serena Williams’s Latest, Greatest Quest”, Katie Baker, The Ringer (07/15/18)

Exhibition Wins

I love stories that unveil a part of a game that I’ve hardly considered. A lot of folks like to rail on the exhibition of All-Star Games (myself included), but ESPN’s Sam Miller has officially changed my mind with his story. He’s right. I was wrong, and I love how he constructs his story.

He starts with a bunch of teenagers playing a game on a summer afternoon, and the reader is led to believe that it’s just a bunch of friends playing a pickup game at the park. No one’s keeping score, afterall.

These kids were playing not for fun but because there were dozens of scouts and major league execs watching them at a showcase event. Those scouts weren’t all that interested in this game — they were there to see the 17-year-olds — but the teenagers were still trying to stand out. The pitchers were trying to light up radar guns, the batters were selling out for power, the fielders were overthrowing cut-off men to show off their arms, every baserunner was trying to steal. Nobody was keeping score, but this all counted, and it counted mostly to the extent that it would affect some major league team’s chances of winning a World Series someday. The stands were full, and nobody cheered.

“The stands were full, and nobody cheered.” That’s a hell of a visual, and the image is the perfect juxtaposition to look at great moments in baseball that had nothing to do with winning a Major League baseball game.

Barnstorming didn’t count, but it built the Babe Ruth legend across the country during a time when folks didn’t have televisions.

“If you were a pretty good baseball player in the twenties, professional or amateur, big-city or small-town, the chances were pretty good that you played against Babe Ruth at least once in your life,” biographer Leigh Montville wrote in “The Big Bam.” “He had played between 200 and 250 games every year, 154 of them in big-league parks, but the rest in the Dyckman Ovals of America.

And then there’s Willie Mays playing stickball. As Miller notes, we’ve all seen the picture of Mays playing stickball, but I didn’t know he played all of the time. Before games, after games. Hell, he was almost late for a real game when he lost track of time playing stickball.

There are more current examples in the story, too. Definitely worth the read. Miller is right – baseball’s legacy isn’t only built on professional championships. Some of the best stories from the game are about legends connecting with the rest of us, like Willie playing with the neighborhood kids. – PAL

Source:The Home Run Derby and the beauty of baseball that doesn’t count”, Sam Miller, ESPN (7/16/18)

TOB: I loved that Willie Mays story, too. After I read it earlier this week, I even used it as a bedtime story to my oldest – the latest in a line of bedtime stories about great athletes or teams or games. We had gone to the Giants game a couple days before, and I had even pointed out the Willie Mays statue, so he had some context. I had always figured that image of Mays was a one-off, maybe even a photo-op. The reality is too great. Imagine how many people out there can honestly claim they played stickball with one of the greatest baseball players that ever lived. I now know the number is a lot higher than I would have expected.

What’s Worse than Permit Patty or Karen From HR? Calling the Police After a Hard Screen in Pickup Basketball

I mean, christ. What the hell. If you missed this, you’re in for…well, not exactly a treat. A minor-sounding altercation broke out this week during a pickup basketball game at an L.A. Fitness in Virginia. The story unfolded slowly during the week, beginning with this tweet:

The tweet went viral, and the internet rightly clowned on this dude for calling the cops after a foul in a pick-up basketball game. The best that can be pieced together is that one player, the guy on the right in the picture below, pushed the player on the left. The player on the left retaliated with either a body check or a hard screen. The player on the right got upset, left the court, made the gym staff call 9-1-1, and then threw a hissy fit to the police. By Wednesday, we had the officer’s body cam footage. It’s hilarious.

WHAT A CLOWN. He should NEVER show his face at that gym again. Every time he did, he should be clowned like the clown he is. I wish I could see him so that I could boo him right in his clown face. BOOO! -TOB

Source: Virginia Man Calls Cops After ‘Hard Screen’ In Pickup Basketball”; “Here’s The Police Body-Cam Footage After The Pickup Basketball 911 Call”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (07/17/18; 07/18/18)

PAL: My favorite part of this is when the employee – pictured on the right in the video – handles the absurd situation as calmly as anyone could hope and suggests that either the two players put the issue to bed and stay at the gym, or they can both leave for the day. GET YOUR SWOOSH ON then complains, “How’s that fair to me? I’m the aggrieved party here.” You know this dude doesn’t re-wrack the weights or wipe down the stationary bike.

84-Year Old Woman Can Talk Basketball Better Than Most Bay Area Dads

The Warriors are obviously really good, and very popular in the Bay Area. They are, thus, a major topic of conversation among Bay Area Dads. Every time I go to an event with other dads, talk inevitably turns to the Warriors and the greater NBA. I’m often amazed at how bad the takes are – the dads like to discuss the Warriors, but most have little idea what they’re talking about (excepting you, Ted).

So it was with great amusement I read this article by Craig Fehrman about his 84-year old neighbor, Iris Clawson. Iris likes puzzles, and her garden, and children. But as Fehrman says, “One day this spring, though, Iris startled me by asking if I’d caught last night’s Warriors-Rockets game.”

Recently Fehrman asked Iris her opinion on the NBA offseason moves, and hers are all the correct ones:

LeBron joining the Lakers? Not a surprise. “He has a mansion out there,” she points out, “so that’s probably why he wanted to go.” Still, she didn’t expect Lance Stephenson to follow. “How will they get along?” she asks. “I guess he’ll have more chances to blow in LeBron’s ear.”

DeMarcus Cousins joining the Warriors? Not a big deal. “They’re in their heyday,” she says, “but they’ll get older, and they’ll fall behind. Nothing lasts forever.”

Technically, Iris cheers for the Pacers. (She still prefers Frank Vogel over Nate McMillan, and Rick Carlisle over either.) But her favorite team to watch is Golden State. “I can’t figure out how Steph can be so small and so good,” says Iris, who, stooped over her cane, is barely over five feet herself. She adores his crazy shot-making, but thinks Klay Thompson and his quick release might be even better. “The ball hardly touches his fingers and it’s headed in the other direction,” she says.

Iris also admires KD, and understands why he left the Thunder. “Durant wasn’t getting the ball enough with Westhead, Westpaul …Westbrook. I had every ‘West-’ but the right one. That’s old age. But I think that’s why he left.”

She finds fears about the Warriors ruining basketball to be absurd. Even if they do grab a third straight title, the NBA is about more than just who wins the championship. How will Blake Griffin and Jimmy Butler adjust in their second seasons with new teams, she wonders. Another question Iris has been mulling this offseason: “How come the Sacramento Kings can’t do anything right?”

“College basketball is too slow,” she says. What she likes about the NBA, and especially the Warriors, is the pace. She roots for ball movement, for rebounds above the rim, for scoring of all kinds. “I like to see the action.”

All of those are the good and correct opinions to have! Which makes sense: Iris is no new-jack fan. She began following the NBA in the 1960s, and her favorites include Jerry West and Dr. J. And more recently Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, and Tim Duncan. I appreciate that, unlike some older people, she can cherish memories of the players of the past while also recognizing the greatness of modern players.

I also love that Iris appreciates actually watching games:

The games really are the thing. Iris doesn’t watch SportsCenter, and she doesn’t get a newspaper or own a computer. Sometimes smaller transactions elude her. (She asked me if Seth Curry had landed with a good team.) She learned about LeBron’s signing from the Indianapolis evening news. But she watches more basketball than ever. Part of it is the Warriors. Their style of play encapsulates everything she loves about the sport.

Iris has trouble seeing the score these days, but she’s going in for an eye exam in August, and hopes to improve her viewing experience. As Iris says, “Basketball will be back in October, and I’ll be watching.” I hope to see as much basketball in my life as she has. Cheers to you, Iris!

Source: “My 84-Year-Old Neighbor Has The Only Good NBA Takes”, Craig Fehrman, Deadspin (07/17/2018)

A Fan in Despair

When you love a sports team, and they suck year in, and year out – you start to wonder why you care. “This is so stupid. They suck. Every year they suck. I need to stop caring.” When the Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins, I swore them off – but that was a lie. I almost immediately talked myself into Buddy Hield, the main piece they got back from the Pelicans. And Hield has been…pretty good. Fine. Not bad! When the Kings jumped all the way up to the #2 pick in the draft this year, and then passed on a potential superstar in Luka Doncic, and instead took (another) power forward with red flag in Marvin Bagley, I immediately began talking myself into Bagley into the next Amar’e Stoudemire. Just two games into his first Summer League, it was clear that this comparison was beyond laughable.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

And so it was with great empathy that I read this article by Mallory Rubin, a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan, written after the Orioles dealt homegrown superstar Manny Machado to the Dodgers. Rubin writes about the years of despair she felt at as an Orioles fan, and the hope (and success!) young Manny brought the team.

All-Star Games don’t matter, but since that draft night in 2010, I’ve longed to see Manny start one at shortstop, smile on his face, cartoon bird on his cap. It felt more important than it was—some sort of confirmation, a declaration that the next great era of Orioles baseball really had arrived. In reality, it marked the end. Manny sauntered down the red carpet, hair slicked back, shades on, chest bare. He looked ready made for Hollywood, like someone who was always just passing through.

It killed me. It feels important to note that there are much more pressing things happening in the world—real problems, real stakes, real distress and pain. I know that it’s all relative, that a sports trade is a dust mite in the fabric of the universe’s misery. I know that to some, I sound ludicrously self-indulgent and out of touch. But I also know that fandom isn’t rational, and that sometimes, it can seem impossible to separate what’s logical from what’s in your heart.

There was joy in Manny’s heart on Tuesday night. He answered trade questions diplomatically, conducting himself calmly and respectfully, displaying the maturation the organization long craved to see. He also slipped into speaking about his time in Baltimore in the past tense, his rumored future in L.A. as a guarantee. He took a selfie with Matt Kemp during the game. Every interview question, every comment on the broadcast, every tweet reeked of trade talk and pennant races, blockbusters and California dreams. I felt robbed of the day I’d waited for, bitter that Manny felt more famous after one day under the Dodgers halo than he ever did in the orange and white. I also felt grateful for everything he’d given me, and so desperately sad that I’d never get it again.

Man. I’ve been there. Sports are great. Sports are terrible. Long live sports. -TOB

Source: It Keeps Getting Harder to Believe in Oriole Magic“, Mallory Rubin, The Ringer (07/18/2018)

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Negotiations are all about controlling things. About being in the driver’s seat. And make one tiny mistake, you’re dead. I made one tiny mistake. I wore women’s clothes.