Two Days In a Gorgeous Hellscape: The U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

We attended last week’s U.S. Open, and TOB had some thoughts.

Two Days In a Gorgeous Hellscape: What It’s Like to Attend the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach

While watching last year’s U.S. Open, I saw an ad for this year’s tournament, played at the relatively close Pebble Beach Golf Course. Phil and I decided to attend, and purchased tickets a year in advance. Neither of us had ever been to a golf tournament before, nor had we been to Pebble Beach. We decided attending both Saturday and Sunday was the perfect plan. We could try a few spots and vantage points on Saturday, and use that to inform our plan of attack on Sunday.

The night before we left, the reality of the fact I was going to leave my wife with two kids for two days while I watched golf seemed to set in for her. She peppered me with questions. What are you going to do? Watch golf. Isn’t that boring? Yeah, I had to admit, maybe. This is so stupid. Is that a question? She was not thrilled.

The next morning, Phil picked me up at 5:30am, and we hit the road. With her questions fresh in my mind, and Phil’s fiance’s similar questions fresh in his mind, we asked ourselves: What kind of person attends these things? What’s it like to attend a golf tournament? What’s the best way to watch a golf tournament in person? We’d soon find out the answers to these questions and many more.

Who Attends the U.S. Open?

Let’s get this out of the way: Lots and lots of white people. More specifically, though, white people who really love golf. If you think you love golf, you are probably wrong. A person who attends the U.S. Open, many of them flying across the country to do so, love golf in a way I can’t get my head around. They love to watch it. They love to talk about it. They love to analyze it. They love to crack jokes about how much better the pros are than they are. Lots of old white guys leaned over to us after a big shot and made some variation of the following joke: “Heh heh, you don’t want to see me try to get up and down from there.”

So, obviously, golfers attend the U.S. Open. But not your once-a-year duffers like your hosts, here. Golfers who take it really seriously. So seriously that they wear their golfing gear to the U.S. Open. I’m talking performance golf pants and golf shoes – hand to God we saw people in golf spikes! It’d be like going to a football game as a fan in full uniform. They dress like they dress when they play, but they aren’t playing. It’s wild. This was a big topic of conversation for us all weekend.

The U.S. Open is also a great place, apparently, to show off your bonafides as a golf fan. Before we even got on the shuttle Saturday, I saw three Masters-branded clothing items. We decided to count them, hoping to find 100 such items on the day. We barely got there, finding #100 in the line to board the shuttle home, but by God we did it.

The Masters-branded clothing item is a very specific statement: I Have Been to the Masters, Thus I Am a Very True and Devoted Golf fan. Some people were wearing two and three Masters-branded clothing items. We saw many groups where they were all wearing Masters-branded clothing items. During one trip to the concessions, Phil saw a Masters-branded braided belt and I almost cried when he told me about it, because I was so mad to have not seen it myself. Phil and I had a lot of laughs imagining these old guys packing for their trip, panicking as they couldn’t find their Masters shirt. “HONEY! WHERE’S MY MASTERS SHIRT!!! I TOLD YOU TO MAKE SURE IT WAS WASHED AND READY!”

On top of Masters-gear, there were an incalculable number of 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach-branded clothing items. Hats, jackets, shirts, windbreakers, sweaters, sweater vests, t-shirts, sunglasses. You name it, they sold it, and thousands of fans bought it. We saw people with huge bags of 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach-branded clothing items, and we saw thousands that threw those items on top of whatever it was they arrived wearing. Then you had a decent number of guys busting out their 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach-branded clothing items. We even saw two guys with 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach-branded clothing items, and boy was golf fashion in 2000 awful. By the way, those two items were in pristine condition, so you know those guys kept those jackets protected carefully the last two decades, only busting them out for special occasions.

More obscure but equally as bonafides-signaling were the other U.S. Open-branded clothing items. Shinnecock, Erin Hills, Oakmont, Pinehurst, Congressional, Bethpage, Torrey Pines, Oakmont, Winged Foot, and the Olympic: All have hosted the Open over the last twenty years, and I saw hats and pins and shirts from each.

Another thing that can’t be ignored is that U.S. Open attendees are, or seem to be, overwhelmingly pro-Trump. Given that I live in San Francisco and enjoy my liberal bubble, this was a bit disorienting. We saw less MAGA hats than I expected, but we saw a LOT of MAGA-adjacent hats. By that I mean, a U.S. Open 2019-branded hat in a very specific shade of red, that when viewed from more than a few feet away causes most observers to think it IS a MAGA hat.

Given the political climate, in my opinion, wearing such a hat is a very specific choice to make a political statement. But there’s more. Personally, I think war is bad. I find military flyovers to be distasteful, especially as the current administration seems to be sounding the drums of a war against Iran. But shortly after the tournament ended Sunday, two military jets performed a flyover. It was crazy loud. The crowd cheered in approval, and a U-S-A- chant broke out. Phil and I muttered quietly. 

But the funniest moment occurred when we first got to Pebble Beach on Saturday. Just as the free shuttle (again more on that later) got to the gates, we saw a small handful of protesters holding signs about global warming. The loud and talkative man with a thick southern accent who was sitting in the seat directly behind us could not let this go without comment.

“Protesters, hah. They probably went to Berkeley.

I, a proud Cal grad, whipped around in my seat.

“And what’s wrong with that?”

He stammered. “Uh..nothing. I hear it’s a good school.”

“Yeah. Ok.”

I sat back down. He continued, “They’re probably taking time off from their job at the EPA.” A joke so dumb I didn’t even respond. But yeah, preserving our environment, what a stupid friggin liberal idea, huh, Bubba?

Not two minutes later, as we approached the course, emerging from the forest as the ocean and landscape of Pebble Beach came into view, this dude remarked, “Sure is beautiful here.” I thought Phil and I were going to self-combust. But like good adults we bit our tongues and then griped about that idiot on and off for the next two days.

So, who attends the U.S. Open? Mostly white guys, from climates where golf is very popular (ahem), and all of the political leanings that come with that (ahem ahem).

What’s it like to Attend the U.S. Open as a “Sporting Event”?

I grappled with the answer to this question throughout the experience, and in the days since. As we left on Sunday, right as I was asking myself whether I would ever do it again, Phil asked me that very same question. I had to pause. Would I do this over again knowing what I know now? Yes. Would I ever come back again, though? To answer that question, I must explain a few things.

Golf is a deeply weird sport to attend. It’s unnervingly quiet. The players and officials demand silence as players begin to line up their shot, and that culture is also self-policed by attendees. Even when players are 250 yards away and can’t possibly hear you, the fans shush each other as a player begins to shoot. And there’s little ambient noise. There’s no music. There’s no announcer. There’s nothing but long stretches of silence, interrupted by brief and relatively tepid applause, with an occasional mild cheer. If you are used to attending baseball, basketball, or football games, it’s a bewildering experience.

The lack of announcers, particularly, makes it hard to follow the action, because as you sit in any single place watching two golfers take a couple shots, there are 34 other golfers on the course that you can’t see, and you have no idea what’s going on with them. They did hand out these dorky looking radio earpieces, but even trying to follow all the action on there is difficult, as the broadcast focuses on the leaders. So you’re left to scoreboard watching, with scores posted for each player’s hole after it’s completed. I will say that is a thrilling moment. “Oh boy, they’re posting Koepka’s score on 6 – did he get that eagle he needed. … … … NO!”

Also, the food sucks. Every single concession stand had these exact food options, with no variation: Hamburger. Grilled chicken sandwich. Bratwurst. Chicken caesar wrap. Turkey cheddar sub. Lay’s original potato chips. THAT IS IT. And none of those hot items were any good. Ok, the brat wasn’t bad, because that’s almost impossible to screw up. But it also wasn’t particularly good. And each concession had the exact same beer options: Budweiser (in a delightful Yosemite branded aluminum bottle). Michelob Ultra aluminum bottle. Sculpin can. I realize that the club does not normally need to produce food for 40,000 people so they don’t have permanent kitchens that can feed that many people, but it seems like they could have provided a bit more variety, and a bit higher quality.

Golf is also weird to attend because everyone roots for all the players. Basically, the fans root for good shots, no matter who makes the shot. Yes, there are favorites. Phil astutely pointed out that the fan favorites seem to be the guys with a nickname that fans can shout. Dustin Johnson is peppered with calls to “DJ!” Matt Kuchar, Stiffer of Caddies, is showered with drones of KUUUUUUUUUUUUCH!” Tiger is of course Tiger, and Mickelson is a cheesedick though beloved. But for the most part, fans cheer good shots and groan in solidarity with bad ones. Most of the fans golf, and they seem to empathize with the players, both good and bad. So when I openly root against the amateur from Stanford like I absolutely did, and cheer when he misses a short putt on 18 Sunday like I absolutely did, the eyerolls and anger are palpable.

Golf is also weird because your glimpse of both the players and the action is incredibly brief. On Sunday we sat, all day long, in the grandstand on the 18th green. We saw every single player come through: Tiger. Mickelson. Spieth. McIlroy. Koepka. But we saw each guy for what feels like 30 seconds. They appear as tiny specks on the horizon, take just a couple shots when you can actually make out their faces, and then they disappear. If you’re a huge Tiger fan, unless you brave the crowds and try to follow him for the entire day, you see him for about a minute, at best. It’s like if your favorite baseball player is Buster Posey, and you wait all year for him to come to town – then he sits on the bench all day and comes out for a single, one-pitch at bat, and disappears back into the dugout.

And even when you do see the players, they are not superhuman specimens like you see in other sports. I thought Brooks Koepka would look like a linebacker. But when we saw him tee off on the 6th on Saturday, Phil and I could not get over how he’s actually kinda skinny: chicken legs and skinny forearms – and he’s one of the bigger guys!

The fact that players look like normal people has an interesting effect, especially in concert with all of the above: the U.S. Open doesn’t feel important or dramatic or special. I’ve attended big sporting events, and it always feels so exciting. But at the U.S. Open, for most of the day you’re with a relatively sparse crowd watching some normal-looking people play golf, with no announcers giving you context in hushed tones.  It feels so incredibly normal, and far less exciting than I expected.

What’s the Best Way to Attend a Golf Tournament

Ahead of the tournament, I was very excited to answer this question. And I’ll give golf this: there are practically infinite ways to watch a golf tournament. Some people follow their favorite golfer from hole to hole. Some people camp out at one spot. Some people are there to get drunk and enjoy the scenery. Some people want to show off their golf gear. Some people are there for the pure sport – to see some great golf shots.

On Saturday, we went in with almost no plan. In the morning, we first stopped by the driving range (don’t do that) and then we walked almost the entire course, just to get the lay of the land. We scouted positions, watched some golf, scouted some more positions, watched some more golf. Then, in the afternoon, we found a relatively small and empty grandstand on the 6th hole, and we parked it. We didn’t intend to stay long, but suddenly the big names were on their way and we had a front row view of the tee box. The 6th is a par-5, so we were going to see some bombs, and it was good. We saw all the big names from very close, and it was neat. We even got on TV making fun of Phil Mickelson’s personal logo, which commemorates his unathletic yet mildly iconic jump after he won his first Masters.

The problem with being on the 6th hole though is that when the last group goes through, there are still 2+ hours of golf left on the course, but no more golf where you are. So as the last group approached, we left the grandstand to beat the exiting crowd and tried to find a new spot. After some more meandering, we found ourselves in the grandstand at 18, and we realized that this was the best spot to be, something I did not expect myself to conclude.

So on Sunday, we considered getting a spot in the grandstand for the iconic 7th hole (a very short par 3 right on the ocean) for a little bit before heading over to 18 before it got too crazy. But the lines at 7 were long and not moving because people don’t leave.

So we popped over to the 5th for a minute, another par 3, but it was kinda boring and I started to get antsy about getting into the 18th grandstand, which is far bigger than the others, but is also very popular. From 5, we had a solid view of the 18th grandstand and could see it was already almost half full, at least two hours before the first group would even arrive.

So we elected to head over, and we did just in time. We got great seats, and camped out the rest of the day. Once the grandstands fill, there’s basically a one in, one out policy. Except! They understand people need to use the restroom and eat and whatnot, so if you are already in and plan on returning they give you a card with a time on it – you have thirty minutes to get back without having to wait in line. So we spent the rest of the day alternating trips to the bathroom or concessions, marveling each time at the length of the unmoving line to get into the special place we’d staked out, and patting ourselves on the back for having such foresight.

We of course also had the grouping schedule, so we could plan those breaks accordingly. When the big names and the final groups came through to finish their tournament, there we were, in our seats that we occupied for approximately nine hours.

The nice thing about that setup is that because the 18th is a par 5, there was almost never a lull in the action. Group 1 would tee off and then walk to their shots in the middle of the fairway. They’d take their second shot and head up to the green. Before they got to their ball, Group 2 behind them would tee off and walk to their shots in the middle of the fairway. Then, as soon as Group 1 completed the hole, Group 2 would take its second shot to the green. Compared to our day at the tee on 6, where we awaited players finishing the par-3 5th hole where only one group can play at a time, there was very little sitting around without anything going on. Plus, we got to see the end of the tournament, from great seats, as the other 40,000 people in attendance crowded 10-people deep along the fairways.

So, the best way to watch a golf tournament is in the grandstand at the green on a par-5, preferably the 18th hole so you can see the end.

So, Would I Go Again?

Well..I wouldn’t say attending the U.S. Open is a purely fun activity, though I did have fun hanging out with Phil for two days, talking about life, cracking jokes at the things we were seeing, and analyzing the experience while living it. But…

The U.S. Open returns to Pebble in 2027. At that time, my kids would be nearly 13 and 11 (geeeeezus). If they wanted to go, I’d go. I certainly wouldn’t be champing at the bit, but I’d go. I’d spend a little more money to get a hotel closer to Pebble. I might only go Sunday, and I’d probably take the following Monday off work, to avoid having to drive home so late. And if the Open ever returns to the Olympic Club, a place I could get to on a short bus ride from my house? I would definitely go.

In the end, the people watching is too magnificent to pass up. Also, now that I have a taste for attending an event like this, I really want to go to a major tennis tournament. Or an obscure event at the Olympics. Or maybe the X-Games? Luckily, I have a wonderful and understanding wife. -TOB

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Week of May 31, 2019

He…caught that?


Is “Post-Access Journalism” Coming to American Sports?

In the U.S., we are accustomed to a couple scenes after a game: the first, players/coaches at a podium, often bored out of their minds, answering questions that are rarely interesting and even more rarely results in an interesting answer. The second, players, often half naked and surly, sitting or standing at their locker, microphones stuffed in their faces, while they answer even less interesting questions and give even less interested answers. I have never understood the value of this, personally, because of how rarely we learn anything worth knowing, but the leagues mandate this media access in order to promote the league, its teams, and its players.

As the Ringer’s Bryan Curtis writes, the same is not true in Europe. Soccer leagues and teams do not mandate media availability. Because player discussion with media are not mandated, they are rare, and the results are rather unexpected. When a soccer player or coach does speak to the media, the media companies and reporters realized it was in their collective best interest not to run straight to Twitter with any quotes they might get. Instead they voluntarily agreed to embargo such information. Here’s an example:

After a Saturday soccer match, a club’s manager gives a press conference in front of the TV cameras in the same manner Steve Kerr will this week. What the manager says can be used immediately, on TV or on Twitter. Then, the manager may hold a separate meeting with newspaper writers and answer more questions. What the manager says in that interview is embargoed, by agreement of the writers, until 10:30 p.m. that night. No tweets, no early posts allowed.

Sometimes, the various press conferences contradict one another. As ESPN soccer writer Mark Ogden told me: “The gray area comes when [José] Mourinho says in the open press conference, ‘Paul Pogba isn’t trying hard enough.’ And then in the embargoed section he would go further, saying, ‘Paul Pogba’s not trying hard enough because we’ve had a big row. He hates me.’”

When that happens, a soccer writer has a choice: tell half the story immediately or tell the whole thing at 10:30 p.m. “Embargoes don’t really do any massive harm,” Smith said. “But there are times when you think, ‘Actually, I am almost going to write something that I now know is either incomplete or runs contrary to the full picture, because I have more of the picture.’ That’s a weird thing to do.”

The reasons for the embargoes are many, but the main two are these:

[H]olding news till 10:30 p.m. helps keep the print product alive. If a reader finds a fresh story on the back page of the morning paper, the thinking goes, they’ll be more tempted to buy it. “We willfully function as analog rather than as digital,” Smith said. “But we’re British and we’re a very traditional people.”

Another reason to have embargoes is the idea that readers will drown in the amount of content created by an all-timer like Liverpool-Barcelona. The news and quotes are more likely to be savored if they’re doled out in installments. Yet another reason, Burrows noted, is that holding news gives reporters a chance to write a proper piece instead of a glorified tweet.

As a consumer, some of this I find refreshing. If you check Twitter after a baseball game, the same 4-6 writers all report the same quote from the same players or coaches within seconds of each other. It’s sorta wild. And it makes me wonder if all the Giants beat writers, for example, wouldn’t be better off dividing up the work, so to speak.

But there’s a dark side to all this.

First, the lack of access to players causes reporters to ask questions well ahead of when they normally might, and then ration information they receive. They might not get to speak to that player again for weeks, so they have to get all the answers they can when they can, and then hold that information and slowly divvy it out until the next time they speak.

Second, it has given rise to bad journalism. Players never have to speak to the media, and so they can leverage that power into granting softball interviews, where they (read: their agents/advisors) get to review and edit answers, and where they even get multiple plugs for some god awful product they are endorsing. Instead of an interview, you end up with sponsored content, like this:

First, they might ask for a branded photo to run with the article. Over coffee, Liew pulled out his phone to show me a Daily Telegraph profile he’d written of Manchester United (then Cardiff City) manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2014. The interview had been organized by Barclays, a Premier League sponsor. In the photo, Solskjaer was holding a soccer ball with Barclays’ #YouAreFootball hashtag helpfully pointed at the camera. “This is nice and subtle, isn’t it?” Liew said.

Here’s that photo:

LOLOLOLOL. And the plugs continue:

That’s one plug. Players or manager representatives may also ask for a mention in the text of the story. (“Solskjaer seems relaxed now, having taken some time out to field questions from grassroots coaches as part of a Barclays community event.”) Finally, they ask for the coup de grace: another mention of the product right at the end of the article.

“That’s called a credit,” Liew said.

“A credit?” I said.

“A credit, yeah,” Liew said. “Almost like a shout-out to mom and dad.”

And here’s the “credit”:

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was speaking at a Barclays community event. This season Barclays is thanking fans, community heroes, players and managers for making the game what it is. Join the conversation using #YouAreFootball.

Yikes, that’s gross. But what choice do they have?

“That’s why the whole access game is so corrupt, in a way,” said Liew. “It’s vested interests flogging bad copy to extremely pliant sportswriters.”

And I was talking to good writers, who were queasy about these trade-offs, rather than tabloid scufflers, who might accept them without thinking twice. But even the good writers said a level of branding had crept into the paper.

“We would still resist that complete takeover of the copy,” said Northcroft of The Sunday Times. “But realistically we would bend, and certainly articles would have some kind of … branded photo and maybe a mention, either in the copy or at the end.”

Liew said: “If you get an exclusive interview with Messi, and his agents say, ‘Can we look at the quotes before?’—I know we talk about principles, but we’re going to say yes to that. And most people are—and try and keep it quiet. That’s the reality of it.”

So, as little value I had seen in post-game interview, this does sound waaaaaay worse. Curtis writes this as a cautionary tale for American sports, especially as a few NBA players have recently take more agency with regard to that mandated media “availability”. But I’m not so sure, so long as the league mandates remain in place. Still, this was a fascinating read. -TOB

Source: “‘The Bane of My Existence’: U.K. Sportswriting’s Access Crisis”, Bryan Curtis, The Ringer (05/29/2019)

PAL: This was a depressing read. With so many rules and embargoes, what the hell is the point of covering a team?


The Last 50

Loved this story. In 2012, the Major League draft shrunk from an almost unfathomable 50 rounds down to a still astounding 40 rounds. By comparison, the NFL has 7 rounds, and the NBA only has 2 rounds. A hell of a lot of players are needed to to fill the rosters of all the minor league affiliates. The San Francisco Giants have 8 – count them 8 – minor league teams.

This reduction from 50 to 40 eight years ago might seem insignificant, but for Jarrod Dyson. Giants fans remember him as a Royal, but Dyson is now a bench player for the Diamondbacks. More historically significant, Jarrod Dyson is the last standing active MLB player drafted in the 50th round or later. More than a number, as The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan underscores in his story, Dyson represents a bygone era of scouting (and hiding) a gem.

Brian Rhees was a first year scout in Mississippi. Like a hell of a lot of late-rounders, Dyson was noticed by accident. Once Rhees graded Dyson with 80 speed (scouts rate on a 20-80 scale, which I don’t understand), and once he realized no one else was onto Dyson, Rhees kept his discovery a secret. Dyson really couldn’t hit or really throw all that well, but he could run.

So the 2006 draft begins. In the late rounds of the draft – the real late rounds – where the chances of a player actually making it to the bigs is so slim, teams are really trying to fill roster spots on their various minor league squads. Rhees, who was following along on the computer, noticed the Royals had gone into the roster-filling mode and still hadn’t picked Dyson, his late round sleeper.

What follows is what some folks describe as fate. I describe it as my favorite writing from the story. It just zooms.

Deric Ladnier was going to give the last pick of the 2006 draft to scout Johnny Ramos.

It was going to be some high school pitcher from Puerto Rico, as far as the former Royals and current Diamondbacks amateur scouting director can remember. Named Pérez, maybe? The exact details elude him. After all, there’s not much at stake that late in the draft. “The 50th-round pick in the draft never plays in the big leagues,” Ladnier says. “So, I’m going to do a favor.”

Ladnier had that pitcher’s draft file in his hand, ready to give to Stewart to announce the final pick, when Rhees called into the draft room. The scout was worked up, sounding like a man frantically trying to wake someone asleep inside a burning building. All draft, his nerves had been fraying.

Rhees was following the progress of the draft at home on his computer. With about five rounds to go, Dyson’s name still hadn’t been called. “It just kind of appeared to me that we were drafting for the sake of pulling names out of a hat,” Rhees says. “I know we weren’t, but that was the feeling you got. There were times when you’d hear a name and go, ‘I saw that guy! He’s terrible! What are we doing?’” He bemoaned to his wife what he predicted would be the premature death of his scouting career. “She’s a bench player, so she knows how to rag,” Rhees says. “She just shrugged her shoulders and looked at me and said, ‘There’s always Home Depot.’”

He wouldn’t go so quietly. He picked up the phone and dialed the draft room, alerting them to the fact that Dyson remained on the board. He was given the brush-off. The selections ticked by, the 47th round, the 48th, the 49th. “At this point, I’m mad,” he says. “I’m like, ‘C’mon, that’s the groundkeeper’s nephew. What are we doing here?’” Once again, he dialed the draft room in Kansas City. Vizcaino picked up. “I had a unique relationship with Junior because I could just kind of yell,” Rhees says. “Like, ‘Junior, what the hell are we doing? Dyson! Dyson!’ Then I heard him go, ‘Deric! Eighty tool! Eighty tool!’”

An 80-grade tool was never available that late. Dyson’s speed was special, and it made sense to take a flyer on special. But what also stood out was how much Rhees cared about the pick. Who gets worked up over a 50th-rounder? “Nobody is fighting for their player in the 50th round,” Ladnier says. “Nobody. We’re looking for warm bodies.” So, Ladnier put down the file of that Puerto Rican pitcher, whoever he was, and handed Dyson’s to Stewart.

There are so many reasons why Dyson shouldn’t have made it, including three failed drug tests (it’s not that cut-and-dry, trust me), yet he’s won a World Series and earned nearly $15MM to date. In today’s world, the idea of a guy with an 80-grade skill still being available in the last round is preposterous. Any cursory ‘prospect’ search of Instagram will kick up a wide range of skill levels.

A treat of a story to read. Cheers, to Jarrod Dyson! – PAL

Source:The Unlikely – But Maybe Destined – Career of Jarrod Dyson, the Last 50th-rounder Standing”, Zach Buchanan, The Athletic (05/29/19)

TOB: Really good article, and loved Phil how pulled it all together.


Break the NCAA Wheel

RJ Hampton is ESPN’s #5 ranked basketball recruit in the country. He had offers to just about everywhere, including Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. But when he weighed whether to play for an “education” or go and get paid, my dude chose wisely. Hampton opted out of the NCAA’s ridiculous system and instead chose to sign a one-year contract with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian pro league, the NBL. I loved that Hampton decided to announce this decision live on ESPN, under the guise of choosing between three colleges. Hah. What a bad ass.

The NBL has wisely positioned itself as an NCAA alternative for would-be-one-and-done players. They recently launched the Next Stars Program, allowing teams to invite top caliber American high school seniors and “sign them to a short-term contract without counting against the team’s quota of three international players.” Players in the Next Stars Program get paid $100,000, and are eligible to enter the NBA Draft after one year.

If the NCAA won’t pay players, or at least allow players to cash in on endorsements, it deserves to die, and I hope this is the first of many players who tells the NCAA to pound sand.

As an aside: it came out Thursday that Hampton knew of his decision for a month, but didn’t tell the coaches recruiting him. I would presume this was to allow the contract to be hammered out with his NBL team. But ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb decided this was the height of offense, and (in a tweet he deleted hours later) called Hampton “classless” and what he did a “DB maneuver”. WHICH IS FUNNY, DOUG. Because I recall when YOU were in college and you stole a teammate’s credit card, racked up a thousand dollars in charges, which is CREDIT CARD FRAUD, DOUG, and got kicked out of school.

Thought we forgot about that one, DOUG? And as I tweeted Thursday to someone who said “it was 20 years ago and it was only $1,000” (LOL): If there’s anyone in college basketball who should be driving the “Kids make mistakes!” train, it’s Doug Friggin Gottlieb. Instead he calls a guy classless and a douchebag.”

You suck, Doug Gottlieb. -TOB

Source: Top Recruit Stiff-Arms the NCAA”, Tom Ley, Deadspin (05/28/2019)

PAL: Yeah, I love how an adult ripped a teenager for being classless while also calling the teenager a douchebag. Also, one does not drive a train.

Also, and completely related to NCAA stuff, did you know the Twins are 19 friggin’ games over .500?

TOB: First of all:

And second of all, don’t go suckin your popsicle just yet. The NL Standings on July 10, 2016:

Giants went 30-42 the rest of the season.


Everest’s Graveyard

The traffic jam at the peak of Mount Everest, captured in what looks like a doctored photograph, has been quite the story this week. A cocktail of a corrupt government handing out permits willy nilly, opportunistic expedition companies, and irrational people thick with cash and thin on mountaineering experience has created a Disney-like line of people waiting to summit Everest. In other words, do the thing they will slip into at every bar, graduation party, and wedding reception encounter for the rest of their respective lives.

While there is altogether too many folks trying to summit during the short, May window when the weather breaks enough for the best chance at the summit; increasingly warm temperatures have also revealed reminders of the risk involved for even the most experienced mountaineers. Several dead bodies from previous failed expeditions are being uncovered. They serve both as landmarks and perhaps ominous indicators of global warming at one of the most extreme places on earth.

In the last few seasons, climbers say they have seen more bodies lying on the icy slopes of Everest than ever before. Both the climbers and the Nepalese government believe this is a grim result of global warming, which is rapidly melting the mountain’s glaciers and in the process exposing bones, old boots and full corpses from doomed missions decades ago.

The Nepalese government is struggling with what to do. More than 100 bodies may be lying on Everest, and there is an open debate about whether to remove them or leave them be. Some climbers believe that fallen comrades have become a part of the mountain and should remain so. A number of the bodies are remarkably well-preserved: Sun-bleached parkas outline faces frozen into the color of charcoal.

Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air was my first exposure to the business end of Everest.  As enthralling as the objective is, it seems the purity of this pursuit was lost long ago, if it existed much at all (I mean, shouldn’t we be remembering the sherpas?). I can’t think of a more appropriate symbol of that commercializing of an ambition than a traffic jam at the top of the world stepping amongst the frozen dead. – PAL

Source: As Everest Melts, Bodies Are Emerging From the Ice”, Bhadra Sharma and Kai Schultz, The New York Times (05/30/19)


The State of the NBA

I’m generally not a fan of the Ringer’s Chris Ryan. He’s grates on every Ringer podcast he appears on – always yes-man-ing Simmons, interrupting people who are far smarter than he is, even while they make an interesting point, and he tried waaaaaaaaay too hard to sound like he know what he’s talking about when discussing basketball by using dumb initials or some other crap.

BUT. This was a really interesting piece by Chris Ryan and Justin Verrier, where the two discuss the state of the NBA, how free agency discussions have taken over the entire league’s discourse and rendered the play on the court an almost after thought, how players over the last decade are treating their careers more like European-based soccer players, and what teams face and how they should react to players taking greater agency over their place of employ (sensing a trend here?). Here’s one passage I especially liked from Verrier:

I feel for Giannis….He and the Bucks smashed preseason expectations, earning the league’s best record and him a spot on the MVP ballot along the way, yet a loss in May 2019 is instantly warped into a footnote for his decision in July 2021. Everything moves too damn fast. But the accelerated timeline is as much a product of his peers’ decisions as it is today’s media culture. Davis can’t become a free agent until July 2020, yet he orchestrated his exit strategy in January 2019; Irving asked out of Cleveland two years before he could enter free agency; and so on. It’s in teams’ best interest to get some sort of payout for their damages, so the process of trading a disgruntled star starts way earlier than you’d think. Next season is the Bucks’ proving grounds, whether they want to admit it or not, and they’re heading into an offseason when almost every helpful player is a free agent. There is a good chance that Milwaukee’s window has closed, just days after we coronated them as the NBA’s next dynasty.

It’s a really good read. -TOB

Source: A Rational Conversation About What Happens When NBA Titles Are Not Enough”, Justin Verrier and Chris Ryan, The Ringer (05/29/2019)


ACHTUNG! NO FUN SHALL BE HAD IN THE NBA FINALS!

During the Eastern Conference Finals, Drake, the rapper (not Drake, the kid from my son’s soccer team who my son and I once saw on BART and tricked my wife into thinking we had seen Drake, the rapper), a Toronto native and Raptors Super Fan, had a lot of fun.

Listen to the announcers enjoy that. It’s fun! What’s wrong with fun! But there will be no joy in the Finals, as Drake has been called to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension for being a very bad boy who has too much fun, young man. Per NBA Commish and hater of fun, Adam Silver:

I think there’s a line too in terms of sitting right on the floor, in terms of engagement whether it’s with the referees and players on other teams. It’s hard to calibrate sometimes exactly where that line is and I think he has a better understanding now of where that line is.

And his manager Future [Adel Nur] who sits with him too, we’ve all talked, all of us together, since then. There’s been conversations that’s taken place. It’s more just, let’s find where that right line is.

Boo. As MLB says: Let the kids play! -TOB

Source: Drake And The Raptors Both Got A Talking-To From The NBA”, Giri Nathan, Deadspin (05/30/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Old Crow Medicine Show – “Temporary Like Achilles (Live)”


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“You know? I may have underestimated you. You’re not a total ass.”

-Dwight K. Schrute

Week of May 17, 2019

 


Bounce, Bounce, Bounce, Bounce.

Every so often you read something so great you think, “Man, I wish I had written this.” Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky is a favorite ‘round here, and for good reason, but this might be my favorite article he’s ever written.

First a little background: You probably know that the Raptors beat the Sixers in Game 7 on Sunday, on one the craziest buzzer beaters you may ever see, by Kawhi Leonard.  Note: It is NOT the greatest series winning buzzer beater (as I detailed a few weeks back, there haven’t been many), as I have seen many argue this week. I still give that to Lillard’s step back 37-footer just last round. It’s not the greatest because the shot was kinda terrible – he shot it short, and really had no business making it. But Lillard’s shot was pure, a straight swish – thus the greater shot. But it was the craziest series winning buzzer beater, hitting the front (relative to Leonard) iron, bouncing practically straight up while picking up a top spin, and then slowly bouncing its way down and into the net, hitting the rim a total of four times along the way.

Here’s another cool ass angle:

A lot was written about the game and the shot, as you can imagine, but Petchesky’s stands out for the way he told the story of the shot as it unfolded, bounce by bounce, weaving in images, video, player quotes.

Bounce.

It wasn’t going in. A basketball, at least in the scheme of sports, is relatively predictable. Not like a baseball, which has seams that, in a pitcher’s hand or when deflecting off some imperfection on the infield dirt, can do some pretty wild stuff; not like a football, which is designed to be aerodynamic but when on the ground will bounce maddeningly at random; certainly not like a puck, which when on edge can get weird. A basketball is straightforward. This doesn’t make it any easier for a player to make it do what he wants it to do, but from decades of playing or watching the sport, you generally know where the ball is going. And all that accumulated life evidence was clear: A ball that hits the front of the rim, with that much velocity, bounces out. History and physics overwhelmingly promise it.

“Ah, it doesn’t look too good,” Danny Green remembered thinking from his vantage point on the bench.

So Raptors-Sixers Game 7 was going to head to overtime, and it would have been a fascinating one. The Sixers offense had stalled— they scored five points and just one field goal in the final 5:47 of the game—and Joel Embiid was visibly gassed. Kawhi Leonard had taken 39 shots, the most any player had ever taken in regulation of a Game 7, and for much of the fourth quarter, he was Toronto’s offense. But in the game’s final minute, he had missed a free throw and now looked like he was going to miss a second contested jumper. Overtime would’ve meant redemption for someone, and it would’ve been the second-most dramatic way to wrap up a close game in a close series. The first-most would have been if Leonard’s shot, an attempt at the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history, would have gone in. But that didn’t look likely.

Except…

Bounce.

It continues from there, and I highly recommend you read the whole thing. -TOB

Source: Kawhi Leonard And A Story Of Four Bounces”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/13/2019)

PAL: It was a sport moment writers drool over (1). All the clichés are on the table (2): time stood still (3), the game hung in the balance (4), a game of inches (5), sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good(6). Petchesky described exactly what happened to the ball, why it’s was so incredible (the way the ball bounced, not the circumstance). He smartly kept it very literal, because he knows enough to know that the one thing he doesn’t need to write was the emotion of the moment or the stakes – it was baked in (7).

TOB: Great point, Phil.


Robberies On The Rise

When I think of an outfielder ‘robbing’ a homerun,  I always see Kirby Puckett first. That was his thing back in the 80s and 90s. The fact that one player – even in my biased memory – represented a type of play says a lot about how uncommon the play has been within my lifetime. Now, Ben Lindbergh explains, home run robberies are increasingly more common.

Through Monday’s games, or almost exactly a quarter of the regular season, outfielders had already robbed 21 home runs. That put them on pace for 84 robberies, which would be by far the most since SIS started tracking the event in 2004. A larger sample may slow that pace, but this isn’t a 2019-only phenomenon: Last year’s 65 robberies broke the previous record of 60, which was set in 2017. The first two years of the current high-homer era, 2015 and 2016, featured 50 and 48 robberies, respectively, which were themselves the highest totals of any season since 2004, a high-homer year at the tail end of the somewhat misleadingly labeled steroid era.

The obvious question is why, right? Lindbergh is one of my favorite baseball writers when it comes to explaining cause in an accessible way. Without ruining the article, which is a hell of a fun read with a bunch of links to robberies (this will lead you down a youtube wormhole), here are a handful of factors:

More home runs = more home run robberies

Ballparks have become more homogeneous in terms of dimensions and fence/wall height.

Outfielders play deeper now. I also wonder about the power of familiarity. Most of these centerfielders (yes, centerfielders account for the the most robberies) have grown up seeing guys reaching over the wall to bring one back. They want want to have one, too. Hell, they believe they can do it, and probably practice it.

OK, so with all of this, Lindbergh has done his job in writing an insightful baseball story that feels fresh, but he doesn’t end on the cause. Instead, with the info he’s shared, he brings it back to why robbing a home run matters on an emotional level. He refers to robberies as a kind of alchemy, taking something and turning it into the opposite at the last possible moment.

That’s pretty good stuff, but I prefer the quote Lindbergh pulled from a Sam Miller 2017 article about the problem with the increase in home runs and applied it to home run robberies.

Baseball is best when it sets up an expectation and subverts it: The nasty slider that jags suddenly out of the strike zone, the shortstop who fields a grounder on a dive and flips it to second base with his glove, the three-run comeback against the dominant closer, and now, the home run that doesn’t happen.

Fantastic read. – PAL

Source: Watcher on the Wall: Welcome to the Golden Age of the Home Run Robbery”,Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (05/14/2019)


Two Bad Qualities For a Coach: Thick Headed and Thin Skinned

If you live in a cave: the Warriors closed out the Rockets in Houston last Friday. After scoring zero points in the first half of Game 6, Curry came back in the second half to score 33, including 23 in a supernova 4th, to ice the game. Then, on Sunday, the Blazers overcame a 17-point second quarter deficit and hung on to beat the Nuggets in Denver, in Game 7.

With just one day’s rest, the Blazers opened the Western Conference Finals in Oakland against the Warriors. Things did not go well for Portland, as Steph Curry continued to cook, hitting nine three-pointers and scoring 38 points in the Warriors 22-point win.

But, for Portland, it didn’t have to be that way. For the better part of 5 ½ games the Rockets made Curry look old, slow, and unconfident by crowding him at every opportunity. He had so few open looks that when he did get one, he still rushed the shot and never got into a rhythm. The second half outburst in Game 6 was vintage Curry, where he created the tiniest slivers of space and was able to get his shot up and in.

So, did Portland follow suit in Game 1? Did they press and crowd Steph and Klay? Um, no. Instead, the Blazers let Curry cook. When the Warriors ran the high pick and roll with Curry and the Warriors center, the Blazers did not switch and didn’t even have their big show on the screen in an attempt to crowd Curry or get him to give up the ball.

I counted: of his nine made threes, seven came off high pick and rolls where the screener’s man, usually Kanter or Collins, sagged off the screen and allowed Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time, to step into a wiiiiiiide open three pointer. Here are a few examples (I’ve helpfully circled the screener’s defender and drawn a line between him and Curry at or near the point of release):

I probably don’t need to say this: but this is not ideal for a defense. #analysis

After the third or fourth time the Blazers did this in the first half, I thought maybe Kanter was just being lazy. He’s known as a terrible defender, especially against the pick and roll – perhaps he was tired from the short turnaround after Game 7. Surely they’d make a halftime adjustment! But then it continued in the second half.

Asked about it after the game, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was defiant and, frankly, rude in response to a reasonable question:

WHOA! So, ignoring the fact they held Steph in check for 5 ½ games by being in his pocket, Stotts is basing his suicidal strategy on the fact that Steph scored 33 points in the second half of Game 6 against Houston. BUDDY! He did that because he’s the greatest shooter of all-time, and no defense is going to hold him down forever! If Steph scores 33 points against tight defense the answer is not to go the other way and let him step into wide open 3s!

Maybe Stotts is feeling sheepish and didn’t want to admit he made a mistake. But he also said during that press conference that they were within 6 at the end of the third quarter. Which, fine. Let’s ignore the fact that the small deficit was in large part due to a run the Blazers made in the 3rd quarter when Steph was on the bench. And let’s ignore the fact that the Warriors ended up winning by 22. Let’s give him his six point deficit. Imagine what the score might have been if Curry had shot something like 2 for 9 from 3 instead of 8 for 13 in the first three quarters.

Personally, I doubt they will try this strategy again. Blazers players, like Lillard and McCollum, openly questioned the strategy. Lillard said after the game, “That was very poor execution defensively on our part. Having our bigs back that far…We gotta bring our guys up…they were shooting practice shots.” If they don’t do what Lillard suggests, it’s going to be a short series.

Update: The next day, Stotts apologized for being a jerk to the reporter, and also admitted that they may rethink their strategy:

-TOB

Game 2 Update: Steph got 37. The Blazers did try to run him off the three point line, and he responded by breaking down the defense by giving up the ball quickly and working to get it back in a place he could do damage. Silver lining (I guess) is he shot on 4-14 from three. He did a lot more work at the line last night. This kid just might turn out to be pretty good. -PAL


Hockey Expert Offers Critique of Hockey

There is probably nothing worse in sports than when new fans or non-fans tune into a sport and then immediately offer rule changes that they think would improve the game or make the game more watchable, despite the immense popularity of the sport. This happens every World Cup, when fans complain about and offer “solutions” to things like the offsides rule, despite the fact soccer is the most popular sport in the world and does not need fixing. It’s annoying and arrogant and needs to stop. BUT! I’m slightly caught up in the Sharks’ Stanley Cup playoff run right now. Plus, if you read last week’s blog you are aware that I played roller hockey in high school. I am thus highly qualified to opine on what the NHL does, and I have a beef with how hockey does something, so I’m going to rant about it here.

In hockey, as in most American sports, the clock counts down to 00:00. Hockey has three twenty-minute periods, so each period the clock begins at 20:00 and ticks down. Pretty simple. However, when you look at a box score or other record of the game, they mark events (e.g., goals scored, penalties taken) not by the time showing on the clock, but by the time elapsed in the period. IT’S SO STUPID. Let me illustrate. Here’s the scoring summary from Wednesday’s Sharks/Blues game, as taken from NHL.com.

Any normal person looking at that would think the Sharks scored first when the clock read 13:37. But then you notice that listed after that is a goal by Thornton at 16:58. What you will soon realize is that actually Karlsson’s goal came 13:37 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 6:23, and that Thornton’s goal came 16:58 INTO the 1st period, when the clock read 3:02. Indeed, you can see it in the play by play side by side on the very same website.

This inconsistency is SO STUPID, I cannot stand it. At all! It must be fixed. Without bothering to research, I am guessing the inconsistency arose because at some point in time they used a watch counting up to keep score, and thus it made sense to record the time of goals as the amount of time into the period. When they changed to counting down, they wanted to be consistent with prior records and didn’t want to go back through old game logs and flip every goal ever scored. Well, I don’t care! This is dumb and must be fixed, hockey!

Please, if you like hockey and like how they do this, offer me a counter argument in the comments. And as the late Charlie Murphy said – make sure your people are around to see it – because you might get embarrassed! -TOB


The Making of a Modern Day Legend  

On Tuesday, The New Orleans Pelicans defied odds and won the NBA Lottery. This is a good year to win the lottery, probably the best year since the Pelicans last won the lottery and selected Anthony Davis with the top pick in 2012. Seven years later, Davis is top 10 player in the NBA (many would say top 5) and is trying to force his way out of New Orleans. A mess for any small market franchize New Orleans; however, there is relief in Zion Williamson.

This story is not about Davis, the draft, or the Pelicans; it’s about the making of a teenage sports legend. In series of short, let’s call them vignettes, various NY Times journalists sit down with the people who were there (or, in LeBron’s case not allowed in) and played a minor role in the his YouTube filmography of highlights.

I’d seen all but one of the videos featured in this story, but to hear the accounts from those on the court or in the gym gives it another layer, because their disbelief is a first-hand account. Two of my favorites:

Zion’s high school teammate, Bishop Richardson, describing the windmill alley-oop that started with a bad lob from Richardson.

On this occasion, Richardson’s toss arrived well below the rim. But that enabled Williamson to do something outrageous: He rose into the air, reached out with two hands to grab the incoming pass at about shoulder height, and — still rising, now high enough to peer inside the rim he was about to shake — used one sweeping, circular motion to bring the ball down to his waist and then back up to the left side of his body before ramming it through the basket with his left hand.

The crowd erupted.

“I remember thinking, ‘Holy cow, I’ve never seen anyone do anything like that, let alone be a part of it,’” Richardson said. “People were falling out of the bleachers.”

The dunk made it onto highlight reels and national sports shows within hours, but Richardson did not see a replay until the next day, when he and teammates sneaked a peek in a study hall.

Check-out the teammate, number 24, at 1:24 of the video below. His reaction pretty much sums it up. 

Zion’s Duke teammate describing when the team measured verticals.

Williamson, who went last, was off the charts. On his first attempt, he casually swatted aside the highest measurement. A staff member adjusted the pole to its highest setting and reset the tabs, and Williamson repeated the feat. They put weights under the contraption to lift it a few more inches into the air. Williamson batted the highest measurements aside again.

We are now well into an era where every play – literally every play – of any prospect of note is captured on video. Legends don’t grown by word of mouth; they grow on YouTube channels and IG accounts created specifically to share highlights of prospects. Basketball fans across the world knew Zion before he played a game at Duke as a freshman.

The story of youth, power, and seemingly limitless athleticism never gets old, because we always do. – PAL

Source: The Legend of Zion”, The New York Times (various contributors) (03/31/2019)

TOB: I think Zion will be very good, but people also need to pump the brakes a bit. Isn’t he just pre-injury Larry Johnson, with more hops? An All-Star but not a Hall of Fame player. Is he really a superstar? Can he go get a bucket when you need it? I’m not sure.


Are the Twins For Real?

Lookout! The Twins have the best record in baseball. But are they really good – or are they winning with some smoke and mirrors?

Overall, the Twins rank first in the majors with a 141 OPS+ against sub-.500 teams, but they’re tied for 20th with a 90 OPS+ against teams with a neutral or winning record. That gap is the largest in the majors by a huge margin, and even though it’s still a bit too early to be slicing slivers of batting splits, this detail indicates that Minnesota’s offense might not be as formidable as its surface stats suggest.”

Hmm. Only time will tell! -TOB

Source: “Are the MLB-Leading Minnesota Twins for Real?”, Zach Kram, The Ringer (05/13/2019)

PAL: I hate this goddamn article. I hate the construction of it. Are the Twins for real????? Here are 5,000 stats, some of which indicate the team is for real, and some of which point to the another hot start. Some of the info is good (they have pitchers who can actually strike some dudes out now), and some if it is amusing (they have a catcher off to a Bond-like start at the plate). 

I also hate that it calls attention to the Twins hot start. Everyone be quiet about it! Nothing to see here.

So, if the Twins do surprise folks and win the division about 120 games from now, then this article will be right on. If the Twins come back to earth, finish a respectable .500, then this article will be right.

Most importantly, I hate that TOB is trolling me in our own effin blog. This is the second Twins-related story TOB’s posted in the last three weeks. I know what you’re up to, fella.

TOB:


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: The Velvet Underground – “Oh Sweet Nuthin’


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You cannot learn from books. Replace these pages with life lessons, and then you will have a book that’s worth its weight in gold.

-Michael Scott

Week of May 3, 2019

Cheers to Five More Years

We hatched the plan almost on a whim, sitting at a bar near Phil’s house in San Francisco, and sent the first post just a couple days later, on May 4, 2014. We set a goal to do it every week for six months, which seemed impossible. Five years later, I can count the weeks we’ve missed on one hand.

A lot has changed for us in those five years. Phil started a new job, moved to Oakland, met a girl, and is getting married this July. I couldn’t be happier for him. I insanely took on this project about six weeks before my oldest son was born (special shoutout to my wife, who has allowed me to devote so much time to this vanity project) – and I’ve since had two kids, bought a house, changed jobs, and even started my own law practice. Somehow, 1-2-3 Sports is older than all of those things.

At times it is exhausting and frustrating to do this every week. We put a lot of energy into it. But it’s worth it. In the past five years, Phil has gone from a good but relatively new friend to my best friend, and 1-2-3 Sports is a big part of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve made, and we hope you enjoy it, too. We’re planning a 5 year anniversary whiffle ball game followed by McCovey Cove float day. Stay tuned for details, and thanks for reading. -TOB


An Explanation of Testosterone in Elite Athletes

For years, Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been the face of a heated debate about gender and sports. It’s likely you’ve heard her story.  Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone for a woman. She represents 1 in 20,000 women whose testosterone levels are similar to that of the male range. This week a court in Switzerland ruled that she and others like her would have to reduce their naturally high testosterone in order to compete in certain races at major competitions.

I don’t need to tell you that this is an emotional debate, but I do need to tell you to read Gina Kolata’s accessible explanation as to the science behind the debate.

Amongst other purposes, testosterone builds muscle. It’s not just another physical advantage like, say, height in a basketball player. It’s directly linked to improved performance.  

In one study, Dr. Levine put sedentary young men and young women through a year of athletic training. At the start, the men and women had similarly sized hearts. A year later, the men’s hearts were much larger, the result of muscle-building directed by the hormone.

The hormone’s effects are amplified among elite athletes, altering the body in ways that can make a huge difference in performance. Male champions in every sport are always much faster and stronger than women who set world records.

The gap can be quite wide. Elite female runners would never win races if they competed against elite men, according to Doriane Coleman, a former middle-distance runner who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Ms. Coleman has reviewed the best performances of three female athletes who were the fastest 400-meter runners in history (and were not injecting testosterone).

In 2017 alone, she found, more than 10,000 men and boys running 400-meter races beat the best times these women ever ran.

This is the science behind the ruling, but it’s also worth noting that the ruling is only for races between 400 meters and one mile, which is based on evidence. As I noted earlier, naturally abnormal testosterone levels can be found in 1 out of every 20,000 women; however:

The rule is consistent with a requirement that it be narrowly tailored to the evidence. Athletes who identify as women but who have testosterone levels in the male range are overrepresented in women’s middle-distance running events, a recent study found…

These athletes won 30 medals in Olympic and world championship races at distances ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. Their incidence in the general population is just 1 in 20,000, meaning they were overrepresented by about 1,700-fold on the podium, the study concluded.

How gender is defined and gender fluidity is a very real issue of this generation. I believe gender is an extremely complex issue. Of course it’s about more than testosterone levels, but oftentimes the facts can get overlooked on an emotional topic. And, so, when we’re talking about athletes and gender, it’s helpful to start with the science before we shout at one another. – PAL

Source: Does Testosterone Really Give Caster Semenya an Edge on the Track?”, Gina Kolata, The New York Times (05/01/19)

TOB: You’re telling me that a naturally occurring physical trait makes a person more successful as an athlete and so we’re going to not let them compete unless they reduce the effects of that physical trait? I love it. As a 5’10 basketball player, I think anyone over 6 feet should have to have a portion of their shins removed to reduce their height to 6’0 or lower. I’d have made the NBA, for sure!


Somehow, Steph Curry Is Still Underrated

Kevin Durant has been on fire this postseason – averaging 38 points per game over his last 6. His offense is predicated on the fact that he can shoot over the top of just about anyone, and so he’s extremely difficult to defend, especially when he’s on. You can stay in front of him, get a hand in his face, and he just shoots it right over you. Swish. But as I’ve said before, I find his game boring. It’s not graceful, it’s not fun to watch. He’s talented as hell and does things no one else can do, but he’s a ball stopper and seems to be getting as many isos this year as he did when he was in OKC.

By contrast, KD’s teammate Steph Curry has been a little quiet so far this postseason. Over his last 6 games, as KD has heated up, Curry has scored just 19.8 points per game, on 44% FG and 35% 3PT. In many corners of the internet, this has lead to questions about – what’s wrong with Steph? Is Steph hurt? Is Steph on the backside of his career? Is this KD’s team now?

People ask these questions because they still don’t understand how Steph Curry completely changes the game of basketball. Here’s a series of videos from Game 1 against the Rockets, where the threat of Curry’s shooting leads to a dunk for the Warriors (click through to see the videos):

That is six plays in one game where Curry does not look to shoot and doesn’t even get the assist, but the threat of his abilities to pull from anywhere means the defense is stretched and morphed so badly that Curry’s teammates get easy dunks (and assists). Here’s a similar thread from last year’s Finals, created by the same guy (again, click through to see the videos):

Try to find a play where the defense treats KD like that as he backs his way into the mid-post. When defenses stop respecting Curry like that, you can tell me it’s KD’s team. For now? Nah. -TOB – special thanks to Twitter user Bobby Flaiben for the videos


A Banner Year Year’s In WHL Bantam Draft Names

One of my favorite times of the year – the WHL Bantam Draft, where we get to see what dumbass names white parents were giving their kids 14-15 years ago. This year’s highlights:

My thoughts:

  • Carter is fine, but there are NINE of them.
  • What’s with J and K names that make white people go bananas?
    • Jace, Jaeger (yes, like the booze), Jagger, Jakin, Jhett, Joah (like Noah but with a J!), Kalem, Karson, Kassius, Koehn, Kylynn (good lord), Kyren (NO).
  • Merik. Like…’Merica?
  • Mesele. I’m not even sure how that’s pronounced.
  • Ridge.
  • Rieger, Rilen, Rylen.
  • And, my personal favorite…OASIZ. Don’t look back in anger at your parents for naming you that, kid.

I hope even one person enjoys this as much as I do. -TOB

Source: The Best Names Of The WHL Draft”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/02/2019)

PAL: People are so bored. Not a lot of Catholics up in Canada, eh?


The Twins Show How to Make a Killing in Free Agency

The last two baseball offseasons have been interesting. As many teams tank, an opportunity has emerged for teams to get better quickly. Last year, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, who would go on to win the 2018 NL MVP. And a few weeks after getting Yelich, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain for a relatively low amount of money. In a year in which many teams elected to begin a rebuild, the Brewers took advantage and got some good players for cheap, and went on to win the division title.

This year, news during baseball’s offseason was dominated by three themes: Bryce, Manny, and the Slow Free Agent Market. That’s all anyone could talk about. But like the Brewers last year, there was one team that kept popping up on the transaction ticker that made me keep saying, “Oh, solid pick up,” – the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had an even less splashy offseason than the Brewers last year, signing guys like CJ Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez – solid players, all flawed, some perceived as over the hill. But as Jonah Keri points out, these were really good pickups:

Coming off a 30-homer season in the power-squashing environment of Tropicana Field, C.J. Cron could only manage a one-year, $4.8 million deal, landing in Minnesota. After hitting 53 homers over the previous two seasons — while playing a premium defensive position —  Jonathan Schoop cost the Twins a scant $7.5 million on a one-year contract. No hitter in all of baseball cranked more dingers from 2014 through 2018 than Nelson Cruz … and he too could manage only one year guaranteed, a $14.3 million pact with the Twins.

A funny thing happens when you sign a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — your team hits more home runs. The Twins ranked 23rd in the majors last season in taters. This year, despite playing in one of the least homer-friendly parks in the league, they rank fourth.

But more importantly, the homegrown guys have grown up – with players like Eddie Rosario (11 dingers), Max Kepler (.277, 7 dingers), Jorge Polanco (.327/.393/.606), Mitch Garver (.333/.396/.729 – whoa), and Willins Astudillo (.327/.340/.531) all destroying opposing pitching staffs.

I didn’t realize until last week that things had been going so well for the Twins, when Phil and fellow-St. Paul native/Twins fan/friend of the blog Al both independently remarked to me about how well the team was playing. But until I read this article, I figured it was like the 2017 Twins run to the Wild Card game – a bit of smoke and mirrors, with a lot of luck hiding bad peripheral stats. Not so! The Twins are fourth in the AL in run differential, leading to the second best record in the majors.

The Twins have followed a blueprint that I hope the Giants can take advantage of soon – scout/draft well, build around cheaper, homegrown talent, and look for good value in free agency. -TOB

Source: The Twins Are For Real: How Are They Doing This?”, Jonah Keri, The Athletic (05/02/2019)

PAL: Of course I enjoyed the hell out of this article. The idea that the Twins got power for a bargain is both exciting and nearly foreign to this franchise. Three players in the history of the Minnesota Twins have hit 40 or more home runs in a season. In the last twenty years, their best team (2006) had a middle of the lineup that at least presented a long ball threat: MVP Justin Morneau (34HR), Torii Hunter (31HR), Cuddyer (24HR), and Mauer (13HR).

It’s great to have them off to a good start; but I’m holding my excitement for when they win one postseason game, which hasn’t happened in the team’s last four trips:


A Brief Lesson in Baseball’s Newest Stats

Experiencing Twitter is largely an exercise in a self-selected echo chamber. As such, it is easy for me at times to forget that not all baseball fans like “advanced stats” or even understand what they mean.

For example. ESPN’s Tim Keown, who has been a favorite of mine since his headshot contained a lot less grey, relays this story of the new Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s first meeting with Giants season ticket holders:

FARHAN ZAIDI’S FIRST face-to-face confrontation as the baseball boss of the San Francisco Giants came from a stranger. Zaidi stood in front of a group of season-ticket holders at a January event and listened to one of his customers ask if he was serious about occasionally using a one-inning opener instead of a conventional starting pitcher. The slightly accusatory tone exposed the questioner’s view on the matter, but Zaidi knew the topic was bound to arise after he had suggested to local reporters during the winter meetings that using an opener was a possibility. 

And so he decided to answer the season-ticket holder’s question with a question of his own:

“If I told you using an opener would definitely improve your chances of winning on a certain day, how many of you would still not want to use it?”

His premise was inarguable, genius: Whatever you think of me, and regardless of who pitches and for how long, who says no to winning? Who among you, men and women who have shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for ballgames, cannot unite behind the shared joy of victory?

The group was too big to canvass individually, so Zaidi said: “Let me hear you boo.”

And these men and women, the corporate networkers and the lifelong fans alike, cupped their hands around their mouths, aimed them at the smiling man at the front of the room, and booed.

First of all, great writing. Keown set it up perfectly, and it made me LOL. But more importantly it shocked me – there are fans who would rather their teams lose by playing the way they always played over winning by using new tactics? What I forget when I’m in my Twitter bubble is that there are fans who do not care about analytics and in fact resent their existence.

Which is why I really loved Grant Brisbee’s article this week, on how the last three months of the Giants’ offense (August and September 2018, April 2019), were among the seven worst offensive seasons in Giants history, dating back to 1905. WHICH IS INSANE, but can be addressed another day. For the moment I’d like to highlight how Brisbee, understanding he’s speaking in large part to fans like the ones who booed Zaidi, breaks down a couple of advanced stats in a way that is easy to understand. I wanted to share this with those of you who don’t get them or don’t want to get them:

The first stat you’ll need to understand is OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s an imperfect stat, and you really shouldn’t add decimal points like that … but danged if it doesn’t give you an idea of how a team is performing offensively. It takes into account how good a team is at avoiding outs, and it also takes into account how many extra-base hits they’re getting. It’s safe to assume that a team with an .800 OPS is probably hitting the snot out of the ball.

The next stat to understand is OPS+. In 2006, the Giants had an OPS of .746. In 2012, the Giants had an OPS of .724. So that means the 2006 Giants were better, right?

It does not. The National League scored a lot more runs back in 2006, so we need to adjust for that. OPS+ takes this into account, and it also takes the team’s home ballpark into account. Then it crams everything into one number and sets 100 as the league average. So if a team has a 90 OPS+, like the 2006 Giants, that means they were worse than the league average. If a team has a 106 OPS+, like the 2012 Giants, that means they have an above-average offense. The kind that can win the World Series with some strong pitching.

I love OPS+, and I’ll use it a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s still good, very useful and searchable on Baseball-Reference.com. Which brings us to the last stat you’ll need to know: sOPS+.

What sOPS+ does is look for OPS+ within a particular split. Let’s say that you wanted to find out which team in baseball history was the best at hitting at their home park. Seems like a mess. That would mean comparing the Astrodome to Coors Field and the steroid era to a pitcher-dominated season like 1968. But sOPS+ does all that work for you, and gives us an answer. (It was the Rockies in 2014, even after accounting for park. The Coors effect is real, and it’s scary as heck.)

So when looking for the best or worst offensive months in a team’s history, use sOPS+. That way April isn’t unfairly docked because it’s colder than July, when the ball is likely to travel farther. It also compares Septembers with other Septembers, which are months besotted with rookie call-ups. And most important, sOPS+ takes into account what the rest of the league was doing that month.

Makes sense, right? OPS+ and ERA+ are really good stats to help you put numbers in context, and they’re simple to understand. I wish they were more widely understood and used. -TOB

Source: From a Ph.D. to RBIs: How Farhan Zaidi Left Berkeley and Became a Baseball Pioneer“, Tim Keown, ESPN (05/02/2019); “Here’s a Stat About the Giants Offensive Struggles That Will Melt Your Brain“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (05/01/2019)


Video(s) of the Week

SVP with all you need to know on the Rockets’ close out “controversy”

I’M NOT CRYING. I WAS CHOPPING ONIONS.


Tweet(s) of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Richard Swift – ‘Lady Luck’


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Twitter: @123sportsdigest

Facebook

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“Webster’s Dictionary defines “wedding” as “the fusing of two metals with a hot torch.”

-Michael Scott

Week of May 3, 2019

Cheers to Five More Years

We hatched the plan almost on a whim, sitting at a bar near Phil’s house in San Francisco, and sent the first post just a couple days later. We set a goal to do it every week for six months, which seemed impossible. Five years later, I can count the weeks we’ve missed on one hand.

A lot has changed for us in those five years. Phil started a new job, moved to Oakland, met a girl, and is getting married this July. I couldn’t be happier for him. I insanely took on this project about six weeks before my oldest son was born (special shoutout to my wife, who has allowed me to devote so much time to this vanity project) – and I’ve since had two kids, bought a house, changed jobs, and even started my own law practice. Somehow, 1-2-3 Sports is older than all of those things.

At times it is exhausting and frustrating to do this every week. We put a lot of energy into it. But it’s worth it. In the past five years, Phil has gone from a good but relatively new friend to my best friend, and 1-2-3 Sports is a big part of that.

We’re proud of what we’ve made, and we hope you enjoy it, too. We’re planning a 5 year anniversary whiffle ball game followed by McCovey Cove float day. Stay tuned for details, and thanks for reading. -TOB


An Explanation of Testosterone in Elite Athletes

For years, Olympic champion Caster Semenya has been the face of a heated debate about gender and sports. It’s likely you’ve heard her story.  Semenya has naturally high levels of testosterone for a woman. She represents 1 in 20,000 women whose testosterone levels are similar to that of the male range. This week a court in Switzerland ruled that she and others like her would have to reduce their naturally high testosterone in order to compete in certain races at major competitions.

I don’t need to tell you that this is an emotional debate, but I do need to tell you to read Gina Kolata’s accessible explanation as to the science behind the debate.

Amongst other purposes, testosterone builds muscle. It’s not just another physical advantage like, say, height in a basketball player. It’s directly linked to improved performance.  

In one study, Dr. Levine put sedentary young men and young women through a year of athletic training. At the start, the men and women had similarly sized hearts. A year later, the men’s hearts were much larger, the result of muscle-building directed by the hormone.

The hormone’s effects are amplified among elite athletes, altering the body in ways that can make a huge difference in performance. Male champions in every sport are always much faster and stronger than women who set world records.

The gap can be quite wide. Elite female runners would never win races if they competed against elite men, according to Doriane Coleman, a former middle-distance runner who is now a law professor at Duke University.

Ms. Coleman has reviewed the best performances of three female athletes who were the fastest 400-meter runners in history (and were not injecting testosterone).

In 2017 alone, she found, more than 10,000 men and boys running 400-meter races beat the best times these women ever ran.

This is the science behind the ruling, but it’s also worth noting that the ruling is only for races between 400 meters and one mile, which is based on evidence. As I noted earlier, naturally abnormal testosterone levels can be found in 1 out of every 20,000 women; however:

The rule is consistent with a requirement that it be narrowly tailored to the evidence. Athletes who identify as women but who have testosterone levels in the male range are overrepresented in women’s middle-distance running events, a recent study found…

These athletes won 30 medals in Olympic and world championship races at distances ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. Their incidence in the general population is just 1 in 20,000, meaning they were overrepresented by about 1,700-fold on the podium, the study concluded.

How gender is defined and gender fluidity is a very real issue of this generation. I believe gender is an extremely complex issue. Of course it’s about more than testosterone levels, but oftentimes the facts can get overlooked on an emotional topic. And, so, when we’re talking about athletes and gender, it’s helpful to start with the science before we shout at one another. – PAL

Source: Does Testosterone Really Give Caster Semenya an Edge on the Track?”, Gina Kolata, The New York Times (05/01/19)

TOB: You’re telling me that a naturally occurring physical trait makes a person more successful as an athlete and so we’re going to not let them compete unless they reduce the effects of that physical trait? I love it. As a 5’10 basketball player, I think anyone over 6 feet should have to have a portion of their shins removed to reduce their height to 6’0 or lower. I’d have made the NBA, for sure!


Somehow, Steph Curry Is Still Underrated

Kevin Durant has been on fire this postseason – averaging 38 points per game over his last 6. His offense is predicated on the fact that he can shoot over the top of just about anyone, and so he’s extremely difficult to defend, especially when he’s on. You can stay in front of him, get a hand in his face, and he just shoots it right over you. Swish. But as I’ve said before, I find his game boring. It’s not graceful, it’s not fun to watch. He’s talented as hell and does things no one else can do, but he’s a ball stopper and seems to be getting as many isos this year as he did when he was in OKC.

By contrast, KD’s teammate Steph Curry has been a little quiet so far this postseason. Over his last 6 games, as KD has heated up, Curry has scored just 19.8 points per game, on 44% FG and 35% 3PT. In many corners of the internet, this has lead to questions about – what’s wrong with Steph? Is Steph hurt? Is Steph on the backside of his career? Is this KD’s team now?

People ask these questions because they still don’t understand how Steph Curry completely changes the game of basketball. Here’s a series of videos from Game 1 against the Rockets, where the threat of Curry’s shooting leads to a dunk for the Warriors (click through to see the videos):

That is six plays in one game where Curry does not look to shoot and doesn’t even get the assist, but the threat of his abilities to pull from anywhere means the defense is stretched and morphed so badly that Curry’s teammates get easy dunks (and assists). Here’s a similar thread from last year’s Finals, created by the same guy (again, click through to see the videos):

Try to find a play where the defense treats KD like that as he backs his way into the mid-post. When defenses stop respecting Curry like that, you can tell me it’s KD’s team. For now? Nah. -TOB – special thanks to Twitter user Bobby Flaiben for the videos


A Banner Year Year’s In WHL Bantam Draft Names

One of my favorite times of the year – the WHL Bantam Draft, where we get to see what dumbass names white parents were giving their kids 14-15 years ago. This year’s highlights:

My thoughts:

  • Carter is fine, but there are NINE of them.
  • What’s with J and K names that make white people go bananas?
    • Jace, Jaeger (yes, like the booze), Jagger, Jakin, Jhett, Joah (like Noah but with a J!), Kalem, Karson, Kassius, Koehn, Kylynn (good lord), Kyren (NO).
  • Merik. Like…’Merica?
  • Mesele. I’m not even sure how that’s pronounced.
  • Ridge.
  • Rieger, Rilen, Rylen.
  • And, my personal favorite…OASIZ. Don’t look back in anger at your parents for naming you that, kid.

I hope even one person enjoys this as much as I do. -TOB

Source: The Best Names Of The WHL Draft”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (05/02/2019)

PAL: People are so bored. Not a lot of Catholics up in Canada, eh?


The Twins Show How to Make a Killing in Free Agency

The last two baseball offseasons have been interesting. As many teams tank, an opportunity has emerged for teams to get better quickly. Last year, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, who would go on to win the 2018 NL MVP. And a few weeks after getting Yelich, Milwaukee signed Lorenzo Cain for a relatively low amount of money. In a year in which many teams elected to begin a rebuild, the Brewers took advantage and got some good players for cheap, and went on to win the division title.

This year, news during baseball’s offseason was dominated by three themes: Bryce, Manny, and the Slow Free Agent Market. That’s all anyone could talk about. But like the Brewers last year, there was one team that kept popping up on the transaction ticker that made me keep saying, “Oh, solid pick up,” – the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had an even less splashy offseason than the Brewers last year, signing guys like CJ Cron, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and Marwin Gonzalez – solid players, all flawed, some perceived as over the hill. But as Jonah Keri points out, these were really good pickups:

Coming off a 30-homer season in the power-squashing environment of Tropicana Field, C.J. Cron could only manage a one-year, $4.8 million deal, landing in Minnesota. After hitting 53 homers over the previous two seasons — while playing a premium defensive position —  Jonathan Schoop cost the Twins a scant $7.5 million on a one-year contract. No hitter in all of baseball cranked more dingers from 2014 through 2018 than Nelson Cruz … and he too could manage only one year guaranteed, a $14.3 million pact with the Twins.

A funny thing happens when you sign a bunch of guys who can hit the ball out of the ballpark — your team hits more home runs. The Twins ranked 23rd in the majors last season in taters. This year, despite playing in one of the least homer-friendly parks in the league, they rank fourth.

But more importantly, the homegrown guys have grown up – with players like Eddie Rosario (11 dingers), Max Kepler (.277, 7 dingers), Jorge Polanco (.327/.393/.606), Mitch Garver (.333/.396/.729 – whoa), and Willins Astudillo (.327/.340/.531) all destroying opposing pitching staffs.

I didn’t realize until last week that things had been going so well for the Twins, when Phil and fellow-St. Paul native/Twins fan/friend of the blog Al both independently remarked to me about how well the team was playing. But until I read this article, I figured it was like the 2017 Twins run to the Wild Card game – a bit of smoke and mirrors, with a lot of luck hiding bad peripheral stats. Not so! The Twins are fourth in the AL in run differential, leading to the second best record in the majors.

The Twins have followed a blueprint that I hope the Giants can take advantage of soon – scout/draft well, build around cheaper, homegrown talent, and look for good value in free agency. -TOB

Source: The Twins Are For Real: How Are They Doing This?”, Jonah Keri, The Athletic (05/02/2019)

PAL: Of course I enjoyed the hell out of this article. The idea that the Twins got power for a bargain is both exciting and nearly foreign to this franchise. Three players in the history of the Minnesota Twins have hit 40 or more home runs in a season. In the last twenty years, their best team (2006) had a middle of the lineup that at least presented a long ball threat: MVP Justin Morneau (34HR), Torii Hunter (31HR), Cuddyer (24HR), and Mauer (13HR).

It’s great to have them off to a good start; but I’m holding my excitement for when they win one postseason game, which hasn’t happened in the team’s last four trips:


A Brief Lesson in Baseball’s Newest Stats

Experiencing Twitter is largely an exercise in a self-selected echo chamber. As such, it is easy for me at times to forget that not all baseball fans like “advanced stats” or even understand what they mean.

For example. ESPN’s Tim Keown, who has been a favorite of mine since his headshot contained a lot less grey, relays this story of the new Giants’ President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi’s first meeting with Giants season ticket holders:

FARHAN ZAIDI’S FIRST face-to-face confrontation as the baseball boss of the San Francisco Giants came from a stranger. Zaidi stood in front of a group of season-ticket holders at a January event and listened to one of his customers ask if he was serious about occasionally using a one-inning opener instead of a conventional starting pitcher. The slightly accusatory tone exposed the questioner’s view on the matter, but Zaidi knew the topic was bound to arise after he had suggested to local reporters during the winter meetings that using an opener was a possibility. 

And so he decided to answer the season-ticket holder’s question with a question of his own:

“If I told you using an opener would definitely improve your chances of winning on a certain day, how many of you would still not want to use it?”

His premise was inarguable, genius: Whatever you think of me, and regardless of who pitches and for how long, who says no to winning? Who among you, men and women who have shelled out thousands and thousands of dollars for ballgames, cannot unite behind the shared joy of victory?

The group was too big to canvass individually, so Zaidi said: “Let me hear you boo.”

And these men and women, the corporate networkers and the lifelong fans alike, cupped their hands around their mouths, aimed them at the smiling man at the front of the room, and booed.

First of all, great writing. Keown set it up perfectly, and it made me LOL. But more importantly it shocked me – there are fans who would rather their teams lose by playing the way they always played over winning by using new tactics? What I forget when I’m in my Twitter bubble is that there are fans who do not care about analytics and in fact resent their existence.

Which is why I really loved Grant Brisbee’s article this week, on how the last three months of the Giants’ offense (August and September 2018, April 2019), were among the seven worst offensive seasons in Giants history, dating back to 1905. WHICH IS INSANE, but can be addressed another day. For the moment I’d like to highlight how Brisbee, understanding he’s speaking in large part to fans like the ones who booed Zaidi, breaks down a couple of advanced stats in a way that is easy to understand. I wanted to share this with those of you who don’t get them or don’t want to get them:

The first stat you’ll need to understand is OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. It’s an imperfect stat, and you really shouldn’t add decimal points like that … but danged if it doesn’t give you an idea of how a team is performing offensively. It takes into account how good a team is at avoiding outs, and it also takes into account how many extra-base hits they’re getting. It’s safe to assume that a team with an .800 OPS is probably hitting the snot out of the ball.

The next stat to understand is OPS+. In 2006, the Giants had an OPS of .746. In 2012, the Giants had an OPS of .724. So that means the 2006 Giants were better, right?

It does not. The National League scored a lot more runs back in 2006, so we need to adjust for that. OPS+ takes this into account, and it also takes the team’s home ballpark into account. Then it crams everything into one number and sets 100 as the league average. So if a team has a 90 OPS+, like the 2006 Giants, that means they were worse than the league average. If a team has a 106 OPS+, like the 2012 Giants, that means they have an above-average offense. The kind that can win the World Series with some strong pitching.

I love OPS+, and I’ll use it a lot. It’s not perfect, but it’s still good, very useful and searchable on Baseball-Reference.com. Which brings us to the last stat you’ll need to know: sOPS+.

What sOPS+ does is look for OPS+ within a particular split. Let’s say that you wanted to find out which team in baseball history was the best at hitting at their home park. Seems like a mess. That would mean comparing the Astrodome to Coors Field and the steroid era to a pitcher-dominated season like 1968. But sOPS+ does all that work for you, and gives us an answer. (It was the Rockies in 2014, even after accounting for park. The Coors effect is real, and it’s scary as heck.)

So when looking for the best or worst offensive months in a team’s history, use sOPS+. That way April isn’t unfairly docked because it’s colder than July, when the ball is likely to travel farther. It also compares Septembers with other Septembers, which are months besotted with rookie call-ups. And most important, sOPS+ takes into account what the rest of the league was doing that month.

Makes sense, right? OPS+ and ERA+ are really good stats to help you put numbers in context, and they’re simple to understand. I wish they were more widely understood and used. -TOB

Source: From a Ph.D. to RBIs: How Farhan Zaidi Left Berkeley and Became a Baseball Pioneer“, Tim Keown, ESPN (05/02/2019); “Here’s a Stat About the Giants Offensive Struggles That Will Melt Your Brain“, Grant Brisbee, The Athletic (05/01/2019)


Video(s) of the Week

SVP with all you need to know on the Rockets’ close out “controversy”

I’M NOT CRYING. I WAS CHOPPING ONIONS.


Tweet(s) of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Richard Swift – ‘Lady Luck’


Like what you’ve read? Let us know by following this blog (on the right side, up near the top), or:

Email: 123sportslist@gmail.com

Week of April 26, 2019

Pat Tilllman, straight up.


A Very Good Sports Night

Not long before I went to bed Tuesday night, still buzzing from one of the most electric sports nights in memory, I tweeted the following:

In Game 7, the Sharks pulled off the most improbable comeback I’ve ever seen, blew it minutes later, and then won in overtime. Meanwhile, in Portland, the Thunder pulled away from the Blazers in the 4th, leading by as many as 14, blew it, and then Dame Lillard made the most incredible series winning shot, perhaps of all-time. I watched it all live, picture-in-picture, howling every few minutes at the crazy swings. Days later, I still can’t believe it happened, all in the span of approximately 30 minutes.

What follows is a timeline of one incredible night.

8:20pm: First, you must know this about me: I was a hockey fan as a kid, sorta. I watched the Skills Competition every year, I watched the playoffs, especially if a game went into overtime. I played an entire 82-game season of NHL 95 on my Sega Genesis. I even played in a roller hockey league in high school. But as I grew older and my free-time diminished, it was the first sport I cut. I’m not a Sharks fan, by any fair reading of the word “fan”. However, I absolutely want to be a fair-weather Sharks fan, so I always root for them to win so I can finally tune in. Over the previous week and a half or so, I’d rolled my eyes every time I saw the ticker showing the Sharks had lost again, on the way to a 3-1 deficit in their first round series with the Vegas Golden Knights. Same ol’ Sharks, I thought. But then, they won – twice, setting up a Game 7. I might actually tune in for that.

So as I emerged from putting my kids to bed just after 8:00pm, I fixed myself a quick bite to eat and turned on the TV to check the Sharks score. Literally two seconds after I turned my TV to the game, the Knights scored to put themselves up 2-0. Same ol’ Sharks, I thought.

So I flipped the TV to the Blazers/Thunder, Game 5. The Blazers were looking to close out the series, sending Russ and Paul George to another first round loss.

8:34pm: Dame Lillard is going crazy, but the Blazers still trail late in the first half, 52-47. Lillard hits a 3 and I text my brother, a Portland resident, telling him Lillard has 32 points with two minutes left in the first half.

8:34pm: I text my brother again, as Lillard scores again. 34 points in the first half. The Blazers take the lead.

8:37pm: Paul George hits a stepback 3 to tie the game at 60 at the half. I flip back to hockey, which is at intermission. Hockey intermissions always seem endlessly long to me, so I go to the kitchen to clean up.

9:03pm: I get back in front of the TV just a minute or two before the Knights make it 3-0. Same ol’ Sharks. I flip back to the Blazers/Thunder, writing off the Sharks for good.

9:16pm: I see the following tweet:

I knew it was about the Sharks, and check the score on my phone. 3-2. Uhhhhhh what? I flip back to the game, at the spot where I left off. I fast forward and at around 9:13pm, the Knights were called for a 5-minute major penalty. If you don’t follow hockey, most penalties are two minutes, and the power play ends if the team on the advantage scores a goal. But a major is 5 minutes, and the power play does not end even if a goal is scored.

The penalty itself is somewhat controversial. Here’s the play:

The Knights’ Eakin cross checks Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. Pavelski seems to slip, falls into another Knights player, who seems to shove him to the ground, where he slams his head on the ice, and then bleeds from his skull. It’s ugly, but the Knights argued after the game that the refs did not initially call any penalty, and then called a major because of the result, not because of the act itself, which is improper. In fact, the referee crew will not officiate the next round of the playoffs, and the Knights say that the NHL admitted the refs made a mistake.

But! Pavelski’s gruesome injury aside, the call did allow for the excitement that was about to ensue: Just six seconds into the power play, the Sharks’ Logan Couture scores the team’s first goal of the game. “That’s one!” he says to his celebrating teammates.

Video

9:23pm: Just 49 game-seconds later, Tomas Hertl tacks on another for the Sharks. I’m about 5-minutes behind live, and I have no idea what’s about to happen. In the meantime, the Blazers stretched the lead to 9 late in the third, but the Thunder go on a 15-6 run, and the quarter ends with the Thunder leading 90-88.

9:24pm: Phil texts me: “Dude the sharks just scored 4 power play goals on one 5 minute power play.” He has unintentionally spoiled the next three minutes for me, but I do not mind. I tell him I’m five minutes behind because I turned the game off when they went down 3-0, and I’m at 3-2.

9:25pm: I text Phil, “Wow.” The Sharks have tied the game 3-3 on a goal by Logan Couture.

9:28pm: I text Phil, “Holy shit.” The Sharks’ LaBanc scores, and the Sharks take the lead, 4-3. The arena is rocking. Here are all four goals.

It’s incredible and it’s hard to put into words just how improbable it was. 3-0 with 10 minutes to go in Game 7? The Sharks’ season was over, and suddenly they are looking to hold on. As play resumes with 49 seconds remaining on the advantage, the announcer screams, “And they’re STILL on the power play. I have never seen anything like this in my life!” I try to explain it to my wife and mom. I can’t tell if they care, but I think my wife does say, “Wow.”

I asked Phil and then tweeted the following:

I immediately regret tempting the Sports Gods. Phil did not respond.

9:31pm: I am finally live, just in time to see the Sharks get called for a penalty.

9:36pm: The Sharks successfully kill the power play, and they have to hold on for just one minute and forty-seven seconds. Spoiler: They do not.

9:37pm: The Knights go empty net for the man-advantage and it pays off: They tie it up with just 47 seconds left. I text Phil, simply, “Fuck.”

9:40pm: Regulation ends, tied up at 4. I find ot my brother in law, a big Sharks fan, is at the game. I am jealous. With another long intermission in store, I check in on Blazers/Thunder. OKC goes on a 12-0 run to stretch the lead to 15 with 7:45 to go. After his hot first half, Lillard has shot just 2-for-10 in the second half to this point, and this game seems over.

9:55pm: The Blazers have made a little run, trailing by just 8 with 3:28 to go. Meanwhile, hockey’s intermission is over, meaning that game could end at any moment. Which means: PICTURE IN PICTURE TIME. I begin with the Sharks on the big picture and keep my eye on the Blazers in the corner.

9:58pm – 10: 00pm: The Sharks’ goalie is making me queasy, and the early minutes of overtime feel like a Vegas victory, so I swap the PIP as the Blazers continue to cut the lead. It’s 6 points with 3:07 to go. Then 4 points with 1:39 to go. McCollum hits a three to tie it with 57 seconds to go! Paul George retakes the lead with 39.4 to go. Lillard hits a tough layup to tie it again. 32.8 seconds left. I am shouting to no one in particular every possession at this point. My mom, in town for the evening, goes to bed and asks me not to yell as she opens the door to the kids’ room – a sensible request.

10:01pm: Westbrook tries a wild drive and it rolls off the rim with 17 seconds left. Westbrook had a tough 4th – shooting just 2 for 7, including 1 for 3 with two turnovers as the Blazers made their comeback.

10:01pm: The Blazers have a timeout, but elect not to use it. It’s Dame Time, and so Oakland’s own Dame Lillard does this:

I think I actually fell off the couch. I make my wife watch the replay. She seems slightly impressed. I’ve never seen anything like it. An almost 40-foot rainbow buzzer beater, and not a half court prayer heaved out of necessity, but an intentional jump shot.

I love how Lillard waves goodbye to the Thunder, who had talked a lot of crap to him during the series.

I love the way he calmly mugged the camera as he was mobbed by teammates.

I love that Lillard laughed at Paul George on Twitter after George said after the game that Dame took a bad shot.

That shot gave Lillard FIFTY points on the night. A series-winning, damn near half court jumper, for half a hundo, to send home a newly-minted rival? Hell yeah.

10:02pm: I text my brother, “DAME TIME.” Unsure if he’s watching, I find the video on twitter and send it to him a few minutes later. I text Phil, too. He does not respond. But there’s no time to linger on the aftermath – it’s time to do that hockey.

10:03pm: The Sharks’ Joe Thornton looks like he’s skating in sand. I text Phil that he skates like he’s 50. He does not respond.

10:05pm: Things still feel like they will end poorly for the Sharks. Their goalie seems to lack urgency as shots are fired at him, and it seems inevitable one will slip through. I text Phil. He does not respond.

10:06pm-10:22pm: Things turn for the Sharks. Suddenly, they are flying around the ice, getting chances and controlling the puck. I grow optimistic, but it’s hockey and it’s sudden death, so anything can happen.

10:23pm: YESSSSSSSS! The Sharks score. The Sharks win. The improbable comeback that almost wasn’t was. And the winning goal was no fluke.

I immediately feel relieved that while my earlier tweet was punished by the Sports Gods, the Sports Gods are merciful and merely reminded me of their powers without truly bringing their full wrath upon me. I text Phil, “Woo.” He does not respond. Just kidding. This time, he did, saying that he’s on the Sharks bandwagon. I am an honest man and reply that I am a fair-weather Sharks fan, and in fact I tweet the following:

I start to marvel about what I saw over the previous hour and seven minutes, from the time I was alerted to the fact the Sharks had cut their deficit to one goal, until the moment the game winner hit the back of the net. I spend the next hour digesting it all – looking at clips on twitter, watching the analysis of the basketball game on TNT, and the hockey game on ESPN.

I am not shocked but very impressed to hear that there had never been a four goal power play in NHL playoff history, and only two previous instances in the regular season. Thing about that: there have been over 50,000 regular season and over 4,200 playoff games played in 102 NHL seasons, and this happened just twice. And while I suppose it’s conceivable the Sharks could have scored just one (or zero or two) goals in that power play and still tied the game later, it seems extremely unlikely.

I am shocked at the fact that Lillard’s shot is just the fifth series-winning buzzer beater in NBA history. And this is Dame’s second, as he also had one back in 2014. I would have guessed there had been 25, but no – just 5. The others were Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan, and John Stockton. Jordan’s shot over Ehlo, by the way, was the only one that was do-or-die: if he missed it, the Bulls season was over. But he made it, and the Cavs season was over instead.

Nights like this are why sports are so great, hence my tweet that opened this story. The next morning I read Ray Ratto’s take on Deadspin, and his thoughts were similar (his headline? “Sports Were Good as Hell Last Night”). I especially liked this passage:

And we would have suggested the same of Lillard except that what he did and the way he did it was in its way every bit as stupefying as what the Sharks did. Lillard’s reaction to his deed was as cold-bloodedly silencing as the Sharks’ was uncontrollably hysterical, but the truth is Lillard ended a series with the same level of amazing performance that the Sharks did.

In other words, while these two events would create the usual internet don’t-cross-the-streams pissing contest about which sport’s postseason is better and on and on, they actually combined to remind everyone that this is the thing we’re all in this for—the ridiculously amazing. Otherwise, what’s the point of any of it? You just got handed two of the best games in modern postseason history, one in each of two seemingly diametrically opposed endeavors, at roughly the same time, and to obstinately denigrate one because you’re pot-committed to the other sport is the reason Vladimir Putin first got the idea to fix our elections.

Amen. -TOB

Source: Sports Were Good as Hell Last Night”, Ray Ratto, Deadspin (04/24/2019)

PAL: TOB is the fastest texter of all time, and he texts in waves. How the hell am I supposed to watch this historic Sharks comeback when my phone is buzzing every second? It’s a mandatory silence the phone situation. Live in the moment.

To think I flipped on the Sharks-Knights game as the puck dropped on  face-off to start the 5-minute major. My initial thought, OK, I’ll watch the power play to see if they can put one maybe two in the net. It was HUGE for them to score six seconds into a 5 minute major. At that moment, the pressure shifted to the Knights.

It’s also insane that zero of the four goals were flukey. Hertl’s tip on the second was especially saucy. Oh, to be at venue when something like that happens in a Game 7. You could feel the arena shaking through the TV. In those moments, players look like kids again – the joy highlights all the youthful features and mannerisms that remain. Watch for the celebrations, especially on the bench. Watch it again: 

The urgency of a game 7 hockey game is a hell of a thing to watch.

TOB: One last thing I wanted to shoehorn in about Lillard. The day after the game, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports published an article on Lillard and his beef with Westbrook (and Paul George and Dennis Schroeder) during the series. Here’s the opening paragraph:

PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard invited a few people to his home for dinner on Monday night to watch Game 4 of the first-round series between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets.

For several minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers’ star guard sat quietly on his sofa, chowing down on fried catfish, red beans and rice, and broccoli. And then suddenly, he spoke: “I’m getting rid of these mother——- tomorrow.”

Amazing. And one more tidbit, a little later:

Lillard showed a social-media clip of him telling Westbrook, “Stop running from this ass whoopin’,” as Lillard grew weary of Westbrook switching off him, while Lillard continued to be Westbrook’s primary defender.

And what came out of Westbrook’s mouth during a few of his post-basket outbursts was the B-word, something most players wouldn’t dismiss without an altercation.

“The way I see it, it’s basketball,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I know I ain’t no b—–ass mother——; so it doesn’t bother me.

“I’m not out here to prove to these dudes that I’m the hardest mother—— in the league because they cussed at me on the court. But they know where I’m from and what I’m about. This Oakland. But I don’t take s— personal. My goal is to get the win.”


The Story Behind That Photo of Pat Tillman, On a Light Tower Above Sun Devil Stadium

Pat Tillman has  to be one of the most interesting people of my lifetime. His story has been told many times over. But one story seldom told is the story behind that photograph of him on a light tower, 200-feet above Sun Devil Stadium, when he was a senior at ASU. The photo appeared in a feature on Tillman that ran in Sports Illustrated that season. Tillman received a call from the photographer, Paul Gero.

Gero was excited; shooting for Sports Illustrated long had been a dream and this was his first assignment for the magazine. He told Tillman he had ideas that he hoped would reflect both the academic and athletic sides of him. After hearing them, Tillman wasn’t enthused.

“Uh, that doesn’t really sound like me,” he said.

Gero asked the linebacker if he had ideas.

“Well,” Tillman said, “sometimes I climb up the light towers and I just sit up there and think.”

Gero jumped on it. But when the issue ran, Tillman’s coach, Bruce Snyder, was less than pleased:

Three​ weeks before the 1997​ Sun​ Bowl,​ Arizona State coach​ Bruce Snyder​ rushed into the​ sixth-floor​ office of​ defensive​ coordinator​​ Phil Snow and threw a magazine on his desk.

It was the latest edition of Sports Illustrated, dated Dec. 8. The magazine cover — which showed four short-haired basketball players — asked: “What Ever Happened to the White Athlete?” But that didn’t concern Snyder. It was the double-truck photo of the ASU football player on pages 86 and 87.

“Snow, what the hell is this?” Snyder asked.

Snow looked at the photo. He recognized Pat Tillman, recently honored as the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year and as an Academic All-American. The senior linebacker was casually dressed in jeans, a beige buttondown and flip flops. His feet rested on a rusted railing as he looked west, the football field far below him in the background.

“Well, Coach, it’s Pat sitting,” Snow said. “What’s he sitting on?”

Snyder walked to the window. From here, he could see all of Sun Devil Stadium. The green grass. The gray bleachers. In his sixth season in Tempe, Snyder pointed to a light tower above the stadium press box, 200 feet from the ground.

“Pat’s sitting on that light standard,” Snyder said.

Tillman started climbing the tower early in his time at ASU, and eventually invited teammates, like Frank Ugenti, who was from San Jose, just like Tillman.

The first time Ugenti reached the top of the light tower he didn’t say much because he didn’t want to ruin the moment. The view was incredible. From 200 feet, sitting on an 8-by-15-foot metal platform, Tillman and his friends could see the entire ASU campus and all of metro Phoenix lit up in the desert night. The airplanes, about to land at nearby Sky Harbor Airport, flew by with such force the light tower seemed to shake.

Tillman never really shared what he liked about the light tower, at least not to Ugenti, but sitting up there, high above the football field, it became obvious. We are out of society. We are out of community. We’re above the noise. Above the distractions. No hierarchy. Everyone’s equal. A group of guys from the same hometown. Just hanging out. Just living life. True friendship.

-TOB

Source: “Above the Noise: The Story of Pat Tillman’s Light-Tower Climbing at Arizona State”, Doug Haller, The Athletic (04/25/2019)

PAL: I’ll only add this. A reminder:

 


Good, Great, Grand, Wonderful!

Here’s a fun story about the losers. That’s right; the world has an unending supply of stories about those who triumph, persevere, reach the mountain top, break through, get the monkey off their back, and so on and so forth. BORING. This one’s about the unprepared, the injured, the foolish, the delusional, and all of the above. This is a story about the shag bus.

While in some running races participants can theoretically stay on the course as long as it takes to complete (Boston Marathon), there are certain running races that take place in locations where road closures cannot go on all day and there isn’t a safe sidewalk alternative once cars are allowed back in the course. The Big Sur Marathon takes place on the Pacific Coast Highway. While quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, I’ve run that highway and even with minimal traffic it can put the fear of god in you. So Big Sur’s got a shag bus. Another race with a shag bus, the race featured in Sarah Lyall’s NY Times piece, is The Seven Mile Bridge Run in Marathon Florida. It should be obvious why a run that takes place on a seven mile bridge would need a shag bus.

From bus driver to the sheriff that steps off the creeping bus with a nice little joke about how we never would’ve made it this far and – really, it’s time to get your dragging ass on the bus, everyone plays a role. The role of the racers dressed in all shades of moisture wicking humiliation on the bus is oftentimes excuse-makers:

  • “I went on a cruise, and then I got sick, and then I pulled a groin muscle.”
  • “I’m more of a golfer, although I’ve been trying to run about five miles once a week, roughly.”
  • “I never made it more that five miles.”

Just a point of clarification: the race is called The SEVEN Mile Bridge Run.

But no doubt the best part of this story comes near the end, as the bus nears the end of the race as well.

The bus stopped for the last few unfortunates, and Westerband (the Sheriff) cajoled them through the door, even as they tried to remonstrate with him. The end was so close, within reach.

Taking advantage of the distraction, a runner who had been quietly sulking at the front of the bus suddenly got up and sprinted for the door, slipping past Westerband. He proceeded to jog unimpeded all the way to the finish line, where he was greeted with applause from runners who had managed to complete the course without riding the bus.

There was a moment of stunned silence on the shag bus, as the passengers contemplated the unethical nature of the man’s action and wondered why they had not thought of it first.

I finished reading this story, and I had an epiphany: these shag bus riders are the very people who stand still on a moving walkway at the airport. SMH. – PAL

Source: A Bitter Finish for Slow Runners: Get on the Bus”, Sarah Lyall, The New York Times (04/23/19)

TOB: I get that this is a short run, and I get why they need to do this. But what I don’t get is why they start the shag bus just forty minutes after a 90-minute race begins. Seems early!


Ollie From Last Chance U Gets Another

If you watched the first season of Netflix’s Last Chance U, you remember Ollie. A big guy with a warm smile and a loud laugh.

He came from an extremely poor small town in Mississippi, and he had a terrible childhood – his father killed his mother, and Ollie discovered her body. Ollie’s dad later killed himself. He later bounced around with relatives. He found solace in football, but he never applied himself. At Eastern Mississippi Community College, Ollie found some purpose, and on Last Chance U, he found a modicum of stardom and a scholarship to FCS Nicholls State. But Ollie didn’t apply himself at Nicholls, either, and soon found that he had squandered that last chance.

Except that he got another last chance. In fact, he gave himself that second last chance. If you’re interested in reading about Ollie – where he’s at now and how he got there, check this story out. -TOB

Source: Ronald Ollie’s Last Chance”, Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated (04/25/2019)


Video of the Week


Tweet of the Week


PAL Song of the Week: Lillard earned this – Dame D.O.L.L.A: ‘Bill Walton’


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Oh, if they were Sean Jean sweatpants it would be no problem, but because they were Costco brand, it'sthe worst thing I could do.

- Peter Bretter 




Week of April 12, 2019


25 Years Ago, Michael Jordan Played Double-A Baseball, That’s Insane

Here’s a great read with an interesting angle on Michael Jordan’s season playing minor league baseball, which is – I can’t believe this – twenty-five years ago.

First, let’s take a moment to appreciate how insane this scenario was. Michael Jordan, the best basketball player on the planet, who has just completed back-to-back-to-back NBA titles, retires from basketball in his prime to go play baseball for the first time since quitting early on in his senior high school season. His reason for retiring has long been a topic of debate (gambling issues is one theory, and another is to honor his dad, who had been recently murdered, and who had thought Michael could’ve been a two-sport star). It would be like LeBron retiring after his Cleveland title to go play football in the CFL, or like Tiger Woods calling it quits at the height of his dominance to become a Navy Seal…but bigger.

Second, the writing is great, and the writer – Steve Wulf – matters. His story from this week is in some ways a correction to the story he filed for Sports Illustrated back in ‘94. In the earlier story, Wulf really goes at Jordan’s baseball ability after watching him in spring training, and now, all these years later, Wulf admits he was wrong, with the help of the coaches and players who were with Jordan that summer.

The manager, Terry Francona (ever heard of him?), still thinks Jordan could’ve made it to the Majors with 1,000 more at-bats. Others felt the same way, but we remember that .202 batting average and still categorize it as a lark. The guys that were there insist it was not. I honestly had no idea.

And then there are all the wonderful anecdotes about Jordan – remember, this is the most famous athlete on the planet – being one of the guys on a minor league team for the season. At 31, he was much older than most, and so he spent some of his time hanging with the coaches and some of the time hanging with the players. And while he arranged for a nicer bus, he was still playing cards with the crew. He was in the clubhouse going nuts on ping pong and giving English tips to Rogelio Nunez. This was when he wasn’t in the batting cage 3-5 times a day. Oh, and there were a few pickup basketball games thrown in there, too. Can you imagine?

Jordan would occasionally deign to play hoops with the mortals. “I can safely tell you this now,” Francona said, “but if I told you back in ’94, I might’ve gotten fired.

“We had just come back to Birmingham after a Sunday morning game in Huntsville [a 5-4 win on May 22, in which Michael went 0-for-5]. We decide to play a 4-on-4 game at Rime Village, where a lot of the players stayed. The three coaches plus Michael versus four of our better basketball players.”

Scott Tedder, a 6-foot-4 outfielder who was the all-time leading scorer as a shooting guard at Ohio Wesleyan, was one of the players. “Let’s see,” he said from his office at Hibbet Sports in Birmingham, where he’s a real estate manager. “It was me, our catcher Chris Tremie, outfielder Kevin Coughlin and pitcher Brian Givens, who was like 6-6. The game was to 16, win by two. One point for a basket, two points for a three.”

“Nobody was watching us at the start of the game,” Barnett said, “but by the end, there were hundreds of people ringing the court.”

“This was back in the day before cellphones,” Tedder said. “Word traveled fast.”

“Me and Barney were just along for the ride,” said Kirk Champion, who was the pitching coach and still works in the White Sox organization. “Once you gave the ball to either Tito or Michael, you weren’t going to see it again.”

“Scott was a really good shooter,” Barnett said.

“I hit maybe four 3s,” said Tedder, who’s now in the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame. “But you could tell Michael was holding back. When we get up 15-11 — one more basket to win — Michael says to me, kind of matter-of-fact, ‘Kid, you’re not going to score any more.’ The next thing we know, we’ve lost, 17-15, and the coaches are celebrating.”

Maybe this story is written for someone exactly my age, but reading it reminded me how incredible Jordan’s baseball detour was, regardless of the reason. It also gave a bit more insight into how serious he took it, and it really seems like he thoroughly enjoyed competing at a game without the circus that surrounded him as a basketball player. That picture of him playing what sure looks like a game of 500 during batting practice (a flyball shagging game where you compete with your teammates to catch the BP ball), sums it up best. That’s a dude not worried about the pressures of being the best of all time; that’s a dude just playing. – PAL

Source:The True Story Behind Michael Jordan’s Brief-But-Promising Baseball Career”, Steve Wulf, ESPN (04/08/2019)

TOB: Wow, what a really good article. I got chills! I knew some of this stuff, having watched the 30 for 30 “Jordan Rides the Bus”, but it’s a good reminder. Also, while he hit .just 202 for Birmingham, that was in Double-A, which is a top prospect-heavy level. Plus, after the season the Sox placed him in the very highly regarded Arizona Fall League, which is full of top prospects. He hit a much more respectable .255.

25 years, though? Geeze. I remember where I was when I found out*. It was Summer 1993, and we were on a family road trip to a dude ranch in Idaho. We had stayed the night at a motel in Jackpot, Nevada, right on the Idaho border. I think I had stayed back while my family got breakfast, and as we headed to the car my older brother told me Michael Jordan retired, almost as a taunt. I didn’t believe him. Bullshit. No way. Michael Jordan? Retired? Nah. I looked at my mom and I remember she had this nervous look, like she didn’t want to confirm. I made them get me the paper, USA Today, which I read in disbelief in the car.

*OR SO I THOUGHT. Funny how memories work. The details are mostly correct, but I just found out my long held belief that we were in Jackpot, Nevada on the way to Idaho is wrong. I tried to find the cover of that USA Today I mentioned, and when I did I found out that Jordan retired on October 6, 1993. Well into the school year, and we were not heading to Idaho at that time. But we were heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to meet my dad’s long lost cousin. I remember we did miss some school for that trip. I also remember we went to a big hot air balloon festival on that trip, and I confirmed the event occurred in early October.


Lukewarm Take: Major League is the Best Baseball Movie of All Time.

Field of Dreams? Very good, but only baseball-adjacent, plus you really gotta be in the mood. Bull Durham? Sorry, I think it’s overrated – sorta funny, but not that funny. And really dated. Sandlot? Very good, but I think you needed to be a kid when you saw it to really love it (I’m open to other opinions). Rookie of the Year? Garbage. Angels in the Outfield? Garbage. Little Big League? Fantastic, still very funny (even for adults), still holds up, and the baseball action is top notch, because they used a lot of professional players. I’ll watch it whenever I see it on. But it’s a close second to Major League, which has great baseball, is still funny and entertaining, and had an excellent cast of characters (and actors).

I happened to see Major League was on TV a few weeks back, just before I was set to go to bed. I thought I’d turn it on for five minutes and then head to bed. I was immediately sucked in and watched the Whole Fuckin’ Thing (give me an A+ for that reference, don’t mind the language).

It even gave me a quote I love to use whenever I watch a game (“Too high! Too high!” when the opposing team hits an obvious homer).

This week is the 30 year anniversary of the movie’s release which is wild because I turn 37 next week, and I remember my dad taking me to see this movie in the theatres (pretty sure, anyways), and when I was watching it recently I couldn’t believe my parents let me watch that as a still 6-year old. There’s a ton of profanity. I don’t think there’s nudity but there’s a lot of near-nudity and near-sex. I’m not complaining, but my oldest son is almost five and I don’t know when I’d be ready to show this movie to him but I don’t think it’s until he’s…11? In my dad’s defense, he probably didn’t know how bad it’d be. In his not-defense, the movie is rated R. Moving on.

Given the anniversary, The Ringer has done some coverage on the movie. There was a good Rewatchables podcast with Rembert Browne, who pointed out how insane it would have been for a woman to go home with Willie Mays Hayes and find a collection of dirty black gloves nailed to the wall. Also, I had no idea that the actor who played one of the movie’s villains, Clue Haywood, the big slugger for the Yankees, was Pete Vuckovich, a former major league pitcher who won the 1982 AL Cy Young. WHAT!?

Anyways, it’s a great movie. If you haven’t seen it in a while, do so. You might notice something you never had before. For example, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh points out that in the one-game playoff against the Yankees that closes the movie, Cleveland batted out of order in either the 8th or 9th inning, which allowed them to win. Click the link to see how he figured this out. It’s fun.

Source: The Dramatic Ending of ‘Major League’ Never Should’ve Happened”, Ben Lindberg, The Ringer (04/10/2019)

PAL: Man, Field of Dreams is pretty damn good. I’m a sucker for it all: the Berkeley folks back-to-earth premise. The farmlands of the midwest caught in all its poetic, dusky beauty, building a baseball field. The curmudgeon writer sidekick. And (quiet weeping) the goddamn game of catch. Field of Dreams is the romance in baseball; Major League nails the idiocy of baseball:

But also the game action is outstanding in this movie. They somehow legit captured the emotion and excitement of a big baseball game better than any other baseball movie.

That idea of Willie Mays Hayes taking a date home, only for her to see a bunch of dirty black gloves nailed to the wall is the funniest thing I’ve heard all week. I was laughing so hard. Also, Randy Newman’s song, ‘Burn On’, which opens the movie, is excellent. Excellent baseball movie. Probably taught me how to use the f-word creatively, which can’t be ignored.


More on Jordan’s Baseball Pitstop

Sorry! Yes, more. But I read that 1994 article by Wulf written during Jordan’s lone spring training and there was just too much to comment on, so I broke it out here.

What’s interesting reading Wulf’s 1994 story is that he was so incredibly harsh: “So shame on them for their cynical manipulation of the public. And shame on them for feeding Michael’s matchbook-cover delusion—BECOME A MAJOR LEAGUER IN JUST SIX WEEKS!” It was still only Spring Training. Michael hadn’t yet hit just .202. But I’d like to take a moment to note that, for the average human, .202 in Double-Freakin-A would be incredible. .202 wasn’t even the worst on the team! Ok, it was second worst. But still, another guy hit .191. And Wulf was shaming the White Sox for giving Jordan a spot.

This passage especially amused me:

The huffing and puffing over Jordan’s supposed sacrilege is so intense you almost want to root for the guy, just to prove all these baseball snobs wrong. But they are right about one thing: He will never, ever hit. “It’s called bat speed,” says one American League scout, “and he ain’t got it.”

He ain’t got experience, either. Next to his name and vital statistics on the official list of 1994 White Sox, where his ’93 batting stats should be, it reads DID NOT PLAY. It should read HASN’T PLAYED IN 15 YEARS! Says one American League Central manager, “What’d he hit in high school, .280? Pathetic. I’ve got players in my clubhouse who are only now starting to hit after living and breathing baseball for 15 years, and this guy thinks he can become a hitter in a couple of months. It’s a disgrace to the game. All I know is that I wouldn’t want to be [White Sox manager] Gene Lamont, having to tell a Mike Huff or a Warren Newson that they didn’t make the team because Michael bleeping Jordan did.”

Indeed, either Huff or Newson would have to go in order to make room for Jordan. The 30-year-old Huff isn’t a great hitter, but he has made only two errors in 217 major league games, and no player has been more helpful in teaching Jordan to play the outfield than Huff. Newson, 29, isn’t much bigger than Muggsy Bogues, but last year, between Triple A Nashville and Chicago, he hit .333.

So there was some poetic justice at work in the second inning of last Thursday’s intrasquad game, the most heavily covered intrasquad game in baseball history. Jordan lined prospect James Baldwin’s fastball into left centerfield, and Newson made a diving, backhanded catch to rob him of a double.

Wulf spends three paragraphs tearing down Jordan for not having the bat speed or the ability to ever hit, and then relays a story where MJ damn near lines a double off a top prospect! That pitcher, James Baldwin, would finish second in the Rookie of the Year race two years later and even made an All Star team. In Wulf’s story this week, he owns up to how harsh he was. But still, the 1994 was hard to read. No one likes a grumpy jerk.

One final thing: Man, baseball players were corny as hell. Here are two quotes from Wulf’s 1994 story:

While the White Sox try to rationalize Jordan’s audition, baseball’s other uniformed personnel are almost irrational about it. “He had better tie his Air Jordans real tight if I pitch to him,” said Seattle Mariner fireballer Randy Johnson. “I’d like to see how much air time he’d get on one of my inside pitches.”

“Be like Mike?” scoffed one Houston Astro. “Hell, Mike right now only wishes he could be like Frank.”

I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough. Corny AF. -TOB

Source: Err Jordan”, Steve Wulf, Sports Illustrated (03/14/1994)


Air Density and Barometric Pressure: The Mind of Golfer Bryson DeChambeau

I am not the biggest golfing fan, but, man, I love me some majors. I had this story about Bryson DeChambeau (that’s the best golf name of all-time) linked here before he jumped out to a share of the lead after the first round of The Masters. For those of you who know a little about golf, DeChambeau is the guy whose irons are all the exact same length (a peculiarity in golf).

DeChambeau is an over-thinker. Always has been. He’s a why guy. When he was a kid golfing with his dad, and his dad told him the green broke one way, DeChambeau wanted to know why. His mind never stops, and so thinking about golf differently isn’t a way for him to look for a competitive advantage; rather, it’s a way to relax his mind.

Having a brain that never stops, and hating surprises led his dad to idea of having his son work with a radical golf coach in the Clovis, CA area. Mike Schy had been developing a different approach to golf. It was a much more scientific take on the sport, one that had no time or patience for “feel”, and that was perfect for a young DeChambeau.

“Feel is the enemy,” Schy said. “You get to the first tee and there’s water left and 1,000 people right. How do you feel now? That was why he bought into the whole process. When you look at everything he does on [the] course, it all makes sense. It gets him out of that moment of trying to guess or feel something.”

There was some real risk to adopting this philosophy, which is based off a book published in 1969 called The Golfing Machine, which looked to science, not hand-me-down tips, to build a golf swing.

Before working with Schy, DeChambeau had interest from a number of college golf programs and beautiful traditional swing. When they came back, they saw he completely retooled his swing. Some programs were scared off.

He won in college, became an easy story on the PGA tour (‘hey, look at this weirdo), but also became a legit contender. He’s currently ranked sixth on the world, so all of the goofy clips of him talking about air density or some other rando tidbits aren’t just amusing.

What gets lost is what DeChambeau gets out of the way he plays. For him, The Golfing Machine is a way of thinking about and working on the game. It satisfies his interests and relaxes his mind. Jon said that if Bryson weren’t a golfer, he would build things for a living, similar to how he’s built his golf swing.

He’s challenging how we play the game, and there are few sports more up its own ass about “the right way to play” than golf, which almost makes me want him to beat Tiger. Almost. – PAL

Source: Why Is the Golf World So Scared of Bryson DeChambeau?”, Tully Corcoran, Bleacher Report (4/11/19)

TOB: BEAT ELDRICK! This article is great. I love DeChambeau already. Here’s my favorite part of the article:

Broadcasters and golf pros and caddies and other golfers have come up with all sorts of reasons why DeChambeau shouldn’t be playing the way he does, despite his rise from 153rd in the world in 2017 to No. 6 today. Some of the most common complaints are that he plays too slowly and his methods will never win at the highest level.

Hahahahahahahaha. Yeah, 6th in the world. What a terrible golfer. He should really change his game. Also, I’m with him on the length of irons: someone will need to explain to me why they should be different lengths. That always bugged me as I was learning to play.

PAL: Update – he’s nearly holed this one on 18:


How to Standout in a Crowded Sportswriting Field

In a short amount of time, Eno Sarris has become one of my favorite writers. I try to read almost everything he writes because his mind seems to think differently than most sportswriters, so he always has an interesting angle from which he approaches a story. His article this week on San Diego Padres rookie Chris Paddack is a good example. Sarris saw Paddack throw a high, inside front door breaking changeup for a called third strike. The pitch was unlike anything Sarris had ever seen, so he went to work. He interviewed Paddack, his manager, his catcher, his Double-A manager, and even Padres great Trevor Hoffman, who made the Hall of Fame on his changeup. He used advanced stats, charts, and video, to explain how rare the pitch is, and why it’s so effective.

Eno does such a good job of blending traditional sportswriting with advanced stats, and I always learn something when I read one of his articles. I’d say he’s worth the subscription fo the Athletic all on his own. -TOB

Source: How a Single Pitch Could Launch Chris Paddack’s Career”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (04/11/2019)


Video of the Week

(Action starts at 00:45)


Tweet of the Week


Gif of the Week

Son’d.


PAL Song of the Week – Randy Newman – “Burn On”


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